Notes from the SuperDuper 2009 SCBWI Western WA conference

Okay, so I’m sitting down to write out some notes on the SCBWI Western Washington conference I attended last weekend. They titled the conference “Feed Your Genius” and it was indeed a feast! This was my first year attending the Washington conference (as I reside in Portland, OR and normally attend the Oregon chapter conference), and apparently last year was the first year they extended the conference to two days. I can’t imagine how much planning and work goes into this thing, but they must have the best volunteers ever. It was superbly organized and ran like clockwork! KUDOS!!

They managed to attract such luminaries as authors Ellen Hopkins and Jon Scieszka, author/illustrators Adam Rex and Grace Lin, agents Nathan Bransford, Michael Stearns, Kelly Sonnack and Steven Malk, editors Krista Marino Delacorte Press for Young Readers, Sarah Shumway Katherine Tegen imprint at HarperCollins, Connie Hsu Little Brown, and Executive Art Director at Scholastic, Elizabeth Parisi.

It was impossible, of course, to attend every breakout session, but the highlights for me were:

Connie Hsu (assistant editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and subversively funny) who said that she thinks children are “morbid and strange” and though she doesn’t want to see books about cute animals, she likes to see anything with dead animals (I’m paraphrasing here!). She describes herself as “hungry & completely strange”.

Steven Malk (agent with Writers House) who reps wonderful authors and illustrators the likes of Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, Kadir Nelson, Cynthia Rylant, Marla Frazee, Carson Ellis and Nikki McClure. He “likes to see people set a goal and really go after it”. The gems of advice I took away from his session were that you should develop a strategy for your career…slow down and be patient…become an expert in your field…don’t dabble – do it with passion…have a career model (who is it you admire in the field and how did they develop their career?)…take control over your career – every decision you make does impact your career…present yourself as a professional – you never get a second chance to make a first impression…if at first you don’t succeed, don’t abandon ship — stay positive and stay on course…slow but steady wins the race…and ENJOY the ride! He was gracious and kindly towards one and all. A real gentleman.

Elizabeth Parisi (art director for Scholastic’s trade hardcover lists, she designs YA and middle-grade novels and picture books, overseeing more than 120 books per year) was amazing. She confided that she studied illustration at RISD, but felt she didn’t have the skills necessary to pursue illustration, instead finding her way to art direction/book design and is completely satisfied and passionate about her work. In addition to all the critiques of picture book dummies she did, she took her time to design COVERS (!) for each of the dummies submitted, by way of demonstrating  “What Makes a Great Cover”, the title of her break out session. She showed such generosity and patience in answering every last burning question we had. A real star!

Sarah Shumway (Senior Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins children’s Books) critiqued the first five pages of a middle-grade manuscript I had submitted.  She gave valuable and constructive criticism which I took away and will incorporate into a better product! I am so appreciative of the thoughtful advice. Plus, one of her break outs I attended on pitching your manuscript was invaluable. She challenged us to write a one sentence pitch that would sum up our stories (confiding that it is the hardest part of her job).

Last, but not least, Jon Scieszka had us in tears (yes…the funny, good kind) at the end, regaling us with hilarious tales of his travels as America’s first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, as well as reading from his book Knucklehead. He sent us off on a hysterically high note and I only needed a little bit of real caffeine to get me back to Portland.

I made some great new friends and contacts as well as renewing friendships with writers and illustrators I had made contact with at previous conferences. It’s weird that after you’ve attended a number of these things (including the NYC Winter conferences) so many faces start to look familiar. A lovely reunion of like minded/spirited souls.

Jennifer Mann wins Grand Prize @ SCBWI WA

The image above is by Jennifer Mann and is part of a picture book she is currently working on. LOVE IT!!!

Jennifer’s portfolio won the Grand Prize this past weekend at the SCBWI WA conference held at the Marriott in Redmond, WA. She’s such a lovely person and so talented. You can ck out more of her work at her website:

I’m thrilled to announce…

I have signed a contract to illustrate a series of chapter books written by Wendy Orr (author of Nim’s Island) and published by Henry Holt and Company. The series is centered around children adopting pets from an animal shelter. The first book is entitled LOST DOG BEAR and is due to be published in 2010.

It came in a dream

Last night my friend Bridget Zinn appeared in a dream. Her angelic face floated at the center of a sunflower bloom. I distinctly remember that I wore this as a pin while attending the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference next weekend in Redmond, Washington. Then, as with most dreams, I forgot about it until I was going over my list of items to take to the conference and realized that the organizers of the conference had decided to sponsor a raffle to benefit Bridget. I guess I’ve not mentioned that Bridget was recently diagnosed and is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 colon cancer. Many of the treatments are experimental and not covered by insurance, therefore the effort to raise funds to aid her and her husband Barrett in covering these costs.

Long story short, I made the pin I dreamed of and will wear it at the conference as a conversation starter. I’ll direct as many people as possible to purchase raffle tickets.

For more information about Bridget Zinn, you can read her blog entries:

If you are interested in making a monetary contribution, you can visit this online auction:

A lesson in friendship…

 Alexa Mergen has written a new article on friendship. With it, she reminds us that the best friendships can be fraught with hardship, but that overcoming these obstacles can teach us the true meaning of friendship. As I grow older I find myself fighting to remain open in so many ways, and sometimes remaining open to those we know and love best is the hardest challenge of all. 

Below is an exerpt from Alexa’s article, entitled, “Admirable Friend”:

“I cannot remember how our quarrel started. The worst fights are like that: they require such an arduous journey through the rocky wasteland of accusations, jealousies, anxieties, impatience, and disappointment that the starting point erases. I remember the yellow walls of the motel room, the TV with no reception, bare light bulbs, and the narrow beds with a small table between them meant to be shared. I remember my eyes, which felt hard as marbles and as cold, and S.’s eyes welled with tears; in nineteen years of friendship I had never seen her cry. I remember S. accusing me of suffering from some childhood trauma as an explanation for my anxiety and I remember growing angrier. Then, suddenly, there was a shift in the room. It was as if we had been breaking boulders in hot sun like the ragged and tired people we saw along the highway. And then it was as if a breeze stalled pick-axes, brought silence.”

To read the full article, follow this link: