Friday, February 29, 2008

Feeding the homeless

Tonight our church is doing Room in the Inn. In nashville there is a program amongst area churches that feeds and houses homeless people for the night. Each church takes a different night and the Campus for Human Development, which started the program, brings the people to the church and picks them up in the morning. Church groups make dinner and breakfast for the people and then eat the evening meal with them. Its an ingenious plan really, the homeless folks get a better night than the one they would have on the streets and the church folk get a chance to see that homeless people are still people. Anyway I had signed up to bring some veggie dishes and then I get a frantic e-mail from my friend Holly, who was coordinating tonight's dinner, that they need more potato dishes - she's the only person who signed up to bring one. So i check the fridge and happen to have a half full bag of potatoes. I e-mail Holly that I can mash them but they will only feed about 6 or 8 people. She says bring 'em on, we need as much food as we can get. So I scrub and boil potatoes while Small Fry is napping. When i get them all mashed up in the dish, milk and butter added, these potatoes look pretty scrawny. I mean I'm not even sure they will feed 4 people let alone 6 or 8. if Jim Dear and I were eating them they'd be gone in one night (we eat too much but thats behind the point). Quickly i cast about the kitchen looking for something to stir in to make the potatoes seem less sparse, but there's nothing you can add to mashed potatoes except more potatoes! Frustrated I change them into a smaller dish so they don't seem SO small and go about cooking the other food I am supposed to bring. Everything gets in the oven and I'm cleaning up when lo and behold in the dish drainer I see one lone potato. Apparently in my scrubbing, peeling, boiling, frenzy i missed this one. At first I was annoyed-I'd already cleaned up everything-what am I supposed to do with ONE potato? Then I thought to heck with it, i'm going to boil and mash this one potato and add it to the scrawny potatoes at least there will be a little bit more. So thats exactly what i did. Even with just one potato it took a while to boil it down soft enough to mash but I worked on the computer and checked it every so often. Finally it was done and I mashed it up till it was good and creamy and added it into the scrawny potatoes. All of a sudden they didn't look that scrawny.... in fact they look like they could feed 6 or 8 people now, or maybe even 9. I can't believe one potato can do that much but it can. I'm sure there's an allegory there somewhere .....

mashing one potato

Monday, February 25, 2008

I'm back from the SCBWI Winter Conference part III-Fun and Inspiration

Well this is going to be about some of the funnier things that happened at the conference, i thought they were funny anyway. On Sunday, toward the end of the conference, Lin Oliver mentioned that it was Jane Yolen's birthday the next day. Lin had a huge big bouquet of flowers and she suggested that we should sing Happy Birthday to Jane Yolen. Then she said "now I don't have a great singing voice but I know Arthur Levine does, so he can lead us in singing happy birthday!" Arthur was standing at the podium at the time and as Jane Yolen approached I (because I was sitting in the front row) heard her say to him "is this going to be like a Marilyn Monroe thing?" I think she was joking but Arthur says "I can do that!" Then he proceeds to sing Happy Birthday in this very breezy sultry voice (that was pretty good) just like the Marilyn Monroe sang to JFK. It was hilarious but when he was done Lin Oliver said "you know we're gonna but that on YouTube." Now I have looked and looked on YouTube to see if someone did actually post it but I haven't found it yet. If someone reading this finds it let me know, I'd love to put a link here.

Another funny was Carolyn Mackler's address at lunch on Saturday. She was really incredible, a great speaker and story teller. During her speech she mentioned how, when you write fiction, everyone assumes its autobiographical. When her book The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, a story about a highschool girl dealing with anxiety about her weight among other things, was published her friends came to Mackler and told her that after reading her book they had no idea she had lost that much weight. She responded "Thats ok, I write FICTION." She also explained her theory of how it is unnecessary to assume a lone, sullen person on an airplane is a terrorist if they have just started reading a book: if its a good book it's unlikely that they will blow up the plane before they have finished it.

The last speaker on Sunday was Richard Peck. I grew up reading his books and hearing my mom, who was a librarian, tell stories of hearing him speak at ALA conventions. I'd never seen him before and I really wish I had a video of his talk, it was so inspiring. He had almost a sermonly presence behind the podium. His point was about how creating books for children is one of the most singularly impressive and important things we can do, and how reading is one of the most important things a young person can do. I wrote down his quote "If you don't find yourself on the page early in life you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places." How true.

I'm back from the SCBWI Winter conference part II - Some good stuff some not good stuff

Well I'm getting back to this a little later than i wanted to but here's a continuation on NY:

One of the two disappointing things was the lack of one-on-one meetings that are often available at the regional conferences. I know the chapter that I am in, midsouth region, and the Southern Breeze region (AL, GA, MS) allow you to sign up for portfolio critiques which is just invaluable (see my earlier post). Such was not the case in NY which I knew going in but I thought there might be a little bit more of a chance to talk personally with the speakers. However after every session each panel was swamped with people wanting to do the same thing. It was a situation where there were just so many people i deemed it not worth it to stand and wait, its not like they would remember ME with 1000 other people trying to get their attention. The other disappointment, and i really think SCBWI could remedy this, was the lack of information on who viewed the Friday night portfolio show. I thought that we would be given a list of who attended so that we could follow up with mailings etc. However when i asked that night as I picked up my book i was told no, if the attendees wanted to get in touch with us then they would have taken a mailer. Well true, but I DID pay close to a grand to attend this conference and I AM a card carrying member of SCBWI so I kind of THINK that they could help us out a little bit more than that. I mean it would have been pretty simple to do: attendees would have had to show an invite to get in, they could have collected all the invites and then made a list from that. Even if it was just a name and publishing house, those of us industrious enough could have tracked down the rest. For all we know there were 2 art directors and the rest of the attendees were other hotels guests looking for food. I don't really think this was the case but I'm jus' sayin'.

