Teen Writers Bloc

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

Life After the MFA: Caela Hopes Nothing Changes

Posted by Caela Carter On June - 25 - 2012

 Life After the MFA: Caela Hopes Nothing ChangesWhen I was graduating from undergrad (Notre Dame–Go Irish!), I went kicking and screaming. I did not want those four years to end. My roommate and I used to joke about burying our bodies in the quad with our heads sticking out into the landscape so it would be impossible to make us go.

Alas, I graduated. Then I left. Then I started teaching and I got a real big-person life, and it turns out I was completely right about everything. Life was fine, but it just wasn’t as magical as being in school, studying what I wanted, living with all of my friends.

But I have to say, my time at The New School took on some of that magic. For two years, I dedicated myself to writing and met a whole new set of writerly-friends.

And this time, now that we’ve graduated, I’m determined to stay buried in the quad. I really want nothing to change. And, for the past month, so far so good. I’m still meeting with my thesis group. Still checking in with everyone about their writing. Still sharing my WIP and getting priceless critiques. And, this is very important: no one has left.

People tell me that in the year to come, some things are bound to change. For one, along with several of my fellow TWBers, I’m going from private writer in a magic-MFA-land to published author on bookshelves everywhere. So that might change some things.  Plus, I’m quitting my day-job, getting married, and possibly getting a dog.

All of that might be true, but I won’t let it ruin the magic. I’m not going to be a normal big-person. It just didn’t agree with me.  My mind will remain galloping in teenage-dom, my heart bathing in words, my brain learning everything there is to know about kids lit and writing. I might have graduated, but I don’t ever plan on being out-of-school.

Judy Blume Taught Corey Everything She Knows

Posted by Corey Haydu On March - 13 - 2012

6788776 L Judy Blume Taught Corey Everything She Knows

Some girls learn about the desire to kiss a boy after they see a cute one in a movie or a band or a TV show or a magazine. (Am I dating myself if I give a brief shout out to JTT in Tiger Beat?) Some girls ask their parents about their new feelings, or talk to their friends, or discover the particular chest-fluttering rush of knowledge that there is something secret and delicious about a boy’s hands on your hips and face next to yours when they are in Sex Ed or playing Truth or Dare or watching Zack kiss Kelly in one of Saved by the Bell‘s racier episodes.

But for me, it was Judy Blume.

For me, in particular, it was Deenie.

There is a scene in that still sticks with me in the vague and fuzzy way a dream would. I believe Deenie and a boy kiss and touch in the school hallway, and I believe it is at that exact moment that I realized I wanted to kiss a boy. Maybe not that day, but someday soon.

Judy Blume is the definition of a groundbreaking female author. Not only were her books unbelievably popular and long-lasting in their popularity. They were also just great. Lively, honest, fun and wise. Her writing about that moment where a girl turns from a child to an adolescent is unmatched. Those books aren’t just stories, they are reference points for my friends and I, they are bibles, they are instruction manuals, they are self-help books, they are the assurance that what you are feeling is normal, they are the bit of danger that comes from learning something new about your own impending adulthood.

And they are sweet.

Deenie has all the necessary pain and angst and confusion, but with it is Blume’s special knack for loveliness and innocence. Her books promise that discovery, sexuality, and growing up will be confusing and thrilling and dangerous and maddening and heartbreaking. But they also promise that growing up will be beautiful and small and nice. Judy Blume didn’t lie to us. She didn’t tell us it would be perfect. She admitted that sometimes it would suck. But she didn’t want to scare us either. It wouldn’t always be pretty. But sometimes, maybe even often, it would be.

Photo courtesy Bradbury Press, 1973

Mary Salutes Anne McCaffrey

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On March - 5 - 2012

AnneMcCaffrey Dragonflight 204x300 Mary Salutes Anne McCaffreyWhen I heard that this month’s assignment was to write about our favorite groundbreaking female author, I knew I had to write about Anne McCaffrey, the fantasy pioneer who paved the way for so many of the rest of us female authors. Unfortunately, she passed away last year on November 21 at the age of 85. I don’t know if McCaffrey really considered herself a YA author, but I first discovered her books in my middle school library, and they immediately drew me in. The first book I read was Dragonflight, which was about a plucky woman who was really good at something. That may not sound all that extraordinary to people now who’ve grown up reading fantasy, especially when the The Hunger Games is about the biggest thing going, but at the time, it seemed like a really awesome twist. A woman who was the star of a fantasy book! And her story was about how she was better than the men at something, not about how she could find a man to love her. I ate up a bunch more of the books in the Dragonriders of Pern Series, and then I moved on to Crystal Singer. That series was about a plucky woman, too, someone who had the courage to travel far away from home and work under dangerous conditions.

