Saturday, October 22, 2005

SmartWriters Short Story Competition

2005 SmartWriters.com Short Story Competition: Because the annual Write It Now! Competition has been so successful in helping new writers and illustrators get their work in front of the editors who helped launch their careers, the SmartWriters want to do that for short story writers, too!

Three Categories: Young Adult Readers, ages 15+; Mid-grade Readers, 11 - 14; Young Readers, ages 7 - 10.

Grand Prize: $200, plus a 2006 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market; First Prize, each category: $50, plus a 2006 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's MarketEntry Fee: $10 per manuscript.

Plus, the 1st - 3rd place finishers in the MG and YA categories will be published in a 2007 anthology by Blooming Tree Press. Entry Deadline: October 31, 2005; Email entries are welcome and encouraged. See rules, FAQ, submission guidelines, and entry form.

Cynsational News & Links

Alan Armstrong's Stories Write Themselves by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink. Alan is the author of Whittington (Random House, 2005). October 2005.

Liz Bonham Fine Art: illustrator site, apparently specializes in the Christian market.

Meet the Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith by Toni Buzzeo from Library Sparks. October 2005. PDF file (takes a few moments to load if you're on dial-up due to images).

Friday, October 21, 2005

Author Interview: Marc Aronson on The Real Revolution: The Global Story of American Independence

The Real Revolution: The Global Story of American Independence by Marc Aronson (Clarion, 2005)(ages 12-up). From the catalog copy:

"This extensively researched and groundbreaking account by Sibert medalist Marc Aronson centers on events in the mid-18th century that enabled Americans to give up their loyalty to England and form their own nation. Shedding new light on familiar aspects of American history, such as the Boston Tea Party, and ending with the aftermath of the American Revolution, Aronson approaches the events that shaped our country from a fresh angle and connects them to issues that still exist in modern times. Also developed throughout is the pioneering idea that the struggle for American independence was actually part of a larger conflict that spanned the globe, reaching across Europe to India.

"Packed with dramatic events, battles, and memorable figures such as George Washington and Tom Paine in America and Robert Clive in India, this insightful narrative provides a multi-layered portrait of how our nation came to be, while discovering anew the themes, images, and fascinating personalities that run through our entire history. Cast of characters, maps, endnotes and bibliography, Internet resources, timeline, index."

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Two, really. For one thing, I did ask myself a simple question: why did the Brits send the tea that the Americans tossed into Boston harbor? I had never read anything about that, their motivation. The answer did transform how I saw American history. But maybe it did that because I had written two books on colonial America, Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado, and then John Winthrop, Oliver Cromwell and The Land of Promise, I wanted the three books to be a real trilogy, just like a fantasy trilogy -- after all, the transition from New World to Independence is exactly like the plot line of Star Wars, or the Philip Pullman trilogy, or the Tolkien -- it is about the transition from one age, one era, one kind of ruler and world organization, to another -- with all of the gains and losses typically found in fiction. Since the first two books are global in their approach to American history, I wanted to treat even the runup to the Revolution the same way. I am so glad I did.

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

It took about a year to research and write. Some key moments came, actually, while doing photo research in London, I learned a great deal looking at images. But I can still recall the most exciting moment. I love footnotes -- reading them and writing them. I was trying to understand one crucial moment in my story -- the completely forgotten global credit crisis of 1772. I had found a footnote that cited an article published in 1960 in The Journal of Economic History. I went to 42nd St. library, found the article, and printed it out. That article linked together events in North America, the Caribbean, Scotland, London, Amsterdam, and India. It provided the perfect lynch pin that showed me I had hooked a big, big fish.

The big fish is the discovery that the explanation of why Americans fought for their independence which we all learned in school, and which is in every adult book, is Flatland. That is, it is two-dimensional. It pretends that the world began at our shores. I discovered that good old American history makes no sense until you add in the East India Company, and the riots in London. We always lived in a globalized world. And when you add in the connections I found, suddenly both our past and our present makes sense.

