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Monday, October 17, 2011

Rutgers Road Trip

by Marcy Collier

My head is spinning (literally and figuratively).

Five days before Rutgers, I took my kids to Idlewild Amusement Park in Ligonier for Hallowboo. After trick or treating through story book forest, we rode some rides. After the second spinning ride, I became violently ill. The spinning wouldn’t stop. All week. My doctor prescribed vertigo medicine which made me ten times worse. Fast forward to Fri. I have a six hour drive to New Jersey for the Rutgers-One-On-One. What to do?

I had three plans in place, but knew regardless of how I felt, I would get my spinning self to Jersey. By Friday morning, the car sick feeling was still there, but the dizziness had stopped. I drove in the rain to New Brunswick. My fellow bloggers told me about the Blueboarders’ dinner held the night before the Rutgers conference. I tentatively made my way down to the hotel restaurant and asked if I could join them. Thank you, Blueboarders for welcoming me! They were the nicest group of writers. We had a fabulous time. There’s nothing like going to a conference and socializing with people who get you. Part way through dinner, Andrea Brown Literary agent and Blueboarder, Jennifer Laughran
(http://literaticat.blogspot.com/) joined us. Everyone was super excited.

After a sleepless night, I woke up and drove to the Rutger’s Cook Campus Center which was a new venue this year for the conference. I listened to my fellow bloggers’ advice (see the Monday, October 11, 2011 post). I picked up my folder, sat down and went through it, feverishly jotting down notes. I met up with some new and old friends as we discussed our plan for the day.

Author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (http://olugbemisolabooks.com/) gave the opening talk. Her success story speech inspired everyone who listened. She had been in the same place as each of the mentees. She could relate to our anxious feelings and described her first Rutgers conference. Her words of wisdom stuck with me throughout the day. She said, “Don’t get it right. Get it written. We strive to tell our stories, but they’ll never be perfect.”
Vivian Grey

Founder and council chair, Vivian Grey welcomed the crowd. She launched the Rutgers conference 42 years ago when writers for children did not have a voice. The conference has evolved and flourished led by an all volunteer group. With all of the changes in publishing, Grey said, “There will always be a need for good storytellers and excellent illustrators. Technology cannot replace the need for talent.”
Margery Cuyler

This year’s conference was dedicated in the memory of Steven Kroll, beloved author, advocate for children’s literature, and generous, longtime friend of the conference. Margery Cuyler (Publisher, Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books) talked about Steven’s hard work for the children’s book industry and his contributions to St. Joseph’s School.

Each mentee broke up into a five-on-five session with agents, editors and authors, where we were able to ask questions and discuss the current market conditions.

Then the mentees listened to a lively panel discussion between Megan Bennett (Art Director, Abrams Books for Young Readers), Barry Goldblatt (Agent, B. Goldblatt Literary Agency), David Lubar (Author), Deborah Kogan Ray (Author/Illustrator), and Harold Underdown (The Purple Crayon website). Marietta Zacker (Agent, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency) moderated the session with questions that had been submitted prior to the conference by mentees. As an author or illustrator, you need to be smart and savvy. An agent can play many roles. Let them identify your market and help sell your manuscript. Sometimes a stand alone story will shine a little more than a series. But other panelists disagreed that in certain genres, sequels are expected. Harold Underdown said there are many secrets to getting published. “There are different stories and different paths. Find your own path.” David Lubar said he asks a “what if?” question every morning. “Jot down those thoughts or you’ll lose them.” Barry Goldblatt’s advice was “write, draw or paint as if your life depended on it.”  

The groups broke for lunch. I enjoyed talking with agent and council member Tina Wexler (ICM) and editor Annette Pollert (Simon Pulse).

Then each mentee had a one-on-one session with their mentor. My mentor, agent Becky Vinter (Fine Print Literary Management) had terrific suggestions and spot on advice for both my query letter and first chapter. Thank you, Becky. You’re awesome!

Before we knew it, author Jon Scieszka was onstage. He gave an hilarious speech about his childhood and the trials and tribulations of being an author. He talked about his new print/multimedia series, Spaceheadz which I can’t wait to buy for my older son.

Co-conference chair, Brian Schatell gave closing remarks, and I found it hard to believe that the conference had ended. The day flew past me.

I got on the road, stopped over in Harrisburg to have dinner with my best friend and made a quick stop at Chocolate World. Where else could I buy two giant cases of Hershey’s bars for $ 25.00 for Halloween candy? Didn’t you always love getting the big bars for Halloween? No spinning rides, though.

I arrived home after midnight, and my head is still spinning. In a good way.

Thank you Rutger’s One-On-One mentors and council for putting together an awe-inspiring conference. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.    


  1. Sounds like a fantastic experience. I'm so glad you made it, spinning head and all. It was well worth it.

  2. Sounds like you made the most of it

  3. I'm so glad you had a good time, Marcy. I knew you would. And I know you'll make the most of it.