Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome to the Bus & On the Road with the NJ SCBWI Retreat Bunch!

With the debut of Spike in our first picture book "Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten" (illustrated by Anne Kennedy, Scholastic, May 2011) coming soon, I have been wanting to start his blog for some time now.

After our big, inspiring weekend at the New Jersey SCBWI Fall Writer's Retreat , Spike insists that I start right away. He wants to dedicate this first blog post to his new and best friend, Norman the Gorilla, pet of Betsy Devany who Spike had the pleasure to meet at the Retreat.

FRIDAY: Our weekend began with an uneventful two hour and 15 minute drive from Long Island, New York to Hyatt Regency Hotel & Resort in Princeton, New Jersey in the rain.  Spike wanted to catch up on his reading, so we listened to Christopher Paolini's Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1) on Audiobook, which made for an enjoyable ride.

Of course it took two trips to get my luggage it to he room, and only one trip for Spikes! Once we settled in, we  made our way up to the Presidential Suite, where New Jersey RA Kathy Temean and Assistant RA Laurie Wallmark had set up a Hospitality Suite for meet and greet and snacks.

There, Spike met Norman and I met Betsy!

Both Spike and Norman have their own stories, and found that they have lots in common, including a desire to travel, curiosity and a love of exploring. You can read more about Spike and Norman's adventures at the conference and see pictures at Norman's blog:

Betsy and I also have lots in common, including a love of picture books, creatures little and big, a town and Scottish Heritage!

Spike sat in on our 4:00 PM Friday night peer critique session, at which we got to begin sharing our comments on the eight picture book manusscripts our picture book group had shared one month prior to the Retreat.  At 5:00 PM I had my one-on-one 45-minute critique session with Jessica Dandino Garrison of Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Putnam). She was very enthusiastic about my picture book entitled "The Palace Rat," which tells the story of Henri, the pampered pet rat of King Louis the XIV, who gets rat-napped by jealous palace inhabitants! She gave me great ideas for some revisions. One of her favorite books of her own that she mentioned (and mine, too) is The Ring Went Zing!: A Story That Ends With a Kiss.

Our peer critique session was followed by an informative State of the Market Address by the wonderful and entertaining David Caruba, former New Jersey RA. After that we shuffled off to P.F. Chang's for family-style service of more food than anyone would ever want to consider, even a vegetarian like me! Spike however, was somewhat disappointed that there were no mealy worms on the menu, but he enjoyed the lettuces and veggies.

SATURDAY:  I am embarrased to admit that I had yogurt and bananas for breakfast in the Presidential Suite, which might have contributed to the shortage mentioned in Spike's friend's Norman's blog. We had an additional peer critique session, during which we enjoyed a fabulous box lunch. I am pictured to the left with my buddy Joyce Wan who left her little creatures Kiwi and Pear at home since they are known to get into mischief. Thank goodness, Spike is timid and does not get into trouble! I can do that on my own LOL!

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: We took a break from critique groups to do a First Pages Session in the center court of the hotel. My First Page was from a picture book called Snap's Picture Day Countdown and thankfully, was well received by the editors and the attendees.

We returned to our peer critiques. During this time I had my alternate ten-minute pitch with Kristin Daly Ren, Editor & Balzer & Bray (Harper Collins). Since she had laughed during my first page and had written positive comments on it, I asked her if she would like to see it, and used the time to find out what she liked in picture books. She said she liked quirky, rather than quiet, but that she had published one or two quiet books that she really liked. She mentioned that she really loved a book she published by NJ-SCBWI Member Audry Vernick,  Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?

SATURDAY NIGHT: We had a wonderful dinner at the hotel and then headed back to the Presidential Suite for Charades. I am extremely proud to say that the Picture Book Set (my team) beat out the Novel Writers! I helped win by guessing one of the tie-breakers -- LOST (acted out by my wonderful and talented room-mate LH), a personal favorite!

SUNDAY MORNING: I AGAIN contributed to the banana shortage (I am so ashamed of myself) by eating bananas and nuts for breakfast. We had additional peer critiques and the winner of the Retreat Writing Challenge was announced. Kathy's writing prompt was so challenging. I came up with SKY DIVING, a picture book about two Gliding Possums named Sap and Nectar. One was an expert glider and the other was afraid to fly. I cannot tell you how much fun I had! I'll definitely develop this further. I am so pleased that it was Betsy! Congratulations, Betsy! Norman must be so proud!

SUNDAY MID MORNING: An exciting offering of the day was a creativity workshop by Leeza Hernandez. We broke up into groups of three and four and worked together.  It was fabulous and absolutely inspiring. Even Spike participated by standing in for us as our Mermaid Cowgirl.

My creativity posse included  Ryan Sias of and Joyce Wan of , both amazing talents in both writing and illustrating.
Leeza inspired us to come up with complete and viable story ideas!

SUNDAY AFTERNOON: Spike and I had a fabulous brunch at the hotel, seated next to Assistant RA Laurie Wallmark and Editor Kristen Daly Rens.

Well, I am certain that there is a lot I have forgotten to include. There were so many wonderful people I did not know that I now consider friends. So many laughs, so many wonderful stories that I got to hear.  

The editors were sweet and accomodating. It was such an experience to get to know them better over the course of three days.

I thank you all, on behalf of myself (and Spike) who were in any small or big way a part of this cherished blog pondering, even if I did not mention you by name.

And Cheers to you, New Jersey RA Kathy Temean and Assistant RA Laurie Wallmark , for another spectacular event. I cannot thank you enough for the fabulous opportunity. Count me and Spike in for next year!  But you know we will see you again, long before then!