Thursday, May 15, 2014

How SCBWI Germany & Austria members created the one and only legend of the Chiemsee Mermaid

all pictures taken by Kim Enderle

Once upon a time, a little mermaid lived all alone in the depths of the Chiemsee, a lake in Southern Germany. One day, she decided to swim to the surface and find herself some friends. What better place to start than the convent on the small island in the middle of the lake? Surely the nuns wouldn’t turn away one lonely little mermaid.
She wasn’t yet aware that the nuns were once evil mermaids, cursed by a witch to be human and powerless. And the little mermaid was just who they needed to break the spell so they could return to their demonic ways… *see below

Are you hooked? Did this beginning tempt you to read on? Did it grab you by the throat?

At last weekend's SCBWI writing retreat with the motto “Grab Your Reader By The Throat And Don’t Let Go”, we learned beginnings are the most vital and delicate part to any narration. They must entice the reader to delve further and seduce him or her to spend more time with the rest of the story. A good beginning is a piece of art in itself, a fact only emphasized by this first ever writing retreat of SCBWI Germany + Austria. As beginnings go, this first in a hopefully frequent string of writing retreats was a doozy. In every possible way.

Author, Editor, Golden Egg Academy co-founder, Beverley Birch

Leading us in our endeavor of perfecting our writing was Beverley Birch, editor and author of novels like the award-winning Rift, picture books, biographies, and retellings of classic works, amongst others. She has years of experience from the writer’s, editor’s and publisher’s perspectives, and has no qualms about sharing it. She answered every question we threw at her, mixing in fun and sometimes mind-boggling anecdotes, real life examples and personal advice. Coupled with exercises and approaches of how to structure, analyze and edit our story beginnings, the workshop became a transformative experience for all participants. At the end of the weekend, every single one of us left more motivated and inspired than when we arrived, with fixed ideas on how to improve our story telling.


The location of the workshop only added to this effect. What writer wouldn’t be inspired on an island in a Bavarian lake, with the Alps towering in the distance, and surrounded by the serenity of a convent? Yes, a convent. With nuns. In habits. On golf carts. And names like “Sister Scholastica” (I swear I’m not making this up).

Incidentally, the location and a shared bottle of wine were also the instigators of our Saturday night bedtime story about the little mermaid and the demonic mermaid nuns. Because what does a group of slightly buzzed storytellers, high on their shared experiences and camaraderie, do at night? They tell stories, round-robin style, thus creating the one-and-only (known) fairytale surrounding Lake Chiemsee. The Brothers Grimm would have been impressed.

Hard at work

But the highlight of the workshop was definitely Saturday afternoon. First we held a group critique of the beginnings of our works-in-progress, which prompted lively discussions, helpful suggestions and relief-inducing encouragement. The spontaneous creativity and inspiration during this feedback session was off the charts, leaving us exhausted but newly exhilarated about our writing. A sentiment only strengthened by part two of the afternoon: our one-on-one critiques with Beverley.

One-on-One in the welcomed sun

This was probably the part of the workshop each of us was most nervous about. Having a successful author and editor reading and critiquing your material is an amazing opportunity for receiving honest feedback, but what if that honesty includes telling you, the author, that you had better take up train-spotting because you’ll never be successful as a writer? Added to that, few of us felt like we'd sent Beverly our best efforts, no matter how well the group had reacted to them. We writers, like so many other artists, are our own worst critics.

We needn't have worried. Beverley is a classy London Lady, who found the redeemable aspects in our material and made us feel like it - and we as writers - have heaps of potential. Her suggestions for improvement subsequently only motivated us to dig deeper. Every one of us came out of these sessions feeling relieved, hopeful about our potential, and - once again - inspired.

The relaxed organizers

Inspiration and motivation were definitely the underlying theme of the weekend, and how could it not be under such circumstances? Thank you, Patti and SCBWI for organizing this amazing event. Thank you, Beverley, for heaping your wisdom upon us and being kind about our literary babies. Thank you, sisters of the Benedictine convent, for allowing us into your hallowed halls.  We weren't quite as loud as the wedding party next door, but our discussions did get rather lively. Sorry if we distracted your meditation guests. Please let us return next year. 

Lunch break with a view

So, readers -- do yourselves a favor and make a mental note to keep an eye out for the next SCBWI writing retreat. You won't want to miss it.

In fact, you’ll have to come if you want to hear the full version of the Chiemsee legend of the demonic mermaid nuns (which also includes a Swedish diver, shark men as well as mermans, water turning into wine, treasure, and a virgin pregnancy. Yes, like The Princess Bride it has it all, except maybe for the sword fights. But seriously, who needs those when you’ve got demonic mermaid nuns?). We plan to uphold the one and only Chiemsee myth at every retreat, until it becomes so well known as to make it into the hearts and souls of every member. In which case, this first retreat will have been a successful beginning indeed.
See you next year!

