Showing posts with label SCBWI Bologna 2012. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SCBWI Bologna 2012. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author Interview: Kathleen Ahrens

By Resham Premchand
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As the International Regional Advisor Chair of SCBWI, what initiatives has you seen blossom over the years outside of the U.S.? 

Erzsi Deak started up international regions and became the SCBWI International Regional Advisor Chair (IRAC) in the early part of the last decade. She invited me to become a Regional Advisor for Taiwan in 2001. I later became her International Assistant Advisor (AIA) in 2005 and took over the role of IRAC in 2008 (and the fabulous Angela Cerrito is now the AIA).

Erzsi was instrumental in envisioning the role SCBWI should have in Bologna at the Book Fair and we've tried to continue to achieve her vision to expand SCBWI's presence at Bologna

I've also worked to expand SCBWI International's reach by co-sponsoring the Asian Festival of Children's Content, which is held in Singapore every May. This conference is a magnet for writers and illustrators in the greater Asian region.

In addition, we have approximately two dozen international regions holding great events around the world: the U.K., Australia & New Zealand, Tokyo, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Canada East and Canada West, France, Germany, Malaysia, Israel -- the list goes on and on.

You often go to the different events SCBWI organizes: New York, LA and Bologna. What do you think is the flavor of each of the events?

Since 2008, SCBWI International has organized a showcase for P.A.L. members at the Bologna Children's Book Fair every two years. Conferences were also organized at Bologna between 2004 and 2010, but this was dropped in 2012 due to the desire to focus solely on providing a space for authors and illustrators to showcase their works at the Bologna Fair.

Thus, Bologna differs markedly from the New York and L.A. conferences, where the focus is on attending workshops and improving one's craft. At Bologna, there are no workshops -- the focus is on highlighting publications from a region or from P.A.L. members and, thus, is a way for our P.A.L. members to promote themselves. You can check out for more info.

Taking into consideration your own multicultural background into account, what impact do you think bilingual books have on children, including third-culture kids?

Bilingual books let children know that language is not an either/or proposition. It validates their own experiences as bilingual speakers, and lets them know that it's normal and fun to use two languages. Also, seeing the languages contrasted side by side in a book allows them to see both the similarities and differences between languages, which is an important step in their cognitive development.

In your recent publication of bilingual books, Ears Hear and Numbers Do (both Sun Ya Press, 2012), what did you find most challenging?

Illustrated by Marjorie Van Heerden

These are texts for the very young, so we wanted to tell the story in as few words as possible to encourage multiple readings, as it is through multiple readings that a child's linguistic competence is developed as the brain scaffolds information from a previous reading onto the following reading.

It was a challenge to get the words to flow smoothly in both languages and at the same time to attain a heartfelt ending.

In an interview with RTHK, you recommended reading Celine by Brock Cole (FSG) and also mentioned that one of your favorite books is Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright (Square Fish). Both books are young adult books, coming of age books. This is also true of your own work, "Life Saving Secrets," nominated for the SCBWI Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award in 2005. Do you have a special place for them in your heart? Why? 

Celine is a brilliant novel that has so many levels to it -- on the surface it is the story of two children who feel abandoned by the adults in their lives, but at the same time, it is a story of hope and a story of love, even though that love is imperfect and never right and never enough -- it's still there.

Then There Were Five looked at from the lenses of "today may seem to good to be true" -- the five siblings are much nicer to each other than any sibling set I've ever seen, but at the same time, they still upset each other. They still are insensitive to each other's feelings and needs.

So you have to ask yourself: if even these kids hurt each other's feelings, it's no wonder I'm so upset by my own brother/sister, etc.

Both books really tap into the emotional lives of their characters, and that's what makes them so real for their readers.

On a personal note, how do you do it all – from being a linguistics professor, having a family with two growing boys, writing creatively and being part of SCBWI? Do you go without sleep?

I think there are a couple things to keep in mind -- the first is that I have had different priorities at different stages in my life. So in my twenties, my priority was my academic research, and in my thirties, my priority was raising my two children. Of course, I kept working and enjoyed my teaching and research greatly, but during that period of my life, if I had to choose between meeting the needs of my children and meeting my own professional needs, I put the children first.

Now, I'm in my 40s and my children are older so I have more time to devote to writing. And as regards the commitment SCBWI, I've never felt that it's a strain because it's a volunteer organization and everyone is willing to pitch in and also support each other. So, for example, if I can't manage to attend a conference, other RAs understand and help out.

However, keep in mind that the above story this is a sanitized, retrospective version of events -- it wasn't as neat as the story I laid out above. I actually started writing when I was pregnant with my first child and wrote throughout my thirties. It's just that now, in my forties, I'm paying more attention to my writing and to my goals related to writing. It's moving up in priority in my life.

In addition, the second really important thing to keep in mind is that I've asked for and received a lot of help along the way. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was in grad school came from a senior academic who reminded us that it was important to remember that our time is valuable. Thus, it was worthwhile to our careers to find someone to handle the chores that we didn't want to do ourselves.

