the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Melanie Fishbane and MAUD!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 @ 07:04 AM

Today we're shouting all the hoorays for Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery by Melanie J. Fishbane, out now from Penguin Teen/Penguin Random House Canada!

MAUD Cover.jpgFourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery — Maud to her friends — has a dream: to go to college and become a writer, just like her idol, Louisa May Alcott. But living with her grandparents on Prince Edward Island, she worries that this dream will never come true. Her grandfather has strong opinions about a woman’s place in the world, and they do not include spending good money on college. Luckily, she has a teacher to believe in her, and good friends to support her, including Nate, the Baptist minister’s stepson and the smartest boy in the class. If only he weren’t a Baptist; her Presbyterian grandparents would never approve. Then again, Maud isn’t sure she wants to settle down with a boy — her dreams of being a writer are much more important.

But life changes for Maud when she goes out West to live with her father and his new wife and daughter. Her new home offers her another chance at love, as well as attending school, but tensions increase as Maud discovers her stepmother’s plans for her, which threaten Maud’s future — and her happiness forever.

Welcome, Melanie! I have to say, that cover is gorgeous. So, tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Besides Maud, I would say my favorite character to write was Will Pritchard. He is one of Maud’s two love interests who comes into her life during a time where she’s going to have to make some big decisions. Will is based on Maud’s real life boyfriend who she met the year she had lived with her father in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Will showed up as a cross between the pioneer boy of my childhood, Almanzo Wilder, and who Maud wrote about in her journals. He emerged as a man who saw things as they were, a good horseman with no patience for games or pettiness. He became a foil for Maud’s ambitions and, also, the confinement of expectations put on young people of the period. I can still hear his voice in my head while I write this now. He’s also quite handsome. :)

IMG_1257.jpgMelanie J. Fishbane laughs carelessly with the handsome Will Pritchard. Photo by Kate Sutherland.

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

For some people who write historical fiction the issue is not enough material, but with L.M. Montgomery, the issue is that there is so much. Montgomery was very particular about what she left behind. She burned her correspondence before she died, and copied out her journals into uniform ledgers, destroying the originals. There are also scrapbooks, her book collection, thousands of photographs (many she took herself as she was an avid photographer), and personal artifacts. There are also letters that others kept of letters that she wrote to them, particularly from her time in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

I had wanted to stay true to the arc of Montgomery’s experience as described in the journals, so I had tried to keep closely to the timeline, but I soon learned that this hurt the pace of the novel, particularly in the third act. For example, when I was writing about Maud’s time in Park Corner there were several family events and an episode with her cousins that involved many shenanigans. I had wanted to include it to show how Maud was connecting with the Montgomery side of her family, but inevitably it was cut because it slowed things down and away from the main emotional arc.

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

Unless I’m reading out loud or doing very precise copy editing, I need to write with music. Maud had a playlist that was inspired by music of the period, both popular and sacred. I also listened to a lot of contemporary music from PEI and Saskatchewan. The Meds and Catherine MacLellan were on loop for much of the writing process. As well as Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear, particularly “Chandelier” and “Big Girls Cry” because it echoed Maud’s emotional experience. Oh…and the Anne & Gilbert: The Musical, because…Anne and Gilbert…I put a selection of these songs on my website:

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 feel pretty grateful because my writing community is international, but closely connected. There are my classmates from VCFA and the Dystropians, my friends from TorKidLit, a local Toronto writing group that meets once a month to support young adult and kids’ writers, and CANSCAIP. I also have my Montgomery writer friends who I send stuff to when I need some advice. I have a few friends that I write with in Toronto and share first drafts with, as well as some from VCFA of course. I don’t have a critique group anymore. I had a writing group for about a year or so that met once a month, but because of a variety of circumstances we now only meet occasionally. I would say that through Facebook groups and Twitter, I’ve been able to stay connected to my tribe.

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

After my grandfather died, my aunt found a letter he had written to me around my birthday, but for some reason never gave it to me. In the letter, he talked about listening to me talk about what I had planned to do, how pleased he was to see me talk about my plans for education and the future, how I had made him a “very proud Zaidy.” I put the letter in something to protect it and posted it on my bulletin board. Maud is dedicated to him.

