Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Westside Writers Schmooze explores the value of Giving It Away

About 29 of us (give or take) gathered on November 9th for a lively discussion of the potential benefits of giving away our work, aided by a Schmooztastic panel of homegrown “experts.”

But before we got into the meat and potatoes of the evening (or should I say turkey & stuffing?), our brief mention of upcoming events unearthed this way-cool advance tidbit from Lee Wind, regional advisor with Sarah Lawrence of the LA County SCBWI:

The 2012 LA County Writer’s Day will feature an additional half-day of intensive workshops! (Yes, kind of like what was done with the National Conference this past summer.) More info will be available in the coming months. Space will be limited, so Lee suggests acting fast once registration goes live. (Check the SCBWI So Cal site for announcements.)

Just when we thought Writers Day couldn’t get any more amazing, right?!

And speaking of Writer’s Day events – Karol gave a mini recap of the Central-Coastal CA Region Writers Day which took place on November 5th.

Favorite moments included:

· Getting to hear Lin Oliver share about the craft of writing, rather than introducing the next speaker or handing out door prizes (like she does at the National Conferences). Lin also told the story of how she and Stephen Mooser met and formed the SCBWI. Very fascinating and inspiring!

· An in-depth look at the charming and unique picture book, WON TON – A Cat’s Tale Told in Haiku. Author Lee Wardlaw, editor Sally Doherty (from Henry Holt & Co) and illustrator Eugene Yelchin all spoke about their roles in bringing this special book to fruition.

After those awesome appetizers, Charlie took a moment to share the inspiration behind this month’s “freebie fundamentals” topic. He’d been bothered by a nagging feeling that all the old structures of business and distribution of art were dying on the vine. This felt particularly true of books, where the workplace seemed barely just anymore. The corporations could no longer afford to devote editors’ time to editing, nor could they do much to publicize your book once it was released. It felt like some new form was needed, some new way of doing business. Something to do with DIY (Do It Yourself) – getting straight to an audience – generating a smaller overall profit but with more going to the artist. But Charlie wasn’t sure what this form was. Until he realized his kids had already discovered it: they were getting stuff for free.

Somehow, in other mediums, folks were making money by giving their work away. When Charlie’s son wanted to learn flash animation, he found a website that let him download four lessons for free, in the hope that he’d find them valuable enough to pay to download more. (He did find them valuable, and Charlie did pay for more!) As well, the hilarious online site had been making Charlie’s kids laugh for nearly 10 years with funny, satirical cartoons that are totally free. Homestarrunner has no ads, tie-ins, or membership requirements. They make their money through merchandising.

(Charlie even brought in his set of Homestarrunner characters to illustrate, but he wouldn’t let us touch them, keeping them close to him the whole time, eyeing us suspiciously.)

Lastly, Charlie spoke of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast. Maron is a comedian who had fallen on hard times until he started interviewing other comedians in his garage and posting the interviews on the web for free. Maron’s comedy shows now sell out, he has become a major respected figure in comedy, his podcast is now sponsored, and he makes additional money selling podcast-related merchandise. Giving it away sure seemed like the way to go, and a great idea for a Schmooze topic.

Except for one thing: Charlie had no idea how this related to books.

Charlie was bemoaning this fact to fellow bemoaner Greg Pincus when Greg went into a fascinating and detailed discussion of the many ways to monetize free. “AHA,” Charlie thought, ignoring Greg as Greg continued, “I get it! Karol and I don’t need to understand this topic; we just need guests who do!”

And thus was born our Schmoozetastic panel:

First up was none other than Lee Wind, who started his blog – I’m Here, I’m Queer, What The Hell Do I Read? – in September of 2007 as a “safe space for kids to find out about books featuring GLBT characters.” Before long, he branched out to include posts about social issues that he cares about. His passion and consistency paid off. Not only has his blog won awards, but he was invited to be a part of the Official SCBWI Team Blog (which blogs live from national conferences) and was recently appointed the Captain of Team Blog and the Official Blogger for the SCBWI.

Lee found blogging rewarding both personally and professionally. He loved the fact that “there was no one I had to convince to publish my blog.” He could just do it himself. And now that his blog is a known presence, Lee is too. He’s interviewed many authors for his blog and has gained credibility in the whole SCBWI community. Pretty much everyone knows who he is now and will return his calls (except, perhaps, for Charlie and Karol, who are too small and bitter).

Next was Greg Pincus, who began blogging in February of 2006. Greg’s original blog (GottaBook) focuses mainly on poetry for kids, though he now also has a second blog, The Happy Accident, which is about using social media for good. GottaBook came about because Greg didn’t feel like waiting seven years to get a poem published. He saw his blog as a way for him to get a “seat at the table” and his efforts have more than paid off. His path to success is the stuff of Schmooze legend! Not only does his huge readership (an e-mail list of over 1,100 for his poetry alone) inspire “bigger” authors to happily write poems for his blog, but after a post went viral and the story landed in the New York Times, Greg ended up signing a two book deal with Arthur A. Levin Books.

(It’s probably important for your humble Schmooze co-coordinators to note here – results may vary!!)

Greg emphasized that for blog writing to pay off you have to be disciplined. You have to set up a schedule and keep to it. That way, folks know to when to check you out, and you know when to be brilliant. Greg also made the point that your blog should have a point. It should have a subject, and it’s best if you know what you want to get out of it.

Cartoonist Joshua Hauke spoke next, explaining how, after being turned down by an agent, he “got mad” and decided to emulate the example set by Jeff Kinney (of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame). Kinney’s entire first book was done on-line, and thus Josh began his Tales Of The Brothers Three website. He posts new comics every Sunday and uses a “Sunday funnies” format. Originally, his goal was to get a book out the endeavor, but Josh says it’s expanded to become about developing “a community of comics lovers” as well. Recently, he’s added new features, like “Ask Dad – A Fatherly Advice Column” – where kids write in questions, and Josh’s dad actually answers them! Josh also has T-shirts readers can buy (through a link on his site) and plans to make a collection available soon. And – for the record – his “free work” has resulted in job offers.

In terms of immediate gain, Josh feels that merchandising is the way to make money. But he also pointed out that whenever he does release a book, he now has a built in audience. They’ll want to see the new adventures, or to have a beautifully bound compilation of past ones (depending on what Josh decides to do), and now Josh knows just how to reach them: on his blog.

Last but certainly not least was Sara Wilson Etienne, who’s been described as “heart-wrenching, terrifying, hot and un-put-down-able”…just kidding! That description is a blurb from Tamora Pierce about Sara’s upcoming debut novel, Harbinger! (We here at Schmooze Central could Not Be More Excited about this – look for Sara’s book on 2/2/2012!!!)

Most posts on Sara’s blog (which, Greg Pincus’ advice aside, was started years ago as a way to “test the waters as a writer” rather than with any distinct goal in mind) now focus on the upcoming Harbinger release. It features new illustrations inspired by the book, which are revealed weekly on Thursdays, alongside Sara’s interviews with the artists. The idea for this way-cool promotional “tool” came when an illustrator friend asked to read the ARC (advanced reader copy) of Harbinger so that he could create a piece of fan art. Sara got inspired and reached out to other artist friends, asking if they’d do the same, and results have been stunning.

The website is also stunning but that’s because Sara cheated – her husband Tony is an actual graphic artist and he designed it. NO FAIR! There’s also a website for Holbrook Academy, the creepy school in her book. On top of that, Sara made Holbrook Academy brochures and Harbinger lanyards to giveaway at events. (The way-cool orange lanyards spread through the summer SCBWI conference like an epidemic.)

Sara shared a very important lesson from her freebie adventures: When considering doing free work, do something that’s enjoyable for you. Free work takes a lot of time; more than you’d think. And for it to be of value, for it to really catch on with an audience, it’s got to be fun, new, different and available on a consistent schedule. That can only really happen when you enjoy the work. And besides, if you’re going to slog miserably through something you’re not getting paid for, why not just get married? (Okay, she didn’t say that; somehow Charlie got into her paragraph.)

Speaking of Charlie (and why isn’t everyone?), he wanted to end this post with a small mea culpa: More than one Schmoozer has gently mentioned that “Give It Away, Now” was both way inspiring and way intimidating. By focusing on the success of our Schmoozetastic panel, we did a great job of showing what’s possible. But we neglected to explore the equally prevalent and important failures that each has encountered along the way. Everyone had tales to tell of false starts, dead ends, and confusion of purpose, but due to time limitations and our own natural boosterism, we never got to those. In the future we vow to give failure its fair due. In fact, “Failure” may be a perfect topic for a future schmooze.

Much more was said and much more was done. The meaning of life was actually revealed near the end of the Schmooze. Sadly, for those who missed it, we have run out of time for this already-ridiculously-lengthy blog post. Sorry.

Just to show you Charlie & Karol aren't completely heartless, here's a little Give-It-Away-themed something for your viewing pleasure:

Make sure you come to the next Schmooze so you don’t miss anything!

Until then…

Keep passing the open windows,

Charlie & Karol

Friday, November 25, 2011

Westside Illustrators Schmooze with Soooz

Westside Illustrators Schmooze

Monday Evening, November 28, 2011
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

(note new venue) 445 Fifteenth Street, Santa Monica, Ca 90402

Topic: 'Troubleshooting!!'

A new topic for our schmooze.

1) Bring us your ISSUES

... questions about submissions, portfolios,
self promotion, agents, art materials,
work habits, writing, etc...

Bring work to crit!

2) Bring us your SOLUTIONS...

...answers to problems, share helpful hints,
new material ideas, writing tips,
conference reports, personal insights, etc...

Continuing Monthly Challenges...
Where are you heading now???
'Baby Steps... Dream Big, Start Small"
'A Doodle a Day"

Looking forward to seeing you all!

Next meeting:
January 16

Come prepared to participate, ask questions and be inspired!
Let's enjoy a fun creative evening together & move forward in our common pursuit
of making a contribution to the world of children's illustration and literature!

RSVP???... YES...if you can...

WHERE???...NEW VENUE 445 Fifteenth Street, Santa Monica Ca 90402

5 blocks north of Wilshire, halfway between Montana and San Vicente.

A two story Spanish style house with a flag pole in front.


PARKING???... Residential street parking

cell... 818 389 1950

If you wish to be removed from this email list...please write REMOVE in the subject line.

come visit me @


Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Big Picture of Little Lit: SCBWI-LA Illustrators Day 2011

On November 12, a talented horde of local illustrators gathered for the Annual SCBWI-LA Illustrator’s Day in San Gabriel, where event coordinators Ken Min, Wilson Swain, and Karyn Raz had put together a stellar lineup of kidlit luminaries. Though notoriously camera-shy, Ken Min even allowed himself to be photographed for the occasion.

The day had everything. Not only were there presentations by fellow illustrators, but there were also insights into the publishing process from art directors from two different houses, as well as an editor who discussed her working relationship with writers, illustrators and art directors.

In her presentation, Charlesbridge Art Director Susan Sherman offered the perspective of someone who has been in the business since book titles were hand-painted and Xerox machines were just a pipedream.

She also demonstrated that sometimes, tried-and-true methods of composition like the Golden Mean make for the most aesthetically pleasing images.

In his presentation, Illustrator and Art Director Scott Magoon walked the audience through a typical process of creating a picture book at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt from start to finish.

One highlight of Scott Magoon's speech was the behind-the-scenes look at his early character sketches for MOSTLY MONSTERLY.

Next up, Andrea Welch, Editor at Beach Lane Books, discussed the working relationship between the imprint Beach Lane Books and the Art Directors and Designers at parent company Simon & Schuster.

In a photo tour, Andrea Welch, Editor at Beach Lane Books, gives the audience an inside look at her working space – including the view of the ocean from her office window!

She later gave us a sneak preview of RAH, RAH, RADISHES!: A VEGETABLE CHANT, by April Pulley Sayre, and shared how much work Simon & Schuster's Lauren Rille put into designing it.

Next up was a presentation from Giselle Potter.

A prolific illustrator, Ms. Potter shed light on how growing up as part of a traveling theater company has informed her illustration work.

Below is an image from THE LITTLEST GRAPE STOMPER, written by Alan Madison, illustrated by Giselle Potter.

Charlesbridge Art Director Susan Sherman and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Art Director (and Illustrator) Scott Magoon conduct the “First Impressions” panel, critiquing audience members’ submitted images live.

For those illustrators not as brave, industry professionals like Mary Petersen were on-hand to review and critique portfolios one-on-one.

Even without getting a portfolio review, face time with working professionals was practically guaranteed, given the faculty-to-attendee ratio. At least two faculty members were guaranteed to have looked at every single portfolio on display, as Andrea Welch and Scott Magoon were the judges for the "Professional's Choice" Portfolio Contest.

Speaking of contests, there were three different contests for attendees to enter. Incredibly, only 14 people entered the Annual Illustrators Contest, for which the grand prize was a full scholarship to the SCBWI Winter or Summer Conference. You could scarcely ask for better odds!

(From Left to Right): SCBWI-LA Annual Conference Scholarship Illustration Contest Grand Prize Winner John Krause, 2nd Place Winner Tanya Maiboroda, 3rd Place Winner Louisa McHugh, Professional’s Choice Portfolio Winner Jason Pruett, Professional’s Choice and People’s Choice Portfolio Winner Jennifer Gray Olson, and Promo Postcard Contest Winner Lauren Gallegos

It was a fabulous day that couldn't have happened without the time and effort of its many volunteers. Thanks, everyone! And special thanks to SCBWI-LA's Schmooze Schmizard, Rita Crayon Huang, for taking such gorgeous photos that day.

Please “like” the ID Facebook page to get news on next year’s event at - While you're there, check out the rest of Rita's photos as well as the illustrations that were displayed that day, including contest entries!

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you all next year!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Antelope Valley Schmooze: Past, Present, and Future

Hi, Everyone!

This is Rita, SCBWI-LA's new Schmooze Schmizard. On Wednesday, Oct. 12th, I had the pleasure of attending the Antelope Valley Writers Schmooze for the first time. This group has been meeting in a Barnes and Noble in Palmdale on the second Wednesday of every month (except December) for many years, led by the remarkable Marilyn Dalrymple.

What a wonderful group! Of the 13 of us in attendance that night, a couple were first-timers like myself. Others were regulars who not only knew each other's work and had attended each other's signings, but also attended other writing-related events together. The meeting took place around a table near the in-store cafe, so some people brought over their own beverages.

I had long been fascinated by the Antelope Valley Schmooze--ever since Lee Wind and I found out they had self-published an anthology of their own writings, It's Tough Growing Up: Children's Stories of Courage. Westside Schmooze regulars will remember that we invited Marilyn and the book's co-editor, Joan Foor, to come speak to our group in Santa Monica a year and a half ago, along with other experts in self-publishing, in a panel discussion "Westside Writers Schmooze Talks Self-Publishing: The Good, The Bad, and The Reality." That was just after the anthology had first come out, and it is now going into its 2nd Edition. In fact, during the Antelope Valley Schmooze that I attended, Marilyn passed around illustrations by John Macfarlane that will accompany the updated version. (I asked, and some of the anthology's story contributors were present this night.)

Cover of the 1st edition. Click to visit Web site.

What Schmooze could be so tight-knit and self-motivated, I had always wondered, that they could produce and self-publish their own anthology?

