the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Robin Herrera on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 @ 09:04 AM

Today we talk with Trent Reedy about the conclusion of his acclaimed YA trilogy, THE LAST FULL MEASURE, published by Arthur A. Levine Books.


In a YA trilogy like no other, Trent Reedy has raised the most primal questions of our national existence: Do we owe our greatest loyalty to our friends? Our state? Our country? Our party? How do we reconcile our individual rights and common needs? What keeps us all united -- and what happens if we fall apart?

Now, in this third book, the Second Civil War has come to an end in Idaho. The Feds have taken the fight to other fronts, and Danny and his friends are free of U.S. dominance. But that freedom comes with considerable costs, from Danny's disturbing flashbacks to the war, to the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, whose "security" for Freedom Lake looks more like outright thuggery. After Danny makes a shocking discovery about the Brotherhood's final aims, he and his friends lead a group of townspeople on a dangerous journey across a ravaged Idaho, hoping to build a better society of their own, and fulfill the dreams they had in what once was the United States.

Welcome, Trent! First question: If you were stuck on a desert island, who would you want with you: Danny, JoBell, Becca, Sweeney, or Cal? Only pick one!

This is a tough question.  I worked with this family of friends for a lot of years, and I’ve come to like them all.  But to answer, I will assume within this scenario that they are real people and I am living in their world.  In other words, I don’t want to be stuck on an island with any of them explaining why I, the author and creator of their world, put them through so many difficult challenges.  I mean, if Cal found out I was responsible for creating all the chaos he and his friends have to deal with, he’d probably beat me unconscious. 

I would have to choose Danny, because he’s a tough survivor, and I’d need his help to survive on the island.  But I think that would be tough, because Danny suffers a lot through the trilogy.  I’d like to remind him that it wasn’t all his fault and spend some time talking about forgiveness.

When you plan a trilogy, how early do you know what the breaks between each book will be? When did you know what very last scene in book 1 would be? 

 Divided_We_Fall-1.jpg   Burning_Nation.jpg

One advantage I had with the Divided We Fall trilogy is that I knew it was a big story that would take three books.  This allowed me to pay attention to the overall three-book structure, which I think would be different from writing a fully self contained story in one book and then later writing that book’s sequel. 

I structured the Divided We Fall story into three phases. 

  1. The crisis in government, Battle of Boise, and build up to the beginning of armed conflict.
  1. Daniel Wright and his friends struggling in the resistance in occupied northern Idaho.
  1. Danny Wright and his friends facing the challenge to survive, out on the road amid a collapsed civilization and dangerous society.

As PFC Wright might say, “I’m not gonna lie,” but I love the ending to the first book.  And, as we’re talking about the release of Book 3: The Last Full Measure I’m going to go ahead and spoil the heck out the Divided We Fall ending here.  I had the idea for the U.S. President’s total forced broadcast, demand for Idaho’s surrender, and threat of military force from the first time I sketched out the concept for the book.  The President demands Idaho National Guard and militia forces surrender and disarm.  She orders all Idaho residents to remain in their homes and await further federal instructions.  Then Idaho’s power is shut off, leaving Danny and his friends in the dark.  Danny picks up his gun and knows the attack is coming.  I specifically requested black endpapers and no acknowledgments or other back matter at the end of the story.  Just the threat of the coming war, and the same blackness our characters are left in.  I feel like it’s the perfect cliffhanger ending for Divided We Fall.  The only problem with it was that some readers, especially young readers, had no idea that Book 2: Burning Nation was coming.  I heard from a lot of readers demanding more.

Did any characters surprise you over the course of writing the three books? Becca and TJ both surprised me in book 2. (TJ because he was such a jerk in book 1!)

I was a little surprised with TJ.  I don’t know if he was as much a jerk as Danny was jealous and worried about his friendship with JoBell.  Obviously TJ and Danny didn’t get along.  But through the course of the war, TJ takes some major risks.  He really shows some courage.  I think one of the best Danny/TJ moments is when TJ breaks Danny out of his cell after Danny is tortured.  Danny doesn’t even know if TJ is real, and I think it was fun having Danny’s old rival be the guy who saves him.

