Eighty acres of garden. Yummy food. Cushy beds. And four days spent learning, writing, and sharing with fellow writers. This was the SCBWI Oregon Fall Retreat held October 15-18th at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton, Oregon.
My retreat began with an unexpected meeting. By some quirk of fate, Sue Ford, former Co-RA of the Oregon region, and two of the Retreat faculty chose the same restaurant in Silverton for lunch as I did. Sue invited me to join them and, shoving my nervousness aside, I did. I even managed to chat and eat with some semblance of decorum (i.e.: I didn’t spill anything or let loose any embarrassing noises.). But then, Heather Alexander of Pippin Properties and Marie Lamba of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency made it easy. They were so relaxed and friendly, reminding me that the faculty at such events are just as interested in meeting and talking with writers and illustrators as we are with them.
But on with the Retreat. Thursday evening, Susan Blackaby, an Oregon writer with a fetish for narrow-ruled yellow tablets, and Carolyn Conahan, an illustrator with an affinity for hippy vans, opened the retreat with a look back at how this event had played a key role in the success of their collaboration “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon.” On Friday morning, Andrea Welch, senior editor at Beach Lane Books, spoke to the ten essential elements she looks for in picture books. Heart and read aloud ability topped her list. Later that day, Marie cautioned us that nothing kills a reader’s experience faster than overwriting, a problem she sees as a failure to reel in our imagination enough to leave room for the reader’s. Saturday, Tiffany Liao, associate editor at Penguin Random House’s Razorbill imprint, shared some personal experiences that shaped her insights into bringing diverse characters to our work. She gave those of us belonging to the “unmarked state” a lot to think about. For our final workshop, we dissected sample letters as Heather offered liberation from query madness. Her rallying cry? K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Sunday morning was reserved for faculty-led roundtables arranged by genre. As always, I found this to be not only a great opportunity for feedback, but a chance to learn how a particular agent or editor approaches a manuscript.
Overall, though, I think what really stood out for me at this retreat was the relaxed schedule. Bravo to the organizers who allowed plenty of time to write, get feedback in a critique group, chat with other participants, or, my favorite, take a stroll or tram ride through the Oregon Garden. We even had time to sneak back to our rooms for a nap if so inclined. All in all, not a bad way to spend four days.