Teen Writers Bloc

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

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Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of ‘What We Become,’ On the Sequel

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On March - 11 - 2013

REV.WhatWeBecome 398x600 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelAccording to Hollywood, our culture’s largest purveyor of populist storytelling, the general wisdom on making a successful sequel is “the same, but more,” with the operative word being “more.” It’s pretty easy to see this in action (A Good Day to Die Hard is a recent example). Now, I’m not saying you can’t tell a big, enjoyable escapist story with this formula. However, one can also look at a sequel as a chance to expand and deepen the experience of the first installment.

In writing What We Become, a sequel of my book Those That Wake, I tried to adhere to three general rules to construct as compelling and satisfying a continuation as I could.

1. Deepen your themes and pay off your ideas – Presumably you’ve laid out your themes clearly the first time around, so rather than simply repeating them, delve more deeply into them and get below the more obvious conclusions. A famous sequel that did this extremely well, I think, was The Empire Strikes Back, in which the themes of heroism and fighting tyranny were deepened from the first movie as the narrative delved into the anguish, pain and sacrifice that heroism requires and how a victory may only be the first step in a more arduous struggle. Similarly, ideas and concepts introduced in a first part no longer have the novelty of the new and should be “paid off” with surprising and satisfying new applications.  Again, The Empire Strikes Back does a nifty job of this, by taking the idea of the Jedi and the Force introduced in Star Wars and immersing its main character in the philosophy of these ideas and showing off to audiences a wider array of functions.

In What We Become, I have taken the theme of not giving up, central to Those That Wake, and plunged in as far as it will take me. What happens when you can’t stop fighting?  What is the final cost of never giving up? What is the third choice, the one that is not about fighting or giving up? I’ve also given a new perspective to the theme of a world manipulated from behind the scenes by moving away from the more fantastical take on it in Those That Wake to one that, while still stranger than pure reality, is more grounded in the real world and recent history. Meanwhile, some of my Big Ideas, like the Librarian and the Global Dynamic, are taken to their natural fruition and have their origins and intricacies revealed in unexpected ways.

 2. Grow your characters – Hopefully, your characters had a full and satisfying arc the first time around.  So where does that leave you to go with them?  Well, an arc is just the narrative of a character’s growing understanding.  Coming to understand things always leads to seeing a larger world, greater possibilities and how much more there could still be left to understand.  Those initial arcs can flow organically into larger and more expansive arcs.  Characters in stories get to grow more neatly than actual humans, whose experiences and understanding are not divided into clear, narrative sections.  But a good fictional character should keep searching and growing as long as they live, just like actual people.

While Mal was the ostensible hero of Those that Wake, his arc in that book was very much about showing him his limitations. Laura, meanwhile, had a more classic arc, essentially moving from dependence to self-sufficiency. I have, in what I hope are interesting and surprising ways, reversed their roles for What We Become. Laura takes on more classically heroic characteristics here, even going on a physical quest for something crucial, Mal has his arc ultimately and completely fulfilled.  Using his arc in the first book as a mere first step, I push Mal to those aforementioned limitations and see what he has to do to actually break through them.

I’ve also introduced two new characters to share the main spotlight, whose own development as characters serves not only to flesh them out, but to highlight other aspects of Mal and Laura, making all four of them into more fully-formed and psychologically complex and authentic characters.

3. Don’t take your readers for granted or leave them behind – If things went right, you’re going to have some returning readers. Some of them may remember the details of the story very well and some may only remember a few key moments and strong characters. At the same time, you’ve got to assume that there are going to be at least a few people who wandered into your story right in the middle. So, you’ve got to be able to gently recap crucial information without being intrusive or artificial about it. You’ve got to integrate the recap naturally into the flow of the new story.

