An Interview with Author & Illustrator Jeanne Styczinski

Posted on: September 4, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting author and illustrator Jeanne Styczinski.

 

JeanneJeanne was writing stories for years before she decided to pursue children's book writing as a second career. As a kindergarten teacher and mother of four, she has always been surrounded by the joy of children, and it plays out beautifully in her work. Through JeanneKay Publishing, she has self-published three books: Mama, How Does The Wind Start To Blow?, Papa, Why Does The Sun Shine?, and Who Will Be My Friend? Her first two books both recieved the Children's Moonbeam Award.

 

Jeanne, we are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Who has been the most influential inspiration for your career?

The people who have influenced my life the most are other authors and illustrators. There are soooo many, but I would say Lois Ehlert is the one who has influenced me the most as an author and illustrator. I met Lois years ago at a National Reading Conference (IRA now known as ILA). I’ve met many authors and illustrators in my teaching career, but when she spoke about her work, it sang to me. I absolutely love the colors in her books and the way the shapes are put together on each page, and so do children. Other authors and illustrators are: Eric Carle, Clive McFarland, Leo Lionni, Holly Berry, Todd Parr, Mo Willems, and Jan Brett. The list could go on and on…

 

What was the biggest eye-opener when you published your first book?

My biggest eye opener when publishing my first book were all the details. I’m a big picture girl and the little details were endless, but so important for a polished-looking product.

 

If you could tell your naive unpublished past self anything, what would it be?

If I could go back and tell myself anything it would be not to wait! Don’t’ wait! If you have the passion to write or illustrate, just start! If you are enjoying what you do, it will show!

 

Can you tell us about your writing environment?

My writing/illustrating environment has changed over the years. I started writing/illustrating in a small closet! I loved it! It was small, but when I was done, I could shut the door and everything stayed right where it was until the next time. Now, I’ve outgrown that space and I’ve moved into a large space, but the sweet thing is I still get to leave my things right where they are until the next time. In both spaces I’ve surrounded myself with my family. I put up lots of pictures of my 4 crazy kids and husband, my mom and dad, and sisters. I truly write better when they’re around!

 

What has been the most useful career tip you have received so far?

The most useful career tip was given to me by David LaRochelle, a very sweet children’s author from Minneapolis. He told me to join SCBWI!

 

What is your favorite part of the fall conference each year?  

My favorite part of the fall conference is getting to meet other author and illustrators. I LOVE talking shop (and listening, too) and finding out what everyone is doing! The passion authors/illustrators have for their work is like none other. The whole experience is very encouraging and inspiring. I leave the conference every year with lots of energy and endless possibilities. Thank you SCBWI!

 

Thanks, Jeanne!

 

You can learn more about Jeanne Styczinski and her books on her website and blog. She will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. See you at the conference!

 


Colleen Riordan, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Colleen Riordan is a SCBWI-WI Blog Editor, freelance magazine writer, and a nonprofit communications coordinator. She writes MG and YA fantasy has been a member of SCBWI since 2014. Find her at online at cmriordan.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram.



 
An Interview with Author/Illustrator Sheri Roloff

Posted on: August 23, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting Sheri Roloff.

 

Sheri Roloff_head shot

 

Sheri was told the first time she was handed a pencil as an infant, she held it correctly. She acknowledges this is a bit creepy (and unsafe – who hands an infant a pencil?!), but she's been drawing and writing ever since (with occasional supervision). These days she applies her advanced pencil-holding skills to creating picture books, comics, and graphic novels for kids. Sheri's debut picture book Hide & Go Seek-A-Saurus is coming out in spring of 2018 from KWiL Publishing!

 

By day she works as a corporate creative, developing concepts for marketing pieces and leading a team of copywriters. In between writing and drawing, she sings and plays guitar – sometimes with her drummer husband. 

 

We are thrilled you will be presenting at our fall conference, Sheri. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Can you tell us about your work environment? 

"The place I live right now features an open concept, and I have my desk in the main room. It makes me feel less isolated when I spend so many evenings and weekends chipping away at manuscripts and illustrations! My desk is home to my digital setup (laptop + Cintiq). When I want to go analog (pencils, markers, paper, scissors, etc.), I spread out on the nearby dining room table or the floor.  As an added bonus, having my workspace in the main space forces me to keep it slightly more presentable and orderly than if it were tucked away in a separate room. And since it’s the first thing I see when I get home – it makes me think, “I should sit there and get something done!” 
 

