Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SCBWI Salon at the Eric Carle Museum

Saturday, I drove up the dreary wet highway to the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA to attend a Society of Children Books Writers and Illustrators one-day salon on overcoming professional and artistic challenges.

A little about the museum - if you're anywhere around here - this is a lovely place to visit. The kids always get a kick out of the Hungry Caterpillar VW parked out front. How fun would it be to drive this car around?! It's a small museum with two large galleries and a small one. But it has a lovely gift/book shop and an art studio where you can make art with the kids. So do a little looking around and do a little making art. Good stuff.

Here's the panel of authors:
Lita Judge (author/illustrator of One Thousand Tracings, Pennies for Elephants), Sara Pennypacker (author of Sparrow Girl, the Clemetine series), Grace Lin (author illustrator of The Ugly Vegetables, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), and Elise Broach (author of When Dinosaurs Came with Everything, Shakespeare's Secret.)

I'm going to go through some of the highlights of the conference and things that struck a chord with me. This is a post for those of you into writing. It might be a bit boring for the family/friends side of the readership.

The first topic was: professional/career challenges. Most of the women spoke about how they choose their next project.

LITA: Be careful of reader input. Write for your body of work and not to let your reader's down.

SARA: When choosing projects, make sure to pick something that is worth your time and energy. Pick projects that say something that is true and universal.
Expand your body of work; don't be redundant.

She cared a lot about using her books to find some sort of justice for issues that mattered to her.

Your characters must be motivated to act.

GRACE: Look inside yourself and write about something important to you.

ELISE: Elise spoke about working with other professionals: agents, editors. She quoted an editor as saying, "When I'm taking on a new project - I'm not adding a book to my list. I'm adding a person to my life."

Elise talked about finding an agent that is a good fit for your author style and she mentioned a list of great agents (Mine, Scott Treimel, being among them. I was very proud!)

She also spoke about author/illustrators taking any speaking gigs they could get early in their career and that the best way to market your book is to write another great book.

Then the panel spoke about how a good agent can help shape your career and that authors/illustrators should have an overall career plan and thoughts as to how to build their list. (Do I have one? Not really. :0)

The moderator asked them for advice on balancing their creating time with their marketing time - but none of the ladies had too much to add here. This seemed like a on-going challenge for all of them. I know it's one for me!

The best advice Elise had on school visits was this: get school to consolidate your time. You don't want to be scheduled for a group presentation at 9:00am and then have to hang around with nothing to do until your next talk at 1:00pm. That's only happened to me once - but it did feel like a massive waste of time.

The afternoon session was about artistic challenges:

LITA: Make sure your writing and your illustrations don't overlap. The illustrations should add something new to the story.

Trust the reader - don't overwrite. You don't have to give them every little detail.

SARA: Try not to protect your MC (main character.) Give them many mistakes; let them trip, struggle, and suffer from them.

Try to be truthful.

If there is a message, have the MC figure it out and say it. Don't have anyone else come in and give them the answers.

Write for children, write their stories b/c they can't write them for themselves.

And, be wary of strong-handed messages, but if there is a message, aim it at the adults.

GRACE: Trust yourself and that what you are doing is unique and important to you.

ELISE: Characters shouldn't act to please the readers - they should only be concerned with pleasing themselves and their journeys.

Make sure your plot and character fuse together. The plot should be unique to the character. If it's a mystery, make sure it's a mystery only your MC can solve b/c of his/her unique knowledge and characteristics. Then the plot will help to develop the character.

If you get stuck, write scenes like a patchwork quilt; out of order. Then you can link things up later.

Sometimes the "why" part of the story is unimportant. In When Dinosaurs Came with Everything, Elise doesn't write about why there are dinosaurs. The story just deals with the reality as it is. In Wink, The Ninja Who Wanted To Be Noticed, I didn't write why Wink wanted to go to ninja school - although one of the houses that rejected it did ask that question.

Of course, all the ladies had a lot to say, but those were the nuggets of wisdom that hit me.
Hopefully some will bonk you on the head, too.

(I bought When Dinosaurs Came with Everything for Magoo. It's a great book and it's illustrated by the fabulous David Small.)


Natalie said...

Great tidbits, Julie--thanks for sharing!

Z-Kids said...

What a great experience! Thanks for sharing it with us!