Friday, November 17, 2017

The Making of a Book Trailer: AHIMSA by Supriya Kelkar

Despite being a film major and a screenwriter, when I first entered the world of Book Twitter almost two years ago, I was stunned to find out books had trailers, and was immediately panicked at the thought of making one for my middle-grade novel, AHIMSA.

After all, AHIMSA is set in India, in 1942, and I was in Michigan in 2016. How could I recreate that time and place here? I immediately began scrambling to think of locations that could double for the town I had created in AHIMSA, for actors, and for places to rent a better camera from.

But then I took a breath, began looking at more book trailers online, and quickly realized they didn’t have to look like a big budget movie. I have seen charming book trailers that have the illustrations animated on screen, thrilling trailers that make great work of music and visuals to set the tone, and adorable book trailers that just have children read the book on camera. Despite how different they are, they all work great to engage young readers.

With the pressure off of me, I began to brainstorm. I didn’t have animation skills, and there was no location that I could think of in Michigan that could double for a town in India. But I realized the collage art I did, cutting up Indian wedding cards and making them into illustrations, could work to show the characters and setting in an authentic but visually interesting way. And while I couldn’t animate them, I could write a short trailer script that held everything together in a slide show.

I went to work on the script, and then used that to come up with art that reflected what was being said by cutting up old issues of Entertainment Weekly and several old Indian wedding invitations. I then scanned everything in, used a filter on my cell phone to change the tone of the images, found music to use under YouTube’s copyright free music page, (still making sure I gave the creators credit on the video’s YouTube video description), and put it all together with Windows Movie Maker, simple editing software that didn’t take long to figure out.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the idea of making a book trailer, remember to think outside of the box. Trailers don’t have to be big budget as long as they are visually interesting or intellectually stimulating, and sometimes all it takes is something as simple as some old pieces of mail.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Supriya learned Hindi as a child by watching three Hindi movies a week. Winner of the 2015 New Visions Award for her middle grade novel AHIMSA, (October 2, 2017), Supriya is an author and screenwriter who has worked on the writing teams for several Hindi films and one Hollywood feature. Follow Supriya on Twitter @soups25 and on Instagram @Supriya.Kelkar. You can learn more and see AHIMSA’S book trailer here:

Hey, look! Supriya's book made the list of Michigan bestsellers for October 2017. Cheers!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Vacation! Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with your family and friends, and we'll see you again on December 1st with 5 Tips for Mastering a Magical 2018 Marketing Plan.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Michigan Kidlit Advocate: Bridget and the Books
Bridget and the Books is a popular blog run by a Michigan elementary school student, Bridget, and supervised by her mom, Melissa. I'm not sure how I first discovered the blog, but I think it came from several directions at once, including a librarian's recommendation and this Detroit News article. And then I was delighted when Bridget herself showed up at Book Beat's 35th anniversary party this summer. She stopped at every table and asked each of the authors to sign the back of her t-shirt. She was still there hours later with her arms full of books. I was even more delighted when Bridget and Melissa later emailed me to request an author interview. Now it's my chance to turn the tables and interview them. Introducing Bridget and the Books!

I’m amazed that you blog nearly every day. (I find it hard to keep up with the every Friday posts here on the SCBWI-MI blog.) Now that you’ve started third grade, is it getting harder to keep up?

Well, kind of but I am not too sure. One reason it is not hard is because I am always reading. Picture books are short so when I don’t have a lot of time, I can do the picture books. I also read a chapter book fairly fast – if I like it, I have a hard time putting it down. Interviews help fill posts too – sometimes we keep those until we need to fill days. In fact, I could use more people to interview.

Question for Bridget's mom, Melissa: I know you supervise all of Bridget’s communication and posting. How have your duties changed/increased as the blog continues to grow?

As the blog has grown in readership, the engagement on Bridget’s posts and social media has also increased. We once had a day we received responses from 30 librarians interested in being interviewed. That was a busy email night.  Thanks to smart phones, I can stay on top of everything where ever I am (which is very helpful as I balance this with my full-time job that involves regular business travel).

Bridget, besides reading and blogging, what else do you like to do for fun? Your mom is a quilter - I love seeing her projects on Instagram. Do you help her with any of the quilts, or do you have your own art projects that you enjoy?

Annoying Little Brother and I are both quilters. We have our own machines. I am trying to improve my sewing skills to include clothing and other items. Mom helps us experiment but she doesn’t usually let us help on her projects.

