Friday Five: SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference

Okay, here’s the last of the posts about my trip up to Sacramento and the 2011 Spring Spirit Conference. You’ve got a couple more days to enter my contest for a signed copy of Bruce Coville’s The Monster’s Ring, by leaving a comment at last Monday’s post about Bruce’s keynote speech.

For today, a few conference highlights:

1. The conference basically rocked. The energy of the whole day was wonderful, partly because of the great speakers and workshops, partly because I just love hanging out with kidlit writers. I have to say, though, I think a lot of that energy came directly from the coordinators and volunteers. So thanks to everybody, including the main organizers: Erin Dealey, Patti Newman, and Genny Heikka. We are lucky to have you guys!

2. I sat in on some excellent workshops, particularly Susan Buckley’s talk about writing nonfiction for children and Christy Webster’s session on what else we might be writing for young kids, than picture books. Both speakers sparked ideas and goals in my head, even if I don’t know exactly where those are going to take me. Both Susan and Christy clearly love what they do and get how challenging and fun writing for children can be. If I had to summarize both workshops really fast, I’d say Story, Story, Story!

3. I dropped the first page of my picture book into a basket for Quinlan Lee’s first-page critique session. Let me tell you, when I hear people ask, “How can anyone tell if something’s working or not on the first page?”–they can! No, they can’t tell whether the story is great after that page, they can’t tell if the story is seriously “close” and just needs a bit more revision, but it is possible to get a strong idea about what might/might not be ready and even a little bit about why. Quinlan is incredibly sharp–her critiques were fast, spot on, and always respectful and kind. Oh, and her lunchtime keynote speech had a picture of herself at nine-years-old, sitting on a hillside, reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond for the fourth time. In other words, a picture of why we write. Perfect.

4. I met Bruce Coville. I shook his hand, thank him for his books, and–oh, yeah–gushed a little. (Oh, you would have, too!) Then I watched and listened to him give a keynote speech that had him leaving his microphone behind, climbing onto a chair, brainstorming a make-it-worse-for-your-character with voices, and basically reminding us with humor and conviction who these kids are we’re writing for and what they want to read.

5. The day was filled with meetings–people I’d met before, people I’ve gotten to know online (every third conversation started with, “Have we met, or do I know you from Facebook?!”), ate and hung out with new and old friends (Thanks to Catherine Meyer, Cheri Williams, Tiare Williams Solorzano, Nancy Laughlin, & Claudine Rogers!) I bought books, talked writing and critiquing, and just soaked up all the creativity and motivation.

Wonderful day. I highly recommend a dose of conference time for you all!

The Gift of Writing for Kids—Bruce Coville Book Giveaway

So, this past weekend, I headed up to Sacramento for the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference. Which ROCKED. I may do another post this week telling more about it, along with perhaps a few car photos from my research trip, but what I wanted to talk about this morning was Bruce Coville‘s talk. Or part of it.

The part where he talked about why we write for kids. (Hint: It’s not the money.)

Slight detour first. I am very clear, personally, on why I write for kids and teens. Yes, I hope that they’ll read and love my books; yes, I think about them as the audience while I’m writing; yes, I try and figure out the best way to make my story connect with their world. But the full truth is that I do this writing…for me. I write because I need to, because I love the way it feels when words come off my fingers onto the keyboard. I write specifically for kids and teens because those are my favorite books to read, because the “club” I most want to belong to is the one whose members are the authors whose books I devoured as a kid. I admit it–I write for very selfish reasons.

I hear so many people talk about the book that most impacted them, the book where they first recognized themselves or the one that changed the way they saw the world. Honestly, I don’t have one of those. Every book that has hit me strongly as a child, as a teen, as an adult has hit me as an author. As in, WOW–look at the characters this writer created. Look at the way they built that world. Look at how they made me cry. Look at the flow of the prose. The books that are listed in my head as the most important are the ones that just made me–even more than before–want to be a writer. While I may have loved their content, the content is not what hit my life–it was and has always been about the writing.

But Bruce said something in his keynote that made me start thinking. And the basic thread is one we’ve all heard before, but it struck a chord for me Saturday. He basically created a picture, onstage in front of us, of The Kid who has just discovered reading. The one who has found THE BOOK (whether it be about content or prose) that, for him or her, has just opened up an entirely new world–the world of stories on a page. I don’t remember what that book was for me. The story goes that my big sister came home from first grade. played School with me, and taught me to read. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that my favorite thing in the world was to curl up with a book. I don’t remember the magic of discovering that feeling.

I do, though, know what that magic looks like on the face of another child. I know what it looked like on my son’s face; I know what it looked like on the faces of his young schoolmates, and I know what it looks like on the face of the boy or girl sitting on the floor of the bookstore or library, oblivious to everything that is going on around them.

