The New England SCBWI Spring Conference ended two weeks ago, and I’m finally crawling out of a haze of post-conference exhaustion and Covid to write this post. Yes, Covid. I’m thinking of getting a t-shirt made: ‘I went to a virtual conference and STILL caught Covid!’
Our regional kidlit conference is very dear to my heart. I love the friendly vibes, and the real and present sense of community. I was thrilled when I was asked to help co-direct the event. For 2022, the theme we went with is Find Your Star: Let it Shine. When I chose the theme, I was thinking about how every writer and illustrator treads their own path. Our dreams take different shape, and so do our goals. We work at different speeds, and in different ways. One person’s star may not be another. The night sky is made up of a multitude of constellations, and all of them are wonderful. I wanted the conference weekend to be an opportunity for attendees to find THEIR star, and let it shine.
But even online conferences need a lot of planning. Before any shining could be done, speakers had to be invited, workshops submissions assessed, and volunteers brought on board as moderators and for other behind-the-scenes jobs. Then there are contracts, and budgets, and numbers to crunch, before registration even opens. And a LOT of head-scratching and problem-solving. The team — myself, my new co-director Jim Hill, and Regional Advisor Kris Asselin, with a huge amount of tech help from Assistant Regional Advisor Christy Yaros — had our work cut out to make everything work on a virtual platform: two Keynotes, one Friday Night Welcome event with multiple speakers, a publishing panel, one guided meditation, twelve Ask-a-Mentor sessions, and thirty-four workshops, including eight intensives! And socials; lots of time for online socials, including the Friday night Open Mics.
As the countdown went from weeks to days, and then hours, our team was both excited and anxious: would the tech run smoothly? Would all of our faculty and moderators manage to log in? WOULD WE HAVE A CONFERENCE AT ALL? Spoiler alert: yes, to all of that. Christy had to do a lot of last-minute tech magic, but we got everyone who was meant to be online there, and (I hope!) most attendees, too.
I don’t have space to go over everything from the weekend (and I’m still catching up with workshop recordings!), so I’ll end this with a few highlights from the main events. To everyone who came, whether faculty, volunteer, or attendee: thank you for being there, thank you for being you. Find your star, BE your star, and let your light shine.
- Jane Yolen talked about the layers of time that books take — from writer, agent, and publisher — and pointed out that the only time we have control over as writers is our writing time; a lesson on patience from a Master for those seeking a career in books!
- Heidi Stemple and Rajani LaRocca held a great Creative Conversation. Rajani urged us to follow the dopamine — “Find the thing that makes you light up and hold onto it”; while Heidi told us “Have grace with yourself. Do not expect the perfect novel to appear.”
- Keynote speaker Tara Lazar returned to Heidi’s words, reminding us again, “Have a lot of grace with yourself.” She also told us to do what makes us smile, and to follow our internal age as a guide for writing kid lit. Cue lots of fun comments in the chat box as to what age we all secretly are! (Personally, I suspect I alternate between twelve and sixty-two…)
- Our illustrator Keynote John Parra said, “Find truth in what you do.” He also gave some great practical advice: make sure you have a place to work and that it’s ready to go; procrastination is the worst thing for creatives.
- And last (but certainly not least), our publishing panel brought some hard truths but also a lot of hope. Agent Liza Fleissig asked us to #nevergiveup. “There’s space for everyone. (…) Your star will shine when your stars finally align.
“A book, too, can be a star, explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” Madeleine L’Engle.