Posts Tagged ‘NJ SCBWI June Conference’

The first thing to happen is your brain starts to slowly disintegrate on the way home. Once in the door, you need to tend to anything that needs tending to because your body is following close behind and is not going to be in an upright position too much longer. From stress? Nope – from the incredible rush of attending a two-day conference for writers and illustrators of children’s books. It’s exhausting alright, but in a good way.

Each June my New Jersey chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) holds its big event. There are workshops, round tables, one-on-one critiques, a juried art show, portfolio display, keynote speeches, and more. This year, in choosing my workshops I focused entirely on writing in picture books. Other years, I have mixed things up and taken workshops in middle grade and young adult writing, picture book illustration, marketing/social media, and more. There were some truly fabulous speakers this year who inspired me and will keep me thinking long after the conference.

A highlight of the NJ event for many attendees is the availability of having one-on-one critiques, something not offered at all SCBWI (or other writing) conferences, and I picked very well this year. The picture book I submitted seemed a very good fit for Charlesbridge Publishing, and my mentor was outstanding – knowledgeable, insightful, and beyond helpful. Did I mention thorough? Yes, very thorough. A good editor or agent really knows how to show you where you need improvement without destroying your soul, acknowledge all the things that are right with your manuscript, and point out directions that will help you make your story perfect. And that I got.

The big challenge after a conference like this, for me, anyway, is to keep the momentum and all that excitement going because Monday morning rolls around pretty quickly and I am back at my desk writing and designing for everyone else, i.e., my clients. However, one of the first things I did Monday was to hit the library. I was picking up an adult novel I’d requested on inter-library loan, Before We Were Yours, and also a number of picture books that had been recommended by my mentor and other workshop leaders along the way. I also requested a few more from our main library. (As I did not take any photos of the event, I have included a handful of those books here.) I plan to read them over the next couple days for both enjoyment and to understand what makes them really good picture books. There is always much to learn.

Over the next few days I will revisit the MS I submitted and all my mentor’s notes and look to see how I can make my story shine yet brighter. For all the praise she gave me for this picture book, and there was plenty, it wasn’t enough – at least not yet – to be the one Charlesbridge wants to publish. Not yet.


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Well, we see how much time has passed since that last post … so this will be a bit brief, as time, even to blog, is sometimes hard to find. Among the things I particularly enjoyed about this June Conference were several workshops which enriched my life as a children’s book writer and illustrator and added to my knowledge of craft, inspiration and TUESDAY-DWeisner2curiosity.

A workshop with the children’s book illustrator and author David Wiesner was terrific. He gave the opening keynote, but I also took a workshop with him titled “Reference Is Your Friend.” He’s a brilliant, phenomenally talented and very humble person, and listening to his process as he designs and works out his world-renowned books was fascinating. His recommendation for all the attendees if we would take away one thing? Draw from life.

A workshop by Donna Galanti on world-building was another favorite because  no matter what type of novel we write, whether fantasy or one taking place in our town, we need to create a world for readers. Donna really broke it down, and also provided the rare handout so we could be listening to her presentation without our heads down scribbling notes frantically. She came up with so many useful points that I will refer to as I’m delving into my own novel.

There were more excellent ones, and one or two that were not so fabulous, but we only know by opening ourselves to the presentations and finding out what there is for us to learn. I’d also signed up for two one-on-one critiques for my WIP novel and another for a WIP picture book. One of these was outstanding and gave me some very good direction.

By the end of the first day of the conference, I didn’t see a soul who wasn’t looking a little wiped out, just from running from class to class and then to individual critiques and roundtables. Of course, I could go on. And on. But I’m going to stop here, with a suggestion for all of you who might be reading this and who are interested in writing and/or illustrating children’s books and not already a member of SCBWI.

Join. Join a whole bunch of other talented, dedicated people who want to reach out to children with amazing ideas and stories and visions. Join an organization whose sole existence is to provide everything you’d want to know and more about how to become a writer or illustrator for children. Become familiar with your local branch of SCBWI and see what they have to offer. In New Jersey, we have the annual June Conference, but also some smaller events during the year. You can learn more here on the SCBWI site and check out the chapter nearest you while you’re there.

Maybe I’ll see you at the conference!

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I can hardly believe t’s been a week already since I’ve returned from the 2-day children’s book conference in Princeton. I know I’m not alone when I say I come home exhausted, exhilarated, optimistic, grateful, exhausted, happy, enriched, hopeful, challenged, and oh .. did I mention exhausted?


