Tami Lewis Brown lives in one of the oldest houses in Washington, DC. It is (mostly) ghost-free. She escaped from a career as a trial lawyer to obtain an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. And she’s the author of the forthcoming RADIANT MAN along with SOAR, ELINOR! and THE MAP OF ME, all published by Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Reader.

Welcome to Through the Tollbooth, the LiveJournal home of nine grads of the Vermont College Master of Fine Arts program in Writing for Children and Young Adults!

What are we doing here? Talking writing, of course!

We’re a group of kids’, middle grade, and young adult writers who can’t get enough of talking about craft, books, and ideas. Every Monday, we’ll bring you an interview from one of our Vermont College faculty or other illustrious authors, a mini-lesson, some exercises, or our thoughts about what’s going in the kids’, middle grade, and young adult book world. We hope you’ll read along and comment back to us.

Who are we, you ask? We’re Sarah Aronson, author of the YA novel Head Case; Kelly Bingham, author of the YA poetry novel Shark Girl; Tami Brown, middle grade and nonfiction writer of the forthcoming Soar, Elinor; Liz Gallagher, author of the forthcoming YA novel The Opposite of Invisible; Stephanie Greene, author of a multitude of early readers, chapter books, and middle grade novels, most recently Christmas at Stony Creek; Helen Hemphill, author of YA novels Long Gone Daddy and Runaround; Carrie Jones, author of the YA novel Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend and its forthcoming companion, Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape); Sarah Sullivan, author of picture books Root Beer and Banana and Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother>/a>; Zu Vincent, author of the forthcoming YA novel The Lucky Place.

Thanks for stopping by. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other from now on, and we’re so excited about it.

Learn more about us and and explore our first Big Question: Why write for young people? It’s all

In handy alphabetical order, we are . . .

Sarah Aronson! Sarah graduated from VC in July, 2006, with the class known as The Elements of Style. She’s hard at work on her second YA novel, following the September, 2007, publication of Head Case (Roaring Brook Press). When asked why she likes writing for young people, Sarah says, “I like working with and writing for young adults because I find their problems and issues universal to all people. I also think young people are the most interesting readers out there. I love hearing what young people feel about their world, and I am inspired by their vision of tomorrow. My mother would tell you that I never grew up. Perhaps she is right.”

Kelly Bingham! Kelly, who graduated from VC in January, 2004, writes YA novels and also sold a picture book to Greenwillow. Shark Girl, her YA poetry novel came out from Candlewick in the spring of 2007. She says, “I like to write for young adults because I think that’s a great age to put yourself in others’ shoes, explore your feelings about relationships and how they work, where you fit into the world, who you are becoming. The teenage years are so tumultuous – kids that age are intelligent, savvy, and going through a lot of unseen turmoil on a day to day basis. Everything from body images to politics is up for grabs and discussion and dissection. I like reaching out to such active minds, and putting myself back in that time when everything was so raw, so real, and so meaningful.”

Tami Brown! Tami graduated in January, 2006, and she writes middle grade novels and nonfiction. Her first nonfiction picture book, Soar, Elinor, is due out in 2010 from Farrar Straus and Giroux (waiting on a great illustrator can be very time-consuming!). Tami says she writes for eight-to-twelve year olds because Norma Fox Mazer once told her, “You’re still a nine-year-old inside,” and Tami believes that it’s true. She says, “Everything that happened to me between fourth and eighth grade is super-glued and double stapled to my heart and soul. I need to tell these stories . . . gym disasters, un-friends, pop quizzes, feet growing overnight . . . and the joy of figuring out who you might want to be. I’m with fourth-to-eighth graders every day, teaching at a great school that goes from kindergarten to eighth grade, and I’m still figuring out who I want to be. But I’m pretty sure I’ve found my place. I’m a children’s book writer.”

Liz Gallagher! Liz also graduated from VC in January, 2006. Her first YA novel, The Opposite of Invisible, is due out in January, 2008, from Wendy Lamb Books (Random House). She’s working on a companion book set in the same school, but with a very different main character! Liz writes for teenagers because she feels like one herself. “I think a person’s internal voice – the one that talks to them, even when they want it to be quiet – stops growing at a certain age. For me, that age was around fifteen. So I’m like a fifteen-year-old who has lived almost twice that long. A bit wiser than other fifteen-year-olds, maybe, but no less silly and no less interested in the facts of fifteen-year-old life. Like crushes, school, and that eternal question: Who am I?”