I also liked PFC Luchen, who starts out as a dumb, goofy kid, but sacrifices himself for the success of his final mission.

I was surprised by how many secondary characters became so important, especially through the course of The Last Full Measure.  Dr. Nicole Randal was introduced to the story mostly so Danny and Becca could get antibiotics for JoBell in Burning Nation.  She ended up becoming an important part of the lives of Danny and his friends.  Sergeant Kemp is surprising for similar reasons.  I never really intended for him to become such an important part of the whole story, but he plays a big role in all three books, and he turned out to be a great guy, from the Battle of Boise through The Last Full Measure.

You got to record some voices for the audiobook version - tell us more about that process! (I definitely recognized your voice while listening to Burning Nation!)

Andrew Eiden provides the great main narration and performance, but there are many other voices as newscasters, radio personalities, and social media comments in the media noise segments. I have had a lot of fun these past few years recording various voices for all three audiobooks.  My editor, agent, and some other friends from Scholastic have joined us as well.  For each book, we would head out to Scholastic Audiobook CentCom in Connecticut and pile into the studio.  We had a couple loose page print outs of the book and a spreadsheet of all the different voices.  Then we’d do our best trying to bring those characters to life.  For all three books I enjoyed playing conservative radio talk show host Buzz Ellison and my editor performed the part of President Laura Griffith.  In The Last Full Measure I also had fun voicing one of those very energetic preachers almost screaming over the radio about the end times.

I’m extremely pleased with the way the audiobooks have turned out for all the Divided We Fall books, but especially for The Last Full Measure.  The good people in the Scholastic Department of Audiobooks have really worked hard, adding many sound effects, sound treatments, and voices to really bring the stories to life.  I listen to a LOT of audiobooks.  I’ll probably listen to at least fifty audiobooks this year alone.  The Divided We Fall audiobooks are really unique, really fantastic productions.

And...anyone interested in giving the Divided We Fall trilogy a try is welcome to start with the first audiobook for free!  Check out the details on the other side of the link.

Everyone go get the audiobook!

I've been waiting for Book 3, The Last Full Measure to come out ever since I finished Book 2. This is a two-part question: First, where does the title of book 3 come from? Second, what can we expect from the THRILLING CONCLUSION to the series? (Can you pull a JK Rowling and tell us what the last word of the book is?)

The Last Full Measure comes from the Civil War and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It seemed the perfect title for a lot of reasons.  A lot of Lincoln’s words and meaning get tangled up and rearranged through the trilogy and especially in The Last Full Measure.

In The Last Full Measure the Second American Civil War widens well beyond the “Idaho Crisis” and well beyond any real hope of peaceful reconciliation.  The war becomes widespread and brutal, and the systems of our society begin to collapse.  In the chaos that follows, Daniel Wright and his friends struggle to survive while they deal with central questions about life, civilization, and government.  What keeps the peace in the United States?  Is it only our police force preventing widespread violence and anarchy, or do people also have a common sense of fairness and decency?  How do we balance the need for security with the need for freedom?  Where do our loyalties lie, and how much should we devote to ourselves, our friends and family, and our government? 

They’re big questions, relevant issues that many Americans struggle with today, especially in an election year.  I only hope we find better answers than the people in The Last Full Measure.

For readers who love the Divided We Fall trilogy and are sad to see it ending, what books do you recommend they read next?

People who finish The Last Full Measure should go on to read The Hunger Games.  One of the reasons I wanted to write a trilogy about a Second American Civil War and the end of the United States is that I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, but I wondered how Panem came to exist. The Hunger Games takes place 74 years after the district uprisings against the Capitol, but that means people had been living in the districts and Capitol system for some years before that uprising.  How did the districts get started?  How did the United States end?  I wrote the Divided We Fall trilogy to be a story that could be the prequel to many dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, but there are clues in The Last Full Measure that suggest I really had The Hunger Games in mind.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I was blessed to work with Rita Williams-Garcia, Jane Kurtz, David Gifaldi, and Margaret Bechard.  They were all such premium advisors, very helpful and supportive, now dear friends.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It’s probably easier to talk about how VCFA did not affect my writing life since it affected almost every aspect of my writing.  VC helped me think about writing and revising in ways I had never considered before.  In my time working with advisors at the college the quality and quantity of my writing increased dramatically.  Quite simply, Vermont College of Fine Arts made it possible for me to live my Dream.

