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1. Martha Brockenbrough Summer Bulletin

As writers and illustrators of children’s books, we have the cutest fantasies. Who else dreams that their work will someday be decorated by a sticker?

And then there’s the conference fantasy, where the agent or editor of your dreams holds your manuscript overhead and says, “This is brilliant!” and she just happens to have a contract in her pocket, which you sign on the spot. It’s almost better than the sticker.

But here’s the thing. People are sometimes asked to send off stories or art, and there are similarly wonderful career-transforming moments. Usually, though, nothing quite so dramatic happens.

And yet… conferences are magic. Truly. Every picture book I’ve ever sold has come directly from my time at an SCBWI conference, specifically the one in Los Angeles. I’ve sold four picture books and have interest in a fifth; each one sprang from an idea or conversation I had at that summer conference, starting with my first one in 2008.

My future editor, Arthur A. Levine, had been in Seattle that spring for a conference, and through a happy accident of seating, we’d chatted through the evening, and he invited me to submit something to him someday. At the time, I was writing an epic novel about a pirate in part because I’d given up on picture books, and in part because, well, I can’t really remember why, which was ultimately the problem with that novel.

At our local spring conference, Arthur had offered sage advice from his then four-year-old son. “When in doubt, write about dinosaurs.” At the time, this didn’t strike me as anything other than adorable. (Who was I to write about dinosaurs, anyway? At the time, I was merely thirty-seven.)

When registration opened for the summer conference in Los Angeles, I really wanted to go. But I couldn’t. We had a family reunion that weekend. And what kind of jerk puts anything in front of family? As it turns out, I am that kind of jerk.

In Los Angeles, Arthur reassured us about the picture book market, which at the time was feeling kind of battered. On the flight home, I resolved to send him a thank-you note for being so encouraging. I looked out the window, and I thought about dinosaurs, and specifically their teeth, and even more fantastically, about who might love their teeth most of all.

Arthur ended up publishing the answer to that question—The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy—five years later. A year or two after I sold The DTF, I mentioned to Arthur at another Los Angeles conference a letter I’d written to my daughter when she asked for the truth about Santa. He said he thought it sounded like a picture book as well. A dear friend I’d met at the Los Angeles conference, Samantha Berger, gave me an idea for how it might be done. I wrote it. Arthur bought it.

Last summer, Samantha and I came up with an idea at the conference while we were eating pizza poolside. So far that has turned into a two picture book deal with Arthur.

These aren’t the sort of things you can predict when you’re thinking about going to a conference. The standard fantasy—that someone might love your work and buy it on the spot—pales in comparison to what really can happen. You go to these conferences and meet people who inspire you. You make friends. You hear words you didn’t know you needed to hear, things that make you laugh and cry, things that feed your mind in ways your everyday routine might not. All of this becomes the fuel of story.

I’d never thought to dream about what comes from inspiration and connection and friendship. And yet this combination is so much better than any contract, and why I’ll go to every SCBWI conference I can.

Fantasies are great and all. But real life? It’s better.

 

Martha Brockenbrough is the author of the YA novels The Game of Love and Death and Devine Intervention, and The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy, a picture book. Both are with Arthur A. Levine at Scholastic, as is her forthcoming picture book, Love, Santa, as well as two Bigfoot picture books written jointly with Samantha Berger. Martha also wrote the nonfiction middle grade Finding Bigfoot for Feiwel & Friends. In addition to her work on SCBWI's Team Blog, she is the founder of National Grammar Day and author of Things That Make Us [Sic]. Visit www.marthabrockenbrough.squarespace.com and on Twitter @mbrockenbrough.

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2. KidLit Author Events June 30-July 6 (And PUPPY!)

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This has been such an exciting week around my house! Because this happened:

Puppy Coming Home Puppy SofaPuppy lge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’s a 3 month old, German Shepherd/Husky (Gerberian Shepsky) mix. I saw her at Ace Hardware last weekend, and was bewitched by her sweet little face. I resisted the urge to take her home with me, because I still had some sanity left. But she stayed in my thoughts all week, so Saturday morning when my husband and son said they had to go to the hardware store, I chirped up that I wanted to go, too. Now, this isn’t unusual; I love hardware stores. But something in my tone of voice immediately tipped off my husband that something was up. I admitted it; I wanted to see if the beautiful little black dog had been adopted. She hadn’t, but now she has! We haven’t reached a decision on her name yet, so I’ll add that here next time.

Last week I introduced a new page on this blog, Houston Writer & Illustrator Events. This week, I’m introducing another new page, Workshops: Young Writers. There are many writing workshops for teens that range from an hour to a full day, but for young people who are serious about writing, that isn’t enough. This list will help serious young writers find events in time to meet the often rigorous application requirements and early registration dates. If you know a teen (and occasionally younger kids) who has a keen interest in writing, please share this list with them. Like all my other conference lists, I will update this page on a weekly basis, so check back often!

Also, tomorrow is the first full month of my new website theme, and so will be the first full month to feature books launching in July. These children’s and young adult books will be shown on the sidebar on all the conference pages. Clicking on these images will open a page about that book. Throughout July, please take a moment to visit these books and spread the word!

We have another quiet week for author bookstore events, but we have two writers’ events this week:

JUNE 30, TUESDAY, 6:30-8:30 PMHouston Writers Guild
The Houston Writers’ Guild
Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd.
Julian Kindred: Finishing Your Novel: Bringing Your Ideas to Fruition
Cost:$10 Members; $20 Nonmembers; $5 Students w/ID.