Well, not surprisingly, the Antelope Valley Schmooze is an extremely friendly and experienced group of writers, many of whom have published both traditionally and on their own. On this night, Marilyn kicked things off by sharing some factoids she found while preparing for a talk she'll be giving on self publishing soon. From there, we went around the table sharing about ourselves and our writing processes. Felix Mayerhofer passed around his novel, Diary of a Young Musician: Final Days of the Big Band Era, and the audio CD on which his many picture books have just been collected, while Ed Mooney shared insights into the progress of his book, The Pearls of the Stone Man, being made into a movie.

DiaryofaYoungMusician.BN.85256687 PearlsoftheStoneMan.9781402238314-m
Novels by some of the Antelope Valley Schmooze's attendees. Click on the book covers to visit the authors' Web sites.

At one point, a question came up about How to Find an Agent, and I mentioned Literary Rambles, an online resource provided by Casey McCormick, as an invaluable place to start. There, she compiles all the online research you could possibly find yourself on children's book agents, organized by name, agency, and age range (Picture Book, Middle Grade, YA, etc.); spotlights authors; provides writing tips; conducts interviews; and more.

My visit to the Antelope Valley Schmooze actually had two purposes: One was to get to know the Schmooze I had been so curious about. The second was that Marilyn--after having led this group for the past 8 to 10 years--has recently decided to let someone else take the lead, and I wanted to come help make a passionate plea: don't let such a wonderful group cease to exist!

Coordinating the Antelope Valley Schmooze would mean continuing to reserve the table at Barnes and Noble and taking over Marilyn's email list, as well as choosing new discussion topics and/or making any other changes you feel inspired to (if any). If interested, please contact Marilyn <> and me <>.

Because this Schmooze does not meet in December (due to the bookstore's holiday schedule), November's meeting will officially be Marilyn's last. Don't miss this special night:

Wednesday, Nov. 9th, from 7 to 8 PM.

Barnes and Noble Booksellers
39228 10th Street West
Palmdale, CA 93551

Topic: How can SCBWI help you become a writer? A Very Special Round Table Discussion

Come show your appreciation for Marilyn's many years of generosity and leadership!


Rita Crayon Huang
SCBWI-LA Schmooze Schmizard

P.S. For more insight into this Schmooze's history, check out this great article. I met many of the people mentioned in the article when I attended.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The October Westside Writers Schmooze Gets BLOODY!

Hi there Schmoozers - we're trying something a little different since Charlie missed our last Schmooze. This month we present...a conversation.

Hey Karol! How did the Schmooze go without me? Don't feel bad if the answer is "terrible.” I'm sure you did the best you could given your abilities.

Actually, Charlie, I thought it went great! We had a smallish but passionate group of 27 Schmoozers (28 if we include you, and as it turned out, you were there with us in more than just in spirit…but I’ll get to that…).

After announcing upcoming events and the customary brief introductions, we dove right in to the topic at hand: Blood On The Page – what the heck is it and how do we mere mortal writers achieve it?

Our discussion got kicked off by…well…YOU!

God, I AM good. I don't even recall being there. I recall being at my sister-in-law's house eating very healthy, un-charred, un-browned, uninteresting food. My thoughts were with you, though. I was really sorry to miss this one: it's dear to my heart. Hey, that's a pun: blood/heart! Get it??

Anyway, how exactly did I "kick it off" and what in heck did I say? And what did our intrepid Schmoozers say in response (besides the inevitable "Kudos!")?

Well, after I stammered a bit about how you and I had discussed what blood on the page really means and decided that it had to do with emotion rather than tense plot points, your Schmoozerific stand-in, Greg Pincus, cleared his throat and suggested that he read what you wrote, because, well, it was “really terrific.”

He then read the following:

Lately I’ve had to read a lot of teenager’s college essays, and I’ve noticed they all share the same problem: they don’t reveal anything about the actual teen. Kids want to protect themselves, hide themselves behind “wit” or lessons learned. Anything but reveal who they really are.

I always tell them the same thing: it’s fine, but there’s no you in it. You tell us all these things that happened to you, but you don’t tell us how you felt about it; what it did to you inside, etc. Put some skin in the game. Some blood on the page. That is, put some you into it.

I feel the same holds true for many of the things folks write. They’re nice, fun stories, but the have no real pressing need to be told. And if there’s no need to be told, there’s no need to be read. They are soulless constructs.

Blood is NOT the thing that makes you anxious to read on, to turn the page, to find out what happens next. It is the thing that really makes you believe and feel what you’re reading right now. The thing that makes you forget you are reading and feel you are experiencing.

Blood is the essence, the heart, the juice behind the story. It’s what makes it alive, not a story but a living, breathing thing. Another way to put it is that blood makes the story feel lived rather than invented.

Blood can also be passion. Something bigger than the story that informs it. Something the author believes to his or her core, that the authors are burning to say or show. This is not the same as whatever lessons the character is learning. It can even be the writerly passion to tell a new kind of story, or tell an old story in a new way. (e.g. Reservoir Dogs: That movie is as much about Tarantino’s excitement to make a new kind of movie as it is about any plot.) Whatever the passion, if the writer allows it to inform the work, it can make the whole thing come alive.

At the risk of making your sizable ego even bigger, I will report that the Schmoozers seemed to hang on your…er, uh …Greg’s every word (and one even asked me to e-mail her a copy). I assured everyone that your profound ruminations would be included in this blog post.

