Curious about crafting your stories with vibrancy? Ever wondered what kind of work goes into building powerful vignettes? How about the role that community serves in your creative pursuits? We talk about it all and much more with An Na.
Na is the author of The Place Between Breaths, The Fold, Wait for Me, and A Step from Heaven, which was a National Book Award Finalist and won the Michael L. Printz Award. Her honors include the International Reading Association Award and the Parents Choice Gold Award. Her books have been named as ALA Best Books for Young Adults and a New York Times Notable Book. She also teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA.
In her episode, Na shares how she fell in love with storytelling, giving us a peek into her childhood, and the heartwarming impact that representation has in the world. We dive into her writing process for vignettes and how she builds upon emotions and feelings to craft her scenes. She shares her experience serving on the National Book Awards committee and what the selection process looks like behind the curtain. She tells her story of grief and heartbreak that inspired her novel The Place Between Breaths, we discuss the harmful narratives created around mental illness, and she stresses the importance of mental health resources. We then continue to dig into her experience writing for TV, the steps you can take to break into TV writing, and the important role that community serves in your creative pursuits and how you can find that through an MFA experience.
This episode contains content and discussion about suicide. If this topic is triggering or upsetting for you, please skip this episode. Thank you.
Books and resources:
The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Crazy Rich Asians directed by Jon M. Chu
Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
We Love Our 88 Cups of Tea Sponsors
Did you know we collaborated with VCFA’s MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults to curate a thoughtful series of intimate essays and podcast episodes so you can feel empowered throughout your writing journey? Click here to explore the published pieces.
Vermont College of Fine Arts is a global community of artists continuously redefining what it means to be an arts college. They’re accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education and offers the Master of Fine Arts degree in a variety of fields, including Writing, Writing for Children & Young Adults, and Writing & Publishing, along with an International MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation. With low-residency and fully residential options, VCFA has the graduate program to fit your needs. Be sure to learn more about VCFA by clicking here!
Check out these highlights:
- How Na fell in love with storytelling and a peek into her childhood experience (8:50)
- The importance of representation in all fields and the heartwarming impact it has on us (16:55)
- How seeing a reflection of her own experiences in stories inspired Na to become a writer (25:45)
- The touching stories of when Na’s parents read her first novel (33:27)
- A look into Na’s emotional writing process and how she crafts her scenes out of feelings (38:40)
- Tips on crafting powerful vignettes (41:50)
- A behind-the-scenes look into the National Book Award’s selection process and the writing trends the committee is seeing this year (45:05)
- Na shares her story of grief and heartbreak that inspired her most recent novel, The Place Between Breaths, and breaks down the story’s structure (50:40)
- Resources and tools for mental health and how we can begin to break away the unhealthy narratives surrounding mental illness (1:01:00)
- Na’s experience teaching for Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA. (1:11:57)
- Advice on how to begin writing scripts for TV and film and a look into Na’s newest TV projects (1:14:00)
- And she answers one of our very own listener’s question:
- “Do you see the children’s YA MFA program becoming a must-have tool for authors in the future?” (1:20:20)
“Representation is huge. Getting into all of the different fields, whether it’s science or media or whatever it is, it’s so important for us to be able to break down those molds and really be able to live the life that we want to live. And it’s important for the younger folks that are coming up to be able to see that.”
“As a writer, you have a certain arc, and once the characters are fleshed out, they make their own choices, but for the most part a lot of the things that I wanted to write about came from different experiences and feelings.”
“I love being able to read something really short, evocative, and meaningful and then you turn around and you think about it for a long time.”
“We all struggle in some way, in some form, with different feelings, with different developmental or learning disabilities, or emotional issues, and it’s just part of life. To hide it seems ridiculous to me at this point. It’s not worth suffering if you have the ability to also find resources to help.”
“What’s out there now? And what other things do you want to have available? I feel like there are so many different narratives that are missing, so it’s just about getting your story out.”
“You do not need to get an MFA and spend tons of money in order to do the work, but I will tell you that being in a program and dedicating that money means that you’re gonna do the work because you’re investing in yourself.”
Say ‘Hi’ to An Na
Learn more about “The Place Between Breaths“
From master storyteller and Printz Award-winning author An Na comes a dark, intensely moving story of a girl desperately determined to find a cure for the illness that swept her mother away, and could possibly destroy her own life as well.
Sixteen-year-old Grace is in a race against time—and in a race for her life—even if she doesn’t realize it yet…
She is smart, responsible, and contending with more than what most teens ever should. Her mother struggled with schizophrenia for years until, one day, she simply disappeared—fleeing in fear that she was going to hurt those she cared about most. Ever since, Grace’s father has worked as a recruiter at one of the leading labs dedicated to studying the disease, trying to lure the world’s top scientists to the faculty to find a cure, hoping against hope it can happen in time to help his wife if she is ever found. But this makes him distant. Consumed.
Grace, in turn, does her part, interning at the lab in the gene sequencing department daring to believe that one day they might make a breakthrough…and one day they do. Grace stumbles upon a string of code that could be the key. But something inside of Grace has started to unravel. Could her discovery just be a cruel side effect of the disease that might be taking hold of her? And can she even tell the difference?
Unflinchingly brave, An Na has created a mesmerizing story with twists and turns that reveal jaw-dropping insights into the mind of someone struggling with schizophrenia.
Learn more about An Na
An Na is the author of four novels, including The Place Between Breaths, The Fold, Wait for Me, and A Step from Heaven, which was a National Book Award Finalist and won the Michael L. Printz Award. Her honors include the International Reading Association Award and the Parents Choice Gold Award, and her books have been named as ALA Best Books for Young Adults and a New York Times Notable Book. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA.