Teen Writers Bloc

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

Come to the Teen Author Festival!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On March - 18 - 2013

Screen Shot 2013 02 25 at 11.45.23 AM 99x150 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Hello Teen Writers Bloc readers! This week is the annual Teen Author Festival, hosted by none other than our former professor/bestselling author/Scholastic super-editor David Levithan. There will be more than ninety fantastic authors participating this year, and for the first time, the festival will include three of our own: Caela Carter, Jessica Verdi, and me (Mary G. Thompson)! You can find the entire schedule of events (starting today!) at the Teen Author Festival Facebook page. You’ll want go to as many of the events as you can, because there’s going to be a whole lot of awesome!

You can find us at the following times and places:

 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Jessica Verdi (My Life After Now):

Tuesday, March 19, 7:00-8:30, Word Bookstore, 126 Franklin St., Greenpoint.

The only way out is through: Engaging truth through YA.

—also featuring Crissa Chappell, Tim Decker, Ellen Hopkins, Amy McNamara, and moderator David Levithan

Caela Carter (Me, Him, Them, and It):

Friday, March 22, 3:00-4:00, 42nd St. New York Public Library, Berger Forum, 2nd Floor

Taking a Turn: YA Characters Dealing with Bad and Unexpected Choices

—also featuring Eireann Corrigan, Alissa Grosso, Terra Elan McVoy, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Elizabeth Scott, K. M. Walton, and moderator Aaron Hartzler

 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Mary G. Thompson (Wuftoom):

Friday, March 22, 4:40-5:30, 42nd St. New York Public Library, Berger Forum, 2nd Floor

Alternate World vs. Imaginary World

—also featuring Sarah Beth Durst, Jeff Hirsch, Emmy Laybourne, Lauren Miller, E. C. Myers, Diana Peterfreund, and moderator Chris Shoemaker

All three of us will be signing at Books of Wonder, 18 W 18th St., on Sunday, March 24th! Caela will be there from 1:00-1:45, and Jess and I will be there from 3:15-4:00 (yes, Jess and I have been separated from Caela by the dreaded alphabetical order bias. Curses!).

Please check out the list of the events and support your favorite NYC authors! There are so many awesome people involved, you can’t help but find something you’ll love!

Dear John Green: An Open Letter About Diversity from a Little Brown Librarian

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 19 - 2013

 Dear John Green: An Open Letter About Diversity from a Little Brown LibrarianDear John Green*,

After watching your fireside chat with President Obama, I got inspired to write you a letter. I am a middle school librarian at Harlem Village Academies in East Harlem, New York, and an up and coming MG/YA writer represented by the lovely Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider/ICM. My library has several copies of all of your books, and they stay in constant circulation with my students. I was first introduced to you as an author in David Levithan’s Teen Lit course in my MFA in Writing for Children program at The New School. We read Looking for Alaska, and your prose, your characters, and the heart of the novel blew the class away.

There’s no denying it. You’re great!

I don’t need to tell you that you’re an awesome storyteller and that the stories you tell connect with millions and millions of readers. You’re a New York Times bestselling author, and what you write turns to gold!

I just have a question for you: Why is there a lack of racial diversity in your work?

Granted, I know that it’s probably unfair of me to ask you this question. I am a writer and don’t want to ever be told what to write or to be questioned about what I choose to write, but after watching you with President Obama, I couldn’t help but think, Can Sasha or Malia find themselves in John Green’s books? Is there someone who looks like them in his universe? Would someone who looks like them ever be the main protagonist in one of his awesome novels?

A child or teen (or a person, really) can connect to anything if there’s a thread of universality present or an emotional core that transcends race or class or ethnicity or religion. I get that. I’ve experienced that. You’ve done that in your works.

But what’s sad is that I get questions like this from my students when they visit the library weekly:

“Why is the library filled with books about white teens?”

“Why is everyone in books white?”

“Why have I read every single book about kids like me?”

“Do any books with brown kids – besides Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – hit the New York Times best seller list?”

You might say that there’s no way my students are asking these types of questions. That I made them up to suit my open letter.

Come visit and see! Harlem Village Academies are full of the brightest young minds, kids who are challenged to read 50 books a year as a requirement to go from grade to grade. They devour everything I give them, and they ask a lot of insightful questions about life and the world. When you can’t find yourself in the books you’re told to read, it brings up a lot of thoughts and questions about the world of books.

You don’t have to care about these questions. You don’t have to think about them as you write, even.

But I wish that you would consider them. There’s a pervasive whiteness to the stories you write. I don’t mean to be inflammatory or rude in this observation, and I could call out a hundred other YA authors who do the same thing. I’d like to ask you about it though. Maybe whiteness is all you know. Maybe that’s what your life journey and upbringing has afforded you. Since we’re supposed to write what we know, maybe that’s what you’re doing. I can’t fault you for that. Your stories reflect an earned authenticity.

