the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Melanie Crowder and A NEARER MOON!

Posted by Robin Herrera on Tue, Sep 08, 2015 @ 06:09 AM

Please welcome Melanie Crowder to the blog to celebrate her release of A NEARER MOON, out today! This is Melanie's second novel to publish this year (read about AUDACITY here!), and we couldn't be happier. Already A NEARER MOON has garnered at least three starred reviews, with hopefully more to come.


Along a lively river, in a village raised on stilts, lives a girl named Luna. All her life she has heard tales of the time before the dam appeared, when sprites danced in the currents and no one got the mysterious wasting illness from a mouthful of river water. These are just stories, though—no sensible person would believe in such things.

Beneath the waves is someone who might disagree. Perdita is a young water sprite, delighting in the wet splash and sparkle, and sad about the day her people will finally finish building their door to another world, in search of a place that humans have not yet discovered.

But when Luna’s little sister falls ill with the river sickness, everyone knows she has only three weeks to live. Luna is determined to find a cure for her beloved sister, no matter what it takes. Even if that means believing in magic…

Welcome, Melanie! Tell us, how did you end up with two books out in 2015? Were they both sold at the same time, or were the timelines completely different?

If I’m remembering correctly, both books sold in the summer of 2013. Generally, the author wraps up revisions with her editor a year before the book hits the shelves, so summer 2013 was a little too late to schedule a 2014 release date. Each book has its own timetable—some take a long time in revisions and some are much quicker. It just turned out that both were wrapped up in time for 2015 releases, which has definitely kept me busy this year! 

There are some very evocative names in A NEARER MOON. Luna, Willow, Perdita, even Benny! Tell us how you came up with the names.

Benny is a buoy for Luna, pulling her up to the surface when she begins to sink. I came upon his name purely by sound. I wanted something buoyant and bright. What could be more cheerful than Benny?

Willow’s name is a gift of the setting. I wanted something that could be bent far back by the wind or the water without breaking. I wanted to endow the character with that strength and resilience from the very beginning.

Let’s see. What can I tell you about the others without giving it all away?

Did you know that Perdita is Latin, and the name of one of Uranus’s moons? A lost one? Hmmmmmm.

Did you know that Luna is Latin for moon? Hmmmmm. Perhaps these two characters are connected in some way…

I love the foreshadowing! Let's talk Fairy Tales. Do you have a favorite fairy tale, or creature?

I love selkies! Maybe I’ll write a selkie story someday. It would have to be a reimagining though—I’d have to strip away some of the heteronormativity and consent issues in the old tales. You know what? That sounds like a fun challenge!    

How about your favorite body of water?

I love the straits and bays surrounding the San Juan Islands off the Washington coastline. It’s paradise!

Any specific songs that you listened to while writing? Any sounds in the story that you think merit a soundtrack all on their own?

I could listen to the sound of moving water all day without growing tired of it. I am a Pisces after all…

And because I'm sure readers will want more when they're done: What three books would you recommend to someone after they've finished (and loved) A NEARER MOON? 

Well, since at its heart A NEARER MOON is a story about the bond between sisters, I’d recommend some classic sister stories: LITTLE WOMEN (of course), THE TRUTH-TELLER’S TALE (because it’s also middle grade fantasy), and ONE CRAZY SUMMER (because who doesn’t love the Gaither sisters?).

(I just read LITTLE WOMEN myself! Highly recommended, along with Rita's Gaither Sister trilogy!) Alright, Melanie, which of your VCFA advisors do you think could secretly be a river sprite?

Franny Billingsley. Definitely!

Oh, that's a good one. Maybe she really does write what she knows!

Is there anything you learned from writing A NEARER MOON that you'd want to share with a prospective VCFA student? (Or fellow writer)

You know, I came into my studies at VCFA having read mostly fantasy and planning mostly to write fantasy. Then, for the next 5 years I worked on projects in every genre except fantasy. I’m taking a lot of joy in circling back to my roots with this book. I won’t stay here long—my next books are historical fiction, contemporary, and geopolitical. (If that even counts as a genre!) I suppose what I’m saying here is that the more you study, and the more you write, the broader your range will become. If you’re brave enough to step outside your comfort zone, you’ll grow tremendously. So be brave!

