the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Heather Demetrios and BLOOD PASSAGE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Sat, May 21, 2016 @ 11:05 AM

Today we're celebrating Blood Passage, the second book in Heather Demetrios' Dark Caravan Cycle (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins)! Heather is a member of the Allies in Wonderland (Summer '14). 


A jinni who’s lost everything.

A master with nothing to lose.

A revolutionary with everything to gain.

When Nalia arrives in Morocco to fulfill Malek’s third and final wish she’s not expecting it to be easy. Especially because Malek isn’t the only one after Solomon’s sigil, an ancient magical ring that gives its wearer the power to control the entire jinn race. Nalia has also promised to take Raif, leader of the jinn revolution, to its remote location. Though Nalia is free of the bottle and shackles that once bound her to Malek as his slave, she’s in more danger than ever before and no closer to rescuing her imprisoned brother.

Meanwhile, Malek’s past returns with a vengeance and his well-manicured façade crumbles as he confronts the darkness within himself. And Raif must decide what’s more important: his love for Nalia, or his devotion to the cause of Arjinnan freedom.

Set upon by powerful forces that threaten to break her, Nalia encounters unexpected allies and discovers that her survival depends on the very things she thought made her weak. From the souks of Marrakech to the dunes of the Sahara, 1001 Arabian Nights comes to life in this harrowing second installment of the Dark Caravan Cycle.

Welcome, Heather! So, tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

My favorite character to write was Malek, one of the villains in the series. In this book, he’s a POV character and we learn so much about his motivations and how events in the past are affecting the present. I think the best villains are the ones that make you sympathize with them. I really wanted to show his humanity, his vulnerability. It’s been really interesting to see how many readers love Malek—they always make sure to say they “shouldn’t” like him because he’s a slave owner, but he’s charming, intelligent, and witty: very hard things for readers to ignore. I think it’s all about layers and it’s inherently interesting to see underneath a character’s armor.

It's exciting to come across a truly three-dimensional villain. Readers will love experiencing Malek's POV!

Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I used to need total silence, but when I started working on this series, I found myself listening to a lot of Anoushka and Ravi Shakar, as well as a beautiful recording I heard of the call to prayer. Oh, and music from Game of Thrones because it’s so epic. The instrumental parts of movie soundtracks can be really great because they’re so dramatic. The music helped bring Morocco alive for me (which is where the book is set—I traveled there to do research). It can be really great for world building.

Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I have a jar filled with sand from the Sahara desert that I collected when I was on my trip to Morocco to research for this book. It grounds me in the world of the story, but it was also the most amazing place I’ve been on Earth, so it inspires me to plan for the next trip! I have lots of little things like that on my desk and wall. Luckily, I have my own home office, so it’s pretty tricked out.


How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It gave me a sense of authority – I didn’t feel like a beginner by the time I was through at VCFA. It also gave me my wonderful class, the Allies in Wonderland (Summer ’14) – we all are very close and encourage/inspire one another. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Writing is such a solitary act and having them makes it feel less lonely. Finally, my writing life is deeply grounded in craft and understanding the process, two major things you get at VCFA.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Enjoy it as much as you can because it’s over before you know it! I would also suggest trying to get one book finished during your time there so that you have something you can go into the big wide world with. I already had publishing contracts when I started at VCFA, so I had to finish books, but my friends who were able to do that who hadn’t finished a book before were so proud of that accomplishment. There’s a definite melancholy that comes in the months after graduating and I think it’s a really good idea to set yourself up for the next steps. Your advisor can help with that, too. 

Great advice. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Demetrios_Author_Photo_2015.jpgHeather Demetrios's books include Something Real, I'll Meet You There, and Exquisite Captive, the first book in the Dark Caravan fantasy series. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls New York City home. Visit Heather online at




Topics: young adult, Heather Demetrios, Balzer + Bray, HarperCollins, 2016 release

Carrie Jones and TIME STOPPERS

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, May 16, 2016 @ 06:05 AM

Guess who's at the LaunchPad today... CARRIE JONES! Carrie is a on-call firefighter, internationally and New York Times bestselling author, and lover of all furry things. She lives in Maine. She's a Whirligig and graduated in January 2017. Carrie is the author of loads of novels for young people, including her brand new middle grade TIME STOPPERS.

9781619638624.jpgAnnie Nobody thought she was, well, nobody, living in a nowhere town where nothing goes her way. Day 1 at her newest foster home proves to be dreadful, too . . . and things get even worse when she's chased by something big and scary that definitely wants to eat her. 

Luckily for Annie, not everything is what it seems, and she gets swept up--literally--by a sassy dwarf on a hovercraft snowmobile and taken to Aurora, a hidden, magical town on the coast of Maine. There, she finds a new best friend in Jamie Hephastion Alexander--who thought he was a normal kid (but just might be a troll)--and Annie discovers that she's not exactly who she thought she was, either. She's a Time Stopper, meant to protect the enchanted.

