Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Roller Coaster Weekend at the SCBWI Midsouth Annual Conference.

Over the weekend Music City hosted the Midsouth Conference for SCBWI. This was my first year on the Conference Committee. I always say that you should get at least one good story out of every event. This time I got two. Here they are:

I was slated to pick up one of the faculty from the airport at 9:54, Friday morning. As anyone who knows the Fabulous Illustrator well enough can attest that I'm an extremely thorough and organized person who likes to make a plan and stick to it. Friday morning was going according to my plan until I (very responsibly I might add) decided to sit down and check the flight schedule for said faculty member's flight.

This was at about 8:45 and I was standing in my studio in a T-shirt and shorts. Remember that her flight was supposed to land more than an hour later at 9:54?

The Internet said it was landing in 7 minutes.

So much for an organized morning.

There was nothing else to do but race around throwing clothes and artwork into suitcases and portfolios then throw it all in the back of the car. Then I texted the faculty member to let her know I was aware of the early arrival. Now's probably a good time to reveal that this person was Bonnie Bader, Editor in Chief at Penguin Young Readers Group/Grosset & Dunlap. I don't know about any of the rest of you but I just couldn't fire off a missive to an editor I've never met in freakin' text speak. Somehow "R u early?" didn't seem professional enough. So I sent a very polite, and long, text asking if she'd arrived and explaining that I was on my way. To which she replied and asked about the best way to meet. I was working on this plan en route. The problem was now I was having to drive and text at stoplights which I never do…. sadly my texts were devolving into "r u n baggage?" and "c u in 10."

So much for professional communication.

Finally, as I pulled into the airport I thought: good grief, if I park and walk in it's going to be another 10 minutes… yet, is it proper to essentially do a drive by pick-up of a faculty member?! My grandmother would be horrified. Efficiency trumped manners this time and drive by pick-up it was. Fortunately Bonnie was very cool about it and probably glad to get out of the airport. We had an interesting conversation on the way to the conference hotel. By great lucky coincidence I discovered she's a regular visitor to Rutgers where I'll be attending the RUCCL's One on One Conference next month so she was able to give me some good travel tips on getting to and from the campus without having to drive.

My only remaining disappointment was that I didn't get stand in the airport with a sign like you see in the movies! I did make one though, and took a picture just for posterity:

The rest of the day unfolded with much less drama. I attended sessions with Josh Adams of Adams Literary and Lorainne Joyner the art director at Peachtree Publishers. Later, as a conference coordinator, I would get the chance to talk with them one on one. Josh has a wonderfully rich, measured voice. I want to work him just so I can hear him talk about revision notes. Loraine was an absolute joy to meet. A real Southern lady, she was friendly and encouraging in her comments on our work. Here's my piece from the intensive: 

Rounding out the rest of our "imported" faculty were Lisa Cheng, editor at Running Press; Michael Bourret, agent with Dystel & Goderich; Jordon Brown, editor at Waldon Pond Press and Balzer + Bray; Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, editor with Peachtree Publishers; Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why and The Future of Us; and Kristi Valiant, who recently debuted as an author/illustrator with Penguin Cha-Cha. All were funny and engaging in their sessions and sitting around various lunch and dinner tables over the weekend. I was particular fond of Lisa's bold move to go for the baby crab claws at Friday's dinner because they were delicious. At that same dinner Stephanie told us about her tricked-out suburban that she and her husband lived in while making their way to Atlanta from London. Made me wonder if I could do something similar with our van and go camping with Sprout and Fry. 

My favorite Saturday morning event was Michael Bourret's session on the 10 Secrets of Agents revealed. The best of the ten was the reminder that, even with an agent, you are your own best advocate for your book. He admonished us that if we're afraid of our agent something is wrong.

