the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Melanie Fishbane and MAUD!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 @ 07:04 AM

Today we're shouting all the hoorays for Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L. M. Montgomery by Melanie J. Fishbane, out now from Penguin Teen/Penguin Random House Canada!

MAUD Cover.jpgFourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery — Maud to her friends — has a dream: to go to college and become a writer, just like her idol, Louisa May Alcott. But living with her grandparents on Prince Edward Island, she worries that this dream will never come true. Her grandfather has strong opinions about a woman’s place in the world, and they do not include spending good money on college. Luckily, she has a teacher to believe in her, and good friends to support her, including Nate, the Baptist minister’s stepson and the smartest boy in the class. If only he weren’t a Baptist; her Presbyterian grandparents would never approve. Then again, Maud isn’t sure she wants to settle down with a boy — her dreams of being a writer are much more important.

But life changes for Maud when she goes out West to live with her father and his new wife and daughter. Her new home offers her another chance at love, as well as attending school, but tensions increase as Maud discovers her stepmother’s plans for her, which threaten Maud’s future — and her happiness forever.

Welcome, Melanie! I have to say, that cover is gorgeous. So, tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Besides Maud, I would say my favorite character to write was Will Pritchard. He is one of Maud’s two love interests who comes into her life during a time where she’s going to have to make some big decisions. Will is based on Maud’s real life boyfriend who she met the year she had lived with her father in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Will showed up as a cross between the pioneer boy of my childhood, Almanzo Wilder, and who Maud wrote about in her journals. He emerged as a man who saw things as they were, a good horseman with no patience for games or pettiness. He became a foil for Maud’s ambitions and, also, the confinement of expectations put on young people of the period. I can still hear his voice in my head while I write this now. He’s also quite handsome. :)

IMG_1257.jpgMelanie J. Fishbane laughs carelessly with the handsome Will Pritchard. Photo by Kate Sutherland.

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

For some people who write historical fiction the issue is not enough material, but with L.M. Montgomery, the issue is that there is so much. Montgomery was very particular about what she left behind. She burned her correspondence before she died, and copied out her journals into uniform ledgers, destroying the originals. There are also scrapbooks, her book collection, thousands of photographs (many she took herself as she was an avid photographer), and personal artifacts. There are also letters that others kept of letters that she wrote to them, particularly from her time in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

I had wanted to stay true to the arc of Montgomery’s experience as described in the journals, so I had tried to keep closely to the timeline, but I soon learned that this hurt the pace of the novel, particularly in the third act. For example, when I was writing about Maud’s time in Park Corner there were several family events and an episode with her cousins that involved many shenanigans. I had wanted to include it to show how Maud was connecting with the Montgomery side of her family, but inevitably it was cut because it slowed things down and away from the main emotional arc.

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

Unless I’m reading out loud or doing very precise copy editing, I need to write with music. Maud had a playlist that was inspired by music of the period, both popular and sacred. I also listened to a lot of contemporary music from PEI and Saskatchewan. The Meds and Catherine MacLellan were on loop for much of the writing process. As well as Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear, particularly “Chandelier” and “Big Girls Cry” because it echoed Maud’s emotional experience. Oh…and the Anne & Gilbert: The Musical, because…Anne and Gilbert…I put a selection of these songs on my website:

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 feel pretty grateful because my writing community is international, but closely connected. There are my classmates from VCFA and the Dystropians, my friends from TorKidLit, a local Toronto writing group that meets once a month to support young adult and kids’ writers, and CANSCAIP. I also have my Montgomery writer friends who I send stuff to when I need some advice. I have a few friends that I write with in Toronto and share first drafts with, as well as some from VCFA of course. I don’t have a critique group anymore. I had a writing group for about a year or so that met once a month, but because of a variety of circumstances we now only meet occasionally. I would say that through Facebook groups and Twitter, I’ve been able to stay connected to my tribe.

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

After my grandfather died, my aunt found a letter he had written to me around my birthday, but for some reason never gave it to me. In the letter, he talked about listening to me talk about what I had planned to do, how pleased he was to see me talk about my plans for education and the future, how I had made him a “very proud Zaidy.” I put the letter in something to protect it and posted it on my bulletin board. Maud is dedicated to him.

