Thursday, August 12, 2010

2010 SCBWI LA Conference - day 4

More palm trees!
The palm trees spoke to me in California. Begging me to stay. A feeling in my soul told me that someday I need to live somewhere with tall beautiful palm trees. It is my destiny.

But, I digress. Here we are to wrap this puppy up with day 4. It was a grand day. If only all Mondays could take place at conferences amongst wonderful creatives who are passionate about children's literature. We missed the opening Keynote on middle grade novels, so we begin with Paul Fleischman's Keynote on 'Surviving the Novel'. He passes along some good tips such as keeping a file for unused lines, saving several versions of your manuscript and emailing it to yourself. He says writing a picture book is like writing a screenplay. Use Google Street View to see what your character might pass along the way.

Next is 'A View From the Top: 4 Publishers Discuss our Industry' with Justin Chandra, Jennifer Hunt, Stephanie Owens Lurie, & Francesco Sedita. I've got a lot of detailed notes here, but Team blog did an excellent job of creating informative posts on each speaker, so click the names to get the full breakdowns. I do have highlighted that Francesco said to 'write for yourself first'. and once again we hear to NOT write to the trends. As Justin says, 'If everyone goes home and writes to the trends then the vampires win'.

John Parra
The Path of Dreams
I'm going to try to do an especially through job with this one for my friend, Juana Martinez, who was unable to attend Monday's sessions, and who loves John's work. John Parra told us of his family influences and how after he won the Society of Illustrators award he took the leap and moved to NY knowing that he wanted to commit himself to an illustration career. He knew the beginning would be financially tough, but his goal was to be happy, and art was the only thing that would fulfill that. In his process he goes through many sketches and likes to add layers of details to his paintings to create a whole universe, an ecosystem, rich with symbolism. He shows us the piece in the photo, aptly titled, 'Todo Cambia', as it was a style change that took him in a new direction. His books typically take him 7 months during which time he's also working on other projects. John didn't seek out to be a children's book creator. He was approached, and jumped in not knowing much about it. He likes to create an old fashioned look by sanding off layers of paint to make the piece look like something that was found in your attic. He also does commercial work. He shows us examples of his picture library of images collected for each project. John says it's important to be a part of the art community. It is part of the process. Don't shut yourself off. Get involved in local arts groups. Personally, I've found this to be important as it was only when I started reaching out to other artists online and in real life that my creative process really took off. John says luck = opportunity meeting preparedness.

Loren Long
Creating Picture Books - My Process
I'd been looking forward to this workshop since being able to talk to Loren Saturday where he told us some of what he would be covering. Loren begins by telling us that he attended Steven Malk's talk on Sunday, not for himself, but to gather info for us, because that's the kind of workshop guy Loren is. :) What he gathered was a clearer definition of a literary agent as someone who represents writers and artists where as an art rep will get you work for magazines, advertising projects, etc... The other point was, at his last session when asked about the 1 or more styles question, Loren told us what he had always been told which is to only show one style, but Steven Malk and Loren's art director both recently said it's actually a positive to show 2-3 styles if they're all very accomplished.

Loren says the editor, art director, and illustrator work together in full collaboration. The illustrator can can ask them to break up the text for the page breaks. He shows us his beginning thumbnail sketches which set the mood for the entire story, and his process to the final, to scanned art, and finally mailing it off after his whole family kisses the box.

Ashley Bryan
Closing Keynote: A tender Bridge

If you had told me I'd be chanting poetry with 1136 people at the conference I never would have believed you, but it was the absolute most perfect way to round out an incredible 4 days. Ashley puts power into words like no one I've ever heard before. When I returned home I could still hear the rhythm of his voice in my head, and I found myself chanting lines in my apartment, and in my version there was also some dancing.

It was then off to the autograph signing where while standing in line I was able to meet Jennifer Gray Olson, who I recognized as someone who's participated in Illustration Friday. I tend to remember  the IF peeps! I was sad that Loren Long's 'Otis' had sold out because as Loren told us 'Otis' makes an excellent Christmas gift, but I was able to pick up a copy of his 'The Little Engine That Could', which he said has been the greatest honor of his career to illustrate.

