Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Author Update: Alex Flinn

Alex Flinn is an award-winning young adult author. Her books include: Breathing Underwater (HarperCollins, 2001); Breaking Point (HarperCollins, 2002); Nothing To Lose by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2004); and Fade To Black (HarperCollins, 2005). Alex is a former attorney who lives in a suburb of Miami.

We last visited Alex in 2003 when she shared the Story Behind the Story of Breaking Point and the Story Behind The Story of Breathing Underwater. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don't work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

Since we last chatted, I've published two new books, Nothing to Lose and Fade to Black. Nothing to Lose is about Michael, who runs away with the carnival to escape his mother's abusive marriage, then returns a year later to find himself involved in a murder trial. It was chosen a Booklist Top-10 Youth Mystery and is new in paperback. Fade to Black, my newest, is about a hate crime against an HIV-positive student, told in three viewpoints, victim, witness, and suspect. You can find discussion guides for both at my website,

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

Diva will be released in Fall, 2006. It's a companion to Breathing Underwater and deals with Caitlin, who has broken up with Nick and is going to a performing arts high school to study voice (something I did myself in high school). While it deals with Caitlin's healing from her relationship with Nick, and also her bizarre relationship with her mother, it is also a funny, touching, coming-of-age story. At least I hope so.

I also have two short stories in upcoming anthologies, What Are You Afraid Of? edited by Donald Gallo (I am particularly proud of this story, both because it is a great story about an agoraphobic trapped in his parents' home and because it was the inspiration for the anthology itself) and Twice Told, stories based on the art of Scott Hunt. Both will be released in 2006.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

Fade to Black was written because I really enjoy experimenting with viewpoint, so I thought it would be interesting to write a book in several different viewpoints, with each character having a different take on what happened. There's a saying that a villain is a hero in his own story. In Fade, there is a character who might be considered a villain and one who might be considered a hero. However, I have tried to give each his own voice in a non-judgmental way.

Diva was written in response to hundreds of requests I received for a sequel to Breathing Underwater, and also to many conversations I had with girls about relationships in high school. I realized that a lot of girls stay in relationships like the one in Breathing Underwater because they feel they have to have a boyfriend. I wanted to write a book about Caitlin finding something of her own. I think this is a book I would have enjoyed as a teen. It's a little different from my other books, because it's not about violence, but it's still "realistic fiction" in that it is about things that many teens are dealing with.

How about children's or YA books that you've read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

Sandpiper by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Sandpiper is, to me, a book that every teenage girl should read because it deals with a young woman who has tried and failed to find a relationship through sex. I see a lot of young girls going down this same destructive path. But what makes Sandpiper more than a problem novel is the great characters -- particularly Sandpiper's relationship with her mother and sister.

True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglas (Razorbill, 2005). It's about a child star who, after an overdose and rehab, is sent to live as a normal teen in a small Indiana town. I love this sort of behind-the-scenes Hollywood thing, so I thought this was a lot of fun.

A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005). This is about Zoe, who has been taking care of her alcoholic mother for years, then decides to move out. It's an intense novel with beautiful prose. While similar in tone to Margaret Haddix's Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey (which I also liked) and Heather Quarles' A Room Near Here, it is unusual in that it offers no easy solutions to a problem many unseen teens face.

I update my website fairly regularly with books I've been reading. Visit and click on "Favorite Books."

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I just finished Diva, so I'd like to start something new. I have some ideas, but nothing engraved in granite yet.

Cynsational Notes

See my recent author interview with Mary E. Pearson on A Room On Lorelei Street (Henry Holt, 2005).

Cynsational News & Links

Award-Winning Author Elizabeth Partridge by Sue Reichard from Elizabeth's books include Dorthea Lange: A Visual Life (Smithsonian, 1993), Clara and the Hoodoo Man (Dutton, 1996), and This Land Was Made For You and Me (Viking 2002), a biography of singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie (Viking, 2002) that won the Boston Horn Book Award. Elizabeth's latest biography is" John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth (Viking, 2005). See also Elizabeth Partridge's Web site. September 2005.