What a special find.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Sharron Darrow, Mary Quattlebaum, Rita Williams-Garcia and Sarah Ellis.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Everything. It taught me how to take myself and my writing seriously, putting in place good writing habits. It also connected me to a community that I continue to stay in touch with. I think going to VCFA also gave me the credentials I needed to prove to the publisher that I could do this project.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

Running across the campus to learn who our advisors would be.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

We were so supportive of one another and became close right away. Even now, we continue to just be there. If one of us needs something, we jump into action. We are family.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?Melanie Fishbane Author Photo Ayelet Tsabari.jpg

Stay as present as you can. Enjoy all of it. Suck up all the energy, knowledge and experiences you can, because it goes very quickly.

Thanks so much for visiting, Melanie! Hooray for Maud!

Obsessed with L.M. Montgomery and the red-headed orphan Anne of Green Gables since she was a kid, Melanie J. Fishbane is tickled red(?) to be celebrating the launch of her debut novel with the Launchpad.

Melanie is a member of the January 2013 Dystropians. Visit her online at

Author photo by Ayelet Tsabari.

Topics: young adult, Penguin, 2017 release, Penguin Random House of Canada, Melanie J. Fishbane, Penguin Teen

Brendan Reichs: Nemesis

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long does it take quicklime to dissolve a corpse?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Who have been your advisors at VCFA?

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

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

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

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


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

You can find out more about Brendan at

Nemesis was published by Penguin/Putnam March 21, 2017.







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

Patrick Downes and TEN MILES ONE WAY

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 @ 09:04 AM

Today, we have miles of hoorays for Patrick Downes and Ten Miles One Way, out now from Philomel/Penguin!


Nest and Q walk through the city. Nest speaks and Q listens. Mile by mile, Nest tells Q about her life, her family, her past . . . and her Chimaera, the beast that preys on her mind and causes her to lose herself. Q knows only that his love for Nest runs deeper than the demon that plagues her thoughts, that he loves her in spite of—or perhaps because of—the personal battle she fights every day.

Welcome, Patrick! So, tell us . . .

What was the spark that ignited this book?

I’m not sure there was any one idea. I’m a walker, a city kid originally, and I’ve known more than one person who walks when their mind is all fire. The city in this book is imaginary, the characters, too, but the feelings are true.

What’s your writing superpower?

Wow. I wish I had a superpower. Is there a mutant with an uncanny ability to understand the marketplace?

Ha! Wouldn't that be nice? :) Tell us about your writing community.

Some people write and think entirely or mostly alone, without much camaraderie. Some writers don’t talk much about their work or what they fear, loathe, love, avoid, or take on. What’s wonderful about VCFA is the promise of community and mutual support, if and when a writer needs it. I’m one who doesn’t think to go to others with my work, my rough ideas and drafts, my untested ideas, or even for an encouraging chat. Maybe it’s shyness. Maybe it’s process. Maybe it’s extreme introversion. Maybe it’s something even more mundane. One thing is certain, though, which is that even the most solitary writer may just need, one day, someone to talk to, to sit down with, if only to say, “This is hard, right?”

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

A pair of sensible walking shoes, with good arch support, plenty of room for the toes, and a sturdy sole, or a model of the Millennium Falcon in a bottle.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors for my mere two semesters in the WCYA program—I split my degree with the Other Program—were Alan Cumyn and Julie Larios. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

What advice would you give to an incoming student?

Try to write everything, long and short fiction, poetry, picture books, YA, MG, early readers, everything. And leave all your notions of what you imagine you are as a writer at the door. Let yourself grow without worrying over what exactly you’re supposed to grow into.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Somehow, I became a writer for younger readers. I had a quiet hope inside me to find a way someday to write picture books and YA novels—I find the middle grade work elusive—but I never imagined I would publish there first. Go figure. VCFA-WCYA gave me a career I never imagined.

Thanks so much for chatting, Patrick. Welcome home, Ten Miles One Way!

Patrick was born and raised in NYC, but splits his now time between the U.S. and Canada. Ten Miles One Way is his second YA novel. He’s also the author of the picture book, Come Home, Angus (Scholastic).

To learn more about VCFA's other programs, visit

Topics: young adult, Philomel/Penguin, Philomel, Penguin, Patrick Downes, 2017 release


Posted by Lisa Doan on Tue, Apr 04, 2017 @ 11:04 AM

Congratulations to Marianna Baer on her latest release, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn, published by Amulet/Abrams Books and launching april 4th. Marianna is a member of the '08 Cliffhangers and a resident of Brooklyn (the most unoriginal place for someone in children's publishing to live!) Her first book, FROST, was published by Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins in 2011. When not writing, she edits and develops novels for the YA and adult markets.

marianna cover TILOQ final cover.jpgQunn Cutler is beyond shocked when the doctor says she's pregnant. She's sixteen, the daughter of a prominent politician, and -- far more important -- she's never had sex. At least, not that she can remember.