I also like to draw, ride my bike, play with dolls and use legos. I like to go hiking and I recently got into geocaching. I also ran my first race this fall. I like running.

That's great you have so many different interests. Your blog has quickly gained quite a following, and publishers are sending you books to review. Authors too? Do you receive more books than you can possibly read? You must have an amazing bookshelf (or several) at home. And you also have a Little Free Library in your front yard?

Yea, the free books are pretty awesome. I work with a couple publishing houses (primarily Scholastics/Graphixs, First Second & National Geographic Kids). They either send me the reviewer catalog to pick from or sometimes they email and ask me to review a particular book. We have also received inquiries from an author, illustrator or publisher to review a book. A few authors have me set to receive their new books since they know I am a fan.

I don’t accept all offers because I just can’t read all the books. We also made a rule that the book has to be available online or in a bookstore.

Reviewing books can be the funnest thing but it does take up a lot of time.

How do you choose which books to review and which authors to interview?

Uh, um, pretty much anything I want to read is up for review. I am starting to get a little more picky on chapter books.

As for authors and illustrators, if I review their book and we can connect with them online, we ask if they would be interested in an interview. Newer authors and illustrators are more likely to say yes. I try to highlight new authors and illustrators because they usually don’t have a lot of people who know about them.

I do illustrators because I want to see how creative they are. I think people forget about them sometimes but without them, the book isn’t the same.

You’ve interviewed many authors and librarians, and met many of them in person. Are there any memorable moments you’d like to share? Maybe someone said something especially nice or funny or gave great advice?

  • Nick Tapalansky tweeted I was his favorite literary critic.
  • I was live on air with Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas and I told Guy he was wrong about something. I love Guy!
  • I was interviewed on TV and recently, I interviewed an author for the local cable channel.
  • I was able to help bring Salina Yoon to my school and town. It was really fun to share one of my favorite authors with my classmates. Did you know she helped launch my blog by sharing about it with her author and illustrator friends?

That's wonderful! What do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be an author, illustrator, penguinologist, architect and artist. Ok, I might have to only be a few of these but I don’t know yet.

Is there anything else you'd like us to know? Or is there a question you wish I would ask?

A question for Mom, from Bridget: why do you let me do this?
Mom: Bridget needed an outlet to express her voice. I saw she loved reading and was very curious about everything. She was asking to do a vlog, but I knew that wasn’t feasible. I suggested a blog since I had previously managed a few and knew we could manage the time.

As we have been doing this, I am seeing the positive impact it is having on Bridget and her communication skills (as well as confidence). I also finding out how valuable her voice is to the kidlit realm. We really do need to let kids have more say in how they engage with books. I have noticed adults encouraging books that don’t fit the kid or discouraging things like graphic novels as not good enough. Kids need to be able to read whatever interests them.

We let Bridget and her brother pick what they want to read. Bridget has never been too interested in Dr Seuss, so we don’t push it. A lot of people are encouraging her to read Harry Potter right now, but she isn’t interested in it. I wasn’t a fan of Harry Potter, so I understand her hesitance. Her brother leans towards non-fiction which can be a little harder with a 6 year old but we make it work.

A question for Bridget, from Mom: what is something you really hope comes out of your blog?
Bridget: First, I really really really want to meet Mike Mahaick (author of Cleopatra series), Aimee Bissonette (fingers crossed we will in March), Nick Tapalansky and Grace Lin. I would like to do an interview for TV with Vordak the Incomprehensible.

We hope your wishes come true, Bridget!

Keep up with Bridget and the Books here:

Coming up on the Mitten blog: the making of a book trailer, a picture book idea turned art installation, create your 2018 marketing plan, and much more!

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, November 3, 2017

Writer Spotlight: Jenny Desmond Walters

Jenny Desmond Walters just recently moved to Michigan and joined our SCBWI chapter. She's got quite a story about how she got here. It's a long and winding journey, but I think you'll find it worthwhile:

Your parents were both professional educators. Was there anything in your childhood and developing years that inspired you to write?

