Free Thursday

Faculty Bios

Special Guests Morning Workshops Mini Workshops
James Dashner Keynote Speaker Ken Baker Picture Book Emily Wing Smith Mon - Character
Kristin Ostby Editor Shawn Stout Chapter Book, Mid-Grade Sherry Meidell Tues - Illustration
John Cusick Agent Cheri Pray Earl Middle of the Novel Brodi Ashton Wed - World Building
Michelle Witte Agent Carol Lynch Williams Novel Jennifer Nielsen Thurs - Plot
Amy Jameson Agent Kris Chandler Novel Ann Dee Ellis Fri - Voice
Afternoon Presenters A E Cannon YA Novel  
Wendy Toliver Jen White Cynthia Leitich Smith Advanced  
Natalie Whipple Courtney Alameda Greg Leitich Smith Advanced  
Manelle Oliphant Ilima Todd J Scott Savage Writer's Boot Camp  
Jan Pinborough   Lisa Mangum Full Novel  

James Dashner
James was born and raised in Georgia but now lives in the Rocky Mountains with his family. He has four kids, which some might think is too many but he thinks is just right. Once upon a time, James studied accounting and worked in the field of finance, but has been writing full time for several years. (He doesn’t miss numbers. At all.) In his free time, James loves to read, watch movies and (good) TV shows, snow ski, and read. (Reading was mentioned twice on purpose.) Most of all, he’s thankful that he gets to make a living writing stories and considers himself pretty much the luckiest guy on the planet. He has written the MAZE RUNNER series, the 13TH REALITY series, the JIMMY FINCHER series, the first book of the INFINITY RING series, and EYE OF MINDS.

Writing hint: Make daily word count goals and track your progress!

Best book: DANGEROUS by Shannon Hale
Kristin Ostby
Kristin Ostby is primarily interested in middle-grade fiction, as well as middle-grade nonfiction and picture books. Since Kristin joined Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2012, she has acquired titles by New York Times best-selling author Alex Morgan, Edgar Award–nominated Stuart Gibbs, Jessica Lawson, Mark Walden, Daniel Miyares, Barry Denenberg, Mark Pett, and Anica Rissi. Prior to joining BFYR, Kristin was an editor with Penguin Young Readers Group (Grosset & Dunlap/Price Stern Sloan) and Albert Whitman & Company. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
John Cusick
John M. Cusick is an agent with Greenhouse Literary, representing picture books, middle-grade, and young adult. He is the author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY (Candlewick Press). He is a regular speaker at writers conferences, and keeps a blog at You can also find him on twitter: @johnmcusick. He lives in Brooklyn.

Best children's or YA book you read last year: CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth E. Wein

Best writing hint: Consistency. Write much, write often, and write every day if you can.

GIRL PARTS, Candlewick Press 2010
CHERRY MONEY BABY, Candlewick Press 2013
Michelle Witte
As a children’s literary agent with Mansion Street Literary Management, Michelle Witte brings with her a wealth of experience within the publishing industry, from the idea and writing stages to editing, design and production, and to bookselling and publicity. Previously, she worked as an editor with nonfiction publisher Gibbs Smith and as a copy editor and reporter with the Deseret Morning News.  She is the author of THE CRAPTASTIC GUIDE TO PSEUDO-SWEARING (Running Press, 2012) and THE FAKER'S GUIDE TO THE CLASSICS (Lyons Press, 2013). She lives in Utah. You can learn more about her at

Best children's book I read last year: A TALE DARK & GRIMM by Adam Gidwitz

Best writing advice
: Know everything you can about the world in which your characters reside (whether fantasy or historical or realistic), even if you only end up using 10% of it in the actual manuscript.
Amy Jameson
Amy Jameson is a literary agent and partner with her husband in their creative services agency, A+B Works. She got her start in the publishing world at Janklow & Nesbit Associates in New York, where she had the privilege of working with authors such as Michael Crichton, Tom Wolfe, President Jimmy Carter, Gore Vidal and many others. A life-long love of children’s literature led to her current role representing writers of young adult and middle grade books, including Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern series and and Newbery Honor winning PRINCESS ACADEMY, and NYT bestselling author Jessica Day George. Amy enjoys playing with her kids, gardening, singing and reading really great books. Please visit for more information.

