Fourteen Fabulous and Fun Take-Aways from SCBWI’s 40th Conference!

I’m back from the island of misfit toys (aka: the 40th SCBWI LA Conference!) where kidlit authors and illustrators gathered to learn, dance, and dream. I’ve got a  notebook filled cover to cover with scribbles as I attempted to jot down the wisdom of kidlit giants like Judy Blume, Gary Paulson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jon Scieszka, and Bruce Coville (only to mention a few)! Yup, SCBWI doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to turning 40!

As I’m furiously typing up my notes here’s a few quick take-away’s to give you a glimpse of this weekends wonders:

1. Children’s book writing is about responsibility and engagement, said author Bruce Coville in his opening keynote address. He went on to quote the Broadway play Into the Woods in saying “move a finger, say the slightest word, something’s bound to linger, be heard. No one is alone.” Write with purpose and heart.

2. “Writing holds our DNA, our bones, our blood. It is a part of ourselves. When writing, don’t write what you think we want to hear. Tell us what is so intolerable to bear alone that it must be a story!” – Author Libba Bray

3. “Social Media only works when it is genuine to who you are. Don’t force yourself to blog and tweet.” – Editor Julie Strauss-Gabel

4. “24 hours a day is MORE than enough time to meet the demands in your life! You have more control over how you spend your precious time and energy than you want to admit.” – Author Laurie Halse Anderson

5. “Life is a shit-storm. When it begins to rain the only umbrella we have is art.” – Quoted by illustrator David Small

6. It took Judy Blume (yes, the amazing Judy Blume) twenty-three drafts and three years to finish her novel Summer Sisters.

7. Libba Bray suggests that whenever you get stuck with your writing that you always go back to this one central question: What does my character want? Start there, dig deep!

8. Agent Marcia Wernick suggests you treat writing like a business. Create a business plan of goals for your writing. Make good goals like: Deliver a new book in six months, get 300 new Facebook friends this month, or make contact with your local newspaper. Be realistic and stick to it. Give yourself annual, bi-annual, and monthly reviews.

9. In our media-saturated society it’s important to teach kids media literacy. This is exactly what author Jon Scieszka is trying to do with his Spaceheads series. The objective is to get kids to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms in order to be media literate.

10. “The number one element I see missing in manuscripts today is not enough interior monologue.” – Editor Krista Marino

11. “Art disturbs the Universe! We are here to continue the revolution and make it grow.” – Author Laurie Halse Anderson

12. “We need to speak to the head and the heart of the child. Just because a child can read Dostoevsky – read the words – doesn’t mean they understand it. We need to be sure the emotional needs of the child are nurtured.” – Editor Beverly Horowitz

13. When illustrating every visual element needs to feel essential to the telling of the story. It’s a portrait of rain and a portrait of lightening. – Illustrator Jerry Pinkney

14. Jump! Risk when you are writing!  You may crash and fall or you may grow wings. No jump. No wings. – Bruce Coville

Big SCBWI Summer Conference – Here I Come!!

Yup, it’s that time of year again!

It’s the time for kid-lit authors and illustrators to congregate in the depths of the Century City Hyatt Hotel and plan world domination! Yes, I’m talking about the 2011 SCBWI Annual Conference in Los Angeles (which is this weekend)!

I’m going to be there — hopefully with newly pink hair (which I’m dying as I type). Will you be there? I hope so! If you see me, please be sure to say hello!

If it’s your first SCBWI LA Conference please check out my fun-filled (and children’s book titled) tips on how to navigate the conference: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Conference Junkie!

See you this weekend!

The Quick Take Away: 2011 SoCal SCBWI Writer’s Day

It’s been awhile since I reported on a conference event, but never fear I’ve got lots of good information coming your way. I attended the 2011 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day this past Saturday with a variety of speakers from Susan Patron to Bruce Coville. Here’s a few quick take-away’s from the event:

Susan Patron Newbery Award Winning Author said:

  • Writing a novel is a thrill, it’s like riding off on a runaway horse, it’s thrilling and terrifying.
  • For children growing up is something that happens in the tiny details of everyday.
  • More on to come on winning the Newbery, new projects, and finding the heart of your story.

Tony Johnston author of almost 125 Picture Books shared:

  • If I keep alive to everything, a story will find me.
  • Keep it simple. But writing simply does not mean words must be short and easy. It should be the words that belong.
  • Don’t play it safe. Writing is about risk taking!
  • More to come on being inspired by your own emotions, the essence of childhood, and where to begin when writing a picture book.

