Tag Archives: writing conferences

On Reading & Writing: When a Monster Calls in a Hotel Room

I was in Virginia at a writing conference this past weekend, doing critiques, meeting with authors, and being on a panel of agents, with the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI. There are so many things I can talk about regarding the conference: how well it was run; why I think everyone who writes for kids should be an SCBWI member, what a lovely group of writers I met; the fantastic opportunity of watching Kwame Alexander and Judith Viorst in conversation; how lucky I feel to be a part of the children’s literature community, as a publishing professional and a writer. Really, I could continue this list for a very long time.

61guqyj17pl-_sx394_bo1204203200_But I want to talk about reading, and being a writer, and something that happened in my hotel room on Saturday night, after my long day of meetings and conversations with writers. I was so very tired. After dinner I went up to my room and got in my pajamas and took my book and crawled into bed. I’m in an MFA program right now, and one of the books I was assigned to read this week was A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness. For a variety of reasons it probably isn’t something I would have thought to pick up on my own. But it’s remarkably well written. It’s beautiful to look at. The level of craft in this novel is phenomenal. Now let me tell you the thing that happened.

I had to put the book down. I had to put it down because it made me cry. I don’t mean that I teared up but kept reading, like when Beth March or Fred Weasley died. Nobody had died, but I got to a point in the story where I was moved so much that I was crying. Crying, not tearing up or something. I had to put the book down so I could pull myself together. Of course I picked it up again, and finished it, and teared up a few times along the way. But when I had to put the book down? Well, that was something else.

I’m sharing this because that’s what I’m looking for when I look for new clients, and that’s what I strive to achieve as a writer myself. Not necessarily making people cry, but making people feel. That can be LOLs, tears, fear, compassion, connection…feeling. A fellow writer and friend of mine (hi Meghan!) says, “You know me, I’m all about the feels,” regarding what she’s looking for as a reader. And I wholeheartedly concur!

So, how do we achieve that, as writers? I think Lin Oliver, author, Executive Director of SCBWI, as well as one of SCBWI’s founders, really said it best at this past weekend’s conference. Lin quite succinctly said, “Be fierce. Create from the depths of what you feel.” Again, I concur. I believe that when we allow ourselves to be present to our feelings, and as artists we mine those feelings, that the results—our creations—can achieve the ability to authentically evoke feelings in others. Being present to the essence of funny. Being present to the finality of our own mortality. Being present to our grief or relief or fear or love or whatever. Being fierce.

So go do that, fellow writers! Be fierce.





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Top 10 Things I Say To Authors at Conferences

stickfigureGIFoozThis past weekend I was at the New England SCBWI conference, Thinking Outside the Crayon Box, doing query critiques and manuscript critiques. First of all, I happen to love going to this conference. It’s impeccably run, pretty darn big, draws really top notch speakers, and the attendees are some of the nicest people ever. But I noticed that the words that were coming out of my mouth as I spoke to the authors to whom I was assigned were pretty much the same as they usually are when I go to conferences anywhere.

Here’s the scene: I sit across a small round table with an author on the other side. They are either nervous or not, friendly or not, open to hearing my input on their query letter or manuscript, or not. Regardless, I always try to make them feel comfortable, usually with a joke (which is usually a dumb one), and I remind them I’m just a regular person. Often they politely laugh at my jokes. I do try to make a difference for them and their writing. But I’ve found that besides the things that are particular to each person’s manuscript, there’s a recurring theme to the things I usually end up saying. Here are the top 10 things (in no particular order) that come out of my mouth when I’m critiquing query letters and manuscripts at conferences:

1. You’ve got a good premise here, but I don’t feel the writing’s where it needs to be yet.

2. You need to show more and tell less.

3. Your dialogue still needs some work. It doesn’t feel authentically teen/middle grade.

4. I’m sorry, I’m just going to slurp down some more of this coffee.

5. This feels like info dumping; try to sneak all this backstory into your narrative.

6. I’ve read your first 10 pages but nothing’s happened yet; this feels like throat clearing before your story starts.

7. One of the most important tasks of your first pages is to have your reader feel invested in your character and want to find out what happens to them next.

8. You have to know your market and know who your manuscript is geared to. Middle grade books are focused on readers between 8 and 12 years old; young adult fiction is geared towards kids who are about 12 to 18.

9. Your word count is way too high. OR Your word count is way too low. Try to familiarize yourself to the industry standards

10. Yes, I’ll be hanging out in the bar later with the other agents and editors! 😉

So, conference attendees who have heard any of these things from me, know that you’re in good company! And people who I will meet at conferences in the future? I’m certain I will be saying some of these things to you, too! But perhaps, now that you’ve read this blog post, you can go back to your manuscript and try to attend to some of these common pitfalls of writing.


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A Weekend of Peace, Love & Writing

Click this! It's a poster you can buy!

Click this! It’s actually a poster you can buy!

This weekend I was a mentor at the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Plus Conference. This is the third time I was invited and attended this conference and I was really looking forward to going. But this year it was kind of a pain in the neck for me to get there. You see, I had double booked myself! Without looking at my calendar I had also bought lots of tickets to the events at the Woodstock Film Festival! So I was up in Woodstock, NY (peace out, man) on Thursday and Friday, watching tons and tons of indie movies and panels and stuff. Then I woke up on Saturday before sunrise, hopped

Woodstock Film Festival Program

Woodstock Film Festival Program

in my car, drove a gazillion miles to New Jersey, and went into agent/mentor mode. Then I drove back to Woodstock, had dinner at my client Ric’s restaurant, New World Home Cooking, and did more Film Festival stuff on Sunday. Why did I do that? Because 1. the Rutgers conference is pretty special; 2. I love eating at New World; 3. The Woodstock Film Festival is super fun and interesting; 4. Autumn in the Catskills; 5. I want it all!

Let me tell you about the Rutgers Conference… Each mentor is assigned a participant. The mentors are editors, agents, and published writers. The participants are writers who have applied to attend the conference. We get to meet for a full hour with our mentee, discussing a writing sample they’ve submitted; have lunch with them; sit in a discussion group with them. It’s kind of awesome to be assigned to hang out with a writer for a few hours and talk to them about their work. Usually at conferences you get about 10 minutes with someone. For someone like me (who talks too much) that is so insufficient. But at Rutgers I get the opportunity to connect a little more deeply and hopefully to make a real difference for someone. My mentee this year is an actress. I mean, that’s her day job! How cool is that?

And of course there are also panels and keynotes and stuff. And there’s this awkward mingle hour where all the mentors go into a kind of stuffy room, with tall cocktail tables (but no cocktails… what’s up with that?!), and we’re supposed to use that time to “network” with each other. Holy awkward nerd herding, Batman! When I feel insecure and shy I talk too much and say stupid things, trying to be funny. Epic Linda. I did hand a few folks my business card though. And I met a few editors that I’ve wanted to meet in person, as well as some new names and faces. Somehow I got in a pretty intense, kind of personal conversation, over lunch with someone I’d just met (about tattoos, fairy tales, being present in life!). That’s writing conferences, yes, but that’s also the Rutgers conference. It’s pretty awesome.

But basically, I had an awesome weekend. But I drove too much. But I bought a 32 lb pumpkin! But it was great. How about you? How was your weekend?

Make sure to check back here next week, for the inaugural interview in my new series “5 Questions for an Editor,” with my first victim guest, editor Andrew Harwell from HarperCollins. I’m shooting for interviews about once a month.


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