SCBWI OK Spring Conference Recap – Part One

Last weekend there was a convergence of the sublime in Oklahoma City as the SCBWI Oklahoma chapter held its annual Spring conference. Great company, great speakers, great weather. Ah! I had so much fun and my brain was crammed with so many good ideas, it took me all week to process everything. And as two of my manuscripts were chosen for top speaker picks at the very beginning of the day, I did have to struggle at times to stay focused on being present, to listen and take notes, instead of sprinting down the revision tunnel express.

First speaker of the day was the lovely Tricia Lawrence, an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Tricia LawrenceI do apologize for missing out on most of Tricia’s talk as my face-to-face critiques were scheduled during this time. I did get to speak with Tricia during the weekend and I gleaned information about her talk from those who were able to hear her talk. First of all, I loved Tricia right from the start as we both share Pacific Northwest roots. I spent some of my formative years in her neck of the woods and I still hold a special place in my heart for that part of the country. (A friend of mine swears this is why I don’t sound like I’m from around here, even though I’ve lived in Oklahoma almost without interruption since I was about four.) Tricia talked at length about how her career path was guided by the need to stay on the West Coast. She spent years working as a freelance editor among other things before breaking into the agenting side of the business. Lucky for us, her stars aligned at the right moment when she came to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

During her talk, Tricia discussed how important it was to really get to know your characters before you start writing, to sit down and have therapy sessions with them. Put them on the couch and get them to spill their guts. She said they may not want to open up at first, they may much rather run outside and ride bikes or go play video games, so you have to keep digging. Ask them about their biggest fears, their most hidden secrets, what they want more than anything. Keep asking until they crack; until you know your characters inside and out. Hey, therapy isn’t easy, folks.

It was a very stimulating talk that got several writers thinking of ideas all weekend. At least, I’ve never heard so many people eager to go into therapy. As a big proponent of self-exploration, I love this idea. I plan on putting my main character through some serious couch time starting this week.

Tricia, like all of the speakers, mentioned some books that showed great examples of the ideas she wished to convey. All of the speakers mentioned how important reading was to the craft of being a writer. I know I say it all the time, but it never hurts to remind you guys that the professionals say it as well. You gotta READ!!!

Tricia’s book recommendations: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

Next to present was the spunky and adorable Colleen AF Venable, Art and Design Editor at MacMillan’s First Second Books and author in her own right with her fabulous GUINEA PIG, PET SHOP Colleen AF VenablePRIVATE EYE graphic novel series. When she made the conscious decision to have her main character – a female guinea pig named Sasspants – NOT be drawn with over exaggerated eyelashes or a big bow to show her gender, “Because guinea pigs don’t have giant eye lashes or wear bows in nature”, I wanted to bow down at her feet or jump up and scream, “YES!” (I’m a huge believer in realistic role models for girls, obviously.)

Colleen took us all to school on graphic novels and taught us about what they were and were not. Simply put, graphic novels are defined thusly:

Visual story-telling using sequential images.

Well, gee, that could be anything, you might say. I mean, I’ve seen some picture books that might even qualify by that definition. And you would be correct. Still, they are NOT all about tightly-clad radiated people with superpowers. (Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of graphic novels.) Here are some examples of graphics novels that may surprise you:

 

Monster EndPigeon

flotsam

The Arrival

 

 

 

 

 


Friends with Boys

RapunzelLaikaTo DanceLone Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

bk_floraLewis and clarkSmileGiants BewareHereville

 

 

 

 

 

It was such an enlightening talk and I must say, it made converts out of many of the participants. What struck me most was how many non-artists have written graphic novels: Shannon Hale, Neil Gaiman, Kate DiCamillo, Jane Yolen, Cecil Castellucci, Holly Black, and don’t forget Stan Lee, (totally not an artist!). Rainbow Rowell, author of ELEANOR & PARK, has a graphic novel series in the works with First Second Books right now. How exciting is that?

