Historical Novel Society Conference Highlights

I’ve been watching from the sidelines for years as other historical fiction authors I admire talked about the Historical Novel Society and its amazing conference, held every two years in the United States. I promised myself that if I ever got a book published, I would try to go, and lo and behold, it worked out for me this year!

My debut novel, White Rose, based on the true story of a German student-led resistance group during World War II, was published in April, 2019, with HMH’s new Versify imprint, so I was lucky enough not only to attend the conference this June, but also to present as part of a WWII panel (Beyond Rosie the Riveter) and a Kaffee Klatsch (The Crossover Revolution: Is It Adult or Is It YA?).

Obviously a huge highlight for me was talking my passion with these fantastic authors and attendees. But there was much more to the conference. I’ve been to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences multiple times, and while I can sometimes manage to track down the historical writers in the bunch, it was amazing to be surrounded by other like-minded individuals. Instead of, “What do you write?” I could start out with a much more specific, “What’s your era?” to get a conversation going. And there were conversations aplenty, starting with Thursday evening’s costume party, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Next, attending other sessions was a huge highlight for me, including the
Tall Poppy Writers’ Marketing Collective panel and the State of the State of Historical Fiction panel with a group of agents and editors.

Finally, listening to Dolen Perkins-Valdez give her fabulous keynote about “making sh*t up” (while she also clearly does the work, putting on the gloves in the archives and the whole bit) and going back to our “nerd-holes” was an absolute inspiration. Looking forward to reading her books, and to reading more from everyone I met!

NESCBWI 2016 Recap

As always, I return from a writing conference energized with all the new things I learned, interesting people I met, and fun moments with good friends. Probably not surprisingly, my NESCBWI 2016 recap includes all of those things.

CPsOne of the best parts of the conference this year for me was meeting my longtime critique partner, Michelle Mason. Michelle lives in far-off Missouri, so even though we’ve worked together for years, this was our first time meeting in person, so you can imagine how cool it was to have real conversations for the first time!

It was also lovely catching dinner with one of my favorite writing friends, Katharine Manning, meeting some of her good friends, and talking a mile a minute about all the bookish things. But of course, the conference is about more than just socializing, and while the workshops at NESCBWI are always good, this year, they were simply fantastic. A few of my absolute favorites:

Scrivener with MarcyKate Connolly: I consider myself an intermediate Scrivener user, but I learned quite a few neat tricks as well as got all of my burning questions answered.

Antagonists with Annie Gaughen: I have a thing for antagonists, and I was glad to learn that antagonists aren’t necessarily the villain. As an added bonus, Hamilton and Burr came up more than once. Which one is the antagonist?

Verse Novels with Padma Venkatraman and Holly Thompson: I have been studying verse novels recently, so this class couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Both authors gave a great overview of some of the important elements in verse novels, along with so many wonderful examples to illustrate their points. My reading list has certainly grown!

Counterfactual Fiction with Trisha Leaver: This workshop walked us through Trisha’s recent YA historical release, Sweet Madness, with an eye focused on weaving facts and theories together (all without altering the timeline). Such a unique way to attack historical fiction!

Finally, even though I was busy stuffing my brain (and my mouth, since the conference food was pretty tasty), it was also great to take a break with the members of my #PitchWars family gathered for the weekend. So fun seeing you all. Until next time!


Gearing up for NESCBWI 2016

Conference season is most certainly upon us, and I’m thrilled to be gearing up for NESCBWI 2016 this year. Last year, I chose the amazing Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA over the conference (so many events, so little time/cash/what have you), and while I hope to head back to that one again next year, there’s nothing quite like NESCBWI, as evident in my recap post from the last time I attended (in 2014).

I have to say before even going how excited I am about the workshop offerings this year. I registered the first minute they opened and managed to get all my top choices, which focus on everything from Scrivener to verse novels to revision. So exciting! I consider myself a lifelong learner and always walk away from this conference with new tools tucked into my bag, so I’m already looking forward to all the new knowledge around the corner.

business_cardsAlso, business cards! I haven’t gotten new cards in a while, so I figured it was time for some new ones.

Of course, another thing I’m really looking forward to is seeing all my writing friends. In general, I prefer to hide out at home, but I do make exceptions for bookish events, and this one brings together so many of my favorite authors as well as fellow travelers on the path that it’s even possible for an introvert to enjoy. Perhaps best of all, I’m finally going to meet one of my longtime critique partners, Michelle Mason, in person!

