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Sarah Ellis, the S3Q2 graduation speaker, reading in the Cafe Anna.

Sarah Ellis, the S3Q2 graduation speaker, reading in the Cafe Anna.

Thirty-two MFA alumni from the VCFA Writing for Children & Young Adults Writing Program were once again warmly welcomed by faculty, students, and the administration this past weekend. While my fellow S3Q2 classmates were sorely missed for what would have been our 5th reunion, it was nice to see a good alumni showing celebrating their 10th anniversary under picture perfect blue skies and zero humidity.


Deb Gonzales

Deb Gonzales

Deb Gonzales (Cliffhangers ’08) and Kelley Lamb, Director of Development and Alumni Affairs whipped up a stellar line-up of speakers: Marion Dane Bauer, Nikki Grimes, Margaret Bechard, and A.S. King. The dynamic duo also put together panels of editors, agents and publicists including: Jessica Echeverria (Lee & Low), Heather Alexander (Pippin), John Cusick (Greenhouse), Alexandra Penfold (Upstart), Rubin Pfeffer (Rubin Pfeffer Content), and Blue Slip Media publicity gurus, Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy.

The Table at the VCFA Bookstore

The Table at the VCFA Bookstor


What a lovely surprise it was to see LARA’S GIFT featured on The Table at the VCFA bookstore alongside some of my favorite writers! It was also displayed cover open in another prominent spot. Thank you, VCFA Bookstore!!

AOB with LG


Highlight # 1 – Friends

I’ve been making the long haul from California to Vermont every year since I graduated in 2009 to visit with old friends and meet new ones. Cyber hugs can’t beat the real thing and this girl likes to get her yearly fix.

Thai Dinner with Marion Dane Bauer

Thai Dinner with Marion Dane Bauer

With Kathi Appelt

With Kathi Appelt

With Jaqui Lipton, my former student, now a first semester resident

With Jaqui Lipton, my former student, now a first semester resident

 Highlight # 2 – Nikki Grimes Lecture

Nikki Grimes - AMR 2014

Nikki Grimes – AMR 2014

Nikki Grimes delivered a Master Class on voice, poetry, and metaphor that inspired all of us. Some quotes I culled from her lecture include:

“If a reader loves a character, he will follow that character almost anywhere.”

“Do a good job creating your characters and readers will talk about them like they are real people.”

Highlight # 3 – Author Introductions

Nowhere in the world, but at VCFA, can you get an introduction worthy of a beloved King. Rita Williams-Garcia and Louise Hawes lived up to the VCFA tradition when they had the honor to introduce Nikki Grimes and Marion Dane Bauer, respectively.


Rita Williams-Garcia

Louise Hawes

Louise Hawes

Highlight # 4 – Reading by Marion Dane Bauer

 Marion Big SmileMarion Dane Bauer dazzled us with a reading of a Sure-To-Become-World-Classic-Picture Book titled THE STUFF OF STARS recently acquired by Candlewick. Her agent, Rubin Pfeffer thought it was so good, he bought a dozen designer cupcakes and presented it in person to Editorial Director, Elizabeth Bicknell and her staff.

Highlight # 5 – Nikki Grimes Word Play Exercise

If the first words that come to you are cliché and you struggle to find something fresh to describe your characters or setting, what do you do? Look no further. Nikki Grimes, poet extraordinaire and award-winning author, offered a Word-Play Exercise to help you study a word from the inside out.

Close your eyes and think of a word. Hold it closely, but give yourself permission to play with it and as you do sift that word through your senses, and think about all of the possibilities of that word. What does that word taste like, sound like, look like, feel like, and smell like? When you’re done, open your eyes, and write a poem about that word using poetic tools like metaphor, similes, alliteration, repetition and/or formats like haiku, cinquain, or rhyme to describe that word for someone who has never experienced that word.

Highlight # 6 – Lisa Doan’s Reading

Lisa Doan, author of the BERENSON SERIES had all of us laughing during her alumni reading from her next book.

Highlight # 6 – Margaret Bechard’s Lecture

Margaret Bechard

Margaret Bechard

Margaret Bechard gave a lecture on Questions and Answers and How it Relates to Tension in Typical-Witty-Brilliant-Margaret fashion. Her lecture was based largely on Will Dunne’s book, THE DRAMATIC WRITER’S COMPANION—a book every serious writer should have in their library.

Some of Margaret’s quotes include:

“The function of a story is to make the reader worry. Questions keep the reader in two places at once and engage your reader by what’s happening in the now, as well as what’s going to happen.”

images“When you have answered one question, you must immediately pose a new one. Furthermore, as you are in the process of answering a question, you should be setting up a new question.”

“Music is not in the notes but in the silence between them. This kind of gap in your writing is the tension in your story.”

“The million-dollar question for writers is: When do you pose and answer the questions in your story? The quick answer in building tension lies in the Goldilocks Rule: not too early, not too late, but at the just right moment.”

Highlight # 7 – Nikki Grimes Metaphor Tip

Metaphor comes best from the images and words of your character, setting, or world. Be sure to use words and images related to the environment and the time-period of your own story.

Highlight # 8 – Café Anna

Cafe Anna

Cafe Anna

Café Ana was a pleasant surprise on campus and where most of us had an Earthy-Crunchy-Organic-Vermont-Breakfast each morning to start the day.

Highlight # 9 – Noble Lounge

At the podium talking about Content Marketing

At the podium talking about Content Marketing

VCFA has grown so big that the current students now meet in the Chapel leaving alumni with Noble Lounge. What a treat it was to go back in time to where we heard our first lectures and delivered our graduate lectures! Here I am at the podium lecturing on Content Marketing.


Highlight # 10 – Catherine Linka’s Talk

IMG_0527 Last, but certainly not least was the time we had with Catherine Linka, bookseller and author of A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS. She shared some tips on working with bookstores. She highlighted the important role that Edelweiss Above the Treeline plays in educating booksellers about our books and stressed that we must all take the marketing questionnaire that our publisher sends us seriously.

The 2014 AMR ended for me at Morse Farms in Christine Dowd’s company with a soft serve maple ice cream cone. Delish!

Morse FarmMark your calendar! The next AMR will NOT be held during the residency. It will be held from June 18-21, 2015 and the featured authors will be M.T. Anderson and Katherine Paterson!

And be sure to share your highlights in the comment section for VCFA alumni unable to make the trip home.