Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category

8thGradeSuper RESIZED 198x300 Author Interview: Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich Follows the Sage Wisdom Of Madeleine LEngleOlugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is a fantastic writer of color who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for the past few years via the bustling online children’s literature circuit. I recommend her book, 8th Grade Superzero, to every reluctant teen male reader. Her protagonist Reggie and his quest to finish his comic book Night man was right up my alley (Did I forget to mention that I was a comic book nerd? And still have a great collection of X-men trading cards.).

Teen Writers Bloc caught up with her, despite her busy schedule, to discuss her inspiration and her new initiative, The Patchwork Collective Mentoring Program for writers and illustrators of color.

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

I was a freelance writer for years, I wrote grants and educational materials, I wrote Web content, and articles for teen fanzines. Along with the writing, I was a literacy coach and worked in youth development for about ten years. I currently teach a couple of writing workshops, and do some literacy work at my daughter’s school. I’ve always wanted to be a writer in some way; I used to write and illustrate stories for my little sister, and I had a couple of bedtime series going for a few years; I’d start the story hour after we’d been officially tucked in.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of 8th Grade SuperZero? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

After the worst first day of school ever, Reggie “Pukey” McKnight wants to get through the school year out of the spotlight and on the sidelines. He wants to turn his image around, but he has other things on his mind as well: his father is out of a job; life with his best friends is getting complicated by race and romance; and his nemesis Donovan is out for blood.

The elections for school president are coming up, but Reggie wouldn’t stand a chance, if he even had the courage to run. Then he gets involved with a local homeless shelter, and begins to think about making a difference, in his world and beyond. And when a pair of “Dora the Explorer” sneakers seem to have powers of transformation, Reggie begins to wonder: Pukey for President? It can happen…if he starts believing.

The story began as a bit of an accident. I wrote a couple of pages as part of an application for a writing workshop with Paula Danziger, who is one of my favourite authors. It was one of those night-before-the-application was due kind of things (a situation that I find myself in often), and I got an image of Reggie in my head and went with it for three pages. Paula really encouraged and supported me over the years; much later on, as I began to seek out Reggie’s real story, I was inspired by people and moments in my life, and some of the teens that I taught and worked with — their desire to tackle big questions, to be thoughtful, and to be activists in many different ways.

guysmiley2WEB 199x300 Author Interview: Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich Follows the Sage Wisdom Of Madeleine LEngleWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

Um. I suppose I just write when I can.  I’m usually at my best early in the morning, but I do more-than-occasional all-nighters, I write on the subway, etc. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of writing (especially first draft writing) out of my home, because I don’t have a laptop and won’t let myself be distracted by the Internet when I’m out. I still write first drafts and notes longhand; I doodle, write in the margins, etc. — it helps me to work things out.  Most days I’ll have a pot of strong black tea nearby, and if I’m home I’ll often have public radio in the background.  Inspiration is everywhere — conversations I have or overhear, people or things that I see and wonder about, random thoughts, news, stories I read…my job really is that “showing up” regularly that Anne Lamott has mentioned, and not waiting to be inspired. That is how I finally got Superzero done, by just deciding to write it and not wish I could try/talk about/wonder if I’d ever/talk myself out of writing a book “one day”.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I was someone who went to a lot of writing conferences, read a lot of craft books, read a lot of any books for *years* before I actually started querying. I partcipated in writing workshops, and some, with Kate Morgenroth, Sandra Tyler, Nora Sayre, Paula Danziger, and Madeleine L’Engle, were tremendously helpful.

 Author Interview: Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich Follows the Sage Wisdom Of Madeleine LEngleWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Madeleine L’Engle told me “If you’re going to be a perfectionist, you’ll never get anything done.”  I often hear people talk about their perfectionism with pride, and I was one of those people for a long time, especially when it came to my writing. And she was so very very right. (I mean, it was Madeleine, so of course she was. And also, thinking that I could do anything perfectly was beyond hubris, so just the idea was…ugh, I can’t even think about it now.)  I thought of Madeleine’s words often in my frenzied, week-long, 180-page first draft of Superzero phase, and I have to remind myself of them every day. I have a tendency to edit as I write, or write a day and then spending three more going back over and “fine-tuning” what I wrote — it’s just not cool.  I allow myself a little “rewind and revise” just to get back into a groove, but, especially in early drafts, I just keep moving forward.  Madeleine helped me come to terms with the fact that it will never, ever be perfect — no, really, me, NEVER –  but I can work and write and rewrite and keep going until I get it “done”. I am grateful for the days when I get a few key scribbles down on the page, and the marathon sessions when the stories just flow.  So, my advice: Just write. And read.  It’s not original, but it’s effective.

