Interview with Illustrator Terry Widener

Posted on: March 27, 2017


My Name is James Madison Hemings" written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by North Texas' own Terry Widener, was named by The New York Times as one of the 6 Great New Picture Books for Kids and listed as one of the Notable Children's Books of 2016. Most recently Widener's illustration work from the book has made him a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Awards. I interviewed him about his career, artistic process, and what he's working on next.

My Name is James Madison Hemings Cover

You started out in the advertising world, how did you land up illustrating for children's books?
I started out as a graphic designer. We had a graphic design class in high school that I did for 3 years that covered all areas of graphic design. When I went to college I majored in graphic design but it was very much doing what I had already been taught. I really had no intention of doing anything in art as I had a golf scholarship. So mainly I played golf during my college years.  I did take a couple of pottery classes and the basics like drawing, painting, printmaking but as far as graphic design classes there was nothing that I had not been taught in high school. High school was where I learned to do lettering with a brush, just in case I would want to be a sign painter someday.

When I graduated I took a job at Dillards's department store art department.  I stayed there a month before I left.  During that month we did the illustrations and layouts for the newspaper ads and I within two weeks work I had been promoted to drawing men's and women's shoes and received a raise. I was now making $.50 cents an hour less than the artist who had been working there for 15 and 20 years. I could see that there was not much of a future, so I left.

I got a job at a country club as an assistant golf pro, but before I started that job the head of the art department at the University of Tulsa wanted me to go on an interview for an art director at an ad agency.  The job paid $150.00 more a month, so I took it. Stayed there for a little over two years.  It was a small agency so the art department was two people and we did everything. Illustration, photography, whatever needed to be done. Because of my time there, and the awards I received, I was hired by the best design studio in Tulsa. This was some of the most fun I had in the ad business. There were four of us and we did some very good work that received lots of attention and recognition. However, after a three years there, the studio merged with another studio and it changed.

In 1979 the studio sent me to The Illustrators Workshop in Tarrytown, NY for three weeks to work with Bernie Fuchs, Mark English, Bob Peak, Alan E. Cober, Robert Hinder, and Fred Otnes. These were very much the superstars during the 60's and 70's. I came back and knew I had to make a change in my career.  I contacted some design studios in Dallas, came down to interview with them but only did one interview and was hired that day by the design studio branch of the Richards Group.  The design studio was Richards, Sullivan, Brock and there were twelve designers and we worked on our own projects and sometimes helped on projects that the ad agency part of the Richards Group was doing. I stayed there about a year and a half before starting my own business in 1981 doing illustration (editorial, corporate, and advertising) plus a little design work.

I did quite a bit of work in Texas my first couple of years, but after that I started to do work mostly out of New York and Boston. I had an agent in New York and she kept me very busy.  In 1995 an editor asked my agent if I would be interested in doing a picture book. She had seen my work around New York for several years and had a story. Without knowing what the story was I said yes. The pay wasn't much but it was something new to do and the editorial illustration business was going through some big changes. The story turned out to be the Lou Gehrig book. The book ended up receiving some major awards and that's how I ended up doing books. Within a year or so I began to work primarily on books.

2. You work traditionally, what are your favorite materials to work with?
 
I used to work with some oils and alkyds early in my career but taught myself how to do acrylics. I've started with Golden Acrylics and a few years ago Golden came out with Golden Open Acrylics and that's what I use now.

3. What led you to doing non-fiction illustration work and what are some of the challenges?

The non-fiction just happened with my first book but I have done quite a lot of fiction books also. You can see some of those on my website or on Amazon. I also do lots of baseball themed books due to my first book. The biggest challenge in doing non-fiction is making sure your research is as accurate as possible. I do my own research and I don't depend on the author's research. Most of the time my research comes out the same as the author, but there have been occasions when I find some differences. When that happens I contact the editor and let her make the decision about what to do.  But there are always reviewers out there who are looking for mistakes and if they find one it can ruin a book. I normally have two to three sources for my research. That way I have plenty of backup if an editor should have a question.

 

 

Terry-Widener-Steeltown1

4. How has your work evolved over the years?
 
I began my illustration career doing pen and ink and watercolor cartoons. They were very popular but I wanted to do "real" illustration, not cartoons. And clients in New York did not want cartoons. They wanted illustration and a unique style that was different from other illustrators.  They were looking for strong conceptual art.  If they wanted cartoons there were plenty of very good cartoonist in New York.
 
