Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Words from Margaret Peterson Haddix

MARGARET PETERSON HADDIX is the author of more than twenty books for children and teens, including the Shadow Children series and the newly launched Missing series. Her books have won numerous state readers choice awards and the International Reading Association' s Children' s Book Award.

Dig In

Growing up she always ended up doing things the hard way: proving to 2 older brothers… that she was just as good, or better. Do we have FEAR as children? We are FEARLESS as children.

Approaching writing is much the same. Ask questions:

What is safe enough? How much risk?

Danger? Depict realistically. Use REAL life experiences. (White water rafting)…. “dig in”

Focus – this is what really matters RIGHT NOW…

What are my characters focused on? What are they doing?

Surprises: Johnny One note? – commentary is original? Important… what is your character trying to do? What is their motivation ? Think deeply about what makes them deeper than paper dolls? When all of your characters are alike, then there is no room for character advancement or development. recalls childhood of Betsy McCall Dolls.

Does it make a difference which character makes a comment, say the dialogue? Know your character’s better. Good example given was the movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

What words in your mind will make you “try your hardest” to get your message across? Purist, simplest motives. Innocence.

Entering contests helps because of “deadlines” and strengthens skill and motivates, amasses a body of work. Even rejections can be seeds for other stories.

focus of life – deadlines and “distractions”..

“Just Ella”


Writing is like falling in love.

Anticipating a 15 ½ year old that is learning to drive getting on the road for the first time…

Kids are changeable as they LEARN their new skills – adaptable, always evolving

Dramatic changes – tougher for adults than it is for kids/teenagers.

We have 20 – 30 years of experiences to draw from.

More concerned about loves and hates from one minute to the next.

Hang out with kids to get inspirations… watch kids play… play games… naïve

What reminds you of being a child…. Journals, diary’s, artifacts?

You will go in the direction that you are looking!!! FOCUS

Flashes of Awe – Dig in – Inspiration for writing.

Transcribed from notes taken 8/1/08 at the SCBWI conference - afternoon session - by Suzanne Gibson

Other Links to Blogs about the SCBWI Conference

Alice's CWIM Blog

Keynote address by Mark Teague 8/1/08

Mark Teague
My 20 Years in Children’s Books: A Survivor’s Tale

I am Picture Book Creator

when stopped by people who claim to have a good idea, and are interested in the business, he gives them the SCBWI contact information to steer people in a direction – to pursue their "great" ideas.

Picture books were a start – childhood drawings – create stories and draw pictures

His parents basically viewed work as one of options

Divine human experiences: those that lead to poverty, and those that don’t

Art categorized as “poverty”…. Art school… graduation?

San Diego born / UC Santa Cruz – confused by studying American History – and UNEMPLOYABLE

Reading Jack Kerouac – road trip – create a good successful story – launch a career (minus the alcohol and despairing death)…

Dodge Dart – head east – cross country in winter? A huge FLAW…. Mom wouldn’t send $$$ if ran out… GET A JOB…

In NYC and got job at Barnes and Noble corporate offices. 1986, before National – still a regional book store. Books that were “over print” – Remainder books – books that were overstocked. Job: Advertise this Big Boxes (palette) – learn how to create book cover (copies)…groomed on the job. It was art school / got paid for it J B&N Jr, Children’s Only store – more concentrated on Children’s picture books / art books of the 1980’s / fully saturated color art – William Joyce, (Rolie Polie Olie / Robots)… Stories with picture and words in big colorful packages.

Roughly autobiographical – kid moved to big city – homesick – contrives to take a magical journey – the Trouble with the Johnson’s – a family of dinosaurs – illustrated it – idea to make a dummy (not knowing it was a dummy)… no computer, but had access to a great assortment of professional display tools. DISPLAY DEPARTMENT / Mike Cavanaugh – the B&N Book Buyer…Target – Chris Van Allsburgh’s editor = Walter Lorraine / took it to Houghton-Mifflin – tried his publisher / editor. It was a personalized rejection letter. “I can’t figure out what you are trying to do here”…. Focus / Emotional Distance created while it’s away / Grounded / read revision and notice the flaws… could see truth in notes from WL…

What is NOT working – can’t get enough focus or clarity in the work… try to tell a story – make it work in 32 pages… in general – conflict boiled down into something that works in a few short sentences…not too complex. Tighten this form of communication.

Communication has to be direct. Not condescending, Not Indirect…

Scholastic offered an interview – thanks to MC – looking for “young talent”… reviewed it… liked it…. Bought it…

4 – 5 Months to get the contract…

Got married –

$5000???? WOW!!!

