Saturday, October 15, 2005

Some Writers Deserve to Starve! by Elaura Niles

Some Writers Deserve to Starve! 31 Brutal Truths About the Publishing Industry by Elaura Niles (Writer’s Digest, 2005). Funny, thoughtful, conversational, this hip, small volume is jam-packed with street smarts. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

My Thoughts

Elara Niles has a sharp, clever voice. Reading this book is like a laugh-out-loud lunch with someone in the know.

Particularly noteworthy are: Truth #10 Sometimes the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow Doesn't Hold Much Gold; Truth #20 Some Writers Get Desperate; Truth #24 Writers Get Bitter; and Truth #30 The Writing is Never Done.

I also was amused by "My Flaming Baptisms" (pg. 1920), in reference to saying something truly idiotic because you're nervous, tired, or out of your element. Number of phenomenally stupid things I said last weekend: 4; number of them I said to my new editor: 3.

That said, the focus is more on the adult than children's/YA market. A few points in it, therefore, don't apply to us.

For example, Truth #12, Writers Rarely Help Each Other. We help each other all the time! I couldn't begin to list all the writers who've read my work, encouraged me, and offered advice. I pay it forward (and back) whenever I can.

Cynsational News & Links

Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(read an excerpt) was mentioned in the cover story of the October 10, 2005 issue of Time magazine, "The Battle Over Gay Teens." Read my recent update interview with Alex Sanchez.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Author Interview: Jerry Wermund on The World According To Rock

The World According To Rock by Jerry Wermund, illustrated by Tony Sansevero (Rockon Publishing, 2005). "Wermund introduces readers ages 5-8 to all types of rocks with succinct geological information and Sansevero's illustrations of the types of rock. The rock basalt is 'black as a starless night, hard and dense, a winner in the battle of rock against water, wind...freezes into tabular bodies - horizontal, vertical...,' with a picture of a young boy and girl walking across such rocks which look like giant stepping stones. Shaleis 'tiny grains kidnapped off slopes of mountains, plateaus...a collectors' dreamland of stuck-in-the-mud fossils...,' with an illustration of a boyholding up a fossil of a small prehistoric animal. Wermund also notes buildings, gravestones, and other familiar objects made from rock."

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

While tutoring reading in elementary schools, I investigated library holdings of geologic books. Little was available excepting books on volcanoes and earthquakes. Pursuit of geologic books in bookstore shelves revealed the same problem. As a retired geologist, I found this disappointing. So, I have a quest to supply better geologic information to elementary school children.

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

I began writing for children when I retired in 1998. I involved myself in workshops and in critique groups. My earliest drafts were stilted prose, much like textbooks that would put children to sleep. When I hit upon using free verse to explain geologic phenomena, I received great encouragement from my peer groups. On submission of this work to major houses, I also received strong acceptance from editors but no agreement to publish. Therefore, I decided to self publish.

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

A major challenge came from my history of many technical publications. At first it was very difficult to write simple English and not "Geologeez" jargon. On receiving critical reviews from my peers in critique groups, I was enthused to to stay with my quest. When I decided to self publish I had to learn a whole new field. My academic and industrial research background did not fit with my new entrepreneurial cloak, in both producing and marketing.

How has the book been received?

My book has been well received by both my author peers and geologists. Elementary school librarians and teachers have been complimentary. Museum stores have proved a good market. The most fun has been to see children light up when they scan my book.

What can your fans expect next?

I have three drafts; another picture book - "Minerals Mall", a geology/adventure chapter book set in Colorado, and a geology/adventure novel set in Alaska.

Cynsational Notes

Jerry Wermund was in my first critique group in Austin. He is a gifted poet, a first-rate advocate for non-fiction, and a true self-publishing success story.

Cynsational News & Links

Blooker rewards books from blogs: The best books based on blogs are to be recognised in their own literary prize. From BBC News. Thanks to Annette Simon, author of Mocking Birdies (Simply Read Books, 2005) for suggesting this link.

Bestselling author Dave Eggers is brandishing his cutlass in defence of underpaid teachers by Dan Glaister from The Guardian.

The National Book Foundation has announced finalists in the Young People's Literature division, and finalists include Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005), which was recommended earlier this year on cynsations. See the complete list of finalists. See An Interview with Deborah Wiles from Harcourt.

Books on Cyn's Nightstand: Rosa, Sola by Carmela A. Martino (Candlewick, 2005); Dumb Love by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson (Roaring Brook, 2005); Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2006). Lucky me!

Call for Bibliotherapy Suggestions

Posted for Cyndee Kalodner:

"I am a psychologist and aspiring kids book author. This combination leads me to think about fiction can be used with kids in a therapuetic way. We all know that kids learn a lot about themselves from reading some books. What I want to do is take reading fiction into the realm of counseling/therapy.

