Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SCBWI Winter Conference Part 2- The Good Stuff

Saturday started the heavy stuff. It was a day packed with speakers and events, and I met a lot of great people. Sunday was much more relaxed but it still had its moments. I’ll try to keep my recollections brief so I can cover everything that really impacted me.

Meg Rosoff:

The topic of Meg’s talk was “So, when are you going to write a real book?” How many of us have heard some variant of this question since the very moment they entered the creative field? Aside from being hilariously bitter, Meg really turned on a lightbulb for me as to why I want to work in the field that I do. I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist, and when I fell in love with middle grade/YA book covers, I wondered if I somehow failed the maturity test. I’m a reasonable adult- shouldn’t I be illustrating for the New Yorker or something?

Meg mentioned that the reason she writes for the YA genre is that humans that age are “just the right age to have [my] life changed by books.” I remember it so well, how deeply I connected with a good book when I was that age. It’s not that I don’t still enjoy books today, but I do feel more removed from them than I did when I was 14. Kids that age are “seeking intensity. Big emotions. Big ideas.” I love that intensity. What you say, and what they read, really matters.

If anyone wants to lighten the mood, while picking up on some handy writing tips along the way, I suggest you take a look at Meg’s blog:

Patrick Collins (Henry Holt) and Isabel Warren-Lynch (Knopf & Delacorte)

Though they had differing opinions on what styles personally spoke to them, both agreed on many items that “hook” them, such as strong, identifiable characters, an emotional connection to promote storytelling, body language, and simplicity. It’s a good reminder from the Big Guys that no matter who your connections are, no matter what your personal style is, it all comes back to a solid foundation.

Shaun Tan

Honestly, I had no idea who Shaun Tan was until a few months ago, probably when he was announced as a speaker for the conference. I looked him up a while back and fell in love with his pencils from The Arrival.

“The truths I am most interested in are the ones that can’t be spoken about directly.”

In a time where everyone seems to be shouting how great they are through every social media outlet they can find, it’s refreshing to listen to someone so introspective as Shaun. He reminded me of my early days (you know, since I’m such a seasoned professional now) when the most interesting thing about making art was delving into my own psyche. It was less about “storytelling” for me at that point, and more about telling my own story. I had kind of forgotten what that felt like.

Also, I just really liked this sound bite of his on surrealism vs his own work: He’s just “accessing everyday reality through a sideways door.” If you’re interested in hearing more “deep thoughts” by Shaun Tan, he has a good collection of essays on his website:

Julie Andrews

It was so nice to hear her voice in person!

Mo Willems

Another hilarious personality. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Mo’s work; it’s just not my style. But he was a great speaker and I’m glad that the SCBWI brought in so many interesting personalities that really kept the audience engaged. I don’t know if they look for comedians or if it just worked out that way, but I enjoyed every workshop.

Mo recommended you always approach your work as though you want to change the world for the better, not just to get published. That will push you to make better work.

I don’t often make an attempt at writing, as I know where my strengths lie. But Mo had, in my humble opinion, some great advice: “In writing, you (the author) are in the way. You’re the third wheel. You have to be invisible.”

And this advice is relevant to anyone, writer or illustrator or any type of creative: “Ideas are not animals to be trapped.”

Lastly- I can't believe I didn't win the joke contest! I thought mine was hilarious:

A guy walks into a bar, and says to Chicken Little; "What's up?"


This post is getting rather long, but I just had to mention how I ended my Saturday, as it was so unusual. Nothing to do with the conference, but I still recommend it if you’re in NY. A friend and I went to see the immersive theatre piece “Sleep No More”. It’s visually stunning, though definitely not for everyone.

Sleep No More is roughly based on Macbeth, which is helpful to know beforehand because it would be hard to pick up on. But knowing that helps you make sense of some of the scenes you happen upon. I am having trouble, even now, explaining it, except that I can say it covers a huge 5-floor hotel which you can roam through freely, and every room is meticulously designed to enchant the eyes. Spectators wear masks, no one speaks, but hauntingly beautiful music follows you throughout the hotel. If that sounds like your kind of thing, check out the website below: