Thursday, April 16, 2009

SCBWI Thoughts and Writing Chapter 10

I know it's a couple weeks after the fact, but hey, I've been busy getting this little blog off the ground! So here's my take on the SCBWI Poconos Conference that first started this blog.

This was the first event I'd attended solely dedicated to children's writing (a term which always makes me laugh, since I'm writing for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds and they would probably throw a fit if they knew they were under the "children" umbrella).

My very first conference was the 2008 AWP Conference in NYC. It was enormous, overwhelming, and wonderful. I was in awe of the sheer number of people, and there were so many choices of panels to attend that I was able to center mine on YA and chick lit. At the time, I was writing my senior thesis on the questioning the literary merits of chick lit, and I had just completed the (first draft) of my opening YA chapters, so it was really interesting. My best memory of the conference, though, was hearing Frank McCourt speak. I adore Angela's Ashes, and McCourt is one of my idols in terms of his use of humor. Anyone who can find a quiet humor in a childhood filled with poverty, illness, and death is my kind of writer, and his presentation was in the same tone.

Another notable conference I attended was the 2008 Philadelphia Writer's Conference (PWC), which was unique and helpful because of its multiday workshop format. My short story won 2nd place in the Contemporary category, which floored lil old me. (Seriously, it was like I won a Newbury award or something. Someone liked me!)

But I entered a new world when I went to SCBWI. Though I'm not really bothered by the semi-stigma of being a "YA" author (honestly, it took me awhile to realize that we've been long considered second-class citizens of the writing world, along with anyone who writes "commercial" books), it was nice to be surrounded by people who believed in the value and quality of children's writing.

Meeting and chatting with Lara Zeises had to be the highlight of the conference for me. To be honest, I'd never read her books, though I'd heard of them, but just hearing her speak made me realize I would love her writing style. She provided such a refreshing, useful, and realistic portrayal of the writing world, and of course it was heartening to meet someone so young who had such success already. I'm halfway through Contents Under Pressure, and I think I found my favorite scene. Lucy has this huge crush on Tobin, and he drives her home, and they have this moment in the car as she's getting out --- they don't kiss or anything, but there's a tension-filled brushing of the hands, etc. So she goes in the house and flops herself face first on the first available cushioned surface, completely blown away. Talk about a scene that gave me a huge cheeser. I LOVED those moments when I was 14 (Lucy calls it a "crush buzz"), you're smiling so wide and you can't stop and you feel like you're about to explode with happiness and excitement so you shove your face in a pillow to keep from shrieking to the world about the silliest little thing. Anyway, I highly encourage you to check out her blog and her website .

I attended my first session with Molly O'Neill, assistant editor at HarperCollins. She gave a hands-on character boot camp workshop, which prompted us with numerous questions about a character we were to create from a photograph. I've filed away her handout for future use when a character of mine decides to stump me. (Something's telling me I'll be using it sooner rather than later.)

Sara Crowe is an agent at Harvey Klinger we met who led a fantastic query letter blurb session. She was gracious enough to critique all of our blurbs (and thought mine was effective and well-written --- yay me!), and gave some great practical advice on that topic and many others. Her website is and Sara's blog with her authors is . Our group also had the good fortune of having an extended Sunday brunch with Sara and G.P. Putnam's Sons associate editor Nicole Kasprzak, where we discussed a little bit of business and a lot about the rest of life.

Prior to brunch, I'd attended Nicole's session on the unreliable narrator. I don't know about you, but that technique always intimidated me. It doesn't apply to my current novel, since I'm writing in third person, but I'm planning on using it in a future work. Nicole's session clearly defined what an unreliable narrator was, outlined the different options authors have with using them, and included the all-important ways authors could incorporate the technique in their story. Mystery solved! (Thanks, Nicole!)

Now on to my novel. I've been happy with the slow-but-steady pace at which I've been moving since September. I'm now officially on chapter 10 (of an approximate 17), but lately I've been disappointed at my pace (it's been closer to slow than steady). I'd love to finish it by September, rounding out a full two years since the idea first sprung in my brain in the Writing for Children class. Realistically, I actually think I might be done by December, which is a full two years since I started really considering it a novel and not three chapters that I wanted to weave together. My trouble usually comes at beginning a chapter, especially if I'm not yet passionate about the plot movement in it. Oftentimes, I know what I want a chapter to accomplish, but I can't get into it until about page four. Once I hit that point, my momentum kicks in and I get excited. (It also helps if our group has a meeting that weekend and I go "Oh crap, I have four days to write twenty pages!") And since I'm only on page one of chapter 10, I suppose it's time to stop using this blog post as an excuse to procrastinate. Til next time!

1 comment:

  1. I *lovedlovedloved* Contents Under Pressure, and finished it in about 30 hours. I immediately checked out Bringing Up The Bones from the library, and it took me a little longer to get through--it was a little harder to like Bridget than Lucy--but the further I got, the more the book appealed to me, especially the I'm-still-17 part of me, as well as the I-get-ALL-these-late-nineties-references part of me. Also, it was nice to read a few books where things just were--in a good way. They weren't super happy or super tragic, they just were, which is so often how life is as well.

    Alright, we'll clearly need to chat more, but as I'm using this response to your post as a way of procrastinating my own writing time, I shall be off...


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