What has helped you along your artistic journey? 

"One thing that helps me squelch self-doubt and move forward is reminding myself that EVERYONE is making it up as they go. There is no single ideal combination of degrees and skills and experience … there are too many possible paths for that. Even the people who really seem to know what they’re doing are making it up as they go! And I find that really comforting. 

 

A couple books that have also helped me are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon."

 

Why did you pursue the dream of children books? Was there a catalyst or a story behind your decision?

"I had recently decided to stop pursing my dream of being a full-time singer/songwriter and was trying to find a new artistic outlet. For a while I painted large canvases, then spray paint art, then tiny pencil drawings, then Shrinky Dink jewelry, then who knows what. All I knew was I wanted to make things! But what things?! I’d always enjoyed writing and drawing but had never applied it to kid books. Meanwhile, I’d grown fond of the process of making book-like items through my job as a copywriter (brochures, catalogs, flyers, etc.) 

 

Something finally clicked, and I wrote my first story – featuring kittens and pizza and ice cream – and it was super fun. So I decided to figure out if it was any good (spoiler alert: it wasn’t!). But the critique group I joined through SCBWI is the single best and most important move I’ve made. And honestly, the amazing people in that group are the biggest thing that’s kept me going in the face of self-doubt and rejection. It turns out writing and illustrating books for kids is [still] super fun, but it’s also a lot harder than I thought it would be when I wrote that first story! 

 

Anyway, 8-year-old me – who spent hours and hours drawing dogs and writing stories about them – would be pretty delighted by my current path of making picture books.

 

What has been the biggest eye-opener about the business?

"The biggest eye-opener for me was discovering what a warm and welcoming community the kidlit industry is – especially via SCBWI. There are so many authors and illustrators in this niche market who are truly trying to help one another through sharing what they’ve learned online, at conferences, etc."

 

What has been the most useful career tip you've received? 

"I love what Ira Glass says about creative work and what he calls “The Gap” between your killer taste that gets you into your work in the first place and the stuff you actually make as a beginner and beyond. The way he talks about it really resonates with me, and I think about it all the time as I fight to close that gap for myself!"

 

If you haven’t heard Ira Glass talk about this before, listen now!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbC4gqZGPSY

 

Thanks, Sheri!

You can learn more about Sheri Roloff on her website. She will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't sign-up yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!


Genevieve Angelique Artel, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Genevieve Angelique is a YA writer, blusher, & Ravenclaw librarian turned SCBWI-WI blog editor. You can find her online @Genevieve Angelique or on Twitter



 
An Interview with Writer Lora Hyler

Posted on: August 22, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting writer Lora Hyler.

 

Lora HylerLora's creative writing is rooted in a deep understanding of marketing and communications. She has years of experience as a writer, publicist, and marketer, which have informed her pursuits in children's book writing, adult novels, screenplays, and more. Her current projects include The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes, a middle grade novel of an African-American child superhero, and 'Stealth Love,' a short story to be published in the Wisconsin Writer’s Association Literary Journal this fall.

 

Lora, we are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Who has been the most influential inspiration for your career?

I am on the path of publishing my first children's book after a long, successful career as a writer, public relations and marketing manager. I've worked for several large corporations, and in 2001, founded my public relations and marketing company in Glendale, WI. I've covered stories for Time Inc., as well as local and national radio and television. Creatively, I've won awards for screenwriting and short stories. I truly believe publication of my first children's book is right around the corner. My PR background is propelling me forward to make the right connections while taking the time to pay it forward to help published authors market their books.

 

What was the biggest eye-opener when you began writing your first children’s manuscript?

Writing for children is a delicate balance of bringing out one’s inner child to harness a sense of wonder in the story, but to also bring an adult sensibility to the business side. My articles are widely published. I'm now on the journey of book publication. This not for the faint of heart. It takes persistence. Persistence. Persistence. And I'm loving it. Each no gets me closer to yes.

