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2011 SCBWI Summer Conference, or What I Did Over Summer Vacation

There are lots and lots of great blogs about the conference, but definitely check the Official Conference Blog. I can't chew gum and blog at the same time, so I left it to these speedy bloggers to give the play-by-play action.

What I do better is ruminate and then sum up. So here's an overview at my time at the 2011 SCBWI Summer Conference.

Day One: Friday

I live in the area, so I skipped all the early morning sessions and showed up in time for the first keynote. Bruce Coville is all kinds of awesome, and I loved his speech about why what we do matters and how what we do affect others in ways we can never know.

Jerry Pinkney's keynote was accompanied by personal photos and drawings and how to bring a sense of place to your work. Awe. Some.

My first breakout session was Donna Jo Napoli's "Sources of Tension and How to Use Them." She did a very interactive session, taking suggestions from the audience how what were the elements of tension. But lessons I learned from the session on how to hook a reader and keep them were these quotes: "Make the reader trust you" and "People go to the fictional side for an emotional ride." (Can I have t-shirts with those made?)

Lunch was with some of my crit partners, which was a good time to compare notes and fuel up for the afternoon.

Then Libba Bray blew me away with her keynote, "Writing It All Wrong: A Survival Manual." She talked about how writing the third volume of her Gemma Doyle Trilogy was one of the most difficult things she's ever done. Draft after draft sucked and she couldn't figure out what was wrong. But she kept (painfully) at it until the story clicked. Boy, was that something I needed to hear as I make my way through Draft 7 of my WIP.

The second breakout session I went to was with Laurie Halse Anderson. She talked about "The Nuts and Bolts of Crafting a Creative Life: Finding Lost Time and Reclaiming Creativity." She had the audience go through some mini-exercises on where our time disappears to and how to get rid of our time-wasters. I discovered that my biggest time suck is not Twitter, but the couch. Once I sit down, I'm pretty much down for the count. Now before I put butt cheek to couch, I think "What would Laurie do?" Haven't been 100% successful with this, but I'm getting better.

I skipped the last keynote of the day to do some writing. With all the inspiration in the air, especially after Laurie's session, I had to get some words on paper.

Then I went to the first autograph session where 1. Fonzie said "Hi!" to me as I waited in line (Okay, me and the other 50 people in line). 2. My nephew better appreciate how awesome it is to have a signed autograph copy of The Phantom Tollbooth. 3. I was concerned Libba Bray would get writer's cramp by the end of the session after she signed my books.

I stayed late for the networking and I couldn't help myself and bought Ruta Sepety's Between Shades of Gray. Ruta was so excited to be a newly published author and completely sweet. I told her that I had heard good things about the book and was really looking forward to reading it. "Email me and tell me if you liked it!" she said. "Email me if you didn't like it!" Gotta love that kind of enthusiasm.

I also chatted for over an hour with a woman I had just met, which is why I love this conference. To meet people from all over the country who share your passion and want to share their knowledge with you.

Day Two: Saturday

I skipped the early morning stuff again and got there in time for Lin Oliver's interview with Judy Blume. Judy freakin' Blume! She looks fabulous for a 73-year-old legend. She was funny and charming and everything Judy Blume should be.

Next, I did the first breakout session with Alessandra Balzer on "You Can Handle the Truth: Honest Advice on What Editors Are Looking For." Lots of great info, but the big takeaway for me was what she coined "trend bridges." These are books that are outside a current trend, but just. I immediately thought of Beth Revis' Across the Universe. It can be considered dystopia (big trend), but it also has enough light sci-fi elements that readers may want to read more sci-fi (thus, a "trend bridge").

I skipped the afternoon keynote to confer with one of my crit partners. Taking a moment to digest and reflect on what we had learned.

The afternoon panels were a little dry to me, so I found a corner and wrote for a couple of hours. Progress was made on my WIP. Yay me!

Day Three: Sunday

How awesome is Gary Paulsen? His morning keynote was brilliant. Another t-shirt worthy quote was "Read like a wolf eats."

The first breakout session was with Beverly Horowitz on "Even Though It's Not Quite Perfect! Acquisitions and Revisions." She's the V.P. Publisher of Delacorte Press, and basically they're looking for books with honesty and a sense of hope.

The luncheon was lovely. Not just the food, and the company, but the speeches and the evident dedication of SCWBI staff and volunteers. And thanks to Shaleen at my table for emailing me the photo of dessert (yum!)

And let's not forget Laurie Halse Anderson's keynote speech, "Daring the Universe." It touched on some of the topics from her breakout session, and it really emphasized the writer's role as a creator and the need the world has for creators.

For the last breakout session of the conference, I went to Krista Marino's "Perfecting Your YA Voice." Krista is an Executive Editor at Delacorte Press and she talked about the importance of narrative voice. She read excerpts from published novels, both with and without the narrative voice, to demonstrate how important interior monologue is. It gives those extra character details that helps engage the reader.

So there you go! I hope all of you get a chance to go to the conference at least once. It will change your writing life forever.