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1. CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination Conference

Thanks so much to CANSCAIP for inviting me to be a speaker at the Packaging Your Imagination conference at Humber College this past weekend. I had a fantastic time and once again appreciated what a wonderful kidlit/YA community we have here in Canada.

I've posted some of my photos on Facebook and on Flickr.

Kate BlairThanks to Kate Blair for being my "shadow" during the event; Kate helped get me find the right rooms, introduced me at my workshop, made me feel welcome. Kate is a middle grade and YA writer, and placed 2nd in the 2010 Toronto Star Short Story Contest (out of 1800 entries!) as well as being longlisted for the CBC short story contest in both 2011 and 2012. You can find out more about Kate and her work at Kateblair.com.

Anyway, the subway was shut down between Eglinton and Bloor so I ended up taking a cab and arrived way early! The organizers were still setting up. I think I was one of the first to pick up my speaker badge:

Ran into my Torkidlit friend Karen Krossing, who helped distract me from my pre-talk jitters by walking around the venue with me, figuring out where the speaker coats could be stored, etc. Here are CANSCAIP Administrative Director Helena Aalto and PYI Co-Director Lorna Poplak, just before the conference officially opened:

I also had time to check out the art show. So much wonderful children's book art, and I also loved the process sketches that some people included. I'm new enough that I also got a thrill to see my own art up on display...and also very cool to see my sister's art right beside it:

Teresa Toten's opening keynote was inspiring! I've just started reading THE UNLIKELY HERO OF ROOM 13B, Teresa's novel that won the 2013 Governor General Literary Award For Children's Literature, and am loving it so far.

Teresa Toten, giving her inspiring opening keynote

After that were the first set of workshop sessions, including mine! Thanks SO much to the Humber AV crew, who did a fantastic job at PYI:

and the E-Learning team in my session, who helped the streaming portion run smoothly for virtual attendees:

The photo at the top (courtesy GABBY author Joyce Grant) is from the beginning of my session. Here's one from GRACE author/illustrator Kate Parkinson, who was a virtual attendee:

And here's her screen with the live video in the top left and my current slide on the right:

After the conference, I asked Kate how the streaming went and she reports it ran smoothly, thanks to the Humber College tech crew. You can also read Kate's report about being a virtual attendee at CANSCAIP's event on her blog. Kate's FIRST children's book (she's author/illustrator), GRACE, comes out from Holiday House Books early next year!

Back to PYI. My session seemed to go well, yay. I was still really nervous, but it was a bit easier than last time I gave a talk, plus the attendees were enthusiastic and asked interesting questions. After my session, I stayed in the room so I could hear Ashley Spires talk about her work:

Ashley Spires during her session at PYI

I so love Ashley's bubbly enthusiasm and energy! Ashley talked about the creation process for Binky The Space Cat series of junior graphic novels, which I found fascinating, entertaining and informative. Did you know that Ashley initially drew all her herringbone and other intricate textures by HAND? Wow. I think Ashley noticed the look of awe (ok, maybe more like horror :-)) on my face when she told us this. 

Anyway, finally getting to meet Ashley Spires in person was one of my personal highlights at PYI.

With my talk over, I could relax at lunchtime and just chat. Thanks to my lunchtime companions for some great kidlit/YA conversation (including my Torkidlit pal Nicole Winters in the bottom right):

I looked around for my MiGWriters critique partner, Andrea Mack, but missed seeing her! Happily, we ran into each other later in the conference. Here are Lana Button, Jan Dolby (so great to finally meet Jan in person!!) and Joyce Grant:

Lana Button, Jan Dolby and Joyce Grant at PYI 2014. Joyce and Jan are the creative team behind the GABBY series from Fitzhenry and Whiteside Publishers. Finally getting to meet Jan Dolby in person was another personal highlight during the conference. Lana's WILLOW FINDS A WAY was just nominated for a 2014 Blue Spruce Award, by the way!

In the afternoon, I was faced (again) with an impossible choice: I wanted to attend all the workshops! I ended up opting for the industry panel with Susan Rich (Editor-At-Large at Little, Brown) and Tara Walker (Editorial director at Tundra Books):

An excellent panel, so informative AND entertaining. :-D Teresa Toten was a fabulous moderator.

I stupidly missed getting a photo of Susin Nielsen, who gave a wonderful closing keynote (see audience above). We even got to see a clip of her acting role in the original Degrassi Junior High (she was a screenwriter)!

Plus LOOK, I won a prize in the raffle! I never win anything but thanks to CANSCAIP and the Vermont College Of Fine Arts, I won this bag of goodies:

Thanks to Lena Coakley for giving me a lift to a small gathering hosted by Sharon Jennings afterwards. Sadly, a bad headache prevented me from staying as long as I had wished but it was fun chatting with some of the others who came. Thank you, Sharon!

And again, THANK YOU so much to CANSCAIP and all the volunteers and organizers. Everything went so smoothly and I had so much fun, plus came away super-inspired.

If you're a Canadian children's book author, illustrator or performer, I strongly recommend you checking out CANSCAIP's website....and do consider attending next year's PYI event!

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

Only a couple of weeks until the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles! If you haven't yet registered, you're out of luck....they just announced that the conference is now sold out. However, you can follow along virtually via the #LA14SCBWI hashtag on Twitter as well as the SCBWI conference blog.

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.").

Now heading into my sixth year in a row attending SCBWI-LA, 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. 

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.

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3. My workshop at CANSCAIP'S "Packaging Your Imagination" conference Sat. Oct. 18, 2014

Registration's now open for CANSCAIP's Packaging Your Imagination conference on Saturday, October 18th, 2014. I'll be giving a workshop for beginning writers and illustrators called "Lightning Rods, Agents & Book Deals: Building Your Personal Brand."

However you feel about the word "brand," everyone has a personal brand. You DO have control over it (yes, even the shy and introverted) and it can have a big effect on how successful you are in achieving your personal and professional goals.

Some keys, I've found: Be authentic, find your niche and don't try to do everything. Come to my workshop and I'll explain more, including social media tips for those who aren't quite sure what to do with their social media. 

Find out more details about the event and how to register on the CANSCAIP website. Can't attend in person? CANSCAIP now offer a live streaming option!

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4. #BookADay: How To Cheer Up Dad, by Fred Koehler

I've decided to participate in Donalyn Miller's 6th Annual Book-A-Day Summer Challenge. You can read more about the Book-A-Day challenge and guidelines on the Nerdy Book Club blog.

I wouldn't be able to attempt to do this were it not for the fact that picture books count; there's no way I'd have the time to read an entire novel a day this summer. I also figure it'll be a good excuse to reread some of my favourites! Not sure if I'll be able to post here for every book I read or reread, but will tweet about my #bookaday books on @inkyelbows.

Today, I reread my friend Fred Koehler's HOW TO CHEER UP DAD. Can't wait to read the sequel in 2015.

