Thursday, December 27, 2012

Inspiration as we 'graduate' 2012... Tony Kushner's words to artists

"Artists are a tough people in my experience.  You have to be tough to create.  Just ask God."

- Tony Kushner, in his 2011 Columbia School of the Arts Graduation speech (33 minutes in.)

Illustrate and Write On, into 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gift of Being Present To Your Career

This fall, editor Molly O'Neill (who will be on faculty at the upcoming SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, February 1-3, 2013) published a blog post, "You Tell Me: The Home Library Dilemma," where she asked:

Imagine that your entire home library is destroyed (anguish! woe!) in a fire or flood or some such disaster. None of the books are recoverable. When it's time to start rebuilding your library: what are the very first two books (one picture book, one novel) that you'd want to put on your new shelves?

The answers (hers and in comments) are fun to read, but let's take the idea one step further...

How can we make our illustrations, our characters, and our stories so loved that they're the ones others would pick first in rebuilding their libraries?

What elements of our craft can we hone?

What depths of feeling and meaning can we spelunk?

What crazy and super-evocative words like spelunk can we use?

As we celebrate the holidays, let's also take the time to contemplate our work, and the concrete steps we can take in the year ahead to have that work reach its own and our greatest potential...  And what better gift could there be, for ourselves and our readers?

Happy Holidays!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Give Yourself The Gift of a SCBWI International Conference: #NY13SCBWI

There is still room in the 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City (February 1-3, 2013) but workshops are filling up... Don't miss your opportunity to learn what editors and agents are looking for!

Treat yourself (or a loved one who writes and/or illustrators for children and teens) to a weekend of...

Hear from Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Meg Rosoff, Shaun Tan and Mo Willems!)

There's the Saturday Night GALA Party, and right afterwards, three different socials:  Illustrators, International, and LGBTQ Chat!

Publisher Jennifer Besser (G.P. Putnam's Sons), Executive Editor Rosemary Brosnan (HarperCollins Children's Books), Executive Editor Francoise Bui (Delacorte Press), Sue Fletcher (Candlewick Press), Executive Editor Arianne Lewin (G.P. Putnam's Sons), Executive Editor Krista Marino (Delacorte Press), Moly O'Neill (Katherine Teagan Books/HarperCollins), Julie Scheina (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), Editorial Director Yolanda Scott (Charlesbridge), Senior Executive Editor Nancy Siscoe (Knopf Books for Young Readers),

Art Directors and Creative Directors!
Creative Director Patrick Collins (Henry Holt Book for Young Readers), Executive Art Director Isabel Warren-Lynch (Random House)

Brenda Bowen (Sandford J. Greenburger Associates), Alexandra Penfold (Upstart Crow Literary), Chris Tugeau (CATugeau: Artis Agent LLC),

There's still room in Friday's illustrator's intensive, but only waiting lists for the writers' intensives!  

Mary Brown (owner of Books, Bytes & Beyond), Robert Brown (National Sales and Program Manager at Scholastic Book Fairs), Jan Constantine (General Counsel for The Authors Guild), Jon Fine (Director of Author & Publisher Relations, Amazon), Peter Glassman (found and President of Books of Wonder),

Floyd Cooper (over 90 children's books published and more than 2000 book cover illustrations!), Pat Cummings (author and/or illustrator of over 35 books for young readers), David Diaz (winner of the Caldecott Medal!), The Brothers Hilts (team illustrators who recently won the Founder's Award from The Society of Illustrators), award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby, Barbara McClintock (her books have been named four times to the NY Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year list!), Linda Sue Park (Newbery Medal Winner!), David Ezra Stein (a Caldecott Honoree for 'Interrupting Chicken'), Mark Teague (illustrator of the How Do Dinosaurs? series written by Jane Yolen), and Jane Yolen herself (author of almost 300 books for children!)

#NY13SCBWI will be full of opportunity, and best of all, your community.

Come join us!  Early Registration closes January 4, 2013.  And don't forget to check out some of our pre-conference interviews with conference faculty members, including Printz award-winning author Meg Rosoff, Charlesbridge Editorial Director Yolanda Scott, and editor at HarperCollins' Katherine Tegen Books Molly O'Neill.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The New York Times Bestseller List Will Now Separate YA and Middle Grade Titles!

As reported in publisher's lunch, The New York Times will now "...split its children's Chapter book bestseller lists into separate middle grade and young adult lists..."

Here's a screen shot (courtesy of Author John Green's tumbler) of the YA and middle grade lists:

Both lists, including the series bestseller lists, will include ebook sales, while the picture book bestsellers list will continue to report hardcover unit sales only.

This means ten more MG and YA books get to be on the New York Times bestseller list every week, which can only be good for all of us who create MG and YA books!  (And it's good for readers, too - as they get more information about the age category they're interested in.)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Standards are Coming! The Standards are Coming! Is the New Common Core Curriculum Unfriendly To Fiction?

The Common Core State Standards in English (already adopted in 46 states and Washington, D.C.) call for public schools to "ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly “informational text” instead of fictional literature."

Two recent articles

"New education standards elbow out literature: Is non-fiction more rigorous than literature? An important education initiative thinks so" in Salon by Alex Halperin


"Common core sparks war over words" by Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post

raise some fascinating points.

From the Washington Post article:

Jamie Highfill is mourning the six weeks’ worth of poetry she removed from her eighth-grade English class at Woodland Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark. She also dropped some short stories and a favorite unit on the legends of King Arthur to make room for essays by Malcolm Gladwell and a chapter from “The Tipping Point,” Gladwell’s book about social behavior.

“I’m struggling with this, and my students are struggling,” said Highfill, who was named 2011 middle school teacher of the year in her state. “With informational text, there isn’t that human connection that you get with literature. And the kids are shutting down. They’re getting bored. I’m seeing more behavior problems in my classroom than I’ve ever seen.”
And from the Salon article:

"...the standards appear to suggest that non-fiction is by definition more rigorous and practical than fiction and poetry. But is “The Tipping Point” a tougher slog than “Moby Dick” or more thought provoking than an average “literary” novel?"
The standard architects are saying that the teachers of other subjects can assign non-fiction that relates to their subject (i.e., math students could read Euclid’s “Elements”) which would free up English teachers to still teach fiction, but, as it says in the Washington Post article,
In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”
One final quote from the Washington Post:
“Reading for information makes you knowledgeable — you learn stuff,” English teacher J.D. Wilson said. “But reading literature makes you wise.”

