Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cubanita by Gaby Triana

Cubanita by Gaby Triana (HarperCollins, 2005). Unlike Mami, Isa is no Cubanita. Of course she loves her family, but the U.S. is the only home she knows. What's more, Isa has broken up with her boyfriend, is busy teaching kids art at a summer camp, and is not getting involved with any boy so as to leave for the University of Michigan with a clear head. But then she meets a man and Mami suddenly may need her more than ever. What's this non-Cubanita to do? Funny, touching, sure to please. Ages 12-up.

More Thoughts on Cubanita

I read this book on the plane on the way to ALA. First off, my deepest thanks to the author from distracting me from the Mick Jagger-ish guy (sniffed a lot, disappeared to the washroom for an hour) sitting beside me. Yikes.

People are always talking about reader identification. I pulled this book from the pile to read next because I had gone to U of M, too.

Check out author Gaby Triana's YA reading list!

Cynsational Links

Jennifer Laughran (AKA literaticat (love that name)) reports on the cynsations LJ syndication that she has an inside scoop on the slanted Wall Street Journal article I referenced in my recent cynsations post, Defending YA Lit, and that she is "so writing a scathing letter to the editor." Read her comments and her letter to the editor. What a great job she did! A big thanks to Jennifer for sharing her insights and speaking out!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

ALA: Miss Cecil Shines

Greg and I had the pleasure of speaking at the ALA national conference in Chicago earlier this week with Miss Cecil Castellucci.

Miss Cecil was wonderful! Charming, energetic, and on target! She gave a thoughtful and inspiring speech on the role of humor in literature, film, and the world. She also was great in the Q&A that followed.

My, her rising star does glitter!

It was a fun conference with old friends and new--all amazing people who love books.

Cynsational Links

The Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education has posted its latest children's book reviews. Two of my own works, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002), are reviewed along with four other children's titles and five professional books.

Congrats to D.L. Garfinkle, author of Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl (Putnam, 2005), and Cecil Castellucci, author of Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005), who received "Flying Starts" cheers from PW!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Cynsational Blink

LizB over at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy blogs about A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005), which she describes as the "best" book she's read this year (see June 25 post). Congrats to Mary on a great blog recommendation and thanks to LizB for mentioning my cynsations interview with MEP.

note: blink = blog + link. Yay!

New From Holiday House

Congratulations to Holiday House (1935-1970) on its 70th anniversary!

I'm on the lookout for two books on the 2005 list: Pizza for the Queen by Nancy Castaldo, illustrated by Melisande Potter; and Love, Football and Other Contact Sports by Alden R. Carter.

Holiday House is small, family owned, and quality oriented. My favorites from the backlist include: There Goes Lowell's Party by Esther Hershenhorn, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers (1998); The Cat Who Loved Mozart by Patricia Austin, illustrated by Henri Sorenson (2001); and The Children of Topaz: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Camp by Michael O. Tunnell and George W. Chilcoat (1996)

minor nag: It's a tad frustrating when publishers send reviewers catalogs without enclosing an easy-to-use order form to request copies of books of interest. Of course it's also frustrating when they ignore your request-list and just send whatever "push" books, regardless of whether you requested them (which happens more often than you'd think).

Defending YA Lit

It seems we're in the midst of another round of national media articles saying there's--gasp!--sex and what not (quick: somebody call Judy Blume!) in young adult literature.

The headlines tend to read like warnings, and in one of the latest, a parent suggests the need for "ratings" on books. Overgeneralizations abound, the tone is anywhere from smug to alarmed, and it's clear that sources are not, shall we say, particularly well read in the field.

I sort of put these in the same category as the periodic articles about high school and college students drinking beer--breaking news that. Certainly, GenX, GenY, and the boomers never drank beer. Uh-hem.

At the same time, I wish that we in the YA community were more organized with responses. We're brilliant, articulate, and we actually know what we're talking about. We've poured years of thought into the subject. Maybe we should start thinking about putting some letters to the editor in the queue. After all, it's not as though we don't know what to expect from our (usually) ill-informed critics. Let's talk back!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Janie Bynum on the Town

Greg and I enjoyed drinks tonight at Guero's on South Congress with author/illustrator Janie Bynum, currently of Wimberly, just back from NYC.

Cynsational News & Links

"Query Letters: A Personal Journey" by Vijaya Bodach, in the Query Letters section of Writer's Support from the Institute of Children's Literature. See also "Blank Page Syndrome" by Nat Ryan, in the Getting Started section of Writer's Support from ICL.

I'd like to thank author Lisa Yee for her recent comment on cynsations LJ syndication, and let authors LZ, DLG, MP (thanks to you, too!), and CC know they're also in my thoughts!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Final Revisions

I'm in the midst of final revisions for my upcoming YA novel with Candlewick and my upcoming picture book with Dutton. Yes, when it rains, it pours--but joyfully so!

It's heartening and a bit nerve-wracking to think this is my last chance to make these manuscripts better before they go to copyediting.

Some people hate to revise, but I love it.

Each revision is an opportunity.

Cynsational News & Links

YA author Lauren Barnholdt (In The House (Simon Pulse, 2006)) will be teaching an online workshop called "Writing The YA Chicklit Novel," starting August 1st. Work will be turned in and critiqued, along with class discussions on finding an agent, writing a query letter, who's buying
what, why the market's so hot, and what makes a good YA chick-lit. For more information, email Lauren at lauren(at) Surf by Lauren's blog.

Marketing With Fran: When Can A Reviewer Expect to be Paid? by Francine Silverman from Open Horizons: Promoting Your Book to a Worldwide and Someday Galactic Audience.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Cyn and Greg at TSU (formerly Southwest Texas State)

Greg and I had a lovely time today speaking to Judy Leavell's class at Texas State University. We very much enjoy visiting university classroom groups--be they comprised of prospective teachers or librarians--and have spoken at schools across the state and elsewhere.

Dr. Leavell did a particularly good job of planning. The students had been read Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) for several days prior to our visit, and a very successful booksale also was planned.

Cynsational News & Links

Writing Tips on Plot from Martha Alderson at

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith, who received his author copies of Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005) in hardcover and Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005) in paperback. Also read his WriteFest 05 report.

While you're at it, read the lovely and brilliant Tanya Lee Stone's WF 05 report, too!

Note: If (always an "if" at this point), we host WF again, we will be looking for friends of Cyn and Greg who've published 1-3 novels. Potential new blood (bah, ha, ha, ha) is welcome to express interest, if it's out there.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Grassroots: Share The Love Of Reading

A major focus of this blog and my site is spreading the word that good books matter. I also do a good bit of that in my public speaking. For example, I'm giving a talk with Greg at Texas State University in San Marcos this week, and we'll be giving away signed books by Texas children's authors and illustrators along with a bibliography of those folks' titles and Web site URLs.

It'll probably take five or so minutes out of our presentation to briefly booktalk each one, and I spent at most another ten putting together and printing the bibliography.

Since writers are readers, it makes sense that we act as ambassadors as children's/YA literature. This is an example of an easy and effective way to do just that.

Here's the list I'll be handing out (while also presenting a signed copy of A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2003) to the hosting professor):

Central Texas Children’s/YA Authors & Illustrators

Kathi Appelt:
My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoir (Henry Holt, 2004)

Anne Bustard:
Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005)

Dianna Hutts Aston:
Loony Little (Candlewick, 2003)

Joy Fisher Hein:
Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America (HarperCollins, 2005); note: book is written by Kathi Appelt (see above)

Julie Lake:
Galveston’s Summer of the Storm (TCU Press, 2003)

Lindsey Lane:
Snuggle Mountain (Clarion, 2003)

Debbie Leland:
The Jalepeno Man (Wildflower Run, 2000); The Little Prairie Hen (Wildflower Run, 2003)

Jane Peddicord:
Night Wonders (Charlesbridge, 2005)

Elizabeth Garton Scanlon:
A Sock Is A Pocket For Your Toes: A Pocket Book (HarperCollins, 2004)

Cynthia Leitich Smith:
Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000); Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001); Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)

Greg Leitich Smith:
Ninjas Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003); Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005)

Jerry Wermund:
Earthscapes: Landforms Sculpted by Water, Wind, and Ice (Rockon Publishing, 2003)

Kathy Whitehead:
Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth of July (Boyds Mils Press, 2005)

note: I don't just talk about books by Texans; I simply thought it would be a good fit/theme for this particular event. That said, if you are a central Texas author/illustrator who's not participating in this sort of promotion and wants to, drop me a note! I'd love to hear from you and do what I can to raise awareness of your work.

Cynsational News & Links

Children's Author, Illustrator, and Poet Kim Norman debuts her Web site. Kim illustrated The Museum Duck, written by Verne Edwards (Pearl Line Press, 200) and was a contributing poet to Rolling In The Ailses (Meadowbrook, 2004). She looks forward to the release of her first picture book, Jack Of All Tails, illustrated by David Clark (Dutton, TBA). Read her Bio Of A Not-Shy Author.

The Books of Robin Pulver: author Web site includes Axle Annie's School Bus, Mrs. Toggle's Classroom, A Vacation With Punctuation, Robin's life story, publishing news, autographed bookmarks, illustrators' drawings to print and color, and a Christmas kitten maze.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Diary Of A Fairy Godmother Online Diary Activity

Hyperion Books for Children is pleased to celebrate the publication of Esmé Raji Codell’s Diary Of A Fairy Godmother (June 2005), by encouraging burgeoning writers (ages 9-14) to create and utilize an online diary.

This interactive, “relationship-building” marketing campaign directly encourages reading and journaling, gives kids immediate rewards in the form of sweepstakes entries for their participation, and introduces a witchingly delightful cast of characters from the book to future fans.

Codell explains, “I am so glad children have an inspiring tool like the internet to help them write down all that they notice, and this new generation of diary-keepers can reach out and share what they create with others. Old-fashioned or new-fangled, whether it's called a journal, a diary, a log or a blog, it's all the same: the chance to capture the magic of everyday life in print, the chance to tell ourselves and others the story of who we were, right now or sometime in the future. It's quite a trick.”

Perfect for a summer activity that will keep kids’ creative juices flowing, The Diary of a Fairy Godmother Online Diary Writing Sweepstakes will take place in cyberspace from June 15 through August 31, 2005.

Cynsational News & Links

The Lady and Red: Despite Illness an Author Stands Out, Just Like Her Subject by David Mehegan from The Boston Globe. About Amy Butler Greenfield's ''A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire."

"Cataloging the Internet" by Chitra Soundar, in the Electronic Writing section of Writing Tips (Taming the Internet monster) from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Author K.L. Going writes that her new book, The Liberation of Gabriel King (G.P. Putnam, 2005), launched this past Thursday, June 16th. She's received great reviews already, including a star from Kirkus!

Anne Miranda writes to announce her Web site. She is the author of 16 books and published by such houses as Hyperion, Harcourt, Little Brown, and Boyd's Mills.

Sandra McLeod Humphrey writes that she has been selected by the Church and Synagogue Library Association to receive the "Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature" on July 24th in Portland, Oregon, at their awards banquet.

I'd like to send out a "Happy Father's Day!" to Deb Allie's dad. Debora's first book, The Meanest Girl (Roaring Brook, 2005), was recently recommended on cynsations.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"Self" Promotion?

Jenlibrarian posts on why authors need to tell librarians about their books and cites author Rukshana Khan as a good role model.

I often go to lunch with first-time authors who express concern about promoting themselves.

(Actually, to date, women express concern about this; men don't).

What I tell them is that it isn't about you, the person.

It is about your book and your body of literature.

It's about your role as an ambassador (to whatever extent you feel comfortable) of children's/YA literature and literacy.

Cynsational News & Links

Interview with Rukshana Kahn from author Uma Krishnaswami's Web site. Also includes interviews with other writers of South Asian origin.

"The Shoe String Press has ceased bookselling operations as of April 15, 2005, after fifty-three years of continuous business."

For the next few days, I'll be busy running Writefest 2005 with Greg. Surf over to spookycyn if you want to know more about it.

I Am The Wallpaper by Mark Peter Hughes

I Am The Wallpaper by Mark Peter Hughes (Delacorte Press, 2005). Floey's nothing but "the wallpaper" compared to her sister Lilian who "always had to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral." But all that's over now, at least if Floey herself has anything to say about it. New Floey, future Floey is on the rise, no matter the resulting friendship fallouts, family turmoils, and revelations of her private life on the Internet. At turns tender and comedic, Floey is ultimately a heroine to cheer. Ages 10-up. Read an excerpt, and don't miss

More Thoughts On I Am The Wallpaper

Floey is a great example of a character who grows into her likability. Too often it seems we're so worried about reader identification (and attention span) that we writers back away from really showing protagonist faults. The result is that the character growth arc is flattened. But here, the author sees and conveys his heroine clearly and compellingly.

I absolutely love that Calvin was from Oklahoma City (central time zone!) and, having dated an cowboy poet or two myself, found him utterly convincing.

Love also the Internet extension of the novel. An excellent example of how books and technology can be cooperative rather than competitive.

Overall the book was very well produced, though on the rare occasion that Floey's "handwriting" type is produced with an asterix and smaller font, I found it challenging to read. But then again, I'm very old (age 37).

Marketing pitches the novel with a Booklist quote calling it a clever amalgam of Bridget Jones' Diary and Harriet the Spy, which is fair, but I agree also with Floey herself that she at least begins in more of a Molly Ringwald a' la "Sixteen Candles'" (Samantha Baker) place in the world (bonus points for mentioning "the cute guy in the red car").

This debut novel was a finalist for the 2003 Delacorte Press Prize for First Young Adult Novel.

Like me, author Mark Peter Hughes has worked in a gas station (he was an attendant; I was a cashier) and in a movie theater (he was an usher; I was a popcorn popper).

Also the zen was way zen, says Zen Cyn.

Cynsational News & Links

Amazing Vermont College MFA folks I've heard from lately include author Louise Hawes. Her titles include: The Vanishing Point (Houghton Mifflin, 2004); Waiting For Christopher (Candlewick, 2002); and Rosey In The Present Tense (Walker, 1999). She offers some lovely inspirational words for new writers and some wonderful essays: "On Overwriting: The Pitfalls of 'Lyrical' Prose;" "Writing from the Core: Does It Have To Hurt?;" September 11: the Day the Writing Stopped;" and "Thou Shalt Not Tell...Or Shalt Thou?"

Monday, June 13, 2005

Shelf Life by Robert Corbet

Shelf Life by Robert Corbet (Walker, 2004). A quasi short story collection with a wrap-around romance wherein each "aisle" offers insight into an employee's "shelf life." Best when it gives a peek into the scenes behind the shelves; worth reading for Rahel's story alone. Ages 12-up.

Unrelated Thoughts

Lots of talk in the author community about how school visits are drying up. Many folks who've been full time authors for several years are going back to day jobs.

Authors might consider creating bibliographies of their own recommended reads--hand them out at events, slip them into mailings, post them on Web sites. Light a candle!

Cynsational News & Links

Shelf Life recommendation from Richie's Picks.

Super Stories from the Supermarket by Sally Murphy from

A preview of "Letters of Imagination," a silent auction at the upcoming 2005 ALA National conference in Chicago, is available at the Children's Book Council Web site. Contributing artists include nine Caldecott winners and numerous other award winners. 150 original letters of the alphabet were created specifically for the auction. Bidding will start at $50. Find out more about the auction; see the art by letter (highly recommended); see the art by artist.

Frequent readers will notice that I've turned off comments for a while because I'll be too busy to police them.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Order Of The Poison Oak (Take II)

LizB offers a wonderful rec of The Order of the Poison Oak by Brent Hartinger (HarperCollins, 2005)(see June 10 post).

I particularly agree with her assertion: "Now all we need -- because I'm the demanding sort -- are GLBT teen books that are fantasy. And science fiction. And mystery."

It also hit me that I've been neglecting to mention the book in my recent lists of my 2005 recs because I read the ARC in 2004. But it's a 2005 book, and folks paying a lot of attention to the books published this year should have it high on their radar.

See my own thoughts on The Order of the Poison Oak (includes Story Behind The Story interview on Geography Club).

(Also don't miss the rest of the 2005 recs, plus new additions: Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2005); Sketches From A Spy Tree by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005); It Is The Wind by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins, 2005); and The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie (Roaring Brook, 2005)).

Cynsational News & Links

Brent Hartinger: Author Bio from April 12, 2005 interview.

Brent Hartinger: the out gay author of young-adult best sellers addresses writing about gay issues for teens by Jamie Rhein from

Interview with Brent Hartinger, author of Geography Club from Debbi Michiko Florence.

Interview with Brent Hartinger, author of Geography Club from

"Should I Do Free Rewrites?: Thoughts on an Age-Old Writing Question" by Brent Hartinger from The Purple Crayon.

"The Writing Pie: How Do You Slice It?" by Christa Exter from the Institute of Children's Literature.

"The Power of Persistence: Overcoming Rejection on the Path to Publication:" an archived ICL chat with author Judy Cox.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Advice for Beginning Writers/Authors

"Once you become a novelist, it helps if you can remain philosophical about things like poverty, rejection, and celebrity picture books."
- Author David Lubar from

On writing: Writing is the act of writing, not the bound product. Focus on the craft, on the process, on the journey.

On representation: Having a great agent is better than having no agent. Having no agent is better than having any agent who isn't great.

On promotion: Your books' best promotional tool is you.

On the wait for publication: Enjoy writing without having to worry about wearing your author hat (and all it entails).

On publishing: A contract is not a book. It is a contract. Support your backlist. Carpe diem because tomorrow you may be out of print.

On success: Celebrate every success, no matter how small.

On author Web sites: Make sure that your books' cover art, publisher name and publication date, illustrator credits, etc., are easy to find. If you don't want related email, don't provide that link. But realize you'll also be nixing mail from folks who would, say, like to ask you for an interview or refer you to speak at an event.

On book reviews: If the review is negative and the reviewer misrepresented the plot, renamed your protagonist, and inserted his/her own political agenda, feel free to disregard it. If it's positive and the reviewer did the same, well, we all have our issues. But in either case, as the author, you're allowed no rebuttal.

On writer list servs: Stay out of flame wars, especially if they are in no way related to literature and/or publishing and particularly if they involve politics. But do not under any circumstances personalize the conflict.

On interpersonal relations: Apologize for your mistakes. Forgive others. Be open to learning and growing. Make friends. Be kind to one another. Mentor. It's an incredibly small, tight-knit industry. Keep in mind the best interests of your books and mental health.

On your emotional journey: Stay positive, but acknowledge your humanity. You're allowed the occasional down days/times. You're allowed to lean on your friends. But don't be an energy vampire, and don't allow yourself to be sucked dry by one.

On competition: Compete with yourself. Try to make each next book better than the last.

On courage: Borrow courage, share courage, hold tight to it. The good news is that you can do all three at the same time.

Cynsational News & Links

"How to Keep Your Passion and Survive as a Writer" by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon.

An Interview with Jon Scieszka from Bookslut, which I found out about on Laurie Halse Anderson's blog. And speaking of LHA, she has updated her site with a Teacher's Guide to Prom. If you haven't already, read my thoughts on Prom (Viking, 2005).

"Nominate a Teacher to be an ‘American Star in Teaching’": the U.S. Department of Education again plans to honor classroom teachers by recognizing the 2005 American Stars of Teaching. The Department's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative is seeking nominations and information about teachers who are improving student achievement, using innovative strategies, and making a difference in the lives of their students. Teachers across all grade levels and disciplines will be honored this fall. One teacher or team of teachers from each state will be recognized. To learn more or nominate a teacher to become an American Star of Teaching. This link is reproduced with permission from the Public Education Network Weekly NewsBlast.

Grackle Stew: a blog of "[g]eneral musings & gracklin' about from Bobbi C., Texas writer and artist, the life of an artist/writer, news about other artists, Ganderings (fav sites), and who knows what else?" She's blogging lately about "The Nervous Artist/Writer."

E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, ruby oliver)(Delacorte, 2005)(Listening Library, 2005) has a "Grease" poll for readers under age 18.

Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy, author of The Power of Un (Front Street), from the Horror Writers Association. A frank discussion of warning signs and why writers are so vulnerable. Be good to each other out there. Take care of yourselves.

I'm blogging lately on spookycyn about The Fonz, Isis, phobias, and Ultimate Spider-Man.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Author Interview: Cecil Castellucci on Boy Proof

Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005). Victoria insists on being called "Egg" in honor of her favorite sci fi heroine, pushes herself to be just as superheroic, and distances from peers, especially boys, who might try to define her in their terms. But she can't accomplish her goals--as a photographer, a scholar, even as a Vampire and Bat Wing apprentice--without reaching out and opening up to the real-world people around her. Ages 12-up. Highest recommendation. (See more of my thoughts on this novel).

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

It all came together in a flash when I was looking to write something for my application for the Banff Centre for the Arts Writing With Style Program and I couldn’t think of anything and my friend Steve Salardino said, “You should write a book called 'Boy Proof' and the boy’s name should be 'Max.'”

Immediately in my head all of these things came together and I added water and stirred.

The teenage girl who I saw in some documentary footage who was dressed up like Trinity and said, “Everyone thinks that 'The Matrix' is just a phase for me. But it’s not. 'The Matrix' is forever.” She was so intelligent, and I imagined that she just didn’t relate to a single person at school and so had to be Trinity.

