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Jumping High for SCBWI

by Anna Myers (RAE Oklahoma)

Never during my school days did I consider trying to be a cheerleader. I had nothing against them, but not in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would become one. Many years later I got involved with SCBWI.  “If you don’t agree to take over this job, we will have to become part of an out-of-state chapter,” I was told by our overworked-and-moving-away RA. I agreed to replace her for three years, giving me time to find someone more suited. I never enjoyed fretting over money or searching for speakers, but miraculously, I loved being a cheerleader. For fourteen years I gladly wore a SCBWI cheerleading outfit and carried a large megaphone.

A cheerleader builds up school spirit, a job that cannot be done if the leader is separate    from the crowd. Don’t keep the podium always between you and them, at least not figuratively. Make sure your eyes and your heart connect with your members. I once observed an RA who actually assigned published writers to surround the conference speakers and herself to keep attendees from getting too close. Thank God, that was many years ago.

In Oklahoma at conference luncheons, we have a speaker or a well-published author at each round table. Attendees are encouraged to be part of the conversation and to ask questions. Lin and Steve often talk about the SCBWI Tribe. That feeling of belonging has to be cultivated in our local chapters.

There are as many ways to connect with people as there are different personalities among our chapter leaders, but each RA should find his or her own way to do backflips and handstands among members.

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Anna Myers is the author of twenty books for young people. She served as Oklahoma RA for fourteen years.

 

SCBWI Into the New Year

by Cheryl Zach (RAE Midsouth and previous RAC)

As the old year passes and the new year begins, it’s hard to ignore SCBWI’s legacy.  We especially remember the many ways the organization has aided us. If anyone should attempt to add up the number of books, artwork, and other types of endeavors published or displayed whose creators were encouraged and guided by SCBWI, I have no doubt the total would be phenomenal.

And as valuable as speakers and workshop leaders on writing and artistic skills, on marketing and other business tools, have been, one of the greatest values SCBWI has given us has been the opportunity to meet, network, and create friendships with our fellow authors and artists. I know that many of my dearest and most enduring friends have come from my years with the society. I often think how different my life would have been if I had never encountered SCBWI. Writers and artists labor most often in private, and even other ‘civilian’ friends and family members don’t always understand our struggles and, often, discouragement. To find others who do, who fight the same uphill battles, exult in the same creative thrills but scramble to find and keep a toehold in a competitive industry, makes an enormous difference.  Beyond a professional group, SCBWI is also family.

As we start a new year, we can draw on the best of SCBWI’s wisdom to guide us. Despite possible obstacles, we owe it to our young readers to give them our best efforts, to offer them books filled with love and strength and verity, to not settle for fake news or gossip or the latest viral Internet innuendo. We need to speak truth and stand up against censorship. We need to continue to encourage and welcome diversity in our membership and to reflect it accurately and with open hearts in our works for children and young adults. We need to show the world as it is, but with hope for better times and better selves. If we do this, I hope we can make 2017 a good year. Creative minds matter.

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Cheryl Byrd Zach has published over 50 books in over a dozen languages around the world, most for young adult or middle grade readers. She has worked with SCBWI for many years, is the Regional Advisor Chairperson Emerita and is a member of the Board of Advisors.

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We Are Called to Share

Suzanne Morgan Williams
RAE Nevada

Many of you know that since 2001 I’ve made several trips to the Canadian Arctic. At first I went to do research, but later the trips were to follow up on friendships and my love for the culture. While I was there, I was able to interview Inuit elders about their experiences, their interaction with “southern” culture (read that the majority culture of Canada and the USA), and their hopes for their children. One man, Mariano Apilaujuk, touched me deeply. He taught me to truly listen, perhaps for the first time, and also this:

“If you have something to learn, listen. If you have something that needs to be shared speak. If you don’t understand something, ask.” That seems simple, but I’d bet, you can think of many, many times when instead of listening to others, we create our rebuttal, or think of our own experiences to share instead of hearing what is being shared. If you follow this advice, you will talk less. But there is a corollary.

