Tuesday, October 28, 2014

After Grad School

My graduating class and I have been talking a lot about how hard it is to get back to writing now that we have finished our master's program. There are a billion and one reasons that we're having trouble picking up a book to read or sitting in front of a computer to write. I need time to recover from sleep deprivation. It's hard to feel motivated without a deadline looming. I'm not sure where to go with a novel without the feedback of an advisor. I have all this grad school weight to work off, and I'm not as bendy as I was two years ago. It's still summer and there are yards to tend, vacations to take and kids to get ready for school.

But the thing is, that all of these excuses have always existed for us as writers. Then again, I did get engaged and I'm planning a wedding and a move across the country as well as looking for a new job and getting used to the idea of becoming a stepmother. So maybe I'll give myself permission to not write for just a little while longer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Graduation Day

It's all kinds of official—I'm a Master of Fine Arts. After two years and 20 packets, plus a horrifyingly stressful presentation of my critical thesis and creative thesis reading, I'm still trying to let it sink in that I have a freaking masters degree.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank a few people.

To my advisors Kathi Appelt, Mark Karlins, Sarah Ellis and A.M. Jenkins, thank you for the time and energy you invested in this story—you have given power to my words. To the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults faculty, staff and students, you taught me so much more than will ever appear on the page.

To my Allies in Wonderland, words cannot express how much I love you and learn from you all and stand in awe that I am a part of this amazing community of writers.

Thank you to my friends and coworkers who kept supporting me even when I forgot birthdays because I had a packet deadline and missed meetings to attend residency.

And finally, to my family. You bolstered me up when I thought I couldn’t finish, you told me to get to work when I thought my well had run dry, you lent me your candle because mine had burned out at both ends. Especially to my father and his sisters, thank you for letting me borrow the family stories. You allowed me to play with the people you know and love so I could turn real family members into fictional characters.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

School Stress, Work Stress

I'd been begging for an assistant in our department for years, and when I started grad school, we started looking for someone to help with the work load. We hired ReDonah, it was immediately obvious that she was far more than a department coordinator, and within weeks I didn't know how I had survived without her. Then, just in time for the last three months of grad school, ReDonah went on maternity leave. I miss her all the time (and not just for the work that she does), but I know she's doing something amazing in caring for her little girl.

So how have I been dealing with the stress of working without ReDonah? Simple. I send her texts whenever I get too stressed out asking for baby pictures to remind me why she's not here. Plus, who could have a bad day after all this cuteness? So for all of you who are stressing out, I share with you some of the most sickeningly sweet baby pictures ever.

Royal less than 24 hours after stealing her mom away from me. But how could I possibly compete with a face like that?

Royal reminding me to chill out and not worry. She'd let me have her mom back in a few months.

Royal pops by for a visit. Shh...don't tell the boss, but productivity might have been down that day.

Oh the horrors! I'm blinded by the cuteness!

She's waving hello before we head into the longest week of the year, preparing for our annual convention.

Good thing I have Alex here. She's totally had my back while ReDonah is gone. Plus, she likes baby pictures, too.

So ReDonah comes back to the office soon. In fact, she comes back the day I leave for my final residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Unfortunately, I won't have any cute baby pictures to send ReDonah to remind her why I've left her with all the work. But I do promise to bring her back a picture book or two.

ReDonah and Alex and all of my other coworkers have supported me through this MFA program. They've encouraged me and asked me about my work. They've never complained when I leave for two weeks twice a year to attend residency. They're understanding when I'm exhausted after pulling an all-nighter to get an assignment in. And they've made sure to tell me that they've seen my writing improve, even though I write healthcare editorial content for work and stories about teenagers for school.

I honestly don't know how long Royal will be in my life—I'd like to think it will be for a good, long while—but I do know that her mom is a huge part of why I've been able to get my master's degree. And maybe someday Royal will pick up one of the books I worked on while I was in grad school, and it will help her through something she's dealing with in her life. But for now, her cuteness is enough to take the edge off the stress.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Exquisite Captive (Dark Caravan Cycle #1) by Heather Demetrios

How lucky was I that I got a sneak peek at this book? And now that it's officially in ARC, I get to review it!

Nalia is a powerful jinni enslaved to a human master who will stop at nothing--literally nothing--to get exactly what he wants. And Malek wants Nalia. It doesn't matter that he tortures Nalia until she wishes for death or that her little brother is suffering in an Arjinnan prison camp or that the jinn are about to self-destruct in their battle for power in the magical realm. But the leader of the Arjinnan Revolution, a man who hates everything that Nalia was born to be, offers her a way to escape Malek and save her brother. Only Nalia and Raif must learn to trust each other and use their power to break the ancient magic that has trapped thousands of helpless jinn on Earth before they can fight for their own goals.

