Thursday, August 11, 2011

The SCBWI conference experience, part one: 'Who I met'

Honestly, at this point, I could sit here typing for hours trying to capture every aspect of the whole conference experience -- maybe write the longest post in the history of my blog.  But don't get bored and click away, friendly friends, because I would never do that to you.  I like you.  Actually I'm kind of in a sweet spot right now, still buzzing from all the wisdom and information and the thrill of the whole thing, yet I'm not quite done mulling everything over.  The way it plays out is that everything is still fresh in my memory, but I haven't yet over-analyzed it, so I can blog about the high-lights without boring you with pontifications over the deeper meanings and far-reaching consequences of my various encounters throughout the weekend.

And to abbreviate it even further, I've decided to break it up into two blog posts: 'Who I met', and 'What I Learned'.  Come back Monday-ish, because I've got a feeling that second one will have more value to those of you who were unfortunate enough to have missed it.

So here it is: 'Who I met at SCBWI 40th Anniversary Summer Conference'
  • First off, to save money, I shared a room with three other dudes.  Little did I know that they would turn out to be the 'Three Horsemen of the Apocolypse'.  (My name for them, by the way.)  They were messy.  They were subversive.  They were 'too-cool-for-school'.  They actually had an important message to share with the rest of the conference-goers, and the YA/MG publishing industry at large.  They were the crew of 'Boys Don't Read'.  And if you want a good laugh, not to mention a reason to scratch your chin and say, "Hmmm...", I highly suggest you visit their site.  They are becoming a phenomenon.  In no specific order, they are:
  • Jeff Geiger: (  Actor, playwright, computer guy, and MG author.  Dude had loads of personality and an infectious grin, and best of all, next time he's in Michigan, we're getting together to hit some of the local brew places.  I stole this picture from his blog so you can kind of get an idea of what kind he's like.  Notice the shirt.  (Henry Winkler was there because he's co-written a series of children's books: "Hank Zipzer" --  click here for a good Winkler story)
  • Steve Brezenoff: (  Author of 'Brooklyn Burning' and 'Absolute Value of -1'.  Steve is very cool.  I'd even call him 'mysterious'.  He watches the world from under a ballcap, with the kind of eyes that you can just tell are absorbing way more than they're saying.  I hung out with him a bit less than the other two, but still... Brezenoff impressed the hell out of me.
  • Bryan Bliss: (  Most of you who follow my blog know Bryan, but unfortunately for you -- most of you haven't had the good fortune of meeting him in person.  Well I have, and I'd just like to say, "Ha-ha, suckers!"  Bryan has been one of my best writing buddies for a few years now, and in fact, he's the one who invited me to stay in the room with, well... him and the other two horsemen of the apocolypse.  But I digress.  Surely those of you who know Bryan are wondering what he's like in person, and here I am rambling on and on about things other than what Bryan is like in person and yet you're still reading because you want to know what Bryan is like in person.  Here it is then -- Bryan Bliss is a freaking rock star.  The man has insane people skills: charming, witty, intelligent, friendly -- the whole package.  At one point, I looked across the party and saw him shmoozing one of the biggest publisher/editor ladies at the whole conference.  And as straight-laced as the lady seemed, Bryan had her doubled over with laughter.  (Bryan says he doesn't remember her being 'doubled over', but as a sworn witness, I will attest that she was bent slightly forward, hand over mouth, vigorously engaged in 'belly laugh' type activity.)  Anyway, it's starting to look like I could write a blog post just about Bryan alone, so I'll move on.  First though, I want to say that I'm very grateful to Bryan for letting me hang with him when he was chatting up the more experienced writing folks.  I wouldn't have made half the connections I did if it hadn't been for his cheerful introductions and warm compliments on my behalf.  Again, notice Bryan's shirt in the picture.

