Saturday, August 1, 2015

Portfolio Showcase and Reception!







Joe Cepeda: Diversity in Children's Books panel

As per their website, We Need Diverse Books™ is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people. #LA15SCBWI  tackled the issue today with a panel of esteemed writers and illustrators. Illustrator Joe Cepeda was one of the speakers.

Cepeda is the illustrator of numerous award-winning picture books that feature diverse characters, such as Nappy Hair, From North to South: Del Norte al Sure, Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and so many others.



Years ago, however, Cepeda illustrated a book that became an issue: Nappy Hair. Some people were offended by the use of the word “nappy,”  and Cepeda wasn’t aware of the baggage the word carried. When the book published, there was somewhat a media outcry. “If we had more books that featured diversity,  things like this wouldn't be an issue,” said Cepeda.


After college, Cepeda did what many illustrators do: he went to New York, where he was discovered by none other than Arthur Levine. He's been working consistently ever since. The first manuscripts offered were mostly stories about people of color—Chicano or African American. Starting to feel boxed in, he voiced his concerns to editors. "The result was more diversity," Cepedia said, holding up his books featuring hamsters as the main characters, to which the audience roared in laughter. 
“I’m proud to be a Chicano,” he said, “but I’m an illustrator and I want to be able to illustrate everything. 

Kary Lee: #LA15SCBWI Conference Illustrator Journal






Kary Lee


Kary wrote this about herself:

I wrote and illustrated my first book the summer before third grade; a pollywog pond action-adventure, with a little fantasy twist. My career began as an art director in Dallas, but something was missing. I found my way back to books through my kids. I attended my first SCBWI Conference in 2003 and realized I had ‘found my people.’ - even won a portfolio award! (who knew?) Five books and several years later I’m still at it. Two years ago I became the Illustrator Coordinator for my Northwest Region of SCBWI which has become the icing on the cake.

Growing up in Southern California in an artistic family, expression and storytelling were second nature. Instead of coloring books I was given a pad of newsprint and a huge basket of crayons. Summers were spent barefoot in a perpetual bathingsuit and lasted for about five years. On sunny days I would mix powdered tempera paints with the garden hose and use the sliding glass door as my canvas. On rainy days we would read. Laura Ingalls was my invisible friend. Raggedy Ann & Andy were my first character inspirations. Our little pollywog pond was my Narnia. And then there was Judy Blume, easing me through the tweens.

By nature, I am a story teller. It makes the rest of my world fall into place. And, I'm famous in the eyes of the local 5 year olds. Some years ago my daughters play group was discussing what their parents did for a living. “Well,” my daughter stated, “my mommy colors for a living.” Silence fell over the room. I’m totally cool!



You can find out more about Kary and see more of her work at www.karyleeillustration.com

Nicola Yoon: Diversity In Children's Books Panel



Nicola Yoon grew up in Jamaica (the island) and Brooklyn (part of Long Island). She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter, both of whom she loves beyond all reason. Her first novel, Everything, Everything, will be published by Random House\Delacorte Press on September 1, 2015. Follow her on Twitter @nicolayoon.



Here's the synopsis of Nicola's book:

Madeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. She is content enough—until a boy with eyes the color of the Atlantic Ocean moves in next door. Their complicated romance begins over IM and grows through a wunderkammer of vignettes, illustrations, charts, and more.

Highlights of Nicola's comments:


"The job of a writer is to tell the truth. To see people as they are."

Miranda asks Nicola about having a character with a serious disease, and at the same time being of mixed heritage.

"The story is about her, she's not the sidekick."

A book about the diversity (like coming out stories) can be "incredibly important."

And, Nicola says, "a non-issue book is just as important."

"If Harry Potter were black, that would be awesome. Or if he were gay."

Nicola speaks of what happens when you have only one of a category of people.

When you have only one black or gay character, then they become representative of that category. If you have only one character who is black and they're a drug dealer, that can be problematic. But if you have ten characters who are black, it's not so troubling. Because that one character is no longer a representative of everyone who is part of that category, too.

"No one represents everyone."


