Just a quick note to those of you who are keeping track.
Last week I felt a spooky connection to a comic strip. Pearls Before Swine is one of my favorites, usually because it often features puns, which I love even when everyone else groans. The strip featured a character I had not seen before, Armando Armadillo, who refers to his wife, Lupe, who was recently run over, as is the fate of many an armadillo.
It’s not that I thought it was a particularly hilarious strip (thought it’s pretty darn funny), but it stood out for me because of the middle grade novel I wrote, My Name Is Lupe Jones.
You see, Lupe is my protagonist whose favorite animal is an armadillo, and comparisons are made throughout the novel between this seemingly tough-on-the-outside girl and the odd Texan mammal often found squished on interstate highways.
So, considering the fact that Lupe is not a particularly common name and that one doesn’t see armadillos in comic strips every day, what does this mean? Either 1) Stephan Pastis is channeling my thoughts, 2) I’m not very original in my choice of names and themes, or 3) the universe is trying to tell me something.
Although Stephan Pastis is a great comic strip artist, I don’t think he has psychic ability; and even if he did, I’m not sure he would use it to mine my thoughts.
As far as option number two goes, I truly hope that my novel is original; otherwise it’s not likely to sell.
So that leaves the third option: some mysterious force out there is urging me to take action. The truth is that I’ve been asleep at the wheel for a few months in my submission process. After my great disappointment three years ago when my agent was unsuccessful in getting me a book contract, I sent it out myself only twice, and then let it languish in my computer files.
I think it is time (and apparently so does Stephan Pastis?) to make an effort to send Lupe on another round of submissions. Before she gets squished like Armando’s unlucky bride. And by writing it down here for my millions of followers to read (okay, more like 80?), I hope it keeps me to my word. Here’s my solemn proclamation:
I will submit Lupe by March 30 at least five times.
You read it here. Keep me honest. Bug me about it. Help Lupe get out there.
*Okay, here’s the deal on my permission to use this strip in my blog post: I don’t have it. But in my defense, I wrote to both Mr. Pastis and the name of the person on his website who supposedly handles such things on his behalf, and neither of them responded. That was a week ago, and I offered him everlasting gratitude and maybe even my first-born. (I’ll have to check on that…) So I’m thinking I did due diligence. (Or something equally legal sounding.) Stephan Pastis, if you are out there reading this, I apologize profusely. (But maybe you should read your email more often?)
Sunday sessions didn’t start until 9:00, which gave me time for a nice walk on the beach. Only a few shorebirds, a lone surfer, and a couple of other conference goers shared the quiet morning beauty of the Pacific Ocean with me.
The last session before the traditional commitment ceremony featured social media specialist and children’s poet Greg Pincus, who shared substantive ways for us to spread our love for children’s literature and possibly build an audience. I think the ban on leaking content would not include sharing this wonderful sentiment that filled the screen during his presentation: “I love you!” He explained that we were his peeps.
And it may sound silly or simplistic, but it was so true. All of us there—whether we write YA, illustrate picture books, edit middle grade novels, or represent children’s book authors—are a community dedicated to getting books out into the world that kids will love.
The commitment ceremony began with everyone pushing all the chairs to the edges of Fred Farr Forum and taking a few minutes to write down on two identical index cards a promise—a specific action that we will absolutely commit to doing in the coming year. Crossing arms and holding hands, we formed a circle and sent a squeeze around until it reached the beginning again. Then we took turns silently placing one of the two index cards into the fire. In this way, the promises that we made to ourselves would become smoke and send our joined commitments out to the universe. (Or something like that.) The other card is to put in a prominent place where it will regularly remind you of the commitment you made.
I knew I had to redouble my efforts to getting my middle grade novel published, so I committed to submitting Lupe to at least five more agents and/or editors.
Of course the best place to make contacts is at a conference, and one of the perks of attending is that you can submit to any of the presenters who are editors or agents, even if their house or agency is officially closed to unsolicited manuscripts. It was this same conference in 2010 where I found my first agent, which, okay, didn’t work out so well. But I have five new possibilities, five more chances to introduce Lupe to the rest of the world. So you can bet that I’ll be taking advantage of that opportunity.
Wish me luck!
Daniel Handler never disappoints. I’ve seen him in many different venues where he was the featured author and those where he played more of an emcee role. But his speech at the SCBWI conference was even better than his 2012 LitQuake appearances. (And I loved both of those! See https://tanyagrove.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/notes-from-litquake-part-iv-and-now-were-really-having-fun/ and https://tanyagrove.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/notes-from-litquake-part-v-lit-crawl-rules/ )
The highly successful creator of The Series of Unfortunate Events books was able to talk about the genesis of his new series of books, discuss Dear Abby, share the moment when the name Lemony Snicket was born, include a reference to his father’s escape from Nazis during WWII, and somehow tie in an incident with Jon Agee’s dog. But the most amazing part was how they all miraculously worked together. And the dog incident had only happened the night before, yet he was able to weave it seamlessly into his keynote speech, titled “What Am I Doing Here?”
His talk was 80% uproarious humor surrounding poignant moments, creating an evening of high entertainment with a few dashes of profundity. (I hear you ask: can profundity even be measured in dashes? And my response: I think Daniel Handler has proven the answer to this question is yes.)
One of the basic premises of his speech was that sometimes rather than looking for the answer to a question, one should consider if it was the right question being asked in the first place.
