Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tribal Thoughts

In the past few days, more than one friend has asked me whether I'd consider writing a YA novel set on a reservation, possibly linked to the recent real-life shooting tragedy. It's an interesting question, but the truth is that I wouldn't be the best person to do such a book.

I'm personally familiar with the urban and tribal-town structures, not reservation life, and while there are some universalities to the indigeneous experience, it's largely more specific than most folks probably realize. Reservations, each and as a whole, have their own culture.

While I definitely do believe that with respect and thorough research, it's possible to write crossculturally (and do so myself with increasing frequency), I also think that to do justice to such a setting, I would have to live in such a community myself for some time, take time to see if I had the voice and perspective right, and then consult with people there for their insights and permission.

I don't see that happening, at least in my near future. My muse is leaning heavily toward comedy and fantasy (gothic and festive) these days. But I strongly agree that there is a need for quality fiction and non-fiction about reservation life. See Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Cynsational News & Links

Anne Bustard debuts her author Web site. Anne's books include T Is For Texas and Buddy: The Buddy Holly story. She's also a university professor of education and, not surprisingly, offers top-notch curriculum support for her books as well as a list of her favorite picture book biographies. If you haven't already, read my recent online interview with Anne.

Linda Joy Singleton debuts her new blog, talking most recently about Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone (HarperCollins, 2005), which is in my to-be-read stack. You can read from chapter one online.

Congratulations to pal Shutta Crum, who along with authors Doreen Rapport, Doreen Cronin, Susie Crummel, Pam Munoz Ryan, and Miss USA 2004 (who apparently has written a book), was honored at the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. Shutta is the author of Bravest Of The Brave, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Knopf, 2005).

I received a query this week about where to obtain in books in languages other than English. This is a frequent question, and, in case anyone's interested, I usually recommend the Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, Illinois.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Angels, Monsters, and Austin Area Events

Let the angels and monsters rejoice as I sent my YA novel revision via Fedex to my Candlewick editor yesterday. I dropped it off at the box at BookPeople, which is Austin's super indie.

I figure all that good-book vibe wears off on the package. While I was there, I ran into bookseller/buyer Jill, of the lovely long red hair, who was stacking books for an upcoming signing with Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Dessen.

So cool, except that it's scheduled at 6 p.m. on April 7, which is during the publisher party at the Omni Hotel in conjunction with the Texas Library Association conference, so I'll be there instead.

I went ahead and bought a copy of Sarah's The Truth About Forever (Viking, 2005) and Laurie's Prom (Viking, 2005), the latter of which I've already read via the ARC (read my related blog entry). That way, the books will be waiting, so I can still get autographed copies, support the authors, and support the store.

Read Sarah's journal and Laurie's, too (note that Baker & Taylor/Penguin Young Readers Group are sponsoring a fan fic contest in conjunction with the release of Prom).

In other news, San Antonio author Diane Gonzales Bertrand will read from her works and discuss Texas Latino literature at noon April 9 at the St. John Branch of the Austin Public Library. However, I'll have to miss that, too, because I'm already gong to the Anne Bustard and Kurt Cyrus signing of Buddy: The Story Of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005) that same day from 1 to 3 p.m.

It greatly vexes* me that I cannot be in two places at once.

Status: reading Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005).

*I'm trying to bring back the word "vex;" please try to use it today in a sentence.

Cynsational Links

Author Anastasia Suen debuts Create/Relate, her new blog, and kindly links to mine. Thank you, Anastasia!

Speaking of blogs, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers has launched a page listing member blogs, including mine and Joy Harjo's (poet, musician, and the author of a wonderful contemporary Native American picture book, The Good Luck Cat, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000)).

And Greg Leitich Smith blogs about Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2005).

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A Gathering Of Readers

"If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything" invites schools serving indigenous children from all parts of the world to participate in the International Indigenous Youth Reading Celebration during the week of April 18-22, 2005. Schools from Zambia, Aotearoa-New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are already signed up. See A Gathering Of Readers for more information.

I received news yesterday that I'm one of the program's honored authors, along with Pat Mora and Robert Sullivan. I'm deeply touched by this and, more globally, also heartened by the mission of the program.

Cynsational News & Links

Meet Lauren Barnholdt and learn about her debut YA novel, In The House (Simon Pulse, 2006).

E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (Random House, 2005), talks about her writing and YA as a genre at

On March 23, Jane Yolen blogs that she's thinking of running for Congress. I'd be tempted to move just so I could vote for her.

Max Elliot Anderson, author of the Tweener Press Adventure series, writes that he has a new Web site. Read an interview with Max Elliot Anderson from

Monday, March 28, 2005

Author Interview: Elisa Carbone on Last Dance On Holladay Street

Last Dance On Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone (Knopf, 2005). It's 1878, and young Eva, 13, has lost Daddy Walter to tetanus and Mama Kate to consumption. All she has left is a name and address that lead her to Holladay Street, a half sister, and a biological mother from a house of ill repute. Desperate and indebted, Eva tries to make due as a dance-hall girl, which is still better than working upstairs. But is this the life Daddy Walter and Mama Kate would've wanted? A tender, thoughtful story of perseverence and loyalty. Highly recommended. Ages 10-up. Read my related blog entry.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

When I first learned about the brothels in the 1800's and how young women and girls were coerced and pressured into working there, I was struck by the parallels with what is going on today, with young girls often being pressured into sexual activity when they are much too young. I wanted to write a story that would be empowering to young readers, that would help them see the value in sticking up for themselves. I wanted to inspire them to be strong, be true to themselves, and most importantly, NOT give in to peer pressure.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The spark alighted in fall of 2000, and the book was published in March of 2005. That is a pretty typical timeline for me for historical novels--they always take years to research, mull over, and write.

In November of 2000, I was in Arizona on a rock climbing trip at Cochise Stronghold. On a rainy day (when we couldn't climb) my climbing partner and I decided to drive into Tombstone, the nearest town. We stopped in to see the "Shoot-out at the O.K. Corral" exhibit, and my attention was drawn to a book about the fallen women of the old west. As I flipped through the pages of the book, I was riveted by a photograph of a young girl, "Jackie." The caption said that she began her career as a prostitute at "age 15" but the photograph is obviously of a much younger girl, probably 12 or 13 years old.

I couldn't take my eyes off her face, so innocent and yet determined and somehow worldly. I wanted, desperately, to save her.

My mind began to race with questions: what pressures had caused Jackie to choose this profession? With the right help, could she have made a different choice? How was she like the young girls of today who, at younger and younger ages, are feeling pressured into becoming sexually active? I knew I had to write a story about Jackie, and give her a chance to choose a different path. That was how, at least in my imagination, I would be able to reach back in time and save this young girl. At the same time, I hoped to create a parable for modern young readers that would offer them the strength and insight to choose their own different path. Jackie, of course, became Eva.

