the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Cate Berry on a full heart and a cozy snuggle

Posted by Amanda West Lewis on Tue, May 08, 2018 @ 00:05 AM

Today we are talking to VCFA grad Cate Berry as she launches her new book Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime!, illustrated by Charles Santoso and published by Balzer+Bray/ Harper Collins

Penguin and Tiny Shrimp DO NOT have a bedtime story to share with you. There are fireworks! And shark-infested waters! This book will never make you sleepy! Not at all. Not even a little…

@charlessantoso

 from Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime!, by Cate Berry, Illustrated by Charles Santoso (www.charlessantoso.com)

Cate, I know you are really excited about this new picture book. Tell us about how you sold the manuscript. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

I signed with my agent a month before starting VCFA. It was a grand bit of luck-meets-hard-work. She sent my manuscript out on submission during my first residency in July 2015. I was so busy and freaked out about grad school I didn’t have time to check my email every five seconds.

So, I checked it every ten seconds.

We waited. The rejections came. My first packet went off. More rejections came. I received what you call “lovely” rejections. Editors liked it, some of them a lot. But no one seemed to love it enough to buy it. My agent had faith and kept sending it out. More rejections came. My second grad packet went out. The months ticked by until it was October. I hit “send” on my third packet.

I had a massive panic attack the morning of October 23rd. It had been too long. My husband assured me, “It just takes one yes.” Driving home that afternoon my phone rang. Who’s calling? No one calls on the phone anymore, I thought. So, I pulled over. It was my agent and she said we had an offer.

I screamed. Several dogs howled, concerned, behind fences. It was hot. I screamed again. I called my husband. “We got the one yes,” I said.

I went home and within twenty-four hours we had another offer. Then, two more. My agent set up phone calls with all the editors. I remember thinking, “Wow. This is Science-Fiction. You spend years settling for scraps as an artist and suddenly— overnight—people are wooing you.”

In the end, we had a four-house auction. It was a fairy tale. It was remote and surreal.

After we accepted, I got in my car (why are my important moments always in cars?) and sobbed. Not from happiness, but from fear. In my gut, I guess I hadn’t truly thought I’d clear the final hurdle.

And what if it never happened again (I actually thought this)?

Then again, what if it did.

That’s the thing about publishing. You can’t control when it’ll be your turn. The stars have to be aligned ten thousand different ways for it to happen and that’s the truth. But, it’ll never happen if you don’t cast your stories into the grind of the business.

My second book has not been a fairy tale, by the way.

But who wants to write the same book twice?

What an amazing ride. Can you tell us what was the spark that ignited this book?

I like to write in rapid-fire succession, one picture book after the next, until I hit upon something worthy of revising.

When this book popped out, it felt joyful.

I’ve worried as my debut approaches that my book is not “important” enough faced with the world’s current landscape. There are huge problems we face and important things to write about for children.

But I believe in connection.

For me, that’s at the end of the day. After dinner, before sleep, when I slow down and read with my people at bedtime.

Cate family

Cate's family

I hope this book reaches lots of children, parents, care-givers, grandparents and many more. And I hope it helps us connect with a full heart and a cozy snuggle before we fall asleep.

I have to say I really appreciate your honesty about your doubts and fears. Can you tell us how attending VCFA affected your writing life?

It saved me time. I am sure that people learn craft in many ways, and you certainly don’t have to go to an MFA program to be a writer. But, even more than learning my craft, VCFA made me a jump into hyper-space and define myself as a writer. I learned how to meet deadlines, carve out and defend my writing time and gain confidence. I am most definitely a different writer post MFA.

Who did you work with in the program?

An Na, Mary Quattlebaum, Jane Kurtz, Martine Leavitt

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Cate and An Na.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

I loved the late night “Advisor Posting” each residency. It was thrilling to find out who you’d be working with that semester. Some called it the Sorting Hat. I just thought it was great drama and it felt like Grown-Up-Writer Camp.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

My class, the Dead Post-Its Society, is the best. Everyone says that. But we really are. We span five decades with our ages and we beat with one loyal heart.

What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

I love that it’s situated in a tiny Vermont city. It’s hard to get too! But that makes it all the more like a middle grade novel. You have to journey to this special place, tucked away from everything, and immerse yourself in writing.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. And it will be worth it ten-fold. In the end, you and your friends and family will never understand why you took so long to go.

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

I wish I’d known that there was nothing to be intimidated or scared of. Whether you are just beginning your first novel or picture book or your tenth, it’s the most welcoming place in the world. 

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Cate Berry with fellow Dead Post-Its Michele Prestininzi, Jennifer Mann and Adrienne Kisner

Thanks so much, Cate Berry, for sharing your writing process and your VCFA experiences. Happy Book Birthday to your fabulous new picture book Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime!

 

cate Headshot

Cate Berry is the author of Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! (Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, "A buoyantly subversive anti-bedtime book. (Picture book. 3-7)." She has forthcoming publications TBA and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cate is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and an active member in the SCBWI and Writers' League of Texas. She also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences year round. Visit her at www.cateberry.com to learn more.

 

 

Topics: picture book

Mama's Belly, by Kate Hosford

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 @ 00:04 AM

Today we have a special delivery from Kate Hosford! Her new picture book, Mama’s Belly, illustrated by Abigail Halpin, is out now from Abrams!

 

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Mama has a belly rising up like wave.

Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.

As a curious little girl eagerly awaits the arrival of her sister, she has many questions about what her new sibling will be like. Will her sister have freckles? How will her family change? With lyrical language and unforgettable lush illustrations, Mama’s Belly is an honest and gentle exploration of the excitement and anticipation in welcoming a new family member, and assures young readers that Mama will always have enough love for everyone.

 

Welcome, Kate! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

In the winter of 2009, I did an amazing picture book semester with Uma Krishnaswami. I had found a picture of my son, Charlie, and myself when I was pregnant with his brother. I was looking down at Charlie with my hands on my belly. Charlie, who was two at the time, was facing me with his hands on his belly, and a look on his face that seemed to say, "I don’t know what we’ve gotten into here, but I may be in over my head." This gave me the idea to write a baby-on-the-way book from the point of view of a child who is focused on his mother’s pregnant belly.

However, when I started writing the story, I seemed to forget about that look on Charlie’s face, and instead wrote a story that was a relentlessly positive list of things that a boy would do with his new sibling. Uma suggested that perhaps the boy might be a little more conflicted about a sibling coming and about the ways in which pregnancy might change his mother. I then tried to remember what it had really been like to be pregnant and have a child waiting for a sibling. I revised the story so that the mom is sometimes tired and grumpy from backaches and her inability to see her own toes. I also had the protagonist express a variety of emotions about the impending birth. He might look forward to washing the baby’s belly, but also wonder if the baby would steal his blanket. At some point, I changed both the protagonist and the baby to females and the story became about a girl waiting for her sister to be born. 

Tell us how you sold this book. What was it like to find out?

I sold this book to Tamar Brazis at Abrams. I had probably been submitting stories to Tamar for over ten years at that point, and although she hadn’t bought anything before Mama’s Belly, she had always been kind and encouraging. After graduating from VCFA in 2011, I  continued working on the story. I knew there were already a lot of good baby-on-the-way books out there, but I hoped that I could make the voice of protagonist lyrical and unique.

I also wanted to give the story more of an emotional arc and come up with a really important question that the girl could ask her mother. I happened to run into a pregnant neighbor who had a five year-old daughter. When I asked her what her daughter wanted to know about the new baby, she said her daughter had asked, “Will there be enough love for both of us?” Once I heard that, I realized that this is the important question that every child needs answered when waiting for a sibling to be born. I tried to make this question, and the mother’s answer, the emotional climax of the book. When Tamar read the story, she liked the voice, and that emotional moment in particular.

I found out that Abrams was acquiring the story in 2015, on my birthday. I couldn’t have asked for a better present. The gestation period for this book was very long—nine years, from first draft to publication—but finding the right publisher, editor and illustrator was worth the wait.

What was it like watching the illustrations come together? 

When Tamar told me that Abigail Halpin had agreed to illustrate the book, I was really excited. First of all, Abigail had done the covers for Uma’s two middle grade books, The Grand Plan To Fix Everything and the The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, which was a lovely coincidence. She had also done a picture book called Finding Wild, which had a gorgeous palette and wonderful patterns and textures throughout the book.

The problem
Grand plan

 

finding wild

 

Her sketches took my breath away. Abigail created a complete world with this lovely bohemian family living in a log cabin beside a lake. She interwove nature throughout the book, so that things are growing and blooming on every page, which seemed to be the perfect setting for a book about pregnancy. The palette is beautiful and she has used so many rich textures and patterns. It is a visual feast for the reader.

Mama's belly

When the finished artwork came in, I cried from happiness. The world Abigial created reminded me of my upbringing in Vermont in the 1970s. I’m also really pleased with book trailer that video editor Nick Oleson created for me. I think the small touches of animation he added really make the trailer sing. It was also fun trying out different sound tracks and seeing how they change the mood of the book.

Watch the Mama’s Belly trailer here! 

 

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I’ve been out of school for seven years now, so at this point, I’m almost used to the fact that often when I read about news in the children’s lit world, I am reading about faculty members or fellow students from school. However, when I really stop and think about how VCFA has shaped the world of children’s literature, it is absolutely amazing.

The VCFA community is an essential part of my life. I turn to classmates for support, critiques and advice, but most of all for friendship. I also feel that VCFAers know that normal is overrated, so it’s liberating and interesting to be around people who are proud of the ways in which they are eccentric, and people who understand what it’s like to be in the wonderful, crazy, unpredictable world of writing for children. 

What advice would you give a prospective VCFA student? 

1) Use your time at school to experiment with different genres, both in your reading and your writing. 

2) The more open you are to the influences around you at VCFA, the more interesting your journey there will become. 

3) Remember that your classmates are probably going to be your support sustem, your critique partners and your friends after graduating. Spend time really getting to know them.

4) Also know that it’s fine to take some time for yourself at residencies. These days are wonderful, and you will remember them forever, but they are also exhausting.  

5) VCFA is an incredibly supportive community. Bask in that support, and also provide it for others. 


Great advice! Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, Kate! Welcome to the world, Mama’s Belly!

Visit Kate Hosford online at khosford.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Topics: picture book, Kate Hosford, Abrams, 2018 release, Abigail Abigail Halpin

Donna Janell Bowman and ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S DUELING WORDS!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Apr 02, 2018 @ 10:04 AM

En garde! Today we celebrate the release of Donna Janell Bowman's new picture book biography, Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words, illustrated by S. D. Schindler!