So who else is going? Let me know because I’d love to meet up!

NESCBWI Conference: Top Ten

The annual NESCBWI conference in the spring is one of my favorite events as a writer. In my post-conference haze, I’ve been mulling over just how awesome it was, so here’s my top ten list!

10. Opportunities to fangirl. How often do you get favorite authors like Grace Lin, Sharon Creech, Nova Ren Suma, and Kate Messner together in one place? Um. It’s pretty cool.

9. Amaaaaazing workshops. There’s so much variety that there’s something for everyone. I absolutely loved Killer First Chapters with Nova Ren Suma and Real Revision with Kate Messner.

8. Great manuscript/query critiques. There’s always a nice full lineup of faculty offering up critiques. Definitely worth it for anyone about to query!

7. Bed-jumping. A new sport to me, but it was highly amusing to watch.


6. Making new friends. I’m definitely going to be stalking some of my classmates from Killer First Chapters to see if they’ll let me read more. 🙂

5. Meeting online friends in real life. This is just so cool, and it was awesome spending time with all of you! Check out Dee’s post for more about this and some fun photos of the gang.

4. The Blue Boarder dinner! Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture, but a bunch of us who frequent Verla Kay’s Blue Board got together for a fun dinner Friday night. Great way to start the conference off with a bunch of laughter and smiles.

3. Meeting and hanging out with Taryn, the one and only Girl With the Green Pen.

2. Getting my entire critique group together in one place. We’ve been working together for eight years now (gulp!) but this was the first time all four of us could get to the same event. 

1. Spending extra time with my CP Monica. Some might refer to her as Minnesota Monica, but to me she’s my Monica. 🙂


Thank you, NESCBWI!

Thank you, New England SCBWI, for putting on such a fantastic conference! And by NESCBWI, I mean everyone involved: the faculty, volunteers, and members. The energy in those keynotes and workshops was amazing.

The highlights for me this year (because just saying “everything” would be a cop-out, right?) were:

  • Meeting Sara Zarr, Kate Messner, Jo Knowles and Jane Yolen in person. There is nothing like chatting with an author you admire! What down-to-earth and sweet people they all were.
  • Critique and craft. I got an in-depth, helpful critique from an agent–the effort she put into it amazed me! Likewise the information I learned in both the keynotes and workshops will stay with me as I return back home and begin writing and revising again.
  • The Blueboarder dinner on Friday night. So fun to actually meet people in person I “know” from Verla’s, as well as make new Blueboarder friends!
  • Finally, I cannot thank the NESCBWI enough for awarding me the Ruth Landers Glass scholarship for my YA manuscript. And apparently it’s perfectly acceptable to blurt out, “SHUT UP!” when they announce your name. Just in case anyone was wondering.
  • Thanks to Betsy Devany for snapping this awesome photo of me with Marcela Staudenmaier, who won the Ann Barrow scholarship for illustrators!

Can’t wait until next year!

Rutgers 2011

There is nothing like the Rutgers One-on-One.

This conference for children’s writers, held yearly in October, is the place to see and be seen. The one-on-one ratio means that attendees get to rub elbows with as many agents, editors,  and published authors (the mentors) as other (likewise awesome) mentees.

The invaluable face time gives you the chance for others to later connect your name to you-the-individual, and gives you the opportunity to do the same. Because (*whispers*) even big-name editors and agents are people too. No, really. You might not click with your “dream agent” in person. Another who seemed beyond your reach might be totally accessible and down-to-earth.  Plus, if you aren’t sure if someone might be interested in your genre, you can ask! Like, “I read in an interview that you don’t like fantasy, but are you a fan of magical realism?”