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

I wish I had known then how incredibly important all my fellow VCFA students would be to me, and I would work even harder to get to know them even more.  The Vermont College of Fine Arts adventure was a most special time in my life.  I will always treasure the memories of my time there.

Thank you, Trent! Readers can visit Trent online at to learn more about THE LAST FULL MEASURE as well as his other books!


Topics: young adult, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016 release


Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 @ 03:03 AM

We celebrate the launch of Lindsay Eyre's debut novel today, a middle grade book published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.

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Sylvie Scruggs doesn't like Georgie Diaz. He always calls her Scruggs. He always beats her in baseball. He didn't invite her to his party. Plus, he's a boy. Now Georgie is trying to steal Sylvie's best friend, Miranda Tan. He's giving Miranda a super-special birthday present, so Sylvie will too -- only her present will be ten times better. With the help of her twin brothers, a ferret, a castle, and some glitter glue, Sylvie sets out to make Miranda remember who her REAL best friend is, and forget about Georgie forever.

Thanks for joining us today, Lindsey.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I was extremely fortunate to hear Sylvie's voice early on in the drafting process. The book is written in first person, so having that voice in my head made everything easier. Plotting this novel was so difficult for me, so I needed the gift of hearing my narrator’s voice!

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

I had a scene where Sylvie and her twin brothers tried to capture a rogue rat. It was extremely funny (at least, it made me laugh!), and it was one of my favorite parts of the manuscript, but my agent gently pointed out that she wasn’t sure it actually helped the story (I think Margaret Bechard pointed this out as well in fourth semester...). When I stepped back and stopped thinking about being funny (and clever), I saw that I could remove that entire scene without really changing the novel. That has become my biggest red flag as I edit my books. If I can remove a scene or even a paragraph from the manuscript without having to seriously change everything that follows, it has to go. It is not intrinsic to the story and serves no purpose, no matter how brilliant I think it is! We tend to fall in love with so many parts of our manuscripts (or maybe we just fall in love with ourselves for a bit), and it is difficult to see clearly. 

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

Someone somewhere along the way told me that every criticism has an element of truth, and if you can filter through whatever issues you or your critique-giver may have and get to the heart of the problem, you can find something fixable. For example, my mom is a terrible critique-giver. She always begins by saying, “Oh, I loved it! I thought it was really great. Well, I did for awhile. I did think this one part was a little bit weird. But still, it was wonderful. Except, I wondered about the setting, and I couldn’t buy the ending. I also thought the beginning was boring. And I really didn’t like this character.” And so on. Critiques like that used to leave me deflated, as if the whole thing was a sham, including my career as a writer. But I’ve learned now to ask good questions that get to the root of the problem. “When you say you didn’t buy the ending, was it because you wanted something else to happen instead? What would you have believed?” Things like that. We really do need thick skins as writers. We also need to believe that everything is fixable, however, I will add that I am beginning to encounter instances where this is not true. When someone really wants me to change something intrinsic about my story, part of the “spark” that ignited the flame, I’m learning to tread carefully. When those core pieces disappear, it is difficult to remember where the story was headed in the first place, and if I have no direction, the story is lost.

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?

My husband is my best critique partner, hands down. He is eager to help, and he knows that being kind is not helpful. Also, he is not a writer, so he doesn’t give me craft advice based on what he’s been pondering lately, he just tells me parts that really aren’t working for him. He’s learned I can fix most issues eventually so he gives me his questions in a very positive, you-can-do-this sort of way. Also, he’s not a reader, so he’s not comparing my book to other books he’s read. He’s simply telling me what he believed and what he didn’t. Simple, I’ve realized, is often the most helpful. 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Leda Schubert, Tim Wynne-Jones, Shelley Tanaka, and Margaret Bechard. Every one of them saw some version of this book and can take lots of credit!