I liked the work of Paul Davis so I began to study his work closely and met with him a few times. There was not a "secret" that he told me. He said I should keep doing what I was doing and my style would develop on it's own, and to go to museum's because that's where you learn how to paint. I saw an exhibit of N.C. Wyeth's work and I liked it. His technique was very much how I was taught to paint when I was 12 and 13 years old. It was just refining my technique and learning how to handle values and composition.
 
5. What do you paint/illustrate for fun? 
 
Western and Native American themes. I am also in the process of learning how to do better landscapes to work with those themes.
 
Terry Widener Willie Mays
6. How do you market your art?
 
I have my two websites and my agent. The fine art business is very different than the illustration business. Right now I'm not in any galleries but maybe someday. It's very much a "game" you have to play and it can be frustrating. I have sold a couple of prints though just because someone has seen my work and they were interested in purchasing a print.
 
7. What piece of art are you most proud of?
 
My cover for James Madison Hemings turned out exactly like I wanted. There was an expression on his face and a look in his eyes that I had wanted to achieve. It's hard to describe but it was getting the expression of a 13 or 14 year old boy but still have a sadness in his eyes. Probably one of the only times something has turned out like I visualized it.  My newest piece of fine art turned out good. I use to not be able to paint a person's face very well at all. Over the years I have worked very hard to solve that problem.  I think that's why I like both of these pieces.

lou-gehrig8. What challenges have you encountered in the business of Children's Book Illustration?

Being "pigeon holed" as a only being able to do baseball. Before I began doing books I illustrated many different subjects.

 

 

 9. Are you working on anything new that you can share?
 
 I am working on something new, but I haven't signed the contract yet, tho I expect to get an email soon. I can say it is baseball related.
 

dogsoldier-small

Terry has been an SCBWI member for many years and often attends our local North Texas events. When he's not illustrating and researching for a book, he paintswestern themed artwork and recently won an award for his acrylic painting titled "Dog Soldier". 

For more of Terry's Illustration work, information on school visits, and to see artwork from the books he's worked on you can visit his website at terrywidenerart.com  

Terry's Art website can be viewed at: terrywidener.com

Terry Widener

Terry Widener is an award-winning illustrator whose picture books include My Name is James Madison Hemings (New York Times Notable Children's Book of 2016, Junior Library Guild Selection, Oklahoma Book Awards Finalist) The Kite that Bridged Two Nations (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award CA/HI, California Reading Association Eureka! Honor Award) You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! (New York Times Editors Choice, Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book Award 2013) Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man (a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book) Mr. Widener lives with his family in McKinney, Texas.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
The Most Valuable Nickel

Posted on: January 15, 2017


 

By Sandy Lowe

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There’s never been a better year than 2017 to visit the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene. The “Nickel” (NCCIL)as it is affectionately known, will celebrate twenty years in 2017 and there will be a birthday party every month.

 

 

Here’s the current line-up of participating authors and illustrators:

 

January 20-21: William Joyce

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February 16-18: James E. Ransome

March 6-7: David Small and Sarah Stewart

March 31-April 1: Robert Sabuda

May 5-6: Mark Criley

June 8-10: Leonard Marcus and Diane Muldrow

July – David Diaz

August – Denise Fleming

September 14-15 – David Macauley

October 14: Marla Frazee, David Shannon and Mark Teague

November 9-10: Melissa Sweet

 

A few of the events include a manga drawing class with Mark Criley, an adult painting workshop with David Diaz and a pop-up program with Robert Sabuda.

 

William Joyce’s picture book, Santa Calls, started the ball rolling with its publication in 1993. Because one of the book’s settings is a ranch near Abilene, then mayor Dr. Gary McCaleb invited Joyce for a visit. Joyce had never visited Abilene and didn’t know anyone who lived there. The idea for a gallery honoring the work of artists for children’s books came out of their meeting.

 

Since 1997 the NCCIL has hosted more than fifty exhibitions of original art. About 200,000 elementary school students have visited and over 10,000 books have been donated to local schools. Admission to exhibitions is always free.

 

Due in large part to the NCCIL and the annual Children’s Art and Literacy Festival (CALF) held in June, the Texas Legislature named Abilene the Storybook Capital of Texas in 2016.

