Saturday, February 25, 2012

SCBWI SpringMingle - The Skinny on the Fat!

First and foremost, the best part of the conference was meeting up with Twitter and Verla Kay buddy, Mary Ann Scott aka @ghostgirlwrites. We decided to room together and hang out at the conference. Best. Decision. Ever. So much fun to have a writing buddy to share the experience with. We talked about our families, our manuscripts, our agents, our subbing experience - it was fantastic and we did great as roomies - not that we spent much time there at all!

Kirby Lawson is the cutest, most adorable author ever. She's warm and generous and a super speaker. Her keynote was beyond inspiring!  She made a point of making each of us feel as if we were right there on the same level and that her journey was no different than ours.  She also did a great panel on finding your voice and would put up one or two first pages sentences than quiz us on what we knew about the character from those snippets - a very telling exercise.  I came away from Kirby with a long TBR list:

  • The Lost Art of Walking (for writer fortitude)
  • The Principles of Uncertainty (for writer fortitude)
  • Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See (Kirby has made a practice of writing little, elegant notes to others in the profession as a result of reading this book, and has some very impressive penpals as a result)
  • Of Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor
  • Unwind (resonance)
  • How to Steal A Dog (resonance)
  • My Life in France by Julia Child (voice)
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (voice)

Mary Kole is a veritable font of information. She knows the business inside and out and gave an incredibly in depth talk on the craft of picture books. As a critiquer of first pages, she holds back no thoughts, and tells it no bones like she sees it.  My favorite Mary quote (of which there were plenty, she's sort of an opinionated hoot) was "A publisher is like a bad boyfriend. It's really hard to get them to spend money on you." This quote was in reference to one of her client's picture books, Zoe Gets Ready, and how the publisher is actually going to put glitter on the cover. Something she's very excited about. I went to her all group picture book talk, but not her query talk. Her blog,,
has all her query information. Her big news, however, is that she's publishing a book on writing MG and YA books that will be released within the next year or so.

Another adorable editor - Greg Ferguson at Egmont is like your favorite little brother, funny, smart, and no qualms about swearing in regards to his favorite books. A worthy trait. As an editor he likes "boy books", action/adventure series, and edgy realistic YA. He'd also love to find a narrative non-fiction writer for YA. Egmont is not doing anymore dystopian or paranormal romance at this time. Egmont does not publish picture books.He gave two great talks, one on the process of creating covers within Egmont publishing and the other on making your thrillers thrilling (a genre all three of the industry panelists were interested in). In the cover panel he talked about successes and then used the examples of Bree Despain's The Dark Devine as an example of when the author wasn't happy with the first cover, and Ashes as an example of when a cover didn't send the right message (first cover said Paranormal Romance not dystopian). What I didn't know was that Barnes & Noble actually gets a say in cover design. If during sales meetings, they hate the cover work-up, sometimes publishing houses will go back to the drawing board.  

In his thriller workshop, he lamented the lack of good thrillers for teens, but sighted these four ingredients as essential: non-stop action, dangerous situations, hair-raising suspense, and heroic characters. He said the difference between a thriller and a mystery are the level of the stakes for your protagonist. Death makes a thriller! He also said there's more room to be both literary and write a thriller in YA, unlike the formulaic thrillers in adult lit. He cited his new book, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, as an example of this.

Kristin Rens of Balzer & Bray gave a wonderful talk on plot and its jigsaw puzzle attributes. What makes her fall for a book is when it grabs her, keeps her riveted, and the promise of the central conflict is kept, ending in a satisfying way.  She said that even though your stories should open with a bang, oftentimes authors try to squeeze too much into the first page or paragraph. She said a good first sentence needn't include an explosion but should introduce the voice of the character, and give the reader something to expect. She used the first line of Possess by Gretchen McNeil as an example. (Sorry didn't write down the line!) And like so many others who advise us over and over, start your story on the day things change. Not at the change, necessarily, but on the day it changes. She gives Rampant, a story about man-eating unicorns as an example. By page fifteen, we know the central character comes from a line of unicorn hunters, it's set in modern-day society, and her boyfriend gets gored in the leg by a unicorn, destroying her theory that they're extinct and her skills are no longer needed. And as Kristin put it, "And then you're off."  She gave the example of All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins as an example of a 'quiet book' with great plotting and tension.

It was also fun to hear her brag about and pump up my writing friend, Megan Shepherd's, soon to be published book, The Madman's Daughter, for which she is the acquiring editor.

A final shot of the conference presenters: LtoR Kirby Larson, Mary Kole, Greg Ferguson, Kristin Rens
More twitter friends: @janicefoy @julianalbrandt @jayerobinbrown and @ghostgirlwrites

That's all folks, hope I was able to pass on a little knowledge! JRo


  1. Sounds like you got a lot out of the conference. You're making me look forward to NE-SCBWI in April even more!

    1. That's supposed to be a great conference. Enjoy! And share!

  2. It was such a lovely pleasure meeting you and Mary Ann. I had a great time, and can't wait to attend my next conference.

    You did an awesome job writing up the weekend, and wrote down a lot of the bits I missed :).

  3. Ha, here's a second person in your thread going to NE SCBWI. Maybe that's an omen for you ;)

    Seriously, though. Sounds like the conference was wonderful. I got to spend some extra time with Mary Kole at a Vermont conference and she's amazingly sharp. I wish I could have heard the thriller talk. Oh, well.

    Sheesh. My husband just shut off the power with no warning. Think I better so see what he's up to.

  4. Lovely sharing of a good gathering. Appreciated!

  5. Wow, what a great time. It makes me homesick for a conference. I haven't been in a while. I'd better register for one soon!

  6. Sooooo right about that Best. Decision. Ever! I had the best time hanging with you! And what a packed weekend--my head hasn't exploded yet, but I make no promises. I have so many points on my WIP to-do list!

    Great to our twitter buds and meet new comarades on the journey.

    1. It was so fun getting to know you on an up close and in person level!

  7. Sounds like an excellent conference! Thanks so much for sharing the skinny with us all!

  8. I love attending conferences vicariously. :) Thanks!


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