Staying the course once you’ve started writing your novel is difficult. How do you manage the distractions of daily life or the temptation to quit and chase the next new idea? And once the manuscript is complete, then what? This workshop will examine methods for holding yourself accountable for writing your novel and examine when it is time to start, or finally finish, revisions, as well as what you should be doing in the meantime.

JULY 6, MONDAY, 7:00-9:00 PMSCBWI
SCBWI Houston
Tracy Gee Community Center
Holly Walrath: Writing Culturally Relevant YA: War, Politics, Violence and Gender
Cost: FREE! All are welcome!

Children’s literature is entering a new era – one that embraces the dark lens of postmodern literature. Picture books deal with increasingly more disturbing topics from abortion to personal violence. Four themes have emerged in Children’s Literature that reflect these changes: War, Politics, Violence, and Gender. In discussing these themes, we’ll look at new trends in children’s literature and what they might mean for us as writers. We’ll explore how to approach these themes in our writing. We’ll discuss how children view these events and how they affect children’s personal lives.

 

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3. How NOT to Publish a Picture Book.

Author/illustrator Val Jones's first picture book, Who Wants Broccoli? was released earlier this month. She tells us about her path to publication in today's Author Spotlight post.

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4. 2015 Martha Weston Grant Winner Announced

Lindsey Carmichael from Lewis Lake, Nova Scotia, is the recipient of the 2015 Martha Weston Grant. She  received $1,500 to cover her expenses to attend the annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles. 
Grant coordinator Lissa Rovetch noted the judges, consisting of herself, Ashley Wolff, Julie Downing, Susan McCombs and Dory Weston, received many outstanding applications all of which reflected Martha Weston’s generous spirit.
 
After publishing more than 50 picture books and easy readers as an illustrator and/or author, Martha (Hairston) Weston published her first middle grade novel shortly before her death. Martha always took time to encourage others, and the Hairston family established the Martha Weston Grant to honor and continue her efforts. The SCBWI wishes to thank the Hairston family for making the grant possible, to the judges for volunteering their time, and to Lissa Rovetch who served again this year as Grant Coordinator. Applications will again be accepted in early spring. Rules and procedures can be found under the Awards and Grants section of the website. If you are interested in applying for this very special grant, please mark your calendars for early next year when the application process opens.

 

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5. When Good Things Happen to Good People

Several years ago I attended the SCBWI summer conference and one of the wonderful people I met was Rachel Marks. Super talented as both a writer and an artist, she had an incredible joy for life, due in part to being a cancer survivor. Rachel was rooming with Paige Britt and both of them had […]

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6. KidLit Author Events, May 26-June 9

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Well, my neck of the woods got a lot of rain this weekend, but we are fortunate to have made it through with no damage. The news over the rest of Texas and parts of Oklahoma is very sad, though. I hope all of you can stay safe through this rough weather.

We are getting into the summer slow-down on autor events, but the local Houston arts organizations are stepping up!

May 27, 10:00 AMlogo-scbwi
Gentle Critique, 9:30 AM
Barnes & Noble, College Station
Glows and Grows: Tips on Giving and Receiving Constructive Critiques

Join the Brazos Valley chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for discussion, news, and encouragement. The topic is “Glows and Grows: Tips on Giving and Receiving Constructive Critiques” with Alyson Greene and Candilynn Fite. Gentle critique begins at 9:30 a.m. Bring copies of 5 double-spaced pages of your work in progress. Those who have time stay for lunch at a local restaurant. Members and friends welcome!

May 30, Saturday, 4:30 PMWritespace
Writespace
Marian Szczepanski, Writing Workshop for All Genres
Using Object and Memory as Springboards into the Past
Cost: $30-$45

Objects and memories can carry significant resonance for literary explorations into the past – from personal experiences to collective histories. Learn how to use objects and/or memories, both personal and those shared by family members or history, as prompts for imaginative rumination and writing. We’ll consider examples in fiction (“Mortality” by Pablo Medina), poetry (“Mauches” by Angele Ellis), and creative nonfiction (an excerpt from Virgin Time by Patricia Hampl). This highly interactive class also will include joint exercises in creating meaning and exploring literary possibility from a provided object and historical event. As a prompt for individual writing, each participant will be encouraged to bring his/her own object – personal memento, family keepsake, or any item (or image) that interests or intrigues. I’ll have an assortment of new and vintage objects on hand for participants who prefer to consider something unfamiliar. This workshop is intended for writers of all genres, including writers of fiction, short story, personal essay, creative nonfiction, memoir, and poetry.

May 30, Saturday, 4:30 PMTHE DEATH CODE BY LINDSAY CUMMINGS
Murder By The Book
Lindsay Cummings, YA Author

Young Adult author Lindsay Cummings will discuss and sign MURDER COMPLEX #2: THE DEATH CODE, the action-packed, chilling sequel to her bestselling The Murder Complex. With short, fast-paced, alternating point-of-view chapters, The Death Code starts several weeks after The Murder Complex ends. Zephyr keeps the secret about Meadow close that if she dies, The Murder Complex will be destroyed, too. Meadow, desperate to find her brother, father, and little sister, is determined to fight fearlessly to the end, even if it means sacrificing herself and her friends, new and old. The Death Code introduces a memorable cast of secondary characters and delivers a vivid and scary thrill ride read. For fans of La Femme Nikita, Legend, and Hanna.

June 1, Monday, 7:00 PMlogo-scbwi
Tracy Gee Community Center, 3599 Westcenter Dr.
SCBWI Houston: Author Workshop
FREE

Join us for the Houston SCBWI monthly meeting where YA authors Rachel Harris & Kristin Rae will discuss Agents: Pros & Cons. Members and non-members alike are welcome to attend!

