Loads of fun things happened to me in November and December, 2012. I wanted to share the experience with all of you, but since I took a blogging break in December, I’m going to play catch up now.
One of the highlights of those two months was getting to meet one of my favorite fantasy authors. I was absolutely thrilled to meet pink-haired writing goddess Laini Taylor when she visited the Santa Monica Library last November 15th, 2012.
With YA Fantasy Author Laini Taylor (DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE)
Laini sat down for an interview with resident librarian Robert Graves, who wore a pink shirt to match Laini’s hair.
Laini Taylor being interviewed by Robert Graves
Robert asked a lot of good questions before opening the floor up to Laini’s fans. I learned a lot about Laini and her bestselling series DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE that day.
* Laini was working on a different story, which she kept on trying to write it even if she was miserable. One day she gave herself permission to write something for fun—and the idea of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE was born.
*Unlike other authors, Laini prefers silence to music when she’s writing. She used to go to a café, where she would wear noise-cancelling earphones as she wrote her novel.
*For Laini, cadence and flow of the language is very important. She makes sure to read her work aloud.
*Asked where she would go, if the portals in her story were real, Laini answered: “Hogwarts. I would go back to school if I could go to Hogwarts.”
*Some of Laini’s favorite books includes Robin Hobb’s THE LIFESHIP TRADERS, Philip Pullman’s THE GOLDEN COMPASS and the SABRIEL books by Garth Nix.
*If she could cast a male actor to portray Akiva in a movie, she would choose Ryan Gosling.
Laini also has a lot of good advice for aspiring authors:
*Keep an idea notebook. You may not use the ideas you have now for your current novel, but you may be able to use it in your future books. Some of the scenes from DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE were born from ideas Laini had written years ago in her idea notebook.
*In your idea notebook, write down things you discover/read that are fun and interesting. Things that you might want to put in your own book someday.
*Take two words to rub together to create a new idea.
*Write whole pages of the things that spark your mind, things that fascinate you.
*Write the book that does that to you, fascinates you and sparks your mind. Find something that speaks to you.
Laini was not only generous with tips and advice. She also came prepared with a lot of giveaways. I was one number away from winning one of the two big prizes. Two lucky gals won custom made Daughter of Smoke and Bone inspired necklaces. Other lucky audience members got goody bags.
The best part of the whole afternoon was meeting Laini in person and telling her about how much I love her writing. Laini’s writing style is just so lyrical and descriptive. I’ve been a big fan of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE since I first listened to the audiobook version.
It was an awesome event, and I’m so glad my boss let me leave work early so I could attend. I only wish I had remembered to bring a camera so I could’ve taken better pictures of Laini’s event. As it is, I had to make do with the camera on my phone.
I do hope she comes back to L.A. I’ll be sure to bring my nice camera then :)
On September 22, 2012, YA Author Gretchen McNeil launched her newest book, TEN.
Not one to miss out on local book signings and a chance to support awesome authors, I made time to attend.
After being introduced by Mysterious Galaxy’s bookstore manager, Gretchen kickstarted her launch by telling us a little bit about herself.
Gretchen has had training in Opera, and currently sings with the L.A. based Cirque Berserk circus troupe. We got to hear a sample of her powerful soprano when she played her book trailer for us.
Gretchen and the Audience watching the Book Trailer for TEN
Gretchen described the story in three amazing lines, before reading an excerpt from it.
Gretchen reading an excerpt from TEN
Gretchen absolutely killed that reading. This comes as no surprise, since she actually does voice overs (She’s the voice of Mary on G4′s Code Monkeys).
Gretchen explained that TEN was a homage to her favorite Author Agatha Christie, and inspired by the latter’s book AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Although the basic setup of the books are similar, the stories in themselves are very different.
The audience listening in rapt attention
Gretchen talked about the challenges of having to constantly ratchet up the tension. She grew up reading gothic works by authors like Poe, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, and her love for scary stories has certainly helped her maintain the creepy vibe and the suspense in each scene.
She admitted to being a huge fan of Christopher Pike’s novels. REMEMBER ME, being one of her all time favorites. Gretchen said that she was reeling for days, when she received an email from The Man himself. She thought it was some kind of trick at first, since the email addy was an old one–way back from when AOL was first starting out. When she opened the email however, she got the surprise of her life: Christopher Pike had read her novel and had agreed to write a blurb for her book.
YA Author Gretchen McNeil
Gretchen opened the floor to questions. One of the audience members asked if she was working on a new story. Gretchen said she was working on 3:59, a sci fi horror novel about parallel dimension. She pitched it as Sliding Doors meets Event Horizon.
I’ll definitely be on the look out for that book!
After the Q & A, Gretchen gave away some goody bags, and signed copies of her books.We were also treated to some yummy rolls and delicious TEN inspired – Red Velvet Cupcakes.
Gretchen’s TEN inspired giveaways
While waiting in line I got to chat with a fellow blogger, whose name I instantly recognized from her Twitter account. (Yes, I’m talking about you Senator!) We had fun talking about our blogs, exchanging book recommendations and authors we adored.
When my turn came, I congratulated Gretchen on her latest book and posed for a picture. (Thanks, Lena for taking my picture!)
Myself with YA Author Gretchen McNeil, photo by Lena Chen
It was another successful book launch. I enjoyed celebrating Gretchen and her newest book, and also loved that I got to randomly meet a fellow book lover and blogger in person.
I woke up bleary-eyed on the last day of our retreat. I had stayed up late revising my first page and helping my friends with theirs. It was fun, though. I felt like I was in college again cramming for a group report or paper the next day.
I wasn’t the only one who was half-awake. Some of the attendees had spent a late night too—either revising or singing their hearts off at the karaoke session.
The warm breakfast perked us up and soon after, we returned to our rooms to do some last minute packing and to load our things into the car before the First Pages Reading.
Lee and Sarah, our ever-ready organizers, gave us a few reminders and words of encouragement. And right before we began, Lynette, our Stretch Coach, helped us relax our tense muscles. After a minute of stretching, I felt relatively calmer.
