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Conference

Today's word of the day is Conference.

Years ago, I got some advice that went something like this: "If you want to write for children, you have to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Attend the conferences. Meet people. Network. Get involved. Get informed. Get inspired. Volunteer. GIve back. But don't ever, ever, ever volunteer to run a conference because that's a year of your life you'll never get back."

I've followed that advice well enough until now. This weekend I got to enjoy the 2009 New England SCBWI annual conference in a relatively relaxed and stress-free mode, providing tech support, AV support, and web support as needed. But they've hooked me as a co-director for 2010--how could I resist a technology theme? Now that the 2009 conference is nothing but a warm glow of good memories, I can officially start feeling anxious about next year.

Actually it almost certainly won't be so bad as my old mentor made it out to be. 2010 will be the 24th annual New England regional conference, so there are systems firmly in place and a crowd of former directors to lean on as resources. And New England has a system by which an apprentice co-director is paired with an experienced co-director from the year before.

Over the next year, between conference planning and my master's program, I will be blogging less about writing but expect me to blog more about the awesome conference I'm helping to put together.

A-Twitter

My word of the day is a-Twitter, a state of euphoria that you want to broadcast in 140 characters or less. Usage: When the Red Sox pulled out that 11th inning win against the Yankees last night, the fans were all a-Twitter.

I don't really get Twitter. It seems like a pointless waste of time, and not the fun kind like spider solitaire that occasionally turns your screen into a fireworks display. But the hype has been crazy over the past couple months as news outlets have scrambled to sign on, then Stephen Colbert came up with an off-colored past-tense for the verb "to twit" that nearly knocked Meridith Viera out of her seat, and then over a million people decided they just had to cyberstalk that guy from "Dude, Where's My Car?"

I'm at the New England SCBWI conference in Nashua this weekend, where folks expect me to know about all things techy that could potentially be used to reach an audience of book lovers, so the topic has come up in casual conversation. Twitterers have been trying to win me over to their ranks while non-Twitterers have been generally disappointed that I couldn't give them my first-hand experiences with the site. By the end of the night I just gave in.  You can follow me @tem2

The conference is going great, by the way. This year I can relax and enjoy the workshops and festivities. Next year (May 14-16, 2010) I'll be co-directing so I expect very little in the way of relaxation. By then Twitter will probably be plugged directly into my brainstem, insideous as it is.

Marathon

Is it Earth Day already? It feels more like Groundhog's Day and I'm the one peeking out to see a shadow. I've been so swamped with things to do and not enough time to do it all. 

Monday was Patriots Day which is also Marathon Day here in the Boston area. We staked out a spot on Comm Ave across from Newton City Hall within earshot of the Poland Springs DJ. Poland Spring was pumping out the jams! We brought 'Xi, who had a great time running around and gathering last fall's leaves with another toddler she'd just met--that girl can make friends anywhere! We also brought Flat Stanley, from the Flat Stanley book series. With better planning we could have arranged to have Stanley carried along the route by a runner, but we probably wouldn't have gotten good pictures for his travel journal. Lots of great shots from the Boston Children's Museum yesterday, too. Flat Stanley flies back (via first class mail) to Florida on Friday.

At the marathon ten years ago, I volunteered to hand out beverages and snacks to the runners after they crossed the finish line in Boston. It's inspiring to see so many people accomplish such a daunting goal. All that preparation. All that effort. All that sweat. And I was the one who got to say, "Congratulations, dude. Have a bottle of water and a bag of corn chips!"

Writing a book is kind of like running a marathon sometimes. All that preparation. All that effort. All that sweat. And at the end, a bottle of water and a bag of chips!

Reinvention

Today's word of the day is reinvention. Every once in a while, you need to reinvent yourself to keep things fresh and current. For example...

In 2005, I got married. (Four years ago today. Happy anniversary, honey!)

In 2007, my first book was released. (Penguins! Doom! Yay!)

In 2008, our daughter was born. (And she gets more beautiful every day. Just like her mom. Did I mention that it's our anniversary today?)

These were huge transformations in personal identity and lifestyle, and way, way, way for the better. As a result I'm almost a completely different person than I was five years ago, and there are more changes to come. Here's a sneak peek...

In 2009, I go back to school for a master's degree in teaching. (I've started a new blog to talk about that.)

In 2010, I'm co-chairing the 24th annual New England SCBWI conference in (drumroll please) beautiful Fitchburg, Massachusetts!

In 2012, I reveal myself as a cyborg sent back from the future to kill John Connor.

Photobucket

I can't wait to see who gets cast to play me in the movie version. Thanks, TerminateYourself.com!

