Winter has been putting up a concerted effort but today when I walked the dogs, there was a chorus of different birds singing, the crocus, snowdrops and primroses have been joined by the first tulips and daffodils, and the first robotic law mower has emerged from its winter hibernation.
Later this spring I'll be in Belgium for the third Europolitan conference - the joint conference hosted by five SCBWI regions that is held every other year in one of the five countries. Since I didn't get to the SCBWI New York conference this year, I'm looking forward to the Europolitan with even more anticipation.
I love the Europolitan - its small size creates a very different experience than attending conferences with 10 times more attendees. It's a lot of work to plan, but tremendously rewarding to see that planning come to fruition in a weekend of inspiration and focus on the crafts of writing and illustration.
In the run-up to the conference in May, Cynsations will feature a series of interviews related to the Europolitan. In the past I've been the interviewer, but this time, in a first for me, I was one of the interviewees! Ever wonder what my writing desk looks like? You can check it out along with all the behind-the-scenes information about the Europolitan over on Cynsations.
Is it spring yet? The calendar says we’re well on our way to summer but the weather has been actively disagreeing with that for weeks now.
Whatever the season, it has been busy!
In February I spent a week in New York City. First I met my best friend who traveled up from Texas to join me for some awesome sightseeing - we packed as many museum visits, Broadway shows and fabulous meals into our days as possible. Then she flew home and I switched hotels to attend the SCBWI Winter Conference. This was my third conference so when I enter the Hyatt it feels like my home-away-from-home, complete with my creative family.
This year, in addition to working behind the scenes and attending wonderful breakout sessions and keynote addresses, I had another commitment on my calendar: a planning session with SCBWI’s Team Bologna.
SCBWI has a booth at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in even years (the next time SCBWI will be there is 2018) and this year the booth was double in size from past years, complete with fabulous new banners that showcased not only the organization, but the artwork of some of our members, including the winners of the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery. (For many more pictures of the booth, including our duelling illustrator events, click here).
At the end of 2015 I decided to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to experience for myself the world’s largest rights fair focused exclusively on books for children and young adults. I learned so much from attending and helping with the SCBWI booth. Patti Buff, Regional Advisor for SCBWI Germany-Austria, and I were joining the team for the first time and what a fun and rewarding experience that has been!
So what did I think of Bologna, both the city and the fair?
The gelato is amazing. The city is beautiful.
People tend to think about the Bologna book fair as an event primarily for artists, and there’s no question that the famous walls, covered with promotional postcards, as well as the portfolio review opportunities available at the booths of many publishers, are tremendous opportunities for artists. For writers, I think the value is in the programming. There are talks, panels, and discussions happening throughout the fair every day. My critique partner was visiting the fair with her artist partner, and she really enjoyed the programs that she visited.
While I didn’t visit any panels (but my critique partner is going to share her notes with me :-), on a few occasions I did walk around some of the buildings (I never did make it into all of them!) and I especially enjoyed networking with the publishers and agents based in Switzerland with the hope of bringing some of those professionals to future programs in our region.
I spent most of my time at the SCBWI booth, talking with booth visitors about SCBWI. Some of our visitors were already members and I know of at least two SCBWI members who visited the booth who have since been connected with critique opportunities with other members, thanks to their visits to the booth. Others were not familiar with SCBWI and we were able to tell them about how being a part of this professional organization could help them grow in their careers.
It was amazing to be at the booth as publishers stopped to talk to an artist or author and artist from SCBWI during their one hour personal showcases, and realize that deals were being made!
Publishers really do go to this fair looking for material that they can introduce into their market. Not everyone was able to travel to the fair to have a personal showcase, but many other authors and/or illustrators were part of the SCBWI showcase. It was a great feeling to gesture to the books on display and tell people that they represented just a fraction of SCBWI member books published in the last two years.
One day I was standing near the books and noticed two people very excitedly looking at a picture book. When I introduced myself and asked if they had any questions, one of them said “I am a translator. I am here on behalf of my friend who is a publisher, and I WANT THIS BOOK!” Each book in the showcase had a label on the back detailing the rights that were available, as well as contact information for those interested in the rights. I was able to direct her to another stand at the fair, with the names of the persons to ask for, so that she could talk to them about acquiring the rights for that book. As she walked away with one of our promotinal postcards that had information about and links to the online showcase where all the same rights information is listed for each book, I got a thrill from knowing that I might have just helped an SCBWI member’s book reach a wider audience.
And that’s what Bologna is all about.
My interview with the third judge of the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery is up at Cynsations. I hope you'll take a few minutes to get to know Naomi Kojima. I love doing interviews because they give me the opportunity to get to know so many people I might not otherwise have talked with. Naomi is an author and illustrator of picture books as well as the Illustrator Coordinator for SCBWI's Japan chapter and it was a delight to interview her..
You can find all of my interviews at Cynsations here.
The second in my series of interviews with the judges of the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery has posted over at Cynsations. This one is with the fabulous Laurent Linn, who, in addition to being a great Art Director, and all-around wonderful guy, is going to add Author/Illustrator to his list of credits later this spring when his young adult book Draw the Line debuts.
In addition to discussing the importance of the Bologna Book Fair to Art Directors and other publishing professionals, we talked about the using illustration in books for readers of all ages - not just picture books. I hope you'll hop on over to check it out!
Today I got home from #NY16SCBWI - the annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) - and I can't wait to write a bit more about that later this week. Until then I wanted to share my recent interview with Illustrator Doug Cushman. Among other things, we talked about the qualities he feels are important for an artist to have in order to be a successful illustrator for children's books.
