the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

C. M. Surrisi and THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING

Posted by Tami Brown on Thu, Mar 03, 2016 @ 04:03 AM

Today we're welcoming C. M. (Cynthia) Surrisi, a member of the Magic IFs class of January 2014. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband Chuck and her two rascal Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Sunny and Milo, and Harry, the Prince of Cats. 

 

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A mystery has washed ashore at the coastal town of Maiden Rock. Quinnie Boyd’s teacher, Ms. Stillford, hasn’t shown up on the first day of school—or the day after that. Quinnie thinks it’s a kidnapping case. Her mom, the town sheriff, doesn’t believe her, but Quinnie’s going to follow her instincts—even if she has to tiptoe around her mom to do it.

            Quinnie’s investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messier places. On the way, she’ll have help from her glamourous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they’ll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who’ve been pigging out on the lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger . . .     

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Welcome Cynthia-- and I might add any friend of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a friend of mine! Here at the LaunchPad we always love a good book sale story. How did you sell The Maypop Kidnapping?

I was in my last semester at VCFA, headed into packet number three, when someone alerted me to a blog post by editor Greg Hunter at Carolrhoda Books. The post is at http://carolrhoda.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-call-for-middle-grade-fiction.html You can also follow him on twitter at @gregjhunter.

 I urge readers to look at this post because it tells so much about the editor. By the time I finished reading it, I was hooked. I had planned to take the route of graduating and submitting to agents. But when I read this, I not only liked him, I understood what he was looking for in a manuscript. I felt my book had a chance so I submitted it, and soon thereafter I had a long conversation with him about the book and received an offer. Next, I talked with several agents, which admittedly is easier to do with a book offer in your hand. I chose Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt. Perfect.

 I concentrated on getting a good fit. I believe you can help yourself out a lot by thoroughly researching agents and editors and not submitting to people who are not right for you.

 These relationships have led to a second Quinnie Boyd Mystery, Vampires on the Run, which is coming out Spring 2017, and there is a third under discussion. I also have a picture book coming out from Abrams next year, which is being illustrated by the wonderful Diane Goode.

You've been busy! And I love how you took charge of your writing career, instead of waiting for something great to happen. Tell us about your writing community.

My writing community has expanded greatly over the last ten years. Initially, I joined SCBWI. In SCBWI I met wonderful, supportive people who remain good friends. Then, I went to VCFA, which is a huge bear hug. Now, I have my beloved classmates, The MAGIC IFs, my darling friends who attended VCFA during the same semesters as me, AND the tribe consisting of everyone who has ever gone to, or been associated, with VCFA. Then, I moved to Asheville, where there is a large, wonderful, and welcoming community of children’s writers who I am getting to know. I have writing friends who are available 24 hours, like a hot line. I have a Skype critique group. I am joining an in-person group here in Asheville.

Share something that inspires you-

Something I keep on my wall while I work. Many inspiring objects surround me, but one of my favorites is Pippi-Bliss by Jeffrey Stoner:

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Who wouldn't be inspired by that blissful goat! What's your writing superpower?

I feel my writing superpower is quirky adults in kids’ books. I like my adults to be both larger than life and realistic at the same time, because I think that is the way they appear to kids in real life. I strive for adult characters who are respected as role models, even if they are sometimes difficult and test a kid’s patience. And most important, they have to add a comic element while they are providing an adult world superstructure to the story.

Let's talk about VCFA. Who were your advisors?

My advisors: Matt de la Pena, Tim Wynne-Jones, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Tom Birdseye. Each was perfect for me at the time I had them, and I regret I couldn’t have had the advisor experience with more of the faculty. I’ve thanked them so many times, it’s getting a little tiresome for them, I’m sure, but I’d like to do it again and single them out for some specific kudos: Matt taught me how to follow my main character around and make her life complicated, then watch her get through it. Tim taught me how to write a mystery. Rita taught me how to infuse heart into a novel. And Tom taught me how to make the most of a humorous moment in a story.      

How did VCFA effect your writing life? Do you have any advice for prospective students?

For many years before attending VCFA, I practiced law. When I started to write fiction in earnest, I simply didn’t have any adjectives. When writing legal briefs one is obliged to stick to the facts. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, it does loosely describe writing on the left side of the brain rather than the right side. When I had pieces critiqued at conferences, I was often told I could use more words. I think most people are urged to cut, cut, cut.

I knew I needed to study writing in the way that I learn best. For me that is a structured, intensive program with demands and high expectations. I retired from law to dedicate full-time to my MFA. I threw myself into it and I feel I got out of it everything it had to offer me. I stripped it all down to basics and started from scratch. I’d say I was the poster child for getting the most out of VCFA, but I know that everyone’s experience is pretty similar.