Through SCBWI. I've met amazing agents, publishers, editors and authors. I'm sharing my journey in a Writer's Digest article to be published this month. Through residencies, I'm meeting writers and artists of all sorts. I just spent the month of May at an artist residency in Marnay sur Seine, France and bonded with seven other artists from around the world. That trip sparked an idea for my next manuscript!

 

If you could tell your naive unpublished past self anything, what would it be?

Hard work is rewarded. Study the craft and keep refining manuscripts while delighting in new ideas. Encourage other artists. Your encouraging words may save an artist and soothe your own writing soul.

 

Can you tell us about your writing environment?

I love to move around when I write. I write in multiple spots in my home, on my patio with the birds, butterflies and chipmunks keeping me company. I flit from coffee shop to coffee shop. I started my career in radio news, so a constant hum doesn’t distract me. And if a nearby voice gets too loud, there’s always headphones with the accompanying soundtrack of my choice.

 

What has been the most useful career tip you have received so far?

'Just show up.' Long ago, a financial vice president gave me this advice when he asked whether I was attending an important meeting and I responded, 'I wasn’t invited.' I began to invite myself to all sorts of meetings and my career blossomed in unpredictable ways. I never lost this hutzpa and bring this same sensibility to my creative writing journey. I’ve contacted various players within the publishing industry in shall we say, ‘unsanctioned’ ways. It’s paying off.

 

What is your favorite part of the fall conference each year?  

I attended my first fall conference last year. I was impressed by the accessibility of many, from faculty, to volunteers, to budding authors, to published authors. The interest is genuine. The passion is evident. I’m thrilled to return this year as a member of the faculty. I’ve spoken to women conferences and taught public speaking and dealing with the media for many, many years. I’m thrilled to bring this presentation tailored for authors, to SCBWI.

 

Thanks, Lora!

 

You can learn more about Lora Hyler and her writing on her website and blog. She will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't registered for the fall conference yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Colleen Riordan, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Colleen Riordan is a SCBWI-WI Blog Editor, freelance magazine writer, and a nonprofit communications coordinator. She writes MG and YA fantasy has been a member of SCBWI since 2014. Find her at online at cmriordan.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram.



 
An Interview with Author Tricia Clasen

Posted on: August 21, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting Tricia Clasen.

Tricia Clasen headshot

 

Tricia is a college professor of communication at University of Wisconsin-Rock County. She is co-editor of Gendered Identities: Critical Readings of Gender in Children's and Young Adult Literature. She grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. Always a lover of a good story, she spent her days reading and dreaming of being a writer, though she never wrote any fiction until much later. After many years off exploring, she returned to her much-too-frigid home state where she lives with her husband and two girls, her parents, and what seems like small zoo. Most of her time goes to shuttling her kids to dance and trying to get the glitter off the kitchen floor as well as planning trips to much warmer destinations. Her debut novel, THE HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT was published in 2016 by Sky Pony Press.

 

We are thrilled you will be presenting at our fall conference, Tricia. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Can you tell us about your work environment? 

"My desk is right off the kitchen, so I'm still pretty connected to whatever is going on in the house. I've a three monitor system, so generally, social media/email on one, any netflix or other videos on a second, and Word up on the third. I will take my writing on the run though, as I often end up at Panera or some other wifi spot while my kids are at dance class. Once I dive into writing, I'm not easily distracted, so I don't need a terribly closed off environment to write."
 

What books inspired you as a child, and now, as an adult? 

"I went through several phases as a kid, but I distinctly remember going through the entire biography section at the library. I was drawn to stories about justice and folks standing up for what they believed in. I think that's why some of my favorite fiction books were Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and The Outsiders. My goodness, I wore out my copy of The Outsiders. She painted such a distinct picture of Tulsa and crafted characters I felt like I knew. I still gravitate toward that kind of world-building where you dive in and never want out–think Harry Potter. For that reason, I have to give inspirational credit to Twilight. I fell into Meyer's world, and loved it so much that I discovered fanfiction, which is what ultimately led to writing. I can definitely say that without Twilight, I would not have published a book today."

 

What is your favorite memory as a writer? 

"I love doing school visits. The kids treat you like a rock star! I will treasure the notes they send and the hugs they give. I think the memory that stands out the most, though, was when I went to my first school visit, and the office receptionist said, "Oh, are you the author?" And I was! It was the first time I'd really allowed myself to use the label, to consider myself an author."