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Long before he was our beloved president, Abraham Lincoln was known for his smarts and his knee-slapping humor. In 1842, that got him into a heap of trouble.
    When he clashed with James Shields, a political rival, Lincoln came up with a rascally plan.
    It was silly.
    It was clever
    And it was a great big mistake!
    Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel!
    Lincoln would need his wit and a healthy dose of humility to save his career—and maybe even his life!
    A rare look at the more human side of Abraham Lincoln and how the lessons he learned made him a better man.

Welcome Donna! So, tell us ...

What was the spark that ignited this book?

Oh, goodness, I think it sparked from the realization that Abraham Lincoln, the man I had always envisioned to be as polished as his posthumous memorials, was actually as flawed and human as the rest of us. It was a complete accident that, in 2011 or 2012, I stumbled upon a one-line mention of his duel while researching for another book. The realization of Lincoln’s foibles collided with my preconceived notions, which launched a new research journey. As I dug into biographies of Lincoln and the letters and documents that survive him, I began to admire how he overcame his foibles. Lincoln’s mean-spirited mistake landed him on the dueling ground. He ultimately had a choice to either allow his great big mistake to define him or to teach him. Obviously, he chose the latter.

As I always do before I begin writing, I searched for mentor texts—picture book biographies—that focus on a less-than-stellar side of a famous person. Needless to say, there were few. Initially, I was a bit nervous about shining a light on an event that Lincoln himself was ashamed of, until I read his law partner’s recollection that Lincoln complained that biographies magnified perfections and suppressed imperfections. In fact, Lincoln argued that they “commemorate a lie and cheat posterity out of the truth.” It felt like Lincoln himself was giving me his blessings to share his story.

The more global spark of the story for me lies in a lingering question that I hope all readers will consider after reading my book. What would have happened if the events of the duel had gone another way and Abraham Lincoln had never been president?

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?

In 2012, I had a first draft of the Lincoln manuscript (then titled En Garde!). I showed it to my agent, Erin Murphy, then continued to revise for several months while simultaneously revising Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness for Lee and Low. Once my Lincoln manuscript shined, I snagged a critique with Peachtree editor Kathy Landwehr at the February 2013 Austin SCBWI conference. By conference time, she had already contacted my agent to express interest. Kathy was most impressed with my voice in the manuscript. As you can imagine, being complimented on voice—that most difficult craft element to cultivate—made me giddy. Soon, we were under contract.

We did go through more revisions to further finesse the voice and the direct-address narrator, and to simplify and streamline the complex historical aspects of the story. It was a joy to collaborate with an editor whose vision for the book so closely matched my own.

Erin, Kathy, CynthiaAgent Erin Murphy, editor Kathy Landwehr, and author Cynthia Levinson toast Donna from afar at a conference.

What surprising things did you research for this book?
Geez, so many things! Bloody Island, the gentleman’s code of conduct, 19th-century dueling procedures, the differences between swords and sabers, the financial panic of 1837, Andrew Jackson and his specie circular currency (which was VERY different). So much of what I researched doesn’t appear in my narrative, but I had to understand it all.

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’m blessed to be part of the Austin creative community, which is populated by a large group of talented, supportive, and prolific authors and illustrators. Our SCBWI chapter is active and fueled by heart and a desire to produce quality works for young readers. It’s an inspiring group!

I have been in critique groups throughout my entire writing/publishing journey, but my regular critique partners have gotten as busy as I have, so we most often email or chat by phone when we need feedback. I rarely ask a family member to read my manuscripts, in part because they aren’t writers and can’t offer the kind of craft feedback I seek.

As for Twitter, I admit to being a bit of a doofus. I’m still trying to navigate my way through the Twitterverse.

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What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

Oh, my goodness, it is so exciting to see art for the first time and to watch it evolve through revision! In fact, I just received Adam Gustavson’s first sketches for my 2019 book King of the Tightrope and am reminded how I felt when I first saw S.D. Schindler’s art for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words. With every turn of the PDF page, it was like opening another Christmas present. I am always fascinated by how illustrators add layers through their choice of images, colors, perspectives, symbolism, expressions, scene-setting. I’ve been lucky that my Peachtree editor has included me in the illustration process. Not all editors include the author, which can be especially problematic with nonfiction.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

People often ask me why I chose to go to VCFA when I already had an agent and books published. Initially, I justified it as a way to enlarge my craft vocabulary, expand my writing interests, and acquire necessary credentials to teach. That was all true and the mission was accomplished, but it affected me in ways that I hadn’t expected. I gained new self-confidence in multiple genres, an incredible new family in my beloved classmates and the VCFA community at large, and broader credibility in general.

Harried Plotters moments before graduationThe Harried Plotters with their graduation wands, moments before graduation.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

Hold on while I get my family-sized box of tissues. The Harried Plotters are the most spectacular human beings that any girl could hope to link arms with. No matter our diverse backgrounds, our first day at VCFA made us equals. We bonded immediately and spent the next two very stressful years holding each other up during MLA-formatting crisis, essays, family deaths, essays, illnesses, essays, bouts of self-doubt, creative metamorphosis, exhaustion, critical thesis pressure, lecture rehearsals and cheering, wine pit laughter, tears of exhaustion, a book launch, tears of joy, hugs, random smiley messages—everything you could ask for from a family. I went enrolled in VCFA to earn three new letters, MFA, but I emerged with so much more!

