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

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

Um….

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.

Help Us and Do An Awesome Good Deed

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WRITING AND OTHER NEWS

ART.

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

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TIME STOPPERS!

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

MOE BERG 

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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FLYING AND ENHANCED

Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.

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WRITING COACH

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

THERE ARE ONLY TWO SPOTS LEFT AND SIGN-UP ENDS JANUARY 18TH.

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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Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

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How to Make People Keep Reading

I’m about to revise a lot of my own stories and in the next couple of months, I’m going to see if I can figure out how to self publish instead of continuing traditional publishing, so I’m trying to pretend that I won’t have a ton of editors helping me, no writing mentors, just me.

And that’s a little scary.

But it’s made me think more fully about my own stories and how I can apply the tools I use when I teach writing to my own darn writing.

I know! I know! That should be easy, right?

It’s not as easy as I thought because it requires stepping away from the book and thinking as a reader, as a writer, and as an editor, but mostly as a reader.

And the main element when we write a book is that we want our readers to keep reading. So,  I think I’m going to start what I like to call (Drumroll please) the Wednesday Writing Series About Hooking Your Reader.

I’ll be giving two hints a blog post. Let’s start!

TWO QUICK HINTS TO KEEP YOUR READER HOOKED ON YOUR BOOK

Hooking Your Readers - Wednesday Writing Series

Begin your story with the moment that will transform the main character or world.

Begin with the girl moving to Maine from Charleston and seeing something strange on the side of the road like I did with the NEED series.

Begin with the male member of the ‘class couple’ telling his girlfriend that he’s gay like I did in the TIPS ON HAVING A GAY (ex) BOYFRIEND books.

Have a really strong voice of the narrator.

The Martian’s first line is, “I’m pretty much f*cked.”

That combines the pivotal moment with a super strong narrative voice.

Or the Color Purple begins with, “You better not tell nobody but God.”

Which has a great voice and a mystery set in, too. What shouldn’t they tell?

Next week, I’ll have two more tips.

Do Good Wednesday

Puerto Rico still needs assistance and so does Guatemala. You can help by spreading the word or donating to the Hispanic Federation, a nonprofit involved with advocacy for Latino communities.

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The Hispanic Federation’s three big campaigns right now are:

Check it out. Think deeply. Care. That’s how you do good.  That’s how you make a difference in the world and your community. You’ve got this. Sparty the Rescued Dog believes in you.

 

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Sparty: I do! I believe in you.

 

Writing News

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?

You should totally buy my book about Moe. It’s awesome and quirky and fun because it’s about Moe Berg and it’s a picture book. I’m heading to Houston, North Carolina, and Virgnia soon, just to talk about it. How cool is that?

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OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

Writing Coach

I offer solo writing coach services, but I’m also teaching a Write! Submit! Support! (WSS) six-month class online via the Writing Barn in Austin. For details about that class, check out this link. For more about my individual coaching, click here.

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And finally, for the month of July, my book FLYING is on sale in ebook version on multiple platforms, which means not just Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically Men in Black meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with chocolate-covered pretzels.

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Proof of the sale-nature of July.

 

Thanks so much for reading my blog! Please comment or say ‘hi!’ if you feel like it!