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WID3-PBRippeyAuthor and SCBWI member PB Rippey reports on this year’s Writers & Illustrator’s Day.

The Skirball Cultural Center, nestled in the Santa Monica mountains, presides serenely over the 405 freeway’s regular traffic jams, yet is removed from city chaos. Inside, a foyer of vaulted glass, contemporary murals and magical installation lighting exudes a calming aura—one absorbed by the friendly mob checking in to the annual Los Angeles Writers & Illustrators Day on Feb. 25. I sipped complimentary coffee and mingled with chatty strangers, feeling transported from Los Angeles to a rural writer’s retreat.

The day: Three keynote speeches, sessions with editors, contests, prizes, a book fair, a delicious catered lunch, the opportunity to sit back and absorb information in a pretty, airy WID1-PBRippeytheatre. I was excited about keynote speeches from Pam Gruber (senior editor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) and Lisa Cron (story coach and author), but all lectures (picture book/illustrations, middle grade, or YA-based) were insightful. Whether discussing rhyming techniques (Melissa Manlove, editor, Chronicle Books), consistency of voice (everyone), the cognitive unconscious vs. the thinking brain (Cron), world building (Gruber), or whether an editor might consider a picture book submission focusing on the subnivian zone (answer: yes), the faculty shared a common message: The importance of story. They spoke of the passionate arc of it, story polishing prose, creating a compelling, biological sense of urgency pulling the reader from first page to last, and the reader living in the world of a protagonist.

WID2-PBRippeyPerks: Two 60-minute breakout sessions–additional lectures from faculty in the more intimate Skirball classrooms. Here was an opportunity for deeper insight into the editing realities and preferences of the faculty, and Q&A time. Some SCBWI members opted for paid professional critiques on manuscripts or illustrations. The agent who critiqued my work offered in-depth notes and was clearly generous with her time.

For her breakout session, Cron provided us with a “A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story.” One expectation that resonated with me: “The reader expects that everything in the story is there strictly on a need-to-know basis, even the weather and the color of the room.”

Another was: “The reader expects a glimpse of the big picture from the very first page.”

I left the Skirball with a wired muse and high expectations for the editing I’m giving my middle grade novel. The Skirball’s tranquil setting, the caliber of the faculty, lunch in the sunny courtyard, the friendly SCBWI members, are all incentives for my return to this event next year.

Photos by PB Rippey.

PBRippeyPB Rippey’s poetry and fiction appear in many journals and she is the author of two chapbooks of poetry, most recently, Valley Meditation (with Palomino), Finishing Line Press. She is currently searching for a home for her middle grade novel. She resides in the West San Fernando Valley with her husband, son and a small zoo. Follow her on Twitter: @pbrippey and on her blog pbwrites.wordpress.com.