I'm about a week later than I'd intended posting these highlights, but we can blame the conference itself for that. It left me so motivated and inspired, I came home and wrote and wrote and wrote, making more progress on a new YA novel (yes, YA!) than I've ever made in one week.
I'm going to share just a couple of notes here, because, well, if you want more, you should fork over the money next year and experience it for yourself.
- A breakout session by Jill Santopolo of Laura Geringer Books on adding emotional depth to your writing was for me the main event. Just what my writing needs, and Jill did an incredible job showing us a number of ways to draw the reader into our stories. I'll share just one: When writing dialogue, instead of having your character say exactly what she means, have her "say it slant," in Jill's words. That is, allow the dialogue to imply the thought without stating it explicitly.
- My manuscript critique by agent Rebecca Sherman of Writer's House ranked among the best crits I've ever received. One and a half typed pages of notes! There was something in my middle-grade manuscript that didn't quite work, and Rebecca not only helped me figure out what that was but gave me terrific direction on how to fix it! Good stuff! One piece of advice Rebecca gave that others may find helpful as well: It is OK to make your MC slightly dorky, but be careful not to go overboard. Readers want to relate to the MC, so they may be turned off by someone who has to work too hard to be popular.
- I wasn't sure what to expect from Gene Barretta's talk on the career journey. Gene writes and illustrates picture books, a talent which is about as foreign to me as crafting and playing the didgeridoo. But he was entertaining and funny and had lots of adorable pictures of his son. And I found it fascinating how he has brought his experiences working in television and puppetry to his current line of work. As he noted, any experience you have in life can be used to inform your writing.
- Middle-grade author Jordan Sonnenblick had me laughing so hard, I forgot to take a single note. But, I do remember this: If Scholastic ever lures you to their offices for a Big Meeting to talk about Book Deals and Contracts, you might want to leave the kids back at the Big Fancy Hotel Room they put you up in. (I'm guessing I have about as good a chance at becoming the world's greatest didgeridoo player as I do at needing that piece of advice, but hey, you never know!)
- T.A. Barron's talk (which actually kicked off the conference, though I've saved it for last here) was truly inspirational and did not leave a dry eye in the house. In particular, he made one seminal statement, just as an aside, really, but it struck a chord ... that the distinction between heroism and celebrity in our society is terribly skewed. So, so true. That observation planted a seed for me, a seed that I plan to grow into the theme of the aforementioned new YA WIP.
So all in all, a wonderful investment for me. All the sessions were terrific, not to mention the networking. Always great to see old friends and meet new ones, and the Pocono retreat offers lots of time and opportunity to do that. Hope to see some of you there in 2009!