Thursday, March 30, 2017

SCBWI Meeting #2 March 2017: Columbus Edition


As I mentioned in my last post, this month features TWO SCBWI meeting summaries!  The March meeting in Columbus featured Middle Grade author, Jennifer Maschari.  Jen is the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and the upcoming Things That Surprise You.  She spoke to our group about the publishing process and craft of writing--and which is more important to focus on when you're getting started.

Jen began by saying that the first step in any writer's journey is to WRITE A BOOK!  Aspiring authors have a tendency to think about writing more often than they actually sit down and write something.  Jen reasoned that you'll never have "enough time" (or whatever other excuse you fall back on), so just do it.  DO IT NOW! 

But then what do you do once you have poured your heart into your pen or triumphantly typed, "The End?" 

Jen admitted that she jumped into querying and focused on the publishing process as soon as she finished her first book.  But looking back, she wishes that she'd spent more time on her craft and less time researching agent response times.  It took her many rejections to realize that her manuscript wasn't strong enough to be published yet.  This is a very common situation that new writers find themselves in.  But don't fret!  Writers can strengthen their work by reading current published books, joining critique groups, and...

Revising!

To Jen, revision is the heart of writing.  She gave a list of the many things that she's done to her books during the revision process including cutting characters, changing tense, changing point of view, and even starting over.  It's okay if you don't get things right the first time; revising allows you to approach your story in new ways, discard what doesn't work, and add elements that will make it stronger.  Jen also emphasized how important it is to find a network of writer friends.  These may be people you meet at a conference, in online groups, or even at your local SCBWI meeting.  They'll help you get through the bad times and celebrate the good times of your publishing journey, all the while helping to improve your writing so it becomes the best it can be.

Lastly, Jen talked about how writing is hard work--really really hard work.  It's a dream, but it's also a job.  But by putting in the time and work (and not fretting over agent response times), you can achieve success!

A big thank you to Jen for sharing her writing and publishing wisdom with the group!  You can find out more about Jen and her books at jenmaschari.com.     

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, be sure to visit the group website at http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the next meeting!

Note: Cover image is from Jen's website at http://jenmaschari.com/books-2/  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

SCBWI Meeting #1 March 2017: Cincinnati Bound!


This month is extra special because I'll be blogging about TWO SCBWI meetings!  The Central & Southern Ohio chapter of SCBWI encompasses a large chunk of the Buckeye State including Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton.  Since I'm in Columbus, I attend the monthly meetings there.  But Cincinnati is home to our chapter's Assistant Regional Advisor, Andrea Pelleschi, who also holds meetings in her corner of the state.  With the winter weather receding, Regional Advisor, Jody Casella, and I took a road trip to attend the March Cincinnati meeting and connect with our southern SCBWI siblings.

The SCBWI meetings in Cincinnati are held on the 2nd Tuesday each month at 7:00 pm at the Sharonville Library.  They feature a mix of critique meetings and speakers, and you can always find the details at ohiocensouth.scbwi.org.  Jody and I were thrilled to meet 30 members from Cincinnati, many of whom we'd connected with via email and Facebook over the years.  (It's always wonderful to put faces to names!)
 
The Sharonville Library.  We even arrived before dark!

Jody and I started the meeting with an overview of the happenings in Columbus and how the Cen/South Ohio SCBWI Board is trying to better serve and connect members across the region.  (Like our website improvements, our in-the-pipeline plans for published members, and our awesome new members-only Facebook group for artists: Cen/South Ohio SCBWI Illustrators.)  Jody and Andrea also reminded the group that SCBWI is an organization made up of volunteers, and everyone is invited to get involved.  So if you want to see more events or critiques in your hometown, don't hesitate to volunteer and see what a difference you can make in Ohio's children's lit community.

