Friday, April 28, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Jane Yolen (author interview), recipient of the Roots in Writing Award, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Female Writers.

Cut Ellipsis from Spookcyn. Get the latest low-down on the production of Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, March 2007).

The Edge of the Forest: A Children's Literature Monthly. Volume 1, Issue 3 for April 2006 has been posted. Highlights include: "Small Press Month" by Shelia Ruth of Wands and Worlds and an Interview with Michael Buckley by Kelly Herold of Big A little a. Michaeal is the author of The Sisters Grimm series. Also recommended is "A Day in the Life with Heidi Roemer" by Kim Winters of Kat's Eye. Surf over for reviews, the best of the blogs, and more!

Gotta Book: "thoughts, opinions, and ramblings about (broadly) children's literature from my perspectives as a writer, parent, and volunteer elementary school librarian. Oh yeah, and poetry of all sorts...with lots and lots of Fibs." From Gregory K, "I'm a screenwriter, volunteer librarian, dad, and SCBWI member with a love of poetry and picture books."

Gunstories: Life-Changing Experiences with Guns, edited and illustrated with photographs by Beth S. Atkin (HarperCollins, 2006). A review by Loretta Gaffney from BCCB. See more from the publisher. This month, The Bulletin starred The True Story of Stellina by Matteo Pericoli (Knopf, 2006)(author interview).

The Secret of My Success: An Interview with Dan Brown from CBC Magazine. Dan is the author and illustrator of several highly praised picture book biographies and histories for children. His subjects have included the 1899 New York newsboys strike, the movie pioneer Mack Sennett, the sixth-century Irish monk and calligrapher Columcille, and the scientist Albert Einstein. Mr. Brown lives with his family on Long Island, New York. His books include The Notorious Izzy Fink (Roaring Brook Press 2006) and Bright Path: Young Jim Thorpe (Roaring Brook Press 2006).

The 7th Annual Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference will be June 12 to 16, 2006 at the BYU Conference Center in Provo, Utah. "During this intensive five-day workshop, beginning to advanced writers/illustrators will be tutored in a small-group setting by published authors/artists and receive instruction from two editors representing Bloomsbury [Jill Davis] and Viking Children’s Books [Tracy Gates], as well as a New York literary agent [Edward Necarsulmer of McIntosh and Otis]." This event is sponsored by Brigham Young University’s Department of English and Division of Continuing Education.

Rosemary Newcott (Alliance Children's Theatre Artistic Director), Jon Ludwig (Center for Puppetry Arts), Writer/Performer/Educator Felton Eaddy and Playwright Evan Guilford-Blake are the panel for "Writing For Children," a Working Title Playwrights seminar that will examine the ins and outs of writing for children in general and children's theatre in particular. Q&A follows the discussion. The seminar is on Saturday, April 29, 1:30-4:30 p.m., at Theatre Decatur, 430 West Trinity Place, Decatur, GA. Admission is $8. "The children's theatre market is one of the most available in America: Theatres, schools and community groups are constantly seeking new material that's appropriate to the various age groups that comprise children's theatre--and family theatre--audiences. The panel of established writers, producers and creators of stage material for young audiences will examine the market and discuss how to approach creating material for it--what to be sure you do, and what to avoid." For reservations or more information, call 404.297.0904 or e-mail:

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Lacapa Spirit Prize

Announcing a new literary prize for children's books to honor the memory and legacy of Michael Lacapa:
"His philosophy was always write about what you know, be true to your culture or region, and never let go of your imagination."
-Kathleen Lacapa on her husband's artistic vision
The Lacapa Spirit Prize will be given annually to the best illustrated children's book that focuses on the spirit of the peoples, culture and natural landscape of the Southwest. Books published in the two years prior to the award are eligible for consideration.

