Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for October, 2012

Alyson’s Really into Fresh Starts

Posted by Alyson Gerber On October - 31 - 2012

2302950648 7399b32c8e Alysons Really into Fresh Starts

I’ve written a lot on TWB about how much I hate change. You might remember how excited I was for second semester last year. I only threw a few temper tantrums.

Well, over the past five months, I’ve changed almost everything about my life—my apartment, job, and book. Honestly, it was really scary. I mean, nothing was that wrong. My Village apartment was nice and big by New York standards. My job was—a good learning experience. The MG novel, I was working on could have been reworked (and I probably will go back to it eventually).

But it turns out, I was totally wrong about the whole not being open to change thing. Really—I’ve never been more wrong about anything, ever. Change is awesome. Exhibit A. My new apartment has two floors. That’s right. I am currently living my personal New York dream. I can officially say, “Hold on one second, I just need to run downstairs (or upstairs) to grab (insert anything awesome).” Exhibit B. My new job, where I’m in charge of digital assets (websites, blogs, social media, etc.) for a college, is so fulfilling and exciting. I love it! In case that enough, I work four-days-a-week, which leaves a lot more time for writing and running up and down stairs. Exhibit C. My new book—it’s all heart. Thinking about it and workshopping it with my amazing MFA-ers makes me smile.

So, I’m really into fresh starts. Bring on the change!


What’s Riddhi Been Up To? Well, It Depends On Which Way You Spin It…

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On October - 24 - 2012

 Whats Riddhi Been Up To? Well, It Depends On Which Way You Spin It...So, there’s two ways I could spin this:

I could rant endlessly about how busy and burdened I’ve been.

Malarkey but entirely factual stuff about moving house (which can be ridiculously time-consuming and delay many other things in your life, like turning in this blog post) and boatloads of book-reading for work that filled my entire summer. And how it was a great thing because I have a lovely new apartment and that this insatiable reading actually made me a better writer. I mean, if a phenomenally bestselling author like Stephen King says this, clearly, by finding a place where I enjoy reading and reading a lot, I’m just gathering my tools, right?

Or… I could admit that I may not have made as much to write as I should have?

But while I haven’t written anything fresh that I’m ready to workshop (yet), I can admit that a new project is spinning itself inside my head. And—more importantly—in a word document that is punctiliously updated and backed up, I have been carefully plotting and planning. Details. Research. A beginning. The main conflict. A possible end? Genre. Theme. Protagonists. Character sketches. I think I know the format I want it to be in. And I’m REALLY excited to dive into it… but only, I haven’t found the time to properly write it.

But I will. Soon. Like right about NOW.

Is this weird? Is this progress? Procrastination? A result of the creative writing MFA? Anything to do with reading for work? Probably yes to all. And still, I love that this process of knowing what could happen is completely new and EXCITING for me. In the past, I went into my stories blindfolded, tumbling down the rabbithole of a blank word document with no idea where I was going, knowing only that I’d have to turn something in at deadline—whatever I had spewed and spun into ten or fifteen pages.

For the first time ever, I feel like I’m in control of the castrophany that’s about to come. And I guess the only way to go is to set that deadline so I can twirl, whirl and yarn this darn thing together. And NO, it doesn’t have anything to do with these cool images I found from stock.xchng but they match my though processes and I tried to match my post around them and hope you enjoy!

Why Perla is Proud to Be a Quitter

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On October - 22 - 2012

 Why Perla is Proud to Be a QuitterSo what’s new in my life?  I would say a whole lot!

Earlier this school year I decided to resign from all my jobs.  I resigned as an adjunct professor and I resigned from the position I had with the Board of Ed.  I must say however the decision was a scary one and I was in a state of shock for some time. I expected some distress and even some insomnia while I pondered my life and the fact that I was giving this writing thing my all.   Today, however, I feel overwhelmingly excited.  I made the best choice — I knew my writing and my last year in grad school would have been almost nonexistent if I would have gone back to teaching full time (while also being a mom of two).

And it has proven so worth it.  This semester has definitely been great thus far.  Now that our second year has started I think most of the inhibitions/insecurities one feels when first starting something new have greatly diminished.  Workshops go by a lot quicker and are pretty straightforward.  Everyone knows each other pretty well and for the most part know what everyone is working on and what they need to work on.

I also attended an awesomely awesome writing conference a few weeks ago– The Comadres and Compadres Writing Conference.  It was the first Latino writing conference organized by Las Comadres Para Las Americas.  In this one-day event amazing Latino writers such as Nicholosa Mohr, Sonia Manzano and Dahlma Llanos Figueroa shared their wisdom and teamed up with editors and agents all looking for Latino writers to represent.  The day was packed with inspiration and positivity.  It definitely made me feel better about recently quitting (especially after pitching my unfinished manuscript and getting great reviews). All the negativity surrounding Latinos getting into the publishing world that I had heard the previous year was dispelled after this wonderful event.