 

One of the delights connected with the NCCIL is the continuing addition of children’s book sculptures to the Abilene landscape. You can “meet” characters from Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax to Mark Teague and Jane Yolen’s “dinosaur saying good night” to Santa himself while Joyce’s Dinosaur Bob peers down at you from a nearby roof.

 

The current exhibition, titled “Travels with Brian Floca,” includes original art from his books Locomotive, Moonshot, Lightship and more. It will continue through January 28, 2017.

 

Watch the NCCIL’s website at www.nccil.org for details about the 2017 event. Besides this pearl of children’s literature Abilene boasts the Grace Museum (www.thegracemuseum.org), Frontier Texas (www.frontiertexas.com), the Abilene Zoo (www.abilenezoo.org) and much more. Plan a road trip. Pack books for the trip to Abilene. On the way home,  you’ll have plenty of new ones.


Sandy Sandy Lowe writes magazine articles for grownups and aspires to publish picture books. She has published one story for kids, “Patrick the Pickle” in Gannett Press’s Pennywhistle Press. Sandy hails from Abilene, Texas, recently designated The Storybook Capital of Texas by the Texas Legislature.



 
Reflections on the Round Table Retreat

Posted on: October 24, 2016


By Jimmy Mustion

 

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Going to the NT-SCBWI Knights of the Revision Round Table Retreat, I didn’t know what to expect. I have never been to any type of conference before. Not including the money for the conference itself, this was going to be an expensive trip. Traveling six hours, two nights in a hotel, plus food, and all with a two year old, I wondered, was this going to be worth it? 

 

I am happy to report that it was worth every penny.

 

 

I am not an illustrator, so when Will Terry presented to the group I didn't know how it would relate to me. The single thing I took away from Mr. Terry's presentation was passion. I was blown away and enthralled with the talk. Will has so much passion for what he does, so much passion for others to succeed, so much passion for the final, finished product being the best it can be. I can't draw but I was ready to pick up a pencil and go to work.

 

Tricia Lawrence talked to us about Character. Specifically, taking our characters and delving deeper into them. Listening to her, I realized how easy it is for me to keep my characters flat and one dimensional. It would benefit my writing to take the time, be patient, and get to know my characters on a deeper level. Tricia completely won me over. If other agents are a half amazing as her then I will be so lucky.

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Keynote speaker and Agent, Tricia Lawrence, (center) hobnobbing with NT-SCBWI members

 

We were treated to a wonderful talk about Voice from Editor Christian Trimmer. Mr. Trimmer has been in the literary world for many years and has worked with some of my favorite writers. The wisdom he presented really made me realize that when you are creating a story you need to always keep the "big picture" in mind. Making sure my story connects throughout the story, not just in that particular scene.

 

We wrapped the day up with all three of our speakers taking time to answer questions for the group. They offered so much advice and encouragement during this time. Not a single question was asked that wasn’t met with sage and sometimes snarky advice. All day each of the guest-speakers took time to chat with retreat attendees. All were personal and approachable. 

 

The retreat was a fabulous event. North Texas SCBWI Regional Advisor, Jackie Kruzie, and her crew did an amazing job.  Their desire to see this retreat and all chapter events be the very best will do nothing but help us all get published.  I just wish I didn't live 6 hours away!


 

Mustion_Jimmy

Jimmy Mustion writes under the name James Arthur. His lives in Claude, TX, with his wife, Christiana, and their lovely daughter, Noelle. They are the owners and operators of The Claude News, the town's newspaper. Jimmy has been published in the English children's magazine Rainbow Time. Rainbow Time is a magazine and radio show produced and aired in Taiwan. Jimmy is currently working on his picture book manuscripts–revising and gearing towards submission. You can read his blog at www.jamesarthurwrites.com.

 

 



 
Yes, You Can Write Nonfiction and Make Your Manuscript Just Right!

Posted on: September 6, 2016


By Sandy Lowe

 

 

 

Come on, admit it. You’re just a little confused by all those nonfiction and “near nonfiction” terms. Like “creative nonfiction” and “historical fiction” and “narrative nonfiction.”

 

On Saturday, August 27, Pat Miller cleared up all the confusion for us at the Nonfiction Matters workshop. Pat is the author of “The Hole Story of the Doughnut” recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as well as twenty books for school librarians and five additional books for children.