After the overview, Jody took the stand as the month's guest speaker to give a presentation on her publishing journey.  I always find road-to-publication stories so inspiring.  Like many aspiring authors, it took Jody a long time to publicly admit that she wanted to be a writer.  (It's so much easier to keep those dreams quietly to oneself!)  NANOWRIMO was a big turning point for her, forcing her to get ideas down quickly instead of fretting over every little word.  It also made her realize that often you don't know what your story is about until you get to the end of it and see what you have.  (Her main character for her published novel Thin Space wasn't even planned--he popped up in her draft and stole the show, taking her story in a direction she'd never intended.)  Once you have everything on paper--from your carefully-planned plot points to your unexpected surprises--THEN you can go back and work on making the story the best it can be. 

Jody also warned about two big pitfalls for writers: being Arrogant and Insecure.  She admitted that she fell into the camp of being Arrogant when she started and thought she knew more about writing than she did.  It took her a while to realize that she still had a lot to learn, but once she did, her newfound openness to workshops and critiques provided a big boost to her work--and ultimately her career.  On the flip side, Jody cautioned that being Insecure can be equally damaging.  Some writers have a difficult time believing in their own abilities, and she has seen many that are afraid to share their work with the world.  But if a writer is too cautious, he or she can miss great opportunities and run the risk of never going anywhere.

Jody's parting advice to the group was to never give up.  The journey can be tough and full of surprises, but success comes to those who persevere!

A big thank you to Jody for her inspiring presentation!  You can learn more about Jody and her writing (and follow her wonderful blog) at: http://www.jodycasella.com/

I'd also like to send a huge thank you to the Cincinnati members for giving us such a warm welcome!  We had a blast and can't wait to come down to see you all again!  

Me (Kathryn Powers), Andrea Pelleschi, and Jody Casella

Monday, February 27, 2017

The "Ten Years of Writing" Blog Post

<insert trumpet fanfare here>
 
It's my ten-year writing anniversary.  Ten years since I sat down at my computer, wrote my heart out, and started pursuing this crazy dream of publication.  
 
That's 1-0.  A decade.  a.k.a., A LONG, LONG TIME.
 
I'm actually feeling okay about the occasion.  Perhaps even a little bit proud?  I always hear that it takes most authors "ten years to become published," so my first contract must be just around the corner, right?  ;)  
 
In reality, I think of it more as "ten years of not giving up."  I've earned my proverbial stripes and am prepared to keep moving on, even though that final destination is still a big, fat question mark.
 
I know, I know.  This is when non-writers and illustrators would say WHY?  Why, oh why, do you continue to do this to yourself day after day, year after year, with no end in sight?  Are you nuts?!
 
Yes.  
 
It takes a certain type of insanity to battle the odds and keep chasing the publishing dream.  It's not for the faint of heart or sound of mind.  Or for people who despise rewriting their manuscript's opening sentence at least forty six times. Consider yourself warned. 
 
I wasn't sure how I wanted to mark this occasion.  I thought about doing a cake recipe blog post.  One of those, "Stir in ample dedication.  Add a cup of tears and a dash of bitterness.  Top with lots of chocolate--you'll need it."  
 
Instead, I ate some celebratory s'mores cheesecake.
 
Treat yo self.
 
I don't feel like being cutesy or clever, so I'll just be honest.  When I started my first novel, The Beast of Bannock, I didn't think it would take ten years to become published.  I didn't think I would go on to write several more books and still not be published. (My hopeful five-year writing anniversary post now makes me cringe.  Poor, naive 2012 Kathryn!)   
 
The journey to publication really is like climbing up a mountain.  A thrilling, dangerous, dizzying Mount Everest.  The adventure has been wonderful.  It's been ugly.  There have been times I thought I was sooooo close to the summit only to find out I still had a long, long, looooong way to go. 
 
 
Parts of this decade-long endeavor have been better than others.  Years 1-4 were full of optimism and confidence.  I soaked up everything I could and thought publication was just around the corner. 
 
Year 5, that confidence started wavering.  
 
