Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Acquisitions Panel Begins!



From left to right, Rubin Pfeffer (Agent, Content, standing at podium), Alvina Ling (VP and Editor-in-Chief, Little Brown Books for Young Readers), Sarah Davies (Agent, Greenhouse Literary), Ginger Clark (Agent, Curtis Brown), Liz Bicknell (EVP, Executive Editorial Director & Associate Publisher, Candlewick Press), Alessandra Balzer (VP and Co-Publisher, Balzer + Bray/Harper Collins.)

Jacquelyn Mitchard: Say Goodbye to All of That: The Quest for the Perfect Ending

Jacquelyn Mitchard delivering her keynote

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the number one New York Times best-selling author of ten novels for adults, seven novels for teenagers, and five children's books, as well as editor-in-chief of Merit Press, a realistic young adult imprint., and a professor of writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.



Jacquelyn talks about endings, how it's "more difficult to end a story than to start one," and how "most books really just stop."

She shares some resonant endings, ones that meet the challenge of "ushering the reader back into the world that you convinced the reader to leave."

We're asked to consider, for our own work, "how does the reader feel let in?"

Breaking down the different kinds of endings (with examples), Jacquelyn discusses cliffhanger endings, reflective endings, the incident ending, the simple happy ending (in which people get what they want), the happy/sad ending (like in The Fault in our Stars,) and more!

An ending has to tie up the loose ends, provide a conclusion, and also usher the reader back into the world... and do it quickly.

The ending should also include an element that takes the reader by surprise, something to "make the reader gasp one last time" before they leave the world of your story.

Which all makes it challenging to write the ending to this blog post, striving for a "wrap up with a shot of emotion."

But Jacquelyn saves the day (and this post), because the ending of her keynote comes in the form of a writing exercise: we're all asked to craft one sentence, an alternate ending for To Kill A Mockingbird, from Scout's point of view. A few people from the crowd share their alternate endings.

The original final line: 

"[Atticus] would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning."

Now, you get the chance to put in your own final words: play along in comments.








Keynote: Rita Williams-Garcia

Author Rita Williams-Garcia opened today's conference with a dynamic and funny keynote that kept attendees in stitches: "Dos and Don'ts in Children's Publishing From a Definite Don't." She began her talk with a little dance that set the mood, and then peppered her speech with phrases like "funky-fresh," "de-blackified" and "Black girls with big butts and low self esteem." It was a hoot, folks, she kept it real.

Williams-Garcia started writing as soon as she could hold a pencil in her hands. As a child,  she loved making up stories, although her mother had another word for her storytelling—lying. If a roach walked up the wall, she'd make up a story about it.

As an adult writer, she honed her storytelling ways and learned to "live the plan." That meant setting a goal to write 500 words each and every night. "Even if the writing wasn't great, the words need to come out," she said.

Williams-Garcia also spoke about veering off her plan occasionally, choosing her major in college by "following the boy with the most perfect afro." Time to get back to the plan!

Williams-Garcia's advice for Staying on the Plan:

Don’t isolate yourself. Find your community,
join an MFA program, SCBWI, workshop group.

Don’t fear doubt. A healthy dose of doubt will make you write better writer.

Don’t not fear criticism.

Don’t stop writing. Writers write.

Do live with gratitude. 


Be about the Do.






Jane Yolen presents the Mid-List Author Award

Jane speaks eloquently of how re-inventing a career in the arts every seven to ten years is a way to keep your writing fresh and alive. And yet, how difficult it is when then re-invention is forced on you.

So, to help honor the contribution of mid-list authors in general, and celebrate two mid-list authors in particular, Jane announces this year's winners:

Karen Coombs and Sallie Wolf



Sallie was here and joined Jane on stage for an enthusiastic standing ovation!

Portfolio Showcase Award Winners Announcement

It's the coldest Valentine's Day in 100 years, but the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase winner announcement warms our hearts. It is with great excitement that we announce this years winners. Congratulations to all!


Winner: Sarah Jacoby




Honors: Jacob Grant



Brooke Smart


Tomie dePaola Award Winner

This year's illustration inspiration is based on Phillip Pullman's version of Red Riding Hood. Tomie received over 400 entries this year!

While the award is presented today, the announcement happened a little bit ago, be sure to check out the fantastic unofficial gallery put together by Diandra Mae.

From Tomie:

The task for this year's award was about UNIQUE VISUALIZATION of the MAIN CHARACTER.

As I warned, "So often, I have seen illustrators resort to generic depictions of the star of the story—too 'designed,' too ordinary, too much like characters already seen in media, especially on TV and video games."

That said I have chosen the following illustrators:

First Place - Lisa Cinelli


Second Place - Adrienne Wright


Third Place - Christee Curran-Bauer


See the other notables at our link

Student Illustrator and Writer Scholarships

Each year the SCBWI sponsors two student writer scholarships to the Summer and Winter Conferences for full-time university in and English or Creative Writing program.

Lauren Hughes
Ellen Wiese


Likewise, each year, the SCBWI sponsors four conference scholarships for full-time graduate or undergraduate students studying illustration.

