the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Mary E. Lambert and FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Nov 09, 2017 @ 08:11 AM

We're thrilled that Mary E. Lambert's middle grade novel Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is out now from Scholastic. She stopped by to give us the scoop!

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Annabelle has a secret…a secret so big she won't allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle's sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends' houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.

So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle's sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents—one that might tear them all apart—and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change.

Is it possible for her to clean up the family's mess? Or are they really, truly broken?

Welcome, Mary! Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent?

After graduation, one of my VCFA classmates, Linda Camacho, became an agent. She read my creative thesis, which was a contemporary middle grade novel, and offered to represent me. Linda put my manuscript into the hands of an editor at Scholastic. A few weeks later, I was teaching an eighth grade class when my cell phone rang. Usually, I silence my phone, but when I saw it was my agent, I answered it. Linda was calling to let me know that my book had sold! I started dancing, and so, of course, I had to explain to my students what was going on. They burst into applause when they heard my news.

Love these pics of your launch party!

Launch Party 1.jpgWhat nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

Finish a project.

Like many writers, I always have new ideas. New ideas are fresh and exciting and seem much better than whatever old idea I have in front of me. Other than attending VCFA, the best thing I ever did as a writer was forcing myself to complete a manuscript. I learned so much from the process of writing an entire novel from start to finish.

Launch Party 2.jpgWhat’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

I wish I kept a record of this. I've Googled so many bizarre things for my writing. A few of the stranger things I've Googled include…

What color is spider blood?

What to do if a bear attacks you?

What does it feel like to get shot?

How to shoplift?

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts?

VCFA provided me with such a wonderful community of writers. It was the first time I felt I really had permission to take myself seriously as an author.

Since graduation, I have found a great group of middle grade and young adult writers in the Phoenix area. They have formed a truly supportive community of like-minded authors who promote and encourage one another.

I am also in a small critique group called The Charglings. We read one another's first drafts and give feedback. In addition to their valuable insight, meeting with The Charglings helps me stay productive. We meet every other week, which means I need to have fresh pages for them at least that often.

Launch Party 3.jpgWho were your advisors at VCFA?

I had such a fantastic experience with every single one of my advisors! I worked with Tom Birdseye my first semester, and he taught me to look for humor in my writing. Next I was paired with Shelley Tanaka who helped me gain confidence as a writer and taught me the questions I should ask myself about a work-in-progress. Martine Leavitt was my third semester advisor, and she taught me to really explore my characters' inner-lives and emotional development. In my final semester, my advisor was Sarah Ellis. She showed me how to revise, which is something I really struggled with before working with her.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

One of my favorite VCFA memories is when the Allies in Wonderland revealed our class name. My classmates turned our name reveal into a choreographed, interpretive dance, which corresponded to a video. We had elaborate costumes, and I had a ton of fun that day!

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Attending VCFA is a huge commitment in terms of money, time, and emotion. For me, it was worth every bit of it. I loved the residencies, the lectures, the friendships, and the walks into town. My advisors were amazing. I learned and grew as a writer, and so much of my success is because of my decision to attend this school.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Welcome to the world, Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes!

Author Photo.jpgWhen Mary E. Lambert was eight years old, her grandma told her that she should be a writer. Mary said, “No.” She thought she’d rather be a teacher. Mary started teaching middle school in 2006, but not long after that, she realized there was no avoiding one of her grandmother’s pronouncements. So she started writing novels. Mary lives in Tempe, Arizona where she spends her days explaining to students that five paragraph essays really do have five paragraphs. Most evenings she can be found writing in local coffee shops and consuming truly lamentable quantities of caffeine.

Mary is a member of the class of summer 2014, Allies in Wonderland. Visit her online at maryelambert.com, and find her on Twitter @MaryUncontrary.

Topics: Scholastic, middle grade, 2017 release, Mary E. Lambert

Amy Sarig King and ME AND MARVIN GARDENS!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Oct 03, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

We're wild about Amy Sarig King's middle grade novel, Me and Marvin Gardens, out now from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic!

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He's the size of a dog—but he's not a dog.
He's got hooves like a pig, but claws like a wolf.  
He smiles. He listens to commands and stories.  
And he eats plastic. ONLY plastic.
Water bottles, jug lids, shopping bags.

Marvin is an entirely new kind of animal,
and only Obe knows about him.  
To keep him safe, Obe will have to face an enemy,
take some risks, be fearless, daring, and brave—
and tell some secrets that have been a long time coming.

In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King reveals a boy-meets-animal story unlike any other, about a friendship that could actually save the world, and a kid finding the courage to share it.

Welcome, Amy!

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I really love Obe, the main character, but he and Marvin gave me a hard time sometimes, so my favorite character to write was Putrid Annie. She’d tried to tell the story of my cornfield years ago for a younger audience and it didn’t work out. When she showed up in this manuscript, it was like meeting an old friend. We have a lot in common. She plays the cello and I did, too. She loves rocks—me too. And she’s been called Putrid…I’ve been called worse.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I wanted to write about an animal that ate plastic—only plastic—and how such an animal could help us solve the plastic pollution problem. Thing is, once I got to know Marvin, the animal, I realized that eating only plastic has its side effects. So both things ignited the book. The idea that something can be both good and not-so-good. The idea that there are two sides to every story, including the loss of a cornfield—and a childhood.

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

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Eight Rules for Writing Fiction.” I hand these to every student I’ve ever had at VCFA.  Never has anyone summed up everything I believe about writing in a half a page before. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’d say these two are tied for first place: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” and “Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”

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’ve been writing novels by myself for 25 years. I do share my final draft with my husband, but he’s the only reader of a book before I hand it to my agent and editors. I find this is the best way for me. I write in quiet, I edit in quiet, and then I slowly feel like the book is ready. If there is too much noise—even positive noise from others—I feel I can’t hear when the book is ready. So my support, as it’s been from the beginning when I was against-all-odds determined and even during my 15 years of rejection, has always been just me. I was an odd child, though, enjoying my own company and the company of books more than most things. (Excluding candy and mashed potatoes, but not at the same time.)

What's your writing superpower?

Revision. Revision is the sport. I aim for the gold in revision.

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

I have a 5x7 framed picture of Hawkeye Pierce on my desk—right here to my right, the first person I see, the way that some would put a picture of their spouse or children there. For me, it’s Hawkeye. He’s my humanist fictional boyfriend and also a stand-in mother.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA has changed me as a writer. A lot of things do, but VCFA has had a profound effect on me. Before VCFA, if you’d have asked me if I would ever write a middle grade book, I’d have said no way. No way I could do that. A lot of people may think middle grade is “easier” the same way civilians thing picture books are “easiest” because they’re shorter. But I’d tried to write for younger audiences and I knew how hard it was. My students showed me that I could do this. They showed me how to do it well. I’m still trying to write a picture book, but I’m still failing. One day, though…one day it will happen.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

I enjoy so many aspects of VCFA, but I’d say now that summer 2017 residency is done, that my favorite memory is the one where I have a beard.

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What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?

I don’t mince words about this. VCFA is the best WCYA program in the country. I think what makes it the best is the bar—the high bar. I’ve always had a high bar when it comes to reading and writing. I’m awfully picky about writing, which is probably a good thing, right? VCFA is special because the quality of student writing is very high. This allows already-great writers to stretch and grow and graduate from the program ready to publish quality books, as our alumni publication lists show. Beyond rigor, I’d say the sense of community is pretty amazing. No matter where I go in the U.S. to do an event, there are groups of VCFA alumni (and faculty) there to greet me. We are a small army, now. An army of support, positivity, and friendship.

A perfect description! The SPF Army!

Thanks so much for stopping by. Welcome, Me and Marvin Gardens!

Amy Sarig King, who also writes as A.S. King, grew up in the middle of a cornfield in southeastern Pennsylvania. She says, “The day the bulldozers came to dig up my field was the day I started to dream of having my own farm. If you’ve ever seen something beautiful and magical be replaced with something more convenient, then you know why this story took me thirty years to write.”

Amy has published many critically acclaimed young adult novels, including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which won a Michael L. Printz Honor Award, and Ask the Passengers, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. After many years farming abroad, she now lives back in southeastern Pennsylvania, with her husband and children.

Visit her online at www.as-king.com.

Topics: Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, A. S. King, 2017 release, Amy Sarig King

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

Sarah Aronson and THE WORST FAIRY GODMOTHER EVER!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, May 30, 2017 @ 09:05 AM

It's the launch of Sarah Aronson's new chapter book/middle grade, The Wish List #1: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever (Scholastic)! We couldn't wish for anything more. Except a visit from Sarah herself!

COVER ART-1.jpgQ: What do you need to become a great fairy godmother?



  1. kindness

  2. determination

  3. gusto

  4. all of the above



Fairy-godmother-in-training Isabelle doesn't know what gusto is, but she's pretty sure she has what it takes to pass fairy godmother training with flying colors.



But then Isabelle is assigned a practice princess who is not a princess at all. Nora is just a normal girl -- a normal girl who doesn't believe in fairy godmothers, or wishes come true, or happily ever afters.



Isabelle has to change Nora's mind about magic and grant a wish for her. If she can't, Isabelle will flunk training and never become a great fairy godmother!

Welcome, Sarah! And I see two very special friends with you today -- the girlgoyles, straight out of your new book! (They don't say much, but look at those knowing smiles.) Thanks for being here, everyone.

Girlgoyle 1.jpgWho was your favorite character to write and why?

Sarah: I don’t like the “favorite” question!! (Neither does the girlgoyle!) Especially in this case. The truth is, I love all these characters. They were refreshing and fun to think about. A lot of them made me laugh. But they also touched my heart. I was a kid who never felt like I’d ever measure up. I had trouble focusing. I had great intentions, but not always the best delivery. In our world today, it is SO IMPORTANT to think about happiness! And doing good for others. This series has tapped into so many things that get me jazzed up.

