ENGAGE!

In recovery mode after the SCBWI Western WA Spring conference, I suffered a bout of the blues after spending three heady days with my “tribe”. There’s nothing like the exchange of energy and creativity between children’s books writers and illustrators. Such nice people, but don’t let that fool you. These people are driven! Driven to create, driven to share and driven to succeed, all under the guise of niceness.

I’ve been scratching my head, trying to figure out why a children’s book publishing professional would torture herself giving critiques to aspiring children’s book writers and illustrators. The only analogy I can draw is my love of thrift stores and estate sales. It’s what my “goodwilling” friend Lynn and I describe as the “treasure hunt” wherein we set upon a cache of stuff in hopes of scoring that special something. We are gleaners. We scan and filter for items that resonate with us. Perhaps, for the publishing professional, the treasure hides behind the skirts of the shy artist or writer.

Highlights for me were a couple of presentations by Holly McGhee, President of Pippin Properties, Inc., a NYC-based literary agency. She and her small agency represent some of the luminaries in the field of children’s writing and illustrating. Holly is accessible and passionate about children’s books. My takeaway was that she loves subtlety of character and the physical expression of what a character is feeling or experiencing. Take your time, she said. Find yourself and your style and know the core of your story, she said. Draw every day, she said.

Alexandra Penfold, an agent with Upstart Crow completely charmed me. She’s sweet, smart and funny with a dramatic flair. She sang, she spoke French, she inspired us all. I picked up some great tips, some of which were the rule of threes, make joyful use of language and work on effective page turns!

I was lucky enough to draw Lauren Rille, Associate Art Director for Simon & Schuster for a round table critique. If you will remember, dear reader, I received a crit with Lauren about a month ago at an SCBWI OR workshop. I took her advice to heart and created a “happy babies” piece which I included in my submission for critique at this Western WA conference. She reiterated that “character is the thing” and looks for artists willing to push further and develop their portfolio and style.

It was wonderful to see Jennifer K. Mann and score a signed copy of her sweet new picture book, Two Speckled Eggs. I also picked up One Cool Friend, written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by my favorite, David Small as well as the hysterical Warning: DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK! narrated by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.

All in all a fabulous Spring conference which, in keeping with the season, gets us digging in the creative dirt and plants a seed of hopeful optimism. ENGAGE!

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