Harried Plotters - Cafe AnnaThe Harried Plotters at Café Anna.

So true! :) Thanks so much for stopping by, Donna. Welcome to America and the world, Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words!

DJBB IMG_1627a 5 x 7 72Donna Janell Bowman is the author of many books for young readers, including the award-winning picture book biography Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee and Low, October 2016) and Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Peachtree, April 1, 2018). In 2019, her book King of the Tightrope: The Great Blondin, illustrated by Adam Gustavson, releases from Peachtree Publishers. Donna has an MFA in Writing (WCYA) from Vermont College of Fine Arts and enjoys mentoring and teaching writers of all ages. She lives near Austin, Texas and is represented by Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Visit Donna online at www.donnajanellbowman.com.

Donna Janell Bowman's headshot by Sam Bond Photography.

Topics: picture book, picture book biography, Donna Janell Bowman, 2018 release, S. D. Schindler, Peachtree Publishers

Eric Pinder and THE PERFECT PILLOW!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Feb 06, 2018 @ 08:02 AM

Hey . . . hey, wake up. I know you're all snuggly and comfy, but just wait until you hear about Eric Pinder's new picture book, The Perfect Pillow, illustrated by Chris Sheban and out now from Disney-Hyperion!

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Brody is having trouble getting to sleep in his big new bed, so with his stuffed dragon, Horst, by his side, he sets off to find the perfect pillow. Would dry leaves or a cottony cloud make the right pillow? Would a nest to share or a gently rocking boat make a more comfortable bed? Brody and Horst search through the moonlit night to find the ideal spot for peaceful sleep, and together they find the best place of all.

Welcome back, Eric! So, we're wondering . . .

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

A stuffed dragon! Or maybe a friendly little Lego dragon. After writing so much about bears, it was fun to switch gears to dragons.

People do like stuffed animals. My two animal assistants for elementary school visits, an alligator and a penguin, occasionally show up for my undergraduate college classes as well, if I’m teaching Writing for Children. One student, glancing into the room before class, exclaimed, “You brought an alligator!? NOW I’m excited for class.” Minutes later, an elementary school librarian emailed to request an author visit, adding, “Please bring your green alligator!” Wait a minute… It’s a humbling career moment when you suddenly realize you’re actually the stuffed animal’s sidekick.

Penguin in class.jpgEric's penguin assistant, Ice President Aaron Brrr, audits a class.

How does teaching affect your writing life?

A student once turned in a chapter that was completely different from the one I'd assigned, because her story had abruptly gone off in an unexpected direction. She seemed half-apologetic, half-excited by the creative breakthrough, and said, “The only way I can really explain this plot twist is that my characters have been talking behind my back, and only recently decided to tell me.”

Moments like that are why I love teaching.

More writing does get done during summer vacation than during the school year, because it takes a lot of mental energy to closely read and edit other people’s creative work. (I keep forgetting: every time I assign the class one paper, I’m really assigning myself a dozen papers.) But it’s a thrill to see students discover new authors or explore new interests, and to hear about their first publications. When you’re in an environment where everyone’s talking daily about books and ideas and creative projects, it’s impossible not to feel inspired. The best way to learn is to teach.

tsar wars.jpgTsar Wars, Episode IV: A New Syllabus. Sometimes this is what it's like preparing the syllabus for a college-level World Literature course. But as long as these books get used in class, this totally doesn't count as procrastination.

How do you approach picture books versus nonfiction essays? Is there anything about your approach to these two different kinds of projects that's the same?

With picture books, my first drafts tend to be handwritten on paper, with lots of cross-outs and scribbles and lines connecting this part to that part. Somehow it makes it easier to let the shape of the story fully take form. But essays and longer prose always start out being typed up on the computer.

The thing that’s the same is how long they take. I’m a painfully slow writer, whether writing picture books or nonfiction articles or shopping lists. What I like best about picture books, and poetry, is having fun with how words sound read aloud. It’s like using the language as a musical instrument.

I just wish I could do it faster. It shouldn’t be possible for a daily writing session to finish with a total new word count of one. Just one. But it’s happened. And at least my story-in-progress now contains the word “swoosh.”

I'd call that a success! What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Just being at the residency, surrounded by people who love to talk about books, always provides inspiration. Even little moments can spark new stories. I remember the night a bat invaded the Dewey dorms. I never even saw it, just heard the clamor and excitement afterward, and at some point jotted down this little rhyme in the margins of my lecture notes:

A bat! A bat! It flew inside.
Its teeth were sharp. Its wings were wide.
It swooped and soared above our heads.
We had to hide beneath our beds.
A bat! A bat! It stayed all night.
…at least it gave us things to write.

Who was it who said, “Bad experiences make good stories”? They were right. So I guess that’s not a favorite memory, exactly, but still an unexpectedly inspiring one.

Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the bonus bat poetry! Welcome to the world of dreams, The Perfect Pillow!

Eric Pinder still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In the meantime, you can often find him riding his bike or hanging out with bears in New Hampshire. Eric's books for children include If All the Animals Came Inside and How to Share with a Bear, and he has also written several books about mountains and weather for adults. He teaches creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

Visit Eric online at ericpinder.com, follow him on Twitter (EricPinder) and find him on Facebook (EricPinderBooks).

class visit.jpgAdi, Eric, and NHIA Administrative Director of Graduate Studies Beth Ann Miller excited about writing and learning during a classroom visit.