 

As a former school librarian herself, Pat has a great grasp on what kids enjoy as well as what publishers are looking for in nonfiction. She shared with us secrets for creating an emotional response in our nonfiction manuscripts and recommended a long list of picture books to help us hone our craft.

 

Pat’s compelling quote from Peggy Thomas, author of Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children that “You are eight times more likely to be published as a nonfiction writer than you are as a writer of fiction,” got my attention! 

 

Pat also walked us through her research process and shared a list of resources that I’m keeping right on my desk. I know it’s going to make finding the right information so much easier.

 

The afternoon session, led by Penny Parker Klosterman, focused on taking your picture book manuscript from “Not Quite” to “Just Right.” Editors, like Goldilocks, want your story to be “just right,” and part of making that happen includes using poetic techniques to choose the perfect word every time.

 

Penny’s debut rhyming picture book, “There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight,” came out from Random House last year. Next year, Random House will publish “A Cooked Up Fairy Tale.”

 

We sampled over thirty picture books as Penny led us through examples of hyperbole, imagery, onomatopoeia (Yes, I had to look it up to spell it correctly.), and more poetic techniques. When I looked at the work in progress I brought to the workshop it was easy to see where I could use Penny’s poetic techniques to bring more fun and feeling to my story.

 

Have you ever “speed-dated” picture books?  We did and it’s a great way to identify how outstanding books use sound devices, figurative language and imagery to draw us in and touch our hearts.

 

Penny’s resource list included books on writing for children, online references and tools and podcasts. She also encouraged us to read and write poetry to make poetic techniques part of every day.

 

One of the greatest things about an SCBWI North Texas Chapter workshop is direct access to successful writers like Pat and Penny who are so open, helpful and encouraging.

 

On top of all that, lunch was super tasty and there were nice gooey cookies.

 

Brave new Regional Adviser Jackie Kruze and her superhero sidekick Assistant Regional Adviser Jen Judd, did a great job of organizing the day.

 

So don’t miss the next North Texas Chapter opportunity to learn from successful writers. On September 24 you can attend the 2016 Publishing Knights of the Revision Round Table Retreat, a one-day event that combines elements of a mini-conference and a retreat. There will a track for picture books, middle grade/young adult and illustration. See the web page at https://northtexas.scbwi.org/events/n-texas-publishing-knights-of-the-revision-round-table-retreat/ for more information and Write On!

 


Sandy Lowe

Sandy Lowe writes magazine articles for grownups and aspires to publish picture books. She has published one story for kids, “Patrick the Pickle” in Gannett Press’s Pennywhistle Press. Sandy hails from Abilene, Texas, recently designated The Storybook Capital of Texas by the Texas Legislature.

 


 
My Weekend at the SCBWI LA Conference

Posted on: August 14, 2016


This year I attended the 45th Annual SCBWI LA Conference and had a blast! The conference was packed with amazing keynote speakers, the golden kite awards, a portfolio showcase, and lots of opportunities to meet with and talk to authors, illustrators, agents, and reps from the industry from all over the world. It was almost overwhelming how much information is packed into a few days in Los Angeles, but I made the most of it. I learned so much and met so many great people at the conference. 

The Summer Conference was held at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The hotel was built in 1923, and besides being a favorite location for shooting movies and television shows over the years, is well known as the early home of the Academy Awards. In fact, the Golden Kite Awards were given in the same room that weekend. It is a beautiful hotel and quite the elegant backdrop for the awards and conference.

The keynote presentations were inspiring as well as motivating. The speakers were very diverse, knowledgeable, and had different paths that got them where they are. What stuck with me was they all spoke about not being afraid to tell a story in your voice, as you are the only one with that voice. They talked about their individual journeys, peppered with funny tales about childhood (with photos), as well as what it took to get them where they are now. The keynote speakers were our cheerleaders for the weekend, pep talking us into writing that next draft or re-editing our stories and imagery. There were talks about needing diverse books, bucking trends, and pressing on even after rejections. Everyone laughed when one of the speakers brought out a giant scroll of rejection letters and had help unrolling it the width of the ballroom. 

Then there were the workshops and panels – the hardest part was picking which one to attend! I was sadly lacking a time-turner like the one Hermione has in Harry Potter, so I was stuck having to pick workshops. As an illustrator, I gravitated towards the ones geared towards illustration, but there was at least one writing workshop I went to by Marie Lu (Legends Series) on building characters that I found very insightful.

