the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

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)!

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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

Joe McGee and PEANUT BUTTER & ALIENS!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Sep 19, 2017 @ 07:09 AM

Raid the fridge and power up your spaceship! We're taking a trip with Joe McGee, whose new picture book, Peanut Butter & Aliens, illustrated by Charles Santoso, is out now from Abrams!

PeanutButterandALIENS_CVR.jpg

The Aliens have arrived in Quirkville. And they are hungry.

Reginald and Abigail Zink taught the zombies and the humans how to live together peacefully. But when the aliens land, they have a new problem on their hands. The aliens are demanding an out-of-this-world snack, and when their taste buds aren’t satisfied, they zap the residents of Quirkville with cosmic grape jelly. But what goes best with jelly? PEANUT BUTTER!

Will Reginald and Abigail be able to convince the aliens that PB&J is the best sandwich in the universe?

The creators of Peanut Butter & Brains have crafted a delicious sequel about the power of working together…and enjoying a good PB&J.

Greetings, earthling Joe! So, tell us . . .

What's something special you keep on your wall or desk?

I was an early and avid reader, writer, and doodler. When I was in 4th grade, I was selected as one of a handful of students from my grade to attend a regional “Young Authors’ Day.” Students from schools in the district were all bussed to a day-long series of writing workshops. There was a menu of sorts you could choose from and I remember taking workshops such as “Writing Puppet Plays,” “Writing Superhero Stories,” and “Writing Mythology and Folktales.” It was an incredible experience, one that cemented the idea in my head that I was going to be an author one day. I went on to holding 6th-grade recess readings of short stories I’d written, to entering contests and submitting to magazines. I just kept going from there, but I’ve never forgotten that one day. I still have that laminated, blue piece of paper and I hang it near my desk to remind myself of my journey and how special this achievement of publication is.

Hooray for young authors everywhere!

Alien1.jpgTell us about your writing community.

I am really fortunate to have an extensive community of writers, artists and super creative people – my tribe. Our tribe. Writing is a lonely endeavor when it’s just you and the blank page. It’s a terrifying and vulnerable place when we let it out of our hands and let it become something bigger than ourselves. And that is why a community is so important . . . people who get you, get the strange place we inhabit, as writers. People who will celebrate your good news and rail their fists at the sky with you when dark clouds descend.

My writing community consists of the faculty and alum and students of VCFA, especially my class of July 2014, the Allies in Wonderland. I teach at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program and I have built up a wonderful group of friends and writing family there. I have met and befriended so many amazing and wonderful people (and talented writers, of course) in the course of doing writing visits, events, and conferences. And it’s always expanding, which is really so awesome. I am in a small critique group, which meets once a month. There are four of us, all agented, working writers. We get together for dinner and to workshop works in progress. It’s been so valuable and I love the feedback that I get from them.

But, my biggest support system is my partner, Jessica (also a VCFA alum). She pushes me, challenges me, inspires me, and offers poignant, honest, critical feedback on everything I write. I’d like to throw out here that her book, What Gloria Heard (Bloomsbury) – a picture book biography of Gloria Steinem – will be published in 2019. So, we’re both working writers and that’s cool! And, I’m happy to announce that we’re engaged! ☺

Congrats to you both for all your happy news!

What was it like watching the illustrations come together?

I could not be happier with what Charles Santoso has done with my story. When we sold Peanut Butter & Brains, I had no idea (and no input) on what the zombies, the town, what anything would look like. Part of the reason that the other publishers did not buy the first book was because they had no idea, no vision, on how to do zombies in a picture book. But Abrams got it and they found Charles, who clearly got it. So, when I first saw his art, I was blown away. I’m not sure I had an exact picture of what these zombies might look like, but Charles nailed it.

And so, when it came time for Peanut Butter & Aliens, I had no worries that he would create something “out of this world” (pun intended). We communicate via email, or social media, and so I just asked him to make sure they had tentacles. And again, he killed it. I love the level of detail he puts onto each page, and the way he is able to layer and add depth. He’s brought my world to life and I couldn’t be happier!

Aliens.jpg
What’s your writing superpower?

I’m going to say my ability to write anything. And I am not staking some claim to being the only one who can do this, but I can (and do) write across the spectrum – picture books, middle grade, YA, graphic novels, screenplays, adult genre fiction, comics, etc….and I have the ability to create something out of any zany kind of combination that might come my way. Space leprechauns that travel through time to find the perfect coffee beans for their unicorn overlords, only to become embroiled in a struggle to save Earth from a wereraccoon motorcycle gang intent on Armageddon? Yeah, I can do that.

Do you write in silence?

I do. I really can’t listen to music or anything when I write. I mean, I don’t care if there’s noise around me or anything. I can write with people talking and televisions or music playing on speakers somewhere, but I cannot put headphones on and write. It somehow gets in my way . . . But, nevertheless, I continue to try. Maybe one day it’ll work?

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I had the great fortune of working with Sharon Darrow my first semester. I took the picture book intensive semester and she was instrumental in opening the door to that world. I really believe that her mentorship, teaching, and support was a large part of me finding my way as a picture book writer.

My second semester, I worked with Tom Birdseye. Amy King, my third semester. And finally, Mama K, Kathi Appelt, for my fourth semester. They all taught me an incredible amount and I will always be indebted to them for their knowledge, support, belief, for challenging me, for being proud of me, and for being my friends and family. I love them all very much.

alien6.jpgHow did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Wow. VCFA changed my life. It was the portal that propelled me into the world that that 4th-grade boy at “Young Authors’ Day” dreamed of stepping into. I’d just finished my Master of Arts in Writing degree at Rowan University and thanks to Lisa Jahn-Clough (a former VCFA faculty member), I was introduced to VCFA. I wanted more than what my MA gave me. I wanted to fully embrace my creativity and I wanted to write for children. Attending VCFA was a commitment to my art. It was a statement that I was going to do everything in my power to take myself seriously as a writer, to commit to improving, to push for seeing my work published, to pursue the life that I had wanted for so long. Prior to that, I’d not been giving my full attention to my writing. Life has a habit of getting in the way – the practicalities of other careers and such – but I made a choice. Attending VCFA was a life decision to commit to my art, and it quickly led to acquiring an agent, to selling my first book, to becoming a better, stronger writer. I can truly say, with complete confidence, that VCFA set me on my path to where I am today. Thank you, VCFA – you are always in my heart.

What's special about your graduating class, the Allies in Wonderland?

There are so many things that I could say about our class . . . our intense camaraderie? Our incredible diversity? Our bar-setting reveal? The high percentage of our class publishing? There are so many things, BUT. . . for me, the most special thing about our graduating class is that I am marrying my best friend, my absolute love, my VCFA classmate, Jessica Rinker, this July.

Thanks for stopping by, Joe! Welcome to the galaxy, Peanut Butter & Aliens!

Joe McGee is the author of Peanut Butter & Brains, Peanut Butter & Aliens, and the forthcoming (2019) Peanut Butter & Santa Claus. He has his MA in Writing from Rowan University and graduated from VCFA with his MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2014. He teaches creative writing at Rowan University and is faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program. He is a former airborne Army officer, an amateur cartoonist, and the father of three boys (16, 14, 10). He lives in a wonderful, artsy, river town in New Jersey with his fiancée, Jessica (also a VCFA alum).

Visit him online at joemcgeeauthor.com, and check out his cartoon about the writing life at frawgandbyrd.com. Read more from Joe about Peanut Butter & Aliens in his blog post, "My love letter to the world."

Topics: picture book, Joe McGee, 2017 release, Abrams, Charles Santoso

Carol Brendler and THE PICKWICKS' PICNIC!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Sep 08, 2017 @ 11:09 AM
Today we're celebrating Carol Brendler's delicious new picture book -- say it aloud five times -- The Pickwicks' Picnic, out now from Clarion, illustrated by Renée Kurilla. Carol is a member of the VCFA class the Cliffhangers and she stopped by to give us the inside scoop!
IMG_1792.jpg
Community cooperation turns a traffic jam into an opportunity for fun in this inventive counting book starring a pair of clever canine siblings.
Welcome, Carol! So, tell us . . .
What was the spark that ignited this book?
This book started out as a bit of verse I wrote about crossing a river on a box girder bridge. My agent suggested turning it into a story with a plot and everything—easy for her to say! The text for this one, which seems so simple, was the result of many, many, many, many drafts. Probably more drafts than anything else I’ve ever written. Every time I thought I had produced a winner, my agent would ask me to go back and rework it some more. I’m so glad she did, since the result is a book with a full-fledged plot and lots of read-aloud potential.
 