"My project is a book tentatively titled 'How to Use Books That Kids Read: Counseling Strategies That Work.' This book is aimed at professional counselors, psychologists, and social works, as well as teachers and librarians. I am looking for suggestions for books to include that fit into middle-grade and YA.

"I will need to be able to work with authors to develop worksheets/handouts to assist professionals in talking with kids about your book. Your publisher will need to provide permission to include your book in this book.

"Please email me at crkalamar@yahoo.com if you are interested in more information."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Author Interview: Libba Bray: A Great and Terrible Beauty; Rebel Angels

Breakout YA author and vixen Libba Bray has followed up her smash hit, A Great and Terrible Beauty (Delacorte, 2003, 2005)(read an excerpt), with the second in the bestselling trilogy, Rebel Angels (Delacorte, 2005)(read an excerpt). She's from Texas, lives in New York, and writes like a house afire. Let's get to know her better!

What were your earliest literary influences?

I loved, loved, loved To Kill a Mockingbird. I also remember loving Where the Red Fern Grows, the Half-Magic books, Sounder, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, as well as books by E.B. White, C.S. Lewis (you had to have initials, apparently, to be in my club…), Laura Ingalls Wilder, George Orwell, Arthur Conan Doyle (the inspiration for Gemma’s last name), Russell Hoban, Dr. Seuss. I devoured Mad Magazine. I read lots of mysteries: Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, The Happy Hollisters. I had a book of Buck Rogers comics from the 1930’s that I would read over and over again.

I was crazy about scary, creepy, ghost story-type stuff (you’re shocked, I know), and I read lots of Hawthorne and Poe and these grisly vampire/werewolf/Brothers Grimm comic books that were rife with blood, gore, and sexuality. I don’t think my mom realized quite how much cleavage and innuendo were in those things that I kept under my pillow. Where’s Child Protective Services when you need 'em?

As a teen, I went crazy for Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, The Bell Jar, Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Douglas Adams, Woody Allen, and National Lampoon. If it was irreverent and funny, I was there. And my mom was a huge influence because she introduced me to so many of the books I loved.

What are your favorite books as a reader today? What qualities in them appeal to you?

I like such a wide swath of things, everything from Y.A. to southern fiction to absurdist, satirical fiction and non-fiction, too.

I love to distraction a short story collection, Pastoralia by George Saunders. He writes like the love child of T.C. Boyle and Thomas Pynchon with a little Terry Gilliam thrown in. It’s funny and bizarre as all get out, but it’s so rooted in a deep howl of truth that you realize after a while that you’ve been gutted quietly.

If John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire is sitting out somewhere, open, I will sit down and start to read it and not be able to stop. I love it that much. It’s so quirky and eccentric yet incredibly moving and painful and hopeful. I feel like my soul stretches with each page, and I am a different person after I’ve read it.

I enjoy reading short stories. I really will read anything, but I want to be able to trust the author. I want to know that it has cost him or her something to write it, and that he or she is not going to hold back on me.

What inspired you to begin writing for young adults?

Um, my own arrested development?

First of all, I just fell in love with the Y.A. books I was reading. Such great stuff from people like Chris Crutcher, Rob Thomas, Nancy Werlin, Gail Giles, Patricia McCormick, E.R. Frank, Angela Johnson, Rachel Cohn, to name just a few.

I felt like a whole world opened up to me. The Y.A. books I was reading seemed to have such strong voices and such heart. No B.S., no filler. I was hooked. And I have long maintained that we never leave behind our 15-year-old selves. They come with us and lurk, waiting for a chance to speak. And when they do, it’s usually a straight-no-chaser kind of truth.

Did you face any challenges to finding success?

I have been incredibly lucky. I know that. And I know that the wheel turns.

As Tom Waits says, “It can’t be summer all the time.” My biggest challenge to success, honestly, was my own fear. The whole time I was writing A Great and Terrible Beauty, I worried that it wasn’t good enough, that it was too strange or not true enough, that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off or express myself well. I worried that it wasn’t Y.A. That it wasn’t fresh or original or interesting. That people would use its pages to line their cat litter box and even the cats would turn their noses up at my prose. (In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a big time worrier. It could be my first career with a minor in writing.)

My husband kept gently leading me back to the computer saying, “Just write.”

What encouragement helped you along the way?

My editor, Wendy Loggia, was a big cheerleader as was my husband, Barry, and a few close friends. The community of other writers as a balm cannot be overstated. They smile and nod in understanding, buy you a cookie, let you talk it out till you’ve figured out a solution to your own problem, and they hide the sharp objects.