Saturday night arrived and it was time for the portfolio showcase, happy hour hangouts, and the big gala – The Red Carpet Ball. The showcase was like nothing I’ve seen before – multiple rooms filled with portfolios in alphabetical order with stacks of postcards or business cards to take. Some of the portfolios themselves were works of art with custom printed fabric hand stretched onto covers and bound by hand. Others, like mine, were standard store bought portfolios – end to end they lay in rooms so the hundreds of people who were there could look through them. As we all filtered out of the portfolio showcase, there were open hangout sessions to meet and greet editors and agents, or meetings for specific genres of writers, and a book sale. Then it was time to have dinner and party at the Red Carpet Ball (where some people dressed up as red carpets).

For me the weekend wrapped early as I had a Sunday morning flight, but I’m really happy I could get in all the workshops and keynotes that I did. Overall I feel I learned a lot over the weekend that I will definitley utilize in my own work, and the connections that I made with other writers and illustrators at the conference alone is worth the price of attending the annual LA Conference. 

 



 
Book Talk, Mentor Texts, and a Whole Lotta Links

Posted on: July 26, 2016


by Emily Johnsen

Last Saturday’s “Using Book Talk to Guide Revision” event was a fun afternoon of comradery, mentor-text sharing, and information book_talk-01swapping. Thank you to everyone who attended! I think I speak for all of us when I say we enjoyed getting to know one another a bit better.  

 

The event kicked off with a lively discussion of the why’s and how’s of learning from mentor texts and a read-aloud of a few picture book favorites. After that, we all enjoyed a spontaneous Q and A session during which a wide range of information was shared and many links were promised. So without further ado, here's a heapin' helpin' of bookmark-worthy links. May they serve you well:

 

 

NT SCBWI links:

 

Regional NT-SCBWI. Since you are reading this blog, I assume you have found your way to our regional page. But just in case, here’s the link to our home page– North Texas SCBWI

Public Facebook page– SCBWI North Texas – a group for children's writers and illustrators

Members Only Facebook page–SCBWI North Texas (Closed Group)

Members Only Swap Stop Facebook page. This is the place to go to find a fellow SCBWI member to swap manuscipts for critique. We encourage you to use this page to find contacts, but please do not share manuscripts on or through the page itself.–SCBWI North Texas Swap Stop (Secret Group)

Critique Groups. Are you looking for a critique group? We want to help! Go to this page to get started.–North Texas Critique Groups (Members Only)

 

My little disclaimer: The links below are not endorsed by or affiliated with SCBWI. They are merely links that the author of this blog hopes will be helpful to those seeking information on the following topics:

 

 

Links to writing challenges:

 

12 x 12 is a year-long writing challenge where members aim to write 12 complete picture book drafts, one per month, for each 12 months of the year. Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12

ReFoReMo or Reading for Research Month Challenge helps picture book writers reform writing by reading and researching mentor texts in the month of March. Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo

PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month is a challenge is to create 30 picture book concepts in 30 days. Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo

NaPiBoWriWee or National Picture Book Writing Week is the annual event in which we attempt to write 7 picture books in 7 days. Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee

RhyPiBoMo or Rhyming Picture Book Month is a month dedicated to the art of rhyming picture books. Angie Karcher’s RhyPiBoMo

 

 

Picture Book Layout/ templates:

 

http://inkygirl.com/inkygirl-main/2015/11/4/free-picture-book-thumbnail-templates-for-writers-and-illust.html

https://taralazar.com/2009/02/22/picture-book-construction-know-your-layout/

 

Links about using/not using art notes:

 

https://alaynekaychristian.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/including-art-notes-in-picture-book-manuscripts/

http://kidlit.com/2010/11/17/should-you-include-illustration-notes-in-your-picture-book/

 

Plot/Story Arc:

 

https://alaynekaychristian.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/12-x-12-critique-ninja-and-epidsodic-stories/

http://www.kidlit411.com/2014/01/picture-books.html#more

 

Writing in Rhyme:

 

https://taralazar.com/2012/03/13/why-do-editors-say-not-to-write-in-rhyme/

http://www.kidlit411.com/search/label/Poetry%20and%20Rhyme

 

Great on-line resources:

 

http://www.kidlit411.com/

http://www.writersdigest.com/

http://lindaashman.com/how-to-write-picture-books/more-resources/

http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/

 

 

…And of course SCBWI!

