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.


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