I never did see the shoot out at the O.K. Corral. The small museum there in Tombstone also has a fascinating exhibit about the Tombstone prostitutes. My climbing partner, Eric, kept coming to find me and I¹d be engrossed in reading yet another plaque or article about the ladies of the evening. I told him I was thinking of writing a book about it and he shook his head in dismay, saying, "You're a children's author. What are you thinking?!"

I presented the idea to both my editor and my local children's librarian, Diane Monnier. Diane hesitated at first, then said with conviction, "I think it could work. If you save her, it could work." My editor asked for an outline, and we were on our way.

When I had finished the first draft of Last Dance on Holladay Street, I happened upon the book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher. In her therapy practice, Dr. Pipher works with adolescent girls, many of whom have been brought to her because they have slipped into depression or trouble or both. She describes a pattern she sees over and over again. At age 12 or so, girls are typically happy, interested in sports or other activities, and they talk freely with their parents. As adolescence progresses, and as peer pressure mounts for experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex, many of these girls draw away from their parents, are tempted into destructive behavior, and in the process, lose their sense of self. The way out of this pit is through a reclaiming of their own inner strength and, with the right guidance, finding a sense of purpose through meaningful work.

As I read Pipher's book, I was stunned to realize that in Last Dance on Holladay Street, Eva had gone through each of the stages Pipher describes. Mama Kate plays the part of Eva's real mother, Sadie, Pearl and the others at Miss B's create the peer pressure, and by the end, with the right help and guidance, Eva finds her sense of self and her meaningful work. As I edited Last Dance on Holladay Street, I actually molded it to fit Pipher's paradigm even more closely.

The pressures of economic survival that plagued the girls and women of the old west are no more real than the social pressures and need for love and acceptance that young girls are faced with today. It is my hope that this story can act as a bridge from past to present, and as a springboard for discussion.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I'll speak to research, since that's one of my favorite parts of writing, and for me it's the cornerstone of how I seek to bring my stories to life. I do the usual book, article and photo research, though I focus mostly on original sources rather than secondary sources because they have more life to them. Also, I'm an experiential learner, so I use a lot of fun research methods to help make the story come alive for me. For Last Dance on Holladay Street, I got a private tour of a Colorado silver mine (because one of the characters is a miner). I rode a narrow gauge railroad train up into the Rocky Mountains the way Eva did. I even got to touch an old fashioned curling iron (tongs that were placed into a kerosene lamp to heat up) in a museum, and this inspired me to add a scene where Lucille is talking to Eva while curling her hair for her evening's work (the scene includes the smell of burning hair -- those curling irons were hard to regulate!). I find that if I can touch and experience the things my characters did, I will discover the details that will make the story vivid for my readers.

Cynsational Links

Historical Fiction for Hipsters: Stories from the past that won't make you snore from Reading Rants features a review of Last Dance On Holladay Street (among other recommendations).

The First Amendment First Aid Kit from Random House.

Author Greg Leitich Smith blogs today that Just Because It Happened Doesn't Mean It's Realistic.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter

Greg and I will celebrate Easter. We have eggs, we have dye, we have shrimp for an appetizer, turkey breast with green bean casserole and whole wheat stuffing for the main course, strawberries for the grand finale. We even have company coming for dinner.

But we'll also work. We have another forty some pages of my YA manuscript to read aloud so I can key in changes and send it back to my editor. The read is going blessedly well.

I'd rather have done it on a day not Easter, but it's a 50,000 word manuscript, Greg has his day job during the week, and I have lots to do before the Texas Library Association conference in early April.

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it, and have a beautiful Sunday to those who don't!

Cynsational Links

Brent Hartinger's Journal: brand new from the author whose name it bears. Brent is the author of Geography Club, The Last Chance Texaco, and The Order of the Poison Oak, all published by HarperCollins. Learn more about his books.

YA Writer Blogs: courtesy of Lara Zeises. Her books include Contents Under Pressure and Bringing Up The Bones. Learn more about her books.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Tell Tales For A Living

My latest published article is "Tell Tales For a Living: Children's Book Author" by Cynthia Leitich Smith from the April/May 2005 issue of Career World magazine 33:6. See pg. 26.

It's part of a series of articles called a "Career Map" that ask: "Where do I go with creative writing?" Interviews with a newspaper columnist and advertising copywriter also are featured.

I don't think teens should feel like they have to have everything figured out by the time they graduate high school, but it is important to have some kind of a plan. They can always change their minds, but having a goal offers focus and a reason to move forward. Once they're in motion, exploring their interests, the misty path should begin to clear.

"Children and Television" (nicknamed "KidTV") was my favorite class in college outside of the journalism school. It was fun, fascinating, encouraged critical thinking, and reminded me of the importance of youth as an audience. It was an early flag, pointing me in the direction of doing what I'd most love.

People always talk about life as a journey, and it is. We focus on its moments of hardship because they demand our attention. But it's also important to reflect on moments of illumination. That class illuminated me.

I hope my Career World article is illuminating for at least one future children's/YA writer.

Cynsational News and Links

Battling Rejection Depression by Christina Majaski-Holoman from the Institute of Children's Literature. See also Conflict: Taking it Out of Second Gear by Lori Mortensen from ICL.

Point of View chat transcript from the YA Authors Cafe from Feb. 15, 2005. Featured authors were Catherine Atkins, Libba Bray, A.M.Jenkins, and Mary E. Pearson.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Busting Stereotypes

A college student wrote yesterday asking for my thoughts on teaching children to question and, when appropriate, dismiss stereotypes.

This was my reply: To me, the most powerful means of change is by example. Inviting both a Native storyteller to visit the class but also a Native attorney or engineer. Showing powwow video but also images of everyday life.

One of the ways I counteract the stereotype of "the primitive" is to do online chats with classroom groups. Saying Native people are not stuck in the past is one thing. Logging on to chat with one in cyberspace personalizes the experience.

That said, in neither my Native nor non-Indian stories do I set out to "bust stereotypes." I tell a story about characters I can believe in, and for the most part, it's a naturally occurring side effect.

Cynsational News & Links

According to The Purple Crayon, Meredith Mundy Wasinger (formerly of Dutton) has joined Sterling Publishing as a senior editor. She's acquiring picture books and non-fiction. See also Keeping Books In Print by Harold Underdown.

Author Elisa Carbone writes that her novel, Last Dance On Holladay Street (Knopf, 2005) is now available. See the description, author's notes, and review excerpts. Read my related blog entry.

Novelist Anjali Banerjee Mixes Culture and Humor by Linda Johns from Authorlink May 2005. Anjali is the author of Maya Running (Wendy Lamb, 2005). Read my related blog entry.

Empowering Young Girls: Author Julia DeVillers by Sue Reichard from

Thursday, March 24, 2005

If I Only Had The Time...

