Teen Writers Bloc

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

Steven Says: Rejection, It’s Part of the Process

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On October - 17 - 2011

20060607 Steven Says: Rejection, Its Part of the ProcessI got my first rejection letter for my query on How I Set Myself On Fire.

I’m not defeated, though. I’m not even fazed. Sure, I had hopes when I submitted my query letter and the agent immediately responded saying that he’d be interested to read what I wrote. Who wouldn’t be psyched to receive interest on your first query letter?

I won’t lie. I had visions of an e-mail saying “I want to represent you right now. Be in my office in five minutes so I can shower you with gumdrops and rainbows and sunshine and lots of good will and money money money.” I had Disney-esque fantasies of this agent slipping a glass slipper of excellence on my foot and saying, “We’re a perfect fit!” (Okay, maybe I just got a little weird with that example but whatever.)

But I knew it couldn’t be that storybook-like.

I was right.

Five days after submission, a big, fat rejection e-mail popped up in my inbox. Still, the rejection was nicely put:

“Dear Steven,

Thanks much for sending How I Set Myself On Fire, which I read with great interest. Unfortunately, I’m going to be passing at this time.

Fiction, as I’m sure you know, is just about the toughest thing to sell in the current marketplace. I need to really fall in love with something before I can even think of taking it on. Though there is much to appreciate here, I’m afraid that I ultimately didn’t believe I would be its best advocate.

Thank you again, sincerely, for the chance to take a look.”

Sounds promising, no? At least he was interested enough to request the full manuscript. I totally understand that agents and publishers have to, without a doubt, love what they’re representing/publishing (respectively). Otherwise, how could they possibly advocate for a book?

All writers go through their fair share of rejection. Hell, I experienced countless rejections three years ago when I stupidly thought I was ready to publish this book I wrote called Breathing in Secret. (Insert laughter here.) I still have that stack of rejection letters sitting in my desk drawer. Every great writer has been rejected. It’s the way of the world.

And what would I do if I gave up now?

Where would J.K. Rowling be if she had stopped submitting Harry Potter after she was rejected repeatedly? We’d never know the incredible world she created, a world that has since taken on a life of its own.

Where would all the great novels be if their respective writers had given up? We’d have nothing to read.

So I’m not giving up. If anything, my resolve is stronger. There’s a long road left in front of me, but I won’t be stopping until How I Set Myself On Fire is on store shelves.

You heard it here first.

Photo Credit: Funny Times

Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

Posted by Corey Haydu On February - 23 - 2011

comicquery Querying Agents Has Corey Losing Her Mind

I’m on the road to (hopeful) publication. Step One: The Query Letter.

Fact: QueryTracker is an evil enterprise designed to make writers go insane.

Fact: The New York City dating scene is, miraculously, less stressful than the agent search.

Fact: My time in the New York City dating scene included a guy who talked about himself in the third person (G-Man. I’m not kidding) and a guy whose big business plan was to sell tampons on the internet. Just giving you a basic sense of the levels of stress we are talking about here.

Fact: I am currently totally qualified to be working on my novel about obsessive-compulsive disorder because I have developed a OCD habit of checking email over the last month of querying.

For those who don’t know about the process of getting published, it basically starts with a query letter. This query letter has to pithily describe your book in a way that is both original and accessible, descriptive and contained, literary and commercial. Also, it requires bragging about yourself modestly and not sounding insane.

It’s a tall order.

Lucky for me, I have classmates who are actually good at this kind of skill. In the words of my boyfriend, I “go on” sometimes. I’m pretty sure this is a nice/vague way of saying that in my attempt to describe my work I end up writing something longer than the actual novel. I also lack certain skills, like writing business-y letters or basically doing anything that isn’t either writing creatively or serving cocktails to weird tourists or picking out really good restaurants.

But with people like Alyson and Sona on my team I am UNSTOPPABLE. These girls took my 27 page query letter* (*dramatic interpretation of reality) and made it a nice little three paragraph superstar query letter.

Once the query letter was polished into perfection, I added on a few fun quirky details (being careful not to “go on” too much) and picked out the agents who would be lucky enough to consider it. Once agents receive your query letter, they decide whether or not they actually want to check out the book. Sadly, they can (and very often do!) reject the manuscript based on the query letter alone.

This is where the obsessing begins.

Because there is a website called QueryTracker, on which you can see who else is submitting queries, how long it takes agents to get in touch with them, how often agents request Full Manuscripts after seeing an initial query letter, and who is actually getting an agent. Then, if you are prone to craziness, you do complex Beautiful Mind-like calculations to see how likely it is that you will become famous soon.