As a minority in this country, I have a different experience as you probably already know from countless other minorities shouting from rooftops or PC culture, etc. But the fact remains that I am surrounded by white people. My identity has formed in contrast or in conjunction with whiteness. I am/was/will always be the smudge. The stories I write will always be multicultural because that is my experience. I don’t have the luxury to write about an all-anything world because that isn’t reflective of where I come from. So white people and children will always be written into my stories. You don’t have to have this experience. But it has given me a sense of creative responsibility to write invisible teens and people into the YA book world.

Do you feel a sense of creative responsibility?

I don’t have a lick of fame, yet I feel this overwhelming sense that I need to do something meaningful and inclusive with my creative work. Maybe this is all a function of my identity as a minority and my upbringing as a person from an oppressed group. I don’t have an explanation for this. It’s a feeling that runs parallel to my aspirations.

I often argue with my adult writer friends about the topic of creative responsibility. We’re a semi-diverse, motley crew made up of the ladies who blog on TeenWritersBloc.com. At our biweekly critique meetings, we sometimes discuss TV shows. At one dinner a few weeks ago, we had a fruitful discussion about whether writer/producer Lena Dunham should have meaningful diversity on her HBO show Girls. I always bring up the fact that I think she should have minorities present on her show. It’s the same argument I’ve had about other shows in the past – Sex in the City, Friends, etc. Some of my writer friends, whom I love no matter what they believe, assert that it isn’t Lena Dunham’s responsibility, and bring up a great point about why white men aren’t pushed to include minorities, yet white women tend to be pushed to do so. I always posit the following question at the end of this never-ending conversation: Even given all of that, why not include them?

So I’ll posit the same question to you – Why not include racial minorities in your work? What’s the harm?

I know the publishing industry is very different from the TV/film industry, and one of the ugly rumors floating about is that books with minority teens don’t sell. Their faces on books alienate white readers and their white parents, who buy the books their kids read.

I just don’t know. It makes me sick to think about it being true. And it really isn’t your problem. It’s mine. It’s something that I will have to face as a writer who includes teens/children of color as main protagonists.

But your career makes me wonder if someone with your fame and clout could change the game. You’ve done it in so many different ways already. If you wrote a book about a non-white teen, would it explode like The Fault in Our Stars? Or would it be the one book you wrote that flopped and didn’t make all of those best teen books lists? Would your white fan base say the book isn’t for “them”? Would angry minorities come after you for writing a book from a non-white protagonist and earning money from it?

I don’t know.

I’d just like to challenge you to write a book with some color in it, or at least consider it. I know if anyone can do it, it’s you. Even if nothing comes of this letter, I’d love to start the conversation about the lack of diversity in teen books.

Happy Writing!

Dhonielle Clayton, a little brown librarian (and writer!)

*NERDfighters do not attack, put the lasers down, this open letter comes from a warm and fuzzy place, and I am a small, humble librarian who wants no trouble. I speak my words in peace. Thanks!

Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 31 - 2012

Dragonswood 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Hello everyone, it’s that time again, the time when we take the arbitrary ending of the year on the calendar and make a big deal out of it. But hey, there’s no better excuse for a “best of” list! So today, I want to share with you my favorite 2012 YA books. I read lots of other books this year (more on that soon), but these are my favorite books that were published in 2012. Of course, this is in no way scientific, because I didn’t read anywhere near all the books published in 2012. I have to get work done sometime. But having said that, without further ado … let’s start with dragons! I read two fantastic books involving dragons this year! The first was Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey, the sequel/companion to the fantastic Dragon’s Keep (2007). In Dragon’s Keep, our heroine Princess Rosalind, a Pendragon, was born with a dragon’s claw, which she had to keep hidden on pain of death. Much action, romance (but not too much romance), and frolicking with dragons ensued. In Dragonswood, Carey returns to the same world two generations later. The heroine is a peasant who flees an accusation of witchcraft and finds romance and a connection to both dragons and fey. The historical world of Wilde Island is just as well realized as in the original, and the author has expanded on the world she created. Both books are must reads!

Seraphina 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And then, later in the year, we got Seraphina! Seraphina is even more about dragons. I loved the way Rachel Hartman created a realistic historical, yet pleasingly modern world in which science plays as much a part as magic. Like the heroine in Dragon’s Keep, Seraphina has a secret connection to dragons. In this world, dragons can fold themselves into human shape and mate with humans. To be frank, I had a huge problem with that premise because … physics! Mass! Biology! But I took a deep breath and got over it and allowed myself to get lost in the story. The world Hartman created is extremely well imagined and intricate, but the story never gets bogged down. Even though I’ve seen dragons before, the world felt completely new and fresh. Also, it’s the first book in a trilogy, but it has a satisfying ending that completely wraps up the plot. I’ve become extremely annoyed with the current trend of ending books in mid story, and I was super happy to see that Seraphina did it’s job and finished. All in all, a fantastic book!