So true. VCFA is a perfect time to step outside that comfort zone, and it's clearly worked for you—you've got three great, incredibly different books under your belt already!

Last question: what's the most valuable piece of advice you received while at VCFA? (Be Brave is great on its own!)

Less is more. It’s my writing mantra.

Very succinctly stated. As always, Melanie, it's been a pleasure! Thank you for joining us at the Launch Pad. Readers, visit Melanie's website here for more information about A NEARER MOON, AUDACITY, and Melanie's other books! If you want to straight up ORDER the book, you can do so here, here, or here.



Topics: vcfa, Alumni, writing for children & young adults, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, middle grade, Melanie Crowder


Posted by Sarah Johnson on Thu, Mar 05, 2015 @ 04:03 AM

Today we celebrate TWO new picture books by Kathi Appelt: When Otis Courted MaMa and Counting Crows. Both received a star from Kirkus Reviews!

Kathi is the New York Times best-selling author of over 40 books for children and young adults.  She lives in College Station, TX with her husband Ken and five gifted and talented cats. She also teaches on the faculty of VCFA. 

Counting Crows CoverOne, two, three crows in a tree.  Crows in red sweaters, nest and caw, gather snacks, and dodge a kitty’s paw.  How many crows take to the sky? Count all the crows and watch them fly!  Open and look to see just how this counting book is the cat’s meow.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

When it comes to the crows, I have to confess that I’m fascinated by crows.  And I do admire the name of the band, Counting Crows.  For years, I carried around this idea of a picture book that featured a set of crows who counted things.  They were “counting crows.”  Not multiplying crows or dividing crows, simply counting crows.  But it took me forever to figure what they were counting, and it took me longer to figure out the rhythm of the counting.  So, I had the idea in my head for probably ten years before I finally figured it out.  After that, it only took me a few days to put it together.  And of course, then came the revisions.  Ack!

When Otis Courted Mama cover

Apart from sticker burs and sand fleas, Cardell’s life is mostly wonderful.  He knows he’s loved through and through by his perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy.  They live in different parts of the desert, but that’s okay—Cardell is mostly used to it.  Then Otis comes calling, and Cardell feels a GRRR form in his throat.  Otis can’t make jalapeño flapjacks or play Zig-the-Zag anything like Cardell’s daddy.  And Cardell waits for Mama to say “Adios Otis.”  But what will happen if she doesn’t?

What was the spark that ignited this book?

When it came to OTIS, I had a terrific, funny and very kind stepfather.  One day, while I was working on my memoir, MY FATHER’S SUMMERS, and thinking about my father, it occurred to me that in children’s literature, the role of stepparent is usually that of the antagonist. And yet, in real life, there are a lot of very good stepparents who are doing a great job of it, and who are making a difference in the lives of their stepchildren. But they don’t show up much in our stories.  I thought it was time for some other character besides Cinderella’s hideous stepmother to make an appearance.  And I used my own stepfather George as a role model for Otis.


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Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I loved writing the character of Cardell in WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA because he reminded me of myself after my parents divorced.  He very much wants his mama to be happy, but he’s worried about his own happiness too.  Can he share his mother?  Otis has to win him over, and it’s not easy for either of them.


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

I love Cynthia Rylant for her everything.  For plot, it’s hard to beat Louis Sachar.  I think that HOLES is about as perfect as a book can be in that regard.  For character, it’s hard to beat Rita Williams-Garcia.  

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

I try hard to make sure that my characters are acting.  I actually love it when they’re sitting on their hands doing a lot of woolgathering.  Why?  That’s what I like to do. But that usually doesn’t work out for readers.  We want characters who are moving—either forwards or backwards, doesn’t matter so long as they’re going somewhere and doing something.

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

Feral hogs.  I needed to know a few things about them for my book THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

The community of excellence that is VCFA has changed who I am as both a person and a writer.  

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Listening to Alan Cumyn sing “Hallelujah."

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Do it. 

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

That insulated boots are best for the winter.

Counting Crows graphic

Thanks for joining us today, Kathi.

Connect with Kathi on Facebook at

You can also visit her at her website:


Topics: 2015 release, picture book, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, HMH Books For Young Readers, Kirkus Star

Roundup - Bank Street Honors VCFA Authors, Book Deals & More

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Jun 13, 2014 @ 06:06 AM

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It may be Friday the thirteenth (and a full moon at that!) but at VCFA it's our lucky day!

Bank Street College of Education recently released its list of Best Books of 2014 and there are a slew of familiar Vermont College of Fine Arts names on the list. Check out this honor roll of VCFA writers!

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Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Elwood Smith (Holiday House). Old MacDonald and Señor Pancho both have a lot of noisy farm animals in this festive, bilingual sing-a-long. Lively ink and watercolor illustrations

Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Paul Meisel (Candlewick Press). Big brother is certain that his baby sister—who chomps everything in sight—must be a vampire, so he tries to find the right home for her. Humorous mixed-media color illustrations.

Cowboy Up!: Ride the Navajo Rodeo by Nancy Bo Flood, photographs by Jan Sonnenmair (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press/Highlights) A day of roping and riding competitions at a rodeo is depicted through photographs, poetry, and prose.

Yes, Let’s by Galen Goodwin Longstreth, illustrated by Maris Wicks (Tanglewood) A family trip to the woods, including a hike, a picnic, and swimming, packs a lot of fun into one day. Colorful, humorous illustrations.

Robot, Go Bot! by Dana Meachen Rau, illustrated by Wook Jin Jung (Random House). Simple words, in comic-style balloons, tell the engaging story of a bossy girl and her robot.

Penelope Crumb Never Forgets by Shawn K. Stout, illustrated by Valeria Docampo (Philomel Books/Penguin) When a quirky, spirited girl establishes her Ultra Museum of Forget-Me-Notters, her choice of objects to represent her loved ones causes havoc. Black-and-white puppet-like illustrations.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad Press/HarperCollins) Life gets complicated for the Gaither sisters in 1968 Brooklyn—Dad’s in love, uncle Darnell’s home from Vietnam, and the Jackson Five are coming to town.

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley (Clarion/HMH) Mehrigul, a Uyghur farm girl and gifted basketmaker, longs to go back to school but must battle her aggressive father, her depressed mother, and the Chinese rulers who have invaded her homeland.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing) Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn, along with the Sugar Man and two raccoons, must save the Texas swamp and its rare inhabitants from animal and human predators. Fast-paced and funny.

Parched by Melanie Crowder (Harcourt Children’s Books/HMH) Sarel and Musa use their knowledge of the land to survive after the violent deaths of family members and abuse by gang members brought on by a devastating drought.

Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham (Candlewick Press) Jane, a high school senior recovering from the loss of her arm from a shark attack, discovers her special talents as well as her responsibilities to herself and others. Told in narrative verse. (Sequel to Shark Girl)

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson (Viking/Penguin) Emotional eater Ann has allowed her weight to control her life, until she is faced with her aunt’s wedding. She then acquires a greater understanding of her family.


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Hailed for its creepy cool cover (we think it's a twisted tip of the hat to Downton Abbey!) Fuse #8's blog at School Library Journal featured Julie Berry's upcoming release The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Roaring Brook Press).

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With months still to go before its publication date, Dianne White's Blue On Blue (Beach Lane Press) has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Way to go, Dianne! This is the first of many accolades this beautiful book will receive!


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Happy launch week to Makeover Magic, the third book in Jill Santopolo's delightful Sparkle Spa series! Jill stopped by The Launchpad to talk about this series back in March -- read about it here if you missed it!

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A. B. Westrick's critically acclaimed middle grade novel Brotherhood (Viking 2013) is out this week in paperback!

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Coretta Scott King/Steptoe Award winner Kekla Magoon's The Guerilla Life of Manolo Cabesas, the story of a rural teen's transformation into a hardened soldier for a rebel army in South America, to Andrea Tompa at Candlewick, by Michelle Humphrey at the Martha Kaplan Agency (World). Congratulations, Kekla!!

