Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for September, 2012

Sona Wishes She’d Written a Book Already

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On September - 30 - 2012

290382 Sona Wishes Shed Written a Book AlreadySo my deadline is coming right on up — next Friday to be exact — and still more than 8,000 words to go. Minimum! Which means that I get to interpret this question as I will. Thankyouverymuch.

And so, I’ve decided, in pondering the countless astounding books that came before — tearjerking fiction like The Fault In Our Starsshockingly cathartic memoirs like Pretty Is What Changes, funny essay collections like Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? — that if I had to limit it to one book that someone else wrote, it would be Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffron, which is rich and expansive and sprawling as it travels from the U.S. to the U.K. to the heart of Pakistan, filled with startling lyricism, lines that stick with you. But the book — and its narrator — is still incredibly real in its light touch on those mundane, everyday moments, like the first time you meet someone whom you know will change your life forever.

But I digress. Because the real point I’d like to make here is that I still haven’t written an actual, complete draft of a book. I’m closer than I’ve ever been, and that deadline is looming large. But after two years in a grad program for fiction, I still have three works-in-progress, none of which are finished. This is unacceptable. So on Friday, when my deadline hits, I will report  back here. It will either be an epic celebration. Or I will once again hang my head in shame. Hold me to it, folks. I’m not kidding.

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury

Why Amy is a Self-Professed “Fantasy Nerd”

Posted by Amy Ewing On September - 25 - 2012

33 200x300 Why Amy is a Self Professed Fantasy NerdIf you’ve read any of my posts on TWB, you’ll know that I am a fantasy nerd, through and through. So it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the book I wish I had written is The Lord of the Rings.

And it’s not just about the incredible story lines, the way Tolkien weaves them together, the amazing action (Helms Deep! The Battle of Pelennor Fields!), the mythology, the characters (Gollum is probably one of my top 5 favorite characters ever), or the romance. Okay, actually scratch that last one — if there’s one area where Tolkien is lacking, it is romance. Arwen sort of just shows up at the end and marries Aragorn. I remember reading it for the first time and thinking, “Oh, that’s…nice.” Not really packing the same emotional punch as when Sam carries Frodo on his back up a fiery mountain of doom.

But I digress. One of my favorite things about The Lord of the Rings is the Appendices. There are about six of them, and each one contains so much information, it’s like reading a whole other story, a companion novella to LOTR. I do not understand how one brain can contain all of that information, the languages, the alphabets, the calendars, the maps. I also make maps when I create worlds, but since I am hopeless with directions, I am forever forgetting which way is east and which way is west, and often find myself giving directions that don’t make sense.

I would love to crawl inside Tolkien’s mind and see where he kept everything, how it was all organized. I imagine it like a vast library with tottering shelves, sheaths of parchments, and leather-bound tomes. And he knew his way around it expertly. My mind sometimes feels more like a small office with an overflowing inbox tray, where I can never find that thing that I thought of yesterday and meant to write down.

But I’m working on it. And practice makes perfect, right? After all, Tolkien didn’t create Middle Earth in a day.

Corey Wants to Write One of Those Truthful, Timeless Books

Posted by Corey Haydu On September - 24 - 2012

 Corey Wants to Write One of Those Truthful, Timeless BooksIs there anything better than John Green? I mean really, is there? Reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska in David Levithan’s class at The New School our first semester of class was life changing for me. I hadn’t read much “literary” YA or middle-grade, and a door opened in my head when I realized there was room for experimentation, lyricism, and depth in every genre of fiction.
I wish I’d written Looking for Alaska because it is surprising and dark and funny and true. I love the characters, I believe in their journeys, and the writing itself is magical. Uh, yeah, I wish I’d written that.

Other books I wish I’d written? Elissa Schappell’s Use Me. I still hope to write some adult literature someday, whenever I feel re-inspried by that genre, and I seethed with jealousy (the good kind!) when I read it. She explores relationships and the kind of adult-coming-of-age that happens in your 20s and 30s, that kind that mirrors that other coming-of-age that I currently write about. Like Green, Schappell takes risks, experiments with structure, fills out characters with flaws and humor and beauty. She writes about discomfort and love and pain and bliss with the kind of articulation I always shoot for.