What's your take?  Is fiction being undervalued?  Or is Non-Fiction finally getting its due?

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Simon & Schuster Joins Other Major Trade Publishers Offering Self-Publishing Services

As Traditional publishers try to figure out the future, and more books are being self-published than ever before, comes this news as reported on Publisher's Lunch and in Publisher's Weekly:

"Simon & Schuster is joining other publishers such as Thomas Nelson and Harlequin in pairing with Author Solutions--now owned by Penguin/Pearson--to offer its own self-publishing service. (Now that Nelson is owned by HarperCollins, that connects ASI to three of the largest trade publishers.)

The service, operated by ASI under license, brings back the old Archway brand and will be known as Archway Publishing. (Archway was an S&S line of young adult paperbacks, which published lines including Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.)

Like the other publisher co-branded ASI offerings, Archway Publishing offers self-published authors premium-priced packages that start at $1,999 (and $1,599 for children's book authors) and reach up to $25,000.  (Nelson's West Bow Press packages start at $999; Harlequin's Dellarte's services start at $599. Other publishing partners include Hay House, Writer's Digest, and Guideposts.) 

And in a nod to the ongoing clout of being Traditionally published:

"As with the other publisher-affiliated lines, Archway dangles the prospect that ASI "will alert Simon & Schuster to Archway Publishing titles that perform well in the market."

S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy said in the press release:

"Through Archway Publishing, Simon & Schuster is pleased to be part of the rapidly expanding self-publishing segment of our industry.... We're excited that we'll be able to help more authors find their own path to publication and at the same time create a more direct connection to those self-published authors ready to make the leap to traditional publishing."
Fascinating times we're writing and illustrating in!


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Short Stories and Poetry: A Digital Renaissance Moment?

The decline of print magazines (like the venerable Newsweek, which as of this month is going digital-only) and the rise of e-books can make it seem that short stories and poetry for children and teens have a shrinking market.

But recent changes in publishing signal may a new life for these shorter forms...

A new digital-focused imprint, Harper Teen Impulse launched this month, publishing short fiction for teens.  As reported in Publisher's Weekly,

"The new line launches December 4 with a novella by Sophie Jordan, BREATHLESSS, and a futuristic novella from Scott Westerfeld, STUPID PERFECT WORLD, both selling for $1.99. The company indicates it will publish up to 4 ebooks a month, priced from 99 cents to $2.99.

Harper Children's president and publisher Susan Katz says, "We're seeing short-form content becoming more popular in the digital marketplace, and HarperTeen Impulse allows us to experiment with new concepts and deliver content quickly." 

And this piece in Salon, "Can Books Endure In A 140-character World?" by Julia Ingalls suggests that maybe the short attention span of digital natives (you're a digital immigrant if you remember a time before cell phones and email) creates an opportunity for shorter form narratives, like poetry. 

"Instead of spending five months immersed in Proust, the visual and auditory quality of social media makes it possible to spend five minutes getting your mind blown by a contemporary philosopher. Quality, not quantity, is the key."

These are fascinating times we live and create in!

Illustrate and Write On,

Monday, December 3, 2012

SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards deadline coming up in two weeks: Applications Due December 15, 2012!

The SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards are presented by the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators annually for original magazine work for young people.

Each year, the SCBWI presents four plaques, one in each category of fiction, nonfiction, illustration, and poetry,  to honor members' outstanding original magazine work published during that year.  The works chosen are those that exhibit excellence in writing and illustration, and genuinely appeal to the interests and concerns of young people. Honor Certificates in each category are also awarded.

Find out the submission information for your magazine work published in 2012 here.

Good Luck!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The REAL Scoop on the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant

In which Jane explains...

Hello all my fellow MidListers:

You know--there are the authors of Twilight and Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, there's Eric Carle and Maurice Sendak and Tomie dePaola, and on the fingers of both hands and maybe your toes, you could add a few more super stars to that number.

And the rest of us are midlist.

Some of us are happy there. We sell books on a regular basis. We win some minor awards. OK, maybe a major award once or twice. We have kids and adults who tell us we have changed their lives. We teach children to read, to fall in love with the night sky, the small natures, the lives of princes and princesses. We let children in on the wonderful diverse world we live in. We let them watch a story unfold. We tickle their ears with puns and poems and jokes and tales. We nurture their hearts when their hearts have been banged up a bit or even broken. We are their surrogate moms and dads and grandmoms and granddads. We are their literary families, their book friends. (Or as one child wrote to me, "Your book fiend," though I knew what he meant to say!)

We write to be read, and sometimes we write to have written, and occasionally we write to be paid. Though not enough. Never enough, we midlisters.

And sometimes, as popular as we once were, we suddenly are last year's flavor last year's news.

It has happened to me over a long career. There have been months, years where nothing has gone right. Where the books I labored over and loved the most didn't sell. Yes, truly. I have about thirty unsold picture books and book proposals in my files and every year I add to that list. I have told my children that after I'm gone, for the next thirty or so years, they can say to the editors, "We have just found mother's LAST book!" And maybe they can sell it for a bit of change. Or a fortune. I hope so. It's their inheritance after all.

So when I had a bestseller--a really and truly long lasting (for as long as these things last) bestselling series, I said to all those dinosaurs, "You are going to help some of those wonderful midlist authors who's careers have stalled or fallen off the cliff or dropped dead at their feet. You are going to let them know that they are not forgotten, their books are still read, still loved. And the dinosaurs stomped their terrible feet and rolled their gigantic eyes and gnashed their terrible teeth (where where did you think Sendak got all his ideas from!) and thundered, "How can we help?"

Which is how--with a lot of organizational know-how from SCBWI--the Jane Yolen Midlist Grant was born.

Oh--and of course I have taken a few liberties here and there with this account. I am a fiction writer after all. But you knew that already.

Jane Yolen

PS You can ask your own dinosaurs and piglets and waltzing penguins and magical pots and dancing elephants how they can help, too. Just send a $1 or $5 or more to the Jane Yolen Midlist author grant at SCBWI headquarters and it will be added to the bankroll.
The grant gives $3000 to midlist authors to honor their contribution and help raise awareness about their current works in progress. A winner will receive $2000 and two honor recipients will each receive $500. Jane hopes the grant will help boost the careers of Mid-list authors who have, for whatever reason, not recently sold a book in several years. 

The Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant winners for 2013 will be announced at #NY13SCBWI, on Sunday morning of the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, February 1-3, 2013.

For details on how to be considered for 2014 and how to nominate a worthy mid-list author go here.

Thanks, Jane!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Make Sure YOUR Book will be considered for the Golden Kite and Sid Fleischman Awards - Deadline: January 4, 2013

The Golden Kite Awards are given annually to recognize excellence in children’s literature.  Grant cash prizes of $2,500 are awarded to author and illustrator winners in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration.

Authors and illustrators will also receive an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to attend the award ceremony at the Golden Kite Luncheon at SCBWI’s Summer Conference in August and a lifetime membership in SCBWI.

A commemorative poster with the winners will be created and distributed to, among others, various schools, libraries and publishers.

In addition to the four Golden Kite Award winners, four honor book recipients will also be named by the panel of judges which consists of children’s book writers and illustrators.

Instituted in 1973, the Golden Kite Awards are the only children’s literary award judged by a jury of peers. More than 1,000 books are entered each year. Eligible books must be written or illustrated by SCBWI members, and submitted either by publishers or individuals.

Go here for all the submission information for your 2012-published book!

The Sid Fleischman Award is for exemplary writing for children in the genre of humor, presented by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.  It is an award for authors whose work exemplifies the excellence of writing in the genre of humor. The SCBWI established the award to honor humorous work, so often overlooked in children’s literature by other award committees.

Go here for the submission information for your 2012-published book!

Good Luck!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Arthur A. Levine and Cheryl Klein make a teenager's dream come true...

The perfect story for our USA celebration of Thanksgiving...

This short MSN Video is about how Publisher, Editor and SCBWI board member Arthur A. Levine, along with Executive Editor Cheryl Klein worked with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make Stephanie Trimberger's wish come true.

In Stephanie's own words:
“My life is not easy, and books just help me get away.  And if I could do that for one other person, it would be awesome.”

Watch the video here - it's beautiful.

I love when Arthur says,

“You never actually know when the book that you have made is the book that saves somebody’s life, the book that makes somebody feel like they have hope, the book that makes somebody feel that they’re not alone. It just shows you how the work that we do can touch kids, and so that makes you feel so grateful.” 

Sadly, Stephanie passed away last week.  But I'm so glad she got to have her wish come true.  It's made me think a lot about being thankful, and for that I'm grateful.

You can read more about Stephanie and her debut novel here.  And thanks to the amazing Martha Brockenbrough for letting me know about this inspiring and heart-wrenching story, so I could share it with you.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Books For Your Reading List: The 2012 National Book Award for Young People's Literature Finalists and Winner!

Let's do the Winner first!  The National Book Award For Young People's Literature Winner is...

William Alexander for Goblin Secrets
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)

Here's what it's about:
Rownie, the youngest in Graba the witchworker's household of stray children, escapes and goes looking for his missing brother. Along the way he falls in with a troupe of theatrical goblins and learns the secret origins of masks. Now Graba's birds are hunting him in the Southside of Zombay, the Lord Mayor's guards are searching for him in Northside, and the River between them is getting angry. The city needs saving—and only the goblins know how.

The Finalists:
Carrie Arcos, Out of Reach (Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing)
Rachel has always idolized her older brother Micah. He struggles with addiction, but she tells herself that he’s in control. And she almost believes it. Until the night that Micah doesn’t come home. Rachel’s terrified―and she can’t help but feel responsible. She should have listened when Micah tried to confide in her. And she only feels more guilt when she receives an anonymous note telling her that Micah is nearby and in danger. With nothing more to go on than hope and a slim lead, Rachel and Micah’s best friend, Tyler, begin the search. Along the way, Rachel will be forced to confront her own dark secrets, her growing attraction to Tyler… and the possibility that Micah may never come home.
Patricia McCormick, Never Fall Down (Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
When the Khmer Rouge arrive at his hometown in Cambodia, Arn is just a kid, dancing to rock 'n' roll, hustling for spare change, and selling ice cream with his brother. But after the soldiers march the entire population into the countryside, Arn is separated from his family and assigned to a labor camp. One day, the soldiers ask if any of the kids can play an instrument. In order to survive, Arn must quickly master the strange revolutionary songs the soldiers demand. This will save his life, but it will also pull him into the very center of what we know today as the Killing Fields. And just as the country is about to be liberated, Arn is handed a gun and forced to become a soldier. He lives by the simple credo: “Over and over I tell myself one thing: never fall down.” Based on the true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, this is an achingly raw and powerful novel about a child of war who becomes a man of peace.
Eliot Schrefer, Endangered (Scholastic)

When Sophie has to visit her mother at her sanctuary for bonobos in Congo, she’s not thrilled to be there. It’s her mother’s passion, and Sophie doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. At least not until Otto, an infant bonobo, comes into her life, and for the first time she feels the bond a human can have with an animal. But peace does not last long for Sophie and Otto. When an armed revolution breaks out, the sanctuary is attacked, and the two of them must escape unprepared into the jungle. Caught in the crosshairs of a lethal conflict, they must struggle to keep safe, to eat, and to survive.

Steve Sheinkin, Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press)

In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned three continents. In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, risk-taking, deceit, and genius that created the world's most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb. 

It's also fascinating to learn about who judged the books in this category:

Born and raised in England, Susan Cooper has been writing books for children and young adults since 1963. Her classic five-book fantasy sequence, The Dark Is Rising, won the Newbery Medal and Carnegie and Newbery Honors, and she is the 2012 recipient of the American Library Association’s Margaret Edwards Award for lifetime achievement. A board member of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, she lives on an island in a saltmarsh in Massachusetts.

Daniel Ehrenhaft is a bestselling author of books for teens, among them The Wessex Papers, winner of the 2003 Edgar Award, and most recently Americapedia (2011), which The New York Times has called "Jon Stewart's America for the YA set." As an editor, he helped to create the Gossip Girl and Peaches series. He is now Editorial Director of Soho Teen, whose first list launches in January, 2013.

Judith Ortiz Cofer is the author the YA story collection An Island Like You (1995); YA novels The Meaning of Consuelo (2003), Call Me Maria (2004), and If I Could Fly (2011); and other works. She has published poetry and prose in The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Glamour, and other journals and anthologies. She is the Regents and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia.

