Austin SCBWI “Follow Me” Fall 2006 Conference Report

The Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators held its Fall 2006 Conference, “Follow Me” (PDF). The event was Oct. 21 at the Texas School for the Deaf in south Austin. My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I had the honor of hosting a reception at our home in honor of the speakers the evening prior to the conference.

Local luminaries at the reception included: Austin outgoing SCBWI RA Julie Lake (interview); Austin incoming SCBWI RA Tim Crow; SCBWI ARA Lyn Seippel; author Brian Yansky; author Anne Bustard (interview)(blog); former Austin SCBWI RA and founder Meredith Davis; author Varian Johnson (blog); former Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Dunn; author Brian Anderson (interview); author Jo Whittemore (interview)(blog); author Jane Peddicord; author April Lurie (interview)(blog); author Frances Hill; author Lila Guzman (interview); illustrator Christy Stallop; former Austin SCBWI RA Nancy Jean Okunami; writer Meg Shoemaker; librarian-author Jeannette Larson (interview); author Chris Barton (blog); author Helen Hemphill (interview); author/poet Jerry Wermund (interview); and Barnes & Noble Westlake CRM Jo Virgil, who dropped off books for Bruce to sign because he had to fly out to speak at the SCBWI Iowa conference the next day after giving his speech. Author-illustrator Janie Bynum (interview) also joined us from Dallas.

Featured conference speakers included: agent Sara Crowe of the Harvey Klinger Agency; author Bruce Coville; art agent Suzanne Cruise; author-book doctor Esther Hershenhorn (interview); Clarion associate editor Lynne Polvino; illustrator Tony Sansevero of Austin; and illustrator Don Tate of Austin (interview)(blog). Faculty also included myself and Dianna Hutts Aston (interview), who was unable to attend but mailed critiques.

Flowers were by Julie‘s husband, Gary Lake, and catering by Central Market. The menu featured Texas gulf shrimp, an assortment of quesadillas (goat cheese and wild mushroom, grilled chicken, and grilled shrimp), vegetarian sushi rolls, ham and brie cocktail sandwiches, fresh mozzarella and tomato cocktail sandwiches, rustic cut fromage, Texas wines, and much more. Special thanks to the two wait staffers, Anna and Erik. Thanks too to Anne for bringing extra ice at the last minute.

The next day at the conference, special events included: an art portfolio contest; a silent auction of items created by member artists; and a bookfair-signing featuring the works of the speakers and chapter members. I also spotted author Lindsey Lane, author-illustrator Regan Johnson, illustrator Gene Brenek, writer Allison Dellenbaugh, who is newly returned to us from Florida, and both Kathy Whitehead (interview) and Janet Fox from College Station (among others!).

After a continental breakfast, highlights included a Bruce‘s opening speech on fantasy. He’s one of the strongest speakers I’ve ever seen/heard, essentially an actor on stage, and there’s as much substance as humor in his presentations. Brilliant! Unfortunately, I had to miss Tony‘s talk because I had to exit the auditorium at that time to meet with the six writers whose manuscripts I had critiqued (a reminder to them all: congratulations on all of your hard work so far; let me know if you have additional questions about my comments!). Critiques moved well with Debbie and Nancy Jean managing the flow.

The most heartfelt moment was the recognition of our outgoing RA, Julie. She was presented with roses, a crystal ball filled with ribbons, and a piece of original artwork by our own Frances. In addition to being Austin’s hardest working children’s writing volunteer these past few years, Julie is the author of Galveston’s Summer of the Storm (TCU, 2003) and I look forward to more wonderful novels from her in the future.

We also welcomed Tim into the RA role. By day, Tim is a sixth grade teacher at Taylor Middle School, home of the fighting Taylor Ducks. He’s also an extremely promising writer of middle grade and young adult novels, and he has the best smile and voice in the state of Texas.

I had a great chat with Janie over a turkey sandwich at lunch, and then attended Lynn Polvino’s talk on the slush pile (specifically, how to get out of it). She also emphasized the importance of strong opening lines. Sarah Crowe’s presentation followed, and she offered the audience examples of query letters that work (from clients she’d signed) and critiqued queries sent in by our attendees. Esther brought the event home, offering insights into all aspects of the writing life. She is highly recommended as a speaker, teacher, and source of inspiration.

A signing of speaker and published member books followed. Greg and I sold quite a few copies of Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006) as well as a few of his Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003)(paperback, 2005) and Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005). I also sold a few copies of Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). Thanks to everyone for their interest and enthusiasm!

The continental breakfast and box lunch were from Sweetish Hill Bakery.

For more information, see conference program (PDF), including faculty biographies.

Cynsational Notes

Bruce‘s the Sixth Grade Alien series, which was made into a TV show, was illustrated by Tony.

Agent Sara Crowe has recently signed Austin YA authors Brian Yansky and Varian Johnson.

Upcoming Austin SCBWI events include: “Louis Sachar Speaks to Writers” at 11 a.m. Dec. 9 (Louis is from Austin); “Creating a Fantasy World with Jo Whittemore” Jan. 13, 2007; “A Novel Writing Workshop with D. Anne Love” March 24, 2007; “Illustrator Day” with Abigail Samoun of Tricycle Press and illustrator Priscilla Burris May 5, 2007; “Using Humor When Presenting to Kids with Sean Petrie June 9, 2007;” and “Santa Knows Story Structure with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith” Sept. 8, 2007. Our 2007 conference will be in October of that year. Keep checking the Austin SCBWI website for details as they become available!

Visit Austin area bloggers: author Chris Barton; author Anne Bustard; author Varian Johnson; author April Lurie; writer Allison Dellenbaugh; author Jo Whittemore; and illustrator Don Tate. Learn more about Texas children’s/YA book authors and illustrators.