the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Lisa Doan and THE ALARMING CAREER OF SIR RICHARD BLACKSTONE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 @ 12:02 PM

Are you ready for another alarmingly great middle grade novel from Lisa Doan? I have good news -- The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone is out now from Sky Pony Press! Even more good news -- Lisa has briefly switched hats here at The Launchpad, from interviewer to interviewee. Welcome, Lisa!

final cover Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone 9781510711228.jpg

Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.

But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidently transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversized arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

Hi, Lisa! Why was the setting of Victorian England perfect for this story?

I’m a huge Dickens fan and go back to those books whenever I would like to be living in a different time. Now is a good example of that. Nobody ever worried about what Queen Vic would tweet out, though I suppose it would be amusing to imagine it. “Palace - WINNING! East India Company HUUUUGE LOSERS! SO SAD.”

But I digress. I had in my mind a story that would tip a hat to Oliver Twist and have a fairy-tailish rags to riches element. Then, of course, it’s ever so much easier to have a giant tarantula roaming the neighborhood when nobody has a cell phone camera. That said, I actually feel that this story may take place slightly earlier, in the Georgian era, though I only reference a queen and not a king and I never say her name.

What are the differences in how you approach a standalone novel as opposed to a series?

I suppose that would be creating the large problem that will hang over all of the books in the series and not get resolved until the end of the last book.  That’s very difficult if you don’t know it’s going to be a series or you do know but don’t know how many books. The first book in the Berenson Schemes was written as a standalone so when it was bought as a series I rewrote it to wrap up the local plot but leave the overarching plot/internal conflict hanging. Then I created an arc of the internal conflict over the three books instead of just the one. It allowed me to approach it as both a series and a trilogy of sorts. I was lucky in that I knew upfront that it would be three books.  Had I not known, I would have had to reinstate the internal conflict in some way when I got to book two.

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Any craft advice for writers who want to write funny?

I’m so glad you asked! I could go on and on with tips and tricks, but will stick to the idea that everybody can write humor. So many writers say things like, “I’m just not funny.” Well, maybe not yet, but the only people who have no ability to be funny are people who never laugh. (And also, Sigmund Freud. Maybe he was a total jokester in his personal life, but his humor theory is dreadful.) I have my own theory about why writers end up believing they aren’t funny. It’s because they don’t understand how a humor piece develops. When a writer not accustomed to writing humor tries to write something funny, it ends up being a milquetoast haha moment. Then the writer concludes they don’t have the skill. The very same milquetoast haha moments happen to writers who specialize in humor. The difference is, they know it.

So why does that first effort end up being a milquetoast haha moment? Because that’s how our brains operate. Our brains are efficient and work hard to associate a new thing with a known thing. The writer ends up writing a pattern the brain remembers that is closest to what the writer was going for. That’s why, as a reader, we’ve all had the experience of reading something and maybe smiling a little and recognizing, “Oh, that’s humor,” but we don’t laugh out loud. That’s the first pass that never got changed or refined. Even though the scene might use different words or a different structure than you’ve seen before, it’s the same joke you’ve read a hundred times.

If you are attempting humor, go ahead and write that milquetoast haha moment. Just recognize that it is only a place holder, a sticky note on the skeleton of your manuscript. You will go back and refine and change and rearrange. Once you have the sticky note on the skeleton, you can tinker and that’s where funny lives, in the tinkering. Writers of drama do this very same thing, it’s called a crappy first draft, but I do think this process gets overlooked in humor because humor feels light, and light feels easy. Light is not the same as lightweight!

One other thing I’ll say about writing humor – it takes nerve and daring. When you tell your reader a joke, they know it. Even when they don’t laugh, they know you told it. In drama, you might get a little bit more leeway. Perhaps you meant for your reader to sob but they only feel saddish. They may not understand that your intent was sobbing. No such way to skate by in humor. On top of that, humor doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It is a science and an art and, most importantly, it’s vital and necessary. I would argue that it is especially necessary during this particular time in our history.  Don’t we have enough to cry about?

Hear, hear. I hope you've given lots more people out there the courage to write funny. We can do it, friends! Lisa, your writing and your presence is always a treat. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Lisa Doan is a proud member of two VCFA classes – the Dedications and the Cliffhangers. She is also the author of The Berenson Schemes series, the first book of which she wrote at Vermont. Should you happen to attend the Alumni mini-res this year or any other year – say hello! She, like the bad penny that she is, turns up every year.

Visit Lisa online at lisadoan.org, find her on Facebook (lisadoanauthor), and follow her on Twitter (@LisaADoan).

Topics: Lisa Doan, middle grade, Sky Pony Press, 2017 release

Cover for The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan

Posted by Lisa Doan on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 @ 08:02 AM

final_cover_Alarming_Career_of_Sir_Richard_Blackstone_9781510711228.jpgThe cover is here! Lisa Doan, 2008 VCFA grad and proud member of both the Dedications and The Cliffhangers, has a middle-grade coming out in February 2017.  The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone features a knight, a boy who would prefer to be an orphan but isn't, and, of course, a tarantula the size of a horse-drawn carriage. Let the hi-jinx begin.

Twelve-year-old Henry Hewitt has been living by his wits on the streets of London, dodging his parents, who are determined to sell him as an apprentice. Searching for a way out of the city, Henry lands a position in Hampshire as an assistant to Sir Richard Blackstone, an aristocratic scientist who performs unorthodox experiments in his country manor. The manor house is comfortable, and the cook is delighted to feed Henry as much as he can eat. Sir Richard is also kind, and Henry knows he has finally found a place where he belongs.

