Sunday, August 08, 2010

2010 SCBWI LA Conference - day 1

California palmtrees!!!
So, here it is. The big post conference wrap-up. I had been to the NY conference, but this was my first LA one, and this event was nothing less than absolutely amazing! It started with my 4 hour plane ride from Ohio which flew by quickly as I chatted with a cool Navy IT manager who was headed to Coronado Island for Navy SEAL training where among other things he was going to undergo torture training. I figured if he could withstand that I should be more than capable of handling SCBWI's full 4-day schedule of keynotes, workshops, & fun! 

me & Linda Silvestri
My blogging friend Linda picked me up from the airport & I was so excited to meet her. She's so sweet & funny, as is her hubbie, Tom. Together they are the cutest couple. After a good night's rest we headed off for registration & then to the ballroom for the big welcome from Stephen Mooser & Lin Oliver. They explained how this is not one of your stuffy type conferences. Here we are encouraged to make friends, and Lin prompts us to turn & introduce ourselves to who we were sitting next to. This year had a record turnout of 1136 people. Of those who listed gender there were 442 women & 62 men, so obviously my chances of meeting a eligible illustrator boyfriend are next to none here, so I better focus on the speeches :P

Jon Scieszka's Keynote
Tales of the Picture Book Writer: Do's, Don'ts, Maybes
Our opening keynote was by Jon Scieszka, and I was super excited that we begin with the master picture book writer himself. I was definitely at the right conference! He told us he wished he knew more when he began, such as the standard PB is 32 pages. He told us he once sent his work to 'Clarks & Potter' a gardening publisher by mistake, so do your research. He told us to congratulate ourselves for being at the conference because we are actually doing something towards our goals. He says the Pope is writing a PB, & says he'd like to call him up and say, 'Hey, I don't get on your turf". He tells us to read every PB we can...the top 100 on the library journal. He says some are creepy like the 'Runaway Bunny'. Also, read the Horn Book, Fuse #8 -Betsy Bird's blog, 7 Important Things Before Breakfast, & other trade mags. Scieszka says that once you start writing you should stop reading that stuff because it will poison you & make you second guess your writing. (I note that the same can be said of illustrating.)

Scieszka says leave room for the pictures, don't rhyme, no princesses, no underwear, & no alphabets.

When Scieszka first started sending out his work he got handwritten rejection letters pleading, "Please Mr. Scieszka please don't send any more manuscripts". 

He then showed us some examples of books that show why illustrators are awesome, 'Like George & Martha'. He talked about creating 'The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs' & 'The Stinky Cheese Man'. And about how for 'Truck Town' the illustrators based the vehicle designs on descriptions of kids he met. He showed us the wonderful scenes of 'Robot Zot' with changing perspectives & viewpoints. 

Scieszka says "our mission is to be a storyteller. Write what thrills you! Don't believe everything I just told you. Question everything."

M. T. Anderson's Keynote
The End of All Or Exploring:The Journey of Narrative
It has been said that M.T. Anderson creates books for thinking kids, and after hearing him speak I need to go check out his books. He has written about the state of Delaware being cut off from the world, & as evidenced by the fact that no one from the conference is from Delaware he says it's obivious that no one is getting out of Delaware alive! He says he's gotten a letter from the Governor of Delaware, (who called him 'buster'), informing him he has made some errors. I've uploaded a video of him singing his version of Delaware's state song. Anderson creates the kinds of worlds that I wished existed. He says 'take the thing that is most familiar & turn it bizarre like in 'Coraline'.

Lauren Rille
Putting Together Your Portfolio
My first workshop was with Lauren Rille, a senior designer at Simon & Schuster. She lists the 3 important components: technical ability, variety of composition, & narrative quality. She suggests we vary the scale, create interesting shifts in perspective, aerial views, extreme closeups, over the shoulder views. She says, 'try anything, do anything, try something you don't think will work because it may lead to something' 'Take something cliché & turn it on it's side. Take existing & make it your own.' Lauren says she likes to see pieces that prove you will work your butt off. She says only put in work you like. 
If you are asked to do samples pieces you will be paid for them. We don't work for free. When promoting yourself, Lauren says postcards may not be the best use of your money. Giveaways, promos, a group newspaper, e-blast, something that folds that she can put on her desk is good. My one-on-one portfolio critique was with her the next day, and she gave me some excellent direction and instilled some excitement in me to push myself to create works more specific to the childrens' publishing industry.