Writing hint: Every great writer needs good readers. Find generous readers who you can trust, who get what you’re trying to do and who can help you see your manuscript with new eyes. And then revise, revise, revise.

Books I read and loved this year: WONDER by R.J. Palacio, CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth E. Wein, WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE by Tess Hilmo
Ken Baker
In addition to being happily married and the father of five, Ken Baker is the author of the picture books OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON, COW CAN’T SLEEP, and BRAVE LITTLE MONSTER. He also writes YA, middle grade, and chapter books. Ken loves playing sports and going on adventures. His favorite food groups are chocolate and ice cream. He grew up in the California Bay Area, which fueled his love for sandy beaches and the ocean. Living in Utah has introduced him to the joys of camping and hiking.

Best children's or YA book you read last year: Not sure I can pick one. I loved STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson, RECKLESS by Cornelia Funke and RUNAWAY KING by Jennifer Nielsen

Best writing hint: If you can’t feel your characters’ emotions as you write, your readers won’t feel them either. Know what really drives your characters from the inside, get inside their emotions and thoughts, and then share them through sensory detail and showing.
Shawn Stout

Shawn K. Stout is the author of the middle grade series PENELOPE CRUMB (Penguin/Philomel), chronicling the adventures of a quirky fourth grader with a big nose who tries to fill the hole left by her father’s death. PENELOPE CRUMB NEVER FORGETS and PENELOPE CRUMB FINDS HER LUCK are the second and third book in the series. The fourth book, PENELOPE CRUMB IS MAD AT THE MOON, is scheduled to release in September 2014. Stout is also the author of the NOT-SO-ORDINARY GIRL series (Simon & Schuster, Aladdin), also known as the Fiona Finkelstein books.

Stout has an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Maryland with her husband, daughter, and more dirty dishes than you would ever believe.

Best children’s or YA book that you read last year: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green

Best writing advice: Keep going.

Web site:

Cheri Pray Earl

I’ve written five novels and several essays for publication, but none of my novels have been published because I am so slow at revising and because, well, I’m a teacher. (Editor's note: She actually has 3 books published with her name on them: JUST IN TIME series!) I also have a bone yard of stories and essays I’ve begun but then abandoned. The good news is that two of my novels are revised and with my agent now and two others—co-written with Carol—are with a new Utah-based publisher. Such good news is rare for me. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is my favorite book and has been a huge influence in shaping my writing voice and on the way I tell stories. Isn’t TKM everyone’s favorite book? Harper Lee is also my favorite kind of writer: reclusive.

I am married and have five children and five grandchildren—the best and greatest story of my life.

Carol Lynch Williams
Carol Lynch Williams is the author of more than 25 books for kids and teen readers. She runs Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers—which features a publication prize from Familius (, has an MFA in Writing for Children and Adolescents from Vermont College and writes on an active blog with fellow writers Ann Dee Ellis and Kyra Leigh Williams ( She teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. Her books include THE CHOSEN ONE, GLIMPSE, MILES FROM ORDINARY, WAITING, and two books forthcoming: SIGNED, SKYE HARPER and THE HAVEN. She is proudest of her five daughters who are Carol’s most perfect creative effort, ever. 

Best writing tip: Write like writing is your job. Instead of waiting until after every other chore is done—rewarding yourself with time to write, write as though you are collecting a paycheck for the time you put in. Then you will collect a pay check.
A E Cannon
Ann (A. E.) Cannon was born in Salt Lake City but grew up in Provo, Utah where she attended public schools and graduated from Brigham Young University. When Ann was six, she was hospitalized for kidney disease and missed a year of school, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She became an avid reader and gained a life-long interest in books written for young readers. While in graduate school, Ann took an adolescent literature class that changed her life. She began writing novels for young adults and eventually won the Delacorte Press Prize for CAL CAMERON BY DAY, SPIDER-MAN BY NIGHT.Since then she has published thirteen more books, including CHARLOTTE’S ROSE and (mostly recently) SOPHIE’S FISH. Ann has also published feature articles in local and national magazines and currently writes a weekly column for The Salt Lake Tribune ( She and her husband, Ken, are the parents of five sons and have welcomed three daughters-in-law and two granddaughters into the family. Ann and Ken live in Salt Lake City with two dogs, two cats, two parakeets, and one parrot. Visit her on facebook or on her blog at

Best children’s novel recently read: Right now I’m reading a charming middle-grade novel called ROOFTOPPERS by Katherine Rundell. It’s about a young girl who discovers a whole secret world on the rooftops of Paris.

