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Friday, June 8, 2007

BEA: An Editor's Recap

The hustle and bustle of BEA stood out in dramatic contrast to the quietude of IRA. The convention floors were jam-packed; it was challenging to move up and down the aisles on Friday, especially upstairs with the adult publishers.

FRIDAY
My first appointment was a no-show. My next appointment: also a no-show.
Sigh--that's BEA for ya. But during that time I met an sales rep from a company that makes custom maps--could be a useful contact.

Rosemary Stimola (Dianna Aston's agent) stopped by, and we chatted for a while. I showed her Sue Rama's books, as I knew she'd love Sue's art.

Janet Ginsburg (Stewart Murphy's publicity person) also stopped by. We had a long talk about her other projects (she's a freelance journalist, has a few interesting websites going).

Next, Alyssa Pusey (Charlesbridge editor) and I met up for drinks with Kara LaReau, editor at Scholastic (formerly of Candlewick). Kara was the editor of BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE, among other fabulous books, and is a successful picture book author herself. We had a good schmooze session and caught a cab to the Copacabana for the ABC Dinner.

I caught up with various publishing friends during the cocktail hour. Ralph Masiello was our guest at the dinner table, and he was fantastic! He engaging and entertaining. He brought limited edition prints for them, walked around the table and talked and listened--really made the guests feel welcome, forging a personal connection they will remember for long time. Unlike so many personable authors, Ralph didn't make it all about him. He was a thoughtful and respectful "host." I hear we're trying to book him for NEIBA.

At dinner, I had a lovely chat with two of our guests, Ken and Mary Lou Manske from The Book Look in Stevens Point, WI. Kim (Courchesne) and I also had a chance to talk about marketing/editorial relations and various book projects; a fruitful discussion.

SATURDAY
This was an amazing day all around. Only three of the six guests showed up for the tour of the Museum of Natural History, alas (maybe they didn't realize that it was a small event?), but those of us who were there will not soon forget it. Darrin Lunde (pronounced LUN-dee) is a fascinating person, and OK, so he happens to look like Tom Cruise. A sane, two-feet-on-the-floor, taller, much more intelligent Tom Cruise. I learned a ton about the field of mammology, about the museum, and about being a curator. We saw several specimen vaults and the library stacks where they keep the field journals of the scientists on expedition (going back a hundred years!). The museum itself is an interesting piece of architecture, and Darrin knew all the back passageways and seemed to have an access key for everything. He wanted to work at the museum since he was a little boy, and his love of his job was truly inspiring to see. He's off to Gabon later this year to do more fieldwork. What a life.

I was really interested in how the Museum's work crosses so many
disciplines: lots of science, of course, but also anthropology, geography, and as Pat Wynne stressed in her portion of the talk--art. The dioramas of African animals in the first floor of the museum seemed ordinary until Pat explained how they were created and their historical significance; the room will be a named a historical landmark at some point, no doubt.

We saw elephant skulls and teeth, whale vertebrae, a crazy rodent with no face, and countless other treasures. My favorite stop on the tour was the room of the flesh-eating beetle (I'm so juvenile), used to strip the skulls and bones of specimens clean. The beetles are kept in sealed crates in a room with a strip of gooey sealant across the doorway so they don't get out.
The stench in the room was pretty impressive. Pretty darn cool.

After the tour, I met with Darrin for about an hour to discuss book projects. We focused his approach for his chapter book series and talked about what other animals could follow up MEERKAT and BUMBLEBEE BAT. He also had a neat idea about a stand-alone nature picture book. It was a dynamic discussion, and I was reminded again how important in-person meetings can be as far as developing ideas. It's much easier to "read" someone and figure out how to be most helpful. I really enjoy the challenge of facilitating creative expression, especially with an author like Darrin who has so many interesting stories to tell. And speaking of enjoyment, I also really enjoyed the huevos rancheros and margaritas that Darrin, Pat, and I had at the amazing Mexican restaurant across the street from the museum. Life as an editor has its perks.

Back at the booth, I met Ellen Kushner for the first time and had a fabulous conversation about her Interstitial Arts Foundation, which promotes books (and other art forms) that defy categorization. The organization is trying to raise consciousness for these kinds of books and generate discourse about them. In publishing, we know the challenge of getting a book out there when it doesn't neatly fall into categories ("But where do I shelve it?"). But many of today's innovative, interesting titles refuse to fit neatly into categories. Our own HONG KIL DONG comes to mind. I'll be percolating about this more in the months to come, but it strikes me that a panel discussion or workshop at an SCBWI might be a good place to start talking about the opportunities, and challenges, of these types of work. And let's not ignore books that incorporate other artistic media--i.e. a picture book about
dance: how does an artist capture motion and movement on a static page? How can a picture book capture the feeling of a piece of music? Art that connects to other modalities of artistic expression is only richer for it.
Though difficult to categorize and promote.

I also chatted with Deborah Kogan Ray, who seems very excited about her art for FLYING EAGLE. Looks like we'll make the due date! Deborah is quite well-connected and well-published, and it's always good to see her and check in on her work.

Then Alyssa and I were off to dinner with Harold Underdown and his family.
His daughter Simone (almost six) is absolutely adorable, and I used her shamelessly as a living laboratory; we read WIGGLE AND WAGGLE, JUSTINA ALBERTINA, and AGGIE AND BEN at the restaurant. Plus she taught me to tap dance and curtsy. In front of the entire patio. She's a great reader, and it was interesting to see how she approached the books. We editors always think we know a book inside and out by the time it gets published, but leave it to a kid to make us see it in a new way. The most touching moment of the evening was when Simone asked if I could take her to the potty instead of her mom. The ultimate compliment!

For me, Saturday encapsulated the work we editors do (uh, not the potty part, though). We seek out and develop writers, helping them tell the stories they are burning to tell (meeting with Darrin Lunde); we talk about books and what they mean, figuring out how to get the word out and make connections (discussion with Ellen Kushner); and we make books that teach kids to read and make sense of the world around them (Simone). I was getting chills, I tell ya!

And that's all she wrote.

Posted by Yolanda

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