Years 6-8 were rough.  The rejections piled on; promising connections didn't pan out the way I thought they would.  I was bummed out and burned out.  I frequently wanted to throw in the towel.  I even declared I was throwing in the towel on more than one occasion!  But something always called me back, and I kept at it despite my protestations.
 
Year 9, I felt the stirrings of my early passion and a twinge of hope again.
 
And now--at Year 10--I'm overall quite zen about the whole thing.  Maybe I'll get published; maybe I won't.  All I can do is give it my best.  Just keep swimming and all that. 
 
I may not be where I thought I would be at this milestone, but I'm not doing too bad.  I've got some books under my belt and more in my head.  I've learned a thing or two.  I've been blessed with so many, many wonderful writing and illustrating friends and family members who support me.  (You know who you are.  You're probably reading this.  I love you all and would be tumbling down the mountain if I didn't have you.)  
 
I also know that if (when?) I get published some day, more challenges will always come my way.  But I'll save that for another decade.

More than anything, this occasion has made me nostalgic.  I'm not as devoted to my first novel anymore--the one about about a boy named Ellis who turns into a horse.  (He also has green scars.  I still think that's kind of cool.)  But I'll always love it to pieces.  So to celebrate this anniversary, I'll share some of my other firsts: my first writing notebook; my first rejection; my first (horrific) equine character sketches; my first stab at drawing a map of my fantasy world; and my first professional critique.  (If you can read that tiny print, the agent bluntly wrote, "There isn't enough character development up front for me to care about, and root for, Ellis."  She was 100% correct.)
 
 
And lastly, thank YOU for staying with me for all of these years.  If you're one of my readers who is also climbing the mountain, I can't wait until we meet at the summit someday.

Friday, February 10, 2017

COSCBWI Meetings: Welcoming 2017!


It's a new year, which means it’s time for new COSCBWI meetings!

As you may have read in my "About Me" section of this blog, I'm the Illustrator Coordinator for the Central and Southern Ohio Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (or SCBWI for short).  I’ve been involved with the organization for many years and love planning events and projects for our members.  A few years ago, I started posting summaries of the monthly meetings on my blog for any local folk who missed attending, as well as for my readers spread far and wide who are interested in children's literature topics.  I plan to continue this in 2017, so I hope you will enjoy these COSCBWI posts!

We had two meetings to kick off the new year—an overview of our chapter and critique meeting for all members at the end of January, and an illustrator meet-and-greet at the beginning of February.  (Hence this delayed post!)  The Central/Southern Ohio chapter covers a large portion of Ohio including Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton.  To help better serve this big region, Jody Casella fills the roll of our Regional Advisor in Columbus, and Andrea Pelleschi is the Assistant Regional Advisor down in Cincinnati.  And for the illustrators, we just launched a brand new Facebook group so our members can stay connected wherever they may live!  Unless otherwise noted, the monthly meeting in Columbus is held on the fourth Wednesday of the month at 7:00 pm at the Upper Arlington Library, and the monthly meeting in Cincinnati is held on the 2nd Tuesday of the month at 7:00 pm at the Sharonville Library.

It's always a good idea to make sure everyone has the most up-to-date info at the start of each year, so here is where you can find COSCBWI online:

Email: ohiocensouth@scbwi.org
Website: http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/
Twitter: @CSOhioSCBWI
Facebook: Central Southern Ohio SCBWI
Facebook Illustrator Group: Cen/South Ohio SCBWI Illustrators
Listserv: coscbwi@yahoogroups.com

After introductions and group overviews, both meetings ended with member critiques of manuscripts and portfolios.  Group critiques are a wonderful way to get feedback on your work, as well as share your writing and illustrating expertise with other members.  COSCBWI keeps the atmosphere informal and encouraging for group critiques, so don't be afraid to share your work when opportunities come up throughout the year!

There are already several fun events on the agenda for 2017, including a Social Media Fair on February 18, and a workshop with authors Mindy McGinnis and Kelly Barson on March 4.  (For more information and registration, be sure to check out the website: ohiocensouth.scbwi.org.)  For illustrators, there will also be a return of the annual notecard contest later this year!  Other exciting plans are in the works, so keep your eye on that website for more information.