Together, Annie and Jamie discover a whole new world of magic, power, and an incredible cast of creatures and characters. But where there's great power, there are also those who want to misuse it, and Aurora is under siege. It's up to the kids to protect their new home, even if it means diving headfirst into magical danger. - See more at:

Welcome, Carrie! I love your YAs and picture books and I can't wait to see what you do for middle grade readers. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

There’s a secondary character (Please don’t tell her that.) in TIME STOPPERS that’s named Eva and she is really a kick-ass dwarf. She has mechanical skills. She only passes out when faced with trolls. She boasts. She’s tough. She’s totally not me. She was so much fun just because she would say things that overly polite Carrie Writer Person would never think of saying. 
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
I have absolutely no writing community. It’s so sad. I know! I know! I’m supposed to be positive and I am! I promise! It’s just that I don’t actually have beta readers or a community of writers that I hang out with. I’m pretty far up the coast of Maine and I live on an island, so my community is really the people of my community. Firefighters. Grocery store cashiers. Random tourists in the summer. And it’s okay. I get pretty bored if I just live writing and I get pretty bored if I just talk about writing. Also, people on Facebook are super kind to me when I have what I call my AGH WRITER ANXIETY MOMENTS. These happen all the time.
What's your writing superpower?
The ability to just say ‘yes,’ to pretty much anything. No matter how weird the idea, no matter how quirky the character, no matter how foolish it seems, I always say, ‘yes.’ I think of writing a first draft as improv, so I use the tools of improv to write. That way I never get writer’s block and never dismiss something that is a little bit… um… weird. 
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I was lucky enough to have Tim Wynne-Jones, Sharon Darrow, Kathi Appelt and Rita Williams Garcia endure the torment that was having me as a student. But, I have to say it was Lisa Jahn Clough who calmed me down enough during my first residency to make me stay. She listened to all my excuses, about how I was from Maine and not used to people, about how everyone knew more about writing than I did, and she really convinced me to not quit. And then I had all these amazing workshop leaders who made my life so great - Louise Hawes, Brent Hartinger, Marion Dane Bauer. It was incredible. And I always think of Cynthia Leitich Smith as the advisor I never had. She inspires me constantly.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
It isn’t about how it affected it. It made it happen. I really was clueless when I went to Vermont. I was a newspaper editor and a bad (horrible) poet. Vermont taught me everything. I think the fact that I had a book under contract less than a year into the program speaks volumes about what Vermont can do. 
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
Vermont is special. It isn’t just school. It’s a community. It isn’t just a community. It’s a bunch of awesome, brilliant, loving people coming together to celebrate story and craft and you, the writer. If you let it, Vermont becomes family. I still call a classmate of mine ‘bro,’ and he calls me “Sister Carrie” all the time. 
Thank you so much, Team Launchpad! 
Thanks for dropping by Carrie!  TIME STOPPERS was published by Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers and it's available at bookstores everywhere. You can find out more about Carrie at Follow her on twitter at or Facebook at

Topics: middle grade, 2016 release, Bloomsbury Children's Books, Carrie Jones


Posted by Sarah Johnson on Thu, May 05, 2016 @ 08:05 AM
Today we celebrate Julie Berry's novel, The Passion of Dolssa, published by Viking Children’s Books.


Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all.  

Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with a secret lover and an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she’s on the run from the friar who condemned her mother to death by fire, and wants Dolssa executed, too.

Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to keep herself and her sisters on the right side of the law in their seaside town of Bajas.

When their lives collide by a dark riverside, Botille rescues a dying Dolssa and conceals her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. Aided by her sisters and Symo, her surly but loyal neighbor, Botille nurses Dolssa back to health and hides her from her pursuers.  But all of Botille’s tricks, tales, and cleverness can’t protect them forever, and when the full wrath of the Church bears down upon Bajas, Dolssa’s passion and Botille’s good intentions could destroy the entire village. 

From the author of the award-winning All the Truth That's in Me comes a spellbinding thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page and make you wonder if miracles really are possible. 


Welcome, Julie! Can you share who was your favorite character to write and why?

Favorites are always tricky for me, because I love all my characters, but I can say this: the hardest was Dolssa, my ethereal mystic; the most playful was Sapdalina, who is a bit of a comic-relief character with a bit of a “My Fair Lady” arc; the two that had the tightest hold on my heart were Botille, who probably gets the Main Character crown in this large ensemble cast, and Symo, the surly grump of a newcomer to town who exasperates Botille to no end, but is always there when she needs help.  

What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

I’m not sure if I’ve recovered enough yet from the revision process for this book to be able to talk about it without my eyeballs twitching. This novel went through more iterations than I can count. Not just revisions, but structural overhauls, charts, spreadsheets, color-coding, cutting, trimming, honing. It was a nightmare, perhaps, but in a way, it was also an incredibly stimulating puzzle to unravel. It was worth it.  

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

 I belong to a writing group and a critique group, and both are vital to my sanity and productivity. In fact, as I write this response, I’m sitting in a library quiet study room with Larissa Theule (S3Q2, Summer 2009) and Catherine Linka (Winter 2006). We meet weekly to write together. I also belong to a critique group of Boston area writers that has kindly let me stay involved via Skype group chats. We meet when someone has finished an entire novel and we give it a global critique and love-fest. Their input has been lifesaving. My dearest and lifelong bosom buddy, Ginger Johnson (S3Q2, Summer 2009) always reads my manuscripts, bless her, and I treasure her input. My husband Phil is a brilliant reader. He reads my completed drafts, and occasionally I’ll let him see a partial. He’s my canary in the well – I know if he survives my early pages, I’m onto something.