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5. NAKED! Book Tour (Part 5): Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary School and Final Words

 Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet) - Part 4 (Porter Square Books, James Patterson grant) - Part 5 (Northshire Books Saratoga, Division St. Elementary, final wrap-up)

I woke up on the last day of the book tour with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I looked forward to getting back home to Jeff and creative hermitmode. On the other hand, this was the LAST DAY of my FIRST BOOK TOUR. I vowed to make the most of it.

Goofing around just before the children arrived.

I checked out of the hotel and took a cab over to Northshire Books Saratoga (424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 518-682-4200 / 855-339-5990). When researching the bookstore before the tour, I discovered that the 9,000-square-foot indie bookstore had opened last summer.

Image from AllOverAlbany.comThis was the second location for the Northshire Bookstore. The first opened in Manchester, Vermont.

I was excited to see my event listed in their calendar:

I enjoyed interviewing events and community outreach coordinator Rachel Person for my NAKED! blog. Rachel told me her position means "that I'm lucky enough to handle author events for the store and to find ways to work with other local organizations throughout our area. I'm also something of a magpie reader, which means I'm always drawn to the next bright shiny object, and will read in pretty much any genre."

Rachel also said that coming to work in a bookstore every day was so energizing, that it was really a great place to be. "And, as the events coordinator for a brand new indie (our store opened less than a year ago), I feel like I'm helping to bring something to my town that hasn't been here before - a year-round lineup of strong, exciting literary programming."

I asked Rachel why picture books are important, and she answered:

"As a reader, I feel that picture books can really bring out the best in writers and artists - creating books for such a young audience requires such care and precision. Every detail has to be just right. As a mom, I've loved watching my children discover the world through picture books. They pave the way to absolutely everything."

Model train in Northshire Bookstore Saratoga children's department.

I loved all the light and space at Northshire Bookstore Saratoga; the place is gorgeous.

Not only that, but the entire second floor is devoted to books for young people!

I arrived just before the store opened up, and it was great to meet Rachel Person face-to-face after exchanging so many e-mails.

Also really enjoyed meeting Marika McCoola:

Not only does Marika work as an indie bookseller, but she is also an author, illustrator and educator. Her debut graphic novel, BABA YAGA'S ASSISTANT, was acquired by Candlewick in 2013. BABA YAGA'S ASSISTANT follows the story of Masha, a teen raised on the Russian folktales her grandmother told her. When Masha finds an ad looking for Baba Yaga's Assistant, she ventures into the woods to apply. The graphic novel is edited by Deb Wayshak, illustrated by Emily Carroll, and is coming out in 2015.

Setting up for my presentation at Northshire was super-easy. I didn't need my projector because Rachel Person had an adaptor that enabled my MacBook Air to connect with their projection system. I loved their event venue!

Soon the children and their parents arrived. Because there were fewer kids than the previous day, I was able to interact with each one of them, including during the illustration workshop session.

Rachel Person was super-organized and made me feel so welcome. I had a chance to sign pre-ordered books (for the school I was visiting later that day) as well as after my Northshire visit. Look at the photo above: I was so impressed by the book display on my table! Rachel even put out copies of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction, an anthology from Stone Bridge Press that contained my illustrated story for teens, "Kodoma."

And check out the choice of signing pens, whoa:

Rachel had a great "Get Your Geek On" pin and when she saw me admiring it, she found an extra one for me!

After I finished signing, Rachel and I picked up sandwiches at a nearby market and headed to Division St. Elementary School, where I talked to three kindergarten classes.

So much fun, and I was impressed by how well-behaved the students were. And SO VERY VERY CUTE. I had them help me do the reading by shouting out "Naked!" whenever I pointed to them. Wow, kindergarteners really love yelling that word. :-D

I talked to them about how Michael had written the story and I had illustrated it. They loved the picture of Michael consulting his cat. They were also fascinated by the whole process of creating a picture book, including the cover and jacket flaps.

I showed them the choices I gave Michael, and asked them which one they thought he chose:

They were delighted by the fact that Michael chose the one in which he looked the most NAKED. :-)

And then I did a drawing demo, using (for the first time ever), a SMART Board interactive whiteboard:

Wow, was it ever fun to use! Thanks so much to Rachel Person, by the way, who was my tech support. Not only did she keep the slideshow running smoothly (we used a Windows-formatted USB stick of slideshow images) and also controlled the SMART board "erase all" when I needed it.

I had volunteers come up and do a scribble on the whiteboard, then I used the students' suggestions to create some characters, and then (again, with their help) wrote a simple story starring the creatures we had created. LOVED their enthusiasm and eagerness in our creative collaboration process.

Afterward, Rachel and I had a chance to hang out at her house and eat our sandwiches before the cab came to pick me up. Loved her house -- so full of books and creativity! Her husband is Steve Sheinkin, who has written short stories, screenplays, comics, a graphic novel, textbooks, history books and more. You can find out more about Steve and his work at http://www.stevesheinkin.com.

Thanks again so much to Rachel, Northshire Bookstore and Division St. Elementary School for their hospitality and making me feel so welcome!

As I headed off to the airport in Albany to fly back home, I couldn't help but contrast how I was feeling at that moment to how I felt in the weeks before the book tour. Back then I was excited but very stressed about the public speaking, whether I was prepared enough, what to take with me in my carry-on luggage, travel details, etc.

On the way home, however, all I could think about was how wonderful it had been to share my experience with those young readers, and how utterly SINCERE they were in their reactions, their questions, their enthusiasm for the books that Michael had written and I had illustrated.

I took all that wonder and delight of those young readers and wrapped it around me like a blanket as I made my way back to Toronto; my heart was so full.

THANK YOU, SIMON & SCHUSTER CHILDREN'S. 

 

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6. NAKED! Book Tour (Part 4): Talking to Kindergarten and First-Graders at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA (and appreciating the James Patterson indie bookstore grants)

Continued from Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC) - Part 3 (Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet)

When I woke up in Boston, this was the view out my hotel room window:

Wow, how very cool. I had been to Boston many years before, but hadn't much time to look around. Someday I WILL go back and spend more time in Boston!

Meanwhile, though, I must tell you about a wonderful indie bookstore: Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA.

I had enjoyed interviewing bookseller Sarah Rettger the month before. Sarah's been in bookselling since 2006 ("with a few detours"), and I loved what she said about Porter Square Books:

"We have the best customers here. Many of them are here just about every day (possibly for our cafe's fantastic pastries as much as for the books). Bear, the large stuffed animal who lives in our kids' section, has a couple dozen devoted attendants, and it's fun to see them make a beeline for him whenever they come to the store."

When I asked Sarah about the importance of picture books, she replied:

"The great thing about picture books is that they're universal. A really good picture book appeals to adults just as much as it does to kids, even after hundreds of readings. 32 pages can reveal so much!"

