books aren’t just what we do, they’re who we are


Had a really brilliant time at the SCBWI Western Washington annual conference this past weekend. The chapter put together a truly impressive line-up, organized a phenomenal good time, and did it all with a smile on their faces. Huge props to Sara and Jolie and Jaime and Joni and Laurie and everyone else who worked behind the scenes to pull it all together. Some thoughts:

  • A killer combination punch in Mo Willems’ and Chris Crutcher’s keynote speeches on Saturday. Mo had all of the agents and editors in the room gasping as he told prospective writers not to read (more specifically, to “write”, since people who read are called “readers,” not “writers”) and that the way to get published is simple: BE SUPERLATIVE. I was also deeply impressed and repeated this to a number of people I spoke with — in talking about picture books, Mo said the words and the pictures should neither one of them alone be understandable. Of course, he said it more wittily, but the gist was there.
  • In Sunday’s closing keynote, Arthur Levine of Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, spoke about the cornerstones of good fiction: plot, theme, character, and voice. Any one of them alone might work, but won’t be as memorable as all together working in concert. He compared the book and film versions of the first Harry Potter — the book had plot AND theme AND character AND especially voice, whereas the film manged to tell the story (plot), but without the voice and overarching theme, felt flat.
  • I had the pleasure of participating with Arthur on a “First Pages” panel, where we took turns reading the first pages of attendees’ manuscripts, then commenting on whether we’d read more, why, or why not. What a fantastic way to cover a lot of material very quickly, and give a lot of attendees a chance to have a professional eye look at their work!
  • I also did 12 more detailed manuscript critiques, of 5 pages or less, in ten minute blocks throughout the weekend. Some real possibilities there, as well as a few others I could see working with other people after some editing.
  • Speaking of other people, it was such a pleasure to see friends, colleagues, and people I’d like to get to know better, to call both. Betsy Bird, NYPL Librarian Extraordinaire and blogger, spoke a number of times over the weekend, and it’s my goal to get mentioned in one of her “best of” website reviews. I got a master class in illustration from the vibrant and lovely Laini Taylor, graphic genius Jim Di Bartolo, and S&S Art Director Laurent Linn. I also was able to better get to know my agent colleagues Marcia Wernick, Rosemary Stimola, and Stephen Barbara. I think it’s important for writers to know that we do try to be civil, that it’s not about stealing clients from other agents, and that we’re all aware we have a lot to learn from each other.
  • Regional Writing Groups Rock! I knew this from the Eden Writers Workshop I went to last fall in Utah, but I was reminded this weekend how very strong the regional groups can be — whether that’s because they’re far outside the “traditional” New York publishing community, or just because like finds like, but I was way impressed by the number of published authors, award winners, and aspiring writers in just this one local area.

All in all, it was a brilliant time, and I hope to be invited back! I’m already putting together some thoughts for a new workshop that combines several areas of my expertise, but more on that in the future!
Don't we look like we're having fun?

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