 

What has been the biggest eye-opener about the business?

"How long everything takes! Way back when I was querying agents, I thought, "Gosh this takes forever!" That's pretty much true at every stage, from contracts, to editing and beyond. Patience is necessary."

 

What is your favorite part of the fall conference?

"I value every opportunity to connect with other writers. It's so important to know you're not along on this journey. Also, I walk away from every conference I attend completely inspired. It's like getting a writing re-charge!"

 

Thanks, Tricia!

You can learn more about Tricia Clasen on her website. She will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't sign-up yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Genevieve Angelique Artel, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Genevieve Angelique is a YA writer, blusher, & Ravenclaw librarian turned SCBWI-WI blog editor. You can find her online @Genevieve Angelique or on Twitter



 
An Interview with Author Judy Dodge Cummings

Posted on: August 16, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting Judy Dodge Cummings.

 

Judy Dodge Cummings

 

Judy has published 13 books for the educational market, most of them on historical topics, and she has three more books slated for publication in the fall of 2017. Judy was a high school history teacher for 26 years and has a MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Teenagers from Hamline University. When she isn’t researching or writing, she is busy building a time machine (patent pending). The test run is scheduled for April 1, 2020.

 

We are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference, Judy. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Can you tell us about your writing environment? 

"My study is nothing fancy, but I love the space. The walls are rich shades of burgundy and caramel. An iridescent fairy that a dear friend gave me hangs from my desk lamp. I call her Miss Muse (the fairy, not my friend). A black and white photo of my dad at his typewriter sits beside my computer.  Dad was a journalist and one of my biggest cheerleaders. I keep a stack of “affirmations” in a box on my desk. These are notes from former students, cards from friends, and a few positive reviews my writing has received. When I’m having one of those dark writing days and feel like throwing in the towel, I read one of my affirmations, glance at my dad, touch Miss Muse’s wings, and get back to work."
 
 

What books inspired you as a child and now as an adult? 

"I learned to read while living in Kampala, Uganda. When my family moved there, the country had only been independent from Great Britain for a few years. There must have been some children’s books written by U.S. authors in the country, but I didn’t have access to them. It was British lit all the way. Enid Blyton was my favorite author. I read every book in her Famous Five adventure series about fifty times. I loved solving mysteries on the English moor from the safety of my sofa.

 

As an adult, my favorite genre is historical fiction. When I read, I want to be transported back in time and become deeply invested in the life of someone I care about. That’s also what I hope to do as a writer. Three books that I’ve read numerous times for both entertainment and instruction are The Memoirs of Cleopatra, by Margaret George, (an adult title), The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schdmit. These writers created worlds where the past comes to life. 

 

I also write and read historical nonfiction. Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous seamlessly blends high drama and historical analysis. He writes history that reads like a novel, something I aspire to do."

 

 

Why did you decide to pursue the dream of creating children books? Was there a catalyst or a story behind your decision?

"I wrote for many years with lots of passion but not enough skill. I needed to learn more about the craft of writing and dreamed of getting my MFA but always had good reasons not to. Graduate school was so expensive.  My kids needed my attention. Teaching took up all my time. Those were the things I said out loud. But when I lay in bed at night, the real reasons emerged. What if I applied and was rejected? What if I was accepted, but all the other students were much better writers than me? It was safer to put my dreams aside.

 

Then in 2005 my dad, a journalist, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. He gradually lost the ability to write and speak. Dad had other physical ailments and was 80 years old so his death in 2008 was not unexpected. After Dad died, I took on the job of going through about fifty boxes of papers he had accumulated over the decades. This task took me almost a year, in part because there were a lot to read, but also because it was emotionally difficult. 

 

The toughest moment came when I opened the box that contained Dad’s notebooks from the last year of his life. His mental deterioration was visible right there in his scrawl. Dad’s poetic prose corroded week by week into nonsense and half-completed sentences. My father had been a writer, reader, and deep thinker all his life. It must have been terrifying for him to lose his words. 

 

The tenuousness of life hit home at that moment. My dream wouldn’t wait forever. The day would come when I too would lose my words. So I entered a MFA program in creative writing in 2010, graduated in 2012, and published my first book in 2013. Dad would approve."

 

 

What is your favorite memory as a writer?