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

Argh, the dreaded question! I feel like I loved everything I read when I was a child. I loved “family stories” like All-Of-A-Kind Family and Elizabeth Enright’s Melendys; I loved Lois Lenski’s regional historical fiction. Julius Lester’s Black Folktales and The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou by Kristin Hunter were dog-eared and re-read; A Wrinkle in Time and A Ring of Endless Light, The Chronicles of Narnia…Ellen Conford and Paula Danziger made me laugh out loud…Maya Angelou’s autobiographical works and Their Eyes Were Watching God made me cry…I devoured the African Writers Series (with books by Cyprian Ekwensi, Buchi Emecheta, etc.), and the Autobiography of Malcolm XAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl…The Janes (Eyre and everything Austen) were great companions, along with Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and tons of tons of folk and fairy tales…Agatha Christie, I loved her mysteries…You see, this will never end! I also read a *lot* of drama as a child, for a while I planned to be a playwright. Have to add Marquez! Love in the Time of Cholera transformed my teen years! And reading Amy Tan with my mom. Noel Streatfeild to the childhood faves. I adored the “Shoes” books, and would encourage (force) my sister to be a student at my dance/theatre/circus school…

Right now I’m reading Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming, The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene, and Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks. And a bunch of writing-teachery books.

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

I am working on another novel, about a girl who feels that her words caused her brother’s death, and a chapter/early MG “family story” about a co-housing, homeschooled girl band.

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

My agent has a vibrant and supportive listserv, which is just a marvelous group, and some of my wisest and best friends and critique partners, like Audrey Vernick and Chris Barton, are in that group. I’m a member of two fantastic online author communities, the 2009 Debutantes and the “10_ers”, which have been amazing arenas of support, business savvy, and the occasional sillies. I’m also part of a new, small project called The Patchwork Collective, for writers of color and/or those who are members of underrepresented groups. It  matches published authors with writers looking to learn more about the business, the craft of writing and discuss the many-coloured world of children’s literature.  In person, I also meet with a “Writer Buddy” and a few other friends to talk the writing life, which is therapeutic and just plain fun. I think it’s a wonderful thing to try, and also wonderful to leave alone if it doesn’t work.

Photo Credit: Author’s Website, Arthur A. Levine Books, Square Fish Books (Madeleine L’Engle photo)

dscf531121 300x200 Author Interview: New School Grad Nick Burds Writing Rule    Finish What You StartAt the Fall 2010 New School MFA Alumni night, I heard Nick Burd read a section of his novel The Vast Fields of Ordinary and I was hooked. I immediately googled him, fell in love with his prose, and emailed my beautiful writer friend Ariana Austin, who was profiling up and coming black authors for The Root, because he had to be included.

In between traveling to Iowa for research for the upcoming movie adaptation of his book, Nick Burd paused to chat with Teen Writers Bloc about

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

I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always written stories, even when I was a very young kid. I’ve always loved books, so the desire to actually create them stemmed from that. I work as a copywriter during the day and write on the weekends and early mornings before I head into the office.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of The Vast Fields of Ordinary? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

The Vast Fields of Ordinary is about a teenager in Iowa named Dade Hamilton and the summer after his senior year of high school. He finally finds the kind of love that he’s been looking for.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

On the weekends, I usually head to a nearby coffee shop and try to write for at least five hours. During the week, I wake up a few mornings before I head to my office and write for two hours. I wish I had more time, but this schedule isn’t the worst.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I was lucky in that I came into contact with an editor at Penguin on a social level, who heard I was a writer and wanted to read the novel I was working on. She read the first 200 pages and wanted to buy it. I didn’t really have to go through some lengthy rejection process.

As for the most surprising part of the process, it would probably be that getting published or having a publisher doesn’t do a thing to eradicate all those writerly insecurities we all have. It’s always hard and you’ve always got that voice in your head telling you that you could be doing better. Or at least that’s how it’s been for me. But at the same time, those things work to make you work harder as a writer, so I wouldn’t necessarily consider them bad things.

 Author Interview: New School Grad Nick Burds Writing Rule    Finish What You StartWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Probably to finish what you start. A teacher told me that once, and I think it’s the golden rule of writing. You can’t tell if something isn’t working until you get to the end, rewrite it, and rewrite it again. And even if you end up throwing it all out the window, you still learn something from it. I would be a mistake to think of it as a waste of time.

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

I was very much into the Hardy Boys series when I was a kid. I think I read every one of those books. I was also very into Batman comics. As I got older, my tastes got a bit more sophisticated, but these were the first things I remember behind really into. I just finished a book called Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross.

