the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Jane Kurtz and PLANET JUPITER!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Nov 07, 2017 @ 07:11 AM

We're delighted that this orbit around the sun has brought a new middle grade novel from Jane Kurtz. It's Planet Jupiter!

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Everything has gone all wobbly for Jupiter. She comes from a spirited, loving family of buskers—musicians who move from place to place and make a living playing on street corners and at fairs—and she revels in her wandering life. But now her mother has rented an actual house (Jupiter prefers to live in their van) and she is pretty sure that her brother is deserting the family and their musical act just like her dad, the Prince of Adventure, did a while ago. To top it off, some cousin from Ethiopia who Jupiter never even knew existed is coming to live with them, and Jupiter is in charge of watching her. Seriously? Not fair!

Jupiter is not in the mood to appreciate her new house, hew new neighborhood, the bees and bridges of Portland, or her newly discovered cousin. How will she get back on the road, rid herself of the wobbles, and orbit the sun happily once again? Clearly what Jupiter needs is a Grand Plan…

Welcome, Jane Kurtz! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I was listening to an NPR program about young musicians when I heard an interview with a girl who was the spark for Jupiter—living an alternative kind of life centered around music and street performances. Although I didn’t grow up as a busker, I do sing with my sisters every week. And I first moved (from Portland to Ethiopia) when I was two years old. And I did recently discover soil and bees and bugs in a whole new way in Portland. So I immediately connected with the love of adventure/traveling vs. the pull to cultivate roots in a specific place.

Photo: Cousins in Jane's family meeting for the first time.

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

I keep trying to write a simple plot line, so I re-read middle grade such as Because of Winn Dixie and Liar and Spy to see how other people do it. I love Sarah Plain and Tall for its lyrical sentences and character emotions that are not spelled out but vivid (and moving) on the page.

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

I’m constantly learning new craft skills. When I was revising Planet Jupiter, it was the concept of microtension (including the book The Fire in Fiction) that handed out some great advice about how to make the reader uneasy and curious.

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

How (and why) to eat a bug.

What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

A cute and compelling guide to saving the bees and a mini cookbook about eating bugs.

Photo: Oxalis from Jane's Backyard Habitat, where she learns about roots and soil.

oxalis roots.jpg

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

I learn so much about the craft of writing fiction and creative nonfiction every single bingle residency. At this point, I like to have some work in progress open on my computer and force myself to practice—on the page—one thing I’m hearing from each lecture. Otherwise it’s too easy to nod and say “uh-huh, uh-huh” without actually getting the insight from my brain through my fingers and into my work.

Great idea! What is your favorite VCFA memory?

While I was part of the Bath, England residency, I was doing a final big revision of Planet Jupiter. The work we did together to mine our innards and our outer world added some details to my manuscript in a compelling and fresh way. I have a powerful memory of the day we all gathered something from outside—and created poems in invented language to describe them. Wow! What a blast of a sensory experience!

Bonus Bath pic: Here are Cate Berry, Jane Kurtz, and Margaret Mayo McGlynn. Jane says the three of them used to sing in 3-part harmony at residencies! It helped set the stage when she read from WIP Planet Jupiter.

VCFA singing.jpg

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

The first time I had an intensive workshop with a published author, I read everything I could get my hands on that she had written, so that I could ask her specific questions about craft decisions in her picture books and novels. I’m always surprised that more VCFA students don’t take advantage of residency time to learn from their fellow writers who are faculty but still trying daily to solve craft problems in our own work.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Welcome to the universe, Planet Jupiter!

Jane Kurtz has taught at VCFA MFA in Children’s and YA Literature since 2006. She was born in Portland, Oregon, but grew up in Ethiopia and has written about the joy and pain of cultural connections in many different ways. She also helped start the nonprofit Ethiopia Reads and is using her volunteer time to develop local language ready-to-read books for Ethiopia—when she’s not teaching, writing, and cultivating her Backyard Habitat.

Visit Jane online at www.janekurtz.com and at janekurtz.wordpress.com. Learn about Jane and her sister Caroline's Open Hearts Big Dreams book project at http://openheartsbigdreams.org/book-project/.

Topics: middle grade, HarperCollins, Greenwillow, 2017 release, Jane Kurtz

Kelly Bingham and CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE!

