Friday, March 31, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

How Jumanji Inspired Karuna Riazi's Novel The Gauntlet by Nivea Serrao from Entertainment Weekly. Peek:"...as a Muslim author writing in this really horrible political climate where a lot of Muslim kids are not made to feel welcome or at home, or no longer have a physical home to turn to, it was amazing that this architecture felt like welcoming people home. It was a beautiful thing to imagine — someone coming and seeing Moghul architecture from other areas of the world....and feeling more welcomed and recognized there."

The CCBC's Diversity Statistics: A Conversation with Kathleen T. Horning by Martha V. Parravano from The Horn Book. Peek: The 2003 showed 88 percent of children's books about Native Americans were created by non-Native writers and illustrators. "That number plummeted the following year and has held steady since then at about 60 percent. I believe that is due to the hard-hitting criticism from the Native organization Oyate and, more recently, Debbie Reese at her blog American Indians in Children’s Literature. They have made authors and publishers aware of how little outsiders generally know about individual Native nations, or Native Americans in general."

Kar-Ben Testing Jewish Chapter Book Waters: interview with publisher Joni Sussman from The Whole Megillah. (Kar-Ben is a division of Lerner Publishing Group.) Peek: "We’re more interested in MG than YA, as that’s the age group on the next step up the ladder from picture books.....I don’t solicit manuscripts as we already receive many manuscripts for both picture books and chapter books, over 800 submissions a year to fill about 20 publication slots per year."

How Asperger's Powers My Writing by Tom Angleberger from The Guardian. Peek: "I direct the word flow into a computer and write books about kids who fold/draw/watch 'Star Wars' and have awkward situations/humiliations/meltdowns. (And, since it’s fiction, they also have triumphant victories on a regular basis!)"

'We Stories' Aims to Get White Families Talking About Race, Racism Through Children's Books by Kelly Moffitt from St. Louis Public Radio. Peek: "As Lancaster and Horwitz explained, they wanted to focus their efforts on white families because they tend to talk about race and racism less with their children. Families of color, on the other hand, talk about race and racism as a necessary part of parenting and raising children to confront a world that won’t treat them fairly."

Let's Talk About Star-Crossed: Why We Need Bisexual Kids Books, Backlash or Not by Danika Ellis from Book Riot. Peek: "LGBTQ people are not 'adult' topics. LGBTQ children exist. In the crowds of hundreds of children that Barbara Deen talked to, there were bisexual kids listening."

Adventures in Comics and the Real World by George Gene Gustines from The New York Times. Peek: "America Chavez, a Latina and lesbian superhero, saves an alien planet, enrolls at Sotomayor University and punches Adolf Hitler in the first issue of her new Marvel comic book series. But what’s being celebrated as most fantastic in this comic is that Gabby Rivera, a young-adult author who is gay and Latina herself, is writing the adventures of America."

How to Rescue a Book in Danger of Dying by Jennie Nash from Writers Helping Writers. Eight steps to help you save your manuscript. Peek:"Who else will care about what you’re writing? Be very specific about your ideal reader. Describe him/her in two sentences. Think in terms of what keeps them up at night, what they are afraid of, what they most want in the world."

Starting a Novel with Setting Description by Mary Kole from KidLit.com. Peek: "I would say that the sweet spot would be....a strong sense of setting which is essential for the beginning of a novel or a beginning of a chapter, but you can’t rest on your laurels with a really strong setting. You have to do a little bit more. You need to introduce the character....It gives you a much stronger foot up in the beginning of your novel."

How to Get Violence Right in Your Fiction by Fred Johnson from Jane Friedman's blog. Peek: "If you’re writing a fight or battle scene in genre fiction, detailed description will be the way to go nine times out of 10. This is because a fight scene of any scale and duration is likely to involve two or more people tied up in an incredibly fast-paced and complex process. Detailed description serves to guide the reader through the confusion and helps your readers suspend their disbelief."

Varian Johnson Joins Vermont College of Fine Arts Faculty this summer. He is the author of six novels, including the Jackson Greene middle-grade series. The first novel in the series, The Great Greene Heist, was an ALA Notable Children’s Book Selection, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, and has been named to over twenty-five state reading and best-of lists.

Is Writer's Block a Real Thing, or Just a Figment of the Imagination by Oliver Burkeman from The Guardian. Peek: "The most important step in overcoming writer’s block, then, may be cutting it down to size: grasping that it’s just a situation, not an underlying condition, and that it’s solved, by definition, the moment you write anything. You could keep a dream journal, as Graham Greene did, or do 'morning pages': three pages of whatever comes to mind first thing. Give up writing in binges, and focus on doing a tiny amount, very regularly, including stopping when time’s up."

Are You Tired of Writing? by Catherine McKenzie from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "There’s the time before you start publishing and the time after, and they just aren’t the same. And all the things that pushed you to publish in the first place, well, unless your career gets knocked out of the park, it can feel like a letdown."

On Tastemakers and Making by Nell Boeschenstein from Jane Friedman's blog. Peek: "Instead of taste as the aspirational fixed endpoint described by (Ira) Glass, a more apt analogy may be the horizon line – always ahead, never reached. This may sound defeating; it doesn’t have to. Is fulfilling one’s artistic ambitions not a recipe for a kind of complacency to be approached with as much skepticism as an inspirational quote?"

How to Spot, and Avoid, 'Pay to Play' Publishing Contracts by Susan Spann from Writer UnBoxed. Peek: "If a contract lets the publisher deduct the costs of editing, publishing, and distribution of the work before calculating the author’s royalty share, that means the author is paying some of the publishing costs. Even though the contract may not require the author to pay the publisher out-of-pocket, this kind of language is still inappropriate in a traditional publishing deal."

Hand-Selling: How to Kill It at Book and Comic Conventions by Andy Peloquin from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Of course the story is going to be good (you’ve labored hard to make it so), but when it comes to selling face-to-face, your passion is going to be the most appealing thing. People love to see someone excited about something. If your tone of voice, facial expression, body language, gestures, and overall bearing show your enthusiasm and passion (by telling the story you love), people will identify with that and respond positively."

Lynda Mullaly Hunt on Connecting with the "Middle-Grade Psyche" by Karen Yingling from School Library Journal. Peek: "I have met kids who had not heard of foster care or dyslexia and have learned to empathize with others’ struggles. I have heard from many, many kids who have learned to cut themselves a break by reading my books; I consider this to be the greatest gift of this author gig. It’s important for us all to remember that by avoiding difficult topics in children’s books, we do not eradicate the questions kids ask. We eradicate the answers."

Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat at the Writer's Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Two-week retreat is open exclusively to women of color. Nine fully funded scholarships are available in a variety of categories. Application deadline is May 1.

Applications are still being accepted for the We Need Diverse Books Internship Grant for students from diverse backgrounds (people of color, people with disabilities, people from the LGBTQIAP+ community, and other underrepresented groups) who wish to pursue a career in children’s publishing.

If Fiction Changes the World, It's Going to be YA by Emily Temple from Lit Hub. Peek: "In trying times like these, the notion of a novel as a form of activism seems only natural: everyone must respond to the current political, social, and emotional moment in their own way, and for writers, that way is on the page."

Publishing Factual Books in an "Alternative Facts" World by Jason Low from School Library Journal. Peek: "Publishing children’s books is serious business. We have the responsibility of informing young minds. The stories we tell will leave lasting impressions on children, and we do not take this obligation lightly."

Cynsational Screening Room

In the video, author Lamar Giles discusses his new mystery novel, Overturned (Scholastic, 2017).



This Week at Cynsations

More Personally - Cynthia

VCFA family united in Austin to welcome authors Marion Dane Bauer, Kathi Appelt and Susan Fletcher, all of whom have served on our MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults faculty.

Cyn with Marion Dane Bauer (Kathi Appelt chats with alumni, including Donna Janell Bowman, in the background)

Susan, Cyn & Gayleen, alumi Debbie Dunn, Shelley Ann Jackson, students Holly Green & Salima Alikhan.
Writing is ongoing! Having finished VCFA grading for March, I began to integrate feedback from my brilliant readers into my YA work in progress. At this point, it's all about fleshing out and polishing. Smoothing logic, making sure what's in my head mostly comes through on the page. I don't anticipate any problem making my mid-May deadline. I may even send the document early. Whew.

Beginning today, though, I must set aside the manuscript again to put on my author hat.

I've written original keynotes for next weekend's conferences, but only one of the PowerPoint presentations is finished. Both talks need to be practiced.

I'll see how far I get with that by Sunday night and then, if all's well, do one more manuscript read Monday and Tuesday before running through the talks again on Wednesday. That would be ideal.

My days are long--typically I work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. But I try to feed the muse with art and friendship whenever I can. Of late, I've seen two movies: the live-action "Beauty and the Beast" and "Hidden Figures." Disney's latest version of fairy tale is still somewhat plagued by the construct of the original, but it's interesting to see how the rewrite addressed plot holes and changing societal sensibilities. Plus, the animation is mind blowing.

"Hidden Figures," on the other hand, is absolutely required viewing. You must see this film. At least twice. The writing and performances are phenomenal.

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be a keynote speaker for the 33rd Annual Virginia Hamilton Conference on April 6 and April 7 at Kent State University in Ohio.

In addition, she will deliver the keynote address at The Color of Children's Literature Conference from Kweli Literary Journal on April 8 at the New York Times Conference Center in Manhattan.