Lastly the one thing that has probably caused us second years some stress is the inevitable search for advisors for our anxiety-producing thesis semester.   But I recently received the incredible news that I will working with David Levithan next semester. I can’t even describe how freaking exciting I am.  David Levithan!! That is all.

Photo credit: robbieabed.com

Nothing Is Really New for Caela

Posted by Caela Carter On October - 16 - 2012

 Nothing Is Really New for Caela“So, what’s new?”

That’s been the question of the month for me in more ways than one.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel across the country for the wedding of one of my oldest friends. I was excited to attend a wedding with my own new husband, to visit Las Vegas for the first time, and to see the bride and groom smiling from ear to ear. I was also excited for the chance to catch up with old friends.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, one of them asked me, “So your book comes out in a few months? How are you feeling?”

I answered briefly but honestly: “Freaked out.”

Here was yet another group of people I hadn’t quite thought about reading all of the steamy and emotional and angry and confusing scenes that I had written in the privacy of my own bedroom. Here was another group of people who might choose to read my book and decide it’s too girly or too mature for teens or, my biggest fear, too political.

And if I’m completely honest, all of this worry about who is going to read my book is effecting my writing hours every day. The truth is that I’m nervous. It’s hard to reconcile that such a private life — one that involves only me and my computer — will be on shelves for the entire world to see. It’s hard to juggle how much time I should spend preparing for my February release date for Book 1 (Me, Him, Them and It), versus putting new words on paper for Book 2. It’s hard to figure out all of the steps I will need to take to turn one book into a lifetime career as an author. It can be overwhelming.

I thought my friend would ask me why I’m freaked out, but he didn’t. Instead, he shrugged and said, “Still, lifelong dream coming true, right?”

 Nothing Is Really New for CaelaAnd suddenly I realized I was one of those jaded baseball players from the big emotional scene in Rookie of the Year. “Don’t you realize you get to have fun for a living? You get to do what you want to do for your job?” The kid has to yell this at the players to get them to smile, to enjoy themselves.

I had known this friend since elementary school and with that one simple question he reminded me that I’m still the little girl I used to be. The one who filled notebooks with pencil-scribbled half-novels. The one who wrote stories when she was bored in class instead of notes to her friends. The one who knew the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” for as long as she could remember.

“So, what’s new?” Well, not a whole lot. I’m still writing stories. I’m still living entire lives that exist only between my brain and the words that pop out on the page. I’m still the same girl I was when I met the bride in fourth grade.

But it can be difficult to transition your dream into your job. And, sometimes, you need a kid (or someone who still knows you primarily as a kid) to put you in your place.

Photo credit: vegasmaxicourse, ew.com

Mary’s Seemingly Uneventful But Kinda Productive Summer

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On October - 15 - 2012

EFTPM ARC 448x600 Mary’s Seemingly Uneventful But Kinda Productive SummerWell, it’s that time again—the month when we here at Teen Writers Bloc post updates about our exciting lives. I have to admit that I had trouble coming up with anything to say at first. After all, my life isn’t very exciting. All I do is sit in front of the computer, read books, watch Supernatural on Netflix (finally finished season 7 … whew, glad I got that important task out of the way!), and … well, that’s it. So what was I supposed to talk about? Then I got to thinking. Summer is a long time. I must have actually done something.

I wrote a contemporary teen novel. What? Yes, I was surprised, too.

I did some stuff for my second book, Escape From the Pipe Men!, coming out next June. (Check out my sexy fingers holding the ARC!)

I wrote the first 40 pages of about 800,000 new middle grade ideas.

In July I went home to Oregon for a week, during which time I made my exciting first ever radio appearance. I’m not kidding. I’ve always wanted to be on the radio, and it was awesome! I also visited my hometown bookstore, the Bookmine in Cottage Grove, OR, where I spent an evening signing books and listening to my parents’ friends tell embarrassing stories about me. Lest I find myself getting sappy, I’ll just say that there are some really great things about being from a small town. Remember that when I spend whole books doing horrible things to people who live in small towns. Finally, I visited an old friend in an even smaller town, Vernonia, OR, population 1,200, where I learned that all roads lead to Vernonia and paradise, like your grandmother always said, is one stoplight. Seriously, paradise. Everyone move there now, except don’t because you’d ruin it.