Stephanie Greene! Stephanie Graduated from VC in January, 2007. She writes early readers, chapter books, and middle grade novels. Her extensive list of published books includes the following:
The Lucky Ones, Greenwillow, summer 2008, middle grade
The Pink Princess, Putnam, fall 2008, early reader
Christmas at Stony Creek, Greenwillow, fall 2007, chapter book
The Show-Off (Moose and Hildy series), Marshall Cavendish, 2007
Sophie Hartley on Strike, Clarion, 2006, middle grade
Pig Pickin’ (Moose and Hildy series), Mashall Cavendish, 2006
Queen Sophie Hartley, Clarion, 2005, middle grade
Moose Crossing (Moose and Hildy series) Marshall Cavendish, 2005
Falling into Place, Clarion, 2004, middle grade
Moose’s Big Idea (early reader series), Marshall Cavendish, 2004
Owen Foot series, Clarion, six chapter books, 1995-2004
Show and Tell, Clarion, chapter book, 2002

Phew! When asked why she writes for young people, Stephanie says, “I don’t write for any particular genre. I write whatever idea comes to me. Only after I’ve written it do I worry what genre it might fit into. When I sold my first book, Owen Foote, Second Grade Strongman, I’d never heard of a chapter book. I wrote it to the length it needed to be and that’s where Clarion (my publisher) put it.” Stephanie elaborates on the idea that publishers decide where a book fits on the shelf: “I’ve published early readers from 1,000 words to 7,000 words. The upper scale (Christmas at Stony Creek), I suppose, verges on the chapter book genre; the publisher listed “All Ages” on the flap. In my experience, editors decide which genre they think a manuscript fits into. Outside of the obvious middle grade or YA genre, that is. The boundaries are increasingly fluid, from what I can tell. My newest book, The Lucky Ones, has been called an upper middle grade novel, a coming-of-age novel, and a middle grade novel. It’s going to have either “10 and up” or “10-14” on the flap.”

Helen Hemphill! Helen graduated VC in January, 2004, and later returned for a post-grad semester. She’s a middle grade and young adult writer who would love to try everything else, including poetry and picture books. Her Long Gone Daddy was published by Front Street in 2006, and Runaround (Front Street, 2007) was just named a Top Ten Romance Book for Youth by Booklist. Helen says, “I really like middle school children. They are funny and candid and willing to try out new things. They aren’t (for the most part) all that cool yet, so they offer up more of themselves. Writing for young adults is an additional challenge because of the sophistication of today’s teen. They’re a lot more cynical – but smarter, too. So I try to write serious issues using the veil of humor. There’s not a rebellious teen or an angry parent that can’t benefit from a few laughs.”

Carrie Jones! Carrie graduated from VC in January, 2008, with the class known as The Whirligigs. She’s published young adult novels and nonfiction picture books, but says she’d like to expand into the cool world of middle grade. Her books include Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend (Flux, May, 2007), its paperback release coming in May, 2008, and its forthcoming companion, Love (and Other Uses for Duct Tape) (Flux, March, 2008), a nonfiction picture book coming in January 2008, Girl, Hero (July, 2008) and Need (January 2009). Carrie says, “When we write books, we can write them according to accepted forms. Kind of like a Playmobil castle, following all the directions. People know what they get that way. And it can be really good, really comforting and empowering. Or when we write books, we can freestyle a bit more, mixing up Playmobil and Lego. We can design our own thing and in doing that come at the truth in a slightly different way – a way that might make us question or world view. What does this have to do with why I write for kids/teens? As a writer, I want to write things that are crazy Plamobil/Lego mixes. A little chick-lit with some TS Eliot theory thrown in. I write for teens because I want to empower them. I want to create a world they recognize and legitimize their world by presenting it as truth, but I also want teens to question that world a little bit, shake up that world view, question it. It’s only by searching and exploring that we can figure our way back to the truth that is our own. I think kids/teens are really good explorers, and truth-seekers. I like that. So I write for that.”

Sarah Sullivan! Sarah, a January, 2005, graduate of VC, writes picture books and middle grade fiction. Her titles include Root Beer and Banana (Candlewick, 2005), Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother (Candlewick, 2005), and a forthcoming picture book, Passing the Music Down (Candlewick). Sarah says, “I write for kids because the only way I seem to be able to tell a story is through the heart and mind of a child. I think it has something to do with hope. No matter how bleak a character’s situation may be, there is almost always hope at the end of a children’s book. I think we all need that. I know I do. It’s not a matter of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. It’s a question of believing in yourself and in the power of possibility and in the wondrous resilience of the human heart. Who wouldn’t want to spend their days chasing after that?”

Zu Vincent! Zu graduated from VC in January, 2006, and writes young adult fiction. She’s still thinking about why that is!