This girl that I went to High School with who talked to no one (except me), shaved her head, had a nose ring, barked at people like a dog. I was like her Rue.

Any cute guy that is brilliant, talented and totally gets it. Guys like that (ie. Max) terrify me.

This boy that sat next to me in High School Math class who had beautiful eyes and would always sketch in class. One day I went over to his house and he introduced me to Batman: Dark Knight and I had dinner with his amazingly vibrant and creative family. He scared me and so I never went out with him again, but I still think of him all the time. He was very kindred, very Max. I’m happy to report that he actually draws comic books today.

My friend's mom in High School who was a washed up singer/ actress in the midst of making a gigormous comeback. (You may have heard of her, her name was 'Cher.')

When I was extra-ing, I got a call to go try to be an Ape Child Extra. The interview was at Rick Baker’s studio. He’s done the special effects make up on a million amazing movies. Because they needed adults to play the ape kids, it was me and a bunch of Little People getting measured and trying on Ape masks and Ape hands. Just being in his studio was inspiring. I didn’t get to be an ape extra. (DAMN!) My boobs were too big! But I thought what if your dad made apes and monsters for a living? Wouldn’t it be cool if he was your dad?

I had a desire to discuss the obsession we have with that first thing that we are a big fan of that we own totally and is ours. It could be a movie, a book, a band, whatever. It becomes our identity. (For me it was "Star Wars")

Fan Girls & Sci-Fi. Meeting all the people I’ve met through the years, wonderful, special, different, strange. Sci-Fi fans.

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

I started writing on Boxing Day 2001 (that’s December 26th) and submitted 40 pages for my application to the Banff Centre for the Arts. The application was due February 1st. I was accepted to Banff and it was taking place for 9 days that same April. I got the F*** on the F*** and wrote the whole novel because the teacher said that he would give us detailed notes. Tim Wynne-Jones was that teacher and he was inspirational. He was the first person to read Boy Proof and told me that it was a book.

I fired my agent that summer, who was doing nothing for me, and hooked up with my new agent that I adore, the fabulous Mr. Barry Goldblatt.

That fall, I attended the SCBWI-LA Working Writers Retreat where Liz Bicknell from Candlewick was the guest. She joked at dinner how she had rejected me four times already that year. When she sat in on the critique for Boy Proof, she said to me afterwards to not be discouraged by all of her rejections and to please send yet another thing to her because she thought that Kara LaReau and Boy Proof and I would be a good match.

February 2003 (14 months later) Candlewick bought it! Liz was right! I LOVE KARA!!!

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

I have a theory. The ten-year theory. I think it takes everyone, any artist in any discipline, about ten years to “make it”. (Whatever making it means to you.) But pretty much, it’s a ten-year waiting list. So you just have to stand in line and wait your turn. You just have to decide that you are in line. Oh sure, some people get cuts, or their line goes faster. I think the biggest challenge about waiting in line is just not giving up. I mean I had four novels, a picture book and an easy reader, all rejected. So, just getting it up to continue to write when it seemed pretty hopeless and as though I’d never get published, and perhaps was actually untalented, was a challenge. But I had my ten-year theory.

Just FYI, from the time I got serious about writing to the day Boy Proof came out in March, it had been 9 years. Theory proved.

Research wise, the hardest thing was the special effects make up. I went on line and called a make up artist I thought looked cool, His name is Tom Burman, he does the effects for "Nip/Tuck." I told him what I was writing. He quizzed me, then said I could fax over my pages. I met with him at his studio and read him the pages with the make up stuff and he corrected me, and gave me a few details to make it more real.

Cynsational Link

Surf over to The Divine Miss Pixiewoods (AKA Cecil Castellucci).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Style and Voice

On the childrens-writer list serv through yahoogroups, a member asked about the meanings of style and voice as well as what editors mean by the expression "fresh voice."

This is from my response:

In an interview for my site, author Kathi Appelt (Miss LadyBird's Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America) said: "Calling on voice is in some ways like calling on the muse. It's a slippery thing, and not a little magical. I think it has to do with passion and whether or not the subject you're writing calls to you from somewhere deep, some profound place that means everything to you."

In another, author Franny Billingsley (The Folk Keeper) wrote: "I love a wonderful first-person voice, such as Cassandra's voice in I Capture The Castle and Scout's voice in To Kill A Mockingbird."

In yet another, author Bruce Hale (the Chet Gecko series) confided: "...during a free writing exercise, I happened upon the character's voice. He said, 'Kids talk. They say I'm someone who can solve mysteries. They're right. I can. Who am I? Chet Gecko, Private Eye.' And when I wrote that, I knew the gecko would not be denied."

To me, "voice" is the expression of character through word choice and cadence.

Think about how a 15 year old Cuban American boy from Los Angeles might speak. What if he's upper middle class? What if he has a great sense of humor? What if he's an avidly into science? Now, how might he speak differently than, say, his twin brother with whom he has all those things in common?

What if instead your character was a 78-year-old old Cherokee great-grandmother from Talequah, Oklahoma, who'd lived there her whole life? How does she express herself differently than, say, the other members of the board of the Five Tribes Museum in Muskogee? How about the one who once went to New York City on an airplane?

A first person narrator has a voice. Second and third person narrators have a voice. Every character who speaks in the book has a voice.

"Fresh voice" is essentially a voice that--for whatever reason--commands a reader's attention. It doesn't sound like the voice in a thousand other books. It's somehow groundbreaking. I know that sounds elusive, but at the risk of paraphrasing Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I hear it. Read until you do, too.