Girlgoyles: (crickets) Girlgoyles are made of rock. They can’t talk.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

Sarah: I’ve told this story before (as the girlgoyles can attest), but I think I can get away with it one more time.

For a long time, I referred to Isabelle’s story my “peach sorbet.” In other words, I worked on her story only when I was tired of thinking about my “important” project. It was my literary palate cleanser. I had no intention of ever showing it to anyone.

For better or for worse, I wanted to be a writer who grappled with tough topics. I went for it all—unlikeable characters, themes filled with conflicts, questionable morals, provocative endings. Although I found these books grueling to write, I told myself that the work was worth it—these characters and ideas were calling me. And up until 2014, I felt pretty good about it. I had a great agent. There were editors willing to read my next WIP. My family might have been confused about why I wrote such dark, sad books, but they supported me. 100%. I was not deterred by the mixed reception my last novel received.

That changed, when teaching at Highlights in Sept 2014, I got some bad news that had followed other bad news: the editor who loved my newest WIP (a story I had taken two years to write) could not get it past the acquisitions committee.

My agent and I agreed. It was time to put that story in the drawer.

Lucky for me, I was surrounded by friends. I also had the best kind of work to do—writers to counsel—writers who trusted me to help them work on their novels. It gave me some time to think about the advice I was offering them. More important, it gave me time to think about my process. This was what I realized: I was letting my intellect override my intuition. I was thinking too much about product. And my ego.

I also found myself talking about my peach sorbet. I remembered some sage advice my first editor and mentor, Deborah Brodie, once offered me. She said, “Eat dessert first. Write what makes you happy.” At the end of that retreat, I stood at the podium and read Isabelle’s story for the first time. I made them laugh. It felt great!

For the next six months, I gave myself a challenge: I was going to PLAY.

I was going to only play with ideas that made me happy, or in other words: books I had convinced myself I couldn’t/shouldn’t write: picture books, humor, essays, an adult novel, poetry, and most important, my peach sorbet: a chapter book about a very bad fairy godmother. I was going to write fast. I was not going to edit myself. I was going to put INTUITION over INTELLECT. I like to say: Think less. Smile more. I was going to access my subconscious with drawing and writing and listening to new music. If I liked an idea, I was going to try it. Bottom line: I was going to eat a lot of dessert.

Girlgoyle 2.jpgAmazing things began to happen.

As I played, I found a new voice. And confidence. And other things, too: I found that when I turned off my phone and walked without interruption, new ideas emerged. My memory map trick worked! Working with clay gave me time to think. Doodling—pencil to paper—gave me the answers to my questions.

(There is a lot of scientific evidence about the benefits of play. Studies show that when we play, we develop imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. All good things. Right?)

As Picasso once said: Every child is born an artist. The trick is remaining one as an adult.

When the challenge was over, I felt great. I loved writing and creating stories. Not too shabby, I had written two nonfiction picture books, an essay, the beginning of an adult novel, ten picture books, and what I hoped could be the first chapter book in a series. It’s the book that is launching today. I could not be happier!

Girlgoyles: If they could talk, they would tell you that they were the spark of inspiration. But they can’t. So they won’t.

That's a wonderful story that every writer should hear!

What's your writing superpower?

I can turn ANYTHING into a writing lesson. (Yes, I’m fun at cocktail parties.)

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What do you hope you can do with this book?

I am going into the happily ever after wand making business! I’m launching a #BeAFairyGodmother campaign to encourage others to become fairy godmothers and fathers and make someone else happily ever after. As people send me pictures and posts, I will post them on my website!

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I made great friends. I found my first story. And voice. It is still my safe place—and magic happens for me every time I return. It is the place that ignited my writing journey. That’s why I started the Writing Novels for Young People Retreat!!! Every March! It’s my birthday present!

Did you hear that, folks? Make plans now to get on board the WNYPR!

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Another favorite question? You can’t be serious!

We think big!

I loved hanging out with Kellye Carter Crocker and Ed Briant, putting names of advisors into the magic hat! Or planning events with Tami Lewis Brown! Or dancing to "Play That Funky Music." I will never forget the first time Kathi read from The Underneath—when it was still a manuscript. Or Louise’s lecture on telling. I loved opening up all my letters—such exquisite gifts—and all different. They were motivating and exciting and I felt supported and full of energy. (I hope my students feel that way when they open my letters.) And I still reread them! I will always be grateful to Carolyn Coman for teaching me how to story board, to Ellen Levine, for re-igniting my inner feminist, and Norma Fox Mazer for pushing me to learn to write an outline.

head shot new 3.jpgWhat advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Let go of your expectations. PLAY. Experiment. Ignite your intuition—not just your intellect. Bring a travel mug for coffee. And a bottle of something nice for celebrations.

Thanks for stopping by! Welcome to the world, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

Sarah says, "I write books for kids of all ages and work with writers on books for kids of all ages. Basically, all day long I think about creativity and story, and I love it!" Visit her online at www.saraharonson.com.