Lastly, for middle-grade, I would love to write a classic, like The Great Gilly Hopkins or The Giver. There’s something amazing about a book that everyone reads when they are children and then still talks about when they are grown. I would love to have written that kind of book. The timeless kind.

Book cover image courtesy of Speak

Which Book Does Jess Wish She’d Written?

Posted by Jessica Verdi On September - 19 - 2012

 Which Book Does Jess Wish Shed Written?What’s the one book you’ve read that you wish you’d written?

With all the books I hold dear to my heart, you’d think this would be a tough question for me. But it’s not. There is, hands down, one book out there that I wish I’d written. And that one book is Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story.

Now, this question is not: what is your favorite book? It’s Kind of a Funny Story is, in fact, one of my favorite books, but that’s not the point.

The reason I chose this book as the one that I wish I’d written is because Vizzini does so brilliantly what I try to do in my own work – he tackles a very serious issue, but puts a positive spin on it.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is about Craig Gilner, a fifteen-year-old with depression so severe he checks himself into a psychiatric hospital without his parents’ knowledge – but only after spending a very long night planning out every detail of his suicide. When Craig gets to the hospital he is faced with two surprises: 1) He can’t just stay for the day, get some medication, and go on his merry way. He must stay for a minimum of five days. 2) The teen wing is undergoing renovations, so he’s admitted into the adult psych wing, where he meets some very colorful characters.

Read the first line, and you’ll be hooked: It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story is simultaneously one of the most depressing, heartbreaking, inspiring, and hilarious books I have ever read, and Vizzini writes with absolute authenticity. At the end of the book, there’s a note that reads as follows: Ned Vizzini spent five days in adult psychiatric in Methodist Hospital, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 11/29/04 – 12/3/04. Ned wrote this 12/10/04 – 1/6/05.

I mean, it doesn’t get more real than that. And I, for one, am incredibly glad that Vizzini was brave enough to write his story.

And bonus – the novel was turned into a movie that came out in 2010 and starred the brilliant Keir Gilchrist as Craig, as well as delivered spectacular performances from Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, and Lauren Graham.

Read it. Watch it. Love it.

Book cover image courtesy of Disney Hyperion.

The Broken Lands Launch Party, and a Discussion of Kate Milford’s Villans

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 18 - 2012

 The Broken Lands Launch Party, and a Discussion of Kate Milfords VillansOn Thursday night I attended the wonderful launch party of a dear friend of mine, Kate Milford, at McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho. The basement area was full of Kate’s family, friends, and admirers, drinking wine, salivating over her cool card set, and art from kid artists she hired to illustrate for her companion novel. With the release of The Broken Lands, she also released her novella The Kairos Mechanism.

Here’s the skinny on these two novels (thanks to Barnes and Noble and McNally Jackson):

The Broken Lands: A crossroads can be a place of great power. So begins this deliciously spine-tingling prequel to Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, set in the colorful world of nineteenth-century Coney Island and New York City. Few crossroads compare to the one being formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, and as the bridge’s construction progresses, forces of unimaginable evil seek to bend that power to their advantage. Only two orphans with unusual skills stand in their way. Can the teenagers Sam, a card sharp, and Jin, a fireworks expert, stop them before it’s too late? Here is a richly textured, slow-burning thriller about friendship, courage, and the age-old fight between good and evil.

The Kairos Mechanism: When two boys walk into town bearing the corpse of a man who disappeared half a century ago, it doesn’t take Natalie Minks long to find herself entangled in the mission that has brought them to Arcane with their grisly burden–a task which somehow involves the mysterious Simon Coffrett. Meanwhile, a vicious peddler named Trigemine waits with terrible and deadly penalties at the ready, should Natalie and her new friends fail.

I caught up with her in a previous post to discuss how these books fit together. Here’s a refresher on what she said and the question I asked her:

DC: Without spoiling the wonderful plot of The Kairos Mechanism, can tell us how this book is a bridge between The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands? Or how do you intend it to function?

