the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Lisa Doan and THE ALARMING CAREER OF SIR RICHARD BLACKSTONE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 @ 12:02 PM

Are you ready for another alarmingly great middle grade novel from Lisa Doan? I have good news -- The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone is out now from Sky Pony Press! Even more good news -- Lisa has briefly switched hats here at The Launchpad, from interviewer to interviewee. Welcome, Lisa!

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Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.

But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidently transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversized arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

Hi, Lisa! Why was the setting of Victorian England perfect for this story?

I’m a huge Dickens fan and go back to those books whenever I would like to be living in a different time. Now is a good example of that. Nobody ever worried about what Queen Vic would tweet out, though I suppose it would be amusing to imagine it. “Palace - WINNING! East India Company HUUUUGE LOSERS! SO SAD.”

But I digress. I had in my mind a story that would tip a hat to Oliver Twist and have a fairy-tailish rags to riches element. Then, of course, it’s ever so much easier to have a giant tarantula roaming the neighborhood when nobody has a cell phone camera. That said, I actually feel that this story may take place slightly earlier, in the Georgian era, though I only reference a queen and not a king and I never say her name.

What are the differences in how you approach a standalone novel as opposed to a series?

I suppose that would be creating the large problem that will hang over all of the books in the series and not get resolved until the end of the last book.  That’s very difficult if you don’t know it’s going to be a series or you do know but don’t know how many books. The first book in the Berenson Schemes was written as a standalone so when it was bought as a series I rewrote it to wrap up the local plot but leave the overarching plot/internal conflict hanging. Then I created an arc of the internal conflict over the three books instead of just the one. It allowed me to approach it as both a series and a trilogy of sorts. I was lucky in that I knew upfront that it would be three books.  Had I not known, I would have had to reinstate the internal conflict in some way when I got to book two.

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Any craft advice for writers who want to write funny?

I’m so glad you asked! I could go on and on with tips and tricks, but will stick to the idea that everybody can write humor. So many writers say things like, “I’m just not funny.” Well, maybe not yet, but the only people who have no ability to be funny are people who never laugh. (And also, Sigmund Freud. Maybe he was a total jokester in his personal life, but his humor theory is dreadful.) I have my own theory about why writers end up believing they aren’t funny. It’s because they don’t understand how a humor piece develops. When a writer not accustomed to writing humor tries to write something funny, it ends up being a milquetoast haha moment. Then the writer concludes they don’t have the skill. The very same milquetoast haha moments happen to writers who specialize in humor. The difference is, they know it.

So why does that first effort end up being a milquetoast haha moment? Because that’s how our brains operate. Our brains are efficient and work hard to associate a new thing with a known thing. The writer ends up writing a pattern the brain remembers that is closest to what the writer was going for. That’s why, as a reader, we’ve all had the experience of reading something and maybe smiling a little and recognizing, “Oh, that’s humor,” but we don’t laugh out loud. That’s the first pass that never got changed or refined. Even though the scene might use different words or a different structure than you’ve seen before, it’s the same joke you’ve read a hundred times.

If you are attempting humor, go ahead and write that milquetoast haha moment. Just recognize that it is only a place holder, a sticky note on the skeleton of your manuscript. You will go back and refine and change and rearrange. Once you have the sticky note on the skeleton, you can tinker and that’s where funny lives, in the tinkering. Writers of drama do this very same thing, it’s called a crappy first draft, but I do think this process gets overlooked in humor because humor feels light, and light feels easy. Light is not the same as lightweight!

One other thing I’ll say about writing humor – it takes nerve and daring. When you tell your reader a joke, they know it. Even when they don’t laugh, they know you told it. In drama, you might get a little bit more leeway. Perhaps you meant for your reader to sob but they only feel saddish. They may not understand that your intent was sobbing. No such way to skate by in humor. On top of that, humor doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It is a science and an art and, most importantly, it’s vital and necessary. I would argue that it is especially necessary during this particular time in our history.  Don’t we have enough to cry about?

Hear, hear. I hope you've given lots more people out there the courage to write funny. We can do it, friends! Lisa, your writing and your presence is always a treat. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Lisa Doan is a proud member of two VCFA classes – the Dedications and the Cliffhangers. She is also the author of The Berenson Schemes series, the first book of which she wrote at Vermont. Should you happen to attend the Alumni mini-res this year or any other year – say hello! She, like the bad penny that she is, turns up every year.

