Chasing Dreams, Literary Magazines, and Why Not Now?

maybeToday I’m thinking about chasing long-held dreams and finally stopping all the excuses and the, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Or “Next year.” Or the vague but still hopeful “One day.” You see, this is a thing I do to myself, and have been doing for years. I have dreams of writing certain novels. Of moving somewhere new. Of so much more. But I keep putting them off. I keep getting overwhelmed, and making excuses, and lately I’ve felt a shift inside me. There is a sense of urgency that I can’t explain. It began after the election aftermath, and the fearful depression that landed on me (and so many of us) afterward. It broiled under me all these months as it seems like the planet is falling apart, disaster after disaster, all around us. I’m sorry to be so negative, but for me it all starts there.

Recently, I was a part of a group of publishing people—authors, agents, editors—who banded together to create an auction to help raise money for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. It came from a sense of shared helplessness and the desire to do something. We came together in a matter of hours one night, and in days the auction grew and grew. We called ourselves #PubforPR and held the auction earlier this month and ended up raising (as of today) a total of $206,550 that went direct to local charities in Puerto Rico.

Through this experience, I discovered something: We don’t have to be helpless, especially when we work together and put our hearts into it.

I also discovered something more personal. For one, I miss working together with people under the pressure of a deadline (that heated excitement I remember from my production editor days).

And two, I don’t know how much time I have left and I can’t keep saying tomorrow, next year, one day.

So I did three things: I removed my social media from my phone, logged out, and will not have to log in to those accounts until winter except if/when there is news to share.

I started a new novel I can’t talk about yet.

And I reached out to a friend to see if she wanted to do a project with me that I have been wanting to do for years.

What is that long-held dream?

It’s to create a literary magazine. Yes, it’s time.

This is a dream I’ve had since college, when I used to be a work-study student at the Antioch Review. My job was to open the mail—stories were sent snail-mail back then!—and type up the submission details on an index card on an old electric typewriter. I then filed the card in a library card catalog and put the story in the piles to be read. Sometimes, very rarely, I got to read some of the slush. Through this job, I discovered and fell in love with Aimee Bender (one of her early stories, “What You Left in the Ditch,” was published in the Review in the fall of 1997, I read it as a submitted manuscript and about died from awe). That was my first introduction to literary journals, and I’ve worked on and interned for a few more since, including co-editing the one in my MFA program, COLUMBIA: A Journal of Literature & Art, my second year in the program. (When it was my turn to choose the issue’s theme, I chose “fairy tales,” and solicited—and published!—a short story from… Guess who? Aimee Bender.)

So here’s the thing: If you know me and know me well, you know that my first deep and true love as a writer was short stories. Writing them. Reading them. Collecting them.

I’ve considered, as a YA author, pitching and editing a short story anthology, but it seems like so much of that is curating a group of named authors and I knew that you don’t often see the pieces before the anthology is sold. (I’m a contributor to three YA anthologies, with a fourth about to be announced, and never did I have to write the story ahead of time.) Which means the part that I loved the most—the discovery moment of finding a gorgeous short story in slush that we end up publishing—isn’t a part of it. And I want that back again. I remember finding the most amazing short story in the giant slush stacks at Zoetrope: All-Story, when I volunteered as a reader in their New York offices and rated stories for four-hour stretches on the beanbag chairs in the loft. I rated that story the highest score I could—I think it was a five?—the score we were told to rarely, so rarely use unless we were SERIOUS. I was serious. The editors ended up passing on the story, but I remember seeing it published soon after in my favorite litmag Tin House, so I see that it landed on another reader’s desk (or beanbag chair) who must have given it the highest rating, too.

I remember my first short story acceptance. I was in my twenties, still a student. When I was sending out short stories on submission, I would give a PO box as my address, so the rejections wouldn’t come to my house and ruin my day without warning. Whenever I visited the post office to check the box, I steeled myself… and told myself one day I might hear a yes even if today it was a no. That day, I got the envelope out of the box and didn’t even open it right away. I remember I was on the subway platform up at 110th Street, where I lived then, and I opened the envelope while waiting for the train on the way to work. It was a yes. My first-ever yes. The first story I ever published appeared in a litmag called Gulf Coast in Texas. I’d never been to Texas, but I remember thinking, I LOVE YOU, TEXAS! That story was called “Mars, New York.” I’ll never forget the incredible feeling of knowing someone was going to publish it.

