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.


2014 Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat

It’s been nearly 2 weeks since returning from Whispering Pines, a writer’s retreat deep in the woods of the Alton Jones campus of URI. Such a beautiful setting- and a wonderful time as always. The mentors, the camaraderie, the food…everything.



Here’s Lynda introducing the mentors and helpers, who all received thematic welcoming gifts…



Animated author Audrey Vernick talked about how, beyond the craft, luck has a part in the business. She also emphasized not getting hung up on the “rules”.  Kirsten Cappy talked about the various ways you can get the word out about your book, and how to connect in ways we maybe hadn’t thought of yet.

2_vernick cappy


First Pages, as read by Lynda, Mary and Jenny. I must say, the calibre of the submissions we tend to hear at this retreat tends to be stellar!

2.1_first pages

Panelists Christine Krones, Audrey Vernick, Sarah Dotts Barley, Regina Griffin. 


And then, there are shenanigans… photo fun, palm reading, and a failed attempt at levitation (at least in the bodily sense)!


(come on- you have to believe!) 



Kim, Kristen, Julie, Cameron, and Janet during one of the sessions. 


Gather ’round the inferno! The very cozy common room in the Whispering Pines lodge.




The mentors and organizers, lined up all pretty! Lynda Hunt (author and retreat co-director), Regina Griffin (Executive Editor at Egmont USA), Christine Krones (Editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Kirsten Cappy (of Curious City in Portland Maine), Sarah Dotts Barley (Editor at HarperCollins),  Audrey Vernick (author), and Mary Pierce (retreat co-director).


Christine Krones had some good advice about what today’s market needs to see in submissions, and how they can be pitched to their best advantage.

Sarah Dotts Barley talked about not revising as you go, and allowing a book to marinate for a while so you can gain perspective on it.

Regina Griffin’s talk had some great examples of the windy path that a book’s revision can take, and how nothing you write for a manuscript, even if it’s cut, is ever lost. It’s part of the process of making it better.


(I am obviously highly editing our mentors’ talks, but they were all very in-depth and chock full of good info- I took pages of notes!)


We got lucky with some nice weather that allowed us to get out an explore the grounds…





 Caroline, Laurie and Jen.


Surprise giveaways at lunch! Oh, and by the way… THE FOOD. Always wonderful here.

9_dining games



Three cakes a day? Well, OK, if you insist. 


There are always good times around the table.

11_table people

Awesome table-mates: Cameron, Julia, Regina, Sally, Kirsten, Sarah, Jen, and Laurie. 


And now, lets reflect on the surroundings, the people, the work ahead. That’s what I am still doing now.










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…!





Whispering Pines 2010

Arrival at sunset.

Once again, the marvelously beautiful acreage of the Alton Jones campus welcomed us to the Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat! It is always such a treat to head into the woods and live amongst authors, illustrators, and book lovers of all kinds for a few days.

We were swept into the experience right away with good food, drinks, and a First Pages panel. Folks had anonymously submitted first pages of their works in progress and were able to get first impressions from the panel.

All ears on the first pages.

The panel: Agent Rebecca Sherman, Assistant Editor Connie Hsu, Associate Editor Alexandra Penfold, Author Cynthia Lord. Continue reading “Whispering Pines 2010”

Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat 2009


Once again, I had the good fortune of going to the Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat at the Alton Jones Campus in West Greenwich, RI. It’s not far from me, but a world away. The setting is more like something out of Maine.


Before anything happens there is food.

SCBWI’s Marilyn Salerno, editor mentor Sarah Shumway from Harper Collins, Barb Johansen-Newman, and author-illustrator mentor Maryann Cocca-Leffler.

The food is literally amazing here, and there’s plenty of it.
After dinner, Lynda gets the ball rolling with a First Pages panel.


Excellent readers!

The mentors: Author Ellen Wittlinger, Agent Anna Webman, Editor Jennifer Rees, and editor Sarah Shumway.

Here you can see the cozy fireplace room.


The girls sent me some mascots to keep me company over the weekend.


The next morning began with special helper awards.

Helper Sally Riley gets her trophy from Chief Organizer Lynda Hunt.

Laurie Murphy is at a loss for words…

Jan Kozlowski receives her very special award.

Jennifer Rees shared her editing process with us, and showed us some great examples of recent books from Scholastic.


