the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Terry Pierce and MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Jan 31, 2017 @ 05:01 AM

Terry Pierce joins us in the Launchpad to talk about her new rhyming picture book, My Busy Green Garden. Kirkus Reviews says this "action-filled" book has a "lovely literary and artistic rendering." Terry is a member of The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches, a July 2011 graduate. After graduating from Vermont College of Fine Arts, Terry went on to teach Youth Market courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Welcome, Terry!

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This is my busy green garden.

There’s a surprise

In clever disguise,

That hangs in my busy green garden.

Bugs, birds, and other creatures make this garden a busy place. From the shimmering dew of early morning to the lengthening shadows of late afternoon, there is one small miracle after another for anyone who stops to see, and the last one is the most surprising of all.

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

The most challenging aspect of this story was finding the final “spark” that made it sell. I wrote it in 2006, subbed it to a few editors but only received “declines.” At a 2007 SCBWI retreat, I read the first page to an editor who asked to see the full story. She wrote me back while I was in middle of the MFA program, telling me that she liked the concept and the language, but that it was missing something, a spark. I set her note aside and didn’t get back to it until 2014! It was then that I thought to add a repeating line of three words, “In clever disguise.” Kids love disguises and mysteries, so why not add a mystery element to the story to spark reader interest? I subbed it to Tilbury House and within two hours, they wrote me back saying they loved it and were very interested in acquiring it! (and I only had to revise one word for them)

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

I adore Phyllis Root’s picture books. Her playful and engaging language coupled with plots and characters with young reader appeal make her books a joy to read for any age. Also on my bookshelf are the works of Eve Bunting and Lisa Wheeler. They too are wonderful writers of rhyme and playful language. As far as characters go, Kevin Henkes is the king of picture book characters, at least in my book.

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

I’m fortunate to be in two wonderful writing groups. One is comprised of VCFA picture book writers and the other is formed from clients of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency who write picture books. Both groups have highly talented writers who give me incredibly useful feedback on my work.

The only time I ask my husband to read a manuscript for me is if the story rhymes. Because he doesn’t typically read rhyming stories aloud anymore (our son is grown now), he’s a great representation of a potential read-aloud reader. Whenever he “stumbles” over a word or phrasing, I note in on my own copy and know it needs more work. 

Twitter? Ha! Because I’m part of a group blog called EMU’s Debuts, I’ve had to learn how to navigate Twitter. I can’t say that I’m 100% comfortable with it, but I’m learning!

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

I keep a small pile of three flat stones (descending in size) near my desk. I have it there as a reminder to keep my life balanced. For good health, I need to balance work and play, social and solitude, writing and exploring, my physical and mental being.

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

A-mazing! Carol Schwartz is an incredible illustrator. She uses bold colors with astonishing detail, which works perfectly in MY BUSY GREEN GARDEN. When I saw the opening double-page spread, I cried because it’s incredibly beautiful. Imagine one of those “hidden pictures” you’d see in Highlights magazine, but in color and on steroids! Everyone who I’ve shown the book to stays on that page pouring over the details, trying to find all the animals.

Months later, I saw the cover image and the interiors, and they brought a similar response. All I could think was how fortunate I am to have Carol create the art for my words. Her illustrations lift the text to a new level. If you’d like to see a treat, visit her website!

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. If you see a common thread, it’s because I chose advisors with a strong background in picture book writing (although I learned much about novel writing too). I affectionately called them my “Picture Book Dream Team.”

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I’m probably saying what others before me hPierceHeadshotUCLA (2).jpgave said but VCFA took my writing to whole new level. The individual work with advisors and the insightful lectures at the residencies revealed aspects of writing that I had never thought about or been exposed to through the other means of my writing education. It was as if the VCFA experience peeled back the layers of high-quality writing, allowing me to soak them in and apply them to my own work.

The other way it affected my life was by opening doors of opportunity. Having an MFA from Vermont College was a factor in my being hired by the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program (the program director knew of VCFA, having already hired a few of its alums). I’ve also had other writing opportunities since I’ve graduated that were because of networking through VCFA. I still recall at
 my very first workshop, Kathi Appelt and I were the first to arrive, and while chatting, she said, “The Vermont College experience will open doors to you that you can’t even imagine yet.” She was right! (as always ;-)).

