Daily Archives: February 5, 2010

Vermont College Week: Student and Faculty Interviews and a very important event tomorrow–see end of post.

A Few More Student Interviews . . .

Carol Brendler (published)

Are you glad you sought this degree from this school? Why?

Vermont College and the MFA-WCYA degree was always a dream of mine, and fulfilling that dream was a major milestone for me, a highlight in my life.

What was the best part of school for you?

Being surrounded with and supported by talented writers who could talk rings around me about children’s books and the writing craft.

How has it helped you?

To compare my ability before the program to afterwards is like comparing the sound of a single clarinet to that of a full-sized swing band.

If you have published since, or have a contract, would you have published without the benefit of going to school?

Yes, my first book sale came just as I began the program.

What was the hardest part of the degree?

For me it was having all my reading time taken up with studying novels and picture books. Sometimes analyzing a book sucks the joy right out of the story.

How has your life changed (not including debt or monies spent)?

I find that as I prepare for a new project, I am much better at weeding out crappy ideas and focusing on what will make a story work. I trust my instincts when confronting a plotting issue or a character problem because my instincts have been fine tuned by some of the greatest writers in the business, my Vermont College advisors and faculty.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in going to school at Vermont College?

Not to fear that you’ll not fit in. Children’s writers are the most giving and accepting people in the world, and at VCFA this is magnified to the Nth degree. All kinds of people enter the program, and most leave with bonds to other writers that will last a lifetime.

Nina Kidd (published illustrator)

Are you glad you sought this degree from this school? Absolutely. Why?

While a ten-year-old program doesn’t seem that it could be well-tested and comprehensive, VCFA’s program of Writing for Children and Young Adults definitely is. The low residency is an excellent format, too, because it requires that questions, random thoughts, nearly all communication that students have with teachers is done at the keyboard. It was such a rich experience to be writing letters, essays, annotated bibliographies, poetry, short stories as well as the novels I had been working on.

What was the best part of school for you? In the greater sense, just having committed the time (and money) gave me permission to throw myself wholly into my writing. The single best part was meeting and working and playing with writers, the students from lots of different backgrounds, and of course the faculty.

How has it helped you? Having a degree from VCFA gets you into an editor’s front hall, like having a famous parent. And you have the confidence that you have written publishable work.

If you have published since, or have a contract, would you have published without the benefit of going to school? I published before VCFA.

What was the hardest part of the degree? It was a lot of work, but I can’t say hard, like, ‘I don’t think I can do it.’ There was so much encouragement and always right at hand. Having said that, the critical thesis was the hardest. Settling on a subject that was the right size for a fifty page paper in an area I seriously wanted to learn about was tough.

How has your life changed (not including debt or monies spent)? I feel as if writing can really be my career now. As Martine Leavitt told us, I can say, “I’m a writer,” now without choking, and that gives me the strength to carve out the time for it and promoting it. Marketing my work was always hugely traumatic to me (you know–the rejection part?), but I feel much better equipped to deal with that bit of it now.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in going to school at Vermont College?

Know that what people say is not an exaggeration: going through those two years can fundamentally change your life. Your basic priorities could very well shift. Be ready to ask yourself, do I really want to be a writer first and foremost? And what will that do to my relationships, my lifestyle? You can’t really know how this intense experience will change you in advance, just throw yourself into it and enjoy, then know that the hardest part may very well be coming back to earth afterward.

Rebecca Van Slyke (published illustrator)

Are you glad you sought this degreee from this school? Why?

Definitely! VCFA has given me the skills to pursue writing on a more professional level. In addition, I have a whole network of friends who also share the passion of writing for children and who are pulling for my success.

What was the best part of school for you?

Being in a room full of people who share the same love of writing and are at such a high level was a humbling experience. I’m so grateful to be a part of such an amazing group of people.

How has it helped you?

Being able to say that I graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults gets my manuscripts a second look from publishers. I also was able to land an agent because of my contacts with VCFA.

If you have published since, or have a contract, would you have published without the benefit of going to school?

What was the hardest part of the degree? It was challenging to carve out time to write while working full-time, but it was also good discipline for me. In the past, I’d put off writing because there were “more important” things to do. Working towards the degree made me prioritize my writing.

How has your life changed (not including debt or monies spent)? Not only has my time at VCFA improved my writing, I now read more critically.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in going to school at Vermont College? If you’re interested in improving your writing, GO! Do whatever it takes, but GO! Your writing, your reading, and your life will never be the same! It sounded corny the first time I heard it, but I’ve heard graduates say it over and over, and now I’m saying it, too.

