2017 SCBWI LA Summer Conference Highlights – Part 1

I was very honored this year to be a winner of the SCBWI Tribute Fund. (Even if it meant I had to stand up in front of over 1500 people!) A brief moment of awkward public embarrassment was well worth what I received in return. I honestly can’t thank the entire staff of SCBWI enough. From Stephen and Lin for providing this grant and selecting me, to everyone in the main office I interacted with regarding all the details – they were all just so lovely.

And of course, a huge thank you to Helen, my Regional Advisor, who nominated me. (Who also took this awkward picture of me waving awkwardly to a crowd of 1500 people. AWKWARD!)

Now I would like to share with you my favorite parts of the SCBWI LA summer conference that I was able to attend this past July as a winner of this wonderful grant.

DAY ONE

One of my favorite things about attending these conferences is how energizing they are, how they recharge my creative battery, and remind me that what I do is important. Especially in these uncertain times, it was such a reassuring thing to hear Lin welcome us into our own “Bubble of Love” (complete with actual bubbles).

Lin Oliver welcoming us to the beginning of another wonderful SCBWI Summer conference.

 

Bubble Love photo credit: The Official SCBWI Conference Blog

It was also nice that our region got a shout-out for having such a large group in attendance, along with a handful of other states, but you know ours was the LOUDEST!!! We got a few more shout-outs, just so everyone could hear us make some more noise – something we were not shy about doing! (This happened several times during the conference, which was fun.)

Most of our SCBWI OK group on Day One. Such a large group was hard to corral into one place at any given time.

VANESSA BRANTLEY NEWTON – SPREADING SUNSHINE

Vanessa Brantley Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER and MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM (written by our own Tammi Sauer! OKLAHOMA SCBWI in the house!), opened the conference by making us get up out of our seats and dance.

In her keynote entitled, “Diversity Designed by Adversity”, Vanessa said we could let adversity ruin us, make us sad, or lean into it, wrap our arms around it, shake it off, and pack it under.

To illustrate her point, she told a story of a farmer who had a goat that fell down a well. Bemoaning the loss of the goat, he threw dirt down the well to bury it, but the goat just shook it off, and packed it under. Soon, it had a pile tall enough to climb out of the well.

“That’s been my life.”

She was born with dyslexia, synesthesia, and she also struggled with stuttering. Her dyslexia caused her to to go inward, to draw pictures. The synesthesia influenced the use of bright colors in her art. Her parents were both singers and helped her deal with her stuttering. “I sing in my head” the words she wants to say out loud. All these things didn’t stop her, they influenced her work.

Vanessa talked at length about the need for diverse books. She told the story of wanting to be a Breck shampoo girl when she was younger. She thought to have blonde hair, she just needed the shampoo.

She didn’t see herself reflected.

Then came Ezra Jack Keats and THE SNOWY DAY. She didn’t remember the words, but the pictures were powerful.

Little Vanessa and her teacher who read her the story.

She told us how Ezra Jack Keats said, “I drew Peter because he should have been there all along”.

Vanessa called on us as artists, as writers to embrace our own challenges.

“You’re built for adversity.”

Some of the best stuff is raised out of adversity. You gotta be willing to put in the hard work.

 

You need to dream so big that it scares the hell out of you.

 

She ended by singing to us, and I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the room when she was done.

Honestly I couldn’t see…

 

 

TRANSFORMING LIFE INTO ART

photo credit: The Official SCBWI Conference Blog

PANEL DISCUSSION WITH ALEX GINO, AISHA SAEED, RUTA SEPETYS, AND KIM TURRISI (MODERATED BY EMMA DRYDEN)

Emma Dryden led a thoughtful discussion with this fantastic panel of authors.

Question #1: What led you to express the experience in your own life in novel form?

Alex Gino – Middle Grade is a big part of my heart. The only time I experienced any instance of transgender as an adult was as a joke. “I knew GEORGE was the book I wanted and needed to write.” It took 10 years.

Aisha Saeed – She never saw herself in books with the exception of the role of the bad guy until she went to college. She knew she had to tell her story. She wrote her debut novel about forced marriage because she had many friends who were going through this experience. If they said no, their parents would disown them. She writes to make sense of the world. She wanted to understand why parents who loved their kids would do this.

Ruta Sepetys – “Much of my identity is wrapped up in being an immigrant’s kid.” Not a lot has been told about Stalin and what happened in Siberia. She wanted to bring this story to young readers because YA readers are deep feelers and deep thinkers. Books we read as kids have the potential to make a profound effect.