The trick is to make time--not to steal it--and produce fiction.
--Bernard Malamud*

I have friends who will write a book when they have the time.

Meet folks at parties, the hair salon, and the grocery store. They're on the same someday schedule.

Would-be writers everywhere. They'll get around to it. Eventually, they say.

Clearly, we don't all live under the same set of circumstances. For example, I've never had triplets or a husband running for political office or handimen remodeling my historic house.

Oh, wait. I do qualify on that last one. I've also written while moving, through grief, on the floor of a hotel bathroom in Paris.

I don't fit writing into my life. I fit my life into my writing.

No regrets.

*the Malamud quote came from A Creative Writer's Kit: A Spiritual Companion & Lively Muse For The Writing Life by Judy Reeves, author of A Writer's Book Of Days.

Cynsational News

I received a postcard announcing the publication of Cork and Fuzz by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by Lisa McCue (Viking, 2005), which received a star from Kirkus. It's a level 3 Easy-to-Read for ages 6 to 9, grades 1 to 3.

The Austin Book Nook, benefitting the Austin Children's Shelter, is requesting donations of new or gently used books. The Shelter has indicated a special need for books for newborns up through age 8 and kids 14-17 as well as multicultural books and books in Spanish. Visit the site for more information.

Children's Book Press has released a 15th Anniversary Edition of Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza with an introduction by Sandra Cisneros. More than 400,000 copies of the original book have been sold. The new edition will officially debut at the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin on April 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. Garza will also be speaking at the TLA annual conference in conjunction with the rally at the Texas State Capitol on April 6 from 4 to 5 p.m.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Harcourt Picture Book Round-Up Spring 2005

I've already talked about how much I enjoyed Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (see my blog entry) and Hotel Deep: Light Verse From Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus (see my blog entry) but I also wanted to highlight three more titles on Harcourt's spring 2005 list.

I adored:

the enthusiasm in the language of Starry Safari by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jeff Mack;

the art from Kitten's Big Adventure, written and illustrated by Mie Araki (related booktalk);

and the title poem from Please Bury Me In The Library by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Kyle M. Stone (related booktalk).

Cynsational Links

J. Patrick Lewis Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Frequently Asked Questions From Beginning Writers and Research Is For The Background from Greg Leitich Smith's blog. Greg is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) and the upcoming companion book, Tofu And T.Rex (Little Brown, July 2005). Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo was recently nominated for the Georgia Children's Book Award for 2005-2006.

Understanding Rejection Slips by Jennifer Minar from Writing Fiction.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Hotel Deep: Light Verse From Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus

Hotel Deep: Light Verse From Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt, 2005). Dive into the deep, guided by twenty-one poems--wet, witty, and wild--that bring to life the ocean's dangers and delights. Magnificiently illustrated, grand in scope, and yet still child-centric in its focus on a lone sardine in search of his school. All ages. Highly recommended.

Cynsational Thoughts

Hotel Deep is a must-buy, must-read, must-pass-on-to-other-readers kind of picture book.

(And this is coming from a woman who saw "Jaws" at an impressionable age.)

The text is by turns suspenseful, funny, thrilling, and oh-so smart. The paintings are irresistible. I could spend hours studying the art.

Plus, the back matter, featuring mini illos identifying various sea creatures make Hotel Deep not only a poetic and artistic triumph, not only emotionally affecting with an all-ages appeal, but also a wonderful tool for teachers.

In case, I'm not being clear enough, think: amazing! Caldecott-worthy!

Wait, stop thinking and just grab a copy for yourself!

Kurt will be speaking as part of the Poetry Round Up at the Texas Library Association conference in Austin from noon to 1:50 p.m. on April 6 with Brod Bagert, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Pat Mora, Walter Dean Myers, Susan Pearson, Joyce Sidman, Quincy Troupe, and Janet Wong.

By the way, Kurt also illustrated another new book, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story by Anne Bustard (Simon & Schuster, 2005); if you haven't already, read her Story Behind The Story interview. Anne and Kurt will be signing at BookPeople at 6th and Lamar in Austin on April 9 from 1 to 3 p.m.

In addition, Kurt is the illustrator of one of my other favorite books, Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler (Harcourt, 2002).

Cynsational News

I received a note yesterday letting me know That New Animal by Emily Jenkins (FSG/Frances Foster, 2005) and The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005) are now available! Read E. Lockhart's blog.

I also received a postcard from Kimberly Willis Holt announcing the 2005 Random House paperback edition of Keeper of the Night, originally published by Henry Holt in 2003. I love the new cover art! Keeper of the Night received stars from Publisher's Weekly, SLJ, and Kirkus. It was also a BBYA, an ALA Notable, an SLJ Best Book, and a Kirkus Editor's Choice.

Thanks to Allison for mentioning my blog in her March 21, 2005 Live Journal entry. Regarding the death of characters in love stories, kill off as many as you need to (and no more) to get the story told.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Harcourt, 2005). Oliver K. Woodman is missing, but no worries! Private Eye Imogene Poplar is on the case. She travels across the United States, clear to the top of the world (Barrow, Alaska) to bring Oliver home. Ages 4-up. Highly recommended. See also the companion book, The Journey Of Oliver K. Woodman, from the same creative team (Harcourt, 2003).

Cynsational Thoughts

The Oliver K. Woodman books are in many ways a celebration of travel, the diversity within the United States, the kindness of strangers, and the loving appeal of home. The span of U.S. cities and regions also offers a rich opportunity for curriculum connections.

Joe Cepeda has illustrated another book I particularly like, Juan Bobo Goes To Work: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale by Marisa Montes (Harper, 2000), and one of my all-time favorites, What A Truly Cool World by Julius Lester (Scholastic, 1999).

Cynsational Links

An Activity Kit for Searching For Oliver K. Woodman from Harcourt Brace.

An Interview with Author Darcy Pattison and illustrator Joe Cepeda from Harcourt Brace.

An Interview With Julius Lester from

What a Truly Cool World: A Visual Interpretation from Janet Hilbun (hosted on Kay E. Vandergrift's Special Interest Page; one of the children's literature mega resources). Definitely do this. Go to the page and think about what the featured illustration says to you. Then learn more about Visual Interpretive Analysis of Children's Book Illustration.

Who Wrote That? Featuring Marisa Montes from Patricia M. Newman (published in California Kids! May 2003). Patricia's site also offers articles on numerous other children's authors.

Status: currently reading Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005); lately blogging on spookycyn about my cousin, "Six Feet Under," Mr. Clean, Vampire Kisses, ZTejas, and Rebel Angels.

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories For Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories For Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (Harper, 2005). Features "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" by Cynthia Leitich Smith; other contributing authors: Joy Harjo; Sherman Alexie; Richard Van Camp; Linda Hogan; Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Susan Power; Greg Sarris; and Lee Francis.

