Sunday, September 23, 2018

Out on the field: An interview with author Baptiste Paul

PLUS GIVEAWAY!!

By now all regions of Germany and Austria have started school. Our regional groups that took summer break are in full swing again, and our blog is back in action. We'll be posting about all things writing related. We'll continue to showcase our regional members but will also visit with other writers and illustrators from other SCBWI chapters who we can learn from. 


Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Baptiste Paul. His picture book debut, The Field, released in March of this year (as well as the German edition, Das Spiel). His second book, a non-fiction picture book co-written with his wife Miranda, Adventures to School: Journeys from Around the World, published in May. A third book, I am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon will be out next year. And that's just the beginning for this wonderful writer.




Welcome, Baptiste. Thanks for taking time to share a bit about yourself and your book. My first question is: What inspired you to write this story?
The inspiration for THE FIELD came from my life experiences as a child. The idea to write it as a children’s book, however, came on a day that I was playing outside in the rain with my kids. Moments I spent playing in the rain (and mud) brought back happy memories. Imaginative play and sports were my escape from reality—the poverty and hardships I endured every day. It’s tough to talk about the struggles, though, because people start feeling sorry for you. To be honest, most of my childhood memories were quite fun.

Wow, that is the perfect example of “Write what you know.” We are often told to dig into our memories and experiences to find story ideas. THE FIELD is the perfect example of how to do so.  
Though the story follows a girl and her brother, to me the main character is the girl. She shows up on every page. Yet, her name is never mentioned. Was that intentional?
I can’t take credit for that, however, when I played as a child both girls and boys were out in the rain and the mud splashing.  The main character can be any kid, really. Everyone deserves equal representation, and especially in books and media. Girls play outside in the rain and mud just like boys. By making the main character a girl it sets the tone that we are all equal and that girls can do anything. Boys need to know and respect that just as much as girls.
Excellent point. When I compare the literature of my childhood to those being published today one thing that has improved is diversity in books. More youngsters are seeing themselves represented. That's great.
Now, let’s talk word count. Your text is really tight. With only 151 words you wrote a meaningful tale with simple yet poetic prose, and there’s this perfect play between the text and pictures. How hard was it to pare it down to such a minimal text while still retaining the story and its meaning? Were you able to make more cuts after the illustrations were complete?
The story was written over four years. I made quite a few edits over that period. I even shelved the story for a few months.  I liked the story but I couldn’t feel it or was not in love with it at that moment. I could not see the world clearly on the pages. After a few months, I realized the missing piece was the use of Creole words. Introducing the Creole words allowed me to eliminate a lot of the English words.
The illustrator Jackie Alcantara captured the world I envisioned perfectly. There were no cuts made after the illustrations were complete. I just cried after I saw my world through her eyes.
Yes!!! I absolutely love Jackie Alcantara’s illustrations. They are so colorful and lively. Not only do they show the movement of the game well but they somehow capture the mood and emotion of the tale as well. A perfect combination of pictures and text working together. 

Just look at cover. It drew me in right away.




Let’s take a closer look at your words. As a mother raising a bilingual daughter, I noticed something else wonderful while reading The Field. Within the short text you also managed to scatter Creole words though the story. You include a glossary and pronunciation guide in the back matter. Children can learn words like futbol (soccer), bol (ball) and goal (goal). My favorite part is when the girl offers her hand to an opposing player after he falls down in the mud. She asks, “Ou byen? (You okay?) That captures the spirit of a sportsmanship while introducing new language. Had you interspersed Creole through the story from the first draft or did that slowly evolve into the text.
 
The first draft was written entirely in English. The story went through many revisions. Although the story made sense in English something was missing — and that something was the use of my language — Creole. Creole (Patois) is a beautiful language, and it’s mostly spoken rather than written. When I read and when I write I process everything in Creole first. When we played, we yelled out in Creole, or a mix of both. Being authentic to the story meant I had to use Creole words.

Most picture books cover more than the story. There is usually an underlying theme. I think The Field has more than one. It’s not just about a friendly pick-up game of soccer. There is so much more. What do you hope readers can take away from this story?

My hope for this book is to ignite an enthusiasm for reading or writing, and a curiosity for connecting with kids from other cultures. I want every child to take my story and make it their own. Make time for play. Start conversations! Create memories!


I think they definitely will, Baptiste. 

And one lucky SCBWI member can also do so. We are giving away a copy of THE FIELD. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post. Tell us something related to this interview and let us know if you'd prefer the book in German or English. 
 Also, check out this book trailer of The Field from NorthSouth Books.




Baptiste Paul is a Caribbean-born author of two books for children. His debut picture book, The Field, received starred reviews from Kirkus, The Horn Book, and Booklist. According to Kirkus, his co-authored book Adventures To School, will “will pique readers’ curiosity.” His forthcoming picture book biography, I Am Farmer, chronicles the work of Cameroonian environmentalist Tantoh Nforba (2019, Lerner/Millbrook). Born and raised on the island of Saint Lucia, Baptiste is a native Creole/Patois speaker who enjoys reading his books and sharing about his experiences with anyone who will listen.



Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Post Mentorship Program Interview with Linda Hofke

By Patti Buff


The inaugural Europolitan Mentorship Program ended this spring and now it's time to check in with our three mentees, Tara O'Dowd, Linda Hofke, and Kerry Dwyer to see how they fared.

Our interview today is with Linda Hopke who was mentored by Jill Esbaum.

Your mentorship with Jill  is over. For 6 months the two of you worked on your projects. What stands out the most about this time?

It was a wonderful, stressful experience. Right before the mentorship started I experienced my first computer crash ever. I lost everything. Luckily, my critique group had some old drafts of mine. In the meantime, I had to use my daughter’s laptop which also crashed two months in. Then there was the Christmas holiday, a 4-month visit from my mother-in-law, the sudden death of a friend, and eight days lost to the flu. Life certainly wasn’t making things easy for me.


via GIPHY

But I had this mentorship and, no matter what, I had to keep writing. And I did.

What stands out most about this time that no matter what life threw my way, Jill cheered me on the whole time. This may sound like a silly thing to say since Jill was my mentor but…I couldn’t have done it without her. (Thanks, Jill, for being my cheerleader and never giving up on me.)


Wow, Linda. The fact that you had all these obstacles and yet still were able to focus on your mentorship is mindboggling! I feel like most of us would have run to the nearest corner. But then again, most of us never have the chance to work with an expert so closely. So, what was it like to work so intimately with a publishing professional on your picture books? Was it challenging to rework a piece and send it to the same person for even more feedback?

Reworking a piece is always challenging. I think what’s important is that you and the publishing professional are “on the same page”. That worked out well with Jill and me.

Also, I am not one that gets easily upset over feedback. I am very open to critiques and don’t take comments personally. Plus, I felt that Jill’s advice was spot on, and she explained everything clearly. That made the task of revision a bit easier.

Two things I think Jill excels at are characterization and adding heart to a story. She showed me a few ways to improve my stories in those areas, and that has made a big difference. Now I can use those elements and techniques often.


Can you tell us in details what you worked on with your mentor? How many picture books did the two of you work on?

We worked on four picture books. First, we worked on the story I submitted to the mentorship program. Jill offered suggestion as to how I could make the story better. One important aspect was that the stakes for my main character needed to be higher. That meant making a few plot changes. I revised and Jill gave more comments. Then we put it aside and looked at a second story. For this one, the plot points were already strong, but I needed to work on characterization and get the word count down. Jill gave me links to a few articles regarding writing in the close third person. I hate to admit this but I hadn’t heard of it before. I read up on it and wrote two or three more revisions. Wow! What a difference writing in close third made. Now the reader will know my character well and root for him as he goes about tackling his problem. AND I was able to cut almost 200 words in the process. That’s a lot for a picture book.

If you’re interested here is a link to one of those articles: http://writerunboxed.com/2017/11/17/too-close-third-person/

At this point in the mentorship, I’d learned lots of different techniques to improve my writing and make my stories more marketable. I got brave. Instead of sending Jill an old story, I decided to write one I’d been thinking about for a while. I took out the story notes I had scribbled in a notebook and turn them into a first draft. Then I went back over it, keeping in mind all Jill had taught me. I made a few changes and ran it past my critique group. After a few more adjustments, I sent it to Jill. BINGO! She loved it. In fact, she said it was my strongest story yet. She made a few suggestions and after just one revision, she said it was spot on and submission ready. I was shocked. And happy. But the cool thing is that Jill was also very excited. We were doing the happy-dance together.

