the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Adi Rule

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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.

Nomad-cover.jpgNomad by William Alexander

 

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

Dean Gloster and DESSERT FIRST!

Posted by Adi Rule on Sun, Sep 18, 2016 @ 08:09 AM

Today, we're celebrating the release of Dessert First, Dean Gloster's new young adult novel (Merit Press). Sweet!

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Upbeat--that's Kat, the girl in the family who everyone turns to when things get difficult. Especially now, when her beloved younger brother Beep is in his second leukemia relapse, and a bone marrow transplant from Kat may be his only chance.
But Kat's worried that she and her bone marrow may not be up to the job: She can't even complete homework, and she's facing other rejection--lost friendships, a lost spot on the soccer team, and lots of heartache from her crush on her former best friend, Evan. Kat doesn't know if her bone marrow will save Beep, or whether she can save herself, let alone keep her promise to Beep that she'll enjoy life and always eat dessert first.

Dessert First is a funny, moving story about coping, appreciating sweetness, and learning to forgive.

Welcome, Dean! So, tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write? The main character, smart, funny 16-year-old Kat Monroe was the most fun character I've ever written, because she's funny and hurt and perceptive, but only a semi-reliable narrator--there is a lot she doesn't really get at the start of the novel. Her voice came really easily, because she reminds me of how I was at 16. She's a parentified child who's taking care of other people, but underneath she's got some anger, which comes out in her humor and her world view. 

What spark ignited the book for you? The two sparks that ignited this book were my wife, who for years worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse at UCSF hospital, where part of the book takes place, and who now works at a children's hospice and respite care facility, the George Mark Children's House in San Leandro, and my daughter, who found the then-only scene of the novel on the family computer when she was a teenager and said it was really good and that I should finish whatever it was part of. 

What was it like when you found out you'd sold the book and it was being published? Amazingly wonderful, but it's kind of a funny story. The email that Merit Press wanted to publish Dessert First came while I was at residency. (Yes, really good things do happen at VCFA.) Unfortunately, with all the intensity of residency, my constantly emailing documents to myself to print out in the library, and my mostly using my VCFA email address, I actually missed the message from the editor saying they were buying my book, and only saw it a week later when I got back home and my agent also emailed me. My editor was great about it, because she understood what an MFA residency is like.

What a testament to the intensity of residency! I'm glad you finally got your email.

sniff.jpgWhat's your idea of the coolest swag to go with the book? I have the coolest swag to hand out at book readings already. Late in the story, one of my characters gives the protagonist a tissue, one of "those cute ones called Sniffs that have a cartoon cat on them." After Kirkus Reviews said about my book, "This deeply moving tragedy vastly outpaces typical tissue use," the wonderful people who run the company that makes Sniffs--PaperProducts Design--sent me several cases of them with cat art. I like to joke that Dessert First has such tear-jerking scenes, that it's the only novel in the world with an official tissue sponsor.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life? I've learned so much, including the habit of being a critical reader of fiction for craft, so I can keep learning. I feel like I have such a better understanding of different ways to write a scene and why. Even more important, I finally found my tribe--other writers passionate about writing for young people. My unbelievably talented classmates are some of my favorite people in the world.

What advice would you give a prospective VCFA student? Do everything you can to get as good as you can and learn as much as you can before you show up, so you can get that much more out of the program. More important than that, if you're passionate about writing for young people, do everything you can to come to the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I don't know how many places in the world are actually magical, but this is one of them.

Hear, hear! Thanks so much for stopping by, Dean, and welcome to the world, Dessert First!

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Dean Gloster is a former stand-up comic, former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, and former attorney who gave up writing briefs to write fiction. His hobby is downhill ski racing.

Dean is a member of The Dead Post-It Society class of July 2017.

Visit him online at his website, www.deangloster.com, and stop by Kat's blog. Follow him on Twitter @deangloster.

Topics: young adult, 2016 release, Dean Gloster, Merit Press

Carrie Jones and FLYING!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Sep 05, 2016 @ 11:09 AM
We're flying high with excitement about Carrie Jones's new young adult novel Flying, out now from Tor! And for an extra surprise, we have two special guests on the blog today -- Carrie and her interviewer, SPARTACUS! *wags tail*
 
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New York Times bestselling author Carrie Jones introduces sassy alien-hunting cheerleader Mana in Flying, the launch of a sparkling new YA Science Fiction series.
 
People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She's used to being coddled, being an only child, but it's hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother's babying gets more stifling than ever, she's looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while.
 
But that night, Mana's life goes haywire.
 
First, the hot guy she's been crushing on at school randomly flips out and starts spitting acid during the game. Then they get into a knockdown, drag-out fight in the locker room, during which Mana finds herself leaping around like a kangaroo on steroids. As a flyer on the cheerleading squad, she's always been a good jumper, but this is a bit much. By the time she gets home and finds her house trashed and an alien in the garage, Mana starts to wonder if her mother had her reasons for being overprotective.
 
It turns out, Mana's frumpy, timid mom is actually an alien hunter, and now she's missing--taking a piece of technology with her that everyone wants their hands on, both human and alien. Now her supposed partner, a guy that Mana has never met or heard of (and who seems way too young and way too arrogant to be hunting aliens), has shown up, ordering Mana to come with him. Now, on her own for the first time, Mana will have to find a way to save her mother--and maybe the world--and hope she's up to the challenge.

Because dogs are an integral part of her writing process, Carrie’s dog, Spartacus, has decided that he should be in charge of this interview. Since Carrie is super conflict averse, she agreed. She apologizes in advance for the quality of her answers. 

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Sparty the Dog: Dear Carrie, we in your canine family have noticed that you write about… Well, you write about weird things when you write for young adults.

Carrie the Human: I have no idea what you mean, Sparty.

Sparty the Dog: Let me flip through my notes. Yes. Here we go. Human-sized pixies, possession, alien hunting cheerleaders, another upcoming book about Big Foot  

Carrie the Human: That one isn’t actually about Big Foot… It’s something scarier.

Sparty:

Carrie:

Sparty: I worry that you are my human.

Carrie: I give you bacon though. 

Sparty: It’s the only reason I stay around. Anyway, I have questions for you, human! This is an interview. Are you ready?

Carrie: Yes.

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

Carrie: Don’t be afraid to be weird. 

Sparty:

Carrie:

Sparty: Really? That’s it?

Carrie: Everyone can be normal, or pretend to be. But when you embrace your weird? That’s when improvisation happens, that’s when creativity and production and craft meet to make something magical.

Sparty: Did Tim Wynne-Jones tell you that?

Carrie: Actually, I think it was Rita Williams-Garcia. 

Sparty: Well, at least I got the three-name thing down. Moving on… What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

Carrie: What to do when you’re being interviewed by a dog.

Sparty: Did it say, “Bribe him with bacon?”

Carrie: It did! How did you know that?

Sparty: I wrote that Buzzfeed article. So, tell us something special you keep on your desk as you work.

Carrie: Bacon. You know that. You’re always trying to knock it off the desk.

Sparty: No comment. What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? Whew. That’s a giant word. Prospective. You VCFA people like those multisyllabic words, don’t you?

Carrie: You just said one.

Sparty: Said what?

Carrie: Multisyllabic.

Sparty:

Carrie: You’re a talking dog who writes blog posts and BuzzFeed articles. I know you’re smart, buddy. You can’t hide it.

Sparty: Just answer the question. So this can be done and I can go on a walk.

Carrie: I would tell them to be unafraid, to try everything you can try (genre, style, point of view), to write like the house was on fire and you have to get your chapter done because there may never be time to write again. 

Sparty: Violent.

Carrie: I shrug.

Sparty: You do shrug. A lot. You also sigh. They teach you not to do that all the time at Vermont, don’t they? And yet, you still do it…

Carrie: You know what they say about old dogs.

Sparty: That they are awesome?

Carrie: That too.

Sparty: Final question so we can take a walk! What do you wish you had known before stepping onto the VCFA campus?

Carrie: I wish I had known how important the cookies were to overall health and writing sustainability. Those cookies in the cafeteria are absolutely imbued with magical properties. You can practically see the Printz Award glitter and Caldecott bling flying off of them, giving all the students a bit more writing enchantment. I know! I know! It sounds totally unreal. IT IS REAL! THE MAGIC IS REAL! Go forth and eat cookies, prospective students. 

Sparty:

Carrie:

Sparty: So the cookies are like bacon?

CarriePretty much.

Carrie JonesCARRIE JONES is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Need series, as well as After Obsession with Steven E. Wedel. She is a distinguished alum of Vermont College's MFA Program, and an on call firefighter in Maine because … um… firefighting!  In her spare time, she likes to pet dogs, fight polio, and make literacy festivals.

Visit Carrie online at www.carriejonesbooks.com, follow her on Twitter @carriejonesbook (http://twitter.com/carriejonesbook), on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/carriejonesbooks, and on Instagram at http://www.instagram.com/carriejonesbooks.