As a reader, I loved short stories so much that I collected them. I’ve confessed this before, but I used to photocopy stories I loved from anthologies and magazines and keep them in binders. I have about ten binders stuffed full of stories. I called them my “anthologies.” Sometimes I go back and reread them, and I love seeing what struck me then. One day, I’ll edit a litmag of my own, I told myself. One day. And the years passed, and I did nothing, and here we are.

So you can see, I’ve been carrying this dream around for a long time.

Once I became a YA author, the dream shifted and focused to YA.

I’ve been talking—to friends, in sighing updates on Twitter—about wanting to start some kind of online literary magazine focusing on YA short stories for years. You may have heard me talking. You may have rolled your eyes. You may have been curious. You may have been intrigued.

I last talked about this online a week or two ago, so if you heard that and wondered what came from it…

It’s happening.

For real.

In my opinion, the YA world needs more venues for short stories—we have so few. So guess what? There’s about to be a new one.

I have a wonderful partner, someone who’s wanted to do this for a while too, and who is just as committed to this as I am. (I’m not sure if she’s said anything publicly, so I won’t reveal her name here just yet!) We’re making plans. We’re going to reach out for volunteer staff and content soon. We’ll be announcing more details when we’re ready, so I am not going to say a specific thing about it except… JUST WAIT, IT’S GOING TO BE AWESOME. If you’re a YA writer, I hope you’ll consider sending us a story when we’re ready! If you’ve emailed or messaged me about wanting to help, I have your name on a list and will be in touch.

But as the concept takes shape and the plans get more and more detailed, I almost want to pinch myself.

I dreamed this a long time ago, and I’m tired of telling myself now is not the moment to attempt it. Now can be the time. Why not?

So that’s my little dream gaining traction and becoming more and more solid with each day. What’s yours? And if you haven’t tried to make it happen yet, what’s stopping you?

AWP: The Writer (Not Author) Conference


I remember my first AWP conference. It was in the winter of 2008, before I had my first book out, and around the time I had racked up dozens upon dozens of rejections from literary agents for my second adult novel and was feeling pretty low about my publishing prospects.

I still wanted to write literary fiction for adults, and I had not yet embraced writing YA. The AWP conference was in New York City that year, within walking distance of my office, but I took two personal days to attend. I went to as many panels as I could take and carried home as many literary journals as I could handle on the subway… There was one panel I remember distinctly, because it ended up sitting with me for months afterward. It was a panel about YA fiction, and the wonderful Margo Rabb was on it. I had written down an anecdote she’d said, which was when she told her writer friends that her novel—written from a teenage perspective and originally intended for adults—would be published as a YA novel they said, “What a shame.” She spoke about lifting those judgments and the readers she’s found in YA fiction in a way that made me think about doing this, and I do think she’s one of the reasons I’m here today. That was a transformative time for me, when my mind was open… a perfect moment to attend AWP.

Now, years later, I just attended my fourth AWP conference—this time in Minneapolis. My first time going, I was a quiet note-taker in the audience, but this year, I was on two panels of my own, speaking before crowded rooms full of people. (And then, after, quietly taking notes in the audience at everyone else’s panels. Some things never change.)

Photo: Claire Kirch, courtesy of Publishers Weekly. From left: me, Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Photo: Claire Kirch, courtesy of Publishers Weekly. From left: me, Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and Jewell Parker Rhodes.

I was thankful to be sent to the conference by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University, where I am an instructor and a YA mentor in their Your Novel Year certificate program. Our panel was in the first slot on the first morning of the conference, on Plot IS Character, Character IS Plot, with the glorious Jewell Parker Rhodes, the director of the Piper Center and an incredible writer and woman, along with some of the Your Novel Year instructors, including Bill Konigsberg, Varian Johnson, and me. We talked about plot and character and how the two intersect and inform each other… and our panel was even written up in Publishers Weekly!

The next day, I took part in a panel on Growing Up in a Magical Space: Magical Realism in Contemporary YA and Children’s Literature, moderated by the immensely talented Laura Ruby, one of my favorite authors!, and with wonderful fellow writers Janet Fox, Nikki Loftin, and Samantha Mabry. We had a great discussion about the blurry definition of magical realism in YA, and I confessed that, to me, The Walls Around Us is a ghost story, though I’ve seen it called magical realism all over the place and had to question my own understanding of the genre and my intentions.

So that was the official stuff. It was an honor to panel with these wonderful fellow authors, and I was thrilled at how packed each of the rooms were and by the great audience questions and the discussions we had.

