Monday, February 2, 2009

I've Been To Jarrett's . . . and other thoughts on the 2009 SCBWI NYC Conference

Not the jewelry store, but still a gem, I was really inspired (once again) by Jarrett Krosoczka's speech at the SCBWI mid-winter conference in NYC this weekend. He has a way of capturing the peaks and valleys that writers feel, putting them out there for all to see, and then giving us the chance to laugh at ourselves. His film at the SCBWI conference in LA a few years ago was hilarious, and he topped it this weekend. (I think you can see the films on his blogsite http://thejjkblog.blogspot.com/)

I was also really inspired by Bruce Hale's speech. He is an awesome speaker, always getting the laughs, but still cutting through to the heart of what writing for children means. He mapped out 8 ways to make your writing shine: hook, beauty, humor, holding up a mirror, making kids squirm, truth, going the extra yard, and write what you love. I may actually type them up and post them on my desk along with the quote, "Where's the Heart?" (which he quoted from Michael Stearns) as a reminder when I'm stuck.

Besides being inspired by all the speakers, what did I take away from this conference?

I bought four books 13 Reasons Why, Prince of Underwhere, The Teacher's Funeral, and I am Not Joey Pigza (I will read all of them after I have finished The Lightning Thief which my son has been begging me to read - he even checked it out at his school library for me so I'd read it next!)

Also, I came away with a perspective on my writing and how agents and editors fit into that perspective. When I go to conferences and critiques, I often feel like I am on some reality show - a cross between American Idol and the Bachelor, perhaps with a little Survivor thrown into the mix. The editors are the Simons, the Randys, the Karas, and the Paulas, the agents are the Bachelor/Bachelorettes, while myself and a billion other writers just like me are the Idol hopefuls and throng of women screaming "pick me, pick me!" Sometimes I worry that I am one of those poor misled contestants who think they can sing, belting out Muddy Waters in an off-key opera voice while dressed like Mary Poppins. Do people read my stuff and say "what the . ." just as we all do about these poor fools?

Okay, I trust my writing and my critique group and writing friends enough to know that, no, I am not one of those poor misled fools. I am a good writer. So sure, let's say I would be in amongst the lucky lot who are chosen to go to Hollywood or chosen to woo the Bachelor. But then what? Would I stand out amongst all the other good writers?

The truth? I don't know. I get to the point where I am so used to my own writing, it doesn't look fresh and shiny anymore. But, I believe that if I put all I have into it, somebody will notice it . . eventually.

This weekend I watched an agent get moderately mauled as he left the ballroom after his speech. Writers shoved manuscripts and business cards at him while pitching their stories. As he politely untangled himself from them and moved on, I was truly reminded of the Bachelor (okay, yes, sadly I do watch it - I could lie and tell you that it is because he is from Seattle and Seattle is like a second home to me so I feel compelled to watch, or that I am character-gathering for my books, but really I just find it fascinating that women could go on television and compete for a guy like that.)

Anyway, while I watched this agent peel himself away from the masses, I was reminded of the Bachelor because the girls on that show throw themselves on the Bachelor in the same manner, doing anything they can think of to get his attention. But I have to wonder, once the Bachelor has sent the others home and he is dating those girls who pulled out all the gimmicks to get themselves noticed - are they happy with him? Or do they find themselves thinking - "wow, what have I gotten myself into?" Or even, "I don't even like this guy!"

Now I must add a disclaimer here, because this particular agent I am referring to is awesome and I don't want to imply otherwise. My point is that whether the agent or the bachelor, we tend to throw ourselves at the idea rather than the person. I have often heard that finding an agent is kind of like dating. You have to find the right one for you - but in the same breath, it is so hard to get anyone to look at your stuff, so maybe like those girls on the bachelor, any agent who will look will do, right?

I don't think so. Many times while listening to an agent talk I've mentally crossed him or her off my list, saying "no, not for me" - my husband thinks this is the wrong way to go about getting an agent. He feels I should get anyone that is willing to represent me. And yeah, in this day and age, I suppose I shouldn't be picky, but I am.

After attending years of conferences and listening to editors and agents speak, I have realized that:

a) if I can get an editor or agent to critique my work, I want a Simon, not a Paula, because inflated praise won't help me get published

and therefore

b) If I can get an agent to represent my work, I don't want someone just because he/she thinks my work is marketable. I want someone I whole-heartedly trust and respect, who I can share my vision with and he/she will not only understand that vision, but will work with me until it is perfect.

So, where does that leave me? Will I become like Jane Hayes in Shannon Hale's Austenland who keeps turning away relationships because she thinks Mr. Darcy will come through her door? Will I waste away to nothing, turning away agents and editors because they don't fit the bill?

Truthfully? No!

Let's face it, if someone said "hey this is awesome," I'd say "Yes, let's do it!" After all, I would hate to look like Harriet in Emma, turning away a suitable suitor because my sights are set too high, but I can tell you that I will send out my queries with a discerning eye, avoiding those I know just aren't the right fit. And I am an optimist. I know my Mr. Darcy of the agent or editor world is out there. Until then, I have nothing to do but write - oh, and clean. My Mr. Darcy of my romantic world was kind enough to hold the fort down while I was off to NYC for four days, but the fort needs some definite cleaning!

Wow, sorry this is so long! I didn't write for four days - I must be in withdrawals!

3 comments:

Diane T said...

That's a really great analogy, Laura. I think that's why I didn't want to stand in line with 100 other people to talk to that agent who was doing free pitches--I didn't want to look that desperate.

When my agent/editor comes along, I think I want him/her to be more of a Mr. Knightley than a Mr. Darcy: willing to forgive my faults while helping me to improve.

Jennifer said...

I agree with Diane! A Mr. Knightly would fit the bill. Laura, you really are a great writer, your
"Mr. Darcy" will wake up from his slumber soon.

Laura Handy said...

Oh, Mr. Knightley would be nice. But not Mr. Collins. I fear no editor would take him seriously!