101 Kidlit Links (okay not that many…but a lot)

The English class that I teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays lets out just in time for me to turn on Maine Public Radio and catch Maine Calling with Keith Shortall. Yesterday’s program put a spring in my step as Keith had author illustrators Scott Nash, Chris Van Dusen, and Kirkus reviewer Vicky Smith discussing writing and illustrating for children, and the publishing industry. Click here for the archived show.

I pulled over and called in immediately to remind the listeners that over 500 SCBWI members in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and over 1,800 members in New England take the art, craft and business of children’s books seriously. Since then, I’ve had a few emails and wanted to post a few quick answers to FAQ’s and links for anyone who might be curious about SCBWI, New England SCBWI, critiques, professional development, etc. Feel free to leave me comments below with other questions and I’ll try to answer them in a timely way.

If you are just getting started, you can find the top 10 FAQ’s about writing and publishing for children and Young Adults, how to format your manuscript, info about publishers, and an editor’s point of view here.

If you are more experienced and are looking for further professional development you can try various adult or continuing ed programs including MECA. For more intense and academic study take a look at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Hamline, Lesley, or Simmons. RISD, and Hollins are a couple of the children’s book illustration certificate programs. Google MFA Children’s Illustration if that is what you want.

If you are a teacher or librarian and want to hire an author or illustrator to present their book and teach about the craft of writing or illustrating, I suggest the SCBWI speaker’s bureau. You can search by state, or look for specific people. The New England region also has a database called Connections.

If you live in the New England area and want to find out more about the New England region of SCBWI, visit our website. We are an active region with many events. Coming up is our annual spring conference. One of the largest regional conferences, New England welcomes more than 500 participants and 100 faculty to Springfield, MA for three days of workshops and speakers May 305, 2013. The focus this year is craft and we are featuring PRO tracks for those who are published. Registration will begin in February. Watch the website for more info.

The SCBWI community is especially welcoming and supportive and that is only the beginning. Discounts to professional development conferences and workshops, publications, critique groups, and a whole series of grants and awards are benefits of membership. Check it out. There’s a link at the bottom of the page to actually register as a member.

SCBWI critique groups are only available to members. To see if there is already a group in your New England area you can click on your state here. There is a two part post with Stacy Mozer (our Crit group organizer) here, and here.

There are some writers and illustrators who are not interested in waiting for or supporting traditional publishing and so they choose the self-publishing route. There are plenty of print-on-demand, and epub companies. I’m not qualified to recommend one company over another. Do be aware that some companies are Vanity Presses (often they contact you) who make promises of publication with hidden costs. Educate yourself about publishers and agents by doing a quick check on Predators and Editors.

If you are taking your first steps on your journey to become a writer or illustrator, I have two messages. One: Welcome. If you are here you probably can’t stop yourself. You write and draw because you are compelled. The journey is long and comes with many pitfalls and no promises. You are in good company. Two: If this is not your heart’s desire, turn back now. The journey is long and comes with many pitfalls and no promises.


NaNoWriMo Day 28: Perseverance

Okay. Let’s be honest. The NaNoWriMo people should have chosen any month other than November. Why?

  1. Veteran’s Day
  2. Thanksgiving
  3. Pre-December Agent Rejections Responses

Yes, I should have written while I was traveling with my two children to visit my family who were finally together after years and years of being in various places– but I didn’t. Now I have a flat line the size of the Colorado Plateau on my NaNoWriMo graph. It’s embarrassing but here it is.

The funny thing is that I can see a pattern. A few days off, then some productive days. I get stuck on a plot twist, talk it out with someone, then get back on the horse and ride. The other day, my friend Laura of Silver Freckles jewelry fame was offering custom wording on the wonderful pendants she crafts. Here’s my bummed-out comment and her heartening response.

If it was easy, everyone would do it. Hmmm…

I wish I had a credit for this fun image but I don’t.

Keep writing. Persevere.


Giving Thanks for Readers!

Thank you! Shepherd Elementary School Early Readers.

This morning I accompanied my mother to her volunteer position as a reader for the Shepherd School Early Readers program. I’ve discussed the program here originally, and here as a follow up. (So I suppose this is a follow up to the follow up.) I was fabulously surprised by the number of books that my colleagues at the MidAtlantic SCBWI region collected and was there as an SCBWI representative to take pictures and do a little research for an article I’m pitching to the SCBWI Bulletin. I DID NOT know that I was the main event. How wonderful for me that I got to talk a little about my own book, do a reading, and meet the inspiring children who will read these donated books.