Author Ellen Wittlinger read us some inspiring passages from well-written books, and at least 3 important points to think about in our writing!


Here is Sarah Shumway at her very cool podium giving us the lo-down about working at Harper Collins.


Laura’s trying to decide which way to go.

The view from the porch.

Mentor books for sale!

Another fabulous dinner! Honestly, it’s consistently the best food ever to be had at events like these.

Pictured here: Laura Fry, Laurie Murphy, Debra Wainwright, Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Lynda Mulally Hunt, Barb Johansen Newman, Jan Kozlowski, Mary Pierce.

After dinner, it was time for another rollicking session of First Pages!



The official mentor lineup shot!

Jennifer Rees, Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Anna Webman, Sarah Shumway, Ellen Wittlinger.

After hours fun at Laurel! Here’s Jan doing her best Vanna White impression with a fine array of themed baskets to be raffled off.


Cheers! Somehow there are always colorful beverages involved in the evening’s events.


Mary brought along Cadbury Creme Eggs. Not just the smaller, wimpier American ones, but the bigger, better British ones! This finally laid to rest the mystery of the incredible shrinking Cadbury Eggs. Americans should protest. Bring back the original sized eggs! Thanks to Mary for all the spare British ones…we’re loving them!


After another night of late-night chatting, the next day started with Barb introducing Maryann Cocca-Leffler.
Maryann has channeled all of her life experiences into her stories, and has used her winning personality and chutzpah to successfully navigate the minefield known as children’s publishing. Very inspiring.


New to the festivities this year: Children’s Book Jeopardy!

Lynda Trebek shot out the questions, and teams had only 15 seconds to guess them. Not easy!

Team 4 gets it right!

Anna Webman from the Curtis Brown Agency spoke next, shedding some light on what agents do.


Maryann signs her books for lucky children (and adults)!

The last of the themed baskets were raffled off, signifying the end of another fabulous retreat.

Basket cases!

A final look at the Whispering Pines:


See you next year!
If you’re nostalgic for retreats from previous years, follow the links:

Whispering Pines 2007

Whispering Pines 2008

Whispering Pines 2008

I left my usual life behind for a few days over the weekend, and retreated to the woods for the Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat. The location of this event is truly remote, so it’s easy to immerse yourself in both nature and writing, or at least talking about writing. 


The retreat opened with a First Pages panel, whereby participants’ first pages of their current manuscripts are read aloud, and then discussed by the writer and editor mentors. Here they are:


That’s writer Mark Peter Hughes, Charlesbridge editor Emily Mitchell, and Candlewick editor Kaylan Adair. They did a bang-up job of critting the story beginnings, being truthful yet positive.


Someone in this group is probably sweating it out while Lynda reads their First Page…

The next morning was rainy, so the pines were not whispering (which they do on a nice day), but whimpering, maybe.


The weather didn’t interfere with the great sessions, though, or the GREAT food that gets served seemingly all the time. It is easy to get used to gourmet meals served continuously, without having to actually cook or wash the dishes. But I digress.

Emily Mitchell was up first. 

Emily reads. She chose some clear examples of strong voice, which reinforced a lot of what came up during the First Pages panel. She thinks voice is the most essential, driving part of the story.When you start tuning in to what attracts you to a book and makes you want to read more, you start hearing voices, for sure. I really feel like I have a better understanding of this concept than ever before.   


Next up was Mark Peter Hughes, author of I Am the Wallpaper and Lemonade Mouth.  He gave a pens-on workshop about dialogue, and how it can effectively move things along in a story, create tension, etc. It’s great stuff to know. After this, I definitely already had mental updates I wanted to make to my current book text.

Thinking makes me hungry.
All we had to do was follow this path back to the Lodge…


And voila! The Lodge:


The neverending banquet was inside. I didn’t get any good food pictures, but the fine folks of Whispsering Pines have never made a bad meal, as far as I can tell.
Here are some scenes from the dining zone:


Lucia, Mary, and Laurie- bon appetit! 


Kaylan, Moi, and Ileneslainte!


Barb and Jan…and pie. Oh, the pie… 
Back at the Laurel Lodge, Lynda Hunt presented the helpers with weird things from her Bag o’ Fun.
Here is Lynda, Lucia (a.k.a. the “Partner in Crime”), Mary and Jan (the Basket Gals), and Barb (The Power Point Princess).  


