Just Add Magic

Just Add Magic

Abracadabra–it’s official:  I AM a writer. I learned this, among other things, while attending my first all-day writing conference, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia Region Spring Conference. Over 190 attendees included beginner and experienced writers, illustrators, editors, agents, and more.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to make some new acquaintances, including Cindy Callaghan, author of Just Add Magic, which seemed an appropriate image for this blog, for reasons you’ll understand if you read to the end (not fair, I know!).

Since I don’t think anyone wants to hear my play-by-play description of the conference, I’m going to report a short takeaway from each speaker I saw.  (Due to breakout sessions, I could not see/hear all speakers). My highlights may not be the same as someone else’s, but that’s part of the beauty of conferences – the ability to listen for the messages applicable to you.

Marilyn Brigham, Editor, Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books N.G.E.F. Y.  – Adapted from legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom, “Not Good Enough For You.” When editing your work, apply this principle. It can ALWAYS be better.
Kristen Nobles, Art Director, Candlewick Press After reading the text for a book, she usually jots down three verbs to help determine illustrator choices. What three words would describe your story?
Laura Bowers, Author (Young Adult) Passion makes you WANT to write the story.  Perseverance MAKES you write the story.
Kathi Appelt, Author (children, young adult, and adult); Faculty, Vermont College of Fine Arts Look for seeds that are planted within your own life stories. Write to the hole in your heart.
Heather Alexander, Editor, Dial Books for Young Readers Respect the demands on editors’ time; present your submissions with this in mind.
Rosemary Stimola, Agent, Stimola Literary Studio Age is irrelevant in the writing business; recently considered representing a 14-year-old, and currently representing an 87-year-old.

 Now, back to the magic, mentioned in at least three presentations I heard. Cindy Callaghan’s fun book Just Add Magic, features “secret recipes” discovered by 12-year-old girls in an attic. While none of the speakers yesterday claimed to offer THE secret recipe for success, I interpreted their heartfelt presentations as “ingredients.”

Not everyone likes the same food; not everyone likes the same book. But when writing, it may help to pick the ingredients that work for you; blend, stir, fold, bake, broil, or grill them as you’d like; but, please don’t forget to include the magic.


  1. Sounds like a great time. I’m new to the Baltimore area from Chicago and hope to make it to some future events. I particularly like Rosemary Stimola’s advice!

    • Well welcome, Ron, and if you’re not part of the SCBWI MD-DE-WV Yahoo Group, you may want to sign up – nice folks, and they don’t bombard you with information. Hope to see you at an event.

  2. Valerie,
    Thanks for a very interesting take on your first SCBWI conference! I’m glad you enjoyed the day and hope you’ll be back for more in the future.

    • Thank you, Edie, and I surely hope to be back for more in the future. Great day and great people; thank you for all your work to make it happen!