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Marion Dane Bauer once mentioned to me that a picture book should stick to just one thing, one idea, one through line. No extras, no subplots, nothing to distract from the main story. Maybe it sounds obvious, but for someone like me it’s a tough rule to adhere to (see the next answer).
 
IMG_2520.jpegWhat authors do you love for their sentences?
I have a soft spot for the florid and prolix prose of Victorian English literature. I know, it’s not for everyone, and it’s a weird favorite, perhaps, for a picture book writer, but there you have it. Charles Dickens watches over me as I write (not really—it’s just a postcard photograph on my desk) and holds me to very high standards.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
Leda Schubert, Uma Krishnaswami, Tim Wynne-Jones, and Sarah Ellis
 
What was special about your VCFA graduating class?
We were the WCYA class that began residencies around the time that the school seemed to be teetering on the brink of folding. Tom Greene swooped in and saved the program, and our class was the first to have "The Vermont College of Fine Arts” on its diplomas. It’s always felt to me that the Cliffhangers’ loyalty to VCFA had some small part in buoying up the school during the transition. Also, we invented the legendary “wine pit.”
 
That was you? Wow! There have been so many friendships formed and great stories told in the wine pit.
 
Thanks for interviewing me, and viva VCFA!
 
Hear, hear! Thanks for coming by, Carol. Welcome to the world, The Pickwicks' Picnic!
Visit Carol online at www.carolbrendler.com.

Topics: picture book, Carol Brendler, Clarion, 2017 release, Renée Kurilla

Leda Schubert and LISTEN: HOW PETE SEEGER GOT AMERICA SINGING!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Jun 15, 2017 @ 10:06 AM

Today, we're singing the praises of Leda Schubert, whose picture book biography Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, illustrated by Raúl Colón, is out now from Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press!

petecover3.jpg

Listen.
There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
old songs with new words,
and songs he made up.

Welcome, Leda! I am thrilled to get to celebrate your work and the release of this wonderful new PB biography. What was the spark that ignited this book?

I always knew that Pete Seeger would die someday, but I also always hoped that he’d be the one to beat the odds. On the morning of January 28, 2014, I turned on NPR as I usually do and heard the announcement of his death. I began crying and couldn’t stop. I cried on and off for days, and I found myself beginning to write. I had had no intention of doing this, since my good friend Anita Silvey was working on a book about Pete already.

Sometimes you have to listen to the voices. Speaking of, do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I almost always write in silence, except for the pacing of the dogs and the barking of the dogs and the scratching of the dogs to go in and out. Sometimes I can listen to the hum of NPR news, but I absolutely cannot listen to music. Because I listen to music. For this book, however, I listened to a lot of Pete Seeger. Such a surprise. And, of course, I cried some more.

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Leda Schubert plays some Pete Seeger.

As one of your former advisees, I have to say you had a huge, positive impact on both my writing and my VCFA experience. But how did teaching at VCFA affect your own writing life?

So many answers here, so I’ll focus on a few. First, teaching reminded me how hard writing can be. My students worked and worked, and I was the beneficiary of their efforts. I loved it. Second, I learned how to talk more effectively about writing, which, in turn, helped me analyze my own efforts better. I had to be able to express inchoate ideas so others could understand them. Third, I was constantly amazed at the richness and originality of my students’ work. Fourth (and I could go on), it was fascinating to see how students went about solving problems. The world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle. Fifth, I realized I had to walk the talk.

What do you think is special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

Everybody reading this post knows the answer already. To me, the most important aspect is the community that has developed over the years of the program. I see students change their lives for each other, I see alums supporting each other’s work for years; I see small and large communities building around friendship and writing. I used to tell first semesters that their lives would never be the same, and in large part I still believe that. Then there’s the program itself: there is no guarantee that writing can be taught to a specific individual, but there sure is vast evidence that the program is doing something right! It’s wonderful to celebrate so many successes—so many that nobody can keep up.  I do think people should get my permission before moving here, however.

Ha! Taking note! Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, Leda. Keep singing, everybody!

Leda Schubert holds an MFA from VCFA (class of January, 2006) and was a core faculty member for six years. She lives in Plainfield, VT, the center of the universe, with her husband and two dogs, one of whom is a saint and one a sinner. Visit her online at www.ledaschubert.com.