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

I am currently working on my second book for young adults. I’m almost at the end. It takes place in the same town as Vast Fields. And it looks like Vast Fields will also be turned into a movie, which is exciting. It still has a couple of hurdles to jump over before it’s a sure thing, but the people involved are very optimistic.

How was your experience getting an MFA at The New School? Worth it?

It was a great experience. Whenever someone asks if MFA programs are worth it, I always say that I don’t see how spending two years immersing yourself in your craft can be a bad thing. While I’m not going to say that MFA programs are a source of knowledge that cannot be gained through any other means, it’s an ideal setting for seeing how people react to your work. It also forces you to read books you might not pick up on your own. And then of course, you get to meet and read the work of other writers.

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

I think it can be very helpful. Writing is hard and it can help your spirit to hear about other people’s writer’s block or how tough their third draft is coming along. There’s support there that is necessary as a writer. After all, you’re doing most of your work alone. It’s good to know there are other people in your same situation.

Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the Recession

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On February - 18 - 2011

whereibelong 398x600 Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the RecessionWhen we met debut author Gwendolyn Heasley at one of David Levithan’s monthly teen author readings, we totally inspired by her story: having graduated at the height of the recession, the jobless and living with her parents wannabe journalist turned her broke-in-the-city angst into a fun fish-out-0f-water tale, Where I Belong. Gwendolyn paused from penning the book’s companion story to chat with Teen Writers Bloc about the arduous publishing process, nabbing her dream job and characters that talk to her — in a good way!

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

I was in school for about 21 consecutive years. After I finished my Master’s in Journalism at the University of Missouri, I moved to New York City with the hopes of a magazine job. I didn’t have any visions of grandeur; I realized I’d be fetching coffee for people with fabulous and glamorous jobs rather than landing a fabulous, glamorous job myself. But I did think I would get a job!

But I also moved to New York City the same month the stock market crashed (October 2008) and all of sudden everything was about the recession. Journalism budgets were slashed and tons of entry-level positions were cut. All of sudden, getting any job seemed extremely difficult. So instead of the single girl in the city with the studio apartment, I was living with my parents and frantically searching for jobs!

As a young girl, I had wanted to be a fiction writer not a journalist. But as I got older, working for a magazine (and having health insurance and a steady paycheck) just seemed more logical.

In order to keep my brain working while doing an unpaid internship and searching for jobs, I signed up for a YA fiction-writing course with Mediabistro — and put my recession tales into narrative!  With a lot of luck and good timing, my manuscript was sold to HarperCollins. My dream (although long forgotten) became a reality!

I love being a writer because you get to make everything up. In journalism, there wasn’t that creative license (for very good reason), but I love the freedom that fiction allows. I do not write full-time, although I am realizing how it is very hard to balance multiple jobs. Depending on the semester, I teach between one and three college writing classes, which I love doing. I teach both freshmen and adult learners, and I have learned a lot about life and writing from them.

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

Where I Belong is about a teenage Manhattanite Corinne who is about to head off to boarding school with her horse and her best friend. But then the recession hits and her family loses their money, so she heads to Texas instead to live with her parents and attend public school. It’s a riches to rags story that hopefully makes you laugh and cry.

The inspiration was the recession. I wrote it during the very height of the recession when I couldn’t find a job.  I didn’t want it to be completely depressing, so I created a humorous, spoiled character who only thinks her life is over because of the recession. In some ways, the recession isn’t her enemy; she’s her own enemy. I think the recession forced me (and many others) to reevaluate my life and I know I found lessons in the recession just like my character Corrinne does too.

Can you also talk a bit about the real currency of the book — these hard economic times and how you turned your own experience into Corrinne’s? Can teens relate?

I think teens (whether they are affected by the recession or not) can relate because it is a book about change and how difficult change can be.  I do think many teens today have learned tough lessons about money because of the recession, and I think they are rightfully called “the silent victims of the recession.” Money issues are very stressful for families (no matter the family’s socioeconomic status, and I think the novel taps on that.

My next novel is about Kitsy (the Texan friend) coming to New York and entering a world that’s a lot bigger (and richer) than Broken Spoke, Texas. The novel is going to be about how you find your confidence and place, no matter where you are. I love Kitsy, so I am excited to write a first-person novel about her!

gwen Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the RecessionWhat’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I write from home sometimes. ( I don’t live with the parents anymore.) I invested in a desktop, which makes writing easier.  But I also get cabin fever, so I have spent a lot of time at the PATH café in the West Village.