Jumping into my standard 40+ hour work week the very next day does not leave a lot of time for reflecting on all that transpired, reviewing materials, notes from critiques, etc. But numerous thoughts and conclusions were ribboning through my mind on and off all week long, even while I looked forward to this weekend to catch up on some rest and start seriously considering where I was going with children’s books.

And a direction became clear. One of the big attractions of the New Jersey SCBWI Conference is that we offer “one-on-ones” to both writers and illustrators. This is often the focal point of the weekend for those writers who wish a detailed critique from agents and/or editors on their children’s books and illustrators who can have art directors review their portfolios. This year, I went full steam ahead and booked two agent critiques for my middle grade novel and one editor critique for a picture book I’m working on. Of the three critiques, one was so incredibly helpful, I was just thrilled.

In the past I have submitted manuscripts that were as finished and polished as I could get them. They’d been looked at by my critique partners, gone through numerous revisions, and perhaps even been seen at previous conferences. This year was different. The picture book is in the very early stages of development and I sought some insight  and direction. The novel had once been a picture book, and through a number of professional critiques had moved through the chapter book phase to its true calling, middle grade. But I had questions, and I wanted to hear an agent’s opinion.

ADogsPurpose-WBruceCameron2The good news is that one agent confirmed my story is unique and not on the market, and she really liked the concept. The not-surprising news is I have a lot of work ahead of me, as in, now I have to write the rest of the book! This agent really paid attention when looking at my synopsis and the first 15 pages of my manuscript, and offered solid advice. I also came armed with lots of questions, and the ensuing discussion helped to highlight areas I need to focus on, existing concepts I might change to improve it, etc. So for that critique alone, the conference was worth it.

Am I writing today? Not yet. But I am making a plan on how I’m going to get this book written. One aspect of the plan is what I read. You know how you sometimes buy a book but when you get it, you know it’s not the time to read it and temporarily shelve it? The book I need to read right now is pictured here, A Dog’s Purpose.  It was recommended to me at least 4 years ago by the CSR of one of the major printers I work with in my capacity as a graphic designer. As little time as she and I had to chat beyond the work-related, she highly recommended this book for me, and said she knew I’d love it on every level. I know the timing is now perfect and reading it will also enrich the story I’m writing.

More on the conference here …





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“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden


With the annual New Jersey Society of Children’s Books Writers and illustrators (NJ SCBWI) June Conference on the horizon one has to think – there is something so amazing about so many individuals all streaming into one location from all over the country for a single purpose – to share, to learn and to grow in the one thing that unites us all – children’s books. We meet old friends and make some new, share and see amazing illustration, and have the opportunity to sit in workshops and at lunch tables, not just with our peers, but with editors and agents from some of the finest publishing companies and agencies in the U.S. Cheers to us all!

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Why, you may ask, are you looking at a pair of feet in (… well, a pretty cute set of) flip-flops?

Here’s why. For the same reason you’re about to look at a yummy summer salad sitting on an antique kitchen chair complete with original milk paint, (which by the way, doesn’t hold up all that well to everyday wear and tear.)


It’s an offering. A little tide-you-over. I’ve been somewhat absent from my blog, but I do think of you, and I do miss the delight of writing more frequent posts, as well as stopping by your blogs. (Just because I don’t follow you or comment doesn’t mean I don’t stop in for a quick peek.)

The last few weeks have included some exciting things – a visit to the Grounds for Sculpture to see the Seward Johnson retrospective before the borrowed pieces return to their permanent spots all over the world on July 1. So much to see, and such genius! I’ll be posting more on that soon. Meanwhile, here’s a little teaser of what’s to come.


Johnson is known for his sculptures of people in everyday life and his 3-dimensional interpretations of famous paintings. Throughout the grounds one finds groupings of people as well as individuals, such as this hot dog vendor along one of the walkways.

And then there was the NJ SCBWI June Conference where we all ate, drank and slept children’s books for nearly two days straight. It’s intense, exciting, rewarding, and based on everyone’s collapse on Monday, a major rush! The workshops, meeting and dining with agents and editors, connecting and re-connecting with fellow writers and illustrators is quite the whirlwind of an experience, and has us all coming home with a renewed sense of purpose, our dreams fired up, and ready to further our goals and experiences in children’s books.

Intermezzo: a French Bulldog illustration of mine, for summer.


And then of course, there’s work. LOTS of work. Not to complain; paying one’s bills is a good thing, but between it all, well, my blog bore the brunt of it. As have my poor LightBetweenOeans-MLStedman2porches which remain bereft of a single flower this year. (I’ll spare you the empty porch photos.) And then there are the everyday demands of just plain life. Busy!

