Highlights from the SCBWI Winter Conference

The beloved Lin Oliver and unforgettable Henry Winkler signed copies of their book. Super excited to get a pic with both of them.

Henry was a surprise guest who gave a rousing speech to us that made me want to keep trying for a dozen more years. 🙂

Lin created such a friendly caring vibe for the entire conference. Despite there being 1300 attendees, I felt very connected and like I was part of a ginormous Brady Bunch. She’s a witty and charismatic speaker and I’ve never laughed so much at a conference before.

The heart-capturing Chris Crutcher read excerpts from his soul wracking novels that have made him one of the most banned writers in America. I fell in love twice over.

He made a point of saying that when you tell tough stories you have to use tough language. “We have to tell those stories in their native tongue.”

He also pointed out that for him the best way to make life important is to shorten it. In Deadline, his main character has one year to really live.

A life lesson I took away from his speech was that “Grief is probably one of the most important things we do.” And when we don’t take time to grieve, we get sick. There is no set limit to grieving, you have to just let it run its course.

That resonated so deeply with me because in college one of my close friends was diagnosed with cancer. It sent me into a spiral and everyone around me kept saying, “Get over it. Don’t let this derail you.” I ended up with mono. I should have just ignored them and taken my time processing the grief of having my dear friend face a fatal illness.

Arianne Lewin, Executive Editor at G.P. Putnam (Penguin) gave a riveting workshop on fantasy novels. That made me think further about the first two pages of my YA. Ah revisions, my new best friend.

Her explanation of the subgenres of fantasy helped tremendously.

She passed out the first two pages of three different fantasy novels and had us examine what worked in them. Fascinating insight. A few of the key things we saw across the books was:

  • Character development,
  • Strong voice,
  • Some idea of stakes,
  • Context/setting the scene,
  • Word choices revealing character,
  • Intriguing without revealing everything.

Tara Weikum, Executive Editor at Harper Collins shared essential insight into the YA market.

She talked about how people said YA was dead in the 90s and they were wrong. She also talked about the evolution of YA books to the point where there is a separate NYT Bestseller list for them. She warned against chasing trends because “they are impossible to predict or plan for.”

She reminded us that teens read things that are important and relevant to them. She touched on how one book may appeal to her and not to another editor.


The third workshop I attended was on revision with Cheryl Klein, Executive Editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic). Her workshop was so informative and useful, I bought her book, Second Sight, and I would recommend everyone check out her blog before you begin the revision process. She has some fantastic tools to help you gain distance from your novel and analyze it so that you actually “Re-vision” your book.


The cocktail party on Saturday night was a not to be missed event. I met the critique group organizer for CT, several pre-published authors, a soon to be published author. And I tried the Baked By Melissa mini-cupcakes which were delish squared. A networking night filled with delectable food stations. I <3 mashed potato martinis.

Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser and the entire SCBWI team that organized this conference deserve a standing ovation for their tireless efforts and boundless energy. And for the constant supply of coffee throughout the conference. 🙂

This is a wonderful conference to attend for all writers of  children’s books.


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