Rachel Cohn New York Times Bestselling Young Adult Author said:

  • First impressions are really important with teen readers. You must get it right from page one.
  • Everything feels so big to a teen. It’s epic! It’s biblical!
  • Voice is the way you speak on paper.
  • More to come on what makes a good first page, working with a writing partner, and how to keep your teen voice authentic.

Bruce Coville Fantasy author of almost 100 books shared:

  • “Fairytale is the best way to tell the truth.” – C.S. Lewis
  • The world has become too small for the heart of a ten year-old. Fantasy liberates kids, it sweeps them off to a new place.
  • Ask the tough questions. Why are we here? What do we need? These are the riddles of our lives.
  • More to come on the difference between Sci-fi and Fantasy, tips for writing fantasy, and how to find the courage to dream.

2011 Summer SCBWI Conference Registration Open!

I wanted to let everyone know that the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference information has just been posted on the SCBWI website!

This years amazing speakers include: John Green, Laurie Halse Anderson, Libba Bray, Gary Pulson…the list goes on and on! If you’ve never been to an SCBWI Conference I highly suggest it. It will be one of the most inspiring and educational events you go to all year!

Learn more about the conference, the faculty, the intensive workshops and professional critique opportunities at the SCBWI Website: 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference Info

The Master List: 2010 SCBWI LA Conference

I’ve finally posted all of my notes from the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference!

For your convenience I have listed below and linked all of the keynote speeches and breakout sessions I attended to their corresponding posts. Be sure to bookmark this page for future reference!

2010 SCBWI LA Conference Keynote Speech and Breakout Session List:





To learn more about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and their events visit them online at:

SCBWI LA 2010 – The Quick Take Away

The SCBWI LA 2010 conference was a treasure trove of information! And the goldmine is coming, but it will take a few weeks to type everything up and post it all, so keep checking back for new articles and notes. But in the meantime here’s a taste.

The Digital Revolution:

  • We are in the middle of a digital revolution, and writers and illustrators may find themselves with a new name: Content Creators. But don’t be afraid of what is to come. Books are not going away. Agent Rubin Pfeffer stressed that the new media is “not instead of, but in addition to!”
  • Rights are a big issue right now. Be sure you have an agent who will have your best interests in mind. (Agent Panel)
  • The story comes first. Don’t add extra apps, media, animation, etc. if it doesn’t serve the story. (Editor’s Panel)
  • You want to have an online presence before you sell your book, because after you sell it you won’t have time to set one up. (Jill Alexander, Author)

Trends, The Marketplace, and What Editors are Looking For:

  • Funny middle grade boy books are hot hot hot! If you have one, editors and agents want to hear from you!
  • “If you want to write to the trends, then the vampires win.” (Justin Chanda, Editor)
  • Every house is looking to make a graphic novel. They just haven’t quite figured out how to do it, but we’ll bumble through anyhow. (Nick Elipulos, Editor)
  • The ideal author is one who is talented, dedicated, reliable, strategic, collaborative, and appreciative. (Stephanie Owens Lurie, Editor)

Writing, Storytelling, and Craft:

  • The purpose of fiction (and art) is to rediscover a new landscape. To show the reader the world in a new way, by estranging them from the familiar. (M.T. Anderson, Author).
  • “The emotional resolution is your truth. Feel your way through the story.” (Marion Dane Bauer, Author)
  • “Comedy is tragedy. It just happens to be wearing clown shoes.” (Sid Fleischman, Author)
  • Experimental fiction is actually not experimental at all. These techniques have been used for years, and in fact may be perfect for children! (M.T. Anderson, Author)
  • Voice is what makes your story, how it is told, what it conveys, and how it maintains our interest, powerful. (Jennifer Rees, Editor)
  • Concerning Non-Fiction: There are mistakes that alter the truth of a book, and there are those that do not. We all make mistakes. No book is perfect. (Non-fiction Panel)
  • Think about your own excellence, and write toward that. (Jennifer Brown, Editor)

Inspirational Words of Wisdom:

  • “Fill yourself up to overflowing and then give it back.” (E.B. Lewis, Illustrator)
  • ‘Not bad, pretty good,’ is the best compliment you will ever get from an 8th grader on your book. (Gordon Korman, Author)
  • “Throw your heart over, and follow.” (Gennifer Choldenko, Author)
  • “If you put art into this world, you will get beauty in return.” (Ashley Bryan, Author/Illustrator)

Keynote Speeches, Panels, and Breakout Session Notes – COMING SOON!

I attended the following keynote speeches and sessions (listed below). Please stay tuned for detailed notes on each of these amazing presentations. I will update this list with links as new articles are posted, so bookmark this page!




