Highlights for Children and Me

Boyds Mills, The Small CabinsLate on a Saturday night a few weeks ago, a writer friend and I arrived at the Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania, homestead belonging to the family that started, and still publishes, the venerable magazine Highlights for Children.

The editor, Kent Brown, and his family have been intertwined with the magazine for three generations and my writing life seems to have been connected with them for nearly as long. Well, maybe not quite!

It was Highlights for Children that published my very first magazine story back in 1991 and it was at a Highlights Foundation gathering at Chautauqua in that same year that I showed the original version of Wicked Jack first to the writing mentor to whom I’d been assigned (“The middle is way too long. It drags.”) and then to a writer I’d just met (“You need to begin this story in the swamp!”). I reworked the piece incorporating both those changes and Wicked Jack, my very first picture book, was accepted for publication the following year.

As my friend and I turned onto the property that Saturday night, the first thing we saw was a white-sided structure affectionately known as The House. It was in the midst of a group of writers gathered at The House for a Highlights Foundation workshop on non-fiction in the early 2000s that I read aloud a short story on the National Road that later morphed into my picture book Just Fine the Way They Are. It was at that same gathering in The House that I first dared to imagine trying to write a full-length biography of Edith Wharton. It was in The House, several years later, that I struggled through my very darkest hour with Edith, coming very close to giving up…and then deciding to plug on.

Further up the hill from The House is The Barn. Fully renovated, The Barn is now the place where Highlights Foundation workshops take place and where my friend and I came, after a good night’s sleep, to meet the folks we’d be writing alongside for the week. It was in The Barn, just about a year earlier, that I heard a speaker from the New York agency Writers House who connected me to the woman who has just become my agent.

Further up the hill from The Barn are The Cabins. Even as my friend and I and our writer colleagues gathered in The Barn for our first dinner together, each of us had one eye on the cabin to which we’d been assigned. My friend was in #21 and I was in #19 and that’s where we spent the bulk of our time that week. Writing. Just writing. Gloriously writing!

From my first magazine story to my first picture book to my first longer book to my first agent…the folks at Highlights have been involved every step of the way.