What a special find.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Sharron Darrow, Mary Quattlebaum, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sarah Ellis.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Everything. It taught me how to take myself and my writing seriously, putting in place good writing habits. It also connected me to a community that I continue to stay in touch with. I think going to VCFA also gave me the credentials I needed to prove to the publisher that I could do this project.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Running across the campus to learn who our advisors would be.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

We were so supportive of one another and became close right away. Even now, we continue to just be there. If one of us needs something, we jump into action. We are family.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?Melanie Fishbane Author Photo Ayelet Tsabari.jpg

Stay as present as you can. Enjoy all of it. Suck up all the energy, knowledge and experiences you can, because it goes very quickly.

Thanks so much for visiting, Melanie! Hooray for Maud!

Obsessed with L.M. Montgomery and the red-headed orphan Anne of Green Gables since she was a kid, Melanie J. Fishbane is tickled red(?) to be celebrating the launch of her debut novel with the Launchpad.

Melanie is a member of the January 2013 Dystropians. Visit her online at

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari.

Topics: young adult, Penguin, 2017 release, Penguin Random House of Canada, Melanie J. Fishbane, Penguin Teen

Brendan Reichs: Nemesis

Posted by Amanda West Lewis on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 @ 20:04 PM

Today we are celebrating the release of Nemesis, by VCFA student Brendan Reichs and recently listed on the New York Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Fiction.



Recurring murder, nightmares, lies, a vast conspiracy and an enormous asteroid threatening life on Earth -- Nemesis gives us Orphan Black twisting with Lord of the Flies in a riveting new thriller from the co-author of the Virals series.

Welcome Brendan. What a plot line! Tell us, what was the spark that ignited this book?

I really wanted to write a conspiracy book. I grew up on shows like The X-Files and Lost, so my goal was to recreate that feeling where the world around my characters might not be what it seems. I also wanted to explore the fundamental concept of the permanence of death. What would it feel like if suddenly that didn’t apply to you? How would you live your life?

You have a cast of great characters here. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

With apologies to the guys, Min is my favorite character to write. I like her most because she’s strong but flawed. Min is highly  suspicious of what’s happening around her, and has a hair-trigger temper, but she never loses her empathy. While I think Tack’s dark sarcasm is vital to the story, and Noah brings a fragility I found somewhat novel to explore in a male point-of-view character, Min in the heart of the book.

It's a wonderfully complex story. Can you tell us what was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

I had to cut a lot of information I’d included about the vacation town of Fire Lake, its history, its economy, and things like that. I spent months diligently constructing and building up my imaginary community, and I wanted it all to go into the book. But, sadly, including it made the first part read like a travelogue and slowed the plot, so it had to go. But if anyone wants to know more background on the townships of the northern Bitterroot Mountains, know that I have it all on file!

Well, on that topic, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

How long does it take quicklime to dissolve a corpse?

Right, moving along, do you have a nugget of craft advice that has been especially helpful to you?

Don’t neglect the emotional side of planning a story. I now like to plan my characters’ emotional arcs just as thoroughly as their plot arcs, so that they are growing (or collapsing) in more ways than one. I map out my entire book on a whiteboard in my office, and keep it up during the entire process so that I can refer to any scene or chapter at a glance. I’m sure this strategy isn’t for everyone, but after seeing results in my last two projects, I won’t do it any other way going forward. If nothing else, it clarifies my thoughts.

Let's talk about your process a bit. Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

Dead silence. Tomb silence. How people work to music baffles me.

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

My wife Emily proofreads and critiques everything I write before anyone else see it, including my editor. I couldn’t imagine doing things any other way. I love Twitter for the watercooler feel of being able to talk to other authors, mainly because writing novels can be such a lonely job. And I have great colleagues that serve as my early readers, and tell me bluntly if my WIP is garbage. Priceless, really.


Is there something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work?

I keep my law degree on the wall right next to my desk, to remind me of the existential horrors that will await me if I get slack and don’t focus on my writing.

You are a current student at VCFA, graduating in January 2018 with the Tropebusters. How has attending VCFA affected your writing life?

Attending VCFA really got me to dig into my work. It opened my eyes to deficiencies I hadn’t realized existed, while teaching me to push boundaries. I could feel my writing getting stronger as I worked with so many talented other people. I’m a more thoughtful, diligent, and prepared writer because of my time spent in Vermont. There is no writer on any level that wouldn’t benefit from study of this nature. I’m like a kid at Christmas every day.

Who have been your advisors at VCFA?