Visit Lisa online at lisadoan.org, find her on Facebook (lisadoanauthor), and follow her on Twitter (@LisaADoan).

Topics: Lisa Doan, middle grade, Sky Pony Press, 2017 release

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."

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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 www.lindaoatmanhigh.com

Topics: middle grade, HarperCollins, 2017 release

Carmela A. Martino and ROSA, SOLA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 05, 2016 @ 13:10 PM

Today we're celebrating the paperback release of Carmela A. Martino's middle grade novel, Rosa, Sola!

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“Rosa didn't know which she hated more—being lonely or being different. One thing she did know—she wanted a baby brother . . . one just like Antonio.”



Rosa Bernardi, an only child living with her Italian immigrant parents in 1960s Chicago, often feels alone, or sola, as her parents would say. But after she holds her best friend AnnaMaria’s baby brother for the first time, Rosa is sure that if she prays hard enough, God will send her a brother of her own. When Rosa’s prayers for a sibling are answered, she is overjoyed—until tragedy strikes. Rosa is left feeling more sola than ever, and wondering if her broken family will ever be whole again.

Welcome, Carmela! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

Interestingly, I never planned to write Rosa, Sola. And I never would have if I hadn't gone to Vermont College (which is what VCFA was called back then). The novel grew out of an assignment suggested by my first-semester advisor, Marion Dane Bauer, when I was having difficulty getting my characters’ feelings to come across on the page. Marion asked me to write a short story about an event from my childhood that still aroused emotion in me. It could be any emotion, so long as it was something I could still feel in my gut. I chose to write about fear—the fear I’d experienced at age ten, when my mother nearly died in childbirth.

After several drafts, the story evolved into “Rosa’s Prayer,” a short story about losing and regaining faith. It focused on only a few weeks in the life of Rosa Bernardi, an Italian-American girl growing up as an only child in 1960s Chicago. (There are many similarities between Rosa's life and my own childhood, but I’m not an only child.) Marian was pleased with the piece and encouraged me to submit it for critique at the next residency workshop. Meanwhile, I decided that instead of returning to the middle-grade novel I’d been struggling with, I’d write a collection of short stories for my creative thesis.

At the residency, my workshop group provided terrific feedback for improving “Rosa’s Prayer.” They also encouraged me to expand the story into a novel—they wanted to know what happened to the fictional family I had created. Did they ever recover from their loss? How were their relationships affected by it? Would Rosa always be an only child—sola? Their enthusiasm and curiosity for Rosa’s story inspired my own. I spent the next year or so of the program expanding the short story into a novel that was eventually called Rosa, Sola.

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

I had a completed draft of Rosa, Sola by the end of my third semester. At that point, my advisor was willing to sign-off on it as my thesis, but she recommended I wait and have my fourth-semester advisor critique it first. That advisor, Amy Ehrlich, provided wonderfully insightful feedback, especially regarding some weaknesses in the plot. However, one of her suggestions was rather daunting: she wanted me to rewrite the entire 125-page manuscript from third-person limited point of view to first-person. I resisted the idea, in part because I liked it in third person, and in part because of all the work such a change would require. In the end, though, I gave in and did the rewrite. At the same time, I revised the plot issues. When I was done, Amy loved the first-person voice of the new draft. She signed off on that version as my official thesis.

There was only one problem—I still preferred the voice in the earlier, third-person draft. The first-person narration didn't ring true to me; it felt too mature and thoughtful to come from an average ten-year-old struggling with complex emotions. After graduation, I decided to go back to third-person limited viewpoint before trying to sell the manuscript. Of course, since I'd changed the story's plot in between, I couldn't just go back to the earlier draft (which I had saved on my computer). I had to do another FULL rewrite. Knowing how much work that would take, I procrastinated for a long time. However, I eventually bit the bullet and did the rewrite. To my surprise, the revised third-person draft was MUCH better than my earlier third-person version, and it wasn't just because of the plot changes. The process of rewriting the story in first person had given me a better understanding of my main character, and that new understanding now made the third-person version much richer.

