Conference Notes

This weekend’s MD/DE/WV conference, “25 and Still We R(ev)use” was a success!

I’ll share the experience that I had as much as I can. I can’t share ALL my notes because, well, I encourage other writers/illustrators to go to these conferences and hear from agents, editors, speakers, other authors and illustrators for themselves.

At first I got lost in the building. I don’t really know why I got lost, the place wasn’t that big, but I still found myself wandering back and fourth to find the volunteer spot. Eventually I found it of course with the help from the staff and another lady who was ALSO lost and volunteering at the time, which I found out later that she will be the new illustrator coordinator for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI if I’m remembering correctly.

As kind of a side note I’ll say that volunteering is a great way to talk to people if you have social anxiety like I do. When you volunteer you act as a group working toward a similar, simple goal. Being put to use is also a plus.

Technical problems began the keynote speaker session. You know, mic and the slideshow clicker problems. Luckily James Ransome got past that pretty quickly and went on to tell a little about himself:

  • The quote he kept using was “I feel like a lucky so and so” when speaking about his journey to becoming a known illustrator. Quite the journey it was!
  • Has a drawing table from high school which was used a dining room table at some point. (My scribbled notes say “Damn! That must be a sturdy table to last this long!”)
  • He’s created all kinds of different artwork from sports illustrations to children’s books to christmas designs made into bags and cards to landscape paintings. Basically he just wants to create whatever he can in whatever medium he feels like it at the time, which is great in my opinion!
  • A lot of his art inspiration comes from fine artists like Degas, Matisse, Kerry James Marshall, Diebenkorn, and John Singer Sargent to name a few.
  • He loves football.

At this point I had my volunteering time as a walk in critique timer. I feel like this was one of those fated moments that could potentially further a career, but I’ll write about that later.

The “In the Trenches” talk was a good one, mostly for the quotes:

  • When dealing with an agent you don’t want anymore for whatever reason, “Don’t be afraid to leave” advice from Leah Henderson.
  • “Get agented with someone who matches your personality” and when dealing with rejection and stress “Drink wine, eat chocolate, and have a support group” from Courtney Pippi-Mathur.
  • Maria Gianferrari says to “Give yourself a day to wallow” after a rejection.
  • John Micklos Jr says to “develop thick skin” in this business.
  • From my personal notes I wrote that one needs to find an agent that’s more excited about your project than you are because you won’t be able to make a good relationship with your agent if they are not excited about your work (duh!)

I don’t want to spoil too much of Leah Henderson’s “What to Think About when Writing Cross Culturally” so I’ll just write the one thing that stood out to me. When asked about too much censorship, she said something along the lines of “it’s not about censorship. It’s about being aware of blind spots that make their way into the book.”

The best advice overall that the conference gave:

  • A good story brings out an emotional response, laughter, anger, sadness, hope.
  • A good story has STRONG CHARACTERS THE READER CAN RELATE TO.
  • When talking to an agent/editor/author/illustrator/basically anyone human with a different cultural background than you, please don’t “accidentally” be racist, like speaking Japanese or Chinese to an Asian American who doesn’t speak that language…
  • Write from the heart, don’t write fads. Fads go out of style.
  • Allow yourself to cry but don’t allow yourself to give up.

And that’s it folks! I think this conference was more successful to me personally than last years and I’ll soon write about that as well. Again, I suggest writer or illustrator to go out to conferences like this. ūüôā

 

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Jump In! 

 

 

 

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The Eyebrow Lift in Art

What was that?

How did this happen?

What are you doing?

Why am I doing this?

What’s going on?

Where do I go?

What now?

The more I create artwork intended for kids the more I notice certain trends in my work. Among these trends is the slight eyebrow lift (well, the unbalance of eyebrow) my characters wear on their faces.

Why do I do this?

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Self portrait, why do I do this?

Well first of all children’s book characters NEED life, personality, exaggeration and, to put it simply, CHARACTER. For me this means to immediately draw an eyebrow lift as the eyebrow lift is an indication of question, wonder, skepticism, humor. It can mean a lot of different things depending on the situation of the story…

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The eyebrow lift can be a conversation with another character, a communication tool with just a look.

1.jpg¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†Or the eyebrow lift can be a silent, personal contemplation of the next step in the story. “What should I do now” or “Where do I go from here?”

Even a grim realization that has no questioning can be made clear with a subtle lift of the eyebrow.

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Here ¬†“It” comes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or BOTH characters can communicate with eyebrow lift to show silent humor  conversation.