Colleen discussed how you can add an extra layers of depth to your story with the visuals in graphic novels. Even by just manipulating the layout of the panels and how you use the spacing between the panels – the gutters – you can create completely different pacing styles to the story, similar to how traditional writers use sentence and paragraph structure. Fascinating. She suggested that if you were interested getting started in graphics novels, as a writer, you should read lots of plays and comics to help you get the flow of graphic novels. Script writing especially can aid in learning to think more visually about how you tell your story.

Colleen gave us a comprehensive reading list hand out (another perk of coming to such a fabulous conference), broken down by age groups, so I won’t list all of her recommendations here. Some of them are pictured above. I will list others she mentioned by name.

Colleen’s book recommendations: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang, BENNY AND PENNY by Geoffrey Hayes, SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD by Bryan Lee O’Malley, THE PLAIN JANES by Cecil Castellucci, OWLY by Andy Runton, BABY MOUSE by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, ROBOT DREAMS by Sara Varon, ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Learn more about Colleen here.

Follow Colleen on Twitter.

Andrew HarwellAndrew Harwell, Editor with HarperCollins came back to Oklahoma for a second time after doing such an amazing job for us at our Novel Revision Retreat back in 2012, and was christened an honorary Oklahoman. (That’s just how it goes, if you come back, we claim you as one of our own. Our list of these lucky conference alumni is steadily growing – Laurent Linn, Krista Moreno, Alexandra Penfold, all honorary Oklahomans.)

Andrew wanted to talk about something new this go around, so he delved into how the family dynamics in Middle Grade and Young Adult writing help to create richer characters. Strong central families are common in all the stories he is drawn to. He said that when he gives an elevator pitch for a book, he realized that he always begins by discussing the relationships first. No matter what kind of story you’re writing, whether it’s a fantasy, mystery, paranormal or whatever, you have to get the reader to care about the characters first, right? In order to do that that we have to get to know the character, and what better way to do that than by using the family. After all, Andrew asked us to think about this:

You are most yourself around your family.

Who else sees us at our most vulnerable? When we are exhausted, pushed to the limits, cramped in a minivan for hours on a road trip to Aunt Bonnies’s with nothing to do but listen to each other breathe and your brothers won’t stop farting or touching your side of the seat? Oh yeah. You really get to know a person in those circumstances.

There are all kinds of families. You have to ask yourself what your character’s family history is before you begin your story. This is your character’s beginning, after all. No matter how much of this history you decide to show, YOU as the writer need to know it. Knowing whether or not your MC is friends with everyone in his family (or not) or whether your MC is supported or misunderstood at home will determine how s/he interacts with the world at large. It will also add more emotional depth to your story.

Andrew showed examples from many different books to highlight the different ways that family dynamics can create amazing stories. Whether you use these dynamics to create empathy, as in THE HUNGER GAMES (whose heart didn’t break when Katniss volunteered to go into the death match in her sister’s place?) or to create conflict as in FANGIRL (what does it mean when your twin sister doesn’t want to be your roommate?) or to create a villain in the family as in THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Does Lyra’s mother love her or is she evil through and through?) bringing family dynamics into play can be the best thing for your character and your story.

Andrew’s book recommendations: PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, PANIC by Lauren Oliver, IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman, CASE FILE 13 by J. Scott Savage, WONDER by R.J. Palacio, SEA OF SHADOWS by Kelley Armstrong, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz, FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, THE JUPITER PIRATES HUNT FOR THE HYDRA by Jason Fry, REALITY BOY by A.S. King, THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman, ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux, ALMOST SUPER by Marion Jensen, UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J.K. Rowling, MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryne Erskine, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith, TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder, ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Can you believe how much sage wisdom was imparted in this morning session alone?

It knocked my socks off.

After an entertaining lunch where I hosted a table with Tricia Lawrence, who was ever so gracious with her precious time and insights. I met some new writers, one was attending her very first SCBWI conference and was so enthusiastic about everything, it was delightful to see. There were so many writers there with teaching backgrounds at my table; I may have been the only one without a teaching degree. After lunch, and a brief (and humorous) commercial for our Fall Retreat, we returned for our remaining three speakers.

