Posts Tagged ‘Mo Willems’




The 14th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference February 1-3, 2013 Part 2

Filed under: Conferences, SCBWI, Writing, Writing for Children

Sunday morning was rough and involved coffee and help from strangers. Oh, the life of an overly talkative, sleep derived conference goer…

After checking out, scavenging a breakfast sandwich, stowing luggage and coat and hauling around my books like a pack mule, there were lots and lots of well deserved Sunday morning awards. The illustrators were honored for their gorgeous work and the Tomie dePaolo award given out by Tomie!!!! It’s been a few years since he’s been at the conference and everyone was so excited to see him and hear him talk.


There was also the Emerging Voices Awards given out by Jane Yolen. These awards celebrate the mid-list authors who are the work horses of publishing. (Unlike the dancing Arabians.)


Then, with coffee finally charging through my system, it was on to KEYNOTE #1: Tell Me a Story by Margaret Peterson Haddix


Margaret is a wonderfully animated speaker, which was very exciting, but also resulted in some bloopers for your entertainment…

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Luckily, we aren’t defined by our bloopers. LOL!  Here’s all the good stuff…

*You don’t get to be a historic artifact or an author without a certain amount of persistence.

*Books are alive and relevant for kids in the digital age.

*Don’t you think they thought it was a dooms-day scenario when we shifted from storytelling to the written word? Or from hand-written books to the use of the print press? We’ll sort out the digital stuff.

*I have absolute faith that what we do is essential to kids and society.

*There is a high correlation between childhood reading and vocabulary.

*More children reading wouldn’t fix EVERY problem in society, but it would certainly help a lot.

KEYNOTE #2: IT TAKES TWO: The Pleasure and Pitfalls of Writing a Series by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton

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I sat there in awe as I listened to Julie Andrewsand her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton. Sure, part of it was because Julie Andrews is an icon. But that wasn’t the only reason, they were both lovely, hard working, funny, sweet and knowledgable. I was blown away by their dedication to children’s literature. Here’s some of what they had to say, but I have to be honest and let you know that some of their best stuff was in subtle gestures and humor–their interactions with each other. It was in the things that weren’t quotable. You could see it–fell it.

*The more we serve young readers, the more they will flourish & the better the world will be for everyone.

*We are so lucky to do what we do and love what we do, which is the secret to life, really.

*When writing, never underestimate the value of the bathroom break. (Or a spritz of perfume LOL!)

*The more you know your characters, the better your characters will react to the situation.

*Which of us here doesn’t remember the book that made the difference …that showed us we weren’t alone?

*Books were my anchor. My escape. My safe haven… They became the most trustworthy of friends.

*It’s hard to write books and it’s an enormous responsibility to write for children.

*Nobody’s perfect except for Mary Poppins … and she’s only practically perfect. *grin*

photo copy

Check out more books in the Julie Andrews Collection

And when I met Julie and Emma, I got to tell them about my nickname (Kimmiepoppins) and the picture of me attending my book launch event.


It was a long story, told quickly, but I was at least able to share the truth by saying…you made a difference in my life. I got to say thank you. And then my arms and legs turned to jelly and I had the shakes for twenty minutes LOL! It sounds so stupid. I know that Julie Andrews puts her pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else, but I have a soft spot for the people who change the world in a way that involves some of my favorite things–musicals, books and children.

But I would also be remiss if I didn’t tell you how utterly and completely Emma won me over. She’s a gem in the writing community and we are so lucky to have her. On Sunday I became a huge fan.

I personally wouldn’t want to follow Julie Andrews and be the final speaker of the day, but I know one guy who can pull it off…


FINAL KEYNOTE: Writing in 3 Easy Steps, 3 Somewhat Less Easy Steps, 2 Pretty Difficult Steps, and 1 Impossible Step by Mo Willems  (<—–Mo’s 9 steps are posted here)

Here are some other Mo-isms that i loved…

*Everyone was so inspirational–as the closer I feel obligated to be OUT-SPIRATIONAL!

*The glass is 1/2 full of poison.

*When I write a manuscript, if it makes sense I’ve done it wrong. (On leaving room for the illustrative part of the story)

*It’s my job to write incomprehensible books for illiterates. ROTFL!