Now through June 30Houston Writers Guild Press
Houston Writers Guild
Short Story Contest
Entry fee: $25 HWG members / $35 non-members / $20 students or seniors over 65
Multiple entries: $15 for subsequent entries for members / $25 for nonmembers / $10 for students and seniors over 65

DIVE INTO MYSTERY Short Story Mystery Contest:

HWG is looking for original unpublished mystery short stories; stand-alone adaptations from a longer manuscript are welcome. Authors may submit up to 3 short stories for consideration in the contest. Please see their website for more information.

And a heads up for this event:

June 5, Friday, 6:00 p.m.
Blue Willow Bookshop
Joey Graceffa, YA Memoir Author

Star of TV and YouTube Joey Graceffa will meet and greet fans as they receive pre-signed copies of his book, IN REAL LIFE. Your book purchased from Blue Willow Bookshop is your ticket to this event. You may purchase IN REAL LIFE in-store, online or over the phone. At the time of your purchase, Blue Willow Bookshop will make a color line card that indicates your place in line.

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7. pictures mean business: bookseller, scwbi rally for illustration

Hurrah for The Bookseller magazine, for not getting sore when a bunch of us criticised it for not properly listing illustrators in articles and sales charts. Instead, they've listened, made changes, and this week opened up wider debate on the #PicturesMeanBusiness issue. Journalist Charlotte Eyre asked me to write this piece for today's issue (which you can also read online here).


Portrait photo in The Bookseller by Dave Warren

Charlotte has written a longer piece, and created a 'Top 10 Picture Book Illustrators' sales chart, which is something very new. Helen Oxenbury has gone from being unmentioned for her role in creating We're Going on a Bear Hunt with Michael Rosen to being listed in her own right as illustrator. You can read Charlotte's article here, Nielsen calls for debate over crediting illustrators.



But the issue's not as clear as we illustrators would like to think, and Charlotte flags some of the complex areas which need addressing:




Last Wednesday, a group of us from the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators met in the Savoy Tup pub in London to discuss #PicturesMeanBusiness, organised by active SCBWI members Candy Gourlay and Mo O'Hara. Carnegie head Joy Court, Charlotte Eyre and I talked with the group about the campaign and we pooled what knowledge people in the room had on the issue so far.

Joy was the first person who made me aware that the data was such a big issue in the Carnegie award listings. One thing I've been learning, and which was strengthened by the discussion was that Nielsen isn't entirely to blame for the problem. When I first came to the issue, it seemed like the main problem was that Nielsen had outdated software and needed to update it; then all the listings would fall into place. But that's only partly true. The other problem is that publishers all have different ways of organising the data they submit to Nielsen (many of their own systems desperately outdate), and Nielsen has to work with what it's given.

Some publishers realise that their illustrators may not get credit if they list them as illustrators, so they list them as authors. (And, in a sense, illustrators are authors in telling the story.) But if they leave the illustrator field blank, then it's tricky to discover who illustrated the book. Other publishers are giving incomplete data, possibly only listing the writer. What's submitted to Nielsen is a big, irregular mish-mash. Since the publishers are paying Nielsen for the data collection service, it's more likely that they can demand things of Nielsen, rather than Nielsen demanding software upgrades from the publishers. Charlotte has been liasing with a contact at Nielsen and said he's been very open and helpful about it.

So we need to look to the publishers to provide more regular data. Digital data may be a boring topic, but it is a BIG DEAL. As more and more processes are computerised, our livelihoods become very dependent on the accuracy and searchability of this data. Amazon are leading the way in organising their data, and because it's so easy to find things on their websites, it's beating out sellers who don't have access to such good data. UK publishers need to up their games so Amazon doesn't take all the sales. (And politicians need to sort out better tax laws so sellers are taxed fairly and equally, but that's another subject, even if it's related.)

At the SCBWI discussion, we asked, how can we encourage publishers provide better data? One suggestion by Charlotte was to try to get publishers to sign up to a charter, agreeing on a standard way of submitting book data. By signing, they would be stating that they submitted a complete set of data to the charter's specified standards (including illustrators and translators). Charlotte said The Bookseller might be able to spearhead this action.

But as Charlotte has pointed out in her article today, crediting is not always clear. We're going to talk more about this in a follow-up discussion on Twitter at 4pm (British time) on the hash tag #FutureChat. Bookseller Associate Editor Porter Anderson will be hosting the discussion, manning @TheFutureBook account. Please do take part if you can!



And I've realised that my #PicturesMeanBusiness updates sprawl over many blog posts, so I've tightened them up on to one page here: www.jabberworks.co.uk/pictures-mean-business



On that page I talk about:
1. The problem of uncredited illustrators
2. Why it matter and whom it affects (beyond illustrators)
2. How you can help with the campaign
4. Campaign progress so far


And I just spotted that Bookseller Associate Editor Porter Anderson has blogged about WRITERS going uncredited! I can see what he means: there is a lot of 'The Times says...' or 'The Bookseller claims that...' without mentioning the journalist.

Big thanks to writers Candy and Mo for hosting this weeks' SCBWI event!



One wonderful thing from that night was meeting Yat-Hong Chow, who created this book, Yellow as a real family effort. His seven-year-old son, Yü Chow, wrote the text, 'a fictional diary of a seven year old boy', with his dad's help. Yat designed the book, and his wife, Yü's mother, Hannah Kops, created the illustrations. Not every family can do this so expertly, but it's a wonderful example of a family coming together and recognising every aspect of creating a book. What a sense of achievement, to work as a team and create something like that together! (Here's their Kickstarter page.) It felt very much in the spirit of what we'd been discussing that evening.

