the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Sarah Blake Johnson and UNSPUN: A Collection of Tattered Fairy Tales

Posted by Amanda West Lewis on Tue, Apr 10, 2018 @ 09:04 AM

Today we're talking to VCFA alum Sarah Blake Johnson about the the art of content editing and writing for an anthology of new "Fairy Tales"


Whatever happened to “happily ever after”?

Heroes search for happiness, villains plot revenge, and nothing is as easy as it once seemed. Gretel suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, an orphan girl questions Rumpelstiltskin’s legacy, a monster cat searches for a child to eat, and the Pied Piper realizes stealing a hundred and thirty children may not have been his smartest idea.

Fairy tales have endured for centuries even though—or perhaps because—their conclusions are often more unsettling than satisfying. In Unspun, eleven storytellers come together to challenge and explore a few of those classic tales. Unexpected twists are sure to provoke both thought and laughter.


Sarah, this is a great new anthology. How did the creation of the book come about?

Ruth Nickle wanted to put together a fantasy anthology with a group of other writers she knew, and she choose the theme "after ever after," or, in other words, what happens after the traditional fairy tale ends. After several stories were completed, she and Katherine Cowley invited additional authors to contribute to the anthology. From there, they divided tasks. Ruth focused on some areas, such as the artwork, including the interior art; Katherine did the logistics, such as sending out drafts to the copyeditors and proofreaders and formatting the print and ebooks. I was invited to assist on the editorial side of the process.

You were the content editor for this book. What’s that process like? Did you wear a lot of hats?

My role as the content editor was to give revision feedback to each writer. I look at a lot of areas of writing craft when I edit: characterization, plot and subplots, scene arcs, setting, theme, pacing, etc. I focus on the big picture aspects of the story at first. I also touch on issues such as voice and some sentence level structures. I send the writer an editorial letter and notes inside the document. After the writer finishes the revision, I read the revised manuscript and give more feedback.

Can you tell us what you discovered by working on this anthology?

This anthology was interesting because I was able to work with ten different writers. Some stories, such as the princess in “Princess and the Pea” and the piper from “The Pied Piper” were fun to edit because of these writers’ exploration of characters that I had known from the original tales. It was also a delight to meet Snow White’s son and the villain in Jack and the Beanstalk and experience their different points of view as secondary characters from these common fairy tales. Plus, I discovered some fairy tales I hadn’t read before, such as "Tatterhood" and "Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird, and the Gray Wolf."

I also have a short story of my own in this anthology: "Ásthildur and the Yule Cat." It is based on the Yule Cat, which is a tale from Iceland. I lived in Reykjavik, Iceland when I applied to VCFA.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Kathi Appelt, Uma Krishnaswami, Martine Leavitt, Shelley Tanaka, and Margaret Bechard.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

All that I learned at VCFA helps me every time I sit down to write. My experience at VCFA also helps me as an editor. When I give editorial feedback, I try to achieve what my advisors did for me, which is to help the writer not only write to the highest standard they can, but to also achieve their vision for their story.

Thank you so much, Sarah, for telling us about your process and multifaceted work on Unspun!


Johnson, Sarah 2016

Sarah Blake Johnson is the author of the fantasy novel Crossings. She graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2011, a proud member of the Bat Poets and the Thunder Badgers. She has lived in various countries around the world including Brazil, Finland, Iceland, Nigeria, Germany, and Egypt. She will be living in Beijing for the next few years. You can find her online at

Topics: Anthology, literary fiction, editing, Fairy Tales

Erin E. Moulton and THINGS WE HAVEN'T SAID

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 @ 09:03 AM

Today, we're talking about Things We Haven't Said, a new collection of pieces by survivors of childhood and adolescent sexual violence, edited by Erin E. Moulton, out now from Zest Books.

9781942186342-THINGS HAVENT SAID-cover.jpg

Things We Haven't Said is a powerful collection of poems, essays, letters, vignettes and interviews written by a diverse group of impressive adults who survived sexual violence as children and adolescents. Structured to incorporate creative writing to engage the reader and informative interviews to dig for context, this anthology is a valuable resource of hope, grit and honest conversation that will help teens tackle the topic of sexual violence, upend stigma and maintain hope for a better future.

Welcome, Erin. This new collection is a departure from the middle grade and YA fiction you've published. What was the spark that ignited this book?

This is the only book that has come directly out of my experience in public libraries. I was working with a group of teens on a project and had split them up into groups. Then, as usual, I started circulating to see who needed help. From the other side of the room, I heard one of the boys say a rape joke. Or, rather, I heard RAPE and then I heard laughing. I didn’t catch much more than that. I started to navigate my way over to them. In the same group, there was a new girl. She’d come from a few towns over and had never attended any of my programs before. As I go there, she was addressing the boy who had spoken. She said “Hey, some of us have bad memories.” I’m going to be honest when I say I fumbled. I didn’t know how to handle the situation or address it, so I redirected them to task and we all moved on. But it stuck with me. And as I often do, I started to look to the books. Later that year, I was tasked with weeding the teen nonfiction section and I came upon the 300s. There were some great resources on rape and sexual assault for adult readers, but far less for teen survivors. I started to wonder, what would a good teen resource look like? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And that’s how Things We Haven’t Said was born.


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

This book was a little bit different in that I was the editor. And I was the editor of a book on a very sensitive subject. It’s incredibly hard to ask people to write and change and cut things from a piece that is so close to the heart. A piece that takes a lot of bravery to put out there, anyway. And I was always worried about hurting the anthologists who had shown up for the job. Because of this, most of my editorial notes focused on things we could do to enhance narrative style, create cohesion and clarity. It was also important to me that people had power over their piece, especially in the question and answer component of the book, where we talk freely.

Tell us about how you sold this book.

A nonfiction book about sexual violence for teen readers? It was a hard sell when it was on submission in 2015. I do have an agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and she championed the project. We had a lot of very nice, very heartfelt, rejections. No one rejected us outright, everyone wished us the best. We had exhausted our list when Zest picked up the project.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

During my time at VCFA, I was encouraged to write creatively and critically, and to experiment with genre. I’m so glad I did. I’m not afraid to explore with my writing. I have a few middle grades, a YA, a PB on submission and a nonfiction anthology out. I love the versatility that was encouraged and I’ve carried that with me.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Drink up the time you have at VCFA and try to explore all possible avenues of the creative process without worrying about publication process. There will be plenty of time to vex over the publication process later. Let it go for a while.

Agreed! Thanks so much for stopping by, Erin. And thank you for bringing this important project to life!

Erin-Moulton-325x325.jpgErin E. Moulton is the author of Flutter, Tracing Stars, Chasing the Milky Way and Keepers of the Labyrinth. Her latest book is Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out.

You can find her online at

Book Tour Poster.jpg

Topics: nonfiction, young adult, Erin E. Moulton, Anthology, 2018 release, Zest Books

Final ShoutOut For The Inkredibles' VOICES

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

The Inkredibles, who graduated from VCFA in January 2016, have published a new anthology of classmember's work. Today we hear from the final four Inkredible authors.


Laurie Wallmark

Passion and Reason

Passion and Reason is a YA novel-in-verse based on the life of Ada Byron Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

Why did you choose to write a novel-in-verse about the same person in your picture book biography?

I thought it would be interesting to examine someone’s life from very different perspectives: picture book vs. young adult novel, prose vs. poetry, nonfiction vs. fiction. Writing for an older audience allowed me to delve into the more mature aspects of Ada Byron Lovelace’s life, like her drug addiction, gambling problems, and sexual indiscretions. Through the use of free verse instead of prose, I could better illustrate Ada’s struggles between two conflicting lifestyles: irresponsible, like her father Lord Byron, and proper, like her mother. Finally, by fictionalizing Ada’s story, I could use dialogue in scenes, which gave more insight into Ada’s character.  


Margaret Turner White

 Try Again Summer

After Willa’s best friend abandons her for camp, she befriends Charlie, who teaches her sign language...and helps hunt for ghosts.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

Answer: There were two sparks, actually! At my first VCFA residency, visiting author Lucy Christopher challenged us to begin a project from setting. I knew right away that I would write about the island in North Carolina where I spent summers growing up. I’d also been studying American Sign Language, and wanted to tell a story that reflected my experience of getting to know Deaf culture. Those two elements came together and eventually became Try Again Summer.  


A. C. Williard

 Across the Wall

Sickly Jims crosses the Wall between life and death. Should his sister Merry and bestie Tama follow him? Can they?

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

I wish I had known superficial things: starting in January means Yak Traks and an extra blanket are survival necessities. But I also wish I had known how amazing this place is, and how warm and open the students and faculty are. Melissa tells everyone: “You belong here” and it took me longer than it should have to really believe it.


Mary-Walker Wright

Lucky Minus the K

Lucky Minus the K is a race-against-the-clock, supernatural mystery about a young girl’s quest to keep her horseback riding dreams alive after losing her long-time trainer.

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

Finding my writing community has been a process of trial and error. My critique group formed about five years ago when I stopped trying so hard to find trusted readers! I took a one-semester course at the Westport Writer’s Workshop and the group never said goodbye. In January 2014, I became part of the VCFA family and am grateful to have several “go to” trusted readers, depending on the project. My eighteen-year-old son, Billy, is my at-home reader and toughest critic. His superpower? Spotting plot holes. Like all relationships, writing relationships work when there’s mutual trust, respect, and stick-with-it-ness.

Print copies of the anthology have been sent to select editors and agents. A pdf version may be obtained by emailing The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact for details on the events. 

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

Let's Hear It For The Inkredibles' VOICES

Posted by Tami Brown on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

The Class of January 2016's new anthology VOICES launches into the publishing world this week. Today we hear from three more class members.


Alexis Karas

Like a Ghost in the Silence

Kyler thought she was crazy, but what if the voices she’s heard all of her life are real? 

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

I have to have music on when I’m writing. The music varies depending on what I’m writing at the time. I make playlists to go along with specific characters/scenes/emotions I’m trying to capture in my writing. Both of my main characters, Kyler and Haze, have their own playlists. Sometimes, if a certain song is really striking me in a scene, I’ll keep it on repeat until I’m done with that scene.


Courtney Tuckman

Lit up

This is a story about the pain of loving someone struggling with mental illness and the healing journey that follows.

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

When I sit down at my desk, I want to feel like I’m in a cocoon of inspiration, ideas and love.  My walls are covered with a colorful splattering of images and words.  I have about thirty rainbow colored post-it notes with ideas about the writing process and the story I’m writing.  Surrounding the words are pictures that make me feel inspired.  There are also notes and pictures from my loved ones.  


Katie Van Ark

Kiss and Cry 

Already overshadowed by their gold medal friends, ice dancers Katelyn and Chris find their lives spinning with an unexpected pregnancy.

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

I'm a librarian, so I fall in love with new authors all the time. Recent reads that I've loved include Emma Mills's First & Then for its sentences, Jessica Love's In Real Life for plot, and Jennifer Mathieu's Devoted for character. But the books I fall hardest for slam all three out of the park, like Miranda Kenneally's Catching Jordan. I'll also forever love Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light—I wrote an essay for my VCFA coursework on her multitasking sentences!

Print copies of the anthology have been sent to select editors and agents. A pdf version may be obtained by emailing The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact for details on the events.


Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

More Inkredible VOICES!

Posted by Tami Brown on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 @ 09:06 AM

The Inkredibles, Class of January 2016 new anthology VOICES publishes this week. Today we hear from three more class members.


Heather Hughes

Inner Sunset 

Seventeen year-old Xavier Keen is a self-proclaimed monk wandering San Francisco because he wants to fix something... maybe himself.  

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

If the day contained just 25 hours, I would use that last hour to make Voices of the Inkredibles quill pens.  I'd use many from our distinction of birds, pull some decorative tail feather, clip it diagonally for a needle-sharp point and invite all of VCFA to play with Ink with us. 


Shelley Ann Jackson

Covering the World with Color: The Story of Sonia Delaunay

A picture book biography of 19th century artist Sonia Delaunay, who conquered barriers to pioneer an abstract art style. 

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

I was particularly intrigued by Delaunay's childhood—her poor Ukrainian parents gave her to a wealthy aunt and uncle in Russia when she was around seven years old. Her mother refused to give up parental rights, so the relatives never officially adopted her, though they did change her name from Sarah to Sonia. Originally, I began the narrative at the train station as she moved to Russia. Though this event surely effected her sense of self and belonging throughout her lifetime, ultimately it didn't serve the story line and was cut. Luckily, I was able to mention her early life in the author's note.


Karen Kane

Charlie and Frog: A Castle-on-the-Hudson Mystery

Castle-on-the-Hudson may not have cell phone or Internet service, but it does have murder, intrigue, and a school for the Deaf.

