Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Archive for April, 2011

Sona’s Space: My Whole House Is My Office (And My Baby’s Playhouse)

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On April - 30 - 2011

kavispace 600x576 Sonas Space: My Whole House Is My Office (And My Babys Playhouse)

For the past three years, I’ve been working from home fulltime. It’s an interesting experiment — and it came with a steep learning curve. There were days I spent meandering around my apartment, a charming, sunshine-filled duplex that feels like a little house in the middle of Jersey City, watching endless episodes of House Hunters and doing nary a lick of work.

There are still days that are like that — more frequent than I’d care to admit. But over time, I got comfortable with the idea of actually working at home, and our whole apartment became my office — from the sofa (with the TV as background noise) to the little table in the kitchen to my big, cozy bed, where I’d snuggle up with my cup of chai and my Mac and pound out some pages. Except of course, when the lure of its comfy pillows lulled me right off to sleep.

But things are very different now. That’s because I’ve got this tiny little person who’s invaded every inch of my space (and my husband’s). Since she arrived last February, she’s owned this place, pulling pots and pans out of cabinets and books off of shelves as she explores her domain. Toys scatter underfoot and even under-bum (careful when you sit down on what used to be my spotless mocha suede sofa). And even the big old bed is Kavya’s space, first and foremost.

Ironically, now it’s where I now get most of my work done. For the last few months, I’ve found myself working very specifically to deadline, usually waking up before sunrise — at four a.m., frequently — to get to work, because I haven’t had time otherwise. Kavi’s generally still snuggled up next to me then, but she’s snoozing for another three or four hours. She tends to like to cuddle right up against my hip, keeping me company as I use that concentrated quiet time to really get some work done. Surprisingly, I’ve been pretty prolific in those short bursts of time. Now, if I could just make more of them, I’d actually finish the sucker.

Photo by Navdeep Singh Dhillon

cremation of sam mcgee 226x300 Guest Blogger: Lenea Grace Chats About National Poetry MonthAs National Poetry Month comes to an end, let me implore you fictionistas out there to not forget about poetry in the realm of children’s literature. Think of poems as bite-sized morsels of the absurd, the ridiculous, the sad, the serious, and the strange. Children’s poems are often quite short, playful, and funny, appealing to younger readers who balk at the idea of reading a longer novel.

Growing up, I was entranced by Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a series of…well, revolting rhymes that parodied traditional fairy tales. I raised my small fist in solidarity with poet Jack Prelutsky’s (the first Children’s Poet Laureate, by the way) battle cry of “Homework! Oh Homework! I hate you! You stink!” And, of course, I loved the zany characters that dotted the delightfully silly verse of Shel Silverstein. I still haven’t forgotten a certain Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who would not take the garbage out. Or little Peggy Ann McKay who could not go to school that day.

I suppose I can thank my father for an early appreciation for “sick verse” – The Penguin Book of Sick Verse, in fact. This anthology, a family staple in the Grace household, included “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service, the Bard of the Yukon. My father recited all fifteen stanzas to us at bedtime, challenging us to memorize this harrowing, if not slightly humorous tale, of a “pal’s last need”. I don’t think we ever got past the first two stanzas:

 

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

 

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.

Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows.

He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;

Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.


We liked this poem for many reasons – most obviously, our dad liked it and what he liked, we liked. And with reason. The man has impeccable taste in books and music, if not always in fashionable footwear (i.e. a pair of unfortunate sandals he wears with inordinate pride). Also, we were allowed to say “hell,” an otherwise forbidden word. Here’s the thing: the poem is still sparking debate in our family. My father insists that the word “homely” at the end of the second stanza is actually supposed to be “loathsome.”  We’ve looked this up numerous times, pre- and post-internet (am I aging myself here?) and though we’ve found versions that replace “homely” with “lonely,” we have yet to find one with “loathsome.”  Still, we all continue to insert “loathsome” freely into the poem. But, hey, in the grand oral tradition of poetry and storytelling, little things change over time.  We’ve certainly embraced “The Cremation of Sam McGee” as part of our own oral tradition.

Photo Credit: Ted Harrison

 

Lenea Grace is a Canadian writer and current MFA candidate (poetry) at The New School.  Some of her favorite YA/Children’s authors are L.M. Montgomery, Gordon Korman, Lois Lowry, Jerry Spinelli, and Paul Zindel. Lenea’s work can be found in The Toronto Quarterly, Commonline, Playground Journal, and Grain, among other publications. Visit her website at http://leneagrace.blogspot.com.