Next up was 'From Your House to My House: What Makes Me Choose Your Book', an  editors panel with Nick Eliopulos, Claudia Gabel, Brenda Murray & Jennifer Rees. (Moderated by Krista Marino) The discussion started with voice vs. plot. Jennifer says it's all about voice. The plot can be fixed. When asked specifically what they are looking for: Nick says, 'guy high concept, an original idea', Brenda says, 'teach me something new a kid would think is fascinating', Jennifer says appeal to a 'wide audience', Claudia says, 'someone who can write fast, tween/teen mysteries'. 

Steven Malk & Mac Barnett
5 Lessons from Classic Picture Books that Can Help Your Career
This workshop session was absolutely packed! Steven says as a Literary Agent he is looking for those who are familiar with the classic form & not those who are just hopping on the latest trend. 

1) Let illustrators do their job- Steven says, 'Don't overwrite'. Mac says the PB is an economical form in terms of text, emotional in pictures. The illustrations can reveal things that even the narrator doesn't know.

2) Understand the Picture Book conventions- page turns, end papers, all elements ( I love that they reference a Sesame Street Grover book that I loved as a kid.) They also showed us variations in text & art layout.

3) The Writing must Serve the Book

4) Understand but don't Underestimate Your Audience

5) Appreciate the Classics but be Your Own Writer- Err, I think this was #5. I don't have a number written.

Loren Long's Keynote
The Picture Book: My Two Cents Worth
I was happy to see that our closing keynote was by 4-time Golden Kite award winner and New York Times #1 bestselling picture book illustrator Loren Long. Loren tells us to ask ourselves, 'why do I want to write kid's books?' He says that when an illustrator takes the text they own it. How do you start a book? Loren says, One sketch in 1 day & forget about the rest of the 6 month of work. He says that in 'I Dream of trains' he created the mood & enthusiasm to create the rest of the book in that first sketch. For his technique he uses thin washes of acrylic, although for Otis he used gouache with a limited color palette for a different feel. He says he takes 2-3 months on the sketches, 4-6 months on final art. He did his first picture book in his late 30s. He won a Golden Kite Award for 'I Dream of Trains'.

Madonna hand picked him for her book Mr. Peabody's Apples, and he had to decide whether or not to do a celebrity book. After reading it he decided it was written for him, and that he could create this world. I remember seeing this book when it first came out, and loving Loren's illustrations with their Thomas Hart Benton influence. Loren said Madonna was great to work with, insisted on seeing every sketch, & liked everything he did. 

Loren says mood & emotion are key & you set this in the character & the scene. He says the mood all starts in the 'mystical sketch phase'. He says he likes to imagine music playing while he draws. He says a kid's favorite book is like a friend that gives them, trust, loyalty, & security. His influences are Thomas Hart Benton, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, & JJ Evans from 'Good Times.' Loren says believe that you bring something to the work. When you're in your studio it's your book.

So, then there was the Wine & Cheese reception & book sale where I met some great authors & illustrators & met THE Verla Kay of the blue boards! Yes, indeed it was quite a day, and it was only day #1! So much more good stuff still to come. Man, I need to try to use less words....


Goomie said...

Thanks for this post! Wish I could have been there!

Jannie aka Chickengirl said...

yay! Thanks for sharing. Appreciate you taking out the time to write about it.

Nina Crittenden said...

Angela, thank you for sharing your notes with us! It sounds like it was an amazing conference! :)

Eren said...

Great post Angela! You captured all the good stuff from the first day so well!

paula said...

Wonderful post, Angela! No, you don't need to use less words at all (if you think it's too long, I mean). You're summerising lengthy talks and doing a fantastic job of sharing them succinctly. I am getting a lot from this, so much thanks for your efforts to share!

Angela Matteson said...

thanks gals! I'm glad it's reading well. It helps me digest what I heard to write the main points here, and gives me a handy place to refer back to when I need to get back on track.

Would you believe these are just a smidgen of the notes I took on this section? And then there were the handouts, and the helpful visuals they showed....

sketched out said...

Wow Angela! You really captured the essence and really great highlights of that day! My notes were not as comprehensive so my post will be much shorter!

Thanks for doing this, it will help keep the conference alive for me. Oh, yes and thanks for taking a nice pic of me, hee hee!!! It was really a pleasure being conference buddies and getting to know you in person!

Shirley said...

Angela - from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I couldn't make it to this year's conference..I hope to possibly next year. Thank you for sharing all of this in such great detail. It sounds like you had an awesome time and I can't wait for more of your installments. Thanks again!!

Anonymous said...

Angela... this is SO much good information, and I've only read Day 1 so far. Thank you so much!