KM: The Boneshaker takes place in Arcane, Missouri, in 1913, and it’s about a girl named Natalie Minks. The Broken Lands takes place in New York City in 1877, and although two characters from The Boneshaker turn up, the cast is otherwise entirely different. It’s a bit of a prequel, in that the events that take place in The Broken Landsrelate to The Boneshaker, but it’s basically a stand-alone story. SoThe Kairos Mechanism is meant to do two things. Firstly, it’s a Natalie story, to tide me (and any Natalie-fans who are out there) over until I get to come back to her and to Arcane. Secondly, it provides some extra clues as to how the two books are related, some clues to what’s coming for Natalie, and some history for readers who, like me, want to know more about the world and the characters. And it’s a self-contained story in its own right.

Like I mentioned, I really love when, as a reader, I get to explore a world in more depth and really get to know it. But I want to be able to explore it while I’m reading the story it relates to, and I particularly love when I find extra content that isn’t just extra content, but something that actually changes the way I read the story. Obviously this is a fine line—if it’s not in the book, it almost can’t be critical to the story (unless that’s the point, I guess). And the extra content can’t be spoilery—for instance, I don’t know in what order people are going to read The Kairos Mechanism and The Broken Lands, and there are probably going to be people who read one of those two before they even read The Boneshaker. So I’m having to be very careful about what’s fair game to include, or refer to, or reveal. It’s very tricky.

If you’re a consistent reader at Teen Writers Bloc, then you know I’ve written about her book The Boneshaker before, and these two novels exist in the same world of mythos. If you know me, then you know Kate Milford and I are thick as thieves. I’ve know her for awhile now and she is part of my critique group. Though I won’t admit that my reviews of her books are biased, I am a true fan of her work. Historical fantasy is my favorite genre, blending my love of old worlds and other times with magic and the uncanny.

During the launch, she read a passage from an early section of The Broken Lands, where she introduced my favorite character of hers — Walker. And she dedicated that reading to me! Yay! While being a beta-reader for The Boneshaker, I thought I’d never love another villan with the same intensity that I love Dr. Jake Limberleg, who is the antagonist to Natalie Minks in The Boneshaker. Jake Limberleg is the head hauncho of Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Show, who has a tragic past.

But in comes a man name Walker  wearing a white suit with nails filed to points and two sets of bottom teeth in The Broken Lands. He’s a gambler and a gentleman, and has an interesting past.

Sigh! Swoon!

I am a sucker for a good bad guy. Oftentimes, I love the bad guy more than I love the good guy. Kate Milford’s bad guys do not disappoint. Whereas many villans in children’s and young adult fiction are purely evil, her villans have shades of grey (not 50!). You always want the children and the good guys to win, but sometimes in Kate’s books, there’s a little part of me that wants the bad guys to win, just for a second. The bad guys are just that good!

Go check them out!

Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward Is “That” Book For Dhonielle

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 17 - 2012

Ninth Ward 000 Jewell Parker Rhodes Ninth Ward Is That Book For DhonielleSometimes you come across a book at the precise moment in time that it changes you for awhile — makes you disregard anything and everything else, makes you wish the world within the pages was the world around you, makes you think about the characters long after you’re finished, makes you — if you’re a writer — wish you could create something like it. When I was in elementary school that book was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, when I was in middle school it was Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and in high school it was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

As an adult who reads exclusively children’s and young adult books (aside from the non-fiction books I must read for research), I hadn’t had that “AH” moment in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read books that I loved and could not put down (like Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s Burn for Burn), and especially ones written by my friends — Corey Ann Haydu’s OCD Love Story, Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, and The Kairos Mechanism, Jess Verdi’s My Life After Now, Amy Ewing’s The Jewel, Christine Johnson’s The Gathering Dark, Caela Carter’s Me, Him, Them, and It, Heidi Ayarbe’s newest novel, Mary G. Thompson’s Wuftoom and Lisa Amowitz’s Breaking Glass, and awesome works-in-progress from Alyson Gerber, Riddhi Parekh, Cynthia Kennedy Henzel, Pippa Bayliss, Trish Eklund, and many more. These are stories that only they could write, from their individual creativity and awesome imaginations.