Michael Lacapa (Hopi/Tewa/Apache) was the artist or writer of inspiring and beautiful books for children. He was the author and/or illustrator of such books as: The Magic Hummingbird: A Hopi Folktale, collected and translated by Ekkehart Malotki, narrated by Michael Lomatuway'Ma, illustrated by Michael Lacapa (Kiva, 1995); Antelope Woman: An Apache Folktale retold and illustrated by Michael Lacapa (Kiva, 1995); and most recently, The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa 'Kashtyaa'tsi Hiyaani by Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), illustrated by Michael Lacapa (The University of Arizona Press, 2004)(recommendation).

Michael was raised in Whiteriver, Arizona, graduated from Arizona State University and attended Northern Arizona University for graduate courses in fine arts. He and his wife, Kathy, raised their children, Rochelle, Daniel and Anthony, in Taylor, Arizona. After a serious automobile accident in Fall 2004, Michael died in March 2005. Everyone who reflects on his life mentions his talent for storytelling, his artistic vision and eye for detail, as well as his passion and unbounded spirit for life.

This award was created through collaborative effort of the Northern Arizona Book Festival and Northland Publishing and its children's book imprints, Rising Moon and Luna Rising, to honor Michael Lacapa's commitment to art and storytelling about the land and cultures of the Southwest. It is our hope that such an award will inspire others - as Michael inspired so many - to tell their tales.

The award will consist of $500 and a featured appearance at the 10th Annual Northern Arizona Book Festival, April 14 to 16, 2007.

Deadline: October 31, 2006 for receipt of entries eligible for the 2007 Lacapa Spirit Prize.

For further information about eligibility and application requirements:

Lacapa Spirit Prize
Attn. Jeff Berglund
PO Box 6032/Building 18, Rm 139
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6032

Phone: 928.380.8682
Fax: 928.523.7074

Cynsational Notes

My favorite of Michael's books was: Less Than Half, More Than Whole by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa (Northland, 1994). Learn about Native American children's and YA literature.

As this is a brand new award, I ask that members of the children's literature community please help raise awareness of it via their own blogs, websites, listservs, etc. If you know someone whose book would be a good fit, please do pass this on. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Co-Authors Interview: Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler on Scrambled Eggs at Midnight

Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler (Dutton, 2006). Calliope is tired of being dragged by her mother cross-country from Renaissance Faire (don't forget the "e") after Renaissance Faire. Eliot longs for the day when his father used to sell swimming pools--before he "found God," and subsequently founded the "Jesus fat camp" for Christian kids ("What would Jesus eat?"), thereby also discovering financial success. When Cal and Eliot meet, there's instantly chemistry--literally and figuratively. Do they have a future? Or will Eliot's father and Cal's mother (and her jouster boyfriend) tear them apart? A romantic comedy with an almost classic feel. Cal and Eliot feel like people you know even as they face unusual, even surreal, circumstances with humor and aplomb. Ages 12-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

Brad Barkley on Brad Barkley: "I grew up in North Carolina as, I guess, a somewhat odd kid, though the great thing about being odd at that age is you have no point of reference. You don't know you're odd. Odd how? Well, I divided my time btween playing in the woods behind my house, in the creek, catching salamanders. Normal enough, but the whole time I would be playing, I would do things like talk to myself in the voice of John Wayne or Elvis Presley. I wanted to be an impersonator, or some kind of entertainer. I’d never actually heard Elvis or the Duke, or even know who they were, so I was really impersonating the impersonators I heard on TV. The rest of the time I was in my room practicing magic tricks (I was paid to do birthday parties by the time I was 14), or juggling, or ventriloquism. Often I dressed up in costumes for no one's amusement other than my own, just to look in the mirror. I made mustaches out of black construction paper, and dressed up like the characters in the silent movies my Dad brought home from the library for me, films no one else wanted to watch, so I would watch them alone. One time I accidently dressed up as Hitler, but I didn’t know who he was either--I had just seen Charlie Chaplin dressed that way in a movie.