The Purpose of Literature -- and Who Cares? by Natalie Babbitt from the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. Presented at The Ann Carroll Moore Lecture at the New York Public Library, 1989. See also "We're All Mad Here" by Natalie Babbit from the NCBLA. Presented as the Zena Sutherland Lecture; Chicago, June 30, 2004.

The Texas Library Association's Disaster Relief Fund "has been expanded to collect donations for libraries in the Gulf Coast area as well as for libraries providing support for the evacuees. One hundred percent of your donation will be sent to the state library agency or library association in the state of your choice. TLA is also developing a plan to accept book donations..." See TLA Web site for more information.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Author Interview: Lori M. Carlson on Red Hot Salsa

Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young And Latino in the United States edited by Lori M. Carlson, introduction by Oscar Hijuelos (Henry Holt, 2005). From the anthologist who brought us Cool Salsa, this new collection reaches farther and deeper, chronicling the perspective of young Latinos today. Includes helpful glossary and biographical notes. Featured poets include Gary Soto. Ages 12-up. See more of my thoughts on Red Hot Salsa.

What was your inspiration for Red Hot Salsa?

Eleven years ago I published Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the U.S. This poetry anthology took the publishing world by surprise. Not only was it a landmark book--a book of its type had never been done before--but it was critically acclaimed and commercially successful. I have been told by librarians that it is now considered "a classic." And yet Cool Salsa, for all the enthusiasm and appreciation it generated, never really made, let's say, a splash. By that I mean, it wasn't one of those books that was on the radar in the media. It found its way quietly to its readers because the Latino population in those years wasn't on the radar of the nation's media, either.

I had been asked to do a companion volume to Cool Salsa by my editor but I never felt compelled to do so, because I don't like to repeat my book efforts. And yet, a few years ago, I suddenly realized that 10 years seemed like a publishing anniversary of sorts. And so much had changed in the U.S. vis a vis the Latino population--in a good and inspiring way.

One day, while riding the bus down Broadway, I was inspired to do Red Hot Salsa. I experienced an epiphany. Cool Salsa needed a follow-up.

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

The timeline was just over a year. Red Hot Salsa, unlike Cool Salsa, was formed in a very timely fashion. First, because I had a model from which to work and secondly I had a new tool in my office: the internet.

What made Cool Salsa so hard to create was finding the poets and getting their permission to include their work. I remember one poet in particular whom I just couldn't locate. I had discovered a beautiful poem by him--of a somewhat religious nature--in an obscure little magazine. I don't remember the name of the publication, but it looked as if it had been published on a shoestring budget. Anyway, after months and months of trying to locate him, I did! It turned out that he was a penitente in New Mexico. And he decided not to let me include the poem because he felt he couldn't enter into any kind of "commercial" exchange. Fascinating. I still have the poem in a file...and I read it occasionally when I am asked to speak.

Red Hot Salsa emerged in a very different way. I found people quickly online. I found the poems by tootling around in musty libraries, magazines, vanity publications, self-published journals, little bookshops, churches, language institutions, my old folders that contain excerpts, poems, and stories from years of research--I love research--and even friends' homes (personal libraries can offer up a plethora of literary delights).

What were the challenges in bringing the anthology to life?

Unlike writing a novel--a challenge that both of us have experienced--editing a collection of bilingual poetry is more about sensibility. Of course, there are challenges; particularly in the art of translation. (Translating poetry requires precision of thought as well as faithfulness in one's own interpretive and writing skills. And I might do six to ten versions of one poem before I settle on the final translation.)

But specifically, regarding Red Hot Salsa, I would say the major challenge to me as the editor of the book was psychological in nature. I was concerned that people who so loved Cool Salsa would not embrace the "second" volume as much. And so I put myself through a very, very rigorous process of selection. I agonized over the choices, constantly second-guessing myself and my instincts. I thought--and there is no better way of saying this than by simply being blunt--that the critics were going to be tough on me because Red Hot Salsa was a follow-up. Cool Salsa got stars from every single major publication that reviewed it. While I know that the quality of the poetry I chose for Cool Salsa is part of the reason for the stars, the other part is simply "the novelty" or invention of something that hadn't been done before.

