Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SCBWI Conference, Part II - Summary of Plot & Characters

When I was a child, we moved around a lot. I'm not sure how many schools I've been to, but I'm certain we never stayed in one place more than 2 or 3 years. As a naturally shy child, it was difficult being "the new kid." Often times I'd find myself dreamily wandering a grove of trees on the outskirts of the schoolyard.

My first SBCWI conference brought back those same emotions each "new kid" feels. The moment I walked in the door, it felt like everyone else knew each other and was comfortable in their environment, while I knew nobody and just prayed it wasn't too obvious how I wanted to jump out of my skin! In a situation like this, Child Dallion would have clammed up and imitated wallpaper. Adult Dallion dove right in.


So I arrive at 7am, grab a plate of breakfast, and go to find a seat. Empty tables are plentiful. No Dallion! You're here to network, goddamn it! Oh yeah. I choose a busy spot at random and ask if the seat is taken. Luckily it's not and I'm able to sit with some seemingly friendly women. Some introductions ensue and it becomes obvious the people here don't bite. What a relief! I'm becoming more relaxed.

Breakfast ends quickly and we congregate in the assembly room. The first speaker: Mark McVeigh - editor turned agent. His talk is entitled: The Publishing World, the Economy, and You: Staying True to Your Muse During Tough Times in the Industry. Luckily, he only touches on Greek Mythology briefly. I love mythology as much as the next artist, but we came to this conference to get The Dirt, and Mark expertly dishes it out. He tells us that the industry is in transition. The advent of the Kindle and e-books is transforming the publishing world and current business models. He tells us it is a chaotic time. The Staff at many Publishing Houses are being changed and many experienced editors have been let go (including Mr. McVeigh, himself). Change is coming! Change is coming!! And change is frightening - but Mark tempers his message with humor and assures us: where there is trouble, there is also opportunity.

Many speakers follow throughout the day, including Cheryl Klein (editor extraordinaire), Andrea Cascardi & Nathan Bransford (agents who educate on how to find and work with agents), and Kirby Larson, Jacqueline Kelly, & Liz Garton Scanlon (ALA honored writers, giving us the inside scoop on the writing/getting published process).

There's so much information, by the time lunch rolls around my head is swimming. As one of the last people to get a plate of food, I discover seats at tables are now much harder to come by. I scan the room and see 3 open spots. With limited options, I choose to sit next to a guy with a neon green tie. As good fortune would have it, I've inadvertently sit next to Sibert Honor Author Chris Barton! We chat about his book, The Day Glo Brothers, and about his future projects (which sound incredible). He asks me questions about myself and seems genuinely interested in the answers. Chris strikes me as a swell guy, and as he gets up to leave, promises he'll check out my work on the Illustrator's tables. Then, I turn to my immediate left and find I'm sitting next to Philip Yates, picture-book author of The Ten Little Mummies and A Pirate's Night Before Christmas! We get along well and I ask if one day he'd critique my future picture-book manuscripts. He says yes and gives me his email address. This networking thing is easy!

The highlight of my day finally arrives: presentations by two time Caldecott Honor Illustrator, Marla Frazee. Coming up with the perfect illustration to "dance with the words" is certainly no easy task, but Marla does a marvelous job illuminating her working process, and challenges us illustrators to "always mine the scene for emotion." Her powerpoint presentation shows us the staggering amount of drafts and revisions it takes before the final artwork is achieved. She even shows us a photograph of a three-dimensional model house she constructed -- just so she would know the environment in which her characters lived! The amount of thought she puts into each project is unbelievable. Ms. Frazee is a living testament for us illustrators: success doesn't come easy, but if you put in your work it can come.

After an amazing Q&A panel and book signing extravaganza, the day is finally done and I'm exhausted! I stumble to the Illustrator's tables to pack up my stuff. Just then, an elderly woman approaches and asks if I would help jump-start her car. With the amount of good fortune I've had today, I quickly agree. As we stroll into the winter parking lot she thanks me again and says that this kindness will earn stars for my crown. The phrase makes me smile. Not necessary, I tell her - I'll gladly do it anyway. But she insists and I don't press the issue.


So that sums it up. I'd like to thank all the people with the Austin SCBWI who volunteered their time and made this event such a huge success! I'd also like to congratulate Debbie Gonzales for her position as the new Regional Advisor, and incoming Illustrator Chair (and friend) Mark Mitchell, who has guided me along this path. I look forward to seeing many of you at future events.

Breakfast with Austin SCBWI Crew
Foreground: Marla Frazee (peach colored shirt & necklace)
Midground: Moi! (burgundy sweater)
Background: Mark McVeigh (bald dude in suit, standing near door) speaking with fellow illustrators Erik Kuntz and Don Tate.
(Photo courtesy Mark Mitchell)

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