In September I went to the Southern California Writers’ Conference in Newport Beach, CA. I have a soft spot for this conference because it happens to be where I met my agent (the lovely and talented Kate McKean) back in 2008. Everyone was as nice as I remembered, and it was a great time. I don’t know what they were thinking asking me to give a talk at 8:00 a.m., a time when I’m normally just going to bed. Kidding. (Not really.) I stayed up until 2:30 the night before, but thanks to a double alarm and a shot of 5-Hour-Energy (hey, guys, where’s my endorsement check?) I managed to get myself to the podium in upright condition, say my words, and sit back down without getting booed off or throwing up. A word to nervous speachifiers—always have a half-naked picture of Jensen Ackles ready. It pretty much makes anything fantastic. Also, make sure your talk is at 8:00 a.m., because everyone will be asleep and no one will notice if you are, too. So all in all, it was a successful conference!

Aaaand … now it’s October and summer is over. Well, nothing’s changed but the weather. I’m still plugging away at my computer, watching the new season of Supernatural, and digging into my stack of books. It’s not the most exciting life, but I’ll take it. It beats anything that’s not being a writer.

Jean-Paul Reflects on Taking Classes With the First and Second Years

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On October - 11 - 2012

73000961 eeb19145e2 n Jean Paul Reflects on Taking Classes With the First and Second YearsAhhh, second-year-itis has set in for me. I have a class with all of the Writing for Children first years and I can’t help looking at them with knowing fondness. To be a year younger, starting an MFA program, with so many possibilities ahead of me. Oh, to be young again!

It wasn’t until my second semester of the MFA program that I realized I didn’t belong in Fiction. Over the summer, I switched to Writing for Children and now in my third semester, I can’t help but think of the time wasted working towards something that didn’t really fit me. Now I am in one class with the second years and in another class with the first years. I didn’t get the chance to form a bond with anyone that first semester because in Fiction, every class is with new people, so it takes a while before you can get to know someone. But in Writing for Children, those first two semesters are with the same people for every class, so it’s as if the program created a group of writing companions just for you.

Already, the first years know what everyone is working on, who is really good at line edits, and who gets their writing and what they’re trying to do. The second years also have a background with each other. They know who is working on what, the history of certain characters and why one is acting a certain way that baffles me when I read a later chapter in a story, and probably have a general idea of who they want to work with in their peer groups next semester.

Of course, in Fiction it’s rare to start any semester with more than two people from a previous class and each workshop is filled with stories and characters you’ve never met before and will probably never meet again, but Writing for Children is not the same. The people you meet in the first semester are what you get, unless someone drops out of the program or switches to a different genre. Or switches into the genre, as I did.

I came to the school not only to improve my writing and my chances of publication, but also to develop relationships that will last beyond graduation. I envy the first years who already knew each other by name in the second week, while I still barely know them by face. And while I have become friends with the second years inside and outside of class, I do wish I had been there with them from the beginning. I feel like I am in-between since I have classes with both groups, but as I look towards next semester and what comes after, I sometimes think I may have the best of both years. I already have friendships within the second years and now I have to the potential to get to know and make friends with the first years. My community of writers is growing, and that can only make me a better writer in the long run.

Am I glad I switched? You betcha. Even if I sometimes feel like I’m in a class all by myself.

Image courtesy flickr/Wysz

Five Months Post-MFA, Jane’s Got Her Mojo Back

Posted by Jane Moon On October - 10 - 2012

asian girl thinking of plane 242x300 Five Months Post MFA, Janes Got Her Mojo BackWhen school was over, I knew that writing without deadlines wouldn’t be easy. I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be. During my last semester, I would submit my work to my critique group every two weeks. I scheduled a date each month to send my writing to my advisor. These deadlines pushed me to write a certain amount of pages each week.

When the semester ended, I saw it as the break I needed. I told myself I would take a mental vacation from my story. Coming back from my psychological time off was hard. I had left off in the middle of my book and now I was stuck. I would try and read what I had already written to get back into the rhythm of the story, but I would be distracted by the revisions that needed to be made.

So I tried a different tactic. I knew how my book would end, so I worked on that instead. It was a great idea because I kept writing and I made progress. Although I wasn’t completely happy with the result, I knew that I was that much closer to finishing my book.

I’ve heard that when you’re done with your first draft, you should take time off to clear your mind before making any revisions. It’ll be a while until I get to that point. But for now, I’ve got my motivation back. I can’t wait until I write a post about how I finished my first book!