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 didn’t have an agent, but this was back around 2001-2002, when you didn’t need an agent. I submitted the manuscript to several editors, including one at Candlewick Press that Amy, my fourth-semester advisor, had recommended. After receiving a couple of rejections, I sent follow-up emails to the Candlewick editor and a Dutton editor who had requested the manuscript after critiquing the opening for an SCBWI conference. The Candlewick editor replied fairly quickly, saying she loved the manuscript and had “cried buckets” while reading it. Her email made ME cry! But when she called to make the offer, she mentioned wanting some revisions. My first thought was “Oh, no, she’s going to ask me to change it back to first person!” I didn’t say that, though. Instead, I carefully asked, “What kind of revisions?” She replied that it was “nothing major.” She basically wanted me to deepen the characters. Still, I was on pins and needles until her editorial letter arrived. To my great relief, there wasn’t one word about point of view!

My editor asked insightful questions that did indeed help me deepen my characters, especially Rosa’s parents and their neighbor, Mrs. Graziano. I worked diligently over several months to address all the issues my editor raised. I finally sent off the revised manuscript and waited. When the editor called one day, I assumed it was to discuss my revisions. Instead, it was to let me know that she was leaving Candlewick and was turning over my manuscript to another editor. I was devastated. I’d heard horror stories from some of my Vermont classmates about how their manuscripts were orphaned after the departure of their acquiring editors—the next editor never seemed to have the same enthusiasm. But I was one of the lucky ones. My new editor loved Rosa, Sola, too. She sent me a long, thoughtful editorial letter in response to the revision I’d submitted, along with numerous yellow sticky notes on the manuscript pages themselves. But now I faced a new problem: some of her comments contradicted those of my first editor. For example, she recommended I cut Mrs. Graziano from the novel altogether. Fortunately, the Vermont MFA program had given me experience in handling conflicting feedback. I kept Mrs. Graziano in, but I did edit her role in the novel. In the end, working with not one but two talented, dedicated, editors helped make the story much stronger.

By the way, the Dutton editor eventually contacted me to say that she, too, was interested in acquiring the manuscript. But by then I was already working with Candlewick.

Rosa, Sola was originally published traditionally, but you’ve self-published the new edition. Can you tell us why and what the process was like for you?

Although Rosa, Sola met with critical acclaim, including a starred review in Booklist, Candlewick never published a paperback edition. Part of that was probably my own fault—instead of writing another middle-grade novel, I focused on picture books for awhile. While those manuscripts got some encouraging rejections, they never found a publisher. I think if I’d written a follow-up novel for Candlewick instead, they probably would have done a paperback edition of Rosa, Sola.

When Rosa, Sola went out of print, I got the rights back and began looking for a company that would bring the book back into print for me. However, none of those I found seemed a good match. I eventually decided to self-publish. I asked a successfully self-published friend for advice and she recommended I read Susan Kaye Quinn’s Indie Author Survival Guide. Quinn’s book and website contain lots of great information and resources for indie authors, including links to recommended cover artists, formatters, editors, etc.

cabbage_white_butterfly.jpgOne of the first steps in re-publishing Rosa, Sola was to design a new cover. I didn’t have the rights to the original cover, and while that cover was beautiful, I always feared it was a bit off-putting for middle-grade readers. Since I’m not an artist myself, I started out by creating a Pinterest board of middle-grade covers I liked, with as many historical titles as I could find. I discovered I was especially drawn to covers that used silhouettes to portray their main characters. Then I made a list of themes and images from my novel that could work in a cover. One of those images was the cabbage butterfly that Rosa watches flutter up out of her Uncle Sal’s garden the day she learns her prayers have been answered. I then searched photo websites for visuals of girls with butterflies and found several where the girl was in silhouette. I sent my favorite of these images to my cover designer, Steven Novak, along with a description of the plot, character, setting, etc. Steven came up with a draft fairly quickly. We went back and forth a few times, with him revising based on my feedback, until he created the version that became the new cover. I loved it, but still wondered how young readers would respond. Fortunately, the week I received the proofs of the paperback edition I was teaching a writing camp for girls ages 11-14. I brought the proofs to camp and the ALL girls preferred the new cover to the original! In fact, one of the girls kept repeating “I LOVE that cover.” :)

The cover isn’t the only new thing about this edition. An author I know who self-published an ebook edition of her own out-of-print traditionally published novel gave me some great advice: she recommended I include new material so I could call the new Rosa, Sola a “revised” edition. I followed her advice and added a “Discussion Questions” section that I hope will be helpful to teachers.