“If you are an elder, it is your duty to share what you’ve learned. And not only to share it with those younger than you, but to share it at exactly the right time, and tell them exactly what you believe they need to know.” Many of us are now elders in our writing community, in our families, and in our towns and cities. In light of the recent election in the US, I believe the time is right to share this with you:

For those of us who are, say over 50, it is our duty now, to share our stories. Perhaps younger folks don’t remember what the Ku Klux Klan is. Perhaps they didn’t have friends whose parents survived the holocaust. Perhaps they don’t remember the Civil Rights Movement or the Vietnam years. Do they know what it was like to see a friend sneak away to Mexico for an illegal abortion? Or to have a grandparent to die suddenly, because they didn’t have access to medical care? Perhaps they can’t believe people were denied jobs because they were women, black, brown, or gay? Perhaps they don’t know what our soldiers endured in World War II or Korea or Vietnam to ensure that we can speak our minds freely. Please share these stories, face to face, in e-mails, on the phone – however – to the younger folks you know who might not remember, and who might only believe someone they know and trust. We are elders now and it is our responsibility to pass on these stories. They are real and important.

You are the Regional Teams. You do important work helping others to share their truths. Please remember that the next time you are frustrated at the price of coffee per person at your venue or when the website gives you grief. You are helping authors and illustrators to find their voices, to speak, and children to learn – hopefully to be tolerant, kind, compassionate, and sharing. Peace.

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Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the middle grade novel Bull Rider and eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, Wyoming, and Indiana, and won a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling SkeletonThe Inuit , Made in China, and her latest book, China’s Daughters. Suzanne has presented and taught writing workshops at dozens of schools, professional conferences, and literary events across the US and Canada. Suzanne is RAE from Nevada Region SCBWI and was SCBWI Member of the Year in 2012.

Visit www.suzannemorganwilliams.com and connect with Suzanne.

 

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Don’t Burn Out!

Time Management for Regional Advisors
Denise Vega, RAE Rocky Mountain (Colorado/Wyoming)

All of the Regional Advisors I know are dedicated, hardworking and extremely committed to providing their memberships with opportunities and experiences that will enhance their craft and their careers.

And many of them—like me—are perfectionists, wanting to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, that events run smoothly, that everyone has the best experience possible.

This approach makes for incredibly powerful experiences and well-run regions, but it can also lead to burn out and a sense of being underappreciated.

Here are some tips for staying sane and maintaining the fun and joy that probably got you involved in the first place.

  1. Remember you are a volunteer. I know you know this, but it bears repeating: You are a volunteer. There is only so much you can do and so much you really should be doing. If you need to be reminded, just ask other RAs or Lin and Steve, who are adamant about the leadership not letting the role take over their lives.
  2. Delegate. This seems obvious and you may actually believe you are delegating. After all, you have a conference coordinator, a newsletter editor, people who help with the website or small events, webinars, etc. But are there tasks you’re doing or have held on to even as your region’s needs have evolved and changed? Several years ago, my co-RA, Todd Tuell, and I sat down and wrote out all of our tasks, even the smallest ones. Then we took a highlighter and highlighted each task someone else could be doing. There was a lot more yellow than I thought there would be! Why was I still creating the newsletter schedule when the editor could do that? Why was I following up with AV requirements when we had a speaker coordinator? Slowly we identified tasks we could hand off to a more appropriate volunteer, talked to them about it, and got it off our plates.
  3. Have email control. Yes, there will be times—like right before a big event—when you need to be aware of unexpected or last minute needs. But limit the time you spend on email. If possible, set aside a timeframe or two timeframes each day—or less if there is a lull—where you read and respond to RA email. If you are answering at all times of the day and night and on weekends right now, it may take some time for others to get used to your new response time, but they will. You may even want to send out a general email to your volunteers explaining your new policy. This is what I did. People had gotten used to me not only responding at all hours of the day and weekends, but quickly. If they weren’t hearing back from me a few hours after sending an email, they wondered what was up. That was my fault and I had to explain what I was doing and retrain them. Then all was well.
  4. Make time for your creative work. Many RAs comment that they didn’t do much writing or illustrating while they were in the position. I, myself, found that to be true until I reclaimed my time. The abovementioned email policy really helped. I often wrote first, then checked email to ensure that I got something done. And for those who also hold jobs or have others in their lives to care for, this is even more important. Make the time. It may mean you don’t do that third event. Or your region postpones a new program. Or you get another volunteer involved. Just don’t give up the thing you love (your creative life) or you will begin to resent the other thing you love (your region and your role in it.)

Balancing your life, your creative work, and your region is possible. Believe it and then make those decisions that will support that balance.

