November, 2014

2014 SCBWI Illinois Conference

Over the weekend  I attended the SCBWI Illinois Prairie Writer’s & Illustrator’s day: From Inspiration to Perspiration to Publication. Faculty included Caroline Abbey, Senior Editor, Random House Children’s Books, Jordan Brown, Senior Editor, Walden Pond Press & Balzer + Bray, Brett Duquette, Editor, Sterling Children’s Books, Karen Grencik, Agent, Red Fox Literary, Esther Hershenhorn, Author, Loraine Joyner, Senior Art Director, Peachtree Publishers, Rachel Orr, Agent, Prospect Agency, Eliza Wheeler, Author/Illustrator and Noa Wheeler, Editor, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was a pre-conference schmooze with my fabulous agent, Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary Management. I took the blue line into the city and then we headed to a cozy restaurant: Summer House Santa Monica for wine and dinner. The food was delicious; I indulged in a hamburger on a homemade English muffin, topped with avocado & pico. The company was even better-my agent is the BEST!

I shared breakfast the next morning with agent Karen Grencik (who I had met the previous weekend at the SCBWI KS conference) and author Esther Hershenhorn-both of whom exude warmth and positive energy. then it was off to Harper College for the conference.

Eliza Wheeler started the show with a keynote titled: “Inspire Your Work  (Without Breaking A Sweat)” Wheeler says: stress, fear, & impatience block ideas. That’s why good ideas come in the shower or on long walks. Furthermore, she believes inspiration isn’t something you can go looking for, it has to come to you.  Lastly, she advises: Be playful. See what happens when you change key elements in your work.

The opening keynote was followed by a faculty panel, where I learned the following tidbits about some of the presenters: Editor Brett Duquette admitted he has the memory of a goldfish. He says this makes reading manuscripts when they come back revised a joy. Agent Karen Grencik said cutting and cleaning are her favorite parts of the augmenting/editing process. Editor Jordan Brown enjoys “cracking the code” of a manuscript to fix its flaws & then getting to offer debut authors a 2nd contract. When asked: what do you miss from childhood? Loraine Joyner replied-roller skating. Rachel Orr- dance lessons. Caroline Abbey-building forts. When asked what famous book they have never read, Wheeler responded: Wind in the Willows, Joyner-Harry Potter, Orr- to Kill A Mocking Bird, Brown- Anne of Green Gables. Lastly, when asked to admit a  Guilty pleasure: Wheeler- reading in cemeteries, Abbey-Oreos in peanut butter, Grencik-Chardonnay.

For my first breakout, I attended A Vision for Revision with editor Jordan Brown. He said: Revision is the most important, but often the most daunting part, of the writing process. He reminded us that: first impressions are important, you only get one bite out of the apple, you don’t get a second chance, even if you revise.

For Breakout session number two, I attended Before and After MG, with Jordan Brown & Caroline Abbey. We focused on seven tips to consider when writing the first page. Brown advised: your book should be about the most formative event in your characters life. during the Q& A at the end, both editors said in regards to prologues: sure, if they work. And here is  Jordan Brown’s perspective on why he chooses a book: I’m connecting with an author’s instincts and perspective more than anything, and you can break the rules- do whatever you want as long as it works. Says he decides to stop or go on by 20% mark. His advise on beginnings: start with the way you’d tell the story to a friend.

My last breakout was Parents, Sidekicks, and Nemeses…Oh My: Developing Your Secondary Characters with Rachel Orr. The handout was fabulous and particularly helpful since I’m at the beginning stages of writing a MG with plenty of secondary characters.

After the conference- I was able to spend time with family that lived in the area. We chomped on pizza, cookies, and played games. Great weekend!  Next up-  the SCBWI Winter Conference in NY.

2014 SCBWI Kansas Conference

I just returned home from the SCBWI KS Step by Step: Advancing The Writer’s Craft Conference in Overland Park. I had a wonderful time hanging out with old frinds from the SCBWI community and learning tricks of the trade to apply to my writing.

The conference started for me with a one-on-one critique Friday night with Bloomsbury Editor Brett Wright. His praise for my writing was uplifting- but even more important was his criticisism of my synopsis. Since I am just beginning a new manuscrpt, it was great to get constructive feedback on elememnts of the plot that he felt weren’t working. His insights will be a valuable tool as I begin to shape my character ARCS and plotline.

Saturday kicked off with an uplifting and thoughtful message from award winning author Sharon Draper. She addressed the need for creating diverse literature. She stated that an authors purpose when writing should be to make sure that the kids that feel invisible-don’t. Other pearls of wisdom:

Remember that you are not creating characters, you are creating real people. If you don’t, we don’t want to read your books.

 Writers need to be patient. Things don’t always happen in a hurry-it’s a slow process-good things take time.
For my first breakout, I attended “Crafting a Standout Picture Book” by Andrea Brown Literary Agent Jennifer Mattson. She discussed incorporating the element of surprise in order to make your work standout. Some of her concrete advice:
1.Think brevity. PB are getting shorter and shorter, 250-500 words.If Nonfiction: its OK to have 1,000.
2.  Avoid the impulse to tell the illustrator too much, let them use their creative genus to help improve & compliment your story.
3. Try an unusual story structure: call & response, epistolary style, dialogue bubbles, irony, meta narrative.
4.On rhyming PB: don’t sound like Dr. Sues in a blender-strive for the unexpected. Don’t forget the use of refrains as a tool. (They work in nonfiction too.)
5. If your PB is character driven: the character must be out of the ordinary, distinct, larger than life, & franchisable. This holds true for NFC as well.
In my second breakout, led by brett Wright, we played with tip sheets and creating our own “handles’ to help us find out exactly where our books fall into the current bookscape.
In my final breakout led by author jennifer brown- we discussed ways to ratchet up the emotion, turn our characters into real people, and take our readers on an emotinal ride.
The conference closed with a panal discussio of some first five lines, an a closing keynote by Draper on the power of words.
Thanks to the generosity of the SCBWI kansas team, I was invited to join them for their facuty dinner at Jack Stacks BBQ One word: YUM! Insightful conversation and great company- the perfect way to end a perfect earning experience.
Next weekend; I’m off to learn more at the SCBWI Illionois Conference. Stay tuned for a recap!

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