the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

HOORAY FOR VCFA! Jandy! Kekla! Julie! Jackie! YAY!

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Feb 03, 2015 @ 09:02 AM
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Yesterday the American Library Association announced its most prestigious awards for young people's literature and Vermont College of Fine Arts alums led the way!

Three cheers for Jandy Nelson whose I'll Give You The Sun won the Printz award- the highest honor for a young adult work.

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The Printz Committee said "(o)nce inseparable, twins Noah and Jude are torn apart by a family tragedy that transforms their intense love for each other into intense anger. Timelines twist and turn around each other in beautifully orchestrated stories of love and longing."

I'll Give You the Sun also received a Stonewall Book Award Honor as a book of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience. Make that six cheers!

Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down received a Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor! Hip Hip Hooray for Kekla, a member of the class of Summer 2005 and a new VCFA faculty member!!

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Julie Berry's wonderfully fun and powerfully written The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place received an Odyssey Audio Book Award Honor. The committee said "(i)n a very clever, very fun, very Victorian murder mystery, young boarding school ladies bury the dead while maintaining perfect manners. Jayne Entwistle makes death-by-poison a laugh riot with her dark, dry narration and amazingly lively characters in this delightfully macabre tale."

scandalous sisterhood

And finally former VCFA faculty member and forever friend Jackie Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming scooped more awards winning the Coretta Scott King Author Award, a Newbery Honor, a Sibert Honor! Triple Play (plus the National Book Award and how many more? Here's to a jacket plastered with wonderful award stickers!)



Fireworks, champagne and confetti for all the wonderful VCFA books published in 2015 and a special toast to Julie, Kekla, Jackie and Jandy for this fabulous recognition!

Topics: 2014 release, Kekla Magoon, Jandy Nelson, Printz Award, Odyssey Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Jacqueline Woodson, congratulations, Julie Berry, American Library Association

Dianne White and BLUE ON BLUE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Dec 09, 2014 @ 08:12 AM

Today we're just beaming about the release of Dianne White's new picture book, Blue on Blue (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster)! The stars just keep coming, from Kirkus, Booklist, Publisher's Weekly and beyond. Here's a peek:

BlueonBluecoverIt’s a bright, beautiful, blue-on-blue day, but a storm is on its way, and soon …





Rain on rain on rain is pouring. Will the sun ever be back? 

We're thrilled to be talking with Dianne, a member of 2007's Whirligigs, on the blog today. Welcome, Dianne! So, tell us . . . 

What was the spark that ignited this book?

In large part, I credit Kathi Appelt for setting me off in a good direction. I’d submitted a number of manuscripts to her for my first packet of the post-grad Picture Book Certificate program and many of those used dialogue. Kathi asked me to Please! write something without dialogue. Blue on Blue was the result. It was quickly written one Sunday afternoon, the day before I was scheduled to share a manuscript with my VCFA picture book colleagues. Being under a time crunch, I fell back on a lesson I’d done with students many times – I collected “rain” words, thought about the beginning, middle, and end of my story, and wrote. I shared the manuscript with the group and some time later, after a few word-level tweaks, sent it off to Allyn Johnston, who had recently launched her new S&S imprint, Beach Lane Books. When she called a few weeks later to say she wanted to acquire the manuscript, I was over the moon!  

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group?

After living for years in Southern California where I had the opportunity to grow as a writer in the good company of my SCBWI colleagues from two different regions (LA and Cen Cal), I moved to Arizona and was left without a face-to-face critique group. I continued to share manuscripts by email with a few trusted friends from CA and VCFA, but I longed for a “live” group. Recently, some wonderful local writers and I have started two different critique groups that meet once every 3 to 4 weeks. 

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

Speaking strictly of picture book authors, I’ve been a long-time admirer of Cynthia Rylant’s work. Her versatility, language, and ability to get to the heart make her a favorite. Of course, my list includes many, many others. So to mix things up, I’ll mention just a few contemporary children’s poets whose work I admire – Joyce Sidman, Alice Schertle, and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

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

I DO write in silence. Sort of. I read everything I write aloud, so I guess I write to the sound of my own voice. It helps, somehow. I even occasionally record what I write so I can hear the words in a slightly different way. Sort of like the auditory version of tricking yourself by changing the font or size in order to “see” a manuscript differently. I need to hear it differently. 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

While I was at VCFA, I had the joy of working with some of my most favorite picture book authors – Phyllis Root and Marion Dane Bauer in my first and second semesters and Kathi Appelt during a post-grad semester in the Picture Book Certificate Program. I also had the pleasure of working with Jane Resh Thomas and Tim Wynne Jones in my third and fourth semesters. 

describe the imageWhat is your favorite VCFA memory?

My best of memory of VCFA is – dare I say it? – hanging out in the wine pit in the evening with my classmates. It was those many evenings spent laughing and enjoying one another’s company that cemented some very special friendships that continue to this day.  Those friendships have come to mean everything to me, both professionally and personally.

The value of the wine pit can't be overstated! :) Thanks so much for stopping by, Dianne! Welcome, Blue on Blue!

Dianne White has lived and traveled around the world and now calls Arizona home. She holds an elementary bilingual teaching credential and a master's in Language and Literacy. In 2007, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Visit Dianne online at!


Topics: 2014 release, picture book, Simon & Schuster, Dianne White, Beach Lane Books

Barbara Krasner and Liesl’s Ocean Rescue!

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Dec 01, 2014 @ 06:12 AM

Today we welcome Barbara Krasner back to The LaunchPad for the launch of her SECOND picture book biography this year, Liesl’s Ocean Rescue! Barbara is a member of the winter '06 class (affectionately known these days as "The Class With No Name")

liesl frontSmall Liesl’s Ocean Rescue, by noted children’s author Barbara Krasner, recounts the story of Liesl Joseph, a 10-year-old girl aboard the ill-fated MS St. Louis. On May 13, 1939, together with her parents and nearly 1,000 other Jewish refugees, she left Hamburg on the German luxury liner, attempting to seek temporary asylum in Cuba.

Great to see you back at The LaunchPad Barbara, and congratulations on your second new picture book this year. What was the spark that ignited this book?

I grew up hearing about the Jewish refugees on a ship that the United States would not accept. When the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a book about its survivors, Refuge Denied, my interest was once again piqued. I contacted one of the authors of the book and he shared with me a list of survivors in my local area. Within a few months, I interviewed seven survivors at their homes in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area and one by phone in Florida. One of these was Liesl Joseph Loeb, whose father had been head of the ship’s passenger committee.

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

To keep the book at picture book length, I started the story when Liesl and her parents board the ship in Hamburg. But my publisher wanted to start at the defining moment: Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when Liesl’s father was arrested like thousands of other men across Germany. My publisher was right, of course.

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Tell us about your writing community.

I’ve been writing historical fiction and non-fiction with members of the Carolyn P. Yoder Retreats since 2005 or so. We’ve gotten to know each other’s work so well, strengths and weaknesses alike. Because we all pretty much write the same genre, I don’t have to hear suggestions that make no sense for nonfiction that I get in local writers groups. We focus on the narrative arc, emotion, and clarity.

What authors do you love for their sentences? Plot? Character?

I wish I could write like Neal Bascomb in The Nazi Hunters (Scholastic/Arthur Levine, 2013) and Steve Sheinkin in Bomb (Roaring Brook Press, 2012). They make nonfiction real page-turners. And they have their ways to weave in multiple viewpoints in a way that doesn’t confuse young readers.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors were Jane Resh Thomas, Liza Ketchum, Ellen Levine, and Marion Dane Bauer. For some reason, I only worked on nonfiction, in picture book format, with Liza, while I waited for her to read the middle grade novel I’d written with Jane. Still, the fictional techniques I learned apply to writing nonfiction. There still has to be characterization, setting, imagery, plot.

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

I knew you should take the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of writing, but I didn’t realize just how true that was. I wish I’d written more nonfiction for all grade levels.

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It's great to have you back, Barbara-- and best of luck with your next release, either fiction or nonfiction! We'll be on the look out!

Liesl’s Ocean Rescue is published by Gihon River Press and hits bookstores today. You can read more about Barbara and her both of her books at 

Find out more about Liesl and her incredible journey here and watch the trailer for Barbara's book here 




Topics: nonfiction, 2014 release, picture book, Barbara Krasner, picture book biography

Bridget Birdsall and DOUBLE EXPOSURE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Nov 12, 2014 @ 08:11 AM

Congratulations to Bridget Birdsall, whose YA novel Double Exposure drops this week from Sky Pony Press! Here are the details:

doubleexposureFifteen-year-old Alyx Atlas was raised as a boy, yet she knows something others don’t. She’s a girl. And after her dad dies, it becomes painfully obvious that she must prove it now—to herself and to the world. Born with ambiguous genitalia, Alyx has always felt a little different. But it’s after she sustains a terrible beating behind a 7-Eleven that she and her mother pack up their belongings and move from California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to start a new life—and Alyx begins over again, this time as a girl.

Alyx quickly makes new friends, earns a spot on the girls’ varsity basketball team, and for the first time in her life feels like she fits in. That is, until her prowess on the court proves too much for the jealous, hotheaded Pepper Pitmani, who sets out to uncover Alyx’s secret. A dangerous game of Truth or Dare exposes Alyx’s difference and will disqualify her entire basketball team from competing in the state championships unless Alyx can prove, once and for all, that she is a girl. But will Alyx find the courage to stand up for the truth of her personhood, or will she do what she’s always done—run away? Whatever she decides, she knows there’s much more at stake than a championship win.