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Denise Vega (who also wrote the posts: Session Ideas and Becoming Pals with PAL Members) is the award-winning author of six books for kids and teens, including her most recent teen novel, Rock On (Little, Brown), and a picture book coming in 2017 (Knopf). She is RAE for the Rocky Mountain Region (CO/WY) and is on faculty at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop as well as the newly-created Low Residency Mile High MFA in Creative Writing, both in Denver, CO. She lives in Denver with her family, where she eats a lot of French fries and chocolate, but usually not together. You can find Denise here: http://www.denisevega.com

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Goodwill Ambassadors

by Anna Levine.
As I follow the recent discussions about the importance of diverse books, I think of the years SCBWI has been working quietly developing and encouraging writers around the world to write good books for young children and young adult readers. I remember when I started SCBWI Israel one of the concerns was, “There’s no US letter-sized paper, will an editor read my work if it doesn’t fit ‘her’ folder? What’ll we do about SASEs with no American postage stamps?” (Yes, who could have foreseen the demise of paper and stamps?)  And always the question from writers who were worried that their work would not be of interest to anyone outside the place they lived. The support I got from going to the SCBWI conferences (LA and NY) and what I brought back to my members was, “Your work is important as a window into new worlds.” Without thinking about having a message or an agenda to promote, writing about nature, customs, traditions, struggles and hopes these books are as universal as they are unique. We write about our worlds to share our experiences with young readers and open their minds to how we are different and what we share.

Recently I was approached by a blogger from Culture Chest (I mention this as a recent experience that prompted thoughts for this piece, not as promotion). She asked to interview me and is interested in finding other children’s book writers (anyone interested?). She reviews the authors and highlights work from world cultures. She asks an important question:

Why do you think exposure to other cultures is important for young children?

Part of my response had to do with the idea that learning at a young age about other cultures promotes a healthy curiosity. The concept of ‘otherness’ becomes interesting, rather than strange or frightening. The individual SCBWI branches work within their own communities, thus the importance of participating in the International conferences cannot be stressed enough as a chance to see multi-culturalism in action.

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Anna Levine’s books, set in Israel, are about nature (All Eyes on Alexandra about the millions of birds that fly over Israel every winter, pub. date 2018), the people, (Running on Eggs NY Public Library’s list of best books for YAs in 2000, about the friendship between two runners on a track team, one Israeli one Palestinian), life (Freefall, Sydney Taylor Award winner) and history (the Jodie Archaeology series see: http://www.jodiebooks.com). Discover more about Anna at http://www.annalevine.org

 

JYolen©2015 Jason Stemple

A Little History ….

For all Regional team members, and especially the newer folk who are wondering about the RAEs (Regional Advisors Emeriti), this is a little history from the very first Regional Advisor, long time board member and RAE, the wonderful Jane Yolen.

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Here’s a little historical perspective about being an RAE.

I was the very first RA and invented the job description as I went along.

Lin and Steve–who were overwhelmed with this new entity they’d created that was running off down the road without its diapers–basically let me alone to organize the region for which the New England crew was grateful. We are cranky Yankees up here in the northeast corner of the US, an anarchic lot, the Bernie Sanders of SCBW, as it was then without the I.

I think Invention is still very much a part of the job. As writers and illustrators we understand invention when it comes to our stories. But Invention–and its partner (not yet legal spouse at that time) Hard Work will get you farther than sheer genius. And BIC–butt in chair–is as important to an RA as it is to a writer or illustrator.

Winging it solo in the region, running the first regional conference, the first critique group, worked then. But after ten years, when I handed the reins over to the new people (I was never good at sharing duties!) I saw how much better things went when a benign dictator is supplanted by a an energized and energizing committee of folk with similar goals and a similar work ethic, plus a huge bucket of Invention.

Now things are a great deal more codified. With as many RAs as there are, spread across the world, with occasional sub-regions, and multiple languages, and now the illustrators as well with their amazing skills, and a membership not just edging towards several hundred but in the multiple thousands–a truly diverse population–things can no longer be done by pantsing. (Seat of the pants.) Blogs are new. Computers are new. Cell phones and twitter and the ever-expanding Internet, Face Time are all new to this crotchety old New Englander who hired her own young children and Patty MacLachlan’s children for a dollar a day to stuff the regional conference folders. RAs report to their respective RA Chairperson. There are RA meetings and travel to the two national conferences, and you even take turns manning and womaning a booth at Bologna. (Where I have never been, by the way.)