Gary D. Schmidt is a Professor of English at Calvin College, where he teaches courses in writing, medieval literature, and children's literature. He is the author of the Newbery Honor and Printz Honor-winning novel Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2004), the Newbery Honor- winning The Wednesday Wars (2007), and Okay for Now, a National Book Award finalist in 2011. He lives on a two-hundred-year-old farm in Alto, Michigan.

Marly Youmans is the author of nine books, including novels, poetry collections, and several Southern fantasies for young adults. She is the recipient of the Michael Shaara Prize and was a finalist for the Southern Book Award for The Wolf Pit (2001), won the Ferrol Sams Award for A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (2012), and received several Hoepfner Awards, among other honors. A Carolinian, she lives in Cooperstown, New York with her husband and three children.
Congratulations to the finalists and winner!  

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

4th Annual YA Novel Discovery Contest: "No Query? No Pitch? No Problem!"

Want a chance to get your writing read by editors at Simon and Schuster, Harlequin Kimani, Random House, Candlewick, Scholastic, Sourcebooks, Kensington, Harlequin Teen, Bloomsbury, and Feiwel and Friends?

From agent Regina Brooks comes info on the 4th Annual YA Novel Discovery Contest

Sarah V. Combs is one of the contest success stories. She wrote:
"I ended up signing with an agent -- just a few weeks ago, she sold the book to Candlewick's Nicole Raymond, who served as one of the judges of the 2010 YA Novel Discovery Contest. Breakfast Served Anytime is slated for publication in Spring 2014.”
Here's more info from the contest entry website:
Get in Front of Top YA Editors and Agents with ONLY the First 250 Words of Your YA Novel!
No query? No pitch? No problem!

Have a young adult novel—or a YA novel idea—tucked away for a rainy day? Are you putting off pitching your idea simply because you’re not sure how to pitch an agent? No problem! All you have to do is submit the first 250 words of your novel and you can win exposure to editors and a review of your manuscript from one of New York’s TOP young adult literary agents, Regina Brooks.


In honor of National Novel Writing Month (—an international event where aspiring novelists are encouraged to write an entire novel in 30 days—this contest is meant to encourage the aspiring YA author to get started on that novel by offering an incentive for completing the first 250 words.

The Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to submit an entire manuscript to YA literary agent Regina Brooks AND receive a free, 10-week writing course, courtesy of Gotham Writers' Workshop, plus a collection of gourmet teas from!

The Top Five Entrants (including the Grand Prize winner) will receive a 15-minute, one-on-one pitch session with Regina Brooks, one of New York’s premier literary agents for young adult books. They will also receive commentary on their submissions by editors from  Scholastic, Feiwel and Friends, Random House, Harelquin Teen, Kensington,  Kimani Tru, Candlewick, Bloomsbury, Simon and Schuster  and Sourcebooks. In addition, they will receive a year’s subscription to The Writer magazine!

First 50 Entrants will receive a copy of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:The rules of the contest are simple and entering is easy.  Submit entries of ONLY the first 250 words of your manuscript and the title via the contest website at

One entry per person; anyone age 14+ can apply. Open to the U.S. & Canada (void where prohibited). Entries for the YA Novel Discovery Contest will be accepted from 12:01am (ET) November 1st, 2012 until 11:59pm November 30th, 2012 (ET).

YA literary agent Regina Brooks and her team, will read all of the entries and determine the top 20 submissions. These submissions will then be read by Navah Wolfe Simon and Schuster, Tracey Sherrod Harlequin Kimani, Krista Viola Random House, Nicole Raymond Candlewick, Rachel Griffiths Scholastic, Aubrey Poole Sourcebooks, Mercedes Fernandez Kensington, Nataysha Wilson Harlequin teen, Laura Whitaker Bloomsbury, Anna Roberts Feiwel and Friends. These judges will whittle the top 20 down to five, and each of the five winners will be provided commentary on their submissions.

For SCBWI members dedicated to their craft, this sounds like a great opportunity.

You can enter here. Good Luck!

 Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors?

Jane Friedman, web editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review, and former publisher of Writer’s Digest, gave a presentation in Berlin this fall called "The Future of the Author-Publisher Relationship."

In it (and an accompanying article), she suggested that

"...given the changes happening in the industry—traditional publishers will need to be more author-focused in their operations by offering tools, community, and education to help authors be more successful, to everyone’s greater benefit. If publishers fail to do so, then authors, who have an increasing number of publishing options available to them, will depart for greener pastures. I pointed out that Amazon has a VP of author relations, and views the author like a second customer, but publishers have no such author-relations position or focus on authors as a community to be served. I recommended publishers create their own VPs of author relations and be more strategic in serving authors on a long-term, broad basis rather than on a title-by-title basis."

In this fascinating blog post, Jane explores why, from the perspective of the big six publishers (soon to be big five), that idea of offering more value to authors may not happen.  She explores the desirables that publishers offer authors (Money, Service, and Status) and reflects on how, 

"Given industry change, a start-up can reasonably challenge publishers on at least 2 if not all 3 of the desirables mentioned above."

She comments on how, as of now

"...most self-publishing authors who strike it rich are only too happy to sign with a big player and see their sales skyrocket into the millions from the hundreds of thousands. A lot more has to change in the industry to convince publishers to be more service-oriented toward their authors. But if and when it does change, will it be too late to convince authors who offers the best partnership?"

It's well worth reading!

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Penguin & Random House To Merge

It's being reported everywhere (like this article in the New York Times), Penguin and Random House will become Penguin Random House!

"The merger will create the largest consumer book publisher in the world, with a global market share of more than 25 percent."

That's one out of every four books!

Certainly the landscape of publishing is changing.

Markus Dohle of Random House will be chief executive of the new entity, and in letters to the author, agent and bookselling communities, wrote:

“For us, separately and in partnership, it is and always will be about the books. Your books.”
He also said in an interview with PW that "his goal is to leverage the resources of the new company while creating a small company culture where publishers, authors, and editors can feel at home. That can be done, Dohle said, by maintaining distinct imprints and publishing groups."

Once it passes the regulatory hurdles, this would bring the number of major American publishing houses down from six to five.  Some analysts are predicting more mergers moving forward.  From the New York Times article,

“I wouldn’t be surprised if all the major trade publishers were having conversations like this,” said Ned May, an analyst at Outsell, a research firm. “I would expect to see similar realignment.”

And from an article at digital book world comes this version (among many) of what the new Penguin Random House logo might look like:

Possible Logo designed by Joe Encarnacion, creative director at Hatchback Studios
Important news for all of us Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to know.

