Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jacqueline Woodson Wins The National Book Award... And Awards Show Host Daniel Handler Gets Called Out For Racist Comments

There's a lot of attention being paid to Daniel Handler's comments made at the awards ceremony last Wednesday, directly after Jacqueline Woodson's win of the National Book Award for her middle grade memoir, "Brown Girl Dreaming."

But what's getting lost in the discussion are Jackie's own words - her acceptance speech, her grace, and her passion, thanking the community for our love of books and for changing the world.

Courtesy of c-span, here's the edited down nine minutes of the National Book Award ceremony.

Go here to see the video of Jacqueline Woodson (right) accepting her National Book Award from Sharon Draper

While there are enough voices Monday morning quarterbacking the individual and systemic racism (intended or not), enough of an outcry was made that in addition to a social-media-issued apology, Daniel donated $10,000.00 (with a matching donation of up to $90,000.00 additional within the first 24 hours) to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks indieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.

Hopefully the attention can bring about not just heightened awareness, but change for the better throughout our industry.

And as it should be, the final word is Jacqueline's:

"I'd rather continue to move the dialogue forward in a positive light rather than a negative one. This is a moment when our country can grow and learn and better understand each other. It would be nice to put the energy back where it should be -- on the books and what the books are saying and doing -- Redeployment is an astounding novel, Glück is nothing short of an amazing poet. I don't know Osnos' book yet but I plan to read it. Brown Girl Dreaming is about writing and about the history of this country. But more than that, it's about what this conversation should be -- a coming to understanding across lines of race."

Congratulations to Jacqueline, and for all of us, let's Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: THE STORY OF FISH AND SNAIL by Deborah Freedman (SCBWI New England)

This week our Crystal Kite Spotlight shines on THE STORY OF FISH AND SNAIL by Deborah Freedman!

A member of SCBWI New England, Deborah's picture book won for the Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island division.

Award-Winning Author/Illustrator Deborah Freedman
I contacted Deborah to find out more...

Lee: Please tell us about your book!

Deborah: THE STORY OF FISH & SNAIL is my love letter to reading. It's about two friends who live in a book — Fish, who likes to explore other books, and Snail, who does not want to leave home. Tension! Conflict (with splishing and splooshing)! And and one super act of courage.

Lee: Sounds dramatic and sweet - perfect for a picture book! How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Deborah: I've been a member since 2000. I sold my first book in 2005 after an editor saw my artwork at the New York conference that year. Since then, I've made and continue to make friends through SCBWI who have been inspiring, and encouraging, and are simply dear to me. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Deborah: Oh, I don't know . . . I certainly don't have this writing life all figured out. So how about this: never assume you have it all figured out! 

Thanks, Deborah!

I also connected with Marilyn Salerno (who, along with Margo Lemieux, is co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI New England) to learn more. Here's what she wrote...

I am very excited Deborah captured the Crystal Kite for a beautiful picture book with a story line for all children.

As for info on SCBWI NE we are over 2,000 strong and host several events a year including a three day conference, one day events, evening presentations, over 80 monthly critique groups, and have a very active website and list serve. We have a PAL chairperson who is busy planning PAL events including a page attached to our Facebook page about happenings in the region. 

My thanks to Deborah and Marilyn, and Cheers to Deborah for THE STORY OF FISH AND SNAIL winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

To learn more about Deborah and her books, check out her website here.

To find out more about SCBWI New England, visit their site here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Product Placement in books?

"Find Me I'm Yours" is a new e-book (and cross-platform story) that was funded, in part, by $1.3 million dollars from the people behind the artificial sweetener Sweet'N Low.

Yep, you read that right.

The New York Times article about product placement in e-books

According to this recent New York Times article, in the e-book, the main character paints her nails to look like Sweet'N Low packets, and in one scene defends her use of the product to a friend, citing the company's research.

While it's targeted to adult readers (mainly women), it is a fascinating foray into what one possible future of publishing might look like. We've come to accept -- and expect -- that when a character on a TV show drinks a Coca-Cola, it's sponsored. We accept/expect it in movies, too.

And now, it would seem, this is becoming true for books as well.

Can teen novels be that far behind?

Illustrate and Write On,

p.s. - This blog post was NOT sponsored by either Sweet'N Low or Coca-Cola. Just so you know.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: BONKERS! by Natasha Sharma (SCBWI India)

This week's Crystal Kite Winner Spotlight shines on BONKERS! by Natasha Sharma!

From SCBWI India, Natasha's book won for the Middle East, India and Asia division.

Award-Winning Author Natasha Sharma

I contacted Natasha to learn more...

Lee: Please tell us about your book!

Natasha: Bonkers! (published by Duckbill Books) is a story that follows the adventures of a boy named Armaan with his long awaited, newly acquired puppy, Bonkers. Life for Armaan has been difficult with a bully named TT, leader of the Ghastly Groundhog Gang, always on his heels. And while he hoped for a dog that would protect him and sort out his life, insanity further prevails with the puppy around. Instead of being protector of hearth and kin, the dog proceeds to chew up Armaan’s spectacles, eat up his favourite shoe, mess with a game of cricket being played by the bully and essentially turns the boy’s life upside down. Will things ever get back to normal? 

The story is as much about discovering your inner reserve of courage as it is about laughing alongside crazy episodes with the boy and his dog. For Armaan, that happens when his dog is in trouble. It is about understanding that even bullies have their own fears. But at the heart of it, it’s a book that can best be described as bonkers! 

This story had to be written. I grew up in a home with 40 animals (it wasn’t a farm). Amongst the many horses, buffaloes, rabbits, ducks and hens were my four dogs, often accompanied by a litter of puppies. My dogs were the center of my life growing up – my friends, my protectors and my go-to when I was upset, always ready to sit patiently and hear me out. I’ve woken up with puppies dangling off my braids, rescued them off windowsills and stood between dog and parent when the dog ate my wedding cards before they were mailed (eating homework was too low grade). There’s so much in my head to inspire me that it took time to sift through what I wanted to use! 

Lee: Wow - 40 animals! Sounds like you had a lot of real-life inspiration to pull from in making one puppy turn your character's life Bonkers!

How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Natasha: I’ve been a member with the SCBWI since 2011. The India chapter is rapidly growing and the SCBWI provides an easy way to connect with other writers. Events like First Pages provide fabulous feedback on one’s own work and since it was online, it was great to see what was working or not in other openings. A writing workshop on picture books by Ann Whitford Paul who was visiting India at the time from the US, were much easier to pull together with the support of the SCBWI and turned out to be a fabulous talk. 

As the India chapter grows, we are excited to have a platform to garner resources and make it available to the children’s book community at large. I have to say that I love reading the bulletin – it gives nuggets of information that are so useful. Above all, as a writer, SCBWI helps me, as it has in this case, to go beyond the market I am publishing in and reach out to a wider peer group and audience.

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Natasha: Keep at it. Whether you are brimming with ideas, stuck in your plot, clueless where you are going - keep at it. Keep learning, evaluating, writing, illustrating and improving your own skills. And through the most frustrating moments, remember why you write or illustrate. I believe we are people who are driven by an impossible bug in our brain to put down what is going on in our head. It gives me the greatest joy to write. I simply try and remember that always. 

Lee: "it gives me the greatest joy to write." Love that, and YES!

Thanks Natasha!

I also connected with SCBWI India's Regional Advisor, Anushka Ravishankar, to find out more about Natasha's win and their region. Here's what Anushka wrote:

Natasha Sharma has only been writing for children for a few years, but what productive years they have been! She now has ten books published, and they have all been getting great reviews. She does elaborately, creatively and lovingly planned sessions with children in bookstores and schools, and is a hugely popular writer/ performer at litfests and school book weeks. She is also meticulous about keeping her blog and her website current and updated, which is something all authors can learn from!

Her award-winning book, Bonkers!, is, she says, a tribute to her dog who was just as mad and loveable as the dog in her book. With wit and aplomb, she has also woven in the theme of bullying in a book which at no moment reads like a treatise against bullying, but shows children that bullies need not be scary, after all.

Natasha is an enthusiastic member of SCBWI India. Since we are so spread out geographically, we need volunteers in different cities and Natasha has willingly taken on the onus of doing programmes in Mumbai. She has already organised one -a picture book workshop by visiting SCBWI member Ann Whitford Paul, which was a great success.

It's been a little over a year since SCBWI India was restarted. Working with a wonderful advisory group, and some very dedicated members, we have had many workshops, talks, discussions and meetings.

Visiting SCBWI authors like Holly Thompson, Christopher Cheng and Ann Whitford Paul have held workshops on writing novels, non-fiction and picture books. They have all garnered massive and enthusiastic attendance and praise.