What, if anything, do you wish you'd done differently during your apprenticeship (the time you spent before publication, growing as a writer)? Why? What did you do that was most helpful?

Hmmm, that’s a difficult question to answer, because really, whatever path you take is the path that, apparently, you need to take. I know that sounds a little Downward Dog-Kumbaya-Hug It Out-Chicken Soup Works Well as a Book Title, but it’s true.

Sometimes I berate myself for “wasting” so many years in a playwriting career that went nowhere. But what I learned about dialogue was invaluable, and that Glam Rock sense of Bowie-Meets-Sondheim theatricality is a part of my writer’s DNA, too. Working in advertising and knowing that I could let my brain spin out in any direction but I had to come back to the point was helpful. My apprenticeship at 17th Street productions, a book packager, gave me a lot of discipline and taught me that yes, yes you can write a novel in only two months because the editor says you can, and that sure got rid of any writer’s block problems. I felt like some old showgirl sitting on a bar stool with a gin and a Menthol going, “Listen pal, lemme tell you how it’s done…”

The most helpful thing I did, though, was to become a part of a community called Manhattan Writers, run by Aaron Zimmerman, and, for a time, Hilary Plattner and Maureen Leary. It’s based on Pat Schneider’s Amherst writing workshops. I jokingly call it group therapy for writers. In this method, the workshop leader gives an exercise which you are free to follow or not, and you write for a timed period and then read aloud. People comment on what’s strong. It did two really important things for me over time: 1. It helped me get past my inner critic and just dive in without overthinking it so that I could get right to the heart of the matter, and 2. I got used to hearing my own voice. I realized I actually HAD a voice and that it wasn’t the voice somebody else thought I should have. That was invaluable. 3. By helping me recognize my own voice, it also helped me learn to take risks and really go there in the writing. I realized I would not explode and the world wouldn’t stop turning on its axis if I wrote poorly or was angry or really vulnerable—if I told the truth as I saw it. What a relief.

Okay, so that’s three things, not two. Sue me.

What was your inspiration for creating this trilogy?

Oh, god. This is so embarrassing. I want to be able so say something like, (adopting that regal, authorial, hand-stroking-chin-eyes-gazing-into-the-distance pose) “Yes, you know, ever since I immersed myself in Artaud’s theatre of pain and Derrida’s theories of deconstruction, I’ve always wanted to explore…” But the dirty truth is that I really had a hankering to write a Victorian “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Sigh. Feet of clay. (Shoes by Kenneth Cole!)

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

I had the first inklings of an idea in 1999. But it was really, really basic—the equivalent of a stick figure drawing in crumbly crayon. “Move along here, people, nothing to see, let’s keep moving…” I first talked to Ann Brashares about it. She had been an editor of mine at 17th Street Productions and was very encouraging and helpful. She and Ginee Seo (Ginee Seo Books) and I had a great lunch where they let me ramble on about it, and they asked me some really thought-provoking questions. It was clear that I had A LOT of work to do. I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface. It was like turning in a paper citing only one source and going, “Okay, so that’s done. Yo, where are the chips?” and having the teacher shove it right back at you with an, “I don’t think so…” So I kept tinkering and wool-gathering for another year-and-a-half. In my head, the book went from this sort of middle-grade, scary-lite mystery series—a bit “Scooby Doo”—to a much darker, completely different book. Long story short, Ann left to write a little book you may have heard of, something about some pants that like to travel, and Ginee was changing houses and starting her own imprint. I figured that was the end of that.

But it wouldn’t let me go. I ended up taking the completely revamped idea to Wendy Loggia at Random House. I had worked with her on a Love Stories series book and loved her. She said she’d be very interested when I had something to show her. So I went home, holed up, and pumped out a synopsis and three sample chapters. She suggested that I go even deeper, darker, older. I did, because I play well with others. She bought the book and I signed the contract on September 10, 2001. I was very excited and ready to start work on the morning of September 11, 2001. I dropped my son off at preschool, went into a bodega for milk, and when I came out, the sky was black over Brooklyn. I didn’t work at all on the book for four months. And by the time I did, it had changed. I decided not to outline the book. Instead, I closed my eyes, took the plunge, and wrote.

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

You forgot dietary. :) I don’t think I stopped eating while writing both Beauty and Rebel Angels. Honey, I’m STILL working off those pounds! I had never written an historical novel before, nor had I ever attempted fantasy. I actually didn’t know I was going to be doing fantasy till about a third of the way in. Quel surprise! I’d also never tried a trilogy before. Jeez, this is starting to sound like an episode of “Wild Kingdom” gone wrong: “I’ll watch from the safety of the plane while Jim wrestles the wild anaconda…ooh, that’s gotta hurt…” It was a daunting task, to be sure. The fantasy elements were hardest for me. I had no idea how to structure the rules of this alternate universe. I was blindly feeling my way. Thank God for The Great Franny Billingsley (her official name in my book) who read an early draft and gave me 10 PAGES of notes that were genius. She was the one who pointed out to be that I, um, actually needed to HAVE rules for the realms. I didn’t quite get it right with Beauty, in my estimation, but the learning curve was beyond steep—it was an X game.