But I am very grateful to the reviewers of Red Hot Salsa, as they have been very positive about the volume. And I did get a star--from School Library Journal--which just thrilled me. Really, thrilled me.

Cynsational News & Links

An Interview with Kathianne M. Kowalski from Northern Ohio SCBWI. "Kathi is a prolific writer with over 375 articles and stories to her credit. Her list of 17 books for young people includes titles such as: Order in the Court: A look at the Judicial Branch (Lerner, 2004), The Everything Kid's Nature Book (Adams Media, 2000), and Global Warming (Marshall Cavendish, 2004). Her topics range from political science to space science to alternative medicine."

Pooja Makhijani offers a middle/high school teacher's guide and a reading group guide for her anthology, Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America (Seal Press, 2004). Perfect for middle and high school literature classes.

Authors April Pulley Sayre and Jeffrey P. Sayre Launch Children's Media Professionals' Forum

What is CMP Forum?

Children's Media Professionals' Forum (CMP Forum) is an online community where media specialists, booksellers, authors, illustrators, agents, educational consultants, publishing industry professionals and television producers can have targeted, professional, friendly discussions of ideas, problems, and solutions for creating, packaging and marketing children's content. It'’s a place where new media minds--people interested in using new technologies to spread content--can gather and discuss the issues that matter most to them today.

What will we find on CMP Forum?

A meeting place for media specialists, publishing industry professionals, and educational consultants involved in children'’s media;
a meeting place for authors, illustrators, and producers of all children's genres;
featured authors, illustrators, and media producers who share the stories behind their work and respond to questions about their projects;
a community of colleagues where you can post questions or help answer questions;
fresh information on new books and new media;
frank, professional discussion on the state of the children's media market;
discussions of new media such as ebooks, DVDs, HD Video programming, website creation;
listings of authors, illustrators, and educational consultants who visit schools, libraries, and stores;
a marketplace subforum for job postings in the publishing industry, to list work-related items you have for sale, to post a link to your resume, to learn of editors accepting manuscripts and producers looking for television programming ideas;
ideas for marketing, sales, and promotional events;
links to research that can help justify funds and information to help satisfy mandates.

Is this another listserve?

No. Listserves, although wonderfully friendly and helpful, are a blunt instrument. They throw lots of information at you and you have to sift through. It's a process that devours time. This forum is organized into threads that act as living chapters--—places for discussion about grants, books, authors, computer problems, and so on. The site also includes a marketplace where you can advertise your services, request paid services, or ask for volunteer help from other media professionals. You visit the forum which lives on a website and you read the threads you want when you want.

Does it cost to join CMP Forum?

No. It is free to join and participate in Children'’s Media Professionals Forum. The only paid part of the site is the marketplace section where, for an annual fee of $35, members can post as many listings as they wish. This small, annual fee helps support the cost of running the community. Of course, all members can visit and read the marketplace postings whenever they like, for no cost. The annual fee is charged only to those members who wish to post their own service, item for sale, or job announcement.

Why create CMP Forum?

Because more than ever people who care about the quality of the content that reaches children need help. The challenges of presenting fresh, relevant content, understanding new media, finding grants, creating storytimes, marketing books, working with editors, working with authors and illustrators, teaching writing, presenting talks, setting up promotional events, and programming new media productions are complex.

Who is behind this forum?

In essence, the members will run the forum by bringing quality discussion to it. As the community grows, professional volunteers in each area will moderate selected subforums. Husband-and-wife team April Pulley Sayre and Jeffrey P. Sayre, authors of One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab (Candlewick, 2003) and 50 other children's books are subsidizing and running the forum with the help of their many colleagues who care about great content for children. The forum will be hosted via April'’s website.

How do we reach CMP Forum?

It's easy! Just go to and click on the CMP Forum link. You can always read forum postings as an anonymous guest. But, we encourage you to take a few minutes and become a member. As a member, you'’ll have the ability to not only read postings, but join in, creating your own threads or adding to discussion in on-going threads!

