NESCBWI Annual Conference

May 18, 2011

I hadn’t missed my local conference since I started attending writing conferences in 2007, but this year I contemplated not going. I’d been really frustrated with my last couple of conferences, getting very little out of them. It’s only because of my mom (gotta love moms) that I ended up going, and I’m really glad I did! This year was “big”! NESCBWI was celebrating its 25th consecutive conference, and did so in style with a great line up of keynote speakers that included Tomie DePaola, Stephen Mooser, Lin Oliver, Harold Underdown, and Jane Yolen.

Saturday started off with Jane Yolen’s great keynote on rejection. The highlight of the speech for me was that we have to remember that rejection isn’t personal, and that even though we (as writers) have left our heart and soul on the pages we submit, the editor only sees the words and is only rejecting novel, not us. I also picked up a few “writer” acronyms that (I’m not sure how) I didn’t know about! My favorite being BIC or Butt in Chair! Something I need to do more of right now!

I wasn’t too enthusiastic about my Saturday workshops when I signed up for them, but I ended up really liking them. I got some good information and the speakers were very good. I ended up taking two nonfiction workshops: Research Techniques for Nonfiction and Using Photographs in Nonfiction. Both were taught by Loree Griffin Burns (who’s a great speaker) and I walked out of the workshops knowing more than I did going in—that’s the best kind of workshop!

The third workshop I took was by Tami Lewis Brown called Levitate Your Fiction. She talked about seven “magical” tools for levitating your fiction. Note: I can’t list all of them here with explanations because we were asked not to repost presenters’ work without their permission, but I can highlight a few of the points that really spoke to me. The first thing we need to do as writers is find the incredible (the “beyond belief”) element in our novels. It is our job to make the unbelievable element real. We have to ask ourselves what element is “beyond belief” and how we will make it “credible.” If you can convince the reader this element could be nothing but “true,” it will levitate your fiction to the next level. The other point that really stayed with me was that we need to “hire a skeptic.” We need someone to ask the hard questions, create obstacles, and raise doubts. And it doesn’t just have to be your reader; it can be in the form of skeptical character.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we were privileged to hear Lin Oliver, co-founder and Executive Director of the SCBWI, and Stephen Mooser, co-founder and President of SCBWI, speak. I knew nothing about the history of SCBWI and how it was founded. Lin, Stephen and Jane Yolen started the first SCBW, the “I” was added soon after when illustrator Tomie dePaola joined. It really was a treat to hear all four keynote speakers talk about the history of SCBWI.

I also submitted a very rough draft first chapter of Avrina for a critique. I’ve never written science fiction before, and I was hoping just to get some feedback that would help me as I wrote the first draft. My critiquer, Stacy Whitman, is WONDERFUL. I have never had an editor take so much time and put so much effort into 10 pages of mine. She gave me lots of useful feedback that has already given me ideas for how to reshape the first chapter and pull her comments through the entire novel. Sunday I had a two-hour intensive workshop on World Building with her that I really enjoyed. I’m definitely on the right track with my world building, and I have a renewed passion to keep writing Avrina now. This was what I wanted, but had been missing from past conferences—that desire to write! I’m so glad I didn’t skip this year. I’d have missed out big time!


Words of Wisdom

April 18, 2011

I spent my weekend at the 20th annual SCBWI Western Washington conference surrounded by local writers and illustrators and a brilliant faculty.  It was the best conference I’ve ever attended.  Part of that may be because I didn’t have a manuscript consultation so my nerves weren’t on edge.  In fact, I went with a finished rough draft in need of drastic revision, and I got a million new ideas for how to make this story come alive and be what it is intended to be.  But it’s hard for me to cover a whole conference, especially one with five break-out sessions in each of six slots and four keynote addresses.  (And I forgot my camera–the lovely Dawn Simon took photos for me, so check out her blog for the pics I would have here!)