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8. Illustrator Interview – Ruth McNally Barshaw

I have many different reasons for inviting illustrators onto my blog. Many have become  friends, all are gifted artists whom I admire, sometimes their daily doodles inspire me, others have won portfolio awards or I have contacted them after drooling over … Continue reading

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9. None of the Above – 2015 Diversity Reading Challenge

Today’s diversity read is one I had been looking forward to since meeting the author at one of the biannual SCBWI conference LGBTQ meetings a year ago. It doesn’t exactly fall into any of my categories, but boy, is it … Continue reading

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10. Nevada Mentor Program

I am thrilled to have been asked to mentor on the celebrated Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program this year. I was part of the program as a mentee back in 2010/2011. It's pretty special to be asked back and to work with 2-3 mentees myself. The program was probably the one thing I did that really set my career on it's way. The friends and contacts I made are still strong and very much part of my life. Ellen Hopkins and Suzanne Morgan Williams did a marvellous job starting this program and it's as great as ever! Check out the line up of mentors for yourself. Maybe I will see you there? Applications are open ... spaces are limited. What are you waiting for?
http://nevada.scbwi.org/nevada-scbwi-mentor-program/



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11. NESCBWI Whispering Pines 2015

The time had come… after a pleasant drive through the backroads of RI through the snow drifts and pines…
DSCN0067

…so began the 2015 edition of the Whispering Pines Writers Retreat at the Alton Jones campus! This was a special year, though- the 20th anniversary of it’s beginning. I have been coming since I was the illustrator mentor in 2007. Every year is full of inspiration, bonding, and renewed vigor for our writing careers. It is also full of cake. SO MUCH CAKE. And food that magically appears. It is another world, to be sure.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Mary Pierce have been the co-directors for many years, and have decided to step down this year. There’s no way they would go out without a bang, and it started right away! KidLit Jeopardy was a great way to kick it off andstart on that bonding I was talking about. It’s always a laugh fest. My team came in 3rd place (pretty decent)!

DSCN0030My favorite category is BUNNIES. :)

 

DSCN0031Hayley Barrett gives Lynda a going-away present…

 

DSCN0032…and it was fascinating! “Embrace the journey” was a good theme for the whole weekend.   
DSCN0034Mary Pierce and Kristin Russo got mini trophies for being a driving force (literally) for the retreat.

 

julie sally

NESCBWI RA Sally Riley and incoming retreat director Julie Kingsley  get commemorative staplers, for holding things together. Julie will be joined by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum as co-director of next year’s Whispering Pines retreat.

 

DSCN0041Co-director Mary receives a superhero cape for going up, up, and away above the usual requirements! 

 

DSCN0042Some of the mentors: agents Erin Murphy and Ammi-Joan Paquette, and editors Sylvie Frank, Kendra Levin, and Mallory Kass.
DSCN0045Laurie Murphy and Linda Crotta Brennan were recognized as the originators of the retreat 20 years ago.

 

DSCN0046Greenhouse Literary agent John Cusick gave great tips on ignoring the nagging voice that tells you you can’t write, and how to carve out legit writing time in your life. As both a writer and an agent, he knows intimately what he’s talking about.
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Lynda and Mary pulled off a pretty incredible surprise by bringing back SIX previous mentors just to be on a panel about “what I wished I knew when I was starting out”. She had asked me casually to weigh in on this subject, but I didn’t know it would become a full-out panel discussion with all these fantastic writers and illustrators. Color me humbled. It was a real high point of the event!

 

WPMentors, past and present: Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Kim Newton Fusco, Leslie Connor, Jennifer Thermes, Kelly Murphy, Erin Dionne, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Carlyn Beccia, Me, Barbara O’Connor, and Brian Lies. Thanks Pam Vaughan for this photo!

 

DSCN0056Agents Ammi-Joan Paquette and Erin Murphy turned the tables asked each other questions. Erin looks for things she didn’t know she liked until she read them; it’s the exceptions to the rules that grab her. Ammi-Joan is open to any genre and concedes that there is no one-size-fits-all path in a career.

 

DSCN0058First pages in the cozy lodge. The mentors really went above and beyond this year is their discussions of the first pages, giving us meaty and useful critiques.

 

DSCN0061Mallory Kass, Sylvie Frank, Kendra Levin, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Ammi-Joan Paquette, John Cusick, and Erin Murphy.
DSCN0063Carlyn, bringin’ the glamour and spreading it around. “Give me more zhush!”

 

DSCN0066Food. So much food. Food that we didn’t have to prepare, and dishes that magically disappeared after, only to be replaced by cake. Such is the way of Whispering Pines.

 

DSCN0073Writer girls Sandy Smith Budiansky and Brook Gideon. The smiles say it all.

 

DSCN0075Senior Editor Kendra Levin, from Viking, is not only a great editor, but a life coach. It was excellent to hear how she blends these ingredients to bring out the best in each book. I won’t think of elevators the same way again!

 

DSCN0077Jennifer O’Keefe has the uncanny ability to paint gorgeous watercolors during the retreat! 

 

DSCN0078Editor Sylvie Frank from Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books gave a great inside look at the editorial process. I loved how she makes her own dummies of manuscripts just to become one with the flow of each story. That’s dedication!

 

DSCN0082Kristin Russo stepping up and sharing her writing exercise.