The First Pages Reading is a little like American Idol for Writers. A panel of acquiring agents—and editor—sat in front of the room, listening to us read our first pages and giving us some helpful comments after.
Our teachers for the weekend, Agents Jill Corcoran and Abigail Samoun, and Editor Heather Alexander were on the panel. The organizers had also invited Agent Jennifer Rofe of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency as our special guest panelist.
First Pages Reading Panel of Acquiring Agents/Editor
All 40 participants had 3 minutes each. We would read for a minute and half, and listen to the panel’s feedback for the rest of the time.
Lee volunteered to go first so he could show us all that there was nothing to fear, and so he could keep the timer for the rest of us.
It was nerve-wracking affair, especially for those who were experiencing the first pages reading for the first time. But everyone was very supportive and took every opportunity to say “awww” or laugh at the right moments.
First Pages Reading
Our group went third, and even though I had done this before I still felt very nervous as I stood behind the podium. I snuck a glance at the audience and saw some encouraging smiles and a few nervous ones. Knowing we were all in this together made me feel a little better.
I read my 250 words as clearly and loudly as I could, and listened as the panel gave their comments. One agent said there seemed to be too many ideas on one page, but they generally liked the concept for my story. The paragraph about blood calling out to blood peaked their interest in particular. I made note of all their comments, thanked them and walked back to my seat, breathing a huge sigh of relief.
First Pages Reading
I was so glad to have gone earlier on. Now I could sit back and enjoy everyone else’s stories.
After the last person had gone up, cheers and a round of applause erupted throughout the room. We clapped for each other and the panel, and breathed huge sighs of relief.
A round of relieved applause
Sarah and Lee made sure we ended the retreat on a high note. Prizes for a drawing were given away. Lucky participants took home discount coupons for other SCBWI events, a bottle of wine and even a free manuscript critique from the famed writing duo of Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon.
Heather Alexander, Editor at Dial Books gave us more reasons to rejoice. She added upcoming titles from Dial Books to our giveaway pile.
Editor Heather Alexander gives away Dial Books
We left the Retreat with a page full of revision notes, business cards from our new friends and memories to last us a lifetime.
This year I volunteered to help out with the retreat, so although registration started at noon, I decided to leave early. My friend Lucy carpooled with me and we arrived in Encino at around 10:30 AM. The traffic wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, so it gave us time to relax and scope out the place.
Sarah and Marilyn arrived half an hour later, and Lucy and I helped them unload their cars and set up each room for the retreat.
Attendees soon began to trickle in. They got their keys from Marilyn at the Registration desk and went to get settled in their own rooms.
Holy Spirit Retreat Center rooms, Encino, CA
The writing retreat officially started at around 1. Sarah and Lee, SCBWI-L.A. Regional Advisers and super organizers, went through the schedule with us. They’d thoughtfully printed out copies of our individual schedules and placed it in our I.D.’s.
Sarah and Lee showing us the schedule print out
They also encouraged us to set our goals for the weekend. Once we had written them down, they introduced our esteemed faculty members.
Attendees setting down their goals for the weekend
Our teachers for the weekend included two agents, one editor and two prolific authors. They each introduced themselves and gave us tips on how to revise our manuscripts.
Aside from giving us revision and editing techniques, the faculty also discussed plot and voice at length. They also explained what they look for in the books they read.
Here are some of the tips they shared with us:
Agent Jill Corcoran, Herman Literary Agency
* If I read a manuscript, and keep on reading long into the night. Or if I wake up in the morning, and I still remember the story I read, I know it’s a god one.
* There are three types of voices: writing voice, manuscript voice, and character voice.
* You, as an author, choose the writing and character voice. You can select different combinations of voice to use–dark and funny, sad and funny, etc
Agent Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary Agency
* I usually can tell in the first two sentences if a story’s going to work. I look for an intriguing opening paragraph and a character that I want to be with.
* Narrative voice can be very important. The story has to be pleasing to read, respective of language, and pleasing to read.
* Plot can be tricky and intimidating. A story needs to have tension. To add tension to your story, be your hero’s worst enemy. Figure out how you can be mean to your protagonist, and how you can get them into more trouble.
Editor Heather Alexander, Dial Books
* Plot, character, world–these are things your story is describing. These are the things that make your book as a whole.
* Look through ever sentence, and ask if they’re developing plot, character or world. If not they’re not, change it.
*Each paragraph should be a balance of at least two of these elements, if not all three.
* Voice can trump everything sometimes.
* Opening sentences can say a lot about the world. Don’t ever start with the character waking up.
Judy Enderle, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)
* Author’s voice refers to the way you put your words together–your word choice and the flow of words
* Character’s voice is the way your character expresses herself or her background
* Be aware of what your writing style is. Maybe repetition is a particular character’s tag line.
Stephanie Gordon, author of many children’s books (Picture Books to Young Adult)
* You have to fine tune your manuscripts before you query. Comb through your manuscripts and look for Redundancies (ex. pointy thorns) and be aware of using too many verbs or adjectives (ex. The ogre snarled and sounded angry)
The Faculty Panel
As in last year’s retreat, the attendees were divided into two major groups: The Best Sellers and the Award Winners. I was part of the Award Winners group this year, which meant that immediately after our panel on revision, I had to proceed to our assigned room for the first critique session.
There were four of us in the group and we were all fairly nervous since our first session was with Agent Jill Corcoran. Jill gave us some tough love and helped us see what we needed to improve in our first chapters. I made notes of Jill’s suggestions and mulled over the revisions I needed to make during the hour long break after our first session.
The retreat center’s bell rang at 5:30, announcing the start of dinner. I waited for my roomie EJ, since we had to share one key for our room (normally we get two, but the previous participant forgot to return the key). We discussed how our first sessions went as we headed to the dining hall.
I had just enough time to brush my teeth and grab my things for the next critique session with agent Abigail Samoun. I read chapter two for Abigail, and was lucky because she remembered my story from last March, when I had opted for a chapter 1 critique at the OC Agent’s Day. She asked me a lot of good questions regarding the story, and gave me some tips to lift the chapter to a higher level.
