- Sessions. There were plenty. I attended workshops where authors, agents, and editors generously shared their knowledge. I especially enjoyed Bruce Coville's talk about the intersection of plot and character. One thing he talked about that I keep returning to is the idea that a perfect ending is a surprise that had to happen. It is not a coincidence. A coincidence can happen early in a story, but the further into a story it is, the more cheating is involved. How many times have we loved a story and then been so disappointed in the ending that wraps up so neatly due to a coincidence? I will forever be watching out in my own writing to make sure I don't commit that crime.
- I will remember this poem he recited at the end of our session for encouragement.
Tattered clothes all fluttering,
Worn out voice still muttering,
Ragged John comes knocking
At all the doors in town.
And when a door swings open
Then you can hear the hope in
The thin, cracked voice that wonders
If you’ve seen his unicorn.
And we all know John is crazy
And his mind has gone all hazy
And the only thing we really wish
Is that he just would let us be.
But John he keeps on questing
And the poor man knows no resting
For there’s something hurt within him.
And the pain won’t go away.
I’ve heard when John was younger
He was taken with a hunger
To see the white-horned wonder
They call the unicorn.
But when that star-horned, moon-maned dancer
Finally called, John could not answer;
Fear held him like a prisoner,
And he watched it walk away.
So now empty-eyed John hobbles
Across the village cobbles
And the only fear he feels is
That it will never come again.
Oh, when I watch old Ragged John
Go staggering by and wandering on,
I know there’s nothing sadder
Than a heart that feared its dreams.
If a unicorn should call to you
Some moon-mad night all washed in dew,
Then here’s the prayer to whisper:
“Grant me the heart to follow.”
© 1991, Bruce Coville
Than a heart that feared its dreams."
I play that thought over and over in my mind as I try to face my fears.
- Tim Federle's session leaves me considering ways to celebrating the moments along the way and not waiting for that one big event. I've highlighted Better Late Then Never on previous posts, so I am not including my review here. Sorry, Tim. But I will include your list of 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Debut Author.
- Lamar Giles' session on prompts for pageturners is one that has me thinking about how I end my chapters.
- Editors. They had plenty of advice to hand out. Lin Oliver posted the "Meaty Notes" on the SCBWI website and you can find that list below, along with another similar list.
- Agents. "What Hooks Me?" doled out useful insight into what agents are looking for. One tip I especially liked and could relate to was, "Explore universals that only you can tell." As in, I want to see stories that are uniquely yours; the ones that no one else can tell but you. Do you have one of those? I think my YA novel set in Grenada in 1979 when the dictator was ousted in mine. It is uniquely my story as a 16-year-old American girl who lived next-door to the Grenadian police barracks and was an eye-witness to the takeover. There are no others who can tell that story. None.
- Diversity. There was a lot of talk about diversity at this conference...about the inclusion of everyone whether it be religion, sex, color, family make-up...all of this needs to be represented in our stories. I think about this a lot in my stories and try to include what I can...a picture book that doesn't include a mother, a YA novel that includes Grenadian, Lebanese, and American friends. I think illustrators could also add to this by depicting multicultural characters where none are specified.
- Chance meetings. Who knew I would be sitting next to author Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) during a session? So my book review for this post goes to him.
Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
There are thirteen reasons why Hannah Baker decided to kill herself and she has recorded each of them on cassette tapes that will be delivered to the people who play a role in her decision. The reader hears the story through her voice, as well as through Clay Jensen, a classmate who is currently person #8 listening to the tapes. A rumor, started when she was a new girl in town and entering the 9th grade, begins a series of events that spiral out of her control leading to her final desperate cries for help several years later. Clay, who has had a crush on Hannah since she first arrives in town, has no idea how he contributed to her decision. But after listening to the tapes and following a marked map included with them, he begins to understand the pain Hannah couldn't deal with and his part in letting her down. This book is highly recommended for high school students. It is gripping from the beginning and the reader will want to know what has happened to Hannah, as well as feel Clay's anguish. This is excellent on CD as well.
- Fun! The Old Italy Party complete with lots of costumes, and catching up with old friends were just a couple of the social benefits.
- Unexpected surprises. I'll call this one my version of Us Weekly's "They are just like us!" While enjoying lunch with actor/narrator Steve West (you can see my interview with him on this website) I notice none other than Judy Blume over his shoulder. I about flip out. "I may have to get your photo, Steve," I say. He understands completely. I am such a geek.
At any rate, I have much to think about following my attendance, though I am not committed at this stage to plans of attending again next year. I will see where I am in my writing and evaluate what I need at that time. This year, it was worth it.