"A children's book written just for children is a bad children's book." C. S. Lewis
Creative Writing: MG& YA FICTION
THE ALL AGES SHOW: From The Wizard of Oz to Rainbow Rowell
The course encourages students to create work that in its appeal straddles generational demographics, and thus demonstrates what is already known, that diverse audiences, presented with the best titles in the genre, are not dichotomous. The emphasis is on generating (via tactual, visual, and audial prompts) and discussing (via workshop and one-on-one conference) student writing, but the course also examines several contemporary and classic novels (and films) with teen (and pre-teen) protagonists that possess a proven appeal to audiences of all ages.
The semester is punctuated by a series of digital (and in-person) visits with relevant, award-winning authors and industry professionals. The visits provide students with candid access to working writers, agents and editors, giving them an intimate, informal opportunity to ask questions about the various skills and traits that contribute to acclaim and success.
Past guests include Lev Grossman (The Magicians Trilogy), Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), Kate Milford (Greenglass House), Lauren Oliver (Panic), Thanha Lai (Inside Out & Back Again), Edward Carey (The Iremonger Trilogy), Mikki Knudsen (The Evil Librarian), Daniel Jose Older (Shadowshaper), Catherynne Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Dreamland), Claire Legrand (Winterspell), Meagan McCafferty (Jessica Darling series), Aaron Starmer (The Riverman Trilogy), Rebecca Stead (Liar & Spy), Corey Ann Haydu (Rules for Stealing Stars), editors Jason Rekulak (Quirk, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and Joy Peskin (FSG Books for Younger Readers), and publisher Simon Boughton (FSG Books for Younger Readers, Roaring Brook Press, First Second Comics), among others.
In The Spooky Art, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Norman Mailer talked about crisp words “clamping down…sticking.” In an interview shortly before his death, Noir author Raymond Chandler spoke of perfectly pitched sentences “walking off the page.” Despite using opposing metaphors, they are obviously describing the same thing. Good writing. A key focus of the class, then, is this musical quality; the profound difference between how a sentence sounds and its mute presence on the page. The initial way many children and adults interact with middle grade and YA fiction is through “family reading.” The acoustical quality, then, of such books, books that will likely be read aloud, is particularly relevant. Accordingly, a significant amount of class time will be dedicated to declaiming work.
In addition to craft, the course considers the practical product of writing i.e. “the book” and its pragmatic launch (via traditional, independent, or private print publishing and/or e-book) into the reading world.
To that end, the course is also the “pool” for RU-MACKIDS, an informal partnership between Rutgers Writers House and Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Books for Younger Readers (the house responsible for A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Holes by Louis Sachar, A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, and Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, among many others). At the end of the term, instructor Alex Dawson will select several exceptional student authors, forwarding their writing samples to editorial director Joy Peskin and publisher Simon Boughton. After reviewing the submissions and making their own selections, Peskin and Boughton will pair each chosen writer with an appropriate FSG editor/mentor who will work with the student to finish and revise the manuscript and, ultimately, prepare it for publication. The goal of this collaboration is the published book.