A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: poetisa16

Blogging Not-So-Live from SCBWI: Day Two, Part Two

In which I rant about gender, cry over Ruta Sepetys, explain the trade book industry, and briefly cavort at the Hippie Hop party

For Saturday afternoon, I went straight to Jordan Brown's talk on writing for boys, because the only other thing that interested me would have been "Issues in Writing Girls," except that Sara Shepard was doing it. Also because, after doing some research, he was now at the top of my editor-to-talk-to list. As expected, he opened with a focus on how writing for boys is juxtaposed by writing for girls, and how he really dislikes the prevalent thinking that "boys hate reading." Instead he blamed how books are presented and framed for boys, especially the idea that there is "legitimate" reading - serious books vetted by educational and library institutions - and "illegitimate" reading - comic books, magazines, parodies, Sunday funnies, and those humorous novels Dan Gutman writes.

He said that boys get the idea that reading is serious work that cannot be done for fun, so of course they won't want to read. He also mentioned the "screen rule" - if it doesn't have a screen, they won't be interested - relating to the issue of video games and related entertainment phenomena as being a more predominant feature in boys' lives. Additionally he noted a key difference he sees in the themes of coming of age novels for girls versus for boys: when girls are "caught between" problems, they try to make things right; boys, on the other hand, try to avoid it ("they just want to be yelled at less"). In short, he said, it's not that boys are reluctant readers, it's that they don't read what we think they should (classics, anyone?).

I found this all extremely interesting fodder for issues of gender in the literary world. A hundred and fifty years ago, who would have predicted that girls would be more well-read than boys in the English-speaking world? Or, for that matter, that they would do better in school - a system which I would argue is still in many ways skewed in favor of their male peers. Although I don't claim to be well-versed in this issue, I think a better place to look for answers would be in another mix of expectations: We don't really expect boys to like reading, and boys expect each other not to. Yes, young men should read classics! (Think of all those "young [male] geniuses" like Champollion, or John Stuart Mill, or 13-year-old Jacob Barnett.) But do we really expect male adolescents to break free of their peers and especially their gender box to engage in an activity that in grade school is decidedly - at least in the mainstream culture - feminine? (Yes, we have examples of tough young guys like Will Hunting toting Marx, but except for the boys in Dead Poets Society, I can't recall any bookish characters who avoided nerd stereotypes without going the route of the aforementioned boy genius.)

This dichotomy is complicated by the fact that the majority of authors for young adults and children especially are female; the male-female ratio of the attendees was 1 to 5. For the keynote speakers it was 5:7; for the editors panel 1:1 (with moderator 3:4); the picture book panel 3:1 (with moderator 4:1); and the agents panel was billed at 1:1, but a last-minute substitution made it 1:3, the only group event to mirror the gender demographics of the audience. The total author/illustrator male-female ratio for the faculty was about 3:5, and for the faculty as a whole it was about 5:9 (you can find all this information on the schedule and faculty pages of the SCBWI conference website). Of the six awards given out on Sunday, only one went to a man (that's two of the nine annual Golden Kite Awards). Additionally, almost all of the regional and other special coordinators for the organization are female.

On the one hand, it's possible that there is such a glut of female authors in the market, and that because of their similar age and marital status and probably interest in children elsewhere in their lives, they write a lot of similar things. Men, on the other hand, are harder to come by, and as Jordan Brown suggested are more in demand particularly if they can satisfy educators' and parents' desire for their male students and children to read. The coordinators probably wanted to show some diversity and maybe even included extra men so as not to scare off the male attendees (don't we wish people did the same for women in male-dominated professions?). Additionally, the illustrator dynamic seems more flexible than the authors' in both the importance of gender and the ability to do art in other fields. Finally, editors and agents are not authors, so even though they publish and represent authors, they are not necessarily as beholden to the gendered world of authors per se.

Despite the ambiguity (and dubious sampling) of just this one conference, I thought it was very interesting that the men's keynotes appealed to me much more than the women's; even though Ruta Sepetys' was very moving (more on that later), the men seemed to capture the attention of the audience better, and even when they mused about their lives they seemed to have more direction and more of a point. Their approach toward children seemed different as well; Gary Schmidt and Tony Diterlizzi talked about grade school boys and their own childhood selves; Clare Vanderpool and Patricia MacLachlan went on about their children and grandchildren. And even though Bryan Collier, Dan Gutman, and Gary Schmidt all have families, they only mentioned them in passing, not as an integral part of their work.