What's your writing superpower?JulieBerry_2013_HiRezPublicityPhoto.jpg

Hm, I wish I had one! My husband would say that it is my ability to throw out what I’ve written and start over. A capacity for taking out the trash feels like a dubious power indeed. Also, I’ve seen a handful of bloggers say things like, “Julie Berry is unafraid to make her characters suffer.” Another curious accolade. Is sadism a superpower? I know what they mean, though, and I guess I’ll take it.  

Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

A catastrophic mess. I’m sort of a Pigpen of domestic clutter. Unlike Pigpen, I’m not proud of it. But maybe that’s my superpower. Someone once asked me at an author event how I managed to write books with four kids. I told them that I was capable of functioning amid a level of mess and chaos that would drive many women smack out of their minds. It’s true. But I should really try harder to find the floor.

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

It isn’t swag, but I want make a live-action cinematic trailer for this book. I think it screams for one. Who knows; perhaps I will.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I worked with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Brent Hartinger, and Tim Wynne-Jones. (I transferred in from Simmons College, so I only needed three semesters.) I was incredibly lucky in each case. Cyn held me together as I came face to face with all my writing weaknesses, and rewrote the beginning of The Amaranth Enchantment five times, once per packet. The poor dear! Brent worked with me on my critical thesis, which was a transformative experience, and he helped me channel the momentum I’d been building with Cyn into a completed draft of Amaranth. He was wonderfully encouraging and kind. With Tim’s wisdom and affection buoying me up, I wrote All the Truth That’s in Me and the first draft of The Rat Brain Fiasco. They launched me. I love them all.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Oh, where to begin? The dances! The nervous excitement of waiting to learn who my instructor would be. The sleepless jitters the night before giving my graduating lecture, nearly rewriting the entire thing. Goofing around and bonding with others in the dorms. NECI breakfasts and cookies – I’m easy to please. J Tromping through the snow. Finding kindred spirits.

One of my best VCFA memories now is that experience I’ve had, more than once, of helping an applicant who is considering VCFA overcome their hesitation and take the plunge, and then hearing afterwards how blissfully happy they are with that choice, and how grateful they are for the nudge. Advice is a tricky business, fraught with peril, but this one’s a slam-dunk, and it’s wonderful to see the glow in their eyes afterwards.

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

I suspect that the thing I wish I’d known was knowledge that I could only learn from submitting to the VCFA experience, a perspective I could only earn with time. I needed to learn to surrender my ambitions, my competitive urges, my eagerness to prove myself or find validation in writing achievement. I needed to let myself be a beginner and a student. I needed to give myself full, genuine permission to fail, and I needed the courage to allow others to see me fail. I needed to learn how to keep on going when no progress seemed evident, and I needed to let myself be taught and inspired by everyone around me – not just the most popular instructors, but every student. In other words, I needed to get out of my own way and patiently do the work, without saddling it with expectations. It was only when I began to learn to do that that my writing began to reach toward progress.

Can you tell us about your graduating class?

I entered VCFA with the Cliffhangers (Summer 2008) but because I transferred in, I graduated before them, with the Dedications  (Winter 2008). So I guess I’m a Cliffcation. Ooh, no, a Dedhanger. 

Sleep-deprived, wild-haired, rarely tidy, usually tardy, constantly grazing, generally fretting, and increasingly forgetful, Julie Berry writes teens and raises books.  She is the author of many books including The Amaranth Enchantment, Secondhand Charm, All the Truth That’s In Me, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, and the Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys series.

 Visit Julie online at

Topics: young adult, Julie Berry, 2016 release, historical fiction, Viking Children's


Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, May 03, 2016 @ 07:05 AM

Today we welcome Erin Hagar, a member of the class of January '12--Keepers of the Dancing Stars- a sparkling writer and friend to celebrate the publication of her new non-fiction AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS . Erin Hagar lives in Baltimore, helps college faculty design their online courses, shuffles kids around to activities, and occasionally strings words together in a semi-coherent sequence.  Welcome, Erin!


Everyone has played with LEGO® toys, but not many people know who's behind this awesome invention. This fun and engaging book tells the story of how a Danish carpenter and his family turned a desperate situation into the most popular toy in history. With full-color illustrations and lively text, and chock-full of interesting facts, Awesome Minds: The Inventors of LEGO® Toys is the perfect read for those with creative spirits and curious minds.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The idea behind the "Awesome Minds" series is explore the history of objects that are so ingrained into our everyday lives that we take them for granted. It's hard to imagine a childhood without LEGO--but where did it all start?
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

