If someone had told me earlier this year that I would be attending a Writers Conference thousands of miles away in another country on my own, I would not have believed them.
Thanks to two very good internet writing buddies from our Children’s Hub, who emailed and sent personal messages encouraging me to join them, I took the plunge and stepped into an almost out-of-life-experience. Talk about stepping out of ones’ comfort Zone!
The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books of Writers and Illustrators) is a huge community that cares, encourages, shares, nurtures, teaches and celebrates the craft of writers and illustrators from all around the world. I arrived in LA at the 40th SCBWI conference, via a South East Asia holiday on my way home to down under New Zealand, and gratefully met up with my internet writer friends from the Children’s Book Hub run by Emma Walton Hamilton.
From my first day at our Orientation, and Lynn Oliver‘s(founder) welcome speech, to Bruce Coville’s incredible keynote speech on what we do having a rippling effect on the world, to Libba Bray’s after lunch Keynote speech, hilarious from the moment she took the stand, I was totally blown away by the excitement, the energy, the buzz and the friendliness of so many people. The 1340 plus attending (the biggest ever) with 42% published and highest ever attended by men eagerly chatted with strangers, sharing tips, exchanging contacts, and genuinely eager to make friends. Rukhasan Kahan’s workshop, author of Carpet of Roses and Wanting Moa was excellent, sharing tips and focus for anyone writing multicultural stories. Surprise of the day for me was ending up in Henry Winklers (Mr Fonze himself) workshop, of writing with humor and heart, was another hilarious time, and I learned much. Emma Dryden wrapped up the keynotes and I finished the day at the International Members Social, meeting many writers and illustrators from Japan, Germany, Mexico, Australia, Canada among others.
Day two, and while Donna Jo Napoli was interesting and informative, the most gripping keynote speaker of the morning for me was David Small with his erie approach and deep experience, had me moved to tears. Hoping one day of writing an autobiography/memoir, I was captivated by this speaker. Hearing her speech the day before Libba Bray’s workshop was a must and proved brilliant. When Libba gives a speech she is an actor first, and you can’t help but live on every word. Judy Bloom was our special guest back in the main hall being interviewed by Lyn Oliver. A self confessed twitter junky she had me coming away relising that one should write a draft from start to finish before any editing should start. There were many other interesting points I noted in my journal during this interview. My other workshop with Jenne Abramowitzer was very good and informative as was the last keynote speakers of the day Jon Scieska and Norton Juster, inspiring and witty.
Saturday night was the Ball and the theme PJ Party and I doned a costume I bought in Vietnam before arriving in LA. Now have you ever been to a poolside party with over 1300 people in their PJ’s dancing the night away, let me tell you, it was AWESOME!
Day three (Sunday), started off with a panel consisting of Tracey Adams, Barry Goldblatt, Marcia Wernick and Tina Wexler, happily answering a barrage of questions one has often wondered, and then some. Centering mostly from agents view point, they were even asked, if they could fix anything (and it’s believed they have a magic wand), what would it be?… We knew instantly we were in for another, moving , witty, and informative day ahead. Gary Paulsen first keynote speaker of the day, had most of us in tears, with his moving, and witty journey through childhood to the present day laid bare before us. One cannot help but be in awe. For something different I decided to sit in on Eileen Robinson’s workshop regarding “how to write for school and Library market”. A couple who approached me in a lunch line to consider writing for a Korean school market were also there and gave their interesting view. I was delighted to see some of my Hub members had joined me and I came away with more interesting notes for me to ponder. The Kite Award Luncheon followed, with special quest speaker, Richard Peck. What can I say! Profound, compelling, grippingly hilarious, I could listen to him all day. Brilliant, damn brilliant. Laurie Halse Anderson’s closing keynotes – Daring the Universe, had me crying for more. Her words urging us as we leave SCBWI to care for our muse, as a small 4yr old child, fragile and frightened, who will whisper in your ear, eager to grow, nurtured and loved. A quote from Mark Twain… remember 20yrs from now you will be disappointed in the things you didn’t do 20yrs earlier. Her parting comment… “go forth and distrub the universe, it is your right”, and I am spellbound. I met Lyn Oliver briefly and was delighted she was aware I was from New Zealand, warmly and obligingly had a photo taken with me and a fellow hub member.
Sadly the conference ended for me as I did not register for the intensives the next day. But I was up early and wished my fellow hubbers luck. Suzie another Hubber and I arranged to meet and spent the day together, and we managed to meet the others for lunch to see how they were going. I caught up with two of them again before I caught my taxi out to the airport for my long flight home, and was delighted to hear it had been a fruitful day for them. We all agreed this was indeed a fantastic experience, and while I think we all thought it would be a “once in a life time experience”, we have now all decided to return again.
With being back, preparing for my regular job tomorrow, bags unpacked and the washing put away, the table covered in books and notes from the conference, and settling down in front of the heater watching the weather report telling us there was another freezing storm approaching, its hard to believe only a few days ago I was enjoying warm temperatures, being spoilt staying in a lovely hotel suite, relishing the company of friends, and other like-minded people in the world known as SCBWI. Such and out-of-life-experience. For me, it was realising that even the well learned, the experienced and well known authors, all had to start somewhere, and many had travelled a tough road, failed many times, but always they continued to work their craft and with encouragement they never gave up. A story has to fail for it to grow, we must write from the heart, take risks and learn to fly. Believe in ourselves, for we have much to share and change the world causing ripples, we can go forth and disturb after all it is our right. Most of all be patient and kind to ourselves for there is a magical story within, we just need to keep writing. I was reading Jane Yolen’s Blog earlier and these words jumped out at me…….”If I ever write the perfect book, I’ll stop writing….”