Is she repressing a traumatic memory? Was she drugged? Before Quinn can solve this deeply troubling mystery, her story becomes public. Rumors spread, jeopardizing her reputation, her relationship with a boyfriend she adores, and her father's campaign for Congress. Religious fanatics gather at the Cutlers' house, believing Quinn is a virgin, pregnant with the next messiah.

As the chaos grows, Quinn's search for answers uncovers a trail of lies and family secrets -- strange, possibly supernatural ones. And despite what seems logical and scientific, Quinn can't help but believe the truth about her pregnancy isn't an ugly one. Might she, in fact, be a virgin?

In this thoughtful and heartfelt book, Marianna Baer dives deep into Quinn's world, the pregnancy that can't be possible, and the choices and secrets that for who Quinn Cutler really is.


What was the spark that ignited this book?
Years ago, I used to see this teenage girl training cross-country in the park near my apartment. Something about her intrigued me--a sense of innocence combined with a seriousness and intensity that suggested (to a writer's mind, at least!) that she was dealing with heavy burdens. Around that same time, I came across a painting of the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio at the Met, and… WHOA. It was the girl from the park! Right there, in this painting from 1602! I was blown away by the resemblance. And, as I looked at the painting, I wondered: what would happen if a girl in present day Park Slope believed she was a pregnant virgin? Once that question popped into my head, I knew it was a book I wanted to write.

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

Quick fact: I have a Word file titled "Deleted Scenes" for this book that is 64,675 words long. And that is only one of THREE files of marianna Caravaggio.jpegdeleted material! But, believe it or not, none of that cutting was nearly as difficult as some of the other changes I made. Among the hardest: In early drafts, Quinn's boyfriend, Jesse, wasn't her boyfriend -- he was her platonic best friend. She had no romantic interest in him whatsoever. At some point it became clear, though, that he needed to be her boyfriend to strengthen the plot. Problem was, since Quinn had no romantic interest in him, neither did I! When I tried to write scenes where she was attracted to him, I felt like I was making her kiss her brother. I struggled with it for a long time. Amazingly, the way I finally cracked it was ridiculously simple. I changed his name from Jesse to Jeremy. That one simple switch freed up my brain to re-envision their relationship. Now I can't imagine him NOT being her boyfriend! (I changed his name back to Jesse, eventually, because he never stopped being Jesse deep down.) 

Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out?

The backstory of selling this book is a long one. But I'm going to focus on the best/most important moment here, and you'll see why.

September of 2015 followed a very difficult year in my life. My agent (the miraculous Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties) had recently sent out QUINN, but because I wasn't in the best place emotionally, I didn't have high hopes. Anyway, I was at a retreat that I go to every September with a group of incredible VCFA grads. (The yearly re-set of my creative energy/well-being.) We had just finished dinner on the final night of the retreat and I did a quick email check. It was a Sunday night, so I wasn't expecting anything important. But there was an email from Sara. It said that Maggie Lehrman at Abrams loved/wanted QUINN. Now, not only was this INCREDIBLE news, but Maggie is a VCFA grad! She was in a class that I GA'd for and we had stayed in touch after, seeing each other occasionally in our mutual Brooklyn 'hood. I have immense respect for her writing (THE COST OF ALL THINGS, Balzer & Bray, 2015), and the books she's edited for Abrams, and I had no idea that Sara was submitting to her! So, here I was at the retreat, surrounded by a group of the most loving, supportive VCFA friends ever, and I found out that the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel was Maggie! The moment couldn't have been more perfect.* (Especially since there was a hot tub warming up outside!)

*For those new to publishing, I don't mean to insinuate that this moment was when I knew the book had sold. Maggie had to get other people to read it and approve the acquisition, Sara and I talked to editors at other houses, etc. Rarely is anything in publishing as quick as one email!

