the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

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

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

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

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

Welcome, Kate! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited the book?

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

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Who was your favorite character to write and why?

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

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

PastedGraphic-17.jpgDo you write in silence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

book launch.jpgWho were your advisors at VCFA?

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

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

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

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

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

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

Melanie Fishbane and MAUD!

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

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

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

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

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

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a special find.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

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

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

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

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

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

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari.

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

Laura Atkins and FRED KOREMATSU SPEAKS UP!

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

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

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

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

Welcome, Laura! How did this book come together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next in the series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Laura online at www.lauraatkins.com.

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

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

Rebecca Van Slyke and LEXIE THE WORD WRANGLER!

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

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

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

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

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

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


“I could be,” I said.


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

More cork popping ensued.


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

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

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

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

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

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

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

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


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

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

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

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

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

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

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

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

Visit her online at www.rebeccavanslyke.com.

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

Brendan Reichs: Nemesis

Posted by Amanda West Lewis on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 @ 20:04 PM

Today we are celebrating the release of Nemesis, by VCFA student Brendan Reichs and recently listed on the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction.

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Recurring murder, nightmares, lies, a vast conspiracy and an enormous asteroid threatening life on Earth -- Nemesis gives us Orphan Black twisting with Lord of the Flies in a riveting new thriller from the co-author of the Virals series.

Welcome Brendan. What a plot line! Tell us, what was the spark that ignited this book?

I really wanted to write a conspiracy book. I grew up on shows like The X-Files and Lost, so my goal was to recreate that feeling where the world around my characters might not be what it seems. I also wanted to explore the fundamental concept of the permanence of death. What would it feel like if suddenly that didn’t apply to you? How would you live your life?

You have a cast of great characters here. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

With apologies to the guys, Min is my favorite character to write. I like her most because she’s strong but flawed. Min is highly  suspicious of what’s happening around her, and has a hair-trigger temper, but she never loses her empathy. While I think Tack’s dark sarcasm is vital to the story, and Noah brings a fragility I found somewhat novel to explore in a male point-of-view character, Min in the heart of the book.

It's a wonderfully complex story. Can you tell us what was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

I had to cut a lot of information I’d included about the vacation town of Fire Lake, its history, its economy, and things like that. I spent months diligently constructing and building up my imaginary community, and I wanted it all to go into the book. But, sadly, including it made the first part read like a travelogue and slowed the plot, so it had to go. But if anyone wants to know more background on the townships of the northern Bitterroot Mountains, know that I have it all on file!

Well, on that topic, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

How long does it take quicklime to dissolve a corpse?

Right, moving along, do you have a nugget of craft advice that has been especially helpful to you?

Don’t neglect the emotional side of planning a story. I now like to plan my characters’ emotional arcs just as thoroughly as their plot arcs, so that they are growing (or collapsing) in more ways than one. I map out my entire book on a whiteboard in my office, and keep it up during the entire process so that I can refer to any scene or chapter at a glance. I’m sure this strategy isn’t for everyone, but after seeing results in my last two projects, I won’t do it any other way going forward. If nothing else, it clarifies my thoughts.

Let's talk about your process a bit. Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

Dead silence. Tomb silence. How people work to music baffles me.

What about your writing community?  Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

My wife Emily proofreads and critiques everything I write before anyone else see it, including my editor. I couldn’t imagine doing things any other way. I love Twitter for the watercooler feel of being able to talk to other authors, mainly because writing novels can be such a lonely job. And I have great colleagues that serve as my early readers, and tell me bluntly if my WIP is garbage. Priceless, really.

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Is there something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work?

I keep my law degree on the wall right next to my desk, to remind me of the existential horrors that will await me if I get slack and don’t focus on my writing.

You are a current student at VCFA, graduating in January 2018 with the Tropebusters. How has attending VCFA affected your writing life?

Attending VCFA really got me to dig into my work. It opened my eyes to deficiencies I hadn’t realized existed, while teaching me to push boundaries. I could feel my writing getting stronger as I worked with so many talented other people. I’m a more thoughtful, diligent, and prepared writer because of my time spent in Vermont. There is no writer on any level that wouldn’t benefit from study of this nature. I’m like a kid at Christmas every day.

Who have been your advisors at VCFA?

