NJSCBWI Conference Or…

…a drink at 11:30AM is fine if you are learning!

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pool hall girls

This past weekend I put my job and family life in a box, shoved it under the bed and went all the way to beautiful downtown New Brunswick to get my author game ON.

Maybe (like when Jenny and Lynda Gene and I tried to play pool in the 15 minutes between sessions and did so, badly) it wasn’t always pretty. But it was enlightening. Invigorating. Inspirational and damn. good. fun.

This is why writing conferences are so important. You can nerd out to your heart’s content about the things that usually bore your friends and family. Your conference family UNDERSTANDS that you want to talk about how hard it is to write that perfect query letter. Or how you are having legit heart palpitations because you’re about to do your first ever agent pitch. Or how it’s okay to have your mouth full of dessert at dinner because the agent sitting next to you does too. It feels awesome to ‘come home.’

Among an embarrassment of wonderful workshops, here are my favorites:

Let’s Talk Marketing with Doreen McGettigan
Doreen unleashed a metric ton of amazing information on us. My hand could not write fast enough to keep up with her – no fault of hers, there was just a lot to take in! I need a marketing plan for my book. I need to learn what goes into that marketing plan! Doreen had the answers and even better, questions that I need to ask myself about what I want and what I can do. It was an amazing start to the conference and got Jenny and I revved up! Check out Doreen’s site here.

Writing Marginalized Voices in Children’s Books w/ Emma Otheguy & Andrea Loney
Okay, first of all, look at this amazing:

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Andrea Loney’s lovely BUNNYBEAR about a bear that is very different… and very sweet. Emma Otheguy’s MARTÍ’S SONG FOR FREEDOM is BILINGUAL which I love! It’s also wonderful. Both these books have gone on youngest’s bookshelf.

It was a joy hearing Andrea and Emma talk about marginalized voices and how writing books for  all kinds of children (and bears and bunnies too) gives those children a mirror to see themselves reflected in the world. It tells our kids, you have a place. Your stories are important.

It was a no judgement zone and an important discussion about how to write marginalized characters (representation) and how not to (appropriation) and lots of other good stuff in between. I heart these ladies. Find Andrea here and Emma here.

Developing a Gay or Questioning Character in Middle-Grade Fiction with
Mary E. Cronin
This was my favorite workshop. Mary Cronin has such a generous way of ‘teaching’ that it feels less like knowledge transfer and more like talking to a *really* smart person over cups of tea and pound cake.* I’ve been aware for a while (and have worked to be inclusive in my own work) of LGBTQ characters in YA, but there’s less representation in Middle Grade. I suspect that comes from a misunderstanding of what sexual identity means and when it develops (spoiler alert, doesn’t equate having sex) or a general ignorance on the part of readers. I’ve had the experience of hearing that my daughter’s friend’s mom didn’t allow her to read Raina Telgemeier’s DRAMA because there was a gay character in it and that ‘wasn’t appropriate for her age.’ Can you imagine being 11 and being told, implicitly or not, that your feelings are not appropriate? I am not on board with that. NOPE.

Mary had so many wonderful ideas on how, where and what kinds of experiences would make wonderful parts of a character’s discovery of self – and make a great story. Got me excited to try writing an MG! You can find Mary here.

Of course my brain is bursting with ideas from this conference. I’m practically drooling words over here. That’s the good work that going to a good conference does. So where are YOU going this summer?

*or gin and cheese straws. I’m up for either.

What’s Next?

You could say I spend most of my time in an alternate reality (as writers do) in order to escape reality, but actually, it’s to understand reality.

Reality is HARD. BAFFLING. Often it’s ridiculous enough to seem like fiction. Lately, reality has been pulling me away from my beautiful fiction. Yeah, I’m using the word ‘reality’ as a stand-in for ‘politics’. You guys are smart.

One of my cures for politics (other than being a pain-in-the-ass to elected officials) is to watch THE WEST WING. Martin Sheen is my TV dad. Watching him in anything is a joy. But watching him as the president. It soothes, it really does.

I love when he says, What’s Next? If you’ve seen the TV show at all you know that means “What’s next?” and ALSO means “I’m done talking about the other thing, we’re moving on.”

THIS IS HARD when you are a writer. Moving on to another book when you’ve spent months if not YEARS on that book is freaking HARD.

But there comes a point where your job is over. You need to pass your baby off to the next stage of it’s development. It could be to beta readers. It could be to agents you are querying. Whatever that pass off looks like, it will be painful. How do you know you are done? How do you know it’s ready? How do you know it’s the right time?

You don’t.

Or rather, you can’t know that, until you pass the word-baby along. And because people aren’t (yet) robots, it will take time for them to get back to you with any kind of feedback. You cannot wait for them. Time is a finite resource, friends. You need to ask yourself, “What’s Next?”

Even if it’s half-assed, even if you only have the vaguest notion of what you’ll write next, or if you LITERALLY have not even thought of it, Think Of It. You’ve been stuck in the alternate reality of your book for a very long time. It seems realer to you than any other story you can conceive of. You may even feel like any other ideas are flimsy in comparison (of course they are; they’re embryo-ideas). Regardless, you have to pull your head out of your fully gestated book and start noodling around for the next book.

Maybe your goal was to write ONE BOOK. If so and you did it, go ahead and knock off. Drink a beer or a Red Bull or a White Lady, you’ve earned it. But if you plan, as I do, to have a Sustainable Writing Life, you need to say, in your best Martin Sheen voice:

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