We knew early on that it would be impossible to include information about everything LEGO has done in a book this size. It's a massive operation, and we really wanted to focus on how the brick came to be.  But in my school visits and book talks I see that kids really love the Robotics and Mindstorms product lines, and we only briefly mentioned those.
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
Thrilling! Paige Garrison did such a great job bringing this story to life and making it so kid-friendly. She did some amazing technical work, but one of my favorite illustrations is the one that goes with the factoid about plastics. For environmental reasons, LEGO is trying to move away from using plastics in their products, and Paige created this illustration of a humanized LEGO brick with its arm around a smiling planet earth. It seems so simple, but it's really powerful--and cute! 
Here's another factoid: If you took all the bricks produced in ONE YEAR, they'd wrap around the earth 18 times. Crazy!
What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book? 
Apparently, you can 3-D print a picture of your face in the shape of a minifig head. An Erin Hagar minifig to give to kids at book events--that wouldn't be weird, right? 
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I was so lucky to work with Laura Kvasnosky, Uma Krishnaswami, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Alan Cumyn. (Say those names five times fast, I dare ya!)
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
I edit myself in a more layered way now--focusing on different things in each layer. I think of VCFA as a pressure cooker. I might have learned the same skills on my own, but it would have taken me much, much longer.  
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Watching Rita get a standing ovation when ONE CRAZY SUMMER won the Newbery Honor and the CSK award during the January '11 residency. 
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? 
Don't think of this as a "two-year" program. It's a lifelong experience if you want it to be (and you'll want it to be!) 
Erin's new book AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS is in bookstores now. It was published by Duopress. You can learn more about Erin and her books at


Topics: nonfiction, middle grade, Erin Hagar, Duopress, 2016 release


Posted by Robin Herrera on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 @ 09:04 AM

Today we talk with Trent Reedy about the conclusion of his acclaimed YA trilogy, THE LAST FULL MEASURE, published by Arthur A. Levine Books.


In a YA trilogy like no other, Trent Reedy has raised the most primal questions of our national existence: Do we owe our greatest loyalty to our friends? Our state? Our country? Our party? How do we reconcile our individual rights and common needs? What keeps us all united -- and what happens if we fall apart?

Now, in this third book, the Second Civil War has come to an end in Idaho. The Feds have taken the fight to other fronts, and Danny and his friends are free of U.S. dominance. But that freedom comes with considerable costs, from Danny's disturbing flashbacks to the war, to the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, whose "security" for Freedom Lake looks more like outright thuggery. After Danny makes a shocking discovery about the Brotherhood's final aims, he and his friends lead a group of townspeople on a dangerous journey across a ravaged Idaho, hoping to build a better society of their own, and fulfill the dreams they had in what once was the United States.

Welcome, Trent! First question: If you were stuck on a desert island, who would you want with you: Danny, JoBell, Becca, Sweeney, or Cal? Only pick one!

This is a tough question.  I worked with this family of friends for a lot of years, and I’ve come to like them all.  But to answer, I will assume within this scenario that they are real people and I am living in their world.  In other words, I don’t want to be stuck on an island with any of them explaining why I, the author and creator of their world, put them through so many difficult challenges.  I mean, if Cal found out I was responsible for creating all the chaos he and his friends have to deal with, he’d probably beat me unconscious. 

I would have to choose Danny, because he’s a tough survivor, and I’d need his help to survive on the island.  But I think that would be tough, because Danny suffers a lot through the trilogy.  I’d like to remind him that it wasn’t all his fault and spend some time talking about forgiveness.

When you plan a trilogy, how early do you know what the breaks between each book will be? When did you know what very last scene in book 1 would be? 

 Divided_We_Fall-1.jpg   Burning_Nation.jpg

One advantage I had with the Divided We Fall trilogy is that I knew it was a big story that would take three books.  This allowed me to pay attention to the overall three-book structure, which I think would be different from writing a fully self contained story in one book and then later writing that book’s sequel. 

I structured the Divided We Fall story into three phases. 

  1. The crisis in government, Battle of Boise, and build up to the beginning of armed conflict.
  1. Daniel Wright and his friends struggling in the resistance in occupied northern Idaho.
  1. Danny Wright and his friends facing the challenge to survive, out on the road amid a collapsed civilization and dangerous society.

As PFC Wright might say, “I’m not gonna lie,” but I love the ending to the first book.  And, as we’re talking about the release of Book 3: The Last Full Measure I’m going to go ahead and spoil the heck out the Divided We Fall ending here.  I had the idea for the U.S. President’s total forced broadcast, demand for Idaho’s surrender, and threat of military force from the first time I sketched out the concept for the book.  The President demands Idaho National Guard and militia forces surrender and disarm.  She orders all Idaho residents to remain in their homes and await further federal instructions.  Then Idaho’s power is shut off, leaving Danny and his friends in the dark.  Danny picks up his gun and knows the attack is coming.  I specifically requested black endpapers and no acknowledgments or other back matter at the end of the story.  Just the threat of the coming war, and the same blackness our characters are left in.  I feel like it’s the perfect cliffhanger ending for Divided We Fall.  The only problem with it was that some readers, especially young readers, had no idea that Book 2: Burning Nation was coming.  I heard from a lot of readers demanding more.

Did any characters surprise you over the course of writing the three books? Becca and TJ both surprised me in book 2. (TJ because he was such a jerk in book 1!)