Watch the Flying trailer here!

 

Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here!

 

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Topics: young adult, 2016 release, Carrie Jones, Tor

Welcome to THE MAGE OF TRELIAN!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Jul 04, 2016 @ 11:07 AM

We're shouting a magical welcome to the third book in Michelle Knudsen's Trelian middle grade series, The Mage of Trelian!

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The reviewers are just as excited as we are! 

  • "An exemplary middle-grade fantasy trilogy concludes with a blast." —Kirkus
  • "Begun in 2009 with The Dragon of Trelian, this excellent fantasy trilogy finally receives a worthy ending." —Booklist
  • "[A] Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones mash-up ... Recommended." —School Library Connections 
Visit Michelle online at http://www.michelleknudsen.com.

Topics: Candlewick Press, middle grade, Michelle Knudsen, 2016 release

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). 

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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.

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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 heatherdemetrios.com.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

Janet Fox and THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE

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!

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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.

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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 www.janetsfox.com.

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

Cori McCarthy and YOU WERE HERE

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Mar 01, 2016 @ 09:03 AM

Today we are here celebrating Cori McCarthy's new contemporary YA, You Were Here (Sourcebooks)!

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Jaycee is about to accomplish what her older brother Jake couldn't: live past graduation.

Jaycee is dealing with her brother's death the only way she can – by re-creating Jake's daredevil stunts. The ones that got him killed. She's not crazy, okay? She just doesn't have a whole lot of respect for staying alive.

Jaycee doesn't expect to have help on her insane quest to remember Jake. But she's joined by a group of unlikely friends – all with their own reasons for completing the dares and their own brand of dysfunction: the uptight, ex-best friend, the heartbroken poet, the slacker with Peter Pan syndrome, and...Mik. He doesn't talk, but somehow still challenges Jayce to do the unthinkable-reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

Cori McCarthy's gripping narrative defies expectation, moving seamlessly from prose to graphic novel panels and word art poetry, perfect for fans of E. Lockhart, Jennier Niven, and Jandy Nelson. From the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum to the skeletal remains of the world's largest amusement park, You Were Here takes you on an unforgettable journey of friendship, heartbreak and inevitable change.

Welcome, Cori! What was the spark that ignited this book?

I was watching a National Geographic show about urban exploring in the Paris Underground. I pitched the story to my editor about a group of kids who get caught up in the underground during a visit in Paris, and I cited that I used to climb around abandoned ruins all the time when I was a teenager. My editor then asked for that story instead…thus the Ohio setting of You Were Here was born.

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

Lobotomies. There’s a fair bit in the first chapter about the lobotomies that were once performed in the (now abandoned) insane asylum in You Were Here. I wanted to get all the details right and portray the reality of the horrors. That sounds terribly dramatic, but seriously, there was this guy called Dr. Lobotomy who used to drive around the country in a station wagon. He called that car, “The Lobotomobile” and performed dozens of procedures a day. This is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” situations.

What's your writing superpower?

Plotting. I give all credit to my degree in screenwriting and my intensely architectural brain. Everything has a shape in my head, so my process of finding the story is all about finding the right shape. For example, right now my WIP has the structural shape of frets on a guitar neck.

You have gorgeously realized plots, both in words and in shapes. What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

The illustrations came together beautifully. I wrote a graphic novel script for Sonia Liao, the artist, and gave her brief character descriptions as well as pictures of the real settings. She captured not only my characters but places from my childhood. For the word art poetry in the book, I drew pictures, and then we sent them to Sonia and she recreated them much more professionally with texture to match the graffiti surfaces in the story.

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Very cool! Thanks for sharing. Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My heroes: Alan Cumyn, Marion Dane Bauer, Uma Krishnaswami, and Shelley Tanaka.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

The Bat Poets are my literary sisters and brother. They support me through my ups and downs, and even help me professionally. To name just a few, Winifred Conklin walked me through my agent querying experience, Kate Hosford is my biggest supporter, Mary Cronin is one of my favorite beta readers, and Kelly Barson wrote an amazing blurb for You Were Here!

I think "literary sisters and brothers" hits it right on the head. Thanks so much for joining us, Cori! Welcome, You Were Here!

Cori studied screenwriting and poetry before discovering the WCYA program at VCFA. She is a member of the class of January, 2011 -- the Bat Poets. Visit her online at CoriMcCarthy.com.

Topics: young adult, Cori McCarthy, 2016 release, Sourcebooks, YA contemporary

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