Wednesday, February 25, 2009

San Fernando Valley Area (Montrose) Illustrators Schmooze

We had an excellent meeting with Blogs, Dogs and Hogs at the bookstore!
We discussed and viewed on-line setting up a free Blog with Blogger. We also are going to put together an Illustrators show with our work and gave out an assignment, A Highly Stylized Grimms.. Pick a grimms from here if you want to do the assignment and or be in the show.

A BIG congratulations to our newest published or being published works by
Frans Vischer, Denise Clemmensen & Diana Browning! YAY!

Per our meeting here are some Contests & Links for you all:

Illustration Friday

Communication Arts -
Deadline: March 6, 2009 ($30-$60)

SCBWI Contests

Radiant Hen Publishing

Strathmore Illustration Contest


Deviant ART

Illustration Hollywood Contest

American Illustration Design Contest

Children’s Illustrators

Photoshop contest site...

Jen Swain - Schmooze Cordinator
(818) 429-6906

Thursday, February 19, 2009

30 Characters show up to the Westside Schmooze to talk about "CHARACTER"

Doing our writing exercise on character
at the SCBWI Westside Schmooze, Feb. 11, 2009

Hi Everyone!

We had a great time on February 11th talking about Character.

Rita shared a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut to start us out:

“When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”

-From Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom From a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights, compiled and edited by Jon Winokur

Rita shares more about how this idea is helping her with her own writing here!

Showing what a characters wants (something, anything) is a great way to get readers invested--and to make that character memorable. Rita gave a friend a copy of Mo Willems’ picture book Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus a little while ago, and the friend's three-year-old daughter walked up, recognized the book, and said, “That’s a funny book! He wants to drive the bus.”

This book is probably the most obvious example of a character "wanting something," but it still blew her away.

We then challenged everyone at the schmooze to sum up what their character wants... and you can play along now. What does YOUR character want? Can you sum it up in a single sentence?

Most of the rest of the schmooze was devoted to talking about TECHNIQUES for developing and revealing Character.

Here are the top 15 ideas we all came up with:

1. Book Cover - Rita challenged us to imagine what the cover of our book will look like. What is the take-away you want readers to have about your main character? How does the character ultimately see themselves? What props would they be holding? This might give you a way to picture the all important first impression - how you introduce the character in your book.

2. Setting as a way to reveal character - try the exercise where you describe the exact same location but from the Point Of View of two different characters. (adapted from John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers") - And this got us into a discussion of weather as a metaphor!

3. The ACTOR approach - Eric Drachman shared that when actors are figuring out a scene, they boil it down to "I want to get (blank) from (blank) by (blank)ing them." Be able to do that for each of your characters in EACH scene of your story!

4. Homemade Frankenstein monsters and Imaginary Councils - Rita brought up how--in addition to working forwards and backwards from Plot--many of us draw from Life to create our characters. Hers are often Frankensteins of people she knows. After she identifies a character's defining traits, she thinks up three real-life people who share those traits and puts them on an imaginary council in her mind - to vote on what the character might do!

5. Casting Folder - Casting with Actors - Tamora Pierce mentioned at the SCBWI conference two years ago that she tears out magazine photos of people and models all the time when they intrigue her, and then when she needs to create a new character, she pulls out her "casting" folder for inspiration. Lee shared that he started doing that, but often it's not about what the model or person in the photo physically looks like - it's more the mood or the posture or attitude or some detail that captures the essence of the character he wants to create.

Along similar lines, Sara Wilson Etienne shared that at this past SCBWI New York Winter Conference, it was suggested we mentally cast known actors in the roles of our characters, to see what they might add to our pages.

6. Reveal Character (and theme!) through other characters - similar characters, opposite characters, and contradictions within characters. Rita gave the picture book Fancy Nancy as an example, in which the character Nancy's chief frustration is that the rest of her family is not at all fancy.

7. Therapy Questionnaire - Lee shared his favorite "take your character to therapy" questionnaire. He blogged about it, and has a copy of it for you, here. Ask your character all those uncomfortable questions, and watch them squirm! (And don't forget they can lie to the therapist, too!)

8. Paper Dolls / shoebox of stuff - You can create collages or mannequins (like Rachel Cohn) or, like Sara Wilson Etienne shared that she did for her book, assemble a box of special things (think "treasures") that your character might have in her room.

Rachel Cohn displays her "inner teen"
for all to see at the 2008 SCBWI-LA Summer Conference

9. Music - you could figure out what would be on your character's ipod playlist. Also, Music is a great way to set the tone and mood for what you're writing!

10. Using The Myers-Briggs personality test as a way to further define and understand your characters. Check it out!

11. Parent psychology websites often share what are the developmental concerns of children at different ages - Rita shared this great way to cross-reference your character's age and be inspired. Try some of the promising links here.

12. Old Journals - Graeme Stone spoke about looking at some old journals (yours or whoever else's you might be able to find online or elsewhere) to get in touch with the storm of emotions at the age of your characters.

13. What does your character wear? Edith Cohn talked about figuring out what your character wears - the brands, the outfits, what their distinct "look" would be. She also blogged about the Schmooze here!

14. Your character… somewhere new. Greg Pincus shared that he often will throw one of his characters into a scene in someone else's book (in his mind, of course) to see how his character would react. (i.e., if your character was Max in "Where the Wild Things Are," what would happen differently?

15. Get Obsessed. Karol Ruth Silverstein shared that figuring out what your character is passionate/obsessed about is a great way to breathe life into your whole story.

Westside Schmoozers delve into their characters!

Our writing exercise was a brief version of this one from "Creating Characters Kids will Love" by Elaine Marie Alphin (pg. 127) Go ahead and Play along NOW!

Brainstorm a list of the top 3 possible strengths your main character might possess. Now brainstorm a list of top 3 weaknesses the same character might have. Plan out ways that the strengths could make things difficult for your character and ways the weaknesses could work to the character’s advantage, and figure out where those things could happen in your story!

Then we reviewed our goals from last time and set new ones for next month! If you missed the meeting and want to put out your goal here in comments, we promise to only be encouraging!

Here's a list of the books on the craft of writing that were cited during the schmooze(with links!)

Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom From a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights, compiled and edited by Jon Winokur

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children
, by Nancy Lamb. She talks about the first impressions characters make on readers on p. 123

Creating Characters Kids will Love” by Elaine Marie Alphin (pgs. 127, 131, 157)

John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers"

Fiction Books cited:

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
by Bruce Coville
Don't let the pigeon drive the bus by Mo Willems
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Fancy Nancy by Jane O'conner, ill. by Robin Preiss- Glasser
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

We hope to see you at next month's Schmooze - Wednesday March 11, 7pm, for our Picture Book Critique Night! (Please bring FIVE copies of up to four pages of a picture book manuscript in proper format for critique. You don’t have to bring something to participate: critiquing is a GREAT way to learn! But please do RSVP to and mention whether you’re bringing a manuscript or not. (Both fiction and non-fiction are welcome!) More schmooze details (location, etc...) here.

Thanks to everyone for making our schmooze so successful!

Rita and Lee

All photos in this post by Rita Crayon Huang

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Let's Schmooze in OC!

The SCBWI Illustrators Schmooze in OC
Saturday, February 21
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Rain or Shine!
at Marilyn's

Topic: Superhero Writing Exercise
What happens when a superhero enters a fourth grade classroom? Come ready to put pen to paper and tell us your version (200 words max) of this special event. (If you've already written this exercise, please bring it.)

Bring your goal sheets and latest children's book project, rough or complete. Contact me if you need directions.
See you there!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Schmooozing With The Westside Illustrators!

Suzy Engelman Block - coordinator

The Westside Illustrators Schmooze met on January 12th with an amazing group of enthusiastic participants. The topic for this meeting was ‘Straying from our Comfort Zone…Exploring the Ideas of Experimentation and Adventure.”

We explored the subject from many different angles and pondered the thoughts of many who have come before us. Straying from our comfort zone, or more accurately staying in our comfort zone, is a universal, timeless concern on the minds of the great thinkers and artists of this world.

“To the degree we're not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control of us than we have over ourselves.” Peter McWilliams, author/activist

Dancer and choreographer, Agnes De Mille said, “The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

What about those of us who don’t like that UNCOMFORTABLE feeling, "leaping in the dark?"

What about those of us who like to think things through …a little too much… until we are totally overwhelmed and immobilized?

Writer Ray Bradbury said, “Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things."

He also said, “If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

Well, what if we try something new… and FAIL?

Yeh, what if we stink? The outcome will not be worth the effort. It’ll be a waste of time…disappointing, embarrassing, humiliating and downright depressing!

Well, dancer Martha Graham said, “You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

So how do we even know where to START?

We really want to experiment, explore and expand our horizons! Yet we can sit and stare at a blank canvas or keyboard for hours, days, weeks, or…? We can’t even pick up the phone or address the envelope.

I love this quote by Pablo Picasso. “God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things.”

And astronomer, Carl Sagan, who said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

I really don’t think we need to reinvent the cosmos. We just need the courage to start something, and see what happens as we get lost in the process.

What if we actually SUCCEED?

“Unlike fear of failure and fear of rejection, fear of success can be far more insidious because it’s almost always unconscious.” Steve Pavlina, motivationalist

Succeeding could be totally out of our comfort zone! One has to actually perform and ‘put our money where our mouth is.’ In this publishing business, it means spontaneous creativity, undying creative energy, dealing with deadlines, taking criticism, maybe book promotion. Might we be sabotaging ourselves out of fear of succeeding? Yep…lots to think about!

But in the end, let’s focus on the inspiring words of writer Johann Wolfgang von Geothe.

“At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you."

Whoa! Try it…you’ll see it’s true! Now get to
work, people!

Happy creating! Xo…Suzy or
Come visit me at….

****Our next Westside Illustrators Schmooze is February 9th. Our topic is, “Promoting Ourselves…From Mailings, to Websites to Public Speaking." If you’re interested in joining us or have any questions, feel free to contact me at the email above.