the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Adi Rule

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Carrie Jones and ENHANCED!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrie: Yes.

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

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

Spartacus: I have trained you well.


Spartacus: That’s a compliment.

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

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

Carrie: The dog.

Spartacus: You don’t have to say that.

Carrie: I kind of feel I do.

Spartacus: And why was the dog your favorite?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Carrie: I know… buddy. I know.

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


IMG_6573.jpgSpartacus: NO! YOU DIDN’T!

Carrie: Yep.

Spartacus: Human! Nobody is supposed to know.



Carrie: You’re teasing me, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liz Garton Scanlon and BOB, NOT BOB!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 @ 08:10 AM

Ah-CHOO! We're sneezing with joy over Bob, Not Bob, a picture book co-authored by VCFA faculty member Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, out now from Disney/Hyperion!

Bob cover.jpg

Little Louie has the worst cold ever. All he wants is his mom, but every time he calls for her, slobbery Bob the dog comes running instead.

Welcome, Liz! So, tell us . . .

How did you and Audrey Vernick become interested in working together?

Audrey and I share an agent -- Erin Murphy -- and she starting musing about what would happen if the two of us had a "book baby" together. So we did!

Which came first — the idea to collaborate, or the idea for the book?

It sort of happened in tandem because Audrey had a bad cold at the exact moment Erin nudged us. Turns out it was contagious!

Bob, Not Bob is a single voice rather than, say, alternating POVs split between authors. What was that process like?

Our collaborative process is THE MOST FUN either of us has. (Kind of not kidding.) We've replicated it many times now (we have a few more upcoming books together) and we kind of can't believe how well it works. We start with an idea and then one of us launches the storytelling. Then, we send a Word doc back and forth, back and forth -- adding as we see fit, deleting as we see fit, with no track changes. We each behave as if the manuscript belongs to us alone -- until that beautiful moment when it doesn't!

IMG_5398ac.jpgWhat advice would you have for someone who’s interested in collaboration?

Like and trust the person you want to collaborate with, and truly deeply admire their work.

Tell us about how you sold this book.

We were thrilled to sell this book, in part because the co-writing process had been such a lark. It was like we couldn't quite believe we were being paid to have that much fun! (Don't tell the publishers I said that.) Kevin Lewis, who was an editor for Disney/Hyperion back then, made the offer, walked us through some really thoughtful and intuitive revisions, and convinced Matt Cordell to illustrate. Rotem Moscovich took over as editor when Kevin left and brought the whole thing home. We couldn't believe our luck all the way along.

Tell us about your writing community.

Community fits so well in the context of a Bob, Not Bob discussion. As writing makes its way through the publishing process, it necessarily becomes a collaborative art, with editors and book designers putting their creative stamps on the project. This is doubly so for picture books that marry text and illustration. But what I've come to understand and appreciate more and more is how collaborative the writing life is -- beyond the writing process of any single book. Audrey and I met through our agency's annual retreat. Being part of that community led us to become, first, critique partners and then co-authors, but most importantly, friends. I've also got an Austin-based critique group (coincidentally made up entirely of VCFA alums and faculty), not to mention the very vibrant Austin chapter of SCBWI and, now, the larger VCFA community (lucky me). Plus, there's the writing world that is alive and well online -- my poetry group, my facebook friends. It honestly isn't possible anymore for me to imagine what I would do without the inspiration, energy, commiseration, support, education or love all of these people bring to my life and, credit where credit is due, to my work.

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

For this book, I googled "things that sound funny when you have a cold," which of course led me to the world's best "sick memes" as well as YouTube videos of cats with strange meows. Naturally.

Okay, so I couldn't resist . . .



What's your writing superpower?

Apparently choosing good co-authors! :)

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

I'm not usually much of a swag gal -- mostly I've just printed up bookmarks -- but for Bob we had little tissue packets and hand sanitizers made, with the cover image of the book. Elementary school librarians seemed to find them particularly useful!

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. Other titles include In the Canyon, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, The Good-Pie Party, and more. Liz is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

Visit Liz Garton Scanlon at, Audrey Vernick at, and Matthew Cordell at

Topics: picture book, Disney-Hyperion, 2017 release, Liz Garton Scanlon, Disney, Audrey Vernick, Matthew Cordell, Hyperion

Amy Rose Capetta and ECHO AFTER ECHO!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 @ 09:10 AM


It's opening night launch day for Amy Rose Capetta's new YA novel, Echo After Echo (Candlewick)!

27258116.jpgDebuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared — for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; or for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater — and then another — especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole — and cast lantern light on two young women, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy.

Visit Amy Rose Capetta online at Welcome to the world, Echo After Echo!