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perla Salutes Those Who Have Paved the Way

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On October - 2 - 2012

brief wondrous life of oscar wao by junot diaz Perla Salutes Those Who Have Paved the WayWhen asked what book I wished I had written, three immediately come to mind: Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. All three of these books made me almost-cry (and at times cry) at the perfection of their stories. They motivated me to become a writer and hopefully write something as awesome. They filled me up with that nice kind of envy, maybe not a greenish envy, but a sweeter baby bluish or pinkish envy.

All three of these works have some similarities that I personally obsess about in the works I choose to read and what I write about. They’re all about the coming of age of an urban teen of color, the struggles of growing up underprivileged in the USA and the difficulties of being bicultural. And the authors all write about it in a fresh, original and creative format that had me captivated from beginning to end. I LOVED and connected with these stories and I LOVED how the stories were told.

The House on Mango Street uses short poetic vignettes to share the experiences Esperanza faces growing up in her neighborhood. Using colorful and concise language, Cisneros describes her awesome characters in such a way that you laugh at their imperfections and at the same time sympathize with many of their lost dreams. The story ends with a conflicted Esperanza, who wants more out of life. Despite loving her neighborhood and her heritage, she realizes that in order to pursue her dreams she must eventually leave it behind — a common decision many of us face when going away to college and leaving the ‘hood to pursue our dreams.

When I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in David Levithan’s class last year, I was absolutely mesmerized by Junior’s tragic life. I mean, this kid had absolutely nothing good going for him. Absolutely nothing.  Anybody else would have jumped off a bridge, seriously. Between his physical limitations, living on the depressing reservation, the bullying, the deaths, the adversities surrounding his people, the hopelessness, the alcoholism, the anger… how can you have so many issues in one book?  My classmates have told me many times that I have too many issues in one of the pieces I’m working on, and all I do is think about Alexie’s book. But I think you can do it because it can be real! Some people have really shitty lives. But Alexie tempers the trauma with humor. And once Junior (like Esperanza) decides to leave, he ends the book with hope.

And what can I say about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao? It won a Pulitzer, for crying out loud! But I will say this: I read this book about a week after it came out (obviously before the Pulitzer). I had patiently waited ten years for Mr. Diaz’s next work of art.I read it voraciously in a few days, hypnotized by Diaz’s curses, urban-Dominicanness, his hilarious footnotes and fantastic story telling. Once I finally finished it, I slammed it on the table and yelled to my husband who was watching TV, “This is a freaking masterpiece! And it deserves a Pulitzer, but probably won’t get it because… because, well I don’t think many would understand it in its entirety. Last time I checked there weren’t any geeky, urban, poor Dominican immigrants masterfully mixing Spanish and curses in their writing on the Pulitzer judging table.” Well, thank god I was wrong, dead wrong.

Thank you for opening those doors Ms. Cisneros, Mr. Alexie and Mr. Diaz.

Photo courtesy Riverhead Trade

Alyson’s Ode To R.J. Palacio

Posted by Alyson Gerber On October - 1 - 2012

wonder Alysons Ode To R.J. PalacioWonder. I wish I’d written it. I’d like to cross out R.J. Palacio and write in Alyson Gerber. It’s everything I love about middle grade in one book.

For one thing, there’s no caramel coating. August — a 10-year-old boy with extreme facial abnormalities — tells it like it is. He isn’t afraid to speak the truth, as he sees it. I drink my coffee black — no sugar — so this makes me very happy.

August is real, likable, and at times hilarious, but the book is serious and the emotional core is deeply rooted in his painful experience and journey. Nine to fourteen-year-olds can handle tough topics. And whether we like it or not, I think they do. So they should be addressed in literature.

While this story is specific, there is a universal element. On the inside, August wants the same thing as every other fifth grader (and I would argue as every person, at any age) — he wants to belong somewhere. He wants to find friends and a place where he can be himself. He wants acceptance.

August is an ordinary ten-year-old boy on the inside, which by nature makes him a part-time tough guy. He’s just starting to reject his parents’ affection and fighting for a sense of independence, yet he still has moments that remind us he’s only ten (and they are so sweet). The intricate balance of extremely guarded, but also vulnerable is beautifully done here. It’s hard not to laugh and cry at the same time.

Here are a few additional things that make me think R.J. Palacio is a genius:

#1. August never describes his physical appearance and yet I can see him so clearly. It’s like I’m Summer and we’re eating lunch together right now.

#2. Wonder has eight parts. Parts one, six, and eight are told from August’s perspective and the other five are written from other points of view, all in first person. Oh, and did I mention that the story is seamless and each perspective adds another amazing emotional layer? I mean, come on. It’s too good.

Photo courtesy Knopf

pixel Alysons Ode To R.J. Palacio

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