A stunning debut young adult novel from Bridget Birdsall, Double Exposure brings to light complex gender issues, teenage insecurities, and overcoming all obstacles.

Topics: young adult, 2014 release, Sky Pony Press, Bridget Birdsall

Dana Walrath and LIKE WATER ON STONE

Posted by Robin Herrera on Tue, Nov 11, 2014 @ 09:11 AM

Today we welcome Dana Walrath to the Launchpad to celebrate the release of her debut young adult novel, LIKE WATER ON STONE!

It is 1914, and the Ottoman Empire is crumbling into violence.
An eagle’s quill falls from the sky.
The ones who find it will be protected
But how does a feather overcome guns and swords?

Beyond Anatolia, in the Armenian Highlands, Shahen Donabedian dreams of going to New York. Sosi, his twin sister, never wants to leave her home, especially now that she is in love. At first, only Papa, who counts Turks and Kurds among his closest friends, stands in Shahen's way. But when the Ottoman pashas set in motion their plans to eliminate all Armenians, neither twin has a choice.

After a horrifying attack leaves them orphaned, they flee into the mountains, carrying their little sister, Mariam. But the children are not alone. An eagle watches over them as they run at night and hide each day, making their way across mountain ridges and rivers red with blood.

Like water on stone

A writer, artist, and anthropologist, Dana Walrath earned a PhD in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She completed her first novel, Like Water on Stone (Delacorte Press 2014), while in Armenia as a Fulbright Scholar working on a project that builds on her graphic memoir Aliceheimer’s (Harvest 2013).

Welcome, Dana! Tell us, what was the spark that ignited this book?

This story began, as many stories do, with a long ago conversation. As a kid, at the height of the civil rights era, I had asked my mother about her mother’s childhood in western Armenia. I had never known this grandmother. She replied, “After her parents were killed, she hid during the day and ran at night with Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice from their home in Palu to the orphanage in Aleppo.” Learning about my family’s past at that historical moment, combined with the privilege of being one generation further away from the horror, made the Armenian Genocide into a human rights issue instead of the tragedy for one people.

Connecting with my Armenian identity has been a lifelong quest. My Armenian mother had felt the sting of racism and bigotry as a child in New York City and married an American to leave that behind. Though we had Armenian foods and music at home, my mother guided her children toward fitting in and being American, but she remained conflicted about what being Armenian meant to her. Without a big close extended family here, my mother sought some connection with a host of first cousins through a trip to Soviet Armenia in 1977. But she shut down these connections shortly thereafter.

I responded to this trip by studying Armenian in college and joining the Armenian Students Association. But as a half-Armenian unconnected to any of the churches, who went to Quaker instead of Armenian summer camp, I was a bit of a misfit. My political beliefs were also problematic. I remember arguing with other students about how we should be linking the Armenian Genocide to the Cambodian genocide happening right then, but not getting very far, and I couldn’t at the time figure out how to lead the way. My Armenian quest continued in a private fashion.

Few things are more private than the process of writing. In this story, I have done my best to honor the truth of genocide, the glory and strength of Armenian culture, without crossing over into an alienating, oversimplified rhetoric of “us” and “them.” I have separated the horrific systematic actions of the Ottoman governments from the actions of individual citizens. Though some citizens behaved abominably, the book is filled with characters who took risks, who crossed ethnic divisions in order to help those in need. I want contemporary readers to be able to find both a sense of forgiveness and justice in this story. Now that Like Water on Stone is a public “property,” it has been so gratifying to see the evolution that has taken place in Armenian Genocide studies. Today it is firmly integrated within a global human rights framework. Armenian and Turkish scholars and intellectuals and artists of all sorts contribute to creating justice and peace in this region.

What specific research did you do for this story? What's the most interesting thing you leanred that didn't end up in the novel?

Writing Like Water on Stone was driven by a desire to connect with my Armenian grandparents, both survivors of the Armenian genocide of 1915. So much of my life’s experience—Armenian food, music, dances; interactions with Armenian friends and family; and Armenian history books, memoir, and fiction that I had read — were part of my “research”. Two specific experiences especially stand out. In 1984, I travelled with my husband all across Eastern Turkey—what was Western Armenia—to see my grandparents’ homeland. This was a time when Armenians did not travel to Turkey, so we presented ourselves as young Americans, there for an adventure. Turks welcomed us into their homes, feeding us the same foods I had grown up with, saying, “I bet you’ve never tasted anything like this before!” When we got to Palu, the place where my grandmother’s family had been millers, we started asking, in Turkish, if there were any mills nearby. We were directed across a modern bridge, built next to one of crumbling stone with eight arches. We followed the river’s bank to a fast-flowing stream, then headed up the stream into the woods until we reached a mill with a series of attached buildings running up the slope.

