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This year’s SCBWI-Los Angeles Writer’s Days event was held March 7 & 8 at the beautiful Skirball Cultural Center. The event was well attended without being overwhelming, with plenty of opportunities to network with fellow SCBWI members. Just as I have at the end other SCBWI events I’ve gone to, I left the Skirball this weekend feeling motivated and inspired.

Mary Ann

(Mary Ann Fraser)

Saturday was spent in the auditorium, where several speakers addressed different aspects of writing for children. Mary Ann Fraser was the first to speak. Her presentation, called “How To Launch A Career In Picture Books And Then Keep It In Orbit,” was full of worthwhile pointers she has picked up throughout her career. She stressed patience, saying, “The way to the top is an uphill climb.” Perhaps the best advice she gave was mentioning the value of a critique group. We often hear how useful critique groups are for us as writers and illustrators, but they can be difficult to find, and even more difficult to keep up with over time. Fraser has been meeting with the members of her critique group for over 20 years, and the results of that effort are clearly seen in her work. With all of the great resources offered through the SCBWI, now is a great time to find a critique group of your own.


(Michelle Markel)

Michelle Markel followed with her talk, “From Cold Facts to Sizzling Story: Writing the New Nonfiction.” She described this new nonfiction as being “written in voices that bring humanity and heart to the material.” She provided detailed pointers, such as reading mentor texts and poetry when you need a boost. She also echoed an often-heard tip: keep believing, accept rejection, learn from failure, and keep following the path to your goals. Markel is the author of many inspiring books, and it was clear her advice came from experience and with heart.


(Angie Chen)

Assistant Editor Angie Chen gave a detailed breakdown on protagonist building in her talk, “Strong Protagonists in MG and YA Novels.” She gave 10 basic guidelines on how to define those memorable characters we set out to write in our stories.

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(Julie Williams)

Julie Williams then gave an awe-inspiring presentation on the editorial revision process of her novel Drama Queens in the House. Her photos and highly detailed, almost archivist journal entries from that period gave keen insight into her meticulous work habits, showing us just how much of herself she poured into those revisions. The entire audience was clearly moved.


(Julia Maguire)

Lastly, Editor Julia Maguire gave a personal, inspiring presentation in “We’ll Never Run Out of Stories to Tell.” She spoke of her experiences and the path she took to work in children’s publishing. Her advice was to write honestly about things that matter to us as writers, because that content is what makes children’s literature magical. Maguire said, “There is no greater courage than revealing your truths,” and “It’s in the sharing that we find commonality and communion.”

Writer’s Days Contest Winners


(L-R) Maddie Rue Burke, Bob Miller, Judy Faulkner, Maria Johnson, Karol Ruth Silverstein, Toni Gallagher, Laurie Young, Judith Presnall. Not pictured: Pauline Ts’o and Julia Wasson.

Young Adult

Winner: Maddie Rue Burke for Dark in Nature

Runner-Up: Toni Gallagher for The End of Our Parents as We Know Them

 Middle Grade

Winner: Bob Miller for The Justice Dragon: Message to a Dragon

Runner-Up: Laurie Young for Gretchen Graves is Grounded


Winner: Judith Presnall for Reggie the Abandoned Alligator (nonfiction)

First Runner-Up: Julia Wasson for Ron Finley, ‘Gansta’ Gardener: In His Own Words (nonfiction)

Second Runner-Up: Maria Johnson for Hans Told Tales Two Ways at the Same Time (nonfiction)

Picture Book

Winner: Pauline Ts’o for Mortimer Mole (Went for a Stroll!)

First Runner-Up: Judy Faulkner for The Big Wind

Second Runner-Up: Karol Ruth Silverstein for One White Whisker