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This is the second installment to my report on this year’s SCBWI Conference. After tanking up on some java, I was revved and ready to go for what promised to be a jam-packed second day. First up was KAREN CUSHMAN, author of a number of successful historical fiction novels, including , Lucy Whipple, Will Sparrow’s Road, and Newbery award winner The Midwife’s Apprentice. Karen said there are three rules for writing; unfortuntely no one knows what they are, so make your own rules, or better yet, have no rules at all. That may not sound very helpful, but I think the point was that you have to give yourself permission to try something different and then figure out how to make it work. She also suggested that we separate the editor from the critic.

What I took away from the panel of agents that followed was that authors should be open to and have the ability to revise. When asked  by Moderator Lin Oliver what would be the one thing you would tell authors to do, or not do, Neal Porter said, “Please yourself, don’t follow trends.” Elise Howard and Laura Godwin warned against accepting too much advice from others. And Jordan Brown said to be aware of the market so that you can create something new.

Following an inspiring talk by BRYAN COLLIER, author and illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Uptown, I attended a session on Renewal and Revision by EMMA DRYDEN. She coached those present, many of which were well-published authors, to learn how to manage our expectations in a rapidly evolving market. Putting our words out into the social network, doing a sketch a day, changing genre’s, and setting new goals were all methods for reinventing ourselves when the tried and true  no longer works.

CLARE VANDERPOOL spoke on the Power of Quiet for creative pursuits. Her suggestions were to:
1. Make quiet a priority.
2. Look for an opportunity for forced quiet.
3. Limit input.
4. Look for the resting points in a day.

Next up was a high-energy session with CAROL TANZMAN, author of the YA thrillers Circle of Silence and Dancegirl, who offered acting tips for readings. We watched and listened as she used eye contact, constant movement, volume changes, a different inflection for each character, and strategic pauses to enhance  and energize a reading from her book.

Perhaps the most moving presentation of the day came from RUTA SEPETYS, author of the New York Times bestseller “Between Shades of Gray.” I had met Ruta at this year’s ALA convention in Anaheim and was immediately struck by her openness and warmth. She is the perfect example of an SCBWI success story and credits the Work-in-Progress Grant she received plus other support from the organization for her success, but  honestly, it is her passion for her subject matter that makes her writing so moving. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak–do it. You will walk away loving her.

The final presentation of the day was an overview of the current children’s book market by DEBRA HALVERSON. I learned that for the first time in a long while there are signs of improvement. There is more optimism among agents, book sales have risen, and the picture book glut has been corrected.  So what are publishers looking for? Fresh voices and character-driven books that dig deep, but what else is new?

Then it was party, party at the Hippy Hop where revelers surprised SCBWI’s founders Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser with a Flash Mob to the song Aquarius. We all got our groove on and had a great Rumpus of a time, to borrow from Where the Wild Things Are.

Me, Alexis O’Neill, Tina Nichols Coury,
Yuki Yoshino, and Allison Crotzer at the
2012 SCBWI Conference Hippy Hop

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Me with Juliet Marillier, Oh Happy Day!

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a workshop conducted by fantasy writer, Juliet Marillier. She deftly demonstrated how writers can put new skin on the old bones of fairy tales to create completely new tales for almost any genre. I realize this is not exactly a new idea. Heck, as she put it, people have been dumping ideas into the story caldron and dishing out new ideas to serve for hundreds if not thousands of years. But what Ms. Marillier did was more than just hand us a recipe for our writing; she led us to the kitchen and set us loose. In a relatively short amount of time we were brewing up ideas all our own complete with characters, symbolism, themes, and maybe even a touch of magic.

It didn’t hurt, either, that I was also surrounded by a room full of creative and talented writers, or that the workshop took place at the beautiful Santa Barbara Mission, or that Gwen Dandridge, our organizer for the event, did some cooking of her own to provide us with a table full of goodies. There was not a poison apple in sight, just some deadly brownies and muffins and some of the best blood orange marmalade I’ve ever tasted. Best of all I went home ready to hit the keyboard. Now that’s a happy ending!

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This past weekend I had the unbelievable pleasure of participating in the SCBWI Ventura/Santa Barbara Writers Day. It’s an event I always enjoy, but this year was particularly special since I got to share it with my son, Ian, and to meet some amazing people in the field of children’s books.

Rubin Pfeffer, with the East/West Literary Agency, refers to himself as a content agent, and boy does he know his content! He spoke to the audience about the rapidly changing children’s book market, reassuring us that the book was not as endangered as some might have us believe. He also reitterated that this is a time of opportunity and innovation, siting some of the marvelous book apps currently in development. Outside of his session,I spoke to him about copyright protection, and he assured me that publishers are just as concerned and are making more of an effort to thwart piracy.

Diane Browning showed some wonderful images during her spotlight presentation about the development of her book, Signed Abiah Rose. Her selfless committment to family and dedication to her craft is admirable and inspiring.

Catherine Linka, children’s book buyer for the Flintridge Bookstore here in California, gave a wonderful presentation on Dystopian literature and made it clear to all in attendance that we have all enjoyed this genre at one time or another. If you haven’t, you should.

Mary Pearson, author of  The Miles Between and Scribbler of Dreams, followed up with a talk about her book The Adoration of Jenna Fox and how she never set out to write a Dystopian novel. I had the chance to speak with her several times during the weekend, and all I can say is here is one amazing author, a true crafter of stories. Oh, did I mention I just love her books, like really love her books.

Ian and I did a spotlight presentation on our new books, Ogg and Bob Meet Mammoth and Ogg and Bob Life with Mammoth. Despite some initial microphone juggling  it came off better than I could have hoped, and to be there with him speaking to so many friends and collegues was a special occasion I shall never forget. Ian, you Rock!

Sara Lynn, a busy mom, author, and social worker, shared her new picture book Tip Tap Pop, with the audience. Her talk was music to all our ears. Gee, and I thought I was busy!

Andrea Welch, editor at Beach Lane Books, brought us all into her office though wonderful photos and anecdotes. It is remarkable the success Beach Lane has had in such a short period of time. They are producing some truly remarkable books.

Stay Whitman, editorial director of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low, talked about the need for ethnicity in science fiction and fantasy for children and young adults and pointed out that until now most fiction has underrepresented minorities, something she is working to change.

And finally, Candace Ryan, gave a humorous presentation about her new book, Animal House. She is a tinkerer of words with an imagination that knows few bounds.

Special acknowledgement goes to Alexis O’Neill, our regional advisor, who did a yeoman’s job organizing the event. Her high energy and mad organizational skills made the day a huge succcess for all in attendance. Bravo! Can’t wait until next year.

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