Illustrate and Write On,

Monday, November 5, 2012

#WhyIVote - Kid Lit Writers and Illustrators Collaborate To Encourage Voting in the US Presidential Election!

#WhyIVote is a gathering of kid lit bloggers (and a tweet hashtag) to encourage voting in Tuesday's US election.

A round-up list with links, compiled by Colleen Mondor at her Chasing Ray blog, #WhyIVote has different  members of our children's book community chiming in on the theme, like:

Joy at Joy's Book Blog: "I vote because when my grandmothers were growing up, women couldn't vote. I asked Grandma Weese about it once. She was apparently a bit of a rabble-rouser - "I told them at the high school that I didn't know what made men think they were so smart."


Katy K at A Library Mama: "I vote because even if democracy isn't perfect, it's the best thing we've hit on so far, and a democracy where people don't vote, isn't. I vote so that my kids can see me take an active role in our government and believe that one person can make a difference."


Tanita Davis at fiction, instead of lies: "Voting is both privilege and gift, and obligation, for someone whose ancestors were slaves, and whose chattel status prevented them from being thought of even as human."


Jone has a Walt Whitman poem at Check It Out: "It seems to me that each political season stirs up more divisiveness than the earlier. It's stunning the amount of money spent to get elected. In "For You, O Democracy," I found hope in the lines."


Greg Pincus at Gotta Book: "As I watch the devastation of hurricane Sandy, I'm reminded again how we all pull together... how we are, despite vast spaces between us, all part of something bigger than just our own smaller communities. To me, a Presidential election is about that, too."

There are many more... so go check out the roundup list and read the posts.  You can add a link to your own blog post about why YOU vote.

#WhyIVote is a great example of the power and impact of the Children's Literature community.  So be part of it.

Illustrate and Write On... and Vote!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Don't Miss Applying For SCBWI's New On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award!

This exciting new SCBWI award aims to "foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books."

The grant will be given to two writers or illustrators who are from an ethnic and/or cultural background that is traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America.

Here's the award:

Two writers or writer/illustrators will each receive an all-expenses paid trip to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York to meet with editors and agents, a press release to publishers, a year of free membership to SCBWI, and an SCBWI mentor for a year. 

It's an amazing opportunity!

Note:  The deadline for submission is November 15, 2012.

The winners will be announced December 15, 2012 and the award presented at the 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York.

You can find out all the details here.

Hurray to celebrating (and fostering) more diversity in Children's Literature, and Good Luck!

Illustrate and Write On,

Monday, October 29, 2012

Opportunity Knocking at #NY13SCBWI

SCBWI offers you craft, business, inspiration, opportunity and community... and nowhere is that more true than at our international conferences, like the upcoming 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, February 1-3, 2013.

Some of the unique opportunities for writers include the Friday Writers Roundtable Intensive, where you get to sit with an acquiring agent or editor and read them a few pages of your work and get immediate feedback.  (There are only 8 spots left in this intensive!)

There's also the novel intensive on Friday, but that is now sold out.

For illustrators who attend the Friday Illustrator's Intensive, there is the Portfolio Showcase, a private viewing of your portfolio for over two hundred specially invited art directors, editors and agents from children's publishing.  A jury of industry professionals will select a winner and runners up.

And for everyone, there's the Saturday evening Gala Cocktail Party, where you can mingle and network with faculty, colleagues, industry insiders and meet fellow writers and illustrators from your region.

These are in addition to the substance of the conference, a weekend packed with Keynotes (have you checked out the All-Star Faculty list?), a Booksellers Panel on "What's Selling?", and your choice of two of eleven "What Hooks Me" Break Out Workshops (hear directly from art directors, creative directors, editors and publishers - check out the schedule for details!)

Craft, Business, Inspiration, Opportunity and Community...

Come join us at #NY13SCBWI!  You can find out more and register here.

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Acknowledgements Page as... a weapon?

This article, Acknowledgement Pages Say More Than Thanks, by Keir Graff at booklistonline is brilliantly funny.

Keir calls the piece "...a crash course in writing an acknowledgements page that allows you to wear the guise of a humble and gracious scribe while, in reality, letting every writer who is less successful know exactly how much more successful you are."

It's packed with wisdom like,

"Ideally, your research will be reflected in your writing—but, just in case it isn’t, be sure to mention it all here."


"...thank the proprietor of your special writing getaway, the place you go when it’s just four weeks to deadline, where you write around the clock in sheltered anonymity. It doesn’t matter whether this is a pensione in Venice or a cabin in Appalachia. The point is that most writers are just desperate for an hour away from their damn kids; your ability to leave town at will will have them drooling with envy."

The article had me laughing out loud... At the same time, it had me thinking about how different writers tackle their acknowledgements page.  And how in the most entertaining of them, the author's voice is still there, loud and clear.

Take a few minutes, and go through some of your favorite books - and check out the acknowledgements.
Who will you thank, and how will you approach the acknowledgments page of your next book?

Good stuff to consider.

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tomie dePaola Wins The Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award - Our Interview, part 3 of 3

The finale of my discussion with Tomie...

Lee:  With picture books like "The Night of Las Posadas," "The Story of the Three Wise Kings" and "Pascual and the Kitchen Angels" have you found differences in creating and marketing books with religious themes, between the religious and the trade market?

Tomie:  Those books, I don't consider them Religious with a capital "R", because I don't have an agenda about pushing any kind of a spirituality on anybody.  I like to call them spiritual books, or they're about other-worldly things, they all come out of a love of story. When I was a kid, I was brought up as a Catholic, and somebody said, 'are you practicing?' And I said, 'no, I practiced long enough that I've got it down-pat.  I don't have to practice anymore.'

(both laugh)

Tomie:  And I didn't need to be recovered because nothing, never hurt me.  Years ago, a wonderful spiritual writer from England, who was a real wacko, she was really strange, she was a mystic and she had extra-sensory perception, name was Caryll Houslander, but she said something, and this was years ago when I was very involved in the liturgical art movement, because I started out painting murals in churches and designing vestments and doing all that kind of stuff back in the 50s, before I ever did a book.  She said that the stories of the saints read like fairy tales, really good fairy tales.  There's something charming, when I discovered the story about Pascual from my Mexican friends, they all told me this wonderful story about little Pascual, who because he was ignorant, they made him be the cook, and he couldn't cook, but he could pray really well, and the angels came... and I think that is so charming.

