Teen Writers Bloc

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

Mary’s Great Middle Grade Reads

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 28 - 2013

Hello Teen Writers Block readers! Today I want to share with you a couple of great middle grade books I read this month.

Gustav Gloom 102x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsFirst, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Gustav Gloom and the People Taker by Adam-Troy Castro. It’s the first in a planned series, but never fear, it stands alone as a great read. Although Gustav Gloom is the title character, the real star of the book is Fernie, a plucky, scary-story loving ten-year-old who moves in across the street from Gustav Gloom’s weird, cloud-enshrouded house. She’s joined by her equally cool twelve-year-old sister and her hilariously cautious father. I couldn’t stop laughing at all the funny ways Dad had supposedly tried to keep the girls safe from imagined dangers. After noticing her cat’s shadow run off into the mysterious Gloom house, leaving the cat behind, Fernie is quickly moved to follow, and the adventure begins. The most amazing thing about this book is that it’s a fantastic adventure story all set inside a single house. This works perfectly because the house is much bigger inside than out and filled will all sorts of wonders and dangers. Gustav, the boy who lives among the weirdness, is an interesting, sympathetic character. Most importantly, there are plenty of laughs thrown in along the way. I’m so glad I came across this book and I highly recommend it!

The Mostly True Story of Jack 103x150 Mary’s Great Middle Grade ReadsSecond, I finally got around to reading my copy of The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill. Wow, is this book right up my alley! It has a slow-building mystery, ominous and subtle magic, and a cast of unique but relatable characters. I recommend skipping the publisher’s book description, because it really does a terrible job of reflecting the book’s coolness. In the beginning, Jack’s mother drops him off at his aunt and uncle’s house to spend some time while his parents work out their divorce. But it quickly becomes apparent that everything is not right. Jack’s mother seems to have a hard time remembering him. He tries calling both parents, but his calls never go through. His letters mysteriously erase themselves. There are two weirdly sentient and protective cats and a book that talks about magic that couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Then there are the twins down the street, the silent and scarred Frankie with a mysterious past and his plucky sister Wendy, who will do anything to protect him. The writing is fantastic and the artfully layered story comes together in a unique way. This is for fantasy fans who are looking for something deeper than a wham-bang action extravaganza, and I loved it!

Well, it looks like I got lucky with my picks this month. How’d you do?

Cover Images: Gustav Gloom—Penguin, The Mostly True Story of Jack—Little, Brown

Alyson Is Always Holding Out Hope for the Next “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Posted by Alyson Gerber On November - 30 - 2012

546909x480 Alyson Is Always Holding Out Hope for the Next To Kill A Mockingbird

Despite the endless list of disappointments — The Indian in the CupboardHarriet The SpyTuck Everlasting — where the film adaptation just did not live up to what went on inside of my big, crazy imagination when I read the book, I cannot stop myself from going to see the movie version almost as soon as it comes out. 

The worst part is that when I walk into the theater, I really believe it is going to be magical, especially when the cast is amazing or when I love the director. I am already so excited for the new version of The Great Gatsby that I am re-reading the novel right now. More often than not, I leave feeling sad and defensive when the picture I had invented in my mind does not show up on the big screen. But I am always holding out hope that the film adaptation will do the book justice or better yet add another layer to the story. For this, I blame To Kill A Mockingbird. 

When I read Harper Lee’s novel for the first time in seventh grade, I could see Atticus, Scout, Calpurnia, and everyone in Maycomb, Alabama so clearly. They felt more important than characters. They become real people to me. After falling in love with the book, I watched the black-and-white version of the movie at home with my dad. I am sure I rolled my eyes and huffed, when he told me it was his favorite movie. But to Dad’s credit, nothing about the film adaptation disappointed me. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch, just as I had imagined him. It challenged me to think about the story through a different lens, and it made reading the book better when I went back to it again and again.

So, when I shell out $13.50 to see a novel-turned-movie in theaters, I am always holding out hope that it will be the next To Kill A Mockingbird. 

 

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

Corey Loves Roald Dahl in Book or Movie Form

Posted by Corey Haydu On November - 15 - 2012

willy wonka and the chocolate factory 20091006005120611 640w Corey Loves Roald Dahl in Book or Movie FormI thought this was going to be a challenging question. As a recovering actress and current writer, I’m a fan of both media and literature, and often am thrilled when a piece of literature I love is turned into a film I could also potentially love. That said, it is incredibly painful when the rest of the world only falls in love with the movie, and doesn’t ever get to know the wonder of the book. There are some authors whose work I love that constantly get translated into films I hate (please see: John Irving, one of my favorite authors, who suffers from this fate). And there are lots of movies I think are pretty good adaptations of books which are far better (Hunger Games, anyone?) But there is only one author whose work consistently translates into films I love almost or occasionally as much as the source material.