Topics: Scholastic, middle grade, chapter book, 2017 release, Sarah Aronson

Trent Reedy and THE LAST FULL MEASURE

Posted by Robin Herrera on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 @ 09:04 AM

Today we talk with Trent Reedy about the conclusion of his acclaimed YA trilogy, THE LAST FULL MEASURE, published by Arthur A. Levine Books.

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In a YA trilogy like no other, Trent Reedy has raised the most primal questions of our national existence: Do we owe our greatest loyalty to our friends? Our state? Our country? Our party? How do we reconcile our individual rights and common needs? What keeps us all united -- and what happens if we fall apart?

Now, in this third book, the Second Civil War has come to an end in Idaho. The Feds have taken the fight to other fronts, and Danny and his friends are free of U.S. dominance. But that freedom comes with considerable costs, from Danny's disturbing flashbacks to the war, to the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, whose "security" for Freedom Lake looks more like outright thuggery. After Danny makes a shocking discovery about the Brotherhood's final aims, he and his friends lead a group of townspeople on a dangerous journey across a ravaged Idaho, hoping to build a better society of their own, and fulfill the dreams they had in what once was the United States.

Welcome, Trent! First question: If you were stuck on a desert island, who would you want with you: Danny, JoBell, Becca, Sweeney, or Cal? Only pick one!

This is a tough question.  I worked with this family of friends for a lot of years, and I’ve come to like them all.  But to answer, I will assume within this scenario that they are real people and I am living in their world.  In other words, I don’t want to be stuck on an island with any of them explaining why I, the author and creator of their world, put them through so many difficult challenges.  I mean, if Cal found out I was responsible for creating all the chaos he and his friends have to deal with, he’d probably beat me unconscious. 

I would have to choose Danny, because he’s a tough survivor, and I’d need his help to survive on the island.  But I think that would be tough, because Danny suffers a lot through the trilogy.  I’d like to remind him that it wasn’t all his fault and spend some time talking about forgiveness.

When you plan a trilogy, how early do you know what the breaks between each book will be? When did you know what very last scene in book 1 would be? 

 Divided_We_Fall-1.jpg   Burning_Nation.jpg

One advantage I had with the Divided We Fall trilogy is that I knew it was a big story that would take three books.  This allowed me to pay attention to the overall three-book structure, which I think would be different from writing a fully self contained story in one book and then later writing that book’s sequel. 

I structured the Divided We Fall story into three phases. 

  1. The crisis in government, Battle of Boise, and build up to the beginning of armed conflict.
  1. Daniel Wright and his friends struggling in the resistance in occupied northern Idaho.
  1. Danny Wright and his friends facing the challenge to survive, out on the road amid a collapsed civilization and dangerous society.

As PFC Wright might say, “I’m not gonna lie,” but I love the ending to the first book.  And, as we’re talking about the release of Book 3: The Last Full Measure I’m going to go ahead and spoil the heck out the Divided We Fall ending here.  I had the idea for the U.S. President’s total forced broadcast, demand for Idaho’s surrender, and threat of military force from the first time I sketched out the concept for the book.  The President demands Idaho National Guard and militia forces surrender and disarm.  She orders all Idaho residents to remain in their homes and await further federal instructions.  Then Idaho’s power is shut off, leaving Danny and his friends in the dark.  Danny picks up his gun and knows the attack is coming.  I specifically requested black endpapers and no acknowledgments or other back matter at the end of the story.  Just the threat of the coming war, and the same blackness our characters are left in.  I feel like it’s the perfect cliffhanger ending for Divided We Fall.  The only problem with it was that some readers, especially young readers, had no idea that Book 2: Burning Nation was coming.  I heard from a lot of readers demanding more.

Did any characters surprise you over the course of writing the three books? Becca and TJ both surprised me in book 2. (TJ because he was such a jerk in book 1!)

I was a little surprised with TJ.  I don’t know if he was as much a jerk as Danny was jealous and worried about his friendship with JoBell.  Obviously TJ and Danny didn’t get along.  But through the course of the war, TJ takes some major risks.  He really shows some courage.  I think one of the best Danny/TJ moments is when TJ breaks Danny out of his cell after Danny is tortured.  Danny doesn’t even know if TJ is real, and I think it was fun having Danny’s old rival be the guy who saves him.

I also liked PFC Luchen, who starts out as a dumb, goofy kid, but sacrifices himself for the success of his final mission.

I was surprised by how many secondary characters became so important, especially through the course of The Last Full Measure.  Dr. Nicole Randal was introduced to the story mostly so Danny and Becca could get antibiotics for JoBell in Burning Nation.  She ended up becoming an important part of the lives of Danny and his friends.  Sergeant Kemp is surprising for similar reasons.  I never really intended for him to become such an important part of the whole story, but he plays a big role in all three books, and he turned out to be a great guy, from the Battle of Boise through The Last Full Measure.

You got to record some voices for the audiobook version - tell us more about that process! (I definitely recognized your voice while listening to Burning Nation!)

Andrew Eiden provides the great main narration and performance, but there are many other voices as newscasters, radio personalities, and social media comments in the media noise segments. I have had a lot of fun these past few years recording various voices for all three audiobooks.  My editor, agent, and some other friends from Scholastic have joined us as well.  For each book, we would head out to Scholastic Audiobook CentCom in Connecticut and pile into the studio.  We had a couple loose page print outs of the book and a spreadsheet of all the different voices.  Then we’d do our best trying to bring those characters to life.  For all three books I enjoyed playing conservative radio talk show host Buzz Ellison and my editor performed the part of President Laura Griffith.  In The Last Full Measure I also had fun voicing one of those very energetic preachers almost screaming over the radio about the end times.

I’m extremely pleased with the way the audiobooks have turned out for all the Divided We Fall books, but especially for The Last Full Measure.  The good people in the Scholastic Department of Audiobooks have really worked hard, adding many sound effects, sound treatments, and voices to really bring the stories to life.  I listen to a LOT of audiobooks.  I’ll probably listen to at least fifty audiobooks this year alone.  The Divided We Fall audiobooks are really unique, really fantastic productions.

And...anyone interested in giving the Divided We Fall trilogy a try is welcome to start with the first audiobook for free!  Check out the details on the other side of the link.

http://www.audiobooks.com/landing/page/free-scholastic-promotion

Everyone go get the audiobook!

I've been waiting for Book 3, The Last Full Measure to come out ever since I finished Book 2. This is a two-part question: First, where does the title of book 3 come from? Second, what can we expect from the THRILLING CONCLUSION to the series? (Can you pull a JK Rowling and tell us what the last word of the book is?)

The Last Full Measure comes from the Civil War and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It seemed the perfect title for a lot of reasons.  A lot of Lincoln’s words and meaning get tangled up and rearranged through the trilogy and especially in The Last Full Measure.

In The Last Full Measure the Second American Civil War widens well beyond the “Idaho Crisis” and well beyond any real hope of peaceful reconciliation.  The war becomes widespread and brutal, and the systems of our society begin to collapse.  In the chaos that follows, Daniel Wright and his friends struggle to survive while they deal with central questions about life, civilization, and government.  What keeps the peace in the United States?  Is it only our police force preventing widespread violence and anarchy, or do people also have a common sense of fairness and decency?  How do we balance the need for security with the need for freedom?  Where do our loyalties lie, and how much should we devote to ourselves, our friends and family, and our government? 

They’re big questions, relevant issues that many Americans struggle with today, especially in an election year.  I only hope we find better answers than the people in The Last Full Measure.

For readers who love the Divided We Fall trilogy and are sad to see it ending, what books do you recommend they read next?

People who finish The Last Full Measure should go on to read The Hunger Games.  One of the reasons I wanted to write a trilogy about a Second American Civil War and the end of the United States is that I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, but I wondered how Panem came to exist. The Hunger Games takes place 74 years after the district uprisings against the Capitol, but that means people had been living in the districts and Capitol system for some years before that uprising.  How did the districts get started?  How did the United States end?  I wrote the Divided We Fall trilogy to be a story that could be the prequel to many dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, but there are clues in The Last Full Measure that suggest I really had The Hunger Games in mind.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I was blessed to work with Rita Williams-Garcia, Jane Kurtz, David Gifaldi, and Margaret Bechard.  They were all such premium advisors, very helpful and supportive, now dear friends.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It’s probably easier to talk about how VCFA did not affect my writing life since it affected almost every aspect of my writing.  VC helped me think about writing and revising in ways I had never considered before.  In my time working with advisors at the college the quality and quantity of my writing increased dramatically.  Quite simply, Vermont College of Fine Arts made it possible for me to live my Dream.

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

I wish I had known then how incredibly important all my fellow VCFA students would be to me, and I would work even harder to get to know them even more.  The Vermont College of Fine Arts adventure was a most special time in my life.  I will always treasure the memories of my time there.

Thank you, Trent! Readers can visit Trent online at trentreedy.com to learn more about THE LAST FULL MEASURE as well as his other books!

Trent_Reedy_hi_res_credit_Larry_Conboy.jpg

Topics: young adult, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016 release

Lindsay Eyre and THE BEST FRIEND BATTLE

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Mar 31, 2015 @ 03:03 AM

We celebrate the launch of Lindsay Eyre's debut novel today, a middle grade book published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.

Screen Shot 2015 03 26 at 12.50.29 PM

Sylvie Scruggs doesn't like Georgie Diaz. He always calls her Scruggs. He always beats her in baseball. He didn't invite her to his party. Plus, he's a boy. Now Georgie is trying to steal Sylvie's best friend, Miranda Tan. He's giving Miranda a super-special birthday present, so Sylvie will too -- only her present will be ten times better. With the help of her twin brothers, a ferret, a castle, and some glitter glue, Sylvie sets out to make Miranda remember who her REAL best friend is, and forget about Georgie forever.

