Boskone 55 Round-Up

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I’m back from Boskone, aka “New England’s longest running science fiction convention.” Boskone is big enough to bring in great guests/panel participants, and yet small enough so that it still feels relatively cozy. This was my fourth time at this event — second as panelist — and probably my favorite year so far.

A few thoughts about Boskone 55:

  • Being a panelist is fun! Last year, I was terrified at my first couple of panels. This year, I knew what to expect, and managed to relax and enjoy myself. Our moderators did a great job, and conversation flowed easily. If you’ve ever thought about being on a convention or conference panel, but weren’t sure if it was for you, here’s my advice: give it a try. Cons like Boskone are happy to mix up established and beginner writers, and to give a chance to new faces and voices. Keep an eye out for calls for participation. Boskone has a nice little survey you fill out, which lets you tick all sorts of boxes and tell them what you’re comfortable talking about.
  • Kaffeklatsches are still one of my favorite things to attend. Unfortunately, this year I only managed to go to one, with agent Joshua Bilmes. Joshua answered publishing and agenting questions, and gave the table all sorts of great advice.
  • I’m also sorry I only managed to get to one reading. I love having a chance to see an author engage with their own work. Jane Yolen’s reading was a nice mix of poetry and prose, and thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Informal conversations are definitely one of the highlights of going to events like this. I caught up with old friends, got to meet a couple of online friends in person, and made some new friends. Just perfect.
  • Dogs, dogs, everywhere. The Westin was full of furry companions this year. A shout out to the Mega Floof who sat politely through panels and was a very well-behaved con-goer.
  • From the Writing For Children panel: stories don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but they need a hopeful one. Also, a great debate on what to do with those pesky parents and other responsible adults in middle grade fiction…
  • From the Feminist Fairy Tales panel: a huge list of great book recommendations!
  • From the Marketing Uphill panel, lots of ‘don’ts’: Don’t overmarket; Don’t be boring; and many more… *gulp*
  • Downtime is crucial! At my first Boskone, I exhausted myself trying to cram in as many panels, readings, and events as I could. From the next year on, I realized it’s equally as important to take breathers, chat to people, and just enjoy the con atmosphere. Or maybe take an actual break from the whole thing and go for a walk or read a book in your room for a while. My husband and kids came along to get some use out of the hotel room and pool this year, and I think being able to step away from the con every now and then for family dinner or some much-needed downtime made a key difference.
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Grabbing some family time at Boston’s Seaport

SF/F conventions and writing conferences can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people, or try new things you wouldn’t usually do. If you haven’t been to one yet, you can always start small: look for local events and meet-ups, and ease your way in. But don’t let fear hold you back! Going to cons has brought me a whole new world of writing friends, including the lovelies who became my local critique group. Who knows what it will bring you?

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Making new friends! Author and bookseller Marc Vun Kannon, who stocked my books for the con…

 

 

 

Why Kid Lit?

Sometimes I get asked, ‘why write kid lit?’ The short answer is probably ‘why not?’ The long answer is a little more complex…

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My 10th birthday cake – perfect for a book lover

This week I renewed my annual membership to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, an international non-profit organization for authors and illustrators producing work for children and teens. I joined the SCBWI in 2013, just after we moved to the USA. I began writing ‘for real’ a year before that, and knew from the very beginning that I wanted to write stories for young people.

I consider myself primarily a middle grade* and YA* author. Occasionally I write short stories that fall under ‘adult fiction’, too, like my tale In Plain Sight, in the Aliens – The Truth Is Coming anthology, or Fool’s Quest, in Journeys. Sometimes it’s fun to write about certain themes without stopping to think ‘would I let my kids read this?’ (The answer is probably yes – I’m pretty liberal when it comes to reading. I tend to be of the ‘if you’re interested and think you can handle it, go ahead’ school of parenting.) When it comes to novels, however, all my work so far has been within the realm of kid lit.

I moved from England to Brazil when I was eight, brand new set of Narnia books in my hand luggage as my going away gift. With no handy English-language bookstores or libraries in those pre-ebook and pre-Amazon times, I slowly built my own shelf collection, which I read obsessively over and over in my preteen years. My little personal library had plenty of classic children’s authors like Arthur Ransome, E. Nesbit, and Frances Hodgson Burnett, as well as the ubiquitous Enid Blyton books all us 70s British kids devoured.

