|Heidi and Jane, savoring a job well done|
|Aren't we looking inspired? (Note the candy bowl.)|
Once there, I soaked up enough inspiration, practical pointers, and writerly fellowship to carry me through quite a few rounds of future manuscript revisions. I thought I'd share some highlights and nuggets of wisdom . . . plus a little back matter.
A month before PBBC, participants submitted two picture book manuscripts for critique by both Jane and Heidi. Both of them offered perceptive comments, some in an in-person meeting, and some in writing. For many participants, these suggestions resolved longstanding problems or breathed new life into floundering manuscripts.
|Jane is a careful listener|
I needn't have worried. Very soon, we weren't strangers. Everyone brought works-in-progress they thought weren't quite working, and all were generous and supportive in their critiques. And astute! One writer who hadn't planned to read for the group changed her mind when she saw how constructive the suggestions were. She was glad she did -- she received excellent, exciting comments.
I too waited till our last evening to read . . . stayed up late the prior night revising my manuscript based on what I'd learned so far from critiques, lectures, and chats . . .
and received incredibly helpful advice on my manuscript. Back home on Sunday night, I jumped into my revision with new hope.
I arrived at Phoenix Farm hoping to improve my craft. I did learn a great deal about the peculiar art of writing picture books. But just as valuable -- perhaps even more so -- were the many tales from the trenches that everyone shared.
|Dinner: delicious food and titillating tales|
Jane has published more than 350 books, so it's tempting to imagine publishers racing to accept her latest work. Yet she reminded us repeatedly that she gets rejections, many rejections. There are editors who have failed to respond, ever, to Jane's submissions. (Hey, that happened to me, too!) Publishers have left manuscripts to molder for years. Editors have made changes that have led writers to pull back their manuscripts. It's all part of this crazy business. But if we love writing -- and we do -- we keep at it.
The boot campers had written all kinds of children's books. Among the group were award-winners and big sellers, writing teachers, ghost writers, and more. I learned from everyone, and everyone had stories to share. We recounted our worst rejections and subsequent triumphs. Some of these made us laugh. Some might have made us spill our wine. We talked about books we love, and books we love to hate. Jane and Heidi were generous in recommending publishing houses and editors they thought could be right -- or wrong -- for particular manuscripts.
Picture book writers know we should be reading aloud -- both our own manuscripts and great picture books. But how often do we have the pleasure of listening to great books read by Jane Yolen or Heidi Stemple? At PBBC, Jane often read aloud to us from excellent picture books.
|Heidi reads YOU NEST HERE WITH ME|
Three PBBC Nuggets for Picture Book Writers
I absorbed many excellent bits of writing advice at Phoenix Farm. Here are three points that stood out for me:
- Use good words: Picture book writers shouldn't "dumb down" their writing -- expose children to delicious words.
- Learn to see: You must observe (faces, nature, settings) before you can show in your writing.
- Try new things: Re-invent yourself and your writing regularly to stay fresh. Just say, "Yes I can!"
Back Matter: Nuts and Bolts and Extras
Jane and Heidi have perfected the pacing of PBBC. Although we were exhausted by Sunday, the program never dragged and we had an interesting variety of activities as the weekend built to a satisfying conclusion.
The first night, we went owling! Heidi led us into the chilly night and called to the owls. You may know that Jane's book, Owl Moon, is a family story, and Heidi is the little girl in that book. Well, Heidi still goes looking for owls. She told us that since it was nesting time, she didn't want to lure the owls away from their trees that night. But when she called, we heard the answering cry of a screech owl in a tree. Sometimes there are owls.
We heard from two guest lecturers: an outstanding editor and an industry expert (a/k/a Big Mouth) who seemed to know everything about every kids' book ever printed. I appreciated these additional perspectives, and the advice these industry insiders were willing to share.
On a field trip to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour. That included entry into the vault, where we viewed original art including a Sylvester picture by William Steig.
|PBBC4 at the CARLE MUSEUM|
|Jane and Libby walk the walk|
What I Brought Home from PBBC
|Coffee, tea, and a view of fresh snow in the morning|
If you're curious about the other boot campers, you'll find links to their websites listed at the end of this post.
|Heidi thought of everything: including this "cheat sheet" so we could remember names|
Appreciations: Thank you to Jane and to Heidi (who also took many of these photos) for inviting us into your home and your writing world. Thanks to all my fellow boot campers for their generosity of spirit. And particular thanks to Laurel Neme, who convinced me to apply to PBBC! Great call, Laurel.
|Jane, me, Laurel, Heidi|
PBBC 4 participants:
Lynda Mullaly Hunt