Two weekends ago, on Saturday night, I was attending my second SCBWI International Conference in Los Angeles. Actually this is what I doing at 8pm Saturday night two weeks ago:
Yep, that's a costume boa and my friends Renee and Heather are wearing wigs. Thats how kid lit creators roll. You can dress us up and we will still find a way to act like the characters in our minds.
However the days surrounding Saturday evening's Black and White Ball were filled with workshops aimed to entertain, educate, and most of all inspire all of us before we headed back to solitary studios and writing rooms. My usual MO is to take lots of notes in longhand while simultaneously drawing furiously in my sketchbook. Below are some of my favorite notes from the sessions and key notes and the sketches that accompanied them. Also check out the official conference blog here, and my Word Disco friend Jenni Bielicki has lots of other great photos on her blog here. Plus stop into Word Disco later this month for some Schmooze It or Lose It stories.
The conference begins with each speaker or faculty member stepping to the mic and saying one word. Here's my scribbled down list of words. About 10 minutes in to this I noticed the person sitting a few rows down flipping back and forth through her conference guide writing the words by each of the speaker's bios. Brilliant. I am totally doing that next time:
Laurie Halse Anderson, author
Be brave today
We are lucky, when you were born a fairy godmother crept into the hospital and blessed you with magic. Books are proof that humans can do magic.
Jon Scieszka, author
Kids = nuts. They are the best audience
Giuseppe Castellano, Penguin Art Director
You guys had to pay to come here, all the while daring to be artists.
Art directors and editors do not sit in ivory towers smoking cigars. We're not elite jerks.
Then he told this really touching story about his parent, particularly his father, coming to America from Italy in the 60's. His father struggled to find a creative outlet as a child while dealing with strict parents who did not approve - and demonstrated their disapproval by occasionally destroying his father's childhood creations. The moral of this story was that if his father could go on to succeed creatively, as an immigrant, with no family support, then we all can.
Steven Malk, agent, on career planning:
Be in control of your career, don't let it control you.
Take a deep breath and slow down.
Know your history, read it, breath it, live the books you create.
If at first you don't succeed, don't abandon ship.
Kirby Larson, author
Palimpsest (this was her word from the opening) it means writing that has been effaced to make room for more. We all create on the well worn steps of those who went before us.
Namrata Tripathi, Andrea Pinkney, Donna Bray, Claudia Gabel, Allyn Johnston, and Melissa Manlove
The main topic of the panel was "What makes a hit, what makes an evergreen"
Hits speak to a moment in time
A close examination of a moment in time can turn out to be an evergreen.
An evergreen is also about the human existence.
Each editor wants a book to have magic
Allyn Johnston thinks All The World is the perfect picture book (I agree)
Mac Barnett, author
Most of all, get the reader to be willing to suspend disbelief.
Don't break the contract with a kid reader.
He told the story of a contest in his book Billy Twitters and Blue Whale Problem where a reader could send in to get their own blue whale as a pet. Then as an example of how to break the contract with the kid reader he played voice mails left by preschool age Nico, for his pet whale Randolph. This had us simultaneously laughing and wiping tears.
Jenny Bent, agent, on queries:
I found myself in this session only because the one I was trying to get to had closed. But I found Jenny Bent to be really funny and personable. She explained the different parts of a query letter giving really great examples of real life successful queries. Google her and you'll find similar information on her blog. Google also query mad libs for a fun exercise.
Matt de la Pena, author
He gave a stunning keynote about growing up the child of teenage parents and how he landed in writing. In short college equaled girls which equaled poetry which equaled no girls but a great voice for YA.
Ask yourself, Where are you coming from?
Write what will be written
Laurent Linn, art director
I've seen Laurent Linn speak many time and I'm always entertained and I always find a new way to look at picture book art. He had do a quiz to see if we could tell what was traditional art, digital or a mixture of both as its increasing difficult to tell.
Carolyn Mackler, author
Writing is an antidote to the darker days.
We should all watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
I admittedly checked out of this one after the picture book news, but here's what I gleaned:
Picture book sales are actually up, driven by character driven books and franchises. Bullying is a frequent theme. A growing number of projects are originating in house.
Agents Panel with
Ginger Clark, Mela Bolinao, Joanna Volpe, Steve Malk, Jenny Bent
This was Sunday morning, after the Black and White Ball, and it was time for a bit of a reality check. Here it is:
Agents get 25 to 75 queries a DAY.
You should be careful what you sign away.
I saw David Wiesner at the SCBWI New York conference in 2008. In fact I wrote this post about it. I still think the guy is a rock star and frankly I don't ever want to be in an elevator with him because I would probably a) really embarrass myself by stammering about how much I love his work or b) give myself skin cancer by blushing shades of red not found in the natural world. I am happy to admire from afar. That is, until I win the Caldecott, then y'know Dave and I can hang out and be in the same critique group. Also monkeys might fly out of my butt.
Anyway here was his keynote wisdom:
Follow the story where ever it leads
Always go back to old ideas you have, you never know where they can end up
Jarret Kroscocka, author/illustrator
I went to back to back sessions with him and then attended his closing keynote. I admire Jarrett for his unrelenting drive in this business and for just seeming like a nice guy.
Think about colors for each character
Multiple characters means humor is born.
Let your brain go to the more interesting story.
Google story mountain.
Keep a Word doc of all your story ideas.
Visit schools for free while you are getting used to doing school visits.
Create educational value.
Link your books directly to publishers site you avoid any preference for Amazon over independent book sellers.
Give away a little bit of your presentation on-line so they know what they are getting.
On Monday I attended two intensive sessions, the first with Melissa Manlove on using picture book texts to inform your writing, the second with Namrata Tripathi on creating a better dummy for picture book author/illustrators.
Do a close reading of every picture book you read. Look closely at language, try to figure out what is working for the book.
Humor comes from disrupted expectations.
Don't say you can do this because there are so many bad picture books out there. That tells her you want your book to be the second worst in the store.
Pay attention to voice and line work in illustrations.