Guerrilla Marketing, Authenticity, and Daring to Disturb the Universe: the 2015 NESCBWI Conference

IMG_2117Last weekend, I got up at 5:30am, bought a giant coffee, and drove to Springfield, MA for the annual NESCBWI conference. Since my first time a few years ago, when I knew absolutely no one and spent breakfast thinking, Maybe if I tweet enough I’ll look popular, I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful writers and illustrators from the New England area, including my very own critique group. This year was a great combination of seeing friends, having thoughtful conversations, getting new ideas, learning about new resources, and generally feeling inspired.

IMG_2097Some favorite moments from the conference:

  • Being back together with the full critique group, including two members who have moved to other time zones over the last year. (Guys, anytime you want to move back to New England, you’ve got a spot in group.)
  • Wearing t-shirts to promote crit group member AC Gaughen’s upcoming book, Lion Heartand getting major props from other conference members. (We even got a shoutout during Jen Malone’s marketing workshop as an example of cool, alternative marketing.)
  • IMG_2098Great conversations about writing diversity, including an excellent workshop with Mitali Perkins about writing diverse lives and asking the important questions, another with Ellen Wittlinger about LGBTQ YA books, and a dynamic panel including 2015 author Cindy L. Rodriguez. Favorite panel quote by Justina Ireland: “How good are the characters on your page already if you can’t write a diverse character?”
  • Learning about picture book structure and how to use line breaks and page turns to build tension/build a joke.
  • Listening to Newbery winner Kwame Alexander talk about the power of poetry.
  • A powerful keynote from Jo Knowles about a quote from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” books that can shed light on darkness, and her journey to writing YA novels about tough topics.
  • IMG_2096Seeing old friends, making new ones, and reminding myself of the awesomeness of the children’s literature community.

Major thanks to the NESCBWI conference organizers, volunteers, and faculty for their hard work in making this such a successful and inspiring weekend. See you all in Springfield in 2016!

Blue Shirts, First Chapters, and Naps for Writers: the 2013 NESCBWI Conference

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My info packet–and coffee, of course.

In her keynote speech at NESCBWI, Sharon Creech mentioned, “Words generate words.” She was talking about the act of inspiration, and how ideas come to you, but I think this is also a good lens with which to look at rest of the weekend. Enthusiasm sparks more enthusiasm, creativity creates more creativity.

Which is one reason I like going to conferences like NESCBWI. When you put a bunch of writers and illustrators in a room, our excitement and dedication and talents are amplified, which is a pretty cool thing to be a part of. Writing can be a very solitary business and even though the internet has made it easier to connect with like-minded people, you can’t beat the feeling of gathering in one place for a weekend.

Last year was my first at NESCBWI, so I didn’t really know anyone and was afraid of not having anyone to talk to. This year, I felt like I kept seeing people I knew, both from real life and from social media. I wasn’t just someone at a conference; I was part of a community, a vibrant community that supports its members.

Of course, I got to experience lots of great panels and workshops and speeches from awesome writers and illustrators. A few conference highlights:

  • Great keynotes by Sharon Creech and Grace Lin. I want to take a poetry class with Creech, who quotes Rilke and Robert Frost and Walter Dean Myers in her speech. Creech also mentioned the importance of taking naps for inspiration–duly noted! And Grace Lin was so dynamic and enthusiastic. Not being an illustrator or picture book author, I didn’t expect to connect with her speech as much as I did, but she was honest and thoughtful and energetic. Between her humor, her spirit, and her talent, Lin’s one of the coolest people ever. (And she dresses snazzy, too!)
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Lauren and Julia show off our awesome shirts.

  • My critique group got matching t-shirts to celebrate member Tara Sullivan’s upcoming publication of Golden Boy. We rocked the guerrilla marketing.
  • Very cool panel about the review process. Leila Roy of bookshelves of doom represented, which made me go all fangirl. Her blog has been a favorite since back before I knew I wanted to focus solely on writing YA. Also, very glad to hear that professional reviews really want to love every book they start, and that they want to find ways to connect books with potential readers.
  • Workshopping first chapter/pages with Nova Ren Suma. She led a great session, and the other workshop attendees were all thoughtful critiquers. (Lots of us are trying to keep in touch online; can’t wait to see how all those first pages end up!)
  • Great session on writing characters outside of your culture. It’s something several future novel ideas of mine involve, but I want to make sure I represent these characters and their backgrounds accurately and thoughtfully. One suggestion I liked was not to be afraid to go beyond the “romantic” parts of a culture, like holidays and folk traditions–get into the messiness of real life.
  • On the social media side, one session about connecting with book bloggers (something I need to prepare for in the debut process) and making videos (something I should be doing now). My goal is to start a regular video feature here, so get ready for some visual aid.
  • Getting to spend a weekend with my awesome critique group members, getting to see other friends and making new ones.

My critique group! Including one very new member who charms us with his smiles and tiny kicks. Image by Lauren M. Barrett.

Thanks so much to this year’s organizers for putting on a great conference. I’m already thinking of next year when might book might be out, too. Eee!

For more conference recap goodness, check out these other posts. If you went to NESCBWI this year and have a recap post/thoughts about the conference, please share in the comments.

SCBWI Summer Conference and That Lovin’ Feeling

The 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference is fast approaching. If you’re headed to LA and want to get pumped, or staying at home (like I am) and want to feel that conference-y goodness, check out these pre-conference interviews from the SCBWI conference blog. In Martha Brockenbrough’s interview with agent Jill Corcoran, Jill talks about what she’s looking for in YA romance and why that’s hard to find:

“Maybe it is difficult to recapture the innocence and wonder of first or even second love. Of crushes and unrequited love. Of waiting for that kiss, that touch, that moment when you no longer think straight and lose a part of yourself–for the good and the bad–to the person you ‘think’ you love. Of discerning between love and lust towards another person, and towards you. Of truth and lies. Of wanting to believe and not trusting your gut…it is about characters–soul-searching, groin-yearning, heart thumping, heart breaking, fast paced, laugh out loud, cry out loud, make me want to be your character ROMANCE!”

It’s easy to look down on romance, but it’s so hard to do well. I think Jill’s statement above touches on a lot of the very real, understandable feelings we’ve all experienced or wanted to experience. One of my YA favorites, Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty, handles romance beautifully. Elizabeth experiences the pains of rejection and the hope of adorable first love. As Jill mentions, it captures that innocence and wonder of first/second love. (Plus it’s a hilarious and awesome book.) I’m definitely keeping Jill’s advice in mind for my romantically-inclined characters.
Make sure to check out the SCBWI blog for all the interview and more pre-conference info. Have fun in LA, conference-goers!