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.


NESCBWI Whispering Pines Retreat 2013

I had the pleasure and luck to attend the New England SCBWI’s most excellent Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat again this year (I believe this is my 5th year). It takes place in paradise (also known as URI’s Alton Jones Campus in W. Greenwich, RI). Lucky for me, this isn’t so far to travel; yet it is like being a world away!

     We started with a first night first pages panel…


…followed by a pleasant Kid Lit Jeopardy deathmatch.


Valkyrie Lynda fields the questions while Julia Boyce writes upside down and backwards to keep score.

Events take place in and around the campus, but mainly here in the Lodge…


Retreat Directors Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Mary Pierce got the day rolling on Friday with some shout-outs to the volunteers who make it all work.

giftsAccolades and to Laurie Murphy and Linda Crotta Brennan for their assistance!

The mentors this year were stellar!

mentorsErin Dionne, Shauna Rossano, Mary, Sara Crowe, Lynda, Bethany Strout, and Kelly Murphy up front. Missing from this shot: Leslie Connor!

First up was my amazing illustrator friend Kelly Murphy, who was very up front and realistic about what it’s like to work with authors and publishers. Her work is dynamic and recognizably hers, no matter the subject. She takes a lot of care to do manuscripts justice in her art.

Some of Kelly’s originals were on display while she signed books.

Erin Dionne is the author of several books that are huge hits in our house. Her talk was about marketing, and it was fun to hear how she makes connections and cultivates community in the real word and online.


Author Leslie Connor had some great insight into tapping into the truth when writing. Having that element of truth allows readers to invest in your characters and care about what happens to them. Such a good point.


Food! The food is incredible at Whispering Pines. And it just keeps coming. And then the plates disappear. It’s a magical way to live for a few days!


Every meal comes with excellent conversation as well!

First pages, second night…

…followed by FIRE!


fire2Cameron Kelly Rosenblum stokes the fire and the silly conversation, all with the same stick.

Now pretend that you have stayed up WAY past your bedtime talking, laughing, and having a great time. Good!

Shauna Rossano, Associate Editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, got the last morning started with some great tips on catching an editor’s eye right away by making those important first impressions.


Sara Crowe, Agent at Harvey Klinger, Inc. gave us some valuable insight into her process of reviewing books for representation. Submissions to her must not only ring true to her, but imply a way she can market it to editors.


Here’s Bethany Strout, Assistant Editor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I had met her at the Blueberry Fields retreat in Maine last year, and she was just as smart and approachable here. She draws from both her knowledge and instincts to choose manuscripts for her publisher.



Alas, all too soon, it comes to a close. I love reconnecting with many of my writer and artist friends in the region here; it really is a charmed event.

4girlsJust a few of the lovely folks as seen at WP… Jennifer Thermes, Janet Costa Bates, Cameron Kelly Rosenblum, and Kim Savage.

A few parting shots, until next time…!





2009 NESCBWI Conference

That’s right! I just came back from this year’s New England SCBWI conference. This year’s theme was “Many Voices,” and that turned out to be very fitting! On Friday night, there were many voices at the Muse Jazz Club Meet & Greet:


Very fun to catch up with a lot of friends, and of course, to have that experience of saying,”Hmmm.I know I know you…where have we met before?” It happens a lot at this conference!

Here’s Barb Johansen Newman, Carlyn Beccia, Moi, and Maryann Cocca-Leffler. And a basket of snacks.

There a was a big wall to draw on. Here’s John Bell adding something to the wall near one of Barb’s famous kitties.

This year was different for me. I was a member of the “faculty,” and I had two presentations of my own to present on Saturday. So I did get to hear the keynoters, but mostly missed the other sessions! The morning keynote speaker was the fabulous Cynthia Lord:


What a way to start the day. She was very inspiring, talking about the power there is in personal stories. She gave excellent pointers on finding the emotions in your own experiences and integrating them into your work, even if your book is pure fantasy. The emotions involved in recalling real people and experiences can add the needed depth to your characters and stories. Everyone came away from this talk feeling inspired. Everyone.


I was able to catch most of Kirsten Cappy’s session on creating marketing plans for your books that tap into each story’s unique theme. The idea of creating an individualized marketing plan for each of your books is great, and she showed some very cool examples of others who had done this.


Here’s me becoming one with my first-ever Power Point presentation. My first session was called “Books and Beyond: The Many Markets for Children’s Illustration.” I was nervous. But then, I got to talk about all the stuff I love and have been doing for a long time: magazines, toys, fabric, stationery, licensing, and everything else that requires an illustrator with a knack for children’s art. It’s a big, big, world out there, and there was not really enough time to get into it all…but I did my best!

Barb, Janet Montecalvo, and me at lunch.

Let’s see, I think I can rememeber everyone at the table! Alice (A.C.E.) Bauer, Nicole Tadgell, Charlene Willing McManis (who had the best Native American jewelry ever), Alisa Libby (who has a book that actually bleeds!), Greg Fishbone (webmaster!), Barb, the unseen Janet Montecalvo (as seen above), and me.


The lunchtime keynote speaker was Floyd Cooper. Wow. Just wow. His work is luminous and stunning, and even though he did a piece right in front of us with a kneaded eraser, I can’t fathom how he does it. Check out his website. I appreciated that he has worked in many other genres, too.


My second session was called Fun Reads: Board Books and Other Novelty Formats. As you can see, my board book session was in the Board Room (very Donald Trump!). You can picture the chairs actually filled with people, right? Mildly intimidating! But again, I got to talk about that which I love, and I brought a lot of examples of books (both my own and others) to play around with. I pretty much ignored my Power Point presentation. Oops. I sort of forgot it was there. Oh, well, no matter!


Here’s the Diversity Panel: Louise May from Lee and Low, Bobbie Combs from Two Lives Publishing, Jennifer Laughran from Andrea Brown Literary, and Floyd Cooper. Moderated by Padma Venkatraman.What an excellent, topical discussion. It was good to hear “many voices” speaking up about the challenges and necessity of getting diverse books into kids’ hands.


Here’s the adorable Kathy Weller, with her prize-winning poster! I just adore this piece she did…a favorite of mine, and obviously a crowd favorite, too! Kathy also did a great rundown of the sessions she went to on her blog, WellerWishes. She also happen to go to one of my sessions, so you can read about it from the other side…thanks, Kathy!


I wrapped up Saturday at the booksigning…here’s me and Barb and our adoring throngs of fans…LOL!
I had a blast seeing everyone there, and I hope everyone had a great time on Sunday, too!
Next year’s conference will be at The Courtyard Marriott in Fitchburg, from May 14-16. Mark those calendars!