(Today, in the spirit of keeping things as brief as possible, I want to focus only on the events of Saturday, January 28, 2012. Sunday will come next week.)
At 7:45am I joined the crowd, made up from 20 different countries including the US (49 of the 50 states were represented…Lin Oliver couldn’t remember what the one absent state was). Its always a little scary to enter such an event alone, but in only minutes I was chatting away and swapping business cards at the coffee table. It is totally true what others have said about SCBWI…they are the NICEST people! But more on that later.
Chris Crutcher was the keynote speaker and a great way to kick off the weekend. His address inspired his audience to “tell the best truth in the language it needs to be told.” Crutcher, himself, has been banned often because his books are deemed inappropriate. However, he refuses to write to the censors. He encouraged us to write for the audience, despite the censors which have gotten so loud as of late. He said, “You can ban books, but then you ban those kids. You tell them their lives don’t matter.” Through excerpts from his own books, as well as personal anecdotes, Crutcher set the tone for the rest of the weekend for me…writer empowerment…believe in your own work…write what you have to.
Next up was a panel on “Children’s Books: Today and Tomorrow: Four Expert Impressions”. What a powerhouse of a panel! Lin Oliver referred to those on the panel as “the minds behind the modern Golden Age of Children’s Literature”…and that was evident! The star-studded panel was made up of Jean Feiwel, Barbara Marcus, Nancy Paulsen and Rubin Pfeffer. I am not going to go into their bios here, as they are way too extensive, but I highly suggest looking them up!
The highlight of this panel for me was the through line that although publishing houses are acquiring a smaller amount of titles, they are taking the time to truly choose the BEST titles and invest in them. This is huge. As Barbara Marcus made a point of saying that before the houses had beautiful books but no commitment to market them. Now the houses have fewer titles on their lists, so more thought is placed on how to successfully position each book. The cream is definitely rising to the top…and I plan to be that cream! J Of course, all four experts agreed that writers need to be more responsible these days. We need to connect to our readers and build a community. Jean Feiwel used the phrase, “it takes a village.” In this day, it is truly a partnership between the publishing house and the author. So, keep blogging, keep taking those marketing classes, keep researching how to build the best platform you can…
It was then time to go to our first Breakout Workshop. I attended “Making Your Picture Book Stand Out”, presented by Martha Rago (Executive Art Director from Harper Collins). I am not going to discuss this session at this time. Instead I will focus on the large, full conference events. However, I will blog about the Breakout workshops separately if you want me to.
So next up, after the first Breakout, was a very compelling keynote by Cassandra Clare entitled “Love Triangles and Forbidden Love” Creating and Maintaining Romantic Tension in YA Literature”. Clare stressed the fact that readers “go where tension is” and therefore writers need to make stakes high and create as many obstacles as possible. “The bigger the obstacle, the bigger the love needed to overcome them”, she said. She had me there. I was with her. As a picture book writer I know that stakes and obstacles have to be high…of course, for my audience, not having the toy you want to play with and having your arm chopped off are of equal magnitude…but she had me. I got it. And then she started to talk about ways to up the tension through 1) Forbidden Love and 2) Love Triangles. She discussed good ol’ familial taboos like those in Romeo and Juliet. She then went into great detail on societal taboos such as homosexuality, age difference, incest, teacher/student relationships, and dangerous love such as being in love with a serial killer. I have to admit, my jaw dropped a tad onto the carpet. Not sure I can use much of that in picture books…but it sure was interesting to listen to. Her point was that sometimes authors have an idea but are scared to go all the way with it because they are scared they will scare off their readers. Guess I will not be afraid to use burping and farting in my WIP…that’s about taboo as I have thought about getting. J
The second and third Breakouts were next. First up for me was “Picture Books” presented by Samantha McFerrin from Harcourt. Again, I won’t go into detail today…but I can tell you we didn’t talk about incest. J And then I went to Alvina Ling’s (Editorial Director, Little Brown) session on “Narrative Fiction”.
And that took me through til the end. Whew! What a day! What a fabulous day!
I left the Hyatt in the evening with about 4 new friends and a spinning head…no, it wasn’t a door prize, my head was just spinning. J
When I had blogged prior to the conference, looking for advice, it was evident that most people remember SCBWI conferences for the fabulous people in attendance. At the time I felt like this was kinda a lame comment. But after experiencing a conference, myself, I am in total agreement. The like-minded people assembled in the Hyatt last weekend were some of the most encouraging, open, fun-loving and supportive people I have had the honor of meeting. When I left the Hyatt for home, as cliché as it sounds, I was walking on Cloud 9. I felt like a writer because everyone there treated me as such. I was not isolated, I was not alone with my laptop, I was not looking for a community and connections…I had found it. I belonged. And that is why I could not want to return the next morning.
Stay tuned next week for my recap of Sunday’s events.
Also…it is still in the early stages of development, however, I am challenging each one of you (especially those of you who have never been to an SCBWI conference before) to find a conference and go! I am dedicating my Friday posts to conference and will discuss how to make that happen for you in 2012-2013, including tips on saving the money, etc. So, keep following…and get others to, as well. Because YOU belong!
Have a wonderful weekend…and, as always, Happy Writing!