However, for me, the AWP conference is about far more than talking on a panel, even beside some phenomenal fellow YA authors. AWP is the one conference where I can be a writer and not an author. This is so refreshing to me, it’s like tugging off an uncomfortable set of professional clothes and slipping on a soft pair of pajamas.

What happens when you get to an AWP panel late... You sit on the floor and listen. Here's my view of the Young Adult Literature and the Female Body panel.
What happens when you get to an AWP panel late… You sit on the floor and listen. Here’s my view of the Young Adult Literature and the Female Body panel.

AWP is my favorite conference out of all conferences because of the main focus on writing craft. I like the sense of skill-sharing—that so many writers (was it almost 13,000 this year in Minneapolis?) come together to talk writing, and also do readings and see old friends and have parties and whatever else happens when so many thousands of writers get together in a borrowed city for three/four/five days. I like that I go to think only about writing, to talk only about writing, to gather inspiration and knowledge to make more writing and to teach writing and work with other writers. I’m not being my author-self, I’m being my true-self, which is a writer.

For someone who struggles with the public face of being an author—the online persona, the in-person persona, the competition, the comparison, the cliques, every last stitch of it—I found AWP reinvigorating and, well, refreshing. Probably because YA is still such a small pocket of the conference and so many other kinds of writers are there, too, and I know I’m not in their cliques, perhaps? Maybe the pressure is off because most of the literary magazines and small presses filling the book fair wouldn’t publish me anyway, so I don’t care as much? Maybe that’s it? The sense of freedom?

(Though I did gravitate to the One Story table… buying some issues to support them and sending a little silent wish into the ether that I would one day be published by One Teen Story, my current dream journal. Hey, I haven’t changed that much.)

The mayor (!) of Minneapolis introduced the keynote speaker, Karen Russell. p.s. The mayor of Minneapolis has an unpublished YA novel in her drawer... YA editors, get on that?
The mayor (!) of Minneapolis introduced the keynote speaker, Karen Russell. p.s. The mayor of Minneapolis has an unpublished YA novel in her drawer… YA editors, get on that?

All I know is AWP is entirely what you make of it. What I like to do is attend select craft panels and readings and wander the book fair and support literary journals and small presses I admire. No pressure. No stress about networking, though it tends to happen naturally. I keep my schedule overbooked and always open, in case I change my mind, which I do, constantly. I let myself follow my whims.

And I take advantage of how gigantic the crowd is… and disappear to have introvert time in my hotel room whenever I feel like it.

At this year’s AWP, I came away with so much thinking and inspiration and challenges to myself, some I am still mulling over now, a full week later.

Some of my favorite panels included Young Adult Literature and the Female Body with Megan Atwood, Brandy Colbert, Christine Heppermann, Alexandra Duncan, and Steve Brezenoff… Women Writing Darkness: Villains, Violence, and Unhappy Endings with Michelle Hoover, Allison Amend, Sabina Murray, Sheri Joseph, and Kate Racculia… Young Adults, New Adults, & the Women Who Write Them: Navigating the Politics of Gender & Genre in Young Adult Literature with Cecil Castellucci, Laurel Snyder, Lynn Melnick, Marian Crotty, and Stephanie Kuehn… Politics of Empathy: Writing Through Borrowed Eyes with Lorraine Berry, Matthew Salesses, Prageeta Sharma, Tess Taylor, and Aimee Phan… Striving for Balance between Language and Prejudice in Teaching Writing with Alexander Chee, Danielle Evans, Christine Lee, Jennine Capó Crucet, and Mat Johnson… and Teen Sex in Fiction for Adults with Pamela Erens, Gina Frangello, Anna March, Elissa Schappell, and Julia Fierro.

Yep. I went to a good bunch of panels that resonated—and there were so many more I missed, which makes me hungry already for next year’s conference, if I can afford to go, fingers crossed. There is so much going on at once, so much happening at the conference and at off-site places surrounding the conference, that you will never ever feel like you’ve done enough or seen enough people… which I guess makes you all the more inclined to come back next year.

There were only a few panels on YA or children’s books when I attended AWP in 2008. Now, not so many years later, we’re very much a part of things at this yearly conference that you just can’t deny us. Here’s a small sampling of photos from YA and children’s panels this year that was featured in Publishers Weekly.

Some other cool moments: I won a week-long writing retreat in Los Angeles in a raffle! I ran into my oldest writing friend on the plane and ended up hanging out with her for much of the conference (hi, Erin)! I ran into my very first writing workshop teacher, from my first year in college, and she recognized me right away! I introduced myself to a literary fiction author whose books I love and she actually knew who I was! I saw so many colony friends and MFA classmates and summer workshop friends and authors I admire and lovely Binders and I read an intense and gorgeous book on the plane ride home that I’d picked up at the book fair: The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson.

