I’ll admit it…it was tough getting up on Sunday morning. I stayed up until about 2:30 am talking with my roommate Jodi Moore. She’s just launched her web site and her very first picture book, WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, will be out May 1st. We had plenty to talk about. *squee*
After dragging our luggage to the lobby to be checked, we headed to the ballroom-wanting to make sure we had great seats for the morning’s first keynote speaker, Sara Zarr.
But before she came out, we got to see the award winning art of our amazing illustrators. Everyone’s work was spectacular and make sure you check out Showcase Winner, Leeza Hernandez’s web site.
We also gave a nod to the wonderful SCBWI Team Blog. If you want to know anything at all about what happened at the conference stop by The Official SCBWI Conference Blog. You’ll feel as if you were right there. Equally as hard-working and fantastic is the staff at SCBWI…
All right, now we can get back to Sara Zarr. I promise-you don’t want to miss this. It was special…
This is a hard speech to write about. I’ve refrained from reading any post on the topic because I thought it would be best if I captured my feelings from my perspective. When I critique a MS, I always jot down whatever comes to mind along the way. I want to give the writer, the experience of how I reacted as a reader-I think that’s valuable. The same is true with my response to the keynote. Sara’s words, without a doubt, affected everyone in the room who listened. I can’t tell you what they discovered, but I can tell you what they meant to me…
Standing at the podium was a very emotional experience for Sara. One of those full circle moments when you find yourself standing at the end of something and the beginning of something else. After 5 years of writing, Sara came to the NY SCBWI Conference as an attendee. She came angry and frustrated. She was hoping to figure out the system, network, find the answers.
What she found out was that 5 years of writing just wasn’t enough, her agent wasn’t the right agent and she found herself back at square one. She returned home and did all those things that she thought would finally make her enough. She returned to the NY SCBWI Conference in 2005. I was one of the worst experiences she’s ever had. She left her purse hanging on the back of her chair and lost it. She wondered if being kicked when you’re was down is a sign.
We’ve all been there. My baby is called TOUCHING THE SURFACE and it goes something like this…
Life-altering mistakes are meant to alter lives.
At seventeen, Elliot Turner feels like she’s a failure in life and in the afterlife. She’s died for the third time and until she can remember her past and figure out the growth plan for her soul, she’s stuck at the Obmil Center for Progression…
At a NY Conference a couple years ago I waited in line for two hours to pitch my book to a very wonderful agent who was volunteering his time. He looked at me and said…"Dead girls are out, I’d put that in a drawer for at least a decade and forget about it. What else have you got?"
I had nothing. Damn.
I’m not sure what made Sara, once again back at square one, keep going but I’m glad she did. Just the way I’m glad that I’ve kept going. For me, it’s always been the speeches, made by someone who used to be standing where I am. Other people’s journeys and wisdom keep me going when I find myself back at that lonely little square. I’m addicted to the feeling that the people in the room genuinely care, whether they’re in the seat next to me or on the stage.
Sara, after getting misty eyed with awe at where she was standing and what it took to get her there, announced the following…
She was going to give the speech she needed to hear when she was the one sitting in the audience.
I believe that giving that speech was an amazing act of courage. I want to share it with you, but I can’t duplicate her humor, or effectively illustrate her ability to look within and portray herself honestly. What I can tell you, was that sitting and listening to her made me feel less alone. My neurosis had company.
So I will share with you the many things she said that resonated with me, but understand that bullets, no matter how witty or insightful, can not take the place of the things that sat between the words. It was an honor to have been there.
*The time between when you’re a beginner, but before you are a professional is one of the hardest in your life.
*If you’re blessed with mental health…lucky you! LOL!
*Creative people do it for life-there is no end game.
*We need other people.
*Only other creative people get it when it comes to the joys and struggles of your work.
*It takes a tremendous amount of faith to live a creative life. We have faith that all the good stories haven’t been used up by other artists.
*We have unsustainable habits: It’s not practical to be typing with one hand in a bowl of M&M’s. *giggle*
*Is understanding the business side of writing important? Hell yes-but you need to know the value of that on your life.
*Do things that take your mind off yourself-writing is a solitary business.
*You can start to believe in your rejections more than you believe in your capacity to learn and grow.
*At the end of the day-what do you want to create? Relationships.
I know I feel as if I made a friend…thank you Sara.