We also have events which the members specifically want - like discussions on contracts, talks on digital books and so on.

As our members are spread out over the country we try and do detailed reports on each event which go up on our blog scbwiindia@wordpress.com. Some members, like Tanushree Dahiya Singh in Delhi and Natasha Sharma in Mumbai and Arundhati Subramaniam in Bangalore have been very enthusiastic about writing these reports.

Our most successful events by far have been the online first pages, of which we have had two. We do it through Facebook, and have had editors, writers and critics from India, Malaysia, the UK and USA, which makes it very attractive. This is for members only.

We now have an IC, Oriya Kuriyan, who has many plans up her sleeve. So far we have had one picture book workshop for illustrators, which went off swimmingly.

With many events planned in the coming year, we hope SCBWI India will grow and grow!

Thanks so much to Natasha and Anushka, and cheers to Natasha for BONKERS! winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Natasha and her books at her website here.

And learn more about SCBWI India and all they offer at their online home.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Class Clown Academy: SCBWI's President Self-Publishes his latest book (after more than 60 traditionally published titles!)

Author Stephen Mooser

Stephen Mooser has written both stand-alone books (like his first published title, 101 Black Cats (Scholastic), Orphan Jeb at the Massacree (Knopf) and Shadows on the Graveyard Trail (Dell Yearling); series, including The Treasure Hounds (Troll), The Creepy Creature Club (Dell), The All-Star Meatballs (Dell) and Goofball Malone, Ace Detective (Penguin); and also nonfiction books about the weird and strange, including The Unknown: Nine Astounding Stories (Lippincott) and The Man Who Ate A Car and Tons of Other Weird True Stories (Dell).

A co-founder of the SCBWI, Steve has had over 60 books for children and young readers traditionally published.

His latest book is Class Clown Academy, and it's one that he chose to self-publish.

This news was so unexpected (and fascinating) that I had to find out more. Here's my interview with Stephen...

Lee: Hi Steve!

Steve: Hi back

Lee: So, you've traditionally published something over 60 books for young readers, and now, you're doing something different - self publishing?

Steve: Yes, the last book I wrote, Class Clown Academy, a Wayside School type format failed to sell for a number of reasons. Normally I would not have considered self publishing but I believed in this book and also believed it had certain aspects that lent itself to self publishing

Lee: Okay, so you have a book you really believe in that isn't getting traction the traditional route. What were the factors that made you decide to self-publish rather than continue to try the traditional publishers?

Steve: We had tried all the traditional publishers. 3 agents had tried. What made the book special was that it lent itself to becoming a virtual school. Over 3 years my team built the school www.classclownacademy. The school will drive people to the book, which is available in the student store.

Lee: So it's a website that's a virtual school, and in the school bookstore readers can buy your book?

Steve: Yes, and yes. They can also buy hats and bumper stickers and much more. Now my job-a huge one - is to drive people to the site!

Lee: I spent some time on the site this morning, reading in the library about how to tell a joke... (and laughing at the movie "Farts and You" that was screening in the CCA Theater.) Did you envision the project being MORE than a book when you were originally going out to publishers, or was the expanded universe of the story something that came about as you plotted how to successfully self-publish the book?

Steve: I thought of the school early on, but I didn't envision so much the cost or the time. But I had a great team, a book editor and formatter, programmer and artist and once I started I wanted to finish.

Lee: so, really, you didn't so much as self-publish a book as become a self-producer of an online website and a book - you had to hire that team, right?

Steve: Yes. Here is the thing about self-publishing. First you have to have a good product and believe in it. Then you have to think about how to sell it. You are now a small business and basically on your own. It is a big risk, but doing it right gives you a chance to reach a readership.

Lee: It used to be that self-publishing was viewed as the realm of the impatient, the "easy" way to get published. You're not making it sound easy.

Steve: It is not easy but then selling a book to a traditional publisher is not easy either. There are thousands of talented people you are competing against. Amazon has something like 3 million unique titles on its site. How can anyone find your book. And then want to buy it? Most projects fail badly. Mine might too, but. And I say this often. Where Digital Books are going no one knows but wherever it is heading we are all in on the ground floor.

Lee: Now the perception of self-published books and the 'stigma' they might have had 10 years ago, that seems to have changed, hasn't it?

