Thursday, September 29, 2011

SCBWI Carolinas Conference--Filling the Blank Page

It's been almost ten years since I attended a regional SCBWI conference. Ten years, two changes of writing genre, three changes of writing category, four novels, a handful of abandoned picture books, and endless short stories. Plus a history degree, a black belt, and three moves. But for all those changes in me, the conference rush for writing and the deep-down satisfaction from rubbing elbows with my peers hasn't changed. I'm so grateful to Teresa Fannin and her marvelous group of cohorts who made the conference happen. I've never put on a conference, but I've done things similar and I'm always grateful to the known and unknown folks who work tirelessly behind the scenes making this kind of thing happen. Woot, woot!

Now, on to a few highlights, since I know that's why you're reading. :)

The highest highlight was Marietta Zacker's keynote on writing with passion. She didn't pace, but she gave the impression of pacing while standing still. Sharing with us memories of the special bond she had with her grandpa, a writer, she talked about writing from the deepest parts of who we are, and making sure that what we send out into the world is our best work. She reminded me that even though we all come from different backgrounds, we all share certain core emotions. Also, that there's power in ritual, and in traditions. It was a wonderful insight into Marrietta herself, but also the child readers out there that we hope to touch with our writing.

Another high was Mallory Kass's workshop on writing emotional mysteries and intertwining them with plot mysteries. I loved her insights, and we as the audience had fun coming up with ways to supplement one mystery style with its other half. She also had some nice material on voice, and why it's so important to write characters which the reader will want to spend time with. We looked at snippets pulled out of books and analyzed them for character traits. An all-around great workshop.

Mary Kate Castellani challenged us to come up with a snappy handle for our books, and guided us through the tip sheet (title information page) using examples from books she's worked on. I've seen the tip sheet before, but never seen it filled out for a middle grade. It's always interesting to look at how a book gets sold. If a writer is tossing around different projects of equal interest, working up a personal tip sheet could help decide which comes first.

We also had a great agent's panel, and I really enjoyed the first pages/first impressions feedback. We writers can suppose this, and suppose that, but a little feedback from the editors and agents themselves can really shed light on our suppositions. One thing I was a little surprised to hear was how often the editors preferred a story that didn't start too fast. An immediate conflict or hook went over well, but if the reader was thrown straight into the core of the action, the editors usually asked that a little character development be added.

My weekend was trimmed on both ends, leaving me mostly just Saturday to attend workshops, but I still enjoyed a brain-full of great material. My favorite part of the conference may have been how small and intimate it was. The agents and editors mingled with writers and illustrators, rubbing shoulders with us and chatting over life, the universe and everything. When I met people in one workshop, I often bumped into them at lunch, or at a schmooz. It was really nice to feel I was making real connections with people that are local enough I stand a chance of seeing them again. The last few conferences I've attended were national or world in scope, and I've loved the energy of the big conference. So it was great to find myself a fan of the smaller, regional conference, and discover the joys of that more personalized setting. I'm looking forward to next year!


  1. Sounds like it was wonderful! I have my regional conference coming up, and I can't wait! Like you said, it's not so big you get lost in the crowd. :)

  2. Exactly! I was really surprised at how satisfying it was to feel the connections I made were 'for keeps' and I'd be seeing these folks again. Best of luck with your conference!