May I ask what are you working on now?

I am currently working on two YA manuscripts: "Lifesaving Secrets" and "Virtual Love."

"Lifesaving" Secrets is about a teen who has to decide between the perfect guy and the half-sister she hates. This manuscript was previously nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award, and it also received the Runner-Up Award for a SCBWI WIP Grant for a Contemporary Novel.

"Virtual Love" is about a teen girl geek who wouldn’t know true love if it hit her over the head, even though she spends all her time writing programs to create virtual relationships.

Then, the weekend a major computer program is due, three possible boyfriends present themselves and she has to quickly separate virtual love from the real thing.

Cynsational Notes

Kathleen Ahrens is Professor and Head of the Language Center at Hong Kong Baptist University. She received her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of California, San Diego and has published extensively in academic journals on issues surrounding meaning and metaphor. She is also a writer and translator of children's books. She serves on the board of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators as the International Regional Advisor Chairperson.

She has been invited to talk in Taiwan, Italy, Germany, and Hong Kong on topics relating to language in publishing in the Chinese children's book market, children's picture books, picture book evaluation, and the creation of literature for children, and she recently served as a judge for the Fengzikai Picture Book Award for picture books published in Chinese. She has two co-authored picture books, titled Numbers Do and Ears Hear! coming out in 2012 from Sun Ya Press.

Resham Premchand is a keen life-long student of literature and enjoys playing with words. She is an active member of Hong Kong and Singapore SCWBI groups and enjoys learning from critique groups. Resham is primary school teacher and loves working with children!

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase.

Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

This post concludes the SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series. Highlights have included interviews with author Christopher Cheng, author-app creator Sarah Towle, author-illustrators Barbara McClintock, John ShelleyPaul O. Zelinsky, Bruce Degen, marketing consultant Susan Raab, and agent Erzsi Deak, among others.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author-Illustrator Interview: Inbal Sarid

By Liz Steinglass
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

On your facebook page, you have a very intriguing illustration of a man cutting the hair of a girl wearing a crown. The girl looks both stunned and thrilled. What’s happening in this picture?

This picture is actually my favorite illustration from the last book I finished illustrating. The story tells about a princess who couldn't see and the king tries to find a cure in almost every way: a doctor, witchdoctors from around the world, witches and magicians, but not one of them succeeded. Through the whole story the royal tailor tries to clue the king into the solution—her hair is just too long to let her see! After the king was so desperate from trying, he gave the tailor permission to solve the problem.

The author, Cigal Shaul, had an interesting idea of making the illustrations ambiguous, so when you ignore the text you get a different aspect of the story.

The idea was not to show the face of the princess so the reader wouldn't know the solution is that simple. This illustration describes the moment when he finally cut her hair after years of stumbling and getting stuck at walls! Thrilled is correct for describing her feelings.

By the way, the character of the tailor is based on my boyfriend David. It was a brilliant idea that made me love making the illustration even more.

Tailor cutting the princess's hair

You have re-illustrated two books by Levin Kipnis, a well-known author in Israel. Was this intimidating? What did you do to enable yourself to re-imagine the books?

It wasn't intimidating at all. It was very exciting! I had the honor to work in front of Levin Kipnis' son and his wife. To be honest, I didn't grow up on these two books, I was busy drawing all day rather than reading, but Ziona showed me all the versions ever made for these two books.

The fact that I didn't grow up on these books helped me to think purely about the text and not to get stuck with the old illustrations in my head.

The work on the first book, Daffodil the King of the Swamp, began after I came back from my first visit to the Bologna book fair in 2009. I was so inspired by the great variety of colors and characters I saw, my first the thought about frogs (the main characters) painted in green suddenly sounded weird, so I picked blue, pink and yellow instead. Ziona preferred to stay loyal to nature. Nevertheless, it still became a wonderful book with a lot of color and imagination!

Nature played the main role in the second book, The Three Butterflies. The plot takes us to the north of Israel were there are fields of flowers—lupines, poppies, irises, etc.

The fact that Ziona has studied nature and is so connected to nature didn't make it easy on me! Every little detail was given careful attention, the leaves and the wings of the butterflies, the proportions between the flowers had to be correct. Now I can only thank her for schooling me. She really got the best out of me at that time. These days I'm working on another text of Levin Kipnis, which is a version of the familiar story about the lion and the mouse.

Of the twenty books you have illustrated, which is your favorite and why?

My favorite book is definitely Roni and the Zodiac Wheel. This is a wonderful and original book written by the astrologer Anat Pinto, who is passionate about exposing children to astrology in a special way. Luckily, she was advised by a mutual friend to choose me as an illustrator. It was a great opportunity for me to use a new technique I was developing at that time and was so eager to use!

Dealing with the text wasn't simple at all. It was nothing like an ordinary text that leads you through a simple plot. Each spread was explaining one of the 12 zodiac signs in lovely way.

I had to decide which characters were describable in the illustration, and sometimes it was quite amorphous. Finally, I created very special illustrations. Most of them are complicated and encourage the reader to identify the meaning of the text in the illustration.

