Friday, May 22, 2015

Let Me Hook You with Some Stories from the Conference by Charlie Barshaw

Here’s the thing about co-chairing an SCBWI-MI conference: you prepare for months, and then it’s over.

As for what happened between 8 am and 5:30 pm? Better to ask Kevin, the owner of Thomson-Shore and yoga partner of Deb Gonzales. Probably during some impossible pose, Kevin found that Deb was a member of the coolest kidlit organization in the world.

He graciously offered his facilities for our “Hook of the Book” conference featuring E.B. Lewis. Then, he sacrificed his day off and sat through the conference (when he wasn’t giving tours or answering TS questions). 

Sorry though. Kevin’s not available. (Heavy sigh from some of the attendees; he’s alarmingly handsome.) All I’ve got is scribbled notes and random images, but I’ll try my best to tell some stories:

Deb Gonzales and E.B. Lewis
“Uh, E.B., it’s after midnight.” Deb and John Gonzales graciously opened their home for a Friday evening BBQ, and by 10 pm only people named Gonzales and Barshaw remained, talking with E.B. The conversation flowed deep and easy, and though I often checked my dumb-phone clock, it wasn’t until pumpkin time that I spoke up. E.B. slept about 5 hours before the conference.

“We are storytellers.” With a dozen round tables, illustrators and writers found themselves neighbors. E.B. cemented their friendship when he assured us all that, no matter what language we use, our vision is to tell stories. And, like learning a new language, we are not truly fluent until we can tell a joke.

“You need to go down the rabbit hole.” Lewis Carroll brought Alice to life for readers because he didn’t just dispassionately describe the wild journey, he became part of it. In every story we tell, visual or textual, we don’t hold the snow globe in our hand, we are inside it, being shaken. “We,” said E.B. “are in the business of amazement.”

The picture book “is a movie between two pieces of cardboard.” Every element of the art and text needs to enhance the story. E.B. described a movie scene where the ultimate care was taken in choosing the curtain fabric, just so that when it fluttered in the breeze, the viewer would understand that something was coming.

Image: E.B. sauntering through the lobby in a tailored shirt. The conference finally over (E.B. stayed long to sign books, then longer to do more portfolio reviews), he had a moment to “freshen up” before we drove to the restaurant. Six foot three with a washboard stomach, I asked, with his hectic travel schedule, how he remained so slim. “I do 100 pushups and 250 crunches every morning.”

“I thought YOU were keeping the time.” From 9:40 till noon Sunday morning, E.B. offered seven illustrators twenty minute portfolio reviews. The first one ended exactly on time (no breaks for E.B.). However, the second ran over 7 minutes, because E.B. expected me to knock. From then on, I pounded as time expired, yet he stayed extra minutes with each illustrator, intent on giving each what they needed. He finished at 12:15 pm.

“Take it all in, then give it all back.” No time to even dine at a nice restaurant before he rode to the airport, E.B. ate a burger and laptop-played Ruth and Leslie and I the inspirational film he had mentioned, Celebrate What’s Right in the World. National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones espouses a positive life-outlook, and E.B. obviously embraces it.

E.B. Lewis gave it all back to us this weekend.

Charlie Barshaw has resolved to try E.B.'s workout regimen, though he'll start with 1 pushup and 2 crunches. His squirrel MG rests comfortably in a drawer as he enthusiastically tackles a modern YA version of Treasure Island.

Enjoy a few more photos from E.B. Lewis's visit with SCBWI-MI, and stay tuned for Ruth McNally Barshaw's illustrator's perspective of the Hook of the Book weekend.

E.B. Lewis and Ruth McNally Barshaw

Picture book Power: Leslie Helakoski, Shutta Crum, and Deb Pilutti

Happy birthday to SCBWI-MI Co-RA, Carrie Pearson!


  1. Great recap of the conference, Charlie.

  2. Wonderful storytelling, Charlie. Thank you. It was like another walk through the day. A terrific memory made that day.

  3. Thank you for the re-cap Charlie, fabulous!

  4. Well done, Charlie! I like looking at the day through your eyes. :)

  5. Wonderful, Charlie, as always! And fun to see the photos!

  6. What a wonderful and productive day, and E.B. sounds like a gem. Thanks, Charlie for sharing.