Can you just see the energy and excitement of these ladies beside me? It takes a lot of work to put on a conference, so my heartfelt thanks go to Teresa Fannin, Stephanie Greene, Bonnie Adamson and all the volunteers who made this possible and fun. And I especially enjoyed seeing the winners of the Art and Writing Contest.
Friday was uber-busy. I don't think I've talked this much since spring. First I met with the ladies whose stories I had the pleasure of critiquing. Then got some folks fired up about magazine and nonfiction writing. Do your homework, people! And let me know if you get something accepted. After that, a delicious supper with excellent company. Stephanie organized a PAL discussion. Except for the size of the room, which was too small to accommodate all of us, it was great. Pam Zollman, former editor at Highlights, was there and it was lovely to meet her. She gave the inside scoop to all of us at the magazine table.
Cynthea Liu gave the keynote. I loved that she was the "visual" and she made sure she got a standing ovation. We were thoroughly entertained as she discussed the elements of a good plot, using her own writing life as a model. There was the younger Cynthea as well (for a PB) who bore a surprising resemblance to my daughter. Cynthea had the best heels. She told us to stand tall, no matter the setbacks. It was a great keynote.
Sarah Davies, founder of Greenhouse Literary, gave us the lowdown on contracts. She is bright, articulate, and a very good storyteller. It made me realize that I need to re-enter agent queryland again, and find the just-right agent.
Emma Ledbetter, assistant editor at Atheneum, gave a fantastic talk on the picture book, particularly the sidle-up effect. She covered the three essentials: subject that speaks to a child, language that creates a moment, and a character that feels genuine. I noticed that nearly all the books she mentioned are part of a series. However, in each case, the author had a strong first book, which children loved.
At the faculty dinner, I had the good fortune to sit next to Patti Ann Harris, senior art director at Little Brown. She had given an intensive workshop with Dan Yaccarino and I enjoyed hearing their stories. At the breakout session, she shared so much about what goes on behind the scenes at LB. Although I am not an artist, I am highly visual and over the years, have really enjoyed doing the layout for my books. I also enjoy doing photo-research. I think every PB writer should attend illustrator sessions because it's so helpful to get that perspective while we shape our stories. I was very lucky that in my first critique group, we had Kevan Atteberry. Not only did we get the male perspective on our stories, but he was great at seeing whether something would work as a PB.
Patti Ann closed with a quote from Chuck Close that resonates deeply for me: Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.
So true. So get to work!
Alan Gratz did a great job reading first pages. I will forever remember the Butt-guy. It was a brilliant PB manuscript and everybody clapped. However, most of the PBs had very little hint of conflict. Many had a MG voice. And of the novel excerpts, very few hit the mark for me. I was either confused or didn't care. The best ones were the ones with a great voice and a hint of conflict. First pages are so instructive when the editors are honest and we certainly had that with our panel.
Later that night we had an author round table (chair) discussion about the writing life, the challenges and joys. Several local authors joined us, including Carrie Ryan and Cate Tiernan. What was amazing is how many of us have done a good amount of work-for-hire to put food on the table. This isn't talked about much; the focus tends to be on trade books. But many authors have been asking me how to get started in this area because even when you are published, it is not easy to make a living wage.
The last session I attended was Stephen Barr's on setting as a character. All my novels could not occur any other place than where they do, and Stephen did a great job of showing how to use the setting in our stories, given that our characters will carry emotional baggage because of who they are and where they're from. We did a writing exercise in which a small or large element of the setting provided the central conflict. I think this is one area where writers don't pay enough attention, but it can be a powerful tool. I think of Sherman Alexie's books or Dickens' and they could take no place else but where they're set. I'm so psyched to polish my historical and send it out. Probably next year.
I had the chance to catch up with old friends and new. Here I am with Buffy Silverman who is taking a sabbatical with her husband in NC. My husband said that I've met my match. We're both smallish, NF writers. I've known Buffy online for quite some time, so it was great to meet her. Last year, I sat across from Ann Eisenstein at supper, and this year it was lovely to cement that friendship. Samantha Bell introduced me and I'm so thrilled she has a new picture book out. And last but not least, my lovely and trusted writing partner, Deana, who made sure we arrived at the conference and returned home in time for choir practice with plenty of time to spare.
Solemn High Mass was heavenly. I managed to make all new mistakes, but the choirs of angels were there to help us. Now it's time to buckle down and prepare the Faure Requiem Mass.