Friday, September 10, 2010

Conference Report: SCBWI LA

You might recall that about six weeks ago I headed to Los Angeles for the annual conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It was exhilarating, exhausting, inspiring, entertaining, and an all-around great experience (despite the horror story of my three flights home, which I won't tell here except to say that it will be a cold day in Hell before I fly American Airlines if I have another choice).

And really, I meant to share some of the things I learned from the experience; for instance, if you want to place in the costume ball, "subtle and classy" is not the vibe you need. (Okay, the heart deely-bobbers are not exactly subtle, but I thought the dress was nice and the wings weren't over-the-top.) At first, I thought I might actually blog from the conference, as I did in New York in 2009. But I was taking a great workshop that was held all four days of the conference, and we had homework every night. I had no time or energy to blog during my scant free time.

So I thought, maybe I'll write something up the week I get back. After my misadventures getting home, though, I felt like I was playing catchup, and I kept putting it off. Now that it's September and I've barely had time to revise my manuscripts using information I learned, let alone sent out any queries to editors or agents I met there, I've had to admit defeat. You are not getting a detailed report of my experiences at the conference. There was a lot of esoteric writers' stuff anyway, although I'm sure everyone could appreciate the line, "if you chase trends [with your writing], the vampires win!"

But do not despair! I still have something special for you from the conference, and that is proof of my talent for bad puns. You see, at every SCBWI conference, they have joke contests. They give you a theme, you write a joke, and if they read it aloud in between sessions, you get a prize. And I won not one, but two prizes! Here was the theme: you are an editor who can travel through time and thus acquire a memoir by anyone in history. What is the title and who is the author?

My first winner was pretty tricky, as it was read aloud and it really works better visually, so you should be able to get it right off. The book? Abridged Too Far, by Noah Webster. (Of dictionary fame. Get it? Abridged dictionary. Get it? That's bad, we love words. Get—oh, never mind. The SCBWI director loved it.)

The next one came the next day in a flash of brilliance. Another bad pun, but easily figured out: A Farewell to Arms, by Venus DeMilo. Okay, you have to know your iconic art for that one, but writers are a smart crowd.

My last joke submission wasn't used, perhaps because it really described the challenge more than met it. The joke setup was that we had to choose one of six words that some say are inappropriate for a kids' book (like boobs, butt, booger), and write a sentence with a silly substitute. The challenge inspired a limerick:

An author was given a dare
To choose naughty words with more care
She didn't know what
Could fill in for "BUTT"
Oops! Pardon my French, "derriere."

That one wasn't a winner, but it was my favorite. Because really, I didn't "write" this limerick, it was more like it attacked me while I was trying to get to sleep and I had to write it down before it would leave me alone. And that, as much as anything else I can tell you, is a conference in a nutshell: inspiration even when you're exhausted and overworked and trying to sleep.

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