How SCBWI Helps Launch Careers: A Conversation with Four Authors

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Audiences at our author events are often made up of not only avid readers but also aspiring writers and illustrators. When those folks raise their hands to ask the inevitable questions — “Where did you get your start? What should I do next?” — the answer is commonly a tongue-twisting abbreviation: SCBWI. It stands for the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization with regional chapters offering conferences, education, and networking for people at all levels of experience in making books for young people. Some of our favorite Nashville writers and illustrators, including Ruta Sepetys, David Arnold, Susan Eaddy, and Jessica Young, credit SCBWI with playing an integral role in their creative development and success.

11891262_962763423745799_202460132617366647_nBestselling author of young adult fiction Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, Salt to the Sea) has twice won SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award. She’s currently a member of the SCBWI national advisory board, so we thought she’d be the perfect person to chat with Arnold, Eaddy, and Young about their latest books and how SCBWI helped them get where they are today. Future authors and illustrators, take note:


Sepetys: OK, first off, give us the elevator pitch for your new book: What’s it about?

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David Arnold’s third book, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, follows his critically acclaimed YA novels Mosquitoland and Kids of Appetite.

David Arnold, author of The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik: Summer before his senior year, Noah Oakman feels he’s changing while everyone around him is stagnant. He isolates himself from his friends and family, and becomes fixated on four peculiarities, which he calls his Strange Fascinations. At an end of summer party, Noah gets drunk and lets a stranger hypnotize him. In the days that follow, Noah sees subtle changes in all those around him: his mother has a scar on her face that wasn’t there before; his old dog, who once walked with a limp, is suddenly lithe; his best friend, a lifelong DC comics disciple, now rotates in the Marvel universe. Subtle behaviors, bits of history, plans for the future—everything in Noah’s world has been rewritten. Everything except his Strange Fascinations. The book is my love letter to David Bowie, a surrealist ode to Haruki Murakami, and a story about all the ways we hurt our friends without knowing it, and all the ways they stick around to save us.

Susan Eaddy, author of Poppy’s Best Babies: Poppy is verrrry excited. Her favorite person and rockin’ grandma, GeeGee, is coming for two whole weeks! Never mind that she is here to help with newborn twins Iris and Ivy, Poppy is sure that GeeGee came just to see her. But time after time GeeGee is called away to help with a crying baby or two. As the decibel level increases so does Poppy’s frustration. Finally, her jealousy transfers to GeeGee, now dubbed, “Worst Grandma.” I hope that readers will identify with Poppy as she struggles with her negative feelings — and cheer when her big heart wins out.

Jessica Young, author of a pair of new picture books: I have two rhyming picture books: Play This Book invites readers to join the band. Kids are prompted to manipulate the book and STRUM, TAP, SHAKE, and CRASH while learning about instruments and the sounds they make. Pet This Book asks readers to help take care of animals — feeding, brushing, washing, and cuddling pets. Both books have colorful illustrations and thick paper to withstand lots of play. I can’t wait to see them in the hands of young readers!

Sepetys: What role did SCBWI play in your path to publication?

Arnold: SCBWI gave me an education in publishing, but more importantly, it provided me with a community of likeminded writers and artists in my area. I’d been in a band for years, playing shows in and around Nashville, recording records with this close group of friends—so I’d always been more comfortable knowing I wasn’t alone in my creative pursuits. Through SCBWI, I found my people, and I will always be grateful for that.

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Susan Eaddy is the artist behind the stunning illustrations in picture books such as My Love For You Is the Sun, and she’s an author, too. She wrote Poppy’s Best Paper, which now has a sequel: Poppy’s Best Babies.

Eaddy: SCBWI has been a rock for me. No matter how many conferences I attend (and I’ve been to countless conferences over the years) I always walk away with some new nugget of knowledge to improve my craft. I found my agent through an SCBWI conference. I’ve found my critique group through SCBWI. Those things all led me to being a better writer and illustrator and have given me a reality check into fine-tuning my craft and keeping abreast of the publishing industry.

