the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Leda Schubert and TRAILBLAZER: THE STORY OF BALLERINA RAVEN WILKINSON

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Feb 19, 2018 @ 11:02 AM

Welcome Leda Schubert, an alum, emeritus faculty member... and fabulous writer. Leda is the author of ten picture books. She lives in Plainfield, Vermont, with her husband and two much-too-large dogs (one of whom is very annoying).

Leda has an important new picture book, TRAILBLAZER: THE STORY OF BALLERINA RAVEN WILKINSON and she's here at the LaunchPad to tell us all about it.

 

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"All Raven Wilkinson wanted to do was dance. On Raven's ninth birthday, her uncle gifted her with ballet lessons, and she completely fell in love with the craft. While she was a student at Columbia University, Raven auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and was finally accepted on her third try, even after being told she couldn't dance with the troupe because of her skin color. She encountered racism in her travels while on tour, but the applause, along with the opportunity to dance, made all the hardship worth it. She would later dance for royalty with the Dutch National Ballet, and she regularly performed with the New York City Opera until she was fifty.

This beautiful picture book tells the uplifting story of the first African American ballerina to ever dance with a major American touring troupe and how she became a huge inspiration for the pioneering ballet dancer Misty Copeland."

Welcome, Leda!

 

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What was the spark that ignited this book?  I learned about Raven when Montpelier's Green Mountain Film Festival screened "Ballets Russes," a terrific documentary about the company Raven danced with in the 1950s. The clip about her was quite short, but it grabbed me just as the story behind Ballet of the Elephants did a decade ago. So I wrote her a letter  (actual snail mail, and she still doesn't use a computer), she responded, and I left Vermont (the horror!) to meet her in New York. That first conversation led to many phone calls and this book, which I revised too many times to count.

 

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The best part was getting to know Raven Wilkinson. She is extraordinary person: compassionate, graceful, gracious, funny, smart, thoughtful, and more. There's an advantage to writing a picture book biography about a living person! Because of the book, she's been interviewed here and there, and that makes me very happy. She deserves all the attention.

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

For years I was a member of a very small critique group; then another one. Now I am not, and I really miss it. The VCFA workshop model--as both student and faculty--was a huge part of my life.  I'm not as interested in the potential of an online critique group, because it's the face-to-face give-and-take that worked best for me. So I have no first readers other than my very useful husband, who is incredibly patient. I don't do twitter. Life is too short, and I'm already overdosing on political news these days.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?When I entered the program, I had published two early readers with Candlewick. When I left, I had a picture book contract for a manuscript I worked on during the program. Within a few months, I had the next contract for something I wrote after graduation. I'm convinced neither would have happened without the depth of learning the program offers. In my journal from when I was 17, I wrote that all I wanted was to live in Vermont and write children's books. The first I achieved all by myself in my early 20s. The second I achieved through the help of faculty and students in the program. Too bad there was such a long gap in between, ha.

TRAILBLAZER is published by little bee books. You can buy a copy at any bookstore and learn more about all of Leda's books--and the amazing class she'll be teaching at the Highlights Foundation-- at www.ledaschubert.com.

 

Topics: nonfiction, picture book biography, Leda Schubert, 2018 release

Sharon Darrow & Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life

Posted by sharon darrow on Wed, Feb 07, 2018 @ 09:02 AM

Welcome our own Sharon Darrow to the Launchpad! Out January 1st from Pudding Hill Press, Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life.

Sharon Darrow brings her experience in writing for children, young adults, and adults to these lessons taken from lectures she presented during twenty years of teaching in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sharon graduated from VCFA’s MFA in Writing in July 1996.

What was the most difficult element to change during the revision process?sharon darrow book.jpg

Most of these chapters began as lectures for VCFA residencies. I had written them to present in my natural voice and to an audience of students working in a rigorous academic program toward the MFA degree. The revision process was meant to change spoken lectures into written essays that would be easier to read and yet still retain something of my spoken voice. That meant cutting parts, reworking sentences for clarity and concision, and making sure that the book could appeal to a wider audience of writers than just those listeners sitting in Chapel Hall already familiar with me, with VCFA, and with some of our unique VCFA-WCYA jargon.

 What was the spark that ignited this book?

I suppose it was partly my love for thinking and talking about writing, especially writing for young readers. As I was coming to the end of my teaching career at VCFA, I felt the need to do a kind of review of where I had been, what I had been thinking about, and what I had discovered during those twenty years. It is so hard to leave this job I’ve loved so very much, and this book seemed to be a way to end with a flourish, I guess. I also wanted to find a way to give back, at least in my own small way, not just with the lectures, but also in a monetary way. I intend to donate a portion of my profits from this book to VCFA-WCYA scholarship funds. When I entered Vermont College, I had no idea how much my life would change. Now, looking back over those two years of intense study in writing, then coming to help start the new program and seeing it grow, seeing us become a strong self-sufficient Fine Arts college, and watching countless students’ lives grow and change, I am so proud. Now, I have a very strong and satisfying sense of accomplishment in finishing that long and exciting chapter of my life.

What’s your writing superpower?

