Melanie Crowder’s online class @The Writing Barn: Novel Foundations: The Young Adult Novel

In July of 2011 I graduated with my M.F.A. in Writing with a concentration in writing for children and young adults. I was sure that I was on my way. Publication would be right around the corner. When I received the 2013 PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery award and got an agent shortly after—I was sure that I was on my way. Publication would be right around the corner. A revise and resubmit within the year convinced me that I was on my way. Publication would be right…well you get it.

Persistence is the golden ticket in this business but isn’t easy. I’ve found that a supportive community of other writers and regular professional development keeps me going (along with my “morning pages,” thank you Julia Cameron.)

That’s why I’ve signed up for Melanie Crowder’s upcoming online class, Novel Foundations: The Young Adult Novel, through the Austin-based The Writing Barn.

bw-300x260If you haven’t picked up an award-winning volume by Melanie Crowder where have you been you have a lot to choose from. Young adult historical novels such as the beautiful novel in verse about Clara Lemlich’s campaign for worker’s rights, Audacity, or the heart-breaking An Uninterrupted View of the Sky about Bolivian prisons and the children and families who live there. Middle grade novels that range from the fantastic, A Nearer Moon, to the ecological near future, Parched, to the contemporary, Three Pennies. All of them are lyrical and tightly written stories about characters with realistic, emotional journeys.

Melanie has been kind enough to drop by Creative Chaos.

Welcome, Melanie! This is not the first class you’ve taught online, but this is the first class I’ll be taking online. As a seasoned face-to-face educator, how do you use technology to affect successful learning?

Well, if we could beam every single attendee to the beautiful Writing Barn and back again each night to resume our busy, busy lives I would love to teach this course face-to-face!

But since we haven’t we caught up to Star Trek tech yet, the online platform the Writing Barn uses is pretty seamless. Attendees can all see and hear one another, we can screen-share documents, and have a real-time conversation. I taught a course on Emotion in Fiction using this system and it went very well—we had a great group that generated some really fascinating conversations.

It seems that work-shopping one’s work with other students is an important part of the class. Are comments delivered in print or is there an actual discussion via video?

Yes! We learn so much by putting on different hats—writer, teacher, editor, student. Many times we can see elements that aren’t working in others’ work that we are blind to in our own—it can be so illuminating—especially when the topic we are covering in class becomes clear on the pages we’re discussing.

Your curriculum is chock full of basics including plot, structure, character, conflict and more advanced topics such as voice, dialogue and theme. Are there auxiliary readings or is all the content delivered during the Wednesday night lessons? How will we fit it all in?

Like most of my classes, this one will have a combo of lecture (including excerpts from mentor texts), discussion, and writing exercises. My teaching style is fluid—responsive to the needs of the individuals present—so the ratio of those different elements may shift on any given day. I will also often point attendees to additional resources that I find helpful beyond the scope of what we can cover in class.

No doubt, there will be writers with a wide range of experience. How do you tailor a class to meet everyone’s needs?

I think of learning the craft of writing as a spiral. Sometimes when we circle back to something at a more basic level of understanding, it unlocks deeper connections or reminds us of simple truths we’ve forgotten. And that applies to all of us, at every stage of our writing journey. The minute we close ourselves off to new learning is the moment when our writing begins to stagnate.

My hope is that this class will speak to writers at various stages: writers who are working on a first draft for the very first time, writers who have mastered picture books or middle grade, but are wanting to translate their skills to writing for the teen audience, as well as those who have a few YA manuscripts under their belt, but who are wanting to take their work to the next level.

What are you most looking forward to in teaching this class?

I love connecting with other writers, and the synergy that comes from our collective focus. I love seeing that light go on when new possibilities open up in a writer’s mind. Honestly—it’s thrilling!

Thank you, Melanie! I too am looking forward to meeting a new cohort of lovely writers, spiraling back to forgotten truths, and keeping my current “work in progress”—progressing. Join me!

Illustrator Ernie D’Elia chats about #5stonesbooks book cover illustration and the creative process.

Creative Chaos welcomes new readers who are coming here to follow G.A. Morgan’s blog tour for the Kirkus starred review book, The KinfolkThis blog is called “Creative Chaos” for a reason. Not only do creators exist in a world that pulls them in various crazy, stressful directions, but the process of making art of any media is a wonderful jumble of ideas and leads, backtracks and revisions. It’s messy and often—yes—chaotic. Ernie D’Elia is an illustrator who understands the chaos of creation. He fashions three dimensional worlds from nothing. He draws. He paints. He writes. (All images that follow are property of Ernie D’Elia and Islandport Press and may not be used without permission.)

Ernie and I met through New England SCBWI and attended a wonderful intensive by Lita Judge about breaking into kidlit illustration by focussing on book covers. The next thing I knew, Ernie was sharing his cover design for The Fog of Forgetting, the first in the Five Stones Trilogy (#5stonesbooks) by G.A. Morgan, published by Islandport Press. This week, The Kinfolk, the final installment of that trilogy launched. Welcome, Ernie! 
Q. Tell us a little about your professional journey (or chaos) that led you to illustrate the Five Stones Trilogy. Was The Fog of Forgetting your first cover? What other professional illustration jobs did you have before this?
A. Thanks for inviting me to talk about creating the covers for the Five Stones Trilogy, and creating in general!
The Fog of Forgetting was not my first cover. The first was a really fun adventure story called “How to Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy King.” There was a great up-lit Mayan King with a jaguar headdress, looming over the heroes. 

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Q. Wow, I love the light! In the workshop we took together, Lita stressed the importance of being open to revision and brainstorming a large quantity of cover ideas. Once you got the job, did your first drawing get approved? How did you land on the final art for book one?
A. Fog of Forgetting went through a handful of sketch ideas, then a couple roughs, and one or two changes in the final drawing.
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Sketch #4

My favorite idea (sketch #4) did not make the cut, but looking back, it wasn’t the best fit.

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Sketch #2
Sketch #2 was too crowded, but the tree, platform and waterfall were on target.
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Sketch #2 Round 2
Sketch round 2 #2 was almost there, but he looked too tentative. In the final art, he’s gripping a sword, looking heroic.
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That’s why flexibility is really important! It’s hard to be objective when you’re in the throes of making stuff. Trust in your editor/art director!
Q. What is your process choosing the scene you’d like to portray? Do you read each of the books before you start drafting cover ideas or are you given a synopsis?
A. I don’t always get the entire manuscript. Usually there are a few select scenes to work with, luckily. I would probably overwhelm everyone with sketches of every scene–“Let’s make this a graphic novel!” written on every page.
Q. Which book cover was the most difficult to create and why? How did you find a solution?
A. The trickiest by far was Chantarelle, the second book. Islandport had a specific set of requirements for this one. The characters are falling into a chasm, an explosion propels them up and out, AND there’s a giant black panther after them. The perspective alone was a challenge, not to mention 5 desperate reaching hands. There were way too many sketches of that cover to share, let’s just say there was a heaping pile of trial and error, and a steaming bowl of failure, until it was all worked out. Creative chaos at its best!
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Chantarelle final painting
In direct opposition to that one, Kinfolk was two drawings, some minor tweaking, and right into the final. It’s my favorite of the three.
Q. Each book features various characters from the stories. Tell us a little bit about your process of character creation.
A. Creating characters from G.A. Morgan’s work wasn’t difficult because they were so well written. I felt like I had a clear idea of each person. I think it was Annie O’Brien that said you shouldn’t draw characters, you should draw people. A character can easily become a cartoon, but a person is an individual; not a stereotype, not an archetype. That’s especially true when portraying people of ethnic backgrounds that are not your own.
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The Kinfolk sketch #2
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The Kinfolk sketch #4
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The Kinfolk FPO (for position only)
Q. No illustrator is an island, and you worked with Islandport Press children’s editor, Melissa Kim. How did Melissa guide you in this process? Was she more hands on or off? Were there any particular suggestions she gave that were especially helpful to you as an illustrator that you’d be willing to pass on here?
A. Melissa was great to work with! Her input was always spot-on. It was her suggestion to change the posture of Chase (on the first cover) from frightened to more bold. She was hands on, as far as being involved in guiding the process, and was always there to answer questions. I had a great time working on these books with her! Like I said before, trust your art director!
Thanks so much for visiting Creative Chaos today, Ernie!
Thanks for having me on the blog! See you soon, hopefully!
If you missed the other blog posts on this week’s tour, I’ve listed them below. Don’t miss the world debut of the book trailer tomorrow!
Monday, October 24: G.A. Morgan Lists Her Top Ten Fantasy Books for Kids on Pragmatic Mom.
Tuesday, October 25: Launch Day! Happy Book Birthday post on Middle Grade Mafia
Wednesday, October 26: G.A. Morgan Interview on From the Mixed-up Files of Middle Grade Authors
Thursday, October 27: Cover Illustrator Ernie D’Elia talks process and book covers on Creative Chaos
Friday, October 28: A debut of The Kinfolk book trailer on the Islandport Press Blog.
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Here’s Kirkus Reviews had to say in their starred review about The Kinfolk:
 
imgres.png     “Morgan holds the complex plot deftly, alternating the third-person narration through the points of view of several main characters (Dankar, Chase, Knox, Evelyn) chapter by chapter. With clarity and economy, she intertwines back story, setting, adventure, and philosophy in convivial balance, and she admirably maintains the individuality of her very large cast of characters (helpfully delineated in a guide at the back). She tests her characters sorely and sometimes violently, but it’s always in service of the plot. Teeming with adventure and philosophical richness, this trilogy closer excels.”
 Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
Here’s a link to the Islandport Press bookstore.
Or ask your local bookseller for The Kinfolk today!

 

Only 24 hours in a day. Or 1+1+1+1=100.

Yesterday I got a notification that my blog was having a banner day–surprising since I haven’t posted in two months–and it reminded me how busy the last two months have been. As readers of Creative Chaos might know, I’m almost two years out from a divorce and the economic insecurities that often accompany divorce can be stressful. More on that in a few…

Over the past year I’ve been pleased to find challenging and satisfying work event planning at Maine Share, doing customer service work at LLBean, and event planning at Bowdoin College. All along, I’ve been volunteering as the Program Director with my local rowing club. This spring, they hired me as their part time Head Coach as well and I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last two months on the water teaching adults and teens to scull and sweep row.

JrCoaching

In addition to the coaching and program directing I’m also SUPER happy to have found a part time temporary home at Islandport Press as their Author Relations and Events Coordinator. In this position I’m able to help Islandport authors with social media, blogs, book them in bookstores and festivals, and help create publicity campaigns and events to sell great books. (Shameless plug: please follow Islandport Press on social media.)

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We now rejoin our program of economic insecurity already in progress…

I love what I’m doing. Still, anyone who has juggled a family, writing, and more than one job knows that the sum of the parts feels WAY greater than it should (ie: 1+1+1+1=100) Part of that 100 number is the chasm of unemployment that looms with temporary jobs. Once the rowing season ends, and the temporary position with the publishing house ends I’m on the search again. It’s a feast and famine sensibility so in the last two months I’ve also written and delivered an article to the new Coxing Magazine (so exciting!), given a presentation to the Romance Writers of Maine, and taught a rowing workshop to counselors at a local sleep away camp. I’m the busy ant storing for the winter.

If there is a positive about the looming chasm of unemployment it is that I might actually get back to my works in progress (a middle grade novel 1st draft and 2 PB rewrites) which wait patiently on my computer. I also might be posting more here at Creative Chaos. I will keep you updated. Cheers!

 

Audiofile 2016 Sync Program for Teens Launches Today!

This is the time of year where teens are stretched to breaking. The kids I coach have that crazed look from studying for numerous AP tests in addition to dealing with their school work, sports, and extracurricular activities. My own pair of teens is at school from 7am to 8pm some days, followed by hours of homework, and have a full month of evening spring music performances. Finals are around the corner and every time I remind a teen about the importance of a full night’s sleep I get an eye roll and not-in-this-lifetime scoff. In my opinion teens should take a well-deserved break during summer break.  

BUT…

You’ve seen the lists of required for reading for teens? You’ve heard of the “summer slide?” It seems that there is no rest for the weary.

Enter the Audiofile Magazine and OverDrive App free audiobook program. It makes summer reading fun and free. That’s right, free. Throughout the summer, I get text messages reminding me about the two new audiobooks that are available for the week. One book is usually newer and is paired with an older book. Together, the books explore specific literary themes or content. The titles change every Thursday at 7pm. Here’s a link to explore the titles for the 2016 season.

From the Sync website:

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+. Running May 5th – August 17th 2016, SYNC will give away two complete audiobook downloads a week (30 titles) – pairs of high interest titles, based on weekly themes. In 2014, 26 titles were given away over 13 weeks. In 2015, 28 titles were given away over 14 weeks.

The OverDrive App is available on many different devices and platforms. There’s information about downloading the app here. Once you download OverDrive, the books go with you everywhere. I found that the books were perfect for summer road trips and even had some driveway moments where no one wanted to stop the book so we sat in the car. The dog got longer walks too.

This week books are VIVIAN APPLE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Katie Coyle and THE GREAT TENNESSEE MONKEY TRIAL, by Peter Goodchild.

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See the descriptions and more at the Sync Website, download OverDrive, and sign up for your Sync text messages today!

A tired teen*  will thank you.

*Also recommended for YA Writers, Parents, Teachers, Librarians and any other Young Adult Literature lover. May cause intense focus, inability to complete chores, loss of writing time. Chocolate sometimes eases symptoms. See your library youth media specialist any of these symptoms persist past Labor Day.

