But the last few years I've sent out an illustrated card for family & friends reflecting my family and our interests. (It's easier than getting a good family photo.) I know I need to order my cards the first week of November to get them sent out in time.
So, I've been super silent lately, head down, working... enjoying summer. But I figured it was time to show something new! At SCBWI New York this past February, I got stranded - not once - but TWICE. As a matter of fact, it was a series of events that led to this, that and the other thing... and guess what? A story. I sat in the Lobby of the Hyatt, missing my family and watching people come and go. What a grand way to spend the time above Grand Central Station. I realized then that life (and SCBWI) is all about connections. New ones, old ones, missed ones... and so, a story is born. Here is a concept piece from it., copyright 2015 Peggy Collins.
Your presentation of your winning picture book was
informative and encouraging to those looking for that first acceptance .
You did share your inspiration for I Dare You Not to Yawn at the recent
SCBWI Canada East Conference.Could you
please share it for those who could not attend?
life can be an exciting one, especially when the roots of a new idea start to
take hold. That thrill in your belly when you strike upon inspiration is
something we all search for and it is the magic that keeps us going. When you
get into the nuts and bolts of seeing a spark of an idea through to actual
execution, though, it can be a frustrating and lonely time. There is so much
grunt work that goes into creating any kind of art and when you are
collaborating with an editor, agent, or critique partner you are open to
scrutiny and criticism so it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like giving up.
If you persist, though, that thrill in your belly that first inspired you to
pursue an idea will come back. That’s when you’ll know all the long hours,
tears, and sacrifice were worth it.
What inspired you to
write your first book?
Like all of my books, my first book, Acadian Star, was inspired by a mixture of my culture, my family,
and my experiences. But those are only a starting point. If authors always
followed the old adage of ‘write what you know’ that would leave little room
for fantasy, creativity, and richly drawn stories. I usually write what I want
to know and Acadian Star was borne
out of a desire to know more about my Acadian culture and to tell a story to
share with my children.
What are your new
titles and can you give us a hint of what they are about?
My latest picture book is I Dare You Not to Yawn, which is an ‘anti-bedtime’ tongue-in-cheek
guide for kids who aren’t quite ready to go to bed just yet.I also recently published the 4th
volume of my light-hearted contemporary fantasy mermaid series called Real Mermaids Don’t Sell Sea Shells.
have influenced your writing?
Growing up, I pored over cartoons and comics and especially
loved The Far Side by Gary Larson and
Garfield by Jim Davis. There is
something about that art form that I find so clever. Cartooning is not just
about getting the laugh, though, but more about relating to universal truths. I
try to incorporate those same feelings of setup/ build up/ punchline in my
writing and also hope that the underlying authenticity of my story reaches
What books are you
I am on a non-fiction kick at the moment, especially
autobiographies of comedians. Funny people are often very layered and deep,
often with rich complicated histories, and I love reading about them. I am
really looking forward to Mindy Kaling’s new book Why Not Me? and hope it’s as funny and inspiring as her first.
Do you recall how your
interest in writing originated?
When I was in elementary school I won a ‘Caption this Photo’
contest and won a pair of jeans, then I entered a writing contest in my local
paper and placed in the top three. I realised I had something to say and when
you’re from a family of eight children, it’s sometimes hard to be heard.
Writing and humour was a way to express myself in my own quiet way.
Have you ever hated
something you wrote?
All the time! In fact I’ve hated every book I’ve ever
written at some point or another.
While you were
writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
I think for any type of character
an author needs to immerse themselves in that role just like an actor
researching a part. When you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste the
experiences your character is facing, that makes for a fully executed
three-dimensional character, which will hopefully translate into a rich sensory
experience for your ultimate reader.
Do you see writing as
I do consider writing as my career and feel very fortunate
to do so.
Have you any other
ideas for any more books?
