SCBWI Florida Conference & Disney World

Thank you to regional advisor Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld, ARA Michelle Delisle, and everyone at last weekend’s SCBWI Florida conference at the Coronda Springs Resort at Walt Disney World. It was an honor to visit with y’all, and I had a lovely time.

Friday faculty included author Lisa McCourt and Frances Gilbert of Sterling Publishing, teaching the picture book intensive; author Kathleen Duey, Stephanie Owens Lurie of Disney-Hyperion, and Alvina Ling of Little, Brown, teaching the novel intensive; illustrator-author Linda Shute and illustrator-author Pat Cummings, teaching the illustrator’s intensive; author Tammi Sauer, illustrator Dan Santat, and Frances Gilbert, Vice President and Editorial Director of children’s publishing at Sterling Publishing, teaching the picture book track.

Saturday faculty included Tammi, Dan and Frances, teaching the picture book track; Kathleen and Alvina, teaching the middle grade track; author Danielle Joseph and Brian Farrey, Editor, Flux, teaching the YA track, author Terri Farley and Stephanie Owens Lurie, Editorial Director, Disney – Hyperion, teaching the series track, as well as me, author-social media consultant Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa, author and Senior Manager Product Development, Scholastic Book Fairs, teaching the marketing track.

Note: there were a couple of last minute cancellations, but I’m not sure I have the whole list, so that’s the official roster, according to the website. I do know, however, that Alexandra Cooper, Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster, signed on at the last minute, much to everyone’s delight.

What an adventure! My husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith accompanied me on this trip. On Friday, we took the Delta red eye from Austin to Atlanta, which was no problem, and then embarked on a twice-delayed, fairly scary second flight from Atlanta to Orlando. The gory details are available from Greg.

I wasn’t among those who screamed, though I did hold tight to my very cute husband’s hand. What stands out most in my memory is that while the adult passengers were freaking out, the two young boys–brothers, one about age 16 and the other about age 9–sitting in front of us were having a blast, leaning over to peer out the window and thrilled by the idea that we might have lost a wing or something. I’m very sure that moment will spring to mind the next time I hear someone objecting to a scary book because we have to “protect the children.”

Once on the ground, though, Greg and I were welcomed into in the cheerful and comforting hands of SCBWI Florida. Curtis Sponsler picked us up at the Orlando airport and had already heard tales of the flight before he connected with us.

Curtis was friendly, funny, and a wonderful storyteller. The perfect person to usher us from a bumpy experience to a great one.

We had dinner that evening at the Pepper Market at the hotel. It was so exciting to see old friends, meet new ones, and chat in person with folks I knew only on the ‘net.

Highlights included meeting one of my favorite authors, Dorian Cirrone (rhymes with “minestrone”)(author interview) and beloved author, teacher, workshop leader Joyce Sweeney. Joyce is the Jedi master of the Florida writing community.

After dinner, I met with marketing track co-presenters Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa. The next day, we offered both joint and individual sessions. My areas of focus included balancing aspects of marketing (publicity, events, blogging) and marketing as a whole against your creative and personal life. Ed offered the inside scoop from a publisher’s (Scholastic’s) point of view, and Greg provided both illuminating anecdotes and big-picture insights into online marketing.

It strikes me that a lot of writing groups could benefit from Greg’s overview of how to raise brand awareness on the Web generally and via social networks specifically. If this rings true to you, please consider him highly recommended as a speaker. See more of Greg’s thoughts.

Here’s Alexandra from S & S. I had the honor of speaking with her in February at the Houston SCBWI conference, and the famed Disney princesses have nothing on this editor. She absolutely sparkles.

Here’s Joyce again (in white) with fellow author Marjetta Geerling (in black). Cynsations readers may recall that I last saw Marjetta in April at the Greater Houston Teen Book Convention. Read a Cynsations interview with Marjetta.

Alvina of Little, Brown awaits authors for critique with SCBWI gold forms in hand.

(This was my first “gold forms” experience).

Alvina is a rock-star editor, whose many fantabulous books include one of my all-time faves, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Newbery Honor author Grace Lin (2009), and more personally, Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci‘s Geektastic (2009, 2010), which features “The Wrath of Dawn” by me and Greg and is coming out this month in paperback. Yay!

After the conference, we continued to dinner at the Maya Grill, which is the hotel’s upscale restaurant. Here’s a quick, final wave to Adrienne Sylver, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Danielle Joseph, Sue LaNeve, Mindy Alyse, Anna Khaki, and Alex Flinn (who showed me the alligator in the hotel lagoon)! Sorry I can’t list everyone who was there!

Thanks again to Linda and the whole gang at SCBWI Florida!

Greg and I decided to spend two more days at the Coronado Spring Resort and partake of the Land of the Mouse. On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the Grand Floridian Café.

Because we’d visited the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks on previous visits, we decided to first concentrate on Epcot, specifically the World Showcase. It’s all a little surreal, but you can learn a bit about the various featured nations.

I loved the various 360-film tours of the featured countries, especially France and Canada, and the water ride in Mexico. Also, my inner Austinite was pleased to catch of glimpse of locals Lance Armstrong and Willie Nelson in the United States presentation.

We split a lunch at the Nine Dragons Restaurant in the China Pavilion.

And had one of the best meals of the trip at Teppan Edo in Japan, where we sat with a charming couple from Mississippi who were celebrating over 40 years of marriage.

I also enjoyed the koi in Japan.

I saw animals everywhere…ducks (and ducklings!), bunnies, deer, gators–some “officially” Disney affiliated but others not.

The concierge at the Coronado told us that all of Disney is a nature preserve, and that occasionally, a guest becomes traumatized when, say, a gator eats a bunny (“We don’t feed the gators, so they have to find their own food.”). It struck me that you don’t see a whole lot of carnivore success stories in Disney animated features. Threats, yes. Successes, not so much.

Wherever we went, music filled the air. Imagine my surprise in the U.K. when we came around to discover that the Beatles music coming from the pavilion was a live tribute band.

And at each turn adorable little girls were decked out as Snow White, Cinderella, and various miscellaneous princesses that defied my ability to identify. I mean, full-blown professional hair, make-up, and costuming. (Okay, part of me wishes that they wanted to be senators or presidents or at least queens, but the cute factor was enormous).

At first, I was perplexed. Were parents really putting together these Broadway-worthy ensembles each morning in hotel rooms all around the park? When had the burdens and blessings of motherhood automatically begun to include hair styling? But eventually, I passed by a Disney salon/boutique where transformations abounded.

Who needs a fairy godmother?

Having indulged in an 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Epcot experience the previous day, we decided to take it easy on Tuesday and hopped a bus for Downtown Disney, which is basically a restaurant-shopping-entertainment district (no rides, but no park fee either).

We had lunch at T-Rex: A Prehistorical Family Dining Adventure, which was tasty, prehistoric fun, though I have no idea how this poor ice age fellow (above) found himself lost millions of years from the Ice Age. That said, I felt a kinship to him. After all, the shifters in Tantalize and Eternal are descended from cousins who trace their earliest ancestors to his same era.

Our table was located next to an aquarium showcases the various breeds of fish depicted in “Finding Nemo.”

Speaking of movies, we decided to escape the Florida humidity that afternoon by hitting the theater to watch “Shrek: Forever After,” which we both liked a lot. Think: Shrek meets “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Here’s a peek at our dessert from Fulton’s Crab House (nope, we didn’t come close to finishing it). And that was basically it! The flight home was blessedly uneventful. For more insights on the weekend’s festivities, check out Greg Leitich Smith’s Florida SCBWI report.

When will we return to Orlando? Soon, I hope! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens at Universal Studios in a couple of weeks!