No act stood a chance of following the standing ovation that Sara received…except this one. Now it was time to laugh.
Look Who’s Laughing: How to Do Funny for Young Readers and Why.
I wish I could share all the wit and wisdom but I took bad notes. I didn’t want to interrupt the laughing. I was having too much fun. Near the end, Mo said…The fundamental difference between kids and adults is that the kids are shorter. I have to agree…we know they both love to laugh.
I’ve had the good fortune of hearing Linda Sue Park speak at my local Eastern NY SCBWI Conference. She was amazing. I knew what I was getting ahead of time and I still wanted to run up and hug her after she was done speaking. She talked about CONFIDENCE…
*Where things get stressful is in between-the area where you want something, but don’t know if you have the goods.
*Don’t believe in yourself, believe in the work.
*If you read a lot, you begin to build a mental standard in your head-it gives you a vast store house of stuff to compare to.
*How long does anyone spend to be a professional/master at anything? You have to invest a whole lot of time to get good at anything. The training for writing is reading.
*The thing about NOT believing in yourself…is that there are so many opportunities.
*If you’re NOT afraid of a challenge-that is NOT courage-it’s a malfunction in your brain chemistry. Courage is what happens when you’re afraid.
*You never love a book the way you do when you’re a child.
*(After a young boy told Linda Sue that he had read her book 62 times) I try to make every sentence I write worth reading 62 times. *heart squish*
Yes, my friends-she too got a standing ovation and it was well deserved. I swear I could have floated out of that room when everything was over. I was so pumped I didn’t even mind the line for the autograph party…
I needed to get all the way down to that far door before I could get in the "real" line. Who cares-I had plenty to think about on line.
Elephant and Piggy…opps…I mean Mo and Me LOL!
Linda Sue Park…focused on the work. Awesome!
Sara and Me…new friend and inspiration.
Conference over. Well almost…
There is something to be said about daydreaming while having a really good egg, ham and cheese sandwich as you’re sitting on the floor of Grand Central Station. It’s as good a place as any to realize that someday is the very best place for your train to be heading…
So tell me…who inspires you?
It wouldn’t be a SCBWI Conference if we didn’t start off with this…
The lovely, talented and very funny Lin Oliver. Lin remarked that there were 35 people at the very first LA conference. We’ve come a long way baby! When asked how many people in attendance were first time conference goers-there was a sea of hands raised. I think that’s soooo wonderful. Welcome to the SCBWI tribe everyone!!!!
*drum roll please*
IT’S LOIS LOWRY!!!!!!!! Author of my favorite book of all time-the Giver. I can not adequately express how excited I was to hear her speak.
Lois used fan letters to show that almost everyone has two burning questions for her…How do you get your ideas and do you have a dog? *grin* Yes, she does have a very cute dog, but I have to admit it had never crossed my mind to ask. On the other hand I’ve always wanted to know where she got her ideas. I’m going to touch on two…
A SUMMER TO DIE (1st Book)
-Lois had a sister that was her best friend, worst enemy, side-kick and the person who taught her how to read.
-Her sister died leaving her own young children behind.
-In order to cope with the grief, Lois would tell her own 5 year-old the stories of her sister. After awhile her child was bored with her grief as all young children should be.
-Lois told the stories to herself instead…
She reminded us to "give sorrow words…"
-Lois’ father was suffering from dementia. One day while looking through pictures together, they came upon a childhood picture of Lois and her sister. Her father couldn’t remember what her name was and then when reminded, he couldn’t remember what had happened to her. Lois had to remind him that she had died. His grief was such that it was like he’d heard the news for the first time.
-They continued to look through pictures and came across another of the two sisters and once again her father couldn’t remember. Lois told him that her sister had died and once again it was a brand new pain for her father.
-On the way home in the car Lois began to wonder about the idea of removing painful memories from people’s lives.
-She decided she was going to write about a group of people in the future who’d found a way to be happy, comfortable and safe-removed from painful stimuli.
-The book became more complicated as she began to write it, but this is where the story started.
I walked away from Lois Lowry’s keynote speech feeling as if there is no other way to create, than to use writing as a way to explore your own feelings and thoughts. I know that it’s tempting to try to write to market and trend (and it never hurts to know what is going on) but I do believe that the very best writing comes from that place we aren’t sure we should allow other people to see…
Of course there was an additional moral to her presentation…If you want to be a great writer-you need to get a dog! ROTFL!