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

I had some classmates who were extremely nervous about giving their lectures. I remember feeling incredibly proud of them when they gave those lectures beautifully.    

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

To not begin the program with the goal to be published! Everyone should begin their program with the intention of learning all they can. I also wish I’d understood that everyone at VCFA (students, advisors, published writers) are first and foremost human beings! I wish I had listened to everyone’s advice, filtering out my pride as I responded, but never ignoring my own intuition. I can’t count the number of times I “started over” when I should have kept going. Most importantly, I wish I’d understood that writing is not a competition (even if it feels like one!). This is my favorite quote from Martha Graham: “… if you block it [your creative endeavor], it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. Keep the channel open.”

Thanks for joining us in the Launchpad today.  

Lindsey graduated in January 2012 with The Keepers of the Dancing Stars. Visit her online at and

Topics: 2015 release, Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, Lindsay Eyre

Trent Reedy and BURNING NATION

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Jan 27, 2015 @ 15:01 PM

The Launch Pad welcomes back Trent Reedy to answer questions about his newest book, Burning Nation  (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)This is his second book in the Divided We Fall Trilogy. 

In the Second American Civil War, Danny Wright follows three rules:BurningNation


After a long standoff, the federal government has invaded Idaho — shutting down the state’s electricity, suspending all their rights.  Danny is Number 1 on the Feds’ Most Wanted list, so he has no choice but to go into hiding, and no chance without the help of his friends.


Then Idaho declares its independence from the United States, rising up to become a free republic.  Newly energized, Danny and his crew launch a series of daring attacks designed to break the Feds’ occupation and drive them out for good.


As more states secede from the US, Idaho gains allies and strength.  But a deep betrayal and a stunning sacrifice show Danny that freedom is never truly free — and there comes a point at which everyone must count the costs.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The spark that made me want to write the Divided We Fall trilogy can be found all around us.  You see it with every State of the Union address.  No matter the president or the majority party, half the audience applauds, while the other remains silent, even regarding simple policy proposals that would seem to benefit all.  You see the spark in shallow and divisive arguments on cable news networks.  It’s there in every partisan social media post which seeks to insult people rather than thoughtfully and respectfully engaging in issues.  The spark is on talk radio shows and television comedies that belittle people and their beliefs through snarky, belittling jokes or other hateful comments.  The Divided We Fall trilogy is about what happens when the spark of America’s present day divide ignites the fire of a near future civil war that threatens to destroy America.  In the aptly-titled Burning Nation the action heats up as war threatens the continued existence of the United States

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Writing a trilogy is different from working on a stand-alone novel in the sense that the writer gets to spend more time with his characters.  Because of this, I’ve enjoyed writing several of the characters.  It is fun to see them develop.  In Divided We Fall, we knew the protagonist PFC Danny Wright’s friend Eric Sweeney as a rich spoiled womanizer kind of guy who didn’t take life very seriously.  In Burning Nation, Sweeney goes along with Danny through the federal occupation of Idaho, and he begins to understand that some things are more important than partying. 

I also had fun in Burning Nation with Danny’s friend Cal Riccon.  Although Danny isn’t the best student and would rather work on an engine than read a book, Cal is the least….academically inclined….of Danny’s close group of friends.  He is also the one who gives himself over to the war most completely.  In some ways, he is ahead of Danny on the path from hope and civilization to the devastation and brutality of war. 

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

I’m going to turn this question over.  While most would agree that writers must be willing to sometimes cut or change even scenes that they like, I resolved early in my work on BURNING NATION to make sure a specific scene worked well enough to make the final cut. This scene was one in which a girl on horseback fires a rifle while jumping a ravine. I still think that firing a weapon while jumping a ravine on horseback is about the coolest thing a person can do, so I’m glad this scene made it into the book.