Cynthia Surrisi sold her debut middle-grade mystery, The Maypop Kidnapping to Carolrhoda. It's set in a small coastal Maine village filled with eccentric locals; when 13-year-old Quinnie's beloved teacher goes missing, Quinnie leads a relentless, sometimes misguided search – against her mother's orders and it's scheduled for publication in 2015! Hooray Cynthia!

Erin Hagar sold a biography that's sure to be near and dear to our hearts-- and tummies! Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures, beautifully illustrated and aimed at 8 to 12 year olds, will be published next spring by DUOPRESS Books. We can't wait, Erin. Bon Appetit! 

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And last but not least...

The deadline for the Katherine Paterson Prize at Hunger Mountain is fast approaching! (June 30th) Enter your Young Adult, Middle Grade, or Picture Book manuscripts (up to 10,000 words). This year's judge is Katherine Applegate, Newbery-winning author of The One and Only Ivan and dozens of other books. There's a $1000 first prize, and past winners have found literary agents and ultimately sold books to major presses following the publication of their winning pieces at Hunger Mountain. Please visit Hunger Mountain at for guidelines.

Topics: Candlewick Press, Holiday House, Elwood Smith, 2014 release, round-up, Shawn K. Stout, Philomel, Penguin Random House, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, HMH Books For Young Readers, A. B. Westrick, Kekla Magoon, Kelly Bingham, Paul Meisel, Roaring Brook Press, Viking, 2013 release, Jan Sonnenmair, Maris Wicks, Cynthia Surrisi, Kelly Bennett, Nancy Bo Flood, Wordsong, Amistad Press, K. A. Barson, Random House, congratulations, Julie Berry, Melanie Crowder, Rita Williams-Garcia, Rene Colato Lainez, Jill Santopolo, Aladdin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Dianne White, Valeria Docampo, Beach Lane Books, Boyds Mills Press, Highlights, Galen Goodwin Longstreth, Tanglewood, Josanne La Valley, Clarion, Dana Meachen Rau, Wook Jin Jung

Kathi Appelt and MOGIE!

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 @ 14:06 PM

Today the LaunchPad is honored to welcome an author and friend who's nearest and dearest to our hearts, long-time VCFA faculty member Kathi Appelt and her new tug-at-your-heartstrings picture book MOGIE!

describe the imageMogie is a real-life Labradoodle with a special talent: he always knows just what a sick kid needs! Get to know this passionate pup with this story by a Newbery Honoree.

Give that dog a puddle and he’d splash. Give him a whistle and he’d roll over. Give him a rule and he’d break it.
One day a passel of puppies was born. Each puppy was designated for a Very Important Job, like Service Dog, or Search and Rescue Dog, or Groomed for the Show Ring Dog.
Each puppy, that is, except Mogie. Mogie was a ball-chasing, tail-wagging, moon-howling pup. Not the kind of pup for any of those jobs!
But there is a place that is just right for Mogie: a very special house where sick children and their families can stay while they undergo long-term treatment. A place with children who NEED a ball-chasing, tail-wagging, moon-howling pup.
And there’s one little boy in particular who needs Mogie. And Mogie is about to prove he’s the best darn pooch in the passel. Based on a true story, this heartwarming picture book is published in conjunction with the Ronald McDonald House.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award-winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and many picture books. She has two grown children and lives in Texas with her husband Ken. She is also a member of the faculty in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
The challenge in writing this book was that when I interviewd some of the folks at that Ronald McDonald House in Houston, whenever I spoke to an adult, they would recall a particularly touching anecdote about how Mogie helped one of the kids, and before I knew it we’d all be weeping.  But when I interviewed the kids about Mogie, they typically started laughing.  Like most pets, he’s a combination of sweet and silly.
Trying to find the balance between sentimental and happy-go-lucky was really difficult.  Lots of drafts later, I finally realized that I needed to make this story about one dog and one boy, and hopefully that way I could find the heart of the story.

