We began the second half of the Oklahoma SCBWI Spring conference after a lunch filled with engaging conversation and good food – did you see the dessert? To die for! I always enjoy that our conference provides more intimate interaction with real industry professionals at each table.
The speaker in the challenging position after lunch was more than ready to keep us awake and attentive with his talk on creativity. A native Oklahoman, he introduced himself to our OK SCBWI group earlier this month when he was our guest for a special edition of our #okscbwichat. You can read about his Twitter chat here.
Karl Jones – Associate Editor with Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin Young Readers.
Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects. He acquired and edits the Just Jake series from New York Times best-selling kid author, Jake Marcionette and edits a middle grade/YA transition series by established stage and screenwriter, Justin Sayre-the first book in this series, Husky published in September 2015.
Karl gave a talk entitled, “Go the Distance by Cultivating Your Creativity” where he asked us all to define this big question:
“What does creativity mean to you?”
Karl talked about his educational history here in Oklahoma, and teased about his school resembling Hogwarts aesthetically, although much of the learning relied heavily on rote memorization. It wasn’t until college that he began to think critically. He also encountered his first major writing influence there, THE COURAGE TO CREATE by Rollo May.
Within its pages, he came to understand that being creative takes courage, in fact creativity demands courage. According to May, creativity defies social order; it makes other people uneasy.
Knowing these things, how do we begin to cultivate creativity?
Failure is one way, and the way most of us learn.
Exposure to new experiences is another.
Karl encouraged us to say ‘yes’ to new experiences and to collect everything we create – to keep dream journals, idea hampers, or whatever it takes. The more you cultivate your work the faster your ideas will come. The important thing is to keep track of your ideas.
Once you’ve collected your ideas, you need to synthesize them. Part of this is making time to work. Another part is getting feedback from others – critique. The final step, as always, is revision.
Karl ended with a great quote:
“Recall how often in human history the saint and the rebel have been the same person.” – Rollo May
Follow Karl on Twitter here.
Our next speaker was also no stranger to this blog. She gave an outstanding interview to introduce herself prior to the conference. Her talk discussed the different types of humor and how they could be applied to a manuscript.
Sara Sargent – Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Sara acquires picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction and nonfiction with a focus on pop culture, social media, and digital platforms. Previously she was an Editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
Sara has worked with New York Times bestselling author Abbi Glines, National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Julie Cross, Aaron Karo, and Martina Boone, among others. She also received her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University.
Sara’s talk entitled, “You’re Funnier Than You Think You Are”, showed how humor can vary from the overtly funny to something more subtle to a recurring joke spread throughout the entire novel.
“The involuntary laugh is such a strong response; I feel like you get me.” You make a connection with your reader when you accomplish this.
One place you can add humor is in pitches or query letters. Sara said if a writer uses an engaging title or uses humor, it will stand out from the rest.
Another place one doesn’t see a lot of humor is in Girl YA books. She gave some examples of different types of humor from GALGORITHM by author Aaron Karo.
Misdirection – Making someone think one thing, then going the other way. She was feeling many things, “happy, sad, bored, and umami”.
Quirky Character Traits – Take this to its craziest conclusion. “He looked like a 1950s football star with knuckles that needed constant cracking.”
Specificity – Express the sharpest image in your mind. “Her nail polish is pink and her ring finger also sports a yellow smiley face. I hate the fact that I know this is called an ‘accent nail’.”
Sara also suggested going through your manuscript and highlighting the punchlines. You may find your comedy isn’t evenly dispersed, and you may need to revise. She suggests that you start with your best/funniest stuff at the beginning of your manuscript.
Learn more about Sara and read her Acquisitions Wish List here.
Our final speaker of the day came to us via Skype from Australia, and he was well worth it. His talk about failure was strangely inspiring.
Carter Hasegawa – Associate Editor at Candlewick Press
Carter came to children’s publishing in a roundabout way. After a decade of working in grocery, followed by a two-year stint in textbook publishing, he left everything behind to follow his passion for children’s books, and he went back to school to get his MA in Children’s Literature from Simmons College.
Since 2008, he’s been a children’s bookseller at various independent bookstores in Seattle and in Cambridge, which he still continues to do part-time when not at Candlewick. Some of his favorite non-Candlewick books include: The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Jellicoe Road, Ready Player One, Three Times Lucky, and many, MANY more. Basically anything that has a great voice, is a good story, and is “unputdownable.”
Carter’s talk entitled, “You’re Gonna Lose. And That’s Okay” addressed the humungous elephant in the room – failure is a big part of writing.
He started off by showing us a clip from the original Rocky movie where Rocky is expressing doubt about beating Apollo Creed. He adjusts his idea of success then. “All that matters is that I go the distance,” he says. (Ties in nicely to our conference theme, right?) He decides this because no one else has ever done it before. His idea of success is his own.
Carter applied this to writing and said, “The only barometer of failure to follow is your own.”
The only rule to follow with running is to show up. The same can be said of writing. “Sometimes just turning on the computer is a victory in itself.”
One perceived failure is that everything we write is crap. Chances are our first attempts will be abysmal.
“Writing is an exercise, a process.”
When we’re so used to consuming our entertainment as fast as we can, we expect everything to come that easy. Part of the rush is the need for validation. First drafts are rubbish. Maybe a character or a sentence are worth keeping, but the rest must go. Sometimes we’re not willing to do the work.
Another type of failure is cherry-picking critiques. When we do this, we hear only what we want to hear, then our writing doesn’t get any better.
Carter stated, “Some of you may not get published. Is this another type of failure?”
If the point of writing is to get published, you will fail.
What gets in the way of strong, honest writing, is focusing on getting published. You’ll suck the soul out of your story if this is your goal. Carter suggested adjusting your motivation slightly – write for yourself.
If writing is a process, then so is failure. Look at what went wrong, how you can learn from it, and correct it.
Understand how and why you are failing so you can make the best choices for your career.
Follow Carter on Twitter here.
Follow Carter on Instagram here.
We ended the day with a nice Q & A panel…
…and then a festive dinner at a local restaurant.
Great conference, great company, great information. Loved every minute of it! See you all next year!