Over the weekend, I attended Book Passage bookstore's annual Children's Writers & Illustrators Conference in Corte Madera, CA. This was my first Book Passage conference and it was worth every penny. The support I got from the cozy community of writers, illustrators, and attending faculty members made me feel all warm and fuzzy, as opposed to my sometimes dark and edgy YA self.
I stayed at the Marin Suites, located right next to the plaza where the conference was held. So walking to the bookstore from the hotel took less than five minutes, which was a huge plus.
On the first day, Chip Gibson, president and publisher of Random House Children's Books, kicked off the event by giving a couple of presentations on publishing and industry trends. One of the most reassuring tidbits Chip shared was that his house has not been publishing less books even though so many Borders stores are closing. When asked if YA lit must have romance, Chip replied, "I don't think so. I want more zombie sharks." Amen!
I enjoyed ALL the workshops I sat in on. Here are some notes on what I learned in a few of them:
Laura Rennert, a senior agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, gave tips on PB writing:
-The story should have a clear, simple plot.
-Focus on the kid's point of view.
-Tell a story that can show an appropriate balance between the text and illustrations.
-Begin a story with action, with a problem, or in the middle of a situation.
-Be upbeat, even when writing about sensitive or sad topics. The ending should be emotionally uplifting.
-Do your homework- read picture books!
MG and YA author Kristen Tracy asked us to list some universal teen experiences. Then she encouraged us to look for these five things when we start a YA novel: plot, characterization, point of view, setting, and theme. She distributed a handout featuring the beginnings of a bunch of YA novels, including her own books, LOST IT and A FIELDGUIDE FOR HEARTBREAKERS. We skimmed through the story beginnings, and located the allusions to teen experiences and the aforementioned five elements. The point of the activity was to make us more aware of what we read, 'cause you know what they say about good readers being good writers.
PB, MG, and YA author AND Newbery Honor winner Gennifer Choldenko gave points to consider when creating a fantasy world:
-Are you a good match for the world you're creating?
-When you're creating names, objects, and places, do they sound like they belong to that world? Do names have a certain rhythm? Be specific about names of objects (e.g. Nimbus 2000).
-When you transition into a fantasy world, have something scary happen right away so the reader doesn't have a chance to freak out over being in a fantasy world.
-Keep in mind that stories of fantasy can capture dramatic/emotional changes a person is going through.
-Knowing the atmosphere of your world will help you understand what you are creating.
UPDATE: The conference dates have been changed to June 14-17.