Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Event: 2021 Tahquitz Online Writer’s Retreat


2021 Tahquitz Writer’s Retreat

Middle Grade & Young Adult

Online via the magic of ZOOM

March 26, 27, 28    2021

Cancellation Policy:

in light of the uncertainty due to the Coronavirus, you can cancel up to

Sunday March 21st by  noon,

in which case we will refund you the entire basic conference fee (members $150/nonmembers $200). If you cancel after this date and time, we will NOT refund the conference fee unless we can find a replacement. Also, if you paid for a written critique, we will NOT refund that fee no matter what the date of cancellation since, regardless of whether or not you participate in the conference, we will email you the written critique.

This year’s theme:


For us, writing is our music. We have a foundation, but we improvise. We create a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but we hope that our pacing has a “propulsive syncopated rhythm” to keep our readers turning pages. We create a “polyphonic ensemble” of characters and conflict, deliberately distorting the “pitch and timbre” as we throw in red herrings and second act reversals and things that don’t make sense on their own but at to the beauty and uniqueness of our piece as a whole. And at the end, we hope that the finished product is a “musical” masterpiece. For this retreat, our “band leaders” include:

Wendy Loggia, Senior Executive Editor at Penguin Random House

Sara Schonfeld, Editor at Harper Collins

Michaela Whatnall, Agent at  Dystel, Goderich & Bourret

Alec Shane, Agent at Writers House

Gretchen McNeil, author (a YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, a Romantic Times Top Pick, and a Booklist Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth, to name SOME of her awards! 


with additional House Mentor Advisors:

Ernesto Cisneros, author (Efren Divided)

Heather Buchta, author (Beyond the Break)

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

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 Wednesday February 10th at 10:00 am. 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. An additional page may be the synopsis, which must be be single-spaced, one-page, one-inch margins. We will email the critique back to you one to two weeks prior to the weekend retreat.

Faculty Bios


Wendy Loggia, Senior Executive Editor at Penguin Random House (her insanely impressive bio to come soon!)

Sara Schonfeld, Editor at Harper Collins
Sara Schonfeld joined Katherine Tegen Books in 2019 after starting her publishing career at Penguin Random House. She assists Katherine with all her titles and has her own list, working with authors like Alice Walker, Ally Malinenko, and Cristina Fernandez. While she has a soft spot for YA, she acquires picture book up to teen. Her favorite stories are validating and affirming for young readers and show the power of relationships, identity, and self. When she’s not reading (which is what she does most of the time!) she loves watching anything Marvel, kickboxing, or baking. (She will remain open to materials from conference attendees for three months.)
  • PB: very selective, but interested in stories with humor, broad commercial appeal, marginalized voices, and heartfelt messages for young readers (NOT looking for rhyming picture books, board books, or early readers)
  • MG: more broadly searching for ownvoices stories from marginalized perspectives (such as neurodiverse authors; authors with disabilities; authors from the LGBTQ community; Latinx voices; Indigenous voices; Black voices; Jewish voices). Looking for light-hearted mysteries, adventures that get out of hand, spooky stories, friendship/crush drama. Dreaming of an updated, diverse, age-appropriate National Treasure! (NOT looking for issue books)
  • YA: also searching for ownvoices here (see above for some examples). Looking for rom-coms with teeth and/or a unique or speculative hook, mysteries with a dark edge (think Karen McManus, E. Lockhart, or Maureen Johnson), and special twists on genre stories (vampires, superheroes, time travelers, etc.). (NOT looking for dystopian, sci-fi, or sports)
  • Requested trigger warnings: please flag any submissions that deal with sexual assault, suicide, or other self-harm.

Alec Shane, Agent at  Writers House
Alec Shane majored in English at Brown University, a degree he put to immediate use by moving to Los Angeles after graduation to become a professional stunt man. Realizing that he prefers books to breakaway glass, he moved to New York City in 2008 to pursue a career in publishing. Alec quickly found a home at Writers House Literary Agency and has been aggressively acquiring new authors since 2013. He currently lives with his wife in Hoboken, New Jersey, not too far from the house that Frank Sinatra bought for his parents after making it big – a fact that is apparently way more interesting to Alec than to those he shares it with.
On the fiction side, I love mysteries, thrillers (though I’m experiencing a bit of terrorist fatigue at the moment), bad-ass protagonists with a chip on their shoulders, beautifully told historical fiction (The Vietnam War, the Maccabees, and The American Revolution fascinate me in particular), well-researched adventures stories, and great horror–I haven’t been scared to turn off the light in far too long and something needs to be done about it. I’ll take a look at fantasy and sci-fi, though I’m probably not the best fit for the sword and sorcery stuff.
In terms of children’s books, getting boys to read again is especially important to me, and thus I’m particularly on the lookout for a fun middle-grade adventure series, ghost story, or anything else geared toward younger male readers. On the nonfiction side, I’m attracted to offbeat, quirky histories, military history, biographies of people I didn’t even know existed (but definitely should have), “guy” reads, humor, narrative nonfiction that sheds light on under-the-radar events and lifestyles, and all things sports. I’m also currently up in the air as to whether or not I believe in ghosts, hauntings, and the supernatural, so if you have something that can convince me one way or the other, I’d love to see it.
What I’m not looking for: Romance (paranormal or otherwise), picture books, self-help, women’s fiction, food, travel memoir.

Michaela Whatnall, Agent at  Dystel, Goderich & Bourret
Michaela Whatnall joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 2019 as the assistant to Michael Bourret in the West Coast office. After graduating from Emory University with a degree in English and linguistics, Michaela completed the Columbia Publishing Course. Before joining the agency, Michaela worked in school & library marketing, which only amplified their great love of children’s literature. In their free time, Michaela co-directs a narrative fantasy podcast and spends an unreasonable amount of time listening to showtunes.
Michaela is eagerly seeking young adult and middle grade novels, graphic novels, and picture books. They gravitate towards voicey, character-driven stories with a lot of heart, and are a fan of strong character arcs and worlds that sweep the reader away. Michaela is equally excited about books that are a blast to read and ones that will break your heart (as long as the story still includes a dash of hope!). They are open to all genres, but are especially interested in seeing fantasy, sci-fi, speculative fiction, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. Some recent favorite books include CEMETERY BOYS by Aiden Thomas, DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY by Adib Khorram, THE LINE TENDER by Kate Allen, and THE TEA DRAGON SOCIETY by Katie O’Neill. Some favorite shows and movies include Derry Girls, Gentleman Jack, Knives Out, and Booksmart.

Gretchen McNeil is the author of the YA horror/suspense novels POSSESS, 3:59, RELIC, GET EVEN, GET DIRTY, and TEN (a YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, a Romantic Times Top Pick, and a Booklist Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth) all with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins. Gretchen’s first YA contemporary I’M NOT YOUR MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRL, also with Balzer + Bray, hit shelves in 2016, and then she returned to her horror-comedy roots with #MURDERTRENDING (Barnes & Noble Best Books of 2018, ILA 2019 Young Adults’ Choices Reading list, YALSA’s 2019 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers, and was voted the #1 choice on YALSA’s 2019 Teens’ Top Ten list) and the sequel #MURDERFUDNING for Disney/Freeform. The series will continue in 2020 with the companion novel NO ESCAPE.

Gretchen’s novels have been published internationally in Chinese, Spanish, Turkish, French, Thai, and Czech. Ten: Murder Island, the film adaptation of TEN starring China Anne McClain (Descendants 2Black Lightning), Rome Flynn (The Bold and the Beautiful), and Callan McAuliffe (The Walking Dead, Flipped, I am Number Four), premiered on Lifetime in 2017. GET EVEN and GET DIRTY have been adapted as the series Get Even for BBC/Netflix, premiering in 2020.

Gretchen is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Visit Gretchen online at



Additional House Mentor Advisors


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. She is represented by Michael Bourret of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret. You can visit her at



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. He is represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. You can visit him at