But to stumble across the book that ‘I wish I had written’ is a huge feat. But then one day Corey Ann Haydu texted me and said that I had to read Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward. She had read it and promised that it would not disappoint. I looked it up and instantly fell in love with the hardcover image — a little girl floating above the water in a boat (see above). I didn’t buy it immediately, but wandered into Books of Wonder a few days later and spotted it. I read the first page and then the second. I sat on the floor of the store, blocking children from perusing the shelves, and read the whole first chapter. I was swept into it. The book is not a page turner as people like to use in the book publishing world when a book is full of action and adventure and suspense — instead this book sweeps you away, tugging at your heart. You have to know what happens next because you care about the people in this world.

Ninth Ward speaks to my inner child and it is weaved with a southern mysticism that makes me feel like I’m at home and around my grandparents who have passed on. The rhythm of the language brings back childhood memories and little details lost to me from time. If you haven’t heard of this book, check it out — here’s how our friends at Amazon describe it:

“Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family–as only love can define it.”


Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could Write

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On September - 14 - 2012

love is the higher law Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could WriteWhen I think about the books I wish I had written, it’s not so much about the ONE book that I kick myself for not having written. Too often, I love a book because of all the different elements, but there’s always something I would’ve done differently. Not that I’m saying JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye isn’t perfect, or David Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law doesn’t inspire the pants off me, because it is and it does, respectively. What I’m saying is that as much as I admire these books and wish that my name was on the front covers, it doesn’t mean that I truly wish I had written these books.

For one, wanting to have written Catcher in the Rye is a HUGE idea. I mean, it was so overwhelming for Salinger that he retreated and became a recluse. And I can’t say that I blamed him. Where do you go after having written one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and hated books of all time? With that being said, Holden Caulfield seems to creep into my head every single time I write a new character. He’s so much a part of my psyche that he can’t help but assert his character when I write.

The same can be said for Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law. He captures three perfectly distinct voices and personalities so well that it makes me hate him. I long to be able to what he did, write the same story through different eyes and voices. Do I wish I had written that book? I mean, I would lie if I said “no” because, well, as an aspiring writer I would kill to be published. But Love is the Higher Law is so perfectly David Levithan that I could jealous all I want; I’ll never write like him, with the same fluidity and knack for making words sound less like words and more like the most epic love songs…

Sometimes I sit and daydream about body-swapping with JK Rowling. What would it be like to be in her head? What would it have been like to put pen to paper and watch as Harry Potter evolved from lead scratchings to flesh-and-bone hero? Not to mention her ability to build an entire world that lives alongside our own and make it seem 1,000% plausible! And I won’t lie, what would it be like to have her billions? Would I roll around naked in a giant Gringott-sized vault? Absolutely. But I digress…As much as I wish I could’ve written Harry Potter, my mind just wouldn’t have been to do Potter as much justice as Rowling clearly did.

What I’m trying to say is that all of these books influenced me hugely. All of them are like the books that I wish I could write because they have inspired me tremendously. Their voices linger in my head, their stories play out in my imagination, and their words wake me up every day and whisper, “write, write, write…”

P.S. Happy Birthday to me! I’m 26 and unpublished. Holler.

the book thief 194x300 Jane Envies Markus Zusaks Depth in Character Construction in The Book ThiefI love stories that are told from a unique point of view. The main character could have Asperger’s, like Caitlin in Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, or could be autistic like Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. The narrator of the story doesn’t even have to be human. In Three Bags Full, by Leonie Swann, the story is told by a group of sheep who attempt to solve the murder of their shepherd. Or the narrator may not actually exist, like Budo in Matthew Dicks’s Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.

When I was asked which book was the one I wish I had written, I immediately thought of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The story is narrated by Death, who tells the tale of Liesel, who is raised by a foster family in Munich, Germany during World War II. I absolutely loved how Zusak’s writing brought out so many emotions. I felt the apprehension when Liesel stole her first book. There were sections that were so hilarious that I actually laughed out loud and parts that made me cry.