"Later, I managed to infuse a little more normalcy into my life. A little. I turned into a redneck and attended a fundamentalist high school. I drove an orange Camaro with mag wheels, listened to a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and attended chapel three times a week to watch movies, we were told, that were actually filmed in hell. I captained the soccer team and hung out at the Dairy Queen and tried (sometimes successfully) to date cheerleaders. I didn’t really start writing until I got to college. Before that, my main creative outlets were photography and air guitar. I also read all the time, so much so that I used to get in trouble for it. Now I write books, and I get to do it all...imitate voices, juggle plots, snap my fingers and make characters come alive. Except once, during the Years of Oddness, I built a life-size Christmas tree entirely of abandoned pint milk cartons and duct tape. I haven't yet found a writing-related substitute for the pleasure that brought me, but I'm still looking." Learn more about Brad.

Heather Helper on Heather Helper: "Okay, imagine me staring fretfully at the computer screen, trying to think of what might be interesting about me. goes.

1. I have 107 cookbooks. (More than half are on baking.)
2. I have a 17-year-old cat that is currently undergoing biofeedback treatments for digestive issues. (Don't ask).
3. I teach yoga three times a week, mostly to make myself do it. Without teaching I can always find something else to do instead.
4. Everyone in my life seems to know more than I do. It's really a trick. Surround yourself with smart people, and everyone will assume that you are smart, too.
5. On a recent trip to Florida, I was actually offered a high five by the rental car guy because I was getting a Chrysler 300. I put up a limp hand and accepted the smack. (Did I mention I don't know anything about cars?)
6. In addition to my cat, I also have two Madagasscar Hissing Cockroaches, a frog, and a fish. (We are thinking of getting a lizard.)
7. I always have at least ten books on my bedside table. Right now Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace and "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer are on the top.
8. And because I think it's bad luck to finish a list on an odd number. My mother just visited this weekend and brought some of my old toys for my son. Along with some games and other items, there were trading cards. I know what you're thinking, but wait. These are much cooler. These are Charlie's Angels, Grease, Star Wars, and Battlestar Gallactica cards. (I know!)" Learn more about Heather.

Congratulations on the publication of Scrambled Eggs at Midnight (Dutton, 2006)! It's fun, fresh, romantic read. How do you two know each other? What inspired you to write a novel together?

Brad Barkley: We met when Heather took a workshop I taught, and right away we knew we had the same take on the world, laughed at the same things. For me, the inspiration for the collaboration was Heather phoning me up and saying "Why don't we write a book together?" Of course, I'm tempted to revise history here, because Heather never misses a chance to remind me that the book was her idea, but it's true. Mostly it started as a kind of game...novel ping-pong, I guess, just bouncing the chapters back and forth.

What was the initial inspiration for this story?

Heather Hepler: I always want this answer to be more literary, but here it is... I was driving on I20 toward Dallas and there were two billboards, one right after the next. The first was for the Four Winds Renaissance Faire and featured a stylized knight atop a horse, surrounded by lots of fancy purple script advertising the fair just south of Dallas. The second was for The Bible Outlet, one of the stores in the outlet mall. With these things swirling around in my head and the Eels blarring on the radio, I made the arc past Dallas on toward Austin where my sister lives. Right where you can either keep going straight or turn, there is a Cracker Barrel (one of my favorite places). My son states that he is hungry and asks if we can stop and have breakfast for lunch. After eggs and biscuits and some coffee, we hit the road again.

HH: This time we are driving south, through the middle of Texas, which feels like the middle of nowhere. About half an hour past Waco is the Garden Warehouse, a huge garden center with literally hundreds of concrete scupltures of everything from giant palm trees to gorillas to huge urns, large enough for small children to crawl into. So, I hit Austin and stay up most of the night thinking about it all. Three days later, I started writing chapter one.

BB: For my half, I saw a poster that depicted Jesus wearing Everlast boxing trunks and boxing gloves. And I spent my high school years in a fundamentalist school. But that was more idea than inspiration. The real inspiration was in getting the next chapter back, seeing what Heather had done with the story, thinking how I could surprise her or take her breath away when I sent it back. There's this scene in "X-Men" when two guys are walking across this chasm, and every time they take a step, a piece of metallic sidewalk appears under their feet. That's what it felt like, just taking steps, trusting the story to emerge. Now all I need are some superpowers.

