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Kim Tomsic

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

Confessions of a Conference Junkie
Jerilyn Patterson
A guest post by Jerilyn Patterson

I became hooked on writer’s conferences after attending my first one in 2010. Now, I attend an average of three per year, and I always look forward to the wealth of knowledge they provide, the encouraging community, and the opportunity to meet interesting authors and industry professionals. Over the years I’ve honed some strategies for making the most out of my conference experience. Read on for my tips!

Focus on Craft

First and foremost, I go to conferences to learn. When I consider the accumulative experience of everyone in attendance, including fellow writers as well as faculty members, conference tuition is a steal. I try to absorb every single drop of information and take nothing for granted.

Before going, I reflect on the specific areas of my craft I want to improve, and then peruse the conference schedule in search any sessions and keynotes relating to that. While most conferences don’t require advance registration for specific break-out sessions, I prefer to have a game-plan from the get-go, instead of leaving all the decision-making until I’m standing in the crowded lobby of a potentially unfamiliar place.

While there, I take copious notes like I’m back in college and yes, everything will be on the final exam. I read somewhere that information is best absorbed when taking notes by hand, and I’ve found this to be true. I bring a shiny new notebook, stock up on my favorite pens,
and keep a bottle of ibuprofen ready to alleviate any hand cramps.

When I get home after the conference, I type out all my notes and save them in a file on my computer. This might seem extreme—why don’t I just use my laptop for note-taking at the conference to eliminate the extra step? Because typing them forces me to revisit what I’ve learned, which helps gel all that new information. After my last conference I ended up with seventeen single-spaced pages, and that was just for the first day! (I’m still working on transcribing day two.)

Cultivating Community

Throughout my years attending conferences, I’ve discovered an invaluable community that cheers me on and buoys me up. Yet I’ll admit that’s the last thing I expected when I stepped into my first conference. I was a brand-new, baby writer with nothing more than an intriguing idea and a can-do attitude and I had my game face on. My background is in music, a highly competitive field—even MORE so than writing, believe it or not! I expected everyone in the room to size me up and make snap judgments about my skills based on my outfit and hair-do. That had been my experience in the music industry, and I assumed writing wouldn’t be any different.

Nothing was farther from the truth. Everyone I talked to was warm and welcoming. I met new writers like myself who were eager to make friends, and veteran writers who were incredibly generous about sharing their wealth of knowledge. I left that conference with profound gratitude that I had finally found My People.

If you’re attending a conference for the first time, discovering your own community might seem daunting, especially if you’re an introvert like me. The good news is, every single person in attendance has something in common with you: Writing! Most will welcome the chance to talk about their latest project, their favorite books, or how their pitch session or manuscript consultation went. Don’t be afraid to reach out. And remember that while not everyone you encounter will become your BFF, everyone is a colleague. The children’s writing community is small and you never know who you’ll end up sitting with on a panel someday.

Connecting with Professionals—AKA Agents and Editors are people, too!

While I value craft and community immensely, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I also hope to someday make a connection with my future dream agent or editor. I know I’m not the only one—in my role as registrar for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI, I often receive inquiries about appropriate behavior when approaching industry professionals.

My first strategy is to sign up for a manuscript consultation or pitch session. Not only do these offerings allow for an authentic reason to talk with an agent or editor, they also provide invaluable feedback from individuals who have made a career of selling books.

In casual settings, my rule in approaching industry professionals is to remember they are people too and to put myself in their shoes. Would I prefer a stranger to walk up and start pitching out of the blue while I’m enjoying my lunch? Or would I instead want a writer to introduce themselves respectfully and maybe even chat about the latest Captain America movie? Option B hands down! Sometimes the conversation will naturally progress to what I’m working on. If not, I don’t fret and remember I’ve made a positive connection.

Or not. There was that one time on the last day of a conference when I rode down an elevator with a Very Big Editor from a Very Big Publishing House. Though the editor had sat on many panels throughout the weekend, I didn’t recognize them. Assuming the editor was a writer like me, I asked how long they’d been writing and if this was their first conference. I received a lifted eyebrow in response, noticed their nametag, and flushed bright red. I certainly left an impression! If something similarly embarrassing happens to you, laugh and move on. Agents and editors know that we’re people too.

If you’re thinking about attending a conference, give it a try! With a little preparation and a genuine interest in meeting and making friends with other writers and publishing professionals, you, too, can become a conference junkie.

***Bonus update: Would you like to sit down for cocktails, conversation and a critique with Chronicle Books editor, Melissa Manlove at this year's LA16SCBWI?  Following this link to learn how: Click Here

Jerilyn Patterson has been writing almost since she could talk. No joke--she dictated her first journal entry to her mother when she was four years old. Eventually she learned how to hold her own pen and years later she's still keeping a journal. She also writes young adult fiction and serves as registrar for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI. A native of Colorado, she lives on the front range with her family and two neurotic gerbils. You can find her on twitter, (@jerwrites)  occasionally tweeting about writing, legos, kickboxing or whatever else strikes her fancy. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fast Five: An Interview with Author Richard Peck

Fast Five with Richard Peck

by Kim Tomsic

It’s no secret I have been a longtime fan of Richard Peck—the author, the word wizard, the genius. Imagine my joy when the man who has been the single biggest influence in my writing career agreed to a phone interview! Here's how it went:

