the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Cori McCarthy and BREAKING SKY!

Posted by Robin Herrera on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 @ 07:03 AM

Today's guest at the Launchpad is 2010 grad Cori McCarthy, whose debut young adult novel, THE COLOR OF RAIN, was released in 2013. BREAKING SKY, another young adult novel, releases today from Sourcebooks Fire, and it's already gotten a rave review from Kirkus AND has been optioned as a movie!

BSky Cover Final

Showoff. Reckless. Maverick. Chase Harcourt, call sign "Nyx", isn't one to play it safe. In the year 2048, America is locked in a cold war – and the country's best hope is the elite teen fighter pilots of the United Star Academy. Chase is one of only two daredevil pilots chosen to fly an experimental "Streaker" jet. But few know the pain and loneliness of her past. All anyone cares about is that Chase aces the upcoming Streaker trials, proving the prototype jet can knock the enemy out of the sky.

But as the world tilts toward war, Chase cracks open a military secret. There's a third Streaker, whose young hotshot pilot, Tristan, can match her on the ground and in the clouds. And Chase doesn't play well with others. But to save her country, she may just have to put her life in the hands of the competition.

Cori McCarthy's taut, romantic, action adventure will shoot your pulse straight into overdrive with her brilliantly imagined and frighteningly possible future. “Smart, exciting, confident—and quite possibly the next Big Thing.” – Kirkus Reviews

So, Cori: What was the spark that ignited this book?

So a lot of people think that this story sprung solely from my love of Top Gun, but that’s not really true. In fact, I would give the revamped Battlestar Galactica more credit for igniting this story than Top Gun. And I guess that’s all to do with the main character, Chase “Nyx” Harcourt. While watching BSG, I was totally, one hundred percent, crazy in love with Kara “Starbuck” Thrace. She was such a badass fighter pilot with loads of personal and emotional issues (God, I love characters with issues!). My YA brain kept wondering, “Now what would Kara be like if she were a teenager?!” So when I sat down to write Chase, I had Kara Thrace in my head. Chase evolved throughout the epically long drafting process and became much more nuanced, but I have to giggle when people bring up Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” persona in relation to Chase. In my mind, Nyx will always be a teenage Starbuck in a near-futuristic America.

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

To answer all three? Melina Marchetta, Melina Marchetta, Melina Marchetta. Sorry to intone so dramatically, it’s just that she’s my favorite writer and her stories have the sort of lasting boom that I long to one day write. Her sentences are stunning. (I give you: “From this distance everything is so bloody perfect.” And: “There are worse things than a lie and there are better things than the truth.”) Her plots are always trekking, sprinting, evolving. And there’s this scene that happens in the first hundred pages of Jellicoe Road with a cat that makes me sob. Now, I’m not easily brought to tears and any writer who can do it that early in a story is my hero. And finally: character. I dare anyone to crack open Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock and not fall head over heals for Evangeline and Finnikin. Go on. I double dog dare you. :)

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 weekly with Amy Rose Capetta and current-VCFA student, Tirzah Price. We keep each other going as much as Panera’s coffee, and we talk out our stories in this constant stream of fragmented inquiries. For example, it’s pretty normal for me to jerk my head up in the middle of a quiet session and ask, “What’s worse: getting punched in the eye or kicked in the shin with steel-toed boots?” Then we debate and go back to our writing. Having a writing community/group is rather new to me, and it has made me love writing so much more. While writing on my own, there was always an element of segregation that was so very hard for me. Now I have my best writery friends at my side to provide literary checkpoints, grammar advice, and vigilant support—without which I might have given up publishing years ago.

1969416 10202738964613442 7008758492564878045 nCori (left) and Amy Rose

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Before VCFA, I wrote from the gut. Not that I don’t still write from the gut, but now I remember to double check the resonance of my stories with the rest of the world. In short, VCFA taught me how to share my work with others. I have always been terrified of letting someone else read my work, and although I studied writing for nearly a decade before entering the MFA program at Vermont, I never learned to trust critiques and praise. I still can’t really take a compliment, but I know so many other writers with that similar issue that we really should have t-shirts made. Something like: CALL ME BRILLIANT & I'LL SCOWL AT YOU

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

There are a hundred goofy, wonderful, shining answers to this question, but I have a rather melancholy one. There. You’ve been warned.

