Feed Your Anxiety – SCBWI 2010

A couple of weeks ago I heard a report on NPR about willpower and the brain. Basically, someone conducted a study that determined: when your brain is over-taxed, your willpower goes DOWN.

Which has NOTHING to do with this blog post. ;)

So last weekend I was a BRAVE writer and flew all the way out to New York City to attend SCBWI 2010! This was only my second writers conference ever, and my very FIRST trip to the Big Apple. Luckily, I had a sparkly group of friends to hold my hand the entire way!

(From Left: Me, Tiffany Schmidt, Susan Adrian, Victoria Schwab)

You may have noticed where this picture was taken: Dylan’s Candy Bar. The closest place to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory I have encountered in my life…to this point. :) Also, they sell CRUMB’S CUPCAKES!!! (apparently I am the ONLY person who can eat one of these whole and go back for more?)

And what more could you ask for after a long day of sight-seeing and pre-conference jitters than a BUBBLE bath like this??

Note: NONE of my photos taken at the Empire State Building are blog-worthy, but I have to say I HIGHLY recommend going up there at midnight – the view was spectacular!!!

So the conference itself was great — punctuated by Libba Bray’s charming keynote speech, which was worth the entire trip alone. Okay fine, I laughed so hard I almost cried. The lady is a one-woman show!

Candy ready? Friday night I predicted that Tiffany, Suze, and Victoria would ALL be in the same sessions on Saturday and I would end up all alone — SO I AM PSYCHIC because guess what happened?? I thought Tiffany was going to have social-anxiety-by-proxy on my behalf, but it was unnecessary because WHO should sit down next to me for the first two breakout sessions, but the talented and charming Nova Ren Suma, whose book, DANI NOIR I happened to bring to read on the plane! <3  I tried really hard not to go all *fangirl* on Nova, and she must have decided Team Sparkle wasn’t TOO weird because she went with us to CRUMBS for cupcakes, and even returned to our hotel room to sign books for Victoria and I in our deluxe closet/phone booth complete with seating!

The breakout sessions with Alvina Ling, Ben Schrank, and Arianne Lewin were an interesting peek inside the ~minds of publishing~. Jacqueline Woodson gave a beautiful speech Saturday, reading excerpts from her work aloud – I could listen to the cadence of her voice all day. :) We had to leave before illustrator Peter Sis was done speaking, but to me, his constant creation and varying style is the truest form of expression.

Saturday night Team Sparkle met up with the fabulous Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, Laura Whitaker, Suzie Townsend, Kody Keplinger, Kirsten Hubbard, Kaitlin Ward, and…I know I’m missing some people! From there we went to a dinner for the amazing Blueboarders community, but I think our sugar supply was waning by the end of the night. We didn’t make it to dessert! Even ~*sparklers*~ get sleepy!

Sunday was a whirlwind of fascinating and inspiring speeches by Susan Raab, Sheldon Fogelman, and Jim Benton – who is famous for Happy Bunny, but my favorite image that he shared involved cupcakes and a unicorn – combined in a completely WRONG way. ;D

The agent panel (George Nicholson, Rosemary Stimola, & Tina Wexler) was fascinating and intimidating (when are they not?), followed by a humorous, inspiring speech by Jane Yolen.

Sunday afternoon, things were already coming to an end!

Tiffany had to catch a train home :(

And Victoria was having tea with a friend, so Suze and I took off for…a cheesetastic Central Park Carriage Ride!

(our horse’s name was Dancer, and he did NOT want to take us all the way around the park – sorry Dancer! I still don’t blame you, it was COLD! But we had a charming Irish tour guide who told us EVERY famous movie scene that had ever been filmed in the park as we passed the sites…and apparently I haven’t seen as many movies as I would have guessed!)

After Central Park, Suze and I hustled to Times Square, and I proceeded to be overwhelmed by advertisement and felt a complete sense of displacement that I have never felt…basically it comes down to one ~profound~ thought:

This Here’s A Big City:

We didn’t get EVERYWHERE we wanted to go on this trip, but I think we managed a LOT of FUN for four people who have never spent time all together outside of Twitter! Aside from the above adventures, we made it to The Strand Bookstore, rode the NYC subway, successfully hailed a cab, visited Grand Central Station, and…had an AMAZING time together eating WAY too much sugar in a tiny little hotel room. The SCBWI conference was FUN, but four YA writers (+Nova occasionally!) together for four days was the best part of the trip.

Besides you know…cupcakes.

10 Things to do at Your First Writing Conference

So a while ago I wrote a  blog entry about my fear of writing conferences. Ok, maybe it wasn’t just about writing conferences, but a general fear of social situations IN GENERAL and writing conferences happen to be VERY SOCIAL events? 

Well, last weekend, I FACED THE FEAR.