I was a little surprised with TJ.  I don’t know if he was as much a jerk as Danny was jealous and worried about his friendship with JoBell.  Obviously TJ and Danny didn’t get along.  But through the course of the war, TJ takes some major risks.  He really shows some courage.  I think one of the best Danny/TJ moments is when TJ breaks Danny out of his cell after Danny is tortured.  Danny doesn’t even know if TJ is real, and I think it was fun having Danny’s old rival be the guy who saves him.

I also liked PFC Luchen, who starts out as a dumb, goofy kid, but sacrifices himself for the success of his final mission.

I was surprised by how many secondary characters became so important, especially through the course of The Last Full Measure.  Dr. Nicole Randal was introduced to the story mostly so Danny and Becca could get antibiotics for JoBell in Burning Nation.  She ended up becoming an important part of the lives of Danny and his friends.  Sergeant Kemp is surprising for similar reasons.  I never really intended for him to become such an important part of the whole story, but he plays a big role in all three books, and he turned out to be a great guy, from the Battle of Boise through The Last Full Measure.

You got to record some voices for the audiobook version - tell us more about that process! (I definitely recognized your voice while listening to Burning Nation!)

Andrew Eiden provides the great main narration and performance, but there are many other voices as newscasters, radio personalities, and social media comments in the media noise segments. I have had a lot of fun these past few years recording various voices for all three audiobooks.  My editor, agent, and some other friends from Scholastic have joined us as well.  For each book, we would head out to Scholastic Audiobook CentCom in Connecticut and pile into the studio.  We had a couple loose page print outs of the book and a spreadsheet of all the different voices.  Then we’d do our best trying to bring those characters to life.  For all three books I enjoyed playing conservative radio talk show host Buzz Ellison and my editor performed the part of President Laura Griffith.  In The Last Full Measure I also had fun voicing one of those very energetic preachers almost screaming over the radio about the end times.

I’m extremely pleased with the way the audiobooks have turned out for all the Divided We Fall books, but especially for The Last Full Measure.  The good people in the Scholastic Department of Audiobooks have really worked hard, adding many sound effects, sound treatments, and voices to really bring the stories to life.  I listen to a LOT of audiobooks.  I’ll probably listen to at least fifty audiobooks this year alone.  The Divided We Fall audiobooks are really unique, really fantastic productions.

And...anyone interested in giving the Divided We Fall trilogy a try is welcome to start with the first audiobook for free!  Check out the details on the other side of the link.

Everyone go get the audiobook!

I've been waiting for Book 3, The Last Full Measure to come out ever since I finished Book 2. This is a two-part question: First, where does the title of book 3 come from? Second, what can we expect from the THRILLING CONCLUSION to the series? (Can you pull a JK Rowling and tell us what the last word of the book is?)

The Last Full Measure comes from the Civil War and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It seemed the perfect title for a lot of reasons.  A lot of Lincoln’s words and meaning get tangled up and rearranged through the trilogy and especially in The Last Full Measure.

In The Last Full Measure the Second American Civil War widens well beyond the “Idaho Crisis” and well beyond any real hope of peaceful reconciliation.  The war becomes widespread and brutal, and the systems of our society begin to collapse.  In the chaos that follows, Daniel Wright and his friends struggle to survive while they deal with central questions about life, civilization, and government.  What keeps the peace in the United States?  Is it only our police force preventing widespread violence and anarchy, or do people also have a common sense of fairness and decency?  How do we balance the need for security with the need for freedom?  Where do our loyalties lie, and how much should we devote to ourselves, our friends and family, and our government? 

They’re big questions, relevant issues that many Americans struggle with today, especially in an election year.  I only hope we find better answers than the people in The Last Full Measure.

For readers who love the Divided We Fall trilogy and are sad to see it ending, what books do you recommend they read next?

People who finish The Last Full Measure should go on to read The Hunger Games.  One of the reasons I wanted to write a trilogy about a Second American Civil War and the end of the United States is that I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, but I wondered how Panem came to exist. The Hunger Games takes place 74 years after the district uprisings against the Capitol, but that means people had been living in the districts and Capitol system for some years before that uprising.  How did the districts get started?  How did the United States end?  I wrote the Divided We Fall trilogy to be a story that could be the prequel to many dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, but there are clues in The Last Full Measure that suggest I really had The Hunger Games in mind.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I was blessed to work with Rita Williams-Garcia, Jane Kurtz, David Gifaldi, and Margaret Bechard.  They were all such premium advisors, very helpful and supportive, now dear friends.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It’s probably easier to talk about how VCFA did not affect my writing life since it affected almost every aspect of my writing.  VC helped me think about writing and revising in ways I had never considered before.  In my time working with advisors at the college the quality and quantity of my writing increased dramatically.  Quite simply, Vermont College of Fine Arts made it possible for me to live my Dream.

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

I wish I had known then how incredibly important all my fellow VCFA students would be to me, and I would work even harder to get to know them even more.  The Vermont College of Fine Arts adventure was a most special time in my life.  I will always treasure the memories of my time there.

Thank you, Trent! Readers can visit Trent online at to learn more about THE LAST FULL MEASURE as well as his other books!


Topics: young adult, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016 release

Ally Condie and SUMMERLOST

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 @ 15:03 PM

We're celebrating the launch of current student Ally Condie's big new book SUMMERLOST.  