What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?
Sentences:  Cynthia Rylant
Plot:  Pat Conroy
Character:  Kimberly Willis Holt
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you? 
When I was writing The Underneath, Tobin Anderson told me to “write what you think you can’t.”  I feel like I should have that tattooed on my wrist so that I can remember it every single day.

Who were your advisors at VCFA? 
Each and every one of my fellow faculty mates and students.  I learn so much from them.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Be willing to set aside everything you think you know, and listen, listen. listen. Be willing to be surprised.
Mogie is already receiving rave reviews- here's one from the Wall Street Journal.
Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
MOGIE, THE HEART OF THE HOUSE (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) in bookstores everywhere June 10, 2014
For a huge treat check out Kathi's trailer for Mogie, with music composed and performed by her son Cooper Appelt.

Topics: nonfiction, 2014 release, picture book, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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

Bethany Hegedus, Arun Gandhi, and GRANDFATHER GANDHI

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 @ 15:04 PM

We couldn't be more excited for Bethany Hegedus's new picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, illustrated by Evan Turk and written with Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi. Out now from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, the book has already garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

GrandfatherGandhiMahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace.

How could he—a Gandhi—be so easy to anger?

One thick, hot day, Arun Gandhi travels with his family to Grandfather Gandhi’s village.

Silence fills the air—but peace feels far away for young Arun. When an older boy pushes him on the soccer field, his anger fills him in a way that surely a true Gandhi could never imagine. Can Arun ever live up to the Mahatma? Will he ever make his grandfather proud?

In this remarkable personal story, Arun Gandhi, with Bethany Hegedus, weaves a stunning portrait of the extraordinary man who taught him to live his life as light. Evan Turk brings the text to breathtaking life with his unique three-dimensional collage paintings.

Welcome, Bethany! We're so glad you could stop by. Tell us, what was the spark that ignited this book?

Thirteen or so years ago, I heard Arun Gandhi speak at Town Hall in the months after 9/11. I was there that Tuesday morning, across the street from the WTC at the WFC where I worked. My head and heart were broken that day and I went to this event, sponsored by Unity of New York, to help myself heal.

That night, Arun shared stories of living with Gandhi on the Sevagram ashram as a boy. I wasn’t published yet, I had applied to and was to be starting VCFA that January, but on that October night, I knew those books should be picture books. I tried to talk myself out of the idea that I should be the one to help tell them, but I didn’t. I finally realized that because of what I witnessed on 9/11, and how Arun’s stories, in particular, his grandfather’s sharing of how anger is like electricity, I could help these stories reach the world.

I emailed Arun, asking him to work with me, an unknown. He said yes.

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

Grandfather Gandhi took eight years and in that time, two agents had repped the work, and countless editors read and responded, all who were intrigued but many who wanted the text to get turned into a chapter book/middle grade and not remain a picture book, which was the original vision we had for the text and for the stories.

Before a contract was offered I spent a year revising for Namrata Tripathi, who at that time was at Atheneum/ S&S. When my then agent, Regina Brooks, called me on the phone to tell me that Grandfather Gandhi was offered a contract, I jumped around in my living room. I was home sick that day, down with Austin allergies, and I became a nasally jumping bean. I tossed both hands in the air like I’d run a marathon and I then basically crashed on the couch from the joy, exertion, and allergy induced mania!

There were countless revisions before the contract and only some word tweaking after the contract. We always knew we wanted to tell a personal yet universal tale and tapping into Arun’s hidden shame about not living up to his grandfather was really the way in we’d been searching for as we worked all those years.

Now that the book is out, with stellar visuals by debut illustrator, Evan Turk, I am so proud that Arun and I stuck to our original vision of telling the tale in the picture book form, with starting with the youngest audience, and having the story reach both children and adults alike.

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

For mastery of language, there is no one finer than Kathi Appelt. Take a gander at these sentences:

“From the rooftop of Information Headquarters, Bingo and J’miah stood on their back paws, and watched Little Mama and Daddy-O trundle away, their stripy gray and black silhouettes grew smaller and smaller in the deepening dusk.” True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum/S&S 2013).