And the VCFA Faculty Says . . .

David Gifaldi (author of Listening for Crickets, Toby Scudder, King of the School, Ben, King of the River, Rearranging, Gregory, Maw, and the Mean One, One Thing for Sure, Yours Till Forever, The Boy Who Spoke Colors)

1. What students get from VC first of all is knowledge of craft.  Students get monthly feedback on their writing and are required to read, analyze, and evaluate what’s been and what is being written for young people.  Everything is  based on learning what good writing is and what tools are available for making one’s own writing something that is emotionally true and publishable.  All this results in self-confidence and discipline, the two pillars upon which all writers must stand.

2. Jump in!  Send your best writing in for evaluation.  You’ll be accepted, which will be the start of something you’ll look back upon as one of the best things you ever did with your time and money—-or you’ll be told what you need to work on to get your work up to graduate-school quality.  But even rejection is only a temporary setback if writing for young people is your passion. There are so many opportunities for learning to become a good writer these days.  There are courses, help, and feedback available everywhere…at colleges, conferences, workshops, critique groups, online classes, blogs.

3. Decide that you’re going to grab hold of everything that transpires at the residency.  Take notes at all lectures and readings.  Ask questions.  Review what you’ve learned at workshops and lectures every day.  Write it down!  If you don’t, you’ll forget things that could help you later. The pace of each residency is so frenetic that it will become just a blur in your memory if you don’t take notes and reflect every day.  I’m still going back to notes I took when I was a student…still going back to my residency evaluations in which I wrote down exactly what each speaker was saying and how I thought this or that insight would help me with my writing deficiencies.  My notes re-inspire me every time I look at them as I recall the community, rigorous discipline, and goodwill of Vermont’s famous residencies.

4. This kind of goes along with the end of my previous answer.  I gain inspiration and community, and feel good when I see my students making so much progress.  Over and over again as an instructor I realize we’re all (student and teacher) in this “creative” thing together.  I’m confronted daily with how spiritually important and singular is the human imagination…and how crucial is the need for creative expression.

Martine Leavitt (author of Keturah and Lord Death, Heck Superhero, The Dollmage, Tom Finder, The Taker’s Key, Prism Moon, Dragon Tapestry and other titles)

1. What benefit have you seen your learners get from attending VC? – They learn how to write. Well. They get to spend two years intensely developing their craft, doing the thing they most love in the world, and at the end they get an advanced degree. They build a writing community.

2. What advice would you give the wannabe attendee? – Often the wannabe attendee comes to the school because she’s been told all her life she’s a good writer. Leave that at the door – enter humble.

3.  How can a student get the very most from each residency? Bring snacks.

4. What do you gain from teaching at VC? – I learn just as much as a member of the faculty as I did as a student. Every graduation, I get a little panicky feeling… and then I remember, no, Martine, it’s not you graduating. You get to come back.

Tim Wynne-Jones (author of three Rex Zero books, The Uninvited, A Thief in the House of Memory, The Boy in the Burning House, Stephen Fair, The Maestro, Lord of the Fries, plus many picture books and other writings)

1. What benefit have you seen your learners get from attending VC?

Writers come to us with varying expectations and desires. One recent grad was already well-published when she arrived and, to tell you the truth, as one of her advisors, I was a little intimidated by her success. What could we teach her? Well, she recently wrote to tell us of a new publication deal for a very different kind of book than she had published before. She credits Vermont College with not letting her coast. And I think in a way this is what we do — or try to do — for all of our writers: challenge them to push the envelope, dare to go where they haven’t gone before. Write from some deeper place.

> 2. What advice would you give the wanna be attendee?

Come prepared to have your safe world of writing temporarily breached! I think we all write ourselves into little strongholds complete with a moat and drawbridge. We work from a places where we feel ourselves to be in narrative control. When you come to VC, you will meet a whole lot of writers who are on the brink of going the next step, lowering the drawbridge, raising the portcullis, letting the invading forces in! (Okay, a rather medieval kind of extended metaphor, but you get my drift.) It’s a heady experience and a little bit scary for some. But it’s bracing, too, and any fear you might have is mitigated by the care and attention you will receive from your peers. You will never be in a better place to try out your new you.

> 3.  How can a student get the very most from each residency?

As with everything in life, you will only get what you put in. As mentioned above, you can’t coast. You have to bring your best game and be prepared to question all your convictions about writing. What I hope will happen to you is that you will get a lot closer to that inner core of who you are and what you believe in — your moral center, if you like — and write from there!

> 4. What do you gain from teaching at VC?

