Spin A Magic Story – Fall 2013 Conference

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Last weekend I attended the SF North and East Bay hosted conference in Oakland. I’d heard good things about this conference and since I’d been part of a couple of picture book MS critique groups, I figured it was time to give this mostly writer focused gathering a try.

I was not disappointed!


First off, Preservation Park in Oakland is so very purtiful! Victorian houses, little town-like streets with street lamps, trees, and manicured gardens…! *sigh!*

Now, on to the speakers and workshops…

Nina LaCour is a delight to listen to and perfect for the topic of creating three dimensional characters. This is because she has a sort of childlike mysticism in her presence that takes you somewhere into the world of stories from the get-go. Imagine that first, nice K-2 teacher that was all about the stories and the math and science happened along the way without you even realizing it. That’s her.

John Cusick (Greenhouse Literary) talked about pacing your story, what to keep, and what to toss. He had a GLUT of information for us and must have downed a pot of coffee all by himself to give it to us in his one hour time limit! Cross Mr.Peabody (Of Rocky & Bullwinkle) with… umm… a pot of coffee and be prepared to write VERY fast, because if you miss a single bit he says, might be tough to ask him later what it was. Thankfully, one lady heard enough of a certain title and author he mentioned that she was able to ask the specifics of him and it. I’d missed it entirely and couldn’t even figure out how to ask! I hope they can give him a bit more time, if he speaks again next year.

Bethanie Strout’s (Little & Brown) talk, “Variations on The Emotional Journey: Picture Book Edition” was full when I signed up for the event, so I ended up in the MG/YA version. She highlighted the different writing tools used and ways taken by authors to guide readers on the journey through the main characters’ lives and emotions. All very interesting and useful. I figure I can take this talk and translate it to the picture books they’ve published.

Stefanie Von Borstel (Full Circle Literary) was the big surprise for me. I went to this one because the topic was “Opportunities in Non-Fiction” and, whether you agree with it or not, Common Core is on the horizon. I plan to make sure I’m on the beneficial side of things so that even if nothing else about it works, parents will at least be happy with a couple of books I might be able to get published. It helps that I happen to love knowledge and finding fun and engaging ways to present it. Stefanie’s talk really got me amped up and on the way home one of my non-fic PB story lines became unstuck!

Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy are authors of Non-Fiction picture books on the subject of weaving diversity into our stories. It boils down to being authentic. Have a good reason for that character being of whatever culture they are, because if it’s pasted in, it will be obvious and it will be flat. Wise words.

Panel Discussions with agents and publishers are always welcome and insightful. Like, like, like.

And we had a surprise speaker! Katherine Applegate, whose “The One and Only Ivan” won the Newberry, was there! She accepted the Crystal Kite, chatted with us about her long and hilarious career, and revealed that it was she who had judged the winner of the First Page contest! Well dang, did I felt silly for not having entered some writing then!

While there, I had opportunity to speak with Brian Bowes, SCBWI SF North’s Illustrator Coordinator. Brian is what I call a Swell Guy. Talented, in shape, snappy dresser, combs his hair, has lots of ideas, a quick wit, and knows his stuff. (He’s such a swell guy that I knew it was him I should ping when a dinner mate and fellow PB crit group member realized she had left her jacket on-site! He had indeed picked it up and could give it to me Wednesday night.) Brian introduced me to author and illustrator Alicia Grunow, and she and I hit it off right away. Thanks to events spear-headed by Mr. Bowes and Lea Lyon, my network has grown by leaps and bounds in the span of one month, and I suspect the SF South Bay Illustrators will have opportunity to see more of each other on a fairly regular and informal basis. This past Wednesday Night, a few of us had a Drink & Draw on the subject of Villains and it was fun, even though the Happy Hour music got too loud.

Congratulations to the winners of the writing and portfolio contests! I don’t remember who you are! My bad. But you are awesome none the less and I wish you much success in the coming years! MWAH!


This event gets an A+ and a Gold Star!



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