I hope to be able to attend AWP in Los Angeles in 2016. And if I do, let’s try to run into each other there, okay?



The Calm Before the Who-Knows-What: 110 Days to Publication

walls arcs 400I write this to you from a quiet moment in my publishing life. It is December 5, the year 2014, and I am in the room at the rear of the café at a table beside the outlet where I can safely sit with my back against a wall. I am all alone in a room full of noisy people, which is both literal and symbolic at the same time. I write this nervously, of course, and with hope, always, about what the future might bring. My new book comes out next year, and next year is close. The pub date is March 24, to be exact, which I can see ahead on the calendar and which feels breathlessly about to happen and also at the same time safely still far away.

The moment is quiet still, because nothing has happened yet. There have been no trade reviews yet. It is too soon to do much promoting, or to weigh any reactions. I haven’t had to dress up at an event for this book yet and talk about it in front of people. Anything is possible at this point. The book comes out in 110 days.

There are 110 days to go, and the book is mine still, even though some people have been reading it and kindly telling me so on Twitter.

Today, someone tweeted me something I said a while back. I guess I said, “When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself.” And that’s true. I want to remember that, no matter what happens.

Everything is about to be up in the air next year. Where I’ll live. What work I’ll be doing. What will happen with my writing career. How this book will do out in the world. How that will determine everything else, including, though I’d hate to let that happen, my self worth.

I don’t know yet. I can’t know yet. We’re waiting on news about our apartment. I can’t do much to figure things out for next year because I’m about to go away and be offline for three weeks. The book I’m writing now is due next month, and it’s the last book on my contract. I don’t know what I’ll write next.

The best thing I can do for myself is have no expectations. To look ahead into the future and see a complete and total blank. When I get my hopes up, it’s dangerous. When I skew too negative, it’s far worse. When I keep myself busy, and try not to think about anything beyond next week when I’ll take the train upstate to finish my novel, it’s okay.

So let’s just be okay today.

I wanted to write to you from this moment in my life. From before.

If you, too, are on the edge of something and want to imagine someone sitting next to you in the noisy waiting room crowded with other people all going about their lives, I’m here. I’m feeling quiet. But I’m here.

p.s. I’m too tired to check my math. If it’s actually less than 110 days, don’t tell me.

On Deadlines (Oh, How I Love a Solid Deadline)

(Just a little reminder to myself, written in my first-draft notebook.)

First off, in case I haven’t been talking about it enough and boring you with it, I have a deadline. You haven’t heard? So it’s November 1, and it’s the deadline to turn in the first official draft of my new novel to my new publisher. The book was sold on proposal, which means I had a lot of pages to write, and quickly, and I’m still not done yet, I feel very far from done, and it’s already October 4, and cue urgency, and cue one-track-deadline-mind, cue a healthy motivational level of panic.

I kind of love deadlines, actually. I love all of the above. This gets me writing.

(And, little psychological interlude I guess: Having a deadline makes me feel wanted. Someone wants to read my book enough that they gave me a deadline! That makes me feel really, really good.)

I’ve run into an interesting phenomenon lately when I mention my deadline. It’s one where I am all gung-ho crazy-serious about this deadline—like, I can go around blaming it for everything (I don’t have time to (a) go to the gym (b) clean (c) eat healthy (d) see friends (e) take that freelance project (f) the list goes on, I’m on deadline blah!). I know I take it too far. I exaggerate. I am very dramatic (was accused of this just last night!).

So, yeah, it’s not the end of the world or anything.

But at the same time, I kept sensing that not all writers take these book deadlines as seriously. Or understood why I was being so serious about mine. And it made me wonder about myself? Why do I?

Here’s why.

Talking to some authors while I was away at my last colony, I explained I was there for an emergency residency and I had this deadline and I didn’t know if I could make it but I was putting my all into trying, and the most common response was…

But why do you have to make the deadline?

Deadlines don’t mean that much.

Publishers move deadlines all the time.