Ego is a funny thing, you know? No matter how big it gets (and it really did inflate quite a bit just now) it’s never big enough to make me feel like I’m up to the task of writing well. Fortunately, that’s not a bar I choose to hold myself up to.

But back to the Schmooze: What happened next? My schedule says you guys were going to talk about how you get the page bloody.

Not so fast, partner. Your brilliant kick off launched an interesting conversation about what blood on the page means. (Contrary to what your ego may be telling you about how “beat all/end all” your statement may have been, others did have stuff to add.)

A number of bloody good authors were named – folks like Ellen Hopkins, Libba Bray, Suzanne Collins, Donna Jo Napoli, Neil Gaiman and Laurie Halse Anderson – who all seemed more than willing to put their characters in peril. One Schmoozer wondered whether using first person is inherently “bloodier” than third person and another made the distinction between blood and voice.

Greg chimed back in with the idea that successful authors often have themes they need to explore and, while the plots of their books might not mirror the circumstances that they experienced personally, often times the themes speak to something personal. He gave John Green’s Looking For Alaska as an example, saying that Green’s intent was to explore how the characters dealt with tragedy.

There was general agreement that the real goal was to get to the root of the problem and the feelings around it – rather than to focus on the “symptoms.”

We wound up our What Is Blood discussion with the question of whether picture books could also have blood on the page.

The Schmoozers were quick to site several picture books that fit that bill, mentioning titles like Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak), Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst & Ray Cruz) and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary: A Cautionary Tale (Mo Willems). It was also noted that the blood can be in the pictures rather than – or in addition to – the text.

DAMMIT, DAMMIT, DAMMIT! That sounds incredible! Who would have thought other people had such interesting things to say?

That does it: one of these days I’m gonna actually listen to someone. Man, I’m sorry I missed it.

Yeah – so after ALL that – we did get around to the “OK, So How The Heck Do We Get The Blood On The Page Now That We Know What It Is…HUH?!?” portion of the evening

Lots of people had suggestions, running the gamut from using music or soundtracks for particular projects to get you in the right frame of mind to Sara Wilson Etienne’s tactile approach of creating character boxes full of physical items from her characters’ lives.

(Interjecting: If you ask me, Sara's just a big show-off, working harder than the rest of us for a little extra character oomph when she could be relaxing with beer and pizza.)

(Interjecting back: Jealous! …Okay, so we all are.)


Of course the tried-and-true theory of Show, Don’t Tell came up, and it was pointed out that Anastasia Suen has a wonderfully succinct explanation of the difference between “showing” and “telling” in her book, Picture Writing: Writing for Kids and Teens.

Another really helpful book that was suggested was Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein.

Don’t know if Greg mentioned it, but I found a terrific Chekhov quote about that:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Yes, of course! I meant to let you know that we did, indeed, use the awesome Chekhov quote you’d found. My bad.

Now, where was I…?

Right. After much discussion, I decided – enough talk, let’s see if we can get some blood to flow, right here, right now! You guessed it – it was time for our fabulous writing exercise.

Since you were too busy with your highly important personal stuff to show up for your Schmooze co-coordinator commitment – and for anyone else who might have missed out on the bloody fun, probably for much better reasons – here’s your chance to participate:

First, close your eyes (okay, close them after you read the rest of the exercise set up). Imagine yourself at a particular age. It could be the age of a character you’re currently writing about, will soon be writing about or the age you write about most often. Now try to remember how you felt. Free write.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

…Sorry sister, it ain’t happening. Not that I’m self-conscious or anything. Just wouldn’t want to intimidate our readers with my brilliance.

But what happened when you did it at the Schmooze?

Wuss!! Okay, fine. Be that way….


After allowing time for people to finish, I asked if anyone wanted to share what they’d written. One brave Schmoozer volunteered to go first, and boy was she a tough act to follow! Her raw, emotional stream-of-conscious writing about need and shame pretty much stunned the room – no more so than when she said the age she’d imagined was five! (Personally, I was thinking much older, at least 13 or so.)

She helped to open the floodgates and many stunning pieces followed, covering subjects like sibling rivalry, riding a bike for the first time, the freedom of climbing a tree, being uprooted due to a new marriage and, of course, sexuality – which ran the gamut from awkward to tense to hilarious.

I was seriously BLOWN AWAY by the talent in our group and by how willing people were to read what they’d written. A few have even volunteered to let me post what they wrote here!!

Angry and scared and mad that I am getting older and more responsibility is expected of me—4 younger siblings and an out of control mother, resentful of what is asked of me and wanting to be a kid longer, wanting to play, don't want to be mother's emotional caretaker. Then—guilty, bad, unloved, manipulated, used, ignored.

Age – 9

I am intense, hyper aware, with strong beliefs, the world is mine. I owned it. My future was about to begin...I couldn’t wait. I wanted my freedom. I wanted it badly. I couldn’t wait. High School would be over soon. I was free to go...I wanted out. I counted the days. I wanted nothing more. Nobody could tell me what to do. No more rules...The air. The sky. The open road. College as far away from home as possible. Graduation couldn’t come soon enough.