My parents definitely had a profound impact on my writing and creative life. In addition to being incredibly supportive people, they each actively pursued their own creative endeavors. My father kept notebooks of inventions he hoped to create, and he published solutions to mathematics problems which had been previously unsolved. My mother wrote poems and songs for children and created educational games and teaching materials before there was Pinterest for teachers. 
I always had access, in our home, to all kinds of art materials, writing supplies, and recycled materials which, I believe, laid a foundation for creativity and imagination in my life. Having access to these kinds of creative resources as a child was powerful. 
In fourth grade, at my elementary school, I wrote and illustrated my first picture book for a school assignment. That was an pivotal experience for me. When I had completed this seemingly impossible task, had created these words on a page, this story with plot and characters, these illustrations to accompany my text, and when I had then read this story to other children, I felt something amazing that has stayed with me to this day. 
I felt the power of sharing a story that was inside my heart and mind and seeing other people receive joy from it. I think it was from that point on that I wrote poems, short stories and picture books simply for my own enjoyment.

You excelled in school (graduating Summa Cum Laude) in education. What was your plan, your ultimate career path?

I think, initially, I was reluctant to pursue education. My mother was a classroom teacher before she became an administrator, and I spent so much time in her classrooms over the years. I never saw myself becoming an educator, but I think all the time I spent with her had a lasting impact on my career choices. 
I still remember several of her young students who I had the opportunity to meet on various occasions. When I was about nine years old, I helped tutor one of her six-year-old students named Charlton. He absolutely stole my heart, and it was probably one of those moments that shaped my destiny even though I could never have known it at the time. I loved being involved with her teaching and her creative content making. 
So, when it came time to choose a career path, it seemed that education was where I excelled. Of course, if that didn’t pan out, I had big plans to be a magazine editor at some big magazine in New York City. As it turned out, my pursuit of education led me to some exciting jobs outside of the classroom but still kept me involved in education.

You worked for PBS and a publisher in some of your earliest jobs. Were you even then chasing storytelling? 

Absolutely! I wrote a draft of my first serious picture book while I was in college. It’s still one of my favorite stories, even though it’s not something that could probably be sold to a publisher. Still, that first stab at writing, and the development of this fantastical story was exhilarating. When I was at the Public TV station I was able to use many creative skills developing on-air content for children, appearing on-air for our Parenting Tips segment, or hosting videoconferences for the Sesame Street Preschool Education Project. Barney and The Magic School Bus were big at that time, so I did workshops for teachers on utilizing shows like these in the classroom. It was probably one of my favorite jobs. 
When we moved to Nashville, I left WSRE TV and began working for Steck-Vaughn Publishers which, at that time, was a division of Harcourt Brace. For Steck-Vaughn I was working with schools across Tennessee and helping teachers and administrators effectively use literature in the classroom. This was a great opportunity for me to see what teachers needed in the way of content and curriculum support for students. 
Those were always great days. Lots of book promotion work took place there in cubicles decorated with the best book swag ever.

You joined Tennessee’s SCBWI in 2001. How did you find it, or it find you?

When I was in Nashville, struggling to figure out how to write a picture book, I felt lost. I’m not sure exactly how I found SCBWI, but I do remember the first meeting I attended. Tracy Barrett, the current SCBWI Regional Advisor Coordinator, was the Regional Advisor of the Nashville chapter at the time, and she was amazing. I felt completely out of place and completely where I needed to be, all at the same time. From then on, every time we moved, SCBWI was my very first connection to be made in every new location.

How did you and your husband meet?

When I was 18, I met the love of my life at a Christmas event near my hometown of Pensacola. Along with my father, my husband is one of the best men I’ve ever known. I’ve been so fortunate to have such compassionate, intelligent, creative men in my life who value women as partners and equals. I think ours is definitely a story of true love, soul mates, and destiny. We’ve been married for 27 years.

Your husband’s job took you and your three daughters across the globe to Tokyo. Was this a welcome life adventure, or did it require a leap into the unknown?

Wow! That’s a great question. I guess it was both a welcome adventure and a leap into the unknown. A few months before the Japan opportunity came up, my mother passed away, and we discovered we would soon be welcoming our third daughter into the world. I think my husband and I were both feeling that life is a gift, and it is also too short. We felt that we needed to live it now while we could. So, we were up for an adventure. However, I recall that I entertained a doubt or two during the 16-hour flight while I was six months pregnant.

You spent 4 years in Japan. What was that like, moving from small town America to a bustling city of new language and culture?