Topics: young adult, Candlewick Press, Amy Rose Capetta, 2017 release

Liz Garton Scanlon and ANOTHER WAY TO CLIMB A TREE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 05, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

What do I see from my perch in the high branches? It's Liz Garton Scanlon's Another Way to Climb a Tree, illustrated by Hadley Hooper and out now from Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan!

tree-cover.jpgWhen Lulu's well, she climbs every tree in sight, especially the tallest ones, the ones with the widest branches, the one with the stickiest sap. When Lulu's sick, she's not allowed outside. She wonders if the trees are lonely without her. Maybe the birds are too. Now, nobody climbs the trees but the sun... until clever Lulu finds her own way to climb her favorite tree... indoors!

Welcome, Liz!

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I think that Lulu, my scrappy, dreamy protagonist in Another Way to Climb a Tree, might be the most favorite character I've ever created -- or at least the most heartfelt and familiar. Lulu is, in many ways, me, in that the two things that keep her heart beating and her head straight are the natural world and her imagination. I can relate.

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

In picture books, I adore Cynthia Rylant's sentences, Pat Zietlow Miller's plots, and Marla Frazee's characters -- both in text and art.

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

"Kill your darlings." I was trained as a journalist, so I became adept at saying a lot within a limited number of column inches. Pretty words for pretty's sake became a lot less precious to me. As a picture book author, I am constantly looking to trim and tighten -- not to make a text shorter necessarily, but more perfect and more potent.

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

Utter silence except for my dog barking at the UPS man. 

DSCF8970 (1).jpgTell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I have a piece of art from almost every picture book I've ever published. The cover of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, a pencil sketch from Happy Birthday, Bunny, my favorite spread from In the Canyon, the final page of All the World. Together, they serve as daily inspiration to me -- they set a nearly impossibly high bar that I just keep trying to live up to -- and I cannot look at them without counting my blessings.

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

Talk about counting my blessings! I knew Hadley Hooper's work through The Iridescence of Birds, a picture book biography about Matisse. It was written by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley illustrated it and I loved it! So when she agreed to do this book, I was thrilled. And she exceeded any possible expectations -- the palette, the little surprises everywhere -- birds! binoculars! -- and the very timeless little tree-climber who is Lulu herself. I love the art in this book completely.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

It appears to be upping my efficiency game in a big way. It's amazing how I can buckle down when I know that the packets are coming again, and soon! Also, perhaps it could go without saying, but I am pretty much constantly awash in admiration these days -- for my students and colleagues alike. And that is both humbling and wildly inspiring.

What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

You've never met more people who care so deeply about the same thing but who are still, somehow, wildly unique and devoted to telling their own wildly unique stories. They make the place what it is; they give it integrity.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

If you're serious about this desire -- this calling -- to write for children, this is your place. Yes, it's like hurling yourself into the deep end of a swimming pool, but there are lifeguards on duty who will help you develop your own strong and beautiful stroke.

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

I wish I'd known JUST HOW SPECIAL it is. I would've tried to get here sooner.

IMG_5335ac.jpgWe are so fortunate you're here now! Thanks for stopping by the Launchpad. Welcome to the forest, Another Way to Climb a Tree!

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. Other titles include In the Canyon, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, The Good-Pie Party, and more. Liz is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

Visit her online at

And stop by the Launchpad next week for Part Two of Liz Garton Scanlon's interview, when she'll discuss Bob, Not Bob, a picture book co-authored with Audrey Vernick!

Topics: Macmillan, picture book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017 release, Neal Porter, Liz Garton Scanlon, Neal Porter Books, Hadley Hooper


Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Oct 03, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

We're wild about Amy Sarig King's middle grade novel, Me and Marvin Gardens, out now from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic!

MarvinGardens_Final_FrontCover copy small.jpg
He's the size of a dog—but he's not a dog.
He's got hooves like a pig, but claws like a wolf.  
He smiles. He listens to commands and stories.  
And he eats plastic. ONLY plastic.
Water bottles, jug lids, shopping bags.

Marvin is an entirely new kind of animal,
and only Obe knows about him.  
To keep him safe, Obe will have to face an enemy,
take some risks, be fearless, daring, and brave—
and tell some secrets that have been a long time coming.

In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King reveals a boy-meets-animal story unlike any other, about a friendship that could actually save the world, and a kid finding the courage to share it.

Welcome, Amy!

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I really love Obe, the main character, but he and Marvin gave me a hard time sometimes, so my favorite character to write was Putrid Annie. She’d tried to tell the story of my cornfield years ago for a younger audience and it didn’t work out. When she showed up in this manuscript, it was like meeting an old friend. We have a lot in common. She plays the cello and I did, too. She loves rocks—me too. And she’s been called Putrid…I’ve been called worse.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I wanted to write about an animal that ate plastic—only plastic—and how such an animal could help us solve the plastic pollution problem. Thing is, once I got to know Marvin, the animal, I realized that eating only plastic has its side effects. So both things ignited the book. The idea that something can be both good and not-so-good. The idea that there are two sides to every story, including the loss of a cornfield—and a childhood.

