SCBWI Summer Conference in LA–Wrap-Up
by Li-hsin Tu, Avery Fischer Udagawa, Kazumi Wilds, Holly Thompson
Li-hsin Tu, Writer
My time at the summer conference in LA was nothing short of an adventure. My hotel at the Beverley Hills, aside from being a good 30-minute walk away from the Hyatt, turned out to be the creaky, spooky place you often see in a scary movie. Then I lost my iPhone (which was also my only time-telling device, alarm clock, map, and camera) the night I decided to skip the poolside party in favor of getting more rest, but ended up spending most of the night looking for the phone at the mall across from the party, and ended up with no phone, no rest, and no party. And despite living nocturnal in Japan in the days leading up to the trip, I went through most of the afternoon sessions with a sleepy fog. While these incidents felt like frustrating distractions from the awesome conference, looking back, I realized they also made this year’s LA conference especially memorable for me.
It’s hard to condense what I learned and experienced into a few hundred words. If I had to assign a “memorable word” for each day of the conference, I’d give day one “Diversity,” day two “Life,” and day three “Courage.” From the welcome and introduction to the keynotes (by Meg Rosoff, Judy Schachner, and Stephen Chbosky) to the international social event in the evening, the first day celebrated the fact that great stories come from writers and artists of all cultures, tastes, and accents, for we all strive to create great stories for readers of every culture, taste, and accent. On the second day, we learned how great story-tellers find inspiration for their creative projects from real life (Meggie Stiefvater called herself a “thief” of ideas), and how the creative process intimately reflects the writer/artist’s life journey, as shared by Aaron Becker and Cynthia Kadohata. On the final day of the conference, when Tomie DePaola gave us the advice to “have COURAGE,” I realized that Courage was the theme for the conference all along. It doesn’t matter how accomplished or prolific one is, every writer and artist needs Courage to tackle the blank screen and the empty canvas each day, and no one, not even Sharon Flake or the legendary Judy Blume, is exempt from having to conquer demons of self-doubt in order to do each day’s work.
On a more personal note, my favorite keynote was Cynthia Kadohata’s “My Life: Real and Imagined.” Cynthia shared how she channeled her real life joy and sorrow into her stories, and the stories that reflect her triumphs and struggles (“like liquid”) are the ones that can touch not only her hard-to-impress editor, but also resonate deeply with her readers. My favorite workshop was called “In the Hot Seat: Embodying Your Character from Tricks from the Theater.” Jill Santopolo introduced the exercise often used by stage actors to help them fit into the characters’ shoes. We then practiced by wearing the name of our protagonist (using the back of our conference name tag), and taking turns being “in the hot seat,” where you answer all kinds of questions (“what’s inside your pocket?” “what did you have for breakfast?” etc.) as the character. We all learned something new about our protagonists after the exercise, and I found the activity especially helpful in finding the right voice for the story.
If you are thinking about attending the summer conference in 2015, my advice for you is to book your room early. Staying in the conference hotel makes a world of difference when your body and brain are still in Japan time. I never realized how valuable it is to have a place to retreat to when you need a break, or to sneak in a quick nap. The one regret I have is that I didn’t get to spend a lot meaningful time talking and exchanging information with other attendees because I was always looking for a corner where I could doze off without being noticed. Having a bed just an elevator ride away allows you to recharge when you need to and set your own pace.
Avery Fischer Udagawa, Translator, SCBWI Japan Translation Coordinator
An SCBWI Tribute Fund Scholarship allowed me to attend this year’s Summer Conference. I believe I was the first translator to benefit from this support in SCBWI’s history. Thank you, SCBWI and Tribute Fund contributors!
Three highlights of the conference for me were . . .
Chances to hone my translations: I took part in a one-on-one manuscript critique with SCBWI co-founder Stephen Mooser, who has authored more than 60 children’s books. He reviewed the first ten pages of my middle grade novel translation as writing in English, providing excellent feedback on how I could hone my language. I also took a half-day intensive on novel revision with Linda Sue Park, a Newbery Award-winning author. From her I learned several ways to make a completed manuscript “strange” to myself—and spot more ways to streamline the language. Every segment of this intensive applied both to writing and to translation.
Opportunities to ask editors how they acquire translations: I attended break-out sessions by Alessandra Balzer, co-publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books; Mary Lee Donovan, editorial director at Candlewick Press; Dinah Stevenson, publisher of Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; and Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. Each of these editors took time to field a question from me about how/whether she considers works in translation and how these might be submitted.
Time to network with members of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign: This campaign took the children’s literature world by storm this past May, pointing out the need for main characters of color and of different cultural backgrounds (among many other kinds of diversity). Since translations are a source of diversity in literature, I was thrilled to meet authors Lamar Giles and Meg Medina, two leaders in the We Need Diverse Books initiative. I hung out at a We Need Diverse Books lunch meet-up and heard a panel by Lamar Giles, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park, authors Sharon Flake and Suzanne Morgan Williams, and agent Adriana Dominguez. This discussion of diversity galvanized me to bring more books from overseas to young readers. They deserve to explore stories from their whole world!
Kazumi Wilds, Illustrator
The conference overall was an exciting new world to me. I have never met so many artists gathered together in the same place! The attendees have sympathy for each other, same for the staff members and guest speakers, too. As a result, I felt huge energy.
I got inspired a lot at each lecture or workshop facing the wonderful artists and their works. Also, by talking to them directly, I got to know many techniques and artistic processes—this was so useful to me. Nobody hesitated to show their techniques.
And I met the SCBWI members of San Diego where I live now (I recently moved from Japan). They welcomed me to join their group and we participated together in the costume contest at the party. It was fun and I became part of their circle.
The highlights of the conference for me? Everything was exciting and fun. But if I have to choose one thing, probably it would be the illustrator intensive on Monday. I joined the illustrator intensive all day. The live demonstrations showing the process of their art making by artists Pat Cummings, Judy Schachner, Aaron Becker, Peter Brown were such precious experiences for me.
What advice do I have for others attending the SCBWI Summer Conference? People are so nice and happy to share the experience with you, so do not worry. Just be healthy and bring nuts or bananas with you!
Holly Thompson, Writer, SCBWI Japan Regional Advisor
As Regional Advisor, I’ve had the opportunity to attend and work at the SCBWI LA Summer Conference a number of times. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet with the regional team members from all over the world, and connect with the writers, translators, illustrators and faculty members in attendance.
Highlights for me this year? Panels of editors and agents are always of interest, as well as sessions with editors and their authors, since I know that I will draw on their words of advice for our members in Japan. Also, at this year's LA conference, I made sure to attend several nonfiction sessions. One that I found particularly helpful focused on point of view and voice in nonfiction. Eugene Yelchin’s session on Page Turns—Surprise and Expectation in Picture Books was outstanding. I particularly liked the keynotes by Meg Rosoff, Megan McDonald and Maggie Stiefvater.
Advice for others attending the conference? Attend as many sessions as you possibly can, but be sure to come up for air when you need to! Sign up for the intensives—they are wonderful opportunities. Get outside during the day—I go for a run each morning, which helps me endure hours in air-conditioned rooms. Fill out the feedback form to influence future conferences. And most important, talk to people at the conference, even when you feel shy—connections you make at SCBWI conferences are often lasting.