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Interview with Jackie Garlick-Pynaert, Coordinator of the SCBWI CE Niagara Falls Writers’ Retreat & Conference

In addition to writing contemporary, edgy YA novels, Jackie Garlick-Pynaert is the coordinator of the SCBWI CE Niagara Falls Writers’ Retreat and Conference. You can find out more about Jackie in her blog, Blah Blah Blaah Blogger: A Blog About Life, Writing, and the Perils Of Life On Writing.

How did you get involved in the planning of SCBWI Niagara Falls Writer’s Retreat?

I’d been going over the border so much, attending such great writing events and I’d met and made so many wonderful friends State side, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to bring some of that talent over here to an event.

I thought, wouldn’t it be crazy great to hang out and talk shop with all my new and old friends, writers/illustrators from both sides of the border, combine the talent of two countries and just let things combust! My plan was to sit back and absorb all the creative energy flowing throughout the room! Lol – That was my original plan. And Niagara seemed the perfect backdrop, as so many of my US friends spoke of wanting to come over and see them someday.

So, I hopped in the car and set off to check out venues and totally lucked out finding Mount Carmel. I pulled in for directions, and much to my chagrin, found out they accommodated events. Bingo! After that, I decided I just had to throw an event, so I got to work on the details. In the meantime, I attended a local SCBWI CE retreat and was talking up my plans for Niagara when the RA asked if I would consider doing it under the umbrella of SCBWI. I figured sure, why not, the SCBWI label would certainly help to get the name out there, and so I agreed and continued on as the coordinator of the event.

What was the first year like?

The first year was awesome! I actually cried when I greeted all the speakers off the plane. It was so surreal to have all that talent come out to my new little event, and to come from so far, some taking three planes to get there, just to share their expertise. I knew they were all fabulous speakers, having heard them all before, but they really knocked it out of the park at Niagara, I must say.

Newcomer Veronica Rossi shared her take on high concept writing from all the fabulous workshops she’s attended through Donald Maass, and Terri Farley, with over a million books sold to her credit, gave a very inspirational keynote speech to start us off. Fran Cannon Slayton and her Burger King theory of mass marketing was a big hit, as was Sydney Salter and her talk on developing voice. Everyone got to spend time mingling with both the editor and agent (a highlight Niagara offers, unlike some of the bigger events) during down time and meals, and critique circles were well received and credited for improving work.

Having the chance to meet with and receive feedback from a faculty member and few other peers, then time for revision, then returning to the group to share your revision with the faculty member and your peers for affirmation, is really the only way to learn to write. (Another unique bonus of Niagara versus larger events). I saw the difference this critiquing format had on my writing as well as my confidence over a weekend in attendance at a well-known, highly sought after US event, and decided right there and then, I’d be modeling the Niagara event I was planning (in my head at the time) after it. (Note: The same model is applied to the illustrator portion of the program at Niagara as well.)

If the conference isn’t already sold out by the time this interview is posted…Why should kidlit/YA writers consider attending this year’s event?

I’d consider coming, not only for the benefit of the critique circles I mentioned above but also for the amount of one-on-one face time that is afforded to writer’s/illustrators at this event (again, a lot more than at the larger events.). Being that it’s a retreat, attendees essentially eat, sleep, and, well, be merry with the faculty, creating an air of friendship that lingers on long past the weekend of the event. I know many of last year’s participants continue to keep in touch via facebook and email to this day.

On top of that, there is so much opportunity to be had at Niagara. You can pay for an extra one-on-one critique session, ($45. extra charge) throw your hat in the ring to do a reading, or volunteer to have your first page read aloud at the front and critiqued by the editing/agent panel, which this year will include four major editors of the industry. May I just add, the authors in attendance are big names in the industry as well, with many, many connections, who are willing and have spoken up in the past, on behalf of writers to promote their careers, helping them to get to their publishing destinations.

 Oh, and lastly…well, there’s venue…oh, and the food!!! OMG, the food!!! It’s worth the price of admission alone, just to eat the buffet!!! I ask you, where else could you stay in Niagara, listen to eight major players of the children’s book industry speak, receive their critique and eat like a KING for under $500.

Apart from the conference planning, what are you working on these days?

Personally, I’ve been working on two things. My writing of course, a ‘fantastical, steampunkishly, Burtonistic feeling, YA adventure/romance series, hopefully on its way out the door for submission soon, and…the creation of another small intimate writer’s event, featuring some big time names hopefully…look for details to come soon.

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For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.