2013 in Review: I'm Thankful for My Creative Communities

© 2013 Sylvia Liu
My friend Alayne Christan encourages writers to look back on our year and celebrate our successes. My biggest success this year was connecting with creative communities of amazing people who have inspired me all year. With each of their achievements and the example of their dedication, I work harder to make my own art and writing meet up to their standards.

These are the creative communities that have sustained me in 2013:

1.  My online picture book critique group

Near the beginning of the year, I joined a group of talented and dedicated people who write picture books. The past and present members of this group include: Elaine Kearns, Victoria Warneck, Teresa Robeson, Yvonne Mes, Renee LaTulippe, Kristen Fulton, Lori Ann Levy-Holm, and Alayne Christian. I have learned so much from each one of them, and here are just a few of their recent accomplishments:

  • Yvonne Mes sold her first short story to the School Magazine (Australia) and had a short story featured on Kids Book Review  
  • Renee LaTulippe and Elaine Kearns are working on some exciting projects to be revealed in 2014
  • Kristen Fulton runs a successful non-fiction picture book writing group and signed with Kendra Marcus at Bookstop Literary Agency (here's my post)
  • Lori Ann Levy-Holm was accepted into the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program and is working with illustrator E.B. Lewis

2. The Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program

Site of first Nevada SCBWI Mentor program retreat
Taking part in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program has been the highlight of my creative year. I attended a kick off retreat in October in South Lake Tahoe, where I spent three days marinating in outdoor beauty, art, and writing. 

I am being mentored by David Diaz, who has given me great tips and insights. The illustrators I met at this program are quite impressive.

© 2013 Sidne Teske
© 2008 Heidi Sheffield

© 2010 Lori Ann Levy-Holm

© 2013 Kary Lamb Lee

  • Liza Woodruff Wright (who is being mentored for her writing; she recently signed an author-illustrator contract for a picture book with Henry Holt)
© 2013 Liza Woodruff Wright

© 2013 Tia Mushka

3. The Doodle Day Doodlers

© 2013 Sylvia Liu
Alison Herz began a Facebook group called Doodle Day May that provided daily doodling prompts in the month of May. It was so successful that the group has continued month after month, with members doodling when they have time and sharing illustration & art information. Now called Doodle Day, this month's theme is A to Z sea creatures, which I've narrowed down to A to Z cephalopods for my own doodles.

What I love about this group is that there is no pressure to perform, since we are just doodling. Yet the doodlers constantly impress me with their creations. 

4. My NaNoWriMo friends

Conquering NaNoWriMo © 2013 Sylvia Liu 
I had a middle grade story rattling around in my brain for several years but never had the courage or time to write it. In November, I joined a NaNoWriMo workshop led by Lydia Netzer, author of SHINE, SHINE, SHINE (St. Martin's Press, 2012), which received rave reviews from the New York Times and others. I can't wait for her next novel, HOW TO TELL TOLEDO FROM THE NIGHT SKY, which will come out in July 2014. 

With her support and that of the other writers (Mary Yurachek, Dee South, and Jenn Falls), I wrote the first draft of the story. It's rough, but it's something to work with. We had a ton of fun at our meetings, doing writing sprints and exercises, noshing on sweets, and sharing our work. 

5. Lost Weekend Illustrators

Enjoying art in New Orleans

David Diaz hosts the Lost Weekend, an annual retreat for members of the national SCBWI Illustrator Mentor Program, a handful of illustrators who are chosen each year from the Portfolio Showcase at the LA SCBWI meeting (Kidlitartists is the online home of this group). David invited me to tag along to this year's Lost Weekend, in New Orleans, where we spent a weekend eating delicious food and sharing secret illustration lore (aka good information). The four illustrators I met are definitely going places:

© 2013 Lisa Anchin

© 2013 Maple Lam

© 2013 Brooke Boyton-Hughes

© 2013 Jen Betton

6. The 12x12 community

What is a group of octopi called? © 2013 Sylvia Liu

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about how excited I was to be part of Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 challenge (to write a picture book draft each month), and it has lived up to my expectations. I met my critique group through 12x12 and am inspired by the many successes of the group. To name a few:

  • Some published books: Tara Lazar's debut, THE MONSTORE, Stacy McAnulty's debut, DEAR SANTASAURUS; Heather Newman's second book, LILIANA GROWS IT GREEN; and Romelle Broas' ebook, TUMMY MONSTER; or will publish a book: Corey Rosen Schwartz's second book coming soon, GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS.

7. PB Illustrator's Critique Group

©2013 Sylvia Liu
I started a Facebook group for 12x12 members who are also illustrators and these are some of the more active members who liven up my day: Alison Hertz, Julie Rowan-Zoch, Gayle Wing O'Donnell, Zach Rousch, Tanja Bauerle, Hannah Weight Holt, Adrienne May, Felicia Lilley, Jacque Duffy, Nicky JohnstonMary Flynn, Sue Frye, Dana AtnipTeresa Robeson, and Yvonne Mes.  

8. My book clubs

© 2012 Sylvia Liu
The great part about being a writer is that I never feel guilty about reading for pleasure, in whatever genre, because I can always justify it as a learning experience. So I count these excellent friends as part of my creative community.

  • My neighborhood book club is run by the owner of an independent bookstore on the Eastern Shore, The Book Bin. About half the members come from different European countries, because their spouses are NATO military officers stationed here. Some of the books we read this year: GOLD by Chris Cleave, THE BOOK OF JONAS, by Steven Dau, WHILE SHE SLEPT by Marion Collins, and THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
  • My dinner book club is mostly social and an occasion to make a themed potluck dinner. Some recent books we read: THE REASON I JUMP by Naoki Higashida (Japanese food), THE KITCHEN HOUSE by Kathleen Grissom (Southern cooking), WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty (comfort food), and RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Toles (can't remember the food theme).

9. My in person peeps

© 2013 Sylvia Liu

Unlike all the people who seem to live in my computer, two IRL friends help critique my work. One is a local friend, Tara Moeller, who has published a YA novel, DHAMPYR HERITAGE (under the pseudonym E.G. Gaddess), and a middle grade novel, THE SECRET OF MAGIK AND DRAGONS (under T.L. Frye). The other is my college roommate, the talented Megan McDonald, who has been writing poems, stories, novels, and scripts for much of her life, and who has recently started writing for children (she's not related to the Megan McDonald of Judy Moody fame).

And finally, my husband and two daughters, who get to hear my half-baked ideas and horrible first drafts, and who are my biggest supporters (and sometimes critics).

So to all of you, thank you SO much for helping me stay on task this year. I am looking forward to an amazing 2014!

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