Saturday, December 03, 2005

Out of Print, But Not Forgotten

From the CBC Web site:

"Is there a children's book you absolutely love that has gone out of print?

"From November to February the Children's Book Council is asking librarians, teachers, parents, and kids to name a book they would love to see reissued. The poll is a project of the ALA-CBC Joint Committee, and the top ten books will be announced in the spring."

You'll find a form on the site, asking for the title, author, and illustrator.

Traditionally, children's books used to build by word of mouth, passed on to each set of young readers as they came of age for picture books, chapter books, middle grades, and YA novels. But the shift to big business has us leaning more in the quick hit-or-miss direction of television shows and movies.

Today, titles are known to go into and out of print, even before the traditional three-year cycle for state awards passes. In fact, a friend of mine had a novel make two state lists at about the same time her tweener went out of print, a factor insufficient for her big-house publisher to reconsider its decision.

Within my own body of work, I had a short story, "The Naked Truth," published in In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Writers Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers, edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (HarperCollins, 2003). This wonderful anthology, which includes stories by Alma Flor Ada, Beverly Cleary, Gail Carson Levine, and Diane Stanley is already out of print.

The book I'd most like back...

Muskrat Will Be Swimming by Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki-French Canadian), illustrated by Robert Hynes, featuring a Seneca traditional story retold by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) (Northland, 1996). When a young Native girl is called "Lake Rat," she is comforted by Grampa who both reveals how he was once called "Frog" because of his French-Indian heritage and shows how those intended insults are signs that the bullies don’t appreciate the joy of the frog and wonder of the lake. Ages 4-up.

How about you?

Cynsational Notes

See Keeping Books in Print by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon.

Cynsational News & Links

Holiday shopping? How about an "Allen Say's Journey" T-shirt (in adult and children's sizes) from the Japanese American Museum? Also see the museum's picks for kids' fiction and non-fiction.

Or surf over to Storyopolis and shop for a children's book illustration. If I had $4000, I'd buy Chicago by E.B. Lewis. Um, Santa?

The December issue of Kid Magazine Writers features: quotes from Spider editor Heather Delabre; an article on "sentence length and editing for younger readers;" an article on "getting in the right mindset for connecting with young folks;" "an annotated list of nonfiction articles taken from magazines targeting very young readers," and more.

Between the Lines: An Illustrator's Viewpoint: "Texture Creates Feeling in Pencil Works" by Kevin Scott Collier.

Children's Bookwatch from the Midwest Book Review. December 2005.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Department Chair Kathi Appelt on the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults

Kathi Appelt, department chair of the Vermont College/Union Institute & University M.F.A program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, is the author of numerous books for young readers. Her recent titles include: Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (HarperCollins, 2005) and Merry Christmas, Merry Crow, illustrated by John Goodell (Harcourt, 2005). She lives in College Station, Texas.

What is a low-residency master of fine arts program?

In a traditional residential degree program, students typically attend weekly or bi-weekly seminars or workshops on campus. A traditional degree usually has a set or series of classes that are required and may or may not include one-on-one instruction or mentoring. A masters level degree normally takes anywhere from two to four years. In a low-residency program, students congregate only once or twice a year on campus for two-four weeks. During these residencies, students attend lectures and workshops. They are then assigned to an advisor who will work with them on an individual semester plan. So, during the course of a semester, the student works with only one instructor.

What are the advantages of a low-residency program?

There are a lot of advantages. For one, students don't have to uproot themselves or their families in order to attend a particular college. The low-residency idea is designed to accommodate working adults, people who have regular jobs and can't simply stop working in order to return to school. They're also designed for those who can't or don't want to relocate. They can also design their own course of study for the most part. A student who primarily wants to work on picture books can do so; likewise someone who is mainly interested in poetry can focus on that. Of course, we encourage our students to use their time with us to explore areas in which they're unfamiliar, to tap into the faculty's expertise in a variety of genres.

In addition, each student works intensively with one advisor at a time. The student to faculty ratio is very small, usually five to one or fewer. During the course of a student's career within the program, he or she will work with up to four separate advisors.

Could you give us some insight into the history of the VC program?

The VC degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults sprang out of the long-established low-residency program in creative writing. A handful of alumni from that program, including Louise Hawes (author interview) and Sharon Darrow, who have been on our faculty all along, joined forces with Marion Dane Bauer and some other well-known children's authors to start our unique program. We'll celebrate our tenth anniversary this summer! At the time that we started, ours was the only low res program that offered a specific degree in writing for children and young adults. There are a handful of others that are coming along now, many of which have our alums among their faculty.