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

Burning Nation is a war story, and its protagonist Danny Wright is a combat engineer which, as I know from my own experiences as a combat engineer, works with land mines and plastic explosives, as well as with different rifles and machine guns.  One thing I am very careful about in writing Burning Nation and the rest of the Divided We Fall trilogy is the accuracy with which I describe the weapons in the book.  Some of the featured weapons are systems that haven’t yet seen widespread deployment in today’s military, but which seem likely to replace certain systems in the future.  Getting all of this right requires a little bit of an examination of my own memories, and a lot of research online.  I looked up Army and civilian manuals for different guns so I could make sure that my characters are loading and cocking their weapons right, and so I could be accurate about the range of the weapons, the number of rounds that come in an ammo can, the weight of the guns, and other details.  It’s kind of surprising and a little scary to think about how much weapon information is easily accessible online.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life? 

The Vermont College of Fine Arts didn’t merely affect my writing life, but it made writing my life in the first place.  The people in the VCFA community were the first to welcome me as a writer, the first to assure me that my lifelong Dream of becoming a writer wasn’t a silly daydream.  They helped me to truly believe I could do this. 

My first novel Words in the Dust is a story told from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old Afghan girl named Zulaikha.  This story was inspired by a promise I made to a young girl of the same name whom my fellow soldiers and I encountered during our time in the war in Afghanistan.  The idea of a white man who is mostly from the Midwest writing a novel from the point of view of a young Afghan girl carries with it a number of potential complications, and many, myself foremost among them, doubted I could do it.  I even doubted if the VCFA faculty would agree to advise my work on this book.  But my first advisor Rita Williams-Garcia, herself no stranger to challenging writing projects and topics, smiled and said “yes.”  That VCFA creative thesis became my first novel Words in the Dust, and it began my career.

Through my work with my advisors and the program’s curriculum, VCFA taught me how to read like a writer, what to look for when I revise, how to organize my drafts so that I can better keep track of my plots, and many other aspects of the writing craft.  I’ve long since repaid my student loans, but I owe the Vermont College of Fine Arts a debt of gratitude that I can never entirely repay.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

If the Dream is alive in you, if you’re serious about your desire to write for young people, then enrolling in the Vermont College of Fine Arts is the best decision you can make for yourself.  Not only will you study under the guidance of some of the best writers in the business and learn more than you thought possible about writing craft, but you will also become members of the VCFA community, a close family of writers from around the U.S. and the world.  Our people are everywhere.  You will find members of your VCFA family represented by every agency and published with every publisher.  You’ll find us at every book and library conference.  In 2014, the students, faculty, and alumni of the VCFA MFA in writing for young people program published more than seventy books.  We’d love to see your books on our annual list.  Join us.

Thanks for dropping by, Trent

Trent Reedy is the author of Words in the Dust, Stealing Air and the Divided We Fall Trilogy. Visit him online at 

Topics: young adult, 2015 release, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books

Welcome IF YOU'RE READING THIS by Trent Reedy!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 @ 09:08 AM

Happy launch day to If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)! This moving story of family, loss, and healing has already garnered a starred review from PW.

describe the imageDetails from the publisher: A heartwarming book about a son reconnecting with the father he lost in Afghanistan.

Mike was seven when his father was killed in mysterious circumstances in Afghanistan. Eight years later, the family still hasn't recovered: Mike's mom is overworked and overprotective; his younger sister Mary feels no connection to the father she barely remembers; and in his quest to be "the man of the family," Mike knows he's missing out on everyday high school life.

Then, out of the blue, Mike receives a letter from his father -- the first of a series Dad wrote in Afghanistan, just in case he didn't come home, meant to share some wisdom with his son on the eve of Mike's 16th birthday. As the letters come in, Mike revels in spending time with his dad again, and takes his encouragement to try new things -- to go out for the football team, and ask out the beautiful Isma. But who's been keeping the letters all these years? And how did Dad actually die? As the answers to these mysteries are revealed, Mike and his family find a way to heal and move forward at last.