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

Avoidance of writing is always about fear. Fear that what I put on the page will never be as good as the story inside my head. And it never will be as good, but it will be real. And real is always better, even when imperfect (and its always imperfect), because I trust myself that I can revise and make it better.


A pdf version may be obtained by emailing The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact for details on the events.


Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

More Inkredible- The INKREDIBLE ANTHOLOGY, Post 2

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

The Class of January 2016's anthology VOICES releases this week. Today we meet three more members of the class.


Kate Buckley  


Love, violence, emotional turbulence: one teen boy’s bumpy ride to unwind his troubled heart, and find the courage to change.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? 

Get ready to be inspired, work hard, stretch and grow your craft in ways you never imagined and become part of an amazing community of writers!


Cheryl Dishon

Matoaka Born

When the last person Willie could rely on gets ripped out of his life, he must determine which way to proceed.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

In addition to the exemplary quality of guidance from faculty advisors, I never imagined I'd have such a network of supportive people for a traditionally solitary exercise. I now know fellow writers in New Zealand, Hong Kong, and my backyard who would give generously of their time and hard-won knowledge to help me noodle through a tough writing challenge.   


Katherine B. Ferguson

Sylvie’s Moon

When her father leaves for World War II, twelve-year-old Sylvie takes charge of her family’s Massachusetts dairy farm.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever googled for your writing?

The weirdest thing I googled for my novel is "video of cows giving birth". And yes, I watched them….

Come back tomorrow for more about this INKREDIBLE anthology, VOICES.  A pdf version may be obtained by emailing The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact for details on the events.

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

It's INKREDIBLE-- VOICES, VCFA Writing For Children & Young Adults Class of January 2016 Anthology!

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

How cool is this?

The Inkredibles (Jan '16) joined together after graduation to produce an anthology celebrating their MFA work. VOICES releases today, with a gala launch party in New York.


Each of the 16 students submitted a biography, an introduction, and ten pages of creative work. Included in the volume are a variety of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and poetry, plus a foreword by faculty member Tim Wynne-Jones and an introduction by alumna Cori McCarthy '11. The Inkredibles did everything themselves—from copy-editing to design.

Print copies of the anthology have been sent to select editors and agents. A pdf version may be obtained by emailing The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact for details on the events.

Welcome the Inkredibles and their incredible publishing project to the LaunchPad.  All week we'll meet members of the class,  sampling their work and the work that's gone into the creation of this compilation.



Laura Atkins

Luci and Sage

From dirt juice to fairyland names, shy Luci and exuberant Sage learn they need each other to look and leap.

What’s your writing superpower?

My writing superpower is a single-minded adherence to deadlines. However, this power can also be my kryptonite weakness. When someone gives me a deadline, I am able to meet it in a single bound, leaping over other time commitments, inertia and procrastination. VCFA was great for me that way. Oh those deadlines! But post-graduation, I find the lack of a due date stymies my motivation. And those things that are tied to deadlines (paying work, sigh) will grab my attention. Hopefully I can develop a parallel superpower: discipline!


Beth Bacon

 Almost Impossible

10-year-old Vivian Harlan uncovers the secrets of a small town’s history and her father’s past in this heartwarming coming-of-age story.

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

My middle grade work, Almost Impossible, has a large cast of characters: the crew of the Daniel C. Glickmeyer Traveling Demolition Derby, a country music duo, and several quirky small-town citizens. The story’s main theme is finding one’s true voice. Every character struggles with this except one: fourteen-year-old Elvis Tupelo Glickmeyer. Elvis always speaks the truth of his heart. Many chapters were a challenge to write, but whenever Elvis showed up, the scenes flowed effortlessly. 


Tom Brennan


BOYS is the true story of what I did after losing my virginity and fathering a child at the same time.

What is your favorite VCFA memory.

 My favorite VCFA memory happened early on. I was still green and scared. I didn’t know that being on time to the dance was a thing. As I walked into the lobby -- late – 4th semester students were “guarding” the entry. The door was covered with craft paper. A sign above read: “Platform 9 ¾.”

A ha! This is a test,” I thought, and without hesitation I strode forward. The lobby was filled with the unmistakable DWOCK sound of skull hitting wood, followed by a “YIPE!” (which may have come from me).Without missing a beat, a guard announced gleefully, “Muggle!”

Visit the LaunchPad tomorrow-- and the rest of this week-- to meet more of the INKREDIBLES and to learn more about this incredible anthology and their stories behind their stories.

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

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