Monday, September 15, 2014

Working Writer's Retreat

By Susan J. Berger

Retreat anyone? The opportunity to spend two and a half days at the beautiful Holy Spirit RetreatCenter in Encino  reading in small groups with an acquiring editor or agent?  The 2014 SCBWI Southern California Writer’s Retreat sold out four hours after enrollment opened. 
I put myself on the waiting list. I attended the WWR in 2007 and 2012 and was dying to do it again. I got lucky.
Saturday Morning: I’m on break. Yesterday the entire group divided into two first pages sessions. We each had three minutes to read our first 250 words. Our critiquing panel, authors Stephanie Gordon Jacobs, Judith Ross Enderle and Ann Whitford Paul gave us feedback. This was a practice session for Sunday’s first pages read. Sunday morning, editors Ariel Richardson, Bethany Strout, agent Karen Grencik and a surprise guest editor will be are critique panel.
Waiting to read first pages.

 
Our small breakout groups took notes for each other so we didn’t have to remember what the panel said about our work.  It’s nerve making getting up there, knowing you’re being timed.
I heard so many wonderful first pages.  My only regret is that I couldn’t hear all of the stories that went with the first two hundred and fifty words.
I read the first 250 words of a non- fiction picture book.  How They Wrote It.  Judy’s, Ann’s , and Stephanie’s responses made me realize I had better use a bit of my three minutes to explain what I intended to picture book to be.
After a stretching session with Lynette Townsend, we went to dinner and on to our first sessions with the acquiring faculty.  We had twelve minutes each for reading and critique time. It was up to the individual to decide how to divide the time between reading and feedback.

Sarah Laurenson
The evening had two sessions for each of the acquiring faculty. Regional advisor Sarah Laurenson worked out a spreadsheet worthy of a military maneuver. We writers were divided into two groups: Best Sellers and Award Winners. Then these groups were subdivided into groups of five
Roommates were in opposite session. This gave us an hour alone in our room to write and revise.

My group of five met with Little Brown’s Bethany Strout.


Bethany Strout, Kim James and ????My mind blanked It's Late I need bed.
I loved my group’s work. Katharyn Sinelli read from her YA fantasy chiller. Maria Johnson and Lynn Becker had terrific picture books. I read Chapter 1 from my mid-grade novel. (Lynette Townsend, our fabulous Stretch Queen, chose not to read. She said work had kept her too busy to do the revision she’d wanted to do. I’ve loved Lynette Picture books in past retreats and I regret not hearing her work.) Bethany Strout’s critiques on all of our work were insightful and encouraging.
Karol Silverstein

Friday night I chose not to revise. I stayed in the main building waiting for the Wine and Cheese party and got into a great conversation with terrific story teller and West side Schmooze coordinator, Karol Silverstein, about our secret love for the  Twilight books, religions and toads.

Karen Grencik came out of her second session and remarked that the level of writing here at the retreat was so much higher than those she heard at conference. I felt all warm, fuzzy and nervous. Karen is the last person my group will read for. I’m praying we’ll all measure up.


Lynette, the stretch queen, Angela and Lynn
The last event Friday was the wine and cheese party. I contributed a solid chocolate salmon. I hope to be remembered as the chocolate bringer.  Although I’d rather be remembered as the writer whose work they decided to acquire. I loved meeting and talking to my fellow authors and getting to schmooze with the staff.

Saturday morning started at 7:30 with a stretch session for those who chose to attend. I love Lynette’s sessions.  Breakfast was from 8:00 – 9:00.
Each group had morning sessions with one of our resident authors. I got some great feedback from Stephanie Gordon and rushed back to my room to make changes. I remembered I had a blog post due and began it.
After lunch came pictures. Nutschell Windsor, the staff photographer posed us in straight and zany groups. She hasn'tposted these yet, or I would show you.
Melody Mansfield, The grant winner, Me and Catherine Modesitt
At 2:15 Best Sellers all had their second session with acquiring Faculty. Ours was with Chronicle Books’ Ariel Richardson. Ariel gave great advice to each of us in the nicest way possible. I can’t wait to revise chapter 2 of Tasha incorporating her advice.

