Sunday, February 11, 2007

Notes from a Weekend + One More Squid 101

  • The SCBWI Writers' Intensive on Friday was, in a word: intense. In two hours, nine writers and I critiqued their nine 500-word manuscript excerpts in twelve-minute bursts, boom-boom-boom round the table. I enjoyed it, even though I was exhausted afterward, and I worried that perhaps things went too quickly for the writers to record or process the criticism . . . but I do hope the writers who attended got something out of it as well.
  • One problem that came up a lot in these excerpts: in a novel, a first paragraph that, in trying to set up the situation, ended up explaining it, thereby destroying much of the suspense or surprise (and therefore the reader's pleasure) in what was to come. To test this on your own ms., cover up your first paragraph and start reading with your second: Is that where the action starts? Is it perhaps a more involving, less portentous beginning? (This is also worth trying on the chapter level.)
  • I arrived late to the kids' book drinks night at Bar Nine, but whoo! Writers, artists, editors, agents, even a Newbery winner in there . . . Cheers to Betsy and Alvina for staging a fine event.
  • Instruction for all illustrators everywhere, but especially ones who display their work at next year's SCBWI art show/reception: GET A WEBSITE. If I like your piece, I will want to see more of what you can do, and the easiest way for that to happen is if you have a website I can visit and see your style beyond what you showed at the show. Thank you.
  • If you like reading about writers' processes, the ever-fabulous Jennifer Crusie is reworking her novel You Again and will be talking about it on her blog.
  • Todd Alcott compares-and-contrasts two of my favorite films, It Happened One Night and The Sure Thing (the young John Cusack -- be still my heart), and brilliantly deconstructs Green Eggs and Ham.
  • Or heck, I'll take the old John Cusack too.
  • Last night I saw City Center Encores! production of Follies, with the incredible lead cast of Victoria Clark, Donna Murphy, Michael McGrath (Patsy from Spamalot), and Victor Garber -- yes, the beloved badass (there is no other word for him) Jack Bristow. It's one of Sondheim's concept shows, far less story than songs and style -- but what songs and style! "Broadway Baby," "Losing My Mind," "I'm Still Here," and some wonderful 1930s Berlinesque pastiche, terrifically staged, sung, and choreographed.
  • And today I saw "Children of Men." It starts with the nightmare proposition that, in the year 2027, no children have been born on the planet for 18 years. Flu pandemics have come and gone; mushroom clouds have swallowed New York. Britain is the only stable nation left, and it's a police state that seems primarily dedicated to locking up illegal aliens. Theo Faron (the marvelous Clive Owen) is drawn into a plot to smuggle one of these aliens out of the country for a world-changing reason: She's pregnant. The war-torn world shown in the picture is depressing and scary as all hell -- and happening somewhere on the planet right now, I know -- but Theo's journey from walking-deadness to hope and purpose is beautifully realized, and even when it's showing death and destruction, the cinematography and direction are so gorgeous, so powerful, so incredibly accomplished, I didn't want to look away. (If Emmanuel Lubezki doesn't win Best Cinematography, I will throw things at my television.) (The Academy quakes in fear.) I'm not sure what the film is saying in the end, nor do I want to think through the plot too closely, but for pure visceral world-building, style, and storytelling, only "The Departed" came close to it in 2006.
  • Oh, and a homophone I forgot:

discreet: (adj) judicious in one's conduct or speech, esp. with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature; prudent; circumspect; showing prudence and circumspection; decorous; modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious

If you'd like to tell a secret / I would recommend a squid; / They will listen to your story / And close tighter than a lid. / They're discreet, restrained, remarkable, / All ego and no id; / For confidence in confidantes, / Always trust the squid.

discrete: (adj) apart or detached from others; separate, distinct

Then I spied five discrete sucker marks on the knife, and I knew: Jack the Squidder had struck again.


  1. Excellent post! Thanks for the great tips!

  2. Thanks for the post and observations! Glad you had a fun (if exhausting) time!

  3. The squid and the unicorn went on a spree, with crumpets and dumplings and lemony tea.

    Happy Monday.