As soon as I walked into Porter Square Books, I could tell they have a very active community. The place was packed! And LOOK, they had a copy of NAKED! smack dap on the front table, with info about the upcoming event:

While chatting with the staff at PSB, I discovered that Porter Square Books had been awarded a grant from James Patterson which covered copies of NAKED! for all the kids that came to my presentation (!). This article will give you some background on the James Patterson program, which aims to boost the health of America's indie bookstores. In a blog post earlier this year, Porter Square Books said they planned to use their allottment to support children's author visits to schools as well as be able to underwrite the costs of books for children who don't have the means to buy them.

James Patterson, who started a program to help indie bookstores. Photo: David Levonson/Getty Images.

"One of our missions has always been to play a role in promoting children's literacy in Cambridge and Somerville. We are now in a very good position to do just that. We are very grateful to Mr. Patterson."

Sarah also had some of the new Atheneum/Simon & Schuster reissues of the Judy Blume classics with my illustrations. It was the first time I had seen these in the wild, so I was VERY excited:

Also great to spot ICE DOGS on the shelf, a book by my friend Terry Lynn Johnson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt):

I had so much fun during the two sessions at PSB, first talking to kindergarteners and then first-graders. 

I arrived half an hour early before the first session, but made the mistake of not setting up my laptop and projector IMMEDIATELY (lesson learned for next time :-)). The kindergarteners arrived 20 minutes early and I found it a challenge to adjust the position of the projector and the extension cord amidst the already-sitting children. The kids were VERY adorable, though, and I really enjoyed talking with them.

Some of them, like those at the B&N event, noticed my NAKED!-themed earrings and necklace:

For the adults who have been asking, I bought these custom book earrings from Emma Dreamstar Creations on Etsy. Kids seemed to be disappointed that the pages in the little book were blank. :-)

I was so impressed by how efficient Porter Square Books uses its space. At least some of the shelves are on wheels, which makes it handy for events since these shelves have to be moved around to make room for an audience each time. 

As soon as the kindergarteners left, Sarah helped me readjust the position of the projector table, and I also made sure to stand near the screen for the next group instead of by the projector. That way, the children wouldn't be torn between looking at the screen and looking at me as I talked.

As much as I enjoyed the B&N event, I couldn't help but be drawn to the more intimate/cozier atmosphere of Porter Square Books event. Also very cool to hang out and chat with PSB booksellers Sarah, Robin Sung and Carol Stoltz. Such nice people!

Carol was excited to hear that I was going to Northshire Books Saratoga the next day. She had just been there, she told me, and it was a fantastic bookstore.  

Thanks also to some of my other friends in the area who dropped by, like Gary McGath and Ellen Kranzer. So great to see some familiar faces. :-)

Afterward, Sarah and I had lunch at Cambridge Common -- so fun! Wonderful conversation about books (of course), historical fiction, writing, crosswords, needlepoint (I suck at needlepoint, Sarah enjoys it :-)) and more. Like me, she has had short forays into other jobs before finding her home career. For Sarah, it was software testing and municipal wetlands management.

After lunch and some directions from Sarah (I am directionally challenged), I even had time for a short walk through Harvard Square before the car service came to pick me up.

THANK YOU SO MUCH, SARAH AND PORTER SQUARE BOOKS! I enjoyed my visit tremendously and hope to go back someday.

Places where you can find out more about Sarah and Porter Square Books:

On Twitter, Sarah's at @SarahRettger and Porter Square is at @PorterSqBooks.

You can find out more info about Porter Square Books at their website Portersquarebooks.com including an event calendar, book recommendations, an ebook resource, a blog and children's section.

But back to the book tour....

I had been dreading the 4-hour car ride from Boston to Saratoga Springs (I get carsick pretty easily), but Mike Boez and the cushy LTI Worldwide Limousine car made the trip much more enjoyable than I expected:

I ended up writing a letter to the service after I got home, telling them so.

I arrived at Saratoga Hilton around dinner time, and felt very spoiled when I saw my room:

Wow.

I briefly considering going out and walking around to see the area but ended up cocooning in my über-comfy hotel room that evening instead, ordering in room service, then organizing and prepping for the next day.

A school in Saratoga Springs had signed on at the last minute -- thanks so much to Rachel Person (Northshire Books Saratoga) and Katy Hershberger (my publicist) for making it possible for me to add this to my itinerary! I had been disappointed that no schools had been able to have me visit, so was excited about this last-minute addition. While Katy changed my flight home to a later departure time, Rachel and I had been exchanging a flurry of emails about our plans.

After adjusting my scribbled notes re: new schedule, I crashed blissfully early.

----- To be continued....

Next up: Northshire Books Saratoga and my visit to Division St. Elementary School!

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7. NAKED! Book Tour (Part 3): Snooping through Laurent Linn's office, Simon & Schuster meet-and-greet with Michael Ian Black, fairy godmothers, my trip to Boston

Continued from Part 1 (Prep, Angst, Anticipation) - Part 2 (Meeting Michael Ian Black, B&N event in NYC)

After the B&N event, I had lunch with Ginger Knowlton at a nearby café. So great to catch up! I was supposed to get together with Ginger back in February, but I cancelled my trip because of the Judy Blume illustration project.

When I arrived at Simon & Schuster for the meet-and-greet, there were NAKED! and I'M BORED signs and books on display in the front lobby of the 4th floor, yay!

Dani Young came out to greet me, and took me to Justin Chanda's office to dump my coat and bags. Justin was still in a meeting. It's always fun hanging out in Justin's office when he's not there; not only do I get chance to check out his book collection but I also have such interesting conversations. And Justin, if you're reading this, don't worry -- we never talk about you, really. Or snoop through your stuff.

This time, Laurent Linn came by to chat!

And then while we were catching up, Jeff arrived. He had dropped off some of his luggage at a friend's place but had trouble finding a cab in the rain, so ended up walking all the way to S&S. :-(

Happily, though, we were early enough that Laurent could take Jeff on a quickie tour of the offices. I trailed along, of course. And I got Jeff to take this photo of us in the lobby:

And LOOK! I was excited to come across this display of the revamped Judy Blume books with my illustrations on the cover (designed by Lauren Rille):

And OH MY GOSH, I spotted hardcover versions of the chapter books I illustrated!!! It was the first time I had seen the final version.

Laurent showed Jeff his office. I love Laurent's office. Look, he has hanging art! Not just mine, but I also spotted art by my friends Kevin Sylvester and Eliza Wheeler:

And look! Laurent (who used to work for Sesame Street) won a Daytime Emmy award in 1994 for Outstanding Achievement In Costume Design for Sesame Street. And check out his signed Sesame Street poster:

He is also a Totoro fan, and I took this photo for my friend Errol Elumir:

But then it was time for the Meet & Greet. Check out this example of the cool Naked!-themed cups they had at the event:

Justin and Laurent talked about how much fun it was to work on NAKED!:

After Michael said a few words (including nice stuff about me *blush*), it was my turn. Because I was nervous, I had some notes written down:

I started by saying how I wish I could take a snapshot of this moment to send to my younger self and (this wasn't planned) Jeff jumped up and took this photo, heh:

Aw, so many friendly faces!

