SCBWI L.A. Conference – August 5-8, 2011

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8-6-11 Jay Asher, Dianne de Las Casas & Jason Roer


It’s been more than a week since I arrived in Los Angeles (Century City) for the 40th annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. OMG. It was a WOW weekend of superstar authors, awesome agents, excellent editors, and fun friends. This recap is going to be a long one because there was just so much to take away! Unfortunately, my camera was on the fritz so I had to use my iPhone 3GS too (without a flash) so some of the pictures are less than stellar. To begin…

Thursday, August 4, 2011 – The Arrival
This year, I was staying with Kat Yeh and Joyce Wan, two fabulous authors from NYC. We had a great room on the 10th floor of the Hyatt Century Plaza overlooking the pool and the MGM building.

8-4-11 The view from our 10th floor balcony at the Hyatt Century Plaza in L.A.

Kat, Joyce, and I headed out for eats at the nearby Westfield Mall which has a “Dining Terrace,” filled with tons of multicultural foods for a reasonable price. The ramen was my FAVE!!

8-4-11 Kat Yeh, Dianne de Las Casas, and Joyce Wan just arriving at SCBWI

Friday, August 5, 2011 – Day 1

8-5-11 Bruce Coville inspires everyone with lots of wise advice

The Friday morning opening keynote was given by Bruce Coville. He gave some very sage advice on becoming a successful author. My favorites were:

“Take storytelling lessons.”
“Take voice and singing lessons.”
“Scare yourself. Take yourself to the edge of discomfort. Be fearless.”
“Take your work seriously but take yourself lightly. Rise above your own best work.”
“Embrace the unfinished chord. It is not knowing that is more powerful than knowing.”

Jerry Pinkney was the next speaker and he talked about how his family history inspired his art. I then went to a breakout session with Debra Dorfman, V.P. Publisher of paperbacks, non-fiction, and licensed publishing at Scholastic Books. It was interesting to see how a title is treated after it is acquired at Scholastic, the steps it goes through to become part of the Scholastic Book Club and the Scholastic Book Fairs.

The afternoon panel featured five publishers talking about the “state of the union” of publishing. The message was that there is always room for excellence, even in a changing world and that they are looking for books that break the mold.

8-5-11 The incredibly hilarious Libba Bray

Libba Bray was the first afternoon keynote and boy was she uproariously funny. She talked about how “writing it wrong” helped authors to get it right. My favorite Libba quotes:

“Embrace the suck!” (The crowd guffawed at this.)
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
“Readers are not trends. They are readers.”
“Getting it wrong is a necessary part of getting it right.”

Then it was time for the last breakout session of the day. I chose Katie Davis‘ “Podcasting Your Way to Success.” She talked about using social media to build a platform as an author and went through the steps on how to create a podcast.

8-5-11 Emma Dryden on Traveling Through the Digital Landscape

The last keynote of the afternoon was the ever informative Emma Dryden. She talked about traveling the digital landscape of publishing. Though the publishing industry is changing, books still matter. She said:

“The digital world is reshaping the book business. Print is not going away for the sake of digital.”
“The publishing industry is evolving right before our eyes.”
“Picture books do matter. Picture books still do sell.”

Thank you for reassuring us, Emma!

8-5-11 Cheri Williams and Dianne de Las Casas at the PAL Book Sale

That evening, it was time for the SCBWI P.A.L. (Published and Listed) Book Sale. It was a cocktail reception and book sale for the published members of SCBWI, who were not on the program. I am happy to say that I sold out of my new book, The House That Witchy Built, illustrated by Holly Stone-Barker.

8-5-11 The ever-cool Illustrator E.B. Lewis

Later, it was time to schmooze in the lobby! I got to hang out with all my friends (Ellen Hopkins, Kristin Clark Venuti, Cheri Williams, Rachel Ann Marks) and even made new ones (The Hilts Brothers). Here I am with my roommates, Kat Yeh and Joyce Wan, with the amazing illustrator, E.B. Lewis.

8-6-11 Kat Yeh, E.B. Lewis, Joyce Wan & Dianne de Las Casas

Saturday, August 6, 2011 – Day 2
I attended every session on Friday so I admit that I was a bit burned out. I opted to sleep in and I missed Donna Jo Napoli. I caught the tail end of David Small‘s keynote. He was so cute dancing to “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You.”

