Friday, August 17, 2012

SCBWI 2008 Summer Conference

I've been discussing the SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference, but I must say, I also attended the SCBWI 2008 Summer Conference. I posted about it on my own site but that blog has been lost. I found the post and I am sharing it here again.

Before you read that, I want to mention why it's been four years of me doing essentially nothing to move forward in this field after attending the 2008 conference. See, I've spent that time fighting cancer. I've had several major operations, radiation and chemotherapy, and months of physical and mental recovery. I'm better now and I want to get the ball rolling again. I may tell this story in more detail one day, but for now, here's the 2008 conference.

SCBWI 2008 Summer Conference : What a weekend! First off, let me say to anyone who wants to write and/or illustrate for children or young adults... join SCBWI and go to the conference! You will find a wealth of information and inspiration that you just can't get online or from books. So, what did I learn and who did I meet?

I met Adam Rex, and if you don't know him you should. He's written a couple children's books and a young adult book, but he is best known for his illustration for which he's received numerous awards and recognition, illustrating everything from his many children's books and magazines, to his prolific career in fantasy art. I took his workshop and heard his keynote speech and I learned a ton and found a lot of inspiration (and a little despair - be prepared to work hard if you want to make it in this business). Adam Rex was the nicest guy (which is saying something when there were about a thousand really nice people there). He talked at length with me on a few occasions, was kind enough to praise my work and he introduced me to a few editors, agents and publishers (who I don't remember and I'm sure don't remember me). I don't necessarily expect anything from those meetings this year (I will in the future) but it was a great experience. I am so grateful to the incredibly talented and enormously funny Adam Rex.

I also met Dan Santat. You may have seen Dan's blog - he's got several picture books out and a new one coming that I predict will be very popular. He's also the creator of Disney's The Replacements. Nice guy, ridiculously talented.

I met fellow Illustration Friday artists David Billings and Deborah Mori. David was great and I love meeting artists whose work I admire. I also admire Deborah's work and ended up hanging out with her all day Sunday. She was wonderful and we had great conversations - I can honestly say I have a new friend with her.  [edit: yes, still friends with Deborah!]

Now, a quick run-down on what I learned. First off, submit your portfolio to everything! I didn't do this because I didn't think I was ready. Turns out that I would have done well and my work would have been seen by more key people. No, I wasn't ready, but you can get such valuable critiques and connections. So, sign up more than a week [make that 2 months] in advance and bring this: A nice portfolio highlighting your ten [to 15] best pieces - remember that your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece. Bring postcards [or nice business cards] highlighting your best art with all your contact info for people to take while viewing your portfolio. Bring a book dummy - a book mock-up featuring pencil drawings (and one or two finished pieces if you like) - if you don't write, use a story in public domain like Aesop or Grimm. And finally, bring courage! You paid a lot for this and everyone there is expecting, even hoping, that you will talk to them. There are no dumb questions. Approach everyone you need to [or want to] with confidence.

Now, some things I learned from speakers and presenters...

Bruce Coville: Why are you doing this ? Keep asking yourself this answering in more detail each time. Children find their role models in books - remember that. Stay fresh", do only your very best, don't hold back for fear of not being perfect, start with passion, share your wisdom in your writing and illustrations, humor is most valued, proceed without fear and with great joy.

Mark Teague: The greatest rewards in the business come from kids - do it for them first, for you next, for money last. When illustrating, do lots of doodles before beginning, set the story and construct the storyboard and keep in mind: expression, body language, interaction, scene selection, perspective, positioning, direction, format, and transitions.

Adam Rex: If you want to make picture books, study a lot of them. See how they are made and formatted. See the different sizes. Check out the end-papers, the paper that forms the inside covers and sandwich the content - self-ended end-papers are included in the total page count, are the same paper as the rest of the book, and have illustrations on them. Look up these terms: spot gloss, spot varnish, foil, die cut - these make the production more expensive - front matter, back matter, byline, colophon, half title, and spread. Picture books are no less than 32 pages - for more, add 8 (40, 48… 56 or more are unlikely). Make a great dummy, pencil sketches, work the images with the text, include one finished image, make a great cover design.

I also learned a lot from Dilys Evans, Melanie Hope Greenberg, Cecilia Yung, Leonard Marcus, Diane Muldrow, and a whole lot more.

These are just highlights. I urge you, if you are interested in Children's Literature, to join SCBWI and attend these events. And remember - every artist and writer has their own unique style and there are never enough books - we are not in competition with each other so we should help each other without fear.
Thanks for reading!
Previously: SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Steven Malk and Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen - study for Coraline
The SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference introduced me to Jon Klassen (whose work I admired for years but never really attached his name to it) and Steven Malk. Who is Steven Malk? I saw them set up books at the table for Jon's workshop but they were all Jon's books. So, Steven must have forgotten his books. Man, am I naive.

Steven Malk is Jon Klassen's agent. Here's some more naivete. I figured this guy just had Jon as client. He looked so young. In fact, with his suit and Bryl-creemed hair, he looked like a handsome young cross between anyone on Mad Men and Harry Connick, Jr. See, I had no idea how awesome agents can be, how much work they do for their clients, how much they love the craft. Steven Malk is a world-class agent. During acceptance speeches at the conference I heard several thank-yous "to my agent, Steven Malk." So, I looked him up. He only represents nobodies like Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, Sara Pennypacker, and Adam Rex, to name a very few. The guy's a superstar. Maybe one day I'll be good enough to have him as an agent. One can dream.

Anyway, he and Jon talked about the process from concept to book awards of making I Want My Hat Back, with insights on the growth of a story-teller/illustrator and what comes after. I have a lot to say about what Jon taught me during the conference, so much that it will have to be a nice long post of its own. So stay tuned.

Antoinette Portis

Another workshop I attended at the SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference was with Antoinette Portis. Antoinette wrote and illustrated the charming and very popular Not A Box and A Penguin Story.

When Antoinette spoke of a child's imagination, she mentioned Bill Watterson, of Calvin and Hobbes. She highly recommended Stitches by David Small.

She also listed her reasons of why she (we) makes children's books. To sum up what I got from it, kids' books are made to be read aloud, made for "picture readers," and good ones are written for the target age group but also have plenty to acknowledge and entertain the reader (the adult). Kids' books tell the truth. They speak to children. A book she recommended that finds the right balance, and speaks the truth to kids and adults is Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrator John Schoenherr.

Antoinette's books are beautifully designed, thoughtful and inspiring. She has a high sense of what is right and has even pulled a book back to redo it after it had been approved because she felt that there was an ethical error. As she quoted, "With great power comes great responsibility" attributable to Voltaire, not Spider Man.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Melissa Sweet

Melissa Sweet actually is. Sweet, that is. Her talk was inspiring, sharing her process and her personal rules of creating.

"I will make a mistake on stage. And you know what? I welcome that first mistake. Because then I can shrug it off and keep smiling. Then I can get on with the performance and turn off that part of the mind that judges everything. I'm not thinking or worrying anymore." — Yo-Yo Ma

Melissa emphasized what Yo-Yo Ma said, encouraging us to not fear making mistakes. In fact, we should make mistakes.  It frees you, releases the tension and opens you up to new opportunities for creativity.

Melissa wants you to throw away your black and start mixing colors, make your own "black." Play with hand lettering, color, perspective, and drawing from life. Keep a journal. Make books (even if it's only for one person). Draw and write every day. Play every day.

"Everything is sweetened by risk." —Melissa Sweet

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tony DiTerlizzi

What I learned from Tony DiTerlizzi at the SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference. I intend not to write out all of Tony's lessons but rather to paraphrase, not only because Tony gets paid to share his wisdom, but because I add my own thoughts and voice to the notes I take. So this is Tony and me.

When writing and/or illustrating, draw and write for yourself, but don't lose sight of the target audience. Is this for the 8 to 12 year-old group? Then channel your  inner middle-grader. And stay consistent. Explore the idea, work out the theme, outline and sketch. He recommended storyboarding and stressed the importance of character development. Tony works with sketches and writing at the same time, each informing the other. But while working on the book, always keep in mind the end result - the book! It all has to come together.

Tony talked about the power of myth and the role of the archetype in stories. For instance, the role of the guide - Obi Wan, Dumbledore, Gandalf... but be careful to not get caught up in cliches.

Tony likes to assign himself homework. For instance, read a certain book by a certain date.

When making a portfolio, manuscript, or book dummy, Tony recommends that you TELL YOUR OWN STORY. Even a story of fiction must come from what is you. I'll be writing more about telling your own story and finding your voice in later posts.

Books that Tony recommends (with trepidation, as there are always reasons to break rules): The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Vogler. 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Tobias. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

[edit] I also wanted to note that I had been reading Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art by Lewis Hyde. It's not an easy read but with some patience it has some really deep insights. I've always been interested in the trickster archetype - Coyote, Raven, Loki, Hermes, Monkey - and how they propel change and growth by throwing a wrench into the works.

What I'm Reading

Right now, Writing Picture Books and Breaking into Freelance Illustration. If you're interested in picture books, Arthur Levine highly recommended Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz. Mine is on order. But right now I am reading Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul. So far, it's a great read and I'll review it further later. Also, re-reading Breaking into Freelance Illustration by Holly DeWolf. Holly is a friend of mine, but even if she wasn't, I would highly recommend this book. Basics, how-tos, and inspiration. My first launching pad.

I need to make a little money, so I'm looking into freelance. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve and I'll be sharing those as I move forward.

SCBWI 2012 Summer Conference

So, last weekend I donated my brain to SCBWI. From Friday, August 3, to Monday, August 6, my brain was filled up, squeezed, kicked around and cuddled. I feel happy, fulfilled, drained, and beaten down all at once.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 41st Annual Summer Conference was one for the books (HA!). A dream-cast of illustrators, editors, agents, writers, writer/illustrators and more inspired everyone, stomped them down, ripped them apart, patched them up and got their motors running to leap back in and move forward. If you want to grow and succeed in the children's lit biz (from picture books to YA), then I highly recommend SCBWI. It's world-wide, supportive and honest.

So, I met Tony DiTerlizzi, Melissa Sweet, Jon Klassen, Antoinette Portis, and a host of amazing illustrator and writer attendees. More on all of them later.

I also met amazing editors and agents. If you don't know what these people do then it is worth your time to research it. These people are amazing. Neal Porter was particularly inspiring... as luck would have it, I got to sit next to him at the Sunday luncheon... small talk, I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to show him my portfolio because 1, the poor man just needed to eat, right? And 2, my portfolio wasn't ready. All I learned in the previous days told me I was approaching this all wrong. More on that in another post.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot to say about what I learned at this conference. And I'm going to tell you most of it. So stay tuned.

 And if you ever get to see any of these people, do yourself a favor and go.