They kept thanking me, and gave me a gift, and that wonderful signed poster in the picture– but truly no thanks was necessary: 1) the MidAtlantic SCBWI folks did the heavy lifting and 2) being able to read to and take in the energy of the kids was more valuable than any gift.

It was just what I needed to keep working on my new novel and handle the agent waiting game– AGAIN. At the end of the studying, and the work, and the art, and the craft, and the business, is the children. Let us all give thanks for the readers.

Happier Critiques

There’s a wonderful post today over at Publishing Crawl called 3 Ways To Improve Your Critique Using Conflict Communication by Amie Kaufman. When you take a break from writing or drawing, click on over.

I have personal experience with this both on the critiquer and critiqued side of things and have found that as Ms. Kaufman posits, it is so important for both people to understand what the person being critiqued wants out of the review and feedback.

Hoping that everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving filled with enough food, family and friends. Here’s one of my illustrations from the portfolio archives for the occasion.

NaNoWriMo: Day 14 & Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling’s Quest

Excuses. It seems that when we least want them they rear their ugly heads and keep us from doing the things we know we need to do. In this way, I’ve found that exercise and writing both come with their share of excuses.

I can’t possibly go for a run, I have to write.
I can’t possibly write, I have to exercise check my email.

Yes, my recent excuse has been that I can’t write on the weekends because that’s when my kids are home. Now it’s true, when both brothers are here they always end up within a four foot space of my writing desk yelling at each other about some grievance or another despite my pleas for them to separate, go outside, or “For God’s sake leave me alone.” Still, a few words are better than none, just as walking is as good as running. In short, something is better than nothing at all. So you can see that my trending progress has plateaued…

…and I need inspiration.  Thus I bring you an inspiring young person, Aisling Lara Shepherd!

Aisling (pronounced Ashley) is an aspiring musher who wrote a memoir with the help of children’s author Hope Irvin Marston. Their book, EYE ON THE IDITAROD: AISLING’S QUEST, is both exciting and inspiring.

Memoir is never easy and a memoir for an eleven year-old girl doesn’t give the writer much to work with– or so you might think. With Aisling though, there is plenty to say. She started life with the adversity of serious eye muscle problems that required years of surgeries. While she recovered, she watched the Iditarod on TV, learned about mushing, and was hooked. One dog led, to a sled, which led to more dogs and races. Before Aisling and their family knew it, they were feeding butcher bits to a kennel full of dogs in Maine and supporting Aislings mushing habit. As with many activities that start with one person’s interest, the whole family was drawn into the community of mushers. Throughout injuries and dog life cycles, Aislings dream of racing the Iditarod has stayed constant. That is inspirational.

Hope Irvin Marston does a wonderful job turning Aisling’s story into a well-plotted and well-written adventure that keeps readers wondering what will happen next. The backmatter includes a glossary, teaching ideas, Iditarod resources for the web, photos of Aisling and her family (dog and person), and a wonderful list of mushing/adventure books for younger and middle grade readers. Illustrations by Bob Renaud highlight certain scenes in the text. The only complaint I had was that I wanted to know if Aisling made it to the Iditarod, but that part of the story has yet to be lived!

And… my novel has yet to be written. Today when I want to stop writing, I will think of Aisling driving her team of sled dogs through cold, and snow and how they never make excuses. They find the thrill in doing what they love to do. Happy writing.

PiBoIdMo Day 9: Kelly Light Drives Through Roadblocks

Sometimes the people who stand in our way inspire our creative journey as much as those who support us. Thank you to Kelly Light and Tara Lazar for this fabulous post.

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

“This person has no business being in children’s books.”

Read that again.

Imagine it being said in front of a crowd of over a hundred of your peers and various industry editors and art directors… at the NY SCBWI conference.

Your work is up in front of a big auditorium on a video screen with a panel with loud microphones when these words are spoken…

Imagine that person that it was said about was YOU.

DON”T WORRY! It wasn’t.

It was ME.

In 2009.

Yes. An art director declared me as a person who has NO BUSINESS being in children’s books … in front of the entire world of children’s books.

It felt worse than the worst college art critique I could have ever imagined. I was a grown woman. I had already had a hot career as a hot shot in cartoon merchandise. I shrunk in my seat. I…

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NaNoWriMo Day 7: Showing up

So much of life is about showing up. It is about plunging into cold water, straddling a horse with its own agenda, boarding the bus on the first day of school, or putting your fingers on the keyboard and typing the first words of a novel. Even if we set goals, even if read and research a topic, plan a story or essay, or learn about a new activity, the fact is that someday we have to actually show up ready to do it.