Note: I never finished high school math.

Note: This is a completely true fact. I squirmed my way out of any math after sophomore year. It has not yet affected my life negatively in any way. Aside from an unfortunate idea to attempt taking the Math SAT 2, which, funny enough, requires you actually have finished your basic math requirements.

The point is: I do not actually have the skills to do any mathematical equations but I’m so nervous and impatient that I, for the first time ever, wish I had learned things like probability and percentages and algebra back in the day.

Long story short: Agents are looking at my novel. It has been exactly one month since I began querying. I am a super-fun combination of excited and terrified. I am a joy to be around.

More on this process later. I must go watch The Biggest Loser, which is the only thing able to distract me from my thoughts of agents and query letters.

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the Recession

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On February - 18 - 2011

whereibelong 398x600 Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the RecessionWhen we met debut author Gwendolyn Heasley at one of David Levithan’s monthly teen author readings, we totally inspired by her story: having graduated at the height of the recession, the jobless and living with her parents wannabe journalist turned her broke-in-the-city angst into a fun fish-out-0f-water tale, Where I Belong. Gwendolyn paused from penning the book’s companion story to chat with Teen Writers Bloc about the arduous publishing process, nabbing her dream job and characters that talk to her — in a good way!

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

I was in school for about 21 consecutive years. After I finished my Master’s in Journalism at the University of Missouri, I moved to New York City with the hopes of a magazine job. I didn’t have any visions of grandeur; I realized I’d be fetching coffee for people with fabulous and glamorous jobs rather than landing a fabulous, glamorous job myself. But I did think I would get a job!

But I also moved to New York City the same month the stock market crashed (October 2008) and all of sudden everything was about the recession. Journalism budgets were slashed and tons of entry-level positions were cut. All of sudden, getting any job seemed extremely difficult. So instead of the single girl in the city with the studio apartment, I was living with my parents and frantically searching for jobs!

As a young girl, I had wanted to be a fiction writer not a journalist. But as I got older, working for a magazine (and having health insurance and a steady paycheck) just seemed more logical.

In order to keep my brain working while doing an unpaid internship and searching for jobs, I signed up for a YA fiction-writing course with Mediabistro — and put my recession tales into narrative!  With a lot of luck and good timing, my manuscript was sold to HarperCollins. My dream (although long forgotten) became a reality!

I love being a writer because you get to make everything up. In journalism, there wasn’t that creative license (for very good reason), but I love the freedom that fiction allows. I do not write full-time, although I am realizing how it is very hard to balance multiple jobs. Depending on the semester, I teach between one and three college writing classes, which I love doing. I teach both freshmen and adult learners, and I have learned a lot about life and writing from them.

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

Where I Belong is about a teenage Manhattanite Corinne who is about to head off to boarding school with her horse and her best friend. But then the recession hits and her family loses their money, so she heads to Texas instead to live with her parents and attend public school. It’s a riches to rags story that hopefully makes you laugh and cry.

The inspiration was the recession. I wrote it during the very height of the recession when I couldn’t find a job.  I didn’t want it to be completely depressing, so I created a humorous, spoiled character who only thinks her life is over because of the recession. In some ways, the recession isn’t her enemy; she’s her own enemy. I think the recession forced me (and many others) to reevaluate my life and I know I found lessons in the recession just like my character Corrinne does too.

Can you also talk a bit about the real currency of the book — these hard economic times and how you turned your own experience into Corrinne’s? Can teens relate?

I think teens (whether they are affected by the recession or not) can relate because it is a book about change and how difficult change can be.  I do think many teens today have learned tough lessons about money because of the recession, and I think they are rightfully called “the silent victims of the recession.” Money issues are very stressful for families (no matter the family’s socioeconomic status, and I think the novel taps on that.

My next novel is about Kitsy (the Texan friend) coming to New York and entering a world that’s a lot bigger (and richer) than Broken Spoke, Texas. The novel is going to be about how you find your confidence and place, no matter where you are. I love Kitsy, so I am excited to write a first-person novel about her!

gwen Debut Author Interview: Gwendolyn Heasley Takes A Lesson from the RecessionWhat’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I write from home sometimes. ( I don’t live with the parents anymore.) I invested in a desktop, which makes writing easier.  But I also get cabin fever, so I have spent a lot of time at the PATH café in the West Village.

