Friday, June 28, 2013


            If you looked for Part 3 (day three) of the NJ SCBWI conference on Tuesday, I apologize. My summer schedule may be more erratic, but know that I will eventually get to everything and try not to leave you hanging too long!
            By the time day three arrived, my head was starting to spin from the number of amazing people to listen to and learn from. Lucky for me, day three started with a speech by the amazing debut picture book author Tara Lazar who somehow managed to kick awesome up another notch. If you haven’t read The Monstore yet, stop reading and go find it. During my one on one critique Tara emphasized that good writing isn’t enough in today’s market. It’s all about concept and hooks. Her book is a master class on these.
            Done reading The Monstore?
            Okay, then I’ll continue.

Me and Peter Brown (see my 12x badge!)
            My first workshop was with Charlesbridge Publishing editor, Julie Ham. Julie led us through the
thirteen qualities she uses to evaluate non fiction. And yes, she said she really has a checklist she uses when she reads, and edits. I don’t want to “give away” her talk, but wrapped up in summary the take home lesson for me is to inject personality into nonfiction. The market is done with dry textbook chronologies. Write about something you’re passionate about and let the passion show.

            Agent John Cusick had to fight technological gremlins to get his workshop off the ground. I think there’s a story angle somewhere in the need for so many adapters. Dibs on that. Once he got the power points rolling there was no slowing down! Looking at published works, he took us through a variety of first lines and why he thought they worked. And after he told us what to avoid, he showed first lines that did exactly what he said not to do and became huge classics in literature. For example, the soft opening in Looking for Alaska – “I woke to my alarm.” A no-no turned yes. So what’s a writer to do? Make your first line the best one for your story.
            The editor panel was next. Six editors talked about pet peeves and the industry in general. For poetry writers, they emphasized the importance of linking your poems in a collection that would have a curriculum tie-in. With this tie-in the book has a better chance of being back-listed and becoming an “evergreen” title. All six were looking for multicultural stories (as everyone else in the industry appears to!).

            After lunch, the incredibly brave Lauren Oliver took the stage for her keynote address. She was incredibly brave because the day before she had to cancel her workshops at the conference due to illness. Still, she faced the packed room on Sunday and worked her magic. Her youtube videos are great, but in person she rocks. Having read some of her books (I bought my copy of The Spindler there and hadn’t read it yet!) it was amazing to hear how she fumbled about for direction at the beginning of her writing career, learning craft as she wrote and discarded stories.

            The last thing before I left? Book signings by Lauren Oliver and Peter Brown. The hardest part of the weekend? Leaving the conference center, hoping the inspiration I felt at that moment was part of me now, not to be left behind.
Oh, and I forgot to add that I participated in a pitch session, too. At that moment, I went almost totally tongue tied and had to blabber nonsensically to loosen my voice. I had practiced and practiced, but wow, it went spectacularly bad. The agent at the other side of the table was an angel to me and I appreciate her calm advice.
            So what’s my advice to anyone who stops by to read this? The is an annual conference. GO! Put it on the calendar now. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!


  1. Peter Brown probably gave the same talk as at the Wild Wild Midwest conference I was was one of the best talks I've ever attended! Thanks for the wonderful posts about your conference. :)

    1. We're like conference twins, separated at birth! We need to coordinate and meet somewhere. :)

  2. Great post! Jam packed sessions. Sounds like a blast.

    1. It's definitely a good idea to come well rested so you can take advantage of all the opportunities. One of my friends attended yoga (offered at the conference!)the first day to tune up her mind and body for the big event.