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

Probably the weirdest thing I Googled for Rosa, Sola was “wringer washer.” I have a scene in the novel where Rosa helps her mother do laundry. There was an old wringer washer in the basement of my childhood home that my mother used for years, but I couldn’t remember exactly how it worked. I wanted to make sure I got the details right.

 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors were Marion Dane Bauer, Jane Resh Thomas, Carolyn Coman, and Amy Ehrlich. I couldn’t have asked for better teachers and mentors. I still use some of their lessons in my own classes—always making sure to credit them, of course. I left the program amazed at how much my writing improved over the two years of the program.  

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

We were called the Hive, because we were always “buzzing” about something. One of the first things that impressed me about my classmates was how well-published they were—I was one of only a few in my class of 14-15 who didn’t already have a published children’s book. (My credits were a few short stories and poems in children’s magazines, and nonfiction articles in magazines and newspapers for adults.) We seemed to “click” right from the start and we’re still a tight-knit group. After graduation, we formed a Yahoogroup to make it easy to stay in touch. Sixteen years later, that group still has 12 active members. We share industry buzz, celebrate sales, commiserate over rejections, offer manuscript feedback, and support one another through personal and professional challenges. When I decided to start the group blog TeachingAuthors.com back in 2009, I invited my fellow Bees to join me. Two of my classmates are still blogging with me, and one of our newest TeachingAuthors is another Vermont College graduate we met while in the program.

VC_Grads_2000_cropped.jpgWhat a talented bunch of Bees! (Check out the fuzzy friend perched on one Bee's shoulder!)

Thank you so much for stopping by, Carmela. And welcome back, Rosa Sola! (We love the new cover!)

Carmela Martino is a writing teacher, freelance writer, and author of short stories, poems and novels for children/teens. She is co-founder of TeachingAuthors.com, a blog by six children’s authors who are also writing teachers. Four members of the TeachingAuthors are graduates of the Vermont College MFA program.

Visit Carmela online at www.carmelamartino.com and at www.teachingauthors.com, and find her on Facebook!

 

Topics: Candlewick Press, middle grade, 2016 release, Carmela A. Martino, indie

Welcome to THE MAGE OF TRELIAN!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Jul 04, 2016 @ 11:07 AM

We're shouting a magical welcome to the third book in Michelle Knudsen's Trelian middle grade series, The Mage of Trelian!

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The reviewers are just as excited as we are! 

  • "An exemplary middle-grade fantasy trilogy concludes with a blast." —Kirkus
  • "Begun in 2009 with The Dragon of Trelian, this excellent fantasy trilogy finally receives a worthy ending." —Booklist
  • "[A] Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones mash-up ... Recommended." —School Library Connections 
Visit Michelle online at http://www.michelleknudsen.com.

Topics: Candlewick Press, middle grade, Michelle Knudsen, 2016 release

Jenn Bishop and THE DISTANCE TO HOME!

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Jun 28, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

We're welcoming Jenn Bishop, a member 2014's M.A.G.I.C. I.F.s  class to the LaunchPad today! Jenn is also a  graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied English. Along with her husband and cat, Jenn lives just outside of Boston, where she roots for the Red Sox. The Distance To Home is her first novel.

cover.pngLast summer, Quinnen was the star pitcher of her baseball team, the Panthers. They were headed for the championship, and her loudest supporter at every game was her best friend and older sister, Haley.
This summer, everything is different. Haley’s death, at the end of last summer, has left Quinnen and her parents reeling. Without Haley in the stands, Quinnen doesn’t want to play baseball. It seems like nothing can fill the Haley-sized hole in her world. The one glimmer of happiness comes from the Bandits, the local minor-league baseball team. For the first time, Quinnen and her family are hosting one of the players for the season. Without Haley, Quinnen’s not sure it will be any fun, but soon she befriends a few players. With their help, can she make peace with the past and return to the pitcher’s mound?

Welcome, Jenn! 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?

While plenty of writers I know can write in coffee shops or with friends, for me the act of writing is a solitary pursuit. But when I'm not actually writing, I find it completely rejuvenating to spend time with other writers. I belong to a critique group with several of my VCFA classmates, where we take turns each month sharing sections of our work and videochatting (since we're spread across the country). Once I have a full manuscript that I've taken as far as I can by myself, I'd be lost without my critique buddies. (It's truly amazing what other people can notice in your work that you'd never see; and vice versa!) And let's not forget the all-important wisdom of the hive mind. I've been known to call out to Facebook friends from time to time with all kinds of small queries. Writing a book definitely takes a village! (And a lot of Twitter breaks.)

