the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Adi Rule

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Kate Hosford and HOW THE QUEEN FOUND THE PERFECT CUP OF TEA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 @ 08:04 AM

Sound the fanfare! Today we toast Kate Hosford and her new picture book, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, out now from Carolrhoda books!

queencover.jpgActivities that the Queen most certainly does not do: strenuous kitty snuggling, vigorous soccer dribbling, spirited dancing, and making tea. Until one day, she grows dissatisfied with the tea her butler has prepared, and a culinary and cross-cultural hot air balloon adventure begins…

Welcome, Kate! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited the book?

I began this book during my picture book semester with Uma Krishnaswami. At first, the story was about a Queen who becomes humanized by going around the world and having tea parties with children. In the early drafts, the children were behaving deferentially and giving the Queen little gifts. Uma really encouraged me to turn colonialism on its ear and create child characters that are thoroughly unimpressed with royalty. Thank goodness she did. At that point the story became more meaningful, and also funnier. In subsequent drafts, I also tried to tune in to the Queen’s isolation; the real reason that her tea starts to taste horrible is because she is profoundly lonely.

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Who was your favorite character to write and why?

My favorite character to write was the Queen. She is haughty, vulnerable, ridiculous, lonely, and hopefully in the end, lovable. I was lucky enough to work with my friend and collaborator Gabi Swiatkowska, who also illustrated my third picture book, Infinity and Me. The Queen goes through a whole myriad of emotions every time she visits a child in a new country and is asked to do something for the first time, like snuggle a kitty:

Image 2.jpegI liked making the Queen bewildered in the kitchen. It’s as if she is exploring a strange new planet, and she must proceed with caution. In Japan, all she dares to do is turn on the faucet. In India, she can only turn on the faucet and fill the kettle. By the time she gets to Turkey she can even boil water!

PastedGraphic-17.jpgDo you write in silence?

I’m very easily distracted. In fact, if I try to listen to music, I start typing those words into my own writing. I even find classical music distracting, and opt instead for silence, which you can actually find in New York, minus the occasional bird or airplane. I know some people need noise to write, which is fascinating to me.

What nugget of craft advice has been the most helpful to you?

I think one of the most helpful pieces of advice is to read my work out loud repeatedly. I think this is true regardless of the genre, but it’s absolutely essential for picture books, which will be read out loud almost exclusively once they are out in the world. The cadences and rhythms of the language are not obvious to the writer until one can hear them.

Great advice! What fun swag items do you wish you could make for this book?

I do have a few fun swag items already. Lerner always makes me beautiful bookmarks, and I also made personalized tea bags, and paper tea cups.

bookmarks.jpgteacups.jpg

tea packets.jpgBut if I could have any swag items, I would probably have actual tea cups, and tea cozies with images from the book, as well as tea pots, and matching dishtowels. Of course, we’d have to do this for every culture the Queen visits: Japan, India, Turkey and England. Maybe we could have a variety tea pack with tea bags from each of these cultures. Because the Queen and her butler James travel around the world in a hot air balloon, it might be nice to have hot air balloon ornaments, with the name of the book on them…it’s fun to dream about swag.

I’d also like to mention two other book-related items that make me very happy:

A curriculum, created by Blue Slip Media: http://khosford.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/How-the-Queen-Found-the-Perfect-Cup-of-Tea-Curriculum-Guide.pdf

And a book trailer by BoTra Productions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XMkNDXtl5A

book launch.jpgWho were your advisors at VCFA?

Four of the most wonderful teachers ever: Uma Krishnaswami, Sarah Ellis, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Julie Larios. I wish school could have lasted four years!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I think hardly a day goes by when I am not in touch with one of my classmates. I know that they are there for encouragement, advice, inspiration, feedback, and reality checks. I love hearing about their lives, reading their work and doing whatever I can to support them. Several of them have become some of my closest friends. VCFA grads are not just an important part of my writing life, they are an important part of my life, period.

katehosford.jpgThanks for stopping by, Kate! We're ready for our tea party! Welcome to the world, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea.

Kate Hosford is a picture book author and poet who graduated with the Bat Poets in Winter 2011. Visit her online at Khosford.com.

Topics: Carolrhoda Books, picture book, Lerner Publishing Group, Lerner, 2017 release, Kate Hosford, Gabi Swiatkowska

Melanie Fishbane and MAUD!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 @ 07:04 AM

Today we're shouting all the hoorays for Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery by Melanie J. Fishbane, out now from Penguin Teen/Penguin Random House Canada!

MAUD Cover.jpgFourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery — Maud to her friends — has a dream: to go to college and become a writer, just like her idol, Louisa May Alcott. But living with her grandparents on Prince Edward Island, she worries that this dream will never come true. Her grandfather has strong opinions about a woman’s place in the world, and they do not include spending good money on college. Luckily, she has a teacher to believe in her, and good friends to support her, including Nate, the Baptist minister’s stepson and the smartest boy in the class. If only he weren’t a Baptist; her Presbyterian grandparents would never approve. Then again, Maud isn’t sure she wants to settle down with a boy — her dreams of being a writer are much more important.

But life changes for Maud when she goes out West to live with her father and his new wife and daughter. Her new home offers her another chance at love, as well as attending school, but tensions increase as Maud discovers her stepmother’s plans for her, which threaten Maud’s future — and her happiness forever.

Welcome, Melanie! I have to say, that cover is gorgeous. So, tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Besides Maud, I would say my favorite character to write was Will Pritchard. He is one of Maud’s two love interests who comes into her life during a time where she’s going to have to make some big decisions. Will is based on Maud’s real life boyfriend who she met the year she had lived with her father in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Will showed up as a cross between the pioneer boy of my childhood, Almanzo Wilder, and who Maud wrote about in her journals. He emerged as a man who saw things as they were, a good horseman with no patience for games or pettiness. He became a foil for Maud’s ambitions and, also, the confinement of expectations put on young people of the period. I can still hear his voice in my head while I write this now. He’s also quite handsome. :)

IMG_1257.jpgMelanie J. Fishbane laughs carelessly with the handsome Will Pritchard. Photo by Kate Sutherland.

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

For some people who write historical fiction the issue is not enough material, but with L.M. Montgomery, the issue is that there is so much. Montgomery was very particular about what she left behind. She burned her correspondence before she died, and copied out her journals into uniform ledgers, destroying the originals. There are also scrapbooks, her book collection, thousands of photographs (many she took herself as she was an avid photographer), and personal artifacts. There are also letters that others kept of letters that she wrote to them, particularly from her time in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

I had wanted to stay true to the arc of Montgomery’s experience as described in the journals, so I had tried to keep closely to the timeline, but I soon learned that this hurt the pace of the novel, particularly in the third act. For example, when I was writing about Maud’s time in Park Corner there were several family events and an episode with her cousins that involved many shenanigans. I had wanted to include it to show how Maud was connecting with the Montgomery side of her family, but inevitably it was cut because it slowed things down and away from the main emotional arc.