 

malloryMallory Kass  from Scholastic looks for books that transport the reader, and immerse them in a new world. She seeks characters that have such a unique world view that it colors the reader’s view, too. She was quite a character herself, relating publishing to the dating world in a disturbingly accurate way!

 

Adieu, Whispering Pines, for another year. You never fail to bring out the best in everyone.

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12. Moira Swiatkowski – Illustrator Interview

While I haven’t managed to attend the SCBWI winter conference the past few years I have schmoozed and managed to be invited to several gatherings/parties. It was at one of these I first had the pleasure of meeting Moira. Aside … Continue reading

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13. Happy 5th Anniversary, drydenbks – Interview with Emma D. Dryden

Emma D. Dryden is a children’s editorial & publishing consultant with drydenbks LLC, a company she established 5 years ago today, after 25 years as a publisher and editor with major publishing houses. I had the privilege of working with … Continue reading

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14. Travel to Idaho this Spring

There is always so much going on in the children's literature world in Utah, which is wonderful and fun. But you might look beyond your borders to see what's going on elsewhere. For example, Idaho. We're just up the road a ways. And we seem to become a fantastic venue for kid lit authors to visit. Just in the last few weeks, we've hosted Markus Zusak, Jennifer Neilsen, and next week will be Sherman Alexie plus Andrew Smith.

I'm most excited, of course, about our Boise SCBWI conference in April, which we co-sponsor with the Boise State University Dept. of Literary, Language, and Culture and the Idaho Chapter of the International Literacy Association (formerly the International Reading Association).

This year we have several amazing speakers, including Matt de la Pena, Suzanne Morgan Williams, Utah's own Kristyn Crow, agent Sean McCarthy, and a fantastic panel of local authors.

Our theme is diversity in children's literature, which is a super hot topic right now, and worthy of our attention and examination. This conference is for all  who are interested in kit lit, whether teachers, librarians, students, parents, and, yes, authors and illustrators.

You can find more information here: http://bit.ly/1ErbbGu

And to register, scroll down that page and click on the link, or here: http://idcclw.com/

Boise in the spring is a magical place, and taking the time to get away from home and focus on your craft is worth every moment.


By Neysa CM Jensen
SCBWI regional advisor for Utah/southern Idaho


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15. How I Became a Teaching Author

My path to becoming an author is . . . unusual.  Like most writers, I’ve loved books all my life.  Some of my earliest memories are of being bribed by the promise of a Golden Book if I would go to sleep in my own bed rather than my parent’s bed (I took the bribe).  However, as I grew up, a wide variety of books were not readily available to me.  Our small town didn’t have a library and neither did my elementary school.  What passed as our “library” was a small collection of books sitting on the bookshelf below the wide windows that ran the whole length of the classroom. 



Peter Rabbit was my favorite book, and was
also one my Mama bought to bribe me.  

Somewhere around the third grade I got a pink diary.  I’d like to say my diary entries were long narratives about my hopes and dreams that show a budding writer’s flair for the dramatic.  That is not the case.  In reality my diary entries are so sparse that the entire text of my five year diary could fit on a napkin, a cocktail napkin.   But when I look at that diary now, I do see the beginnings of an author—a nonfiction author.  Each diary entry contains the facts and does not include any extraneous information or fluff.  For example on one especially important day in history, July 20, 1969, I simply stated: “Dear Diary, the astronauts landed & are walking on the moon.”  It is simple, to the point, and has the sense of immediacy—not a bad start for a future nonfiction author.

My childhood diary shows an early glimpse into my future as a nonfiction author.  My straightforward recording of the moon landing came just one day after my confession that I dreaded facing my piano teacher (I hadn't been practicing.) 

As an adult, my first career is as a Registered Radiologic Technologist.  Next I became a wife and busy mother of three children.  I read voraciously, but still had no thoughts of becoming a writer.  In fact, I would never have become an author if tragedy had not entered my life.  My youngest son, fourteen-month-old Corey, fell off of the backyard swing and died from a head injury.  Life as I knew it ceased to exist.  I was devastated, to say the least.  Ultimately I wrote an inspirational book about the Spiritual battle I faced after Corey’s death and how God brought me through it and back to Him titled Forgiving God.  It was the first book I’d ever written.


My first book, an adult inspirational book that deals with the death of my son, Corey.

After my first book was published, I began writing nonfiction books for young readers.  No classes.  No journalism degree.  No mentor.  I just started researching and writing.  Along the way I joined SCBWI, went to writer’s conferences, and learned all I could about children’s publishing.   I listened to the old writer’s adage that says “write what you know” when I chose X-rays as the topic for my first book in this genre.  That book, titled The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-ray, was awarded the SCBWI work-in-progress grant and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG).  When that book was finished, I wondered if I could do it again.  I could.  The next two books, Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium and In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry were also published by FSG.   Then came The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon published by Carolrhoda, Tech Titans by Scholastic, and my newest book Fourth Down and Inches: Concussion and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment also with Carolrhoda.  



 
 

 
My nonfiction books for young readers. 

Since libraries fill me with awe and appreciation, I’m thrilled to know that my books are in library collections all over the world.  In some ways I’ve come full circle.  I began as a child with no library access and I became a nonfiction author who has done research in some of the finest libraries in America including Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Boston Athenaeum.   



Doing research at the library at Harvard.

