I try to go to one writing conference each year and this year was no exception, except that I was presenting, so I left a day early so that I could attend the illustration intensive offered by Mallory Grigg (she loves postcards :). She covered all the basics of the picture book in a short slideshow, but hearing her critique of each person's work was very educational, as well as the comments by the other artists, who are so accomplished, so beautiful. Not once was I made to feel like I didn't belong. I was encouraged to take an art class and to think about a story to go with my Indian folk art. Once upon a time... A big shoutout to Mo (Maureen Morris of Momo Collections) for driving there and back--it's always so fun to share a ride with writer friends.
Afternoon brought critique sessions and I was so pleased to see again, how exceptional they were. All were publishable and I could immediately think of a handful of publishers for each. I'm always so happy to have a part in another writer's success. Evening brought the faculty dinner (I got cozy with Donna Earnhardt and Samantha Bell) and don't you just love my new cup! Logo designed by Bonnie Adamson. I'm all about facing our dragons!!!
Do check out Jane Friedman's 2019-2020 Key Book Publishing Paths. Having published in many different ways, I will repeat that it's a great time to be writing and publishing because the Big 5 isn't our only option.
I loved the session on creating complex characters by Stephanie Fretwell-Hill. Again, because I like to read and write character-driven stories (in fact, every story begins for me with a character in a pickle...so plot and character have always been inextricably linked) this workshop was very enjoyable. Stephanie taught using great examples. She emphasized mining our own past and remembering how we felt, how conflicted we were. We can bring that emotional depth and complexity to our characters and stories. Oh, Stephanie likes character-driven literary fiction (I know some of you who are reading this write what she likes, so what are you waiting for?).
Another favorite workshop was one on the Picture Book Biography offered by Lina Maslo and Alice Ratterree. I can't wait to read her biography of C. S. Lewis. Such a treat to get a sneak peek. Lina typically starts with the defining moment in her subject's life and then backtracks to share the moments that lead up to that point. She ends with the impact her subject has. I especially loved Alice's story about her brother and H. A. Rey--it would make a wonderful story for Highlights. What I loved is how the little details really make a piece of work authentic. However, that's not how you begin--it's just the opposite. Alice says to first research the era of your subject, then spiral in closer to the places he or she inhabited, and finally the clothing, the furniture, the telling details. A great piece of advice: put your reader first.
My workshop on Writing Memoir for Kids went well. Several people came to find me to tell me about the stories they want to write, so I'm happy that they'll take home some tools to craft their personal stories. I spent some time on marketing as well because I really want to see you all published. I cannot emphasize the value of writing for magazines. It's how I got my start, and although I know we each have our own path to navigate, magazine writing is a faster way to build your portfolio.
I didn't make it to the illustrator Draw Off but I took some pictures the next day. We've got talent!
First Pages are always entertaining with Alan Gratz reading them, complete with sound effects!!! Plus, he keeps the editors on time. I am pretty sure Nothing Eats a Hyena will be a proper book very soon! Great voice!
Alan also gave us the closing keynote and it was brilliant. He started from the beginning from his birth in a sporty family (and it's true, the ball always manages to find you) but his gift was in telling stories. I loved that his mother edited his first story and made him rewrite it. Talk about getting trained early for editorial feedback! He used the Marvel comic book heros to illustrate his point about their Origin stories (the things that happen that define who you are and how you act). And what is brilliant is that when new information emerges, we can reinterpret them. This is called Retroactive-Continuity (in the world of comic books) and it's great for character development. The present defines the past. I loved this so much because it made me feel as though I were close to seeing myself as God sees me. I am becoming who I was created to be. It was that profound! Alan closed with: "Who are you? You *are* a writer or illustrator. Take this room with you." What is Your Origin Story?
This was an emotionally charged conference because our indefatigable RA, Teresa Fannin is retiring. She's been wonderful all the years I've known her and she's passing on the baton to Donna and Kelly. I was also preparing for Michaelmas. Mo got me to church with enough time to spot check the difficult bits and although I was tired, dousing my head in cold water was enough to refresh me. The moment I opened my mouth to sing--Benedicite Domine omnes Angeli--a peace descended upon me. The presence of countless angels and saints and our Blessed Lord Himself is palpable. It was a fitting way to end the conference. But for Robyn Campbell, it was the end of her life on this earth. I learned this on Monday and could picture her soul brought to heaven (painting by Bougeaureau, 1878). Mo had gone to her workshop on voice and remarked that Robyn hadn't been feeling well. Oh, how my heart breaks for her family. Requiescat in pace, Robyn. I will sing the Requiem Mass for you.