the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Linda Oatman High and ONE AMAZING ELEPHANT

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 @ 06:02 AM

Linda Oatman High visits the Launchpad today to talk about her new middle grade book, One Amazing Elephant. She graduated in summer 2010 and is a Thunder Badger. She says, "I live in Lancaster County, PA, where I read, write, eat chocolate, drink coffee, and have as much fun with grandkids as humanly possible."


A poignant middle grade animal story from talented author Linda Oatman High that will appeal to fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. In this heartwarming novel, a girl and an elephant face the same devastating loss—and slowly realize that they share the same powerful love.

Twelve-year-old Lily Pruitt loves her grandparents, but she doesn’t love the circus—and the circus is their life. She’s perfectly happy to stay with her father, away from her neglectful mother and her grandfather’s beloved elephant, Queenie Grace.

Then Grandpa Bill dies, and both Lily and Queenie Grace are devastated. When Lily travels to Florida for the funeral, she keeps her distance from the elephant. But the two are mourning the same man—and form a bond born of loss. And when Queenie Grace faces danger, Lily must come up with a plan to help save her friend.

Welcome, Linda. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I loved writing Queenie Grade. It was an honor to attempt to get inside an elephant’s heart, soul, mind, and body.

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

Oh, what a fun question to think about! Hmmmm. I’d go with Queenie Grace pillows, sleeping bags, tote bags, bath toys, plush animals, and spin tooth brushes. And a stuffed animal Queenie Grace and her baby Little Gray that can be velcroed together for life.

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

Every nugget gleaned from my time at VCFA has been useful and has helped me grow as a writer. Using a basic plot outline, such as one I learned from the “Save The Cat” workshop, has helped enormously in planning and outlining as I write.

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

Probably “How much do elephants poop?” Answer: “A lot.”

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Marion Dane Bauer, Martine Leavitt, Rita Williams Garcia, Louise Hawes. Geniuses, all!

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

So many great memories: waiting late at night to see the announcement of advisors, listening to winter lectures in Noble as knitters knitted, sitting near the huge air conditioners to cool off during lectures, eating in the cafeteria (yes, I loved NECI!), making snow angels on the lawn of College Hall, sitting by the fountain talking about writing and life, laughs in the dorm rooms, unexpected fire alarms in Dewey, bonding with my spectacular class mates.


Linda's book is published by HarperCollins. You can find out more about Linda and her other wonderful books at

Topics: Linda Oatman High, middle grade, HarperCollins, 2017 release

Linda Oatman High and A HEART LIKE RINGO STARR

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Fri, Jan 02, 2015 @ 10:01 AM

It's the first day of 2015 and we celebrate with a new book: A HEART LIKE RINGO STARR, a YA novel in verse by Linda Oatman High.

A Heart Like Ringo Starr

Her family runs Stevens Brothers Funeral Home. Which is ironic, since Faith Hope Stevens is not long for this world. Unless someone dies. Unless there is a match. Staying alive will mean a heart transplant. Faith copes with wit and nerve. She’s also a little pissed off. She will never grow old. She will never have a boyfriend. Then one shocking day everything changes ...

We're excited to have Linda, an author/journalist/playwright who lives in Lancaster County, PA and a member of class of 2010 Thunder Badgers, with us today.

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 is the third book in my series of YA novels in verse for reluctant teen readers. (HI-LO: High Interest; Low Reading Level.) I’d sent the first one, titled TEENY LITTLE GRIEF MACHINES, to Saddleback after reading some great reviews of their books and hearing from high school teachers how valuable Saddleback Publishing is to their students. The editor, Arianne McHugh, called to tell me how much she loved the manuscript, and how “blown away” she was by my writing. I was thrilled, because poetry has become a difficult sell these days. I don’t currently have an agent, but I’ve been shopping, as one of my middle-grade manuscripts - THE TASTE OF ELEPHANT TEARS - was recently awarded the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Award from PEN America. When I began my career, back in the mid-90s, I quickly sold more than a dozen books on my own, but in today’s ever-changing publishing climate, I do believe that we writers need an advocate. (And somebody who understands the legal language!)

As for revision, it’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process! I did revise a bit as per my editor’s suggestions and loved every minute of it.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

A HEART LIKE RINGO STARR was ignited by several sparks: a weird fascination with funeral homes, an obsession with hearts - both the physical attributes and the emotional aspects - and my love of music (I played electric guitar since I was 11, and played bass in a band in my 40s). I decided to write about a girl who loves classic rock. Her family owns a funeral home, and she needs a heart. She wants a heart like Ringo Starr: one that will keep a perfect beat.

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

Each of my VCFA advisors left me with golden nuggets: Marion Dane Bauer taught me to how to “paint on a smaller palette” and to look for the heart of my story. Martine Leavitt encouraged me to have my protagonists search not only for an emotional goal (a “heart” goal), but a physical tangible one as well. Rita Williams Garcia showed me how to find my characters and let them fly. And Louise Hawes spurred me to dig deep and to not be afraid of darkness.

