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This is the final installment of my conference rehash.  If you’ve been following along, you already know what a fun, information-packed event it truly was and why I wanted to break this into several posts.

Sunday was no less info-packed than the previous two days, except by now my eyes are beginning to glaze over from all the amazing art I’ve seen and my brain is verging on overload.

The morning began with two outstanding panels. The first was the AGENT PANEL which included Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency, Deborah Warren of East West, Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt, and Josh Adams of Adams Literary. As always, it is very interesting to hear the agent’s perspective, since their business is as much about devloping an author’s career as it is about selling content. As a group they encouraged authors to think strategically about their careers. (You mean we don’t just do this for fun?) Their advice: ask if each new book is moving your career sideways or elevating it. Ask if a particular project is worth your time and will show you at your best. It doesn’t help to take just any old job that comes your way. They said that a common mistake is not establishing a body of work and that there is a strategy to placing that second title. They also noted that if you are fortunate to publish a book and it sells well, be prepared to deliver year after year with subsequent titles. The time between book releases has become shorter and shorter. When asked what is a reasonable advance, the audience was informed that advances were never intended to cover living expenses. (Okay, this did not make me feel the love.) The goal for all authors now more than ever is to sell as many copies as possible to get to the royalties. They concluded with: think positively, cherish your gift, and remember the joy in what you do. Truer words were never spoken.

The second panel discussed THE DANCE BETWEEN PICTURES AND WORDSand featured the amazing Dan Yaccarino, Jon Klassen, Antoinette Portis, Lee Wardlaw, and Eugene Yelchin. It quickly became obvious to anyone present that as picture books become more visual, the illustrators’ responsibilities grow proportionally. I loved that they reminded us to write for the five -year-old within; we are the first audience. And whenever someone tells you to look for where the rules can be broken, you know you’re listening to a truly creative individual. They also recommended that we layer material in a picture book so that anyone–child-parent-teacher–can get something from the story. Finally they said to shoot for clarity . These were just some of the many gems offered by this pool of talent.

Perhaps one of the best presentations I saw all weekend was delivered by Matthew Kirby who spoke on VOICE. When you consider that voice cannot be taught and can barely be defined, you get aglimpse at the challenging topic Kirby had to tackle, and it is certainly something that has mystified me on more than one occasion. He contended that voice must be cultivated and that it is the intersection between the words you choose and character. It has to be approached indirectly and be derived in an organic manner. If it is forced, then it will come across as inauthentic. (Hey, and isn’t that the last thing anyone of us wants to be–inauthentic? Egads!)  He said since everyone chooses words differently, each person’s voice will  naturally be unique. Takes the pressure off, don’t ya think. His final bit of wisdom? Subscribe to A WORD A DAY.

Every year I look forward to the Golden Kite Luncheon. It is a chance to gather with others and share favorite moments. It is also a chance to hear from some of  the year’s most outstanding authors and illustrators. Awards are presented, cold rolls and pasta are consumed, and then everyone rolls out for the final sessions to be followed by the autograaph party. This year’s  luncheon did not diasappoint, nor did the honorees.

The final keynote was a riveting speech by Gary Schmidt. I had recently listened to his book TROUBLE and loved it. He reminded us that the authors job is to ask the reader, “What ails you?” Then we must ask ourselves, “Does the writing serve?” Above all else we must cherish our children and give them the best we have to offer. And isn’t that what it’s all about–the children.

All in all, this year’s SCBWI conference once again exceeded expectations. I came home re-energized, optimistic about prospects for the market, loaded (not with alcohol) with  ideas for new projects, and anxious to test out strateguies for salvaging old ones. More than anything, though I returned to my office knowing that I am truly fortunate to belong to such a wonderful community of people who dedicate themselves to providing children with only the best in literature. They deserve no less.

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Every year I look forward to the SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) Summer Conference, knowing it will be the highlight of the writing year. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with friends and hopefully meet new ones. Coffee is typically consumed in vast quantities and sleep is a rare commodity. Since I am now the illustrator coordinator for our region, this conference began early for me. At pre-conference meetings, I learned about the SCBWI website revamp. Let me sum up by saying that there are going to be some wonderful improvements, and if you’re reading this and not a member of SCBWI already, you’re missing out. Nowhere else will you be able to find a better resource for children’s book writers.

The main conference began bright and early Friday morning, August 3, with over 1200 in attendance representing 15 countries. It ran over three days with a fourth day of intensives. Although my brain is still downloading much of what I heard, I wanted to share some of my favorite take-aways. So here they are:

ARTHUR LEVINE, Vice President and Publisher of his own imprint, Arthur A Levine Books, led off with the first keynote, and spoke about some of his most memorable books and what in his mind makes them timeless.. He said that a book becomes timeless when the author and reader can share an authentic experience. He cited examples of books that do just that, including Lisa Yee’s MILLICENT MIN GIRL GENIUS, Shawn Tan’s THE ARRIVAL, and HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCEROR’S STONE by J.K. Rowling. He reminded the audience that great writers use anticipation instead of surprise, citing Peggy Rathman’s GOOD NIGHT GORILLA as a brilliant example.

TONY DiTERLIZZI, New York Times Bestselling author and illustrator, took the stage next. He is hilarious, by the way, freely covering the stage and at one point crawling on his knees to imitate a child. His pithy take away for me was that when an illustrator reads a manuscript, they are not reading the words; they are reading instructions.

As usual, it was difficult to choose between all of the notable workshops. I opted to sit in onLISSA PRICE’S talk on how to use screenwriting techniques to make your YA novel better.  Using her new novel STARTERS  as an example, she explained that High-Concept books are often an easier sell. She also stressed that a good logline creates emotion, gives an idea of what the protagonist wants, hints at the obstacles to be faced, and spawns an emotional response, often with irony. All this happens in one sentence! Sounds easy, right? Not so much, as was demostrated by many of the volunteers who offered up their loglines.

Following lunch, PATRICIA MACLACHLAN, best known as the author of SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL and winner of the Newbery Medal, the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award,  entertained us with anecdotes about her grandchildren and how they influence her writing. She said that every concern we have now, we had in preschool. I would only argue that I appreciate naps much more now than I did when I was four. Her advice to writers was to remember that character is plot and all plot emerges out of character.

Earlier this year I read TROUBLE by GARY SCHMIDT and marveled at the way he was able to weave thematic significance throughout the book and to surprise me along the way. I was thrilled to see he was on this year’s faculty and made a b-line to his workshop on Layering a Character. What rung true most for me was when he said that speed is never the friend of the writer; we must embrace the time it takes to create. This prompted a giant “note to self,” since I find it a challenge to let ideas percolate and projects to ripen.  He also emphasized that setting should not be merely a stage; it should be a reflection of the character.

The speeches and workshops of the first day were followed by a social for traditionally published authors, and once again this year I had the pleasure of sitting beside Sue Fliess who had her new book, TONS OF TRUCKS, on display. Her energy, warmth, and generosity are contagious, and I am just grateful that our last names fall one after the other and the organizers saw fit to arrange us all alphabetically.

Me with Sue Fliess, and no, we are not in a brothel. It was just really funky lighting.

Imagine a hundred or more amazing and gifted artists all eager to meet more of the same and you get a glimpse of of the social for illustrators organized by the wonderful Priscilla Burris together with SCBWI board advisors Pat Cummings, David Diaz, and Cecilia Yung.  When it was all over , I collapsed back in my room to catch what I could of the Olympics and consume my daily ration of dark chocolate courtesy of Alexis O’Neil, our regional advisor extraordinaire and my roomie for the conference. By the end of the Day 1, my head was brimming over with ideas for new projects, ways to resurrect abandoned ones, and enough inspiration to last me the year. I realized that like the athletes in London, I would need to pace myself or I was never going to make it to the finish. (Read faculty party here.)

Next Week I will be posting Part Two of my conference takeaways. It will feature more insights from the conference along with some incriminating photos from Saturday Night’s festivities. Stay tuned.

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