I read a poem once. A very sad poem about my dearest cousin’s baby who didn’t make it. I was still going through the grieving process myself, still struggling to understand the loss I felt and the incredible agony over my cousin’s grief. I’m not sure why I decided to share the poem until I’d finished reading it and looked up and saw Martine crying. Although I hadn’t thought of the poem as cathartic when I wrote it, in reading it aloud, it unveiled something in me that just wanted to be openly sad about what had happened. Two minutes before a crowd in Noble made me feel better than six months of feeling all torn up inside. That’s why it’s my favorite moment. VCFA is place where you can learn how to write, how to laugh at your mistakes and grow, but it’s also a safe place where you can be unabashedly raw and honest. I’ll treasure the feeling of acceptance and home that residency gave me for the rest of my life.

That encapsulates so much of what I love about VCFA as well. Thank you, Cori!

CM Headshot2

Cori McCarthy worked with Alan Cumyn, Marion Dane Bauer, Uma Krishnaswami, and Shelley Tanaka while earning her MFA. She lives in Michigan, loves her small-but-mighty publisher, and dreams of one day finishing the novel in verse that was her graduate reading.

Topics: young adult, writing community, 2015 release, Cori McCarthy, Sourcebooks Fire, Amy Rose Capetta

Amy Rose Capetta and UNMADE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 @ 08:01 AM

Today the stars have aligned to bring us Unmade, the conclusion to Amy Rose Capetta's stellar YA novel Entangled (HMH Kids). Here are the details:

UNMADEcoverIn the universe-altering conclusion to Entangled, seventeen-year-old Cade has to turn her rock star talents to saving the human race from the Unmakers. As Cade struggles to stay close to her strong-willed crew and get even closer to Rennik, the ship’s fascinating and frustrating pilot, her life becomes a tangle of love, death, and lyrics.

We're singing a happy song today because Amy Rose is here! Welcome. So, tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Renna. Because writing about a living spaceship is the most fun I’ve ever had while doing something that can be defined as work. 

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

Sentences: Jeanette Winterson. Shakespeare. Italo Calvino. Rainbow Rowell. 

Plot: Philip Pullman. Kristin Cashore. Cori McCarthy. 

Character: Melina Marchetta. A.S. King. Joss Whedon.

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

Don’t be afraid to start over. Or—yes, be afraid, but do it anyway. If you know the story needs it. If trying to patchwork it will just give you a minimally better version of your fatally flawed draft. I NEVER would have been brave enough to do this on deadline if I hadn’t gone to VCFA. But when I sat down to revise, my gut was screaming. And VCFA taught me a lot of great nuance-y sophisticated writer things, but it also taught me to listen to that gut scream. I actually became a more instinctive writer by getting an MFA! I also became one who was brave and foolish enough to rewrite a 90,000 word novel in four months.

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

space ship in video gameI have to send a huge YOU ARE AWESOME to whoever on facebook told me to listen to the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack while writing. It was just too perfect. I love the influences you can hear from cultures around the world that the composer drew on to create something that sounds familiar, but also futuristic and entirely its own. It was exactly what I needed for this story—that driving, intense outerspace thing, yes, but also the connection to Earth and and tradition and home. I couldn’t write these books in silence, because Entangled and Unmade are all about music. They started with one lonely punk rock girl in space, and grew from there. 

Are there any specific challenges to writing a duology as opposed to a trilogy or a standalone?