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

(This advice applies to revision, not early drafting.) It's common wisdom that concrete, specific details are crucial. And yes, that's true. But what I didn't fully get early on was that the details also need to be purposeful and only used where necessary. That sounds so obvious! But I used to  flesh out a scene with description willy-nilly. I thought the more detailed it was the better. Now, when I'm revising, I ask myself, "Do we really need to know what color her dress is in this scene? And if so, why is it yellow? What is that signaling to the reader?" I don't mean to suggest that everything has to be deeply meaningful or symbolic -- not at all. But there is a difference between a girl who wears a bright yellow dress and a girl who wears a khaki dress. And yellow has a strong association with sunshine for most readers. You need to be aware of the small clues you're planting.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Brent Hartinger, Sharon Darrow, and Tim Wynne-Jones. I hear their voices in my head every time I write.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

How did VCFA not affect my writing life?! It changed everything. But the one thing I'll mention here is the importance of the friends and community it gave me. I'm in touch with VCFA friends on a daily basis. Their support, advice, and camaraderie are the foundation of my ability to navigate this tough career without losing my mind. (Or, more accurately, they help me find my mind when I lose it.)

marianna Authorphoto.jpegContact marianna at:, @mariannabaer at Twitter and Marianna Baer on Facebook. 

Topics: young adult, Amulet Books, 2017 release, Amulet/Abrams, Marianna Baer, Abrams

Katie Bayerl and A Psalm for Lost Girls

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Who was your favorite character to write and why?

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

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

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

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

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

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

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

How did attending VCFA affect your (writing) life?

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

You can visit Katie at or on twitter at @katiebayerl

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

Sarah Johnson and CROSSINGS!

Posted by Tami Brown on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 @ 08:01 AM

Welcome Sarah Johnson to the Launch Pad! Sarah moves every couple years to a different foreign country and she wrote Crossings while living in Finland. She enjoys spending time with her family, music, travel, and chocolate. She's not just an alum of the WCYA program- she's part of the Launch Pad team. So twice the cheers for Sarah's debut novel CROSSINGS!

Crossings Johnson Cover small size.jpg 

Eliinka, a young, orphaned harp player, was born with the gift of influencing people around her with her music. But in her home country of Pelto, she’s forced to hide this ability to avoid persecution from government authorities. When she contracts to work for Jereni, a woman from the neighboring country with whom Pelto has been at war, she soon finds herself trying to reconcile the two countries. Can Eliinka use her musical gift to bring peace to Pelto and Viru while protecting the people she loves?

Welcome, Sarah and congratulations! Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Jereni was my favorite character to write. She is a multi-faceted, strong character and held back secrets. It took several revisions and writing many extra scenes to get to know her.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

A dream. I rarely have dreams, but one dark Finnish morning, the two main characters of Crossings woke me up. They propelled me out of bed to the computer, and I wrote so I could find out what would happen.  

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

I love so many authors!

Martine Leavitt and Kathi Appelt craft such beautiful sentences. I often read their books more than once; the first time for the story and the second time to savor the sentences.

A good story and an engaging plot is what keeps me in the pages of a book. Meghan Whalen Turner and Kimberly Loth are two authors who craft plots I love.

A list of authors who write characters I love would need to include E. B. White and J. K. Rowling.

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

A super talented designer created the cover of Crossings. Priscilla sent me some initial image ideas, asking me about the direction she was going. We corresponded and she designed a cover that really captures the atmosphere of the story and introduces the main character.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

My advisors were Margaret Bechard, Uma Krishnaswami with the picture book semester, Shelley Tanaka, Kathi Appelt, and Martine Leavitt.

Johnson, Sarah 2016 author small size.jpg

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

It’s impossible to pinpoint a favorite memory, but I loved the discussions about books and writing craft—both in workshops and in casual conversation.

Thanks so much for visiting us at the Launch Pad, Sarah. It's great to celebrate your new novel. CROSSINGS is published January 10 by Cedar Fort. You can learn more about Sarah, her writing and her travels on her website at and her blog at 



Topics: young adult, Sarah Blake Johnson, 2017 release, YA, Sarah Johnson, Cedar Fort

Amanda West Lewis and THE PACT!

Posted by Tami Brown on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 @ 06:10 AM

Current student Amanda West Lewis is visiting the LaunchPad. Amanda is a member of the Dead Post-Its Society, graduating July 2017. Her new historic novel THE PACT, a follow up to her very successful first novel SEPTEMBER 17,  was published recently to great acclaim. Welcome, Amanda!

Cover.jpgAs the tide turns against the Nazis, a radicalized youth must come to terms with the waves of destruction that destroy the only world he knows. The Pact is a powerful novel inspired by a true story.

Peter Gruber is a ten year old German boy who, in May of 1939, is dealing with the drowning death of his closest friend, living with his mother in Hamburg. The novel follows his life through the war years and the ultimate defeat of Germany – and explores how an intelligent, sensitive youth responds to the propaganda and posturing of the Nazis. It also provides insights into the realities of living in a country at war, seen through the eyes of a boy who is drawn into the Hitler Youth and who has growing misgivings about what he is being told about his country and its destiny.