And sure, that happens. I remember. I worked in publishing, and manuscript deadlines rarely held. But here’s the other thing about working in publishing—as the production editor for these books, when those deadlines didn’t hold because the author and the editor needed more time? Not always did the publishing season shift. What shifted was the time the other people in the office had to work on the book—the designer, the typesetter, and last and yes actually least, the production editor, the in-house copyediting person who is supposed to catch every last typo before your book goes to press. I’d be the one losing time. And for someone whose job it was to make sure the books were PERFECT, you can imagine how exasperating and stressful this was. I once spent Thanksgiving weekend working on an enormous book, unpaid because salaried employees don’t get overtime and no freelancer could do the work as quickly as I could, at home, because the production deadline couldn’t move and I was the last round in the shrinking schedule. I’ve made mistakes during rush schedules that have haunted me, because not having enough time is never an excuse. The job could be so overwhelming, often due to the way work piled up and everything was due at the same time, and deadlines weren’t always met… that I stopped in 2009.

Yes I know publishers often have a cushion with their deadlines, to avoid just this problem. I am sure I have a cushion. If I need it.

But why be all blasé at the start? I’d rather take advantage of that cushion later, if I need it, during revisions.

When I don’t make my deadlines as a writer, I can’t help but think of that person at the end of the assembly line at my publisher—that person who was me, a short number of years ago—and I want her to have her Thanksgiving weekend, you know?

I really want to make my writing deadlines.

I take them very seriously.

I don’t always make them—and I hate that—but it is not for lack of trying.

At the same time, if I need more time I want to be as honest about it as possible, and say that as early as possible, so the schedule can be adjusted.

For authors, meeting—truly trying your best to meet—your deadlines is a way of respecting everyone in this process. There are a lot of people whose hands will be on this book, in one way or another, and I am honored and humbled by that. I want them to have the time they need to do their best work, too.

Right now, I am very early in the publishing process of this book, and the schedule can be adjusted—there is still time.

…So why am I working so hard, then, and pushing myself to write a crazy amount of words in such a short amount of time? Why not take as much time as I want to write this book?

Art can’t be rushed, right?

Because time is relative. I find that my time expands to fill the time I have. If I’d been given a year to finish this draft, I would have taken every last day of that year. If I had two years, I’d take the two. I don’t know why, but I always seem to feel like I never have enough time. I want to challenge myself with this draft and finish it by November 1, or as close to that date as I can.

Then I’ll revise. My favorite part of writing is the revising anyway.

There’s also the issue of money, which I know not all writers like to talk about because it’s crass, but, that’s part of it, too: I can’t stretch this out and take my sweet time on this—which would be, oh, from experience I’d guess three-and-a-half years of luxurious discovery and writing only when I am fired up and inspired—because I no longer have a day job to keep me afloat. I signed this contract with full intention to deliver. I want to keep this book on time, because I want the next book on the contract to be on time. It affects advance payouts and later book deals and my career for the foreseeable future.

That’s also the reason I wanted to sell on proposal, which is another question I get. I have thought of taking my ideal block of time—three-and-a-half years—and stepping back from all this and going back to a nine-to-five full-time office job so I didn’t have to rush myself and so I could still pay my bills, and selling a book only after I’ve written the whole thing and revised it a few times, too, the idea of which fills me with envy, but I didn’t choose that.

I chose this deadline.

So I’m trying to make it.

I am trying.

I don’t know if I can do it. I may need more time.

If I do, if I can’t complete a good first draft in the time I have allotted, I will be honest. Until then, I guess the production-editor part of me is still alive and kicking. And she really wants me to make November 1.

Your Last Chance (for Now) to Take an Online Writing Class with Me!

Writers! Are you working on a YA or middle-grade novel and want some feedback and assistance polishing it up to submit to agencies and publishers? Well, maybe I can help.

I wanted to post quickly here to say that my eight-week online YA Novel Writing: Master Class with Mediabistro starts next week! I don’t want the class to get too big, but there are a couple spaces left, so I wanted to tell you.

The first assignment is due this coming Monday morning—and the first online discussion is this coming Wednesday night.

I don’t have plans to teach another class like this in the near future since I expect my schedule to be changing this year, so if you’ve been waiting to sign up, I’d say do it now! I may not lead this class again.

Here’s a post I made before, answering some frequently asked questions about the class.

And here’s where you can sign up to take the class with Mediabistro.

You should also feel free to email me directly to ask questions.

[ETA: Registration is now full—thank you to everyone who signed up!]

Teaching a Spring Session of My YA Novel Writing Class

mediabistroI’ve been teaching an online YA Novel Writing: Master Class with Mediabistro this winter, and I can’t even tell you how much I’ve been enjoying it. I love being a part of helping other writers polish their novels and write ahead to complete their drafts—and reading the pages every week, sometimes as they write, has been rewarding and eye-opening, both as an instructor and a writer. In fact, I’ve enjoyed leading this winter’s class so much, that I’ll be teaching a new session in the spring.