Congratulations, Trent! Welcome, If You're Reading This!

Visit Trent at and check out his other books, including Divided We Fall (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 2014).

Topics: 2014 release, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books

Hawaii Loves VCFA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Jun 09, 2014 @ 14:06 PM

The nominees for the 2015 Nene Awards are in, and we're thrilled to see some familiar names on the list. The Nene is Hawaii's official state children's book award, and the nominated books are read and voted on by grades 4-6 statewide. How cool is that?

Huge Launchpad congratulations to all the wonderful nominees, with a special shout-out to the following VCFA faculty members and alums:

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Kathi Appelt and The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2013).

Marion Dane Bauer and Little Dog, Lost (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2012).

Sue Cowing and You Will Call Me Drog (Carolrhoda Books 2011). (Sue is an alum of VCFA's fantastic MFA in Writing program and is a wonderful advocate of children's lit in Hawaii and beyond!)

Annemarie O'Brien and Lara's Gift (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2013).

Trent Reedy and Stealing Air (Arthur A. Levine Books 2012).

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Of course, the biggest winners are the kids of Hawaii who get to read all these great books!

Topics: Marion Dane Bauer, 2011 release, Knopf Books for Young Readers, Carolrhoda Books, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Trent Reedy, middle grade, 2013 release, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012 release, Sue Cowing, congratulations, Annemarie O'Brien

Who's Talking To VCFA Authors?

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Jun 06, 2014 @ 09:06 AM

It seems like you can't swing a cheese sandwich in the kidlitosphere without hitting a VCFA alum, faculty member, or student talking about a new project. Here's a sampling of what's been going on recently!

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Bethany Hegedus: Interview in Kirkus with Arun Gandhi about their new picture book, Grandfather Gandhi (Atheneum 2014).

Varian Johnson: Interview in Kirkus about his new middle grade novel, The Great Greene Heist (Arthur A. Levine Books 2014).

Alicia Potter: Interview in Boston Magazine about her new picture book, Jubilee! One Man's Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace (Candlewick Press 2014), illustrated by Matt Tavares.

Trent Reedy: Q&A with Publishers Weekly about Divided We Fall (Arthur A. Levine Books 2014), the first book in his new YA trilogy.

Adi Rule: Mini-interview in USA Today's Happy Ever After blog about her new YA novel Strange Sweet Song (St. Martin's Press 2014).

describe the imageFor more info, visit BethanyVarianAliciaTrent, and Adi at their websites.

* * * This is just the tip of the iceberg! * * *

We'll be posting round-ups of more interviews and features from time to time. VCFA folks, remember to share your news with us! Fill out the form at the bottom of the righthand column on this blog, or let us know in person the next time we see you at the NECI café.

Photo: Gérald Tapp

Topics: Candlewick Press, 2014 release, round-up, Adi Rule, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Trent Reedy, St Martin's Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, Alicia Potter, Varian Johnson, Bethany Hegedus, Arun Gandhi, Matt Tavares

Varian Johnson and THE GREAT GREENE HEIST!

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, May 27, 2014 @ 11:05 AM

Today's is a big double launch day-- first up we're excited to read alum Varian Johnson's THE GREAT GREENE HEIST- Saving The School, One Con At A Time!

9780545525527Jackson Greene swears he's given up scheming. Then school bully Keith Sinclair announces he's running for Student Council president, against Jackson's former friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby wants Jackson to stay out of it -- but he knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the presidency no matter the vote count. So Jackson assembles a crack team: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess. Charlie de la Cruz, reporter. Together they devise a plan that will take down Keith, win Gaby's respect, and make sure the election is done right. If they can pull it off, it will be remembered as the school's greatest con ever -- one worthy of the name THE GREAT GREENE HEIST.

Varian Johnson's new novel was published by Scholastic Press, Arthur Levine Books, and it is available at bookstores everywhere!

Topics: 2014 release, Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, Varian Johnson


Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 @ 11:02 AM

Welcome alum Trent Reedy, author of Divided We Fall!