Steve: Yes, it has changed. More and more people are self-publishing. But, again, I can't emphasize enough you need to do a professional job and put out a book that can compete with traditionally published books. As an aside there are some areas where it makes sense to do a limited edition. Books, for instance on something like autism where there is a need and you can target the audience have had success

Lee: Sort of niche-self-publishing

Steve: Sure, I have talked to many people who did books because they saw a need and filled it. For the most part self-publishers should do Print on Demand so as to keep costs down and just print as orders come in

Lee: that way your car trunk (and/or garage) aren't filled with books you haven't sold yet!

Steve: Yes, don't carry inventory. Also, the people that will do large print runs are often rip-offs. Always look at Preditors and editors before giving anyone your money.

Lee: Good advice. So how do you set your expectations when you're self-publishing... How do you keep the stories of the Amanda Hockings and Christopher Paolinis and their superstar level of success from taking over?

Steve: Good question. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. It is why we are writers. But don't embark on self-publishing without setting a budget and believing the possibility of losing it all. Start before investing anything by thinking long and hard about "how will I sell this?"

Lee: Yeah, sending a notice out to all your facebook friends is a one-time thing, and not a marketing plan. No one wants to get two announcements that you have a new book out!

Steve: Right. Having someone with a million followers tweet your book will probably sell less than 50 books because that's not your audience. You have to be creative and, again, have a great product. As I said Amazon has millions of books. But I built a website. Well, there are now over a billion websites. It's a hard climb but there are steps along the way if you are willing to look for them

Lee: Well, I imagine a lot of those steps of being 'discovered' are the same dance, whether you are traditionally or self-published.

Steve: Exactly

Lee: Like pitching your book...

Steve: Of course. And when it comes to making the sales the marketing departments of traditional publishers are relying more and more on the authors anyway

Lee: Okay... So, pitch us "Class Clown Academy!"

Steve: If you are 6-10 years old, or have the mind of one--as I do-- then you will find lots to do at the Academy. At the end of the day you can go back to the principals office and print out your diploma, as I did, and become A Master of FineFarts. And if you like the school I promise you you will love the book

Lee: So that's really pitching the website... is your main strategy that playing there will lead to book sales?

Steve: Yes, I do visits and conferences and sell copies, but I'm counting on the website to bring notice. Also, putting out a book, or a website is opening yourself to many possibilities. Will some father in the film business look over his kid's shoulder and think that might be a good title for a film or animated series. Or would someone want to buy the site and add it to their own multi-game site. As I said dreaming is part of the fun of any project. And I know since I used to be a treasure hunter

Lee: Ha! I loved learning about your 'treasure hunter' past in your bio! So, for your next book, would you consider self-publishing again, or would you take it the traditional route? Or is it too soon to say?

Steve: I would not do this again unless I had a way to market it in advance. I am working on a sequel to the book Class Clown Academy Summer School, but will just fold it into the site

Lee: I hope you find treasure there! Thanks so much, Steve!

Steve: Thank you.

* * *

And that's our interview. You can check out the Class Clown Academy website here, and Steve's website here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: TEA REX by Molly Idle (SCBWI Arizona)

This week's Crystal Kite Winner Spotlight illuminates TEA REX, written and illustrated by Molly Idle.

Hailing from SCBWI Arizona, Molly's book took home the crystal for the Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico division.

Award-winning author/illustrator Molly Idle

I contacted Molly to find out more...

Lee: Please tell us about your book!

Molly: TEA REX is written as a proper, how-to-guide, providing instructions for hosting a tea party...for a special guest. The pictures in the book however, read more like a how-NOT-to-guide... And how could they not, when the special guest is a giant dinosaur?!

Lee: Fun! How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Molly: I've been a member of SCBWI since 2000- almost 15 years! What do I feel I've gained? Ohmygoodness... Where to start? Should I start with the friends I've met, or the fresh perspectives presented? The business contacts I've made, or the career opportunities seized? The constructive criticism received, or the camaraderie of community? Seriously, the SCBWI has so much to offer.

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Molly: Well, the fist piece of advice I usually offer aspiring children's book writers and illustrators is: Join the SCBWI. But if you're reading this, the chances are, you're already a card carrying member. So, my second piece of advice is that you acquire just one other card... a library card. Read as many books as you can get your hands on! After the first few hundred, you'll really start to get a feel for what books work and, why they work... Then you can get down to business making your own books that work too.

Great advice. Thanks, Molly!