On the rooftop of the largest building, the head-scarfed lady of the house served us sweet tea in clear glass cups. A half-dozen children with big brown eyes watched and listened. Mounds of apricots dried in the sun. She said that the mill had been in her family for sixty years; before that, it had belonged to Armenians. At the time, I had no idea that I was conducting research for a book, but when I began to write this story, decades later, this mill became the beloved family home.

Delacorte Press acquired Like Water on Stone the fall of the year I spent in Armenia as a Fulbright Scholar. This gave me total immersion in Armenian culture as I worked through the final set of revisions with my editor, the wonderful Michelle Poploff. Research included everything from conversations with old people about their family’s experience during the genocide, to Sunday masses filled with incense and singing, to fruits and vegetables piled high on roadside stands, to the generous access to the library and the scholars of The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute. Open-air folk dancing with Armenians of all ages enriched a thread that was already present in the book. This bit of “research” began my second night in Yerevan, when I heard music calling me like the Pied Piper from several blocks away. I followed the music and discovered the Karin Ensemble dancing at the foot of the magnificent Cafesjian Center for the Arts. (

kaskad 2013

Folk dancing in the U.S. can seem like a frou-frou activity, but in Armenia it was cool, powerful, passionate, and strong. Before I knew it, I was taking classes twice a week and learning a host of new dances. The lovely women’s circle dance “Madzoon”—the Armenian word for yogurt—in which we move our legs as though stirring the milk in a pot, reminded me of making yogurt with my mother and precipitated yogurt-making scenes in the book. My favorite dance, a tight, fast paced, intricate men’s dance, the Alashkerdi Kochari, made its way into the story: At a moment of intense flight, young Shahen takes his strength from its pounding rhythms. I know from experience that as the tempo increases, lines of six to eight people, moving as one, arms linked around waists, seem to lift off the ground, flying in arcs around the floor.

One discovery that did not make it into Like Water on Stone is that missionaries, acting also as recruiters for the fabric mills of industrializing New England, had found their way into Anatolia in the years leading into this story. When the missionaries discovered that they might get killed for trying to convert Muslims, they focused instead on the local Christians, the Armenians, the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion way back in 301 A.D. Though Europeans and North Americans were present in Anatolia as diplomats, missionaries, and teachers, and though I used a variety of their works as primary sources, none of them made their way explicitly into Like Water on Stone.

What are some of your favorite Armenian words? Did you discover any new ones while writing Like Water on Stone?

What a fun question! I would have to say that the diminutive affectionate “jan” (a hard “dj,” rhymes with “on”) placed after someone’s name is at the top of my list. It not only made it into Like Water on Stone, but has made its way back into my English. Though it translates as “dear,” it is actually a Persian word that means soul. I love the notion of addressing each other’s beings and cores so directly and with affection.

I also especially love the use of common words like sun, moon, Sycamore tree, dream, and sweet—Arev, Lusine, Sosi, Yeraz, Anoush—as common first names. This keeps speakers much closer to the natural world through their everyday language. Among these, only Sosi made it into Like Water on Stone. Though Armenia is quite a patriarchy, I love that the same word keghetsig (the gh like a French r) was used to talk about beauty for men and for women. This word, like so many others, contains earthy guttural sounds like kh and gh, common in that part of the world. The only two English sounds that Armenian can’t accommodate easily happen to be the W and th found at either end of “Walrath”!

Armenian is filled with words built out of smaller parts. This means that many words are very long but at the same time poetic and inherently metaphorical. In western Armenian, for example, the word for brown is “coffee-colored” or surdjakooin. All of these words are more easily written with the Armenian alphabet.

 armenian alphabet

Iharke and anbayman both mean “certainly” or “of course” but were said with such gusto that I had to fall in love with them. 

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

Selling Like Water on Stone, my first novel, was quite a journey, some of it snail-paced and other parts taking place at lightning speed! During my years at VCFA I worked on many things simultaneously, so this story, begun before I started the program, was not finished when I graduated. Instead it had powerful fragments that still needed to be formed into an integrated whole. At first, it contained at least a dozen individual voices and no overarching narrator in the style of Karen Hesse’s brilliant books Witness and Out of the Dust. [Interviewer's note: there's a very nice blurb from Karen Hesse on the cover of Like Water on Stone!] While I was searching for an agent, writing partners were telling me that the story was hard to follow, that the horror was too hard to take. This is when the eagle, Ardziv, came into the story. His magic could ground readers and make it safe for them. It certainly did this for me as I wrote. I had found the voice at last and from there the story flowed. Once Ardziv appeared, I signed with Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Shortly thereafter, I left for Armenia for the year as Joan assembled the group of editors to whom she would submit. One of them called her back within hours of getting the manuscript and she contacted the others and the book ended up going to auction.

