Monday, May 17, 2010


Tomorrow, my interview with Jenn Hubbard and then a post about tonight's poetry reading. But before too much time elapses, here's my wrap-up about this year's NESCBWI conference in Fitchburg, Mass.

Friday: Angela De Groot and I visited my Aunt Martha (patroness of the arts extraordinaire) on our way from Waterville Valley to Fitchburg. She served us a lovely lunch: asparagus spears wrapped in herb cheese, prosciutto & puff pastry; brie; crackers; grapes & strawberries; pastries; and, of course, tea. You can always count on Aunt Martha (or Angela, or me, for that matter) for tea.

Then we drove about an hour to Fitchburg, where we checked in for the conference and into our hotel room. (The rooms at the Courtyard Marriott are gorgeous, by the way.) We had a nice visit with Linda Urban and Kristy Dempsey in our room until it was time for dinner. Angela went off with Linda & Kristy and I went to the "faculty dinner", which was proceeded (perplexingly) by a completely beverageless cocktail hour. The conversation was, however, spectactular, and I was thrilled to meet so many friends (old and new). Following a dinner during which, I am sorry to say, Jo Knowles and I may have gotten a bit too raucous for some of our table mates, including Valarie Giogas, Kate Messner and Jennifer Laughran - hey Jo - "Pardon My French!" - it was mixer time. I had a great time meeting up with still more friends at the mixer - including Marjorie Light and Loree Griffin Burns hanging out in the swank lobby/lounge area, including lots of new friends, then trundled off to bed on the early side of late.

Saturday: Morning keynote by Cynthia Leitich Smith, who posed the following wonderful question about staying current with changes in the industry, which I think applies to writing in general and writing in particular genres specifically: "How can anyone keep up without paying attention?" Her speech and accompanying slide presentation were wonderful, as was her reminder to "celebrate every success, no matter how small."

My first break-out session was with the always fabulous J.L. Bell. John was speaking about what it means to write within genre, and he drew excellent (if at first astonishing) parallels between the classifications of taxonomic ranks in biography and the sorting of fiction into genres. Seriously, the man is brilliant. I took (*counts pages*) eight pages of notes during the presentation. Linda Urban has opined that she thinks he breaks information down in ways similar to the way I do it, which probably explains in part why I like his presentations so very much. (Especially since he focuses on different information than I usually do, and I am a magpie when it comes to shiny new information!) As John pointed out, "Genre fiction often sells better than literary fiction, even if it gets less literary respect." He gave great tips for writing within genre - any genre - and reminded us all to be mindful of the conversations that already exist within a given genre.

I confess to leaving my second presentation early so as to avoid getting a migraine based on certain environmental issues in the room, and so can't say much about it. This had the unexpected benefit of allowing me to steal Carrie Jones's suitcase spend time with Carrie Jones, who had just arrived and couldn't check in for a few hours, so we stowed her luggage in mine and Angela's room. It was absolutely wonderful to see her and spend time with her, as well as with Laura Hamor and Robin MacCready, before lunch, where I got to hear all about Angela's critique, and to chat with J.L. Bell and Jamie Michalak while in (the long) buffet line.

After lunch, a wonderful presentation by Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee, in which Allyn described the final turn in a picture book as "the mother of all page turns" and Marla called it "the mother of all revisions." For Allyn, the ending of a picture book is the most powerful moment, and the place where a picture book text is most likely to fall apart. Suffice it to say it was an "Aha!" moment for me (and, I suspect, for others as well).

I confess to missing the afternoon breakout session because I had a critique right at the start of it; I used the rest of the time to run through my presentation before dinner. Dinner was at Il Forno, a tasty Italian restaurant. Our table split pizzas, and Grover may or may not have been in his cups. For sure I had a blast with my tablemates and enjoyed our time there, apart from a nagging worry about my two front tires - both of which were low, and at least one of which was low enough to have triggered the "tire pressure out of wack" indicator light. We stopped for air on the way back to the hotel, and Angela & I spotted what appeared to be a nail in the right front tire. (Long story short - that nail didn't puncture the tire, but a HUGE one had punctured the left front tire. Repairs were made the following day and all's well that ends well.)

Due to tire worry, I retired to the room when we got back to the hotel, did some online tire-related research, a bit of email checking, then ran through my entire presentation before bed.

Sunday: Up early, where a barely tepid shower meant that I was in and out quickly. Had a hot breakfast at the buffet with Angela, then skipped the interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith so I could set up and prep for my workshop, which took place during the first break-out session. My LiveJournal friend Robin asked for quotes, and I promised her some. I can't actually be certain what I said when it was my words, although I know the gist of them - and I'm positive that at one point, I warned the group not to start writing similes and metaphors yet because I didn't want them to hurt themselves (my internal critic started kicking the inside of my skull pretty hard at that point!) and I for sure said "Life is like a box of chocolates" (to show how a simile can compare something abstract to something concrete) and "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives" (to demonstrate how "like sands through the hourglass" isn't really a "fresh" idea, but has become hackneyed/clichéd, and is therefore something to avoid unless, of course, you want people to think soap opera thoughts).

Here, however, are some of the quotes by other people that I read:

W.H. Auden opined, "The poet who writes 'free verse' is like Robinson Crusoe on his island: he must do all his cooking, laundry, darning, etc. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor: empty bottles on the unswept floor, dirty sheets on the unmade bed."

Robert Frost said that writing free verse is "like playing tennis with the net down."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge defined poetry as "the best words in the best order."

Frances Mayes has described poetic lines as being "as important to the poem as rungs are to a ladder. Each line moves the poem along at a certain speed. A line is a unit of time; a line break is a punctuation, a slight halt in the flow."
I hightailed it to Fitchburg Tires - where they fix your tires while you watch MUSIC & LYRICS and generally relax - thereby missing out on the panel I'd wanted to attend and missing most of lunch. I managed to scavenge a bit of salad before the staff finished clearing all of it, and people found me iced tea and a cookie, and I was happy as a clam - whatever that means. In my still-frazzled state, I ended up not going to an after-lunch session, but I did get my act together so I could pay attention to Erin Dionne's workshop on writing humor. Talking about humor is usually not funny, by the way, and I am okay with that - when you pull things that are funny apart to see how they're assembled, they tend not to be funny. Erin, however, managed to keep the humor in her presentation as well as providing really thoughtful analysis of how humor can work to create a dramatic turning point. She likes to think of epiphanies in humorous terms, as "an insight, revelation or change precipitated by a funny event." Genius, if you ask me.

Then it was conversation and hugs and goodbyes and time to hit the road, Jack. It was a really great conference, and I'm not doing it justice, but man, do I love the NESCBWI conference and all my lovely New England friends.

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