SCBWI Canada East Blog

November 17, 2014
Rough Monday?

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Dear daughter threw a tantrum today because she needed to paint using my paintbrush and palette. We compromised, I kept my paintbrush and she got to use my palette with supervision. I somehow managed to finish the painting. Probably because she got into my masking fluid and had a fine time decorating her paper with that. Kids are happiest (and quietest) when making a mess.

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October 31, 2014
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I am not sure if anyone one else suffers from scattered thinking, but I do.  And it makes it way to my office to the point that I can't even use my office.  Well, Marcy McKay has written some suggestions to help us organize our way to a better writing career.  


By Marcy McKay


Your Messy Desk is Hurting Your Writing Career. Here’s How to Declutter


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October 29, 2014
An Interview with Christie Harkin

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I had the great pleasure of interviewing Christie Harkin.  She and Solange Messier have opened their own publishing house, Clockwise Press.  I find her answers enlightening and encouraging.  Please enjoy.


Congratulations on the creation of your new publishing house, Clockwise Press, with Ms. Solange Messier.  What motivated you to create Clockwise Press?

I went away for a weekend at a cottage with my daughter this summer and had some time to stare at a lake and really reflect on what I wanted to do with my career. I started fantasizing about starting my own press, imagining what I’d like to do, and who I’d like to work with. I thought, “It would be great to get Solange to help with non-fiction.” When I got back, I received a text from Solange – out of the blue – saying, “I want to quit my job and try branching out on my own. Am I crazy?” It’s like the universe was telling us to take the leap at the exact same time.

How did you get your first break in publishing and what important lessons have you learned along the way?
After many years as a teacher and tutor, I went back to university for a year in my late 30s and then enrolled in the publishing program at Ryerson. At the end of my first semester, I landed an internship at Fitzhenry & Whiteside which turned into a full-time job. I’d say my first big break came when I was handed a manuscript for a non-fiction book about hockey: “Hockey Talk: The Language of Hockey from A-Z”. I’m a long-time hockey mom so I think the other “non-hockey” folks were relieved that there was someone in the office who could do something with the manuscript. It was a chance for me to prove that I could handle the job of looking after a project, from the substantive stage to the final proof, even finding and directing the illustrator. It was quite an experience.
As for what I’ve learned along the way…whew. That first year was an incredibly steep learning curve, that’s for sure. I learned about acquisitions and editing. Then I learned about cover and interior design, and about art direction. My first picture book, Kiss Me, I’m a Prince! by Heather McLeod and Brooke Kerrigan was a real trial by fire – I had no idea what I was doing, to be honest – but it turned out beautifully and was a Blue Spruce Honour Book.
Over the years, I was given the chance to work with contracts, grant proposals, foreign rights sales, translations, and other aspects of the publishing industry outside of the nuts-and-bolts of editorial. I know that I was very lucky to have had that sort of opportunity to grow as an editor and publisher in such a short period of time.
After 5.5 years at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, I moved to James Lorimer & Co. where I learned a lot about editing hi-lo novels and about marketing, especially as it pertains to schools and libraries. It was a completely different skill set.

Who have been some of your most significant mentors?
Gail Winskill, Ann Featherstone, and Cathy Sandusky were my mentors at Fitzhenry & Whiteside. I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today without them. This will be a total surprise if she ever reads this piece, but Shelley Tanaka (the editor at Groundwood) has been a huge influence as well, even though we’ve barely met. When I went back to university, I took Deirdre Baker’s seminar course in Canadian Children’s Literature and we studied a whole whack of Groundwood books. Shelley even came in to speak to our class. I wanted to be HER and I wanted to edit and produce books that were as good as the ones we studied in class. That’s a bar I’m always reaching for.

Which books from your childhood do you still have on your shelf today?
OK – that question made me laugh. Were it not for a flood that destroyed a huge number of my books when I was 16, I’d be able to say ALL of them. As it is, I still have a couple hundred of my childhood books. Some are a little water-damaged but I’ve got LOTS. I didn’t own many picture books as a child but I do still have my copy of Disney’s Cinderella. And I have the Frog & Toad books and a biography of Helen Keller with the braille on the back cover that I pretty much learned to read from. I also have my mom’s childhood copies of A House at Pooh Corner, Bambi, and Peter Pan.