I mentioned I was nervous so had to use notes, right? Well, turns out I accidentally skipped one of the lines in my notes and FORGOT TO THANK LAURENT LINN FOR BEING SUCH AN AMAZING ART DIRECTOR ON THE PROJECT AAAAAAAAUUUGGGH. I apologized to Laurent afterward.

At the end of my mini-speech, I mentioned that earlier this year as I was posting about the Judy Blume illustration project as well as NAKED! coming out, someone asked me if I had a fairy godmother. Yes, I told them, and my fairy godmother's name was JUSTIN CHANDA! If you don't know why, I encourage you to read my Thank You To Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children's as well as the story of how I became illustrator for the Judy Blume books.

So.... I presented Justin with a labelled Fairy Godmother wand and then gave him a big hug. Apparently Justin has taken the Wand to several meetings at S&S since. :-)

After the speeches, Michael and I were ready to sign some books:

Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I loved meeting so many of these behind-the-scenes S&S types who help create such fantastic books.

It was also so great to meet people in person I was mostly familiar with on Twitter, like Rachel Stark (@syntactics on Twitter):

One of the people I had been hoping to meet was Christian Trimmer, who is @MisterTrimmer on Twitter. However, it didn't sink in until later that I DID meet him, but just hadn't connected his face/first name with his Twitter id. Gah! I emailed him after the event to apologize for not recognizing him.

With Veda (digital marketing coordinator), Isa Caban (marketing assistant) and Teresa Ronquillo (marketing coordinator):

And thanks to Angela Zurlo of Simon & Schuster's Production department for this copy of the UK version of NAKED!, which comes out TODAY. According to my British friends, "pants" means "underwear" in the UK.

When we finished the signing the last of the books (thanks to those who waited in line until the end), we closed up the room and headed out:

Because Jeff had had so much trouble trying to flag a cab in the rain, we decided to take the subway to Penn station instead. Jeff wasn't coming with me for the rest of the book tour, but he wanted to help me get to the train. I'm so grateful for his help, because lugging stuff through on the NYC subway during rush hour was not fun, especially in my somewhat zombie-ish state...It had been a wonderful day, but I was dead tired. Then I thought of Michael, who was doing a literary-themed comedy event with Parker Posey later that night! 

Jeff bought me this Naked granola at Penn station. :-)

At Penn Station, we had some challenge trying to figure out where I was supposed to get on the train (again, rush hour crowds didn't make this easier). Then we discovered that my train was late. :-( We said our good-byes when the train finally arrived, and Jeff wished me luck.

I ended up not getting to my hotel in Cambridge, MA until after midnight. I was soooo braindead at that point; I am so not a night person, and it had been a crazy (crazy WONDERFUL) day. Happily, though, my Royal Sonesta Boston room was super-comfy:

As tired as I was, I needed to reorganize my stuff so that I'd be ready for the next day's presentation. By the time I felt prepped, I had less than six hours until I had to get up again.

The bed was soooo comfortable that I fell asleep almost immediately.

Next up: Talking to kindergarten and grade one classes at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA!

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8. One Of My Favourite New SCBWI Friends: Mike Curato

MikeCuratoElephant

 

Still catching up from my week-long trip in NYC. I've decided I'm more likely to actually post about the event if I write up some shorter pieces rather than attempt one mega-long report. So here's my first!

I love making new friends at these events, which is one reason I try very hard NOT to make too many plans in advance, or hang out with the same group of people throughout the weekend.

Anyway, thanks to my Pixel Shavings friend Russ Cox for introducing me to Mike Curato (who just launched a NEW BLOG).

Not only is Mike a funny and very sweet guy, he also won top prize in this years SCBWI Winter Conference Illustration Portfolio Showcase!

On the last day of the conference, I went out for lunch with Mike, Russ Cox, Fred Koehler, Robert Gallagher-Rivera and Wouter Brennel:

During the meal, I nagged (yes, I'm embarrassed to admit I did NAG) Mike to start a blog. I pointed out that with his award win, lots of people would be checking out his website after the conference. And look, he started one!!! And he gave me credit. :-)

I -love- Mike's work, and can't wait to see where his career takes him next.

Where you can find more info about Mike:

Mike Curato's website

Mike Curator's brand new BLOG

Mike Curato Illustration (Facebook Page)

Mike Curato Etsy Page

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9. Inspiration, Art and a 12-Course Susur Lee Dinner at the Autodesk SketchBook Toronto Event

Badge pick up at Autodesk

I have been a fan of the iPad since it first came out, and my favorite art app is Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (I've just started to learn the desktop version). A while ago, I posted a sketch that I did with the app on my iPad while waiting in an airport. I had noticed a little boy with his family nearby, and he noticed me sketching. Curious, he came over to look. I did a quick sketch of him, and he was delighted.

BoyAirport

I posted about the experience, pointing out how cool it was that a quickie little sketch could bridge the communication gap between different cultures. Chris Cheung, the SketchBook product manager at Autodesk, e-mailed me about the post; we kept in sporadic touch after that. Eventually we met in person, hit it off (we're both nerds and love SketchBook -- how could we not? :-)) and he invited me to speak at SketchBook's first dedicated Toronto event.

Nick Pagee from TIFF

Above: Nick Pagee, TIFF Consultant: Gaming & New Media

I HAD AN AMAZING TIME. First of all, the other speakers were fantastic. They included Skottie Young, Bobby Chiu, Nick Pagee, Miguel Sternberg, C.B. Cebulski, Francis Manapul and Benjamin Rabe, among others. You can read their bios on the the SketchBook blog.

Susur Lee talks about inspiration

One surprise guest (above): renowned Toronto chef Susur Lee, who talked about inspiration and food. After Susur's talk, he went back to his restaurant to prepare a 12 course meal for all of us (!).

C.B. Cebulski (Marvel)

Above: C.B. Cebulski from Marvel.

The event was invite-only, and apparently even the waiting list filled up quickly. The speakers could invite a few people, so I sent invites to my sister (a children's book writer and illustrator) and Patricia Storms (cartoonist and children's book writer/illustrator). Sadly, Ruth couldn't come and I knew Chris Cheung (the organizer and SketchBook Product Manager at Autodesk) was interested in th

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10. Pay It Forward: Global Book Reading Flash Mob Event Today at 4 pm (your timezone)

I've never participated in a flash mob event before but was so intrigued by a BOOK-focused event that I can't resist.

You can find out if your city has organized an event at:

http://www.pifexperience.org/pifflashmob/

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11. Pay It Forward: Sharing The Books at Union Station in Toronto

LindaGranfield PIF 600labelled

Above photo courtesy author Linda Granfield.

