This week my editor (Carolyn Yoder) and a lot of other really lucky wonderful people are gathered at the Highlight’s Foundation Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua Institute. I know this because every year it falls over my birthday. And one of the best birthday presents I ever gave myself was to attend the conference.
I remember how I didn’t tell a soul it was my birthday – a landmark 50 years at that. It was fun just to hug the knowledge to myself and to immerse my spirit in all the wonderful things that Chautauqua Institution and the conference had to offer.
I think it’s safe to say that the Writer’s Workshop is the premier US conference for writers of children’s literature. There are many things that make it wonderful - the perfectly charming setting of this lovely gated community, the arts focused atmosphere, special events of Chautauqua itself, informative writer’s workshops, lively panel discussions, splendid food, hilarious storytelling, and much more.
Probably my favorite part of the conference was the unprecedented access to editors. I had been to many writer’s conferences before going to Chautauqua. At each one, I would be allowed 1 - 3 fifteen minute critique sessions with an editor.
So I am not used to the kind of access that Chautauqua gave me – where editors show up at breakfast in their jogging clothes and initiate conversation, or where they plunk themselves into my seat on the way to the Wednesday evening BBQ and ask me what I write.
(For all my fellow North Carolinians, I must hastily explain that in the state of New York, BBQ means something totally other!)
But I did not mind that the menu consisted of hamburgers, hotdogs, pasta, and veggies. I was simply thrilled to plop myself into a lawn chair within six feet of Carolyn Yoder who had been given my historical fiction manuscript to critique.
By that particular evening, I’d sat through several sessions with Carolyn and knew that she possessed a wealth of historical and writing savvy. So, when at the BBQ, I discovered that Carolyn was offering a weeklong history writing workshop within a few months, I decided right then and there that I would be attending.
I did and the rest (to use an appropriately placed clique) is history!
Carolyn liked the historical piece I brought to this second workshop. She told me to put aside my Hawaii story she’d read at Chautauqua and work on this new story about a polio epidemic in my hometown.
I did. For nine months I nurtured the story before sending it to Carolyn. By this time she was the editor of Calkins Creek Books (Boyd's Mills Press' US history imprint) so she could have begun immediately begging to publish my story. But then again, it would not be in her nature to be anything less than honest, methodical, and perfectionistic.
And so she requested revisions. I gave them. She asked for more. I complied. She asked to show the story to other editors. “Sure,”I said. More changes requested. And given.
And then one evening when I least expected it, Carolyn called with an offer to publish. As a result, nearly 4 years after I attended the Chautauqua conference BLUE was published.
And the Hawaii book that Carolyn critiqued at Chautuaqua is now in production also – set for release in Spring of ’08.
Which is why during this July week I think fondly of all that goes on at Chautauqua and the Highlights conference - my week there was one of the best birthday gifts I ever bought for myself!