Teen Writers Bloc

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

wonder Corey Fell in Love With R.J. Palacios WONDER    and Reading for FunThis was supposed to be The Summer of the Pleasure Read. After a few years of working in publishing and having my primary job be reading and assessing manuscripts, I was really looking forward to reading whatever I wanted. And enjoying it in the way I used to, before words became my career.

I’m not sure I’ve accomplished that, exactly, but I’m working on it. In between beta-reads and re-reading my own books and reading pages for critique group, I’ve managed some actual, honest-to-goodness pleasure reads.

The top top top of my list for this summer was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s an absolutely fabulous middle-grade novel that blew my MIND. I started it over a glass of wine on Monday night, and finished it with some tacos Wednesday. About a boy who is entering the school system after years of homeschooling, Wonder is a kind of middle-grade Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian — HUGE praise, because that is one of my all-time favorite YA novels. The protagonist Augustus was born with a facial deformity that astounds even the kindest, least judgmental adults and children. When he enters an actual school for the first time, he has to combat bullying, complicated friendships, and his own fears. Told through multiple perspectives, Wonder is somehow both introspective and a page-turner. Augustus is that perfectly flawed kind of narrator, and those around him are nuanced, complicated, and trying their best as well.

It is gorgeous writing, and really showed me what great (contemporary! non-fantasy!) middle-grade can do. I was totally inspired and excited as I come back for my second attempt at writing a middle-grade novel, after a never-finished failed first try. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you liked Sherman Alexie’s well-loved novel, you’ll love this, too.

I also read and enjoyed Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han’s collaborative novel, Burn for Burn, which is also told though multiple narrators. (Is this a trend? Because attempting this a few years ago was one of the hardest things I ever did.) The three girls are really different, and their struggles feel particular and just heavy enough to carry the book forward in a can’t-put-it-down way. This passed the airplane test. (Which is: will I read more than half of the book on an airplane? If yes, It’s good.) And it made me love both these authors even more. I especially appreciated the world they built — a high school I understood but that also felt fresh and unique and specific. I don’t think enough about Place in my novels, so it was exciting to be reminded how big an impact it can make on the overall reading experience.

Lastly, since it’s me, I’ll mention one of my non-YA/MG reads, a really exciting non-fiction gender examination called Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Oh man, I loved this book. Orenstein plunges into the way Disney princesses, American Girl Dolls, and other girl-friendly toys have shaped young girls. I love nothing more than thinking about how gender influences the world we live in, and I especially love it when I get to think about how gender plays a roll in the lives of children and teens. Reading outside of our given genre, and especially really sinking our teeth into excellent non-fiction, is a great way to deepen our own novels, and I think this is an important read for children’s book writers, teachers, parents, women, men, you know, basically everyone.

So no, I haven’t read forty books or escaped the curse of Reading As Work, but I’ve had some great reads this summer, and have a big pile of books to tackle in August!

Corey’s Cover Reveal for OCD LOVE STORY!

Posted by Corey Haydu On June - 15 - 2012


OCDlove1 Coreys Cover Reveal for OCD LOVE STORY!

Guys. My book has a cover.

And I couldn’t love it more.

I was worried my cover might be too somber, or too boring, or not unique enough. I got everything I could have hoped for. The cover is downright VIBRANT, it’s quirky, it’s intense, it’s surprising, it’s whimsical, it’s edgy, it’s everything my book is, and it feels decidedly MINE. The designer (and, as always, my editor) seemed to really get my voice, my book, and how something can be both painful and hilarious, quiet and massive, unusual and relatable, obsessive and beautiful.

And, as icing on the cake, here’s a short description of the book:

When Bea meets Beck, she knows instantly that he’s her kind of crazy. Sweet, strong, kinda-messed-up Beck understands her like no one else can. He makes her feel almost normal. He makes her feel like she could fall in love again.

But despite her feelings for Beck, Bea can’t stop thinking about someone else: a guy who is gorgeous and magnetic…and has no idea Bea even exists. But Bea knows a lot about him. She spends a lot of time watching him. She has a journal full of notes. Some might even say she’s obsessed.