Style is even more vague. I think of it in part as a combination of stylistic choices and devices--first person or third, one viewpoint or three, a book in poems or a book in journal format, heavy on the flashbacks or racing forward at breakneck speed. More globally, I'd probably describe author David Lubar's style as humorous, author Annette Curtis Klause's style as sensual, and and author Lori Aurelia Williams' style as heartwrenching.

I've heard my own style described as folksy, lyrical, and indigenous, though neither of my upcoming books fit those descriptions. So maybe style is more about what the book demands than what the author brings to it. If you look at author Jane Yolen's vast body of literary trade fiction, she appears to adapt her style to each new story. Or more likely she already has several to draw upon, and reaches for the one that in each case fits best.

Cynsational News & Links

IRA Young Adult Choices 2005 (a PDF file): those I've read and recommend include: The Afterlife by Gary Soto (Harcourt); The Creek by Jennifer L. Holm (HarperCollins); My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham (Viking); Vampire High by Douglas Reese (Delacorte); and Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber (Katherine Tegan).

Teen Spirit: an interview with Judy Blume that mentions Tanya Lee Stone's upcoming YA novel, A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006).

Author Catherine Atkins has a don't-miss blog! Among other things, I learned from it about Shirley Harazin's blog. Buzz has it that she just sold two YA novels to Random House. Woo woo!

Author D.L. Garfinkle blogs lately about her recent reads.

Author Ellen Jackson blogs the pros and cons of agents. One pro I'd like to add: an agent may do a better job of shopping your subrights (audio, textbook, foreign, film, etc.).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Delacorte Prize Goes To Olivia Birdsall's Notes On A Near-Life Experience

NEW YORK - Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books announced today that Notes On a Near-Life Experience by Olivia Birdsall, has been selected as the winner of the 2005 Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. Birdsall's heartwarming novel was selected from more than 600 entries, a record number of submissions for the annual contest. It is scheduled for publication in spring 2007 and will be edited by Stephanie Lane, Editor for the Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group.

Notes On a Near-Life Experience gives readers the story of 15-year-old Mia, whose life these days is anything but perfect. Between her parents getting divorced, and the crush she has on her brother's "off-limits" best friend, Mia finds that her teenage existence is definitely not what she imagined it to be. Written in short anecdotes, Notes On a Near-Life Experience is a fresh, poignant, and captivating novel that is sure to appeal to teenage readers.

"Olivia Birdsall's manuscript stood out from the crowd with its authentic, funny, and terribly honest voice," says Lane. "Fifteen-year-old Mia remains utterly convincing as she suffers through her parents' messy divorce, falls in love for the first time, and recognizes (with the help of a very understanding shrink) that she can't make her problems go away by ignoring them. I'm thrilled to be working with Olivia and to be introducing her quirky, believable voice to YA readers."

Notes on a Near-Life Experience is Olivia Birdsall's first novel, and was part of her Masters of Fine Arts program at New York University. A native of California, Birdsall currently resides in New York City, where she is finishing up schooling to receive her MFA degree.

The Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel is awarded annually to encourage the writing of young adult fiction and is open to U.S. and Canadian writers who have not previously published a young adult novel. The judges are the editors of the Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group. For complete contest rules and eligibility information contact the Delacorte Press Contest for A First Young Adult Novel in care of Random House Children's Books at 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 or visit the website.

Previous winners include: Breaking Boxes by A.M. Jenkins (1996); A Door Near Here by Heather G. Quarles (1997); Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa and (honor book) Bringing Up The Bones by Lara M. Zeises (2001).

Cynsational News & Links

The deadline for submissions to the Delacorte Dell Yearling Contest (formerly the Marguerite de Angeli prize) is June 30. Guidelines suggest 96-160 pages fiction targeted to readers aged 7-10. The contest is open to U.S. and Canadian writers who have not previously published a middle-grade novel. The award is for $1500 cash, plus a $7,500 advance against royalties. Send an SASE for contest rules and entry form to: Delacorte Dell Yearling Contest, Press, Random House, Inc., 1745 Broadway, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10019. See also contest guidelines online.

Congratulations to my very cute husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, who will be the Austin area Barnes & Noble author of the month for August 2005! As part of the festivities, stores will be featuring signed posters and copies of Greg's upcoming middle grade comedy, Tofu and T.rex (Little Brown, 2005).

Random Observation: Random House is particularly good at online marketing.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jake Ryan from "Sixteen Candles"

On spookycyn, I'm blogging today in response to a 2004 Washington Post article about the character Jake Ryan from "Sixteen Candles."

I've been trying to think of YA lit heroes that fall even vaguely into the same category. Dishy, destined, and determined to help solve your problems.

I came up with only one: Gabriel from Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (Delacorte, 1999). And even then, Vivian could eat Samantha for lunch, so to speak.

Clearly, there's a lot of growth potential in this area.

Fan Mail: Indian Shoes

From a young reader, Jessica in Wisconsin, I received a letter yesterday telling me how much she enjoyed reading my short story collection, Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)(ages 7-up), and asking "Why doesn't Ray ever go to school?"

From my reply:

Ray does go to school but none of the short stories focus on his time there. The reason is that the stories in Indian Shoes are linked together because they are about Ray’s relationship with Grampa Halfmoon—the two of them together, and Grampa doesn’t go to school.