Thanks for joining us today, Lindsey.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I was extremely fortunate to hear Sylvie's voice early on in the drafting process. The book is written in first person, so having that voice in my head made everything easier. Plotting this novel was so difficult for me, so I needed the gift of hearing my narrator’s voice!

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

I had a scene where Sylvie and her twin brothers tried to capture a rogue rat. It was extremely funny (at least, it made me laugh!), and it was one of my favorite parts of the manuscript, but my agent gently pointed out that she wasn’t sure it actually helped the story (I think Margaret Bechard pointed this out as well in fourth semester...). When I stepped back and stopped thinking about being funny (and clever), I saw that I could remove that entire scene without really changing the novel. That has become my biggest red flag as I edit my books. If I can remove a scene or even a paragraph from the manuscript without having to seriously change everything that follows, it has to go. It is not intrinsic to the story and serves no purpose, no matter how brilliant I think it is! We tend to fall in love with so many parts of our manuscripts (or maybe we just fall in love with ourselves for a bit), and it is difficult to see clearly. 

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

Someone somewhere along the way told me that every criticism has an element of truth, and if you can filter through whatever issues you or your critique-giver may have and get to the heart of the problem, you can find something fixable. For example, my mom is a terrible critique-giver. She always begins by saying, “Oh, I loved it! I thought it was really great. Well, I did for awhile. I did think this one part was a little bit weird. But still, it was wonderful. Except, I wondered about the setting, and I couldn’t buy the ending. I also thought the beginning was boring. And I really didn’t like this character.” And so on. Critiques like that used to leave me deflated, as if the whole thing was a sham, including my career as a writer. But I’ve learned now to ask good questions that get to the root of the problem. “When you say you didn’t buy the ending, was it because you wanted something else to happen instead? What would you have believed?” Things like that. We really do need thick skins as writers. We also need to believe that everything is fixable, however, I will add that I am beginning to encounter instances where this is not true. When someone really wants me to change something intrinsic about my story, part of the “spark” that ignited the flame, I’m learning to tread carefully. When those core pieces disappear, it is difficult to remember where the story was headed in the first place, and if I have no direction, the story is lost.

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?

My husband is my best critique partner, hands down. He is eager to help, and he knows that being kind is not helpful. Also, he is not a writer, so he doesn’t give me craft advice based on what he’s been pondering lately, he just tells me parts that really aren’t working for him. He’s learned I can fix most issues eventually so he gives me his questions in a very positive, you-can-do-this sort of way. Also, he’s not a reader, so he’s not comparing my book to other books he’s read. He’s simply telling me what he believed and what he didn’t. Simple, I’ve realized, is often the most helpful. 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Leda Schubert, Tim Wynne-Jones, Shelley Tanaka, and Margaret Bechard. Every one of them saw some version of this book and can take lots of credit!

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

I had some classmates who were extremely nervous about giving their lectures. I remember feeling incredibly proud of them when they gave those lectures beautifully.    

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

To not begin the program with the goal to be published! Everyone should begin their program with the intention of learning all they can. I also wish I’d understood that everyone at VCFA (students, advisors, published writers) are first and foremost human beings! I wish I had listened to everyone’s advice, filtering out my pride as I responded, but never ignoring my own intuition. I can’t count the number of times I “started over” when I should have kept going. Most importantly, I wish I’d understood that writing is not a competition (even if it feels like one!). This is my favorite quote from Martha Graham: “… if you block it [your creative endeavor], it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. Keep the channel open.”

Thanks for joining us in the Launchpad today.  

Lindsey graduated in January 2012 with The Keepers of the Dancing Stars. Visit her online at lindsayeyre.com and mayeverywordtell.blogspot.com

Topics: 2015 release, Scholastic, middle grade, Arthur A. Levine Books, Lindsay Eyre

Trent Reedy and BURNING NATION

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Jan 27, 2015 @ 15:01 PM

The Launch Pad welcomes back Trent Reedy to answer questions about his newest book, Burning Nation  (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)This is his second book in the Divided We Fall Trilogy. 

In the Second American Civil War, Danny Wright follows three rules:BurningNation

NOBODY GOES ALONE.

After a long standoff, the federal government has invaded Idaho — shutting down the state’s electricity, suspending all their rights.  Danny is Number 1 on the Feds’ Most Wanted list, so he has no choice but to go into hiding, and no chance without the help of his friends.

NEVER GO UNARMED.

Then Idaho declares its independence from the United States, rising up to become a free republic.  Newly energized, Danny and his crew launch a series of daring attacks designed to break the Feds’ occupation and drive them out for good.

ALWAYS POST A GUARD.