Superpower, huh? I’m not sure how super it is, but ever since I began writing I have told myself that I have an “idiotic faith” in my life in writing. At first, “idiotic faith” meant I believed that if I worked hard enough, built a strong writing process, learned as much as I could, and never stopped learning, I would eventually see my work published. That took many years, but it did turn out to happen. I suppose I thought of that kind of faith as idiotic because there was no evidence that I’d achieve the hoped for outcome. I simply decided that if it were idiotic, then that’s what I’d be. I’d believe and work and surrender to the outcome, wherever it took me.

 Later, as a teacher, I found that “idiotic faith” I’d applied to myself transferred to my students. I believed in them, in their stories, and in their dedication to what was deep inside them, driving them to aim for excellence. I knew they could become stronger and stronger writers, and, eventually, authors of wonderful and important books, stories, essays, and poems.

 Now, that faith seems far less idiotic as I’ve seen it fulfilled in my life and in my students’ lives and work. Now, my superpower is hope for my writing future and a not-so-idiotic faith that I will keep learning and growing through story for the rest of my life.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It changed my life completely, gave me new purpose and a new career, new friends, new characters, and new stories—a whole new world. I also started writing poetry, probably the biggest effect of the program on my life and writing. Not to mention, a whole new place to live! I moved from Chicago to Vermont in 2005 and never looked back.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

Teaching has opened new ways of thinking and being in the world for me. It has made me more empathetic and made me more decisive about my opinions on aspects of life and writing. A drawback has been that I’ve spent a lot of my writing energy on other people’s stories and have ignored my own at times, but that may be due more to my own distractibility and tendency to procrastination than anything. I have awakened many nights thinking about my students’ stories instead of my own, but looking back, I have no regrets about that. To have been a part of life-changing experiences in my students’ lives, similar to those my teachers fostered in me, is one of the most satisfying achievements of my life.sharon darrow.jpg

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

The answer to both of these questions is the same: Do not be afraid! Be excited, be thrilled, but put away any fear. If you have been accepted, then you can believe you belong here. Come with open mind and heart, and meet a whole multitude of new best friends, companions on your writing journey.

Work hard and have faith!

 

Topics: 2018 release, Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life, sharon darrow

Eric Pinder and THE PERFECT PILLOW!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Feb 06, 2018 @ 08:02 AM

Hey . . . hey, wake up. I know you're all snuggly and comfy, but just wait until you hear about Eric Pinder's new picture book, The Perfect Pillow, illustrated by Chris Sheban and out now from Disney-Hyperion!

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Brody is having trouble getting to sleep in his big new bed, so with his stuffed dragon, Horst, by his side, he sets off to find the perfect pillow. Would dry leaves or a cottony cloud make the right pillow? Would a nest to share or a gently rocking boat make a more comfortable bed? Brody and Horst search through the moonlit night to find the ideal spot for peaceful sleep, and together they find the best place of all.

Welcome back, Eric! So, we're wondering . . .

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

A stuffed dragon! Or maybe a friendly little Lego dragon. After writing so much about bears, it was fun to switch gears to dragons.

People do like stuffed animals. My two animal assistants for elementary school visits, an alligator and a penguin, occasionally show up for my undergraduate college classes as well, if I’m teaching Writing for Children. One student, glancing into the room before class, exclaimed, “You brought an alligator!? NOW I’m excited for class.” Minutes later, an elementary school librarian emailed to request an author visit, adding, “Please bring your green alligator!” Wait a minute… It’s a humbling career moment when you suddenly realize you’re actually the stuffed animal’s sidekick.

Penguin in class.jpgEric's penguin assistant, Ice President Aaron Brrr, audits a class.

How does teaching affect your writing life?

A student once turned in a chapter that was completely different from the one I'd assigned, because her story had abruptly gone off in an unexpected direction. She seemed half-apologetic, half-excited by the creative breakthrough, and said, “The only way I can really explain this plot twist is that my characters have been talking behind my back, and only recently decided to tell me.”

Moments like that are why I love teaching.

More writing does get done during summer vacation than during the school year, because it takes a lot of mental energy to closely read and edit other people’s creative work. (I keep forgetting: every time I assign the class one paper, I’m really assigning myself a dozen papers.) But it’s a thrill to see students discover new authors or explore new interests, and to hear about their first publications. When you’re in an environment where everyone’s talking daily about books and ideas and creative projects, it’s impossible not to feel inspired. The best way to learn is to teach.

tsar wars.jpgTsar Wars, Episode IV: A New Syllabus. Sometimes this is what it's like preparing the syllabus for a college-level World Literature course. But as long as these books get used in class, this totally doesn't count as procrastination.

How do you approach picture books versus nonfiction essays? Is there anything about your approach to these two different kinds of projects that's the same?

With picture books, my first drafts tend to be handwritten on paper, with lots of cross-outs and scribbles and lines connecting this part to that part. Somehow it makes it easier to let the shape of the story fully take form. But essays and longer prose always start out being typed up on the computer.

The thing that’s the same is how long they take. I’m a painfully slow writer, whether writing picture books or nonfiction articles or shopping lists. What I like best about picture books, and poetry, is having fun with how words sound read aloud. It’s like using the language as a musical instrument.

I just wish I could do it faster. It shouldn’t be possible for a daily writing session to finish with a total new word count of one. Just one. But it’s happened. And at least my story-in-progress now contains the word “swoosh.”