I connected with SCBWI Arizona Regional Advisor Michele Parker-Rock to learn more about Molly's win and their region. Here's what she wrote:

SCBWI Arizona was founded in 1988 and has been proudly serving the region for more than 25 years. As Regional Advisor I am honored to represent the growing number of individuals who make up our culturally diverse membership. We offer a wide range of opportunities for professionally published, seasoned, and pre-published writers and illustrators who actively seek to develop their craft and stay informed about the ever-changing business of the children’s and young adult marketplace.

SCBWI Arizona is a large geographic region. Our members come from all over the state, from Yuma to Lake Havasu City, Tombstone to the Grand Canyon, Phoenix to Tucson, Sedona to Flagstaff, and all the places in between. Members connect through our subscriber LISTSERV and keep abreast of activities and events by tuning into our Home Chapter http://arizona.scbwi.org, our regional website, www.scbwi-az.org, our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SCBWIARIZONA, and our Twitter network https://twitter.com/SCBWIArizona.

SCBWI Arizona is committed to providing a wide variety of high quality free and tuition based events and services throughout the year, including conferences, intensives, retreats, hands-on workshops, critique-niks, networking get-togethers, Webinars, mentorships, and more. We also continue to provide SCBWI PAL members with opportunities to showcase their books at conferences and conventions held by various organizations, including the Arizona Library Association, the Tucson Festival of Books, the Arizona Reading Association, the International Reading Association, the Arizona Humanities Council, the Arizona Book Festival, and others.

Each year we bring top industry professionals to our region for our annual “Welcome to Our House” Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. This year we are pleased to welcome Emily Feinberg, Assistant Editor, Roaring Brook Press; Karl Jones, Assistant Editor at Penguin Young Readers; Ariel Richardson, Assistant Editor Chronicle Books; Alison Weiss, Associate Editor, Egmont USA; John Cusick, Literary Agent, The Greenhouse Literary Agency; Danielle Barthel, Literary Agent, New Leaf Literary and Media; and Jaida Temperly, Literary Agent, New Leaf Literary and Media. For details go to www.scbwi-az.org.

In addition, SCBWI AZ is excited to feature our own Molly Idle who will be presented with the well-deserved 2014 Crystal Kite Member Choice Award for her book TEA REX (Viking Children’s Press, 2013). Since its publication, TEA REX has garnered much praise. Publishers Weekly said, “…Idle has a gift for comic composition...” Kirkus Reviews said, “Sure to be enjoyed by tea-party enthusiasts, and even dino fans with no use for a teapot will find themselves drawn to this clever tale of a not-entirely-civilized beast of the past.”

SCBWI Arizona is grouped with Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico in the Southwest Region for the Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards. This year voters were faced with many excellent choices. It was particularly gratifying to see Molly Idle win in our division. Molly has been an active member of our region since 2000, and she is a consummate author/illustrator. Her book FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO (Chronicle Books, 2013) was a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book. Her latest book FLORA AND THE PENGUIN (Chronicle Books, 2014) received starred reviews from The Horn Book, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly that noted, “Once again, Idle’s elegantly drafted scenes couldn’t be more polished, and the foldout sequence that brings this dance to a close feels like a real triumph.”

After graduating from Arizona State University with a BFA in drawing, Molly went to work for DreamWorks Feature Animation Studios. Five years and a number of film credits later, she left the studio and submerged herself in the world of children's book illustration. In 2010 Molly was the Grand Prize Winner of the SCBWI Juried Portfolio Showcase. That same year, she wowed our members with an outstanding workshop, “Anatomy 101,” in which she demonstrated her technical prowess and artistic sensibilities. The rest is Idle history.

Molly currently lives with her family in Tempe, AZ. Lori Nowicki at Painted Words represents her: http://painted-words.com/portfolio/molly-idle/. You can also learn more about Molly at www.idleillustration.com

SCBWI Arizona is pleased to have Molly Idle as one of its distinguished members. We wish her continued success.

By Michelle Parker-Rock
Regional Advisor SCBWI Arizona
2011 SCBWI Member of the Year
Author of Books for Young Readers

Thanks Molly and Michelle, and Cheers to Molly on TEA REX winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

To find out more about Molly and her books, check out her website here.

