Sunday, November 18, 2012

Volunteering for SCBWI Ireland

One of the small irritations in life is not knowing the milk has gone sour until you've poured it into your cup of black tea and watched it all curdle in a most unappetizing way. Luckily, I have some herbal tea in the cupboard, so I can start fresh.

Blogs are a bit like that. You're meant to post regularly or else the blog goes sour. But, here I am, starting fresh - again.

I was trying to decide on a topic and started writing about my volunteering activities with SCBWI Ireland. Sure, why not? I've done a lot more than I realized, and I've learned a lot along the way.
SCBWI Ireland banner design by Sarah Bowie
(I put a white border around it because the greens clash)

In case you don't know, SCBWI stands for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which is a great resource and support network for new and established writers and illustrators. Valerie Peterson provides a detailed post about SCBWI on her site. It's really cool to have many well-known and successful writers in the membership, including Jane Yolen (who's published over 300 books), Donna Jo Napoli, Shaun Tan, and Meg Rosoff.

Here in Ireland, our chapter has existed for a number of years, but is still quite small. I mean REALLY small. Award-winning author Jane Mitchell has been the volunteer Regional Advisor since the beginning of 2012, and I've been the Uber Volunteer. The Uber Volunteer title came out of a comment in an email, but I liked it, so I even put it on my new business cards. It's a bit cheeky, to be sure, but it might generate a question or two.

So, you've been wondering what SCBWI Ireland volunteers do. Okay, maybe you haven't. Well, tough, here's a few things anyway:
  • Worked with Jessica C. to develop a new website for SCBWI Ireland. 
  • Designed and printed SCBWI Ireland business cards that we can hand out to interested people at meet-ups, workshops, and conferences. 
  • Promoted and helped organize our one-day writing workshop facilitated by Jane M. in Dublin.
  • Maintaining and updating the SCBWI Ireland website including the blog.
  • Working with Jane M. to keep the SCBWI Ireland Facebook page filled with news and information relevant to Irish writers and illustrators. 
  • Organizing and running the monthly Scribblers Online Critique Group.
  • Organizing and running informal meet-ups in Cork with Fiona G. for local children's book writers and illustrators every two months.
Geez, I could use this as a CV! This is in addition to my full-time day job, Sacred Harp singing, swing dancing, traveling, and occasional actual writing of stories! Phew! I need a nap.

Oh yeah, I was going to talk about what I've learned. Well, promotion for one thing. You have to start early and use the right media and locations. We tried printing posters and sticking them up all over town (thanks to Fiona G. and John S. for doing that little chore with such enthusiasm), but that didn't really work. Business cards with contact details are handy and compact for handing out. Flyers are good at events for new attendees. Electronic media on websites, blogs, Facebook, boards, and forums seems to work the best, along with the most important promotional tool: word of mouth. The trick is not to do it so much that you annoy people.

The other thing I learned is that while there's lots happening in Dublin, contrary to rumours, it's not the centre of the universe! (Shock! Dismay! Actually, I quite like Dublin.) We've managed to find at least 25 writers and illustrators in and around Cork and nearby counties, who are keen to get together and talk shop. There's creatives scattered throughout all the counties. It's very exciting to be able to help people connect.

Volunteering is a bloody lot of work, but it's worth it to see and hear positive feedback from people who've found kindred spirits and who are learning from and supporting each other as they navigate the tricky waters of creation and publication.

Now, time for a bath.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Too Many Rubys

I’m not talking about gems. I’m talking about characters in children’s books, and the sometimes frustrating challenge of coming up with names.
I’m writing a children’s book. Originally, I started with a quick drawing and a short description for a picture book. This was based on an experience I’d had in Toronto many years ago. Then, when I started developing my character profiles and drafting my first pages, I realized I was writing something for slightly older kids, maybe 7 to 9 years old, and had two main characters rather than just one.
I decided to call them Michael and Ruby or, rather, Mike and Ruby, as she always shortened his name, which drove him a bit crazy. The working title, Mike and Ruby, had a nice ring to it. I even had an idea for a follow-up book called Ruby Goes to School, where she gets integrated into Mike’s school.
Max and Ruby
Then a friend pointed out that there already was a book series about two rabbits, Max and Ruby, by Rosemary Wells. Blast! I was going to have to change the name of one of my characters.
Okay, I was still set on the name Ruby, so I thought I would change the name of my boy, Michael. Hmm. What to do. I wanted something a little bit different and interesting. I decided to make him Polish, since there are so many Polish people living in Ireland (though I’m not 100% sure yet that my story is set in Ireland). I queried my Polish friends for a list of some common Polish boys’ names. Out of that list, I chose Kacper, but after someone else commented that they didn’t know how to pronounce it, I changed the spelling to Kasper. Kasper and Ruby. Sorted!
Not quite. I was reading the Recommended Reading Guide from Children’s Books Ireland and counted at least three newly published books with Ruby as the name of a main character! Urgh! I still had a problem with my girl’s name. If I had any doubts, today, a quick search turned up about 16 children’s books with Ruby in the title!
I chose Ruby because I associate the name with a spirited, sassy girl who is outgoing and confident. My Ruby is obsessed with the colour red, to match her name, and even had her wheelchair painted a sparkly, cherry red, like a roadster.
Cherry Ames
So I tried to come up with other names associated with red, like Garnet, Rose, Scarlett, Cerise, Coral, and Cherry. Hmm, Cherry was a possibility, like Cherry Ames
But I wanted to make it a bit more unusual, like some of the names I’d read in other books; I decided to give her a double-barrelled name: Cherry-Ann. It makes me wonder who she is and where she’s from to have a name like that. It’s a bit different but somehow catchy (at least in my own head), and, of 106,000 hits in a search, none seem to be for children's books. Score!
I keep thinking I should change her name back to Ruby, but today’s search confirms that there are enough Rubys (in children’s books). And, frankly, Cherry-Ann has as much spirit and sass as the ruby-est of Rubys.
How do you come up with your characters' names and do you ever run into problems?