Posts Tagged ‘SCBWI’

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Over the weekend I attended the JambaLAya Kidlit Conference in New Orleans.  You can read Part One here.

Many of the notes I took at the conference not only apply to me as a writer, but could also be advice for my own students as writers.

My friend Denise Gallagher is an illustrator and she takes notes in sketches.  Here is Ernest Gaines’ advice delivered by author Freddi Williams Evans.

Denise Gallagher’s notebook

Bullet points from Freddi Williams Evans’ presentation:

  • Choose interest over trends.
  • Narrow down your topic.
  • Show some.  Don’t tell all.
  • Add kid appeal.
  • Present the truth.
  • Pay attention to details.
  • Use your voice.

Jennifer Laughran from Andrea Brown Literary Agency represents an impressive list of authors, ones I admire and follow like Kate Messner, Linda Urban, and Nancy Castaldo.  Jenn is hilarious.  Along with her humor, she presented ideas around creating your own brand.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are the meaningful themes, subjects behind my writing and life?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my tone?
  • What is my Big Dream?

She reminded us to “Be a mensch!” Ok, new word.  It means to be a good person.

  • Meet your book sellers.
  • Make friends with librarians.
  • Boost fellow authors.

We also heard from Grace Kendall, an editor with FSG Books for Young Readers/ Macmillan who reminded us of the 25+ questions to ask yourself about your manuscript.  And from Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster who took us through the steps from concept to book cover.

I was in awe of these giants who were easily 10 or more years my junior.  I am such a novice in this book making business, but they each made me feel like it was doable.  If my goals are in the right place, and I have a heart for children, there is room in this kidlit world for me and others like me.

If you are writing for children and ever have a chance to attend a regional SCBWI conference, go.  You will be glad you did.

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This weekend I ventured to New Orleans for the first regional SCBWI conference (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) aptly named the JambaLAya KidLit Conference.

What an amazing conference complete with lots of books to buy (thanks to Octavia Books) and lots of food to eat (beignets, jambalaya, and king cake!) The conference took place in the classic Academy of the Sacred Heart School on St. Charles Ave. The halls smelled of fresh flowers. The wood floors sparkled. The air felt academic and deeply Catholic.

I met authors, illustrators, and editors, my rock stars. Cheryl Klein, editorial director at Lee & Low Books and author of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults led two talks, one on “Purpose, Premise, and Promise” and one on revision techniques. During both of these talks, I had important realizations about my works in progress.

A highlight of the day was meeting Angie Thomas, the author of the new #1 best selling YA book The Hate U Give. Angie is from my home town, Jackson, MS, so I had to take a picture with her.  Angie was so humble. Her fame has been rather a whirlwind. She read to us a portion of her editorial letter. This helped me understand that even best selling authors have major issues in their novels that need to be worked out.


I wish I took better notes at conferences, but with some speakers, I just want to sit back and listen. That’s how it was with Whitney Stewart. Whitney has traveled the world and written nonfiction books about the Dalai Lama and Walt Disney. She has been lucky in her life to have nonfiction projects find her. Her stepfather handed her letters that led to the book Mr. Lincoln’s Gift, a tale of artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter’s life spent in the White House during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. More recently she found letters that her mother-in-law had in storage about her two brothers who were both German soldiers killed in WWII. More than luck is Whitney’s ability to turn these pieces of history into literature.

I was privileged to sit next to her at dinner Saturday night and share real experiences. Whitney has not yet been able to write about her survival of Hurricane Katrina.  She spent five days in the Tulane Medical School and was rescued by helicopter.  Some experiences take a long time before they become literature.

I could write so much more about this amazing day. At this point I’ll save more reflections for another day, another slice.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

This weekend I attended my first ever SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) regional conference in Houston. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was nervous. I thought maybe I was jumping into a place I would not belong, a pond made only for big fish. My fears were relieved almost immediately when I met Caroline walking across the street to the Westin. She told me how scared she was the first time, so she decided she would always find a new person and be welcoming. How great for me. We found a place at a table together, and everyone started chatting and exchanging cards.

I was asked, “Are you an author or an illustrator?”
“Uh, well…”
I said with confidence, “I am an author.”
Then I giggled. “Yes, this is my first time.”

Our first presenter was the illustrator Kelly Light. I fell in love with her. She put us all at ease with her humor and her very real story about her struggle to find herself and live her dream. I was moved to tears by the end. Her first book is adorable, Louise Loves Art.


At her signing, she gave out stickers. I wore my favorite sticker on Sunday to have some courage to “Be Fierce…So Feline…So Fantastic!”

Fierce feline sticker on my journal with my fierce feline, Mimi.

Fierce feline sticker on my journal with my fierce feline, Mimi.

Amidst the inspiring speakers and the chatting with new friends, I had an editor’s critique of my middle grade work in progress. My palms were sweaty and my stomach was churning, but I walked in bravely. The editor was calm and respectful. She did not treat me as a total idiotic-what-do-you-think-you-are-doing writer. However, I have a lot of work to do. I have hard decisions to make. Revisions to write. But my work is viable. This work is doable. I will not be sending in a manuscript any time soon. I know I am not ready; however, I am a fish in the pond. I can swim freely alongside the other fish. I am one of them. I am an author.

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