The EMLA Retreat


Publishing is a business, which can be a complicated thing for those of us who function most happily and effectively in the creative realm. The business aspects of a writing career affect our perceptions of and experiences within the relationships we develop with industry professionals, including our agents and editors. This is no small thing to contend with, especially for those of us who struggle to define and understand the boundaries associated with wearing hats of both professional and personal natures. I’ve heard some authors and illustrators say it’s risky – even dangerous – to develop too close a relationship with editors and agents, who must traffic in pragmatism and goal orientation in the commercial realm as well as all the subjective vagaries of the creative realm.

I, however, fall in the other camp, which embraces the possibility of forming closer, emotionally meaningful bonds with our editors and agents, bonds that go above and beyond the dynamics of the stereotypical “working relationship.” There IS risk involved, of course, and it’s the same risk found in every single kind of relationship that exists: the risk that the relationship will founder and topple into a heap of splintered psychological wreckage. I haven’t always been willing or able to take that kind of risk, and I fear that the attendant losses are too great to be tallied. I’m both willing and able now, however, and thank the heavens that the children’s publishing community has been providing such an abundance of those opportunities.

Yesterday I arrived home from one of the most extraordinary and moving events of my professional life, the EMLA retreat. As always, I was riddled with fear of being perceived as too dull, strange, inarticulate, disengaged, or maladjusted to spend time with. I’m a terribly, terribly insecure person, but the tribe of EMLA looks after its own, Just like last year (my first), I felt welcomed, embraced, and celebrated. My beloved editor Arthur A. Levine was also there, which raised my state of emotional fulfillment to a level unmatched by any other career-related experience I’ve ever had.

Authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers – we’re all engaged in the work of building our careers, and it’s undeniably important that we develop professionalism, maintain a level of pragmatism, avoid improprieties, and respect boundaries. Maybe it IS dangerous to let ourselves publicly express profound emotions we have about our colleagues. Maybe it’s icky, or saccharine.  Perhaps it’s even annoying. But when I think of the five days I just spent with the people of EMLA and the FOEMLAs (Friends of EMLA), the only word that seems even remotely sufficient to describe the experience is love.

I love being a part of this agency. I love my bandmates in Erin Murphy’s Dog (we rocked the house, yo), I love my editor (a core member of EMD now and forever), I love my fellow EMLA clients (I’m sorry I missed talking with so many of you), and I love the agents and staff of EMLA for creating an event and a community that have caused my heart to swell, Grinch-style, by at least three sizes, if not thirty. If that’s inappropriate and overly treacly, so be it. Thank you, Gangos, for being in my life. You mean the world to me.


2 thoughts on “The EMLA Retreat

  1. Love this article, Mike, including the fact that you all made a band called Erin Murphy’s Dog!

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