March Conference Report

Good afternoon! It’s your fearless threesome checking in to give you a quick recap of our Spring Workshop “Rx for Children’s Book Creators: Getting Your Stories Right.” Before proceeding, we apologize for the not-ready-for-primetime blog post that you may have been emailed. It’s all WordPress’ fault.

The workshop was held at the Claggett Center in Frederick, Maryland, a great place for our crowd!

Our day started with introductions by one of our regional advisors, the lovely Edie Hemingway, author of  Road To Tater Hill.

(Sorry, Laura’s camera was acting wonky, so this was the best picture she could get!)

Edie began by giving some well-deserved shout-outs to several people who make events like these possible for our region, such as:

Lois Szymanski, co-regional advisor and the author of recently released WILD COLT.

Sue Poduski, who coordinated all the registrations.

Susan Detwiler, our regional illustrator gal.

Planning committee member, Barb Dell.

And of course, Naomi Milliner who once again did a great job coordinating the critiques! Many, many, MANY thanks, ladies, for all your incredible hard work!

We then moved on to the day’s first awesome event: Rx for Children’s Book Creators, taught by the lovely Esther Hershenhorn!

Chicago author Esther Hershenhorn writes award-winning picture books and middle-grade fiction, teaches Writing for Children classes at the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio and The Chicago Newberry Library and coaches writers of all ages to help them tell their stories.  Esther recently concluded her ten-year service on SCBWI’s Board of Advisors; she treasures her status as the Illinois Chapter’s Regional Advisor Emeritus.

(Be sure to check out her fabulous blog, www.teachingauthors! Also, click here if you missed her pre-conference interview!)

So, how was her workshop?

In a word . . . AMAZING! When you’ve been to as many conferences as I have, it gets to the point where information is repeated and you hear things you’ve heard a thousand times before. But Esther’s talk was fresh, informative, and taught this old writing dog more than a few tricks! I wish I took better notes to convey this, but I found myself being too caught up in the moment, and thinking of how I can use her ideas for my own manuscript.

To further prove Esther’s awesomeness, here’s what Esther sent to us:

I’m still smiling from my glorious time in Frederick, MD.

Thank you, Edie Hemingway and Lois Szymanski for inviting me to come share my brain’s Hard Drive as well as my Heart Drive so MD/DE/WVA SCBWI members can now continue moving forward, upright (!), on their children’s book creators’ plotlines! We’re so lucky to be doing what we do, helping our readers discover, uncover, recover their stories whilst discovering, uncovering and recovering our own.

Thank you, Laura Bowers, Kerry Aradhya, Peggy Dobbs, Claudia Friddell, Cynthia Grady, Kara Laughlin, Betty May, Chieu Anh Urban, Joan Waites and Patrick Young for sharing your first-time author/illustrator experiences and publications in the afternoon closing panel. 

You were pure “Show, Don’t Tell” – exemplifying and underscoring the Truths I presented in my Saturday morning talk – “Rx for Children’s Book Creators.”

Your First-time Children’s Book Creators Tips are priceless:

  • Don’t think too much!
  • Look for the positive in the negative.
  • Slow down….and get your work out there.
  • Take risks; keep networking.
  • Write/create every day; be open to critiques.
  • Don’t write about anything you’re not passionate about.
  • Reconsider before quitting
  • Give yourself permission to take yourself seriously

Here are the words I shared from Byrd Baylor’s I’M IN CHARGE OF CELEBRATIONS (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986).

“..I’m the one

in charge of



I put


in charge.

I choose

my own.


Last year

I gave myself

one hundred and eight

celebrations –

besides the ones

that they close school for.


I cannot get by

with only

a few.


Friend, I’ll tell you

how it works.


I keep a notebook

and I write the date

and then I write about

the celebration.


I’m very choosy


what goes in

that book.


It has to be something

I plan to remember

the rest of my life.


You can tell

what’s worth

a celebration


your heart will



you’ll feel

like you’re standing

on top of a mountain

and you’ll

catch your breath

like you were


some new kind of air.

 As your fellow SCBWI MD/DE/WVA Chapter member Phyllis Naylor Reynolds encouraged me in 1990 to send on word of my fellow Illinois members’ celebrations, I encourage you to send me word of yours.

 And, I’m curious: did the attendees who volunteered they came for COURAGE and WISDOM leave satisfied? The member who wanted to meet “that sixth person” emailed me of her success. 🙂

 Thank you all for your warm, warm welcome and reception. My ears are open, waiting word of your Celebrations.

 Esther Hershenhorn


Awesome, thanks, Esther!

And we certainly are taking Esther’s advice by starting a monthly feature here at As The Eraser Burns: our Monthly Woo-HOO’s that will be posted on the last Friday of the month! So if you have any good news to share . . . anything from finishing a rough draft, forming a critique group, finally taking the plunge and submitting a novel, or of publication, please let us know!

Until then, back to the conference. 🙂

Next up on the schedule was a talk by Sarah Dotts Barley!

Sarah Dotts Barley is an associate editor focusing on middle grade and teen fiction at HarperCollins Children’s Books.  She’s lucky enough to work with authors including Georgia Byng, Holly Cupala, Donna Freitas, Gwendolyn Heasley, Geraldine McCaughrean, Joyce Carol Oates, and several new writers whose debut novels will publish in 2012 and 2013.  You can follow her on Twitter @The_SDB

(Click here to read Sarah’s pre-conference interview!)

Her presentation, “Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them,” was chock full of great advice. In a nutshell, Sarah advised us not to get too caught up in the mechanics of writing and focus on the story’s “bigger picture.” Always make sure you know your character and focus on their emotional development within an active plot. Spend the time your work deserves and, of course, write what you love.

Next up was Rachel Orr, agent extraordinaire, who has been representing authors and illustrators at Prospect Agency since 2007.  Prior to becoming an agent, she edited children’s books at HarperCollins for several years.

(To read her pre-conference interview, click here!)

She entertained and educated us with her presentation called “VOICES CARRY:  Discovering and Developing Your Own Personal Style:”

Voice is often the most difficult writing element to master, but it’s probably the most important factor that agents and editors look for in new writers.  By examining the work of our influences–and taking a critical look at our own work–Rachel discussed how to develop our natural voices, as well as how to use voice to create likable (yet realistic) characters.

Through examples and writing exercises, she also explored the effective use of:

  • intentional repetition, rhyme, and rhythm
  • first-person vs. third-person voice
  • multiple viewpoints
  • experimental formats and genre
  • dialect and word choice

Topping off these fabulous presentations was “Fairy Tales and Cautionary Tales: A Panel Discussion with Regional Members.” It was inspiring to hear about other people’s writing journeys.

Conference participants were offered plenty of opportunities to meet with authors and purchase books.

Cynthia Grady selling copies of her book, I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery.

Claudia Friddell selling copies of Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire.  And, that’s our Co-RA, Lois Syzmanski, signing copies of her books Wild Colt and The True Story of Sea Feather.

Amie Rose Rotruck selling copies of The Bronze Dragon Codex and How to Trap a Zombie and Track a Vampire and Other Hands-On Activities for Monster Hunters.

A mighty WooHoo to Ann McCallum who won As The Eraser Burns’ raffle prize. She is the lucky recipient of a fabulous literary goodie basket. Wish you had won? You will have another chance before the summer conference. Keep an eye out for future challenges.

Many thanks to all those who participated and attended.  A great time was had by all.   We can’t wait to see everyone at the July conference.


About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two college boys, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She clearly likes run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
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