*Craftsman vs Artist–An artist makes it beautiful, a craftsman is trying to understand the audience. Ex-A coffee mug can be gorgeous, but it also has to be able to hold coffee.

*Be succinct.

*Write about what you are passionate about.


*Get better dreams. If you are making your dreams come true–you’re not shooting high enough. You’re setting the bar too low and that’s as far as you’ll go. You might not reach all of your dreams but you’ll go higher than you might have expected.

*You need to be invisible. How? Read THE BEST and find their mistakes. Every book has holes–there’s your space–your entry.

*The hook isn’t the story.

*Be a philosopher. Write what you don’t know. It’s only interesting to you if you’re trying to figure it out.

*Ideas are not to be trapped, they are gardens you plant everyday. You have to be patient.

*Write a lot and whatever’s not funny (or good) take it away and see what’s left. If nothings left at the end–start over. That’s what it means to be a professional.

*You are going to have to do public speaking–get used to it. Take a class.

*Your job is to be some child’s best friend.

Then it was time for the autograph party. Boo! No pics allowed of Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton. But here are a few others…


Shaun Tan and Me (plus a little bit of Arthur Levine’s arm LOL!)


Hanging out with Meg Rosoff. She is so fabulous!


 Shaun Tan signing a copy of The Arrival for my local elementary school. Go Frogs!

And then I ran–dragging bags of books and luggage behind me–another conference over. But not really, it’s inspiration is only beginning to take root and grow…

What is the biggest thing you’ve heard from someone in the children’s literature world that has stuck with you and blossomed over time?

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The 2011 NY SCBWI Conference – Part 3

Filed under: Conferences, SCBWI, Touching the Surface, Writing

I’ll admit it…it was tough getting up on Sunday morning. I stayed up until about 2:30 am talking with my roommate Jodi Moore.  She’s just launched her web site and her very first picture book,  WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, will be out May 1st.  We had plenty to talk about.  *squee*

After dragging our luggage to the lobby to be checked, we headed to the ballroom-wanting to make sure we had great seats for the morning’s first keynote speaker, Sara Zarr.

But before she came out, we got to see the award winning art of our amazing illustrators.  Everyone’s work was spectacular and make sure you check out Showcase Winner, Leeza Hernandez’s web site.

We also gave a nod to the wonderful SCBWI Team Blog.  If you want to know anything at all about what happened at the conference stop by The Official SCBWI Conference Blog.  You’ll feel as if you were right there.  Equally as hard-working and fantastic is the staff at SCBWI…

*insert applause*

All right, now we can get back to Sara Zarr.  I promise-you don’t want to miss this.  It was special…

This is a hard speech to write about.  I’ve refrained from reading any post on the topic because I thought it would be best if I captured my feelings from my perspective.  When I critique a MS, I always jot down whatever comes to mind along the way.  I want to give the writer, the experience of how I reacted as a reader-I think that’s valuable.  The same is true with my response to the keynote.  Sara’s words, without a doubt, affected everyone in the room who listened.  I can’t tell you what they discovered, but I can tell you what they meant to me…

Standing at the podium was a very emotional experience for Sara.  One of those full circle moments when you find yourself standing at the end of something and the beginning of something else.  After 5 years of writing, Sara came to the NY SCBWI Conference as an attendee.  She came angry and frustrated.  She was hoping to figure out the system, network, find the answers.  

What she found out was that 5 years of writing just wasn’t enough, her agent wasn’t the right agent and she found herself back at square one.  She returned home and did all those things that she thought would finally make her enough.  She returned to the NY SCBWI Conference in 2005.  I was one of the worst experiences she’s ever had.  She left her purse hanging on the back of her chair and lost it.  She wondered if being kicked when you’re was down is a sign.  

We’ve all been there.  My baby is called TOUCHING THE SURFACE and it goes something like this…

Life-altering mistakes are meant to alter lives.

At seventeen, Elliot Turner feels like she’s a failure in life and in the afterlife.  She’s died for the third time and until she can remember her past and figure out the growth plan for her soul, she’s stuck at the Obmil Center for Progression…

At a NY Conference a couple years ago I waited in line for two hours to pitch my book to a very wonderful agent who was volunteering his time.  He looked at me and said…"Dead girls are out, I’d put that in a drawer for at least a decade and forget about it.  What else have you got?"  