How is the VC program structured--number of semesters, thesis requirements, balance of critical and creative work?

VC is designed on a two year timeline, consisting of four semesters and five residencies. Each semester is a little over five months long. In that time, students are required to turn in five packets, one each month.

In the first and second semesters, students must submit a combination of new creative work, revisions, and one or two short critical essays on some aspect of the craft. During the third semester, a student must continue to turn in creative work, but he or she is also required to write a critical thesis. During the fourth semester, the student concentrates on his or her creative work and must turn in a creative thesis. The creative thesis may be comprised of a novel or part of a novel, a work of non-fiction, several picture books, or a combination of all of these. During the last residency, the graduating student has to present a lecture to his or her classmates and faculty members, as well as a reading.

For writers, what is the benefit of doing critical work?

Critical work gives the writer a more intimate and in-depth look at both matters of craft as well as issues in the field of children's literature. We encourage our students to look closely at the ways in which writers use characters, plot, theme, research, etc., and to then translate that knowledge into their own work. In order to be full players in our field, our belief is that our graduates should be able to look analytically and critically at the work in front of them, both their own and that of other writers. As well, we hope that our students will consider teaching, and in order to be prepared for this, they have to have a solid grounding in the critical aspects of children's literature.

What takes place during a typical residency?

The residencies are action packed. Each day is filled with a combination of workshops, readings and lectures. The lectures are led by both graduating students and faculty members. In addition, some faculty members lead seminars that are often hands-on. Guest speakers are brought in too. This January, Caldecott winner Mordecai Gerstein will join us, along with Wendy Watson and April Pulley Sayres. Students are also encouraged to do their own readings during the residencies.

Why would a children's/YA writer want to pursue an MFA degree? What doors does it open, creatively and professionally?

I've heard from folks in the industry, especially editors, that the introduction of the MFA in writing for children has raised the level of writing. That's not to say that the level was ever low, but in the past ten years, children's books have become more competitive than ever. Another benefit that I see is in the perception that our society has about anything really that has to do with children, that if something is designed for kids then it must be easy or superficial or whatever. The degree all by itself can't change that. But I do believe that it lends an air of credibility to our profession.

I really believe that our degree raises the standard for children's literature. That people both inside and outside the field have taken notice is testament to that.

An MFA is also considered a "terminal" degree. By that, our students are qualified to teach in a college setting, and many many of our grads do just that.

Who comprise the faculty of the VC program? What credentials are required? Preferred?

We currently have twenty faculty members: myself, yourself, Marc Aronson (author interview), M.T. Anderson (author interview), Marion Dane Bauer, Norma Fox Mazer, Phyllis Root, Jane Resh Thomas, Ellen Levine, Ellen Howard, Laura McGee Kvasnovsky, Tim Wynn-Jones, Louise Hawes, Sharon Darrow, Liza Ketchum, Ron Koertge (author interview), Carolyn Coman, Alison McGhee, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Margaret Bechard.

As recently as three years ago, the credentials required for faculty members were a B.A. plus a history of publication. Currently, a faculty member must have an advanced degree plus a history of publication. In addition, to remain on the faculty, we have to continue to publish.

As importantly as publication history and credentials, however, is a history of teaching. We look very closely at a candidate's teaching record. In addition, we also require a teaching sample, along with a candidate's c.v.

Could you describe the campus at Montpelier, Vermont?

The campus is very old. Vermont College is one of the oldest colleges in VT, and many of the buildings have been there for the 100 years that the school has been in existence. There's a certain charm about that. And I confess that at times, it feels a lot like camp, especially in the dorms. But many of the buildings have been upgraded. There's a fully equipped computer lab, for example. And a very fine library. The cafeteria is operated by the New England Culinary Institute, so the food is a notch above standard cafeteria fare. And just down the hill, is the wonderful town of Montpelier, complete with bakeries, boutiques, and a movie theater, not to mention a wonderful book store.

Could you describe the culture of those involved in the program?

We are a community of people who are dedicated to writing for children. It's our heart's work. Who shows up is folks right out of college, fresh from their undergraduate programs, to people who have had a long career in teaching or something else and haven't been in school for fifty years. We have students who have already begun to publish and who have found some success but want to stretch their writing muscles, and we have students who are just starting out. We have folks in every income bracket and from a variety of backgrounds. At the end of the day, we're all there for one thing. To become better writers. And interestingly, that ties us together. Our graduates become life-long friends even though they may live on opposite coasts. There's a "we're all in this together" mentality that permeates our community.

