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

ExhaustedWoman-AntonioGuillem2

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

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

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

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

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

More on the conference here …

 

 

 

 

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

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Statue-ChildReading

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

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JeannesNewFlipFlops2

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

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

Salad2

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

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

SewardJohnson-HotDogMan2

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

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

Intermezzo: a French Bulldog illustration of mine, for summer. (p.s. This is available as part of a boxed set of Frenchie notecards.)

Frenchie-IceCreamSodaSig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This started out to be about three aspects of writing what we know, but I see that it would be a ridiculously long post. So I’ll divvy it up and start with a fairly recent example. I received a lovely personal response from an editor at one of the publishing houses represented at an NJ SCBWI event. I am very appreciative to receive such a thoughtful and detailed reply, although, of course, I wish it were better news. She complimented me on tackling a difficult subject, but found it a bit melancholy and added that quiet stories were not selling much in the picture book market these days. Happily, she was also very encouraging about my writing and my pursuing it.

Simon's Secret Illustration by JeanneBalsamThis is where writing what we know comes in. What I know – one of the things, anyway – is about animals and their ability to affect us profoundly, both personally and through literature and imagery. This particular picture book story has a wonderful magical element to it and healing on several levels. While I don’t see it as melancholy, it still behooves me to pay attention to the perception and opinion of one who lives and breathes children’s books. But what stops me is the “quiet story” part.

I like quiet stories. I like funny stories, too, but I also like something that touches the heart and soul in some way, something that’s real, that’s a reflection of what children go through in their young lives. I get that kids like funny and action-filled, but what about the other aspects of a child? Are we no longer looking to feed that as well? Are our increasingly fast-paced and digital lives crushing the inner lives of picture-book age kids? (OK, maybe that’s extreme, but then again …)

As writers, we certainly need to be aware of the trends in the industry and what the market is looking for, otherwise we can be twirling about in our own stew of ideas that will never get published. At the same time, we need to consider what “writing what we know,” (the advice we are always given by editors and agents), actually means and where it fits in what’s being published.  It’s a challenge to all of us. So I look at the body of work I have to date. Maybe it’s time to let some of my stories go; maybe I haven’t sent them out often enough and/or to the right publisher/agent who will appreciate a particular “quiet story.”

So where does the rubber hit the road? Where do writing what we know and what’s being published intersect?

 

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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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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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WHAT A FABULOUS CONFERENCE!!

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

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

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

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

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

Soon … some tips in keeping our dream alive!

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

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

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

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

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