Friday, December 18, 2009

Paula Yoo ROCKS the Westside Writers Schmooze!

Paula Yoo spoke to a packed house of 42 people at the December meeting of the Westside Writers Schmooze. Tidbits of wisdom and insight came fast and furious as Paula shared her personal journey, her school visits presentation, and actual handouts from her course on children's writing at UCLA Extension--all in the space of 90 minutes!

Some highlights--

Paula had her first book, "The Girl Called Raindrop," rejected by Harper when she was 6 years old. 30 years later, HarperCollins published Good Enough.

Pepper your presentation with questions when you speak to kids to keep them engaged.

Her journalism background was something she recommended highly - and challenged us to consider freelance articles as a way to hone our skills at: getting to the point, writing on deadline, and cutting for space - not valuing each word so highly.

The crux of any coming-of-age story--from Knuffle Bunny to Twilight--is defying parents' expectations and coming into your own.

In a picture book, these are the coming-of-age moments you focus on – dramatizing relationships with physical action. For example, in her latest nonfiction picture book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, instead of writing "Her father started supporting her," Paula wrote, "Her dad started driving her to her auditions"--which becomes a scene you can illustrate.

On Showing AND Telling, and Multiculturalism

Paula also talked about this being a major difference between picture books and writing for Young Adults. In a picture book, all coming-of-age moments must be shown, not told. The luxury of novels, on the other hand, is that you first show, THEN take a breath and tell what happened; show and tell, back and forth. In fact, the more specialized or "exotic" your subject is to the mainstream, the more you must tell.

Particularly fascinating was Paula's idea that "Show Don't Tell" is almost a mindset of the Majority. At our November Schmooze on Multiculturalism and Diversity in Children's Literature, Rita shared about not knowing for so long what ethnicity her main characters should "default" to. At this Schmooze, Paula revealed that, before Good Enough, her writing had always starred white male protagonists, since that was so much of the culture she had absorbed growing up in Connecticut.

From Paula's point of view, Showing AND Telling is all in the execution of the Voice. Look at those moments when your character is Telling, and ask yourself, is this a Voice you would be willing to be trapped sitting next to on a six hour bus trip to Vegas? (In writing first person, you CAN get away with more telling, but be careful the voice doesn’t get annoying!)


Paula was kind enough to share handouts from her UCLA class (If you attended the schmooze and didn't get a copy, email us at, and we'll get you one.)

She referenced Aaron Sorkin (who created the TV show West Wing, which Paula wrote for) in telling us,

"Intention + Obstacle = Conflict = STORY."

To demonstrate this principle at work, Paula analyzed the movie Die Hard to show us the plot point breakdown.

Then she did the same with Kevin Henkes's picture book, Kitten's First Full Moon!

On Writing Humor

Paula referenced this Web site as well as the idea of The Plant and Pay-Off.

She also offered three of her own rules for humor (her YA Good Enough is VERY funny!)

1. keep your word choice specific. Specificity IS humor.
2. in YA contemporary novels, you have to EARN your pop culture references
3. have jokes reveal character and push the story forward.

To top off the amazing evening, Paula dazzled us with a reading from her novel, and played her violin like a rock virtuoso!

All in all it was an inspiring author visit, and a fantastic end to our first year as co-Coordinators of the Westside Writers Schmooze.

There will be much more fabulousness to come in 2010, with our first meeting on January 13, when we'll discuss story openings and endings, and how the two need to "shake hands."

Also of interest, we mentioned the Ann Whitford Paul picture book writing workshops coming up and you can find out more about them here.

Have a Wonderful Holiday Season!

Your Schmooze Captains,

Rita Crayon Huang and Lee Wind

All photos by Rita Crayon Huang

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Westside Writers Schmooze Tackled "Political Correctness"

The advantage of this post on last month's meeting being so delayed (and I'm going super-positive with this) is that I get to remind you all that tomorrow, Wednesday Dec 9th, we'll be hosting a special guest speaker at our schmooze:

Paula Yoo!

