Surreal Moments at the SCBWI LA Conference and Beyond

I’m now back from the 40th Anniversary SCBWI conference in Los Angeles and I’ve been meaning to tell you what happened. The problem is that so much happened, I can barely get my head around it. And even more so because, when I originally registered for this conference and made my plans to go, I didn’t think I’d actually be a part of it.

I did not expect this:

Look at what it says on the bottom.

First, I have to admit that I was sad I didn’t get to meet John Green. Those who follow him must know that he had his gallbladder out recently, so he couldn’t travel so soon after surgery. But hopefully one day I will meet him and not fall all over myself telling him how much I love his books. (Paper Towns is my favorite.)

Why am I telling you about John Green? Because, due to the last-minute cancellation, I ended up being his understudy for one hour. (Sort of.) I did a session with my editor and my agent billed as a “Three-Way Conversation” in which I actually sat at a table with the both of them, speaking into a mic about my experiences with Imaginary Girls and working with them to bring the book to life. Pinch me.

Here’s a photo taken by the hilarious and even-more-amazing-in-person Mike Jung during that session. I don’t care that it’s blurry—it’s my only evidence that it did, indeed, happen. See that table far, far at the head of the room? See those three people sitting at that table? I’m the one on the left. My brilliant editor Julie is next to me and my brilliant agent Michael is next to her.

Session at SCBWI LA in which I am not in the audience, which is weird!

My time in Los Angeles involved that and other surreal moments such as:

Eating an utterly delicious dinner with my agent Michael, where we talked about my future as an author (a future he thinks I do have!) and where I admitted that I wanted to write something I was afraid to admit I wanted to write… and discovering he was absolutely beyond supportive, and how could I have expected otherwise?

Seeing my friend Emily Hainsworth, who I met for the first time at the New York City SCBWI conference two years ago—before she had her agent and book deal and movie deal—and being able to congratulate her in person on all the wonderful and amazing things that have changed in so short a time! (Look for her novel Through to You, coming Fall 2012 from Balzer + Bray.)

Getting to meet seven of my agent-sisters—okay, six of my agent-sisters: Jill Alexander, Brodi Ashton, Tracy Clark, Sara Wilson Etienne, Bethany Griffin, Emily Wing Smith (twice my sister, since we share an agent and an editor)—and not an agent-sister but still an agent-mate Bryan Bliss, who I ran into on the way to the mall my first hour in LA and roped him into going with me grocery shopping. I heard there was at least one agent-sister I did not get to meet and I’m sad because that messes up my streak.

Getting to meet many other writers I knew from online, so many I can’t even gather up the names!

Selling out of all the copies of Imaginary Girls that I’d brought for the PAL member book sale within fifteen minutes, so my editor couldn’t even find me in the room because she was looking for the table with my book cover displayed and they were all gone.

Posing for numerous photos that I wish were not tagged on Facebook. Ugh. Here’s a nice one, though:

Shannon Messenger, me, and Casey McCormick. Note: I am short.

Hearing brilliant and inspiring authors I admire speak including Judy Blume, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Libba Bray (who rocked killer silver sneakers and who is inspiring no matter where and when I meet her).

Seeing my friends from college after many, many years apart.

Witnessing my editor Julie talk about my book on her panel—and surely blushing at the compliments, and definitely feeling extra-special and honored and thrilled to be a part of her list, along with John Green and Gayle Forman and Stephanie Perkins and Emily Wing Smith and Nina LaCour and more.

• Did I mention Nina LaCour?? Meeting an author whose book I love, love, love—Nina LaCour, author of Hold Still—while wearing PAJAMAS. (Only I was wearing the pajamas; she had on normal clothes.) She is lovely. I can’t wait to read her new book, coming Spring 2012, called The Disenchantments.

• And related, hanging out with my editor WHILE WEARING PAJAMAS—while, again, she wore normal clothes. (Here I should probably point out that I was not idly wandering the hotel grounds in pajamas; the Saturday night gala had a “pajama party” theme.) Still, it’s best to appear professional and put-together in front of your editor, especially when you’re writing a novel imminently due on her desk, isn’t it? Well, all that went out the window Saturday night.

Hosting the recording of a podcast for Authors Are Rockstars in my hotel room with authors Cindy Pon, Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Suzanne Young, and attempting to not say anything stupid. Did I succeed? Here, have a listen!

Admiring the view at night from my hotel room’s balcony:

Trying to calm the nerves and get ready for my book signing—at Once Upon a Time books in Montrose, California, with authors Cindy Pon, Holly Goldeberg Sloan, and Suzanne Young! Here are some photos from the event:

The display in the window! (Or, as best as I could get a picture of it, with the glare.)
The event organizer, Alyson Beecher, speaking while Holly, me, and Suzanne look on. Photo thanks to Alethea Allarey.
Me reading IMAGINARY GIRLS… photo thanks to Jenn Reads Fiction.
Q&A time… Cindy, Holly, me, Suzanne… photo thanks to Alethea Allarey.
Signing books. Thanks for the photo, Jenn Reads Fiction!
And one last one signing books, with Lauren from 365 Days of Reading!

Thank you so much to everyone involved with Bridge to Books for organizing such a great event and making it possible for me to do a bookstore signing while in town for the conference!

Returning to the hotel after the signing and collapsing on my bed, in the dark, for an hour… it was a big day for me. I’m a shy person at heart and all the public-author things are hard on me!

Helping my editor teach her intensive class—and bringing the class cookies. My editor was teaching an intensive class on revision the Monday after the main conference ended, and you won’t believe this, but she asked me to help her! We shared our editorial correspondence for Imaginary Girls: every edit letter and response, going through all the five rounds we spent revising the book. Getting the chance to read those letters back after the book was done and undeniably out in the world was truly one of the more surreal experiences of this conference. And then knowing all these strangers could read my edit letters and emails to Julie, too, pieces I never thought anyone else but me, Julie, and Michael would see… I hope they found what we shared helpful. I know it was an honor to be at the head of the class with Julie and talk about our process turning the book into what it was meant to be. I still can’t believe I got to do it.

Getting room service and pocketing all the jam. Personally, I think you must get room service at least once when you stay in a nice hotel. I ordered breakfast the day I was to do the session with Michael and Julie in the morning and the bookstore event in the afternoon. If any day deserved room service, it was that one! I ate breakfast in bed, and lounged around, and it sure helped me relax before going out and talking in front of a whole load of people.

Hanging out and meeting many, many people in the lobby. I’m not often a social creature, but for some reason I wanted to be at this conference. I got to talk to many people in the lobby and bar area of the hotel—and put faces to those I know from Twitter. I know there are quite a few people, too, who I missed meeting! I wish I could have met everyone.

Getting inspired. There were numerous moments during the conference where I felt on fire and ready to return to my novel. This conference is a rewarding, motivating experience, and if you’re a member of SCBWI, I really think you should try to go at least once. I may never go again… but I’m so thrilled I got to be there this year.

Sneaking in a couple hours here and there of writing. And even with all of the above going on, I still found a couple hours to write. There was one moment, at night, when I was down in the lobby writing in a comfy chair near an outlet (to avoid being too close to my comfy bed and being tempted to curl up in it) when I pounded out the rest of a difficult scene amid the crowds, and maybe it was the energy of the place, of the weekend, of the people, that fueled me, but it was quite a moment.

• Packing up with the determination to finish my novel THIS MONTH.

And finally…

Seeing a lightning storm flashing through the night-lit clouds as I flew home.

What am I forgetting? A great deal, I’m sure. It was a whirlwind weekend and I still can’t be sure much of it even happened.

I’m glad I went. Thank you, SCBWI and Julie and Michael and Once Upon a Time and Bridge to Books and Authors Are Rockstars and everyone and anyone I might be forgetting!

Next up? Oblong Books in Rhinebeck for a Hudson Valley YA Society Event with Micol Ostow this Sunday!

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