New England SCBWI Spring Conference and My News

This past weekend I attended the Saturday session of this year’s New England SCBWI conference in Springfield, MA. Every year it just gets better (and bigger)! I’ve been a member of SCBWI for 15 years and so, it’s great to reunite with old friends and make new ones. I have a tiny confession to make, however. In the past, I always attended the workshops. They are inspirational and educational. But, this year, I had a bit of amazing news and ended up networking (okay, okay, socializing) during the workshop sessions.  My big news? I just recently signed with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency! I’m over the moon to be a part of the EMLA family, and am beyond thrilled to have Tricia as my agent.

I did attend all the fabulous keynote sessions. They were incredible and all brought tears to my eyes. Highlights:

Dan Santat was the morning keynote speaker. He is the Caldecott award winner for his truly wonderful picture book BEEKLE. I absolutely LOVE this book about imaginary friends. I want a Beekle plush! The big take-away for me from Dan’s speech was to be more open. He said it’s important to understand why you like certain stories or characters. He went on to caution against being biased because that shuts you off. He mentioned Game of Thrones. Ah yes. I’d heard many raves about the TV series. I turned to Jo Knowles and said, “I don’t watch it because I hear it’s violent.” Jo raised her eyebrows at me and echoed Dan Santat’s wisdom. Okay. Got it. I came home and started watching it, and you know what? I’m hooked! (No spoilers! I just started season 1!) Other wise words from Dan Santat that resonated with me: “Don’t chase trends. Do what you love. Do your best work.” Oh, and also, “If you don’t drink coffee, start!” 🙂

Kwame Alexander was the afternoon keynote speaker. A shameful admission here, I’d only recently heard his name, as he is the winner of this year’s Newbery medal for his YA-in-verse THE CROSSOVER. As he recited his powerful poetry, I knew I wanted to devour all of his books. And what a great list of books! He started off by self-publishing his poetry and doing school visits to sell books. Talk about perseverance! I admire him so much for his dedication, his passion, and his words. I now have a signed copy of THE CROSSOVER and look forward to diving in. The big take-away from his speech for me? That THE CROSSOVER was rejected 22 times. He said that sometimes the no’s have to come so you can get them out of the way, so the yes can come.

Jo Knowles was the evening keynote speaker. Full disclosure here: I love Jo. We have been friends and writing partners (along with Cindy Faughnan) for a decade. Jo’s keynote was in a word, spectacular. She made me, and many in the audience, cry. She is such a passionate and generous soul and it shines through in her books. She is the author of JUMPING OFF SWINGS, SEE YOU AT HARRY’S and most recently, READ BETWEEN THE LINES. I admit, I didn’t take notes during her keynote, but I can tell you what the big take-away was: Be true. In your writing, in your life, BE. TRUE. And ask yourself, do I dare disturb the universe? I hope you do!

We ended the evening with a We Need Diverse Books panel, featuring esteemed authors, Mike Jung (who did a brilliant job moderating), Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton, Sona Charaipotra, Grace Lin, and Cindy L. Rodriguez. I cannot do their panel talk justice here, but each shared the story of his/her journey and experiences with diversity and writing and books – and the need for more diversity in books. I heartily agree! Their points made me think about my own writing and how it’s evolved. How I don’t shy away from inserting my opinions or experiences of growing up in Los Angeles as a third generation Japanese-American or in featuring Japanese-American main characters in my work. When I first started writing novels over a decade ago, I admit that I was not that comfortable doing these things, but I believe it was that I didn’t see many other books out there doing what I was trying to do – writing a contemporary story (about love, friendship, family) with an Asian American….an American main character versus focusing on the immigrant experience. Those books are important, too, of course, but in the “write what you know” school, being an immigrant was not what I knew from first-hand experience.

A full, wonderful, informative, inspirational day! And what happens after the workshops and speeches and panels are over?


Laura Jacques looks on as Jo Knowles and Erin Dionne arm wrestle.

For fun – caption the above photo and I’ll enter your name for a chance to win a copy of BEEKLE by Dan Santat. (I forgot to bring my copy with me to the conference to get it signed, so I bought a copy there. I’m keeping the signed copy, but I’ll send the unsigned copy to a lucky winner!) You have till Wednesday, May 6th to enter!

EDITED TO ADD: And the winner is….

I used a random number generator to choose a winner from the comments. The winning caption for a copy of BEEKLE is “Let me have the mustard! I need condiments!” Congratulations, Lynn! You’re going to love BEEKLE!

Thanks to everyone for playing!

14 Responses to “New England SCBWI Spring Conference and My News”

  1. jeannine atkins

    Great recap, Debbi, and great hearing the great news again. I think that is the first time I’ve wrangled “great” three times into a sentence. I hope you love Crossover as much as I did, and all my class. I look forward to hearing one of Kwame Alexander’s inspiring talks sometime, and also love that rejection/perseverance story. I’m not going to enter the contest, not because I fear Jo and Erin, but I got handsold a copy of Beekle at the Carle Museum shop last fall. Love it!

  2. Lynn Rabin Bauer

    The conference sounds amazing! I got chills when I read what Jo said, to ask yourself, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” Wow! I’m so happy that you’ve grown into speaking your life experiences through your characters. It surely makes your work richer. Here’s my photo caption: “Let me have the mustard! I need condiments!”

    • Debbi

      Love your caption! You made me laugh out loud! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Jo Knowles

    Thanks for the kind words, Debbi! It was so much fun being with you for this special weekend.

    And I think we already know the caption:

    Jo Wins!!!! 🙂

  4. Laura Jacques

    Terrific overview Debbi!

    My caption submission:
    “But I love Debbi. No! I love her more!!”

    (I’m pretty sure that’s how the whole thing started, isn’t it?!!!)

  5. Erin Dionne

    What a great post about a wonderful weekend. Maybe Jo will eat her Wheaties this year and not have to use two hands for our rematch.

  6. Rose Kent

    Terrific post, Deb. And congrats on your agent news!

    Photo cap: One Of 10,000 Ways That Writers Procrastinate….

    • Debbi

      Good one, Rose! 🙂 And thanks for the congrats! Hope to see you soon!

  7. jama

    Great recap! Sigh, all those keynotes sound so fabulous and inspiring.
    Interesting that Jo and Erin are arm wrestling with their left hands. Are they lefties, or did they just decide to wrestle that way?

    • Debbi

      You are tremendously observant! 🙂 They arm-wrestled right-handed first (that’s the point where Jo used two hands after they were deadlocked) and then decided to use their left hands, where Jo won fair and square – where they were pretty evenly matched, again. 🙂