The characters in The Book Thief were amazing. They all had multiple layers to their personalities, just like real people. Liesel’s foster mother appeared to be rough and unsophisticated, but you could tell she cared for Liesel. I could immediately tell that Rudy, the boy who constantly teased Liesel, had a crush on her. Even Death was more than just a collector of souls. It felt sympathy for the people who lost their lives and the ones who had to deal with what came afterward.

I would love to be able to write like Markus Zusak. I want to give my characters the same kind of depth and I want my readers to react to my stories the way I did towards The Book Thief. I have a long way to go before I can accomplish this, but the only route to getting there is to keep practicing.

Image courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

Author Interview: Nnedi Okorafor and Akata Witch

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 10 - 2012

akatawitch Author Interview: Nnedi Okorafor and Akata Witch

Teen Writers Bloc member Mary Thompson sent me an email back in the spring and said I had to read this book called Akata Witch, and that I’d love it. She’d heard me droning on in workshop about the dearth of fantasy and fiction featuring kids of color and fantasy worlds not rooted in a European mythos. And she’d found a book that does it — and well!

Nnedi Okorafor took me on a whirlwind and I had to track her down for an interview so I could figure out how she’d done it all. We caught up with Nnedi this summer to discuss African magic, writing discipline, and her life as a writer.

Tell us a bit about yourself (bio) and how you became a writer? 

What did I do before “officially becoming a writer”? I was a writer and a Ph.D student who’d once been pre-med. I’m a professor, so I don’t need to write to eat. However, I write and produce as much as many who do write to eat. I consider myself a full-time writer. But it’s more a part of me than something I need to do to survive financially. It’s not a job. I didn’t “want” to become a writer; it’s just something I became. It was in me all along but it took certain events in my life to happen in order for this part of me to come forth.

How did you come up with the concept for the book? Can you talk a bit about your process, from conception to publication?

Honestly, I don’t know. I just started writing. I recall thinking it would be cool to write a story where black children of the African Diaspora experienced magic and adventure rooted in real African culture/history/location/beliefs. Also, the summer before I wrote the novel, I’d spent a week with the daughter of one of my mother’s friends. They were visiting from Nigeria. This daughter was nine-years-old and she didn’t want to hang out with her mother. So she hung with my daughter and me for those days. She was an Igbo girl with a strong feisty personality and she also happened to be albino. She was a lot of fun. I knew I wanted to write about her by the time she left. The main character of Akata Witch is based on her.

Once I started writing, it came together organically. Many of those things I researched because they interested me wound up in the novel, as did many of my experiences in Nigeria and with Nigerian culture. Lastly, the theme of cultural complexity was something I’d wanted to write about for a long time. I was born in the United States to two Nigerian Igbo parents. At the same time, my parents started taking me to Nigerian from a young age. So I grew up bi-cultural, identifying with two district cultures — American and Nigerians. I don’t identify as African-American; I indentify as Naijameican. (“Naija” is slang for “Nigerian.”) It’s an interesting position to occupy. It’s one that makes me very aware of the African Diaspora. I wanted to reflect this complexity and need for more dialogue with the Diaspora in this novel.

What’s your writing process?

I write every day. I’m disciplined. However, no day is the same. I have a nine-year-old daughter and I’m a professor; I have to be malleable. But before the day is done, I will have gotten at least two good hours of writing in, many times more than that. I can write at any time. I used to write in the early morning. These days, I find stories beg to be written late at night. I’ll write in the afternoon if I must. My inspiration comes from Africa , and the world as a whole. It also comes from places of energy, amusement, trouble, and action.

Can you talk a bit about world building, especially this African magic? Did you start with Sunny, the magic, or Nigeria? Or a mix of all three?

The magic in Akata Witch is mined from mysticism and beliefs that are part of my culture. These are things I grew up hearing and that are all around me, a part of my life. In the book, I may tweak things here and there or blow some life into things but that’s about it.

As far as world-building, that phrase feels unnatural to me because I don’t purposely “build worlds”. I just write the story and within the story the worlds exist. I can’t say what I started with Sunny because it’s all mixed together. I can say that the first thing I saw in my mind with Akata Witch was the character of Sunny, but once she started moving through her life, it all came with everything- the magic, her Nigerian-American-ness, the setting, etc.

