The coast of Maine in summer: what do you picture? Rocky shore lines, lobster dinners, a cool breeze coming off the ocean?
How about six writers in a small room, sweating as they discuss the nuances of writing for children and young adults?
Last month Maine experienced temperatures unheard of for us northerners -- days upon days of 90 degree weather and suffocating humidity. In the midst of this I attended my first residency as a faculty member of the Stonecoast MFA program.
|Stonecoast Students on the grounds of the Stone House.|
Photo source: http://www.usm.maine.edu/stonecoastmfa/location-and-hours
What drew me to the Stonecoast program -- and I imagine what draws many students -- is the cross-genre approach. Students apply to one of four genres: Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry, or Popular Fiction. What’s unique, though, is that students are encouraged to work across genres. There are even classes that focus on this cross-genre approach, such as nature writing.
I joined the Popular Fiction faculty, and the workshop I taught at this residency was on writing novels for children and young adults. My students’ work ran the gamut of what you might find in middle grade and YA fiction: folk tales, LGBTQ in diary format, an Indiana Jones style adventure with a teenage protagonist as gifted as Artemis Fowl, a not-exactly dystopic future world, and a family of demon hunters with a female heroine who is strong by being herself -- not by adopting typically male qualities of strength.
Interestingly, I found that when I said I wrote YA and Middle Grade, many people weren't sure what I was talking about. Faculty and students alike were all over YA -- the faculty includes noted YA writers Nancy Holder and Elizabeth Hand. However, many folks lumped MG in with YA. It made me realize how ensconced I am in this Kid Lit world: these categories I take for granted are new to writers who work in the adult market. I felt like an ambassador and did my best to explain the different audiences (not genres as I made clear on my first day of workshop). One night at dinner I walked through the different stages: After picture books you have early readers then chapter books, which would be like your Magic Tree House books, then middle grade, then YA, which is often good to think of as young YA and older YA, and then there’s New Adult which is still a bit of a mystery to me. One of the students at the table said, “They just keep slicing it smaller and smaller,” which does seem to be true.
One of the best things about being a teacher is learning. I left with as many ideas for my own work in progress as I hope my students did. It’s invigorating to be part of such a lively, energetic, and, dare I say it, HOT, community.
Lucky me, I’m joining two fantastic communities this summer. Thanks to Holly Schindler and the rest of the Smack Dab crew for making me a welcomed new member of this middle grade blog.