The other writers' work for children and teens includes: The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000); A Man Called Raven by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by George Littlechild (Children's Book Press, 1997); The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Hyperion, 1999), and Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac (HarperCollins, 2001).

Cynsational Thoughts

In my short story, "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," Jason is defensive and dismissive of a girl who wanders into the costume shop where he works part time, only to realize that he may have misjudged her.*

It's set in near South Austin, which is the same neighborhood where my gothic fantasy takes place.

I'm tremendously honored to have been invited to submit to the anthology and to have my writing featured in such good company. I've had the pleasure of working with Joseph Bruchac on companion YA short stories for an upcoming anthology to be published by Roaring Brook (more on that to come), and on the Okie Indian front, both Joy Harjo and Linda Hogan are among my role models.

In addition, it's been lovely getting to know, Lori, whose other anthologies include Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Hispanic in the United States (Henry Holt, 1994) and its upcoming companion Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States (Henry Holt, 2005). I also enjoyed working on the project with my Harper editor, Rosemary Brosnan.

Note: readers of "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" may also want to check out another of my YA short stories, "Riding With Rosa," which appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Cicada.

Cynsational Links

A Chat With Joseph Bruchac from

The Creative Instinct: An Interview With Louise Erdrich by Robert Spillman from'

Louise Erdrich from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

Greg Sarris and the Native American Literature from the Information Resource Center.

Joy Harjo from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

Linda Hogan from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

Holding A World In Balance: An Interview With Linda Hogan by Camille Colatosti from The Witness.

A Man Called Raven by Richard Van Camp from Children's Book Press.

Susan Power from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

What It Means To Be Sherman Alexie: The Toughest Indian Writer In the World Angles for a Bigger Audience by Russ Spencer from Book magazine.

*Small spoiler alert:
It's my first published story featuring in part a romantic relationship in which no one dies. I'm oddly proud of that.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Power of Perseverance

Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing.
-- Donald Hall

For all the talk about talent, luck, targeted submissions, and trapping editors in bathroom stalls, the one quality common in all of the successful writers I know is that they haven't given up.

They've continued to write with a determination, even a ferocity, as though it is something they must do and will succeed at. Sure, they have had their downs and doubts, but they rise again and again, even if it means getting kicked in the face. Sooner or later, they figure out how to kick back.

Forget the slush pile. Forget trends. Write your story and the next one and the one after that with all the guts and gusto you have to offer.

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to Houston SCBWI for featuring my books and promotional materials in its booth at the upcoming conference of the International Reading Association in San Antonio.

Beyond The Library: Researching Non-Fiction for Children with Joanne Mattern from the Institute of Children's Literature.

The Perfect Author Visit is a Circle from author Jacqueline Davies (a PDF file).

The Vermont Folk Life Center has expanded its children's book pages with additional background on the books, teacher resources, links to original audio stories and more.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach

"A missing diamond. A 500-year-old necklace. A mystery dating back to the time of William Shakespeare." -- Elise Broach's site

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach (Henry Holt, 2005). Hero knows her unusual name comes from a character in the Shakespeare play "Much Ado About Nothing," but that's no consolation on the first day of sixth grade at her new school. All the kids make fun, and she's sure this year will be as empty as all the rest. But then Hero meets an elderly neighbor who tells her about a missing diamond, and much to her surprise, Hero finds herself becoming friends with one of the cutest, most popular boys in school. Ages 10-up.

Cynsational Thoughts

I'm not a teacher, but the first thing I thought upon finishing this debut novel was how much I'd love to share it with a classroom group.

The writing itself has a sort of old-fashioned cadence, which isn't my usual preference, but I found myself settling in, enjoying the mix of contemporary setting and nostalgic tone. It fits a story of today that draws so much from the past.

A few days ago, I was blogging about how Comfort by Carolee Dean (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) would inspire an interest in poetry. Likewise, Shakespeare's Secret will inspire an interest in history and the Bard's plays.

I could say more, but then I'd deprive you of discovering the secret(s) for yourself--along with Hero and friends of course.

As I mentioned, this is Elise's debut novel, but she is also the author of three--count 'em, three!--picture books to be released this year: Hiding Hoover, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith (Dial, July 2005); Wet Dog, illustrated by David Catrow (Dial, May 2005); and What The No-Good Baby Is For, illustrated by Abby Carter (G.P. Putnam's, May 2005).

In addition, Elise has two more picture books and a YA novel under contract.


What else? As I've mentioned before, her Web site is super cute, too! Learn more about Elise (she can tell the color of an M&M by its taste!), and read her Q&A. Then read about what she's reading and her thoughts on writing! (Only apparent flaw: prefers dogs to cats. Eek!).

Note: my fave version of "Much Ado About Nothing" is the 1993 film directed by Kenneth Branagh. Bonus points for Denzel and Keanu.

Cynsational Links

Joy Fisher Hein: new official site from the illustrator of Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers by Kathi Appelt (Harper, 2005). Surf by to see sample art from that debut picture book, and if you haven't read it already, check out my Story Behind The Story interview with Joy and Kathi.

Author Anastasia Suen offers a 2005 Workshop Schedule page and a new five-day workshop, School Visits 101. Learn more about her intensive online writing workshops. Anastasia is the author of more than 60 children's books and Picture Writing (Writer's Digest, 2003), a book about writing for for young readers. My favorite book by Anastasia is Subway, illustrated by Karen Katz (Viking, 2004).

Thursday, March 17, 2005

In Memorium: Michael Lacapa

I'm sorry to report that children's book illustrator Michael Lacapa (Hopi-Tewa-White Mountain Apache) has passed away.

He was the author and/or illustrator of such books as: The Magic Hummingbird: A Hopi Folktale, collected and translated by Ekkehart Malotki, narrated by Michael Lomatuway'Ma, illustrated by Michael Lacapa (Kiva, 1995); Antelope Woman: An Apache Folktale retold and illustrated by Michael Lacapa (Kiva, 1995); and most recently, The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa 'Kashtyaa'tsi Hiyaani by Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), illustrated by Michael Lacapa (The University of Arizona Press, 2004).

My favorite of his books, though, was: Less Than Half, More Than Whole by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa (Northland, 1994).

My sympathies to Kathleen and her children.

2005 Oklahoma Book Awards

The Oklahoma Center for the Book has announced the 2005 winners and finalists for the Oklahoma Book Awards:

Children's Winner

The Gospel Cinderella by Joyce Carol Thomas (Joanna Cotler Books/Harper Collins)

Young Adult Winner

Simon Says by Molly Levite Griffis (Eakin Press)


Grand Canyon Rescue by Devon Mihesuah (Booklocker);

Hoggee by Anna Myers (Walker);

No Dogs Allowed! by Bill Wallace (Holiday House);

Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting by Deborah L. Duvall (Univ. of New Mexico Press)(see also publisher information on this title);

We Go In A Circle by Peggy Perry Anderson (Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin).

