Simmons conference notes, part I

Some personal stuff intervened last week*, but I still have many, many thoughts about the Simmons conference to post. The theme was “Crimes & Misdemeanors,” and most of the authors stuck remarkably well to it. A few smart thoughts from smart people, lifted from my notes:

Many people argued that crimes (for a sufficiently loose definition) and rule-breaking are what children’s lit is based on — maybe even all lit. Without a “crime,” what moves the plot along? Where’s the growth?

Discussing his graphic adaptation of The Odyssey: Manners are the things that distinguish good guys from bad in this story: how do you treat strangers? Generosity and hospitality are prized above all; good men don’t even turn away murderers in need. Inhospitality is a misdemeanor in our society and murder, rape, and pillage are serious crimes; in Odysseus’s world, it’s the reverse. — Gareth Hinds

“Kids tend to collect, because kids are essentially powerless, and a collection is something they have control over.” — Kevin Henkes

” ‘Crimes’ push against the skeleton of the world’s structure, until the world breaks apart and is remade.” — the lovely and talented Kristin Cashore.

(This happens in pretty much every YA fantasy or science fiction, certainly. It occurs to me that this might be a distinction between YA and adult fantasy, in fact — the breaking apart and remaking of the world due to the challenging, “criminal” actions of one young person or a small group of young people. It’s a metaphor for the young adult’s own pushing at boundaries, breaking apart their own childhood world and remaking it as an adult, yadda. I can think of a number of YA counter-examples, in which the world stays basically the same. But I haven’t read enough adult fantasy to really draw any conclusions, so I’m just blowing smoke. What do you think?)

Mysteries are unique: you read them skeptically, knowing the author is trying to trick you about the Truth. “But crime fiction is idealistic” — the bad guy always gets caught and punished by good guys who think better. — Avi, who told us at dinner that his real name was Edward. “Avi” was a mispronunciation by a younger sibling that stuck. Who knew?

“When I write about crime… what I am writing about is moral ambiguity. …No one is more involved in moral ambiguity than the child. They are taught morality while living in an immoral world.” — Avi

“We excuse or mitigate characters by saying they had a hard life — might we not mitigate a person’s character by the affluent and spoiled environment in which he grew up, as well?” — Francisco X. Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World

* Boyfriend E and I broke up. All’s well, really, but it definitely overpowered my will to blog immediately post-conference.

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2 Responses to Simmons conference notes, part I

  1. mrmorse says:

    It’s not like I have any sort of criteria to differentiate between YA and adult fantasy, so I may be totally wrong about this. The Hobbit strikes me as YA while The Lord of the Rings strikes me as adult. If I’m wrong, then I really have no idea of what the distinction is. In any event, both books are all about remaking the world. The crime at the heart of The Hobbit is obvious: the dwarfs set out to steal Smaug’s treasure. The crime in LotR is less clear to me. I can see a couple of candidates, but I’d like more of a definition or examples of crime in this context before placing a crime at the center of the novel.

  2. rebecca says:

    I’d love to hear about the reviewing panel, if you went to that.

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