Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

2020 Summer Writer’s Retreat



2020 Summer Writer’s Retreat

Middle Grade & Young Adult

Tahquitz Pines in Idyllwild

June 12 – 14, 2020

As you write your novel, do you feel lost in the woods? Are you in need of a compass to guide you? Does your story need more adventure? Well, strap on your boots and join us for a weekend retreat in the scenic mountains with guidance from professionals and fellow writers. Our “camp leaders” include:

Heather Buchta, author

Ernesto Cisneros, author

Tiff Liao, Senior Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Courtney Stevenson, Assistant Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books

Lara Perkins, Agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Melanie Castillo, Associate Agent at Root Literary

To spruce up our manuscripts, attendees will participate in four critique-group sessions lead by an editor or agent, hear speaker presentations on manuscripts that caught their attention, and mingle with the editor, agent, authors during meals and a happy hour.

This three-day, two-night retreat includes lodging, meals, critique groups, speaker presentations, a sunrise hike, and writing time. Because we want to keep the critique groups cozy, we are restricting the number of attendees to 28. Attendees can also get a professional written critique of up to 10 pages of their manuscript before the conference.

Written Critiques:

You may get a written critique of your work prior to the weekend so you can revise before the retreat. If you sign up for a written critique, please email 10 pages of your manuscript and one-page synopsis to by March 4, 2019. Your manuscript must be saved as a Word document, double-spaced, Times New Roman, one-inch margins, and must have a header with your name and page numbers. The synopsis may be single-spaced, one-page, one-inch margins. We will email the critique back to you one week prior to the weekend retreat.

Faculty Bios

Heather Buchta, Author

Heather Buchta graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a B.A. in communications, but she’ll tell you the real B.A. in college is learning how to pay bills. After receiving her National Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, she directed youth ministry programs and confirmation classes for both Catholic and Protestant churches. In addition, she taught high school English for a decade in South Central LA. Today, she is a part-time youth pastor for The Rock Covenant Church and a private tutor for ACT and SAT prep. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, obstacle-course racing, rock climbing, and snowboarding. She lives in the beach cities of Los Angeles, where she dotes on her dog and writes stories from her indoor porch. Beyond the Break is her first novel.



Ernesto Cisneros, Author

Ernesto Cisneros is a 20-year veteran teacher currently serving the city of Santa Ana: the colorful but mostly dismissed section of Orange County, California. He teaches reading and writing to local students at an inner-city intermediate school.

Ernesto holds an English degree from the University of California, Irvine; a teaching credential from California State University, Long Beach; as well as a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from National University. Efrén Divided is his first novel.



Tiff Liao, Senior Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Tiff Liao is Senior Editor at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Some of her recent titles include the #1 New York Times-bestseller Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and its bestselling sequel Children of Virtue and Vengeance, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, I Am Perfectly Designed by “Queer Eye” star Karamo Brown and Jason Brown, and the Peasprout Chen series by Nebula Award finalist Henry Lien. Prior to joining Holt, she was an editor at Penguin Young Readers. You can follow her on Twitter for (mostly) bookish musings @tiff_liao.



Courtney Stevenson, Assistant Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books

Courtney Stevenson joined HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2016 after starting her career on the agency side at Pippin Properties. In her time assisting Rosemary Brosnan, Courtney has been lucky to work on such amazing books as The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day, and Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, as well as many new editions of titles on the team’s rich backlist. She is proud to have on her own list That’s What Friends Do by debut author Cathleen Barnhart and Summer at Meadow Wood by Amy Rebecca Tan. Courtney is most excited by young adult and middle grade manuscripts that have a literary bent, clever voice, diverse cast of characters, and perhaps some vibrant historical details. You can find her on twitter at @courtney_ps.



Lara Perkins, Agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Lara Perkins is an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, representing authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction and nonfiction. Her clients include Natalie C. Parker (the SEAFIRE trilogy), Katherine Locke (THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON), author/illustrator Ross Burach (THE VERY IMPATIENT CATERPILLAR, I AM NOT A CHAIR), Tami Charles (LIKE VANESSA, FREEDOM SOUP), illustrator Munir D. Mohammed (WHEREVER I GO), author/illustrator Anne Sibley O’Brien (I’M NEW HERE), and Melissa Thomson (TITO THE BONECRUSHER), among others.

In picture books, Lara is seeking humor-driven stories (primarily by author-illustrators), narrative nonfiction that combines a fascinating story with exceptional visual potential, and lyrical picture books that feel heartbreakingly beautiful and true. She is looking to champion voices that have been underrepresented in children’s literature, and she is drawn to bold and colorful art, a playful use of texture and media, and kid-appealing humor and heart.

Lara is actively building her middle grade and YA fiction list, and she is primarily on the hunt for underrepresented voices and perspectives, a page-turning pace, and either gorgeous writing or a funny and compelling voice (or both!) in all genres. She is eager to find fantasies that capture her imagination, eerie mysteries she can’t put down, and endearingly flawed characters who steal her heart. She loves nuanced and layered friendship stories (especially friendship “break up” stories), nontraditional family structures, swoon-worthy romances that are also innovative and insightful, and unreliable narrators of all kinds — adorably clueless, menacingly calculating, and “ghosts who don’t know they’re ghosts.” She loves a puzzle, a setting that feels like another character in the story, and a voice that is surprising and delightful on a line level.

Lara has a BA in English and Fine Arts from Amherst College and an MA in English Literature from Columbia University, where she studied feminist and postcolonial theory with a focus on Victorian British Literature.



Melanie Castillo, Associate Agent at Root Literary

Melanie Castillo is an associate agent at Root Literary. After graduating with an MS in writing and book publishing from Portland State University, she worked as an editorial project manager at Quarto and then as a freelance editor for several years before joining Root Literary in 2018. What she loves most about the job is the balance of the creative with the entrepreneurial. Melanie began building her list in 2019 and is actively looking for fiction and narrative nonfiction. She’s especially excited to find young adult novels with a strong voice and propulsive pacing and heartfelt and humorous middle grade novels across genres—from contemporary and realistic to historical and fantasy and everything in between. When it comes to fantasy, she tends to gravitate toward worlds that feel grounded in our own reality. No matter the genre, her favorite books often have a strong emotional undercurrent that carries the reader to the last chapter. Melanie was born and raised in Southern California in a multi-cultural, blended family, so she has a soft spot for books that shine a spotlight on the nuances of family relationships and identity. You can find her on Twitter at @wellmelsbells.