Friday, October 31, 2014

Behind the Scenes at the SCBWI-MI Mackinac Island Conference, and a New York scholarship!

Behind the Scenes at the Mackinac Island Conference
by Charlie Barshaw

I thought I’d check my notes, but aside from the excellent Friday afternoon intensive with Candy Fleming, I’ve got nothing but crumpled receipts, scraps of paper whose messages have bled together, and a whirlwind of memories. As one of the co-chairs, I got a taste--no, make that a a four course meal--of the conference organizer’s busy life.

But it wasn't all missing projectors and phantom cheese trays. The perks involved working with a dedicated bunch of intelligent and resourceful people, meeting some first-class human beings who also happen to be talented editors, agents, authors and illustrators, and being privy to the kind of interactions few outside the circle have seen.

Here're a few scenes from behind the curtain of the Fall 2014 SCBWI-MI conference:

Anita Pazner has a fantastic cabin near Boyne City. Cabin hardly does it justice. A few of us made the trip a day early on Wednesday, so that we'd have an easy drive to Mackinac City on Thursday morning. As bedtime approached, editor Arthur Levine messaged the group and asked if it would be possible for him to arrive at the island a day earlier than scheduled. 

Droopy eyelids popped open, and the four people with smart phones began filling the night with texts, tweets and messages. I stood with my dumb phone and watched in awe.

Rides were pieced together, an extra night for the hotel room reserved, and Arthur arrived at Mackinac on Thursday.

One of the topics at dinner with Arthur on Thursday night happened to be the dual spellings of Mackinac and Mackinaw. (The consensus opinion being that the former was the French spelling, the latter the British.)

On the way back to the hotel, Arthur regaled the group with his fine tenor rendition of “Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles” from The Fiddler on the Roof and a selection from Pippin.

And one more Arthur story: Friday morning, Arthur rented a bike and toured the island. A group of us had been in town, where Anita and I posed in old-fashioned garb, and on the way back we met agent Jodell Sadler at the dock. 

Arthur rode by one of the streets, and stopped to chat. He wondered why the bike rental place didn’t have helmets. Was their reasoning that, since there were no cars, the risk of bike crashes was negligible? Luckily, he said, his head fit into a child’s helmet.

Arthur Levine with Heidi Sheffield, the lucky winner of a free manuscript critique from the silent auction.

Laszlo Slomovits, one half of the Ann Arbor music duo Gemini, attended the conference, and actually brought along one of his stringed instruments. On Saturday evening, as the book signing wound down in the the hotel lobby, Candy Fleming, Eric Rohmann, Laurie Keller, and Ed Spicer joined him around one of the fireplaces. He reportedly put the words of Oh No (Candy and Eric’s jointly produced picture book) to music and sang it for them.

There’s more, much more, but you’ll have to purchase my memoirs.

Charlie Barshaw just finished the most challenging and rewarding weekend of his literary life when he co-chaired the SCBWI-MI Fall 2014 Mackinac Island Conference. Now he's wading through revisions on his MG squirrel invasion adventure. The zombie versions of other not-quite-dead manuscripts beckon him from the vault.

Come back tomorrow for a recap of conference sessions by Candace Fleming, Eric Rohman, and editor Christy Ottaviano. 

Have you dreamed of attending the SCBWI international conference in New York? If you are a member of SCBWI-MI, don't forget about the wonderful scholarship opportunity from Shutta Crum:

Shutta’s Scholarship Solution to the Winter Doldrums is Here Again!

If you are interested in attending the 2015 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, but feel you can’t afford it—think again! With member Shutta Crum’s help you might find yourself at the Grand Hyatt in NY on a blustery winter weekend.

Shutta is renewing her offer to pay the full early-bird registration fee for a Michigan SCBWI member to attend. ($415.00) The qualifying rules are listed on the application form which will be posted on the SCBWI-MI website and at Shutta’s site. (Deadline to apply for the scholarship is by midnight, Dec. 10, 2014.)

The conference is Feb. 6 - 8, 2014. Early bird registration is through December 15, 2014. See the national SCBWI website for conference details as they unfold. You never know what magical thing might happen to you there!

Any questions, feel free to contact Shutta Crum, or coRA Leslie Helakoski at: leslie AT helakoskibooks DOT com.

Past winners have included: Amy Nielander, Kelly Barson, Vicky Lorencen, and Elizabeth McBride. Of last year’s conference Beth said, “I met such wonderful people and heard great presentations, thought and re-thought my efforts and intentions, and shared hopes and dreams with new friends and old.”

Good luck and Happy Halloween!
Kristin Lenz


  1. Great post, Charlie. Thanks for sharing your unique viewpoint and for creating a memorable weekend for all.

  2. Great post, Charlie. Thanks for your insider's view of the conference. Also huge thanks to you, Anita, Leslie, Carrie and Ruth for putting on such a great event.

  3. Fun to get some of the inside scoop! Nice piece of writing Charlie! Thanks.

  4. Charlie, you brought back a lot of memories for me from my 7+ years serving SCBWI-MI. Whew! This was the first conference, in a long, long time, where I was "just" a participant. I had a great time on the Island listening, learning, relaxing, writing, hobknobbing, eavesdropping, wandering, eating ... and just having plain old fun. Thanks to everyone who shared their writing lives with me. Thanks Charlie, Anita, Leslie, Carrie, Ad Com, and volunteers.

  5. Charlie, thanks so much for the fun recap. And Anita and you did a stellar job! I think it was perhaps my favorite Michigan conference yet. Ruth did a bang-up job on the portfolio display. What a wonderful opportunity for feedback via the post-it's! I saved mine and keep them at my desk as a great memento and a reminder of the opportunities they reflect.