Over a thousand writers and illustrators, 1, 342 attendees to be exact, picked up their schedules for the sold-out SCBWI 40th Anniversary Summer Conference in the early hours on Friday morning. They were like a bunch of eager hunters on opening day of hunting season, with their book bags slung across their shoulders and their eyes dancing with anticipation of what they'd be going home with after a day of key note addresses and break-out sessions.
This was one of my favorite parts of the day, greeting people and handing out their registration packets. When I asked people if this was their first conference and they told me it was, I gave them extra tips and reassurances like breathe, soak it all in, editors and agents are just normal people, have a great conference and most importantly the bathrooms are located on the East and West side of the California level.
In past years, Executive Director Lin Oliver has asked faculty members to say an inspirational word when introducing themselves to the audience but in honor of the 40th anniversary, the faculty delighted conference goers with a sentence containing the word "forty" in it as they paraded across the stage. Literary agent Jill Corcoran "gets 40 queries a day," award winning author Bruce Hale joked saying he had "40 Margaritas" with his brother last night but he wanted to leave people with a word and it was "inspiration" and award winning author Libba Bray rapped for listeners, it would not be the first time she had the audience in stitches laughing that day.
The opening keynote address Ripples in the Pond: Why What we do Matters... and Matters...and Continues to Matter was delivered by none other than the award winning author Bruce Coville and it left ripples of goosebumps running up and down my arms and a few tears at the corners of my eyes.
He said children are worth our best efforts and even though we may tell children they are our most important resource for the next generation, we're having a problem collectively showing it to them as he referenced the slashes in education and loss of educators and librarians in the work force. But we have a powerful capability to impact children through our storytelling and reach hundreds of thousands of kids with our books, and we owe them our best and to do so we must master and improve our craft. If we do this, we can go home and drop some pebbles into the pond and watch the ripples -- effect the world.
Caldecott award winner Jerry Pinkney took the stage next and talked similarly about the importance of craft and how we need to continue to hone our skills. To look past our characters and over their shoulders. To envision more than what we first see and to appreciate and cultivate our tools from our toolboxes. I couldn't catch his entire presentation as I had ARA duties to fulfill and I quietly ducked out to introduce a speaker in a break out session.
In the Contract Basics break out session Jan Constantine, Esq delivered a knowledgeable and eye-opening session for writers and illustrators and implored the audience to read their contracts whether you had an agent or not. She's General Counsel with the Author's Guild and one of the benefits to belonging to this organization, $90 membership fee, is that members receive contract reviews -- a steal of a deal when we're talking about your life and the life and rights for your book. Most of us aren't going to marry rich and therefore we need to take care of ourselves and treat our writing like a business. We need to make sure we're not signing away all of our subsidiary rights to publishers and negotiating clauses for fair out of print, next book and special consideration to grant author consultation on book title, design and promotion. She crammed 7 weeks of instruction, an instructor at New York University, into one hour. No easy feat but than she was a pro.
At this point in the day, my grumbling stomach reminded me that it was time to grab some lunch and I met up with the other Texas SCBWI chapters to share a bite and to meet the other members who'd left the blistering Texas heat behind in favor of the cooler California climate. I devoured a turkey avocado wrap and chatted with writers Mike Giles, Laura Pashley, RA Vicki Sansum, ARA Millie Martin and RA Debbie Gonzales. We sat outside under sunny blue skies and and before we knew it we had to leave to catch our next session.
Award winning author Libba Bray didn't disappoint us. In fact, her keynote Writing it All Wrong: A Survival Manual was side-splitting funny. I mean roll-on-the-floor, clutching your sides hilarious. Another highlight of my day!
She said she turned in a young adult novel to her editor that was so terrible that she actually had to call a friend and ask her to "help me fake my death." And when she received the single-space 12 page editorial revision letter, her worst fears were confirmed. She told us to "embrace the suck." That getting it wrong is necessary to getting it right. That writing is freaking scary. We're putting ourselves and our DNA on the page and trust in the reader. And many of our first drafts and the revisions that follow are a form of self protection so that no one sees our raw truth. Our insides opened for the world to dissect, reject and ridicule. But when we're ready to be brave. To face our pain. To write what is intolerable for us to bear. Then we will get it right.
You know what -- she's right.
After Libba's session, I heard from co-authors Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler -- Writing with Humor and Heart. After I got over my initial star-struck shock of knowing I was in the same room as "The Fonz" from the TV sitcom Happy Days, I heard what I needed to hear. Create your own market by writing only what you can know. Writing from your heart. Your experiences. Your understanding. If you do this your emotional center will leap into the eyes of your reader and take them along on your emotional journey.
For me, I really connected when Henry said he and Lin abandon the outline because the book takes on a life of its own. Be open to the journey. Write the truth. And Lin said to vomit up your first draft. Barf it up. There was so much more I could share but that wouldn't be fair. But Henry closed with this, "If I can do it -- you can do it."
I think I can!
I'd like to go on and tell you more, but I'm afraid I've got to get out of my PJ's because there's more fabulous presentations to be heard and break out sessions to attend and I'm already running way behind.
I wish you were here with me but I hope in your absence you find a word or two in this post that inspires you to keep writing.
In closing here is a picture with award winning author/illustrator Paul Zelinsky and me at the autograph party. He is one of the nicest people in the world and I was lucky to be assisting him as he signed his gorgeous books.
Check out SCBWI's blog posts at their official site. You'll get all the highlights there!