Creating and Recreating the Picture Book: Three Views
*Jane Yolen (JY) Author
(Awesome tidbit-Jane was the first keynote speaker at the very 1st SCBWI Conference and the 2nd member of the SCBWI. How cool is that?)
*Mark Teague (MT) Author/Illustrator
*Patricia Lee Gauch (PLG) Editor/Writer/Teacher
This was hands down the best Picture Book Panel I’ve ever heard. Here are some of the things that resonated with me…
JY-Things that haven’t changed about Picture Books…
-The amount of work it takes.
-How dedicated writers are.
-How much authors/editors need to know.
JY-Picture books need to have lyricism-a musicality of language.
JY-A PB is about compression-words have to do double or triple the work.
JY-Child centeredness does not mean that you have to have a child in the book.
JY-Pick your words as carefully as a poet.
-Children use big important words too-it just has to be the "right" word.
-Sometimes you can make up the words-but this is a magical ability so take great care.
JY-Make it illustratable-think in pictures.
MT-Think about if your illustrations will serve the story.
PLG-It doesn’t come from your head.
PLG-Don’t squeeze any idea too hard.
Lin Oliver asked if Picture Books would be better if the author and illustrator collaborated more?
PLG-I’ve learned to keep them apart. Writers are verbal and artists are not, so they would have trouble winning an argument. LOL!
MT-It strikes me as a good tradition and cites Lewis Carroll (Alice and Wonderland) being a tyrant to his illustrator.
JY-You have to respect the genius of the illustrator.
Before we leave for our next session, we gave a great big thanks to all the SCBWI RA’s who do so much to make the tribe great.
Of course I yelled really loud for my Eastern NY RA Nancy Castaldo!!!!
Next up was the Pre-Assigned Workshops-What Makes Your Work Publishable: Today’s Market in Children’s Books.
My first Breakout session was with Alessandra Balzer-Co-Publisher of Balzer & Bray (Harper Collins)
My second Breakout session was with Alexandra Cooper-Senior Editor (Simon & Schuster) I know the picture is a little blurry, but she was so enthusiastic and fun, this one captured her personality.
At this point in the day, my stomach is yelling for some of that chicken, hand cooked by Lin Oliver *grin*. Unfortunately, my group of rabble rousers was tardy and we ended up in the farthest possible location from the the podium LOL! The food was still major yummy though.
The upside was that we were in snagging distance of our own pot of coffee LOL! Go Jeff!
Eileen, Gina, Kim and Jodi
Suzannah, Justin, Jill, Jeff and Scott.
Our Luncheon Keynote…all the way over at the podium was none other than kid-scaring, best-selling children’s author R.L. Stein.
See him waaaaayyyyy over there? His speech was on Writing for Fun And Horror but I laughed so much I hardly took any notes. :o) He was so fun to listen to. My favorite part of his speech was when he shared his favorite fan letters. My two favorites are…
"I’m your biggest fan. I’ve read your books so much my parents have to escort me to the bathroom."
"I’ve read 40 of your books-and I think they’re really boring."
He also reminded us that we have to be open to everything as a writer-you don’t know what the twists and turns are going to be. He had planned to write comedy and only wrote horror because he didn’t want to turn down a job.
Lastly, he touched everyone in the room when he got all choked up talking about receiving a compliment from his hero Ray Bradbury. It is nice to know that no matter how big you become, you still can have heros. *heart squish*
Breakout session #3 with Lisa Sandell-Editor (Scholastic) and author.
The last keynote speaker of the day is Jules Feiffer.
This was one of those speeches where you know that you are listening to a legend and every word is important. The speech is a continuous flow and it is almost impossible to pick out a piece of excellence, because the whole experience is amazing.
Here are some of my favorite things…
*At the time Jules was illustrating for his friend, Norton Juster, he was poor and did his illustrations for the Phantom Tollbooth on tracing paper. The originals have not survived and his thoughts on this were…"Norton didn’t tell me he was writing a classic."
*I have a long history of so whats. (meaning wrong turns on the path to success)
*It was spite that got me into children’s books.
*On entertaining the possibility of failure and letting it get him down–I’m going to make failure work for me.