Always! I am working on a
completely new project at the moment and trying to focus on having fun without
worrying about the end result. Who knows if it will ever be published but stay
Connect with Hélène: Website | Twitter| Facebook| Goodreads
I would like to thank Nadia Hohn for writing up this overview of the Picture Book Track of our recent Conference. Stepping out of my comfort zone was something I felt ready to do at the SCBWI Art of Story Conference Montreal on May 29- 31, 2015. I had just been on the tail end excitement of the February NYC conference, my very first SCBWI event, in which I had been a bit shy to participate in any critique sessions. Instead, SCBWI NYC left me inspired and thirsting for opportunities to pitch, propose, and have my work critiqued in front of my writing peers and professionals. At Art of Story Conference, I had these opportunities-- to give me a chance to hone in on some of the ideas I have in development. Of the three tracks, I selected the one for Picture Book writers: - Lily Malcolm, executive art director and associate publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House - Allyn Johnston, vice-president and publisher from Beach Lane Books - Heather Alexander, literary agent of Pippin Properties - Kari-Lynn Winters, author, playwright, and scholar. Each speaker brought her perspective to almost fifty published and aspiring picture book authors. My first Picture Book session was “What makes a picture book good… and how do you know?” in which both picture book authors and illustrators were in attendance. The presenters, Heather Alexander and Lily Malcolm, gave an overview about what they looked for in an author and/or illustrator. What Alexander looks for in a writer is someone who has career longevity and a few strong stories. Malcolm indicated that she looks for illustrators that have a “memorable style”, something brand new, and hits “emotional highs”. The presenters also provided examples of picture books that do “get it right”. Afterward, Heather presented a workshop called “Picture Book Voice” to the authors in order to capture the five main parts of voice—diction, perspective, character as voice, dialogue, and interior monologue. She provided several examples of books that do these things correctly. She also had warnings for those of us who write in first person. Some take home points were: No first name intros. Needed: A rise and fall in plot. Modern kids usually like modern stories. Kari-Lynn then presented two back-to-back workshops that were complete with exercises and demonstrations. The first was called “The Straight Scoop on Picture books” in which she provided more lists including the 7 deadly sins for picture book authors and 10 techniques for authors. (By the way, I love the lists.) Some short points I took home are: A story needs a spark. Leave the lessons and teaching out of the story. Hook the reader in. Don’t be repetitive. In “Getting Your Act Together”, Kari-Lynn talked about ways to spice up your readings and presentations. As a teacher who teaches drama among other subjects, I especially appreciated this session. Kari-Lynn let us in on how she secretly gets teachers and kids to love her presentations. I think the one thing that I will definitely remember is that puppets are great. In “Now Let’s Read Aloud!” session, Allyn Johnston presented a helpful picture book syllabus with a wide range of titles and styles. Johnston described what has worked for many successful picture books and we had an opportunity to browse
through her collection to see for ourselves. A great experience for all. Looking forward to the next event.
I had the great opportunity to attend the recent SCBWI Canada East Conference in Montreal. As always my mind left overflowing with information and inspiration. The faculty of the Conference was among the best I have heard. Thank you to you all for sharing your time and your knowledge.
Linda Urban, an award winning author and former Marketing Director of a large independent bookstore, discussed the importance of the point of in which a novel is written. Depending on whether an author uses first person, third person, or in the rare case of second person it will determine how the reader connects with the story and the plot. Obviously depending on the nature of your story, (romance, humour, tragedy) and the age of your audience will determine your point of view. Thanks Linda for sharing your views. Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, presented how to pace your novel from plot to punctuation. The pacing is affected by the time line; does it happen within an hour, a day, or more. The dissemination of information will be slower or faster depending on this time line. If the plot consists of high risks it will increase of the pace and the stakes. This will also augment the connection between the reader and the characters of your novel. You can access Cheryl's complete presentation if you are on the SCBWI listserve. To join please contact Michelle Jodoin. Thanks Cheryl for keeping us up to speed. Bruce Coville, the author of 103 books, gave a very entertaining and informative session. All characters need a good plot. A combination of action and adventure; and feelings and, language is the best combination in a plot and will interest a wide range readers. Fiction is held to a higher standard of believability than reality. Plot twists may include HA, belly laugh; WEH, tears, sorrow, joy or relief, or connection; and YIKES, gasp or surprise. There should be an equal balance of plot and character. The readers must care about the characters, and also what happens to them. Thanks Bruce for keeping us balanced. I really learned a lot from all the novel track speakers. Thank You for time.
Thanks for your time Karen. I am sure your insight will help our writers.
SCBWI Interview: Karen Krossing
inspired you to write your first book?
I quit my job as an editor to attempt to write my first novel. The
desire to write had been building for some time, and I suppose it got too big
to contain. That first novel was titled “The Dance Without End,” and it wasn’t
particularly meaningful to me personally. In hindsight, I think I wrote it to
learn how to write. It’s never been published, and should remain that way,
since it has too many problems to fix. But it did teach me a ton about the
your new titles and can you give us a hint of what they are about?
My latest book is a teen novel titled Punch Like a Girl (Orca, 2015). It’s about a teen
girl with a hero complex. She tries to rescue others, whether they want it or
not, in order to avoid facing her own fears of assault.
Before that, I published a middle-grade novel titled Bog
(Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014). In it, a cave troll with a grudge against
humans embarks on a quest into human territory after his father is turned into
recall how your interest in writing originated?