What was the spark that ignited this book?

The genesis of this book came from a revelation by a neighbor, Hans Sinn. I’ve known Hans for over 25 years, but I knew nothing about his background until one day about 15 years ago. We were sitting together by a lake, watching our children play in the water. The children were singing songs and playing games – the kinds of things kids learn at camp. My husband Tim (Wynne-Jones) innocently asked Hans if he had ever gone to camp. Hans replied, with a sad smile, “Yes. Hitler Youth camp.” It was quite a shock! Hans then went on to describe his escape from an SS training camp in Denmark. It was an amazing story, and perhaps even more striking to hear it while we were sitting beside a peaceful lake in Canada.

            However, it wasn’t until 2012, after I visited Mainz, Germany, that I decided to delve deeper. I had just finished my first novel, September 17, which was about a particular group of English children who were evacuated during the Second World War. After being in Germany, I realized that I knew nothing about the experience of German children during the war. It’s not something that anyone discusses. In fact there was a whole generation whose childhood experiences were silenced after the war. Today they are called the Kreigskinder – the War Children.

            So I began interviewing Hans. I spent over a year talking with him about his life before, during and after the war. I steeped myself in research, and slowly a fictional story began to emerge. I wouldn’t have tackled this story had I not started with Hans as a primary source.

The other huge thing was that Hans had photos. I’m most comfortable when I can use photos as ignition points. Here are a couple

that we used for the book, but there were many that helped me to set the stage.

Hamburg_0003.jpg                                Boys_on_hill.jpg

Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

My first novel was published by Red Deer Press, so it was natural for me to go to them with this second. In fact, it was because of my editor at Red Deer, Peter Carver, that I decided to tackle this subject. We’d worked together really well on the first novel, sharing an obsession with the minutiae of daily life during the Second World War. When I floated the idea for he loved it because he saw it as a companion piece . That book was much harder because it had multiple viewpoints, and Peter gave me incredibly detailed notes about perspective, story arc and pacing. This novel was more of a challenge because the historical information I was trying to get across was less familiar, and also much more controversial. There were times when I was quite scared. But Peter helped me to keep focusing on the story and on the characters. He’d say: “How would they [the children] have known about this?” and that would get me back inside their heads. It is hard not to write about the war with what we know now to be true. I had to keep blocking off my “hindsight” brain.  

My first novel was second. In fact, it was because of my editor at Red Deer, Peter Carver, that I decided to tackle this subject. We’d worked together really well on the first novel, sharing an obsession with the minutiae of daily life during the Second World War. When I floated the idea for The Pact he loved it because he saw it as a companion piece September 17. That book was much harder because it had multiple viewpoints, and Peter gave me incredibly detailed notes about perspective, story arc and pacing. This novel was more of a challenge because the historical information I was trying to get across was less familiar, and also much more controversial. There were times when I was quite scared. But Peter helped me to keep focusing on the story and on the characters. He’d say: “How would they [the children] have known about this?” and that would get me back inside their heads. It is hard not to write about the war with what we know now to be true. I had to keep blocking off my “hindsight” brain.

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

Doing Internet research for this book was scary. Type the word Nazi into your search engine and you are going to get a lot of things you don’t want to know about. Checking and double-checking issues to do with education was fascinating, and trying to figure out the equivalencies in currency was a challenge. What was the cost of a cigarette? A day of care in a hospital? The daily wage of a worker?

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

I was in the midst of my second set of revisions when I came to my first residency at VCFA. I knew that I wasn’t going to work on this book at VCFA, but I had submitted the first 20 pages for my first residency workshop. There were some amazing suggestions that came out of that session, and both Cynthia Leitich Smith and Mark Karlins helped me to see some problems with the opening that I hadn’t been aware of. They helped me to get much closer to my protagonist, just by the way that they talked about him. But even more importantly, they took me and my work seriously. They helped me to believe that I could become a better writer. Also at that first residency David Gill gave his “Turn, Turn, Turn” lecture. He talked about a “significant and irreversible change.” I knew immediately where that was in the manuscript, and knew that I hadn’t made that moment do what it needed to do. I raced out of that lecture and re-wrote the turn of the book. I read it at the class reading session that night. My head and heart pounded all day just thinking about it. That lecture changed everything, because once I could see that turn, I could see where my protagonist was really going.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Don’t come here to write something that you are trying to get published. Come here to write, to experiment, to try things out of your comfort zone. Be prepared to play, laugh and cry. Know that you will be given more support than you ever imagined possible. Be brave. Say yes.

