By Rana DiOrio, Founder of Little Pickle Press
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) 12th Annual Winter Conference in New York, NY. If I had to choose a single word to describe the experience it would have to be inspiring. If I could add another word to the description the experience it would have to be funny! These people know how to have a good time!
Since not all of you were able to join me and the other 1,100+ attendees at the conference, I thought I would share with you some of the pearls of wisdom (and funny quips) I garnered from the titans of the children’s book publishing industry as well as a fact or two you may not have known about them. This is, of course, only a subset of the many talented presenters at the conference.
Lois Lowry. This 2x Newbery Award winner fabricated a brother in college (Princeton no less) who drove a blue convertible to get more favorable treatment from her summer camp counselors. She based her award-winning character, Anastasia Krupnick, on 10-year old Amy Carter.
“Reach into your past. Give your happiness, sorrow, anxiety words.”
Smart marketing idea: At school visits, Lois Lowry would hold lookalike contests for her characters. The winners got a free book.
Mark Teague. Quipped that children’s authors should write about their dogs since fans most often ask authors about their dogs. NOTE: Kids don’t care much about cats.
“The first task for an illustrator is to be a good reader.”
“Learn to illustrate through trial and error.”
“Remember that as an illustrator, you are always in service to the story.”
In a picture book, think about what’s happening beyond the page, in the extended scene.
R.L. Stine. This master of the creepy tale is nicknamed “Jovial Bob Stine.” His life aspiration was to write for a humor magazine, which he did for 10 years–Bananas for Scholastic. He has typed all 300+ of his books using his left index finger, which is now irreparably bent! His hero is Ray Bradbury, who he encountered with butterflies in his stomach and with whom he shared a magical moment.
His worst review (written by a 12-year-old): “I’ve read 40 of your books, and I think they’re really boring.”
“I’ve sold 300M books, and I’ve had to write 300M books to do it!”
Advice to writers and illustrators: “Just say yes!” to any and all opportunities.
Jules Feiffer. This profoundly prolific author and illustrator just turned 82 and proudly proclaims that “his drawing table is his playpen.” (Alliterations intended.) He has a second home on (my beloved) Martha’s Vineyard where his daughter, Kate (who is also a children’s book author), lives year-round. Jules has never done anything he planned to do–it just made sense.
“Norton [Juster] neglected to tell me he was writing a classic.” on using cheap paper for The Phantom Tollbooth artwork.
Whenever Jules dives into a project he refers to his masters for inspiration and creative ideas.
Mo Willems. This winner of 3 Caldecott Honors, 2 Geisel Medals, 2 Carnegie Medals, and 6 Emmys creates a sketch book each year that he distributes to family and friends. He threw a handful of these precious sketch books into the audience on Sunday! He is even more adorable in person than he is in print or on screen.
“Humor is a form of athletics. You need to work at it to be good.”
“Nobody knows what’s funny. Funny people know what’s not funny.”
I do believe if you’re going to be funny that you need a New York/LA joke and a urine joke.
Rewriting is taking words out. Each draft is 20 percent less words.
Linda Sue Park. Even though she has written 8 picture books and 9 novels, many with critical acclaim, Linda Sue is extremely self-deprecating. She is a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mom, a writer, and a puppy sitter to Malcolm, her friend’s pet.
Reading is the training for writing. To write effectively, you must read A LOT.
Books are just about the only place left where young people can encounter written language with the luxury of time.
“If you’re not afraid of the challenge that’s not courage; its a chemical malfunction in your brain.”
“Voice is word choice for meaning and nuance and sound, word order for structure and rhythm.”
“Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in the work.”
When I write, I need to remember: “It’s not about me; it’s about the story.”
Linda Sue Park’s keynote was amazing, so if you want to read more highlights, please check out the scbwi blog team’s account at http://bit.ly/gYkkfD.
I am ever so grateful to be a member of this vibrant community and to have attended this conference. I am grateful to SCBWI for organizing such a fabulous experience for us. And I am especially grateful to the speakers for being so prepared, funny, helpful, and inspirational. Thank you!