Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is one of my favorite days of the year: Thanksgiving!  I just adore this holiday, from all the tasty food to spending time with my loved ones.  In today's fast-paced society, I think it's important to put those smart-phones away, sit down at a table, enjoy the company of friends and family, and just take a moment to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives.

I know I have a lot to be thankful for this year: a happy family; a loving hubby; healthy pets (no ferret-hospital trips so far--huzzah!); great friends, and a lovely home.  Of course, I'm always thankful for my loyal blog readers, too!  Your support means the world to me!

I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving!  Be sure to laugh, love, and eat lots of pie!  :)

Note: Image is from Microsoft clipart.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Closer Look Into Hindsight

Recently, someone told me that hindsight is 20-20.  I've heard this saying plenty of times before, but the more I thought about it, the more I disagreed with it.  Hindsight is not 20-20; it is murky and often blind as a naked mole rat.  (Yes, I like rodents better than bats.)  And like a naked mole rat living underground, there are infinite routes and tunnels it my choose to follow.
Death by dragons or dinos?  Choose!
Am I getting too metaphorical for you?
When I was little, I loved reading those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.  However, I hated making decisions on which story line to pursue.  Whenever I came to a fork-in-the-road page, I'd flag it with a scrap of paper so I could come back and follow the other choice later.  It took me forever to read those books, and the pages were bursting with paper scraps by the time I was done.  I just needed to know the outcome of every option the writers put in there.  (This probably says a lot about me, no?)  
I think hindsight is more like this: a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, only in real life you can't go back to follow those other paths.  (Or naked mole rat tunnels.  I'll let you choose your favorite metaphor.)
This conundrum has been weighing on my mind recently.  I've always been interested in writing and art--in wanting to become an author or illustrator. (Or both!)  When I was in college, I made the tough decision not to pursue a minor in art.  I won't get into the complications that led to that decision, but the result was that I shut off the "art" part of my brain, and drove my passions into the world of creative writing instead.  I put away my sketchbook for over half a decade, threw myself into my writing classes, and chased after my dream of becoming a published author.  And that was that.   
If you've been following my blog, then you know I've slowly been getting back into my art over the last year.  In many ways this has made me happy; in others, not so much.  I'll openly admit that at the ripe ol' age of 26, I'm not at the artistic level I'd like to be. Recent workshops I've attended have made me regret my no-art-minor decision, resulting in my current lack of a solid art foundation.  I practice and learn with each new piece, but sometimes I wonder what a class on color theory or composition would have done for my current work.  And while I adore the deviantArt community I've joined, I'm often struck dumb by artists half my age who exhibit talents and skills WAY beyond my own.  They inspire me, amaze me, but humble and sadden me, too, forcing my thoughts to sixteen-year-old Kathryn and a million unanswered "What If's."
While a part of me kicks myself for my past decision, the other part looks back and sees that book full of countless paths and paper scraps.  My decisions have led me to where I am today, but would I prefer the outcomes of another path?  I'm not so sure. 
Let's say I chose that art-minor in college.  Would the hours I spent dreaming of Ellis and Bannock in my dorm room been replaced by dreams of picture books instead?  Would the time I spent honing my writing craft been spent sketching and painting?  Would the drive that pushed me to draft my first novel been funneled into artistic pursuits?  
And that's just during college.  Afterward?  What if I'd attended illustrator sessions instead of writing ones at conferences?  Would I have missed the gems of advice that strengthened my writing skills?  And my time at home?  Would I have tirelessly pursued The Beast of Bannock if my hours were split between art and writing?  Would I have experienced every rejection, every workshop, every revision, and every encouragement that's molded me into the writer and person I am today?  Would I still have found the strength to open my heart beyond Bannock and tell the story of a scrappy pirate ferret, too?
I don't know--and of course, I never will.  Maybe if I'd pursued art, the two interests would have fused into a super-passion, making me a better person than I am today.  Or maybe Ellis and Tentacles and all my characters I love so dearly would just be ideas pushed away to the back of my mind.  That thought is overwhelmingly terrible.  But deep down, a part of me thinks it would probably be true.
And this is why 20-20 hindsight is full of baloney.  There are no black and white answers when dealing with the past.  Do I currently wish I was better artist?  Yes.  But when it all comes down to it, would I potentially swap all I've achieved as a writer to become that better artist?  No.  N-O!  I don't know where that "Choose Your Own Adventure" choice would have led.  I could have become a prisoner in a medieval dungeon, or a hostage to aliens, or a writer that never wrote a book.  And that is an outcome I never want to see.
I may not be able to paint like this....
...But at least I have them.  :)
So why have I subjected you to my wistful ramblings?  Because I'm guessing that at some point in your life, you've felt this way, too.  Your past regret could be related to anything, from a job offer you declined to a conference you skipped, or something as simple as a crush you never asked out.  Maybe it would have changed your life; maybe it wouldn't have mattered one bit in influencing the cosmos.  But if the past and regrets haunt you at night, I hope you take comfort in this: 
Don't think about what might have been.  Think about what might NOT have been.
I might be nuts, but it helps me sleep better at night.  :)
So where will I go from here?  I've always felt like the little engine that could, so all I can do is keep chugging along, striving for improvement.  Maybe I'll take some art classes, maybe I'll go back to school for a second degree, or maybe I'll find myself in the middle of an adventure where giant naked mole rats are trying to eat me.
But those are choices for another day.
Note: Image of "Choose Your Own Adventure" book is from Wikipedia.  The painting is "Whistlejacket" by Geroge Stubbs, also from Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