It was so foreign, in every way, from what we had previously experienced, that not a single day passed where we didn’t marvel at some new wonder. The sounds of the crows, the shapes of the trees, the way the sky looked, the architecture, the bullet trains, the tiny cars and narrow roads, the richness of the culture and the openness of people to share their traditions with foreigners – there we so many delights and curiosities that it was like being awakened for the first time. 
I distinctly remember the moment when I realized that there is no such thing as “one right way” to do something. Things I had once thought could only exist in one form or another – things I had never dreamed could be any different than they were and than I knew them to be – suddenly were turned inside out. Everything could be thought of in new and different ways. That was a transformational awakening.

You joined SCBWI-Tokyo, and became an Assistant Regional Advisor (RA). Describe SCBWI in Japan.

SCBWI Japan is a wonderful, vibrant chapter. They hold frequent events throughout the year which support the varied needs and goals of members abroad. One of the best things about our international chapters is the opportunity for expat members and local national members to collaborate. 
We have American members living overseas for a variety of reasons, and we have bi-lingual, international members who are creating work for children in their native language and culture who also see the value of SCBWI as it supports the creation of quality children’s literature. SCBWI Japan also has a very active translation group where members discuss the ins and out of translating and support one another in this field. 
These connections are crucial as our industry strives to seek out diverse voices and cross-cultural perspectives to offer our young global citizen readers. I hope that we SCBWI members who are stateside can find ways to reach out to our sister chapters around the world to support them as they work to raise up members who can write the cross-cultural stories our children need to hear.

After 4 years, you were uprooted to Seoul, South Korea. Many Americans would assume it was a simple transition, from one big Asian city to another. What differences did you notice between Japan and South Korea?

Seoul was dramatically different from Tokyo. It’s hard to articulate without writing an entire book, but it was my impression that, in many ways, Korea was like its food –spicy and colorful. From the red chili peppers and kimchi to the bright, rainbow-colored Hanbok, the traditional dress in Korea, Seoul was strikingly different from Japan. 
It was another experience in mind-broadening as we navigated the culture and came to understand Korean life in amazing new ways. The language, history, and traditions of the country are rich and wonderful. Scholars held the places of highest respect in their society through the ages. Even today, education and scholarship are respected and pursued. As an educator, I find this very gratifying.

According to your Korean radio interview, there was no SCBWI chapter in the country when you arrived, so you founded one. How does one create a writing group in a new place where you’re struggling to understand the language and customs?
                                                   To listen to the interview, click here.

Ha! That’s certainly a big hurdle! It was an adventure, for sure. But, as I mentioned, SCBWI had become the rock that supported me no matter where I moved, so when I found that there was no chapter in Korea, I spoke with Holly Thompson, SCBWI Japan’s RA, and Kathleen Ahrens, International Regional Advisor Coordinator in Hong Kong, about the idea of starting one and having our chapters collaborate in the Pacific region. 
They had both hoped to move in this direction for some time, so they were supportive about the plan to start up a new chapter. We had tons of ideas about sharing expenses for bringing in speakers and mentors from the US. It was also advantageous to have an SCBWI presence in Korea because they have an incredibly rich children’s literature market, and their English language book divisions are continually seeking content from writers. 
South Korea hosts major book fairs and festivals each year, and they even have an entire city dedicated to the book industry -- from artist lofts, to print houses, to distribution warehouses – it all takes place in Paju Book City which I wrote about for the SCBWI Bulletin in 2009.
Finding members was not as difficult as you might think. While our membership numbers were small, we had a wonderful core group of expat writers. Some were in Seoul as military spouses, others were teachers working at one of the many international schools in the city. 
One of our original core members was Christina Farley who now lives in Florida and has just published her fourth novel, The Princess and the Page with Scholastic. Her debut novel, Guilded, is first in a trilogy set in Korea and is a story that she shared with our critique group in SCBWI Korea when she was first drafting it. We had an incredible group, and I remain in contact with almost all of our members. 
One of the best things to come out of SCBWI Korea was the SCBWI Korea Author-International School Network which I created to help connect US authors with English-language international schools across the Korean peninsula. 

You created a thriving SCBWI community in South Korea, but you had to relocate to Germany after 2 years. That must have been bittersweet.

