Teen Writers Bloc

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

Jean Paul Notebooks 600x506 Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Reflections on Her First Year in an MFA

Reading everyone else’s thoughts on getting an MFA, I thought about why I am in the program at all. Because, you see, I made a giant mistake when I applied to The New School.

The mistake began years before I even thought about getting an MFA, before I even thought about being a writer. It began in the summer before I entered the tenth grade, when I wrote a story in a green notebook and then promptly threw it away. That green notebook contained the first story I had ever written and without even finishing it, I was convinced the story was no good. So I got rid of it.

Fast forward a few years to when I dropped in and out of three colleges, sometimes simultaneously attending one while in the midst of failing classes at another, as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I thought about being a linguist, a teacher, a paralegal, a museum curator, a librarian, studying medieval history, owning a bookstore, basically anything except writing. But I never forgot about the story in that green notebook and when a friend suggested I write something instead of picking apart the bad writing in a book I had just read, I did it. And when I shared the story with my friend, I was amazed that she liked it, and everyone she showed it to liked it. That’s when I revisited that old story, and even though I had forgotten most of the details, I decided to finally finish it.

Over the course of six months, I stayed up until four and five in the morning, writing because I couldn’t sleep at night. My brain raced with new ideas and I would lie awake in bed, begging my mind to shut down so I could sleep but also excited about all of the scenes I couldn’t wait to write. So I would crawl out of bed and write until the sun came up.

Eventually I finished the book and after sharing it with a few friends, I put it away because I felt it just wasn’t good enough to be published. And I continued on with my life, but by then I had decided to finish college with a degree in English and Creative Writing. In my writing classes, I focused on literary fiction, or adult writing as I call it, because no one in my classes read or wrote YA novels and I didn’t feel comfortable submitting anything that wasn’t adult-orientated. So my YA novels and ideas were put on the back burner as I concentrated on my adult stories even though I didn’t much care about them. I just wanted to write and be around writers.

When it came time to apply for an MFA program, I picked The New School because of the writing for children concentration. I thought it would be great to work on fiction and writing for children but I only applied to the fiction program. I looked at the YA novel I had written and the other YA ideas I had started but never finished, felt none of them were ready, and prepared my fiction submission.

My first semester in the fiction MFA program left me feeling lost. I didn’t care about what I submitted, and dreaded my second year and all of the expectations that came with it. What would I write about during my thesis semester? What would I read at the final student readings? None of the my adult stories were special enough for me to want to keep revising or showcase them and I had no new ideas.

But I had tons of YA stuff I could write and polish. In my second semester, I took a writing for children seminar and I finally felt like I belonged. Here were people who took children’s books seriously, who didn’t treat genre like the plague, and I finally had the chance to share some of my YA ideas and characters with people who could understand where I was coming from and why these characters and their stories mattered to me.

As the semester ended and it came time to choose classes for the next year, a sinking feeling settled into my stomach and I realized what I had done to myself. By not applying to the writing for children program, I had once again thrown away my green notebook. I knew I had made a giant mistake that would haunt me for years, just like the story I had been too scared to finish writing, and I knew I needed to make a change. I finally realized why I didn’t apply to the writing for children program: because writing for children is what matters to me. Fiction was easy; I almost didn’t care if one of my adult stories was rejected. But to put my YA novel out there frightened me. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone saying my YA novel wasn’t good enough and so I didn’t give anyone that chance.

Once I admitted the real reason why I didn’t apply to the writing for children program, I did everything I could to get myself in there. I talked with the program director and began meeting up with my writing for children classmates so that we could start our own workshops and attend writing for children events together. And I sent out the first few chapters of the novel I wrote based on the first story I had ever written in that green notebook for my classmates’ critiques.

I had almost given up on the MFA program because I was getting my degree for all of the wrong reasons. I still struggle with having confidence in myself and my writing, but I know I am getting better, better at writing and better at staying true to myself. And I owe it to the green notebook. Even though I threw it away all those years ago, the memories of writing my first story in there have never left my mind. I used to be embarrassed at my teenage attempt at writing, but now I look back with fondness and inspiration. It is because of those memories that I feel at home in the writing for children MFA program and am glad that I fixed my giant mistake.