Then there was the opposite moment. I was all done, and I saw a new British book that took a global approach to the period just after the one I discuss. Reading it, I came upon a footnote. The author credited a paper given at Cambridge University in England that sounded like exactly the same thing as my book. I emailed Cambridge to ask about the paper -- which I assumed had been given by a grad student. No, it was given by a professor with a joint appointment at Harvard, who has an institute of her own. Not only that, she is married to Nobel Prize winning economist, whose work also fits this area. In fact she, Dr. Emma Rothschild, is writing about exactly the same topic. But she was very gracious in reading my work, and hers is a couple of years away. In fact she is giving a series of talks at Princeton this spring -- on the Johnstone family, who are major actors in my book.

So, the good news is she thinks I'm right. And, given the timing of the books, for once young readers will get the information well before adults. The bad news is, well, I wish I were the only one to have figured all this out.

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

All of the books about India in the mid to late eighteenth century that I read were written by Brits (or Indians) for a Brit or Indian audience. They assume you are well-versed in their history. I had to read enough just to follow their arguments. Then I had to figure out what they were leaving out, when they were right or wrong, and how all of this looked from an American point of view. Then again, there was the problem that on an 18th century British map of a key battle, the river had a name that is no longer used. The delta of the Ganges is the largest delta in the world. I had to pore over geological surveys of the delta, searching for every twisting stream, to find the modern name of that old river.

More globally, what are the challenges today in publishing trade non-fiction for young readers?

The challenge is that literature for young readers is defined as leisure reading -- it is by definition that which is not for school. Now I personally find nonfiction to be leisure reading. But the assumption of the chains, most librarians, many teachers, etc. is that nonfiction is assigned in class, it could not possibly be for leisure. So here are the options: write NF that seems more like leisure reading; write NF that is entirely for school; raise consciousness and get people to change their views; win a prize. Those are your only options. Or, well, what I do is write as well as I can, then I hire a great woman to write teachers guides which I put up on my website: marcaronson.com that way I write what I like, and teachers can find ways to use the books in class.

What are the encouraging signs?

Encouraging signs are that because publishers have to take such high returns in fiction, they are beginning to recognize the value in nonfiction; Jonathan Hunt wrote a wonderful piece in The Horn Book about the fine nonfiction we have, and how the prize committees are lagging behind. It is the area in which generally overpublished children's books can grow.

I heard from one reviewer that she was concerned about where this new book would fit into school curricula, since schools generally do not take the international approach to the founding fathers that I am urging. That made it all the more pleasing to get this initial response from a school in Long Island: I had sent one galley to a librarian there, who shared it with her AP teachers, and also those involved with the IB -- the program that allows teenagers throughout the world to take a similar course of study. Those teachers found it so much in line with their approach that they purchased hardcover copies for every student, I believe that is 70 books. So that tells me that even within the constraints of budgets and tests, teachers are hungry for fresh perspectives not found in textbooks. And then the central organization for AP teachers nationwide asked me to write up my research for their website. Not bad for a book that hadn't even reached print yet.

In publishing, you wear two hats--writer and editor. How do you balance the two? How do they fuel (or detract from) one another?

It can be crazy-making when some author is being very demanding with me-- the editor, and then I, the anxious author, become very demanding of my own editor. It is like standing in a hall of facing mirrors. On the other hand, Jim Giblin began as an editor, and still edits; Jim Murphy was his assistant and an editor in his own right. So clearly being an editor can help you to think about what makes a good book. And since a large part of the challenge in nonfiction has to do with structure, being an editor is especially helpful. You get used to thinking about how to shape ideas into the best structure for your readers.

One key lesson I learned as an editor is that books need great art, and even if the author has to pay a lot for permissions, s/he will see the reward for that in sales. As a result, I always overspend on images.

There's a lot of talk these days about the "emerging crossover market" (YA/adult). Some people are advocating for double shelving. Some for getting rid of YA as a marketing niche. Some for holding firm to the YA market/label. Where do you stand and why?

