New England SCBWI Spring Conference and My News

This past weekend I attended the Saturday session of this year’s New England SCBWI conference in Springfield, MA. Every year it just gets better (and bigger)! I’ve been a member of SCBWI for 15 years and so, it’s great to reunite with old friends and make new ones. I have a tiny confession to make, however. In the past, I always attended the workshops. They are inspirational and educational. But, this year, I had a bit of amazing news and ended up networking (okay, okay, socializing) during the workshop sessions.  My big news? I just recently signed with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency! I’m over the moon to be a part of the EMLA family, and am beyond thrilled to have Tricia as my agent.

I did attend all the fabulous keynote sessions. They were incredible and all brought tears to my eyes. Highlights:

Dan Santat was the morning keynote speaker. He is the Caldecott award winner for his truly wonderful picture book BEEKLE. I absolutely LOVE this book about imaginary friends. I want a Beekle plush! The big take-away for me from Dan’s speech was to be more open. He said it’s important to understand why you like certain stories or characters. He went on to caution against being biased because that shuts you off. He mentioned Game of Thrones. Ah yes. I’d heard many raves about the TV series. I turned to Jo Knowles and said, “I don’t watch it because I hear it’s violent.” Jo raised her eyebrows at me and echoed Dan Santat’s wisdom. Okay. Got it. I came home and started watching it, and you know what? I’m hooked! (No spoilers! I just started season 1!) Other wise words from Dan Santat that resonated with me: “Don’t chase trends. Do what you love. Do your best work.” Oh, and also, “If you don’t drink coffee, start!” 🙂

Kwame Alexander was the afternoon keynote speaker. A shameful admission here, I’d only recently heard his name, as he is the winner of this year’s Newbery medal for his YA-in-verse THE CROSSOVER. As he recited his powerful poetry, I knew I wanted to devour all of his books. And what a great list of books! He started off by self-publishing his poetry and doing school visits to sell books. Talk about perseverance! I admire him so much for his dedication, his passion, and his words. I now have a signed copy of THE CROSSOVER and look forward to diving in. The big take-away from his speech for me? That THE CROSSOVER was rejected 22 times. He said that sometimes the no’s have to come so you can get them out of the way, so the yes can come.

Jo Knowles was the evening keynote speaker. Full disclosure here: I love Jo. We have been friends and writing partners (along with Cindy Faughnan) for a decade. Jo’s keynote was in a word, spectacular. She made me, and many in the audience, cry. She is such a passionate and generous soul and it shines through in her books. She is the author of JUMPING OFF SWINGS, SEE YOU AT HARRY’S and most recently, READ BETWEEN THE LINES. I admit, I didn’t take notes during her keynote, but I can tell you what the big take-away was: Be true. In your writing, in your life, BE. TRUE. And ask yourself, do I dare disturb the universe? I hope you do!

We ended the evening with a We Need Diverse Books panel, featuring esteemed authors, Mike Jung (who did a brilliant job moderating), Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton, Sona Charaipotra, Grace Lin, and Cindy L. Rodriguez. I cannot do their panel talk justice here, but each shared the story of his/her journey and experiences with diversity and writing and books – and the need for more diversity in books. I heartily agree! Their points made me think about my own writing and how it’s evolved. How I don’t shy away from inserting my opinions or experiences of growing up in Los Angeles as a third generation Japanese-American or in featuring Japanese-American main characters in my work. When I first started writing novels over a decade ago, I admit that I was not that comfortable doing these things, but I believe it was that I didn’t see many other books out there doing what I was trying to do – writing a contemporary story (about love, friendship, family) with an Asian American….an American main character versus focusing on the immigrant experience. Those books are important, too, of course, but in the “write what you know” school, being an immigrant was not what I knew from first-hand experience.

A full, wonderful, informative, inspirational day! And what happens after the workshops and speeches and panels are over?


Laura Jacques looks on as Jo Knowles and Erin Dionne arm wrestle.

For fun – caption the above photo and I’ll enter your name for a chance to win a copy of BEEKLE by Dan Santat. (I forgot to bring my copy with me to the conference to get it signed, so I bought a copy there. I’m keeping the signed copy, but I’ll send the unsigned copy to a lucky winner!) You have till Wednesday, May 6th to enter!

EDITED TO ADD: And the winner is….

I used a random number generator to choose a winner from the comments. The winning caption for a copy of BEEKLE is “Let me have the mustard! I need condiments!” Congratulations, Lynn! You’re going to love BEEKLE!

Thanks to everyone for playing!

VCFA Novel Writing for Young People Retreat

AH, bliss. Nothing beats a weekend of workshops on craft, writing time, and hanging out with writer pals! Well, except maybe if it weren’t so cold. The high was SIX on the last day of the retreat. Brrrr, this California Gal was chilled to the bone!

For the third year in a row, I attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Writing for Young People Retreat (say that 3 times fast) and was inspired and motivated to write better, dig deeper. The workshops were, as always, outstanding. Big thanks to VCFA and retreat co-leaders Cindy Faughnan and Sarah Aronson.

Dana Walrath, author of the verse novel Like Water On Stone and artist, led a workshop called Scribbling Softly. We were given large sheets of paper and a very awesome pure lead pencil. With our eyes closed, we drew/scribbled as Dana called out different emotions for our main characters of our WIPs. It was freeing. I am not an artist by any means, but with my eyes closed, I let go of judgement and I focused on my main character. I felt like a part of a community as I listened to the scribblings of my fellow writers and artists. And I definitely gained some insight into my MC’s emotions.

Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath, talked about character beliefs. This was an eye-opening workshop for me as I didn’t quite understand what motivated my main character. It wasn’t until Kathi’s enlightening workshop that I was able to discover my MC’s core beliefs. It really re-ignited my passion for this WIP!

David Gill, author of the very funny Soul Enchilada, did his workshop on Visual Plotting. This was a game-changer for me! I’ve long known about the “three act structure” and have read about many different ways of plotting. As a writer who likes to plunge into a story rather than plot/outline, I’ve spent many “first drafts” trying to figure things out. I tried different methods of Plotting, but none really worked for me. In fact, with my current (new) WIP, I stalled about halfway through my draft because I’d plotted it out so deeply that I no longer cared about getting to the end. I knew what was going to happen. I felt like I’d already written the story and I lost steam and interest. But the way David suggested plotting allowed for a lot of wiggle room and surprise writing along the way. My long time friend and writing partner Jo Knowles and I went back to her room after the workshop and used David’s method to plot our WIPs. It helped to bounce ideas and brainstorm with each other. Success! We plotted out our WIPs and learned a lot about our stories and characters, too! Very exciting!

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Because of these workshops, I’m absolutely reinvigorated to get back to this WIP! And because of Kathi Appelt’s “write for 5 minutes a day,” I’ve not missed one day of writing. (The five minutes is just a starting point – write for 5 minutes or more.)

Last but definitely not least, Joy Peskin, editorial director for Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, gave an awesome workshop on the Top Ten Most Common Editorial Notes. She included actual examples of editorial letters she’s written to authors, as well as reading from novels she edited as examples. I felt better knowing that even published and veteran authors need guidance in shaping their stories and characters. There were a couple of big take-homes for me that apply to my writing in general and my current WIP. I’m keeping Joy’s top ten list on my desk so I can be reminded as I write!

The retreat had two tracks, critique and writing. Because I was working on something brand new, I signed up for the writing track. I made great headway and nothing motivates me more than being surrounded by like-minded writers. The retreat also included an open mike night. I always love hearing what others are working on. I’m always impressed and entertained.

Finally, it wasn’t all work, and no play. Cindy Faughnan drove a small group of us to a Sugar Shack to experience Sugar on Snow. Whoa! What an amazing treat of snow topped by hot and fresh maple sap and accompanied by donut, hot drink, and pickle (! to cut the sweet). Let’s just say I was on quite a sugar buzz for the rest of the afternoon. Delicious! I’m looking forward to the VCFA retreat next year! Maybe I’ll see you there!


Kathi Appelt, Cindy Faughnan, Kelly Bennet, and David Gill enjoy Sugar on Snow. YUM!

P.S. – Big thanks to dear friend and talented writer, Kristy Boyce, who kept me company on the long drive back and forth to the retreat and inspired me to write this post. Check out her thoughts on this same retreat: Musings on A Dream.

And The Winner Is…

Thank you to everyone to stopped by to visit my newly redesigned online home! And thank you to those of you who entered the drawing to win my nonfiction kids books, Japan and China.

Japan Cover China

Sorry, I’m a tad late in announcing the winner! I used a random number generator to pick the winner from the comments (not including those who said they didn’t want to be entered in the drawing).

The winner is:

Kathy Erskine! Congratulations! Please contact me using the email link or the comment form with your mailing address and if you’d like the books signed and to whom.

Thanks again for stopping by, and I hope you come back again often!

Nestwarming Party

Hello! Welcome to my newly redesigned web site – welcome to The Word Nest! I’m so happy you’re here! Come on in and take a look around.

To celebrate this re-launch, I’m giving away one copy each of my nonfiction kids books, China and Japan, to a lucky winner.

China Japan Cover

For more about these books, click here. To enter your name in a random drawing, just comment below. Deadline for entries is Saturday, March 7 at midnight EST. Winner will be announced here on Monday morning. Please check back to see if you’ve won! And please, if you don’t want to enter your name in the drawing, please comment anyway (and say so), because I’d love to have you join me in celebrating this new online home of mine.

Take a look around, have a cup of tea or coffee, and relax and enjoy! I hope you come back to visit often!



Hi and welcome to my newly redesigned web site. Thank you to Jenny Medford at Websy Daisy for her hard work!

I will post thoughts and news here on this blog. Random stuff like what I’m reading, what I’m writing, what my dog and ducks are up to, or places I’m visiting. I’ll definitely share any new details about my books here.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you come back again soon!