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By Marilyn Cram Donahue, Schmooze Coordinator for the Inland Empire

Once a month, I lead a group called The Saturday Morning Schmoozers in Redlands, for the SCBWI SoCal Region. Members share their manuscripts and we offer opinions and encouragement. I also volunteer as a career advisor for Pomona College, which connects me with aspiring young writers. And I work with a community group interested in memoir writing. A highlight of volunteering for SBWI was hosting a workshop on screenwriting techniques with Michael Mahin. I love this busy schedule! Writing can be a solitary job, and these volunteer activities keep me in touch with people who love pen and paper as much as I do.

When people ask me how I started writing, I tell them that I come from a family of storytellers and singers. My earliest memories are of words, a gathering of voices. Their rhythms surrounded me and nourished me. My mother believed in reading aloud to children, and when she finished a story, she encouraged me to think about what might have happened to the characters after the last page. My imagination surged, thinking of the limitless possibilities, and so—I picked up a pencil and started to write.

I first heard of SCBWI from Sue Alexander, who cornered me at a conference at UCR and said she knew of this great organization I needed to join. What a gift she gave me. I joined SCBWI in 1978 and sold my first children’s book to an editor I met at the summer conference. Because of SCBWI, I established a relationship with an editor that led to eight more books with the same publisher.

About thirty years ago, Steve Mooser helped me start a writing group at my local library. Those gatherings evolved into a super critique group of seven dedicated writers, all SCBWI members who meet at my house to help with revisions and celebrate successes. When I see Steve at a conference, he often asks, “Are you still working with that writing group?” I’m happy to tell him I am—and that it is better than ever.

Volunteering is, to me, a way of paying it forward. The rewards are enormous. I rejoice in the successes of promising writers, young and old. When people come to a schmooze with good news, I feel as happy as they do.

I have written books and articles for all ages, but today I concentrate on writing books for middle grade and young adult readers. My latest book is When the Crickets Stopped Singing, to be published by Boyds Mills Press in spring, 2018. The story takes place in a small town in California in 1939 when a stranger arrives and brings trouble with him. Of all the books I have written, this is my favorite…the book I always wanted to write!

You can learn more about volunteering with SCBWI, all the great perks and freebies it entails, and what positions are open from the links below. We need everything from graphic designers to social media coordinators to event hosts. If you want to give back, we’ll find a place for you!

Los Angeles Region

Central/Coastal California Region

SoCal Region (email for info)


For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.


Marilyn Cram Donahue is the author of Straight Along a Crooked Road (Walker), The Valley in Between (Walker), and 16 other books for children. She speaks at schools, is author-in-residence at writing retreats, serves as a career advisor for Pomona College, and has twice been co-director of the National Writing Project at the University of California, Riverside. To learn more, visit her website:  marilyncramdonahue.com.


Pictures Provided by Marilyn Cram Donahue & her daughter, Margaret Rippetue.