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

HH: I actually had a girl in one of my wokshops mouth "I hate you" to me when I told this story, so I am reluctant to tell it again. But, here goes. After writing about half of the first chapter of what I thought was going to be my novel, I called Brad and asked if he would help me a bit. I mean, a novel is a lot to take in. We started talking, and somehow the idea of co-writing was brought up. It started out as an experiment of sorts...just a game to keep both of us writing. It wasn't until we got about halfway in that we realized that we might just have a book. We actually finished writing it in six weeks. We ended up selling it to Dutton about a month after that.

BB: It was blisteringly fast. We even hesitate to say this, because it's the kind of thing that might make other writers hate us. Honestly, we wrote the book in six weeks, sold it in maybe three weeks. At this point we've been writing together for a year, and we are working on our fouth novel. Major events? Mostly it was about staying on that pace, keeping the story going. At one point, the plot stalled out a little bit, and I suggested an Act of God, which made its way into the book. Acts of God are always good, if your characters need a little shaking up. Once or twice we had to say something like "I don't think my character would say that," but that's about as eventful as it got. We should probably invent some stories about all the epic arguments we had, but it just didn't happen that way.

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

HH: I had to do quite a bit as far as researching Renaissance fairs. I still have yet to go to one, although I plan to this year. I had no idea about the various characters or the simple day to day life of fair performers.

HH: Logistically it was only challenging in the editing phase. After trying a couple of times to go page by page through the editing remarks, we decided that since Brad loves revision, he could just take care of that. We each revised our own chapters, but the smaller details, Brad took care of. I guess other than those couple of things, the whole process just felt fun.

HH: Each package from the publisher was exciting. I still get excited when I see an email from my editor (Stephanie Lurie--who is AMAZING) or my agent. It feels like my birthday and Christmas and Halloween all at the same time.

BB: For me the things I thought were challenges weren't. After having written some books solo, I worried whether I could collaborate and do it right, but that turned out to be even better than easy. It was, and is, the most fun I've ever had writing. The challange of any novel, for me, is psychological...finding and understanding the character's center, his emotions and motivations, who he really is. I always do reasearch eventually, but I'm also pretty lazy about it. My first impulse is just to guess, then reserch it later if I have to. It's amazing how often the guess turns out to be right.

Your novel is in alternating points of view. Did this decision evolve from the co-author approach or did it grow from the story, and in either case, why?

HH: The decision for alternating points of view originated in the co-authoring. We knew that it would be easier to write if we each had our own sections to take care of. We briefly discussed a letter or email format, but we decided that using that might become the focus of the book and might actually detract from the story. It also made sense to have alternating points of view in a love story. I mean, who hasn't wondered in the midst of falling in love what the other person is really thinking?

BB: For a first novel, written in collaboration, it just made sense, and it was also just a really interesting way to do things...something new. I think by chapter three or so, it felt totally organic to the story, a way of telling the story that couldn't be done with a single POV. We've worked that way since, too, though I think the next one we start will be from a single POV, just to shake ourselves up a little bit.

What are the advantages and challenges of alternating point of view novels?

HH: [With a co-author,] [t]he advantage of this type of novel is that it goes fast. Each chapter sparks the next one, as ideas that never would have occured to you ping-pong back and forth. It is also great to have a built in second reader. Brad isn't afraid to tell me if something I have written is bad or doesn't work.

HH: It is also nice because as writers we all have things that we aren't very good at. For instance, I am great at beginnings, but awful at endings. Luckily, for Brad it is the reverse.

HH: The challenge of writing in alternating points of view is that you have to think if a particular event is going to fall in one chapter or the other. If my character isn't present for something, it obviously can't happen in my chapter. It is sometimes also challenging to make the voice similar enough so that it isn't jarring when the chapters change, but also different enough so as to not feel completely alike.

