Thursday, August 10, 2006

Notes from LA

There always seems to be themes at the LA conference. This year there were two that I heard over and over.

1. Trust yourself as a writer (or illustrator) and write / illustrate how you want, when you want, what you want. Do whatever sparks your imagination, and write / illustrate the book that you want to read. And remember why you started writing / illustrating in the first place.

2. Advice you get might be right for others, but not for you. Think about the advice before you blindly apply it to your writing or career. And critique groups are great, but don’t mistake them for editors.

I also took notes – not as many as usual, but I think there are some good quotes here – I hope they are useful, but remember theme #2 and only use what works for you. Also, I tried to scribble notes as fast as they were speaking, but I wasn't fast enough! Some of the notes are paraphrased to get the gist of the idea, rather than a direct quote.

Mo Willems
If you notice the work, the work is ruined (backgrounds, etc.). BG shouldn’t detract from the character. Seeming effortlessness is key – writer/illustrator should disappear.

The more you have on a page (visually), the faster it will be to read (out loud). The less you have on a page (visually), the slower it will be read (out loud).

Characters that are enemies are usually similar to each other (Pigeon and Bus Driver both love/want the same thing: love the bus/want to drive it.)

Know your strengths as an illustrator (and writer too) and don’t try to do a book that doesn’t fit your style. If you can’t see it or imagine it, turn the project down. You don’t want to work on something that you can’t do and will turn out awful.

Jodi Reamer
Let the agent do their job, don’t tell them what to do and how to do it (or why do you need the agent?). Let them guide you, and not the other way around. They don’t make the decisions for you, but need to feel like they can guide you through the options.

It’s all about the writing. You can learn as much as you want about the business, but it’s your writing that sells your story.

Working with agent tips: make sure it’s the right one / good relationship, personalities need to mesh, make sure you trust the agent, let them do their job, agents and editors have strong relationships, so let the agent advise you on things the editor suggests or next steps.

Laurent Linn
Illustrations should always have main focus / energy flow from left to right, like we read.

Dummy – don’t make type decisions at this stage – leave it to the book designer. Make it loose / subject to change, just like the art in a dummy.
If it’s a dummy with a story you have written as well, send it to the editor and not the AD.

Beverly Horowitz
Choices you make for the narrative must fit what you need for the story, and not be extraneous details (like prices of things, or pop culture references that will date your book).

You must choose the narrative voice – who is telling the story? (Almost nobody can pull off first person present - if you can write like Tilly Olson’s "I Stand Here Ironing" short story, then …)

Make sure that what you know about the main character that needs to be communicated to the audience is down on the page and not just in your head, so that the reader knows.

Great dialog works forever.

Wendelin Van Draanen
Forget what you are doing wrong when you write – especially with dialog.

Dare to find a voice that works for you.

Watch non-scripted TV and take notes. (The shows suck, but the dialog is great.)

Your subconscious can help you work on your story if you let it / help it out.

At the end of the day, re-read the story (or what you’ve written that day) before you go to bed (instead of watching TV, listening to the radio, etc.). Your mind will work on your book while you sleep.

Re-reading helps keep you in voice.

Girls are interested in more than just fashion and boys.

Mary E. Pearson (She gave us a lot of great quotes to ponder.)
"I think … I think it’s in my basement. Let me go upstairs and check." – M.C. Escher

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." – Somerset Maugham

"The devil is in the details." - unknown

"A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it." – John Steinbeck

"I have not failed; I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work." – Thomas Edison
"Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." – Ernestine Ulmer

"A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a joke or worried to death by a frown on the right person’s brow." – Charles Brower, Advertising Executive

When a man wants to murder a tiger, it’s called sport; when the tiger want to murder the man it’s called ferocity." – George Bernard Shaw

Justina Chen Headley and Alvina Ling
Humor – have to be picky with what you leave in – you can’t keep every joke, even though it might be funny.

Trust your editor. If you don’t, they might not be the right editor for you. Put aside your ego and just get down to business.

Trust yourself as an author.

Jane Yolen
Revise = dream again

Cultivate patience. Give yourself the time to settle into your characters. Also, you have to learn to wait in this business, but that should never mean that you stop working.

Don’t believe anyone’s rules. The only one that really counts is "write the damn book."