Working with Anat was a deep and meaningful journey. That time Anat's book was the only project in my schedule, which made me very productive. Almost every day I created a spread, so every day Anat received a phone call or an email with an illustration, a sketch or consulting about the next zodiac sign.

At the beginning of February, an exceptional quantity of copies were requested by stores. We were very happy for our new "baby." Now anyone can find it standing proudly on the bookshelves!

In looking at your illustrations, I am struck by your strong use of color and the way you often seem to include multiple characters with different emotional points of view. What are your goals as an illustrator?

Since I was little I was attracted by strong color. I dressed very oddly, painted my room in orange, green and yellow and excluded black and gray completely from my vocabulary.

I believe in happy illustrations, in a contrast to what's happening now in the world of illustration. The phenomenon of depressing and dark illustrations is becoming wider, and it quite concerns me, I must say. When I illustrate I see from the children's point of view, I want the children to enjoy the world I create and to dream about it when they fall asleep.

Expressing emotions is something I'm good at. Since I was a child I used to draw cartoon-y characters in different situations. The illustration becomes alive when you make the characters look emotional and helps the children to empathize with them.

The text of children’s books is pretty short and correct, so you should avoid using too many descriptions because every word is calculated. I'm here to fill the holes in the text. Most of all, I like to get into details.

Lately, I have been working on the famous tale about the lion and the mouse in the Israeli version. Every time I had a close up of the lion I drew each and every line in his mane. It's inexplicable. I just don't like minimalism.

You write on your SCBWI member profile that you enjoy learning new techniques. What techniques are you exploring now? How do you think you might use them?

The last year was all about finding my style and trying to develop a unique technique of my own. Since I can remember I have been working digitally. Twelve years ago, the books we self-published were drawn with a Wacom, when it was very rare. First, I used a simple drawing program, but then I upgraded myself to the Corel Painter 11.

Thanks to being in Bologna three times, I came to some very important conclusions about what I should do next. I understood that I'm too digital, that in my illustrations there was no personal touch. The days after the fair weren't easy at all, but it made me change myself from the inside.

I began to explore new techniques, things no one usually does. I took a sculpting tool and engraved with it on a thick paper, later I colored over it with pencils. It wasn't such an invention, but it wasn't something I saw in children's books. I felt like it wasn't enough for me, so I continued trying.

I took artist's canvas and flipped to the raw side of it. I drew with soft pastels. It becomes a little blurry but the colors can be mixed in a very special way. I sprayed fixative so it wouldn't powder my whole studio and scanned it.

On the computer, I continued working with Painter and drew over it in a new layer. This option gives me a lot of freedom. The drawing on the canvas can even be abstract but in the computer I can define whatever I want and let my imagination go wild! I'm so glad I have discovered this technique. It's something I have never seen, even not after three times at the book fair.

Since July 3, I have illustrated books this way. I'm sure there will be many more but none of them will look the same. I also know that this technique will take me far.

You can see my projects online

Cynsational Notes
Inbal Sarid is the illustrator of 20 books for children. She was born in 1986 in Tel-Aviv, Israel and raised in a home that encouraged art—pencils, markers and papers were everywhere—with her brother and sisters.

Her first illustrated book was created as a gift for her sister to illustrate a story she wrote.

At the end of 2005, Inbal volunteered to serve in the rescue unit of the home front command and therefore had a two-year break from illustrating.

She resumed her career as a freelance illustrator in 2008. Through book after book and year after year of attending the Bologna Book Fair, she has developed herself, her style and her personality as an illustrator and now has illustrated 20 books for children. In addition to being a freelance illustrator, Inbal works as an art director at iMagine machine, an applications company.

From The Tale of the Rooster Who Lost His Voice app

Liz Steinglass lives and writes in Washington, D.C. Her poems “Which Water?” and “A Book” have appeared in Babybug and Ladybug magazines. She regularly posts original poetry on her blog, Growing Wild.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author-Illustrator Interview: Barbara McClintock

Barbara riding Paddy
By Mio Debnam
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Barbara McClintock is an author and illustrator of numerous picture books, which delight with humour and fine details. Her books have won four New York Times Best Books awards, a New York Times Notable Book citation, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor as well as an assortment of other awards and starred reviews.

Barbara, I can’t keep up with your projects… I know that apart from working on Adele & Simon in China, you’ve been illustrating another Jim Aylesworth story, a sequel to Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary (Random House, 2007) and as if that weren’t enough, you’ve just illustrated a book of poems – Leave Your Sleep! How do you work on so many projects simultaneously?

The secret to my success is lots of coffee and little sleep! Also, ample studio wall space to tape up layouts and sketches from multiple books and flat file drawers dedicated to various projects helps me keep things in order.

This is going to be a big fall for me. I have three books coming out.

12 Kinds of Ice is a book of twelve vignettes about ice written by Ellen Bryan Obed with black and white drawings throughout, published by Houghton Mifflin.