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

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Eight Rules for Writing Fiction.” I hand these to every student I’ve ever had at VCFA.  Never has anyone summed up everything I believe about writing in a half a page before. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’d say these two are tied for first place: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” and “Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”

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’ve been writing novels by myself for 25 years. I do share my final draft with my husband, but he’s the only reader of a book before I hand it to my agent and editors. I find this is the best way for me. I write in quiet, I edit in quiet, and then I slowly feel like the book is ready. If there is too much noise—even positive noise from others—I feel I can’t hear when the book is ready. So my support, as it’s been from the beginning when I was against-all-odds determined and even during my 15 years of rejection, has always been just me. I was an odd child, though, enjoying my own company and the company of books more than most things. (Excluding candy and mashed potatoes, but not at the same time.)

What's your writing superpower?

Revision. Revision is the sport. I aim for the gold in revision.

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

I have a 5x7 framed picture of Hawkeye Pierce on my desk—right here to my right, the first person I see, the way that some would put a picture of their spouse or children there. For me, it’s Hawkeye. He’s my humanist fictional boyfriend and also a stand-in mother.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA has changed me as a writer. A lot of things do, but VCFA has had a profound effect on me. Before VCFA, if you’d have asked me if I would ever write a middle grade book, I’d have said no way. No way I could do that. A lot of people may think middle grade is “easier” the same way civilians thing picture books are “easiest” because they’re shorter. But I’d tried to write for younger audiences and I knew how hard it was. My students showed me that I could do this. They showed me how to do it well. I’m still trying to write a picture book, but I’m still failing. One day, though…one day it will happen.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

I enjoy so many aspects of VCFA, but I’d say now that summer 2017 residency is done, that my favorite memory is the one where I have a beard.


What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

I don’t mince words about this. VCFA is the best WCYA program in the country. I think what makes it the best is the bar—the high bar. I’ve always had a high bar when it comes to reading and writing. I’m awfully picky about writing, which is probably a good thing, right? VCFA is special because the quality of student writing is very high. This allows already-great writers to stretch and grow and graduate from the program ready to publish quality books, as our alumni publication lists show. Beyond rigor, I’d say the sense of community is pretty amazing. No matter where I go in the U.S. to do an event, there are groups of VCFA alumni (and faculty) there to greet me. We are a small army, now. An army of support, positivity, and friendship.

A perfect description! The SPF Army!

Thanks so much for stopping by. Welcome, Me and Marvin Gardens!

Amy Sarig King, who also writes as A.S. King, grew up in the middle of a cornfield in southeastern Pennsylvania. She says, “The day the bulldozers came to dig up my field was the day I started to dream of having my own farm. If you’ve ever seen something beautiful and magical be replaced with something more convenient, then you know why this story took me thirty years to write.”

Amy has published many critically acclaimed young adult novels, including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which won a Michael L. Printz Honor Award, and Ask the Passengers, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. After many years farming abroad, she now lives back in southeastern Pennsylvania, with her husband and children.

Visit her online at

Topics: Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, A. S. King, 2017 release, Amy Sarig King

Carmela Martino and PLAYING BY HEART!

Posted by Adi Rule on Sat, Sep 30, 2017 @ 07:09 AM

Today, we have a symphony of applause for Carmela Martino's new young adult book Playing by Heart, out now from Vinspire Pubishing!

PlayingbyHeart cover 80 percent.jpg

She could compose anything . . . except the life she wanted.

Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the “second sister” means she'll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia’s only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father’s quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams for her future but her sister’s very life.

Playing by Heart is inspired by two amazing sisters who were far ahead of their time--mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi and composer Maria Teresa Agnesi.

Welcome, Carmela!

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I actually started out writing a picture book biography of little-known 18th-century mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. My undergraduate degree is in Mathematics and Computer Science, yet I’d never heard of Agnesi until I came across her name in an article about forgotten women of history. Born in Milan, Italy, Agnesi was a child prodigy, fluent in seven languages by age eleven. By age fourteen she was solving difficult geometry problems. She went on to write an acclaimed math textbook. But in her early 30s, she turned her back on her celebrity life to devote herself to helping the poor.

Maria Teresa Agnesi at keyboard1.jpgIntrigued by Agnesi’s story, I began working on a picture book biography of her around 2002. It was a challenging project, especially because not much remains of Agnesi’s writing besides her textbook. I kept writing and revising, but I kept getting rejected. One of those rejections was from the Candlewick editor I worked with on my middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola. She suggested I write a novel instead, one inspired by Maria Gaetana and her younger sister, Maria Teresa, a composer who was one of the first Italian women to write a serious opera. Both sisters struggled to please a domineering father who put his ambitions ahead of their happiness. And that was the spark that led me to write Playing by Heart. (For more about the Agnesis, see this site I created.)

Since Playing by Heart is heavily fictionalized, I changed the characters’ names. The narrator, Emilia Salvini, is a musician and composer inspired by Maria Teresa Agnesi, with an older sister modeled on Maria Gaetana Agnesi. I also incorporated a romance because I thought that would make the novel more appealing to a YA audience.

Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out?

I had a terrible time selling this book! I was devastated when the editor who suggested I write the novel turned it down. But I kept revising and submitting, sending the novel to editors and agents, and entering it writing contests. The novel did well in several contests, including taking first place in the YA category of the 2013 Windy City Romance Writers Association Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest. The feedback I kept hearing was that Playing by Heart was well-written but “historical YA is a tough sell.”

I eventually gave up and put the manuscript in a drawer. I focused on freelance writing instead. Still, deep down, I hoped historical YA might eventually make a comeback. I shared that hope on our TeachingAuthors blog back in 2014.

Then, in March of 2016, I signed up for the Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference, which included pitch sessions with publishers. I’d planned to pitch my biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Given her service to the poor, I thought one of the Catholic publishers there might be interested. As it turned out, none were a good fit for the biography. However, Vinspire Publishing was there accepting pitches for YA fiction. With nothing to lose, I pulled Playing by Heart out of the drawer.

Dawn Carrington, Vinspire’s editor-in-chief, liked my pitch and asked for the first three chapters. In April 2016, she requested the full manuscript. Three months later, Dawn sent me an email that began, “Thank you for submitting Playing by Heart for consideration . . .” I thought for sure it was a rejection. But she went on to say she wanted to publish the manuscript! Of course I was thrilled, but I was nervous, too. Vinspire is a small press based in South Carolina. They publish only paperback and ebook editions and they typically don’t pay an advance. They are not a Catholic publisher, but they do focus on being “family friendly.” After weighing the pros and cons of working with a small press, I signed the contract. (If you’d like to know more about Vinspire, I’m going to have a great interview with Dawn at on Monday, Oct. 2.)

By the way, my experience with Vinspire led me to pitch the article “Working with Small Presses: Bigger Isn’t Always Better,” that will appear in the forthcoming 2018 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (CWIM). For the article, I interviewed three award-winning authors who share their advice and experiences working with small presses. Two of them are fellow VCFA alums Laura Atkins and Nancy Bo Flood.

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

My husband is retired and typically around while I’m working. It can be distracting if he turns on the radio or TV, so I often play classical music in the background to drown out the noise. Usually it’s Mozart or Vivaldi. For Playing by Heart, I had to research the music my main character would have known and played. So, for my new soundtrack, I created a Pandora station of baroque music that included the works of Sammartini, Pachelbel, and Rameau. In the novel, Emilia plays works by the last two composers.

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

Given that my novel is set in 18th-century Milan, I had to do a TON of research. I Googled such things as: Did women’s gowns have pockets? And how many layers did women wear? I also had to do lots of setting research. I looked at photos online in books that showed what homes and public places looked like both inside and out. There’s a scene inside the Duomo of Milan, the main cathedral, which was being used even though the exterior wasn’t yet completed. Fortunately, I found an engraving of what it looked like in 1745.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

As I mentioned in my 2016 Launchpad interview, my class seemed to “click” right from the start and we continue to be a tight-knit group. Seventeen years after graduation, we still have an active Yahoo group. We share industry buzz, celebrate sales, commiserate over rejections, offer manuscript feedback, and support one another through personal and professional challenges. We also occasionally get together for mini-reunions.

001 cropped.jpgThis photo was taken at one we had in Chicago in 2008.

Left to right: Carolyn Crimi, me, Gretchen Will Mayo, April Pulley Sayre, and JoAnn Early Macken.

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.

PR BW  portrait.jpgThanks so much for stopping by, Carmela. And welcome, Playing by Heart -- Brava!

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

Of her VCFA class, Carmela says: "I graduated in Summer 2000. Our class was nicknamed the Hive by the faculty because we were always 'buzzing' about something. We called each other Bees."

Visit Carmela online at, and follow her on Facebook (carmelamartinoauthor), Twitter (carmelamartino), and Instagram (cmartinoauthor).

 For a chance to win a copy of Playing by Heart, head over to or go to the Facebook launch party on 10/17 from 7-9 PM (Central), where there will be giveaways every 15 minutes!

Topics: young adult, 2017 release, Carmela A. Martino, Vinspire Publishing


Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 @ 08:09 AM

We're spookily excited about William Alexander's middle grade novel, A Properly Unhaunted Place (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster)!


Rosa Díaz has a very special talent. She comes from a family of librarians who specialize in ghost appeasement. So she can't understand why her mother has moved them to Ingot, the world's only unhaunted town. What are they supposed to do there, with no poltergeists to quiet and no specters to soothe? Frankly, Rosa doesn't think anyone should want to live in a place where the biggest attraction is a woefully inaccurate Renaissance Festival.

But Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot, working at the festival while his parents hold court. Jasper has never seen a ghost and can't imagine his unhaunted town any other way... until an angry apparition thunders into the fairgrounds and turns Ingot upside down. Jasper is astonished -- and Rosa is delighted.

Mist is building in the hills, and something otherworldly is about to be unleashed. Rosa will need all her ghost appeasement tools -- and a little help from Jasper -- to try to rein in the angry ghosts in this hilariously spooky adventure from National Book Award winner William Alexander.

Welcome, Will!

What was the spark that ignited this book?

One important spark was a conversation with my friend Rio. She taught Japanese at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design while I was there as an intro comp instructor. We got coffee between classes, geeked out about Doctor Who for a bit, and then started talking about ghosts.

"American ghost stories are so strange," she told me. "They're all about trying to make ghosts and monsters go away forever. Nice ghosts have to find their peaceful rest and then go away. Mean ghosts are cast out, banished, and go away. All ghosts must go away. All monsters must explode. Boom. So strange."

She went on to say that, back home, ghost stories just aren't like that. Not in her experience, anyway. If a house is haunted, try to avoid it. If your house is haunted, then learn how to live with that. Don't go in thinking you'll be able to unhaunt the place.

UnhauntedTree.jpgNow, this was just one casual chat between a first-gen Japanese-American and a second-gen Cuban-American, so who knows what it may or may not mean about either Japanese or American ghost stories in a comparative folklore sort of way. But it stuck in the back of my mind, and other things started to stick to it. Margaret Atwood said writers are like magpies. We hoard shiny things in hidden places. That conversation was shiny to me.

American ghost stories are strange. Why? Maybe because of the way we look at history. Maybe because we teach history as though it were over. But history is happening. We are still haunted by it. We need to be haunted by it. Virginia Hamilton said that "the past moves me and with me, although I remove myself from it."

All of this sounds weighty, which might be misleading because my book turned out to be a goofy, swashbuckling thing set in a Renaissance Festival. But the initial questions are still there. What kinds of ghost stories would we tell if the ghosts never went away completely?

Maybe this kind.

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

I don't think I can separate rich characters from delicious sentences. The rhythms and cadences of good prose harmonize perfectly with the voices of the characters. I get to know those characters by listening to what they have to say.

I'll pick just one recent fav that I loved for all three: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. The sentences, characters, and tightly woven structure all delighted me, and I've never read better descriptions of music.

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

Trust your weird. Kelly Link gave that advice at the Clarion workshop. She also pointed out that "wyrd" meant "fate"--not so much in the sense of "exalted destiny," but in a much more pragmatic way. Trust that which is yours. Trust your own idiosyncratic combination of burdens and gifts.

That goes for books as well as authors, by the way. A story needs to trust its own weird.

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

Current favorites include Zoe Keating and The Parlour Trick. I also choose a theme song for each protagonist, but I'm not allowed to tell you what those are.

UnhauntedLagoon.jpgWhat was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

Glorious. I've been surprised and delighted each time. The interior illustrations by Kelly Murphy are especially beautiful. It felt like writing a play and then watching the full production on opening night.

Most authors have painful stories about cover art. We have so little input or control over that process. Practically none. My first glimpse of my very first book cover was on Somehow they never got around to showing it to me earlier. But I can't complain. Luckily I've loved every single cover so far.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

During residencies I get to be a stealth student and soak up all the knowledge, wisdom, and enthusiasm. During each semester I get to be a teacher and a working writer at the same time, which is logistically remarkable. Describing aspects of the craft to my students also forces me to articulate those same aspects to myself. That's tremendously valuable.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

A kiss on the cheek from Rita after my very first lecture. She made me think that maybe this could be home.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Trust your weird.

Visit William Alexander online at, and stop by his blog here. For more info on A Properly Unhaunted Place, check out its page. You can also visit the book's awesome illustrator, Kelly Murphy, at

Topics: middle grade, Simon & Schuster, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017 release, William Alexander

Martha BrockenBrough and LOVE, SANTA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 @ 08:09 AM

We're feeling festive today with the release of Martha Brockenbrough's Love, Santa (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine)!


In a series of letters, a young girl writes to Santa to ask about the North Pole, Mrs. Claus, and of course, Christmas goodies. Year after year, Santa writes back, and a heartwarming relationship develops, until one year, the girl writes to her mother instead: Mom, are you Santa? Her mother responds to say that no, she is not Santa. Because Santa is bigger than any one person — we bring him out through kindness to one another and the power of imagination. This transformative tale spins a universal childhood experience into a story about love, giving, and the spirit of Christmas.

Welcome, Martha! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

This book came from a letter my daughter wrote to me asking for the truth about Santa. She’d hinted around the topic for a while, so I asked her if she really wanted to know. She was emphatic. My response was posted on a blog, and then published by The New York Times, then it became a Facebook and Pinterest sensation (and someone with a weak sense of irony plagiarized it and made it religious). I didn’t think it would be anything more than a blog post, because picture books are not blog posts. But then I came up with an idea for a series of letters exchanged over a period of years and the book came together.

CwSDIh3VEAAvao1.jpgDo you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I usually write in silence or if I’m in public, with headphones on. Sometimes people want to talk with you when you’re working in a cafe. One man even tapped my shoulder as I was working. I lifted my headphones. “Where’s a good place to park around here?” If my eyes were equipped with laser beams, he would be but a smoking cinder on the floor. What a question. Had he not already parked when he came in? Anyway, I don’t like to be distracted as I write, and music with words distracts me. I sometimes listen to classical music, and often write to an exceptionally talented young Lithuanian player’s debut accordion album. I mean, who doesn’t do that, right? But still. He’s amazing, and that music on reminds me that I am in work mode.

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 live in Seattle, where a great number of children’s writers and illustrators live. I’m not in a formal critique group, but do swap manuscripts with friends in town and elsewhere. My family members do read my books, but their feedback is of a different nature. The book they love best of mine, by the way, never made it past my last agent. I do plan to revise, but sometimes civilian readers see things the pros don’t, and vice versa. So, I prefer them as cheerleaders.

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

I made Christmas ornaments for the book! They are beautiful and based on the cover illustration. My family has an annual tradition; each of my daughters chooses an ornament for the tree. We sometimes do this when we’re on vacation, and sometimes we make a night of it in downtown Seattle or one of our many quirky neighborhoods. We write a note about the process of the choice and the year, and tuck that and the ornament back into the box. Over the years, decorating the tree has become a slow process that feels like a gift of the memories of all those Christmases past, and I hope the recipients of this ornament remember the year they joined Santa’s team, and the transformation that represents.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Martha. And a merry welcome to Love, Santa!

Visit Martha Brockenbrough online at

Topics: picture book, Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017 release, Martha Brockenbrough

Shenaaz Nanji and GHOST BOYS!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 @ 07:09 AM

Today we're celebrating Shenaaz Nanji's new young adult novel Ghost Boys, out now from Mawenzi House!


Fifteen-year-old Munna lives with his Ma and sisters in a small town in India. Determined to end his family’s misfortunes, he is lured into a dream job in the Middle East, only to be sold. He must work at the Sheikh’s camel farm in the desert and train young boys as jockeys in camel races. The boys, smuggled from poor countries, have lost their families and homes. Munna must starve these boys so that they remain light on the camels’ backs, and he must win the Gold Sword race for the Sheikh. In despair, he realizes that he is trapped and there is no escape . . .

Welcome, Shenaaz! So, tell us . . .

camel jockey 2.jpgWho was your favorite character to write and why?

The 4-year-old Babur in Ghost Boys was my favorite character to write for. The little innocent but spunky boy came on vividly and forcefully, tearing me apart, threatening to steal the thunder from the protagonist, Munna. On hindsight, I think Babur reminded me of my son long ago. When we (family of four -- mother-in-law, hubby and my 9-month-old toddler) first moved from Kenya to U.S.A. (hubby to pursue further education), we lived hand to mouth in deplorable conditions in the slums of Syracuse. Having lived in the tropics all our lives, we had never seen snow, had absolutely no idea how brrr freezingly cold it could get, couldn’t afford to buy winter apparel, jackets or boots. We’d roll up my son in a blanket and wheel him about in the grocery cart as our stroller. The only toy he had was a big steel pot from Africa . . .

Camel jockey.jpgWhat was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process?

And so it followed that one of the most difficult element of revision in Ghost Boys was to tone down the character of little Babur; after all the story really belonged to Munna. It was Munna who made the big sacrifice by dropping out of school, giving up his Big Dream of being a Bollywood actor, venturing out in the unknown world to save honor for his family. It was Munna who tried his best to be Babur’s big brother and prolonged his stay at the ousbah, camel camp. Later, it was Munna again, who influenced the other camel boys to stop bullying Babur. In the Gold Sword Race, Munna simply refused to pair up Babur with Kismet, the fastest racing camel, out of concern for Babur’s life. The challenge posed was: how do I evoke sympathy in Barbur yet tread carefully, not allow him to overshadow Munna?

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

I have lots pinned to my wall so I will pick two things.

A card says: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent.”

Hmm. I just found that these were the words of Calvin Coolidge, 30th USA President.

Did you know that Dr. Seuss, whose books sold millions over his lifetime, had his first book rejected at least twenty times? What if he had not persisted?

The second thing is the poem “Love after Love” by Derek Walcott. This is because I am deficient in the department of self-love.

A lovely poem. Friends, you can read it here.

lux and shen.jpgWhat nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

That melodrama leads to a sense of disbelief in readers.

I, Queen of Melodrama, still make the mistake of writing dramatically. Sad people burst into hot tears. Joyful people express their glee by jumping up and down. I know I must not run away with my emotions but I find it terribly hard to find the right balance of emotion; too little and readers feel no empathy for characters, but too much, and the scene becomes melodramatic.

Again and again, I remind myself that It is fine to express raw emotions in the first draft, but I ought to temper them during revision. I ought to strive to sprinkle spices in the curry, not burn fire in the mouths of those who eat it.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

The best part of our class, The Zoo, is that we have kept into touch with each other for the last 15 years. Amazing! We are diverse in race, culture, age, beliefs and in the region/countries we live and the genre of stories we write. Through the years, my class has witnessed weddings and separations, happiness and grief, the birth of babies and grand-babies. It is a thrill to get an email or photographs from my class.

What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

No doubt, the writing program at VCFA is tough and demanding, especially if you travel as far as I did (flight from West Canada, then a bus ride, then a cab). I was always exhausted in the first two days of every residency. Besides the mmm sumptuous extra-large cookies, the college offers an at-home nurturing environment that inspires learning and creativity. I like that the Program offers both workshop-type experience where the feedback is group-based as well as the one-on-one mentoring through the exchange of writing packets. The faculty is supportive and the students help enrich each other. Both the students as well as the faculty "stand shoulder to shoulder on the same landing"; there is no one-upmanship. No competition, rather a spirit of collaboration. The cherry on top is the administration staff, always cheerful and compassionate. I will never forget the time I was stuck at the US border and the administration staff traveled all the way to pick me up, not just once but twice in a row.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Be thick-skinned like crocs. Be prepared to receive feedback that will not always be positive. In workshops in a group setting, several students and faculty offering critique all at once can hit you like punch in the gut and give rise to meltdowns, especially if you have an inner demon that pulls you down. But these are just opinions. Don’t take it personally. Remember the age old saying: no pain, no gain. Know that the main reason you came to college is to learn, to improve your writing skill. Know that too much praise on the other hand can kill your writing.

"Thick-skinned like crocs" might just be my new motto. Thank you so much for stopping by, Shenaaz! Welcome to the world, Ghost Boys.

Shen image 034[2].jpgShenaaz Nanji is a squid who bubbles in the water world but surfaces occasionally to read and write. She grew up on the East African coast amid a fusion of cultures: Arabic, Swahili, British, East Indian, and later: American and Canadian. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and has published ten books for young readers that include novels, short stories, non-fiction, and picture books. Her novel Child of Dandelions was a finalist in the Governor General in Children’s Literature and other awards. Shenaaz believes in the power of stories. Stories are not only fun to read; they touch our hearts and change the way we think and behave. Suddenly we see each other in new ways. Mere words expand our world and transform lives.

Visit Shenaaz online at

Watch the trailer for Ghost Boys below and on YouTube.



Topics: young adult, 2017 release, Shenaaz Nanji, Mawenzi House


Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 @ 07:09 AM

Raid the fridge and power up your spaceship! We're taking a trip with Joe McGee, whose new picture book, Peanut Butter & Aliens, illustrated by Charles Santoso, is out now from Abrams!


The Aliens have arrived in Quirkville. And they are hungry.

Reginald and Abigail Zink taught the zombies and the humans how to live together peacefully. But when the aliens land, they have a new problem on their hands. The aliens are demanding an out-of-this-world snack, and when their taste buds aren’t satisfied, they zap the residents of Quirkville with cosmic grape jelly. But what goes best with jelly? PEANUT BUTTER!

Will Reginald and Abigail be able to convince the aliens that PB&J is the best sandwich in the universe?

The creators of Peanut Butter & Brains have crafted a delicious sequel about the power of working together…and enjoying a good PB&J.

Greetings, earthling Joe! So, tell us . . .

What's something special you keep on your wall or desk?

I was an early and avid reader, writer, and doodler. When I was in 4th grade, I was selected as one of a handful of students from my grade to attend a regional “Young Authors’ Day.” Students from schools in the district were all bussed to a day-long series of writing workshops. There was a menu of sorts you could choose from and I remember taking workshops such as “Writing Puppet Plays,” “Writing Superhero Stories,” and “Writing Mythology and Folktales.” It was an incredible experience, one that cemented the idea in my head that I was going to be an author one day. I went on to holding 6th-grade recess readings of short stories I’d written, to entering contests and submitting to magazines. I just kept going from there, but I’ve never forgotten that one day. I still have that laminated, blue piece of paper and I hang it near my desk to remind myself of my journey and how special this achievement of publication is.

Hooray for young authors everywhere!

Alien1.jpgTell us about your writing community.

I am really fortunate to have an extensive community of writers, artists and super creative people – my tribe. Our tribe. Writing is a lonely endeavor when it’s just you and the blank page. It’s a terrifying and vulnerable place when we let it out of our hands and let it become something bigger than ourselves. And that is why a community is so important . . . people who get you, get the strange place we inhabit, as writers. People who will celebrate your good news and rail their fists at the sky with you when dark clouds descend.

My writing community consists of the faculty and alum and students of VCFA, especially my class of July 2014, the Allies in Wonderland. I teach at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program and I have built up a wonderful group of friends and writing family there. I have met and befriended so many amazing and wonderful people (and talented writers, of course) in the course of doing writing visits, events, and conferences. And it’s always expanding, which is really so awesome. I am in a small critique group, which meets once a month. There are four of us, all agented, working writers. We get together for dinner and to workshop works in progress. It’s been so valuable and I love the feedback that I get from them.