See the Oklahoma Center for the Book Web site for descriptions of each title.

My Thoughts

I'm a big fan of the Oklahoma Center for the Book. In fact, two of my own titles, Jingle Dancer (Morrow/Harper, 2000) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Harper, 2001)(Listening Library, 2001) were finalists for its award.

The awards ceremony is a swanky event, held at the Petroleum Club in downtown Okie City. Think white linens, dressy dresses, and beyond that, a feeling of tremendous enthusiasm for the literary arts.

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists, especially Molly Levite Griffis, Anna Myers, and Devon Mihesuah!

I remember the last time Molly won, the quote she offered as she thanked her husband, and how I thought it was so great when a writer had love behind her:
"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." -- Virginia Woolf
Cynsational Links

Molly Levite Griffis from The Bookshelf, Sooner Magazine.

Devon Mihesuah: author profile from WritersNet.

Interview with Joyce Carol Thomas by Stacey Montgomery from Celebrating Children.

Bill Wallace Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Cynsational News

Thanks to author Philip Yates for sending in updated URLs for the State and National Awards listing page on my Web site. Phil is the author of Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 2003). He lives in the Austin area.

Thanks to Margot Finke for her "Wahoo" for Children's Writers page, spreading good cheer and encouragement.

Congratulations to my local independent bookstore, BookPeople in downtown Austin, Texas; which yesterday was named the Publisher's Weekly Bookseller of the Year for 2005! Note: I see more people in this neighborhood wearing bookstore T-shirts than sports team Ts. Consider that and then the force that is Texas football. Remarkable!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


The Divine Miss Pixie Woods (AKA Cecil Castellucci; see her site and Live Journal) has syndicated Cynsations on Live Journal.

Check it out, and if you're an LJ user, I hope this is a help!

Thanks, Miss Cecil!

Notes: (1) Cecil is the author of Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005), which is already generating much buzz; (2) I have another blog, more centered on my process, daily life, and gothic fantasy books at spookycyn.

Anybody Can Write A Children's Book

Sure, it's simple, writing for kids . . . .
Just as simple as bringing them up.

--Ursula K. LeGuin

Nobody likes to be minimized, and one common complaint of children's/YA writers is having to cope with comments to the effect that our job is easy.

Let's trace the source. Easy tasks are often described as "child's play." Children, teenagers and the people who devote their lives to them are undervalued in mainstream society. Unfortunately, a few really lacking children's/YA books are published and these (too) often fall into the category of "push" books. Plus, any number of people project onto artists their own fears, insecurities, or jealousies.

It's, if I may so, an easy put-down to say something like:

"When are you going to write a real (adult) book?"

"Oh, she's just a children's writer."

"My little Brandon is the best writer ever. I know he could write a better story than any book on the shelves today."

"How long can it possibly take to write eight hundred words anyway? How fast do you type?"

These are all actual examples, and they're not my most egregious.

Here's the thing, it's understandable to feel frustrated, annoyed, whatever you're feeling.

But don't let anyone convince you that writing about children or teenagers, or for children or teenagers, or having the courage to go after your dream makes you somehow inferior.

Spend more time with other children's and YA writers, readers, librarians. Pick up a good book and marvel at it. Challenge yourself to improve your craft.

After all... You value literacy, right? Education? Books? Children? Teenagers? The future? Wonderful prose? Inspiring art? Story? People who make their dreams happen? You know how hard it is to write well, don't you? Did you use up all that ink and paper for nothing?!

Okay then.

Cast off that sinking feeling. The Annoying One is wrong. You don't have to own their ignorance.

Chin up, sweetpea. Let's see that smile.

That's better!

Remember, the magic is in you.

Cynsational Request

If you can recommend any high-interest, low reading level books for fourth to sixth graders, please write with those suggestions.

Cynsational Links

Flipping Pancakes With A Shovel: Crafting and Promoting Compelling Books for Babies and Toddlers by Hope Vestergaard from her author Web site.

Layering Powerful Voice To Create Memorable Characters by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon.

One Writer's Journey: writer Debbi Michiko Florence's March 15 entry is in response to my recent blog about Writing, Fear, and Gender.

Page By Page: Creating A Children's Picture Book from the Library and Archives: Canada.

Picturing Books: A Web Site About Picture Books from Denise I. Matulka.

Telling The True: A Writer's Journal: Jane Yolen's March 11-12 entry talks about revision and offers some perspective on rejection, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

In Memorium: Ted Rand

I'm sorry to report that children's book illustrator Ted Rand has passed away.

Ted was the illustrator of more than 70 books.

My favorite was Anna The Bookbinder by Andrea Cheng (Walker, 2003).

My sympathies to his wife Gloria, his family, and his many friends.

Writing, Fear, and Gender

If we had to say what writing is,
we would define it essentially as an act of courage.
--Cynthia Ozick*

Every woman artist has to kill her own grandmother.
She perches on our shoulder whispering,
"Don't embarass the family."
--Erica Jong**

I'm thinking about Greg's recent blog post on writing the novel, specifically as it relates to fear. I wonder if, for women, this dynamic is somehow heightened by our childhood gender socialization.***

After all, from our earliest days, we've been told to please and to be careful about drawing too much attention to ourselves. Each of these influences is a landmine. Together, they're a formidable opponent. I suspect they are among the strongest roots of our fear.

Consider the pressure to please, to be "a good girl."

I'm a Gen Xer. When I was a child, I remember outgoing girls being scolded to be "ladies," while outgoing boys were praised as "high spirited." The message to both genders was that doing what other people wanted--pleasing them--would result in approval.

Of course impulse control and behaving respectfully are desirable and necessary child-rearing goals, but because those standards are applied unevenly, we have traditionally raised and praised girls and women for behaving in a meeker manner. Peel back a generation or two, and this dynamic was even more pronounced.

Problem is, the moment we start making decisions about where our story is headed, we're already alienating some potential readers. Perhaps even those in our all-important immediate circle. We're failing to please everyone.

Maybe we try anyway, and the result is a bland mush of a story. It might even sell well, but will it ever really sing?

Remember... Not every book is or should be for every reader. If we have to please someone, let it be the young readers inside ourselves. No one will live with the book longer or more intimately.

On another front, I can't tell you how many new female authors have said to me, "I don't want to promote or to have any attention." Or "I'm not one of those people who always needs attention." In seven years, I've heard only one man say anything of the kind.

A couple of related considerations, both with the same solution.

First, this isn't our third grade reading class. It's not only an arts community. It's also a business. If only the boys raise their hands, only the boys will get credit, achieve success. To an extent, that already happens too much in our adult publishing world.

