So on Saturday I attended my first ever SCBWI conference. IT WAS AWESOME! No one made fun of my pimples or roots and I even made new friends and learned things! It was so fun to catch up with a lot of my writer buds, whom I haven't seen in a while, not to mention meeting some of my friends who live in my computer for the first time!
Here are some exclamation points! For good measure!
The whole event, as usual, started with TRAVEL DRAMA. I am still a pedestrian, and getting to remote, busless places like Cedar Park is difficult for me. Fortunately, my amazing friend Jessica Lee Anderson offered up the idea of having a sleepover at her house (okay, it was more of a stay-up-all-night-because-we're-too-excited-to-sleep-over, but whatever) where I presented her with A DOG SNUGGIE. Jess is more than an amazing critique partner, but someone I'm lucky to call a BFF. She gave me great advice on what to expect at the conference and a jillion reasons I shouldn't be nervous. PS, if you haven't read her latest book, BORDER CROSSING, get the eff on that. It rocks. Jess recently gave an interview here, btw, which is a must-read.
We got there at the butt-crack of dawn, and it was COLD out! Not Texas cold, but normal people cold. Luckily, the Austin SCBWI croud is WARM and welcoming, so the second we arrived the chill melted away. The muffins helped. One of the first people I saw at breakfast was Shelli Cornelison who I know from YALITCHAT on twitter. She introduced me to Nikki Loftin and a group of lovely ladies at breakfast. Here is a picture of breakfast that I lovingly stole from Jo.
Former editor and current agent Mark McVeigh gave an opening presentation, in which he explained that the publishing industry is not in collapse, but in transition. He gave several arguments for accepting the digital revolution. "There will always be people who want hardcover books," he said, comparing these people to today's vinyl aficionados. He made the point that most people were no longer buying CDs, especially young people. Whenever people talk about ebooks and the digitizing of the publishing industry, my brain goes right to that scene from UGLIES, where Tally discovers the old library in the Smoke and all the paper books and magazines that are unrecognizable relics to her and her peers. I find it terrifying. But, McVeigh is right. "We are all running scared," he said. "Use that fear." He also suggested writing outside our comfort zones as a cure for writer's block: "Rub your muse the wrong way."
Over there is a picture Jo Whittemore took of Brandi November Lyons and, yes, that's me, looking, supposedly "sassy and cute." Okay, Jo. I think it's a little more "half-crazed, early-morning style." But, whatever you say! We were waiting for our critiques in the "holding cell."
I had my first critique of the day with the adorable Sara Lewis Holmes, author of OPERATION YES, which I am so very looking forward to reading. Sara's advice was practical in every way. She had HISTORY, which is my completed YA contemporary, and I have always felt there was something missing in the first few chapters. With Sara's suggestions (and some from Shana Burg, later in the day), I think I know how to make HISTORY a million times stronger than it is now.
Cheryl Klein, editor extraordinaire from Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), was one of my favorite presenters of the day. She gave a lot of wonderful information on picture book writing -- a genre I am just beginning to try. One wonderful bit of advice she gave was that picture books should be centered in a real childhood emotion, like like of power. Delightfully, she added, "You have to get rid of the parents, because parents are like the anti-power." She also introduced us to (Laurie Halse) Anderson's Law: Plot = Compulsion vs. Obstacles.
At this point in the day I had an amazingly helpful critique with local lady P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, author of THE EMERALD TABLET and THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD. It was so nice to sit down with Tricia, as she's someone I often talk to about books and writing, but never really about my books and writing. Since I knew that Tricia loves mythology and sci fi, I sent her pages my unfinished paranormal project, HARKNESS BEACH. The first thing she told me was that she loved the story but the voice felt female. This was so important to hear -- my narrator is a teen guy and I need to make him sound more dudely. Tricia also recommended a few books that she thinks share similar themes and will help me figure out my voice and pacing. Yesterday I started writing some new scenes for HARKNESS BEACH, which I've had a hard time working on lately. This book has a whole new lease on life!
I had a great lunch with Kelly J. Holmes of YAnnabe, founder of the Unsung YA Heroes Project! Funny thing: we found each other twittering during a presentation and made plans to meet up at lunch. Oh, intarnets! I also met the fabulous Tessa Burns, who ended up giving me a ride back into town (thankyouthankyouthankyou) and Lynne Kelly Hoenig, another of my YALITCHAT buds. Guys. Seriously. I cannot express enough how awesome twitter is for connecting with other writers in your community, not to mention writers you wouldn't normally get to talk to. GET ON IT.
Another of my favorite presenters was author Kirby Larson, whose book HATTIE BIG SKY is a Newbery Honor title. She was funny and delightful and full of witty advice. My favorite? She told us we had to "write through the bad stuff." Meaning, life gets in the way of writing. Shit happens, but the only way to get to the other side is to slog through it. She also gave us some great quotes from other folks: "Inspiration is not a gift" from Madeleine L'Engle and "Frustration is a sign of seriousness" from Ralph Keyes.
Around this time I had two more critiques. Chris Barton, Austinite and Sibert Honor author of THE DAY-GLO BROTHERS and the upcoming (can't wait for this!) SHARK VS. TRAIN, took a look at MOON YETI and knew exactly what it needed: a real plot. Ha! Like I said, picture books are new to me. He asked me some import questions about character motives. I have a lot of work to do on MOON YETI, but with Chris' help, it will get there.
Immediately after my critique with Chris, I got to sit down with the amazing Shana Burg, local author of A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS, who always has good writing advice (I loved her presentation at one of the previous SCBWI meetings, during which she shared some marvelous tips on character development). Shana had fabulous advice, and suggested some bold suggestions to the opening of HISTORY. She thinks it should be more spooky, and I totally agree. I'm going to be doing some reworking of this book in the near future before sending out too many more query letters.
Lisa Graff, former editor and author of Texas Bluebonnet List titles THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE and THE UMBRELLA SUMMER (the later of which has been on my TBR list since I first saw it in publisher's catalog) gave a very entertaining talk about how to be a writer and your own editor, and why you shouldn't wear your writer and editor hats at the same time. My favorite tidbit from her presentation? "An author knows what a genius he is, an editor knows you could do better." Basically, as an author, you have to believe that what you are writing as amazing and valuable and world-changing. You have to believe in it, or you'll never get anything done. But when you attack it as an editor, you also have to believe that you have the ability to improve it, and make it the best it can be. At some point Tim's photgrapher caught me furiously scribbling notes and looking out-of-my-mind. I like to call this "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Crazy Person."
At the end of the day we had a short panel with several of the featured local SCBWI authors. My favorite parts? Philip Yates, author of my favorite Christmas picture book, A PIRATE'S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, wrote a poem about getting an agent by name-dropping all the amazing Austin talent. He also confesses that he likes to print out his manuscripts and read them aloud to his cat. And Shana Burg professed that she approaches revisions "like a daredevil...open to any suggestion." She said you have to make painful changes, and, that is one thing I am going to take seriously in my upcoming revision process.
So I've got a lot to do this week. For now I'm focusing on HARKNESS BEACH, but I've always got my crop rotation process to fall back on. It may be time to start revising 1999 (my Y2Kpocalypse novel) in the near future. And of course I have amazing critiques to work with for MOON YETI and HISTORY. I started reading THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner last night, per P.J. Hoover's suggestion, and I'm super intrigued by it. My next post should have some book reviews. In the mean time, I hope you all have a great week, writing, reading, and otherwise!