I like to write when it is light out because darkness makes me sleepy and lazy. (Of course, deadlines don’t make this always possible.) It might sound weird, but my characters truly tell me the stories and I listen. I am not saying this in a voices-in-my-head way. What I mean is that I think a lot before I write, which I think helps tremendously.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I had a lucky and quick path to publication due to the timely nature of my book. The extensive editing process amazed me! You do some much work in editing, and your editor contributes so much to your novel as well. Editors deserve more credit.

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

The best writing advice I’ve gotten is to write for yourself. If you love it — even if no one else does — that should be enough.

My advice to other authors is patience. You don’t know when you are born or when you will die or get married or any of those other milestones. So you also don’t know when you will be published, but I believe that it can happen any time and it will if you keep trying.

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

The Baby- sitters Club. Hands down. I love those girls! I am reading Delirium right now, and I just finished a Sara Zarr reading marathon.

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

I am working on a companion book to Where I Belong. After that, I want to keep writing YA!

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

My mediabistro class was very helpful to me. I think feedback is great! I am not part of a critique group right now, but I might join one soon!

Thanks Gwendolyn! Your story is super-inspiring!

Images courtesy Elizabeth Cryan/HarperCollins

me smiling cropped 281x300 Author Interview: Dia Reeves On Horror Fantasy and the Daughters of the Bonesaw KillerDia Reeves is a fascinating new author of color who opens up the creepy and twisted world of Portero, TX, upon masses of teen readers. In her two books, Bleeding Violet and Slice of Cherry, she creates a recipe that is right up my alley: a town of doors unlocked by keys fashioned from bones, monsters called lures and the Montmaine troup who hunts them, a character who suffers from fits of violent mania, the daughters of the Bonesaw Killer, who are also murderers, a kinetoscope that when cranked takes you to a parallel world.
Both of her books take place in the same small town in Texas and take readers on bloody adventures. I am devoted to all things creepy and twisted and found these books delectable. The setting lived in my head long after the books were finished. I caught up with the author to discuss her newest book Slice of Cherry and what her path the publication has been thus far.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?
I didn’t want to write until I was twelve or thirteen, which was when I read
It by Stephen King for the first time. It was over a thousand pages long, but I cried when it was over. Not because it was sad, but because I didn’t want the story to end. I felt so invested in that world and those characters, and I thought it would be cool to make other people feel that way. So I started writing. Only to realize I sucked. I improved over time though and gained confidence and by the time I was twenty-five and in library school, I started what became Bleeding Violet. I don’t write full-time yet, though, but that’s the goal.
Slice of Cherry 204x300 Author Interview: Dia Reeves On Horror Fantasy and the Daughters of the Bonesaw KillerCan you give us a quick synopsis of Slice of Cherry? How did you come up with the concept for the book?  

Two sisters — the daughters of the notorious Bonesaw Killer — follow in their father’s footsteps and go on a murder spree, but unlike their father, they only kill people who deserve it. Somebody described it as Alice in Wonderland meets Dexter, and that’s pretty spot-on.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I don’t have a process; I just write when I feel like it, usually at night. I write at the dining table or on the couch. I don’t get inspired — ideas don’t come to me in dreams or wherever. I just sit and think about stuff, and that’s how I get my ideas.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

It’s been hassle-free for the most part. I got my agent and a book deal with my very first manuscript. The surprising thing, though, is that no matter how often I write, each book seems like such an insurmountable chore. Writing never gets easier, not even with practice.

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

If you can’t sum up your novel in 25 words or less, it’s probably not finished. Mostly I tell aspiring authors who ask me for advice that I feel unqualified to give it. I’m still too much of a rookie myself.

bleeding violet 199x300 Author Interview: Dia Reeves On Horror Fantasy and the Daughters of the Bonesaw KillerWhat was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was my favorite — the first book I ever stayed up all night to finish. Right now I’m reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which is pretty tasty.

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

I’m working on the third Portero novel now, which is about a girl born without a heart who has to steal them from other people in order to survive. It’s slow-going, but it’s getting there.

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

I don’t have a critique group, but I do belong to different writing communities. It’s important for writers, who usually work in isolation, to know that other people are experiencing the same joys and setbacks as they are.

Photo Credit: Author’s Website, Simon Pulse

Author Interview: Sherri L. Smith On Passing for White and World War II Aviation

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 15 - 2011

 Author Interview: Sherri L. Smith On Passing for White and World War II AviationSherri L. Smith is talented writer who portrayed the complicated phenomenon of passing for white in the Black American community in her historical teen novel, Flygirl, about female aviation during World War II. In the grand tradition of Harlem Renaissance authors such as Nella Larsen, Sherri showcases the desires of a young girl to fly with white female pilots, doing whatever it takes to hold fast to her dreams despite the color line and sexism that blocks her.

