the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Brendan Reichs: Nemesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long does it take quicklime to dissolve a corpse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who have been your advisors at VCFA?

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

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

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

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

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

You can find out more about Brendan at www.brendanreichs.com

Nemesis was published by Penguin/Putnam March 21, 2017. http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/534092/nemesis-by-brendan-reichs/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Katie Bayerl and A Psalm for Lost Girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Who was your favorite character to write and why?

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

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

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

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

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

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

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

How did attending VCFA affect your (writing) life?

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

You can visit Katie at www.katiebayerl.com or on twitter at @katiebayerl

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

Stephanie Greene and PRINCESS POSEY #8!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 @ 08:06 AM

Today we're celebrating the launch of Stephanie Greene's latest early chapter book, Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys (Putnam). This is Posey's eighth adventure, with more fun on the way! WOW! What a great opportunity to throw pink, sparkly confetti and learn a little bit about writing a series.

PP and First Grade BoysAbout Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys:

The first grade boys are driving Posey crazy! They can’t seem to sit still, they make rude noises, and sometimes they are just plain weird. When Posey makes up a silly song about Henry, her friends all think it’s funny. But it isn’t so funny to Henry – or to Miss Lee.

Can Princess Posey’s sparkly tutu help her find a way to fix this mess?

Welcome, Stephanie! Tell us about the spark that ignited this book.

The spark that ignited this book was the same kind of spark that has ignited most of my books: an emotional reaction to something I saw, heard, or could draw upon from my own life. In this case, it was a sign in front of an elementary school that said “Kiss and Go Lane.” My gut reaction was that that could be hard on a child: to have to say good-bye to a parent, close the car door, and walk into the school – all by herself. I’m sure I was thinking about my own son and his days in elementary school, but I heard a little girl’s voice say, “You’re leaving me,” and it became the first sentence of the book.

Did you always envision Posey starring in a series, or did you think of the first book, Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade, by itself? 

The amazing thing about this journey is that what I intended as a one-off book has grown into a ten-book series. That was never what I had in mind. Turns out that what I’d created in that first book was a hook: the tutu the little girl wore that made her feel like a pink princess who could go anywhere and do anything, all by herself. (It was never intended to have anything to do with a little girl’s appearance. That’s important to me.) Susan Kochan at Putnam recognized it and Stephanie Roth Sisson drew the rough picture of a little girl who we all fell in love with. The rest, as they say, is a happy history of a series.

What do you find challenging about writing a series as opposed to a standalone book?

Sustaining both the little girl’s personality, as well as creating authentic plots that reflected real emotions without falling into trite or predictable territory, was my greatest challenge.

How has VCFA affected your writing life?

The friends I made are among my most valuable results of attending VCFA. Plus that, the lectures I heard, the ten days of dorm life for five semesters, and, strangely enough, the critical essays. I loved writing those. [It's funny how that happens! :)]

To a prospective student I’d say: go for it. It will change your life, both writing-wise and personally.

Thanks a lot for chatting with us today, Stephanie! Congratulations on the launch of Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys!

Visit Stephanie online at her website, www.stephaniegreenebooks.com, where you can learn more about all her books, including the Princess Posey, Sophie Hartley, Moose & Hildy, and Owen Foote series!

You can also find Stephanie (and some other VCFA stars!) over at ReaderKidZ!


Topics: 2014 release, Putnam, Stephanie Greene, chapter book

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