20th Anniversary Conference Recap


Happy Monday everyone! I know you’re wondering  a Monday can be happy. When you reflect on the regional conference we had last month, of course! And it was a great one!

It started with a Friday evening reception where we were able to mingle with our fellow writers and the faculty while enjoying a glass of wine and some yummy desserts. Those of us spending the night went back to our hotel rooms to rest up for the day ahead.

We hit the ground running Saturday morning when the amazing T.A. Barron inspired us all with his talk “The Magic of Words”


He encouraged everyone in the room to never give up, citing the 32 rejections he received for his first book. He said if we believe in our art, we will find a way. In the end he urged us to not just be consumers – be creators. “You’re making a product…you’re making magic.”

After a break for book sales (boy, were things flying off the shelf!), Editor Jill Santopolo from Philomel Books gave her talk “You’re Such a Character!”  She gave great tips on how to flesh out your main character by asking yourself these four invaluable questions: 1) What’s unique about my character? 2) What is their imperfection? 3) What is their vulnerable situation? 4) How are they kind?


Following Ms. Santopolo was agent and author Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Ms. Paquette shared her thoughts on how to deliver a strong beginning of a novel with “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning.” She said hooking your reader to make them keep reading was “like two sticks rubbing together” to create fire.

Next was the co-founder of SCBWI, Steve Mooser who was kind enough to come help celebrate our region’s 20th anniversary.


He discussed how to compete in the fast growing world of websites and e-books with “Taking on the Digital Challenge – Creating   stories and characters that will capture the attention of even the most electronically savvy reader.”  Mr. Mooser made a great (and encouraging) observation: take notice of all the teenagers out there who are on Twitter, Facebook, email and their phones texting and realize they are “madly writing away.”

After a lunch and  autographing/book sales break, illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky imparted his wisdom with “What Z is For,” where he gave us a guided tour though several of his book projects. It was a treat to have him share his artistic process with us. The audience was also quite impressed with the shirt he was wearing, which was made from fabric containing pictures from his picture book Z IS FOR MOOSE!


Editor Sylvie Frank, from Paula Wiseman Books followed with “Standout Stories: Writing a Picture Book that Isn’t Too Quiet.” She discussed what it means when a picture book is rejected for being too quiet and gave tips on how to make yours anything but. Ms. Frank stressed the importance of a plotting and character development. She also stated that while it’s important to be different in order to stand out, you need to ask two key questions of your book. Has this idea been done before? And if not, why?

Our last speaker was agent Evelyn Fazio. Her talk “Writing YA Dialogue That Works” focused on the Do’s and Don’ts for crafting natural dialogue that flows while still keeping readers’ interest. Among her many pieces of advice, she reminded us to go to wherever teens gather and listen to speech patterns so your dialogue is authentic.

Closing out the conference was an informative Q&A for the Faculty Panel of Stephen Mooser, Sylvie Frank, Jill Santopolo, Evelyn Fazio and Paul O. Zelinsky.


Before leaving door prizes were raffled off, including the 20th Anniversary autographed director’s chair (congratulations Kenneth Shepherd!), as well as a variety of wonderful books.


And last, but not least, Laura and I had the pleasure of raffling off our Blog Challenge Goodie Basket (congratulations Veronica Bartles!)

As long as this recap was, I only scratched the surface of the wisdom and inspiration given out that day. I’m already looking forward to our conference September 21 and 22 “Lucky 13: Make 2013 Your Year!” Keep an eye out over the summer for more information.

As you know, this was Edie Hemingway’s and Lois Szymanski’s last conference as co-RA’s. We are indebted to them for their hard work and dedication on our region’s behalf. Fortunately, they left us in good hands. Welcome our new co-RA’s Sue Poduska and Sue Peters!

Happy writing and illustrating, friends! Be inspired!

About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
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3 Responses to 20th Anniversary Conference Recap

  1. Carleen Tjader says:

    I would love to get more info on what editor Sylvie Frank had to say on writing a picture book that isn’t too quiet.

  2. Carleen, here’s a recap of a talk she gave at another conference on a similar topic… http://robsanderswrites.blogspot.com/2012/06/editor-sylvie-frank.html

  3. Sue Peters says:

    Thanks for catching the highlights and for the welcome, too!

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