How much does the VC program cost to complete (or per semester)?

Tuition for each semester is around $6300. There's no question that our program is a large financial investment. We understand that, and it's why our faculty and staff work so hard to make sure that our students get the highest quality of education that is available to them.

Why do you teach at VC? How does it compare to other teaching environments you've had?

I teach there for the people. My colleagues on the faculty and in the office are as close to me in many ways as my family. I also think about the people with whom I teach and I'm in awe, not only by the work they do, but also by their commitment to their students. I feel so honored to be in their company. But we also have amazing students. We're crazy about them. And we learn so much from them! There is nothing more gratifying than watching a student grow in his or her work and then embark upon a successful career. I got a message just the other day from a student who just sold a novel that I worked on with her during her first semester. How wonderful is that?

How competitive is admissions?

Fairly competitive. I don't have the exact numbers, but I think we're accepting about 30% of our applicants. We have a limit of 70 students at any given time, and the numbers that we can take each semester vary with the number of graduates, the number of folks taking a leave, etc. We typically accept around 30 new students each year. That's a guess, but I think it's close.

At what level are students when they enter the program? Upon graduation?

Students come to us at varying levels--some are old hands, others are just beginning. One of the bonuses of working one-on-one with an advisor is that each student can begin where they are and go from there. I've seen students make major breakthroughs in their work, including students whom you might consider advanced. I've seen folks who thought they only wanted to write fiction leave us feeling confident about writing picture books or poetry or non-fiction. I've seen people come to us having written many books, and leaving writing better books. Many of our students tell us that their time at VC was transformational, and I believe them. I've seen the program change lives.

Art, whether its writing, painting, music, is extremely personal. The one-on-one nature of our teaching allows a student to delve into their craft in a deep way. One of the catch phrases that it seems we're always telling our students is to "go deep." What this means is to take a piece of writing and really look at what is driving the character, to ask what the deepest underpinnings of a particular story are, to examine the attitudes and controlling beliefs that the author imbues upon his or her work and how they might affect both character and readers. We ask our students to think hard. To become critical readers. To approach their work with curiosity and to examine the longings that provide motivation and conflict within their stories. It's hard work.

Could you give us some examples of VC success stories?


Sure can. April Pulley Sayres is one of the top players in science books for kids. Andy Auseon just had his first novel nominated to the BBYA list. Leda Schubert has a number of picture books listed beside her name. Candice Ransom just signed her 100th book contract. Lauren Myracle's most recent novel made the NYTimes Best Seller List. Carolyn Crimi's (author interview) career is taking off big time. Helen Hemphill's first novel will be out in the spring. And the big news, of course, is Deb Wiles, whose newest novel was a finalist for the recent National Book Award. It hardly gets better than that.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Entering a low residency program, or any writing program for that matter, is a huge commitment in both resources and time. I often think that our students are surprised by the intensity of the program, by the requirements of time, and by the dedication that it takes to makes it through. I think they're also happily surprised by the community itself, how supportive we are, but also how much they come to appreciate their classmates. The classes stay together long after they graduate. They celebrate each others' successes and buoy each others' disappointments.

We offer a strenuous program, with no guarantees at the end. A degree by itself will not get you a publishing contract. Only your stories can do that. But we can promise that we'll push you to do your very best work, and then we'll push you even harder. Our young audience deserves nothing less.

Cynsational News & Links

Holiday promotion: autographed bookplates from Anjali Banerjee, author of Maya Running (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005)(read excerpt) and Imaginary Men (Downtown Press, 2005). Imaginary Men is a novel for grown-ups--funny, romantic, compelling. I'm reading and loving it!

The Path of Least Resistance from They Call Me Mr. V, author Varian Johnson's blog. Varian contemplates that, given censors, it might be easier to reach teen readers by publishing adult books with teen protagonists rather than YAs.

PacyWorks: Chronicles of My Life and Work: Grace Lin's blog. See also Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure.

Tales from the Slush Pile from Publisher's Weekly.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Critiquing First Drafts

Yesterday, I was processing and applying suggestions from my critique group to my new manuscript, and it occured to me that little is said about feedback on first drafts.

