You are a chilren’s book author and you would looove to dance at the poolside costume party and to mingle three days in a row with publishing industry insiders? Then SCWBI Summer Conference in Los Angeles is definitely something to consider when you plan your next writing getaway! In August 2012 I was blessed to attend it and want to share this experience with you.
I will start by saying that it was my first SCBWI conference. As all newbies I was a little bit nervous – there was no familiar face among 800+ people that attended. However, after a new attendees orientation where we were explained how things “will work” and were encouraged to get acquainted with each other all uneasiness disappeared. We also had a bird sign on our name badge so other attendees were extra attentive with us:)
Besides this, there were plenty opportunities to mingle and make friends with other writers as well as editors/agents. One could get a feedback about his/her manuscript at Peer Group Critiques; enjoy Yoga sessions at the pool of the hotel the conference was at; get books signed and talk with published authors or browse entries in Portfolio showcase; attend Illustrator, International Social, or LGBT Q&A. Being originaly from Ukraine, I naturally couldn’t miss International Social and was blessed to meet colleagues from Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Japan, France, and many other countries. It started three friendships for me with people living so far away, but sharing the same passion – passion for children’s literature!
Me with two Regional Advisers from Southern Breeze Chapter-Heather Montgomery and Jo Kittinger
On the second day The Hippie Hop Poolside party gave everyone a chance to get loose and take part in a Flesh Mob. Everyone danced their feet off in hippie costumes(they even had a contest for the best one!) to the groove of 60’s.
The faculty of the conference consisted of the most knowlegable and successful figures in our field- Arthur Levine, Tony Diterlizzi, Linda Pratt, Jill Corcoran, Matthew Kirby, Krista Marino, Dan Gutman, just to name a few.
Among the keynote speeches I heard, Ruta Sepetys’ “You Can’t Break The Broken: Writing Emotional Truth” was the most inspiring and touching. She told the story behind her novel “Between Shades of Gray”. Her father was a military officer in Lithuania and knew that Stalin was coming for him. He and his wife escaped and made it to a refugee camp before the Soviets got to them. Only in 1949 they made it safely to the US. That was the only piece of information Ruta had about her ancestry. To learn more, one day she flew to Lithuania to meet with some of her father’s relatives. She discovered that when the Soviets came for her father and discovered he had escaped, they took twelve members of their family and deported them to Siberia as a punishment. Only one of them survived. She faced a shocking truth: her family’s freedom in the US was paid for by the relatives left behind. Since then Ruta wanted to write about the experience of her people, Lithuanians, in the Soviet prison system. But she needed to do an in depth research first. In order to experience the brutality of what her relatives had gone through, she went to a Latvian prison for a stimulation-against everyone’s advice! She was beaten and imprisoned there for almost 24 hours. One of her quotes that lingered with me is: “Share the truth behind your fiction so that you can make it better for another human being.”
The workshop that I enjoyed the most was Krista Marino’s “The Importance Of Firsts”(Krista is an Executive Editor at Delacorte Press). We all know that what hooks the reader from the very beginning is that intriguing first line, first page or even first five pages. Krista gave advice on how to make them more appealing. She pointed that the first sentence has to: inspire to question; introduce your main character; give sence of setting; establish voice of the story. She said that common mistakes are: authors start with the weather; they start describing characters who are looking in the mirror; address the readers directly; let their protagonist wake up from a dream. The first page needs to build more tension so the reader will go on asking questions. It should make a hint or introduce the main problem and continue introducing the protagonist. The first page most importantly has to establish the story’s setting, genre and tone. In the first five pages, Krista said, the tone of the book should be kept. There shouldn’t be any changes of POV or dialogue out of space(assign pre-setting and characters). She mentioned that common mistake that she sees is that the authors tend to introduce too many characters at one time and often wander off to tell the back story in the beginning. These tips helped me to rewrite the first page of a novel I was working on.
Bonnie Bader(Editor-in-Chief of Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan) gave an invalubale insight on a niche in publishing market that is quite empty nowadays: transitional readers. She said there are not enough books for kids whose reading levels have advanced beyond easy readers but who are not yet ready for full-length juvenile fiction/nonfiction(kindergarten-2nd grade). These transitional books usually have up to 100 pages of text and large, easy-to-read typefaces. They have corky, memorable characters and simple plot. An example would be “Captain Underpants”.
I will wrap it up with the best writing advice I got from Tony Diterlizzi at the conference (author of “In Search Of Wondla”): “Remind yourself of childhood. Write what a 6-10-12-15(choose necessary) year old YOU would want to read!”
In front of a huge bookshop we had. I got home literally with an extra bag of books:)
Golden Kite Luncheon and Awards.