A mega-critique of 26 children’s and YA published and soon-to-be-published authors, the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop  ended Sunday, June 29, and everyone drove home in shock.  Shock because it was over and had gone so well and we realized  that we weren’t coming back to hang out with each other again the next day.

Awesome Austin Writers Workshop in session

The workshop took place in the 1920s-vintage Austin, Texas home of authors Greg and Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Cynthia, who teaches in the children’s and young adult writing MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts thought up and organized the event with help from her author-attorney husband, Greg and other friends from the Austin chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)  

For three days she led the critiques in a tour de force of quick wit, good fun, practical erudition, zinging (as opposed to stinging) professional insight and Kansas Pioneer Woman stamina.

Months before we’d been asked to submit up to ten pages of our works in progress. These were the beginnings of picture books, parts of YA novels and sci-fantasy chapter books, poems and nonfiction stories. Each writer got 40-45 minutes of vociferous attention from the group, moderated by Cynthia.

Liz Scanlon, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards, Phillip Yates get their papers in order. April Lurie is in the background. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Leitich Smith.)

Liz Scanlon, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards and Phillip Yates get their papers in order. April Lurie is in the background. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Leitich Smith.)

It’s an odd sensation to be on the receiving end of so much focus — 26 bright minds reacting to your prose or verse, while you’re not allowed to talk back. It feels like a surgical procedure is being done — a double cataract removal.

Like the other dazed & AAWW’ed patients after their operations, I got my copies back scribbled with thoughts, kudos, suggestions for fixes, often accompanied by typed notes. We clutched our precious stacks like they were our medical charts and we were on our gurneys in the recovery room.

Since I was one of two illustrators present, I was invited to pass around a couple of sketches to accompany my picture book offering — for additional AAWW-some scrutiny.

There was a lot of sharing, bonding, helping and a lot of eating going on.  Our graceful “pages” (fellow SCBWI’ers)  Donna Bratton and Carmen Oliver kept us supplied with coffee, scrambled egg kolaches, chocolates, juice and jokes (bad pun jokes — relentless pantomiming on the theme “turning pages”,  “flipping pages.” At one point they donned tunics with labels: “Page #1” and “Page #2.”)

The founder and first regional adviser of our Austin SCBWI chapter, Meredith Davis was there, along with our current RA Tim Crow and former RA Julie Lake and our 90 year old member Betty X. Davis, who frequently outpaces us.  Participant Gene Brenek wrote later, “These relationships have been years in the making.” It was true and probably contributed to all the magic we felt around us. Still, not  everyone present was an Awesome Austin writer. You see, Awesome writer Varsha Bajaj joined us from the Houston SCBWI chapter. She became one of us quickly, though.

Taking time out from their pagination, Donna Bratton (left) and Carmen Oliver (right) visit with author Lindsey Lane at the Saturday night party at author Helen Hemphill's home

Taking time out from their paginations, Donna Bratton(left) and Carmen Oliver (right) visit with author Lindsey Lane at the Saturday night party at author Helen Hemphill’s home. (Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith.)

We enjoyed a relaxing Saturday night party in the lovely loft residence of YA author Helen Hemphill and her husband Neil. Children’s writers settled right in to flowing wine, a spectacular catered supper and twinkling night views of the downtown.

Sunday around lunchtime everyone drove home in shock, as I’ve explained above. Many, after recovering somewhat, went straight to blogging about their experience, which is why the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop is all over the Internet today, as it should be.

Jo Whittemore, Julie Lake, Liz Scanlon and Betty Davis prepare for the next critique round. (Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith)

Jo Whittemore, Julie Lake, Liz Scanlon and Betty Davis prepare for the next critique round. (Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith)

I’ll borrow the list of attendees from Cynthia’s blog CynsationsBrian Anderson, Varsha Bajaj, Chris Barton, Gene Brenek, Shana Burg, Anne Bustard, Tim Crow, Betty X. Davis, Meredith Davis, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards, Debbie Gonzales, Helen Hemphill, P.J. Hoover, Varian Johnson, Julie Lake, Lindsey Lane, April Lurie, Mark Mitchell, Jane Peddicord, Liz Garton Scanlon, Greg Leitich Smith, Jo Whittemore, Phil Yates, and Jennifer Ziegler. (Brian Yansky and Frances Hill submitted manuscripts and donated chairs but had to bow out due to a last-minute conflict)

Here are some of the blogposts: Cynsations, Greg Leitich Smith, Liz Garton Scanlon, P. J. Hoover, Jo Whittemore, Alison Dellenbaugh, Alison’s part two (AKA Coming Back to Earth), April Lurie, Shana Burg, Carmen Oliver, Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler, and Jennifer’s part two (AKA Additional AAWW-tobiography), Lindsey Lane’s This and That.

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Mark Mitchell, who wrote this post, teaches a summer class in “How to Illustrate Children’s Books” beginning next Tuesday, July 15 at the Art School Austin Museum of Art Art School at 3809 West 35th Street, Austin, Texas 78703.  The class will run Tuesday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. through August 19. For more information on any of the AMOA summer art classes (for adults or children) call the Art School at (512) 323-6380 or visit the AMOA  website.