Having new characters caught up in the ongoing adventure helps with this considerably, as they will need to be brought up to speed even as events proceed at an engaging pace. In What We Become, I have also tied some of the revelations into the mysteries of Those That Wake, not so that you need to understand what came before, but so that if you do, the current story will take on multiple layers, and revelations will have a larger impact. At the same time, I have also worked hard to create echoes of elements from the first book: character moments, lines of dialog, situations, even tricks I play with chapter titles. For those who went through the first part, you want the second part to recall it and to connect with it to create a larger, more complete structure, but not necessarily be dependent on it. That’s why, I figure, they put the word “companion” on the cover of What We Become, rather than “sequel.”

You always want to give your readers a deeper, more expansive experience. In a sequel, the most effective way to do this is to give them something they haven’t seen before but that improves and is improved by what they have seen before. In other words “more, but not the same.”

 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelJesse Karp is the author of Those That Wake, the sequel What We Become, and the non-fiction work Graphic Novels in Your School Library. He is also a school librarian in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.  Please visit him at beyondwhereyoustand.com.

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

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

New Section on Teen Writers Bloc: Our Books!

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On August - 23 - 2012

 New Section on Teen Writers Bloc: Our Books!Hi everyone!

So much has changed in the two years since we started Teen Writers Bloc — the most exciting being that so many of us are publishing books of our own now! 2013 is going to be a big year for us, publishing-wise, so we decided to add a new page to the site where you can find up-to-date info on all of the upcoming YA and MG releases by Teen Writers Bloc members. Check it out here! And you can always find the page on the top bar of Teen Writers Bloc, right next to the “subscribe” button.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Author Interview: TWB’s Own Mary G. Thompson!

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On July - 26 - 2012

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!Teen Writers Bloc has interviewed a bunch of totally awesome YA and MG authors over the years (wow, has it been years already?!), but our latest is extra exciting because we’re interviewing one of our own!

TWB contributor Mary G. Thompson‘s debut middle grade novel Wuftoom is on sale now, and she’s dishing all her secrets about her writing process, her upcoming novels, and her former life as a lawyer!

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

Well, a long long time ago, in a demented alternate universe, I was a lawyer. This involved a lot of long hours and stress, and except for the fun of wearing a suit and having a large office with multiple desks, it wasn’t the rewarding career I’d always dreamed of. Don’t get me wrong, having more than one desk does make one feel very important. Also, I had a nice big window with a great view of a freeway, and that was really interesting. But the whole time, I really wanted to write. I’d write after work and on the weekends, and I found that I much preferred sitting in a comfy chair with a laptop and no desk at all. So I wrote Wuftoom and a couple more manuscripts, and I started attending writers’ conferences, and I met my agent, and the rest, as they say, has something to do with the number of desks you can stack in a courtroom while shouting “I object!” and pretending to try on a leather glove.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Wuftoom? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

Wuftoom is about a twelve-year-old boy who is turning into a disgusting wormlike creature. Everyone else thinks he’s sick, but he knows what’s really happening because this creature visits him all the time. Evan is terrified of turning into this monstrosity, so he makes a bargain with the evil Vitflys. The Vitflys give him the power to inhabit the bodies of other boys so he can have a taste of life again, but in exchange, he has to promise to help the Vitflys destroy the Wuftoom. Of course, as Evan’s transformation progresses, things become a whole lot more complicated. The Wuftoom also want something. And are the Wuftoom really as bad as Evan thought? The Vitflys threaten Evan’s mother, and Evan has to figure out where his loyalties lie.

The concept just sort of popped into my head. I suddenly pictured the boy, Evan, sitting on his bed in a dark room, debilitated by membranes, and the creature was sliding toward him across the floor. It was immediately apparent that Evan was turning into the creature. I then wrote out a quick outline, but I didn’t really follow it. The original concept was actually (if you can believe it) much darker and a lot worse for Evan. It ended up evolving into the more heartfelt, fun-gross adventure it is today.

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!What’s your writing process?

With Wuftoom, I wrote after work in various coffee shops and chain restaurants, or when I could, at home in my comfy chair. That was not an ideal situation, which is why I decided to quit the job and come study at The New School. Now I try to write first thing in the “morning,” which means something different to me than to most people. I just try to write every day or whenever possible. Even if I don’t feel “inspired,” I sit there pulling my hair out until something gets written.

