Thursday, December 9, 2010

SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-conference interview: LINDA SUE PARK

I've had the immense pleasure of hearing Linda Sue Park speak at a couple of SCBWI conferences. Not only that, but I've also had the opportunity to sit and talk with her, and let me tell you, the words that come out of her mouth are so great, so helpful, so smart that you won't want to dare miss them when she's gives her keynote presentation at the upcoming SCBWI Winter Conference.

Linda Sue Park is the award-winning author of many books for children, including A SINGLE SHARD which won the Newbery Medal in 2002. The list of awards Linda Sue has won is as long as my arm, and sure to keep growing. Linda Sue also serves on the SCBWI Board of Advisors.

I'm so honored that Linda Sue was able to find time for this interview as her latest book A LONG WALK TO WATER was just released on November 15. Check out her great book trailer and PW interview about this booked based on a true story.

Then, if you haven't already, click here to register for the conference and ENJOY the interview.

As I mentioned in the introduction, you are on the SCBWI Board of Advisors. How and when did your involvement begin with SCBWI, and what has it meant to you?

I attended my first-ever SCBWI conference in the fall 2001; it was organized by Ellen Yeomans, who was then RA for upstate New York. I had already published three novels at that point, and Ellen invited me to be on a panel, I think. I was fortunate because we have a well-established children's writers' group here in Rochester--the Rochester Area Children's Writers and Illustrators--so I had been active with them for a couple of years before that, and Ellen used to visit us once in a while.

After the conference, I signed up to attend the national SCBWI conference in New York; I think that was its first year? I had always wanted to go to LA but couldn't afford it, so I was delighted when Lin and Steve brought a big conference to New York. And just a couple of weeks before the conference, the Newbery Award for A SINGLE SHARD was announced! I remember Lin announcing from the podium that this year's Newbery winner was in attendance at the conference--as a participant, not as a presenter--and I felt so honored by that.

Then I was invited to join the Board. Unlike some authors, I don't have stories about how SCBWI helped me 'break in'--I was already published when I found out about SCBWI. But what RACWI and then SCBWI in turn have given me is invaluable: the camaraderie of other people who care about children's literature as much as I do. For people who spend much of their working lives alone in a room with a keyboard, that kind of companionship is invaluable. Being on the Board is a way for me to give back to a community that has given me so much over the years.

I think I can call myself a conference vet, having been to more than I can count. That said, I believe the best conference take-away I’ve ever had came from you at an SCBWI conference years ago. You said it never hurts to try something new (changing POV characters, tense, etc.) for a few chapters. So, thank you for that.

What’s been the most helpful tip someone has shared with you?

My most valuable tip came from Katherine Paterson, who wrote in an essay about how she tries to finish two pages per day. I read that when I was starting work on my first novel, and it was a huge light-bulb moment. I thought, I can do that! I don't know if I can ever write a whole novel, but I sure as heck can write two pages a day. I've written every single one of my novels that way, and I'm positive I never would have written even one if I hadn't read that tip.

I also read about Lois Lowry's general outline for novels:

--complications and choices

I've modified this over the years to suit my own temperament and style, but in essence it's still the first thing I write down when I'm working on a new story.

I think you (and Katherine) just gifted me with another favorite tip! But I have to ask, what gets you through on those days when finding the words seems impossible, and how do you keep yourself from being distracted by those tasks that easily pull us away (email, blogs, etc)?

I give myself a mandate to write two pages, AND permission to write two BAD pages. Most days, I start my work time by throwing away a lot of what I wrote the day before. If I can salvage half a page, or a paragraph, or even a single line of dialogue...that's progress. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, it's a vital part of the process to find out what *doesn't* work!

But I do get distracted, and many are the days that I spend way too much time on e-mail and the internet. (I am, alas, an eBay fan....) On those days, when I get close to the end of my writing time, I'll look up from the screen, slap myself mentally, and crank out two bad pages.

In general, though, the two pages thing is a habit for me. By that I mean, I don't ever say to myself, "Oh--I must make sure to brush my teeth today." I don't have to say it, because it's a habit, an automatic part of my day. It took me many months of trying and failing, but eventually the two pages became a habit. When I'm in the groove working on a novel, *not* writing my two pages feels all wrong to me...just like when I don't brush my teeth!

That makes such great sense!

You’ll be giving a keynote at the conference on Sunday morning. Can you give us a little teaser?

I usually write my speeches a couple of weeks before I have to give them, so at this point I haven't yet written the keynote. But what I'm planning to talk about is doubt: How to keep writing and do our best work in spite of all the doubt demons that plague us. I hope it's a topic that almost everyone will be able to relate to. But for those folks who never have doubts about themselves or their work? They can go for coffee during my presentation. ;-)

I have a feeling I’ll be hanging on your every word during that keynote!

Thank you so much, Linda Sue. I feel like I just had a short writer’s therapy session.


Lisa Yee said...

Great interview!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

This was wonderful. I love hearing what advice inspires one of the authors who inspires me!
Thank you both,

Kenda Turner said...

New follower here, and what an inspiring interview--thanks to you both! Linda, A Single Shard is a treasured book in my collection, and I appreciate the tips you shared. Can't wait to read A Long Walk to Water :-)

Pragmatic Mom said...

Thanks for the post. I'm a HUGE fan of Linda Sue Park's work! It was fun to read more about her.

Mollie Penrod said...

Great interview and I'm looking forward to her keynote about writing despite the doubt demons.

I also liked her comment about how happy she was when they decided to have the winter conferences in New York. So what about something in the Central United States - say Ft. Worth, Texas?

Cynthia Dekel said...

Thank you for the fabulous interview! Cannot wait to hear Linda Sue Park's Keynote at the conference.