When Hardscrabble Kids came out last summer, I decided it might be helpful to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’d seen the organization mentioned numerous times in blog posts and author acknowledgments. My first activity was an online mingle with other members of the New England chapter. It was enlightening to see how welcoming experienced and many-times published members were to those much earlier in the writing process were. Jane Yolen was part of the small group I was placed in virtually and I liked her wit immensely. It was also a great learning experience because there were a couple illustrators who discussed their creative processes in detail.
Fast forward to February of 2023 when it was announced that the annual New England conference was back after a four year hiatus just in time to celebrate 50 years of the new England chapter (second only to the one in California.) I decided to register and go.
Between the time I registered in early March and the weekend it was held in late April, I sort of put it out of my mind thanks to other aspects of life. I’m here to tell you that while the World Health Organization may have declared COVID is no longer a major health issue, the aftereffects of stress and social isolation, particularly those of a psychological nature, still linger. I hadn’t traveled out of Maine save for our week in the western national parks, since 2019, so driving to Springfield was a bit stressful. So too, was finding the hotel I was staying at which was different from the one where the conference was being held. Of course, I left everything I’d printed out lying on my computer desk in Waterville, but still managed to find both.
The conference itself was quite something. I’ve been to numerous national library and software conferences, as well as the New England Crime Bake and the Maine Crime Wave. Each has a distinct personality. This one did as well. On Friday afternoon, following registration, I looked at the giveaway table, and the book store before moving to the ballroom for opening remarks.
The New England chapter was founded by Jane Yolen in part because it was expensive and time consuming for her (and other authors) to fly to California every year. It has flourished. There was a sense of eagerness and joy among those sitting there on Friday night, more so in people who had been coming for many years. One statistic that jumped out (and sadly, I neglected to write it down) was how many books members of the New England chapter had published since the last conference. The number 135 comes to mind, but it could have been much higher.
Meeting people is always a pleasant activity at conferences. I chose to sit at empty tables to see who joined me. The first people I met were a mother and daughter, the mom from Indiana, the daughter from Massachusetts who were working on turning the daughter’s grandfathers stories into a book. We were joined by three other people, all from Maine who were writing children’s picture books.
I was struck by the overwhelming support and encouragement offered by established authors to those who were very new to the process. I was also struck by what, for lack of a better description, was the vast range of opinions on how/when a book is ready to be published. I went to one workshop on the subject that made the process sound like creating a Star Wars movie.
Like any conference, there were some workshops that I couldn’t relate to and others that had me listening to every word. I was impressed by Alexandra Hinrichs (Library Media Specialist from Old Town) and Julie Bilven (senior editor at Charlesbridge) who talked about the process of an editor and author working together. Alexandra also impressed me with her opening speech where she talked about the efforts in Maine to ban books at a time when some students are living in cars because of their families’ economic situations.
Among other workshops that impressed me were Sam Taylor’s Track to Overcome: Persevering through Personal and Professional Setbacks. I bought the book she was talking about immediately afterward and am passing it on to the Waterville Public Library. Then there was a great YA panel at the end of Sunday called Writing Authentic YA Characters When You’re No Longer a “Young” Adult. It was funny and very insightful.
Oddly enough, the most valuable insight came from a casual conversation with author Jo Knowles when she asked me what were my character’s motivations. I’ve been processing that question for the week since returning home. It was such a simple thing to ponder on the surface, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve started to play with that question in the scene I’m writing next in Thor’s Wingman. How does a teen protagonist figure that out when they’re already in a situation where they have no choice but to keep going. Stay tuned for the answer.
Here’s a link to all the workshops offered at the conference. https://newengland.scbwi.org/files/2023/01/Workshop_Descriptions_23.pdf
Sounds fabulous! Glad you came back inspired. Conferences do that for me, too