But everything changes when one of Sir Richard’s experiments accidently transforms a normal-sized tarantula into a colossal beast that escapes and roams the neighborhood. After a man goes missing and Sir Richard is accused of witchcraft, it is left to young Henry to find an antidote for the oversized arachnid. Things are not as they seem, and in saving Sir Richard from the gallows, Henry also unravels a mystery about his own identity.

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Come see me at lisadoan.org.

Topics: Lisa Doan, middle grade, Sky Pony Press, 2017 release

Bridget Birdsall and DOUBLE EXPOSURE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Nov 12, 2014 @ 08:11 AM

Congratulations to Bridget Birdsall, whose YA novel Double Exposure drops this week from Sky Pony Press! Here are the details:

doubleexposureFifteen-year-old Alyx Atlas was raised as a boy, yet she knows something others don’t. She’s a girl. And after her dad dies, it becomes painfully obvious that she must prove it now—to herself and to the world. Born with ambiguous genitalia, Alyx has always felt a little different. But it’s after she sustains a terrible beating behind a 7-Eleven that she and her mother pack up their belongings and move from California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to start a new life—and Alyx begins over again, this time as a girl.

Alyx quickly makes new friends, earns a spot on the girls’ varsity basketball team, and for the first time in her life feels like she fits in. That is, until her prowess on the court proves too much for the jealous, hotheaded Pepper Pitmani, who sets out to uncover Alyx’s secret. A dangerous game of Truth or Dare exposes Alyx’s difference and will disqualify her entire basketball team from competing in the state championships unless Alyx can prove, once and for all, that she is a girl. But will Alyx find the courage to stand up for the truth of her personhood, or will she do what she’s always done—run away? Whatever she decides, she knows there’s much more at stake than a championship win.

A stunning debut young adult novel from Bridget Birdsall, Double Exposure brings to light complex gender issues, teenage insecurities, and overcoming all obstacles.

Topics: young adult, 2014 release, Sky Pony Press, Bridget Birdsall

Stacy Nyikos and WAGGERS!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Nov 04, 2014 @ 08:11 AM

Our tails are wagging today with the release of Waggers by Stacy Nyikos (Sky Pony Press)! Stacy is a member of VCFA's League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches, and was kind enough to pop by for a chat.

waggersMoni & Michael are so excited to adopt Waggers. Waggers is too. His tail goes crazy. But he can't help it. Being adopted is exciting. So is baking cookies..and hunting monsters...and squirrels and socks and...wagging the paint off cars? Uh-oh. Can Waggers and his family find a way to stay together, or will his tail wag them apart?

Welcome, Stacy! So, tell us . . .

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

Regardless of the picture book, the hardest thing for me to cut and get right is the balance between visual imagery and story. When I write novels, I have to build the entire scene. When I do picture books, I have to leave plenty of story for the illustrator to play with. Figuring out exactly what part to leave is hard! I want to show it all. Word count helps keep me on task. At 500 words, all of them play double duty. Dialogue reveals plot, and if I choose correctly, also reveals character. In some ways, writing a picture book is like writing a movie script. Description isn't as integral as in a novel. A few words may do the trick. Or, if I'm on my game, an action on the character's part will reveal both scene and plot.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The idea for Waggers came when we got a new dog, Desi. She's a pound puppy, which means, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and in Desi's case, a tail that can knock holes in walls. Well, okay, I might be exaggerating a little, but she's got a tail on her that, when it gets going, has been known to clean tables of EVERYTHING. That's where the idea for a dog whose tail gets out of control came from. I could easily see Desi getting so excited she'd wag the paint off my car, which is why we don't leave her in the garage...ever!

We love Desi! :) What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?

It's from Stephen King - second draft = 1st draft - 10%. Not that I've ever been able to quite hit 10%. I tend to write short. Still, keeping that in mind, helps me keep second, third, fourth...thirty-second drafts from turning into paper monsters.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

VCFA helped me learn how to direct my imagination. Before, it was like a wild spigot. Now, it's like a fire hose that I direct into the recesses of my mind to water and bring to life plot, character, and scene and the million other little parts that go into making an idea into a story.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Is it wrong to say the cookies? Man, those things are good. I swear I still dream about them! (We agree!) But best of all was sitting with other writers and talking shop, listening to their story ideas, laughing together, commiserating together, having a support network to both bring my work to the next level and boost me up when I wasn't hitting the mark.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Embrace your own path. We writers all end up on different ones. The awesome thing is that there is no right way. There's only writing. How you get up over, or through, or under the wall - is there a wall? - and into the world of publishing is what makes you and your writing unique. Embrace it. It might be avant garde. It will definitely be different, and that's what sets you apart from anyone else as an artist. Embrace it.   

Wonderful advice. Thanks for visiting, Stacy! And welcome, Waggers!

In a quiet little office/at a comfy little desk/Stacy Nyikos chews on pencils/And scribbles silliness. Stacy holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. When she's not chasing stories (or being chased by them), she's on adventures with her husband, two daughters, and dog in the wilds of Oklahoma.

Visit Stacy online at her website and on her blog!

Topics: 2014 release, picture book, Stacy Nyikos, Sky Pony Press

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