2008 SCBWI SUMMER CONFERENCE.
LOS ANGELES, CA.
August 3, 2008
At last the time had arrived; it was time to create my Golden Kite speech. The problem was I just kept thinking of two people—thinking about them over and over again. How was I ever going to be able to come up with a decent speech if all I did was think of Brian Selznick and Laura Amy Schlitz at the their Caldecott and Newberry speeches?
Fortunately for me thinking about them began to work—I started hearing advice. I remembered how Laura Amy Schlitz had said that in order to make her speech she had gone to the sea. Well, I would go to the hills! The hills are in my neighborhood, and my friend Chacho the Dog likes to run there, so, up we went. The hills are golden now, a color I have learned to appreciate while running up at the incredible speed of about 30 feet an hour.
Turns out the hills are a very good place to come up with inspiration. For example, there I came up with the insight I ought to run looking at the ground, should snakes slitter by if I am not paying attention. And I have also come up with the bright idea of peeking over my shoulder once in a while, should mountain lions be preparing for a chase. And there I have also come up with the revelation that if I look hard, really hard, I might someday, at last, see the magical creatures that inhabit the mountains.
Needles to say, some things keep proving ethereal.
Yet, it was there, while running under the shadows of trees that touch each other branches for miles and miles, that inspiration for my speech came, and I knew what I wanted to tell you about Little Night, the book that brings me here today.
And so I am going to tell you about Armadillo’s Night, a Peruvian legend that says that a long, log time ago, people were unhappy because they didn’t have a night. The hammocks hung unused, and the mothers had to cook all day for without night’s rest the children and men where constantly hungry. Until one day, when the men, women, and children took turns to look for a night. Not a tiny night, like the one they found inside the mouse’s hole. Neither a big night, like the one they borrowed from the Tapir’s den. But a night that was just the right size. And they found it; yes, they found it! It was enfolded inside the confines of armadillo’s armature—the most perfect night.
I also want to tell you that the Aztec goddess Citlalicue, mother of the Goods and the human race, wears a starry skirt, and that if we look up at night, we can see her in the sky.
Furthermore I want to tell you that my mother always wanted to be a hair stylist. She practiced on my sister’s and I, untangling our hair, putting it up in curls, braids, and buns, and adorning it with felt ornaments or bread-dough flowers that she made, and fragrant flowers from the trees, and that she would have put the planets and the stars in our hair if she could have only reach them.
And, yes, I tell you about all of these things because I took from all of them to create Little Night, a book that was born inside the creative and firm embrace of my writer’s group, the Revisionaries, the good love of Kelly my son and my husband Tim, and the care of Neal Porter and the Roaring Brook Press family.
I know that by telling you all of this, you are already realizing that my biggest talent is to love stories—especially other people’s stories. And that my second talent comes from something I practiced endlessly when I was a child. Again and again, when I found things that amazed me, that caused me wonder, that captivated me, I took my pencil, and with fervent devotion I copied the shapes and lines.
This brings me to Brian Selznick and his advice. His instructions came to me in my way down the hills as I had already quit looking at the ground for snakes, and having stopped looking over my shoulder for mountain lions, and as I had decided that only because I don't see the magical creatures it doesn't mean they are not seeing ME. Mr Selznick’s words were, “Create the speech you want to create.” Really, that is what he said. And I understand that any advice that Selznick offers actually comes all the way from Maurice Zendak, or so I am told.
And now, in honor of Mr. Selznick here I am, tracing with fervent devotion over his lines, to show my joy…