The research was done in my usual haphazard, disorganized way. I ordered several books from Amazon on daily life in Victorian England, and those books led me to other books and other experts. (Thank you, Dr. Sally Mitchell of Temple University, Colin Gale of Royal Bethlehem Archives, Lee Kirby at the British Transport Museum, everyone at the British Library, and my man, Lee Jackson of www.victorianlondon.org. You rock.) I constantly felt that I didn’t know enough and didn’t know what I was talking about. Who was I to even presume I could write about Victorian English school girls as I was A) a Texan-New Yorker B) a public schools grad and C) not a history major. But the fear fueled me. I did manage to scrape together enough cash to go to London for more research, though I had to live on Top Ramen after that.

Logistically and financially, I had to work my freelance jobs while I wrote—I had a contract with an ad agency for three days a week plus I had other clients—and I had a child under the age of four. I still have to balance part-time work with childrearing and novel-writing. It’s a wonder that I am not a poster girl for Prozac.

What did you learn in writing Beauty that helped you with Rebel Angels?

That if you drink four cups of coffee while you write, you will just have to pee a lot and you’ll look like you’re on crack. But besides that, I learned that if you introduce a villain, you really have to reveal that person at the end of the novel. Otherwise, people feel cheated. It’s kind of like that old adage about not introducing a gun onstage unless it’s going to go off by Act III. The book, while tipping to the next struggle, has to stand on its own. It’s a tricky dance, and I freely admit that I am still learning the steps.

I also learned that if you are willing to go there with your characters, if you are willing to make them fully human, i.e., not always likeable and sometimes downright frustrating, they will take you where you need to go. But you have to be willing to follow without flinching. I learned that it helps to know a lot of good babysitters and have the takeout numbers handy.

And I think I learned to accept my writing process for what it is: messy, a little crazy, scary, and often exhilarating.

If you could change anything about YA publishing, what would it be and why?

I would change the larger public misperceptions about Y.A. literature as somehow being “second-class” lit. Some of the most compelling, tightly written, emotionally honest, risky, taboo, glorious work I’ve read is Y.A. I think there is a feeling—one that makes me channel my inner Quentin Tarantino character as embodied by Samuel L. Jackson—that because these works are about and for a teenaged audience, they don’t matter so much. What’s up with that? It’s dismissive and wrong. It seem ironic to me that this is the case as more and more respected adult writers are also writing Y.A.

It also makes me a little batty when I hear people place such an emphasis on “message” and “issues” in Y.A. and whether we’re writing “responsibly” for our audience (as evidenced by NBC’s profile based on the Wall Street Journal piece). No one asks authors of adult books, “Hey, what lesson are you teaching people in your book?” “What moral values are you imparting?” “Do you really feel you’re writing responsibly?” Or, as I like to say, no one finishes a book they love and says, “Wow. Great theme. What a responsible book!”

We are writers writing stories. Stories about real characters and real life which is often gray and murky and complicated. We have a responsibility to the truth and to the story. ‘Nuff said.

What gives you the greatest joy in your writing life?

Writing that one true thing that expresses exactly what your soul wants to say. Hopefully, this is done beautifully with language that sings. But if I can’t have that, I’ll take the truth unadorned.

What can your readers expect from you next?

A nervous breakdown. Kidding, kidding. My editor just sent me the most hilarious email. It says she wants the manuscript for book #3 in the trilogy by December 15th. That would be the book that I have not even started yet. Yeah, I know. I laughed, too, until I felt that squeezing in my heart and my breathing became shallow. So, book #3 sometime in 2007, and then, to quote Monty Python, something completely different. I’ve written an absurdist, somewhat wacky, contemporary book called Going Bovine, which should hopefully come out in 2008.

What is the most surprising and fun thing about you?

That I am neither surprising nor fun. I am like a German Expressionist painting come to life but with better eyeliner.

Um, gee. I dunno.

I suppose it would be that I am much wackier than my books suggest and that I’m a huge music geek who could cheerfully waste time making an iPod playlist for every conceivable emotional state. It’s either that or my ability to recite an old Calgon commercial verbatim. But really, that’s too sad to go into.

Cynsational News & Links

Author of 'Rebel Angels' Has Her Own Dramatic Tale by Cecelia Goodnow from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Author Talk: Ann Brashares from Teenreads.com. See also an interview from Book Browse and

Author Profile: Libba Bray from Teenreads.com. Features "Twenty-One Things You Don't Know About Me" by Libba Bray.