Topics: picture book, Roaring Brook Press, picture book biography, 2017 release, Leda Schubert, Raul Colon, Neal Porter

Laurie Wallmark and GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, May 05, 2017 @ 06:05 AM

Today, we're powered up for Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, a new nonfiction picture book written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Children's Books)! Laurie's here to give us the scoop.

Grace cover 96dpi small.jpgMeet Grace Hopper: the women who revolutionized computer coding.

An ace inventor, groundbreaker, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she coined the term “computer bug” and developed the program that taught computers to recognize words and not just endless 0’s and 1’s. Grace Hopper tells the inspirational story of this brilliant woman who had a passion for science and math and the firm belief that new solutions to problems were not found by those who said, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Rule breaker. Chance taker. Troublemaker. Amazing Grace.

Welcome, Laurie! 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?

The road to publication with this book started with a critique at the NJ SCBWI Conference. Meredith Mundy read the book and wanted to take it to acquisitions. There was no time before the meeting to make changes, but luckily, the manuscript passed this next hurdle. Now it was time to do revisions to get it past Sterling’s publication board. They had never done a picture book biography before, so it was going to be a hard sell. My agents, Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of Liza Royce Agency, were thrilled to tell me the news that Sterling was going to publish Grace, and I was over the moon to hear it. After that, there were several more big revisions plus a few tweaks here and there before the manuscript was ready to go.

clocks.jpgWhat's your writing superpower?

My writing superpower is not a very useful one—I’m the Grammar Queen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly helpful, but I’d rather my superpower be queen of the elusive voice that editors say they’re always looking for.

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

Grace Hopper kept a clock in her office with the numbers running counter-clockwise to remind herself to think outside the box. I created this backwards clock on buttons. These have been very popular at book festivals. My publisher gave out a swag I’ve never seen before. They had lens wipes made up with a picture of the book cover on them.

lens wipe and clock.jpgSuper cool swag!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

My studies at VCFA had a major impact on my writing, but there’s one way in particular that I’ve never heard others mention. I write faster now. I think this is because I can more quickly eliminate ideas and approaches that won’t work. I’m still a slow writer, but I’ve advanced from a snail’s pace to a turtle’s.

Yes! Go Team Turtle!

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors were the great Mark Karlin (picture book semester), Bonnie Christensen, Sharon Darrow, and Louise Hawes.

Thanks for visiting, Laurie. Here's to thinking outside the box with Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code!

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal). When not writing, Laurie teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Laurie is a member of the class of January 2016, The Inkredibles. Visit her online at her website, lauriewallmark.com, and her blog, lauriewallmark.blogspot.com.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, picture book biography, Laurie Wallmark, 2017 release, Sterling Children's Books, Katy Wu

Kate Hosford and HOW THE QUEEN FOUND THE PERFECT CUP OF TEA!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Apr 27, 2017 @ 08:04 AM

Sound the fanfare! Today we toast Kate Hosford and her new picture book, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, out now from Carolrhoda books!

queencover.jpgActivities that the Queen most certainly does not do: strenuous kitty snuggling, vigorous soccer dribbling, spirited dancing, and making tea. Until one day, she grows dissatisfied with the tea her butler has prepared, and a culinary and cross-cultural hot air balloon adventure begins…

Welcome, Kate! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited the book?

I began this book during my picture book semester with Uma Krishnaswami. At first, the story was about a Queen who becomes humanized by going around the world and having tea parties with children. In the early drafts, the children were behaving deferentially and giving the Queen little gifts. Uma really encouraged me to turn colonialism on its ear and create child characters that are thoroughly unimpressed with royalty. Thank goodness she did. At that point the story became more meaningful, and also funnier. In subsequent drafts, I also tried to tune in to the Queen’s isolation; the real reason that her tea starts to taste horrible is because she is profoundly lonely.

tea1.jpg

tea2.jpgtea3.jpg

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

My favorite character to write was the Queen. She is haughty, vulnerable, ridiculous, lonely, and hopefully in the end, lovable. I was lucky enough to work with my friend and collaborator Gabi Swiatkowska, who also illustrated my third picture book, Infinity and Me. The Queen goes through a whole myriad of emotions every time she visits a child in a new country and is asked to do something for the first time, like snuggle a kitty:

Image 2.jpegI liked making the Queen bewildered in the kitchen. It’s as if she is exploring a strange new planet, and she must proceed with caution. In Japan, all she dares to do is turn on the faucet. In India, she can only turn on the faucet and fill the kettle. By the time she gets to Turkey she can even boil water!