Favorite writing hint: It’s always a good idea to stop before you write yourself out. If you stop in the middle of something—a scene or even a sentence—you’ll have an easier time starting up the next day.
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling young-adult author of the TANTALIZE series, the FERAL series, and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME. Her novels have received numerous awards and honors and are often noted for their diverse protagonists, humor, lyricism, fantastical elements, and compelling action. Cynthia has also published young-adult short stories, narrative nonfiction, graphic novels, and books for younger children. Cynthia was named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers in recognition of RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME and has been twice featured at the National Book Festival. Most recently, she was named the first Spirit of Texas Young Adult author by the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association and the first young adult author to be honored with the Illumine Award by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation. Her website at was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column. She is a member of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and is a lifetime member of the Writers' League of Texas. Cynthia makes her home in Central Austin with her husband, award-winning children's young-adult author Greg Leitich Smith.

Best children's or YA book you read last year: DARK TRIUMPH (His Fair Assassin, Book 2) by Robin LaFevers

Best writing hint: The key to fixing your draft is already hinted at in the existing text. But you might want to delete the whole thing and start over anyway.
Greg Leitich Smith
A native of Chicago, award-winning author Greg Leitich Smith now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, author Cynthia Leitich Smith, and their cats. His middle grade/tween novels include the Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning and Junior Library Guild Selection, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO (Little Brown/IntoPrint); its companion TOFU AND T.REX (Little Brown/IntoPrint); the Junior Library Guild Selection CHRONAL ENGINE (Clarion); and the forthcoming LITTLE GREEN MEN AT THE MERCURY INN (Roaring Brook). He is also published in the picture book and YA short story. He holds degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and the University of Texas, and a degree in law from the University of Michigan. His web page is and he blogs at An accomplished workshop leader and teacher, Greg believes in writing exercises and read-alouds that directly serve the manuscript being workshopped.

Best children's or YA book you read last year: THE PROBLEM WITH BEING SLIGHTLY HEROIC by Uma Krishnaswami and THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP by Kathi Appelt.

Best writing hint: READ.
J. Scott Savage
J. Scott Savage has been reading and writing for as long as he can remember. (He regularly cut school to go to the library.) But it wasn’t until he published his first book just over ten years ago that he realized it was something he wanted to do full time. He has since published eleven novels including the FARWORLD FANTASY series by Shadow Mountain, the CASE FILE 13 middle grade series by Harper Collins, and DARK MEMORIES, the first horror novel published by a mainstream LDS publisher. Scott has presented at more than 500 schools, taught numerous writing classes, and presented at many writing conferences.

Writing Tip: Always give yourself permission to make mistakes. If you aren’t afraid of failure in your WIP, you aren’t trying hard enough.
Lisa Mangum
Lisa Mangum has loved and worked with books ever since elementary school, when she volunteered at the school library during recess. Her first paying job was shelving books at the Sandy Library. She worked for five years at Waldenbooks while she attended the University of Utah, graduating with honors with a degree in English. An avid reader of all genres, she has worked in the publishing department for Deseret Book since 1997. Besides books, Lisa loves movies, spending time with her family, trips to Disneyland, and vanilla ice cream topped with fresh raspberries. She lives in Taylorsville, Utah, with her husband, Tracy. She is the author of four award-winning books: THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy and AFTER HELLO.