Brandy Colbert: Diversity in Children's: Challenges and Solutions

Brandy Colbert is the author of POINTE, winner of the 2014 Cybils Award for young adult fiction, and was named book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly. Her next book LITTLE & LION will be published by Little, Brown in spring 2017.

We Need Diverse Books

Brandy says that there are so many different experiences in each group. Treat the characters as human first and do the research from there.

Brandy's book POINTE tackles many issues. She didn't realize there was a lot going on until people told her. She didn't look at it as a barrier, just as a book she was proud of and wanted to submit.

Brandy wrote three books before POINTE and queried for 4 years. She wondered if she should mention the race of her character in the query. She doesn't believe she did. She believes now, she probably shouldn't have worried about it. The book came out right around the time We Need Diverse Books came off the ground and she's very grateful for it.

When writing POINTE Brandy wanted to be as honest as possible.




Varian Johnson: Diversity in Children's Books: Challenges and Solutions

Author Varian Johnson gave a great keynote earlier today, be sure you check out the recap for that, too. As a reminder, his books include The Great Greene Heist and My Life as a Rhombus.

When asked about writers needing to ask permission to write about a character of a different background or orientation, etc., Varian says asking for permission is hard, it's not like one person represents the totality of their race or disability or sex. I struggle with this a lot myself, when I'm writing a female character.

Do a lot of research, get the technical things right, interactions within the community. Growing up, I spoke one way at home, and one way out in the world, and that would be hard for someone who didn't experience my private home life to observe.

I don't expect any author to ask permission, but I do expect an author to do their research and due diligence on a subject, any subject.

Miranda Paul, the moderator, asks about the term 'casual diversity' and what the panel thinks of it.

Varian says, "Casual diversity is a horrible term, we struggled with it a lot, but I think there is something to be said for books that feature the race of a character, but race isn't the point of the story. I love the idea that there are books coming out now where people of color can be more than one thing."

He mentions Elizabeth Bluemle's post about looking for the black Ramona Quimby.

A final note of career advice from Varian: Think through who is publishing and where you and your story may fit, find your allies, they are out there.

The Diversity Panel Begins!


Miranda Paul moderates the "Diversity in Children's Books: Challenges and Solutions" panel, (from left to right) Nicola Yoon, Varian Johnson, Brandy Colbert and Joe Cepeda.

(I.W. Gregorio was unable to attend.)

Molly Idle Keynote: Yes And—Setting the Stage for Crazy Creative Development

Molly IdleMolly Idle is the Caldecott-honor winning author and illustrator of Flora and the Flamingo. 

She talked about the collaborative work that bookmaking is, and how she uses stage and improvisation techniques to boost her personality.

Keeping an open mind is the key to successful collaboration, she says.

In improv, there's a game called "Yes, and."

The first player kicks out an opening line. For example, "Did you remember to clean out the cat barf from Uncle Billy's car?"

Your job as a player is to accept that and add AND, she says. So you'd reply, "I did remember, and I think the smell is going to linger for quite some time."

"It sounds so simple, but it is so easy to do just the opposite and block," she says. "We are born to 'Yes.' We are born instinctively to be creative. To express our boundaries both real and imaginary."

She uses stage techniques a lot in her work. When she's figuring out how to lay out characters, she thinks about and experiments with many things ... putting characters center stage, even not having them react at all (which is the second-most powerful thing you can do on stage).

She encouraged us to push out of our comfort zones and keep many choices as possibilities. "It's the only way to come up with new ideas."

We have to ask ourselves, "How can I push my creative comfort zone out?"

The answer? You have to know your bit. This means know your lines. To really know a line is to know why you say it. You need to know the line before that. And the line before that. And why you're in the scene in the first place.

"You have to know the whole play to know your bit. If you know the whole play, you can jump in and help," she says. 'You know why you're supposed to be there."

Molly knows the editor's job. She knows the art director's job. She knows the designer's bit too—and the printer's. This means that in the end, the book will be a better book.

Molly Idle's website
Follow Molly on Twitter

Kristy Dempsey: How To Not Have a Nervous Breakdown While Waiting

Kristy Dempsey was the winner of the 2015 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text, for her book A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream. She is also the author of the sweet and charming Me With Youand the humorous Surfer Chick.