“Trees are the keepers of stories. If you could understand the language of the oak and the elm and the tallow, they might tell you about another storm, an earlier one, twenty-five years ago to be exact, a storm that barreled across the sky, filling up the streams and bayous, how it dipped and charged and rushed through the boughs.” The Underneath, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum/S&S 2010).

There is vibrancy, pacing, detail, complexity, humor where needed, and lyricism throughout.

For character, Sara Zarr sleighs me. So does Rainbow Rowell and Nikki Loftin in her recent release Nightingale’s Nest (Razorbill, 2014). The characters are so beautiful and the magical realism so special. The book breaks my heart and puts it back together again.

For plotting and pacing, I study all authors, poets, essayists. I went to VCFA to learn structure, and I now teach it to my own mentees, but because I don’t believe plotting and pacing should be formulaic, I continue to pick apart everything I read for ah-ha moments for myself and my mentees and writer friends.

tumblr n3dcdnTsYo1ts8yx8o1 1280Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I write in silence, or to birds chirping, or the wind waving through the grass and the trees. I spent many years writing from a reception desk in Manhattan and now that I can write outside in Austin, Texas (when the temps are cool enough) I head to my front porch, to The Writing Barn, or an outdoor coffee shop and I can’t get enough of writing to the sounds of nature: grasshoppers, dogs barking, rain storms, whatever. And in coffee shops, if indoors in the summer, with the AC cranking, I work best if the music is on but where it is not loud enough to distract me. I like lyrics and I don’t want to get pulled out of my story into song. I want to stay with the character, as much as possible.

You were in the VCFA class of January 2005, the Wild Things! How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I’ve been a grad for a long time now, and each and every year, VCFA and my time there continues to affect me and my work. It’s given me a community of writers to reach out to for advice, inspiration, craft and critique. (Some of the brainaic alumns I turn to for reads are: Alicia Potter, K. A. Nuzum, Kekla Magoon, Sarah Sullivan, Katie Bayerl, Amy Rose Capetta and more!) I’ve continued to make friends and follow the careers of so many who went through the program, just like I did. Whether we were there at the same time or not, going through a rigorous MFA program, and one that is also as supportive and creative, bonds me to the writers I meet online or in-person who are also grads.

The learning doesn’t end after marching across the stage in College Hall and with each year the VCFA community thrives. Graduation is really an induction into a group of writers that continue to push themselves, to study craft, to teach and pass the torch. At The Writing Barn, a workshop and retreat space I run in Austin, Texas, we’ve had the pleasure of hosting VCFA gatherings, and having both alumns and faculty teach with us and study with us. It’s that commitment to staying in the craft conversation that is the biggest take away from my time at VCFA. It’s what makes me and keeps me striving to stretch my writer muscles and develop new ones. 

Love the idea of graduation being an induction. It's so true. What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Once, the semester after working with Norma Fox Mazer, I ran into her in Grand Central Station. We both lived in NYC and the small town moments of running into friends and family never ceased to amaze me, but this run-in, was especially special to me as it was THE day I sent my first packet to my new advisor. I was so amazed by the serendipity of it, and how much I missed working with Norma, I threw my arms out and hugged her. Norma was a petite woman for such a mighty writer and I swear, if her husband Harry wasn’t also standing right there, I may have spun her around and set her down in front of the clock at Grand Central, and worshipped right there at her literary feet. After that by chance meeting, Norma and I would meet for tea and when she died a few years after I graduated, I had the honor as Editor of the Children’s and YA section of Hunger Mountain to put together essays by those who worked with her, not just at VCFA, but also with the editors and readers she touched. I still miss Norma, but I am so grateful I got to work with her, and got to know her as a woman and as a writer.

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

That I’d never want to leave! And each time I return, I still don’t!

We couldn't agree more. Thanks so much for joining us today, Bethany, and congratulations on your launch!

Find Bethany and Grandfather Gandhi online at and And for extra inspiration, check out The Writing Barn, Bethany's workshop and retreat space in Austin.

Topics: 2014 release, picture book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Bethany Hegedus, Arun Gandhi, Simon & Schuster, Evan Turk

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