She is also a faculty member for the Highlights Foundation Workshop: The Joke's On You! The Scoop on Humor for MG and YA writers, Oct. 12 - 15. She will teach with author Uma Krishnaswami, writer-poetic-comedian Sean Petrie and Curtis Brown Ltd. agents Ginger Knowlton and Elizabeth Harding. Note: this program is: (a) a rare opportunity to gain insights from top writing teachers and Curtis Brown vice presidents: (b) both for comedy writers and those writing more serious works that include some comic relief.

Personal Links
For Activists in Training


More Personally - Gayleen

When I attended the recent VCFA event, I lugged along my old copy of What's Your Story for Marion to sign. 

I discovered the book post-VCFA and it became indispensable the summer I taught writing workshops at Girl Scout camp. The book served as my guide for helping the girls find their own stories. There's nothing more exciting than seeing someone discover the power of story. 

I loved having the chance to thank Marion in person for writing What's Your Story and to tell her about how it helped me on those hot July days.

Personal Links

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Author-Illustrator Interview: Chieu Anh Urban on Developing Interactive Board Books

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Congratulations on Color Wonder: Hooray for Spring! (Little Simon, 2016) This is your third novelty book. 

Cynsations readers may remember your debut Raindrops: The Color of Showers (illustrated by by Viviana Garofoli, Sterling, 2010) and the creative process you described then.

Thank you for having me back; it's hard to believe seven years have gone by. I'm excited to still be working on novelty books, and appreciate the opportunity to share my process with you and the creative children's book community.

Tell us about the Color Wonder series. How did this idea develop? What was your inspiration?

This story was a dream come true. Every fall, I begin working on my holiday card to send to publishing editors and art directors. My cards focuses on a special interactive format, and each one is hand-assembled.

A few years ago, I sent out a holiday card featuring sea creatures, embracing the holiday spirit with an interactive wheel format that showcased the concept of color-mixing. The editor at Little Simon was very excited about it, and that is how Color Wonder became a series.

Holiday card with interactive wheel format.
Were there things you learned working on your previous books that helped you with this project?

I am always working on my craft and developing ideas. I've learned to be patient and let my designs slowly evolve, until I feel they are ready for me to start layering format and concept together.

My color-mixing wheel format was sketched out in my art book over four years ago. Every now and then I would return to the drawings to improve the design, and develop story concept ideas that would compliment the interactive experience.

Interior spread from Hooray for Spring!
When you're thinking about an interactive novelty board book, what are the top priorities for creators to keep in mind?


Chieu's art work space
My goal is to develop a format that will provide fun learning, interactive story-time experiences. I want my novelty format to serve a purpose that works with the story and concept. The interaction with format and story should be fun and satisfying to the child and reader.

My biggest challenge is to keep printing production and cost in mind. Often times, I develop a project that I'm very excited about, but is cost-prohibitive, or difficult to manufacture.

You wear a lot of hats in creating these books: author, illustrator, graphic designer and novelty format designer. Can you tell us more about these roles and the creative skills you call upon to make interactive novelty board books?  

I have a background in communications art and design. I think visually first, with my designer hat on.

I often start my projects with a concept idea, for example, colors. I begin with sketches of how I envision the layout, format, and design to look. From there, the art and story starts to play a role. I work in all these pieces and see what transpires.

How does being a novelty format designer make your work stand out?

Chieu's computer work space
I focus on creating a format that is inventive and unique, a design that is fun and fresh.

I also think about reinventing common novelty elements, such as die-cuts and wheels.

Being a designer helps me approach art and story in a different perspective.

What are you currently working on?

I've been busy preparing art for my upcoming novelty books. This fall, Winter is Here! (Little Simon, October 2017), the second book in the Color Wonder series with color-mixing wheels will be published.

Quiet as a Mouse, and Other Animal Idioms (Sterling, 2017) is a fun guess-who novelty book with die-cuts, that will also be available in the fall.

In 2018, 123 GO! will make its debut. It is a number and counting novelty book with sliding vehicles on every page. I currently have a few novelty projects I am developing. Hopefully they will come together nicely.

Cynsations Notes

Chieu Anh Urban holds a BFA in Communications Art and Design from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts in Richmond. She began her career as a graphic designer and now works from her studio in suburban Maryland.

Activities, coloring pages and party collections associated with Hooray for Spring and Away We Go! are available on her website and her blog includes pre-school appropriate crafts related to her titles.

Chieu and her daughter at Hooray for Spring Launch Party

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Interview: Lee & Low New Voices Award Winners

Roberto Penas
By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Lee & Low Books recently announced Roberto Penas of Olathe, Kansas won the 17th annual New Voices Award.

His manuscript, "Pedro Flores: The Toymaker," is a biography of the inventor of the modern yo-yo.

