The Highlights of Highlights

What can I say about my first-ever writers conference? Only that it was awesome and intense and that I chose well. Not that I went shopping for it, but of all the conferences out there, a Highlights Founders’ Workshop was the best one to get me started.

The Barn

It was intimate–not a hundred or two hundred attendees, but 18. It was specialized–this workshop was about writing nonfiction for children and young adults. Every presentation, every conversation was about writing nonfiction. It was comfortable–we each had our own cozy cabin just a minute’s walk from the Barn, where presentations took place. The Barn was also where we shared gourmet meals in family style. They seemed gourmet to me, at least–just ask the five pounds I came home with. So yummy. (Marcia is the name of that excellent chef.)

Workshop loot.

As for the workshop itself…Wow. We heard from children’s authors Candace Fleming, Larry Dane Brimner, Stephen Swinburne, James Cross Giblin, and Laurence Pringle; journalist and author Peter Jacobi; professor of literature Cyndi Giorgis; Highlights editors Carolyn Yoder, Debra Hess, Andy Gutelle, and Andy Boyles; and book producer Bernette Ford. And of course the Highlights people themselves, who are the friendliest, most responsive people you’d ever want to meet. I cannot say enough good things about the Highlights family. There were also book signings almost every night–I came away from the conference with so many books, I was worried my suitcase would be over the weight limit. (Highlights would have shipped them to me, though.)

One of the slush piles at Highlights.

The workshop included time with a mentor and a critique of a work in progress. In addition to presentations to the whole group, there were break-out sessions on writing for magazines, writing nature books, writing biographies, writing sports, etc. We had a presentations on how the Common Core State Standards will affect nonfiction writing, thebook producing industry, what the editors at Highlights and Boyds Mills Press look for in a submission…oh my gosh, I just learned so much! And, we toured the magazine’s editorial offices, which are in a beautiful old house, also cozy and intimate.

After nearly jumping out of my skin, I had wits enough to snap a picture.

And what was really cool for this desert-dwelling city girl–we were smack dab in the middle of the woods! Real woods, with a real creek (and real ticks, evidently). I saw a deer on one of my walks. I was excited, but apparently deer are a nuisance of sorts in that part of the country, and no one else was impressed. Would you believe, I slept without having to lock my door? I did have a run-in with some bees (wasps, hornets, whatever) on the cabin porch. I came away with three stings and a healthy respect for hymenoptera. That didn’t stop me from spraying them dead though. One night we had dinner at the Brown farm with a talent night in the barn (a real barn as opposed to The Barn).

The week was so full and busy–intense, like I said, but a good intense. A motivating intense. It was so nice to be among people with the same interests, the same goals, the same intent. I guess you could say we were all colleagues, and as a work-at-home mom for so many years, I haven’t had that feeling in a long time. The trick, now, is to carry that motivation over into real life.

For any of you children’s and YA writers out there, I highly recommend the Highlights Founders’ Workshops. Check them out here.


About Jeannette Monahan

A writer sidetracked by life, with a husband and two boys who shine brighter than Arizona sunshine. Visit me at my blogs: or You are always welcome.
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5 Responses to The Highlights of Highlights

  1. Hi Jeannette, this sounds like a really wonderful conference!

  2. L. Palmer says:

    Sounds like a great conference. Also, it’s always better when you can visit the forest. Glad they had it in such a beautiful location.

  3. pharphelonus says:

    That sounds like a marvelous experience, Jeannette. So glad you got to do it, and enjoyed it like you did. I always loveed highlights when I was a kid.

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