Posted by Tami Brown on Wed, Sep 24, 2014 @ 07:09 AM
We're welcoming Kelly Bingham-- and her lovely pushy pal Moose at the Launch Pad today. Kelly is a January 2004 graduate of VCFA- a member of The Zoo. How appropriate for the author of two great picture books that feature a whole menagerie-- lead by our friend Moose! Kelly is a former Disney storyboard artist and director. She lives in Georgia with her husband and children.

describe the imageMoose loves shapes.  Circles! Squares! Triangles! Hooray!   So when Moose mysteriously finds himself in a shape book (oh, please don't ask) he is the very picture of a happy Moose.  Life is great!  
Until, well, until he wrecks everything.  
Now, don't you worry!  
Zebra will handle it.  
Zebra always fixes Moose's messes.  
And what thanks does Zebra get? 
Really....does anyone ever think about Zebra?

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

The best piece of advice I've had was given to me by Jane Resh Thomas, who was my advisor during VC.  She said "trust in the process."   Over the years I have come to realize that I do have a process, and that it is unique to me, and that it is pointless to compare myself to others and their way of doing things.  I often apply arbitrary expectations on myself and then get frustrated or worried when the words do not come as fast as I randomly imagined, or the revisions drag on, or things are murky and hard.  Jane's simple advice has done wonders to keep me focused, rather than waste time getting all angst-ridden about my work.  There IS a process, and I have to trust in the ups and downs of that process, knowing that there IS light--and a finished book--at the end of the tunnel.

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?

This was a unique situation, in that I already had sold and published Z IS FOR MOOSE with Greenwillow. The book sold really well and got a lot of positive attention.  Still, imagine my shock when my editor contacted me and offered me a contract to write two more Moose books.  A two-book deal was something I had heard about (with great awe) while a student at VC. I mentally put it on my "bucket list" as something I wanted to have happen some day.  And to get this e-mail...it was a proud, happy moment.  And it came late at night while I was in bed--I was getting ready to read a book and go to sleep, but decided to check my e-mail one last time on my phone.  And there was the offer!  I told my husband and we both set our books aside and just stared at each other in stunned happiness.  After that I was too wired to go to sleep!

I did not have an agent at that time, but I got an agent very soon afterwards, who negotiated the contract for me.  She is wonderful and I am very happy and grateful to her, to my editor, and to Paul O. Zelinsky, the amazing illustrator of the Moose books.

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

I had to research lots of gruesome things for my novel, SHARK GIRL.  I remember reading lots of accounts of shark attacks, which were awful.  And looking at pictures, which was also awful.  But I guess the weirdest thing I googled was, "How much blood loss before you are in a coma?"  Because my character needed to be put into a coma and be near death, but not actually die.  It was not the cheeriest research material in the world.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Ellen Howard, Liza Ketchum, Alison McGhee, and Jane Resh-Thomas.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

I wish I'd understood ahead of time how precious and singular the experience would be.  You will never have another time like this in your life.  When I go back and visit, it's wonderful, but nothing is the same as when you're a student there.  Savor every minute.  Buy all the recordings of every lecture, save every handout, etc.  Just put them aside and know that someday you'll revisit them and they will be just what you need to hear as you work on your books.  Make friends while you're there and keep those friendships strong, because they will be priceless to you.  Writing is a lonely business, particularly once you graduate.  Having friends in the same boat is a wonderful thing.  I'd also suggest that new students go into the program with permission to relax and experiment with different forms of writing.  Don't view the two years as a make-or-break on one particular project.  This is a time of learning.  Embrace that time and learn all you can. Don't argue with your advisors--just listen.  They know a lot that you have yet to learn.  Work hard but have fun along the way--go to the dances, the auction, the cafeteria, etc.   Understand that some people will be published before graduating and some won't.  It's not a competition.  Recognize how far you've come in your writing and be proud, and keep the big picture in mind.  What you learn in these two years will last you forever.
Thanks so much for dropping by, Kelly! Moose's second book is already collecting stars-- our astrological prediction is that it will be just as successful as the first!
CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE was published by Greenwillow/Harpercollins and hits bookstores on Sept. 23, 2014
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Topics: 2014 release, picture book, Kelly Bingham, concept book, HarperCollins, Greenwillow

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