Student Superheroes: All Suited Up

YMCA Texas YG District 5
YMCA Texas Youth and Government District 5 Conference

Last Saturday, I spent my day surrounded by 1500 middle and high school superheroes suited up in business attire for the YMCA Texas Youth and Government (YG) District 5 Conference. Their superpower, however, does not come from the outside appearance. Rather, it emanates from the inside, from well-honed critical thinking skills. And it’s an awesome force to behold!

My Badge: YMCA Texas YG District 5
My Badge: YMCA Texas YG District 5

Students from schools in the North Texas area who participate in the District Conference take part in one of the following tracks: Senior Legislative, Junior Legislative, Judicial, State Affairs for High School and Middle School, and Media. Not only do they conduct mock trials, and propose, debate, and pass legislation; they also campaign and vote for state offices. Alex Searles, McKinney’s candidate for District Governor, was elected to office. He and his team will now campaign for State office at the State Conference in Austin in January. 

YMCA Texas YG District 5 Governor
New YMCA Texas YG District 5 Governor from McKinney

This was my first YMCA YG District experience. All the McKinney schools take a collaborative approach by working together as a community with one voice, rather than pitting schools against each other. I love being part of the McKinney family of volunteer advisors. Most are parents with kids in the programs, but others [like me] participate because we love kids AND the governmental processes.

I was privileged to serve as a Senior Legislative Committee evaluator during the day. As the students present their bills, ask questions, offer pro and con arguments, and amendments, we evaluate their debate skills. We look at grammar and organization, quality of oral delivery, quality of questions, and relevance to the debate. Many of the kids are new to public speaking, and this experience offers them a safe place to practice their skills. As evaluators, we not only score their effort, but also offer suggestions on how to improve. 

The bills they brought forward in committee offer an interesting window into their cultural perspectives on current issues — some of which surprised me. The maturity of thinking, demonstrated by the strength of arguments they posed to bill authors, and creative approaches to solutions, was simply astounding. For instance, one student offered an intriguing bill to require bars to create a menu of “panic button” drinks that allow patrons to let bartenders know they need help. For example, a bar can create the “cotton candy/peppermint drink with ice” — with the “coded menus” posted in the bathrooms. A different code would be posted in the male and female bathrooms, with the instruction that ordering this drink means ‘I need someone to escort me to my car’ or ‘call the police.’ The bars will change out the panic button drink menus each month. The kids asked great questions: such as, what if the bartender blows you off when you order the panic button drink? What if the bartender is the aggressor? What about male-on-male assault — the panic button poster in the men’s room would be meaningless? How would the state enforce the panic button bill? What if someone orders the panic button drink without knowing what it means?The bill’s author fielded all the questions well, and the bill passed out of committee.

Other bills included the elimination of race designations from college applications, a law requiring abuse shelters for men in each county, annual high school vision screening requirements, racial profiling educational training to be conducted by police at local high schools. One student offered a bill to prevent the release of the names of officers involved in a shooting, to protect them from harm by angry community members. The debate revolved around transparency, freedom of speech in social media, punishment for ‘leakers’, and personal/family safety concerns. These kids aren’t afraid to take socially volatile positions, for the sake of debate.

Austin Capitol

What’s next? The State Conference in Austin. Students from across the state will take over the State House and Senate chambers to practice the governance process. I’m thrilled to watch them grow into their roles as leaders of tomorrow. From what I can see, we’re in GREAT hands!

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Youth in Government

I am an unabashed govvie. I nerd out on the governmental process — which can be totally distinct from bureaucracy. Bureaucratic processes can be found in most well-established, hierarchical organizations to ensure decisions at the top flow down. As a non-linear, disruptive thinker, I’m generally not a fan of bureaucratic practice, but rather the role of democracy to represent the people and bring about public good — which is an inherently governmental process. The social science behind how we govern fascinates me, while the politics of human nature can be tedious. I believe in the inherent goodness of our democratic processes in the US, but understand that even the best system can be misused and abused for personal gain. This is not an indictment of our current political environment, by any means, because history is rife with examples of political intrigue and discord. It’s in our best interest, as a nation, to train our youth to be thoughtful, passionate future leaders who can problem-solve and make reasonable decisions for our nation. To this end, I’m thrilled to take part in the YMCA Youth in Government program.