I would be happy to see cross-shelving in adult and YA. I think getting rid of YA would be silly. Here's one obvious reason: adult publishing is extremely front-list driven. You have no time at all to make your mark before the next book takes your shelf space. Okay, if we published YA as adult, where do we think those books would get the media attention to drive sales? Book reviews are cutting back their pages, and especially of fiction. Do we imagine they would suddenly add space for YA books? Sure, some books can do fine on media tie-ins, but I hardly imagine that those who favor YA as adult want to restrict YA to those few books that have huge marketing budgets. And the library-media that now reviews YA explicitly cannot review much adult (Booklist does review adult/ya crossover fiction, but that is it). So we would be casting YA to the front-list lions with no way it could get enough attention to keep the books alive.

And to add one last point -- I would love those who advocate YA/adult crossover to include nonfiction. But that is another story.

Cynsational News & Links

I'll be the featured guest author next week (October 23-29, 2005) on realwritingteachers@yahoogroups.com, a discussion group of 650 plus writing teachers, children's authors, librarians, homeschoolers, etc. who discuss reading and writing strategies, resources, etc. Owner/Moderator Robert A. Redmond encourages interested parties to join. Learn more about realwritingteachers.

Facing the Facts: Frances Wilson calls for the abolition of author photographs from The Guardian. October 15, 2005.

Meet Lori Marie Carlson from CBC Magazine. October 2005. Read a recent cynsations author interview with Lori about her YA anthology Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young And Latino in the United States (Henry Holt, 2005). Note that Lori also is the anthologist of Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today (HarperCollins, 2005), which features my story, "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Newton Marasco Foundation Announces 2006 Green Earth Book Award Nominations

The Newton Marasco Foundation (NMF), a national voice advocating responsible stewardship of the environment, announces that the nomination period for the 2006 Green Earth Book Award is now in progress.

NMF launched the Green Earth Book Award in 2005 in partnership with Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland. The award is intended to promote books that inspire children and teens to grow a deeper appreciation, respect, and responsibility for their natural environment.

This is an annual award for books that best raise awareness of the beauty of our natural world and the responsibility that people have to protect it. One of the main criteria for this award is that the books should encourage the idea of environmental stewardship and the importance of the role each person can play in nurturing, protecting, and defending the environment.

The Green Earth Book Award will be awarded to authors/illustrators in two categories: children's and young adult. The children’s category encompasses books for young readers from infancy to 12 years of age, while the young adult category includes books for readers from ages 13 to 21.

The children's book award is comprised of a monetary award of $1,250 to the author and $1,250 to the illustrator (or $2,500 if the author and illustrator is the same person). The young adult award is comprised of a $2,500 monetary award to the author. In addition, a $500 donation is provided to the environmental organization chosen by each winner and approved by the Newton Marasco Foundation.

All nominations are due by Saturday December 10, 2005. See nomination form. Winners will be announced on March 1, 2006.

About the Newton Marasco Foundation: Newton Marasco Foundation (NMF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to work collaboratively on issues related to environmental stewardship through the areas of education and greening. They are national, headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, with chapters in numerous states and the US Virgin Islands. They aspire to ignite the energy and passion that is embodied by youth-to teach the ethos of environmental stewardship and to make children more aware of the fragile nature of their local ecosystems and the role everyone can play in nurturing, protecting, and defending it. They educate and inform companies on sustainable green business practices and promote energy-efficient practices in housing, from design to home living, especially for lower income families.

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to all the cynsations LJ syndication readers for their congratulations on my new permanent faculty position at the Vermont College/Union Institute & University MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Note: Rita Williams-Garcia also is a new member of the faculty. Marc Aronson was invited to join but elected to defer until the summer semester.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Author Interview: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson on Dumb Love

Dumb Love by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson (Roaring Brook, 2005). From the catalog copy: "What’s funnier than True Love? Dumb Love, that’s what. In the tiny town of Brewerton, the minister needs an assistant for his advice column, someone with a sympathetic, open heart and a confidential, closed mouth. Who better, Carlotta decides, than a Love Expert like herself? In fact, once Pete, her soon-to-be boyfriend—he just doesn’t know it yet—gets a look at her, she’ll be the syrup on his pancake, the cream in his coffee, the crab cake at his clambake! All she has to do is get rid of her competition: Bernice, Andrea…and Fate."

