Have you ever finished reading a book to your kids and thought "I could do that"? Do you have stories scribbled on scraps of paper or lurking in your head? If you're interested in children's literature as a writer, illustrator or parent, you need to know about SCBWI.
The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is an organization designed to support those who write, illustrate or share an interest in children's literature. A few Los Angeles-based writers formed it in 1971. Now it's an international organization with 70 regions and about 19,000 members; the Austin chapter has about 200 members.
The Austin chapter's member directory, which you can look-up on the group's website (www.austinscbwi.com), reads like a who's who of local authors and their books. Each writer or illustrator has a brief bio and often a link to a personal website.
Debbie Loren Dunn is one of those writers. As the Regional Advisor for the Austin chapter, she's responsible for organizing conferences, workshops and retreats that link illustrators and authors with editors, art directors and agents; she also serves as an agent contact and submits authors' work.
Dunn and fellow SCBWI members meet once a month, usually at the Barnes and Noble Westlake. The topic changes monthly-in August, for instance, group members focused on Critiquing Do's and Don'ts-but all meetings are open to the public.
Most of the members have families. Given that, they are constantly negotiating a balancing act of working for pay, tending to family and other demands, and writing or illustrating. Dunn is no exception: she has a full-time job as a database manager, two daughters, and a very supportive husband.
"I love my database work since it is very left brain," says Dunn, who holds a degree in computer science and is now pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing for children and young adults at Vermont College. "I also enjoy creative writing for the right side of my brain."
Dunn began writing and illustrating two years ago and is currently working on a picture book biography about a pioneer in the computer industry. She advises anyone interested in writing for children to constantly read; to write what they're passionate about and drawn to reading themselves; and, perhaps most important, develop and maintain a thick skin.
"Writing is such solitary work; it's great to have such an amazing support group," Dunn says. "I've also met some of the nicest people here."
If you're a budding writer and interested in meeting the folks at the Austin Chapter of SCBWI, check out the following events:
- Austin SCBWI Conference: Oct. 16. This is the group's primary yearly conference. It will boast two editors, an agent and an art director from New York and Boston publishing houses. It's an excellent way to make contacts in picture book, middle grade and young adult novels.
- Texas Book Festival: Oct. 28-31st (www.texasbookfestival.org). This is the first year SCBWI acquired a spot at the nationally known festival; 24 authors and illustrators will be featured.
If you want to write...
Here are some great web pages to check out!
Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators: www.scbwi.org
Austin Chapter of SCBWI: www.austinscbwi.com
Writers' League of Texas: www.writersleague.org
Children's Book Council: www.cbcbooks.org/index.html
The Association of Authors Reps: www.aar-online.org
Nayana Shahane also likes to write, although she's focusing her talents on Parent:Wise Austin (for the time being!) She lives with her husband and son here in Austin.