Tuesday, February 2, 2010
From Washington DC, I took the bus up to New York with my friend and colleague, Marie-Isabelle Callier, French-language children's author and illustrator (published by Alice Editions in Brussels), for my very first SCBWI national conference. (If you weren't there, you can read all about it at the Official SCBWI conference blog.) It's difficult to sum up the wealth of information, encounters, new contacts, and inspiration that I received while there. I found it so encouraging to be with creative and determined people from all over the country. I liked the friendliness. I soaked up the stories of perserverence I found there. Jane Yolen's keynote address on Sunday was high on encouragement never to give up. I loved her line about networking: not only is it key, but she noted that the editorial assistant sitting next to me today just might be tomorrow's publisher! She added that if the publishing world is struggling, the work of storytelling is alive and kicking. The message - whether it be from Libby Bray, Alvina Ling, Allyn Johnston, or Jane Yolen - was that a writer, an illustrator must be true to himself or herself, that we write and create our art for children and young people by, as Jane Yolen put it, pouring our heart out on the page (only one of her twenty rules!). I loved meeting Ashley Wolff, an experienced and wonderfully creative illustrator from San Francisco, who chatted with Marie-Isabelle and me as if we were all old friends, as well as her friend, Louise Borden, a wonderful writer from Cincinnati, whom I would have loved to have had more time with, once I found out about her chronicling the escape of the Margret and H.A. Rey as the Nazis were approaching Paris. I feel sure she would have told me her whole story, had we had the time! I loved the collaborative spirit, the "we're in this together" attitude, the camaraderie and solidarity amongst artists.
I had waited too late in registering for the Writers' Intensive, but since I was in New York by Thursday, I had the idea of showing up anyway, thinking someone out in the Midwest would surely be snowed in, and that I could fill in for him or her! Well, five other people - Joan Juttner from Wisconsin, Trela Caler from San Francisco, Joanna Sullivan from Pennsylvania, and Debbie Guthery from Nashville, and Karen Robbins from Seattle (who astounded us with her creativite spirit) - all had had the same idea. When, at 9am, we were told by the organizers that the intensive session really was full, well, qu'à cela ne tienne, we created our own group, and spent three hours in a critique session in the morning, and three more hours in a critique session that afternoon. These women were amazing and their stories even better! Never give up? That's the spirit.
One slight disappointment I felt was in ascertaining from talks with other attendees that children's literature in translation (something that I am totally passionate about - see blogpost from October) is not yet hot... in fact, it conjures up yawns more than anything else. But legendary agent Sheldon Fogelman said, after I approached him with a question about translation, "You write in French? You're going through the editorial process with an editor in Paris? You have a book coming out in France? My dear, you have your work cut out for you! What are worrying about?" During his lecture that morning, he had noted that as writers, we mustn't stop at book one. Or book two for that matter. Keep writing, he said. The profession is difficult, but if you choose it, writing is your job. He's right. And since I do have a book with an editor in France with an expected publication date of end 2010... well, I just have to keep on writing - in French, in English, however the story comes to me - and to send my work out as much as possible in the hope that it is good enough, written from the heart enough, to be picked up by an editor who wants that story told. The realities of the publishing world can be discouraging, but being informed helps. How lucky we are to have SCBWI to help us chart our course.
Le mot de la fin? I have my work cut out for me. Marie-Isabelle - whose heartfelt stories I've been translating into English with more pleasure than I can say and which I feel sure will one day find their way to an editor who will at first glance fall in love with them - felt the same way as we talked endlessly on our way home Sunday afternoon. Back in DC, we are excited, discouraged, renewed, unsure of ourselves pehaps, but exhilarated... and yes, ready to continue the adventure.