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

Unless I’m reading out loud or doing very precise copy editing, I need to write with music. Maud had a playlist that was inspired by music of the period, both popular and sacred. I also listened to a lot of contemporary music from PEI and Saskatchewan. The Meds and Catherine MacLellan were on loop for much of the writing process. As well as Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear, particularly “Chandelier” and “Big Girls Cry” because it echoed Maud’s emotional experience. Oh…and the Anne & Gilbert: The Musical, because…Anne and Gilbert…I put a selection of these songs on my website: http://melaniefishbane.com/mauds_world/mauds-playlist/

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 feel pretty grateful because my writing community is international, but closely connected. There are my classmates from VCFA and the Dystropians, my friends from TorKidLit, a local Toronto writing group that meets once a month to support young adult and kids’ writers, and CANSCAIP. I also have my Montgomery writer friends who I send stuff to when I need some advice. I have a few friends that I write with in Toronto and share first drafts with, as well as some from VCFA of course. I don’t have a critique group anymore. I had a writing group for about a year or so that met once a month, but because of a variety of circumstances we now only meet occasionally. I would say that through Facebook groups and Twitter, I’ve been able to stay connected to my tribe.

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

After my grandfather died, my aunt found a letter he had written to me around my birthday, but for some reason never gave it to me. In the letter, he talked about listening to me talk about what I had planned to do, how pleased he was to see me talk about my plans for education and the future, how I had made him a “very proud Zaidy.” I put the letter in something to protect it and posted it on my bulletin board. Maud is dedicated to him.

What a special find.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Sharron Darrow, Mary Quattlebaum, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sarah Ellis.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Everything. It taught me how to take myself and my writing seriously, putting in place good writing habits. It also connected me to a community that I continue to stay in touch with. I think going to VCFA also gave me the credentials I needed to prove to the publisher that I could do this project.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Running across the campus to learn who our advisors would be.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

We were so supportive of one another and became close right away. Even now, we continue to just be there. If one of us needs something, we jump into action. We are family.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?Melanie Fishbane Author Photo Ayelet Tsabari.jpg

Stay as present as you can. Enjoy all of it. Suck up all the energy, knowledge and experiences you can, because it goes very quickly.

Thanks so much for visiting, Melanie! Hooray for Maud!

Obsessed with L.M. Montgomery and the red-headed orphan Anne of Green Gables since she was a kid, Melanie J. Fishbane is tickled red(?) to be celebrating the launch of her debut novel with the Launchpad.

Melanie is a member of the January 2013 Dystropians. Visit her online at melaniefishbane.com.

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari.

Topics: young adult, Penguin, 2017 release, Penguin Random House of Canada, Melanie J. Fishbane, Penguin Teen

Laura Atkins and FRED KOREMATSU SPEAKS UP!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 @ 06:04 AM

Today we're talking to Laura Atkins about Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, the first book in the new Fighting for Justice series, written with Stan Yogi and illustrated by Yutaka Houlette, out now from Heyday Books!

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Fred Korematsu liked listening to music on the radio, playing tennis, and hanging around with his friends—just like lots of other Americans. But everything changed when the United States went to war with Japan in 1941 and the government forced all people of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes on the West Coast and move to distant prison camps. This included Fred, whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Japan many years before. But Fred refused to go. He knew that what the government was doing was unfair. And when he got put in jail for resisting, he knew he couldn’t give up.

Inspired by the award-winning book for adults Wherever There’s a Fight, the Fighting for Justice series introduces young readers to real-life heroes and heroines of social progress. The story of Fred Korematsu’s fight against discrimination explores the life of one courageous person who made the United States a fairer place for all Americans, and it encourages all of us to speak up for justice.

Welcome, Laura! How did this book come together?

The process of coming to being for this book was unconventional. I was invited to work with my co-author Stan Yogi after he’d already been drafting the book, and was brought in because of my children’s book background. I’ve worked in editorial for over 20 years (Children’s Book Press, Orchard Books, Lee & Low Books and freelance), and then with my spangly MFA from VCFA, brought a new writing string on my bow. Stan had co-written a book for adults called Wherever There’s a Fight - a history of the fight for civil liberties in California. He had amazing historical background, including having worked at the ACLU for 14 years. So he had enormous knowledge and a personal connection to Fred Korematsu’s story. Stan’s family was also incarcerated during WWII, and he became an activist himself.

Laura-Yutaka-Molly-Stan.jpgL-R: Illustrator Yutaka Houlette, Laura Atkins, editor Molly Woodward, and co-writer Stan Yogi

I ended up proposing the format, which includes a biography in free verse, and what we call “insets,” which extend the themes of the book. There were a couple of motivations here. We worked with various advisors, and one librarian said that while the book was going to be aimed at a fourth grade audience, it would be great if we could write it below a 4th grade reading level, because so many of her students read below level. That was part of the inspiration for the biography in free verse. We figured readers of many ages could engage with that, and made sure to keep the biography portion very immediate and emotionally engaging. We wanted kids to think: How would I feel in the same situation?

With the insets we used lots of images, knowing that kids love to engage visually. And in this space we could give explanations. For instance, we talk about historical discrimination against many immigrant groups including the Japanese, or we introduce the ACLU, or we describe Fred Korematsu’s legal battle up to the Supreme Court. We were also able to show photos of the incarceration camps, and unpick the use of images and words for propaganda, asking young readers to look and read critically.

Prospect_Sierra_middle_school.jpgWe also wanted the book, and the Fighting for Justice series as a whole, to engage young readers to think about how they might also stand or speak up. So we include questions for them in their own lives, and end the book with the “activist spread,” which includes suggestions for way kids can get involved in speaking up for what they believe in, and provide links and resources.

We worked closely with Karen Korematsu, Fred Korematsu’s daughter, so the book would reflect her father in a way that felt right to her. And we had an amazing editor, Molly Woodward, who was really the third leg in this table (fourth, if you include Yutaka, the illustrator).

It was amazing to work in such a collaborative way. I took the lead in writing the poetic biography, while Stan took the lead on the insets. And Molly was there advising on all of it, including helping to write definitions and finding images we could use. It was a “takes a village book,” which I love, because the process really mirrored the message and spirit of the book. We are stronger together, and need each other to build a more just world.