Sometimes it takes a new friend to bring you home. It's the first real summer since the accident that killed Cedar's father and younger brother, Ben. Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

SUMMERLOST is a middle grade novel published by Dutton. It's available in bookstores everywhere today.


Topics: middle grade, 2016 release, Dutton, Ally Condie


Posted by Robin Herrera on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 @ 17:03 PM

Today we celebrate the release of Adi Rule's second YA novel from St. Martin's Press, THE HIDDEN TWIN!


For eighteen years a girl with no name, a redwing, has been hidden away in a small attic room within a city of hissing pipes and curving temples perched on the side of the great volcano, Mol, while her sister, Jey--identical except for her eyes--has lived her life in public as an only child. Their father had hoped the hidden girl would one day grow up to be a normal human girl and not the wicked creature mythology promised, so he secretly spared her life as an infant.

But when the redwing switches places with her sister, striking up a flirtation with the son of the Empress while working in the royal gardens, and getting attacked by two suspicious priests on her journey home, she is forced to call forth fire to protect herself, unleashing her previously dormant powers and letting her secret out. She soon catches the attention of a cult with a thousand year old grudge as well as a group of underground rebels, both seeking her for their own gain. But when her sister goes missing and the redwing uncovers a great plot to awaken Mol and bring fiery destruction upon them all, she is forced to embrace her powers.

Now the girl with no name must finally choose a name and a path for herself, drawing a line between myth and history to prove herself more than a monster if she is to save both her sister and her home.

Welcome, Adi! Since this is your second book, I thought it'd be fun to have you do a venn diagram showing us the differences—and similarities—between your two books.

(OMG this was so fun.)

AdiBookVenn.jpegFans of STRANGE SWEET SONG, take note! Adi, who was your favorite character to write and why?

There’s a crusty old lockpick named Teppa the Fowl who I just love. She’s so awful. She has no shame and no filter. She should have her own book. It was also a lot of fun writing the main character, the redwing. When I’m drafting, my characters think lots of things they don’t actually say, which, in the case of Sing in Strange Sweet Song or the rather quiet MC of my current WIP, is often true to their personalities. But the redwing is more confident than that, so I went back and switched many of those thoughts to saids. It made the book funnier and gave it more tension, I think. It’s an exercise I’d highly recommend!

Oooh, bonus writing tip! On that note, what's your writing superpower?

I can survive indefinitely on Red Bull, pistachios, and cat hair.

 Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I live in a studio apartment with three cats, a blue and gold macaw, and a personal trainer. The upside to this arrangement is that we really can’t have anything we don’t love; there isn’t space. So, looking next to my bed, which is where I work, I see a stack of 1930’s thriller novels, an Ancient Egyptian relief my dad carved, a photo of my cat, a Gerard Way action figure, and a My Little Pony. All inspirational in their own way.

You've got a real knack for worldbuilding. What kinds of details do you like to think about when you're crafting the "where" of a book?

It’s important to really live in the world. Worldbuilding can get pretty epic, especially in fantasy, but stories are about characters. The secret to authenticity is in the mundane, I think. What is the protagonist’s day-to-day like? How do people around her fill their days, and why? The Hidden Twin takes place in a city perched on a volcano, so I started there. What is it like to walk the streets? What does the sky look like? How does the air feel and smell? How does this environment affect plant and animal life? Art and architecture? Fashion? Colloquialisms? Religion? People living on my volcano are going to value and demonize different things than, for instance, people living in a dome at the bottom of the sea, or on an asteroid, or in Concord, New Hampshire.

 Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Alan Cumyn, Sarah Ellis, Leda Schubert, and Ellen Howard. Rock stars all.

 What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

Like all VCFA graduates, the Thunderbadgers are the kindest, smartest, funniest, best at games, noblest, sweetest, fiercest, most attractive humans to walk upon this planet. If you see one in the wild, greet her or him with a hearty, “Kek, kek, kek!”, for this is the cry of the Thunderbadger.

Who are your favorite fictional twins? You can name more than one set!

Hands down, He-Man and She-Ra. They were all about vanquishing evil with swords, being effortlessly cool, conflict resolution, and embracing their feelings. Plus, they had that awesome futuristic-caveman thing going on. He-Man wore a fur loincloth and rode a laser-shooting space jet-ski. She-Ra had a rainbow winged horse and gold boots (for kickin’), and she fought robots. And their mom was an astronaut! From Earth!

I also have to give a shout-out to WilyKit and WilyKat from Thundercats. They weren’t my favorite characters (hello, Cheetara and Tigra), but they were kids! Who were Thundercats! So maybe that meant I could be a kid who was also a Thundercat.


Thanks for stopping by the Launch Pad, Adi! Everyone, you can find THE HIDDEN TWIN at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, IndieBound, or wherever else books are sold!


Adi writes YA novels and humorous essays. Look for a sneak peek of her novel Shoes in the Spring 2016 Hunger Mountain journal of the arts. She lives in New Hampshire with three cats who hate each other.

You can find Adi on her website, her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Topics: young adult, Adi Rule, St Martin's Press, 2016 release


Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @ 09:03 AM

We're under the spell of Janet Fox's new middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, out now from Viking Children's. This book has already scooped up stars from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, and is a Junior Library Guild selection and an Indies Next pick -- wow!