A Chat with Park Slope Author Libba Bray by Wendy Zarganis from about.com: New York: Brooklyn.

Interview: A Conversation with Libba Bray by Clarie E. White from Writers Write.

A Reader's Guide for A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2003, 2005) from Random House.

Rebel Angels: reviewed by Emily Shaffer for Teenreads.com.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"People to Watch:" Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith

The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, a publication of the International Reading Association, this month features authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith as "People To Watch," ("an occasional short exposé on up-and-coming authors of young adult literature"), offering reviews (continuing to page 2) of "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" by Cynthia from Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005) and Tofu and T. rex by Greg (Little Brown, 2005).

The Journal also offers an interview with us by James Blasingame. Read the abbreviated (scroll) or full version.

In the interview, I talk about mixed-blood Native identity, the romanticized moral compass, assumptions, integrating cultural detail, my home office and writing habits, my personal background, mentoring, promoting literary trade books, my Web site and blogs, as well as current and upcoming projects.

Greg talks about writing humor, his recent companion books, the evolution of The Peshtigo School, his writing life, his childhood background, as well as his site and blog.

And that's not all! Read the review of Tofu and T. rex by Colleen Mondor from Ecelctica Magazine. (Among other things, she says: "Maybe we should send this book to every member of Congress. (I’m not kidding.)")

Cynsational Notes

Thanks to author Lisa Yee for her recent comment on cynsations LJ syndication.

200 Acclaimed Children's Book Illustrators to Raise Money for Cancer Research

Grace and Robert are like a lot of thirty-something couples living in America – married and in love – with busy careers, lots of friends, a full social life in their hometown of Somerville, MA, just outside of Boston. Yet, they are different.

In November 2001 Robert, who was just 29 at the time, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewings Sarcoma. Their world was turned upside down – they were young and recently married – this was not part of the plan. But Robert, with Grace by his side, endured his grueling treatments and nine months later, was declared cancer free. Overjoyed, they returned to living life to the fullest.

Their joy, however, was short lived. In March 2004, they received the devastating news that Robert’s cancer had returned. The doctor told the couple that Robert’s best chance for recovery was a breakthrough in cancer research. Not willing to sit back and wait for that life-saving advance to fall into their laps, Robert and Grace set to work MAKING that miracle happen – not just for his survival, but for the survival of all others stricken with this tragic disease.

When Robert was first diagnosed with cancer, Grace, an accomplished children’s book author/illustrator, helped her husband, weak and listless, by telling him a wonderful story about a mouse who, much like Robert, couldn’t go out to play in the snow. They named this story Robert’s Snow, which was published shortly thereafter by Viking. Robert and Grace decided to use this picture book that had provided them with so much inspiration as the genesis of a fundraiser to raise money to cure cancer.

The very first Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure auction was held in winter 2004. Robert and Grace, along with a group of tireless volunteers and the support of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, took on the daunting task and recruited 190 children's book artists to paint wooden snowflakes and auctioned them off – the proceeds going to cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It was an amazing success, with over $100,000 raised to help find the cure for cancer. “Robert and I are still immensely touched by the outcome of the 2004 auction. Every one of Robert's Snowflakes is a gift of love, community and kindness. Few couples have ever received better presents.”

Plans for Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure 2005 are already well underway. The 2005 auction will feature snowflakes from over 200 talented children’s book artists. Caldecott winners, illustrators whose books are on the NYT best seller list, and modern legends of children’s books are among the star-studded list of contributors, including: Aliki * Graeme Base * Eric Carle * Tomie dePaola * Tony DiTerlizzi * Jane Dyer * Denise Fleming * David Diaz * Holly Hobby * Ross MacDonald * Eric Rohmann * Chris Raschka * Jerry Pinkney * Peter Reynolds * David Shannon * Chris Van Allsburg * Rosemary Wells * Mo Willems

“These snowflakes are original works of art, which in some cases – like Eric Carle for instance – Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure auction is the only way you can still buy an Eric Carle original since he does not sell his original paintings anymore. Because Mr. Carle’s art is so rare and in such high demand last year his snowflake went for $5,500! We can only hope Eric’s snowflake this year will fetch an even higher bid!” says Grace.

Robert and Grace wanted to make sure the auction had something for everyone, especially those with smaller wallets. In addition to featuring snowflakes by the top children’s book illustrators, they have also invited many artists who are rising stars to participate. “This way, there’s a snowflake that can fit everyone’s budget. The 2004 auction saw final bids ranging from $60 and up,” adds Robert.

Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure is a series of five consecutive, eight-day online auctions through Ebay that span from November 6 – December 11, 2005. The 200 snowflakes will be split up into five groups of forty snowflakes. Those that are interested can visit robertssnow.com as early as mid-September to view all 200 snowflakes and find out when their favorite will be up for auction. 100% of all proceeds from the snowflake sales will go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/The Jimmy Fund.

In 2004, Robert went on an experimental drug and the results were extremely positive. Unfortunately this past spring, his body has built an immunity to that drug and Robert is now forced to undergo chemotherapy treatments once again. Grace is optimistic, “Our hope is that we can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars with Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure 2005 to fund the next new drug, for Robert and all of the brave men and women fighting cancer.” Grace and Robert will be suspending their fundraising efforts after this year’s auction in order to focus solely on his treatment and recovery. “We need to take one year, one month, one day at a time,” said Grace.

Children’s book fans, parents, educators, art aficionados and the millions who have been touched by cancer can rally around this unique charity drive. A Robert’s Snow snowflake makes the PERFECT holiday gift for someone special, a classic addition to a child’s bedroom wall or a treasured, unique accent to an art collection.

The official auction website, www.robertssnow.com contains a host of information including updates on the traveling snowflake exhibit, ideas on how one can get involved locally with Robert’s Snow-themed fundraisers, information on the volunteers and community stories behind the scenes. There is also an online store where Robert’s Snow (Viking, 2004) and Robert’s Snowflakes (Viking, 2005), a compilation featuring selected 2004 snowflakes and poems by celebrated authors, can be purchased. In true Grace and Robert fashion, 100% of the royalties from the sale of Robert’s Snowflakes go to Dana-Farber.

FAQS FOR ROBERT’S SNOW: FOR CANCER’S CURE 2005

What is Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure?

Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. We will auction these snowflake creations on eBay with 100% of the proceeds to benefit Sarcoma Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/The Jimmy Fund.

Is Robert's Snow going to be an annual event?

No, Robert's Snow will not be an annual event. Like real snow, you never know exactly when it is going to happen! There are no plans for Robert's Snow 2006, beyond that we are unsure. Our suggestion is to treat every Robert's Snow like it's the last.

Why is the art on snowflakes?

This project was founded by Grace Lin, a children's book author/illustrator and her husband, Robert, a two-time cancer survivor. The first time Robert was diagnosed with cancer, they created the children's book Robert's Snow as a way of coping with the situation. When Robert was diagnosed a second time, they decided to use the book they created as an inspiration for this fund-raiser, Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure. Since the book is about snow, it made sense to have the artists to make art on snow shapes.

Why are the artists children's book illustrators?

This project was inspired by the children's book Robert's Snow so it is fitting to have the snowflakes created by children's book artists. Also, as most of the committee members are part of the children's book industry, it was the most logical community for us to recruit artists. We are only able to handle a certain amount of snowflakes, so we needed to guidelines to help select participants.

How did you get all those artists?

We asked! Using a variety of methods – cold calls, snail mail, e-mail, a general call out and our seven degrees of separation; all of our artists were kind and gracious enough to agree to participate. Please support them as well as our project. The 2005 artist recruitment was spearheaded by Heidi Stemple and Jane Yolen. Please read about it in our Community Tales article "Snow Angels" on www.robertssnow.com.

How is the auction going to work?

There will be 5 consecutive, eight-day E-bay auctions. On November 6, approximately 40 snowflakes from the collection will go to auction for 8 days, ending on Nov. 13. On November 13th, another 40 snowflakes will go to auction, and so on. When the auction dates become closer, we will categorize the snowflakes accordingly. Please note that all snowflakes will be shipped to the winners after December 11th.

Do we have to bid online?

Yes. Unfortunately, we are not equipped to take bids any other way. The decision to use eBay was made so that the greatest amount of people would have access to the auction. Please do not be intimidated! eBay transactions are safe and secure and they provide step-by-step instructions for first-time bidders.

There are two books, Robert's Snow and Robert's Snowflakes. What's the difference?

Robert's Snow is the book that started it all. It is the book that Grace and Robert wrote when he was ill the first time, it is about a mouse that was not allowed in snow (like the real Robert). Robert's Snowflakes is a book featuring the 2004 snowflakes from this project. Snowflake art by the 2004 artists such as Marjorie Priceman, Ian Falconer and Trina Schart Hyman are included.

How is Robert doing?

Robert is doing okay. Unfortunately, he has had to go back on a conventional chemo treatment, but we are confident that an experimental drug around the corner will give him the future we are looking for. It's these drugs and the research that Robert's Snow is funding that will keep him and so many others alive and well for years to come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Of Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith

Of Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith from Time Warner Bookmark. An author article discussing the evolution of companion books Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003, 2005) and Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005).

