Monday, January 16, 2017

Denver Children's Book Authors Salon

When I first moved to Colorado twenty-five years ago, I didn't think we had much of a children's book community here, compared to the fabulous opportunities provided by the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., of which I remain a (non-resident) member to this day. My fellow members included Katherine Paterson, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and Mary Downing Hahn, and they were all so amazingly warm and welcoming to me and other newbie authors.

Now, however, the Colorado children's book community is wonderfully thriving and gets better and better all the time, with all of us turning out in force for each others' book launches, writing together on write-in days at each others' houses, and even hosting writing-themed baby showers for authors who are prolific in both literary and familial ways (I have a Very Hungry Caterpillar bunting gift ready for the shower I'm attending this coming Friday.)

Best of all, we now have the Denver Children's Book Authors Salon. It began with a chance remark from one author (I don't even remember who it was): "Wouldn't it be great if we could just get together sometimes and learn from each other?" Not at a big conference, not at a formal class, just a few of us who deeply admire each others' books hanging out for an afternoon to grow in our craft by learning from the best masters around, that is to say, us. And then the incomparably generous Sarah Azibo simply took it upon herself to make it happen.

Here's how the salons work. Once a month or so, on a Sunday afternoon, we meet at a lovely independent bookstore, rotating among stores because there are so many we love and want to support. Right now we alternate between two locations: the legendary Tattered Cover Bookstore, at its stunning three-story, renovated-old-movie-theater site on Colfax Avenue, and the relatively new but already beloved Second Star to the Right children's-only bookstore on Tennyson Avenue.

A different author presents each time, on some aspect of craft. So far I've heard Newbery-honoree Ingrid Law (Savvy) talk about writing a high-concept book, Lauren Sabel (Lies I Live By) on the multi-narrator book, Emily France (Signs of You) on what distinguishes young adult mysteries from their adult counterpart (note: it isn't literary sophistication or complexity of characterization or plot), and Jean Reidy (Too Purpley!, which I've read to granddaughter Kataleya approximately 523 times since this past Christmas) on resonance in picture books.

Attendees pay no fee to attend, and authors receive no fee for presenting, but each attendee purchases (from the bookstore) a pre-ordered copy of one of the presenter's books, which of course we are all wild to read after hearing her craft presentation.

It's like attending an MFA program in creative writing, for free, with classes taught by dear friends right in your own town.

Yesterday it was my turn to present, so fourteen or fifteen authors gathered at the Rumpus Room in a little cottage behind Second Star to the Right to hear me talk on a topic dear to my philosopher-author's heart: "How to Write Ethically Charged Stories without Teaching or Preaching." Of course, my opening caveat was that I wasn't going to be offering clear, directive rules for how to do this, because they simply don't exist - at the very least, it's impossible to find any rule here that hasn't been broken - with brilliant success - by some of the greatest authors who ever put pen to paper. But I did promise - and I think I delivered - to generate a good discussion about which books we've read that did memorably convey a deep and beautiful moral truth to readers without falling into dictatorial didacticism.

It was a joy to be able to share my thoughts on craft with writers I so respect and admire, hoping they might learn from me as I've learned from them. Look how happy I appear in this picture - and as I usually hate photos of myself, getting this one was an added bonus of a magical afternoon.

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