There was no room for weak and fragile ninnies in Anne McCaffrey’s world! To me, a physically weak and fragile person who was nevertheless determined not to be a ninny, these books were an important validation of the idea that I could be good at something, and that that could matter more than anything else. I haven’t had a chance to go back and read McCaffrey’s books over again to see if I’d still feel the magic today that I felt when I read them back in middle school, but I’m not sure that I want to. I want to remember how I felt back then when I discovered something that I found wonderfully imaginative and inspiring. McCaffrey’s heroines were often born with amazing abilities, but they always had to work hard to achieve their goals, to do something with what they’d been given. That’s a theme that works great for driving an absorbing novel, but also a theme that I can still keep in mind in the context of my real life. So thanks, Ms. McCaffrey, for being a pioneer, thrashing your way over the same ground we young authors humbly attempt to walk on. I would say “you will be missed,” but since your books will be around forever, there’s no need. Let me say this: Thanks, we owe you.

Writing Ethnicity: Sona Looks for the Universal in the Specific

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On February - 21 - 2012

220px Monsoon Wedding poster Writing Ethnicity: Sona Looks for the Universal in the SpecificA few years ago, when my sister Meena and I first started writing screenplays, we pondered this: do we make our protagonist a brown girl like us? Or a white girl like most of the members of some vague future audience for our films?

At first, it was a bit of a no-brainer. Did we want to actually sell a script? Why yes, we did. So we wrote about a white girl. Relatable. Fun. And still, deep down, a bit like us. Did she not suffer from frizzy, uncontrollable hair? Did she not have a bitchy boss from hell who made her life miserable? Did she not lust after the exact wrong guy? See?

But we weren’t satisfied with just that. So we made sure we put a brown character into the script, albeit in a small role. Then a funny thing happened when we were taking pitch meetings in big, bad Hollywood. When they inevitably asked what else we were working on (they always ask that, by the way), we told them about this little project I’d been developing for my thesis script at NYU, you know, the back pocket one that you’ll eventually have to make yourself because it’s so specific. It was about another floundering twenty-something (our specialty!) in the city who fell for the wrong guy, had the bitchy boss, and was essentially just a hot mess.

But this feisty chick — well, she was brown. Like us. There was something about her, though, that made her relatable to all those aforementioned potential white girls in that imaginary audience. And so that ended up being the script that everyone wanted to talk about, that everyone wanted to work with us on. It didn’t hurt, also, that Bend It Like Beckham was a surprise hit, and Monsoon Wedding had done well right before that. But of course, by the time we’d worked out all the kinks with our would-be producers, another flick with subcontinental flavor had TANKED, and so we lost our shot.

Writing fiction has been an interesting journey for me in this regard, especially when compared to the previously ethnically barren landscape of Hollywood. (Now, there’s a requisite brown sidekick on every hit sitcom or drama. I’m not kidding. I could make a whole slideshow full. Maybe I will, in fact.) (Anyway, I digress.) Given the healthy interest in South Asian Diaspora fiction the past decade, I didn’t feel nearly as intimidated writing an ethnic character as I had in the past. There’s room in publishing for brown folks like me, at least to a certain degree — and in a certain market. (Mostly literary fiction.) But! And you knew there was a but!

There are still some stories that I want to write that don’t really have anything at all to do with being a brown girl. Case in point? My first YA project, which is about as high concept as they come. If I made one of the two protagonists an Indian girl, it would leave readers scratching their heads. Why did the author make that choice? What does it bring to the text? In that novel, it really wouldn’t bring a whole lot to the text. But, as always, I want to represent. So I did put an Indian girl into the book — in a bit of an unexpected way. And there’s a black character in it, too, but not just to make it uber-diverse. It’s in a way that makes sense for the story and the character. The book isn’t about race, really. But the diversity adds a layer to the text. It works in the novel without overtaking the novel.