COSCBWI Fall 2012 Workshop Recap

Last weekend, COSCBWI held their 4th Annual Scarlet & Gray Writers and Illustrators Event!  It was a great half-day workshop, with wonderful presentations led by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers editor, Kristin Ostby, and author-illustrator, Lindsay Ward.

If you couldn't attend the event, shame on you!  You missed a fantastic learning experience.  But, I'm still happy to share some of the day's pearls of wisdom with you.

Session 1: Kristin Ostby, "The Intersection of Literary and Commercial Middle Grade Fiction"
During Kristin's first session, she discussed Literary versus Commercial fiction.  Commercial fiction, she explained, are books that are on the best seller lists and ones readers don't want to put down.  (Think Hunger Games and Harry Potter.)  Literary fiction, on the other hand, are quieter books that often deal with deeper topics and timely issues.  (Think award winners and starred review books, like Wonder by R.J. Palacio.)  Kristin suggested we all think about our work in terms of "Literary" and "Commercial" and to compare it to others in the market.  She also recommended that we all read widely in both categories and learn all we can from their successes.  By understanding where our books fall in the market, she said we can do a better job presenting them in the best light.

Session 2: Lindsay Ward, "The Perfect Marriage: Illustration & Text in Picture Books"
Lindsay led the second session of the day, which was full of useful information for both illustrators and writers.  As she explained, words and pictures are both oh-so important in picture books, relying on each other to produce an end product that kids will love.  She explained the different types of picture books, including:

-Symmetrical: The illustrations and text reflect one another.  Readers can read the text and look at the illustrations separately, but gain the same understanding.
-Complimentary: The images and text are integrated, and readers need both to understand the full story.
-Contradictory: The image and text don't "work" together, but still tell the story.  Books like these often tell two stories in one.  (She suggested reading Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley by John Burningham to understand this better.)
-Wordless: The entire story is conveyed through pictures, with no words.  It's a less-common picture book style that is often hard to pull off, but can be spectacular if done right.

Lindsay explained that by understanding these different types of formats, writers can think about how their words will work with illustrations.  Similarly, illustrators can be more aware of how their art will affect and illuminate the written story.  Lastly, Lindsay recommended that both writers and illustrators read all they can in the market and study what makes the best picture books stand out from the crowd.

Session 3: Kristin Ostby: "The Middle Grade Marketplace: What Works (and What Doesn't) for Boy Readers"
The last session focused on the reluctant readers of the world: Middle Grade Boys.  Kristin explained that in general, boys move away from reading the older they get.  This can be due to many factors, including their development rates, learning techniques, competition from TV and video games, and a lack of interest in feelings (which often run rampant in literature.)  Fortunately, she assured us that boys WILL read if it's something they're interested in!  Kristin recommended we study the books that capture boy readers in the market, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Captain Underpants, and Origami Yoda.  She also said to pay attention to the other trends that interest them, including popular movies and video games.  By thinking about the humor, themes, activities, and genres that snag their attention, we can make sure our books are something they won't just cram into the bottom of their backpacks.

I'm so glad I got to help in the planning of this year's wonderful Scarlet & Gray Event!  Kristin and Lindsay were delightful speakers, and I think all of our members learned a lot from the sessions.  (I know I did!) 

If you missed this workshop, don't fret--COSCBWI will have more great events soon!  Do check out our website at  Our last monthly meeting of 2012 takes place on November 14, when we'll be celebrating our published members.  (Please note: it's a week earlier than usual, so mark it on your calendars!)  Hope to see you there!