Recently, two of our Winged Pen members attended the SCBWI Oregon Conference. We sat down with them to talk about what they learned.
Richelle: Lately, I’ve been focusing on the joy of following my own quirky path – in writing and in life. So I was very inspired by Victoria Jamieson’s keynote, which was a funny, charming and moving talk about the success and creative satisfaction she’s had doing just that. I left the conference hall excited to get back to it!
Julie: On one of the Q&A panels, middle-grade author Rosanne Parry shared a story about how, even after she had an editor interested in her work, she had to write multiple manuscripts before he finally bought one from her. That was such a great reminder of how important persistence is in this business.
What was the best new writing exercise you learned or writing prompt you tried?
Richelle: There were a few exercises I think I’ll be carrying with me and using in the future. But the really revolutionary one for me was creating a picture book dummy. I’ve only recently started dabbling in picture book writing, and wow! Seeing the words on the page with space for pictures (and my own little stick-figure drawings) really drove home how few words you need when you have illustrations doing such heavy work to tell the story. Plus it involves cutting and pasting! For someone who types all day, the tactile nature of dummy-making was really fun.
Julie: One exercise that was particularly useful was taking the last paragraph from a novel and trying to imagine the first paragraph without reading the book. It really helped drive home how the first chapter and the last chapter act as bookends for our stories and it made me go home to my bookshelf and read first and last paragraphs from my favorite books.
Any great new techniques or takeaways that you’ll be using on your current WIP?
Richelle: In Taylor Martindale Keen’s session on voice, she mentioned that her client Emery Lord keeps a vocabulary list for each character. She gave the example of a chef character who “flambés” his alarm clock. I usually do try to keep in mind how one character might see the world differently from another, but I’m excited to take that extra step to deepen voice by creating a vocab list for each character in my WIP.
Julie: Yes! This was huge for me. I’d done vocabulary lists before, especially for my dual-POV manuscript, but instead of just using that vocabulary in dialogue, as I had done before, Lord uses it in description/action as well. I went home and the first thing I did Monday morning was draft a vocabulary list for the main character in my work in progress, and it led to a huge breakthrough.
Conferences can be scary – what was your most heart-pounding moment?
Richelle: When Victoria Marini read our opening pages to say whether she’d continue to read on or not – and mine was unexpectedly the first one she read! I don’t think I heard the first two paragraphs because my heart was beating so loudly. Fortunately, she liked it and said she’d keep reading – whew!
Julie: I participated in a first pages session where eight middle grade authors read their work in front of two industry professionals and got public feedback. The main character of my work in progress is a very scientifically minded young lady and has the Latin names for any animals that are mentioned in the book (and there are many, including on the first page). Of course, although she can rattle off Latin names without flinching, I totally flubbed the name as I read aloud, got flustered, turned red, and felt like a fool. It’s a good thing that kidlit writers are such a sweet bunch!
SCBWI Oregon was attended by some heavy-hitters. Any fangirl moments you’d like to share?
Richelle: I didn’t have any close encounters, but I loved taking classes from Newbery winner Matt de la Pena and agents Victoria Marini, and Danielle Chiotti, all of whom I’ve admired for a while.
Julie: In a fit of madness, I signed up for a manuscript critique with Newbery award-winning author Matt de la Pena. By the time the conference rolled around, my imposter syndrome had me in a complete panic. I spent the whole session so star struck and nervous that I could not formulate a single coherent question. His feedback was so insightful that I’m pretty sure I’ll keep that packet of pages forever.
Anything else you think other writers and potential conference-goers might be interested to know?
Richelle: It was so amazing to meet Julie for the first time in person and discover she’s even more awesome in real life. (Maybe that was my fangirl moment!) That is always one of the coolest things about writing conferences – meeting interesting and creative people and talking, talking, talking about writing!
Julie: Meeting Richelle, and another of my friends from 2015 Pitch Wars, in person was definitely a highlight of the weekend. When so much of writing is done alone in a room or even when we do interact with other authors, via email or online, I find it very energizing to be in a room with other writers. I can’t wait until my next conference at the end of July!
Thanks so much Julie and Richelle for sharing your conference experiences with us!
JULIE ARTZ writes stories for children that feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. Since her first work-study job critiquing resumes and proofreading papers at DePauw University, she’s made her living with the written word. In a career spanning two decades, she’s written everything from computer manuals to training materials, from press releases and marketing copy to gardening articles, from flash fiction to novel-length works. Now, in addition to her creative writing, she shares about travel, gardening, reading, and writing on her blog, Terminal Verbosity, writes about local Washington history for Gatherings, and contributes regularly to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children, mischievous beagle and long-suffering cat. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.