In April 2023 SCBWI-MI held a conference in Livonia, Michigan at the Vistatech Center. It was my first IN-PERSON conference and I was a little nervous but excited.

I should have known I had nothing to fear. The children’s writing community is the nicest group of people you will ever meet. I met some cool people who live nearby, I learned a lot, and I was able to meet one of my FAVORITE authors. So, wins all around!

Life-Changing Advice from Andy J. Pizza

Andy gave great advice about finding inspiration

  • He said you should take a deep look at what stories or movies have moved you and try to find out why. See if there is a common thread.
  • Make sure your ideas are things you believe in enough that you will fight for them.
  • Find what makes you mad. Look at the core. The opposite is something you might be passionate about.

And he gave game-changing advice on what we already have inside

Andy talked about how many years and manuscripts he has written trying to find his big idea, and in the end, his big idea was something he was passionate about all along. He said he didn’t need to go searching, he already had everything he needed. And we do too. Love it.

Graphic with small images referencing THE WIZARD OF OZ and the words YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED in bright colors and artful font. Images and word art created by Andy J. Pizza.
Andy’s amazing artwork to illustrate this concept is available for purchase on Etsy.

Dissecting Picture Books – Alice B McGinty

Alice is the author of the brilliant and funny book, BATHE THE CAT illustrated by David Roberts.

Picture book BATHE THE CAT by Alice B McGinty and David Roberts with a picture of two men, some kids and a startled cat on the cover.

In her session, we dissected the book TOO MANY FROGS by Sandy Asher & Keith Graves. I was not familiar with this humorous book and quickly added it to my wishlist after the class. And the choice of a frog book in a dissecting session seems all too appropriate. Hahaha.

Picture Book TOO MANY FROGS by Sandy Asher and Keith Graves. Picture of a door open with lots of frogs standing outside the door.

We looked at the characters. How they were introduced, what made them tick, and what they WANTED or NEEDED.

Then we took a deep look into the setting, the language, and the plot.

I think one of the most fascinating parts was looking at the transitions. In TOO MANY FROGS, there is a brilliant transition where “he blinked – he blinked again.” Brilliant, right? So much is conveyed with those few words.

I think my big takeaway from this session is the importance of really breaking down the books you are reading, especially if you are using them as mentor texts or comps for what you are writing. There is a significant difference between reading a book and dissecting a book.

Other Good Writing Tips by Sue Fliess

I was able to take a couple of classes from author Sue Fliess who has published over 50 books! (Incredible, right?) My favorite of her books is MARY HAD A LITTLE LAB illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis.

Sue Fliess talked about the moment you are struck with a brilliant idea…just before you realize what is wrong with it. And how to think through those problems. Think about what makes your characters who they are, “what would you find in their secret drawer?” How will they grow? What is the best style/method to tell this story?

Sue also taught a class on expanding your story’s shelf life by thinking about possible prequels, sequels, and companion books.

Favorite Advice from the Presenting Authors

As inspiring as it was to hear tips and advice from the presenting authors, the picture book fan girl in me was just as excited or more to get autographs from these authors.

I will leave you with some conference photos and my favorite advice from the presenting authors.

Photo of Jamie Bills and Alice B McGinty with Alice's book BATHE THE CAT.

“Success is enjoying the journey. Just love writing.” -Alice B. McGinty

Photo of Jamie Bills and author Sue Fliess with her book MARY HAD A LITTLE LAB.

“Keep writing – Keep writing – Keep writing.” – Sue Fliess

Photo of Jamie Bills and Laurie Keller with her book Potato Pants.

“Just write because you love it and you are excited about the story.” – Laurie Keller

A personal note- I wasn’t able to go to Laurie Keller’s classes because she was teaching the illustrators, but she is one of my FAVORITE authors. It was delightful to meet her. It was even more delightful to receive feedback from Laurie on my manuscript DISGRUNTLED HEDGEHOGS. She LOVED it! Thanks Laurie! You will never know how much your words meant to me.

Critique feedback from Laurie Keller. All words.
Critique feedback from Laurie Keller. All words.
Critique feedback from Laurie Keller. All words.

Good luck with your writing!

Jamie Bills

**Illustration credit for cover art goes to Ken Eaton. It was the official illustration for the conference

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