This past weekend it was off to Ottawa for the SCBWI Canada East Agents’ Day. There’s something so energizing about going away with friends for a conference; anticipating the people you’ll meet, the new things you’ll learn, catching up with old friends. But for me there was also a lot of stress because, as Regional Advisor, myself and a few others were organizing this thing.
On Friday morning my good friend and Assistant Regional Advisor, Alma Fullerton, had arrived at my place and was hauling conference stuff out to my car. She’d just walked out the door when the doorbell rang. ???
I wasn’t sure why she was ringing the doorbell seeing as she’d just been in and out about 5 times, but whatever. I open the door and there’s an older woman standing there. I’m momentarily confused, thinking she might be a client of my husband’s, but then I see she is carrying leaflets.
She very pleasantly informs me that my sister or friend said I was home (thanks Alma!!) and asks if I believe that all good people go to heaven. I must have stared at her with some sort of incredulous look on my face, which was really me just being stressed and trying to hurry out of here, because she then says, “It’s a very good question, isn’t it?”
“Um, I’m really in a hurry and need to go," I explain and then ask if she could just leave me something so I could deal with this later.
She was very understanding. She wishes me a good trip and as she’s leaving she says, “I was also supposed to ask, do you still catch pickerel in that lake?”
This sends so many thoughts racing through my mind (someone actually wanted you to ask this, whom did you agree to ask this for, why do you want to know, when have you ever been fishing here, it’s more like a big pond not a lake, I don’t think I’ve ever seen pickerel here....). I said what I hope was a coherent and polite: no, no pickerel here.
(Meanwhile Alma is snickering in the background.)
So we finally get off on the road. No wait, I had to put air in my tire to get rid of the stupid yellow tire pressure warning light on my dash. Didn't work. But as has been happening lately, as soon as I’d driven for awhile and the tires heated up it went away. Note to self: get that looked at.
Okay, so now we’re on the road. Well, sorta. We stopped in Huntsville to get a couple things we still needed for the conference, and the store just happened to sell Cheetos. Now, properly armed with road trip munchies, Alma and I were off on the journey.
It was a gorgeously sunny day. The fall colours are about halfway to peak and the reds were spectacular. I kept wanting to stop and take pictures in Algonquin Park like the many other people I had to steer around, but we were on a mission and, well, this really big truck kept looming large in my rearview. Not my fault I was behind a slow Suburban, license plate: Rebel Yell (seriously the plate, although not that spelling).
After the Park the leaves got dull, as in the colours weren’t nearly as notable. Fortunately, some great conversation and Cheetos were the focus for awhile. Talking to another writer about writing never gets boring. And I was finally able to pass Rebel Yell. We are soon thoroughly sick of Cheetos and scrape the orange paste off our fingers.
So you’re wondering about the dog, no?
Somewhere between Barry’s Bay ("Come for a visit/Stay for a Lifetime" gad that sounds creepy!!) and Golden Lake, we’re going down a slight hill. I see a dog on the side of the road. I’m keeping my eye on the dog and suddenly it makes a break for it, across the road. !@!@#. My brain does the mental gymnastics and realizes that--ohmigod--if I hit this poor dog it’s gonna make a huge dent in my car and probably put the kibosh on making it to Ottawa today.
So I slam on the brakes and the seat belts lock. Alma braces herself for impact. There’s a tight camera shot of my face going “oh-crap-oh-crap-that-dog’s-gonna-hit-me!” and in the next instant there’s a tight camera shot of the dog, who has actually turned to look in my direction. His ears are lifted and his face is saying “oh-crap-oh-crap-that-car’s-gonna-hit-me!!!” He puts it in high gear and high tails it off onto the other side of the road. Collision and disaster avoided. Phew!
Takes awhile for both Alma and I to stop shaking. Other than seeing Rebel Yell pull into the Renfrew gas station as we were leaving, nothing much else of note happens...until we get to Ottawa and we’re yakking so much I miss the exit we wanted.
Checked in, ate some of the best Greek food (my fave) I’ve ever had, including that which was actually consumed in Greece, then Alma and I went to the airport to pick up our speakers. As we’re driving back from the airport I’m behind someone who’s swerving over the yellow line and back again on a dark and fairly busy Ottawa road. This strikes fear in the hearts of our US guests who must be thinking ‘Exactly what kinda people are you over here???’ Kidding about their thoughts...I hope.
The Actual Agents’ Day Event
Saturday starts very early for Alma and I. I scarf down probably the worst cereal bar I’ve ever eaten in my life, cough up a lung (did I mention I’m not exactly in peak health?) and we arrive at Library and Archives Canada. We unload and unload boxes and bags of conference paraphernalia. Connie and Stephanie are there to help. Michelle and Rachel arrive (with donuts--yay!) soon afterwards. Coffee gets made, books are set out, badges arranged artfully and now we’re in business. Time to kick off Agents’ Day 09.
We were fortunate to hear from both Mark McVeigh, literary agent and founder of The McVeigh Agency, and Edward Necarsulmer IV, Director of the Children’s Department at McIntosh & Otis. Each agent gave a very informative talk. We heard how to put together a query letter and questions to ask a prospective agent. We learned about how each agent likes to operate. Then we had a separate Q&A session with both so that we could really see some differences in approach and got a lot of info about contracts and all sorts of stuff writers and illustrators want/need to know. After lunch, both agents did a first pages panel, looked through illustrators’ portfolios and gave detailed feedback on some attendees’ manuscripts.
It all went very well except for the stench of diesel exhaust that seeped into the auditorium at one point. I went to ask the security guards about it and one immediately picked up the phone to call the engineer. Said engineer came to the auditorium and, through bites of his green apple, I was able to decipher that he was telling me he’d go check it out. Later on he came back, sans green apple thank god, and said it was a vehicle in the parking lot and the ventilation fans were pulling in the exhaust. It would just take time for it to clear through the system.
He didn’t think it was a big deal. Still, it turned many of us an unpleasant shade of gray for awhile and I overheard two people joke that they wondered how many brain cells they’d lost from breathing that in.
I enjoyed myself in spite of worrying and coughing excessively through it all. On Sunday the agents were safely delivered to the airport after driving by the Parliament Buildings where some sort of ceremony or demonstration was in action. We honked for something, just like the sign suggested.
Road trip home was rainy and uneventful.
My huge and heartfelt thanks to the speakers for being so generous with their time and expertise, for the attendees for attending and being the smart, funny and interesting people they are, and to the volunteers who helped make it all happen: Alma Fullerton, Rachel Eugster, Michelle Jodoin, Stephanie Rainey, Peggy Collins, Christine Tripp, and Connie Topper.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some other perspectives on the event:
Von Allan part 1
and Von Allan part 2 (awesome notes!!)
Terry Lynn Johnson