Welcome new Writers’ Program instructors Jarrod Shusterman and Sofía Lapuente! They are co-teaching Young Adult Novel I (Reg# 391126) this Spring in our deadline-driven, asynchronous online format starting April 12. They sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and their upcoming course.

What sparks your creativity?
: As authors and screenwriters, our creativity is sparked by living a full and exciting life! We travel all over the globe every year (over 40 countries and counting) we try food of different cultures, we dance, we laugh—and cherish the good moments with family and friends. But when it comes to writing we are very different. I need order, coffee and early mornings. Sofi needs chaos, spontaneity and late nights. The ideas that pique our interest and get us really excited are the ones that are high concept with wide appeal, and much emotional depth. And the narrative has to be rooted in an important world issue which forms our overall theme 🙂 And when we finally dig in to stories and find ourselves in the throes of writers’ block, we pull ourselves out of it by getting to know everything there is to know about our setting, world and characters. Even the most daunting of boundaries can be springboards of inspiratio

What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
: The romantic answer is, that we rely on a wellspring of inspiration—we even listen to music to get motivated. We envision our goals as reality and ponder our dreams. We think about hot nights in Spain. Though, when the deadline comes and we don’t have the time, energy and motivation we rely on vats of caffeine. And the technical answer would be we rely in the confidence of our own craft. It takes patience to identify the good ideas from the bad. When we get stuck in our plot, we rely on our principles—how character and plot must be malleable like putty, to constant mold the story into the final product. All practical lessons and short cuts we’ll teach in our class.

What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
: My favorite book is Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut, as I am obsessed with his story telling style and distinct voice! And I’d have to say my dad, Neal Shusterman wrote the Scythe series, which I am in a totally biased way, very much a fan. As for movie, I would have to say Big Fish, directed by Tim Burton, because it transports me to another place.

Sofi: My favorite book right now is Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. But I have to say I appreciate authors like Taylor Jenkins Reid, for her capacity to create characters and stories that resonate with all different types of readers. I love her dynamic writing style. She world builds to make you believe that what she’s writing about actually happened! On the Spanish side I’m all about everything Carlos Ruiz Zafón. My favorite movie is one directed by Darren Aronofsky, called Black Swan. And a really transformative movie for me was Thelma and Louise!

What’s your favorite quote about writing?

Photo from Scribner

Jarrod: “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.” —Stephen King

Sofi: “For most of history, anonymous was a woman.” –Virginia Woolf

Who do you wish you could write like (or: Whose writing discipline do you wish you had)?
: I would not want to write like anyone but myself, though there are so many authors that I do admire, and as a writer it is fun to analyze creative writing traits, and use the information as inspiration of your own. However, I really defend the thought that it’s important to be unique to your own voice. I represent my culture and heritage in everything I write, because it’s a part of me. So tap into that piece of yourself that you cannot help but share with the world. We’ve also found that if you try to write something trendy, by the time it’s published what you’ve written will already be out of style.

What excites you most about teaching for the WritersProgram?
: My beginnings were here at the UCLA Extension, when I first came to this country from Madrid, Spain, eight years ago. There is no more fulfilling joy than coming back to the place where it all started and connecting with UCLA students that are hungry for knowledge— somewhere I was, years ago. I think back to my early days here in this country, on a student visa, and I just want to give back to the UCLA community and share everything I’ve learned in the industry since I graduated. I want to make sure everyone has it clear that you CAN do it. Making it as a storyteller is possible.

Jarrod: It was always a dream of mine to go to UCLA, though my life took a different path, and now it has brought me where I was supposed to go—however as an instructor. Both the student and professional in me are SO excited.

What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
: We hope students gain the confidence to become professional writers. We’ll be offering real life, current, cutting-edge advice as we live and breathe publishing and entertainment every single day. In our class you’re going to see real edit letters from our publishers, raw copyediting notes, even emails we’ve had during the development of our covers. There will be interviews with agents to learn exactly how to query, and with accoladed New York Times bestselling authors so that you can tap into their many years’ of knowledge. We are less theory based, and much more practical, so you can leave the class with the tools you need to start your own journey as an author.

What can students expect from your course having two instructors?
: We are both very dynamic as teachers, and as partners in every sense of the word, students will find that our classes feel natural and organic. We are in the thick of our careers so you’ll live updates from the frontlines of the publishing industry. Students can expect to have a ton of fun, and learn twice as much 🙂 We both come from different cultures, with a diversity in language, gender, sex, and religion. So you are going to get advice that doesn’t just fit the mold of one person, but applies to a much larger breadth of people! We aren’t all the same, and we want to recognize, champion, and cherish those differences.

Anything else?
: We created this class to be the one that we wish we took before jumping into the deep end as authors, so prepare to learn the things your textbooks won’t teach you. Also, we are all over social media! So if you want to get to know us better, feel free to follow our accounts (Tiktok & IG) @sofiandjarrod! We’re usually just having fun on there, promoting our next book, or giving some writing tips. As we are YA writers, it’s our number one way to connect with readers and fans of our work, but you’re always welcome to check us out too!

Thank you to Jarrod and Sofía for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!

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