And…the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s conference was a FANTASTIC experience. :) I learned so much, I only had one soul-crushingly-anxious moment the entire weekend, and now I have become infected like a ZOMBIE and become one of those obnoxious people who always tells you, GO TO A CONFERENCE…there are *SO MANY BRAINSS*…

Ok maybe not that last part. I just listened to the audio version of  The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and ~loved~ it. :) My apologies for all zombie analogies in this post…

So to get away from the undead and RUN toward a much more productive blog entry, I give you:

Ten Things to do at Your FIRST Writing Conference

1. Walk in, register — locate the bathrooms. You will want to know where they are if you suddenly find yourself in need of them, TRUST ME. And don’t laugh at me yet – MANY drinks are consumed at conferences. Most of them either caffeinated or alcoholic. Nature calls, even if agents don’t. And the sympathetic nervous system is not your friend. Ok, I can’t make a judgment on that for you, but MINE is not my friend. Also…what was the green thing in your teeth while you were talking to that editor? Bathrooms are BUENO — they’re also a place to hide from zombies.

2. Get the “I am a NEWBIE” label for your name badge, or whatever equivalent tagging you can locate or create yourself.  This helps prepare you for number three (talking to people)… which was my BIGGEST fear going into RMFW. My NEWBIE label made everyone smile sympathetically and ask if I needed HELP, or if I was having a good time, which was wonderful — because sometimes I did indeed say “HELP!” and they were soooo nice about it! (disclaimer: being labeled NEWBIE puts you at risk for being thrown to zombies first, so STAY on guard, even when people smile.)

3. TALK TO PEOPLE and do not be scared when THEY TALK TO YOU. Unless they are moaning and shuffling toward you with milky eyes and fetid flesh…they don’t want to eat your brains! Ok, as noted, this was my biggest source of anxiety. When in social situations with people I admire, I either don’t say anything, get ridiculously giggly and say stupid things,  or manage to say something horribly offensive without realizing it until later. But ~everyone~ at RMFW was sooo nice from the moment I walked in (even going so far as to sit with my lonesome newbie self at lunch – SO not like high school!), and just remember you are armed with the ETERNALLY INTERESTING ice-breaker question that works on EVERYONE at writing conferences: “So, what do you write?”

4. Go to as MANY workshops as possible. Staying in an organized, structured environment at all times is a priceless tool when you need to pick a zombie out of a crowd. That person who just WON’T stop groaning at the back of the room and hasn’t turned their cell phone off? Probably a zombie. Or at the very least…not a serious writer. Also – you will LEARN THINGS! I found interactive workshops to be the most helpful – ones that help you craft a query letter, for example, and then give you feedback on the work. There were a few workshops I didn’t even like the sound of that turned out to be really informative – SO GO.

5. BUDDY UP. This may come as a shock, but…there are other people at the conference who don’t know ANYONE there either. I was lucky enough to find someone close to my age who wrote in the same genre as me. We hit it off pretty quickly attending the same classes, so I didn’t have to go hide in the bathroom (see #1) rather than try to “mingle” with others…as much. Also, when the dead rise again, having someone to run/strategize with increases your chances of survival.

6. DO Participate in a critique group/session, if you can. This is what you want most – for other people to see your work. You want feedback on it. THIS is where it’s at. Er…where it is. I was in a group with six other writers and one agent. Our agent had never participated in a critique group before, but I was WOWed by the grace with which she handled the situation. Each writer submitted ten-page samples ahead of time, and each writer got feedback from every member of the group. I received comments I was expecting, as well as some new insights, and it was just FUN to hear what people thought about what I’d written, whether good, bad, mistaken, or dead on. Knowing HOW people read your work helps you become a better writer.

7. EAT. Okay, this list is obviously in no particular order. Try to eat something ~lasting~ before you enter the conference each day, and no matter how nervous you are, TRY to eat lunch. If you don’t, I guarantee you WILL be a zombie by nightfall. I know this sounds like instructions for surviving the SAT, but…maybe those obnoxious test-prep people were onto something after all. Also…the RMFW conference had TWO separate dinners, which I was completely unprepared for. The sight of well-appointed tables with ZERO seat assignments in a huge room with 300+ people made me feel a little like um…a wounded vampire surrounded by hungry werewolves (though I was going to make another zombie ref, didn’t you?). Also, the tables at these things are SO LARGE you can’t possibly talk to the person directly across from you. It helps if you are good at interpreting facial expressions, but my advice is, smile a lot, nod, pay attention to what you’re eating, and try to LISTEN as much as possible. IT IS SO INTERESTING TO LISTEN.

8. Sharks don’t bite. I mean–agents are people too! Okay, some of them are more intimidating than others, for sure. But a writing conference is a huge OPPORTUNITY to get to know them! Say hello, introduce yourself, and DO NOT talk about your book — unless they ask. You may be thinking, um, but the whole reason I am THERE is to get them interested in my book! And that’s TRUE! But if you have a great conversation with an agent, and make a good impression, then you can QUERY them and say, “Hi my name is Emily Zombiepants, and we met at the RMFW conference in September…” which is the appropriate place to speak to an agent about your book (UNLESS they ask), and when they are at their desk in New York and you jog their memory, they’ll look back and go, “Ohhh yeah, Emily Zombiepants! The ONLY person at that whole conference who DIDN’T try to hock their book at me, AND she was cool – I am 100 times more interested in her query letter now!”

9. Dress for success! UGH I cannot stand that phrase — but it’s true. Go to a writing conference dressed as if it was a job interview — because it IS. You wrote your entire novel wearing pumpkin pajama pants, but get out the dress slacks, the iron, and pet hair roller before going to a conference (also, comfortable dress SHOES). Once you’ve topped the best-seller list for 52 weeks, you can wear NoPants, or All Black, or a Pink Sparkly Bodysuit, or just revert to (my fave) PJ PANTS! And if you’re worried about erring on the side of OVER or UNDER dressed, pick OVER DRESSED. Always. If everyone else is in jeans, you will SHINE. If everyone else is over dressed too, you won’t look like a sloppy ZOMBIE!!

10. GO TO THE CONFERENCE. Okay, this isn’t advice about what to do AT the conference, but how can you do all the other nine things if you’re home on your couch? FIND a conference, PAY the money (soooo worth it), and GET OUT THE DOOR. Don’t get me wrong, I am a total advocate of online networking when it comes to being a writer. You can do so much to connect with other writers, agents, and editors online — you can learn a TON that way — but we’re still human. Coming from someone terrified to answer her doorbell when it rings…NOTHING beats connecting with the writing industry face-to-face, getting a feel for writers, editors, and agents as people, in real time. You will come away excited that you could count yourself among them! AND you’ll have an advantage when fighting zombies.*

*NOT true…or I don’t think so, but someone let me know because if it is, how fast can I get on a conference committee?


S and I went for a Night Walk around the park with Basil this evening. These are the best kinds of walks because there’s almost no one else there, the air is comfortable in summertime, you don’t have to put on sunscreen, and all of the squirrels (aka poodle bait) are asleep.

About halfway around, near one of the lakes, S and I started discussing writing conferences. I’ve never been to one. The idea of going fills me with excitement and DREAD (which might be WHY I’ve never been to one). Anyway, this week I learned that the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference will be right here IN Denver in September. I checked into it, thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it turns out a LOT of interesting, important people have signed up to be part of this conference.

The only problem is…I have no one to go WITH. Okay I’ll just come out and admit it, I am ~fantastically~ codependent. I can do ANYTHING if someone holds my hand. But by myself…I BECOME wallpaper. And not even the delicious Willy Wonka kind. More like the I-WISH-I-could-talk-to-someone-I’m-going-INSANE Yellow Wallpaper. Heh. I blame my mother.

Trying to be supportive as usual, S asked me what the advantage of networking at a conference would be vs the old-fashioned query letter. So I searched my memory banks and recalled this post by Janet Reid, and told him that basically, conferences were like a chance to deliver a verbal pitch and prove in person that you are not a yahoo.

To which he responded: “And with that in mind, WHY do you think a conference would be AT ALL the right choice for YOU?”

Heh. S has known me a long time. In fact, he was in the room with me for my very FIRST real job interview. I was seventeen. We were both interviewing to work as “turndown staff” (aka we make the bed and put a chocolate on the pillow) at a high-end golf club for the summer. The woman interviewed us together to save time. S went first, chatting with the lady – we’ll call her J – and answering her questions. Then it was my turn. Typical, easy job interview, right?

J: “So Emily, everything on your application looks good. Tell me a little bit about yourself.”

Me: (O_O)

J: “Uhm…you know, do you have any hobbies? Things you like to do?”

Me: (O_O) *panicked glance at S*

J: (really trying hard here, poor woman) “Maybe you like to play sports…go skiing…perhaps something? Anything?”

Me: (thinking nothing she’d listed sounded appealing) “No…I don’t like to do anything.”

J: “You…don’t?”

Me: “No.” (O_O)

Um, so chasing down the point of this blog entry…perhaps conferences are NOT for everyone. I doubt the above exchange would WOW any agents or editors (in a good way) if they took the place of J. But okay yes, I have never been to a conference, so I WILL give it a try – to make sure. Because despite S’s kind intentions to keep me from embarrassing myself again…I’m a different person (thank goodness!) than I was at seventeen. I’ll never know for sure if I can do better than that at a conference unless I suck it up and just GO to one.

Incidentally — maybe somewhat because S was there cheering me on in the background, I DID miraculously get hired for the turndown job. LOL. So maybe I just need to hold out for a conference I can go to – not so conveniently close to home – with my amazing YA writing friends who cheer me on every day. Can anyone say…SCBWI Winter 2010? I know, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to fly 2,000 miles and spend TONS more money just for some cheerleaders to pull you off the wall… But neither does putting a ridiculous piece of chocolate on someone’s pillow every night, does it?