the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Ann Jacobus and Romancing the Dark in the City of Light

Posted by Lisa Doan on Tue, Oct 06, 2015 @ 06:10 AM

Ann Jacobus, a 2007 graduate of VCFA and proud member of the Whirligigs, is on the Launchpad with her new book, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, a YA thriller published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan!

RomancingtheDark_hi_resEighteen year-old Summer Barnes is ready to end it all. Even though she’s now in Paris, the most romantic city in the world, she’s been kicked out of yet another boarding school for drinking, smoking, snorting and flunking.

Then Summer meets a great guy named Munir (nicknamed Moony), at the Paris American International School where they’re both seniors; and mysterious Kurt while she’s out scoping a celebrity cemetery. He’s so hot, he’s out of her league.

Moony barely survived a horrific car crash as a kid. He’s totally upbeat about life and he wants Summer to embrace her own, maybe starting with a little less solo champagne drinking? Summer needs Moony’s friendship desperately, but no way will he put up with her bad choices much longer.

Kurt, on the other hand, is all about self-destructive fun. It gets harder and harder for Summer to resist him. He wants her to understand that life, and death, are in her own hands.


Ann, who was your favorite character to write and why?

 My character Munir Al Shukr was my favorite character to write. His nickname is Moony. His father is Kuwaiti and his mother is American, although he has grown up in Paris—a third-culture kid who is comfortable just about anywhere. He is also partially physically disabled from a serious childhood car accident that he was given a 5% chance of surviving. He is kind-hearted and befriends my difficult-to-like protagonist, then patiently if sometimes gruffly puts up with her because he sees beyond her bluster. In fact, he falls for her. He is spiritual and almost hyper-positive because he fully understands the value and fragility of life. He’s stoic as he’s battling a number of physical problems related to past surgeries and the accident. Too perfect, you say? Well, he harbors some secrets.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

On the last day of 2002, New Year’s Eve Day, when my family and I were living in Paris, my young daughter and I were on a Métro train in the Étoile station (a major meet up of four lines beneath the Arc de Triomphe) when someone ended up on the tracks and was either gravely injured or killed. I dragged my daughter from the platform and the freaked-out crowd as fast as I could. There was no mention of it in any media for the next few days, which led me to believe it was a suicide (generally not reported and unfortunately not uncommon) as opposed to a homicide or accident. Although I don’t know for sure to this day. And so began, “What if?”

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?

I started this story my last semester at VCFA (fall of ’06) with Tim Wynne-Jones. It was rejected many times and went through many revisions. Okay, many means scores. The last revision was sent by my agent, Erzsi Deak, to one editor exclusively and she passed (on the ms., not away). Meanwhile, Erzsi had lunch with Kat Brzozowski at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s and pitched it successfully. Kat read it that evening, a Friday, and made an offer the following Tuesday. It was too late California time to reach me, so Erzsi got me the next morning during my annual doctor’s check-up. Since I almost fainted, it was nice to have medical personnel at hand.

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 am so lucky to be aligned with so many excellent VCFA writers and count on them heavily. Beyond the Margins is the name of our critique group here in San Francisco that includes alums Frances Lee Hall, Annemarie O’Brien, Sharry Wright, Helen Pyne, Linden McNeilly, and Christine Dowd, I also exchange mss. with many Whirligig class members such as Stephanie Greene, Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, Miriam Glassman, Nancy Bo Flood, Dianne White, Candy Dahl, Bruce Frost, Jen White, as well as Caitlin Berry Baer, and Deb Gonzales. Besides being outstanding critiquers, for the record many of these writers make wonderful drinking companions, too. I have enjoyed being part of a debut novel group, the Fearless Fifteeners and a sub-group, the Fall Fifteeners. We can ask each other any question and commiserate freely. My four kids on the other hand, young adults themselves, beg to be excused from reading any and all YA manuscripts penned by their mother, full as they are of angst and awkward sex scenes.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

 The inimitable Alison McGhee, Marc Aronson, Margaret Bechard, and Tim Wynne-Jones.

 What is your favorite VCFA memory?

 Like asking a reader to pick her favorite book, it’s impossible to pick just one VCFA memory. A montage plays in my head when I think of VCFA rezes: sitting on stage in the chapel during graduation as light streamed in before and behind us in that sort of blinding way it does; loitering in Noble with everyone late at night awaiting the new advisor list; sitting in rapt attention and barely noticing the bad chairs as faculty read from their magical WIPS, or shared their astute insights into the craft of writing; frozen nostril hairs tickling as I walked to breakfast in subzero twilight; and shuffling through the serving line for surprising NECI fare which I usually didn’t badmouth since they were cooking and I wasn’t. I also have fond, if dim memories of the wine pits. 

