Friday, September 23, 2016


Our SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat is only two weeks away! Charlie Barshaw looks back on the SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference and gives us a reminder about all of the hard work going on behind-the-scenes by an army of volunteers. Here's Charlie:

Note: These impressions are the writer’s alone. They are based on faulty memories, overheard conversations, and opinions parading as facts. Please ingest with caution.

The first clue that the 2016 Wild Wild Midwest SCBWI Conference was a big deal surfaced Thursday, the day before it officially started. We walked into a large conference room, set up wall-to-wall with tables and chairs.

Twelve well-dressed hotel people sat opposite the twelve SCBWI people, Regional Advisors from Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ruth McNally Barshaw, the Illustrator Coordinator. And me, the guy who “technically” was the Audio/Visual expert.

In front of us, placards with our names, water glasses, hotel pens, pads of paper, and a spiral-bound booklet.

Inside that booklet a breakdown of each room of the conference, for every day. Every hotel person seated there would play a part. Every person on the SCBWI side likewise had commitments that played out over the past three years, and the next three days.

SCBWI National pulls off two of these huge spectacles every year: the winter sessions in New York, and the summer sessions in downtown Los Angeles. And they employ people whose only job is to make each conference run smoothly.

Contrast this with the WWMW conference, held for the first time in Spring 2013, and then May of this year. Why three years? Because every person involved is a volunteer, many with real day jobs and families.

Planning began immediately following the successful end of WWMW ‘13. During the 2014 LA conference, I was a fly on the wall as RAs gathered in a hotel room to lay out possible venues. During the 2015 LA conference, they again gathered to finalize faculty selections.

Over the years, RAs dropped out and were replaced by new volunteers, who then inherited WWMW duties. One whole state, comprising two SCBWI regions, dropped out entirely, to be replaced by another state.

Faculty had to be contacted, cajoled for bios, quizzed on food preferences. Schedules had to be drawn up, plane tickets and airport pick-ups arranged, rooms set aside.

There were also almost 500 attendees, some veteran conference-goers, some eager but oh-so-green rookies. Dietary requirements, special requests, unexpected emergencies: all had to be dealt with in the months leading up to, and especially during the three days of the conference.

Projectors and laptops were donated, to offset the huge expense of renting that equipment from the hotel. Many of the pages of the spiral-bound booklet specified, in agonizing detail, the cost of each service.

I witnessed one of the most stunning sights of the whole weekend, entirely behind closed doors. After lunch, there was a brief window where every trace of the meal had to be cleared, tables removed, walls assembled. Every hotel person seated across from us on Thursday, from security, AV, management, food service, worked together to set up the room for the next events.

As incredible a display of teamwork as that was, the work of the Midwest organizers was amazing in its thoroughness and dedication. Special thanks to our own RAs, Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson, who shouldered much of the responsibility as co-chairs.

So, how do you organize a multi-state conference? It’s impossible, but somehow they did it.

Charlie Barshaw has four MG and YA novels-in-progress, three critique groups, two dogs and a gifted, supportive and encouraging wife. Oh, and a miniscule bank account, but a whole vast world of opportunity.

Learn more about the upcoming SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat here, and be sure to thank our hard working volunteers.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! Send your good news to Patti Richards by Monday, Sept. 26th to be included. Don't be shy; we're inspired by your success!


  1. ::::applauding:::: Well done, Charlie! You remember it as I do. It was a lot of work. It took a couple months for me to recover. I was really glad our RAs decided to go ahead and do another Wild, Wild Midwest conference in 2016. One great thing that happened there (besides the truly wonderful revelations I personally had there) was how everyone came together to donate money to We Need Diverse Books for editor internships in NY, for people of color.
    We can all feel really good about that for a long time.
    We are changing lives.

  2. It was fun, wasn't it? :) So happy it went well and attendees grew from the experience. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Charlie!

  3. Nice job on this Charlie! I should have guessed how complex a project the conference was...but wow! This is eye opening! I'm so grateful I was able to attend.