Sunday, February 11, 2007

Luminaries, Censorship, New Friends

(this is my editor, Timothy Travaglini, with whom Jim & I spent much quality time these last few days, and who is starting to feel like an old friend already. And, by the way, who is awesome.)

Another SCBWI conference has come and gone. So much inspiration smooshed into so few hours! The keynote speakers this time were -- get this -- Katherine Paterson, Susan Cooper, Ann Brashares, Brian Selznick, and Robie H. Harris. Um? They've written a few books and won a few awards between them. WOW!

some quotes:
"We couldn't live without editors, but copyeditors. . . I'm not so sure." - Susan Cooper

"Writers are very private people. . . who run around naked in public." - Katherine Paterson

"With each new book we must dare failure, or worse: mediocrity." - Katherine Paterson

"Make it fun. I've heard it said that there's one book in a person's life that turns them into a reader, and it's probably not The Brothers Karamazov." - Ann Brashares

some comforting things to know:
- Faeries are becoming a huge trend in children's books, says the picture book buyer for Borders. Yippeee!
- Fantasy remains hot hot hot, says the ages 8-11-fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble. Yippeee!
- The marvelous Jane Yolen (whose birthday is today -- Happy birthday, Jane!) is also a revise-as-you-go, rather than a blaze-through-the-first-draft kind of writer, like me. I try to force myself to write straight through sh___y first drafts, as advised by Anne Lamott, but I just CAN'T. It's not in my nature. Not that I won't keep trying. But it's always strangely comforting to find out that very successful people share your hang-ups and methods. Along those same lines:
- Susan Cooper is not a fast writer. For her, 5 pages in a day is phenomenal output.

some un-comforting things to know (okay, only one thing):
- People are still out there, in this very country, trying to ban children's books for the most inane reasons! (On the bright side, librarians are still out there, fighting the good fight, day by day.) The writer Robie Harris was someone I am sorry to say I had never heard of. Her books, such as "It's Perfectly Normal," are honest, sensitive nonfiction books for children about serious subjects like death, sexual health, body development, etc. And she is one of the most embattled writers in the field. I didn't know how it worked, but apparently when a "concerned citizen" wants a book removed from a library shelf for indecency, they file a "challenge" and the librarian in charge has to defend her/his professional choice to keep the book in the library. Librarians have described the process to Robie and terrifying, like a kind of witch trial. And some of the reasons books are challenged? Because children shouldn't have to know about death, even treated in the most respectful possible way -- what child hasn't experienced the death of a pet or grandparent or someone? Really. And breastfeeding. Some people believe that is an inappropriate subject for children. Um? Like it's really a mystery to them, of all people? Anyway, I didn't know what to expect from her talk, and it was a scary and fascinating discussion of censorship. (She was very pleased to see that despite all that the Dixie Chicks have been through these last few years they're nominated for 3 Grammies!)

I say it again to you writers: Go to conferences. Meet your peers. Meet the mysterious wizards behind the curtains of publishing. Get your manuscripts critiqued. Show your portfolios. Hear luminaries talk about getting their starts, about how they too are fearful with each new book. Drink cocktails or coffee with people from around the world (including Mongolia!) who do what you do. Go forth!

And, as always happens at conferences, we spent time with friends we only see at events like these, like Jamie and the other fabulous "Washington girls" as Jim and I call them (Sarah & Jolie: you need to start blogs!), and we made new friends, like Sarah, whose first book is also fantasy, also published by Penguin, and also coming out in June. So she's my June-Fantasy-Penguin Sister! I also got to meet another blogger who also attended the conference!

A ragtag assortment of us walked over to the Donnel Central Children's Room of the New York Public Library, right across the street from MoMA, to see the original stuffed animals owned by the real Chrisopher Robin in the 1920s. There actually are real stuffed animals that inspired Pooh and Eeyore and all the rest, and they live in a case in this wonderful library! There also happen to be FIVE original N.C. Wyeth paintings just hanging on the wall there. Jim and I really couldn't believe they could be real and just be. . . hanging there. But they were. And they do. The other night I had the pleasure of meeting a librarian who works in this library, and who also happens to blog copiously about children's books here. Oh, and this is me, holding up a copy of my Cricket Magazine cover from last year, like a big dork. Can you just imagine my big fat grin when my book is out???

And, I forgot to mention last week, that when we went to the Natural History Museum, we had the wonderful good luck to run into one of the stars of The Best TV Show Ever Made. Ever. Yes, you know: The Wire. What else could I be talking about? Seth Gilliam, who plays Carver, was there with his little boy, and when we stopped googly-eyed before him and told him how much we love the show, and how much we love the growth of his character over the course of the four [brilliant] seasons, he was incredibly gracious, even though he was on one of those hands-free phones and we hadn't noticed. That was our New York celebrity sighting. Yay!

