Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Conversation with Malinda Lo - Listen to the latest SCBWI Podcast!

Malinda Lo is the author of several award-winning young adult novels, including most recently A Line in the Dark. Her novel Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. Malinda speaks with Theo Baker about the difference between popular fiction and literary fiction, the role of research in her writing, revision, her dual coming out, and so much more!

Listen to the episode trailer here.

Current SCBWI members can listen to the full episode here (log in first).

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Cooperative Children's Book Center Releases Their 2018 Diversity Publishing Statistics

With the caveat (brought up in an excellent #KidLitCon2019 panel on Diverse Fantasy in the Real World) that quantity tells us some things, but we shouldn't forget about quality, these 2018 numbers from The Cooperative Children's Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison are informative.

Over the past five years, while there's been a modest growth in the number of overall books submitted for consideration (2014 had 3,500 compared to 2018's 3,617) there was significant growth in the number of books about African/African Americans (2014 had 181 and 2018 had 401), Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans (2014 had 112 and 2018 had 308) and Latinx (2014 had 66 and 2018 had 247). Feels like progress.

Less growth in the books about American Indians/First Nations (2014 had 38 and 2018 had 52).

And in 2018, only about half of the books about African/African Americans were by African/African American creators (401 about, 202 by).

Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific Americans were the only group who created more children's books than there were children's books about their own stories (308 stories about, with 339 stories by.) Which does feel like progress, that there are stories outside of their Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific American identities/communities that these creators are telling, and that are being heard and published by our industry.

What do the numbers tell you? Click here for the full chart. And here for the background on CCBC's Publishing Statistics on Children's Books about People of Color and First/Native Nations and by People of Color and First/Native Nations Authors and Illustrators

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Susan Hood: The Golden Kite Award Interview—Middle Grade Fiction Winner for "Lifeboat 12"

Susan Hood was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Middle Grade Fiction for her debut middle grade novel in verse, Lifeboat 12, at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York City on February 8, 2019.

Award-winning Author Susan Hood

Here, we catch up with Susan about her book and winning this honor...

Lee: Congratulations, Susan! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.

Susan: It was funny and a little embarrassing. I was away visiting my newborn granddaughter when Lin called my home phone. It was a Friday afternoon and Lin left a cryptic, congratulatory message and asked me to call her over the weekend. She called again on Monday morning when she hadn’t heard from me. We arrived back home Monday afternoon and my husband went to listen to the messages. He came back and told me someone named Lynn wanted to talk to me about a kite. Whaaattt? Then I found out that this so-called Lynn was Lin Oliver!

Lee: (Chuckling.) Pitch us to move Lifeboat 12 to the top of our To-Be-Read pile — What's it about?

Susan: Lifeboat 12 is a novel in verse, based on the true, but little-known WWII story of the SS City of Benares, a British ship evacuating working class children to Canada during the Blitz. Six hundred miles from shore, the ship was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat and sank in thirty minutes. Six boys (ages nine through thirteen) escaped aboard Lifeboat 12 and attempted to sail back to shore. After eight days at sea, on the day their water would run out, thirteen-year-old Ken Sparks spotted the plane that saved all forty-five people aboard. It’s not often you find a story where a kid is truly the hero.

As an author, what spoke to me about this true tale was the role stories and books played in this astounding rescue. During their eight days at sea, the boys told Bulldog Drummond stories to stay sane. When Ken spotted the plane, the captain ordered everyone down, suspecting it was a German aircraft that would strafe them. Ken disobeyed. He jumped up, waved his arms, and yelled, “I know that’s a Sunderland!” For the passengers of Lifeboat 12, plane spotter guides (bestsellers of the time) and stories about heroes quite literally saved their lives. It’s a good reminder that for many kids and for many reasons, books are lifesavers.

Lee: What a story! Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from the book’s creation you can share?

Susan: There were two Ah-ha Moments. The first was when I discovered the SS City of Benares and Lifeboat 12 in the childhood letters of my British mother-in-law. She, herself, was a child evacuee sent to Canada and she wrote home about this subsequent disaster.

The second Ah-ha moment was when I FOUND Ken Sparks, the hero of the story, the boy who spotted the plane. He was 88-years-old, living north of London. I asked if I could interview him and he said, “Come on over any time, Lovie!” My husband and I traveled to England and spent two weeks interviewing Ken and doing research in the National Archives, the British Library, and the Imperial War Museum.

Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?

Susan: I’ve been a member for nearly twenty years, including the time I was a children’s book and magazine editor. When I became a full-time author, I joined an SCBWI writers’ group and I’ve been with them for ten years. They’ve helped me in so many ways—finetuning my craft, sharing a laugh, celebrating the good stuff, smoothing the rough stuff. The conferences are a godsend where you can learn from the best in the business. I took an all-day intensive about novels in verse at the NYSCBWI conference and it was a huge help in writing Lifeboat 12.

Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?

Susan: Read. Read hundreds, if not thousands, of books in your genre, both classic and contemporary titles. You’ll see what’s been done in the past and how new authors are shaking things up.

Focus on your craft before you worry about getting published. You’ve got to learn the rules before you break them. If you want to write in rhyme, master poetic techniques, especially meter. To see how picture books work, here’s a tip. Type up the text from a favorite book. Seeing the text separate from the art will illustrate how the two work together to tell a story.

Take the time to do your homework and find the right agent. It may be the most important research you ever do; he or she will make all the difference in your life! A good place to start the hunt is at on the Dealmaker’s page.

Develop a thick skin and patience. There’s a lot of rejection along the way and it may have nothing to do with your book. Publishers have many criteria for each season’s list and your book may not be a good fit, considering what else is on the editor’s plate. Once you make a deal, a picture book takes two to three years to produce (if not more!) so patience is key. In the meantime, keep writing!

Don’t be afraid to try something new and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lean on the extraordinarily generous community of SCBWI.

Lee: Excellent advice, thank you Susan. And again, congratulations on winning the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Lifeboat 12!

Find out more about Susan at her website here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Would it Change How You Wrote (Or What You Wrote) If You Knew It Would End Up On The Moon?

This news story, A 30-million page library is heading to the moon to help preserve human civilization, really captured my imagination.

Especially wondering about the whole selection process of which stories would represent humanity.

As creators of creative content for children and teens, we often think of our stories being collected in the personal libraries of our readers, in school classrooms and libraries, in public libraries and even the  home libraries of other adults who love literature for kids and teens, but the idea of a digitized library that represents who we are and who we have been as human beings, designed for future humans (or for other species) to study feels different...

“We want the archive to last longer than the moon itself,” Nova Spivack, co-founder of Arch Mission Foundation said. “If we place enough copies in enough places, some will make it into the distant future, no matter what happens on Earth, the moon, Mars or any other location.”

Which brings us to the headline question: Would it change how you wrote if you knew it would end up being studied in some distant future? Would it change what you're working on?

Every book, TV show, movie, song, story, instagram post, is a time-capsule, of both the era its written about and the era its written in. The Star Trek TV episodes presented a very late 60s vision of the distant future, but the hair styles always reminded us it was a vision envisioned in 1968.

And it's not a unique thought that our books, our stories, are a legacy we leave behind when we're gone.

Maybe the knowledge that your story would end up part of this archive wouldn't change anything. Maybe it shouldn't.

But it is fascinating to consider...

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jane Yolen: The Golden Kite Award Interview—YA winner for "Mapping the Bones"

Jane Yolen was awarded the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for her YA novel, Mapping the Bones at the SCBWI 2019 Winter Conference in New York on February 8, 2019.
Jane Yolen

Here, we catch up with Jane about her book and winning this honor...

Lee: Congratulations, Jane! Please tell us about finding out you’d won this Golden Kite Award.

Jane: My snarky answer is by hard work and not writing to get an award. The true answer is the phone rang and it was Lin. I thought she wanted to talk about either a project we were considering doing together or my decision to leave the board or ask for advice about something else going on. We've been friends since SCBW (without the I) began. And she said that MAPPING THE BONES had won and I (and you know me so this was BIG!) was speechless. Then she said "Who would you want to introduce you and say a few words about you and the book?" And I said, "Can I have two people?" She said, Sure." And I said, "(My daughter) Heidi who gave up the two weeks on a small island in Maine to sit out while the others were kayaking to be my beta reader. She had also been moral support in the 4 1/2 years I worked on the book, and you, Lin, because we have been friends for so long."

Lee: It was a lovely moment. Can you pitch us to move Mapping The Bones to the top of our To-Be-Read pile?

Jane: A Holocaust novel hung on the armature of Hansel & Gretel, set first in Lodz ghetto, then in the forest with the partisans, and lastly in a labor camp. And yes, there's a witch character (A Nazi of course) and an oven.

Lee: Wow. Is there an Ah-ha! Moment from the book’s creation you can share?

Jane: I didn't know until about five chapters from the end who the witch character was going to be though given this was a Nazi camp, I had the oven ready. But since the main characters are twins, Chaim and Gittel. and I'd seeded the Mengele twin experiments earlier, it was just a matter of time till I figured it out.

Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has SCBWI helped on your journey?