Subtext

Today's word of the day is subtext, which is an important writing tool as well as the reason those new Comcast commercials have been bugging the heck out of me. You know, the ones with the cartoony fantasy town where Comcast cable service makes everything magical.


These commercials feature imaginative details, an earwormy song, and a fun way to promote the features of Comcast's digital phone-internet-tv product. This should be one of the most effective and amazing commercial campaigns in years--but instead it comes off as creepy and annoying. It took me a few repeated viewings to figure out why... 

Notice that these fantasyland customers who are extolling their "happy high-tech automatic exponentially ecstatic" lives in Comcast Town all have unnaturally deadpan expressions and emotionless robotic voices. It makes us wonder, on a subconscious level, whether they've been drugged or hypnotized or both. The context is that everything is wonderful while the subtext is that these people have been assimilated into some kind of cult. As a result, while our conscious mind is admiring the scenery, our subconscious wants us to run away before we also become plastic-faced techno-zombies.

Subtext is a double-edged sword for writing. When it's used purposely, it can be a powerful way to enhance a reader's experience without them even realizing what's going on. But when an unintended subtext undermines the intended meaning of an author's words, it can ruin an otherwise well-constructed story. Or commercial.

Also, I happen to have the Comcast triple-pack and haven't noticed any singing squirrels, giant monster battles, or rooftop hot tubbing going on in my neighborhood. Just saying.

Purim

Last week I did a book signing at our synagogue's Purim carnival culminating with a dramatic reading of an all-new Purim story I wrote for the event, and guess whose photo graced the local newspaper on Tuesday morning. Go on, guess!

No, not me--my wife and daughter. It's probably because she's so much cuter and more photogenic than I am, and so is our daughter. Our 13-month-old prodigy loves walking around with a balloon in her hands and a handmade Queen Esther crown on her head, which apparently attracts newspaper photographers better than just some guy signing his own name in a book. She is also cutting her first molars, climbing her first stairs, and pronouncing her own name as "SEE". I'm spelling it 'Xi as the new Internet nickname she'll almost certainly one day grow to be embarrassed of.

'Xi loved the Purim carnival, and my Purim story was generally well received. It's the second in my Jewish Holidays series, which could be well on the way to becoming an entire book. I learned a lot about Purim in the process, including the kind of insights you never seem to have about a topic until you start writing about it. For instance, it turns out that Purim is probably the least religious holiday on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a historical event that, unlike Hanukkah or Passover, does not require a miracle to resolve. Human courage and resourcefulness triumph over human greed and wickedness without the need for divine intervention. It's like God decided to take the day off, trusting that people would be able to solve their own problems for a change. Also, in my version of the story, there's a mutant alligator deathtrap.

I even met up with an former co-worker who brought her children to the event. "We're not Jewish," she confided, "we just love a good carnival." And that's what we had--crafts, face painting, games, stories, food, prizes, and music--all the ingredients of a good carnival. 'Xi can't wait until next year!

Chart



Actually, the inverse is true. Lots to do this week.

Making a Spectacle of Myself

Reproduced below is my latest post to the Spectacles group blog, which I recommend reading in it's natural habitat. I'm enjoying the group blog for the discussions being spun off and the ability it gives me to crack open a format that's wider than doing my usual "word of the day." For example, I can go off on a roughly drafted pseudo-angry pseudo-rant about a movie I haven't seen yet and just have a great time with it.

Do Movie Critics Hate Authors?

The answer is no, movie critics don't hate authors. At least not as far as I can tell. What many movie critics hate is fact checking, which is another reason why film studios shouldn't bury the name of a story's creator deep in the mile-long credits at the end of the film. (See "Does Hollywood Hate Authors?" for my previous rant.)

Because the marketing for the new movie Coraline plays down the Newbery-winning, Hugo-winning, Nebula-winning, Eisner-winning author who wrote the story, lazy critics across the country are assuming that only Tim Burton could combine dark themes with feature-length stop motion animation. Assuming to the point of printing their opinions on "Tim Burton's Coraline."

One of my old Superguy buddies, Randy Milholland, imagines that Neil Gaiman isn't happy. He also imagines that Neil Gaiman has access to a sniper rifle. In the world of Randy's webcomic, "going postal" has been replaced with "going authorial."

February 9th Something Positive webcomic by Randy Milholland

Update: Actually we don't have to imagine Neil Gaiman's reaction to such critics (or to the above webcomic) because Neil has a frequently-updated and incredibly popular blog.

