Bruce Hale stepped up in his fedora, suit and spectators to give the first keynote of the conference. During the opening Editor/Agent/Art Director panel, Eddie Gamarra spoke to how public speaking skills and a comfortable relationship to public appearances make all the difference in supporting your work once it’s published. He could have been talking about Bruce, whose ease and sense of humor infused his talk, Writer’s Mind, Warrior’s Mind: Toughing it Out and Getting Published. He used the metaphor of the writer being a warrior, stepping up the game if you’re not being published – or if you’re not being published in the way you’d like. Distractions like email and errands and food can eat away at the writing time, and often our limitations are of our own making. He closed by singing Des’Ree’s You Gotta Be with the chorus a sing along.
Matt de la Peña was a highlight of the conference for me, as I was able to attend his fiction workshop on Friday, focusing on dialogue, hear his keynote, and then host his Sunday session on the role of the narrator in fiction. de la Peña is a powerful combination of writer from a working class background at the front end of his career (with 4 books published), questing intellect, gifted teacher (NYU and The Vermont College of Fine Arts) and disarming storyteller. His notions of patience, allowing space within the narrative by stepping back so the reader can collaborate with the author on story, and getting in, getting your beats and getting out, resonated with me. His keynote was funny, self deprecating and described his journey from reluctant boy reader chiefly motivated by girls to a college discovery of fiction, through his MFA program (mentors secretly applied for him – he had a few programs to choose from) to publication. Who wasn’t in love with the guy by the time he sailed copies of his novels into the crowd as if they were frisbees?
The closing keynote was by Rachel Vail, whose funny, heartfelt novels have been embraced by middle grade and YA readers, and whose picture books are as vivid and fun as she is. She gave us insights into her writing process, how her work with drama and acting informs her character development, and the methods she uses to access emotional touch-points in her own life to breathe life into her characters. She closed with asking us to be the kind of person who listens to kids, takes them seriously as people and brings that sensibility to their own work.
Next: Picture Books