the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, May 03, 2016 @ 07:05 AM

Today we welcome Erin Hagar, a member of the class of January '12--Keepers of the Dancing Stars- a sparkling writer and friend to celebrate the publication of her new non-fiction AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS . Erin Hagar lives in Baltimore, helps college faculty design their online courses, shuffles kids around to activities, and occasionally strings words together in a semi-coherent sequence.  Welcome, Erin!


Everyone has played with LEGO® toys, but not many people know who's behind this awesome invention. This fun and engaging book tells the story of how a Danish carpenter and his family turned a desperate situation into the most popular toy in history. With full-color illustrations and lively text, and chock-full of interesting facts, Awesome Minds: The Inventors of LEGO® Toys is the perfect read for those with creative spirits and curious minds.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The idea behind the "Awesome Minds" series is explore the history of objects that are so ingrained into our everyday lives that we take them for granted. It's hard to imagine a childhood without LEGO--but where did it all start?
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

We knew early on that it would be impossible to include information about everything LEGO has done in a book this size. It's a massive operation, and we really wanted to focus on how the brick came to be.  But in my school visits and book talks I see that kids really love the Robotics and Mindstorms product lines, and we only briefly mentioned those.
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
Thrilling! Paige Garrison did such a great job bringing this story to life and making it so kid-friendly. She did some amazing technical work, but one of my favorite illustrations is the one that goes with the factoid about plastics. For environmental reasons, LEGO is trying to move away from using plastics in their products, and Paige created this illustration of a humanized LEGO brick with its arm around a smiling planet earth. It seems so simple, but it's really powerful--and cute! 
Here's another factoid: If you took all the bricks produced in ONE YEAR, they'd wrap around the earth 18 times. Crazy!
What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book? 
Apparently, you can 3-D print a picture of your face in the shape of a minifig head. An Erin Hagar minifig to give to kids at book events--that wouldn't be weird, right? 
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I was so lucky to work with Laura Kvasnosky, Uma Krishnaswami, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Alan Cumyn. (Say those names five times fast, I dare ya!)
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
I edit myself in a more layered way now--focusing on different things in each layer. I think of VCFA as a pressure cooker. I might have learned the same skills on my own, but it would have taken me much, much longer.  
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Watching Rita get a standing ovation when ONE CRAZY SUMMER won the Newbery Honor and the CSK award during the January '11 residency. 
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? 
Don't think of this as a "two-year" program. It's a lifelong experience if you want it to be (and you'll want it to be!) 
Erin's new book AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS is in bookstores now. It was published by Duopress. You can learn more about Erin and her books at


Topics: nonfiction, middle grade, Erin Hagar, Duopress, 2016 release

Erin Hagar and JULIA CHILD: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures!

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, May 22, 2015 @ 09:05 AM

Today we welcome Erin Hagar, debut author and VCFA alum extraorinaire, to the Launchpad.


Julia Child knew how to have fun, and she also knew how to whip up a delightful meal. After traveling around the world working for the U.S. government, Julia found her calling in the kitchen and devoted her life to learning, perfecting, and sharing the art of French cuisine. This delicious, illustrated middle-grade biography is a portrait of the remarkable woman, author, and TV personality who captured our hearts with her sparkling personality. “Bon appétit!”


First, let me tell you, Erin, I'm a complete nut about Julia Child- I even have a daughter named Julia. I can't think of a more deserving subject for a biography for kids. What was the spark that ignited this book?

The publisher had the great idea to adapt the visual format of Brian Selznick's amazing The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007) to a biography, depicting major moments in the subject's life in visual sequences. It's an amazing concept. We brainstormed possible subjects, and I suggested Gordon Ramsay because my family love Master Chef, Jr. After discussing it a bit, we thought, "Why not the television cook who started it all?" Voila--Julia it was!


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

Most of the cuts my editor suggested I don't even remember, which tells you how necessary those cuts were. One exception, though, is this fantastic, long, convoluted story about how Julia actually flunked her final exam at Le Cordon Bleu. There's an evil villain, the director of the school named Madame Brassart, who resented Julia and didn't want her to enroll in the first place. But, word count got the best of us and it had to go. It'll make a good story for school visits, I think.


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?

I can't write to music, but I love writing to white noise. The train track sound in the writing program Omm Writer is very relaxing, and I have a couple of apps that have different types of white noise. I've heard people talk about writing to film scores, and I think that could work for me, with the right project. 

I do share manuscripts back and forth with a few members of my graduating class, The Keepers of the Dancing Stars. Their feedback and support is something I wouldn't change for anything.


What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

I think you can plan your approach to your four semesters in a couple of ways. One I call the "main dish" approach, in which you work primarily on one project all four semesters. The other I call the "buffet" approach, where you try lots of different things, some of which might be out of your comfort zone. I was a "buffet" student, and really grew as a writer. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but I'd advise being intentional about what you select.


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

Soon into my first residency, I was already worried about the experience ending.  "What happens when I leave and lose all of this fantastic support?" (I'm a very good worrier about lots of things.) Well, I wish I'd known that the experience just changes after graduation, it doesn't end. And the community has your back, always. 


So true! Once a VCFA'er always a VCFA'er!

Erin's delicious new book, Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures, was published by Duopress and is available in bookstores everywhere. You can find out more about Erin and her book at

Topics: Creative nonfiction, 2015 release, Erin Hagar, Duopress

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