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Kes TresterOn September 11-13, 2015, writers from all around the globe attended SCBWI’sAnnual Working Writers’ Retreat; this year in a secluded Encino, California, location. As usual, tickets for this event sold out quickly.

I met up with the 2015 Sue Alexander Award winner, Kes Trester, on that Friday. Most retreat attendees share simple rooms with another writer. Kes and I sat together outside her room. In the still-humid LA evening, Kes imparted insight about writing, the retreat, and how writers can apply for this coveted SCBWI award.

CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Congratulations on being the 2015 Sue Alexander Award winner!

KES TRESTER: Thank you! I’m so excited for the opportunity to critique and revise with other like-minded writers. The creative atmosphere of a workshop always leaves me inspired, and it’s a great way to forge new friendships within the writing community.

CVZ: Please tell readers a bit about what this award is all about and how a writer can participate.

KT: The award offers free tuition and a guaranteed spot at the much-coveted Working Writers’ Retreat in the Los Angeles area. Anyone with a completed manuscript not under contract can apply when the submission window opens each fall.

CVZ: Was this your first time entering?

KT: Yes. As an SCBWI member for the last several years, I had heard about the amazing retreat and was aware that an award was available to one lucky writer each year

CVZ: What prompted you to try for the award?

KT: I’m of the “you can’t win if you don’t play” mentality. You’d be amazed what can be accomplished if you take fear and/or judgment out of the equation. If I succeed, great! If I don’t, I shake it off and move on.

CVZ: Was the process easy?

KT: Very. I simply e-mailed my manuscript with a few pertinent details and then put it out of my mind. It wasn’t until I woke up to a congratulatory tweet one morning that I found out I’d won.

CVZ: The submission period for this award is open 10/12/15 – 11/30/15 for any LA-region SCBWI member in good standing. Writers should submit now if that haven’t already done so. Click HERE for the link.

KT: Yes! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a published writer or not, all writers are welcome to apply. And since it’s a blind submission (the writer’s name is removed from the manuscript), you’ve got nothing to lose—and a fun, creative weekend to gain!

CVZ: Is this your first SCBWI Writers’ Retreat?

KT: Yes, I’ve attended several conferences, but this was my first SCBWI retreat.

CVZ: What was the best part of the retreat?

KT: Coming to a retreat like this is like joining a club. We all speak the same language and are very supportive of each other. One writer in our group came so far in just three critique sessions that when she read the last revised draft, we broke out in spontaneous applause. How often do writers get applause?

CVZ: What inspired you to sign up for this event?

KT: I love feedback on my writing; there is no doubt it has made me a better writer. When I saw there was an entire weekend focused on critiquing, how could I resist?

CVZ: What do you write?

KT: I write high-concept YA, usually with a few thrills and a bit of mystery woven in.

CVZ: Where are you in your career as a writer?

KT: I have written several manuscripts, but I often say it took me the first two books to learn how to write. My third book, 7 Days, is in the hands of my wonderful agent. My fourth manuscript, Collision, has been critiqued by several of my trusted CP’s (critical partners), and their feedback is helping to shape the revision.

CVZ: Can you sum up the event in one sentence?

KT: The SCBWI Working Writers Retreat is a place to give and receive critical feedback in a supportive, nonjudgmental environment—with chocolate and wine!

CVZ: What did you hope to get out of it?

KT: I got out of it what I put into it. I presented honest feedback to my fellow writers in a language that I hoped was supportive and encouraging, and got the same in return.

CVZ: Which writers would benefit from attending?

KT: Most of the writers I met were well on their way to mastering the mechanics of writing, but we’re still developing their storytelling skills. This is an ideal retreat for people who have a completed manuscript and are learning the art (and pain!) of revision.

CVZ: Please give us an idea of the schedule.

KT: The attendees were divided into two groups. One group would meet with faculty for critiquing; the other half would escape to private rooms or a common area to revise. Then we’d switch. This went on for the entire weekend, with breaks for meals and karaoke night, of course!

CVZ: The Top Five Things You Learned at the Retreat:

I don’t know if learned is the right word, but here are the top five things that were reinforced by attending the retreat:
1. No matter how many times you’ve read through your manuscript, a fresh set of eyes can always improve it.
2. Analyzing another person’s writing is a great way to improve your own writing skills.
3. Attending a retreat like this is a wonderful place to cultivate CP’s
4. Being around other writers is inspiring.
5. Writers are the most generous and kind people you could ever hope to meet.

CVZ: SCBWI is accepting submissions for the 2016 Sue Alexander Grant from 10/12/15 – 11/30/15 for LA-region members in good standing (award on 2/3/16). More info here: 2016 SUE ALEXANDER AWARD INFO. Submit soon, and good luck!

Kes Trester:
Writes YA while raising two YA’s * Pitch Wars mentor * Film biz vet * Has an incredibly understanding husband * Owned by three dogs * kestrester.com * @kestrester

Want to read more about SCBWI’s Writers’ Retreat? Here’s an insider’s view from writer Sara Bayles:

I spoke to Sara Bayles at SCBWI’s Summer Conference and she agreed to provide us with an insider’s view from the SCBWI’s Writers’ Retreat, a popular three-day event. Read on to find out what the retreat is all about for Sara.

CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Please tell us about the retreat.

SARA BAYLES: This was my first SCBWI Writers’ Retreat, although I’ve attended many summer conferences. The best part of the retreat was the friends I made. My critique group clicked well, and I met other writers that I will keep in touch with. I write picture books and am “pre-published” (as Lin Oliver says). I got new writing buddies and a clearer look at where I’m at with my work.

CVZ: What inspired you to sign up for this event?

SB: I knew it would be a challenge. I wanted to hear critical feedback from professionals about my work.

CVZ: Can you sum up the event in one sentence?

SB: The event was a fun, challenging, and chock-full weekend of like-minded people who love books.

CVZ: Which writers would benefit from attending?

SB: Writers who have been working on their craft for a while but aren’t published yet as well as published writers would get a lot from this retreat.

CVZ: What was the schedule like?

SB: There was plenty of structured time with the editors and agents, but also time for revision. The retreat organizers hosted a wine and cheese party on Friday night and a karaoke party on Saturday night.

CVZ: The top things you learned at the retreat?

SB: It’s a little nerve-racking to get feedback from professionals about your writing but it is also very helpful. It’s also challenging to get feedback from writers that you don’t know, but you’ll make some new writing buddies by doing so.

Sara Bayles:
Sara likes to clean her local beach. Follow her beach cleanup obsessions, and join her if you’d like at www.dailyocean.org

IMG_0282Interviews by Christine Van Zandt:
Editor, writer, mom.

logo-scbwiWhat is SCBWI? Founded in 1971 by a group of Los Angeles-based children’s writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a non-profit, 501 (c)3 organization There are currently more than 22,000 members worldwide, in over 70 regional chapters writing and illustrating in all genres for young readers, making it the largest children’s writing organization in the world.

Click HERE for member benefits; join us and take your writing to the next level.