Finding My Place

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My career has felt like a long series of searches, and nothing is ever illuminated until I am practically standing right on top of it. Trying to get published, to get an agent, in the beginning, was crushing. I slipped back in my archives to see if I should share a post, found something painful, read a few lines, and closed it. You get the picture.

I remember when I found YA—that was a wonderful moment, and it took a long time to get there. I remember when I found an agent, that dream I’d been longing for and it had come true after dozens and dozens of rejections over the years with previous manuscripts. I remember when I discovered that being published wasn’t all balloons and inflatable palm trees on swimming pools, and I felt crushed by that somehow, but I also felt as if I’d known it was coming all along, because I somehow didn’t fully believe I was allowed to be there at all. I remember when I found a new publisher, a smaller publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, and actively chose to make a leap and not be with the “Big Six.” (Haha—it was six big publishers then… now it’s five.) That was right for me. And now, as I work on my new novel, I realize it’s become a solid home for me, and I want to pinch myself.

Earlier this month, I found a new place.

My first teaching residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts went so very well, even I swear while I was living in that tiny dorm room! There was a point when I called E one night and I was trying to explain how I felt about being there and I said that, before this, whenever I was teaching somewhere or doing an author thing I’d be trying to adapt myself into what I thought people wanted me to be. I’d be faking it till I made it, you know? I’d work to fit myself in and I’d try very hard and often I’d succeed and no one knew how hard it was, but then I’d be exhausted. Flattened. Drained. But there at VCFA, I told E, I felt like I was being myself. I was teaching as I would teach. I was talking as I would talk. I was genuinely interested and inspired and fired-up and excited by everything going on around me—and none of it was forced, none of it was me trying to fit in. I’ve never had a job like that where I felt like I could be entirely myself and that was the right person to be. The community welcomed me in, and it was all of them—the faculty, the staff, the students, all the wonderful and talented and dedicated and engaged students—that helped make it such a perfect fit.

(And yes, I will fully admit the residency was exhausting, but in a different manner… I slept, happily, for a few days after I got home, but my mind was buzzing.)

I’m back in New York now and about to embark on all the work that’s coming to me this semester—I have five students I’ll be advising over the course of the semester, and in February their first packets to me are due. So we’ll see how I feel after I make it through this very, very busy winter and spring. (Speaking of busy: I’m also teaching not one but two Djerassi workshops and going to the AWP conference in the middle of this, so wish me luck.)

But right now? I feel like I’ve found yet another new home.

Between Algonquin and VCFA, between the books I’m writing and the students I get to work with, I’m in a strange, bubbly, inflatable-palm-tree-on-a-pool kind of place.

Does this mean I’m happy?

How wild.

I was much better at blogging (and had more readers!) when I was angsty and unpublished and wanting to drown a box of rejection letters in the sea. But this is where I am right now…

Next up in life: Making a new home with E.

But, hey, I’ll stress about that later.

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Joining the Faculty at VCFA

vcfabuildingAs some of you may know—or might have guessed—I’ve been thinking a lot about “success,” purpose, and happiness. I’ve been shifting the focus of my career to have my time not just be focused on me-me-me and promoting my books and writing as fast as I can just to have another book out in the world. I’ve realized I don’t want to be a full-time author. I don’t want to race to write as many books as I can to keep myself afloat—I want to choose carefully what I publish, and write only what speaks to me deeply in my heart. I want balance. To do something that feels more rewarding… My move to Algonquin was the first step. And in addition to that, through all my searching and attempts at reinvention, I discovered a real love for teaching. I realized this could be the answer. I’ve written about my shifting vision for career and success before here and here and here.

My active goal for quite some time has been to build up my c.v. and take on as many teaching opportunities as I could to gain experience and become a better teacher. So I taught courses online. I taught workshops and retreats in person. I joined the Your Novel Year program as a mentor and an online instructor. I taught a course at Columbia University this summer. I just co-taught a workshop at Highlights. And in November I’ll be teaching a workshop at the Writing Barn. I did all this with a solid goal in mind: to find a regular, more stable teaching position at a university.

I had my sights set on teaching in a low-residency MFA program.

I had my sights set on one particular program, in fact: the MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA).

For years, I’ve been watching VCFA from afar, admiring the program, its faculty, its graduates, and asking many questions about how the low-residency model works and specifics about the program. I got my own MFA years and years ago, in a full-time program, and have since found myself envying VCFA’s hold on its alumni. Writers clearly love this program. They go back for post-graduate semesters and to be graduate assistants. They talk about it with such passion. I went to a VCFA gathering at the Boston AWP conference (a friend of mine is a graduate and I tagged along) and was struck by the community that night, impressed by how the program bonds everyone together and seems to live on far from Vermont, even after graduation. I found myself wishing I’d been part of a community like that, but my own MFA had nothing of the sort. I’ve read books from graduates of VCFA and admired the range, and the skill, and the voices.

VCFA is doing something right, I’ve been thinking. Lucky students. Lucky faculty. 

So when I had more experience teaching and wanted to pursue a position at an MFA program, of course VCFA was the first to come to mind.

Well, my goal turned real sooner than I expected, and I am beyond thrilled to say:

logoI am joining the faculty of the low-res MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults at VCFA starting with the January residency!

For those wondering, just to get this out of the way since I’ve been asked: No, this does not mean I’m moving to Vermont! (Too bad, right?) VCFA’s program involves two ten-day residencies per year, in January and July; for the rest of the time, as usual, unless something happens, I will be as usual in New York City.

If you find yourself interested in this wonderful program, and are seeking a flexible but rigorous MFA, apply! It looks like there are two deadlines per year: September 30 and March 15, depending on when you’d prefer to have your first residency.

I’m feeling like this is a new chapter for me. I’ve been wanting more solid ground and a place to teach more regularly, a way to balance my writing career that feels right, and I am very hopeful that VCFA will be that place for me long-term.

As for my other teaching, this means a few things: I won’t be able to continue on with the Your Novel Year program at the Piper Center in 2016, and I’m working with my last mentee there now. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’ve been honored to be a part of it. I also expect to be teaching fewer private workshops in 2016 while I get my bearings…

…though my YA Novel Workshop-Retreat at the Djerassi Program in March 2016 is still going strong, and you can apply to join me! Now accepting applications and getting a jump on reviewing them while I have time.

In 2016 I also will be stopping the private manuscript critiques and private mentoring I’ve enjoyed so much, at least for my first semester so I can focus my time on my VCFA students. However, if you are a former student of mine and we’ve already discussed something for 2016, you are welcome to contact me to see if we can make our schedules meld.

I don’t know all of what January will hold. I’m excited. Nervous. Thrilled. We’ll see how the first semester goes!

If you’re a VCFA student in the WCYA program, please feel free to say hello! I’ll see you on campus in January!