I only had to do one ‘presentation’ at the conference and it was last Friday. Nevertheless, I was pretty nervous.

Writing about other cultures is a pretty contentious issue, especially with my approach to it.

It was funny, because as I was preparing for the trip on Wednesday evening (I had to leave at 6 am on Thursday), I chanced upon a listserve conversation about the very topic.

A lady from the arctic had asked for some advice. She’d submitted a story to a specialized publisher and the publisher had asked that she include an Inuit character to fulfill their mandate as a publisher of English/Inuit books.

The lady was hesitant to do so because she was not of that culture.

I thought that was a perfectly reasonable attitude to take.

If I were white, I’d sure think twice before writing from a native perspective. Heck, I’d think twice even as I am!

They’ve had so many of their stories appropriated.

But unfortunately the conversation on the listserve became rather silly, and in the end some people referred to various situations as ‘reverse racism’.

I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I had to put in my two cents. And quite frankly, anyone who thinks multicultural literature is a level playing field is crazy.

The stories that tend to get traction in the public, that win the awards and what not, tend to be written by white authors who have their own agenda, who understand the stereotypes and in subtle ways, write to reinforce them.

The presentation I was planning on giving in L.A. was based on the talk I gave at CANSCAIP (that stands for Canadian society of children’s authors illustrators and performers–the Canadian rival organization to the SCBWI).

When I gave the talk at Canscaip it was extremely well received! Even though I was quite blunt and to the point and said some things that people would find contentious.

Even though it had been well received, I was still nervous giving it in L.A.

I was hoping I’d have at least a couple of people in my session.

I was in a room that held fifty people, and it was so packed that people were sitting in chairs outside the door, listening to my presentation. Many of them worked in a multicultural setting and wanted to write stories of some of the things they’d seen.

I was provocative to say the least.

I laid it on the line.

No one stormed out!

They sat listening very intently. In fact Steven Mooser, the president of SCBWI himself, came to listen for a while too!

And at the end, I did a special little exercise that really shook them out of their status quo. Oh you could see the stunned looks on their faces.

And instead of lynching me (which was something I was kind of afraid of) they came up to me afterwards and told me how much they appreciated my candour and how much they’d gotten out of my session!

For the next few days I had people come up to me and tell me how much my session had been the highlight of the conference!

And one lady in particular, a Jewish lady originally from Cuba, told me that when she’d first arrived in my session, she’d been so angry that she was tempted to walk out. But she calmed herself down and told herself to give me a chance, and as I spoke, she really opened herself up to what I was saying and it had changed her whole perspective on things.

She was writing about a character whose father was a communist under Castro, and now she would find a way to respect his point of view and not try to put an American agenda on it.

She told me all this on Saturday night when they had the pyjama party out by the pool.

I don’t do pyjamas in public (even though pyjamas are originally from India and I was wearing Indian/Pakistani clothes).  And I don’t do parties very well either.

I normally would have stuck around and schmoozed, but all the alcohol was bothering me.

Not only am I not allowed to drink it, Islamically I’m actually not even supposed to be there where it’s being served.

And then I looked up and saw the moon, the Ramadan moon at a little more than a quarter, and I thought, “What the heck am I doing here?”

So I left the party, all the loud music and dancing, and I went inside to the restaurant to get some dessert–now that’s my idea of celebrating!

My order hadn’t arrived yet when two ladies, one white, one black also arrived in the restaurant (which was pretty deserted).  They just looked like they belonged to SCBWI and boldly I asked if I could join them.

They said that they’d been turned off by the party as well, had gone upstairs changed out of their jammies, and were going to get some real food.

So we sat together and we had one of the best conversations! We talked shop of course! That’s one of the nicest things about the conference!  At home I’m limited as to how much writing I can discuss. It’s really not my hubby and kids’ passion and their eyes glaze over pretty quickly when I start.  I can go on about writing for way too long!

I heard their stories and in some ways I gave these two ladies a bit of a workshop on picture books.

It was a really nice evening!