Next, Leave Your Sleep, a picture book of Natalie Merchant's album of late 19th / early 20th century poems, which she adapted to music as a gift to her young daughter, published by FSG/Macmillan.

And last but not least, David R. Godine is reprinting Animal Fables From Aesop.

I'm currently working on Maria and Mouse Mouse, the sequel to Mary and the Mouse, written by Beverly Donofrio, with Schwartz &Wade, and My Grandfather's Coat, written by Jim Aylesworth, with Scholastic.

There's an Emily Jenkins book on the docket with FSG and more books with Scholastic and FSG in the wings.

I've had to put Adele & Simon in China on hold as I've been working on Leave Your Sleep.

Scheduling multiple projects and publishing dates is a challenge. My editor Frances Foster, my agent Jennie Dunham and I have had to shift projects around to accommodate adding LYS to the schedule.

Can you describe a typical work day?

I'm usually up early, sometimes by 4 a.m. I totter downstairs, make coffee, and sit down at the computer to answer emails, tend to business details, read the The New York Times, the Guardian, and The Huffington Post online. Then I start work around 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.

I listen to the radio, music, or audio books as I work, although I've recently discovered instant download programs on Netflix, so... I've churned through "Desperate Housewives," "Mad Men," which provided artificial comfort in making me feel like I was working in an office, and am now onto "Downton Abbey."

By noon, I've probably kicked the cats off of my drawing board at least once. I eat lunch at my drawing board or in front of my computer. I sometimes eat dinner at my drawing board, too, especially if I have a tight deadline. It's not unusual for me to work 'til 10 or 11 p.m.

Barbara's studio
Another peek into her studio

I really can't do all-nighters anymore and try to get at least six hours of sleep.

A late night at work.

I usually ink all of the drawings in a book at once, and then color everything at once, so I'll either set out my Higgins waterproof ink bottle, dip pen, and the rag I use to wipe off the pen, or I have my side table covered with ceramic watercolor nests for mixing paint, my watercolors, brushes and bowls of water for cleaning my brushes as I'm working.

Inking in progress
The finished piece
My life is made up of sheets of paper, scraps of paper, thousands of little pieces of tape that I use to put drawings up on the wall, pencil stubs, ink, books, tubes of watercolors, and my computer and iPad. And sleeping cats!

Emma in the back yard.
Helpful Pip
My partner David Johnson is an illustrator, and he's very respectful of my need for privacy while I work. He's understanding of my long work hours. It's wonderful having him around for support, and I depend on his good eye when I'm stuck on a problem with a drawing.

Barbara and David

He's a fantastic cook and an amazing gardener; from May 'til October, there's a riot of roses right outside my studio window. It's a joy watching him draw - it's like, "Wow! How does he make those lines come out of a pencil and form a portrait of James Joyce?" I'm witness to a miracle, watching him work!

I do try to have some semblance of a social life. David and I get together once a week with four friends to cook dinner and watch an HBO series episode. I nip over to the local T.J. Maxx on occasion. Going to the grocery store is a big outing for me. I drive / take a train into NYC once every few months to meet with an editor, or my agent. My son lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and we have dinner with him every other week.

When I'm really on a roll with work, I don't talk on the phone, and barely answer emails. I try to take an hour-long walk every day, which means I take a walk every third day - I have to make myself go out, or I suddenly realize I haven't left my house for days. I never have lunch with friends because it punches a huge hole in the middle of my workday. I just stay focused on the work at hand.

Next lifetime, I'll have some sort of job that entails lots of travel and intrigue. Maybe espionage, or a career as an international trend-spotter for Target? Or I'll just be independently wealthy, and sleep in.

What’s your favourite part of the creative process?

Getting into the 'zone' when I'm working, where I'm so totally into the process that I don't really think about the act of drawing, or painting. All of the research and years of study and practice, even my pen and brush seem to dissolve, and there's a direct communication between the image forming on the paper and the act of forming it. The image seems to draw itself.

It becomes an almost out-of-body experience; I'm just a vessel for the visual information to pass through on its way to the paper. This all sounds totally weird, I realize, but it's a sensation that's pretty amazing.

It’s a little like asking a mother which one of her children she loves most – but is there a book that you’ve written and/or illustrated which is closest to your heart, and why? 

Oh dear! Tough question! Every book is an opportunity to reflect on who I am, and how that relates to common things in all people, even if the story is about a gingerbread man, or a whale in a nightie.

I'll say my favorite book is the one I'll do ten years from now, because maybe I'll finally figure out the answer to some profound questions about childhood, or learning, or creativity, or compassion, or curiosity.

I love the elegant and detailed art you create – every book is different but you have a distinct style. What influences drew you to develop this style?

Maurice Sendak has been a huge inspiration. I'm a big fan of 18th, 19th, and early 20th century French and English artists. Why?

The mystery, beauty, humor, and wide lapels on men's jackets from that time period really appeal to me.

You often set your art in the past, but if you had a time machine (which could take you backward or forward in time) and a month to spare, where and when would you choose to visit, and why? 

I think I'd do a lot of moving around to different centuries in my month abroad in Time Travel Land…

Théodore Géricault by Alexandre-Marie Colin, 1816
I'd love to spend time with Eugene Delicroix, JJ Grandville, Theodore Gericault, Honore Daumier, Gustave Dore, and Rosa Bonheur.

But I'd also like to hang out with Jacques Callot, Antoine Watteau, and Edouard Vulliard.

Phew! Major time travel whiplash, jetting around from the 17th to the early 20th century!

I'd be schmoozing and dining and genuflecting to my mentors mostly in France, but I might pop across the channel to the U.K. to have dinner with Randolph Caldecott, Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray, George Cruikshank, Vanessa Bell, and George Stubbs.

Or maybe all of these artists and I could rent a very big house in Gascony for a month and hang out, take walks, sketch, paint, and eat. We would of course have the best chefs from each century preparing our meals - and why not? Nothing encourages good drawing as much as the smell of good things being cooked in the kitchen.

I love the story about how, as a college student, you phoned Maurice Sendak out of the blue to ask his advice. Has this ever happened to you, and if it did, what advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?

There have been many aspiring illustrators and authors who have emailed me, or talk to me at book signings.

I always encourage folks who want to be published illustrators and authors to join SCBWI - there's no better way to be in the loop about how to find an agent, format and submit a manuscript, develop a dummy book, and find a vast support network.

And I believe that one has to keep trying and not give up - read, research, write, draw, revise, and do it all over again and again. I think hard work, patience and persistence ultimately pays off.

Lastly, I’ve been dying to find out where Adele & Simon are going next – any plans?

Once there've completed their tour of China, maybe Mexico? Russia? Kenya? The world is their oyster!

Many thanks, Barbara, for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk to us!

Cynsational Notes

Mio Debnam is currently working as a writer and an editor of children’s books, having ‘retired’ from the world of journalism, where she worked as the Editor in Chief of two daily children’s newspapers for several years. She has had short stories and articles for both adults and children published, as well as a middle grade fantasy novel, four picture books, and several educational readers.

The first six in her kidsGo! series of travel guides for kids were published in 2011.

Mio started on her present career path early, editing and writing stories for school and university newspapers; getting her hands inky learning how to print the old fashioned way.

Mio Debnam

After a decade working in the financial markets in London and Hong Kong, she returned to her first love and has been working with words ever since.

To get inspiration for her writing, and to keep up with ‘what’s hot’, Mio has become expert at eavesdropping on her children’s conversation, as well as those she encounters at school visits and the creative writing workshops she runs. She is the Regional Advisor of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, Hong Kong Chapter.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Agent Interview: Erzsi Deak

By Mio Debnam for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Erzsi Deak is the founder and president of literary salon and agency Hen & ink, which she established in November 2010, bringing with her more than twenty-five years of publishing experience.

Erzsi is eager to find new talent but has a request for all potential clients:
"Please note that unless you meet me at the Showcase or a workshop, are referred by a client or other publishing professional, you'll need to wait until we announce Open Coop Day to submit. We’re still getting back to everyone who has submitted in the last year. Thanks for your understanding. We want to give everyone the professional courtesy they deserve and appreciate your patience.

"Open Coop Days are random days when Hen&ink is open to submissions. We will announce them on the Hen & ink site, the Facebook Hen&ink Literary page (if you aren't already a fan, please click LIKE on the page to receive updates and news), Twitter and anywhere else we can think of."

Congratulations, Erzsi, on a successful first year as a literary agent! What’s been the best, worst and most surprising thing you have encountered in your agenting journey so far?

Outside of lamenting the still-overflowing submissions, I'd say that it's been, far and wide, a positive experience.

When Siobhan Curham told me, in the very beginning, that (a) it was my bad bird jokes that won her over and, later, we (b) signed the first deal for her book...those were pretty good "bests"!

Other bests are the fabulous letters I get back from writers, even those I've declined to represent.

Worst thing? I hate closing submissions. As a writer, I know what it's like to put your baby on the block, as it were, and then hear nothing. Many in business have adopted a laissez-faire attitude wherein no one bothers to let you know your submission arrived and no one bothers to ever let you know, well, anything.

This lack of politesse in communication is very likely due to the excess that the Internet allows -- mass mailing v. targeted submissions, for example -- but it would seem that with technology, sending auto-responses and some notification would also be made easier.

As long as we have submissions at Hen&ink, we aim to respond to everyone with more than a form letter. And that takes time. I say we, but until recently, it was I.

Luckily, Beatriz Caicoya knocked on my door, thanks to Lawrence Schimel's introduction. She will be in Bologna this year and is taking on the Scouting and Submissions side of Hen&ink, which is a huge relief!

The most surprising thing? Maybe how much fun we're having in the coop -- or perhaps it was when we got a very ugly (to the point of beautiful) warty plush toy chicken from Barbara McClintock and her son? No, wait, the ugliest prize goes to the rubber chicken handbag that Hen&ink chick Mima Tipper sent me. I may need to bring that bird to Bologna...