Moving to Germany was very unexpected. We had no plans to make that change, but the opportunity came up. After we weighed all the options, it seemed like we just couldn’t say no. It was only 30 days from the time we were first presented with the idea until we had our feet on the ground in Stuttgart. 
It was incredibly rough, and my oldest daughter, who was in high school at the time, was quite unsettled. In the end though, she told us that moving to Germany was the best thing that ever happened to her. In fact, she is there right now as she tours with a group called The Young Americans. Amazingly enough, the Young Americans have a huge Michigan connection. They perform a dinner theater every summer in Boyne and do music workshops all over the state. All three of my daughters have taken part in Young American workshops in Japan and Germany, so to be here now in Michigan feels very providential.
Another fantastic aspect of being in Germany was getting to connect with SCBWI Germany/Austria and our neighbor, SCBWI Switzerland. The European chapters are vibrant, and they host fabulous events. One of our novel writing retreats took place on a car-less island in Bavaria at a Benedictine convent dating back to the year 782. Our membership was very diverse with incredible talent, and the chapters shared a dynamic connection.

You’ve got numerous picture books with Tun-Tun Books. Who are they, and how did you get started working with them?

I met Tun-Tun Books at the Seoul International Book Fair in Korea. They are an educational publisher specializing in English-language children’s books for Korean speakers. They have an immense book list, and I learned a lot working with them. I published twelve books with them, and it was incredibly insightful to work through their editing process to create books to teach English to non-native speakers. I could do a whole workshop on that topic alone.

You moved from Texas to Troy, MI over the summer. Are you ready for winter?

Absolutely not! I donated all of our snow pants, sleds, and winter gear when we left Germany because I knew we would never use it in Texas. I have never experienced a Michigan winter, so I hope I can make it. My whole family loves the changing of the seasons, and I’ve probably taken 100 photos of leaves this fall, so I think that I will be able to withstand the cold if it means I will have the joy of exquisitely colorful leaves in fall and fresh, new blooms in spring. Living and appreciating life by the marking of the seasons is a practice I learned while living in Japan. I’m feeling very grateful to be here in Michigan, winter and all, because many of the nicest people I know are from here.

14. What’s next for you?
Next on my list is finding a publisher for my recently completed picture book, 100th Day Troubles. It’s about a sequence of things that go absolutely wacky in a classroom on the one hundredth day of school. After several years of working on and thinking about this book, it finally came together last year. I am absolutely in love with this story, and I am hoping and praying I can find someone who feels the same about it as I do. 
While I wait for responses to my first round of submissions, I have two new books that have been swirling around in my head. I’ve started my first drafts of both, and I’m getting that excited feeling again, where I feel like I might have hit on something really special. All of this positive creative energy makes me think that I must definitely be right where I am supposed to be.

Charlie Barshaw appreciates the photo artistry of Nancy Shaw, a splendid Ann Arbor children's author (and pretty good with the lens, too.) Charlie  is working on revising his YA novel while resurrecting his first MG novel. He loves his life in SCBWI.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Gathering on the Grand: the SCBWI-MI Fall Conference

Below are three different takes from three different organizers of the Gathering on the Grand conference held September 15 and 16 in Grand Rapids:

From Co-Chair Jay Whistler:

Conferences are complicated. I’m sure that’s not a surprise to most of you. It’s all about details, both enormous and minute. But who wants to read about how we choose a venue, the dozens of conversations we hold about potential speakers, or the logistics of creating a schedule? Instead, here is a peek at phone transcripts and in-person exchanges between and among our conference co-chairs, Jay Whistler and David Stricklen, and some of the rest of the team, including Co-Regional Advisors Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson, Illustrator Coordinator Ruth McNally Barshaw, Nick Adkins, Deb Gonzales, and Lisa Healy. Our thanks to every behind-the-scenes member of the team.


Leslie: Hey Jay, would you like to organize our Fall 2017 conference?
Me: Umm…
Carrie: It will be fun, I promise.
Me: Umm…
Leslie: [waves expensive chocolate under Jay’s nose]
Me: I'm at your command.


C&L: We got you another co-chair for the conference. And he’s already found the venue for us and a commitment from the keynote speaker!
Me: That’s great. Thank you!
C&L: Want to know who it is?
Me: Does he have a pulse?
C&L: It’s Dave Stricklen.
Me: Wahoo! [does small dance of joy while on the phone with L]
C&L: He has experience organizing security for presidential visits. You’ve organized SCBWI conferences before, so you should be a good team.


Dave: Jay, can you contact [potential speaker for conference] please?
Me: Consider it done.


Me: No luck. But I have another idea. [Mentions new potential speaker]
Dave: Let’s do it!

Me: So that was a bust. How about [super cool speaker idea]?
Dave: I’m working on [project that takes crazy amount of time even though it should be a simple one, through no fault of his own], so take it away.