To get back to Clare Vanderpool's comment, Gary Schmidt opened his speech with an admission that he now realized his working life is a very gendered experience, and then went on to talk about how he gets up early in the morning, eats breakfast, and goes to his own little gazebo-cabin-studio, writes, chops wood, writes, walks his collies, eats lunch, writes some more, eats dinner, and goes to bed. I was astounded. Even though there is much to say of personal choice regarding women and their relationship to the workforce, of the seven female keynote speakers, only three are of working age, fully employed (whatever that means for an author/illustrator), and working mostly in the industry; this contrasts with all five of the men.

The good people of the internet are also a bit confused as to this issue, even in a quick Google query like "book publishing women." Publishers Weekly asked "Does the lack of men in publishing hurt the industry?" while Melville House wondered "Are publishers keeping women down?" Meanwhile The New Republic looked into the idea of a literary glass ceiling and the European Gender-Research.net has a 30-page paper on women in the German market.

Anyway, after his presentation a whole slew of people walked up to talk to him. I decided that, since I had nothing to ask/comment/disagree with about writing for boys, I would go and find him later. By the time I got down to the auditorium to claim a seat, I still had a lot of time left and I was beginning to feel I'd missed a choice opportunity. So I left someone to watch my stuff and raced back up to an empty room. To which I shrugged. Then on my way down I saw him walking back down, and half-followed him back to the auditorium to watch him sit with the rest of the faculty. I then kicked myself and determined to watch his seating area like a hawk on Sunday.

Then Lin got up to give us another humor contest winner's entry: "Corduroy Beats Paddington in Men's Overalls Competition." Then she introduced Ruta Sepetys, whose debut novel Between Shades of Gray (which is absolutely not to be confused with that other book) has been making some news winning multiple awards despite the name confusion (and a sequel is already in the works). (For those of you who are wondering, the name of her book was probably chosen very much anterior to E. L. James' original online publication of Shades of Grey; the sheer length of the publication process - an average of two years - is one reason why not to write to trends unless you're already on the fast track.)

Ruta's talk was the most amazing one of the entire conference. She called it "You Cannot Break the Broken," because in writing this book she became thoroughly, utterly broken. For those of you who don't know, Ruta Sepetys is a Lithuanian name (Ruta means "rue"); she has it because her father and his parents fled that country when Stalin "annexed" it into the Soviet Union following World War II. Some years ago, when she decided to go find her extended family in Lithuania, she discovered that they'd been sent to a Siberian gulag in her father's place. Their story is what inspired her to write the book in the first place.

Her dedication to researching and writing it was such that, after confronting these horrors third-person through interviews with survivors in Lithuania, she agreed to undergo a 24-hour gulag simulation in Latvia. Although the physical trauma was horrible, the hardest part for her, she said, was what she learned about herself. Having watched a line of fellow prisoners be beaten and dragged off, and then having been beaten herself, she saw a man on the floor who couldn't get up who asked her for help. And, she said, "a switch flipped in me and I was changed" - and she walked away. "It' so hard to find out who you really are," she explained: "I am a coward." And then she went on to say that, after a certain point in this book-writing journey, she realized that "even though it wasn't getting better, it wasn't getting any worse." This is when she realized that "you cannot break the broken" - a title which gives as much strength to the Lithuanian people as it does to the pain of "writing emotional truth."

Ruta's message was that it is the truth of emotion, not of facts, that is most important in writing for young people, even if the emotions are difficult to face, because they reflect real problems in the world that we, as rapidly maturing ex-teenagers, will have to go out and face. Given the likelihood that her book will be challenged institutionally for excessive violence, it's no surprise that she described books such as these as "art they [children] need." Although she focused much more on the writer's side of the experience, it was reminiscent of Donna Jo Napoli's talk at the TEDx Swarthmore event. From her perspective, a good book is often borne from the writer's navigation through their own pain, their own fear (cue Poe and Kafka). "What," she asked us, "do you wish would just go away?" Because, she went on, no matter how alone we feel in out problems, there is someone out there who feels exactly the same way. And, as a writer - particularly for the younger demographic - there was this sense that it had to written to help those who come behind us. "We're standing here like skinned rabbits," she said, "hoping that it will all change just one person."