In the early 1900s, Flores emigrated from the Philippines to the United States, where he pursued an education and his entrepreneurial ambitions. He redesigned the toy and named it "yo-yo" (Tagalog for "come back.")

Roberto Penas has a master's degree in Philippine history and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

He is a second-generation Filipino-American, and became interested in the story after learning Flores was also Filipino. Roberto admired the way Flores valued education and became a successful entrepreneur during a time when many immigrants worked as agricultural laborers. Roberto will receive a $1,000 prize and a publication contract.

Roberto recently shared more about the inspiration behind his manuscript.

Tell us about how you discovered Pedro Flores and what about him made you want to share his story?

I don't recall exactly how I stumbled upon his name, but I know it was accidental, for he is sadly not included in most lists of notable Filipino-Americans.

What I found inspiring is how his example dispels the usual story of Ilocano immigrants laboring in fields for the sake of their descendants. While it is true, for a Filipino to become a financially independent entrepreneur in the early 1900's is inconceivable - and it happened!

Keep in mind, America back then was reacting against foreigners, making immigration more restrictive (targeting Eastern Europeans and Asians). And there were the infamous Stockton riots against Filipinos in California, too.

What sort of research did you do to learn more about him?


I
t was difficult, for there is little about Flores, he is practically obscure. There are no books about him but I gained valuable information indirectly through books concerning his invention (and of course, the inventor).

Fortunately, the Yo-Yo remains a highly popular toy to this day. I also used the Internet but one has to be careful - what I learned as a historian is that credible sources are everything.

So I double-check, triple-check all data: newspapers, archived articles, (there was a Washington Post rebuttal correcting an article in the New York Times), obituaries, university and industry sites, associations, blogs.

How long have you been working on this story?

On and off for a couple years. I started writing August 2014, didn't do anything for a while, then came back to it the following spring and summer where I worked up three versions.

I even have a Word document called "Lee and Low version D" for September 2015 but I didn't think it was ready, so the project lay fallow again. Then when I heard about the New Vision contest in 2016, I decided it was a now-or-never moment and got serious, submitting the manuscript a couple weeks before the deadline.

Were there particular classes or workshops you've taken that have helped you hone your craft?

I have been a member of the SCBWI for five years and classes in their conferences have been useful.

I also have books on writing but with picture books, articles on the Internet helped me more, especially when agents, editors and authors share their own tips.

The best education however is reading picture books. Personally, I love them for their gorgeous artwork - when you compare them to any other book in the store, the level of creativity and talent is simply outstanding.

But what probably helped me most was a short story group I belonged to eight years ago, where our stories couldn't exceed 1,500 words. When you have a 1000-2000 word count in picture books, every word really counts - a chapter in middle grade would be only two pages in a picture book. Maximum.

Illustration by Dayne Sislan
Are you part of a critique group?

I was in a critique group via SCBWI, though currently the group is reorganizing. I found the group indispensable; unless you get feedback, you can't objectively know how you're doing. By submitting work - and critiquing that of others - over the years, (usually a chapter at a time, though we allowed for an entire picture book since it's short), I have grown in my writing.

Have you entered the New Voices contest before?

No, this was my first time, through I was aware about it before. I actually had my sights set on the New Visions award for middle grade. But in the end, I felt what I had wasn't ready.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a middle-grade novel, the one I got cold feet submitting for the New Visions Award last year.

Similar to Pedro Flores, I feel there is a dearth of Filipino-American characters - in fact, I can't think of any except a good book that came out last year by Erin Entrada Kelly.

So my work features a Filipino-American girl trying to find her place in the American heartland, where I live, flyover country. It's got loads of fantasy, adventure and humor and I'm having fun doing it - I want it to be totally magical for the reader.

Gloria Amescua
Gloria Amescua of Austin,Texas, received the honor award. Her manuscript, Luz Jiménez, No Ordinary Girl, is a story in verse about a Nahua educator and art muse in Mexico.

As a young girl Luz dreamed of becoming a teacher, but the Mexican Revolution left Luz’s family struggling to survive. Luz supported her family by working for various artists, sharing stories about her experiences and inspiring important works of art.

She went on to become a teacher and served as a living link to the Aztecs, preserving her Nahua culture and language.

Gloria is a poet and a member of SCBWI’s Austin chapter. She was inspired to write Luz’s story after reading about Luz and the obstacles she overcame. Gloria admires the message in Luz’s story: dreams may come true in ways that are unexpected. She will receive a prize of $500.

Gloria recently shared more about her writing journey and how she discovered Luz Jiménez.

Tell us about how you discovered Luz Jiménez and what about her made you want to share her story?

Pamphlet from Ransom Center at UT
Several years ago while visiting the University of Texas Ransom Center, I found a pamphlet entitled Luz Jiménez: Symbol of a Millennial People.

The symposium described in the pamphlet had actually taken place several years before, so I’m not sure why it was still available. I’m lucky it was.