PastedGraphic-17.jpgDo you write in silence?

I’m very easily distracted. In fact, if I try to listen to music, I start typing those words into my own writing. I even find classical music distracting, and opt instead for silence, which you can actually find in New York, minus the occasional bird or airplane. I know some people need noise to write, which is fascinating to me.

What nugget of craft advice has been the most helpful to you?

I think one of the most helpful pieces of advice is to read my work out loud repeatedly. I think this is true regardless of the genre, but it’s absolutely essential for picture books, which will be read out loud almost exclusively once they are out in the world. The cadences and rhythms of the language are not obvious to the writer until one can hear them.

Great advice! What fun swag items do you wish you could make for this book?

I do have a few fun swag items already. Lerner always makes me beautiful bookmarks, and I also made personalized tea bags, and paper tea cups.

bookmarks.jpgteacups.jpg

tea packets.jpgBut if I could have any swag items, I would probably have actual tea cups, and tea cozies with images from the book, as well as tea pots, and matching dishtowels. Of course, we’d have to do this for every culture the Queen visits: Japan, India, Turkey and England. Maybe we could have a variety tea pack with tea bags from each of these cultures. Because the Queen and her butler James travel around the world in a hot air balloon, it might be nice to have hot air balloon ornaments, with the name of the book on them…it’s fun to dream about swag.

I’d also like to mention two other book-related items that make me very happy:

A curriculum, created by Blue Slip Media: http://khosford.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/How-the-Queen-Found-the-Perfect-Cup-of-Tea-Curriculum-Guide.pdf

And a book trailer by BoTra Productions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XMkNDXtl5A

book launch.jpgWho were your advisors at VCFA?

Four of the most wonderful teachers ever: Uma Krishnaswami, Sarah Ellis, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Julie Larios. I wish school could have lasted four years!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I think hardly a day goes by when I am not in touch with one of my classmates. I know that they are there for encouragement, advice, inspiration, feedback, and reality checks. I love hearing about their lives, reading their work and doing whatever I can to support them. Several of them have become some of my closest friends. VCFA grads are not just an important part of my writing life, they are an important part of my life, period.

katehosford.jpgThanks for stopping by, Kate! We're ready for our tea party! Welcome to the world, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea.

Kate Hosford is a picture book author and poet who graduated with the Bat Poets in Winter 2011. Visit her online at Khosford.com.

Topics: Carolrhoda Books, picture book, Lerner Publishing Group, Lerner, 2017 release, Kate Hosford, Gabi Swiatkowska

Rebecca Van Slyke and LEXIE THE WORD WRANGLER!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 @ 08:04 AM

Yee haw! We're plumb thrilled about Lexie the Word Wrangler, a delightfully clever picture book by Rebecca Van Slyke, illustrated by Jessie Hartland, out now from Nancy Paulsen Books. And other folks are chiming in, too -- Lexie has picked up her third starred review!

Lexie Cover jpeg.jpg

Lexie is the best wrangler west of the Mississippi—word wrangler, that is. On her ranch, she watches over baby letters while they grow into words; she herds words into sentences and hitches sentences together to tell a story. But lately, something’s not right on the ranch. First the d goes missing from her bandana, leaving her with a banana around her neck. Then an extra s is let loose in the desert, turning it into a giant sticky dessert! There’s no doubt about it—there’s a word rustler causing this ruckus, and Lexie’s aiming to track that troublemaker down.

Rebecca Van Slyke’s clever wordplay and Jessie Hartland’s lively illustrations capture the zaniness of life on a ranch full of wild letters and words.

Welcome, Rebecca! 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?

On Monday, June 17th, 2013, I got a call from my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, telling me that she had sold two books (Mom School and Dad School). As you can imagine, there was much celebration and maybe even a cork popped that evening in the Van Slyke house. On Thursday, Joan called back to discuss the particulars of the contract, and then she said, “Are you sitting down?”


“I could be,” I said.


“I’ve just gotten an offer on Lexie, the Word Wrangler.”

More cork popping ensued.


By Sunday, the news got even better. When she let another editor know about the offer on Lexie, that editor made an offer, too. When the dust settled, I had an offer for a two-book deal. So after years and YEARS of trying to sell a book, within a week Joan had sold FOUR books.

My mother said she wasn’t surprised. “Well, after you get the first pickle out of the jar, the rest come easy,” she said.