She left half the room in tears and got a standing ovation. Needless to say, her book is now on my must-read list.

Following this speech was another one, which turned us a complete 180 degrees from the emotional to the economic. Deborah Halverson ran us through her "up to the minute" survey of the trade book industry market. To understand what it means, let me briefly explain how young people's literature publishing works.

First, you have publishing houses, the big six and then the smaller ones. They have editors, publicists, etc. and can pay you to acquire and sell your book. There are also agents, who help you find the right editors and publishing houses (and divisions of publishing houses), and handle the business end of things. Needless to say, you must also pay them. The big buyers of these books are libraries and bookstores, or rather, Barnes and Noble. Individual sales, independent bookstores, schools, etc. account for smaller shares of the market. The internet is also slowly taking off as a place to sell, mostly through Amazon.

From the top, money needs to be made, so books need to sell, and authors who can write books that will be sold are in demand, according to what's selling well in general, not only as a fad. That said, ever since J. K. Rowling made bestsellers a news item and authors the new rock stars, there's been a slew of A-list books that haven't really met the standards on the "craft" side of things the way she did (insert latest fad book). On the other hand, B-list books have not been doing so well; in fact, the market sort of resembles the American socioeconomics: lots of people at the bottom, a few at the top. But in publishing there's also this mass of people who are euphemistically "pre-published" and searching for someone to take them on.

This is why the market survey was so interesting. On the one hand, people like Ruta were telling us to write emotion, truth, stories, from our souls and from our hearts, to write well and do our research and it would just happen. Then we had this survey on what the market wants, what the market needs, what the market, reads; authors who used pseudonyms to publish "afresh" as "new writers" were lauded for their dedication to selling well. I only ever heard one comment about "writing for enjoyment because you'll never get published," and it was immediately brushed off (for the record, this is my jumping-off point as a writer; publishing and money are unassumed perks).

To get back to Clare Vanderpool's other comment, most of the conference attendees were unpublished, and this is what the SCBWI exists for. I don't want to sound cynical, but even though it offers a lot of resources to writers and illustrators, the publishers and editors also benefit enormously. All their advice on how to do well is also advice on how to get hired by these selfsame people. It's like all the admissions departments of all the colleges and universities had an organization with an annual conference on how to get accepted to a college, and could tell you if nursing school was in or programming was out, based on how well they thought the job market was doing for those fields.

So with this in mind, here is a crash course on the market "trends and needs": It wasn't looking so hot earlier, but now it seems to be doing quite strongly; theres a bit of a glut in picture books, with requests for concept books, character-driven stories, and always something new and quirky; MG is doing stronger than YA, and searching for distinct voices that aren't too voice-y and writers who know their "craftwork" (AKA they can write); the YA market is experiencing "paranormal and dystopian fatigue" and looking for "product that is revolutionary within a genre"; overall, the suggestion for overcoming the "midlist hurdles" is to write well, tell good stories, and have characters who resonate with their readers.

With that in mind, I headed to the illustrators' portfolio showcase and reception. I met a bunch of young artists while waiting outside and we all exchanged cards (mine were handmade the day before with the extra paper from my badge). Then the pavilion opened and we go to see everyone's work and contact info laid out on rows of tables. Then the awards came out, three for "best of show" and three for "let's help you improve"; one of the guys I met won one of these last three.

Afterwards it was dinnertime (more CliffBars) and we all headed the back lawn and pool. There was a buffet and it looked pretty good, but the line was long and I had to catch the bus before any of the fun started. It looked like everyone else had come with a friend, so I jut got in line for drink with my free ticket. I did not, as suggested by the young artists, get anything alcoholic on the premise that no one would be carded. Instead I got a cranberry and Sprite mix, which was very good. Then I went to wait at the bus station and wrote a little on my new character from the day before (no, still not telling about that one).

Thus concluded day two.

Posted by poetisa16 17:35 Tagged books boys entertainment authors economy publishing writing trauma gender Comments (0)

Blogging Not-So-Live from SCBWI: Day Two, Part One

Featuring even more awesomeness, craziness, and energy bars

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.

