Teen Writers Bloc

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

Amy’s Advice (Not) Looking Forward: It’s Okay to Be Bad

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 6 - 2012

frustration.gif 300x201 Amys Advice (Not) Looking Forward: Its Okay to Be BadI’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, and this year will be no different. “Resolution” is such a stressful word. But I’m going to need something to get me through 2013. So what I’ve come up with is this.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

Now, as a debut author with an outstanding agent and a superb editor, things are often sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and puppies. I have worked incredibly hard on my first book, which has undergone two major revisions and is hopefully nearing that wonderful moment when my editor will proclaim, “Yes! This is just how we want it. Send it to the copyeditor!” And I will dance around my apartment with joy.

And then the realization will slowly sink in. Book One is over. I have to write Book Two now. A first draft. Something entirely new.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written a first draft of anything, and to be honest, I am terrified. I’ve never written anything with so much expectation on it. Writing a first draft is like learning how to walk again, which is just about as much fun as it sounds. Lots of falling down, bumps and bruises, awkward movements. But I need to let myself off the hook. First drafts are supposed to be bad — they are where you fumble around and screw up and figure it out. I need to give myself permission to fail, to try things that may not work. I need to go into a little hole and pretend that I’m writing this book just for me, because at the end of the day, loving your story is the most important thing.

Of course, I say this now. I’m certain there will be dark times ahead, times where I think, “I can’t do this. I’m a failure. Why did anyone ever buy this series in the first place?? It’s terrrrrrible!” And hopefully, I’ll remember my 2012 words of encouragement.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.


Photo Credit: www.theelitemembership.com

One of These Days Amy Will Stop Talking About Tolkien… Or Not

Posted by Amy Ewing On November - 20 - 2012

Fellowship of the Ring One of These Days Amy Will Stop Talking About Tolkien... Or NotOkay, it’s not my intention to sound like a broken record, and I swear there are other books out there that I love, but the Lord of the Rings movies are my favorite book-to-film adaptations EVER. For one very simple reason: they were written, directed, and produced by a nerd. Like, a mega-nerd. There is so much heart in the way Peter Jackson translates the story to the screen, and you can tell how hard he worked to get every detail exactly right, things a lot of the audience would never even notice. The movies have a universal appeal for those who haven’t read the books, but provide many geek-out opportunities for those of us who have read them a billion times (The elven brooches! Elevensies! Every single freaking emblem on every flag!).

This is my problem with the Harry Potter movies—they are so busy trying to squeeze in every plot point from the books that they completely lose the love, the warm glowy feeling that reading Harry Potter brings with it. Jackson uses humor to highlight aspects of Middle Earth that don’t necessarily figure in to the main action of the story, but that make the world real and specific. Like the drinking contest between Legolas and Gimli, or the fact that Merry and Pippin eat a whole bunch of lembas bread without knowing that one small bite will fill you up. Do we need to know that elves pretty much can’t get drunk? No. But it’s fun to watch.

All right, I’m done with Tolkien for a while, I promise. Oh, wait. The Hobbit comes out in a month…

Photo credit: New Line Cinema

Why Amy is a Self-Professed “Fantasy Nerd”

Posted by Amy Ewing On September - 25 - 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 17 - 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!

How Does Amy Describe Her New Book?

Posted by Amy Ewing On July - 16 - 2012

downton abbey handmaids tale 600x352 How Does Amy Describe Her New Book?When it comes to comp titles for my books, I am the worst at thinking them up. Which is why I don’t. I ask other people to do it for me.

With my current project, first, I went to Dhonielle. Then, because I was working on it so closely with her, I relied on my thesis advisor, Jill Santopolo. And now my editor, Barbara Lalicki, has come up with the final comparison: Downton Abbey meets The Handmaid’s Tale. I love it. Neither one is a YA title (Downton Abbey isn’t even a book), but I think it gives a fairly good idea of what sort of book THE JEWEL is.

