I sat down with Stephen Fraser and heard more about the kinds of things he’s looking for and the ways he likes to work with authors. I was interested to hear him talk about how he likes to help in career building for his clients; that is, suggesting new directions for them instead of letting them get “branded” and continuing with all the old stuff.
Then I sat down with Carmen Deedy. She’s a fascinating woman to watch speak—very energetic and charismatic, always chomping a hundred miles an hour on her gum. I bet it was very distressing for her last year to be sick and have to cancel her class. I feel a great sense of loss that I missed her class last year, although I did learn from Rick Walton. She spoke about the manuscripts she was taking back to her publishing house (Peachtree) from her class and I was sad at that lost opportunity.
Her advice to new writers, which she rattles off quickly like a mantra: “Write what you know; write what you love; know your audience.” She recommends that we stop and analyze why we want to write for kids. (“Because you think it’s easy?”) So I thought about that for a while: why do I? Mostly because it’s fun. It doesn’t feel like work, although I put work into it. I don’t dread it the way I dread going back to certain adult short stories in various stages of completion that I have lying around. I think that’s a pretty good reason. (Carmen says she does it because she loves kids.)
Carmen recommends we put ourselves in a child’s world and think in child’s language. A kid will go up to a man with one leg and say, “Hey, Mister, how come you only got one leg?” Visualize situations from a child’s point of view, such as the moment your parent barges into your room when you’re in the middle of a fantastic lego construction and says, “I’ve called you THREE TIMES! WHERE have you BEEN????”
Guy Francis “read” one of his books, which was hilarious. He is an illustrator, not an author, so he held up one of his illustrations and described it: “Well, there’s purple over here, and yellow over here. I got the idea for making the rug orange from my grandma’s basement carpet . . . “ Seems like a fun guy, does Guy.
Dave Wolverton read from his latest, Wizard of Ooze, which sounds like it is probably a great boy book. The last line he read, about two characters caught in the sprinklers: “Looks like another fine mist you’ve gotten us into.”
The “surprise” plenary session was just silliness (and, I felt, a waste of time). Carol and Cheri showed baby pictures of the faculty and sang their silly song. I like Carol’s and Cheri’s silly songs, but I think this could have been done in the closing few minutes later in the afternoon and we could have gotten in another valuable session in this slot. (Same goes for the banquet. I was glad not to have missed anything since I had to go home sick, but if I had stayed for it I would have been very disappointed to discover that there was no speaker. And the “follies” afterward sounded fun but, again, of no value for those hungry to learn.) I imagine the logic was that people are tired by Friday (meaning mostly morning workshop people), but for those of us who paid for afternoon sessions, I think that Friday’s “plenary” was a waste of my time and money.
I attended Rick Walton’s session on writing humor which turned out to be not about writing humor but really a sum-up of Rick’s graduate treatise on humor and what it is. It was interesting for what it was (as is anything Rick says, really), but not very helpful when it comes to writing. I can sum up what he said, as far as it applies to writing humor, thus: “Humor is surprise without threat or promise. To write humor, set up an expectation, then surprise us, but make sure there is no threat or promise involved.” Again, I was hungry for more how-to and felt disappointed. I liked Rick’s shirt, though. It said, “My imaginary friend thinks you have mental problems.”
We met again in the auditorium for “Last Words” from each faculty member. Here they are:
Steve Fraser: “A great work starts when you appreciate the value of your work.”
Margaret Miller: “Don’t send a manuscript in until you totally love it and it’s the very best you can do.”
Jeanette Ingold: “Write what you love to read.”
Randall Wright: “You have my permission to take the time to write. (You wouldn’t feel guilty taking time to sew a coat for a needy child. Why feel guilty about writing a book that some child will wrap himself up in?”)
Krista Marino: “You are still a writer, even if you don’t sell a book.”
Martine Leavitt: a quote from Ursula LeGuin about how a writer becomes a writer: “No one asks a trombone player how he becomes a trombone player. He goes and gets a trombone, takes lessons, practices, etc.”
Dave Wolverton: “Get a great support group and use it.”
Guy Francis: “Put a lot of mileage on your pencil.”
Dandi Mackall: John 13:17: “Ye know these things—now blessed are ye if ye do them.”
Rick Walton: “Every writer has a certain amount of garbage in him. Come back next year with something to show for your year.”
All in all I have mixed feelings about this conference. Not as good as last year’s, for me, but then I was sick. I did come away motivated and with more ideas (also with more connections) and, after all, that’s what I paid for, so I guess it was a success for me.