The privilege of going to auction is that you get to discuss the vision of the book with the interested editors. Both editors were gracious, intelligent, compassionate people with whom working would be a pleasure. One was concerned about some of the vivid brutality that I had included. Following the ages of my protagonists, this editor suggested we pull back on the violence and keep the book firmly Middle Grade. The other editor suggested making the protagonists older so that the truth of the horror could stay. In the end this is what swayed me. Once Michelle Poploff acquired the book, we brought it through two more revisions. The process flowed and included additions instead of cuts. She would ask the perfect question at a place in the text that had a gap and scenes appeared to answer her questions. Using some of the sources from the Armenian Museum and Institute, I realized that I had to shift the calendar of the story. These mechanics also created some new scenes. Revision was a process of building and clarifying.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA made me a writer.  I had come to VCFA to do the Picture Book semester and to provide a bit of structure into my life as I had just taken a leave of absence from my teaching work at University of Vermont’s College of Medicine, shortly after my mother and dementia moved in with us.  After being on campus for only 36 hours I was sure that I should do the entire program.  Every lecture and reading by faculty and the graduating students demonstrated just how much one could learn there! On top of that, it was magic to be surrounded by such a generous community dedicated to bringing good books into the world. Instead of competition, VCFA emphasizes that this world needs as many good books as possible and everyone is encouraged to grow and contribute to this common goal.  Workshops during the residency and 10 intense days of dorm life make the community fully integrated. Working intimately with 4 individual advisors over the course of each semester (in my case, Julie Larios, Tim Wynne Jones, Rita Williams Garcia, and Margaret Bechard) is such a privilege. Each has their own style and perspectives but the dedication and generosity they share and give to their students is mind-boggling.  Being a part of the program also forces each of us to put our writing first. Up till then, my writing took place during stolen hours. Even though I was in the midst of caring for my mother, getting my youngest son off to college, and co-authoring a textbook, the program kept my creative work front and center. Through it, I developed habits and friendships that will last forever.  VCFA was the biggest gift I ever gave to myself.  But the real thanks goes to all the people that make this extraordinary community. 

Very well said, Dana. I couldn't put it better myself! Thank you for stopping by!

Like Water on Stone is out TODAY from Delacorte Press! To find out more, visit Dana at her website, or follow her on twitter or facebook.

Topics: young adult, verse, 2014 release, Dana Walrath, Delacorte

Stacy Nyikos and WAGGERS!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Nov 04, 2014 @ 08:11 AM

Our tails are wagging today with the release of Waggers by Stacy Nyikos (Sky Pony Press)! Stacy is a member of VCFA's League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches, and was kind enough to pop by for a chat.

waggersMoni & Michael are so excited to adopt Waggers. Waggers is too. His tail goes crazy. But he can't help it. Being adopted is exciting. So is baking cookies..and hunting monsters...and squirrels and socks and...wagging the paint off cars? Uh-oh. Can Waggers and his family find a way to stay together, or will his tail wag them apart?

Welcome, Stacy! So, tell us . . .

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

Regardless of the picture book, the hardest thing for me to cut and get right is the balance between visual imagery and story. When I write novels, I have to build the entire scene. When I do picture books, I have to leave plenty of story for the illustrator to play with. Figuring out exactly what part to leave is hard! I want to show it all. Word count helps keep me on task. At 500 words, all of them play double duty. Dialogue reveals plot, and if I choose correctly, also reveals character. In some ways, writing a picture book is like writing a movie script. Description isn't as integral as in a novel. A few words may do the trick. Or, if I'm on my game, an action on the character's part will reveal both scene and plot.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The idea for Waggers came when we got a new dog, Desi. She's a pound puppy, which means, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and in Desi's case, a tail that can knock holes in walls. Well, okay, I might be exaggerating a little, but she's got a tail on her that, when it gets going, has been known to clean tables of EVERYTHING. That's where the idea for a dog whose tail gets out of control came from. I could easily see Desi getting so excited she'd wag the paint off my car, which is why we don't leave her in the garage...ever!

We love Desi! :) What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

It's from Stephen King - second draft = 1st draft - 10%. Not that I've ever been able to quite hit 10%. I tend to write short. Still, keeping that in mind, helps me keep second, third, fourth...thirty-second drafts from turning into paper monsters.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA helped me learn how to direct my imagination. Before, it was like a wild spigot. Now, it's like a fire hose that I direct into the recesses of my mind to water and bring to life plot, character, and scene and the million other little parts that go into making an idea into a story.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Is it wrong to say the cookies? Man, those things are good. I swear I still dream about them! (We agree!) But best of all was sitting with other writers and talking shop, listening to their story ideas, laughing together, commiserating together, having a support network to both bring my work to the next level and boost me up when I wasn't hitting the mark.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Embrace your own path. We writers all end up on different ones. The awesome thing is that there is no right way. There's only writing. How you get up over, or through, or under the wall - is there a wall? - and into the world of publishing is what makes you and your writing unique. Embrace it. It might be avant garde. It will definitely be different, and that's what sets you apart from anyone else as an artist. Embrace it.   

