I know, it sounds like an acronym for a large, soul-less corporation, but the truth could hardly be more different. It’s the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a national organization that held its Northern Ohio conference this past weekend. About a hundred and fifty people showed up, all of whom love kids and books. I mean!
As a presenter, I critiqued picture book and middle grade manuscripts. This responsibility made me very nervous, and as I waited to confer with my first critiqueee (?) I flashed to dreaded childhood Saturday afternoons going to confession. I always went to Father O’Brien, though his waiting line was inevitably longest. Everyone wanted him to hear their sins. He was kindly and soft-hearted, made you feel maybe you weren’t so bad after all, and not only that–you left that dark little booth certain that you really could mend your ways. In my memory, those Saturday afternoon were always overcast and gray when I entered the church, but just as I came out a ray of sun broke through the clouds.
I wonder now if Father O’Brien’s sweet generousity stemmed from knowledge of his own pesky failings. As I reviewed the manuscripts, I vowed to follow my own advice: pare those adverbs, show don’t tell, never again use the word seems, begin at the true beginning. (This was not the first time I vowed those things, of course. But this time I was certain I could achieve a state of grace !)
I was pretty tired at the end of it all–I became a writer, after all, because I prefer typing to talking. And of course on the ride home I thought of all the things I’d forgotten to say. Like, I gave a talk on making sure adults are never the agents of change in your novel–a grown-up can point your main character toward a door, but your hero has to open it and go through it herself. Yet I never mentioned that paradigm par excellence, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, in which Max sails off to tame fierce and frightening demons both external and internal, all by himself, only to return home and find his supper waiting for him. As we all know, it was “still hot”. The perfect combination of triumph and comfort–who wouldn’t love to be Max at that moment?
One other thing I forgot to say: You know what? You’re not a writer because you’re published. You’re a writer because you’re writing. I’m saying it now.