But, my biggest support system is my partner, Jessica (also a VCFA alum). She pushes me, challenges me, inspires me, and offers poignant, honest, critical feedback on everything I write. I’d like to throw out here that her book, What Gloria Heard (Bloomsbury) – a picture book biography of Gloria Steinem – will be published in 2019. So, we’re both working writers and that’s cool! And, I’m happy to announce that we’re engaged! ☺

Congrats to you both for all your happy news!

What was it like watching the illustrations come together?

I could not be happier with what Charles Santoso has done with my story. When we sold Peanut Butter & Brains, I had no idea (and no input) on what the zombies, the town, what anything would look like. Part of the reason that the other publishers did not buy the first book was because they had no idea, no vision, on how to do zombies in a picture book. But Abrams got it and they found Charles, who clearly got it. So, when I first saw his art, I was blown away. I’m not sure I had an exact picture of what these zombies might look like, but Charles nailed it.

And so, when it came time for Peanut Butter & Aliens, I had no worries that he would create something “out of this world” (pun intended). We communicate via email, or social media, and so I just asked him to make sure they had tentacles. And again, he killed it. I love the level of detail he puts onto each page, and the way he is able to layer and add depth. He’s brought my world to life and I couldn’t be happier!

What’s your writing superpower?

I’m going to say my ability to write anything. And I am not staking some claim to being the only one who can do this, but I can (and do) write across the spectrum – picture books, middle grade, YA, graphic novels, screenplays, adult genre fiction, comics, etc….and I have the ability to create something out of any zany kind of combination that might come my way. Space leprechauns that travel through time to find the perfect coffee beans for their unicorn overlords, only to become embroiled in a struggle to save Earth from a wereraccoon motorcycle gang intent on Armageddon? Yeah, I can do that.

Do you write in silence?

I do. I really can’t listen to music or anything when I write. I mean, I don’t care if there’s noise around me or anything. I can write with people talking and televisions or music playing on speakers somewhere, but I cannot put headphones on and write. It somehow gets in my way . . . But, nevertheless, I continue to try. Maybe one day it’ll work?

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I had the great fortune of working with Sharon Darrow my first semester. I took the picture book intensive semester and she was instrumental in opening the door to that world. I really believe that her mentorship, teaching, and support was a large part of me finding my way as a picture book writer.

My second semester, I worked with Tom Birdseye. Amy King, my third semester. And finally, Mama K, Kathi Appelt, for my fourth semester. They all taught me an incredible amount and I will always be indebted to them for their knowledge, support, belief, for challenging me, for being proud of me, and for being my friends and family. I love them all very much.

alien6.jpgHow did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Wow. VCFA changed my life. It was the portal that propelled me into the world that that 4th-grade boy at “Young Authors’ Day” dreamed of stepping into. I’d just finished my Master of Arts in Writing degree at Rowan University and thanks to Lisa Jahn-Clough (a former VCFA faculty member), I was introduced to VCFA. I wanted more than what my MA gave me. I wanted to fully embrace my creativity and I wanted to write for children. Attending VCFA was a commitment to my art. It was a statement that I was going to do everything in my power to take myself seriously as a writer, to commit to improving, to push for seeing my work published, to pursue the life that I had wanted for so long. Prior to that, I’d not been giving my full attention to my writing. Life has a habit of getting in the way – the practicalities of other careers and such – but I made a choice. Attending VCFA was a life decision to commit to my art, and it quickly led to acquiring an agent, to selling my first book, to becoming a better, stronger writer. I can truly say, with complete confidence, that VCFA set me on my path to where I am today. Thank you, VCFA – you are always in my heart.

What's special about your graduating class, the Allies in Wonderland?

There are so many things that I could say about our class . . . our intense camaraderie? Our incredible diversity? Our bar-setting reveal? The high percentage of our class publishing? There are so many things, BUT. . . for me, the most special thing about our graduating class is that I am marrying my best friend, my absolute love, my VCFA classmate, Jessica Rinker, this July.

Thanks for stopping by, Joe! Welcome to the galaxy, Peanut Butter & Aliens!

Joe McGee is the author of Peanut Butter & Brains, Peanut Butter & Aliens, and the forthcoming (2019) Peanut Butter & Santa Claus. He has his MA in Writing from Rowan University and graduated from VCFA with his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2014. He teaches creative writing at Rowan University and is faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program. He is a former airborne Army officer, an amateur cartoonist, and the father of three boys (16, 14, 10). He lives in a wonderful, artsy, river town in New Jersey with his fiancée, Jessica (also a VCFA alum).

Visit him online at, and check out his cartoon about the writing life at Read more from Joe about Peanut Butter & Aliens in his blog post, "My love letter to the world."

Topics: picture book, Joe McGee, 2017 release, Abrams, Charles Santoso

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