Second, it's not just a business. It's also an arts community. It's about our book, our body of work, about all children's/YA titles, about children and teen readers, about children's and teen literacy, and about all the other people (teachers, librarians, parents, caregivers) who make our world spin. Art by its nature is meant to be shared. A community is a place where sharing happens.

We have something to say. Let's raise our pens (or laptops) and say it.

Related Resources

Art and Fear: Observations On The Perils (And Rewards) Of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Image Continuum, 1993). As relevant for writers as musicians as painters as photographers as dancers, this economical slim paperback is a godsend for anyone who's a human being and trying to create art.

The Courage To Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes (Holt, 1996).

Take Joy: A Book For Writers by Jane Yolen (The Writer Books, 2003). A celebration of writing, a reminder that it is such a wonderous experience and to enjoy it. Plus, a lot of very true and helpful how-to thoughts. Good for beginners and the well published. Worth the price for p. 49 alone, though the quote on p. 51 is particularly insightful, too. Read a review from BookLoons.

Walking On Alligators: A Book Of Meditations For Writers by Susan Shaughnessy (HarperCollins, 1993). A quote, a consideration, a call to action. This gem of a paperback is a must-have for the writer's peace of mind and piece of soul.

Writing Past Park: Envy, Fear, Distraction And Other Dilemmas In A Writer's Life by Bonnie Friedman (Harper, 1993). Worth twice the cost for the chapter on envy and the "anorexia of language" alone.

*the Jung quote came from In Their Own Words: Eminent Writers On The Craft of Writing: Knowledge Cards by Dona Budd.

**the Ozick quote came from A Creative Writer's Kit: A Spiritual Companion & Lively Muse For The Writing Life by Judy Reeves, author of A Writer's Book Of Days; see also her Notes On Writing.

***yes, I realize that guy artists feel fear, too. I just suspect its root structure varies. That said, big hugs, guys!

Cynsational News

Mark Mitchell is teaching a workshop on "Writing A Non-Fiction Book" from 1 to 4 p.m. April 16 through the Writers' League of Texas. Mark's third nonfiction book, Raising La Belle told the story about the great French explorer Robert Ca velier, Sieur de la Salle, and how archeologists recovered his ship, the Belle from the bottom of Matagorda Bay in 1997. The book won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for best juvenile nonfiction - 2003 and the United States Maritime Literature Award - 2003. The fee is $45 for WLT members/$90 nonmembers. For more details, visit or call 499-8914.

Cynsational Links

Mary E. Pearson's journal features a March 12 entry on why she writes for, or rather about, teenagers.

Marlene Perez's journal talks on March 9 about how a recent Entertainment Weekly article misrepresents the status of sexual themes in YA lit and muses over related gender bias within the publishing arena.

Linworth Adds New Acquisitions Editors

Linworth Publishing, Inc., publisher of professional development resources for K-12 educators, is pleased to announce the addition of Cynthia Anderson and Gary Hartzell as acquisitions editors to the Linworth team.

Cynthia and Gary will be responsible for Linworth's book development program, including both the Linworth Books and Linworth Learning imprints. They will actively seek new manuscripts in library/media, literacy, technology, and related areas. Both will work with authors throughout the manuscript development phase.

Cynthia is currently the associate superintendent for the Shawnee Mission School District in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. She is also the author of Write Grants, Get Money (Linworth 2002) and District Library Administration (Linworth 2005).

Gary is a Professor of Educational Administration and Supervision in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the author of Building Influence for the School Librarian: Tenets, Targets, & Tactics, Second Edition (Linworth 2003). "The exchange of ideas and the opportunity to share strategies offered by Linworth, is a tremendous asset for educators," said Cynthia. "I am honored to have this opportunity to serve educators in this new and powerful way."

"I am thrilled at the opportunity to help shape Linworth's editorial direction," said Gary. "By actively seeking out current trends and issues in the field, I will continue to build on the Linworth tradition of creating valuable and timely resources for educators."

Carol Simpson will remain as Editorial Director for the entire Linworth publishing program, and Judi Repman will continue in her role as Consulting Editor. Carol, Cynthia, Gary, and Judi will make up the Linworth Books editorial strategy team.

About Linworth Publishing

Linworth Publishing, Inc. offers a powerful combination of practical information and professional development focused on building strong connections among school library media and technology professionals, classroom teachers, and curriculum leaders. Linworth Publishing's portfolio includes Library Media Connection magazine, Linworth Books, and Linworth Learning.

The company can be reached at 480 E. Wilson Bridge Road, Suite L, Worthington, Ohio 43085; telephone 614-436-7107; on the Web at

A Sampling of CLSCLR Featured Linworth Titles

Bringing Mysteries Alive For Children And Young Adults by Jeanette Larson (Linworth, 2004). First-rate guide book to mysteries for young readers. Topics include: an introduction, definition, mystery appreciation, series mysteries, curriculum connections, programming, and extensive additional resources (awards, URLs, bibliography, etc.).

Getting Graphic! Using Graphic Novels To Promote Literacy With Preteens And Teens by Michele Gorman (Linworth, 2003). An information guide for librarians, teachers, and anyone who works with young people who want to learn more about graphic novels. For librarians and school library media specialists, this is a tool to help you develop, manage, and promote a collection of graphic novels in addition to the developing corresponding programs and special events. This book is designed to meet the needs of both school and public librarians who have little or no knowledge about graphic novels. Topics addressed in the book include a brief history of comic books and graphic novels, the value of graphic novels for developing readers, the role of graphic novels in public libraries, school libraries, and classrooms, issues and information relevantto collection development and bibliographic control of graphic novels, programming and promotion ideas, and core collections for middle school libraries, high school libraries, and public libraries serving youth populations.

Have Talent, Will Travel: Directory of Authors, Illustrators, And Storytellers West Of The Mississippi by Gwynne Spencer (Linworth, 2002). Listing alphabetically and by state of residence of potential speakers includes names, contact information, presentation sketches, grade levels, costs, and more. Features talent from the following states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Picture Books By Latino Writers: A Guide For Librarians, Teachers, Parents, And Students by Sherry York (Linworth, 2002). This informative guide focuses on picture books of original stories (not translations or retellings) by U.S. Latino writers that are set in the U.S. and currently in print (English or bilingual formats). Includes: a chapter on The Need for Authentic Latino Literature; extensively annotated bibliography; author biographies; and more. Highly recommended.

Cynsational News

Books on Tape, a division of Random House, presents "Now Hear This!" featuring a live reading of several selections by John Lee (the celebrated British performer who narrated audiobooks such as A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Tai-Pan by James Clavell) beginning at 7 p.m. Monday April 4 at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, 1165 Angelina, in Austin.

The program is a benefit for the Austin Public Library Foundation, the Friends of the Austin Public Library and the Library Partners.