But invention and hard work are still at the base of everything. And communication. Though if you have to hire your kids these days–As Lin and Steve know full well–it’s going to cost you a lot more than a dollar a day!

(I wasn’t certain what the E stood for at the end of RA until I became one! <– ed note Emeriti> but then I didn’t know what an RA was until I became that either. Now that I do, I wear it proudly. Maybe we should have a button. Or a ribbon. Or a flag.

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You can find out more about the RAEs here in the handbook (pages 9-10) (You will need to be logged in to see this). There are hundreds of years of accumulated SCBWI knowledge in our brains so if you have any questions, or suggestions for these posts then please send us a note.

And discover more about Jane at her website http://janeyolen.com.

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Sharing Bad News

by Denise Vega

Breaking It Gently: Giving Members “Bad” News

One of the challenges regional advisors face is having to let someone know they didn’t get something: a critique they’d asked for, a grant they’d applied for, even a volunteer position they wanted, but was offered to someone else.

I can speak to this challenge not only as a former RA, but as a facilitator of a private scholarship I set up in 2015. Telling worthy and fabulous writers they didn’t receive a scholarship is one of the hardest things I have to do, but I’ve discovered it’s also an opportunity for connection.

Here are some suggestions for letting someone down gently, no matter what it is. Note that this is different from having someone complain after the fact; this is when you have to tell someone initially that s/he didn’t receive what they were going for.

  1. Get calm and place yourself in the other person’s position. We all know what it’s like to go for something and not get it. I bring up that feeling so I can empathize with the writer or illustrator and come from that place.
  2. Acknowledge/validate their time, effort and talent. It takes courage to put ourselves out there—whether it’s applying for a grant, entering a contest, or submitting an article for the chapter newsletter. So I always acknowledged that. “It’s wonderful that you took the time to submit/apply. So many people talk about it and few do it. Thank you for doing so. We are sorry your work wasn’t a fit this time, but we really appreciate the time you took to submit/apply and trust that you found the experience itself helpful and empowering. I don’t know if this is helpful, but I have discovered that every time I step out like you have, I am a little stronger, a little more savvy and able to move forward with more confidence the next time.” If you feel they might be a fit for something else—for example, they wanted a particular volunteer position—mention that. “We think we could use your skills and talents here instead. Is that something you’d be willing to consider?”
  3. Listen to their response without judgment. Give them time to process the news. If s/he is angry, do your best to avoid getting defensive; just listen as long as you are able, acknowledge their disappointment, and express again how difficult the decision was and that you wish them well as they continue on their creative journey. Give any authentic encouragement you can: “It was really close, so we hope you’ll try again.”
  4. Don’t get derailed. If the member continues to try to convince you or change your mind, continue to repeat your position as clearly and succinctly as possible. “I understand that you are feeling x, y z and really appreciate that. I’ve been there too. We have made our decision and trust you to honor it.”
  5. Disappointments and letdowns are part of any creative journey where we’ve been brave enough to put ourselves or our work out there in some capacity. Empathizing and encouragement is the best way to help alleviate some of that.

AND …. First Pages Complaints

One of the most frequent experiences of “breaking bad news” is when we have to tell attendees that our time is up in First Pages sessions and apologize for not getting to every page. No matter how clearly we state—in both written and verbal communication—that listening to feedback on other pages is just as valuable as hearing feedback on your own pages, there are always disappointed writers who complain after the fact. How to respond? One approach I always tried was: “I know it’s disappointing not to have your own page read—we’ve all been there! We did indicate both in the instructions and verbally that this might happen and that we can learn a lot from listening to feedback on other pages. I always take notes on other feedback because there is always one or more things I can apply to my own work and I hope you did too. It’s such a gift to have an opportunity to listen to editors and agents comment on such a variety of pages!” The trick is staying on point and not letting their disappointment guilt you into offering to review it—unless you really want to—or offering some other “compensation.”

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Denise Vega (who also wrote the posts: Session Ideas and Becoming Pals with PAL Members) is the award-winning author of six books for kids and teens, including her most recent teen novel, Rock On (Little, Brown), and a picture book coming in 2017 (Knopf). She is RAE for the Rocky Mountain Region (CO/WY) and is on faculty at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop as well as the newly-created Low Residency Mile High MFA in Creative Writing, both in Denver, CO. She lives in Denver with her family, where she eats a lot of French fries and chocolate, but usually not together. You can find Denise here: http://www.denisevega.com ☺