I know some editors and agents will offer to read first drafts, and unless you're sure that'll be in your manuscript's best interests, I don't generally recommend it. Even though the agent works for you, there is still the stumbling block that the agent won't represent the piece unless they approve it. And even if they do sign off, their relative enthusiasm could have an impact on the sale, negotiation, and follow-up effort. Ditto, within a different context, the editor. First impressions matter. Also, there is an implied authority to both that isn't triggered with other writers, and early on, it's well worth it to explore your own path without that kind of direction.

Some writers don't ask for readers until after their first draft, and there's nothing wrong with that, even if you do show up empty-handed to critique group for some months. A new idea can be fragile, and one stray comment may jeopardize the hard-earned faith you need to keep going.

But if you do bring your earlier work and read it for others, here are some guidelines to keep in mind: (1) the piece is in progress; (2) it's the work of the writer, not the reader; (3) the idea should be to help bring out the original vision with the understanding that it's evolving; (4) err on the side of questions rather than comments; (5) show enthusiasm.

Arguably, this applies to a critical reading at any stage, but it is perhaps of heightened importance here.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Answers Interview with Edith Tarbescu by Debbi Michiko Florence. Edith is "the author of four children's books as well as a produced playwright." Focus on Annushka's Voyage (Clarion, 1998).

Frequently Asked Questions from the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection. See also bibliographies (includes: African American, Civil Rights Movement, Holocaust, Women and Gender Studies) and the Cinderella database.

Insatiable Curiosity Fuels Popular Kids' Series, Andrew Lost: An Interview With Judith and Dan Greenburg by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink.com. Latest release: In the Ice Age, Andrew Lost #12 (Random House, 2005).

Secrets of Success: children's author Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff from Ellen Jackson Liz's books include Help! My Life Is Going to the Dogs and the ABC's of Writing for Children.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cynsational News & Links

Interviews are slow incoming for December, which is completely understandable given the semester's end and competing holiday activities.

I'm personally busy working with my talented Web designer, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, on the redesign in progress of my main site. I'll keep y'all posted as things develop and let you know when we relaunch.

ARCs I've read recently include The Queen of Cool by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2006) and debut novel Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley (Little Brown, 2006)(read an excerpt). More on these titles to come. In the meanwhile, read some buzz on The Queen of Cool from Chasing Ray and Shaken & Stirred: Hangovers (Nov. 15th entry).

Congratulations to The PlanetEsme Bookroom, led by children's author Madame Esme Raji Codell, winner of a $1000 James Patterson PageTurner grant. Hooray, Esme!

Advice from a Caterpillar: Writing for Children by Peggy Tibbetts from Writing-World.com. "Finding Information about Pop-up Books; Getting Published Fast; Interactive E-books for Children."

K. Michael Crawford, Children's Book Ilustrator: Chicken Little listed on Reading First website (Eager Mind Press, 1998), Family Choice Award for Bugoo the Bug meets Alex (Trafford Publishing, 2005), Miss Panda Series (7 Books) (Windstorm Creative, 1199), The Munched-Up Flower Garden (Red Rock Press, 2006), Skunk Skills (Perfection Learning, 2005), Baby Craig (Perfection Learning, 2005), Ike Takes a Hike (Perfection Learning, 2005), Sneaky Jean (Perfection Learning, 2005).

Successful Book Tours and How to Plan One by Fern Reiss from The Publishing Game: How to Find a Literary Agent, Self-Publish, and Promote Your Book. Targeted to self-publishing authors, includes articles about marketing, literary agents, and POD/subsidy publishing.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Personalized Picture Book Protagonists

Author and storyteller Dotti Enderle is compiling a list of picture book protagonist names, titles, authors, illustrators, publishers and publication dates for a Web page designed to help gift buyers match the name of the gift recipient to the name of the hero of a book.

Picture book writers and illustrators are invited to write her with this information for promotional and literacy purposes.

When the list is launched, it will be featured as a link on cynsations.

Cynsational Traffic

So far this month, about 55,000 unique visitors have surfed over to my Web site, which is currently under redesign (I'll keep you posted).

Most of them went directly into the site from a bookmark or typing in the URL. The other big referrers were Google, Yahoo, MSN.com, and my blogs. The largest number of visitors were from the U.S. followed by Canada, the U.K., Australia, Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Japan. In order, the top states of origin were California, Washington, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts.

Thanks to everyone who surfed on by!

Cynsational News & Links


Books to Watch for in 2006 from author Uma Krishnaswami.
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