As I read about this incredible woman, I knew I had to write about her, but I wasn’t sure how until I took some picture book courses a couple of years later.

I was greatly affected by Luz Jiménez’s story because of the many obstacles she overcame, including the shaming of her native language when she was a child, as has happened in this and other countries.

It was important to me to tell the story of this Nahua (Aztec) girl who, despite the difficulties in her life, achieved her dream of becoming a teacher by honoring her culture.

What sort of research did you do to learn more about her?

I searched online and ordered two books based on Luz’s Nahua stories.

The most important find was a dissertation published online, part of which was about Luz Jiménez. I contacted the professor at the University of Texas who offered to lend me two relevant DVDs and who put me in contact with Luz’s grandson in Mexico.

Her grandson also connected me with a professor of Nahuatl in Mexico who specializes in the same dialect that Luz spoke. I greatly appreciate their time and helpfulness.

How long have you been working on this story?

Bethany Hegedus
I first wrote a draft for a Picture Book II course at the Writing Barn in Austin.

I spent about two years doing further research.

Then I signed up for Bethany Hegedus’s Nonfiction Picture Book course last summer, which helped me get through many, many revisions. The instruction and feedback from teachers and participants was invaluable.

I noticed it is a "story in verse" - tell us about your poetry background and how that influences your writing.

I have been writing poetry since I was a child and throughout my life while I was an English teacher and in other positions in education.

In the 1990s, I became more active in the poetry community: meeting regularly with other poets, attending and giving workshops, participating in readings and getting work published.

In poetry, each word counts as it does in picture books. My love of metaphor and sensory details also influences the emotional impact of my current writing.

Cynsational Notes

Established in 2000, Lee & Low's New Voices Award encourages writers of color to submit their work to a publisher that takes pride in nurturing authors who are new to the world of children’s book publishing. Submission period for the award takes place each summer.

Past winners include It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor, Bird by Zetta Elliott, an ALA Notable Book, and, most recently, Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk, a Spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 Europolitan Con: Agent Penny Holroyde & Author-Illustrator Chris Mould

By Catherine Coe
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Note: This is the final installment of our series focusing on the SCBWI Europolitan Conference. Author Catherine Coe interviewed agent Penny Holroyde and her client author-illustrator Chris Mould.

Agent Penny Holroyde started her career in publishing over twenty years ago working in the rights department at Walker Books and selling picture book co-editions across the world.

She then relocated to Massachusetts and worked as Director of Rights and Licensing for Candlewick Press before relocating to the United Kingdom and starting life as an agent.

After 10 years with the Caroline Sheldon Agency she founded Holroyde Cartey in 2015 with Claire Cartey, former art director at Hodder Children’s Books.

Chris Mould was born and raised in West Yorkshire where he still lives with his family.

He is one of twenty studio artists at the prestigious Dean Clough Mills arts and business complex. His published work ranges from picture books to young fiction, and throughout a long career he has also produced theater posters, editorial cartoons for major newspapers and character development work for animated features.

Chris has won the Nottingham Children’s Book Award and the Swiss Prix Enfantaisie Best Children’s Novel Award, and has been short-listed for numerous others including the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Sheffield Children’s Book Award.

Chris is the author/illustrator of many picture books and young fiction, including the hugely successful Something Wickedly Weird series, and he also illustrates for others, such as Matt Haig's A Boy Called Christmas (Canongate, 2015) and The Girl Who Saved Christmas (Canongate, 2016). He occasionally shares illustrations and publishing news on blog.

Penny, can you tell us about how you and Chris first met, and what attracted you to his work?

As soon as I saw the words ‘My name is Chris Mould’ in my inbox I was looking up train times to Halifax. I would need to bring my A-game because, as a talent seeking new representation, he would not be short of suitors. I already knew I loved his work and when we met, we got along really well plus we shared the same strategy for how his career should progress.

And, Chris, what drew you to Penny?

Although Penny was an ‘ideal world’ choice for me I’d never be so presumptuous as to say I chose her because it has to be a mutual agreement of two people deciding to work together and matching up their skills. But her reputation goes before her.

She has a publishing background that means she completely understands the foundations of children’s publishing and why, when and how it works, both at home and abroad. She can wrestle a contract into the ground and she will do it in a way that shows that she’s human and enjoys working with the people that she negotiates with. She’s always 100-percent respectful of publishers and their respective teams when she talks to me privately and I like that.

But what’s hugely and equally important to me is that we get on tremendously and we’re like-minded on the creative front. You should hear us nattering in the pub. We’re like two old men.



Penny, many of your clients are illustrators and/or authors of younger fiction, such as Chris. Is this an intentional direction for you, or has it just happened that way? When considering illustrators, do you look for those who can write too, or do you find that comes later?

