Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Thursday, August 27, 2009

SCBWI Episode, part B

If you're a math person (which I'm OBVIOUSLY not), you may have noticed that the math on that last post didn't quite add up: 7 people x 20 minutes for credit-card processing plus 40 minutes for the girl's fight with the driver, plus time to get lost over and over and get from point A (LAX) to point B (Central City), doesn't exactly = 2 hours.

Ok. I admit I exaggerated. For the sake of the story. Or maybe I didn't stretch things all that much. Because I wasn't the seventh passenger, I was the sixth, and I paid in cash (it took no more than 30 seconds, tops) which means it was only 5x20. Which adds up pretty well. Except for getting lost and driving time.

And the swearing. That might have sped things up. The driver was pretty mad and driving REALLY fast by then. Then, if the wind speed was 30 mph and the driver was heading into the wind 40% of the time, how long did it take?

You'll be tested on this later. But not by me. By my brother, who thinks math is fun. But he doesn't read blogs, so I think we're all safe.

So...

I'm in L.A. And I have big plans for my alone time:

#1 Get up every morning at 6:00 and do triathlon training. That's 7:00 Utah time. Piece of cake.

#2 Do yoga every night. Brought my yoga videos with me, and there's a conference yoga class two of the four days. No problem

#3 Read books. Lots and lots of books.

#4 Write! I'll finally have time to write!

The reality:

#1: Happened once. I was too beat after my late night travel excitement to get up the first morning, Sunday's my rest day, and Monday the pool was closed because they were filming for some show. Would it be so wrong for me to be swimming in the background? Maybe they could work it into the story. They didn't buy that, so I didn't swim.

#2: Happened once. Went to an awesome yoga class Friday night. Don't know what happened the rest of the time.

#3: Check. I did read about half of Nancy Farmer's House of the Scorpion. In fact, I think I left it in L.A., because I couldn't find it when I went to pull it out for the return flight, which was frustrating, because I was at a really intense part. I had to go make an emergency trip to Borders as soon as I got home.

#4: Didn't happen. How? Why? I'm still asking myself. I think it was the dratted toothache. Sucked all the creative energy out of me and made me want to read and sleep instead.

9:00 am Friday morning, I grab a muffin, banana and a smoothie at Starbucks and head into the conference. I'm psyched. I keep my eyes peeled for my agent, Steve, (one of the main reasons I'm here), Sid Fleischman--one of my all-time childhood favorite authors--Karen Cushman, and Richard Peck, whose writing I love. Don't see them, and I don't spot my friends Bree Despain and Matt Kirby right away, but that's ok--there's 1,000 people in one room, it could take some time. I'm bound to run into them soon. I settle in, eating my muffin. I become aware that my tooth feels like a bomb ready to explode, so I down some Advil. Just before the meeting starts, in walks the blonde Swedish-looking dude with the long ponytail from the airport. He sits in the section reserved for the important people, like the editors and agents and Linda Sue Park and Ingrid Law, not twenty feet away from me. Weird.

The conference presenters all get up and introduce themselves with one well-chosen word each. The pony-tail dude stays in his seat. At least I'll see Steve the agent now, though he doesn't seem to be in line. I recognize one editor and the Utah chapter head, Sydney Salter, but Steve, strangely, isn't there.

Sherman Alexie speaks and is amazing. I laugh. I cry. I decide to buy his book. My tooth is reminding me that it doesn't want to be in my mouth anymore. I down more Advil.

More classes. We break for lunch. I see Ponytail Dude out in the hall. He sees me notice him and looks away. Did my husband hire him to spy on me? I'm beginning to wonder. I meet a picture book author from New York in line for a sandwich and we eat lunch together. Tooth again. Tylenol this time. Some editors speak and then I head to Richard Peck's class on setting. He greets me at the door, shakes my hand and thanks me for coming. Richard Peck! And I can't think of one thing to say. The class is awesome, his handout is fabulous, and he makes us write something on the spot--the only writing I do all conference long.

More classes, dinner time. Ugh. My tooth. More Advil and Tylenol. Still haven't seen Bree or Matt or Steve, but I'm seeing Ponytail Dude everywhere. Walk to the store and buy food to eat in my room.

Alone time! I'm going to write!

If I don't die from toothache. But by the time I down my last bite, it's time for yoga class. Be a tree! Be a happy baby! Inhale! Exhale! Relax! Send out good feelings to everyone in the room, to everyone at the conference! Aaahhh. I forget my tooth.

Alone time! I'm going to write!

All the Tylenol and Advil in my system say no, time to sleep.

Saturday I get up at 6:30 and swim and it feels awesome after an almost-completely sedentary day before. Even more awesome is Karen Cushman (Catherine Called Birdy, Midwife's Apprentice, etc.), who talks about what writing methods work for her (none of the traditional wisdom), how she got started, and a writer's responsibilities to her audience. I could almost go home now and feel great about having been here.

My tooth agrees. It wants to see my dentist NOW. Advil. Tylenol. I'm getting bounce-back headaches from all the medication now, but that's ok. Sid Fleishman's still to come.

And I'm bound to see Steve today, because he's on the schedule twice. I still haven't seen anybody from Utah, unless you count Ponytail, who's appeared in almost every large session, and in the lobby, and by the elevator. I'm half-way convinced he's a spy. Bree's editor gives her a huge shout-out in one of the 1000-person sessions, and I'm thinking, "Yeah, I know that girl. I just can't find her." And I wish I could congratulate her.