Cynsational News & Links

Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts from The Children's Book Council. See also relief-related information for national SCBWI members from author Chris Barton and news of SCBWI Austin's book drive from author Varian Johnson.

"Be Part Of My Next Book--Nominate An Environmental Hero!" a poll on "individuals and organizations who have been making a difference in any environment-related issues" from author Tanya Lee Stone's LiveJournal. She asks who "deserves to have an environmental spotlight shone on them for their efforts?" Tanya offers suggestions to get you started and says that if you nominate her perfect enviro-hero, you'll be thanked in the acknowledgements.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Author Interview: Joseph Bruchac on Code Talker: A Novel About The Navajo Marines of World War II

Code Talker: A Novel About The Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 2005). From the catalog copy: "Throughout World War II, in the conflict fought against Japan, Navajo code talkers were a crucial part of the effort, sending messages back and forth in an unbreakable code that used their native language. They braved some of the heaviest fighting of the war, and with their code, they saved countless American lives. Yet their story remained classified for more than twenty years. But now Joseph Bruchac brings their stories to life for young adults through the riveting fictional tale of Ned Begay, a sixteen-year-old Navajo boy who becomes a code talker. His grueling journey is eye-opening and inspiring. This deeply affecting novel honors all of those young men, like Ned, who dared to serve, and it honors the culture and language of the Navajo Indians."

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I think the thing that inspired me most about the story of the Code Talkers was not that it was a war story or even (important as this aspect of it is) that it is a story that deals with American Indian life in the 20th century.

What most inspired me is that it is a story about the importance of native language and its survival against amazing odds. All the Navajos who became code talkers, using Navajo language in the service of the United States, were sent as children to government boarding schools where they were forbidden to speak anything other than English.

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

I first became aware of the the story of the Navajo Code talkers in the early 1970s. It fascinated me then for the reason I've already mentioned. I first thought about doing a story about this more than 20 years ago, but realized I didn't know enough. Over the years I continued to learn, through reading, through friendships with numerous Navajo people (such as Shonto Begay, Luci Tapahonso, Harry Walters, and many others), through travel, more about Navajo history and culture.

I also was fortunate enough to meet a number of men who were code talkers--such as in Carl Gorman, who I met in 1996. In 1998 I was asked by the National Geographic Society to write a book about the Long Walk of the Navajos and the Trail of Tears of the Cherokees and I spent two years in research that resulted not only in Trails of Tears, Paths of Beauty (National Geographic Books, 2000), but four other books--fiction and nonfiction--that deal with Navajo and Cherokee subjects.

In 2001 I was fortunate enough to spend some time with two more Code talkers, Jesse Samuel Smith and Keith Wilson, when we were all in Washington DC doing presentations for the first National Book Fair. Mr. Wilson was even kind enough to read my manuscript in first draft. I'd better stop here because I could go on for pages about the people who helped me along the way. You'll find some of it in my acknowledgments In the back of Code Talker.

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

The main challenge, I think, was having the patience to wait until I knew enough before I started trying to write the book--while also trying to be flexible and humble enough along the way to keep learning and be ready to correct any missteps I made when they were pointed out to me.

Fortunately, for my research for this story, this period is extensively documented and there are still many living WW II vets, both code talkers and other vets, who were willing and eager to help. Among them was my own uncle, Jim Smith, a marine who survived many of those terrible landings on such islands as Guam and Iwo Jima.

I should also point out that although this might be described as a book "about war" I tried very hard to neither glorify war nor demonize the enemy, but to see it all through Indian eyes, which is a very different way of seeing. War, as the Navajos and many of our other nations understand, injures the spirit. Those who have been to war, victorious or not, have been damaged by it and must find ways to regain their spiritual and emotional balance.

Cynsational News & Links

Joseph Bruchac: We All Have A Story: Q&A in Flagpole by Elizabeth Deroshia. (Includes author photo).

Author Answers with Nancy Castaldo by Debbi Michiko Florence. Nancy's debut picture book is Pizza for the Queen, illustrated by Melisande Potter (Holiday House, 2005). See also my own thoughts on Pizza for the Queen.