The hour long critique passed quickly enough, but Day 1 of the Writing Retreat was far from over. I had an hour to revise or relax in the room, while my roomie EJ was out for her critique session. I opted to spend the time unpacking and taking notes.
At 9 PM, Fitness guru Lynette began the much needed Stretching session. She taught us several stretching exercises which we could do on our own, after long hours of sitting and writing.
Stretching with Lynette
The stretching certainly helped us release the tension we’d been holding the whole day. We headed back to the main Lakeside Hall for the Wine and Cheese Social, for a much needed “winding/ wining down” session.
Claudia, Judy and Edie enjoying some wine at the end of the day
A variety of cheeses and crackers were provided for us to sample, along with bottles of wine and sparkling cider (for those who don’t want to drink).
Cheese platter at the Wine & Cheese Social
The social was a great way to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. It was also a fitting way to end the long day of writing.
The retreat was exhausting, fun, and memorable. I made a lot of new friends, caught up with old ones and learned so much from the stellar faculty we had. Aside from taking lots of notes from the panel talks and critique sessions, I also took tons of pictures of every event.
When I first attended the Working Writer’s Retreat three years ago, I forced my nostalgia and love of pictures on my patient classmates, and asked to be the unofficial photographer for the event. Everybody loved the pictures and the practice soon stuck.
On this, the third year of my retreat photography, Regional Advisers and awesome retreat organizers Lee Wind and Sarah Laurenson officially made me the retreat’s photographer in residence.
I’m not a professional (not even an amateur, really), but I do love taking pictures. I hope to one day take actual photography lessons and improve my skills. But for now, these fun pictures will have to do.
Authors Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone) and Jennifer Bosworth (Struck) discussed common mistakes made by first-time authors and the things they wish they’d done differently on the road to publication.
The topics they touched on included: how to build a better first draft, balancing critique and community with the integrity of personal voice, researching and approaching agents, what writers need to expect when they”re on submission, and how to evaluate their publishing deals.
They also shed light on what happens after the sale and discussed what writers may want to know as theywork with editors and publicists to polish and promote their books.
Speakers Bio (from their websites):
YA Author Leigh Bardugo (Shadow & Bone)
Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she live sin Hollywood, where she indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as make up artist L.B. Benson. Occasionally, she can be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.
Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone (Holt Children’s/Macmillan), is a New York Times Bestseller and the first book in the Grisha Trilogy. Book 2, Siege and Storm, will be published in 2013. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of New Leaf.
Jennifer Bosworth was born in Price, Utah, a small, coal-mining town in the desert. As a kid, her favorite thing to do was roam alone through the barren hills and tell herself stories. As an adult, she continues to do the same thing, only now she’s roaming the streets of Los Angeles, her favorite city in the world.
Jennifer attended college at the University of Utah, where she later taught continuing education classes on writing horror, fantasy, and science fiction.
Struck (FSG/Macmillan) is Jennifer’s first published novel. She is represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Jennifer is the writer half of the writer/director team with her husband, Ryan Bosworth.
The speakers prepared a wonderful presentation, full of information that would help beginning writers get started on their writing careers. They even prepared a handout so members could easily follow the workshop.
Speaker Jennifer Bosworth explaining the handouts
The authors were generous in the information they shared, and despite the presence of handouts, the workshop attendees found themselves furiously scribbling pages upon pages of notes.
Speaker Leigh Bardugo giving tips on how to create an exciting middle in one’s novel
Authors Jennifer and Leigh emphasized the importance of understanding your story idea, and considering the audience you wish to write for.
They also stated the importance of being able to sum up your story in one sentence. They discussed the value of loglines, and the difference between high concept loglines and and regular loglines.
Attendees volunteered their loglines. The speakers helped them figure out if their loglines contained high concept ideas, and even helped them improve and strengthen their one sentence summaries.
The speakers also explained the ingredients of a proper logline: character + conflict + hook. Not all stories need to be high concept, but they should always have some kind of hook.
Leigh and Jennifer listening to an audience member’s question
Leigh and Jennifer gave the following questions writers need to ask, when Crafting their logline:
Who is your main character?
What does your MC want?
Why does your MC want it?
What’s the catch? What stands in the MC’s way?
What sets the MC’s journey in motion?
What makes this story unique? What’s the hook?
After helping the attendees with their loglines, the speakers discussed the two kinds of writing: Plotting and Pantsing, and the pros and cons between the two.
Jennifer and Leigh are polar opposites in their writing styles, and they were perfect examples of how different plotters are from pantsers.
Leigh is a plotter and admitted that she would not be able to sit down and write without some semblance of an outline. The wonderful benefit of being a plotter, is that the revisions are less painful because you already know the structure of your story. One of the cons of plotting, however, is that there is no perfect plan, and sometimes too much research can bog a writer down.
Jennifer is a pantser and loves the process of discovery and of surprising herself. One of the downsides she mentioned was that without an outline, it was easy for her to get lost in the story.
On Getting Feedback
Jennifer and Leigh warned writers about submitting a manuscript without getting feedback for it first:
*An agent or editor should never be the first person to see your manuscript
They explained the different ways of getting feedback, such as attending a critique group or going to workshops and conferences that offer manuscript critique.
They gave the following tips for making the most of your feedback:
Listen. Don’t argue. Give the critique a chance to settle in before revising
Beware critique overload – there is such a thing as having too many betas
Red flags: betas who don’t like your genre; nitpickers; the beta ego
Stack the deck: Tell betas what you need, keep readers in reserve.
Audience members eagerly listened as the two speakers talked about the process of finding the right agent.
The speakers had very different experiences in getting their agents.
Leigh got her agent through the usual process of querying, and she gave the attendees some great tips for writing their query letters:
• Keep it short: One page, roughly 3 short paragraphs
• Put the hook up front: What makes your story different?
• Do your research and personalize your queries (Why this agent?)
• Query in small batches so that you can adapt to feedback
Jennifer, on the other hand, got her agent by pitching in person. She and Leigh even did a demonstration on how a pitchfest usually works. Jennifer gave the following helpful tips for pitching in person:
•Be excited about your book!