What has your path to publication been like?

After I wrote Wuftoom, I started attending writers’ conferences and managed to get an agent pretty quickly. It took a long time to sell the book after that, though. I hated all that waiting, but my agent never gave up on me, and four and a half years after I finished the book, it’s finally on bookstore shelves! I think the most surprising part is how much support I’ve gotten. People I haven’t seen in a long time have gone out of their way to congratulate me, and of course, my classmates at The New School have been fantastic, even though we just met less than two years ago. Not that I expected mass disapproval, I just didn’t expect people to be so nice. Yay!

Can you talk a bit about world building? What is your process?

I start with the main character and their basic situation. With Wuftoom, it was Evan turning into this disgusting creature, and with Escape From The Pipe Men! it was Ryan and Becky having grown up in this zoo and not really knowing anything about how normal kids live on Earth. Then I work outwards and build the world around the kid’s adventure. There are times when I have to stop and spend a lot of time figuring out what the world looks like and how it works, but I try to always keep the main character and the adventure in mind. As the character explores the world, so do I, and by the time I’ve revised the book about a thousand times, the world has magically become a real place — at least to me!

You’ve already sold a few other books since Wuftoom. Can you talk about looking at writing as a job and seeing it as a business as much as art? 

I’ve sold two books after Wuftoom: Escape From the Pipe Men! (Spring 2013) and Evil Fairies Love Hair (Fall 2013). I’m also trying to sell more at various different age levels, so watch this space! I do see writing as an art, but I also approach it as a business in that I don’t believe in inspiration or writer’s block. I think you just have working and not working, industry or laziness, motivation or lack of it. If you are genuinely motivated to succeed, you will do everything you can with what time you have. When I had a full time day job, what I was able to do was limited, but I was still able to accomplish something. Now that I’m sort of mostly a full time author, I really don’t have any excuses! I always feel like I could be doing more, and I think that feeling is essential. You can never be happy as a writer! You always have to want more and be flagellating yourself for every failure to meet a goal.

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

Somebody at a conference once said something that really stuck with me. If someone says “I love this line!” you’re in trouble. Nobody should be noticing the “writing.” They should be so absorbed in the story that nothing like that jumps out at them. I guess that’s along the same lines as Stephen King’s advice: “Kill your darlings.”

My advice to aspiring authors would be finish your book. I don’t care if you think it’s crap or if it really is crap. I wrote two books before Wuftoom that never went anywhere, and I think finishing those manuscripts, even if no one will ever see them, taught me the skills I needed to get it right.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

My favorite book as a kid was Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s one of her lesser known books, and I think it deserves a lot more recognition. It’s about a town that’s run by these seven weird guys, and it’s totally out there and weird and creative. It’s stuck with me all these years. Right now I’m reading Rotters by Daniel Kraus. It’s about a somewhat disturbed kid who moves in with the father he’s never met and discovers the old man is a grave robber. It’s not fantasy, but it has a great, absorbing horror feel.

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

My next book is a lighter-toned middle grade sci-fi called Escape From The Pipe Men! It’s about two kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on an adventure across the universe. Get ready for multiple eyes, legs, tentacles, portals, and of course, an exciting alien space fight! Look for it in Spring 2013!

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

Interacting with other writers is essential for my sanity, because there are some things about the job that people who aren’t writers don’t understand. I love reading my friends’ work and sharing mine. That said, it is not a good idea to write a book in a committee. You have to take some and leave some.

Mary G. Thompson was raised in Cottage Grove and Eugene, OR. She was a practicing attorney for more than 7 years, including almost 5 years in the U.S. Navy, before moving to New York to write full time. She was educated at Boston University, the University of Oregon, and The New School.

Book cover image courtesy of Clarion Books

Jean-Paul Bass on Perseverance

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On June - 22 - 2012

Perseverance Jean Paul Bass on PerseveranceI struggle with writing on a consistent schedule.  I only write when I am in the mood or if there is a deadline approaching, but being in the mood comes very infrequently.  There’s always something else I want to do and I keep pushing writing aside.  I had such high hopes for the summer.  I just knew I was going to be so prolific and wow everyone but after a few weeks of late nights at the computer, my enthusiasm waned when I hit a rough patch in the story and I haven’t revisited it since.