Guest blogger 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 MFA in fiction and writing for children at The New School.  If she could finish her memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, before graduation, then she would be quite satisfied with herself. 

Photo Credit: Jean-Paul

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

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 21 - 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Onto the NO portion of this conversation.

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

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

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

Failure #1: Lack of Choice!

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

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

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

Failure #2: Lack of a picture book class!

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

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

Failure #3: Out of touch professors.

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

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

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

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

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

Female Writers from the Past and the Present That Inspire Dhonielle

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On March - 26 - 2012

womens history collage 1 Female Writers from the Past and the Present That Inspire DhonielleI love the months of February and March because I get to celebrate being brown in February and then celebrate being a woman in March. Two pats on the back in two months is great for me! For Women’s History Month, we at Teen Writers Bloc think it’s important to profile successful and revolutionary female authors of the past and present. Our fellow TWB member Caela Carter pointed out that the publishing market, and more specifically, The New York Times Best Seller list, is overflowing with men. So I love any and all opportunities to give women writers a shout-out!

A throwback lady: Virginia Hamilton

This prolific woman gave me stories as a child that featured people who look like me and had the same cultural sensibilities. As a child reader, I read everything and anything. But when I got a book by Virginia Hamilton, I can remember savoring every detail of it, and re-reading the book over and over again until I went with my dad to the bookstore the next week. Sometimes when I re-read her now as an adult, I can feel a little of the same childhood magic. Particularly, when I read The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, I feel entranced by the stories as if I’m still the little pig-tailed girl stretched out underneath my grandmother’s dining-room table with the book.

I wish she were still alive and could eventually read my stories. I wish that she could see the influence she’s had on my writing. Alas, we lost a great one!

A lady I’ve got my eye on: Kekla Magoon

I’ve seen Kekla Magoon read at a couple of events, even ran into her at ALA last year. I’ve read two of her novels, The Rock and the River and Camo Girl. I am very impressed with the way she tells a story, the depth of her prose, and the topics of her books. I am excited to see more from her in the future, and to buy her latest title 37 Things I Love (in no particular order). And I believe if Virginia Hamilton were still around to read her books, she’d be proud as well.

Photo Credit: http://wwww.nierocks.areavoices.com

Mermaid Jolante Flickr Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Investigates The Lure (and Lore) of the SeaThe year 2011 was hyped by many as the year mermaids would dethrone vampires as the reigning monarchy of YA paranormal fiction. USA Today proclaimed mermaids were going to be the next big thing and even mentioned the vampire queen herself, Stephenie Meyer, was working on her own spin of the mermaid genre.

So, where are all the mermaids? While there was a school of mermaid YA titles published in 2011 and a small herd swimming to bookstores in 2012, I have yet to see the genre live up to the hype. Publishers seem to be focusing their attentions on the tried and true, vampires, ghosts, and angels, when it comes to paranormal YA fiction.  A quick look at Barnes & Noble’s list of the top selling paranormal YA novels reveals that vampires still dominate. In fact, I was unable to find a single mermaid novel on the entire list. Over in fantasy, dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and tales involving the supernatural or high fantasy such as Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series are the bestsellers, with mermaids nowhere to be found.

Are readers not ready to give up their beloved vampires? Or is the market just not delivering the goods? There are plenty of readers who love a good mermaid tail* (the year 2011 saw the introduction of a magazine and convention devoted to mermaids), but it’s still a small niche. Perhaps publishing houses are finding it difficult to widen the appeal of mermaids or maybe YA readers just aren’t that into tales from the sea.

While I would welcome a change from the blood suckers that currently rule the YA roost, I’m not convinced mermaids are what’s next. To me, mermaids seem a little too fantastical for today’s YA readers. Maybe when the Disney-fied mental image most YA readers probably conjure up at the mention of mermaids loses its impact, readers will be able to take the genre more seriously. Vampires have had centuries to develop their cool, from Bram Stoker’s iconic Count Dracula to Anne Rice’s genre-busting Interview With A Vampire.  So, until then, I can’t agree that mermaids are the new vampire, but they are definitely washing up on shore**** more often. In an interview with Susan Marston of the Junior Library Guild, she mentions that novels featuring half-mermaids will be a popular trend for 2012. And a half-mermaid is nothing to shake your trident at, right?