Kim Turrisi – When she was 15, her sister committed suicide. Her story is about the aftermath of suicide. She didn’t see herself in any books like this back then. She wrote about the experience to help.

Question #2 – Glimpse into choices you had to make to stray away from the truth to serve the story.

Ruta Sepetys – She was interviewing human beings condemned to death who then survived. “There’s a tension between history and memory.” She will interview 100 people and interweave the stories to create a single one – very different from nonfiction. This will hopefully be more representative.

Kim Turrisi – She used notes from 25 different people to cobble together the backgrounds of the secondary characters.

Alex Gino – Many people assume that my book is autobiographical. The way my character is transgender is not the same way that I am. My main character isn’t much like me, but the way people respond is.

Question #3 – Talk about the process of going deep into the story.

Kim Turrisi – I had the suicide letter. I put it on the wall to challenge me. My editor challenged me by saying some things that actually happened may not feel authentic. Give more. It was tough.

Ruta Sepetys – As writers, we should go there. Emotionally we need to get in the trenches. If I feel loss, I have loved. If I feel it, hopefully my readers will too. Amplify the hope in the hardship. Someone has to make it out.

Aisha Saeed – She did the emotional digging. What would it be like to go through this? Why would she run away? Her editor helped her bring out the nuances.

Alex Gino – You have to have a balance between optimism and realism. My responsibility was to provide a mirror for kids who are Trans. We get to have nice stories, too. Then my editor had to remind me that bad things have to happen, so we feel better when there’s redemption.

 

NOVA REN SUMA – QUEEN OF THE UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

Break Out Session, “The Power and Possibility of the Unreliable Narrator”

POV is one of the most exciting tools you have as a writer. Make good use of it.

What is an “unreliable” narrator?

  1. Withholds information from the reader
  2. Breaks your trust (We expect to trust the narrator)
  3. Drives the plot

Should be unreliable for a reason – an important mechanism for the plot.

Unreliable Narrator often has a surprising, unexpected secret.

WHY is your narrator not telling the whole truth?

WHY is the big mystery.

You as the author need to know the answer.

Favorite example: Mary Katherine Blackwood from WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

More Unreliable Narrator examples:

Mica from LIAR by Justine Larbalestier

Julie from CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

Mary from Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Whim from CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

Caden from CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman

Nova went on to explain how using craft choices can help you show your unreliable narrator to your readers and ways to create an unreliable character.

This was such a helpful session! Nova really is a fantastic teacher.

 

DINNER

After a full day of amazing keynotes and breakout sessions, our SCBWI OK gang met up for dinner with a former member who recently relocated to LA. She may have moved to California, but she’ll always be a part of us, too!

(Almost) our entire SCBWI OK gang after the first day of the conference.

 

Jerry and Britt (our wayward member) doing their best Oh My Disney! pose – Aren’t they just too adorable for words?

 

Hope you enjoyed the first part of my conference experience highlights. Stay tuned for Part II coming soon!

 

A Discussion About Diversity – What Comes Next After the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign?

H2cWxknS_400x400There’s been a lot of discussion about diversity in children’s literature brought on by the wonderful campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks. In the beginning of May, there was an onslaught on all forms of social media where people came together and proclaimed the need for diverse books.

BRIEF HISTORY:

Just in case you missed what #WeNeedDiverseBooks is all about, this campaign began after a group of writers reacted to the announcement that BEA’s BookCon would consist of exactly zero diversity with 30 white writers as guests. The dam broke and the internet exploded in outrage. The campaign #WeNeedDiverseBooks was launched. Of course, this lack of cultural diversity, lack of sexual diversity, lack of diversity of any kind in the publishing industry on the whole has been going on for years, and many have voiced their concern at different times, but nothing has ever sparked quite the inferno of action like this movement. As of this week, the BEA decided to respond to the voice of the people and add a panel on diversity to their line up entitled: “The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks”. The panel will include five key people from the WNDB campaign – Ellen Oh, Aisha Saeed, Marieke Nijkamp, Lamar Giles, and Mike Jung – and three best-selling authors well-known for tackling diversity head-in in their own writing – Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, and Grace Lin.

It’s so fantastic that the conversation finally caught on in a big way. The idea now is to keep the momentum going.

How can we do this?

SUPPORT:

We can put our money where our mouth is and BUY these kind of books. Also consider supporting the small publishing houses that already publish diverse books, like Lee & Low , Just Us Books, Arte Público with its Piñata Books for Children, and Cinco Puntos Press, just to name a few.