Stan and I have been speaking to young people since the book released on January 30th, or Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution (in California and a few other states). We’ve reached almost 3,000 kids, mainly from 4-8th grade. And we’ve been inspired to see how motivated young people already are to speak up, especially in these challenging times. In Davis, when visiting the Fred Korematsu Elementary School, three girls, Jana, Mona and Batool, told us proudly how they raised money to repair their mosque after it had been vandalized. They were clearly supported by their teacher and community, and felt inspired to share how they had already spoken up.

17022186_10155816341650830_3382624422802570045_n (3).jpgJana, Mona, and Batool at Fred Korematsu Elementary School

We post on our Facebook page when we visit schools or are speaking in other places, in case people want to follow: http://www.facebook.com/groups/1099825273412247/

What’s next in the series?

Stan decided to step back after finding that this book was so involved, and also learning that writing for children brings its own challenges. Heyday asked me if I would like to write the rest of the books in the series, but after seeking advice from my wonderful radical children’s book women group (Zetta Elliott, Maya Gonzalez and Janine Macbeth), I went back and proposed that I co-write each book with a different co-author whose lived experiences reflects the story being told. Luckily, the non-profit Berkeley-based publisher was open to this. So I’m writing the next book about Biddy Mason with poet Arisa White. We have a full draft of the poetic biography and are currently working on the insets, this time with Arisa taking the lead on the former while I take the lead on the latter.

Biddy Mason was an enslaved woman who won her freedom through the courts in Los Angeles, and then went on to earn money as a midwife and doctor’s assistant, buy property and become wealthy, and become a philanthropist and community activist. It’s an exciting story, and brings its own range of new challenges. I’ll look forward to giving more details here when it comes out in the fall of 2018.

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We can't wait! Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I had a great array of advisors, and they all had a hand in the creation of this book, but in different ways.

Betsy Partridge helped me find my way deep into non-fiction, and she helped me to brainstorm the writing of this particular book. When I talked through the story with her, she suggested that it should start with Fred Korematsu trying to get his haircut, and being turned away because he was Japanese American. She said that all kids will relate to getting a haircut. It was a great idea! And I’m lucky that she’s based in Berkeley so I get to see her, including at a bookstore event where she sat next to the son of one of Fred Korematsu’s lawyers. Also, Betsy’s godmother Dorothea Lange took very important pictures of the WWI Japanese American incarceration, so she has her own connection to the book.

Louise Hawes helped me to explore my creative voice, especially through meditation and journalling to find character. While I didn’t work on this particular story with her, I did creativity develop and extend non-fiction projects about an historical botanist who I’m still desperate to write and publish about. Louise gave me great tools for dream-storming and playing with my craft.

Mary Quattlebaum gave me enormous help with my critical work (thesis semester), but also editorially. I dove into poetry with Mary, and that experienced definitely informed the writing of the free verse biography. I wouldn’t have had the confidence (which I still barely have) to attempt poetry without her.

Jane Kurtz was my wonderful creative thesis advisor, and we did work directly together on the Fred Korematsu book. She always had the perfect words of encouragement, and also questions to push me to dig deeper. Jane will talk about the life, the universe and everything, and our friendship and work together expanded my world. She’s been an amazing advocate and friend.

I feel so lucky to have had all of these advisors. My work, and my life, wouldn’t have been the same without them. Being at VCFA helped me believe in myself as an author as well as an editor, and gave me the confidence to take this next step. It was life-changing and worth every moment and every penny (even if I will be paying back those pennies for many years to come). I am so grateful for my time there.

Thank you so much for chatting, Laura. Welcome to the world, Fred Korematsu Speaks Up! And here's looking forward to more great books in this series and more young activists!

Laura Atkins is a member of the Inkredibles (January 2017). Laura is an author, teacher, and children’s book editor who worked at Children’s Book Press, Orchard Books, and Lee & Low Books. With an MA in Children’s Literature and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, she co-wrote Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, and is the author of the light-hearted picture book, Sled Dog Dachshund. Passionate about diversity and equity in children’s books, Laura is based in Berkeley, California.

Visit Laura online at www.lauraatkins.com.

For more information about Fred Korematsu Speaks Up and the Fighting for Justice series, visit the series website, the publisher's Fred Korematsu Speaks Up page, and the series/book Facebook page. You can also check out the Facebook page for activist children's books and their creators.

Topics: middle grade, biography, 2017 release, Laura Atkins, Heyday Books, middle grade biography, Yutaka Houlette, Stan Yogi

Rebecca Van Slyke and LEXIE THE WORD WRANGLER!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 @ 08:04 AM

Yee haw! We're plumb thrilled about Lexie the Word Wrangler, a delightfully clever picture book by Rebecca Van Slyke, illustrated by Jessie Hartland, out now from Nancy Paulsen Books. And other folks are chiming in, too -- Lexie has picked up her third starred review!

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Lexie is the best wrangler west of the Mississippi—word wrangler, that is. On her ranch, she watches over baby letters while they grow into words; she herds words into sentences and hitches sentences together to tell a story. But lately, something’s not right on the ranch. First the d goes missing from her bandana, leaving her with a banana around her neck. Then an extra s is let loose in the desert, turning it into a giant sticky dessert! There’s no doubt about it—there’s a word rustler causing this ruckus, and Lexie’s aiming to track that troublemaker down.

Rebecca Van Slyke’s clever wordplay and Jessie Hartland’s lively illustrations capture the zaniness of life on a ranch full of wild letters and words.

Welcome, Rebecca! 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?

On Monday, June 17th, 2013, I got a call from my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, telling me that she had sold two books (Mom School and Dad School). As you can imagine, there was much celebration and maybe even a cork popped that evening in the Van Slyke house. On Thursday, Joan called back to discuss the particulars of the contract, and then she said, “Are you sitting down?”


“I could be,” I said.


“I’ve just gotten an offer on Lexie, the Word Wrangler.”

More cork popping ensued.


By Sunday, the news got even better. When she let another editor know about the offer on Lexie, that editor made an offer, too. When the dust settled, I had an offer for a two-book deal. So after years and YEARS of trying to sell a book, within a week Joan had sold FOUR books.

My mother said she wasn’t surprised. “Well, after you get the first pickle out of the jar, the rest come easy,” she said.

As for revising, yes, there were about seven rounds of revisions. (Good thing my advisors at VCFA left me well-prepared for that!)

champagne_glasses_7.jpgNew writer toast: May your pickles always come easy! What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful for you?

Well, it’s not really craft advice, but in the spirit of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.” After years of not having an agent, and then a few more years of being unhappily agented, I was ready to quit, and chalk up this whole idea of being published as an impossible dream. But some of my friends and classmates kept encouraging me not to quit. (I’m looking at YOU, Trent Reedy!)  I changed agents and hung in there, and within the next year things started happening. So be persistent, keep writing, keep learning, keep submitting, even when it seems like nothing is happening.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

First semester: Julie Larios. She had wonderful poetry exercises, and had us play with words. I had never considered poetry, but these exercises helped me pay attention to the sounds and imagery of the words in my sentences.

Second semester: Leda Schubert. She taught me to get to the heart of my characters. And also, to “Cut, cut, cut!” all those unnecessary parts from my manuscripts.


Third semester: Cynthia Leitich Smith. She walked me through the scary Critical Thesis and helped me see that it wasn’t so very scary after all.

Fourth Semester: David Gifaldi. He helped me choose the pieces that went into my Creative Thesis. A fellow elementary teacher, we kept each other laughing with stories about our students.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

I can’t say enough about how much I love my Cliffhangers! When we first got to campus, there were ominous whisperings about what would happen to VCFA. They had just gone through a major restructuring and there were rumors that it would close. After we were assured that we would be able to complete our degree, we were able to concentrate on the important things: listening to lectures, sharing our writing and reading, and having deep, after-hour discussions in the Wine Pit. (Fun fact: Debbie Gonzales and I came up with that name when we were sharing a glass one evening in the dank basement of Glover, and it stuck.) We still keep in touch with each other, and are each other’s biggest fans.

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

I was SO nervous about coming all the way across the country to start a master’s degree in writing for children in a place where I knew NO ONE. I felt like the biggest poseur; everyone would soon find out what a fraud I was, and I couldn’t possibly keep up with all the work. (I was teaching full-time, too.) What I found was a group of very welcoming people, both in my class and in the other classes, too. Even the faculty was approachable and friendly. In short, I found a community of other writers who feel passionately about writing the best literature for children and young adults, and who are rooting for me to succeed.

Yes! Thanks so much for stopping by, Rebecca. Keep wranglin', Lexie!

Rebecca Van Slyke is a member of the class of summer 2008, the Cliffhangers. She writes picture books, easy readers, nonfiction, and poetry. Rebecca is a second-grade teacher in Lynden, Washington, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and two very spoiled dachshunds.

Visit her online at www.rebeccavanslyke.com.

Topics: picture book, 2017 release, Rebecca Van Slyke, Nancy Paulsen Books, Jessie Hartland

Patrick Downes and TEN MILES ONE WAY

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 @ 09:04 AM

Today, we have miles of hoorays for Patrick Downes and Ten Miles One Way, out now from Philomel/Penguin!

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Nest and Q walk through the city. Nest speaks and Q listens. Mile by mile, Nest tells Q about her life, her family, her past . . . and her Chimaera, the beast that preys on her mind and causes her to lose herself. Q knows only that his love for Nest runs deeper than the demon that plagues her thoughts, that he loves her in spite of—or perhaps because of—the personal battle she fights every day.

Welcome, Patrick! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I’m not sure there was any one idea. I’m a walker, a city kid originally, and I’ve known more than one person who walks when their mind is all fire. The city in this book is imaginary, the characters, too, but the feelings are true.

What’s your writing superpower?

Wow. I wish I had a superpower. Is there a mutant with an uncanny ability to understand the marketplace?

Ha! Wouldn't that be nice? :) Tell us about your writing community.

Some people write and think entirely or mostly alone, without much camaraderie. Some writers don’t talk much about their work or what they fear, loathe, love, avoid, or take on. What’s wonderful about VCFA is the promise of community and mutual support, if and when a writer needs it. I’m one who doesn’t think to go to others with my work, my rough ideas and drafts, my untested ideas, or even for an encouraging chat. Maybe it’s shyness. Maybe it’s process. Maybe it’s extreme introversion. Maybe it’s something even more mundane. One thing is certain, though, which is that even the most solitary writer may just need, one day, someone to talk to, to sit down with, if only to say, “This is hard, right?”

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

A pair of sensible walking shoes, with good arch support, plenty of room for the toes, and a sturdy sole, or a model of the Millennium Falcon in a bottle.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors for my mere two semesters in the WCYA program—I split my degree with the Other Program—were Alan Cumyn and Julie Larios. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

What advice would you give to an incoming student?

Try to write everything, long and short fiction, poetry, picture books, YA, MG, early readers, everything. And leave all your notions of what you imagine you are as a writer at the door. Let yourself grow without worrying over what exactly you’re supposed to grow into.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Somehow, I became a writer for younger readers. I had a quiet hope inside me to find a way someday to write picture books and YA novels—I find the middle grade work elusive—but I never imagined I would publish there first. Go figure. VCFA-WCYA gave me a career I never imagined.

Thanks so much for chatting, Patrick. Welcome home, Ten Miles One Way!

Patrick was born and raised in NYC, but splits his now time between the U.S. and Canada. Ten Miles One Way is his second YA novel. He’s also the author of the picture book, Come Home, Angus (Scholastic).

To learn more about VCFA's other programs, visit vcfa.edu.

Topics: young adult, Philomel/Penguin, Philomel, Penguin, Patrick Downes, 2017 release

Terry Pierce and MAMA LOVES YOU SO!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 @ 14:04 PM

It's never too early to start loving books! Today we're celebrating Terry Pierce's new board book, Mama Loves You So, illustrated by Simone Shin. Perfect for the youngest book lovers and the grown-ups who love them, Mama Loves You So is out now from Little Simon. Terry was kind enough to stop by for a chat!

MamaLovesYouSo.jpgWith lilting lullaby text and lovely illustrations, the New Books for Newborns stories are the perfect first books for new parents to share with their little ones right from the start!



This book celebrates a mother’s love trumping even majestic mother nature…a mama’s love is higher than a mountain and deeper than any stream.

Welcome, Terry! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

My son Greg, and a song, were the inspiration. I got the idea when he was a baby (he's now 32!). That was when I was a Montessori teacher, long before I'd even considered writing children's books. But after hearing the song "Longer," by singer Dan Fogelberg, I thought that someone should write a children's book using nature as a metaphor to show a mother’s love for her baby.

That idea hung in the recesses of my mind all those years. Then two years ago, while hiking in the Sierras, the idea struck me again, as if my infant son was there with me, bobbing along in his Gerrypack. I sat down and wrote the first draft right then and there (I always carry a small notepad and pencil with me when I hike). I tinkered with it for about a month, showed it to my writing group (who suggested two word changes) and then sent it to my agent. She submitted it as a picture book and but Little Simon made an offer to publish it as a board book.

When I first held the book in my hands, it struck an emotional chord like no other book I'd written. It speaks to the power of love. I just adore it and hope outdoorsy moms everywhere will love reading it to their little ones.

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’m represented by Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I had sent the manuscript to her in April 2015. She sent it out in July but started hearing “nibbles of interest” in the early fall. The day before Thanksgiving, my husband and I were on vacation, having a cozy afternoon reading near the fire with snow lightly falling, when my phone rang. My agent’s ringtone is Pharrell William’s “Happy” so I knew immediately it was her but couldn’t believe she’d be calling me over the Thanksgiving break (doesn’t everyone take that week off now?). I was ecstatic when I heard the offer! I’ve always wanted to publish a board book so I was absolutely thrilled!

She told me that my editor said it was the perfect book Little Simon was seeking for a brand new line of books they were launching in spring 2017, New Books for Newborns. I guess she really did think it was perfect because they didn’t want any revisions. They loved it just the way it was—I suppose, the way a mother would love her baby.

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

The fabulous Erin Murphy once said that every picture book must have a “moment of emotional truth.” This is something I’ve taken to heart with my writing. Anytime I’m revising a manuscript, I always do a check to make to make sure I have some kind of emotional truth, some universal emotion with which all readers can connect.

With Mama, I think it’s the final line, “Mama’s love is like the air, everywhere you go, it wraps around and hugs you close, ‘cause Mama loves you so.” Isn’t that what all mothers feel and want their children to feel? That no matter where their babies are in life (even their grown babies!), they want them to know they’re loved.

What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

Being the author, as is common practice, I didn’t get to see much of the art as it was being created. I knew the team at Little Simon was looking for an illustrator with special talents, particularly being able to illustrate broad landscapes but in a child-friendly style. They made the perfect choice in Simone Shin.

When my agent sent me the cover image, we were both giddy. It is GORGEOUS and brought tears to my eyes. The color palette is breathtaking. And it was so fun showing it to other people because so many women would say, “Oh my gosh! She looks like ME!” referring to the mom on the cover in her leggings, hiking boots and baby in the carrier.

Later, when I saw some of the interiors, I was once again amazed at the brilliance of the art. Again, the color palette throughout the book is stunning. And I loved how Simone drew animal moms and their babies throughout (even a mama and baby cricket!). I just about flipped when I saw the page with bears, because I have an affinity for black bears. I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to have had Simone and the Little Simon team collaborate on this stunning book.

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Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Kathi Appelt was my advisor for the Picture Book Certification semester (my first semester in the program), followed by Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Larios, and Leda Schubert. I called them my “picture book dream team” because they each taught me something unique about writing for the very young.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

Ahh, The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches! I’m looking at our class photo on the wall above my computer, as I write. What was special about us? When I think back to the residencies and our class gatherings, I can’t help but think about how goofy and fun we were (I mean, c’mon—just look at our class name!). We had some people with great senses of humor who still make me laugh.

Also, many of the Cheese Sandwiches are already successful authors with published books. Caroline Carlson, Melanie Crowder, Meg Wiviott, just to name a few. And I know others have book deals in hand so it’s just a matter of time before I’ll get to read their books, as well. They really are an amazing group of writers!

Yes! Hoorays all around to all the wonderfully talented Cheese Sandwiches!

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

If at all possible, take a sabbatical from your job so you can completely immerse yourself in the program (I know, that’s hard to do but if you can, do it!). Allow yourself the time to delve into the craft of writing. Embrace everything the program offers. Don’t worry about submissions, getting an agent, what to do after you graduate, just focus on the craft. Savor the experience. Be Zen-like. You’ll never have the same kind of experience with any other writing venture, so take advantage of all it offers.

And be open to the kind of learning experience the program provides, what I always called “learning through osmosis.” I know some folks who came to the program thinking it would be more of a traditional educational experience, but the VCFA program is all about exploration, experimentation and self-discovery (PLAY!), through the guidance of master writers we call “advisors.”

Great advice. Thank you so much for stopping by, Terry. Welcome to the world, Mama Loves You So!

After graduating from VCFA, Terry went on to teaching Youth Market courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency and has four children’s books coming out in 2017 and 2018.

Terry is a member of The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches (July 2011). Visit her online at www.terrypiercebooks.com.

 

 

Topics: picture book, board book, 2017 release, Terry Pierce, Simone Shin, Little Simon

Lisa Doan and THE ALARMING CAREER OF SIR RICHARD BLACKSTONE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 @ 12:02 PM

Are you ready for another alarmingly great middle grade novel from Lisa Doan? I have good news -- The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone is out now from Sky Pony Press! Even more good news -- Lisa has briefly switched hats here at The Launchpad, from interviewer to interviewee. Welcome, Lisa!

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Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.

But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidently transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversized arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

Hi, Lisa! Why was the setting of Victorian England perfect for this story?

I’m a huge Dickens fan and go back to those books whenever I would like to be living in a different time. Now is a good example of that. Nobody ever worried about what Queen Vic would tweet out, though I suppose it would be amusing to imagine it. “Palace - WINNING! East India Company HUUUUGE LOSERS! SO SAD.”

But I digress. I had in my mind a story that would tip a hat to Oliver Twist and have a fairy-tailish rags to riches element. Then, of course, it’s ever so much easier to have a giant tarantula roaming the neighborhood when nobody has a cell phone camera. That said, I actually feel that this story may take place slightly earlier, in the Georgian era, though I only reference a queen and not a king and I never say her name.

What are the differences in how you approach a standalone novel as opposed to a series?

I suppose that would be creating the large problem that will hang over all of the books in the series and not get resolved until the end of the last book.  That’s very difficult if you don’t know it’s going to be a series or you do know but don’t know how many books. The first book in the Berenson Schemes was written as a standalone so when it was bought as a series I rewrote it to wrap up the local plot but leave the overarching plot/internal conflict hanging. Then I created an arc of the internal conflict over the three books instead of just the one. It allowed me to approach it as both a series and a trilogy of sorts. I was lucky in that I knew upfront that it would be three books.  Had I not known, I would have had to reinstate the internal conflict in some way when I got to book two.

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Any craft advice for writers who want to write funny?

I’m so glad you asked! I could go on and on with tips and tricks, but will stick to the idea that everybody can write humor. So many writers say things like, “I’m just not funny.” Well, maybe not yet, but the only people who have no ability to be funny are people who never laugh. (And also, Sigmund Freud. Maybe he was a total jokester in his personal life, but his humor theory is dreadful.) I have my own theory about why writers end up believing they aren’t funny. It’s because they don’t understand how a humor piece develops. When a writer not accustomed to writing humor tries to write something funny, it ends up being a milquetoast haha moment. Then the writer concludes they don’t have the skill. The very same milquetoast haha moments happen to writers who specialize in humor. The difference is, they know it.

