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While at the SCBWI Conference in LA, we were in walking distance of the Century City Westfield Mall. We saw the Pink Taco restaurant and were intrigued. Kat and I promised to check it out before we left LA.
On our last night in the city, we got a roomy corner booth and dug into some of the tastiest Mexican food I’ve had since leaving San Diego in 2004. I had to have my guacamole and chips and margarita. So worth the calories. The chips were warm and crispy with the right amount of salt. The salsas rocked!
The restaurant is super fun inside. Reminds me of a festival of quirkiness.
But the carne asada. Dear Lord the carne asada. I’d been craving it the entire two weeks I’d been in California. It was Fan-Freaking-Tastic!
For dessert, Kat and I split churros with chocolate and caramel dipping sauce. So decadent.
This was what our booth looked like. We sunk into those cushions and didn’t move for almost 2 hours.
And as is typical of LA, our waiter was smoking hot. And flirted with us just enough to add to the dining experience.
Such a wonderful way to wrap up a conference!
Karen Cushman spoke to us about the importance of courting surprises in our writing. One of her best tips is “Don’t fear surprise, welcome it.” Sometimes we have no idea why something comes unbidden. But it’s okay to stray from our outline. She advised that we “ask the questions we don’t know the answers to.”
What I appreciated about her talk was that she made a point of saying that we “are not channeling someone” nor is there “a muse at work.” We as writers do it unwittingly. Sometimes we leave clues in our own writing about what will happen. We just have to look for them. We prepare ourselves for the surprises.
Jay Asher is one of my favorite workshop teachers at the entire conference. He conveyed so much useful knowledge while constantly engaging the audience. If you get the chance to hear him speak, GO!
He really made us think about how to inject suspense into any type of book. One of the key takeaways was the importance of ANTICIPATION. The reader is waiting for something to happen, something that is supposed to happen, and eventually it has to happen to satisfy the reader.
He mentioned how with Twilight the back cover created anticipation about the vampire discovery. The first 10 pages of the book are all about the weather and setting, but it makes it the perfect place for a vampire, which the reader know to anticipate because of the back cover.
In terms of how to inject suspense at the end of a chapter, he advised that writers can: cut the action early, hint at the story to come, or have multiple narrators so the chapter end is a bit of a story cliffhanger.
My favorite quote? “It’s our fault, but their problem when a reader is up all night reading our book.”
Before we started our Napa/Coastal Drive trip, J and I had an afternoon in LA. Mind you I was up at 5:30 am for a 9 am flight and didn’t sleep on the flight so I was a tad cranky. Anyway, he took me to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) to see the much touted “Levitated Mass” exhibit.
This is it. A rock, a ginormous rock, bolted over a sidewalk and supported by cement walls. This is one of those occasions where the artist clearly did not have a Webster dictionary on hand. Or they were too arrogant to look the word up. Levitate means “to rise or float in or as if in the air especially in seeming defiance of gravitation.”
An emperor-has-no-clothes sort of art installation. If you tell me mass is levitated, I expect that’s what it will be. Resting on cement walls and bolted in is in no way a defiance of gravity. This installation cost $20 million dollars. And according to the articles, the big draw is how often do you get to look at the bottom of a statue? Um not often, but I can go in my yard and pick up a rock and look at the bottom of it anytime.
In a time where schools are cutting art programs and libraries are being closed because of scarcity of funds, this is an abomination in excess.
We walked onward to the La Brea Tar Pits. This is what it looks like when they are working around the pit.
These pits are enclosed by huge fences (you can see it on the edge of the picture below) because people have a propensity to litter into the tar. It smelled sulphuricious and in some spots bubbled.
Urban Lights was an interesting sight. I think of it as lamposts at full attention at LACMA.
At the LA SCBWI Summer Conference, there was a pizza party and book signing party for all SCBWI members with published novels. This is my favorite way to stumble on new books. By reading the backs and meeting the authors.
Anyway, I was making my way around the room when Immortal Beloved grabbed my attention. Partly because I have a manuscript with immortals and partly because I loved the title and the cover. I picked it up and perused the back cover.
The first line on the back cover grabbed me “Nothing ever really ends when you’re immortal.”
The author, Cate Tiernan, was very friendly. Something in her face sold me on the book. She kindly autographed it and I moved along to discover a few more books.
Anyway, throughout the conference I kept running into Cate. The poor woman must have thought I was stalking her. But I think the universe was telling me to talk to her. So I did.
And I decided to read her book first (of the dozen I purchased at the conference).
I’m so glad I did. Because I needed to hear her words so badly.
I needed to hear Nastasya’s story. I needed to be there for her soul searching and her realizations.
And I walked away with a new perspective on my life.
That’s the power of the right book at the right time.
Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about the book:
“Born in 1551, Nastasya is immortal, wealthy, and at the end of her rope. After centuries of hedonism, one casually cruel moment in present-day London shatters her composure and leaves her grasping at the slimmest of chances to save her sense of humanity. That chance takes the form of River’s Edge, a farm and retreat in the heart of Massachusetts, where a varied group of immortals seek to regain the immediacy and emotion of life fully lived. It’s not an easy fit for Nastasya, and as she learns about her companions, the ghosts of her long and dark past rise vividly to haunt her.”
This week, I thought I share some highlights from the workshops I attended at the 41 st Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in LA.
Jordan Brown spoke to us about his list including what, how and why he publishes. Lately, I’ve come to appreciate his advice about how great writers are great readers. They are aware of what is out in the market. My dear friend and writing buddy Katrina Bender is forever introducing me to new books and I love that about her.
He described the editor’s job as being to: look at the page and figure out what is in the author’s head and try to get it onto the page better. As I’ve been working on feedback from an agent, I can see what he meant. This agent is helping me get to the heart of my story and tell it better.
Krista Marino gave an insightful workshop filled with terrific tips on “The Importance of Firsts: First Line, First Page, and First 5 Pages.” One of the key points in her talk was the importance of not leading the reader astray or boring them in any of those firsts.
She touched on some elements that can make a first line intriguing: having an inherent question, introducing a main character, giving a sense of setting, and voice. Those will all tug the reader into the story.
A couple things she advised against doing in the first five pages included: introducing too many characters, including flashbacks, POV jumps. I think these were “don’ts” because they can confuse the reader and/or disorient them.
J and I booked a tour of Hendry Ranch Wines because it was ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for activities in Napa. It had some of the best reviews ever. We decided this was our winery tour and tasting place. The cost was $40 each but they spent 2.5-3 hours with us. It exceeded all expectations and put all other winery tours and tastings to shame.
The Hendry Ranch winery had been family owned since 1939 and is composed of 114 vineyard acres stretched over 47 vineyard blocks. It’s a picturesque spot in Napa and the perfect tour and tasting for someone who wants to learn more about the wine making and wine tasting process.
Our tour group consisted of 14 people plus our guide, Mr. Hendry, who was the actual owner of the winery. He took two hours out of his day to talk to us about his vineyard. He regaled us with interesting tidbits about how closeness to a creek can affect a vine’s grape production and the taste of the grape. He confided how some of his experiments yielded cool things and others were a lesson learned. Through it all, he has a curious spirit that pushes his vineyard to be better and better.
He took us inside the building where the wine making occurs.
And down into the cellar where wines are barreled and aged.
These are the containers where the wine is made. The grapes are poured in from the floor above.
The vineyard dog stopped by to say hello to us and then patiently waited for a staff member to take him back out to the vineyards.
Here’s a look at the 47 vineyard blocks. We had this in front of us at the tasting. Pictures were not allowed during the tasting to ensure that we focused on the tasting. Listening, learning, and being present in the moment.
This is the fabulous space where we had our tasting. The owner spent almost an hour teaching us about his wines. I learned that many reds taste bitter to me because I have a tannin sensitivity. It’s also why I love lots of cream and splenda in my coffee.
This is the first time I really savored wine. It was a wonderful experience. I appreciated Mr. Hendry’s frankness about wines. He explained that everyone’s palette is different. So what is delicious to you might not be to me. Award-winning wines may not please your palette, but that’s okay because wine drinking should be tailored to the individual.
I enjoyed most of his wines, which is very rare for me. I found out I have a liking for pinot noir and zinfandels (which are both reds). I don’t need sweet but I require wetness to enjoy a wine. Nothing worse to me than having the feeling that someone just suctioned all the moisture out of my mouth.
The tasting included 10 wines. I ended up purchasing six bottles and sending them home. Two for Dad and four for me. The staff were extremely efficient in the purchasing process. Made it a joy to spend money there. I’ll definitely be ordering more of his wines in the future.
1,234 people were on hand for the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA August 3-6th. The biggest children’s book writers and illustrators conference of the year kicked off with some hilarious opening remarks by Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser.
Stephen regaled the audience each morning with a story of how he broke his wrist.
Inspired by the Summer Olympics, Lin lit the SCBWI “torch” and began our “opening ceremonies.”
She had each of the panelists/faculty for the event introduce him/her self and then say one word. Literally one word.
It was AMAZING.
Jay Asher’s word was “Hysteria” from Def Leppard. Let me pause here to catch my breath. Jay *freaking* Asher. This man’s books are some of the best I’ve read in years. I <3 Jay Asher.
I forgot this speaker’s name, but I absolutely loved her enthusiasm at 9 ish am.
He defined timelessness as a story capturing the moment of intimacy between the author and the reader.
This point would reverberate through other speeches at the conference that stressed that an author tell their truth to the reader.
One common thread in timeless book is the perceptiveness of the author about what makes people tick.
He gave a few examples of books that had timelessness: The Once and Future King and The Golden Compass.
The next keynote speaker was Tony Diterlizzi. Wow. Just wow.
By far the most entertaining and engaging speaker of the day, more akin to a late night talk show host.
He talked about never abandoning imagination. One of his main points was that he writes books that 10-year-old Tony would want to read.
The trick is staying in touch with the 10-year-old version of himself as he progresses further and further from that age.
He stressed the importance of writing books you’d love to read at the age you are writing for.
He was such an engaging speaker, I bought both books that he had for sale and got them signed.
I’m going to pause here, but I’ll be covering snippets from the conference for a few weeks.
100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost was recommended reading from one of my writing workshops. It’s a super slim pocket sized volume that is the perfect take-off and landing read on a plane. In fact, that’s how I read the entire book. During my flights to and from LA.
Because of its brevity, I would recommend this book to writers who have read other books on the craft of writing and writing techniques first. This is a terrific refresher and contains some great nuggets, but there are short bursts of insight that could leave the beginner baffled.
He does include examples of the right and wrong way to apply what he’s teaching–which helped drive home his points. I’m a fan of examples. Especially ones that illustrate how to apply and not apply the teachings.
Also keep in mind, this book was published in 1985 so there is a quaintness to some of the ways that may not translate perfectly to this time.
Overall, I enjoyed it and I took away new techniques and new insights so it was a worthwhile read to me.
Approximately 300 people had a hellish flight on American Airlines from LAX to JFK on 8/8/12. Why you might ask?
Because of two bad parents. Two parents who did not know how to control their 2 and 4 year old. Two parents who kept saying, “We never have this problem and we fly all the time,” while their children screamed, wailed, punched, kicked, and caused unbearable headaches to all on board the flight.
Look, I’m not going to blame a two year old or a four year old for acting like crazed animals. Because they are too young to have any control over themselves or the situation. (Though I have seen children this age behave far better in public.)
But those parents. They deserve a special circle of hell. They refused to raise their voices to their kids and tried to reason with them. REASON with a screaming kicking lunatic?! If that’s your parenting style, please avoid bringing your little monster into enclosed places like planes until they reach 6 or 7. It was clear that the kids were in charge. And what dumbass puts a 2 and 4 yr old in charge?!
These kids were just as badly behaved at the airport gate. I sat near them for an hour and witnessed bad parenting in action. The kids said something, the parent ignored them, the kid got louder and louder–screeching and wailing. The parent never showed any displeasure in it. As if this was acceptable behavior. The parents clearly failed to set boundaries for the kids.
I felt horrible for the poor woman in front of them. She repeatedly asked the father to stop the children from: kicking her seat, slapping the tray, screaming in her ear, climbing over the seat, etc. At five hours into the flight, she finally turned around and told the kids to shut up. That worked for a little while. Thanks to that woman for standing up for all of us.
We paid hundreds of dollars for our seats on that flight and endured unrelenting screaming and crying and wailing for six hours.
Some kids can’t fly. Especially that young. Parents need to know their children. And know your right to travel does not infringe on my right to travel. Which they did to all of us.
This is why we need adult only flights. Flights where no one will wail, cry, scream, yell, kick the seat, bang on the table, etc.
We deserve better. And since parents refuse to see that their perfect angels are not able to fly, they need to be put on a flight with other perfect angels. There are dozens of flights a day between NYC and LA. Each airline could run one or two kid friendly flights. And by kid, I am referring to anyone under 10 years old.
I paid a lot for my seat. I should not be terrorized by your children just because you cannot properly parent it.