This interview is part of a series highlighting the SCBWI presence at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. You can check out the interview with Doug, as well as other interviews in the series, at the Cynsations Blog.
Normally after a conference I like to summarize my thoughts fairly soon after I get home. But in the case of Europolitan, life in the form of the school holidays kept me from doing that. What I've found is that this additional time has allowed me to synthesize my thoughts, feelings and experiences from the conference into one word:
The weekend was jam packed with an amazing program of panel discussions and breakout sessions (you can see the program here). But the program is only part of the experience - it doesn't capture the conversations at lunch, on the coffee breaks, or over dinner with the faculty and participants who all have one thing in common: their passion for creating quality books for children and young adults, and getting those books into the hands of readers.
I came home tired, but inspired by the passionate involvement of so many people in the world of children's publishing.
People like literary agent Marietta Zacker, who is passionate about helping her clients make their projects the best they can be.
People like Creative Director Martha Rago, who likens her role in publishing to that of a mid-wife, helping to bring books into the world.
People like Esther Hershenhorn, writer and coach, who is passionate about helping writers and illustrators dig deeper to better understand their characters in order to make the best work possible.
People like Marieke Nijkamp, author and VP of Finance for We Need Diverse Books, who inspired and challenged us to go to the edges of the map of our known world, and beyond.
People like Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island who is passionate about getting broader exposure in the English publishing world for beautiful books from other cultures.
People like Majo de Saedeleer, who recognized a need to make books available to children in their native languages, and created the wonderful O Mundo program to meet that need.
And people like the participants, every one of which made the commitment to travel to Amsterdam and spend a weekend focused on honing their craft. To becoming a better writer or illustrator (or both).
One of those participants, Pia Drent, has written a wonderful post over at the website for the SCBWI host region, The Netherlands. I hope you'll hop over there next to check it out.
My interview with Europolitan 2015 faculty member Brooks Sherman is up today at Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations. I hope you'll hop over to check out his thoughts about effective social media use for creators.
On Character Development, Diversity & More: my interview with Literary Agent Marietta Zacker at Cynsations
As part of our series of interviews with Europolitan faculty on the Cynsations blog, I talked to Literary Agent Marietta Zacker about our conference theme of Diveristy in Children's Literature. You can check out the interview here.
I'm back from one of the highlights of every SCBWI year - the Winter Conference! We survived the chill (ok, cold!) of New York City, and now that I'm home and have managed to wash the first couple of loads of laundry, I wanted to share a couple thoughts about the conference, and I need more than 140 characters in order to do it justice.
Thought 1: The community of those who write and/or illustrate for children is made up of wonderful people!
People like Ruth McNally Barshaw, author/illustrator of the Ellie McDoodle Diaries, who signed all of the Kidlet's books, and spent so much time talking and drawing with her.
People like Debbie Ridpath Ohi (above, left) who, in addition to being a crazy-talented author/illustrator, also loves boardgames! You know what we talked about at the Saturday night gala :-).
People like Henry Winkler, who when signing two of the Hank Zipzer books that he co-writes with SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver, looked into Kidlet's eyes and said "Do you know what you are? You are powerful!"
There are breakout successes in this business, like James Dashner, who gave a keynote address to our conference on Sunday, but most people don't earn their living exclusively from writing/illustrating for kids/young adults.
Most authors and illustrators do this because of their passion for the stories they want to tell. Because they want kids to know that they are powerful, and smart, and to believe in themselves.
They want to give their readers fun and adventure. And they want to give them hope. self-confidence. strength. a glimpse of a world that's different than the one they live in.
Kami Garcia, author of Beautiful Creatures (and also for many years, a teacher) said in her keynote address
"Finding the right book at the right time can save your life."
Those who write and illustrate for children and young adults know this. They are passionate about their projects because, whether it's a blockbuster book that gets made into a movie, or a less well-known book, whether it is recommended by a librarian, teacher or friend, or stumbled upon by a young reader in a library or book store, any book can be the the book that becomes a lifeline for that child.
Thought 2: Author Journeys: some things are different, and some things are the same.
I love to hear authors (in particular, since I'm a writer) talk about their journey to publication (and beyond). What struck me after hearing Kami Garcia, Anthony Horowitz, James Dashner and Kwame Alexander* was both the differences and the similarities in their stories.
The path. Every one of these authors followed a different path to publication.
Your writing or illustrating journey is yours and it's going to be different than anyone else's.
What's the same?
They all grew as writers as they followed their path. They learned, not only about the business of being published, but about writing.
The more you write, the more you learn about writing.
Speaking of writing, we always talk about "writing a book."
I think that phrase should be changed to "rewriting a book" because good books aren't just written. They are REwritten, over and over again. A tweak here, a change there, polishing this and cutting that, until, finally, you have a book, the book, that is ready for an agent or an editor. It's not the book you wrote. Whether it's a lot or a little, it has changed since then and now it is the book that you rewrote. And then of course, the book is rewritten, yet again, until finally it's the best possible book it can be and that, that book is the one that finally makes it into the hands of the reader. This is true whether it is a 500 word picture book or an 80,000 word young adult novel.
So now I'm home. Back in the world where I cook, clean, do laundry, and take the Kidlet and the dogs to appointments.
But I'm also back in the world where I meet my writing buddy once a week for dedicated writing and rewriting time.
I'm inspired, not just by the speakers I've heard, but by the community I was a part of last weekend, to continue to write, and to rewrite. To polish and hone my stories, because someday, I hope, they will make readers smile and laugh and cry. And maybe too, they will bring readers hope, and self-confidence and strength, and a glimpse of a world that's different than the one they live in.
*if you ever, ever, ever get the chance to hear Kwame Alexander speak, do it. You will be come away moved and inspired.