Lee:  And it did make me think of the mice making Cinderella's dress.

Tomie: (Laughs) Yeah, Right!  It's the same thing!

Lee:  It is.  It's a fairy tale!   They are angels - those mice have wings, we just don't see them.

Tomie:  Yeah.   That's right!  And Las Posadas... Have you ever been to the Posadas in Santa Fe?  It's just fascinating.

Lee:  No, but I live in Southern California and I've seen the paper bags with the candles inside...

Tomie:  Yup!  Well if you ever get a chance to go at Christmas-time to Santa Fe, they do this Posadas, which means, 'the inn.'  It's an old Spanish tradition of Joseph and Mary go from house...  In fact, in Mexico, they did it until just recently - when the drug stuff really got desperate in Mexico, neighborhoods had to stop it because people were coming into their houses and stealing televisions, but it used to be, that neighborhoods, you'd go to everyone's house on this special night singing carols, or old songs, and they had to give you food, and then you'd go to the next house looking for the baby Jesus.  And one house would have the baby Jesus.  And you'd stay there and you'd eat chili and everything and stay all night.  And they do this in the Plaza in Santa Fe, and there's always a Devil that has to appear and say 'no, no, you can't come in - don't let them in' - and Santa Fe has two Devils because the Plaza is so big.  And so the whole thing was so charming that I wanted to put it down in a story.  There actually was, and I think she's still alive, there was a Sister in a little town outside of Santa Fe who organized the whole thing, I think she still does.  Her name was Sister Angela so I created the character of Sister Angie, really all based on something that could have actually happened.

Lee:  Well...

Tomie:  But I love miracle happenings.  So okay, it happens to be Joseph and Mary who show up.  But it could be Fairy Godmother, it could be... maybe the Golden River, it could be anything... (Laughs)

Lee:  And with the snow on the statue, really, it was so beautifully done.

Tomie:  Well you see, I really do believe in miracles, and I'm expecting some later here in my life!  I'm happy that some of those books appeal to you, that you mention them, that they're not just for the Sunday school crowd, because they're certainly not just for the Sunday school crowd.

Lee:  Yes, this Jewish Atheist enjoyed them.

Tomie:  Good!  (Laughs)  I think that should be on the flap-copy.

Lee:  (Laughs)  You're welcome to use it!  So, Lifetime Achievement!  What does that mean to you?

Tomie:  You know, this is what happens if you live long enough.  I started getting these Lifetime Achievement awards a couple of years ago.  I got a Lifetime Achievement award from the New Hampshire Writers Guild.   Last year I received The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for my Lifetime Achievement from the American Library Association.  But this one is kind of special because, The Original Art Show - a woman named Dilys Evans started the whole thing, she was an artist's agent, and she really felt that illustration was being ignored.  And The Society of Illustrators has been around since the 30s, if not earlier.  It was an old boys club, in New York, still in the original building, but she got them to host what she called 'The Original Art Show" where publishers and/or illustrators can submit work to be chosen - for the art to stand alone.  They're illustrations from a book - but that original art from children's books can stand alone as art.  And about nine years ago they decided to start giving Lifetime Achievement awards.  And they give two: One is to a living person, and the other one is posthumously.  I'm just lucky I got it while I'm alive!  (Laughs.) What they do, is they have a jury that picks out the original art for each annual show.  And they have a jury that selects five people in each category to be voted on by the illustrators that have had their work chosen to be in the Original Art Exhibition for the past three years.  So it's an award that's given to a person by their peers, which really means a lot.  It means that some of these young illustrators like my work, which is really kind of wonderful.

Lee:  That's so awesome.  So you have all these Lifetime Achievement awards lined up on your mantel, or, I don't know if they're physical things, but I'm curious: What's your next challenge, or goal?  I mean, you have all these Lifetime Achievement Awards... but you're still alive!

Tomie:  I know.  I even got a library named after me while I'm still alive. 

Lee:  Nice!

Tomie:  I'm just worried that they're not going to let me kick off.  (Laughs.)

Lee:  So what's the next challenge or goal for you?

Tomie:  The next challenge is to get up in the morning and go to work!  (Laughs.)  And I'll tell you - People say, 'oh, by now, it must be so easy.'  Well it isn't.  I think it gets harder as I get older.  Because I know what's ahead.  I know, once I start a project, that's my life for the next year or two or whatever.  I just finished my Fall book for 2013.  Everything went off today, everything's at the publisher, which is great.  We have to get things in earlier and earlier and earlier, which is really a pain.  'Cause now it means I have to start thinking about 2014, so I got a couple of days I can rest.  (Laughs.) 

I'm planning to spend the entire Winter painting.  I had a rough Winter last year, I was very ill, and I suppose that comes along with getting to be, I turned 78 this year, and I know that my voice doesn't sound like an old man's voice, which is kind of off-putting to me, because I look in the mirror and then I'm always surprised by what's looking back at me.  I've always painted as well as done my illustrations, and because I was ill last Winter, I really couldn't get paintings done for a show at the gallery that I show at this past Summer. So next year, I'm hoping to have really, some...  I have no idea what the paintings are going to look like, and I'm hoping I can spend the Winter painting.

Some of Tomie's paintings above

Lee:  Cool!

Tomie:  Yeah.

Lee:  It also seems that giving back and encouraging newer illustrators is part of what you're doing...

Tomie:  Very much so.  I was lucky enough to have wonderful mentors in my youth - at both art school and in the early years of publishing.  And I think there's nothing, nothing is more rewarding than passing that knowledge, or passing that encouragement down to younger people who I notice they might have talent or something.  I have the Tomie dePaola Award and Lin and Steve continued it.   I was going to do it for five years, which I did, and they said 'we're going to continue it.'  It will be in this coming Bulletin, and it's online.  I give an assignment, and the illustrators that want to enter the competition have to follow my guildelines, and this year it's going to be black and white.

Lee:  The art will be black and white or the theme of it is...?

Tomie:  The assignment is a black and white illustration from one of three classics, their choice of classics: "The Yearling," "Little Women" and "Tom Sawyer."

[Here's the link for this year's guidelines.]

Lee:  It sounds like a great opportunity for illustrators who want to break out, get noticed.

Tomie:  And also I think it gives people a chance to stretch a little bit, without being threatened. There's no book contract at the end of it.  If you win it, you win it.  I always say that I want to be surprised.  And I've been fortunate that my taste is good enough that some of the people have gone on and gotten book contracts, which is great. 

