Hello my friends! Last weekend I went to SCBWI 2014 conference, a first for me. It promised to be a spectacular weekend and – hot damn – it totally lived up to my expectations! My journey…
I started the weekend in one of my favorite t-shirts, which, if you can believe it, caused me some trouble. My dear friend and roomy for the weekend, Kimberly Sabatini, YA author of Touching The Surface, @KimSabatini, and I got down to the City Friday night and after three tries we finally got a room with two beds! I’m not sure why they were trying to get Kim and I to sleep together, but we weren’t havin’ it!
We met a bunch of Kim’s friends, all awesome people, that I now get to call my friends too, Score! I ate a twenty dollar burger and had a fourteen dollar glass of wine. I know, right! But hey, it’s NYC, and I saved up for this event. After a few hours of getting to know everyone it was time to call it a night. This is where the t-shirt comes in. We’re on our way to the elevators, chattin’ like girls do, when this guy shoulders checks me off my feet into a column! Totally not kidding. So I yell, “Woe, buddy!” Not gonna lie, I would normally have yelled some other things, but I didn’t want to give the wrong impression to my new friends. Well, this guy was drunk off his arse. The dialog from here went like this:
“Fuckin’ woe yourself honey!” Girlfriend drags drunk by the hand. I stand with mouth hanging open and respond, “What is wrong with you?”
Now, trying to question a drunk is like trying to wrestle a pig. It just gets ugly.
“Fuck you!” Hand gestures went with this riveting bit. “What’s wrong with you? I’ll fuck you up!” Yeah, he was proficient in his use of the “F”word. Right there in the Hyatt. I mean it’s not like we were in a HoJo. Anyway, I had to respond, I just couldn’t help it. “Really dude? You’re gonna throw down with a girl? Really?”
“That’s right! I’ll throw down with a girl. Come on. Right now. Bring it!” Girlfriend is still dragging fool…it’s a big lobby. I shook my head in disbelief to which another round of “F”words came. And here’s the part where the shirt comes in…”Fuck you. Go back to fuckin’ England!”
Now, although I love England, I’m from Connecticut. You may have heard of it. It’s a state here in the USA…ASSHOLE.
Then the conference begins! This is Tomie dePaola and Lin Oliver signing their book, Little Poems for Tiny Ears for me. Lin was kinda runnin’ things up on stage along with Stephen Mooser, who I don’t have a picture of 😦
The first keynote speaker was author Jack Gantos…LOVE him! This is him signing his book for me, Dead End In Norvelt. He was hilariously entertaining. One of the things he said was, “To be a great writer, you have to be a great reader.” He also said, “Whatever you write, not everyone will share the same experiences but we all share the same emotions. You have to reach people on an emotional level with the characters you write about. People have to care about what happens to them. At the end of the story you have to solve the problem and bring in empathy.” Did I mention I love him? Onward to:
A panel on the future of authorship.
Abbi Glines, author, got turned down fifty-five times. She self-published five books before she got an agent. She attributes social media to her success, and she is super successful! (and very sweet)
Jean Feiwel, SVP Publishing Director Macmillan Children’s Books, said, “Distopian and Paranormal genres are NOT waning.” I was super excited to hear that, since one of my manuscripts is a Contemporary Paranormal!
Paul Aiken, Executive Director, The Author’s Guild, said “Be really careful when you’re paying for editing. Look for proof that the editor has succeeded at it.” He also said, “We’ve lost 60-70% of shelf space for books. The opportunity is still there, but we have to adapt.” He was speaking of ebooks and other electronic avenues.
After that I was off to my breakout workshop; “Getting and Working With an Agent” led by Dan Lazar, Agent Writers House.
That’s me and Dan. Okay, so I look a little stiff, but I didn’t want to go grabbin’ Dan, all creepy-stranger-like! I just met the guy five seconds before the photo. Dan had the whole room laughing, it was a ball! He spoke about the query letter, one page, written in the writer’s voice, not the voice of the main character. He also named a few pet peeves:
Do not address: To whom it may concern. Agents are real people.
Be specific, not vague.
There is no “fiction novel”, just novel.
Then he read a really funny query letter which made him ask the author to send the manuscript. Now, the funny part is that the letter used a few F-bombs. I thought an older woman sitting in front of me was going to have a heart attack and I can only imagine how many queries Dan has gotten this week peppered with the “F” word! I will not stoop to such fucking levels when I submit to him.
My afternoon breakout workshop; Writing Paranormal, Sci Fi and Thrillers, was with Kate Sullivan, Editor, Little, Brown Books.