YES! As soon as I saw the ending of the second book, I knew I would give anything to get there. I really wanted to finish Cade’s story. There was one huge thing standing in my way. The beginning of the second book. The second half of Unmade is a downhill tumble toward the end—everything starts out bad and gets worse. But at the beginning, you have to reintroduce the characters and plot of the first book without being too redundant or killing the pace. And in a duology, the beginning of that second book is actually the middle of the big-story arc. Apparently middles are just as swampy and hard when they’re at the beginning of a book! And ending a series is sad, but also, in some ways, the best. Because I got to go to the end of the line with characters I already loved. It gave them time to grow and develop waaaay more than they could in the first book. And, as we all know, the longer people are on a very small spaceship together, the more likely they are to make out. (Bonus: my publisher refers to the series as a Space Duet, and I can’t get over how perfect that is.)

I love the term "Space Duet"! Let's use it often!

asteroid belt NASA resized 600

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

A day in the life of a VCFA junkie: Today I woke up, drank coffee out of my VCFA mug, worked on my manuscript which has already been beta-ed by one alum and will soon go out to another. Next I do work for my freelance job, which I only have because I moved to Austin and found the wonderful (VCFA-heavy) community down there. I edit other peoples’ work, which basically consists of writing packet letters! Oh, and over lunch I talked plot with my next door neighbor, who is also my best friend from the program. VCFA and my life are completely inextricable at this point. I love it.


Thanks so much for stopping by, Amy Rose. Welcome to the universe, Unmade! 

Amy Rose Capetta is a member of VCFA's Keepers of the Dancing Stars. Visit her online at! Also, be sure to check out her Tumblr collaboration with author Cori McCarthy on all things nerdlore and book love, the NerdBait Guide.

Topics: young adult, 2015 release, HMH Books For Young Readers, Amy Rose Capetta, HMH Kids

Amy Rose Capetta Talks ENTANGLED & Universe Building

Posted by Adi Rule on Sat, Nov 08, 2014 @ 07:11 AM


We are over the moon about the paperback release of Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). If you're just joining us, here are the details:

Entangled is the story of seventeen-year-old Cade, a fierce survivor who lives solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar until she finds out she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan. Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

The rest of Cade’s story is coming in Unmade, which hits shelves January 13!

We're delighted to have Amy Rose with us today for a guest post. Read on for some awesome craft advice, an exclusive Entangled video, and a giveaway! :)

describe the image

Today I’d like to talk about universe building. 

And I’m going to tell my dirty, terrible secret. The one that I’m afraid I might blurt out every time someone asks me, “How did you come up with all of those crazy places in Entangled?

Well. Here’s the thing. Usually, when I write science fiction and fantasy, I do a huge amount of thinking and planning. There are notebooks devoted to it. There are character backstories and world backstories and elaborate setting descriptions and, yes, the mother of all worldbuilding delights—maps. 

With Entangled? I…um…didn’t do any of that. I made it up as I went along. 

To be fair to my earnest little self who sat down and started writing a few years ago, I thought I would get to the point where I would do all of that work. I figured I would hit a block (for me it usually happens between page twenty and forty) when I would have to stop and learn more about my story before I could tell it. But that didn’t happen. It just kept spilling out—which meant I had to keep up. I had to keep inventing, keep describing, keep churning out new cities and planets and creatures to live on them and histories to fit into my ever-expanding universe—and what’s more, I had to keep track of all of it. 

ARCAuthorPhotoI like to think of this a little bit like road trip style. I’ve always been the kind of person who wakes up, decides they want to go somewhere, and starts packing. No excess planning, no itineraries. Just adventure and maybe some snacks. (Okay, definitely snacks. Smartfood, probably.) So maybe it makes sense that this worked for me when I wrote Entangled. The only problem, where this metaphor can sort of break down when you try to apply it to writing, is the fact that you’re not just driving through the map. You’re also responsible for making it up. 

So there are really a few different ways to do this:

Make up the map AND plan the trip beforehand. This is the very adult, responsible way to approach novel writing and interstate travel. It’s entirely possible it results in fewer rounds of revision—or frantic calls to AAA.

You can try to plan the trip WITHOUT making up the map beforehand. This sounds utterly irresponsible. This is probably the best way to end up with a world that doesn’t work at all, or a car that has been driven off a cliff. (So of course, it’s how I’m writing my current WIP.)