Literary Vacations: A Wish List from BCCB. Elements the editors find "tired" in fiction.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Author Update: Jane Kurtz

I last interviewed author Jane Kurtz in 2002 about her picture book River Friendly, River Wild, illustrated by Neil Brennan (Simon & Schuster, 2000). It was inspired by her own family's experiences surving a devasting flood in Grand Forks. See The Story Behind The Story: Jane Kurtz on River Friendly, River Wild. We'd also recently talked about her writing life, favorite reads, and body of literary trade fiction and resource books in An Interview With Children's Book Author Jane Kurtz. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don't work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

I see scary trends in the children's book world around me.

The kinds of things I've been drawn to write about...the Ethiopia of my childhood...stories of kids from Africa now living in the U.S...a fantasy that explores questions about nationalism and where is home?...have gained critical acclaim.

The New Jersey School Library Association recently came up with a list of their "pick of the decade" books for various grade levels, and five of my books were on it--at the kindergarten, second, fourth, and sixth grade levels.

But schools and libraries are in an enormous budget crunch all over the U.S. My editors are telling me that they can't make most picture books work financially, and when I study lists of what is selling, it mostly isn't my kind of book.

I worry a lot about the whole multicultural book scene--and, beause of my own passions--I worry particularly about books that connect with Africa.

The future from where I sit looks grim. One result is that, when I can, I urge people to take the power they do have to loudly speak out for books that matter. Another is that I've started to cling with determination to the deep-down love of writing that sustains me even when the atmosphere around is unremittingly gloomy.

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

For the first time since the early 1990s, I don't have a picture book under contract. That means my life is all about novel-writing these days. My brother and I spent most of last year working on a fun one, and I'm about to dive into a revision of a more serious one set in ancient Egypt.

I'm not giving up on picture books, though. Since Pulling the Lion's Tail (Simon & Schuster, 1995) is out of print, I've been talking with Yohannes--my friend who moved back to Ethiopia to put books into the hands of Ethiopian kids--about how we might do an Ethopian version with new illustrations in three different languages.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

Since we grew up in Ethiopia without television and movies, my siblings and I sang together all the time. One of our favorites was a boisterous pirate ballad. A year ago in Kansas, my brother [Christopher] (co-author of Only a Pigeon and Water Hole Waiting) and I wandered into a spooky-feeling glade of trees that made us think about that song. My brother asked, "Do you think we could write a story using the slight plot in the ballad?" We were intrigued by the challenge and jumped in to try. I've never laughed so hard and often while writing a book. Now we have to see if an editor likes it as much as we do.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

My main goal is to savor the writing itself--that frustrating, fascinating, messy, infuriating, thrilling process that traipses me endlessly down wrong canyons and--blessedly--up the other side again.

In the past couple of years, I've had the delight of watching Ethiopian kids reading. Kids who've never had a chance to hold a book in their hands before. It has reminded me of just how much in love with books I was as a kid and how glad I am to have had a life of writing them.

Cynsational News & Links

Meet Jane Kurtz: Author, Traveler, Teacher by Sue Reichard from

Magical Things: An Interview with Julianna Baggott by Nikki Tranter from PopMatters Books.

Three Against That Which Is The Peshtigo School by Kimberly Pauley (YA Books Goddess) from Young Adult Books Central. A review of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003, 2005). See also Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith from Booktalks -- Quick and Simple. (Happy anniversary, Greg!)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Author Update: Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Author Diane Gonzales Bertrand writes award-winning books for family reading. Even her novels that feature adult characters, such as Sweet Fifteen (1995) and Lessons of the Game (1998), as well as her romantic novel, Close To The Heart (2002), have found a strong readership among teens and senior citizens alike. Her novels for middle school readers, Alicia's Treasure (1995)(PDF file), Trino's Choice (1999)(PDF file), and Trino's Time (2001) were inspired by requests by Texas teachers and librarians who wanted more variety in the literature for their students. She has also published bilingual picture books, Sip, Slurp, Soup, Soup/Caldo, Caldo, Caldo (1997)(PDF file), Family, Familia (1999), The Last Doll (2001), and Uncle Chente's Picnic (2001). Diane's books are published by Arte Publico Press in Houston. She lives in San Antonio.