•Speak for 1 minute and then let the agent/editor ask questions
•Use time wisely. If agent/editor is not interested, use remaining time to ask for his/her opinion or advice
The speakers also discussed what writers should do when they do get The Call. They cautioned writers against saying “yes” right away, likening the process of choosing an agent to marriage.
They gave a list of some helpful questions to ask an agent before deciding on who to pick:
• How many authors do you represent?
• What kind of revisions do you have in mind for the book?
• How wide would you go with the book?
• How and how often do you like to correspond with your clients?
• How involved are you with social media and marketing of your clients?
• Do you have clients I could speak to?
• If the book doesn’t sell right away, what would be your approach?
In the final part of the workshop, the speakers discussed what happens once an author signs a contract with a publisher.
There are a lot of things to consider when signing a publishing contract: foreign rights, , royalties, bonuses, marketing plans. An agent can help an author handle all of these things.
Leigh also weighed in on the subject of writing a series. If you’re planning to write a series, don’t write the second book until the first one sells. If the publisher offers to buy your book as a series, be ready with a synopsis for the succeeding books.
The speakers also explained that the submissions process takes anywhere from 1-2 years. Agents have to find the right editor, and these editors also have to find a way to sell the author’s book to the whole publishing company. It’s important that the author stay busy during this submissions phase. While they’re waiting for the editor’s notes, they should be writing the next book, or working on a promotion strategy for their books.
Jennifer and Leigh ended their workshop by inviting audience members to take a piece of paper and write down their writing goals. The attendees wrote down their goals and slipped the paper into the SASE’s they had brought.
The authors promised to mail these letters off in a few months, as a reminder to the attendees about the writing promises they had made to themselves.
Leigh and Jennifer were gracious, generous, knowledgeable (and funny!) speakers and we were very, very lucky to have them indeed!
CBW-LA Officers with Authors/Speakers Leigh Bardugo & Jennifer Bosworth, photo by Maiko
Despite the late night partying Saturday night, almost everyone turned up bright and early for Sunday’s first event: the agent’s panel.
Moderator Lin Oliver, and agents Jill Corcoran, Deborah Warren, Linda Pratt and Josh Adams
Moderated by Lin Oliver, the agents in the panel included Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency, Deborah Warren of East West Agency, Linda Pratt of Wernick & Pratt Agency and Josh Adams, of Adams Literary Agency.
Each agent introduced himself/herself, mentioning not only what their agencies are about, but also what kind of manuscripts they’re interested in.
Jill Corcoran ran her own marketing company before becoming an agent for the Herman Agency. She represents everything from picture books to YA novels.
Deborah Warren started the East West Literary Agency ten years ago. She’s always on the lookout for debut talent and has a particular love for picture books.
Linda Pratt and her colleague Marcia Wernick, began the Wernick & Pratt Agency last year. Although she represents everything from picture books to YA, she has a sweet spot for middle grade.
Josh Adam and his wife Tracey Adams founded the Adams Literary Agency. Adams Literary is a boutique agency dedicated solely to children’s and YA books. They are looking to represent authors, not books, and so are always highly selective of who they represent. They love to find books they’re passionate about.
Memorable Quotes from the Agents Panel:
* Josh Adams: You can expect money, but don’t do it for the money. You can expect to earn anywhere from a year’s living expenses to seven figures.
* Linda Pratt: You can earn money, when you’re dead, too.
* Jill Corcoran: The advance is only the beginning. Some people self-publish and put their books out there for $2.99. That’s what people think books are worth. Think hard before you do that.
Advice to writers:
* Jill Corcoran: Get a fantastic concept, write a great book. Find an agent who really believes in you. Be positive. Think positively,you will have a lot more success. Be professional, don’t make mistakes online. Don’t badmouth people, or be vicious. Whatever you put on your blogs will stay there forever. I would’ve signed three clients except for their online behavior.
* Deborah Warren: Cherish your gift. Respect the gift you give to children. When publication comes, that’s icing on the cake, but the cake is good nonetheless.
* Linda Pratt: Persevere, be flexible. Always remember the joy in your work. Don’t get stuck on your first book. Finish it, polish it, but move on to the next project.
* Josh Adams: Love what you do. Confidence. Discipline. Perseverance. Don’t give up. Go after your goals, and just keep working.
Picture Book Panel
The picture book panel moderated by Dan Yaccarino included picture book authors Eugene Yelchin, Antoinette Portis, Lee Wardlow and Jon Klassen.
I missed this session in favor of some much needed sustenance. Luckily, the awesome SCBWI bloggers wrote great summaries from each of the panelists perspective:
Workshop 1: Deborah Halverson “How to Talk Like a Teen When You’re So Not One”
Deborah Halverson’s workshop was one of my favorites this year. She packed her presentation with so much helpful information, that I ended up with five pages worth of notes.
Deborah Halverson was an editor at Harcourt before she crossed to the other side and became an author herself. She wrote Big Mouth and Honk if You Hate Me, and one of my favorite writing books: Writing YA Fiction for Dummies.
Deborah Halverson’s Memorable Quotes:
* Dialogue must entertain, intrigue and inform readers.
* Dialogue has three roles: Revealing things about characters and plot, Pushing the plot forward, and Convincing the readers that the lines sound like a real person talking.
* Strong dialogue is realistic, not real.
* There are techniques to making believable tween/teen dialogue: blurt things, choose simple words, lighten up, make the conversation about the speaker and exaggerate.
* Relax your grammar, embrace casual syntax, even throw in some bad grammar, as long as you keep your meaning clear.
Golden Kite Luncheon
After the morning workshop, we headed back to the main ballroom for the Golden Kite Luncheon.
The ballroom had been transformed from main conference hall to a dining hall within the hour. After we found some seats, we all settled in for a wonderful lunch and the SCBWI annual awards.
Mentorship Winners as well as the winners of the Portfolio contest were announced. The fabulous SCBWI blog has a breakdown of the winners below:
Workshop 2: Tracy Barrett “The Ten Commandments of Writing Historical Fiction”
After the wonderful luncheon and awards ceremony, we all broke away from the main ballroom and headed to our respective workshop rooms.
I was interested in learning how to write historical fiction, so I attended Tracy Barrett’s session. Tracy Barrett wrote the Sherlock Files series and Dark of the Moon. She gave us a helpful handout, listing all the ten most important tips for writing historical fiction.
Tracy Barrett’s Most Memorable Quotes:
* When writing historical fiction, don’t provide uncommon knowledge.
* Verify the facts, especially when they’re fun.
* All the things you know about fiction are also true for historical fiction.
* When you’re doing research, you’ll always find more stuff than you can use. Keep them.
Keynote: Gary Schmidt “That Kid in the Back Row, the One with the Red Shirt”
Newbery award winner Gary Schmidt is the author of Lizzie Bright and Buckminster Boy. He was the last keynote speaker for the conference, and his talk was both funny and inspiring.
Gary Schmidt’s Memorable Quotes:
* Border collies can teach you a lot about herding–and life. They teach you to pay attention to everything.
* In middle school, all of the Jewish kids and the kids with religion were excused from this particular class, to attend their own religion based classes. I was the only one without religion, so I was left behind. My teacher didn’t know what to do with me so she made gave me the Complete Works of William Shakespeare and asked me to read it. We never discussed what I read, or talked about it, but I enjoyed reading Shakespeare.
* Write poems and stories that will give your readers more to be human with.
SCBWI Autograph Party
One of the highlights of the SCBWI Summer Conference was getting to talk to some of my favorite authors during the Conference Autograph Session.
My new friend Monika and I agreed to help each other out during the autograph session. I took her pictures with her favorite authors, and she took mine. Thanks to her, I have some wonderful photos to remember the autograph party by.
Here are some of the authors I got to chat with:
With Sara Shepard, author of Pretty Little Liars
With Matthew Kirby, author of The Clockwork Three
With Linda Sue Park, author of A Single Shard
With Pamela Wells, author of The Heartbreakers
With Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why
With Chris Rylander, author of The Fourth Stall
With Dan Santat, author and illustrator of Sidekicks
With Tracy Barrett, author of the Sherlock Files Series
And last, but certainly not the least, the man with the longest autograph line ever:
With Tony DiTerlizzi, author of Wondla and Illustrator of the Spiderwick Chronicles
After the awesome autograph party, I headed upstairs to the lobby for the Kidlit hangout session. Monika and I got there early so we started chatting about the conference and writing in general. Minutes later, our new friend Drue, whom we met while waiting at Tony DiTerlizzi’s autograph line, joined us for drinks.
With new conference friends Monika and Drue
Talking about writing and life in general with new friends Monika and Drue was a wonderful way to end the conference.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s summer conference!
******Special Thanks to Monika Moreno for taking my autograph pictures!!!
I got there a little bit earlier on Saturday, so I managed to purchase some books at the SCBWI Bookstore.
My book budget was spent on three illustration laden, wonderful books:
Day 2 of the SCBWI Summer Conference began with the same enjoyable fanfare: Steve Mooser told us the second version of his story “How I injured my wrist”, Lin Oliver made some important announcements, drew the name of the lucky door prize winners and finally introduced our first keynote speaker for the day.
Keynote 1: Karen Cushman “Courting Surprise”
Newbery award winner Karen Cushman
Published at age 50, Karen Cushman is a great example of how success in writing can come at any age. Her talk was chocful of hard earned wisdom and inspiring quotes. She shared many contradictory writing rules and gave us two of her own rules:
Write with Passion
Tell the Truth.
Some of Karen’s most memorable quotes:
* Attain your heart’s desires so you can help someone else attain theirs.
* Ask questions about your story.
* Read a thousand books like the ones you want to write.
* Read what you love and ask yourself why you love it.
* Lighthouses don’t go running around for boats to save, they stand there and go on shining.
* Fairytales are true not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
She ends with one important advise, and one command: Take yourself seriously as writers. We are worth it, and our stories are worth it. Go remake the world, God knows it needs it.
Editor’s Panel: Finding Your Voice in Publishing with Jordan Brown, Elise Howard, Neal Porter, Farrin Jacobs, Tamar Brazis and Laura Godwin
Editors Jordan Brown, Elise Howard, Neal Porter, Moderator Lin Oliver, Editors Farrin Jacobs, Tamar Brazis and Laura Godwin
Moderated by Lin Oliver, the Editors Panel discussed Voice in publishing, the positive attributes of a successful author and the things authors should avoid doing.
Jordan Brown, senior editor at Harper Collins – Balzer & Bray imprints, looks for great characters and strong voices in his authors. He wants to find the next RL Stine in literature and craves old stories told in new ways.
Elise Howard, editor at Harper Collins looks for books with enduring quality and characters that she can spend hours with. She loves MG & YA and books that bring her to new worlds.
Neal Porter wants to find books that seduces him.
Farrin Jacobs, also at Harper Collins, loves commercial teen fiction and dark literary stories–all with great characters.
Tamar Brazis is the Editorial Director at Abrams Books for Young Readers. She loves Picture books above all else, but she also works on MG, YA books and nonfiction books for kids. She loves novels with coming of age and friendship themes.
Laura Godwin is Publisher at Henry Holt Books, one of the oldest publishing houses started in 1866. She loves picture books and books with authentic voice.
Agents Panel Memorable Quotes:
* Laura Godwin – Voice makes an author unique, and is often equated with style. Style is a reflection of who you are. You hone your voice as you get to know yourself better.
* An openness towards revision, ability to revise, and ability to write about universal themes are some positive attributes of authors.
* Neal Porter – Please yourself. Create something that genuinely pleases you. Don’t try and publish for the market. Do what you love.
* Tamar Brazis – Good readers become better writers.
Workshop 1: Tony DiTerlizzi “Sketching a Story”
Tony DiTerlizzi Sketching a Story
Tony explains how art and writing go together when he works on his stories. He took us through his entire process of story-making, beginning with his concept, and ending with revision and publishing.
He showed us several illustrations he worked on for his book Wondla, and even passed around a copy of his manuscript draft, complete with revision notes.
Tony showing us a copy of his manuscript
Some of Tony’s memorable quotes include:
* It starts with a concept, go back to the books you like to read.
* Don’t forget who you’re writing your stories for.