It's a tough world out there now.  I'm even experiencing that.  The golden years of the children's book certainly have dimmed.  And no one knows, no one seems to know where it's going to go, which is fascinating - that the publisher themselves don't know where, what the industry is going to look like in five years.  And if they don't know, who does, you know?

Lee:  Yeah, there's so much changing.  That's a good lead-in to my final question,

Tomie:  Okay,

Lee:  Can you share your best advice for other children's book illustrators and writers?

Tomie:  Yeah.  It's advice my twin cousins, and they're both still alive, they're in the 90s, and they became very successful fashion and editorial photographers on graduating from Pratt Institute, and I went to Pratt because they went there, and they gave me advice when I was five years old, and it was:

"Practice, Practice, Practice.  And don't copy."

Lee:  I'm laughing because that came up in "The Art Lesson" which I just read with my daughter!

Tomie:  That's right!  Those are the twins!  (Laughs.)  And it's still the advice I give any young artist.

We wish Tomie good health and continued success, and cheers on his Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award!

(You can go back and read part one and part two of our interview.)

Illustrate and Write On,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Registration for #NY13SCBWI Opens Friday Oct 19, 2012!

It's the biggest event of the winter, in New York City!  (Feb 1-3, 2013)

Check out the faculty and schedule announced so far and more details are rolling out...

There will be a private portfolio showcase for illustrators, a Gala Party on Saturday evening, and a new Elements of the Novel intensive on Friday (as well as the Writers Roundtable where you get to read your work to an acquiring agent or editor and the Illustrators Intensive - Lessons Learned: A Candid Conversation about Arriving, Surviving, and Thriving as a Picture Book Illustrator.)

The roster of faculty and keynote presenters is beyond impressive:  Mo Willems! Shaun Tan! Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton! Margaret Peterson Haddix! Meg Rosoff! Matthew Kirby! Lewin! Krista Marino! Floyd Cooper! Barbara McClintock! David Ezra Stein! Jane Yolen! Linda Sue Park!

Registration opens tomorrow (Friday, October 19, 2012) at 10am pacific standard time at
(There's even a discount rate on a block of hotel rooms.)

This Winter Conference will be full of amazing opportunities, craft, business, inspiration and community... and we hope to see you there!

Illustrate and Write On,

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tomie dePaola Wins The Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award - Our Interview, Part Two

Here's part two of my conversation with Tomie...

Lee:  You've done a number of stories based on your own life, from the 26 Fairmont Avenue chapter book series to picture books like "The Baby Sister" and "The Art Lesson."  Are you proof of write what you know?

Tomie:  Yeah.  That's kind of a recurring theme in literature over the years, isn't it?  I remember two examples really well from literature, one was Little Women, where Jo wrote this grandiose, romantic story and the Professor, who she eventually marries, says to her, 'yes, you're a good writer, but you've written a story about something that really doesn't exist, only in your head, and you should write what you know' and she wrote My Beth.

And the same in Mama's bank Account, or, I Remember Mama, the character of Mama takes Kathryn's manuscript to a writer, a lady writer, and asks her to read it, and the lady writer says the same thing that she's not writing about what she knows, she's writing about something that she's in love with or romanticizing about.  So Kathryn sits down and writes I Remember Mama, and it becomes a huge success.

And I think that's something that young writers have to learn, and they don't often learn it until they have some dismal failures.  That's what school's for, I think, to have dismal failures, one after the other, and then Eureka, you've found it, and usually it's right there at home. 

That theme of looking where you live, or looking inside yourself, is recurrent all through the history of literature and art.  When I got brave enough to write - the picture books were easy.  In fact, in the first picture books, I felt I could take a little bit of license, I could leave stuff out.  I could not get adamant about no, no, that happened in second grade, not in first grade, etc...  I even spelled my name differently, I spelled it T-O-M-M-Y.

Lee:  I noticed that.  Yeah, in "The Art Lesson."

Tomie:  Yeah, and in some of the other autobiographical picture books, but in the 26 Fairmount Avenue books, I was adamant about making those books as honest and as truthful as I could remember.   The poor editors that worked with me on those - I'd say, 'No, I'm not going to over-dramatize that because that's not the way it happened.'  (Laughs)  It was a bore for an editor.

If someone had told me thirty, forty years ago.  I started out... almost fifty years ago.  My first illustrations were published in 1964.  If someone had told me that I would be writing the story of my own life, I would have told them they were out of their minds.  Because none of us think our lives are interesting enough.  But it was the children who said, 'we want to hear more about your life.'  I've got one more in me - one more 26 Fairmount Avenue book in me.  I'm just trying to find the time and the health to do it.

Lee:  But, then again, you were never chased out of your house by an overflowing pot of pasta [like in "Strega Nona"] were you?

Tomie:  No... but I had to face a Mount Vesuvius of pasta by my Italian grandmother when I was only five and I wasn't allowed to leave the table until I finished it.

Lee:  Ah, so maybe it's 'Write the emotional truth you know?'

Tomie:  (Laughs)  Exactly!  But I got even, you know what I did?  I finished the pasta.  I think it took hours.  My older brother, he was like a vacuum cleaner.  Anything you put in front of him, it was gone in two seconds.  I was a very picky eater with certain things, and one of the things I didn't like was this pasta, with... well of course, Italian Americans call it 'gravy,' you know, tomato sauce on it.  And because a child, with my Italian grandmother, you didn't get any meat or vegetables until you got a job.  All you got was the pasta.  And my mother couldn't say, 'no, he's eaten enough.'  My Italian grandmother, besides saying 'hello' she said 'mangia' - eat.

And so, what I did, and I tried to put it in the book, and the editor at the time was too timid to let me do it.  I wanted to call it 'The pisgetti book.'  Because of course no child can pronounce spaghetti until they're in high school.  Every child I know says 'pisgetti.'  I ate the big dish of spaghetti and then I promptly threw it up.  (Laughs) And my grandmother never made me eat a big plate of it again!

Lee:  (Laughs)  Oh man, I want the re-issued version of that!  You have to go back to that one - that's awesome.  That's so much more honest, right? 

Two of my favorite books of yours have really strong messages about social issues.  One is "Oliver Button is a Sissy." 

Tomie:  Oh, thank you.

Lee:  And I'll let you know that the final page turn has me fighting back tears every time I read it.

Tomie:  You know, that's based on something that actually happened to me.

Lee:  Wow.  I didn't know that.

