Here are my notes from the LA conference. They are a mix and jumble of inspiration and tips on craft and are not direct quotes unless you see quote marks (and even then, a word or two could be missing if they talked faster than I could scribble notes). The pictures with this post are the doodles I drew in my notebook while taking notes. There were birds on the cover of the notebook and a bird on the back side of each page, but there weren’t any birds on the front of the pages, you know, where I was writing and would have been able to actually see the birds. So I drew my own birdies on top of and around the little non-birdie flower design.
M.T. Anderson (keynote)
- Does some things just for artistic pleasure, not necessarily for the book or for marketing.
- “Those books that take us away from what we expect show us the world anew.”
- “Don’t be afraid of your eccentricities.” (Love that quote!)
Courtney Bongiolatti (on boy books)
- Recommended Guys Read website.
- She also recommended that you know your genre. Are you writing
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery, Humorous Mystery, Sports, School
Stories, Historical Fiction, Combination of Genres, Relatable, or Out of
- Boy books should have a boy main character, be about a kid that the reader wants to be like, and have series potential.
Carolyn Mackler (on characters)
- Quirks, details and language help define characters. Make them consistent throughout the book.
- Writing exercise: What does your character keep hidden in their
underwear drawer, and if nothing, where do they hide things and what do
- “Number one challenge is figuring out what to omit. What you omit is more important than what you keep in the story.”
E.B. Lewis (keynote)
- “Keep forging forward – there is life after you feel like the inspiration has died.”
- “As artists you need to fill yourself up to overflowing and then give it all back.”
Gail Carson Levine (keynote)
- If a character is going to change, we have to see how it happens (the set up) or understand later how it came to be.
- Grow in the writing – as you write you get to know your characters better and develop them through writing.
- Writing exercise: 3 characters are getting ready for school. How
does each one prepare? Reveal the thoughts and feelings of each; they
should all be different.
Jon Scieszka (stories across multiple media)
- Websites, blogs, etc. that are mentioned in the book are live and
each character has their own online presence. (Talking about his
- Multimedia platform books are a hard sell even for an established
author, but more publishers are starting to look for these books.
- Fully half of his budget for the project goes for online efforts (the publisher pays someone to do the web stuff).
- His books stand alone without the web stuff so that schools and kids without web access can still read and enjoy the books.
Gennifer Choldenko (being your own best editor + keynote)
- “What you experience while you’re writing, we’ll experience as we’re reading.”
- “Every detail must work within the context of the world you created (essential part of every novel, not just fantasy).”
- “To make your novel fulfilling, you have to get to the emotional core.”
- “Start on a new project before revising the last one.” (Need multiple projects/ideas.)
- “Good work takes time and major revisions.”
- “If you find yourself not wanting to work on a chapter or a
storyline, that’s a clue. Go where the heat is because if the heat is
there for you, it will be there for the reader.”
Rachel Vail (keynote)
- Middle grade is where you start to go out and notice the larger world, not just your small family.
- “Life or Death moments are a dime a dozen in middle grade.”
- “Voice sometimes comes later after you’ve done a lot of work/pages.”
- Many middle grade and chapter books have a one act play structure.
Linda Sue Park – I was fortunate to be able to take the MG premium workshop with Linda Sue Park. Here are some gems from those sessions:
- In middle grade: “They’re learning that the world isn’t fair. What
are they going to do about it? The world isn’t fair, but that doesn’t
mean it has to be miserable.”
- Character (for her) has no substance without setting. Mix/balance
emotions and setting with what makes them specific vs. what makes them
universal. Setting helps make it specific.
- Character should have an internal and an external quest.
Internal=what character needs (character development). External=what
character wants (plot). Internal quest should be subtle.
- “Story doesn’t take place inside someone’s head; it takes place in the world.”
- Need to think about balance. Stuff can’t always just happen to them
– character needs to make things happen. Plot progresses because of
choices that the character makes that cause action.
- How much space in your story do you want to give to something out
of the character’s control where they can’t act or react? (Probably not
much. Example: getting swept down a river.) The reader is waiting for
the character to act or react.
- “If your flashback is too long, maybe it’s not a flashback – it’s called flash.”
- Chapters are usually similar size. Short chapters make for quicker read and makes more impact.
- Love the process and what you’re doing. Enjoy the moments and the writing whether you get published or not.