 If you want to learn to write for children and young adults, VCFA can make that happen. I am transformed on this front. I now understand the inner-workings of the craft of writing for kids, and I have tools and methods to apply what I know.

I thought I had a writing life before I started VCFA. I now know that what I had was never going to lead to publication. VCFA made the difference.

It was such a treat to talk to you about my favorite topics- Cavaliers, VCFA and MIDDLE GRADE MYSTERIES! Thanks so much for dropping by, Cynthia.

THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING was published by Carolrhoda/Lerner and it's available in bookstores everywhere. You can find out more about Cynthia on her website cmsurrisi.com and follow her on Twitter at @csurrisi

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: Carolrhoda Books, middle grade, 2016 release, C. M. Surrisi, mystery, Lerner

Kate Hosford and Feeding the Flying Fanellis!

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Oct 02, 2015 @ 13:10 PM

We're delighted to welcome Kate Hosford to the LaunchPad to celebrate the release of her new book Feeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems from a Circus Chef! Kate graduated from VCFA in January 2011 and is a member of the Bat Poets. You can find her online at her website www.khosford.com and on Facebook and Twitter.  

23080199What do you feed a trapeze family to keep them up in the air? A fire eater with a penchant for hot sauce? Or a lion with a gourmet palate? How do you satisfy a sweet-toothed human cannonball who has outgrown his cannon? Find out what keeps these performers juggling, balancing and entertaining—meals prepared by their tireless chef! Enjoy a front row seat for this whimsical look at circus life that just might make you hungry.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I’m not sure it was so much a spark as a slow burn. As a former gymnast and dancer, I have always been interested in the circus. My family has also been connected with the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus, almost since its inception. This award-winning youth circus attracts top performers from all of the country and internationally. In 1989, my father helped organize a circus exchange between Circus Smirkus and a circus troupe from Tbilisi, Georgia, which at that time was part of the Soviet Union. I was able to see the Georgian and American kids perform in Vermont, which was an unforgettable experience. Since then, I have seen Circus Smirkus perform many times over the years, and have attended other circuses as well, such as the Big Apple Circus, and Cirque de Soleil.

 

On the other hand, my interest in chefs probably resulted from the fact that I developed food intolerances in my thirties and was forced to live on a restricted diet. Food suddenly became a complicated part of my life, and I fantasized about a chef who would cook everything I needed, leaving me free to think about other things. Around the time the food intolerances developed, I wrote my first picture book story called The Little Chef, and then a second called Rooftop Circus. Neither of those projects ever went anywhere, and it wasn’t until years later at VCFA that it occurred to me to combine the two topics. 

 

During my first semester at VCFA, I decided to turn my little chef into a circus chef. I began reading articles about actual circus chefs, including this one about the Ringling Brothers circus chef Michael Vaughn: http://articles.philly.com/2010-02-25/news/25219637_1_pie-car-circus-crew-special-occasions

 

These lines got me thinking:

 

"He's fielded some odd requests in his time, from Russian crew members who put mayonnaise on every dish, to Trinidadian stilt-walkers who live off ketchup. Under these conditions, a cook has to be able to handle anything, even if that means seeing a finely cooked filet mignon drowned in store-bought condiments.

 

I loved the idea of a chef catering to the unusual requirement circus performers might make, both in terms of their cultural backgrounds and their job requirements. I did the picture book program first semester with Uma Krishnaswami, where I attempted to write a fictional picture book about a circus chef, and even briefly considered writing a non-fiction picture book about circus chefs. However, I still couldn’t come up with anything that worked. I then put the project aside and kind of forgot about it. 

 

Third semester, I was writing my critical thesis and frantically trying to come up with a workshop submission. I decided to go back to the circus chef idea, but this time try it as a series of poems from the chef’s point of view. Once I chose this format, the project came together fairly quickly. I had a fantastic time thinking about circus personalities and the strange problems that the chef might have to overcome in order to feed them. Margaret Bechard and the other classmates who critiqued the piece in workshop were really encouraging. I continued to worked on these poems with Julie Larios fourth semester, which was a blast. I didn’t ever want the semester to end! I sold the poems to Carolrhoda Books two years later.

 

One of the best parts about promoting this book has been collaborating with Circus Smirkus. I reached out to them to see if their performers could tell me about the favorite dishes their circus chef cooks for them. The result was this video which has become my book trailer: https://www.facebook.com/CircusSmirkus/videos/10153153238723215/

 

I ended up making these poems part of my creative thesis and graduate reading. I will never forget all of the supportive smiling faces in the audience that night.