* “Kids don’t know about bestsellers. They go for what they enjoy. They aren’t star chasers and they don’t suck up. It’s why I like them” – Maurice Sendak
* My philosophy: What am I proud of?
Keynote 2: Clare Vanderpool “Writing in the Crossroads: Where Craft & Creativity Meet”
Newbery Award winnder Clare Vanderpool
Clare started her writing journey in the midst of being a stay at home mom. Though she found herself often exhausted when she had her first baby, she found time for writing. She would think up story ideas while waiting at stoplights or making dinner, or even while watching Sesame Street with her child.
Now, a little bit older and with four teens, she still finds herself constantly looking for writing time. She showed us a video of her daughter singing her head off, as an example of what she has to deal with as a mom.
Clare Vanderpool’s Memorable Quotes:
* Winning a Newbery is the same as having a baby–if you didn’t know you were pregnant.
*The universe is made up of story. Pay attention.
*Where craft and creativity meet is the sweet spot.
Keynote 3: Deborah Underwood “The Power of Quiet”
Picture Book Author Deborah Underwood
Picture book author Deborah Underwood admitted that the creative process is indeed a mystery, but authors need to understand where they get their ideas.
Deborah Underwood’s Memorable Quotes:
* If we don’t understand where we get our ideas, we won’t have control over the success of our everyday work.
* Imagine an accountant riding in an elevator thinking, “Man, I hope I remember how to domMath today.”
* Mind wandering is important for a creative mind. Take a warm bath, and long walks.
* People who daydream more score higher on tests that measure creativity .
* We don’t owe it to ourselves to make time for quiet, we owe it to the kids who will read our book.”
Workshop 2: Lissa Price “Publishing Is Not Dead: The Roller Coaster Ride of the Really Big Sale”
YA Author Lissa Price showing us a foreign copy of her book
Lissa Price gave us some insider secrets in her talk. She told us of her long journey to publication and of how she got started writing.
She also gave some some really great tips for finding agents, and even tips we can use after we get published.
Lissa Price’s Memorable Quotes:
* Don’t write the next book in a series, until the first one gets picked up.
* Write the next manuscript as soon as you finish the first one.
* Be nice. Publishing is a small world and word gets around.
* Make your query letter short.
* What’s right for one writer may not be good for another writer.
Ruta was one of the most inspiring speakers I heard during the conference. She told us of the story behind her novel, Between Shades of Grey.
Her father, a military officer in Lithuania, knew that Stalin was coming for him. He and his wife escaped and made it to a refugee camp before the Soviets got to them. Then in 1949, they made it safely to the US.
That was all Ruta knew about her family’s history. On a quest to find out more, she flew to Lithuania to meet some of her father’s relatives. There, she discovered that when the Soviets came for her father and discovered he had escaped, they took 12 members of their family and deported them to Siberia as punishment. Only one of the 12 survived. Her family’s freedom in the US came at the expense of their relatives who were left behind.
Ruta also told us of her own experience with brutality. Because she wanted to write about the experience of the Lithuanian’s in the Soviet prison system, she needed to do some in depth research. In order to experience for herself what those prisoners had gone through, she went to a Latvian prison for a simulation–against everyone’s advice. There she was beaten and imprisoned for 24 hours.
Ruta Sepetys’s Memorable Quotes:
* I wish I could say I was beaten for weeks or days or hours. But it was only a few seconds of beating. I discovered I was a coward. It’s so hard to learn who you are.
* Ask yourself the hard questions. What are you longing for? What do you hide? What scares you, causes you pain? What do you wish would go away?
* In the dark, I heard a man say, “don’t cry American lady. I’ll help you.” That show of kindness amidst the cruelty taught me so much. I wanted to marry that man.
* Share the truths behind your fiction so you can make it better for another human being.
Keynote 5: Deborah Halverson “An Up to the Minute Survey of Market Needs & Trends”
Author Deborah Halverson
Included in this year’s conference packet was a treasure trove of information: the 2012 SCBWI Market Survey, which Deborah Halverson wrote.
Deborah summarized the 16 page market survey and gave us some valuable information on what editors and publishers are looking for in each of the following children’s book categories: picture books, nonfiction, middle grade, and young adult.
Deborah’s talk was full of helpful information and I found myself with 5 pages worth of notes once she was done.
Some Highlights of Deborah Halverson’s Talk:
* Concept books are selling well.
* For Picture Books, shorter character driven stories are on the rise.
* Paranormal, dystopian and zombie books will be around for a while, although there is a rising interest in Sci-Fi, Mystery, Ghost stories and Thrillers.
* Middle Grade has a stronger growth potential
*Young Adult is more successful than ever.
The Hippie Hop Poolside Party
After all the awesome keynote speeches and wonderful workshop sessions, it was time to let loose and party.
I had so much fun meeting new friends and catching up with old ones, that I didn’t even have time to take pictures this year!
I did manage to take a quick (and fuzzy) shot of the awesome Flash Mob SCBWI members planned in honor of Steve and Lin.
This year’s SCBWI summer conference was held at its usual place – the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Century City. Having attended last year’s conference, I knew exactly where to park and where to go to get my registration packet.
Registration lines were arranged according to surnames and I got lucky again this year as there were no lines at the V-W section.
After grabbing a quick cup of some pre-conference tea, I made my way to the main ballroom and found a seat.
At 9 AM, the opening ceremony began. Stephen Mooser, founder and President of the SCBWI welcomed us all to the conference. He pointed to his bandaged wrist and proceeded to tell us the reason behind his injury—the classic slipping on a banana peel stunt.
SCBWI President Stephen Mooser
When he passed the mic on to Executive Director and co-founder, Lin Oliver, we learned that the SCBWI was starting its own version of the radio show “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me”. So over the next three days, Steve would be telling us different versions of how his injury happened and we’d have to guess the real story.
According to Lin, this year’s conference was attended by 1234 members from 15 different countries. Out of the 1200+ attendees, 948 were women, 171 were male, and 122 were apparently undecided.
