My blogposts are few and far between over the last few years. Ah, the life of a PhD candidate. Work and school have kept me hopping. Now that I’m on the final leg of the PhD marathon, the stories in my head are getting louder. After completing a crazy December with my qualifying exam, prelim exam, and oral defense, I decided to treat myself with the New York Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference. It’s been awhile. My last SCBWI conference was Bologna 2010.
The 16th annual Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference brought together over 1000 writers and illustrators from around the world. I attended the World Building workshop on Friday. Author Henry Neff shared his world building techniques, then applied what we learned to our own stories. We spent much of the morning and afternoon in small critiques sessions of seven or eight writers per table.
Literary agent Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency headed up our critique table. We took turns sharing stories about cheating game board characters and talking pencils, Romeo and Juliet with a sea-witch twist, Afghani book guardians of the mouse-kind, and girl vs. the volcano in a National Park. Thanks Brooks for being so gracious and thoughtful in your critique. I truly enjoyed learning from others as we refined our plots and characters together. Side note: I happened to sit next to a fellow bureaucrat who works for the State Department and knows one of my NASA colleagues. What are the odds in a conference with over 1000 attendees?
We kicked off the afternoon with a dialogue between James Dashner, author of Maze Runner, and his editor Krista Marino, Executive Editor of Delacorte Press. They described the Maze Runner journey from manuscript to book to movie, as well as the process to develop his newest series, the Mortality Doctrine. They have a collaborative co-creation process, which is born of a deeply trusting relationship. Quite inspiring.
We wrapped up Friday with an Editor and Agent Panel: “The Past, Present, and Future of Fantasy and Science Fiction in Children’s Books” with Toni Markiet, Senior Executive Editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books; Brooks Sherman of Bent; Ari Lewin, Executive Editor, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group; and Krista Marino, James Dashner’s editor.
The full conference kicked off on Saturday with keynote speaker Anthony Horowitz, author of the best selling teen spy series, Alex Rider, the writer and creator of BBC’s Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. The character of Sam in Foyle’s War is fashioned after his nanny who told him stories of the war growing up. I SO love Sam! He was commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate to write new Sherlock Holmes novels: House of Silk and Moriarty (which he autographed for me — image below). He’s in the process of writing a new official James Bond novel. Super cool.
I attended a workshop with Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor at Scholastic and author of middle grade and young adult fiction. She talked about her journey from editor to author, and shared her passion for books. She wrote her first book at age five and consumed all the Baby-Sitter’s Club books by Ann M. Martin. I was more into mystery as a kid. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Actually, my daughters and I STILL read Nancy Drew…out loud…usually in the back yard patio…with a glass or two of wine. We take turns reading the chapters — adding our own dialogue and dialects as we go. Silly, yes, but oh so much fun.
Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, led a workshop on how to work with an editor. She stressed the importance of good writing and good characters. A weak plot is fixable. Poor writing, not so much.
The best part of the conference is meeting awesome writers and hearing their imaginative stories. Each of us brings fresh perspectives to the topics we care about. We build relationships over our common passion — writing. I ran into a writer buddy from the Bologna 2010 conference today as I stood in line for autographs: Angela Cerrito. She has another book coming out in September. Congrats Angela!!
I stayed for the autograph session, as you can see from the fruits of my labor. So cool to get a chance to chat for just a tiny bit with both James Dashner and Anthony Horowitz. :)
On the drive home from New York, new stories and characters invaded my head. I documented their presence, but they’ll have to wait a little longer to come to life. Right now, I have a louder voice in my head — the one telling me to get cracking on my dissertation!