Thursday, August 11, 2011

SCBWI Report: Libba & Laurie

As I mentioned in my previous post, I attended the SCBWI Conference in LA last weekend.  It was a whirlwind, with so many amazing moments that it took a while for my head to stop spinning.

Two of those moments included meeting two authors that I greatly admire - Libba Bray and Laurie Halse Anderson.

My girl crush on Libba Bray started five years ago, when I read the first book in her Gemma Doyle Trilogy (a MUST read for lovers of supernatural YA),  A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY.  I was at a friend's house at the seashore, having a rather bacchanalian visit with a large group of friends - actors, no less.  In the midst of all the cavorting, I found Libba's book on the coffee table.  By the way, I am THAT person - the one who can be found reading in a corner at a party.  So while the others flitted all over the house, I sank into the comfy sofa and read.  When we went to the beach and everyone else went cliff-jumping, I sat in the sand and read.  I was reading late into the night.  I finished the book in two days.

A few weeks later, back in Brooklyn, I happened to see in a magazine that Libba Bray would be on a panel (with Ann Brashares, another favorite YA author) at the first annual Brooklyn Book Festival.  After the panel, I went up to Libba and told her how much I'd enjoyed A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY.  Then I told her that my own novel had been rejected all over NYC.
"What's it about?" she asked.
"It's like a female Huck Finn," I told her.  (This was after my first novel didn't sell.)
"Who's not buying THAT?" she exclaimed.  
Her righteous indignation on my behalf was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment.  She went on to say some encouraging things, to keep writing and hang in there, and I left, buoyed by her encouragement.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  Libba delivered a delicious keynote speech on the first day of the conference, all about writing it wrong.  Let it suck, she said.  Sometimes it needs to suck before it can get better.  It was a wonderful speech on a theme that I often have to remind myself of: you can edit anything but a blank page.

On the second day of the conference, Libba held a session about characters.  She offered up tons of useful information, but one of the points she made was that you discover a lot about your characters through the actual writing.  You can write character sketches and templates and backstory, but until you're actually writing YOUR STORY, you won't truly know that character.

On the last day of the conference, I pounced.

Libba was sitting diagonally in front of me at a panel I was attending.  Afterwards, I stopped her and before she had time to call security, I told her how much her words of encouragement all those years ago meant to me.  That from that sad shadow of a person who had had her book rejected all over New York, I had grown into a more confident artist.  She was extremely gracious and bubbly, and gave me a big hug.  (Omigod!  I got hugged by Libba Bray!)  Later, I had her sign my copy of the third Gemma Doyle book, THE SWEET FAR THING, and we chatted some more.  We used to live in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn and I discovered that she is actually not a fan of the best Thai restaurant in the world (that I still miss and crave everyday).  It's okay - we can still be friends, Libba.

As if meeting Libba Bray and seeing Judy Blume do "I must...I must...I must increase my bust" weren't enough, I also got to meet Laurie Halse Anderson.

In case you've been living under a rock, Laurie is the bestselling author of several YA novels, including SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS.  I haven't read the former, but the latter just blew me away.  You want to see a master with language, read some Laurie Halse Anderson.

Immediately following Libba's fabulous speech, Laurie held a session about crafting a creative life.  So much of what she said was so relevant to my own writing life.  She made several key points, but one of them was that you have more control over how you spend your PRECIOUS time and energy that you want to admit.  And to really account for your time everyday.  She suggested setting a timer every half hour and when the timer goes off, honestly account for how you spent that half hour.  Did you spend it writing?  Or did you spend it surfing the internet, looking for that perfect pair of black pumps that you don't need?

Laurie also gave the closing keynote speech of the conference.  She said so many inspirational things in that speech that it would take twenty blogs to recount them all.  But one of the things she said that has really stuck with me was that we need to take care of our Muse.  Our Muse is like a four-year-old child, a dancing, carefree, happy-go-lucky child covered in daisies.  Would you yell at a four-year-old if she didn't reach her word count for the day?  Would you beat her up for writing a half hour less than she said she would?  You wouldn't, would you?  (And if you would, please get some therapy.)  Be kind to yourself, Laurie said.  Be gentle with your Muse.

After her keynote, I waited in line to have Laurie sign the copy of CHAINS I had just picked up at the conference bookstore.  (I just started it but so far it is SO GOOD.)  I told her how much of a Julia Cameron-Artist's Way freak I was too (she had mentioned it in her workshop) and we bonded over that.  (Yeah, Laurie and I are total buds now.)

What I really took away from meeting both these amazing writers was that they are both right there with us in the trenches.  They're both trying to figure it all out, just like we are.  They're both tearing their hair out when they can't get a scene right, raiding the cookies when they're reworking the plot for the umpteenth time, trying to balance writing and kids and life all at once too.

That's why I love conferences.  It's good to be reminded we're not alone.


  1. I didn't go to Laurie's break out session so I am grateful to read your post and others that gave some of the great things she said. It makes so much sense—I need to constantly remind myself of how I am spending my time. Thanks for posting this.

    And, oh yeah—Libba totally ROCKS!

  2. This is my third try to leave a comment! Anyway, loved your post and love your blog!

    Thanks for your backstory comment. It was very helpful!

    I came home from the conference and read SPEAK. Very good!