Although, hopefully, my book will be something entirely different and unique, something unlike anything else out there. As writers, that’s what we’re always striving for, right?

Images courtesy of Carnival Films, Everyman’s Library

For Amy, Post-MFA Means Jumping Into Life As A Writer!

Posted by Amy Ewing On June - 12 - 2012

revision 300x209 For Amy, Post MFA Means Jumping Into Life As A Writer!School is over, and before I really had a chance to process how two years could go by so quickly, I found myself facing an entirely new life. One as a writer. An actual, we-will-pay-you-for-your-writing writer.

Yes, last month my agent called me and I heard the most amazing four words an aspiring writer can hear. “We have an offer.”

Barbara Lalicki, an editor at HarperCollins, was offering me a three-book deal. I was stunned. I was speechless. Once I got over the initial shock, there was lots of laughing and crying and celebratory beverages and then more laughing, and a little more crying. How had I gotten so lucky? I couldn’t believe it! (And to be honest, sometimes I still can’t.)

Then I met with Barbara to discuss edits and receive my notes for the manuscript. There is nothing more exciting and terrifying than holding your book in your hands and flipping through pages covered in red pen. My first thought was, “Oh, God. She thinks it’s terrible. It is terrible. Why did I ever write this? Whyyyyyy?” This is generally my first reaction to critiques. Then I took a deep breath, and remembered that her job is to make the book as good as it can possibly be. Her notes were designed to help, not demean. If she didn’t like the book, she wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. So I swallowed my pride and sat down with a large cup of coffee, a pen and paper, and went through the manuscript again.

The funny thing is, once I got over the initial shock of seeing so much red pen, I found that I really enjoyed myself. I could absolutely see what Barbara thought would be best for the story, and I agreed with her. It was exhilarating!

This summer, I will be living in South Africa with my boyfriend. I had initially thought it would be like a very long vacation. Not anymore. My delivery date for this manuscript is August 1st, which is a lot closer to this side of June. So I’ll be spending most of my summer knee-deep in revision. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

And after that? Well, I sold a trilogy. So I guess I better get started on Book Two!

As School Ends, Corey Starts Plotting

Posted by Corey Haydu On May - 17 - 2012

6writing As School Ends, Corey Starts PlottingWhat better way to assess my time at The New School than to take a look at what I worked on, and try to determine whether or not I evolved as a writer, based on the work I created.

My first semester, I worked on an ill-fated YA novel told from four different narrators. It was a quiet, literary, plot-less pretty thing. It was exactly what I was used to writing. It had its challenges, sure, but mostly I was comfortable. There was atmosphere! Voice! Research! Complicated relationships!

The only thing missing? Plot.

My nemesis.

Second semester, I worked on a (still unfinished and unformed) middle-grade novel. I wrote in short little vignettes. Again there was a cute, snarky voice. An interesting set of family dysfunctions. Some keen observations.
And again, there was no plot.

While workshopping the middle-grade novel in class, I was also working on another project. A new YA. And though the piece I was writing for workshop wasn’t getting any stronger, my side project was benefiting from the criticism. I realized I needed structure. I needed plot. I needed a clear arc. I needed (god forbid!) a beginning, middle and end.

So although my teachers and classmates (with the exception of my Monday group classmates — Sona, Caela, Dhonielle, and Amy) never saw this new YA novel, it grew stronger from their feedback. I was listening. I was hearing them. I was accepting that it was high time to address the plot issue.

And that novel? That is the novel. The one coming out in Summer 2013.

This semester I’m pushing myself even further. I’m working on my next YA novel, and this time I’m working on a very plot-heavy book. There’s some mystery! There’s rising action! There’s a CLIMAX, guys! A real-live climactic scene. A true beginning, middle, and end. It hasn’t been easy. I have a lot of holes in my plot. I have classmates asking questions I don’t know the answers to. And sometimes I just want to write a nice interior monologue or some disconnected scenes that have no impact on the actual plot. I want some voice-heavy vignettes or to write one scene from eight different points of view for no actual reason.

But I am accountable, now, for the things I’m not so great at. I’m challenging myself to get better, and to accept that just because plotting isn’t my FAVORITE part doesn’t mean I can just never do it.

And maybe I didn’t learn that exact thing in any one class or from any one person, but it’s definitely a lesson learned during my time getting my MFA.

photo credit: http://navywifeadventures.blogspot.com

Amy’s MFA Takeaway: Don’t Give Up

Posted by Amy Ewing On May - 11 - 2012

dont give up 300x225 Amys MFA Takeaway: Dont Give UpI don’t think I’m going to say anything different than what many of my classmates have already said: This program was really worth it because of the group as a whole, the fantastic other writers I was surrounded by, more so than the professors.

Don’t get me wrong, our professors were terrific — but we only had them for one semester each. And then there were summer vacations and winter breaks and all that time we didn’t have to write if we didn’t want to. So really, it is that old adage of what you put in is what you get out.

If you decide to apply to a program like this one, think of it as a gift, a period of time in which you can really dedicate yourself to pursuing something you love. I think the most important thing I learned was DON’T GIVE UP. I’m not the only person who tried and failed with a first manuscript. And, as I’ve said before, it was pretty devastating. But I still had time. I had a whole two semesters to write something new, and I did, and what was the result? I just signed with an amazing agent, Charlie Olsen at Inkwell Management. Remember all that fear of “Dear Author” emails and crying into large glasses of wine? Well, I faced it, overcame it, and won. Two years ago, I would never have thought this possible.

So, really, it all came down to DON’T GIVE UP. Push yourself. If you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by incredibly talented writers like I was, make them push you, too. If not, find at least one person to hold you accountable. This was not the path I thought my life would take, and I don’t think it ever would have happened without The New School. Are there flaws in the program? Sure. But I don’t regret this giant (and expensive) leap of faith, not for a single second.

mousewheel Spring Cleaning: Dhonielle Must Pull Back on the Day Job and Stop Spinning Her WheelsAlas … the dreaded day-job — well, really, afternoon, early evening, and weekend job — is cutting severely into my productivity. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to make a dent into my on-going, never-ending to-do list. I try and try to get up earlier, take a shorter lunch, sit in Starbucks, but I can’t seem to get it all done. I always have to create a worksheet for a kid or I’m running to make photocopies of test prep material or scooting up to the Upper East Side at rush hour, fighting through the crowds to get to Madison or Park or Fifth Avenue.

It’s a never-ending loop. You could say, “Dhonielle, you have your whole day all to yourself.” YES! I do have that. I can get up leisurely and write. But I’m always preparing or behind, so I need to get caught up so I can use my day-time hours more efficiently. That, and going to bed at a decent hour. I get home from tutoring and decompress with a little TV, and then try to do more work. By the time I’m finished it’s 3 a.m.

And at the end of each day, even if I’ve checked something off the to-do list, I still feel like there’s a mountain on top of me and I’m spinning my wheels.

My list of bad habits that need to be kicked this spring are:

  • Staying up past midnight
  • Eating past midnight and thus fueling myself to continue working
  • Staying in bed past 10 a.m.
  • Taking on new tutoring clients
  • Ignoring my thesis!

But here’s a sample of what’s on my plate to justify my whining:

  • Editing and cleaning up my thesis!
  • Completing the last 50-75 pages my current w-i-p MG novel — smoothing it, editing it, giving it to Amy Ewing to read — to turn a full into the agent
  • Finishing a massive edit of a collaborative project
  • Launching a website with Jess Verdi — details to come soon
  • Slowly working on another collaborative project with Lisa Amowitz
  • Reading and critiquing
I know what needs to be done. And I plan on getting there.

Photo Credit: Secretary of Innovation

pixel Spring Cleaning: Dhonielle Must Pull Back on the Day Job and Stop Spinning Her Wheels

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