For five days recently, I had the amazing experience of being a part of the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, part of the Arts Summer at the Stony Brook Southampton University Campus in the Hamptons on Long Island, New York.
As you can see from this photo, I had the joy of finally meeting Emma Walton Hamilton (center). Emma is the director of the conference. After working on my writing with Emma for two years, and co-administering the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group with her, it was sheer delight to meet her in person, and find that she’s even warmer and more genuine than I had expected! I also reconnected with Pat Tilton (right), a member of the Children’s Book Hub, whom I met at SCBWI LA (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) last summer.
Click the magic words to learn more about my time at the conference…
I was part of a group of seven writers (I was 20 to 30 years older than the others!) who spent three hours a day working on our middle grade writing projects with author Kate McMullan (center, white pants). (Pat was in the picture book writing group with twelve other writers led by Peter H. Reynolds.)
Despite our disparate ages, our group quickly became a cohesive, caring mini-community in which we felt comfortable to share ideas, make suggestions, and grow together as writers. We critiqued each others writing, and I was thoroughly energized by the critique done for my middle grade excerpt. Comments were insightful, stretched my thinking about my character and about what was going on in her life, gave me information that will make the book more realistic, challenged me, and helped both my character and me to grow. How I wish this group could be my critique group all the time! We meshed so very well.
In the richness of Kate’s teaching, we touched on many aspects of the writing process, including beginnings and structure, voice, characterization, and revising. We had sent her excerpts of the manuscript we wanted to workshop, up to 40 pages, and she provided astute and helpful comments in individual emails. Her comments are so insightful — it’s a shame it was only for the first part of the manuscript!
She also made time to spend a half hour with each of us, one-on-one, discussing the comments she’d made on our writing, answering any questions we might have, and talking about the greater scope of our plans for our writing. That half hour was invaluable in what I gained. Not only did I gain in knowledge through these daily workshops, I feel I have gained a friend in Kate, and a definite cheering section in the entire group.
The Southampton Arts Summer isn’t just the Children’s Literature Conference that I attended. There were conferences/workshops for writers for adults, playwrights, screenwriters, theatre directors, actors, and digital filmmakers. Besides our daily workshops with Kate, there was a plethora of other panel discussions, presentations, and labs for us to attend, which were open to all the participants in all the different conferences.
I wasn’t able to be a part of everything I wanted to be in (there’s a lot going on, and I found I had to conserve my energy) but I did attend and benefit from panel discussions on “Writing the Series” with television writer Mitchell Kriegman, novelist Ursula Hegi, and children’s writer Emma Walton Hamilton; “Imagery and Voice” with playwright Leslie Ayvazian, picture book author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds, fiction writer Frederic Tuten, and poet Julie Sheehan; and “Publishing Alternatives” with children’s writers Christian McLean and Emma Walton Hamilton. I also attended a presentation by MICHA, the Michael Chekhov Association, demonstrating the acting techniques developed by Chekhov (a nephew of the famous Anton Chekhov.) There were receptions every evening, and I made it to most of those, and got to chat with people from many fields.
The conference culminated in a marathon reading session, with people from all the branches of the Children’s Literature Conference and the Writer’s Conference reading excerpts from their works-in-progress. I very much enjoyed both reading and listening. (Playwrights and Theatre Directing, and Screenwriting and Film, had separate sharing sessions.)
I met many interesting people, learned a great deal, stretched my mind, heart, and experience — and I can hardly wait to go back again!
On Wednesday I’ll be blogging about the powerfully moving play Men’s Lives, which I saw at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor after the conference was over.
And — our 12×12 “family” is thinking of colleague Bethany Telles’ 5-year-old son today as he goes into hospital for a 72-hour Video EEG. Please check out this post, and keep our little Jedi in your thoughts, will you?