Neil isn't upset for himself, recognizing that the small credit he gets in the marketing material is already more than most authors receive. He's upset for the director, Henry Selick, for reasons going back to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

A couple of days ago the front page at CBC (Canadian Broadcasting) website announced that it had interviews and reviews about Tim Burton's Coraline. Which I saw moments before I saw a piece on the Chicago Tribune print edition front page announcing its reviews of Tim Burton's Coraline. And my hackles started rising.

The hackles were, I should point out, not on my behalf, but for Henry Selick, who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas: he worked on the story with the screenwriter, Caroline Thompson (another person whose contribution tends to be forgotten), and the songwriter, Danny Elfman, to turn Tim's character sketches and poem into a film script, then he spent years in a warehouse in San Francisco overseeing people moving dolls around a frame at a time, with Tim off making fine movies; and, then, a couple of weeks before the film came out, the title was changed to Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Which tends to mean that people assume that Tim made the film and if they even notice Henry was involved as director, they assume it was in some strange kind of junior role. (Nope, he was the director. He grew Tim's poem and character sketches into a movie. Tim produced it.)


Injustice and disrespect abound in movie credits, marketing materials, and reviews alike. Sixteen years ago Henry Selick got a raw deal that still overshadows his career on entirely unrelated projects, like Coraline. But I'm still outraged on behalf of Neil Gaiman and the larger majority of authors who get even less credit for their work.

Gaiman got his revenge, by the way, without the use of bullets:

So I was already not impressed with the CBC website or the Chicago Tribune, and then someone sent me a link to an online newspaper in which the reviewer's first paragraph explained Tim Burton's career and then went on to explain, in an extremely dim sort of way, why Coraline was a Tim Burton film, and I twittered about it. And then watched the delighted twitterverse pile onto the poor gentleman in the comments page with surprise, realising that this power must only be used for good.


I never thought I'd say this but... Hooray for Twitter!

WOTD: $8,539?!!

Today's word of the day is $8,539, the suggested retail price for the hardcover edition of R.R. Gupta et al's 463-page instant classic, Chemical Shifts and Coupling Constants for Silicon-29.

The reviews are awesome, and at that price it'll earn out its advance in no time. Free Super Saver shipping is available through Amazon!

via The Loom.

WOTD: Spectacle

Today's word of the day is Spectacle, which is something worth viewing, as opposed to spectacles, which are something to view a spectacle through.

With a new baby in the house, I haven't had much chance to read any of the crop of books eligible for this year's ALA Youth Media Awards, so it wouldn't make sense for me to offer award commentary in a blog entry. But I never do the sensible thing, so...

I was psyched that Neil Gaiman won the Newbery Medal for Books About Motherless Protagonists (don't get me started) and that Terry Pratchett and M.T. Anderson both had Printz Honor Books--which makes three award-winning books from three of my all-time favorite authors that I'll need to bump to the top of my "must read" list.

Elizabeth Bunce, a member of the Class of 2k8 group, won a William C. Morris Award for debut authors--exciting because we in the Class of 2k7 have been watching her and the other Class of 2k8ers all year and now the Class of 2k9ers as well.

Here in New England we're proud of New Hampshire's Beth Krommes for winning the Caldecott Medal and Maine's Melissa Sweet for her Caldecott Honor Book. Also Floyd Cooper, who won the illustrator's Coretta Scott King Award, will be a keynote speaker at this year's New England SCBWI conference while Laurie Halse Anderson, who won a lifetime achievement award, was a keynoter at last year's conference--showing the quality of our conference faculty, in case anyone had any doubts.

Aside from the spectacle of the ALA Awards, I've written my first article for the all-new group blog, The Spectacle, featuring authors of speculative fiction for teens and pre-teens. In addition to myself we so far have Parker Peevyhouse (Last Midnight, et al.), P.J. Hoover (The Forgotten Worlds series), and Jo Whittemore (The Silverskin Legacy series). It's exciting to be part of such a great group of blogging authors!

My first entry is "Does Hollywood Hate Authors?" where I get to vent a bit about the ad campaign for Coraline.

I'm hoping Neil Gaiman’s Newbery Medal win will soon be reflected in the advertising for the new Coraline movie. The book was creepy and cool, chock full of idea hooks, fun characters, and plot surprises–just what we’ve come to expect from Gaiman's work. But for some reason the studio’s marketing department thought more viewers would be drawn to "a film directed by Henry Selick" than "a story written by Neil Gaiman."

Attention Hollywood: If an author of Neil Gaiman's caliber is in any way connected to your movie, you will sell more tickets by including his name in your ads!

Okay, I feel better now.