*Pun very much intended. I’ll try to scale** back on punning from now on.

**Get it? Alright, alright. Starting now, I promise: fin*** to bad puns.

*** Okay, starting now.

**** Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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 — Jolante

Sona’s Thesis Semester Action Plan

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 31 - 2012

newyearprocrastinate 600x312 Sonas Thesis Semester Action Plan

So remember that head start on my thesis I mentioned last month? Well, that’s long gone. In fact, I waited until today, the last day of January, to post this because I was hoping that somehow I would manage to salvage some of this month and actually have good news to report on the writing front.

Sadly, I don’t. Yes, I’ve been doing some work here and there on both my light fantasy YA and my thesis project. But things aren’t going nearly as smoothly as I hoped they would. Dhonielle suggests this might have something to do with the fact that, since we got back from our two-week break in Hawaii, I’ve had no semblance of a routine at all. And me thinks she’s right. I need routine. I crave routine. And back when I was full-time on staff, some five years ago, I used to have it. I’d work for about a zillion hours, then veg out in front of the TV for a few, then sit down with my sister and put a good dent into a screenplay. Having a partner really helped me — if one of us was feeling lazy, the other would enforce the rule that we had to push through. We had a mutual goal we were working toward, and we needed to get there, plain and simple.

Working solo is much harder for me. I’m my own boss — yay — but that means that I have to start taking myself and the deadlines I create seriously. I have to create a routine again, the way I did before. Yes, I have a lot on my plate, with school, work, writing and family, but I’ve managed before. I need to manage again. And the clock is ticking. The deadline is real and looming — I have to get my thesis project moving and turn pages into my peer group and my awesome thesis advisor, who’s already given me a gentle nudge. It’s time to buckle down and get things done.

My action plan:

-Have an attainable minimum: this means two solid hours of writing time, at least three days a week. My goal for each session will be 1000 words, which I know is a doable number.

-Get out of the house: This strategy has also been helpful to me in the past. I know that if I go somewhere — a cafe, the school lounge, the bookstore — to sit and write, I will do it. I will not work on freelance pitches, watch a Switched At Birth marathon, or pick up John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars just to read one more chapter. I will work. I will get pages out. This is especially effective when I meet up with a fellow writer, again, because  misery loves company. I mean, because then we motivate each other.

-Set and Meet Regular Deadlines: Thankfully, I’ve already got some in place, because I’ve got weekly meetings with both my thesis peer group and our newly reformed critique group, which meets on Thursdays. This means I have deadlines built in to every week, and deadlines are what motivate me to write. After all, there’s nothing more humiliating for a writer than not turning in promised pages.

-Take Myself Seriosuly: Like I said, I’m my own boss. And if it were anyone else, I would have fired them already. (I can be tough, for sure. Just ask some of my former employees.) I’m too easy on myself, and I need to stop. We’re all tired. We all have colds. People manage work and kids every day. Enough excuses. It’s time to get shit done.

What’s your writing action plan this year?

Comic courtesy Inkygirl.com

Amy’s Plan for Next Semester!

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 29 - 2011

Blank page intentionally end of book 600x410 Amys Plan for Next Semester!Wait, it’s our last semester? Already? How did that happen?

My plans for my thesis semester are simple—finish my current work-in-progress. With one book done and in the midst of the querying process (a process that combines all the pain of a root canal with the humiliation of being dumped over and over again), I am determined to stay focused on this new character as she finds her way in a strange, isolated city. There’s nothing to keep my mind occupied like building a new world, and I am lucky to have a wonderful peer group (Jess, Caela, Mary, and Riddhi) there to help me nail down the rules and keep me in line if (and when) I break them. I’m also excited to work with my thesis advisor, the amazing Jill Santopolo, who loves fantasy as much as I do and will undoubtedly guide me through the writing of a new book with very capable hands.

Will it be difficult? Of course. Will there be tears? More than likely. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after three semesters, it’s that writing is something I just can’t live without.

For Thesis Semester, Sona’s Got a Head Start

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On December - 21 - 2011

Blank page intentionally end of book 300x205 For Thesis Semester, Sonas Got a Head StartOkay, I’ll admit it. I’m not great at finishing books. This isn’t a universal thing — I’ve finished screenplays, I’ve finished short stories, I’ve finished countless articles for magazines and websites and blog posts by the hundreds. But a novel? I just can’t seem to finish one. (Yes, that means I still have about 5000 words to go on that work-in-progress I’ve been referencing for the last year-and-a-half.)