Name some of your favourite children’s book characters and explain what makes them so memorable.
Growing up, I loved Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and Laura Ingalls. Those were the characters I wanted most as best friends. I identified with Anne and Emily’s imagination and ambitions. And I admired the resourcefulness and practicality of Laura’s pioneer life in the Little House books. When I was older, I really liked Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time. That was one of the first female characters that I read who had to overcome her insecurities and embrace her role as a smart, strong girl on a mission to save the world. Those angels were pretty cool too.


Describe the process of creating a children’s book at Clockwise Press. What are the various stages involved in the journey?

Well, we haven’t actually created any books at Clockwise Press yet! But when Solange and I were at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, we worked together acquiring and publishing books. Now, we decide jointly on what to accept, although Solange is primarily responsible for non-fiction and I look after fiction. The key for us is making sure that the project fits with our mandate and that it is well-written. We are both going to be doing the bulk of the editorial work on our own projects and then probably proofreading each other’s work. We have enlisted the talents of some excellent designers, including Tanya St. Amand, whom we’ve both worked with in the past.
Clockwise Press will be publishing one teen novel in the spring of 2015, followed by a hi-lo fantasy novel, a work of creative non-fiction, and a picture book and in the fall. As far as the process is concerned thus far: We acquired the fantasy and the non-fiction by approaching the authors with some concepts and then working with them to develop the proposals. The other two were projects that the authors and I were sort of having conversations about long before Clockwise was a twinkle in our eyes.


What does your workspace look like?
I shuffled a few things around in my home and took over my older son’s bedroom as an office, actually. There is still some of his hockey paraphernalia on the walls. But I’ve also got a corkboard with lots of illustrator promo postcards, artwork and book covers from many of the books I’ve worked on, a little bamboo skink, original art by Francesco Paonessa, Suzanne Del Rizzo (Skink on the Brink) and Peggy Collins (Tooter’s Stinky Wish), and some kidlit characters on the bookshelf. I also have a reading nook with lots of pillows, inspired by Helaine Becker’s back-deck reading nook. And my desk and chair (so far) are an old-timey wooden pair that you can actually see on the cover of The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard.


Tell us a little about the projects you are working on now.
I can only tell you about one project right now because the others are still in the contract stage. But our first non-fiction book will introduce a series that will focus on recent immigrant success stories. Natalie Hyde is an award-winning author with a long history of writing excellent books for young people, both fiction and non-fiction. She was a natural fit for our vision for this series since we want the story of our first subject to be told like a story. So many people who come to Canada face incredible challenges, both before and after they immigrate. Both my parents are immigrants themselves. CWP’s mandate is to promote diversity and global awareness. We hope that this series will also encourage empathy and tolerance among young people for newcomers who are trying to put down roots in a strange new land. And we hope that young immigrants will be able to see themselves and their struggles in our stories, and be encouraged that they too can succeed.
As for our next few projects, stay tuned! There will be some press releases in the near future.


Are you interested in author/illustrators or do you prefer to marry up a manuscript with an illustrator of your choice?
I don’t really give that a whole lot of thought. I’ve worked with author/illustrators and with pairings. The important questions that have to be considered are (a) is the story good and (b) are the illustrations good for the story? Sometimes I’ll get an author/illustrator submission and love the art but not the story, so I’ll keep the illustrations on file in case another suitable project comes up. Or the story is good but the illustrations don’t work, so I’ll take the story but not the illustrations. It’s hard to be a “double threat,” I think, but it certainly is wonderful when someone can pull it off. I know that a growing number of agents and editors, especially in the US, prefer to have one person take care of both jobs, but that’s not really all that important to me.


May you please let our readers know how they may submit to Clockwise Press?
Solange and I spent a good deal of time working on our “Submissions” page on the Clockwise Press website. It has its own tab and everything! We STRONGLY recommend that anyone who wants to submit a proposal to us should go to the Submissions page and read it very carefully. As a small, emerging press, we have a limited list at the moment ― only four books per year ― so we are having to be extremely selective. www.clockwisepress.com/submissions.


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October 27, 2014
Using a Graphic Tablet

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I have always drawn traditionally and loved every bit of the experience. Traditionally drawn art is still appreciated but when I started freelancing my work, I learned that many clients demanded digital art.
I work with a group of freelance artists on different children’s educational tools and my art director sent me a graphic tablet. I knew he had promised to send me one a while ago but I was still surprised when it came in the mail. I guess I wasn’t expecting it at the time. 



This is the Intuos Pro Medium Professional Pen Tablet. You can get access to more info about it by clicking on this link.