And of course I’ve been reading. I am always reading, no matter what. Great book – just finished – I highly recommend it.

Soon I will share with you some truly amazing treats from the Seward Johnson exhibit.

So stay tuned … I do believe I’m back!

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This may be for the reader or the writer in you, but if you’re in driving distance of either of these events, I suspect you may be interested in both!

BooksToBeRead-2First, what’s happening the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd? The event that I have no business going to but will be heading to anyway – the Hunterdon County Library’s Annual Book Sale! It will be held again at the South County Park Fairgrounds in Lambertville, just off Rt. 179, (for you locals), and as always, Saturday features hardbound books at $2, paperback, $1 and Sunday, they’re half that. Something new – Monday, May 4th from 9 to 12, they’re having a $5 bag sale! Last year I believe they had something like 60,000 books, so collect your totes and mark your calendars. For complete information, go to the Library Sale website.

BoyReadingIf you’re a children’s book writer and/or illustrator, published or aspiring, think about attending the New Jersey SCBWI big June Conference Saturday and Sunday, June 13th and 14th, in Princeton, NJ. The conference is two days packed with workshops taught by great names in the children’s book field, critiques from editors, agents, authors, illustrators or your peers, special intensives, socializing with agents and editors over meals, great camaraderie among all those who love children’s books, and more. This, however, requires registration and a conference fee, plus there’s a deadline to register – early bird by April 19th, otherwise by May 15th. You also receive a discount as an SCBWI member. Find more details here, and click on the link to register for more in-depth information. (You are not automatically committed to registering by going to the registration site.) You’ll enjoy wonderful food all weekend long, (I’m looking forward to it already), and you can stay overnight at the Crowne Plaza/Holiday Inn Express Conference Center.

I’ll be going to both events – hope to see you there – I’ll be the one with that book-ish glow!

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I don’t want to lose one minute of the excitement and inspiration. However … I know I am not alone in coming home from a weekend of total immersion in children’s books at the June NJ SCBWI Conference to find that life “as we knew it” is alive and well and waiting for us at the door. Kids and pets, bills and deadlines, meal prep and taxes …. they really did only disappear for those two (or three) fabulous days. And how wonderfully inspiring those days were … and with all our food cooked for us, too. Ahhhhh.

So now we’re back. And as has been true in each year past, the challenge remains … to not lose the forward momentum that was inspired by meeting with agents and editors, art directors and other faculty, and sharing with our peers. I believe most of us come with certain goals in common and with certain individual goals as well. I believe that all of us come to find the avenue – or additional avenues – to be published, and/or represented by an agent, and to bring our writing and illustrating talents to the eyes and ears of children and young adults.

Some of us come looking for the first steps towards that goal … information about the field of children’s book publishing, and others for the nitty gritty of how we can get further along the road. I came with my own missions as did you. One of mine was to get guidance on a particular story I’ve been working on, and I was richly rewarded by the insight of the agent I chose to meet with on that and on other aspects of my work. I came to learn more about how I could improve my illustration and my portfolio, and was rewarded in several ways, some quite unexpected.

I came to be inspired. I came to be reminded, following a very difficult year, that despite all challenges, I am a children’s book author and illustrator. I am. Having a published book in my hand is not what defines me; but yes, it is the significant mark of progress and success along my path to which I aspire. I came to gather the momentum I needed to move forward and become, in more and richer ways, who and what I am.

I suspect, no matter how you choose to phrase it, that that is why you attended the SCBWI Conference as well … to be who you are. May we all find the inspiration, from both without and within, to follow our path and be able to say and believe … I am a children’s book author and illustrator.

Soon … some tips in keeping our dream alive!

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Cheers to reading! And cheers to children’s books of all genres!

And here we come – a whole bunch of us aspiring writers and illustrators flocking to the annual NJ SCBWI (New Jersey Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), June Conference for one 3-day weekend where we eat, breathe, drink children’s books. Today, Friday, is the day of the intensives. These are in illustration, picture books, novels, and many more. The next two days are packed with workshops, one-on-ones with agents and editors, first page sessions, meals with the editors and agents, and outstanding keynote speakers – Kate DiCamillo and Dan Yaccarino. There’s a Book Fair, book signings, scholarship raffle, mix and mingle, and more. It’s simply an amazing event. (Take a peek at what the schedule looks like.) All to inform and guide us to being the best children’s book writers and illustrators we can be.

So cheers to everyone attending – faculty and attendees alike, and to all the wonderful people in NJ SCBWI that organize and work the event.

Whether lost in a traditional book or engrossed in an e-book, children are still reading and loving it. And all of us in SCBWI are inspired to be a part of it.