Posted by poetisa16 07:28 Tagged food books science romance authors publishing writing inspiration Comments (0)

(A Lot) More Apologies

In which I grovel on the ground for your eternal forgiveness (or something like that?)

Dear lovely readers,

It's been more than a week since my last entry, in which I reported from the thick of the action at the SCBWI conference the weekend before last. So much was going on that I could neither put it all down fast enough nor find the time to write. I did plan to continue blogging in the days afterwards, but was dragged halfway across the country for a week instead, with even less time and even worse health. Now it's a week and a half and I'm very sure I've lost so much of it that I'm afraid to try to start writing again lest I discover how bad it actually is.

But, anyway, I do plan to get back to it now that I've had a few days to eat and sleep at regular intervals. It will be slow and torturous but I'll do it because I know you've been counting on me (and I might even throw in some stuff about my other trip too).


Posted by poetisa16 15:56 Tagged about Comments (0)

Blogging Live(ish) from SCBWI: Day One

Featuring amazing, overwhelming, stressing, tiring, inspiring, finger-itching events, people, and books

overcast 19 °C

Thursday evening we drove out to the Century City neighborhood in the city proper of LA (as opposed to the Valley), where I'm staying at a guest house referred to me by their friends across the street. Apparently it's not uncommon for people to run "bed and breakfast" joints out of their homes in residential areas.

I arrived an hour early to the hotel hosting the conference and hundreds of the 1,200+ conference-goers (about 10% of whom line up at the in-house Starbucks to get their coffee fix even though there's free caffeine downstairs). There were some labor protesters outside, which I thought was sweet until I realized their bullhorns were to keep people from sleeping and their issue was essentially based in some union politics (according to the conference attorney, anyway).

Because I had time, I ran over to the brand-name mall down the street, which was the ritziest I'd ever seen, to grab a bathroom and buy some energy bars from the local supermarket, which are literally keeping me alive right now. Then I ran back too late for the newcomers' orientation but in time to meet someone by sitting down next to her in the ballroom waiting for the program to start, who told me I hadn't missed much. People here are very friendly; the fact that most of them are 30- to 60-year-old women probably has something to do with that. You can literally walk up to almost anyone with any general question and launch into some friendly conversation. The air is charged and everyone is tense and nervous and excited. Especially when their favorite authors take the stand.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, Lin Oliver got up and opened the " Olympic games," called in the "contestants" to walk down to their seats, and had them light the "torch" to kick things of. All the faculty (authors, editors, agents) came by and said one word that inspires them. Examples are: serendipity (Karen Cushman), hysteria (Jay Asher), and joy (Patricia MacLachlan). This was helpful not only so I could know which famous people were there, but also to get a good look at the editors I'm supposed to be stalking, I mean introducing myself to. Lin also told us about all the contests the conference is sponsoring, including the Olympic news headline-children's literature jokes, like "Steroid Scandal for Clifford the Big Red Dog." I later found her and hugged her per the request of our own Donna Jo Napoli. She had to go back to running things, but told me to find her again to talk to her!

Then Arthur A. Levine, founder of the Scholastic imprint of the same name, did a presentation of the books he's published that he considers timeless, including The Four Questions, The Rough-Face Girl, Mirette on the High Wire, Good Night, Gorilla, When She Was Good, How Are You Peeling?, Millicent Min, The Snow Day, The Arrival, and of course Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (you can look up more of their books here). He talked a bit for each book about what gives it a universal dimension; for instance, for The Golden Compass (also known as Northern Lights) he talked about what all kids really love about the book - daemons. Why? Because Pullman created what everyone wants most, a perfect best friend that keeps them from ever being lonely. Then he puts that bond in mortal peril - he called this the human condition of intimacy and separation (just one of many golden nuggets).

Then we heard from Tony Diterlizzi, who illustrated the Spiderwick Chronicles, about imagination and the fairy tales that inspired his childhood. He talked about the similarities in the older stories of Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy, and the characters of Obi-Wan, Gandalf, and Dumbledore. He mentioned Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces and talked about his own quest story, The Search for WondLa, which (judging by the first few chapters and a lot of artwork) is fantastic. Then it was time for the first workshop session, where Matthew Kirby talked about plot as form, not formula. He said a lot about "models of plot" (the quest, the bildungsroman, etc.), the outer and the inner, or internal, plot, and how they should be intertwined, as shown in the movie Super 8. He also quoted Richard Peck that a book should be a question, but never the answer.

