Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK ’10)

I’m just back from the annual fall conference of the writing organization that helped me become an author: the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It was fun to see my twice-a-year friends, many of whom I’ve watched go from unpublished to published and published to award-winning.

growing patterns cover This was my first SCBWI-Southern Breeze conference since Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature came out. There’s nothing quite like sharing the real thing with colleagues who have been hearing about it since it was just the kernel of an idea. My colleagues are also good customers. Thanks!

It was my pleasure to serve as an “angel” for Kerry Martin, a senior designer at Clarion Books. This means I tried to be helpful to her while she navigated her responsibilities, which included four 45-minute sessions, a panel discussion, formal portfolio critiques for 5 illustrators, and an informal review of all illustrator portfolios. It was fun getting to know Kerry, a Rhode Island native and graduate of Parsons The New School for Design. We talked about a book she’s working on right now that sounds interesting: First Garden by Robbin Gourley. You can read about it and other forthcoming titles from Clarion Books here. Gourley recently joined my publisher, Boyds Mills Press, as art director.

I attended sessions by Jamie Weiss Chilton, an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency; Stacey Barney, an editor at Penguin/Putnam; Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, author of The Origami Master and many other books; Kate Sullivan, an assistant editor at Poppy & Little Brown Books.

I learned new things from each of them. Most notably, I learned about Lachenmeyer’s unique approach to writing picture book texts. He writes 14 paragraphs, limits his word counts to between 300 and 500, and includes up to 11 or 12 illustrator notes. He contends that giving yourself permission to include illustrator notes allows you to trim the actual text mercilessly. He asked: why would the author give up one of the most important tools (visual direction) in the picture book creator’s toolbox? Makes sense to me.

Stacey Barney, who edited Irene Latham’s Leaving Gee’s Bend, walked us through the process of reading critically and reminded us that we’d better know our competition well. The two books she highlighted were the Newberry Award-winning When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork.

Jamie Weiss Chilton

Jamie Weiss Chilton during our critique discussion. Photo By Heather Kolich.

Jamie Weiss Chilton talked about characters and helped us understand why publishers are looking for character-driven picture books, what “character-driven” means, and how it can lead to lucrative brands. Her examples included Fancy Nancy and Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse. I was really lucky to have my formal critique with Jamie. She and I spent a delightful 15 minutes or so talking my work-in-progress. I appreciated her suggestions and I was able to fill her in on the story’s origins and I shared some photographs that show the story’s setting. I will be getting back to work within the week. Thanks, Jamie! (Hester Bass, author of The Secret World of Walter Anderson, also provided some very good insight into some of the manuscript’s weaknesses.)

Jo Kittinger

Jo S. Kittinger

Another fun thing in a really packed day and a half was interviewing two of my author friends about their newly-released titles from Boyds Mills Press. Jo  S. Kittinger and I talked about her Rosa’s Bus and Vicky Alvear Shecter discussed Cleopatra Rules!. Look for interviews on the blog in the coming weeks. I think you’ll enjoy learning more about these artists and their books.

Wanda Vaughn

Wanda Vaughn

Here are some other wrap-ups from other attendees:
Cathy C. Hall‘s is here.
Vicky Alvear Shecter‘s is here.

For some reason I took so many fewer photographs than I usually do at a conference like this. Here are a few from a gathering of the many volunteers whose hard work make conferences like WIK possible. This is Wanda Vaughn, who always shares her love of baking and gift for hospitality by providing treats for us all day.

Darcy Pattison

Darcy Pattison, keynote speaker, and Claudia Pearson, author

TK Read

TK Read, writer, and Susan Spain, author

Julie Owen

Julie Owen, writer

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