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by Ann Rousseau Smith, CenCal News Liaison


CenCal Social at the SCBWI Summer Conference

Summer Conference Grant Winner, Ann Cathleen Neumann, shares her thoughts about SCBWI Summer Conference:

As the recipient of the CenCal grant, I found myself at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles the last weekend of July, attending my first SCBWI event, the 45th Annual Summer Conference. And what an event it was!

But where to begin? Perhaps where the 70-plus faculty began filing down the aisle of a spacious ballroom—respected authors, illustrators, editors, and agents—to take the stage and speak one word, just one word, into the podium microphone, words that would become themes throughout the weekend: “courage,” “believe,” “authentic,” “family,” “resonate,” “dangerous,” “kindness,” “relax,” “superhuman, meaning you!” (Always a writer who exceeds the word count!)

What one word would I use to describe the conference? Pitch-perfect.

From the poignant, masterly keynote speeches to the broad range of breakout sessions, the smart, funny, accomplished faculty entertained, informed, and inspired the 952 attendees, sharing their own often arduous paths to help us walk ours. Simply put, I was astounded by the caliber of the conference, the expertise of the presenters, the dedication of staff, the camaraderie with other members.

I was also flummoxed. My notes at day’s end read like the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, full of seeming contradictions.

“Don’t write to marketplace trends. Write what you know, the story you want to tell.”

“Research the trends. Read at least three books in your genre published in the last five years. Then pitch your story by comparing it to those books.”

“Have a social media presence. As an agent, I want to know you have a platform. Start a blog.”

“I don’t blog, and I don’t keep a journal. I’m busy writing my next novel.”

At first, the conflicting advice was perplexing, and then it became disconcerting, even maddening.

“Write every day.”

“I don’t write every day. Writing is like a marriage. You can’t be together 24/7 and be happy.”

“Don’t write your query in the character’s voice!”

“I love reading queries in the character’s voice!”

“Learn the craft, follow the arc, know the market.”

“Break all the rules. Be different.”

As a newbie to children’s publishing—but an oldie in life, with 35 years as a technical writer and editor—I’d no idea what to make of such discordant notes. Pitch-perfect? More like the crashing of pots and pans in a colossal tumble from a kitchen shelf.

And then while typing up my notes a week after the conference, I paused at this hastily scrawled sentence from author Drew Daywalt’s speech: “Every story has been told, but not in your voice.”

Your voice. My voice. His and her voices. Some of us writing every day. Some breaking the rules. Some building a social presence. Some holing up to perfect our craft. One voice saying “courage,” another saying “dangerous,” another saying “relax.” These were not contradictions, but counterpoints in a grand symphony, varied melodic lines. Each of us at the conference, I realized, needed to hear a specific voice.

And out there in the world, a child needs to hear yours.



Of Lebanese-Armenian extraction, Ann Cathleen Neumann grew up (mostly) in San Luis Obispo, spending a thirty-year stint in Sacramento before returning to SLO, where she spends as little time as possible teaching technical writing and editing reports and as much time as possible exploring the world of children’s literature. She recently finished her first YA novel, an excerpt of which won the grand prize in the 2016 San Francisco Writing Contest. She is so new to children’s publishing that she doesn’t yet have a proper head shot, though she does have the proper attire for a British wedding. She has no blog, no Twitter account, no web page, and no agent—yet. She does have Facebook but recently learned that doesn’t count. She has found that the best way to live each day is by faith.



Donald Maass

SCBWI CenCal Writers Retreat 2017
“Breaking Out Your Craft”


January 13 – 15, 2017 (Martin Luther King Weekend) Friday 4 pm to Sunday 12 noon

La Casa de Maria Retreat and Conference Center,
Santa Barbara

Take your fiction writing to the next level as agent and author Donald Maass presents the Techniques of Fiction Mastery.writing-the-breakout-novel

Donald Maass is president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York. His agency sells more than 150 novels every year to major publishers in the US and overseas. He is a past president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. (AAR). He is also the author of The Career Novelist, Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, The Fire in Fiction, The Breakout Novelist, and Writing 21st Century Fiction.

Registration opens October 1, 2016, and is sure to fill up fast. For more details or to register visit cencal.scbwi.org/events/writers-retreat-2017/


Save the Dates!  For information, go to http://cencal.scbwi.org

November 2016: PALs for the Holidays, Sign-ups began October 15th, Region-wide

December 11, 2016: Holiday Party (Schmooze) in Santa Barbara

 January 13-15, 2017: Writers’ Retreat Faculty: Donald Maass in Santa Barbara



Book Talk is a monthly book discussion group taking place on the SCBWI Central-Coastal California listserv. Discussions begin on the first of each month, facilitated by Lynn Becker (lynnb@mac.com) To become a member of the listserv, go to: http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/SCBWI-CCal/

NOVEMBER: Unbecoming, by Jenny Downham (YA). Three generations of redheaded women grapple with life, love, and Alzheimer’s.

DECEMBER: Ramie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo (MG). Baton twirling. Three friends. Kate DiCamillo’s sublime prose.

JANUARY: Thunder Boy Jr., by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (PB). Thunder Boy Jr. loves his dad, but he wants a name all his own.

FEBRUARY: All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor (MG). Perry was raised in Blue River Correctional Facility, and he’s got a heart the size of Nebraska.