I like to write when it is light out because darkness makes me sleepy and lazy. (Of course, deadlines don’t make this always possible.) It might sound weird, but my characters truly tell me the stories and I listen. I am not saying this in a voices-in-my-head way. What I mean is that I think a lot before I write, which I think helps tremendously.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I had a lucky and quick path to publication due to the timely nature of my book. The extensive editing process amazed me! You do some much work in editing, and your editor contributes so much to your novel as well. Editors deserve more credit.

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

The best writing advice I’ve gotten is to write for yourself. If you love it — even if no one else does — that should be enough.

My advice to other authors is patience. You don’t know when you are born or when you will die or get married or any of those other milestones. So you also don’t know when you will be published, but I believe that it can happen any time and it will if you keep trying.

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

The Baby- sitters Club. Hands down. I love those girls! I am reading Delirium right now, and I just finished a Sara Zarr reading marathon.

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

I am working on a companion book to Where I Belong. After that, I want to keep writing YA!

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

My mediabistro class was very helpful to me. I think feedback is great! I am not part of a critique group right now, but I might join one soon!

Thanks Gwendolyn! Your story is super-inspiring!

Images courtesy Elizabeth Cryan/HarperCollins

XVI CVR Debut Author Interview: Julia Karr Talks About Her Girl Powered First Book XVIJulia Karr‘s debut novel, XVI, caught my eye while I was purusing the teen lit shelves on a bookstore date with my husband last month. The book, about a futuristic society in which 16 isn’t so sweet anymore – it’s a fast-paced dystopian thriller that takes on gender politics, sexuality and government agenda in a world that could become all too real. Karr’s journey into publishing was a long one, and we caught up with the Indiana-native to talk about birthing a book, whether she’s working a feminist vibe, and why dystopia is so hot right now.

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

I’m a Hoosier, born and raised – but I turned sixteen in Chicago, my favorite city! I’ve been writing all my life – letters, poetry, essays, even a musical! – but it’s only been the past ten years or so that I really started wanting to write a novel. I’ve always been a voracious reader – loving imagination – eventually those ideas kicking around in my brain had to have some kind of outlet. Writing was it! I do not write full-time (I wish!) I have a nine to five job in human resources.

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

A synopsis of XVI, from my website: “In the year 2150, being a girl isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when your sixteenth (read sex-teenth) birthday is fast approaching. That in itself would be enough to make anyone more than a little nuts, what with the tattoo and all – but Nina Oberon’s life has taken a definite turn for the worse. Her mother is brutally stabbed and left for dead. Before dying, she entrusts a secret book to Nina, telling her to deliver it to Nina’s father. But, first Nina has to find him; since for fifteen years he’s been officially dead. Complications arise when she rescues Sal, a mysterious, and ultra hot guy. He seems to like Nina, but also seems to know more about her father than he’s letting on. Then there’s that murderous ex-government agent who’s stalking her, and just happens to be her little sister’s dad.”

The concept unfolded organically from the original mental image of Nina walking down a city street. XVI was conceived in the backseat of NaNoWriMo in the year 2005. National Novel Writing Month is in November, for the uninitiated. Notice the year – 2005. XVI went through several rewrites (although the basic story stayed the same.) There was the initial rewrite I did myself, then one with my critique partners. Then an agent (who eventually became my agent) asked for some rewrites. Then an editor (who eventually became my editor) asked for some rewrites. After signing the contract, there was the highly anticipated rewrite based on my editorial letter (only 6 pages or so of “I like this, but… can you add to/take away from/ tweak/give me more emotion – inner thoughts – action…”) And, then copy edits. Finally: a book!

Can you  talk a bit about the feminist angle of the book, especially in dealing with sex? Did this raise controversy at all? Was this a deliberate theme for you, given that you have daughters?

I didn’t write XVI as a feminist book. Some reviewers think it is – and there are a couple who think it isn’t – feminist, that is. It wasn’t a deliberate theme, either. I wrote it first as a story that was in my head. I’m sure that the kernel of the story that ended up being the main thrust of the book – that came about because of the disturbing trend I see in society that places more value on the way a girl looks rather than what she thinks and feels. And, how popular media is all-too-successfully forming our children into their consumeristic ideal – dress this way, own these items, eat these foods, go to these movies. Me thinks a wake-up call is in order, particularly for the women who – perhaps unwittingly – are behind the promotion of the early sexualization of girls. One only has to look as far as the recent French Vogue issue to see how “accepted” it is to make our sisters, daughters and granddaughters into little adults – with all the trappings and the poses. Uh… Epic Fail!

What do you think is causing the dystopia trend? Is it escapism? The bleak future reality?

