August 7th, 2007

Another August, Another SCBWI Conference

So today is my first day back to real life after four Wild Days of the Writing Life. (Okay, talking about the writing life. Close enough.)

 

In keeping with tradition (in my world, doing something once certainly can constitute a tradition) of tracking the best things I heard at the annual writers’conference, here I present my favorite quotes (that I could write down quickly enough) from the SCBWI Annual Conference. 

 

10. “You messed with God, and look what happened to you!” –Walter Dean Myers

 

This prolific and thoughtful author was describing the way most of his grandfather’s stories ended. The way he said it was hilarious, which doesn’t seem to me to come across in the plain words on the page. Which makes me think how important tone of voice is, and how impossible to replicate in writing. No amount of italics can do it (and God knows, I try), because the reader invests every bit of dialogue with the tone of voice he feels is most appropriate. Which makes me think how amazing it is that we are, any of us, able to communicate with each other at all. (I really do love italics.)

 

9. “Whenever I get a major roadblock in my life… I realize this is how it was meant to be.” –Peter Brown

 

There’s always a lot of philosophy to be had at the SCBWI conference. Us writer types really dig that kinda thing.

 

8. “You just have to—pardon the expression—Helen Keller your way through your own process of building character.” –Cecil Castelluci

 

I wholly approve of verbifying nouns, and an excellent example of same was provided by SoCal novelist castelluccihere. Her workshop on creating memorable characters provided me with one of the biggest nuggets of helpfulness I am carrying away from the conference, to wit: consider your character in terms of Superman. What is his “superpower?” What is his fatal flaw? Who is his archenemy? What is his love object? It made me look at my MG fantasy in a whole new light. Sigh. I think I spot Draft 15 in the wings. 

 

7. “Well, duh! I like magic!” –Tamora Pierce

 

As if the very covers of this fantasy writer didn’t indicate that very fact!

 

6. “Some things cross over; some things don’t. Parallel universes are funny that way.” –Tamora Pierce

 

Pierce was full of great quotes. But you only get two in this blog. Sorry.

 

5. “It’s about a boy who finds a severed finger in a tin can. It’s funny!”—Rachel Griffiths

 

And that quote, right there, pretty much sums up why I think Rachel Griffiths is The One! My query already has her name on it. (Unfortunately, now that Draft 15 is edging its way onstage, it will probably be a little while before I can send it to her.) 

 

4. “I feel a little bit like an elephant who’s been asked to speak to other elephants on the topic of how to be an elephant.” –John Green

 

Green was pretty dang funny, and so is the book I had him sign at the conference, An Abundance of Katherines. It has footnotes! I think all novels should. Especially if they run along these lines: “Those wacky Germans! They have a word for everything.” It’s like reading my brother’s conversation. Only, you know, not audible.

 

3. “It’s a good idea to listen to your heart. Your heart most often knows where you need to go.” –Mary Hershey

 

This was from a humor workshop, and it’s not the least bit funny, is it? But it’s so true. (Other parts of the workshop were funny. But I guess I was laughing too hard to write them down. So you get this one instead.) 

2. “Do not send rubber fish.” –Lin Oliver

 

The executive director of SCBWI summed up the position of two editors on a panel regarding how to submit work to a publishing house. I would explicate it further, but it’s probably funnier this way.

 

1. “I snort too!”—SCBWI member

 

Okay, so let me just come out with it right here: I’m a snorter.

 

For many years I didn’t even think about that fact. (I guess kids make so many weird noises, no one took extraordinary notice of my snorting.) But now that I mostly hang out with grownups, I find that snorting—which, I should clarify, generally only takes place when I start laughing very hard, which doesn’t happen that often. Okay, with me it happens pretty often. But it’s not chronic or anything—draws a great deal of attention.

 

So there we were, a table of eight, at the prestigious and emotional Golden Kite Awards Luncheon. The award recipients gave short speeches with frequent punches of humor. Someone at our table tipped over her glass of water, and it wasn’t me. Everything was great.

 

And then another award recipient gave a speech. It had punches of humor too. I don’t know if he was flinging them too fast, or if it was a cumulative effect resulting from previous laughter, or if the coffee suddenly kicked in, or what, but I realized too late that I had reached the point of no return. I couldn’t stop laughing.

 

I’ve been in this situation before, and I know how to handle it. I slap my hands over my face and try to keep my big mouth shut. I might be shaking with enclosed laughter, and my face may turn purple from a lack of oxygen, but at least I’m quiet about it. (Now that I think about it, it could well be the lack of oxygen that leads to the snorting. Because sooner or later I inhale, and then it’s over.)

 

Now I thought this snort was not particularly loud. But apparently my table did not agree, as they all turned to gawk at me in horror. davidbeall

 kindly pointed out that I had distracted the entire ballroom from the award recipient’s speech. (I am not convinced this is true, but since my eyes were totally covered by my hands at this point [along with the rest of my face—weren’t you paying attention?], I can’t be absolutely sure.)

 

 

But there was one kindred spirit there, one person who understood. It was a girl at our table who narrowed her eyes, jabbed at the air, and whispered furiously, “I snort too!” She then turned around to face the stage again, as though nothing at all unusual had happened. (Frankly, I think all snorting incidents should be responded to in this way. I may have T-shirts printed to this effect. Watch this blog for updates.)

 

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