Following the SCBWI South Africa conference in October, Erzsi & her daughter Esmee traveled from Cape Town (thanks to Marjorie and Johann van Heerden) to the Sanbona Wildlife Preserve (54,000 hectares and the only free self-sustaining White Lions in the world). Erzsi & Esmee were lucky to have these giraffes frame their photo and also to see the white mother lion reunited with her cubs after days apart, which was "seriously amazing," Erzsi says. All-in-all it was a spectacular trip. Erzsi & Esmee say, "Thank you, SCBWI SA, for making it possible!"

I know you are accepting manuscripts for everything from picture books to adult nonfiction, but what type of book makes you cluck with excitement?

I love the Ariol French comic book for younger readers. I thought the original Olivia was brilliant and rather perfect as a picture book.

I look for story and not anecdote. I want a beginning, middle, and a satisfying end no matter the genre, and my authors will tell you that they have bony fingers but stronger manuscripts after I've made them go through a number of revisions.

Mostly, it's sharing a good Story (with a capital S) with Characters I Care About. If I don't care about the character, if I can't hear the voice of the characters nor the work overall, I'm "outta there".

So, I guess the message is: Surprise me with a fantastic story that is original about a character I care about and has a voice that sings.

These days YA seems very genre driven. Is there any genre of YA novel you definitely don’t want submitted, however well written?

Not really. Anything original. Nothing derivative, please. If the voice sings, I'll listen.

Obviously a good book has to have a balance of story, character, voice and craft etc, but which one (or more) of these facets does an imperfect manuscript absolutely have to have, before you’ll take the chance on it?

Author-illustrator Paddy Bouma (whom Erzsi met in Greece at the SCBWI conference on Hydra in 2001) kindly escorted Esmee & Erzsi to the Spier Cheetah sanctuary and conservation project in Cape Town. There are over 20 cheetahs at the sanctuary, most of which were born in captivity and all of which could not survive in the wild. The idea is that these cheetahs are 'ambassadors' for wild cheetah. The aim is to educate and raise awareness among the public so that wild cheetahs can be conserved. "We had, I think three minutes, for the photo shoot and lots more time looking at the babies and a few older cheetahs through the fence," Erzsi says. "The man in the photo is keeping the cheetah calm while we goofy tourists had our picture taken. Beautiful animals."

After my comments above, you probably know the answer: voice. The voice of the character, of the work, has to grab me and want me to hang on for the ride.

And action. The worst thing a writer can do is bore the reader.

I'm an impatient reader and get bored easily, so I need emotional and physical action (in plot lines, language, general story); this doesn't mean I'm looking for an endless chase scene; it means showing rather than telling and keeping me hooked.

In addition, as I've said elsewhere, I need light with my dark, so if you are writing a grim war story, I need some irony or sunshine for balance or the story will die a lonely death as I put it aside. I don't mind tears, but I'm not all about grim-getting-grimmer (unless it's tongue-and-cheek).

I'm looking for the perfect combination of pain and humor told in an original way with a voice that makes me want to stay up all night listening. 

I’ve been following the success of your client, Sarah Towle, with her iPhone app ‘Beware Madam la Guillotine’. Was it originally pitched to you as a book? Are you interested in more submissions for non-traditional media projects?

Before Hen&ink I knew Sarah's project as a book project. We are now looking at ink-on-paper version; short story collection; film; and virtual eTours for her project. I'm interested in seeing original submissions, whether words on paper or otherwise.

These days, the words ‘building a platform’ seem to be on everyone’s lips… What advice would you give to a yet-unpublished author on building a platform?

Content is the royal flush. First advice is just to write.

And then, when you have something to write about you can start building a platform. It's definitely good to have a platform, but doesn't help you much if that's all you have.

When I was a journalism major, I realized I'd have a lot more to write about as a history major, so I built some content, if-you-will, as a history major and then put it to work as a journalism minor.

My client, Barbara Younger, came to me with a non-children's project and I suggested that she develop a platform to support it. Thus was born This has been one fun success story -- lots of guest blogging going on!

We're sharing the book proposal at The London Book Fair in April and looking forward to finding a home (in all possible forms) that is supported by the ongoing blog. 

You will be hearing pitches at the Bologna Children's Book Fair this year. In your opinion, what makes a good pitch? Do you have advice for writers struggling to come up with a perfect pitch for their project?

Think of the famous elevator pitch -- you have two minutes to tell me:

Who you are, the title and genre of your book, and if it's complete. You can include the word count if it's on the tip of your tongue. Who the main character is, what s/he wants and why s/he can't have it (tell me what happens). Use active words and breathe.

Breathing is key to a good pitch. Then, let the listener (agent, editor, etc.) ask questions -- don't feel like you have to fill the empty space. Breathe.

