New Jersey SCBWI 2011 Conference

This year the 2011 annual New Jersey SCBWI Conference took place at a new location in Princeton, NJ, where I had the privilege of working behind the scenes of such a large undertaking. While I have attended the yearly NJ conference since 2007, this was my first time I co-chaired a committee. My volunteer responsibilities didn’t stop there, I spent hours in the weeks leading up to the conference checking spreadsheets, pouring over attendees’ personal schedules, and whatever else needed to be done. Kathy Temean and Laurie Wallmark are tireless leaders, and I couldn’t help but say Yes! whenever they reached out for help. In the end, it was fun, truly. If you can volunteer for a conference, do so.

Kathy Temean planned, organized, and ran the NJ SCBWI Conference, as only she knows how to do, with Laurie Wallmark at her side. Her inspiration for creating a one-of-a-kind conference stems from her heartfelt desire to give children’s writers and illustrators the best possible outlet to improve their craft, make connections, and to have numerous critique opportunities. What conference have you been to where you can pay for more than one critique? For conference statistics:

The Wyndham Hotel is quite large, yet it offers a beautiful outdoors, which was taken advantage of by attendees, editors, and agents. There are trails to run or walk on, a lake to relax by, and wildlife to discover. You can easily find a chair to lounge in when your head is spinning from all the information you are trying to absorb. Ten minutes in the sun can do wonders, just ask Katia Wish, the fabulous illustrator.

The conference extended to three days this year, and brought in 13 agents and 13 editors.  Plus there were two art directors, an artist rep. and an editorial consultant for a total of 30 Industry Professionals without counting the many published authors and illustrators who shared their expertise with the members.  Kathy also invited two new literary agents to join us on Friday night for the mix and mingle, and Saturday.  For every nine peole attending the conference, there was one editor/agent. Odds were everyone got to talk to many of the faculty over the weekend. Such opportunities continue (thanks to Kathy) throughout the summer. Check for availability.

The number of generous people who donated items or time for the scholarship raffle amazed me. You can see in the pictures some of what we had to offer. This was the first time we used the main stage, and we certainly had our challenges setting up. In the end, it was successful and fun for all.


Excitement built over the weekend over the first time eBay auctions of the editor and agent critiques. Only Kathy and Laurie would think of doing this. It worked!

David Caruba

I am just now going over all the notes I took at the workshops I attended. There is a mound of paper begging my attention, and fighting my desire to spend the day outdoors, photographing the birds and insects. They fascinate me. It makes me see the tiniest of details, which inspires me to write.


Grace Lin

As for being inspired at the annual NJ SCBWI Conference, I was, many times over. What comes to mind immediately are two names: Grace Lin and Holly McGhee. I have heard Grace speak before at a NE SCBWI event, and she is charming and down to earth and sucks me in with her first sentence. Her message is to find your own voice, to not be who you think you should be, but who you need to be—the person only you can become. If we follow trends, we give up a part of ourselves, and risk the chance of losing the connection to who we truly are. It can be scary, but ignore the temptation. Honor you. Honor your unique gift. Love what you have deep inside you. Let it rise to the surface and be free, even if you are afraid.

 I see Holly McGhee, founder of Pippin Properties, standing at the podium, vulnerable, honest, as if exposing a piece of her so that we might be brave enough to follow suit. Long after the conference, her words linger in my head. Sleeping has been difficult. She touched the part of me I’ve kept hidden for so long, and now will not slip back into the darkness of my soul. I find ways to avoid it. I work long hours at the toy store, spend hours following subjects to photograph, play with my granddaughter. Anything but write about those moments. Nothing works. When I close my eyes to surrender to sleep, my body responds, while my mind does not. It is wide-awake. It screams at me. I toss and turn; try to read, and then I have no choice, because Holly’s words envelop me until I get out of bed, pad down the hall to my writing room, turn on the light, and write until the ache subsides and I can fall asleep.

