This year’s NE-SCBWI Conference (my sixth) was different for me. As the On-the-Spot Critique Coordinator, I was one of numerous volunteers responsible for making a successful conference. In my position, I felt deeply obligated to the attendees, wanting to facilitate proper connections to editors/agents, and I’d promised these same professionals that I’d do my best to secure them additional critiques. In truth, I was scared. Since becoming the On-the-Spot Critique Coordinator less than a month ago, I have secretly fretted, while my daily early-morning writing time turned into early-morning e-mail communication, chart-making, and teaching myself how to make a spreadsheet. (I am also a committee co-chair for the upcoming New Jersey SCBWI Conference.) My manuscripts lay untouched; my muse went on strike.
Preparing for the conference reminded me of my earlier years in the business of writing for children, when I was unsure and questioned my abilities. Self-doubt hinders your growth as an artist. So I stopped thinking about What Might Not Happen (that the on-the-spot critiques would be a failure) and I began to believe that I could, indeed, pull this off. But to do this, I had to call on my Inspired Frame-of-Mind, which is strong, determined, and follows the muse with much delight, like a kitten chasing an unraveling ball of red yarn. I write what my characters tell me, and on some level, believe they are the ones shaping their stories, not me. I continue to struggle with writing for my blog, for that voice comes from a different place, where self-criticism has rented a tiny room and ignores my weekly eviction notice.
So in my Inspired Frame-of-Mind, I faced the task of being a successful conference coordinator: I worked diligently and focused on being positive, while doing everything possible to sell these critiques. The bar to succeed is set high due to the tireless efforts of our region’s longtime coordinators, who have given so much of their time over the years: Marilyn Salerno, Joyce Shor Johnson, Kathryn Hulick, Melissa Hed. Valarie Giogas. Laura Pauling. Melissa Stewart. Casey Girard. Betty Brown. Sally Riley. Jean Woodbury. Linda Brennan. Jennifer Carson. Joannie Duris. Anna Boll. Jennifer O’Keefe. Greg Fishbone. Francine Puckly. Margo Lemieux. And Shirley Pearson, who I hope can one day step out from behind the registration table to pursue her own dreams. I apologize in advance for not listing every name, though my gratitude is intended for all. Thank you! The NE-SCBWI Conference reflects your efforts, selfless dedication, and enthusiasm for our wonderful community. A community filled with hope and possibilities, which only grows stronger in the ever-changing climate of children’s book publishing.
After getting a good night’s sleep, I study my photos from the conference. And though I wish I’d taken more, the ones I share reflect a glimpse of conference magic. Joy. Love of writing and/or illustrating, love for our SCBWI community, and a universal craving for and adoration of books.
I will blog about some amazing workshops once I attend to my own writing. Nearly a month has gone by since my mornings focused on my work. Over the past few weeks, it felt as if a part of me was slipping away. Sadness seemed to circle above me like vultures eyeing a carcass in the middle of a busy street until I arrived in Springfield, where among other writers, I understood what was missing. I need to write. Period.
The street is void, the vultures have flown away, and I now run free, filled with rejuvenation. I hope you are too. So much of this renewal of hope came from you, my colleagues. And I thank you. Perhaps, you can point to those moments that spoke to you, and I’d love to hear what those were. For me, the magical moments from this past weekend came as a surprise, and many times brought me to tears.
2. Speaking with first-time attendees. Thank you for being brave and attending your first conference. We need you. In truth, we all need each other.
4. Applauding the writers/illustrators who have 2012 books to celebrate. I love hearing a room full of people celebrate the successes of others. This is what we do best. This is what makes our community so special.
5. Having friends recognized for their work: Kip Rechea won the 2012 Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship. Marcela Staudenmaier won the 2012 Ann Barrows Scholarship. I am incredibly proud of these two hard-working, deserving women.
6. Harry Bliss’ keynote address, accompanied by his illustrations. Harry made me laugh and cry. What a privilege and honor to be in that room.
7. Seeing how hard the conference staff and volunteers worked, noting their dedication not only to their job, but also to their constant desire to make attendees feel welcome.
9. Hearing Sara Zarr’s keynote address, during which I was reminded why I love the Frog and Toad series, and more importantly, why I love Sara Zarr.
10. Celebrating the Poster Contest winners. So much talent!!
12. Being a part of the first Novel Academy, brilliantly run by Sarah Aronson, Carolyn Coman, and Nancy Werlin.
12. Lastly, Kate Messner and her TED talk on world-building and imagination. I can’t help but get choked up when I think about this. (I thank Kathryn Hulick for asking Kate to share her speech.) Kate is very special, not only as a gifted writer, but as an avid contributor to our world’s future. She believes in children, that they can make a difference if we tap into their young minds and eager spirits.
“What if . . .” Kate asked.
What if . . .? I thought.
My initial response was: What if we didn’t have Kate Messner or her books in this world? Her spirit? Her dedication to children, and her belief that they can alter our future for the better? I cannot imagine such a loss. Driving home, other What If questions came to me, related to the conference: What if we didn’t have the talent and support of Jane Yolen? What if books didn’t exist? What if stories weren’t allowed to be told? What if we didn’t embrace failure? Would we lose our chance to grow? What if we didn’t try hard enough? What if we weren’t active listeners? What if we were unable to open our hearts so to receive constructive feedback? What if we didn’t have Harold Underdown’s wisdom, generous spirit, knowledge, and support? What if we gave up on ourselves too soon?
We don’t have to imagine the unthinkable because we are truly lucky. We have Kate Messner, Harold Underdown, Jane Yolen, Harry Bliss, Sara Zarr, SCBWI, and all the many, many talented and generous artists in our community. I wish I could name everyone, but know how much I appreciate you, including the editors/agents/publishers. And most importantly, our young readers. I am so grateful to be in the business of writing for children, and for being a proud member of SCBWI.
In ending this post, I hope that each of you will guard and cherish whatever inspired you over the weekend, no matter the source: A workshop experience. A book you had autographed. Conversation with a new or old friend. A phrase that tugged at your heart. An image. A helpful encounter with a professional. A photo. An unforgettable illustration. Someone’s story. A challenge, for which you rose to the occasion. A smile from a stranger. Perhaps, even a memorable slice of cake! Whatever danced in your head as you traveled back home, embrace it. Be thankful. Believe in the impossible. I do.