Paula's written Two biography picture books ("Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story" and "Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story" as well as a great YA novel, "Good Enough." She's going to share her school visit presentation - give us some tips, talk craft, give us a writing exercise, and answer our questions - it's sure to be an AMAZING evening!

Wednesday December 9, 2010, from 7:00-8:45pm at the Fairview Branch Library Community Room, 2101 Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA.

Hope to see you there! (and you can check out Paula's website here.)

Now, on to sharing with you all about our November Evening on Political Correctness:

We spoke about diversity, stereotypes, and how much you have to know (or be like) your characters to write their stories convincingly.

Rita and Lee brought in a whole bunch of books that we own,

To use as examples of how stereotypes and race and minority points of view are handled in a range of picture books, middle grade and Young Adult novels.

Many of the attendees asked if we would post a list of the titles discussed. So, here's our best attempt to re-create it. (Disclaimer - These were just a smattering of books we already owned that we brought from home. Had we gone to the library and really started pulling titles, we would have needed more than 2 tables!)

Picture Books

Dim Sum For Everyone, by Grace Lin
The Red Thread, by Grace Lin
Bringing in the New Year, by Grace Lin
Surprise Moon, by Caroline Hatton, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
Chinese New Year's Dragon, by Rachel Sing, illustrated by Shao Wei Liu
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
Sixteen Years In Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Dom Lee
Bee Bim Bop, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee
Peach & Blue, by Sarah S. Kilborne, paintings by Steve Johnson with Lou Fancher
Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
The Araboolies of Liberty Street, by Sam Swope, illustrated by Barry Root
The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Our Gracie Aunt, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Jon J Muth
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole
Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cezar Chavez, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Angelina Ballerina, by Katharine Hollabird, illustrated by Helen Craig
Frida, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan

Middle Grade

The Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin
The Year of the Rat, by Grace Lin
Half Magic, by Edward Eager
The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynn Reid Banks
A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park
The Horse and His Boy (from The Chronicles of Narnia), by C.S. Lewis

Young Adult

Confessions of a Closet Catholic, by Sarah Darer Littman
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Nothing But The Truth (and a Few White Lies), by Justina Chen Headley
Masks: Rise of Heroes, by Hayden Thorne
Freak Show, by James St. James
QUAD, by C. G. Watson

Also referenced:
Good Enough, by Paula Yoo
Parrotfish and pretty much all of the books by Ellen Wittlinger
In the Break, by Jack Lopez

Rita brought up the last one in the context of 1) A question Lee has asked in discussions past, on whether audiences are now ready for more books that feature diverse characters where the point ISN'T their being a minority or coming out as gay, and 2) these thoughts from this blog entry by Alvina Ling, Senior Editor at Little, Brown:

. . . YA novel In the Break by Jack Lopez. VOYA calls it a "captivating novel by an author who is a surfer about surfing, adolescence, friendship, and loyalty." Kirkus says: "Lopez's debut shares much of the atmosphere and elements seen in urban fiction, and he nails the conversations between Juan, Jamie, Amber and their friends with a gritty, dead-on teen-speak that surges through the pages, giving extra shots of hang-ten adrenaline to the already fast-paced plot."
. . .
There are many things I love about this book, but one interesting thing to note is that the author, Jack Lopez, is Mexican American, and the narrator of the book, Juan, is as well. But although there are some cultural details throughout, his ethnicity does not play a large role in the book, and I'm happy that this hasn't been pigeonholed as simply a "multicultural book." In fact, the reviews so far, which have been great, have not even mentioned his ethnicity. While I think there is still need now for ethnic-identity driven books, particularly when there isn't already a lot out there--such as Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) for biracial teens--I hope there will be more and more books that feature main characters of color where their ethnicity is not the main subject of the book, and reviewers do not choose to direct the book towards a specific niche audience.

In the Break is an adventure novel with substance, and it should appeal to both boys and girls, teens and adults. It deserves a wide audience.
Overall, the evening wasn't so much one where we handed out all the correct answers - it was more of a great discussion around the circle...

And it was wonderful.

We hope to see you at Wednesday's Schmooze with Paula Yoo!

Lee & Rita