Friday, October 16, 2015

OH, THE PEOPLE YOU’LL MEET... at an SCBWI conference. (And a scholarship opportunity!)

Registration is now open for the 17th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City. Have you dreamed of going? What's holding you back? Time, travel, money, fear? Charlie Barshaw is here to share his experience attending a national SCBWI conference, and we'll tell you how you might qualify for a scholarship to cover the cost of the NY conference registration AND airfare.

OH, THE PEOPLE YOU'LL MEET by Charlie Barshaw

In the past I’ve emphasized the talent present at the SCBWI national conferences.( 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles was no different. From Mem Fox to Kwame Alexander, with agents and editors by the bushel, it was a spectacularly star-studded affair. 

But, keynotes and breakout sessions are only one reason to attend a national conference. Another great reason is the creative community, the people, your peers, who you meet.

Lin Oliver announced that a record 1,173 attendees paid for the conference. Of those, 736 were, as we like to say in the biz, pre-published.

So, more than half of the writers and illustrators at the conference were figuratively in the same boat, and literally in the same ballroom for the opening speech.

Silly me, I forgot the business cards that Ruth had printed and cut for me. (I am, the card proclaims, a writer and literary agency intern.) Almost everyone else I met had one, and I came away, even the introvert I was, with contact information from at least a dozen new creative friends and acquaintances.

It started on Friday morning when I recognized Owen in the registration crowd. He’d been at my a.m. NY round table in February. I’d admired his work, gotten his contact information and promptly lost it. And my brain, usually a rusty trap, gave me his correct name right away. Owen and I would meet several more times over the weekend, and we’ll likely be trading YA manuscripts.

One fortunate encounter happened on Friday night when I participated in a peer group critique. Our mid-grade novel group had me and four other writers, and every single set of pages was uniformly excellent. I met Naz, Tiffany, Eric and Kathryn. Three of them live within driving distance in California and scheduled a date to meet again. Tiffany and I planned to join in electronically, and suddenly I have a new crit group.

Afterwards, outgoing Naz persuaded me to visit the hotel bar, where I paid $13 (!) for a glass of wine and gathered more cards. I met Lori, a YA fiction writer who had written a manuscript about a transgender teen. The story, she said, was semi-autobiographical. That same evening I met writer Jeanette just long enough to snag a card from her, too.

The next day, I sat next to Rhonda, who has a published MG out but was disappointed that her publisher passed on the sequel. However, she had another story in the pipeline and was encouraged at its prospects.

I stood in a long line waiting for Adam Rex to sign my copy of THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. I talked with Marshalla, in line ahead of me, about schools and plays; she was a NY educator. I asked if I could use her lovely name for one of my MG characters, and she agreed.

At the “Sparkle Party” that night I ran into former SCBWI-MI member Betty Raum, who’s now RA for North Dakota. I also met Virginia, who is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Louisiana/Mississippi region. Virginia also draws the LSU tiger mascot for the school.

I met Stephen on Sunday when we found the last open table for a luncheon. He’s a balloon illustrator and children’s author. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to explore the balloon thing with him.

Molly, who I met in fast-talking editor Jordan Brown’s breakout, might be able to share notes so we can piece together all the great advice he loosed.

I met Carolyn Flores in New York and was thrilled to meet her mother in LA, a children’s writer in her own right. I declined taking Carolyn’s card early on, but accepted her evocative postcard at the signing party on Sunday because she still had a few left.

I met Owen again on Monday before the Intensives when Stephanie appeared. She’s writing YA and opened one of her WIPs with a suicide note.

These are connections. Some will go nowhere, but some will last a lifetime. Owen met up with author Paul Fleicshman after a 30 year absence, and they reconnected in a heartbeat.

There are many good reasons to attend an SCBWI conference, on the national and local level. Perhaps the best reason, though, is for the people you will meet, the networks that may form, the friendships and creative support that will almost certainly result.

Charlie has recovered fully from a stroke which left him unbalanced. He can now walk a straight line and still twist a sentence into knots. He's currently working on his YA and revising his MG, "Nuts" with his new-found LA crit group. 

Thanks to Charlie for sharing his experience. Are you intrigued? Feeling more comfortable about attending one of the big SCBWI national conferences? If the expense is holding you back, SCBWI-MI member Shutta Crum has the solution:

Shutta will pay the full early-bird registration fee for a Michigan SCBWI member to attend. ($425.00) The qualifying rules are listed on the application form posted here and on Shutta’s site. (Deadline to apply for the scholarship is by midnight, Dec. 5, 2015.) SCBWI-MI will reimburse the scholarship winner for the cost of airfare.

We're so fortunate to have such a supportive chapter!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: A Kidlit Welcome, Adding Mystery to Your Writing, Planning a Critique Group Retreat, more Kiddie Litter cartoons, and another Member Spotlight. See you next Friday!

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