Monday, May 17, 2010

New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference

You know that feeling you get when you know you have forgotten something important. You get heart palpitations, sweaty palms and images of your house burning down from that oven you are sure you left on. I had it all weekend. Accept I didn’t forget my keys, my wallet or even to brush my hair (common in my case). I forgot my kids.

Early Saturday morning, armed with caffeine and a well-intentioned GPS, I made my escape to the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference (NESCBWI) and not even the sound of three screaming children could make me turn around. (a 6 month old, a 2 year old, and a token husband)

Here were some of my favorite talks (I could not attend all of them):

New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith kicked us out of our morning stupor with her personal journey of how she came to write about pixies, shapeshifters and vampires. She had lots of good advice on what to expect if you quit that cushiony desk job to become a children's book writer. She also talked about how to reinvent yourself once you get cast into one genre. That's something I could relate to. Cynthia is definitely a Raucous of those renaissance women who could split dna, find a cure for cancer AND get kids reading. She was also really funny which was good because I just needed to laugh to make me forget about the kids I had abandoned.

If you have a teen with a penchant for shapeshifting then you must check out some of her books.

Deborah Sloan and Mitali Perkins gave an amazing talk on “Managing Your Online Presence.” My head is spinning with all I learned. I had no clue what Facebook could do nor did I know that there are PRIVACY SETTINGS that you MUST set. I didn’t know you could feed your blog into facebook. And I didn’t know you can make lists of contacts organizing people with helpful titles like, “fellow history geek buddies” (that would be anyone who reads this blog) and “old high school boyfriends who might want me dead” and “people who have an epiphany that I have the same last name as them.” Currently, I really only use facebook for people I know and people who have the same last name as me. (My family is from Sicily. You just don’t ignore friend requests from Sicilians). I still don’t know how to “friend” someone unless I see one of those nifty “friend suggestions.” I am going to go figure that out today. (I can hear the chorus of duuuuuuuuhs over cyberspace right now)

Check out Mitali Perkins blog. I am pretty sure that it is done by her evil twin because there is no way she could write such amazing books and still have time to have this good of a blog.

Leda Schubert gave a really amusing and insightful talk on “Telling it True.” Leda and I share a love of circus history. And you must check out her incredible book – Ballet of the Elephants. I had to leave Leda’s talk half way through to pump milk (more on that later) but I left with some great tips.

Melissa Stewart gave one of those inspirational + informative + humorous = darn good talk on “It’s a Great Time for Nonfiction”. She talked POV, Style and Tone. I learned that studies are showing that kids (especially boys) prefer reading nonfiction and that kids that read nonfiction are more likely to graduate. She gave some interesting examples of how different writers tuned conventional formats on their head.

Marla Frazee….Gasp, Faint, Throw up. (in that order). I wasn’t really planning to go to the NESCBWI conference until I heard she was speaking. Marla Frazee is my idol. I am pretty sure that a 13 year old asking a Jonus Brother (the extra cute one) for his autograph would have been calmer than I was. Marla and Allyn Johnston gave a talk showing examples of picture books that they have worked on. It is hard to describe, but seeing her revision process really made me understand how good narrative art works. I must confess that sometimes my art is pretty, but doesn't tell enough of a story. It's something that I plan to work on.

Which brings me to Carrie Jones, Jo Knowles and Kate Messner's talk on blogging. They advised not being disparaging on your blog, not giving out too much information, not letting your blog keep you from writing your book, and not always talking about yourself. (check, check, check and check.) I guess I will have to work on that too.

Lastly, I really enjoyed Cynthia Levison’s talk on writing for Nonfiction Magazines. I have never written for magazines and had no clue where to start. I am still not sure if my writing style would work in a magazine format, but I might give it a try some day.

The only dark moment in the conference was that unfortunate incident where I almost drove my lucky pencil through the eye of the woman at the front desk of the lobby. (Really, I love my lucky pencil. I would have hated to get blood all over it. )

This story borders on the lines of TMI, but I am hopped up on caffeine right now so I am going to tell it anyway. Since I am still nursing, I needed to store my breast milk in the hotel lobby’s fridge. So I asked one of the staff if I could use the hotel's fridge. Simple request. Done all the time. Never a problem. Well, she immediately looked at me as if I had just asked to grow the ebola virus next to her Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Now, I must give a visual. I did NOT give her visible containers of my bodily fluids. I gave her a small 6 x 6 cooler. Shown below:

She said “No, I am sorry I can’t do that.” I asked why. She just repeated that she could not do that. I explained to her that my son would not have anything to eat tomorrow if I didn’t get that milk home safely. No, I have no extra. The kid is 21 lbs. He eats more than a small baby calf. He is a WICKED big baby. (said in my best Boston accent)

I was then sent scrambling asking strangers if I could store my son’s next meal in their fridge. Thankfully, the Applewood Restaurant let me use their fridge. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to the Applewood Restaurant.

So other than this one undignified moment, The NESCBWI Conference was another great event. Just leave your commercial breast pump at home. Lactating writers not welcome.


Amy said...

That conference sounds like paradise.
BTW, I worked when my Princess Elizabeth was first born and used to pump in any empty exam room I could find. I, also, used a cooler to keep the milk safe (and hidden from delicate male eyes) in the common fridge. Nothing beats the time I walked into the kitchen to eat and found our doctor peeking into my cooler to see what I had for "lunch."
"It's not my lunch, Doc. It's my daughter's."
I never saw a grown man run so fast.

Anonymous said...

So that is where you snuck off to, Carlyn! (What a jughead the desk attendant was. I wish I'd known what was going on, because I would have told her so and then held her down while you stashed the goods in her 'fridge.)

It was great to see you, and be reminded to check out your blog.

Will be sending a FB Friend Request your way soon ...


Loree Griffin Burns

Bearded Lady said...

Amy - pumping in an empty exam room is about as much fun as the hotel bathroom. oh the things we do for those bambinos.

Loree- It was good to see you too. And I can't wait to read The Hives Detectives. My daughter is obsessed with bees.