|Brett Duquette answers questions.|
On a gorgeous Saturday morning in early June I arrived at Hampton Inn & Suites in Poughkeepsie to attend the very first Children's Writers of the Hudson Valley 2013 Conference.
The Children's Writers of the Hudson Valley (CWHV) is a new local group of seasoned professionals. The staff is comprised of children's authors Karen Kaufman Orloff, Della Ross Ferreri, Catherine Ciocchi, Karen Maserjian Shan, Valerie Marchini, and Tracy Marchini. So many of these ladies were already familiar from their years of working at the eastern NY SCBWI yearly conference and from various local events.
This conference was unique in that attendees spent the entire day WORKING. We didn't go to different workshops or listen to panels, the conference was split into two groups: one for picture book writers and the other for novelists. Brett Duquette, Associate Editor at Sterling Children’s Books, led "Creating the Whole Picture: A Picture Book Writers Workshop." Sarah LaPolla, a literary agent for the Bradford Literary Agency, led "Step by Step: Writing a Novel for Children and Teens." Both workshops were split into two sessions each, one for morning and for afternoon. Following the afternoon session was a one-hour class by Tracy Marchini on "First Impressions: Writing a Great Query Letter Workshop."
In all of the years I have spent attending conferences, this one was very different. I thought the concept of actually working throughout the day was great. I attended the novel writing sessions and enjoyed every single minute. Agent Sarah LaPolla spoke first, inquiring from the writers their concerns and questions about their current works-in-progress. It was enlightening to hear other writers facing similar dilemmas. Then a writer would read their first ten pages and Ms. LaPolla would give her feedback. Everyone else was also able to voice their opinions. We were given the task of taking out our own ten pages and then cutting 100 words out of it. Many groans could be heard but within minutes heads were down and fingers were guiding pens across pages. Enlightening. Hard. And fun. We were also asked to put our characters in a different scenario. For many present, this was amazing to do. I could see the expressions from some that this exercise had revealed some exciting things about their characters. Sometimes we think we really know our characters and then, when faced with an exercise such as this, we realized our folly--we didn't know them well enough.
The two sessions were filled with work and listening to samples. There was such an array of genres encompassing both middle grade and young adult novels. Ms. LaPolla was incredibly insightful and quick with her comments which were always spot-on. My critique friend Jan told me her picture book sessions were incredible. Both Mr. Duquette and Ms. LaPolla joined up for a Question and Answer session followed by Tracy Marchini's Query Letter Workshop. Query letters are so important and for many are dreaded. Ms. Marchini showed us it didn't have to be viewed that way. This last workshop also had us sharing a quick synopsis of our own titles and then having our fellow writers at each table fill out a questionnaire about our work. This was eye-opening for so many.
During the lunch break with delicious boxed meals provided by Panera, there were also books available for purchase. Featuring books from attendees and CWHV staff, besides other titles, Scott from Merritt Bookstore and some of his staff were on hand selling books. Of course, I had to pick up a couple. At the end of the day, everyone received a free book or ARC courtesy of Merritt Books. I came home with a free hardcover copy of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and some ARCs for my daughters. Thanks, Scott!
For their very first outing, I must commend the ladies of the CWHV for a successful conference. Spending time with peers, learning, working, networking, eating a delicious meal and book shopping made for a truly memorable day. I'm already looking forward to next year's conference!