BB: Advantage is easy. You have the pressure to write, because someone is always waiting for your chapter, and while it's gone you have time to just think about your character and the plot and what it all means. Usually, by the time I got a chapter back, I was ready to go, knew where I was headed, and it felt more like typing than writing. Something weird happened with book two, though. We started out with Heather doing the even chapters this time, and me doing the odds, and it never felt right. I told Heather, it's like when you start off on the "wrong" foot on the treadmill, and your whole run feels off. So, we figured out that Heather is a better opener and I'm a better closer, that she's a puncher, and I'm a counterpuncher. It that enough sports metaphor for now?

BB: For the reader, it's just a different way of getting the story, and I think in ways a richer one. We are used to kind of pulling for the main character, but here you get to pull for Cal, pull for Eliot, and also pull for Cal and Eliot, together. So in that sense, there is a deeper emotional connection to the goings on of the book. I'm a total writing nerd, so I love talking about this stuff, more than I should.

Your book includes Eliot's John the Baptist Barbecue Sauce and Cal's Cherry Chocolate-Chip Cookies. Now, this literary stuff is all well and good, but let's talk food for a moment. Are these recipes tried and true? What's the scoop?

HH: Yes, both are my recipes. The barbeque sauce is one that my mother always used when we had neighborhood picnics and she made big pans of brisket. The cookies are (I swear) the best cookies ever. They have accompanied my cousin to the hospital to give birth to her second baby. They have fed the audience at my friend's dissertation defense. To this day she can't say whether it was the cookies or her flawless research that got her the PhD. Everyone who eats them--even people who say they don't like cookies much--loves them.

BB: Heather tells me that people will kill or die for these cookies, but I have yet to taste one, so I'm thinking they exist only in myth. Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Heather's Cookies. I'll believe it when I eat them.

Brad, you're also published in adult literature. Could you tell us a bit about that body of your work?

BB: I have published two adult novels, Money, Love (Norton, 2000) and Alison's Automotive Repair Manual (St. Martins, 2003) and two collections of short stories, Circle View (SMU, 1997) and Another Perfect Catastrophe (St. Martins, 2004). I thought for a long time I would be a short story writer, like all my literary heroes, and I still love the form, but I love novels more. I like having the elbow room, the deeper connection to character. It's funny, my first novel was rejected by several editors on the grounds that it was a YA novel. It is, in ways, and not. So much of that, it seems, is marketing, and I think adult readers miss out on some great novels.

Also to Brad, what inspired you to try writing for a younger audience?

BB: As I said, I had, in ways, already. One novel and many short stories had teenaged protagonists. Also, some of the books I most love are young adult titles. I don't care that they're YA, I just care that they're great novels. Heather will roll her eyes and start coughing if I mention A Separate Peace one more time, so I won't. I do think that the audience at that age has the potential to be profoundly affected by a book, to read something that changes the way they view the world, forever. I think that's much less likely to happen with an adult audience.

Heather, you've been a reviewer, contributor to many of the children's/YA book professional journals, and you've taught youth literature at the college level. How does this background inform your fiction?

HH: I think the main thing that my teaching and reviewing has done is make me really aware of young adult literature. Just the act of reading many books has given me a sense of what works and what doesn't. I feel like an evangelist in ways, trying to teach people that young adult literature is every bit as good as adult literature. This also keeps me accountable to my own writing. At times, it might be tempting to think--well, I can use this obvious metaphor because young adult readers won't notice it as old and tired--but I don't. I think teaching, reviewing and writing have given me a huge appreciation for young adults and the complicated, scary, frustrating, exciting lives they lead.

Also to Heather, from your bio, this looks like your debut novel. Is that right? If so, what is it like being a debut novelist in 2006? Could you describe your path to publication--any memorable leaps and/or stumbles along the way?