I’m sure there are many factors playing into the rise of YA dystopia. The huge success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy can’t be diminished as a big boost to the trend. But we already had Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and, of course, high school is where kids are introduced to 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 The Handmaid’s Tale. So, if they’re doing their assigned reading, the pump of love for dystopia is already being primed. Plus, youth wants to change the world in which they live. They are always looking for a different (hopefully) better way than their parents’ way of living. This means looking at cautionary tales and attempting to change the trajectory so those tales don’t come to pass. (Let’s not discuss 1984 and the fact that Chicago has one of the highest levels of population surveillance in the world.)

JKarr Debut Author Interview: Julia Karr Talks About Her Girl Powered First Book XVIWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I get up around 5 a.m. Quick feed the cats and dog while I make a cup of tea. Then I stand at the kitchen counter and write three long-hand pages in my journal (Morning Pages for those of you who are familiar with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron). That done, I settle in for about an hour of novel-writing at my desk. Inspiration comes from writing. With limited writing time, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a muse to appear – I just have to write and then the inspiration comes.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

Like most writers, I’d imagine, my path has been full of twists and turns and unexplained events that turned out to be just what was needed at the time. I think the most surprising part was just how much waiting goes on – mega-waiting, then monolithic waiting, waiting of gargantuan proportions!!! And then – BAM!!! – whatever you were waiting for needs to be turned around immediately! Yep, that’s it – rather much like most parts of life, except on a grander scale!

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

To keep on writing and reading. I think that’s what I’d tell apiring writers, too. Read everything – good, bad and indifferent. It’s how you know what to emulate and what to avoid. Oh… and, if you happen to be an aspiring author who is reviewing books on Goodreads, Amazon, your own blog or anywhere – remember that snark that seems oh-so-clever right now, but it will probably come back to bite you in the butt if you ever get published. I’m just sayin’…

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

As a kid I was completely blotts for The Black Stallion books and Nancy Drew. As a teen, I was reading classics and at-the-time contemporary novels. Right now, I’m re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books and also Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

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

There’s the sequel to XVI… and many other books/ideas that need to be captured on paper.

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

I have two close critique partners that I share my work with. That works well for me on the writing front. I am part of The Elevensies, The League of Extraordinary Writers and The Class of 2K11 writing communities. They are invaluable as peers, shoulders to cry on, people to vent with, and people to celebrate with! The children’s writers’ community is the absolute BEST!!! Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been fun!

A Look Back at First Semester: Sona’s Finding Her Balance

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 30 - 2011

balance A Look Back at First Semester: Sona’s Finding Her Balance

My theme for first semester? Much too much. Much too much work, much too much reading, much too much paper-writing, much too much time spent chasing after my baby. Colds, the flu, Levithan-worthy paper-induced stupors. Panels and workshops and readings, oh my. Much too much of everything.

And much too little time spent writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved every minute of it.

But as I do for everything, I had big expectations for first semester. Over-blown, over-ambitious, lofty goals. That is just my way. Big dreams, always. And fire, sure. But this time, I think, maybe I took on more than even I, in my typically Type A way, could manage.

A baby, for starters. A beautiful, exciting, enthralling and exhausting experience. She’s so fun, but boy does she take up a lot of energy. The fix: as much as it pains me, Kavi’s going to daycare fulltime. I honestly need the few extra hours a day she’ll be there to actually write. And the time that I spend with her can really be Kavi time. At the New School, I have this once-in-lifetime opportunity to really focus on this goal, this phantom thing I’ve been hopin’ and dreamin’ about for years. It’s now or never. I better make the most of it.

Work. To make a good dent in my apparently crippling grad school debt as I go along, I decided to amp it up. I’m about two years into building my own writing business, and happily, things are going well. But feast or famine is the nature of this beast. And so last semester, I took on a lot — too much — because I could. It hurt. So now it’s time to refocus here on working smarter, being more strategic, and learning, despite the pinch, to sometimes say no.

School. It’s been so energizing and enthralling, getting to know my classmates and their work, being focused on the craft of writing, delving into the canon of teen fiction under the wise tutelage of none other than David Levithan himself. But boy, did first semester kick my ass. Granted, it needed kicking. Still, one thing I most wanted out of my time at the New School — and didn’t give myself — was the concentrated writing time. As my New Year’s Writing Resolutions state, that all changes this semester. I can’t wait.