In my current WIP, the main character has been avoided learning to swim because other things, running in her case, is easier. But when we are off-kilter in our learning, when we face disequilibrium, and challenge what is comfortable, we learn and grow and find a sense of achievement.

If you’ve showed up and plunked out a few words for your NaNoWriMo project each day, take a bow. Celebrate. You showed up. The more you show up, the easier it will be and the higher your word count will be.

My current word count: 5,414
Today: 1,147

Keep writing.

Service Revisited: Darthia Farm & Shepherd School Literacy

From time to time I post about service projects to benefit of members of the children’s and young adult writing community, the writing community at-large, and readers. I’ve gotten good news from a couple of those projects recently and thought I’d follow up.

In May, I had heard from the Maine Writers & Publisher’s Alliance about a tragic fire at the Darthia Farm (a frequent location of writing retreats for the organization.) The barn had been destroyed and many of the animals killed. This week, I received a thank you email from the farm for my donation. Thank you, from me, to any Creative Chaos readers who also may have donated. They have rebuilt and have had donations of new animals as well.

The Phoenix Barn!

There are more pictures of the new barn, happy animals, and children visitors at the Darthia Farm blog here!

In June, I posted about a volunteer literacy initiative at my own Shepherd Elementary School in Washington, DC.  After I posted here, I also contacted Ellen Braaf who is the Regional Advisor of the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic region. I told her about the lack of books and asked if she might put my notice in her occasional newsletter. She went one better and posted the call for books in their annual conference materials. At that recent conference, the support for the literacy program was wonderful. SCBWI Mid-Atlantic members, and industry professionals donated boxes of books to the help the program. My mother, who volunteers for the program, is so pleased and we both extend our thanks to Ellen and the generous members of SCBWI, Mid-Atlantic. She can’t wait to bring the books to the school in the upcoming weeks.

If this has inspired you to give to others, please see yesterday’s post about great Kidlit Auctions to benefit the Red Cross. (Reviews, Critiques, and more from industry professionals).

If you love Books of Wonder as much as I do, they need help too.

And DO NOT FORGET TO VOTE. Polls close at 8pm, Tuesday, November 6th, 2013.

Disaster Relief Auctions from the Kidlit Community

I said that I’d be posting inspirational tidbits all through the month of November. Nothing more inspirational for my writing than how our own KidLit community can pull together for the good of those who are in need. I am honored to dream, and imagine with others who are such giving people, and innovative thinkers. Please support the Red Cross effort to help victims of Hurricane Sandy by taking a look at online auctions posted by Kate Messner

and Jen Malone.

Okay. Jen Malone didn’t have an Auction Logo so I thought, Hey, who can resist a cute kitten and puppy?

Bid early, bid often or if you can’t afford the wonderful auction items (they are getting pricey) you can go directly to the Red Cross and give what you can.

NaNoWriMo-Day 2

It is day two of NaNoWriMo and I’m already 1,667 words behind. I will not apologize. I’ve had an especially productive month. I sent out a re-re-re-re-revised draft of my manuscript to agents and have already gotten one request for a full. (NYC agents- I hope you and yours escaped the worst of Hurricane Sandy.)

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that for the last few weeks I’ve also been deep in grant writing mode. Yesterday I got my AROHO application official postmarked and sent! I’ve had wonderful support from friends. A special thanks to Women’s Studies/Sociologist professor, friend and fellow student of the world, Kim Simmons whose tweets kept me going! The best part was this wonderful email from the AROHO group:

You’ve made the commitment.  To yourself, to your work, to the world.  This is the beginning.  Thank you for cultivating your creative vision and sharing it with us. We are honored. Your proposal is one step closer to being shared with the world.  A world that is waiting.

Now I know that everyone gets this email, but there was something about this idea… making a commitment to myself and my work. It’s a commitment whose real beginning was about a decade ago. Let me tell you, it is a hard commitment to keep. It often comes with guilt and self-doubt. Yesterday, when I handed over that envelope, I was more sure than ever that the commitment I made was the right one.

So with that commitment firmly in place, I embark on the next project. This month I’ll be posting things that inspire and inform me. Today– two blog posts on organizing your daily writing to meet your goals.