Thanks to writer and librarian Nancy Runstedler for organizing the Toronto PIF (Pay It Forward): Sharing The Books event at Union Station yesterday. Similar events took place around the world at 4 pm including Thailand, England, Germany, Wales, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Scotland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Serbia, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, other cities in Canada and the U.S.

I've heard of flash mob events before but never participated. The basic idea of a flash mob: a group of seemingly random people assemble suddenly in a public place, perform a seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse. Our group was more of a smart mob because we did have a purpose:

The purpose of this Book Reading Flash Mob is to create an awareness of the Pay It Forward Organisation and the work that they do globally, as well as the impact that books have on our lives.

NancyeexplainsPIFgroup

Above: Organizer Nancy Runstedler explains the basic rules of the event.

We were each encouraged to bring a book that inspired us, kept us company during a long journey, brought tears to our eyes, or got us thinking about things in a different light. I brought Ray Bradbury's DANDELION WINE because it was the first book that ever made me really aware of style in writing.

DandelionWine

I've always been a huge Ray Bradbury fan. His autograph had a prominent page in my collection as a teenager:

RayBradbury autograph sm

I also wrote a song called "Homecoming" based on his short story, "The Rocket Man". You can hear "Homecoming" on my music group's live performance album. I'm playing the rhythm guitar part on this track, Allison Durno plays lead guitar bits and Jodi Krangle sings lead. Allison and I sing some backup during the chorus. You can read my lyrics to "Homecoming" on the Urban Tapestry site.

Even before I experienced family loss myself, I was deeply moved by this story and others by Ray Bradbury. His writing affected me in so many ways, and was a maj

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12. My National Library Week Drawing

BookGardenLibraryWeek v2flat600

It's National Library Week! You can find out more info about National Library Week at AtYourLibrary.org.

Librarians should visit the National Library Week event page on the ALA (American Library Association) site.

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13. National Library Week: April 8-14, 2012

OHI0050 WRI LibraryTheft sm400

It's National Library Week! You can find out more info about National Library Week at AtYourLibrary.org.

Librarians should visit the National Library Week event page on the ALA (American Library Association) site.

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14. Writer/illustrator conferences, good news and a new Pixel Shavings post

2012 03 25HazelRussNESCBWI

If I could give one piece of advice to my young writer/illustrator self, I would have said this: START ATTENDING CONFERENCES. And join organizations like the SCBWI and CANSCAIP.

I have learned so much, been incredibly inspired and met many creative kindred spirits because of these events. Not to mention three children's book contracts! (I'M BORED plus two more recently, yay!!). Speaking of good things happening at conferences...

Here's my post about Pixel Shavings friends Russ Cox and Hazel Mitchell, with their good news from the New England SCBWI Conference.

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15. Photos from SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles 2012

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

Recently came back from the annual summer conference in LA held by the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators). What an amazing, inspiring event! I'll be posting some personal takeaways and photo faces from the conference, but for now, here are links to my photo sets:

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

ON FLICKR:

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 1

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 2

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 3

ON FACEBOOK:

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 1

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 2

SCBWI-LA 2012 photos - Part 3

I've started to get a lot of requests for individual photos to be mailed -- I'm uploading my photos to both FB and Flickr, so please do feel free to scoop any for personal or self-promo use. If you post any publicly, I'd appreciate a photo credit (something like "Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi - DebbieOhi.com; or "Photo: Debbie Ridpath Ohi (DebbieOhi.com), illustrator of I'M BORED" or just "via @inkyelbows" on Twitter). Thanks! 

SCBWI Summer Conference in LA 2012

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16. Interview with TYPE Books owner + I'M BORED launch info

Thanks SO much to Type Books for hosting my illustrator I'M BORED Book Launch. The launch will take place this coming Tuesday: Sept. 18th, 6-8 pm at TYPE's Queen St. location (883 Queen St. W., 416-366-8973). You can find out more info and RSVP at the Facebook event page for the I'M BORED Launch. To Michael Ian Black fans: please note that the author will NOT be there -- it'll just be me. :-)

If you haven't seen it already, check out this wonderful stop-motion video that Sean Ohlenkamp (Lowe Roche) created, called "The Joy Of Books", with the help of 25 volunteers over four nights:

 Type Books owner, Joanne Saul, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the bookstore.

Q. How did TYPE Books get its start?

TYPE was started in 2006 by my partner Samara Walbohm and myself. We met doing our PhDs in CanLit at the University of Toronto. We would often daydream in the stacks at Robarts library about what we might do if we didn't go the academic route. TYPE was one of those dreams.

We call ourselves a friendly neighbourhood bookstore and we mean it. We stock local authors' books. We launch them too. We host events for local writers. We have strong relationships with local publishers. We have a gallery in our basement where we show the artwork of neighbourhood artists. We have a storytime for neighbourhood kids. We host a love of reading and writing program in our basemen called "Word-Play." We have kids from 4 local schools come to the store twice a week for a full program.

We're very proud of the work it does.

Type 883 Queen West

What's the best part of of being a bookstore owner? What's the most challenging?

The best part of being a bookstore owner is meeting new people and establishing relationships with customers (and authors and publishers). I love interacting with my regular customers and talking about what they're reading.

I love the feeling of community in both the stores. It's a true joy to be able to put the right book in the right person's hands.

The worst part of owning a bookstore is paying the bills.

March Madness Window

Other than the I'M BORED launch :-), are there any other upcoming events and news you'd like to share?

We're so excited about the I'm Bored launch! We can't wait. It's a fabulous book - beautiful and funny too. My son just changed daycares and "I'm Bored" was his going away gift to his old centre! I'm also really thrilled to be part of the launch for Andrea Curtis' book, "What's For Lunch" at the end of the month. It's a fascinating look at what kids eat for lunch around the world.

Facebook Event Page for the I'M BORED Book Launch (Illustrator)

Where to find more info about TYPE:

Their website: http://typebooks.ca/

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/typebooks

On Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/typebooks/

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17. SCBWI-NYC Takeaway #1: Sean Tan & The Importance of Maintaining A Bubble Of Delusion

For those who haven't yet heard the term, conference takeaways are generally regarded as insights or key points that someone who attends brings away from the event. It differs for everyone, based on their own level of experience and context. 

I'm going to be sharing some of my takeaways, starting with Sean Tan.

Untitled

I've long admired Sean Tan's work. The quirky/dark have always had a strong appeal to me (see my Little Nightmares Flickr set from ten years ago as an example), and someday I'm going to write and illustrate a picture book in this style. My main challenge: to figure out a way of doing dark without overwhelming the book with too much dark, if that makes any sense. Having a good story is the most important, of course. I've been working on ideas for ages but haven't been happy with any of them yet. Someday, though. These Little Nightmare guys keep bugging me to find the right story for them.

