I just returned from an amazing weekend at the SCBWI LA International conference, and spent three days surrounded by amazing writers, editors, illustrators and agents. I soaked up knowledge from some of the top people in the industry and met countless new faces, ever-expanding the circle of people in my life who help keep my momentum going. Though there were many wonderful panelists and breakout sessions, there were two main things I walked away from this experience with that I will think about the most: Write for the teenage you, the kind of stories that would have satisfied YOU when you were the age you are writing for, not just the reader. (Courtesy of Tony DiTerlizzi, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles) And courtesy of Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray), find the story within you that only YOU can tell.
The latter piece of advice really stuck with me all weekend. There are plenty of stories in my head, but really, pieces of them all belong to other people too. How can we not help but be inspired by other great existing works of literature, wonderful movies and television shows? The ones that resonate stay with us forever and unconsciously tend to influence the work that we write even though we are not intending to duplicate nor plagiarize. But what is truly original anymore? However, there is one story that is completely original: your story.
Think about the different events of your life. The moments that shaped you, nearly broke you and brought you to your knees, the secrets in your family history, the skeletons in your very own closet. They exist for all of us, and when we dig deep and find them, we realize that no one else can possibly tell this story the same way because it is ours.
For me, I grew up on movie sets. My father was a producer and a studio executive, and I loathed being pulled out of school to go on location. I started drinking black coffee at age 5 just to keep warm on night shoots, I traveled all over the world first class and one of my fondest childhood memories is sitting with Dudley Moore at the piano bar at the Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City on one of my Dad's shoots. Gene Wilder and I were friends and penpals and he used to babysit me. This, and so much more, were my normal. And I never appreciated it. I just felt awkward, out of sync, disconnected from my peers. And then I realized: THIS is my story. So there's a sneak peek at what I will be diving into this fall - trying to find a voice for my story, and hoping readers will connect to and be interested in a character with an unconventional life. Because teenage Robin would desperately have loved to have read about that girl.