Monday, May 6, 2013

Back from NESCBWI

Hundreds of business-casual shoes padded against the thickly carpeted floors of the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place, carrying the scent of coffee and the sound of tweeting fingers from the King George Room to the Ballroom.

(Several workshops and a critique reminded me I need to use more sensory details.)

The New England conference for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators was this weekend, and as always, it was a great place to see old friends and look at writing in new ways. I started off in Jeannine Atkins' workshop on using setting to structure fiction; hence the sudden focus on sensory details. (I promise to make those in my fiction sound more natural than the above.) Next was a workshop on managing life and writing, which provided a needed reminder after a busy week to relax a bit. After a dinner spent catching up with friends from Simmons, we attended a panel on "edgy" YA. I'd be curious to know what sort of content genuinely shocks teen readers these days; I remember giggling in amazement when a Writer's Digest guide I received for my bat mitzvah said writers needed a "built-in shit detector" (apparently a reference to a Hemingway quote), but I'd be surprised if most thirteen-year-olds would react the same way now.

I loved Sharon Creech's keynote, particularly her interpretation of "You come too" in Robert Frost's "The Pasture" as a beckoning to the reader. After a critique that gave me some ideas for playing with my novel's beginning, I attended Kate Messner's revision workshop, which was full as always of good ideas (and of attendees!) and which proved to me that my career does not lie in wordlessly acting out emotions. Grace Lin's after-lunch keynote about her career journey was a reminder of how recently the term "multicultural" has been used to mean "acknowledging the existence of a non-dominant culture in a book that automatically gets pigeonholed." Chris Eboch's workshop on theme was a good exercise in using plot to help a book say what you mean for it to say. Getting off campus that evening and exploring Northampton was another kind of good exercise, and we got to do some more catching up with friends when we got back, including the perpetual Crystal Kite winner. Congratulations, Jo!

The historical fiction panel the next morning impressed me with the amount of historical fiction that's written in verse novel form; even small, necessary info-dumps must be a challenge. Karen Day's tips for finishing a novel were practical and realistic, and Kellie Celia's workshop on reaching book bloggers, though not immediately applicable in my pre-published state, was illuminating on the blogging end; the lady knows her stuff (and if I ever want to grow this into a more influential blog, I know exactly who I'll pump for tips). AC Gaughen and Hilary Weisman Graham's gave us great examples of how word choice affects voice; largely through their own banter.

Rooming with the co-registrar gave me a glimpse of the work the goes into the conference. Thanks, everyone who created places for our business-casual shoes, our coffee, and our tweeting fingers to go!

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