Wonderful advice. Thanks for visiting, Stacy! And welcome, Waggers!

In a quiet little office/at a comfy little desk/Stacy Nyikos chews on pencils/And scribbles silliness. Stacy holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. When she's not chasing stories (or being chased by them), she's on adventures with her husband, two daughters, and dog in the wilds of Oklahoma.

Visit Stacy online at her website and on her blog!

Topics: 2014 release, picture book, Stacy Nyikos, Sky Pony Press

Martine Leavitt and BLUE MOUNTAIN

Posted by Lisa Doan on Tue, Oct 28, 2014 @ 07:10 AM


Today we welcome Martine Leavitt to the Launchpad to celebrate the release of Blue Mountain, published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux. Martine is what we call a triple threat - a graduate of VCFA, a member of VCFA faculty and one of the nicest and most talented people we know.

Blue MountainWhen young Tuk is born on the mountain, life is simple for a young bighorn. Run, jump and play with his bandmates, eat and grow strong. But soon it will be up to Tuk to lead the herd to a new mountain he has seen far to the west. It will be a long journey filled with dangers. Wolf, bear, wolverine, puma — and man. The responsibility to lead the herd sits uneasily on Tuk’s shoulders. But Tuk is the one who has seen the blue mountain in the distance, and his bandmates are counting on him. There is little Mouf, full of questions. There is Sham, who must reach their new lambing grounds before her lamb is born. And there are his male rivals, who challenge his ability to lead them. After all, Tuk is just a yearling, and his horns are not even fully formed. Can Tuk lead them to a place where the bighorn can live in peace, on the gifts that the moutain provides.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

My father loved nature and the animal world and was an avid hiker. At one point he became intrigued with the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and made a study of their ranges, habitat, herd structure and social order. For many years he trekked into the backcountry of the mountains, photographing the bighorn and recording his observations. He loved their independence and their ability to live in the most forbidding places. Long before it was in style, he was concerned with wilderness environments and the effects of man’s encroachment.

Big HornSome years ago he showed me his writings, an account of a bighorn sheep through four seasons of the year. It was beautiful. I was transported to the mountain and the simple but adaptive life of these remarkable animals. I thought, here I have been writing for years, and he writes this one thing and it’s magical! One day my father gave me a gift of all his notes. I accepted his gift with gratitude and based this story on them. My story became a very different thing than his lovely and perfectly accurate rendering, but we tell the stories we can.


Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Tuk is the name of my viewpoint character – he is the biggest and the fastest and the cleverest sheep. I love him because he is smart and strong, and yet he doubts himself. It’s his journey, both physically and emotionally, and he deserves to be the main character. I loved his friends, too. But I accidently ended up loving Mouf the best. She isn’t very clever, but she is funny and brave, and funny and brave are two of my favorite qualities in people and sheep.


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

My editors will tell you that I have this thing with time. In My Book of Life by Angel, things that should have taken a few hours seemed to take days, and vice versa. The same thing is happening now with my work in progress, Calvin, and the same thing happened with Blue Mountain. I guess I get into the story and this time-warp thing happens. The worst of it is that even after my editors send four-page letters describing in detail why the time is all wrong, I still have a hard time getting my head around it. I’m not like that in real life – I’m always punctual, I always know when dinner is… Next time I’m going to keep a timeline as I go because otherwise it sure makes a mess of things when you go to revise.


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

Here is a very private magic secret: when I want something to be true for the sake of my story, I google it, and I always find a way to make it true. It’s almost like your imagination figures something out, and then you go out into reality to see if your imagination got it right. And yes, she did! At one point, Tuk is in danger of being pushed off the side of a mountain by a puma. I googled around to make sure that could happen, and I came upon a very grisly photo of a bighorn sheep dead on the road at the bottom of a cliff, and beside him was a dead cougar. The cougar still had a clump of the bighorn’s fur in his mouth. For a second I was scared that my story had caused it! Stuff like that always happens to me.


What is your favorite VCFA memory?

My favorite memories are of the times my colleagues and I sat together and talked and laughed in the landing lounge. It’s sort of tacky and frumpy, that room, but I feel happy when I walk into it because it is filled with good karma. The students should never doubt that our faculty has a culture of deep respect and regard for one another’s work, and love for each other. Is that cheesy? Yes, it is. But when you get old, you gain a new appreciation for all things cheese.


What advice would you give to prospective VCFA students?

When I first started as a student at VCFA, I was bowled over by all the talent and genius of my fellow students and faculty. I was envious, and I had much to envy. But that was a waste of my time and emotional energy. Don’t waste your time. 