Then, even though the end of the mentorships was rapidly approaching, Jill offered to take a look at one more story. She gave feedback to help me with my revisions. Then the mentorship program ended. How quickly time flies. The months working with Jill were incredible, and I am so glad I had this opportunity to learn from her.


That's amazing. And now after this experience, how ready do you feel to put yourself and your work out into the world? Do you feel this mentorship prepared you for working with an art director/editor at a publishing house? And what’s next for you, creatively? 

In answer to the first part…yes. I do feel more confident in my writing. I’ve recently sent out a few stories, articles, and poems to magazines. No responses yet. I hadn’t sent out my picture books until last week. Why the hesitation? My top dream agent moved to a new publishing house (thankfully, to one I like) and is temporarily closed to submissions. I wanted to submit to her first before sending my work elsewhere. Unfortunately, that agency is still closed to new subs. But as luck would have it, two other opportunities arose. Both of these agents were also on my “agent wishlist”. (Let me add that my list only has 9 agents on it. I spent weeks narrowing it down to those I felt would be the best fit for my work. And along comes these opportunities with two of them that are also closed to unsolicited submissions. What are the odds of that happening?) Of course, I couldn’t let those chances go by. So now my favorite little baby, uh, I mean story, is out in the hands of two publishing professionals who I admire and respect. It’s so exciting…and a bit nerve-wracking. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In answer to your second question: With the close contact, I guess a mentorship is very similar to working with an editor. One needs to be open to suggestions and be able to rework the story in a way that pleases both the publishing professional and yourself. Yes, I feel that working with Jill has helped prepare me for this.

What’s next for me creatively? Well, for the past two years—yes, TWO YEARS--there was a bigger project I’d been meaning to tackle but never had the time (or courage) to start. It’s a MG nonfiction book. It’s been research intensive but fun. I am now writing the book proposal and sample pages. I’ve checked around and haven’t seen a book like it, so that has driven me to get it done soon. I am really excited about this topic (and am probably driving my family crazy with all the cool facts I’ve learned.) As you can tell from this photo of some of my research material the book is science related.

I also have another idea for another nonfiction book. That one is more history related and research is going well. And there’s a new fiction story in the works. I tend to have about three projects in the works at one time, all at different stages. Polish one, do early drafts of another, start research or plotting for a third. Always something to keep me busy.

This all sounds so exciting! Best of luck on the querying and working on the new project. We'll all be cheering you on. And thank you for sharing your mentorship experience with us. It sounds like it was an extremely productive time.


Europolitan Mentorship Program:

The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature. Look for the announcement for the 2019 Mentorship Program in Spring 2019!



Saturday, June 30, 2018

Post Mentorship Program Interview with Tara O'Dowd

by Patti Buff


The inaugural Europolitan Mentorship Program ended this spring and now it's time to check in with our three mentees, Tara O'Dowd, Linda Hopke, and Kerry Dwyer to see how they fared.

Tara O'Dowd
Our first interview is with Tara who was mentored by Janet Fox.

 Your mentorship with Janet is over. For 6 months the two of you worked on your project Middle Grade project. What stands out the most about this time?

How intense it was!!! Patti Buff sent out an email to the three of us in the mentorship program, warning us that this was likely to be emotionally intense and to require a lot of work. I remember wondering how it could be any more intense than preparing for a contest or for submitting your work for critique. I was completely wrong. 

The first time I sent my entire novel off to Janet, I was terrified that she would reply that it was a disaster. She did not, and she kindly warned me each time she sent feedback that I might feel bad about her comments despite the fact that she felt I was making great strides… Even with her thoughtfulness, revising an entire novel with major goals in mind and a deadline three times in eight months, while under a lot of pressure for my paid work, was something else. 

What got me through it? The fun novels Janet recommended, lots of Russian ice cream (for research purposes only…), and my dog Troika—the best typing disruptor in the world. And the quirky bits in my novel—Janet made me put more of the fun stuff in.

Strangest place I wrote: on the bleachers at the ice rink. Despite/because of the cold, I revised/rewrote about 10,000 words there. Good ones, too!

Fun fact: my day job is as a union organizer, and I was leading meal delivery riders on strike for a couple months during this process… Ironically, as zombies crept back into my revision they also crept into one of the actions I was involved in. Not through my doing—I swear it!

Long ice skating practices offer productive work time


Learning to write everywhere, at anytime, is so important. Most of us never have the chance to work with an expert so closely. What was it like to work so intimately with a publishing professional on your project? Was it challenging to rework a piece and send it to the same person for even more feedback?

