NY SCBWI Conference 2015 Recap

Before I forget everything, here are the highlights of the Winter SCBWI Conference in New York:

Feb. 5: Pre-Conference Illustration Mentee Day 

SCBWI illustration board member David Diaz arranged a day of visits with editors and agents in Manhattan for illustrators in the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship program. He graciously invited me to join. Unfortunately, due to flight delays, I only made it to the last meeting, with Laura Godwin, V.P. and Publisher of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

It was a thrill to sit in a corner conference room of the Flatiron Building (the room was as narrow as the conference table with windows on both sides) and hear Ms. Godwin's advice. The most heartening thing she said was that children's publishing is flourishing. The least heartening thing was that it is tremendously difficult to break into the field. But we knew that.

Feb. 6: Illustration Intensive

In Friday's Illustration Intensive, we had:

  • A Stellar Publisher Panel:
Christy Ottaviano:  "Bring your own perspective to your work." "Develop a thick skin." "Be aware of what is being published." "You always need to grow artistically."
Neal Porter:  "Don't underestimate kids." "Think unconventionally." "Be careless. Try anything."
Nancy Paulsen:  "Read out loud to children." "There are many different ways to solve a problem."
  • Peter Brown's formula for success:
"Your own needs (what you love) + Kids' interests (what others love) = Great Book"
"You need to be an idea factory"
  •  David Ezra Stein, introduced by his former teacher, Pat Cummings:
"Emotion and humor drives story." "Asing 'How is the ending?' is a good way to litmus test a story and its emotional arc."
  • Laura Vacarro Seeger:
"Always keep a journal."
  • Herve Tullet's Unconventional Approach:  
"Draw while not thinking." "Let the drawing dictate, not the idea." "Forget that you are drawing"
"Think of drawing as a poem that becomes more and more serious."
To emphasize these points, he had us to a shared group drawing exercise, where we passed sheets of paper after drawing to his command, "A dot," "A large dot," "A circle," or "Dots on a circle" until the final step, "Add stems and leaves." We all ended up with surreal and fun flower drawings.

We also had a two-hour intensive working session. We had to develop, from scratch, a storyboard (thumbnails) of a picture book story based on one of our own illustrations. I used my pirate parrot postcard image:

And amazingly, came up with a fun idea and thumbnail sketch. Here's the first panel:

Feb. 7-8 The Conference

Inspiring speakers: SCBWI outdid itself with its keynote speakers:
  • Anthony Horowitz (ALEX RIDER series) "Don't look down to children, let them rise up to you."  "There's a difference between story and entertainment." "See what you are writing: I am a camera." and "NEVER GIVE UP."
  • Herve Tullet (PRESS HERE & other concept PBs) "There is no specific fate for children."
  • Kami Garcia (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES) Write for your audience not for a contract.
  • Laura Vaccaro Seeger (GREEN & other PBs) "There is always a story, even in a concept book." "Trust your instincts about your ideas." "Know your characters."
  • Kwame Alexander (Newbery Prize winner for THE CROSSOVER) Kwame raised the roof and brought down the house. Some of his pearls of wisdom (also found on Twitter #Kwamerules):
"The writing life is about having something significant to write about."
"How do you deal with life? I write a poem."
"When you're trying to make a living in the writing life, the answer is always YES." (on how he never turned down an assignment, invitation, or request) 
"You can't let other people's NOs define your YESs." 

photo of Kwame Alexander courtesy of Debbie Ridpath Ohi

A Publisher Panel
A panel of publishers, Justin Chanda (S&S Books for Young Readers), Laura Gowin (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), Beverly Horowitz (Delacorte Press) and Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney-Hyperion) all agreed that children's books are doing very well, especially picture books.
An Agent's Panel
Barry Goldblatt, Jennifer Laughran, and Tina Wexler gave advice. Barry: "Write something brilliant."
Breakout Sessions

  • Doreen Cronin, Art Director, Viking Children's Books: "Observe, absorb, integrate."
  • Heather Alesander, Agent, Pippin Properties: "Be yourself." 

The Best Part: Meeting my Critique Group and Fabulous Online Friends

The best part of the whole weekend? Meeting in person my online picture book critique group (5 of the 7 members were there), plus lots of other friends I've met over the years through 12x12, Kidlit411, and other communities.
My critique group and I enjoyed a happy hour at Grand Central Station: Teresa Robeson, Elaine Kiely Kearns, Alayne Christian, and Victoria Warneck
Photo credit by Zainab Khan. Some of  the Kidlit411 & 12x12ers in this photo: Elaine Kiely Kearns, Stephanie Olivieri, Kristin Schroeder, Zainab Khan, Victoria Warnek, Kirstie Call, Teresa Robeson, Marcie Colleen, Larry Fogel-Bublick, Brittany Handiboe, Jodi Moore
Debbie Ohi & me
Waiting to hear the next inspiring speaker

Lunch on the lobby floor
I had some great NYC meals. This was Japanese tapas in a subterranean restaurant, Sakagura