I'd call that a success! What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Just being at the residency, surrounded by people who love to talk about books, always provides inspiration. Even little moments can spark new stories. I remember the night a bat invaded the Dewey dorms. I never even saw it, just heard the clamor and excitement afterward, and at some point jotted down this little rhyme in the margins of my lecture notes:

A bat! A bat! It flew inside.
Its teeth were sharp. Its wings were wide.
It swooped and soared above our heads.
We had to hide beneath our beds.
A bat! A bat! It stayed all night.
…at least it gave us things to write.

Who was it who said, “Bad experiences make good stories”? They were right. So I guess that’s not a favorite memory, exactly, but still an unexpectedly inspiring one.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the bonus bat poetry! Welcome to the world of dreams, The Perfect Pillow!

Eric Pinder still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In the meantime, you can often find him riding his bike or hanging out with bears in New Hampshire. Eric's books for children include If All the Animals Came Inside and How to Share with a Bear, and he has also written several books about mountains and weather for adults. He teaches creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Visit Eric online at ericpinder.com, follow him on Twitter (EricPinder) and find him on Facebook (EricPinderBooks).

class visit.jpgAdi, Eric, and NHIA Administrative Director of Graduate Studies Beth Ann Miller excited about writing and learning during a classroom visit.

 

Topics: eric pinder, picture book, Disney-Hyperion, 2018 release, chris sheban

J. L. Powers and BROKEN CIRCLE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Dec 05, 2017 @ 08:12 AM

Today, our souls are prepared to talk with J. L. Powers about Broken Circle, her new YA fantasy, out now from Akashic Books!

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Adam wants nothing more than to be a “normal” teen. But: His mother died when he was only four. His father is an assassin, a voodoo god, the reincarnation of Buddha—or something even stranger. And his grandfather insists that people are out to kill the entire family.

But maybe Grandpa’s not all that nuts. You see, Adam is set to collide with a world that hovers between life and death, where entities charged with shepherding souls of the newly dead compete to control lucrative territories known as Limbo.

“Adam can’t even grow a man beard yet, but he can do something his friends can’t do—go to Limbo and back. Prepare to root for him as he makes new friends, discovers who he is, and saves a few souls in the process. This is a fast-paced, page-turning story!” —Skila Brown, author of Caminar

“With a perfect balance of real-world and mythical, Adam’s story explores life, death, and everything in between. Anyone looking for a thoughtful take on life’s big questions will find it here, paired with fresh details, a fast-moving story, and bold world building.” —Amy Rose Capetta, author of Entangled

Welcome, J. L. Powers! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I co-wrote this book with my brother. He called me up from Maine one day, which he was visiting with his wife, a pediatrician, who was interviewing for a job. He said, “I was sitting here at a coffee shop, thinking about death.” (My family is sort of weird, we do things like this.) “And I started thinking what if you had a kid who thinks he’s just living a normal life, and his father’s been keeping it secret all these years that he’s actually the Grim Reaper? Want to write this book?”

You betcha I did.

My brother and I grew up in a religious family, and we were confronted with the question of our eternal souls—where we were going after we die?—at a very young age. Like, two years old young! Death is something I’ve always thought about—I don’t know how to NOT think about it—and it’s interesting to me that it’s a topic we avoid talking about in western society, until we have to. And we have all sorts of euphemisms to avoid talking about it. I was reading somebody’s facebook post just the other day, and his partner is facing a terminal illness, and he was so angry that the doctor skirted the question and didn’t outright tell him, “Look, spend every waking moment you can with your loved one because you are nearing the end.” We are so scared of death—and yet it’s something we ALL do! Wouldn’t it be nice to be better prepared and to understand it as a normal part of life, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist until it does….? To not be afraid? Yes, it is an unknown, and we become attached to our lives here, and we all fear the possible nothingness. But since everybody dies, perhaps we should begin to see it as a natural process—and prepare ourselves better for it.

So our book is sort of funny, sort of creepy, and sort of philosophical. And I never would have written this exact book, which is the start of a series, without my brother.

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You have set a high bar for author pic fashion!

Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

I do have an agent and she is a lovely person and somebody I’m very grateful to for the partner she’s been all these years. But actually, she did not sell this book. Somewhere in the process of writing and revising, I came to realize that perhaps this particular book wasn’t her “cup of tea.” There’s nothing wrong with that because it isn’t the same kind of book I’ve ever written, in fact, it’s distinctly different from anything I’ve done before. But I felt like perhaps I should be in charge of selling this one myself.

In addition, in the last number of years, I’ve become outspoken about my love for independent presses and my dedication to supporting them. I work for Cinco Puntos Press, one of the most important publishing companies out there if you care about “diverse” books, and this past year, I launched my own publishing company, Catalyst Press, and I’m publishing African writers and African-based literature. In fact, I’m politicized on this issue. Authors of all kinds need to support the critical and important work done by independent presses. So I sort of knew I wanted to direct this book towards an independent press. Cinco Puntos and Akashic are friends and allies, and it was very natural for me to see if Akashic wanted to publish this book. I couldn’t be prouder that they did!

What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

Sara Zarr once told me that she re-types her manuscripts when she revises them. That has turned out to be brilliant advice. When you start off with a blank page, none of the words seem sacred. Everything is up for grabs. You cease to be afraid of changing things, and even vast, complicated revisions don’t seem as complicated when you aren’t cutting and pasting etc but rather re-typing. It might seem daunting to many, but fortunately, I’m a very fast typer…

What was it like watching the cover come together?

