I had the pleasure of attending the LA SCBWI conference last week, and I'm still reeling from it. If you've ever thought of going, I'm here to tell you: YOU MUST! Get a roommate to share the expense, and make it a priority. You won't regret it!
I went to the NY conference in 2010, and enjoyed it, but this one was over the top awesomeness. Sure, it was the 40th birthday of SCBWI, so maybe they pulled out all the stops and brought in the big guns, but even so, I've heard it's amazing all years. All the speakers were entertaining, and there were a few I wasn't very familiar with - definitely have must deserved respect for them now. Gary Paulsen ("Hatchet") was probably my favorite speaker. He was hilarious, told us about his extremely rough childhood/life in general, and was so genuine. He looked & acted like your typical grouchy old grandpa. I loved him. :)
My favorite part of the conference was the illustrator intensive. This was an extra day, but more than worth it. We had 7 illustrators who had 1 hour each to talk, demonstrate & answer questions about their work. Gosh, that was epic. Paul Zelinsky, David Small, Jerry Pinkney, Kadir Nelson, Richard Jesse Watson, Marla Frazee & Denise Fleming. So cool!!!! I even won an original artwork by Richard Jesse Watson.
I had a portfolio review with Marla Frazee, and she was so sweet. She had lots of nice things to say about my work and was really encouraging. She also took the time to read my whole pb dummy and critique that too. Probably the most helpful critique I've ever had.
I really feel driven to do more. It has been my goal since childhood to have a book published. I'm determined to make that happen. I was always entertained/inspired as a child when I read picture books, and it's my duty to future generations to make that happen for them too. I'm goin for it!