This does appear to have become Holroyde Cartey’s brand and although this has not been a conscious thing, it reflects my and Claire’s respective fields of interest and has actually become a kind of USP for the agency. We don’t insist that illustrators can also write though.

Chris, how did you get into children’s books? Were you an illustrator or a writer first?

Illustration was my first port of call. I was in art schools for six years after struggling through school, directionless.

When I found what I loved they couldn’t get rid of me. From then on I dived head first into publishing. But the sketchbook process is a big part of what I do and it lead to me creating written content.

I’d draw characters and give them names or just write odd sentences that floated around mid-air but that definitely had the opportunity to develop into something. It grew from there.

I always say I don’t really separate words and pictures. Integrated text and image makes for more coherent storytelling and I love the idea that the two can seamlessly merge.

Penny, in your day-to-day working life, how does teamwork play a part? 

It would be weird if 10 days went by when Chris and I didn’t talk on the phone. He is always busy so there is always stuff to discuss. Part of what I really respect about our working partnership is the trust. I might explain where I’m at with a contractual technicality and he will diligently listen and say that he trusts me to do the right thing.

We had a situation recently where he was approached for a high profile (read, celebrity) fiction series and we worked out our position, together, and stuck to it.

Chris' work space in his Dean Clough Mills studio 
Chris, are there other partnerships – aside from illustrators, your agent and your publisher – that are important to you in your creative work?

My studio sits in a large complex which is a mixture of art and business. We have art space, galleries,
restaurants and cafes mingled with office space that is home to over 150 companies.

It’s huge and it has a great vibe and the whole idea of it initially was that it would encourage business and art to mingle and mix and enthuse one another. It works well for me and it means that there’s a certain dynamic that allows and assists inspiration, creative thinking and interesting input from people connected, and not connected, to the arts.

Sometimes inspiration comes in the form of a sandwich and a coffee in the cafe. I’m a big believer in that.

Penny, before becoming an agent, you worked in international rights (for Candlewick in the US). How has that affected what you do and how you approach agenting? Do you always think internationally?

Yes, I do, particularly when it comes to picture books. My background in rights gave me a lot of field knowledge but I learned the most about contracts, rights, and technicalities (which I think are essential skills for an agent) whilst working with Caroline Sheldon for 10 years.

Chris, your books have been translated into over 20 different languages. Do you take into account the potential for international book deals when developing ideas? 

Outside of publishing, people don’t realise how reliant we are on selling foreign rights and how small the U.K. market is. It’s not something you’d need to consider. And there are many things you’d like to ignore when you’re creating content because the whole idea of doing just that is that you can go anywhere you want to within your imagination.

But you do become conscious of what will travel and what won’t.

Pirates are a good example. Always a sure seller in the children’s market. Everlasting appeal guaranteed. And then consider the countries that have problems with modern day piracy and you can strike them off of your list of foreign rights options.

Penny, can you give us an insight into your professional mindset and what drives you as an agent?

I’m so happy to be running a business with Claire Cartey and, nearly two years in, we have some good successes and our client list is building very nicely. In terms of what drives me, I think it’s that thing of seeing a book go from a germ of an idea during a phone conversation with a client, right through to holding the finished book in my hand.

Chris, what drives you as an author/illustrator? Do you have any ambitions as yet unrealized? Is there anything you’d really love to work on/anyone you’d love to work with?

What drives me is the need (not the desire or the love of) but the need to draw and paint and tell stories.

It’s something we’ve always done. It’s as old as time and I’m endlessly fascinated by it. I always say I’d love to see something go to screen but being in this industry I am realistic. It’s about handing your work to someone else and very possibly feeling lukewarm about what comes back. So although that interests me and I’ve already got a waste bin full of popcorn on reserve, I’m acutely aware of the reality.

Also there are plenty authors I’d love to work with. I guess that’s fairly normal for most people like me. And I need to do a graphic novel.

Chris, you’re both an author and an illustrator, so in a way you’re your own partnership! Does that mean that when you’re working on a book you’re both writing and illustrating that your creative process is fairly solitary? Or do you still involve others – your agent/publisher? – and in what way? 

I’d say I’m very solitary in the early stages until I roll something out there. I’ll harbour my thoughts in my sketchbook and then it would probably extend into excited conversations over the phone with Penny.

Usually I’d send her drawings and ask her what she thinks and we will talk about why something may or may not work before she takes it anywhere. Maybe with some adjustment aforehand. Sometimes we talk about ideas before there’s any content if it happens that way. Usually this needs wine or beer.

Penny, how involved do you get with Chris’s early ideas and the development of his projects? 

When Chris and I started working together, Pocket Pirates was pretty much fully-formed and since then, he hasn’t had much time to work on his own ideas as he’s always being approached!

His sketch book is a cornucopia of delights and we keep promising each other that one of these days we’ll find a quiet corner of a pub and dig through for new ideas.