I’ve been blessed with three amazing advisers so far. I started with Tim Wynne-Jones in my first semester, and still cringe about my inconsistent use of available light. Next I had An Na, who taught me how to slow down and hit those crucial emotional beats. I’m currently working with Kekla Magoon, who kicked my critical thesis into shape and even got me to write a (bad) picture book. These are genius, folks. I get to work with geniuses.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

I would advise everyone coming to VCFA to fully embrace the hothouse environment afforded by the residencies. Rarely in a writing career will you find yourself so fully immersed in pure work, and with such an incredible cast of talented people around you. Attend everything you can drag yourself out of bed for, don’t shirk the traditions, or chances to explore the town, and, most of all, open yourself to the incredible sense of community VCFA offers. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to live in a literary colony. Take advantage of every minutes of it!

Thanks so much, Brendan. It's been great to get an insight into your process and the mind behind Nemesis.


Brendan Reichs was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2000 and The George Washington University School of Law in 2006. After three long years working as a litigation attorney, he abandoned the trade to write full time. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Nemesis, and co-author of the Virals series, written with Kathy Reichs. Brendan lives in Charlotte with his wife, son, daughter, and a herd of animals that tear up everything.

You can find out more about Brendan at

Nemesis was published by Penguin/Putnam March 21, 2017.







Topics: young adult, Putnam, Penguin, 2017 release, Brendan Reichs, Penguin/Putnam

Patrick Downes and TEN MILES ONE WAY

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 @ 09:04 AM

Today, we have miles of hoorays for Patrick Downes and Ten Miles One Way, out now from Philomel/Penguin!


Nest and Q walk through the city. Nest speaks and Q listens. Mile by mile, Nest tells Q about her life, her family, her past . . . and her Chimaera, the beast that preys on her mind and causes her to lose herself. Q knows only that his love for Nest runs deeper than the demon that plagues her thoughts, that he loves her in spite of—or perhaps because of—the personal battle she fights every day.

Welcome, Patrick! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I’m not sure there was any one idea. I’m a walker, a city kid originally, and I’ve known more than one person who walks when their mind is all fire. The city in this book is imaginary, the characters, too, but the feelings are true.

What’s your writing superpower?

Wow. I wish I had a superpower. Is there a mutant with an uncanny ability to understand the marketplace?

Ha! Wouldn't that be nice? :) Tell us about your writing community.

Some people write and think entirely or mostly alone, without much camaraderie. Some writers don’t talk much about their work or what they fear, loathe, love, avoid, or take on. What’s wonderful about VCFA is the promise of community and mutual support, if and when a writer needs it. I’m one who doesn’t think to go to others with my work, my rough ideas and drafts, my untested ideas, or even for an encouraging chat. Maybe it’s shyness. Maybe it’s process. Maybe it’s extreme introversion. Maybe it’s something even more mundane. One thing is certain, though, which is that even the most solitary writer may just need, one day, someone to talk to, to sit down with, if only to say, “This is hard, right?”

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

A pair of sensible walking shoes, with good arch support, plenty of room for the toes, and a sturdy sole, or a model of the Millennium Falcon in a bottle.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors for my mere two semesters in the WCYA program—I split my degree with the Other Program—were Alan Cumyn and Julie Larios. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

What advice would you give to an incoming student?

Try to write everything, long and short fiction, poetry, picture books, YA, MG, early readers, everything. And leave all your notions of what you imagine you are as a writer at the door. Let yourself grow without worrying over what exactly you’re supposed to grow into.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Somehow, I became a writer for younger readers. I had a quiet hope inside me to find a way someday to write picture books and YA novels—I find the middle grade work elusive—but I never imagined I would publish there first. Go figure. VCFA-WCYA gave me a career I never imagined.

Thanks so much for chatting, Patrick. Welcome home, Ten Miles One Way!

Patrick was born and raised in NYC, but splits his now time between the U.S. and Canada. Ten Miles One Way is his second YA novel. He’s also the author of the picture book, Come Home, Angus (Scholastic).

To learn more about VCFA's other programs, visit

Topics: young adult, Philomel/Penguin, Philomel, Penguin, Patrick Downes, 2017 release

Katie Bayerl and A Psalm for Lost Girls

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 @ 06:03 AM

Congratulations to Katie Bayerl. She visits the Launchpad today and discusses her young adult mystery, A Psalm for Lost Girls. 

When Katie isn’t penning her own stories, she coaches teens and nonprofits to tell theirs. A summer 2010 graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Katie currently leads the VCFA Young Writers Network, which connects alumni authors with underserved kids and communities.