Jane: I was actually the second member, right after Sue Alexander who told me about the nascent group started by Lin and Steve. Right after me, or at least the next pro to join after me was Sid Fleischman, so we were the first speakers at the first (not conference) dinner I think there may have been 50 people there, including Lin's parents, my dad, Steve's parents. Sue is, alas, dead as is Sid. But Lin and Steve and I keep plugging along. As for what SCBWI has done for me--given me a huge subset of book friends, some I have introduced to the organization. Others took over the region after I invented New England Region of SCBWI, the very first region and I was the very first regional advisor. I ran it for ten years. and the conference for ten years. And I ran the monthly the critique critique group for 25 years. Trust me, the RAs and their crew do a MUCH better job that I ever did! And now things are no longer just centered in the Pioneer Valley where I lived then and live still.

Lee: What advice do you have to share with other children’s book creators?

Jane: BIC: Butt in Chair. HOP: Heart on Page. Don't clutch your pearls or sob over a rejection. Get up and move on. Be a colleague with your editors, agents, art directors, not an adversary. Learn about the field, go to conferences, workshops, meet-and-greets. Read about the field in books, online, subscribe to Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book, etc. Read widely in the field. Take chances, learn new skills. I learned to write graphic novels in my 60's and verse novels in my 70's. And volunteer for your local region. You will be surprised at how much you will leaern, how many friends you will make (and how many editors and art directors you will become on a first names basis with!)

Lee: Thank you so much, Jane. And again, Congratulations on your win!

Find out more about Jane Yolen at her website here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A "Hot Tip" from Frances Gilbert (Editor-in-Chief, Doubleday Books for Young Readers) On Keeping Up On The Industry

How do you know who publishes what? Where can you get a comprehensive glance at what each publisher—what each imprint—is publishing? How do you know where your book might fit?

Frances Gilbert highlights an upcoming title

Frances Gilbert, at this past week's SCBWI Los Angeles Writers Day Conference, suggested, a free resource that lets you look at (and study) publishers' catalogs.

Check it out here.

Thanks, Frances!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Advice from Natalie Goldberg in "Writing Down The Bones" (part 2)

There's so much that's worthwhile in Natalie Goldberg's landmark melding of Zen and Writing, Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

Today, I'm sharing another resonant moment, from the chapter, Make Statements and Answer Questions (pg. 93 of the 2005 print version):

In the early seventies there was a study done on women and language that affected me very deeply and also affected my writing. One of the things the study said was that women add on qualifiers to their statements. For instance, “The Vietnam war is awful, isn't it?” “I like this, don't you?” In their sentence structure women were always looking for reinforcement for their feelings and opinions. They didn't just make statements and stand behind them: “This is beautiful.” “This is terrible.” They needed encouragement from outside themselves. (By the way, what they found to be true for women they also mentioned was true for minorities.)

Another thing women did in their speech was to use a lot of words like perhaps, maybe, somehow. Indefinite modifiers. For instance, “Somehow it happened.” As though the force were beyond understanding and left the woman powerless. “Maybe I'll go.” Again, not a clear assertive statement like “Yes, I'll go.”

The world isn't always black and white. A person may not be sure if she can go some place, but it is important, especially for a beginning writer, to make clear, assertive statements. “This is good.” “It was a blue horse.” Not “Well, I know it sounds funny, but I think perhaps it was a blue horse.” Making statements is practice in trusting your own mind, in learning to stand up for your thoughts.

After I read the article, I went home and looked at a poem I had just written. I made myself take out all vague, indefinite words and phrases. It felt as though I were pulling towels off my body, and I was left standing naked after a shower, exposing who I really was and how I felt. It was scary the first time, but it felt good. It made the poem much better.

So important to hear, to consider, to look at our own words and consider if we're avoiding the truth of what we want to say. And then being brave enough to take the towels off, one indefinite modifier and qualifier at a time.

Thank you, Natalie!

Check out the whole book, in print or audio, and Natalie's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Advice from Natalie Goldberg in "Writing Down The Bones" (part 1)

I'm listening to the audiobook version of Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, the 1986 book that is widely credited with synthesizing Zen and Writing. It's a version that Natalie recorded fourteen years after the book was first published, and in-between each chapter she shares what's changed, how her thoughts have matured, and additional elements of what she observed then and understands now.

There's so much that's useful and insightful in here, so this week I'll share two stand-outs.

Today, from the Chapter Original Detail (pg. 45 of the 2005 print edition)

Use original detail in your writing. Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else. Even if you transport the beveled windows, slow-rotating Rheingold sign, Wise potato chip rack, and tall red stools from the Aero Tavern that you drank in in New York in a bar in a story in another state and time, the story will have authenticity and groundedness.”

This is so true, and such a good reminder! Natalie continues,

“‘Oh, no, that bar was on Long Island, I can't put it in New Jersey’—yes, you can. You don't have to be rigid about original detail. The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build.”

Excellent advice. The whole book is well-worth reading (or listening to.)

Illustrate and Write On,