And Jon Scieszka, the master of words himself, signed his brilliant 'The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs'

It was so wonderful meeting so many authors and illustrators over the course of the event, and reconnecting with friends as well. I was so glad that my author friend Natalie Rompella, who I met just before I moved away from Illinois spotted me in the crowd.

So, after the books were signed it was over, but certainly not forgotten. Linda drove us to Rodeo Dr. so I could snap some touristy-type photos and get a little sense of LA before my red eye flight back home.

Now, there's already a big buzz of excitement among my fellow kidslit illustrator friends about next year's conference, and if we all end up being able to make the trip a very grand party it shall be!

So far, the following folks have expressed interest in attending. If you would like to be added to the list let me know in the comments section.

The LA 2011 crew!! >>>
Andi Butler, Linda Silvestri, Jannie Ho, Tracy Bishop, Laura Zarrin, Nina Crittenden, Joy Steuerwald, Diandra Mae, Lynn Alpert, Kristi Valiant, Bonnie Adamson

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2010 SCBWI LA Conference - day 3

Kim Fleming and Linda Silverstri
After all the fun of day 2 it was back to business, but first a late breakfast, and plan for which workshops to attend. There are so many good talks all taking place at the same time you really need to decide what is going to be the most beneficial to you at this particular stage of your career. We ended up not attending the first ballroom panel of the day on 'Why Narrative Fiction is Hotter than Ever', so we start the day with a Keynote by Carolyn Mackler, "For Richer or Poorer: Writing Through Good Times and Bad". Carolyn tells us about how her book, "The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Things" was banned, and how 368 teens signed a petition in support of her.

Our 1st workshop was with Marion Dane Bauer, entitled 'Basics of Writing a Picture Book'. Marion tells us, 'Don't let anyone else define you.' She says some of her presentation will make us say, 'duh', but there is a difference between knowing it and doing it. That is so true! She says most picture books are less than 400 words, and most first drafts end up needing to be cut in half. Everything you write needs to lead  to pictures. A writer must let go of the visual aspect of the story. Jane Yolen's 'Dinosaur Says Goodnight' allows visual opportunities through the writing. You are writing something that is going to be read 100s of times. It's the rhythm that makes this tolerable. Read your work aloud. You want your words to be silkenly fluid. Write with thought to the page turns so you don't have one page with one line and another with a whole paragraph. Take a picture book you like and type it up at home to see how few words there are, and where the page turns are. Don't write FOR a young child. Write THROUGH a young child. Kids want to be in charge of their own world. Don't wink at the adult reader like the cartoons do.

Steven Malk
The Do's and Don'ts of Building Your Illustration Career
Steven Malk is a Literary Agent who represents Lane Smith, Adam Rex, Jon Scieszka, and many other of my favorite authors and illustrators, so my ears were especially perked up for this workshop. The room was packed. Steven says be aware of what's out there. Do your homework. Study illustration. Be influenced by the classics. Don't look for a shortcut. (It may be a trap door.) He says Maurice Sendack wrote 'Where the Wild Things Are' from his heart. He didn't follow a trend. It doesn't always happen fast, so don't pressure yourself.
 Do think carefully about your portfolio. Don't do the kitchen sink approach. No more than 20 pieces. Your portfolio needs to show you understand the field. Think about the order of the images the way a musician thinks about the order of songs on an album. Always add and subtract content over time. Don't use the same portfolio for multiple fields. Don't ask publishers to make a huge leap. Do have a clean well organized website. Nothing fancy. No bells or whistles, or music. You need a blog. Make it distinctly you. Do attend as many conferences as possible. It is a good investment in your future.  DON'T DABBLE! It's a career. Steven hates the attitude that you just want to try one book and then you'll be onto something else. Do develop your own distinct point of view. He loves hearing who influences you. He's been noticing a big Mary Blair resurgence, but the problem is that people are just doing her style without doing anything on top of that. Put on a layer that is your own.