Tomie:  Yeah, I wasn't brave enough to sort of say it, back when that book... that book was way ahead of it's time, and Barbara Lucas, my editor, was very very brave to let me use the word "Sissy" in the title.  And it's amazing - as far as I know, that book was never banned from a library.  For whatever reason.  This is Banned Books week, and there have been all these articles about "Heather Has Two Mommies" and "My Daddy's Roommate" and "My Uncle's Wedding" - there's a whole list of them online about which books have been banned and how many times over the years people have asked for them to be taken out of libraries. 

I've had books of mine that they've asked to take out of the libraries, but not anything because of being a sissy, I had the Chicken - I can't remember the exact name of it - but it was like the 'Poultry Benevolent Society' on my back for two or three years because of my book "Tom," about my grandfather. 

Because in that book, my grandfather actually gave me, every week, he was a butcher, he gave me chicken feet to take home.  And I would take the nails, and I learned how to move them by moving the tendons.  And they thought that was... First of all, it was terrible that someone actually cut the chicken feet off the dead chickens... this is the way some people think, you know? 

But Oliver Button, thank you.  And what was the other one?

Lee:  "The Knight and The Dragon"

Tomie:  Oh, really?  Oh, that's interesting.

Lee:  It also has a twist at the end in a way that gets me so strongly.  I was wondering, do you see a responsibility for illustrators and authors to tackle social issues like bullying and war?

Tomie:  Only if it comes from a real personal experience.  I think that there are a bunch of children's book writers out there, and some of them very successful, and they look in the newspaper to see what the recent social issue is and they write about stuff without having any personal knowledge.  "Oliver Button is a Sissy" actually happened to me.  I think in the second or third 26 Fairmount Avenue book I address it as my brother standing on the side watching the older boys play tag with my tap shoes in the school yard.  For some reason, I got this connection with this name, Oliver Button.  This is way before Benjamin Button, by the way.  I just liked the sound of it.  I wanted to tell the story of name calling and bullying because it had happened to me.  And I was rescued by some of the girls in the school, and I was rescued by somebody who I still don't know, who crossed that word "sissy" off the school building wall in chalk, and wrote "star" above it. 

Lee:  I love how that really happened.

Tomie:  Yeah, it really happened.  I'm glad, you know, that book was done a long time ago and it's still having impact, which is great.

Lee:  So is making sure what you're writing is coming from a personal experience - not necessarily it is the personal experience - but at least the truth of your own personal experience coming through, is that how an author or illustrator can wade into those dangerous waters without getting too preachy?

Tomie:  I'm going to be perfectly honest here.  I don't think that a straight person could write about a homosexual experience, because they're writing about it from outside the window looking in.  Now, you can be a straight person and write about what happened with a friend of yours, but how can you... that's fabricated emotion, isn't it?

Lee:  I wonder.  I mean if, authors write females characters if you're male, or there are white authors who write characters of color.  You have to get the details right, but I wonder if it's about getting the emotional truth of it, like, feeling excluded?

Tomie:  Do you know Jackie Woodson's books?

Lee: Yeah.

Tomie:   I love Jackie, and I marvel at her books.  Talk about... She's experienced every feeling that's been in those books...  You're on to something here.  Sure, you can write about... Well, we have to become our characters, but then there's that line.  And if you step over the line...  I could relate to Cinderella, frankly, growing up.  Because I had an older brother.   I was the little girl sitting by the fire, never going to the ball.  I could relate to Dorothy.  I wanted to be Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, I didn't want to be Buck Rogers or Dick Tracy or Joe Palooka, those were images my brother had as a child. 

I think that somewhere there has to be an emotional connect to the experiences of the characters that we write.  And there are several ways to get that.  One way is personal experience, and then conjuring up those feelings of what it was like.  Not necessarily the historical event, but the feeling that was inside.  If you've never been bullied, then you don't know what it feels like to be bullied.  You can write it as a clinician, as a clinical psychologist - this is what happens when a child is bullied - but only if you have been bullied can you feel it in your gut and then you can put that onto the page.  At least that's how I feel about it.

Lee:  Yeah.  So your Story “Settin” in your folk-tale compilation “Front Porch Tales and North Country Whoppers” has two really unexpected elements – one was that fish-out-of-water experience of the couple of non-New-Hampshire natives experiencing an authentic “Settin," which totally cracked me up.

Tomie:  That's a true story!

Lee:  And then that the couple are “two young fellas livin’ in an old fahmhouse out theyah on the Greendale Road.” 

Tomie:  That's right.  I could show you the farmhouse tomorrow if you come up. (Laughs)

Lee:  Is that a gay couple?  Or did you intend to leave it up to the reader to decide who they are to each other?

Tomie:  Actually, we didn't know we were gay at the time.  We were both, we were living in this farmhouse because we had a spiritual ideal, we were going to become - this was a very popular thing in the far-out Catholic Church in the 50's - it was called a Lay Institute, I think.  We met in a monastery, and we wanted to have kind of like a little, simple monastery.  And we had no idea that we were... I mean, I knew I was gay, but Jack, he was older than I was and he didn't know he was gay.  And we didn't live a gay life, we lived a life of two friends.  And that actually happened, that whole thing of sitting there with no one saying a word!  (Laughs.)

Lee:  That hysterical.  For me, as a reader looking at it, I got really excited.   I was like, 'wow, it's a gay couple in this great story, and it's not really about their being gay, it's just this hysterical story.'

Tomie:  That's actually what it is, yeah.  And it was very interesting, because it wasn't that long after that we both realized that oh, wait a minute.  This is more than a religious experience here, our living together.  But talk about being accepted...  Jack and I were terribly accepted in this little village in Western Vermont.  People loved us.  They called us 'the two fellas,' you know?  So I guess, if you don't walk down the street in a dress, you're all right.

Lee:  We'll get the world to where people can walk down the street wearing whatever they want.

Tomie:  Yeah. That's right.  Exactly.  You can in Vermont now. Vermont was one of the first New England states to legalize Gay Marriage, you know?

Lee:  Yeah, that's terrific.

Tomie:  Yeah!


Come back on Tuesday October 23, 2012 for the third and final installment of my interview with Tomie dePaola, where we talk about Tomie's books with religious themes, get his best advice for other children's books illustrators and writers, and find out what winning the Society of Illustrators' Lifetime Achievement Award means to him!

You can read part one of our interview here

Illustrate and Write On,