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Some might ask, “Why just focus on the eyebrow lift? There are other facial expressions that can speak without words too you know…”

Of course! And that’s another reason why I love children’s book illustrations is because of the facial expressions. The reason why I focus on the eyebrow lift is because of it’s unbalanced structure and it’s questioning. Kids at their core are curious and representing that curiosity with the slightest mark is beautiful.

In a way the eyebrow lift is a peek into my illustrator personality. Some artists are known for their color or light or maybe excellent drawing skills. Others might be known for their chosen topics. Character facial features is another indicator of style and I would love to gather all the illustrators that I know and love and research which illustrators use facial features as a unique indication of style as well.

For now, I’m simply pointing out trends in my artwork that I can latch onto and understand how I can make my work my own.

So… see you later? I guess?

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ReFoReMo Time!

It’s that time of year again!

The time where everything seems to happen all at once and you make too many promises to too many projects and then explode.

This also happens to be the time for ReFoReMo!

If you don’t know what that is, click on that link above for a more detailed explanation than what I give here.

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ReFoReMo is a full month of picture book reading and reading about other people reading picture books haha. Each day a guest speaker is posted on the blog and talks about a theme for your set of books that day. Some books are repeated because each guest speaker has a something different to say. ReFoReMo is a great way to analyze picture books and talk about what makes each book WORK.

I didn’t quite get to ALL the books last year, (there was around 100 books I think?) but I certainly got to most of them and the blog posts are always good. Oh, they end with a prizes too.

So go sign up… if you and your local library is up for the challenge. ūüėČ

 

 

Conference Mental Prep

If you have social anxiety like I do, a conference can feel like a nerve wracking nightmare of *gulp* meeting people.

You gotta do it though.

What’s best is to be prepared with a list of tiny reminders for you while you’re there:

  • ACTUALLY TALK TO THE OTHER WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS. I know. This is obvious. What to talk about? Ask them about their work! Are they published? Are they new to the business? Have they been at it for awhile? Do they like pizza? Whatever. Just talk to them. Most likely they’ll ask you about your work in return. You might even make a friend. I made two friends last year, better than none the first year.
  • Ask to see what the others are working on. This is mostly for the illustrators though as most illustrators will show you their sketchbooks and be pretty open. I’ve noticed that other writers are less open about sharing because they are wary of people stealing their work, which is reasonable.
  • Actually follow up on the all the business cards and postcards that will be everywhere. I’m certainly guilty of coming home with a bag of the things and not looking up even one writer or illustrator.
  • Participate at panels! This is a difficult one as my first response is, “SHARE MY WORK OH GOD NO IT’S TERRIBLE.” You might learn something by participating. I certainly did. I learned that I can make a decent cover letter so now I have one for my manuscript ValenTINA.
  • Research the speakers! This is mainly for your notes and possible future submissions. Luckily the MD/DE/WV has their “Coffee and Conversation” bit on their blog that interviews the guest speakers.
  • If someone says something you don’t like about your work, just smile and nod! I haven’t encountered this yet but I have received looks that had said, “this girl is kidding right?” Don’t bother defending your work. If you know it could do with a fixing up and practice, just do that next time you get that pencil on paper. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself because that’s just one person’s opinion.

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I’ve been the “loner at the party” before. It’s alright. Most people at conferences have been going for a while or they are with their critique groups so it’s easier for them to socialize. Many have never even been to a conference! You won’t get to know your community if you don’t go and talk to your fellow illustrators and writers.

So get out there and do it!

Ending on the Opening Talk

I’m ending with the beginning. The Keynote Speaker Bruce Coville was fantastic despite the microphone issues. And besides, I don’t REALLY think he needed a microphone anyway as his presence, his CHARACTER, filled the room and got the audience’s attention immediately.

Speaking of character, that was the topic he chose to open the conference with. Character is ultimately what keeps the readers and listeners coming back for more. Even if you’ve read all the blogs with all the tips on how to make a good story, even if the concept is intriguing or the art phenomenal, a good main character is the key ingredient to the children’s book creation.

Below I will section off the notes in bullet points. Anything quoted is directly from him, or my attempt to quote the fabulous things this man says haha.

Take that character you love and give them trouble:

  • Make a “scary” story. “What is a scary story? A scary story is when a character you love is in trouble.”
  • “A perfect ending has both a surprise and the inevitable. It’s not a coincidence.”
  • Coincidence can be used to get them into trouble, NOT OUT OF TROUBLE.
  • Make the audience HA (laugh), WAH (sorrow, relief, personal connection) and YIP! (GASP! The “scary” situation.)
  • Make your character face a tough choice.
  • Throw in what the character doesn’t want.
  • Make the character “need” as the need drives the action.
  • Character MUST solve the problem.