Roald Dahl!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an obvious one (the old one! Not the new one! NOT THE NEW ONE!). But there’s also Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, and maybe my favorite film adaptation of a gorgeous book, Matilda. I mean, how charming is little Mara Wilson as the title character? And how perfectly sweet is Miss Honey? How terrifying is Agatha Trunchbull? The style of the movie perfectly matched the tone of the book, and the movie managed to both stand on its own and create some lovely nostalgia for the wonder of that beautiful novel.

Which is to say, it can be done. A book can be made into a good, great, even truly special movie.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Jean-Paul Loves Alfonso Cuarón

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On November - 5 - 2012

A Little Princess 600x340 Jean Paul Loves Alfonso CuarónA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of those books that I read as a child that didn’t really leave an impression on me. It’s the story of Sara Crewe, a rich girl who is sent to live in a boarding school and through a reversal of fortune, is forced to work as a servant to earn her keep. There are times of hardship and moments of despair but through another reversal of fortune, Sara regains her life of privilege and lives happily ever after. I was never into fairytales and Sara’s story wasn’t much different from Cinderella’s or Snow White’s tale.

Then, in 1995, Alfonso Cuarón directed the most beautifully shot children’s-book-to-film adaptations ever. Cuarón’s A Little Princess took the tired poor-little-rich-girl tale and turned it into something magical. He filled the story with warmth and heart and made Sara’s plight meaningful. The visuals were stunning and it is one of the few movies I will watch whenever it comes on TV.

Prisoner of Azkaban 300x213 Jean Paul Loves Alfonso CuarónCuarón also directed the most atmospheric film in the Harry Potter franchise, and my favorite film in the series. The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is also one of my favorite Harry Potter books, totally blew the previous movies out of the water and raised the bar stylistically for the remaining films. He made Harry Potter’s world magical, which sounds like a no-brainer but, to me, Hogwarts didn’t feel like a school full of witchcraft and wizardry until Cuarón got his hands on it.

A Little Princess is my favorite film adaptation of a children’s book ever. And, as someone who writes children’s books about magic and fantasy, I sometimes wonder what one of my stories would look like on film. After seeing Cuarón successfully bring two children’s books to life, there’s a teeny tiny part of me that can’t stop imagining him directing something of mine.

Alyson’s Take on Comp Titles

Posted by Alyson Gerber On July - 30 - 2012

Clarissa Explains It All clarissa explains it all 20688951 640 480 Alysons Take on Comp Titles

 

I write middle grade contemporary novels, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about first crushes and kisses, best friends, and flavored lip-gloss. Most of the time in my real life, I feel like I am still in seventh grade—afraid to be left behind or, worse, left out and desperate to be okay (maybe even happy) with the fact that I don’t fit in anywhere, and probably never will. So, it makes sense that I am constantly exploring the experience of feeling alone and different in my work.

I like to think that my writing is sort of Clarissa Explains It All meets Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. My characters are fun and energetic, but not superficial. They have depth, a sense of their own reality, and real consequences.

I’m not sure about comp titles. I’m not convinced that they are ever that accurate, but they set the mood. Plus, they are fun to think about in a very seventh grade way. For example, when I was 12, I would have wanted someone, anyone,  to describe me as Saved By The Bell‘s Kelly Kapowski meets Alex Mack with a boyfriend like Dylan McKay. In reality, I was more like Deenie.

Author Interview: TWB’s Own Mary G. Thompson!

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On July - 26 - 2012

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!Teen Writers Bloc has interviewed a bunch of totally awesome YA and MG authors over the years (wow, has it been years already?!), but our latest is extra exciting because we’re interviewing one of our own!

TWB contributor Mary G. Thompson‘s debut middle grade novel Wuftoom is on sale now, and she’s dishing all her secrets about her writing process, her upcoming novels, and her former life as a lawyer!

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

Well, a long long time ago, in a demented alternate universe, I was a lawyer. This involved a lot of long hours and stress, and except for the fun of wearing a suit and having a large office with multiple desks, it wasn’t the rewarding career I’d always dreamed of. Don’t get me wrong, having more than one desk does make one feel very important. Also, I had a nice big window with a great view of a freeway, and that was really interesting. But the whole time, I really wanted to write. I’d write after work and on the weekends, and I found that I much preferred sitting in a comfy chair with a laptop and no desk at all. So I wrote Wuftoom and a couple more manuscripts, and I started attending writers’ conferences, and I met my agent, and the rest, as they say, has something to do with the number of desks you can stack in a courtroom while shouting “I object!” and pretending to try on a leather glove.