I wanted to announce here—in case any writers reading this blog are interested— that my YA Novel Writing: Master Class for spring starts in April. It’s eight weeks long and involves weekly online workshops as well as feedback from me on pages every week.

Please don’t be intimidated by the “master class” in the course title. This just means this is not a class for beginning writers who are new to writing fiction.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions, but if there’s something you’d like to know about this class, you are welcome to email me.

Q: Do you need to have a complete novel to sign up for this class?

A: No, you don’t. You can sign up with a novel-in-progress. You can also sign up if you have a draft of your novel already written that you’d like to revise. You will be turning in up to 10 pages a week—new or revised, up to you. Some of the students in my class now have already written full drafts of their YA or middle-grade novels and are turning in pages with revision in mind. Some started the class with unfinished novels and are writing ahead, hoping to finish their first drafts. And others are beginning novels in this class and writing a new set of pages every week. It’s up to you—whatever would be the most helpful use of your eight weeks with me.

However, I would say that it would be most helpful to you as a writer to have a solid idea of what you want to be working on in this class. If you are not sure of what you want to write and are seeking a writing class to explore ideas, this wouldn’t be the class for you.

Q: How does the workshop aspect of the class work?

A: Each writer will be “workshopped”—critiqued—in our online text-based chatroom in detail two or three times in the eight weeks. This means we discuss all pages turned in by your workshop date in the online discussion. Other writers are also asked to leave written feedback for that week’s writers in the forums, so you will gain feedback from your peers in two ways.

Q: But do you read my pages every week?

A: Yes, even if you aren’t up for workshop that week, I will be reading and giving you written feedback on your pages every week.

Q: Will this class involve a lot of reading?

A: It could. The class is capped at 12 students, which means most weeks you will be reading pages from four writers and preparing to discuss their work in the online chat as well as leave them written feedback.

Q: Can I take this class from anywhere?

A: Yes, you can take this class from anywhere (and you can take it while wearing pajamas!), so long as you can access the discussions online every week. They will be at 9pm Eastern Standard Time on Wednesdays. The chatroom is text-based and easy to use.

Q: Will you be able to read and critique my whole novel in this class?

A: No, I can’t read your whole novel in this class. We’ll just have eight weeks, so I’ll be reading 80 pages. They don’t have to be in order—so long as you turn in a plot summary of anything I’ve missed. I can’t read the rest of your novel after class ends, sorry.

Q: Do I have to be writing a YA novel to take this class?

A: You can sign up if you’re writing a middle-grade novel. There are usually at least a few middle-grade writers in the class, though most of the writers in class tend to be working on YA. However, if you are writing an adult novel—even if you think it has potential to gain a teen readership—this is not the class for you.

Q: Can I take this class if I’ve never written a novel before?

A: You are welcome to sign up even if you’ve never tackled writing a novel before, but I highly recommend that you have some experience writing fiction, even if it’s not YA or middle-grade. Many of your fellow students will have taken writing courses before, and some will even have MFAs. Some will have a lot of experience writing YA and knowledge of the industry. Others are writing YA for the first time, though they’ve written fiction before. This has made for a great, wise, helpful group when it comes to workshops and feedback, and varying perspectives. But if you are a brand-new writer not used to regular writing deadlines like this, I’d suggest taking an introductory class instead. If you’ve never written fiction before, this won’t be the class for you.

Mediabistro has some wonderful courses, and they are always adding new ones. Here, take a look. For example, here’s a YA writing class taught by an editor at Alloy… and it begins in March!

Q: Do you choose the writers who get to be in the class or screen the submissions?

A: No, Mediabistro screens the applications. You’ll need a two-page writing sample and a short letter of interest, explaining why you want to take this class and what experience you have. I find out who has signed up for the class about a week before. It’s always a fun surprise! Admissions are rolling, though, so you probably shouldn’t wait till the last minute to sign up. The class is capped at 12 students.

Q: Do I have to pay the tuition up front, in full?

A: Yes, I am pretty sure you need to pay in full for the class when you’re approved to register. You can apply here through Mediabistro, and you can ask them registration/payment questions directly.

Q: But I am busy this spring… will you be teaching this class again?

A: I am not sure if I’ll be teaching this class again—right now, I have no plans to do so—but if I am, I will announce it here.

If there are any questions I haven’t answered, please feel free to ask. Or here is Mediabistro’s FAQ.


