Lin Oliver (co-founder of SCBWI and master of ceremonies extraordinaire) opened the 2012 SCBWI conference in LA with a tribute to the Olympics. After lighting a torch (match) there was a parade of athletes (faculty members) up to the podium (stage.) Then each faculty took to the microphone with a single word of inspiration . There were lots of great word choices, of course, but none that spoke to they way I felt the entire weekend.
It wasn’t just the big name publishers, although there were lots of those. The first keynote was delivered by Arthur Levine (VP at Scholastic and publisher of his own imprint) who talked about what makes a book timeless:
- They have deep insight into the human condition and connect with the reader on a personal level
- They contain humor that is routed in essential truths and ironies
- They use anticipation rather than suspense
Neal Porter (editorial director of his own imprint at Roaring Book Press) and Laura Goodwin (VP and publisher of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers) joined the editor’s panel in discussing the writer/editor relationship and the difference between critic and editor. Essentially, editing is something that has to be done, by you and by others, in order to make your book really great. This sometimes means putting aside your inner critic and letting go of the ego associated with your work.
It wasn’t just the highly coveted agents, although there were lots of those. In the agent’s panel, they talked about doing your homework, taking your time, polishing your craft, researching COMP books, being aware of sales tracking/book scan numbers, establishing a body of work so agents can see your career path, and determining the best way to spend your time.
The Agents Panel with Lin Oliver (moderator), Jill Corcoran (The Herman Agency), Deborah Warren (East West Literary), Linda Pratt (Wermick & Pratt), and Josh Adams (Adams Literary)
It wasn’t just the magnificently talented illustrators, although there were lots of those. Tony DiTerlizzi (The Spiderwick Chronicles) gave the funniest keynote of the conference with a description of his favorite fictional characters from childhood: Dorothy, Wendy, and Alice who all travel to faraway places and have amazing adventures but really just want to go home. Bryan Collier (Dave the Potter) gave the most moving keynote but I can’t tell you about it because my notes were ruined by tears. Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back) charmed the audience when he spoke about his first book idea which came to him so magically that he’s spent days wandering around his house wearing the same clothes trying to re-create the experience ever since.
It wasn’t just the best-selling, award winning authors, although there were plenty of those as well. There was Patty MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall) who talked about her own childhood experiences and those of her grandchildren to make the point that “the child endures in all things.” There was Dan Gutman (My Weird School) who encouraged the audience to “use your strength and don’t write for everyone.” There was Karen Cushman (The Midwife’s Apprentice) who advised us to “connect the passion and the prose.” There was Clare Vanderpool (Moon Over Manifest) who told us to embrace the chaos and pay attention. There was Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) who shocked the audience sharing her experience at an abandoned Soviet prison where she volunteered to be starved, beaten, and sleep deprived to bring emotional truth to her family’s story of being Lithuanian refugees during the Stalin regime. And there was Gary Schmidt (The Wednesday Wars) who gave the final keynote and lead an amazing intensive on “Your Narrator, Your Point of View, and You.”
Kari-lynn Winters (also picture with me above), Debbie Oh, and Eliza Seanson-Wheeler at the Hippie Hop which featured a flash mob, lots of great costumes, yummy mexican food and dancing at the hotel poolside.
It wasn’t the TV and movie producers there to talk to agents about buying the screen rights to books or the professional baseball players I met in the lobby or even the actors attending because they too want to write for kids… although there were some of those (this was LA, after all.)
It was the sum of all those things. But more than anything it was being surrounded by so many people who are passionate about producing great books for kids. The conference made me want to be a better writer and the faculty members gave me the tools I needed to do so. And above all, inspiration.
Yolanda Ridge is the author of two middle grade novels, Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2012), and recipient of the Martha Weston Grant which allowed her to attend her first international SCBWI conference. Photos courtesy of Debbie Ridpath Ohi, illustrator of I’M BORED.