Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2020 Regional Conference: Keynotes and Workshops


Tara Lazar: How to Jump Publishing Hurdles When You Can’t Even Walk – Tara Lazar is disabled, but that never stopped her from pursuing her dream of being a published children’s book author. You’re going to face many hurdles throughout your career, so learn how to jump . . . and brush yourself off when you fall.



Vanessa Brantley-Newton: Diversity Designed by Adversity – Vanessa Brantley-Newton shares her very powerful and emotional journey to becoming an illustrator and advocate for diversity. Be forewarned, you will laugh and cry at the same time.

Lynne Kelly: A Writer Writes and a Whale Sings – When we sit down to create, we don’t know how the finished product will turn out or how our audience will receive it. Yet there’s something that drives us to keep working on our craft. Lynne Kelly will share her fascination with a whale who sings like no other and what he has in common with those of us who create books.

Sherri Duskey Rinker: Everything I WISH I’d Known – Sherri Duskey Rinker went right from the slush pile to two consecutive #1 New York Times bestselling picture books. “How many mistakes did I make? All of them.” It’s been over a decade since she submitted Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and hindsight being 20/20, Sherri will share some pieces of advice learned the hard way.

Jack Cheng: The Enchanted Rose: Writing for Children in the #MeToo Era – Just as gender stereotypes hurt and limit girls, they also hurt and limit boys. Using the movie Beauty and the Beast as a starting point, Jack Cheng will share his personal experiences, highlight both positive and problematic examples, and sketch out the potential of new, more inclusive definitions of masculinity that work in relation to, rather than in opposition against, feminism and femininity.



A. Tara Lazar: Understanding Art When You’re Just the Author – One of the most difficult aspects of being a picture book author-only is understanding how to write with pictures in mind–before you ever have an illustrator. How can you demonstrate to editors that you know words & images work in tandem? How can you cut down on unnecessary text? How can you “leave room” for the illustrator? Do you use “art notes” or are they verboten? Tara will demonstrate the delicate dance of words and images in a picture book and have you practice with a partner.

B. Sonia Chaghatzbanian: Picture books – The Collaboration Process from Beginning to The End! – From finding an artist, to reviewing a sketch dummy, revising, and finishing, this workshop will give you an art director’s behind the scenes lowdown on every step in the process of creating a picture book!

C. Molly O’Neill: How to Capture an Agent’s Attention – Literary agent Molly O’Neill walks us through a broad look at factors that can make authors’ projects stand out from the masses in an agent’s inbox. Part writing-craft-talk, part practical guide into current market considerations, part insight into her personal tastes as an agent, this presentation will also include 40-50 examples of memorable, eye-catching books (from PB-YA) that can serve as mentor texts to writers at any stage in their career.

D. Mekisha Telfer: Raising Your Voice – Voice is one of the most crucial elements in writing while simultaneously being one of the most elusive. In this workshop, through concrete examples and exercises, we’ll discuss the key to making the voice in your novel really sing.

E. Jack Cheng: Subplots as Secret Keys – In the early-to-mid stages of a manuscript, we can tend to overlook or push aside subplots—especially when we already have our hands full with a single main storyline. But not only can subplots deepen story themes and make flat characters more dynamic; they can also be keys to unlocking a main plot. Using lessons learned from writing his middle grade novels, as well as from film and episodic television, Jack Cheng will help us reflect on our subplots, and use them to think in new ways about our works-in-progress.



F. Lynne Kelly: Get In, Writer, We’re Going Plotting: How Your Character Drives the Plot – All stories have obstacles, but every character responds differently to those obstacles. Whether you like to plan your whole novel before you start writing or figure it out as you go, the characters you create determine how your story unfolds. In this session we’ll work on developing characters that drive the plot, and plot points that reveal who our characters are.

G. Erin Murphy: Unlocking Your Picture Book Voice – Can the short texts of picture books have voice? Of course they can. Examine the voice of several authors’ bodies of work and examine what contributes to voice, and then take a look at your own voice and how it might affect the creation and revision of your texts.

H. Kaylan Adair: Finding Your Character’s Voice: Creating Authentic Emotions in MG and YA Novels – Beginning with the basics—what exactly is the difference between MG and YA?—this workshop will help you clarify the worldviews of your middle-grade and young adult characters so that you can ensure you’re writing their experiences with authenticity and compassion. By studying examples from successful MG and YA novels, you’ll begin to see how your character’s developmental stage, life circumstances, and worldview affect the ways in which they describe their world and communicate their story.

I. Kristen Nobles: The Art-Led Picture Book – I believe the best picture books have roots in the creator’s personal experiences and interests. Are you an illustrator looking to write your own books as an author-illustrator? Or a writer searching for out-of-the-box tools to identify unique story ideas? Have you heard the phrase “write what you know” but aren’t sure how to practically apply it? This workshop will suggest several ways to find the story that only you can create, will include an exercise to get your ideas flowing, and will showcase visual examples of how Page Street Kids author-illustrators have moved from idea to early development to published books with these brainstorming prompts.

J. Lorin Oberweger: Go Big or Go Home – How to supersize your novel’s characters, story, voice, and emotional through line. Too often, writers set modest goals for themselves and their stories, playing it safe and small on the page. In this workshop, we’ll talk about ways to supersize your story and super-charge your readers’ emotional experience. As always, come prepared with a couple of scenes from your manuscript and laptop or notebook for writing. This workshop is for PAL members ONLY.



K. Maria Barbo: Master the Middle of Your NovelFeeling stuck in the middle of your manuscript? In this hands-on workshop, we’ll develop strategies to help you raise the stakes, hook readers, and use character development to drive your novel forward.

L. Minju Chang: Searching for a Feeling – Thanks to technology, we’re surrounded by stories all day, every day. Some elicit mild interest, but only a few actually make us pause and truly pay attention. So it goes for literary agents. We often come across polished manuscripts, so what makes one stand out from the crowd? In this session, we’ll discuss what makes a project not only compelling but also convincing.

M. Sherri Duskey Rinker: Picture Books And Beyond – We’ll take a look at successful examples of board books, picture books (from simple to the most complex), early readers, chapter books and middle-grade novels. Understanding the differences in these formats and developing your concept, writing style, and pitch for the correct vehicle (and understanding the marketing behind them) can be the key to getting published.

N. Vanessa Brantley-Newton: Artist Pep Talk and Lab – Illustrators are asked to bring a sketchbook and supplies to sketch with. The class has some physical activities and meditation to it so wear something comfortable and bring your open heart and mind.

O. Moira Rose Donohue: Write-for-Hire: It’s More Creative Than You Think! Did you ever think about writing one of those nifty little library nonfiction books about animals or historical people? Most of them were done as write-for-hire work. In this session, Moira Rose Donohue, a veteran write-for-hire author, will tell you what write-for-hire is and isn’t, how to get the work, and what to do when you’ve got it. Moira will help you see that this kind of writing is filled with opportunities for creativity. And sneak preview–this session will also help you unlock the mystery of leveling!