Featuring even more awesomeness, craziness, and energy bars
04/08/2012 - 04/08/2012
On Saturday we started off with a keynote by Karen Cushman, one of my favorite childhood authors. It was a day for inspiring the creative process, however, so instead of talking about her amazing books, she talked about the conundrums of writing advice: do think while you write, don't think while you write; do read other people, don't read other people; write what you know, write about what you don't know; etc. So, she says, make up your own rules. Or don't have any.
Then I skipped out of most of the editors panel to blog for all of you lovely readers, though I got to hear their final thoughts. The children's book industry wasn't doing so well for a while, but they're feeling more optimistic now. They talked about how you should never write to trends - one included the response of one European editor when asked, "What's hot and trendy now?": "Pigs are hot, and religious books are trending." (A joke, in case you didn't get the sarcasm.) Rather, they suggested, take one of the core emotional stories for young readers - like coming-of-age tales for YA - and add a new concept and some fabulous writing. (After Twilight and Shades of Grey, they're really trying to stress the craft of writing.) They said to write what you want, but to look at the market to make sure you aren't wasting your time on something that's already out there. They also talked a lot about trust - about trusting yourself and your work.
Then Bryan Collier took the stand for his first keynote, "From a Seed to a Tree." He talked about how small events in his life planted the seed of art in him, and how some moments - like his first art class in high school - awakened that seed. He talked that feeling of loneliness, that "even the ones who love you don't understand you," or what you're doing, and the taste of magic he encountered going from door to door of the "big six" in New York City. He also shared with us the story behind his newest book, Dave the Potter.
Afterwards it was workshop time again, and I tried to talk to Lin. She had a lot to do and told me to walk with her, though she was pulled away several times and I got to see her work. She asked me what I write, and after some babbling I got to "futuristic dystopian fantasy." She had to go then but told me to find her yet again. I tried later that day but figured she needed to eat dinner before the party that evening. So instead, after a few false starts, I went to to Pamela Wells' talk on teen romance.
After a whole morning on writing good stories and going for good editors, I was a little taken aback by her focus on how to write specifically to get published. (Even so, she recounted her beginnings with her series based on a real breakup she did have in grad school, which she used to fuel the emotion - not the specifics of plot - in her books.) She had a whole list of guidelines, which she stressed were specifically for publishing in the aforementioned "big six," with a focus on immersing oneself into the reading and fashion and emotional life of teenagers (a lot of the people are past 40). The only thing she said that stuck with me was the need for a real reason two people in love can't be together - that it is the struggle that makes the story.
In general the discussion never deviated from heterosexual couples, and the most we debated was whether it was worthwhile to even write a romance novel for boys. One teacher said her male students did in fact read girls' romance novels to try to understand the behavior of their female classmates; and Wells mentioned her publishers were slightly worried that some teenage girls might be imitating the behavior of the characters and the "dating rules code"-marketing ploy set up on her website.
This was definitely a discussion about the YA incarnation of stereotypical "romance novels," not about how to do romance effectively in a good YA book, or even a good YA book centered on romance (excuse the underdefined use of "good"). There was no mention of one of the biggest names not only for the queer market but also the romance market - and yes, the queer romance market - David Levithan, a man who nails romance better than any other YA author I have read, as far as I can recall. That would be because even if he publishes through the big six, he's a big enough player that he can write what he wants to write, and he's still lucky to no longer be considered "niche market" because his "target audience" is queer (no matter how much fans of Nick and Norah may disagree). On the whole, I kind of wish I had gone to see Jay Asher on suspense instead.
By this point I had decided that I didn't want to spend the time and money going over to the mall's food court again during the lunch rush hour and try to find some suitable sustenance. Instead I was literally living off CliffBars for two days (I have since sworn them off until my next NEFFA trip). So I did have some time to research and blog before the second round of keynotes that afternoon.
First was Clare Vanderpool, whose debut novel Moon Over Manifest won the Newbery last year. She talked a lot about her life and how she writes. She noted that she waited what to me seems an interminable sixteen years of working and writing before she got anything published. She was also the first speaker to come out and articulate that that SCBWI really is meant not just for published authors, but also the unpublished - or "pre-published" - writers making up the majority of their members. She also talked about how most author's recounts of their daily work habits never seemed relevant to her, because as the mother of four children her work must always be done on times when they aren't around and don't need her, and even then must work only a few feet away from the main part of the house where they hang out. This is very different than the experience of younger (Sara Sheperd) or older (Patricia MacLachlan) women who never had to or no longer have to take care of children, not to speak of the men, regardless of their family status (Bryan Collier, Dan Gutman). I found both these points to be incredibly important and will return to them later.
Next we heard Deborah Underwood on the power of quiet - an apt subject that she is quite qualified to discuss, given her award-winning work The Quiet Book. She talked about the different kinds of quiet - unfocused, expectant, breathtaking - that she only learned about, and used in her book, because of a much-needed but parentslly-enforced break from her work. She mentioned an issue I heard several times at this conference, that of living in a culture where we are encouraged to always be actively taking in information or thinking hard to solve problems.
There is some research that suggests that letting our brains take time to wander off aimlessly is actually the body's awake version of sleep, in terms of subconsciously solving and readying itself for problems; she mentioned Jonah Lehrer's Imagine , and how angry she was with him for plagiarizing, falsifying, and otherwise manipulating information to make an otherwise valid point (fortunately researchers in his book responded directly to her queries, affirming the results of their work). Based on this she advocated acceptance of daydreaming, and even scheduled daydreaming sessions to help us retrain our brains to being open to inspiration. This was something that really resonated with me.
Then it was time for the second round of "breakout sessions," as Lin called them, but that will have to wait until the next post.