Bea tells herself she’s got it all under control, but this isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion. The truth is, she’s breaking down…and she might end up breaking her own heart.

I’m thrilled, and would love to hear your thoughts!

Photo courtesy Simon Pulse

Corey Is Either Amazing or Horrible. She Can’t Decide.

Posted by Corey Haydu On June - 14 - 2012

inconsistency Corey Is Either Amazing or Horrible. She Cant Decide.With school over, and my job over, and revisions on my first book turned in, I’m suddenly a girl with a lot of time to write, but without a lot of structure. It’s a strange feeling, trying to get back into working on my Work In Progress after months of revising my novel, revising my collaboration with Sona and Dhonielle, and revising my New School thesis.

Turns out, I use a whole different part of my brain for revising than I do for writing new stuff. And it’s hard to transition from one to the other. Really, really hard.

My bare minimum requirement for myself is always 1,000 words a day, and I’m doing my best to stick to that, and occasionally blow it out of the water.

The conclusion? INCONSISTENCY. Some days I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write. I am so close to finishing the first draft of the new novel, but I can’t seem to connect the dots. All my sentences sound awkward. I stare at the page for hours, I write pages of notes in my falling-apart purple notebook, but none of it feels right. I eek out 1,003 words and take a two hour nap because it was so exhausting. I decide the book is terrible. I wish I’d never started it. I wonder if it even makes sense. And then I nap some more.
Other days I am on FIRE. I write two, three thousand words. They are all exquisite words and gorgeous sentences. I have epiphanies about my characters. I down mochas and eat cheese sandwiches and don’t even sign on to gchat. I write my agent emails telling her she will receive my first draft ANY DAY NOW. I carry around my binder of notes for the middle-grade book I want to start working on. I decide I am a rock star. When people ask how the writing’s going, I smile and brag and sit up straight with pride.
So yeah. It’s an adjustment. I am not stable. I am not a machine, churning out the perfect amount of words every day. Life without work and school isn’t exactly the easy, artsy, perfect time I had in my head.

But I promise, next time you hear from me, that draft will be done. It WILL.

Photo Credit: Mental Floss

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

Caela’s Tips for Making an MFA Program Work for You

Posted by Caela Carter On May - 2 - 2012

 Caelas Tips for Making an MFA Program Work for YouAs we reflect on our time at The New School this month, I am predicting a repeating theme: yes, this degree and endeavor was worth it for ME personally, but I wouldn’t say it’s ALWAYS worth it.

In the course of my time at The New School, I managed to finish three complete drafts for three separate novels and start countless others; I landed an awesome agent, Kate McKean; and I sold my first book in a two-book deal to Bloomsbury. I am 100 percent certain that this would not have happened if I had not taken the plunge, moved across the country and gone back to school. However, I also don’t think I would have reached these goals, and certainly I would not have reached them so quickly, if it weren’t for my classmates. And that’s the problem. Who you end up in class with is completely luck, right?

Well, maybe it doesn’t have to be. When I think about it, our class did practical things that lead to it’s effectiveness. So maybe we should talk about actual steps that will make an MFA, especially The New School Writing for Children MFA, worth it.

1. Write WAY MORE than required. You’re only going to be submitting every few weeks, but you need to write everyday. In my first semester I imposed a two hour a day rule on myself and I was disciplined. I would come home from work, turn my phone off, disconnect my internet, and set an alarm. Then I would sit at my computer until the alarm went off.  By the time I was required to submit my first ten pages, I had close to 80. When it was time for me to submit, I would then go back and edit the ten pages I was going to send. I would have a much better sense of the shape of the whole because I had so much more written. This made it much easier to weed out the helpful criticism during critique.

2. Find a small group of serious writers from within your class and form an extra critique group. Meet regularly and be dedicated to it. Sona, Corey, Dhonielle, Amy and I did this for the first two semester and Sona, Corey, Alyson, Dhonielle, Lenea and I have done this for the final semester. This has been incredibly valuable to me because I get more written with more deadlines, because I get to have a dialogue about my work, and because I get invested in voices outside my own. It’s easier for me to have a realistic (and not overly negative) opinion of my own work when I’m very invested in others’ as well.