Dhonielle’s Take: A Messy Desk Lends To A Creative Mind

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On April - 28 - 2011

Desk Photo 225x300 Dhonielles Take: A Messy Desk Lends To A Creative MindMost of the time I write at my desk where the surface is a tornado. There are post-it notes, florescent note-cards, scraps of paper, Girl Scout cookies, a bowl of cereal, a glass of water, and an assortment of pens cluttered all over. I clean it up, then somehow before I know it, the desk is covered again. I guess the universe is trying to tell me that I work best in the chaos. Also, as you can see from the photo, I have my 5-year-old niece’s colorful artwork on the wall as an inspiration. My goal for the summer is to get out of the house and try to write in other venues.

I handwrite most pages so my writing process is super slow. I use a million journals to take notes, sketch maps, and write scenes. Currently, I just finished my steampunk MG novel and it is out on submission getting battered and beaten by agents.

In my dreams, I hope the novel will be on a shelf with other MG fantasy, and that the booksellers don’t create a special “steampunk” section. I am dreading that I am writing a novel that will ride the waves of a trend in publishing, when I am really just interested in mechanical wonders, historical characters, and creepy settings.

Riddhi’s Take: The Bottom Line Is Bottom in the Chair

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On April - 21 - 2011

TWB2 225x300 Riddhis Take: The Bottom Line Is Bottom in the Chair

I’m working on five different writing projects at the moment. They are as different as the colors in my closet. The first one is a picture book with an environmental message. Then there’s a middle-grade series about a fictional colony called Concretewallah. I’ve also got two teen lit novels in the works, and a recent project about a girl who asks too many questions. A lot of writers think long and hard about what they want to write about before they actually flesh out their stories. That is probably why they’re successful at selling them. I, on the other hand, have a slightly different process.

Most often, when I sit down to write, I have no idea what I am going to spew out. In fact, my last submission for our writing workshop spilled out of me in four hours. When I woke up last Thursday morning, I found myself staring at a blank word document with no idea of what I was going to submit. But three hours later, I was deeply absorbed in a fictional world called Ask where the residents are question marks and speak only in questions. I was surprised by what I had created and at the risk of sounding extremely pompous (a risk writers all writers are allowed to take) I must confess, I terribly enjoyed writing it. My neighbors probably heard me cackling loudly after every few sentences. Another risk I’m willing to take is being called a loon.

When I met one of my favorite authors Paro Anand a few years ago, I asked her how she does it, how she manages to immerse herself so fully in the imaginary lands she has created. And she gave me a simple answer that one of her favorite authors had given her for the very same question: Bottom In Chair. I third that.

I’ve found that I write best under pressure. Some stories come to me word for word when I’m out jogging. Others when I’m lying in bed or standing on my head during yoga. But I certainly write best when I’m thrown into the sea, with nothing to fall back on but my thoughts. A bottle of red wine and the ability to type extremely fast also help.

The Kids In the ‘Hood Inspire Jane

Posted by Jane Moon On April - 14 - 2011

DSC 0151 100x150 The Kids In the Hood Inspire JaneIf you were to look for my work in a bookstore, it would go probably under middle grade fantasy/horror with a touch of humor. My book would have the honor of sitting among the likes of Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Adam Rex’s Fat Vampire.  I only hope that I can create the right balance of terror and wit in my writing, as these authors have done.

I’ve discovered the best place that works for me when I write is in my dining room on the weekends. I can look out the window and see the neighborhood, the kids in the playground on the next block. And what better inspiration is there for writing children’s books than observing children? I get to see how they interact with each other and, when I open the window, I can hear how they talk to each other.

When I start a story, the idea usually comes to me as a “What if” thought. What if monsters really did live under my bed? What if all the pigeons in the world decided to revolt? What if I had a smartphone that was smarter than me… and that phone knew how to take advantage of it? Since I don’t start out with an outline, I just make things up as I go along. I love this method, because it means I don’t know what’s going to happen next until the words actually end up on the page. Since I’m pretty much writing the first thing that comes to my mind, I feel like my characters are coming out exactly as I imagined them to be, which is fine even if they’re a little rough around the edges. That’s what the editing process is for!