Then something extraordinary happened. We had a surprise guest!!! It was… Judy Blume!

8-6-11 Lin Oliver interviews surprise guest, the legendary Judy Blume

John Green, Author of Looking for Alaska, was supposed to be our keynote. Unfortunately, he had gallstone surgery and SCBWI had to fill his slot. So they brought us a spectacular substitute!! Lin Oliver interviewed the legendary, life-changing author, Judy Blume. Judy received a standing ovation BEFORE she was interviewed. Here are my favorite Judy Blume quotes:

“Get yourself though it and write a whole draft.”
“I know I start a book on the day something different happens.”
“The stuff that matters, that works for your readers, comes from deep, deep inside.”
“The first time I was rejected, I went into a closet and cried.”
On revising: “It never gets any easier. The only thing that gets easier for me is that I know how to do this.”
“Whatever way works for you is the right way.”
“You don’t think about the audience. If it’s good, it will find an audience.”
“I don’t think about my legacy. That’s dangerous. But I want a tombstone that says, ‘Are you there God? It’s me, Judy.'”

8-6-11 Carrell Gueringer, Denise Fleming & Dianne de Las Casas

Sometimes things happen for a reason. I was on my way to a breakout session on books, e-books, and apps when I saw my friend, Carrell Gueringer, talking to picture book author Denise Fleming, whom I adore. I met Denise and we took pictures. Then we all saw HER. Judy Blume!! I introduced myself to Judy (we’ve tweeted a couple of times) and I got to take this adorable picture of her.

8-6-11 The Amazing Judy Blume!!!

OMG. I met Judy Blume!! She was so sweet and I can’t believe she is 73 years old!! That was definitely a conference high for me. I don’t often get fan-girlish but I felt fluttery around Judy Blume!

Then it was time for lunch. Denise Fleming, Kari-Lynn Winters, Valerie (sorry – I forgot your last name!), and I headed to the Dining Terrace at the mall next door for some food. I had yummy ramen and totally fell in love with Denise Fleming. We all had a blast at lunch. Because I spent so much time with Denise, I missed Jon Scieszka’s afternoon keynote. But sometimes, the stars align in a different pattern than you planned and the sky is even more brilliant than you imagined. That’s how I felt about meeting Denise Fleming and hanging out with her. What a fabulous lady. Kari-Lynn Winters is my newest BFF and I totally LOVE her too! She’s such a hoot!

8-6-11 Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth, inspires the crowd with his accidental foray into children's books

The afternoon keynote was by Norton Juster, the author of The Phantom Tollbooth, a brilliant book! Norton Juster said, “Playing with words was my great disease.” He ended his keynote with a reading of “Prinderella,” a hilarious spoonerism story.

Later that afternoon, I went to Verla Kay‘s workshop on promoting yourself using the Internet. Verla was so sweet she included ME in her slideshow!

8-6-11 Dianne de Las Casas & Lisa Rondinelli Albert tear up the stage at the 40 Winks PJ Gala. Photo courtesy of Joyce Wan.

Then, IT WAS TIME… for the 40 Winks Gala!! And it was a pajama party! My stupid camera wasn’t working so I didn’t get any pictures. 🙁 I didn’t see anything scandalous but there were some crazy cool costumes! The Princess and the Pea won first prize. The princess was actually wearing a BED, yes a bed!! There was bunny costume from “A Christmas Story” and Max’s wolf suit from Where the Wild Things Are. I danced on the DJ’s stage the whole night long!! After the party was done, we moved the after-party to the X-Bar, a bar connected to the Hyatt. There, I danced with my roommates, Kat and Joyce, Michelle Parker-Rock, Lisa Rodinelli Albert, Rachel Ann Marks, Cheri Williams, and lots of other FUN people! It was a FABULOUS night!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011 – Day 3
On my third day into the conference, I was burning out (actually, my feet burned from dancing in stilettos all night!). I opted to sleep in. I missed the agents’ panel and Gary Paulsen‘s talk. But the great thing about the SCBWI conference in this digital age is that you can relive the moments through other authors’ tweets and blogs! I’m really sorry I missed Gary Paulsen. I heard that he lived in the Philippines (where I was born and where my mom is from) and can speak Tagalog!

