Friday, May 20, 2016

Wild Wild Midwest Memories

The Wild Wild Midwest SCBWI Conference was held in Naperville, Illinois from April 30 - May 1, 2016. For me, the best part of these conferences is the energy and momentum that continues long after we've all returned home. I'm still hearing stories of connections made and opportunities developing. Stories of generosity and going the extra mile to help others.

Keynotes, Workshops, Roaring 20's Party, Manuscript Contest, Art Show, Art Awards - it was a whirlwind weekend. In the words of our members and in photos shared, here are some highlights.

Jackie Sewell shared her conference notes with her critique group. Here's a glimpse for the rest of us:

One pervading theme of our whole weekend was Story. Story is critical - story is essential - without story it's just words and facts. Story is what compels people and is the catalyst for change.  Lisa Cron spoke very passionately about this. (You can read about her at

From Miranda Paul's workshop (my new author crush) (if you haven't read her yet (I hadn't!) get thee to a library and check her out!!) Clever and Creative NonFiction:

* Your goal is to create a remarkable book - one "worthy of attention." Why should a librarian/child choose your book instead of just googling the subject?

*Play with format (Rhyming verse, free verse, How to, Parody of a classic, Conditional (if - then), Call and response, Metafiction, Cumulative, Degenerative (count down ie 10 Little Robots), Linear, metafiction (talking directly to reader).

*Repetition is fun!

*Play with it - try different styles/tones/formats

From Candace Fleming's workshop (author of many, many books - used Family Romanov in our session, also referenced Papa's Mechanical Fish which I love!) Writing biographies:

*What is your vital idea? Why do you want to tell this story? How is what you want to say different/better than what a dozen others have already said? To be successful it needs to be more than an encyclopedic rendering of facts. It needs to be a story. (see note above)

*Think in terms of scenes - she actually blocks out her research materials into scenes. Each scene includes: a specific time, specific place, and one change.

*Ask: what does the reader need to know to get to the next scene - this is the bridge. The bridge contains only what is necessary to give context for the next scene.

*End Strong, "the purpose of the story is to lead readers to the ending." The ending should reinforce the vital idea; it should resonate with (haunt!) the reader; it should arrive "on time."

Thanks for sharing your notes, Jackie!

Here's a great story from Michigan member, Suzanne Klein:

I have been a member of an online critique group for about twelve years with seven wonderful ladies. We all met face-to-face for the first time at the Wild, Wild Midwest SCBWI Conference. We are from all over the United States (Washington, Oregon, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania), and one of our members is currently living in North Korea. It was a truly amazing experience to spend the weekend with this group, whom I now consider close friends.

Suzanne Klein's online critique group meets in person
The speakers and break-out sessions were also outstanding. We heard Lisa Cron speak several times, and her explanation of a “protagonist’s misbelief” really resonated. We talked for several hours that weekend about each of our current projects, discussing misbeliefs and scenes of origin. We have even decided to read Wired for Story by Lisa Cron together. And it wasn’t only Lisa that inspired us; there were many wonderful speakers—too many to name. I think it’s safe to say that we all left Naperville feeling energized and ready to dig deeper into our writing. Thank you to everyone who helped make this conference unforgettable!

Ruth McNally Barshaw, Carrie Pearson, Leslie Helakoski
Tracy Bilen, Lynn Baldwin, Kristin Lenz (me!), Deb Gonzales

Those amazing aviators above are the MI chapter leaders who spent countless hours planning and managing, but still took time out for fun at the Roaring 20's party. I always admire people who go to great lengths to plan costumes; alas, I am not one of them. (But hey, those boas were a lot more work than they look. I was picking purple feathers out of my clothes for days.)

Take a look below at some of the creative costumes - illustrators are the best!

Lori Taylor, wildlife painter
Angie Kidd and Beth Raynor (Picasso!)
Kara Marsee (Millions of Cats!)

Sondra Soderborg

Who's Eeyore? Julia Richardson! 

The wonderful art show overflowed into two rooms, and what a tough decision for the judges to choose the winners. Congrats to Michigan author/illustrator Heidi Sheffield (who also took many of these photos!) for taking second place.

Heidi Sheffield
By now, I think you've all heard about the spontaneous scholarship donation to We Need Diverse Books. (You can read more about it on Publisher's Weekly.) A week later, Heidi Sheffield jumped on board to auction off her award-winning print to raise even more money for the cause. And the donations continued even after the print had been awarded to the highest bidder!

Writers had a contest of their own with various New York editors serving as the judges for picture books, middle grade, young adult, and non-fiction manuscripts. See the winners here.

David Striklen, Charlie Barshaw, Ruth Barshaw, Leslie Helakoski

Here are two of the many volunteers who helped keep things running smoothly all weekend: Charlie Barshaw and David Stricklen. Charlie is merely a blur in the background because he's racing off to the next AV crisis.

Laura Seely, Ann Finkelstein, Nancy Shaw

Melissa Shanker and Georgia Shuler

Smiling faces, so much fun! Thanks again to all of the Regional Advisors and volunteers who contributed their time and energy to create this magical weekend. Keep riding this wave of momentum and create!

Kristin Lenz


  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post and photos! I feel like I'm back at the Marriott filled with conference energy! Thank you Kristin and contributors.

  2. Great to relive all the fun through the photos! And the notes on some of the fabulous sessions really have sparked energy to open my own notebook and jump back in! Thank you!!

  3. This is awesome! I absolutely love this group and I love hearing other's take on things. Thank you!

    -Ashley Adkins

  4. Loved reading the post and seeing all the pictures. Sounds like such a fun and inspiring conference.

  5. Lovely! Wish I could of been there! Sigh . . .