I didn’t plan to become a writer or a public speaker.  But the twists and turns of life have turned me into both, and they are a good fit for me.  I love the challenge of researching a topic I know nothing about.  I love to write about ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.   I love to capture the imagination of a live audience and take them on a journey as I share with them the amazing things I’ve learned about the subjects of my books.   And as an added bonus, researching my books has given me incredible life experiences that I will always treasure.  I’ve visited Marie Curie’s office at the Radium Institute in Paris and sat in her chair, behind her desk.  I’ve stayed on the grounds of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and watched the sunrise over the Potomac River while standing on the piazza.   I’ve looked into the faces of men and women who were saved from the Nazis by Varian Fry and listened to their personal experiences.  I’ve wept with the parents of teens who lost their lives as a result of concussions.  I’ve presented programs in a wide variety of venues including C Span 2 Book TV, Colonial Williamsburg, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Consulate in Marseilles, France, teacher conferences, workshops, and at many schools.
 
Now I’m honored to join this amazing group of women known as TeachingAuthors.  It will be a whole new adventure and I’m looking forward to it.

Carla Killough McClafferty
www.carlamcclafferty.com
 

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16. Conference season

Oh, to be in New York City right now. The annual SCBWI winter conference is in full swing and I would love to be there, too. Utah’s own James Dashner is giving the keynote on Sunday.

It is the kick off to the 2015 writing conference season. The SCBWI is the biggie, attracting a large national level

LTUE - Feb 12-14
Life, the Universe, and Everything. That about covers it. The conference moniker is borrowed from a Douglas Adams book with the same title. Running now for thirty years, LTUE bills itself as a “three-day academic symposium on all aspects of science fiction and fantasy.” Of course, it deals with “everything” so there’s bound to be something for most any writer. It meets at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. For complete information, go to LTUE.net.

Writing for Charity - March 21
This one day event features presenters, many of whom are Utah authors, panel discussions and a chance to have your work discussed with an agent, either Ammi-Joan Paquette or Minju Chang. They have four options for registration, each with varying levels of exposure to the two agents in attendance. Oh, and your registration fees are charitable. Writers for Charity chooses different organizations to donate to with a goal of getting books into the hands of children. They’ll also meet in Provo and more information is available at WritingforCharity.blogspot.com.

LDStorymakers - May 15 & 16
Agents galore and more Utah writers presenting on various aspects of the craft. Martine Leavitt delivers the keynote. Prices vary depending on the degree of involvement you choose. This conference also happens in Provo and their site, LDStorymakers.com provides details. 

WIFYR - June 15-19
My personal favorite is Carol Lynch William’s Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers. Like the others, this conference offers agents and Utah authors, and pricing varies. This is a week-long conference and differs from the others in that writers in the morning workshops are more active participants. Listening to a lecturer tends to be a more passive role. The workshops are interactive and intense. Their purpose is to critique and improve your manuscript. The afternoons have presenters and Jennifer Nielsen is the keynote speaker. This conference meets in Sandy and the WIFYR.com website offers details.

It’s winter in NYC, balmy in SLC. I would love to do SCBWI’s conference one of these days. But why spend the money on airfare and lodging when we’ve got some excellent opportunities for writers right here in Utah.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

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17. Best Friends Daily Sketch

I am so unbelievably blessed with some very open, honest, and funny girlfriends. I've always been one who struggles with friends, but as an adult, I believe I have some of the best and strongest relationships I never thought possible.

One of these friends is fellow illustrator and work from home mom, Candace Camling. We are so much a like, yet so very different, and I adore this about our relationship. We can be very honest, borderline offensive honest, and still want to talk to each other. I find this very special and I treasure it.

"Explore all the World" illustration by Candace Camling

She's on her way to New York today for a very important trip. She's attending the SCBWI conference where she will be presenting her top notch portfolio to directors, editors, and participating in the illustrator event (sorry, I don't know ALL the details). She's on her way to the top as a children's book illustrator.

I thought of her this morning as she's beginning this fun adventure. I've been able to help her out with printing her portfolio, and I am very honored to be there for her. She helps me out by being my soundboard for those really rough days and nights all about being mom or struggling artist.

She's my light for today, reminding myself that you get what you put in. She puts in long hours, money, perseverance, and hope for her career, and I'm inspired by that.


Visit Candace's blog and her portfolio!!!

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18. Tips for SCBWI conference newbies, second-timers, plus a CHALLENGE for the many-timers

I'm leaving tomorrow for the SCBWI Winter Conference! If you haven't yet registered, you're out of luck....the conference is sold out. However, you can follow along virtually via the #NY15SCBWI hashtag on Twitter as well as the SCBWI conference blog.

Here's my updated SCBWI Conference Advice post for first-timers (as well as a challenge for the many-timers):

If you're a conference newbie who is nervous, I encourage you to browse my SCBWI Conference Newbie comics. I created these when I was a nervous newbie as well! So many people think I'm an extrovert, but I'm actually very much an introvert and was terrified (to the point of sweating palms, pounding heart, hating the idea of having go up and introduce myself over and over) about attending my first regular SCBWI conference back in 2009.

(Edit re: above comic: I did end up meeting Jay at the conference and he was really nice! And he didn't mention his Amazon ranking EVEN ONCE! Heh.)

I've posted advice for first-timers before and will post it again at the end of this piece, but now that I've attended other SCBWI annual conferences (and had my career jumpstarted because of the 2010 SCBWI-LA Conference), here is some additional advice I have for those who have attended more than once:

Don't get offended or disheartened if people you've met before don't remember you.

This is something I've learned from both sides. As a 2nd- and 3rd-timer (and so on), I've sometimes gone up to a person or group I've met and had my confidence deflated when it becomes clear they don't remember me at ALL from the previous year. My inner reactions ranged from embarrassment, humiliation, irritation, frustration and even brief anger ("I guess I'm just NOT IMPORTANT enough for xxx to remember!! Hmph.").