Dempsey traveled all the way from Brazil to present at  #LA15SCBWI, where she shared the journey of figuring herself out as a creative person, finding herself as a writer, and becoming published (and how not to have a nervous breakdown while waiting). The answer, in short: learn how to balance the business side of children's publishing with the creative.

On the business side, she advised, study the vast amout of information online. Websites like the Nerdy Book Club, A Fuse #8 Production, Matthew Winner's Let's Get Busy Podcasts and others.

On the creative side, Dempsey offered a wonderfully illustrated, hand lettered worksheet (some pages used below with permission).







Mem Fox and Allyn Johnston: Let's Talk Picture Books... Q&A and Some Read Aloud Fun!

Mem and Allyn
Beach Lane editor Allyn Johnston and author Mem Fox are available for questions! Here are a few of their answers:

Someone asks about Mem's process, she tells us the manuscript can continue to change and be edited after Allyn's acquired it, and Mem is well known for having tremendously tiny word counts (powerful but tiny!) Mem says an easy trick for reducing your word count is to cover up the first paragraph of your story with your hand... You can probably live without it. Now do the same thing to the second paragraph, your story can probably live without that, too. She tells us we spend so much time setting up our stories and rarely do we (or the story) need that.

Someone asks Allyn whether or not an author should submit their manuscript with pagebreaks? And Allyn reiterates that your submission manuscript should not mark out pagination, but if you want to be a picturebook author, YOU do have to spend a lot of time figuring out pagination and building your own text-only dummies and understanding page breaks. Mem doesn't think about page breaks until after she's written a draft. And then she makes a dummy. The most important page turn, to Mem, is the page turn between 31 and 32. Mem says, therefore, you should start backwards when paginating.

Some of the books Mem read us and it was magical:







Daniel Harmon: Creating Nonfiction For Teens and Young Adults

Daniel Harmon has been working in book publishing since 2003—first developing history projects at Greenwood/ABC-Clio, then acquiring pop culture books for Praeger Publishers, and most recently overseeing the publishing program at Zest Books, an independent publisher of nonfiction books for teens and young adults.

Since joining Zest in 2012, Daniel has acquired Zest’s first book to sell in excess of 25,000 copies, developed Zest’s first three projects to receive starred reviews, and launched Pulp, a new imprint for older readers. He is also the author of the book Super Pop! (which Kirkus called “weird, witty, and endlessly entertaining”).



Daniel shares that the Zest approach to publishing is

franker

fun, and

from cover to last word, working to keep teen readers interested.

He speaks of how they've moved into doing more middle grade, and doing books for all ages. Their tagline is

Books for young adults of all ages.

Explaining what "all ages means," he says

Doing books explicitly for teens is a great way to make sure you get no teen readership.

They're trying to create books teens will want to pick up and adults will want to pick up, too.

He explains their efforts to add art (primary source materials, photos, infographics...), figure out where their books will be placed in bookstores, if it's librarian-bait or more tailored for the gatekeeper/blogger world, their new imprint Pulp that's aiming more new adult, their teen advisory board and much more.

Talking us through a variety of Zest's titles, he explains

"You don't need to dumb things down to make it teen-friendly."








Two upcoming titles:


Unslut
the author's middle school diary of being bullied and shamed for being the school "slut" alongside her contemporary perspective, and



Plotted
A literary atlas, literary maps of treasured books, like Huck Finn and Watership Down.

"Really what we're trying to do is stay surprised ourselves. Doing a book that actually adds something."


Adam Rex: Creating Characters with Character

Adam Rex is a ridiculously accomplished illustrator and author. His books range from PB to YA, and his illustration style is a bit like what Norman Rockwell might have produced after a Jolt Cola bender.

In this session, Adam talked about techniques for drawing memorable characters.

He showed us some of his early art, including a decent Rembrandt knock-off (though his Santa is definitely questionable, and arguably looks more like Krampus).