Hence the title of the new Lemony Snicket series, All the Wrong Questions, the first of which is “Who Could That Be at This Hour?“ (The quotation marks are actually part of the title and not a mistake on my part in using them to denote a book title, which I, as a copyeditor, know better than to do, thank you very much.)
You can see from the series of photos that he’s an animated speaker.
Handler’s newest book will be out in April, a picture book called Dark. I can’t wait!
Although Hicklebee’s representative at the conference was missing a box of books, which meant that I couldn’t have Daniel Handler sign his latest Lemony Snicket book, I was given a book-plate for him to sign so that I could attach it later to Who Could That Be at This Hour? when it arrived. Which it did, yesterday. So, tragedy averted.
I also bought the paperback edition of Lisa Brown‘s Picture the Dead (co-written with Adele Griffin), Jon Agee’s Terrific (which it is), and Me, Penelope, a YA book by an author I had not heard of before, Lisa Jahn-Clough. But she did a great presentation, and the book was only $6.99, which is the least expensive book I’ve bought in a long time. Side note: when Jon Agee signs a book, he also does a cute full-page drawing, so you really feel like it was worth standing in line for.
As I wrote in an earlier post, I’m not supposed to cover content of speakers’ presentations. But the conference really is more than just that. It’s even more than buying their books and getting them to sign them. It’s a gathering of a very interesting and diverse group of people. Children’s book writers and illustrators are not all alike. I hung out with and talked to writers who were young and old, published and unpublished, quiet and boisterous, sweet and sarcastic, drinkers and teetotalers, people with kids, people with grandkids, and people with no kids.
Some were folks I recognized as regular conference goers, but there were also wide-eyed nubies who were just beginning their kid-lit journeys. Jen is a foster mom and a published author with a truckful of spunk whose laughter could be heard across the dining hall. Vicky is a young, soft-spoken rocket scientist. And I don’t just mean she’s really smart—she’s actually an engineer who manages projects for an aerospace company. Tom is a lovable curmudgeon who is suspicious of unknown veggies in his chicken salad and pawns off his snow peas to his wife, who explains simply, “He’s from Michigan.”
I overheard an older attendee complaining about a presenter at a different conference who implied that there may have been some in the audience who were past the age that they could learn the little drawing trick he was demonstrating, although it was clearly meant to be an amusing aside. Her sympathetic listener comforted her by saying that the author in question was undoubtedly talented but could also be a tiny bit of an asshole.
Notice my discretion at not mentioning which picture book author was the focus of that particular discussion. Or who made the pithy comment. I could, but I didn’t. I’m just saying…
One of the perks of attending the Golden Gate Conference hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is just staying at Asilomar in beautiful Pacific Grove, CA. On wooded ground, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, it’s much more relaxing than your typical big conference center in a downtown city hotel
The title of this year’s conference was “Humor: Make ’em Laugh.” So the speakers shared helpful tips for creating funny picture books, avoiding common pitfalls when writing humor, and using comedy in romance. And this is advice from agents, editors, and authors who are top in their fields. (Although I have no idea why they’re in fields in the first place…)
SCBWI has a strict policy regarding attendees who might blog about the conference, so I won’t go into detail on any of the presenters’ talks or I’d have to kill you. But I’ve learned valuable information, believe you me. For instance…
1. Associate editor at Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press) Kat Brzozowski told us there are three basic tropes used in Young Adult romance. (I can’t tell you what they are, but I think it’s okay to tell you that there are three of them.)
2. Author/illustrator Lisa Brown asserted that good ghost stories usually have an ambiguous ending.
3. SCBWI co-founder and author Lin Oliver gave us “eleven pretty good ideas and one essential tool” when it comes to writing comedy. (Again, I so wish I could tell you what they are…) Personal aside about Lin—puns make her “rashy.”
4. Did you know that “Tulsa” backwards is “a slut”? (Thank you, Jon Agee, author and illustrator of many, many books.)
5. In a joint presentation, Daniel Handler & Lisa Brown listed many different ways to know if you’re small. (For example, if you trip over lint.)
6. Right now one of the best-selling books in Japan is The Hobbit, or so reports agent Erzsi Deak. (Don’t ask me how to pronounce her name.) She also told us that there was once a funny German film, but she couldn’t remember the name of it.
7. Assistant editor at Poppy (Little, Brown) Pam Gruber summed up what many of us knew but had never put it so concisely: “Puberty is hilarious and sad.”
8. I can’t remember who said it, but there is a gender difference when it comes to comedy: boys go for potty humor, girls not so much.
9. In covering the six types of humor, author/illustrator Ed Briant passed along this joke: How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: fish.
10. Jon Agee was eager to share a palindrome question with a palindrome answer that he couldn’t put in a children’s book:
Eva, can I poop in a cave?
(Which kind of supports the whole theory about boys and potty humor.)
Another important part of the conference experience is talking to other writers during the down time, socializing, commiserating, congratulating, and swapping tales of this roller-coaster business of publishing. And at this particular conference, the faculty eats meals and attends the social events with the attendees. Which is how I was able to casually chat with Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown about their son and wish Jon Agee well on getting exercise for his dog, who was at the conference but was having issues. (The dog, not Jon.)
There’s always the possibility that my dinner companion or assigned roommate could be the next J.K. Rowling. Or an agent who will represent me. Or someone who will relate to my situation. Or just a nice person to talk to.
So I really wanted to blog about the conference, but being a SCBWI member in good standing, I couldn’t give you all the gory details. But you get the gist, right?