You can have more than one field on your website such as animation and illustration or editorial and children's books. If you are looking to illustrate novels show some line work. Steven says he appreciates anything a person does if they do it well, so multiple styles are acceptable, but if it's weak don't include it. Steven is not taking a lot of people right now. Steven says he loves postcards as a promo tool.

Bonnie Bright and Linda Silvestri doing yoga
Our next Keynote is with Gennifer Choldenko, 'Kill the Bunnies:Writing Novels for Today's Kids" Gennifer says there will always be a market for stupendous books. She tells us to harness the energy of your dreams. Cultivate the between state between sleeping and dreaming when your mind is at rest as during yoga, jogging, or showering. This is when the ideas will come. There is a kid out there who needs your book. Write for that kid.

Our final Keynote is with Rubin Pfeffer who talks about the changes in the book industry and how we are becoming a society of 'Content Creators'. He see this as a positive change with many doors opening and his talk assures us that change need not be a scary thing as David Diaz also explains to us. David went on to say the book is a perfect thing, like the fork or the chair. Music has undergone 10 format changes in the last 100 years. He says in books we're right around where the 8 track was. For more on this see Team Blog's coverage.

Monday, August 09, 2010

2010 SCBWI LA Conference - day 2

Driving in for day 2
 The bumpy terrain is a refreshing sight for this midwestern girl who  usually only sees boring flatness. Conference day 2 was like the 'Empire Strikes Back' of this series. Lots of fun adventure and unexpected surprises. 

Our 1st Keynote Speaker was Gordon Korman, a writer who Lin says kids really love. He says he looks at 8th graders as New Yorkers. They see everything on a scale of abysmally horrible to not bad. He points out that the dog dies a lot in kid's fiction, and a kid knows that if a cover has an award sticker and a pic of a dog, then that dog is going down.

Gordon speaks of the need for stick-to-it-ness as the attitude needed for kid's book success.

Literary Agents View of the Market Place
Ginger Clark, Ken Wright, Josh Adams, Lisa Grubka
This panel starts out by saying we are in a time of change, but they are indeed looking for books that are timeless and will stand the test of time. Part of an agent's job is to fight for the author/illustrator's audio, multimedia, and even theme park rights. They say we are entering an era where soon you will be able to choose what platform you want to view the material....DVD, theater, book, audiobook will all be released at the same time. (Funny, I was just wishing for something like that.) Josh says, 'Agents are not interior designers, but they will help you stage it.' He says they are also sometimes your shrink, at which Ginger promptly points out that she is NOT your therapist, best friend, or mother. She is your man on the ground - all business. Josh says it's part of his job to help you build up your confidence. It's obvious that you need to be aware of what type of agent you are looking for to fit your work personality.

Kelly Light and Kim Fleming
It was on this day that we met the fabulous Kelly Light! I was so glad Linda spotted her in our row in the ballroom. She is just as lovely and funny in person as you would expect. Her Ripple project has now raised over $9700 to help animal victims of the Gulf Oil Spill. There are still $10 custom art cards to buy so head on over to make your donation! Then on our way to the next workshop Kelly introduced us to Kim Fleming, whose name I immediately recognized as aka lil Kim! I've been following her blog for years. She is just the sweetest, and it was a special treat to meet her here all the way from Australia! I have to thank Illustration Friday for bringing us all together.

Cecilia Yung and Pat Cummings
Illustrator Tips: On Portfolios and Promotion
I had leave early from this workshop to go to my portfolio consultation, so for more coverage on this please refer to the SCBWI Team Blog where you will also find tons of info from all the workshops. Cecilia says she needs to see narrative in your work. She doesn't want to see ABC books unless you wow her with some idea she never would have thought of. For her, she just needs to know she can get one good book out of you, so only show her one style. She wants to see consistency because she's taking a leap of faith when she signs you. Cecilia says your portfolio is only as good as your worst piece. She actually makes a copy of your worst piece for her file to remind herself that if she can live with that it's going to be ok. Illustrate not just a word, but a complete sentence or a complete paragraph.

