My Book Review on the SCBWI-MI Blog

Greetings all,

Hope you’re enjoying the lovely spring weather!

I’m pleased to announce that a book review I wrote has been posted on the SCBWI-MI blog, The Mitten.  I was asked to submit a review of the book Wired for Story by Lisa Cron after giving it 5 stars on Goodreads.  This book explores the craft of writing novels and screenplays–an excellent read.  If you want to hear more about it, check out the review here.

Happy writing!

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Notebooks of the Mind

I came across an interesting concept while reading an article in the SCBWI Bulletin called “Jotting Things Down” by Anne Sibley O’Brien.  She referenced a term called “Notebooks of the Mind,” which I just thought sounded so cool!  And mysterious.  But what does it mean?  Did you ever keep a journal or diary growing up?  Or what about when you had that great thought or idea while standing in line at the grocery store or sitting at a restaurant and you had to scribble it down on a napkin so you didn’t forget it.  All of these scribbles and sketches cumulate into “Notebooks of the Mind” or windows into our soul.  A lot of it seems meaningless at the time, and truthfully, much of it may never amount to anything tangible.  But it’s fodder.  Fuel for that project you’re envisioning or maybe something else yet to be discovered.  And when you go back to it, it’s like walking through a museum of memories, which is also fun.

If you’re not convinced of the importance of jotting things down, remember this:  “Creativity did not descend like a bolt of lightning that lit up the world in a single brilliant flash.  It came in tiny steps, bits of insight, and incremental changes.  Zigs and zags.  When people followed those zigs and zags, ideas and revelations started flowing.”  -Keith Sawyer, author of Zig Zag

Benjamin Franklin didn’t just get hit by lightning.  He kept notebooks, too.

I have my own journals at home.  20 or so of them, actually, collected over the years–consisting of poem fragments, stray thoughts, jumbled up text, old ticket stubs, magazine collages, scratches, and sketches.  Some of it will never see the light of day, but it’s useful nonetheless.  My small treasures.  The Notebooks of MY Mind.

What’s going on in my brain?  Here’s a sneak peek, circa 2003.

notebook of my mind

Now, I want to know, what’s going on in yours?

 

NJ SCBWI Conference 2014

Illustrator Floyd Cooper teaches us how to use negative space to create a painting.

So I’m back from a recent SCBWI conference in New Jersey. Can I just say, wow! Action packed. I’m still processing it. Some people call it conference hangover 😉 The travel alone was an adventure. A quick recap on that. I took a plane from Detroit, but my first flight was cancelled. I had to shuttle over to another terminal to check in a second time with another airline. I then took a taxi to the hotel because it was too late to take the train. On the way back, I took the hotel shuttle to the train station. Then had to take another shuttle to the airport. Then another shuttle at the airport to my terminal. Then the plane ride back. All while carrying a backpack, an art portfolio, and a small suitcase. But was it worth it? Yes! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

This conference focused a lot on illustration. I appreciated the chance to take actual mini art classes as well as attend lectures. We also had a lot of opportunities to connect with industry professionals. Yet the conference had an intimate setting, which was nice. Sometimes you feel like a small fish in a big pond at these types of events. But NJ, it’s like my sister group now.

There’s a lot I could share with you here, but I think what would be most valuable would be to share some quotes from the final keynote speaker, Rachel Vail.  She wrote an adorable picture book called Piggy Bunny and a middle grade series about a worrier named Justin Case.  (Get it?  Just in case…LOL)

She said she learned that bravery isn’t the opposite of worry.  (Translation: It’s acting in the face of worry.)

Vail also shared a wonderful Van Gogh quote that I’d never heard before.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Other advice:

1. Beware of nice lunches.  (They might serve bad news with a smile.)

2. You can survive ground zero.  (Translation: You can start over.  Revise your entire manuscript.  Fix your painting.  Write another book.)

3. Sometimes you have to chip away at your creation with your fingernails.

4. Listen to children.  (They have their own stories to tell.  Let them know they matter.  Try to remember the first adult who listened to you…)

I remember being like Justin Case.  Thinking and worrying.  Imagining.  Quietly observing.  My grandfather listened and taught me about poetry and art.  My grandmother listened and taught me piano lessons.

Did it make a difference?  Yes.  Do I still worry?  Sometimes.  But am I also brave?  People tell me so.

My wish for you:  Go forth and be brave!  But you have my permission to worry, too.  It’s the secret ingredient that leads to success when coupled with action.  May your worries fuel your creative work.  YOU can make it happen!

 

 

Mind Worm

When I attended the Midwest SCBWI conference last spring, I had the chance to hear author Franny Billingsley speak.  She talked about the power of fear and how important it is to understand what scares your main character the most and then exploit it.