These gals are a LOT of fun- they helped make it the casual, fun-yet-functional event that it is. Bravo. 

Not pictured: an evening of wild writing-induced debauchery that lingered until morning.Well, that’s what COULD have been going on, for all I know. I went to bed at midnight after a lot of chatting, laughing, and Cadbury eggs.

Morning came early, but the sun was out!


Kaylan Adair from Candlewick presented first on Sunday morning. She gave us an excellent overview of how things run at Candlewick, which seems pretty different from most of the other publishers out there. Different in a good way. It reminds me a bit of the Highlights company, which also operates on it’s own terms and manages to put out well-regarded work.


That’s a picture of her box o’slush behind her.I like this picture- it looks like Kaylan is channeling the angst-ridden spirit of the slush pile!


Next up was my pal Ilene Richard, the illustrator mentor. I have known Ilene for years now, but I still found out lots of new fun facts about her (like, I didn’t know she did jewelry design for 15 years!). I also hadn’t seen a bunch of her art pieces. She’s a prolific gal, and I think she’s on the verge of some big stuff. She read one of her dummy books (which I believe began at last year’s WP), and it is lookin’ GOOD! Best of all, she was not defeated by her own PowerPoint presentation!

Here’s a nice, formal picture of Ilene, Mark, Kaylan, and Emily in front of the fireplace. How rustic!


Mark clearly doesn’t know what to do with his hands.

And then, it was over. I went home with a splitting headache, but after it cleared, I was left with a clear case of inspiration!

Here are some lovely parting shots of the property:


If you are feeling nostalgic for WhisperingPines 2007, click here

Whispering Pines 2007

Whispering Pines is a fabulous 3600-acre property in W. Greenwich, RI- and every year there is a NESCBWI Writer’s Retreat on the site. This is the first year I have been able to go. I was also the illustrator mentor, which meant that I had to talk about my illustrating and stuff. What a weekend! Scroll down for pictures and impressions of a wonderful event, the kind that truly leaves you ready to create upon your re-entry to civilization.
Here is the entry to the main lodge. The setting is stunning- seemingly untouched wilderness right here in RI, but for a smallish group of rustic conference rooms clustered in one area, connected by paths. view1.jpg
This is the view from the main lodge.
We had a first pages panel with writer Laurie Halse Anderson and editors Lisa Cheng (McElderry Books, Simon and Schuster) and Liz Waniewski (Dial books, Penguin Group). It was fun to hear off-the-cuff comments on everyone’s first pages- the panel did amazingly well under the pressure! The caliber of the writing was good, too, so that made it all the more interesting.
The FOOD at Whispering Pines is top-notch. I have never seen so many good choices at a conference- unusual New England stuff, too- johnny cakes, clam cakes, lobster bisque, prime rib…sigh. Easy to get used to, hard to leave!
Here are Liz Waniewski and Lisa Cheng, the two delightful editor mentors. I personally have full confidence in their abilities to choose good things- because they are both big fans of The Office (a.k.a. the best show on TV now)! But seriously- they are both very good at what they do, and it was cool to hear each of their presentations on how they work, and how publishers work in general.
Here is Laurie Halse Anderson worrying about her latest book release, and signing a book for me. I admit it, I don’t read a lot of YA, and I hadn’t ever read any of her books before coming to the retreat. But Laurie is one of the best speakers I have ever heard, I mean- like EVER. I think she really set the tone for artistic openess during the weekend. Beyond her speech, she is enthusiastic, outspoken and DAMN good at getting each person to face their own artistic demons and/or angels. She’s like an author/therapist…in a good way. Her new book due out soon is called Twisted.

Following is an attractive montage of people, places and things from the retreat. You can see what my room looked like, and also Barb playing with one of her cowgirl alter egos. Don’t worry, the dolls had a good time, too!
After a very late night of scintillating discussions and little sleep, I had to give my talk the next morning.
Everyone says it went well, but it was nerve-wracking- I forgot a whole bunch of things I was going to talk about! It was the first time for me to speak to adults- and they were a great bunch to speak to.
I won a Mystery Box in the raffle- score!
You can see what was inside- I am going to need a bigger YA shelf.
All in all an amazing weekend- I loved meeting everyone there, and would go again to this in a heartbeat!
Thanks Lynda and Jan and everyone for a truly memorable experience!