Akashic Books really works with their authors to create a cover that makes everybody happy. I’ve been published by many publishers, and the small independent publishers have been much more accommodating in this regard. For this one, Akashic asked us for our ideas on the cover.

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What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

My brother and I actually suggested cuddly throw pillows, manifesting your favorite personification of death. But maybe most people don’t want to sleep with the Grim Reaper tucked under their head….

Ha! I would totally buy one.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Since I only went for two semesters before I had a baby and that sort of derailed my MFA at Vermont (I already had an MFA in writing from the University of Texas-El Paso, so I didn’t feel the need to complete the degree), I had just two advisors—Alan Cumyn and Sarah Ellis. Both of them are such lovely people with kind and generous spirits, and I’m grateful for both. Although I didn’t work with them, I also really enjoyed creating relationships with Tim Wynne Jones, Kathi Appelt, and Cynthia Leitich-Smith, among others. I did the picture book seminar with Sarah Ellis and that really stretched me. I had never spent a lot of time reading picture books before that, and I didn’t yet have my own child. (I do now and I “get” the picture book genre like never before!)

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

“Favorite” might be stretching it a bit but my goodness, the food offered in the dorm could be—let’s just say “interesting”! And when I was pregnant, it was doubly interesting. Sometimes offerings were amazing and other times completely inedible.

Mirroring our own amazing/indedible offerings, ha ha. What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

I was part of the Keepers of the Dancing Stars class. I’m sure everybody feels like their class is special, and I certainly can’t deny that they all are—but my class was extremely warm-hearted and supportive, and as we say, “keepers for life.”

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

I teach college writing and creative writing and the two semesters I was at Vermont, I was teaching online classes while there. I didn’t have a choice as the semesters overlapped. But it was extremely difficult to work (particularly in the summer, when I was getting roughly 60-70 new essays every other day) and do the program. I know I didn’t get to attend as many lectures as would have been nice, or participate fully in campus life while there. I’m not the only student who has faced these kinds of issues. I saw other students come with their families and rent a house, etc, and I know they, too, didn’t get to participate fully in campus life. If you can leave behind work and family obligations while you’re there, that really, truly is best. You’ll be able to take advantage of everything you can while there….

Thanks so much for stopping by, J. L. Powers! Welcome to the mortal realm, Broken Circle!

Jessica author photo small.jpgJ.L. Powers is the award-winning author of three young adult novels, The Confessional, This Thing Called the Future, and Amina. She is also the editor of two collections of essays and author of a picture book, Colors of the Wind, the story of blind artist and champion runner George Mendoza. She works as an editor/publicist for Cinco Puntos Press, and is founder and editor of the online blog The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children’s Literature. She teaches creative writing, literature, and composition at Skyline College in California’s Bay Area, and she served as a jurist for the 2014 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature.

Visit her online at www.jlpowers.net and www.powerssquared.com.

Topics: young adult, 2017 release, JL Powers, Akashic Books, fantasy

Mary E. Lambert and FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Nov 09, 2017 @ 08:11 AM

We're thrilled that Mary E. Lambert's middle grade novel Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is out now from Scholastic. She stopped by to give us the scoop!

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Annabelle has a secret…a secret so big she won't allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle's sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends' houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.

So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle's sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents—one that might tear them all apart—and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change.

Is it possible for her to clean up the family's mess? Or are they really, truly broken?

Welcome, Mary! Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent?

After graduation, one of my VCFA classmates, Linda Camacho, became an agent. She read my creative thesis, which was a contemporary middle grade novel, and offered to represent me. Linda put my manuscript into the hands of an editor at Scholastic. A few weeks later, I was teaching an eighth grade class when my cell phone rang. Usually, I silence my phone, but when I saw it was my agent, I answered it. Linda was calling to let me know that my book had sold! I started dancing, and so, of course, I had to explain to my students what was going on. They burst into applause when they heard my news.

Love these pics of your launch party!

Launch Party 1.jpgWhat nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

Finish a project.

Like many writers, I always have new ideas. New ideas are fresh and exciting and seem much better than whatever old idea I have in front of me. Other than attending VCFA, the best thing I ever did as a writer was forcing myself to complete a manuscript. I learned so much from the process of writing an entire novel from start to finish.

Launch Party 2.jpgWhat’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

I wish I kept a record of this. I've Googled so many bizarre things for my writing. A few of the stranger things I've Googled include…

What color is spider blood?

What to do if a bear attacks you?

What does it feel like to get shot?

How to shoplift?

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts?

VCFA provided me with such a wonderful community of writers. It was the first time I felt I really had permission to take myself seriously as an author.

Since graduation, I have found a great group of middle grade and young adult writers in the Phoenix area. They have formed a truly supportive community of like-minded authors who promote and encourage one another.

I am also in a small critique group called The Charglings. We read one another's first drafts and give feedback. In addition to their valuable insight, meeting with The Charglings helps me stay productive. We meet every other week, which means I need to have fresh pages for them at least that often.

Launch Party 3.jpgWho were your advisors at VCFA?