Today was my first time using it. I used Adobe Photoshop to paint a drawing that I have been meaning to draw for a week or two. Although I didn’t use several tools making this drawing, I can imagine what a vast field to explore this should be, especially using a graphic tablet.

How was my experience? Let’s just say it was mind blowing!   

I had heard it took 2-3 weeks getting use to it, but I can see myself using it comfortably even now. The hand and eye coordination is not too hard.
I always thought using a tablet would not give me the satisfaction I get drawing by hand but it’s not true. It gives the same feel.
A stylus (pen) is provided with the tablet, which is used just like any tool (a brush, a pen or a pencil) you would use to draw by hand. It even touches on the tablet’s surface the same way a pencil would on paper. It produces the same sound. The texture is very similar. The stylus has an eraser look-alike at the back just as a pencil does, and you can go in settings to set it to be used as an eraser to fulfill the same purpose. I thought that was really neat!

There are tabs on the left side of the tablet that are used for navigation and formatting the drawing. You can also navigate by natural gestures on the multi-touch screen.
The size of the tablet is just perfect. It’s not too small but also not too large to handle. It’s very light and can easily fit in a laptop bag for travel purposes. The best feature is that you have the freedom of working wirelessly, incase you don’t want to carry the cord everywhere you go.


This is a highly recommended piece of technology for illustrators. I am having a lot of fun with it! It is compatible with both operating systems, Windows and MAC OS.   

Here is an image of what I drew using my Intuos Pro. It has been inspired by one of my favourite TV series, Bates Motel. 


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October 20, 2014
SCBWI Canada East Fall Conference 2014

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I had the honour and priviledge of spending this past weekend (October 17-19 2014)  at SCBWI Canada East Conference in Ottawa, Ontario.  And all I can say WOW!

I had the opportunity to meet with some of the movers and shakers of the Children's Literature World.  I wish I could have split myself in two so that I could be at all the presentations.

Caroline Pignat, a Governor General Award winning author, gave a stellar message of the creative process.  Although, I am sure as artists we all have our own way of writing, she seemed to know me better than I know myself.  It was comforting to see that a writer of her calibre shares the same challenges as I do, except that my procrastinating takes the form of procrastiknitting.  But I suspect we all have a procrasti-something.

Lin Oliver, a co-founder and present executive director of SCBWI, gave a quick synopsis of its birth. I have known that I am part of an exceptional organization, but now I know that I am also in the company of some of the trailblazers in this precarious business.

Lin shared her knowledge of screenwriting and adapted it so that it can be applied to writing a novel.  As all intelligent people do, she took a seemly complicated process and made it simple.  I learned that some of the strange things I do, such as eavesdropping on the conversations of my teens, is actually good and important for my novel.  And I thought I was just being an overprotective mother.

Kelsey Murphy, of Balzer + Bray of Harper Collins, shared her insight on developing a strong character, be it protagonist or villain. I learned how knowing and understanding my characters wants and emotions, allows me to create someone believable.  Also that including subtext and consistent reactions give a character complexity.  Such a character could gain a enthusiastic following from his or her readers.

Ruben Pfeffer, of Pfeffer Content, LLC, taught his audience the keys  to a successful submission.  Although we may all be in a rush to get our manuscript in the hands of an agent or publisher, it is important to make your work as good as it can get.  Show a commitment to your craft.  Also, as writers, we must know what we are writing.  Is it a picture book or a novel, or something in between?

Reuben also shared, from an agent point of view, that a manuscript may be rejected, not because it was bad and that the rejection should not be taken personally.  It may not be what the house wants at the time.  There can be logistical issues.  Do not be discouraged. 

I almost forgot Laura Whitaker from Boomsbury Children's Book. She presented a way to make an editor fall in love with you. She taught us the important parts of a query with her whimsical uniqueness. With a handout that mimicked an on line dating form, we learned how to concisely but effectively get ourselves and thus our manuscript noticed. Let's all avoid the dreaded slush pile. 

These were just the formal parts of the conference.  If you missed it, there was a pub crawl and a "Come as your Favourite Children's Literature Character" costume party.  Both were opportunities to meet all of these people not just professionally but to get to know them as people.

I cannot encourage any writer enough to join us at our next conference in Montreal in the Spring of 2015.  It is a chance to share your strengths and learn how to push through your challenges.  No matter if you are a published author, new to writing with the goal of publication, or like me, still looking for that first "YES" to your manuscript, there is something for you to learn and teach.

