Meeting Maggie and SCBWI Fall Conference ’11

I had the most awesome weekend ever and am now feeling so totally in love with books and writing.  This is seriously my calling.

First bit of awesomeness: Meeting Maggie Stiefvater

 Maggie ranks up there in favorite authors.  She’s in the top 10.  I’ve read all of her books (BalladLamentShiverLingerForever) and follow her blog religiously (she has a fantastic sense of humor on her blog and gives great writing tips).

I’d always seemed to miss her book signings because they were in the summer while I was away at graduate school.  But her new book, The Scorpio Races, just came out this week, and she was having a launch event in DC at Politics and Prose.  This time I could go!  And I had no school the next day!

The afternoon started out with me wanting to cry because it took me over 2 hours to get down to DC for the event and I ended up being 30 minutes late.  I quietly walked in, found a seat near the front, and basked in Maggie’s awesomeness.

I actually ended up missing any speaking that was done by her and arrived just as she was handing out prizes.  The girls next to me gave me one of the raffle postcards that were sitting on the chairs while Maggie began calling out numbers.

And guess what???  I won the big prize!!!  I won a copy of Scorpio Races with beautiful horses drawn on the cover by Maggie herself!  This is not only the first thing I’ve ever won, but by far the coolest thing I could ever possibly win.  I’ve admired Maggie’s artwork whenever she posts pictures on her blog.  Especially her Sharpie guitars, but as I have no use for a guitar, the book with her art was perfect!

I got the book signed by Maggie, told her I’d read all her books, told her I loved her blog, told her I appreciated the writing advice she posted because I was in an MFA program.  She was so personable and cheerful.  Book signings can be awkward sometimes, but there was none of that.  I give her top marks!

I can’t wait to read Scorpio Races, and will definitely post about it when I do!

Second bit of awesomeness: SCBWI Conference

I attended the SCBWI Fall Conference on Saturday.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s a writer’s conference sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators.

There were 280 people in attendance!  We were packed into a ballroom in the Holiday Inn in Dulles for a day of speeches and advice regarding writing for children.

I’m not providing specific play by plays of the presentations because the material is copyrighted, but here is a brief rundown of the awesome day.

Author/Illustrator Brian Lies (Bats on the Beach, Bats in the Library, Bats at the Ballgame) spoke about marketing your book.  His presentation was magnificent and offered great ideas creating hype about your book and making a book signing more exciting.

There was an Agents Panel with Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency and Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary.  They gave lots of informative answers to questions about the writer/agent relationship.

Chelsea Eberly of Random House gave a talk about how to create the perfect “Hook for your Book” and how having a hook will both catch editors’ attention and help them sell your book.

The keynote speaker was author Han Nolan.  She was so sincere and inspiring.  What really resonated with me about her speech is striving for excellence when we’re writing, and reading the best books out there (award winners) so you know where the bar is set and to inspire you to reach for it.  Which is exactly what I’m doing by taking this course on Newbery books!  🙂

There was an author panel (Meg Medina, Anne Marie Pace, Wendy Shang, Amy Brecount White) about the highs and lows post-publication which offered a very realistic look at what it’s like to be a published author.

And finally, there was an Editor’s Panel on creating credible characters.  Chelsea Eberly (Random House), Caroline Abbey (Bloomsbury), and Abby Ranger (Disney-Hyperion) offered some constructive advice on common character flaws they see in writing and questions to ask yourself to create stronger characters.

This was a regional conference, meaning I didn’t have to travel far and it was relatively cheap (around $100).  The quality of information was excellent, and I came away feeling motivated and excited about writing and literature.  If you are a writer for children, I highly recommend you look into attending an SCBWI regional conference!

Conference Pt 2, American Girl, and Veg Offering @ Panera

Yesterday was the last day of the conference and I attended two sessions.  The first session I was really excited about.  It was called “Children Marked by Death” and was going to discuss several books I had read: Unwind, Graveyard Book, Harry Potter.

I didn’t end up going to that session because, stupid me, I wrote down the wrong room number.  If I hadn’t been sitting smack dab in the middle of the room where it would have been disruptive and rude of me to leave, I would have left.  I was especially sad because I could hear the applause and laughter in the correct room which was on the other side of a thin wall.

One of the three speeches interested me though.  It was about American Girl and how the company’s emphasis on clothes and accessories detracts from the more serious issues in the books.  For example, in one of the Samantha books, Samantha goes to the African American part of town in search of her seamstress, Jessie.  Samantha is shocked by how different this part of town is: crowded, old, poor.  When she returns home, Samantha describes how much comfort she feels in putting on her soft, white, ruffled nightgown and climbing under the covers of her beautiful bed with her doll, Lydia.  The speaker argued that the clothing and accessories serve to distract girls from the real issue and are what girls remember instead.

I could see the speaker’s points.  But I think the American Girl series and products have so much to offer.  I think the values of the series far outweigh many other play/toy options for girls that age.  The history, morality, and focus on appreciating girlhood (not rushing into being a teenager, make-up, boys, etc.) make American Girl a refreshing option in today’s society.