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

My Picture Book Certification semester was the best writing experience I’ve ever had. I was fortunate to have Meredith Davis, Mary Cronin, Abby Aguirre and Barbara Bishop in my group (dubbed “Everything Under the Moon”) with Kathi Appelt at the helm. We bonded over picture books in a way I hadn’t thought possible. We loved reading each other’s work and having lively discussions. I still remember while visiting my son for the Thanksgiving holidays, that rather than sitting around chatting with family, I wanted to get on our forum to discuss Maurice Sendak and his philosophy on writing children’s books. The Picture Book semester was a tremendous experience, one which I strive to replicate for my own students.

Terry is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency and has four children’s books coming out in 2017 and 2018, including MAMA LOVES YOU SO (Little Simon March, 2017). You can visit Terry at her Website.

 

Topics: picture book, Kirkus, WCYA, 2017 release, Terry Pierce, Tilbury House, garden, rhyme

Final ShoutOut For The Inkredibles' VOICES

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 @ 06:06 AM


The Inkredibles, who graduated from VCFA in January 2016, have published a new anthology of classmember's work. Today we hear from the final four Inkredible authors.

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Laurie Wallmark

Passion and Reason

Passion and Reason is a YA novel-in-verse based on the life of Ada Byron Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

Why did you choose to write a novel-in-verse about the same person in your picture book biography?

I thought it would be interesting to examine someone’s life from very different perspectives: picture book vs. young adult novel, prose vs. poetry, nonfiction vs. fiction. Writing for an older audience allowed me to delve into the more mature aspects of Ada Byron Lovelace’s life, like her drug addiction, gambling problems, and sexual indiscretions. Through the use of free verse instead of prose, I could better illustrate Ada’s struggles between two conflicting lifestyles: irresponsible, like her father Lord Byron, and proper, like her mother. Finally, by fictionalizing Ada’s story, I could use dialogue in scenes, which gave more insight into Ada’s character.  

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Margaret Turner White

 Try Again Summer

After Willa’s best friend abandons her for camp, she befriends Charlie, who teaches her sign language...and helps hunt for ghosts.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

Answer: There were two sparks, actually! At my first VCFA residency, visiting author Lucy Christopher challenged us to begin a project from setting. I knew right away that I would write about the island in North Carolina where I spent summers growing up. I’d also been studying American Sign Language, and wanted to tell a story that reflected my experience of getting to know Deaf culture. Those two elements came together and eventually became Try Again Summer.  

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A. C. Williard

 Across the Wall

Sickly Jims crosses the Wall between life and death. Should his sister Merry and bestie Tama follow him? Can they?

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

I wish I had known superficial things: starting in January means Yak Traks and an extra blanket are survival necessities. But I also wish I had known how amazing this place is, and how warm and open the students and faculty are. Melissa tells everyone: “You belong here” and it took me longer than it should have to really believe it.

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Mary-Walker Wright

Lucky Minus the K

Lucky Minus the K is a race-against-the-clock, supernatural mystery about a young girl’s quest to keep her horseback riding dreams alive after losing her long-time trainer.

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

Finding my writing community has been a process of trial and error. My critique group formed about five years ago when I stopped trying so hard to find trusted readers! I took a one-semester course at the Westport Writer’s Workshop and the group never said goodbye. In January 2014, I became part of the VCFA family and am grateful to have several “go to” trusted readers, depending on the project. My eighteen-year-old son, Billy, is my at-home reader and toughest critic. His superpower? Spotting plot holes. Like all relationships, writing relationships work when there’s mutual trust, respect, and stick-with-it-ness.

Print copies of the anthology have been sent to select editors and agents. A pdf version may be obtained by emailing Shelley.Jackson@VCFA.edu. The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact Laurie.Wallmark@VCFA.edu for details on the events. 

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

Let's Hear It For The Inkredibles' VOICES

Posted by Tami Brown on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

The Class of January 2016's new anthology VOICES launches into the publishing world this week. Today we hear from three more class members.