"My name is J.J. Jones and my completed middle-grade book, The Princess Diet, is about a dragon named Dragoondo who doesn't want to eat princesses and the princess who changes his mind. It's a live-action drama with a sense of purpose -- and fire-breathing humor."
I'd probably respond,
“Nice to meet you J.J. [Are you breathing?] This sounds fun. I'm, of course, curious to hear about the princess that changes Dragoondo's mind to the point that he does want to eat princesses -- what's that about!? Send me the first chapter embedded to [this] address and if I'm hooked, I'll ask for the rest and a submissions history. Would you also include your author bio? Thanks for thinking of Hen & ink!”
More on the Agency

More on Siobhan
Hen&ink, a Paris-based literary agency, marks its first year with major announcements for Siobhan Curham (U.K.) and Tom Llewellyn (U.S.).

For Siobhan, the agency has just signed a two-book deal with Egmont UK for Shipwrecked, and there’s already strong TV interest reported for the book.

This follows previous deals for Siobhan, whose Dear Dylan is now a lead title for Egmont, and Finding Cherokee Brown, which Hen&ink sold to Egmont, which was then sold to publishers in France and Germany.

Hen&ink is also pleased to announce that Tom Llewellyn’s novel, The Tilting House , in a deal brokered by co-agent Thomas Schlueck agency, has just been acquired by Theinemann, one of Germany’s oldest publishers of books for young children.

Hen&ink founder, Erzsi Deak, is now also adding to her staff with translation specialist, Beatriz Caicoya, who’s been brought in to handle translations, scouting and permissions.

Erzsi started Hen&ink because she saw the need for an internationally-focused agency that could specialize in handling authors, illustrators and creative talent interested in broadening cultural awareness and in crossing transmedia borders.

The agency now represents more than thirty authors, including bestselling author/illustrator Doug Cushman, author and award-winning app developer Sarah Towle, and authors and illustrators Jennifer Dalrymple, and Jeanne de Sainte Marie (France); Mina Witteman and Sandra Guy (Netherlands); Bridget Strevens-Marzo and Jacqui Hazell (U.K.); and Maria Lebedeva (South Africa).

In the U.S., Hen&ink has clients in more than a dozen states: Angela Morrison (AZ), Andrea Zuill and Ann Jacobus (CA), Whitney Stewart (LA), J.M. Lee (MN), Barbara Younger and Candy Dahl (NC), Claudia Classon (NJ), Connie Fleming (NM), Anna Angelidakis and Vicky Shiefman (NY), Cece Hall and Katherine M. Dunn (OR), Janine Burgan (PA), Hannah R. Goodman (RI), Rae Ann Parker (TN), Monica Shaughnessy and Melissa Buron (TX), Caryn Caldwell (UT), and Kathryn Kramer and Mima Tipper (VT).

Award credits for their books already include New York Times Best Illustrated and bestselling titles. Hen&ink represents Red Fox Literary outside of North America and Thomas Jeunesse outside of France.

Erzsi Deak has spent more than twenty-five years on the international stage, connecting individuals and companies with those around the globe who can make things happen. She’s the author of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins), and since 2009 has worked as a consulting editor with La Martinière Groupe.

Erzsi is also well-known throughout the literary world for her work on behalf of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), where she ran the organization’s international arm for nearly ten years. In that time, she developed and mentored writers, illustrators and publishing programs in twenty-eight countries.

Now with Hen&ink, Deak manages a growing list of prize-winning clients, marketing their books to publishers worldwide, including at the Bologna, London and Frankfurt rights fairs. She’s also established key partnerships for Hen&ink with Sheepscot Creative and Raab Associates, companies that share her international and creative goals.

Cynsational Notes

See an SCBWI Bologna interview with author-app creator Sarah Towle and a guest post by Siobhan Curham on Daring to Dream.

Mio Debnam is currently working as a writer and an editor of children’s books, having ‘retired’ from the world of journalism, where she worked as the Editor in Chief of two daily children’s newspapers for several years.

She has had short stories and articles for both adults and children published, as well as a middle grade fantasy novel, four picture books, and several educational readers.

The first six in her kidsGo! series of travel guides for kids were published in 2011.

Mio started on her present career path early, editing and writing stories for school and university newspapers; getting her hands inky learning how to print the old fashioned way.

After a decade working in the financial markets in London and Hong Kong, she returned to her first love and has been working with words ever since.

Mio Debnam

To get inspiration for her writing, and to keep up with ‘what’s hot’, Mio has become expert at eavesdropping on her children’s conversation, as well as those she encounters at school visits and the creative writing workshops she runs. She is the Regional Advisor of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, Hong Kong Chapter.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author-Illustrator Interview: Miri Leshem-Pelly

Miri Leshem-Pelly meeting some of her characters.
By Liz Steinglass
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Miri Leshem-Pelly is a published author and illustrator of children books. Her favorite topics are nature and animals. She has created 26 books so far, including several bestsellers in Israel, one book published in the U.S. and two books that won illustration awards.

Her artwork has been shown in several solo exhibitions and many group exhibitions. Miri is invited for many school visits and also guides special tours for children, based on her nature books.

Miri is the regional advisor of the Israeli chapter of SCBWI.