And to learn more about SCBWI Arizona, visit their online home here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Don't Miss Out On #NY15SCBWI

Kwame Alexander is a poet and author of 18 books, including the teen novel-in-verse Crossover and the picture book Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band. (He also founded Book-in-a-Day, a student-run publishing program, and LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy project! And Publisher's Weekly just listed Crossover as one of their best MG books of 2014!)

James Dashner is the author of The Maze Runner (that's now a film in theaters!) and three other series, including The 13th Reality.

Kami Garcia is the author of the Legion Series and co-Author of Dangerous Creatures and Beautiful Creatures (Yup, also the one that became a movie!)

Hervé Tullet is the author/illustrator of, among other titles,  the picture book Press Here and the board book series Let's Play Games. (And he's known in France as 'The Prince of Pre-School Books!")

Laura Vaccaro Seeger is the author/illustrator of more than 15 picture books including First the Egg and Green (She's also a two-time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award!)

Anthony Horowitz has written over 40 books, including the teen spy series Alex Rider. (He also writes new Sherlock Holmes novels!)

What do all these children's book creators have in common? They're all keynoting at the upcoming SCBWI 2015 Winter Conference in New York City, February 6-8, 2015.

The conference will also include an editors' panel, an agents' panel, 11 morning and 11 afternoon breakout sessions covering art, writing, picture books, middle grade, young adult, writing diverse characters, developing your illustration brand, working with an editor, writing a book series, creating cover art, writing chapter books and so much more!

There will be an autograph party, a portfolio showcase, a gala dinner, and even a full day of intensives on Friday (Writers' Round Table, Writers' World Building hands-on workshop, Building your first website and the Illustrators' Intensive!)

#NY15SCBWI promises to be packed with inspiration, opportunity, craft, business and community. We hope you can join us.

Find out more information and register here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: SOPHIE'S SQUASH by Pat Zietlow Miller (SCBWI Wisconsin)

This week's Crystal Kite Winner Spotlight is on SOPHIE'S SQUASH, written by Pat Zietlow Miller.

It may sound familiar, because SOPHIE'S SQUASH also won the 2014 Golden Kite award for best picture book text. Well, Pat just keeps on winning, because her book also took home the Crystal Kite award for the Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio division.

Multi Award-Winning Author Pat Zietlow Miller

I connected with Pat to celebrate her latest accolade:

Lee: For those who don't yet know, please tell us about your book!

Pat: SOPHIE’S SQUASH is a fiction picture book loosely based on the time my youngest daughter fell in love with a butternut squash when she was small. It’s my debut book, and I sold it through the slush pile to Schwartz & Wade. 

Lee: Oooh! A slush pile success story! How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Pat: I’ve been an SCBWI member for seven years. Wisconsin is my home base, but I’ve attended state conferences in Iowa and Illinois, as well. Joining SCBWI kick-started my writing career. The conferences I attended inspired me and helped me learn how to polish my writing, make the most of my manuscripts and submit them properly. I also met my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, at an Iowa SCBWI conference. 

In addition, I’ve made a lot of writing friends through the SCBWI who have been critique partners and partners in crime as we all pursue our writing goals. 

If I were to give one piece of advice to aspiring children’s book authors or illustrators, it would be to join the SCBWI. The returns hugely outweigh the investment. 

Lee: You also won the Golden Kite Award for Sophie's Squash. What impact has that had for you?

Pat: Winning the Golden Kite was a mountaintop moment for me. I didn’t expect it, and I didn’t realize the impact it would have on me until I was at the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles this summer to accept the award. Everyone was so friendly and complimentary, and I got to meet several of my writing heroes and even speak to the 1,200 or so conference attendees in the main ballroom. 

(Lee interjecting to share that you can hear the audio of Pat's Golden Kite Acceptance speech here.)

Pat: It was sort of funny, because in my everyday Midwestern life, I usually blend into the crowd. There’s nothing about me that particularly stands out. But at the SCBWI conference, many people knew who I was and had read my book and seemed excited to meet me. That was a new experience. 

It made me realize how far I’ve come from the person who really, really wanted to write picture books but wasn’t sure where or how to start. It also made me realize how much there still is to learn and do and how much fun it’s going to be learning and doing all those things. 

Lee: Do you have any additional words of wisdom to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Pat: Work hard to learn the craft of writing or illustrating. Study the folks who do it best and absorb what they do into your own personal style. Keep working, even if what you’re producing doesn’t yet measure up to what you want it to be. Be patient with yourself and the process. Don’t rush something out before it’s really ready. Trying shortcuts probably won’t get you where you want to be any faster. Oh, and join the SCBWI.