I look forward to meeting you in Montreal 2015.
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October 9, 2014
Creating a Graphic Novel: Thumbnails to Finished Art

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My new all-ages graphic novel is now live at www.zoesparks.ca To give a little bit of insight into my process, I thought I would share some of my sketches and show the stages I go through in creating the artwork.

1. Writing/thumbnailing
I start with a story goal in mind, a short written outline, and a loose series of plot points that I write out on a plot diagram. Since I'm very much a visual thinker, the meat of my writing process involves thumbnailing out small sequences of images. I create scenes organically as I let the pictures lead my thought process on where a scene is going. I fill many pages with scenes and snippets of scenes. Then I go through them all and refine and combine these small scenes into thumbnailed pages as the story fits together in sections. This is a lengthy push and pull process, and I find this method helps me stumble upon a lot of interesting scenes and sequences I may not have thought of if I was writing words with the more logical side of my brain. As I thumbnail I also jot down little bits of dialogue in the margins, but sometimes the visuals will give me a good indication of the story at this point without getting overly detailed about dialogue. In the end, I eventually end up with a rough story pieced together from these small thumbnailed pages. At this stage I do a lot of moving of pages/scenes around, adding dialogue, and adjusting things until I'm happy with the story.

2. Penciling
Once I have the thumbnailed pages - these are usually drawn very small at 1.25" x 2.5" - I scan them and place them into Manga Studio. (See this blog post for details on how I set up my story and pages in Manga Studio). I enlarge the tiny thumbnails to actual page size, and then draw my pencils on a new layer using the thumbnails as a loose guide.

The following is a step by step process for two pages...

Hand drawn thumbnails:

Pencils in Manga Studio. All dialog and word balloons are placed at this stage:

Inks in Manga Studio: 

Pages are then exported and colour flatting is done in Photoshop:

Final shading and highlighting in Photoshop:

And that's basically my process.

Also wanted to share some of my working/concept sketches. Here are a few cover concepts:

And the colour artwork for the covers. The cover I ended up using was the one on the far left:

Back cover/interior endpaper concept 1:


Back cover/interior endpaper concept 2:

Concept artwork:

 

Creating a graphic novel: Thumbnails to Finished Art


My new all-ages graphic novel is now live at www.zoesparks.ca To give a little bit of insight into my process, I thought I would share some of my sketches and show the stages I go through in creating the artwork.
1. Writing/thumbnailing
I start with a story goal in mind, a short written outline, and a loose series of plot points that I write out on a plot diagram. Since I’m very much a visual thinker, the meat of my writing process involves thumbnailing out small sequences of images. I create scenes organically as I let the pictures lead my thought process on where a scene is going. I fill many pages with scenes and snippets of scenes. Then I go through them all and refine and combine these small scenes into thumbnailed pages as the story fits together in sections. This is a lengthy push and pull process, and I find this method helps me stumble upon a lot of interesting scenes and sequences I may not have thought of if I was writing words with the more logical side of my brain. As I thumbnail I also jot down little bits of dialogue in the margins, but sometimes the visuals will give me a good indication of the story at this point without getting overly detailed about dialogue. In the end, I eventually end up with a rough story pieced together from these small thumbnailed pages. At this stage I do a lot of moving of pages/scenes around, adding dialogue, and adjusting things until I’m happy with the story.



zoe-blog-process-thumbs
2. Penciling
Once I have the thumbnailed pages – these are usually drawn very small at 1.25″ x 2.5″ – I scan them and place them into Manga Studio. (See this blog post for details on how I set up my story and pages in Manga Studio). I enlarge the tiny thumbnails to actual page size, and then draw my pencils on a new layer using the thumbnails as a loose guide.
The following is a step by step process for two pages…
Hand drawn thumbnails:



zoe-blog-process-1
Pencils in Manga Studio. All dialog and word balloons are placed at this stage:



zoe-blog-process-2
Inks in Manga Studio:



zoe-blog-process-3
Pages are then exported and colour flatting is done in Photoshop:



zoe-blog-process-4
Final shading and highlighting in Photoshop:



zoe-blog-process-5
And that’s basically my process.
Also wanted to share some of my working/concept sketches. Here are a few cover concepts:



zoe-blog-1
And the colour artwork for the covers. The cover I ended up using was the one on the far left:



zoe-blog-2
Back cover/interior endpaper concept 1:



zoe-blog-4
Back cover/interior endpaper concept 2:



zoe-blog-6
Concept artwork:



zoe-blog-3
I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look into my process.

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