One of the decisions a writer has to make is which moments should be in her story and which ones don’t need to be talked about. Think about all the stories you have read or even the movies you have seen. They don’t show every second. Instead, they feature those moments that make a difference and move the story forward. They focus on a theme—like the relationship between a boy and his grandfather.

Cynsational News & Links

David Macaulay will be featured at a signing, interactive children's event, reception, and dinner June 16 at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas. David's books include the Caldecott Medal winner, Black and White.

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, is blogging lately about preliminary research.

Monday, June 06, 2005

South Asian, BEA, and Literary Agents

I'm incredibly busy with my final edits as well as prepping for my novel-writing workshop and upcoming talks. As in swamped. Buried. But loving it.

That said, if you've emailed me lately and not gotten a response, it's probably because I had my spam filter on too high. Please try again.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Pooja Makhijani presents a wonderful new resource: South Asia and the South Asian diaspora in children's literature: an annotated bibliography. Highly recommended. Pooja is the author of Mama's Saris (Little Brown, 2006).

BEA report from Newbery author Linda Sue Park (next best thing to being there!).

Dear Diary: Random Thoughts from an Iowa Girl: a wonderful reader/writer LJ from a journalist-turned-YA writer, now studying at Vermont College. Can't wait to meet her in July!

Do You Need A Literary Agent? And If So, How Do You Find One? by Simon Hayes from Margot Finke (click on "Midnight Oil"). See also another article by the same author from "Midnight Oil," How To Self-Publish--Why, When, How?

While we're talking agents, I should mention that I have related links on my site that may be helpful to those shopping for representation.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Summer Reading 2005

To me, "summer reading" suggests relatively light, fun, hopefully funny books. Sort of like summer movies. Not necesarily "fluff" or "beach reads," but simply stories that lift your spirits.

True story: The summer before third grade, back when I was "Cindy Lou," I won the summer reading contest at the Mid-Continent Public Library of Grandview, Missouri. I earned a lot of free paperbacks, an award certificate, and had my picture (with the mayor!) in the local paper. When Jingle Dancer was released in 2000, I sent the librarians a thank you letter and a signed copy.

Here are a few sizzlin' titles for summer:

picture books: Altoona Baboona by Janie Bynum (Harcourt, 1999); Chance by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Dee Huxley (Philomel, 2003); Dawdle Duckling by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Margaret Spengler (Dial, 2003); Hoptoad by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt (Harcourt, 2003); The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Harcourt, 2003)(see also Searching For Oliver K. Woodman (Harcourt, 2005)); Mystery At The Club Sandwich by Doug Cushman (Clarion, 2004); Old Thunder And Miss Raney by Sharon Darrow, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (DK INC, 2000); Piggies In A Polka by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Harcourt, 2003); Shake It, Morena And Other Folktales from Puerto Rico compiled by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Millbrook, 2002).

Middle Grade: The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie (Roaring Brook, 2005); Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee (Arthur Levine, 2003); Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005); Monster Of The Month Club by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Laura Cornell (Scholastic, 1994); Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003, paper 2005); Tria And The Great Star Rescue by Rebecca Kraft Rector (Delacorte, 2002); Tofu And T.rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005); The Wish by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 2000).

Young Adult: The Adventures of the Blue Avenger by Norma Howe (Holt, 1999); The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, ruby oliver) by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005); Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 1999); Geography Club by Brent Hartinger (Harper, 2003); My Road Trip To The Pretty Girl Capital of the World by Brian Yanksy (Cricket, 2003); Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005); Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2005), Son Of The Mob by Gordon Korman (Hyperion, 2002); Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005); Terry And The Pirates by Julian F. Thompson (Atheneum, 2000).

See also my recent post on Writers Must Read with links to my 2005 recommendations.

Cynsational News & Links

Authors' Reading Lists from Highlights include reading lists from: Alex Flinn; Gail Carson Levine; Kathleen Odean; Terry Trueman; and Laurence Yep.

Invasion of the Road Weenies at BEA: a real-live (giant) Road Weenie per Invasion of the Road Weenies by David Lubar (Starscape/Tor, 2005). See also David Lubar: Award-winning Author with a Sense of Humor by Sue Reichard from

Thanks to Amarin Enyart, the new BookKids events and marketing coordinator at BookPeople, for helping with ordering/coordinating books for my upcoming workshop.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

It Is The Wind by Ferida Wolf, illustrated by James Ransome

It Is The Wind by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins, 2005). What has caused the noise in the night? Is it the owl, the gate, the swing? What is it, really? In perfect poetry, a young boy in his farmhouse bedroom wonders, worries, and then sleeps reassured. Ages 4-up.

More Thoughts on It Is The Wind

Now I can sleep better, too! I do that. Awaken in the night to fret what might be just outside. Certainly, it must be an even bigger question to someone small, someone to whom the outside world is so huge.

It Is The Wind is a first-rate bedtime book for young minds, both anxious and creative. The text whispers, comforts, and tucks in. The art is as calming as it is evocative of the wonders of the night.

Coretta Scott King award-winner James Ransome's decision to illustrate the protagonist as an African American boy makes this one of precious few universal (in theme) picture books featuring a character from a community historically unrepresented in children's literature.

Cynsational News & Links

Thank you to lizgallagher (for her good wishes on my upcoming Vermont College guest-teaching gig) and Vaughn Zimmer (for her congrats on the reprint of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and paper release of Greg's Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005)).