Chris, how do you find that writing informs the illustrating side of your work and vice versa? Where do you usually start when developing a new project? Do you experiment with different illustration styles depending on the concept? 

It’s back to that idea of trying not to separate words and pictures. And just letting thoughts out and not being self-conscious of what something is before it’s formed into something concrete.

I always try and start with something that just interests me. But it can be something very simple. A written line, a character, even just words that I like the sound of and start playing around with. It’s a very back to front and inside out process. So yes, in answer to your question they do inform each other and I think, subconsciously, that’s why I work in the way I work.

Penny, do you think it’s the words or the illustrations that are more important to a publisher when considering a submission from someone who does both, such as Chris?

Chris reads a lot in his free time and so he has a good gut instinct about whether a text (someone else’s) is for him when he’s offered it.

He’s currently working on a very exciting new non-fiction book that was born when a publisher saw something in his sketch book. The publisher then worked up the idea and attached a non-fiction author to it so that was a very collaboratively process.

Chris, you’re best known for your Something Wickedly Weird series. Can you tell us where the idea for that came from and how you developed the concept? 

Something Wickedly Weird was the beginning of me putting artwork and narrative together and at the time it was really just a vehicle for me to add all the elements to a story that I wanted to draw.

So, for example, I was always fascinated by all those animated sequences of people turning into werewolves in horror movies. I loved the idea of a character becoming another character within a plot.

I also loved the idea of a completely invented place away from anywhere else where anything could happen without cause for explanation. And I had to weave pirates in there just because they make for great characters and children love the sinister ones.

So it was a jumble of all the things knocking around in my sketchbook and all the nonsense in my head that I wanted to include and it became a process of weaving them into a coherent storyline.

Penny, why do you think Something Wickedly Weird has been so successful? 

A hugely likeable hero in Stanley Buggles, recognizable fantasy worlds featuring pirates and three-legged dogs, etc., the writing is strong and perfectly pitched for the age group, plus, of course, Chris’s amazing pictures.

Chris, some of your most recent work has been illustrating Matt Haig’s Christmas novels – A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas. Can you tell us about how that came about and how the partnership works? Are there difficult things about illustrating someone else’s work? Is it easier or harder to illustrate someone else’s work because you are also a writer?

Canongate had looked around for an illustrator who would make visual sense of the Christmas books and needless to say we were very excited by the prospect when we were approached. I’d always wanted to do a book about Father Christmas and here on a plate was a ready-made tale by a significant author. And a strong one at that. A Christmas gift, in the middle of May!


Matt and Canongate are both great to work with because they weren’t prescriptive about how things should appear visually.

Sometimes authors can be very specific in this sense. That’s fine. It just means they have a clear view of the whole look of that world in their head when they’re writing. But obviously that makes the process a bit more backwards and forwards and less free for the visually creative side.

But the team embraced the visual interpretation with open arms and allowed me to develop it in the way I saw it, which was great for me and made the process all the more enjoyable.

I really believe that to get the best out of illustrators you have to let them do what they do. Myself and Matt also seem quite well matched in that we aren’t overly sentimental and we are both happy to deal with the darker side of things.

I love that his Father Christmas origin story has trolls in it. And that someone’s head explodes. Who’d have thunk it??

Someone said to me that they could tell that when my reindeers aren’t ‘in shot’, they’re round the back of the sleigh shed, having a cigarette.

Penny, can you give us your thoughts on why Chris and Matt make such a great combination?

Chris is a perfect choice for Matt’s Christmas novels and Canongate’s publishing of this franchise has been very talented. Chris is very good at portraying poignancy in dark situations, and Victoriana and the Gothic are very much his metier.

Thanks, Penny and Chris, for talking to me today and giving such interesting insights into your work. I'm very much looking forward to seeing you both at the Europolitan conference.

Catherine Coe is a children’s book editor and author with over 15 years’ experience. Having worked in-house for many years, most recently as senior commissioning editor at Orchard Books, Catherine went freelance in 2011.

Since then she has authored over 30 books, including The Owls of Blossom Wood (Scholastic, 2015), The Unicorns of Blossom Wood (Scholastic, 2016), and the Kid Cowboy (Orchard Books, 2012) series.

Editorially, Catherine’s clients include many major and independent publishers and agents, and she also works directly with writers, offering consultancy, mentoring and editing services.

When Catherine’s not reading or writing with a cup of Earl Grey in hand, you’ll most likely find her out running the waterside paths of Stockholm, the city she now calls home. On Twitter she's @catherinecoe.

Cynsational Notes

Huge thanks and appreciation to the amazing Elisabeth Norton, for organizing, coordinating and making the SCBWI Europolitan Con series of articles possible! Without her generous assistance, we would not have been able to share these in-depth interviews with you.