Stay tuned for PART TWO to hear what they had to bestow on our eager minds…

SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference Line Up

SCBWIOK logoEveryone who follows this blog knows that we have some really great conferences here in Oklahoma. Our Agent Day retreat this past fall was a fabulous success and it was sold out beyond capacity. The three agents were phenomenal and our two key note speakers were such a delight. I learned so much from this event and had a great time.

Our spring conference this coming March looks to be even more exciting. We’ve added some new additions to usual the lineup that should make this our biggest and best conference ever.

For the first time, we are having not one, but two agents on the speaker panel. One of those brave agents will be hosting private face-to-face pitching sessions for the first fifteen people who register. OOPS!!! SORRY, THESE PITCH SESSIONS ARE ALREADY SOLD OUT!!!

You can still sign up to receive a written manuscript critique or an art critique if you hurry – those spots are also going fast.

The conference will be held in Oklahoma City on March 29th. Even if you don’t get a critique, the knowledge you’ll get from hearing these folks will be more than worth it. Not to mention the opportunity to submit to some closed houses and to spend the day with a great bunch of people in a creative environment. Why not not make the trip?

Here’s a list of the fantastic speakers:

Liza Kaplan, Editor, Philomel Books, Penguin Group

Liza Kaplan

Follow Liza on Twitter.

Melissa Manlove, Editor, Chronicle Books
Melissa Manlove

Follow Melissa on Twitter.

Andrew Harwell, Editor, HarperCollins

Andrew Harwell

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Calista Brill, Senior Graphic Novel Editor, First Second Books

Calista Brill

Follow First Second Books on Twitter.

Kristin Miller-Vincent, Agent, D4EO Literary Agency

Kristin Miller Vincent

Follow Kristin on Twitter.

Tricia Lawrence, Agent, Erin Murphy Literary

Tricia Lawrence 2

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

No matter how far along I think I’ve developed as a writer, I always come way from these conferences learning something new and feeling revitalized and ready to get back to work on my own projects. It’s worth the investment in yourself. Make the time and join us. You’ll be glad you did.

Visit ➤➤➤➤➤ the Oklahoma SCBWI page to learn more details about the event and to register for the conference.

Recap of our Fantastical SCBWI OK Spring Conference – Part Two

OnceUponAtime

First off, I want to apologize for leaving you all in suspense much longer than I had anticipated. Shortly after writing Part One, I came down with some form of spring plague that left me miserable and bed-ridden. I love ending a post on a cliff-hanger, but more than a week is torturous. Although my family, who had to endure my wretched state of being and constant whining, were probably tortured more than all of you.

Back to our regularly scheduled program!

So, after lunch, where my table dined with the lovely Claire Evans (and we learned a little bit about her book preferences; she loves books with convoluted family histories, books where the setting is really important and becomes almost like a character itself, and books about sports), I made it to the illustrators’ showcase room and had a few minutes to peruse through some of the portfolios. Always a fun thing to do. The range of art and talent was incredible.

I made it back in the nick of time to see Katie Bignell, Assistant Editor of Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Katie BignellBooks, take the stage. The title of her presentation was the Best Practices for Writing Your Best Picture Book. She gave us a detailed hand out so we could concentrate more on what she was saying than on taking copious notes. (I still took notes, but that’s just how I help my brain process information. Super Nerd.)

She talked about the best words, the best places, the best characters, and the best stories.

When talking specifically about the best words, she said:

What if Sendak had said…

‘Let the wild rumpus party start’?

How would that have changed the story? Use the best words.

Katie has an unusual background for an editor. She is an accomplished dancer and has studied all kinds of dance for many years. She actually put some of her skills to good use, keeping us awake after lunch by showing us how movement was important. She also said writers should give illustrators movement to illustrate in their stories. Her dancing talent shown most brightly when she discussed rhythm. As a dancer, this was her favorite part of picture books. She said something so lovely that I would never forget it:

“By the very nature of our beating hearts, we are hard-wired to crave rhythm.”

Ah! I could’ve just died that was so fantastic.

Isn’t that just gorgeous? And true?

Who hasn’t seen a child move with abandon to music – before they grow up and become aware/self-conscious of how others see them when they dance?