Some best quotes: "I think we can get you one butt." (From his editor regarding The Dirty Cowboy.) His reply: "I didn't even take the butt."

He talked about what it looked like to see his characters from The True Meaning of Smekday as they'd been translated by the Dreamworks team for the adaptation. (The movie Home and the forthcoming TV show were based on the book.) It was disappointing at first to see the changes, but he got used to it quickly and even liked some of the changes, especially the design of the Gorg.

His techniques are so cool—he often builds models of characters and sets he uses for reference.

Some tips:

  • Understand anatomy of character design (the human body is approximately seven heads high, but in character design, this varies);
  • Knowledge of real human and animal anatomy (which have strong similarities) can help you design fantastical creatures; 
  • More stylized and simplistic characters, such as Charlie Brown, sometimes have more universal appeal; and 
  • Letting a body sag into a shape or move somehow makes it seem more like a character and less like a doctor's office illustration.
  • Don't forget draw through. For example, if you have a character holding the shield, make sure the body behind the shield makes sense. 

Follow Adam on Twitter

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann: Seven Simple Fixes for the Picturebook Text



The room is packed tighter than even a polyamorous sardine would be comfortable with, but for good reason! We are soooooooooo lucky to have both Eric Rohmann and Candace Fleming here! They are sharing seven simple fixes for the picture book text, here are a few:
1. With picture books you are limited to 32 pages, so get to the problem of your story as soon as you can. You can have a few pages of set up, but if your story doesn't start by page 10, you're in trouble.
As an example, go read Clever Jack, there are a few pages of set up, but the problem is introduce by fourth spread.






Whereas in Oh No! the problem is introduced on page 1.




Read your story draft and mark out page by page, which text goes on what page to help remind you of the structure of your story as you write. (Candace reminds: when you send your manuscript to the editor, don't paginate, send a clean, unpaginated version for submission)


2. Something that helps Eric and Candace in their writing of picture books is they think in terms of small scenes, not just sentences per page. Each scene should move your story forward, not just words and sentences. Eric and Candace recommend looking at your manuscript and marking off the scenes, where the beginning and end of them are. Then count them—if you only have 4 scenes and they are very similar in length, rethink your pacing.

Clever Jack has about 9 scenes, Oh No! has about 12.

Finally, take a look at the first and last words of your scene, they should be really good and interesting words.

3. Eric does an exercise on his manuscripts, he takes out all the adjective and adverbs. Candace says then ask yourself, which ones do I miss? Because some do improve the language and rhythm of the book, but for many, you'll find those words will be taken care of by the illustrations.

Jenny Bent: A Road Map For Career Success

Jenny Bent founded The Bent Agency in 2009; the agency now has nine agents. Her authors include SE Green, Tera Lynn Childs, AG Howard, and Lynn Weingarten.

Jenny advices networking while writing your novel, otherwise known as, making new friends. It's more organic to create an online presence before your book is published rather than when your book is coming out in order to promote it.

Be helpful. The more you give back to this community, the more you have to gain.

Make use of every opportunity to learn more about your craft. Be at this conference is where we all need to be. Go to every workshop on craft you can find.

You shouldn't write to trend, but you should be aware of what's happening in the industry with trends. Don't chase them, but know what they are. Read the New York Times bestseller list every week. Know what's selling in your genre.

Jenny suggest one simple way to find an agent. Read the deals. See who is selling what. When you find people who are selling what you write, cross reference what you learn to be sure it's a good fit. It's a great way to find a great match for your work.

The Bent Agency has a great blog: Bent On Books. Once a month, each of the agents shares what they are looking for right now.

Varian Johnson Keynote: If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It



Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including The Great Greene Heist, an ALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and a Texas Library Association Lone Star Reading List selection. His novels for older readers include Saving Maddie and My Life as a Rhombus. Varian holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and currently lives outside of Austin, Texas, with his family. His newest Jackson Greene novel, To Catch a Cheat, will be released in spring 2016. You can follow Varian on Twitter @VarianJohnson or visit www.varianjohnson.com.


"It's hard.
It's supposed to be hard.
But it doesn't have to be impossible."

