Friday, July 23, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference-Part III

If you've read Fablehaven, then you'll love today's report from my conference last week. Brandon Mull got mixed reactions. The lady next to me who was there to learn more about books for her young children did not like his presentation style or genre and left, but I also heard from others later that night at dinner that they thought he was "delightful."

I thought Brandon Mull was the perfect combination of rock star and big brother and I told him so. He was hilarious! In fact, he reminded me so much of my older brother (who attended the same college, graduated at the same time and has exactly the same sense of humor) that I told my brother to email him and be friends. He's just bold (or wacky) enough to do it. The next day, he facebooked him and said, "My sister was at your conference and wants us to be friends." We agreed it was lame in a funny sort of way. Brandon Mull actually lives near us, so maybe we could get him and my brother together to be buds. I'd sit nearby and laugh at all their jokes. Brandon actually was a writer for a college comedy group I used to go see, which he said was great training for his professional career now.

Brandon began his speech by sharing how he loves to write, but wasn't expecting all the other roles that came with being an author including speaker, literacy advocate (which he described as a "happy consequence"), teacher at workshops, marketer...

He had a funny comment about that. He described how it is very strange to market your own work, almost like "planning my own birthday party." He thinks it's "sort of awkward" to tell people, "I made up this stuff in my basement and you should totally buy it!"

...entrepreneur and risk-taker

He always liked the saying that "writers write by the light of the bridges burning behind them."

...small business owner, professional liar...

"I write stories that could never happen to people who could never exist."


"I'm like a crazy person. I hear voices." He also went on to describe how it is hard for him to write female characters sometimes because he is missing, as his wife describes, "some of his emotional software." When his editor asks him to delve into the reasoning behind some of his characters actions to really get at their emotions, he replies that perhaps he could add more blood." He later said, "I don't even understand girls, even a little bit!"

...hobo... since sometimes there is time between conferences, hotels and flights where he ends up wandering around some mall in Peoria.

...murderer... You'd understand this one if you've read his books. Right about now, I was feeling bad that I hadn't gotten to reading his books though they've been on my list forever and I'd heard such great reviews. I was determined to get a copy and get it signed before the day was over.

He posed to the group, "How do you become an honest observer?" to help one write. One of his personal favorite quotes is by Stephen King, "Fiction is the truth inside a lie."

His genre offers him a lot of freedom, not only in fiction, but in his fantasy. "I've always had a rich inner life." He told of his imaginary friend in kindergarten that would teach him to bad things. "I've always been good at finding structural weaknesses-getting in or out of things." One day in kindergarten his imaginary friend told him to find the hole in the fence, crawl through and walk home. When he got there, his mom was working in the garden and was very surprised to see him. She returned him back to school. Once his friend told him to jump headfirst into a big mudpuddle, and when the school office called home for a change of clothes and no one was home, he was told to wait outside and ended up walking around a tree for hours trailing one hand along the bark walking in a continuous circle.

He said that he "was a sociological experiment for his family" who would peek in on him as he jumped around the living room touching each pillow, couch, chair...leaping around the room, mumbling. He would say very often, "I'm playing my games! I'm playing my games!"

To him, "school was the enemy." He would "escape the boredom of reality with stories" and would often storytell to his cousins, friends and family. He moved from Utah to California for grades four though seven and describes those years as "nerd wasteland." He was not himself and was very shy and quiet while living there.

Then he was told to read the Chronicles of Narnia books and then "BAM!--My brain exploded in awesomeness...I was lured in by 'the precious.' "

He credits why he writes fantasy stories for young readers to Harry Potter. He read them in college and loved the plot and world she created and wanted to do the same. He also loved the many stereotypes that JK Rowling broke that opened doors for him. I could relate since I, too, adore the Harry Potter books and the author behind them.

He had many other books since then, some sequels and some new ones. I loved the idea behind The Candy Shop Wars. There are various kinds of candy that can make the eater do things and these special candy powers become very important in a war. My husband wants to be Willy Wonka, so now that book is on my list too!

He admits that he mostly write young adult books but one day his daughter said, "Daddy writes books...but not for me." and so was born Pingo. He patterned it after Puff the Magic Dragon, which was funny to me because I had just sung that song to my kids the night before at bedtime. Brandon shared that he thought Little Jackie Paper was an idiot. "Dude! You had it all! You had Honah Lee!" If you have no idea what I'm talking about...take this opportunity to look up the lyrics. It's a classic. That was my favorite quote from the whole conference. I loved it!

Anyway, his point was, "You don't have to break away from your imagination just because you're grown up." He is the first to admit that his imagination is his best asset. "I'm proud to share it. I'm happy to share it!"

His final thoughts were regarding some of the things he's learned since being a professional writer. "There's no way to write a book without revealing yourself to the world." He gave an example of having to write a character who might be an awful person (he mentioned a bigot specifically) and what they might do or say, and how it really shows how you envision that type of person. "All those assumptions come through the writing." Also for positive thoughts such as an excerpt from his fifth book of Fablehaven, which says, "Luck tends to disappear when you lean on it." When it comes to writing morals, he thinks "it's fun when you stumble across a little bit of truth."

He shared some of the cool places he's gotten to go in the last few years. He's taught a whole audience of nuns, traveled the world, and even shared his books in a juvenile prison. One detainee told him, "When I get out, I'm gonna get your book." Brandon replied, "Don't steal it, okay?"

During Q and A, he shared that he really felt he "lucked out" with his illustrator and how the drawings, "exceeds my vision." He also said that each of the characters have a piece of himself such as Seth having his sense of humor.

So, I agree with the ladies at dinner that night. I found Brandon Mull to be delightful, funny and the perfect speaker for a middle school crowd. I'm seriously going to get him to come to dinner to meet my brother. They'll be best friends, I just know it!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like an awesome conference! I just started reading the Fablehaven series recently. I am on book two and I quite enjoy them, except he didn't have to write the little brother's character to be THAT annoying!