Cynsational News & Links

Critique Service: Margot Finke unveils the mystery of voice, focus, rhyme, and that all important hook. Polish your picture book or mid- grade novel with either an overview or an in-depth Critique. Go to "Critique Service" Page

Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon

Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon (Simply Read Books, 2005). From the catalog copy: "Stop! Stop copying me! It’s a phrase that is parroted by generations of children and achingly familiar to parents. This enchanting picture book presents a playful take on the phenomenon, offering dueling voices a chance to find harmony. The clever story encourages young mimics to take turns, first playing the Blue Bird, then the Red Bird. The short, rhythmic, repeating text is fun and easy for young children to follow, and Simon's brilliant, eye-catching graphics add to the charm." Ages 2-up.

My Thoughts

What great fun! This bright, colorful, high-energy book celebrates natures mimics (and mimics the voices of young children). Smart, funny, and accessible, Mocking Birdies will entertain teachers and parents as much as children.

Texans do note that the mockingbird is our state bird.

Cynsational News & Links

Book Divas: "the leading online book club for young adult and college readers."

Critique Group Disfunction--and What to Do About It! from author Hope Vestergaard.

Monday, October 10, 2005

An Evening With The Authors in Lockhart, Texas

"I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1815 [engraved on pewter cups as author gifts; Friends of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library, Lockhart, TX, 10/08/05]

On Saturday night, my husband Greg Leitich Smith and I participated in An Evening With The Authors, hosted by the Friends of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart, Texas. Children's/YA author Diane Gonzales Bertrand of San Antonio also was a featured author. The event was hosted in conjunction with Texas Book Festival on the Road and sponsored by Central Market, Pleasant Hill Winery (try their cabernet), and Borders Books (on South Lamar in Austin). The event was a fundraiser for the library.

It's a special place. You may have seen on CNN that a Lockhart librarian perched on the library roof one unseasonably cool October to raise money for the restoration. Her efforts were so successful that she raised more than double her goal.

The outdoor evening event featured 12 authors (including we three children's/YA authors) on a sweeping 1923 property, lit by white holiday lights and torches. Think: stunning gardens, storybook child's playhouse, indoor pool...

Each of us were seated at a table, and guests were encouraged to circulate and visit with all of the authors. I met many lovely folks--from as far away as Houston--and signed a good many books, too. It was a special delight to find so many teachers and librarians in attendance.

(If you ever find yourself near Lockhart in the spring, drive by 625 San Antonio to gasp at the 5,000 tulips, planted each spring).

Afterward, Greg and I had the honor of staying with the McGregor family in their 1898 seven-bedroom home, formerly a B&B (spectacular!) on San Antonio, just across the street from the event. Our thanks to Kara, Stewart, Lucy (young reader!), Pinky (sweest chihuahua/rat terrier), the birds, and the cats for their charm, warmth, and hospitality!

Cynsational Notes

Attention Texas Authors/Illustrators: Kara McGregor is a first-rate photographer, and headshots are among her specialties. She lives in Lockhart (the BBQ capital of Texas) and commutes weekdays to Austin. I highly recommend her to those of you scheduling photos for your upcoming book jackets. Visit Bird House Photography for more information.

Austin SCBWI Fall Conference

Friday night, my husband Greg Leitich Smith and I had the honor of hosting at our home a reception for speakers and volunteers in conjunction with the Austin SCBWI fall conference.

Honored out-of-state guests included: Melanie Cecka, co-editorial director at Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA; Mark W. McVeigh, senior editor at Dutton Children's Books; Stephen Fraser, a literary agent at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency; Cecilia Yung, art Director at G.P. Putnam's Sons; David Caplan, art director at HarperCollins; and Pun Nio, president of Nio Graphics Inc.

Local luminaries included: author Dianna Hutts Aston; author Chris Barton; illustrator Theresa Bayer; author Carla Birnberg; author Anne Bustard; former Austin SCBWI regional advisor/writer Debbie Dunn; former Texas Book Festival director/publicist/editor Cyndi Hughes; illustrator Erik Kuntz (AKA Greg's Web designer); author Lindsey Lane; Austin SCBWI regional advisor/author Julie Lake; author/librarian Jeanette Larson; author/illustrator Mark G. Mitchell; former Austin SCBWI regional advisor and magazine writer Nancy Jean Okunami; author Jane Peddicord; illustrator Christy Stallop; illustrator Mary Sullivan; author/poet Jerry Wermund; author/illustrator Frances Hill Yansky; and author Brian Yanksy.

