NESCBWI Whispering Pines 2015

The time had come… after a pleasant drive through the backroads of RI through the snow drifts and pines…

…so began the 2015 edition of the Whispering Pines Writers Retreat at the Alton Jones campus! This was a special year, though- the 20th anniversary of it’s beginning. I have been coming since I was the illustrator mentor in 2007. Every year is full of inspiration, bonding, and renewed vigor for our writing careers. It is also full of cake. SO MUCH CAKE. And food that magically appears. It is another world, to be sure.



Here is the gorgeous t-shirt graphic that Jennifer Thermes created for the anniversary- captures the spirit perfectly!


Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Mary Pierce have been the co-directors for many years, and have decided to step down this year. There’s no way they would go out without a bang, and it started right away! KidLit Jeopardy was a great way to kick it off andstart on that bonding I was talking about. It’s always a laugh fest. My team came in 3rd place (pretty decent)!

DSCN0030My favorite category is BUNNIES. 🙂


DSCN0031Hayley Barrett gives Lynda a going-away present…


DSCN0032…and it was fascinating! “Embrace the journey” was a good theme for the whole weekend.   
DSCN0034Mary Pierce and Kristin Russo got mini trophies for being a driving force (literally) for the retreat.


julie sally

NESCBWI RA Sally Riley and incoming retreat director Julie Kingsley  get commemorative staplers, for holding things together. Julie will be joined by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum as co-director of next year’s Whispering Pines retreat.


DSCN0041Co-director Mary receives a superhero cape for going up, up, and away above the usual requirements! 


DSCN0042Some of the mentors: agents Erin Murphy and Ammi-Joan Paquette, and editors Sylvie Frank, Kendra Levin, and Mallory Kass.
DSCN0045Laurie Murphy and Linda Crotta Brennan were recognized as the originators of the retreat 20 years ago.


DSCN0046Greenhouse Literary agent John Cusick gave great tips on ignoring the nagging voice that tells you you can’t write, and how to carve out legit writing time in your life. As both a writer and an agent, he knows intimately what he’s talking about.

Lynda and Mary pulled off a pretty incredible surprise by bringing back SIX previous mentors just to be on a panel about “what I wished I knew when I was starting out”. She had asked me casually to weigh in on this subject, but I didn’t know it would become a full-out panel discussion with all these fantastic writers and illustrators. Color me humbled. It was a real high point of the event!


WPMentors, past and present: Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Kim Newton Fusco, Leslie Connor, Jennifer Thermes, Kelly Murphy, Erin Dionne, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Carlyn Beccia, Me, Barbara O’Connor, and Brian Lies. Thanks Pam Vaughan for this photo!


DSCN0056Agents Ammi-Joan Paquette and Erin Murphy turned the tables asked each other questions. Erin looks for things she didn’t know she liked until she read them; it’s the exceptions to the rules that grab her. Ammi-Joan is open to any genre and concedes that there is no one-size-fits-all path in a career.


DSCN0058First pages in the cozy lodge. The mentors really went above and beyond this year is their discussions of the first pages, giving us meaty and useful critiques.


DSCN0061Mallory Kass, Sylvie Frank, Kendra Levin, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Ammi-Joan Paquette, John Cusick, and Erin Murphy.
DSCN0063Carlyn, bringin’ the glamour and spreading it around. “Give me more zhush!”


DSCN0066Food. So much food. Food that we didn’t have to prepare, and dishes that magically disappeared after, only to be replaced by cake. Such is the way of Whispering Pines.


DSCN0073Writer girls Sandy Smith Budiansky and Brook Gideon. The smiles say it all.


DSCN0075Senior Editor Kendra Levin, from Viking, is not only a great editor, but a life coach. It was excellent to hear how she blends these ingredients to bring out the best in each book. I won’t think of elevators the same way again!


DSCN0077Jennifer O’Keefe has the uncanny ability to paint gorgeous watercolors during the retreat! 


DSCN0078Editor Sylvie Frank from Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books gave a great inside look at the editorial process. I loved how she makes her own dummies of manuscripts just to become one with the flow of each story. That’s dedication!


DSCN0082Kristin Russo stepping up and sharing her writing exercise.


malloryMallory Kass  from Scholastic looks for books that transport the reader, and immerse them in a new world. She seeks characters that have such a unique world view that it colors the reader’s view, too. She was quite a character herself, relating publishing to the dating world in a disturbingly accurate way!


Adieu, Whispering Pines, for another year. You never fail to bring out the best in everyone.


Fish in a Tree, a Review.

fish cover

Note: the design of this cover cannot be ignored; it is fantastic and iconic. Congrats to the designers at Penguin. The spot gloss varnish on the matte background is a great touch.


Lynda Mullaly Hunt has crafted a beautiful story about being “that kid”, the one for whom the expectations are low, and who retreats into her own world to keep the real one at a distance. Ally sees in pictures. Words are nearly impossible to decipher; so she doesn’t try. With the help of a great teacher, who begins to crack her code, Ally starts opening up to the idea that maybe there’s more to herself than she realized. It’s a powerful realization, and one that so many kids will relate to.

Through the course of the story, Ally finds and connects with other kids who accept her and see beyond the attempts at distancing herself from them. Ally’s allies, Albert and Keisha, feel very real to me. Their bond of friendship helps Ally realize that she has much to offer, and it bolsters the trio against the sideways glances and smack talk of some of the other kids, like Shay.

The author has effectively put into words that claustrophobic feeling of what it’s like to HAVE to stay one step ahead of being figured out and labeled as dumb. That crushing feeling- that need to stay under the radar, or even be deemed problematic, instead of the world finding out the truth, feels so real here.

Mr. Daniels is the teacher who sees beyond the front Ally has put up. He knows something is up with this girl, and refuses to let her go under the radar. We discover that Ally is actually dyslexic, and that it is a workable condition. The more Ally understands this, the more empowered she is. And her friends help her through it all.

Everyone should be so lucky as to have a Mr. Daniels in their lives. A good teacher can literally be a turning point in a struggling student’s life. I know I had a few teachers like that- the ones who saw the person before the grade. They are the real unsung heroes in the ever-changing and difficult school landscape, and this story shines a light on them.

“Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy.”

So true. This story is a good reminder for folks of all ages, really, to look beyond the surface and see the potential in every person.


Fish in a Tree Launch

My good friend Lynda Mullaly Hunt recently held a book launch for her new middle grade novel, FISH IN A TREE. It’s exciting to see this baby swim out into the world now. I was lucky to have been able to read it before it was a book, and one of the lead characters might be named Albert Dubois, who has a mom named Audrey Dubois (my daughter). Suffice it to say, we are honored and stoked to have this nod in the book, and it was a blast to be involved in Lynda’s full-out themed launch!

Here are a some scenes from the launch, which included making your own fish and putting it in a tree, Albert’s science Jeopardy game, fishing for words, and making sketches for the Sketchbook of Impossible Things. It was a huge, well-attended success, with a lot of writer friends, family, and local kids and librarians adding to the electricity.

Be free, little fish! You belong to the world now, and they will be better for it.

Read my review of the book here.

fish collage



Be a Dinner Winner!

Hello, li’l blog. Sorry to neglect you for so long. Let’s make up for lost time, shall we?

Here’s a happy recent event- one of my Fred and Friends products is featured in the February 2015 issue of Family Fun magazine! It’s a kid’s plate that encourages you to eat the healthy stuff before getting to uncover a “prize” at the end. Hey, there could be anything under there!

Read more about this particular item on the Fred website here.