Before this mentorship, I had received critiques from a few other publishing professionals, as well as feedback from a number of peers. Working with Janet for six months, gave me a feeling of purpose and trust (although I still had jitters each time I waited for her comments!) that I missed with the piecemeal approach, as well as, I believe, reducing the amount of time necessary to clean up the internal and external plot lines. It is like choosing the train itinerary that goes straight through instead of the one that leaves earlier but involves five changes.


Can you tell us in details what you worked on with your mentor? Did you work on one or several aspects of your novel? 

We worked on my MG novel ROYAL ROSALIE AND THE ZOMBIE MISSION. It had been through several drafts at the beginning of the mentorship, but the emotional line of the plot was missing. We went through three revisions of the entire novel (!) with substantial plot changes in each revision, as well as developing my understanding of how characters’ emotional arcs inform plot. With each draft, Janet was able to pinpoint precisely which books on craft—sometimes to the chapter—would be most helpful to address the issues with my WIP.

Janet is not only kind, but she has great insight into what is going on with a WIP. She also has amazing craft knowledge—imagine being able to refer a writer to chapter X of Y book, the second edition. I would highly recommend working with her if you get the chance. And buy her books! The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is the best creepy MG I’ve read in a long time. Maybe ever. 

Research? If I must....


That's amazing. Her webinar on revision Janet held in June was also jam packed with details, so I can only imagine what it was like working with her for 6 months. Now after this experience, how ready to you feel to put yourself and your work out into the world? Do you feel this mentorship prepared you for working with an art director/editor at a publishing house? And what’s next for you, creatively? 

Yes! Per Janet, I am one draft away from querying… Queue the jitters. 

I had two projects in the works before the mentorship. One was a superhero novel, and the other a simple, mean comedy. I have to take a look back at both and see which one appeals. I would also like to write a girl’s illustrated diary with a confident, take-charge MC, and a twist on a boy’s dancing book. After I get this next draft done, though.

Trioka - the cheerleader/disrupter 

How exciting! Best of luck on querying, Tara. We'll all be cheering you on. And thank you for sharing your mentorship experience with us. It sounds like it was an amazing time.

Europolitan Mentorship Program:

The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature. Look for the announcement for the 2019 Mentorship Program in Spring 2019!



Friday, April 27, 2018

Paul's Story Trigonometry

by Paul Malone


Paul’s Story Trigonometry is a useful way of visualising the central conflict in a story. By using such a model, you can gain critical insight into your story: Have you identified the central conflict? Do you understand the main characters’ desires and resulting actions? Do these opposing courses of action collide (climax)? And is the story resolution integral to the conflict (not incidental)?

Model 1: Two main characters

Model 1 Explanation:


Desire: Three human desires: to have, to become, to be freed from.


Action objective: the action the character takes to try and satisfy their desire.


Tension: arising through the opposing character desires and resulting actions (opposing forces).

Climax: Where these two opposing action objectives finally collide.


Resolution: The result of these two opposing desires and action objectives.


Model 1 Example: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.


First published by Harper Collins Children’s Books in 2005, Lost and Found is a delightful illustrated book by Oliver Jeffers. From the book’s back cover: “Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door…”


Here is the story model:


As seen from the model above, the conflict in this story comes about through a humorous misunderstanding; and the climax is a revelation for the boy (who is a little lonely too). See also how the resolution is integral to the story: loneliness is resolved for both the boy and penguin, and a beautiful friendship blossoms.



Model 2: multiple main characters

The story trigonometry model can also be expanded to encompass multiple main characters. The model below shows 3 main characters:


The above model shows a central character with two other main characters. 



Model 2 Example: Matilda by Roald Dahl


A much-loved story by Roald Dahl, Matilda was first published in 1988. With such memorable characters as Matilda Wormwood, Miss Trunchbull, and Miss Honey (to name a few), Matilda is bound to be enjoyed by readers for generations to come. Here’s a model based on three main characters:

From the above example, the relationship between the main characters, their desires and “action objectives” are clear. The story tension arises (in part) through conflict (Matilda / Trunchbull) and the mystery behind Miss Honey and the unfolding friendship (Matilda / Miss Honey). The model could be expanded to include other characters such as Matilda’s parents.