As more states secede from the US, Idaho gains allies and strength.  But a deep betrayal and a stunning sacrifice show Danny that freedom is never truly free — and there comes a point at which everyone must count the costs.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The spark that made me want to write the Divided We Fall trilogy can be found all around us.  You see it with every State of the Union address.  No matter the president or the majority party, half the audience applauds, while the other remains silent, even regarding simple policy proposals that would seem to benefit all.  You see the spark in shallow and divisive arguments on cable news networks.  It’s there in every partisan social media post which seeks to insult people rather than thoughtfully and respectfully engaging in issues.  The spark is on talk radio shows and television comedies that belittle people and their beliefs through snarky, belittling jokes or other hateful comments.  The Divided We Fall trilogy is about what happens when the spark of America’s present day divide ignites the fire of a near future civil war that threatens to destroy America.  In the aptly-titled Burning Nation the action heats up as war threatens the continued existence of the United States

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Writing a trilogy is different from working on a stand-alone novel in the sense that the writer gets to spend more time with his characters.  Because of this, I’ve enjoyed writing several of the characters.  It is fun to see them develop.  In Divided We Fall, we knew the protagonist PFC Danny Wright’s friend Eric Sweeney as a rich spoiled womanizer kind of guy who didn’t take life very seriously.  In Burning Nation, Sweeney goes along with Danny through the federal occupation of Idaho, and he begins to understand that some things are more important than partying. 

I also had fun in Burning Nation with Danny’s friend Cal Riccon.  Although Danny isn’t the best student and would rather work on an engine than read a book, Cal is the least….academically inclined….of Danny’s close group of friends.  He is also the one who gives himself over to the war most completely.  In some ways, he is ahead of Danny on the path from hope and civilization to the devastation and brutality of war. 

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

I’m going to turn this question over.  While most would agree that writers must be willing to sometimes cut or change even scenes that they like, I resolved early in my work on BURNING NATION to make sure a specific scene worked well enough to make the final cut. This scene was one in which a girl on horseback fires a rifle while jumping a ravine. I still think that firing a weapon while jumping a ravine on horseback is about the coolest thing a person can do, so I’m glad this scene made it into the book.

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

Burning Nation is a war story, and its protagonist Danny Wright is a combat engineer which, as I know from my own experiences as a combat engineer, works with land mines and plastic explosives, as well as with different rifles and machine guns.  One thing I am very careful about in writing Burning Nation and the rest of the Divided We Fall trilogy is the accuracy with which I describe the weapons in the book.  Some of the featured weapons are systems that haven’t yet seen widespread deployment in today’s military, but which seem likely to replace certain systems in the future.  Getting all of this right requires a little bit of an examination of my own memories, and a lot of research online.  I looked up Army and civilian manuals for different guns so I could make sure that my characters are loading and cocking their weapons right, and so I could be accurate about the range of the weapons, the number of rounds that come in an ammo can, the weight of the guns, and other details.  It’s kind of surprising and a little scary to think about how much weapon information is easily accessible online.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life? 

The Vermont College of Fine Arts didn’t merely affect my writing life, but it made writing my life in the first place.  The people in the VCFA community were the first to welcome me as a writer, the first to assure me that my lifelong Dream of becoming a writer wasn’t a silly daydream.  They helped me to truly believe I could do this. 

My first novel Words in the Dust is a story told from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old Afghan girl named Zulaikha.  This story was inspired by a promise I made to a young girl of the same name whom my fellow soldiers and I encountered during our time in the war in Afghanistan.  The idea of a white man who is mostly from the Midwest writing a novel from the point of view of a young Afghan girl carries with it a number of potential complications, and many, myself foremost among them, doubted I could do it.  I even doubted if the VCFA faculty would agree to advise my work on this book.  But my first advisor Rita Williams-Garcia, herself no stranger to challenging writing projects and topics, smiled and said “yes.”  That VCFA creative thesis became my first novel Words in the Dust, and it began my career.

Through my work with my advisors and the program’s curriculum, VCFA taught me how to read like a writer, what to look for when I revise, how to organize my drafts so that I can better keep track of my plots, and many other aspects of the writing craft.  I’ve long since repaid my student loans, but I owe the Vermont College of Fine Arts a debt of gratitude that I can never entirely repay.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

If the Dream is alive in you, if you’re serious about your desire to write for young people, then enrolling in the Vermont College of Fine Arts is the best decision you can make for yourself.  Not only will you study under the guidance of some of the best writers in the business and learn more than you thought possible about writing craft, but you will also become members of the VCFA community, a close family of writers from around the U.S. and the world.  Our people are everywhere.  You will find members of your VCFA family represented by every agency and published with every publisher.  You’ll find us at every book and library conference.  In 2014, the students, faculty, and alumni of the VCFA MFA in writing for young people program published more than seventy books.  We’d love to see your books on our annual list.  Join us.

Thanks for dropping by, Trent

Trent Reedy is the author of Words in the Dust, Stealing Air and the Divided We Fall Trilogy. Visit him online at www.trentreedy.com 

Topics: young adult, 2015 release, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books

October Round-Up!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Nov 07, 2014 @ 05:11 AM

awardsDeborah WilesRevolution (Scholastic) was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Wow!

Congratulations to Joyce Ray, who has won a 2014 Silver Moonbeam award for Feathers & Trumpets: A Story of Hildegard of Bingen (Apprentice Shop Books, illus. Lisa Greenleaf)!

