Teen Writers Bloc

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

Jean-Paul Loves a Good Jerk

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On February - 18 - 2013

VALENTINES DAY JERKS Jean Paul Loves a Good JerkI love jerks. Especially those with a tortured past.

Not only are lovable jerks fun to read, but they are also fun to write. They say and do anything as long as it suits their purpose, they are quick with the witty put-downs, and they make scenes more lively and fun just by being in them. Of course, the best jerks are those who, despite their epic jerkiness, do what’s right in the end.

I get excited when the jerk character makes an appearance in my stories because I know that, if I do my job well enough, the reader will fall in love with them as well and will be waiting for the moment when the jerk can put his jerkiness aside and help save the world. Because there’s nothing better than when characters who hate each other realize that they can’t do it alone.

Here are some of my favorite jerks in literature:

The Mysterious Jerk: Gentleman from Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Gentleman is the epitome of jerk. A smooth-talker, he can play both sides without missing a beat and make you trust him even though you don’t even know his real name.

The Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gilly Hopkins from The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

She curses, she steals from old blind men, she’s a racist, and she bullies emotionally damaged children. But you can’t stop yourself from falling in love with her. Gilly learns what it means to love and care for others and in the process, you learn that her big heart is what makes Gilly great.

The Reformed Jerk: Eustace Scrubb from the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis

With a name like Eustace Clarence Scrubb, can you really blame him for being a jerk? But, by the end of the series, Eustace has appeared in three books and been the honorable hero of two of them. Not too shabby.

The Single-Minded Jerk: Little Bear from The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Little Bear wants to fight. Little Bear wants weapons. Little Bear wants to protect his people and will do whatever it takes to win, even if it means shooting his best friend in the chest with an arrow.

The Jerk with Daddy Issues: Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Poor Draco. No matter what he does, he will always be a disappointment to his father. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to impress Lucius Malfoy anyway. Even though, deep down, he knows what he is doing is wrong.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros., Walden Media, BBC, HarperCollins, Paramount Pictures, and the mad Photoshop skills of Shyla Bass.

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

Jane’s Take on the Film Adaptation Issue

Posted by Jane Moon On November - 16 - 2012

cat in the hat Janes Take on the Film Adaptation IssueI used to hate when books are made into movies. I’m the kind of person who believes that the reader should use only their imagination and the author’s descriptions to know what a character should look like, how they sound and what kind of personalities they have.

Whenever I go to see a movie adaptation of a book, I prepare myself to be disappointed. I read Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher and I went to see it when it came out on the big screen. The movie ending made me wish I could get that hour and 30 minutes of my life back. I loved The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The film adaptation was decent but I still didn’t get that this-is-as-good-as-the-book feeling. And whoever came up with the idea to ruin Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat needs to stay out of the entertainment business. The closest I’ve come to liking the film version were both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (Sorry, but I felt the first six could have been better.)

The only movie that came the closest to my expectations was The Hunger Games. After an *ahem* intense peer group session with classmates Mary and Kevin, we decided to go see a movie. I actually liked this one. In fact, I thought it was almost as good as the book. Even though the characters weren’t quite how I had imagined them to be, I felt they were still excellent representations of the ones in the book.

Even though The Hunger Games was well done, I still don’t believe there can be a movie adaptation than can equal the book itself. But maybe when Catching Fire comes out, it might change my mind.

Book cover image courtesy of Random House BFYR

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.

10 Things Steven Hates About Summer Reading

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On August - 13 - 2012

photo 10 Things Steven Hates About Summer ReadingThis installment of TWB’s Question of the month is one that speaks to all those out there cramming to get their summer reading finished for that first day of school. It calls for me to tell you all about the best book I read this summer. Well, I can’t do that. I was bad, bad student. I didn’t read one book this summer.

Awful, right?

I think so. This is the first summer where I haven’t read anything. Not even so much as a sentence! I mean, I’ve been INSANELY busy. Actually, “insanely” is a mild adjective for the amount of busy I’ve been. But still, I had it all planned out in my head: a much-needed vacation was planned for 10 days between the end of July and beginning of August, and I was ready to sink my teeth in Mary’s Wuftoom. I ordered it online months prior and it’s been sitting on my nightstand, waiting for me, nearly BEGGING me to read it. But my brain was so tired from working so much that by the time vacation came, all I wanted to do was anything that didn’t require brain function.

Alas, 10 days came and went and it was pure relaxational bliss. But I didn’t get to read.***

Not. One. Sentence.

Seriously, guys, what’s up with that?

But August is all about summer reading. That’s the whole nature of this month’s Question of the Month. So instead of lying and telling you all about a book I didn’t read (even though I soooooo want/need/must read it), I shall regale you with musings from my childhood and the things I hated most about summer reading:

10.) Reading Lists. Why, oh why, was I only limited to certain books. Most of which I had either already read or books I had no desire to read. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak? Absolutely. But…well, I read that in 9th grade and I’m not sure I can get away with passing off the paper I wrote in 9th grade English to 11th grade English. My writing has improved not really all that much, but still tremendously so my teach would totes obvs know I just copied and pasted and changed the date on the heading to reflect the current year. Okay, so I can’t read Speak for the umpteenth time, what are my choices? Malcolm X? Snooze. Madame Bovary? Ummm, yeah. The Lord of the Rings? I own the movies, thankyouverymuch. Some Book About the Holocaust That Will Make Me Both Cry and Seem Like a Spoiled Little Baptist? Well, let’s see, it seems like the shortest book on the list so…#score!

9.) Having to Read More Than One Book. Um, I’m sorry, but I thought that when summer vacation was invented, it was invented so that I could go to the beach and eat so much ice cream that I puke? When, during all of my burning and binge-eating, will I have time to read TWO books. #sacrilege.

8.) My Mom. Many days were spent yelling “I’ll read when I wanna read! Geez woman, get off my case!” When did my mom become my English teacher? Because I don’t like this whole “school at home” thing.

7.) All My Friends Finished Their Reading in June. While I was busy cramming for my Chemistry Regents that I was definitely going to fail, my friends were all like “I’m not gonna tell him that I’m getting all of my summer reading done so that when he starts his at the end of August I can be all ‘Oh, I finished #monthsago.’” Yeah. That’s pretty much the story of my young adult life. I was busy watching reruns of Beverly Hills, 90210 when all of my friends were doing their summer reading. Whatever. Brenda being a drunken mess and fighting with Kelly over Dylan was far more entertaining that any old stupid summer reading book.

6.) Being Forced to do Summer Reading While on Vacation. This was always so #dark. My mom: “Don’t think you’re going mini-golfing until you finish two chapters.” Such torture. Honestly, just slit my wrists with Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams playing in the background…

5.) Forgetting to Renew the Book(s) to the Library. Overdue fees from a library for a book that you didn’t even want to read in the first place is like getting pooped on by a pigeon after you trip on the curb. HOW ELSE CAN THE WORLD KICK ME WHEN I’M DOWN?!?!

4.) Forgetting to Return the Book(s) to the Library. See above. x10.

3.) Book Reports. Seriously? I have to write crap about this book I was forced to read? What if I just read Harry Potter for the millionth time and write about how much I wanna be J.K. Rowling?! Would that count? WOULD IT? I’M DESPERATE! I have a great book report from The Sorcerer’s Stone back in 8th grade. It has paper cut-outs and glitter and a sweet narrative arc in the shape of the Sorting Hat! No? Not acceptable. Fuck.

2.) Having to Cram at My Locker the First Day of School. Yep. That was me. I was all, “hey guys, what book did you read?” in hopes that my friends read the same book. Of course, they never did because they were either in AP English or the universe hated me (jury’s still out on which one it actually was). So I was in the computer lab cruising Sparknotes for a book summary. #backtoschool!

1.) The Fact That Summer Reading Exists At All. #truth. I’ll stick to reading at my own pace during the other three seasons thankyouverymuch.

***NOTE: Mary G. Thompson’s Wuftoom will be read within the month. I have ideas on perhaps implementing the book into a new course that I’m teaching! #holler

Jean-Paul Recommends The Hunger Games Because She Didn’t Hate It

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On August - 3 - 2012

Hunger Games Jean Paul Recommends The Hunger Games Because She Didnt Hate ItSometimes, I try to stay away from what’s popular because I just can’t believe the hype surrounding it. I waited until the second book came out in the Harry Potter series before reading the first one, and of course I was hooked by the opening line. I just couldn’t believe a book could be that good, that everyone who read it ended up loving it, and so I didn’t give in until I got tired of people disbelieving me when I said I hadn’t read the first book.