Elisabeth Norton

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Europolitan Con: Art Director Laurent Linn of Simon & Schuster

By Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez

Laurent Linn, Art Director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson's Muppet Workshop, creating characters for various productions, including the Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island films. With Henson for over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the Creative Director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award.

Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, collaborating with illustrators and authors such as Tomie dePaola, Patricia Polacco, Bryan Collier, E. B. Lewis, Raúl Colón, Debbie Ohi, and Taeeun Yoo.

Laurent is on the Board of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and is Artistic Advisor for the annual Original Art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York.

He is also an author: his debut illustrated teen novel is Draw the Line (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016). 

Note: SCBWI Belgium Illustrator Coordinator Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez interviewed Laurent Linn. This is the fifth in a series of six articles about the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Laurent, can you share some of the many types of partnerships you’ve developed throughout your career?

Every aspect of what I’ve been involved in throughout my career has required partnering with others. I love creating characters and worlds, and in the ways I’ve done that (theater, TV, films, books, conferences) it’s always a collaboration, which makes it a richer experience.

With books, of course, the partnership I have with illustrators is essential and we’re able to bring our
individual expertise together for the best art for each particular book. I also work closely with editors, copyeditors, production people, and others at my publishing house to bring our books to life.

Laurent with Debbie Ridpath Ohi
And within the design group I work with, by sharing the projects we each design, we learn from each other and bounce off ideas – it’s essential to have a peer group to learn with (and have fun with!)

What is the importance of working together in the publishing journey for you?

We are creating stories and illustrated worlds that are bound in books and need to get out in the world and into readers’ hands. If we didn’t all work together, and respect the expertise and experience we each bring to the process, then we wouldn’t have any books at all. The very nature of making literature is a collaborative process, and it’s essential for us all to grow creatively and to make the best books possible.

I’m an author and illustrator myself, and without my writing group, agent, editor, designer, etc., my novel Draw The Line would never have seen the light of day (and wouldn’t be nearly as good.)

And, as an art director, working with illustrators is my joy, and helping solve artistic problems, encourage artists to grow, and directing the art to be the best it can be are the greatest things about collaboration.

I think many are curious to know how authors and illustrators work together and if there are any common challenges. Could you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes?

Actually, authors and illustrators don’t work together.

There are a few rare instances where they do, of course, but the vast majority of picture books are created without the author and illustrator ever meeting, which is a good thing. Here’s why: a picture book is a shared vision, and we want to be sure that both the writer and illustrator each have the freedom to bring their own vision to the book.

After we acquire a manuscript, I usually give it to the illustrator hired for that book without any art notes at all (unless the book is nonfiction, in which case art notes can be very important.) We hire an illustrator for their unique talents and the way they would interpret the story on their own.

Understandably, an author feels ownership of the story, but an illustrator must also feel ownership and not be hindered in any way from bringing their magic to the book. I have heard countless authors’ reactions after seeing the illustrations for their books, and they are always amazed at how the illustrator brought a vision and ideas to the book that the author could never have dreamed.

What comes first, the words or pictures?

If the writer is one person in the illustrator another person, then the words come first. The manuscript of a picture book comes to our publishing house first either from the writer or their agent.

After an editor acquires a manuscript, it is brought to the art department where I will look for an illustrator for that particular book. However, if the author and illustrator are the same person, there is no rule. Some creators sketch the concepts first and others write them first. Everyone is unique!

Laurent with Tomie dePaola
What advice can you give to authors and illustrators trying to make it into the market? Are there any common mistakes people make?

Certainly, there is no resource better then SCBWI! The organization is not only fantastic for the connections and vast information, but also for being a part of our community and allowing us to learn from each other. Everyone is at a different point in their careers and there is much to learn from what others have experienced.

Along those lines, peer groups can be fantastic. Whether a writing group or an illustration group, working out your craft with others who are doing the same thing can really help us grow.

As for common mistakes, I would say that educating yourself about how both the business and creative sides work before submitting art samples or manuscripts can make all the difference. Not only will you be submitting your art or stories in the correct ways, but it will save you much time and energy as well.

How can authors and illustrators learn from one another?

This may seem obvious, but the absolute best way without a doubt is to read and look at books! 

I've learned more from other authors and illustrators myself by reading their books and pouring over their illustrations than any other way. Of course, conferences are also fantastic because you get to hear about different experiences and personal journeys.

Gabriela Nicole Gonzalez is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Brussels, Belgium. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the the Maryland Institute College of Art in Illustration and is currently pursuing a second degree in Advertising and Digital Design.

She writes and illustrates for children and serves as the illustrator coordinator for SCBWI Belgium.

When she's not working her interests include traveling, learning languages and collecting illustrated chickens. Inspired by new faces and new places, she loves creating and ultimately living a life full of curiosity.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...