An education. Sure, I already said school. But between being involved with Teen Writers Bloc and all the readings and events we’ve been going to, I feel like I’ve learned a profound amount already about the way “writing as a career” actually works. Libba Bray. Rachel Cohn. Scott Westerfeld. Alumni like Coe Booth and Jenny Han. New York City is teeming with teen authors who are all about sharing their insights and experiences. There’s a real sense of community amongst them (and amongst us, already!). It’s overwhelming. And it’s awesome. And I can’t wait to be a part of it all.
Image courtesy Pink Sherbet Photography/Flickr

New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Corey Plans to Be a Businesswoman

Posted by Corey Haydu On January - 9 - 2011

working girl New Year’s Writing Resolutions: Corey Plans to Be a BusinesswomanThis past year has been an especially productive one in terms of creative output, risk-taking, and pushing myself to write every day. I have been mostly successful — a huge amount of writing happened, and finished products are pending. I am days away from a completed first draft of my first YA novel, and am in the third revision of a very special debut novel that has been a challenge and a thrill.

Most days I wrote a minimum of 1,000 words.
I didn’t shy away from really big revisions.
I wrote about a community I actually had to research.
I made enormous, chapters-long cuts to help the books move.
I started a first attempt at a middle grade novel.

Now it’s time, in 2011, to address the other side of writing: The Business Side. With a lot of material under my belt, I need to start figuring out what to do with it. BUT also keep pushing through on my newer work! Here’s my to-do list:

-write a great query letter for my YA novel as well as my adult novel

-sign with an agent

-remember to research publishing imprints and be vigilant about doing further research on my favorite books and authors

-finish my middle grade novel (or you know, get a chunk more than ten pages long under my belt)

-keep reading middle grade work to get more familiar with the genre

-make time for my freelance/paid writing work, even if I don’t feel like it. A girl’s gotta eat!

Wish me luck!

Half-Brown or Half-Yellow, Will it Sell?

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On December - 13 - 2010

 Half Brown or Half Yellow, Will it Sell?  After reading an article about mixed race or biracial characters in children’s and teen fiction, it made me reconsider or rethink my own project. I am writing a middle grade historical steampunk novel with a biracial main protagonist. Questions swirled in my head: Why did I choose a biracial identity for the main character? What did I gain by doing that? Or what could my future gains be?

The author of the article was reviewing two picture books that profile biracial children, Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids and Spork. Kip Fulbeck’s Mixed book reminds me of a coffee table book full of pictures of happy biracial children. The second book, Kyo Maclear’s Spork, shows the offspring of a fork and a spoon and symbolizes an interracial union. These picture books made me think about multiracial or biracial teens and tweens in teen and middle grade fiction. Would my protagonist be lonesome? Or a perfect intersection of cultures to boost sales? Not too brown to impede sales?

There has been little press devoted to the fact that the main characters in Rick Riordian’s The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles) are, in fact, biracial. Sadie and Carter are the children of a dead white woman and a black Egyptologist father. Sadie looks white and has been living with her mother’s parents in London, only getting the opportunity to see her father and brother a couple times a year. Carter looks more like his father and lives with him, traveling all over the world. Their racial identity doesn’t inform the text or become a thematic element, but there is a scene where Carter’s father has a serious conversation with him about being African-American. Here is a snippet:

“Carter, you’re getting older. You’re an African American man. People will judge you more harshly, and so you must always look impeccable.”

“That’s not fair!” I insisted.

“Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same,” Dad said. “Fairness means everyone gets what they need. And the only way to get what you need is to make it happen yourself. “  (67)

Last month, at an event at New York City’s Books of Wonder featuring the National Book Award Nominees Walter Dean Myers, Rita Williams-Gracia, Katherine Erskine, and Paolo Bacigalupi, I polled the illustrious panel of authors with the following question: Do books with brown faces on them sell?

Rita Williams-Garcia and Walter Dean Myers both answered that it has been hard, but you must persevere and write the book in your heart. The owner of Books of Wonder, Peter Glassman, said that he has often found that white parents don’t buy books with brown faces on them for their kids — and that it is an unfortunate fact. Rita reminded the audience of the publishing hoopla caused by the cover of Justine Labarastier’s book Liar, and how the first cover featured a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl when the main protagonist was in fact a black female.

 Half Brown or Half Yellow, Will it Sell?  Paolo Bacigalupi commented that the main protagonist in his futuristic novel Shipbreaker is mixed race and based on his own child’s ethnicity. He said that his publishers didn’t put his face on the cover and that could say something, but that it is a fact often overlooked when the novel is reviewed. When reviewers neglect to mention the ethnic and/or racial identity of main characters in successful books, does it add to the feeling that biracial characters are invisible in the teen market? Are they doing the book a disservice, even if it isn’t central to the plot?

