Lucky13 SCBWI Writer’s Conference….A Newbie’s Recap

Last Saturday, I got up at 4:30 in the morning, slipped out the door without waking the kiddos, and drove into the sunrise to the Bishop Claggett Center for my very first SCBWI writer’s conference. I left with a huge to-do list and to-read list, plus lots of encouragement and inspiration.

I had no idea to expect. Will everyone be so incredibly talented and quirky-cool that I will feel as lost as I did on my first day of high school?  Will I find out I’m crazy for calling myself a writer? I was pleasantly surprised to find lots of wonderful, friendly, helpful people, some of whom were already published, some of whom were there for the first time like me. It was such a great experience, and I will be chewing on everything I learned for a good long time and keeping in touch with the great friends I made, too! However, next time I will stay overnight instead of driving home in rain and fog on 95 for three hours! Bleh.

Here is a little recap.

First up for the morning was Audrey Couloumbis, who spoke on the topic of “Writing to the Heart Without Tears.” It was a great presentation filled with tons of examples ranging from Lois Lowry to What About Bob. She showed us over and over again how to convey emotion to readers subtly, powerfully, and without making our characters horribly overwrought/gushing tears. “Take your readers by the heart,” she said, “and they’ll follow you anywhere.” Great advice that I will be applying to my YA projects!

Next, I attended part of an agent’s breakout session, but I had to leave early for my MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE. I was….scared. However…

The lovely Edie Hemingway was so encouraging and kind, she made me feel instantly at ease. She gave me one editing suggestion (which I took), and some suggestions for where to submit my manuscript. She assured me I have a strong submission that will find a home. Thanks, Edie!

The two breakout sessions that followed were so informative, they really stocked my to-do list! Laura Whitaker from Bloomsbury Kids and Jessica Garrison from Dial Books for Young Readers gave presentations on how they acquire picture book manuscripts, and what they’re looking for. I learned how to create a solid hook, what to include in my cover letters, how to define unique selling points, the importance of social media platforms (my blog is born!), and so much more. After the conference, they invited attendees to submit work to them – a unique opportunity to do so without first having to acquire an agent.

After lunch, Floyd Cooper gave us an amazing art demonstration. Explaining his process of reduction using an eraser to lift paint off of paper, then adding color, he created a fantastic face right before our eyes in about 5 minutes. He is so talented and kept us laughing and engaged the whole time. .

Finally, Chris Crutcher gave a talk about banned books to kick off banned book week. He talked about his work as a family therapist, the heartbreaking stories he’s heard firsthand, and how he’s turned them into published (banned) stories. It was very moving to hear the ways that his stories have touched troubled teens who had previously felt entirely alone and isolated. While I don’t agree with all of his viewpoints, I found him to be such a compassionate person who is passionate about helping hurt children. I laughed…I cried…I learned.

Well, when I got home I was so tired I told my husband I would give my brain the week off. The next day, he laughed, “Well, that lasted 45 minutes.” haha. 45 minutes was enough. Back to work!


Fun Books to Read in Character

Well, if you’ve ever been within 20 feet of me and a kid I’m reading to, you know I’m not afraid to be a little ridiculous to get a giggle. Everyone from teachers I’ve worked with, to parents I’ve tutored for, my in-laws, and repairmen tinkering with my dryer have probably questioned my sanity. All of the characters I write into stories for my girls have silly voices of their own. So, if you’d like to get a little creative yourself, here are a few of my favorites.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner


My name is Skippito Friskito.
I fear not a single bandito.
My manners are mellow,
I’m sweet like the Jell-O,
I get the job done, yes indeed-o.

When I met the author, Judy Schacher, her instructions for reading Skippyjon Jones were to always read it in an Antonio Banderas voice. While the bad bumble-beeto frightened my 4-year-old (her tastes are rather delicate), I thoroughly enjoyed this wild and crazy book. Judy Schachner is a wonderful speaker, and during her presentation she showed us pictures of her real cats that inspired the cats in her books. Her other titles are great, too. I especially enjoyed The Grannyman. She’s such a talented author/illustrator, and a warm, funny person, too.

The Twits, by Roald Dahl

The twits

This book is incredibly hilarious. But it is all the hilariouser if you read it like a couple of crazy hillbillies. My girls are still too young for this one, but I’ve read it to many a school-aged kid. I’ve also given the following advice, which applies to the horrible Mrs. Twit and everyone:

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face.  And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly.  You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

As the story goes, Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the smelliest, ugliest, nastiest old people around who play increasing devious tricks on one another, until finally their pet monkeys, the Muggle Wumps, have had enough. Classic Roald Dahl.

My personal favorite line to holler is, “You’ve got the shrinks, woman!” after Mr. Twit slowly increased the height of his wife’s cane, chair, and everything else in the house to convince her she’s shrinking. I also enjoy  “I’m watchin you,” as Mr. Twit watches his wife gaping into her mug with his glass eye looking up at her. Honestly, I did get a little tired of it by the end, but the first 2/3 are so funny, it was worth it.

Wee G. by Harriet Ziefert


Wee G. is the story of a little kitten who goes out to play, gets lost, and finds her way back home. The pictures are unusual, the text is simple, and Wee G. is oh, so fun to make talk. If you ask me, I may or may not oblige your request to say, “I was scared, but now I’m happy!”  It’s a really cute story for the little ones.

Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld


This is the cutest story in the universe! Girls and boys will love it. Tom Lichtenheld puts so much personality  into his various clouds and creatures, you won’t be able to resist giving them each a voice of their own. From the adorable Cloudette to the big, puffy storm clouds, to the wispy ones that say things like “prodigious precipitation, Pipsqueak,” this book is truly unique and fun. And it reminds kids that no one is too small to do something big and important.

Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant…

When I think about my philosophy of writing and of interacting with people in general, Emily Dickinson sums it up. Be truthful but gentle. Be clear but subtle. Be kind, or no one will take your words to heart. And, don’t give all your secrets away.

Tell all the Truth but tell it
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the
Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle
Or every man be blind—

Emily Dickinson