I had such a fantastic experience with every single one of my advisors! I worked with Tom Birdseye my first semester, and he taught me to look for humor in my writing. Next I was paired with Shelley Tanaka who helped me gain confidence as a writer and taught me the questions I should ask myself about a work-in-progress. Martine Leavitt was my third semester advisor, and she taught me to really explore my characters' inner-lives and emotional development. In my final semester, my advisor was Sarah Ellis. She showed me how to revise, which is something I really struggled with before working with her.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

One of my favorite VCFA memories is when the Allies in Wonderland revealed our class name. My classmates turned our name reveal into a choreographed, interpretive dance, which corresponded to a video. We had elaborate costumes, and I had a ton of fun that day!

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Attending VCFA is a huge commitment in terms of money, time, and emotion. For me, it was worth every bit of it. I loved the residencies, the lectures, the friendships, and the walks into town. My advisors were amazing. I learned and grew as a writer, and so much of my success is because of my decision to attend this school.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Welcome to the world, Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes!

Author Photo.jpgWhen Mary E. Lambert was eight years old, her grandma told her that she should be a writer. Mary said, “No.” She thought she’d rather be a teacher. Mary started teaching middle school in 2006, but not long after that, she realized there was no avoiding one of her grandmother’s pronouncements. So she started writing novels. Mary lives in Tempe, Arizona where she spends her days explaining to students that five paragraph essays really do have five paragraphs. Most evenings she can be found writing in local coffee shops and consuming truly lamentable quantities of caffeine.

Mary is a member of the class of summer 2014, Allies in Wonderland. Visit her online at maryelambert.com, and find her on Twitter @MaryUncontrary.

Topics: Scholastic, middle grade, 2017 release, Mary E. Lambert

Jane Kurtz and PLANET JUPITER!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Nov 07, 2017 @ 07:11 AM

We're delighted that this orbit around the sun has brought a new middle grade novel from Jane Kurtz. It's Planet Jupiter!

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Everything has gone all wobbly for Jupiter. She comes from a spirited, loving family of buskers—musicians who move from place to place and make a living playing on street corners and at fairs—and she revels in her wandering life. But now her mother has rented an actual house (Jupiter prefers to live in their van) and she is pretty sure that her brother is deserting the family and their musical act just like her dad, the Prince of Adventure, did a while ago. To top it off, some cousin from Ethiopia who Jupiter never even knew existed is coming to live with them, and Jupiter is in charge of watching her. Seriously? Not fair!

Jupiter is not in the mood to appreciate her new house, hew new neighborhood, the bees and bridges of Portland, or her newly discovered cousin. How will she get back on the road, rid herself of the wobbles, and orbit the sun happily once again? Clearly what Jupiter needs is a Grand Plan…

Welcome, Jane Kurtz! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I was listening to an NPR program about young musicians when I heard an interview with a girl who was the spark for Jupiter—living an alternative kind of life centered around music and street performances. Although I didn’t grow up as a busker, I do sing with my sisters every week. And I first moved (from Portland to Ethiopia) when I was two years old. And I did recently discover soil and bees and bugs in a whole new way in Portland. So I immediately connected with the love of adventure/traveling vs. the pull to cultivate roots in a specific place.

Photo: Cousins in Jane's family meeting for the first time.

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What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?

I keep trying to write a simple plot line, so I re-read middle grade such as Because of Winn Dixie and Liar and Spy to see how other people do it. I love Sarah Plain and Tall for its lyrical sentences and character emotions that are not spelled out but vivid (and moving) on the page.

What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

I’m constantly learning new craft skills. When I was revising Planet Jupiter, it was the concept of microtension (including the book The Fire in Fiction) that handed out some great advice about how to make the reader uneasy and curious.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

How (and why) to eat a bug.

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

A cute and compelling guide to saving the bees and a mini cookbook about eating bugs.

Photo: Oxalis from Jane's Backyard Habitat, where she learns about roots and soil.

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How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

I learn so much about the craft of writing fiction and creative nonfiction every single bingle residency. At this point, I like to have some work in progress open on my computer and force myself to practice—on the page—one thing I’m hearing from each lecture. Otherwise it’s too easy to nod and say “uh-huh, uh-huh” without actually getting the insight from my brain through my fingers and into my work.

Great idea! What is your favorite VCFA memory?

While I was part of the Bath, England residency, I was doing a final big revision of Planet Jupiter. The work we did together to mine our innards and our outer world added some details to my manuscript in a compelling and fresh way. I have a powerful memory of the day we all gathered something from outside—and created poems in invented language to describe them. Wow! What a blast of a sensory experience!

Bonus Bath pic: Here are Cate Berry, Jane Kurtz, and Margaret Mayo McGlynn. Jane says the three of them used to sing in 3-part harmony at residencies! It helped set the stage when she read from WIP Planet Jupiter.

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What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

The first time I had an intensive workshop with a published author, I read everything I could get my hands on that she had written, so that I could ask her specific questions about craft decisions in her picture books and novels. I’m always surprised that more VCFA students don’t take advantage of residency time to learn from their fellow writers who are faculty but still trying daily to solve craft problems in our own work.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Welcome to the universe, Planet Jupiter!

Jane Kurtz has taught at VCFA MFA in Children’s and YA Literature since 2006. She was born in Portland, Oregon, but grew up in Ethiopia and has written about the joy and pain of cultural connections in many different ways. She also helped start the nonprofit Ethiopia Reads and is using her volunteer time to develop local language ready-to-read books for Ethiopia—when she’s not teaching, writing, and cultivating her Backyard Habitat.