Thank you to everyone who may be considering taking this class—and thanks to those who’ve emailed with questions and interest! I can’t wait to see who signs up this spring and to dive in and start reading the novels…

KidLitCon Recap: In Which I Wear My New Lucky Blue Shoes, Reveal My Secrets About Blog Series, and Get Sappy About Why I Do This

So my presentation with Kelly Jensen of STACKED at the Kidlitosphere Conference was this weekend and—spoiler—I think it went well!

For those of you who don’t know, the Kidlitosphere Conference, aka KidLitCon, is a yearly conference for bloggers in young adult and children’s lit, and this year it was held in New York City, at the main branch of the New York Public Library, and hosted by Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production and Monica Edinger of Educating Alice. The Saturday conference I attended, organized by Betsy Bird, went so well, and was full of great panels and talks, and I have to say, it was a real honor to be a part of this. Especially presenting at Kelly’s side.

On Friday, the bloggers made pre-conference visits to different publishing houses for previews of their upcoming lists. I wasn’t there for that, but I did hear a rumor that my editor mentioned my own upcoming book at the Penguin preview, so yay!

My own presentation was at the Saturday conference, and though Kelly and I were on at noon, we had to be at the loading-dock entrance to the NYPL at 8am. (Note: This is even earlier than I get up for writing dates with one of my early-rising writing friends. So I was bleary, hadn’t eaten, and am shocked that I made it there on time… early, no less.) We were shown the room we’d be presenting in and were given the chance to test out our Prezi presentation, and all was well. Then we had time to kill, and nerves to keep at bay, until the conference officially started at 10am.

At this point—in the creepy upstairs seating section of a local deli/bodega—I changed out of my sneakers and into my new blue shoes. My bad ankle was bothering me, which was why the sneakers, but I needed to do it. For luck.

Here I am pulling up my pant legs for Kelly so she could photograph my lucky shoes. My pants did not look that ridiculous in their natural state.

(Photo thanks to Kelly Jensen)

Shoes? Miz Mooz. My favorite shoe place since I can’t justify/afford Fluevogs. Socks? Who knows. But it took me ages to find two that matched.

So, after nibbling on one-quarter of a toasted bagel and a banana, we left the bodega and went back to the NYPL in time for the doors to officially open. I took a deep breath. I made a name tag. I cheated on my assigned schedule and attended the presentation in the room before mine: “Community-Building On and Off the Blog: Secrets, Tips, and Cautionary Tales” from bloggers and authors at From the Mixed-Up Files, and got some great advice from the wonderful, engaging presenters… and probably would have heard more if I didn’t nervously keep going in and out of the room, reading over my presentation notes because we were on next.

Here we are in the minutes before the presentation began. I have no excuses for my face beyond to tell you I was ready to begin and I knew my nerves would go away once it did.

(Me and Kelly, five minutes before the presentation started. Photo thanks to Liz Burns.)

…And my nerves did go away as soon as I started talking.

Our presentation was “Getting Series-ous: How Blog Series Can Engage, Inspire, and Grow Your Audience”—in which Kelly and I talked about our own experiences planning and running blog series. I talked about how the What Scares You? blog series, which launched last October and was my first experience organizing a series of themed guest posts, got me inspired to keep doing this. And not only will there be a reprise of What Scares You? coming up in time for Halloween (look out for some great new guest blogs and interviews with YA authors who write dark, twisted, creepy books!), it was this experience with that first series that made me want to do the ones that followed: What Inspires You?, the YA Debut Interview Series, and of course the Turning Points series, kicked off in the very beginning by this incredible post by Gayle Forman that I find myself needing to read again and again.

On STACKED, Kelly has hosted series such as Author Twitterviews (featuring Emily Hainsworth this month), October Horror Month, Contemporary YA Week, and—my favorite of blog series all over the internet—So You Want to Read YA?—to which I contributed a post. I think we were the perfect two people—coming at it from the librarian/blogger perspective and the author perspective—to talk about how to go about doing a blog series of your own.

The presentation touched on how to come up with an idea for a series—something that gets people talking and writing and starts up an ongoing conversation (much like I think the Turning Points series does), as well as what’s of interest to the YA and kidlit community now, and that’s always shifting, so there are always new ideas coming.

We also discussed how to organize a series and arrange the order and promotion of the posts, and how to approach contributors including big-name authors. I talked about how, yes, I do cold-email big-name authors. Sometimes they say yes and I am thrilled. Sometimes they ignore me completely. And sometimes they write back about how busy they are, and I absolutely respect that and thank them for their time. It doesn’t hurt to ask, is my philosophy on that, and when authors say no or ignore my emails I don’t take it personally. I know how it feels to be overwhelmed, believe me.

