If you read my last two posts, you'll already know that I carpooled my way down to the Austin SCBWI conference (thanks, Tahni, for your expert driving and great company!).
The panels and speakers were fantastic. Truly, folks, if you're a writer or illustrator of children's/MG/YA lit, you must get yourself to one of these conferences. It's like a big old family--and not the dysfunctional kind. Everyone there is your cheerleader. There are published writers and illustrators and not-yet-published ones, agents and editors, and they all mingle and lunch and chit-chat at the same tables.
Some pictures from my iPhone (forgive the grainy images):
The fabulous writer Lisa Yee
Close-up: grainy, but still fabulous Lisa Yee
Agent panel (and Lisa Yee). Jill is on the far left.
The talks were inspirational and informative, well worth the small registration cost.
And here's the BIG news: Because I went to this conference, I have an agent! (I'm stopping to do my happy dance! Happy dance, Happy dance...)
It was all so strange and unexpected, to say the least. So here's my How It Happened story:
At the last minute, I decided to go to the SCBWI conference in Austin, thanks to Tahni in my critique group. There, I was profoundly inspired by Donna Jo's talk on why writing stories about terrible things makes readers better people. (It was incredible, trust me.) After thanking Donna Jo with my curious and unexpected emotion, I sat down to write a bit on my laptop. Jill Corcoran and Donna Jo were talking a few minutes later, and I overheard Donna Jo say something like, "You have to meet this writer named Lori Ann Stephens." And so, I walked over with a pathetic flutter in my heart.
You see, a few weeks earlier, I had researched and fell in love with Jill, submitted a query to her, and had received a rejection email. I knew I had already blown my chance with her. (And she had been greatness on the stage, which made meeting her in person even more bittersweet.)
But I hadn't completely blown it! She asked me about my rejected query, and I told her. She listened and smiled and said yes, she'd had four or five other queries with a similar sounding main character and had robo-rejected them. That was when I realized that my query letter sucked! In the query, I hadn't really distinguished enough my main character and plot from the other writers who might dare to have a similar premise.
But as I described the story to her, Jill's eyes lit up. (Someone actually took a photograph of us while I was crouched on the floor describing my story to her. How I wish I could have a copy of it.) Jill asked me to email her the manuscript that evening, which I did. I fell asleep, nervous but grateful. Sunday morning, I opened my laptop to see Jill's email:
It is almost one am and I have to go to sleep but I keep reading!
Thank goodness for Donna Jo! more soon, jill
A few hours later, I was sitting in a booth, still filled with wonder as she offered representation.
So, now I have a lot of work to do. Jill gave me a list.
I’m sitting here at St. Edward’s university during a small
break at the SCBWI conference. I have listened to panels of agents and writers
talk about the children’s book industry and the creative process. A few minutes ago, I walked over to thank one
writer for delivering the most intelligent and compassionate talks about
censorship that I have ever heard. In the middle of my “thank you,” and while
telling her why her speech was so important to me, I started crying. Shocked
and embarrassed, I scrambled to wipe away my tears and compose myself.
She stood up and embraced me. I had another moment of shock and awe. This
woman, Donna Jo Napoli, ended up giving me more than I had expected from the
entire conference. (And there are many talented and otherwise amazing people
here among me.)
Thank you, Donna, for your empathy
and your humanity. You helped me realize not only what I need to write, but also why.
I had an epiphany today. That
makes today a beautiful day.
I have all of five minutes to whip out this post because I've still got packing to do.
But I did want to say that, for the past several years, I've been fortunate to take part in Highland Park's incredible Literary Festival. Tomorrow morning, I'll head over there once more to lead a few fiction workshops. After having listened tonight to the featured author, poet Naomi Shihab Nye, I feel awash in gratitude.
After I teach 3 morning workshops, I'll head on to Austin for the SCBWI conference. It's been an emotionally rough week, so I'm looking forward to this weekend. For those of you who are curious about what Children's and Young Adult novelists do in large gatherings around a cash bar, I'll do my best to report when I get back.
I ran across some good things online this week, particularly relevant to writers. But if you're not a writer, it's still good stuff to read:
1. Samantha Mabry blogged about the Tuscon United School District's banning of the Mexican American Studies program. Teachers actually snatched books away from children at school. They're "storing" away those dangerous books by Cisneros and Urrea (and many others), and chocking in some Shakespeare and Sherman Alexie (a brilliant Native American writer) because those guys also make people think for themselves (a dangerous and seditious mental activity). Bullies. Sandra Cisneros was THE writer who made me believe in myself as a writer, made me believe that stories about women and girls mattered, too. Samantha's short response to the Tuscon United district is spot on. Read it.
3. My old (and dear) friend Greg Allen won the first round of the MeeGenius picture book story contest by popular vote late last year. Now, his story about a boy with autism and a great imagination has been illustrated by an appointed artist and is up for votes again; this time, he's up against 14 other stories that the MeeGenius crew selected from the batch of entries. Please vote for Greg's story.
If you have some good stuff to share with me, I'm always up for a distraction.