I had nothing.  Damn.  

I’m not sure what made Sara, once again back at square one, keep going but I’m glad she did.  Just the way I’m glad that I’ve kept going.  For me, it’s always been the speeches, made by someone who used to be standing where I am.   Other people’s journeys and wisdom keep me going when I find myself back at that lonely little square.  I’m addicted to the feeling that the people in the room genuinely care, whether they’re in the seat next to me or on the stage.  

Sara, after getting misty eyed with awe at where she was standing and what it took to get her there, announced the following…

She was going to give the speech she needed to hear when she was the one sitting in the audience.  

I believe that giving that speech was an amazing act of courage.  I want to share it with you, but I can’t duplicate her humor, or effectively illustrate her ability to look within and portray herself honestly.  What I can tell you, was that sitting and listening to her made me feel less alone.  My neurosis had company.  

So I will share with you the many things she said that resonated with me, but understand that bullets, no matter how witty or insightful, can not take the place of the things that sat between the words.  It was an honor to have been there.

*The time between when you’re a beginner, but before you are a professional is one of the hardest in your life.

*If you’re blessed with mental health…lucky you!  LOL!

*Creative people do it for life-there is no end game.

*We need other people.

*Only other creative people get it when it comes to the joys and struggles of your work.

*It takes a tremendous amount of faith to live a creative life.  We have faith that all the good stories haven’t been used up by other artists.

*We have unsustainable habits: It’s not practical to be typing with one hand in a bowl of M&M’s. *giggle*

*Is understanding the business side of writing important? Hell yes-but you need to know the value of that on your life.

*Do things that take your mind off yourself-writing is a solitary business.

*You can start to believe in your rejections more than you believe in your capacity to learn and grow.

*At the end of the day-what do you want to create?   Relationships.

I know I feel as if I made a friend…thank you Sara.

No act stood a chance of following the standing ovation that Sara received…except this one.  Now it was time to laugh.  

Look Who’s Laughing: How to Do Funny for Young Readers and Why.

*Mo Willems
*Lenore Look
*Marvin Terban

Moderator-Leonard Marcus

I wish I could share all the wit and wisdom but I took bad notes.  I didn’t want to interrupt the laughing.  I was having too much fun.    Near the end, Mo said…The fundamental difference between kids and adults is that the kids are shorter.   I have to agree…we know they both love to laugh.

I’ve had the good fortune of hearing Linda Sue Park speak at my local Eastern NY SCBWI Conference.  She was amazing.  I knew what I was getting ahead of time and I still wanted to run up and hug her after she was done speaking. She talked about CONFIDENCE…

*Where things get stressful is in between-the area where you want something, but don’t know if you have the goods.

*Don’t believe in yourself, believe in the work.

*If you read a lot, you begin to build a mental standard in your head-it gives you a vast store house of stuff to compare to.

*How long does anyone spend to be a professional/master at anything?  You have to invest a whole lot of time to get good at anything.  The training for writing is reading.

*The thing about NOT believing in yourself…is that there are so many opportunities.

*If you’re NOT afraid of a challenge-that is NOT courage-it’s a malfunction in your brain chemistry.  Courage is what happens when you’re afraid.

*You never love a book the way you do when you’re a child.

*(After a young boy told Linda Sue that he had read her book 62 times) I try to make every sentence I write worth reading 62 times.  *heart squish*

Yes, my friends-she too got a standing ovation and it was well deserved.  I swear I could have floated out of that room when everything was over.  I was so pumped I didn’t even mind the line for the autograph party…

I needed to get all the way down to that far door before I could get in the "real" line.  Who cares-I had plenty to think about on line.

Elephant and Piggy…opps…I mean Mo and Me LOL!

Linda Sue Park…focused on the work.  Awesome!

Sara and Me…new friend and inspiration. 

Conference over.  Well almost…

There is something to be said about daydreaming while having a really good egg, ham and cheese sandwich as you’re sitting on the floor of Grand Central Station.  It’s as good a place as any to realize that someday is the very best place for your train to be heading…

So tell me…who inspires you?

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