Kate said that Genre Fiction is all about strong pacing and tension. She also echoed what Jack Gantos said, “The reader has to identify with your characters.” She went over world building, languages of your characters, and NOT dumping large sections of information in dialog. Kate was very cool and knew her stuff. I also just read she’s going to be at the New England SCBWI coming up in May for anyone who didn’t get a chance to hear her.
The afternoon keynote speakers were Elizabeth Wein, author, on Authorial Responsibility. She spoke about taking responsibility for your own actions and conducting yourself with grace.
An amazing panel, Joan Bertin, Exec. Director, National Coalation against Censorship; Ellen Hopkins, Author, Susanna Reich, Chair, Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee, Pen American Center. These ladies were fab-u-lous! This is my opinion, and I guess I stand in good company with these women, banning books is WRONG! Books, like the ones Ellen Hopkins writes, deal with tough contemporary issues. Not every kid has a fairytale life. She writes about addiction and abuse. I wish we didn’t need books like these, but we do. There are kids suffering in situations and it’s good for them to see they are not alone and there is a way out. As a writer, a parent, and a teacher, I feel that books with strong topics gives us a chance to open up a dialog about tough issues with young people. Ignorance does not equal innocence. We can only learn by what we know. We can only teach by what we can show. And words, even unpleasant ones, paint that picture in which to teach from.
Me and Ellen Hopkins. I admire her so much!
After that it was off to dinner…mashed potato bar! Sorry I don’t have a photo, but take my word, it was too cool!
On the last day of the conference I had the immense pleasure of hearing the lovely Kate Massner. Her soul came sparkling through her words that dripped with encouragement and brought me to tears. She was funny and humble, smooth and eloquent and…OH MY GOD! KATE MESSNER!!
Alright, a little star struck by this literary giant, but who wouldn’t be? In her speech she talked about failure. Just what every aspiring author wants to hear, right? HA! But it was exactly what I needed to hear. I have patience for everyone else but me. I strive to hit perfection coming out of the gate. I guess that’s not a terrible thing, but it’s not realistic, especially as a writer. Kate said, “We learn by failing. You have to fail before you succeed. Be okay with imperfection. Good ideas come when we show up to do our work.” Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who didn’t know how close they were to success before giving up.” She ended with, “Make mistakes, learn from them. Be courageous. Be brave. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail fast, fail often…in your first drafts and revisions, everyone doesn’t have to watch you fail, but in failing you will succeed!”
After Kate we had a panel of artists moderated by Arthur Levine, Vice President and Publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc….also the dude who edited the Harry Potter books. Literary Royalty. This is Marla Frazee, Illustrator of God got a dog, that’s my copy she’s signing 🙂
The last keynote speaker was to be Sharon Draper, Author. But she could not make it so Nikki Grimes took her place. WOW. Nikki Grimes is a word ninja. A verse lyricist. An amazing story teller. I was not familiar with her work but I am now! I ran out of money at the conference book store so as soon as I got home, I purchased Planet Middle School, her newest book. She spoke about her work not being a black thing, or a white or Asian thing, but a human thing. I love that. I believe that. I want my work to reach all people, race, gender, religion. I want my work to be a human thing. She said, “Just keep writing, you’ll figure it out. You won’t always know where your story is going. It’s okay. Just keep writing.” The other advice I took to heart was, “When you have a great idea, don’t write it until you’re able, equipped, good enough to do it justice. Take the time to write your classic well.” She was speaking of her book, Bronx Mascaraed. She had the idea long before she actually wrote it, until she was good enough. It’s hard to hold yourself back, believe me, I know. But, all through the conference I heard, send only your best work. Do a hundred drafts before you submit, more if needed. Polish that manuscript until it shines. Until it’s a work you can be proud of.
This was an amazing experience. I came home and wrote eight pages of a new chapter book! Talk about inspiration. If you are a children’s writer, picture books, chapter books, MG, YA, NA, join SCBWI. I have never met a more encouraging group of people in my life. I was an interior designer for almost twenty years, yes I started when I was five but that’s not the point! The point is, I’ve never met another community of professionals so willing to help each other succeed. I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I aspire to be one of these greats I saw at this conference.
Till next time my brothers and sistas, PEACE…
Except for the F-bombing pusher in the lobby. Note: Real men don’t push, hit, or abuse women. You made yourself look stupid and I used your drunken behavior as writing material, a punch line. Thank you. We writer’s love fools like you.