 

Topics: eric pinder, picture book, Disney-Hyperion, 2018 release, chris sheban

April Pulley Sayre and FULL OF FALL!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

Pour yourself a mug of cocoa and slip on your woolly socks. We're celebrating the release of April Pulley Sayre's latest picture book, Full of Fall (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster)!

Full of Fall.jpeg

So long summer, Fall is here . . .

Welcome, April Pulley Sayre!
 
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
Fall is such a beautiful season that it was very hard to choose which photos to use. As always with these books, there were many photos I loved as a photographer but which did not serve the trajectory of the book and design. As with writing, in photo illustration you have to set aside your ego and do what is best for the book.
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What's your writing superpower?
My writing superpower is flexible thinking in terms of wordplay.  For some reason I’m unusually good at coming up with titles and poetic and alliterative language. I think it’s like a muscle, though, and improves with use. Despite my early signs of talent in this area, it also helps that I just goof around and have done this work for over twenty years.
 
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
I’ve now photo illustrated nine of my books with photos so I’m deeply involved in the illustrations from the start. It’s an exciting process and yet has an intense amount of struggle and stress at points, handling the competing demands of text and illustration. The advantage is that because I am responsible for both sides of the book, I can decide  to chuck words or illustrations at any point when the book is not flowing well. All this occurs without bothering another person. Only my writing ego or professional photographer ego is bruised. Still ouchy, though, to discard words and photos I love! But then, when you feel it all come together with better pacing, it is worth it.
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How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Attending VCFA took me from being a very isolated full time writer to being more a member of the writing community. It connected me with colleagues who are still my friends to this day. They have supported me through many decisions and pathways both in the career and in life itself. VCFA is so valuable in support of career and quality of life as an artist/writer. VCFA stretches you in the best way possible.
 
What’s next in your career? 
Well, it’s been a wildly busy year in terms of book production for my 2019 photo books, Warbler Wave and Thank You, Earth. My husband and I traveled 5,500 miles to CA and back to photograph landmarks and wildflower bloom for these and other upcoming books.  And I’ve been stepping outside the usual with some books that mix nonfiction text with fiction illustration, such as my 2019 book Did You Burp: How to Ask Questions (Or Not). Between this work, and conference talk travel, this career keeps me on my toes.
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Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, April. Welcome to the world, Full of Fall!
Visit April Pulley Sayre online at www.aprilsayre.com and at her Simon & Schuster page.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, Simon & Schuster, Beach Lane Books, 2017 release, April Pulley Sayre

Lynda Graham-Barber and COOKIE'S FORTUNE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 @ 09:10 AM
We're paws-itively thrilled to celebrate the launch of Lynda Graham-Barber's new picture book, Cookie's Fortune, illustrated by Nancy Lane and out now from The Gryphon Press!
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In Cookie’s Fortune, lyrical language and expressive illustrations bring to life the heartwarming story of a small stray dog who simply wants to find a place that smells "like home." Young animal lovers will be on the edge of their seats until they experience Cookie’s ultimate good fortune. And families will feel educated and empowered to take concrete steps that bring hope to the lives of the many other homeless "Cookies" who wander our streets.
 
Welcome, Lynda!
What was the spark that ignited this book?
Observing the resilience and fortitude of a dog near death and asking myself, How did it happen? Every dog story deserves a happy ending.
Thanks for sharing these amazing before and after pictures of the dog who inspired it all: 1) The little dog with a big mange problem who Lynda and her husband found in a Brooklyn subway. 2) Lynda and her husband with the same dog, complete with a new name -- Metro! -- and a new lease on life.
Metro-before.jpeg
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What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Invest in a microscope and a good pair of scissors.
What’s your writing superpower?
Our 160 acres of woods—and the pond, where skinny dipping provokes thought, especially when the kingfisher rattles and the great blue surprises in silence.
Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.
A quote:  I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  -- G.K. Chesterton
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
M. T. Anderson, Julie Larios, Shelley Tanaka
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
It made me realize that being clever or nimble with language does not a writer make.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Dancing with a stationary column during a party our class threw for those graduating and getting a hug from Julie Larios when I needed it most.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Keep your antennae up and be full of wonder.
Thanks, Lynda! Our antennae are up and our tails are wagging. Welcome to the world, Cookie's Fortune!
Learn more about Cookie's Fortune at The Gryphon Press and Amazon.
Watch the trailer below, or on YouTube.

Topics: picture book, 2017 release, Lynda Graham-Barber, The Gryphon Press, Nancy Lane

Lyn Miller-Lachmann Talks Translation!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 @ 08:10 AM

Olá! Today we're celebrating three recent picture book releases and a special topic. Lyn Miller-Lachmann, a member of VCFA's Secret Gardeners, sat down with the Launchpad's Amanda Lewis to talk about translation!

Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words by Ruth Rocha, illustrated by Madalena Matoso, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Enchanted Lion).

A wide-eyed child looks out at the world with curiosity and pleasure, finding it endlessly surprising. But there is mystery too, as in the puzzling pictures he sees, made up of elusive lines and squiggles. When Pedro starts school, his great curiosity grows even greater with each letter he learns. Suddenly his world is changing, as the lines and squiggles become letters and words.


