Monday, May 3, 2010

Meeting Your Heroes

I've been reflecting throughout the day on something the late George Plimpton (Paper Lion, The Paris Review) once said, "Meet your heroes; you won't be disappointed." I've met all my heroes extant save one, and he turned 91 today. Now, I had a chance to meet him a decade ago, but passed on the opportunity. What would I have said to a man who met Martin Luther King, battled Joe McCarthy, and been on the right side of more issues than I can coherently discuss?

I regret not taking advantage of that opportunity, vowing never to let such a moment slip through my fingers again. Which is a roundabout way of getting to the point and tying it to writing -- Brian and I attended the Hudson Children's Book Festival this past weekend, he to explore YA, and me picture books. I'll let him write up his experience, but as for me, I was determined to speak with Nick Bruel, author of Bad Kitty and a host of sequels.

Bad Kitty influenced me when I first turned to picture books. It's an alphabet book that's funny and smart and works for children and their overread alphabet-book parents. It contains adult concepts and phrases but the working is so fluid, flippant, and quick that kids go along for the ride. What crazy thing will Kitty do next?

I told him how Bad Kitty shaped my approach to a picture book I was writing at the time. It didn't change the story so much as gave me the courage to keep the occasional adult phrase or concept present. To not fret so much. To recognize the connection between pacing and content. Nick and I briefly talked about picture books, the business, publishers, and so on. We discussed the structure of Bad Kitty, and how another book of his, Bob and Otto, came to be.

At one point, he asked me what my book was about, that is, how it related to Bad Kitty. I told him as if I was pitching it to a publisher. He stopped for a moment, his mind working, and then he said, "That's really clever. Very clever." He then talked about the art of getting an agent, about his process, and how I need to get one, too. The book is, as he noted, "different."

I thought about what he said later that afternoon, and then thought George Plimpton was right. "Meet your heroes. You won't be disappointed."

Later that day, I met up with an agent, Wendy Schmalz, I've met before. She doesn't handle new picture book writers, which is too bad, because I think she'd be great to work with. But the synchronicity of Nick telling me to get an agent five minutes before I bumped into Wendy made me all that more determined to keep working until I find one. I've been approaching publishers who accept unsolicited mss, but now I shall be approaching them and agents. I have always been determined to see these books see the light of day, but now have a different strategy for doing so.

Which means it's time to stop tapping on these keys and start knocking on some doors. Thanks for the kind and sincere words, Nick. Now Bad Kitty has encouraged me twice.


Kay Hafner said...

Awesomely uplifting, John. Glad you guys went.

Not quite "hero" status, I would love ten minutes in the company of my current favorite author, Jim Butcher. At this point, I wouldn't trust myself not to burble and drool in his presence. But armed with this entry, maybe I'll work up my nerve (assuming there'd be an opportunity at the convention on Labor Day weekend). He's just another writer, right? Ack.

John Briggs said...

Don't think of him as just another writer or your enthusiasm will wane and you'll never find the right words to say. But don't burble either. They hate that. And drool ruins their books...

Be honest about why you love him and how he's influenced you. I was sincere, in a professional way, about Nick Bruel's influence on me. There have been a few others in the picture book realm, but he's in the big 3 or 4.