Visit Jane online at www.janekurtz.com and at janekurtz.wordpress.com. Learn about Jane and her sister Caroline's Open Hearts Big Dreams book project at http://openheartsbigdreams.org/book-project/.

Topics: middle grade, HarperCollins, Greenwillow, 2017 release, Jane Kurtz

April Pulley Sayre and FULL OF FALL!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

Pour yourself a mug of cocoa and slip on your woolly socks. We're celebrating the release of April Pulley Sayre's latest picture book, Full of Fall (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster)!

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So long summer, Fall is here . . .

Welcome, April Pulley Sayre!
 
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
Fall is such a beautiful season that it was very hard to choose which photos to use. As always with these books, there were many photos I loved as a photographer but which did not serve the trajectory of the book and design. As with writing, in photo illustration you have to set aside your ego and do what is best for the book.
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What's your writing superpower?
My writing superpower is flexible thinking in terms of wordplay.  For some reason I’m unusually good at coming up with titles and poetic and alliterative language. I think it’s like a muscle, though, and improves with use. Despite my early signs of talent in this area, it also helps that I just goof around and have done this work for over twenty years.
 
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
I’ve now photo illustrated nine of my books with photos so I’m deeply involved in the illustrations from the start. It’s an exciting process and yet has an intense amount of struggle and stress at points, handling the competing demands of text and illustration. The advantage is that because I am responsible for both sides of the book, I can decide  to chuck words or illustrations at any point when the book is not flowing well. All this occurs without bothering another person. Only my writing ego or professional photographer ego is bruised. Still ouchy, though, to discard words and photos I love! But then, when you feel it all come together with better pacing, it is worth it.
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How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Attending VCFA took me from being a very isolated full time writer to being more a member of the writing community. It connected me with colleagues who are still my friends to this day. They have supported me through many decisions and pathways both in the career and in life itself. VCFA is so valuable in support of career and quality of life as an artist/writer. VCFA stretches you in the best way possible.
 
What’s next in your career? 
Well, it’s been a wildly busy year in terms of book production for my 2019 photo books, Warbler Wave and Thank You, Earth. My husband and I traveled 5,500 miles to CA and back to photograph landmarks and wildflower bloom for these and other upcoming books.  And I’ve been stepping outside the usual with some books that mix nonfiction text with fiction illustration, such as my 2019 book Did You Burp: How to Ask Questions (Or Not). Between this work, and conference talk travel, this career keeps me on my toes.
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Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, April. Welcome to the world, Full of Fall!
Visit April Pulley Sayre online at www.aprilsayre.com and at her Simon & Schuster page.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, Simon & Schuster, Beach Lane Books, 2017 release, April Pulley Sayre

Lynda Graham-Barber and COOKIE'S FORTUNE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 @ 09:10 AM
We're paws-itively thrilled to celebrate the launch of Lynda Graham-Barber's new picture book, Cookie's Fortune, illustrated by Nancy Lane and out now from The Gryphon Press!
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In Cookie’s Fortune, lyrical language and expressive illustrations bring to life the heartwarming story of a small stray dog who simply wants to find a place that smells "like home." Young animal lovers will be on the edge of their seats until they experience Cookie’s ultimate good fortune. And families will feel educated and empowered to take concrete steps that bring hope to the lives of the many other homeless "Cookies" who wander our streets.
 
Welcome, Lynda!
What was the spark that ignited this book?
Observing the resilience and fortitude of a dog near death and asking myself, How did it happen? Every dog story deserves a happy ending.
Thanks for sharing these amazing before and after pictures of the dog who inspired it all: 1) The little dog with a big mange problem who Lynda and her husband found in a Brooklyn subway. 2) Lynda and her husband with the same dog, complete with a new name -- Metro! -- and a new lease on life.
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What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Invest in a microscope and a good pair of scissors.
What’s your writing superpower?
Our 160 acres of woods—and the pond, where skinny dipping provokes thought, especially when the kingfisher rattles and the great blue surprises in silence.
Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.
A quote:  I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  -- G.K. Chesterton
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
M. T. Anderson, Julie Larios, Shelley Tanaka
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
It made me realize that being clever or nimble with language does not a writer make.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Dancing with a stationary column during a party our class threw for those graduating and getting a hug from Julie Larios when I needed it most.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Keep your antennae up and be full of wonder.
Thanks, Lynda! Our antennae are up and our tails are wagging. Welcome to the world, Cookie's Fortune!
Learn more about Cookie's Fortune at The Gryphon Press and Amazon.
Watch the trailer below, or on YouTube.

Topics: picture book, 2017 release, Lynda Graham-Barber, The Gryphon Press, Nancy Lane

Lyn Miller-Lachmann Talks Translation!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 @ 08:10 AM

Olá! Today we're celebrating three recent picture book releases and a special topic. Lyn Miller-Lachmann, a member of VCFA's Secret Gardeners, sat down with the Launchpad's Amanda Lewis to talk about translation!

Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words by Ruth Rocha, illustrated by Madalena Matoso, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Enchanted Lion).