Just recently, I attended three different events.  Each event featured some of the hottest authors in YA today.  And at two of the events, the authors were alumni of The New School’s MFA program, more specifically, of the Writing for Children Program — Lisa Greenwald and Siobhan Vivian.

Once I got over feeling cool from being connected to these authors through the program, I got a little bummed.  Here were people who were in the same program as me and now look at them!  On stage, some with multiple book deals, talking about writing and being writers, and the audience can’t wait to hear what they have to say next.  I immediately tried imagining myself getting asked questions, promoting my book at events, and wondering what writing tips I could give my audience.  But I couldn’t sustain the fantasy for long because all of those authors have something I don’t have: perseverance.  Tenacity.  Determination.  Dogged pursuit of a goal.  Call it what you want but I ain’t got it.

At one of the events, an editor told us that she would be accepting unsolicited submissions from the audience for two weeks after the event and instead of getting excited, I felt like kicking myself.  Here was an awesome opportunity, a direct line to an editor, and I couldn’t use it because I didn’t have anything ready to send out.  I’ve been spending my summer goofing off when I should have been writing.

Imagining myself on stage with those other authors doesn’t get me very far, but thinking about writing, about sticking to a schedule and finishing a story just like those authors gets me inspired.  It’s all about perseverance, about seeing something through to the very end and not getting sidetracked.  That’s how they got on the stage and why they have book deals.

The summer’s not over yet.  I’ve got a few more months left to cultivate that stick-to-it-ive-ness skill that is so crucial to being successful.  I probably won’t be on stage giving advice anytime soon, but the next time an editor asks for a submission, I will be ready.

Guest blogger Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all. She is currently working on her MFA in fiction and writing for children at The New School.  If she could finish her memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, before graduation, then she would be quite satisfied with herself.

were not worthy Guest Blogger Perla Rodriguez Looks Back at Her First Year as a New School MFA StudentDo you remember the scene from the 1992 movie Wayne’s World when Wayne and Garth get down on their knees in front of Alice Cooper and scream, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”?

Well that’s how I felt walking into The New School when my first semester started a year ago. I might’ve also had Wayne’s idiotic smirk on my face as I opened the door. I was in complete disbelief.

I wasn’t in shock about attending the New School, but at what I was studying. I simply couldn’t believe that I was actually pursuing a degree in writing. And I couldn’t believe that the New School had accepted me. I did a double take when I saw the acceptance letter and a tear ran down my face. Seriously, I cried. My friends mocked my denial of the situation and told me to frame the acceptance letter so that I could read it everyday and get over the shock. Up until recently, I never considered myself a writer, and as an avid reader and teacher, I never imagined myself following the footsteps of the people I admired the most.  I think for the most part I’m a pretty confident person, but when it came to my writing I had serious issues. Like Wayne, I wasn’t worthy.

So you guys can only begin to imagine my anxiety when it was time for my first critique. Attached to my critique I even included a weak sob story basically begging my classmates to go easy on me! The night before, I didn’t sleep. I was sweating in class, biting my nails, looking down, and dreading the moment. I patiently waited for my turn while I struggled internally. I hated myself for putting myself through that experience, and for letting their opinions impact me so much.

To make a long story short, they all loved my writing. Obviously I had many things I needed to work on, but in general the feedback was reassuring and inspiring. So maybe I can write, I thought to myself. Maybe my inner-critic was so ultimately powerful that it blinded me to this gift I have.

And so my semester progressed with lots of constructive and reassuring feedback telling me that I hadn’t made a huge mistake in applying to this program. Maybe the debt I was incurring wasn’t all going to waste.

When my second semester came along I had improved significantly, not only in my writing, but in my confidence as well. I started to believe that I was in fact worthy.