Every Day 99x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012Leaving dragons for the time being, the next book on my list is Every Day, by our New School professor David Levithan. In Every Day, our hero “A” jumps from body to body every night at midnight. Why? I never stopped to wonder, which is a credit to the fantastic writing. Every day our hero takes over a new person’s life, always the same age as A, which is sixteen. A has no intrinsic gender or sexual orientation, but after a lifetime of experiencing people’s lives in day-long snippets, he/she/it suddenly falls in love with a girl. Yes, suddenly. It’s YA insta-love, and like with giant reptilian dragons suddenly turning into tiny mammals, I just had to get over it. Once you accept the love, you get to experience all the interesting complications. How do you develop a real relationship with someone if you’re a different person and in a different place every day? This book really got me thinking “what if?” Levithan, unsurprisingly considering his wild optimism in Boy Meets Boy, chooses to see A’s predicament as bringing out the best in A’s human nature. A’s experiences in the bodies of different people make him thoughtful and understanding. I’m not so sure I would behave as well as A if I jumped into other people’s bodies. I think I might party hard and screw the consequences. But not A! He takes good care of the people he borrows. Until he falls in love, and his careful system threatens to fall apart. Will A get the girl? You’ll want to read this and find out!

The Theory of Everything 112x150 Mary’s Favorite YA Books of 2012And finally, my absolute favorite book of the year is The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson. I already reviewed the book here, so I won’t go into great detail again. Let me just say that I tend to read more fantasy than realistic fiction, so it’s a big deal that a realistic book ended up on the top of my list. I haven’t read a book with a better mix of sadness and humor. On its surface it’s a book about a girl dealing with the death of her best friend, but Johnson tells the story in such a way that it becomes about what it means to be a person dealing with life’s stuff. The main character’s voice is absolutely perfect.

Well, that’s my list! What were your favorite 2012 books? Is there anything that we here at Teen Writers Bloc absolutely must read?

YA for NJ: Bid on YA Swag for a Great Cause!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On November - 29 - 2012

YA for NJ 300x300 YA for NJ: Bid on YA Swag for a Great Cause!Hello Teen Writers Bloc readers! Why are you reading this blog? Is it because you love YA books as much as we do? Well, if that’s the case, then you’re in luck, because you can buy books and swag from some of your favorite authors and support a great cause at the same time. The seven-day auction will begin this Friday, November 30, at 8:00 p.m., and here are just a few of the 170 fantastic authors who are participating:

Holly Black
Coe Booth
Libba Bray
Gitty Daneshvari
Matt De La Pena
Lisa Greenwald
Jenny Han
Ellen Hopkins
David Levithan
E. Lockhart
Megan McCafferty
Kate Milford
Kate Messner
Michael Northrop
Lauren Oliver
Kenneth Oppel
Rebecca Serle
Kieran Scott
Natalie Standiford
Cecily Von Ziegesar
John Corey Whaley
Jerry Spinelli

And this list is just the beginning! The 170 authors (including me!) will be offering a ton of great stuff. You can bid on signed copies of the authors’ books and collections of books. Some authors are offering Hollywood swag from their filmed projects. Some authors are even offering dedications or character names in future books. If you are a teacher, a parent, or just a friend of a school, you can bid on individual author visits, author panel visits, and Skype visits for your favorite school. One hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to aid in their efforts to feed the people most affected by hurricane Sandy. Yes, that’s one hundred percent of the proceeds, not profits. Every single item has been donated by the authors, so the entire amount raised will go to those who need it.

We know you love all things YA! Wouldn’t now be a great time to get something you always wanted and also support a great cause?

Follow this link to check out the YA for NJ auction now!

Why Perla is Proud to Be a Quitter

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On October - 22 - 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: robbieabed.com

Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could Write

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On September - 14 - 2012

love is the higher law Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could WriteWhen I think about the books I wish I had written, it’s not so much about the ONE book that I kick myself for not having written. Too often, I love a book because of all the different elements, but there’s always something I would’ve done differently. Not that I’m saying JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye isn’t perfect, or David Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law doesn’t inspire the pants off me, because it is and it does, respectively. What I’m saying is that as much as I admire these books and wish that my name was on the front covers, it doesn’t mean that I truly wish I had written these books.

