Book People Bonding

Marianne and Lance. Author/Illustrator party. Oct. 16, 2016 - At home in Merrimac, Massachusetts.

Marianne and Lance.

This is a story about book people, a table, and some croc-a-mole.

Once upon a time Ron McCutchan, then Art Director for Cricket Magazine, had a couple of pot luck meetups at my house for authors and illustrators working for Cricket.

One reason was social

The whole Emberley clan came: Ed, Barbara, Michael, and Rebecca. Ed and Barbara, who had won a Caldecott and a Caldecott Honor passed on their love of making stories and art to both of their children. Impressive. Also along were Brian Lies, Anne Miranda, Teri Weidner, Lydia Dabcovich, Marilyn Haffner, and a slew of others. Old and new friends all.

And there was more

glad-monsterEd met Anne, then later they collaborated on a picture book called Glad Monster, Sad Monster. Brian compared notes with people about contracts. Conversations revolved around illustration techniques, contacts to share, studios, and life.

What’s important about this? 

As Maryann Cocca-Leffler said, “We work alone and only know others by their little photo attached to their emails!” Book people need to bond with peers. A sense of community is vital to people whose particular talents are solitary. Social media helps, but personal contact is the thing.

Meetups are vital because:

  • Work grows stronger when inspired by others.
  • Sharing ideas raises the bar.
  • New projects, and sometimes collaborations, can happen.
  • Building a network expands possibilities for everyone.

Tribe building feeds creativity too

One day Brian Lies reminisced wistfully about those long ago author/artist pot lucks. Time for another party!


When a bunch of creative types get together, surprises can happen. Friends drew things for our table. Everyone brought delectables and many of the sixteen brought examples of their work. Brian, of Gator Dad fame, appeared with a huge platter of “croc-a-mole” he’d made. Yes, guacamole with lemon peel eyes and lily pads cut from cabbage leaves. Teri Weidner, whose recent book is Baby Bear’s Not Hibernating, made a bear footprint in snow using brownies, frosting, and coconut.



Everyone gets inspired

Brian Lies' gatormobile.

Brian Lies’ gatormobile.

Book designer Lance Hidy showed a copy of his Losing Things at Mr. Mudd’s, written by Carolyn Coman, perhaps the first children’s book illustrated entirely digitally (1992). Rebecca got him to offer her a free PhotoShop lesson. Kathie Kelleher showed picture books and Jim Knowles, a poet, brought his. Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Acquisitions Director for Bab’l Books, encouraged new submissions, while Carol Schwartz showed gorgeous original gouache artwork from her upcoming book.

Perks of personal contact

Marianne Knowles reflected that, “Brian Lies and I had a brief but (for me anyway) very meaningful conversation… about the importance of art in life, and the value of pursuing art whether or not anything comes of it commercially, and he spoke about the joy of blasting through something in an intense push.” There’s nothing so motivating as a deadline.

“It’s so wonderful to be in a room with book people,” Brian commented. “We’re all fighting the same fights–trying to get our stories together so they’re not only good enough for us and our dreams for them, but good enough for the publishing world.  And trying to get SEEN in the publishing world, even as it changes so quickly under our feet, with changing business practices and the digital world.  Connecting on a face-to-face basis humanizes the whole thing again, brings it back to just being people making stories as earnestly as they can.”

Carol and Teri. Author/Illustrator party. Oct. 16, 2016 - At home in Merrimac, Massachusetts.

Carol and Teri.

And Teri Weidner found it useful to “finally put faces to names I’ve heard around or seen online. …I met two other people that I share a rep with… I’d seen their work online for ages! It was great fun catching up with some older friends and hearing about their new projects. I always enjoy learning about what inspires other people’s book ideas, or hearing about how they’ve overcome obstacles to get their book ideas into print. It’s helpful to have a reminder that everyone hits bumps in the road sometimes, and we all need to work past those rejections to get the books we believe in made.”

Ed and Barbara Emberley chatted up a retrospective, at the Worcester Art Museum, of Ed’s 60 year career. FYI, the opening reception is November seventeenth, five to eight.

Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Ed Emberly. Author/Illustrator party. Oct. 16, 2016 - At home in Merrimac, Massachusetts.

Maryann Cocca-Leffler and Ed Emberley.

“Reconnecting with Ed Emberley was the highlight of the evening for me,” said Maryann Cocca- Leffler. “After 38 years, I finally got to say thank you. I reminded Ed and his wife Barbara that they were kind enough to invite a group of Mass College of Art illustration students to their home in 1979. I was among them.  It was the first time that I visited a professional children’s book illustrator’s studio and it made quite an impact.  Ed actually remembered that visit…and jokingly asked me…”So- you still went into children’s books?” I did indeed. Ed’s inspiring artwork and his excitement about the industry cemented my plans to steer my work toward a career in children’s books.”

“Every single professional advancement in my life,” Susan Paradis said, “has come about through personal contacts that began at parties. Face to face follow-ups with work in hand sealed the deals.”

All the writing and illustration work done by each of these creatives is solitary. Sure, there are book signings and school visits, conferences, and other events. But every writer and artist needs informal time to savor a sense of community with peers. It’s good tribe building.

Maryann, Marianne, Teri, and Kathie.

Maryann, Marianne, Teri, and Kathie.

How can you build your in-the-flesh tribe?

  • Host a pot luck house party with aspiring authors and artists in your area
  • Join organized meetups. Kris Asselin arranges some for the SCBWI New England Region, for example. Look for ones near you.
  • Join SCBWI to find people and organize meet-ups in your region. Do it! There are regions all over the world.
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