Having attended many times now, I've learned the following:

- I'm terrible at remembering people unless I've had multiple conversations or interactions with the same person.

- Even then, especially if I'm tired or am in a noisy crowd (remember what I said earlier about being an introvert?) or have met many new people in a row just before, I may still forget having met someone before.

I still accidentally re-introduce myself to people whom I've met before, sometimes whom I've met EARLIER IN THE CONVENTION. I'm always horribly embarrassed when this happens. 

Make sure your name badge is easily visible.

Also, when I approach someone whom I've met before but with whom I don't have constant contact, I usually try saying something that will help remind them of our mutual context, or remind them of having met at xxx. Until I'm sure they actually do remember me, I try very hard NOT to put them on the spot (e.g. I don't say, "So, what did you think of my most recent post?" etc.).

When someone does this to me (subtly or unsubtly :-) setting the context and helping me remember), I immediately feel more at ease with them and am more likely to want to chat with them in the future.

Another tip: if someone DOES remember you, never assume that they're up-to-date on all your exciting news. I've had the occasional person react badly when they realize I'm not aware of their new book ("?? But I posted it all over Facebook!") I never assume anyone reads all my posts or keeps up with all my news. People have busy lives and different priorities.

Something else I've learned: even so-called Big Name authors and illustrators can be insecure. I am faaaar from being a Big Name, but having had a bit more experience at conference-going now, I also realize how some of the Big Name types who seemed standoffish to me actually weren't.

Be gracious, be forgiving and try very hard to assume the best about a person rather than the worst.

And I apologize ahead of time if I don't remember your name or re-introduce myself. :-\

And here some tips for first-timers who feel nervous about attending for the first time, or are normally very shy or introverted and dread the idea of having to meet a lot of new people:

1. Be brave and make the first move. You'd be surprised at how many other attendees feel exactly the same way as you do. Introduce yourself to people you sit beside, stand in line with, notice standing alone.

2. TAKE BUSINESS CARDS. Yes, even if you aren't published yet. We're all going to meet a lot of people over the weekend, and taking away a business card from an encounter or introduction will help the people you meet remember you. If you're an illustrator, take postcards or make sure a sample of illustration style is on your business card.

3. Have realistic expectations. Don't expect to be "discovered" at the conference.

4. In my experience, you're much more likely to meet new people if you're alone. If you're always chatting and hanging out with the same person or people, you're not as approachable. I'm not saying that you SHOULDN'T hang out with people you like, of course! Just keep in mind that as a group, you're probably not going to meet as many new people as someone who is by themselves.

5. If you're on Twitter, write your Twitter handle on your name badge somewhere.

But most of all: TRY TO HAVE FUN. 

***** A CHALLENGE TO THE "MANY-TIMERS" OUT THERE ****

Try to remember what it was like when you attended your very first event, or how insecure you felt in the beginning. Then make it a personal challenge to find at least one lost-looking or nervous conference newbie who is sitting or standing alone. Introduce yourself, chat with them, find out what they're working on, perhaps (if appropriate) offer some advice.

Give good karma and it WILL come back to you.

p.s. If you see my friend Kate, do say hi! :-)

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19. Gifts I Want

It's that time of year when everyone everywhere has a list of gifts for your favorite mom, or golfer, or skier. So here's my list of gifts for writers and readers. Mostly these are things I personally want or like to have, so it's pretty self indulgent. I'm sure you can add items to the list.

I'd like to preface my list with this statement: I am all about gifts of experiences or things that can be used up, consumed. I don't need more stuff in my life, but I do want more life in my life.

1. SCBWI membership for your favorite aspiring/published/nationally known children's author or illustrator. Many of us on this blog are SCBWI members, and I'd just like to throw out a couple of wonderful benefits of this membership. First, it's the world's largest and most respected professional organization for children's publishing. It's important to your career to belong to the professional organization for your industry. We have great programs, great publications, resources of all kinds, networking, critiquing, and conferences. You'll make contacts with editors and agents, fellow authors, and learn from the best.

2. Audio books. Personally, I have never outgrown my love of being read aloud to. My mom hooked me early on, and my fourth grade teacher read to us every day after lunch. My husband reads to me every night before bed. When I was in the hospital once, he read me Beatrix Potter stories. Audio books are perfect for car trips, subway rides, plane travel, or just doing the dishes. I have an app on my phone, so I can take my audio books anywhere I go. And when the hubby is out of town, I let my audio book read to me before bed.

3. This one is sort of obvious. Gift cards to bookstores. One of the highlights of our Christmas celebrations is going to the bookstore after Christmas and using our gift cards. I prefer indie bookstores.

4. Send your favorite author/illustrator to a conference. There are dozens of workshops and events close by, or if you want to splurge, send them somewhere like Highlights workshops or Big Sur. Of course, SCBWI conferences are awesome, and there are many. The big ones in LA and NYC every year, as well as regional conferences all across the U.S. and around the world. Go to http://www.scbwi.org/events-home/ to check out all the possibilities. Conferences are invaluable investments in perfecting one's craft and meeting people in the industry.

5. Pens and paper. Yes, I know it's the age of the computer and other electronics, but I have yet to find an author or illustrator who doesn't use the old-fashioned method once in a while. I keep a notebook with me wherever I go to jot down ideas, images, resources, etc. I used to write out all my first drafts in longhand, and even now that I've trained myself to write at the computer, I still occasionally like to write a chapter on paper. It uses a different portion of the brain. If you don't know what your author friend likes, a gift card to an office supply store is also a good bet.

