Me: I'm a little nervous about the workshop. I want to talk with other writers, but I don't know them and I don't know what to say.
Him: Here's how I do it--if I see a kid outside on a Ripstik, I say, "Can you do tricks on that?" and then I say, "Can I have a turn?" Then we start talking about Ripstiks and stuff and then we're friends. You should just ask people what book they're writing now. That's what you should do.
Me: You are a very smart boy.
So that's how I got to meet Nancy Siscoe, Associate Publishing Director and Executive Editor for Knopf & Crown Books for Young Readers. You will be proud to know that I did not ply Nancy with possible stories, not even once! But I did play an endless loop of my middle-grade ideas, recorded on CD at a pitch so high, only the subconscious could hear it. Nancy should be writing out that six-figure contract even as we speak.
People I met (as in, I actually spoke with):
Michael Stearns, Firebrand Literary--Michael sported the best accessory in the house--a cast. I was so happy to meet him, I forgot to ask him what happened to his foot. I shook Michael's hand, so now if he goes back to New York and shakes my agent's hand, well, you know, six degrees of separation and all that. In any case, Michael was witty and informative and very approachable.
Andrea Tompa, Associate Editor, Candlewick Press--Andrea was cool and funny, and I caught her as we were all packing up. More on what Andrea likes later.
Lots of other writers. I asked them what books they were writing and now we are friends.
What Happened in the Middle-Grade Track:
Bruce Hale, author of the popular Chet Gecko series, Michael Stearns, and Andrea Tompa sat at the head table for the Middle-Grade Track. One thing that always surprises me at conferences is how well the speakers work together and how they play off each other.
For me, the first page critiques provided an excellent education. Humorous pieces elicited the best comments from the judges. (At this point, I was thinking of them as Paula, Randy, and another Randy (two Randys because no one was snarky enough to be Simon).) They advised us to avoid frontloading--making an info dump in the beginning so your reader has the whole thing right away. Instead, feed in the necessary information through dialogue and other bits and pieces.
Bruce told us to let the manuscript cool off between revisions, a month if you can do it. I must say my cooling off periods have been much shorter, but I like the idea of leaving the manuscript long enough to stop editing it in my sleep.
Michael showed us how to pace a novel by outlining a YA chicklit novel in which a guy named Bruce was the loser in a romantic triangle.
Andrea reminded us to make sure to bring into play things you introduce. Everything should serve a purpose. Although Candlewick is a closed house, she reads manuscripts from conference attendees for a specified period of time. If you know me from somewhere, like this conference, she said, open [your query] with that. Andrea likes literary science fiction and stories that feature an outdoor challenge.
The mood at the workshop was one of camaraderie and excitement. Writers were buying books and signing books and everyone looked happy. Even the lunch was good. What can I say? I had a great time. Now I'm looking forward to Miami!