Posts Tagged ‘SCBWI’

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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FusedGlassVotive2The journey of writing and illustrating children’s books, as in any serious endeavor, has been packed with a wide variety of experiences. The learning curve has been tremendous between a writer’s critique group, caring support from fellow writers and artists, and the many opportunities to grow offered through the SCBWI, (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)

Conferences, workshops, individual critiques and sometimes just time to sit down and talk with professionals in our field have given us all hope and sustained us on the road to being published and beyond.  I consider myself very fortunate that, in the time I have belonged to the SCBWI, my New Jersey chapter has been extremely pro-active in providing so many ways to become involved in the world of children’s books.

Our current NJ SCBWI Regional Advisor recently put together a really fun workshop at the Fire Me Up glass studio. It was a chance to create something new and to also sit down and brunch with the Executive Editor of Children’s Books at Sterling Publishing of NYC, Meredith Mundy. And getting there early gave my friend and I the opportunity to sit right opposite her and talk about all manner of things. It was a friendly gathering of about 20 writers and artists in the children’s book field, some published, some not yet, trying our hand at a glass project while talking about our favorite subject.

FusedGlassVotive-Lit2After brunch and getting instructions about our projects, Meredith chatted with us, talked about changes in the industry, what Sterling was looking for as well as what she, in particular, was looking for in terms of stories and subjects. And when our afternoon was done, we were each given our individual critiques of whatever manuscript we had submitted ahead of time.

Meredith’s critique was very helpful and included wonderful insights and detailed suggestions for improvement, really challenging me to expand the ideas I was already working on, while acknowledging what I’d already accomplished. What a treat! I have since been working hard on my MS, getting ready to make a pacing dummy, and sketching my main characters for still new insights.

And what about the fused glass project? We had a variety of options to choose from, and I took a fairly simple one so I could focus on the conversation around me. (You don’t want to lose attention when you’ve got such a talented Executive Editor sitting across the table!) One of the options was a glass votive holder, and as a candle lover, this seemed perfect. So with an 8″ square piece of clear glass and a variety of jewel-colored glass in the form of spaghetti, linguine, flat marbles, small chunks and other possibilities, I made what you see here. TaDa!

If you are an aspiring author or illustrator in the area of children’s books, I encourage you to look into and join the SCBWI, take a look at what’s going on in your own state, get involved and amp up your learning curve and grow!

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Coming around to myself, that is. I almost remember me!

As I’m sure any of you reading this can avow, there are periods in our lives which are especially challenging, (and that is a euphemism for what I’d really like to say, but we’ll leave it at that.) These periods may be short and intense, blowing in and shaking us hard like a sudden squall and just as soon blowing out, leaving us crumpled in their wake. They may be prolonged periods of seemingly endless things to cope with, large and small, which pick at us until we seem a mass of tiny scabs.

This is life. We accept it in all its glory and beauty and also in its times of travail. And when we are in the latter, there inevitably comes a day, only a moment perhaps, when something feels a little different, as if there’s been a barely noticeable turn in the universe somewhere and we know we have paralleled it and turned some corner ourselves. It may be ever so tiny; it may not grow overnight; but it happened.

The weather is now getting cooler, the days getting shorter, and the warming sun flows inside earlier and earlier. I have worked all day, and that western sun was drawing me, drawing me, to it and I succumbed. I brought my just-delivered copy of the SCBWI Bulletin, enamored of the cover illustration by Eliza Wheeler, to the back porch. I sat in a chair, my feet up on another, and indulged myself in some reading with the sun full on my face. The cats next door came to be petted and then sprawled on the porch, taking advantage of both the sun and the company. I read till my cheeks burned hot, loving every second of it.

There are times when we put everyone and everything else ahead of ourselves. Sometimes by necessity, sometimes by natural inclination. And there are times that we are called to come around to ourselves. It may be but a whisper, but listening is always exactly what we need.


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If you are pursuing a dream of any kind, then this post is for you. As mentioned in a previous post regarding the NJ SCBWI June Conference, it can be daunting for those of us who have full time work and/or family commitments to hang tight to the magic that occurs at events such as this or at any other inspiring event. I’m thinking of spiritual retreats, internships, especially away from home, intense volunteering experiences, educational conferences, etc. Want to keep your dream going? Here are some things that I put in motion so my dream is always an important part of my life:

* Upon return, review all notes, literature, etc to refresh your memory.

