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20 October 2008

SCBWI Southern Breeze Fall Conference '08

     Wow, what a fabulous weekend. Roomie, traveling buddy, and fellow illustrator, Liz Conrad, and I kept running through the experience on the ride home and all we could say was how perfect it had all been.
     The drive to Birmingham was rainy, but warm smiles met us upon our arrival. We've been doing this for a while now, so the conference has become an excuse to hang out with wonderful friends.
     The Friday night parties were a fun kick-off. There we met our visiting speakers: Martha Mihalick, editor from Greenwillow; Andrea Welch, editor from the new Beach Lane Books; Laurent Linn, Art Director from Simon & Schuster; Paul Fleishman, award-winning author; Harold Underdown, author, editor and mentor to so many; and Lindsay Davis, agent at Writer's House. I had the great pleasure of getting to know them as the weekend progressed, and found them all to be such warm, intelligent, and talented people. I wish I lived in New York (or California) so I could actually hang out and get to know them better!
     Since Liz was Laurent's angel for the weekend, we especially got to spend a good amount of time with him and I feel like I made a new friend - what a genuinely kind and wonderful person!
     I didn't take ONE picture - gads! (If anybody else did - please share and I'll post links!) So, I hope you'll enjoy a quick video of Feist on the Sesame Street set - home to Laurent for many years. (Click the image.)

     My talk, "An Illustrator's Guide to Self-Promotion (on the Cheap!)" went well, as did our informal portfolio critiques. I was also able to enjoy several other sessions...
     Paul Fleischman equated writing to creating found object sculptures - another of his passions - during his keynote address. Two great quotes: "Serendipity is one of the four food groups"; and "Readers don't realize when they're picking up a book, they are just picking up the tip of the iceberg." So true!
     Laurent talked about the various categories of picture books, focusing on GLASS SLIPPER, GOLDEN SANDAL, (written by Mr. Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis). This is a Cinderella story told by tying together the various versions from all over the world. Did you know that every culture in the world has a Cinderella story? If you follow my blog, you probably know how fascinated I am by folklore history like this - it's part of why I was so excited to illustrate my first picture book, THE PRINCE'S DIARY, a Cinderella story from the Prince's point of view.
     Laurent also focused on LOS GATOS BLACK ON HALLOWEEN, written by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Yuyi Morales. This is currently my favorite picture book - I keep it on my desk for inspiration while working on my next picture book, "Soap, soap, soap!"
     Martha Mihalick talked about "Worlds within worlds" and also referenced several of my favorite books. It always amazes me to learn new things after attending so many conferences - but sure enough, Martha gave me a new way to describe setting through the people within it. I also enjoyed learning more about Greenwillow (one of my favorite houses). They take chances and turn out some of the best work out there. They also like author/illustrators, so of course I'm a bit biased!
     Andrea Welch gave tips for following up on sent manuscripts and also talked about her new company, Beach Lane Books, headed up by Allyn Johnston. When Harcourt was purchased by Houghton Mifflin, and the west coast office shut down, everybody worried about the future of Allyn Johnston and her talented team of people. From the outside, it was obvious they wouldn't be allowed to fade, but from the inside I'm sure it was an incredibly stressful time. Happy to say, they did indeed land well. Simon & Schuster offered Allyn her own west-coast imprint and Beach Lane Books was born. Keep an eye on them as they will be doing great things!
     An unexpected treat of the conference was to discover three of the students from my "Creating Picture Books" class at the John C. Campbell Folk School were in attendance. It was one of the best classes I ever taught and to see Emily, Dale and Brooke following up on their new found passion made me feel like a proud Mama!
     In fact, illustrator, Brook Lauer is somebody to keep an eye on. Her 3-D style is completely unique and wonderful and I'm certain we will be enjoying her creations in book stores before long.
     Another illustrator to keep an eye on is Anthony VanArsdale. Anthony got in touch with me about a year ago, and I've been a fan ever since. This was his first SCBWI conference and he actually won the illustration contest - what a start! It's been a joy to talk to Anthony and sort of take him under my wing. Many authors and illustrators did this for me when I was starting out, and I always try to pay it forward. Of course, I find this is common in the world of children's lit - we are a highly supportive bunch!
     Claudia Pearson hosted the Fall-apart party this year and we had intriguing conversations about the subtle meanings some creators hide in their works (or not so subtle). What a great philosophical finish to a great day!
     Thanks to all the volunteers who kept the conference running smoothly, but especially to our Southern Breeze heads Jo Kittinger, Donna Bowman, and to Richelle Putnam, who's tireless efforts continue to make Southern Breeze the BEST region of SCBWI!

Sarah C Campbell took some great pics you can see here!

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