I went to Jon Scieszka‘s workshop on “Experimenting with Multi-Platform Storytellling.” It was very interesting to hear him talk about his new series, Spaceheadz. He is so crazy and genius at the same time. His new series encourages media literacy for kids, highlighting access, analysis, evaluation, and creation. Later that night, I got to talk to Jon at length and I totally fell in love with him (in a writerly way). He’s gracious, witty, and fun. I’m mad that I forgot to take pics!! Ugh.

8-7-11 The incredible dessert to celebrate SCBWI's 40th anniversary at the Golden Kite Awards Luncheon

At noon, it was time for the Golden Kite Awards Luncheon. My friend, Michelle Parker-Rock won 2011 SCBWI Member of the Year. Woo hoo, Michelle!! Tanya Lee Stone was the non-fiction Golden Kite winner for The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie. My good friend, Jenni Holm, was the Golden Kite fiction winner for her Newbery Honor book, Turtle in Paradise. In her speech, Jenni said, “You are my family. You are my people.” Yay, Jenni! Rukhsana Khan won the Golden Kite for picture book text for her book, The Big Red Lollipop. She is an amazing storyteller – she had the audience riveted. The Sid Fleischman Award for humor went to Alan Silberberg for his book, Milo: Sticky Notes & Brain Freeze. Alan made me laugh and cry and laugh again. I was sooo moved by his speech! I talked to him in the lobby later that night and he is every bit as warm, caring, and funny as he is on stage. The Golden Kite for picture book illustration went to Salley Mavor for her book, Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. Such beautiful bas relief fabric and embroidery!

Then we had a surprise guest! The eloquent Richard Peck embellished the stage with his funny rhetoric. Some golden nuggets and funny quotes from Richard:

“A writer’s secret: A story is always about something that never happened to the author.”
“We do not write what we know. We write what we can find out about.”
“Tweets and texts bomb the ruins of our language.”
“Every book begins in the library with the hope that it will end there.”

So Richard Peck does not like Twitter. Oh well. He’ll never have to revise his words to 140 concise characters. LOL

After the luncheon, I headed over to Emma Dryden and Harold Underdown‘s workshop on social media. I ducked out before it ended because of an oncoming migraine, which caused me to miss LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON! Crud. Anyway, social media? I have a handle on. I am really sorry I missed Laurie’s amazing and inspiring (so I heard) keynote.

8-7-11 Dianne de Las Casas & Nuria Coe, both mommies of daughters named Eliana!!

That evening, I went to dinner the Pink Taco for the Kidlit Drink Night organized (in part) by the fabulous Lee Wind. I LOVE me some Lee!! I went with Kat Yeh and Joyce Wan, my roomies. I met another author named Nuria Coe. Like me, she has a daughter named ELIANA! How coincidental is that? Our daughter’s middle names are similar too. It gave us both the chills. I met some fabulous people at the Kidlit Mixer and had the most delicious crispy brisket tacos. Mmmm!

Then it was back to the hotel lobby for my last night of SCBWI schmoozing. I met up with my friends, Jenni Holm and Katie Davis. I talked with the cool Dan Santat and met the amazing Alan Silverberg. I also spoke with Greg Pincus and Jim Averbeck — totally great guys. Then I bumped into my soul sistah, Samantha Berger. I totally missed hangout time with her this conference but at least we got to hang in the lobby for a little bit. To top off this amazing conference, like I said earlier, I talked at length to the phenomenal Jon Scieszka. Although he is a kidlit rockstar, Jon is totally approachable, gracious, and unpretentious.

I met so many amazing writers, illustrators, and authors. I know I didn’t list you all but I hope you know that, in the words of Jenni Holm, “You are my people.” Thank you for being a part of this wonderful tribe called “Kidlit.”

It was an uplifting, inspiring, kidlit star-studded weekend of tears, laughter, and hugs. Thank you, Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser, for creating SCBWI. You have enriched us for 40 years. Here’s looking at 40 more!!

Until next time…

Warmly, Dianne