One of the best things about the conference is the way it’s organized to maximize a successful conference for everyone. If you’re really shy, you don’t have to worry about approaching a Big and Scary editor or agent. You get the chance to learn from them (and even talk if you can muster the courage) at least four separate times:

  1. Your One-on-One. You get 45 minutes (45!!) alone with your mentor, who is either an editor, agent, or author. That morning, the mentors receive your 3-page sample you subbed to get into the conference, and you can spend time walking through that, through your manuscript as a whole, or talking about other projects, your query letter, or whatever else seems the best use of the time. My mentor in 2008 when I attended for nonfiction was an author, and I had an editor this year for YA fiction, and both of them were absolutely amazing.
  2. Your Five-on-Five. You also get 45 minutes with you, your mentor, and 4 other mentor/mentee pairs. One of the mentors moderates, and you get to discuss whatever people want to know: market trends, what their pet peeves are etc. At my table, we had 3 agents, 1 editor, and 1 author (who spoke that morning as the One-on-One Success Story from a previous year) Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. It was great to hear how they agreed on so many things, such as:
      • The importance of not writing to trend–just write a good story.
      • The dystopian wave has crested, but some paranormals and dystopians are still in the works–they just have to have a very different angle (or combination of genres, like dystopian historical).
      • Submit your very best work.
  3. The panel discussion. Again, more great insights from a team of authors and publishing professionals.  Mentees could email questions in advance, and agent Marietta Zacker, who moderated the panel, did a great job hitting as many bases as possible with a selection of those questions.
  4. Lunch. Agents and editors remain at their tables from the Five-on-Five, and you can sit wherever you want. Here’s your chance to seek out others on your list you haven’t met!
  5. OK, I said 4, but the last opportunity you can use is the short breaks in between activities. You should never (never) try to approach someone in the bathroom line (NEVER), but if someone is alone at a table or edge of the room etc., they are fair game. This is the perfect chance to put your face to your name with someone you’ve queried, or just to say hello to someone you’ve had contact with, or admire from a distance. Don’t expect or try to initiate a long conversation, but if you have something short to say, this is a good time.

One last piece of the enormous pie of awesomeness that is Rutgers is the chance to network with other amazing writers. Because you have to send in a writing sample to get accepted, you can guarantee that the other mentees are as serious (and as good!) as you.  This conference is a great place to catch up with old friends and make new ones, and I simply cannot recommend it more!

Conferences, Workshops, and Retreats!

When it comes to the kids’ writing community, I can honestly say that I’ve never been to a bad conference, workshop, or retreat. I’ve always met cool people, learned new things, and given my writing a jump start.

But now that I’ve been to a good many of them, a quick summary of the highlights:

New England SCBWI conference: I’ve attended this conference about three or four times, and have always loved it. They get top-notch presenters, and a good mix of established authors and new writers attend. Great workshops and the opportunity for individual critiques. http://www.nescbwi.org/conferences/spring/

Smaller regional conferences: I’ve been lucky enough to attend a few smaller conferences, including a small one in Connecticut and two in Europe (one in Madrid, Spain, and one in Munich, Germany). The European ones are awesome because, um, they’re in Europe, but in general, I also really like the feel of a small group where you can get to know more attendees and get to chat with agents, editors, and authors in a more relaxed setting.

Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature (RUCCL): RUCCL is a great opportunity to meet up with other serious writers. All writers are assigned mentors who will critique your work and you also get together as groups of mentors and mentees to discuss writing trends. It’s just one day, and you have to apply and get accepted based on your writing sample. http://www.ruccl.org/

Highlights Founders Workshops: These small workshops, held in Honesdale, PA, offer a great opportunity to focus on your WIP with an expert and other serious writers. I attended a non-fiction Biography workshop with the amazing Carolyn Yoder, but they also offer workshops on novel writing, plotting, and more. Another bonus to these workshops: you have an individual cabin to yourself with some time to write, as well as amaaaaaazing food prepared by an on-site chef. http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/pages/current/founders_top.html

Falling Leaves Retreat: This retreat is organized by the Eastern New York SCBWI chapter, and offers a great weekend with other serious writers and a group of editors. Time is divided between writing, group and individual critique, and lectures by the editors. You can also sneak in time to write and socialize with a great bunch of people.  http://scbwi-easternny.org/conferences.php

Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) Novel Writing Retreat: The VCFA retreat is another great intensive weekend. The attendees choose between the writing and critique track, and everyone benefits from focused lectures and workshops led by the authors and editors who attend.  It’s a great place to share your work (including out loud in front of the group!), to have time to write, and to make new writer friends. http://www.vermontcollege.edu/alumni/events/novel-writing-retreat

I would definitely attend any and all of these again, and I still look forward to going to many others I haven’t gone to yet: SCBWI NY, SCBWI LA, Chautauqua, Whispering Pines … the list goes on! What is your favorite conference or retreat?