Jan_05_chapVC_016_1Get in touch with Ann at:





Topics: young adult, Macmillan, 2015 release, thriller, Ann Jacobus, St Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books

Heather Demetrios and SOMETHING REAL

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Mar 21, 2014 @ 12:03 PM

Today we're talking to Heather Demetrios about her YA novel Something Real (Macmillan/Henry Holt, Feb. 2014). Here's a bit about it:

Something Real Cover Final

There's nothing real about reality TV.

Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show Baker’s Dozen. Since the show’s cancellation and the scandal surrounding it, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it’s about to fall apart…because Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air. Bonnie™’s mom and the show’s producers won’t let her quit and soon the life she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before. 

Welcome, Heather! We're thrilled you could join us. Congratulations on your launch! So tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Benny was my favorite character to write because he pretty much announced himself. He wasn’t a character I had to do any homework on—he just is. I showed up, he showed up and the combination of those two things is what you see on the page. I would love to just hang out with him sometime. He’s got a beautiful heart and is fiercely loyal. He also cracks me up.   

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?

After I got the 2012 Susan P. Bloom PEN Discovery Award for the book (then called Streaming) I submitted to a couple of carefully selected agents. I was an editorial intern at Candlewick at the time (this was just before I started at VCFA). They suggested Brenda Bowen from Sanford J. Greenburger, who’d been on my radar for quite some time. She was an editor and publisher for over twenty years before becoming an agent and worked on some of my favorite books. When she said she wanted to represent me, I just about died. She is an amazing person to have in my corner. She knows the business inside and out, yes, but the best thing is her eye. She vets all of my work and has such a great understanding of how to bring out the best in my stories and characters. Plus, she’s a hustler. I love that woman. She had me revise the ending—it was a little too tied up—and then we sent it out. We sold it in a pre-empt to Macmillan/Henry Holt a few weeks before my first VCFA residency in a two-book deal (the second book is a totally unrelated YA). I really felt like my editor, Kate Farrell, got the book right away, so I was excited to work with her.

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

My second book from Holt is another realism called I'll Meet You There (Winter 2014). It features a young Marine who lost a leg in Afghanistan and has to return to his small hometown. I had to google two things that were definitely outside my comfort zone: how to put on a prosthetic limb (awesome videos are out there!) and how people who have lost legs have sex (I wasn’t sure if they preferred to keep the limb on or take it off…and, no, this leg of the research—pun intended—did not include videos).

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

Amanda Jenkins did a lecture a few residencies ago about missed moments. She pointed out times in which an author didn’t go deep or far enough with a particular scene, glossing over the uncomfortable bits. She also talked, in another lecture I believe, about having a “niggling feeling.” That’s basically the voice inside you that’s telling you something isn’t right. Both of these concepts are things I’ve really taken to heart and have helped me immensely in my own work. I love the way she looks at the work of writing. She’s been enormously influential. I had a special workshop with her and we worked on Exquisite Captive, which is the first in my YA fantasy trilogy from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray (coming out Oct. 2014). Her way of asking questions to get to true, gut reactions about plot was also very helpful.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

My first residency—July 2012—I was walking back up the hill from the Three Penny with several of my classmates (the Allies in Wonderland…we graduate this July!) [Woo hoo! :)]. We decided it’d be a good idea to lay down on the sidewalk about halfway up the hill and stargaze. This would not be the first time we would do this over the course of our time at VCFA. So we’re lying there, feeling giddy that we’re pursuing our dream and bonding with these newest kindred spirits when we see a shooting star. It was a magical moment, utterly divine. It felt like the universe was saying yes. It was a benediction and the start of something wonderful. I love the Allies. We’re an incredibly close class and, for me, they are absolutely the best part of VCFA.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I’ve had Rita Williams Garcia, Coe Booth, Amanda Jenkins, and am finishing up with Amy King. I’m a lucky lady. Each of these women has given so much and I’ll be forever grateful.

Thanks so much for stopping by!Demetrios Author Photo

When she's not traipsing around the world or visiting imaginary places, Heather lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Something Real won the 2012 Susan P. Bloom PEN New England Discovery Award and her next novel, Exquisite Captive, the first in a YA fantasy trilogy about jinn, comes out from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray in October 2014. 

Hey, friends, visit Heather at, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

Topics: young adult, Macmillan, 2014 release, Heather Demetrios, Henry Holt

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