Illustration Station, Inspiration Island, Kidlit County

The Main Event: The 2013 SCBWI Winter Conference

This past weekend was the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. It not only marks the one year anniversary of my little blog, but is also one year since all of this book industry madness began for me!

Tomie dePaola honors this year's Tomie dePaola Award recipients. Who knew author/illustrator of one of my favorite children's books (Strega Nona) was so sassy!

Tomie dePaola honors this year’s Tomie dePaola Award recipients. Who knew the author/illustrator of one of my favorite children’s books (Strega Nona) was so sassy!

When I saw the conference schedule was only Saturday and Sunday (aside from optional intensives on Friday), I winced. Why so short?! Then I realized that it had been the same way last year, and, by the time I had made it to lunch on Saturday, I remembered just how compact and dense the little weekend was. Though I couldn’t possibly talk about everything that happened (especially since I need to get back to work), I will share my favorite highlights (for more specifics, you can check out the conference blog!).

Our opening speaker was the delightfully snarky Meg Rosoff (How I Live Now). Her speech was entitled “So When Are You Going to Write a Real Book, You Know, For Adults?” It was brilliant. She is brilliant. And her point was that books written for youth are just as important and hard to make as books written for adults. Meg eloquently told non-believers to sit-n-spin while inspiring an audience of children’s book and YA writers to be proud of their creations, and to go bravely forward against the naysayers with heads held high and middle fingers drawn because we are indeed necessary. She wins the Mike Curato Badass Award. (Ooo, maybe I should make that award a regualr thing on my blog! thoughts?)

arrivalSaturday afternoon, Shaun Tan, one of my long-time graphite-wielding idols, graced us all with his Aussie accent. The title of his speech was “Internal Migrations,” which he explained is “travelling within yourself (your world) for inspiration.” His book The Arrival was a revelation to me. I remember it catching my eye in a bookstore. I had never heard of him before. Flipping through, my jaw slowly dropped, and my little pencil-tipped heart broke in two. I honestly can’t remember everything he said (mostly because I was busy swooning), but here are a few paraphrases I roughly jotted down in my sketchbook:

  • “writing & illustrating is like fighting a sort of blindness/amnesia”
  • “The purpose of storytelling is to remind us of something very ordinary.”
  • “I’m not providing the story…I provide the stage & props. Others tell the story with it.”
  • “The page acts as a mirror.”

That night I attended the Cocktail Gala, saw some old faces and met some new ones. I also attended an LGBTQ publishing social. Basically the message was that there are publishers out there looking for more queer-youth focused books, and we need to make them. It sparked a little fire in me, because I do happen to have a little seedling of a story. Hmmmm…

Sunday heralded this year’s new portfolio winners. The Grand Prize went to Andrea Offerman, who I had the pleasure of meeting the night prior. Lucky Andrea won a plane ticket from her native Germany back to New York to meet with 3 art directors. Sweet deal! Honor Awards went to Lori Nichols (such a sweetheart!) and Jessixa Bagley (whose characters I just want to squeeze and love forever).

Andrea

from “The Boneshaker” by Kate Milford, Clarion Books © Andrea Offermann 2010

Lori

Lori Nichols

Jessixa Bagely

Jessixa Bagely

Later that morning, I was a spoon full of sugar’s distance from Mary Freaking Poppins herself (ok, more like 3 yards). STILL. This was amazing, not only because it was totally messing with my senses of dimension and reality, but because I instantaneously one-upped all of my gay friends who go to the annual Mary Poppins Sing-a-long at Cinerama and now out-rank them in supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ness. Go fly a kite, girls.

I was so intoxicated by he practical perfection that I think I was seeing double!

I was so intoxicated by her practical perfection that I think I was seeing double!

Moving along…Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, talked about “The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Writing a Series.” Though the whole thing was a bit scripted, that was easily forgivable. I have seen them talk about their book writing relationship on morning shows, so I knew they’ve done this gig before. However, I think there was an added warmth this time because their audience consisted of people who “got it.” They’ve put out something like 30 titles together, including their series’ Dumpy the Dump Truck and The Very Fairy Princess. Their recipe for a strong series are as follows:

  • character
  • consistency
  • flexibility
  • surprise
  • satisfaction
  • perspective
  • service/mission (why are you doing this?)

And as an added bonus, they shared the secret of life, which is “Love what you do.” CHECK!!!

I don't remember what exactly was going on here, but who cares! Man yelling with shoe in hand is classic comedy.

I don’t remember what exactly was going on here, but who cares! Man yelling with shoe in hand is classic comedy.

I’m sure you would feel sorry for whoever had to follow that act and close the conference, but the quick-witted Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie) was more than up to the task. He offered us some guidelines in his speech “How to Write in 4 Easy Steps, 4 Kinda Harder Steps, and 1 Pretty Much Impossible Step,” which I’ll just let you click on  to read. My favorite quote was:

“Childhood sucks. Your [book’s] job is to be some child’s best friend. You could be their only friend.”

Here are some non-program related highlights:

I am in the thick of finishing book 1, and my confidence has been wary of late. I think the greatest take away I had was “I CAN DO THIS!” A great big thank you for that to SCBWI, all of the speakers, and all the awesome-possum writers and illustrators I met this weekend.

Post-conference Korean BBQ with some new and old SCBWI peeps.

Post-conference Korean BBQ with some new and old SCBWI peeps.

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