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A novel? Really? A couple years ago, Sheri, from our children’s writer’s group, said, “You have a novel in you.” I didn’t find that to be something impossible, yet didn’t see it as highly likely at the time, either.

Aside from one story of mine which hasn’t yet found its proper genre – picture book, chapter book or middle grade – I have been focusing on picture books. I read novels all the time, but had not really thought about writing one of my own. The meager story beginning I had written for a First Page Session was a starting point, and even then, I wasn’t all that focused on it. Until I got a critique from two editors on my storyline, and things that did and didn’t work for an MG reader.

Since that time, I’ve had a unique experience. The story is writing itself.

I’ve read online, and seen among my fellow writers, how some novelists just write it all down straightaway, while others make an outline, map it out, etc. This is not what’s happening. The story is telling itself to me … at odd times, when I’m relaxing, working, whenever it pleases. I mentioned this to my friend, Linda, who told me I’m channeling my story. Well, that’s kind of exciting, and makes sense. Although I envisioned a most basic structure for how the pattern of the chapters would go, beyond that, it just keeps coming.

I’m not writing anything down; there’s no way I’ll forget it. I’m allowing it to just come through. I cry, I laugh, I see who’s becoming a character. This is very new to me. Some ideas require some of my attention – for ex., should that character enter my heroine’s life in the same chapter as another? Why IS my character like that? And I let it go. The answers come back in a fairly short time.

I don’t need too many facts at this time – I can fill in the realities of horses, riding, racing, later. But I realize I can also feed my storywriter within, so am reading Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton, and perhaps returning to other horse related books I have here or reading some new ones or checking out some videos. I am fortunate to have friends involved with horses who can help me with facts, as well as one of the sources for this story’s inspiration … the horses of Mylestone Equine Rescue, for whom I volunteer and help in other ways.

Perhaps the best part of all – is I’m not in a rush. It comes as it comes, and I’m quite grateful for that.

At top left is a photograph I took of Calvin, one of Mylestone‘s rescued horses.

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Back in December, I devoted a post to where ideas for picture books come from. With energy still running high from the NJ SCBWI June Conference, I feel inspired to expand that post. I’ll start with an example.

The photo below tells a story that may or may not have interest to you, but it definitely does to me. You may not even see the story right away. But stick with me. By way of background, I put food and water on my back porch for the 2 cats next door who are outside most of the time, and often visiting me. In time, a small tuxedo feral whom I’ve named Little Fee found the food, and now he’s a regular. I feed him morning and night, and he can graze whenever he’s inspired until I bring the food in. But who else is at the food bowl?

Well, if you know animals, you can look at the photo and know that it’s not just a cat. Towards the end of this past winter, when food sources were slim, I had two visitors who discovered the food – a young skunk, and a young opossum. While neither bothers me, I don’t need animals with lots of teeth or who can spray horrible smells on my porch. So I started bringing the food in as soon as it got dark. They left and found food elsewhere.

Feeling confident, now that it’s June, I started leaving it out a bit later again for when Little Fee comes around. So look again … and check that footprint. Here it is enlarged – Exhibit A. Based on my research last time, I’m pretty sure that I have a possum again. But he’s not the only visitor … I started noticing an increase in bird poop on my porch railing. Closer observation has revealed that a mama Blue Jay swoops down several times in the morning and late afternoon, takes a piece of food and flies away. She’s either feeding her young or eating it herself and regurgitating for her young.

For me, that’s a story idea. Three cats, a skunk, a possum and a Blue Jay all coming for dinner. I’m always enamored with nature, and this inspires me!

So where do story ideas come from? Always something of meaning and interest to ourselves. It can be something as simple as an observation of nature on our back porches, or something we’ve always wanted to know more about, or experiences or observations we feel compelled to write about. It’s when we are trying to write about “not us” that stories fall flat. We need to know ourselves, (or be willing to discover), and write from our hearts. So simple.

At the June Conference, I had a PB critique which inspired me to improve my story and rework my dummy. In a First Page Session, I got some suggestions that got wheels turning about really writing that middle-grade novel I only occasionally thought about. Where are those ideas coming from? My past, my love of horses, and all the information I’ve been absorbing over the last 7 years from helping an equine rescue and having friends who ride. The ideas are flowing as through an open faucet. I didn’t expect that from a simple First Page critique.

And in one workshop about breaking picture book rules, we split into 2 groups halfway through, and one of the two presenters, Alison Formento, gave us a writing exercise. What we participants wrote in such a short time was both amazing and moving to us all. And right there was another idea for each of us, because Alison had triggered our writing about something meaningful in our lives.

It all starts with an idea … what has meaning for you? What MUST you share with the world in whatever genre or whatever format or voice you choose? That’s where story ideas come from. And sometimes it can be as tiny as a muddy little paw print.

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There’s always one bad thing about the NJ SCBWI Conference … it’s over.

Dr. Seuss, now …. my book, tomorrow!

Driving home from the conference, I am always tired, but also revved up, thinking of all the things I learned, what manuscripts I want to get right back to, editors/agent’s comments, etc.  And then there’s the next step – I walk in the door. Lo and behold, the life I left behind to immerse myself in days of children’s books is still there. Waiting for me. Needing me. Demanding of me. I don’t imagine it’s terribly different for many of you. And unless you have reached that wonderful position in life where you spend your waking hours writing and illustrating children’s books, you, like me, can watch your dream start to fade into the laundry, kids, pets, dinner, work, etc. And we haven’t even put our bags and portfolios down yet.

So, I’ve been working on some ways to hold on to that wonderful dream we nurtured at the NJ SCBWI June Conference. I hope these work for you.

  1. First off, I make the time to make a list of all the things I want to do as a result of the Conference, from sending a thank-you to jotting down what I will be focusing on. (Details can come later.)
  2. In the next day or two, I write out thank-you’s to the editor’s and/or agents who have helped me with my work.
  3. I find a couple of photos of the conference – or even the conference center – and print them out and put them on my desk. If I can find a printable one of the agent I met with, I do that, too. Even on days when I have no time to write or draw, those images keep the experience alive.
  4. I follow up by filling out the survey that Laurie sends out and by checking Kathy’s blog for post-conference news and updates. (I check her blog daily anyway, because she is such a wealth of information about children’s books, but especially now, I look forward to her posts on this event.)
  5. I pull out whatever MS was/were critiqued over the weekend and put them in a separate folder – this is what I will be working from – I put the names of the MS on the front, and place it in plain view.
  6. I next set up a real schedule for myself regarding what time frame I want to get what done – what is the date I want to get a revised MS back to the agent?, etc.  I also, at this time, review the bios of the editors and agents attending – who might be appropriate to send something to …. now while the iron is hot!  Some of those submission windows close sooner than others. And then I send them within the next few weeks. Setting up a special calendar where you mark your deadlines can be very helpful. It’s one thing to do it on your computer, but another when it’s 3-D and you look at it every day!
  7. Back to the list – take a little time to think .. how can I fit what into my schedule and when. I managed to really step up my game pre-conference. How can I keep that energy going, (and yes, still sleep, etc.)? When can I block out some time consistently to focus on one of my dummies and/or illustrations each week? Where can I block out some time to write until it becomes a habit again? If I really want to write and illustrate children’s books, I must figure this out now.

That’s what I do. I admit that I do well with a list, but … I don’t want this experience to fade, or fold in on itself in the face of the many demands of everyday life. I plan to hold on to the dream, and imagine that the little reading group up there is reading MY children’s book. Who knows? They might be reading yours!

If you have any more ideas of how to hold on to the dream of writing and illustrating children’s books post-NJ SCBWI June Conference, let me know.

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Today I was fortunate to find the following quote by Thoreau:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. He will put something behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him, or the old laws will be expanded and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense; and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

What does this have to do with the upcoming June SCBWI Conference? I find, and have found in years past, that as this wonderful event approaches, many of those attending who will be meeting with agents, editors and/or art directors start moving into a “do or die” mental state. It is as if this opportunity to be critiqued by a professional in the children’s book field is the very last chance on earth to get published. Of course, we know that this isn’t true, but the stress that starts to build up before the conference is enormous.

Yes, there are deadlines to get work in; the manuscript deadline has passed, and the deadlines for intensive attendees may have also. For those if us participating in the juried art show and/or portfolio display, and/or prepping dummies and illustrations,  the heat is on. And writers now start questioning the worthiness of their submitted stories. I struggle, at times, with some of this myself, trying to keep a balance between preparation for the June Conference and the rest of my life, and a perspective on it all.

I want to arrive at the conference serene and confident. How about you?

The quote by Thoreau helped jog it all back in perspective for me. All we can do is our very best. Let’s keep our eyes on our dreams and not get mired down in perfection, a need for approval or to be published this minute, or whatever runs amok through our minds at times like these.

Nothing is stopping us from advancing confidently in the direction of our dreams and endeavoring to live the lives which we have imagined right now. It’s a daily practice, thinking this way, but it sure beats the alternative – becoming mired in baseless fear and crippling stress. Cheers to success! See you at the June Conference!

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