Here’s the thing, though: I’m great at starting novels. It’s the part of the process I love — like a new romance, all fresh and new and butterfly-inducing. I love brainstorming the characters and their dilemmas. I love working and reworking the plot until it makes sense. I love figuring out what my story is really about. And I’ll admit it, I even love outlining. All told, I probably have five solid ideas for novels in various stages of development right now.

That’s the problem. Every time I get into the thick of one of my works-in-progress — the sticky middle, where everything is vague and muddled and the word count isn’t rising the way I hoped and the character has written herself into a corner — I turn to something else instead. Because it’s so much easier to be at the beginning than work something out to the end, even with an outline.

That’s what happened this semester. I have two works-in-progress that were largely abandoned (and both more than half-way complete) in favor of the latest, the one I’ll work on for my thesis. This new project has long been stewing, so it’s coming out in short bursts — and not in my usual form of beginning, middle and end. This is weird for me. But it’s ambitious — following three first-person narrators over the course of two decades — so I think I’m just trying to work the characters out before diving in. In my head, I do have a structure in place. I just have yet to start following it. Still, I’m about 30 pages in, and I think the experimentation has been necessary. And so taking the time this semester to figure things out has been really helpful. It’s really given me a head start in making a good dent in this novel during my thesis semester.  Yay for that!

But next semester, I won’t be solely focused on that. I’ll work on it for my thesis group, and use the newly-revived Monday group to really finish those other languishing projects. Because my main goal during my time at the New School has been to show myself that yes, I do have a novel in me, from start to finish.

Photo by: Wilfrid J. Harrington

For Jane, The Outline Is the Key to Finishing Her Thesis

Posted by Jane Moon On December - 20 - 2011

yes1 300x200 For Jane, The Outline Is the Key to Finishing Her ThesisIt’s our third and final semester of taking actual classes at the New School’s MFA program in Writing for Children. I’m really going to miss seeing all the other TWBers for Tuesday workshops. Other students have told me that they’ve heard our group is a close-knit one and they’re right. Over the past year and a half, I was amazed and grateful that so many different personalities found a way to get along so well.

When I started the program, my first story was a middle grade fantasy about monsters under the bed. Then I got stuck and decided to do a YA novel about bullying. That didn’t get very far. In my second semester, I went back to the monsters, but I only got as far as having my characters run into the monsters. I didn’t know how to save them. So as of now, they’re still stuck under the bed and I don’t know when they’ll come out.

For my third semester, I began another middle grade story about a girl who’s learning how to deal with her parents’ separation. I even made up what I thought was a great outline for the story — something I didn’t do for my previous works-in-progress. I started running out of steam on this one, too, and I discovered the outline I created wasn’t exactly helping me. So I called on the help of fellow TWBer, Dhonielle Clayton. I picked her brain about her outlining methods and I got some great tips. I was ready to start on yet another new story. This one takes place in the future and involves memory and transplants. Thanks to Dhonielle, I have my story set up and ready to go.

As we head into our thesis and final semester, I’m looking forward to finishing this latest project. I know what my character wants, I have a plot, and I have a story arc. Most importantly, I have the drive to finish this one. I’m definitely going to miss our Tuesday workshop classes, but working on my thesis will definitely occupy that empty time slot.

Image courtesy of Fotolia

Debut Author Interview: New School Grad Anne Heltzel

Posted by Caela Carter On August - 29 - 2011

 Debut Author Interview: New School Grad Anne HeltzelOne boring day in the library, I was searching Amazon for books with debut authors coming out in 2011 and I came across the name Anne Heltzel. Huh, I thought, that sound familiar. Upon further inspection I discovered that this debut author was not only a graduate of our fantastic program at New School, but also attended my alma matre, The University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!). It dawned on me that I had actually met Anne Heltzel at ND (through my musical-comedy writing brother, Danny Carter) long before any of us were writers. I caught up with Anne to congratulate her on Circle Nine which is debuting in September, and to catch up with her on life post-ND and post-New School.