But at the same time, I think it’s so very important to not just include names people would recognize. One of the big reasons I do these blog series is because I want to help support other authors. I want to share books and writers I love with the world, and I want to give other writers a venue for reaching a different, or bigger, audience.

Yes, our presentation slipped into the touchy-feely aspect of why we do these blog series: to connect to others, to be a part of the YA and kidlit community. That’s why I started this, and why I continue, even though, admittedly, organizing these series can be such a lot of work for me and I know I have a new book to write. The thing is, I don’t want to review books—that’s a conflict of interest for me, I believe, as someone so connected to other authors in a personal manner and as an author myself—and I don’t want to talk about myself all the time. Self-promotion is painful. (For example, I did a little of it this week and felt physically ill afterward. Not exaggerating. I still have a headache.) I’m a shy person and I don’t like people looking at me. But I love love love pointing the spotlight on other talented, deserving writers. I love showcasing other voices and stories and promoting someone else’s writing instead of my own.

So that’s why—as an author, as a reader, as a member of the YA community, and as a person—I like holding these blog series and hope to continue.

I sound sappy, don’t I?

That’s a little of what we talked about at the presentation. We actually had so much material, we had to cut out a few things and stop so there was time for questions. And what good, thought-provoking questions!

There were some great questions from the audience—thank you to everyone who came; you were so wonderfully engaged and willing to participate and I appreciated it so much!—including one asking if we edited the posts we include in our series before putting them up. I admitted one thing: I don’t ever edit for content. But I do, depending on how much time I have and how intense my own book deadlines, copyedit for typos and secretly fix the obvious ones to make the guest authors here look as good and mistake-free as possible. And I have been known to add serial commas to any posts on this blog. I guess guest-posters should be warned: I feel very strongly about serial commas.

The room we were presenting in—this is an interesting tidbit—was in the area formerly taken up by a reservoir before the city of New York went searching for other places to get their drinking water… and built reservoirs upstate, like the Ashokan, which is what the reservoir in Imaginary Girls was inspired by, and was my own local reservoir when I was a teenager.

Why am I telling you this? Because, since the room was set between the old stone walls of the former reservoir, it blocked all cell-phone service. At first this helped ease my nerves, because I realized people wouldn’t be able to tweet pictures of me making silly faces up on stage. But I guess some people were able to get online via the wifi, because here are a few tweets that came through during our presentation.

Here’s a hint of a new blog series I have launching this fall… More details on this soon…

Thank you to everyone who tweeted!

I also brought a stack of these to the presentation to give away at the end:

(All these signed ARCs were there to give away!)

I was thrilled at how quickly they were snapped up—and how there were none left over for me to carry home on the subway—and I hope people like the book! (Talk about nerves and getting a headache over them, yikes.)

After the presentation, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the conference, which included a fascinating discussion of “Critical Reviewing and ‘Niceness'”—and as an author who tries not to read her own reviews because I am hyper-sensitive and too easily destroyed by the faintest pinprick, I am far too biased to comment on this. There was also a presentation on “The Changing Relationship Between Reader and Writer,” with authors I admire: Gayle Forman, Alyssa Sheinmel, Michael Northrop, and Adele Griffin (all of whom have, or will soon!, be writing a guest blog for one of my series, interestingly enough).

And then of course there was the keynote by Maureen Johnson, who surprised us all by inviting a sensible friend up on stage with her. That sensible friend was Robin Wasserman, who I spent some time with at the Launch Pad Workshop this summer, and I’ve personally benefited from her wise, blunt, and knowledgeable advice on being an author and doing this whole publishing thing, so yes, she was a good choice. Also, the two of them together were hilarious.

I ended the day happy, drained, and feeling good about how the presentation went. And I’d definitely recommend KidLitCon as a great small and more personal conference to attend for bloggers—and authors who want to be a part of it. Rumors are it may be in Austin next year.

Want more detailed recaps of KidLitCon 2012?

• Here’s Kelly Jensen’s recap of the whole conference, including our presentation together

• Here’s a publisher’s perspective from Lee & Low Books

• Here’s Betsy Bird’s recap, in which she’s modest about what a fantastic conference she put together and celebrates that no one was eaten by a bear (true! as far as I know)

And if you want a peek at our Prezi presentation—take a look right here!