the next Keynote was with Marion Dane Bauer. She tells us to relax and let the information flow through you at this conference. The stuff you're ready for will stick, and the rest will fall away whether you take notes or not. I find this to be so true as things I heard at the NY conference are just now starting to sink in and take hold. When she begins Marion says she knows what her resolution will feel like even if she doesn't know how to get there. She says a story begins with a struggle. No struggle- no story. She started to realize that her stories had a pattern, but she doesn't think about that. She feels her way through. She says we must discover our own personal truth.

E. B. Lewis Keynote
Pursue Your Passions
The suave and debonair E.B. Lewis calls himself an Artistrator, and through his talk we see this is the most appropriate term.  He says as artists we lose track of time due to endless hours in the studio. We lose relationships. He said he lost his relationship with summer. Wow, I can relate to that this summer! He said there was a 2 1/2 year span where he had no inspiration. E. B. says an illustrator creates a visual representation of the written word where a fine artist creates an image of a whole problem or concept. He created 4 books his first year. When E.B. was working as a fine artist someone had sent his slides to 9 publishers and 6 immediately wanted him for projects. All 9 ended up giving him work.
He addresses the topic of finding models for his work, and how difficult they can be to find. He once went into an Ethiopian restaurant and said he was looking for a 7 year old boy. They replied, "We don't serve them here." He showed us this photo of his flying girl reference model. E.B. says he always puts a hugging scene in his books since it's not PC to hug kids in school anymore. He then shared his recent fine art works where he has painted on top of lottery tickets that have never been scratched off.

Something happens at these conferences. You end up falling in love with all the speakers and their works. So much amazing talent, such as...

Loren Long
The Illustrator Who Wants to Write
It was then back to the Westside Room for a workshop on one of the main topics I came to this conference for. Loren Long says 'Drummer Boy' was the first book he wrote. As you can see there is no other pesky name on the cover he points out. He realized he had a voice to write, but he started as an illustrator with no thought of becoming a writer. He says it's customary in publishing to team a new illustrator with an established writer or vise versa. Loren says to begin by jotting down ideas and read a lot. He says you need a strong character, something happens, a problem, a solution, maybe a message. He talks about the rhythm of the words that carry the story. When he's creating a new story the whole time he's communicating with the editor. Sometimes he writes keeping in mind the paintings he wants to do, other times, as with Otis the project is story driven. Loren recommends getting an agent. He says your 1st victory is getting your 1st rejection. Loren points out that even though our name may be second on the cover the publisher values the artist greatly. Often it's the art that makes the picture book.

Our next Keynote is with Gail Carson Levine. For this, I have pages and pages of notes on creating plot and suspense. I'm going to be lazy one this one and suggest you go to Team Blog as their post covers everything I have written.

We then attended the Illustrator's Portfolio Showcase, where we were able to view all the portfolios on view, and the winners were announced. The Grand Prize Winner was Molly Idle. The Honor Award recipients were Ye Won Lee and Debbie Ridpath Ohi. The Mentorship Awards were also announced. This year's Mentees are: Ashley Mims  John Deininger  Andrea Offermann  Debbie Ridpath Ohi  Eliza Wheeler  Kimberly Gee 
We were able to take a look at all the winners portfolios and they were spectacular! The bar is set very high here. I've included links so you can check out all their websites.