Wine, cheese, and dessert provided (and also some great door prizes...). The cost is $15 per person. Call (512) 974-7346 or get online at to reserve your tickets or buy them at the door.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Comfort by Carolee Dean

Comfort by Carolee Dean (Houghton Mifflin, 2002). Kenny Willson wants out of Comfort, Texas--away from his alcoholic ex-con daddy, away from his controlling mama, away from everybody except Cindy. Despite her bullying boyfriend, she introduces Kenny to poetry competitions and shows him something that might be love. But not everything is what it appears to be in Comfort, though the search for familiarity and quest to break free rages on. Ages 12-up. Highly recommended.

My Thoughts

How had I not already read this novel? I loved its strong Texas setting and the fluid and thematic integration of poetry and prose. I was heartened by its inclusion of a contemporary Texas YA poet Naomi Shihab Nye (from San Antonio), and I think the story will inspire young readers--including boys--to look at poetry in a new way.

Carolee's Web site features extensive curriculum tie-in materials (as does Houghton Mifflin's), and I'm pleased to learn that Comfort received a much-deserved star from SLJ and made the 2003-2003 Tayshas list.

As a teenager, Carolee lived in Lubbock and Happy, Texas. Today, she makes her home in Albuquerque.

To recap, other great novels I've read so far this year: Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005); Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005); Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Cinco Puntos Press, 2004); Out of Order by A.M. Jenkins (HarperTempest, 2003); See You Down The Road by Kim Ablon Whitney (Knopf, 2004); Last Dance On Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone (Knopf, 2005); Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee; A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005).

Cynsational Links

Driving For Dragons from author Linda Joy Singleton's blog. A report on attending the Cornelia Funke (author of Dragon Rider, Inkheart, and Thief Lord) at Hicklebee's in San Jose.

How To Write A Novel...Observations...Part 1 from author Greg Leitich Smith's blog.

The Writer's Prayer by Sandy Tritt, whose site also includes a series of articles on the Elements of Craft: Tips and Techniques (show, don't tell; say it once, say it right; keep it active; character trait chart; manuscript format; and many more).

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla

Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla (Boyds Mills Press, 2005). Joe and his parents are among those at the parade celebrating the Fourth of July. It's a wonderful, patriotic celebration, but where is Uncle Louie? And what would it be like to be part of the parade instead of just watching from the sidelines? Whitehead's tribute to Independence Day has a strong Texas twist, brought to life in Torrecilla's vivid illustrations. Ages 4-up.

My Thoughts

I've known Kathy for years through the Texas children's writing community. As former Regional Advisor for Brazos Valley SCBWI, she's more than done her part to foster the current crop of new authors. I'm so excited to hold her first book and look forward to the upcoming second one, Art From The Heart (G.P. Putnam). Congratulations, Kathy!

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to illustrator Janee Trasler for the purrfect kitty mug and T-shirt!

"Rethinking Rejections" by Lisa Lawmaster Hess from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Vivian Vande Velde Photo Albums: take a virtual peek at the Central Missouri State University Children's Literature Festival March 6 to 8, 2005.

Author Barb Odanaka

Barb Odanaka, the author of Skateboard Mom, illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi (Putnam, 2004), writes that she is moving from California to Dallas. She also says she hopes to meet my "four fat cats"* and plans to check out the skateboard park in Austin.

Barb is "a world traveler who's dived with sharks, communed with gorillas, and sipped snake blood for breakfast." In addition, she is the founder of the International Society of Skateboard Moms. "Barb and her band of skater moms have been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, The Early Show, NPR, USA Today, and the L.A. Times."

Her next book, Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes The Trash (McElderry, 2006), will be illustrated by Will Hillenbrand.

Her site includes a sidelink to "The Book Biz," a collection of interviews and articles. Interview subjects include: editor Andrea Davis Pinkney at Houghton Mifflin; editor Wendy Lamb at Wendy Lamb Books/Random House; author Jack Gantos on writing the memoir; and editor Allyn Johnston at Harcourt.

Articles include: Tips For Beginners; Branding: Do Children's Authors Need A Niche?; Is Rhyme A Crime?: Rejection 101: Getting A Grip on the Gobbledygook; The Space Between The Words: Why Picture Book Authors Need To Let Illustrators Do Their Thing.

Welcome to Texas, Barb! We have plentry of writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and readers eager to meet you!

*only three of the cats are plush; Leo ("Galileo") is petite.

Cynsational News

I had lunch this week with Austin children's writer Debbie Dunn, a soon-to-be published star. She's a student in the MFA program at Vermont College, where I'll be guest teaching this summer, and she was gracious enough to give me the inside scoop.

I also see from Alison's Journal that Lisa Wheeler's Austin SCBWI picture book workshop was a success (not that I'm surprised).

Because we're both Cynthias, I'm sometimes confused with Cynthia Lord. Visit her journal and Web site and learn more about Rules (Scholastic, 2006).

Cynsational Links

The March Children's Writing Update from Children's Book Insider is available. Highlights include: magazine market information and resources; poetry links; and a feature article on similies and metaphors.

Getting To Know Author Jeff Stone by Barb Odanaka from SCBWI. Jeff's debut book Tiger (Random House, 2005) is the first in a "seven-book, middle-grade kung fu action/adventure series called The Five Ancestors."

Interview With Barbara Odanaka: The Skateboard Mom from

My Fellow Americans: Barbara Odanaka: Skateboard Mom from NPR. An audio interview. Note: I was only able to connect to about half of it, but maybe you'll have better luck.

Safe, Edgy, Hopeful; What's That Mean? from The YA Novel And Me, an online journal from Gail Giles; see the March 11, 2005 entry. An analysis of YA buzz words.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Sendak v. dePaolo

Reading Reptile presents the match of the century: animated wrestling between illustration giants Maurice Sendak and Tomie dePaola. Click here for the big fight.

Reading Reptile is an independent bookstore in my hometown of Kansas City. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers, edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen

In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers, edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Harper, 2003). A collection of short stories by children's authors about their own grandmothers. Contributing authors included: Joan Abelove; Alma Flor Ada, Bonnie Christensen; Beverly Cleary; Pat Cummings; Jean Craighead George; Minfong Ho; Ji-li Jang; Gail Carson Levine; Beverly Naidoo; Cynthia Leitich Smith; and Diane Stanley. Ages 8-up. NYPL Books For The Teenage.

My Thoughts

My contribution to the anthology, titled "The Naked Truth" was probably the most difficult story I ever had to write. I admire folks who do memoir, but I felt awkward reflecting myself and my real-life grandma(s).

I suspect it was in some ways a more interpersonally difficult assignment for me than some of the other authors because both of my grandmothers were (and still are) living. I worried about which grandmother to feature. I worried about how they'd both feel. I worried about how the whole thing would go over at their local small-town beauty parlors.