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember, but I always assumed it was unattainable as a career. I’ve always been passionate about books (and in particular, what books do for kids). I wrote for myself, in local contests, and later for undergrad electives. I did it because it brought me all kinds of enjoyment, but there are so many things that seem impossible when you grow up in a small Midwestern community. (Namely: creative/impractical careers.) I imagine it would have been different had I grown up in New York and been exposed to professional writers on a regular basis as a kid. (Not better, just different.)

 Debut Author Interview: New School Grad Anne HeltzelI didn’t really do anything much post-college before “officially” becoming a writer. Once I decided to work toward my MFA, there was never a moment when becoming a published author was not the final goal. But I did random filler things to make money while in grad school. I had a bizarre experience working for a fitness company (where I was lawsuit-worthy harassed, by a Brazilian jiu jitsu master). I babysat every day after work for two years for a family I am still close to. (They now live in Paris, and I’m visiting them in the fall!). I was an assistant to a literary agent; I was an editorial assistant; I tutored algebra and geometry and writing on the weekends; and I moved to India for a year to travel and write. I also sold old clothes at Beacon’s Closet or on eBay when short of cash, and I came frighteningly close to nude modeling for a painter and, on a separate occasion, a photographer. (In the end I just couldn’t do it. I mean, I was trying to write children’s books, for God’s sake.) Right now, I’m working as an Associate Editor at Penguin.

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

Circle Nine is the story of Abby, a girl who loses her entire identity following a traumatic incident. She wakes up near a burning building next to Sam, a guy who says he knows who she is. She trusts him because she has no memories and therefore no choice. They have an intense romantic relationship that, to Abby, seems perfect…until memories of her past slowly begin seeping through the façade of the life she and Sam have built. Then she realizes that the things she thought were perfect have a sort of sinister underbelly. She has to figure out who she is and who Sam is and make some difficult choices about moving forward.

This book was so weird to write. It started as a story about a girl who meets a guitar-playing guy in the subway, and she gets off at his stop and realizes he’s from a totally different world. Aside from the obvious (though not purposeful) Harry Potter-rip-off aspect, it sounds way better than Circle Nine, right? Anyway, I kept writing it and writing it and it just didn’t feel right. Then this random voice popped into my head in the form of a sentence, so I wrote it down. That was the voice that felt right, so I scrapped 100+ pages and started over. Once I had the voice, I wrote the story in two months. I dreamed about it all the time. I was in a very difficult emotional place, and I think that’s where the darkness that permeates the book came from. So then I gave it to my agent (Adams Literary, whom I’d signed based on a different project) just before Christmas in 2009. Josh called me just after Christmas to tell me he’d stayed up all night reading the book, and he took it on submission right away. It sold a couple of weeks later in early 2010 to Hilary van Dusen at Candlewick. The book is coming out in September, so it actually sold a full 20 months prior to publication.

We notice that a lot of the reviews call Circle Nine a “psychological thriller.” Do you agree with this categorization? Did you realize that’s what you were writing while you were writing it?

Yes, I guess it’s a psychological thriller. (Heavy on the psychological, light on the thriller) No, I had no idea what I was writing. I just went with it. The voice had me so tight in its clutches that (this is going to sound insane and melodramatic, sorry!) it felt like Abby was telling me the story and I was just transcribing. It was the weirdest writing experience I’ve ever had, and it has not happened to me again since, alas!

What’s your writing process?

When I was writing full-time, my typical day looked like this:
-Wake up obscenely late. (Say 10 or 11.) Make coffee. Make eggs! Or maybe go to the bakery for a muffin. Read the news. Answer emails (if by some miracle my unreliable Indian internet was working). Dawdle. Open Word Doc. Stare at previous day’s writing. Write furiously for an hour or five, depending on level of inspiration. (Write 5 pages minimum, sometimes up to 20.) Go to gym? Or maybe just watch movie. Read book. Make dinner. Die of boredom. Even though I was in India, I lacked a community of fellow writers (at least for the first six months or so), and I felt lonely and claustrophobic. It was difficult. Amazing, but difficult.