Jia Liu
Suyoun Lee


Congratulation to this year's winners.

Happy Valentines' Day from #NY16SCBWI

A special message from all the authors and illustrators gathered this morning...

SCBWI Staff Introduction

Lin Oliver introduces the amazing staff of the SCBWI. A much deserved standing ovation received.



Thank you, SCBWI!

The LGBTQ and Allies Q&A at #NY16SCBWI

It's a social. It's a circle. With a warm and encouraging tribe-within-a-tribe feel, the room filled with authors and illustrators interested in writing and illustrating lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer characters and themes in books (and other media) for kids and teens.

Our special industry guests were:

Bestselling author and former editor Jane Yolen, who has published over 360 books, some with gay characters.

Art director and author/illustrator Laurent Linn, who both works at Simon & Schuster and has a debut illustrated YA novel with a gay main character, Draw The Line, coming out this Spring.

Author/illustrator Mike Curato, who shared his illustrations for the same-worm marriage picture book Worm Loves Worm.

And acquiring editor Michael Joosten, who focuses on picture books at Doubleday and Random House Books for Young Readers.

Jane spoke about how times have changed, and the group consensus was that while there's still a long ways to go, we're making progress towards towards more representation and inclusion of LGBTQ characters and themes. Laurent and Michael discussed the different imprints they work with, and the conversation was encouraging as everyone got the chance to introduce themselves and share a bit about what they were working on (lots of dealing with gender, and characters choosing their gender in science fiction and fantasy in the works.)

A few quotes I jotted down quickly as the discussion flowed...

"Make bold choices and be fully committed to the story you want to tell"

Author Michelle Parker-Rock spoke of how "being different crosses lots of barriers... let your voices ring out!"

Author, Southern Breeze Regional Advisor (and ex-Civil Rights lawyer) Claudia Pearson quoted Kwame Alexander ,who had spoken of how if you want to write diverse books, you need to live a diverse life, and said she was there because, "I want to live a diverse life."

We even learned (from the author/illustrator himself) that Mouse in the Little Elliot books is gender neutral! It was a great session, and people lingered long after the session's formal end-time.


Thanks to all who attended!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Illustrators social

The illustrators were getting their party on this evening at the SCBWI Illustrator's Social, with big nods to Tomie dePaola for putting the  "I" in SCBWI! Peter Brown started off the festivities by introducing members of the SCBWI Illustration leadership team. "It's important for us to get to know one another and network, said Brown.

David Diaz, Peter Brown, Sarah Baker, Paul O. Zelinsky, Laurent Linn







Art Browse: A Chance to View the Portfolios

The #NY16SCBWI Art Browse was a blast! This year's portfolios were as polished as never before. New friends were made and old friends were reunited. And art directors were definitely impressed. 
















Kate Messner & Linda Urban: Music, Mountains, and Mocha Lattes: Sustaining a Creative Life

Kate Messner and Linda Urban are both award-winning writers of many books for kids, from picture books to middle grade novels.

Together they will present a mini-keynote.

Kate tells us there are times when it's more important to get your butt out of the chair. Counter to what we are often told. Sounds good!

Science supports taking a walk when we are stuck.

At a point when Kate was stuck, she started hiking, and found climbing a mountain is exactly like writing a first draft: the beginning was full of roots, it was muddy in the middle, toward the top it started to rain, and when she was ready for the million dollar view, it was cloudy.

But that hike gave her an idea for the book. It's not always the big things. Sometimes we just need a small thing to keep going.

Kate climbed that same trail again and this time the summit was different. Sometimes when we go away and come back, even with writing, things can look a lot different.

Other lessons Kate learned from hiking that can be applied to writing:

  • Even when the trail is unmarked, you can find ways of moving forward and you can benefit from those who were there before you.
  • Sometimes a trail can start out one way and then you realize it wasn't the way you thought it was going to be.  
  • Thing that look impossible to climb can be managed. You only have to find one next place to go.


For Linda, getting out of the chair is not going for a walk, it's getting up and moving to another chair.

At a time Linda was stuck, she came across a red ukulele in a window. She bought it and started to play. Learning and playing released dopamine and quieted the existential hecklers that had her stuck on her latest novel.

The release of dopamine and small success allowed her get back to the novel and make progress. Her story was free to run a little wild. As she kept playing and learning the ukulele, Linda was seeing and hearing things in different way.

The experience was also a reminder that learning new things can be really hard and that is what kids go through too.

At this point in the talk, Linda has been coaxed by Kate, and the crowd, to sing her sad-ogre-cowboy song.

So worth it! Huge applause for Linda. And proof, that as writing buddies, Kate pushes Linda out of her comfort zone, and we learn that Linda helps Kate to slow down. Kate and Linda share that they are writing buddies, and it is evident as they interact onstage. While they live 2 hours apart, they meet over lattes or lunch every month. They leave us with a  final thought: We need people in this writing world. Connect with your writing community. Find your writing buddies.




An In-Depth Interview with Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell (rhymes with towel) is the beloved bestselling author of books for adults and teens.