The Queen of the Frogs by Davide Cali, illustrated by Marco Somà, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).

When a mysterious crown falls into a pond, the little frog who finds it is instantly pronounced the queen. But when her royal subjects start to question her authority, she must prove she’s fit to rule — if she can.


Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono, translated from Portuguese by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Enchanted Lion).

A family escapes the dictatorship in Portugal in the late 1960s, seeking freedom and a better life. Their journey takes them to Communist Czechoslovakia, where “all children go to school.” But while the children go to school, people don’t have freedom of choice or the right to speak their minds. Refusing to accept a life without freedom, the mother gets to work, turning a bleak reality inside out and upside down. In the end, these refugees spark a movement for change in their community.

Welcome, Lyn! How do you approach translation? What differences are there between translation and writing?

With translation, I’m responsible for the words in English, but not the characters, plot, and other story elements. As a result, I can focus exclusively on the language, trying to capture the voice and intent of the original author while making the work accessible and appealing to English-language readers.

You translate books from both Portuguese and Spanish. When did you learn these languages? Is there any difference between your approach to a Portuguese book and a Spanish book?

I learned Spanish in middle and high school and had the opportunity to live in various Spanish-speaking countries. When I was in library school in the late 1980s, I took classes and served an internship as a bilingual children’s librarian. I currently live in a neighborhood in New York City where Spanish is spoken almost as much as English.

Being fluent in Spanish helped me to learn Portuguese more quickly when my husband and I moved to Lisbon for six months after I graduated from VCFA in July 2012. While I was there, I took a class in Portuguese for immigrants. Since then, we’ve spent around two months of each year in Portugal so I can refresh my language skills and acquire new books to read and translate.

As far as approaching books in Spanish vs. books in Portuguese: As a translator, there isn’t much difference in the process. The only difference is that I’m more likely to work with a publisher on a book in Portuguese because there are a lot of translators who work with Spanish but much fewer with Portuguese.

Does translating a book bring you into a relationship with the author?

Most of the time translators don’t meet the author. For instance, when my own novel Gringolandia was translated into Italian, I never met the translator. However, of the five books I’ve translated from Portuguese, I’ve met the author of two – Isabel Minhós Martins (The World in a Second) and Henriqueta Cristina (Three Balls of Wool). In June 2016 I traveled to Coimbra with my VCFA classmate and friend Sandra Nickel to meet Kuki, as Henriqueta is known to her friends, and we were treated to an inside tour of the UNESCO Heritage Site led by her husband, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Coimbra who directed the restoration. You can read about our trip here: http://www.lynmillerlachmann.com/what-to-do-when-your-column-cracks-and-other-thoughts-on-restoration/ 

Tell us about the business side of translation. Were you approached to do these books, or did you approach the publisher with the idea of translation? Do you have an agent?

For the most part, publishers approach me. Enchanted Lion Books has a relationship with the Portuguese publisher Planeta Tangerina, and several of the books I’ve worked on come from this innovative small press located outside Lisbon. Other books have come through agents who specialize in marketing international books. I’ve brought proposals for books in both Portuguese and Spanish to editors who I work with, but so far, none of the proposals has led to a contract. I’m still trying, though.

I do have an agent, but she handles the books I write myself, not ones I translate. All of my translation work has come from editors I know or via references from editors with whom I’ve worked. Most translators I know aren’t represented by agents.

What was the editorial process? Did it differ from the author/editor relationship? Were there a lot of revisions?

The editorial process can be as involved as an author/editor relationship, especially if the editor wants to “Americanize” or otherwise change a text. Portuguese is a wordy language, and most of my translations have resulted in a text that’s about a third shorter than the original. I will say that my editor at Enchanted Lion likes crisp prose, and we’ve made more changes in the course of translation, than my editor at Eerdmans, who wanted to keep the flowery language of the original.

One of your books has been published as part of an endorsement from Amnesty International. What is it like to work with a nonprofit organization on a book of social significance? Are there differences from “regular” publishing? Is your personal focus primarily on work of political or social relevance?

I am honored to have translated Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World), a book about a refugee family from Portugal in the 1960s that connects so much with the present day. Amnesty International was particularly interested in this book because the organization’s founder became involved in the cause of human rights when he learned of several students at the University of Coimbra who had been jailed in 1961 for protesting the dictatorship.

Amnesty International signed on after I’d already translated the book. They contributed a preface and the International Declaration of Human Rights at the end. Now that the book is out, I’ll be working with them on a teachers guide and school events.

Three Balls of Wool touches on many of the themes of my own writing. My debut YA novel, Gringolandia, portrays a refugee family from the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. When Claudia Bedrick at Enchanted Lion asked me to translate Three Balls of Wool, I was in the middle of writing my own YA novel set in Portugal in 1966, about a teenager who follows a popular fado singer and her own younger brother into an underground resistance movement against the Salazar regime.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?
An Na, Jane Kurtz, Sarah Ellis, Coe Booth, Shelley Tanaka. I did a PG semester with Shelley that focused on translation.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Working on the packets every month made me more disciplined, and I learned to read like a writer, using the books I read as mentor texts. I do that with translations as well, particularly looking at how the translator deals with cultural differences that English-language readers may have difficulty bridging.

Thank you for stopping by, Lyn!

In addition to translating children’s books from Portuguese and Spanish to English, Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the author of three young adult novels: Gringolandia (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2009), Rogue (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2013), and Surviving Santiago (Running Press, 2015).