Age – 17, Senior Year

There she is. You Know Who. I can’t say her name. You know I can’t. I can’t. I’m hiding behind a tree because she might see me. There she is. She’s looking this way. How do I get her to notice me? Maybe I’ll wait for her after school and carry her books. Maybe I’ll be walking home with her and that German shepherd that’s always barking at me will attack us and maybe I’ll defend her. I’ll punch the dog in the noise and it’ll run away and maybe You Know Who will fall in love with me and maybe she’ll want me to be her boyfriend then maybe, maybe we’ll walk home holding hands. I’m really scared of that dog.

Age – 10

HOLY CRAPOLI! These people are too good. Now I’m glad I wasn’t there: it’s too intimidating! Besides, it sounds like I’m (sniff) completely (sniff, sniff) UNEEDED-WAHHH!!

Fear not, Charlie. Just after we got done blowing ourselves away with the writing people shared, Greg did that clearing-of-the-throat-thing and made sure people knew YOUR thoughts on the trappings of autobiographical writing by reading the following:

One way to short circuit it, and get to real juicy stuff, is to make your work autobiographical. This gives you access to all kinds of emotion and observations. But it’s risky. Because autobiography by itself is not blood on the page. Just cause something happened doesn’t mean it will come alive when you write it. In fact, it’s a pretty good bet that, the closer you get to the actual event, the less real it will feel. Why? Because for something to live, breath and bleed on the page, it must first be digested. It must be at least once removed from real life, infused with your sensibilities. For as anyone who’s lived it should know, real life is pointless, unfocussed, and uninteresting.

Sounds like me. “Leave ‘em suicidal,” I always say.

We finished up the Schmooze with a few fabulous examples of Blood On The Page from the following books:

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

Food, Girls and Other Things I Can’t Have by Allen Zadoff

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Horray For Amanda & Her Alligator by Mo Willems

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Not A Stick by Antoinette Portis

After that, it was time to pack it all up and go home. You missed a good one, my friend. And we really, really, really missed YOU! (Well, at least I did!)

Yeah, just one more question - how did the red velvet cupcakes go over?

They were devilishly delish! (I was going to say they were “bloody good,” but I think I’ve definitely overused that phrase big time.)

Last but not least, we both want to give a HUGE thank you to Greg for filling in so valiantly! (Apparently coordinating the Schmooze is like riding a bike because Greg seemed to have NO trouble remembering what to do.)

And there you have it Westside Schmoozers – all the details on our Blood On The Page Schmooze!

Sad you missed it? Well, don’t miss the next one on November 9th (this includes YOU, Charlie). Our topic will be GIVE IT AWAY NOW, where we’ll be discussing whether it’s possible to monetize your art by taking money out of the equation. We'll also be talking with some of our own intrepid Schmoozers who have made money by first giving stuff away.

PLUS – save the date – at our December 14th Schmooze, we’ll welcome author Allen Zadoff, winner of the Sid Fleischman Award for his debut YA novel Food, Girls and Other Things I Can’t Have. (If that title sounds familiar, it’s because a passage from the book was one of our “Blood On The Page” examples noted above).

Until then…

Keep passing the open windows,

Charlie & Karol

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Westside Illustrators Schmooze

Westside Illustrators Schmooze
Monday Evening, October 17, 2011

7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
11624 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

Topic: 'Licensing!' What's it all about?

Kat McDonough is a member of our schmooze who has done
extensive research on the topic. She is generously sharing
her findings with us. Please bring your own knowledge &
experience as well, so we might share in a informative discussion!

Have you entered any contests for Illustrator's Day?

Bring in your pieces to share!
Continuing Monthly Challenges...
Where are you heading now???
'Baby Steps... Dream Big, Start Small"
'A Doodle a Day"
Let's plan our topics for the year!
Looking forward to seeing you all!

Next meeting:

November 21

Come prepared to participate, ask questions and be inspired!
Let's enjoy a fun creative evening together & move forward in our common pursuit
of making a contribution to the world of children's illustration and literature!

RSVP???... YES...if you can...

WHERE???... 11624 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064
This is a large gray building with ivy & bamboo on the facade.
Look for the RED door reads - "Alliance Francaise."


... Street parking only. You don't have to feed meters after 6pm. Do NOT park in the electrical warehouse parking lot next door OR the parking lot behind the building on the corner of Federal Ave. You will be towed...FAST.


cell... 818 389 1950

come visit me @

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Westside Illustrators Meeting Date Change!

Just giving everyone the heads up!
Our meeting this month will be Monday October 17
(NOT October 10) 7-9pm.
Topic "Licensing"
we will try to meet the 3rd Monday evening of the month
unless otherwise noted...

More info next week! Suzy

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Westside Writers Schmooze September Distractions-Busting Super Schmooze!

After a two-month hiatus, the SCBWI Westside Writers’ Schmooze is….BACK!

On September 14th, we reconvened for what we affectionately dubbed the “Back To School Schmooze” where we discussed: LOVED ONES, CIVILIANS AND INNOCENT BYSTANDERS: HOW TO GET RID OF THEM (and other distractions). There were about 40 Schmoozers in attendance (Karol meant take an actual headcount, but she got distracted. As for Charlie, he’s too afraid of lynch mobs to ever count crowds).

