Fran Cannon Slayton - The Wild Ride To Publication (Children's Book Version!): June 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

June Carnival of Children's Literature - Fathers in kidlit

This month’s Carnival of Children’s literature is all about fathers. Lately it’s been a subject near and dear to my heart, so I thought I’d chime in.

Sounder, by William H. Armstrong, is one of my top five favorite books of all time. It impacted me deeply as a child by bringing me to a time and a circumstance I’d never known before. And once I entered in, it never let me go.

It’s about a boy and his father who is in prison, their dog, injustice, and education. It is also about love and loss and loyalty and time. On one level it is a very simple story – father goes away, father is loved and missed, father comes home.

But it is much deeper than that – it is about the passage of time; the permanence of the bond between a father and his child; and the ache – and even the painful growth - that can happen when they are separated. Ultimately, fatherhood creates a relationship that can never be broken, no matter the time that goes by, no matter the lost years, no matter the pain.

Another of my all-time top five books is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Strangely enough, here too the father is missing and his daughter desperately longs for him to return.

Hmmm, two out of five of my all-time favorite books are about absent fathers. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why my own first book is about the grandfather that I never knew. My grandfather died when my dad was only 16 years old, and the fact of his death early in my father’s life has always been a tender spot for me. My father has been so important in my own life, it is hard for me to imagine how hard it must have been for my dad to lose his father so early.

It’s also been a source of sadness to me that I never got the chance to meet my grandfather. All my life, I’ve seen the love in my father’s eyes whenever he mentions his dad. I think my grandfather must have been quite a person. Maybe he’s where I got my nose, or my hair, or some of my, um, more mischievous qualities!

But in writing How To Stop a Moving Train, I think I was able to bridge the sadness of not knowing my grandfather by “meeting” him, in a sense, as I created the character – W.P. -- that bears so many of the qualities I imagine he had. And in getting to know him, I’ve found that I not only miss him – I love him, too.

Pretty cool.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Children's Book News Email

The mid-June edition of my Children's Book News Email is now available. Click here for a peek.

If you'd like for a copy to be delivered automatically to your inbox, you can sign up at my website.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

FL SCBWI Orlando Conference

Well, school is out and vacation time is upon us. Last weekend I broke out of Virginia with mi familia to attend the FL SCBWI Conference in sunny (and HOT!) Orlando. It was fantastic! I got to meet Nancy Springer (a fella Philomel Books author) and Michael Stearns (Firebrand Literary) who both sat with me at the writers intensive: a day-long opportunity for critiquing fun.

I have to admit that on the long drive down to FL I began to wonder if it could be possible that I'm "outgrowing" writers intensives. After all, I have two great critique groups and a wonderful agent - what more do I need? But when I arrived in Florida my wonderings ceased. I got so much out of hearing fresh critiques - different viewpoints are so, well . . . different! And hearing those different views helped reenforce how very subjective this whole publishing business is. This is good, encouraging news, methinks. Subjectivity means that even though 20 editors passed on that piece you love, the 21st just might snatch from your dreams and make it real. All you need is one, baby! Sorta like true love.

Plus, at the writers intensive I was able to try out a rhyming picture book of mine that I have a soft spot in my heart for, and I am happy to be able to report that there really IS something of a poet in me! I got rhythm! I got music! (Who could ask for anything. . . well, it might need a little more plot. Or heart. Or something. But hey, I got plot and heart and all kinds of different somethings coming out of several of the various holes in my head . . . it'll get there.)

But even more than getting feedback for my own work, what was really great for me about the writers intensive was hearing other people read their work. There are some really, really awesome authors out there in SCBWI, who just haven't been discovered yet. But they will be one day, and it's fun for me to think that I might have been there "at the beginning," as they say.

That sort of happened with me and Ellen Hopkins (author of Crank, Burned, Glass and the upcoming Identical, which is going to just rock the book world when it's released!). Ellen was there in early 2005 when I ventured up to NYC to my very first SCBWI conference ever. She heard me read my work out loud at a critique table for the very first time. I mean to ANYONE. I was pretty sure I was going to faint! Anyway . . . fast forward three years and last weekend, she was in Orlando with me at the FL SCBWI Conference, rooting for me (as always - thank you, Ellen) with the knowledge that my first book (the one she heard me read in 2005) is coming out next year with Philomel. Things have a way of coming full circle, sometimes. Pretty dang cool.

And all that was just the writers intensive day! Saturday was the actual conference. If you ever have the chance to go to the FL Orlando conference - do it! They break down into separate tracks for picture book, middle grade, YA, mystery and humor. I chose the middle grade track, which had an author (Bruce Hale), an editor (Andrea Tompa, Candlewick), and an agent (Michael Stearns, Firebrand Literary). The other tracks were equally star-studded. Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld, Florida's RA, and her wonderful crew of volunteers really outdid themselves.

And finally, I had the great opportunity to meet two writers I'd only previously known online: Mindy Alyse Weiss and my fella Class of 2k9 debut author, Danielle Joseph. Mindy is a friend from Verla Kay, and a really nice person to boot! The first page of her novel got some seriously great feedback at the conference! Danielle's novel, Shrinking Violet, is coming out in 2009 and after meeting her I can't wait to read it! Mindy and Danielle and their SCBWI friends were so warm and welcoming to me while I was in Florida, it was almost like coming home.

Actually "coming home" is a phrase I might use to describe my whole writing journey thus far. It is warm and wonderful, like falling into the embrace of someone I love. It feels like it's where I'm meant to be.