Here is Jim with his painting that he entered in the conference art auction (he got 7 bids, and we found out that the girl who won just graduated from the same art school Jim and I went to):

And here is a shot of NY to prove we actually did go outside (though not much the last few days):

Early flight tomorrow. Late. Good night!


Disco Mermaids said...

What a wonderful recap. It sounds like you took full advantage of your NYC trip!

- Jay

xegbp said...


It sounds like you had an amazing time in NYC.

I just wanted to let you know I finished your book. It was truly amazing. You know how when you are reading a book that just gets into your head while you are reading it you are thinking about even when you have to do something else and all you want to do is read and then when you finish it you replay pieces of it in your head. This was one of those books. I am still thinking about it and I am already eager to read the next one. Your book was so delicioius and I think in June every kid in America is going to fall in love with your Fairies. I know what my niece and nephew and for that matter my Mom and Dad and Sister will be getting for presents this year.


Jamie said...

Amazing, inspiring, stimulating! It sounds like an awesome time. How truly wonderful to experience your professional community in that way. Thanks for sharing the joy!

Left-handed Trees... said...

Glad the trip continued on the positive notes it started with! Meeting you was truly wonderful, Laini, and I cannot wait to read your book--hope it flies off the shelves in June...

Anonymous said...

I. LOVED. EVERY. BIT. of this post the one before the whole trip the whole dang magic shebang!

You are MAGIC incarnate, baby.


Amber said...

This-- ""Writers are very private people. . . who run around naked in public." - Katherine Paterson
--Is brilliant. So true!

It sounds like you have had so much fun. Yay!! What a wonderful time. :)

How do you find out about conferences?


fahrenheit451moderator said...

- People are still out there, in this very country, trying to ban children's books for the most inane reasons! (On the bright side, librarians are still out there, fighting the good fight, day by day.)

I am one of those librarians and I happened upon your site through a Google alert for "banned books." I envy you hearing all of those great writers speaking.

I have been inviting various authors, especially those who have been banned or challenged to take the Pelham Public Library's Banned Book Challenge. I realize you must be very busy writing but if you are a reader as well, would you consider taking part in the challenge. The details are here at Best wishes on your book.

Greg T. said...

Hey Laini,

I never thought of making the trek to NYC for the mid-winter scbwi thingy. Your blog changed my mind. Thanks.

Sarah Beth Durst said...

So great to meet you, Laini! Hanging out with you and Jim was definitely one of the weekend's highlights. Keep in touch, OK?

Your June-Fantasy-Penguin Sister,

stephanie said...

Librarians rock! They are on the front line of a lot of right-to-privacy and censorship debates. If you're interested in this, check out the (ALA) American Library Association's Annual Conference coming up in June in D.C. Laini can tell you writers that it's a great place to get publicity!

ALA's website has a lot of information on book challenges and bannings at - as Laini mentions "It's Perfectly Normal" was the most challenged book in 2005, but Judy Blume wins for the most challenged author of 2005.

This is a huge problem in the literature community, and the more people who are educated and outraged about it, the better for all of us.

[a} said...

Faeries ROCK, okay? I don't know one little kid--esp. a girl--who doesn't love fantasy. And pretty fairy pictures.

I just came from Left-Handed Tree's blog which was all happy, to yours. I already wanted to jump up and down like a [fully dressed, mind]cheerleader for absolutely no reason at all, and reading your entry has given me a reason: YAY LAINI GIMME A BEE-OH-OH-KAY! You have a book out! That is AMAZAZAZAZING.

Love the Ann B. quote.

xoxo. Peace.

gerry rosser said...

Happy Valentine's Day to the other Laini!

My Lainie has a cold.

Enjoyed your post.

runliarun said...

When your book will be out, you will raise you wings and soar. Congratulations!

paris parfait said...

Laini, what a fantastic set of experiences you've had! I'm so pleased for you. It makes me sick that people are still trying to ban books from libraries, especially about subjects that affect us all. And what a lucious photo of the Chrysler Building (my fave building in New York). As for the NY Public Library, I used to live across the street (32 W. 40th St.) and spent so much time there, I practically have it memorised. So glad you saw the stuffed animals and the Wyeth paintings.

Patry Francis said...

Now I REALLY wish I had attended the conference. The quotes you brought back were amazing...especially loved the one about writers being very private people who run around naked in public...all too true.