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By Andrea Custer

IMG_5103Every year in September, a handful of writers lucky enough to have secured a spot at SCBWI LA’s Working Writers Retreat gather at a retreat center in Encino. This year it was my immense honor to attend as the recipient of the Sue Alexander Grant.

No one could have done more to set a positive atmosphere at the event, held September 15-17, than Co-Regional Advisor Nutschell Windsor, who began the opening session with this simple promise: all your needs will be met so you can relax and focus entirely on your writing. They delivered on that promise right away, assembling an outstanding First Pages Panel (authors and freelance editors Judy Enderle and Stephanie Gordon, and author Catherine Linka) who provided sincere praise interwoven with meaningful feedback.

IMG_5089After a dinner break, critique sessions began. Participants were broken into groups of five, and rotated through critique sessions in these groups. I decided to workshop different pieces at each session, depending on the faculty member’s area of expertise. With my grant-winning work in progress, Forgotten Angels, my focus was on whether I had done enough to create a dynamic, fully formed character.

The WWR always brings together an amazing faculty with diverse interests and perspectives, and this year was no exception. Faculty members Alyssa Miele (Associate Editor, Harper Collins), Samantha Swank (Assistant Editor, Scholastic), Tara Gonzalez (Associate Agent, Erin Murphy Literary Agency), and Enderle and Gordon were generous with their insights and willingness to answer questions.

IMG_5109As I walked through the center on Day 2, each group’s support for one another was evident. Some met at picnic tables to continue discussions started in their critique sessions. Others enjoyed a walk to clear their heads and allow nature to inspire fresh approaches to lingering story problems. Still others sat together in silent revision, preparing for the next session. It was clear that we had begun to regard our groups as surrogate families.

By the time we came together on the final morning for one last First Pages Panel (previously mentioned faculty joined by Kari Sutherland, Literary Agent, Bradford Literary Agency), we knew we were among friends.

To my fellow retreat participants: thank you for sharing your outstanding stories! May each of you know the success your exemplary writing so richly deserves. To the advisory board members: thank you for cheering us on. To the faculty: thank you for sharing your insights, for plentiful laughter around the dinner tables, and for supporting the Working Writers with your time and expertise.

To those considering joining us next year, the WWR will inspire you. You will have the chance to talk through tricky plot problems and fears about muddy middles. The feedback will open new story pathways. You will come away having made new friends and colleagues, and more committed to writing than ever. In the end, I believe you will feel as I did: wishing for one more day immersed in the magic that is SCBWI LA’s Working Writer’s Retreat.

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andrea-custer

Andrea Custer was awarded the 2017 Sue Alexander Grant for the Working Writer’s Retreat for her work-in-progress, Forgotten Angels. Her manuscript Any, Remixed won First Runner Up in SCBWI Los Angeles’ Writer’s Days fiction contest (2014). She has also been nominated for the Allegra Johnson Prize in Novel Writing (2016) and the James Kirkwood Literary Prize in Creative Writing (2014). She can be found online at www.andreacusterwrites.com, or on Twitter @ACwritesinMB.

Working Writer’s Retreat photos by Andrea Custer. Author photo by Lisa Roah.