So why does that first effort end up being a milquetoast haha moment? Because that’s how our brains operate. Our brains are efficient and work hard to associate a new thing with a known thing. The writer ends up writing a pattern the brain remembers that is closest to what the writer was going for. That’s why, as a reader, we’ve all had the experience of reading something and maybe smiling a little and recognizing, “Oh, that’s humor,” but we don’t laugh out loud. That’s the first pass that never got changed or refined. Even though the scene might use different words or a different structure than you’ve seen before, it’s the same joke you’ve read a hundred times.

If you are attempting humor, go ahead and write that milquetoast haha moment. Just recognize that it is only a place holder, a sticky note on the skeleton of your manuscript. You will go back and refine and change and rearrange. Once you have the sticky note on the skeleton, you can tinker and that’s where funny lives, in the tinkering. Writers of drama do this very same thing, it’s called a crappy first draft, but I do think this process gets overlooked in humor because humor feels light, and light feels easy. Light is not the same as lightweight!

One other thing I’ll say about writing humor – it takes nerve and daring. When you tell your reader a joke, they know it. Even when they don’t laugh, they know you told it. In drama, you might get a little bit more leeway. Perhaps you meant for your reader to sob but they only feel saddish. They may not understand that your intent was sobbing. No such way to skate by in humor. On top of that, humor doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It is a science and an art and, most importantly, it’s vital and necessary. I would argue that it is especially necessary during this particular time in our history.  Don’t we have enough to cry about?

Hear, hear. I hope you've given lots more people out there the courage to write funny. We can do it, friends! Lisa, your writing and your presence is always a treat. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Lisa Doan is a proud member of two VCFA classes – the Dedications and the Cliffhangers. She is also the author of The Berenson Schemes series, the first book of which she wrote at Vermont. Should you happen to attend the Alumni mini-res this year or any other year – say hello! She, like the bad penny that she is, turns up every year.

Visit Lisa online at lisadoan.org, find her on Facebook (lisadoanauthor), and follow her on Twitter (@LisaADoan).

Topics: Lisa Doan, middle grade, Sky Pony Press, 2017 release

STEP RIGHT UP with Donna Janell Bowman!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Feb 02, 2017 @ 10:02 AM

Today on the Launchpad, we're celebrating kindness! A big welcome to Donna Janell Bowman (aka Donna Bowman Bratton), whose new picture book biography, with illustrator Daniel Minter, is winning the hearts of readers everywhere. Let's talk about Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, out now from Lee and Low.

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A horse that can read, write, spell, and do math? Ridiculous! That’s what people thought in the late 1800s—until they met Beautiful Jim Key.

Born a weak and wobbly colt in 1889, Jim was cared for by William “Doc” Key, a formerly enslaved man and self-taught veterinarian who believed in treating animals with kindness, patience, and his own homemade remedies. Under Doc’s watchful eyes, Jim grew to be a healthy young stallion with a surprising talent—a knack for learning! For seven years, Doc and Jim worked together perfecting Jim’s skills. Then it was time for them to go on the road, traveling throughout the United States and impressing audiences with Jim’s amazing performances. In the process, they broke racial barriers and raised awareness for the humane treatment of animals.

Here is the fascinating true story of a remarkable man and his extraordinary horse. Together they asked the world to step right up and embrace their message of kindness toward animals.

Doc and Jim Key. Do not reproduce without permission."Doc" Key and Beautiful Jim Key. (Image may not be reproduced without permission.)

What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
This is an easy question to answer. It was incredibly difficult to leave so much fascinating detail on the cutting room floor. The story of William “Doc” Key and Beautiful Jim Key is humongous, powerful, and full of drama. Whittling it down to the teeny tiny space of a picture book was such a challenge!

What was the spark that ignited this book?
The simple answer would be that the idea of an “educated” horse, trained only with kindness, fascinated me. The deeper answer is that Doc and Jim’s story resonated with me in a very personal way. I grew up on a Quarter Horse ranch, where I developed a deep and abiding love of animals, especially horses. All my free time was spent training for horse shows. I know what it’s like to spend so much time with a horse that you predict each other’s movements and practically read each other’s minds. But, I had never considered trying to teach a horse to write, spell, calculate, identify words, operate a cash register, file letters, etc., as Doc had with Jim. When I first heard of Doc and Jim, I was smitten but skeptical.

When I learned that Doc’s training principles were built on positive reinforcement and kindness—during a time of rampant brutality toward animals—I was hooked. I was even more invested when I learned about Doc’s extraordinary life journey, from enslavement to successful businessman, facing racial prejudice and other obstacles along the way. This was a story ripe for young readers. Ironically, while I am still awed by the horse’s feats, what’s even more significant to me now is how Doc and Beautiful Jim Key advanced the cause of the emerging humane movement, inspiring millions of people to be kinder to animals and to each other. In fact, an estimated two million people signed the Jim Key Pledge of Kindness! I knew I would revive that pledge. The new Step Right Up Pledge of Kindness has been reworded to be inclusive of animals and people, and is downloadable from my website.

What a beautiful pledge! I'm on board.
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?
For anyone looking for a romantic story of being “discovered,” this might be a disappointment. I learned about Doc and Beautiful Jim Key in 2006, but the idea of writing a children’s book about the topic didn’t sink in until 2007, which led me to deep research that never really ended. That research included a trip to Tennessee, white-gloved perusal of documents at the Tennessee State Archives, hundreds of archived newspapers (digital and microfilm), promotional pamphlets from 1897-1906, research about the Civil War and Reconstruction, and about the heartbreaking history of the humane movement. In 2009, I submitted the first five chapters of my then-intended middle grade or young adult nonfiction book to the agent I would eventually sign with. But, she suggested I rewrite the book as a picture book biography. I was aghast! But I was also eager. I spent the next year and a half dissecting hundreds of picture book biographies to figure out how they worked. After a whole heap of very bad drafts, I finally had a version that attracted the attention of three editors in 2011—three editors with radically different visions for the book. When the first call came in, I was sitting in a sling chair at a lake, laughing at my pre-teen son and his two friends who were struggling to pull each other out of a mud bog. So, you see, I will never forget that call!

I knew Lee and Low was the right publisher for this story because of their commitment to exceptional multicultural books. I revised for my editor for two years before they offered the contract. Then, I revised many more times after that, scaling the story back in some places, while expanding it in others. The published book is significantly longer than my original manuscript.

Spelling contest lo res.jpgBeautiful Jim Key competed in spelling bees! Illustration by Daniel Minter.

What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Honestly, the best advice I’ve ever received, especially in terms of this book, was Cynthia Leitich Smith telling me, back in 2009, that I shouldn’t be afraid to start over. As in, open a new blank document where you can re-envision the tale. It took me a long while to realize that she was absolutely right. And, let me tell you, I’ve started over many times with most of my manuscripts that followed Step Right Up. Though it’s still a struggle at times, I’m getting better at finding each book’s unique voice, while not falling in love with the arrangement of my own words.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I was honored to work with Sharon Darrow, Jane Kurtz, David Gill, and Shelley Tanaka over the last two years. I’ve enjoyed how different they are in terms of strengths, advising styles, and personalities. I always heard that, as a student, you get the advisor that you’re meant to have. Boy, do I believe that now! I adore each of them, and I’ve certainly learned a lot from them.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Oh, gosh, how shall we count the ways!  I don’t graduate until January 2017, and I just sent my creative thesis this week. Later, when I have distance from my school experience (and have a chance to rest up), I’ll probably have a better answer to this question. Though I came into the program with seven books already sold, the program has deepened and expanded my vocabulary, analytical skills, and writing skills. But, being a student while juggling a writing career has been a challenging juggle. This has required me to compartmentalize my energies and time commitments—not an easy task when you throw family and personal commitments into the mix. The glorious VCFA community makes it all worth it— through conversation, commiseration, lectures, advisor feedback, and generous sharing, I have grown as a writer. And I have a gaggle of amazing new friendships that will last far beyond graduation.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class? (Shout out to our newest alums, the Harried Plotters!)
I get a little choked-up when I think about my class, The Harried Plotters. I am in awe of each and every one of my classmates/friends. Besides being incredible talents, they are funny, caring, sensitive, compassionate, amazing human beings. When one person is having a bad day, phone calls and texts fire up. When anybody has good news, we all celebrate. When packet work is hard (always), postcards and letters arrive in mailboxes. Heck, six of my classmates travelled to Austin for my book launch last month! That sums it up, doesn’t it? And those who couldn’t travel were here in spirit. As a whole, we have become family, and I am so grateful for them.

Thanks so much for stopping by. We're so happy this amazing story and your wonderful telling of it is out in the world!

You can visit Donna at her website, www.donnajanellbowman.com, and Daniel Minter at danielminter.net.

Topics: picture book, picture book biography, 2016 release, Donna Janell Bowman, Daniel Minter, Lee and Low Books

Paperback Party!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 12, 2016 @ 09:10 AM

It's a paperback party! Here's a peek at some recent and upcoming paperback releases from VCFA authors! Click the covers for more info.

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Owl Girl by Mary Atkinson

 

23866208.jpgThe Buccaneers' Code by Caroline Carlson

 

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A Nearer Moon and Audacity by Melanie Crowder

 

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The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

 

076369097X.jpgSmashie McPerter and the Mystery of Room 11 by N. Griffin, illustrated by Kate Hindley

 

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Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

 

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Rosa, Sola by Carmela A. Martino

 

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

 

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The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow

 

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How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

 

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All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg

 

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Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

Topics: eric pinder, N. Griffin, 2015 release, Cori McCarthy, paperback release, Micol Ostow, Michelle Knudsen, Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, Meg Wiviott, Ingrid Sundberg, 2016 release, Janet Fox, Carmela A. Martino, William Alexander, Mary Atkinson

Carmela A. Martino and ROSA, SOLA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 05, 2016 @ 13:10 PM

Today we're celebrating the paperback release of Carmela A. Martino's middle grade novel, Rosa, Sola!

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“Rosa didn't know which she hated more—being lonely or being different. One thing she did know—she wanted a baby brother . . . one just like Antonio.”



Rosa Bernardi, an only child living with her Italian immigrant parents in 1960s Chicago, often feels alone, or sola, as her parents would say. But after she holds her best friend AnnaMaria’s baby brother for the first time, Rosa is sure that if she prays hard enough, God will send her a brother of her own. When Rosa’s prayers for a sibling are answered, she is overjoyed—until tragedy strikes. Rosa is left feeling more sola than ever, and wondering if her broken family will ever be whole again.

Welcome, Carmela! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

Interestingly, I never planned to write Rosa, Sola. And I never would have if I hadn't gone to Vermont College (which is what VCFA was called back then). The novel grew out of an assignment suggested by my first-semester advisor, Marion Dane Bauer, when I was having difficulty getting my characters’ feelings to come across on the page. Marion asked me to write a short story about an event from my childhood that still aroused emotion in me. It could be any emotion, so long as it was something I could still feel in my gut. I chose to write about fear—the fear I’d experienced at age ten, when my mother nearly died in childbirth.

After several drafts, the story evolved into “Rosa’s Prayer,” a short story about losing and regaining faith. It focused on only a few weeks in the life of Rosa Bernardi, an Italian-American girl growing up as an only child in 1960s Chicago. (There are many similarities between Rosa's life and my own childhood, but I’m not an only child.) Marian was pleased with the piece and encouraged me to submit it for critique at the next residency workshop. Meanwhile, I decided that instead of returning to the middle-grade novel I’d been struggling with, I’d write a collection of short stories for my creative thesis.

At the residency, my workshop group provided terrific feedback for improving “Rosa’s Prayer.” They also encouraged me to expand the story into a novel—they wanted to know what happened to the fictional family I had created. Did they ever recover from their loss? How were their relationships affected by it? Would Rosa always be an only child—sola? Their enthusiasm and curiosity for Rosa’s story inspired my own. I spent the next year or so of the program expanding the short story into a novel that was eventually called Rosa, Sola.

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

I had a completed draft of Rosa, Sola by the end of my third semester. At that point, my advisor was willing to sign-off on it as my thesis, but she recommended I wait and have my fourth-semester advisor critique it first. That advisor, Amy Ehrlich, provided wonderfully insightful feedback, especially regarding some weaknesses in the plot. However, one of her suggestions was rather daunting: she wanted me to rewrite the entire 125-page manuscript from third-person limited point of view to first-person. I resisted the idea, in part because I liked it in third person, and in part because of all the work such a change would require. In the end, though, I gave in and did the rewrite. At the same time, I revised the plot issues. When I was done, Amy loved the first-person voice of the new draft. She signed off on that version as my official thesis.

There was only one problem—I still preferred the voice in the earlier, third-person draft. The first-person narration didn't ring true to me; it felt too mature and thoughtful to come from an average ten-year-old struggling with complex emotions. After graduation, I decided to go back to third-person limited viewpoint before trying to sell the manuscript. Of course, since I'd changed the story's plot in between, I couldn't just go back to the earlier draft (which I had saved on my computer). I had to do another FULL rewrite. Knowing how much work that would take, I procrastinated for a long time. However, I eventually bit the bullet and did the rewrite. To my surprise, the revised third-person draft was MUCH better than my earlier third-person version, and it wasn't just because of the plot changes. The process of rewriting the story in first person had given me a better understanding of my main character, and that new understanding now made the third-person version much richer.