I caught up with Sherri to discuss her process, how she constructed the novel, and her advice for aspiring writers.

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

I sold my first published piece to Cricket Magazine back in 1998 or ’99. My first novel sold a couple of years later. While that’s my publishing record, I’ve always been a writer. You can trace my crazy attempts at storytelling back to my elementary school days, with a trail of short stories and poems (and a couple of abandoned novels) up through my grad school years. Before I became published, I had about a million jobs — I worked on a few movies, moved into animation, and spent a few years developing stories for Disney TV animation. Then I took a job with a construction company so I could write Lucy The Giant. The next few books were written while I worked for a comic book company during the day.

I never really thought about “wanting” to be a writer. It’s always been a part of me, something I just do, whether it’s published or not. I love storytelling and I love reading, so it’s a natural progression for me.

Currently, I do write full time and have done so for about 18 months. I’m not sure it’s right for me. I’m by turns very social and very much a homebody. Working with other people satisfied the social side, so I was happy to go home and write or curl up with a good book. Now I crave those inane conversations I used to have with my coworkers,especially at the comic book company. Not many other people will talk superheroes and robots with me!

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

Flygirl is the story of Ida Mae Jones, a light-skinned black girl who passes for white in order to join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a group of civilian women who flew military planes here in the states during WWII in order to “Free a Man to Fight” overseas. I came up with the idea for the book after hearing a Radio Diaries piece about the WASP on my local NPR station. The US military in the 1940s was segregated, and African-American women were not allowed into the WASP program because it was already too controversial (women flying military planes!!!). But as I heard the story of the WASP and the prejudice they faced, it made me think of stories my mother had told me, as a black woman growing up in New Orleans in the 1940s and 50s, and the challenges she faced. Ida Mae popped up from there, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Or, in this case, historical fiction!

 Author Interview: Sherri L. Smith On Passing for White and World War II AviationWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

There are no typical writing days. I sit down at my laptop and work every day. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t. You just have to keep at it. I work off of an outline, so I’ll spend days, weeks, or months dreaming up my story and writing it out in a three act structure. Then I tackle a few chapters a week until I have a first draft. Then I’ll outline that draft and start again until it’s as good as I can make it. At that point, I might give it to my husband or a trusted friend to read, get some feedback. Rinse, repeat again.

I write on my sofa, in the kitchen, in my car, at cafes. I’m like a Dr. Seussian “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” character. My first novel was written, in large part, on the backs of post-it notes and discarded Xeroxes while I stood at the copier machine.

My inspiration comes from everywhere. I listen to the radio, watch movies, read the news. I travel as much as I can. I people watch and eavesdrop. I ask questions of strangers, friends, on anything that interests me. All that data goes into the story machine and  turns up sooner or later.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

My path to publication was very fortuitous. The day I left Disney to write my novel, I heard from a fellow employee who was leaving to represent children’s authors. That was Garrett Hicks of Will Entertainment, who took me on as a client then and there. He waited patiently for me to finish my novel, and sold it in three months. He’s been my manager for the past ten years and four novels.

I will say, things got bumpy for me on the second novel. Some people call it the sophomore slump. I was just not sure what to write. What I was interested in wasn’t what the publisher wanted, and I spent a lot of time going nowhere. With some insight from my husband I landed on my feet and wrote Sparrow.  I just wish I hadn’t taken so long to do it!

The most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for me is the time-to-market. If I sell a book today, it can still be up to two years before it hits the shelves. There are editorial notes and rewrites, then they have the copy editor pour over it with a fine-toothed comb to make sure all the facts are straight, the Ts crossed, etc. Then the production process begins—laying out the book, sending advance copies out for reviews, and getting the books printed and shipped. All the while they are getting folks interested in carrying the book, and deciding when it should come out—in time for Christmas? For summer?  It seems like forever! By the time one of my books is in the store, I’ve moved on to the next thing and then some.  That was not something I expected.

 Author Interview: Sherri L. Smith On Passing for White and World War II AviationWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The two best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten were:

1. If you want to write short stories, write short stories. If you want to write novels, write novels. They are not the same thing. You can’t practice by baking cookies if you want to make wedding cakes. So you make some terrible cakes (or cookies). Don’t worry. They’ll get better.

2. A lot of people talk about being writers. Real writers just do it.

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

My favorite book when I was a kid was Charlotte’s Web by EB White. Past that point, the list of favorites grew so there are no other hands-down favorites — I love too many to choose. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Series and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles come to mind, as does Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll and J.M. Barrie. Right now I’m reading the Felix Castor Series of books by Mike Carey. They’re paranormal detective stories, not meant kids. I picked them up because I was a fan of Carey’s work on the Lucifer comic book. Good, undead fun. Just what I like!