Heather is an amazing plotter, and I want her to share all of her secrets with me. There's great foreshadowing and hint-dropping and set-up for books to come. The subtext about the modern slave trade and war lords and arms dealing and drug trafficking gives it a great depth that I hope teen readers will see as well. I will admit that epiphanic rather than episodic series drive me a little nuts, but that's just personal taste, and this book handles it well. The ending actually feels like an ending and not a cliffhanger, but it still teases us with what's to come.

Nalia is a great character--I know she's done evil things, but I still feel badly for her. Maybe because she has blood on her hands, it makes her psudo-romantic relationship with Malek more believable and understandable. But I'll just admit now: I HATE Malek. I find him despicable in so many ways, which isn't a bad quality in a protagonist. All of the characters are really kind of evil, but somehow, I root for them and understand them. It makes me sound like a bit of a psychopath saying that, but it's totally true.

Visit Heather's webpage for more information and follow her on twitter, facebook and instragram to learn ways to win your own copy of the book. This book will be available at your local book store on October 7, and rumor has it that Heather will also be heading out for a book tour after the release.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Last Grad School Reading List of My Last Semester

Excuse me as I wax nostalgic for a moment. After two years and 226 books (plus hundreds of articles, manuscripts and lectures), I'm feeling a little teary-eyed that I'm posting my last reading list for grad school. Next month I head back up to Vermont for the last time (at least as a grad student) to present my lecture on nonlinear storytelling and read from my historical fiction novel in verse, and then I'll receive my diploma and officially become Kathryn Gaglione, MFA. In so many ways, the past two years have flown by, and in others, it seemed like they would never end. But here we are, at the end of the grad school reading lists. I hope I have given you some new books to add to your own reading list—I know I have discovered a lot of books to love.

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry: This is a dense book. Not that I expected anything else from a 560-page history book on the deadliest plague in recorded history. But it still manages to be an understandable and engaging read. (I hesitate to call it “enjoyable” because the subject matter is anything but.)

Journey by Arron Becker: I loved the twist on Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen: This is a fun book for the genre—just don't expect it to be on the same level as DiCamillo's award-winning children's books. And don't expect to see any characters of color either.

Locomotive by Brian Floca: It has it all. Great use of typography, a period sepia feel to the illustrations, perfect use of onomatopoeia and rhythm for the theme, the Wild West and trains. Historically-accurate, learning-with-out-realizing-it use of trains.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle: I'm a sucker for wordless picture books and hidden illustrations.

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Floca: Marty is a girl after my own heart with a life filled with a diverse group of friends and classmates that make her adventures a little more exciting.

Ballpark by Eileen Meyer, illustrated by Carlynn Whitt: Any baseball lover and picture book lover will love this book. It’s simple with unique illustrations and a good rhythm.

Babe Ruth Saves Baseball! by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Richard Walz: This book lacked substance by not digging deeper into the historical context of the promise.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, narrated by Arthur Morey: I'm totally in love with the tiny details that Orringer chooses to describe--like the little crystal bowl of pink candy or the golden cascade of whiskey being poured into a decanter. So often historical fiction writers sacrifice something—beautiful prose for plot pacing, historical accuracy for appeal to a modern audience, character development for showing research—yet there’s such a beauty in Orringer’s writing that it highlights the historical context and flushes out the characters rather than dulling everything to make way for pretty words. And then there's the prison camp aspect to this novel, which I didn't handle well. I came away from this book completely drained.

Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Heather Ross: What a great book filled with humor and southern charm! While I’m still disappointed with this books serious lack of diversity, it’s almost understandable because it mostly features a large extended family of double cousins (whose mothers married brothers).

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, narrated by Emily Klein: I love the ending of this book. Not everything has to end happily and be tied up in a neat bow.

One of those hideous books where the mother dies by Sonya Sones: I first read this book ten years ago, and I seriously can’t believe it’s been ten years since its publication. It still feels fairly contemporary, and while the verse feels a little bland in comparison to many of the outstanding novels in verse and poetry collections that I’ve read over the past two years, it’s still a good read.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner: I was totally reluctant to read this book, and the cover art of a cat made me question the sanity of all the people praising this book. Seriously? A book about someone's pet cat? And then was I ever taken for a ride! I had to laugh out loud when I discovered I was reading science fiction.