Thanks, Pat!

I also contacted Michael Kress-Russ who, along with Jaime Swenson is co-Regional Advisor of SCBWI Wisconsin, to hear their take on Pat's win. Here's what Michael wrote:

As a community of storytellers for children we are all buoyed by the successes of our peers, and enriched by association when their efforts are met with much-deserved accolades. All the more so when a writer’s debut earns one of the highest awards in the world of children’s writing, prompting fantasies of one day dazzling librarians and classroom teachers with boasts of having “known her when.”

That the author in question is as humble, approachable and down-to-Earth as our own Pat Zietlow Miller only restores faith in the cherished and oft-challenged belief that the world is a fair place.

Congratulations, Pat. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer book.

- Michael Kress-Russick

Thanks to Pat and Michael, and Cheers to Pat for SOPHIE'S SQUASH winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

You can find out more about Pat and her writing at her website here.

And learn more about SCBWI Wisconsin and their events here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This Creative Life - A wonderful podcast series by YA Author Sara Zarr

National Book Award Finalist Sara Zarr's podcast series has over 35 episodes - I haven't listened to all of them, but I'm enjoying each one I've heard.

Check out her conversations with Bestselling authors like E. Lockhart and Sarah Dessen, with author-hypenates (-screenwriter, -performer, -video game designer) like Mike Martin, Aaron Hartzler and Andrew Auseon, and gosh, A.S. King (on getting to know our characters) and Printz-and-Eisner-Award-winner Gene Luen Yang...

There's lots of good stuff.

So thanks Sara, and for the rest of us, let's listen, learn and enjoy!

Illustrate and Write On,

p.s. - Thanks to Joëlle Anthony for listing This Creative Life among her favorite podcasts in her "Get Inspired With Podcasts" article in the July/August 2014 SCBWI Bulletin!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS by Alexis O'Neill (SCBWI California: Central/Coastal)

This week's spotlight is on the 2014 Crystal Kite Award-winning THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS: Homan Walsh and the First Niagara Suspension Bridge by Alexis O'Neill!

Alexis is a Regional Advisor Emeritus for SCBWI California: Central/Coastal, and won for the California/Hawaii Division.

The 2014 Crystal Kite-Winning picture book, THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS
Award-Winning Author Alexis O'Neill
I connected with Alexis to find out more...

Lee: Please tell us about your book!

Alexis: My KITE book is what I call a “biographical slice.” This true story is about an action taken by a boy that had a tremendous impact on transportation and commerce in America. In January of 1848, Homan Walsh flew his homemade kite over the Niagara River between American and Canada against tremendous odds. When he finally landed his kite, the string became the first line for the first suspension bridge over the Niagara River. The bridge ended up carrying not only foot traffic and carriages, but a railroad line as well. I loved the drama of the story, and the idea that persistence and skill carry the day.

Lee: I love how you're able to articulate those themes, and it sounds like a great story! How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Alexis: In the early 1980s, I took a class led by children’s author Helen Buckley at University College in Syracuse, New York. The class began as a diversion from working on my doctoral dissertation, but it led me to the best career in the world as a children’s writer. Helen encouraged me to join SCBW (no “I” then), and I did. My move from New York to California was made easier knowing that SCBWI provided a ready-made network of friends. With the wealth of opportunities to learn about the business and grow as a writer, my self-prescribed “graduate degree” in children’s books began with SCBWI and continues to this day.

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Alexis: Focus on story. Make every word count. Don’t be impatient. Too many new authors and illustrators focus on How do I find an agent? How do I pitch to an editor? instead of asking, What do I need to learn and do to tell this story best?

Great Advice! Thanks, Alexis.

I also contacted Mary Ann Fraser, the current Regional Advisor for SCBWI California: Central/Coastal to find out more about Alexis' win and their region...
After 18 plus years of service to Central-Coastal California as the regional advisor, we couldn't be more pleased that Alexis O'Neill's book, THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS, has been honored with the Crystal Kite Award. Here we recognize that Alexis's thoroughness, attention to detail, and respect for quality writing for children is only a reflection of how she approaches all tasks, whether they be an event bringing PAL members and educators together or a Writers' Day featuring top professionals in the field. How wonderful that this recognition now extends beyond our four-county region and to this inspirational story.

