Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Conversation with Elizabeth Partridge - Listen to the Latest SCBWI Podcast Now!

Multi-award winning nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge speaks to Theo Baker about how her upbringing impacted her storytelling, her way into oral histories, and the responsibility she feels towards the people she interviews. She considers how her work is “bearing witness” and shares what she’s learned about writing compelling nonfiction.

Listen to the episode trailer here.

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

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Michelle Markel on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author - from the Cynsations Blog

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations blog is consistently amazing, and I'm obsessed with this series on "Survivors"—folks who have been long-time, actively publishing children's /YA authors. The interviews are informative and inspiring—this is the second one I'm highlighting, but you should go read them all!)

Highlights from the Michelle Markel interview:
“Writing about Henri was a healing experience. I channeled his rebellious attitude and broke a few rules myself, regarding picture book biographies (a breezy tone, fragmented sentences…). What did I have to lose?

In freeing myself up, I found my voice and a publisher. I was honored to receive a PEN award for picture book writing for The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Eerdmans, 2012). Everything changed. I was validated, I got confident, I got attention. My ship was back on course.”


“I want to emphasize here a couple of things: taking risks, and loving the subject matter. I took a chance on writing about Rousseau, a self-taught artist who’s not as widely respected as the “masters.” I later went out on a limb with other picture biographies.”

Read the full interview with Michelle here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Debut YA Author Karol Ruth Silverstein On How Volunteering for SCBWI Led To Her #OwnVoices Breakthrough

SCBWI Volunteer Karol Ruth Silverstein's debut YA novel is called "Cursed" (June 25, Charlesbridge Teen).

Karol sporting her Disability Pride in a t-shirt she designed!

I interviewed Karol to find out more...

Lee: Hi Karol! So please tell us, how did volunteering for SCBWI lead to your getting a book deal?

Karol: Actually Lee, I have you to thank! My journey really started when you invited me to become a coordinator for the Westside Writers Schmooze (now called the Westside Writers Mingle) here in Los Angeles. For any readers who aren't familiar with the Mingles (or LitMingles), they are monthly meetings held by many local SCBWI regions where writers and/or illustrators get together to discuss topics related to children’s books. I ended up coordinating with fellow SCBWI-L.A. member Charlie Cohen for four years. Toward the end of our "reign," I was prepping for a Schmooze on social media for writers. Though I'd had a Twitter handle for a while, I barely used it. Twitter seemed so confusing! I went onto Twitter determined to familiarize myself with the various things one can do on the platform. I spent some time tweeting, retweeting and commenting, and then I decided to follow a few hashtags. I happened to stumble onto the last 15 minutes of a Twitter pitch event (#PitMad)--just enough time to get out a few pitches. Literary agent Jen Linnan “liked” one of my tweets, which meant she wanted to read my manuscript. Long story short, she signed me! (I think it would be responsible of me to add a disclaimer here: results not typical!)

Though my debut YA novel Cursed wasn't the book I'd pitched in the Twitter event, Jen read an excerpt and loved it. She helped me fine tune the manuscript before we went out on submission and we eventually found it a home with Charlesbridge Teen. Cursed was not necessarily an easy sale and I was extremely lucky to find an agent who fell in love with it. I was in the right (virtual) place at the right time. And I was there specifically due to my SCBWI volunteer gig.

Karol's debut YA comes out on June 25, 2019

Lee: Wow, what a story! Why do you say Cursed wasn’t an “easy” sale?

Karol: The easy/most direct answer is that the manuscript had a lot of profanity in it. Like - A LOT. Plus, my main character was originally 13 (though she's now been aged up to 14 to put the book more squarely into the YA category). The cursing is an integral part of the story, so it wasn't like I could cut it all out. The protagonist, Ricky, is newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and cursing is one of her main coping mechanisms. As she adjusts to her new reality, she does learn better ways of handling her anger and curses less. But it was important that she be able to fully and realistically vent her frustrations, anger, and fear at the beginning of the book. That meant real cursing—f-bombs and all. Using "darn" and "heck" was not going to cut it in terms of authenticity, which was tremendously important to me.

Cursed is also what some refer to as "younger YA" - for readers aged 12-15 or so. This can be a somewhat tough market in general. Publishers Weekly had an article a while back explaining that, while readers in this age range are underserved and definitely in need of great reading options, agents aren't always sure how to pitch these books, publishers struggle to market them, and booksellers aren't clear where to shelve them. So that added to the challenge.