The same week…

Dave: We lost the venue.
Me: I hate my life
Dave: Never fear. I got this. [Secures new venue within a couple days]

nine-and-a-half years AND 742,963,508 emails later…

Me: We did it! [Now-confirmed speaker] is on board!
Dave: Huzzah! Have I mentioned we need someone to do book sales?
Me: On it.
Dave: Have I mentioned we need another speaker?
Me: On it. [Above process repeated]

[Meanwhile, behind the scenes, C&L continue to wrangle budgetary issues, conference registration, hotel negotiations, and more; Deb Gonzales handles website, Facebook page, and Twitter. Nick Adkins changes “Gathering on the Grand” conference banner four hundred and thirteen times; Ruth continues to wrangle illustrator track and speaker; Lisa handles all travel arrangements.]


Dave: Jay, time to figure out the schedule.
Me: Well, we have an illustrator track, a novel track, and a picture book track. Piece of cake. [Twenty minutes later…] But we can’t have Speaker A present this session at the same time Speaker B is presenting this topic because…
Dave: [Thirty minutes later]…and that means that we can’t have an illustration session in this room because…
Me: [Fifteen minutes later]…Wait! We haven’t built in a time for the bookstore yet!
Dave: [Twelve hours later]…Remember that we need half an hour to break down the rooms and set them up again, so that won’t work.
Me: [Cobwebs growing over my hand, phone, and ear]…Is this?…I mean, did we just?...Dave, I think we did it! It’s a schedule!
Dave: Huzzah!
Me: Don’t get too excited. It’s going to change again the day before the conference. Guaranteed.

A couple weeks before the conferencE

Dave: Jay, I’m dying here.
Me: I told you to leave that pork on the grill a little longer.
Dave: No, not that. Although it does have to do with food.
Me: The menus?
Dave: Where’s the highest bridge in Grand Rapids? I’m going to jump off it now.
Me: No can do, pal. Because then I would have to do the menus.
Dave: Do you know how many vegetarians we have? How many vegans? How many gluten free? How many gluten-free vegetarians? Kosher? Allergic to soy or peanuts or dairy or eggs or seafood or even pineapple? I had to create a spreadsheet. Can we just serve gruel?
Me: Not gluten free.
Dave: [Whimpers softly into phone]


[Schedule changes—guaranteed]

Day One of conference

Dave: I’ve figured out where the snipers need to be positioned. I’ve got a few frogmen in the river, SWAT on point at all entrances and exits, and schematics of the sewers, just in case. And there’s a helipad on the roof.
Me: Dave, it’s a kidlit conference. Stand down.
Dave: Right, right. Old habits die hard. Sorry. 

Ten minutes later…

Me: Bookstore tables need to be moved because…[explanation of problem with current location]
Dave: Consider it done.

Twenty minutes later…

Me: I forgot my lanyard.
Carrie: I forgot my belt.
Leslie: I forgot folders. [Flurry of problem-solving mode ensues. Trip to local office supply store is undertaken]

An hour later…

Me: We’re out of nametag holders. [Flurry of problem-solving mode version 2 ensues. Trip to local office supply store version 2 is undertaken]

Just before dinner…

Me, Carrie, Leslie, Dave, Ruth: How do you work this stupid mic? [All fiddling with back of speaker unit. Frantic search for Charlie ensues]
Charlie: [Flips super-secret hidden switch. Shakes head. Whispers under breath] Amateurs.

Day Two of Conference

Dave: We need to change these two sessions because it doesn’t make sense that they are in these rooms. It’s a math thing.
Me: Okay, change away.

Twenty minutes later…

Dave: We can’t change these two sessions because it makes perfect sense that they are in these rooms. It’s a math thing.
Me: Okay, leave as is.

Later that day…

Me: People can pick up written critiques at the registration table later this afternoon. Also, we’re going to have the book signings over here at the tables where we’ll be having lunch.

Later that day…

[Event staff takes down tables after lunch without telling us]

Me: We’ll be having book signings at the registration table instead. And pick up your written critiques at this other place instead of the registration table.

[Conference is finally over, where a good time was had by all]

Leslie: I can’t find my keys. [Long search ensues, including retracing of steps over the river and through the woods, into the parking garage, through multiple event spaces, hotel rooms, suitcases, cars, curbs, and gutters. A locksmith is called to open Leslie’s car on Sunday morning. No keys. After being missing for almost 24 hours, the rascally missing keys are finally located. We won’t tell you where—you wouldn’t believe us even if we did.]