This is shaping up to be a great year for COSCBWI!  I hope to see you at a meeting or event soon! 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Happy 2017 Blog Post (aka Looking Back and Looking Ahead)

I realize it's already January 29, but happy 2017!  If I summed up my new year so far in hashtags, it would be #amwriting, immediately followed by #cannotfeelfingers and #haveastupidpinchednerveNot the ideal way to start a new year, but hopefully I'll be on the mend soon!

In all honesty, being forced to cut back on my writing and illustrating this month has given me oodles of time to reflect on 2016.  I've discussed the concept of "failure vs. success" with lots of my lit buddies, subscribed to the very worthwhile "12 Days of Christmas for Writers" web series by Julie Hedlund, and taken a good look inside myself.  And what I discovered is that we writers and illustrators are a mean lot, brutally demanding and endlessly harsh on ourselves. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lit community is SO WONDERFUL at building each other up.  (I seriously don't know what I would do without my writing and illustrating soulmates.)  But when it comes to being internally satisfied, we all have an enormous tendency to feel like we never do enough or achieve everything we want to.

To illustrate this, here's my personal 2016, retold in the style of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.


As 2015 turned to 2016, a little writer-illustrator sat at her desk. On New Year morning the resolutions started flowing and POP! Out of that mindset came a determined, very ambitious Kathryn.

In January and February she revised half of Pirate Ferret, but she still felt unaccomplished.

In March and April she whipped out illustrations and put on a big book festival at work, but she still felt unaccomplished.

In May through July she completed two months of daily drawing challenges and led her first workshop, but she still felt unaccomplished.

In August she re-revised the first half of Pirate Ferret, but she still felt unaccomplished.

In September through November she completed an illustration course, drafted two picture books, started an Instagram account, planned a local art gallery, illustrated her rump off, overhauled her website portfolio, and worked on Pirate Ferret.  But she STILL FELT UNACCOMPLISHED.

That December she had a meltdown.

When the New Year dawned once more, the very ambitious Kathryn realized she was being utterly ridiculous and had actually accomplished a lot in 2016. It may not have been everything she’d intended when she sat at her desk twelve months ago, but it was a heck of a lot nonetheless. 

She’s going to work on that in 2017. 

The End.

All joking aside, I really have realized that I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to feeling accomplished.  Resolutions are great, but so are unexpected opportunities.  Goals are helpful, but sometimes they need to be reevaluated.  And of course, life just happens.  So I'm going to try to be better about celebrating the little victories this year and be content as long as I keep moving forward.

On a happier note, I am very pleased that I managed to fill up this chart again in 2016!

 

I feel like I was pretty quiet about sharing art on my blog this year, but in all honesty, I did more work to grow as an illustrator in 2016 instead of full, finished pieces to post online.  And I wrote a lot, too.  So anytime this blog goes silent, just know I'm scribbling away at something behind the scenes.  :)

I was going to follow up this post with another one on all the other fun things I did in 2016 and never posted about.  But since most of those things involve writing and illustrating in some way, I think they feel at home here.  So what else did I do in 2016?

I spent a week at Highlights for a mini-reunion with these lovely ladies. 


We wrote and giggled and learned how to tie teeny-tiny Twizzler nooses.  It was pretty awesome.

 
I also got to visit this wonderful gal on three occasions, and we attended our first conference since she moved from Ohio.  It was just like old times! 


This fantastic partner-in-crime helped keep me on track all year long with manuscript challenges and victory Chinese buffets.  We also met Mo Willems and it was AMAZING!  Mo's Pigeon even photobombed our picture.  ;)

(This picture was all sorts of awful until the Pigeon saved it!)

Lastly, I am oh-so thrilled that 2016 brought me TWO new nephews!  That now brings my auntly total to three handsome nephews and one beautiful niece.  (And lots and lots of love!)

