Several weeks ago, Ten Speed had a little party at the T-Rex restaurant in Berkeley, just a couple of blocks from our offices, to say goodbye to Phil Wood (the bearded fellow in the panama hat in the top photo), Ten Speed's founder and owner for 35 plus years. Ten Speed's very own ukulele band was on hand to honor him and more than a few tears were shed.
I gave this talk at last weekend's SCBWI Portland conference and thought I'd put up the little checklist that accompanies it in case it could be of help to some of you picture book authors out there.
1. Determine whether the picture book form is the best one for your story. 2. Ascertain your target age. 3. Establish the page and word counts according to age of readership and desired format. 4. On a piece of notepaper, write down a) your story’s themes and subthemes b) its target audience: age, interests, region they live in c) its plot in one sentence d) why you are the right person to tell this story and what you will do to help sell the book e) which market(s) the book would sell in: mass (big box stores), trade (bookstores), institutional (schools and libraries) and/or special markets (i.e., museums, gift stores, boutiques, aquariums, tourist shops, etc.).
5. Research competition: Is there a hole to fill? How can you make your book different/better? 6. Revise according to your new information. 7. Revise again, looking for descriptive passages where illustration can do the work. If necessary to the understanding of your story, include brief illustration notes in brackets.
8. Waiting period: Take at least two weeks away from your manuscript in order to achieve a different perspective.
9. Revise again, trying to cut at least another 100 words. 10. Read your manuscript aloud to someone. Also try recording yourself reading the story and having someone else read the story aloud. Listen for problematic rhythms, sounds, pacing.
11. Format the text for submission, making sure that you: o chose a classic font, like Times or Garamond. o insert one inch margins for editors’ comments. o include word count and genre on top right corner of page 1, contact information and date on top left. o double space. o number your pages and include title, name, and email in header of every page.
12. Have a title that: o makes you want to read the book. o captures the spirit, theme, and tone of the story. o has a pleasing sound; possible devices to consider: alliteration, internal rhyme, half- rhymes, parallel construction.
Virginia City---an old West mining town overlooking a high desert valley. Quaint and touristy. A place of Sunday church bells and t-shirt shops. And, last weekend, host to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Nevada chapter October conference. I came, I saw, I spoke, I critiqued. Here's the tally: (1) 45 minute speech 'The Picturebook Process: From Manuscript to Bound Book (9) 20 minute manuscript critiques (1) 1 1/2 hour seminar featuring 'After the First Draft: 12 steps to get your manuscript ready for submission' (2) panel discussions It was a busy weekend. The dozen or so members of the faculty stayed at the St Mary's Art Center, a former late 19th century hospital said to be haunted by a benevolent nun.
Saturday night, a few of us brave sorts went looking for her in the attic, only to be greeted by a mysteriously positioned chair:
There must have been around 300 people attending the conference, which started bright and early Saturday morning with an inspiring talk by Bruce Hale, author of the funny kid-noir Chet Gecko series. We'd had a nice talk the night before about our mutual admiration for Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (his favorite: The Big Sleep; mine: The Dain Curse; mutual favorite: The Long Goodbye---we both agreed the 1970's Altman movie was disappointing). Bruce's Saturday morning talk featured lots of four-letter words. Surprising in a children's author, really. No no no, actually, the four letter words were (not in the order he presented them): RISK, LUCK, PUSH, and a few others, useful to an author's evolution. The "risk" section, I believe, featured Bruce in a powder blue leisure suit looking quite Mr. Seventies. Now showing that photo, right there, was risky indeed. A very brave author, Mr. Hale.
Next came the lovely Houghton Mifflin editor Julia Richardson with wise words and tips for unpublished authors. I then shuffled up to do my little spiel. I couldn't find my notes when I packed my suitcase Thursday night so I had to wing it and go by the bullets on my Powerpoint presentation. Amazingly enough, I survived. Last of the Keynote gang was a young agent from New York's Donald Maass Agency, Stephen Barbara, who was funny, informative, and charmingly honest in his speech about the place of agents in the industry. He did an interesting on-the-spot survey about how people chose the books they bought. Funny how few of them had to do with advertising---the top two seemed to be 1) The book was by a favorite author 2) Someone had recommended it.
