Sunday, November 2, 2014

SCBWI-MI Fall Conference Wrap-up: Christy Ottaviano, Candace Fleming, and Eric Rohmann

The conference on Mackinac Island last month featured a stellar line-up of speakers. Yesterday, Charlie Barshaw gave us an overview from his perspective as conference co-chair. We continue today with a sampling of a few of the sessions. Thanks to Lisa Healy, Catherine Bieberich, and Diana Magnuson for sharing their experiences.


I was a shadow. Well, not really. I didn't cast a gray pool on the carpeting behind Christy Ottaviano but I did assist the editor of Christy Ottaviano Books at the fall conference. Imagine what it must be like to have your own imprint! Until then, I’ll commit her submission guidelines to memory and prepare to submit, grabbing the reins of my work as the title of her Saturday session so aptly suggested.

Christy Ottaviano
Ottaviano is looking for a well-written manuscript with a strong voice. “I look at things faster when they have a familiar hook,” she said. “Are you telling me your book is To Kill a Mockingbird meets Charlie & the Chocolate Factory?”

Janet Tashjian, author of My Life as a Book, worked with Ottaviano to produce the series that was a reflection of Tashjian’s son who struggled with attention and reading issues. He used to illustrate his vocabulary words as a visual learning tool, and channeled his talents into the My Life as a Book series. Ottaviano was drawn to the author’s fictional translation of a real world issue.

Elise Broach, another client of Ottaviano’s, is the creator of Masterpiece, a modern day version of The Littles, one of the editor’s childhood favorites. “This book, coming out as a movie in 2016, introduces James, a loner who befriends a beetle,” said Ottaviano, a fan of the arts. “His mother is a socialite and never has time for him. The boy and the beetle get involved in an art heist at the museum.”

This session was further reinforcement that learning more about the person you plan to submit to is a good idea before you send off your manuscript. Does the agent or editor have special interests that are evident in the type of books on his or her list? At the end of the day, I walked away excited to read a wealth of new titles.

Lisa Healy is a writer who has worn many hats, including those of news reporter, newspaper columnist, author, and vineyard owner.  She enjoys Michigan lake life with her husband and daughter, and takes every opportunity to visit her two college sons in Grand Rapids or spoil them with home cooking on their breaks.  She is currently volunteering on the SCBWI-MI advisory committee.  Her writing has been published in numerous local and regional newspapers, A Century of Voices, BLUE Magazine, and MANITOU, and she's photographed both local and national celebrities, including Alan Mulally and Betty White, for TIME Magazine's TIME for Kids. 

CANDACE FLEMING by Catherine Bieberich

Candace Fleming
Candace Fleming was not only brilliant and informative, she was easily one of the most charming presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of shadowing. Although she knew how to kick back and have fun, she was very serious about history. She made it very clear that, whether writing fiction or nonfiction, accuracy is the most important element. Too often, authors will sacrifice accuracy for the sake of story. Candace stressed that any text dealing with history should be well researched and documented. As authors, we are the caretakers of our nation’s stories, as well as our nation’s children. Both fiction and nonfiction consist of telling a good tale, but there is no reason to fill our tales with fallacies. After all, truth is more often than not stranger than fiction.

Catherine Bieberich lives in Battle Creek, Michigan with her husband, Kent, and her mutt dog, Chloe. She teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade at a local charter school during the fall and uses her summers to work on Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction novels.

Cathy also coordinated the SCBWI-MI Mentorship competition, and the winners and finalists were announced at the fall conference:

Thanks to everyone who entered the 2014-15 Novel Mentorship competition. It was very exciting to have our mentor, Edie Hemingway, on Mackinac Island with us. She traveled from Frederick, Maryland to enjoy the fudge and our wonderful company. She was glad to meet everyone, especially the contestants who were in attendance.
This year's winners were:
1st place (and a mentorship with Edie Hemingway): Wendy Sherrill "Playing Dead"
2nd place: Ann Finkelstein "The Wind Djin"
3nd place: Magdalena Roddy "Certain Exceptions"

ERIC ROHMANN by Diana Magnuson

Message: STORY is all that matters. Create your illustrations to form a sequence that makes sense all together. Finished art shows how your brain works during the creating process.

Eric Rohman
Eric’s steps to achieve STORY:

1.  He stands, using his whole body to work up big, very, very rough sketches on his ‘least precious materials’ creating up to forty 18” by 24” ‘thumbnails’.

2.  A SKETCHBOOK of drawings, notes, references and color sketches is produced for each book. These first two steps take 95% of his time. “95% of everything we do on a project is ‘crap’.”

3.  Next, a STORYBOARD is created.

4.  Lastly: a BOOK DUMMY to show the ‘page turns’ (to get the reader to want to turn each page).

 Diana Magnuson: 97 books, MFA, now working on her own books and very involved in environment art and writing. She was much relieved to hear about the 95% and the process.

SCBWI-MI website
For more information on upcoming conferences including webinars, go to the SCBWI-MI website. And if you've been dreaming about attending one of the SCBWI international conferences, see yesterday's post for information about Shutta's Scholarship to the 2015 winter conference in New York.

Come back next Friday to learn about an indie bookstore gem in suburban Detroit. Hope you're having a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Thanks for bringing us more memories of the conference and insighful recaps.

  2. Great posts everyone (except that isn't Diana in the photo :)

    1. Oh too funny! Who is in the photo?? Diana is out of town and didn't send one with her bio - I thought I had a back-up!

    2. The mystery woman is still a mystery, so I just removed the photo. :)