The evening started with first-(and possibly last)-time attendee, Kayto Silverfish (we’re pretty sure that’s not her real name) demanding that Charlie and Karol make good on their promise to solve ALL her life problems and address EVERY question she has about the writer's life. Charlie explained that this was merely the co-coordinators’ bait and switch – luring Schmoozers in to solve all of his and Karol’s life problems and answer every question they have about the writer’s life. Kayto stormed out (not really but we thought we’d milk this gag for everything it’s worth) and the rest of you Schmoozers came through with flying colors!

While you may not have actually answered ALL our life problems (for instance, why doesn’t the world think Wally Shawn types are sexy?) you certainly came up with a boatload of great ideas and super resources to help us avoid distractions and get our work done. More on this in a moment, but first…

A Mini-Recap of the fabulous SCBWI National Summer Conference!

Before we got to our main topic, we checked in with a small handful of people about their favorite speaker or experience from the summer conference, just to get a taste of it. Much more info can be found in the SCBWI Team Blog (which is both amazing and searchable!) (LINK), but here’s what we learned:

Karol spoke about Donna Jo Napoli’s keynote speech: “How Writing About Terrible Things Makes Your Reader A Better Person.” Since Karol’s writing a YA novel about a kid to whom terrible things happen, she hung onto Donna Jo’s every word. She especially appreciated hearing her say, “Chances are someone needs to read the book you need to write.”

Marilyn Cohon followed with a valiant attempt at describing the awesomeness that was Gary Paulsen's keynote, "A Writer's Upside-Down Life," summarizing how the simple kindness of a librarian offering him a library card (with his last name spelled correctly) launched the rescue from his wretched childhood, pretty much saving his life. Gary's speech was brutally honest, hysterically funny, and slyly subversive. What left the biggest impression on Marilyn was how utterly authentic he was and how that links to his books which have likely empowered many other troubled young lives.

Laurie Young talked about Libba Bray, doing her best to describe Libba’s indescribably funny latest novel, BEAUTY QUEENS, and her quirky sensibilities in general. The biggest gem for Laurie was Libba’s Survivor metaphor, warning against trying for perfection: “Perfect” wants to vote you off the island. “Better” wants to make an alliance.

Jeff Cox's highlight was the manuscript critique. He was super excited to have been assigned to Ellen Hopkins, author of several edgy and powerful YA novels (CRANK, TRICKS and the just released, adult novel, PERFECT). He found her notes and advice to be incredibly valuable. The thought and care Ellen put into his critique really blew him away.

Lupe Fernandez, one of four writers who make up the Pen And Ink Blog, showed off (and handed out) some nifty promotional bookmarks and pens that he and his blog-mates gave out at Friday night’s wine and cheese reception to celebrate published SCBWI members.

As an added fun perk, Lupe also hipped us to this hilarious video they made, featuring kid-lit luminaries reciting the alphabet. (Don’t ask; just click!)

One Schmoozer raved about the Illustrator’s Intensive day. The high point for her was the illustrator demonstrations, with the illustrators creating artwork right there in front of captivated conference attendees. Thank God no one asks writers to do that!

In a perfect example of Conference Serendipity, another Schmoozer told how she and some friends came to have a surprise, two-hour lunch with Rukhsana Kahn, winner of the Golden Kite for Big Red Lollipop. Fortunately, they managed to keep their jaws off the ground long enough not to slobber on their clothes.

We wrapped up the recap with Rita Crayon Huang imparting a few of her favorite conference moments: Judy Blume (whom Greg Pincus was giddy to learn is one of his twitter followers) describing how trapped she felt before she began writing, so much so that she suffered from many exotic illnesses, all of which cleared up once she let her inner-artist out. (Laurie Halse Anderson reported the same phenomenon – so it’s official! NOT writing is bad for your health!) Also leaving a lasting impression on Rita was Bruce Coville, who recommended voice and acting lessons for writers and cautioned that we need to take ourselves seriously as business people – learn to read contracts and royalty statements people! (FYI – Rita’s blog has great pictures from the conference! Be sure to check them out.)

Loved Ones, Civilians, etc…

Obviously, we could have talked about the conference all night, but we didn’t want to get distracted from our main topic: distractions. So we turned out attention back to the task at hand. Of course, Step One is always admitting you have a problem, right? So we did an exercise – list your top 3 to 5 distractions and possible ways to eliminate or lessen them. In a matter of moments we were all insulting our children.

Charlie told a story about Kathleen Duey’s call to arms at a previous conference, “This is the year we tell them that when they knock on our office door to ask if we know where their socks are, they’ve just cost us a day’s work.”

Charlie was so inspired by this that he marched home and did exactly that, explaining the situation to his teenage son. Unfortunately, this did not lead to a reduction in interruptions, but rather, added a mocking preface to them: “Are you in the zone? I know you don’t want me bothering you when you’re in the zone!”

Lee Wind joked that school is not to educate, it’s to get kids out of the house so we can write.

One of our Schmooze Moms shared a magical phrase she discovered to combat familial interruption: “Can I think about it?” Others quickly offered variations: “Can it wait?”, and the infinitely-helpful, “Can you take care of that?” This one seemed to be a crowd favorite, though results are still being compiled as to its actual success rate.

