First-Ever AAPI Kidlit retreat at Highlights foundation

This is a very late post 6 months AFTER the inaugural AAPI Kidlit Creative retreat at the Highlights Foundation. I meant to blog about this experience earlier, but in my backlog of writing and non-writing obligations, this kept getting pushed down my to-do list. With Halloween today, I figured it’d be a great day to write about this!

Remember how I mentioned I got laid off in my last post? Well, that was a total blessing because, for one thing, it gave me a great excuse to fly across the country to go to the first-ever AAPI Kidlit Creative retreat held on the Highlights Foundation campus out in the boonies in Pennsylvania! It’s so obscure, Scranton airport doesn’t accept many airlines (bye-bye Southwest), so scheduling logistics and buying plane tickets and getting all my transfer flights lined up like ducks in a row, only to end up dealing with multiple cancellations and delays, was a major headache.

The retreat started on Sunday at 5pmEST, and I originally planned to fly out of the Bay Area on Saturday morning, with one transfer in Seattle and another transfer in Chicago, so that I could get to Scranton Airport on Saturday evening and stay an extra night before the retreat started. BUT THEN, that Saturday morning flight got pushed up to Friday night around 7:30. Ok, that was annoying, but I’m sure I’d be fine staying overnight in the Seattle airport. When I got to the Oakland airport, the flight then got pushed to 8:30. Then 9:30. Then 9:55. After we boarded the Seattle-bound plane at 10:55pm, the plane rolled out onto the tarmac, only to suddenly announce “Oh JK, this flight is canceled.” Wow, THANKS BIDEN. And no one affected got hotel vouchers.

I got transferred to the San Francisco airport for a flight the next morning. Shoutout to my dad for being a real supportive MVP for getting me past midnight and then driving me to SFO at 5am in the morning…where my 8am flight ALSO GOT CANCELLED, and I got transferred to ANOTHER flight that would fly out around 12:30. I was wondering if this trip is even going to happen at all. Because of all the travel headache I was facing, the Highlights Foundation was so kind to book me a room at the inn across from Scranton Airport, I could cry from both elation and exhaustion when I finally made it.

Relieved to FINALLY be in my room on campus!

The next day, Sunday, when I FINALLY made it safely to my room on the Highlights Foundation campus out in the Pocono Mountains, I felt this wave of relief, of feeling like all of those travel headaches had been worth it and I was so EXCITED to finally be here! When I first stepped into my charming and adorable room, I felt like I had been whisked away into a storybook setting. I enjoyed walking around in the beautiful green landscapes during the day and various kinds of weather (I felt like I experienced a wide range of seasons here! Sun, rain, and snow happened all the days I was here), exploring the “haunted” house, hopping from writing spot to writing spot all around campus, and swinging on the swing.

Normally, I would think, “Wait, paying just to write with other writers? No critiques or workshopping or anything? What?” But because this was an AAPI-specific retreat, it was so rewarding to meet other AAPI writers in the kidlit community knowing that we could be comfortable within our cultural community. Many attendees are already traditionally published or aiming for traditional publication. I also got to meet my agent sisters, Sarah Park Dahlen and Debbi Michiko Florence!

Meeting my agent sisters in person, Sarah Park Dahlen and Debbi Michiko Florence

With all the time set aside for writing each day, I set the ambitious goal to write roughly 10k words a day to meet a 40k middle grade historical fiction novel goal by the end of the retreat. When I wrote my last words on the last evening of the retreat, it felt like a huge victory.

My guest entry in the room’s dedicated journal.

It was a magical time! Getting to escape to the mountains and meeting fellow AAPI Kidlit writers was such a rare opportunity, I was so happy I flew out to the East Coast for this. Afterwards, I decided to spend some extra days on the East Coast and Midwest, playing tourist in Philadelphia, visiting a good college friend out in Detroit, and taking the train for a short touristy afternoon around Chicago before flying back home. Now that I’m writing this blog post 6 months later, I absolutely would come back for a future AAPI kidlit retreat!

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