The 12th Annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Winter Conference was conveniently jammed between two snow storms. Traveling to New York from Boston was quite a challenge, but I didn’t want to hear anything about it.
I had a meeting with a very important art director in one of the publishing houses in New York and I was not going to miss it. The trains to New York were canceled until further notice, the buses only ran after 10AM, and I was already late. I got on the bus anyway; the bus broke down an hour away from New York. At this point the hope of making the appointment started to evaporate. Half an hour later a miraculously half full bus to New York stopped and picked some of us up. I took the last seat on the bus. At this point in time every minute counted; if we got stuck in traffic, I wasn’t going to make it. Long story short, I was at the publishing house at 4:15, had a very helpful meeting with an art director who thought my work was strong and encouraged me to continue working and put my efforts into character studies, to make my characters more unique and consistent. The kindness and understanding of this art director, in spite of me being two hours late for the appointment made it a perfect start to the conference.
SCBWI Conference covered a lot of different issues, but those are the ones that stood out for me:
1. Apps for Children’s Books.
A variety of speakers Virginia Duncan (Greenwillow Books), Colin Hosten (Disney Publishing Worldwide), Rubin Pfeffer (East West Literary Agency) and John Carlin (Funny Garbage) did a really nice job of demystifying Apps. I had very little knowledge about the apps. It’s not just scanning pages and having them on the iPad screen. Apps need to have elements of interactivity (you can click on the particular spot of the image, some object will move, pop, jump, fall, make sound, text could be read to you, etc.). It all seemed exciting, but it also raised a lot of questions. Right now there seem to be thousands of app developers, so how would a parent ever be able to figure out what is worth buying and what is not? How can you make sure that you’ll be able to make any money with apps? You invest months and months of your time into something that is still very questionable. It could be a really good fit for someone who loves working digitally and fast and loves to experiment with technology, though. It might not be for me at this point in time. I really love books and I really love traditional media. Drawing and painting, especially painting, is one of the most enjoyable things for me in the illustration process.
2. Creating and Recreating the Picture Book with Patricia Lee Gauch (Philomel Books), Jane Yolen (author) And Mark Teague (author-illustrator).
The speakers shared their expertise on creating picture books. The common thread was emphasis on a “child centeredness,” even if a child is not the main character. The main character could be an animal, train, the wind, etc., but the story still has to be about and for a child, his/her needs, feelings, fears, etc. The story has to come from the heart, not from the head. You should look into your memories, your life experience and do not overthink when you come up with the story. It’s important to have a compelling, memorable character and that the story has a hook, good beginning, middle, climax that will make you catch your breath and release at the end of the story.
The illustrator’s job is not to decorate the text, but to expand it, and to bring a different perspective to the text.
3. The Creative Process and its Challenges.
Very emotional speeches by Sara Zarr (author) and Linda Sue Park (author) described the process of writing and challenges of being a creative person, of working alone, of doubt and fear in your abilities. I absolutely loved both speeches as they were so close to home.
Linda Sue Park said because writing/illustrating is something you want to do, with that comes fear and pressure to do it well. She said you don’t have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in the story, in your craft. Each day assign a small manageable task to complete in that day and keep moving forward. Believe in hard work and attention to the details and you don’t have to believe in yourself. I found this concept extremely refreshing and authentic.
Sara Zarr described the challenges of working alone and adopting bad habits of not exercising, procrastinating, spending too much time facebooking, blogging, etc. She also talked about developing healthy habits for a creative life. It has to be sustainable, and fulfilling both financially and emotionally. Process should be emphasized and enjoyed, not the book deals and prizes. You need to take breaks and switch from thinking about yourself and your work and allow your friends and family to spend time with you and recharge your creativity.
4. What Makes your Work Publishable.
There were extremely informative sessions led by art directors and editors: Alessandra Balzer (Balzer & Bray), Jen Besser (G.P. Putnam's Sons), Alexandra Cooper (Simon & Schuster), Jeannette Larson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Lisa Sandell (Scholastic), Ginger Clark (Curtis Brown, Ltd.), Dan Lazar Writer's House), Jim McCarthy (Dystel Goderich Literary Management), Denise Cronin (Penguin YR Group), Lucy Cummins (Simon & Schuster) and Patti Ann Harris (Little Brown). Very detailed transcripts of most of the panels and speeches could be found on SCBWI conference blog at http://scbwiconference.blogspot.com/
In conclusion, the Tomie dePaola award helped me to put my work out there in front of art directors and make a lot of valuable connections. I will forever be grateful to Tomie and SCBWI for the award and the opportunities it will bring.