Coville said something similar to “A great story is well told.”

Of storytelling:

  • Female type of storytelling is the beauty of language and character.
  • Male type of storytelling is the action and energy, the tension.
  • A story needs BOTH types to become a great story.
  • Character IS plot.
  • Every payoff must be a set up, every set up must have a pay off.
  • Tell the stories clear to get the attention it needs.

Storytelling assignment:

  • Fold a piece of paper into 6 sections, or 12 sections if you’re writing for an older audience.
  • Write 1-6/1-12 in the boxes.
  • Write most potent memories in grades 1-6/1-12.
  • Write opposite point of view/varying different point of views.

He said something like this, “The right story at the right moment is like an arrow to the heart” and that sentence itself sent an arrow to my heart.

And that’s it! That’s all the notes I’m typing up on this blog. I hope they were even a little helpful to whoever reads this post.

Take a gander at one of my note spreads…

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ReFoReMo!

ReFoReMo¬†¬†or Reading for Research Month, is a challenge that I’ve been wanting to do for about a year now so it is my first crack at it!

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Luckily I have some of the line up already, but most of these are from the library and others I’ll have to just plop my butt in a book store (yippee! don’t mind the adult sitting for hours in the children’s section reading picture books lol!)

I still want to continue my line up that I had before as well as covering the last of my big three, which is concept.

I’ll just say this next month is gonna be a doozy, and to add the MD/DE/WV conference¬†¬†with portfolio prep to it…oh boy. It’s gonna be great.

 

The Sound of a Picture Book

The noise, the sound. What do I mean by the sound of a picture book?

I think I’m more questioning myself.

But really, what do I mean? Is it the noise, the volume, tone, rhythm, or dialogue when reading a picture book?

Is the sound of a picture book the interaction between the reader, the listener, and the story? There seem to be many different ways to have some kind of lively interaction.

The first obvious sound of a picture would be rhyme. A good rhyming picture book has a way of guiding the reader through the tale with it’s rhythm.

The book that immediately pops up in my mind when I think of great rhyming is There Once Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight¬†by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle. Through rhyme, Klostermann tells a story about a dragon who, yes, swallows a knight, and a steed, and a squire, and a few other things too. Try reading that picture book without a rhythm and a bob to your head! If you’re like me, it’s hard to do.

Hey prose can have a rhythm too! Just look at¬†Pete the Cat; I Love My White Shoes,¬†it has only one repeating sentence that rhymes throughout the entire book, but the rest of the story doesn’t rhyme at all. The big rhythm making sentence here is singing the song, “I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes” or whatever color shoes he happens to have at the time.

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While I’m thinking about non-ryhming rhythm, I can’t help but point out one page in particular of The Composer is Dead¬†by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Nathaniel Stookey.

 

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There is this lovely back and forth action between the names listed of the deceased composers and the word “dead,” and if you can pronounce all those names correctly, good for you because I can’t! I can still feel a rhythm here that I haven’t really seen anywhere else, and this particular page really brings out the peak of the story, the reveal of who killed the composer. Was it the strings, the brass, the woodwinds, or the percussion? You won’t know until you read!

Another sound of a picture book can be dialogue, or I’ve referred picture books written only in dialogue secretly as scripts.

Books like I Don’t Want To Be A Frog,¬†written by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt, or Thank You, Octopus¬†, by Darren Farrell need some kind of acting involved because the reader is not just the narrator speaking for the character in the story. The reading IS the character speaking as the character. There is no narrator here that separates character and reader anymore. Now I’m not saying there is no “acting” involved in a normal picture reading during story time, it’s just when I read dialogue I think more in mind of the character.

Could just be me!

Perhaps I could go a little bit further and say that the sound of a picture book is a type of reader manipulation. A good picture book, or story in general,  seems to manipulate the reader into doing what the story wants them to do, either by feeling what the story wants the reader to feel, or make the reader read the story a certain way.

Manipulation from a picture book? Sounds kind of obscure.

It’s like when I’m reading Bully¬†by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Every page shows the bull getting bigger and BIGGER and every page I’m reading louder and LOUDER¬†until¬†everything deflates and you return to normal speech, maybe even quieter as the bull main character is feeling the ashamed by how much of a bully he has been towards his friends.

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I wanted to focus of these stories because they made me realize what I enjoy about the interaction of reading a story aloud.

So, what is the sound of a picture book?

Eh I still don’t really know, but I think it’s the auditory interaction between story, reader, and listener.

And it was phrase I thought just sounded good at the time.