  • Non-Fiction Panel: Why Narrative Nonfiction is Hotter than Ever
  • Carolyn Mackler Keynote: For Richer or Poorer – Writing Through Good Times and Bad
  • Rachel Vail: Seeing Your Characters From the Inside Out
  • M.T. Anderson: Literary Experiment in Books for Children
  • Gennifer Choldenko Keynote: Kill the Bunnies – Writing Novels for Today’s Kids
  • Rubin Pfeffer Keynote: Are We Now A Society of Content Creators?


  • Rachel Vail Keynote: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters
  • Paul Fleishman Keynote: Surviving the Novel
  • Editors Panel #2: A View From the Top – 4 Publishers Discuss our Industry
  • Jennifer Rees: Your Voice is  Your Voice – Keeping it Real
  • Jill Alexander and Michael Bourret: Your Manuscript is Ready But Are You?
  • Ashley Bryan Keynote: A Tender Bridge

Learn more about SCBWI at:

If you went to the conference, I’d love to hear some of your quick take-away’s as well! Please share!

Crack for Children’s Book Writers

The SCBWI LA Conference is my literary crack!

That’s right, you can’t beat four days of soul inspiring speeches, crafty keynotes, fabulous friends (old and new), and literary giants like M.T. Andersen serenading the crowd. I just got back from the big SCBWI Summer Conference and boy does it ignite you with inspirational fire! Don’t worry, I filled an entire notebook with great information to share with you, but before I hand over the nitty-gritty, I might mention a few of the things you just can’t take notes on. So here’s my top six reasons why you should attend an SCBWI LA conference in the flesh:

M.T. Anderson

1. M.T. Anderson’s Sweet Serenade to the State of Delaware. Yup, literary guru M.T. Andersen ended his keynote speech with side-splitting hilarity. There’s nothing quite like watching a six-foot-uber-intellectual belt out a fictional state song of Delaware, while frolicking across stage. American Idol’s Simon Cowell would’ve been horrified, but one-thousand SCBWI members could only leap from their seats in standing ovation. Sheer genius. (Catch a snippet of him singing here: Rock-on M.T. Anderson).

2. A One-on-One Manuscript Critique with the Editor of The Hunger Games. This was my first manuscript critique, so you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Jennifer Rees (editor of The Hunger Games) would be sharing her expertise. Talk about opportunity of a lifetime! Her refined eye pinpointed areas in which I need to stretch myself, and I’m jazzed to dig in and revise. (No, despite my attempt to bribe her with cookies, she didn’t tell me anything about Mockingjay).

3. Cyberspace Meets the Real World. I tweet tweet tweet, and blog blog blog, and follow a lot of the kidlit community online. So how sweet it is to meet many of my blogger-brethren in real life! So here’s a quick shout out to some of the great tweeps I got to speak to without editing myself to 140 characters. I love you guys! Check out: Debbie Redipath Ohi (of Inkygirl Fame), Keirsten White, Lee Wind, Brian Ormiston, Ben Esch, Michelle Houts, Stephanie Perkins, Andrea Offermann, Emilia Plater, Kristin Otts, Amy Nichols, and Sarah Wilson Etienne.

4. Jay Asher’s Angels. Three all-star young adult authors dressed up as cupid’s angels at the Heart and Soul Ball. Who were those super stars sporting pink heart sunglasses and frilly tights? None other than authors: Jay Asher (13 Reasons Why), Carolyn Mackler (Tangled), and Rachel Vail (Lucky). Not to mention Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted) busting a move on the dance floor. It’s the Kidlit party of the season, baby!

5. Tugging on the Heart Strings. When Julie Durango whispers that every book she writes is a message to her two boys, I couldn’t hold in the tears. When Rachel Vail sniffled, moved by her own characters, I reached for a box of tissues. When Marion Dane Bauer tapped into the emotion of story, we all felt the power that drives us to write.

6. Affirmations with Ashley Bryan. Say it with me! Bryan raises his arms like a prophet and calls the audience to help him recite a poem by Langston Hughes. With the reluctant drone of a church congregation the crowd starts, but by the end we are all chanting the words, feeling the rhythms, and alive with the power of poetry. What Ashley Bryan gives you is a gift, it starts in your throat, but as you give it voice, you open up like his arms and everyone together becomes one with the oral tradition, one with the act of storytelling, one with the artist that we each individually and collectively, are. (Here’s a video snippet of Ashley Bryan).

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll make friends for a life time, and you’ll walk away inspired for the rest of the year. I know blogs like mine give you great info from these events, but nothing can replace the real experience. I heart you SCBWI!

Learn more at: