Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Betsy Bird shout out?

I'm a kid's book nerd. Did you know that? Yeah, I like writing. A lot.

Love to read about kid's book writing stuff, love to talk about it, love to roll around in manuscript pages (right Jolie?).

So, when none other than the great Elizabeth Bird of School Library Journal's A Fuse #8 Production, gives me a shout out...

My little kid-book-loving heart melts. Because I'm a big nerdy fan.

Now if you're Martha Brockenbrough, this is old hat. Just another day at the office. But if you're still-pretty-new blogger Benjamin Watson, you get dang excited. And she likes my blog name.

The post she was linking to was Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, where I recount my sordid past as a children's book model.

Please go check out Betsy's post. And thank you so much for reading my blog. I do sure enjoy this. And also appreciated all the nice comments about this post when I first published it.

I'm headed today to the Secret Garden Books in Ballard (seattle) to do a reading with my dad for The Boy Who Went Ape, so I'd love to see you if you're in the area. I'm going to be gone for a few days too, and since my pictures are on my computer here, I may not be able to do my posts. But there may be a way around that, we'll see.

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!

Country mouse visits the nuclear reactor Part Deuce

<-- dad taking a picture of me as hundreds of thousands of tons of angry metal whiz past me from behind. do I look nervous?

I believe I left you last, breathlessly wondering if there is any more to my trip than a ferry and car ride. In other words, get on with the bloody story already. "Come Watson, the game is afoot." (sidenote, Sherlock Holmes movie previews)

Early the next morning, I awoke on American soil to a surprise visit from my baby nephew. All my morning travel preparation plans went right out the window and we had some too-rare Uncle Ben time. Nothing better. (grandpa's post with nephew cameo)

Dad drove me to the train station in Tacoma (about an hour and a half drive) so of course we talked about writing and books the whole way.

Author, illustrator brainstorm session at the Tacoma train station.

Dad clearly violating the stay behind the yellow line rule. That's actually a rule I believe in.

I haven't been on a longer train ride since I was in seventh grade and my family went to the middle east and Europe. And I was really looking forward to it.

The train goes from Tacoma, down right along the Puget Sound, then heads straight down to Vancouver, WA and then Portland. Beautiful scenery.

This isn't the Puget Sound, this is some lake on the left side of the train.

No, this is the Puget Sound. Which, I might add, isn't too far from where all you lucky writer dogs get to have your WWA SCBWI Retreat on the Water with Cheryl Klein, Jolie Stekly and company.

Did you guys know that you can write on a train? Yeah. Imagine that. What a cool way to travel. Very romantic and gives you an extra boost of inspiration. I think I even found my muse on the train, albeit briefly. Or it could have been a ghost.

World's biggest egg, apparently. They made a big deal about it on the train but it was disappointing. A concrete egg they painted white. I told my dad about it later and he very meanly suggested that someone should build a bigger one, just to mess with them. He was joking, but you can see where I get it from.

And at last, with great excitement, I arrived in Portland, Oregon. Home of Powells City of Books, Jim De Bartolo and Laini Taylor as well as a whole HOST of talented writers/illustrators, and a joint everyone raves about called Voodoo Donuts. This city has so much culture but it still maintains a small-town kinda feel. There are so many old, craftsman-style, Green and Green influenced homes. And relatively affordable too, at least compared to Seattle and Victoria. Small wonder it is on the top of Amy and I's places to live list. Pretty incredible hospitals too.

The train was late, which I hear isn't rare, and we had to wait a while for our luggage. So, with a stuffed backpack, HUGE wheeled suitcase and my itinerary I nervously walked to the bus stop a number of blocks away. I'm not a savvy bus traveler. At all. And my perfectly planned itinerary my wife had for me was now obsolete. Little nervous.

My bus stop was across from a pretty seedy apartment/hotel, where the owner was outside talking pretty loudly about how the SWAT had just left over some incident and that he was going to be on the news. Great.

When a bus did come, the very kind bus driver talked to me the whole drive, telling me about his wife and his trip to Victoria and where I needed to go next, then wished me luck at my conference. At the next stop, a lady with two wild-as-hell boys, helped me figure out the rest of my journey from there. We had about forty-five minutes to wait for the bus, but I was kept entertained. I was really grateful. Real nervous, I asked her if her boys read and she said they loved to. So I gave her my book about a wild-as-hell boy on a class field trip as a thank you. The bus came right after and then one of the boys came up and asked me to sign it. Then for half the bus ride I could hear her reading my story, loud enough for the whole bus to hear (who were now staring at me), to her wild-wonderful boys. Very surreal, pretty special experience for me.

The next stop was Reed College. And my amazing writing conference.

And a nuclear reactor and other stuff. I'm actually gonna try to get another post about this again today since tomorrow I'm heading to Seattle for book signing/reading thing.