chicken butts and other fine things

Maha Addasi and me (we both have very nice butts).

This past Sunday, I threw caution to the wind, grabbed my umbrella, and drove over to the Reston Regional Library to check out the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI New Member Welcome & Regional Get-together.

There were two very good reasons for going: writer pal, Maha Addasi (The White Nights of Ramadan), was going to be on the panel, and I was told there’d be cake.

Okay, there were some additional reasons — to see some other friends, and to meet Tami Lewis Brown (Elinor!, One Shiny Silver Key), whose posts I’ve been following on Through the Tollbooth. Did I mention the cake?

I finally got to meet Tami Lewis Brown!

Writer friends Ellen and Nicole.

The program was entitled, "Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Writing and Illustrating for Children in Tough Economic Times." Besides Maha and Tami, the panel included Alison Hart (Bell’s Star, Gabriel’s Journey), Cyndy Cotten (Rain Play), and Joan Waites (What’s New at the Zoo). Ellen Braaf (Regional Advisor) and Linda Wirkner (ARA) moderated.

The meeting room was packed with at least 100 people, though, since I’m very bad at estimating crowd size, it could very well have been 5,000:

After a warm welcome by Ellen Braaf, the sharing of good news (yay for Sara Lewis Holmes’ new book, Operation Yes, coming in September!), and other general announcements, the panel addressed questions presubmitted by attendees. These included everything from how to submit sample illos with PB texts, what to include in queries, how to begin writing when one has so many ideas, and whether it’s appropriate to include suggestions for illustration if you’re not an artist (big no-no).

Alison Hart noted that a trend she’s been seeing recently is a reduction in hardcover publishing in favor of paperback originals. Her advice for getting through the tough times? Find your passion, keep writing, hone your craft. Her measure of "success" is finding an idea she’s really excited about and writing that first chapter. Cyndy Cotten reminded us to "give yourself permission to write junk," and that there’s no substitute for Jane Yolen’s timeless advice of BIC (butt in chair).

New members appreciated the general advice crucial for all beginners: keep writing, research the markets, attend conferences, join critique groups, and of course, READ widely. Maha added that aside from researching the usual sources like Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, one can find a wealth of information about writing, submitting, and promotion via online blogs.

Joan Waites, who is our regional Illustrator Coordinator, talked about illustration opportunities aside from picture books, such as magazine, cover, line and newsletter art. The advice was basic and pretty much common-sensical. It was good to be reminded that all writers and artists have periods of feast and famine, that publishing is a bizarre and totally unpredictable business — so it sometimes pays to think outside the box for other opportunities.

         The lovely Cyndy Cotten.

Then it was time for cake: carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, and chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Uh-huh. Yeah. Mmmmmm.

It has been scientifically proven that cake enhances creativity.

After stuffing ourselves and making small talk, we settled down to a great Q&A with author/recently turned Editor-at-Large at Abrams/Amulet, Erica S. Perl. She showed off her hilarious new picture book, Chicken Butt, and modeled her hand-knitted chicken hat (which she had specially made). Loved hearing her tell about how her first version of the story raised eyebrows with the chain bookstore people, who didn’t want to see a book with the word "butt" in the title displayed in their pre-school section. *cough*

            Erica butting in.

So, Erica wrote another version, targeted for a slighter older demographic, which has been brilliantly illustrated by Henry Cole (review forthcoming).

As for what she wants to acquire for her own list: books for 6 and under that are in keeping with the overall feel of the Abrams publishing program (which has traditionally featured artsy, innovatively designed titles). Think short, funny, fresh, surprising, kid-friendly. Yes, she’s accepting non-agented submissions (with an approximate turn around time of 3 months).

The gathering ended with a booksigning — I scored copies of
Chicken Butt, as well as Cyndy Cotten’s Rain Play and Abbie in Stitches

Alison Hart with Maha at signing table.

Another local writer friend, Lois, with Maha.

A pretty nice way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, with friends old and new. Thanks to all who helped organize this get-together, and be sure to look for Erica and some chicken butts on her blog tour this month. Bawk Bawk!

In case you missed my review of Maha’s excellent PB, The White Nights of Ramadan, click here. My interview with Maha is here.

Edited on 5-18-09 to add: Just learned that Erica Perl recently accepted a new position as Senior Director for the non-profit organization, First Book, and consequently resigned as Editor-at-Large for Abrams.  

6 thoughts on “chicken butts and other fine things

  1. Dang it. I missed cake AND a picture with Jama. And Chicken Butt. The book club discussion I had to run out to lead was great fun, but still, why oh why does everything have to be on the same afternoon?

    Thanks for the recap and all the photos!


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