My second work-in-progress — my thesis project — is a whole ‘nother story. Ethnic identity is one of the key components in this book. It has a flavor to it, if you will. One of the biggest challenges I’m facing in working on my thesis project is that I’m writing three narrators — and they’re all brown girls, all from New Jersey, all Upper Middle class. All too easily, these three voices could meld together and sound the same, given their shared history and ethnicity, their shared community. But you see, that’s where the other components of storytelling come into play here. These are three very different characters — each has a different want, a different way of achieving it or expressing it, a different take on the world. Or at least I hope they will. The key for me in telling this story is to not just make them three brown girls. It’s the universality of the situations they face — the heart of the novel is about the implosion of a friendship, something that’s relatable to most readers. The setting and culture is specific — and therefore, I’m hoping, interesting in its own right — but the conflict is universal, graspable by a wider audience. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that I’m not just writing a book about brown girls for brown girls, but rather a book about these girls, who happen to be brown, but they’re also very much just…girls.

That’s kind of how I view writing ethnicity. Do I always write what I know? Not exactly. But there’s usually some intrinsic part of the character that I can relate to, something that makes the character universal in some way. The angst of the character, their hovering mother, their bond with a sibling, the way they tie their shoes or hate their job or eat breakfast for dinner. My characters tend to be human, after all. (No sci-fi here.) With all my writing, it seems, I’m trying to tell an everygirl story in a specific and interesting way. Kind of like with that script that was a hot property for ten Hollywood seconds.

And that script, by the way? The story’s still in my back pocket. Maybe you’ll read it one day — in novel form.

Photo Courtesy Mirabai Films

Writers Conferences 2012: Where Will You Spend Your 2012 Marketing Dollars?

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 6 - 2012

nycview Writers Conferences 2012: Where Will You Spend Your 2012 Marketing Dollars?

Writer’s conferences are like a quick fix of creative adrenaline. A concentrated take on the craft and business of writing, they can really get the creative juices flowing, and get you right into the thick of things, whether or not you’re a natural-born networker, like our own Dhonielle.

But there is a right time to go — and not every conference is a great fit for everyone. That’s why, when you’re budgeting your networking dollars, it’s a smart idea to take a really close look at what your options are. Especially given that, these days, you could probably find a writers’ conference in your area any given weekend. But which are worth the investment? And when should you go?

It all depends on you and where you are with your writing. A few of us here at Teen Writers Bloc, for example, are gearing up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in New York City this month. But others among us know that, as much as we’d like to go, we’re nowhere near ready. Perhaps a summer conference would be a better bet for those folks.

What writers conference will give you the most bang for your buck? Only you can decide. But since it’s a new year (and hopefully, new budget!), we’ve rounded up a few of the best bets for your perusal — and we’ve tried to stick to conferences that would be fruitful for teen and middle grade writers. Maybe we’ll see you there!

Writers Digest Conference
New York, New York; January 20 – 22
Cost: $525 for the full conference, $375 for Saturday only — and there’s even a $275 student option
With lots of big picture overview, including keynotes on the where publishing is headed, e-publishing, author-entrepreneurship,  self-publishing and marketing yourself and your work online, this conference, sponsored by industry magazine Writer’s Digest, is taking writers’ straight into the future of the book business. There’s also an intensive three-hour pitch slam, a sort of speed dating with agents, including YA and kid lit champions Brandi Bowles (Foundry), Susan Hawk (The Bent Agency), Molly Jaffa (Folio Literary Management), Mary Kole (Andrea Brown Lit), Sarah LaPolla (Curtis Brown) and Holly McGhee (Pippin Properties), amongst many others.

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators
New York, New York; January 27 – 29
Cost: $385 for members, $485 for non-members
Highlights: The SCBWI annual winter conference is the scene and be seen event for children’s book writers. This year, teen favorites like Cassandra Clare, National Book Award winner Kathryn Erskine and Sophie Blackall are amongst the speakers, and there are plenty of big agent and editor names on the panels on craft and marketing, too. But conference vet Dhonielle says the best part of doing the SCBWI events is meeting like-minded writers. She’s found critique group members — and life-long friends — at these events. If you can’t make this one, SCBWI has mini-events across the country — and another biggie in L.A. this summer.