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Alexis Karas

Like a Ghost in the Silence

Kyler thought she was crazy, but what if the voices she’s heard all of her life are real? 

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

I have to have music on when I’m writing. The music varies depending on what I’m writing at the time. I make playlists to go along with specific characters/scenes/emotions I’m trying to capture in my writing. Both of my main characters, Kyler and Haze, have their own playlists. Sometimes, if a certain song is really striking me in a scene, I’ll keep it on repeat until I’m done with that scene.

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Courtney Tuckman

Lit up

This is a story about the pain of loving someone struggling with mental illness and the healing journey that follows.

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

When I sit down at my desk, I want to feel like I’m in a cocoon of inspiration, ideas and love.  My walls are covered with a colorful splattering of images and words.  I have about thirty rainbow colored post-it notes with ideas about the writing process and the story I’m writing.  Surrounding the words are pictures that make me feel inspired.  There are also notes and pictures from my loved ones.  

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Katie Van Ark

Kiss and Cry 

Already overshadowed by their gold medal friends, ice dancers Katelyn and Chris find their lives spinning with an unexpected pregnancy.

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

I'm a librarian, so I fall in love with new authors all the time. Recent reads that I've loved include Emma Mills's First & Then for its sentences, Jessica Love's In Real Life for plot, and Jennifer Mathieu's Devoted for character. But the books I fall hardest for slam all three out of the park, like Miranda Kenneally's Catching Jordan. I'll also forever love Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light—I wrote an essay for my VCFA coursework on her multitasking sentences!

Print copies of the anthology have been sent to select editors and agents. A pdf version may be obtained by emailing Shelley.Jackson@VCFA.edu. The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact Laurie.Wallmark@VCFA.edu for details on the events.

 

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

More Inkredible VOICES!

Posted by Tami Brown on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 @ 09:06 AM

The Inkredibles, Class of January 2016 new anthology VOICES publishes this week. Today we hear from three more class members.

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Heather Hughes

Inner Sunset 

Seventeen year-old Xavier Keen is a self-proclaimed monk wandering San Francisco because he wants to fix something... maybe himself.  

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

If the day contained just 25 hours, I would use that last hour to make Voices of the Inkredibles quill pens.  I'd use many from our distinction of birds, pull some decorative tail feather, clip it diagonally for a needle-sharp point and invite all of VCFA to play with Ink with us. 

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Shelley Ann Jackson

Covering the World with Color: The Story of Sonia Delaunay

A picture book biography of 19th century artist Sonia Delaunay, who conquered barriers to pioneer an abstract art style. 

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

I was particularly intrigued by Delaunay's childhood—her poor Ukrainian parents gave her to a wealthy aunt and uncle in Russia when she was around seven years old. Her mother refused to give up parental rights, so the relatives never officially adopted her, though they did change her name from Sarah to Sonia. Originally, I began the narrative at the train station as she moved to Russia. Though this event surely effected her sense of self and belonging throughout her lifetime, ultimately it didn't serve the story line and was cut. Luckily, I was able to mention her early life in the author's note.

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Karen Kane

Charlie and Frog: A Castle-on-the-Hudson Mystery

Castle-on-the-Hudson may not have cell phone or Internet service, but it does have murder, intrigue, and a school for the Deaf.

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

Avoidance of writing is always about fear. Fear that what I put on the page will never be as good as the story inside my head. And it never will be as good, but it will be real. And real is always better, even when imperfect (and its always imperfect), because I trust myself that I can revise and make it better.

 

A pdf version may be obtained by emailing Shelley.Jackson@VCFA.edu. The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact Laurie.Wallmark@VCFA.edu for details on the events.

 

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

More Inkredible- The INKREDIBLE ANTHOLOGY, Post 2

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Jun 21, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

The Class of January 2016's anthology VOICES releases this week. Today we meet three more members of the class.

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Kate Buckley  

Bruised

Love, violence, emotional turbulence: one teen boy’s bumpy ride to unwind his troubled heart, and find the courage to change.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? 

Get ready to be inspired, work hard, stretch and grow your craft in ways you never imagined and become part of an amazing community of writers!

