Children’s writers! Children’s illustrators! Editors! Agents! Bookstore!
How I love the SCBWI national conference. And I want you to love it too. So without further ado, here are this year’s Top 10 Best Things I Heard at the SCBWI National Conference. (Potential alternate titles: The Niftiest Things I Heard Come Out of Bruce Coville’s and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Mouths, Along With Some Neat Stuff From Other People.)
11. “Dig cliches up like nits.” –Bruce Coville
Not only is this excellent advice, it’s onomatopoetic in its own way—for very, very few people are lice references common enough to be at all cliché. So advice plus example in five succinct words. Niiiice.
10. “Every day doors close in children’s hearts. Our job is to help them kick those doors back open.” –Bruce Coville
9. “Books must make the world a better place and heal the things that aren’t right.” –Dianne Hess
There was a lot of discussion on this topic, with much elaboration going on inside my mind. It seems to me that children’s book writers are in two general camps: representing life the way it sometimes is, hairy oozing warts and all, because kids need to know they’re not alone—and representing life the way it sometimes gloriously is, so they have the hope that things will get better.
Everyone has dark stuff to deal with; everyone goes through hard times. I’m not the least bit exempt from that. But not only do I not feel qualified to cover (constantly and in depth) those dark, hard times, I don’t wanna.
8. Desperation can be a benefit, according to Margaret Peterson Haddix. “It’s like diving into a pool. In the middle, you’re just kicking against water. But if you’re all the way down, there’s something nice and solid to kick off of, so you can come up really fast.”
When you’re right, you’re right.
7. “In writing for kids, we’re all writing about a homeland we’ve been banished from.” –Margaret Peterson Haddix
How true! And yet, how unexpected, coming from an author whose youthful protagonists face cloning, time travel, jail time, and re-youthening unto babyhood. My kiddy homeland was never like that.
6. “I think it was done either by a woman or a nun.” –Anonymous (because that’s the sort of kindly soul I am)
Choices are important, it’s true. So why be both a woman and a nun, if you could be just one instead?
5. “Willing suspension of disbelief starts with the author.” –Margaret Peterson Haddix
And that pretty much sums up the problem with my last project. Thanks, Mags.
4. When I was reading Judy Blume at way too early an age (like second grade), and asking my mom to define terms she figured we wouldn’t need to deal with for years and years, I finally made a young executive decision not to ask her for any more definitions of words I didn't understand in Judy Blume books.
Then there were terms I figured I didn’t need help defining. In Deenie, the title character likes to like in the tub and touch her special place with a washcloth. Like her knee? I wondered. Or maybe the faucet? It didn't seem to matter much to the plot as a whole, so I just let it go. (I think I was in high school before I figured it out.)
But I wasn’t the only one perplexed by that term. YA novelist Rachel Cohn figured Deenie had a blanket like she did (it was her special place!). So fascinated by the book that she actually tried to give herself scoliosis so she could be more like Deenie, Cohn told conference-goers about the time she met Judy Blume and confessed her chronic not-quite-scoliosis-inducing bending and craning. Her anecdote concluded:
“[Judy Blume said] ‘If you wanted to be like Deenie, you could have just touched your special place,’” Cohn said. (I almost missed her next words, I was laughing so hard.) “[I thought] ‘Oh, my God—I just discussed masturbation with Judy Blume. I am the coolest person ever’.”
3. “There’s no reason not to use humor, no matter how serious the situation.” –Bruce Coville
Including lovemaking, he pointed out. (It was a very comprehensive conference.)
2. “Aim Low! They wouldn’t call it bottom-feeding if there wasn’t food down there.”—Adam Rex
Okay, he’s an author and illustrator—but he’s also a great example of why this writer so enjoys the illustrator presentations at SCBWI. (Plus he brought along the best Powerpoint I’ve ever seen. And he thanked us for standing in line so long for his autograph at the autograph party, which was unnecessary and very, very sweet.)
1. “If your book is only about what it’s about… you’re in trouble.” –Michael Stearns
I think I have an agent crush. But I’m going to play it cool… for a while, anyway.