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Dumb Love was originally conceived as a serious, perhaps grim, story of a teenage girl’s relationship with an older, “wild” mountain man. I could see them both so clearly! There was to be sadness and tragedy and fate and an illegitimate baby and . . . and . . .What was I thinking?????? Fortunately, by the time I actually got around to writing it, I was so exhausted from finishing my previous book, A Fast and Brutal Wing (Roaring Brook, 2004), that just considering my aforementioned plot elements made me all but pass out. Crawling across the floor to my computer, I managed to punch DELETE before pitching over in a dead faint to the ground.

What I needed—and wanted—was something fun and light, both to shake off the seriousness of A Fast and Brutal Wing, and to shake some of that same gloom out of myself. (Though I hasten to add the FABW has some funny stuff in it, too.) The only thing that remained from my original notion of Dumb Love was the mountain setting.

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

The initial spark came somewhere in the distant, hazy past. But in terms of actually writing Dumb Love, it took about two years from the first time I stared at the post-mountain man blank screen to actual publication.

In terms of process, I made it to about chapter six without any problems, then was interrupted by revisions for A Fast and Brutal Wing, followed by a house-search, as a first-time homebuyer. I then spent the next several months going over those first six chapters and going over those first six chapters and going over those first six chapters . . . again and again and again. I was stuck in my own private "Groundhog Day." It wasn’t until after I had actually moved into my new house that I managed to wiggle my way into Chapter Seven and beyond.

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

The first challenge was to find my main character, Carlotta. I wanted a teen girl totally different from my originally conceived mountain-gothic, tragic, ill-fated heroine. It took me awhile to fit her out, both physically and emotionally. Usually my characters are right there, but I had to study on her a bit. Once she was in, however, she started reorganizing the novel and bossing me around.

Another concern was that I worried people would not take to a humorous romance from me, given my penchant for the lonely, dark moments of the soul. But, ever since I’d had a library job, years ago, where I processed paperback romance novels (for diversion I read the last paragraph of each book—they all ended the same way!) I knew I had a romance novel in me; I just needed the right moment to give it birth.

Also, never having lived in the mountains myself, only ever having visited, I had to check up on a few details with my brother and a friend, who do live in the mountains, albeit different mountains in different states. (Come to think of it, I have to check with my brother on some goat details for my current work-in-progress.)

Other challenges were just the ongoing struggle to get the words on the page, to believe that I was writing this crazy story for a reason. But if you can’t laugh and you can’t fall in love (not necessarily in that order!) what fun is it?

Cynsational News & Links

Author Spotlight: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson on the Parallel Universe of Liars (Roaring Brook, 2002) from Random House.

Pregnant Pauses, Toys in the Crawlspace: A writer’s encounters with L.A. by Kerry Madden from L.A. Weekly. Kerry is the author of Gentle's Holler (Viking, 2005); see interview.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Smith, Williams-Garcia Join Permanent Faculty of the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children and YAs

Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rita Williams-Garcia are joining the permanent faculty of the Vermont College/Union Institute & University MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Teen Read Week at the YA Authors Cafe

Tonight, Tuesday, Oct. 18, join guest host Catherine Atkins and young adult librarians Hope Baugh, Kristin Lade, Christi Showman and teen literacy advocate Liz Bass for a celebration of Teen Read Week at the YA Authors Cafe. All chats are at 8:30 p.m. EST, 7:30 CST.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Interview: Linda Sue Park from Downhomebooks.com. October 2005.

Hot Off the Press: A Sneak Peek at Publishers' Newest and Hottest Titles from CBC Magazine. Those I've read so far are: Walter Was Worried by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook, 2005) and I'm Not Afraid of this Haunted House by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Teresa Murfin (Carolrhoda, 2005).

The Author Vitae

About a year ago, I painstakingly assembled a vitae for my writing career.