The world isn’t made up of one kind of people. And I personally don’t like reading only about people that are just like me. I want to learn about new and different cultures, different lands, different planets, and have new experiences by meeting a wide range of characters when I read.  I know I am not alone in this.

RECOMMEND:

We can talk about great books dealing with diverse characters and/or written by diverse writers. Review them, recommend them; get them into the hands of hungry readers. Let others know what’s out there. Here are just a few of the fabulous books I’ve read recently that I think are worth the read:

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña

mexwb_tp_cvr

Danny’s tall and skinny.

Even though he’s not built, his arms are long enough to give his pitch a power so fierce any college scout would sign him on the spot. A 95 mph fastball, but the boy’s not even on a team. Every time he gets up on the mound he loses it.

But at private school, they don’t expect much else from him. Danny’s brown. Half-Mexican brown. And growing up in San Diego that close to the border means everyone else knows exactly who he is before he even opens his mouth. Before they find out he can’t speak Spanish, and before they realize his mom has blonde hair and blue eyes, they’ve got him pegged.

Danny’s convinced it’s his whiteness that sent his father back to Mexico. And that’s why he’s spending the summer with his dad’s family. Only, to find himself, he might just have to face the demons he refuses to see right in front oh his face. And open up to a friendship he never saw coming. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King

Girl lying on sand, reaching up to the sun

Astrid Jones copes with her small town’s gossip and narrow-mindedness by sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes flying overhead. Maybe they’ll know what to do with it. Maybe it’ll make them happy. Maybe they’ll need it.

Her mother doesn’t want it, her father’s always stoned, her perfect sister’s too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to–another girl named Dee. There’s no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she’s trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love–and asking the right questions–will affect the passengers’ lives, and her own, for the better.

In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Follow Kazuo on Facebook.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7sCounting By 7s is the story of Willow Chance, a twelve-year old girl who has been identified at an early age as ‘gifted’. Willow lives in Bakersfield, California and comes home from school one day to the news that her parents have been killed in a traffic accident.

What follows is Willow’s search to find a place where she belongs.

In equal parts an exploration of the pain of loss and of the triumph of moving forward, the novel looks at how one person can change the lives of many, often without even trying.

Learn more about Holly Goldberg Sloan here.

Follow Holly on Twitter here.

Follow Holly on Facebook here.

CREATE:

As a writer, how can you help? Think about your own novels. How diverse are they?

Do you feel uneasy writing outside your own comfort zone? Are you worried that writing about a person from a different culture other than your own will be frowned upon?  If so, here’s a fantastic blog post by Lisa Yee you should consider entitled A Rambling Rant on Race and Writing. She starts out discussing how she herself has written outside her race multiple times. She states that she is a writer who is Asian, not an Asian writer. And that there is a difference. I beg you to read this post. It is fantastic.

A PARTING THOUGHT:

I know a little something about diversity. My son has autism. He’s 19 years-old, but many ways he’s still very much younger. He has make-believe friends that live on Sesame Street and in Disney movies and he has conversations with them all the time. I’m free to join in at my leisure. I see how people react to my son’s “diversity” every time we go out in public. People know he’s different as soon as they interact with him or see him make strange hand gestures. For my son’s part, he doesn’t notice that other people are different. He’s very friendly and likes to say “Hello, sir” or “Hello, ma’am” or “Hello, officer” (be it security guard or police officer) to everyone we see. He will repeat this, sometimes, until he gets an answer. On those occasions, I answer. Sometimes as the people, sometimes as an imaginary friend. My son doesn’t grasp the concept of people being rude.

With my son’s sensory issues and problems communicating, these trips aren’t always easy. Sometimes they are beyond stressful and embarrassing, but we don’t give up or retreat into self-proclaimed exile. We’ve learned that the more we go out, the more our neighbors get to know our son and the more they begin to include him as part of their community. And the better quality of life he leads. In fact, there are some places, where people greet my son by name the minute we walk in the door. If I go in alone, I don’t get the same star treatment. They are still friendly, but not as enthusiastic as when my son lights up the place.

I love that there are books with characters that are essentially doing this same hard work. Showing the humanity of these kids while telling a great story. Taking the stigma out of a confusing disorder and allowing their “neuro-typical” peers a way to experience what life is like for them. This is the road to understanding. Knowledge. Sharing. This is why we need diverse books.