You can find more great links on this resource post from a workshop on June 22, 2013.

http://northtexas.scbwi.org/resources/resources-from-workshop/ 

If I've forgotten a great link or you'd like to add to this list, feel free to mention it on facebook.

 

Looking forward to visiting with everyone at our next big event, workshop with Pat Miller and Penny Parker Klosterman!Double_P_workshop

Register now: https://northtexas.scbwi.org/events/n-texas-publishing-knights-of-the-revision-round-table-retreat/



 
SCBWI Shortens the Learning Curve

Posted on: June 30, 2016


by Christine Kohler

When I was a writing instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL), I recommended joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to all my students. I believe it can take years off the learning curve of navigating the publishing business.

 

By the time I discovered SCBWI in 1998, I was published in multiple formats. After writing across the board from newspapers to journals and magazines to novels and picture books, I decided to specialize in children's literature. Later, when I was an ICL instructor and wrote books for the educational and library markets, I came to understand just how specialized children’s lit is. It is much more difficult to write for children when considering cognitive levels, age-appropriateness, and child/age sensibilities and viewpoints. The standards are higher. There are less markets and less money than writing for adults. The few times new students said they planned to write for children, implying it was easier, and then graduate to writing for adults, I suggested they dis-enroll from ICL and take the adult market course instead.

 

I’m a big believer in becoming active in SCBWI, a nonprofit organization run by volunteers. Children’s lit authors, editors, and agents are a small tight-knit worldwide community. The friends and contacts have been wonderful. Contacts can end up as contracts, if you continue to build relationships. This has happened to many writers I know. If you volunteer it increases your opportunities to get to know editors, agents and published authors.

 

I also urge writers to join critique groups. SCBWI is an ideal place to form critique groups, teaching groups, retreat groups, and goals groups, either in person or online through the SCBWI website.  In recent years there has been a cry for workshops focusing on advanced craft. Children’s lit is a very competitive field and children deserve only the best. So, no matter how good of a writer or illustrator you may be, or how unique the concept, often the work, or level of craft, needs ratcheted up a notch. SCBWI is a great organization to tap into resources to get that boost up.

 

For published authors like me, SCBWI gives me the opportunity to teach writing, to network with authors to write grants with for panel presentations at library and education conventions. Through these fellow author connections, I’ve also been introduced to bookstore publicists and librarians, which led to program bookings.

 

In our field, writing and illustrating are solitary acts. SCBWI is a wonderful safe place where we can go and have stimulating interaction with like-goal-minded folks.      

 

And here are just a few of North Texas SCBWI's events – coming up soon :

7/23/2016 — USING BOOK TALK TO GUIDE REVISION    

8/27/2016 — TWO PICTURE BOOK WORKSHOPS 

9/24/2016 — PUBLISHING KNIGHTS OF THE REVISION ROUND TABLE RETREAT

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CKhead 330pixcropChristine Kohler is a graduate of the University of Hawaii, and lived in Japan and Guam, the setting for her debut novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER (Merit Press, 2014). She was a foreign correspondent and political reporter for Gannett. Kohler has 17 fiction and NF books published in ABA and CBA trade, mass, education, and library markets. Kohler lives in Granbury, Texas.

The American Library Association nominated NO SURRENDER SOLDIER as a YALSA Quick Pick for reluctant readers. NO SURRENDER SOLDIER was awarded a bronze medal by the Military Writers Society of America. Kohler’s nonfiction book MUSIC PERFORMANCE: VOCALS AND BAND (Rosen, 2012; paperback 2013) was a Junior Library Guild selection.   

 



 
Jarrett Krosoczka’s Hard Work Shines Through

Posted on: June 18, 2016


By Debbie Meyer

 

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Writers and illustrators often work alone, sequestered away from the outside world in their home or studio. As great as it is to get out and share and learn from other writers and illustrators, sometimes that is a challenge in itself. Enter the wonderful world of webinars!

 

On May 31st, SCBWI members enjoyed the opportunity to tune in from the comfort of their home computer to hear from author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka. He offered an abundance of great advice and insight into how he works so successfully.

