Sunday, November 13, 2011

SCBWI Brazos Valley Writers' Conference

As previously mentioned, I can be very awkward, and no where are my minimal social skills more tested than at a writers' conference.  But I'm happy to report that I did not make a TOTAL fool of myself at yesterday's SCBWI Brazos Valley Craft and Connections Conference, well at least not compared to the last conference I attended.

Well, I did walk in late to the pre-conference dinner just as Kathi Appelt, our gracious hostess, started a mini-speech, so everyone stopped, turned around, and stared at me as I stood there grinning and clutching a bottle of wine. And I did manage to stutter and mispronounce words almost every time I spoke to Senior Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, Claudia Gabel.  My brain was like, "Ah! She's an editor.  Quick, forget how to use English!" Thanks brain.

I also made one mistake. The night before the conference, I knew I needed to figure out how to summarize my book in a sentence.  I started to come up with a one-line pitch and memorize it, but then thought, "Nah, I know this book so well, it's SO easy to talk about it!" Big Mistake.  When Claudia asked me what my book was about, I think I said, "This girl has powers and stuff." Great.

But overall the conference was pretty fantastic and I learned a lot. I was pretty impressed with the quality of presenters for our little SCBWI chapter and a small venue.

Claudia Gabel started off with a keynote craft lesson on plot structure, characterization, and the importance of outlining.  She explained the difference between crisis and conflict in a way I wish I would have heard back when I taught English. She also flashed a bit of the proposal for Elusion, a book she's co-writing with Cheryl Klam and sounds Ah.Ma.Zing.

Next, Brian Floca, author/illustrator of some amazing picture books, did an awesome visual presentation about how he got where he is.  He included a hilarious Spiderman picture book he wrote and illustrated when he was a kid.

Local author Doris Fisher talked about breaking into the magazine market and another local writer, Molly Blaisdell gave a workshop on how to write a paragraph synopsis of your story.

Newbery Medal winning author and local legend Kathi Appelt did a gerat audio/visual presentation about the blues and how we can learn to write a character's emotional arc and sorrow by studying blues songs.  She discussed and showed examples of spirituals and the call and response structure.  She posed the question, When your main character calls, who responds? She also pointed out the role of the devil in a lot of blues music and asked, What does your main character want so badly she'd sell her soul to the devil for it?  Both questions gave me a lot to think about in terms of my main character in my WIP.

Finally, up-and-coming super star agent Elena Mechlin at Pippin Properties talked queries and answered the attendees' burning questions.  We finished off with an entertaining panel with all the speakers.

We went to dinner at Cafe Eccell after the conference and I think was the cause of only 2 awkward pauses and I'm pretty sure only said 3 stupid things, which is a total record for me.  Very proud. :)

I think it helped I already knew some the Brazos Valley writers and this wasn't a high stakes conference for me. I wasn't there to pitch anyone and I didn't get my work critiqued. I'm not an author with a book to sell, but I'm also not asking questions about queries. I felt like a writer in a murky middle area which allowed me to relax and do what I could to help out at the conference.

I can't say it enough, if you have a chance to go to a writers' conference, do it!

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