Posted by: Betsy Devany | April 23, 2012

New England SCBWI Conference 2012

This year’s NE-SCBWI Conference (my sixth) was different for me. As the On-the-Spot Critique Coordinator, I was one of numerous volunteers responsible for making a successful conference. In my position, I felt deeply obligated to the attendees, wanting to facilitate proper connections to editors/agents, and I’d promised these same professionals that I’d do my best to secure them additional critiques. In truth, I was scared. Since becoming the On-the-Spot Critique Coordinator less than a month ago, I have secretly fretted, while my daily early-morning writing time turned into early-morning e-mail communication, chart-making, and teaching myself how to make a spreadsheet. (I am also a committee co-chair for the upcoming New Jersey SCBWI Conference.) My manuscripts lay untouched; my muse went on strike.

Preparing for the conference reminded me of my earlier years in the business of writing for children, when I was unsure and questioned my abilities. Self-doubt hinders your growth as an artist. So I stopped thinking about What Might Not Happen (that the on-the-spot critiques would be a failure) and I began to believe that I could, indeed, pull this off. But to do this, I had to call on my Inspired Frame-of-Mind, which is strong, determined, and follows the muse with much delight, like a kitten chasing an unraveling ball of red yarn. I write what my characters tell me, and on some level, believe they are the ones shaping their stories, not me. I continue to struggle with writing for my blog, for that voice comes from a different place, where self-criticism has rented a tiny room and ignores my weekly eviction notice.

So in my Inspired Frame-of-Mind, I faced the task of being a successful conference coordinator: I worked diligently and focused on being positive, while doing everything possible to sell these critiques. The bar to succeed is set high due to the tireless efforts of our region’s longtime coordinators, who have given so much of their time over the years: Marilyn Salerno, Joyce Shor Johnson, Kathryn Hulick, Melissa Hed. Valarie Giogas. Laura Pauling. Melissa Stewart. Casey Girard. Betty Brown. Sally Riley. Jean Woodbury. Linda Brennan. Jennifer Carson. Joannie Duris. Anna Boll. Jennifer O’Keefe. Greg Fishbone. Francine Puckly. Margo Lemieux. And Shirley Pearson, who I hope can one day step out from behind the registration table to pursue her own dreams. I apologize in advance for not listing every name, though my gratitude is intended for all. Thank you! The NE-SCBWI Conference reflects your efforts, selfless dedication, and enthusiasm for our wonderful community. A community filled with hope and possibilities, which only grows stronger in the ever-changing climate of children’s book publishing.

After getting a good night’s sleep, I study my photos from the conference. And though I wish I’d taken more, the ones I share reflect a glimpse of conference magic. Joy. Love of writing and/or illustrating, love for our SCBWI community, and a universal craving for and adoration of books.

I will blog about some amazing workshops once I attend to my own writing. Nearly a month has gone by since my mornings focused on my work. Over the past few weeks, it felt as if a part of me was slipping away. Sadness seemed to circle above me like vultures eyeing a carcass in the middle of a busy street until I arrived in Springfield, where among other writers, I understood what was missing. I need to write.  Period.

The street is void, the vultures have flown away, and I now run free, filled with rejuvenation. I hope you are too. So much of this renewal of hope came from you, my colleagues. And I thank you. Perhaps, you can point to those moments that spoke to you, and I’d love to hear what those were. For me, the magical moments from this past weekend came as a surprise, and many times brought me to tears. 

1. How patient the attendees were while waiting in line for an on-the-spot critique. Please know how much I appreciated this, as well as your kindness.

 2. Speaking with first-time attendees. Thank you for being brave and attending your first conference. We need you. In truth, we all need each other.

3. Hearing Jane Yolen refer to us as her colleagues on Sunday. Still chokes me up.

4. Applauding the writers/illustrators who have 2012 books to celebrate. I love hearing a room full of people celebrate the successes of others. This is what we do best. This is what makes our community so special.

5. Having friends recognized for their work: Kip Rechea won the 2012 Ruth Landers Glass Scholarship. Marcela Staudenmaier won the 2012 Ann Barrows Scholarship. I am incredibly proud of these two hard-working, deserving women.

6. Harry Bliss’ keynote address, accompanied by his illustrations. Harry made me laugh and cry. What a privilege and honor to be in that room.

 7. Seeing how hard the conference staff and volunteers worked, noting their dedication not only to their job, but also to their constant desire to make attendees feel welcome.

8. Observing people from afar: laughing, smiling, sharing news, congratulating. Hoping and dreaming.

9. Hearing Sara Zarr’s keynote address, during which I was reminded why I love the Frog and Toad series, and more importantly, why I love Sara Zarr.

10. Celebrating the Poster Contest winners. So much talent!!

11. Being present when Brian Lies received his 2012 Crystal Kite Award. Congratulations!

12. Being a part of the first Novel Academy, brilliantly run by Sarah Aronson, Carolyn Coman, and Nancy Werlin.

12. Lastly, Kate Messner and her TED talk on world-building and imagination. I can’t help but get choked up when I think about this. (I thank Kathryn Hulick for asking Kate to share her speech.) Kate is very special, not only as a gifted writer, but as an avid contributor to our world’s future. She believes in children, that they can make a difference if we tap into their young minds and eager spirits.

“What if . . .” Kate asked.

What if . . .? I thought.

My initial response was: What if we didn’t have Kate Messner or her books in this world? Her spirit? Her dedication to children, and her belief that they can alter our future for the better? I cannot imagine such a loss. Driving home, other What If questions came to me, related to the conference: What if we didn’t have the talent and support of Jane Yolen? What if books didn’t exist? What if stories weren’t allowed to be told? What if we didn’t embrace failure? Would we lose our chance to grow? What if we didn’t try hard enough? What if we weren’t active listeners? What if we were unable to open our hearts so to receive constructive feedback? What if we didn’t have Harold Underdown’s wisdom, generous spirit, knowledge, and support? What if we gave up on ourselves too soon?

What if . . . SCBWI didn’t exist?

We don’t have to imagine the unthinkable because we are truly lucky. We have Kate Messner, Harold Underdown, Jane Yolen, Harry Bliss, Sara Zarr, SCBWI, and all the many, many talented and generous artists in our community. I wish I could name everyone, but know how much I appreciate you, including the editors/agents/publishers. And most importantly, our young readers. I am so grateful to be in the business of writing for children, and for being a proud member of SCBWI.

In ending this post, I hope that each of you will guard and cherish whatever inspired you over the weekend, no matter the source: A workshop experience. A book you had autographed. Conversation with a new or old friend. A phrase that tugged at your heart. An image. A helpful encounter with a professional. A photo. An unforgettable illustration. Someone’s story. A challenge, for which you rose to the occasion. A smile from a stranger. Perhaps, even a memorable slice of cake! Whatever danced in your head as you traveled back home, embrace it. Be thankful. Believe in the impossible. I do.

May you find great joy as you write and revise, draw and dream in the weeks and months ahead. Hold on to the magic of the conference. It only leaves us if we let it go.

Betsy


Responses

  1. […] Betsy Devany’s Bloghttps://betsydevany.wordpress.com/2012/04/23/new-england-scbwi-conference-2012/April 23, 2012 at […]

  2. Thank you for all of your hard work, Betsy! Beautiful post, as always.

    Jo

    • You are too sweet, Jo. Your comments always make my day! Betsy

  3. What a wonderful recap! It is a great reminder of the weekend we just came from. Thank you Betsy for all of your hard work and sharing your experience. It was a pleasure to meet you, I hope we can chat more at a future conference!

    I enjoyed your blog voice. I felt right along with you, planning a conference is nerve wracking but, we did it!

    • Thanks, Casey, for all your hard work! I look forward to seeing you again! The conference could not have happened without you. Betsy

  4. Thanks for making the On-The-Spot critiques such a huge success!

    • Thanks, Joyce, for all your support and encouragement!! It was my pleasure!

  5. My pleasure, Joyce! You are an inspiration with everything you do. I appreciate your warm welcome, and I look forward to working with you again next year! NE-SCBWI is lucky to have you. Betsy

  6. Great post, Betsy! Now we all go back to work…inspired and rejuvenated!!

    xo sarah

    • Thanks to you, Sarah, I have new revision tools. Your novel academy rocked! (I will work on your post in a few days.) xo Betsy

  7. Betsy, it sounds like you had a fantastic time and did a REALLY good job as the On-the-Spot Critique Coordinator 🙂 You’re such a talented person, good-hearted person—an inspiration in many ways. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to our time together, too 🙂

    And although I enjoyed EVERY word you said here, I have to tell you, this metaphor is priceless!…”for that voice comes from a different place, where self-criticism has rented a tiny room and ignores my weekly eviction notice.” Great writer, you are 🙂

    • Thank you, Donna! You are too sweet. I look forward to our weekend together in June! Betsy

  8. Betsy, you were amazing at your job as on-the-spot critique coordinator. And this is a beautifully written blog that reminds us all of the conference inspiration that could be felt throughout the halls and rooms of the Sheraton. We need only go back to your blog when moments of doubt creep in.

    • What lovely words, Carol. I hope you made good connections at the conference. Nice to chat with you! Betsy

  9. Betsy–what a wonderful post! I wish we’d had a chance to talk more–I hadn’t realized you were in Novel Academy with me! Of course, by Sunday my brain was completely overloaded. Thanks for putting into words the things so many of us feel about NESCBWI. Good luck with your conference in NJ!

    • My brain was overloaded too. And thank you for your kind words! Novel Academy was awesome! Betsy

  10. Thank you for this wonderful recap. It is so reassuring to read about your emotional ups and downs and know I’m not alone. I agree, the conference was a big “UP”!

    • No, Nancy, you are not alone. Remember this. Keep the faith, and keep writing. Hugs, Betsy

  11. […] First up, Betsy Devany‘s blog entitled…Betsy Devany’s Blog. Betsy appears to be a pre-published NESCBWI member. She has been a finalist and had an honorable mention manuscript for the Tassy Walden Awards. That’s a bigger deal here in Connecticut than in other parts of the world, so for those of you who don’t know, Tassy Walden winners have gone on to publication. According to Betsy’s blog, she attends a lot of writer events. She’s got a lot on last weekend’s NESCBWI conference. […]


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