The afternoon was devoted to picturebook critiques (for me) and a selection of seminars, including ones by Ellen Hopkins, Suzanne Williams (our hard-working Regional Adviser), Susan Hart Linquist, Jim Averbeck, novelist and SCBWI president Stephen Mooser (who turns out to be a very lucky person to have standing next to you if you play the slot machines at the Reno Airport), Barbara Marquand, and Teri Farley.
That night, we all gathered at the historic Fourth Ward School for a reading of children's literature and storytelling by a member of the Paiute Indian tribe. Back at the Art Center, much chocolate was eaten and wine consumed. A dozen sugar high, half-drunk children's book authors and illustrators is not a pretty sight. I dragged myself off to bed feeling fat and slightly dizzy.
I woke up the next morning to this:
I hadn't been up to see the dawn since I'd caught a seven o'clock flight to Paris four years ago. Sunrise on the high desert has a very particular light---it's a light that makes you feel bright and hopeful. I got dressed quickly as I could and set off for a walk to one of the old cemeteries.
I came across some interesting headstones in the Catholic cemetery:
Back at the art center, it was time for more critiques with a break at lunch for a quick walk into town:
Mansion on Millionaire's Row Abandoned bank safe
The main street
After my afternoon seminar, it was time to say a quick goodbye to everyone and rush off to the airport with Mr. Mooser and Barbara Marquand.
This children's book editor was a long time in coming to the Harry Potter fold. I distrust anything with a mass following. Call it elitism or snobbery or rank individualism but the only club I would ever be a member of would have Groucho Marx as its president. So I refused to watch 'Lost' or 'The Sopranos.' I refused to read 'The Da Vinci Code.' And of course, I went nowhere near a certain series of books about a boy wizard. For professional purposes, I eventually perused the first chapter of book one while kneeling in the aisle of a bookstore. It didn't grab me and, snobby-me, I didn't think it was all that well-written. When people would ask me what I thought of the books, I would respond that, as someone who cared about children's literacy, I was immensely grateful that the series was getting kids to put aside their video games, DVDs, and Ipods, and crack open 500 page tomes. But I didn't understand the phenomenon.
Until last summer.
Book six was just coming out and my boyfriend's mother had given me a copy of the book---bought at midnight of the launch day. I figured I couldn't just dive into the sixth book. And I'd seen the movies and they hadn't been bad. After all, I had a big crush on David Thewlis who'd played Professor Lupin in the third movie. And I was impressed by the significant health-enhancing power given to chocolate in that movie. I could identify with the need to eat a little block of chocolate when such things as the dementors---or, in Muggle world, the DMV---had sucked one's life force. So I found a Scholastic paperback edition of the first book at Moe's books and took it with me to Cape Cod, where Brian's parent's lived, for a bit of light summer reading.
I quickly became totally sucked in.
One thing about the Potter phenomena: the more books you read, the more fanatical you become. I remember seeing a guy in his twenties several years ago walking down a busy sidewalk in downtown San Francisco, nose deep in book three. At the time I thought, "poor deluded soul." But by the time I reached book three, I was calling in to work sick just to finish the darn thing. (It was professional development after all.) Over the course of two months, I read all six books, one right after the other. Now, most fans read one book and they have to wait six months to a year for the next one. It allows their poor fevered brains to cool down a bit. But I was piling on the Potter books one after another---not re-reading them, mind you: reading them each for the first time. So when I came to the end of 'The Half Blood Prince'---with all its awful revelations about Snape and, what I insist is a certain someone's FAKE death---I felt like I had just walked off a cliff.
I hit the ground back in Muggle world. Ouch.
But then the Goblet of Fire movie came out. For the first time I went to see one of the movies on opening night. I took my niece and nephew. I was actually giddy (though, sadly, Mr. Thewlis was not part of the cast). I remember as a kid going to see the second Indiana Jones movie and being so excited that I nearly hyperventilated and peed my pants at the same time. Twenty-five years later, this was a pretty close approximation. After the sad end of my 3150 page immersion, the movie was a chance to revisit a place which had become dear to my heart. It was a brief two-and-a-half hour visit and, of course, lacking in the intimacy that exists between page and reader, but it was all I would have until the next book.