Struggled – Jean Fiewel – Got out of “rut” pasting – Scholastic sent “free lance “ work… practice, work, and improve… / pseudonym?

able to quit that job at the yellow pages
then able to quit working as Elroy Frehm
later stopped having scary gaps between

then one job after another came in

next step = able to work with great stories
and 20 years later -

thats where I am now
gets letters from children we have to do good work
these kids are are ultimate audience

when I was first starting out
I didn't know if I was doing this right
I just wanted some one to tell me
this is what you do, so do it
and no one ever told me that

and that uncertainty is now what I love about this job
= the field is wide open there are no rules

people have expanded this field tremendously
the only rule is = it must work

the job IS a flying leap
you always get something when you're willing to take risks like that

Notes transcribed by Suzanne Gibson with input from Anastasia Suen 8/05/08

Keynote address by Bruce Coville 8/1/08

The first speaker at the SCBWI conference after the introductions of the faculty was by Bruce Coville... I must admit, being new to the industry I am only now learning the who's who, and who does what in the industry. So I listen intently and take notes and make use of the references made available to me before and after the conference. Again, where possible and appropriate, I've added an active link... so you can explore as you wish...Bruce Coville

The Art of the Heart: Writing True for the Child

noting a Shakespeare Society of America – ritual disrobing, Bruce began his address by getting comfortable,... taking off his jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves. In a pleasant and contemplative voice he acknowledged the audience and the gathering of the tribe – one is missing – Sue Alexander (the co-founder of SCBWI who suddenly passed away in the beginning of July)

We are part of A lonely thing – with 1000 people, who make their living telling lies to little children

“look at me” – in a quiet way – a giant attention getting speech

He subtly reminded us that we were about to embark on 4 days that just might change your life – have an open mind – open heart –

If you are asking: Should I be a writer?

Well, if you come home and have had one of “those day” edgy experiences…. Both you and your significant other are the same – pushing the buttons of crankiness…. with the full knowledge that you should not say these things… and then think to yourself "MMMMmmm… this is good stuff" (content for a book or scene)…

are you willing to converse with strangers – and tell you life story (of embarrassing moments of your family) ???

NOT GETTING RICH - we all hope for, but know that it is not why we are here... (JK is the exception)

Reach the Hearts of children – that’s the direction we are all heading... or should be heading.


Why are you here? – why? Why do you want to write for children… my heart is filled with stories… Why? Push that “why” to the next level… deeper and deeper into the level of Why?

Fully understand what you are doing, because the children in America are in a state of crisis.

Stages – one – the child as economic contributor to the family – contribute with hard work, heart warming… it wasn't asked of.. it was expected... and just part of the family dynamic.

After WWII – economic prosperity to – Object of Love – child is now doted on – want for a better life… lots of attention… the work wasn’t crucial

Third stage – 5 – 15 years ago – Keep the economy moving by being consumers – BUY STUFF culture. But not necessarily good for the heart.

Secret to happiness: Real work that you love (Catherine Hepburn reference)

Kids are NOT expected to help.

Kids want to be contributing

Kids want heroes – that’s how we create ourselves

Take on their personalities - emulate the characters they have a connection with, or want to have a connection with.

Where to find good role models: in Children’s books

Who do I want to be like? Invite people we want to be like…

7 deadly sins: are the motivators


Gluttony – if you are not… you are not in the right business,


Sloth – sit down and do the work, ASS GLUE,

Wrath – Cherish your wrath – it’s a great motivator

Envy – ref. Harry Potter – WHY (jkr)NOT ME, GOD?

Pride – Be Proud of our Work

Bruce’s seven sins

Dullness – defines where the story begins

Repetition – repeating yourself – we don’t want to rip off HP, but if you have anything like it……. Make a trend, don’t follow it.

Cliché – slide off the mind of the reader – it’s too easy – Find them and re-write them

Sloth – not working at your best… (it’s so easy) exceed expectations – give more than they are expecting -

Inattention- not thinking it through – if A, then B…. but B is the start of C, D, E and so on…. What happens next? Where do all the ripples go? All the implications, all the details

Perfectionism – the enemy of achievement – throttles creativity – Let go and let someone read the draft…. Work and avoid the fear… First Draft – cut away everything that is NOT the subject….

Clumsiness – where does the story begin (Lack of craft) – master the craft – misplaced modifiers – READ IT OUT LOUD… DOES IT MAKE SENSE

7 heavenly virtues – transposed for writers

1: Passion – Great work comes from passion

2: Temperance / sensuousness – loving descriptions of the sensuous world / 3 out of 5 senses should be engaged… texture and style to pull in the reader

3: Wisdom – what have I done? What have I learned / take a sheet of paper into 6 boxes/ columns: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (elementary grade memories for each level) recall and access those ideas… / find that the bulk of the responses are BAD… we are hard wired to remember what went wrong… and LEARN… - - - don’t touch a hot iron theory – and learns – every day doors close in children’s hearts, it is our job to KICK those doors open… have courage in our own writing… write down those 6 stories

4: Guile – the magician’s trick – “look” bamboozle and pop the “deceit” and “Darth Vader / “Luke, I am your father”

6: courage – be Bold in what we do / that’s sounds scary, I better do it – don’t be afraid of rejection – forget your ego… no editor has raced to your one’s house and smacked down as you open the door. When you get to the cliff – jump – you may get wings… Let go and GO… reach inside and pull out the painful story. Take advantage of your fears…

7: Joy – is the birthright of a child – make a child happy – it is all around us – celebrate every day joys and help children see those moments and experience them. The joy should be in the process as writers. Live through the “oatmeal” days to get to the screaming while you write JOY days.