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

Wuftoom is about a twelve-year-old boy who is turning into a disgusting wormlike creature. Everyone else thinks he’s sick, but he knows what’s really happening because this creature visits him all the time. Evan is terrified of turning into this monstrosity, so he makes a bargain with the evil Vitflys. The Vitflys give him the power to inhabit the bodies of other boys so he can have a taste of life again, but in exchange, he has to promise to help the Vitflys destroy the Wuftoom. Of course, as Evan’s transformation progresses, things become a whole lot more complicated. The Wuftoom also want something. And are the Wuftoom really as bad as Evan thought? The Vitflys threaten Evan’s mother, and Evan has to figure out where his loyalties lie.

The concept just sort of popped into my head. I suddenly pictured the boy, Evan, sitting on his bed in a dark room, debilitated by membranes, and the creature was sliding toward him across the floor. It was immediately apparent that Evan was turning into the creature. I then wrote out a quick outline, but I didn’t really follow it. The original concept was actually (if you can believe it) much darker and a lot worse for Evan. It ended up evolving into the more heartfelt, fun-gross adventure it is today.

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!What’s your writing process?

With Wuftoom, I wrote after work in various coffee shops and chain restaurants, or when I could, at home in my comfy chair. That was not an ideal situation, which is why I decided to quit the job and come study at The New School. Now I try to write first thing in the “morning,” which means something different to me than to most people. I just try to write every day or whenever possible. Even if I don’t feel “inspired,” I sit there pulling my hair out until something gets written.

What has your path to publication been like?

After I wrote Wuftoom, I started attending writers’ conferences and managed to get an agent pretty quickly. It took a long time to sell the book after that, though. I hated all that waiting, but my agent never gave up on me, and four and a half years after I finished the book, it’s finally on bookstore shelves! I think the most surprising part is how much support I’ve gotten. People I haven’t seen in a long time have gone out of their way to congratulate me, and of course, my classmates at The New School have been fantastic, even though we just met less than two years ago. Not that I expected mass disapproval, I just didn’t expect people to be so nice. Yay!

Can you talk a bit about world building? What is your process?

I start with the main character and their basic situation. With Wuftoom, it was Evan turning into this disgusting creature, and with Escape From The Pipe Men! it was Ryan and Becky having grown up in this zoo and not really knowing anything about how normal kids live on Earth. Then I work outwards and build the world around the kid’s adventure. There are times when I have to stop and spend a lot of time figuring out what the world looks like and how it works, but I try to always keep the main character and the adventure in mind. As the character explores the world, so do I, and by the time I’ve revised the book about a thousand times, the world has magically become a real place — at least to me!

You’ve already sold a few other books since Wuftoom. Can you talk about looking at writing as a job and seeing it as a business as much as art? 

I’ve sold two books after Wuftoom: Escape From the Pipe Men! (Spring 2013) and Evil Fairies Love Hair (Fall 2013). I’m also trying to sell more at various different age levels, so watch this space! I do see writing as an art, but I also approach it as a business in that I don’t believe in inspiration or writer’s block. I think you just have working and not working, industry or laziness, motivation or lack of it. If you are genuinely motivated to succeed, you will do everything you can with what time you have. When I had a full time day job, what I was able to do was limited, but I was still able to accomplish something. Now that I’m sort of mostly a full time author, I really don’t have any excuses! I always feel like I could be doing more, and I think that feeling is essential. You can never be happy as a writer! You always have to want more and be flagellating yourself for every failure to meet a goal.

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

Somebody at a conference once said something that really stuck with me. If someone says “I love this line!” you’re in trouble. Nobody should be noticing the “writing.” They should be so absorbed in the story that nothing like that jumps out at them. I guess that’s along the same lines as Stephen King’s advice: “Kill your darlings.”

My advice to aspiring authors would be finish your book. I don’t care if you think it’s crap or if it really is crap. I wrote two books before Wuftoom that never went anywhere, and I think finishing those manuscripts, even if no one will ever see them, taught me the skills I needed to get it right.

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

My favorite book as a kid was Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s one of her lesser known books, and I think it deserves a lot more recognition. It’s about a town that’s run by these seven weird guys, and it’s totally out there and weird and creative. It’s stuck with me all these years. Right now I’m reading Rotters by Daniel Kraus. It’s about a somewhat disturbed kid who moves in with the father he’s never met and discovers the old man is a grave robber. It’s not fantasy, but it has a great, absorbing horror feel.

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

My next book is a lighter-toned middle grade sci-fi called Escape From The Pipe Men! It’s about two kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on an adventure across the universe. Get ready for multiple eyes, legs, tentacles, portals, and of course, an exciting alien space fight! Look for it in Spring 2013!

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

Interacting with other writers is essential for my sanity, because there are some things about the job that people who aren’t writers don’t understand. I love reading my friends’ work and sharing mine. That said, it is not a good idea to write a book in a committee. You have to take some and leave some.

