A Little Bit of Wisdom from a Writing For Children and Young Adults MFA Grad

writing masters programs

Ten years ago, I was at Vermont College doing the graduate assistant thing. Everywhere people were engaging in intelligent discourse about craft and me?


I began the residency by spilling an entire glass of apple juice on the cafeteria table on first semester student, possibly scarring her for life.

To her credit she kept talking about picture books as we mopped up the mess with massive amounts of napkins expounding about the Derridian aspect of Mo Willem’s canon. Yet… 

While they were being articulate I, the graduate assistant from the Land of the Socially Awkward (AKA MAINE),  was pondering other mysteries of life such as this:

When I left my dorm room Grover and Teddy were hanging out on my bed like this.

But when I returned, they looked like this:

I decided not to care. Instead, I started to lurk around Julie and Shelley, two of the teacher-professor-mentors, in the hopes of trying to gather some of their brilliance.

These ladies? These ladies are hot. They weren’t hot JUST because they were cuties.   They were hot because they’ve got brilliance and passion and brains. It’s kind of intimidating. 

Me: Hm… Perhaps I will lurk behind them in the lunch line and some of the brain waves will come over to me. 

Julie: Shelley? Do you feel someone trying to suck out our brain cells?

Shelley: Yes, I do… Through the power of my amazing brain I can detect that.

Julie (Turning around and pointing): You! What are you doing with that giant suction cup.

Me (hiding suction cup in lentil goulash): Me? Nothing? Nothing! 

Me (mumbling to self): Man, foiled again. No extra brain cells. No increased IQ. Darn….

Anyway, Shelley Tanaka’s lecture was called:  Mastering the Short Critical Essay: A Closer Look at This Essential Component of the MFA Program

My favorite hints Shelley gave were actually:

1    If you are writing an essay about a book you should read the damn book first

2.      Don’t make the thesis statement too big like “All books by Roald Dahl have to do with children.”

She also made some great points about how we must devote ourselves to intellectual thought so that we can make our creative work better. 

Julie Larios’ lecture was entitled: How Poetry Works and How It Doesn’t, According to Me

Just the title cracked me up. 

Julie said that, “Poetry’s greatest weapon is indirection.”

She even lectured poetically, full of sound and beauty.

Listen to these sentences she said, “The eyes are hearing. The hands are hearing. The soles of the feet are hearing. The heart and the head and the soul and the gut are hearing.”

Julie Larios

My favorite part of her talk was when she discussed how everyone thinks that anyone can write a book and how it is so easy.  People perceive of all the different arts as requiring years of practice. Except writing.

“They don’t recognize language as an instrument that you learn to play,” she said. “You have to learn to play the instrument of language.”

You can learn that language by yourself or you can learn it in a super-cool amazing MFA program like Vermont’s College of Fine Arts or the Writing Barn (hint/hint), but you still have to learn it. 

I am still learning it even as I teach it. That’s remarkably wonderful.

Julie also recommended we ask these questions about our poetry, but I think we should ask it about ALL our writing.

Here are her questions:

Are you invested primarily in the emotion of the piece?

Are you invested in the information of the piece? 

Are you invested only in the sound of the piece?

Favorite Quote Of the Residency (as said by maintenance man upon seeing the third-floor lounge at Dewey:
 Well, I guess there was a party up here. Man…

I ending up keeping a close eye on Grover and Teddy.

Oh… And let me tell you. My radiator? Totally haunted. It sounded like there is a poodle stuck in there. I think it had something to do with the Grover and Teddy escapades, too.

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I do art stuff. You can find it and buy a print here. 

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You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Time Stoppers Carrie Jones Middle grade fantasy


The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

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I offer solo writing coach services. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn


So are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

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Author: carriejonesbooks

I am the NYT and internationally-bestselling author of children's books, which include the NEED series, FLYING series, TIME STOPPERS series, DEAR BULLY and other books. I like hedgehogs and puppies and warm places. I have none of these things in my life.

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