Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Whispering Pines Writing Retreat 2022 Recap with Chris Mihaly and Kathy Halsey

Whee! After two-plus years away from conferences, we (Kathy, from Ohio and Chris, from Vermont) met up at the wonderful Whispering Pines Writing Retreat in Dedham, Massachusetts this weekend, with forty-some other writers and illustrators and a crew of five magnificent mentors. Organized and run with panache by Pam Vaughan and Julia Boyce, this SCBWI-New England workshop is a gem. Here's a quick recap:

Words of Wisdom (from the mentors)

Each mentor shared an amazing presentation. From our copious notes we've distilled a single shining sentence from each ...

Jessica Anderson
(editor, Christy Ottaviano Books) offered practical pointers on optimizing symbolism and plot devices, and weaving them organically into your writing.
❤ "Your opening pages will be more powerful and resonant if they include a nod to your most significant symbol or plot device."

Alex Aceves (author, associate editor, Holiday House) explained how to create compelling characters that readers will feel a connection to. 
"Deploy character flaws strategically: readers don't connect with a perfect character, so write a protagonist whose flaws make us care about them and their success."

Sera Rivers
(agent, Martin Literary Management) revealed the secret of "why THIS book!" -- what makes a work stand out from the slush pile.
❤ "Bring a fresh perspective to a universal theme, and make your work accurate and authentic."

Abby Mumford & Brent Taylor (Photo, Mary Cronin)

Brent Taylor (agent, Triada US) broke down the business of children's books. Even the seasoned authors learned a thing or three. (Territories: World, World English, North American) 
❤ Books like Prince & Knight  "would have meant the world" to Brent as a kid. Brent believes territory is just as important to negotiate as royalties."

Chris Krones (editor, Clarion Books) energized us to knock the socks off writer's block.  They suggested going to the bookstore for inspiration and what gaps your book could fill.
❤ For Chris, "interest in the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year. 'they,' and creating a simple list, led to The Pronoun Book. Create lists, look for simple yet compelling concepts. 

Applying the Lessons

L to R: Brent, Alex, Sera, Jessica, Chris (photo, Mary Cronin)
We applied mentors' suggested writing exercises and pointers to make fresh improvements to our WIPs. A couple of examples:

Chris: I used Jessica's insights into symbols and structure to review a picture book manuscript word by word, working to instill visual and other sensory expressions of my major theme. I think it's better!

Kathy: Thanks to Sera's writing exercise, I changed a problematic setting in my picture book manuscript which enabled me ramp up the conflict.

Parting Thoughts: Top Tips for Writing Workshops

We're each sharing a single top tip for workshop and conference-going. (What? Are they contradictory??) We also include a couple of pointers from other attendees -- because WPWR is all about learning from one another! 

Chris: My top tip is: Say yes! Even if your first reaction is that you don't want to play the silly picking-up-dice-with-cups-on-your-hands game with these people you just met ... just say yes. You'll (probably) be glad you did.
Sally is game! photo by Charlotte Sheer
Kathy: My top tip is: Say no! Know when you've reached your limit socially or mentally. Take a break. Nap, walk in nature, write in private and come back refreshed. 

Laura Renauld: Step outside your comfort zone and be receptive to new ideas. That's what it's all about!

Connie Smith: Ask questions. If you don't understand what a presenter is saying, ask for an explanation ... and if you forget other people's names, just keep asking!

Books by WPWR attendees (photo, Nancy Tupper Ling)

Is it time to break your pandemic-era isolation and congregate again? Thinking of brushing off your Lucky Scarf and signing up for a workshop or conference soon? 
If you're looking for a little help getting back into the swing of things, check out these GROG posts from the archives: 

Leave a comment below about your favorite book gatherings. 
And good luck out there!


  1. so happy you could go and spend time with other writers. and I love the "say yes" "say no" take-aways!

    1. Yes -- we had fun with the dueling Top Tips! And it's nice to be back in the world of workshops ...

  2. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing these awesome tips and advice! So good to hear you talk about it at our meeting!

  3. Thank you for capturing these wonderful few days at the workshop.

  4. Great recap! Thanks for sharing your highlights!

    1. Thank you, Tina! It was such a joy to be "in-person" again!

    2. A joy to be with friends, like Chris, and to learn from the best.

  5. Thank you for taking the time and effort to come and for highlighting this special event!

  6. Chris & Kathy ~ Thank you for taking the time and effort to come and for highlighting this special event! So glad you could be there!