Mary G. Thompson was raised in Cottage Grove and Eugene, OR. She was a practicing attorney for more than 7 years, including almost 5 years in the U.S. Navy, before moving to New York to write full time. She was educated at Boston University, the University of Oregon, and The New School.

Book cover image courtesy of Clarion Books

Hungry? Riddhi’s Books Might Just Hit the Spot!

Posted by Riddhi Parekh On July - 25 - 2012

TWB JULY 600x450 Hungry? Riddhis Books Might Just Hit the Spot!If my writing projects were served for brunch, here’s what you might see on the menu:

Apéritif

A traditional whimsical middle-grade holiday drink made by combining two parts The BFG with equal parts Haroun and The Sea of Stories and The Butter Battle Book, a dollop of The Phantom Tollbooth, infused with Star Wars and misted over The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Complimentary shot of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Entrée

An environmental picture book summer salad generously tossed with The Giving Tree, sautéd bits of The Bear That Wasn’t and garnished with An Inconvenient Truth vinaigrette.

Plat Principal

A succulent slow-roasted humorous middle-grade with char-grilled Where The Wild Things Are, glazed Horton Hears A Who and marinated The Giggler Treatment, drizzled generously with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Served on a bed of finger-lickin’ Captain Underpants.

Dessert

A triple-layered decadent emotional YA trifle with delicate slices of The Interpreter of Maladies and bittersweet caramelized bits of Push and a fluffy icing whisked with a pinch of Bitter Chocolate, topped with delicately macerated Luna.

Bon appétit!

Photo source: stock.xchng

Alyson’s Ready—Almost

Posted by Alyson Gerber On June - 28 - 2012

if you were waiting for a sign Alysons Ready—Almost

Now that I am finishing up my (hmm) fourteenth round of edits, I am finally, almost ready to hand over my middle grade manuscript to my agent—almost.

Well, my manuscript is ready to go. The problem is that I am not. I’ve been fussing over every detail. I want my book to be as close to perfect as possible. What else is new? But even when I’ve nit-picked every single thing, I’m not sure I will be ready to let go. For one thing, it’s really scary. Once I send it off into the world, I am no longer in control. Anything could happen. This does not make me feel calm. This makes me want to pace around a lot, spend my days and nights watching the Gilmore Girls seasons one through seven, eat gallons of mint chocolate chip ice cream (with chocolate sprinkles), and pull out my hair.

Luckily, I have the best writing group ever to save me from myself. Not to brag, but I love them and sometimes I don’t have a clue what I would do without them. They are brilliant writers. They give the most incredible feedback. And they make me feel like I’m not alone or the only one who is afraid to fail. Sometimes I think the most important part about critique group is being around other people who get it. Thanks to their encouragement and advice, I started a new project, and I’m really excited about it. So, when I finally find the courage to send in my manuscript, instead of being crazy and taking out my anxiety on my normally very happy life, I will have something else to obsess over. Phew!

The Pig is Still Watching Mary

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On June - 9 - 2012

Pig World 224x300 The Pig is Still Watching MarySo here we are, done with the Writing for Children program. We are “Masters.” Time to go on vacation, let loose on the party circuit, hang out on the beach? That might sound really nice to some people, but I have a little problem. You can see him in the picture. He’s THE PINK PIG.

You know the pig I’m talking about. He’s been forcing me to write for years. Whenever I think it might be nice to take off on a trip, hang out with some friends, or start a relationship, there he is, glaring at me. Yelling at me. Throwing tiny little ball bearings, which actually hurt more than you might think! The Pink Pig wants me to write more books. He wants me to write middle grade books, teen books, picture books, and everything you can think of in-between. He’s even insisting that I write an adult book, and for some reason, every single book has to include a prom scene.

So this is my life: John and Becky go to the prom. Tim and Sally are aliens and go to the prom. Little Rachel and the Purple Dragon Have a Prom Party. Alfie pursues his dream of becoming the youngest ever head clown at the devil’s circus and holds a prom for talking elephants and lions. I told the Pig that the whole prom thing didn’t fit with Alfie’s character, but the Pig just didn’t care. Sigh.

All this writing about proms is so exhausting that I barely have time to sneak away and work on what really interests me … okay, for realz, y’all, I am working on a few exciting projects for various age groups. I am really excited about them, but they’re too new to share! All I can promise right now is that if you like monsters, fairy-like creatures, supernatural drama, or humor, I will try not to disappoint you.

I probably can’t blame it all on the Pink Pig. Maybe it’s me who dislikes vacations, and he’s just a convenient scapegoat. The truth is, I can’t stand to be in a situation where I can’t work on my books. I don’t find that kind of “vacation” relaxing at all! I’m lucky to still have all of my classmates to share my work with, and I’m excited to keep reading what everyone else is writing. I just hope you guys love all things prom!

pixel The Pig is Still Watching Mary
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