3. Start a project together. I think we would all agree that Teen Writers Bloc helped us to become a unit. It also gives us a way to stay connected to each other and our writing after we graduate.  And, when at times we were perhaps a bit frustrated with some select teachers, Teen Writers Bloc helped us feel supported and reminded us that there is a larger purpose to our writing than what’s happening in class.

4. After the first semester, your classmates are going to know your writing better than your teachers do, because they will have read more of it. Find the voices from your classmates that are helpful to you and listen to them. Listen to your teachers, but remember that they’re only with you for a semester. So you also need to find helpful critiquers among your peers.

5. Find the classmates who really know the business and talk post-drafting. Talk about query letters, agents, publishing houses, promotion, and other aspects of the business. Share agent stories. Share queries. (Heck, Sona basically wrote my query for me, and Mary helped me land an agent.). Get invested in each others’ careers because different people have different strengths. Use yours to benefit the entire class, and then tap on others’ shoulders.

6. Trade full manuscripts before your query. You need someone to read from beginning to end, not just in little spurts, and your best bets are going to be the people in your class, provided you have invested in their writing and careers as well.

7. Become friends. Go for drinks or coffee. Take a walk. Throw a holiday party like Corey did for us first semester. Ultimately, this was a positive experience of most of us, but with a huge side of frustration, disappointment, and lack of control. That’s what happens when you’re really passionate about your career. You will need your friends to commiserate and celebrate with, because no one else will understand what you’re talking about. And because sometimes you need to get a good gripe out before you can get back to work.

Photo Credit: Institute Childrens Lit

Spring Cleaning: Corey Wonders What REAL Focus Feels Like

Posted by Corey Haydu On April - 20 - 2012

4097914782 35bd96c858 Spring Cleaning: Corey Wonders What REAL Focus Feels LikeI blogged last month with The Lucky 13s about my overly rigid habits as a writer. That I “can’t write” unless I’m at a certain cafe at a certain time drinking a certain drinks in a certain way. I wrote about how prohibitive that process can be for me, how it blocks me from taking advantage of all available writing time. That’s certainly one habit I’m working on curing, in baby steps. In fact, this past weekend I wrote all Saturday night — at home, no less! It was a big step.

But the real Spring Cleaning that needs to happen for me has to do with that elusive work-life balance. It’s a bit of a cyclical problem: if I’m ONLY writing and not experiencing life, I feel deflated and have have nothing to write about, I feel uninspired. But if I spend too much time living life, being social, having adventures, then I don’t actually end up doing any writing.

Recently, during Teen Author Week, author Ellen Hopkins talked about writing for 8-10 hours a day. I was at once insanely jealous and totally positive that that would never work for me. When she’s working, she’s WORKING and nothing else. That kind of intense focus, that total disregard for the life outside the computer screen — that isn’t my style.

You know why I write in a cafe? Because in a cafe I know that something exciting could happen. Life could happen, while I’m sitting and writing. I could meet someone! There could be a brawl! An impromptu party! An awkward first date or breakup conversation to eavesdrop on! I need those things. I need the promise of excitement, I need to be constantly working AND living life, in tandem. Talking about writing when at drinks with friends. Hoping for a friend to drop by while I’m deep in writing or revision. But I’m not sure these desires are reasonable, or even making me happy/keeping me productive. I’d like to try JUST writing, or JUST living. I’d like to be focused on my friends when I’m with my friends, to talk about things other than writing when I’m sharing french fries with a writer-friend. And when I’m writing, I’d like to have a taste of Ellen Hopkin’s razor-sharp focus. I’d like to be only thinking of my characters and nothing else.

I’m not sure it will happen. I can’t seem to get writing out of my mind, even at the best, busiest, most delicious wine bar. And I can’t seem to forget about the wonder of Real Life, even when I’m deeply entrenched in the creating of a Fictional Life.

