Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Carolinas SCBWI Conference Recap

I've missed seeing my Carolina writer friends so much and was pleased to know that none were affected severely by Florence. Of course, many towns north of Myrtle Beach are still not in operation. This is going to be a long recovery and many had just recovered from Matthew two years ago.

Vanessa Brantley Newton got us started off with a story about a farmer, his wife, and their little goat who had sensory issues and was dyslexic too. And the way she tells the story of this little goat who fell into a pit and managed to still get out is one that is only she can tell. She *is* the little goat. I loved hearing her story, her struggles, her triumph. She mentioned "diversity designed by adversity."  The thing that stuck with me is how she kept making art even when times were hard and there wasn't any money for food, let alone art supplies. And it's not what's expected of an African American. However, when opportunity knocked, she was prepared! I've read many of her picture books and now I can enjoy them even more. She's an amazing storyteller on and off the page. And can she sing! She sang You Have to Be Taught from South Pacific. She's pictured here with Teresa Fannin, who is our Regional Advisor, and who works tirelessly (with Bonnie Adamson) to make this a memorable conference for all. Thank YOU, Teresa.

Vanessa and Kelly Starling Lyons shared how they fell into writing and illustrating chapter books [CBs]. These are bridge books between the EZs and the MG novel. They are written for children ages 6-10 and have a wide range from 1,500 to 15,000 words. They tend to be very character driven, with a plot that moves right along. Think Junie B. Jones, Ramona, and now Jada Jones

Both these ladies are excellent teachers. The majority of stories will revolve around family and friends because that is their world. And as always, develop your character with these basic questions (replacing Jada with your own main character):
What does Jada want?
Who or what is standing in her way?
How does she solve the problem?
How is she changed?

I have so many CB ideas written down! And I hope some of them are marketable! My kids loved these and though they are part of a child's life for a short time, perhaps only for a couple of years, they are beloved books. I still remember learning to read by myself at age 6 and how the world opened up for me. I would've loved Jada then, a girl much like myself. I was reading the Brer Rabbit books written by Enid Blyton at the time and I saw myself in those animal characters. 

I was super-excited to meet Tammi Sauer. I've known her for a long time on the Blueboards and remember when she sold her first PB, Cowboy Camp! She has sold nearly 30 PBs with many more in the pipeline. And these are books you want to read over and over because they bring so much joy! Not only is she talented, she's delightful and generous. And when she's on, she puts on a show! She takes the prize for entertaining!!! She shared her PB secrets--it's stuff you know, like the necessity of reading, having conflict, using word play, words that sing, etc.--but the way Tammi presents it is completely unique. Don't miss a chance to see her. 

Rebecca Petruck has a new book out: Boy Bites Bug! That title reminds me of my sister, who chased ants until the day one big one bit her tongue. Yes, she ate ants! But I digress. 

Rebecca's lecture on what to do when you are sooooo close was probably the most heart-breaking because we've all been there. The collective sighs said it all. But she provided some advice that she collected from published authors and the single best advice is to move on to the next story. I agree so much with this. Everything you learn writing a book can be applied to the next one. Of course, it has its own unique lessons to teach. The second piece of advice seems contradictory: Persevere. But it isn't really. Listen. Revise. Repeat. Don't stop making art. She shared how Carol Baldwin has been returning to a historical fiction book over and over, not afraid to gut it and start over from scratch. It is going to be so wonderful when it's finally published. 

Rebecca also mentioned the value of using professional editors, contests, and connecting with your tribe. She mentioned how valuable Pitch Wars has been, not just if you get picked to be mentored, but for its community. It's precisely to meet more writers from SC that I went to this conference. I really, really miss my vibrant critique group I had in WA, the monthly get togethers with the writers from a larger area. Writing is a wonderful profession but it's hard to grow in a vacuum. I have online partners but nothing beats having a little group where you can talk shop.

I know a lot of people go to conferences to connect with editors and agents, but for me, this was all about reconnecting with other writers. I want to build a kidlit community here, preferably on Daniel Island, because you know that it is the center of my universe :) I still get those darned migraines and wish to be free of them but until then, I get so much support. My dear Michael drove me up. I rode home with Rebecca Ivester and she managed to get me to church in time for choir practice. I was so happy to get to know her better. We are plotting...something. Stay tuned. 

Becky Shillington was my roommate and we tried not to stay up too late gabbing. She took such good care of me, letting me sleep in, making me a cup of tea, sharing her cookie. I am like an elephant, never forgetting a kindness. I learned that her husband makes really good naan, so I'm wrangling an invitation to stay with them for a day. I figure we can cook an Indian meal. By the way, I'm thinking I should have a BOUND workshop that's all about food. It'd be so fun. I made another batch of kalakand but this one is more like ras-malai, with cardamom and saffron. Yummm.

It was fun to run into my very first room-mate, Jacqueline, and Viviane, who has a new picture book coming out next month--Teach Your Giraffe to Ski. I also made a couple of new friends. And last, but not least, I got a big bear hug from Donna Earnhardt, author of Being Frank, and our keynote speaker. What Scares You? Well, write it anyway. Sorry, she said it much better with stories from the Bible, LOTR, Ella Fitzgerald, and a reading of Oothar the Blue by author Brandon Reese himself.

Hope and Fear ask the same question. What if? How will you answer it? I'm leaving you with a poem that Donna shared:
Hope is the thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson and my sweet Benny, who allowed me to finally type up a few notes.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
Art on folder by Ashlyn Anstee.
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words, 

And never stops at all, 
And sweetest in the gale is heard;         
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm. 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea;        
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.


Carol Baldwin said...

This was lovely to read, Vijaya, because you and I went to so many different sessions it was good to hear about others! And yes, moving on to your next story does seem contradictory to perseverance--but it's actually a bit about persevering too--in the writing industry! I can't wait to dig into another novel--hopefully I'll have a better idea what I'm doing with the second one. Thanks for including me in your blog. I hope your critique group pans out!!

Mirka Breen said...

Love the humble poet :)
Tammi is such a cutie and a talent. I remember well the story of how Cowboy Camp evolved into the PB that won so many hearts. She has not disappointed since..

Vijaya said...

Carol, I tried to go to all the craft sessions. And I wish there were more sessions like what Rebecca offered. It was sooooo good to catch up with you at lunch.

Tammi is a GEM! So happy I finally got to meet her.

Donna Earnhardt said...

Love you, my friend! I am soooo glad I got to see you at the conference and hope it's not a whole year before I see you again.

Vijaya said...

Donna, we'll be lucky to run into each other next year! I'm such a hermit, lol.