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 didn’t have an agent, but this was back around 2001-2002, when you didn’t need an agent. I submitted the manuscript to several editors, including one at Candlewick Press that Amy, my fourth-semester advisor, had recommended. After receiving a couple of rejections, I sent follow-up emails to the Candlewick editor and a Dutton editor who had requested the manuscript after critiquing the opening for an SCBWI conference. The Candlewick editor replied fairly quickly, saying she loved the manuscript and had “cried buckets” while reading it. Her email made ME cry! But when she called to make the offer, she mentioned wanting some revisions. My first thought was “Oh, no, she’s going to ask me to change it back to first person!” I didn’t say that, though. Instead, I carefully asked, “What kind of revisions?” She replied that it was “nothing major.” She basically wanted me to deepen the characters. Still, I was on pins and needles until her editorial letter arrived. To my great relief, there wasn’t one word about point of view!

My editor asked insightful questions that did indeed help me deepen my characters, especially Rosa’s parents and their neighbor, Mrs. Graziano. I worked diligently over several months to address all the issues my editor raised. I finally sent off the revised manuscript and waited. When the editor called one day, I assumed it was to discuss my revisions. Instead, it was to let me know that she was leaving Candlewick and was turning over my manuscript to another editor. I was devastated. I’d heard horror stories from some of my Vermont classmates about how their manuscripts were orphaned after the departure of their acquiring editors—the next editor never seemed to have the same enthusiasm. But I was one of the lucky ones. My new editor loved Rosa, Sola, too. She sent me a long, thoughtful editorial letter in response to the revision I’d submitted, along with numerous yellow sticky notes on the manuscript pages themselves. But now I faced a new problem: some of her comments contradicted those of my first editor. For example, she recommended I cut Mrs. Graziano from the novel altogether. Fortunately, the Vermont MFA program had given me experience in handling conflicting feedback. I kept Mrs. Graziano in, but I did edit her role in the novel. In the end, working with not one but two talented, dedicated, editors helped make the story much stronger.

By the way, the Dutton editor eventually contacted me to say that she, too, was interested in acquiring the manuscript. But by then I was already working with Candlewick.

Rosa, Sola was originally published traditionally, but you’ve self-published the new edition. Can you tell us why and what the process was like for you?

Although Rosa, Sola met with critical acclaim, including a starred review in Booklist, Candlewick never published a paperback edition. Part of that was probably my own fault—instead of writing another middle-grade novel, I focused on picture books for awhile. While those manuscripts got some encouraging rejections, they never found a publisher. I think if I’d written a follow-up novel for Candlewick instead, they probably would have done a paperback edition of Rosa, Sola.

When Rosa, Sola went out of print, I got the rights back and began looking for a company that would bring the book back into print for me. However, none of those I found seemed a good match. I eventually decided to self-publish. I asked a successfully self-published friend for advice and she recommended I read Susan Kaye Quinn’s Indie Author Survival Guide. Quinn’s book and website contain lots of great information and resources for indie authors, including links to recommended cover artists, formatters, editors, etc.

cabbage_white_butterfly.jpgOne of the first steps in re-publishing Rosa, Sola was to design a new cover. I didn’t have the rights to the original cover, and while that cover was beautiful, I always feared it was a bit off-putting for middle-grade readers. Since I’m not an artist myself, I started out by creating a Pinterest board of middle-grade covers I liked, with as many historical titles as I could find. I discovered I was especially drawn to covers that used silhouettes to portray their main characters. Then I made a list of themes and images from my novel that could work in a cover. One of those images was the cabbage butterfly that Rosa watches flutter up out of her Uncle Sal’s garden the day she learns her prayers have been answered. I then searched photo websites for visuals of girls with butterflies and found several where the girl was in silhouette. I sent my favorite of these images to my cover designer, Steven Novak, along with a description of the plot, character, setting, etc. Steven came up with a draft fairly quickly. We went back and forth a few times, with him revising based on my feedback, until he created the version that became the new cover. I loved it, but still wondered how young readers would respond. Fortunately, the week I received the proofs of the paperback edition I was teaching a writing camp for girls ages 11-14. I brought the proofs to camp and the ALL girls preferred the new cover to the original! In fact, one of the girls kept repeating “I LOVE that cover.” :)

The cover isn’t the only new thing about this edition. An author I know who self-published an ebook edition of her own out-of-print traditionally published novel gave me some great advice: she recommended I include new material so I could call the new Rosa, Sola a “revised” edition. I followed her advice and added a “Discussion Questions” section that I hope will be helpful to teachers.

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

Probably the weirdest thing I Googled for Rosa, Sola was “wringer washer.” I have a scene in the novel where Rosa helps her mother do laundry. There was an old wringer washer in the basement of my childhood home that my mother used for years, but I couldn’t remember exactly how it worked. I wanted to make sure I got the details right.

 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors were Marion Dane Bauer, Jane Resh Thomas, Carolyn Coman, and Amy Ehrlich. I couldn’t have asked for better teachers and mentors. I still use some of their lessons in my own classes—always making sure to credit them, of course. I left the program amazed at how much my writing improved over the two years of the program.  

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

We were called the Hive, because we were always “buzzing” about something. One of the first things that impressed me about my classmates was how well-published they were—I was one of only a few in my class of 14-15 who didn’t already have a published children’s book. (My credits were a few short stories and poems in children’s magazines, and nonfiction articles in magazines and newspapers for adults.) We seemed to “click” right from the start and we’re still a tight-knit group. After graduation, we formed a Yahoogroup to make it easy to stay in touch. Sixteen years later, that group still has 12 active members. We share industry buzz, celebrate sales, commiserate over rejections, offer manuscript feedback, and support one another through personal and professional challenges. When I decided to start the group blog TeachingAuthors.com back in 2009, I invited my fellow Bees to join me. Two of my classmates are still blogging with me, and one of our newest TeachingAuthors is another Vermont College graduate we met while in the program.

VC_Grads_2000_cropped.jpgWhat a talented bunch of Bees! (Check out the fuzzy friend perched on one Bee's shoulder!)

Thank you so much for stopping by, Carmela. And welcome back, Rosa Sola! (We love the new cover!)

Carmela Martino is a writing teacher, freelance writer, and author of short stories, poems and novels for children/teens. She is co-founder of TeachingAuthors.com, a blog by six children’s authors who are also writing teachers. Four members of the TeachingAuthors are graduates of the Vermont College MFA program.

Visit Carmela online at www.carmelamartino.com and at www.teachingauthors.com, and find her on Facebook!

 

Topics: Candlewick Press, middle grade, 2016 release, Carmela A. Martino, indie

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