BLOG PARADE: 2018 SCBWI OK Spring Conference – Striking at the Reader’s Heart

 

I’m happy to be a part of the Blog Parade promoting our 2018 SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference this year.

We’re really changing things up!

The event begins this week on Friday evening,  April 6th, and continues through Saturday, April 7th.

As always manuscript critiques, and portfolio critiques will be available in limited numbers. This year there are some fun new additions, too! They include: Friday night sessions, Mingle with the Speakers events, paid face time with industry professionals, off-site critiques, and an autograph party.

Sounds fun!

New to our conference? There’s an orientation first thing Saturday morning, just for you! You also might enjoy reading my post, Tips for Attending a Writing Conference.

For a full conference schedule, and to register for our event, visit the website.

Still, at its core, are the stellar guest speakers we have lined up, so let me give you an introduction to each of them:


Chad W. Beckerman
 – Creative Director for Amulet Books, Abrams Books for Young Readers, and ComicArts.

Chad is an award-winning designer and
creative director at Abrams, where he oversees the design of picture books, novels and graphic novels under the Abrams Appleseed, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Amulet Books, and Abrams ComicArts imprints.

He is the designer behind such successful children series as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, NERDS Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales,
Frank Einstein and The Terrible Two.

Chad joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here: http://bit.ly/2KZzhAb 

Follow Chad on Twitter here. Follow Chad on Facebook here. Follow Chad on Instagram here.

Andrea Hall – Associate Editor with Albert Whitman & Company

Andrea Hall is an Associate Editor at Albert Whitman & Company where she works on picture books through young adult. She is particularly drawn to stories that have layers of meaning and diversity. Andrea started her publishing career at Pearson Education and is a former ARA of the Central and Southern Ohio Chapter of SCBWI.

Andrea answered questions for us in an interview before the conference. View the post here.

Follow Andrea on Twitter here.

Hannah Mann – Junior Agent with Writers House Literary Agency

Hannah started as an intern in the New York office before becoming Steven Malk’s assistant. She’s had the privilege of working closely with a variety of talented bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators of works ranging from very young picture books to middle grade to young adult.

Now as a Junior Agent, she’s seeking clients from those genres. To learn more about Hannah’s preferences, visit her agency website here.

Hannah joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here: http://bit.ly/2wIFQUG

Follow Hannah on Twitter here.

Daniel Nayeri – Publisher at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

Daniel worked as Director of Children’s Publishing at the independent publishing house Workman Publishing before being promoted to Publisher there prior to his move to Macmillan in October of 2017. He is now in the process of developing his own imprint at Macmillian.

He is also an author of a few children’s books himself, including his latest book, STRAW HOUSE, WOOD HOUSE, BRICK HOUSE, BLOW. Daniel and his family immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old and arrived in Oklahoma.

Daniel joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here: http://bit.ly/2KVsjMK

Follow Daniel on Twitter here. Learn about Daniel’s writing here.

Allison Remcheck – Associate Agent with Stimola Literary Studio

To Allison, being an agent is a bit like a treasure hunt to find the books that speak to her most easily. Allison is drawn to voices that speak for themselves, stories that only the author can tell, and books that reflect the lives of every child – especially the ones told least often.

Allison joined us for a Twitter Chat before the conference. View the conversation here: http://bit.ly/2wz6Shr

Follow Allison on Twitter here.

Jerry Bennett – SCBWI Oklahoma Illustrator Coordinator and Professional Illustrator

Jerry is a full time illustrator who illustrates comics, storyboards and children’s books whose clients include Stan Lee, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Mattel and Dreamworks. He art directed and led cinematography for the animated short film, Even in Death, which won several film festival awards, and since gone to create trailers for Scholastic Books.

Jerry is currently creating original licensed sketchcards for Upper Deck’s Marvel line, and Topps’ Star Wars and The Walking Dead sets.

Learn more about Jerry’s work here. Follow Jerry on Twitter here. Follow Jerry on Facebook here. Follow Jerry Instagram here.

Emily Heddleson – Senior Manager, Library and Educational Marketing with Scholastic

Emily has over ten years of experience working on campaigns to promote books for ages 0-18, with a focus on retail, library, and educational markets. She will host a Skype breakout session with us entitled, “Marketing Your Published Books”.

Follow Emily on Twitter here.

 

This year, Oklahoma City is the host city for the conference. Mark your calendars for April 6-7th. You won’t want to miss it!

For more information about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

I’m the final stop on this blog parade, so if you’ve missed any of the other wonderful bloggers participating, here are their sites. Make sure to check them out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See you at the conference!

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Brenda Maier – Author Interview

I met Brenda Maier through our local SCBWI Oklahoma chapter, and I’ve been thrilled to watch her grow as an author. It’s such a pleasure to help her celebrate the debut of her very first picture book.

About Brenda

As a young child, Brenda had a grand total of six books; consequently, she spent her summers walking to the local library to get more. Now she spends her summers driving her own children to the local library, where you may find her in a corner with a stack of picture books. If she’s not there, she’s probably at a bookstore, adding to her much-larger-than-six-books collection.

Brenda lives in Oklahoma with her husband and their five children, who provide endless inspiration for more stories. She also works with gifted children at a large, local school district.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Brenda’s debut picture book:

THE LITTLE RED FORT by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Release Date: March 27, 2018

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genres: Picture Book

BUY THE BOOK HERE:
indieboundbn-24h-80amazon

Plot Summary:

​In this retelling of THE LITTLE RED HEN, Ruby wants to build a fort, but her big brothers refuse to help her. When the boys see the finished product, they really want to play in it, but it’s too late to do anything about it. Or is it?


