Monday, January 31, 2011

SCBWI Conference Reflections

After an amazing weekend of the typical conference roller coaster of highs and lows, inspiration, motivation and self-doubt, here are some of the things that I've learned:

1. That all authors and artists, no matter how successful they are, no matter how many excellent reviews they have received, all are still filled with self-doubt. For me this is an important thing to remember.
2. Live for the work. It helps to put things in perspective if you realize that the work is what is important and take yourself out of the equation.  Linda Sue Park said don't believe in yourself, believe in the work. She uses tricks to accomplish this whether it is for a school visit, or when she sits down to write. Find some sort of routine that helps you get past yourself and into the work.
3. Lois Lowery said to look for stories that have strong emotional content. give voice to happiness, jealousy, grief, etc. Illustrators can also give voice emotions. She told us the inspiration for 9 of her stories. Here are a few:
A Summer to Die - Inspired by the passing of her sister. "Give sorrow words"
Anastasia Krupnick - Inspired by a photo of Amy Carter
Number the Stars - A story told to her by a friend about her life in Denmark during WWII
The Giver - Based upon her father's inability to remember the death of her sister because of his Alzheimer's.
Gooney Bird Green - Based upon her own story of moving around due to her father's military postings and how she wished she could have coped with being the new kid in class.
Silent Boy - Inspired by a photo taken by her aunt that she was always trying to understand. 
4. Jane Yolen said that picture book authors need to craft each sentence with lyricism, but not necessarily rhyme. Each sentence must be crafted with words that explain as much as possible in as few words as possible, in what she called compression. The books need to have child centeredness, finding the emotional key that resonates with children.  The "three F's - family, friendship, frustration".  You need to have a great hook at the beginning.  If you need to re-write the first few sentences 50 to 100 times, it is worth it to get the wording just right. One should pick their words as carefully as a poet. Love big words as well as little words as long as they are the right words. Picture books should have motion, emotion and resolution. The reader should find the book satisfying every time. "Culture starts in the cradle. Write as if it is important because it IS an important cultural moment in the life of a child."
5. Mark Teague  said that Illustrations need to be worthy of the text and extend the story to new depths. It is good to copy other illustrators that you admire to learn the craft, but the most important thing is to find your won voice.  We have already heard that many times, but it always bears remembering. The job of the illustrator is to take a good book and make it a great book. Find the miracle of page turns.
6. Patricia Lee Gauch said to let go to the story,  to go to where stuff is stored in your gut, to mine the stored fear. To grab ideas as they fly by. Find the mischief because attitude leads to voice. Picture book narrative is like a wave,  Feel the swell and make sure it goes far enough. Get to the "catch in the breath - a moment out of time". This is best when it doesn't come from your head, but when it comes from your inner child. She quoted TH Lawrence who once said, "Don't squeeze an idea too hard or it runs." She said "not to squeeze pacing, character, plot climax..... too hard."
7. Don't try to fit in with what is selling at the moment, the style of illustration or the genre of text. Stay true to yourself, but be open to changes in delivery method, new technology.
8. Jules Feiffer - Sometimes it is more effective to get your point across with humor. Don't shout at the reader, get to them through the back door. Allow the reader to be involved with the story, to participate and give up their passivity. Also that he decides on what style his drawing will take by the text. His loose, dynamic style had me staring at how effective so few lines could be,
9. Marvin Terban told us about how he was cast in several of Woody Allen's movies based upon the recommendation of one of his children, and his wife's uncle is Henny Youngman.  Neither of these men were funny in person, but their work is funny. He said that word play is important in creating something funny, as is reversal of expectations or the unexpected.  And his book on humor that he kept mentioning is...."Funny You Should Ask".
10. Lenore Look said to choose topics that are not funny. Tell it in a very gray manner so they don't see the punchline coming. Create diversions, distractions. Let bad unexpected things happen to the characters, give them flaws. Keep a diary of the funny things kids say.
11. Mo Willems said that funny is a form of athletics. You really need to work out and find out what is not funny before you figure out what is funny.  this won't happen if you haven't done the work.

And last of all, I discovered that scary RL Stine is a very funny person who kept us laughing throughout his keynote speech at lunch.  I found out that he was successful at writing humor long before Goosebumps and his other successful scary books!

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