Photo Credit: Savvyblogging.net

Judy Blume Taught Corey Everything She Knows

Posted by Corey Haydu On March - 13 - 2012

6788776 L Judy Blume Taught Corey Everything She Knows

Some girls learn about the desire to kiss a boy after they see a cute one in a movie or a band or a TV show or a magazine. (Am I dating myself if I give a brief shout out to JTT in Tiger Beat?) Some girls ask their parents about their new feelings, or talk to their friends, or discover the particular chest-fluttering rush of knowledge that there is something secret and delicious about a boy’s hands on your hips and face next to yours when they are in Sex Ed or playing Truth or Dare or watching Zack kiss Kelly in one of Saved by the Bell‘s racier episodes.

But for me, it was Judy Blume.

For me, in particular, it was Deenie.

There is a scene in that still sticks with me in the vague and fuzzy way a dream would. I believe Deenie and a boy kiss and touch in the school hallway, and I believe it is at that exact moment that I realized I wanted to kiss a boy. Maybe not that day, but someday soon.

Judy Blume is the definition of a groundbreaking female author. Not only were her books unbelievably popular and long-lasting in their popularity. They were also just great. Lively, honest, fun and wise. Her writing about that moment where a girl turns from a child to an adolescent is unmatched. Those books aren’t just stories, they are reference points for my friends and I, they are bibles, they are instruction manuals, they are self-help books, they are the assurance that what you are feeling is normal, they are the bit of danger that comes from learning something new about your own impending adulthood.

And they are sweet.

Deenie has all the necessary pain and angst and confusion, but with it is Blume’s special knack for loveliness and innocence. Her books promise that discovery, sexuality, and growing up will be confusing and thrilling and dangerous and maddening and heartbreaking. But they also promise that growing up will be beautiful and small and nice. Judy Blume didn’t lie to us. She didn’t tell us it would be perfect. She admitted that sometimes it would suck. But she didn’t want to scare us either. It wouldn’t always be pretty. But sometimes, maybe even often, it would be.

Photo courtesy Bradbury Press, 1973

Woman at typewriter Corey Thinks Compassion is the Best Entry Point for Writing Other Races and ReligionsFor a long time, writing, for me, was a way to regurgitate my own experiences, work through them, and share with the world what it meant to be Corey. I was endlessly fascinated by my own life: why did I ever love that one guy with the funny hair? Was the end of that friendship my fault? How fabulous is living in the East Village? When did my parents become real, fallible people and not just authority figures? In my early twenties, I was able to be satisfied by mining those and other fascinating, navel-gazing questions. And I’m sure I will return to some of those stories, or the book of essays about spending a decade being neurotic in NYC that I daydream about. But a few years ago, I lost interest in my EXACT experience, and started wondering how I could write about other experiences, with the same accuracy and emotional resonance that I aspired to in my personal-experience-driven writing.

I’ve found that what works for me is finding an entry point. I have never been Amish (or, really any religion), but I know what it feels like to question something that you once believed to be true. I have never been a racial minority, but I understand what it is like to have a set of qualities assumed because of the way you look, and I have never gone through treatment for OCD, but I know what it is like to have anxiety control your life. (Oh, do I!)
Does this make me an expert on other races, religions, or genders? Absolutely not. My imagination is not big enough to comprehend ALL the struggles and joys of being part of a community or identity that is not my own. And I will probably never write a book that deals exclusively with that experience. I’m simply not qualified. But with a healthy dose of compassion, some serious research, and the correct entry point, I think it’s possible to write a character that is NOT tiny and blonde and riddled with anxiety.

Well, maybe not that last part. I’m pretty sure I could never write a character who doesn’t exhibit some serious neurosis. That is just too far of a stretch.

Photo: Wine Press of Words

Corey’s Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

Posted by Corey Haydu On December - 8 - 2011
tea lounge Coreys Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

I have a feeling the next few months will be among the busiest of my life. I suppose, then, that it’s a good thing that classes will be coming to an end and our thesis semester is beginning, but, like Mary, I’m already missing Tuesday nights with the TWB crowd. Workshop can be frustrating and dramatic and exhausting, but it is also engaging and inspiring and downright FUN. I know I need the time off from classes and classwork to get things done, but I’ll be sad to be spending Tuesday nights at my favorite writing spot, Tea Lounge, instead of in the too-cold classrooms on 11th Street.