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

I do write in silence. As a musician, any music in the background would distract me and I’d be focusing upon it. My soundtrack when I write is in my head: Even when writing prose, it has to feel and “sound” like poetry. It’s almost like the words are the bass line or drum beat of a story; they have to have a steady rhythm. If there’s a clunker word, I hear and feel it in my head,  much as I hear a clunker note or drum beat when listening to music.

 Linda Oatman High

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

I have so many that I can’t choose one! Images and memories that flash through my mind when I think of VCFA: the euphoria of standing by the bulletin board the night our new advisors were posted, making a snow angel with a student from California who had never made an angel and always dreamed of doing so, savoring every second of every lecture, defending NECI’s food (I’m always happy when somebody else is cooking!), late night talks in the dorm with fellow Thunder Badgers, chilling by the fountain, the immediate and magical bonding of our class, College Hall at night (and in the morning and afternoon!), walking up and down the hill to town, dancing at the party, crying and laughing (sometimes at once), connecting with my tribe, the warmth of Noble on a winter’s day, the flickering fireflies and cricket chirps of a Vermont summer, snow drifting on a full-moon night, waking up excited because I was still at VCFA, the sounds of bagpipes at graduation, the gleaming majestic sight of the antique pipe organ, the quintessential fire alarm in Dewey and students huddling outside and shivering in pajamas, the heart-to-heart chats over meals in the noisy cafeteria, the clicking of someone’s knitting needles during a lecture that was knitting itself into my soul, the feeling of homecoming when I returned for each residency, laughs in the dorm with my longtime friend and roomie Marty Crisp, the emotion of graduations, the quiet of the night beneath the Montpelier sky as I walked back from readings, the sight of the lights high in College Hall (where the ghost resides) . . . Can you tell that I adore this place?!

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Don’t doubt your decision, no matter where you are at in your writing and your life. Leap and the net will appear. Open yourself up for expansion. Realize that this will be the best thing you will do for yourself and your writing. Know that this will be Home and your fellow students and advisors will be your Family. Be sure to pack a fan for Summer Rez and a big comforter for Winter. Don’t forget your boots. And gloves.

A HEART LIKE RINGO STARR is published by Saddleback Educational. You can visit Linda online at

Topics: young adult, Linda Oatman High, verse, 2015 release, Saddleback Educational Publishing

October Round-Up!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Nov 07, 2014 @ 05:11 AM

awardsDeborah WilesRevolution (Scholastic) was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Wow!

Congratulations to Joyce Ray, who has won a 2014 Silver Moonbeam award for Feathers & Trumpets: A Story of Hildegard of Bingen (Apprentice Shop Books, illus. Lisa Greenleaf)!

Hooray for Linda Oatman High, who has won a 2014 Gold Moonbeam award for Teeny Little Grief Machines (Saddleback Educational Publishing)!

Brotherhood by Anne (A. B.) Westrick has won the inaugural Housatonic Book Award for Writing for Middle Grades and YA. Congratulations, Anne!

Congratulations to Kelly Bingham (Z is for Moose) and Julie Berry (All the Truth That's In Me) for their UKLA Award nominations!




It's here! The cover for Anne Bustard's Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont USA, 2015) has been revealed . . . and we love it!

Author/illustrator pj lyons has sold two board books to Zonderkidz. Wahoo!

The new collection EMINEM and Rap, Poetry, Race (McFarland) includes an essay by our own Stephen Bramucci!

We're having triple celebrations with Wendie Old, whose biographies The Wright Brothers, Aviation Pioneers and Inventors; The Life of Duke Ellington, Giant of Jazz; and The Life of Louis Armstrong, King of Jazz (Enslow), have been released in paperback and ebook.





Dana Walrath gave a brilliant TEDx talk on Comics, Medicine, and Memory. MediaBistro/Galleycat gave her a nice shout-out and so did Entertainment Weekly. Wow!

Publishers Weekly came out with their list of Best Children's Books of 2014, and it includes Deborah Wiles' Revolution, A. S. King's Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, and Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun!

The YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominations continue, and we're thrilled to see Caminar by Skila BrownGlory O'Brien's History of the Future by A. S. KingEvil Librarian by Michelle KnudsenHow It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and Revolution by Deborah Wiles on the list!

The Los Angeles Times posted a great review of Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down.

The Huffington Post named Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond one of 5 Great Reads for Your Bookclub.

Buzzfeed listed Micol Ostow's Amity one of 13 Young Adult Novels to Spook You This Halloween

And for more spookiness, check out Michelle Knudsen's Evil Librarian on Mashable's 9 Scary YA Books for Halloween Fans Too Old to Trick-or-Treat! (If you need us, we'll be under the covers!)


Topics: Linda Oatman High, round-up, Saddleback Educational Publishing, Scholastic, Apprentice Shop Books, Joyce Ray, A. B. Westrick, Deborah Wiles, Skila Brown, Kekla Magoon, Kelly Bingham, Jandy Nelson, Dana Walrath, Wendie Old, McFarland, Enslow, congratulations, Julie Berry, Micol Ostow, A. S. King, Michelle Knudsen, Stephen Bramucci, pj lyons, Zonderkidz, Gwenda Bond

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