IMG 0049 84x150 For Amber, Its Not Where You Are, But What Youre Listening ToCurrently, I’m working on two realistic narratives. Both are in the beginning stages and won’t get fleshed out until summer. My stories tend to be about friendship and love. They are also about how teens react to being given once in a lifetime opportunities — do they squander the chance or take full advantage of what’s in front of them? One day, I can only hope to see my books in the amazing company of such wonderful authors as Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

When I write, I usually sit at my desk or on my bed, but I’ve been known to bring notebooks to various Starbucks around the city, too. No matter where I end up though, I need to listen to music in order to block out any background noise that could potentially distract me.  That’s not the only purpose music serves though. We all know that music has the power to inspire. For me, a certain song can spark an idea or trigger a memory that leads to a possible scene or plot point or description. Music influences my emotions in other ways as well. When I’m stressed it relaxes me and refocuses my energy. There’s no way I could write, let alone live well, without it.

Alyson Brings Her Writing to the (Kitchen) Table

Posted by Alyson Gerber On April - 11 - 2011

IMG 1214 300x225 Alyson Brings Her Writing to the (Kitchen) TableGrowing up, when I wasn’t commuting back and forth to prep school or being forced to participate in sports, I was at the kitchen table doing homework. I can still hear the tea kettle whistling and my mother’s bare feet tapping against the hardwood floors. In our kitchen, Aunt Sadie’s gingerbread candle was an eternal flame, and it was always cold. Maybe because Mom didn’t cook very often, or because the back of our New England home was almost entirely windows, but even now, I need that coolness, that candle and that tea to concentrate.

I write at the kitchen table. I’ve been working that way for as long as I’ve been in school, and at this point, it’s become a ritual: caffeinated beverage on the left, snacks on the right, usually chips and salsa, grapes, some form of cheese, and a “homemade” trail mix. I’m a grazer, so I need a spread. I like a little background noise, things that won’t distract me, ESPN for instance. Unless Outside the Lines is on. Those heartfelt stories are a time suck.

When I want a change of scenery, I take my Mac Book to Bourbon Coffee in Union Square because the plug situation is 10 out of 10, and the skim lattes are delicious.

Steven’s Guide to Living Life Twice

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On April - 8 - 2011

stevensgreenchair 450x600 Steven’s Guide to Living Life Twice“What are you writing?” is one of the most-queried questions people ask me when they find out I’m a writer. They usually nod their heads and give a somewhat convincing smile that they’re mildly impressed by the fact that I can string words together on the page to create a story.

Of course, when I reply that I write for teens, their smiles twist into a look of confusion, as if I just told them I sell my soul on a dark corner on the outskirts of Times Square to tourists looking for a good time.

Case in point: this weekend I was at a birthday dinner for my best friend, and was talking with someone I went to high school with whom I hadn’t seen since I was sixteen (which, in-and-of itself, is a frightening situation not for the faint of heart). He asked what I write. When I told him that my target audience was teens, he cocked his head and furrowed and his brows, and with one statement, crushed my soul: “So, like, Twilight?”

My response: “I will never write about sparkly vampires.”

We continued on in our conversation, and I told him my writing is – for the most part – grounded in realism. I set out to write with a specific agenda, to encapsulate the teenage experience. Not every aspect of being a teenager, mind you, but certain and specific issues; issues that I experienced growing up, in the hopes that I connect to others who share my angst and pain and obstacles. I’m not writing about my own life, mind you, so it’s not like you’d see my book in Teen Non-fiction if you were perusing the shelves at Barnes and Noble. But I do draw from the past as inspiration.

My views on my writing: I write to change the past. I write to live again, because as a writer, I get to do what nobody else can: live life twice.

So when I describe what I’m writing to people, I tell them that I’m writing about life, because, in essence, that’s what I’m doing. What I’m working on right now is, broadly speaking, about the main character coming to terms with his sexuality and place in the world.

It’s a daunting task, living life twice. But, equipped with a bucket of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, I try to make sense of that concept. I sit in my favorite green chair in my room or on my extremely comfortable bed, wrapped in a cocoon of blankets (because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t be most comfortable completely enveloped in snuggly comforters) and I let it flow. I hear my characters talking and I write down what they say. And, as acting God, I map out their stories.

So next time someone asks me what I’m working on, I’ll tell them: “I’m living life twice. What are you working on?”

 

IMG 0684 300x300 Corey Presents A Scientific Study of How WHERE You Write Influences WHAT You Write*I could probably classify most of my work by where I wrote it, and maybe it would help me uncover somethingabout the mystery of creativity.