Thanks for dropping by the LaunchPad, Amanda! You can find out more about Amanda West Lewis and her books at her website  and you can find her novel THE PACT in bookstores now.


Topics: young adult, 2016 release, historical fiction, Red Deer Press, Amanda West Lewis, YA

Dean Gloster and DESSERT FIRST!

Posted by Adi Rule on Sun, Sep 18, 2016 @ 08:09 AM

Today, we're celebrating the release of Dessert First, Dean Gloster's new young adult novel (Merit Press). Sweet!


Upbeat--that's Kat, the girl in the family who everyone turns to when things get difficult. Especially now, when her beloved younger brother Beep is in his second leukemia relapse, and a bone marrow transplant from Kat may be his only chance.
But Kat's worried that she and her bone marrow may not be up to the job: She can't even complete homework, and she's facing other rejection--lost friendships, a lost spot on the soccer team, and lots of heartache from her crush on her former best friend, Evan. Kat doesn't know if her bone marrow will save Beep, or whether she can save herself, let alone keep her promise to Beep that she'll enjoy life and always eat dessert first.

Dessert First is a funny, moving story about coping, appreciating sweetness, and learning to forgive.

Welcome, Dean! So, tell us . . .

Who was your favorite character to write? The main character, smart, funny 16-year-old Kat Monroe was the most fun character I've ever written, because she's funny and hurt and perceptive, but only a semi-reliable narrator--there is a lot she doesn't really get at the start of the novel. Her voice came really easily, because she reminds me of how I was at 16. She's a parentified child who's taking care of other people, but underneath she's got some anger, which comes out in her humor and her world view. 

What spark ignited the book for you? The two sparks that ignited this book were my wife, who for years worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse at UCSF hospital, where part of the book takes place, and who now works at a children's hospice and respite care facility, the George Mark Children's House in San Leandro, and my daughter, who found the then-only scene of the novel on the family computer when she was a teenager and said it was really good and that I should finish whatever it was part of. 

What was it like when you found out you'd sold the book and it was being published? Amazingly wonderful, but it's kind of a funny story. The email that Merit Press wanted to publish Dessert First came while I was at residency. (Yes, really good things do happen at VCFA.) Unfortunately, with all the intensity of residency, my constantly emailing documents to myself to print out in the library, and my mostly using my VCFA email address, I actually missed the message from the editor saying they were buying my book, and only saw it a week later when I got back home and my agent also emailed me. My editor was great about it, because she understood what an MFA residency is like.

What a testament to the intensity of residency! I'm glad you finally got your email.

sniff.jpgWhat's your idea of the coolest swag to go with the book? I have the coolest swag to hand out at book readings already. Late in the story, one of my characters gives the protagonist a tissue, one of "those cute ones called Sniffs that have a cartoon cat on them." After Kirkus Reviews said about my book, "This deeply moving tragedy vastly outpaces typical tissue use," the wonderful people who run the company that makes Sniffs--PaperProducts Design--sent me several cases of them with cat art. I like to joke that Dessert First has such tear-jerking scenes, that it's the only novel in the world with an official tissue sponsor.

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life? I've learned so much, including the habit of being a critical reader of fiction for craft, so I can keep learning. I feel like I have such a better understanding of different ways to write a scene and why. Even more important, I finally found my tribe--other writers passionate about writing for young people. My unbelievably talented classmates are some of my favorite people in the world.

What advice would you give a prospective VCFA student? Do everything you can to get as good as you can and learn as much as you can before you show up, so you can get that much more out of the program. More important than that, if you're passionate about writing for young people, do everything you can to come to the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I don't know how many places in the world are actually magical, but this is one of them.

Hear, hear! Thanks so much for stopping by, Dean, and welcome to the world, Dessert First!


Dean Gloster is a former stand-up comic, former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, and former attorney who gave up writing briefs to write fiction. His hobby is downhill ski racing.

Dean is a member of The Dead Post-It Society class of July 2017.

Visit him online at his website,, and stop by Kat's blog. Follow him on Twitter @deangloster.

Topics: young adult, 2016 release, Dean Gloster, Merit Press

Carrie Jones and FLYING!