I’ve been blessed with three amazing advisers so far. I started with Tim Wynne-Jones in my first semester, and still cringe about my inconsistent use of available light. Next I had An Na, who taught me how to slow down and hit those crucial emotional beats. I’m currently working with Kekla Magoon, who kicked my critical thesis into shape and even got me to write a (bad) picture book. These are genius, folks. I get to work with geniuses.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

I would advise everyone coming to VCFA to fully embrace the hothouse environment afforded by the residencies. Rarely in a writing career will you find yourself so fully immersed in pure work, and with such an incredible cast of talented people around you. Attend everything you can drag yourself out of bed for, don’t shirk the traditions, or chances to explore the town, and, most of all, open yourself to the incredible sense of community VCFA offers. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to live in a literary colony. Take advantage of every minutes of it!

Thanks so much, Brendan. It's been great to get an insight into your process and the mind behind Nemesis.

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Brendan Reichs was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2000 and The George Washington University School of Law in 2006. After three long years working as a litigation attorney, he abandoned the trade to write full time. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Nemesis, and co-author of the Virals series, written with Kathy Reichs. Brendan lives in Charlotte with his wife, son, daughter, and a herd of animals that tear up everything.

You can find out more about Brendan at www.brendanreichs.com

Nemesis was published by Penguin/Putnam March 21, 2017. http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/534092/nemesis-by-brendan-reichs/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: young adult, Putnam, Penguin, 2017 release, Brendan Reichs, Penguin/Putnam

Patrick Downes and TEN MILES ONE WAY

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

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

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

Welcome, Patrick! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

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

What’s your writing superpower?

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

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

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

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

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

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

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

What advice would you give to an incoming student?

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

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Pierce and MAMA LOVES YOU SO!

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

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

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



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

Welcome, Terry! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who were your advisors at VCFA?

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

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

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

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

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

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Marianna Baer and THE INCONCEIVABLE LIFE OF QUINN

Posted by Lisa Doan on Tue, Apr 04, 2017 @ 11:04 AM

Congratulations to Marianna Baer on her latest release, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn, published by Amulet/Abrams Books and launching april 4th. Marianna is a member of the '08 Cliffhangers and a resident of Brooklyn (the most unoriginal place for someone in children's publishing to live!) Her first book, FROST, was published by Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins in 2011. When not writing, she edits and develops novels for the YA and adult markets.

marianna cover TILOQ final cover.jpgQunn Cutler is beyond shocked when the doctor says she's pregnant. She's sixteen, the daughter of a prominent politician, and -- far more important -- she's never had sex. At least, not that she can remember.

 

Is she repressing a traumatic memory? Was she drugged? Before Quinn can solve this deeply troubling mystery, her story becomes public. Rumors spread, jeopardizing her reputation, her relationship with a boyfriend she adores, and her father's campaign for Congress. Religious fanatics gather at the Cutlers' house, believing Quinn is a virgin, pregnant with the next messiah.

As the chaos grows, Quinn's search for answers uncovers a trail of lies and family secrets -- strange, possibly supernatural ones. And despite what seems logical and scientific, Quinn can't help but believe the truth about her pregnancy isn't an ugly one. Might she, in fact, be a virgin?

In this thoughtful and heartfelt book, Marianna Baer dives deep into Quinn's world, the pregnancy that can't be possible, and the choices and secrets that for who Quinn Cutler really is.

 

What was the spark that ignited this book?
Years ago, I used to see this teenage girl training cross-country in the park near my apartment. Something about her intrigued me--a sense of innocence combined with a seriousness and intensity that suggested (to a writer's mind, at least!) that she was dealing with heavy burdens. Around that same time, I came across a painting of the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio at the Met, and… WHOA. It was the girl from the park! Right there, in this painting from 1602! I was blown away by the resemblance. And, as I looked at the painting, I wondered: what would happen if a girl in present day Park Slope believed she was a pregnant virgin? Once that question popped into my head, I knew it was a book I wanted to write.