For writing I require: a hot drink, someone to gchat with, my laptop, Scrivener (the computer world’s gift to writers), and multiple distractions. It legitimately helps me to have a lot going on either on my computer screen or around me, which was my original reason for logging some serious hours at Starbucks writing short stories and my first novel (see: Astor Place Starbucks 2003-2007).

A big chunk of my first YA novel, Running Around, was started at my old Upper East Side Starbucks, but mostly written in the new Park Slope apartment across the table from the bf. But in all honesty, it also seemed to fall from the sky a little. I don’t really remember logging the hours, but somehow a book emerged.

I’m still a pretty dedicated Starbucks drinker (as my classmates/writing buddies can attest to). And because I spent a very solitary three weeks in Oregon this winter, the beginning stages of my (currently in a time out) middle grade novel were crafted in loooong hours at an Oregon Starbucks. With a FIREPLACE, kids. Can’t get much better than that.

These days, I’m either holed up at home with my puppy in my lap (and my legs falling asleep since he whines when I try to get him off my lap) or at Red Horse Café, Tea Lounge, or Bourbon Coffee. And that combination seems to be serving me well as I return to my comfort zone of YA contemporary with a quirky-dark slant in the project I’m most excited about, a novel about teenagers with OCD falling in love.

I’m going to be a cliché, but I think Brooklyn has a really special creative energy: close enough to get the spark and energies coming off of Manhattan, but with enough heart and space and solitude to focus in. And, let’s be honest, enough crazies, hipsters, internet daters and unrequited lovers lurking around the coffee shops so that I have something entertaining to listen in on when I’m bored with myself!

* not in any way scientific at all.

Life After The New School Program: Grad Ghenet Myrthil

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On April - 6 - 2011

19451 590450116088 1702020 35046608 8273397 n 199x300 Life After The New School Program: Grad Ghenet Myrthil

We here in the class of 2012 at the New School’s Writing for Children MFA program are so caught up in the day to day of writing, rewriting, editing and critiquing, we can’t even imagine life post-11th Street. So we’ve decided to pause to catch up with alumni on occasion to get a glimpse into the not-to-far-off future (yikes!).

Our first (very willing) victim: Ghenet Myrthil, who finished her MFA just a few short years ago, spills on her writing goals, keeping up with classmates and why her New School experience was awesome.

What was your journey like at The New School Writing for Children Program?
It was a lot of work but very rewarding. I applied because once I realized my love for children’s book writing, I thought it would be great to be in a program that specializes in this genre. I wanted to learn from experts and meet other kid lit writers.

When I first entered the program, I hadn’t been writing for young audiences for very long. I had a few short stories under my belt but hadn’t yet attempted to write a book. In short, I was a novice writer. That’s what schooling is for, right? I was eager to learn everything I could about children’s literature and begin a young adult novel.

The most challenging part for me was balancing school, writing and my full-time job (in book publishing). I was one of the few people in my workshops who worked full-time, so I never had as much time as my classmates to produce. It took a lot of dedication but all the long hours and my sacrificed social life were worth it!

Did you accomplish many of your writing goals?
Yes! My biggest goal was to start writing a novel and write as much as I could. I used my first semester to try out different projects. If I realized (with the help of workshop critiques) that an idea wasn’t working out, I’d stop and start something else. That’s what was so great about being in this program. The workshops gave me the chance to flex my writing muscles in a supportive environment. By the end of the two years, I had 18K words written of my WIP and an outline that my classmates and teachers had approved. I also had knowledge of the history and significance of children’s literature. I was exactly where I’d wanted to be–poised to go out into the “world” and finish my book.

What was it like after you graduated?
Graduation felt like such a huge accomplishment. I may not have had a finished manuscript, but I had a big chunk of a book and I was very proud of it. Because it was hard to find time to write while in school and working, I’m happy to have more time now to actually work on my book. I’ve missed the workshops and literature classes but I’m excited to focus on writing.

Do you still work on your writing with people from your program?
I still keep in touch with many people in my class, but I’ve only been sending my work to one other person to critique. Unfortunately we don’t all critique each other’s work anymore, but I’m excited to read everyone’s finished manuscripts!

What are you up to now that the program is over? How is your writing? New writing goals? Are you still working on your thesis? What’s next for you?
I’m still working at my job and writing my WIP every free moment I have. My biggest goal now is to finish it and enjoy the process. Then I’ll move on to editing and querying. The New School WFC program jump-started my writing career and I’m incredibly grateful for that!

Check out Ghenet’s awesome blog!

pixel Life After The New School Program: Grad Ghenet Myrthil
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