Using the model


By sketching out the central story conflict early in your writing, you can readily discover or gain a strong sense of the story outcome. You may not know the details of this outcome (How exactly does Matilda and Miss Honey defeat Miss Trunchbull?), but with the general outcome in mind (Miss Trunchbull is defeated, Matilda lives with Miss Honey), you can write towards it, enjoying all the discoveries along the way.


Paul Malone is an Australian writer living in Austria. His short stories have appeared in leading children’s literary publications, including The School Magazine (Australia) and Scoop Magazine (UK). When not writing his own stories, he runs the occasional writing workshop in Vienna. He also loves meeting other SCBWI members! More about Paul here:














Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018 SCBWI Winter Conference New York

Content, Encounters, Inspiration – A German Author/Illustrator in New York

by Sanne Dufft

I am back from New York, where I had the opportunity to attend the SCBWI winter conference. It was an inspiring and all in all wonderful experience.

© Sanne Dufft, 2018
I had been to the Europolitan conferences in 2015 and 2017, and had so much enjoyed the spirit of them. With 750 approx. attendees, the energy of so many kidlit people in one place is incredible.

Possibly – and hopefully – everyone who has ever been to an SCBWI conference knows the feeling. After the conference, you feel enriched and empowered, able to get wherever you want to get and reach whatever goal you want to reach.

Trying to break down what it actually is that made it such a powerful experience, these three words come to my mind: Content, Encounters, Inspiration.

There was so much content: 

Thanks to a new structure, there were three two-hour intensives, in which we dove deep into writing or illustrating techniques, or learned about the industry. I took part in one intensive with a panel consisting of an art director (Patti Ann Harris) and two author-illustrators (Marc Brown and Hilary Leung)  (“Best Practices for Illustrators: From Assignment to Bound Book”) outlining the process of a book coming to life.


© Sanne Dufft, 2018
In my second intensive four art directors from four publishing houses (Cathy Goldsmith, Patti Ann Harris, Cheryl Klein, Lilly Malcom and Donna Marc), generously shared what they look for when they try to find an illustrator for a book.  For this intensive, we had been given a homework assignment. So that during the intensive the art directors looked at the attendees’ illustrations, and let us know what they liked about the image, what they found was strong in the image, or what they would ask the illustrator to change if they were to use it in a book.

My last intensive was led by the amazing Jane Yolen, author of more than 300 books, who gave us an overall course about picture book writing together with her daughter. There was also plenty of time for our questions.

(At the same time, there were other intensives: If you feel like looking them up, you can find the program here: https://www.scbwi.org/event-19th-annual-scbwi-winter-conference-in-new-york-ny18/schedule/.)

There were so many wonderful encounters:

My strongest impression was that of so many people with a common passion for pictures and stories for children, who know each other’s day to day struggles as their own.


© Sanne Dufft, 2018
There were people from all different stages of the path, from all over the world. There were people whose books I love, or whose potential books I had the pleasure to catch a glimpse of.

Then there was the portfolio showcase, offering the possibility to look at hundreds of portfolios – encountering art and in the art, the artist.  How would this art look in a book? What kind of book would I pick this art for if I were an art director? What touches and inspires me – also: What do I not want in my own art? What would I do differently?

And there was enough inspiration to fly:

I drew a lot of inspiration from everything I have described so far. But then, in addition to all this, there were several talks which were inspiring: On the first night, at the festive Golden Kite Gala, Chelsea Clinton gave a talk about what books and reading (and being read to) can mean for children. There was Dan Santat talking about his creative journey which led from his early work to his newer books, in which he has found a voice as an illustrator and writer, which is heartfelt and deep.

There was Jane Yolen, looking back on a long and impressively productive writing life, encouraging us to develop our creativity. And there was Angie Thomas, author of NY times bestseller ‘The Hate U Give’, showing us that it is actually possible to change the world – by changing a child’s or a teen’s world with a book.

© Sanne Dufft, 2018

So, all you wonderful SCBWI people, I’m incredibly grateful I could be there and can also be part of an amazing RT team, who have put together and lead through this event with incredible professionalism, warmth and humor.


© Sanne Dufft, 2018
In the closing session, Lin asked the audience: “Who’s going home to do their best work?“

I am certainly inspired to try.






Sanne is the writer and illustrator of several picture books, published in several European countries and North America. She volunteers for SCBWI as illustrators' coordinator for our region and lives with her family in beautiful Tübingen.