6. Chocolate. I don't think this needs any explanation, except that I prefer the highest quality dark chocolate available.

7. Coffee. See #6.

8. Time. Writers need time. Life is busy and there are a million other things demanding our attention. Give your writer the gift of time. A weekend at a cabin. A babysitter once  a week. An offer to do the dishes every night (or insert appropriate chore here) while he/she writes. A nudge to attend a critique group.

9. Buy your writer/illustrator a critique with an editor/agent through one of the conferences in our area. Learning what professionals see in your writing is so important and valuable.

10. A puppy. So this is personal, but I have to include it. My dogs are always by my side when I'm writing. I have two of them. But I've been asking for a golden retriever for almost a year, and if anyone who loves me wants to buy me one, that would be the best gift. Pets comfort you when the writing isn't going well. They encourage you to get out for a walk when your butt has gone numb from the butt-in-chair work ethic. They are also characters in many children's books. There's a reason for that.

There you have it. A complete guide for gift-giving for the writer. Print it out and give it to your family, or use it to thoughtfully gift your writerly friends. Or hound my hubby about giving me a puppy.


by Neysa CM Jensen
up in Boise, Idaho

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20. Snow, snow, snow all day...


Here's a couple of snowy pix. I had a great time doing this cover for 'The Mitten' and then doing that led to landing a new book. 


And this fun snow scene never was published.

John Nez
www.johnnez.com

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21. 2015 Utah SCBWI Illustrators Conference with Art Director Kristine Brogno

Artwork by Shawna (that's me)!

Utah and Southern Idaho Illustrators Unite!! Mark your calendars!

Utah/ Southern Idaho SCBWI presents, our 2015 Illustrator's Conference, February 21, 2015 with art director Kristine Brogno from Chronicle Books! Other speakers will be Author/Illustrator Mark Pett (The Girl and the Bicycle), and Illustrator Guy Francis (Clark the Shark). Come join us for a day full of fun and inspiration!

Keep up to date on the Drawing Sunshine Blog: http://drawingsunshine.wordpress.com/

Also, you can register here: https://utahsouthidaho.scbwi.org/events/utah-southern-idaho-scbwi-illustrators-conference-2015/

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22. Illustrator Interview – Yuyi Morales

In keeping with my blog’s strong support of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, for a while I have wanted to interview illustrator Yuyi Morales. I think from the words and photos YuYi shares today, you will see the important stories and influences … Continue reading

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23. KidLit Author Events Jan. 6-20, 2015

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Happy New Year!

The Houston SCBWI spring conference is now open for registration! If you are interested in finding out about writing or illustrating literature for children and young adults, this conference is exactly what you need. There will be three literary agents: Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency, Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management, and John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary; two editors from closed houses (meaning they do not accept unagented submissions): Annie Berger of HarperCollins and Wendy Loggia of Random House; and Random House art director Isabel Warren-Lynch. Our Keynote speaker will be author/illustrator Kelly Light. Join us!

If you’re on the west side of town, you might enjoy stopping by Blue Willow Bookshop this Saturday morning at 10:00. The cast of Stratford High School’s production of Bye Bye Birdie will be there performing  hits from the show. This is a fundraiser for the Stratford Playhouse, so bring your shopping list! The show opens Thursday, Jan. 29th and runs until Saturday, Feb 7th.Tickets and more information are available at shsplayhouse.org.

This week’s events:

January 7, Wednesday, 7;00 PM THIS SHATTERED WORLD by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Blue Willow Bookshop
Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner, YA Authors

Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner will discuss and sign THIS SHATTERED WORLD (Disney), the newest in the STARBOUND series for young adults. In THIS SHATTERED WORLD, Jubilee Chase (a.k.a. Lee) and Flynn Cormac should never have met. Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents. Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. His sister died in the original uprising against the powerful corporate conglomerate that rules Avon with an iron fist. These corporations make their fortune by terraforming uninhabitable planets across the universe and recruiting colonists to make the planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion. Desperate for any advantage against the military occupying his home, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as his prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape base together, caught between two sides in a senseless war. Will they survive?

January 12, Monday, 5:00 PM BLUE MOON by James Ponti
Blue Willow Bookshop
James Ponti, MG Author

James Ponti will discuss and sign the books in his DEAD CITY series for middle grade readers. DEAD CITY and BLUE MOON (Aladdin) are the first two books in the Aladdin Middle Grade series about Molly Bigelow and the Omegas, a super-secret society charged with policing and protecting the undead of New York City.

When Molly Bigelow discovered that zombies shared New York with humans, she didn’t think life could get more shocking. Then she learned her mother was once one of the greatest zombie killers ever—and she discovered her dead mother is not technically dead (although she isn’t alive, either). Molly’s efforts to keep these secrets and to help her Omega team track down the identity of the original thirteen zombies takes her from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Her loyalties to friends and family will be put to the test. And her life will be changed in ways she never could have imagined.

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24. Bartography Express for January 2015, featuring Trent Reedy’s Burning Nation

This month, one subscriber to my Bartography Express newsletter will win a copy of Burning Nation (Scholastic), the second book in Trent Reedy’s Divided We Fall YA trilogy

If you’re not already receiving Bartography Express, click the image below for a look. If you like what you see, click “Join” in the bottom right corner, and you’ll be in the running for the giveaway at the end of this week.

20150122 Bartography Express

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25. Illustrator Interview – Maral Sassouni

I connected with Maral on Facebook because I swoon at her artwork and because she is a huge Francophile like me. She is relatively new to children’s books, but her work has been well received: selected in Society of Illustrators (Illustrators … Continue reading

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