SCBWI-Houston Conference 2017

Well, another great conference has come and gone. I splurged this year, as my schedule has been very hectic and promises to get worse. I took advantage of the special offer and booked myself into the Marriott Hotel where the conference was being held on the night before and stayed till Sunday. Very nice accommodations on Briar Park just off Westheimer.

Per usual, a wonderful group of local SCBWI volunteers helped keep us on track and on task, introducing our guest speakers and directing people to the silent auction, Blue Willow Books booth and the food, which was as plentiful as the information.

Our key note speaker this year was middle-grade author, raconteur, and former teacher Bruce Coville.  Some of his best stories involved lessons he learned from his own students and from those who helped him along the way. It was an entertaining and up beat opening to the events and a foreshadowing of the delightful novel writing workshop he ran on Sunday morning.

There was a panel discussion that included a number of our more successful and prolific Houston authors, from debut novelist Caroline Leach to the very successful Crystal Allen.  We also got tips from Jennifer Hamburg, Chris Mandeleski, Varsha Bajaj, and Pat Miller. Pat represented for the non-fiction contingent and led a workshop on that topic Sunday morning opposite Bruce Coville’s.

Little Brown Books editor, Deirdre Jones spoke on “New Twists on Old Themes” and how to put a new twist on the universal topical themes (think the seasons, holidays, colors, etc.) that make your book marketable year after year. Finding a way to mash up multiple themes in your picture book makes it seem fresh and ever more appealing to tiny would-be readers and their parents.

After a brief break, bidding on the auction items and some networking, the attendees were divided into break-out sessions for writers in general and a special session for published authors. I attended Random House editor, Martha Rago’s workshop, “Speed Dating with a Picture.”

Christa Heschke, agent with McIntosh and Otis spoke on writing an engaging mystery atmosphere that reeks of tension, is properly paced, and has an original premise. She stressed the importance of outlining in writing mystery. Pre-planning can save two or three of those seemingly endless rewrites.

Anna Roberto, editor with Feiwal & Friends, an imprint of MacMillan talked about the ever elusive ‘voice’ and what it is, what it sounds like, and why it is so essential to setting your manuscript apart.

Thao Le, who is an agent with Sandra Djikstra talked about the art of revision: tightening language, being specific, and the use of vivid active verbs.

I had two critique sessions, both informative and helpful, but differing widely in what needed to be fixed and how to do it.  While I was meeting with my critique mentors, I missed part of the presentation by Full Circle Literary agent, Adriana Dominguez, who spoke passionately and informatively about diversity in children’s literature, both in subject matter and in authors.

After a long and eventful day, the pitch sessions began, followed by dinner and dancing. I went to bed early, my brain completely overloaded.  But I woke fresh and ready for the novel writing session with Bruce Coville the next morning (pictured with me above).

Attendance was slightly down this year, partly because of the recent flooding and losses experienced by stalwart SCBWI members.  But overall it was a great experience.


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