Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wisdom from the Children's Author Breakfast at BEA

I'll have a full report from BEA on Monday or Tuesday, but I wanted to share a little bit of my experience at the Children's Author Breakfast on Wednesday morning.

I decided that since I was paying my way to go to BEA, I wanted to completely milk my experience and do everything. (And as of right now it looks like I actually will be paying for all of it. I got word that the State of Illinois probably won't be fufilling their obligation to pay out my grant award which is BEYOND irritating and makes me not want to pay any sort of taxes to the state until we're even.) So despite my night owl nature, I bought tickets to both of the breakfasts knowing I'd have to get up at 6 am (ie. much closer to when I usually go to bed). It was totally worth the sleep deprivation, especially the Children's breakfast.

I guess the Children's breakfast got a bunch of news coverage because Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of whatever was appearing the day after some big scandal. I could care less. I don't know the whole scandal, though do know it involves her stealing or bribing or something unethical, which is definitely appalling, but honestly I'm not surprised. I'm very cynical when it comes to wealthy people/the royals/celebrities because we treat them like gods, so they think they can do anything. Scandal or not, I had no interest whatsoever in seeing her. I was interested in the *real* authors who had published good books on their own merit and not because they have a famous name (can you tell this is a serious pet peeve? few things piss me off like celebrity book deals.). And those guys did not disappoint. They were massively inspiring to the point that I took notes. So I wanted to share what I jotted down. It is paraphrased, not exact quotes, but these were wise and inspiring words.

From Cory Doctorow, author of For The Win and Little Brother (who I had an event with Wednesday night and he is seriously the nicest, coolest guy):
"Adolescents are nature's daredevils. They are doing things for the first time without thinking of consequences." --Hell yes, this is why I love writing teenage characters. So much more adventurous.

"YA has the most serious audience. They want their books to be a call to action and the books become a part of their personality." --Again, yes, this is one of the main reasons I enjoy writing YA. I remember being that type of teenage knowledge seeker and writing for them is sooooo rewarding!

"Live and work like it's the first day of a better world." -- I think I'm going to put this above my desk. A great motto.

From Mitali Perkins, author of (most recently) Bamboo People

The gist of her talk was how good stories function as mirrors or windows or preferably both. Sometimes we are seeking the stories that mirror ourselves in some way, whether it be the main characters race, class, gender, or personality. And that is why it is so important to have books that represent all types of people and all voices, because we all yearn for that and we're not all the pretty blond, white, upper middle class cheerleader from suburbia. But we also need to learn how others who are not like us experience the world, we yearn for that too, having a window into other worlds. I strive to write books that will do both... or at least I hope my books will do both, maybe be a window book for some people, or a mirror book for others, or preferably a little bit of both. Like BALLADS, I really wanted to give voice to the kind of kid I was because it was rare I could find a voice in literature at the time, but I also wanted to give a window into the experience, particularly of self-injury, so those who didn't relate could at least understand.

From Richard Peck, who has published way too much to list & if you love children's lit, you know him:

"The English invented childhood. Americans invented adolescence." HA!!! We are so angsty.

"No one grows up until they have to and in our books *someone* has to."--Another thing I love about YA and I knew it but didn't really realize it until he put it into words. The same with the following quote:

"No one grows up in a group. They grow up one at a time despite the group."-- This made me think immediately of BALLADS. It was so true for those characters. They needed the group so badly and then they needed to leave it to grow. And the same was true for me as a teenager. I can't tell you how much I anguished about this when my group of friends started to grow apart in high school. It broke my heart. It crushed me. I felt like I'd finally found my people and then a year later I was losing them. But they taught me things--we taught each other things--and then we had to put those things to test on our own. And we did come back to each other in the end. We have grown and now have so much more to give each other.

All three talks were so brilliant. I wish I could have recorded them. Thank you so much Cory Doctorow, Mitali Perkins and Richard Peck for making me think and inspiring me. As for The Duchess.... *shrugs* Whatever.


Ashley said...

I so agree with your theory and pet peeves of celebrities. Most of them are just wealthy and really don't care about other people. Some are actually nice and normal people (Ellen, Sophia Bush,). Those quotes are amazing and very true. I might have to copy some of those down, haha.

lkmadigan said...

Thanks for sharing this, Stephanie. I'm a big fan of all those authors. (The real ones.) Richard Peck always says something that hits me like the crash of a wave.



Cheryl said...

I also agree with the celebrity issue. I'm an aspiring writer and it makes me uneasy to think how easy they get published for nonsense books no less. Thank you for posting those quotes, they really are helpful.

Loretta Nyhan said...

Thanks for being a note-taker, Stephanie! These are words to live by...

And oh, man, our state legislature really needs to realign its priorities.

Susanne said...

Wonderful post, Stephanie. Made me wish I'd gone to that breakfast as well, although I decided against because I was paying my own way and just left the day job! All really, really good things to remember when writing YA, and sort of explains why it is that so many adults are drawn to reading YA.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Okay, first off...I SAW YOU! You were leaving the Carolyn Mackler signing and I was in it, so I didn't get to say hello...:( very sad face.

Those are amazing quotes from everyone though. Thanks for sharing. And I really dislike most celebrity books as well. Publishing is hard, and they can do it b/c of who they are so much easier...not really fair


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Glad you all enjoyed the quotes and it appears we are on the same page about celebrities.

Loretta, ugh I am soooooo mad at the state legislature right now I can't even tell you. Grrr

Lauren, so sad I missed you! You should have shouted at me or something. Ah, another time.