Sunday, May 17, 2009

Putting Myself Out on a Limb

My brain is full and my tummy, too, after too many carbs this weekend (sandwiches at lunch; cookies at breaks; oh my!). I got to visit with Richard Jesse Watson (who illustrated the short story I wrote which is available at ColumbiaKids) and his lovely wife, Susi Watson, whose work we shall be seeing in print someday very soon; with proud soon-to-be parents Jim DiBartolo and Laini Taylor, who have agreed to switch their August 1 due date to the much more sensible and auspicious August 17. I think I also convinced them to name their little girl "Kirby." Good name, that.

I was wowed and cowed by Ellen Hopkins, whose story would break your heart and who made me feel like a complete slacker: since 2004, she has had 5 books published. She's also a ton of fun. Ask her about "tweets."

I had a few minutes to catch up with the very charming and very tall Michael Stearns who forgave me instantly for forgetting he was now an agent, not an editor. For all-round nice guys, with wicked wits and awesome vocabs, it would be hard to beat Michael.

While I only had a second to chat with Krista Marino, I spent the entire conference admiring her ability to walk around in killer high heels. Krista edits such books as Prom Dates from Hell and the much-buzzed Forest of Hands and Teeth. She is smart, savvy and has a wicked-good book sense. In the "wish-I-could-hang-out-with-her-more" category is Connie Hsu, of Little Brown, who is looking for a good picture book featuring dead animals. You had to be there to appreciate this request, but trust me: here is an (assistant) editor to watch. She's smart, funny and passionate about kids' books.

The bad thing about mentioning a few of the faculty is that you can't cover everyone but our amazing SCBWI conference team -- led by Joni Sensel, Laurie Thompson and Kim Baker -- brought together a mind-boggling group of presenters, including Nancy Pearl (who had me in tears today talking about the passions and perils of being a reader); Patrick Jennings; George Shannon, Lisa Papademetriou, Grace Lin (ice skater-turned-illustrator); and Adam Rex (with whom I got to share that I met the model for Small Beauties, written by Elvira Woodruff, in Doha, Qatar). There will be plenty of other blog posts about the conference, I'm sure, so just google it!

Our weekend ended with the Ambassador for Children's Literature and Knucklehead Supreme, Jon Scieszka. I love what he is doing to bring Children's Lit to the attention of the world and what he is doing to rev up boy readers. I love that he makes people laugh. But I didn't love the fact that twice in his talk he referred to something/situations as "retarded."

Look, I think he and I are about the same age. That term was definitely part of the vocab when I was growing up. So were a lot of other words and phrases which, thank God, we've stopped using.

I am truly uncomfortable that "our" ambassador (I'm still trying to work through the fact that a man was selected to represent our field which is comprised primarily of women writers/illustrators) would use such an insensitive and hurtful phrase. That choice doesn't represent me, nor most of the writers I know. It was disappointing, to say the least.

So that I don't end on a negative note, let me share the highlights I took away from the opening session, which was a local success panel. Kevan Attebury didn't know why he'd been invited except for the fact he'd been drawing since he was "knee-high to a crayon;" Sundee Frazier exorted us to believe that help will come at the right time; Justina Chen Headley said to stop whining and do the work (I think she was speaking to me directly at that point); Deb Lund shared an amazing poem about her inner critic named Midge which I lobbied her to post on her blog, but the key thought is that the stories we most need to revise are the ones we tell ourselves; Nina Laden offered that if "we don't make mistakes, we won't make anything," (a motto she got off a local dry cleaners' billboard); and Deborah Reber ended the panel by reminding us all of the importance of nurturing the connections we make.

It was a full two days. I came home with a full brain and a full heart. I am so grateful to SCBWI and all they do to keep us creating.

Now, I've got to get to work!


  1. Thanks, Kirby--The inspiration you gained is contagious. :-)

  2. Wow, Kirby. All I can think about is taking a nap, and you got it all in print. What a weekend, and so fun to see everyone. Loved the peek at Nubs. Seems like you were just searching for the right idea. Give a holler when you're on Whidbey...

  3. What a great weekend! A highlight for me was sharing m&ms and lots of laughs with you!

  4. Kirby. So good to see you at SCBWI. Welcome back from your Middle East trip. Hope we get to hear more about it. We also enjoyed the conference with mucho gusto. Some remarkable talent. By the way Stephanie has a new URL for COLUMBIAkids:

    hugs, and al salam 'alaikum

  5. Thank you for this, Kirby! I loved the conference, too. Missed the final keynote (milk call), but I would have had the same reaction. I'm struggling with the fact that so many movies, that otherwise are perfectly age-appropriate for my 3-yr old, have one instance of a word like "idiot". He immediately incorporates it into his vocab. Kids don't need any encouragement from us to use hurtful words. On the contrary.