All the same things that I hope our students get. After seven years of teaching at VC I feel as if I learn something new with every residency, with every student packet, and with every workshop. It is a chastening experience, sometimes, and a deeply motivating one, as well. Learning to write never stops. And I am so happy to have found a place, a group of people, that challenge me to write my best — and then better yet!

Julie Larios (author of: On the Stairs, Have You Ever Done That?, Yellow Elephant, Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures

1. What benefit have you seen your learners get from attending VC?

I think the benefit I’m most proud of is that my students increase their frame of reference by reading so many books over the course of two years – I really do believe that quite a lot can be learned about writing if you are a careful reader of good books. So that’s an odd choice, not at the top of everyone’s list, but there it is. If I can list multiple benefits, I would say also that VC students make lifelong friends with other people who care deeply about writing the best books they can write. These friends provide the year-after-year support system and feedback system that all writers need. I also believe that in a visible, measurable way, student writing improves during the MFA program  – and editors know it. So being able to put “MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults – Vermont College of Fine Arts” on your cover letter opens doors  & gets your work read.  I’m very proud of the fact that we have a critical thesis requirement – I believe we produce scholars as well as writers – people who study with us can carry on intelligent conversations about craft because they’ve been asked to hone this skill during their graduate work. And last, but not least, I think VCFA students learn to develop a recognizable voice of their own – they’re not on an assembly line, creating books with a template. We’re a community that appreciates individuality.

2. Advice for the wanna be attendee? Remember that graduate school is not just an extended meeting of SCBWI – it’s not about marketing, it’s about learning to be a writer.  You’ll be asked to work hard, you’ll push, so come ready to do that. Leave marketing concerns at the door.

3. Well, since I believe the residencies are flat out fun, I have little advice other than this: Go to everything. Join in. Don’t hang back. Sleep later. You’ll never find a more supportive group of people than you find wandering the campus of VCFA during a residency, so be brave and ask questions and voice your opinions. Two years goes by in a blink – take advantage of each minute!

4. Oh, gosh, I learn so much from teaching at VCFA – where to start? I learn that people have dreams and are willing to work very hard to realize them even when they’re scared. This amazes me constantly.  I learn that this can happen at any point in a person’s life.  I learn that the colleagues I teach with are fascinating and brilliant and very very funny. I learn that I have much to learn about writing. I learn that I can’t be all things to all people so I will trust certain students to seek out what I have to offer. I learn I have valuable things to tell people about good writing. I learn to express my opinions in a constructive, supportive way. I learn that if I want people to love poetry, I have to be a gentle advocate for it because people are scared of it. I learn that much of what I know about poetry applies to the writing of fiction. I learn, as with everything I do, that life is short and it’s best to have a sense of humor.

Uma Krishnaswami (author of: Many Windows, Remembering Grandpa, The Closet Ghosts, The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story, Naming Maya, Monsoon and many other titles)

1. What benefit have you seen your learners get from attending VC?

I’ve seen people become the writers they wanted to be when they entered. I’ve seen them gain in confidence, understand their own craft, learn from each other, and grow, grow, grow. I’ve seen people who enter as students leave as my peers and colleagues. What a delight.

2. What advice would you give the wanna be attendee?

Get into the habit of reading a lot, starting this minute. Come prepared to ask questions and know that the answers may not make sense until you’ve given them time to percolate. Prepare to engage in work that is of a higher standard than any you attempted before. Trust the process.

3.  How can a student get the very most from each residency?

Listening, taking notes, asking questions, engaging in the conversations about books and craft that go on all the time. Talk to people outside your class as well as your classmates. But also find time to take a walk, get a breath, stare at the wall if you need to. Expect to be astonished and amazed and sometimes overwhelmed. Know that you are among people who think as you do.

4. What do you gain from teaching at VC?

Oh, it’s changed my writing profoundly. Not only have I written more since I began teaching at VCFA, but my writing has grown. It’s deeper, somehow, more thoughtful. I’m motivated to try new genres and forms because my students are taking risks in their work. I had a student one semester who was writing wonderfully funny material–she inspired me to write humor. That in turn opened up a whole wellspring for me, helped me see connections between my work and writers I loved as a child and teenager. There’s no question–I’m a better writer because I teach at VC.

Yay for Vermont College Week!

Now, for the big news . . . Carol and Ann Dee are signing at the Barnes and Noble in Sandy, Utah tomorrow (Saturday, Feb 6) from 1-4. There will be many many Utah authors there and many many books. Please come and hang out. You won’t regret it.

The End.


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