the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, May 16, 2017 @ 07:05 AM

What should you do if you're craving a twisty new whodunit? Elementary! Pick up Caroline Carlson's first middle grade mystery, The World's Greatest Detective, out now from HarperCollins!

World's Greatest Detective hc c.jpgCaroline Carlson, author of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series, returns with The World’s Greatest Detective, a story of crime, tricks, and hilarity for those who know that sometimes it takes a pair of junior sleuths to solve a slippery case.

Detectives’ Row is full of talented investigators, but Toby Montrose isn’t one of them. He’s only an assistant at his uncle’s detective agency, and he’s not sure he’s even very good at that. Toby’s friend Ivy is the best sleuth around—or at least she thinks so. They both see their chance to prove themselves when the famed Hugh Abernathy announces a contest to choose the World’s Greatest Detective. But when what was supposed to be a game turns into a real-life murder mystery, can Toby and Ivy crack the case?

Welcome, Caroline! I'm going to jump at the opportunity to pick your brain about this genre. What makes for a satisfying mystery story?

I’m a lifelong mystery reader, and I think the particular quality that most of my favorite mysteries share is a solution that’s both surprising and fair. When I reach the end of reading a mystery story, I want to guess the true solution to the mystery only a page or two before it’s revealed, and I don’t want to feel cheated. As a writer, it’s impossible to ensure that every reader has this experience—some will uncover the truth of the mystery long before you want them to, while others might not be able to guess it at all—but in The World's Greatest Detective, I tried to create a puzzle that was tricky enough to keep readers on their toes while also planting enough clues to give them a chance to solve the case on their own.

Of course, in addition to a great twisty plot, a satisfying mystery story has to have compelling characters, conflict and tension, high stakes, interesting settings, well-chosen turns of phrase, and all the other things that make any book stronger. My hope is that readers will enjoy spending time with the book even if they solve the mystery quickly or are reading it for a second or third time.

magnifying_glass_black_handle.jpgDo you approach writing mysteries differently than, say, your Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series?

I try to include a few surprising twists in all my books, so I guess you could say that they all have some elements of mystery, but the main difference in my writing process for The World's Greatest Detective was that I had to plot the whole book very carefully in advance. I usually do some plotting before I start to write, but for this book, I couldn’t play anything by ear, even the minor details: I had to know every character’s movements, motivations, backstory and alibi. I planned out the details of how the crime was committed, and then I planned out a few red herrings as well. I made lots of lists: lists of suspects, lists of clues, lists of mistakes and wrong turns my detectives would make on their way to uncovering the truth. It took a long time to write the first draft. The structure of the book didn’t change very much after I’d completed that first draft, either, because any small change I made could have affected the entire mystery plot!

Do you have any advice for writers who want to try their hand at a whodunit?

Read lots of mysteries and study their structure! If you notice a twist that an author does well, take notes about how she does it. And if you feel intimidated by the process of writing a mystery, remember that under the surface, a mystery novel is just like any other story about an interesting character facing a challenge he or she has to overcome. That challenge just might involve a little more murder than usual.

Poison_Vial_2.jpgWhat’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

I had to learn a lot about cyanide for this book.  Did you know that when you die from cyanide poisoning, you might turn purple?

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I worked with Sharon Darrow, Julie Larios, Franny Billingsley, and Martine Leavitt. I wish I could keep sending them my writing in the mail every month!

I hear that. What is your favorite VCFA memory?

There are so many specific moments I loved, but one image that’s stuck with me over the years has been waking up in my Dewey dorm room during winter residencies and watching the smoke rising out of people’s chimneys, up out of Montpelier and past the mountains. I loved those peaceful moments at the beginning of each day; I always felt really lucky to be in such a beautiful place among so many wonderful writers and friends. Even when it was several degrees below zero!

Thanks so much for visiting the Launchpad, Caroline! We're glad you're on the case!

Caroline Carlson graduated from VCFA in July 2011 and is a proud member of the League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Visit her online at

Topics: middle grade, Caroline Carlson, HarperCollins, 2017 release

Paperback Party!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 12, 2016 @ 09:10 AM

It's a paperback party! Here's a peek at some recent and upcoming paperback releases from VCFA authors! Click the covers for more info.

