Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs: SCBWI’s Western Washington Wonderfulness
It has something to do with the mountain air. Or maybe it’s the ocean. My theory? It’s the rain. When you live in the Pacific Northwest there must be something in the sheer plethora of water that falls in sheet, drifts, mists, and sprinkles. A quality that lends the upcoming authors and illustrators there an extra bit of creativity or chutzpah.
Whatever it might be, my first visit into SCBWI land (SCBWI = Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) was problematic. I mean, talk about a bar being set way too high! I was invited to speak at the regional conference to the Western Washington chapter of the society. And from what I saw, this particular chapter contains volunteers and members that are endowed with a kind of unnatural fervor and energy (even while pregnant) that blows away me simple little mind. This was to be their 17th Annual Writing and Illustrating for Children Conference and my job was simple.
Give three one-hour talks with Powerpoints on three different subjects.
Judge six manuscripts.
- Conduct one panel discussion with what was described in the schedule as "The 2007 Newbery Dream Team", consisting of Susan Patron, Cynthia Lord, Kirby Larson, and the disembodied voice of Jennifer L. Holm.
It does not hurt matters that I was invited by a team of equal dreamy proportions headed by Sara Easterly, Jolie Stekly, Jaime Temairik, and Laurie Thompson. A running gag during the conference would be each presenter’s surprise at just how organized this conference was.
I was a little baffled at my own presence too. Look at it from my point of view. I’m a children’s librarian, right? I am not fellow presenter Arthur A. Levine, a.k.a. Harry Potter’s daddy. I am not Mo Willems or Laini Taylor or Jim DiBartolo or Chris Crutcher (all of whom were in attendance). I am from New York, sure, and that’s nice and all but I was finding myself presenting alongside some pretty biggies in the field. But maybe children’s literary blogs are getting more attention these days. Who’s to say? In any case, if they weren’t going to figure out that I was the fish out of water, I sure as heck wasn’t going to alert them to the fact.
Friday consisted of arriving from New York via Delta. On the flight I was reminded of the recent Onion opinion piece, I Can’t Imagine Why Anybody Would Want to Stop Crying. Sublime. Now New York had been experiencing hazy lazy pseudo-summer days (or so my air conditioned-bereft workplace informed me) but Seattle was far cooler in comparison. I made the tactical error of wearing brown strappy sandals and ONLY brown strappy sandals for the duration of my visit. Apparently slipping a single pair of shoes and socks into my suitcase is beyond me. Such a pity. Cynthia Lord, in comparison, thought the weather positively balmy. She had woken up to fly at the ungodly hour of 2:30 in morning so as to come from Maine to New York and then on my own flight with me to Seattle. To her, Seattle was a paragon of spring and green. To me it was a surprisingly, if bracingly, cold town.
After being wined and dined by our hosts we proceeded onto my Kidlit Drink Night. I say “my” Kidlit Drink Night with more than a little presumption as the place itself had been suggested by organizer Sara Easterly. Now in New York when a group of adults wish to stand around and consume vast quantities of intoxicating beverages in a noisy environment, we simply call up the nearest bar, reserve a room for free, and badda bing, badda boom. Instant party. In Bellevue, a bizarre suburb of Seattle, this was not a possibility. Visiting the bar in question, I soon saw why. The Parlor was a rather large establishment located in a very big mall. It was the kind of mall bar where they card you, stamp your wrist (the Tigger stamp seemed oddly appropriate for the event), and allow you wander about aimlessly inside. Well, as we entered someone thought to ask if we could get a space, and yet again we were told that it would be an hourly fee. “Hourly fee” and “library salary” are not terms that coexist peaceably in this world and so I was perfectly content to let us crash their bar when a waitress came up to us.
“Do you want the Ultra Lounge?”
Do I want the Ultra Lounge? I do not know what the Ultra Lounge is. Sounded like something akin to dangerous substances, go-go girls, and tweed. But hey, sure, when in Rome. The Ultra Lounge appeared to be free and so we traipsed back to the end of the bar to find a magnificent and very large open space available for our partying. I was delighted and the noise level (at least by New York standards) was more than perfectly suited to our needs.
Happily we gathered and here are some pictures from that very red hour. The one up top features half a Jim Averbeck, Jim Di Bartolo, Laini Taylor, me, Jaime Temairik, and Kimberly Baker. This one is with a flash:
(That’s author Joni Sensel of Reality Leak walking in). And these are without flash, hence the foggy red glow.
Of course, one of the seeming benefits of the day was that I had not given a name or a credit card. Therefore there wouldn’t be any way that anyone would get stuck with a bill for the evening. It seemed perfect. What I hadn’t counted on was the sneaky waitress taking our orders. At some point she told perfectly lovely Newbery Honor winning author Kirby Larson that she needed a credit card to take her order. It sounded reasonable, but what she FAILED to tell Kirby was that she would be handing the entire cost of our drinks onto that same card. That meant that Ms. Larson was put in the position of having to go about finding what people ordered from the waitress. So if you attended this event and found that no one ever asked you to pay for your beer, go pay Ms. Larson for your bar tab. She assured me that it all worked out but she is also the nicest human being alive and I am inclined to believe that she and her lovely husband (shown here counting it up) may have paid for more than their share.
That aside, it was great getting to meet a variety of different people who had turned out for the event. We were able to spot our crew pretty quickly. Basically if anyone walked in the room and was not “on the make” they were with us. Ditto if they looked halfway intelligent. We did not get to play any billiards, but that’s quite all right. There was a theory brewing at one point that Marcia Wernick was a ringer anyway.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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