This was not an easy project to sell, and it was really the support of the VCFA community that give me the courage to not give up on these poems. I’m also very grateful to the NECI chefs who cooked special meals for me through five residencies. Without them, I couldn’t have completed the program. 

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

 I think the unicyclist who can’t stop long enough to eat was cut. Rob Mermin, the founder of Circus Smirkus, also convinced me to change my circus clown from a buffoon to a more refined character. That poem is now about a genteel clown who is conflicted about throwing pies.

 

But for the most part, my revision challenges were more about form than content.

Fourth semester with Julie, I played around with using different poetic forms, but always came back to using the rhymed couplets, which we both felt worked well. After I sold the collection to Carolrhoda, they asked me to play around some more with other poetic forms, and I wrote lots of pantoums, double dactyls, and triolets. In the final collection, about two thirds of the poems are still rhymed couplets. I do have some poems with varied rhyme schemes, but I left out the other forms mentioned above, since they didn’t seem quite right for this collection. The artwork also went through several rounds of revisions, and I think that Cosei Kawa’s dreamy and surrealistic illustrations provide a nice contrast to the practical concerns of the chef.

Do you write in silence?

I write in complete silence. Even classical music is too distracting to me. My mind flits around a lot, which is sometimes good for thinking up new ideas, but not good for actual writing. I also try to read everything out loud as often as I can, so music doesn’t work for that either. I’m completely baffled when I see people writing in cafes where music is playing. How do they do it? The few times I’ve had to do that, I find myself typing snippets from the songs I hear into my stories! When I worked as an illustrator, I was able to listen to NPR a lot and was much better informed about world events as a result. 

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How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

 

I can’t really imagine what my writing community would be like without VCFA since about ninety percent of my network is comprised from grads and faculty members. I am constantly inspired by all of you, both as writers and as smart, complex and quirky people. As one of my VCFA friends says, “Normal is overrated.”

 

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Come with an open heart, and a willingness to be changed both by classmates, faculty members, and perhaps even by Vermont itself. There cannot be a more beautiful setting for a writing program. Tamara Ellis Smith changed my life when I met her at a picnic and she told me about VCFA. Thank you, Tam. I hope I can do the same for other people who are considering the school.

It's so exciting to see a great new poetry book for kids on the shelves-- especially one as fun as Feeding the Flying Fanellis! Thanks for telling us all about it, Kate.

Feeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems from a Circus Chef! was published by Carolrhoda Books. You can learn more about this book-- and Kate's other great work on her website www.khosford.com

 

 

 

Topics: Carolrhoda Books, 2015 release, poetry, Kate Hosford

Larissa Theule and FAT AND BONES: AND OTHER STORIES

Posted by Lisa Doan on Wed, Oct 01, 2014 @ 07:10 AM

We're getting ready to lock the doors and check under the bed in honor of the release of Fat and Bones: And Other Stories by Larissa Theule, a member of the Super-Secret-Society of the Quirk and Quill. Published by Carolrhoda, the book is a series of seven interconnected stories that Publishers Weekly's starred review says, "feels like Charlotte's Web by way of Neil Gaiman." (Okay, I'm going to check the closet too.)

Fat and Bones: And Other Stories

 

 What was the  spark that ignited  this book?

 Most of the stories  in this book were  written roughly five  years ago while I  was living in  Shanghai, China. I  was in my final  semester at VCFA  and hugely pregnant  with my first child. I  had always thought  myself a rather  brave person  (growing up in a  family of five  children makes you  pretty tough), but  bringing an innocent  new baby into the  world terrified me.  All the beautiful  things in life grew  dim when I thought  of global food  shortages, water  shortages, war,  disease, death, dirty  air, mean-spirited  strangers, you name  it. Spiders, too—  even on my bravest  days I’m afraid of  spiders. I found  writing difficult and  Rita Williams-Garcia  suggested I take  the first story in the  book, which I had  written a year prior,  and build a world  around it. I did,  embracing the short story format and composing characters to live out my fears in ways that are violent, funny, and occasionally redemptive.

Tell us about how you sold this book.

I wouldn’t have sold this book without my agent Linda Pratt. Fat and Bones is an odd little collection and more than one person in the industry told me it would never sell. It’s too dark, they said. The English might understand the humor but Americans would not. But Linda took a chance on the collection, and then Andrew Karre at Lerner also took a chance, and so did my editor Greg Hunter, and the whole reason this book exists is because a few brave people said it should—a sentiment that’s probably true for a great many books, particularly debuts. A manuscript needs more champions than its author alone and I’m very grateful to those who worked hard to bring these stories to print.

What nugget of advice has been especially helpful to you? 

Friend and editor Shelley Tanaka once said something like this to me (my words, her meaning), “You’ll never write like anyone else so just write like you.” I say this to myself every time I sit down to work. In fact, Fat and Bones is my first effort at tuning out the styles and stories of writer friends I admire to write solely from my own space of heart and mind, which, it turns out, delights in gallows humor—something I hadn’t known about myself.

 

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Attending VCFA and learning from remarkable students and teachers alike gave me the courage I was lacking to pursue a career in writing. The community I found there has remained years after graduation, without which I suspect I’d be a very lonely writer.

 

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

 Go, and don't be afraid. VCFA will empower you to write to the best of your ability and connect you with likeminded people.

 

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

I wish I had known how kind people would be. I was very inexperienced at my first residency and terrified that teachers and students would be cutthroat, but it wasn’t that way at all. People are professional, whip smart, and above all, kind.

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  Fat and Bones: And Other Stories           (Carolrhoda, Oct 1)

www.larissatheule.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: young adult, Carolrhoda Books, Larissa Theule, 2014 release, middle grade

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:

trueblue  littledoglost  YouWillCallMeDroglarasgift  stealingair

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

Gretchen Woelfle's MUMBET'S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Posted by Tami Brown on Sun, Feb 23, 2014 @ 11:02 AM

The VCFA WCYA Launchpad welcomes Gretchen Woelfle, a member of the class of summer 2000 "The Hive". Gretchen's picture book biography Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence  was published by Carolrhoda on Feb. 1, 2014.

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 "All men are born free and equal." Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren't the only ones who believed that everyone had a right to freedom. Mumbet, a Massachusetts slave, believed it too. She longed to be free, but how? Would anyone help her in her fight for freedom? Could she win against her owner, the richest man in town?

Mumbet was determined to try.

Mumbet's Declaration of Independence tells her story for the first time in a picture book biography, and her brave actions set a milestone on the road toward ending slavery in the United States.

Q & A:

What was the spark that ignited this book?

It’s not the first time that research on one book led to another. This time, I was researching Mercy Otis Warren, who dared to speak and write about politics during the American Revolution, for Write On, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, 2012.) Books on the status of women in 18th century America mentioned Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, a Massachusetts slave. These two women made a complementary pair: Mercy, well-educated, prosperous, white; and Mumbet, an illiterate slave.  Both had the intelligence and strength of character to defy convention. Mumbet dared to sue her owner in court for her freedom and won, thereby setting a judicial precedent that led to all 5000 Massachusetts slaves being freed. I love discovering little-known women whose stories should be told.

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

When I choose a subject for a biography, I look for a way to connect with her or him.  Reading primary sources may do it.  The 175-page online oral history interviews with Jeannette Rankin – for Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek 2007) – gave me that connection. For Mercy Otis Warren and Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, it was visiting the places they lived in Massachusetts. Mercy in Plymouth, Mumbet in the Berkshires. Visiting the neighborhoods and houses where they lived, walking the streets, seeing the same views of rivers and mountains gave me a feel for their lives that books and articles didn’t. Roaming around the City of London was essential for writing my middle grade historical novel, All the World’s A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts (Holiday House, 2011.) Besides, all that travel is tax-deductible!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

 What a question! Let me count the ways.

• It vastly expanded my understanding of writing.

• It gave me a credential that impresses editors

• It introduced me to the faculty – some of the best writers in the field

• It took me to Vermont in January and July, an ‘interesting’ contrast to winter and summer in southern California.

• The residencies provided a level of intellectual stimulation and camaraderie that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.

•  And perhaps best of all, my class (July 2000) provided me with an ongoing network of amazing writers who have become friends and distinguished colleagues.  We’re in touch daily online.

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence  by Gretchen Woelfle, ill. by Alix Delinois (Carolrhoda) Pub date: Feb. 1, 2014

Website: www.gretchenwoelfle.com;

Blog: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (inkrethink.blogspot.com) Finding Mumbet: http://inkrethink.blogspot.com/2014/01/finding-mumbet.html

PW starred reviewhttp://publishersweekly.com/978-0-7613-6589-1

Blog reviewhttp://destinydawnlong.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/mumbets-declaration-of-independence/

Topics: nonfiction, Carolrhoda Books, 2014 release, picture book, biography, Gretchen Woelfle

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