For one, wanting to have written Catcher in the Rye is a HUGE idea. I mean, it was so overwhelming for Salinger that he retreated and became a recluse. And I can’t say that I blamed him. Where do you go after having written one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and hated books of all time? With that being said, Holden Caulfield seems to creep into my head every single time I write a new character. He’s so much a part of my psyche that he can’t help but assert his character when I write.

The same can be said for Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law. He captures three perfectly distinct voices and personalities so well that it makes me hate him. I long to be able to what he did, write the same story through different eyes and voices. Do I wish I had written that book? I mean, I would lie if I said “no” because, well, as an aspiring writer I would kill to be published. But Love is the Higher Law is so perfectly David Levithan that I could jealous all I want; I’ll never write like him, with the same fluidity and knack for making words sound less like words and more like the most epic love songs…

Sometimes I sit and daydream about body-swapping with JK Rowling. What would it be like to be in her head? What would it have been like to put pen to paper and watch as Harry Potter evolved from lead scratchings to flesh-and-bone hero? Not to mention her ability to build an entire world that lives alongside our own and make it seem 1,000% plausible! And I won’t lie, what would it be like to have her billions? Would I roll around naked in a giant Gringott-sized vault? Absolutely. But I digress…As much as I wish I could’ve written Harry Potter, my mind just wouldn’t have been to do Potter as much justice as Rowling clearly did.

What I’m trying to say is that all of these books influenced me hugely. All of them are like the books that I wish I could write because they have inspired me tremendously. Their voices linger in my head, their stories play out in my imagination, and their words wake me up every day and whisper, “write, write, write…”

P.S. Happy Birthday to me! I’m 26 and unpublished. Holler.

Steven’s Lovechildren

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On July - 20 - 2012

Book 600x438 Stevens LovechildrenIf I had to describe my current projects as lovechildren of different YA titles, well, I’m not really sure that that would be fair to my work and the work of those poor, poor already established-and-published authors who would more-likely-than-not be offended by my comparisons. Alas, I love these types of games (and I secretly play this game all the time – not just with my work, but with other authors, musical artists and even movies), so I can’t resist.

My first second complete manuscript, How I Set Myself On Fire, is kind of a genre-crossing novel in the sense that it’s realistic, yet has certain cartoonish elements. It’s serious, yet fun and witty. It’s topical, specific, yet I think it relates to a broader concept. Vague, right? (I’m superstitious – and agent-less – so I like to keep details under wraps). Anyway, if I had to describe it as a combination of X, Y, and Z, I would have to say it has the wit, charm, and NYC flare of David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, the artistry and topical nature of Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary, with the lightest touch of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in my main character.

As for the project I’m working on now, without giving too much away, I would have to say it’s like Perry Moore’s Hero meet’s Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games meets your typical superhero graphic novel.

So there you have it. My literary lovechildren.

Note: David Levithan, Nick Burd, Suzanne Collins, and the legacies of JD Salinger and Perry Moore were not harmed in the writing of this TWB post.

Cover images courtesy of Ember and Speak

Sona’s Take On Whether the New School MFA Was Worth It

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On May - 28 - 2012


536522 10150786574146595 93096991594 9664384 893761954 n 600x451 Sonas Take On Whether the New School MFA Was Worth It

A few weeks ago, on my personal site, I wrote a post about this article published in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that pretty much laid bare the facts: the majority of writing MFA graduates will never even work on anything related to writing, let alone publish a book in the traditional manner.

According to the article, the odds are pretty bleak: University of Iowa — the reputed cream of the crop — sees only about three-quarters of their MFA grads published. Other schools place the figure at as low as ten percent up to maybe 50 percent. Geez, doesn’t make a girl feel great about paying off all that apparently crippling student loan debt.

So having just incurred said mountains of debt to complete an MFA — and yet still not having a completed novel to show for myself — I could dismiss this here and now and say, ‘Nah, the New School MFA program is not worth the money.’

But I can’t actually say that, because, like many of my peers here on TeenWritersBloc.com, I don’t believe that’s true. Sure, I wouldn’t necessarily do this program again if I could. (Although, as my sister frequently points out, I have an astounding liking for being in school, at least when it’s for something I love studying.) That’s because you couldn’t come close to guaranteeing me a class as ambitious, as intelligent or as diverse and as driven as the one I lucked into.

Others have said it here before, but there’s just something about the mix we got — the chemistry between us all — that clicked from week one. It didn’t happen with the class that came before us, and dare I say it, it doesn’t seem to be repeating itself in the class that came after. That makes me think that maybe we just got really lucky, that maybe this chemistry was once in a lifetime. (Or perhaps — the class that may have captured something similar was the one that inspired this blog — the one that yielded the Longstockings.)

I didn’t nearly reach my lofty goals for my time at the New School. I didn’t finish a single novel. I didn’t land a book deal, nor an agent. But here’s the thing: I’m confident I will do all those things. As of this writing, nearly half of my class will have books on the shelves by the end of next year. I’m expecting that number to rise significantly in the coming year, as we all continue to write and push through. Because we’ve built such a strong community, a safety net in these frequently treacherous waters, and to belabor this metaphor a bit further, we’re helping each other navigate here. We’re anchors, so to speak. Okay, enough of that metaphor. What I’m trying to say is, really, we were the loudest cheering section at the student readings, even though we’re outnumbered by a hundred fiction students and bigger non-fiction and poetry classes, too.

We’ve learned loads during our two years at the New School. Some of these have been hard lessons. The whole picture book debacle, for starters. Professors who may not have published in quite a while. And diversity in the publishing world is still a gaping hole, and it’s up to us to step and make that change happen. We had to do that even here, insisting that the powers-that-be let us plan a diversity in teen lit workshop and recruiting the awesome Andrea Davis Pinkney to teach it. But there’s still not a member of the faculty that reflects that range in the literature — and alum Coe Booth teaches at Vermont.

But I wouldn’t trade the community we’ve built here for anything. Moving forward, we’re sticking together, continuing with our crit groups, showing up at book parties and other events, hanging out on holidays. For as much as the MFA may still be called a worthless degree, to me it was worth a hell of a lot. And I’m not even talking about money. (Yet.)

Photo courtesy NSD Photography

Dhonielle Wonders, Is an MFA at The New School Worth It?

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 21 - 2012

sayonara Dhonielle Wonders, Is an MFA at The New School Worth It?If someone asked me whether or not I’d do the MFA in Writing for Children at The New School again, I’d say YES and NO!

YES, only if I could get the same class of talented writers — Corey Haydu, Caela Carter, Sona Charaipotra, Amy Ewing, Amber Hyppolite, Jess Verdi, Jane Moon, Alyson Gerber, Mary Thompson, Riddhi Parekh, and Kevin Joinville. I think the Class of 2012 was put together by kismet/fate. On the very first day of class I felt this energy, like “This is IT!”

And since then we’ve hit the ground running — finished projects, developed extra workshops, hunted for agents, attended readings and conferences, landed publishing contracts. I’ve forged deep, life-long relationships with my peers and I know I’ll be an old bitty sitting around with many of them discussing children’s books and hollering for grandkids to sit down somewhere cause they’re being too loud.

I came to New York City and this program full of BIG ideas and a desire to do BIG things. If it wasn’t for my classmates willingness to entertain my crazy antics and ideas and energy (like the creation and maintenance of the Teen Writers Bloc blog, and more things to come…), then the program could’ve been quite dull, in fact.

I would’ve been upset even further with some of the unfavorable aspects of the program. So YES, I’d re-do the program just to have 2 more years of reading my classmates’ manuscripts and having workshops with them and constant deadlines.

Onto the NO portion of this conversation.

I would NOT do this MFA over again due to the unfavorable bits of The New School’s MFA in Writing for Children. Alas! Where do I start?

Firstly, I have to fully confess that I have an MA in Children’s and Young Adult Literature from Hollins University, so I had very HIGH expectations before coming in to The New School’s MFA program. If the Hollins program was located in New York City it would drain The New School of its applicants completely in my opinion (and I know many Hollins Grads would agree).

Just check out this course list: They feature classes like Children and Poetry, The Fantastic in Children’s Literature, Minority Images in Children’s Literature — Reading in Color, Exploring boundaries — Books For and About Boys, Children’s Film, When Childhood Goes to Hollywood, and the Modern Young Adult Novel. This isn’t even half of what’s offered.

Failure #1: Lack of Choice!

The New School Writing for Children MFA lacks choice, and choice is desperately important to me. I am a person that values the opportunity to choose my fate and pick my poison, so to speak. I don’t like being forced into something or to suffer from a lack of options (even with food). When I was a child, my parents learned very quickly that if they wanted me to do something they needed to present me with choices, and orchestrate it so that I’d ultimately pick the one thing they wanted me to do.

In the New School Writing for Children concentration we had NO choices. We were assigned to our workshops and our literature seminars until we had to pick a class outside of our concentration during our third semester. As an aside, I did enjoy the classes they offered us in our concentration — Teen Literature with David Levithan and Middle Grade Fiction with Susan van Metre. Also, I enjoyed the weekend workshops with Sarah Ketchersid and Andrea Pinkney.

no choice Dhonielle Wonders, Is an MFA at The New School Worth It?But the worst part of the NO choice thing was our third semester literature class. This was the most horrible experience during the program. Our concentration is ghettoized into an enclave where we only hang out with each other, and then we were thrown into classes with the other MFA students. The fiction professors don’t put any children’s or teen books on their syllabi and there was a general disdain or dismissal of children’s books. I hated this whole experience and the program requirement. I think it should’ve been an option for those who wanted to diversify and not a requirement. I think I created a class record — speaking one time the entire class )out of maybe 15 people in the course), and the professor didn’t care enough to engage me.

Failure #2: Lack of a picture book class!

The lack of a picture book curriculum was very frustrating at the New School. I believe after leaving this program I have a massive hole in my educational background. We received little to no instruction about picture books. If someone asked me to write a picture book right this instant, I’d be unable to do so. One caveat — our third semester workshop professor Sarah Weeks gave us an awesome picture book lesson. It was a snapshot and I would’ve loved an entire course on it.

I didn’t have to read picture books or study them or even try to write them. I think this is a problem. Some students may not want to have to create picture books, but it’s part of the canon of children’s literature and I feel it should be introduced and/or discussed. Instead of wasting my money and taking a class outside of my concentration, I should’ve been offered a picture book class. Makes sense, right? Teen, Middle Grade, Picture Books — the whole spectrum of children’s books.

Failure #3: Out of touch professors.

Yes, it’s controversial and I said it. I would have loved to have a professor who liked fantasy or genre fiction (or even read fantasy) or who looked like me or who was in touch with the “current” market, etc. I could go on and on here, but I will spare you. Hmm, not to toot my own horn here, but if I was a professor or teaching a writing class, on the first day of class I’d give a homework assignment as such:

“Who’s love-child are you? Find your literary parents in the bookstore! If you were to pitch to an agent or editor who you are in terms of your writing based on two other established authors, who would they be? Fill in the formula: Dhonielle is XX meets XX, with a sprinkle of XX. Her current project is XX, which is a combination of XX and XX.”

Then, because I am an overzealous person, I would try to familiarize myself with the work of the people they listed, so I could be most helpful to them, and really try to grasp what they are trying to do in their writing. I wish a professor would do something like that. Maybe one day I’ll get the pleasure of teaching and be able to do that. To really help students transform into the writers they want to be, while keeping their work firmly placed where they want it to be, not where I want it to be.

All in all, the New School MFA was a hell of a ride. I loved it. Met lifelong friends and started awesome creative relationships. I will miss the program, but Jackson Taylor isn’t rid of me yet. I told him I would be the squeaky wheel and the thorn in his backside until I graduate, and what he doesn’t know is that I am going to continue to do so long after Thursday, May 17th.

Photo Credit: the-one-about.blogspot.com, dryicons.com

Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On May - 18 - 2012

Manuscript 600x450 Riddhi Presents the Longest Ever Post on Teen Writers Bloc

The Writing for Children MFA experience at The New School — gulp, I can’t believe it’s over — was one of the most enriching educational experiences of my life. Here’s my attempt at capturing it in an ABCDErium with pros, cons and random essentials.

Authors. Meet them, read them, learn from them, learn with them, learn how to be one.

Amazing classmates. I really lucked out with this batch. Cheers class of 2012, you rocked!

ABCDErium. (ABBA-SEE-DA-REE-YUM) An A to Z perspective on a topic that you write after you meditate on it for a while and then just let it free-flow as you unleash your thoughts. An assignment for class I taught was to write an ABCDErium on Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew. See Juggling.

Books. The MFA was a great way to learn things I never knew and needed to know about the business of books. I saw many of my classmates land book deals during the program. I also read more books in the last two years than I ever had—sometimes more than three books a week. At any point of the program my desk was covered in more than 15 books. Bliss!

Craft. Gathered immense respect for the craft of writing and the gazillion things that make it what it is: Thoughts. Plots. Words. Story arc. Character sketches. Voice. First person. Second person. Third person. Sub plots. Themes. Motifs. Summaries. Outlines. Revisions. Chapters. Buttons. Grammar. Edits. Rewrites. Writing is a beautiful complex organic stimulating scientific thing. As Andrea Davis Pinkney says: Writers Write.

Community of writers. Perhaps the best part of the MFA (at least for me) was the opportunity to share and learn with many inspiring and talented writers and build life-long associations with them.

Deadlines. The four scariest words for a writer — “I have a deadline.” And the only ones that get the job done. I doubt I’d be able to churn out my writing without deadlines — a journalism that trait stuck on. But as the MFA progressed, I feel like I coped with managing deadlines better. (I confess, this post was turned in late, but hey, I’m working on getting better at TWB deadlines.)

David Levithan. Taught us a seminar on teen lit in the first semester. Knows the YA and teen lit genre like the back of his hand and teaches a mad inspiring class about it. He is also very funny.

Expensive. Unless you have benefits, be prepared to be over $60K in debt. A part scholarship doesn’t even begin to count.

Focus. A writing degree with a focus on Writing for Children. As of now, few universities around the world  (seven to be precise) offer such a niche master’s creative writing program.

Feed. A dystopian novel by MT Anderson, one of my favorites from the reading list in the first semester. I loved the fact that the books on our syllabus were contemporary and uber cool.

Go For It. If you can afford it and are even thinking about a creative writing MFA, Go For It. It’s a great way to get started on writing projects that you’ve imagined for years but never gotten around to completing. Who knows, you might finally write that winning manuscript—or at least get started on it.

Harry Potter was not on our syllabus. Nor The Hunger Games. A lot of books you’d expect to see on a syllabus for a Writing for Children program weren’t on ours. In fact, the reading list for the Writing for Children concentration, with David Levithan and Susan Van Metre’s class (the only two classes that focus on children’s literature and were both fantastic) put together didn’t go beyond 45 books in the genre. Sure, we studied a LOT of excellent books, and yes, I definitely read tons outside of the syllabus as my own self-study. But I do feel like the program could use a more comprehensive and extensive reading list, and certainly one with more cultural diversity. Besides Sherman Alexie, Coe Booth and Grace Lin, I found the reading list dominated by white American authors. I don’t recall reading anything by a single Indian author. Perhaps the only Indian character I encountered was Bibi, a Bengali nanny from Julie Sternberg’s Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

Immersed. I feel like someone drowned me in a bottomless, delicious tub of kidlit.

Juggling. You could choose to focus solely on your writing, like some of my classmates. Or you could be adventurous and juggle real life (a time-consuming job) and write when no one’s looking, like others. Either way, writing requires some serious juggling skills that an MFA is sure to hone. In the first year I juggled with adjusting to life in a new country, as well as coping with a new system of education. I’d never left home before, so that was all pretty overwhelming, along with learning how to write academic papers, something I hadn’t formally learnt during my schooling in India. In the second year I was offered a Teaching Assistant position with New School’s Riggio Honors Program in Writing & Democracy, which was a fantastic opportunity for personal growth and learning. In Fall 2011 I assisted the amazing Tom Healy with his class The Writer’s Playlist, a close-listening and reading seminar that explores links between music and literature, both of which I’m passionate about. (That’s also where I discovered what an ABCDErium is). In Spring 2012 I joined the editorial team at 12th Street, New School’s award-winning literary journal, where I had the opportunity to work with a dedicated team of student editors and contributors as we assembled the fifth issue of the magazine, from editing to production, publicity and beyond. Both my TA experiences invaluably broadened my reading range and literary network. Word.

Knowledge. It’s the foundation of the MFA, isn’t it?

Kevin Joinville. My buddy and the only boy in our class. The Writing for Children concentration usually has just the token male. This is not a pro or a con, just a mere observation.

Lang Café. Spent a lot of time inside it with peer group. Or by myself in the courtyard next to it staring into trees for inspiration and, yes, eavesdropping on conversations.

Manuscript. What a beautiful word! Say it with me: MAA-NUU-SCRIPT. By the time you graduate with an MFA, you might have one. Or two. Or three! Or you might have the semblance of a manuscript. Whatever the case, it’s a great feeling (I want to say accomplishment) to see a word document grow page by page into a large body of work. I wrote a little over ten pages of a story in the third semester that eventually became the major chunk of my creative thesis. And towards the end of thesis semester, my MAA-NUU-SCRIPT grew wild and unkempt, complete and uncontrollable.

New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made, yo.

New School. I’m proud to call it my writing Alma Mater. I had six other schools to pick from, and the New School was always numero uno on my list. I’m pretty convinced I made the right decision. Too many reasons. New School’s history of writers, which I was totally unaware of until recently, all the people I met during my time there, the fact that New York city is the helm of publishing and watering hole for aspiring writers, my amazing classmates. Let’s just say that the New School was an important and exciting chapter in the life of Riddhi Kamal Parekh.

Overwhelming. See New School.

Others. Writers of other genres. Like them Poets. Or writers of Fiction and NonFiction. Writers completely unlike those who Write for Children. There’s really minimal interaction amongst the WFC people and the other streams. My classmates may disagree, but I wish there was more mingling amongst the genres. Because, I mean, in real life, a writer is a writer is a writer, right? Also, how else would we have met the one and only Lenea Grace?