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

My next book is a new arena for me. It’s a speculative fiction fiction piece set in a not-so-distant future, called Orleans. You’ll have to wait to read it if you want to know more! I’m also returning to Hedgebrook next month.  Hedgebrook is a fantastic women writers’ retreat on Whidbey Island off the coast of Seattle. If you are over the age of 18 and a woman who writes (or if you know someone who fits that description), check out Hedgebrook.  It’s a worthy organization. I’m heavily involved with the local alumni chapter here in Los Angeles. We’re organizing a bunch of career development workshops this April. Between that and the next book, my hands are pretty full.

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

While I believe in being part of a community of writers (because it helps to know a few people who are going through the same stuff!) I do not subscribe to critique groups myself. I think it’s a personal choice. Some people are devoted to their writing groups and can credit them with lots of help on their work. My experience, however, has been with groups where the skill and commitment level varied. If you want to be a professional writer, a group of hobbyists might not give you the input you need. So be sure you know how/what/and why everyone in your group is there before you sign on. That’s my two cents, at any rate.

Photo Credit: Author Website, Speak, Laurel Leaf

Longstocking Love: Coe Booth

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 14 - 2011

 Longstocking Love: Coe BoothTeen Writers Bloc members got the distinct pleasure of having a class with Longstocking member Coe Booth when she guest lectured for David Levithan’s Teen Lit class. She discussed her fabulous books, Tyrell and Kendra, as well as gave us valuable insight into the complex world of publishing and life after the New School.

I was so happy she was able to catch up with us during her Paris jaunt.

How did The New School help your career? What was the key thing you learned in grad school?

The New School helped me take my writing more seriously.  Up until then, it was just something I liked to do for fun.  It wasn’t something I thought could eventually become my career.  But when I decided to get the MFA, it was as though I was deciding that writing was going to be something more than a hobby for me.  I learned a lot at graduate school.  Mostly I learned that writing is hard!  And I learned to get over being so overly sensitive, and accept helpful criticism and advice.

How valuable was your Longstockings experience?

For me, being a part of The Longstockings was one of the best things that came out of The New School.  They’re a wonderful group of women, and I’m so lucky to have found them.  I don’t think I would have written Tyrell if it hadn’t been for all the enthusiasm they showed to those early, rough pages.  So I have to be thankful to them!

 Longstocking Love: Coe BoothWhat do you wish you had known writing-wise then, that you’ve learned now?

Before I went to The New School, and for years after I graduated, I was constantly beating myself up for not being very prolific.  I would look at others who were able to write a book every year and wonder why I couldn’t just be like them.  Well, I’ve now gotten over that!  I realize my process is my process — and it’s good enough.

What is a day-in-the-writing life look like for you? Are you writing full-time?

Yes, I’m writing full-time, but I also teach part-time at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I don’t really have a typical day!  I write at home some days.  And some days I’ll meet up with a writer friend, usually Leslie Margolis, Jenny Han, or Daphne Grab, and we’ll write together at a coffee shop.  I also travel a lot for school visits, so when I’m out of town I have to try to squeeze in writing time when I get the chance.  Easier said than done!

Are you where you expected you would be five years out of the program?

I had no expectations at all!  I will say that I’m happy where I am now.  And I’m curious to see what will happen next

 Longstocking Love: Coe BoothNow that you have been finished with the New School program for some time, do the Longstockings continue to be a writing community? How so?

Even though we don’t meet regularly for workshops, I still write with some of The Longstockings when we get the chance, and they’re still the ones I turn to for advice, or when I need an ear on difficult days.  So yes, we’re definitely still a writing community!

What’s next for you?

My third novel Bronxwood (the sequel to Tyrell) will be out in the fall.  And right now I’m beginning work on my first middle-grade novel, something that fills me with a little nervousness and a lot of excitement!

Photo Credit: Author’s Website, PUSH

Author Interview: New School Grad Ebony Joy Wilkins Grapples With Identity

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 14 - 2011

 Author Interview: New School Grad Ebony Joy Wilkins Grapples With IdentityEbony Joy Wilkins is a wonderful debut author of color who attended the New School Writing for Children program. I first stumbled across her book on a jaunt to the Scholastic Store on Broadway. I often go there for inspiration when I am standing on the ledge experiencing a bout of writer insanity, where I want to throw my complete manuscript away. I wander through the brightly colored store enraptured by the books. Then I stumbled upon the brown face of a cute girl on the cover of a hardcover book. I was shocked and excited and bought the book immediately.

I caught up with Ebony to discuss how she grapples with the different facets of black teen identity.