Having been self-employed, it had never previously occured to me that I needed one. But increasingly, I found myself having to scramble to put together niche-market bios or support materials for grant requests or media replies. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

At this point, having compiled a vitae (and kept it updated), I recommend other writers and illustrators consider doing the same. It's a handy reference.

In case it helps, these are my headings: Books; Short Stories; Additional Publications; Online Publishing; Teaching Experience; Judging Experience; Speaking Experience; Media Coverage; Professional Affiliations; Education; Representation (my agent). Awards are included under the above listings as applicable.

Cynsational News & Links

I was honored to read on Bartography that author Chris Barton's son enjoyed my picture book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/Harper, 2000).

Picturing History in Picture: a chat with author Pegi Deitz Shea from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Speaking of pictures, I spent some time this past weekend pinpointing helpful articles on writing picture books. I was most impressed with these:

Make Your Picture Book Sparkle by Peggy Tibbetts from Writing-World.com.

Writing Picture Books by Marisa Montes (includes helpful chart).

Monday, October 17, 2005

Austinites: Support A New Central Library (Final Meeting)

The final hearings for a new downtown public library for Austin are tonight, Monday, October 17 at 7 p.m. at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (4801 La Crosse Avenue).

There were eight supporters at the last meeting, which was great, but still they comprised only 10 percent of the people in attendance.

Austinites: If you can swing by (or fill out the online survey; see below), it would be greatly appreciated--right now, APL has to take a book off the shelf for every new one it buys.

See more information; online survey.

Author Interview: Carmela A. Martino on Rosa Sola

Rosa Sola by Carmela A. Martino (Candlewick, 2005). From the catalog copy: "Living with her Italian immigrant parents in 1960s Chicago, nine-year-old Rosa, an only child, often feels SOLA and different. But as soon as she holds her friend AnnaMaria's baby brother for the first time, Rosa is sure that if she prays hard enough, God will give her a sibling too. Amazingly, Ma does get pregnant, and Rosa is overjoyed -- until the awful day comes when she learns that her brother was stillborn, and Ma, who is weak and grieving, must stay in the hospital for a while. With her papa bitter and rarely home, and her bossy aunt Ida in charge, Rosa has an "empty cave" feeling and now is more SOLA than ever. Why would God answer her prayers, only to take her baby brother away? Will her broken family ever be happy again?" Ages 9-up.

note: "Carmela A. Martino was born and raised in Chicago and still makes her home in the area with her husband and son." See also Carmela Martino from SCBWI-Illinois.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

The novel began as a short story called “Rosa’s Prayer,” which I wrote while working on my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. I had originally enrolled at Vermont to complete a YA novel, but after a few months in the program I realized that I didn’t yet have all the writing skills I needed to make that particular story work. Instead, I began a middle grade novel about a 12-year-old boy whose friends kept moving away. When my advisor, Marion Dane Bauer, critiqued the opening chapters of the novel, she said it lacked “emotional core.” I was devastated. I knew what my character was feeling, but apparently those feelings weren’t coming across on the page. Marion suggested a writing assignment: she asked me to write a short story about an event from my childhood that still aroused emotion in me. I chose to write about fear—the fear I’d felt at age ten, after my mother nearly died in childbirth.

“Rosa’s Prayer” went through several revisions. By the end of the semester, Marion approved the story for inclusion in my creative thesis. However, she said I could also submit it for my next residency workshop, which I did. My workshop group provided terrific feedback and encouraged me to turn “Rosa’s Prayer” into a novel. I spent most of my time in the Vermont Program working on the manuscript. The original short story spanned only a few weeks, ending on the day Rosa’s mother comes home from the hospital. The novel encompasses a year in Rosa’s life, and focuses not on Rosa’s fear as much as on her family’s struggle to heal from their loss. Interestingly, the most common feedback I’ve heard from readers is that the novel made them cry. For me, that’s a great compliment. I think Marion would be proud.

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

I completed “Rosa’s Prayer” in Fall 1998. I spent the next 18 months turning it into a novel that became my creative thesis. When I graduated from Vermont in July, 2000 though, I knew the manuscript needed more work.

