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by Rieko Mendez

Is your brain exploding after the SCBWI The Big Five-Oh Summer Conference? Mine is! The conference had over one hundred faculty — a diversity of voices, seasoned and new — and I am still combing through the volume of handouts available to hone our craft. True to the tone that Lin Oliver sets for SCBWI, I connected with the authenticity and generosity of all the faculty sharing their experiences and insights. While professional, their sessions felt like fireside chats in their homes. What hit me was that creativity takes a community and SCBWI is a tremendous force of community. I am grateful.

From Malinda Lo’s presentation on Vision at SCBWI’s Big Five-O Summer Conference

I’m still digesting the wisdom from each of the sessions, but I’ll for sure be implementing a few take-aways right now in revising my YA contemporary fantasy. I consumed Malinda Lo’s message about having VISION, the way you want the readers to feel when they read your book. She was talking about the emotional impact that the right choice of words has. I’m going back to my manuscript to ensure that the emotional impact I intended in each scene and through the story arc is really there. 

From Chloe Gong’s presentation at SCBWI’s Big Five-O Summer Conference

The message from Chloe Gong’s session reminded me what emotional impact means for YA: at age seventeen, what happens to you is your world. Everything is about how it affects the character and how the character feels about it. To deepen the layers of my character and story, I will be using side-writing, one of ten tips which author Nova Ren Suma and editor Tiffany Liao shared. Side-writing helps flesh out and craft complex characters. 

To further aid with building complex characters, I appreciated the longer writing session with Ellen Hopkins where we worked on a character motivation chart, identifying the seeds of conflict and expanding on them with ‘so what’ questions. I have much work ahead for my revision — but I’m fired up!

As for my nemesis, social media, Aiden Thomas truly demystified the various platforms by sharing the practical ins and outs of how he does it and I liked his final message about the importance of being authentic. And Nadia Salomon inspired me with her practical and generous message of courage about Twitter pitches: just do it. (Take the blue pill.) Speaking of courage, the agent and editor panels brought the publishing world closer as they emphasized the importance of our vision of our book and their role as allies.

From Nadia Salomon: “Take the Blue Pill”! presentation at SCBWI’s Big Five-O Summer Conference

I’ve only scratched the surface of the Big Five-Oh. My head is still exploding from the sessions. What ultimately makes me roll up my sleeves to go tackle my revision is the message of community I heard throughout the conference. In the final section, Dan Santat captured this sentiment so well: he spoke of how he developed skills with a generation of core SCBWI friends and continues to grow with the SCBWI family. 

I always tell my friends that I’ve found the kindest group of people to work with — children’s book writers, illustrators, agents and editors. I believe a sense of humanity and our vision of reaching a young person trying to figure themselves out are what draw us as a community — a tremendous force of community.

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Rieko Mendez, a SCBWI member, received special mention for her YA contemporary fantasy at SCBWI-L.A. Writers Day 2021. She mentors teen girls in underserved communities on writing while volunteering at WriteGirl, an organization that promotes creativity and self-expression to empower girls. As board chair for Ready, Set, Read, a local literacy nonprofit, she co-authored literacy articles for the 2020 LA Times Reading by 9 Guide. She is a graduate of Stanford University and UCLA Anderson School of Business.

Images provided by SCBWI-L.A. Kite Tales; author photo provided by author.