3.05.2012

Lessons Learned at Asilomar

Dan Yaccarino encourages conference-goers to say "YES".
This past weekend marked my second time attending and volunteering for the SCBWI Golden Gate Conference hosted by my local San Francisco/South chapter at the beautiful and serene Asilomar resort on the Monterey Peninsula. It also marked my sixth SCBWI conference in two years, including both the New York and LA national conferences. Every event takes me a little further along my path, and every event adds a new level of personal understanding of my craft, my goals, and my deplorable conversation skills. The introvert and the extrovert in me are at constant odds in large group settings, so it's fortunate that children's writers just happen to be the nicest, most supportive people you could possibly spend three days with in a rustic gathering hall by the sea.

The conference featured the likes of Arthur Levine (that guy who published Harry Potter), M.T. Anderson (that guy who wrote all those award-winning novels) and Dan Yaccarino (that guy who probably illustrated half the titles in your picture book collection) among an amazing list of writers, editors and agents. You can see the full faculty rundown here. The keynotes and panel sessions were packed with golden nuggets to live by: "Write like you're drunk. Edit like you're sober." And "The best stories are about two things at the same time." And "Lean into your strangeness. Use your neurosis. Explore your eccentricity."

During Dan Yaccarino's talk, he discussed his experience of developing a feature film adaptation pitch for his picture book, Lawn to Lawn, about lawn ornaments (including a yard gnome) on a cross-country trip to find their owner. But when he began pitching the idea, one of the studio execs said, "Um, there's a movie about to come out about lawn ornaments called Gnomeo and Juliet." His pitch was dead. "Ooff, that sucks," I thought to myself. But, that's how it goes. There's always a chance of getting scooped on a great idea. All you can do is move on and keep writing. Then, as the final session at Asilomar came to a close on Sunday, I was chatting with a fellow writer about what we're currently working on. I happened to bring up a finished picture book manuscript I was particularly excited about. I mentioned the title and she stopped me short. "Oh my gosh," she said, "Don't hate me, but I just saw that exact title on a publishers report." My heart sunk. Sure enough, we went online and found the book, with an upcoming July 2012 release date. The title was the same, and the overall concept was not identical (it's a MG and mine's a PB) but in the same basic realm to make me shake my fists in the air, screaming "Damn! Damn! Damn!" But despite the hitch, I'd rather know now than after submitting my manuscript to an agent or editor. These are the lessons we learn at SCBWI conferences. Some of them are inspiring, others are tough to swallow. But good or bad, they all make us stronger. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. Damn!

Anyone else out there ever get their story scooped?