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

I started as an education reporter, writing news for daily and weekly newspapers. I am a writer and a teacher. I’ve spent nine years in the classroom, working with students of all ages. I wanted to become a writer because I felt I had a story worth sharing. Unfortunately, I’m not able to write full-time yet, but that is the goal one day.

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

Sell-Out is about a girl caught between two worlds. NaTasha is not only on a journey of self discovery, but she’s also struggling to fit in with her friends in her pre-dominantely white neighborhood and a life with her grandmother Tilly in Harlem. NaTasha has to learn to survive in her new environment and decide whether she will tough it out with her new peers who don’t accept her or run right back home again. It’s a summer that will change her life forever.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

When I sit down at my office desk (or lounging on the sofa) to write, I look over what I’ve written the previous day without attempting too much editing. I usually try to squeeze in a few pages each sitting. My inspiration comes from everywhere, from things I’ve observed and my life experiences to funny stories that I’ve been told over the years.

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

Sell-Out began as a workshop piece while I was working on my MFA and then transformed gradually into my thesis project. I got a lot of constructive feedback each week from my classmates, but it still took me a good two years to ‘finish’ the book.  (Is a book ever really finished?) At that point, I had already graduated before deciding to email one of my former professors, author and editor David Levithan at Scholastic, to see if he could give me some feedback.  To my surprise, he loved Sell-Out and bought the book! You know the rest…

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

The best advice I’ve gotten is to write about what I know. Other advice I like to remember is that I can’t call myself a writer if I’m not writing. I have both of these sayings written next to my writing space so that I always keep them in mind. I would advise aspiring authors to write a story as only they can tell and to write as much as possible…books don’t write themselves.

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

My favorite book as a teenager was To Kill a Mockingbird, but there are so many others. I recently finished Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, and I’m currently reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – inspiring storytellers.

 Author Interview: New School Grad Ebony Joy Wilkins Grapples With IdentityWhat’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I’m working on a story about a group of teens who are given a second chance in an alternative school setting. It’s still early on, but I’m making good progress and it’s exciting getting to know new characters. I’ve also just started a Ph.D program in literacy at the University of Illinois, where I will study more about children’s literature with African American central characters.

How was your experience getting an MFA at the New School? Worth it?

The experience at NSU was well worth it! I had the invaluable opportunity to surround myself with those who love writing as much as I do, both faculty and students. Not to mention the networking I was exposed to via weekly events held at the university and outside the university as well. Some of my professors were the best in the business and I wouldn’t have been able to make those connections without NSU.

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

I definitely believe in being part of a bloc of writers. My writing group in New York City gave me such good feedback and served as another level of accountability for getting those pages written (thanks girls)!  I recently moved to a new city and started school again so it’s a little difficult to participate now, but I do hope to get plugged in again soon.

Thanks Ebony!

Longstocking Love: Lisa Greenwald

Posted by Alyson Gerber On February - 13 - 2011

about pic2 221x300 Longstocking Love: Lisa Greenwald

It turns out Disney was right: It’s a Small World After All. When I found out Lisa Greenwald, coolest sleep away camp counselor ever, was also the amazing author of My Life in Pink & Green and Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes, who graduated with MFA in Writing for Children from The New School, where I was studying, I flipped. I also recently found out that we have the same favorite book: Tuck Everlasting. Want to learn more about Lisa Greenwald?

Teen Writers Bloc sat down with the former Longstocking to talk about writing, graduate school and her amazing novels for teens.

How did The New School help your career? What was the key thing you learned in grad school?

My time at The New School definitely helped me learn more about the business. I’m not sure I can say that there was one key things – it was so many things. But perhaps the importance of a good first line was a key thing!

How valuable was your Longstockings experience?

It was valuable, but it was also fun: fabulous retreats, good times with good friends, advice, support, venting sessions!

What do you wish you had known writing-wise then, that you’ve learned now?

That it eventually works out…and then when you feel it has “worked out,” there’s still more stress!

What is a day-in-the-writing life look like for you? Are you writing full-time?

I write when I can, try to write every single day. I also work in a private school library.

 Longstocking Love: Lisa GreenwaldAre you where you expected you would be five years out of the program?

I think so…it’s so hard to know. All I know is I’m happy with where I am!

Now that you have been finished with the New School program for some time, do the Longstockings continue to be a writing community? How so?

We still support each other and stay in touch and have writing dates.

What’s next for you?

Just to keep writing and write as much as I can! If I can continue to write books and kids continue to read them, then I’m satisfied!

