Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

No one knows anything - from Hazel Mitchell

Last time we met here on Turbo Monkey Tales I talked about style and how to get it. I was going to do something similar and talk about the elements of the picture book, or story arc, or layout or some such. But when I opened the clean, white page of the 'new post' I found I didn't want to talk about that stuff at all.

A phrase has been tootling around the small space between my ears and that phrase is 'no one knows anything'. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am it is so.

This philosophizing was brought on by a Q&A with 'Roaring Brook Press' editor Neal Porter at a Highlight's Foundation workshop a couple of weeks back. Pretty much at the start of the discussion Neal quoted Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman - 'no one knows anything'. (Goldman was talking about the movie industry, but applying it to the industry of children's books makes a lot of sense).


I sat attentively, pen poised, ready to take notes like billy-o, absorbing pearls of wisdom. (I hasten to add there were MANY such pearls). But then I stopped writing and just listened. (see below).



When I said I stopped writing, I mean - I drew. As Neal shared his experiences with us, owls flew off my page. (Sometimes doodling helps drive the meaning of the spoken word deeper into us, at least that's what happens with me. I can recall a lot more from looking at these owls than from written notes alone).

What does this quote mean to me as a children's book creator? I understand that to create a good and memorable children's book takes an excellence in craft, time, thought, many drafts. It takes a posse of people - author and illustrator, editor, art director, publisher, marketing, sales, customer, reader. All of the stuff those people know, all their skills, learning, desires. Years and years of it and a huge amount of dollars to boot. But in the end - no one knows anything.

We don't know if the story that is important or charming to ourselves will charm anyone else. The publisher doesn't know if it will sell, the reader, (taking the book from shelf), doesn't know if it will charm them enough to take it home and read it time after time. No one knows if the book will grow and sell and fly off more shelves and more and more until it has a chance of longevity. No one knows ...

This 'not knowing' is seductive and addictive. It's chance. A gamble we all take when we stumble down the road of an idea, with the notion that we can change a child's view of the world hanging in the sky to guide us.

Maybe, just maybe, we will create something original. That the magic will shine. 


Neal talked about the making of the book 'A Sick Day for Amos McGee' by Erin and Philip Stead. How from the get-go there was something with which he connected instantly, seemed like he could smell the originality of it. His intuition (and those years of experience) told him - this might be special. No-one knew anything - no one knew this would be a Caldecott book on the illustrator's first showing. But the magic shone and the book grew and grew.



We can't force an idea, we can only let it land on our sketchpad, our blank screen, help it come to life and evolve, to let the 'anything' become 'something'. And we may have to do this again and again. And again.

The deeper my involvement with the creation of children's books, the more I learn, the better I get at my craft: the less I seem to know. Yes, Goldman's words hold truth. Maybe it is this truth that keeps me coming back to my studio every morning. 'No one knows anything' and therefore ANYTHING is possible!


 A very special place -  The Barn at Highlight's Foundation at Boyd's Mill

Thanks for visiting with me ... see more of my work at 
love to hear your comments.

Come back next time to hear some thoughts from Turbo Monkey Julie Dillard.

Hazel






28 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, Hazel. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You sparked something deep within me to get even more inspired. I have been published in a few magazines and ezines but my children's picture books and middle grade novel are still trekking through the publishing/agent world looking for a home. As frustrating as it feels, I know they hold merit. I know I am a perfectionist willing to work as hard as it takes to sand them and sculpt them, which is why I have not chosen to self-publish. I guess I'm waiting for that right fit. And you're so right...no one knows anything. I have to write for me, for my critique circle, for my web audience, and that's it. The rest will come. Thanks so much! www.jaimiengle.com

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    1. Keep on creating Jaimi. At the end of the day that is all we have ... concentrate on good story and keep putting it out there. And enjoy it .. then so will others.

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  2. Great post. I've been writing picture books for years and still struggling to get that one published. A Sick Day for Amos McGee has that 'they make it look so easy' quality- a simple story, fresh illustrations that come together to be utterly charming and certainly original.

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    1. CL - and we all know that the easiness we perceive is the magic we are all looking for. The moment when we read something and it seems like we knew it was there all the time, but is a constant surprise. Keep writing ... keep loving your writing. The main thing is to love it. If you pour your heart in, people will feel it.
      Hazel

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  3. Thanks for sharing, Hazel! Inspiring to know...no one knows...our book could be the next Caldecott or bestseller.

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    1. Totally! Or just change a child's point of view!

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  4. Hazel, I'm so glad you're part of our Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook or I would have missed this! Basically you summarized the classical Cloud of Unknowing by the famous writer Anonymous that I keep hoping to finish reading. Anyway, I appreciate your good work so much, I just clicked the "B" to "Blog It" on the CP&W blog that's on Blogger - http://christianpoetsandwriters.blogspot.com/. God bless you and your lovely work - Mary

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  5. Excellent post, Hazel. I agree. For me, I never know when something I write will touch my readers. I always hope. I do know that if I hold back or don't write with an open heart--people can tell.

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    1. Thanks so much for visiting! It always surprises me how much people can tell from your work! It's like a window on the soul .. yikes!

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  6. I love this blog of yours...but then I know nothing.
    All seriousness aside, I live these words.
    I've always embraced the gamble and the passion and the mystery and the struggle.
    So true your owls and your words.

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    1. Thank you dear Craig. Turbo Monkeys unite in the great leaps of faith ...

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  7. Thank you, Hazel -- this is so true, so inspiring. Thank you for daring us to take that leap. (And I love your owls!)

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    1. thanks Beth .. those owls have a story I guess.

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  8. This is so freeing, isn't it Hazel? And we certainly can't predict who will be touched by what in our stories. This just makes me want keep at it for that chance at some magic!

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  9. Thanks for this wonderful post, Hazel! I had the opportunity to sit in on one of Neal Porter's workshops at the SCBWI Summer Conference...I was blown away. All of the books Mr. Porter had worked on seemed to be magical. Take care ~ (I love your owls!)

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    1. It's an honor to listen to people like Neal. Thanks for visiting Turbo Monkeys!

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  10. I wish I had notes that look like yours, Hazel! I do believe there's magic in those owls :).

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  11. This is a great post, Hazel . . . so I will repeat myself from yesterday, but in a different language . . . wunderbar! And as my husband always says, very day is a new adventure so believe in the magic!

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  12. Here I am at the bottom of the repliers:((( Came back from my travels with a mean cold. But so well worth it to have spent almost a week learning from my Native American lit. community. Then to read this post. Magic will indeed shine, dear Hazel. You prove that with every sketch. BTW, the cold has been conquered.

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    1. Glad you are feeling better ... Thanks so much Linda!

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  13. Thanks for this awesome post, Hazel!! I love your last line "No one knows anything' and therefore ANYTHING is possible!" I think that's what keeps us all going!

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    1. You are right I think Lori ... genius is in us all.

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  14. I've been thinking about this for days, since I first read it. I'm still thinking. Everyday, I find some new part of my life that falls under the 'nobody knows anything' umbrella. It's terribly freeing. And just a little bit terrifying, no?

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    1. Double edged sword .. life is tragedy and triumph all at once. Keep thinking!

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