My historical steampunk novel would be complicated by the race relations of the late 1800s if I made my character full-blood African-American, so I chose to give myself some freedom by making her only half. Additionally, I think that it enhances the tension in the novel to have her be able to pass for white, but also be confronted with the racism her mother faces. The novel is not about race and it’s not a sub-plot or part of the thematic content of the novel. But it is mentioned to add another layer of isolation and tension to the main character’s journey and how she came about. I do worry about whether this decision will effect the book’s marketability and whether my main character’s biraciality will be swept under the rug in reviews and marketing. And sadly, I can’t help but wonder, is that for the best? Peter Glassman’s words haunt my subconscious.

Even though this book hasn’t been sold yet, I find myself already thinking about its racial implications. What is gained by making a character biracial? What is lost? Will my heroine still be considered a multicultural heroine? Will she speak to the child I was? Will all middle-grade girls find a connection with her?

Does anyone know of other middle grade and teen texts with biracial main characters where the novel is not about race? I’d love hear about them.

In the Land of Giants: The Books of Wonder Holiday Party

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On December - 10 - 2010

 In the Land of Giants: The Books of Wonder Holiday PartyLast Monday I got the opportunity to tag along with my good friend and published author J.A. Yang, writer of Exclusively Chloe, to Books of Wonder‘s private holiday party.

I can’t say enough fabulous things about this Chelsea bookstore. I often visit it when I hate writing my current project or am re-thinking my chosen career path as a writer. I wander the aisles, running my fingers over the colorful hardcover titles. I read all of the back-flap summaries of the entire middle grade row and eventually make my way to the back of the store to gawk into the rare children’s books case. Being surrounded by only children’s and teen books fills me with a magical feeling, like I’ve lifted off in a hot air balloon to an unknown destination.

Jon and I met at the party around 6:30 pm. I timidly followed him inside, unsure of what to expect. I am usually a social butterfly, diving in head first, ready to chat. But walking into this party was different. It buzzed with dozens of authors sipping wine, nibbling on snack foods, and talking about the current market. I nervously stared and wandered around bookshelves in awe. I spent most of the night awkwardly gazing at peoples’ bellies to get a look at their name tags. Then my mind frantically tried to connect authors’ names with their books. I secretly googled people on my iPhone to pin down their titles. These people were my celebrities. They were living the dream. The life I covet: a published, working author in the casual, cozy company of other authors.

 In the Land of Giants: The Books of Wonder Holiday PartyI stuffed carrots in my mouth and watched them drift by. Here were some of my sightings: Deborah Heiligman, whom I’d heard speak at Rutgers and was still in awe of from her inspiring kick-in-the-butt speech. Sheldon Fogelman of The Sheldon Fogelman Agency, whose clients are some of the top children’s book writers and illustrators, Jerry Pinkney, Mo Willems, Richard Peck, and Maurice Sendak, and not to forget my former Hollins University writing professor, Alexandria La Faye. Barry Lyga, author of one of my favorite books, The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl. Judy Blundell, National Book Award winner and an author who had just come to my Teen Lit class with David Levithan as part of his author panel. She remembered signing my book! Dave Horowitz, a prolific picture book author and artist that my four-year-old niece adores. He has titles such as Duck, Duck Moose and Five Little Gefiltes. Courtney Sheinmel, who was the Rutgers One-On-Obe mentor of our fabulous logo designer Lisa Amowitz and the author of a powerful books titled Positively, about an HIV-positive teen. And that’s just to name a few!

There were countless others, but I couldn’t get to them all before having to rush off to Monday workshop. Needless to say, attending these types of events boosts my morale and makes the dream of being a writer seem a tangible reality that is coming closer and closer. Maybe one day soon I’ll get to attend the Books of Wonder party again, but as a published author.

New York City MFA Students: We’re Not All Idiots

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 3 - 2010

kendra cover New York City MFA Students: We’re Not All IdiotsIt’s interesting that in the fallout of the expose on James Frey’s fiction factory in New York Magazine last month, New York City MFA students are the ones who come off looking like fools.

That is, at least according to MFA guru Seth Abramson, author of The Creative Writing MFA Handbook, who wrote all about why we’re apparently idiots for the Huffington Post last week.

“In seeking out young authors to exploit, Frey has done as much as anyone in the United States to reveal the seedy side of unfunded MFA programs,” Abramson writes. “Indeed, research done into MFA programs since 2006 reveals that Columbia University and The New School, Frey’s top targets for young, desperate literary artists, are distinctive in only two respects: (1) they host the two largest MFA cohorts in fiction in the United States; and (2) their fiction alumni are believed to have the highest graduate student loan burden of any MFA graduates anywhere.”