But I digress.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was Sean Tan's advice to artists about the necessity of creating a Bubble of Delusion in which they feel safe to create. This applies to writers just as much as illustrators, I believe. 

-----------------

A few of Sean Tan's thoughts on the Bubble Of Delusion:

(Please note that these are my notes taken during the Illustrators' Intensive, so are subject to interpretation/misinterpretation)

- Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and know that you will do great work.

- Surround yourself with encouraging people.

- Avoid negativity, and try to avoid it when you see it coming. Sean says he avoids reading reviews. I don't think I'd have the willpower to avoid reading reviews completely, but I avoid interacting with negative people. Sometimes it's unavoidable, of course, but I do what I can in the future to limit the interaction.

-----------------

I've experienced this myself recently, though it was necessary bad stuff (like getting an injured limb re-broken so it could heal properly).Trying to work on anything creative, however, was like walking against a gale force wind. Not good.

What I'm Doing To Help Maintain My Own Bubble Of Delusion:

1. Doodling something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I used to draw for fun all the time! I need start doing that again. I'll post some of these daily doodles online (on DebbieOhi.com), but some I won't…these drawings are for myself.

2. Write something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I'm getting back to my private journal again, my equivalent of Morning Pages.

3. Do what I can to avoid industry angst. I love social media and online communities, but sometimes I let myself get too caught up in worrying about sales figures, publishing politics, conflicting advice, peer envy.

My advice to you all, especially those who are trying to find their own writing or illustration style: do what you can to create your own Bubble of Delusion. And then when you're doing something creative, stay in that Bubble.

For me, one of the keys is staying off the Internet. What do you do to maintain your Bubble? Feel free to post below. 

For more info about Sean Tan and his work, see his website.

For more info about the SCBWI, see the SCBWI website.

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18. SCBWI-NYC Takeaway #1: Shaun Tan & The Importance of Maintaining A Bubble Of Delusion

For those who haven't yet heard the term, conference takeaways are generally regarded as insights or key points that someone who attends brings away from the event. It differs for everyone, based on their own level of experience and context. 

I'm going to be sharing some of my takeaways, starting with Shaun Tan.

Untitled

I've long admired Shaun Tan's work. The quirky/dark have always had a strong appeal to me (see my Little Nightmares Flickr set from ten years ago as an example), and someday I'm going to write and illustrate a picture book in this style. My main challenge: to figure out a way of doing dark without overwhelming the book with too much dark, if that makes any sense. Having a good story is the most important, of course. I've been working on ideas for ages but haven't been happy with any of them yet. Someday, though. These Little Nightmare guys keep bugging me to find the right story for them.

But I digress.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was Shaun Tan's advice to artists about the necessity of creating a Bubble of Delusion in which they feel safe to experiment and create. This applies to writers just as much as illustrators, I believe. 

-----------------

A few of Shaun Tan's thoughts on the Bubble Of Delusion:

(Please note that these are my notes taken during the Illustrators' Intensive, so are subject to interpretation/misinterpretation)

- Set up a safe space in which you feel positive about yourself and your work, and know that you will do great work.

- Surround yourself with encouraging people.

- Avoid negativity, and try to avoid it when you see it coming. Shaun says he avoids reading reviews. I don't think I'd have the willpower to avoid reading reviews completely, but I do what I can to keep from interacting with negative people. Sometimes it's unavoidable, of course, but I do what I can in the future to limit the interaction.

-----------------

I've experienced this myself recently, though it was necessary bad stuff (like getting an injured limb re-broken so it could heal properly).Trying to work on anything creative, however, was like walking against a gale force wind…I could do it, but it was an effort rather than the fun it usually is. Not good.

What I'm Doing To Help Maintain My Own Bubble Of Delusion:

1. Doodling something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I used to draw for fun all the time! I need start doing that again. I'll post some of these daily doodles online (on DebbieOhi.com), but some I won't…these drawings are for myself.

2. Write something purely for the fun of it every day, no matter how busy I am. I'm getting back to my private journal again, my equivalent of Morning Pages.

3. Do what I can to avoid industry angst. I love social media and online communities, but sometimes I let myself get too caught up in worrying about sales figures, publishing politics, conflicting advice, peer envy.

My advice to you all, especially those who are trying to find their own writing or illustration style: do what you can to create your own Bubble of Delusion. And then when you're doing something creative, STAY IN THE BUBBLE. It's impractical and inadvisable to stay in the Bubble all the time, of course -- we all need to deal with the other Stuff in life, plus the other Stuff helps to inspire and motivate us.

For me, one of the keys is staying off the Internet when I'm trying to create. What do you do to maintain your Bubble? Feel free to post below. 

For more info about Shaun Tan and his work, see his website.

For more info about the SCBWI, see the SCBWI website.

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19. SCBWI-NYC Takeaway #2: Meg Rosoff, children's books and changing lives

I loved Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW, and I look forward to reading her other books. I had never seen Meg in person, so was looking forward to hearing her keynote at the SCBWI Winter Conference. Meg is wonderfully blunt, witty, opinionated. And very, very funny.

One of the things Meg said in her keynote really hit home: That sometimes we get so caught up in worrying about how to get published, promotion and sales figures that we forget to remind ourselves of how important our books can be to children, and how our books can change their lives.

To be clear: I want to make a living at creating children's books; it's not just a hobby for me, so I DO need to be aware of the market as well as doing what I can to help promote and sell the book. However, I think I also need to remind myself more often about one of the reasons I love children's books so much.

Books affect me as an adult, but not nearly as deeply as they did when I was a child. My view of the world and myself changed as a result of reading certain books. There were books that became part of me and are still part of me. Reminding myself of how important books were to  me as a young person will not only help motivate me to write better stories but also help me persevere when the publishing process gets difficult.

Something else that Meg said that I wish more aspiring children's book authors would understand: children are not dumbed-down adults. I've seen so many mss that talk down to young readers in a way that makes me wonder if the author has forgotten what it was like to be a child himself/herself.

---

For more info about Meg Rosoff and her work: http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/

For more info about the SCBWI: http://www.scbwi.org/

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20. NAKED! Book Tour (Part 1): Prep, Angst and Anticipation

Thanks to the kind stranger who took this picture for me at the Toronto airport.
I confess I had mixed feelings when Simon & Schuster Children's told me I was going on a book tour. Excitement because oh my gosh, MY FIRST BOOK TOUR.

But also terror because holy cow, MY FIRST BOOK TOUR. 

 

But most of all, I so appreciated the fact that my publisher believed in me and the book enough to send me out on their dime. I know how rare that is these days, especially for a relative newbie like myself.

Thanks to my sister, Kevin Sylvester, David Diaz and other experienced presenters whom I consulted for advice before the trip. Your words of wisdom and encouragement helped boost my confidence levels.