She said because of this innate sense of rhythm, we can also tell when something is out of rhythm. That is why you should read your book out loud over and over. Have several friends read it out loud as well. Make note of what what sounds good to your ear and what doesn’t.  Make note of when your readers trip over words. Revise it until it sings.

So hard to believe this was one of Katie’s first presentations. She was amazing.

To learn more about Katie Bignell and her imprint, go to Facebook and like her imprint page, Katherine Tegen Books. Katherine Tegen Books has also just started a Tumblr page here. You can also follow Katie on Twitter here.

Our final speaker was literary agent Karen Grencik from Red Fox Literary. Karen talked to us about rejection; something every writer Karen Grencikgets to know intimately. Karen was a very passionate speaker who truly identified with writers and their struggles. It was surprising and refreshing to see someone who felt our misery and took it to heart. You just wanted to hug her.

She told us that when she started out, “I was as scared as you.” In the beginning, there was no one to teach her how to be an agent. She said she made every mistake you hear about at conferences, including chasing speakers out to their cars and asking them to read pages.

Ouch!

Then she started learning. And people were kind to her and forgiving of her earlier missteps. And she kept learning. Now her little boutique agency (that she runs with former editor-turned-agent Abigail Samoun) is really taking off.

Karen gave us an extensive hand out on reasons for rejections (101 reasons to be exact, and they were divided by reading level – picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult – fantastic stuff!) and she went through several of the big ones in detail. I’ll share one reason with you here:

#1 reason for rejection: Too quiet to compete or to stand out in today’s competitive market.

What was Karen’s answer to this? Move on and let your heart determine what you write! You’re going to find so many reasons for rejection out there, so you’re either going to quit or keep going.

If writing is your passion, stick with it and learn your craft. Karen did. Who cares how many mistakes you make or how long it takes you to get there?  Don’t pay attention to anybody else’s timeline for success. Yours is the only one that matters and it takes as long as it takes.

To learn more about Karen Grencik, check out her agency website here or follow her on Facebook here.

Next was the Speaker’s Panel where we heard their responses to our pitches. All were read out anonymously, although I did recognize several from our Pitch Clinic that we held over on Twitter prior to the conference. One pitch from the Pitch Clinic received three thumbs up from the panel. That was very exciting! (Congrats! You know who you are, you tyrannical squirrel-lover, you!)

Final announcements came after that where the winners of Best in Show and the Nita Buckley Scholarship fund were awarded.

For the Best in Show, all of the illustrator portfolios were judged by our speakers and the winner…Lauren Juda! She won a free registration to our Agent Day Conference coming up this October, which is a really exciting event!

For Agent Day, we have three agents speaking (and critiquing first pages) along with a special keynote speaker. The agents are: Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Agency, Danielle Smith from the Foreward Agency, and Ann Behar from the Scovil Galen Gosh Agency. Right now, registration is only open to SCBWI members, but registration opens up to everyone July 1st. Stayed tuned for more details!

The Nita Buckley Scholarship had so many exciting entries that the  judges decided to give out a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place award. Make sure to look for a write-up about Nita and this scholarship in the next SCBWI bulletin.

  • The 3rd place honor of a free registration to the Fall Agent Day Conference  went to Patricia Harvey(woohoo!).
  • The 2nd place honor of a free registration to the 2014 SCBWI OK Spring conference went to Regina Garvie. (These first two ladies were seated at my table. It was very exciting!)
  • And the 1st place prize of $1500 toward the cost of the SCBWI LA Summer conference went to Brenda Maier. (Brenda is such a lovely and talented young woman. This will be her first LA conference and I know she’s really excited!)

Congratulations to all of the winners!

What an excellent way to end the conference…although some of us didn’t quite end the evening just then. We headed out to a local eatery for dinner with the speakers to unwind and to take over the establishment that wasn’t quite prepared to be completely invaded. They couldn’t fit us all at one table or even inside the building. Here are a few pics of our fine folks kicking back after a day of literary camaraderie. Thanks so much to everyone who made this conference possible and to our dynamic leader, Anna Myers, to whom we all owe so much and without whom this conference wouldn’t be what it is today. We love you, Anna!

SCBWIOK