The case he’s making is that students at the New School and Columbia (and no doubt NYU, too, by default) are so desperate to earn their way out of their MFA debt that they’ll sign any old contract, panting breathlessly at the very thought of actually being published. Because apparently we’re that hopeless.

In reality, I think the students that did sign on for Frey’s dastardly deal are simply hedging their bets. Some percentage of a million dollar deal is a hard thing to turn down. Especially when advances these days are often pitifully low. But that’s a whole other conversation.

Really, I’d rather address Abramson’s allegation that New York City-area MFA students are idiots. As a graduate student in the MFA program in creative writing at the New School: A) I’m not going into crippling debt to pursue this. Yes, it’s an expensive endeavor, but I (and many of my classmates) do have some funding. We’re in New York City, the heart of the publishing industry and the known world. Of course it’s expensive, but so are many programs in other parts of the nation. B) I don’t have the the luxury of packing up my life and my family and moving to Iowa or Nebraska to pursue a funded degree. I work. I have a family. I have family in the area. I want to be in New York City. C) I truly believe you get what you pay for. And to me, this degree and the creative community that comes with it are worth it.

But also, having spent a semester in the program thus far, I also see that my classmates are far from being idiots for taking on this purportedly life-altering debt for a degree, as Abramson put it in another HuffPost blog, that is “at base, a non-professional, largely-unmarketable art-school degree that can’t get anyone a full-time teaching job (at least not in the absence of significant in-genre publications) and is not designed to ‘network’ graduates into magazine or book publications.”

In fact, I’d argue that the Writing for Children program at the New School is designed to be pretty much exactly the opposite of what Abramson presents. The class of 2012 consists of 12 students, a small cohort that’s designed to create a close-knit writers’ community. (Hence this blog.) It’s one of fewer than a dozen programs in the nation with a writing for children concentration, so the odds are, it’s building up the next strong group of instructors in this very specialized field (and with YA markets booming, the need for instructors with expertise in this arena is no doubt growing). Its focus is on creativity and the canon, so we know all about where we’re going — and where we’re coming from. It’s a diverse, intelligent, creative group of writers who no doubt represent the future of publishing in this arena.

And even more significantly, the networking element is crucial and a key component of the way this program is built. Case in point: David Levithan. A force to be reckoned with in the children’s publishing industry, and a best-selling writer himself, Levithan hasn’t simply put his name on the program. He’s an integral part of it. For one thing, he teaches every year, unlike some of the brand name authors that serve as MFA ambassadors throughout the nation, pulling students into their fold only to depart on book tours or sabbaticals, rather than teach. And it’s an education only he could provide, given his multiple roles in the field and his careful, articulate examination of it. He also advises students, and even publishes some of them.

Secondly, David and the other instructors in the program — all of whom are working writers and/or editors — play up the networking aspect. Just this past week, David brought in a cadre of eight working writers to class to “talk shop,” as it were. Among these were best-selling YA goddess and Printz winner Libba Bray and National Book Award winner Judy Blundell. We got to ask them questions about their process, craft, publishing, the highs and lows of life as a writer.

Thirdly, given our locale in downtown Manhattan, we’re at the heart and the pulse of publishing every day. Another major part of our program — for all genres — is the writers’ colloquium, which mandates that we attend a minimum of eight author events and readings throughout the semester, either sponsored by the school (which offers a great line-up each year) or within the city. Of course, most students attend far more than eight, considering that New York boasts such readings and events on a daily basis with major names in publishing. One of the first such events I attended as a student was Salman Rushdie introducing new writer Tishani Doshi at the Brooklyn Book Festival, which was absolutely free. Another great one was one of David’s NYC Teen Author readings, featuring David and his Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares co-writer Rachel Cohn and YA icon Scott Westerfeld, amongst other teen lit all-stars.

And last, but certainly not least, are the alumni, who continue to support the program that brought them right into the heart of publishing. Next week, author and New School alum Coe Booth will be teaching our class — and teaching her books, Tyrell and Kendra (both published by David Levithan at his Scholastic imprint Push). She graduated from the New School in 2005, along with fellow published writers Jenny Han, Lisa Graff, Lisa Greenwald, Siobhan Vivian, Daphne Grab, Kathryne Alfred, and Caroline Hickey. (That’s right, the Longstockings.)Given the short history of the writing for children program, an astonishing number of its graduates are published and publishing. Not bad for a throwaway degree, huh?

Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake Trilogy

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On November - 29 - 2010

 Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake TrilogyAs a child I longed to see people like me in the fantasy books I treasured, doing fantastical things and going on magical adventures. So I was thrilled when, as I was working on a forthcoming three-part blog series titled, “Do Brown Kids Go to Outer Space? A Search for Multicultural Kids in Fantasy and Science-Fiction,” I came across author Wendy Raven McNair and her fantasy trilogy featuring African-American protagonists. I immediately went to her website and found out all I could about the author and her books, Awake and Asleep. I downloaded her book and poured over her world of African-American super-beings.

I caught up with Wendy to chat about self-publishing, ethnicity in books and what inspired her to write.

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

I grew up in the projects of Houston, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, an accomplishment I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I never travelled outside of Texas until I was an adult, and since then I’ve lived in Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts, and now reside in Georgia. Before I became a writer, I held many different positions: assistant teacher, manufacturing plant line technician, quality lab rep, office assistant, restaurant hostess, and bank teller just to name a few. My newborn daughter inspired me to pursue being a writer because I wanted to teach her by example to go after her dreams. Now, I’ve discovered that my life experiences are great resource material for my stories.

Can you tell us a bit about ASLEEP and AWAKE? How did you come up with the concept for the series?

Asleep is book one of a fantasy trilogy. Adisa Summers doesn’t know her boyfriend, Micah Alexander, can fly. In this opening story Adisa is introduced to the secret world of super beings as she’s falling in love with Micah, so it’s pretty intense right up to the very end.

Awake is book two of the trilogy. Adisa and Micah race against time to find a cure for Micah. When Adisa reconnects with the birth parents who abandoned her in a cotton field when she was only three, the shocking results threaten Micah and Adisa’s relationship, sanity, and even their lives.

My teen daughter inspired this trilogy. She loves fantasy stories, but my challenge was finding an age appropriate fantasy story with a lead character that reflected her, a teen and an African American girl. So I started the story knowing who the lead character would be. My initial fantasy idea was a superhero defender of the environment (my teen was learning about environmental issues), however the story was going nowhere. I did like the “superhero” idea, which evolved into super beings in the final story.

What’s your writing process? Where does your inspiration come from?

I’m a daydreamer, I always have been, so my writing process is simple. I daydream about my characters and write down what happens. I actually spend more time marketing, networking, and planning for or participating in literary events which all take away from my writing time and make up my typical day. For example, I’m taking time for this interview instead of writing, which is a great opportunity taking up some of my writing time. My ongoing struggle is to find balance between writing and all the other duties I perform as a self-published author. Usually I have to clear my calendar and just dedicate the whole day to writing.

What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

One thing it hasn’t been is boring! One surprising part has been the generosity of readers who are supportive and encouraging. Queries for my first published novel, Giant Slayers, received nothing but rejections. So I was thrilled to receive some positive agent responses to Asleep. But I decided to self publish since there are so many great alternatives available and reader response has been tremendous. However, I don’t have the money or resources a traditional publisher would provide, so I have to be a jack of all trades. It can be exhausting, but I get to do something I love, tell stories, so that keeps me motivated along with the positive feedback from readers.

 Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake TrilogyWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Keep writing! That’s the best advice I’ve ever been given. My advice to aspiring authors is to not give up. Exciting things are happening in the literary world that are giving authors more avenues to getting their work out to the public. The traditional publishing route can be very discouraging to aspiring writers but now print on demand and e-books are allowing these writers alternate routes to realizing their dream of getting their stories out to the public.

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

One of my favorites was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I’m currently reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, the sequel to Parable of the Sower. Both authors are phenomenal writers and insightful storytellers.

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

I’m currently working on a media project related to the trilogy that I hope to have up in 2011. Readers can keep updated through my website and blog. I’m also working on Ascend, the final book of the trilogy. After that, I may write a trilogy from Micah’s perspective. By telling this story through Adisa, much of Micah’s story is left untold, so exploring his side of things would be very revealing and a completely different story from Adisa’s version. So I believe it would hold many surprising revelations for readers. I’ll also be touring to promote the books.

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

Ideally, yes, I believe a writing community could be very beneficial. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that fits into how I work so I haven’t had the opportunity to experience it while writing my novels.

Thank you so much to Wendy Raven McNair for swinging by TeenWritersBloc.com to chat. Check out her website and books. They’d make great stocking stuffers!

pixel Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake Trilogy
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