A retreat and an advance, writerly speaking

For the past two weekends, I’ve been submerged in a glorious writerly time-out-of-time, first at the Big Chill writer’s retreat, then at the RUCCL One-on-One conference. Whew! Re-entry into the real world has been tough: the toilet’s broken, a kid’s home with tummy troubles, cockroaches in the bathtub. Sigh. So let’s go back to my happy place(s) for a few minutes…

Two weekends ago, I attended the Big Chill writing retreat hosted by my local Louisiana/Mississippi chapter of the SCBWI. It was a delightful weekend in the Mississippi woods at a beautiful retreat center talking about children’s literature with fellow creators and fans of the genre. I loved the opportunity to commiserate over critiques and brainstorm our way toward better stories with no pressure, just camaraderie.

We even had an open mic, complete with wine, stool, and a beret. I read some of my poems, which I haven’t performed in years! I made friends and hope to keep in touch, collaborating and reading one another’s work. Such an energizing, hopeful experience.

Cheryl and Sarah, our Regional Adviser and Associate Regional Adviser, rocking the mic

Less than a week later, I was on a plane to New Brunswick for the RUCCL One-on-One conference. I was honored to be selected as the mentee for Mary Mudd, editorial assistant at Disney-Hyperion and Freeform Books. We discussed my work in progress, and she gave me some great suggestions for how to improve my story. We brainstormed ideas and swapped book recommendations for 45 minutes, a real treat.

The opportunity to connect in small groups with writers and mentors makes this conference unique, as does the large number of industry pros in attendance (about half mentors and half mentees, 200 people in all). Networking opportunities abounded. I had the pleasure of lunch with John Morgan, Executive Editor at Imprint/Macmillan, and Elizabeth Lynch, Assistant Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, as well as fascinating fellow writers from around the country. Author/Illustrator Pat Cummings was the amazing keynote speaker, author Kate Dopirak offered inspiration as an RUCCL success story, and a panel of agents and editors encouraged writers and illustrators. My head was spinning by the end of the day–we crammed a lot into 6 hours!

Today, of course, my brain is full of “why didn’t I say…” and “I should’ve….” I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed and intimidated in conference settings, like being in a day-long audition (once upon a time, I auditioned for America’s Got Talent, but that’s a story for another day). The small group sessions and one-on-one meeting lessened that factor, which helped me to feel a little more comfortable. Will I always feel like the kid in the lunchroom, tray in my sweaty hands, looking for an empty seat among seas of strangers? Yeah, probably. But I like being around people who love books enough to want to make them, and it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of the process.

After two weeks of extroversion, I’m ready to reshuffle my deck and get to work. I have lots of new ideas and rewriting to do. So if you stop by, don’t be alarmed by the hazard tape across the bathroom door. The real world is going to have to wait. I have stories to write!