Sunday, October 3, 2010

confessions of a children's book lover

Illustrations by Sharon Wagner
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators--SCBWI--Minnesota Annual Conference in St. Paul, MN  October 2, 2010

My first writing conference was...well, it was so nice that I fear I will overuse the words "great!" "wonderful!" and "amazing!"  I will try to rein in the exclamation points, but the conference was a fantastic experience, and I came home excited about writing.  Which is always a good thing.

The day before the conference, I did a search on twitter and found a few people who had tweeted about the conference, and then I took a look at Anne Greenwood Brown's website, and read about her Lake Superior mermaid WIP.  I also have a Lake Superior mermaid manuscript, in a way, so I sent her a message.  We sat together, and she is a delightful person.  I have my fingers crossed for excellent publishing news in her future, and I'm so glad I got a chance to meet her!

Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, gave the keynote speech  about how to sell a book in twelve years or less; he very humorously related his entertaining path of a dozen years, from his very first picture book submission in 1994 to the publication of his first YA novel in 2007.  As I listened, I started thinking back to my own first attempt at publication and realized that I, too, have been submitting writing for twelve years. I, too, have tried to submit picture book manuscripts in that time, and yes...I, too, have vowed to quit writing, have found myself with an idea I was not yet ready--for a multitude of reasons, in my writing and in my life--to write.  At the book signing, I talked with him about my book blogging students having an opportunity to interview him about the process of becoming a writer, as many of them are very interested in writing books.  So exciting!

In a later session, Jay also gave us useful advice about injecting suspense in every book, every story.  What he said was clear, helpful, and again--funny as hell.  The guy is  a PowerPoint Performer.  The notes made me excited to take a look at my Cassandra WIP with a new eye for the role of story structure in the creation of suspense.

Next Heather Alexander, editorial assistant with Dial Books for Young Readers, gave a presentation about the tools editors use to convince their editorial board about a book, and the way the same tools are revised to sell an author's book to bookstores.  She read us a story and allowed us a chance to practice using the tool on a picture book.  It was interesting, and I gained a better perspective on some of the discussions that my editor, Melanie Kroupa, and I have had--especially the conversation we had before she offered on the book, before she presented KISS THE MORNING STAR to her board.

Poet Susan Marie Swanson gave an amazing talk about creating metaphors for our writing, about the value of literature and the joy of children's poetry.  She was full of glowing recommendations for amazing children's poetry and beautiful readings of all her favorites.  I spoke with her about my students and bought the book This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort an anthology of poems created for New York City schoolchildren after 9/11 (hers is titled "Trouble, Fly").  I came away with ideas not only for my teaching, but also for my writing.  Almost everything I've written has poetry in it in some measure, and I'm struggling a little with the poetry in my Cassandra WIP, so I was inspired on a lot of levels. 

The next session was pretty fascinating...Anne Ursu, author of The Cronus Chronicles, a middle grade fantasy series that looks terrific (my blogger students are going to freak out to read The Shadow Thieves) and also a teacher at the MFA in Writing for Children program at Hamline University, spoke with her editor, Jordan Brown, who edits with Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins. 

The two of them talked about the whole process...the way they work together, how they first started, the steps they've taken at each stage, their thoughts along the way.  The presentation was entertaining and very enlightening--I thought they did a  terrific job making the panel move seamlessly forward.  I really liked what they said about how readers can only read what's actually on the page, and how difficult it can be, as an author, to understand that we really didn't transfer the story of our head as neatly onto the page as it might seem to us.  I could relate to that.  :)

Also helpful was the First Pages critiques, where Jordan Brown and Heather Alexander gave critiques to a number of first pages that were sent in by conference attendees.  I imagine this is a tough job--to articulate their thoughts on a single page, on the spot and in front of a crowd, one of whom is the author of the page.  The two of them did a fantastic job giving helpful and specific criticisms to the writing we heard.  I didn't put any pages in because the Cassandra WIP isn't ready for that level of scrutiny just yet.  I sort of forgot about A TANGLED WEB because writing a fantasy book isn't my focus right now, but it was interesting anyway to hear their thoughts on the other people's first pages.

Overall, an amazing day for writer elissa!

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