* Pure fiction, by the way. The nuns were nothing but wonderful, helpful and showed no signs of having fins whatsoever.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Interview with Crystal Kite Winners 2014 - Lenore Appelhans & Daniel Jennewein

Lenore and Daniel first of all congrats on your Crystal Kite award for Chick-O-Saurus-Rex! This is exciting news! Can you share with us maybe your first reaction when learning about the wonderful news?

Thank you! We are thrilled, especially because it is an award from our SCBWI peers. We got the happy news right after getting some not so happy publishing news, so it definitely put some sunshine in our day!

Lenore and Daniel, could you both tell us a little about yourselves and how you got started in publishing?

Lenore is an expat American living in Germany while Daniel is German. Both of us got our career starts in advertising, Lenore in copywriting and concept and Daniel in design. It was 10 years ago (2004!) when we decided to use our vacation time to start working on a picture book together. It was soon after that we joined SCBWI, and it was at the SCBWI Bologna conference 2008 that Daniel got his first break, catching the eye of HarperCollins Art Director Martha Rago during the First Look Panel. She ended up contracting him to illustrate the two Buffalo books written by Audrey Vernick.

Similarly, Lenore got an offer of agent representation as a result of the work she presented at the SCBWI New York conference 2011 at one of the agent/editor roundtables during the Writers Intensive.

As you can see, we owe a lot to SCBWI! 

Copyright Daniel Jennewein

Chick-O-Saurus Rex is the first book you worked together on, can you tell us how working together started and what the difficulties were you had to face?

It was actually our fourth project together, but the first to get published. Our main challenge was that Lenore was working on edits for her novel concurrently, and it was stressful to have to switch creative gears on such a tight schedule.

How do you go about creating a book together, is it all split evenly or do you split responsibilities strictly with Lenore “only” doing the writing and Daniel “only” doing the illustrations?

Before we start on writing or illustrations, we hammer out the story on a macro level. What is the character arc? What is the plot? What are the themes? Then we chart out the action on a storyboard. Only then do we go in on a micro level. That means Lenore figures out what words need to go on the page and Daniel decides what pictures might work. Then we put them together and try to get a good balance between how much of the story you get via the writing and how much is transmitted via the illustrations.

Many books start of from a personal experience or an idea long nourished but never pursued, what is the backstory to Chick-O-Saurus-Rex?

CHICK-O-SAURUS REX was one of those lightening-in-a-bottle ideas. We were visiting a friend and her daughter happened to mention something she learned in school that day – that chickens were the closest living relatives to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s such a great hook for a picture book, and we could immediately imagine so many possibilities.

Lenore, you not only write picture books but also YA with your next book scheduled for later this year. What is the challenge when writing for these very different genres and what is it you see as a benefit when being able to create books for various genres?

Both writing novels and picture books require you to find the best craft tactics for telling the story. With picture books though, you really are telling only half of the story so you need to have an instinct for what you can leave to the illustrations. I love being able to write for both genres because my novels tend to be more serious while Daniel’s illustration style lends itself to more humorous work.

Daniel, your style is very distinct and fun, can you share how you came up with this very unique style?

I wanted to create images that weren’t too busy or distracting but clearly conveyed Little Chick’s transformation. Also, I like to draw mean and ridiculous looking animals and was happy to be able to use them here. When illustrating I find it challenging to not lose the spontaneity of the first sketches in the final artwork. To keep rigidity from sneaking in, I’ll look at children drawings.

I always have the goal of surprising myself with what I come up with. It’s not something I can force though, so I try to stay active and draw as much as possible.

Daniel, how do you go about illustrating a book project? Could you share with us a little bit about your process of Chick-O-Saurus-Rex, as it is always very intriguing to see how an artist gets from the first idea to the finished illustration?

Generally I would say funny ideas are born of chaos and later have to be structured to work in the story. I am chaotic by nature and have a hard time structuring, but fortunately I have Lenore and a strict German upbringing to keep me in line.

I start out with pencil scribbles and put down everything that comes in my head. This is a messy stage, in which I end up with a few loose sheets of random scenes. In the next stage I try to bring order into the mess by putting together a storyboard with thumbnails to get a rough overview of all the scenes and transitions. When I have a rough idea of the flow of the story I start putting together a mockup. I use InDesign to set the text and I fill it with rough sketches in black and white that I draw with a Wacom tablet in Photoshop.

So far I’m working with clear outlines and color digitally but I try to experiment with different styles to avoid repeating myself. The last thing I want to do is get stuck in a rut.