"I taught American studies to 11th graders for many years. Each student was required to write a research paper comparing two important people from 19th century American history and literature. About five years ago, I was grading a student’s works cited page and found my name listed as the author of one of her sources. She had cited a magazine article I’d written on a Civil War spy. It was a pretty cool moment. I felt like I’d arrived!"

 

 

What has been the most useful career tip you've received? 

"I’ll share two tips. 

 

1) Stand close to the red-hot stove. Jane Resh Thomas, writing professor and author, drilled this into my head in grad school. She said writers must be willing to dig deep into our own psyches, even if it hurts, in order to imbue our characters with genuine emotion. 

 

2) Find your North Star. This tip came from writer and editor Megan Atwood. I was working on a novel that meandered. She suggested I write what my story was really about in one sentence and post that sentence above my computer. As I revised the novel, Megan told me to make sure every sentence aimed for my North Star. That one sentence took me hours to write, but this advice transformed my manuscript."

 

 

Thanks, Judy!

You can learn more about Judy Dodge Cummings and her books on her website. She will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't sign-up yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Genevieve Angelique Artel, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Genevieve Angelique is a YA writer, blusher, & Ravenclaw librarian turned SCBWI-WI blog editor. You can find her online @Genevieve Angelique or on Twitter



 
An Interview with Author Jacqueline Houtman

Posted on: August 16, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting Jacqueline Houtman.

 

Houtman Photo

 

Jacqueline writes about science for scientists, the general public, students, and visitors to the Wisconsin Science Museum. She has published an award-winning middle grade novel, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Boyds Mills Press 2010) and a biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, Bayard Rustin: The Invisible Activist (with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, Quaker Press 2014). She is an avowed theater geek, and was thrilled to see The Reinvention of Edison Thomas adapted for the stage by Theater for Young Audiences in Sheboygan.

 

Jacqueline, we are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Can you tell us about your writing environment? 

"Laptops have made workspaces very portable, and I work in a lot of places. The place that I’m most productive is my neighborhood coffee shop. That’s where my novel was written, where I got “the call” when it was acquired, and where I had my release party, complete with the Periodic Table of Cupcakes."
 
 

Where did your dream of creating children books come from? Was there a catalyst or a story behind your decision?

"I don’t think it was my life’s dream to be a children’s author, at least not consciously. I enjoyed reading as a kid, and I recall writing a book about a horse named Sylvester in fifth grade. In high school, we had to read a bunch of dreary classic novels for grown-ups. I decided that fiction wasn’t for me and went on to college and graduate school in biological sciences. After having children, I went into science writing, eventually writing about science for kids in educational publications. Then one day, my son brought home Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for me to read to him. As I was reading, I realized that I didn’t dislike fiction. I disliked fiction for grownups. I loved how Rowling played with the language. I began reading more Harry Potter, and then other middle-grade novels, catching up on all those wasted years. Then I tried writing middle-grade fiction, and discovered that I really enjoy it. Most of the time."
 

 

What is your favorite memory as a writer?

"It has to be when I saw my characters come alive. Theater for Young Audiences in Sheboygan adapted my novel, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas for the stage. I Skyped with the young writers as they were working on the script and with the cast and crew during rehearsals. Then I made the trip to Sheboygan to see it in person. It’s an incredible experience to see the characters that have been rattling around in your head for years appear in front of you. The kids did an amazing job. I was wondering how they would deal with all the internal monologue in the text and their solution was external dialogue. They turned Eddy’s thoughts into lines spoken by four narrators. When Eddy had an internal conflict, the narrators would argue. And when Eddy was thinking about the famous feud between Edison and Tesla, two of the narrators dressed up as the two inventors and had a fist fight. Genius."

 

 

What has been the most useful career tip you've received? 

"Without a doubt, it would be to join SCBWI. I have learned so much about the craft and business of writing for young people through SCBWI. And the Wisconsin chapter has been so supportive throughout my career, both before and after publication."

 

 

What's your favorite part of the fall conference? 

"If you had asked me a few years ago, I might have said “The World-Famous Snack Table™.” Today, I would say it’s the networking. Catching up with writing friends, and making new writing friends fills up my creative cup."
 

 

Thanks, Jacqueline!