Twelve-year-old Katherine Bateson believes in a logical explanation for everything. But even she can't make sense of the strange goings-on at Rookskill Castle, the drafty old Scottish castle-turned-school where she and her siblings have been sent to escape the London Blitz. What's making those mechanical shrieks at night? Why do the castle's walls seem to have a mind of their own? And who are the silent children who seem to haunt Rookskill's grounds?

Kat believes Lady Eleanor, who rules the castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must face the truth about what the castle actually harbors - and what Lady Eleanor is - before it's too late.

Welcome, Janet! So tell us, what was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

I always struggle with my middles, and this novel was no exception. My problems are usually tied up with getting my character arc true, and deepening her arc. In this case, I had an epiphany during a weekend-long intensive with Donald Maass, in which he asked us to select a scene, write down the five things that happen in the scene, and then turn the last one around to its opposite. At that moment everything I'd been struggling with came into focus as I realized that Kat, my main character, needed to find the antagonist "beautiful" and "perfect" - the epitome of what she wanted to be herself. When I realized what had to happen in that scene I was then able to go back through Kat's development and structure the story so that things she did and things that happened to her all culminated in this scene.

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

The book I pull out every time I need sentence-level inspiration is Kathi Appelt's The Underneath. I love the lyrical quality of her writing. It feels both magical and like a traditional fable. For plot, I'm a huge fan of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. It has a plot that races, yet feels true and emotional - which is probably the reason for its success. I keep a plot chart of that novel on my wall. And for character, I'll admit I'm a fan of JK Rowling's Harry Potter. She was able to take an 11-year-old boy through his entire adolescence, touching all the points of change in development through the lens of a magical world. And her secondary characters are just as rich and nuanced. It's clear she spent a lot of time developing all of her characters' backstories.

Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I have a trove of plot charts, both linear and free-association/bubble-style, of other books on my wall. I have several inspirational quotes posted, including my favorite from Tobin Anderson via Kathi: "Write what you think you can't." And I've begun to post, for whatever book I'm working on at the moment, a statement of the theme, boiled down to its simplest premise. Plus there are my magical weapons: my family pictures, my Vermont College and my agency mugs, things I've collected or that have come from family. These things keep me going. They have power.


How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It changed everything for me! First, I was no longer alone. I now have a tribe that speaks the same language, understands the same concerns. Second, I learned a TON. I was forced way outside my comfort zone, and then made to build a new one. I had a new vocabulary for what I was trying to do. And most importantly, I was encouraged to push myself and my writing, to try new things, to venture into realms I might never have thought to try. "Write what you think you can't."

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

You are all my friends for life. Seriously - I've made friends for life. Plus, we had fun. And when we went through all the VCFA stages - beginner, middle, grad - we had each other's backs. We still do! I read every one of your books as they come out. (I love every one of your books!) I would relive that experience again and again if I could.

I heartily concur on all points! Kek kek kek! 

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Don't focus on one thing the entire four semesters. I worked on four different books, several short stories, and my critical thesis. The critical thesis has been the subject of several published articles (I'm still hoping to frame a craft book around it.) My creative thesis became my second published YA. One of my stories appeared in a regional anthology. Be prepared to learn. Be prepared to push. Say yes. Read more than you think you can. Know that you'll make life-long friends, but that you will also cry, more than once (mostly in a good way.) You'll be exhausted but exhilarated. You'll be miserable but elated. Apply yourself and you will have a career. 

Write what you think you can't.

Great advice, Janet. Thank you so much for visiting, and welcome to the world to The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle!

IMG_8226b.jpgJanet Fox is the author of four previous books: the middle grade non-fiction Get Organized Without Losing It, and three YA historical novels, Faithful, Forgiven, and Sirens. She graduated from VCFA in Summer 2010, a member of the Thunder Badgers.

Visit her online at

Topics: middle grade, Viking, 2016 release, Janet Fox, Viking Children's

Emily Wing Smith and ALL BETTER NOW

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Wed, Mar 09, 2016 @ 08:03 AM
Congratulations to Emily Wing Smith for the release of All Better Now, a memoir about how a near-fatal car accident when she was twelve saved her life.  
ALL HER LIFE, EMILY HAS FELT DIFFERENT FROM OTHER KIDS. Between therapist visits, sudden uncontrollable bursts of anger, and unexplained episodes of dizziness, things have never felt right. For years, her only escape was through the stories she’d craft. But it isn’t until a near-fatal accident when she’s twelve years old that Emily and her family discover the truth: a grapefruit-size brain tumor at the base of her skull. In turns candid, angry, and beautiful, Emily Wing Smith’s captivating memoir chronicles her struggles with both mental and physical disabilities, the devastating accident that may have saved her life, and her way through it all: writing.
Emily tweets at @emilywingsmith

Topics: memoir, 2016 release, Emily Wing Smith, Dutton


Posted by Tami Brown on Thu, Mar 03, 2016 @ 04:03 AM

Today we're welcoming C. M. (Cynthia) Surrisi, a member of the Magic IFs class of January 2014. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband Chuck and her two rascal Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Sunny and Milo, and Harry, the Prince of Cats. 