SCBWI Central-Coastal California, a warm and welcoming region rich in talent. is comprised of Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Kern counties. Numerous volunteers and an advisory board work together to offer our members a wide range of events including a Writers' Day, Writers' Retreat, numerous craft-focused workshops, and illustrator events. Most recently we have added sketchcrawls and even a traveling sketchbook to the mix, giving our diverse membership not only multiple opportunities to learn from professionals and peers alike, but also a strong sense of community.
Thanks to both Alexis and Mary Ann, and cheers to Alexis for THE KITE THAT BRIDGED TWO NATIONS winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

You can learn more about Alexis, her books and her school visits (she writes the regular column on school visits for the SCBWI Bulletin) at Alexis' website here.

And to find out more about SCBWI California: Central/Coastal, check out their regional site here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Marla Frazee shares some wisdom for Illustrators

In this fourth video of a nine-part mini-series (most are under 4 minutes), two-time Caldecott Honoree Marla Frazee tells us about her journey to get published in Children's books, and what she ended up figuring out was the missing ingredient that initially held her back:

Great advice - Thanks, Marla!

I'd suggest you check out the other eight videos as well. You can find the series online here at reading rockets.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The 2014 Crystal Kite Winners: ARMY CAMELS by Doris Fisher (SCBWI Texas: Houston)

This week's spotlight is on the 2014 Crystal Kite Award-winning ARMY CAMELS: TEXAS SHIPS OF THE DESERT by Doris Fisher!

Doris is from SCBWI Texas: Houston, and ARMY CAMELS won for the Texas and Oklahoma Division.

Award-winning Author Doris Fisher with her 2014 Crystal Kite-Winning picture book, ARMY CAMELS: TEXAS SHIPS OF THE DESERT

I contacted Doris to find out more...

Lee: Please tell us about your book!

Doris: Army Camels, Texas Ships of the Desert tells the amazing true Wild West tale of camels sailing to Texas to open up the west. They arrived right before the Civil War and were really wanted by then Senator Jefferson Davis! They sailed three months before walking down a gangplank when they landed in Indianola, Tx, now a ghost town!

Lee: What a cool piece of history! How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you've gained by being a member?

Doris: I have been a member since I started writing 15 years ago. I kept a list of conferences and workshops by SCBWI I've attended. So far I've gone to 45 venues to learn the craft of writing and of picture books.

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children's book writers and illustrators?

Doris: Keep writing and believing in your book manuscript. Go to critiques, conferences, dinners, and don't be shy about asking questions. My first book was rejected 25 times before finding it's permanent home! And I have all the rejection letters from the early 2000's. SCBWI folks are super nice! And remember, everyone was a beginner, once upon a time!

Thanks, Doris!

I also reached out to Vicky Sansum, Regional Advisor of SCBWI Texas: Houston, to learn more about their region and Doris' win. Here's what Vicky wrote:

We were thrilled when Doris won this year. She is in a critique group with Lynne Kelly who won the Crystal Kite last year for her book CHAINED. What a great example of why all writers need to be in a good critique group. Doris has been a long-time volunteer with our chapter. For ten years she was our "Door Prize Queen" for our conferences. She was great at securing all kinds of wonderful books for us to give away as door prizes at our events. Doris strongly believes in attending conferences and workshops where she keeps honing her craft and also networks like a pro. It's been through some of these networking opportunities that she has had publishing deals. Doris is generous with her time, knowledge and experience. We're lucky to have her in our chapter and are thrilled that she won the Crystal Kite this year, she certainly deserved it.

There are over 300 members in the Houston chapter. We have monthly meetings with a speaker; topics include writing all types of genres, illustration, how to market a book, social media, etc. We're lucky to have a lot of wonderful volunteers who help organize our events such as our annual conference which has 200 attendees. We also host smaller workshops and webinars that focus on a particular genre, market or skill. Our members range from those who are just starting their writing/illustrating careers to those who are multi-published. Those with years of experience are generous with sharing their knowledge by speaking at our meetings, workshops and through critique groups. We're fortunate to have a vibrant group of talented folks that make up our fabulous chapter. 

Thanks to both Doris and Vicky, and cheers to Vicky for ARMY CAMELS: TEXAS SHIPS OF THE DESERT winning the 2014 Crystal Kite Award!

You can learn more at Doris' website here.

And to find out more about SCBWI Texas: Houson, check out their regional site here.

Illustrate and Write On,