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SketchCrawl at the Santa Barbara Zoo

June 7, 2015

 Creative individuals met for a day of sketching, writing, and sharing.

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Tricia Candemeres

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Laura-Susan Thomas

Summer Conference Grant Winner: Christina Gessler

Are You Okay?

 I am recently back from the SCBWI LA conference. It was, as you have probably heard, the kind of event where your brain gets so full that your head actually feels heavier. But since I went to SCBWI LA once before, I expected that; and so that’s not the thing that struck me about the experience. It was how all the speakers said that they wouldn’t be who they are now without SCBWI.

It reminded me of going to my friend’s church, when everyone said the same thing. Not about SCBWI, but about their parish. And it seemed to me, on both occasions, that that’s because the people there had found their people. They had found the words and ideas they needed to be whoever they were striving to be, in a community of people who shared the wisdom of struggle in a language that made sense to them.

That’s how the SCBWI conference feels. You struggle, and someone comes over and says, “Are you okay?” In my case, that first happened when I got lost [for two hours] on an early morning walk before the first event on the very first day. And I finally found my way back to the hotel and stepped into the elevator and stabbed at the button to my floor, feeling very out of sorts. And when the elevator binged open on a lower floor, the lady standing next to me said, “Come on.” And I said, “What?” And she said kindly, “Aren’t you lost? I’ll take you to the orientation.” She would take sweaty, under-dressed me to an air-conditioned room of clean and tidy writers?

Later I had my manuscript review—for the very manuscript that had won me the grant to attend SCBWI LA this year. The style of the work defies a number of the rules of Strunk and White, so I had no idea what my reviewer would say.

“The voice is great,” she said, “but it needs really a tight line edit.” I listened and took notes, and then she handed me my tightly line-edited manuscript, which I took up to my room and read aloud. My work was now crisp. It was grammatically correct. I respected the editor’s vision, her time and wisdom, but my Esme was gone. I now had a character with a different vocabulary and a lilt I do not know.

I wandered back to the lobby, confused certainly, but willing to gut my work. And I met another SCBWI member. “What happened to you?” he said. And I told him, told a real live published writer whose character my daughter dressed as for Halloween. And he said, “Do not change a word of your manuscript. That is just one opinion. Get a lot more before you do anything.”

And so I nodded. And went off to my next panel. Where different editors spoke about editing something until it’s sterile. “No one wants a perfect sentence,” they said, “They want one with emotion. Take risks. Push your work, push your genre.”

At the next panel, I saw dummies that had been changed and changed again until they were almost back to where they began. It was that almost that made all the difference

Later, in my first intensive, my work displayed on a large screen in front of 24 strangers, yet another editor gently edited my work; she gave me my almost.

And in the next intensive, an editor gave me a book. “It’s also got a strong voice,” she said.

I am home now. I have the editor’s book, I have two legal pads of notes. I have a new title for my manuscript, a new order for the opening chapters. I have permission to try my genre-pushing style, I have new writer friends, I have my old writer friends. I have ideas, I have words of wisdom I am going to write large and hang above my desk.

Oh yes, and I have Esme. I wouldn’t have her, without SCBWI.


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Bling Bling Book Queens and Kings from SCBWI CenCal, Christina Gessler is third from right, back row

SCBWI CenCal Writers’ Retreat 2016

“Starting Off on the Write Foot”

January 15-17, 2016


La Casa de Maria Retreat and Conference Center
800 El Bosque Road
Santa Barbara, CA 93108

Whether you are just stepping into a new project or are well on your way, you won’t want to miss our upcoming CenCal Writers Retreat. Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary and Amy Cloud of Aladdin will be on hand all weekend as you perfect your prose and learn what it takes to find an agent or publisher.

The retreat opens Friday afternoon at 4 pm and runs until Sunday 12 noon. There will be focused sessions and manuscript critiques by our presenters, time for independent writing, group critiques with faculty and peers, and a host of activities to leave you inspired and energized. Gather in the evening to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.

The beautiful and tranquil La Casa de Maria Retreat and Conference Center is set in the oak-studded hills of Santa Barbara, with views of the ocean and hiking trails. This 26-acre sanctuary offers baths en-suite, dining room and patio, labyrinth, walking paths, an organic garden, and swimming pool. www.lacasademaria.org.

So invest in your writing career and join us for a weekend of writing, specialized programming, and camaraderie.

For more information regarding critiques, options, prices, and registration visit www.cencal.scbwi.org/events/cencal-writers-retreat-2016

Registration opens October 1, 2015 with a very limited number of spaces available.
Don’t wait or you might miss out!

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Ann Rousseau Smith

SCBWI CenCal Regional Kite Tales Editor