As a testament to the diversity of SCBWI’s membership—Lin read some of the career titles the members had listed in their application. Aside from the usual teachers, clerks, and librarians, there were among us a lawyer, a bonsai artist, a literary Olympian and a Director of Fun.
Lin reiterated that being part of the SCBWI was like being part of a big family—a Tribe.
As a nod to the 2012 Olympics, Lin lit her very own SCBWI Olympics “torch.”
SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver lighting the SCBWI Torch
After that, this year’s Faculty made their entrance into the hall. Each of them gave us their one word for the conference. While everyone gave out inspirational words like Determination, Passion and Creativity, some made use of fun words as well as naughty words—like Sonya Sones, who after shouting a 5 letter anatomy word into the mic, made a quick getaway.
SCBWI Conference Faculty
Keynote 1: Arthur Levine “Timeless”
Arthur Levine, Publisher and Editor of the Harry Potter US Edition
Arthur Levine, VP and Publisher of Arthur Levine Books Imprint, AND US editor of the Harry Potter series–was the first keynote speaker. In his talk, appropriately entitled “Timeless”, Arthur listed down the various elements that gave books a timeless, enduring quality.
He used several titles that he’s published as an example for each of these timeless traits. Some of the books mentioned were:
When She Was Good by Norma Fox Mazer, a story of how hope outlives brutality;
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman , showing how great writers use anticipation more commonly than surprise;
and Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone – the ultimate narrative of the boy who lived, and how he survives the tragedies of his childhood.
My favorite line from his speech, was one his friend Nick had told him:
It’s when a story is able to capture a moment of intimacy between a reader and an author that the story is timeless.
Keynote 2: Tony DiTerlizzi “Never Abandon Imagination”
Author and Illustrator, Tony DiTerlizzi
Tony DiTerlizzi, Caldecott winner for The Spider and the Fly, and illustrator of the famed Spiderwick Chronicles, was our second Keynote speaker, and absolutely rocked the stage.
He was one of my favorite speakers, throwing out lines that made us laugh, and also inspired us.
He began by showing us some covers of his “new” book ideas, as a testament to his wonderful imagination.
According to Tony, imagination has to be instilled at a very young age—as far as he’s concerned, as soon as they pop out.
As a child, Tony wasn’t interested in reading books. Instead, he was interested in comic books and movies. Oral reports were the worst possible torture for him—until one of his teachers told him to do an illustration for his book report instead. Tony set to work re-reading the same book he had found boring in the beginning, but this time he was reading it as if it were instructions for how to draw his illustration.
The world of books then opened up to him. His love for stories was indeed a product of boredom, and living in Florida gave his imagination a lot of opportunity to grow.
There are only two things in Florida: Old people and Giant Lizards. I’m convinced the old people moved to Florida and turned into giant lizards.
Tony shared with us a picture of his bookshelf at home, containing a lot of his childhood toys.
He says he keeps them around to remind him of what it feels like to be a kid, and to constantly remind him to answer the question:
What would 10 year old Tony want, that adult Tony can make?
Towards the end of his talk, Tony introduced us to his new book series Wondla. He showed us illustrations from the book, as well as the inspiration for the story itself.
Tony reminded us never to abandon imagination, and to always think about what our ten year old selves would enjoy reading, whenever we sat down to write our stories.
Workshop 1: Lissa Price “How to Apply Screenwriting Techniques to Make Any YA Book Better”
YA Author Lissa Price
Bestselling YA Author Lissa Price explained that she made the switch from screenwriting to novel writing because with novels, you can write from anywhere in the world.
Lissa helped us define the meaning of high concept, and helped us identify whether our own stories were indeed high concept or not.
She asked audience members to share their loglines, as well as their first sentences, and helped them strengthen it.
Lissa also shared some tips on how to build our pitch, as well as some books she recommends we read such as:
SAVE THE CAT series by Blake Snyder, STORY by Robert McKee, THE SCREENWRITER’S PROBLEM SOLVER by Syd Field and THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler.
She also reminds us of these helpful screenwriting tips:
*Ask if your story has a ticking clock
*Remember that your first sentence is crucial
*End with a cliffhanger. Have a nice closer at the end of each chapter.
Keynote 3: Sara Shepard “Scandals, Lies, and Murders: How to Maintain Momentum in a Series”
Sara Shepard, Author of The Lying Game & Pretty Little Liars
I love watching Pretty Little Liars on TV so I was fairly stoked to hear Sara tell us the story of how she got started on her writing journey, and how she developed the story for Pretty Little Liars.
She started out as a ghost writer, but eventually got her big break when her publisher told her to develop her own book series.
Pretty Little Liars has become such a popular series–both in books and on TV. What started out as a four book series eventually became 8, and then 12.
She said she’s wrapping up the final books: “I’m sad it’s going to end, but I can’t torture these girls any more.”
She gives us some tips for keeping a mystery series going:
1. Know who your murderer is before you set out.
2. Always incorporate the red herring in your stories.
3. Leave a bit of the writing to chance.
Keynote 4: Patricia Maclachlan “Revising My Life”
Patricia Maclachlan, Author of the Newbery winner Sarah, Plain and Tall
Author Patricia Maclachlan tells us how she uses events from her life–both big and small–as inspirations for her own writing. She eavesdrops on her grandchildren and their conversations always give her something to think about, laugh about and write about.
I actually had fun listening to stories of her grandkids and of her life, and even laughed at some of her funny anecdotes.
Workshop 2: SCBWI Success Stories:How I Did It – Matthew Kirby, Eugene Yelchin, Pamela Wells and Jennifer Bosworth
Authors Eugene Yelchin, Pamela Wells, Jennifer Bosworth and Matthew Kirby
Eugene Yelchin received a Newbery honor for Breaking Stalin’s Nose.
He said that it isn’t enough to want to get published. Publication cannot be the end goal. He reminded us to write for ourselves, and not because we wanted to please people.
Pamela Wells began her writing journey with a bad break up. When she was in college, a boy she loved broke up with her and left her with a bleeding heart a desire to tell her heartbreak story. She met an editor at an SCBWI conference, then once she got an offer to get published, contacted an agent. Her book Heartbreakers is now being turned into a movie.
Pamela says, “write the book you would write for free, and you can’t lose.”