Now I’m working full-time, so writing is relegated to the occasional weekday morning (at Café Regular across the street from my Brooklyn apartment) or weekend afternoon/evening. But I have writer-friends to hang out with, so writing has become a community-oriented experience for me. I usually write in cafes or bars in Brooklyn – anywhere out of the apartment! My inspiration can come from anywhere – any weird detail I notice during the day (like a burned-out jeep I noticed on the street, or a quirky exchange I had with my barista). I use basically anything that moves me emotionally, EXCEPT my personal relationships. Those are sacred, and I never want the people who are close to me to feel exploited. Okay, I broke that rule maybe once in Circle Nine. But never again. And I’m not telling you where.

What has your path to publication been like?

It’s been long and ever-intriguing! I suppose the most surprising part has been dealing with the public aspects of this private craft. Writing is so personal – and then there’s your manuscript in the world, for anyone to comment on. So far, people’s reactions (good and bad) have been much stronger than I anticipated. In terms of The New School: some faculty members were particularly supportive when I was a student there. Tor Seidler was emotionally supportive, because he seemed to believe in my talent. And David Levithan was the first to suggest, via my agent, that I try a YA voice — up to that point I’d been focusing on MG — and that paid off in a big way.

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

I once read or heard somewhere that 80% of getting published is finishing the manuscript. I think there’s a lot of other stuff that goes into it, but knowing that a large part of writing is sheer work – and that you just have to sit down and do it, much like any other difficult task – has been somehow comforting.

My advice: care about your novel. If you’re emotionally attached to your subject matter, it will automatically seem more authentic and powerful.

206452 194729600564419 190479587656087 434039 7339124 n 200x300 Debut Author Interview: New School Grad Anne HeltzelWhat was your favorite book when you were a teenager? What are you reading now?

When I was a teenager, I was in love with This Side of Paradise by Fitzgerald. When I was extremely young, I loved Little Brother and Little Sister by The Brothers Grimm. Now I like to skip around. I’m reading Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. (So far so good! The writing is beautiful.) And I’ve been flipping through Nine Stories (Salinger) and some other short story collections while I’m on the train. I have a lot of reading to do for work, so personal reading is a rare and treasured experience.

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

I’m writing a dark, grounded YA for Candlewick, and I have a thriller signed up with Penguin under a pseudonym. They’ll both be out in 2013. I think I might like to give fantastical Middle Grade another try after that. Otherwise, who knows? As long as my writing and my relationships continue to grow, I am not averse to adventure and change. Maybe more travel! I just want to live a good story. =)

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

I do believe in the wonders of being a part of a supportive writing community. I don’t personally belong to any writing groups, mostly because of my day job – I read and critique manuscripts all day long, and I’m not sure I could take on any extra editorial-esque endeavors right now. Plus, I’m private and don’t like many people to read my writing prior to completion of a semi-respectable draft. But I do have one friend whom I exchange with on occasion, and I frequently write in close proximity to a bunch of amazing, Brooklyn-based writers (many of whom I met through the editing world). Going through the process with a bunch of other like-minded people helps a lot. And then when the successes (and setbacks) come around, it’s great to have people in your life who really get it.

Thanks so much for stopping by TWB, Anne! Readers: be on the lookout for anneheltzel.com coming soon!

Amy Finishes Her Novel and Starts the Query Process

Posted by Amy Ewing On August - 12 - 2011

sb10069767o 0014 300x245 Amy Finishes Her Novel and Starts the Query ProcessI feel a great sense of accomplishment mixed with panic. I’ve completed my YA fantasy novel, and now, this is the time when all the hard work is tested — when the waiting game begins. I am starting the agent query part of the writing journey.

Being ignored, rejected, and criticized is all part of the querying process, and, let’s be honest, it’s not a particularly fun prospect. But I am proud of what I’ve achieved this summer. My biggest fear was not actually finishing this book and querying, it was the dreaded question of what will I write next?

True, this book is part of a larger story, but I needed to write something different. And there is no point in writing a second book if no one reads the first. But I had lived with this girl, with my protagonist, for so long, that it felt strange to think of being in someone else’s head.

But thanks to a few choice in-class writing assignments from Susan Van Metre’s seminar class, I had one spunky character and one creepy scene to get my imagination started. Now I have not one, but two new story ideas to work on this fall, and let’s face it, I’m going to need them. Because if there’s one thing that is sure to distract me from the hard realities of life, it’s getting lost in a really good story.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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