Sunday, September 11, 2011

Interviews with SCBWI Midsouth conference faculty

Interviews by Courtney Stevens Potter

In preparation for the SCBWI Mid-South Conference, I had the opportunity to do an email interview with our amazing faculty. (And I have to say, in comparison to sending hopeful query letters, an interview is far more fun.) If you checked out the Summer Borderlines Issue then you know how the faculty answered the following two questions: Please choose a picture book, middle grade and young adult novel that you loved when you were growing up and explain what captivated and inspired you and what is the difference between a good manuscript and a great manuscript? But those aren’t the only questions I asked.

So if you are interested in what Alexandra Cooper thinks about a Harry Potter sequel or which piece of art Jim Hoover would love to have from the Louvre or even which Newbery character Linda Sue Park would like to meet in person, you’ve come to the right place. Oh, and you can also get tips on what types of manuscripts these industry pros are hoping to acquire. Below is the Q and A I had with Alexandra Cooper, Jim Hoover, Emily Mitchell, Erin Murphy, Linda Sue Park, Michelle Poploff, and Tina Wexler.


Courtney: You are leaping for joy because you just got a first edition signed copy of…

Alexandra: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It’s a book that I have distinct memories of reading, and one that my mother introduced me to.

Jim: To be honest, the only signed books I own are ones that I’ve worked on with the authors and illustrators I am fortunate enough to collaborate with. I love when a marketing assistant asks me for a copy of a book and I say, “Oh, gee. I only have one copy and it’s signed to me personally. Sorry. . . . But I love old full-color illustrated books and the lithograph printing they used back in the day. We recently thumbed through a first edition of Snowy Day here in the office, each of us steeped in awe at the vivid color.

Emily: The First Folio. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

Erin: Little Women.

Linda Sue: Fantasy: James Joyce's ULYSSES. Reality: Um...can I say A Single Shard? I gave almost all of mine away (who knew, right?), and the first edition print run was so small that they're really hard to find! (It wouldn't have to be signed--I could get it signed easily.) ;-)

Michelle: To Kill a Mockingbird

Courtney: Please fill in the blank. I am most interested in acquiring…

Alexandra: While my list has everything from picture books to YA fiction, what I’d love to find is a middle-grade novel with an authentic voice that is literary, yet still accessible—even fun.

Jim: As an art director, I don’t get to acquire, but I love placing an interesting manuscript with a compatible illustrator. This is why I advise artists to just be themselves with their work and find clients they think their work is suited for—rather than trying to adjust their style according to what they think a particular marketplace is looking for.

Emily: The next Clementine.

Erin: Projects that express a unique and confident vision; in novels, especially if they have a strong sense of heart and can blend a bit of commercial appeal with amazing literary writing. Books that will last.

Michelle: A manuscript that will become a bestseller! Classic commercial fiction, sensational southern fiction (that's why I'm heading to Nashville).

Tina: Middle grade and young adult fiction. Within those two categories, I’m really keen on contemporary science fiction, magical realism, novels-in-verse, and psychological thrillers.

What an agent or editor prizes in fiction from their past or fiction for their future is as unique as a thumb print. In a world where we as authors and illustrators think about trends, it sounds like our editors, agents, and art directors think about classics. Harper Lee. Louisa May Alcott. James Joyce. Our faculty love classics, and professionally they are trying to partner with authors to create classics. Keynote speaker Linda Sue Park knows something about creating a classic. Her novel, A Single Shard, won the 2002 Newbery Medal. When I had the chance to ask her a question, I thought about where I am in my own writing journey.

Courtney: Linda Sue, how would you describe your first five years of writing?

Linda Sue: As training. And not five years, but more like thirty. I started writing poetry when I was five years old; I didn't start writing fiction until I was 37. Most of the time I wrote in poetic forms--sonnets, limericks, rhyming quatrains, etc., which taught me SO MUCH about using words and language. I think writing poetry and reading a lot are the best possible training for writing fiction.

Now, for the fun questions! Recent blogs, twitter feeds, and interviews I’ve read often contain reminders from agents and editors to writers and illustrators that they are people. They are not just the gatekeepers of your dream-come-true, they are approachable and fun. They have lives, opinions, spouses, favorite books and movies, personalities, etc. So I wanted this interview to reflect, not only the professional world of our faculty, but also the personality of these fabulous people. I think you will soon see that SCBWI Mid-South Conference 2011 is going to be full of characters (and not just the ones we write about).

Courtney: Alexandra, J. K. Rowling calls you up and says, “I’m going to write a sequel to Harry Potter, but I need some help on which direction to take the story.” You say, “Well of course, I think the sequel should be about…

Alexandra: Noooooo! If she called me and said that, I would try to talk her out of it. Seriously. I am a strong believer in leaving the audience wanting more!

Courtney: Jim, for your hundredth birthday, someone makes a deal with the Louvre to negotiate for any piece of art you want at no cost to you. Which would you choose?

Jim: Well, I have this fantasy of raiding the armory at the MET once the Zombie Apocalypse happens. (Chain mail, swords, and armor that real Dukes and Knights wore, baby! Take that, walking undead!) I’ve never been to Paris, but I have to say, it would be pretty great to hold the Mona Lisa for a spell—Da Vinci carried that piece around with his intimate personal belongings his entire life. I’ve held sketches in my hands by Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Degas—it is an extremely humbling experience.

Courtney: Emily, a cast of Classic Fairy Tale characters show up at your door to take you to dinner. Which two do you demand to sit beside?

Emily: Red Riding Hood, because she clearly has bad-ass potential, and Gretel, because she was clearly the braver and smarter sibling.

Courtney: Erin, there are only two jobs left in the world: witch hunter or dragon slayer. Which would you choose and why?

Erin: What a horrible choice! I'd have to go with dragon slayer, because the idea of a witch hunter is just repulsive to me (people hunting people!), and at least some dragon slayer stories end with happiness for both slayer and dragon.

Courtney: Linda Sue, you can spend a day with any character from any Newbery book? Who would you choose and what would you do?

Linda Sue: I would spend a day with Juan de Pareja, from Elizabeth Borton de Trevino's 1966 Medal book. He was a slave and an artist, so he could teach me how to grind pigments for paint, how to stretch a canvas, things like that, and then he could introduce me to Velasquez!

Courtney: Michelle, for one week, you can only talk in quotes from a book. Which book would you choose?

Michelle: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Courtney: Tina, you have a super power no one knows about, but you’ve decided it’s time to come clean and tell about how you saved …
Tina: …the stray cats of the world from going unloved and un-pet. Thanks to my superhuman ability to overlook get-away-from-me hissing, razor-sharp claws, and the risk of cat scratch fever (if such a thing REALLY exists), I have managed to coo over the world’s mangiest cats. (It’s a dubious super power, I admit.)

I’ve had a chance to ask the faculty my questions, now it’s your turn. Prepare your pitch. Ready your manuscripts. Sell your idea. The Mid-South Conference is almost here.

{Courtney Stevens Potter is a full-time youth minister in Bowling Green, KY, as well as an adjunct professor of Christian Ministries at Lindsey Wilson College. She writes YA manuscripts and serves as a Co-Conference Coordinator for SCBWI Mid-South.}

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these wonderful & fun interviews, Courtney!

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