I last interviewed Diane in March 2002. At that time, she was taking a year off school visits to work on a novel manuscript. That summer, Arte Publico had scheduled the release of an updated reprint of Diane's novel Close To The Heart. See An Interview with Children's and YA Book Author Diane Gonzales Bertrand. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if this link doesn't work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

At the American Library Association meeting held in Chicago in late June 2005, I was presented with the Schneider Family Book Award for my book, My Pal Victor (Raven Tree Press, 2004).

This award recognizes a book that depicts a positive look at the disability experience for children. This manuscript was rejected by a variety of publishers before tiny Raven Tree Press in Wisconsin took it, so I was very pleased by the response of the library committee to this story. It is a bilingual book with one of the first Latino characters who is a child with a disability.

Do you have a new book(s) to tell us about?

Three new books are in the process at Arte Publico Press. In Fall 2006, my new novel, The Ruiz Street Kids, will be published. In spring 2007, my first picture book biography, Ricardo's Race will be published. In Spring 2008, another bilingual picture book, We are Cousins/Somos Primos will be out.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

The Ruiz Street Kids celebrates the neighborhood where I spent my childhood. It was a multicultural mix of kids. It's a humorous story, just meant for the readers to enjoy.

Ricardo's Race is the story of Dr. Ricardo Romo, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio. He earned recogition as a runner and after an injury, became an educator. He is also a San Antonio native like me, so I am thrilled to share his inspiring story.

We are Cousins/Somos Primos is a simple book for preschoolers about a group of cousins who explain the relationship they share as family.

How about children's or YA books that you've read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I got a sneak peek at Pat Mora's new picture book about St. Francis of Assisi and a book called Dona Flor (Knopf, October 2005). Beautifully illustrated!

The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer was another favorite YA title I read this sumer.

However, my favorite book for my summer reading was Zorro by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins). I can't remember when I was so charmed by a book.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I am still being rejected by New York publishers, but the library groups keep me so busy with speaking engagements, I can't dwell on it for long. Lucky for me, Arte Publico is publishing my work, understands my goals, and continues to maintain an excellent reputation for distribution and promotion.

Cynsational News & Links

Meet the Authors and Illustrators: Diane Gonzales Bertrand from Children's Literature. See the Diane Gonzales Bertrand Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center. See also Diane Gonzales Bertrand from Arte Publico Press.

Interview with Joanne Yates Russell, Associate Art Director of Random House/Golden Books from

Writer's Block Begone! by Kimberly Pauley at Young Adult Books Central.

Seventh Annual Jewish Children's Book Writers' Conference

The Seventh Annual Jewish Children's Book Writers' Conference will take place Sunday, Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the 92nd Street Y at 1395 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan (New York City).

The event is co-sponsored by the 92nd Street Y Buttenwieser Library and the Jewish Book Council. The cost is $80 before Nov. 1, and $95 after Nov. 1. The fee includes a kosher breakfast and lunch.

Featured speakers are editor-in-chief Regina Griffin of Holiday House, editor Jodi Kreitzman of Delacorte Press, marketing and sales director Michael J. Miller of Pitspopany Press, publicist Susan Salzman Raab of Raab Associates, literary agent Rebecca Sherman of Writers House, and production editor Aviva Werner of BabagaNewz magazine.

Author Michelle Edwards, winner of a National Jewish Book Award, will give opening remarks, and the day will include the popular "Query Letter Clinic and First Pages" with the editors, sessions on Sippurim: Israel Books for Kids and the Association of Jewish Libraries' Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition, and door prizes.

The registration form is available for download (PDF file). Call 212-415-5544 or e-mail for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is Nov. 14. The conference filled up quickly last year, so register early.

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to author Lisa Yee for complimenting yesterday's author interview with D.L. Garfinkle on Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl (Putnam, 2005)!