* Make lists – I’m big on lists – of what you will want to do. Make a list of things that need to be done now or in the next day or so, and one of what will need to be done in the near future and going forward.

* Make a plan for the second list – how will you accomplish it, what’s your time frame for completing what you want to do?

* Decide on how much time you can spend every day pursuing your dream. Then decide when you will do that. Early, before you need to tackle your daily work and obligations? Or late, when you can put all that aside? Decide and try to stick to it. In her talk with SCBWI Conference attendees, Kate DiCamillo said she writes 2 pages, single-spaced, every single day first thing in the morning. She does this before her critic gets up which is some time later in the morning when she attends to editing, a very different task.

* Give yourself a constant visual reminder of your goal – not an accusation, just a reminder. Mine is on my Mac where I work.

* Limit unnecessary time in e-mail and on the web, social media, etc. The web can be a huge drain on your time; do your best to do what’s important and then get off, even if it means shutting down those programs or your computer.

* Keep what you’re working on in plain sight, rather than neatly tucking it away. If you have animals or children with access to these places, figure something out. It’s important that you be able to “jump right back in” when you’re able rather than slow yourself down in set-up.

* Keep in touch with fellow travelers on your path and find time to connect with those who share and support your dream.

* Keep up with what’s going on in your “field of dreams” without spending unnecessary time on it. (‘Unnecessary’ always a key word here!) Be inspired – go to art galleries, read books, take yoga, a gardening class – whatever it is that will feed you.

* Journal daily. I have found this especially useful, and it’s recommended by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, and many others as a way of freeing up your energy. First thing in the morning is best.

* Find some time to daydream, to envision your future as having already achieved the goals you set out to accomplish. Be there.

* Be kind to yourself. Keep track of procrastination and try to chuck that, but don’t be overly hard on yourself, either.

Hopefully, these will help you in pursuing your dream and not seem too obvious. When I stick with them, they all work for me.

If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”   – Henry David Thoreau

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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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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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It’s hard to believe that just one week ago today life as we knew it had totally changed for a period of 48 magical hours. Stressful – but magical hours. Friday, June 4th and Saturday, June 5th was the NJ SCBWI Annual Conference, held this year at the Princeton Regency Hyatt.

The Hyatt atrium, empty above, was abuzz with NJ SCBWI Conference participants – editors, agents, speakers, attendees, organizers, volunteers and a very helpful Hyatt staff. That area with tables of four at the forefront was our registration area with an endless stream of people coming in to be greeted and given their materials. The fairy-lighted area to the rear left and below was our open buffet dinner area Friday night, and the step-up areas with small tables at rear right were filled with agents and editors giving critiques. On the lower level, workshops, first page sessions and intensives were going on, all opening to a wide center aisle where illustrators had displayed their work in a juried art show. Upstairs, outside of the dining areas, a portfolio display, book signing and auction took turns  over the two days.

It was a jam-packed, enlightening two days, preceded by days and weeks of stressful preparations and anticipation. NJ SCBWI‘s first year in the Hyatt was a great success, thanks to RA, Kathy Temean and Assistant RA, Laurie Wallmark, bolstered by volunteers at every turn.

So how come it’s taken one full week to blog about this inspiring event? Initially, exhaustion. I know I’m not the only one who simply crashed on Sunday. I barely had the energy, though I did it anyway, to start preparation of an MS with a couple illustrations to send to the agent who critiqued me. Tired as I was on Sunday, I elected to wait until Monday with some more rest behind me to make sure I sounded literate. And sent that off. Then starting the work of revising another MS which was critiqued by that agent and also the editors in a First Page Session for a submission.

What made it more difficult for me … and I suspect for others in my shoes … is that Monday morning I have to fold up my dream and tuck it away neatly while I go back to work. Problem was that this time, that dream was not about to stay folded away neatly, nor was it going to wait ’til the end of the day when I could give it some attention. Nope. It kept teasing and wheedling and enticing and trying its best to make me stop working and pay it some serious attention. “Look at me!” said my dream. “You know you want to!”