San Diego State University Writers’ Conference
San Diego, Ca.; January 27 – 29
Cost: $435; one-on-one consult appointments are $50 each
If you’re working it on the West coast (or trying to get out of the snow here on the East Coast), then you can’t beat the San Diego State University Writers’ Conference at the end of January. The event seems chock full of opportunities for teen fiction writers, including meet-n-greets with editors looking for YA at Harper, Tor Teen, and St. Martin’s, amongst others.

Algonkian NYC Pitch and Shop
New York, New York; March 22 – 25
Cost: $595 before March 1, $695 after
This quarterly, application-only conference, held in New York City every spring, summer, fall and winter, is focused on getting writers in strong shape to sell their novels, offering novel deconstruction and analysis from agents and editors from major houses (including ICM YA champion Tina Wexler). Writers refine their works via panels and intimate workshop groups, then have the opportunity to pitch up to four industry professionals, including editors from Grand Central, Random House, Broadway Books and others.

Backspace Writers Conference
New York, NY; May 24 – 26
Cost: Early Bird registration (pre-Feb 1) $595 for Conference and Agent-Author Day
The conference spin-off of the stellar online writers’ community BKSP.org, this three-day event is super-focused on making connections with agents, with panels on querying, crafting stellar opening pages, and what agents are looking for. So if that’s the stage you’re approaching, it might just be the perfect way to network yourself into a deal. YA and women’s fiction star Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the keynote this year, and given the NYC location, the publishing industry insiders will no doubt turn up in spades.

Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-On-One Plus Conference
Piscataway, New Jersey; October 2012
Cost: $195 for the one-day event, including breakfast and lunch
This application-only event pairs a small number of skilled writers one-on-one with a children’s writing professional — agent, editor, or writer. The plus? Each writer and mentor pair gets to network with several others at round-table discussions about writing, editing and publishing — a great, low-pressure way to network, and it’s very likely you’ll come out of the event with long-term relationships. As an attending at the 2011, I met editors and agents and authors — plus, many of my fellow aspiring writers, too.

What writer’s conferences will you be attending this year? What are your best tips for getting the most bang for your buck at these networking events?

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

Amber’s Thesis Semester Plans: Take It One Day At A Time

Posted by Amber On December - 11 - 2011


birdbybird Ambers Thesis Semester Plans: Take It One Day At A TimeNext semester is what we’ve all been waiting for. A semester that’s 100 percent ours to do with what we will as far as our writing goes. No more classes. Just meetings with our peers and our advisors, with more time to either create something new or to finish something we’ve already started.

I plan on doing the latter. I’ve spent my time at the New School trying to figure out the best way to tell my protagonist’s story. I think I’ve finally got an authentic voice for her and I’m more certain than I was before about where her journey will take her. That said, while I’ve been invested in realistic fiction for a while, I’m also contemplating trying my hand at fantasy or magical realism. And it’s encouraging and very freeing to know that my peer group will understand that first drafts and first starts aren’t always going to be masterpieces. (If you are also working on a first draft, I recommend Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, where she basically admits that crappy first drafts are like a rite of passage, which is so unbelievably comforting to hear. Writing is revision after all.)

Anyway, I’m going to try to finish a draft of something next semester but I’m not going to make any other big sweeping plans like I often tend to do. Instead, I’m just going to take it one day at a time. All I’m aiming for is a draft, something that I can fix up during revisions that will hopefully—someday—get published.

Photo Credit: Random House, Inc.

Corey’s Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

Posted by Corey Haydu On December - 8 - 2011
tea lounge Coreys Plans: Final draft of one novel, First draft of another

I have a feeling the next few months will be among the busiest of my life. I suppose, then, that it’s a good thing that classes will be coming to an end and our thesis semester is beginning, but, like Mary, I’m already missing Tuesday nights with the TWB crowd. Workshop can be frustrating and dramatic and exhausting, but it is also engaging and inspiring and downright FUN. I know I need the time off from classes and classwork to get things done, but I’ll be sad to be spending Tuesday nights at my favorite writing spot, Tea Lounge, instead of in the too-cold classrooms on 11th Street.

But I’ll be busy at Tea Lounge! I recently sold my debut YA novel, OCD Love Story, to my dream editor, Anica Rissi at Simon Pulse. And I will be deep in revisions over the next few months. I do love revising, but the mental and emotional work it takes can be quite overwhelming, as I learned this summer when I was working on revisions for my agent. I’m ready to tackle her exciting ideas, but anticipate a lot of late nights and early mornings and venti chai lattes.

