This past weekend, I went to our regional SCBWI conference, a happy gathering of children’s book writers and illustrators. I believe there were 265 in attendance, not counting the faculty. The ballroom at the Holiday Inn Dulles was comfortably packed and energy crackled. I always love waiting for this conference to begin, the year-long work of many people about to unfurl.
There were workshops and break-out sessions and panels and presentations. Discussions spilled into the hallways and lobby at lunch time and during breaks. The event was two days (counting the workshops), but it wasn’t enough time. It never is.
I wish there had been less time devoted to talk of platforms (tweeting, blogging, and other social media), getting an agent, the measure of one editor against another. I was reminded of a recent post by photographer Guy Tal:
Call me prejudiced but when an artist goes to great lengths about the tedious necessities of business, marketing, and equipment, I find myself less interested in the art . . .
Conferences bring writers and illustrators together so they can learn about those very things—the creating of platforms, the getting of agents, the measure of editors. It’s called networking. But I longed to hear more than shop talk.
Tell me, please, about the way your art makes your life elevated and worthwhile . . .
Behind the lips of everyone there were stories eager to be shared, ideas ready to be explored.
Tell me about your moments of doubt . . .
Knees jiggled nervously before a scheduled manuscript consultation with an editor, agent, or writer. Prayers fluttered up to the ballroom ceiling.
Tell me about finding inspiration . . .
I slipped into an art director’s presentation for illustrators and took pages and pages of notes, more than the illustrators around me.
Tell me about overcoming anxiety and about finding solace in your work . . .
I took my latest published book and the f&g of a forthcoming book. I kept them in my bag for two days, pulling them out only once to show someone. The finished products are wonderful and out in the world. But I wanted to be at work on a new one.
Tell me about being different . . .
How many times did I explain I didn’t have a smartphone and if they want to reach me, they’d have to call me, and if they leave a message, I might not be able to retrieve it.
Tell me about finding courage . . .
At least one hundred of the 265 attendees were first-timers. I hope they all come back next year.
Tell me that there is still place for beauty and inspiration and individuality in this mechanized world.”
Books are still important to kids. Real books, with printed words on paper and illustrations they can trace with their fingers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a kid say he wanted to create a story with a layer of glass over the words and pictures. I think kids want writers to tell the truth, and they want illustrators to get their hands dirty.
We will keep trying.
Welcome my latest book! Pumpkin Day is my first pre-K reader, about a family that visits a pumpkin patch. Erika Meza did the cheerful, autumn-perfect illustrations.
I never went to a pumpkin patch when I was a kid. We raised our own! Pie pumpkins (smaller, for cooking) were grown next to the corn in our big back garden. But pie pumpkins were too small to be interesting. I wanted to plant a giant Big Max pumpkin.
One year my stepfather got some seeds. He wasn’t sure, but he thought Big Max seeds were in the mix. Like Jack in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” I planted them, fingers crossed.
In order to raise one big pumpkin, you have to pinch back the others to give the big one room. One baby pumpkinling seemed to hold promise. I tended it with care.
By September, my pumpkin seemed to have a gland problem, as we say in the South. Was it my imagination or was the pumpkin longer than it was round? Maybe that was a temporary stage. I still pictured myself rolling my giant pumpkin across the yard to our house. I’d carve the biggest jack o’lantern ever!
Busy with school, I forgot about my pumpkin for several weeks. Then one day I walked through the weedy patch. The pumpkin should be big and round and orange by now but where was it?
I nearly tripped over it. My “pumpkin” was big, all right. Only it wasn’t orange and it wasn’t a pumpkin. I had grown a gourd the size and shape of a baseball bat.
I carried my giant pale-green gourd to the back porch. “Some Big Max,” I said in disgust. Halloween was almost here and I had no pumpkin to carve. Living in the country, you learned to make do. So with a marker I drew a face on one end of the gourd and propped it up on our front porch.
When Halloween was over, I brought the gourd into my bedroom. There it stayed until its pale green skin turned soft and my mother made me throw it out.
Now when I visit the pumpkin patch, I’m tempted, like the boy in the story, to haul away the biggest pumpkin I can find. Instead, I bring home one “just my size.”
The last time I posted about Atticus, he was heading into the record books as The Worst Cat in the World. When I left for Hollins this summer, I gave my house one fond final look, knowing it wouldn’t be the same when I came back.
Amazingly, the house was the same when I returned home at the end of July. But somebody had swapped our fuzzy teenage kitten for an 11-pound furry black bear of a cat. Atticus is now a year old. Has he settled down any?
He still gets in the sink, mainly to admire himself.
He still gets on my desk and walks all over the keyboard, making my computer do horrible unfixable things. I push him off the desk, but he sneaks back, thinking I won’t notice.
He still gets in boxes, only he doesn’t fit so well any more. What you are seeing is a box of furry belly, hind feet against the back, head and front feet under the flap.
Remember when he slept so sweetly (and briefly) in the vintage wire baskets on my desk?
Well . . .
He is still a pill and still earns Time Out in the laundry room. But somehow he wormed his rotten little self into our hearts.
I guess we’ll keep him.