Divided We FallI am Private First Class Daniel Christopher Wright. I am seventeen years old. And I fired the shot that ended the United States of America.

When I enlisted in the Idaho Army National Guard, I swore to support and defend the US Constitution and the state of Idaho against all enemies. I swore I would obey the orders of the president of the United States and the governor of Idaho. I swore this because I love my country and my state.

But what could I do when the president and the governor each ordered me to attack the other? When they both claimed to support the Constitution? When the Army was ordered to fight the Army, no place was safe?

Once I played wide receiver on the Freedom Lake football team. I drove a tough 4X4. My COMMPAD streamed country music. I had an awesome girlfriend, a mom who just needed a little help sometimes, and the best friends a guy could ask for.

With that shot, everything changed.

May God forgive me.

May God in Heaven forgive us all.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?

Divided We Fall and its protagonist Danny Wright zapped into my brain like lightning. I was driving to church one day when Danny and the novel’s whole concept came to me. All through the service I tried hard to pay attention, but I could not stop thinking about the novel. When I returned home, I rushed to my computer and wrote the novel’s prologue beginning with the line: I am Private First Class Daniel Christopher Wright. I am seventeen years old. And I fired the shot that ended the United States of America.

Everything rapidly fell into place from there. I knew Danny would be a young soldier who loved his home and country and who took his oath of enlistment very seriously. To that end, I knew he’d be the ultimate small town boy, playing high school football, riding bulls in rodeos, driving a big truck with huge tires, and remaining absolutely committed to his family friends and girlfriend. With such strong ties to all of these things, Danny would face significant emotional obstacles when he’s thrown into the center of a national controversy as the United States begins to fracture.

Given Danny’s devotion to his girlfriend JoBell, I figured I’d give him a friend who was similarly interested in girls, but who was instead committed only to making out with as many as he possibly could. I therefore created the smooth high school quarterback with wealthy parents, Eric Sweeney. Underneath his cover of casual sexism is a caring guy and loyal friend.

To add to Danny’s core group of friends, I thought of Cal Riccon who is sort of Sweeney’s opposite. A huge muscular powerful athlete from a poor household. He’s not the smartest guy in the group, but he’s a lot of fun.

JoBell Linder is a politically minded girl with her eye on a bright future. She’s the best girlfriend Danny could ask for, but she’s troubled because her goals seem so different than Danny’s. She’s often the voice of reason when the guys would like to charge off into a fight. Sweeney’s sexism drives her crazy, but she secretly loves the guy like a brother.

Becca Wells is the kind-hearted and patient best friend of everyone in the group. She grew up on a farm, is a great cook, and is a great horseback rider. She frequently places first in barrel racing in rodeos.

This group of five friends has their share of differences, but they are united by a strong bond of friendship and loyalty to one another. I wanted to give readers a family of friends that they would want to be part of.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

Divided We Fall is my first YA novel, and as such, the experience of writing it was quite different from the process with my first two books.  My older characters have a lot more freedom than the younger characters from Words in the Dust and Stealing Air. They can drive, and some of them have jobs, and they are not as closely supervised by their parents since they are seniors in high school.

YA as a genre of literature for young people more readily accepts more adult behavior. Nevertheless, I found myself greatly concerned with issues of swearing, drinking, sex, and violence. Having served in the Army, I can attest to the sheer volume of swear words in nearly every conversation among soldiers. The same is true for kids growing up, as I did, in a small town. I knew that Danny Wright and his friends would use course language and responsibly and safely circumvent the minimum drinking age law. I knew they would be involved in very physical relationships. This is the reality of who they are as people, but I worried that the inclusion of these behaviors would offend teachers, librarians, and the readers of first two novels.

I agonized over whether to include or cut back on this sort of material for a long time. My editor and agent both advised me to leave it in, but I still wasn’t sure. Finally, I had the chance to talk to pioneer YA novelist Chris Crutcher who is no stranger to controversy resulting from his writing. When I told him about my dilemma, he advised me to leave the material in the book. “Tell the best truth you can,” he said. In other words, he thought I should write the characters as close as I could to the way they’d be if they were real people.