So.  The people I met through Bryan.  It's kind of a nice segue into one of the more enlightening things I realized while at the conference.  Turns out, there were really two kinds of people there.  Not to generalize, because I'm sure there were plenty of overlaps and whatnot, but the people I met sort of fell into two categories, the 'veterans' and the 'up-and-comers'.  The veterans were people that have had a few books published, maybe many, or maybe just one soon to be released.  These guys seemed to be there more to network, socialize, visit their friends, meet their agent or editor for lunch or dinner.  They didn't do much of conference-ey type stuff, and in fact, some of them hadn't even registered for the conference.  I visited with a number of them -- wouldn't say I "made friends" -- but just being around them and over-hearing their offhand discussions about their books, and their agents, and the biz in general -- it was utterly invaluable.

The "up-and-comers"; these were my people.  People like me.  Folks that were there to learn, break in, meet an agent in line at Starbucks and successfully pitch their book to them.  These guys (mostly they were ladies) went to all the sessions and keynotes and whatnot, and took notes, and traded business cards.  Turns out I was more comfortable with them, maybe because we had more in common, but when I was them, I felt like this spirit of comraderie, belonging, fraternity.  Basically, let's just say I made some good friends with many people I'd love to see again at future conferences.

Moving on (hopefully towards some kind of end), here are some shout-outs to the folks I met at SCBWI:
  • Caz Williams:  A very hip and friendly lady from Australia who greeted me in the elevator, and from then on, ended up sitting with me for most of the rest of the keynotes and 'big room' stuff.  Caz also made me dance.  (
  • Angela Driver:  Another hip and freindly lady from Australia.  I had a lot of fun visiting with Angela, and in fact, she was the only person I swapped stories with in any detail -- 'stories' as in 'our books'.  Angela bought me coffee.  A really really big coffee.  (
  • Jody Lamb:  A fellow Michigan writer.  Jody might have been a little quiet, but I felt like this sibling-ey connection with her right off the bat.  I would have liked to visit with her more, but oh well... maybe at a regional conference?  (
  • Sarah Perry: Author of 'Pajama Girl'.  Another Michigan writer.  Sarah is also a librarian, and therefore worthy of our respect and admiration.  I had several great conversations with Sarah, about writing and books and work-shop-type stuff, but more importantly, she was the one who helped me find the courage to brave my way back through LAX.  (
  • Suzanne Young: Author of 'The Naughty List', and 'A Need so Beautiful'.  Suzanne struck me as very warm and very kind, and she gave me some terrific prospects for when I begin querying my next book.  Agents with whom, apparently, she is on a first name basis.  Did I mention there were a bunch of them?  (
  • Tracy Wymer:  Someone I didn't expect to see.  We have a few blog friends in common, but never really followed each other, and then he walks up and introduces himself at the conference.  He struck me as this smart, sincere, friendly guy, and although I only bumped into him a few times, I enjoyed meeting him a lot.  (
  • Bethany Griffin: Author of 'Handcuffs' and the soon to be released, 'Masque of the Red Death'.  This lady wore pigtails and leaned against the firepit, and mostly, I just listened to her talk, because she was so freaking funny. And interesting... very, very interesting.  (
  • Mary Kole:  Yes, Mary Kole, of the 'Kidlit' blog fame.  In case you don't know, Mary is an agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency and a big deal in the children's literature scene.  I didn't pitch to her or anything like that, but I can honestly say I got a huge kick out of hanging out with her.
  • And finally, "Kelly".  Author of a bunch of books I'd check out if I knew who she was.  I never got her last name, and I wish I had, because in one particularly candid and alarming conversation, she peeled back the veneer of children's book publishing, and laid bare all the deceptions, consipiracies, and pitfalls an ignorant writer can fall into.  And hello?  I happen to be an ignorant writer.  If anybody knows who I'm talking about, and what her last name is, let me know.  I'd like to send her a thank-you email.  

I need to end this post.  I really do.  So yeah... welcome to the end of the post. 

More on SCBWI in a few days.


Kelly Polark said...

Okay, first of all. That Kelly was NOT me in case you were wondering, V. (I kid) But hopefully one day I will be an author of a bunch of books, too and get to hang with you and other cool cats at a conference. :)
This was a fun read (and pics). So awesome that you got to meet so many likeminded people. I HAVE to go to this conference one day!