Maier’s publisher describes this book as “one of those multi-layered gems” in this YouTube video.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Congratulations on your debut picture book, Brenda! I’m so excited to see this book published.

What inspired the idea for this story?

Brenda Maier: Thanks for inviting me to chat, Valerie.

My children inspired this idea. A few years ago, my youngest son was four, and he was in a The Little Red Hen phase; consequently, that story was on repeat in my mind.

One day I put him down for nap and went to check on the other kids in the back yard. They’d found some boards and lattice. Guess what they’d made? So the classic tale and my own kids’ ingenuity kind of converged that day, and I began thinking about a girl building a fort instead of a hen baking bread.

VL: Isn’t it exciting how our experiences can mesh together like that?

I just love the illustrations by Sonia Sánchez. What was it like seeing your words come to life for the first time? Is that how you had imagined them?

BM: I can’t say enough about Sonia’s beautiful art. Her unique style complements the text beautifully. The details keep me looking for new things. She has such a grasp of the characters, and she brought them to life in such a way that I can’t imagine them ever being anything other than what they are now. It’s like they’re real to me, and her illustrations are a big reason for that.

Illustrations from The Little Red Fort written by Brenda Maier. Art (c) 2018 by Sonia Sánchez. Used with permission from Scholastic Press.

 

VL: You work full time as a teacher and have five children at home. Talk about your writing routine. As in, where do you find the time to enjoy a moment’s peace, let alone find time to sit down and write?

BM: Kids will find you no matter where you are, and kids always come first. Therefore, I avoid this situation entirely by escaping for Panera at least a couple of times a month to write.

I write more regularly during the summer, when I can get up early and work for a few hours, but during the school year I have to be content to do the best I can. I might write before everyone wakes up, before I fall asleep at night, or even during my lunch break.

If it’s important to you, you will find a way to do it.

VL: Very true. You have to find that time to write anywhere you can.

As a debut author, what’s the best piece of advice you can pass on to fellow authors working in the pre-published phase?

BM: You should read. Reading helps you internalize so many things about stories—pacing, rhythm, page turns.

VL: What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

BM: I don’t know if I can only pick one. At this moment, I would have to say it’s a tie between two YA novels: Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. As different as they are, I appreciated the perspectives they both made me feel privy to.

You don’t want me to get started on favorite picture books.

VL: I love that you read widely – not just picture books! That’s so important. 

What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

BM: The Little Red Fort comes out in Spanish this June. A second book, Peeping Beauty, will be released next February from Aladdin, a Simon & Schuster imprint.

Peeping Beauty is a tale of chicks who resort to creative problem solving when their sibling won’t come out of the egg. It’s not a retelling, but it does give a subtle nod to the classic Sleeping Beauty.

VL: That sounds like another great story!

Thank you so much for joining us, today, Brenda. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you!

 

Learn more about Brenda Maier here.

Follow Brenda on Facebook here.

Follow Brenda on Twitter here.

 

 

 

2018 SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chat Schedule

 

For those who don’t already know, I’m the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, and I host a Twitter Chat once a month for our members, although anyone is welcome to join in the conversation. We meet on the fourth Tuesday of the month (and sometimes on additional special dates, too) from 7-8pm CST and we use the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, come check ours out! They are always interesting. And we love meeting new people.

I’m so excited to announce the schedule for our FOURTH season of #okscbwichat! I can hardly believe we already have three years under our belt. Wow!

(If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can go back and view any of our previous chats here.)

We had a lovely topic chat in January all about mentor texts and how they can help you be a better writer. You can view that conversation here.

In February, we start our guest chats. We have a nice line up of guests this year. Let me introduce them to you:

 

February 6th – Allison RemcheckSPECIAL CHAT DATE

Literary Agent Allison Remcheck is an Associate Agent with the Stimola Literary Studio. She is drawn to voices that speak for themselves, stories that only the author can tell, and books that reflect the lives of every child – especially the ones told least often. Allison will also be speaking at our spring conference in April.

Her Twitter handle is @allisonremcheck

 

February 27th – Daniel Nayeri

Daniel Nayeri is a Publisher at Macmillian. He is also an author of a few children’s books himself, including his latest book, STRAW HOUSE, WOOD HOUSE, BRICK HOUSE, BLOW. Daniel and his family immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old and arrived in Oklahoma. Daniel will also be speaking at our spring conference in April.

His Twitter handle is @DanielNayeri

 

March 6th – Hannah Mann – SPECIAL CHAT DATE

Hannah Mann is a Junior Agent with Writers House Literary Agency. Hannah started as an intern in the New York office before becoming Steven Malk’s assistant. She’s had the privilege of working closely with a variety of talented bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators of works ranging from very young picture books to middle grade to young adult. Now as a Junior Agent, she’s seeking clients from those genres. Hannah will also be speaking at our spring conference in April.

Her Twitter handle is @hannahmann

 

March 27th – Chad Beckerman

Chad Beckerman is Creative Director for Amulet Books, Abrams Books for Young Readers and ComicArts. Chad oversees the design of picture books, novels, and graphic novels.

He is the designer behind such successful children series as DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, ORIGAMI YODA, Nathan Hale’s HAZARDOUS TALES, FRANK EINSTEIN, THE TERRIBLE TWO, and Bill Nye’s JACK AND THE GENIUSES. He has also designed several bestselling picture books including ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, TROMBONE SHORTY, VEGETABLES IN UNDERWEAR, and Jillian Tamaki’s upcoming THEY SAY BLUE.

