Saturday, October 12, 2013

Recap on the Eastern NY SCBWI "Sail into Inspiration" Conference

Jerry Pinkney gives the morning Keynote Speech
On Saturday, September 21, I entered the Ramada Inn in Fishkill, NY, eagerly awaiting to enjoy my local SCWI conference. Appropriately titled, "Sail into Inspiration," the day proved to be just that: inspirational. I attended with two of my weekly critique group members, Sandy and Andrea.

After registration and picking up my folder, I met many of my local SCBWI Shop Talk members from Poughkeepsie. Seeing familiar faces at events is always great. I sat down next to local rock star Kimberly Sabatini, author of the YA novel Touching the Surface and faculty at this year's conference. Regional Adviser Nancy Castaldo welcomed everyone and then introduced the morning's Keynote Speaker, Jerry Pinkney. For almost an hour, we were treated to Mr. Pinkney's history of growing up and his life as an illustrator. He told us his first introduction to art came before he was twelve, "at a time when making things with our hands was the norm." The tool of choice back then was the pencil. He grew up in a family of eight living in six rooms which he simply stated "was enough." He had a love of Hans Christian Anderson at a time when storytelling was alive. The slideshow he shared with us spoke volumes, showcasing the a life of a man who has become a true pioneer in children's books. 

Jerry Pinkney signs books
When his slides changed to his actual illustrations, many in attendance couldn't resist "oohing" and "aahing" at the powerful gorgeous images. Slide after slide filled the screen. Artwork from many of his books--Little Red Riding HoodAesop's FablesJohn HenryBlack CowboyWild HorsesSweethearts of Rhythm, and my top favorites, The Lion & the Mouse and The Tortoise & the Hare--were truly spectacular. We chuckled as Mr. Pinkney said he didn't think he could draw horses--he didn't believe he could capture the grace of these animals. One look at Wild Horses is proof enough that he was wrong. The image of galloping horses seemed to spring off the pages. 

He credited his parents as playing important roles in his growing up. I loved the line he said when talking about his mother. His mom "plucked out his dreams from his head." A young boy who used to draw on the painted white walls beside his top bunk bed was awarded a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Art. An artistic wonder began his career as a children's book illustrator in 1964. Decades later, he has received numerous awards and accolades. His soft-spoken manner only makes him more endearing. His speech that morning will resound with me for a long time.

Howard Underdown
The morning sessions began after the speech. I attended Session 1: An Editor and An Agent Discuss Acquisition with Elise Howard, Algonquin Editor, and agent Jennifer Laughran. The hour was insightful and injected with humor. I had to leave for my critique which was excellent and will help me as I continue writing my YA novel. The next session I went to was Publishing Nuts and Bolts with Harold Underdown. With the wealth of information Mr. Underdown has from his years of working in children's publishing could not be squeezed into one hour. With the addition of hand-outs and a question and answer period, many of the writers new to the business left with new knowledge.

Lunch was delicious and Suzanna Hermans from Oblong Books was on hand selling books from authors and illustrators in attendance. Oblong Books is one of my favorite book stores in the area. I try to attend many of their special events featuring Young Adult and Middle Grade authors. After lunch, everyone was treated to a Debut Author Panel moderated by and including Kimberly Sabatini, Lizzie Foley and Lisa Amowitz. These ladies were hilarious and were still able to share their individual publishing journeys. 

The next session was Representing Our Work with agents Jennifer Laughran, Amy Boggs, and Melissa Turk. Another hour of insightful information and experiences. Everyone present was able to see Nancy Castaldo present author Kate Messner a SCBWI award. Since the author wasn't in attendence, her agent Jennifer Laughran accepted and we watched a video response from Kate Messner.

We had a nice break fro dinner. A bunch of Shop Talk people met up at a local diner to talk and eat before heading back for the final evening's event, a Dessert Cafe with Elizabeth Bird Keynote. Ms. Bird is New York Public Library's Youth Materials Specialist and blogger for School Library Journal (A Fuse #8 Production). She is also the author of what could possibly be one of the most adorable picture book ever, Giant Dance Party. I picked up a copy, already in love with the illustrations, and was able to have the author sign it for me. While Ms. Bird shared books writers should know, we were able to enjoy various delicious desserts. 

Editor Kendra Levin 
Sunday morning attendees arrived fully refreshed to enjoy coffee and light breakfast fare before heading off to the Intensives. There were three: Managing Your Career in a Changing Market (Harold Underdown); Meet Your Characters: How Motivation Drives Story (editor Kendra Levin) and Portfolio Examination and Discussion (Art Director at Philomel, Semadar Megged. I attended Kendra Levin's intensive on Motivation which turned out to be a fantastic workshop for me. During one of the segments, one of my characters revealed something so important to me, I knew that particular WIP would be forever changed. The block I kept knocking into was finally dissolved and I left the room armed with pages of notes and a renewed desire to write.

Steve Sheinkin speaks
Back in the main ballroom, we sat down for the final Keynote speaker, nonfiction author Steve Sheinkin. He also shared his journey as textbook writer to author of award-winning nonfiction novels. The weekend ended after this speech and I had to say goodbye to the new faces I'd met. Our local Shop Talk group did have new members join soon after, further proof that this year's Eastern NY SCBWI conference was successful.

Jerry Pinkney

Nancy Castaldo introduces the Debut Author panel
Lizzie Foley and Lisa Amowitz
Suzanna Hermans from Oblong Books
Kimberly Sabatini, Nancy Castaldo and Linda Hanlon

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