Entire Conference Crew: Job well done, everyone!

From Co-Chair Dave Stricklen:

At our SCBWI fall conference dinner, I mentioned that I have pondered why members of the  SCBWI seem to be so nice. I experienced this first hand working with our leaders and volunteers in planning this event. I have often tried to figure out what makes our large group so consistently considerate. 

My perception is that it is not true with any other division of the writing world. I mentioned that to write, and write well you must be introspective. If you are introspective, you are able to put yourself in other people’s shoes. If you are able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see things through their eyes, you become empathetic. Empathy is the first step toward kindness.

 Gary Schmidt
gave his point of view on the subject during his amazing keynote and took it one step further. He said in so many words that this is a special group because we all write for children. In order to have a desire to write for children, you must have a kind heart. We are not the norm. We are not in it for ourselves. Basically, we must be unselfish and kind or we wouldn’t write for kids.

Are we both right? I wonder what other people in the SCBWI think. Are we really that nice? Yes, I’m sure there are a few exceptions, even in our group, but I do believe we are kinder than most. Why do you think that is? I'd love to hear your opinion on this. Feel free to leave any thoughts in the comments.

                                                            Photo of Gary Schmidt by Ed Spicer

From Illustrator Coordinator Ruth McNally Barshaw:

The Illustrator Track of our fall conference starred brilliant author-illustrator and Caldecott Honor Award recipient Denise Fleming, who helped us explore spontaneity with our art without sacrificing excellence in design and narrative.


                                            Contour drawing brought out some surprises. Jenni is a good sport

                                            (All sketches by Ruth McNally Barshaw)

We drew contour portraits – fascinating.

We discussed gutters and composition, color, and technique.
Denise assigned us a ripped-paper collage project to be done during the Illustrators Intensive. It was tricky for me. She gave us a list of objects and characters to include which I found limiting. 
I struggled to find a narrative worth exploring, and I struggled to find a compelling way to present it, and I struggled with the time allowed. 
When it was time to show our work, my piece was coherent and glued, which means the time limit forced me to think and work quickly. What a sense of accomplishment at the end!
I was particularly in awe of Kara Marsee’s art, a baby fox filling one side of the spread.

                         Denise wore a crown of LED lights on Saturday. She has lots of bright ideas. ;)                                             

On Saturday morning Denise was busy with portfolio reviews for many members. I heard from a few that her critiques were useful and thoughtful.
Denise spoke about illustration in the afternoon, reminding us that we MUST remember the child point of view.
She said she doesn’t put vignettes in her art because the kids in the back of the room can’t see them when the book’s being read to a class.
She talked about her art, why she tackles it the way she does, and she described her process.
We conference planners kept Denise very busy; she also talked about writing.
In that session Denise read to us excerpts of beautiful and evocative poetry for inspiration. She gave examples of different structures for stories and why she used them for certain books. 
She told us that sometimes we have to be hard on ourselves and cut the excuses and just WRITE.

Jay Whistler has been a member of SCBWI-MI since 2004. 
She was regional advisor for Switzerland briefly before returning to Michigan a few years ago. 
She has a BA in Written Communications, an MA in Technical Writing, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. 
After Gathering on the Grand, she is convinced that writing a novel is easier than organizing a conference.

In a former life, David Stricklen was an airport police chief with 30 years experience in law enforcement. Now retired, David has written three YA fantasy adventure books in the Blackwater Series: Beneath and Beyond, Through The Eyes of The Beast and The Heart of The Swarm. 
His books are sought after for their fast moving and unpredictable style. David’s many school visits are filled with magic and creativity. David is the Grand Rapids area Shop Talk coordinator and an SCBWI-MI Adcom member.

Illustrator Coordinator Ruth McNally Barshaw wrote and illustrated the six books in the "Ellie McDoodle Diaries" series. She illustrated "Leopold the Lion", and is currently illustrating a mid-grade novel due out June 2018. She and her writer husband Charlie travel all over visitng schools and libraries.


Friday, October 20, 2017

A 5-Week Picture Book Writing Course, Lessons Learned by Kathy Steck

New and experienced writers often ask about quality workshops to improve their craft. SCBWI offers a variety of conferences, local Shop Talks, and webinars, but there are also a number of industry professionals (authors, agents, editors) who run their own workshops, in-person and online. These are not SCBWI endorsed classes, but our members have had some great experiences and benefited from these additional opportunities. Kathy Steck offered to share her experience with an online/interactive picture book class through The Children's Book Academy.