Visit her online at www.lynmillerlachmann.com.

Topics: picture book, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, 2016 release, 2017 release, Enchanted Lion, Davide Cali, Marco Soma, Henriqueta Cristina, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Madalena Matoso, Ruth Rocha, Yara Kono

Liz Garton Scanlon and BOB, NOT BOB!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 @ 08:10 AM

Ah-CHOO! We're sneezing with joy over Bob, Not Bob, a picture book co-authored by VCFA faculty member Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, out now from Disney/Hyperion!

Bob cover.jpg

Little Louie has the worst cold ever. All he wants is his mom, but every time he calls for her, slobbery Bob the dog comes running instead.

Welcome, Liz! So, tell us . . .

How did you and Audrey Vernick become interested in working together?

Audrey and I share an agent -- Erin Murphy -- and she starting musing about what would happen if the two of us had a "book baby" together. So we did!

Which came first — the idea to collaborate, or the idea for the book?

It sort of happened in tandem because Audrey had a bad cold at the exact moment Erin nudged us. Turns out it was contagious!

Bob, Not Bob is a single voice rather than, say, alternating POVs split between authors. What was that process like?

Our collaborative process is THE MOST FUN either of us has. (Kind of not kidding.) We've replicated it many times now (we have a few more upcoming books together) and we kind of can't believe how well it works. We start with an idea and then one of us launches the storytelling. Then, we send a Word doc back and forth, back and forth -- adding as we see fit, deleting as we see fit, with no track changes. We each behave as if the manuscript belongs to us alone -- until that beautiful moment when it doesn't!

IMG_5398ac.jpgWhat advice would you have for someone who’s interested in collaboration?

Like and trust the person you want to collaborate with, and truly deeply admire their work.

Tell us about how you sold this book.

We were thrilled to sell this book, in part because the co-writing process had been such a lark. It was like we couldn't quite believe we were being paid to have that much fun! (Don't tell the publishers I said that.) Kevin Lewis, who was an editor for Disney/Hyperion back then, made the offer, walked us through some really thoughtful and intuitive revisions, and convinced Matt Cordell to illustrate. Rotem Moscovich took over as editor when Kevin left and brought the whole thing home. We couldn't believe our luck all the way along.

Tell us about your writing community.

Community fits so well in the context of a Bob, Not Bob discussion. As writing makes its way through the publishing process, it necessarily becomes a collaborative art, with editors and book designers putting their creative stamps on the project. This is doubly so for picture books that marry text and illustration. But what I've come to understand and appreciate more and more is how collaborative the writing life is -- beyond the writing process of any single book. Audrey and I met through our agency's annual retreat. Being part of that community led us to become, first, critique partners and then co-authors, but most importantly, friends. I've also got an Austin-based critique group (coincidentally made up entirely of VCFA alums and faculty), not to mention the very vibrant Austin chapter of SCBWI and, now, the larger VCFA community (lucky me). Plus, there's the writing world that is alive and well online -- my poetry group, my facebook friends. It honestly isn't possible anymore for me to imagine what I would do without the inspiration, energy, commiseration, support, education or love all of these people bring to my life and, credit where credit is due, to my work.

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

For this book, I googled "things that sound funny when you have a cold," which of course led me to the world's best "sick memes" as well as YouTube videos of cats with strange meows. Naturally.

Okay, so I couldn't resist . . .

 

 

What's your writing superpower?

Apparently choosing good co-authors! :)

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

I'm not usually much of a swag gal -- mostly I've just printed up bookmarks -- but for Bob we had little tissue packets and hand sanitizers made, with the cover image of the book. Elementary school librarians seemed to find them particularly useful!

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. Other titles include In the Canyon, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, The Good-Pie Party, and more. Liz is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

Visit Liz Garton Scanlon at lizgartonscanlon.com, Audrey Vernick at audreyvernick.com, and Matthew Cordell at matthewcordell.com.

Topics: picture book, Disney-Hyperion, 2017 release, Liz Garton Scanlon, Disney, Audrey Vernick, Matthew Cordell, Hyperion

Liz Garton Scanlon and ANOTHER WAY TO CLIMB A TREE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Oct 05, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

What do I see from my perch in the high branches? It's Liz Garton Scanlon's Another Way to Climb a Tree, illustrated by Hadley Hooper and out now from Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan!

tree-cover.jpgWhen Lulu's well, she climbs every tree in sight, especially the tallest ones, the ones with the widest branches, the one with the stickiest sap. When Lulu's sick, she's not allowed outside. She wonders if the trees are lonely without her. Maybe the birds are too. Now, nobody climbs the trees but the sun... until clever Lulu finds her own way to climb her favorite tree... indoors!

Welcome, Liz!

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I think that Lulu, my scrappy, dreamy protagonist in Another Way to Climb a Tree, might be the most favorite character I've ever created -- or at least the most heartfelt and familiar. Lulu is, in many ways, me, in that the two things that keep her heart beating and her head straight are the natural world and her imagination. I can relate.

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

In picture books, I adore Cynthia Rylant's sentences, Pat Zietlow Miller's plots, and Marla Frazee's characters -- both in text and art.

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

"Kill your darlings." I was trained as a journalist, so I became adept at saying a lot within a limited number of column inches. Pretty words for pretty's sake became a lot less precious to me. As a picture book author, I am constantly looking to trim and tighten -- not to make a text shorter necessarily, but more perfect and more potent.