Dan Santat and me
 Heart and Soul Celebration!
 It was then time for the Heart and Soul Gala! As you can see I totally geeked out at being able to meet one of my favorite illustrators Dan Santat! One day I hope to become a tough warrior illustrator like Dan, who is awesome beyond words. My writer friend Sara Wilson Etienne was kind enough to introduce me. I'm also thrilled to announce that Sara just sold her first novel, The Harbinger, in a 2 book deal with Putnam! Big congrats to Sara! At the Gala there were costumes and dancing, and I was very pleased to see that there was at least one Queen of Hearts!

me, Loren Long, Linda Silvestri
After they turned the lights out on the outdoor Gala, Kim, Linda, and I were chilling in the lobby when we happened to see Loren Long who was kind enough to stop and chat with us about school visits and why creating a picture book is one of the biggest thrills for an artist. He really is the kindest writer/illustrator there ever was. And as it turns out he lives in Cincinnati, just a stones throw from Columbus, which would explain that down to earth honest vibe. :) This was just an incredible way to end the day. And we're only halfway through the conference!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

2010 SCBWI LA Conference - day 1

California palmtrees!!!
So, here it is. The big post conference wrap-up. I had been to the NY conference, but this was my first LA one, and this event was nothing less than absolutely amazing! It started with my 4 hour plane ride from Ohio which flew by quickly as I chatted with a cool Navy IT manager who was headed to Coronado Island for Navy SEAL training where among other things he was going to undergo torture training. I figured if he could withstand that I should be more than capable of handling SCBWI's full 4-day schedule of keynotes, workshops, & fun! 

me & Linda Silvestri
My blogging friend Linda picked me up from the airport & I was so excited to meet her. She's so sweet & funny, as is her hubbie, Tom. Together they are the cutest couple. After a good night's rest we headed off for registration & then to the ballroom for the big welcome from Stephen Mooser & Lin Oliver. They explained how this is not one of your stuffy type conferences. Here we are encouraged to make friends, and Lin prompts us to turn & introduce ourselves to who we were sitting next to. This year had a record turnout of 1136 people. Of those who listed gender there were 442 women & 62 men, so obviously my chances of meeting a eligible illustrator boyfriend are next to none here, so I better focus on the speeches :P

Jon Scieszka's Keynote
Tales of the Picture Book Writer: Do's, Don'ts, Maybes
Our opening keynote was by Jon Scieszka, and I was super excited that we begin with the master picture book writer himself. I was definitely at the right conference! He told us he wished he knew more when he began, such as the standard PB is 32 pages. He told us he once sent his work to 'Clarks & Potter' a gardening publisher by mistake, so do your research. He told us to congratulate ourselves for being at the conference because we are actually doing something towards our goals. He says the Pope is writing a PB, & says he'd like to call him up and say, 'Hey, I don't get on your turf". He tells us to read every PB we can...the top 100 on the library journal. He says some are creepy like the 'Runaway Bunny'. Also, read the Horn Book, Fuse #8 -Betsy Bird's blog, 7 Important Things Before Breakfast, & other trade mags. Scieszka says that once you start writing you should stop reading that stuff because it will poison you & make you second guess your writing. (I note that the same can be said of illustrating.)

Scieszka says leave room for the pictures, don't rhyme, no princesses, no underwear, & no alphabets.

When Scieszka first started sending out his work he got handwritten rejection letters pleading, "Please Mr. Scieszka please don't send any more manuscripts". 

He then showed us some examples of books that show why illustrators are awesome, 'Like George & Martha'. He talked about creating 'The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs' & 'The Stinky Cheese Man'. And about how for 'Truck Town' the illustrators based the vehicle designs on descriptions of kids he met. He showed us the wonderful scenes of 'Robot Zot' with changing perspectives & viewpoints. 

Scieszka says "our mission is to be a storyteller. Write what thrills you! Don't believe everything I just told you. Question everything."

M. T. Anderson's Keynote
The End of All Or Exploring:The Journey of Narrative
It has been said that M.T. Anderson creates books for thinking kids, and after hearing him speak I need to go check out his books. He has written about the state of Delaware being cut off from the world, & as evidenced by the fact that no one from the conference is from Delaware he says it's obivious that no one is getting out of Delaware alive! He says he's gotten a letter from the Governor of Delaware, (who called him 'buster'), informing him he has made some errors. I've uploaded a video of him singing his version of Delaware's state song. Anderson creates the kinds of worlds that I wished existed. He says 'take the thing that is most familiar & turn it bizarre like in 'Coraline'.

