Tuesday, February 13, 2007

SCBWI Winter Conference (trip report)

Subtitled: The Blog Post In Which Sarah Name-Drops a Lot

On a normal weekend, I have a very active social life. I see my husband, my daughter, my cat (if she's feeling friendly), and... okay, that's it. No, wait, sometimes I see the mailman, but only on S
aturdays and only at a distance... Yeah, I don't get out much. So this past weekend was a rather big deal for me. I went into Manhattan for two parties (count 'em TWO!) on Friday night: the SCBWI VIP cocktail party and Kidlit Drinks Night (held in celebration of the Class of 2k7), followed by the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference on Saturday and Sunday. I got to meet, greet, and worship-from-a-distance a large number of very cool people, whose names I am going to drop shortly in rapid succession so that I look cool.

First, there was the train ride into Manhattan, in which I did not meet but was in close proximity to: Sleeping Guy Who Drools On His Suit, College Dude Who Thinks His Winter Hat Is Cool Because H
e Snipped Off the Pompom (But In Reality Everyone Knows His Hat Once Had a Pompom), Girl Who Wears Too Much Makeup, Elderly Woman Who Wears Much Too Much Makeup, and other famous dignitaries. Then I met with Chatty Taxi Driver (who gave me the play-by-play, complete with color commentary, as he weaved through traffic at high speeds) and Unnecessary Doorman (no offense meant, but it's an automatic revolving door). And that was all before I checked in to the New York Hilton.

Have you ever been to the New York Hilton? Classy. Way classier than I am. My room had these bedside tables that when I walked past them, a light lit up so that I wouldn't trip. Naturally, I was so busy looking at the cute little lights that I tripped over the suitcase stand, but no harm no foul. Anyway, I changed into my grown-up clothes (yes, Dad, I do own something other than jeans, thought admittedly not much) and was pleased to see that my hair had decided to obey gravity for the evening. (It's about 50-50 whether the curls point up or down.) And then I skipped off to schmooze.

VIP Cocktail Party

I have never in my life attended anything call
ed a "VIP Cocktail Party." So I felt all snazzy as I entered the event. My publisher, Ben Schrank, had gotten me on The List, which was super-cool of him, and I was so excited that I arrived about ten minutes early, which was probably not super-cool of me. (I'm not good at "fashionably late." You should see me with airports. I'm the gal who is there so early that she could have made the two earlier flights with an hour to spare.) The first people I chatted with were Ellen Datlow and Jane Yolen.

You heard me.

Significantly more impressive than Chatty T
axi Driver and Girl Who Wears Too Much Makeup, don't you think? Ellen Datlow is one of the premiere anthologists in the world, and Jane Yolen is... well, if you haven't heard of Jane Yolen then you need to stop reading this blog right now and get thee to a library or bookstore. She's often described as the modern-day Hans Christian Andersen, and that's not hyperbole. Anyway, I managed not to cluck like a chicken. (That's my mantra when I'm anywhere near Very Important People: "Don't cluck. Don't cluck. Don't cluck." To clarify, it's not that I'm in the habit of clucking like a chicken, just that it would be really embarrassing if I did.)

The cocktail party was also attended by more
editors than you could shake a stick at. Not that you should be shaking sticks at editors. I don't think they like it. Not that I've tried. Anyway, I talked to a whole bunch of super-nice editors from Simon & Schuster, Greenwillow, Dial, Putnam, etc., as well as my fantastic publisher, Ben Schrank. And I met the lovely Sara Crowe (my agent's colleague from the Harvey Klinger Agency), kidlit blogger J. L. Bell, and my first 2k7ers of the evening: Greg Fishbone and Rose Kent.

Kidlit Drinks Night

At Kidlit Drinks Night, organized by Betsy Bird and held at a nearby bar, I encountered the mother-load of 2k7ers. (For t
hose new to this blog, the Class of 2k7 is a group of 38 debut novelists (including me) who have banded together to be a sort of one-stop shop for librarians, booksellers, and teachers.) There were eight of us in attendance, the highest number of 2k7ers ever in one location: Rebecca Stead, Thatcher Heldring, Rose Kent, Carrie Jones, Greg Fishbone, Ruth McNally Barshaw, A.C.E. Bauer, and me. I'd only met them online before, and I think a part of me was expecting them to look like their LiveJournal icons. (In other words, I'd expected Ruth to be illustrated, Carrie to be in black-and-white, and Greg to be a penguin.) It was very, very cool to meet them all in person.

Class of 2k7 with Fuse #8 at Bar 9
From left to right: 75% of Greg, Me, Betsy Bird, Ruth, Alice, Carrie, Rebecca, and Thatcher

Also got to chat with: Barry Goldblatt (an agent with a jaw-droppingly awesome client list), Cheryl Klein (editor at Scholastic who knows what happens in the 7th Harry Potter and ain't telling), Bennett Madison (super-nice YA author who always cracks me up), and the entire population of Seattle, Washington. The Seattle branch of SCBWI had come out in force. I met them because the very cool Holly Cupala recognized me from my MySpace (yay for MySpace!) photo, in which my curls were mostly pointing down (except for the one stray curl that we photoshopped out -- yay for PhotoShop) and introduced herself. Then she introduced me to the rest of her home state.

SCBWI Conference

The SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and
Illustrators) conference was Saturday and Sunday. It included a variety of keynote speeches: On Saturday, Susan Cooper talked about "subconscious hauntings" that inform your writing. I think that's a lovely phrase: "subconscious hauntings." Robie Harris spoke about censorship, beginning with her first censorship experience: she had written a song for Captain Kangaroo that described furniture in each room of the house, and the TV station would not let her say the word "toilet." (The rest of her anecdotes were more recent and more chilling. Guess it says something about me that the "toilet" one is what I remember.) I wrote down two lines that I particularly liked from Ann Brashares's great speech: "Writing is not like fixing a toilet; it's a lot like falling in love. No one knows what they're doing." Also, "a teenager is not a person; a teenager is a stage of life." In all fairness, I probably should confess that I don't know what I'm doing in fixing a toilet either. Jane Yolen gave a poetic speech about loving the revision process (well timed for me since I'm in the middle of revisions on the current work-in-progress). On Sunday, Brian Selznick spoke about the process of creating his new book. And Katherine Paterson spoke about daring to write.

In addition to the speeches, there were smaller "breakout" sessions where you could listen to an expert talk about a particular subject. I attended the Fantasy session by Mallory Loehr and the Teen Fiction
session by Ben Schrank. The Teen Fiction session was particularly cool because Ben said nice things about my book, INTO THE WILD. :) He also gave away a copy of it (or, rather, the ARC) at the end, and the woman who got it came up to me and asked me to sign. Her name was Sue. She probably doesn't know that that was the very first time I've ever signed a copy of my book. :)

Also on Saturday, there was an extremely fascinating panel about marketplace trends given by one bookstore owner and three book buyers (from Borders, Ingram, and Barnes & Noble). At the art show
reception afterwards, I talked with the bookstore owner (more accurately, owners) Robert and Mary Brown. Very nice people. Their store (Books, Bytes, and Beyond) is one the premiere independent children's bookstores in the country.

In between listening to impressive people talk impressively, I got to talk more with some of the people that I'd met the prior night, plus I met others, including author Sara Holmes and the artistic power-couple Laini Taylor and Jim Di Bartolo. (Laini's book, FAERIES OF DREAMDARK, is coming out from Penguin the same time as INTO THE WILD, which I think is ve
ry cool. Her husband Jim did the awesome cover illustration.)


After the final speech, a large group of us (including Laini's very cool editor Tim Travaglini, Laini, Jim, Greg, Jaime Temairik, Sara Easterly, plus Holly and the entire state of Washington) trooped over to the Donnell Library Children's Room to meet and greet with other famous folk in children's literature: Edward Bear (a.k.a. Winnie the Pooh), Tigger, Eeyore, Pigl
et, and Kanga. Yes, the Donnell owns the original stuffed animals. FYI, Piglet is very, very small. Six of us then went out for sushi near Times Square. Unfortunately, Winnie couldn't join us.

Coming up next weekend: Boskone!


At 12:50 PM, Blogger SAH said...

Thanks for sharing. Sounds wonderful!

At 1:25 PM, Blogger stephhale said...

You crack me up! It sounds like I missed a great time. Isn't Holly the sweetest?


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

SAH: It was very cool. This was my very first SCBWI event, and I really enjoyed it.

STEPH: Holly is definitely the sweetest. I was late to the luncheon on Saturday, and all the tables were full, but she and her also-very-sweet friend Kathy Jenkins had saved me a seat at their table -- thus saving me from reliving one of those awful middle school cafeteria moments. :)

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Sara said...

Hi Sarah! It was great meeting you at the conference, and thanks for dropping by my website to leave a message. I know I'm not part of the official Class of 2k7, but with Letters From Rapunzel coming out this year too, I'm along on the very same thrilling ride.

Into the Wild looks great and I'm looking forward to losing myself in your words as soon as it's out!

Sara Holmes

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Heather Tomlinson said...

Thanks for the recap! Sounds like a very cool event.


At 9:42 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

SARA: Great to see you here! It's definitely a thrilling ride. I've wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old, so this is a dream come true for me.

Can't wait to read Letters from Rapunzel! The concept sounds great, and your cover is fabulous.

HEATHER: Definitely cool. Best part was meeting so many 2k7ers. Hope I get to meet you in person someday!

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG you chatted with Jane Yolen???!!!!! I'm passing out with glee for you! And me, because I know you (well sort of, ha ha)

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Ruth McNally Barshaw said...

Hugs, Sarah, it was so nice to finally see you in person. Now I can imagine you in my head when you write something.
Wasn't this a great time?
That Drinks Night and everyone at it was simply awe-inspiring.

And I agree about Holly. :)

I'll have sketches up soon. First I have to go buy a scanner....
(Train was delayed 7 hours, getting home)

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

JANE: That's exactly what was going through my head: "I'm talking with Jane Yolen!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Did you see my schedule for this upcoming weekend? Here's the link: http://www.sarahbethdurst.com/appearances.htm Look at who is on the second panel. I'm soooo excited!

RUTH: So great to meet you too! I hope we can do another 2k7 get-together sometime soon. It was so cool to have so many of us in the same room.

Definitely let me know when you post your sketches. I can't wait to see them!

At 7:37 PM, Blogger Sara said...

Speaking of Jane Yolen, I was standing in line to have The Invention of Hugo Cabret signed by Brian Selznick, when who should appear next to me but Jane Yolen! (She was trying to avoid being run down by the caterers who were madly dashing about, carting away dishes.) Anyhow, I mentioned that I had just bought her book, Take Joy, and she promptly offered to sign it for me. Of course, the book was packed in my suitcase, which I proceded to unzip and expose the entire messy contents thereof to the whole line as I dug frantically for the copy. I finally found the book neatly stashed in an outside pocket. Really, though, I hope she took it as a compliment that I was willing to get down on my knees and unpack all my belongings just for her autograph!

At 11:33 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

SARA: I'm sure she was flattered! I love that the book was in the outside pocket all along. :)


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