What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

My path to publication was rough, but embedded with luck where it counted. A lot of the more negative aspects I encountered on that path were predictable and expected, though knowing did not make dealing with them any less distasteful. Really, I didn’t have expectations and I’m aware of the isms at work in this country, so I wasn’t surprised very often.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Author Steve Barnes once said that you have to write a million words before you are any good. There’s no exact word count, of course, but the sentiment is 100 percent correct. You have to write and write and write, far more than you can image to hone your craft. For me, I think I DID have to write over a million words before I was any good. My first published novel was the fourth or fifth novel that I wrote. The ones I wrote before that were practice.

I pass this same advice on to aspiring authors. Write and write a LOT. Hone your craft. Don’t atrophy because you are obscessed with getting published until you are truly ready.

 Author Interview: Nnedi Okorafor and Akata WitchWhat was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a kid I loved Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson and The Witches by Raold Dahl. As a teen, I’d have to say it was a tie between Stephan King’s The Talisman and Robert MacCammon Swan Song. Right now I’m reading and absolutely loving Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Right now I’m finishing up two adult novels. But soon I’m going to start writing Akata Witch 2. I’m also working on another young adult novel and several other writing projects that I can’t talk about just yet. I’ve also written a chapter book in the Disney Fairies line. It’s called Iridessa and the Secret of the Never Mine. I’m not sure of the release date yet but it should be later this year.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I currently don’t belong to any critique groups, though I am a product of university writing workshops. There’s no formula. Whatever works.

Photos courtesy VIKING

Kid Lit Critiques — A New Venture From Two Teen Writers Bloc Members!

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 7 - 2012

kid lit critiques final banner JPEG 600x138 Kid Lit Critiques    A New Venture From Two Teen Writers Bloc Members!Announcement! Announcement! Jess Verdi and I have pooled our skills together to launch Kid Lit Critiques, a manuscript critiquing business. Check out a little more about us:

Dhonielle Clayton and Jessica Verdi are two girls in New York City, living the writerly life: attending kidlit events, reading the latest books and ARCs, meeting editors and literary agents… and, of course, writing! We received our MFAs in Writing for Children from The New School (Class of 2012) and we are both agented authors actively writing for children and teens. While at The New School, we studied under such esteemed instructors as David Levithan (author of over a dozen YA novels and founder of Scholastic’s PUSH imprint), Susan Van Metre (VP and publisher for Abrams Books), Hettie Jones (author of How I Became Hettie Jones and a Beat generation poet), Tor Seidler (author of several acclaimed children’s books, including National Book Award finalist Mean Margaret), Sarah Weeks (author of many picture books, chapter books, and YA novels), and Sarah Ketchersid (Executive Editor at Candlewick Press).

We have a fresh perspective on MG and YA literature while also keeping our fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in the industry today. We are both members of SCBWI and while we both read and love all kinds of literature, our specific areas of expertise are different: Dhonielle is the Middle Grade expert, Jess lives and breathes all things YA. Dhonielle is also more fantasy-based, while Jess is down with the contemporary. It’s these differences that make us the perfect team for your critiquing needs – between the two of us, we’re able to cater to all different types of writing styles and genres!

We are both extremely experienced critiquers (those here at Teen Writers Bloc can attest) and we have started this joint venture because we know how valuable quality feedback is. Time and time again, we have received feedback on our own works-in-progress that opened our whole stories up for us. Oprah calls those “a-ha!” moments, and we know how crucial they are for a writer to take his or her work to the next level.

We wanted to start this business to give someone a workshop feel that might not be in an MFA program, who is in desperate need for unbiased feedback, but doesn’t have $600 -$1,000 to spend with a book doctor.

Our website was designed by the wonderful designer of the Teen Writers Bloc website, Navdeep Singh Dhillon, and it was an awesome experience. He built a customized site for us and arranged (and re-arranged!) the layout to meet our aesthetic tastes. Check out his writer-focused design company Pataka Design. He hand sketched every page so that we could see it before he built it which allowed us to see a rough idea of what it would look like before he started. He’s great!

Let us read your work. Come check us out!


pixel Kid Lit Critiques    A New Venture From Two Teen Writers Bloc Members!

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