One of Jules favorite illustrations from the Odious Ogre. "At my age, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to play like a kid…"
Jules Feiffer picking on me because my kids names are Irish sounding and I’m Polish and my hubby is Italian. He also wanted to know what the heck a Fishkill Frog was LOL! But he was lovely and signed the book for the elementary school library with a frog illustration just for the kids. Lots of fun!
Me and R.L. Stein…he gave me Goosebumps *grin*
The lovely and talented Jane Yolen.
I can’t even begin to tell you what a spaz I was meeting my idol Lois Lowry. I have no idea what the heck I said, although Nancy Castaldo was at the table and may have things to hang over my head for the rest of my life. All I know is that it was amazing and I’m very very grateful that she doesn’t look too frightened. Going to hang this one on my bulletin board…motivation for excellence.
I know you can’t even imagine Sunday living up to the sheer awesomeness of Saturday’s Conference, but it does. I swear. I’ll prove it to you in my next blog.
All right-I know I’m behind on multiple different blog posts, but I’ve always said that I would only blog as long as it didn’t interfere with my priorities as a writer. I would prefer that you look upon that declaration as a wise and thoughtful choice instead of a personal lack of blogging fortitude–but if you can’t *tthhhpppffttthhhh* there’s a big fat raspberry coming your way. *grin*
So where do I start? Finish my agent journey? Baby Blogger interview? The NY SCBWI Conference? I’m going to go with the conference because it’s all I can think about. It was AMAZING!
This was my third year at the Writer’s Intensives and I registered before I landed the most amazing agent on the face of the planet…Michelle Wolfson. I’d planned on bringing my YA Touching the Surface to the tables, but instead I focused on one of my favorite funny picture books. My MC Iggy was well received and got chuckles in all the right places, so I think he’s ready to spread his wings and get out into the world.
I needed to get my 10yo on the bus before I left Friday morning so the train was going to be a bit of a dash. Of course the 7:05 mocked me by pulling in the same time I did and waving to me as I was huffing to the platform looking like a psycho bag lady. Luckily the 7:13 found me much more appealing and I made it to the doors of the Hyatt with 9 minutes to spare. All that running I’ve been doing has its advantages. I checked in, checked my bag, checked my coat, hit the ladies room, registered with Marilyn Hershey (a fellow writer/runner who was impressed with my mad skill), grabbed a bagel and cream cheese and sat down with seconds to spare before the opening panel-Listening to Feedback with an Open Mind.
On the panel were…
*Edward Necarsulmer IV (Agent) Heads up the Children’s Literature Department at McIntosh and Otis, Inc.
*Julie Strauss-Gabel (Associate Publisher) Dutton Children’s Books.
*Liz Szabla (Editor-in-Chief) Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of MacMillan Children’s Publishing.
Here are some golden nuggets from the panel…
LS-Has found gold at the Intensives. She discovered two authors who are on their second books. Yay!!!
JSG-If the story is good enough-it won’t lose money.
LS-Number one reason plot doesn’t work is that the ending is telegraphed.
EN-Voice needs to be backed up with plot.
LS-Writers shouldn’t be surprised that we are publishing for a market-that is where the books are sold.
LO-(On critique) Listening with curiosity is different than listening while waiting to speak.
JSG-Writing is really hard-it sucks sometimes. :o)
My first wonderful table was with Edward Necarsulmer IV from the panel. There were only five of us at the table due to weather interfering with transportation. While I was sad for those who didn’t make it, it did afford us extra time to discuss the fabulous Carrie Jones, her Need Series and her eagerly awaited DEAR BULLY anthology.
After lunch, my second table was with Diane Muldrow, editorial director at Golden Books/Random House. This was another awesome table. We were slightly on the rowdy side, but well within the limits of good taste. LOL!
The afternoon panel was led by Aaron Hartzler (staff member of SCBWI and fellow conference tweeter aaron007) and consisted of…
*Nancy Conescu (Executive Editor) Dutton Children’s Books.
*Rachel Griffiths (Senior Editor) Scholastic.
*Michell Poploff (Vice President, Executive Editor) Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers.
All three editors gave great advice on how to take the Intensive experience and turn it to your best advantage as a writer.
Of course no Intensive is complete unless you hang out with old friends, meet new ones and hit Kidlit at the Wheel Tapper Pub. Of course-Kidlit makes it harder to get up the next morning, but its a blast and well worth it.