At the completion of my first year at the New School I can confidently say that I AM A WRITER and I am indeed WORTHY. Without this year at the New School, I would have never been confident enough to pursue this career. I needed my professors and my classmates to tell me that I was a good writer in order to start to believe in myself. Many people do not need that. They can go into a career and know in their hearts that they are good and not need the approval of others. And those people probably save a lot of money! icon smile Guest Blogger Perla Rodriguez Looks Back at Her First Year as a New School MFA Student

I believe EVERYTHING in life serves as a learning experience, as a stepping-stone into the right direction (even bad financial moves, huge graduate school debt and bad relationships). I needed the New School in my life at this particular moment. So for that, I am immensely happy. I have learned so much from my professors and classmates… more than I ever would have just sitting at home and thinking about becoming a writer. Now I truly believe in my talent and myself and I am confident I will see my books in my local bookstore soon. I AM WORTHY!

Perla Rodriguez is a NYC teacher and mom of two who recently decided to become a writer and capture some of the awesome, yet rarely told stories that surround her.  She is currently working on her MFA in Writing for Children at The New School and writing a few fictional pieces for young adults and children.

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Guest Blogger Gwendolyn Heasley on Publishing That Second Book

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On June - 5 - 2012

ALong WayFromYou COVER 392x600 Guest Blogger Gwendolyn Heasley on Publishing That Second BookI think books are like boyfriends. Just because you’ve had a boyfriend before doesn’t make your next relationship any easier or less complicated. Like boyfriends, each book has its peculiarities and nuances.

I wrote the first draft of my debut novel Where I Belong in a MediaBistro class. I never dreamed that it would be published, so when I wrote it, I wrote it for only me.  I didn’t think about landing an agent. I didn’t think about what an editor would think. I didn’t cater to “the industry.” With some great luck (publishing does involve luck in my opinion), Where I Belong went from a pet hobby project to a real live book. With much help from my then editor, Catherine Onder, I learned a lot about editing and making a draft into a real book. Mainly, I learned editing is not only comma splices and run-on sentences.

So when I started on Where I Belong’s companion novel, A Long Way From You, I felt like a different person and writer than I had been when I wrote my first book. I knew about websites, book trailers, blogs, library visits, oh my! In the past year and a half, I had a crash course in the wonderful world of Young Adult Literature. Because of that, I naively thought it would be easier — not harder — to write my second book.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

You know that quote, “Dance like no one is watching.” When I wrote Where I Belong, I did write like no one, besides my MediaBistro online class, was watching. Yet when I sat down to write A Long Way From You, I felt like people were watching. I had made some mistakes with Where I Belong, and reviewers and critics alike had (sometimes) kindly pointed them out. Armed with this information (use contractions, you wouldn’t believe the fury over my lack of contractions), I found it harder to just write. I’d type a sentence, then wonder what my readers would think. I’d delete the sentence and type a new one. Then I’d wonder what my editor would think. I had too many voices in my head when I really just needed to be listening to my character.

I’m not going to say that one day, I woke up and the voices were gone. That never completely happened. But over time, my character spoke to me louder than the imaginary fear mongers. It took me longer to write A Long Way From You than Where I Belong, but I think that ended up being a good thing. In the end, I let my character tell her story. But I also improved as a writer, in part thanks to some of the critics. (Don’t be afraid of reviewers. Sometimes, they offer great — free — advice.)

My advice to anyone who feels stuck — on a second novel, on a first draft, on whatever — is to write like no one is watching. Put away the craft books for a while. Write for a while before asking for critique. Basically, just write. One word at a time and try to ignore any voices —but your characters. You will have to edit later no matter what, so enjoy the pleasure of not worrying for at least one draft!

I’m glad that I figured out that books are like boyfriends. I know my third book will be nothing like my second — and I’ll probably give completely different advice after writing it. But of course, I’ll romanticize it, just like I do old boyfriends.