Young: Joining SCBWI was a turning point for me. Initially, I waded in, using the online resources to research publishers. Then I went to a retreat and met an encouraging agent who offered much-needed feedback. After that, my first SCBWI conference left me overwhelmed, energized, and hooked! At another conference, an editor critiqued a picture book manuscript, which became my first book. Through SCBWI, I’ve met skilled, visionary, playful people who inspire me to stretch myself — people who understand the urge to make stuff and the joys and frustrations that go with it.

Sepetys: What has been the most unexpected benefit or experience while being a member of SCBWI?

Arnold: Ha, well . . . see above. I don’t think people join with a notion that they’ll make lifelong friends, but it can happen.

Eaddy: For me, it has been finding a worldwide community. The first time I went to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair, I went alone, knew no one, and expected to muddle along by myself. But when the organizers found out I was coming I was instantly swept into the SCBWI International community and suddenly had friends from all over the world. That has led to my doing school visits when I travel, from Taiwan to Switzerland to Hong Kong. Best of all, I’ve become a member of the SCBWI Bologna Team myself, and have been able to pay that welcoming spirit forward. The SCBWI exhibits at the Bologna Book Fair every two years and our tiny team has increasingly made the booth bigger and better and increased the worldwide presence of the SCBWI (presently at over 25,000 members!).

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Jessica Young is the author of the Finley Flowers series, the Haggis and Tank series, as well as sweet picture books such as My Blue Is Happy. This year, she launches a pair of interactive books for the youngest book-lovers.

Young: To echo what David said, I joined SCBWI to learn about the craft and business of writing books for kids, but I connected with people who’ve grown into some of my closest friends. Some, like Susan, are also critique partners who share their writing with me and take time to read my manuscripts and offer suggestions. They make me laugh, and they make me work!

Sepetys: If you could put together an SCBWI conference dream panel with any authors (living or deceased), what would the topic be and who would you invite to take part?

Arnold: Honestly, I think I’d just put Jason Reynolds on a stage and let him read one of his own books. I adore his words, period, but they’re downright spellbinding when he reads them aloud.

Eaddy: This is such a hard question. Maybe for a topic, “Finding and Revealing Wisdom in the Mundane.” A few authors come to mind who have done that beautifully: Katherine Patterson, Linda Sue Park, Jacqueline Woodson, Cynthia Voight, and Natalie Babbit. There are so many more… and if this panel were ever assembled I would be too star-struck to open my mouth!

Young: I love hearing how different authors go about the writing process and how they develop unique voices in the midst of all the noise. But I’m struggling to come up with a list of names — each time I try, it turns into a crowd. There are way too many fantastic authors, and I’m a person who has trouble choosing from a menu! The thing is, every single SCBWI panel I’ve had the chance to see has been amazing. It’s impossible to predict the inspiration and insight that will sprout from a collection of children’s book creators and their chemistry. But since this is a magical dream panel, if we could include Natalie Babbitt, Madeleine L’Engle, Tove Jansson, or Margaret Wise Brown, that would be pretty great.

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See these authors at their upcoming events!

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Tuesday, May 22, at 6:30 p.m. – YA event with David Arnold (The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik) in conversation with Courtney Stevens and Jeff Zentner

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ATTENTION, TEENS AND YA FANS: It’s the Parnassus Summer Bookout!

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Amazing author events are heating up this summer at Parnassus Books! Join the Parnassus Summer Bookout by picking up a FREE punch card at the bookstore any time starting this Friday, May 18, 2018.

Attend five or more eligible YA events and have a bookseller punch your card while you’re at each event. Once your card has been punched five times, fill in your name and contact info and return it to Parnassus. You’ll be entered to win one of three incredible prize packages full of surprises, special bookish items, and signed books. All raffle entries are due to Parnassus by Saturday, June 30, at 8 p.m. The raffle winners will be drawn and announced Sunday, July 1, by 12 p.m.

Friday, May 18, at 6:30pmIt all kicks off with two very special authors: Lily Anderson, author of our ParnassusNext selection for May, Undead Girl Gang, and Nashville’s own Ashley Herring Blake, author of the highly anticipated Girl Made of Stars *and* Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World.

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Here’s the full menu for the Parnassus Summer Book Out. All you have to do is attend FIVE of these events and have a bookseller punch your card — no purchase necessary!

Summer Book Out event menu