Karen Grencik and author
Tonight’s program is Stretch at 5:00, dinner at 5:30, followed by our last acquiring faculty sessions. Ours will be with Red FoxLiterary agent, Karen Grencik. 
After that, Karaoke!

Ariel and Bethany choosing a song. Nutschell photographing.



Bethany and Karen were both at our table at breakfast. I’ve really enjoyed getting a chance to know them as the delightful humans they are. I want a chance to talk to Ariel and find out more about her. She too feels like a kindred spirit. We are all people who love books and want to see more of them.

Sunday: Breakfast, checkout and three hours of first pages.
Sunday's surprise panelist was Nephele Tempest from The Knight Agency.
 

Sunday's Panel Bethany Strout, Karen Grencik, Ariel Richardson and Nephele Tempest
 
 
I heard lots of revisions in these first pages and the panel gave some wonderful feedback. I left feeling some hope for Tasha, my mid grade multicultural.Sarah will email us the list of submission instructions for each panel member. I don’t know what will be acquired this weekend. Those of us who aren’t, will rewrite and try again. I can tell you, that acquired or not, I had a wonderful weekend. 
 


24 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great retreat. I'd love to go if I lived in California.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish you did live here, Natalie. I would love to have coffee with you.

      Delete
    2. Natalie,
      You don't live in California?
      Run! Don't Walk...to the nearest California border. Just say, "Pen N' Ink sent me" and the hounds will be locked in their cages.
      Sincerely,
      Border Buddy

      Delete
    3. It was a perfectly organized WWR. I had not attended for many years, but was a regular at the first ones. It was great to have fresh ears for my works-in-progress. There was indeed a high level of writing experience among the attendees. The terrific faculty was honest yet supportive, and very approachable. (They could sing, too!) Thanks for writing it all down so well, Susan.

      Delete
    4. I agree, Lisze. I think I was in your group when we read in 2012.

      Delete
  2. Wonderful recap of the wonderful retreat! Thanks so much for this fantastic post. It was such a pleasure to go into the weekend with a friendly face at my side, plus to make so many new friends. The sessions were as valuable for me as for you as well. Great, great experience!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was great seeing you there, Kady and I loved your first page!

      Delete
  3. Wow - this sounds like a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Susan, thanks for sharing this. It's always good to have a writers conference that uplifts and gets the creative juices flowing. Nice write up. (Please don't invite more to CA--we are already too crowded in the Bay Area, and need water more than people!) Blessings, Penny (www.penelopeannecole.com)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting, Penny. I bet you have good writers retreats up north.

      Delete
  5. Sounds like you had fun :) by the way When are you coming to Bend/ Redmond? KC:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know, KC. I'd sure like t see you again.

      Delete
  6. Great recap, Sue! Reading about our wacky Friday night convo made me laugh. It really WAS about Twilight, religion and toads, people! Thanks for all your help this weekend. It made a huge difference for me physically and allowed me to get the most out of the weekend. You are a rock start!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Um..Rock STAR. Clearly exhaustion and the heat are melting my brain (at least the part that catches typos)...

      Delete
    2. Stop the heat!!!! I don't mind being a rock start. And I love hearing your work.

      Delete
  7. Kudos to you, for ALL the stretching...in body, mind and spirit! Good luck with your submissions. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Samanthe. Same from me. Good luck to all of us.

      Delete
  8. Awesome post! The retreat was so much fun (and very productive to boot.) It was absolutely thrilling to see how much everyone's first pages evolved in the course of a single weekend (and that chocolate salmon was a beast!) It was lovely meeting you and good luck on your writing quest!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, I loved seeing how we all evolved.
      Blessings

      Delete
  9. Fantastic, productive retreat and a delightful time with Sue! Thanks for posting. One of these years we will have a chocolate-tasting table.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved your story. Contacting Kaliko for you.
      Blessings
      Susan

      Delete
  10. It was great meeting you Sue. Nice to read your recap. I had a great time and learned a lot from everyone.

    ReplyDelete

We love hearing from you.