Yes, I do realize I have a "Holy Crap, I'm standing next to Adam Rex!" look on my face...

Author/illustrator extraordinaire Adam Rex was the keynote speaker at last weekend’s Rocky Mountain SCBWI conference in Denver, and I would be willing to bet folks in Boulder could hear us laughing.  In fact, I hardly took any notes both because I was laughing so hard and because I didn’t want to miss anything he said or showed us in his slides.

He started by showing us a “motivational” poster.  It’s message?  AIM LOW: They wouldn’t call it bottom-feeding if there wasn’t food down there.

He kids.  He kids.

My favorite part of his speech was when he took aim at the gobs of people who think writing children’s books, especially picture books, is easy because there are so few words.  He wants to say to them: “Here’s an exercise.  Sit down and write a memorable quote.  You know, the kind that Mark Twain or Albert Einstein would say.  Something that people will still be repeating in 100 years.  It should be easy.  After all, it’s only 10-12 words.  Take your time; I’ll wait…”  Followed by: “Oh you think that’s difficult?  My STARS that’s interesting.”

I’ll have to remember that one.

I waited in line with nearly every other attendee to get my books signed.  When it came to my turn, here’s how our conversation went:

ME: You should really put a sign on the door warning people that they should use the restroom before listening to your speech.”

ADAM: Wow! I can honestly say I’ve never gotten that feedback before…

What, I’ve never mentioned my talent for winning friends and influencing people???

Luckily, I had several other chances to talk to Adam, although I can’t say the content of the conversations (at least on my end) were on a higher plane.  What I did learn is that he is an incredibly approachable, down-to-earth person who has a great deal of gratitude that he has been able to earn a living in this incredible business.

He told us why, after many years of doing game cards and adult comics, he decided he wanted to be a children’s writer.  He walked into a bookstore and saw a book he’d read in his childhood, and it made him go weak in the knees.  He said it was like a tin can tied to a string that took him back to his five year-old self.  That, he said, is the “Taj Mahal” of real estate in a person’s life.

I could not agree more.

This is why these conferences are so inspiring.  You get a chance to peek inside the mind of someone who wrote a book with the title, FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH: And other stories you’re sure to like, because they’re all about monsters, and some of the are also about food.  You like food, don’t you?  Well, all right then.  Here are just a few of the story titles included in this monster anthology (get the double meaning there??):

  • THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON Doesn’t Wait an Hour Before Swimming
  • THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Can’t Get “It’s a Small World” out of His Head
  • THE YETI DOESN’T APPRECIATE BEING CALLED BIGFOOT
  • THE LUNCHSACK OF NOTRE DAME
  • NOW THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Can’t Get “The Girl from Ipanema” Out of His Head
  • BIGFOOT CAN’T BELIEVE YOU CALLED HIM YETI JUST NOW, And… my kids’ personal favorite:
  • GODZILLA POOPED ON MY HONDA

My kids have now created, GODZILLA POOPED ON MY HONDA: The Musical.  It’s quite a show.

One writer I sat with at the banquet, also marveling at this warped and wonderful imagination said, “I want to know what he dreams about at night.  I want to know what he eats!”

I didn’t ask him what he eats (mercifully), but he did mention a dream he had about the moon landing in his backyard which became the basis for another book coming out in 2012, one he said took him 12 years to write.  As someone who’s written about 200 drafts of one of my picture books, I had to ask why it had taken him so long and what his process had been.  He answered with something that will stick with me always.  He said that after so many revisions, he’d lost the feeling of the dream, which was how he was connecting to the story.  Your feeling about your story is how you, as the writer, connect emotionally to the work.  If it gets lost, you probably need to find it again.  So true!

In other words, if it feels like there is a Dementor hovering over your shoulder sucking the soul out of your story, you may be revising too much or listening to others too much (my words, not Adam’s).  This has most definitely happened to me before, such that I no longer recognized my own story.  Now I have a good idea why that story hasn’t gone where I hoped it would – I don’t feel connected to it anymore.

Not a small amount of wisdom to take away from a weekend, eh?

Categories: Authors, Children's Books, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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10 Comments

  1. I would probably share the bathroom comment too. Thanks for taking the time to ask him and sharing it all with us. True about the dementor.

    • The dementor is evil, and it is ready to strike whenever we’re feeling vulnerable with our stories. I think I’ll picture Adam Rex as my Patronus…

  2. His YouTube trailer is hysterically funny too!

    • OMG yes! It’s so funny! Thanks for sharing that!!

    • P.S. He actually made a clay model of the Frankenstein and that sweater is really a sock. He liked the red stitches so much that he kept them when he illustrated the book.

      Now I have to get FRANKENSTEIN TAKES THE CAKE

  3. I’ve read his books and they are incredible! I like your photo caption because that is probably exactly what I would have said but your face looks fine. 🙂
    Thanks for this post. Sounds like you got a lot out of the conference.

    • I always get a lot out of those conferences. One hopes that enough of it sinks in that one day, I’ll be holding my own book, telling my own story. 🙂

  4. Glad you enjoyed the conference and got so much out of it. I love interesting speakers with a killer sense of humor . . . after taking a potty break, of course.

  5. Wow! So much awesome, Julie. Those books sound great too. Interesting that you say to always go back to your stories where the life is sucked out or changed so much. I have so many like that that I assumed would stay like that. Just maybe they need more time that’s all.

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