5: humor – God has humor – why did he put the playground and the plumbing so close together.

Joy is not Cheap - Joy is Free!!! We are born with tears… create Laughter to bring out those tears.

But our first emotion after birth is laughter…

Humor is a high achievement… to act with JOY is celebrate . not react to fear.

Long Term – the story tellers start the “ideas” that become real events

Story tellers – the stories are what survive in our memories –

Create Empathy though stories – learn skills through our characters – loneliness, live someone else’s story

Plot, Structure, character development---- but more important – capture the hearts of children

Humanlessness is a “humorless” act.


May you write with joy, passion, and courage, may your words dance across the page, may it be heart-affirming work…


Monday, August 4, 2008

The first year as a SCBWI member!!!

Today is Monday, August 4..... and for the last 4 days I, amongst 915 of my newest and closest friends, have been pleasantly entertained by each other... the writers, illustrators, editors and agents who create and produce the colorful, whimsical, and educational books and reading materials that come into the hands of our children.

The Society of Book Writers and Illustrators Annual Summer Conference is an experience to be had by anyone "considering" a career or writing opportunity involving children.

The following is a "brief" synopsis of what I have experienced... what I have learned, and who I have learned from... There will be active links and resources.... but what you won't find is a "word for word" essay.... because that would take away the personal experience and dilute the one on one encounters... The information is "my" interpretation and opinion, and for you to enjoy and learn from. If you have questions, comments, or corrections - as I am only human and may have heard something wrong... then Please let me know... I'm happy to learn more.
the SCBWI website also will have a webjournal account of EVERY seminar - so check that out too!!! www.scbwi.org

1: Be a member of SCBWI - I joined in June 2007 and attended my 1st conference in August 2007... One year later I am SoOOOOooo excited I made that decision! I knew no-one and just quietly kept to myself. I observed, listened and learned as much as possible. Each keynote speaker and seminar instructor taught me something valuable... my portfolio review was informative and humbling, and I was realizing that it was the Best Next Step in becoming a children's book writer / illustrator.

2: The next step... get involved. I quickly realized that I needed to meet other illustrator's and writers, and jumped on line to the Tri-regions website (SCBWI.org) and checked out the calendar of events. What was happening in my area... I found out that my local South Bay (Southern California - Beach Cities) area Schmooze coordinator had stepped down and that there was a need for someone to take charge of events in the area... being so new I was hesitant to take on something I really didn't know much about.... but kept an interest in what it was all about.... what was a schmooze anyway? It sounded fun and intriguing... but what was it? It was not a critique group... it wasn't "show and tell" either...

3: Attend other events... I attended several SCBWI events. "Down the Rabbit Hole", an annual field trip hosted by the LA-SCBWI... and illustrator schmoozes both in West Los Angeles (Santa Monica area) and in Orange County, CA.... each event giving me a new perspective, insight and valuable tools to become a better illustrator, and made me realize I'm not too bad at the writing thing either... so I'm a "WI" combo.... I also realized that the South Bay was in need of someone to run the SB Schmooze - So... 6 months into this wonderful organization... I became the South Bay Schmooze Coordinator.

4: The support is wonderful... The SCBWI organization is so supportive. Within a week of me taking on the Schmooze role... I had coordinators from all over the region offering advise and encouragement to keep me motivated... and the response from other SCBWI's in our local area has been wonderful...

This year, attending the conference has been a WONDERFUL ride... Each classroom and seminar was filled with people I knew,... some from last year at my first conference... Others from the local area where I'd attended schmoozes... and of course the select group of ladies from the South Bay who I've been schmoozing and corresponding with over the past few months. It's amazing how knowing just a few more people makes a difference in a sea of 900+ people.

For anyone who hasn't attended an SCBWI event.... clear your calendar,... look at what your local region has to offer and GO!!! Get to know people and learn what you can... from that your writing and illustrating will gain a life that is ready to leap off the pages....

To see a "who's who" from the LA Conference - go to the SCBWI website and click through to events... a full synopsis of each person, lecture and topic will be there for you to read. The notes that I will be sharing are my own... with my perspective and my personal experience rendered in there... so forgive me if I get "too" detailed or lengthy - but that's why I came here... to learn and share....

----- Stay tuned for more Conference notes.... I took a lot, and it will take a few days to extract them all and make them legible...