You can learn more about Jacqueline Houtman and her books on her website. At the fall conference, which runs September 15 – 17, she will present "What Writers Can Learn From Hamilton." She'll also lead a Zumba class! If you haven't sign-up yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Genevieve Angelique Artel, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Genevieve Angelique is a YA writer, blusher, & Ravenclaw librarian turned SCBWI-WI blog editor. You can find her online @Genevieve Angelique or on Twitter

 


 
An Interview with Valerie Biel

Posted on: August 14, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting Valerie Biel.

Valerie Biel

 

Valerie Biel is the author of the Circle of Nine series and has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, Gotham Writers' YA Novel Discovery Contest Finalist, Readers' Favorite Book Award Contest Finalist, a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, and was short listed for the Eric Hoffer Book Award grand prize. She has also authored two middle-grade novels.

When she’s not writing, she’s working on freelance publicity projects, assisting other authors through her business Lost Lake Press, or teaching writing. She’s a member of a fantastically fastidious SCBWI critique group. 

Valerie, we are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Who has been the most influential inspiration for your career?? 

"In my case, it was never one person. It’s the generosity of spirit from other writers who are willing to assist and cheer you on when you need it that has been my true inspiration for my career. I’ve found a wonderful community of writers not only within SCBWI but also through other writing conferences and Facebook groups. Considering that what we do is largely a solo endeavor, these connections have been priceless for both assistance and camaraderie."
 

What was the biggest eye-opener when you published your first book?

"My YA series is independently published, so the vast number of steps to book launch day were truly daunting at times. Each thing that you don’t hire someone to do you are handling yourself from all the technical details like book design and e-book formatting to publicity and media outreach. Luckily, this gets easier each time that you do it and you gain some excellent skills along the way. In the traditional publishing world, the eye-opener (now that I’m agented) is the incredibly slow pace of decision making."

 

If you could tell your naive unpublished past self anything, what would it be?

"When you think your book is ready, assume that it probably isn’t. Put it away for a little while and come back to it for another deep edit!"

 

Can you tell us about your writing environment? 

"I have unapologetically stolen my daughter’s bedroom. (She’s 22 and assures me she will not be moving home!) So, after years of sitting at a desk in the bedroom or floating around the house to different locations with my laptop, I now have an office. My books are no longer tipping over in the closet and are properly stowed on shelves. It’s lovely to be surrounded by all of my favorite things!"

 

What has been the most useful career tip you have received so far? 

"You must be your own best cheerleader. You must tell yourself every day that not only CAN you do this, but you WILL do this. When Hank Philippi Ryan (award-winning mystery writer) spoke at a conference here in Wisconsin, she told the story about writing her first book and lamenting to her mother that she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to finish it, and her mother said, 'You will if you want to.'"

 

What is your favorite part of the fall conference each year? Or your favorite memory? 

"I love catching up with everyone! But there were two incredibly important professional moments for me and both involved a faculty critique of my work at the fall conference. Some years ago (I forget what year), I was lucky enough to be paired up with Deborah Wiles (author of 'Love, Ruby Lavender') and her positive comments and advice about my writing carried me forward for months! At a more recent fall conference, Andrea Tompa (an incredibly gifted editor from Candlewick) read the first three chapters of my work in progress. Not only was her advice helpful in the completion of the manuscript, she asked specifically to see it when it was complete. Although she did not offer a contract, she was generous with her time and sent back a mini-editorial note that helped me even more. This is the manuscript that allowed me to secure my agent. YAY for the fall conference!"

 

Thanks, Valerie!

You can learn more about Valerie Biel and her books on her blog and website. She's also active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TumblrShe will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't registered for the fall conference yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Colleen Riordan, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Colleen Riordan is a SCBWI-WI Blog Editor, freelance magazine writer, and a nonprofit communications coordinator. She writes MG and YA fantasy has been a member of SCBWI since 2014. Find her at online at cmriordan.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram.



 
An Interview with Author Melissa Gorzelanczyk

Posted on: August 7, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting author Melissa Gorzelanczyk.

 

Melissa GorzelanczykMelissa is the membership coordinator for the Wisconsin region. She's also the YA author of Arrows, "a modern cupid story set in present-day Wisconsin combining the fantastical elements of Greek mythology with the contemporary drama of MTV’s Teen Mom." As one of her critique partners and a lover of her lyrical writing style, I'm delighted to bring this interview with her to you today.