He has had the honor of working with many amazing illustrators including Jeff Kinney, Jillian Tamaki, Dan Santat, Victo Ngai, Sophie Blackall, David Roberts, Art Spiegelman, Jules Feiffer, and John Hendrix most recently on his DRAWING IS MAGIC. Chad will also be a speaker at our spring conference in April.

His Twitter handle is @chadwbecks

 

April 29th 1:00PM – Zoe WaringSPECIAL CHAT DAY AND TIME!!!

UK Illustrator Zoe Waring joins us on a special day and time – Sunday April 29th 1:00-2:00pm CST. Author and illustrator of NO HUGS FOR PORCUPINE, illustrator of TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE (with Oklahoma author Tammi Sauer), CAT AND DOG, and the upcoming PEEPING BEAUTY (with Oklahoma author Brenda Maier).

Zoe Waring has always loved the warmth and humour found in children’s picture books, and is a little obsessed with cute animals… just a little bit. She also loves drawing, has a rather silly sense of humour and a vivid imagination. You can begin to understand why she believes she has THE best job in the world!

Her Twitter handle is @zoemop

 

May 22nd – Heather Cashman

Heather is the Managing Director of Pitch Madness, Pitch Wars, and #PitMad – contests that help match writers with agents. Previously an Editor/Ambassador for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy US, Heather now freelance edits full time. She’s been an agent intern for over a year. She’ll be answering all of our questions about pitch contests. You can learn more about these contests at pitchwars.org.

Her Twitter handle is @HeatherCashman

 

June 26th –Pablo Cartaya

Pablo Cartaya is the author of the acclaimed middle-grade novel, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (Viking, 2017); Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish (Viking, 2018); and two forthcoming titles in 2019 and 2020 also to be published by VikingHe is a Publisher’s Weekly “Flying Start” and has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

He is the co-author of the picture book, Tina Cocolina: Queen of the Cupcakes (Random House, 2010), a contributor to the literary magazine, Miami Rail; the Spanish language editorial, Suburbano Ediciones; and a translator for the poetry chapbook, Cinco Poemas/Five Poems based on the work of poet Hyam Plutzik. Pablo visits schools and universities throughout the US and currently serves as faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s MFA in Creative Writing.

His Twitter handle is @phcartaya

 

(We have some surprises planned for the summer chats that we’ll be announcing later in the year. Stay tuned!)

 

September 25th – Ashley Nixon

Ashley Nixon-Amador is the author of the YA fantasy CUTLASS series. She graduated from the university of Oklahoma and has a Masters in Library Sciences and Information Studies. She is a Gates Millennium Scholar Alumni. She loves pugs, libraries, and eyeliner. Ashley lives in Oklahoma with her husband.

Her Twitter handle is @AshleymNixon.

 

October 23rd – Sue Lowell Gallion

Sue Lowell Gallion, former Kansas SCBWI RA and PB author of the PUG MEETS PIG and PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT books, which both received starred reviews, writes for children because she is passionate about children, reading, and any combination of the two. Sue’s debut picture book,

PUG MEETS PIG, illustrated by Joyce Wan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) is now in its second printing.

We are definitely saving the best for last, here. Sue spoke at our Tulsa SCBWI Anniversary Dinner last year and she was just a delight. Her picture books are so adorable and she’s incredibly knowledgeable about so many things and she is generous with that knowledge with her fellow SCBWI people. You will love chatting with her!

Sue’s Twitter handle is @SueLGallion 

 

As always, we take November and December off for the holidays. Looks like it’s going to be a great year for chats! (And I’m already starting on next year’s schedule – can you believe it?) Don’t forget, if you have anyone YOU want to see as a guest, let me know and we’ll be sure to invite them if we can.

Our next chat is coming up soon. Hope to see you  there!

Gaye Sanders and the Survivor Tree – Author Interview

Gaye Sanders is one of the local talents from our SCBWI OK group whose debut picture book, THE SURVIVOR TREE, is coming out this week. I’m delighted she’s stopped by to talk with us about it.

 

About Gaye

Gaye has been teaching elementary children for over 30 years and is currently a fourth-grade teacher in Mustang, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

She is an active member of the Oklahoma Region of SCBWI and will assume the monumental role of Assistant Regional Advisor this coming December. We’re excited to have you on board!

Gaye was in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed, killing 168 people, 19 of whom were children under the age of six. Every year she makes sure to share the historic story of the Oklahoma City bombing with her students.

 

Before the interview, let’s take a closer look at Gaye’s book:

THE SURVIVOR TREE by Gaye Sanders illustrated by Pamela Behrend

Release Date: November 1, 2017

Publisher: Roadrunner Press

Genres: Picture Book, Historical Fiction

 

BOOK AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER: amazon

BOOK SOON AVAILABLE:

indieboundbn-24h-80
*A portion of all books sales will go to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum in downtown Oklahoma City.

Plot Summary:

A family plants an American elm on the Oklahoma prairie just as the city is taking root—and the little tree grows as Oklahoma City grows until 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, the day America fell silent at the hands of one of its own.

As rubble from the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is cleared, the charred tree—its branches tattered and filled with evidence—faces calls that it be cut down. The only obstacle: a few people who marvel that, like them, it is still there at all.

The next spring when the first new leaf appears proving the tree is alive, word spreads like a prairie wildfire through the city and the world. And the tree, now a beacon of hope and strength, is given a new name: The Survivor Tree. (Plot summary from author’s website.)


 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Gaye Sanders: When you are a writer, you rotate between writing, editing, and revising. But you are also, at all times, thinking about what your next story will be.

Many times, we choose the story we are writing. We may get a spark of an idea, and work to develop it into a full story. But sometimes, in those rare moments, a story finds us.