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

The biggest revision The Distance To Home underwent was with my agent, Katie Grimm. When I queried the book, I had some chapters set in the past (leading up to Haley's death), but it wasn't half of the book. Katie saw the potential in this construct, spurring two large scale revisions as I worked to incorporate essentially two full stories into one book (the arc of last summer, and the arc of this summer). While I loved the potential she saw in the project, it also meant I had to fully realize last summer -- i.e. back to the drawing board! Making sure the alternating pieces worked perfectly was a little like constructing a puzzle, and just as satisfying when it finally locked into place.

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Hector holds such a dear spot in my heart. I'm so inspired by baseball, and in particular, players that leave their home countries and families behind to follow their dreams. Much of my research for this book is hidden beneath the surface, but I spent a lot of time thinking about Hector and his back story, even though much of it never made it into the final book on the page. Maybe it was my excuse to read a bunch of non-fiction about minor league baseball life!

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

On the wall in my office is a shabby chic chalkboard left over from my wedding, which I refresh with inspiring writing quotes, depending on what project I'm working on at the moment -- and in particular, what stage of writing it's in. Since I'm drafting right now, I need a reminder to see the big picture and trust the process. 

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What's your writing superpower?

I think it's that I don't get in my own way. I refuse to believe in writer's block and feel very comfortable plowing through messy first drafts. You can't work on making something better if it doesn't exist, so might as well make a big mess on the page, right? 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I worked with Elizabeth Partridge, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sarah Ellis, and A.S. King. I spent half of my time at VCFA working on two middle grade projects and the other half on a young adult novel, and all of them taught me so much. I'm so grateful for their mentorship and inspired by their careers.
 
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
 
There's so many to choose from! What will stick with me most, though, were the workshops my first summer. Mark Karlins and Louise Hawes were the workshop advisors, and when it was your day to be workshopped, you got to decide if you wanted to be workshopped outdoors or inside. There's a special creative energy to being outdoors -- at least, it's a place where I feel inspired. As a kid, any time a teacher took you outside for class was a good day, and that's how that summer workshop felt. Like the kindest teachers, taking the class outdoors. I had so many aha moments in workshop over my two years at VCFA, but that workshop was a time when I felt like I really started to understand what the reader needed from a story, and what I'd need to do to achieve that experience.
 
Thanks for dropping by, Jenn!  The Distance To Home is published by Alfred A. Knopf / Random House and it's available in bookstores everywhere. You can learn more about Jenn at her website http://www.jennbishop.com.

 

Topics: Knopf Books for Young Readers, middle grade, Jenn Bishop

Carrie Jones and TIME STOPPERS

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, May 16, 2016 @ 06:05 AM

Guess who's at the LaunchPad today... CARRIE JONES! Carrie is a on-call firefighter, internationally and New York Times bestselling author, and lover of all furry things. She lives in Maine. She's a Whirligig and graduated in January 2017. Carrie is the author of loads of novels for young people, including her brand new middle grade TIME STOPPERS.

9781619638624.jpgAnnie Nobody thought she was, well, nobody, living in a nowhere town where nothing goes her way. Day 1 at her newest foster home proves to be dreadful, too . . . and things get even worse when she's chased by something big and scary that definitely wants to eat her. 

Luckily for Annie, not everything is what it seems, and she gets swept up--literally--by a sassy dwarf on a hovercraft snowmobile and taken to Aurora, a hidden, magical town on the coast of Maine. There, she finds a new best friend in Jamie Hephastion Alexander--who thought he was a normal kid (but just might be a troll)--and Annie discovers that she's not exactly who she thought she was, either. She's a Time Stopper, meant to protect the enchanted.

Together, Annie and Jamie discover a whole new world of magic, power, and an incredible cast of creatures and characters. But where there's great power, there are also those who want to misuse it, and Aurora is under siege. It's up to the kids to protect their new home, even if it means diving headfirst into magical danger. - See more at:http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/time-stoppers-9781619638624/#sthash.jLzhsirD.dpuf

Welcome, Carrie! I love your YAs and picture books and I can't wait to see what you do for middle grade readers. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

There’s a secondary character (Please don’t tell her that.) in TIME STOPPERS that’s named Eva and she is really a kick-ass dwarf. She has mechanical skills. She only passes out when faced with trolls. She boasts. She’s tough. She’s totally not me. She was so much fun just because she would say things that overly polite Carrie Writer Person would never think of saying. 
 