In the spring I will also be working on my thesis project, a new YA novel that I’ve been writing a (VERY!) rough draft of since August. My advisor is the ridiculously inspiring Patricia McCormick, author of Cut! I have long been wanting to develop a relationship with an established YA author, so I couldn’t be more excited to work with Patricia. Her books are amazing and if our coffee date this fall was any indication, she is smart, funny, insightful and engaging. I’ll be sending her the first 100 or so pages of my new novel in a few weeks, and hopefully finishing a draft by the time we graduate in May. I have no doubt Patricia will push me and challenge me and encourage me to make this novel something special, and I’m honored to have her guidance.

I have no idea how I’ll balance the intense focus needed for revisions with the bravery needed to write a first draft, but with the help of Tea Lounge, Patricia McCormick, and my peer group of Alyson, Dhonielle, and Sona, I have faith I will find my way through!

Oh, and chai. Lots and lots of chai.

Photo: via Street Legal Play

Mary Looks Forward to Spring Semester

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 2 - 2011
Slime 224x300 Mary Looks Forward to Spring Semester

Don't let this get you.

Now that it’s December, we’re almost done with our third semester at The New School. That means we have only one semester to go — our thesis semester. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m sick of the awful literature classes we’ve been forced to stomach this semester, and I’m looking forward to having more time to work on my books. On the other hand, the end of this semester is a little sad. Even though I’ll still be seeing all of my Teen Writers Bloc peeps, all of us won’t be together as often. No matter whether there’s professor drama or a time crunch, I always look forward to the Tuesday night workshop. That night with all of us around a table has become a fixture of my life over the past year and a half, and it’s going to be weird to start the new year without it.

That being said, we’ll still be seeing each other in regular peer groups. And I’m super-excited to be working with my super-star thesis advisor, Susan Van Metre! My thesis project will be a middle grade novel that I’m currently working on. I wrote a couple of lighter books after Wuftoom — Shameless Plug Alert! Escape From the Pipe Men! (Spring 2013) and Evil Fairies Love Hair (Fall 2013) — so I’m going back to a fantasy that’s a little darker. More details to come. I also hope to start a new older teen novel next semester. It’s something I have to do because the main character has been following me around, forcing me to write notes at odd times, like when I should be sleeping or eating or enjoying The Biggest Loser.

So even without classes, next semester is shaping up to be a busy one. I’ll be working on two books, going to peer groups, and oh yeah, celebrating the release of Wuftoom on May 8, just a week before graduation! It’ll be busy in a good way.

To Beat the Mid-Semester Doldrums, Alyson’s Looking for a Little Magic

Posted by Alyson Gerber On November - 30 - 2011

44918614 To Beat the Mid Semester Doldrums, Alysons Looking for a Little MagicWhen it comes to the Literati, my literature professor, James Allen, is hooked up. I’m not just saying this to try and land an A in his class, although I wouldn’t be opposed. But he is actually friends with the entire literary world, and most of them have come to our class.

When John Edgar Wideman, whose many accolades include being the only writer to have been awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction twice as well as the American Book Award for Fiction, the Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction, and the MacArthur Award, came to speak to my literature class about his novel Cattle Crossing, I was intimidated. I hid in my little corner and tried not to make eye contact, especially when he started asking us what we were reading. He wanted US to tell HIM what was “good these days.”

Mostly people offered up obscure novels and collections of short stories that sounded very impressive, and well, depressing. When he pointed to me and asked, “What are you reading?” I almost died.

Bras and Broomsticks,” I blurted, wishing I was one of those good liars, who with a straight face could say, “Sebald. I just love reading about the Holocaust,” instead of someone with verbal diarrhea.

“Is it good?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Very good.” And I meant it.  I loved Sarah Mlynowski’s Magic in Manhattan series. It was the perfect distraction from a less than uplifting semester of sad, impressive literature. I mean really, what’s better than a little magic and a lot of teen drama?

Luckily, I managed to keep that last part to myself.

Photo courtesy Random House

pixel To Beat the Mid Semester Doldrums, Alysons Looking for a Little Magic

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