NAKED! in Central Park. Again, grateful to the stranger who didn't run screaming when I asked them to take my photo. :-)

In this Book Tour report, in addition to giving the highlights, I'll also do my best to tell you anything useful I've learned plus things I would have done differently if I could do it again.

Before the book tour began, my publicist at S&S (Katy Hershberger) reached out to bookstores in the selected areas. When those came on board, she began approaching schools in those areas as well. The idea, I believe, was that the bookstores and schools could work with each other. 

Sadly, we didn't get any schools to sign on at first. Major reasons: It was spring break for many of the schools in the selected areas, and standardized testing week for others. Minor reason: the title ("NAKED!") was making some of the schools nervous. I so wish these latter schools could have seen copies of our book so they'd know they had nothing to fear. 

It's one of the reasons I hired Marcie Colleen to do a Teacher's Guide for NAKED! (and she did a fantastic job). I knew from the beginning that the title of the book would be both a blessing and a curse -- while kids seem to universally love the title, it makes some conservative parents a wee bit skittish, at least until they actually read the book and see how innocent and fun it truly is.

Free Teacher's Guide to NAKED! PDF.

When the bookstores were confirmed, I set up a NAKED! Book Tour Page as well as interviewing indie booksellers Sarah Rettger of Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA) and Rachel Person of Northshire Bookstore Saratoga (Saratoga Springs). I was in direct contact with the indies, which was fun; we talked about what I'd be doing and the children that would come to my bookstore presentations. My publicist was in contact with Barnes & Noble.

With Katy Hershberger, my Simon & Schuster Children's publicist.I decided to arrive in NYC on the Monday so I'd have a full day to acclimate and do last-minute prep before the first event, and stayed with some friends. They took me to a fantastic restaurant called Hospoda, yummmm. I will spare you all the food photos I took. :-)

During this extra day, which also happened to be the official LAUNCH DAY for NAKED!, I checked out the Barnes & Noble venue ahead of time:

 B&N at 86th and Lexingston in NYCand was thrilled to see the book on the shelf:

 and an Events sign in the children's section as well as on the main floor behind the cash registers:

Another reason I was sooooooo excited about the B&N event -- I'd get to meet Michael Ian Black! Michael and I had already talked on the phone about what we planned to do in our presentation and had also emailed in the past, but we had never met in person before.

One of the photos that Michael sent me for our presentation. Photo: Ruthie Black.

What if I went into über-fangirl mode and started babbling about how much I loved his book YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT or his tv series STELLA or THE STATE? What if he decided, after meeting me, that he NEVER WANTED TO WORK WITH ME AGAIN? After I all, I had just discovered that he could draw:

One of the photos that Michael sent me for our slideshow.I was distracted from all my angststress, however, when I checked into the hotel that Simon & Schuster Children's (or rather Katy Hershberger) had arranged for me, because there was a fishtank in the lobby of Dream New York:

and a tortured pastry:

I have no idea, seriously.

a moon in front of the elevators:

and my room had a glowing blue desk!

But best of all, JEFF had taken time off work to fly to NYC so he attend our event at B&N YAAAAAAAY:

YAY, JEFF IS HERE!I have to say that having Jeff around for the first bit of the book tour made a HUGE DIFFERENCE in my confidence level for the B&N event, and that good karma stayed with me the rest of the trip. THANK YOU, JEFF.

Hotel restaurant where we had dinner.

We had dinner together in the hotel restaurant, which had a fascinating decor with lots of shiny bits. It was pretty empty, but I suspect the place filled up later in the evening. Not being a late-night person AND being nervous about the following day, I decided to crash early.

I have no recollection about what Jeff and I talked about that evening. Having been in superstress/urgentwork mode since before the Christmas holidays (when I auditioned for the Judy Blume project, and that was followed by work projects and travel, then prepstress for the book tour), I knew I had not been the best company for a while. :-\

Which is all the more reason I was so grateful to have Jeff there, the night before my book tour started. He helps keep me sane. And the next day -- THE NEXT DAY -- I'd be doing a presentation for kids at BARNES & NOBLE. In NEW YORK CITY. With MICHAEL IAN BLACK. (!!!!)

Really wish I could have put that moment in a time capsule and sent it back to myself in the lean years when I was just getting rejection letters.

To be continued...

Framed picture hanging in our hotel room. Very, um, SPARKLY.

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21. NAKED! Book Tour (Part 2): Finally meeting Michael Ian Black in person, NAKED! at Barnes & Noble, talking with young readers

Continued from NAKED! Book Tour (Part 1)

Jeff and I had breakfast on Wednesday morning in the hotel restaurant. If I wasn't so distracted about the upcoming event B&N that day, I'm sure I would have appreciated the restaurant decor much more. VERY shiny:

Restaurant at Dream Hotel New YorkWe checked out and then waited in the hotel lobby until we were told that our ride (a Music Express van) had arrived. And then as the driver was loading our luggage, MICHAEL IAN BLACK GOT IN THE CAR. After giving him a big hug, I immediately forced Jeff to take this photo on my iPhone:

Then I noticed Michael's cool socks, and asked if I could take a photo of those. Without hesitation, Michael said "sure."

I can't remember what we chatted about during the ride to B&N, but I'm sure I was babbling. To Michael's credit, he didn't freak out or roll his eyes or run screaming from the van. Instead he was such a sweetie, nodding and occasionally inserting a comment when I paused in my babble to take a breath, and eventually I calmed down and we started having a normal conversation. 

And then we were at B&N! 

Katy Hershberger (our Simon & Schuster Children's publicist) was waiting for us, and we were introduced to Jennifer Stark, the Community Relations Manager. While Jeff took my laptop and projector to test the setup, Michael and I began signing books.

The students coming to see us had a chance to pre-order books from B&N, and we could sign/personalize each one ahead of time (the little post-it notes you see above have the names of the children) so that they didn't have to wait in line.

If I was going to do a book tour on my own in the future, I would definitely try to arrange this if there was a large group. It's not so much an issue for smaller groups plus I would have loved to chat with each child, but for bigger numbers it's much more efficient for everyone, plus ensures that each child who wants a signed book will get one.

Jennifer (the B&N Community Relations Manager) was smart. She didn't put ALL the books in front of us at once but one small pile a time, so that we didn't feel overwhelmed. Each time we finished signing a batch, more appeared. When the pre-ordered books had all been signed, we signed stock.

Then the kids started arriving. I think there were several classes from different schools at each presentation. Or maybe each presentation was for a specific school? I'll have to check with Katy.

One of the classes was late, though, and the waiting children were getting restless. I forgot that I was supposed to be nervous and got up on stage, started drawing a bizarre creature with the help of the kids:

As soon as I started interacting with the children and drawing, my nervousness dropped away and I began having fun. Their enthusiasm was infectious. Wings or arms, I asked. WINGS! they yelled.

