Sunday, July 25, 2010

BYU's Reader's Symposium

In a small group of apprx. 15 people, I asked Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah Plain and Tall), about her writer's group. I could tell from a previous address that the group played a big role in her success.

The story she told was that SP&T was really her mother's story and she wrote it as a picture book to honor her mother who was at the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease. She wanted the story to be simple and visual so her mother could still understand it. Also, she was running out of time because her mom was getting worse.

While at her writer's group meeting, she presented what she thought was a final version. Fellow writer Jane Yolen said, "You know Pat, this is really a chapter book.

Ms. MacLachlan was so angry, she threw the manuscript on the ground.

As you may or may not know, the book was re-written as a chapter book and went on to win a Newberry, was made into a movie with Glenn Close, received various other awards and opened up a lifelong career for Ms. MacLachlan.

Ms. MacLaclan also shared that she's been in the writer's group with Ms. Yolen for 35 years. This means that they have played an important role in each others' very successful careers. AND, they were willing and had the backbone to give/take criticism.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Baked Potato vs. The Buffet

For the upcoming Reader's symposium on July 15-16, I am required to read and critique ten books by the contributing authors. Some of those are picture books, thank goodness. Brandon Mull is one of the authors and I have picked up Fablehaven (again) but I'm finding a different reading experience as I try to read for understanding of its success.

What I have found might be understood by a simple comparison to two different meals. The first meal is a potato bar- a giant Idaho spud. Simple, yet it provides endless possibilities for embellishment-sour cream, bacon, ranch dressing, chili, chives, chedder, jack...etc. etc.There's no question what the crux of the meal is-a potato.

The second meal is one of those Vegas buffets-huge room with every kind of food imaginable and nothing is incredibly good because there is so much.

Fablehaven is a baked potato with great embellishment-a simple premise or starting point: grandchildren visit grandparents who run a preserve for mystical creatures. From that premise, Mull has added all the mystical characters, their intrigue, a few mysteries that are explained well. The mysteries aren't resolved yet (p. 137) but the mysteries are well laid out: grandma is missing, the Society of the Evening Star has a clear goal. There's nothing elusive. We don't know what the chili tastes like yet but it's clear that it's chili.

I see a mistake in my writing as I see the mistake of a buffet full of unappetizing food. Tons of stuff laid out with no clear center. My premise isn't at the center of the plate with the details enhancing the taste of story the same way they enhance the taste of a potato.

Now, I'm going to look for the potato in my writing. And add for the lovely details it needs to make it taste good.