The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators has been a huge part of my career and kept me inspired the many years before I finally sold a book. I've attended their L.A. conference every year since 2000, and this year was an exceptionally great one. I met writers I've wanted to meet for a long time, caught up with friends I see far too seldom, and made contacts that could help projects I'm currently working on.
Here's Lin Oliver welcoming the 1,200+ attendees in the ballroom.
Carolyn Mackler and I haven't seen each other in person since The Future of Us book tour in January 2011. So it was great to hang out (and brainstorm!) in person again. We also had a lot of fun running a workshop on co-authoring a novel. You can read about that talk here.
At an SCBWI conference, authors and illustrators are everywhere! If you read other blogs from people who attended this conference, you'll notice a lot of pictures are taken near the bar. That's (mostly) because the bar is the center of the lobby. It's not (entirely) because that's where creative people hang out. Here I am, standing before the bar, with Ellen Hopkins and Veronica Rossi.
I love that SCBWI hosts an evening for published attendees who aren't part of the faculty where they can display, sell, and autograph their books. That's where I picked up three books to take home (signed!) to Isaiah. I bought The Gingerbread Man Loose On the Fire Truck, by Laura Murray...
Open This Little Book, by Jesse Klausmeier (I already had a copy at home, but it's a fave of Izzy's so I had no problem buying another copy)...
and Robots, Robots Everywhere! by Sue Fleiss.
If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that I dress up every year for the conference's Saturday evening theme party. And I usually go all out! As a normally shy person, this is my excuse to break free. ("It wasn't me, it was the costume!") This year, the theme was The Black and White Ball. After coming up with an idea for a costume, I contacted several friends to see if they'd dress up with me. Most said, "Hell no!" Others came up with excuses that sounded to my ears like "I'm too chicken!" But Jessica Freeburg, the Assistant Regional Advisor in Minnesota (and ghost hunter!) bought the costume even as everyone else was saying no.
The day before the theme party, we anonymously emerged in costume and walked through the bookstore. We didn't speak. Communication was done through hand signals, head and shoulder gestures, and dancing. (This post is the first time we're outing ourselves as Checkers!)
Here we are trying our hardest to silently answer Paul O. Zelinsky's questions about the schedule.
Lin Oliver invited us to the stage to encourage people to attend the Black and White Ball, which we attempted to do without speaking.
We also did a "performance art" piece during lunch one day, trying to feed ourselves while mouthless. I saw several people taking pics, and now that you know who we are, I'd love to see them!
Later in the ballroom, Carolyn Mackler gave her keynote presentation. Her husband and sons flew out from NYC with her, and I sat with them as she rocked the ballroom. Literally! As part of her speech, she played a love song recorded in the 90s by a Canadian rock band whose singer fell in love with her. And it was a good song!
That night was the Black and White Ball. And what children's book conference with that theme would be complete without Penguins?
Here I am with Max (a.k.a. Jim Averbeck), who wore a nametag declaring the final two words from Where the Wild Things Are: "Still Hot!!!"
Why am I not in costume? Because throughout the conference people asked me what I was going to wear, and since I wanted Checkers to be anonymous, I told them I'd be there at the beginning but then had to leave for a meeting. It was a lot of fun to hear people say they were disappointed I wasn't dressing up, and then the next day tell me I should've seen these two freaks who dressed in checkered bodysuits. "You couldn't even see their faces!"
Last year, I didn't know there had been an afterparty on the lower floor of the hotel. But this year, I knew about it! And I was going! I knew I'd be too hot as Checkers, so I planned on going as myself. Until I noticed a friend had taken out her hair extensions as part of her costume. I'm not sure if she wants me revealing that she sometimes wears extensions, so I won't name names. And for no reason other than I was tired and dehydrated (you can't even drink water while dressed as Checkers), I decided to put on the extensions and go as Billy Ray Cyrus / Kid Rock / Tim McGraw / Axl Rose, depending on who you ask.
The next day, I grabbed coffee with Laurie Halse Anderson and Stephen Chbosky. We talked about our wonderful readers, book banning, screenwriting, and I may have convinced Mr. Chbosky to speak at the conference next year (he's never been to the conference and was there simply to chat for a while).
At the autograph party, I finally got to meet some authors I'd been on the lookout for throughout the conference, such as Ransom Riggs...
and Tahereh Mafi.
For my signing, I was lucky enough to sit beside...Carolyn Mackler! (Which was a good thing since we were signing copies of the same book.) We even got a chance, for the first time, to sign the Japanese edition of The Future of Us that an attendee brought with her!
After the conference, there's always a faculty party at Lin Oliver's house. The food was delicious, and I was able to find time to chat with people I kept missing at the conference. Here I am with Kirby Larson and Naomi Kinsman.
And then, finally, I got to meet the author/illustrator I'd been too nervous to meet earlier. I kept seeing him, and then chickening out from introducing myself. Bruce Degen wrote and illustrated Jamberry, one of my favorite books to read with Isaiah. That book will always have such special memories for me, which made me nervous to meet The Creator. Thankfully, as is often the case, he turned out to be such a warm and funny guy. (And he wanted me to tell you he's holding a glass containing nothing but jamberry juice.)
The evening ended with a jam session in the living room. Mike Jung, Arthur Levine, and Barney Saltzberg led a singalong of Beatles tunes (and many other songs, but the Beatles songs were the only ones whose lyrics I didn't have to fake knowing).
Next year, maybe I'll open up my costume idea to all of you.
C'mon, don't be chicken!