See. Government really IS fun! Just look at those faces. Image credit: YMCA Texas

See. Government really IS fun! Just look at those faces. Image credit: YMCA Texas

Here’s why I love this program: it’s all about “equipping a generation to improve our nation.” The YMCA Texas Youth and Government program offers hands-on student-led activities to learn about, and practice, the governance processes at the State level. By participating, I have an opportunity to help prepare the leaders for tomorrow.

YMCA Youth in Government mission: “To help teenagers become responsible citizens and future leaders of our nation.”

Floor debate at the Texas Capitol. Image credit: YMCA TX

Floor debate at the Texas Capitol. Image credit: YMCA TX

This weekend, I attended an all-day training for advisors. I serve on the McKinney city team, specifically at McKinney Boyd High School. I’ve attended two after-school Youth in Government club meetings at Boyd so far, with another one today. My role will be to help guide them in selecting bill topics, edit the bills they draft, accompany them to the district and state conferences — and whatever else they throw my way. I learned a great deal at the training, including details about the key areas of programming that students can take part in.

Legislative – Grades 6-12: Students discuss topics of interest related to Texas law, research the topics in order to write a one page bill, learn and follow Parliamentary Procedures, lead discussions in committees and on the floor of the House and Senate, learn debating skills, and practice public speaking skills.

Judicial – Grades 9-12: – Students study an actual criminal or civil case for trial or appellate court, including procedures, rules of evidence, objections, laws for precedence, then serve as attorneys, appellate attorneys, and witnesses.

Media – Grades 9-12: Students learn about the role of the media, research current issues, practice writing and editing skills, as well as technical skills associated with camera equipment, online publishing, and social media.

State Affairs Forum – Grades 6-12: Students research current issues and draft one page proposals to solve an issue, learn and practice Parliamentary Procedure, and practice debating skills.

While the YMCA Texas Youth and Government program is modeled after the competitive political environment that exists at the local and federal level, the YMCA Model United Nations is designed around collaborative problem-solving practices.

YMCA Texas Youth In Government participants. Image credit: YMCA Texas

Go Texas! Image credit: YMCA Texas

So far, they boast 40 state programs with 25,000 students and over 3000 volunteer advisors. I get to bump up their stats by one, as I dive into my role as advisor to the local McKinney club. I look forward to learning and growing with the students in our local club — especially at the State Conference in January in Austin at the Texas State Capitol.

Austin, here we come!


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McKinney Teachers are Out of This World!

This morning, I had the great honor of attending the McKinney ISD new teacher breakfast hosted by the McKinney Chamber of Commerce. This year’s theme –“Teachers are Out of This World” — was a perfect fit for me to share some space-y awesomeness from my time at NASA.

The event, convened in the McKinney Boyd High School cafeteria, was packed with excited and enthusiastic educators. Many of the teachers are fresh out of college, while others transferred from various school districts. Bringing teachers together in this way creates community, and shows them how much the City values them.

McKinney ISD New Teacher Breakfast at Boyd High School.

McKinney ISD New Teacher Breakfast at Boyd High School.

I love the opportunity to ignite a passion for human spaceflight with audiences. This morning, I offered empirical evidence that teachers really ARE out of this world. In fact, former Teacher and Spacewalker Ricky Arnold is orbiting Earth right now onboard the International Space Station. The “Year of Education on Station” campaign will go through October 2019. Teachers can participate: #TeacherOnBoard.

Year Of Education On Station Poster. #TeacherOnBoard

Year Of Education On Station Poster. #TeacherOnBoard

I asked how many in the room were aware we have an orbiting laboratory with six humans living and working in low earth orbit. Only a portion of the room raised their hands. What? How can that be? We need explorers for the future. Our teachers are key to preparing tomorrow’s cosmic pioneers. I hope today opened their eyes to the possibilities our heavens offer for knowledge and understanding about the universe we live in.  They can create dreamers and doers, artists and technicians, travelers and explorers. I see teachers as human Lagrange points — the equilibrium state between childhood and adulthood, between today and tomorrow. They can unlock potential in the students, that the students (and their parents) may not see. I’m confident these teachers are up to the challenge!

Teachers are Lagrange Points -- the waystation between what is and what can be for students. Beth Beck

Teachers play a crucial role preparing students for the difficult journey ahead.

A special note of thanks to McKinney Chamber President, Lisa Hermes — space geek extraordinaire — for inviting me to speak, and for the amazing Jocelyn Hudson, Events Manager, who put on today’s successful event. They’ve both been so gracious to me, as a newcomer to this City.  I love meeting new members of the community. This morning was no exception. Not only did I meet many enthusiastic teachers and representatives of the business community, I also sat with several members of City Council: District 2 City Councilman Rainey RogersDistrict 3 Scott Elliott, and District 4 Chuck Branch. I spoke with two of the McKinney ISD Board Members: Board Vice President Amy Dankel, a fellow Virginia Tech alum; and 5th generation McKinney native, Kenneth Ussery. School Board and City Council are elected to serve four-year terms, and clearly love their role in shaping a great place for us to live, work, and go to school.

Dream Big Little Ones globe

The City of McKinney really does treat her teachers well. I learned today that the school district pays teachers more than the surrounding school districts — to attract the best of the best, and to keep them in McKinney. Well done, McKinney! It really is a wonderful life here in my new hometown.

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Grape Harvest: Crushing It!

This morning, my sister Aimee and I arose before dawn and traveled to nearby Celina, Texas to participate in our first grape harvest at Eden Hill Vineyard. They supplied gloves, buckets, and nifty little grape razors to free the grapes from the wine. Aimee and I volunteered to be “crushers,” though we had no idea what that meant.

Tempranillo Grape Cluster at Eden Hill Vineyard. Image: Beth Beck 2018

Tempranillo Grape Cluster at Eden Hill Vineyard. Image: Beth Beck 2018

The weather was cool, almost chilly — quite a change from our blistering summer heat. We learned how to remove the grapes, gently, and fill the buckets for crushing. As crushers, we loaded the grape clusters onto a conveyor belt to be crushed between two rollers that separated the grapes from their stems. No stomping the grapes with our feet — aren’t you glad?

Getting the grapes on the conveyer belt was a bit crazy. We could only put so many grapes on each shelf without bruising the grapes. One person “dumped” the grapes from the harvest bins into the conveyor bin, while many hands sorted, stacked, sifted for leaves and sticks. If you’ve ever seen the classic I Love Lucy Season 2 episode in the candy factory where Lucy and Ethel scrambling to wrap the chocolates on the moving belt, that’s totally how we felt today. We just had to laugh. At least we tried!

I Love Lucy: Candy Factory Episode with Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the conveyor belt.

I Love Lucy: Candy Factory Episode with Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the conveyor belt.

During the crushing process, our Eden Hill hosts received a call from a sister winery, Square Hill, asking for help harvesting their viognier grapes. We give up our crusher assignments, and picked up the gloves and clippers for harvest, Round 2. A group of us caravan-ed down the road to the winery, and spent the next hour or so with new hosts. By this time of the morning, however, the sun was in full scorch-shine mode.

We returned to Eden Hill in time for a wonderful catered lunch. Fortunately, we had an opportunity to chat with wine maker Chris Hornbaker. Poor guy was trying to eat, but we kept peppering him with questions. He’s extremely passionate about the winemaking process — which sounds like an incredibly complicated chemistry experiment. He adopted stainless steel and square barrels for a more sustainable winemaking  footprint. He shared the sad tale of oak barrels that are made from 200 year old trees, yet only last for five years in service to wine making. They also collect rainwater on the property to irrigate the vines, and cleanse all the barrels and equipment. You can try it in their wine room, when you come visit Eden Hill. It’s a bit of heaven in a glass. And the wine too!

What had a fabulous time today. We made new friends, experienced our first harvest crush, and learned a bit about the winemaking process. Now I’m curious to learn more. Bottling comes next. I’m in!

Awesome Eden Hill Tempranillo 2018 Crush Crew!

Awesome Eden Hill Tempranillo 2018 Crush Crew!

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Volunteer McKinney

Did you know McKinney was ranked #1 on Money Magazine’s Best Place to Live List in 2014? Every day, I discover new reasons why McKinney made the list AND why I love living here.

Today, I spent time with Dana Riley, Executive Director of Volunteer McKinney — which Dana describes as the “ for local nonprofits and community volunteers.” She’s right! Founded in 1998, Volunteer McKinney is a place for citizens to learn about volunteer opportunities, and for nonprofits to list their needs. Their newly redesigned website is easy to navigate and provides up-to-date information about organizations, with a monthly calendar for a quick overview of events.

Volunteer McKinney Mission Statement:

Connecting people to their passion through volunteerism and supporting McKinney area nonprofits through training and collaboration.

I’m looking forward to several events coming up this summer and fall, all hosted by Volunteer McKinney — specifically the Collin County Giving Day which features organization booths (and animals…if snakes qualify as animals….) in a fun, festival environment; Santa on the Square, which offers families one-on-one time with Santa at scheduled intervals in Santa’s Workshop; and McKinney Make A Difference Day, where hundreds of volunteers fan out to do projects to help the community. In fact, Volunteer McKinney recently received national recognition for Make A Difference Day, which included a $10,000 grant from Arby’s Foundation.

Volunteer McKinney Make a Difference Day. Image: Volunteer McKinney

Volunteer McKinney Make a Difference Day. Image: Volunteer McKinney

Volunteer McKinney conducts an annual Homeless Census. Dana explained they work with local organizations to collect numbers, but also conduct a survey on one night each year where teams work with the police and fire department in a grid pattern across the city.  Volunteer McKinney also hosts the McKinney Summit on Youth to provide resources and training materials for individuals and organizations working with at-risk youth. The Summit has an impressive list of collaborating agencies, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Job Corps The Samaritan Inn, Collin College, McKinney Education Foundation, and many more. Dana would love to provide the model for other interested communities. Reach out to her if you want to learn more.

Volunteer McKinney Summit on Youth

Volunteer McKinney Summit on Youth. Image: Volunteer McKinney

Dana is passionate about her job. It’s infectious. She’s part of the reason that McKinney is one of the Best Places to Live. I’m excited to learn more ways to contribute back to my new community through volunteering — now that I have more time. I’ve already found a few opportunities on the website that I plan to sign up for. Thanks Dana for sharing you wealth of knowledge with me.

T-shirt from 2017 Volunteer McKinney Make a Difference Day. Image: Beth Beck

T-shirt from 2017 Make a Difference Day.

This really is a wonderful life in small town USA!!

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July 11, 2018 · 11:35 pm

Exploring Life After NASA

In anticipation of saying goodbye to NASA at the end of my career in federal service, I packed up my life and moved across country to Texas. Though I was born and raised in Texas, I’ve spent nearly 30 years working in Washington, DC. working for the federal government. The transition was not easy.

Beth's NASA equipment on her final day before retirement.

My final day at NASA. I powered down my devices and left them in my office.

Why the big move, you may ask. Why not stay in luscious, green, heavily-treed Virginia? The answer: family commitments.

We packed everything into PODS, which went into storage four months while I lived and teleworked from a room in my sister’s house. My sister Aimee is a small business owner in McKinney. Her studio, Aimee Louise Photography, is located in the historic Cotton Mill. She graciously opened her home to me during the house hunt — which took so much longer than I anticipated. After putting down offers on two houses, I ended up with my dream home in McKinney’s historic district — only 15 minutes from Aimee’s house. It’s a 103-year-old Craftsman with 55 windows with original glass. We’re only two blocks from Town Square, so we can walk for eating, shopping, and town festivities. It’s truly a wonderful life in small town, USA.

Truckload of Beth's Treasures: the Big Move to McKinney.

Truckload of my Treasures: the Big Move to McKinney.

Most people ask what my plans are, now that I’m no longer at NASA. Right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying this “extended vacation.” I’m reading books, working in the yard, unpacking bins, and spending time with family.  I’ve enjoyed meeting interesting people and learning how McKinney operates. I’m looking forward to opportunities to contribute to the community, as the stars align.

My sister and I are collaborating on a “TEXploration” project. We’re taking one day a month (or more as Aimee’s schedule permits) to go back-roads cowboy-culture hunting in surrounding communities — historical sights, interesting people, good food, and great deals (yes, it’s really all about the shopping). Aimee will document our journey with her fabulous photography, and I’ll blog about what we find. We’ll begin sharing soon. Feel free to suggest interesting places for us to go.


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5 Thoughts for the New Year

Question the rules. You don’t know if they are really the rules. Someone made them up for some reason, or someone interpreted what they think the rules are. Those rules may not even exist, other than by urban legend. Ask before you follow.


Find your joy. Even in the bleakest circumstances, you can find something to smile about – IF you look for it. And, even if you don’t feel it, others around you need it. Give yourself and others a reason to smile.


Celebrate the small things. The little things in life give us a reason to get through the day: an awesome cup of coffee, and up-close parking space, a sprinkle of hope with a new work assignment. Each little thing in your day offers a new opportunity to have a party (vs. a pity party).


Be exceptional. Make a choice to add your unique perspective to each new undertaking. Only you can bring yourself, the incredible you, to every opportunity presented you. Even if others don’t appreciate you, you can bring value.


Be the light. It can be as easy as thanking someone. What a incredible gift to give thanks, unsolicited. How many times does someone say thank you to you? If your answer is rarely, then you can break the cycle. Make it a habit to change your world by giving thanks for the unnoticed actions of others at least once a day – someone opening a door, or moving to give you a place at the counter, or for smiling when others are self-absorbed.


As we ring in the New Year, I wish for you that your dreams take flight in 2017, and go BEYOND the moon and back.


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Red-White-Blue Space-y Stars and Stripes

American Flag in Space

Crew of Space Station Expedition 44 observed Flag Day in space.

Here are a few red, white, and blue space’y images to celebrate Independence Day in the United States.

Feel free to break into song as you look at some celestial stars and stripes!

Abell 2597 is a galaxy cluster located about one billion light years from Earth.

Abell 2597 is a galaxy cluster located about one billion light years from Earth.

Crew members of Expedition 43 captured sunset in space

Crew members of Expedition 43 captured sunset in space

NASA's ASTER instrument captured Wolf Volcano on Galapagos Islands

NASA’s ASTER instrument captured Wolf Volcano on Galapagos Islands

Space Station sunrise during Expedition 43

Space Station sunrise during Expedition 43

GK Persei as an example of a “classical nova,” an outburst produced by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf star, the dense remnant of a Sun-like star.

GK Persei as an example of a classical nova.

Expedition 44 crew captured Earth from space.

Expedition 44 crew captured Earth from space.

SGR 1745-2900 Magnetar is a dense neutron star.

SGR 1745-2900 Magnetar is a dense neutron star.

NGC 1333 Star Cluster

NGC 1333 Star Cluster

Golden Aurora over Earth photographs by ESA's Sam Cristoforetti on Space Station

Golden Aurora over Earth photographs by ESA’s Sam Cristoforetti on Space Station

Centaurus A Galaxy is 12 million light years from Earth

Centaurus A Galaxy is 12 million light years from Earth.

And if you need the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner, here’s the first verse:

Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

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Words Make a Difference

I’ve been thinking about the power of words, spoken and written. Spoken words can uplift and tear down, they can burrow deeply inside to flourish or fester. I’m so thankful for parents who encouraged me to be me — even when the world disagreed. Daddy gave me song, laughter, and a wild imagination. Mother gave me music in written word — which evoked colors and smells and images and emotions that stretched and shaped me.

Every time I smell the cheerful brightness of a freshly peeled orange, I picture myself as a 3rd grader sick in bed with something horrible. Mother brought me orange slices, sat by my bed, and read the adventures of Hitty and the girls who loved her for a hundred years.

"Hitty Her First Hundred Years" by Rachel Fields, Adapted by Rosemary Wells and Illustrated by Susan Jeffers.

“Hitty: Her First Hundred Years” by Rachel Fields, adapted by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

I have some of the books from my childhood, though not my original Hitty. I picked up this adapted and updated version at a SCBWI conference a few years back. After attending the SCBWI winter conference, I dug up some of the books that influenced my childhood. I have a few to share with you.

Pretty Penny — I loved this book for it’s vibrant colors. I have a guest bedroom this color. Funny to trace the roots of my love for color back to books from childhood.

Pretty Penny the Pig: Story and Illustrations by Beverly Morgan

Pretty Penny the Pig: Story and Illustrations by Beverly Morgan

Here’s a book called Books. The illustrations are wacky and colorful — opening the possibilities of what words can create.

"Books" by Murry McCain & Illustrated by John Alcorn

“Books” by Murry McCain & Illustrated by John Alcorn

Hailstones and Halibut Bones is a book in rhyme inspired by color. Each page has a color theme. Each room in my house is painted a different color: my living room is yellow, my office is lime green, my bedroom is blue, the guest room is pink, my bathroom is green/yellow/pink/blue to match the Mackensie-Childs sink and tiles.

"Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color" by Mary O'Neill and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

“Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Color” by Mary O’Neill and Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

I loved poetry, as a kid. I have many dog-eared pages from the Treasure Chest of Poetry. So many dreams of mine, sketched out in rhyme. 😉

"A Treasure Chest of Poetry"

“A Treasure Chest of Poetry”

“Little Things” by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

LIttle drops of water,

Little grains of sand, 

Make the mighty ocean

and the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,

Humble though they be,

Make the mighty ages

Of eternity.

Lona is one of my favorite books from Mother. I still love Lona. I trace back my fascination with pinhole photography to this book by photographer Dare Wright. I still have the original with my sister’s drawings on the pages. We’re twelve years apart. She and I fought over this book a few years back. I won.

"Lona: A Fairy Tale" by Dare Wright

“Lona: A Fairy Tale” by Dare Wright

When Sara Smiled is about a girl with violet eyes who is too shy to talk to boys, but feels totally comfortable talking to horses. She spoke to me when I was younger. I SO wanted her violet eyes to go with my blond hair. I also wanted the horse and the boy in the book…. I don’t know how many times I read this book and dreamed of violet-eyed romance.

"When Sara Smiled" by Kathleen Robinson

“When Sara Smiled” by Kathleen Robinson

What’s missing in my collection? Little Women! I’m pretty sure I still have my original…tucked away somewhere. I just can’t put my hands on it. Beth dies [spoiler alert] which I hated, since we share the same name. But Jo was my hero. I composed my own newspapers and stories, like Jo. Also, Wuthering Heights. My Senior year in high school, I loved it. Re-reading it now, I’m horrified by the dysfunction. But at that time in my life, I was reeling from the loss of my best friend. I think the tale of dark, obsessive love appealed to what was broken in me. The Bible, my lifetime favorite book, healed the brokenness, so I’m back to the my happy world of butterflies, flowers, and rainbows.

Thank you Mother for sharing the written word with me. You always made me feel special. You awoke stories and colors in me. Or perhaps they were already there, and you helped me find them.

Handwritten Note inside "Books" by Murray McCain

Note inside “Books” by Murray McCain

What books influenced you growing up? Do you have them still?



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SCBWI 2015: Character-Building Experience

My blogposts are few and far between over the last few years. Ah, the life of a PhD candidate. Work and school have kept me hopping. Now that I’m on the final leg of the PhD marathon, the stories in my head are getting louder. After completing a crazy December with my qualifying exam, prelim exam, and oral defense, I decided to treat myself with the New York Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference. It’s been awhile. My last SCBWI conference was Bologna 2010.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Intensive

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Intensive

The 16th annual Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference brought together over 1000 writers and illustrators from around the world. I attended the World Building workshop on Friday. Author Henry Neff shared his world building techniques, then applied what we learned to our own stories. We spent much of the morning and afternoon in small critiques sessions of seven or eight writers per table.

Literary agent Brooks Sherman of the Bent Agency headed up our critique table. We took turns sharing stories about cheating game board characters and talking pencils, Romeo and Juliet with a sea-witch twist, Afghani book guardians of the mouse-kind, and girl vs. the volcano in a National Park. Thanks Brooks for being so gracious and thoughtful in your critique. I truly enjoyed learning from others as we refined our plots and characters together. Side note: I happened to sit next to a fellow bureaucrat who works for the State Department and knows one of my NASA colleagues. What are the odds in a conference with over 1000 attendees?

We kicked off the afternoon with a dialogue between James Dashner, author of Maze Runner, and his editor Krista Marino, Executive Editor of Delacorte Press. They described the Maze Runner journey from manuscript to book to movie, as well as the process to develop his newest series, the Mortality Doctrine. They have a collaborative co-creation process, which is born of a deeply trusting relationship. Quite inspiring.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: James Dashner Interview

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: James Dashner Interview

We wrapped up Friday with an Editor and Agent Panel: “The Past, Present, and Future of Fantasy and Science Fiction in Children’s Books” with Toni Markiet, Senior Executive Editor, HarperCollins Children’s Books; Brooks Sherman of Bent; Ari Lewin, Executive Editor, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group; and Krista Marino, James Dashner’s editor.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Editor and Agent Panel

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: World Building Editor and Agent Panel

The full conference kicked off on Saturday with keynote speaker Anthony Horowitz, author of the best selling teen spy series, Alex Rider, the writer and creator of BBC’s Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. The character of Sam in Foyle’s War is fashioned after his nanny who told him stories of the war growing up. I SO love Sam! He was commissioned by the Conan Doyle estate to write new Sherlock Holmes novels: House of Silk and Moriarty (which he autographed for me — image below). He’s in the process of writing a new official James Bond novel. Super cool.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference

I attended a workshop with Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor at Scholastic and author of middle grade and young adult fiction. She talked about her journey from editor to author, and shared her passion for books. She wrote her first book at age five and consumed all the Baby-Sitter’s Club books by Ann M. Martin. I was more into mystery as a kid. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Actually, my daughters and I STILL read Nancy Drew…out loud…usually in the back yard patio…with a glass or two of wine. We take turns reading the chapters — adding our own dialogue and dialects as we go. Silly, yes, but oh so much fun.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference:  Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor, Scholastic Inc.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: Aimee Friedman, Executive Editor, Scholastic Inc.

Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, led a workshop on how to work with an editor. She stressed the importance of good writing and good characters. A weak plot is fixable. Poor writing, not so much.

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference:  Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor, Houghton Mifflin

SCBWI 2015 NYC Winter Conference: Margaret Raymo, Senior Executive Editor, Houghton Mifflin

The best part of the conference is meeting awesome writers and hearing their imaginative stories. Each of us brings fresh perspectives to the topics we care about. We build relationships over our common passion — writing. I ran into a writer buddy from the Bologna 2010 conference today as I stood in line for autographs: Angela Cerrito. She has another book coming out in September. Congrats Angela!!

I stayed for the autograph session, as you can see from the fruits of my labor. So cool to get a chance to chat for just a tiny bit with both James Dashner and Anthony Horowitz. 🙂

Anthony Horowitz autograph on his Moriarty book NY15SCBWIDashnerMazeRunnerautograph

On the drive home from New York, new stories and characters invaded my head. I documented their presence, but they’ll have to wait a little longer to come to life. Right now, I have a louder voice in my head — the one telling me to get cracking on my dissertation!

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