Here's Kathy:

I first stumbled into the world of children’s picture book writing when my daughter fell off the monkey bars, broke her arm, and needed surgery. After journaling to her since before she was born, I needed to write while sitting next to her hospital bed. Out came my heart onto the page. Everyone loved it. I wanted to get it published.

I had so much to learn.

I immersed myself in the world of SCBWI: joined local chapters, attended conferences, joined critique groups. I paid for critiques, read books, and learned whatever, wherever I could. But I still struggled to get published. I put my manuscripts away and worked on an adult novel. Until…

… I came across a 5-week course on Writing Children's Picture Books through the Children’s Book Academy with Mira Reisberg and Julia Maguire. I resurrected my most promising picture book manuscript and set out to finally get it right. Previously, PEE BEFORE YOU GO had failed to get an interested editor or agent. This class was my chance to finally flush out why, and understand what was and wasn’t working.

I started from the beginning, analyzing my story in light of the lessons.
  • Who is my character? 
  • What does she want? 
  • Where is the emotion? 

I submitted my pitch to the weekly webinars eager to get feedback. You’d be amazed how effective a critique of a 60-word synopsis can be, to not only focus your pitch, but to get to the heart of your story. What is my character’s journey?

I also benefitted from a one-on-one critique, which pointed out the biggest problem with my manuscript—making sure it was not didactic (preachy). I realized that that was what editors were seeing. Kids need to be their own heroes and solve their own problems.

I wrestled with the illustrator’s notes. Include them or not include them. Feedback from guest editors (from major publishing houses) indicated that they are okay if they describe action not included in the text. But don’t describe how a picture should be drawn (ie, a pink dress) unless it’s critical to the story. In my story, there are visual triggers that drive the protagonist to act. And illustrator’s notes are particularly helpful when the action contradicts the text.

Now that the class has come to its end (though it really hasn’t ended, thanks to bonus lessons, and follow-up materials, and the connection to the community of writers who participated in the class), I’m excited to start submitting. First, I get to submit my pitch to the panel of agents and editors from the course who have agreed to consider our stories.

But I won’t stop there. I will use the lessons on writing your query/cover letter and cast a wide net. And I will go forth with confidence after learning from one of the editors that just because one editor didn’t like the story for a certain reason, doesn’t mean all editors have the same problem with it. For example, an editor from a major publishing house in CA, didn’t like how my story took place in snow. It caused me to change course. But my critique editor said there are plenty of people who do live in snow regions that would still give the book a wide audience. So, now that I have a stronger, more focused story, I’m ready. Everyone please say a prayer or cross your fingers for me. And keep an eye out for my picture book, PEE BEFORE YOU GO.

P.S.  By the way, The Children’s Book Academy also has classes on Illustrating, Chapter Books, Middle Grade, and more.

Kathy Steck has been a member of SCBWI for more than fifteen years and is humbled by the generosity of this community. She’s continually inspired by her two strong-willed daughters (and strong-willed husband) who provide endless story ideas. 

Improve your craft:

Numerous options exist and we've covered some of them here on the Mitten blog before.
See Angie Kidd's review of Lisa Cron's book WIRED FOR STORY.

And Sondra Soderborg's experience learning about voice in a workshop with Patti Lee Gauch at the Highlights Foundation.

Patti will also be teaching an upcoming workshop with author Gary Schmidt:

Check out the classes offered at the Writing Barn, managed by award-winning author and VCFA alum Bethany Hegedus.

Do you have a book on craft or a class to recommend? Please let us know in the comments. Or we'd love to learn more about your experience through a blog post here on the Mitten. Submission guidelines are here.

And of course, there are so many opportunities through SCBWI and our MI Chapter. The SCBWI Annual Winter Conference in New York is February 2-4, 2018, and registration opens next week on October 24th. They're changing the format to feature intensive masterclass workshops and registration will be limited. Get ready! Registration info will be here on October 24th at 10am Pacific time.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Come back next Friday for a recap of our fall conference. The following week, Charlie Barshaw will interview one of our Michigan members for our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature. Who will it be? In November, we'll have social media and marketing tips, the making of a book trailer, another Michigan KidLit Advocate, and more. Stay tuned!