The day before I left home for the SCBWI Winter Conference, I was touched by a little bit of literary magic. Finding myself with a free afternoon, I went to browse my favorite little bookstore. On one of the shelves, What I Was by Meg Rosoff caught my eye. I didn’t know much about this book, but the quality of the prose caught me immediately. So I bought it.
My actual voyage to New York happened in fits of flights and delays and hours waiting on cold, dark tarmacs. I doubt anyone has had a more dehumanizing, bumpy, travel sick trip to New York since my peasant ancestors landed on Ellis Island by tall ship.
When I finally settled in at the hotel, I opened up my conference schedule and discovered that one of the main speakers at the Friday Novel Intensive was none other than Meg Rosoff. This was the moment I took to be a spark literary magic, a bit of serendipity, a promise that the long haul to get there would soon be rewarded. I was not disappointed.
If you love the writing, telling or reading of stories and you ever have the chance to hear Meg Rosoff speak, do not miss it. She is brilliant, warm and giving. She spoke about the challenges of plot. It might seem obvious that if three people were given the same plot and asked to write about it, three very different stories would emerge from the assignment. What Meg got me thinking about more deeply is that I am, at heart, all of my characters. Not just the obvious protagonist. The other supporting characters, the ones I think are based on the girl I hated in third grade or the boy I loved at twenty are all my projections of myself. My unique experiences. That’s my plot. As I write it now, it sounds more Freudian than when Meg Rosoff was speaking. Read her books. Read about her. She is an inspiration.
“What is the difference between an artist and a craftsman?” Mo Willems asked during his closing keynote address. I think this question sums up the lessons on craft that I took with me from the conference this year. Mathew Kirby planting the seed of inciting events both internally and externally, coming to a climax and then meeting to find resolution. Margaret Peterson Haddix shaping and reshaping a story through research. And of course, the legendary Jane Yolen with her infectious joy of language. She not only opened up my understanding of landscape as a living, breathing character, but how it can be molded and shaped to affect the rhythm, texture and emotion of my stories.
The highlights of my weekend were Shaun Tan and 2002 Newberry Award Winner Linda Sue Park. Both of these authors tell stories lyrically but concisely, and in the case of Shaun Tan with hardly any words at all. Shaun Tan weaves images of ordinary life into the surreal. His pages are full of pictures, but he makes it as simple as possible so the reader can take their own journey. Linda Sue Park uses nouns sparingly and makes certain that they are woven throughout her story, never appearing just once.
I’ve come home revitalized and ready to write, as I always do from SCBWI events. This organization has brought such value to my work. To learn more about the SCBWI, visit their website: http://www.scbwi.org/