Monday, May 6, 2013

NINJA STUFF: Conference with the Cannibals

How was your weekend, Esteemed Reader? Mine was amazing, though also exhausting. I attended the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Wild Wild Midwest Conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Typically, I like to go to these conferences alone, thereby forcing myself to meet new people and enabling me to have long conversations with faculty without being pulled away (you may recall, it's how I met my agent). So attending the conference with my friends the YA Cannibals was a new experience.

To the left is the first actual picture I've ever posted of myself on this blog. I'm the one in the striped red shirt and thick black glasses (I like to think they make me look like a real writer). I'm taking a bite out of Shannon Alexander in the orange, who's nibbling Jody Sparks (the one in the hat), who's being munched by world-famous author Mike Mullin, and bringing up the rear is the poet Lisa Fipps.

The conference was an amazing presentation and before I say anything else and forget, let me say this: Thank you SCBWI for coming to Indiana and for the myriad of other wonderful things you do for writers. Thank you to all of the amazing authors, editors, literary agents, and other presenters for traveling to Ft. Wayne, Indiana of all places to reach out to our writing community. We love you for it and we hope you'll come back despite our evident hunger for human flesh.

I have 12 pages single-spaced of invaluable notes from presentations at the conference I'll have to read again later to process the wealth of information I absorbed this weekend. Eventually, I'll share more of what I learned here, Esteemed Reader. But after a weekend of non-stop awesome, I'm worn out, so today I'm going to keep it short and sweet.

I almost don't even want to mention the presenters because in my tired state I'll probably forget someone. But I'm now on a first name, might-recognize-each-other-if-we-met-at-an-airport basis with our old friend Kathy Appelt. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak twice and share the story of how she got the idea for The Underneath. She even showed pictures of the actual animals that inspired her characters. And though I've already bugged her with 7 Questions, she answered a few more for me and taught me a new perspective on a couple craft points.

That, in and of itself, more than justified the admission to the conference, but I also got to chat with authors Chris Rylander, Liz Garton, and literary agent Jill Cochran. I was able to shake hands with our old friend literary agent Linda Pratt and personally thank her for being good enough to appear on this blog. She let me know she'd had a continuous response from the site as some of you Esteemed Readers mentioned her interview in your queries  Please keep it up with all the agents so we can get more agents:)

Of great interest to me was panels with the editors, who are so often much more difficult to meet than literary agents (and far harder to get interviews with) as they tend to be less public. I met, in no particular order, Kendra Levin of Viking Children's Books, Shauna Rossano of G.P. Putnam's sons, Frances Gilbert of Doubleday Books for Young Readers at Random House, and Brett Duquette of Sterling Children's Books. I enjoyed meeting all of them and a large section of my notes came from their invaluable presentations. Kendra Levin's presentation gave me many insights into my approach to editing and Shauna Rossano taught me how to view my precious manuscripts as products, which is, after all, what they really are.

I may never again be so amused as when author and presenter extraordinaire Lin Oliver revealed that the founding of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators may or may not have been accompanied by the dropping of copious amounts of acid. That is a fact so stupendous I'm going to keep it my back pocket so I can pull it out and chuckle at it when I find myself taking the business of writing just a tad too seriously. The world of publishing is a fun and fascinating place, which is, after all, why I wanted to be a part of it in the first place.

When I've had some time to recuperate, I'll sort through my notes and share some other insights here as much as I can without plagiarizing presentations. For today, I just wanted to say how grateful I am to be a member of the writing community. I've said it before and I'll say it again: get to a conference, Esteemed Reader. If you want to be a real writer, get to know other real writers and follow their lead.

I learned a tremendous amount just by watching writers present. The reason these writers have come to the conference in the first place is to sell their books and I learned to separate the pros from the amateurs fast by watching how different writers handled themselves. I learned plenty of what to do and some of what not to do and I even saw one author, whose name I shall never reveal, significantly damage his/her career through a disastrous social faux pas in front of some very important people. I felt terror for this writer, but also a bit of the same gratitude I might feel at the person walking ahead of me setting off a booby trap before I walked into it.

If you read this blog regular, you've heard me mock writers who show up to conferences with their friends and talk only to their friends all weekend--why spend the money and leave the house if you're not going to network with new people? But it was quite a treat to walk around the conference with the YA Cannibals and because my friends are also serious writers, they didn't slow me down one bit. Was I still able to line up some extraordinary interviews for us in the coming weeks? Esteemed Reader, you know I would never let such an opportunity pass us by:)

Walking around a writer's conference with Mike Mullin is like walking on a red carpet with a celebrity. Mike was there to attend presentations just like me, but by the end of the day the conference bookstore was carrying copies of Ashfall and Ashen Winter. I could tell when folks recognized Mike as their eyes grew big and they came running up for an autograph. It was gratifying to see my friend who's a great writer getting his due.

And the Ninja was also recognized to a lesser degree--apparently this blog is read by some surprisingly important people I'm honored to have reached:)

More, it was gratifying to spend the weekend with my wonderful friends and see how our local writer's community fits into the larger writing community. As nice as meeting editors, agents, and authors is, it's also a pleasure just to meet other writers and to know we're none of us alone in this epic struggle to produce art (or at least something for which we might one day be paid).

It was an incredible weekend and next conference, Esteemed Reader, I'm hoping to meet you.


  1. So glad you got so much out of the conference. I used to love to go to them with Jody. Sad I missed it and missed seeing you and Jody.

    1. We wish you could've been there also. It would be quite something to shake your hand after all these years. Next time, my friend.

  2. Great picture! I so hope to make it to a conference next year. I'm setting that goal. There are no conferences within my state, and it's still really hard for me (Mom) to get away from four kiddos for an entire weekend. But next year, I'm doing it!

    And your shirt is cool. :)

    1. Not as cool as Mike's. You can't see it, but he has an Ashfall t-shirt a librarian made for him.

      Get somebody to watch the kids and come out. I know it's easier said than done, but it's worth it.

  3. Wow, an actual photo of the ninja! Does this mean your ninja skills are slipping? Not from the sound of things. From the sound of things, you are recruiting many other ninjas to your cause. And I love the new look of your blog, too!

    I'm off to my SCBWI-Oregon conference mid month. I hope it's as fun at the one in Indiana!


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.