This is what you want a conference to do for you. You want to learn something new. You want to see old friends and make new ones. You want to laugh, go for a walk, breath in the fresh air, write, and find a new direction to improve your WIP. You hope to make a connection with an editor or agent, but you never count on this. Mostly, you want to be inspired, to be scared that if you don’t listen to the beating of your heart, your story will never be told.

Consider attending next year’s annual conference, or any other event run by the New Jersey chapter. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. And for those who see room for improvement, stress the positive, too. For a large event run in a new facility, kinks are to be expected. Thank you, Kathy, for listening to all, and suggesting ways to improve next year’s conference. If you volunteer, you will see how much hard work goes into running this.

For Holly’s inspirational speech, here are the links, featured in four segments. Thank you, Holly, from the bottom of my heart. You touched my life in a way that I did not expect.




The Right Fit

Betsy with Eve Adler
Betsy with Eve Adler
Carmen with Lisa Yoskowitz
Carmen with Lisa Yoskowitz

On my drive home, after attending the NJ SCBWI Mentoring Workshop, I began to think about jeans; how hard it is to find the right pair. And how every time I feel hopeful about discovering the perfect pair, I end up with a pile of jeans in a dressing room, all of which need to go back on their hangers, or folded in such a way that you can never find your size easily among the uniformed stacks on the shelves.  After years of  trying on jeans, I haven’t given up. I can’t. Everyone needs a good pair of jeans. The right pair is out there. Somewhere. A pair of jeans that doesn’t bunch up at my thighs, squeeze my calves, require that I gain three inches in height, need a belt at all times, and are the perfect length and right shade of denim. What shade is that? I don’t know. I’ll know when I see the pair in some store when I’m not even in a jean-shopping frame of mind. Something about the denim will catch my eye. And then, the courtship begins. If the jeans fit in the dressing room, what shape will they be in after being washed? And dried?  After a mini-celebration in the dressing room while my husband is texting to see if I am ready to leave the store–do I realize how my five minutes of “I’ll be right back” has turned into one hour?–I purchase three pairs, and then sit on the decision. I let a week or two pass. I keep the jeans with their tags attached in the shopping bag (receipt included, just in case I change my mind) and ponder this unexpected treasure. Are they really as spectacular as I thought in my moment of celebration at the store?  Had I even eaten that day? Was I being delusional? While I decide whether I truly love these jeans, or not, I test myself. I wait three days. Try them on. Look in my full-length mirror. Turn to the side. Put them back in the shopping bag. Wait another week. I am not fully committed. Not yet. Not until the day I decide to recycle the shopping bag, snip off the tags, and file away the receipt, do I know I’m ready to take the plunge. I need these jeans. They speak to me. I look forward to wearing them, many times over.  Unless the first washing is disastrous, the jeans and I have formed a bond.

Finding the ideal jeans is how I equate an editor’s search for the right manuscript that catches their eye, like a sliver of sun peeking through the branches of the tree, its leaves shimmering in the light. And you want an editor who will flatter your writing and enhance your features.

As a writer, I know how difficult it is to find jeans that are comfortable, fit well, are of good quality, and can stand up to numerous trips through the washing machine. I know how frustrating it is, and exhausting, to spend hours at multiple stores, thumbing through the racks and shelves, only to go home empty-handed and never wanting to see another dressing room. Yet, I never give up. My perfect, or near perfect, pair of jeans are out there. Somewhere.

And so, with the image of hunting for jeans (or the ideal pair of  casual, yet dressy, every occasion, black shoes) I appreciate the challenge of facing stacks and stacks of unread manuscripts.  The joy is in finding the right one.

My weekend with Eve Adler from Henry Holt,  and Lisa Yoskowitz from Dutton inspired this thought process. They are both delightful, encouraging, and enthusiastic about the world of children’s literature.  I am now deep into the magical process of novel revision, guided by their wonderful suggestions.