KT— As you know, I’m your biggest fan. In 2009, I decided to pursue a writing career, because I ran out of your books, and I craved more Richard Peck style tales to read to my son.  What/who influenced you to become a writer?
Answer: “Mark Twain.” When Peck was in fourth grade, his teacher gave him a copy of ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Peck “knew that’s where [he] wanted to be.” Furthermore, Mark Twain was from his part of the country, Decatur Illinois, and seeing someone who was like him and from his area helped paint the possibility of becoming an author in young Richard’s mind. He wanted to be “words on the page,” and yet he waited—he studied literature, became a teacher, and when was 37 years old he wrote his first book. Why?  "To fill a need." He couldn’t find a book to satisfy the needs of his high school students (a contemporary story that reflected them), and so in 1971 he wrote DON’T LOOK AND IT WON’T HURT (it was later turned into a movie called Gas/Food/Lodging.)

KT—Mr. Peck, you possess the magical ability to write humor and heart in a story—I’m laughing, I’m crying, I’m buying your books for my friends. Your characters are real and fleshed out, so here’s my FREAKY FRIDAY question:  If you had to switch places for a weekend with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
With an air of whimsy, Mr. Peck said he would be Joey from A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO, because Joey’s Grandma Dowdel is the grandma he always wishes he’d had. Very much like grandma Dowdel, Peck’s own grandma was six-foot plus, with a shock of white hair, and she wore Lane Bryant dresses. But unlike his own grandmother, Grandma Dowdel was nice. He said, “When we write as authors we don't write about our family, we write about the family we might have had.”

KT—At an event where I heard you speak, you talked about “first chapters” and how you rewrite your first chapter many times and still again after you’ve completed your manuscript. My biggest take-away was your statement, “The first page of a book is a promise to the reader.” You also said, “The first page is the last page in disguise.” What other elements do you believe make a successful first page?
Mr. Peck said authors often start in the wrong place. We need to find a place “to start nearer to the action. Hit the ground running. Don't start too early and don't wander around.” He also said, “The first page is the table of contents for your story. It has every element of the book; the reader just doesn't know it yet.”

KT—HABITS:  I look forward to reading your newest upper grade novel THE BEST MAN (Dial Books, September 20, 2016). First, I must know--did you write it on your electric typewriter?

RP: “Yes! I have to feel that page in my hands.” 

KT—Awesome. I remember hearing you say you type out your first page, pull out the paper, write notes all over it, and then when you can’t find any additional writing space (or you can no longer read your own writing) you start over—and you do this at least six times! Then when you get to the end of your manuscript, you return to the first page and write it again from scratch. What other writing habits do you have?
 Mr. Peck says that after he’s rewritten the first chapter six times and rewrites the tightest first page possible, he forces himself to remove twenty words from his first page. Twenty words, people!  The aspect Peck loves most about writing is dialogue. He says "A novel is conversation overheard.” His method for making dialogue lively is practicing his dialogue away from his desk. He also practices it standing up! He rehearses the lines and then acts them out with full movement,as if he’s in a play. If something strikes him, he rushes to his desk, types it on his IBM Selectric, and then his one-man show continues until the dialogue is electrified and alive.

KT—INSIDER INFORMATION: What is a little-known fact about you?
little-known fact is that Richard Peck was a soldier during the war. Because he could type like the wind, he was assigned to be the chaplain’s assistant and part of his job as the chaplain’s assistant was to interview American soldiers who wanted to marry German brides. In the course of the interviews he would get to know the bride and groom and was often asked to serve as best man. The groom always buys the best man a present, so at the end of the war, Richard Peck was probably the only soldier who came home with 37 pairs of new cuff links!

Meet Richard Peck! 

Richard Peck will be a keynote speaker at the RMC SCBWI Letters and Lines Fall Conference September 17-19, 2016. He will also do a reading and signing of his latest book THE BEST MAN (Dial Books, September 2016) at Tattered Cover in Denver on September 20, 2016. THE BEST MAN has received a starred review from Kirkus, from Publisher's Weekly, from the Horn Book and others!

ABOUT THE BEST MAN from  the Penguine Random House website:
Newbery Medalist Richard Peck tells a story of small-town life, gay marriage, and everyday heroes in this novel for fans of Gary Schmidt and Jack Gantos

Archer Magill has spent a lively five years of grade school with one eye out in search of grown-up role models. Three of the best are his grandpa, the great architect; his dad, the great vintage car customizer; and his uncle Paul, who is just plain great. These are the three he wants to be. Along the way he finds a fourth—Mr. McLeod, a teacher. In fact, the first male teacher in the history of the school.

But now here comes middle school and puberty. Change. Archer wonders how much change has to happen before his voice does. He doesn’t see too far ahead, so every day or so a startling revelation breaks over him. Then a really big one when he’s the best man at the wedding of two of his role models. But that gets ahead of the story.

In pages that ripple with laughter, there’s a teardrop here and there. And more than a few insights about the bewildering world of adults, made by a boy on his way to being the best man he can be.
Published by Dial Books
Sep 20, 2016 | 240 Pages | 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 | Middle Grade (8-12)| ISBN 9780803738393

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