Then came Twilight and I couldn’t understand how a book with such bad reviews could be so popular. I wanted to know why, what was it about Bella and Edward that captivated people? I wish I could lie and say I’ve never read Twilight, but I have. And I read the sequel. But I stopped with the third book. Out of pure curiosity, I had a friend tell me how everything ended and then did a finger puppet reenactment for some other friends who hadn’t read any of the books. The reenactment was basically my right index finger intensely asking my left index finger, “Why aren’t you scared of me?” and then brooding while my left index finger floated through the scene in a selfish haze.

So when The Hunger Games exploded on the scene, I was cautious. I heard the complaints about it being a weak Battle Royale ripoff, but then I saw it rising to the top of the bestseller lists. Friends and classmates recommended it, but I didn’t want another Twilight experience, and I knew nothing could ever live up to the hype like Harry Potter did, so I just said, “yeah, okay, I’ll check it out,” knowing full well I was planning on doing nothing of the sort. The only reason I ended up reading the book is because my sister bought movie tickets and I wanted to know how I was going to be wasting two hours of my life.

I went into the book expecting the worst and came out pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t that bad. Actually, it was pretty good. I had to give Suzanne Collins props because I was only hoping I’d be able to finish the book and she had me wanting more.

I’ve read quite a few books this summer, some good, some bad, one or two awesome ones, and it’s kinda funny that I consider The Hunger Games the best book I’ve read these past few months simply because I didn’t hate it. I know Public Enemy told everyone not to believe the hype, but in this case giving a hyper-popular book a try was totally worth it.

Image courtesy of Scholastic

Mary Gets Cranky About This Month’s Question

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On July - 11 - 2012

Cow1 202x300 Mary Gets Cranky About This Month’s QuestionThis month’s question is “Where does your book fit into the kidlit world? Come up with comparable titles.”

Let’s be honest right from the beginning: I hate this question! My publisher has described Wuftoom as “Kafka’s Metamorphosis meets Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander.” I have no idea if that’s true because I haven’t had a chance to read either one of those books. I feel like I read a lot of books compared to most people, but I still don’t have time to read anywhere near the amount of books I’d need to read to be able to come up with comparable titles off the top of my head. Of course, it doesn’t help that my books tend to be a little (okay a lot) weird. Actually, it kind of bugs me that people keep mentioning Kafka in relation to Wuftoom, because I don’t like the implication that I’m somehow trying to do a Metamorphosis for children — there’s no kind of book that I dislike more than a purposeful retread of a classic, and I would never never never do that! Nope, sorry kids, you won’t be getting a Wuthering Heights and Zombies or Romeo and Juliet go to the Prom from me! I guess the reason people in the publishing world want comparisons is that they want to sell books to people who liked other books. And that’s fine. But I don’t want to read, say, another Wizard of Oz or another Harry Potter or another Hamlet. I want to read something that I haven’t read before, and that’s what I try to do with my books. I’m not saying I always succeed — after all, everything is built on something. Readers have to understand your book and identify with the characters.

So, for example, my next book, Escape from the Pipe Men! is about aliens. The aliens have spaceships and come from planets, and it’s possible to describe them using English and comparisons to things you might have seen before. But I hope that my aliens are different, and my world is different, and the challenges my kids face will be new and fresh. I hope that the book won’t be easy for anyone to classify by coming up with comparable titles on a minute’s thought. At least, I can’t do it. And truthfully, I wish people wouldn’t even try. I don’t want to know if a book I’m reading is like some other book, because if I haven’t read that other book, I can at least enjoy the first book under the illusion that it’s something new. It’s the worst to start reading a book and realize I’ve totally seen that. This book is called Nelly’s Hairy Boyfriend but it’s really just Harry Potter and Werewolves! No no no. I want to open up a book and go, “I have never seen anything like this.” When people are asked about comparable titles for one of my books, I hope they will shrug and look terribly confused. The biggest complement of all is “There’s really no comparison.” And yes, that’s a picture of a cow.

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

Guest Blogger Jean-Paul Bass Puts the ‘Hero’ Back in Heroine

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On April - 11 - 2012

4329812168 f65b2cf670 n Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Puts the Hero Back in Heroine

She sighs. She huffs. She mumbles. She does everything except depend on herself. In the background, there is always a knight on a white horse just waiting to come to her rescue. Even if she pushes him away (usually for his own good, or so she tells herself), in the end she can’t be saved without his help.

In recent years, books have relied on the damsel-in-distress as the main female protagonist. It made me wonder if today’s teens are so blinded by the hero’s stunning abs that they don’t realize the heroine could’ve saved herself if she was a bit more plucky and a lot less sucky. But the times, they are a changin’, and none too soon, if you ask me.

