Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The New England SCBWI Conference or Why Writing is Like Dying

I spent the weekend at the awesome New England SCBWI conference. Mostly fielding reactions like, “You drove ALL the way from OHIO? Don’t they have conferences in Ohio?” (Typical East Coast attitude.)
It was rather rash. You see, eleven hours in the car didn’t sound so bad three months ago, at registration time. It looked kind of misty and romantic, like a far-away, blurry photograph of yourself. I thought, “Road trip! I’ll be driving through the Berkshires in May; how lovely!” And it IS lovely. But still a long way. Even with the Rent soundtrack blasting through the speakers.
I ran into Paula Kay McLaughlin at the luncheon buffet. She lives in Connecticut, but I first met her at the Central Ohio SCBWI conference, where she was busy explaining why she’d driven all the way from Connecticut to Ohio for a conference. “Don’t they have conferences in Connecticut?”
This is Kindling Words East territory, so of course I saw lot of my writing buds from there, including Kathleen Blasi, Sibby Falk, and Toni Buzzeo. Some of us still smell like woodsmoke. Kathleen and Sibby and I celebrated by getting lost in the twisting roads surrounding the Fitchburg Courtyard by Marriott. As Sibby said, “Lock the doors! I think I hear the banjos starting up.”
Here are Carolyn Scoppettone, Libby, and Kathleen in happier times.

I finally met online friends Jo Knowles and Stacy DeKeyser in person—yay! They were both on faculty for the conference.
Made lots of new friends at dinner Friday night

and rubbed shoulders with Cindy Lord at dinner Saturday night. Maybe some of her Newbury-worthiness will rub off on me.

Lest you think I spent my entire time eating, Cynthia Leitich-Smith’s keynote was incredible. That girl has the Native-American equivalent of chutzpah. She told the story of her journey into print. She was living in Chicago and working as a lawyer when an epiphany hit—she wanted to be a children’s writer. At this point she had absolutely nothing on the page. So she and her husband both quit their jobs and moved to Austin. Two years later, Cynthia published her first book.
Cynthia and I put our heads together after her interview on Sunday. Actually, I was hoping some of her chutzpah would rub off on me.

In Liza Ketcham’s Dialogue workshop, we organized into groups of three and wrote a scene together, each contributing a character that was voiced by another group member. Our group ended up crafting a scene involving a wizard, a gossip girl, and an eleven-year-old boy with a disabled brother. I came away convinced that I am unlikely to survive a collaboration.
I also attended the presentation on school visits offered by Cindy Lord and Toni Buzzeo. Cindy had great suggestions for dealing with teens reluctant to share their work. And Toni’s strategies for managing active children in the classroom were golden. Let me tell you, anyone who acts up in Toni’s workshops has no idea what he’s in for.

When the conference was over, the hotel emptied out quickly. I stayed overnight so I could leave early in the morning. Still resonating from our comingled spirits, I sat in my hotel room and drank wine and wrote. As my husband would say, something I could easily do at home.
And, maybe it was weariness, or the wine, but it occurred to me that writing is like dying—in the end we are always alone with that page. But our writer and illustrator friends are like a choir of angels, singing us into heaven.


Paula said...

What a profound comparison. I can only hope I will have a glass of wine in hand when I draw my last breath : )

Hollishillis said...

I love how you explain the romanticism of the road trip. It's never as awesome as it sounds.