So rather than try to cover everything, I will refer you to our region’s blog, the Chinook Update, with a link on the right-hand column.  Here, I will just give you a list of some words of wisdom that made their way into my head, heart, and notebook:

  • Author Deborah Wiles gave what was, to me, the best. keynote. ever.  I described it later as a “sucker-punch to my soul.”  She said all stories come from three places: what you know, what you feel, and what you can imagine.  She talked about her lists of words and things she loves, houses she’s lived in and people she’s known, and she didn’t shy away from the tough stuff.  Her darkest moments mirrored those of my WIP’s characters and that of a close friend, and when I confessed to being so moved in her book-signing line, she gave me the biggest, warmest hug.  I will remember her generosity always.
  • Author Rosanne Parry talked about the need for characters to not just have funny quirks but deep flaws and struggles–sins, if you will.  Her breakout session,  “Character and the Seven Deadly Sins,” helped me get in touch with some of my characters, two in particular.  She also noted that each sin can be turned around and used for good as well, along with the virtues our characters also hold at their core.  In the major turning points, will our characters’ sins or virtues come out?
  • British book packager Lionel Bender talked about book fairs and exhibitions, noting that they could be valuable opportunities to meet with publishers and get a jump on the newest things being published.  Can’t wait for Seattle to host one of the biggest in 2013!
  • Illustrator Dan Santat shared his struggle to find his own style, noting that it has to come naturally because otherwise it’ll look like you’re trying to find it and you’ll just end up copying everyone else.
  • Illustrator Jesse Joshua Watson mentioned wishing he could go back to his first books and use the skills he has learned since, but said, “You’re only capable of what you’re capable of right now.”
  • Editor Tim Travaglini talked about “high concept” teen fiction, noting that just because it is commercial it can and should still be of high quality.
  • Agent Marietta Zacker encouraged us to find our own authentic voice that kept our audience in mind and trusted them to feel the emotions of our characters for truly memorable stories.

And now it is time for me to get to writing!

Writing Conference Overload

September 28, 2010

I spent last weekend in Tucson with a writer friend. We attended the Society of Southwestern Authors’ 38th Annual Wrangling With Writing Conference. This is my third conference/workshop/writing weekend for 2010 and I’m happy to say I’m done. That’s it for the year.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the conference. I did. But after two full days of workshops, keynote speeches, crowds, and pitch sessions, the brain becomes a bit frazzled. At least mine did. Does. Is.

Anyway, now it’s time to process what I learned. And relearned. The most important thing for me was hearing bestselling author Bob Mayer’s keynote speech, “The Green Beret Approach to Conquering Fear and Succeeding.” It impacted me so much that I bought his book, Warrior Writer: From Writer to Published Author, and have started going through the exercises in it. The book deals with conquering fears, many that we don’t realize we have, and setting goals for your writing career.

I’ve never been good at setting goals for writing, usually because I assume I won’t reach them. (Anyone see the problem?) But now I’m excited about the changes I’ll be making in my career as I set goals and focus on the things that will bring those goals about. First up, getting my submissions in order to send to the agents that I pitched to. Then, writing as if it were my job. (Duh!) And, all the while, allowing my brain to slowly process what happened during the weekend.

Anyone have conference or post-conference experiences you like to share? How do you process what you learn?

For more information on Bob Mayer and his books, check out his website—

NESCBWI 2010 Conference

May 18, 2010

What Jennifer and Emilie learned:


Go read "Everywhere Babies" by Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee

  • Cynthia Leitich Smith is an entertaining speaker and that we should figure out what writing process works for us but allow it to change as needed.
  • Jennifer learned that she needs to finally breakdown and set up a twitter page for Damsels (and a facebook page)—STAY TUNED!
  • Emilie learned that there are a lot of grants, awards and residency opportunities for writers and Kim Ablon Whitney was sweet enough to compile a spread sheet for our convenience.
  • Buffet lunches aren’t always bad…however they are not conducive to LARGE conferences.
  • Allyn Johnston says that the mother of all page turns in a picture book is from page spread 30-31 on to page 32.  She also says don’t send her manuscripts until two months after the conference cause she doesn’t want to get them before the conference is even over, which the Damsels think is sound advice.
  • Final workshop of the day was an agent panel, where at this point Jennifer and Emilie were exhausted, but Jennifer liked Sarah Davis and Emilie fell in love with her British accent.
  • Last workshop is over but the day is not done for Jennifer.  She still had her Editor’s critique with Caroline Abbey from Bloomsbury…it went very well.

And so ends day 1…

Saturday after lunch 😀 We've still got energy at this point!


  • Today Jennifer and Emilie pretended to be nonfiction authors and attended three workshops on writing books and articles for the nonfiction market.
  • We learned that sometimes these two antisocial writers need time away from the crowds to hide in their car after lunch and rest.
  • We also learned that the afternoon of the second day of a conference is very long.

Cynthia Lieitich Smith at the book signing.