 

While I learned a lot from Jarrett’s presentation, I was struck with an eye-opening realization that I am not doing all I can do to become a published writer/illustrator. The dream has been there since elementary school. I have attended conferences, workshops, read many, many books, created a website, put together a portfolio and joined a critique group. But something is still missing.

 

I tell people all the time that in order to become published you have to submit. However, it hasn’t been something I have been doing consistently. Illustrators, do you update your portfolio regularly and send out promotional postcards three to four times a year? Writers, do you submit manuscripts and keep track of when, where and who you submit to? Do you submit, receive a rejection, and stuff that manuscript in a box forever? Or do you get your work right back out there? You believed in your creation enough to put it out into the world, don’t give up on it if one editor or art director doesn’t feel the same way.

 

Of course, submitting your work is only one step in your routine as a professional writer/illustrator. Working on your craft each day is just as important, if not more. Having a hard time getting started? Give yourself a theme or springboard for an idea, do warm-up sketches or brainstorm story ideas to get your creative brain up and running. Both writers and illustrators can create storyboards to visualize how the story will move along. Polish your work so that it represents how you want to be seen by those in the publishing world.

 

I set my dream aside for over a year, and while working hard to get back to it, I have realized that a creative brain needs as much work as the rest of the body. One month before a high school reunion, we vow to eat healthy & exercise, achieve some of our goals/squeeze into some Spanx for the night and then slack off again after the reunion. Don’t go through the equivalent for a SCBWI conference (especially the Spanx – that’s never fun). Work on your craft each day. Your work will improve in the process. When the time comes that you have the opportunity to attend a conference and submit to an editor or art director, you will be prepared with your best.  The hard work you have put in each day will shine through.

 

It takes a lot of work and dedication to get to the level of success that folks like Jarrett Krosoczka achieve. There’s the daily creative work, revisions, submissions, and the learning opportunities of attending workshops and conferences outside your home. And don’t forget to tune in to webinars provided by incredible writers and illustrators associated with SCBWI.

 

For more information about Jarrett Krosoczka, visit http://www.studiojjk.com/

 

DebbieMeyer.jpgDebbie Meyer is a writer/illustrator in McKinney, TX. She is the author of an article on worm farming entitled “Environmental Superheroes”, and has illustrated several coloring books and educational publications.

 



 
The Power Of Critiques

Posted on: May 31, 2016


By Rosie Pova

 

You've probably heard the saying, "Writing is rewriting." If you've left behind your newbie mentality of believing that everything you write is pure genius right off the bat, then you certainly agree with that saying. In order to take our skills and stories to the next level, we need revising. Let's make that many, many drafts and revisions. Somewhere along the way, we accept that as a necessity, an important part of the process. It doesn't mean it gets easy right away, though. A little further down the road, we seek feedback. But let's back up a little.

 

If you're like me and have experienced the more typical journey, you might have gone through any combination of the following: read how-to books on the craft, books in the genre you write, watched webinars, refreshed your grammar, installed some fancy software.

 

Just like I did, perhaps you thought you were well-equipped. You finally had a finished first draft. It wasn't great, but you had confidence it would improve when you revised. And you did. A lot. And then some. You sweated over active verbs, modified dialogue, figured out complex character development, ruthlessly cut out flowery descriptions, just like the manuals had taught you, then ran spell check twice. Voila! It was done.

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As a final step, you might have set the manuscript aside and let it rest. But what if, after a couple of weeks, you pulled out the work and… OMG! What happened? You might scream. Three typos in the first two pages and the inciting incident is such a cliché! Who ruined your baby while it was out of sight? Truth is, no one did, you're just seeing it with new eyes. It isn't what you thought. Not so perfect.

 

You get to work and repeat all the steps, only this time around, you start doubting and asking, what if I missed something again? Over time, you get tired of looking at the same work again, there's nothing more you can do. But is it ready? How do you know if it's not a mess?

 

Introducing… the critique group! If you're still not convinced you need one, you do. I joined my first critique group a few years ago and am now in several–it has made a tremendous difference in my growth as a writer. It will do the same for you, too. It’s something that SCBWI offers to all members.