Photos Courtesy Harper Collins

GwendolynHeasley AuthorPhoto 100x150 Guest Blogger Gwendolyn Heasley on Publishing That Second BookGuest blogger Gwendolyn Heasley, author of Where I Belong and its companion novel A Long Way From You, is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism. When she was a little girl, she desperately wanted to be the next Ann M. Martin — the author of the beloved The Baby-Sitter’s Club series. She’s incredibly grateful that the recession rendered her unemployed and made her chase her nearly forgotten dream. She lives in New York City, teaches college and eats entirely too much mac and cheese for an adult. She’s also currently at work on her third novel for Harper Collins.

Guest Blogger Perla Rodriguez Asks: Latinos, Do You Read?

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On May - 18 - 2012

boy reading book.jpg Guest Blogger Perla Rodriguez Asks: Latinos, Do You Read?Latinos, do you read?

When the brilliant idea of pursuing a career in writing for children occurred to me a few years ago, I embarked on an obsessive-information-gathering- journey (like many of us do when we switch careers, but maybe not so obsessively). I clearly remember the beautiful spring day that I attended a workshop at a prestigious university in the city. The panel of speakers consisted of writers, editors and publishers and I was especially interested in what one particular Latina editor had to say.

During the Q & A session I told this particular Latina editor (and a room of about 100 people) my recent life changing, ego-shattering decision and asked for her opinion and advice.

“I’m sorry to say that there is no market for Latino literature. Latinos simply do not buy books. Maybe you should just stick with teaching,” she said.

Yep, that was her response. I kid you not.

After I proceeded to lift my jaw off from the floor, I simply sat back down — dumbstruck. A few encouraging ladies who sat around me told me not to let what she said derail me.

“There might not be a market for it not now, but maybe sometime in the future,” a Cuban hermana sitting next to me said once the workshop was over.

And with that she and many others rushed to front of the room to network.

Luckily for me I had woken up that morning with an insurmountable amount of confidence and determination. “That lady has some cojones,” my stubborn Dominican self said to my emerging writer self. “Bring it.”

I walked out with my head held high and my sonrisa colgate, ready for this challenge. I even hummed the “Eye of the Tiger” as I walked to my car.

Unfortunately, that was not the only time I heard similar allegations. After starting my degree in Creative Writing at The New School and attending an SCBWI Conference,  I heard from numerous editors how unmarketable Latinos and, in general, most people of color are.

But I kept on pursuing this crazy career. After all, hasn’t every genius encountered some negativity? Were would we be if Einstein or MLK Jr. quit with their first rejection? (Not that I am comparing myself, but you get my point.)

I refused to believe it. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

I am sure you have all heard the cheesy and cliché lines about how literature changes lives. But it really, really did change mine. As a daughter of hard-working immigrants, I wasn’t exposed to the world of literature I now love. I discovered reading in my later years, thanks to great teachers that pushed it upon me. Slowly, my small Bronx world transformed before my eyes. I had an escape. As a pre-teen and teenager, I remember savagely reading every R.L. Stine, Sweet Valley High, and Babysitters Club book I was able to get my hands on. I became an avid reader and the library became my refuge.

However, I also started to find my life inadequate, lacking. I wanted to be naturally blonde and have a twin sister. I wanted to live in the suburbs and date guys named ‘Chad.’ I felt discontented and trivial.

But then I read The Joy Luck Club my first year in college. And that started another obsessive journey into whatever diverse, multicultural piece of literature I was able to get my hands on. Amy Tan, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, Pat Mora, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros –thank you all. And WOW. I couldn’t believe. I seriously did not think it was possible. My experience can be documented out there!  Versions of me do exist in literature. I REALLY can identify with these characters.

And those feelings to search for me, for us, in literature only doubled once I had my babies. I didn’t want them to question their identity, like I did for so long. I wanted them to automatically see their colored faces in the text and feel validated, strong, confident, and happy.

And so I ask my Latinos and fellow people of color out there, is it true? Are we unmarketable? Should we allow them to cast us aside? In this day and age, I think not. Demand literature that represents you! Let’s prove them wrong.  Lets show them that, yes, we are consumers who need to be taken seriously. Let’s add some color and sabor to those bookshelves!