BTW if you want a really complete play by play version of the conference check out Kristi Valiant's blog. And just for the heck of it here are my break-out session notes from a conference round-up e-mai. Each of these sessions were about what each editor wants to publish:
David Gale
VP and Editorial Director Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
This is their flagship hardcover imprint and it is retail driven.
They are reducing their list: 2008 is 76 titles, 09 and 10 will be even less, his personal list is 18 titles about a third of that are pictures books. In PB he looks for kid friendly, quirky. Does NOT want something intended for adults, does NOT want idealized kids. Looks for few lines and is not crazy about rhyme. In older books, he thinks teen horror will be the new fantasy. He read from a couple of manuscripts that he had bought that were horror. I have to say this guy was not that all that encouraging. He pretty much said it was better to send samples to the Junior staff instead of him "because the junior staff can make a name and get raises by finding new authors." As far as art submissions go, he seemed to think it was better to send to the art directors, i did not get the impression that he would really look at art samples alone.

Caitlyn Dlouhy (da-LOO-ee)
Editor Simon and Schuster imprint Atheneum. She has been there 15 years. She said was she is looking for can be summed up in one word - Voice. And she thinks illustrators have a voice too in their work. She considers style a voice, a consistent intriguing style is a consistent intriguing voice. She said she does look at everything, even art samples. She said she almost prefers things to come without an agent because "then no one has judged it before me." She said she will look at things that come with SCBWI NY conference marked on envelope. She edits 16-22 books a year and it is even split between PB, YA, and middle grade. She does look for artists for chapter book art and cover art. I have to say this lady was really refreshing after my first breakout session, she seemed very interested and open to new voices.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm back from the SCBWI Winter conference part I

Well I'm back from NY and what I thought was just tiredness from our plane getting delayed and delayed and delayed turned out to be a 101 degree fever and a lovely case of the flu. So I've spent the last few days in bed not feeling human. This is my first attempt to look back over my pages of notes and try to distill some of the info I gathered:

The best thing about the conference for me was the panel discussions with various players from the children's publishing world: editors, marketing directors, agents, bookstore owners and, of course, authors and illustrators. The subject of "how the picture book market is doing" kept coming up. One panel assured the audience that the PB market is fine, at another time Tomie DePaola, while filling in for a missing Harry Bliss (who was en route through a blizzard), pronounced the PB market DISMAL! I found this amusing as it was much to the consternation of some previous panelists. But at the end of the conference Arthur Levine (of Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic) had a good point: there will always be need a for picture books because 4 year olds are not going to just skip them and go directly to chapter books! While the market might be suffering some right now due to lack of funding on the school library side he thought that the PB market was not as much in the dumps as many others claim it to be.

On a different subject than the picture book market, Saturday morning's speaker was David Wiesner, winner of 3 Caldecott Medals and one of my personal favorite illustrators. I've never seen him speak before and, really, I was just blown away. He has so much talent, I could just gush like a school girl. I used to like this guy so much I wanted my work to look just like his. In fact my senior project in college was a wordless picture book because I was so inspired by his wordless stories. Fortunately I got over wanting to work exactly like him and found my own style but i still love the idea of creating wordless picture books. Check out Tuesday and Flotsam to see what I mean. In a later session editor Caitlyn Dlouhy referred to him as being off "in the genius realm". I think she's right.

well thats the most of my first report. I'll write more later of some of the funny and disappointing moments.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tomorrow's the day!

We leave for the Big Apple tomorrow and the SCBWI conference. I've just spent an hour trying to figure out how to get from the Newark airport into NYC. Before that I spent an hour wandering around Walgreens getting earplugs for Jim Dear and trying to remember if there's anything else I need... and getting distracted by the crazy stuff you can get in a 24 hour pharmacy. I mean, really, who needs a huge MP3 player? I kid you not, Walgreens is selling, for $9.99, an MP3 player that is 14 inches tall! It weights 2 lbs! How do you put that in your gym bag? But I digress.. before i wandered around Walgreens I went to the library to get a book for book club this month, then before that I stood at the kitchen counter and ate a piece of salami..... so the point is I haven't packed yet. Well I do have my portfolio packed so thats all that matters. I can show up in a sports bra and tee shirt and as long as I have rockin' work they'll be impressed right? right? riiiiiaaaagggghhht. I better go pack.

Happily i do have an awesome new illustration to show off. Its the Red Riding hood that I think I mentioned earlier. I've got it ready to post but I want to show its progression from sketch to finished piece. But here's a sneak peek: