A million years ago, in 2009, when I was just a baby writer with grand dreams and terrible drafts, I attended my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators national conference in Los Angeles (SCBWI LA). I was so nervous. Socially awkward would be a super gentle way to describe me, and here I am at this enormous event (I think over 1,000 people attend each year). I didn’t know a soul and was rooming with a person I had never met in real life before.

I did a lot of hiding that year, but I still came away from the conference rejuvenated and inspired, having met many writer friends despite my awkwardness. Those friends and I connected over social media throughout the next year, and when registration opened for the 2010 SCBWI LA conference, I promptly registered again. And in 2011, again. 2012 too, and 2013, 2014, 2015, and most recently, 2016. Over all these years, I became more seasoned as a writer. I fine-tuned my craft. The conference helped me learn the ins and outs of the business. I found representation and started making money as a freelancer. But most importantly, over those years, I formed an unbreakable bond with an impressive group of writers and illustrators. We have supported one another over the years, gone on writing retreats together, and developed great ab muscles with all of the laughs we’ve had.

Each year, the SCBWI awards the Sue Alexander Award to the one manuscript deemed the most promising for publication. This year, I was shocked to find that the SCBWI gave my current work-in-progress, SAM & HALEY, that award.

I can’t begin to explain what this award means to me or how grateful I am for the SCBWI organization. Without them, I’m uncertain whether I’d still be writing today because, without them, I wouldn’t have met the band of writers who’ve supported me throughout the years. Writing is such solitary work, and rejection is very, very hard to take on your own. It’s only with the support of my community that I’ve persevered through the hard times – the times when finding time to write is near impossible, the times when dismay over constant rejection is enough to make you quit, or the times when you feel so blocked you’re not sure the words will ever flow again. It’s my writer friends – Lori Degman, Trisha Speed Shaskan, Aren Sabers, Megan Maynor, Meg Fleming, Mary Uhles, Stephen Shaskan, Jenni Bielicki, Cindy Derby, Betsy Pritts Ickes, and Renee Gian – who have kept me going. And by keeping me going, I was able to refine my craft to a point where a work of mine won this award.

So, THANK YOU, SCBWI. I’ll see you in 2017.