Which took a year to get here.
Which will finally come out next Friday at midnight. And I'll have another Harry Potter first-time experience then: First time going to a midnight Harry Potter release party.
Just in time, too. There won't be another one.
AND the new movie has David Thewlis in it. Dreamy Prof. Lupin.
So have I learned my lesson about turning my nose up at mass phenomenons?
Hey, if they're as good as Ms. Rowling's creation, lay 'em on me.
I'm so excited! I've been tagged for the first time.
Here are the rules: Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.
I was tagged by Gail at 'Through the Studio Door'.
1. I was born in a subburb of Paris and lived there until I was seven. The town's city hall was torched during the big Paris riots a couple of years ago.
2. John Malkovich ALMOST invited me to have lunch with him. I was studying in the south of France when I was 20 and came across a movie set near a friend's house. I sat down to watch as John Malkovich practiced a scene. He kept looking over but i thought he was looking at the cute high school girls sitting next to me. About a half hour later, everyone took a break for lunch. I sat there, all my myself, waiting for my friend who was bound to come home from class soon. Then John Malkovich came out of the building where they were filming and walked towards me. I looked around, but there was no one else around---everyone had gone to lunch on the lovely Cours Mirabeau. I got so shy and nervous, that I just stared at the ground. He walked up...took a few steps to my right....then turned around and went back inside the building. Maybe he figured I didn't look as good up close as I did far away. Who knows with these movie stars?
3. When I was eight, I would go to a horse ranch every Saturday morning and practice horse vaulting with my sister. This involved getting up on a trotting horse and doing tricks like standing on their backs, being the top girl in a five-person pyramid, and standing with one leg extended behind me. This is the closest I've gotten so far to my dream of performing in a circus.
6. When I was fifteen, I saved a girl from getting hit by a Mack truck when I grabbed her arm and pulled her back onto the sidewalk.
7. I just started beekeeping in my Berkeley garden.
8. My boyfriend and I went on a pilgrimage to Shirley Jackson's home in Benington, Vermont, even though it's a private home and somebody lives there and all we could do was stand outside and take a picture.
I'm not sure if it's an occupational hazard of being a children's book editor but every once in a while I develop a crush on an illustrator---not your standard secret-love-note heart-in-your-throat wanna-get-married-and-have-babies crushes. No! More like a visual crush. A visiting-their-website-three-times-a-day crush. A desperately-want-to-find-a-book-to-have-them-illustrate crush. Of course I have my list of favorite illustrators, many of whom I'm too shy to introduce myself formally to and must admire from the digital version of 'across the room.' But every few months or so, there's one illustrator I find myself obsessing about. Instead of the adolescent anx of 'Does he like me?', I ask myself, 'Would he or she work with me?' Mostly, though, I just look at the pretty pictures and salivate.
My latest illustrator crush is Ian Benfold Haywood. I love the quirky elegance of his style---light, loose lines but textured with collage elements. I love the cottony beard and cheery red Victorian parlor of his Santa Claus.
Another favorite is the little red-headed girl on the beach, by the old stately European hotel. It makes me think of Nabokov and Roald Dahl's The Witches. It has a very Old Europe feel.
Every once in a while, an illustrator will put a few of their sketchbook pages on their sites and I find that quite a treat. Sketches have a spontaneity and unselfconsciousness all their own. Check out these funny rabbit fellows from one of Mr. Haywood's sketchbooks:
These guys may never have a story of their own but in sketch form they provoke the imagination to wander and wonder: the bonneted bunny has a serious little determined look on his face. There looks to be the start of a mask on the middle rabbit---was he putting on a disguise? And what of the feathered head-dress of the third bunny?
I don't love everything about my job---but I do love some things: illustrator crushes are one of those things. And they're much less humiliating than the adolescent kind.