I was still tired for a good part of the week, but worse off, I was frozen in space.

Both needing and wanting to work, I was feeling a pull stronger than ever to turn around and work on my manuscript and a new very rough dummy.  (I do love my work, but as I’m self-employed, if I don’t do it, no one else does and I don’t make any money!) Half the time I felt like the rope in a tug of war. Of course, I ultimately and ever-so-responsibly settled down and attended to my graphics work, and came up with some pretty cool stuff, and started my children’s book work after dinner.

However, I notice that dream has developed quite a mouth on it.

Okay, it’s Friday. You talkin’ to me? Let’s do it!

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As the big annual NJ SCBWI June Conference approaches, I am one among many who is beginning to stress out. I’ve had discussions with several friends, not all fellow writers and illustrators, trying to determine what exactly it is that gets us all so wound beforehand. Editors and agents have been wonderful and helpful at the various conferences and mentoring workshops we’ve attended; there is a convivial and supportive attitude among all participants; it’s a vast learning opportunity. So why so stressed, kiddo?

One of my friends felt it was performance anxiety which tends to hit creatives especially hard. I can buy that. I was thinking perhaps it’s because we all go with such high hopes. Pick me! Publish my story, and yes, thank you for accepting me as its illustrator, too. Who doesn’t bring her dreams wrapped carefully in an elegant velvet scarf or tucked jauntily into her portfolio, waiting for the moment to reveal what some unsuspecting editor or agent has been just waiting to be wowed by – the best story and illustrations ever!

I was following a few links to blogs about children’s books before I wrote this – what some editors and agents say they’re looking for, great hooks in your stories, and then on to the blog of Jay Asher, who wrote Thirteen Reasons Why. I haven’t read the book, but I believe a friend of mine has. What struck me in visiting Jay Asher online was that first, he had his own blog … which detailed his book signings, event participation and school visits. Then I see his book has its own blog AND his MC has her own blog. Holy Moly!

I was both daunted and excited. Could this happen to me? Of course, it could! And the joy and wealth of experiences it will bring to my life when I get there are just glittering on the horizon.

Breathe in. And exhale. And again. Ahhh, to be published!

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Gypsy Rose in my last home - in the 1742 dining roomOne of the most frustrating things about returning from a writing conference is that it doesn’t seem to take long before the life we knew before we left seeps – or charges – back in. Two days at the Annual NJ SCBWI Conference were exciting, absorbing and brimming with promise for my future as a writer and illustrator. This had been preceded by hours and days of prep – creating a new illustration for my submitted MS, tighter editing, printing out first pages, readying a speed pitch and so on.

I came home exhausted but totally psyched. Unfortunately I was also hit the next day with a blistering sinus/migraine, but still I forged on and edited that story in the evening, cutting out another 90 words. The next day I wrote thank you’ s to the wonderful agent and editors who had critiqued my work and I began sketching for my dummy.  The following day, still in a heat wave of nearly 100 degrees and shifting barometric pressure, I got hit by another crippling sinus/migraine headache. And of course, on Monday, I’d had the usual demanding pile of work, which pays my bills, on my desk to tackle.

Point is, even for a two day conference, the afterglow doesn’t last long before the distractions of life force their way back onto our laps demanding to be fed. How not to lose that momentum? I made a new commitment. I already journal every day and miss with rare exception. However, my new commitment to my future as a children’s book writer and illustrator is to spend a minimum of 10 minutes a day doing something to further my children’s book career.

On weekends, I may spend hours working on a manuscript or sketches, and sometimes in the evening as well when I’m able. However, even on those days when I have almost no energy left, I will do something, even if only for 10 minutes. I don’t want the insights and recommendations of the agent I met and the editors I sat with to fall through the cracks. To keep them alive, I need to touch their encouragement every day, even if only briefly, until I make the next block of time. A few sketches, jotting down ideas, a bit more editing of a manuscript … whatever.

The distractions of life are never going away – that IS life. But only we, as writers and illustrators, can put them off our laps and tell them to amuse themselves for a little while – we have something very important to tend to – our futures.

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