EB Lewis (illustrator of Coming On Home Soon): We need to fill ourselves to overflowing and then give it all back. I loved this, because it reminded me that we all need to take creative breaks--I've done that this summer. Lots of games, cupcake parties, matinee movies...
Rachel Vail (Lucky, Gorgeous, and Brilliant): Rachel talked about how she collects characters in the notebook she carries with her all the time. “Spying is the key to being a writer,” she said. She also said that it’s important to think about the things your character’s notice. What is your character’s perspective on the world? She also asks her characters a lot of questions before she begins the writing process. (See her website: www.rachelvail.com)
Later during her keynote, she talked about how middle-grade readers are at that moment in which they realize: my family is weird. “Life and death moments are a dime a dozen in 7th grade,” she said. We should all remember that intensity of changing so dramatically in front of the entire world.
Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted): She told us to be patient with our ideas. “Plot arrives out of situation and character,” she said. And if a character is going to change the reader needs to understand why. “The reader will join you in adding complexity to your character if you show the way."
Later I attended Gail Carson Levine’s session about Infrequently Asked Questions. She had a lot of great things to say about writing from a male point-of-view, naming characters, setting, and revision. Many of her wonderful writing tips can be found on her blog: www.gailcarsonlevine.blogspot.com.
Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts): She talked about how kids may seem more sophisticated on the outside, but inside they’re the same as always. She always tries to get to the emotional core of her story. She told us not to be angry if our risks don’t pay off. “Learn and move on,” she advised.
I also loved how she talked about taking care of our writer self. After a weekend of sometimes conflicting writing advice, it was nice to hear that you have to see what works for you. “You have to feel yourself through the novel, not think your way through it. It has to come from your gut,” she said. “Don’t take yourself too seriously!” She also told us that kids deserve the best books that we can write. And it’s up to us to teach ourselves how to write.
Paul Fleischman (Whirligig): He talked about various organizational techniques that he uses when writing, like keeping lists of names and scenes. I loved it when he advised us to “weigh each word like it’s on a gang plank.” I'm doing that as I revise my current WIP.
The conference ended with an amazing presentation by illustrator Ashley Bryan. We recited poetry together (Langston Hughes!!!!) and it left me feeling grateful for a wonderful conference week--and inspired to make my writing the best it can be. I left LA, ready to go home, but first I stopped at Sprinkles so I could host an impromptu cupcake party when I returned to Utah. It's one of my favorite post-conference traditions! I've learned to get there right when they open so I don't have to wait in line. Mmm. Fresh, still sorta warm, cupcakes... I wish I could give you all Sprinkles cupcakes. Instead I asked Gail Carson Levine to sign a copy of Ella Enchanted for you!
To win the book, please a comment along with your contact information. Contest ends at midnight, Friday, August, 27, 2010. Open to anyone in the world!