Posted by Adi Rule on Mon, Sep 05, 2016 @ 11:09 AM
We're flying high with excitement about Carrie Jones's new young adult novel Flying, out now from Tor! And for an extra surprise, we have two special guests on the blog today -- Carrie and her interviewer, SPARTACUS! *wags tail*
New York Times bestselling author Carrie Jones introduces sassy alien-hunting cheerleader Mana in Flying, the launch of a sparkling new YA Science Fiction series.
People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She's used to being coddled, being an only child, but it's hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother's babying gets more stifling than ever, she's looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while.
But that night, Mana's life goes haywire.
First, the hot guy she's been crushing on at school randomly flips out and starts spitting acid during the game. Then they get into a knockdown, drag-out fight in the locker room, during which Mana finds herself leaping around like a kangaroo on steroids. As a flyer on the cheerleading squad, she's always been a good jumper, but this is a bit much. By the time she gets home and finds her house trashed and an alien in the garage, Mana starts to wonder if her mother had her reasons for being overprotective.
It turns out, Mana's frumpy, timid mom is actually an alien hunter, and now she's missing--taking a piece of technology with her that everyone wants their hands on, both human and alien. Now her supposed partner, a guy that Mana has never met or heard of (and who seems way too young and way too arrogant to be hunting aliens), has shown up, ordering Mana to come with him. Now, on her own for the first time, Mana will have to find a way to save her mother--and maybe the world--and hope she's up to the challenge.

Because dogs are an integral part of her writing process, Carrie’s dog, Spartacus, has decided that he should be in charge of this interview. Since Carrie is super conflict averse, she agreed. She apologizes in advance for the quality of her answers. 


Sparty the Dog: Dear Carrie, we in your canine family have noticed that you write about… Well, you write about weird things when you write for young adults.

Carrie the Human: I have no idea what you mean, Sparty.

Sparty the Dog: Let me flip through my notes. Yes. Here we go. Human-sized pixies, possession, alien hunting cheerleaders, another upcoming book about Big Foot  

Carrie the Human: That one isn’t actually about Big Foot… It’s something scarier.



Sparty: I worry that you are my human.

Carrie: I give you bacon though. 

Sparty: It’s the only reason I stay around. Anyway, I have questions for you, human! This is an interview. Are you ready?

Carrie: Yes.

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

Carrie: Don’t be afraid to be weird. 



Sparty: Really? That’s it?

Carrie: Everyone can be normal, or pretend to be. But when you embrace your weird? That’s when improvisation happens, that’s when creativity and production and craft meet to make something magical.

Sparty: Did Tim Wynne-Jones tell you that?

Carrie: Actually, I think it was Rita Williams-Garcia. 

Sparty: Well, at least I got the three-name thing down. Moving on… What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

Carrie: What to do when you’re being interviewed by a dog.

Sparty: Did it say, “Bribe him with bacon?”

Carrie: It did! How did you know that?

Sparty: I wrote that Buzzfeed article. So, tell us something special you keep on your desk as you work.

Carrie: Bacon. You know that. You’re always trying to knock it off the desk.

Sparty: No comment. What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? Whew. That’s a giant word. Prospective. You VCFA people like those multisyllabic words, don’t you?

Carrie: You just said one.

Sparty: Said what?

Carrie: Multisyllabic.


Carrie: You’re a talking dog who writes blog posts and BuzzFeed articles. I know you’re smart, buddy. You can’t hide it.

Sparty: Just answer the question. So this can be done and I can go on a walk.

Carrie: I would tell them to be unafraid, to try everything you can try (genre, style, point of view), to write like the house was on fire and you have to get your chapter done because there may never be time to write again. 

Sparty: Violent.

Carrie: I shrug.

Sparty: You do shrug. A lot. You also sigh. They teach you not to do that all the time at Vermont, don’t they? And yet, you still do it…

Carrie: You know what they say about old dogs.

Sparty: That they are awesome?

Carrie: That too.

Sparty: Final question so we can take a walk! What do you wish you had known before stepping onto the VCFA campus?

Carrie: I wish I had known how important the cookies were to overall health and writing sustainability. Those cookies in the cafeteria are absolutely imbued with magical properties. You can practically see the Printz Award glitter and Caldecott bling flying off of them, giving all the students a bit more writing enchantment. I know! I know! It sounds totally unreal. IT IS REAL! THE MAGIC IS REAL! Go forth and eat cookies, prospective students. 



Sparty: So the cookies are like bacon?

CarriePretty much.

Carrie JonesCARRIE JONES is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Need series, as well as After Obsession with Steven E. Wedel. She is a distinguished alum of Vermont College's MFA Program, and an on call firefighter in Maine because … um… firefighting!  In her spare time, she likes to pet dogs, fight polio, and make literacy festivals.

Visit Carrie online at, follow her on Twitter @carriejonesbook (, on Facebook at, and on Instagram at

Watch the Flying trailer here!


Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here!




Topics: young adult, 2016 release, Carrie Jones, Tor


Posted by Tami Brown on Wed, Jun 01, 2016 @ 06:06 AM

Today we're welcoming Bat Poet (Class of January 2011) Kelly Barson to the LaunchPad with her new novel CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT.  Honestly, how cute is that cover!


Lydia and I were in eighth grade when we came up with our Grand Plan to go to cosmetology school and get jobs to build our clientele while we earned business degrees. Then we’d open our own salon . . .

Now Charlotte and Lydia are juniors, in a Cosmetology Arts program where they’ll get on-the-job training and college credits at the same time. The Grand Plan is right on schedule.  Which means it’s time for Step Two: Win the Winter Style Showcase, where Cos Arts and Fashion Design teams team up to dazzle the judges with their skills.  Charlotte is sure that she and Lydia have it locked up—so sure, in fact, that she makes a life-changing bet with her mother, who wants her to give up cos for college.
And that’s when things start going off the rails.
As the clock ticks down to the night of the Showcase, Charlotte has her hands full. Design divas. Models who refuse to be styled. Unexpectedly stiff competition. And then, worst of all, Lydia—her BFF and Partner in Cos—turns out to have a slightly different Grand Plan . .
Like 45 Pounds (More or Less), K.A. Barson’s Charlotte Cuts it Out is a funny, relatable story set in the heart of the Midwest, just right for girls who have big dreams of their own.

Welcome Kelly! Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I loved writing Charlotte. She is a mash-up between me and my daughter with sprinklings of Elle from Legally Blonde and Cher from Clueless. I love that she's smart, even though she seems shallow, that she cares and tries hard, even if she doesn't always get it right. She is pretty self-centered, but doesn't realize it right away. Overall, she was fun to inhabit. 

What was the spark that ignited this book?
My daughter was a high school cos student, so the background is based on her school experience. That was the spark. The rest of the story is purely fiction. 

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

Silence, always. I write in a tiny office where there is only room for me and my dogs. Once my office door opens, they find their spots and get to work. Their work looks more like napping, but isn't that the best way to summon your muse? 

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

I love my cover! The cover designers did a fabulous job! When I first saw the design I loved it, but Viking wanted to tweak it. Since the story is based on my daughter's experience as a high school cos student, they asked for her input. She gave them a page of notes, and they incorporated every one of her suggestions. Now I love it even more. 

I LOVE that cover, too! It's so fresh and sassy. What unusual swag do you wish you could make for this book?

I'd love to have custom nail polish--in Iridescent Iris--which is Charlotte's favorite. I've looked into it, but it's very expensive. 

Gosh, I bet but how cool would that be! Who were your advisors at VCFA? 

Marion Dane Bauer, Martine, Leavitt, Sarah Ellis, and Rita Williams-Garcia. Every one of them is an amazing writer and person, and exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. 

What is your favorite VCFA memory? 

Third res. I'd just hit that res wall. I was tired and a bit teary. Next up on the pink schedule: awards announcement. I thought about skipping it. No, I thought. I want to be there to clap for the winners. The alumni gift award is awarded by students nominating and faculty choosing. Margaret read some of the comments from the ballots, which were all really nice. Then she read my name as the winner of the award and of those compliments. It meant the world to me because I had absolutely NO idea it was coming. I'm usually not a fan of surprises, but this one was wonderful. 

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student? 

Don't go in with a plan. Since I'm like Charlotte from my book, I knew exactly who I "wanted" to work with each semester. I had a plan. And like Charlotte, I was better off when I let go and trusted. Unlike Charlotte, (thank God) I didn't have to face disaster before learning my lesson. I ended up scrapping my plan early on, and wound up with exactly who I needed. 

Be open to everything and everyone. A faculty member who writes a different genre from you still has a ton to teach you. A writing or reading assignment that you don't want to do might be exactly what you need to do. Do it. Try everything. Talk to everyone. Don't hold on and don't hold back. VCFA is the best community for doing just that. If you fail, they're a safe place to fall. But if you succeed, they're the wind that keeps you in flight. (That was cheesy. Sorry, not sorry.)

Fabulous advice. And CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT looks fabulous, too. Congratulations, Kelly!

CHARLOTTE CUTS IT OUT is published by Viking/Penguin Random House and it's available at bookstores everywhere right now! You can learn more about Kelly and her writing at


Topics: young adult, 2016 release, YA contemporary, Viking Children's, Kelly Barson,

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