Copyright Daniel Jennewein

Lenore and Daniel, from first draft to final book, how many revisions did you have to go through until you had the beautiful book as we can now find it in book stores?

That’s hard to say! We spent a lot of time on storyboarding in the beginning, so I think that helped keep the revision rounds down. We probably went through five major rounds of revisions pre-sale, one before our editor took to the book to acquisitions, and then a couple rounds of more minor revisions with our editor and art director.

Copyright Daniel Jennewein

Lenore, when revising a book you often have you kill your darlings, where there any darlings you had to kill or did Daniel had to kill any in his illustrations?

During the process of creation there are many things we’ll come up with that we love but that don’t end up fitting in the final version. We both loved an illustration Daniel did of the sheep, donkey and pig bowing down to Little Chick after he saves the farm, but ultimately it didn’t work with the spirit of the story.

Copyright Daniel Jennewein

There was also a spread we did with even more chicken jokes that got scrapped.

Copyright Daniel Jennewein

Oh, and I thought it would be hilarious if the wolf was named Hungry Wolf, in the same schema as Little Chick, Little Sheep, etc. But our smart editor (Alexandra Cooper) rightly pointed out that this would hint at the farm animals having a prior relationship with the wolf, which has the potential to take you out of the story.

Copyright Daniel Jennewein

Many of us have creative blocks from time to time, do you ever struggle with that and what tricks and tips do you have to overcome this?

What works for us is “refilling the well”. It’s amazing how the ideas flow after reading other books, watching movies, going to museums, or clicking on interesting links on Facebook (seriously!). We also like to take long walks to discuss what we’re working on.

Now that you have published a few books is there any advice you would give yourself while still working on your first story?

Your first story may well be your practice story and never see the light of day. Know when it has outlived its usefulness as a learning tool and be open to moving on.

Are there any new projects you are working on together and what can we look forward to from you two in the future?

We do have several picture book projects in various stages of readiness, so hopefully you’ll be seeing those soon.

Daniel is also always open to illustrating other projects.

And Lenore has CHASING BEFORE, the sequel to LEVEL 2/THE MEMORY OF AFTER coming out on August 26, 2014. There is a also a short story collection in the Memory Chronicles world called THE BEST THINGS IN DEATH coming out May 27, 2014 as an eBook exclusive.

Thank you so much, Lenore and Daniel, for sharing all these wonderful insights with us! We are very much looking forward to more amazing books by you both!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

SCBWI at the Bologna Book Fair 2014

Members of SCBWI Germany / Austria were well-represented at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Our illustrators met with their publishers and showed their portfolios to new art directors and publishers from all over the world. Additionally, Maria Bogade  (SCBWI Regional Advisor) and Sanne Dufft hosted the SCBWI Germany / Austria Showcase at the SCBWI booth. PAL published books by our members were on display.

The Bologna Childrens’ Book Fair is the world’s largest book fair dedicated to children’s books.

The Bologna Childrens’ Book Fair is the world’s largest book fair dedicated to children’s books. While some book fairs are open to the public, the Bologna Children’s Book fair is oriented to professionals, mainly publishers and agents who meet to buy and sell international rights.

Prestigious awards including the AstridLindgren Memorial Award and BolognaRagazzi Awards  are announced during the fair. This year featured a new Razaggi award for digital publishing apps.
In addition to the publishers and agents, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair attracts aspiring and professional illustrators, translators, writers and digital media creators. Illustrators have opportunities to book appointments with publishers in advance or visit several publishers’ booths during open viewing times. 

Translators and digital content creators have their own centers at the book fair and a wide range of professional educational presentations and workshops. The entire program for 2014 can be found here.

2014 marked 10 years of SCBWI’s participation in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The SCBWI Showcase featured a digital display of the 2014 Bologna Illustrators Gallery, BIG, a display of member’s success stories as well as SCBWI members’ PAL published books from around the world.  

Copyright Sarah Baker

The booth, including posters of BIG winners and SCBWI Award winners was designed by Rachelle Meyer, SCBWI’s International Illustrator Coordinator.

SCBWI’s ever popular Dueling Illustrators events were extended over three days and was organized by SCBWI MidSouth’s Illustrator Coordinator Susan Eaddy. In addition to Susan Eaddy, SCBWI’s brave duelers included: Doug Cushman, Paul Zelensky, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, Sally Kindberg, Anne Marie PerksSarah Underwood, Sarah Baker, DarcyZoells, CarmelO’Mara Horwitz, Twyla Weixl and Nathalie Marin-Baldo Vink and featured picture book manuscripts written by Kathleen Ahrens, PJ Lyons, Sue Thoms, Laurie Cutter, Norma Klein and ChrisCheng.  

Copyright Merrilees Brown