Yet another Schmooze Mom spoke thrillingly about teaching herself not to care: “Let that towel stay on the floor, let things stay a mess. Let it all GO.” She described her own emotional struggle with caring, and how she finally learn to STOP. It was very inspiring and had the whole room nodding in approval.

For a lovely take on one mom’s rebellion against her messy family, check out The Piggybook by Anthony Browne. (Awesome illustrations!)

For spouses, we suggested giving them the following hand-outs to read:

Having fully eviscerated our kids and spouses, we moved on to other distractions starting with the usual suspects: day jobs, errands, and Facebook—the longest cup of coffee…ever, before moving on to some more obscure (and possibly deeper) problems:

General Worry & Doubt

The number of people hoping to get published vs. the number of people who DO get published can be daunting. As well, money worries and putting the weight of income on the work can pretty much paralyze anyone: “If I don’t place this comma correctly it could RUIN us!”

Having TOO MUCH Time On Your Hands

This one was surprising even for your co-coordinators, but pretty much everyone agreed that too much free time can be counterproductive. Busier people have to squeeze in precious writing time here and there, whereas the non-busy can always justify putting writing off until a “later time” – which never ends up coming. It was good news to those of us with day jobs and those whose spouses insist they need to get one now. It may INCREASE our productivity!


So here they are: the ideas you all came up with to solve all our problems. Of course, there’s a plethora of “distraction-busting ideas for writers” available online as well.

Much of the suggestions we had fell into a few categories:

Create the Optimum Work Space

  • Find a writing spot that works for you. This could be in your home or elsewhere. Make sure you have a comfortable chair and good lighting.
  • Keep your workspace neat & tidy. Not only is a messy desk distracting, you run the risk of being tempted to stop writing & start straightening. Here is an example of what your desk SHOULD NOT look like:

  • Design your space to support you As A Writer, not make you feel like a schmuck with a hobby. Take yourself seriously as an artist and set up a sacred space that is just for this purpose. To inspire you, here are some famous writers’ off the grid spaces:

Alas, we can’t all be as lucky as Laurie Halse Anderson!

Schedule Your Writing Sessions

  • Figure out when your most productive writing time is (morning? evening?) and try to write during those times. For most of us, a regular schedule works better than a catch as catch can approach.
  • Use a timer. Decide how long you intend to (or are able to) write for and stick to that. Don’t set up unreal expectations or beat yourself up for not writing longer; the idea is to write often and to set goals you can meet.
  • Communicate with your family, roommates, boss, etc. when you’ll be writing and, just as importantly, when you’ll be free. That way they’ll know they can count on seeing you later, and will be more likely to leave you alone now. Of course, this only works if you do what you say.
  • Write when you can. Sometimes, catch as catch can is all you can catch. And, sometimes, that’s just fine. Allow yourself to live an adult life and take care of business when business needs taking care of. But try to fit in some writing, just to keep the muscles from atrophying.

Block Out Distractions

  • Turn off all media. Yes, ALL. Yes, that too. Shut off/unplug your phones. All of ‘em. That editor who wants to offer you a huge contract can leave a message! Disconnect your Internet. Try to do your research in advance so you aren’t tempted. We all know how easy it is to click on Facebook, “just for a second” and lose an entire day. For the weak amongst us, there are programs available (Freedom) or websites (Stay Focused for Google Chrome) that will block out the internet, and even one that blocks out everything on your screen but a blank page and a cursor (Dark Room).
  • Try earplugs if you write in a noisy environment.
  • Some writers like to listen to music as they write. This has the advantage of totally blocking out your kid knocking on your door to ask you, “Are you in the ZONE?!” or to tell you there’s a fire in the kitchen.
  • Sneaky trick: For those who can’t write with music blasting in your ears, use earphones that are unplugged, to make the kid think you’re listening to music. After a few failed attempts, he’ll walk away and call 911 himself. Success!

Once you’ve instituted these handy suggestions, Schmoozers agreed that finding a way to hold yourself accountable is invaluable. Suggestions for doing that included:

  • Have a writing buddy to whom you report your progress. This is different from a critique friend. This buddy doesn’t have to read anything. They just ask you what you got done each day/week/whatever, and you return the favor by asking them the same obnoxious question.
  • Reward yourself for writing accomplishments and milestones (although it was suggested that you pick a reward that doesn’t stress your wallet or waistline). On the other hand, how much could a single chocolate chip cookie per page hurt you?
  • Using colorful charts to record your progress. Karol does this and the result not only helps her to stay on schedule but it truly delights her often-grumpy inner-child.

Still worried about distractions? Still not ready to get down to work? What IS your problem?! OK, as promised, here’s…


Distraction-Busters Edition

Writing Through The Distractions of...Mothering

How to Write Without Distractions

Tips and Tricks for Distraction free Writing

The Guilt Ridden Writer’s confession

The Frazzled Writer: 5 strategies for alleviating the guilt

That pretty much sums up all the helpful hints we remember (please feel free to add things we forgot in the comments below). It was GREAT to be back in the swing of things and reconnect/recommit following our Summer Vacation.

Check the calendar at SCBWI So Cal for all the upcoming Schmooze topics, starting with BLOOD ON THE PAGE: How to get that ineffable quality, that juice, that pizzazz, that… blood on the page.

Looking forward to seeing everyone on Wednesday October 14th!

Keep passing the open windows,

Charlie & Karol