Best MG/YA book I read last year: ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

Best writing hint: Give yourself permission to write something stupid. I’m sometimes paralyzed by the pressure of perfection, when in reality all I need to do to get past that block is to write something stupid, knowing I can throw it away tomorrow. It’s liberating to know that my words don’t have to be perfect the first time around.
Emily Wing Smith
Emily Wing Smith’s novel, THE WAY HE LIVED (Flux/Llewellyn) debuted in 2008 and won the the Utah Book Award in young adult fiction. BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE (Dutton Books for Young Readers/Penguin) released in 2011 and was named one of LA Public Library’s Best Young Adult Books that year. Emily lives with her husband in South Jordan, Utah.
Sherry Meidell
Sherry Meidell has spent years researching childhood. First having spent many years as a child, followed up by intensive research on the characteristics of boys—five boys to be specific. Her experiences include iguanas in the uppermost reaches of her closet and Rosey Red Feeder Fish in the family bath tub. She had the heart of an artist as soon as she could wrap her stubby fingers around a fat crayon. Now she specializes in brushes and watercolor with pencil for detail. She takes great joy in the world of children's book illustration. Sherry has illustrated many books. The last three are EMMA JO'S SONGFULL STEAM AHEAD, and THE DAY THE PICTURE MAN CAME written by Faye Gibbons and published by Boyds Mills Press. She is a member of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Utah Watercolor Society. 

One of my favorite books is LOST & FOUND by Shaun Tan. I just saw the academy award winning short of Lost & Found. It was interesting to compare the book with the animation short. Leonardo DaVinci said the artist's job is to draw everything in this Universe, visible and invisible. Shaun Tan does this with his art and his writing. 

Best writing Tip: My writing tip is taken from Twyla Tharp THE CREATIVE HABIT: LEARN IT AND USE IT FOR LIFE. She talks about muscle memory and how some authors have studied writing by typing other author's works. It trains your brain and your muscles. It's kind of like studying a book by laying down and putting the open book over your face and taking a nap. I'm sure some of the information from the book can be taken into the brain that way. That's the way I would like to study math.
Brodi Ashton
Because of two parents who were Greek myth geeks, I grew up thinking the latest fashion trends were inspired by Aphrodite, and a good conversational opener was, “So, which mythological character do you most resemble?” Despite these social shortcomings, I found a great husband who’s always my first reader. We live in Utah with our two young boys, who still have no idea why I'm at the computer all the time. I received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Utah and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics. I live for chocolate covered cinnamon bears. I love me some Diet Coke. My debut book EVERNEATH (the first in a trilogy) came out January 24, 2012 with Balzer and Bray (HarperCollins). The sequel EVERBOUND came out January 22, 2013.
Jennifer Nielsen
New York Times Bestselling author Jennifer Nielsen was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; Book 6 of the Infinity Ring series, BEHIND ENEMY LINES; The Underworld Chronicles, beginning with ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR; and the forthcoming PRAETOR WAR series. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains.

Hint: Go back to your favorite book from the genre in which you’re writing, and this time, go through it like it’s a textbook. Study it to learn why the book worked so well. What did the author do with character, dialogue, word choices, etc, that you liked? The more you can see those techniques in someone else’s writing, the better you can bring it into your own writing.

Favorite book from last year: Only one? If so, it’d have to be THE DARKEST PATH by Jeff Hirsch. But I also loved ONE FOR THE MURPHYS by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and DARK TRIUMPH by Robin LaFevers.
Ann Dee Ellis
Ann Dee Ellis’s first book, THIS IS WHAT I DID, received three starred reviews and was listed on Voice of Youth Advocates – 2007 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers List, American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults for 2007, and was a 2008 International Reading Association honor book. Her second book, EVERYTHING IS FINE, was released March 2009. Kirkus described the book as “Impressionistic, elliptical and full of feeling” and VOYA (starred review) called it “a story so painful you want to read it with your eyes closed. It is a stunning novel.” Besides writing, Ann Dee teaches part-time at Brigham Young University and builds forts out of couch cushions for her husband and four little boys.
Wendy Toliver

Wendy Toliver has lived in Texas, Colorado, and now resides in Utah with her husband and three sons where they enjoy snowboarding, hiking, and wakeboarding. Having graduated with a B.A. in Speech Communication/Broadcast, she's held a variety of jobs, including: delivering singing telegrams as Marilyn Monroe; dressing up as Funshine Bear for store openings; singing the National Anthem for university basketball games; acting in TV shows, movies, and commericals; working at an advertising agency; freelance copy writing and editing; presenting at conferences and schools; coaching; and, of course, writing YA and MG novels.