But I’ll be busy at Tea Lounge! I recently sold my debut YA novel, OCD Love Story, to my dream editor, Anica Rissi at Simon Pulse. And I will be deep in revisions over the next few months. I do love revising, but the mental and emotional work it takes can be quite overwhelming, as I learned this summer when I was working on revisions for my agent. I’m ready to tackle her exciting ideas, but anticipate a lot of late nights and early mornings and venti chai lattes.

In the spring I will also be working on my thesis project, a new YA novel that I’ve been writing a (VERY!) rough draft of since August. My advisor is the ridiculously inspiring Patricia McCormick, author of Cut! I have long been wanting to develop a relationship with an established YA author, so I couldn’t be more excited to work with Patricia. Her books are amazing and if our coffee date this fall was any indication, she is smart, funny, insightful and engaging. I’ll be sending her the first 100 or so pages of my new novel in a few weeks, and hopefully finishing a draft by the time we graduate in May. I have no doubt Patricia will push me and challenge me and encourage me to make this novel something special, and I’m honored to have her guidance.

I have no idea how I’ll balance the intense focus needed for revisions with the bravery needed to write a first draft, but with the help of Tea Lounge, Patricia McCormick, and my peer group of Alyson, Dhonielle, and Sona, I have faith I will find my way through!

Oh, and chai. Lots and lots of chai.

Photo: via Street Legal Play

For Corey, Funny is Key

Posted by Corey Haydu On November - 20 - 2011

kaling 211 For Corey, Funny is KeyThis is not the first time I have shared my love of the audiobook, but I can’t help it: I’m going to remind you all again of how great audiobooks are for changing up your reading routine, escaping into a great book, and, more importantly, still being able to read books even when your eyes really, really hurt.

I have a great job that involves reading for six or seven hours a day. Add that to the (super dense) reading for my non-childrens lit class, and I’ve already got a good 30 hours a week of reading on my plate.

But fear not! I can still read for pleasure through my extensive audiobook collection!

The downside is that sometimes audible.com’s teen selection isn’t what I’d hope it would be. (For instance, it is KILLING me that The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer  isn’t available as an audiobook yet.) So I resort to the occasional adult or crossover book. This month, I picked up a book being marketed to both women AND girls (sorry, not really being marketed for the men as it is pretty and pink), Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

For a quick, funny read, you can’t do better than Kaling, who’s best known for playing Kelly Kapoor on The Office. And in this collection of quirky essays, she writes about all the things a great contemporary teen novel might address: high school, crushes, body image, parental pressure, changing friendships. She does it with wit and depth, never dismissing the hardships of adolescence, but still finding room for humor in the growing pains of her youth. Plus, in the audiobook version, Kaling does the reading herself. And there’s nothing better than hearing a great comedic actress narrate her own book. (See also: Tina Fey’s Bossypants.) If you love YA literature, this is a great pick. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday Ms. Kaling joins us teen fiction writers and tackles a YA novel. She seems interested in and passionate about that period of time, and from these essays, it sure looks like she has a lot to draw on! In fact, I’m now I am considering starting a twitter campaign: Mindy Kaling, Please Drop Everything and Write a YA Novel. I’ll keep you updated on its progress.

If I haven’t convinced you, or if you’re really just looking for a contemporary YA novel, I’ve also enjoyed Sara Zarr’s 2009 novel Sweethearts, which is filled with heartbreaking, lovely, characters so full of life you’d swear you’ve actually met them. And looking forward, everyone should be on pins and needles waiting for New School alum Siobhan Vivian’s The List, which I have been lucky enough to get a peek at. Vivian’s new novel is one of those books I wish I’d written, and I have a feeling it’s going to be HUGE. So mark April 1st on your calendars and gets ready to enjoy yet another New School alum’s masterpiece!

pixel For Corey, Funny is Key

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