Monday, July 27, 2009

Country mouse visits the nuclear reactor Part Three

Did I mention that I'm a huge fan of this conference? Just to catch anyone up who's missed the previous posts, that would be the 10th annual Northwest Children's Book Conference at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

My first time at this conference, when it was at Lewis and Clark College, the dorm crew were wild. We stayed up late every night, played poker, had a rowdy critique group, and finished it off with a party to remember. We even got Marla Frazee to attend because it was the happening place. (there's marla on the right with that Caldecott Honor award glow, more to come on that)

My second time attending, the dorm folks were ghosts and disappeared after dinner. Meanwhile, the faculty were living it up downstairs and every night I could hear them howling and having a great time. This year I was determined that wouldn't happen again.

So, right away we had a meeting in the hallway where we agreed that we'd hang out in the lounges at night and make some noise. And noise we did make. There were only me and two other guys who were staying at the dorm. We became known as the Dead End Gang. But eventually, the whole upstairs joined.

This is Del.

Illustrator, writer, crazy son of a... gun. Del looks like a mild mannered gent but he's not. He's originally from Alaska, which should tell you something. Every day Del had a shirt that got people talking. Del has had more adventures in life than you would believe. In fact, we grilled him to make sure he wasn't full of it. He has a scar on his cheek from a disagreement with three knife-wielding Moroccans. Pretty good chance Del will end up as a character in a story one day. He was the one who coined us the Dead End Gang. One last bit about Del, he shared a surprisingly touching piece of writing about his love affair with a bridge that fascinated him.

Del's bridge.

Two of the original Dead End Gang. The character on the right is Rich, a fine writer with a heart for rivers. Rich lives RIGHT on the border of Glacier National park in Montana, where he teaches and co-owns a river rafting company with his wife. Rich actually gets bears hanging out in his yard. I was the boring one in this gang.

Is it time to bring out the big guns? I'd say so.


Yes, Bonny Becker, you know, New York Times Bestseller, this year's Golden Kite Award Winner, EB White Read Aloud Award, all for her brilliant picture book, Visitor For Bear, superbly illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. Have you heard my Visitor For Bear rant yet? What a masterpiece. If you haven't heard it, I'll save it for later. But the longshot is that as a picture book writer, I am extremely jealous of how skillfully crafted Visitor For Bear is. Seamless. Brilliant. You just don't know how difficult it is to write a picture book until you've tried. I study her book. Really, I do.

Bonny gave an amazing talk on Story Structure. The funny thing was that we were in the chemistry building, yeah THE ONE WITH THE NUCLEAR REACTOR! Anyways, I couldn't resist asking Bonny to show us how she concocts a story. She's a really good sport. Did I mention that?

And really cool and totally approachable. I've already referred back to my story structure notes many times. One day I walked back from a meal or class with Bonny and told her how solid Visitor For Bear is. I gave her my whole rant and told her that I believed that book is one of the most solid contemporary story structures I've read. It just is. She was very humble but gave me a ton of great insight, including how she would actually copy, or type, stories that she really admired. Just to get the feel and rhythm of it. Great advice. Bonny has written many other books, including novels, and I am going to eventually try to read every one. Big geeky fan.

Don't believe me about the nuclear reactor? Here's proof. In the lobby of the chemistry building. Thought those showers seemed hot.

Am happy to report that besides now being sterile and losing my sense of smell, and thus taste, there have been no real lasting side-effects.

Here's the clever, witty genius, Susan Blackaby, getting pitched a story on the way to eat by some newbie. Just kidding. Suz is a good friend of mine, who, with her husband, used to be a writer for THE Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion. Susan's new book, Cleopatra, Egypt's Last and Greatest Queen, is out and excellent. Suz has published only about a billion books to date and is one of the more prolific and hard-working writers I know. And FUNNY. So is your hubby.

Who doesn't know of the elegant, wonderful Ann Whitford Paul? Ann is such an incredible writer and teacher/speaker. Whew. Years ago, I attender her talk on Picture Books that blew my mind. Lucky for all of us, Ann has a book on writing out, called, Writing Picture Books, A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication. This is published by the Writer's Digest Books, known for some incredible books on writing, including Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.

If you write picture books, I highly recommend Ann's book. Ann has published many books and is a very generous writer who is so encouraging to us "newbies." Above is Ann, with some new "pupils" and nice writers.

David Gifaldi! Yeah that's right, HIM. I had the incredible honor to be in David's small critique group. He and the group were really insightful. I love getting a chance to read other writer's work in projects and hear about their process. Our group was really talented and impressed the socks off me. David is a writer, school teacher and on the faculty of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adult Program at Vermont College.

Here's David cracking up Illustrator Elsa Warnick.

And David sharing a new piece of work at the Faculty readings.

I just finished David's Listening For Crickets. What an amazing writer. Really talented.

Linda Urban is AWESOME. This is my first time meeting her and I love her already. Hilarious, smart, and a great writer. I'm in the middle of her new book, A Crooked Kind of Perfect. Linda gave two great talks, one on dialogue and the other on battling perfectionism and finding your story's spine.

Her talk on the story's spine and perfectionism absolutely coincided with other excellent advice I got from none other than Arthur Levine and just hit a chord with my own struggles with writing a novel. Inspiring, enlightening, I am very grateful I got to hear Linda's talk. Man.

The beautiful, the delightful, Susan Goldman Rubin. What a babe!

I love Susan. She has always loved art and that passion and her talent for writing merged into a wonderful career as an author. Susan's groovy non-fiction approach is incredibly addictive. I don't particularly want to write non-fiction, but after a dose of Susan I sure do. She has done some amazing books about many artists, in a way that is really fun and interesting. She is the Sherlock Holmes of research and once she gets on a scent, she is tenacious. Such a spunky nice writer.

I'm sorry this is so long. I'm trying to figure out how to cram a life-changing week into a few blogs, but this deserves some length. But I'm gonna wrap it up here, and immediately start on the concluding two posts. Congratulations if you've made it this far!


  1. Holy cow. I have to go to Haystack one of these years. What a great summary.

  2. This makes me want to attend a writer's conference even more. What an opportunity! Glad you had so much fun:)

  3. Great job summing up the faculty! Your observations are spot on.

  4. I want to go to the Martha Bee writing conference. I don't think I'd be alone either.

    Sorry Natalie, I somehow missed this comment too. It was cool, but it would be tough to beat your unbelievable writing retreat. And your posts were riveting. I want to eat at that place you stopped at. Maybe it should even be it's own destination.

    Thanks Deb. Weren't they brilliant? I soaked up a whole lot from the conference.