I soon realized, of course, that I needed to ask for a show of hands instead of just having them yell things out -- the latter got way too loud and chaotic. Finally the last class arrived, and Michael did a reading of NAKED! while I controlled the pace of the slides showing the illustrations. The kids LOOOOOVED both the title and story, YAY! And I so enjoyed watching Michael read the story aloud.

Then some of them starting calling out "Read I'M BORED!"

Michael and I hadn't planned that, but I happened to have my copy of the book with me (which I asked Michael to sign) so he read aloud from that (see above). Again, I was thrilled to see him read this story out loud for the first time. He had such a great rapport with the audience; you can tell he has kids of his own. :-)

Another personal highlight: seeing some of the kids MOUTH THE WORDS along with Michael as he read I'M BORED. They had it memorized! Awwwww...

After the readings, Michael talked about how he wrote the book and I talked about how I illustrated it. With Michael's help, I had put together a slidehow with some fun photos and sketches. Here's an example of one of the slides I created, for when Michael was talking about waiting to hear whether his editor (Justin Chanda) at Simon & Schuster Children's liked his revisions or not:

And here's a photo of Michael asking his cat for advice during one particularly challenging revision period:

Photo: Ruthie Black

Not surprisingly, a bunch of the questions in the Q&A focused on Michael's cat. :-) Michael took each question seriously, and I loved how he answered the kids. I was also touched by how he'd direct some of the questions my way (not the cat questions, though), to make sure the children got to hear the perspective of the book's illustrator.

Before I go on, I'd like to reiterate how NICE Michael was. Those who expect that Michael is always like his public comedy routine persona may be disappointed but I found Michael to be an incredibly sweet, low-key, self-effacing and generous individual. And you can never quite tell what he's going to say next. :-)

Photo: Ruthie Black

As Marcie Collen pointed out in her article on ChildrensBookAcademy.com, Michael Ian Black knows how to connect with young readers. "Bottom line," says Marcie, "Black didn’t just take his established comedy set and smack it down in a 32 page format and call it a day.  No. He uses his talents to create some really fun, silly and engaging books that are suited to a kid’s sensibilities." Also see my Nerdy Book Club guest post about so-called "celebrity books."

Plus Michael's a wonderful writer. Not just of picture books, but nonfiction as well. His YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT is a deeply personal memoir, and (at the risk of sounding clichéd) made me both laugh out loud as well as weep. The voice is wonderful, and I can't wait for Michael to write YA. I told him this but then quickly backtracked because I don't want him to write YA instead of picture books. :-)

But I digress. 

I asked Michael to pose with I'M BORED. I was supposed to be looking bored as well, but I couldn't stop smiling!

Between presentations to school children, Michael and I did more book signing but also had a chance to chat with Katy Hershberger, Barry Goldblatt (Michael's literary agent, see above) and Jeff. Or I should clarify: I didn't need to chat with Jeff, but it was so great that Jeff had a chance to meet Michael as well as Katy and Barry.

Thanks again to Jeff for being our tech support for the slideshow segment! For those curious, I used a Keynote presentation on my MacBook Air with an Epson PowerLite 1761W. For future presentations, I'm considering also taking my travel Wacom Intuos Artpad so I can show kids how I draw on my computer, and they can watch via the projector on a screen. Or maybe I do what my friend Kevin Sylvester does and draw on my iPad. I must do some experimenting, I think.

So pleased that Ginger Knowlton dropped by! Ginger's my agent from Curtis Brown, and she's amazing

Anyway, our B&N presentations went really well. My terror level dropped hugely after the first few minutes, when I realized everything was going to be okay. Michael and I were having fun, and the kids could tell. Our second presentation went even better than the first because we had a better idea of what the other was going to say/do.

I know I've said it before, but I have to say again that it was MUCH more fun that I had expected. And I so enjoyed finally meeting Michael.

This post is already way too long, so I'd better stop. Next post, I'll talk about the Simon & Schuster Children's meet and greet and my trip to Boston.

 

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22. Lost Weekend with David Diaz (Part 2): Art, Food & Friendship

Lost Weekend group with David Diaz

(Continued from Part 1: Lost Weekend with David Diaz)

Another highlight from Lost Weekend: the conversations. They sprung up everywhere and without warning, while we were painting, sitting by the fire, helping David in the kitchen, over meals, while we were out walking.

Topics frequently revolved around children's book illustration but also writing, family, food, travel, other work…in other words, LIFE.

As the weekend progressed, it became clear to all of us that this was about so much more than just kidlit illustration info and new business contacts. It was also about mutual encouragement and sharing, bonding and appreciation.

And um, food. Lots and lots of good food. :-)

Each of us ended up taking away something different. One aspect I especially enjoyed: getting to spend more time with people I knew mainly online. Some of the newer Mentees I had only been in contact with via Facebook and had only met briefly in person.

And it was such a treat to finally spend time with Bonnie Adamson, co-founder of Kidlitchat and founder of the KidLitArt chat on Twitter. We had run into each other at SCBWI conventions, but usually only had time to exchange a few words before hurrying off to the next workshop or keynote talk.

And that was another thing I LOOOVED about Lost Weekend. We had a chance to slow down and get to know each other in a much more casual environment than a convention. Although David had some activities planned for us, the schedule was flexible, adjusting to the group dynamic.

Another of many highlights: getting to know David's son Ariel. Not only is Ariel a talented artist but his quirky humour and dry wit enhanced the weekend for all of us. You can see samples of his work at his site, Snakepig.com.

I can't imagine what it must have been like, having a horde of women descend on your house for an entire weekend! Ariel handled it well. :-)

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23. Photos from the Torkidlit Holiday Party

Thanks so much to Claudia Osmond for hosting the holiday meet up for the Toronto Middle Grade & Young Adult Author Group! I had a fantastic time: so many great conversations, good food and lots of kidlit/YA talk.

For more info about what Torkidlit members are up to, please do visit the Torkidlit News Facebook Page.

Click the right- and left- arrows to see the slideshow of my iPhone photos:

 

Hm...just noticed that Squarespace's Gallery feature forces ALL the photos in horizontal mode, which means you're not seeing the full photo in some cases. To browse all the photos, do visit my 2011-12 Torkidlit Holiday Party Flickr set.

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24. Comics for SCBWI conference newbies (or any writing/illustrating conferences)

I created this set of comics to help break the ice when I attended my first SCBWI conference (or at least the first in a long time) in 2009, knowing that 99% of the people there wouldn't know me. I was WAY nervous.

I'm reposting the comics here in case they help anyone else:

 My advice for anyone who feels nervous about attending for the first time, or is normally very shy and introverted and not great at meeting 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.

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.

Good luck!

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25. Comic: Back from a writer's conference…now what?

OHI0102 PostSCBWIconference v2flat600

 

Just posted a post-conference comic on the MiG Writers blog.

Still catching up on e-mail and other work but promise to post about my Simon & Schuster visit and the SCBWI conference very soon!

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