I do not have a lot of feedback for Divided We Fall yet, but one reader raised a minor objection to a scene in which Danny and his girlfriend JoBell are texting. She asks when he’s coming to a boat party. He jokingly tells her to keep her panties on. She replies that she has no panties, only a bikini, and that he should come and get it. A reader said that this crossed a line. I won’t argue. Readers should set their lines wherever they like. But, there is also a scene where Danny has to deliberately kill someone, and there is some ambiguity, for Danny at least, as to whether or not it was absolutely necessary to take that life. So far, nobody has objected to that scene, though I worked on it and agonized over it for a long time.

I’m interested in and troubled by an American culture which often objects to swearing, sex, or drinking in novels for young people, but which seems to readily accept most depictions of violence.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

I think YA writers have a real problem with technology, not because they aren’t familiar with technology, but because so many of us, including young people, live so much of our lives online, and that is fundamentally boring. Nobody wants to read a story packed with scenes depicting characters checking Facebook and Twitter for hours on end. One of the key differences between reality and modern story reality, is that characters must be a lot more active and a lot less frequently online.

I want Divided We Fall to let the reader experience a disastrous future that feels like it could be happening very soon, in our own back yards, to people we care about. Because of this, I did not want to distance the reader from the experience with a lot of complex far future technologies. There are no sentient robots, no genetically engineered creatures like The Hunger Games’ tracker jackers, no flying cars. Instead, I have only slightly expanded upon existing technology.  Instead of separate televisions, phones, iPads, and computers, the people in Divided We Fall simply have commpads, a hybrid tablet and cellular phone that functions exactly the same way as the screen on the living room wall or the screen in the office. I’ve improved Apple’s Siri and allowed my characters to download different digital assistant personalities, often based on their favorite celebrities or historical figures. And I’ve made some minor improvement to cars. In this way, the technology in the novel closely resembles the technology we have now while it also subtly indicates the story is set in the near future.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

I am a writer because of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Divided We Fall is my third novel, the first in a YA trilogy, and my fourth book If You’re Reading This will be published later in 2014. None of this would be possible without all I’ve learned at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Before attending VCFA in pursuit of an MFA in writing for children and young adults, I had been taking baby steps in submitting a novel manuscript to agents. What I could not understand at the time was that that novel was absolutely not ready to be submitted for publication. The pacing was off. The stakes were not high enough. The characters and their dialogue was flat. The novel was full long segments of narrative introspection which broke up the plot.

I didn’t work on that early novel much at VCFA, choosing instead to keep my promise to a young Afghan girl I’d met in the war by writing what would become my creative thesis and my first novel, Words in the Dust. After my time at VCFA, I was shocked at how primitive and problematic that pre-VCFA novel manuscript was. Recasting the old, familiar characters, and loosely following the old plot, I rewrote the novel from the ground up, using the skills for writing and revision that I learned in Vermont. The result was my second published novel Stealing Air.

The transition between school and publishing as a business was a challenge, but was easier than I expected. While business is important, I believe that writing careers are forged mostly out of good writing. The Vermont College of Fine Arts places a deliberate focus, throughout the students’ time in the program, on improving writing craft. It’s a wonderful two years where writers can forget about query letters and contracts and marketing to instead work on crafting the sort of books that, to an extent, make all those business elements sort of fall into place.

While the Vermont College of Fine Arts is the best place for writers of books for young people to improve their craft, the college also provides the best support network possible. I’ve been amazed at the family-like dynamic among VCFA faculty, students, and alumni. I’m very grateful for the continual support and encouragement from my VCFA family. When any one of us celebrates a book deal, book release, award, or appearance, the rest of us are loudly celebrating in person or on line. That kind of community is absolutely priceless, and I am very honored to be a part of it.

DIVIDED WE FALL  by Trent Reedy, (Scholastic) January, 2014

Trent's Website

Interview in Publisher's Weekly 

Starred Review in PW

Trent and Katherine Paterson

Topics: young adult, 2014 release, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books

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