Then I went back to the mall's food court for lunch. I had veggie sushi and tofu salad at Seiki-Shi Sushi, which was pretty good. Later I went back for dinner at Take a Bao, where I had their veggie soup and tofu rice, which wasn't so good. I did get to meet another writer, though. Then it was back to some keynote speeches, which I didn't like so much as the earlier ones, though by the second workshop I realized this was probably because my blood sugar was tanking. Fist we heard from Sara Shepard on how to keep a series going, then from Patricia MacLachlan, mostly on humorous anecdotes about her grandchildren. At least, that's what I took away from it.

For the workshop I went to Gary Schmidt's talk on layering characters, which would have been better if I'd figured out I needed to reverse my bad (dare I say defiant?) mood beforehand, not halfway through. Anyway, we did an exercise where he passed out large envelopes for us to share. Luckily for me, he didn't have enough, so when everyone opened their envelopes to look at their 150-year-old European photos of their new characters, I got to invent mine instead. Then we went through exercises like "Your character goes home. What is their favorite room? What is their least favorite room?" or "How does your character walk? How do they sit?" or "How do they begin a conversation? How do they end one?" It was really supposed to be about personality and depth and backstory, but since I had invented my own character I had to add all the world-building to it, too. (No, I'm not telling you who my character was. Yet. Maybe.)

Then we went back to the last keynote of the day, which was Dan Gutman's hilarious backwards 13-step-program for how to get tons of books published, even if you're an idiot like him. It included many irreverent but poignant pokes at the industry, including how he did a lot of his own publicity early on when he realized his publishers weren't going to do it for him. This was partly because he does a lot of what I would call stupid-humor-for-young-boys chapter books, the kind I usually hated to read and thought were really immature. But Gutman made the case for his books via the issue of boys.

For those of you who don't know, most of the young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG) and even elementary school level literature in the US is directed at either girls or a mixed-gendered audience. Someone today mentioned that 80% of buyers are female, an incredible statistic that might not be true, but nonetheless expresses the issue at hand. Various faculty mentioned that people in the industry have a perception that boy's don't like to read, and it's true that that currently they tend to be "reluctant readers." In fact, half of all the male speakers I heard said the same of their own younger counterparts. Gutman's service to this "problem" (as an anthropologist it's interesting how everyone here assumes the necessity of enjoying reading) is by writing silly, honest, funny, non-condescending series specifically for boys. And he said that he gets parents and educators who tell him all the time how his books help their sons and male students learn that reading can be fun and informative and interesting, not just boring hard work. In terms of improving literacy skills for young boys, this is a gift. In fact, knowing how much people talk about these skills as a predictor for school outcomes along racial and socioeconomic lines, I wouldn't be surprised if this is one reason boys do worse in traditional American schooling than girls do.

After dinner I was planning to go to my regional social, but missed it for the LGBTQ Q&A session. It was in a small room with the chairs arranged in a circle, and one of the regional advisors there started playing "We Are Family" and "Born This Way" with his SmartPhone using one of the mikes, to set the tone. SCBWI has been called a tribe by its members, and at this session they stressed that we were like a tribe within the tribe, even more like a family. Among the faculty was Arthur A. Levine himself with some books from his imprint that addressed queer issues, which he gave away at the end. We started out with a round robin where everyone introduced themselves and asked some questions. It was great to have Sonya Sones, Emma Dryden, and even Levine answer my question on how to write as an ally. They said that yes, writing "the other" is hard, but that my uncertainty can help me write my characters' uncertainties in a way that rings true.

Passing the mike around quickly devolved into a huge discussion over whether non-queer people can appropriate queer literature using queer characters and stories. It was interesting to me that Levine, who identifies as gay, had a hard time understanding people's hesitation with writing a story that isn't theirs because it is so politically charged, even though on some level we are always writing someone else's story. He even suggested that their hesitation stems from internalized homophobia, afraid that by writing queer characters people will think that they themselves are queer (though I later heard him say to someone else that he had been playing devil's advocate). He also mentioned that when he started in the business, for thirty years there was nothing, and now he's published five queer-related books in the last year. So perhaps he's so happy to see this happening - and, let's face it, of such an older generation - that he doesn't see this issue as like appropriating race or socioeconomic class, the way some of us might.