Martine LeavittMartine Leavitt is the author of nine novels for young readers, including Tom Finder, winner of the Mr. Christie’s Book Award, and Heck Superhero, Governor General’s Award finalist. Keturah and Lord Death was a National Book Award finalist, and Martine’s most recent novel, My Book of Life by Angel, received five major starred reviews, won the CLA Young Adult Book of the Year Award and was an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist.



Topics: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2014 release, middle grade, Martine Leavitt

Jennifer Wolf Kam and DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD!

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 @ 07:10 AM

Today we're celebrating Jennifer Wolf Kam, one of the Unreliable Narrators, class of July 2007 and her new novel Devin Rhodes is Dead, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Book of the Year!

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Devin Rhodes is dead. It's my fault.

High school freshman Cass is conflicted about her love/hate relationship with her best friend, Devin, and about her death. How did Devin’s body end up at the bottom of Woodacre Ravine? Was Cass really responsible? Is concealing the truth haunting Cass or is it the ghost-like spirit of her dead friend?

Devin is looking forward to Sophomore year and being in “real high school.” Cass liked ninth grade and being separate from the upper classmen and all the things that come with “real high school.” Cass wonders if she and Devin have much in common any more and whether they are still best friends. Feelings of jealousy, wanting to be independent, and the urge to push boundaries drive a wedge between the two friends. After Devin’s death, Cass feels responsible. She knows the truth—or she thinks she does—and holding it back from Devin’s mother, from the police, from herself, is creating terrible anxiety for her. And it doesn’t help that she thinks Devin is haunting her.

Told in alternating before-and-after chapters, Cass details life leading up to the mysterious events that led to Devin’s “wrongful death.” The turbulent adolescent changes that challenge Cass and Devin’s friendship will seem familiar and real to middle-grade and young-adult readers. The mystery about what happened to Devin and if she is really reaching out from beyond the grave will have readers on the edge of their seats.


Hi, Jennifer! Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Margaret Bechard, Marion Dane Bauer, Tim Wynne-Jones and Ellen Howard. How lucky am I?

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

I wish I had known how cold it gets in Vermont in January! I might've packed some flannel jammies. But seriously, I wish I'd known that I'd make life-long friends and find my way into a community of wonderful and like-minded souls. I would've signed up sooner.

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

To write from inside my character, which seems obvious, but actually, to me, wasn't. When you write from inside your character, using all of your senses, your reader experiences your story's world through that character. It creates an intense bond between your reader and character that entices the reader to go along on your character's journey.

What was your favorite character to write and why?

I really enjoyed creating Marcus. Actually, I had a literary crush on him.

Do you write in silence?

Ummm...silence? What's that?

If not, what's your soundtrack?

"Mom, I'm hungry!" "Mom, I can't find my cleats!" "Mom, I spilled!" But in my head it's The Foo Fighters and Stevie Nicks.

What was it like when you sold this book?

I was in shock. I didn't tell anyone for a week. Really. I was afraid if I said it out loud fate might change her mind. But then I danced. =)

Thanks for dropping by, Jennifer! Devin Rhodes Is Dead was published by Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge and is available at bookstores NOW!

You can find out more at Jennifer's website-   

Check out a review at 

And pick up a Readers Discussion Guide at:


Topics: young adult, YA crossover, 2014 release, Charlesbridge, Jennifer Wolf Kam, middle grade

A.S. King and Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Posted by Lisa Doan on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 @ 07:10 AM

We welcome A.S. King, VCFA Faculty and Printz Honor winner, to the Launchpad to talk about Glory O'Brien's History of the Future (Little Brown)Publishers Weekly's starred review calls  "a novel full of provocative ideas and sharply observed thoughts about the pressures society places on teenagers, especially girls." 

coverWould you try to change the world if you thought you had no future?

Graduating from high school is usually a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory. She's never stopped wondering if her mother’s suicide will lead her to end her own life someday, as statistics would predict. But everything changes after a transformative night when she gains the power to see anyone’s infinite past and future. And what she sees ahead for humanity is terrifying.

Glory makes it her mission to record everything that’s coming, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she'll do anything to make sure this one doesn't come to pass.

With astonishing insight and arresting vision, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

When asked about her writing, King says, "Some people don't know if my characters are crazy or if they are experiencing something magical. I think that's an accurate description of how I feel every day."

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

I cut a third main character out of GLORY O'BRIEN and was then left with two. While the extra character served his purpose for the early drafts, he seemed to be what Amanda Jenkins would call a "plot bitch" and I realized that he had to go right about the time my editor and I were starting our second round of revisions. I can't say that removing him was difficult, but I can say that figuring out that he had to be removed took a little longer than I'd hoped.

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

I write in creative seclusion and don't share my work with anyone until it's done. No one reads my early drafts, though I do have to provide a sample of an unfinished book to my agent and editor in order to sell the book. In my process, my husband is always my first reader. For 18 books, he's always been my first reader but I only give him finished drafts.