In the end, my grandma Dorothy just seemed more comfortable talking about her life than my grandma Melba, which I respected. So, selecting a subject became easier. That said, it still wasn't biography, so much as fiction inspired by real life.

The plot centers around a nude painting (by my grandfather, an artist) in her basement and the day I figured out "the naked lady" was--gasp--grandma.

What it's about, though, is how we tend to see people as frozen at one stage of their life without remembering all that has happened before and will happen since.

The really neat thing was that I flew to Kansas City to do the research, and my grandma and I stayed awake all night talking about everything under Halloween's full moon. It's a memory I'll always treasure, just as I do her.

More globally, it was an honor to have my story published in such great company, Bonnie did an amazing job with her art, and the verdict of the beauty parlor was thumbs-up!

More Praise For In My Grandmother's House

Voya: "The most entertaining contributions are Cynthia Leitch Smith's The Naked Truth, in which a granddaughter discovers that the nude figure painted in the basement is her grandmother, and Gail Carson Levine's A Visit to Grandma's, as a granddaughter speaks out about her grandmother and her great aunts' disrespect of her mother."

School Library Journal: "An old painting in the basement allows Cynthia Leitich Smith to see her grandmother for who she really is, and to see herself in a new light as well."

Booklist: "A fine collection that will encourage teens to reflect on their own families and recognize the individuals behind the family roles."

Cynsational Links

An Interview with Beverly Cleary by Miriam Drennan from BookPage in August 1999. Focus is on the release of Ramona's World.

Author Profile Jean Craighead George: author profile and interview from

Let It Be Hope by Kristen D. Randle, following an introduction by editor Chris Crowe, from Kristen's Web site. Originally published in the March 2001 issue of the English Journal. Kristin's novels include Breaking Rank (Harper, 1999), which I adored. Also check out her Quilt Collection.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Writing For Young Adults Versus Adults

By Laura Ruby
Reproduced from an online message board with permission.

Word count, language choice, or age of protagonist is what separates YA from adult (and of course there's some blurring — The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime, Like the Red Panda, A Northern Light, even Ann Brashares' books to a certain extent).

What separates an adult novel from a YA is perspective. Teens, even smart, sophisticated teens, have that weird teen tunnel vision. Everything is new to them. Impulse control is faulty. They can't reason out probable consequences to their actions. They might love their parents but don't like to think of themselves as being "parented."

Because of these things, fiction written with a teen audience in mind is often more immediate. Adults are usually relegated to the background, and even if they're not, they're almost never given a POV of their own; everything is filtered through the teens' limited perspective.

In adult fiction, even if it has a child or a teen narrator, usually employs a retrospective voice, a sense that the story is being told after the fact. (This is easier if you're using past tense or 3rd person, but it can be done with present tense 1st person as well). Or, as in the case of Curious Incident, the troubled teen narrator himself can't put all the pieces of the story together, but the characters around him do that for the reader, giving us a larger picture of the world than the narrator is able to.

And then there's the adults. In YA fiction, they sort of pop in and out, dancing around the edges of the story. In adult fiction, you can give them more room. What they have to say is more interesting.

Note: Laura Ruby writes for children, teenagers, and adults. She is the author of Lily's Ghost (Harper, 2003), a 2004 Edgar Award Nominee, 2003 Parent's Choice silver medalist, and one of the Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best. She also has several additional projects under contract.

Cynsational Links

Teacher's Guides and Activities for Children's Books from author Hope Vestergaard. Top-notch guides to books by such authors as Lisa Wheeler, Shutta Crum, Carolyn Crimi, and more! Highly recommended to teachers, parents, reading groups, and authors/publishers looking for someone to design a guide for them!

Publishers Release U.S. and British Cover Art for Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince from Wizard News. Compare and contrast the American edition by Mary GrandPre, the British children's edition by Jason Cockcroft, and the British adult edition, which featuers a photograph by Michael Wildsmith. Learn about plans for the $60 Scholastic special edition. Note: Mary also illustrated The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzeo (Dial, 2002).

Young Writer Tips: What Goes Into A Young Writer's Idea File? from author Marianne Mitchell. Marianne is the author of several books for young readers, including Firebug, a middle grade mystery set in Sedona (see teacher guide); Finding Zola, another one set near Tucson (see teacher guide), and, for younger readers, Gullywasher Gulch (see teacher guide), among others. Her publishers include Boyds Mills and Henry Holt.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I Wish I'd Written That

Have you ever set down a book and thought, I wish I'd written that myself?

It's not the kind of thing that happens often. After all, there are so many books that are successful, but don't necessarily connect with my reader within. So many that I enjoy, but don't speak so directly to my soul. Or perhaps it's a wonderful, successful title that does tranform me, but it's not such a precise reflection of my own sensibilities.

So for what it's worth, I wish I'd written:

picture books

The Moon Came Down On Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004);

What A Truly Cool World by Julius Lester, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Scholastic, 1999);


Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 1999);

Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004);

Locked Inside by Nancy Werlin (Delacorte, 2000);

The Witch Of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spear (1958).

But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe it's better than I can enjoy them as the reader instead of the writer. That's such an individual, important relationship. So, to those authors who wrote "my" books, let me just say, thank you.

Cynsational Links

An Interview With Cynthia Leitich Smith by Cheryl Coon from Books To Grow With (PDF file). July 2004 (but I just found it online).

An Interview With Cheryl Willis Hudson, editorial director, Just Us Books from children's illustrators. "Just Us Books, Inc. is an independent press that publishes Black-interest books for young people."

An Interview With David Saylor, vice president and creative director, Scholastic Book Group from children's illustrators. March 2005: features include an interview with author Terry Davis, an article on the Canadian publishing scene, and a look at the Appalachian Authors Guild.

Balkin Buddies

Balkin Buddies is a service offering authors and artists for speaking engagements in school, libraries, and at conferences.

The client list is top notch and includes such talents as Avi, Jennifer Armstrong, Joseph Bruchac, Margery Cuyler, Alex Flinn, Bobbi Katz, M.E. Kerr, Mary Lankford, Anna Myers, Kevin O'Malley, Elaine Scott, Diane Stanley, and Terry Trueman (among others).

Listings are provided: by state; by grade level; and by authors visiting certain areas.

Plus, the site also provides an answer to the ever-popular question: which imprint or publisher is owned by which publishing house?

Cynsational Links

Book Talk With Joseph Bruchac from Lee & Low Books on Native American children's literature.

Navigating The Neighborhood by Jennifer Armstrong from the Riverbank Review (a discussion about fictional and real-life settings for children). See also her article on Search and Research. Her "under redesign" site is clever and well worth a look.

Using Biography And Other Children's Literature In The Classroom: A Chat With Diane Stanley from the International Reading Association.