Lastly, Cursed is about a teen with a chronic illness who experiences chronic pain. Despite the incredibly valuable push for all kinds of diversity in kids books over the last decade, books featuring physical disability and/or chronic medical issues are still not exactly abundant on bookshelves. My editor Monica Perez said that she noticed a lack of these kinds of books in YA in particular, and that was one of the things that drew her to Cursed. The fact that the book is #ownvoices was icing on the cake.

Lee: #Ownvoices of course leads to the question: How much of Ricky’s story is your story?

Karol: I'm glad you asked! While Cursed is very much drawn from my personal experience, it's definitely fiction. People who know me sometimes get confused on that front, I think because Ricky's voice is so similar to mine. The set-up of the story mirrors my life the most: Ricky is sent to live with her dentist dad at his ill-equipped one bedroom apartment (which she dubs the Batch Pad), as a way to make things easier on her physically. Getting to school is still really painful though. Since her dad leaves for work before she needs to leave for school, she realizes she can just pretend she's getting ready for school—and then go back to bed once her dad's gone. She ends up cutting six weeks of school before her truancy is discovered. Basically ALL of that is taken from my life—other than the snarky name for her dad's apartment. Most of what follows in the story is made up, but there are moments, emotions, lessons learned, etc. that are drawn from my experiences throughout my lifetime of living with a chronic illness and figuring out how to partner with medical professionals and advocate for myself.

I remember fabulous YA author Sonya Sones (who blurbed Cursed!) once saying that one of the great things about writing YA is that you can have your characters make the same mistakes you made but figure out better solutions and/or end up making better choices than you did. You can clean up your past and hopefully provide more agency for your teen readers. I condensed a lot of what I've learned about living a life like mine with some modicum of grace into the six month timeframe of the book. Hopefully the book can speed up the process for readers who are dealing with similar circumstances (which I feel can be broadened to include any situation that hinders self-acceptance).

Lee: As a writer with a disability, what do you think the industry can/should do to be more inclusive, equitable, and accessible?

Karol: One of the toughest parts of disability advocacy is how incredibly varied the folks huddled under the disability umbrella are. There simply is no singular way to address the needs, preferences, experiences and sensibilities of all people living with disabilities. Likewise, stories featuring disabled characters are going to be—or should be—of every stripe and color. I think for too long, the narrative for disabled characters has been sorely limited. That's thankfully beginning to change, with #ownvoices disability books—where the author has the same disability or medical condition as the book's protagonist—really moving the needle in terms of authenticity and variety.

The kid lit industry has been a frontrunner in the charge for more inclusion and representation of underrepresented groups, both on the page and "behind the pen." Amazing progress has been made. Still, disability isn't nearly as present in the diversity discussion as some other groups, with physical disability garnering less attention than neurodiversity (a blanket term referring to variations in the human brain). But—as I've seen in a snarky meme—inclusion isn't pie! There aren't a limited number of slices. The We Need Diverse Books website gives an incredibly far-reaching definition of disability and I encourage all people involved in the children's literature industry to check it out and keep it in mind whenever discussions of diversity come up.

Lee: For readers, here's that We Need Diverse Book's definition of diversity:
We Need Diverse Books: Our definition of diversity: We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.
Okay, Karol, that totally makes me want to ask: can you shout out to some great disability books out there?

Karol: Interestingly, three that come to mind immediately all feature deaf characters - Cece Bell 's terrific #ownvoices graphic novel memoir, El Deafo; the amazing Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick and 2018 Schneider Family Book Award winner, You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner.

The Schneider Family Book Award is among the awards given annually by the ALA and honors books that embody the artistic expression of disability experiences for child and adolescent audiences. Their list of previous winners is a great place to start for anyone looking to learn and read more about disability, as is the website Disability in Kidlit.

I can also report that there are a number of 2019 debut novelists who've written books featuring characters with disabilities. This is definitely heartening! In particular, YA fantasy We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett completely blew me away. The book features a protagonist who's an amputee--and also training to be a fighter pilot. Bartlett handles the character beautifully and the whole book is an incredible thrill ride!

Lee: Any plans to write more books featuring characters with disabilities?

Karol: Yes actually! I'm in the early stages of a young middle grade novel that has a feline main character. But the human main character is young girl who uses a wheelchair. There's also another cat character who's been declawed--which many people don't realize is akin to amputation. This book is not #ownvoices because I'm not a regular wheelchair-user myself (or an amputee), but I liked the idea of including these characters because they exist in the world and should exist in books too! While the disabilities aren't a main focus in the story, they do resonate within the book's themes.

Lee: Thank you so much Karol! And congratulations on your debut!