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 have absolutely no writing community. It’s so sad. I know! I know! I’m supposed to be positive and I am! I promise! It’s just that I don’t actually have beta readers or a community of writers that I hang out with. I’m pretty far up the coast of Maine and I live on an island, so my community is really the people of my community. Firefighters. Grocery store cashiers. Random tourists in the summer. And it’s okay. I get pretty bored if I just live writing and I get pretty bored if I just talk about writing. Also, people on Facebook are super kind to me when I have what I call my AGH WRITER ANXIETY MOMENTS. These happen all the time.
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What's your writing superpower?
 
The ability to just say ‘yes,’ to pretty much anything. No matter how weird the idea, no matter how quirky the character, no matter how foolish it seems, I always say, ‘yes.’ I think of writing a first draft as improv, so I use the tools of improv to write. That way I never get writer’s block and never dismiss something that is a little bit… um… weird. 
 
 
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
 
I was lucky enough to have Tim Wynne-Jones, Sharon Darrow, Kathi Appelt and Rita Williams Garcia endure the torment that was having me as a student. But, I have to say it was Lisa Jahn Clough who calmed me down enough during my first residency to make me stay. She listened to all my excuses, about how I was from Maine and not used to people, about how everyone knew more about writing than I did, and she really convinced me to not quit. And then I had all these amazing workshop leaders who made my life so great - Louise Hawes, Brent Hartinger, Marion Dane Bauer. It was incredible. And I always think of Cynthia Leitich Smith as the advisor I never had. She inspires me constantly.
 
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
 
It isn’t about how it affected it. It made it happen. I really was clueless when I went to Vermont. I was a newspaper editor and a bad (horrible) poet. Vermont taught me everything. I think the fact that I had a book under contract less than a year into the program speaks volumes about what Vermont can do. 
 
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
 
Vermont is special. It isn’t just school. It’s a community. It isn’t just a community. It’s a bunch of awesome, brilliant, loving people coming together to celebrate story and craft and you, the writer. If you let it, Vermont becomes family. I still call a classmate of mine ‘bro,’ and he calls me “Sister Carrie” all the time. 
Thank you so much, Team Launchpad! 
 
Thanks for dropping by Carrie!  TIME STOPPERS was published by Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers and it's available at bookstores everywhere. You can find out more about Carrie at www.carriejonesbooks.com Follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/carriejonesbook or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carriejonesbooks
 

Topics: middle grade, 2016 release, Bloomsbury Children's Books, Carrie Jones

Erin Hagar and AWESOME MINDS THE INVENTORS OF LEGO TOYS

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!

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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?
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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! 
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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 www.erinhagarbooks.com.

 

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

Ally Condie and SUMMERLOST

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 @ 15:03 PM

We're celebrating the launch of current student Ally Condie's big new book SUMMERLOST.  

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Sometimes it takes a new friend to bring you home. It's the first real summer since the accident that killed Cedar's father and younger brother, Ben. Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

SUMMERLOST is a middle grade novel published by Dutton. It's available in bookstores everywhere today.

 

Topics: middle grade, 2016 release, Dutton, Ally Condie

Janet Fox and THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Mar 15, 2016 @ 09:03 AM

We're under the spell of Janet Fox's new middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, out now from Viking Children's. This book has already scooped up stars from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, and is a Junior Library Guild selection and an Indies Next pick -- wow!

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Twelve-year-old Katherine Bateson believes in a logical explanation for everything. But even she can't make sense of the strange goings-on at Rookskill Castle, the drafty old Scottish castle-turned-school where she and her siblings have been sent to escape the London Blitz. What's making those mechanical shrieks at night? Why do the castle's walls seem to have a mind of their own? And who are the silent children who seem to haunt Rookskill's grounds?

Kat believes Lady Eleanor, who rules the castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must face the truth about what the castle actually harbors - and what Lady Eleanor is - before it's too late.

