February 26, 2014
The SCBWI Conference: Day 1
Friday morning I rise, refreshed, excited and hungry. I do my meditation and some yoga stretches; take my shower. Content that I look relaxed, refreshed and professional, I take up my binder with my manuscript and my notepads, my pens and pencils, my business cards, hotel key card, credit card, some money and my phone. I descend to the Ballroom level and exit into a hive of busy conference attendees.
On one end are the SCBWI pre-conference attendees; hopeful writers and illustrators come to have their work critiqued by peers and the publishing gods—various and sundry book agents and editors. On the other end is a conference of investors. The investors have a 30 foot long spread of breakfast delights: fruit and meat and eggs and yogurts and custards and cereals and breads of all kinds, teas and coffees, juices and water. On our end is a 10 foot long spread of bagels, coffee and tea. Nothing is gluten free.
Ask and you shall receive, it is said. I checked in and I asked, “Who can I speak to about providing a gluten free option for those of us who may need that?” I was told there was supposed to be a gluten free option. When we brought it to the attention of the Food and Beverage Manager, I was brought a gluten free bagel on a plate—just for me. The fruit from the market in the lobby cost me $4.00. I asked if please, the next two mornings would they have a platter of them out as I was certain in a crowd this large I wouldn’t be the only gluten free person.
The morning panel was so memorable I don’t remember a thing and haven’t any notes.
Critique session one I brought my story, Don’t Pick the Apples, Robert. Written 30 years ago and pulled from my dusty files some 10 years ago, Robert and his apples have undergone so many revisions they’ve gotten shiny. A little bloody too. Robert’s story was chopped to in half some months ago following a Picture Book workshop in Minneapolis. Apparently it was a wound worth suffering. The only critical feedback given was that I should think more like an illustrator and try to eliminate the descriptions in the text that will be shown in the illustrations. That of course leads this non-illustrating writer to asking a dozen more questions.
At lunchtime I head for the entrance to the Grand Central Terminal and its Dining Concourse, joining the bustling crowd outside the hotel. After yesterday’s walkabout I had written my author friend my impressions of NYC: “NYC is intimidating and SO crowded and busy! I haven’t seen too much of it… Won’t be sad to return home to the snow and forests and empty spaces.”
She had written back a challenge: “Just so you know, you are talking to a New Yorker who loves NYC. So I hope you will see the beauty in all the bustle and boundless creativity of humanity that is on display wherever you turn.”
I find myself looking at the people through different eyes today. I note the incredible diversity of face and style. There are policemen and workmen; beggars and well-dressed men in expensive suits, women fresh from designer boutiques; mothers dragging noisy children; teenagers bopping to the beat only they can hear. In the space of two buildings I quickly count 30 people. All are moving purposefully and quickly, hardly breaking stride if a tourist suddenly makes an unexpected turn or stops dead-center. The people and the traffic combine into an amazingly intricate dance of color and light. I wonder about the stories each one of these people are living out.
The Dining Concourse is more crowded than the streets, everyone weaving in and out of each other’s space. I imagine that I can see the trails of energy with each passing person. I get some wild mushroom lentil soup and head back to the hotel. It is quieter there.
In the afternoon I offer my little story Duck, Duck, Goose to another group of peers and an editor for their feedback. I get a perfect 10 with the qualifier that I should drop the last four lines—they aren’t needed. I sit quietly smiling; inside I am dancing on the table! It has been a long, four and a half year journey to this conference in New York.
Later as I head up to my room with a salad from Grand Central—and a chocolate shake to celebrate—the doubts start whispering…the ones I came here intending to resolve. So what’s the big deal about a silly little story about ducks? Do you think writing stuff like this matters? Don’t you think you should spend more time writing stuff that’s important? You want to change the world…how you gonna do that with silly ducks and little boys who love apples?