You have published 12 books as an author/illustrator and illustrated 14 books for other writers. How do you find the two experiences compare?

The first big difference is the starting point. Working as an illustrator for other writers I'm given a text—the writer chooses the topic, the mood, the characters, and I respond to his creation.

But when I'm an author/illustrator I can choose my favorite topics, and I'm responsible for the whole creation, and I find that process much more fulfilling.

Luti & Tery the Otter Cubs

On my own books, I also start by writing the text, and illustrating comes second. But the illustrator in me has a lot of influence on the writer, and sometimes she can make the writer choose a certain animal for a character just because she really wants to draw it.

Lon-Lon’s Big Night is your first book published in the U.S. in both Hebrew and English. How was it for you to work in English? Did you find any expressions in Hebrew that were more challenging to translate into English?

Working on the translation to English for "Lon-Lon's Big Night" was an exciting experience. I did it together with a friend – Angelika Rauschning from Germany. We have been internet friends for many years, but we’ve never met. Angelika writes for children in English, and she suggested we do it together. She doesn't know Hebrew, so I did the first translation and added in brackets explanations for words and expressions I didn't know how to translate.

We did this project for a long time over email until both of us were happy with the result. Angelika had some very good ideas, which sometimes made me change the Hebrew text accordingly. The two texts had to be similar because they appear on the same page and could be used for American students learning to read Hebrew. That made the project even more challenging.

To research Lon-Lon’s Big Night you went on a night tour of the desert animals of Hai-Bar Zoo near Eilat, Israel. What did you get from seeing the animals in a naturalistic environment? Do you always do this kind research in preparation for your books?

I love doing that—using my author hat to get permission to enter animals’ cages. This has become a hobby of mine. The night trip to the Hai-Bar Zoo gave me the opportunity to see the night animals at their most active time. During regular visiting hours, you usually get to see them sleeping, but I was invited to come at night when the zoo was closed.

When I got there, the zoo worker asked me if I would like to enter the sand foxes' cage! What can be better than that? I could take really good close-up photos, which helped me when I got to the illustrations. And being so close made me notice and feel things very differently.

Sand fox.

When I'm writing about an animal, I try to "enter" its skin and see the world though its eyes. Getting very close to the animals helps a lot with this task. I was also inside the otters’ cage, the lemurs’ cage, swam with dolphins and caressed tapirs. These are the kind of things that make my day!

Miri with lemurs

You went on a book tour throughout the United States sharing Lon-Lon’s Big Night with audiences around the country. How did American children respond to the book? Did anything surprise you about their responses? What enables American children to connect to a sand fox from Israel?

Before I left Israel, many people told me that it would be difficult for me to communicate with American children because of cultural differences. But I discovered this is not true. Children are children wherever you go!

Miri at a school visit in Los Angeles
I do a lot of school visits in Israel, and I must say the children’s responses were exactly the same. They laughed at the same moments and became very silent at the same parts of the story. They were connected to the story because they cared about the character—the curious, innocent, brave little fox. The fact that the story takes place in the Israeli desert and is full of strange unknown animals made it more exciting and exotic for them. They asked me many questions about nature in Israel.

Isn't that what books are for? To sit on your sofa and let the book take you to exciting new places you've never been before?

Of all of your books, do you have a favorite? And why?

Oh, oh, that question! I always fear it, and I get it all the time on my school visits.

Illustration from the best seller book "Pizponteva - the tiny nature professor"

What can I say? I love them all. They are all my sons.

Well, maybe I do have a soft spot for Lon-Lon. There is something about this little guy. And I'm grateful to him for taking me with him on this trip to the U.S.!

But seriously, I'm always more involved with my next book, the one I'm working on, because the process of creation is the biggest thrill. So I can say my favorite book is always the next one to come!

What media do you prefer to work with?

I have three media I love to use—colored pencils (on colored paper), watercolor and acrylics. I try to match the right media for each story I'm illustrating.

For example, when I illustrated Lon-Lon, I wanted to get the sandy look of the desert, so I chose colored papers with grainy texture and made the drawings with colored pencils.

You say that your preferred subjects are nature and animals. What draws you to these topics? 

It all begins with my childhood. I grew up in a nature-loving family. We went on numerous trips, and nature became a part of who I am. I always loved animals and found this subject fascinating.

Live drawing of birds in the field

In my youth, I discovered Gerald Durrell's books and read them all. I was deeply inspired by his writing and his actions towards saving endangered species.

I create my books with the hope that they will get children a bit closer to nature.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a new picture book that I'm writing and illustrating. This time I wrote the book in English. This is a story about four families of wild animals from around the world—from Antarctica to Canada, from the Asian jungle to the Sahara desert. The story comes to show how all families around the world are basically very much alike.

I'm coming to the Bologna book fair this year to look for a publisher for this book-in-progress, so wish me luck!

Cynsational Notes

Liz Steinglass lives and writes in Washington, DC. Her poems “Which Water?” and “A Book” have appeared in Babybug and Ladybug Magazines. She regularly posts original poetry on her blog Growing Wild.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.
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