I attended my first SCBWI Summer Conference in 2009. It was there, on a Friday morning, that I experienced Sherman Alexie. I cried. My critique group cried. I think the chicken breasts being prepared for Sunday’s Golden Kite Awards Luncheon cried.
In 2010, I heard John Scieszka. I laughed, until, of course, I cried. I signed up for Linda Sue Park’s writing workshop, The Middle Grade Novel: Growing Your Story. It forever changed the way I tell stories. In 2011, I flew from Los Angeles to New York to hear Lois Lowry. How could I not? It’s Lois Lowry! That same year, the summer conference brought Gary Paulsen and Laurie Halse Anderson. More laughs, fewer tears. In 2012, Tony Diterlizzi told us to stay loyal to our imaginations. Newbery winner Clare Vanderpool delivered a heartfelt speech about her journey and writing process, while sharing her family funnies. In closing, Gary Schmidt left us all tingly. In 2013, Mac Barnett filled us with quirk and laughs. Jarrett Krosoczka reminded us why we shouldn’t read our own reviews. In 2014, Judy Blume sent everyone home hopeful and inspired! In 2015, Caldecott winner Dan Santat explained why he kept writing and illustrating, and why we should follow our passions. And, finally, Kwame Alexander rhymed his way into our hearts.
This is why I belong to SCBWI. It’s not just to hear our literary darlings impart wisdom. It’s more than that. It’s that our literary darlings are part of our community. Their stories comfort us when we’re uncertain of our artistic paths. They let us know that we’re not alone on this journey. Pre-published or well published, we are one community, bonded by the common obstacles writers endure while trying to bring stories to light.
I have been writing for children for well over a decade now. It all started after college, in 2001, when I moved to Los Angeles to write screenplays. Instead I landed a job as a teaching assistant in a fourth grade language arts classroom. The students were reading E.B. White and Roald Dahl, Jerry Spinelli and Lois Lowry, Jane Yolen and Christopher Paul Curtis. And before I knew it, I was reading one book after another, and I fell in love with children’s literature all over again.
That’s when I decided to leave my nonexistent screenwriting career and focus on writing books for children.
I wrote and wrote, but couldn’t seem to get anything right. My prose was inconsistent and my dialogue was full of ‘hellos’ and ‘good-byes’. I was finding my voice, and I needed help.
In 2008, I joined SCBWI. It was the greatest choice I’ve made as a writer. The following year, I attended the summer conference and immediately discovered that I wasn’t alone. I quickly met other writers. We shared pieces of knowledge, swapped stories, and learned together. Today, we continue to shape our voices while telling stories, laughing, and, of course, crying.
Fast forward to 2012. After much contemplation, I self-published The Color of Bones, my first middle grade novel. In 2013, I queried literary agents with a new manuscript, and eventually signed with John Rudolph of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. That same year, my dear friend Mike Winchell asked me to write something for a project he had created. That project, loaded with an all-star cast, became the anthology Been There, Done That: Writing Stories from Real Life (Grosset & Dunlap, 2015). And guess who’s in that book? Jane Yolen!
This summer, on July 5, 2016, my middle grade novel Soar (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster) hit bookstores everywhere. It has been a long journey, but I can say with confidence that SCBWI gave me wings to fly.
Tracy Edward Wymer grew up in Missouri and Indiana. He is the author of Soar and The Color of Bones, and he is part of the anthology Been There, Done That: Writing Stories from Real Life. When not plowing through stacks of books on his nightstand, he likes to run, write, look for birds, and root for the Kansas City Royals. A long-time educator, Tracy lives with his family in Los Angeles.