Los Angeles SCBWI Writing Conference

I’ve just returned from the SCBWI L.A. conference, held August 2-4. Twelve hundred people flowed through the Hyatt Century Plaza hotel on the Avenue of the Stars to hear literary heroes, Richard Peck, Lori Halse Anderson, David Weisner, Kirby Larson, John Sciezka, Peter Lerangis, Carolyn Mackler, and Bruce Degen speak. Newcomers Matt de la Pena and Mac Barnett absolutely astounded and moved us, and editors and agents and other writers gave information-packed workshops. The conference is expensive, very expensive, when you consider plane fare and hotel room accommodations as well, but for any writer, it is well worth the cost.
Here are some bits of advice I found valuable:
Steve Malk: agent: “What is your goal? Figure this out for the long term and take some control in charting your career.”
Matt de la Pena: “What is your point of view? I’m not talking about first or third pov here. What is it that you want to say? Many of us say what we think people want to hear, but what do you want to say?”
Ginger Clark: agent: “What is your brand? Thinking of this helps you focus your writing and your career.”
John Sciezka: “Be subversive. After getting my Masters in writing which qualified me to pain houses, I taught elementary school. There I found my audience. Instead of writing terrible fiction for adults, I told stories to my students…Kafka, Metamorphosis, David Foster Wallace. Kids loved these stories. I hearkened back to my own childhood, playing all the normal sports with my brothers, but then creating “Slaughterball” and other uncharted sports. So, think of your own play. Enjoy.”
Richard Peck: “The opening line is the most important sentence of your book. Sometimes it takes me well over 100 pages to find it. The first chapter must reflect your whole book. First and last chapters are book ends.”
David Weisner: “Follow your story wherever it leads you.”
Kirby Larson: “So many books contain whispers of past books. A 2012 novel about a foster child reflect Paterson’s Gilly Hopkins who probably reflected Harriet the Spy who probably reflected Mary in The Secret Garden. Writers are like the tight rope walker over the Grand Canyon who recently said, “If I fall without a net, I’ll hang on till help comes.” And that’s what we writers do—just keep going without a net and hanging on till help comes.”
Lori Halse Anderson: “We are born to be mild. Remember your emotions at 5 and 10 and 16; try to recapture them.”
Mac Barnett: “Children believe in something between the truth and the lie. They suspend disbelief like no one else, so you can have metafiction, interactive elements, such as a coupon hidden somewhere between the dust jacket and the book to receive a blue whale, then give the reader a photo of Randolph the whale who is stuck in a fiord, and “you know how sluggish the mail is…” so “please call and hear Randolph and leave a message on his voice mail. Mac felt, like Kirby, that there were many precedents for our work, his so quirky, hilarious, completely fresh and offbeat. After all, Goodnight Moon says “Goodnight air…goodnight mush.” Ah, what?
Agents’ panel: Everyone said that they received “25 to 50 query/submissions a day.” One agent said upwards of 75 a day. And we wonder why agents and editors are so slow to respond.
Finally, for any writers with disabilities, the Conference organizers are extremely helpful. My husband accompanied me to guide me through the crowds. But Sally Krock offered her cell number in case I needed help getting anywhere and also said that regional advisors would stand ready to assist. So if your mobility is a challenge, don’t let that stop you from attending. One attendee, Flossie, my guide dog, was pure angel despite the long travel and endless lying still from 8:30 to 6 each day, except for one barking episode at what we thought was the crawling baby, but turned out to be the gift shop resident dog behind the child. Her final heroic act was to fly and transfer planes for 12 hours without a single bathroom stop, and no accidents. She now can be seen with wings and a halo.


About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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1 Response to Los Angeles SCBWI Writing Conference

  1. Tina Zubak says:

    Wonderful, Sally. I’ve got a lot of inspiration just reading these random offerings. Can’t wait to hear more on the 20th.


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