Ten minutes down a winding, wooded road, off a nondescript route in Rhode Island, a cozy old place is nestled amidst expansive and interconnecting ponds, brooks, and…yes, looming whispering pine trees. This is where I just spent 48 magical hours. Twenty years ago, two brilliant writers – Laurie Smith Murphy and Linda Brennan – created the Whispering Pines conference for children’s writers. Several equally brilliant writers over the years have taken over the reigns and passed them on, as the incredibly warm, funny, and articulate Lynda Mulally Hunt did this weekend after being the conference director for the last 10 years. I was so lucky to be there for the 20th anniversary and Lynda’s last conference as director.
Three editors – Mallory Kass from Scholastic Press, Sylvie Frank from Simon and Schuster, and Kendra Levin from Viking Children’s Books – joined three agents – John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary, Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary, and Erin Murphy – to spend hour upon hour with us sharing their knowledge, experience, guidance, feedback, humor, and warmth. I have been to a fair number of conferences and workshops for kid lit writers over the years, but this was my first time at Whispering Pines, and never have I had the opportunity to meet and have substantial conversations with such esteemed and friendly editors and agents. Truly, truly genuine and interesting individuals. And as if that wasn’t enough? I met and reconnected with a dozen or two talented writers who also happen to be super nice people. If you are a kid lit writer and haven’t gone yet, get thee to Whispering Pines March 10-12, 2016.
On my 2-hour ride back home, I listened to the NPR Ted talk radio hour and was treated to an episode on language and humanity. How fitting after two days immersed in the language of writing. It’s hard (and not the safest thing in the world!) to take notes while driving, but I managed to scribble down a few that seem so apropos to the weekend.
Did you know that there are over 7,000 distinct languages in the world? And that every year 50-100 of those languages go extinct? As with so much else on our planet, we are losing linguistic diversity at a rapid rate. That may sound alarming, and it is, but the speaker who presented these facts also said, “Different languages impose barriers to communication.” He surmises that at some point, in the not too distant future, English will be the world’s universal language. Boy, do I have mixed feelings about that! But being on the bubble of this writer’s conference, it made me think about how imperative language is to our survival. And that the language we choose to use in children’s books has a powerful effect on children and how they view the world. So choose your words with love and care, and hope that we can both preserve our diversity and join together as one world, simultaneously.
Another speaker, a Greek and Latin teacher named Phuc Tran , spoke about grammar and its implications for how we view the world. He said, “Grammar can be used to bring the world into sharp focus, or it can make the world a blurry place.” When I first heard this I thought, “Wha?” And then, as so often is the case, this TED talker made a connection between two ideas that had never occurred to me before. The subjunctive (could have, should have) does not exist in many languages. For example, his native language, Vietnamese, does not have the subjunctive. So when faced with near misses, potential tragedies, quandaries and such, there is no “could have” or “should have” to consider. There is only the present. Well, gosh darn it, I say, “How liberating!” After all, do “should have”s and “could have”s benefit us? As he asked, are they good for our soul? If not, let it go! That, and the idea of stretching the thinking of our readers by offering new perspectives on life, struck me as so important. Mallory Kass talked so passionately about the latter, as well.
So what about the Pi part of this blog entry? What is pi, after all? It describes a perfect circle. Why are circles significant? When we are part of one there is no beginning and no end. We are part of something that cannot be broken. We belong, organically. I am so happy to be part of the children’s writing community – a circle of friends and colleagues that seem to have an infinite amount of generosity, enthusiasm, support, and wisdom to share with other kid lit writers. That is the way the world should be, just like we learned in Kindergarten. Share. Help each other. Be nice. Laugh together.
Sylvie Frank shared her step-by-step process in editing Scott Magoon’s beautiful book, Breathe. It seemed very fitting to share his book here with you as I take this moment to breathe in the gifts I received this weekend of writing wisdom, new friendships, camaraderie, community, and never-ending support.
Life Lesson #18: Is it any coincidence that pie is round? Next time you share some with your friends, family or colleagues remember pi and the circles that we belong to that are unbreakable. Then breathe that comfort and blessing into your heart, and eat up!
Right from Scott Magoon’s website…”Today you’ve done some amazing things. And seen some pretty awesome sights. But did you revel in those moments? Or maybe you had a close call—did you take a moment to shake it off?”
Click here for Scott Magoon’s website