As I arrived Monday morning at the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers Conference (WIFYR), goosebumps suddenly ran up and down my arms. Not because I was cold (How could I be? It was 80+ degrees already and getting warmer by the minute), but because I felt quite anxious about what I was about to face. Was I going to walk into a classroom full of published writers with years of experience who knew everything there was to know about anything or was I going to walk into a classroom full of people like me- people who weren't published but had a tremendous desire and drive to learn? Oh, how I hoped the answer to that question was the latter. I felt quite inadequate about writing since I had, only recently, began writing down the stories that were circling around in my head. All my fears and concerns were quickly erased as I walked into Trudy Harris' Picture Book class. She put me right at ease with her warm smile and sweet personality and the others in the class weren't as scary once I saw their faces. Now I could see that they were as eager as me.
One of many books written by Trudy Harris. Great story!
Trudy, immediately, started us out critiquing each others' stories. She taught as we critiqued, taking every opportunity to enlighten and encourage us. I was amazed at the creativity that flowed on the pages which were laid out in front of me. I hoped others would feel the same about my stories. My critique didn't come that day. That was just fine. My inadequacy was still present.
After lunch, the breakout sessions began. First Alexandra Penfold, editor at Simon and Schuster Publishing, spoke to all who were present at the afternoon sessions of the conference. She shared her thoughts about how people, in general, relate to book characters. Her message was insightful and I took lots of notes. I was amazed at how young she is! Her knowledge seems to fit more within a person who is in his/her 50's or 60's and not in someone so young! I finished the day by attending Anne Bowen's breakout session and then another taught by Trudy Harris.
I bought this book at the conference. Written by Anne Bowen. FUN BOOK!
Tuesday began with more critiquing and teaching in Trudy's class. My critique didn't happen this day, either. And again, that was just fine.
The breakout sessions began with an address by John Cusick, author and literary agent for Scott Treimel NY. He spoke of the importance of the first line. He shared examples of first lines in stories that, immediately, capture the attention of the reader and cause him/her to continue reading. I appreciated his words and continue to remind myself of something he said. "Every line is the first line to the rest of your story." LOVE it!!!
After John's address, I attended a panel discussion and then closed the day with Sherry Meidell's breakout session where she shared her thoughts about sketching. This is the second time in which I've had the pleasure to be in this great woman's presence and I have to say, I think she's amazing! She is such a friendly person and full of life! I can tell she loves her family, tremendously, and loves life just as much. Such a fun person. I feel warm fuzzies when I think of her. Truly!
One of many books illustrated by Sherry Meidell
Well, Wednesday was the day for my critique. It was a little nerve wracking for me, but everyone, kindly, shared their thoughts and ideas about how to make my stories better. I was relieved that not only did the class share their thoughts verbally but also in writing (which was passed back to me after the critique). I was bombarded with so many different opinions and suggestions that I knew, unless these words were written down, I would, most likely, forget more than half of them by the time I returned home. Whew! It, actually, went better than what I had thought! In several incidences, my stories actually had the class cracking up! I'm glad they got my sense of humor!
Ruth Katcher, editor at Egmont Publishing, started the afternoon sessions for the day. She shared her thoughts about writing with an authentic voice- a voice we know well because it comes from within our head. Great thoughts. Again, took lots of notes. I finished my day with Julie Olson's breakout session. She shared some great insights into the creation of a dummy book and I learned some things I didn't know before! Oh, how I love it when I learn something new! Great class, Julie!
I believe this is the first book Julie has written and illustrated. Not sure about that but the book's so cute!
I arrived at the conference, Thursday morning, to an already busy Amy Hackworth, our class assistant for the week. Before I could enter the classroom, she called my name and motioned me over to her side. She asked me, while holding a phone to her ear, if I had received her email the night before. I answered, no. She continued by telling me to hold on a moment while she left a message for the person on the other end of the line. Thoughts rushed through my head. Am I in trouble? Uh oh, what did I do now? Once Amy hung up her phone she pulled me over into a corner and told me Trudy liked one of my stories so much that she had referred me to Alexandra Penfold for a private consultation to review my manuscript for possible publication. Wow! Really?! She told me my appointment was at 11.00 am and not to share this with the rest of the class because not everyone would get this opportunity. She told me, when it was time for my appointment, to get up from my desk and leave quietly and to return the same way. All week, the classroom was a little chilly, but on Thursday, it seemed exceptionally cold. I bet it wasn't really any cooler that day. I bet my unsettled nerves played a part.
What an honor it was to meet with Ms. Penfold. She was straight forward and to the point. She didn't think my story was right for Simon and Schuster and she thought it would offend cat owner/lovers. I appreciated her frankness. Well, if you didn't know before, you know now. This story of mine is about cats. I respected her comments, although she did share with me that she is deathly allergic to cats and, for this reason, has never owned a cat and so could be a little biased. Oh well. But since I wasn't expecting any personal contact with the editors or agents during the conference, I wasn't too bothered by her rejection. I also know that just because one editor doesn't like a story doesn't mean that all editors won't like the story. I still look to this moment as the highlight of my week. My mentor/teacher liked my story so much that she referred me to an editor! That, alone, made my week!
I finished off the day listening to Trent Reedy, author, speak about his inspiration for his book. What a touching and inspirational story and man! I felt the tenderness in his voice as he shared his experiences with us.
Friday, was the end of the conference. More teaching by Trudy and book signing. I bought her book, Tally Cat Keeps Track, which she signed for me. Her son illustrated the book. We ended our class discussing cover letters and then spent some time on questions and answers.
Another book written by Trudy Harris. I love the many layers she incorporates into her stories.
The afternoon session was filled with learning. My first breakout session was with Kristyn Crow. She taught that each page of a book should be treated as a door which opens to the next page. Not only should the words flow smoothly, from page to page, but the illustrations as well. She shared lots of thought provoking ideas which I will ponder as I write and illustrate my books.
I haven't read any of Kristyn's stories as of yet, but they look like so much fun!
I also attended a breakout session with Christopher Robbins. Just to clarify, NOT Christopher Robin! Not too long ago, he left his position as CEO at Gibbs Smith Publishing, and has recently started a company called Familius which he, because of its size, holds the position as CEO and editor. He shared his knowledge about the technology and digital age we are currently living in.
The last breakout session of the day and also the last of the conference, which I attended ,was taught by Allison Randall. She shared her thoughts about using true tales in our stories. We have many things that happen to us from day to day. We can look to those experiences as we write our stories. Some of the most bizarre things we read could have actually come from someone's reality. Interesting to think about.
Allison's first picture book. And an award winner to boot! Based on a true story.
I left the conference feeling more than simply satisfied with the information and knowledge I had gained. The teachers were wonderful and inspiring. Some traveled far and sacrificed their time with family, work, etc. to share their thoughts with us. I appreciate their willingness to teach me and the others at the conference. These people are the experts in the field of writing and illustrating. Could I have learned from anyone better? I don't think so.