So, I am basically at what amounts to my own personal version of ComicCon - the SCBWI 41st Annual Summer Conference in LA. Actually, not just LA, but Century City. The hotel where the conference is held is on the Avenue of the Stars, and, true to its name, I did encounter a star last night when I went out to grab some dinner. As I walked into Gelson's and headed for the Pink Lady Apples, who should I see but Bob Newhart! There is no mistaking this guy, but, the experience was heightened when I heard his distinctive, quasi-stuttery, raspy voice talking to a hairy guy with huge calves. I confess to lingering over the apples so I could sneak another peek at him and hear his voice a bit more. My son, who is a fan of classic stand-up comedy, was devastated that I did not ask for his autograph for him.
Speaking of autographs, I hauled a huge bag of books here with me to be signed by the amazing faculty at this convention and will most likely end up buying a few more from the bookstore here. Thus far, I have heard an amazing, inspiring speech from Arthur A Levine, of Arthur A Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. If you know nothing else about this man, he is the person behind bringing Harry Potter to America and he has been JK Rowling's editor from the start. His imprint is celebrating 15 years of amazing books and his speech highlighted titles he's published over the years with a focus on the timelessness of each title and what makes them so. From Rough Face Girl by Rafe Martin and David Shannon to Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (of which he said, "Great writers use anticipation more than surprise," and if you've read this book you'll know what I mean. Of Mirette on High Wire, the Caldecott Award winning picture book by Emily Arnold McCully, Levine quoted a line that has stayed with him, "Think only of the wire and of crossing to the end." Of Philip Pullman's amazing novel The Golden Compass, another book Levine is responsible for bringing to the US, he said one of the most pointed, poignant things about this book, which is a longtime favorite of mine and a work I hold up as an example of superlative writing and storytelling over and over. While Levine noted all of the spectacular things about this book, he got to the heart of it in a way I'd never considered. Speaking of Pullman's creation of the dæmon, an animal companion, ego to the id, or vice versa, who never leaves your side and is intimately connected to you, Levine said, and I paraphrase, "Pullman creates this construction that you, the reader fall in love with, it is so new and appealing, then he puts it in danger." In doing so, he creates an intensity of emotion and excitement and suspense that is, no doubt, why so many people are passionate about this book.
Next up was the equally, but for different reasons, moving and spectacular and completely entertaining, Tony DiTerlizzi, who took us through his creative process by way of a kind-of geeky childhood. First off, though, I have to say that Tony totally rocked his saddle shoes and almost had me running out to buy a pair. This guy is basically a genius, which, to me is anyone who is artistically ambidextrous, meaning he is equally good at writing and illustrating. Adam Rex is another genius of this sort who never fails to amaze me. Extremely energetic and generous with impressions, Tony had everyone laughing from start to finish and even shared a picture of himself in 5th grade, circa 1979 (think big aviator-style glasses, Luke Skywalker haircut and cool printed t-shirt.) He talked about how so many of his ideas come from his connection to his childhood and his mindset, "Is this what 10 year old Tony would want to read?" as he works. This influenced his amazing science fiction trilogy, now 2/3 of the way done, that begins with The Search for WondLa. What I especially liked was how Tony talked about what he was reading as a ten year old. You might be surprised to hear that it was pretty girl-centric - The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan topped the list. Dorothy, Alice and Wendy - he noted that Wendy is in fact the main character of Barrie's book since she experiences a change over the course of the story where Peter remains the same - all have one thing in common as their stories unfold. They all want to go home. And Home is at the center of DeTerlizzi's work.
Next, I attended two talks given by publishers who have very distinct and great taste. Jordan Brown, who divides his time betweeen Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray, both imprints of Harper Collins, is the editor behind some of my favorite books that are also examples of brilliant writing, Breadcrumbs, Cosimic, Neversink, and The Fourth Stall, a really fantastic book by Chris Rylander (who I get to hear speak today!!!) that is hilarious and heartfelt (dumb word, I know) and so, so well written it makes me a little achy. Review to come.
And more about my incredible first day (and today) later. I need my coffee before another spectacular day of kid's books!