the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Mama's Belly, by Kate Hosford

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 @ 00:04 AM

Today we have a special delivery from Kate Hosford! Her new picture book, Mama’s Belly, illustrated by Abigail Halpin, is out now from Abrams!

 

cover-2

 

Mama has a belly rising up like wave.

Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.

As a curious little girl eagerly awaits the arrival of her sister, she has many questions about what her new sibling will be like. Will her sister have freckles? How will her family change? With lyrical language and unforgettable lush illustrations, Mama’s Belly is an honest and gentle exploration of the excitement and anticipation in welcoming a new family member, and assures young readers that Mama will always have enough love for everyone.

 

Welcome, Kate! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

In the winter of 2009, I did an amazing picture book semester with Uma Krishnaswami. I had found a picture of my son, Charlie, and myself when I was pregnant with his brother. I was looking down at Charlie with my hands on my belly. Charlie, who was two at the time, was facing me with his hands on his belly, and a look on his face that seemed to say, "I don’t know what we’ve gotten into here, but I may be in over my head." This gave me the idea to write a baby-on-the-way book from the point of view of a child who is focused on his mother’s pregnant belly.

However, when I started writing the story, I seemed to forget about that look on Charlie’s face, and instead wrote a story that was a relentlessly positive list of things that a boy would do with his new sibling. Uma suggested that perhaps the boy might be a little more conflicted about a sibling coming and about the ways in which pregnancy might change his mother. I then tried to remember what it had really been like to be pregnant and have a child waiting for a sibling. I revised the story so that the mom is sometimes tired and grumpy from backaches and her inability to see her own toes. I also had the protagonist express a variety of emotions about the impending birth. He might look forward to washing the baby’s belly, but also wonder if the baby would steal his blanket. At some point, I changed both the protagonist and the baby to females and the story became about a girl waiting for her sister to be born. 

Tell us how you sold this book. What was it like to find out?

I sold this book to Tamar Brazis at Abrams. I had probably been submitting stories to Tamar for over ten years at that point, and although she hadn’t bought anything before Mama’s Belly, she had always been kind and encouraging. After graduating from VCFA in 2011, I  continued working on the story. I knew there were already a lot of good baby-on-the-way books out there, but I hoped that I could make the voice of protagonist lyrical and unique.

I also wanted to give the story more of an emotional arc and come up with a really important question that the girl could ask her mother. I happened to run into a pregnant neighbor who had a five year-old daughter. When I asked her what her daughter wanted to know about the new baby, she said her daughter had asked, “Will there be enough love for both of us?” Once I heard that, I realized that this is the important question that every child needs answered when waiting for a sibling to be born. I tried to make this question, and the mother’s answer, the emotional climax of the book. When Tamar read the story, she liked the voice, and that emotional moment in particular.

I found out that Abrams was acquiring the story in 2015, on my birthday. I couldn’t have asked for a better present. The gestation period for this book was very long—nine years, from first draft to publication—but finding the right publisher, editor and illustrator was worth the wait.

What was it like watching the illustrations come together? 

When Tamar told me that Abigail Halpin had agreed to illustrate the book, I was really excited. First of all, Abigail had done the covers for Uma’s two middle grade books, The Grand Plan To Fix Everything and the The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, which was a lovely coincidence. She had also done a picture book called Finding Wild, which had a gorgeous palette and wonderful patterns and textures throughout the book.

The problem
Grand plan

 

finding wild

 

Her sketches took my breath away. Abigail created a complete world with this lovely bohemian family living in a log cabin beside a lake. She interwove nature throughout the book, so that things are growing and blooming on every page, which seemed to be the perfect setting for a book about pregnancy. The palette is beautiful and she has used so many rich textures and patterns. It is a visual feast for the reader.

Mama's belly

When the finished artwork came in, I cried from happiness. The world Abigial created reminded me of my upbringing in Vermont in the 1970s. I’m also really pleased with book trailer that video editor Nick Oleson created for me. I think the small touches of animation he added really make the trailer sing. It was also fun trying out different sound tracks and seeing how they change the mood of the book.

Watch the Mama’s Belly trailer here! 

 

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I’ve been out of school for seven years now, so at this point, I’m almost used to the fact that often when I read about news in the children’s lit world, I am reading about faculty members or fellow students from school. However, when I really stop and think about how VCFA has shaped the world of children’s literature, it is absolutely amazing.

The VCFA community is an essential part of my life. I turn to classmates for support, critiques and advice, but most of all for friendship. I also feel that VCFAers know that normal is overrated, so it’s liberating and interesting to be around people who are proud of the ways in which they are eccentric, and people who understand what it’s like to be in the wonderful, crazy, unpredictable world of writing for children. 

What advice would you give a prospective VCFA student? 

1) Use your time at school to experiment with different genres, both in your reading and your writing. 

2) The more open you are to the influences around you at VCFA, the more interesting your journey there will become. 

3) Remember that your classmates are probably going to be your support sustem, your critique partners and your friends after graduating. Spend time really getting to know them.

4) Also know that it’s fine to take some time for yourself at residencies. These days are wonderful, and you will remember them forever, but they are also exhausting.  

5) VCFA is an incredibly supportive community. Bask in that support, and also provide it for others. 


Great advice! Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, Kate! Welcome to the world, Mama’s Belly!

Visit Kate Hosford online at khosford.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: picture book, Kate Hosford, Abrams, 2018 release, Abigail Abigail Halpin

Joe McGee and PEANUT BUTTER & ALIENS!

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

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

PeanutButterandALIENS_CVR.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hooray for young authors everywhere!

Alien1.jpgTell us about your writing community.

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

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

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

Congrats to you both for all your happy news!

What was it like watching the illustrations come together?

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

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

Aliens.jpg
What’s your writing superpower?

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

Do you write in silence?

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

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

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

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

alien6.jpgHow did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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