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

Utter silence except for my dog barking at the UPS man. 

DSCF8970 (1).jpgTell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I have a piece of art from almost every picture book I've ever published. The cover of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, a pencil sketch from Happy Birthday, Bunny, my favorite spread from In the Canyon, the final page of All the World. Together, they serve as daily inspiration to me -- they set a nearly impossibly high bar that I just keep trying to live up to -- and I cannot look at them without counting my blessings.

What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

Talk about counting my blessings! I knew Hadley Hooper's work through The Iridescence of Birds, a picture book biography about Matisse. It was written by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley illustrated it and I loved it! So when she agreed to do this book, I was thrilled. And she exceeded any possible expectations -- the palette, the little surprises everywhere -- birds! binoculars! -- and the very timeless little tree-climber who is Lulu herself. I love the art in this book completely.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

It appears to be upping my efficiency game in a big way. It's amazing how I can buckle down when I know that the packets are coming again, and soon! Also, perhaps it could go without saying, but I am pretty much constantly awash in admiration these days -- for my students and colleagues alike. And that is both humbling and wildly inspiring.

What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

You've never met more people who care so deeply about the same thing but who are still, somehow, wildly unique and devoted to telling their own wildly unique stories. They make the place what it is; they give it integrity.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

If you're serious about this desire -- this calling -- to write for children, this is your place. Yes, it's like hurling yourself into the deep end of a swimming pool, but there are lifeguards on duty who will help you develop your own strong and beautiful stroke.

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

I wish I'd known JUST HOW SPECIAL it is. I would've tried to get here sooner.

IMG_5335ac.jpgWe are so fortunate you're here now! Thanks for stopping by the Launchpad. Welcome to the forest, Another Way to Climb a Tree!

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous beloved books for young people, including the highly acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, and her debut novel for middle grade readers, The Great Good Summer. Other titles include In the Canyon, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, The Good-Pie Party, and more. Liz is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas.

Visit her online at lizgartonscanlon.com.

And stop by the Launchpad next week for Part Two of Liz Garton Scanlon's interview, when she'll discuss Bob, Not Bob, a picture book co-authored with Audrey Vernick!

Topics: Macmillan, picture book, Roaring Brook Press, 2017 release, Neal Porter, Liz Garton Scanlon, Neal Porter Books, Hadley Hooper

Martha BrockenBrough and LOVE, SANTA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Sep 26, 2017 @ 08:09 AM

We're feeling festive today with the release of Martha Brockenbrough's Love, Santa (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine)!

9780545700306_mres.jpg

In a series of letters, a young girl writes to Santa to ask about the North Pole, Mrs. Claus, and of course, Christmas goodies. Year after year, Santa writes back, and a heartwarming relationship develops, until one year, the girl writes to her mother instead: Mom, are you Santa? Her mother responds to say that no, she is not Santa. Because Santa is bigger than any one person — we bring him out through kindness to one another and the power of imagination. This transformative tale spins a universal childhood experience into a story about love, giving, and the spirit of Christmas.

Welcome, Martha! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

This book came from a letter my daughter wrote to me asking for the truth about Santa. She’d hinted around the topic for a while, so I asked her if she really wanted to know. She was emphatic. My response was posted on a blog, and then published by The New York Times, then it became a Facebook and Pinterest sensation (and someone with a weak sense of irony plagiarized it and made it religious). I didn’t think it would be anything more than a blog post, because picture books are not blog posts. But then I came up with an idea for a series of letters exchanged over a period of years and the book came together.

CwSDIh3VEAAvao1.jpgDo you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I usually write in silence or if I’m in public, with headphones on. Sometimes people want to talk with you when you’re working in a cafe. One man even tapped my shoulder as I was working. I lifted my headphones. “Where’s a good place to park around here?” If my eyes were equipped with laser beams, he would be but a smoking cinder on the floor. What a question. Had he not already parked when he came in? Anyway, I don’t like to be distracted as I write, and music with words distracts me. I sometimes listen to classical music, and often write to an exceptionally talented young Lithuanian player’s debut accordion album. I mean, who doesn’t do that, right? But still. He’s amazing, and that music on reminds me that I am in work mode.

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 live in Seattle, where a great number of children’s writers and illustrators live. I’m not in a formal critique group, but do swap manuscripts with friends in town and elsewhere. My family members do read my books, but their feedback is of a different nature. The book they love best of mine, by the way, never made it past my last agent. I do plan to revise, but sometimes civilian readers see things the pros don’t, and vice versa. So, I prefer them as cheerleaders.

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

I made Christmas ornaments for the book! They are beautiful and based on the cover illustration. My family has an annual tradition; each of my daughters chooses an ornament for the tree. We sometimes do this when we’re on vacation, and sometimes we make a night of it in downtown Seattle or one of our many quirky neighborhoods. We write a note about the process of the choice and the year, and tuck that and the ornament back into the box. Over the years, decorating the tree has become a slow process that feels like a gift of the memories of all those Christmases past, and I hope the recipients of this ornament remember the year they joined Santa’s team, and the transformation that represents.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Martha. And a merry welcome to Love, Santa!

Visit Martha Brockenbrough online at marthabrockenbrough.com.

Topics: picture book, Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017 release, Martha Brockenbrough

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