SCBWI executive director Lin Oliver, herself a bestselling author, conducted a warm fireside chat with Rainbow about her books and her life. And yeah, there really was a fireplace projected on the screen, because the SCBWI does things right.

Here are some of the highlights:

Rainbow started her career as a journalist and columnist for the Omaha World-Herald. There were some useful things. For example, she didn't get writers block. "At a newspaper, writer's block means tomorrow you're fired." There were also some downsides—working as a journalist was hard on her writerly voice.

During that time, someone asked her what sort of writing she was doing for herself, and after a while, she realized the only writing she'd done for herself was love letters—that may or may not have been read. ("Mine were too long. They needed editing.")

She started writing THE ATTACHMENTS to do something for herself. She wrote that in third person past tense.

CARRY ON, though, was written in first person."I think when you're writing first person, you're really writing monologues," she said.

Her characters have little pieces of her in them. "Human beings are more complicated than fictional characters, and there's enough of you to split into seeds (which become the characters of your books)."

As she writes, she doesn't think about how they're being marketed. ELEANOR & PARK was released as an adult title in the UK, where it "bombed," as hard as it is to believe that. St. Martins Press published it as YA in the states—and Rainbow says they were the only publisher who wanted it. It might have been different had they taken it to YA publishers instead of adult. St. Martins does both.

Her agent describes her work as "funny/sad," which means it's sad but still makes you laugh a lot. "It's so much harder to be funny than it is to be sad," she said. "You can read the newspaper if it's sad. I personally like things better if they're both."

"Sometimes the pressure of writing makes you want to sound official, so you aspire toward something that's not you because it sounds more professional," she said. When she was a journalist, she used to imagine telling the stories she was writing to her husband or her mom.

When writing fiction, she gave herself permission just to write—not to go back in and edit and change things. If it made her laugh, it was good enough.

Lin observed that many of Rainbow's characters seem to be outsiders. But to Rainbow, more people feel like the outside than feel on the inside, especially young people.  It wouldn't have occurred to her to write people who don't feel this way. "It's who we are."

Rainbow likes to talk about her characters with her agent. The characters appear to her pretty well formed and compelling. But talking to good listeners who don't try to build on her characters, and instead just let her develop them, is helpful. She adds details as she's talking about it. She also builds playlists that help her fill her characters out a bit.

Sometimes her characters don't do what she expected them to do in scenes. She gets to know them better as she writes.

CARRY ON has Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter and Twilight references. It's a book she wrote for people who had some of the same pop culture references as she does. This meant she didn't have to explain a lot of references, but that she could also play against people's expectations.

Rainbow has a lovely and resonant philosophy about her characters and their stories (and about human beings in the real world too): We're all good people trying hard. And there is value in trying hard. 

She shared so much advice and insight for us and really showed us where her magical books come from: her generous heart. Her voice on the page is her voice in real life. If you haven't read her books, you're in for an extraordinary experience. Move them to the top of your pile.

Rainbow's website
Rainbow on Twitter
Rainbow on Facebook

Giuseppe Castellano: Building an Effective Portfolio

Giuseppe Castellano, senior art director at Penguin Random House, gave a great talk on children's book illustration in general, not just as it relates to single portfolio pieces.

He feels a lot of artists' work is often too 'children's booky' looking. A lot of the samples he sees have very standard color choices and character choices—the skies are blue, the grass is green, the girl is white, the details aren't necessarily different enough to be interesting, or they seem there to over explain the scene to kids, not allowing them to use their imaginations to fill in the story gaps.

Giuseppe picked out a few Tomie dePaola Award gallery pieces from this year's contest to highlight what images WERE NOT too 'children's booky' looking and had clearly been developed beyond the standard tropes he is hoping we learn to avoid.

The first piece he liked was by Tatiana Escallon. Giuseppe loved that it looks handmade, and not cleaned up/shiny digital. The play and pull of the shapes with each other and within the composition are dynamic, the colors are fun, there are a lot of "gaps" for the reader to fill in with their imagination.

Tatiana Escallon

The next piece he liked was by Claire Lordon. Also has a handmade look, this time it's a screenprint. He liked the play of the colors against each other.

Claire Lordon

Rivkah LaFille's piece appealed to Giuseppe because of its great line work and limited palette. He felt like this piece looked like a sophisticated piece of art you'd see up on a wall and told us, "Children's books should be like mini art galleries... Give kids more credit that they can appreciate fine, complex art."

Rivkah LaFille

Giuseppe gave the room a very cool handout and had them do some simple but awesome, in-class exercises. I'll leave you with a little bit of his thoughts about color:

Color is absolutely a character in your story, says Giuseppe, it's the foundation you build a piece of art on. That doesn't mean it has to be loud, wild crayon color everywhere, he says, "Color choices are like music, you can have loud and soft areas."

Some examples of great color Giuseppe shared are M. Sasek and Ezra Jack Keats's work:


And holy crap, you guys, follow Giuseppe on Twitter and check out the classes he offers via The Illustration Department! I know I will.