Apparently, I was fond of writing as a child, but I don’t remember it. When
I was eleven, my mother’s author-friend signed a copy of his novel for me,
encouraging my writing. I do remember that I was always making up stories in my
head, particularly at night in bed. I invented a whole cast of witches, giants
and goblins who lived in various dark corners of our house, tormenting me
deliciously. When I was in high school, I remember consciously deciding to
become a writer one day, even if it was when I retired. That urge to write has
stuck with me ever since.
your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I find this question hard because it’s impossible to chose one favourite.
I could give you a list of two hundred favourites though! But seriously, I
adore the simple childlike voice of A.A. Milne, the brilliance of E.B. White,
the honesty of Judy Blume and the simultaneously serious and humorous prose of
Teresa Toten. Then there are my other one-hundred-and-ninety-six favourites,
including William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Margaret
Atwood, Sylvia Plath... I could go on and on.
ever hated something you wrote?
Yes. I manage to both hate and adore various works-in-progress at the
same time. It’s something about not being able to have clear insight into one’s
own writing. One day, I may think the writing is fabulous; the next day, I’m
moaning about how horrible it is.
I think writers may need to both love and hate our work. We need to be
able to see the good in it when committing to it for months or years, and the
flaws in it when analyzing to revise it.
were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
Yes, all the time. I particularly identify with being a large hairy
troll, much to the amusement of my family. When I started writing Bog from the
point of view of a cave troll, it fit with who I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve
always identified with characters like Chewbacca more than characters like
see writing as a career?
I’m business-like in my approach to writing, but I also try not to take
it too seriously. I’m uber-conscientious about my commitments to deadlines,
both self-imposed and publisher ones. I see my daily writing as my most
important work. I nurture my network and connections in the industry. Yet at
the same time, I can’t focus on what the trajectory of a book or my overall
career may be without getting too hung up on it. I try to keep my focus on the
process of writing: how to get through writing the first draft of the next
book, how to learn new aspects of my craft and how to write the best book I
can, over and over again. So, yes, I see writing as a career, but I stay
grounded in daily writing.
any other ideas for any more books?
I’m writing a teen novel that tackles a difficult topic – abortion. In
between the rhetoric from both sides of the emotional abortion debate are teen
girls who are facing challenging decisions about abortion. I’m writing about
the weight of society’s judgments on an apprehensive teen girl with an
overwhelming decision to make. I’m also researching a teen novel about
celebrity culture and body image.
you find inspirations and ideas for your plots and characters?
Some ideas arrive simply by observing the world. Others need a little
nudge. I’ve had germs of story ideas come from listening to talk radio, from
watching my kids cope with challenges and from my memories as a teen. To make
something of a fledgling idea, I like to write a daily novel concept. It’s just
a one-sentence premise, or a piece of a premise. I sometimes do this in
November to time it with NaNoWritMo, just to feel included in that
creative energy. After a month of churning out new premises, I usually have a
workable idea to play with.
As for characters, I may model a
character’s outfit from someone I see on the subway. Internal dilemmas may rise
from experiences I’ve had, or those of people I know. Doesn’t every character
we write contain pieces of ourselves? When I need to actively seek out more
depth about a character, I write about them. Sometimes I make a web of
characters within my story so I can see how they define one another. Sometimes
I answer questions about the character, such as: What is the most dangerous
thing this character has every done? What is the persona that this character
presents to the world?
While my initial inspiration
comes from observation, I find that it develops through play.
As the illustrators attending the upcoming Canada East conference work their preliminary sketches for the conference assignment, Peggy Collins posted some helpful tips for giving a good critique. I'm publishing them here because there's some really good advice: 1. Take your time and really look through all work submitted by
illustrator. Sometimes it helps to look, then walk away and come back to
it to give a good critique.
2. Be familiar with the text that goes with the illustration.
This seems obvious, but sometimes the illustrator has a picked up on
something teensy in the text that you may not have noticed. Being
familiar with the text makes it easier to give an effective critique.
3. Avoid telling the illustrator what you would have done.
This is their work, be mindful of that. In a critique we should be
careful not to influence an idea, rather the focus should be on make
sure the communication is clear.
4. We've all heard of the hamburger (or veggie burger method)...
Well, that's because it works. You should always focus on what is
working and why before exploring what might not be as effective. Follow
that up with something else that is getting some positive attention.
5. If you are unclear about the intent of the illustration, asking for clarification in a respectful manner is ok. We are all working towards the same goal... Making our work the best it can be.
6. Keep it simple, kind and respectful. Avoid too much feedback - keep it concise.
7. Read your critique to yourself, as if you were receiving it. If you would find it helpful then it is probably a good critique. If not, think about what might help you!