Lauren Rille
Putting Together Your Portfolio
My first workshop was with Lauren Rille, a senior designer at Simon & Schuster. She lists the 3 important components: technical ability, variety of composition, & narrative quality. She suggests we vary the scale, create interesting shifts in perspective, aerial views, extreme closeups, over the shoulder views. She says, 'try anything, do anything, try something you don't think will work because it may lead to something' 'Take something cliché & turn it on it's side. Take existing & make it your own.' Lauren says she likes to see pieces that prove you will work your butt off. She says only put in work you like. 
If you are asked to do samples pieces you will be paid for them. We don't work for free. When promoting yourself, Lauren says postcards may not be the best use of your money. Giveaways, promos, a group newspaper, e-blast, something that folds that she can put on her desk is good. My one-on-one portfolio critique was with her the next day, and she gave me some excellent direction and instilled some excitement in me to push myself to create works more specific to the childrens' publishing industry.

Next up was 'From Your House to My House: What Makes Me Choose Your Book', an  editors panel with Nick Eliopulos, Claudia Gabel, Brenda Murray & Jennifer Rees. (Moderated by Krista Marino) The discussion started with voice vs. plot. Jennifer says it's all about voice. The plot can be fixed. When asked specifically what they are looking for: Nick says, 'guy high concept, an original idea', Brenda says, 'teach me something new a kid would think is fascinating', Jennifer says appeal to a 'wide audience', Claudia says, 'someone who can write fast, tween/teen mysteries'. 

Steven Malk & Mac Barnett
5 Lessons from Classic Picture Books that Can Help Your Career
This workshop session was absolutely packed! Steven says as a Literary Agent he is looking for those who are familiar with the classic form & not those who are just hopping on the latest trend. 

1) Let illustrators do their job- Steven says, 'Don't overwrite'. Mac says the PB is an economical form in terms of text, emotional in pictures. The illustrations can reveal things that even the narrator doesn't know.

2) Understand the Picture Book conventions- page turns, end papers, all elements ( I love that they reference a Sesame Street Grover book that I loved as a kid.) They also showed us variations in text & art layout.

3) The Writing must Serve the Book

4) Understand but don't Underestimate Your Audience

5) Appreciate the Classics but be Your Own Writer- Err, I think this was #5. I don't have a number written.

Loren Long's Keynote
The Picture Book: My Two Cents Worth
I was happy to see that our closing keynote was by 4-time Golden Kite award winner and New York Times #1 bestselling picture book illustrator Loren Long. Loren tells us to ask ourselves, 'why do I want to write kid's books?' He says that when an illustrator takes the text they own it. How do you start a book? Loren says, One sketch in 1 day & forget about the rest of the 6 month of work. He says that in 'I Dream of trains' he created the mood & enthusiasm to create the rest of the book in that first sketch. For his technique he uses thin washes of acrylic, although for Otis he used gouache with a limited color palette for a different feel. He says he takes 2-3 months on the sketches, 4-6 months on final art. He did his first picture book in his late 30s. He won a Golden Kite Award for 'I Dream of Trains'.

Madonna hand picked him for her book Mr. Peabody's Apples, and he had to decide whether or not to do a celebrity book. After reading it he decided it was written for him, and that he could create this world. I remember seeing this book when it first came out, and loving Loren's illustrations with their Thomas Hart Benton influence. Loren said Madonna was great to work with, insisted on seeing every sketch, & liked everything he did. 

Loren says mood & emotion are key & you set this in the character & the scene. He says the mood all starts in the 'mystical sketch phase'. He says he likes to imagine music playing while he draws. He says a kid's favorite book is like a friend that gives them, trust, loyalty, & security. His influences are Thomas Hart Benton, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, & JJ Evans from 'Good Times.' Loren says believe that you bring something to the work. When you're in your studio it's your book.

So, then there was the Wine & Cheese reception & book sale where I met some great authors & illustrators & met THE Verla Kay of the blue boards! Yes, indeed it was quite a day, and it was only day #1! So much more good stuff still to come. Man, I need to try to use less words....