Without the structure and deadlines of the MFA program, I dawdled with the revisions for over a year. Then, after I was accepted as a graduate assistant for the Summer 2002 residency, I realized I couldn’t face my former instructors with the manuscript still “in a drawer.” I quickly finished the revisions and sent the manuscript out.

After two rejections, I submitted the manuscript to Cynthia Platt at Candlewick Press in October 2002. Four months later, in January 2003, Cynthia called to say Candlewick wanted to buy Rosa, Sola . I was thrilled, especially when she said the book could be out in Spring 2004. Cynthia asked for some revisions, which I completed happily. Then in June 2003, not long after I’d submitted my changes, I came home to a voice message from Cynthia. I assumed she’d called to discuss the revisions, but instead, she wanted to let me know that she was leaving publishing and that I would be assigned another editor.

Of course, a new editor meant more revisions. At the time, I thought the process would never end. Yet, looking back, I can see that each set of revisions made the story stronger. The official publication date for Rosa, Sola turned out to be September, 2005, almost seven years after I wrote the short story, “Rosa’s Prayer.”

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

The first challenge was taking a short story that was closely tied to events in my life and expanding it into a novel. Even though many of the things that happen to Rosa happened to me, I had to remind myself that Rosa was not me. The way she reacted to situations and the choices she made weren’t necessarily the same things I would have done.

The second challenge was writing a novel based on events that still aroused emotion in me. While that helped make the story authentic, it forced me to relive a painful time in life. In the end, though, the process was very healing, and it gave me greater empathy for what the adults in my family must have experienced.

But the biggest challenge was actually a technical one. I originally wrote “Rosa’s Prayer” and the first draft of the novel using third-person limited viewpoint. Then, part-way through my final semester at Vermont, my last advisor suggested I rewrite the story into first person. I disagreed. Because Rosa is only 9 years old at the beginning of the novel, and she’s not very precocious, I felt she didn’t have the linguistic skills to tell the story adequately as a first-person narrator. I tried to convince my advisor that the story needed to be in third person, but I couldn’t dissuade her. I discussed the issue with another faculty member and personal friend, Sharon Darrow. Sharon reminded me that I was in the Vermont program to experiment and learn. If I didn’t like the end result, I could always change the point of view back to third person.

I followed Sharon’s advice and rewrote the novel into first person. My advisor was pleased with the result and she felt the first-person voice was just right. So that was the version that went into my creative thesis. But I still didn’t like it. Rosa sounded too mature to me, and she seemed too observant for a young girl struggling with grief and loss.

After graduation, I didn’t know what to do with the manuscript. If my advisor hadn’t liked it so much in first person, I wouldn’t have hesitated to rewrite the story back into third person. But what if she was right and I was wrong?

Fortunately for me, I met Stephen Roxburgh, publisher of Front Street Books, not long after I graduated from Vermont. Carolyn Coman, a Front Street author and one of my Vermont advisors, had already told Stephen about my novel. When I explained my dilemma to Stephen, he agreed to read both versions of Rosa, Sola. Even though he later turned down the manuscript, Stephen gave me some invaluable feedback: He thought the third person version was the stronger. His comments gave me the courage to go against my advisor and rewrite the story my way.

As I revised the novel back into third person, I realized that the process of putting the story into first-person had given me a deeper understanding of my character. So I’m grateful my advisor forced me to try first-person viewpoint. The experience also taught me that there is no intrinsically “right” or “wrong” point of view. What matters, instead, is that the storytelling feels right to me, as the author.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Interview: Matthew Holm on Babymouse ("with sisterly input from Jenni Holm")

All hail Babymouse! The ARC features the first two books, Babymouse: Queen of the World! (Random House, 2005) and Babymouse: Our Hero (Random House, 2005). This debut graphic novel series is funny, funy, heartfelt, funny, and true to young girls. Did I mention funny? It's also a welcome outreach to a younger set of graphic book readers. Babymouse is a hero for the new generation. Enter the Babymouse bookseller and librarian contest!

cynsations spoke to Matthew Holm, co-creator (with his sister, Jennifer L. Holm) of Babymouse.