8. Critique is a give and take.
If you submit work you must give thoughtful critiques to the other
artists. Some people are really EXCELLENT at giving feedback, for some,
it's a struggle. We are all in this together, and it's really helpful to
hear everyone's feedback (because usually SOMETHING applies to us as
Questions to ask yourself about the work:
Do I understand what is happening in the illustration? What could be done to help clarify this if not?
there a clear direction in the piece? What do I see first, second...
Third? Does this complement the text and add a deeper layer to the story
while keeping the integrity of the text intact?
Are the characters consistent? Is there enough difference between the characters?
What is the strongest element of this piece?
What is it about the character that appeals to you? Can you define why?
On Thursday, April 23 2015, the inaugural SCBWI Toronto Get Together was held at the Duke Pub at Somerset. There was a great turn out of about 20 members including illustrators and writers at various points in their careers. Everyone brought a plethora of questions and in response an abundance of answers.
Annette and Anne Marie did a great job of organizing. We were all given the chance to introduce ourselves and give out business cards and post cards as a sample of our work. (Note to self: Bring more business cards).
As we ate, there was informal chatting coming from all around our tables. It was a chance to catch up with friends met at conferences and to meet and encourage those new to the adventure that is writing and illustrating.
Towards the end of the evening, we gathered to listen to each other share about realistic goal setting and adapting our writing/illustrating schedules to the rest of our life schedules. Some may be able to put in a 5 hour session of work. Others may have to break it up because of "day jobs", children or other commitments. Whenever and however one works is less important than the quality of the work and the satisfaction of chasing ones dream.
Annette and Anne Marie canvassed the group for preferences of topics, meeting places, and times for our next meeting. It was an opportunity to have a say and benefit the most members for the next one.
A special thanks to the ladies for arranging all the logistics and accommodating a bunch of crazy artists. I can't wait until the next one.
Check out the SCBWI Canada East website for the date, time and location.
I am first and foremost a writer. I have never studied any kind of visual arts, except for a Ladies' Painting Night which includes more discussions about OUTLANDER than anything else. I have heard of writers becoming successful illustrators. I don't think I am one of these, but one never knows what the future may hold. However, I have realized that sketching faces that, to me, represent the characters of my work in progress, help me picture them in their world. It helps me get to know them. I can imagine what his/her facial expressions would be when s/he is angry, sad or happy. I can draw, if you can call it that, their frustration with their situation; their determination to solve their problem; and their joy or disappointment with the outcome of their efforts. I can start with stick figures or smilie faces, maybe even an emoji or two. I then add a hair style and what the character would wear. I can create a backstory by thinking about when s/he got his/her skin tone, or hair colour. How tall is s/he? Are they athletic or a couch potato? All of this can be discovered by "doodling." Again, I highly doubt my illustrations will make it to the public, but they have become an important part of my writing process. Try it and who knows, you may find a new talent..
Hey SCBWIers and Guests I had the pleasure this weekend of participating in the Spring Break into Science Book Party hosted by LE Carmichael, Ishta Mercurio, Joan Marie Galat and Helaine Becker. It was fun and informative. After a quick visit to the virtual bar and coffee shop (some of us were driving home), the lively discussion started quickly. The ladies were both informative and entertaining. LE Carmichael started the festivities with a CSI experience. Her books Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting gets Wild, and Forensic Science: In the Pursuit of Justice were featured. We also had the opportunity to share our own favourite crime fighters, including Sherlock, Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds, and the dynamic on the series Elementary. Great job cluing us in Lindsey. Helaine Becker electrified us with the wonder of the fusion between animals and robots in her book Zoobots. We had examples of various animal machine hybrids including a bar tending teddy bear. That was my favourite. The discussion helped me dispel that cyborg fear learned from too many sci-fi movies. Thank you the data Helaine. Ishta Mercurio brought us to the creepy world of haemovores in her new book with Kari-Lynn Winters: Bite into Bloodsuckers. Things got a little gruesome but to my knowledge no one lost their lunch. We poked at the risks of the West Nile virus from mosquitoes. We were reminded of the beneficial use of maggots and leeches in medicine as stimulators of blood flow and removers of dead tissue. Way to exsanguinate the info Ishta. Not to leave out the trees, Joan Marie Galat taught us about our woody friends in her book: Branching Out: How Trees are a Part of Our Lives. Trees have tall tales to tell and they have been keeping us alive, helping us communicate and making the world a beautiful place. What a historical landmark they are. Thanks for the growth Joan. The next time an event comes around I really think you should join in or host one yourself. It is not only an opportunity to learn about the books on the market, but also meet and greet more authors that are walking the same road you are. It is a source of information and inspiration. I had a great time and highly recommend participation and hosting as a means of marketing your new publications. Please check out the link below for all the discussion and links to the website of the hosting authors.