A wide-eyed child looks out at the world with curiosity and pleasure, finding it endlessly surprising. But there is mystery too, as in the puzzling pictures he sees, made up of elusive lines and squiggles. When Pedro starts school, his great curiosity grows even greater with each letter he learns. Suddenly his world is changing, as the lines and squiggles become letters and words.


The Queen of the Frogs by Davide Cali, illustrated by Marco Somà, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

When a mysterious crown falls into a pond, the little frog who finds it is instantly pronounced the queen. But when her royal subjects start to question her authority, she must prove she’s fit to rule — if she can.


Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Enchanted Lion).

A family escapes the dictatorship in Portugal in the late 1960s, seeking freedom and a better life. Their journey takes them to Communist Czechoslovakia, where “all children go to school.” But while the children go to school, people don’t have freedom of choice or the right to speak their minds. Refusing to accept a life without freedom, the mother gets to work, turning a bleak reality inside out and upside down. In the end, these refugees spark a movement for change in their community.

Welcome, Lyn! How do you approach translation? What differences are there between translation and writing?

With translation, I’m responsible for the words in English, but not the characters, plot, and other story elements. As a result, I can focus exclusively on the language, trying to capture the voice and intent of the original author while making the work accessible and appealing to English-language readers.

You translate books from both Portuguese and Spanish. When did you learn these languages? Is there any difference between your approach to a Portuguese book and a Spanish book?

I learned Spanish in middle and high school and had the opportunity to live in various Spanish-speaking countries. When I was in library school in the late 1980s, I took classes and served an internship as a bilingual children’s librarian. I currently live in a neighborhood in New York City where Spanish is spoken almost as much as English.

Being fluent in Spanish helped me to learn Portuguese more quickly when my husband and I moved to Lisbon for six months after I graduated from VCFA in July 2012. While I was there, I took a class in Portuguese for immigrants. Since then, we’ve spent around two months of each year in Portugal so I can refresh my language skills and acquire new books to read and translate.

As far as approaching books in Spanish vs. books in Portuguese: As a translator, there isn’t much difference in the process. The only difference is that I’m more likely to work with a publisher on a book in Portuguese because there are a lot of translators who work with Spanish but much fewer with Portuguese.

Does translating a book bring you into a relationship with the author?

Most of the time translators don’t meet the author. For instance, when my own novel Gringolandia was translated into Italian, I never met the translator. However, of the five books I’ve translated from Portuguese, I’ve met the author of two – Isabel Minhós Martins (The World in a Second) and Henriqueta Cristina (Three Balls of Wool). In June 2016 I traveled to Coimbra with my VCFA classmate and friend Sandra Nickel to meet Kuki, as Henriqueta is known to her friends, and we were treated to an inside tour of the UNESCO Heritage Site led by her husband, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Coimbra who directed the restoration. You can read about our trip here: http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/what-to-do-when-your-column-cracks-and-other-thoughts-on-restoration/ 

Tell us about the business side of translation. Were you approached to do these books, or did you approach the publisher with the idea of translation? Do you have an agent?

For the most part, publishers approach me. Enchanted Lion Books has a relationship with the Portuguese publisher Planeta Tangerina, and several of the books I’ve worked on come from this innovative small press located outside Lisbon. Other books have come through agents who specialize in marketing international books. I’ve brought proposals for books in both Portuguese and Spanish to editors who I work with, but so far, none of the proposals has led to a contract. I’m still trying, though.

I do have an agent, but she handles the books I write myself, not ones I translate. All of my translation work has come from editors I know or via references from editors with whom I’ve worked. Most translators I know aren’t represented by agents.

What was the editorial process? Did it differ from the author/editor relationship? Were there a lot of revisions?

The editorial process can be as involved as an author/editor relationship, especially if the editor wants to “Americanize” or otherwise change a text. Portuguese is a wordy language, and most of my translations have resulted in a text that’s about a third shorter than the original. I will say that my editor at Enchanted Lion likes crisp prose, and we’ve made more changes in the course of translation, than my editor at Eerdmans, who wanted to keep the flowery language of the original.

One of your books has been published as part of an endorsement from Amnesty International. What is it like to work with a nonprofit organization on a book of social significance? Are there differences from “regular” publishing? Is your personal focus primarily on work of political or social relevance?

I am honored to have translated Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), a book about a refugee family from Portugal in the 1960s that connects so much with the present day. Amnesty International was particularly interested in this book because the organization’s founder became involved in the cause of human rights when he learned of several students at the University of Coimbra who had been jailed in 1961 for protesting the dictatorship.

Amnesty International signed on after I’d already translated the book. They contributed a preface and the International Declaration of Human Rights at the end. Now that the book is out, I’ll be working with them on a teachers guide and school events.

Three Balls of Wool touches on many of the themes of my own writing. My debut YA novel, Gringolandia, portrays a refugee family from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. When Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion asked me to translate Three Balls of Wool, I was in the middle of writing my own YA novel set in Portugal in 1966, about a teenager who follows a popular fado singer and her own younger brother into an underground resistance movement against the Salazar regime.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?
An Na, Jane Kurtz, Sarah Ellis, Coe Booth, Shelley Tanaka. I did a PG semester with Shelley that focused on translation.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Working on the packets every month made me more disciplined, and I learned to read like a writer, using the books I read as mentor texts. I do that with translations as well, particularly looking at how the translator deals with cultural differences that English-language readers may have difficulty bridging.