To explain this, she started out by introducing the term “Mind Worm.”  Yes, it really exists (at least metaphorically speaking)!  The Mind Worm burrows into the brain and in so doing discovers an individual’s dreams and fears.  The Mind Worm then has the power to create an event that forces the person to go on a unique adventure designed to help the person learn something deeper about him or herself.

Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  The writer is a Mind Worm!

How can you be a Mind Worm for your main character?  Start by pushing your character out of his or her comfort zone.  Push your character to her limits.  Make him squirm.  Make her jump right out of her skin!  A powerful antagonist can help with this.  So can an unforeseen event or tragedy.

Then see what happens.  Guaranteed the character will be forced to grow and change.  Which is what we want, isn’t it?  That’s how we create someone to root for and maybe even identify with.  Someone to believe in.  And once your readers are invested in your main character, they’re ten times more likely to follow him or her until the end.

So my advice to you today is:  Be a Mind Worm.  See where it takes you.  More importantly, see where it takes your character.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

I’m pleased to announce that my work has been featured in the Michigan SCBWI newsletter for this month. When The Mitten asked me to be the November cover artist, I graciously accepted. What an honor! Several of my children’s illustrations appear throughout as well as an interview about my work as an author/illustrator. A special thanks to the editors for putting it together.  You can check it out here.

It was interesting being on the other end of the interview process. Usually I’m the one asking the questions 😉 But I think it’s important to market yourself. I attended a workshop recently that reminded authors and illustrators that they must think of themselves as a brand. That way when people see your work they always know immediately who you are. They may even purchase it specifically for this reason. Of course we always want to strive for excellent work in its own right. But it helps if you can also put your stamp on it.

In the grander scheme, it’s about self-acceptance. Deciding to be all in. Putting yourself out there. This is what I have to offer. This is who I am.

How will you choose to put yourself out there?

SCBWI: WWMW Conference 2013

Mixed Media

Howdy partners!  I’m back from the Wild, Wild Midwest conference in Fort Wayne, IN.  One word: inspiring!

Above is the piece that I submitted for the art show.  I consider it an exploration of style, one of my goals for this year.  It’s a combination of my favorite mediums right now: collage, watercolor, and ink.  I really enjoyed the hands-on aspect of it, even as I hoped the glue would hold 😉  And I also got the salt trick to work!

“The Queen of Spades” was inspired by my very own Philodendron.  I promise that no plants were harmed in the making of this piece 😉  My plant did have a few adventures away from its usual tabletop spot in the living room…  I’m just glad it survived!  It’s my only plant.  I credit it to my best friend who gave it to me.  She’s like mother nature when it comes to plants.  I, on the other hand, am known for having a “black thumb.”

In Japanese culture, everything has a spirit, including trees.  Here is my representation of this concept.  In this case, I wanted to capture the spirit of my own plant.  If I were to pitch this piece as a story idea, it would sound something like this:  What would you do if you found out your plant was truly alive?  One illustration concept that art director Laurent Linn mentioned at the conference was the idea that everything in a scene is a character.  I really took his idea literally 😉  He also said that the difference between children’s illustration and other types of art is storytelling and emotion.  You should shape your portfolio around this concept.  Good advice!

Check out other great entries from the Michigan chapter here.

Event photos!

Dinner with illustrators at sushi restaurant: Who could ask for anything more?

One of the best parts about conferences like these are the opportunities to network and socialize with friends 🙂

Jane Yolen and the Naked Mole Rat, unlikely friends: One wild Midwest party brought them together

I’m sure you all know Jane Yolen.  She’s considered ‘The Hans Christian Andersen of America.’  BUT, did you know she teamed up with the Naked Mole Rat, star character of Mo Willems infamous book: Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed?  It just goes to show, friendship develops in unlikely places, including the Wild, Wild Midwest!

All good things must come to an end.  Kathi Appelt, author of Keeper and The Underneath, left us with some great parting thoughts.  She said that all the best words, all the ingredients needed for a great story, start with the letter P.  Brilliant!  Think about it…  Can you guess the final word she mentioned?  POSSIBILITIES!

My friend Katherine Carver challenged me to come up with one word as my theme for the year.  Can you guess what word I came up with?  I mentioned it in a previous post.  Hint: it’s not serendipity, although that is also a great word.

To see how this challenge works, go to her blog.  What will your word for the year be?  Please share!

SCBWI Bulletin Suggests Some Useful Art Books

Check out "Art Tips" on page 10

Check out “Art Tips” on page 10

The new issue of the SCBWI Bulletin came out recently and it’s packed with great info, advice, and illustrations.  I especially enjoyed Alison Davis Lyne’s column titled “Art Tips.”  She lists several useful art books including some to help you create memorable characters.  My personal favorite of the bunch is Exploring Color by Nita Leland.  It helps you see color in new and surprising ways.  I especially enjoyed the part about how we recognize objects by shape, not color.  This gives us freedom to color an apple purple, if we want.  I encourage you to try it out.  Make a monkey blue or a tree orange.  Go for it!

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