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.

Wowza!

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)

Finalists

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

Cyndicated

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 www.writersleague.org 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 www.linworth.com.

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 austinlibrary.org 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).
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