Almost four years ago, on a visit to New York City, my sister and I got to experience the 9-11 Memorial. During our visit to the gift shop, I discovered a book about the 9-11 Survivor Tree. Until that moment, I had not realized they had a survivor tree.

Their tree has a much different story than ours. It was recovered from some of the rubble and replanted, nursed back to health and transplanted to the grounds when the memorial was finished.

I decided to buy that book, and then find the book about our Survivor Tree. I came home and began to look for one, and that was when I discovered there wasn’t one.

There needed to be. That idea sat on my heart for a couple of years. The seed of the idea planted itself there, and wouldn’t go away. And, I knew that a story had found me. A story that needed to be told.

VL: How fascinating! From one survivor tree to another. Love it!

This is a very emotional story still for many Oklahomans, did you find this a difficult thing to translate into a picture book format?

Illustration by Pamela Behrend from the book THE SURVIVOR TREE

GS: I think that turning it into a picture book softened the subject matter. There were a lot of hard details that have been omitted, because they simply aren’t appropriate for the age group. But through the entire story of the tree, the bombing, and the healing afterwards, the theme is love conquers hate and hope can bring you through even the darkest times. Along with the promise that we will never forget.

VL: You tell this story from the perspective of the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, located on the site of the Murrah Federal Building bombing, what were the benefits/challenges to using a tree as your main character?

GS: Writing a book about this subject for children presented its own set of challenges. The story needs to be told, but in a more delicate manner, so as not to scare them about our world. I wrote my first version in third person, but it didn’t have the heart I wanted it to.

As writers, we often gain inspiration for our works from other books or pieces of literature. I reread The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. And even though that book is set in third person, that’s when it hit me. The tree needed to tell this story.

When I changed the point of view, I knew it was the right thing to do.

VL: Ah! THE GIVING TREE! Another tree giving your story inspiration. Let’s hear it for the trees!

You were able to visit the Memorial archives for your research, what was that experience like?

GS: The Oklahoma City National Memorial was more than helpful in allowing my research. I was honored to spend an entire day in the archives, going through photos, evidence lists, FBI notes, and more. It was a crucial part of the research. But, you can’t research something like this without feeling it from the very depths of your soul.

I lived here when this awful travesty occurred, I knew people who lost family members, and I knew others who survived.  So, needless to say, I have shed more than my share of tears through this journey.

VL: Tell us about your writing journey. How did you begin to write books for children?

GS: I began thinking about writing for children over ten years ago. Having been around children’s literature basically my entire life, I thought I knew all I needed to know to write my own books.

I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing, or how the publishing industry works.

It wasn’t until I joined SCBWI that I learned enough to really begin writing. It has been such a great journey, and I would not be where I am today without this amazing organization. And tribe. I have made lifelong friends, and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

VL: Woohoo! Yay, SCBWI! Best thing I ever did for my writing, too. 

Tell us something about your childhood. As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into?

GS: I was one of those kids who really didn’t get in trouble much. Probably the biggest trouble was staying out too long on my bicycle.

Until I was a Senior in High School. I got my first “licks” with two months of high school left to go, because two of my friends and I told our bookkeeping teacher we were going to the library, when all along we were planning to go get cinnamon rolls in the cafeteria.

Yep. Got caught and got paddled.

VL: Oh, no! First time out and caught!

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

GS: I grew up in a small, sheltered town. Probably the scariest thing was when my older sister, a friend of mine, and I were all at home alone one night, and heard a tap on the window. It was a peeping Tom! In Fritch, America!

The scariest moment in my childhood was probably the assassination of President Kennedy. I’ll never forget the moment they broke in on “As the World Turns” (I wasn’t in school yet) and Walter Cronkite announced that the President had been shot. The world stopped. And even though I was only five, I knew that our world had changed overnight.

VL: Wow. That was life-changing. Even at five.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

GS: That’s such a hard question, and there’s no way I can narrow it down to one. So, here are my top three of the year:

Dreamland Burning, by Jennifer Latham

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

And, believe it or not, I had never read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton before this year.

Every one of these touched me deeply, and were un-put-downable.

VL: Absolutely loved THE CROSSOVER. So, so good!  Of course, I blazed through THE OUTSIDERS when I read it a long time ago. Wouldn’t mind reading it again. The 50th anniversary edition just came out! I’m just now starting to read Jen Latham’s book. I’ve been so looking forward to it!

What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

GS: I am currently in the trenches of Pitch Wars. For those of you who don’t know what that is, go to www.pitchwars.org. It’s a fabulous process, where you submit to be matched with a mentor. You work with them for two months to get your manuscript ready for the agent round. My current WIP is called HURRICANE HARPER. It’s a contemporary fiction, middle grade set in coastal Mississippi.

In the editing lulls for Pitch Wars, I’ve started outlining my next one. It has a title right now of “1972”. It’s historical fiction with an alternate set of events, set in Washington D.C. Let’s just say it has something to do with a certain wiretapping activity that occurred that year.

And, I have a couple of ideas for picture books to follow up The Survivor Tree. They both have a connection to things that are tied to the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

VL: That all sounds fascinating! And good luck with Pitch Wars, Gaye! We’ll be routing for you!

Thanks so much for joining us. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

 

Book Launch

For those who are interested and who live within traveling distance, Gaye is having a book launch for THE SURVIVOR TREE on Saturday, November 4th, from 1-3pm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. The event will be held under the Survivor Tree, weather permitting. The book launch will move inside the foyer of the museum store in the event of inclement weather.

Illustration by Pamela Behrend from the book THE SURVIVOR TREE

 

Learn more about Gaye Sanders here.

Follow Gaye on Twitter here.

Follow Gaye on Facebook here.

Follow Gaye on Instagram here.