And then there’s making up the map along the way, and deciding what the trip is as you go. This is how I wrote Entangled, and although it was kind of strange and wild and might not be repeatable (for me,) it was incredible fun. 

Of course, there are some restrictions. The world has to be consistent. It has to obey its own rules. It has to throw plenty of obstacles in the way of your main character. And here’s the big one: It has to keep from feeling episodic. That was the main problem with my rough draft of Entangled, and I had to do some digging in revision to find the driving force that would turn it from a series of linked adventures into, well, a book with a plot in it. 

If you’re interested in approaching a story this way, I do have a few craft tips.

#1) Know the big picture. 

You can fit ANYTHING in later if you have a really good handle on the big picture. In my case, this meant knowing that the universe was hostile to humans—that they were treated like space trash by every other species, and forced to the margins of civilization. I came up with many variations on this pattern, but knowing the pattern first was key.

#2) Don’t stop writing. 

If you lose your momentum, you will probably decide that it’s not working—even if it is. Making it up as you go along works with fast drafting, because your brain has to reach for solutions before you start to censor yourself. Again—it’s like setting out on that crazy road trip! If you didn’t plan, don’t give yourself time to second guess, because then you’ll never leave the house. Just grab the keys (and the snacks) and GO. You’ll make mistakes, but revisions are going to happen either way. And you might come up with some great surprises, like the unexpected stops and turns on a great road trip that you never could have planned.

#3) Know something about the ending. 

You don’t have to have the entire thing. Just the name of the place, the feeling you want, where you think the character should be at the end. But keeping the middle from getting mushy can have everything to do with knowing where you want to be—and being excited to get there. This reminds me of the time when I lived in sunny Northern California and I took a road trip to see the snow. This was the only goal: I wasn’t going to stop until I reached the fluffy white stuff and the wonder and awe that come along with it. It’s still one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. 


To get a taste of the universe building in Entangled, watch the EXCLUSIVE clip!


Be sure to enter this

*   *   *   Rafflecopter giveaway   *   *   *

for your chance to win one of five signed paperbacks of Entangled

(with a secret note about the sequel!).

Topics: young adult, HMH Books For Young Readers, guest post, Amy Rose Capetta

ENTANGLED is in Paperback!

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

describe the image

Amy Rose Capetta's YA novel Entangled (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is out today in paperback! This stunning debut is gorgeous inside and out. Amy Rose will be stopping by later in the week, so check back!

Topics: young adult, HMH Books For Young Readers, paperback release, Amy Rose Capetta

Posts by category

Subscribe to the Blog


  • Purple Nails and Puppy Tails
    Purple Nails and Puppy Tails
  • Petal and Poppy
    Petal and Poppy
  • Mumbet's Declaration of Independence
    Mumbet's Declaration of Independence
  • Mogie: The Heart of the House
    Mogie: The Heart of the House
  • Map Art Lab
    Map Art Lab
  • Makeover Magic
    Makeover Magic
  • The Life of Ty
    The Life of Ty
  • Jubilee!
  • Jack the Castaway
    Jack the Castaway
  • Hope Is a Ferris Wheel
    Hope Is a Ferris Wheel
  • Tap Tap Boom Boom
    Tap Tap Boom Boom
  • Skin and Bones
    Skin and Bones
  • Signed, Skype Harper
    Signed, Skype Harper
  • Revolution
  • Read, Write, and Recite Free Verse Poetry
    Read, Write, and Recite Free Verse Poetry
  • A Girl Called Fearless
    A Girl Called Fearless
  • All That Glitters
    All That Glitters
  • The Art of Goodbye
    The Art of Goodbye
  • Blue Iguana
    Blue Iguana
  • Caminar
  • Chasing the Milky Way
    Chasing the Milky Way
  • The Devil's Temptation
    The Devil's Temptation
  • Divided We Fall
    Divided We Fall
  • Follow Your Heart
    Follow Your Heart
  • Grandfather Gandhi
    Grandfather Gandhi
  • Strange Sweet Song
    Strange Sweet Song

Share your news


Follow us