Steve is so good on the agent panel. I'm thinking, "Yeah. That's why I wanted him for my agent." He's good in the workshop, too, and talks up Matt's book big-time. Matt misses it. Probably because I'm there and I'm the anti-Matt/Bree magnet on this trip. I'm beginning to think Matthew Kirby and Bree Despain are only at this conference in spirit and their bodies have flown Otherwhere. But in the last five minutes, Matt Kirby actually walks in the door. Matt and Steve and I go out to dinner and have a great talk. This is why I'm here. To have a face-to-face conversation with Steve, so he knows me, and I know him, and I can get a better sense of what he actually thinks about my writing, etc. It's fun getting to know Matt better, too (his book, The Clockwork Three, debuts fall 2010), and besides that he kindly talks up my other book and my poetry to Steve, who gets excited and suggests I write a book of poetry for teens. Hmmm. Still thinking about that one.

I'm not even waiting for my tooth to throw tantrums at this point. I've taken piles of preventive Advil and Tylenol, and it suddenly dawns on me why I'm never hungry on this trip. I'm not sure I'm getting enough calories, but tell that to my tooth. Does it care? No. I'll make up for it after I see the dentist.

I'm feeling a little over-dosed, and I skip the Blue Moon Ball and go to bed, though my room is directly over the outside bar and a massive movie-screen size TV, and Blue Moon music is really, really loud, and it's still going when I drop off to sleep around midnight. At 3:00 am I wake to the sound of...I can't figure out what the heck it is. Somebody rolling an office chair from one end of the ceiling to the other is what it sounds like. Only magnify that sound by 10. Whee! There it is right over my head. Whee! Now it's moving over the other bed. And whee! it gets to the balcony door and stops. Now it comes back: whee! whee! whee! I'm picturing a giant three-year-old upstairs coasting back and forth with a roller chair. Or a writer with some SERIOUS writer's block. It goes on for over an hour. I weren't so tired I might throw something at the ceiling. Go to bed! Quit trying to write at 3 am!

Sunday I dodge out to spend the day with my aunt and uncle. That's a story I won't tell here, involving serious motion-sickness, reckless driving, great food, and blue toe-nail polish. I get back around 5:00 in time for the official meeting of all the Utah/Idaho people and FINALLY see Bree. And her friends Emily Wing Smith and Brodi Ashton. Who are delightful people.

Brodi: "Where have you been? You're the invisible woman. I've been all by myself while everyone else went to the Pro-track workshops!"

Someone else comes up to me, smiles, and says, "Elena? Hi, I'm Pat." Both of us laugh. Turns out, Pat only lives about 10 minutes away from me. We could have driven to the airport together.

Matt shows up and Sydney Salter, but Susan--my other supposed fellow-traveler--alas, never does. Perhaps she was kidnapped by a crazy taxi-driver, or the spy with the long ponytail. We may never know. We have quite a good-sized group, not the full 16 supposedly here, but enough to need a bigger spot. They give us a piece of floor in part of a room for our meeting, not expecting the sparse Utah/Idaho region would produce so many writers. They're all such nice people, too. After a good visit and dinner with Matt, Bree, Brodi, and Emily, I head back up to bed, talk for a long time on the phone to my family, and crash early.

Monday I have no trouble finding people. I run into Pat, Bree, Brodi, Emily, and/or Matt almost everywhere I go, so my curse must be broken. Except I think I see Ponytail Dude at least once. Ingrid Law speaks in the morning, and for her speech has written a lovely story as an allegory for the writing/publishing process. Her language is beautiful and poetic and I know I need to read her book. My tooth still wants to scream at me, but I'm gagging it with medication every hour. All it can eke out is a once-in-awhile "Mmmnf." I'm not missing this stuff for a toothache.

Later, I'm trying to find Sid Fleishman's class. I run up and down, get the wrong floor, finally find the room and he's NOT THERE. He's been replaced. Replaced?! By an editor or somebody. You don't REPLACE Sid Fleischman! I paid good money for Sid. Rats. I go to a boring class, and then go hear Karen Cushman again. She's got great stuff again, and I'm glad I got to hear it, but I'm still muttering about Sid.

Things are winding down. Steve is long gone. I've bought so many good books my suitcase doesn't want to close. I've got Karen Cushman's signature, but didn't feel like waiting in line for more.

Bree, Brodi, Emily, and I discover we've got the same flight home. And I find that travel is a different beast when you go with friends. Much more fun. And then, things just work out this time.

We do NOT take a shuttle. We share a taxi, the driver is pleasant, and it takes 30 minutes instead of two hours to get to the airport. We find our gate right away. Waiting is actually enjoyable. The plane leaves on time. And the ponytail dude is nowhere in sight. I almost lose my baggage, but with some helpful info from Bree, a couple of coincidences and mere minutes later, I'm in the car with my husband, Matt (not to be confused with the other Matt), and heading home.

I'm tempted to ask if he knows a Swedish-looking guy with a long, blonde ponytail, but decide to let that remain a mystery.

I sigh and lean back in my seat. NOW maybe I'll have time to write. (Especially if I stop writing such long blog posts.)

Mostly, I'm glad I can get to the dentist. I feel my tooth with my tongue. Hunh. I haven't taken any Advil lately, but my tooth pain is completely gone.

Strange. I shrug.

I'm just happy to be back.

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