 

 

 

Kim Ventrella – Author Interview

I’m so happy to be interviewing the delightful Kim Ventrella, today. Kim is an SCBWI Oklahoma region member I’m just getting to know, and I’ve been dying to ask her some in-depth questions. Like what’s behind her extensive skeleton collection? How much does her dog, Hera, actually help her writing process? And more importantly, what inspired her highly anticipated debut novel, SKELETON TREE, which comes out this month?

Let’s find out.

 

About Kim

Kim lives in Oklahoma City with her faithful furry companion, Hera. She moonlights as a children’s librarian when she’s not writing books, fighting crime, or killing houseplants. (I’m beginning to think her bio has been padded. That houseplants thing is a little far-fetched, if you ask me.)

She has been know to actually seek out places where skeletons dwell. To even pose for pictures with them, and dress them up in fancy hats and wigs. Some might call that weird, I call that amazing! How else would we get such an awesome-looking book?

 

Before the interview, let’s take a closer look at Kim’s book:

SKELETON TREE by Kim Ventrella

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy

BOOK AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER:
indieboundbn-24h-80amazon
Plot Summary:

Twelve-year-old Stanly knows the bone growing in his yard is a little weird, but that’s okay, because now he’ll have the perfect photo to submit to the Young Discoverer’s Competition. With such a unique find, he’s sure to win the grand prize.

But, oddly, the bone doesn’t appear in any photos. Even stranger, it seems to be growing into a full skeleton…one that only children can see.

There’s just one person who doesn’t find any of this weird–Stanly’s little sister. Mischievous Miren adopts the skeleton as a friend, and soon, the two become inseparable playmates.

When Miren starts to grow sick, Stanly suspects that the skeleton is responsible and does everything in his power to drive the creature away. However, Miren is desperate not to lose her friend, forcing Stanly to question everything he’s ever believed about life, love, and the mysterious forces that connect us. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)


 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Your debut novel, SKELETON TREE, has such an intriguing premise, what sparked the idea for this story?

Kim Ventrella: I wondered what would happen if a boy discovered a finger bone growing in his backyard. The story evolved from there, becoming much more than I had anticipated.

VL: What a great beginning. I can’t wait to read where the story goes from there!

I absolutely love the book trailer for THE SKELETON TREE, what can you tell us about it? (You can view the book trailer below.)

KV: Artist Jerry Bennett and Filmmaker Zac Davis did an amazing job putting together the trailer. I had gone to see their award-winning short film, Even in Death, and after that I knew they would be perfect for the job. It captures just the right mix of wonder, spookiness and whimsy.

VL: You seem more than fascinated (dare we say obsessed?) with skeletons – I love following your hashtag #skeletonspotting, by the way – where did this deep interest in skeletons come from?

KV: I don’t know if it’s a deep interest (ha!), but I have always been fascinated with the macabre. Scary stories are a great way to confront monsters in a safe environment. Readers can learn from the character’s journey that it’s possible to overcome those spooky skeletons we all have in our closets.

VL: So true! Better to tackle them in the pages of fiction than in real life. (Checks closet for skeletons.)

Your story tackles the difficult subject of death, one not many adults are comfortable dealing with. Talk about why you thought it important to address this issue in a children’s book.

KV: My grandfather passed away suddenly not long before I started Skeleton Tree. I didn’t initially intend for it to be a book about death, but that was just how the story unfolded. It became a sort of canvas on which I could put forward my own vision of how Death could look, if we chose to experience it through a different lens.

I wanted to create a Death full of meaning, beauty, friendship and understanding. I strongly believe that books are one of the best ways for children to make sense of the world around them, to experience tough topics in a safe space, and that includes dealing with death.

VL: How beautiful. That’s quite an homage to your grandfather, too. I just love that.

What were some of your biggest fears as a kid? Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

KV: I was very scared of ghosts in particular when I was a child, which is perhaps why I embraced the macabre. I used to have night terrors, night paralysis and visual disturbances (i.e. I very vividly ‘saw’ ghosts on several occasions as a child).

For me, reading scary stories has always been the equivalent of performing a big Riddikulus spell on those creepy real-life monsters. Seeing others triumph over evil, whether it’s watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer or reading Roald Dahl, gives me confidence that I can also defeat the big baddies out there.

VL: Wow! Very in touch with your spooky side, even as a kid. Destined to write this genre! I love that seeing others conquer their fears in books gave you courage, too. Books are so powerful!

You discussed in a post recently that you like to begin writing a story by thinking about its emotional catharsis and working back from there. That’s almost like starting at the ending and working your way back to the beginning. I love this idea. Can you expand on this?

KV: My writing style has changed and continues to change a ton. I always used to write completely organically, with no plotting ahead of time, like with Skeleton Tree. Now that I have to send off proposals for stories before I start writing (for the most part), I’ve started thinking more strategically.

In the end, the important aspect of a story for me is what emotional impact readers will feel after they turn the last page. Has the book changed the way they see the world? Has the character’s journey taught them something about themselves?

Starting with that in mind can speed up the process, but it’s not always possible, because sometimes you can reach a more powerful conclusion if your destination is unplanned.

VL: Excellent advice, to focus on the emotional impact.

Your dog Hera features prominently in your Instagram posts, how does she factor into your writing process? (I have heard tale that you like to write in her dog bed.)

KV: Yes, I wrote Skeleton Tree sitting in a dog bed, while Hera sat on the couch behind me looking over my shoulder. I now have an office chair, ha!, but my dog is still a big help. I even mention her in the acknowledgements of my book. She’s sweet, silly and scared of everything, but most of all she’s the perfect co-writer.

VL: Who were your childhood heroes/role models?

KV: I don’t know about role models, but I was obsessed with Billy the Kid, Al Capone and Charlie Chaplin. I also loved Agatha Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot, and his sidekick, Hastings. The Addams Family was another huge favorite, as were Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl.

VL: What a wonderfully eclectic collection! I’m also a huge Agatha Christie fan! I read so many of her books when I was a kid.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

KV: I love The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan. It’s a sad, happy, heartfelt story about a poet who lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog. It’s practically my life story.

VL: Beautiful cover. Thanks for recommending it. 🙂

And thank you so much for joining us, today, Kim! It’s been such a pleasure talking with you and getting to know you better!

 

The Trailer

And now for your viewing pleasure…

The official book trailer for Skeleton Tree!

Local talents Jerry Bennett and Zac Davis created this trailer for Kim. They both worked on the award-winning short film, Even in Death. Jerry is an amazing comic book artist and illustrator who’s done work for companies like Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Topps. Zac Davis is a filmmaker and program director for Invisible Layers productions, a pre-employment program for young adults on the autism spectrum with an interest in film, video production, or animation.

Enjoy the trailer!

 

Don’t forget to pre-order Kim’s book SKELETON TREE! It releases on September 26th!

 

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Learn more about Kim Ventrella here.

Follow Kim on Twitter here.

Follow Kim on Facebook here.

Follow Kim on Instagram here.

 

 

 

SCBWI OK Spring Conference Recap Part II – Persistence, Professionalism, and Success in Action

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Welcome to Part II of this conference recap. View Part I here. As anyone who’s ever been to any conference or workshop knows the post-lunch slot is a demanding one. You are fighting afternoon sleepiness. You are fighting full-belly fatigue. Our next speaker was up to the challenge and did not disappoint. 2017-scbwi-spring-conference-flyer

 

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

Ally Carter returned to the podium to give a solo talk that all writers could definitely benefit from hearing.

0253_allycarterportraits_by_lizligon-150x150Ally Carter – Young Adult Author

Ally Carter writes books about spies, thieves, and teenagers. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the EMBASSY ROW, HEIST SOCIETY, and GALLAGHER GIRLS series, which together have sold more than two-million copies and have been published in more than twenty countries. She lives in Oklahoma, where her life is either very ordinary or the best deep-cover legend ever.

Ally gave a fantastic talk entitled, “Dear Ally: A Letter for Baby Author Me”, where she discussed many of the mistakes she made as a beginning author. They were so insightful and encouraging.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Nothing sells backlist like frontlist.

Her first book sold about 5 copies, and yet she spent a LOT of time and money promoting that book. She learned the hard way that the best way to promote your last book is to write your next book. The first book in her Gallager Girls series didn’t hit the NY Times Bestsellers’ List, but the second one did. And once it did, the first one did too.

The type of book and the quality are the only things that authors can control. The rest of marketing that authors do may not effect sales very much.

Some people will tell you that making writer friends is going to be good for your career. They’re wrong. These friends are going to be good for your LIFE.

I have never heard a truer statement. My writer friends are the most important ones I have. They understand what it means to struggle with this creative life we have chosen and they support me through it all.

Twitter lies.

Nobody ever shares the bad news. You can’t judge your career based on the career of other people. You don’t really know how their careers are going and it doesn’t help you to worry about it.

There’s no one way to write a book.

You never learn how to write a book. You just learn how to write the book you’re writing right now. And every book will probably have a month where it gets hard.

She had so many other fantastic pearls of wisdom to share. I just loved her talk.

She closed with this:

What you do matters. If you make a kid feel happy for a little while, that’s a great thing.

Truly fantastic. Thank you, Ally.

Follow Ally on Twitter here. Follow Ally on Instagram here.

 

Our next speaker shared ways to add heart into our writing.

jill-santopoloJill Santopolo – Editorial Director with Philomel Books

Jill received a BA in English literature from Columbia University, an MFA in writing for children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and a certificate in intellectual property law from NYU. As the editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group, she has edited many New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors including Atia Abawi, Terry Border, Chelsea Clinton, Andrea Cremer, Lisa Graff, and Alex London. She’s the author of the Sparkle Spa series, the Alec Flint mysteries, the Follow Your Heart books, and the upcoming adult novel The Light We Lost. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City.

Jill inspired us all with her talk entitled, “Getting to the Heart of the Matter”. A talk about emotion. She began by asking the purpose of art. To connect with readers/viewers by creating empathy, understanding, or a cathartic experience. In essence, some kind of connection.

In writing, to get that connection, we use “show don’t tell”.

Why? Because You feel it instead of see it.

Connection.

How? Sound, syntax, and word choice.

Jill gave many examples of how word choices and sentence structure effected a specific passage.

For example, shorter clipped sentences can convey anger or intensity.

Pauses have power.

Linking certain words to specific characters tell us how to feel about each character – ‘buzzy’ and ‘roared’ versus ‘lounged’ and ‘sippy’ give us very different feelings.

Like an artist uses brush strokes and color choices, a writer uses sentence length and word choice to create moods for evoking emotions.

 

Prior to the conference, Jill participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Jill hereFollow Jill on Twitter here.

 

The next speaker had much to discuss and much wisdom to impart for the pre-published among us.

lindacamachoLinda Camacho – Literary Agent with Prospect Agency

Linda joined Prospect Agency in 2015 after a decade in publishing. After graduating from Cornell University, Linda interned at Simon & Schuster and Writers House literary agency, and worked at Penguin and Random House before making the leap to agenting. She has an MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

 

Linda’s talk entitled, “Your Personal Hero’s Journey – Going from Pre-Published to Successfully Published” was full of fantastic advice. One of the main ideas was you need to get used to rejection.

