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SCBWI NYC 2011 Wrap-Up

Thank you so much for all your comments and love for yesterday’s post. I think the worst thing now is that, with the weather, the building is shifting and I keep thinking about Sushi’s distinctive, heavy, ungraceful footsteps. A fat cat all her life, she plodded along more than walked, to the point where we had our own goofy sound effects to sing, lovingly, of course, as she made her way across a room. I kept expecting her to come back last night and crawl her way onto the bed in her usual spot. Sigh.

In other less depressing news, I wanted to do a quick wrap-up of the SCBWI NYC conference which happened Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown. No SCBWI conference post can be complete without a link to Team Blog, which detailed the events of the show with pizazz. Led by Alice Pope, Team Blog features my two good friends Lee Wind and Suzanne Young (who did her own wrap-up with some pictures), and posts about every session of the conference. Since I missed some sessions, even I read it for recaps.

My big involvement in the conference was the Writer’s Intensive on Friday. We had two groups of writers, about 8 or 9 to a table, and 12 minutes each for everyone to read and critique a 500 word writing sample. This is the kind of hands-on workshopping that I love, and it’s what we do at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency’s Big Sur Writer’s Workshop (coming up in March, and I’ll be there, even if I’m not on the website, click here for more information). I feel like a big keynote session is great, but there’s nothing quite like getting to look at your own sample and other writing samples from real, live attendees.

I’d say my biggest note to all writers after those two sessions is: Where does your story start? Are you really starting it where it needs to begin? Across both sessions, I saw writers who started a story in one place and then, within 500 words, had either skipped over to another different part of the story or flashed back to the past. That’s not what I’d call grounding your reader. If you find yourself jumping around too much in the first 10 pages of your work, you haven’t chosen the right beginning yet.

After that, I was free to meet up with friends…

… like the lovely Tracy Clark (who is one of the first people I met at my first ever writer’s conference, when I went as an attendee!), Holly Thompson (SCBWI Regional Adviser for Japan, where I’m going in the fall, ABLA agency client, and author of the upcoming ORCHARDS, out from Delacorte/Random House), and frequent Big Sur attendee, Bret…

… or perhaps a lovely lady by the name of Ellen Hopkins? Ellen is an agency client, a bestselling author, and the dedicated RA for Nevada, where she runs an amazing mentor program. Not only did we hang out at the conference, but we caught a live taping of the Daily Show on Monday. That night’s guest? Bill freakin’ Gates. I feel so much smarter now that I’ve been in the same room as him…

… or maybe Sara Zarr and Sonia Gensler? Sara’s famous or something because I hear she wrote some books or whatever. πŸ™‚ She’s been a Big Sur guest and we spent a week in Utah together last year at the WIFYR conference, which I’m doing again this year. Sonia is an agency client and about to be published! Her book THE REVENANT comes out from Knopf/Random House in April.

Another cool thing I did is a blog reader meet-up with about a dozen of my readers who happened to be at the conference. (Need I mention they were all brilliant and incredibly good-looking? :P) We didn’t have a cool Twitter hashtag like Team Blog did, but we did chat in the lobby for about an hour and a half on Saturday night. Thank you so much to all of you who came out:

Plus, I finally got to meet my smart, talented, gorgeous, and incredibly awesome client, Mandy Morgan!

I didn’t go to too many sessions this year because I was just so gosh darn busy socializing. I think expecting my cat to die at home really kept me out of the house this weekend, a good and bad thing. I did pop in to the workshop from Alessandra Balzer, from Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, and I made a childhood dream come true by seeing R.L. Stine’s lunch keynote on Saturday. As Stine is a horror writer, I truly intend to make a pun when I say that he killed it! He was so funny and warm and charming and he read some of his best “reviews” from kid readers who wrote him to say incredibly candid things. A wonderful keynote! Here’s my obligatory fan pic:

Other friends of note are Bryan Bliss and poor Mr. Jeff, who now knows never to meet me at an Irish pub, and the wonderful team from SCBWI Western Washington, who took me to a lovely lunch. A huge shout-out of thanks to Kimmy T. who invited me to the Writer’s Intensive in the first place!

Good thing the LA National SCBWI conference is coming up in August…I don’t think I can bear to be without all my wonderful kidlit friends for a whole other year! Any writers who are on the fence about going to either NYC or LA for one of the big SCBWIs, I think it’s something you should experience at least once in your writing life, if not once a year.


Speaking of the SCBWI, registration for SCBWI Indiana, where I’ll be speaking at the end of April, is now open. Click here to register and I’ll see you there!

