I’m a little late in getting my thoughts together about my weekend, but this is where I was this past Saturday. I think it was a fabulous little preview of what the international summer conference in LA will be like. Great lectures, opportunities for the professionals to see your stuff, time to schmooze, and great OJ and brownies. I love conferences.
For a while I’ve been doing little sketches of the people who talk at the meetings I attend. Apart from great sketching practice, it helps me remember who was talking when I go back and read my notes. I share this one of the wonderful illustrator David Diaz (Caldecott winner for Smoky Night) only because halfway through it I got the cool feeling that I was drawing a figure from one of his books!
Here’s my small sketch…
and for the fun comparison, here’s a portion of Diaz’s cover image for Sharing the Seasons.
Diaz did my portfolio review. He was wonderfully kind and helpful and had some nice things to say about my work. “Wow,” he said. “Wow”, I thought, he said “Wow”! He also gave me advice on the direction to go in preparing my portfolio for the LA conference, including encouraging me to develop a story with my Pearl and Bear characters so I could illustrate a few spreads (ooo, what fun!).
Diaz says he can see these little guys being made into a great e-application! So I’ve been very much in story-creation mode since the conference ended.
And where else to get inspiration on writing a great story than after hearing the professionals praise what works and rant about what doesn’t? I found the First Pages Panel at the conference highly instructional. The first page from a manuscript of a local SCBWI member’s story was read aloud in front of us and to a panel of 3 agents and 3 editors. We listened while the panel followed along with a printed copy. Then the editors and agents (especially the agents — surprisingly, they were the most critical ones) tore the writing apart! That was fantastic.
They critiqued word choice, rhythm, story arc, not showing enough restraint in scene description (the key difference between a picture book and a short story, they pointed out), kid appeal, wasting too much time on intro — agent Chris Richman amusingly called this the Scoobie Doo Syndrome (imagine your legs spinning round and round before you really get going), and character names and story lines too similar to what’s already out there (“not doing your research”). You really got a feel for what to think about when critiquing your own writing.
I also got a preview of the Illustrating Books for Children course run by Joy Chu. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
You heard a lot about voice making your manuscript stand out above the rest. Editor Kim Griswell (Senior Editor, Highlights) said voice is the ability to “illuminate the ordinary”. She believes everyone has it, you just need to uncover it, in part by being brave enough to reveal where you came from. She advised writing from the specific place you grew up and about the things that shaped you. She warned against writing about events you haven’t yourself endured (like writing about a loss if you haven’t experienced it) for fear of sounding false. Write only the stories that you can tell, she said. And give it emotion!
Another repeated theme was about not following trends. Keep in mind, they noted, that what you see today in the published world was created two years back. So don’t start writing a vampire novel! Likewise, make up your own slang, or you risk it going out of style, said our local Patricia Morris Buckly during the pre-conference. HarperCollins Associate Editor Sarah Dotts-Barley reminded us to focus not on the market, but instead on writing our own great story.
I’ll end my post with this wonderful quote by E.B. White about writing for children that Dott’s-Barley read:
You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.
For some more notes on the event, check out a nice outline summary from the two gals at Writing on the Sidewalk
and a nice post on the event by the agent Natalie Fischer.