“I get rejected with my clients.”

She went over some surprising facts about rejection from a Psychology Today article. Here are a few:

  • Rejection runs along the same pathways as physical pain.
  • Tylenol can reduce the pain of rejection.
  • Rejection temporarily lowers IQ.
  • Rejection does not respond to reason.

Fascinating, right?

Linda went on to show several examples of rejections from writers who went on to succeed. She said embrace rejection. It means you’re a real writer.

Today’s common rejection? “It’s not for me.”

This can happen even when there’s nothing wrong with your manuscript. You cannot control rejection.

There are things you CAN control:

  • Dump your excuses – “I don’t have the time”, “I’m not talented enough”, “I’m afraid of failure”, etc.
  • Write the book – Pick a routine, any routine.
  • Hold yourself accountable
  • Learn the business
  • Read. A Lot.
  • Get used to revising!
  • FIND A WRITING COMMUNITY – so key when faced with rejection and cloistered when working. The writerly brain is unique. We need some understanding.

She had so many other fantastic suggestions. Such a great talk!

Visit Linda’s agency site to view what she’s currently seeking and to observe her submission guidelines.

Prior to the conference, Linda participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Linda hereFollow Linda on Twitter here.

 

Our final speaker of the day asked us what we were willing to do to succeed.

2016-kristin-nelson-160x24072dpiKristen Nelson – President and Founding Literary Agent at Nelson Literary Agency

Kristen established the Nelson Literary Agency in 2002 and over the last decade+ of her career has represented over thirty-five New York Times bestselling titles and many USA Today bestsellers. Clients include Ally Carter, Marie Lu, Scott Reintgen, Gail Carriger, Stacey Lee, Marcia Wells, and Simone Elkeles. When she is not busy selling books, Kristin attempts to play golf & tennis. She also enjoys playing Bridge (where she is the youngest person in her club), and can be found hiking in the mountains with her husband and their dog Chutney.

Kristen gave the final talk of the day entitled, “What Will Your Then and Now Story Be?” It was quite inspirational.

She started off with some background on how she started her literary agency by making a business plan and selling her house to fund it. She worked out of her much smaller new house for six months before closing her first deal.

She then asked, in pursuing our dream, “Do you want it badly enough to change?”

  • To allow yourself zero excuses?
  • To get rejected A LOT?
  • To reinvent yourself?
  • To change jobs to have more time to write?
  • To write the fifth novel when four novel didn’t launch your career?

She asked more tough questions and gave examples of authors who’d gone through each of these situations, and then went on to succeed.

Every author faces obstacles. On average, four is the magic number. That’s four manuscripts before you write the one that sells.

Visit Kristen’s agency site to view what she’s currently seeking and to observe her submission guidelines.

Prior to the conference, Kristen participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Kristen hereFollow Kristen on Twitter here.

 

BOOK SIGNING

Immediately following the end of the conference, there was a book signing for published authors and our speakers. (Code for time to buy more books!)

 

Great time to get my copy of Jennifer Latham’s new book DREAMLAND BRUNING signed. I attended her book release, but they sold out before I even arrived! (Not a bad problem to have, honestly.) Such a great turn out!

 

This is my fourth signed book by Ally Carter and I adore them all. She’s such a delight. (Even if she is an OSU fan!)

That’s a wrap for another outstanding spring conference. Thanks to everyone who made it possible and to all of our fantastic speakers! You were amazing and so inspiring.

 

 

SCBWI OK Spring Conference Recap Part I – Persistence, Professionalism, and Success in Action

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This year’s SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference set a high bar for future conferences. A month later and I’m still processing the wealth of information the speakers imparted. Here’s Part I of the brief recap!2017-scbwi-spring-conference-flyer

FRIDAY

This year’s conference began with something new, a warm up event on Friday evening. With three different options, I chose to attend the Friday Night Panel with Ally Carter, Matt Ringler, and Linda Camacho.

From left to right, our panel included NY Times bestselling author Ally Carter, Senior Editor at Scholastic Matt Ringler, and literary agent Linda Camacho of the Prospect Agency.

This fun and informative panel was asked everything from their views on professionalism to what keeps them reading a manuscript to what other agents and editors would say about them. Needless to say things got interesting!

Agent Linda Camacho addresses the crowd.

The three speakers held the attention of the packed room and started the conference off with great enthusiasm.

One of my favorite stories was from Ally Carter. When answering a question about professionalism, she commented that she was simply doing what her mother taught her when she wrote a thank you note to a very important book seller. She found out later that he actually kept it displayed. It was the only one he’d ever received from an author. A reminder that being thoughtful to everyone in this business can make a difference.

SATURDAY MORNING

Our first speaker of the day showed us the power and beauty of using fewer words to tell our stories.

katrinadamkoehler-2Katrina Damkoehler – Senior Designer with Random House Children’s Publishing

Katrina is currently a Senior Designer for the trade imprints of Random House Children’s Publishing, where she designs and art directs approximately 35 middle grade and picture book titles per year. She was previously Art Director at Amazon Children’s Publishing. Recent projects she art directed include the 2015 Geisel Award-winner “You Are Not Small” (Anna Kang/Christopher Weyant), “Grover Cleveland, Again” (Ken Burns/Gerald Kelley), and “This is My Book” (Mark Pett).

Katrina gave a talk entitled, “(Almost) Wordless Picture Books” where she gave examples of picture books that used few words to tell great stories. The (almost) wordless manuscripts may have as few as 50 words. With a limited word count, it’s helpful to have a road map. That’s why most wordless (or nearly wordless) manuscript submissions include illustration notes.

Here are some examples she shared:

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS LITTLE by LeUyen Pham

 

 

 

CINDER-EYED CATS by Eric Rohmann

 

 

HELLO HIPPO, GOODBYE BIRD by Kristyn Crow

 

 

She also walked us through the illustration process – from submitted manuscript to finished book – for EAT, SLEEP, POOP by Alexandra Penfold.

Beginning manuscript for EAT, SLEEP, POOP.

Finished product! Cover and first few pages of completed book for EAT, SLEEP, POOP.

One thing she emphasized about nearly wordless picture books is that emotional expressions of the characters need to be extremely clear. After all, the illustrations are doing a lot of heavy-lifting with the story-telling.

 

To learn more about Katrina, follow her on Twitter here.

Prior to the conference, Katrina participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Katrina here.

 

Next, a true power couple shared tips on how to write authentically for a YA audience.

0253_allycarterportraits_by_lizligon-150x150Ally Carter – Young Adult Author

Ally Carter writes books about spies, thieves, and teenagers. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the EMBASSY ROW, HEIST SOCIETY, and GALLAGHER GIRLS series, which together have sold more than two-million copies and have been published in more than twenty countries. She lives in Oklahoma, where her life is either very ordinary or the best deep-cover legend ever.

2016-kristin-nelson-160x24072dpiKristen Nelson – President and Founding Literary Agent at Nelson Literary Agency

Kristen established the Nelson Literary Agency in 2002 and over the last decade+ of her career has represented over thirty-five New York Times bestselling titles and many USA Today bestsellers. Clients include Ally Carter, Marie Lu, Scott Reintgen, Gail Carriger, Stacey Lee, Marcia Wells, and Simone Elkeles. When she is not busy selling books, Kristin attempts to play golf & tennis. She also enjoys playing Bridge (where she is the youngest person in her club), and can be found hiking in the mountains with her husband and their dog Chutney.

NY Times best-selling author (and Oklahoma native) Ally Carter joined her agent Kristen Nelson to give a presentation together entitled, “‘So You Want to Write YA…Start by Asking the Right Questions!”.

One of those right questions was instead of asking how to learn teen slang, you should ask if you have a voice that appeals to teens.

Slang comes and goes, and is often regionally specific. Besides dating your manuscript, it can end up alienating readers instead of connecting them with your story.

Another great question was instead of asking if you can just age your characters up or down to ‘make’ your book YA, you should ask yourself if you’re telling a true coming-of-age story that will resonate with teens.

It’s not enough to have characters the same age as your readers. Age doesn’t equal connection. You have to engage your teen readers with a story they can relate to.

And this one was my favorite:

Q:   Should I alter myself when writing for teens?

A:   Ally – “Yes, write smarter.”

Kristen – “I’ve never heard a teen say, ‘I felt obligated to keep reading’.”

Teens expect the writing to be great from page one and will put a book down the minute it stops delivering.

 

To learn more about this dynamic duo:

Follow Ally on Twitter here. Follow Ally on Instagram here.

Visit Kristen’s agency site to view what she’s currently seeking and to observe her submission guidelines.

Prior to the conference, Kristen participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Kristen hereFollow Kristen on Twitter here.

 

The final speaker of the morning dazzled us with his presentation and his wit.

mattringlerMatt Ringler – Senior Editor with Scholastic

Matt is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and YA fiction. He is the editor of the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, the Game Changers series by Mike Lupica, the STAT series by Amar’e Stoudemire, and the Little Rhino series by Ryan Howard. His YA list includes the New York Times Bestseller Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

Matt Ringler imparting his words of wisdom to our SCBWI OK crowd.
Matt took a group picture of us and posted it on Twitter since we would be doing the same to him. Well played. Did I mention he has a great sense of humor?

Matt spoke about “Writing Success at Many Levels”. He started out by giving us some background on himself (started as an intern for the David Levithan – can you say fangirling?) and some mind-blowing Scholastic stats (like Scholastic publishes 1 out of every 3 books, and first experience most kids have buying their own books is through Scholastic Book Fairs).

Matt moved on to talking about writing, and specifically about not fighting your own writing process, even if it changes from one book to the next. You change as your experiences grow – you’re not the same writer you were a few years ago. It’s okay for your process to change. Embrace it.

Matt shared an insight into his selection process. When deciding what projects to take on, Matt said, “To work on a book, it’s a year. It’s committing to a relationship. If it doesn’t feel right for me, I’ll pass on it.”

That’s another reason to not take it personally when your manuscript is rejected because an agent or editor didn’t love it enough. That doesn’t mean your work isn’t good, just that their commitment level wasn’t right for the relationship to work. You want your book to succeed and you want someone to champion your book. That’s going to require a strong commitment to your story.

Matt went on to discuss the different kinds of success:

PERSONAL

FINANCIAL

CRITICAL

LONGEVITY

READERSHIP

PROMOTIONAL

All aspects of success can build on each other. Writing is hard! Don’t forget to celebrate the little steps of success along the way.

 

To learn more about Matt, follow him on Twitter here.

Matt will be our guest for #okscbwichat on Twitter August 22nd from 7-8pm CST! We hope you’ll join us!

 

BREAK

Break time means networking (read “socializing”) and taking selfies with my writing friends!

 

with Catren Lamb
with Brenda Maier
with Regina Garvie

 

 

 

 

 

 

with Gwendolyn Hooks and my thumb
with Tammi Sauer
with THE Jerry Bennett

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the best parts of writing conferences is connecting with my fellow writers (and the odd illustrator or two, Jerry). I love my tribe!

Stay tuned for Part II of the conference recap!