 

Children’s Writing 101 with MWPA: Blog and Retreat Links

Last Saturday I presented the workshop “The Business of Children’s Writing 101” with the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. We had a cozy class which allowed the participants to get some great one on one attention as they crafted their elevator pitches and queries in advance of the New England SCBWI spring conference. We discussed the journey of a book from manuscript to publication, defined Midlist, and learned not to defend our work in a critique. We even got to have a mini-workshop for those who had brought picture book manuscripts.

The afternoon brought a web hunt of great kidlit blogs, social media, and kidlit community events that I’ve listed below.

Most important—we discussed that craft comes first and that if you have trouble with your pitch or query it often means that your manuscript is not quite ready for prime time.

If you missed this class and would like MWPA offer this or other kidlit workshops again, please contact Josh Bodwell, Director of MWPA. Happy writing!

A Few Great Blogs:

Through the Tollbooth: VCFA students who do in depth pieces on craft.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Be Someone’s Hero, No Cape Required: Specific connections with literacy, student success, and educators.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Cynsations: Clearing house of amazing info from the industry including guest bloggers.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: In depth illustrations and illustrators, process, production, and more.

Jama Rattigan, Alphabet Soup: Reviews of food-based books, poetry.

Ingrid Sundberg: Great posts about story structure, screenwriting, and plot.

Pub(lishing) Crawl: Group of authors and industry professionals posting about craft and business.

A Few Great Kidlit Retreats/Resources:

Highlights Founders Workshops

The Writing Barn

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Falling Leaves/Green Leaves from SCBWI Eastern NY

Rutgers One on One

Picture Book Boot Camp with Jane Yolen

SCBWI

 

WNDB Mentorship Program

News from the We Need Diverse Books organization!

WNDB Mentorship Program

Are you a diverse writer or illustrator, or working on a diverse book? Award-winning diverse authors and illustrators will support and guide recipients through a yearlong mentorship, providing support and guidance throughout the creative and publication process. Applications for the 2016 mentorship program will be open from October 1-31, 2015, and recipients will be announced in December, 2015. Information on the program and the application are available at http://weneeddiversebooks.org/aboutapply/

Specific questions can be directed to wndbmentorship@gmail.com (mailto:wndbmentorship@gmail.com)

Maine Writers & Publishers Hosts Comma Carnage at SPACE GALLERY

Photo from Instagram user WORD PORTLAND.

Last night, grammar-loving writers,  their loyal lovers, and the curious gathered together at Space Gallery in Downtown Portland to watch an Oxford style debate on what else–the Oxford Comma. One hundred people packed the room, wine flowed, and fingers flew tweeting the goings on.

The motion at hand, “The Oxford comma is unnecessary and irrelevant.” Yes, it was one of those motions (not unlike State of Maine ballot initiatives) that makes one wonder which side they’re on. If you were for the comma you were against the motion and vice-versa.

The best part was certainly the packed house, the rowdy audience, and the spirited discussion. Arguing in favor of the Oxford comma was MWPA assistant director Stephen Abbott. Taking a stance against the Oxford comma was author and Sherman’s Books bookseller Josh Christie. Our forefathers were duly represented, as were poets, and let us not forget the children. To parse or not to parse that was the question. The graphic necessity of the punctuation was represented: Box, box, and box.

Each of us let our beginning positions be known and we voted again at the end to see which debater had persuaded the most audience members. The tally was suspect at best and the Oxford comma won the day!

For the full Storify story see the tweets, and Instagram photos here.  

#ireadYA Week Booklists, Badges and More!

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Click here to get your own badge (lots of pretty colors!) for all your social media #ireadYA love!

As a writer, I read widely: poetry, adult, children’s, nonfiction, memoir and despite the opinion of Slate’s, Ruth Graham (2014), I am not embarrassed to read (or write) YA. I often find the plotting more streamlined, the description more economical, the character development and their desire line more transparent and intense, the endings not happy but hopeful, and none of that is easy to do. I promise (she said glancing at the stack of revision notes beside her.) In fact, I recently read a review of an adult book that said, “if you can stick it out until chapter 13, things really get moving.” I’m still going to read that adult book because I’m interested in the topic and the writing but really? Chapter 13?

Here are some of my most recent favorite YA reads from my Goodreads list.
Audacity, Melanie Crowder
Fly on the Wall, E. Lockhart
How It Went Down, Kekla Magoon
I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson
Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys
and I’m currently reading This Song Will Save Your Life, Leila Sales.

Here’s a great list from Book Riot that you might want to take a look at:
30 Diverse YA Titles To Get on Your Radar 

And the Spring 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List

Whatever you read, enjoy it.

This beautiful image used with permission, can be purchased from Abbie Smith on her Etsy Site: AbbieImagine. Click the image to see her many Typography Posters.