Peer group. In the fourth and final semester you suddenly find yourself rid of weekly classes and seminars. Instead, you meet with a peer group — a small group of classmates who read your work and give you feedback on it, and you do the same for theirs. My peer group felt balanced, committed and extremely inspiring, making the MFA worth every precious dollar. Amy Ewing, Caela Carter, Jess Verdi, Mary G. Thompson. You girls are my supportive upper lip.

Picture books. A largely ignored aspect of the Writing for Children program at The New School. Because of my interest in the genre, for some reason I had imagined there would be a larger focus on picture books. Perhaps the chance to collaborate with students from Parsons or something. But no such luck. My classmates even raised this issue with the faculty and tried to gain access to Children’s Book Illustration taught by Jacquie Hann, offered by The New School’s Continuing Education Program. This class might have been more beneficial than having to take a class outside of the Writing for children concentration (see Mary’s post for this month on this issue), but due to logistics or something, none of us were offered this class. We did, however, have a series of fantastic weekend workshops towards the end of each semester. One of them was in Picture Books, by the lovely Sarah Ketchersid, and I hope she continues conducting them at The New School. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s weekend workshop in Writing Cross-Culturally was also MUCH needed. Hats off to Dhonielle Clayton for arranging that. Like picture books, Cultural Diversity in Children’s and Teen Literature is another scarce aspect of the program. I’m sure everyone who attended these workshops will agree that they need to be further integrated into the overall curriculum of the Writing for Children program.

Questions. There are many swirling in my mind. Like was the MFA worth it? What happens next with my career? Will I find a job in publishing? Is it the MBA equivalent of Writing? What kind of jobs does one look for after an MFA im Creative Writing? Does it qualify you to teach? Will I ever sell my manuscript? Will I get an agent? Will I be the next JK Rowling? Who knows? Keep checking this blog for updates.

Quiet. There’s nothing as inspiring as a humorous ditty about writing a thesis or some ridiculous Hinglish Bollywood song  to get me recharged and get the words flowing again. But really, I do prefer silence when I’m writing—something I discovered through the course of this program. And yes, most people who are not writers, like roommates or friends who do ‘normal’ banking stuff or members of family may imagine that creative writing is a recreational and enjoyable activity where writers get high and turn on music and snap into the creative zone where writing page after page is just so easy. But really, no. Peace and quiet. Very essential to the process. (Oh bite me, you know Q is hard. But X is the hardest!).

Reading your work aloud. Yes, you have to do it in front of everyone at the end of your thesis semester. A few weeks ago, I read from my work at an MFA Student reading at Lang Center at The New School. It was the last student reading of our graduate program, where selected faculty and first and second year MFAers from all streams — Fiction, Poetry, NonFiction and Writing for Children — read from their work for about 3 to 4 minutes. Newly admitted students of Fall 2012 were invited to come and watch. Standing at the lectern, I zipped down nostalgia express to the first time I was in that very space at Lang Center. I was part of the audience — the sea of writers at the MFA orientation. I can still remember that feeling of being lost, as we called out our concentrations, and felt a little hope when I heard others call out the WFC concentration — although most said poetry or fiction. Back then, I never imagined I’d have anything to read to a room full of people, let alone be proud of it. If you chose to avail it, the monthly student readings at the New School great chance to the develop the confidence to read your work and to hear your peers and were a super supportive environment for me.

Submission. See Deadlines.

TWB. Teen Writers Bloc. This blog is a result of the MFA program class of 2012. And isn’t it the best thing ever? Three cheers to TWB! I’m proud to be a part of it.

Thesis semester. See Manuscript, Peer group.

Urban dictionary. A great resource for writing-related research. No, seriously.

Uneconomical. Can you learn the things you learn in an MFA program outside it? Sure you can. But will you take the time out to commit to your writing? And then will it be worth it? It’s a call every aspiring MFA candidate must to take. See Expensive, Overwhelming.

Voice. Very important when writing for children, teens, young adults and first-person narratives. David Levithan’s reading list introduced us to some fantastic voices. See David Levithan.

Vermont College of Fine Arts offers a low-residency MFA Program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. MT Anderson is part of the faculty. I’d love to hear more about it and compare the two programs. See Focus.

Writing for children. Gah. Pretty much the subject of this ABCDErium, no? See Go For It.

Xenophile. A deadly word I discovered in a desperate attempt to complete this post. Like the remarkable Dhonielle Clayton and myself, a xenophile is an individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures. (Give me a break, you know X is the hardest!) See Quiet.

YA. I wasn’t as aware how extensive this literary genre was before I embarked to this program. Maybe it’s bigger in America? I’m not sure. Either way, YA rocks. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_adult_literature) See David Levithan.

Zipped by. Whooooosh. It really did. I wish it didn’t pause for three months during the summer.

Photo Credit: Riddhi Parekh

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