Nomad-cover.jpgNomad by William Alexander


Owl Girl by Mary Atkinson


23866208.jpgThe Buccaneers' Code by Caroline Carlson


final-cover-Nearer-Moon.jpg     41g6Wa8HCL._SX325_BO1204203200_.jpg

A Nearer Moon and Audacity by Melanie Crowder



The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox


076369097X.jpgSmashie McPerter and the Mystery of Room 11 by N. Griffin, illustrated by Kate Hindley



Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen



Rosa, Sola by Carmela A. Martino


You Were Here by Cori McCarthy



The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow



How to Share with a Bear by Eric Pinder, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin



All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg



Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

Topics: eric pinder, N. Griffin, 2015 release, Cori McCarthy, paperback release, Micol Ostow, Michelle Knudsen, Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, Meg Wiviott, Ingrid Sundberg, 2016 release, Janet Fox, Carmela A. Martino, William Alexander, Mary Atkinson

Caroline Carlson and THE BUCCANEER'S CODE!

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

Today we have Caroline Carlson joining us for the release of the final book in her VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES series: THE BUCCANEER'S CODE! The book is on shelves now (along with hardcover and paperback editions of the previous books in the series) and we couldn't be more excited!


Hilary Westfield is a freelance pirate now. When Captain Blacktooth showed his entirely dishonorable side by teaming up with the Mutineers and threatening the kingdom, Hilary forfeited her sword and hoped that the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates would one day secure a new leader—an honorable one (or very nearly).

Hilary’s devoted crew—including the talking gargoyle—believes she’s the perfect person for the job, so she picks up her sword again and challenges Captain Blacktooth and his villainous friends to a High Seas battle. If she wins, Hilary will become the new president of the League. If she loses? She’ll perish or, at best, she’ll be forced to spend the rest of her days at the Pestilent Home for Foul-Tempered Pirates while the Mutineers steal all the kingdom’s magic. To gather supporters, Hilary and her crew set sail on a quest that may or may not involve fearsome pirates, even more fearsome finishing school girls, and... chickens.

Caroline Carlson returns once again to the world of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates in the conclusion to this fantastically funny and adventure-filled series.

I am tempted to have you list your Top Ten Favorite Gargoyle Lines, but that might take a while. So what's your favorite line from the gargoyle?
That's the hardest question I've ever been asked! It's got to be one of his first lines in the series, when he's worrying about what will happen to him when Hilary leaves for finishing school: "Oh, Hilary, what if I'm renovated?"
Is there a bit of piratical knowledge you have in your notes that never made it onto the page? Either from history or from your own world-building?
Well, this isn't exactly piratical knowledge, but it is a bit of secret information about the series: When I started writing MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, Hilary's name was actually Robin. I ended up having to change her name because I had another character named Robin in a story I was working on at VCFA.
GASP! (There's a severe lack of Robins in children's lit. Though there are a lot of authors named Robin...)
Now that their adventures are coming to an end (at least the writing of them), what book would you recommend to each character as they take a week off to relax?
I think Hilary would probably like a story about another brave girl on a sailing ship, so I'd recommend THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE. For Claire, I'd recommend PRIDE AND PREJUDICE--she could read it aloud to the gargoyle, who goes nuts for a good romance. (Charlie would probably listen too, although he'd never admit it.) I'd give Jasper THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and I'd give Miss Greyson a big stack of newspapers (for the times when she's feeling practical) and the complete works of Agatha Christie (for the times when she isn't).
Which chapter from each book was your favorite to write? (No spoilers, readers, don't worry!)
I think the last chapter of each book has been my favorite! It's very satisfying to write final chapters. I love tying up loose threads and giving each character a happy ending—except for the villains, of course. I did get a little sniffly when I wrote the ending of THE BUCCANEERS' CODE, though; I'd been dreaming about the characters and their adventures for almost five years, and it was tough to say goodbye.
If you had to bury five books on a deserted island, only for some brave adventurer to dig them up a hundred or so years later, what would they be?
I'm not sure what the adventurer's tastes might be, so I'd try to leave a really broad selection of excellent reads: IN THE WOODS by Tana French, AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA by Michael Pollan, FATHERLAND by Nina Bunjevac, and A BRIEF HISTORY OF MONTMARAY by Michelle Cooper. That ought to see the adventurer through her deserted-island vacation.
Finally, was there any specific "VCFA trick" you used while writing the VNHLOP series? (I know, there were probably many.) Is there one you used above all others?
Plotting a story comes pretty naturally to me, but delving deep into characters' emotions is work that I still find tough and intimidating. Thankfully, VCFA gave me some tools to help things go a little more smoothly. Before I start writing any book, I ask myself how I want my character to grow and change emotionally over the course of the story. What internal goal does she want to achieve, and how will that help her achieve her plot goals, too? Sometimes I'll even write my character's internal goal on a Post-It and stick it to my computer monitor so I don't forget to write it into the book!