She's written two Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies: THE SECRET LIFE OF A TEENAGE SIREN and MISS MATCH, and the latter was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart award.

Her third YA novel, LIFTED, was nominated for YALSA's Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and Popular Paperback lists.

Natalie Whipple
Natalie Whipple, sadly, does not have any cool mutations or magical powers like her characters. Unless you count the ability to watch anime and Korean dramas for hours on end. Or her uncanny knack for sushi consumption. 

She grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU, with a minor in editing. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook Thai curry, pho, and bulgogi.

She is the author of TRANSPARENT, BLINDSIDED (sequel to Transparent), HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW (coming April 15, 2014), and RELAX, I'M A NINJA. In addition to that, she is on the writing team for the cRPG Torment: Tides of Numenera that should be out sometime in 2015.
Manelle Olliphant

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in illustration from Brigham Young University Idaho and have been working as an Illustrator since 2005.  I have illustrated multiple books. Most recently I illustrated IN THE GARDEN, (spring 2012) IN THE WOODS, (fall 2012) and AT THE BEACH (spring 2013) for Peachtree Publishers.

Some of my other clients include: McGraw-Hill, Friend Magazine, The Empress Theatre, and Blooming Tree Press

Jen White
Jen White is from Southern California and loves all things warm, sunny, and beachy (yes, that is a word).  She received her English degree from Brigham Young University, as well as a teaching credential in Secondary Education.  She earned her M.F.A. from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults.  Her forthcoming novel, SURVIVAL STRATEGIES FROM NOWHERE, will debut with FSG in Spring 2015. Her second middle grade novel is planned for 2016.  When she is not writing or reading, you can find her in negotiations with her five outspoken children.

She is represented by Charlotte Sheedy, of Charlotte Sheedy Literary. 
Ilima Todd
I'm Hawaiian and grew up on the north shore of Oahu. It wasn't until I attended college on the "mainland" that I realized how cool that really was. I graduated from BYU with a BA in physics (I wanted to be an astronaut...not kidding) and a minor in both math and dance. After working as a math tutor, high school algebra and physics teacher, and tap dance instructor, I decided to stay home and raise four crazy monkeys a.k.a. my kids. My eclectic background makes for interesting worlds in the books I write, but who likes normal anyway?

I write for teens because I think I'll always be one. I read too many books, eat too many avocados, and watch a whole lot of Firefly. I love alternative music, buttery popcorn at the movies, sleeping in, people watching, and long hot showers. But mostly I love being a wife and mama and wouldn't trade that job for anything else in the world.
Courtney Alameda

Courtney Alameda’s career has been spent in and around books. She holds a B.A. in English Literature with an Emphasis in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University, spent seven non-consecutive years working for Barnes & Noble, and currently works as an Adult & Teen Services librarian at the Provo City Library. Her forthcoming novel, SHUTTER (winter 2015, Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan), is a tale spawned in part by Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, in part by her experiences both paranormal and not-so-paranormal, and features a cast of monsters inspired by everything from Japanese folklore to survival horror video games.

Courtney is represented by John M. Cusick of Greenhouse Literary. A Northern California native, she now resides in Utah.

Jan Pinborough
​When I was a little girl, my mother took me down a shady sidewalk that led to the door of the children's room of our public library. It was a safe place to be, out of sight of the librarians in the main room who shushed me whenever I got near the circulation desk. We'd carry home bags full of books to read on sweltering West Texas afternoons.

So when I learned about Anne Carroll Moore, the librarian who created the Children's Room in the New York Public Library more than a hundred years ago, I was intrigued. I learned that it was thanks to her that children in New York City were allowed to handle books, check them out, and take them home. 

This is the story that began my first children's book, MISS MOORE THOUGHT OTHERWISE. I felt that children everywhere would enjoy learning about the spunky, opinionated librarian who trusted children and helped open library doors around the world to them.

I live in Salt Lake City, and my day job is as the managing editor of The Frienda children's magazine. I love writing for children.