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  1. Katherine Quimby Johnson’s avatar

    Words I’ll remember: “If you find yourself jumping around too much in the first 10 pages of your work, you haven’t chosen the right beginning yet.”

  2. Bryan Bliss’s avatar

    I’m still recovering from this weekend. I am old.

  3. Emily White’s avatar

    Mary, Saturday was so much fun! Thank you sooo much for organizing that little “meet-and-greet.”

  4. Elizabeth May’s avatar

    Oh my god, a picture with RL Stine. LUCKY!

  5. Becky’s avatar

    Mary, your comment about beginnings is so timely it’s almost eerie! You helped me make a decision I’ve been mulling over all morning. Thank you!

    I didn’t get to comment on your post yesterday, but I’m so sorry about Sushi. Take care. <3

  6. Mary’s avatar

    Bryan — Recovering from WHAT? All we did all weekend was sit around and talk about children’s books. That’s what you mean, right? πŸ˜›

  7. Naomi Canale’s avatar

    I heart pictures πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing Mary! Looks like you had a great time!

  8. Tracy Clark’s avatar

    Mary! Look at us! From standing on line in San Francisco a few years ago to now! I STILL remember being wowed by your writing. It doesn’t surprise me now that you have a huge, popular blog and are an amazing agent.

    Thanks so much for posting the pic. Both Holly and Bret are “honorary Nevadans” and I heart them. And you as well. It’s always so good to see you.

    Great post!

  9. EricJ’s avatar

    Right now, I can’t even afford my SCBWI renewal, much less New York. πŸ™ Used to go to LA every time I had a new story that I wanted critique on, but had to give up and go with Regional conferences (didn’t mind the budget or the travel, but LA would be a stressed-out self-esteem drain of those of us serfs still in the submission trenches…Yes, Lin Oliver, PLEASE tell us some more about what good friends you are with every single successful published author and editor!) I’ve wanted to go back to NYC, since I’d only been to the first one in ’00, and it was mostly “sitting around” lectures–Have they made it more of a workshop since then?
    (And even though RL’s writing fell apart in later years, the first 12 Goosebumps were perfect creepy-button pushing examples of Middle-Grade Chapter–Read in interviews that we both happen to think #10 was the artistically best of the series. At least he’s got taste.) πŸ™‚

  10. Kristin Lynn Thetford’s avatar

    I totally agree with Katherine. That is great advice about how to know if the beginning of your novel is working or not. If the reader doesn’t feel grounded early on, you don’t have a lot of hope in keeping their interest throughout the rest of the novel.


  11. Suzanne’s avatar

    Thanks again for making the Saturday chat happen–it was such a privilege to rub shoulders with you! And also get answers to those questions burning holes in my brain. I find the writing gets on much better when the brain remains whole. πŸ˜‰

  12. Kerry’s avatar

    Yay! I’m so happy we’ll see you at WIFYR! The partying will be intense.

  13. Pamela Ross’s avatar

    Thank you for welcoming us into a part of your world, Mary. (Cue THE LITTLE MERMAID music.) {}

    I am so sorry about the loss of your cat. I am afraid of the love I feel for my dog. The thought of not seeing his face someday tears me apart…even now. {}

    A little heads-up: I tried to follow your link to the SCBWI conference in Indiana. I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s late or my clicking skills are slipping but the link seems to lead to a missing page.

    Be well,

  14. Mary’s avatar

    Tracy — I know, right?! What a few years it has been!

    Kerry — Partying?! Who said anything about PARTYING?! You and Bryan Bliss up there have the wrong idea about me! πŸ˜›

    Pamela — Thanks so much for noticing about the link…I am going to fix it right now.

  15. Lynne’s avatar

    Nice wrap-up for those of us who can’t be there, especially your comment about the novel’s beginning. Thanks!
    Glad you had fun, and good luck with your webinar.

  16. Jeff’s avatar

    Mary, yes I have learned my lesson. Next time I see you at an Irish pub, I’ll make myself scarce…

  17. Pamela Ross’s avatar

    Glad to be of help, Mary. (Just doing for you what you do for us.) :>

  18. Suzanne’s avatar

    Yay! So exciting to see the photo of our hard-working regional adviser Holly Thompson and her shiny new book on your blog!

  19. Amanda J’s avatar

    I didn’t know you were there! I would have made a point to look for you and introduced myself if I’d known. Sad day. It was a wonderful conference though. πŸ™‚

  20. Alison Barber’s avatar

    Thank you for asking “Where does your story begin?”. This little jewel of a question un-stuck me.


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