In my teens, I explored my parents’ bookshelves, reading other classics like Bradbury, Austen, Asimov, Brontë, and Tolkien, besides my mother’s large collection of Agatha Christie novels. But I always had time for my childhood favorites, and there was nothing quite like the beauty of those kid lit lovelies. “One day,” I whispered to myself, “one day I’ll do this too.”

A good children’s story has a streamlined elegance to it, very different from the longer, more intricate plot lines that adult novels by necessity demand. The sheer beauty of something like The Secret Garden or Charlotte’s Web is a gift that endures. What makes children’s books so special? Perhaps it’s due to the limits on word count/novel size, forcing authors to pare their stories down to the absolute essence. Or maybe the target readership (especially in the case of middle grade fiction) demands not a simplification (children have proved over and over again to be able to handle far more complexity than we give them credit for), but a directness that brings writers very quickly to the core of a tale.

Whatever the reason, I’ve always loved kid lit in all its shapes and forms. Young people today have a tremendous amount of choice in reading matter, with hundreds (probably more like thousands) of new books published each year. It’s an exciting and invigorating field to work in, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

*A loose definition: Middle Grade – fiction for 8-12 year olds/ Young Adult (YA) – fiction for teens.

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From the 2017 New England SCBWI conference

NESCBWI 17: Expand & Diversify Your Portfolio

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This past weekend, April 21-23, some 700 kid lit authors, illustrators, and industry professionals got together in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the yearly Spring Conference of the New England region of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), which this year was named Expand & Diversify Your Portfolio.

This was my second time at this event, and it has definitely established itself as one of my favorite places to be. Not just because of the interesting panels, workshops, and keynote presentations, but because it tends to be a friendly, laid-back sort of thing, where everyone chats to everyone else, and new friends are made all the time. There is always lots of catching up to do with writer buddies I usually only see on social media, and time flies by all too quickly!

So, what were my highlights for 2017? To start with, this was my first time at a SCBWI event as a published author. I loved seeing Heart Blade up on the big screen with all the other attendee’s work, and it was great spotting it in the con bookstore.

This year, I attended several workshops on social media and marketing. Jess Keating encouraged us to brainstorm our platform with adjectives and images to get a feel for ourselves, and for the tone we want to set on social media. She urged us to think about who we are, rather than who we think we should be, and to remember: ‘you are the expert at being you’. Anika Denise suggested that an author platform is a stage where you connect with your audience, and reminded us that author platforms aren’t built in a day, nor should building them eclipse putting time and effort into the actual writing. For those who were unsure what to blog or tweet about, she suggested mining your book’s content for underlying themes you can dig into. Allison Moore showed us examples off her own Twitter feed, and reminded us (as did everyone lecturing about social media) that promoting your own book has to be something done in small and sporadic doses. To top it all off, Jen Malone gave us great tips on public speaking, and told us that “speakers who are real, honest and can share their passion have the greatest impact on their audience.”

One of my favorite workshops this year was Dana Meachen Rau on injecting characters with emotion, something I find my plot-focused brain often struggles with. She reminded us that plot elements are great, but without emotion, who cares? The plot provides the external story arc, but emotion provides the internal story arc, and becomes the engine that moves your character forward. When a reader reads a book, they go on the same emotional journey as the character, and it is this shared experience that makes a story unforgettable.

For a fun learning experience, Friday night brought Pitchapalooza, the now-traditional event hosted by The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Names were drawn, and contenders got to pitch their story for a minute, on the clock. Then a panel of agents and editors critiqued each attempt, explaining in a positive manner what worked, and what didn’t.

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The crowd at Pitchapalooza

There were three amazing keynote talks, by authors Barry Lyga and Jane Yolen, and author/illustrator Melissa Sweet, who had the prettiest PowerPoint presentation I’ve ever seen. Jane urged us to “listen to the work, not the fears”, a sentiment I think all writers can relate to on the dark days. On the writing the rainbow panel, Kevin Lewis reminded the audience that we should always endeavor to create environments in our work that ‘are as diverse as the world we live in.’

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Jane Yolen inspires us over breakfast

I headed home on Sunday happy and exhausted, bearing pages and pages of notes, a pile of business cards and bookmarks from people I want to keep in touch with, and a ton of fresh inspiration to give my work a much-needed boost. Thank you to all the hard-working volunteers at the NESCBWI for putting together a great event, and see you next year!

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Relaxing on Sunday evening with peppermint tea and Melissa Sweet’s biography of E.B. White