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

I write in silence (if you want to call what my house sounds like on a normal day silence) during first drafts. I sometimes listen to music before I write to find the mood of a character. Then, during revision, I compile a soundtrack--sometimes only a song or two at first--and play it on repeat until my family begs me to stop. For GLORY, it was the song "Biscuit" by Portishead.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA residencies are like learning parties. It's exhausting, yes. It's a lot of work, sure. But it's a huge, encouraging learning environment and I needed this as a writer. Considering I write in seclusion, connecting with other writers was a huge relief. Lectures (both student and faculty) teach me something every time. For example, a student lecture in Summer 2014 is helping me write my WIP, made me realize a few important things about myself as a person, and inspired a tattoo.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

The encouragement I received during my first ever (barefoot) reading on campus when I told the audience that I'd never once shared unfinished work before...and then the encouragement I received after I read the piece. (It sold a few months later and is due to come out Fall 2015.) Also: the dance party for the Magic Ifs in Winter 2014. That was some serious fun.

A.S. King

Connect with A.S. King on her website at: or on her blog  at:

Topics: young adult, 2014 release, Little Brown, A. S. King, Printz Honor

A New SPARKLE SPA Book AND Do-It-Yourself Polka Dot Pedi!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Oct 07, 2014 @ 10:10 AM

Happy, glittery launch day to True Colors, the latest book in Jill Santopolo's Sparkle Spa series

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Jill was kind enough to stop by with a special treat -- our own Launchpad Do-It-Yourself Polka Dot Pedicure! So get your polish out (may we suggest VCFA Green?). Here's Jill:

One of the best things about writing a book series set in a sparkly nail salon is that I’ve gotten to practice giving myself manicures and pedicures. And I’ve learned a lot of tips along the way. The pedicures are much easier, because my non-dominant hand—my left—doesn’t have a lot to do, but I’ve been practicing manicures enough that lefty is getting better at polishing. And since it has, I’ve gotten a little more adventurous with my nail designs.  

In fact, when the Mod Cloth website contacted me a few months back asking me to participate in their nail art promotion, I said yes and came up with this polka-dotted manicure that I was able to do all by myself. Though I now think it might be more fun as a pedicure…

In the back each Sparkle Spa book, there are tips from the characters—Aly and Brooke—about how to do give yourself different kinds of pedicures. So this is my version of that, based on my experiences with polish while working on this series, written from my own perspective instead of theirs.

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How to Give Yourself A Polka-Dot Pedicure

By Jill


What you need:

Paper towels

Polish remover

Clear polish

One color polish for the base (I suggest something dark)

A nail art pen (I suggest white)

Cotton balls (optional)


What you do:

First, put some paper towels down on the floor. (I’m serious about this, because nail polish stains. Or if the polish itself doesn’t stain, the remover you use to try to get it off whatever it dripped on will take the color out of your rug or couch or the shellac on your wood floor….)

Second, use a cotton ball or a wad of paper towels dipped in polish remover to get off any polish or dirt currently on your toenails.

Third, rip off two pieces of paper towel. Twist them into a tube-shape and weave them back and forth between your toes to separate them. (This is so the polish you’ve done on one toe doesn’t rub off onto the next one.)

Fourth, do a coat of clear on each nail, then fan them for a little bit (maybe 30 seconds) so the polish isn’t too liquidy.

Fifth, do a coat of your base coat on each nail and fan again.

Sixth, repeat step five.

Seventh, wait a while for the polish to dry a bit—maybe five or so minutes.

Eighth, now open the nail art pen and make sure the color comes out when you push it down on a piece of paper towel. Once you’re sure, make dots by pushing the nail art pen down in different places on you nail. (The longer you push, the bigger the dot.) 

Ninth, fan your toes for about a minute, and then apply a top coat of clear. 

Now your toes have to dry completely. I’d give them at least 15 minutes—and that quick dry spray isn’t a bad idea either. (I’ve heard sticking your nails in the freezer helps them dry faster, but can’t say I actually tried this out.)

And then enjoy your pedicure! 

(Oh, two final tips: Make sure you don’t polish your nails too close to bedtime, because even if they seem dry, you might wake up with pillow creases in your polish. Also, make sure you wait a few hours before you take clothing out of the dryer (otherwise—disaster).)

So there you go—things I learned while writing the Sparkle Spa.  And if you’d like to see some of the pedicure tips Aly and Brooke have, you can click over here:


Happy polishing—

Jill Santopolo


Thanks, Jill! Our feet look awesome!

Jill chatted with us about her Sparkle Spa books earlier this year -- click here to check it out!

You can also learn more about this fun series over at Simon & Schuster, and visit Jill at her website,

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Topics: 2014 release, middle grade, guest post, chapter book, Jill Santopolo, Simon & Schuster

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