I see you, Drawn to Picture Books Blog–happy to oblige.
I was already thinking of writing a blog about this past weekend's SCBWI New Jersey Summer Conference. We were missing one of our members, lost to the wilds of Book Expo America. (Patricia Keeler, drawing on the spot, impressing all the librarians!) But everyone else was present. It was amazing to catch up in person, talk about our projects, and share our ongoing challenges. We also discussed sharing work with each other again–something, like the blog, that had taken a back seat when everyone got busy with actual book work.
I realized during the conference that those outside opinions, other eyes on the projects, really do help us revise and refine our work until it's closer to presentation-worthy. I had a workshop before a one-on-one critique – and information from both brought a new idea forth for my current book dummy. That one idea would not have happened with me alone in my studio–I needed other eyes on my project. And that idea could be the element that brings the story across the finish line.
Going to the conference was also very helpful in reiterating that publishing is hard work, and the best of the best get rejected–but they don't ever quit. I think I'll need that message until my last moments drawing and writing. The keynote speaker on Sunday, Tami Charles, brought that point home in her closing remarks.
I was very happy to see many friends enjoy leads to follow up with editors or agents. Some earned representation solely from this weekend. New folks were encouraged, which encouraged me. Seasoned writers and illustrators took in the workshops with a sense of calm purpose. I liked seeing that. The desperate energy I carried with me at my first NJ SCBWI conference was most likely offputting. These veterans confidently presented workshops and attended others. Some participated in the art show, but others–having won before–sat back to let others have a turn.
What I was most struck by at the conference was Paul O. Zelinsky. He gave a great keynote address on Saturday. I could have listened to him speak for hours more than he was alotted. After that, for the rest of the weekend, friends and I kept bumping into him and having terrific conversations. From discussions about the pattern of his shirt (all the scenes from Z IS FOR MOOSE) to answering questions about publishing–he was so dang approachable, friendly, and funny. He is a giant in the industry. Friends for years with Maurice Sendak. (The photo below was taken from his Facebook page.) But he was still willing to answer questions about the editor/illustrator relationship with newbies. I thought his work was amazing before I met him, and was always a fan. But now I'm a fan of Paul, the person.
I missed the conference in 2016 due to a funeral. And in 2017, I was financially strapped, with a new baby, and a book that had just come out–so completely overwhelmed. The previous conference I attended was in 2015. Because it had been so long, and I was missing friends and the world of kidlit, I volunteered for the NJ chapter of SCBWI just so that I would have no excuses to miss this year's conference. I'm so glad I did.
I'm also glad I did, because for the first time ever, my illustration earned a nod in the art show. So did Mike Ciccotello's piece. It felt good to be up on the stage with my friend. I don't expect that to happen again–but that warm sunshine glow of that moment will be kept in my heart for those dark moments of doubt that creep in far too regularly.
If you have the opportunity, get involved with your local SCBWI chapter. You will come home from an event with a feeling of validation–that what you are doing is important work. And the knowledge that you are not alone at all. Writers and illustrators all around the globe, who may not even speak your language, have your back. And want to give you the confidence to keep moving forward and never quit.
Now to go order fabric with Paul O. Zelinsky's awesome pattern on it!