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie

The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie (Roaring Brook, 2005). It's not only that The World Trade Center is no longer in her view, though that's part of the mix. It's also that Alyssa's best friend is suddenly pals with her worst enemy, that someone has sent her a love note, that fathers leave, that mothers flirt, that embarrassing moments happen, and by the way, where does God fit into the whole mess anyway? A funny, tender debut novel, well-grounded in its sixth grade sensibility. Charming voice. Ages 8-up. Read chapter one (PDF file).

More Thoughts on The Meanest Girl

So much about this bravely-written story rang true...the competition for a best friend...Bree'd (a' la "Desperate Housewives") supermoms...the Italian American and deftly multicultural cast.

Alyssa tackles the larger questions of God, global responsibility, and who may or not be protecting us in uncertain times. For too long, it seemed the children's literary trade had handed over faith-related themes to the religious presses. Alyssa's perspective should resonate with many young readers.

I also enjoyed the teacher crush as I had something of a sixth-grade crush on my teacher, Mr. Rideout. Given, though, that he nicknamed me "Olive Oil" because of my then tall, slender build (hard to imagine, I know) and a portrait drawn by a kindergartener, I'm almost certain it wasn't mutual. (His loss, I'm sure).

Bonus points for the Trixie Belden references.

Note: Debora is signing tomorrow, June 4, at The Little Book House in New York. Write today to reserve a copy to be shipped to you (or, if you're in the area, go see the author in person!).

Cynsational News & Links

The June issue of features an updated on Robert's Snow, an interview with KidZone editor Anne Huizenga, information on putting together a show-stopping portfolio, and more!

CBC Showcase: Fiction on the Edge: recommended upper level YA books, including: Far From Xanadu and Keeping You A Secret, both by Julie Anne Peters; A Fast and Brutal Wing by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson; Playing In Traffic by Gail Giles; and A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson. See also: Hot Off The Press: New Books.

History of Children's Book Illustration and the Role Women Played by Denise Ortakales.

Debbi Michiko Florence has updated her interviews with authors Sally Keehn and Toni Buzzeo.

Windows Into Their Lives: The Ninth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators by Connie Rockman (H. W. Wilson, 2004) from CBC Magazine.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Vermont College Guest Faculty

I heard from department chair Kathi Appelt yesterday that the other guest faculty who'll be teaching with me at the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in July will be Rita Williams-Garcia and Marc Aronson.

Norma Fox Mazer sent me a lovely welcoming note.


I mean, really. Wow!

Cynsational News & Links

Author Kathi Appelt and illustrator Joy Fisher Hein on Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America (HarperCollins, 2005).

Learning about Rita Williams-Garcia Compiled by: Susan Pais, Phyllis Brown, and Ann Gartner with Kay E. Vandergrift in Young Adult Literature.

Author Profile: Marc Aronson from

Writers of books for children and young adults in Australia are treated as second-class citizens. Bean counters take note: a kid hooked on reading today becomes a major book buyer tomorrow. By Sonya Hartnett from The Bulletin. Thanks to Frances Hill, author of The Bug Cemetery, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry (Henry Holt, 2002), for suggesting this link.

Kindling Words by John Cech, an online audio interview from NPR. "Today, Susan Raab brings us this interview, recorded earlier this year, with Alison James and Harold Underdown, the coordinators of the annual Kindling Words conference for those working in the field of children's book publishing."

Interview with Sandra McLeod Humphrey, author of several nonfiction books for teens, from the "Secrets Of Success" column on author Ellen Jackson's Web site.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

2005 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America

The Western Writers of America have announced their 2005 Spur award winners in the children's/YA divisions:

Best Western Juvenile Fiction

Spur Winner: Fire In The Hole by Mary Cronk Farrell (Clarion Books, 2004).

Finalists: Worth by Alexandria LaFaye (Simon & Schuster, 2004); Nothing Here But Stones by Nancy Oswald (Henry Holt, 2004).

Best Western Juvenile Nonfiction

Spur Winner: Rattlesnake Mesa...Stories from a Native American Childhood by Ednah New Rider Weber (Lee & Low, 2004).

Finalists: Friday The Arapaho Boy by Marc Simmons (University of New Mexico Press, 2004); Hear That Train Whistle Blow by Milton Metzer (Random House, 2004).

Storyteller (picture book)*

Spur Winner: Apples To Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Simon & Schuster, 2004).

Finalists: Old Coyote by Nancy Wood, illustrated by Max Grafe (Candlewick Press, 2004), and Jim Thorpe's Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson (Lee & Low, 2004).

Note: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) was a finalist for the WWA Storyteller Award.

Cynsational News & Links

Fire In The Hole! from Through The Looking Glass Children's Book Review.

Who Wrote That? Featuring Alexandria LaFaye from Patricia M. Newman. Featured in California Kids! April 2004. See also A. LaFaye Discovers Her Worth by Roxyanne Young from (February 2005).

Yesterday, I was pleased to hear from my HarperCollins editor, Rosemary Brosnan, that both the library and trade editions of my picture book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, (Morrow/Harper, 2000), are going into reprint (again!).

Congratulations to my pal, Sara Shacter, on the sale of her first book (a picture book to Red Rock Press)! Sara and I know each other from my Chicago days with SCBWI-Illinois.

Congrats also to Greg, who received his author copies of the paperback edition of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005) yesterday. Very cool how the front of the cover features the seal signifying his Parents' Choice Gold Medal and the back features quotes from his sparkling reviews! The paperback will be simultaneously released with the hardcover of its companion book, Tofu And T.Rex, this July.