Jennifer Bosworth wrote her first novel 9 years ago, and it was about 800 pages long. She learned a lot from writing screenplays and used all that knowledge she gained to write STRUCK, her debut novel.
Jennifer says that one motto that has worked for her so far is, “Fake it Til you Make It.”
Author Matthew Kirby started out writing adult books, until it dawned on him that he actually enjoyed reading children’s books, and that his books always had kid protagonists in them. He was ready to quit after 7 years of rejection, when he got his big break at an SCBWI Conference, where he met his agent.
Matthew advised us to treat writing like a career, and not as just a hobby.
Keynote 5: Dan Gutman “How a Dumbass Like Me Got 100 Books Published”
Author Dan Gutman
Final keynote speaker for the day, Dan Gutman, made us both laugh and think. He gave us 13 tips on how to become successful as a writer.
Some of his best tips include:
12. Join SCBWI.
11. Be a boxer. Take punch after punch, and then get up and start again.
10. Try everything. If one thing doesn’t work, try a new technique.
6. Never write on an empty stomach- always use paper.
5. Break the rules. Do something nobody’s done before. Following rules perfectly is easier than breaking rules creatively, but being creative means doing things differently.
Whether your project is a novel, short story, or script for film, television or the internet, the Children’s marketplace is an exciting arena for writers. But once you’ve completed writing your project, what are the next steps you should take before submitting your work to a publisher, editor, agent, producer or studio?
There are a lot of myths out there about how to become successful. One thing we do know is that following the myths can enrich your stories. Everyone agrees that success requires a bit of magic, both in your marketing and in your stories. The madness is just an integral part of the marketing, but if you know what’s ahead you can better navigate the choppy waters of the Children’s marketplace for books, films, tv series, and web series.
Last night, we gathered at Barnes & Noble 3rd Street Promenade for another wonderful workshop facilitated by two of Hollywood’s top screenwriting consultants.
Authors/Speakers Kathie Fong Yoneda and Pamela Jaye Smith
with Barnes & Noble Events Manager Shane
Published authors and veterans of the entertainment industry, Pamela Jaye Smith and Kathie Fong Yoneda presented their individual Top10 challenges that all writers must face in order to successfully conquer the “myth, magic and madness” of writing for children today.
Pamela Jaye Smithdiscussed the use of myths and symbols as a way to deepen the layers of our stories. She discussed ten important questions for us to ask ourselves as we develop or revise our short stories/novels/scripts:
Have I aligned my story with a universal Mythic Theme?
What is the Archetype for my Protagonist – is it clear and yet unique?
What is the Archetype for my Antagonist – is it clear and yet unique?
Have I aligned both Protagonist and Antagonist with an identifiable but not stereotypical Inner Drive [chakra] and how do they differ from each other?
How does my Protagonist change and grow, as expressed by their arc from one Inner Drive [chakra] to another?
What internal problems does my Protagonist have?
What external dangers must my Protagonist overcome?
Is my main symbol expressing an emotion, a situation, or a concept?
Is there a symbol for the Protagonist and one for the Antagonist?
Have I layered my story with related and age-related symbols?
Author Pamela Jaye Smith
Pamela taught us that symbols are primarily used for three things:
To express emotion (emotional)
To tell us something about the situation (physical/situational), and
To show a concept (if your story about freedom, love, etc)
As humans, we’re built to grasp the meaning of symbols. Symbols are universal, and timeless and if we work them into our stories, we’ll be plugging into that deeper mythical and psychological part of our readers.
Pamela gave us some great examples of how myths and symbols are put to great use in popular children’s books and movies. One of the examples she gave was Harry Potter’s lightning scar. Lightning, linked to mythological gods such as Thor, and Zeus, has long been a symbol of the connection between the deities and humanity, heaven to earth.
JK Rowling’s decision to put a lightning scar on Harry’s forehead implies so much more, and is a more effective symbol of his character than say a circle or a dot on his forehead.
Another example Pamela gave was the use of the mirror symbol in Alice in Wonderland. The mirror symbol represents the concept of duality of the world. On a situational level, it symbolizes that Alice is now in a world where things are in reverse; and on an emotional level, it symbolizes Alice looking into herself to find out who she really is.
Author Kathie Fong Yoneda
Kathie Fong Yoneda posed her own 10 Question Challenge for writers, based on her book THE SCRIPT-SELLING GAME.
Are my characters well-drawn and interesting?
Does my dialogue add to the personality of each character and support the plot points of my story?
Does my story fall within a general 3-act structure?
Does each scene/segment have a distinct purpose for being included?
Have I paid attention to details by doing proper research?
Do I know who my target audience is?
Have I streamlined my storytelling?
Can I summarize my story in one or two sentences?
Is my completed work in professional form?
Is this a story that I love?
Kathie reiterated the importance of well-drawn secondary characters. An editor Kathie spoke with one day, mentioned that the one of the common downfalls of a book is that the secondary characters are weak and not memorable. Where would Luke Skywalker be without Han Solo or Darth Vader, Ariel without Flounder and Sebastian.
Harry Potter had his friends Ron and Hermione. Although all of them went to the same school, they have very different ways of approaching the same problem. Having three different mindsets made a good blend. It gave the whole story a sense of vitality and energy because of different types of people solving the same problem together.
Kathie also reminded us of the importance of dialogue, and of having each character have their own voice. In Screenwriting, they have this technique were they cover up the names of the characters, and they try to guess who’s speaking to make sure the dialogue is consistent with the personality of the character.
After Kathie’s talk, she joined Pamela at the table and they both talked about the madness of writing, and answered questions from the audience. They discussed the common mistakes writers commit when submitting their queries or manuscripts to agents and editors, and what to do to avoid them. They even gave us great ideas on how to take our writing to the next level, by using the trans-media approach. They reminded us that novels aren’t the only creative outlet we have. Apps, web series, screenplays and other media are all available for us to use.
CBW-LA Officers with Authors Pamela Jaye Smith & Kathie Fong Yoneda
The workshop was a definite success. Kathie and Pamela did a great job of challenging us to create better stories that will stand the test of time.