I’m writing a picture book. I’m not sure whether or not a picture book can, by itself, create this magic–because they are so often part of cuddling with Mom and Dad, a grandparent, a teacher, an older sibling, a babysitter. I’m not sure whether or not this magic can be created with anyone else there, or if it is a simple, pure communion between a child and the book (and, yes, I think an e-reader qualifies!). What I think may be true is that there is an age-range, or reading-range, where the magic happens, and that it does fall somewhere between picture books and MG novels. Between the time the child starts to love stories and the time when they have already become book addicts and are now adding books and hours to their habit. I’m not sure if/when I will write a story that falls into that range, but I think–after this conference–that it must be a goal to think about.

I don’t know if Bruce Coville was the one who created that magic for my son. It may have been Bill Watterson, because the first time my son asked if he could read in bed before turning out the light, it was so he could lie there and “read” Calvin and Hobbes by himself. It may have been Roald Dahl. It may have been any one of the authors he loved when he was young. What I do know, and remember, is the click I heard in his reading world when he found Bruce Coville’s books. These were some of the first books I got him that were by an author I hadn’t read, didn’t know about. They were if not the first, some of the first, science-fiction stories he read. They were some of the first books that I picked up to read to myself, because my son loved them so much. My son’s favorites, and mine, were the Sixth-Grade Alien series, with Tim and Pleskitt as best friends. And then, of course, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, because…hey, it had a dragon. And a disappearing magic shop. And lots more.

They didn’t have any of the Pleskitt books at the conference bookstore. They did have another favoriteThe Monster’s Ring, which I think has the (very brief) scariest moment I remember reading in any of Bruce Coville’s book. I bought a copy, and I asked Mr. Coville to sign it (with, I hope, a minimum of gushing). And I’m giving that book away here.

I’d like to give it away to someone with a child, or who knows a child, that hasn’t read Coville’s books yet. I’d like to send this book off somewhere to a boy or girl who might not yet have fallen in love with books, or not yet found their stories. I’m not going to ask any of you to pass a test for the giveaway, or prove that you know the perfect recipient. If you just love these books yourself and absolutely need a copy, then go for it. If your son or daughter had this book and something happened to it, or they just can’t speak at the thought of having a copy with Bruce Coville’s signature on it, I totally get that, and they should get a chance to have that! But if you think around your world, and you know a kid who needs to find their book, who wants to love reading but hasn’t quite got there yet, then–please–enter. I want this giveaway to send a little bit of that magic into the world.

So…all you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment below. But if you’ve got a story to share about your book, the one that grabbed you as a child and made you a reader, or the one that did that for one of your own kids, a student, whoever–I’d love to hear that, too.

I’ll run this contest for a week, and I’ll draw one random winner next Monday, April 11th. Feel free to spread the word!

Friday Five: Out of Town

As you read this, or shortly after, I’ll be on the road (or many roads) on my way to the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference in Rocklin, California. For us non-geography experts, that’s right up in/near Sacramento. To get there, I head out of my mountains, through the heart of Silicon Valley, up into some lovely green hills (really green, this week!), and over toward the tip of the Central Valley. Not a long drive, but long enough that I’m taking an extra day, rather than rushing up and back the same day.

Road Trip!

Here are a few things I expect to do this weekend:

1. Drink “my” drink: Nonfat, decaf, light caramel macchiato. Just so you know. Yes, I do get that all out at the order station, and, yes, it’s worth the embarrassment. I’m not a big coffee drinker in every day life, but there’s something about sipping hot coffee from behind the wheel of a car that seems to work. And don’t push me to get the “hard” stuff–you don’t want me driving around on a full-caffeine hit!

2. Stop at the California Automobile Museum to do research for my WIP. I’m (hopefully) going to see a 1908 Model T, a 1911 Pierce-Arrow (think back to the car the dad bought in Cheaper by the Dozen), and a lot more. I’m going to figure out how you accelerated a car back in those days, which (if not all) had cranks to get things going, and–most important–what you might possibly bang your head against…hard!

(Note: I’ll be there on April 1st. I’m SO tempted to walk in, say, “Which one do I get to drive?!”, watch their faces fall, and then shout “April Fools!” Honestly, though, no chance I’ll have the courage.)

3. Hang out with kidlit writers and illustrators.

4. Meet Bruce Coville. Wait, let me say that again. MEET BRUCE COVILLE!!!!  He’s the keynote speaker at the conference, and I pretty much think he is brilliant in his ability to understand what makes kids laugh and what gives them the perfect world of fantasy to escape into.

5. Get back a critique from some professional (not sure who yet) on my picture book. Stick the still-sealed envelope in my bag and don’t open it until I’m somewhere quiet and safe? Tear it open upon receipt and block everybody else in the registration line until I’ve read it? Sneak a peak at lunch? What would you do?

Can you tell I’m ready to go? Have a great weekend, everybody!