Welcome, Janet! So tell us, what was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

I always struggle with my middles, and this novel was no exception. My problems are usually tied up with getting my character arc true, and deepening her arc. In this case, I had an epiphany during a weekend-long intensive with Donald Maass, in which he asked us to select a scene, write down the five things that happen in the scene, and then turn the last one around to its opposite. At that moment everything I'd been struggling with came into focus as I realized that Kat, my main character, needed to find the antagonist "beautiful" and "perfect" - the epitome of what she wanted to be herself. When I realized what had to happen in that scene I was then able to go back through Kat's development and structure the story so that things she did and things that happened to her all culminated in this scene.

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

The book I pull out every time I need sentence-level inspiration is Kathi Appelt's The Underneath. I love the lyrical quality of her writing. It feels both magical and like a traditional fable. For plot, I'm a huge fan of Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. It has a plot that races, yet feels true and emotional - which is probably the reason for its success. I keep a plot chart of that novel on my wall. And for character, I'll admit I'm a fan of JK Rowling's Harry Potter. She was able to take an 11-year-old boy through his entire adolescence, touching all the points of change in development through the lens of a magical world. And her secondary characters are just as rich and nuanced. It's clear she spent a lot of time developing all of her characters' backstories.

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

I have a trove of plot charts, both linear and free-association/bubble-style, of other books on my wall. I have several inspirational quotes posted, including my favorite from Tobin Anderson via Kathi: "Write what you think you can't." And I've begun to post, for whatever book I'm working on at the moment, a statement of the theme, boiled down to its simplest premise. Plus there are my magical weapons: my family pictures, my Vermont College and my agency mugs, things I've collected or that have come from family. These things keep me going. They have power.

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How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It changed everything for me! First, I was no longer alone. I now have a tribe that speaks the same language, understands the same concerns. Second, I learned a TON. I was forced way outside my comfort zone, and then made to build a new one. I had a new vocabulary for what I was trying to do. And most importantly, I was encouraged to push myself and my writing, to try new things, to venture into realms I might never have thought to try. "Write what you think you can't."

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

You are all my friends for life. Seriously - I've made friends for life. Plus, we had fun. And when we went through all the VCFA stages - beginner, middle, grad - we had each other's backs. We still do! I read every one of your books as they come out. (I love every one of your books!) I would relive that experience again and again if I could.

I heartily concur on all points! Kek kek kek! 

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Don't focus on one thing the entire four semesters. I worked on four different books, several short stories, and my critical thesis. The critical thesis has been the subject of several published articles (I'm still hoping to frame a craft book around it.) My creative thesis became my second published YA. One of my stories appeared in a regional anthology. Be prepared to learn. Be prepared to push. Say yes. Read more than you think you can. Know that you'll make life-long friends, but that you will also cry, more than once (mostly in a good way.) You'll be exhausted but exhilarated. You'll be miserable but elated. Apply yourself and you will have a career. 

Write what you think you can't.

Great advice, Janet. Thank you so much for visiting, and welcome to the world to The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle!

IMG_8226b.jpgJanet Fox is the author of four previous books: the middle grade non-fiction Get Organized Without Losing It, and three YA historical novels, Faithful, Forgiven, and Sirens. She graduated from VCFA in Summer 2010, a member of the Thunder Badgers.

Visit her online at www.janetsfox.com.

Topics: middle grade, Viking, 2016 release, Janet Fox, Viking Children's

C. M. Surrisi and THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING

Posted by Tami Brown on Thu, Mar 03, 2016 @ 04:03 AM

Today we're welcoming C. M. (Cynthia) Surrisi, a member of the Magic IFs class of January 2014. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband Chuck and her two rascal Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Sunny and Milo, and Harry, the Prince of Cats. 

 

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A mystery has washed ashore at the coastal town of Maiden Rock. Quinnie Boyd’s teacher, Ms. Stillford, hasn’t shown up on the first day of school—or the day after that. Quinnie thinks it’s a kidnapping case. Her mom, the town sheriff, doesn’t believe her, but Quinnie’s going to follow her instincts—even if she has to tiptoe around her mom to do it.

            Quinnie’s investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messier places. On the way, she’ll have help from her glamourous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they’ll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who’ve been pigging out on the lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger . . .     

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Welcome Cynthia-- and I might add any friend of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a friend of mine! Here at the LaunchPad we always love a good book sale story. How did you sell The Maypop Kidnapping?