 

Melissa, we are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Who has been the most influential inspiration for your career?

"A writer named Leo Babauta who blogs at ZenHabits.net. He was influential in helping me remember my dream of becoming a published author, which led to a few major life and career changes. I found that, somehow as life got busy, I'd forgotten the things I loved. Reading and writing specifically. I'm happy my life is full of both now."

 

If you could tell your naive unpublished past self anything, what would it be?

"Your first book deal is only the beginning."

 

Can you tell us about your writing environment?

"Here it is, in all its Boho-teal glory:"

Melissa's Office

Click here to see more of Melissa's beautiful office on her blog.

What has been the most useful career tip you have received so far?

"Author Anne Lamott said:
'I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part.'

Her words, along with Neil Gaiman's declaration to 'make good art,' have buoyed me during times of self-doubt and disappointment. At the end of my day as author, these words feel true."

 

What is your favorite part of the fall conference each year?  

"The inspiration, and the distinct feeling that I'm among 'my people.'"

 

Thanks, Melissa!

 

You can learn more about Melissa Gorzelanczyk and her books on her website, Twitter, or Instagram. She will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't registered for the fall conference yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Colleen Riordan, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Colleen Riordan is a SCBWI-WI Blog Editor, freelance magazine writer, and a nonprofit communications coordinator. She writes MG and YA fantasy has been a member of SCBWI since 2014. Find her at online at cmriordan.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram.



 
An Interview with Art Director Saho Fujii

Posted on: August 6, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting Saho Fujii.

Saho-Fujii-e1466864882371

 

Saho Fujii is the art director of Little, Brown. Over the years, she's worked with many talented authors and illustrators, including Jerry Pinkney on his Caldecott-winning book, The Lion & the Mouse. And just last year, another project of Saho's was awarded the Caldecott: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear. To be sure, Saho Fujii is a master at her job.

 

Saho, we are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

 

Where do you find inspiration, and how does it inform your creative process? 

"I often visit bookstores, toy stores, gift shops and museums when I’m looking for inspiration."
 

What catches your eye when looking at artwork? What things do you pay attention to most?

"I look for an unique style/medium. I also look for consistency. I would like to know whether or not the artist is capable of drawing the same characters in a consistent way so they are recognizable from page to page. Varying perspective is important as well. You don’t always want to draw from the same view point because it gets repetitive."

 

How do you balance the author's, the illustrator's, and your own vision during a project?

"I value and respect the author’s and the illustrator’s vision. You have to remember it’s their book and without them, we can’t make books. Of course, if I have suggestions, I discuss my ideas with them. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. Building a good relationship with authors and artists is very important because making picture books is a long process. It usually takes about a year to make a book and you talk to them a lot during that one year. I always make sure that the author and the artist are kept in the loop and don’t make any changes to the art or to the layouts without their approval."

 

How can authors best work with art directors and illustrators? 

"I don’t usually talk to authors directly unless they are also illustrators. Authors normally send their notes to editors, and editors share their comments with me and artists. However, depending on the project and the relationship between the author and the illustrator, occasionally, the four of us (the author, the illustrator, the editor and the art director/designer) get on the phone/email and discuss ideas together."

 

What's the best part of being an art director? 

"The best part about my job is being able to work with so many talented people, illustrators and authors in particular. Their ability to create something so wonderful out of nothing always amazes me!"
 

 

Thanks, Saho!

Saho will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't registered for the fall conference yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Genevieve Angelique Artel, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Genevieve Angelique is a YA writer, blusher, & Ravenclaw librarian turned SCBWI-WI blog editor. You can find her online @Genevieve Angelique or on Twitter

 



 
An Interview with Author Pat Zietlow Miller

Posted on: July 31, 2017


In anticipation of our Wisconsin's SCBWI Fall Conference Experiment & Play, we've put together an interview series as a way to meet the people behind this year's presentations and breakout sessions. Today, I'm spotlighting author Pat Zietlow Miller.

Pat Zietlow MillerPat Zietlow Miller is a picture book author best known for her award winning children's book Sophie's Squash. Her most recent publications include  The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, Sophie's Squash Go to School, and Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story

Pat, we are thrilled that you will be presenting at our fall conference. Thanks for answering a few questions for us!

Who has been the most influential inspiration for your career?

"There were three very different writers whose work I read when I was in middle school. They each made me want to write like them so badly, I couldn’t stand it. I would read work by them and then go off and try to replicate it in a spiral notebook.

Sometimes, I’d have to set their books down and walk away because I was so impressed by how they had used words and language that I needed time to process it. Looking back, this was probably not normal middle school behavior, but it seemed normal to me.

The three writers were:

Erma Bombeck. I read a paperback copy of If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? and was hooked. I promptly read everything else by her I could find. Again, probably not normal reading for a middle schooler, but so what? She was hilariously funny, her essays were beautifully structured and she had the ability to laugh at herself.

Frank Deford. My dad subscribed to Sports Illustrated, and I’d look for Frank’s byline because I knew his features would be in-depth and well-written and creative. I liked his work so much I asked for his book, The World's Tallest Midget, as a gift so I could pore over his best work. At the time, I thought I was going to be a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune when I grew up, so I wanted to be ready.

Judith Viorst. Oh, my goodness, I loved her picture books. There was, of course, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but there also was The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries and I’ll Fix Anthony. Excuse me while I go put all of these on hold again at my local library.

I’m very grateful for having the chance to read these writers. I learned so much from each of them. "

What was the biggest eye-opener when you published your first book?

"Honestly? How well it did. I had focused so much attention on getting over the hurdle of being published, that it hadn’t occurred to me that Sophie's Squash might do so well with starred reviews and buzz and sales."

If you could tell your naive unpublished past self anything, what would it be?

"In relation to my answer to the last questions, I’d say that each book is a totally different thing. My books after Sophie's Squash have found different kinds of success, but they have not gotten four starred reviews and the out-of-the-gate love that Sophie did.

You can’t assume anything in publishing –whether you’ll sell a book or how it will be received if you do.

So much – good and bad – is out of your control."

Can you tell us about your writing environment?

"I write at my kitchen table, which looks over into the living room. I’m usually surrounded by debris, but because we’re trying to sell our house now, it’s currently fairly clean. I have a desk upstairs, but I don’t use it much because I like to be in the thick of things – and have easy access to food.

On days I’m not working at my day job, I sometimes write at the Fitchburg Public Library, which I love. It’s peaceful and there’s something about being surrounded by books that I enjoy."

What has been the most useful career tip you have received so far?

"The importance of revising. Early on, as I worked on writing picture books, I went to a retreat led by authors Jill Esbaum and Linda Skeers. I brought a very early draft of Sophie's Squash, which had gotten brief, positive handwritten notes from editors on form rejections.

Jill and Linda read my draft and said, 'This is picture book GOLD.' Then, they basically said, but you have to redo the entire plot. And they brainstormed with me until I had a much better idea of what the story could be.

I went home and rewrote and revised and revamped (and many other 're' words). Now, when I’m tempted to think I’m done with something, I remember all the versions of Sophie before I finally got it right. And I keep working."

What is your favorite part of the fall conference each year?  

"I remember being at my very first SCBWI fall conference and feeling terrified. I was sure someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that I didn’t belong. I was so freaked out, I don’t think I talked to much of anyone. I just lurked in the back and hid in corners. If you’re new this year, don’t do that. Talk to people. Say 'hi.' Everyone’s nice.

I also remember at one of my first conferences hearing Dori Chaconas say she’d sold her 22nd book. I said to the person next to me: 'I just want to be Dori Chaconas.' They replied: 'Everybody wants to be Dori Chaconas.'

Dori’s still selling awesome books, but I’ve learned that you can only be you, and you can only write the stuff you can write, and that’s good enough. I still read Dori’s books for inspiration, though, and so should you."

 

Thanks, Pat!

 

You can learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website. She will present at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall Conference, which runs from September 15 – 17, 2017. If you haven't registered for the fall conference yet, there's still time. Register HERE before we sell out!

 


Colleen Riordan, SCBWI-Wisconsin Blog Editor

 

Colleen Riordan is a SCBWI-WI Blog Editor, freelance magazine writer, and a nonprofit communications coordinator. She writes MG and YA fantasy has been a member of SCBWI since 2014. Find her at online at cmriordan.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram.