Since beginning my “serious” writing career four years ago, I have attended multiple writing events, both SCBWI and other (Book Expo America, Independent Book Store Events, Library Conferences, you name it). Truth be told, I’ve become a bit of a conference junkie. Last year I cooled it a bit, what with selling one house, moving across the state and trying to find another one in our ruthlessly small town. But this year I’m back. My second event of the year was my second NorCal SCBWI event and what an event it was.

First, let me just say my writing buddy, Linda Boyden, and I wore tiaras on the way there keeping with her family tradition. It’s a good way to begin.

Writers conferences are just plain inspiring and this was no exception. What this one had that many don’t have though, was such a sense of friendly mixed with professionalism, that I am stumped to find a comparison.

First time Co-RAs Erin Dealey and Patti Newman were organized and inclusive as proved by the the matrix of volunteer duties! The conference sold out at 175 and they managed to incorporate about 16 volunteers into the mix.

First time Spirit Conference goer, I was pleased to be included. (Not everybody is as good at delegating as the Nor Cal Co-RAs.) The night before the conference, volunteer Catherine Felt had a group of fellow helpers over to her house for spaghetti. We met a group of new friends and were able to have some circle time talking to a group of other writers over dinner.

The next day started very early with us picking up Brian Farrey (Flux) and Mary Rodgers (Lerner) at their hotel and driving them to the Rocklin Sunset Center where we would then pitch them in a pitch-a-thon. Luckily, they were both very friendly and easy to be with although that did not stop my voice from shaking at an 8.4 while delivering my pitch. (Embarrassing!) Throughout the conference, both Mary and Brian added so much with their perspectives on their respective houses and with those details you don’t get by reading blog interviews. While this looks like it could be an improv act, here they are explaining the ins and outs of their houses in “Meet the Editors”.

The conference appealed to writers and illustrators at all levels because breakout sessions were carefully calibrated. There was a pitch-a-thon for PAL (published and listed) members at the same time as nuts and bolts for beginners. Breakout sessions covered building a plot, synopsis, book trailer, first page, artists’ best of show, art sample critiques, an inside look at publishing houses and what the editors are looking for, how to use social media and a packed out revisions. (When I say packed out I mean sitting on the floor room only, as proved by this shot of Jean DuPrau, author of City of Embers, which ironically I had just finished reading with my eleven year old son. I told Jean I would always remember her by her feet because that’s where I was sitting.)

The conference wrapped with a Q&A, manuscript consult handout and clean up. A post conference dinner at PF Changs was a great way to debrief, cheers to a great conference and talk about what to do next year. I’ll be first to sign up.

(In this shot Kris McLeod–artist extraordinaire; Cheri Williams, writer and my co-shepherd in the first page synopsis session; and Brian Farrey, Flux.)