Bryan B. said...

I still don't remember her being doubled over with laughter, but it's been known to happen.

Thanks, dude... it's mutual admiration.

J.C. Geiger said...

You've got plenty of personality yourself, buddy. And as much as I've always wanted to be a star of the apocalypse, there's no way in hell I'm going to saddle up before you and I hit the Beer Exchange. First things first.

Vikki said...

What a completely cool experience! And I think it is so awesome that you met so many other Michigan writers! I know there are lots of us, but it's just nice to actually SEE one in person. :) Can't wait to read pt 2!

Ray Veen said...

Kelly -- You should go to that conference. With your sparkly personality, you'd fit right in. Plus, I'd bet you'd know a lot of people there.

Bryan -- You must have blinked or something, because I know what I saw.

Jeff -- My buddy is already trying to get me to go but I told him I promised I'd wait until the great JC Geiger visited Michigan. Even if that's two years from now.

Vivi -- Apparently there's a great regional SCBWI on Macinaw Island next month. It'd be awesome if we could all go, but it looks like I'll still be financially recuperating from LA.

Sarah said...

Thanks for the shout out, Ray. I'm so glad I could be of assistance in psyching you up for the long trip home. Glad you made it all right. Also glad my recap of the Henry Winkler session was valuable. Hope we get a chance to meet up again at future conferences. You rock, Ray Veen!

Jonathon Arntson said...

Michigan authors FTW!

Great recap. I am glad you had a good time.

K. M. Walton said...

Man I hope the world doesn't end because I am definitely planning on going to the LA one next summer.

Sounds like you had a great time!!

I'll be at the Winter Conference for fourth time : )

Ray Veen said...

You rock, Sarah Perry. How was your journey home, btw?

Jonathon -- Aye. Michigan writers. You know, the ladies were telling me that the regional (MI) conferences are extremely rewarding to. We should go.

KM -- I really hope you're serious about that, because we're already making plans to go back next year, and I would LOVE to meet you.

Anita said...

This sounds like so much fun. I'm totally jealous you met Tracy in person. We've been blogging together for years...he's a good dude and a talented writer.

Yay, you!

Caz Williams said...

You did well, Ray! OK, now that I've got that over with I can go back to being a hip and friendly lady from Australia who makes people dance - awesome !!!!!! :D Lovely to meet you - and by the way I love the way you write. If I knew what a 'voice' was I would say you have a really awesome one.

Jonathon Arntson said...

I'm not gonna lie: I am petrified of going to a conference, but I promised myself that I would go to my first one in 2012. Hit me up if you have a good lead on one.

Ray Veen said...

Anita -- You should meet Tracy in person. Nice dude.

Caz -- Cool, you read my stuff? I wondered if anybody was ever going to take the time.

Jonathon -- There's a regional (MI) conference in Mackinac next month, but it sounds kind of pricey. I'll let you know if I hear of any more or if I decide to go to one.

Anonymous said...

Wait - was I that Kelly? The alarming Kelly? I don't remember being alarming. But if I was I don't apologize - alarming is as good an emotion as any, after all.

In any case, I'm amazed at all the people who were able to collect their post-SCBWI thoughts. Mine were all scattered into the ether, and are only just drifting back to earth now.

And it was really nice to meet you. Cheers!

Ray Veen said...

No way, Kelly, you were not that Kelly. You were awesome and pleasant and fun, and it was very nice meeting you.

Jonathon Arntson said...

I saw the Mack one a while ago, but already knew I wouldn't be able to go that weekend, so I never looked at the price. I am not a member of SCBWI and the Michigan chapter's website is so atrocious that I never head there.

Kelly Barnhill said...

Oh, thank god. I was worried there for a minute! I try to avoid alarming people when possible. :-)

Ronald L. Smith said...

Ray, good to see you blogging again, old friend. I left you an award on my blog!

Lola X said...

Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

Lola x

Kelly Polark said...

Um. So where's Part Two? Part Three? :)