You can find out more about Karol Ruth Silverstein and "Cursed" at her website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author - On the Cynsations Blog

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations blog is consistently amazing, and I'm obsessed with this series on "Survivors"—folks who have been long-time, actively publishing children's /YA authors. There's a lot of wisdom and encouragement shared, and I couldn't choose just one to highlight, so I'll share two. (One today, and the other next week.)

Highlights of the Vaunda Micheaux Nelson interview:

“I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I’d had the courage to take the leap sooner, to play it less safe.”

“My second book, Mayfield Crossing (Harper, 1994), wasn’t published until five years later.

Rejections filled the interim, and I lost confidence. I started to believe that Always Gramma was a fluke, that I would probably be a one-book author.

I learned I had to do what my heart kept telling me—live my life the best I could and write. Everything I submit isn’t successful. I still get rejections. But I try to be true to who I am and learn from the failures.”
Check out the full interview over at Cynsations here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Linda Sue Park Shares Lois Lowry's Advice on Novel Structure

Linda Sue Park, photograph by Sonya Sones

Newbery-Winning Author Linda Sue Park is a brilliant writer, and, to quote her, it's pretty clever to learn "from the best!" On her website, she shares advice on writing, including a section on Structure:
My outline for novel structure comes from author Lois Lowry (I’m a strong believer in learning from the best!). I read about how she builds her stories:

•Complications and choices

Once again, I've adapted another writer’s advice to suit the way I work. I divide “Quest” into two sections: Internal and External. In every scene I write, the character must either make progress toward or face impediments to the quest(s).
She continues by sharing how she applied this to her novel Seesaw Girl.

Go read Linda Sue's advice now. (There's great stuff there about reading 1,000 books before you write your own, and about discipline, too.)

Thanks, Linda Sue!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The 2019 Crystal Kite Winners!

Fifteen divisions.

Peer-selected winners.

Sixteen newly award-winning books published in 2018 to add to your must-read list!

Presenting this year's SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards:

From the Atlantic division (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Wash DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Hawk Rising by Maria Gianferrari; illustrated by Brian Floca

From the Australia, New Zealand division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

At The End of Holyrood Lane by Dimity Powell; illustrated by Nicky Johnston

From the California, Hawaii division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton

From the Canada division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Outlaw by Nancy Vo

From Europe, Latin America, Africa division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Night Lion by Sanne Dufft

From the Mid South Division (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer

From the Middle East, India, Asia division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is a tie...

The Clever Tailor by Srividhya Venkat


All Eyes on Alexandra by Anna Levine

From the Mid West Division (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

From the New England (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

From the New York division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito; illustrated by Laura Freeman

From the South East Division (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge

From the South West Division (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic

From the Texas, Oklahoma division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark

From the UK, Ireland division, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

And finally, from the Western Division (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota), the SCBWI Crystal Kite Winner is...

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have A Horse by Marcy Campbell illustrated by Corinna Luyken

Congratulations to all the winners, and to everyone who entered! You can find details about entering your 2019-published book for consideration in the 2020 SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Editor Harold Underdown Explains How To Use a Revision Grid

It's a powerful tool. You may have seen the legendary one created by J.K. Rowling for the entire Harry Potter series, on one piece of paper!

In this blog post over at the Highlights Foundation, Using a Revision Grid to Break a Story Down Into Elements, there are two videos with Harold walking us through, first, the revision grid concept, and second, how he used a customized grid to look at the first two chapters of Gail Carson Levine's Dave at Night.

A still-frame from the video where Harold walks us through what a Revision Grid is, and how it works.

The post even includes downloadable templates for creating your own Revision Grid for your story.

I'll add that making a revision grid works for picture book manuscripts as well—especially as a way for writers to track if there are enough different locations/visuals for an illustrator to explore with the 15 or 16 page turns.

The Highlights Foundation post is a generous teaser for their upcoming revision retreat (co-facilitated by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson), and is well-worth checking out. Read the full post and watch the videos here.

Illustrate and Write—and Revise—On!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Inspiration for All of Us Storytellers From Brian McDonald

“Stories are the collective wisdom of everyone who has ever lived. Your job as a storyteller is not simply to entertain. Nor is it to be noticed for the way you turn a phrase. You have a very important job--one of the most important. Your job is to let people know that everyone shares their feelings--and that these feelings bind us. Your job is a healing art, and like all healers, you have a responsibility. Let people know they are not alone. You must make people understand that we are all the same.”

— Brian McDonald
From Lori Snyder's free Writers Happiness newsletter, I thought this quote was so powerful, and true.

I hope it inspires and empowers you, too!

If you'd like more storytelling wisdom from Brian, check out his blog, The Invisible Ink, here. He's also interviewed on the Paper Wings podcast here—which is packed with insights!

Illustrate and Write On,