Hooray for Linda Oatman High, who has won a 2014 Gold Moonbeam award for Teeny Little Grief Machines (Saddleback Educational Publishing)!

Brotherhood by Anne (A. B.) Westrick has won the inaugural Housatonic Book Award for Writing for Middle Grades and YA. Congratulations, Anne!

Congratulations to Kelly Bingham (Z is for Moose) and Julie Berry (All the Truth That's In Me) for their UKLA Award nominations!

publishing

 

anywherebutparadise

It's here! The cover for Anne Bustard's Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont USA, 2015) has been revealed . . . and we love it!

Author/illustrator pj lyons has sold two board books to Zonderkidz. Wahoo!

The new collection EMINEM and Rap, Poetry, Race (McFarland) includes an essay by our own Stephen Bramucci!

We're having triple celebrations with Wendie Old, whose biographies The Wright Brothers, Aviation Pioneers and Inventors; The Life of Duke Ellington, Giant of Jazz; and The Life of Louis Armstrong, King of Jazz (Enslow), have been released in paperback and ebook.

 

 

  

love

Dana Walrath gave a brilliant TEDx talk on Comics, Medicine, and Memory. MediaBistro/Galleycat gave her a nice shout-out and so did Entertainment Weekly. Wow!

Publishers Weekly came out with their list of Best Children's Books of 2014, and it includes Deborah Wiles' Revolution, A. S. King's Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, and Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun!

The YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults nominations continue, and we're thrilled to see Caminar by Skila BrownGlory O'Brien's History of the Future by A. S. KingEvil Librarian by Michelle KnudsenHow It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and Revolution by Deborah Wiles on the list!

The Los Angeles Times posted a great review of Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down.

The Huffington Post named Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond one of 5 Great Reads for Your Bookclub.

Buzzfeed listed Micol Ostow's Amity one of 13 Young Adult Novels to Spook You This Halloween

And for more spookiness, check out Michelle Knudsen's Evil Librarian on Mashable's 9 Scary YA Books for Halloween Fans Too Old to Trick-or-Treat! (If you need us, we'll be under the covers!)

 

Topics: Linda Oatman High, round-up, Saddleback Educational Publishing, Scholastic, Apprentice Shop Books, Joyce Ray, A. B. Westrick, Deborah Wiles, Skila Brown, Kekla Magoon, Kelly Bingham, Jandy Nelson, Dana Walrath, Wendie Old, McFarland, Enslow, congratulations, Julie Berry, Micol Ostow, A. S. King, Michelle Knudsen, Stephen Bramucci, pj lyons, Zonderkidz, Gwenda Bond

Welcome IF YOU'RE READING THIS by Trent Reedy!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 @ 09:08 AM

Happy launch day to If You're Reading This by Trent Reedy (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)! This moving story of family, loss, and healing has already garnered a starred review from PW.

describe the imageDetails from the publisher: A heartwarming book about a son reconnecting with the father he lost in Afghanistan.

Mike was seven when his father was killed in mysterious circumstances in Afghanistan. Eight years later, the family still hasn't recovered: Mike's mom is overworked and overprotective; his younger sister Mary feels no connection to the father she barely remembers; and in his quest to be "the man of the family," Mike knows he's missing out on everyday high school life.

Then, out of the blue, Mike receives a letter from his father -- the first of a series Dad wrote in Afghanistan, just in case he didn't come home, meant to share some wisdom with his son on the eve of Mike's 16th birthday. As the letters come in, Mike revels in spending time with his dad again, and takes his encouragement to try new things -- to go out for the football team, and ask out the beautiful Isma. But who's been keeping the letters all these years? And how did Dad actually die? As the answers to these mysteries are revealed, Mike and his family find a way to heal and move forward at last.

Congratulations, Trent! Welcome, If You're Reading This!

Visit Trent at trentreedy.com and check out his other books, including Divided We Fall (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 2014).

Topics: 2014 release, Trent Reedy, Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books

Deborah Wiles and REVOLUTION

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, May 27, 2014 @ 11:05 AM

It's a big launch day for VCFA's Writing For Children and Young Adults. We've been celebrating Varian Johnson's GREAT GREENE HEIST but we're not done yet! Next up, alumna and former faculty member Deborah Wiles' new middle-grade novel REVOLUTION!

9780545106078It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded. Or at least that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They're calling it Freedom Summer. 
Meanwhile, Sunny can't help but feel like her house is being invaded, too. She has a new stepmother, a new brother, and a new sister crowding her life, giving her little room to breathe. And things get even trickier when Sunny and her brother are caught sneaking into the local swimming pool -- where they bump into a mystery boy whose life is going to become tangled up in theirs. 
As she did in her groundbreaking documentary novel COUNTDOWN award-winning author Deborah Wiles uses stories and images to tell the riveting story of a certain time and place -- and of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what's right.

Debbie's book was published by Scholastic Press and it's now available wherever books are sold!

Topics: 2014 release, Scholastic, Deborah Wiles, middle grade

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