  4. Oh, the octopus is jealous
    And the stingray in a huff,
    But the squid, forever humble,
    Cries in anguish, “That’s enough!

    Though my equal’s nonexistent
    And Ms. Klein thinks I'm the best,
    I prefer the dark seclusion
    Of my oceanic nest.

    All your secrets you can tell me,
    All your woes, your hidden fears,
    And my tentacles will bind them,
    Ever hidden, o’er the years.

    But, my friends, do not begrudge me
    Cheryl’s fondness and embrace,
    For the spotlight makes me queasy
    And I long to hide my face.

    I prefer complete seclusion,
    Without fortune, fame, or friend,
    Introversion at its finest,
    ‘Til my bitter, salty end.

    So I'm off to write a novel –
    I’ve got ink to last a year,
    Au revoire!” The squid, departing,
    Sheds a solitary tear.

    From Ms. Klein the squid is hidden,
    But it’s only for a while;
    Write his name on your submission
    And you're bound to make her smile.

  5. Jillian, that's brilliant! Thank you so much for posting it. You are hereby welcome to submit a rhyming picture-book ms. to me at any time. :-)

  6. Thank you, Cheryl; I'm deeply gratified by your compliment.

    Perhaps my "useless rhyming talent" isn't so useless. And if I ever submit a PB, I will be sure write an extra large "squid" on the envelope. :)

  7. Cinderella does make it to the ball, Harry gets to Honeydukes and I wish very much to be able to make it to SCBWI NY someday.

    I agree about any old Cusack = hot cha cha!

    Though I have to say he blew "Must Like Dogs" for me… I can dispend belief about a lot of things in movies, scientists cloning dinosaurs from amber, flying cars, pigs talking to spiders and sheep, but the fact that Diane Lane didn’t have Mr. Cusack on speed dial from the get go just doesn’t cut it with me. He was way too adorable and clever. She didn’t deserve him. (sniff)

    Come to think about it Ms. Lane has been in a few “unbelieveables”. I’m still curious about “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Do book editors really make enough money to keep a crew of Polish stoneworkers on staff for a year refurbishing an Italian villa? And do you ever sit outside on a little wire chair under a laurel tree, sipping lemoncello, while you edit? Just asking.

    High fives for all the wonderful squid poems!


  8. If I wrote a story, or even in this poem
    I’d give the stage to Squid and let it be his home
    Past the ivory pages, you’d see his tentacles
    Hanging from the spine, like fleshy icicles

    He’d flatten and he’d stretch, kept wet with salty tears
    His large eyes quite beautiful, wise beyond his years
    But he cannot read the words as he explores his written house
    In the ocean only fish have schools—I feel like such a louse

    Especially, when I see, he’s wrapped around a quill
    Swishing its steely point inside a porcelain well
    I think he’s trying to recall some mermaid’s pretty song
    But the black ink bleeds across the page in ribbons thin and long

    I believe he does feel poorly then, my tiny little Squid
    His big eyes swim in sadness as he looks at what he did
    “Don’t worry, Darling Dear,” I coo and cup him in my hands.
    “Though I meant a book to be your home, there are no demands.”

    Oh, his beak is sharp and silent as he kisses me with cups
    In a fit of happy joy like some suctioned-pawed pups
    I laugh and let him linger, rolling ’round the text
    “I say we write a sequel! And a next and next and next!”


  9. Great post! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about the conference (especially, the common mistakes you saw in the critique session).

    And it sounds like you're a sucker for squids, but then again, who wouldn't be?

  10. children of men was great. wonderful direction, cinematography and acting. i felt the plat itself wasn't overly exciting but in such talented hands the final outcome was still astonishing.

    i loved the departed too. it's funny, i feel like children of men was a 'better' film yet i think i enjoyed the departed more...

  11. Great post! I got a lot out of the writer's intensive! I am an illustrator dying to write my own book sas well. I also attended the Bar Nine festivities but didn't get as much out of that as I am the world's worst networker... The bartender and my wallet became well aquanited though.

    Thanks for a great post. Glad I stumbled across your blog!

    -Andy Smith