Today we were lucky enough to be visited by not one by two great, creative authors. This morning, after a few short games and activities, we met with Todd Strasser, author of Fallout, a fascinating novel that takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and a boy named Scott. Scott’s family is the only one in his neighborhood that has built a real bomb shelter in their backyard. In the book’s alternate version of history, Russia drops the bomb, and Scott’s family and a few neighbors retreat to their shelter. This novel, which Todd describes as half-memoir, half-speculative fiction, alternates between the current cramped, uncomfortable conditions of the shelter and the comparatively carefree months leading up to the bomb dropping.
Todd began his presentation with some interesting stories about his early years. He told us that he didn’t do so great in school, and almost had to repeat the 3rd grade. This is pretty surprising considering the fact that he has now written almost 150 books! Most importantly, Todd described what it was like for him growing up around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Turns out that Todd’s family really did build a bomb shelter in their back yard! Todd showed us photographs and newsclippings from that era, and described the fears and attitudes of Americans nationwide during this time.
Todd also spoke a little bit about one of his other books, called No Place, which tells the story of a middle-class family that loses their home during housing market crash in 2008. It was really interesting to hear Todd speak about his research process, especially since these two books tackle such important, widely-experienced events that are an essential part of our country’s identity. We also learned a little about Todd’s thinking, writing, and editing process, and he even brought along his marked-up manuscript copies of early versions of Fallout to show how the changes were made.
After our great discussion of Todd’s work, he led us in a educational and laughter-filled exercise in plot development. Todd drew a large, arched diagram on the board to describe the basic outline of a story: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, and Falling Action. He explained that even though all stories serve to either EDUCATE or ENTERTAIN, even the silliest of stories begins with some kind of lesson (even if the message is never said out loud or is hard to really see clearly). So to start our story model, we had to begin with a lesson, which we chose: Why It’s Not Good To Have Two Boyfriends At The Same Time. We began by creating a love triangle, with our main character Cecily at the center, and two, unknowing fellows, who we named Sam and Dean. Slowly but surely, we collectively developed each plot point of our story arc, thinking through what action would stir up the conflict that we needed to propel our story. It was pretty wacky, but also incredibly informative to consider just how detailed and complex it is to create a book plot.
Saying goodbye to Todd, we headed over to a nearby park to eat lunch, play games, read books, and hang out in the great weather. Returning to Symphony Space, we were greeted by today’s second special guest, designer and writer extraordinaire Chip Kidd. Chip has worked in the design department at Knopf at Random House for nearly 30 years. He’s also the author of two novels; Batman: Death by Design, an original graphic novel published by DC Comics; and the book we read, GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Design (and several other books, too! And we highly recommend his smash-hit TED talk.) Chip brought us a fascinating presentation on some of his favorite book covers that he has designed — Jurassic Park and several of the works of Haruki Murakami, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and IQ84. We also took an inside-look into his graphic novel, Batman: Death by Design, to learn about how and he artist Dave Taylor came up with the look and concepts.
Chip then led us through some of the topics and ideas from GO. Having learned quite a bit about visual ideas and design process, we each had the chance to work on our “logo” — an image, typeface, or graphic that represents our own identity. It was really cool to have this fantastic designer look at each of our drawings and help us with ideas and suggestions — what an incredible opportunity! Check out some of the great personalizations he did during our book signing.