As for revising, yes, there were about seven rounds of revisions. (Good thing my advisors at VCFA left me well-prepared for that!)

champagne_glasses_7.jpgNew writer toast: May your pickles always come easy! What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful for you?

Well, it’s not really craft advice, but in the spirit of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.” After years of not having an agent, and then a few more years of being unhappily agented, I was ready to quit, and chalk up this whole idea of being published as an impossible dream. But some of my friends and classmates kept encouraging me not to quit. (I’m looking at YOU, Trent Reedy!)  I changed agents and hung in there, and within the next year things started happening. So be persistent, keep writing, keep learning, keep submitting, even when it seems like nothing is happening.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

First semester: Julie Larios. She had wonderful poetry exercises, and had us play with words. I had never considered poetry, but these exercises helped me pay attention to the sounds and imagery of the words in my sentences.

Second semester: Leda Schubert. She taught me to get to the heart of my characters. And also, to “Cut, cut, cut!” all those unnecessary parts from my manuscripts.


Third semester: Cynthia Leitich Smith. She walked me through the scary Critical Thesis and helped me see that it wasn’t so very scary after all.

Fourth Semester: David Gifaldi. He helped me choose the pieces that went into my Creative Thesis. A fellow elementary teacher, we kept each other laughing with stories about our students.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

I can’t say enough about how much I love my Cliffhangers! When we first got to campus, there were ominous whisperings about what would happen to VCFA. They had just gone through a major restructuring and there were rumors that it would close. After we were assured that we would be able to complete our degree, we were able to concentrate on the important things: listening to lectures, sharing our writing and reading, and having deep, after-hour discussions in the Wine Pit. (Fun fact: Debbie Gonzales and I came up with that name when we were sharing a glass one evening in the dank basement of Glover, and it stuck.) We still keep in touch with each other, and are each other’s biggest fans.

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

I was SO nervous about coming all the way across the country to start a master’s degree in writing for children in a place where I knew NO ONE. I felt like the biggest poseur; everyone would soon find out what a fraud I was, and I couldn’t possibly keep up with all the work. (I was teaching full-time, too.) What I found was a group of very welcoming people, both in my class and in the other classes, too. Even the faculty was approachable and friendly. In short, I found a community of other writers who feel passionately about writing the best literature for children and young adults, and who are rooting for me to succeed.

Yes! Thanks so much for stopping by, Rebecca. Keep wranglin', Lexie!

Rebecca Van Slyke is a member of the class of summer 2008, the Cliffhangers. She writes picture books, easy readers, nonfiction, and poetry. Rebecca is a second-grade teacher in Lynden, Washington, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and two very spoiled dachshunds.

Visit her online at www.rebeccavanslyke.com.

Topics: picture book, 2017 release, Rebecca Van Slyke, Nancy Paulsen Books, Jessie Hartland

Terry Pierce and MAMA LOVES YOU SO!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Apr 10, 2017 @ 14:04 PM

It's never too early to start loving books! Today we're celebrating Terry Pierce's new board book, Mama Loves You So, illustrated by Simone Shin. Perfect for the youngest book lovers and the grown-ups who love them, Mama Loves You So is out now from Little Simon. Terry was kind enough to stop by for a chat!

MamaLovesYouSo.jpgWith lilting lullaby text and lovely illustrations, the New Books for Newborns stories are the perfect first books for new parents to share with their little ones right from the start!



This book celebrates a mother’s love trumping even majestic mother nature…a mama’s love is higher than a mountain and deeper than any stream.

Welcome, Terry! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

My son Greg, and a song, were the inspiration. I got the idea when he was a baby (he's now 32!). That was when I was a Montessori teacher, long before I'd even considered writing children's books. But after hearing the song "Longer," by singer Dan Fogelberg, I thought that someone should write a children's book using nature as a metaphor to show a mother’s love for her baby.

That idea hung in the recesses of my mind all those years. Then two years ago, while hiking in the Sierras, the idea struck me again, as if my infant son was there with me, bobbing along in his Gerrypack. I sat down and wrote the first draft right then and there (I always carry a small notepad and pencil with me when I hike). I tinkered with it for about a month, showed it to my writing group (who suggested two word changes) and then sent it to my agent. She submitted it as a picture book and but Little Simon made an offer to publish it as a board book.