VCFA students, you heard it here first: stock up on Post-Its.


Thank you, Caroline, for stopping by the Launch Pad! We'll be waiting (in)patiently for your next series! Readers, you can find out more about THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES on Caroline's website here

Topics: 2015 release, middle grade, Caroline Carlson, HarperCollins


Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Sep 09, 2014 @ 09:09 AM

Arr, mateys! We be happier'n a new peg leg to be jabberin' with Caroline Carlson, whose new middle grade novel, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: The Terror of the Southlands (HarperCollins), makes land today! Here be the details:

describe the imageMore pirates, more magic, and more adventure in the second book of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series! Caroline Carlson brings the unceasing wit, humor, and fun of the first book in the series, Magic Marks the Spot, to this epic sequel. Fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society will love this quirky tween series and hope to join the VNHLP just like Hilary!

Hilary Westfield is now a bona fide pirate, but when her daring, her magical know-how, and even her gargoyle don’t convince the VNHLP that she’s worthy of her title, the Terror of the Southlands, she sets off with her crew on a High Seas adventure. But then Miss Pimm disappears and Hilary decides to find the missing Enchantress and protect the magic of Augusta.

Caroline Carlson wrote her first published novel, Magic Marks the Spot, while she was a student at VCFA. The Terror of the Southlands is the second book in that series.

Welcome aboard, Caroline! So, tell us . . .

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

Because The Terror of the Southlands is the second book in a series, one of my biggest challenges was to remind readers what had happened in the first book without simultaneously boring them to tears. Chapter 2, in particular, was my nemesis. I experimented with lots of different scenes as I tried (often in vain) to introduce characters and backstory and to explain the details of the book’s magical world. At various points in its lifespan, Chapter 2 contained timid country farmers, flying musical instruments, wheelbarrows full of magic coins, explosions blasting holes in walls, Mozart’s Sonata in C, and dozens of chickens. None of those elements ever made it into the final book (though the chickens do make a cameo in book three). Finally, during revisions with my editor, I ended up writing the chapter completely from scratch, and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out.

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

Some of my favorite sentences were written by James Thurber, who is an expert when it comes to both sound and sense. Re-reading books like The Thirteen Clocks encourages me to play around with the rhythms of language in my own writing. As far as plotting is concerned, I hugely admire Jaclyn Moriarty, who always manages to pull hundreds of disparate elements into huge, twisty, brilliant plots that surprise me at every turn. My favorite literary character, Cassandra Mortmain, was created by Dodie Smith in her classic, wonderful book I Capture the Castle.

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

I usually prefer to write in silence, and I can’t listen to any sort of music with lyrics while I write. For this book, I got myself into the story-writing zone by turning on Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks.” It might seem like a strange choice to set the mood for a pirate yarn, but there’s a grand High Society ball at the end of the book, and the overture sounds like something my characters might be listening to as they attempt to avoid dancing.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I worked with four insightful and whip-smart writers: Sharon Darrow, Julie Larios, Franny Billingsley, and Martine Leavitt.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

It scared me to hear this when I was just starting out at VCFA, but it turned out to be intensely true: Don’t be afraid to abandon projects and try new things. I think a lot of us start out in the program with a novel we’d like to polish to perfection—the book we dream will be our first published work. And a lot of us spend most of our time in the program working on that book, but more often than not, that book isnthe one that leads us to publication. It’s the book we learn on, the book that teaches us to write the stories we’ve always been meant to tell. Until the second packet of my last semester, I thought my creative thesis would be the book I’d spent most of my grad school career working on—but then I wrote Magic Marks the Spot, and everything I’d learned over the previous two years finally came together.