Tess da Costa is a saint—a hand-to-god, miracle-producing saint. At least that’s what the people in her hometown of New Avon, Massachusetts, seem to believe. And when Tess suddenly and tragically passes away, her small city begins feverishly petitioning the Pope to make Tess’s sainthood official. Tess’s mother is ecstatic over the fervor, while her sister Callie, the one who knew Tess best, is disgusted—overcome with the feeling that her sister is being stolen from her all over again.
The fervor for Tess’s sainthood only grows when Ana Langone, a local girl who’s been missing for six months, is found alive at the foot of one of Tess’s shrines. It’s the final straw for Callie. With the help of Tess’s secret boyfriend Danny, Callie’s determined to prove that Tess was something far more important than a saint; she was her sister, her best friend and a girl in love with a boy. But Callie’s investigation uncovers much more than she bargained for—a hidden diary, old family secrets, and even the disturbing truth behind Ana’s kidnapping. 

 Welcome Katie.  What was the spark that ignited this book?

About a month before I began at VCFA, I took a trip to Portugal. Before I left, a friend (who knows I’m obsessed with saints) sent me info about the recently deceased and soon-to-be-beatified Lúcia dos Santos, the last of the Child Saints of Fátima. I dragged myself away from Lisbon for a day to see what that was all about. The básilica is basically a hideous tourist trap, but I found myself sucked into the history. You see, Lúcia was just 10 years old when she and two cousins claimed to witness apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. The cousins passed away young, leaving Lúcia to carry their story. I couldn’t stop asking myself what it would be like to be in her position, on track to sainthood (and confined to a life as a nun) at such a young age. What if, at age 16, she had a change of heart? What if all she wanted to live a normal life, make mistakes, fall in love, be a regular girl. 

It was a series of “what ifs” that stuck… and at the end of my first semester at VCFA, I found myself writing a response to those questions from the perspective of a young saint’s grieving sister. Psalm Headhot.jpg

Tell us about how you sold this book. Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

I wrote the first two drafts at VCFA and really wanted to have a submission-worthy draft upon graduation. That didn’t happen. Not even close. I got the core of it down in my last two semesters, but I still had so much to figure out before I could find the story’s shape. I spent three more years revising the manuscript—giving up for about a year in the middle—and then coming back to it when I had a major plot breakthrough. (My stints as a VCFA graduate assistant helped a lot!)

My agent, Erin Harris, had a revision idea that excited me: include Tess (the alleged saint) as an alternating point of view. I’d tried to include Tess in early drafts; this time, I saw a way that would work. I added about 80 pages to the book at that point, and Erin cracked a whip, getting me to tighten the rest considerably.

I lost track of how many drafts it was in the end. There was still some significant revision after I sold the book to Putnam, but those final drafts—with agent and editor—were the most satisfying because I could finally see the story emerging in its true form. 

 Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I had the most fun writing Tess (the saint). Those scenes, constructed as diary entries, poured right out. I love her warmth and sense of humor and had fun being with her, even in the agonizing moments.   

The main protagonist, Callie, was much harder. Much. She has a tough skin and didn’t want anyone—least of all her author—to see her true self.  You know what? I get that, and I respect her for it. It was a tricky dance, recognizing her boundaries while showing enough of her underbelly for let readers into her story. In the end, Callie is the one I fell for the hardest.

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

I will trade plot for great sentences and heart-tugging characters any day of the week. Also? I really think that character is established at the sentence level, so basically, I’m cheating on this question.

Three authors who slay me with their sentences: Benjamin Alire Saenz (especially his YA), Edwidge Danticat (especially her works for adults), and VCFA’s own Jandy Nelson. That’s just a sampling. I’m such a sentence slut; if I start listing all of the writers who knock me over with their sentences, it would get embarrassing.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Sharon Darrow, Tim Wynne-Jones, Shelley Tanaka, Rita Williams-Garcia

How did attending VCFA affect your (writing) life?

I learned a lot about craft, obviously, but it was the community that had the greatest impact on me. I made the best friends of my life at VCFA and, as a result of those relationships and so many meandering conversations about craft and art and politics and life, I feel like I became not just a better writer but a better me.

You can visit Katie at or on twitter at @katiebayerl

Topics: young adult, Putnam, Penguin, 2017 release, Katie Bayerl

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