Austin SCBWI Conference

February 4, 2010

As a writer, I like to attend at least two conferences a year to keep up-to-date on the publication industry and to make contacts.  My first for 2010–Destination Publication: An Awesome Austin Conference for Writers and Illustrators, hosted by the Austin, Texas, regional chapter of SCBWI.

Held Jan. 29-30, the conference started with an optional Friday night dinner at the historic home near downtown Austin of writers Greg Smith and Cynthia Leitich Smith.  I recommend participating in an event like this, especially if you’re from out-of-town as I was and don’t know many people at the conference.  The social time gave me the opportunity to meet fellow writers and conference faculty, making the following day of speakers and presentations much more enjoyable.

Author Liz Garton Scanlon (left) and illustrator Marla Frazee discuss their picture book ALL THE WORLD.

On Saturday, attendees heard from editors, agents, and writers through presentations and private, previously paid critique sessions.  As with most conferences, there was a wealth of information.  Presenters agreed that the publishing business is an industry in transition and it will take time to see how it all pans out.  Agent Mark McVeigh encouraged the audience not to “fear digital media,” saying that when the price of the Kindle reader drops and kids buy it, the industry will start to change.  Authors will make more money on the books they sell and will sell more books.

The morning keynote by Newbery Honor author of Hattie Big Sky Kirby Larson (a favorite here at The Damsels), kept us all chuckling as she talked of her journey to publication. Especially encouraging to me was the message to keep at it when you have a block or rough patch in your current work-in-progress.  “When I’m feeling really frustrated, I need to stay put,” Larson said.

Other sessions I enjoyed included Arthur Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein’s discussion of books for children and young adults, and former Farrar, Straus & Giroux editor Lisa Graff’s presentation, “Write Like an Author, Revise Like an Editor.”  One of Graff’s points gave me much to think about: “As you read through your story, you should have an emotional reaction to it.”

I learned a lot from illustrator Marla Frazee and author Liz Garton Scanlon as they discussed their collaboration on the 2010 Caldecott Honor winning picture book, All The World.  Since I knew nothing about working on picture books, it was interesting to learn about the decisions an illustrator makes in depicting a story or that an author makes in rewriting stanzas.  All The World is a lovely book.  Check it out.

Finally, local Austin authors reported on their recent successes in publishing.  One of these, Jacqueline Kelly, is the 2010 Newbery Honor winner for her historical novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  The Damsels will devote a week to Kelly and her book in March.  As usual, there will a contest for an autographed copy of Calpurnia.  Don’t miss it!

SCBWI Conference

May 21, 2009

Last Friday, I traveled to the Seattle area to join fellow Damsel Emilie Bishop at the–get ready for super-long title–Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – Western Washington’s 18th Annual Writing and Illustrating for Children Conference. Whew! Now you know why it’s usually called SCBWI.

Newbery Honor award-winning author of HATTIE BIG SKY Kirby Larson (left), Tricia Tighe, and Emilie Bishop

Newbery Honor award-winning author of HATTIE BIG SKY Kirby Larson (left), Tricia Tighe, and Emilie Bishop

About 400 people attended the two-day conference in Redmond, Washington, to participate in sessions led by editors, agents, illustrators, and authors of all types of children’s literature. Among the breakout sessions, my favorite was “Career Management 101” given by Steven Malk, an agent with Writers House. He reminded us it’s important to be patient and that each decision you make impacts your career.

Bestselling author Ellen Hopkins gives her keynote address "Living the Dream."

Bestselling author Ellen Hopkins gives her keynote address "Living the Dream."

I also enjoyed hearing Michael Stearns of Firebrand Literary talk about plot, and Krista Marino, a senior editor at Delacorte Press, discuss what she acquires and why. Over all, Marino said, Delacorte publishes work with strong female voices.

The keynote speeches were entertaining and inspirational. Author Jon Scieszka, who is serving as the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, kept us all laughing as he related tales of growing up with five brothers. Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank and other bestselling young adult novels-in-verse, encouraged attendees through the story of her life and writing journey.

Emilie shows off an umbrella stand outside one of the stores at the Redmond Town Center--an outdoor mall in the Pacific northwest!  We didn't need them, though.  I brought sunny, warm weather with me from El Paso.

Emilie shows off an umbrella stand outside one of the stores at the Redmond Town Center--an outdoor mall in the Pacific northwest! We didn't need them, though. I brought sunny, warm weather with me from El Paso.

Writer’s conferences can be both exhausting and educational. And processing everything you come away with can take time. But if you get the opportunity to attend one, take it!