Sunday, February 8, 2009

Picture Book Retreat with Darcy Pattison

Children's writers are fascinating folks. They have stories to tell—lots of them. They're friendly, playful, and humorous, and they tend to encourage fellow writers. Spending an entire weekend surrounded by such people is a delight.

Two dozen writers gathered at the home of Anna Myers in Chandler, Oklahoma, this weekend. Anna and her husband, John Calvin, provided a comfortable, welcoming environment. They also fed us well. Besides offering hearty meals, they made sure we had chocolate available at all times. (Chocolate is necessary for proper creativity.)

If you haven’t read Anna’s many books, you are missing out. GO READ THEM! Anna is also a regional advisor of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). In that capacity, she is somewhat like a Mother Superior for Oklahoma SCBWI members. She spends many hours arranging conferences, teaching, and encouraging. (And did I mention that she feeds us?)

Here’s Anna welcoming us into her home. (Notice those bright wall colors.)

Anna’s husband John is the behind the scenes guy who keeps things running smoothly. He cooks, washes dishes, moves furniture, answers the phone, converses with the guests, and does anything else Anna asks of him. He's a keeper, for sure. Here he is on kitchen duty.

Here’s John discussing a plot with Dana. (I said "discussing a plot with Dana," NOT "plotting with Dana.")

Darcy Pattison, from Little Rock, led an awesome workshop on writing picture books. She could be found lecturing, leading discussions, and helping individuals work through manuscript problems. She has energy, knowledge, and passion. Writers, if you ever get a chance to attend one of her workshops, don’t miss it!

Darcy (in pink) talks with Jane.

Darcy makes a point to Pam, while Sharon works behind them.

Darcy is not just a speaker. She gets involved!

It's nice to know that even Darlene, who has sold half a dozen books, struggles through early drafts just as much as I do. Darcy's helping her out.

What did we do? We listened, thought, wrote, outlined, made dummy books, thought some more, rewrote, conferred with others, questioned, rewrote, read our works in progress out loud to everyone (scary!), made suggestions, and wrote some more. We went home with vastly improved manuscripts, even though most of us have more rewrites ahead. Writers don’t just write. We write and rewrite. Then we rewrite more.

Here’s what writers look like when they work. Writing is hard!

This group is an amazing collection of interesting personalities.

Violet and Andrea concentrate on their manuscripts.

Did I mention concentration? Look at this group. Aren't they great?

I wonder what Terry was thinking about while his writing buddies wrote. Hmmm . . . I bet it was related to Halloween. Terry LOVES Halloween, all year long.

Stephanie seeks another opinion on her manuscript. Sharon always has an opinion or two.

Pam sat across from me most of the weekend. She's primarily an artist, so sometimes she struggled to learn about writing the text of a picture book. But she hung in there. I also watched Dana and Sharon back there on the couch whenever my muse took a break.

Ruth found a comfortable place to sit with her little laptop.

Karen dressed to match Anna's living room, but she was so busy writing, she didn't notice.

Barbara, who's looking a bit dazed at this point in the process, helped us out by bringing a ton of picture books. The others in this group didn't realize I was taking their picture.

Here's Gwen, deep in thought. She's in my critique group, and I can always count on her for thoughtful feedback. Besides that, she's a wonderful friend.

Sometimes it helps to talk out a plot with another writer. Marilyn and Nelda enjoyed visiting about their work.

At this point, Terry, Susan, and Dana look like their brains are frying. This is one INTENSE workshop!

Susan gets the prize for being a hard worker. She read over 200 picture books in preparation for the retreat. Here, she's so focused on her work that she didn't even look up.

Jan and Carolyn work together in companionable silence.

The work goes on and on and on. Darcy helps Christine consider possibilities for her story while the others plow on through. Una Belle, in red, has accompanied me to many workshops and conferences. Somehow I missed getting a good photo of her. Maybe because she was always staring at her troublesome manuscript.

To my friends from the workshop: I missed getting good photos of some of you, and I apologize. If I took an unflattering photo, I left it out. I figured you’d rather not have the world see you with your eyes squinting, your mouth twisted, or your face smeared with chocolate.

I learned a tremendous amount this weekend, and I came home all fired up and encouraged. Thanks, Darcy, for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.

Darcy’s website,, has lots of good material for writers.

Here are websites from some published authors who attended the workshop. I’m sure there are others that I don’t know about. If any of you want to put your website in the comments section, I’ll add them to the list.

Anna’s website:
Darlene’s website:
Gwen’s website:
Susan’s website:
Una Belle Townsend’s books can be found on

Susan's blog, tells her version of the weekend. Go read it.

Here are Susan and Sara working together. They're two of my good friends. We've helped each other for years.

One last thought. I’ve read this before, but I just rediscovered this quote on Darcy’s website:
“Sure it’s simple writing for kids. . . Just as simple as bringing them up.” Ursula K. LeGuin, author.


Gwendolyn said...

You forgot to edit out my double chin and eye puffs. Otherwise, wonderful pics!

Terry said...

Hey Jeannie

I love your blog - your pics and comments are good and insightful. I had a blast this weekend and really enjoyed being a part of the group. It was truly an amazing workshop, except for the hour I spent trying to get my printer to work on the new laptop. I think that is why I am not smiling in any of the pics....anyway, I love your blog and hope to visit again real soon. C U at Schmooze.
Terry Hubbard

Terry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn said...

Awesome, Jeannie! What a wonderful job of capturing the weekend.

Oh, and for your website list:

Susan A. Meyers said...

Wonderful pictures, Jeannie! Thanks so much for making these memories.:-)

God Bless,

P.S. I'm with Gwen, you forgot to photoshop the double chins (not that Gwen really has one!)

smeade said...

Great pics, Jeannie. It was such a great weekend and wonderful to get to know everyone even better. Now back to those revisions. :)

drlobojo said...

So that is what you were doing.

Dana Loy said...

Jeannie, your pictures make me feel like I'm back at the retreat without all the hard work. Beautiful blog!
Dana Loy