It was my first time attending SCBWI-LA’s Working Writers’ Retreat. So as not to be disappointed, I went into it expecting the worst — grueling critiques, bad food, overly critical group mates, and less than helpful faculty.
Boy, was I WRONG.
Friday, September 24, 2010
I arrived at the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center at 12:20 pm, and found at least ten other writers already exchanging business cards and stories outside.
Registration started at 12 noon, so I went into the big conference room area. I finally got to meet Marilyn Morton, the ever patient and helpful registrar. I filled out some forms, and gave it to the clerk at the front office. She gave me keys to my room and wished me a pleasant stay.
I couldn’t wait to meet up with old friends, and make new ones. So after lugging my stuff into the room, I joined the others at the lobby area. By then, the retreat packets had arrived and we all went through our schedules. I discovered that I was part of Critique Group 4, and was happy to note that my friend and writing group member Jenn Bailey was also part of the same group.
The introduction session began at 1:30 at the lounge.
Margaret welcomed us to the Mary & Joseph Retreat Center and explained the house rules, as well as some tips for enjoying our stay. She told us of the many peacocks within the grounds and encouraged us to write peacock stories, as she would definitely be interested in those.
Judy Enderle took the reins afterward, introducing the retreat’s faculty members Emma Dryden, Kendra Levin and Grace Maccarone. She also went through the schedule and introduced the other organizers of the event.
After the introductions, we immediately went into the first critique session with Kendra Levin. Kendra apologized for being a bit tired, as she was still on East Coast time. But despite her professed fatigue, her comments and suggestions were on the nose and more than helpful.
We ended the session two hours later and I immediately knew that the weekend was going to be something special. I liked my groupmates right away and the feedback I received on my work was already sparking ideas for revision.
For the first time since I was in Grade School, dinner was served early (buffet-style) at 5 PM. I was starving by then, and was grateful for the warm and delicious food.
Immediately after dinner, we headed back to the lounge. Judy opened the session with some puns (as she would do for every speaker) and introduced Kendra Levin. Kendra Levin’s talk on Revising Your Manuscript from the Inside Out was fun and informative. I could already see how I would be using the five steps of revision she taught us.
Critique session number 2 was with Emma Dryden and followed right after Kendra’s talk. Emma’s comments were right on the spot, and though we finished the session at 9PM, my mind was wide awake with the wonderful suggestions not only Emma gave—but also the feedback I received from my group members.
I was having so much fun and wanted to remember everyone I met, that asked Marilyn and the other organizers if they would let me take a group picture the following day. They thought it was a wonderful idea and agreed eagerly. It’s a good thing I live fifteen minutes away. I was able to drive home and get my camera and tripod.
Lynette Townsend led the Stretch Your Pick and Axe session– stretching/ exercise after the critique. It was great for relaxing our information filled minds and releasing the stress in our muscles. It was the perfect introduction for the schmooze that followed after. Wine, cheese, crackers, soda, water and chocolates flowed as we writers mingled and chatted.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Saturday morning dawned warm and welcoming. I joined Sarah, Lynette and others for a short walking tour of the compound.
It was a short, but fun walk. I took pictures, got to know other writers and enjoyed a great morning conversation with them.
Can you spot the cats?
Breakfast followed at 8 AM ,and boy, was it a welcome treat after 40 minutes of walking around in loops.
Critique Group 3 was with Judy Enderle, and though we all started out a bit slow and sluggish, we eventually got into the swing of things.
Grace Maccarone had her talk from 11 – 12 on What the Writer Learns from the Editor and the Editor Learns from the Writer. We got an inside look into the world of publishing as she talked about her own experiences working from both sides of the business, as both author and editor.
After lunch, critique session number 3 came in the form of Stephanie Gordon. Her tough love approach to the critique was a breath of fresh air and we all learned so many great tips about cutting out words and tightening our manuscripts.
Free time was from 3PM to dinner at 5PM. While others took catnaps, and others mingled, I wandered into the lounge. The Golden Opportunity Book Sale was ongoing the whole day and I finally got to look at the books. I was pleasantly surprised at the selection. The books looked almost brand new, and they were being sold for $5. Though I vowed to not spend more than $20 on books, I ended up buying $43 worth (The books were sold for the discount price of $3 at the end of the day)! I would normally have felt guilty, but the money was going to benefit the Walter Reed Middle School.
Right before dinner at 4:30PM, we gathered outside in the center’s small park for group pictures. Everyone was so excited to have their pictures taken with their newfound friends. They thanked me for coming up with such a great idea. I told them it was my pleasure that they agreed because I wanted to remember the wonderful retreat experience and the awesome people I met. Besides, I do love pictures!
The three L’s –Lisze, Lee and Lucy helping me set-up the photo shoot
Okay, who else is missing?
Test shot! Everyone smile!
Wait… it doesn’t feel complete… Someone’s still missing! Where’s Kendra?
Everyone present an accounted for !
Our group was lucky enough to have some free time from 6 – 8PM. Some people took off and explored the neighborhood, others stayed in their rooms and slept, and others like myself, lounged around the lobby, chatting with friends. My best friend actually drove up to the retreat center and enjoyed the great view of the moon and the city lights with me and other writer friends.
At 8:30 PM, it was back to work. We had our final critique session with Grace Maccarone. We tried to rush through our critiques so we could end at 10PM. We were all so tired at the end of the day, and we felt bad for Grace, who was so exhausted and still on East Coast time. But as it often happens, we got into the swing of things halfway through, and still ended our session at 10:40PM.
While the others schmoozed at the lounge with the usual fare of crackers, wine, cheese and chocolates, Jenn and I had a mini-slumber party by ourselves. We fell asleep laughing at around 2 am.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
The dining room was not as packed as usual come Sunday morning. I guessed that the other half was still probably in various stages of sleeping and waking. We all had a fun-filled night, after all.
We dragged ourselves to the lounge for one final session with Emma Dryden.
Despite my lack of sleep, I found myself wide awake as I listened to Emma’s talk about Publishing for Children in the Digital Landscape. Her talk was jam-packed with a history of digital technology (relevant to publishing), tips, techniques, and lessons on how to navigate the digital landscape of the publishing industry. We scribbled out pages of notes on her talk.
Her talk was followed by a question and answer portion and people raised their hands, eager to receive more of Emma’s wisdom.
The session ended with Stephanie Gordon thanking the editors Emma, Grace and Kendra, and recognizing the efforts of the other organizers –Judy, Claudia, Edie, Sarah, Marilyn and Lynette. We all gave these amazing people a round of applause and thanked them for the wonderful experience they had organized for everyone.
The weekend, though intense in terms of scheduling and the amount of helpful feedback, breezed by so fast. My groupmates were all supportive and had a way of giving comments and suggestions that wasn’t at all offensive, the food was superb, and the faculty not only helpful, but eager to inspire.
My only complaint was the heat, which really can’t be helped–and the showerhead in my room. The water was a mist instead of a shower, and it took me longer than usual to wash the shampoo off my hair. Other than that, however, I had a blast. I can’t wait for the next retreat. I’m already volunteering as the unofficial photographer for next year!
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