I was in my last semester at VCFA, headed into packet number three, when someone alerted me to a blog post by editor Greg Hunter at Carolrhoda Books. The post is at http://carolrhoda.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-call-for-middle-grade-fiction.html You can also follow him on twitter at @gregjhunter.

 I urge readers to look at this post because it tells so much about the editor. By the time I finished reading it, I was hooked. I had planned to take the route of graduating and submitting to agents. But when I read this, I not only liked him, I understood what he was looking for in a manuscript. I felt my book had a chance so I submitted it, and soon thereafter I had a long conversation with him about the book and received an offer. Next, I talked with several agents, which admittedly is easier to do with a book offer in your hand. I chose Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt. Perfect.

 I concentrated on getting a good fit. I believe you can help yourself out a lot by thoroughly researching agents and editors and not submitting to people who are not right for you.

 These relationships have led to a second Quinnie Boyd Mystery, Vampires on the Run, which is coming out Spring 2017, and there is a third under discussion. I also have a picture book coming out from Abrams next year, which is being illustrated by the wonderful Diane Goode.

You've been busy! And I love how you took charge of your writing career, instead of waiting for something great to happen. Tell us about your writing community.

My writing community has expanded greatly over the last ten years. Initially, I joined SCBWI. In SCBWI I met wonderful, supportive people who remain good friends. Then, I went to VCFA, which is a huge bear hug. Now, I have my beloved classmates, The MAGIC IFs, my darling friends who attended VCFA during the same semesters as me, AND the tribe consisting of everyone who has ever gone to, or been associated, with VCFA. Then, I moved to Asheville, where there is a large, wonderful, and welcoming community of children’s writers who I am getting to know. I have writing friends who are available 24 hours, like a hot line. I have a Skype critique group. I am joining an in-person group here in Asheville.

Share something that inspires you-

Something I keep on my wall while I work. Many inspiring objects surround me, but one of my favorites is Pippi-Bliss by Jeffrey Stoner:

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Who wouldn't be inspired by that blissful goat! What's your writing superpower?

I feel my writing superpower is quirky adults in kids’ books. I like my adults to be both larger than life and realistic at the same time, because I think that is the way they appear to kids in real life. I strive for adult characters who are respected as role models, even if they are sometimes difficult and test a kid’s patience. And most important, they have to add a comic element while they are providing an adult world superstructure to the story.

Let's talk about VCFA. Who were your advisors?

My advisors: Matt de la Pena, Tim Wynne-Jones, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Tom Birdseye. Each was perfect for me at the time I had them, and I regret I couldn’t have had the advisor experience with more of the faculty. I’ve thanked them so many times, it’s getting a little tiresome for them, I’m sure, but I’d like to do it again and single them out for some specific kudos: Matt taught me how to follow my main character around and make her life complicated, then watch her get through it. Tim taught me how to write a mystery. Rita taught me how to infuse heart into a novel. And Tom taught me how to make the most of a humorous moment in a story.      

How did VCFA effect your writing life? Do you have any advice for prospective students?

For many years before attending VCFA, I practiced law. When I started to write fiction in earnest, I simply didn’t have any adjectives. When writing legal briefs one is obliged to stick to the facts. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, it does loosely describe writing on the left side of the brain rather than the right side. When I had pieces critiqued at conferences, I was often told I could use more words. I think most people are urged to cut, cut, cut.

I knew I needed to study writing in the way that I learn best. For me that is a structured, intensive program with demands and high expectations. I retired from law to dedicate full-time to my MFA. I threw myself into it and I feel I got out of it everything it had to offer me. I stripped it all down to basics and started from scratch. I’d say I was the poster child for getting the most out of VCFA, but I know that everyone’s experience is pretty similar.

 If you want to learn to write for children and young adults, VCFA can make that happen. I am transformed on this front. I now understand the inner-workings of the craft of writing for kids, and I have tools and methods to apply what I know.

I thought I had a writing life before I started VCFA. I now know that what I had was never going to lead to publication. VCFA made the difference.

It was such a treat to talk to you about my favorite topics- Cavaliers, VCFA and MIDDLE GRADE MYSTERIES! Thanks so much for dropping by, Cynthia.

THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING was published by Carolrhoda/Lerner and it's available in bookstores everywhere. You can find out more about Cynthia on her website cmsurrisi.com and follow her on Twitter at @csurrisi

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: Carolrhoda Books, middle grade, 2016 release, C. M. Surrisi, mystery, Lerner

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