 

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Last Saturday, we had an opportunity to gather for face-to-face critiques at the SCBWI North Texas Fishin’ for Feedback meet-up. For some, it was the first time ever receiving a critique and for others, the first time outside regular critique groups. We all got a chance to connect in that special phase of giving and receiving feedback. It does come with a range of emotions, no doubt, especially for the ones new at this, but it's all worth it. Writers learn so much not only from getting their own work critiqued, but also from critiquing the work of others. And even if it turns out that you did do a pretty good job revising on your own, it's great to know your peers checked and reassured you it's a go. It's ready for submission. 

 

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We brought projects at different stages of development–whether we'd just started on a story or we're polishing one before querying agents–some feedback is always helpful. It's a chance to ask questions and reassess. Maybe there were elements we knew needed attention, but didn't know how to handle. Maybe we overlooked parts that we had no idea needed revising. Whatever the case, I believe that during our critique sessions last Saturday we all discovered at least a few solutions to apply to our work in progress: new ways to fix old stubborn problems, kill our darlings, clarify unclear sections, get rid of pesky adverbs… We laughed and frowned at our characters as we gave them more to worry about. But most importantly, we left energized (and I'm not just talking about the sugary snacks we shared), but energized with fresh visions for revisions.

 

Now how's that for an abundant catch? And you can catch some major revision feedback at our Critiquenic for members or our Publishing Knights of the Revision Round Table Retreat. Registration is open. I’m registered, are you?

 

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20160310_143426-1-1-1-1Rosie Pova is a native Bulgarian and a mother of three who writes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels.

 

 



 
Writing From The Edge

Posted on: April 27, 2016


By C. Anne Scott

 

A bright and happy tribe of writing warriors rocked it with children’s author and revising guru, Denise Vega at the Rockin’ Revision Workshop on April 16. Denise walked us through how to create emotional resonance, purpose and depth in our stories.   She encouraged dialogue among attendees that allowed for a hopeful exploration of our work.  One such exchange shaped up as my most valuable takeaway of the day.  During a discussion about the “edge reader”—a reader who snatches time to read in unlikely places like the traffic light or the grocery store line—Denise piggybacked with “We need to be edge writers.” 

 

             IMG_2783     IMG_2793 (3)      Denise Vega workshop

 

 

I left the SCBWI workshop with many wonderful new tools for revision and one phrase that emotionally resonated with me on deepening levels.  Denise helped me “re-vision” my writing and its role in my life.  When she tossed out the serendipitous phrase—“edge writer”—I connected it to something shared during the annual Tejas Storytelling Festival held in Denton. (Yes, I am filling up on art and artists to catch a second wind.)  After enjoying powerhouse performances by Minton Sparks, I attended her workshop.   

 

Fascinated by this beyond original artist, I expressed curiosity about her creative process during a Q & A.  She replied, “The empire has already been built.” She isn’t interested in adding to the mountain of books and CD’s already created.  She wants to be revolutionary in her art, to experiment with the many rising innovative forms to create something new.  Emerging from the North Carolina club scene, she is now catching fire on the national stage.  So how does she create her magic?  “I do most of my writing while I’m driving,” she told us.  Now that, by definition, is an edge writer! 

 

Not only can we as edge writers enhance our work by stealing moments to write, we can also write our way back from the edge. Just as my star began to rise with the publication of two critically acclaimed children’s books many years ago, life swept me into the deep end of the ocean. I am only now resurfacing for a sip of air and working to reinvent my writing career.  I finally woke up and realized that if I waited for my life to settle down before I wrote again, I would never write another book.  Instead, I vowed to write my way through it.  Now I have a cool name for that intention to spur me on—edge writer.      

 

In her brilliant, groundbreaking book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal, Donna Jackson Nakazawa describes middle-aged American women as the “walking wounded” and concludes that childhood is the greatest risk factor to our mental and physical health in adulthood.  She does offer hope for heartbreaking struggle.  In addition to many natural alternatives such as yoga and meditation, she includes writing as a healing pathway that science shows can literally reprogram our neurobiology.  This is an encouraging message for writers, and most especially for walking wounded middle agers like myself, who want to dust ourselves off, remount, ride like a fierce wind, and write from the edge until we arrive at the center. 

 

C. Anne Scott

 

C. Anne Scott is a semi-retired teacher and award-winning author of Old Jake’s Skirts, winner of a World Storytelling Award and adapted into a musical play, and Lizard Meets Ivana the Terrible, a previous finalist for the Children’s Choice Awards in West Virginia and Iowa.