Varian offers us tips and advice, including:

Claim it.
If you're doing the work of a professional writer and illustrator, you deserve to be part of the conversation.

He shares the story of getting the idea for his second novel, and pushing off writing it. But he learned he had to

Do the work.
Make a schedule. Writing's a job, and deserves to be treated as such.

And five years later, "My Life As A Rhombus" was published.

He shares how he juggles writing with family, a day job and life, how the first draft is for you, and subsequent revisions are for the rest of the world.

And then Varian talks about dealing with failure.

When a book contract was cancelled and things in his career seemed at their lowest, he actually wanted to quit writing, but his agent Sara Crowe wouldn't let him - she pushed him, challenging him to write something new. 100 pages of a new novel in six weeks. And he did it.
And that got him writing again. And he got an idea for something else. And he wrote it in four months.



And "The Great Greene Heist" was his most successful novel yet!

which leads us to another great lesson he offers us:

Find a support group
find someone who believes not only in your work, but who believes in you.

And the crowd gives him a standing ovation!

Meg Wolitzer: Mushy Middles: Or, That Part of the Book Where Everything Gets Vague and Repetitive, and How to Avoid It

Meg Wolitzer is a novelist whose books for adults include THE INTERESTING, THE TEN-YEAR NAP, THE POSITION, ADN THE WIFE. She is the author of a novel for middle grade readers, THE FINGERTIPS OF DUNCAN DORFMAN, and, most recently, the YA novel, BELZHAR.

A lot of workshops give writers micro-advice, but there’s a larger issue that hasn’t been addressed. Even if you fix a passage or sentence or beginning, you’re not taking care of what needs to be done. Punching up dialogue or adding a new scene gives you a good feeling, but it’s often cosmetic. Making those changes just makes your story marginally better.

Think of your work in a different way.

How did you lose that energy anyway? How do we let our books get that way?

"The middle is everything."

Meg thinks it’s often a foundational problem when you have a mushy middle.

All books start off with a grandiose fantasy. You know it’s good because it’s something preoccupies you. You want to write about it. You take it and start to push the story through an invisible funnel and you realize you can’t do everything and you have to make some choices. This is a moment when you getting serious about your novel. You can write about 80 pages of a book (without outlining), not worry about where it is, who’s going read it, if someone someone will buy it, etc. Once you have, print it, read it, and find out not what you hoped to do but what you really did.

If the writing is weak in a certain area it might be because the ideas in that section aren’t strong. Maybe it’s because you didn’t know what you wanted to express in that section.

Meg thinks flashbacks are a made up concept. In real life, we are always toggling back and forth from past to future and now. You don’t have a character stop and remember something. It should be fluid.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the voice strong?
  • Are you being faithful to a thought process that isn’t working? (why the 80 page rule works)            -you can use ideas that don’t work
  • Did you get off on the wrong track tone wise?
Revision is the greatest tool in the writer’s arsenal.

Jane O'Connor: Borrowing From Life: Creating a Character


Jane O'Connor is the author of over eighty books for children, including the bestselling FANCY NANCY books.


"What the heroines all shared in the books I loved best was spunk!"

Jane said these girls were her role models. She wanted to be like them, but she lacked in the brave department.

When Jane started writing, she mapped out RAMONA THE BRAVE to see how Beverly Cleary made it work. Most of all she paid attention to what Beverly Clearly left out. Jane let us know that you don't have to describe a brick wall brick by brick, instead tell the reader what's interesting.

Jane stuck pretty close to home when she created characters.




If you're having trouble borrowing from your own life, steal from those close to you (carefully), like you're kids.



FANCY NANCY came from Jane's own desire to be fancy and always dressed up when she was a girl, but also from the way she was always encouraging her chic but understated mother to be fancier. 


Jane wanted to write about Fancy Nancy when she was older, which brought about the early readers, NANCY CLANCY.



When Jane was nine she was obsessed with Nancy Drew. So, she figured Nancy would read these books, too, and solve a mystery. The mystery in this story was stolen from a time a sister "borrowed" a marble.

It's no wonder charm find its way into Jane's books, because she is full of it.