A mystery has washed ashore at the coastal town of Maiden Rock. Quinnie Boyd’s teacher, Ms. Stillford, hasn’t shown up on the first day of school—or the day after that. Quinnie thinks it’s a kidnapping case. Her mom, the town sheriff, doesn’t believe her, but Quinnie’s going to follow her instincts—even if she has to tiptoe around her mom to do it.

            Quinnie’s investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messier places. On the way, she’ll have help from her glamourous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they’ll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who’ve been pigging out on the lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger . . .     


Welcome Cynthia-- and I might add any friend of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a friend of mine! Here at the LaunchPad we always love a good book sale story. How did you sell The Maypop Kidnapping?

I was in my last semester at VCFA, headed into packet number three, when someone alerted me to a blog post by editor Greg Hunter at Carolrhoda Books. The post is at You can also follow him on twitter at @gregjhunter.

 I urge readers to look at this post because it tells so much about the editor. By the time I finished reading it, I was hooked. I had planned to take the route of graduating and submitting to agents. But when I read this, I not only liked him, I understood what he was looking for in a manuscript. I felt my book had a chance so I submitted it, and soon thereafter I had a long conversation with him about the book and received an offer. Next, I talked with several agents, which admittedly is easier to do with a book offer in your hand. I chose Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt. Perfect.

 I concentrated on getting a good fit. I believe you can help yourself out a lot by thoroughly researching agents and editors and not submitting to people who are not right for you.

 These relationships have led to a second Quinnie Boyd Mystery, Vampires on the Run, which is coming out Spring 2017, and there is a third under discussion. I also have a picture book coming out from Abrams next year, which is being illustrated by the wonderful Diane Goode.

You've been busy! And I love how you took charge of your writing career, instead of waiting for something great to happen. Tell us about your writing community.

My writing community has expanded greatly over the last ten years. Initially, I joined SCBWI. In SCBWI I met wonderful, supportive people who remain good friends. Then, I went to VCFA, which is a huge bear hug. Now, I have my beloved classmates, The MAGIC IFs, my darling friends who attended VCFA during the same semesters as me, AND the tribe consisting of everyone who has ever gone to, or been associated, with VCFA. Then, I moved to Asheville, where there is a large, wonderful, and welcoming community of children’s writers who I am getting to know. I have writing friends who are available 24 hours, like a hot line. I have a Skype critique group. I am joining an in-person group here in Asheville.

Share something that inspires you-

Something I keep on my wall while I work. Many inspiring objects surround me, but one of my favorites is Pippi-Bliss by Jeffrey Stoner:


Who wouldn't be inspired by that blissful goat! What's your writing superpower?

I feel my writing superpower is quirky adults in kids’ books. I like my adults to be both larger than life and realistic at the same time, because I think that is the way they appear to kids in real life. I strive for adult characters who are respected as role models, even if they are sometimes difficult and test a kid’s patience. And most important, they have to add a comic element while they are providing an adult world superstructure to the story.

Let's talk about VCFA. Who were your advisors?

My advisors: Matt de la Pena, Tim Wynne-Jones, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Tom Birdseye. Each was perfect for me at the time I had them, and I regret I couldn’t have had the advisor experience with more of the faculty. I’ve thanked them so many times, it’s getting a little tiresome for them, I’m sure, but I’d like to do it again and single them out for some specific kudos: Matt taught me how to follow my main character around and make her life complicated, then watch her get through it. Tim taught me how to write a mystery. Rita taught me how to infuse heart into a novel. And Tom taught me how to make the most of a humorous moment in a story.      

How did VCFA effect your writing life? Do you have any advice for prospective students?

For many years before attending VCFA, I practiced law. When I started to write fiction in earnest, I simply didn’t have any adjectives. When writing legal briefs one is obliged to stick to the facts. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, it does loosely describe writing on the left side of the brain rather than the right side. When I had pieces critiqued at conferences, I was often told I could use more words. I think most people are urged to cut, cut, cut.

I knew I needed to study writing in the way that I learn best. For me that is a structured, intensive program with demands and high expectations. I retired from law to dedicate full-time to my MFA. I threw myself into it and I feel I got out of it everything it had to offer me. I stripped it all down to basics and started from scratch. I’d say I was the poster child for getting the most out of VCFA, but I know that everyone’s experience is pretty similar.

 If you want to learn to write for children and young adults, VCFA can make that happen. I am transformed on this front. I now understand the inner-workings of the craft of writing for kids, and I have tools and methods to apply what I know.

I thought I had a writing life before I started VCFA. I now know that what I had was never going to lead to publication. VCFA made the difference.

It was such a treat to talk to you about my favorite topics- Cavaliers, VCFA and MIDDLE GRADE MYSTERIES! Thanks so much for dropping by, Cynthia.

THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING was published by Carolrhoda/Lerner and it's available in bookstores everywhere. You can find out more about Cynthia on her website and follow her on Twitter at @csurrisi






Topics: Carolrhoda Books, middle grade, 2016 release, C. M. Surrisi, mystery, Lerner

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