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

Quick fact: I have a Word file titled "Deleted Scenes" for this book that is 64,675 words long. And that is only one of THREE files of marianna Caravaggio.jpegdeleted material! But, believe it or not, none of that cutting was nearly as difficult as some of the other changes I made. Among the hardest: In early drafts, Quinn's boyfriend, Jesse, wasn't her boyfriend -- he was her platonic best friend. She had no romantic interest in him whatsoever. At some point it became clear, though, that he needed to be her boyfriend to strengthen the plot. Problem was, since Quinn had no romantic interest in him, neither did I! When I tried to write scenes where she was attracted to him, I felt like I was making her kiss her brother. I struggled with it for a long time. Amazingly, the way I finally cracked it was ridiculously simple. I changed his name from Jesse to Jeremy. That one simple switch freed up my brain to re-envision their relationship. Now I can't imagine him NOT being her boyfriend! (I changed his name back to Jesse, eventually, because he never stopped being Jesse deep down.) 

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

The backstory of selling this book is a long one. But I'm going to focus on the best/most important moment here, and you'll see why.

September of 2015 followed a very difficult year in my life. My agent (the miraculous Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties) had recently sent out QUINN, but because I wasn't in the best place emotionally, I didn't have high hopes. Anyway, I was at a retreat that I go to every September with a group of incredible VCFA grads. (The yearly re-set of my creative energy/well-being.) We had just finished dinner on the final night of the retreat and I did a quick email check. It was a Sunday night, so I wasn't expecting anything important. But there was an email from Sara. It said that Maggie Lehrman at Abrams loved/wanted QUINN. Now, not only was this INCREDIBLE news, but Maggie is a VCFA grad! She was in a class that I GA'd for and we had stayed in touch after, seeing each other occasionally in our mutual Brooklyn 'hood. I have immense respect for her writing (THE COST OF ALL THINGS, Balzer & Bray, 2015), and the books she's edited for Abrams, and I had no idea that Sara was submitting to her! So, here I was at the retreat, surrounded by a group of the most loving, supportive VCFA friends ever, and I found out that the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel was Maggie! The moment couldn't have been more perfect.* (Especially since there was a hot tub warming up outside!)

*For those new to publishing, I don't mean to insinuate that this moment was when I knew the book had sold. Maggie had to get other people to read it and approve the acquisition, Sara and I talked to editors at other houses, etc. Rarely is anything in publishing as quick as one email!


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

(This advice applies to revision, not early drafting.) It's common wisdom that concrete, specific details are crucial. And yes, that's true. But what I didn't fully get early on was that the details also need to be purposeful and only used where necessary. That sounds so obvious! But I used to  flesh out a scene with description willy-nilly. I thought the more detailed it was the better. Now, when I'm revising, I ask myself, "Do we really need to know what color her dress is in this scene? And if so, why is it yellow? What is that signaling to the reader?" I don't mean to suggest that everything has to be deeply meaningful or symbolic -- not at all. But there is a difference between a girl who wears a bright yellow dress and a girl who wears a khaki dress. And yellow has a strong association with sunshine for most readers. You need to be aware of the small clues you're planting.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Brent Hartinger, Sharon Darrow, and Tim Wynne-Jones. I hear their voices in my head every time I write.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

How did VCFA not affect my writing life?! It changed everything. But the one thing I'll mention here is the importance of the friends and community it gave me. I'm in touch with VCFA friends on a daily basis. Their support, advice, and camaraderie are the foundation of my ability to navigate this tough career without losing my mind. (Or, more accurately, they help me find my mind when I lose it.)

marianna Authorphoto.jpegContact marianna at: http://mariannabaer.com, @mariannabaer at Twitter and Marianna Baer on Facebook. 

Topics: young adult, Amulet Books, 2017 release, Amulet/Abrams, Marianna Baer, Abrams

Katie Bayerl and A Psalm for Lost Girls

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 @ 06:03 AM

Congratulations to Katie Bayerl. She visits the Launchpad today and discusses her young adult mystery, A Psalm for Lost Girls. 

When Katie isn’t penning her own stories, she coaches teens and nonprofits to tell theirs. A summer 2010 graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Katie currently leads the VCFA Young Writers Network, which connects alumni authors with underserved kids and communities.

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Tess da Costa is a saint—a hand-to-god, miracle-producing saint. At least that’s what the people in her hometown of New Avon, Massachusetts, seem to believe. And when Tess suddenly and tragically passes away, her small city begins feverishly petitioning the Pope to make Tess’s sainthood official. Tess’s mother is ecstatic over the fervor, while her sister Callie, the one who knew Tess best, is disgusted—overcome with the feeling that her sister is being stolen from her all over again.
 
The fervor for Tess’s sainthood only grows when Ana Langone, a local girl who’s been missing for six months, is found alive at the foot of one of Tess’s shrines. It’s the final straw for Callie. With the help of Tess’s secret boyfriend Danny, Callie’s determined to prove that Tess was something far more important than a saint; she was her sister, her best friend and a girl in love with a boy. But Callie’s investigation uncovers much more than she bargained for—a hidden diary, old family secrets, and even the disturbing truth behind Ana’s kidnapping. 

 Welcome Katie.  What was the spark that ignited this book?

About a month before I began at VCFA, I took a trip to Portugal. Before I left, a friend (who knows I’m obsessed with saints) sent me info about the recently deceased and soon-to-be-beatified Lúcia dos Santos, the last of the Child Saints of Fátima. I dragged myself away from Lisbon for a day to see what that was all about. The básilica is basically a hideous tourist trap, but I found myself sucked into the history. You see, Lúcia was just 10 years old when she and two cousins claimed to witness apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. The cousins passed away young, leaving Lúcia to carry their story. I couldn’t stop asking myself what it would be like to be in her position, on track to sainthood (and confined to a life as a nun) at such a young age. What if, at age 16, she had a change of heart? What if all she wanted to live a normal life, make mistakes, fall in love, be a regular girl. 

It was a series of “what ifs” that stuck… and at the end of my first semester at VCFA, I found myself writing a response to those questions from the perspective of a young saint’s grieving sister. Psalm Headhot.jpg

Tell us about how you sold this book. Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

I wrote the first two drafts at VCFA and really wanted to have a submission-worthy draft upon graduation. That didn’t happen. Not even close. I got the core of it down in my last two semesters, but I still had so much to figure out before I could find the story’s shape. I spent three more years revising the manuscript—giving up for about a year in the middle—and then coming back to it when I had a major plot breakthrough. (My stints as a VCFA graduate assistant helped a lot!)

My agent, Erin Harris, had a revision idea that excited me: include Tess (the alleged saint) as an alternating point of view. I’d tried to include Tess in early drafts; this time, I saw a way that would work. I added about 80 pages to the book at that point, and Erin cracked a whip, getting me to tighten the rest considerably.

I lost track of how many drafts it was in the end. There was still some significant revision after I sold the book to Putnam, but those final drafts—with agent and editor—were the most satisfying because I could finally see the story emerging in its true form. 

 Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I had the most fun writing Tess (the saint). Those scenes, constructed as diary entries, poured right out. I love her warmth and sense of humor and had fun being with her, even in the agonizing moments.   

The main protagonist, Callie, was much harder. Much. She has a tough skin and didn’t want anyone—least of all her author—to see her true self.  You know what? I get that, and I respect her for it. It was a tricky dance, recognizing her boundaries while showing enough of her underbelly for let readers into her story. In the end, Callie is the one I fell for the hardest.

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

I will trade plot for great sentences and heart-tugging characters any day of the week. Also? I really think that character is established at the sentence level, so basically, I’m cheating on this question.

Three authors who slay me with their sentences: Benjamin Alire Saenz (especially his YA), Edwidge Danticat (especially her works for adults), and VCFA’s own Jandy Nelson. That’s just a sampling. I’m such a sentence slut; if I start listing all of the writers who knock me over with their sentences, it would get embarrassing.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Sharon Darrow, Tim Wynne-Jones, Shelley Tanaka, Rita Williams-Garcia

How did attending VCFA affect your (writing) life?

I learned a lot about craft, obviously, but it was the community that had the greatest impact on me. I made the best friends of my life at VCFA and, as a result of those relationships and so many meandering conversations about craft and art and politics and life, I feel like I became not just a better writer but a better me.

You can visit Katie at www.katiebayerl.com or on twitter at @katiebayerl

Topics: young adult, Putnam, Penguin, 2017 release, Katie Bayerl

Lisa Doan and THE ALARMING CAREER OF SIR RICHARD BLACKSTONE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Any craft advice for writers who want to write funny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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