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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Barely Foreign at the SCBWI Conference

She got me with these words four years ago, "Welcome to the tribe."

When I heard them again, at this year's Los Angeles conference, I knew I'd come home. To the lost tribe of writers - those of us who write for kids and young adults.

For those of you who don't write for the under 18 crowd, or haven't heard me rant and rave about the SCBWI, I'm speaking about Lin Oliver. Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, long time friends, founded the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators 41 years ago. Lin, as the founding mother of the organization, helps bring together the scattered tribe of fellow children's book authors from across the United States. The SCBWI graciously allows foreigners, and those Lin deems as "barely foreign" (Canadians such as myself) into the fold.

Lin is the author of the Who Shrunk Daniel Funk series and co-authors, with Henry Winkler, the best-selling Hank Zipzer series. She is also a writer and producer of books, movies and television shows. She is an inspiration. Here's a link to find out more -

This year I had the privilege of meeting Lin Oliver. I tried hard to be smart and sophisticated. I ended up just being me. It was much easier. As she was signing her newest book, Sound Bender, we got chatting. (I am very good at chatting when I don't have to be smart or sophisticated.)
I was able to tell her that I too, this barely foreign writer from Canada, was an SCBWI success story. And because she is so lovely, and because she didn't yet know what an accomplished chatterer I was, she asked me my story. This is how it goes.

In 2007 I decided I needed to find out if I was a "real writer." So I took all our family vacation money, mortgaged the cottage, and flew down to LA, where I met a group of writers from Texas. They welcomed me into their chapter, gave me workshop advice, writing tips, and included me in their dinner plans at the Santa Monica Pier one evening. I laughed every moment I was in their presence, feeling as if I'd known them for years. They are still my Facebook friends, and I cheer on all their achievements as they do mine.
At that conference my picture book manuscript was nominated for The Sue Alexander Award.  I was elated. Inspired. Confident that in no time I would be published. What can I say, I was green.

My second conference was a nightmare of magnificent proportions.  I wish I was being overly dramatic but sadly, my critique went so far beyond badly, just thinking about it makes my heart shrivel, my hands shake, and my right eye twitch.

But what helped me continue was the support of my fellow writers.
My Texans. Yup, those welcoming, open armed group of Texans hugged me, dragged me, (ugly-crying) to the food court to feed me tacos. Why tacos? That detail is fuzzy.

But more importantly, they told me to never give up. To hold onto my dream. To push those cruel words from my mind. To believe in myself. Their kind words and messages of encouragement through email and Facebook continued long after the conference ended. Their gentle prodding kept me coming back to my computer, even when I couldn't see the screen clearly through my tears.

So thank you Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser for your vision in creating the SCBWI.

Thank you to my Texas writing pals. 
Your big, Texan-sized hearts made me feel like I instantly belonged.

So writers, what's stopping you from joining? 

They'll take all of us. Barely foreign or otherwise.
Trust me. It's good to be in the tribe.


  1. You go Jodi! It's so inspiring to see how far you've come and will continue to go. You should know that you and Candace are not only my BFF (Barely Foreign Friends), but the equivalent of the Texan crew that you needed support from not so long ago. I'm grateful for my neighbors to the north :)

  2. Hey Kevin aka BFF,

    Candice and I will always be your Canadian Texans. Wait, does that even make sense? I think you get the drift.