Thursday, July 20, 2017



Back in the short, dark days of January, I was notified that I was the recipient of the Eileen Spinelli Scholarship at the Highlights Foundation, allowing me to attend a Highlights writing workshop. I want to tell you about it.

I was delighted that Eileen Spinelli found promise in my middle-grade novel pages and chose me for the scholarship. But when it came time to choose a workshop, I veered off the predictable path. I’ve been working hard on writing and revising two middle-grade novels for the past few years, and I decided to work on some other writing muscles at Highlights: picture book writing.

By the time the June workshop rolled around, I knew I had made the right choice. The twists and turns of the writer's life had drained all the joy out of my writing practice. Part of my brain (the novel writing part) felt over-worked, stale, and burned out. I needed badly to play, to have fun with writing. Returning to picture books, which is what drew me into the world of children’s writing in the first place, was just what I needed.

With author Darcy Pattison

Picture Books and All That Jazz was led by three dynamic picture book authors: Darcy Pattison, Leslie Helakoski, and Kelly Bennett. We workshopped picture book manuscripts and soaked up information about illustrations, page turns, word count, drama, character quests, and more. It was a long weekend packed full of information and inspiration!  
Making picture book dummies

Special guest presenters included Scholastic editor Natalia Remis and Boyds Mills Press art director Tim Gillner. The workshop took me out of my comfort zone and got me back into a more playful mode.
with author Kelly Bennett

Now, about the Highlights retreat itself. It’s a writer’s dream.  It had always seemed financially out of reach for me, so the scholarship was a true gift. I got to stay in my own little writer’s cabin (something I’ve always wanted to do!). 

Three healthy, beautiful meals are served each day, with coffee/tea/water and snacks on hand all the time. 
Did I mention the snacks?

There are opportunities for quiet reflection and writing, for walks in the woods, or for looking up from your laptop to see a deer prance by your cabin. It’s heavenly.

The Highlights Foundation offered several scholarships this year, and they will again—watch this space!  I recently found out that the artists-in-residence who will each choose a scholarship recipient are Laurie Halse Anderson, Kathy Erskine, Matt de la Pena, Denise Fleming, and Varian Johnson. I recommend choosing a workshop that will feed your creative spirit, refresh your writer’s brain, and perhaps build new muscles. It made all the difference for me.


  1. What a wonderful experience! I'm so glad you've rediscovered play. I love to toggle between picture books and middle grade. It's a chance to stretch creative muscles I haven't used in a while.

    1. Thanks, Caroline! Yes, it really helps to move between those two worlds. It revived me!

  2. Sounds heavenly, Mary. So happy you were able to play and find joy in writing again.

  3. What a great experience! I am so glad you were given a scholarship, and that you were able to return to picture books and encounter such great mentors. (I feel you on the " The twists and turns of the writer's life draining all the joy out of my writing practice.")


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