Perla Rodriguez is a NYC teacher and mom of two who recently decided to become a writer and capture some of the awesome, yet rarely told stories that surround her.  She is currently working on her MFA in Writing for Children at The New School and writing a few fictional pieces for young adults and children.
Photo credit: George R. Fischer

new school Guest Blogger Ghenet Myrthil Responds to Marys Question of Low Expectations

I’ve followed Teen Writers Bloc pretty much since its inception, and what I’ve loved most about it is the variety of perspectives the bloggers provide on their experience as writers and MFA students. I graduated from The New School Writing for Children program in 2010, and it’s been fun to read their posts and reminisce about my own time there.

The question the bloggers are tackling this month has to do with whether this MFA program is worthwhile. After reading Mary’s response, I realized how different my experience in the program was compared to hers.

Some things haven’t changed. The program still has its benefits and drawbacks, which I’m sure is true of many graduate programs. Like Mary, I didn’t find the adult literature class I took to be very useful, and I was equally offended by the administration’s assumption that children’s literature writers aren’t real writers unless they study adult lit. What a load of crap!

Also, like Mary, the main reason I loved the program was because of the writers I formed a community with while there. The support I receive from them even now, two years later, is invaluable. Not all twelve of us keep in touch anymore, but the five that I do keep in touch with are awesome.

One point Mary made in her post gave me pause:

“Finally, there’s the problem of low expectations. If you wanted to, you could graduate from the program without ever having completed a novel. The thesis requirement is only fifty pages. You could literally write only fifty pages in the entire program and still graduate.” 

Here’s where I respectfully disagree, and where my experience in the program differed.

I agree that MFA applicants need to decide what their expectations are before entering a program like this, because a lot of it is what you make of it. However, I don’t agree with the idea that if you don’t complete a novel by the end of the program, your expectations are too low. It’s not so black and white. The creative section of my thesis was only seventy pages (18,000 words). I certainly wrote way more than seventy pages over the course of the program (since I started several projects before deciding to focus on one), but I didn’t complete an entire novel.

There were two main reasons for this. One was a lack of time. I had a full-time job while in the program, and was also planning my wedding, so I found it hard to write every day. Along with all of the other program requirements (reading a book a week, critiquing several submissions a week, attending readings, and of course attending class), it was a lot to juggle. Second, I had never written a novel before. I entered the program having only ever written short stories.


My personal expectation for the program was to learn more about kid lit (through the literature classes), improve my writing (through the workshops) and get as far into a novel as I could. I would have loved to finish an entire novel, and I wrote as much as I could, but a completed manuscript wasn’t in the cards.


Despite that, I was so proud of my thesis! And I’ve since finished and revised that book. What I really wanted out of the program was to kick start my career, and it did just that.So while I agree that you do have to think about WHY you want to get an MFA and WHAT you want to accomplish, it’s okay if you don’t end up completing a whole manuscript. In fact, I was one of many people in my class who only submitted portions of manuscripts for their theses and completed their books after the program ended. At the time, none of my classmates had agents or book deals. Many of us (myself included) are still working toward that goal. None of us are unmotivated. We were just at an earlier stage of our careers while at The New School. We took our time getting the pages we wrote for our theses right.

One thing that’s very clear about the Class of 2012 is that they are a very motivated and productive bunch. I’m seriously impressed by how they’ve supported each other and pushed one another to write so much. I’m sure they’ll have long and successful careers, and I feel the same way about my old classmates! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from getting an MFA, and being a writer in general, it’s that everyone follows their own journey and writes at their own pace.

Thanks, Teen Writers Bloc, for letting me share my experience!

me Guest Blogger Ghenet Myrthil Responds to Marys Question of Low Expectations

Ghenet Myrthil is a 2010 graduate of The New School Writing for Children program. She’s currently seeking representation for her contemporary young adult novel. You can find her blogging at www.ghenetmyrthil.com and tweeting @ghenet

pixel Guest Blogger Ghenet Myrthil Responds to Marys Question of Low Expectations

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