Thank you for stopping by, Lyn!

In addition to translating children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English, Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of three young adult novels: Gringolandia (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2009), Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013), and Surviving Santiago (Running Press, 2015).

Visit her online at www.lynmillerlachmann.com.

Topics: picture book, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, 2016 release, 2017 release, Enchanted Lion, Davide Cali, Marco Soma, Henriqueta Cristina, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Madalena Matoso, Ruth Rocha, Yara Kono

Carrie Jones and ENHANCED!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 @ 10:10 AM

It's launch day for Carrie Jones's new young adult science fiction/fantasy novel, Enhanced (Tor Teen)! And we are howling with enhanced excitement because everybody's favorite canine journalist is back -- welcome, Carrie Jones and Spartacus!

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Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn't done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she's in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she's actually leaving town. And her mom's hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana's texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.

They all know the alien threat won't stay quiet for long. It's up to Mana to fight her way back in.

IMG_6571.jpgHello. This is Spartacus, Carrie’s dog of awesome bacon-loving happiness. In exchange for scratching the top of my tail, I have agreed to interview the human once again for the Launch Pad, which is basically the only place that would put up with this sort of dog-loving shenanigans.

Yes. I can still type. Don’t worry about that today. Let’s just say that some dogs are magic and I am one of those dogs.

Spartacus: Let’s start with the most important question. There is a dog in this book, am I right?

Carrie: Yes.

Spartacus: Good! This means you can continue to be my human.

Carrie: I know. You threatened me about not being your human if I didn’t give a dog a significant role in this book series. So I did.

Spartacus: I have trained you well.

Carrie:

Spartacus: That’s a compliment.

Carrie: It doesn’t feel like one, honestly.

13501976_10154349897204073_460166726311376845_n.jpgSpartacus: That is because you are a human and not a dog and have a different set of moral codes and ideals to aspire to. Believe me. It’s a compliment. So, back to the interview. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Carrie: The dog.

Spartacus: You don’t have to say that.

Carrie: I kind of feel I do.

Spartacus: And why was the dog your favorite?

Carrie: Well, other than the fact that it is A DOG, it also made me nostalgic for fifth-grade Carrie who won multiple author of the month contests with a serialized story about a girl who joins the Army, finds an alien/dog named ABBA that she falls in love with and they save the world while singing a lot of 1980s songs.

Spartacus: You haven’t really evolved much since then, have you?

Carrie: As a writer or as a human? No. Probably not. I still like unicorns, too.

20476335_10155677301544073_4546833284556388133_n.jpgSpartacus: Hold on. I need some therapy. Bring me some bacon. . . . Thank you. So what was the spark that ignited this book?

Carrie: I was a volunteer firefighter and a restaurant burnt down in our small town.

Spartacus: The Portside Grill? I LOVED walking by that restaurant. They cooked a lot of meat. It smelled delicious.

Carrie: Yes! That one. So, um…. when I was looking at the flames, I thought I saw something hovering above the restaurant, something unidentified. It was really pretty hot and I was super dehydrated at the time so I was probably hallucinating. Maybe. Yeah. But if you read Enhanced, you’ll totally recognize this in one of the scenes.

Spartacus: HUMAN! I WORRY ABOUT YOU!

Carrie: I know… buddy. I know.

Spartacus: I’m going to forget that the way I forget who the postal worker is despite the fact that he comes to the house every day at the same exact time and is never an actual threat and move on to the next question. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

Carrie: ARE DOGS REALLY ALIENS?

IMG_6573.jpgSpartacus: NO! YOU DIDN’T!

Carrie: Yep.

Spartacus: Human! Nobody is supposed to know.

Carrie:

Spartacus:

Carrie: You’re teasing me, right?


Spartacus (Coughs): Of course. Here. I’m going to end this interview before you get into any more trouble. Who were your advisors at VCFA and what’s your favorite VCFA memory?

Carrie: I feel like I shouldn’t out my advisors like that, but they were Tim Wynne Jones, Kathi Appelt, Sharon Darrow and Rita Williams Garcia was stuck with me my final semester. And my favorite memory? That’s super hard. I think it was going to this Thai restaurant with all my classmates and watching them argue about how to split the bill. It was this awesome PHD-quality study about writer group dynamics and inability to do math.

Spartacus: Dogs don’t pay for food, you know. We beg for it.

Carrie: In this way, writers and dogs are a lot alike.

1978535_10152709544989073_9063394704384246924_o-1.jpgThanks for stopping by, Carrie Jones and Spartacus! We wish you tail wags and extra bacon as Enhanced blasts off into the galaxy!

Carrie Jones is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Need series, Time Stoppers series for middle grade readers, Flying series, as well as After Obsession with Steven E. Wedel. She is also the co-editor of the teen anthology, Dear Bully. A distinguished alum of Vermont College's MFA Program, Carrie is a volunteer firefighter in Maine because … um… firefighting!  In her spare time, she likes to pet dogs, fight polio with Rotary International, and make children’s literacy festivals.

Visit her online at www.carriejonesbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @carriejonesbook, Facebook at carriejonesbooks, and Instagram @carriejonesbooks.

Topics: young adult, 2017 release, Carrie Jones, Tor, Tor Teen

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