"Nonfiction in its Infinite Variety" by Shari Lyle-Soffe, in the Writing Nonfiction section of Writing Tips from the Institute of Children's Literature.

"Children's Writing: Poetry, Plays, Picture Books, and Middle-Grade Novels:" a chat with Sue Alexander from the Institute of Children's Literature. September 2005.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Author Interview: D. L. Garfinkle on Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005). Told in a diary format by high school freshman Michael "Storky" Pomerantz, this sparkling debut novel chronicles its hero (1) befriending a Scrabble geezer, (2) embracing a family that "includes" Mom's boyfriend "Dr. Vermin" and Dad's rotating bimbos delight, (3) landing a first girlfriend (which one?), and (4) finding self-acceptance. It's funny, real, and unapologetically boy-like with a solid heart. Great for avid readers and reluctant ones. Strongest on voice and humor, jam-packed with "life lessons," Storky is a must-read from a novelist to watch. Ages 12-up. Highly recommended. See more of my thoughts on Storky.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I’ve always been a bookworm. Three novels in particular inspired Storky: Catcher In The Rye, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Anne Tyler’s A Patchwork Planet. All three books have great humor and sweet but misguided characters, which is what I attempted. I tried to capture a strong voice like Salinger had done, the journal format of Bridget Jones' Diary, and A Patchwork Planet’s plot twist in which the main character fails at his goals but realizes they weren’t the right goals for him anyway. Of course, I don’t claim to have succeeded as well as Salinger, Fielding, or Tyler. But their novels inspired me.

Also, I wanted to do more than entertain readers. I didn’t want to write a preachy book, but I didn’t want to write pure fluff either. It took me into my mid-twenties to learn a very important truth: that if people treated me poorly, it was a reflection of their personalities rather than my shortcomings. Storky learns this at the end of the novel. With this lesson, I hope to shave a few years and maybe some therapy sessions off of my teen readers’ learning curve.

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

Sigh. Would you believe 21 years? Okay, but from starting to write in a dedicated manner to getting an offer from Putnam was “only” four years, so I guess that’s not too bad.

The spark began in 1984. My creative writing teacher gave us seven words to use in a one-page short story. I wrote about Mike, a teenage boy who was spending his first Thanksgiving without his father. The teacher liked the story so much, she kept it as an example for future classes.

Years later, after concentrating on law school and beginning my legal career, I took another creative writing class and wrote a ten-page short story about Mike going out on his first date while grieving for his father.

A few years later, I decided to write a novel. I told it from the points of view of Mike and his sister, Amanda. Because I wanted my book to be humorous, I decided to make the father absent by divorce rather than by death. I wrote 40 pages, got frustrated, and stopped writing.

In 1997 I had a 3-year-old and an infant. I was working part-time as a lawyer. I had given away my maternity clothes, confident that I didn’t want a third child. Then I was diagnosed with cystosarcoma, a rare form of breast cancer. Typical symptoms are the discovery of a very large tumor while pregnant in the upper, outside quadrant of the breast. I had all the symptoms. Fortunately, cystosarcoma has a very low mortality rate. But I figured with my luck I was a goner.

I re-evaluated my life. I realized I was most proud of my children and a short story I’d gotten published in 1985. I decided to quit my job, have another baby, and finish writing my novel. The doctors removed the tumor and surrounding tissue, and then discovered the tumor was benign. Of course, I was thrilled. I still quit my job and started writing my novel. I got pregnant a few months later and borrowed a bunch of maternity clothes. My friends were so generous that my borrowed wardrobe was much bigger and better than the wardrobe I’d given away.

I wrote my novel in a weekly critique class, titling it “Michael A. Pomerantz’s Lame Journal.” I finished it fourteen months later and set out to get an agent. Instead of querying, I bound my 200-page manuscript at Kinko’s and sent it to agents listed in a directory. My agent signed me up in February 2001.

After revising my manuscript at her suggestion, she sent it to publishers and there was a bidding war. Just kidding. Actually, I got a bunch of rejections. Most said they liked the humor and the voice, but that the plot was weak or Mike’s problems were too “ordinary.”

