Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Notable moments from SCBWI's Winter Conference

Recently, I attended the 2011 SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC. It's always interesting to hear about trends, publishing shifts, new editors and art directors, and learn from the veterans, such as illustrator and writer, Jules Fieffer, and editor, Patricia Lee Gauch. I love running into other writers I know, as well as meeting new ones. Since I tend to remember things in bullet points, I created a list. I hope some of these will amuse and inspire you too:

*RL Stine (Goosebumps series), reading fan mail from a boy: “Dear RL, I’ve read 40 of your books. Can I ask a question? Why are they so boring!” RL did a tour in China, as his books are now pubbed in Mandarin. He said that the bookstore in Shanghai was as big as a Walmart.

*RL Stine getting weepy when recalling how Ray Bradbury shook his hand and told him he would help a lot of people. RL confessed, “I never wanted to be a scary guy, I just wanted to be funny.”

*Sara Zarr YA fiction writer extraordinaire (Story of a Girl), revealing that it took her ten years of struggle, and three unpubbed novels, to finally break through.

*Patricia Lee Gauch veteran editor: “Picture books are horizontal events. Feel the swells, the waves. The idea should not come from your head. Don’t overthink.”

*Jane Yolen author of around 300 books (!!!!!) saying that, of late, she is getting some rejections, saying that her work is too literate! Translation: perhaps there is a trend away from lyricism?

*Editors showed more art text hybrids, which to me, is very exciting. These books have less illustration than graphic novels, but are a sort of extension of the Hugo Cabret concept.

*Jeanette Larson VP & editorial director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: “Even though Borders may close and B&N is struggling, teens still want books on paper, and children’s books are still relatively stable.”

*Jeanette Larson: “Editors and publishers used to bitterly complain about superstores like Borders, but now we are shouting that we hope and pray they’ll stick around.”

*Andrea Cooper senior editor at S&S: “I spend a lot of time on Amazon before pitching a book that I’m interested in. I’m researching whether there’s another book out there that’s too similar, or finding out whether a trend has reached its tipping point.”

*Jules Feiffer veteran illustrator (who, at 80, is as clear-headed and energetic as many 20 year-olds. He illustrated The Phantom Tollbooth): “If you show you’re angry, or ranting about an issue, you’ll turn readers off. Go through the backdoor and hook them before they know what hit them.”

*Jules Feiffer: “As you age, imagination often increases. There’s no end game in the creative life.”

*Sara Zarr: “Keep cultivating your imagination. The problems and holes in your WIP are always solvable.”

*Lenore Look author of funny middle grade fiction (Ruby Lu series): “Things get messy! I choose topics that are inherently not funny—funerals, school trips to historical sites.”

*I was happy to see my students at the conference—their first. They learned so much in two days!

There was so much more, but this list is getting long. Which of these really resonates with you? What was the one piece of advice you heard at a conference or event that has always stuck in your head?


  1. It sounds like you got a lot of good information.I wish I could have gone. My ms is giving me fits! LOL

  2. As Zarr says, the problems are always fixable! BTW, congrats on your new blog, Beth.

  3. I love the comments you've shared, Catherine. I didn't go this year and missed the synergy. Glad you were able to attend.

  4. First of all, I'm so jealous you got to go! Second, you heard RL Stine speak! I'm fainting over here. I grew up reading his books. Much love there. Thanks for sharing these highlights.

  5. The energy and perseverance in these quotations is great! Jules Pfeiffer rocks.

  6. Yes, I got so much out of even seeing him stand on that platform. His creative energy just flew around that room.

  7. It sounds like you all had a wonderful time. I really appreciate you sharing this with us.

  8. Catherine, great summary. I was there and heard Lois Lowry speak. I was most impressed by how she finds her ideas. She wrote a limerick for each novel she's written and described the origin of each book. Here were some of the ones I remember: trying to rewrite your own history in some way through a character, staring at a provocative photo that makes your imagination wander, retelling a powerful event/experience/emotion that either you or someone else experienced, something that surprises you, using writing as a form of wish fulfillment. I was also really taken by Linda Sue Park who kept reiterating how she doesn't believe in herself, she doesn't have to. When she lets herself believe in her work and "lets go" to story, that's when her best work appears.

  9. Wow, thanks for the info about Lois Lowry and Linda Sue Park. Very helpful! I came late and missed LL, and then I had to leave early, thus missing LSP!

  10. Very cool post, Catherine. I so want to go to a SCBWI conference. The problem for me seems to be location, location, location!

    Thanks for the highlights, there. Jane Yolen's comment made me grin and sigh. Lyricism is such a lovely form of writing!

  11. Wonderful comments from the conference. Thanks for sharing. It's always nice to hear about other writers and their struggles to reach their goals.

  12. Catherine, great stuff - thanks for making it possible for me to participate via my desk! Been meaning to connect, watching you reach out on SW. -Stacey Donovan

  13. Thanks Catherine for hitting the high notes - to your "best of" list of I would add Dan Lazar, who gave a great breakout session - informative, funny, and useful. And since I was a conference newbie, another highlight for me was bumping into you in the hallway Saturday morning, when you gave me pointers and a little pep-talk. It brought me back to Little League - my coach huddling up with me in the dugout before stepping up to the plate! LOL