Takeaways from the SF N&E Bay Fall Conference

As the days grow shorter and the holidays approach, it was a good time to get some fresh inspiration and motivation. There was plenty of both to be gained at this year's Fall Conference at Mills College in Oakland on Saturday. I want to thank all the coordinators and volunteers from the SF North & East Bay Region for making the day run so smoothly and for bringing in such great speakers.

I attended this conference last year. It was the second SCBWI regional conference I'd ever attended. Since then, I've been to Asilomar, as well as the New York and LA national conferences. It's been quite a year. I should really thank my wife for letting me run off to all those events! I always return home with new perspective and a laundry list of ideas and this weekend's experience was no exception.

Deborah Lee Rose, author of The People Who Hugged the Trees among others, kicked off the morning in such a positive and helpful way. I could wallpaper my office with all the uplifting messages she offered to keep us going and writing each day. (Best quote: "Rejection does not mean you are rejection-worthy.")

Agents Paul Rodeen and Deborah Warren outlined what they look for in a promising picture book manuscript. (To do list: Have a hook. Fill a need. Make every word count. Get to the conflict immediately. Use whatever makes you unique.) Extra points go to Paul for referencing Star Wars in his presentation. And one point to me for answering his trick question correctly.

Editors Andrea Welch of Beach Lane Books and Schuyler Hooke of Random House Books for Young Readers offered a wealth of information about what makes certain picture books great (Think: beautiful language, fresh takes, page turns, and personal style), while demonstrating their irresistible passions for children's books. After I hear editors speak, I always want to run to a bookstore and buy up all the books.

Another great session featured first-time authors Nikki Smith, Jeanne Harvey and Amy Gibson telling the stories of how they came to be recently published. What an amazing range of stories! From overnight dream-come-true experiences to a nine-year nightmare, each author proved that everyone's path is different and that persistance ultimately pays off.

Author Eric Elfman closed the day with some valuable reminders on story structure and plot development.  (Remember: What characters DO is who they are.) Dude, that's deep.

Next conference? Asilomar in March 2012. Until then, I'd better get writing...