What was your inspiration for creating these books?

Jenni and I were at her house in Brooklyn one day, and she was lamenting the fact that there were no good comic books for girls. She grew up in a house full of boys, and her husband and most of our friends are pretty big geeks-we're all into comic books, science fiction, computer games, etc.-so comic books were always around and she always read them. Just none of them girl-friendly. (Or at least, the comic books aimed at girls-Archie, Wonder Woman, Little Lulu-weren't really up to snuff.)

She handed me a napkin with a little scribble of a mouse on it. It had all the essential elements of Babymouse--the dress with the heart on it, hands on the hips, slightly irritated expression. I took the sketch home and drew a proper Babymouse in a couple of poses. That was the inspiration for doing a graphic novel for girls about a mouse. The inspiration for the story is pure Jenni. Scenes from the life of a young Jennifer Holm.

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

We came up with the idea and did the initial sketches late in the summer of 2001. But there was no real interest in Babymouse; the project went dormant until April 2003, when Jenni came back to me with a loose storyline. She had written a 50-page storyboard (with narration, dialogue, and a description of the action) that followed a day in the life of Babymouse. A lot of scenes from that storyboard wound up in Babymouse: Queen of the World and Babymouse: Our Hero. At that point, we still didn't really know how receptive publishers would be to a comic book-traditional book publishers were NOT into graphic novels back then-so the format was still a bit like a storybook, with each page having only a single drawing. I drew illustrations for 10 of the pages to give publishers a feel for the book. Jenni gave the presentation to her agent, but still no one was biting, and, once again, the project went dormant.

In the meantime, Jenni had a baby and her husband got a job offer in Maryland. So in January 2004, she called everyone up and told them she was moving out of New York, and that this was their last chance to hear her pitch. She lined up a couple of appointments with publishers, and I came into NYC for her son's christening. I spent that whole Sunday night drawing a cover image and additional scenes to flesh out the storyboard further. The next day, I flew to Vegas on a business trip and Jenni went to meet with everyone. And Random House loved Babymouse! They just totally got her. And more importantly, they were willing to take a risk on a new format. So we had found her a home.

Throughout the spring we worked on the manuscripts for Queen of the World and Our Hero simultaneously, turning the rough storyboard into two full-length narratives. In April I started sketching the two books, and we kept working on both of them at the same time. Due to the copyedit schedule, it turned out that Our Hero was ready for final work first, so we actually completed Book 2 before Book 1.

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

I suppose the biggest challenge was simply the fact that we hadn't done a graphic novel before, so we had to figure out the best workflow and shake out the format issues-color usage, size, a standardized cover style, etc. We were incredibly fortunate to work with an amazing editor (Shana Corey) and a visionary art director (Cathy Goldsmith). They've been Babymouse's biggest supporters all along.

Personally, I had to adjust to going from an office job to working at home as a full-time author/illustrator and get back into the swing of high-volume drawing (I hadn't done a great deal of cartooning since 1997). Jenni, I think, mostly had to figure out how to fit together writing and being a new mom.

The one thing we're asked about all the time-if it was difficult to work together-has never been a problem at all. We're both very used to being edited and working collaboratively (Jenni from her years in advertising and me from my years in magazine editing), so we take criticism well and are able to recognize when someone has come up with an idea that makes the project better. We work long-distance almost exclusively, sending drafts and drawings back and forth via e-mail and FedEx, and have never found that to be a problem. (Actually, it's kind of nice to be able to hand things off to the other person and not have to think about the work for a week or a couple of hours or whatever-it keeps you from going crazy and getting tunnel vision.)

And as for us being brother and sister, well, that's never been a problem, either. It's probably because there's a six-year age difference between us, so we didn't clash with each other that much growing up; our worlds didn't really intersect until I got out of college.

Or maybe it's just because I'm so sweet that she can't help but get along with me.

Cynsational Note

You must all read and bow to Babymouse! I love her.

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Blogs I read include: Book Moot; Kids Lit.
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