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Cheryl Dishon

Matoaka Born

When the last person Willie could rely on gets ripped out of his life, he must determine which way to proceed.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

In addition to the exemplary quality of guidance from faculty advisors, I never imagined I'd have such a network of supportive people for a traditionally solitary exercise. I now know fellow writers in New Zealand, Hong Kong, and my backyard who would give generously of their time and hard-won knowledge to help me noodle through a tough writing challenge.   

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Katherine B. Ferguson

Sylvie’s Moon

When her father leaves for World War II, twelve-year-old Sylvie takes charge of her family’s Massachusetts dairy farm.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever googled for your writing?

The weirdest thing I googled for my novel is "video of cows giving birth". And yes, I watched them….

Come back tomorrow for more about this INKREDIBLE anthology, VOICES.  A pdf version may be obtained by emailing Shelley.Jackson@VCFA.edu. The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact Laurie.Wallmark@VCFA.edu for details on the events.

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

It's INKREDIBLE-- VOICES, VCFA Writing For Children & Young Adults Class of January 2016 Anthology!

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

How cool is this?

The Inkredibles (Jan '16) joined together after graduation to produce an anthology celebrating their MFA work. VOICES releases today, with a gala launch party in New York.

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Each of the 16 students submitted a biography, an introduction, and ten pages of creative work. Included in the volume are a variety of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and poetry, plus a foreword by faculty member Tim Wynne-Jones and an introduction by alumna Cori McCarthy '11. The Inkredibles did everything themselves—from copy-editing to design.

Print copies of the anthology have been sent to select editors and agents. A pdf version may be obtained by emailing Shelley.Jackson@VCFA.edu. The Inkredibles will be hosting a celebration of the anthology for editors and agents in Manhattan on July 20th, to be followed by an after-party, which is open to the VCFA and literary communities at large. Please contact Laurie.Wallmark@VCFA.edu for details on the events.

Welcome the Inkredibles and their incredible publishing project to the LaunchPad.  All week we'll meet members of the class,  sampling their work and the work that's gone into the creation of this compilation.

 

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Laura Atkins

Luci and Sage

From dirt juice to fairyland names, shy Luci and exuberant Sage learn they need each other to look and leap.

What’s your writing superpower?

My writing superpower is a single-minded adherence to deadlines. However, this power can also be my kryptonite weakness. When someone gives me a deadline, I am able to meet it in a single bound, leaping over other time commitments, inertia and procrastination. VCFA was great for me that way. Oh those deadlines! But post-graduation, I find the lack of a due date stymies my motivation. And those things that are tied to deadlines (paying work, sigh) will grab my attention. Hopefully I can develop a parallel superpower: discipline!

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Beth Bacon

 Almost Impossible

10-year-old Vivian Harlan uncovers the secrets of a small town’s history and her father’s past in this heartwarming coming-of-age story.

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

My middle grade work, Almost Impossible, has a large cast of characters: the crew of the Daniel C. Glickmeyer Traveling Demolition Derby, a country music duo, and several quirky small-town citizens. The story’s main theme is finding one’s true voice. Every character struggles with this except one: fourteen-year-old Elvis Tupelo Glickmeyer. Elvis always speaks the truth of his heart. Many chapters were a challenge to write, but whenever Elvis showed up, the scenes flowed effortlessly. 

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Tom Brennan

BOYS

BOYS is the true story of what I did after losing my virginity and fathering a child at the same time.

What is your favorite VCFA memory.

 My favorite VCFA memory happened early on. I was still green and scared. I didn’t know that being on time to the dance was a thing. As I walked into the lobby -- late – 4th semester students were “guarding” the entry. The door was covered with craft paper. A sign above read: “Platform 9 ¾.”

A ha! This is a test,” I thought, and without hesitation I strode forward. The lobby was filled with the unmistakable DWOCK sound of skull hitting wood, followed by a “YIPE!” (which may have come from me).Without missing a beat, a guard announced gleefully, “Muggle!”

Visit the LaunchPad tomorrow-- and the rest of this week-- to meet more of the INKREDIBLES and to learn more about this incredible anthology and their stories behind their stories.

Topics: WCYA, Anthology, Inkredibles

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