Thanks for dropping by, Caroline! And a big, hearty salute to The Terror of the Southlands!

Caroline Carlson was a member of the VCFA class of July 2011 -- The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches. Visit her online at!

Topics: 2014 release, middle grade, Caroline Carlson, HarperCollins

Roundup - VCFA WCYA Auction, ALA Authors, Book Sales & More!

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 @ 07:06 AM


VCFA WCYA hits the jackpot!

The annual conference of the American Library Association will convene next week in Las Vegas and tons of VCFA WCYA authors will be there meeting, greeting and signing. If you're in the Sin City neighborhood be sure to drop in on these folks:

Kekla Magoon

Debbie Wiles

Catherine Linka

Rita Williams-Garcia

Trent Reedy

Sherry Shahan

Rene Colato Lainez

Gretchen Woelfle

Jandy Nelson

Lauren Myracle

Clete Barrett Smith

Carol Lynch Williams

Any others?

Authors please leave your appearance times here in the comments.

Adi and I do our best to keep up but please remember there are only two of us volunteering -- and zillions of your stellar achievements to track down (not to mention we have our own writing to do!) Drop us a line with your good news here. And don't fret if we miss something -- catch up with us on the VCFA WCYA community Facebook page and we'll be sure you're recognized here, too.

images 2

The Launch Pad is delighted to announce we're a co-sponsor of the 2014 WCYA Auction and Alumni Signing. We've joined the Alumni Association to bring you two special evenings of fun. There's still plenty of time to donate items or join the alumni signing. 

Sooooo another week, more AMAZING book sales . . . because that's how we roll at VCFA!

Anne Bustard sold her debut middle-grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise to Andrea Cascardi at Egmont USA. Anne's novel tells the story of Peggy Sue Bennett, a fish out of water in post-statehood Hawaii, baffled by local customs and bullied by an eighth grader for being white. Ho'omaika'i 'ana, Anne! 

Lyn Miller-Lachmann sold Surviving Santiago, the story of a 16-year old girl's summer in Chile visiting her estranged father, and the dangerous love affair that develops between her and a local boy to Running Press Kids. ¡Qué bueno, Lyn!

And we have even more good news:

Horn Book selected Erin Moulton's new novel, Chasing the Milky Way as its "Review Of The Week" saying, "Moulton effectively balances the big-picture issues with the smaller stuff, the day-to-day challenges each character faces and the triumphs he or she achieves." Great stuff, Erin! 

David Elzey's piece "The Self-Improvement Plan" was published this week in Antioch University Los Angeles' online literary journal Lunch Ticket. Good job, David!

Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi's Grandfather Gandhi has received more recognition -- Betsy Bird aka Fuse #8 is touting this gorgeous and important picture book as a possible Caldecott winner! Go Bethany and Grandfather!

Meanwhile the German edition of Caroline Carlson's Hilary und der fast ganz ehrbare Club der Piraten (don't even ask us to try to pronounce that!) is set to launch at a Munich or Strassbourg bookstore near you.

What a week!!!!

Topics: round-up, Erin E. Moulton, Anne Bustard, Trent Reedy, Deborah Wiles, Kekla Magoon, Jandy Nelson, congratulations, Catherine Linka, Sherry Shahan, Gretchen Woelfle, Carol Lynch Williams, Bethany Hegedus, Rita Williams-Garcia, foreign rights, signing, David Elzey, Clete Barrett Smith, Arun Gandhi, Rene Colato Lainez, American Library Association, VCFA auction, Caroline Carlson, Lauren Myracle, Lyn Miller-Lachmann

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