With blockbusters like The Hunger Games dominating screens, bestseller lists, and even news sites, books with strong female leads are popping up on reading lists all over the blogosphere. Everyone wants to root for the girl who can kick butt, and readers are demanding more books with strong females in lead roles, but does that mean that’s all she can do?  It seems that many people equate “strong female lead” with traits usually associated with masculinity, such as being a good fighter and ruthlessness.

Giving a female character mostly male characteristics simply reinforces the idea that the stereotypes associated with girls are undesirable.  There are a lot of traits girls can be proud of, such as our compassion, being fiercely protective of those in our care, and we should definitely be proud of our superior communicative abilities. That’s right — we may talk too much for some people’s tastes, but we know how to make a point and that is a good thing.

When I was growing up, I was enthralled by Anne Shirley, the heroine of Anne of Green Gables. She has spunk, she’s upbeat, clever, and she’s determined. Once she set her mind on something, she made it happen. When her friendship is forbidden by Diana Barry’s mother after she mistakenly gives Diana three glasses of wine instead of the raspberry cordial Diana was expecting, Anne becomes determined to win over Diana’s mother so that they may once again be friends. By the end of the book, Mrs. Barry and the entire town are enamored with Anne and the incident is forgotten.

Anne is a strong female lead and although she probably couldn’t punch her way out of a paper bag, she sure could talk you into letting her out. What makes Anne such a strong lead is not that she has masculine traits (because she doesn’t), but that she is written so vividly and convincingly as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer and who uses her guile and wits to her advantage. And really, that’s what being strong boils down to — deciding for yourself what happens next in your life and making it happen.

I’m glad to see warrior-like characters such as Katniss (The Hunger Games) get their due. It’s time for strong female leads to once again dominate the bookshelves and cinemas. But when writing our own badass female characters, let’s not forget that sometimes a feminine touch can go just as far as a punch.

Bio: Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all.  She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction at The New School and is writing a memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.   

Photo credit: Flickr – manan0410

Steven’s Writer’s Crush on JK Rowling

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On March - 30 - 2012

J.K. Rowling Steven’s Writer’s Crush on JK RowlingI have a writers crush on JK Rowling. If life was Hogwarts, JK Rowling would be the Cho Chang to my Harry Potter, (circa books 4 & 5), the Hermione to my Ron, the Harry Potter to my obsessed Rita Skeeter, the Fleur Delacuer to, well, every Hogwarts male with a pulse.

Sure, she’s old enough to be my mom, but if it wasn’t for her, I never would have had the incredible pleasure of tasting the intoxicating Butterbeer I had when I was at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Florida last month.

Okay, that’s not the only reason why I love JK Rowling. I will go on record, right here and now, and say that JK Rowling is one of the most prolific, skilled contemporary writers of our generation. Her prose is flawless; it has a flow to it that her contemporaries only dream of having in their writing.

Oh, and then there’s the world-building. The wizarding world, Hogwarts, and everything else about the Harry Potter series is so well thought out, so intricate, so tightly woven that it makes me curse the heavens that I wasn’t blessed with the idea (and the talent) to write the Harry Potter series (which means I would’ve been 12-years-old when Sorcerer’s Stone was released had I written it. Whatever, I’d be famous). To think that she is often mentioned in the same breath as Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins is laughable (don’t get me wrong, I also have a writer’s boner for The Hunger Games, but that’s for an entirely different reason). Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight is one of the most poorly written book series I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying to read.

But I won’t be negative. Anymore. Starting … now!

Let’s get back to the world-building. She built that series with such care that each chapter in each book fits into each other, and in the end, it all comes together making sense as a whole piece. I can only dream of constructing such a world, a set of characters, a piece of writing. One of my favorite pieces by her is from The Tales of Beedle the Bard called “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” originally featured in the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. JK Rowling was able to construct her own fairytale in the vein of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, which is both entertaining and teaches its readers morals like humility and greed. It is prose poetry in the truest, most sincere form; simply breath-taking.

JK Rowling is an unending source of inspiration for me, not only within her actual writing, but as a writer in general. When Harry Potter was rejected by agents and editors (I bet you’re kicking yourselves now, eh?), she never gave up. She pressed on and became one of the best selling authors of all time. She’s a class act, a remarkable woman, and one helluva talented writer.

Since March is Women’s History Month, I wanted to take a moment to honor JK Rowling because, for this man, JK Rowling is a woman to aspire to.

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