About mid-afternoon on Saturday, the winners of the year's contests were announced. There was much hootin' and hollering as it turned out to be a great year for some long time members of the region with David Arnold, Kurt Hampe, and Patsi Trollinger winning in the genres for YA, Middle Grade, and Picture Book respectively. Finally it came time to announce the Illustrator winner. I had entered the contest but had already seen Amanda Driscoll's great piece Charlie The Ranch Dog and figured it was a shoo-in. The Midsouth's Illustrator Coordinator, Susan Eaddy took the podium and I was poised to holler "yayy Amanda!" when it dawned on me that the name Susan was saying was not the name I was about to holler. 

Instead it was my name. 

Winning was great. Winning was spectacular to be honest because I've been entering unsuccessfully for years. But even better than that was getting the congrats and hugs from my friends and fellow illustrators in the Midsouth, including Amanda and Susan and all the rest who are named in this Facebook post. This wonderful group of artists inspire and encourage me, a few years ago they critiqued the sketch of the piece that won. It's my face in the picture but the award might as well have all of our names. 


Everyone got Mardi Gras beads for Saturday night's
Kid Lit Creator's dinner! Sprout helped me stuff beads
into folders for all the attendees.
The rest of the conference passed in a bit of a blur, I received congrats from all the faculty which was very sweet of them. I did get a chance to thank Lorianne Joyner personally for giving it high honors. Amazingly right after the announcement my overwhelming worry was that I would be late to my First Pages session where each of our picture book first pages were being critiqued. Fortunately I wasn't that late and I didn't have to send any unprofessional texts. 

By Sunday I'd received some great constructive feedback on restructuring my latest work-in-progress from Bonnie Bader, gotten positive reviews of some new illustrations and promos from Lorainne Joyner and Lisa Cheng, and eaten way to much Monell's fried chicken and mashed potatoes at the faculty goodbye dinner.

This year instead of being breathlessly focused on schmoozing and angling for an opportunity to submit work, I was focused on keeping up with the rest of the Conference Committee who were controlling a million little details with precision and humor behind the scenes. By the end of the weekend the people whom I normally would have worried about schmoozing were just regular people. Maybe we'll work together on a book one day. I hope so. But at the very least I hope I have some new friends that I can eat baby crab claws with at another conference. 

For additional inspiration check out this post reprinted from the Midsouth Conference Blog by Meridth Gimbel (click her name to see her awesome piece for the intensive):

1. Every page in your dummy picture book needs to have an action in it, whether it's subtle or dramatic.
-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director at Peachtree Publishers) 
Talented YA writers plus the Friday night Dessert Party
equals a cool music circle
2. "Never give up. You'll come across something that only you can write."
-Jay Asher (Author of Thirteen Reasons Why) 
Jay Asher 'splains how he came to be a Vanilla Ice fan

3. A distinct, authentic, relatable voice is probably the most important element to writing a good children's picture book.
-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids)

4. “This is not the music business, there are not high stakes, we don’t make that much money, and someone already has your idea."
-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) in response to a question from the audience asking if we need to worry about others stealing our ideas or stories. 

5. “I’ve had your postcard on my bulletin for 1.5 years and have been waiting to hire you." 
-An Art Director told Ms. Susan Eaddy (freelance illustrator) 
Author and Illustrator panel tells how they handle the cycle of writing

6. It takes chocolate, fast food, vodka, friends, and an unwanted dog.
-Answers from the artist/writer panelists to the question, "How do you buoy yourself when you are at the bottom of the cycle of despair?" 
Catching up with longtime Midsouth members 
7. Orient all the pictures in your portfolio the same way.
-Bonnie Bader (Editor & Chief at Grosset & Dunlap) and Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers) 

8. A wrong agent is worse than no agent.
-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) 

9. "Please do not info dump."
-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids) on telling your audience too much when introducing a new character. 

10. Be consistent when you send out your mailers.
-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers) & Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids) 

11. Read, read, read.
-Jordan Brown (Editor at Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray) on what you can do to advance your career

Amanda Driscoll shows off the Mad Libs
made just for the Kid Lit Creators Dinner
At the very end I came home to a cake!
And a note of congrats signed by my two biggest fans;)