Friday, February 16, 2007
the new york city report: part one—the SCBWI conference
“Writers are very private people, who run around naked in public.”—Katherine Paterson
Though it is impossible to condense last weekend into just two weblogs, this is where I’m going to try.
As I look over my notes, at everything we covered, I can’t believe it was just a day-and-a-half conference! We heard from Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising), Ann Brashares (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), Jane Yolen (children’s writer extraordinaire), Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which looks stunning), and Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia). We listened to a panel (with the book buyers for Borders, Barnes&Noble, and others) on what sells, and I attended two smaller sessions with editors from Random House and Little, Brown. There was an art display (because illustrators attended, after all!), book signings, award presentations, a publishers’ exposition…
If I could show you a glimpse of the conference, a peek into all that activity, what would it be?
—The beautiful British accent and charming message from Susan Cooper, as she helped us to understand the ways a writer’s imagination works; how we leapt to a standing ovation when she walked off the stage; how I felt moved and inspired by her words and her attitude
—The huge amount of advice from Mallory Loehr (of Random House Children’s Books) and Jennifer Hunt (of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers); their kindness and encouragement to us as we frantically copied down every word they said
—Brian Selznick’s amazing presentation, which involved bits of movies that inspired him, books that influenced his work, photographs he took in Paris, parts of his latest book, and the story of how he came to write it; my responding conviction that I need to read everything ever written if I’m going to be any good
—Katherine Paterson‘s reading from her most recent book (Bread and Roses, Too), and her description of the process behind Bridge to Terabithia; and how I finally forgave her for writing such a sad book when I heard all that she had to say; her great humor, her warmth, her insight
—Or how it all changed me, how I was startled and motivated by turns, sometimes experiencing a surge of literary energy, other times falling into daydreams and idle writing plans, tired and unable to focus on the latest news about picture books; anxious to go home so that I could revise, read, write. My already-immense reading list expanded after listening to all the advice, and I made a new promise to myself: to write ten times more than I have been writing. (Why is it that I spend more time learning to write—reading books on writing, magazines about writing, market guides—than actually writing?? I came back determined to change this)
—Or would I show you the stuff and substance of it; the glittering hotel ballroom that the thousand of conferees sat in; the speakers taking turns behind the podium; the mediocre coffee that I sought out nonetheless; Jane Yolen’s birthday cakes, which we all shared (after singing to her) at the end of the conference; the swarm of people charging down a broad hallway as we split into breakout groups; the illustrators’ showcase, where Mom and I weaved through a maze of tables, exclaiming over dozens of pictures for children’s books; or the faces of the writers and illustrators around me—some nervous, others bold, tired, shy
—Or how I left with such a sense of rightness, that it was time to go home, time to get back to work, and that this is my work after all. I am still so glad to have this calling, glad that it feels right, even as I keep adjusting my routine, my process, my ideas. I’m still learning how it fits on me, but I am relieved, and surer than ever, that it fits
It was a whirlwind of a weekend, and since returning, I’ve made (surprise!) about five huge lists, corresponding to the notes I took—lists on books to read, revision exercises, journaling topics I need to try, other things I should do to refine my writing process. I’ve typed up my notes, prioritized my to-do list, and those authors’ voices are still ringing in my ears.
I have so much work to do.
I feel like the luckiest girl on earth.—jl