Worried that my agent was going to drop me, I entered the manuscript in the San Diego Book Awards. It won for Best Unpublished Novel. Along with attaining confidence in my book again (one of the judges wrote “sure to be published”), I also got 100 dollars and critiques from the three judges. One of the judges said my manuscript needed a better narrative arc. My agent independently came to the same conclusion. I spent the summer of 2002 revising it solely to build an arc. My critique group jokingly called me "Noah" or "Joan of Arc."

My agent sent it out again, and an editor from a big publisher requested a rewrite, telling me she hadn’t been so excited about a manuscript in years. I don’t know if that’s her standard line, but it sure got me excited. I spent another few months revising to her specifications. I even changed the title, which she thought was too negative, and deleted my favorite scene, which she thought was too maudlin. She loved the revision. Unfortunately, the acquisitions committee did not.

My agent sent out the revised manuscript, and John Rudolph at Putnam made an offer in August 2003. After I had a contract, I did two revisions for John and one for the copyeditor. The title changed again. When I sneaked back my favorite scene into the first revision and John put exclamation points all over it, I knew that I’d found the right match.

Finally, my first novel, featuring Mike “Storky” Pomerantz, was published in April 2005, 21 years after I first created Mike for the one-page writing assignment.

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

I didn’t have to do a lot of research. Because I was writing about someone of the opposite sex and decades younger than me, for my own sanity I decided to “write what you know.” I made Mike’s mother a law student, I made Mike and his family Jewish, and I made his hobbies Scrabble, bowling, and reading, just like mine. I even included a pregnancy in the book.

It was challenging to write in first person as a male. Luckily, I had two guys in my critique group. They kept telling me to add more sex. And my male editor wanted more added also. Reading aloud the scene in which Mike gets an erection at the whiteboard in Spanish class was really embarrassing. It was also embarrassing discussing it with my editor. It’s not the typical conversation one dreams about when one thinks about publishing a novel.

Writing humor is a lot of fun for me. Getting used to rejection and the slow pace of publishing was not. Seeing my book in stores and getting fan mail from readers makes all the challenges pay off. And it sure beats practicing law.

Cynsational News & Links

"The Child in the Attic" by Katherine Paterson from the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. Presented at the Ohio State University's Chldren's Literature Festival, February 2000. See also An Interview with Katherine Paterson by Mary Brigid Barrett from the NCBLA.

The Louisiana Library Association Disaster Relief Fund is now accepting monetary donations to assist school, public, and academic library restoration efforts in southeastern Louisiana. Please make checks payable to: LLA-Disaster Relief and mail to: LLA; 421 South 4th St.; Eunice, LA 70535.

The South Dakota State Library Staff Best Reads Book List for National Library Week 2005 includes Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001).

Lately on spookcyn, I'm blogging about the Buffy The Vampire Sing-A-Long, and on GLSBlog, Greg is blogging about his Round Rock book signing.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Secrets of Success: An Interview with Greg Leitich Smith

My husband, children's book author Greg Leitich Smith, is the focus of the September 2005 edition of Secrets of Success, a wonderful column from children's author Ellen Jackson that each month offers the inside scoop from "a children’s writer who is breaking new ground in his or her career and who is willing to share her secrets with the rest of us."

Greg talks about my influence (yikes!), how he gets and frames ideas for novels, connecting with a publisher, writing humor, our upcoming picture book, and tips for writers trying to break into the business today.

Greg is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003, 2005)(Recorded Books, 2004) and Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005). The interview is a great read and offers an insightful peek into his experiences as a children's writer breaking into publishing in the past few years.

Read Greg Leitich Smith's interview on his Secrets of Success.

Learn more about Ellen Jackson, sign her guest book, and read her blog (September's post is a must read about Writing Non-Fiction for Children)!

Cynsational News & Links

Meet The Author: T. A. Barron: The Writer's Magic Wand from CBC Magazine. See also Hot off the Press: New Books from CBC (cheers for Sketches From A Spy Tree by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005)).
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