It was a whirlwind of fun, inspiration, fabulous meals and networking—and it's taken me three days to gather myself to post about it. I've been looking at photos, reading over notes, filing through the many business cards I picked up along the way, and letting it all sink in.
Although I'm not exactly a newbie to publishing—and Mary Jane is a veteran with many books and awards to her name—neither of us had been to the New York conference before, for a variety of reasons, including deadlines, kids, writing and teaching.
So, we were excited. I couldn't wait to be in New York to meet some of the children's book folks I'd been chatting with for The Little Crooked Cottage and on Twitter, and to spend an entire weekend focused on all things kidlit.
I knew that I had the perfect partner for the trip in Mary Jane. She's whip-smart, game for anything, never gets rattled and loves to laugh. She also has a more esoteric quality I like to call flow. She's a magnet for positive people and serendipitous moments. And she loves dark chocolate. That's my kind of travel-buddy.
|Skipping through Grand Central|
When we arrived at Grand Central, we spotted a few familiar faces right away and immediately felt the energy of the conference. There's something visceral about being with your creative tribe, and I felt it the moment we walked into the hotel lobby.
Of course, our first priority upon arrival was food. We went in search of a sushi restaurant about twenty blocks from the hotel. Friday afternoon was chilly and drizzly, but that didn't dampen our spirits or our desire to walk the city, so we set out on foot. A few paces before our destination, we spotted a charming little restaurant on the corner, and remarked on how cozy it looked.
|Tiny trattoria tucked in beneath the Queensboro Bridge|
|Happy MJ with vino. Saluté!|
|Dining under the twinkly lights|
Jane and I were not faculty or part of the illustration portfolios, so we weren't able to attend the Friday evening VIP cocktail party; however, after entertaining brief giggle-worthy notions about various ways to crash the festivities, we settled on the lounge upstairs, which had a stunning floor-to-ceiling view of 42nd street towards Park Avenue.
|View of 42nd and Park|
Fortunately, not long later, some VIP's came to us; including, to my delight, my editor at Harper Children's, Nancy Inteli. Nancy recently acquired my new picture book, Monster Trucks! (Summer, 2016). It was lovely to be able to meet Nancy person and give her a thank you hug!
|Nancy Inteli, Editorial Director, Harper Collins Children's Books|
Hangin' with the fabulous and talented Caryln Beccia!
After a fun night and another great meal at The Smith Midtown...
|Two words: creamed kale. Heaven.|
|You can't tell in this pic,|
but we're doing the happy food dance.
...and a brief stop here... we called it a night.
Saturday morning, we were up and at 'em early (miraculously).
|Badges, notebooks, coffee: check! (Ok, we look a little sleepy. )|
All the presentations for the weekend followed the theme of Seven Essentials. Jack Gantos (Newbery award-winner for Dead End In Norvelt) was up first with a keynote titled, "How everything I learned about fiction and nonfiction in picture books, poetry, short stories, novellas, or, angst, dialog, a hundred drafts, and good luck all end up in the crown jewel of literature: THE NOVEL."
That title speaks to Jack's electric personality. He's all spitfire and energy and humor and talent. He spoke about finding habits that work for you, content and structure, focused rewrites, connecting the dots with theme, and adding emotional depth to your stories.
Beyond his very helpful pointers, I think what came through was his passion and commitment to telling stories in all forms, as well as a joy an irreverence one can't help but love.
It was a fabulous kick-off to the keynotes.
After a morning of enlightening discussions, including a fascinating panel on The Future of Authorship, and breakout sessions in the afternoon, Mary Jane and I decided to seek a little inspiration outside the conference halls and head over to the NYPL to see Leonard Marcus's exhibit at the New York Public Library: The ABC of it: Why Children's Books Matter.
The weather had turned springlike in Manhattan and as much as we were enjoying the talks, we needed some air—and some art. Library Way, which cuts directly to the front entrance of the NYPL, is paved with quotes from literature. I snapped a few shots of my favorites.
We arrived back to the hotel feeling glad we hadn't missed the opportunity to see the exhibit, but barely able to catch our breath before the cocktail party—which was a blur of fun connections, old friends and new faces.
It was great to meet Ame Dyckman (Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning author of Tea Party Rules) and Drew Daywalt (New York Times bestselling author of The Day The Crayons Quit) in person, after becoming friends in the Twitterverse, and featuring them both on The Little Crooked Cottage.
|Ame Dyckman, Drew Daywalt and moi.|
Another unexpected treat was bumping into talented YA author, KM Walton. I met Kate years ago, before her first novel published, at the home of good friends. Since then, Kate has published two novels: Cracked (2012) and Empty (2013), with another title, The Lies We Tell, forthcoming in 2015. It was lovely to be able to reconnect after cheering Kate's successes from afar. Keep an eye on KM Walton. She's one to watch.
|Striking a pose with KM Walton|
But my favorite moment of all came on Sunday. Kate Messner delivered the best, I mean it, the best speech I have ever heard at an SCBWI event. Her keynote on The Spectacular Power of Failure was inspiring, moving and full of hope.
Who among us hasn't faced the fear of failure in our work? Kate encouraged us to take a moment to celebrate each of our successes, large and small, instead of automatically moving the bar before we've had the chance to appreciate our accomplishments.
She turned the entire notion of failure on its ear by putting it in perspective. "You can't have brave without scared," she said quoting Linda Urban's novel Hound Dog True. We learn from failing, and reevaluating and trying again."
She encouraged us all to "live our creative lives bravely," and to do the same by our characters. "Let them be flawed, let them fail, and let them survive."
Kate ended the speech by reading a poem.
by Kate Messner (Copyright 2011) I don't have a photo to share of this moment because a.) I was blubbering and wiping my nose, and b.) I was on my feet, clapping and joining in the standing ovation that Kate received for her uplifting, heartfelt and encouraging words.
I looked to my left, at my friend Jane who was teary-eyed and clapping, too, and I knew we were both thinking the same thing.
This is why we do what we do. Kate summed it up beautifully.
Even without all the rest—which was magical—that one reminder was worth the trip.