Photo Credit: Author’s Website, Peter Dressel

Longstocking Love: Daphne Grab

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 12 - 2011

daphne036 200x300 Longstocking Love: Daphne GrabDaphne Grab is a one of the wonderful Longstockings and she too, like Caroline Hickey, juggles being a mom, a writer, and a reviewer. I was so excited that between all the things she does she was able to catch up with us at Teen Writers Bloc about her current projects and life post-The New School program.

How did The New School help your career? What was the key thing you learned in grad school?

The New School helped me in so many ways!  The two biggest that stand out- first was helping me learn to take and utilize critique, something so hard yet so important.  And the other was becoming part of a writing community that cheers my successes and supports me through the hard times- that is essential!

How valuable was your Longstockings experience?

Invaluable really.  For the above mentioned critique, as the ladies of the Longstockings are amazing editors, as well as the support which is huge.  The retreats are pretty great too!

What do you wish you had known writing-wise then, that you’ve learned now?

I think I spent too much time trying to write the “right” way.  I tend to write quickly in bursts and I felt like I needed to learn to slow down.  I’ve since come to see that every writer has his or her own way to create stories and you really just have to respect what works for you.

What is a day-in-the-writing life look like for you? Are you writing full-time?

My full time job is being a mom which has taken a lot of time the past year and a half.  But my kids are settled in school now so I am looking at a lot more writing time, which is exciting.  I also do reviewing and writing for hire for extra money.

n266315 211x300 Longstocking Love: Daphne GrabAre you where you expected you would be five years out of the program?

I’m not sure what kind of expectations- through most of the program I was scared to even hope to sell a book and I’ve sold three so that makes me happy for sure.

Now that you have been finished with the New School program for some time, do the Longstockings continue to be a writing community? How so?

We’re far apart, with a number of us now living outside of NYC, and a few of us are moms which is so time consuming.  But we still keep in touch, support each other and are always willing to offer critique when needed.

What’s next for you?

I spent the past year or so on a middle grade book that is now in the hands of my agent- cross your fingers for me that she likes it!

Photos Credit: Author’s Website

Longstocking Love: Caroline Hickey

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 11 - 2011

Caroline Hickey photo sm Longstocking Love: Caroline HickeyCaroline Hickey is one of the fabulous Longstockings and she juggles being a mom, writing, and all things in between. I was so happy she had the time to catch up with us at Teen Writers Bloc about her writing life, her experience in the New School, and what’s next for her.

How did The New School help your career? What was the key thing you learned in grad school?

I wouldn’t say it helped my “career” per se — more that it sharpened my writing skills, forced me to finish a manuscript, and gave me some great experience reviewing and editing other people’s work. The key thing I learned was how to take criticism, because as a published author the criticism is constant. Agents, editors, reviewers, goodreads, Amazon, etc. Everyone wants to judge your work and you have to tune it out. (Well, not the editor/agent comments! Those are pretty important…)

How valuable was your Longstockings experience?

Wonderful in every respect. They are some of my closest friends and always will be. Four of us just got together for a writing weekend and they are still as critical to me in terms of support and feedback as they always have been.

 Longstocking Love: Caroline HickeyWhat do you wish you had known writing-wise then, that you’ve learned now?

If by “then” you mean during graduate school, then I would say that things only get harder AFTER you’re published. Getting the offer isn’t the hard part — it’s building and sustaining a career.

What is a day-in-the-writing life look like for you? Are you writing full-time?

I’m a full-time mom to a toddler, with another baby due in May. I try to write for a block of time (usually 3 hours) about 4 days a week. That’s as much as I can do at the moment. I have learned to be VERY productive in those short bursts of time, but I constantly wish I had more time and energy for my writing. At the moment, it’s Mom first, Writer second.

Are you where you expected you would be five years out of the program?

I’m not sure I had a specific 5-year goal for myself, but I can say that I’m proud of the two books I have out (Cassie Was Here and Isabelle’s Boyfriend), and looking forward to my works-in-progress seeing the light of day. I’ve made some great friends in the children’s literature community, and that means a lot to me as well.

 Longstocking Love: Caroline HickeyNow that you have been finished with the New School program for some time, do the Longstockings continue to be a writing community? How so?

Yes, we still work together and help each other to varying degrees, though much less formally. We used to meet every other week for a structured critique group, but several of us no longer live in NYC. Now it’s more ad hoc, using phone, email, text, retreats, etc. to talk through ideas and problems with our writing. They’re still my girls!

What’s next for you?

I’m hurrying to revise both a middle grade and a teen novel I’ve been working on (for two years!) before the baby comes. I am hoping to have them in my agent’s hands very soon. Then I’d like to visit the Harry Potter theme park at Disney World .

Photo Credit: Author’s Website, Peter Dressel

pixel Longstocking Love: Caroline Hickey
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