the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 @ 05:01 AM

Terry Pierce joins us in the Launchpad to talk about her new rhyming picture book, My Busy Green Garden. Kirkus Reviews says this "action-filled" book has a "lovely literary and artistic rendering." Terry is a member of The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches, a July 2011 graduate. After graduating from Vermont College of Fine Arts, Terry went on to teach Youth Market courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Welcome, Terry!


This is my busy green garden.

There’s a surprise

In clever disguise,

That hangs in my busy green garden.

Bugs, birds, and other creatures make this garden a busy place. From the shimmering dew of early morning to the lengthening shadows of late afternoon, there is one small miracle after another for anyone who stops to see, and the last one is the most surprising of all.

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

The most challenging aspect of this story was finding the final “spark” that made it sell. I wrote it in 2006, subbed it to a few editors but only received “declines.” At a 2007 SCBWI retreat, I read the first page to an editor who asked to see the full story. She wrote me back while I was in middle of the MFA program, telling me that she liked the concept and the language, but that it was missing something, a spark. I set her note aside and didn’t get back to it until 2014! It was then that I thought to add a repeating line of three words, “In clever disguise.” Kids love disguises and mysteries, so why not add a mystery element to the story to spark reader interest? I subbed it to Tilbury House and within two hours, they wrote me back saying they loved it and were very interested in acquiring it! (and I only had to revise one word for them)

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

I adore Phyllis Root’s picture books. Her playful and engaging language coupled with plots and characters with young reader appeal make her books a joy to read for any age. Also on my bookshelf are the works of Eve Bunting and Lisa Wheeler. They too are wonderful writers of rhyme and playful language. As far as characters go, Kevin Henkes is the king of picture book characters, at least in my book.

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

I’m fortunate to be in two wonderful writing groups. One is comprised of VCFA picture book writers and the other is formed from clients of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency who write picture books. Both groups have highly talented writers who give me incredibly useful feedback on my work.

The only time I ask my husband to read a manuscript for me is if the story rhymes. Because he doesn’t typically read rhyming stories aloud anymore (our son is grown now), he’s a great representation of a potential read-aloud reader. Whenever he “stumbles” over a word or phrasing, I note in on my own copy and know it needs more work. 

Twitter? Ha! Because I’m part of a group blog called EMU’s Debuts, I’ve had to learn how to navigate Twitter. I can’t say that I’m 100% comfortable with it, but I’m learning!

Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I keep a small pile of three flat stones (descending in size) near my desk. I have it there as a reminder to keep my life balanced. For good health, I need to balance work and play, social and solitude, writing and exploring, my physical and mental being.

What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

A-mazing! Carol Schwartz is an incredible illustrator. She uses bold colors with astonishing detail, which works perfectly in MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN. When I saw the opening double-page spread, I cried because it’s incredibly beautiful. Imagine one of those “hidden pictures” you’d see in Highlights magazine, but in color and on steroids! Everyone who I’ve shown the book to stays on that page pouring over the details, trying to find all the animals.

Months later, I saw the cover image and the interiors, and they brought a similar response. All I could think was how fortunate I am to have Carol create the art for my words. Her illustrations lift the text to a new level. If you’d like to see a treat, visit her website!

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Kathi Appelt was my advisor for the Picture Book Certification semester (my first semester in the program), followed by Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Larios, and Leda Schubert. If you see a common thread, it’s because I chose advisors with a strong background in picture book writing (although I learned much about novel writing too). I affectionately called them my “Picture Book Dream Team.”

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I’m probably saying what others before me hPierceHeadshotUCLA (2).jpgave said but VCFA took my writing to whole new level. The individual work with advisors and the insightful lectures at the residencies revealed aspects of writing that I had never thought about or been exposed to through the other means of my writing education. It was as if the VCFA experience peeled back the layers of high-quality writing, allowing me to soak them in and apply them to my own work.

The other way it affected my life was by opening doors of opportunity. Having an MFA from Vermont College was a factor in my being hired by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program (the program director knew of VCFA, having already hired a few of its alums). I’ve also had other writing opportunities since I’ve graduated that were because of networking through VCFA. I still recall at
 my very first workshop, Kathi Appelt and I were the first to arrive, and while chatting, she said, “The Vermont College experience will open doors to you that you can’t even imagine yet.” She was right! (as always ;-)).

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

My Picture Book Certification semester was the best writing experience I’ve ever had. I was fortunate to have Meredith Davis, Mary Cronin, Abby Aguirre and Barbara Bishop in my group (dubbed “Everything Under the Moon”) with Kathi Appelt at the helm. We bonded over picture books in a way I hadn’t thought possible. We loved reading each other’s work and having lively discussions. I still remember while visiting my son for the Thanksgiving holidays, that rather than sitting around chatting with family, I wanted to get on our forum to discuss Maurice Sendak and his philosophy on writing children’s books. The Picture Book semester was a tremendous experience, one which I strive to replicate for my own students.

Terry is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency and has four children’s books coming out in 2017 and 2018, including MAMA LOVES YOU SO (Little Simon March, 2017). You can visit Terry at her Website.


Topics: picture book, Kirkus, WCYA, 2017 release, Terry Pierce, Tilbury House, garden, rhyme, Carol Schwartz

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