Catering was by Central Market (the quesadillas and shrimp were our biggest hits); flowers were by Gary Lake. Christy brought big, yellow daisies (my favorite kind!); Erik brought red wine (ditto!); and Jeanette brought a copy of Quilt of States: Piecing Together America (National Geographic, 2005), featuring quilts by Adrienne Yorinks, written by Adrienne Yorinks and 50 librarians from across the nation (including Jeanette; more on that to come!).

Saturday morning, I had the pleasure of hearing Melanie Checka and Mark McVeigh speak. Melanie talked about Bloomsbury U.K. and the Harry Potter phenomenon, writing from the heart (not trends), and led a writing exercise. Mark gave an overview of the acquisitions process for first-time authors. He covered a lot of hard truths: that it's tough to break in; that first-timers have less negotiations room; that past sales and type of manuscript affect future sales; and that it's the author's job to sell books.

I spotted too many friends and colleagues to mention them all, but highlights did include author April Lurie, who just sold her second novel to Delacorte, and Jill Bailey, winner of the Lucile Micheels Pannell Award for Excellence in Children's Bookselling, given by the Women's National Book Association. Jill recently left her position as children's/YA book buyer at BookPeople in Austin to become a Penguin sales representative.

Cynsational Notes

Mark McVeigh is editing Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith (Dutton, winter 2006).

Cynsational News & Links

A Day for the Books from Chris Barton on the Austin SCBWI conference.

AS IF (AKA Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom) suggests that anyone who wants send a book to: ATTN: Susan Schotz; St. Andrew's Upper School; 5901 Southwest Parkway; Austin, TX 78735. The school turned down a $3 million pledge because the family who was contributing the money wanted the school to remove a story from the reading list.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Author Interview: Dotti Enderle on The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair

The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair by Dotti Enderle, illustrated by Chuck Galey (Pelican, 2005). From the catalog copy: "At last! It’s time for the annual Texas State Fair, and young Jake knows exactly what he wants to do first. He passes up all the other booths to buy his favorite treat--a cone of sweet and puffy cotton candy. Little does Jake know that his choice of sugary snack--and an unfortunate mechanical failure--will wreak havoc on the nation’s biggest state fair. As Jake wanders through the exhibits and attractions, he trails a sticky tail of cotton candy in his wake. Soon the candy has swaddled the livestock, tripped up the fair queen, and even festooned Big Tex with a pink tutu! It truly is a cotton candy catastrophe--until Jake has a brilliant idea to save the day.

"Dotti Enderle launched her publishing career in 1995, writing for such popular children’s magazines as Babybug, Ladybug, Children’s Playmate, Nature Friend, Turtle, and many more. Ms. Enderle is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Houston Storytellers Guild, and the Writers League of Texas. She currently lives with her husband, two teenage daughters, and a cat named Oliver."

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

There was no real inspiration, unless you consider the cotton candy, Godzilla, and the State Fair, Tokyo. I simply wanted to create a silly monster.

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

I wrote the first draft in 1996. Originally it took place in a fictional county fair with an entirely different ending. I rewrote it over time, collecting lots of rejections along the way. It occurred to me a couple of years ago that I could change the setting to the State Fair of Texas and try publishing it with a regional publisher. Once I changed the setting, it became obvious that the ending would be more fun if the main character herded the cotton candy into the Cotton Bowl. It was serendipity. Once I'd changed it, my agent sent it to Pelican, and they loved it.

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

The biggest challenge was to stay true to the State Fair. I'd only been once, and that was several years before changing the setting of the book. I spent a lot of time looking up info on Big Tex, the Cotton Bowl, and the Texas Star, among other things. Some of those research details ended up in the final draft and makes the book somewhat educational as well as fun.

What are the rewards of publishing books with a strong regional setting?

I've produced a book that Texans can identify with. Many buy the book because they've been to the fair and love it. It's also one of very few books set at the State Fair of Texas, which is the largest state fair in the nation, so librarians are particularly happy to have it.

Your publisher on this title was Pelican Publishing in Louisiana. I'm sure I speak for the entire children's/YA literature community when I say how concerned we are about folks there. How is Pelican doing these days? Is there any way their friends and fans can help?

Luckily, Pelican suffered little damage to their physical inventory, but has been slowed down by the electrical blackout. They only recently had electricity restored. And though they're slowly making their way back, we hope that friends and fans will continue to purchase Pelican's books. We're all having to exercise patience at this point.

Cynsational News & Links

My latest short story is now available: "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" from Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005).

Dutton editor Mark McVeigh told me this weekend that Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman will be published by the house in winter 2006.

Interview with author/illustrator, Yuyi Morales by Aline Pereira from papertigers. And in the illustrators' gallery, see the magical realism of Mexican artist, Elizabeth Gómez.

An Interview with Susan Salzman Raab on Reviewer's Checklist from the Children's Book Council.
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