So that pretty much sums up my 2016!  I'm sure I forgot to post about something--it was quite a roller coaster year--and I have no doubt 2017 will be just as crazy.  But with good friends and wonderful family, I know it will be another great year.

I wish you a creative, healthy, and joyful new year!  And most of all, I hope you keep moving forward in 2017!

Note:  Blank art summary meme edited from DustBunnyThumper on deviantArt. link "Pigeon" is (c) Mo Willems.  (I was just being silly.)  All art and doodles are mine.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Children's Book Academy Class

Before this year draws to a close, I wanted to sneak in one more blog post for 2016.  (I've only meant to blog about this for months, but better late than never!)

During the fall, I was fortunate to attend an online illustration course offered through the Children's Book Academy called, "The Craft and Business of Illustrating Picture Books."  It was truly the highlight of my year.  Taught by industry professionals Mira Reisberg and Julia Maguire, the intensive online course went over all aspects of the children's book illustration process.  The format included daily lessons with interviews, demonstrations, and videos; weekly illustration assignments; and live group critique sessions with Mira and Julia.  There was also an amazing private Facebook group for all the students where we could share work and help each other out.  (A group that is still going strong and full of people I am honored to now call friends!)


Since I didn't go to art school, I've always felt like the lack of a formal education has been a bit of a black mark against me.  (During conference critiques, I've had some industry professionals disregard that fact as totally unimportant, while others have admonished me for it--sometimes before even opening my portfolio.  I wish I was exaggerating, but that's sadly the truth.)  Whether or not a formal education is important is obviously subjective, but the negative reactions have certainly left their mark on me and my confidence over the years.  So instead of letting that bring me down, I really wanted to do something to increase my knowledge and help fill in some gaps that I know I missed by not attending art school.  The Children's Book Academy was the PERFECT choice for helping me achieve just that.  (And so much more!)

The course  focused on a building-block approach to creating picture books--from thumbnail sketches and character design all the way to ready-to-submit dummies and color samples.  As an extra bonus, the online materials are available for students for many months after the course is over.  The friendliness of both the instructors and other students also made me feel completely comfortable asking my many "stupid" questions.  (I'm one of those people who would rather say something and look like a cotton headed ninny muggins than keep my confusion to myself and/or do something incorrectly.)  Most importantly, the course gave me the confidence to work on BLINK, my picture book idea about a little bat looking for a friend, that had been sitting in my mind for a very long time.

Rough Thumbnail Sketches
 
Character Design Sketches

Cleaner Thumbnail Sketches


Color/Portfolio Sample

There was also an opportunity at the end of the course to submit "Golden Ticket" work for industry professionals to see.  I wasn't picked by any of the professionals, but I'm happy the opportunity encouraged me to work hard and finish some new illustrations for my portfolio. 

Now that the course is over, I know I still have a lot to learn.  BUT, I feel much more knowledgeable and confident, and I'm very pleased with the progress I've made.  I'm so thankful to Mira for putting together such an amazing course, and I hope to take another class with her again in the future.  (Do check out the website at www.childrensbookacademy.com.  There are loads of courses offered, and I highly encourage any of my blog readers interested in writing or illustrating children's lit to take one.) 

My little bat character, Blink, will also always be grateful that this course made me finally put him on paper.  I know everything I've learned through the Children's Book Academy will help me take him to the next level.  :) 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas 2016!

Merry Christmas!  Per usual, this season has zipped by faster than a flying reindeer.  But amidst the 4:00 a.m. baking sprees and last-minute shopping, I put aside a smidgeon of time to illustrate a festive card.



I don't know what it is with me and mice, but I adore those critters!  (My 2016 sketchbook is brimming with them!)  This little lady has found herself a dashing dance partner.  But what happened to the poor gingerbread fellow's leg?  The back of the card tells that story. ;)


Have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year!  I hope your season is full of family, friends, fond memories, and feasting!