A lot of people did ask what the big deal is. "Love is love" was an oft-repeated phrase. A lot of people also expressed the desire to include even cursory mentions of queer tertiary characters, like a scene where arranging a playdate depends on a girl having to ask her moms, instead of her mom. People wanted to write picture books about first crushes that happened to be gay, MG novels about dealing with a stepparent who happens to be lesbian, YA novels where the family friends happen to be a same-gender couple, and even futuristic and fantasy books in a post-gender, sexuality-is-nothing-to-comment-about world (like The Summer Prince). There was a teacher of a transgendered boy who wrote a picture book for him, and a urologist writing about someone with androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) who got to take home the one book in Levine's pile that even included an intersexual character. And Lee Wind, the moderator, mentioned his blog of young queer fiction called "I'm Here. I'm queer. What the hell do I read?"

Sadly, asexuality was not mentioned. (Nor was aromanticism, though given the strong emphasis on love, I wasn't surprised.) Something else I noticed is that these people were a generation or two older than me and having trouble just articulating themselves about this stuff; it really made me feel quite lucky to have grown up in it, and to have gone to school somewhere we could open it up and talk freely without being daunted by the complexity of this new conception of gender and sexuality and romance that is developing.

Afterwards I talked to Dryden, an agent/editor of a small house, and even Levine, though he was reticent to give his contact info and even covered his name on his badge with his door prize ticket (probably to hide from all the stalkers). I was also asked by one of the attendees about my own experiences as a high school and college student with the different cultural dynamic around queerness. I told her about how my high school wasn't very open, but my college was very liberal, and that I barely keep track of the sexualities of my friends, though I admit to always remembering who is genderqueer and trans.

And that was all just yesterday.

Posted by poetisa16 21:44 Tagged food education books authors writing queerness Comments (0)

Almost at the Conference!

In which I do more things around L.A. with my BF before heading to the SCBWI

sunny 30 °C

On Monday I rearranged my luggage and chilled before having a family dinner and watching the olympics together, which repeated itself on Tuesday. Men's gymnastics did not do so well, women's did better, swimming went well and we got to watch Missy Franklin win her gold medal.

On Tuesday we went to the Orcutt Ranch around the corner from my boyfriend's house. It's a park plus historic house in what's left of a 30-acre ranch from the turn of the last century, and is a very popular spot for weddings. In fact, while we were there we saw a couple there planning their wedding. We took the dog, who had a fun time chasing lizards and getting dirty; walked around in the chaparral and saw a 700-year-old oak tree; and snooped around the house, where we saw some nice tile work.

Yesterday we went to a Thai restaurant called Ginger, where I actually finished everything I ordered and then some - spring rolls, vegetable tofu soup, and tofu fried rice. Then we went to the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park in the Hollywood Hills. We went in to see the pendulum knock over a pin, and to look at the Big Picture - a slice of sky about as long as your index finger (or your pinky if you're a tall guy) at arm's length, blown up to fill a two-story 150-foot wall. Outside it has spectacular views of the city, and although the marine layer had come in to fog things up a bit at the bottom, it was a full moon and we even saw some stars. (Apparently in L.A. the sky never gets completely dark - even at 10:30 it was still pretty blue.)

Then today we went out to get me food and nomz, or noshies as Yiddish speakers sometimes call them, for the conference. Afterwards we went to Menchie's, a frozen yogurt franchise that has done very well these past two years (my boyfriend said something like 600% growth). I got some nice raspberry and pomegranate sorbet with mango pieces and we ate outside under the sunbrella seats. The name of the place actualy comes from the Yiddish word "mensch," and Menchie is actually a cartoon character with a bunch of cartoon friends. We also read a nice article about the etymology of legal words in English, which includes a history of the English language and some interesting cultural notes about the legal practices of the Vikings and the Germans.

Now it's off to the conference!

Posted by poetisa16 16:40 Tagged food nature language Comments (0)

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