This past Saturday I woke up earlier than I thought was physically possible, drank too much coffee, and drove to New Jersey for the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference, sponsored by the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature. This was my first time going. I was excited, nervous, and curious at the same time.
Each attendee at the conference was paired with someone in the children's book field-- an editor, art director, agent, author or illustrator-- for a 45 minute one-on-one mentoring session. Later, groups of five mentors and mentees met to discuss questions anyone might have. There was lunch and a panel of speakers. Throughout the day mentees were encouraged to seek out people who might be interested in their work and introduce themselves. It was intense. (Especially for an introvert!) But it wasn't as intimidating as I'd thought it might be. Everyone was friendly and approachable.
The morning of the conference we found out who our mentors were. I almost fell off my chair when I learned that I'd been paired with Alvina Ling, Senior Editor at Little, Brown. I knew who she was from the Blue Rose Girls blog and from some of the fabulous books she's worked on. I was thrilled!
Alvina offered helpful insight and suggestions about some of the stories I've been working on. You know that "a-ha!" feeling when somebody says just the right words and suddenly a door to a new solution opens? That's how I felt. We also talked about my portfolio. The conversation was very, very encouraging!
The panel speakers were full of good tips, such as-- figure out how old you are inside when creating a story and find the best way to leverage that. Go for the "psychological verisimilitude," the truth, at the core of your story and strengthen it. And no matter how much technology changes the way we read books in the future, it will always be story that matters.
Judy Freeman did a wonderful book talk (with music) including a hilarious segment on-- groan-- celebrity children's books. (I thought she was kidding about this. Sadly, not.)
All in all it was an inspiring day. Isn't that usually how it is when people who love children's books get together?