Laurie Halse Anderson

On Sunday, Laurie Halse Anderson, one of my all time favourite YA authors gave an inspiring keynote speech to close the official part of the conference. She talked about Daring the Universe and I came away believing that pretty much anything was possible.

At the end of the day it was time to hit the Pink Taco again to eat more great food and spend time with new illustrator and author friends.

The conference finished on Sunday but heaps of authors and illustrators stayed on to enjoy a host of 3 hour intensive workshops on the Monday.

At 9.00am we started our Roundtable critics where we were placed on a round table with 7 other authors and an editor. Ours was Julie Strauss-Gabel.

By happy coincidence one of the other authors on my table was my online writing buddy, Lia Keyes. At the roundtable, we had the first 500 words of our manuscript critiqued.

This was an interesting process to learn about how other critiqued but I must admit I didn’t get much feedback on my piece. Each piece only had 12 minutes allocated to it so by the time all the authors had their say there wasn’t much time left for the editor. I think to be honest, that most authors attend sessions like this looking for crit from editors – not from other authors. They can do this with their crit buddies or writer’s groups without going to a conference.

Online writing buddy, Lia Keyes

Nevertheless, it was really interesting to me to see how Editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel could sum things up so quickly from just a couple of pages and provide constructive feedback on each piece on diverse things from plot to character, to genre etc.

Before the intensives started, there was a panel of Allyn Johnston, Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Alessandra Blazer, Vice President, Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins and Jennifer Hunt, Vice President of Acquisition and Development, and Editor-at-Large for Dial Books for Young Readers.

They had a discussion about the things to look for when critiquing someone’s work:

  • Voice
  • Characterisation
  • Setting
  • Dialogue
  • Pacing
  • Can you imagine the character sitting next to you?

Ellen Hopkins

In the afternoon was the intensive I’d been looking forward to all conference on writing verse novels with Ellen Hopkins. I’m a huge admirer of Ellen’s work and she inspired me to write a verse novel after she attended SCBWI Sydney in 2008.

Since having my verse novel rejected I have been trying to rewrite it as a prose novel but haven’t ever been happy with the outcome. I was hoping that Ellen’s workshop would give me some clarity and it did.

Ellen talked about the unique features of the verse novel.

White space allows the reader to stop, take a breath and think about what they have just read.

She talked about the fact that in “Verse as Narrative”, verse and story are interdependent, verse novels are not about breaking prose into short lines and neither is the verse novel a collection of poems with a common theme.

She talked about imagery, theme, voice and form and about making careful word choices. She had some great practical exercises to help us look at character motivations and the purpose of scenes.

I came away feeling so inspired and with a much better understanding of the differences in verse novels and why they work for some things and not others.

After a full day of intensives, all the RAs and presenters headed off to Lin Oliver’s party and most other authors and illustrators headed home.


Blanche Baxter (my Twitter buddy) and I decided to go in search of a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Beverly Hills. After so much time spent inside we opted for the 45 minute walk to the restaurant we had picked out.

I loved this grass. My bunnies would have too:)

It was my first chance to absorb the sites and sounds of LA and the quirky differences between US and Australia. Blanche laughed when I told her that in Australia, a sign saying Curb your dog would not indicate you needed to pick up its poo, it would be a sign to tie it to the curb.

We also had a discussion about the hipsters in USA (cool people) and the fact that a hipster in Australia is a piece of underwear.

We dined vegetarian at a Thai restaurant where the Pad Thai was comparable to something you’d buy in Australia but way cheaper.

They don't have these signs Downunder

Another late night. On Tuesday morning I wished my roomie happy birthday then said goodbye as she was heading off on an early flight. Then I went back to bed where I had an hour’s glorious sleep.

I’m sitting at the airport as I write this. Can’t wait to get home to my hubby, Mike and the boys and see all my writerly friends and share all the news.

Footnote:            Another thing I learned in LA. The bar fridges have a sensor so every time you move something it gets charged to your room. Buying salad and fruit from the local grocer for lunch and turfing the alcohol out of the fridge led to $120 being added to my bill. Fortunately the hotel deducted it. From that day we hired an empty fridge for $5 a day.


Landing in LA


Travelling to LA for the 2011 SCBWI conference was my first experience in time travel. I left Melbourne at 10.45am on Thursday morning and arrived in LA at 8.00am Thursday morning, nearly three hours earlier.

After a seriously long time in customs where I was fingerprinted and thankfully passed the test, unlike a lady in her late sixties who was taken away for further investigation because her fingerprints were too faint.

As soon as I hopped on the shuttle bus from the airport, it became clear that two of the occupants were travelling to the conference and one of them seemed familiar to me. She turned out to be the lovely Blanche Baxter, a twitter buddy who had tweeted me just the day before saying, “Can’t wait to meet you at the conference.” It seemed that fate couldn’t wait either. Freaky that Blanche was the first person I should meet in a contingent of over 1300 people.

First day of the conference was slightly overwhelming. I knew Blanche and 3 other people out of 1300. The lobby was filled with hugging, squeeing writers and illustrators catching up with people they’d met at previous conferences or somewhere along the road on their creative journey.

A favourite place to hang out

I met a bunch of great writers from all over USA and dined with them at the Pink Taco where I learned that English can be a problem for Australians in America.

When I ordered my meal I was asked whether I would like it WET. I looked at the waiter blankly and asked, “Does that mean you spray it with water”

No, it means served with a spicy chocolate sauce that sounded weird but tasted really good.

I was served up the largest burrito I’d ever seen and seeing as I hadn’t eaten since hopping off the plane, I consumed more than I expected.

Over 30 hours after I left Australia, I made it to bed at 10.30 pm


Up at 6.30am and time to enjoy LA from my hotel balcony before focussing for a big day of sessions.


Bruce Coville opened the day with an inspiring talk about why what we do matters.

His big tips were:

  1. Take acting and storytelling lessons
  2. Take voice and singing lessons
  3. Take your art seriously – treat it as a business
  4. Read contracts – With Warranty Clause – make sure it doesn’t have ‘alleged’ in it.
  5. Learn to read your royalty statements
  6. Learn to negotiate
  7. Provide for your retirement
  8. Insure yourself
  9. Never throw anything away
  10. Take holidays from writing
  11. Scare yourself – take on assignments that frighten you
  12. Take risks
  13. Make your own rules
  14. Take your art seriously but take yourself lightly
  15. Accept compliments
  16. Don’t be afraid to show your art
  17. Embrace the unfinished chord – story with unfinished strand – don’t have to spell out all the answers for the reader. Give the reader something they can’t stop thinking about
  18. Don’t start with a message. Start with your own good heart
  19. Not knowing can be more powerful than knowing

Conference venue and where I stayed

His session was amazing but by now after nearly 20 hours without sleep thanks to the time zone differences, I was starting to hit the brick wall. So I skipped the next keynote and took some quiet time in my room where I met my wonderful roomie for the first time, Joyce Ragland, RA for Missouri and thoroughly nice person.

Prior to the conference we had only corresponded on Facebook and by email so it was great to be so at ease with each other right from the start.

I’m going to be blogging about the conference all this week. So feel free to come back here tomorrow and find out about podcasting from Katie Davis and about Donna Jo Napoli‘s amazing keynote on censorship and  How Writing About Terrible Things Makes Your Reader A Better Person.

I’d also love to hear your comments on the conference, LA, or the writing life in general.

Have to say I have come back feeling so inspired…but more about that later.

Happy writing:)