When I first held the book in my hands, it struck an emotional chord like no other book I'd written. It speaks to the power of love. I just adore it and hope outdoorsy moms everywhere will love reading it to their little ones.

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’m represented by Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I had sent the manuscript to her in April 2015. She sent it out in July but started hearing “nibbles of interest” in the early fall. The day before Thanksgiving, my husband and I were on vacation, having a cozy afternoon reading near the fire with snow lightly falling, when my phone rang. My agent’s ringtone is Pharrell William’s “Happy” so I knew immediately it was her but couldn’t believe she’d be calling me over the Thanksgiving break (doesn’t everyone take that week off now?). I was ecstatic when I heard the offer! I’ve always wanted to publish a board book so I was absolutely thrilled!

She told me that my editor said it was the perfect book Little Simon was seeking for a brand new line of books they were launching in spring 2017, New Books for Newborns. I guess she really did think it was perfect because they didn’t want any revisions. They loved it just the way it was—I suppose, the way a mother would love her baby.

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

The fabulous Erin Murphy once said that every picture book must have a “moment of emotional truth.” This is something I’ve taken to heart with my writing. Anytime I’m revising a manuscript, I always do a check to make to make sure I have some kind of emotional truth, some universal emotion with which all readers can connect.

With Mama, I think it’s the final line, “Mama’s love is like the air, everywhere you go, it wraps around and hugs you close, ‘cause Mama loves you so.” Isn’t that what all mothers feel and want their children to feel? That no matter where their babies are in life (even their grown babies!), they want them to know they’re loved.

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

Being the author, as is common practice, I didn’t get to see much of the art as it was being created. I knew the team at Little Simon was looking for an illustrator with special talents, particularly being able to illustrate broad landscapes but in a child-friendly style. They made the perfect choice in Simone Shin.

When my agent sent me the cover image, we were both giddy. It is GORGEOUS and brought tears to my eyes. The color palette is breathtaking. And it was so fun showing it to other people because so many women would say, “Oh my gosh! She looks like ME!” referring to the mom on the cover in her leggings, hiking boots and baby in the carrier.

Later, when I saw some of the interiors, I was once again amazed at the brilliance of the art. Again, the color palette throughout the book is stunning. And I loved how Simone drew animal moms and their babies throughout (even a mama and baby cricket!). I just about flipped when I saw the page with bears, because I have an affinity for black bears. I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to have had Simone and the Little Simon team collaborate on this stunning book.

MamaInspiration.jpg

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Kathi Appelt was my advisor for the Picture Book Certification semester (my first semester in the program), followed by Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Larios, and Leda Schubert. I called them my “picture book dream team” because they each taught me something unique about writing for the very young.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

Ahh, The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches! I’m looking at our class photo on the wall above my computer, as I write. What was special about us? When I think back to the residencies and our class gatherings, I can’t help but think about how goofy and fun we were (I mean, c’mon—just look at our class name!). We had some people with great senses of humor who still make me laugh.

Also, many of the Cheese Sandwiches are already successful authors with published books. Caroline Carlson, Melanie Crowder, Meg Wiviott, just to name a few. And I know others have book deals in hand so it’s just a matter of time before I’ll get to read their books, as well. They really are an amazing group of writers!

Yes! Hoorays all around to all the wonderfully talented Cheese Sandwiches!

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

If at all possible, take a sabbatical from your job so you can completely immerse yourself in the program (I know, that’s hard to do but if you can, do it!). Allow yourself the time to delve into the craft of writing. Embrace everything the program offers. Don’t worry about submissions, getting an agent, what to do after you graduate, just focus on the craft. Savor the experience. Be Zen-like. You’ll never have the same kind of experience with any other writing venture, so take advantage of all it offers.

And be open to the kind of learning experience the program provides, what I always called “learning through osmosis.” I know some folks who came to the program thinking it would be more of a traditional educational experience, but the VCFA program is all about exploration, experimentation and self-discovery (PLAY!), through the guidance of master writers we call “advisors.”

Great advice. Thank you so much for stopping by, Terry. Welcome to the world, Mama Loves You So!

After graduating from VCFA, Terry went on to teaching Youth Market courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency and has four children’s books coming out in 2017 and 2018.

Terry is a member of The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches (July 2011). Visit her online at www.terrypiercebooks.com.

 

 

Topics: picture book, board book, 2017 release, Terry Pierce, Simone Shin, Little Simon

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