Fishing for story in Belgrade

Posted by on Sep 12, 2016 in Children's Book Illustration, Illustration, travels | 7 comments

We headed to Belgrade Lakes on Friday for a rare Maine gathering, the Agents Editors Writers Conference.

I felt rushed and unprepared until we pulled up to the cutest cabin at Castle Island Camps.


The tiny but tidy spot on the edge of Long Pond put me in the best mood. A dinner bell rang at 6 PM, and we crossed the road to join guests gathered in the lodge for a lobster feast.

The owners, John and Rhonda Rice, have photos of proud catches all over the walls. This is Rhonda’s grandfather on the left.


We met a father and son pair of fishermen who have been coming to the area and this camp for decades. Walt is a retired engineer with an avid passion for nature photography. His son, Pat, shared tales of encounters with wildlife from his years in forestry management. They fish between dawn and breakfast for the best catch.

After a night of loon calls I almost didn’t want to leave in the morning.


But I had my writing samples, ready or not.


The conference took place at the Maine Lakes Resource Center in the heart of town.


Writers chose an editor or agent’s table, depending upon genre: picture book, middle grade, or young adult. I was with Rebecca Podos, an agent with Rees Literary Agency. Seven other writers and myself took turns reading our first chapter out loud, followed by comments from Becca. I took copious notes on everyone’s feedback, because every bit of good writing advice applies. She was positive, thoughtful, insightful, and very constructive. We all have re-writing to do, but with clear purpose. Thank you, Rebecca!

During the lunch break, I encountered a delightful surprise: Kearen is an illustrator and author plus licensed wildlife rehabilitator. She brought a pair of baby squirrels she is tending.


After lunch, the whole panel heard first pages, anonymously submitted, and commented on the problems, any small thing that would make them stop reading in a slush pile. This included Erin Murphy, Melissa Kim, Audrey Maynard, Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary, Rebecca Podos, and Ammi-Joan Paquette. About a dozen pieces were read, but not mine. Still, it was an informative and brutally honest discussion. Melissa Kim pointed out, “Little things make a big difference.” From peeves about punctuation to the importance of point of view immediacy, the panel put it all on the table, quite succinctly. They deconstructed a few query letters, and then took questions from the audience. There were several about submissions. Erin Murphy’s interest in a manuscript is a determination between trepidation vs. excitement. An editor will only want to work a story if she can see exactly what it needs. It’s harder to make writing better than it is to edit the plot. Each of them shared their submission requirements and we were done, a long but very educational day.

I found new author Lyn Smith in the crowd, and she shared the new proof of our book!


This will be published this month by Maine Authors Publishing. Lyn and I will be visiting the Louis T. Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport to talk about the book on Sunday, September 25 at 2 PM. Come join us!

After being inside all day, Marty picked me up for a ride to Blueberry Hill.

We found a rocky trail before the rain cut short our hike and we returned to camp. And the loons.


We departed on Sunday just before a storm hit.


High five to Cathy McElway, a fellow SCBWI member, who pulled together a conference in such a sweet spot. The insights gained will renew my writing goals for the months ahead. Thanks to all who shared their wisdom and to all the writers who braved the rounds of reading. Onward!



  1. LOVE your blog!
    It’s giving me the gumption to start my own….sometime soon.
    You will be my role model:)

    • Thanks for reading, Michele! I try to make a post once a week, but not always able to manage that. I keep it to mostly images. You can do it!

      • You have such a great way of summarizing and showing things in the most interesting way.
        Hope I can do half as well as you:)

  2. You are an inspiration to all of us!
    This post is beautiful – yes, an incredible setting, an informative conference with so many talented people to guide, support, and encourage all us.

  3. Can’t wait to hear more about the Penny book, Jamie, and where it’s going. Hope to talk to you soon. In the meantime, great that you went to the conference.

  4. Cannot wait to meet Penny.

  5. Fantastic post. Love the images and the specifics of how the experience helped/changed you.

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