They are opening an American Girl Store in Tysons Corner Mall, and there was an article about the American Girl series in the Washington Post.  The series is celebrating its 25th Anniversary, and I’m very happy to see that the company is still going strong.  Though I don’t agree with their decision to retire the classic dolls.  (Samantha, Felicity, Kirsten are all retired.)

The other conference session I attended yesterday was about “Teachers as Writers.”  There was a panel of writers who were also teachers.  They spoke about the challenges of balancing teaching and writing, how both jobs require a similar kind of creative energy.  That is a huge struggle for me.  Teaching drains me in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally.  Teaching also saps a lot of creative energy.  To come up with consistently engaging and unique lessons drains me of creative energy.  The panel spoke about how they often feel drained of creativity from their day job teaching and ways they recharge so they have energy for their writing.

I’ve had talks with several people who care about me, and how I need to do a better job of balancing my work (teaching) and my personal life.  I give way too much of myself to teaching, and it has to stop.  Next year, I already have plans in place so that I take more time for myself.  I am going to take an online course with a teacher I love.  I am signing up for writing conferences throughout the year, which will also be opportunities to travel and get away.  Traveling always helps me to refocus my life and realize there’s more to life than my classroom.  Plus, I think when I’m happier, I treat my students better.  Not that I’m even a “mean” teacher, but I noticed this year that when I was stressed, I had less patience and was more likely to snap at a kid when I don’t mean to.

And finally, Panera has a vegetarian sandwich!!!  They’ve had their Tomato/Mozz panini for awhile, but that’s really their only offering in terms of veggie stuff.

I don’t remember seeing the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich on their menu, and I ate so much Panera last year that I am pretty sure I know their menu offerings by heart.  So I’m pretty sure this sandwich is new, and I tried it today.  Delicious!

On their yummy tomato basil bread: feta cheese crumbles, cilantro hummus, black pepper, salt, green leaf lettuce, red onions, fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumber, and zesty peppadew piquant peppers.  A very hearty vegetarian sandwich with a spicy kick on truly scrumptious bread.  I’m a fan.

Now, if Panera would just make a grilled eggplant panini…  I would be a happy girl.

Conference and Library of an Early Mind

This week my grad school is hosting a conference, and I got free admission by being an on-call tech help person today.  I really only had to solve 2-3 problems: not knowing the password to log in (though it was posted), switching between diplays, and switching from PC to Mac (the girl even brought her own dongle).  Pretty easy tech day considering it saved me a couple hundred bucks!

Here’s a list of some topics of speeches that I got to listen to:

“Kick-Ass Slayers and Teen Terminators: Recent Trends in Lethal Little Girls”
“Girls on Fire: Gender, Authority and the Female Child-Warrior”
“Dystopic Epiphanies and Kierkegaardian Disallusion: An Exploration of the Average vs. Exceptional Hero in Feed and The Giver
“Demystifying the Illusion of an Adultless World–Forty Years of Fearing the Children in Science Fiction”
“Like, Vampires? A Study of American Teen Slang in Young Adult Fantasy Literature”
“M.T. Anderson’s Feed and the Linguistic Situation of Tomorrow”
“Young Adult Fantasy in a Visual Age: The Book Trailer as a Gateway to the Written Word”
“Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley and the Journey to Womanhood in the Harry Potter Series”
“Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Lois Lowry’s and Suzanne Collins’s Dystopian Trilogies”
“Media Drives Revolt: Ways Rebels Use Media Throughout Literature from Historical Fiction Through Futuristic Fantasy”
“Youth Rebellion, Dystopic Fiction, Identity Crisis”

Some summary points:

  • Hunger Games was by far the most popular topic.  I am sick of listening to people talk about Hunger Games.
  • Violent girl heroines is an emerging theme in popular culture.
  • I really enjoyed the session on book trailers.  Super interesting and different.  And the girl highlighted Maggie Steifvater’s book trailers, which I completely agree are innovative and exceptional.
  • The one session on Harry Potter was packed and fun despite the fact that two of the three speakers were no shows.  The session turned into a discussion of female characters in Harry Potter.  And I subconsciously gave this one girl a really dirty look… I brought up Pottermore and JKR’s announcement, and the girl said, “She didn’t even really announce anything.  Basically it’s just a Potter version of World of Warcraft.”  RAWR!  JKR said NOTHING about an online GAMING experience.  She said online READING experience.  And she said safe for people of all ages.  And she mentioned eBooks.  And addittional Potter World content from her.  NOTHING that would even make you think WoW.  Hence my dirty look that made her wither in her seat.  Dumb chick.  RAWR!

I also got to go to a free screening of this awesome documentary film called Library of the Early Mind.  Sooooooo amazing.  I want to buy it.

Summary taken from the film’s Facebook page:

An exploration of the art and impact of children’s literature on our kids, our culture, and ourselves. From the first stories we hear told to us, to those childhood heroes who stay with us for a lifetime, the impact on our culture runs deeper than what we might expect. Featuring nearly 40 prominent authors, artists, and critics.”

LOVE  LOVE  LOVE!!!  You can watch a trailer on the website.

And in final news, I finished the first draft of my short story due on Wednesday.
Word Count: 3,850
Page Count: 16 pages

I might sound like an over-achiever because I accomplished this so far ahead of time, but I still have three novels and two picture books to read.  And a journal entry to do.  I just did the fun stuff first  🙂