HH: Yes, this is my first novel. Well, to say it is exciting is hardly enough. I'm afraid again I don't have anything too exciting to offer. It has been a steep learning curve for me. The sale of the book, the contracts, the publication process, the publicity and marketing. It's all so overwhelming at times. I think having a trustworthy agent, a dedicated and brilliant editor, and an amazing co-author has saved me from a lot of stumbles. I guess, like I said in my bio, surround yourself with smart people....

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

HH: I think the biggest mistake that beginning writers make is focusing too much on publication. I can say this because I know I did. Writers should focus on writing and getting their writing to the next level first. This takes giving time to your writing, finding other writers you can trust, and honing your craft. Once the good stories start coming, then worry about publishing. It may sound optimistic, but Brad always tells me that good stories will find their own way.

BB: Write about your obsesions. Heather and I recently tried to write a book set in a northwestern rain forest, full of Deep Meaning and lyrical passages about nature. We lasted two chapters, before admitting that we aren't that noble, and going back to writing about old movies and beauty pageants and corndogs. Write quickly, write as often as you can, write the kinds of books you love to read, or would love to read.

As a reader, what are your favorite recent children's/YA books and why?


Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (Little Brown/Megan Tingley, 2005)(author interview)
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005)(excerpt)
Looking for Alaska by John Green (Dutton, 2005)(excerpt)

HH: All of these I love for the same reason. They are smart, well-written and unique. All three offer something new to the world through their stories, whether it's a new look at the sensitivity of vampires, a glimpse into the afterlife, or a funny/touching/heartbreaking story about young love.

BB: Heather turned me onto What My Mother Doesn't Know [by Sonya Sones (Simon & Schuster, 2001)(excerpt)], which I think is really amazing. It packs a novel's worth of plot and emotion into a story told through tiny poetic vignettes. Really smart and different. I recently re-read The Catcher In the Rye [by J.D. Salinger], and remembered why I loved it to begin with.

What do you do when you're not reading or writing?

HH: Build huge K'Nex structures with my son, practice yoga, teach, agonize over why my lawn seems to be dying, and spend time with my family.

BB: I spend time with my two kids. They are teens, so Im spending as much time as is left with them, before they move off into their own lives. I work out, watch a lot of bad TV (infomercials and reality shows, mostly), teach my students.

What can your fans look forward to next?

HH: Our next novel, Dream Factory (Dutton, 2007), is set in Disney World and features an unlikely friendship between Cinderella and Dale (as in Chip 'n ______).

BB: In 2007 we will publish Dream Factory, a comic YA novel about teeneagers who work as replacement cast members during a strike at Disney World. We have finished a third novel and are working on a fourth. We'll keep people updated through our website, [See also Brad and Heather's blog.]

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss another interview with Brad and Heather from Penguin Group.

An interview with editor Stephanie Lurie is featured in Book Editors Talk to Writers by Judy Mandell (John Wiley & Sons, 1995).

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Take a sneak peek at Gillian Tyler's sketches for Hurry Down to Derry Fair by Dori Chaconas (Candlewick, 2007)(author interview).

"Ideas on Demand" by Lisa Harkrader from the Lieurance Group. Part one of a three-part series. See the April 19, 2006 post. L.D. Harkrader is the author of Airball: My Life in Briefs (Roaring Brook, 2005)(author interview).

"Panic Free Synopsis" by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature.

The Summer 2006 Book Sense Children's Picks from the American Booksellers Association. Highlights include: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (Book Two of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series)(Hyperion, 2006)(author interview); Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2006)(author interview)(excerpt); An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006)(author interview); Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2006)(author interview)(excerpt); Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley (HarperCollins, 2006); The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow, 2006)(recommendation); Nothing But the Truth and a Few White Lies by Justina Chen Headley (Little Brown, 2006)(author interview)(excerpt); Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler (Dutton, 2006)(recommendation); Wait for Me by An Na (Putnam, 2006)(author interview)(recommendation); and The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima (Hyperion, 2006).

Why I Have An Agent by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Sudipta is the author: of Tightrope Poppy, the High-Wire Pig, illustrated by Sarah Dillard (Sterling, 2006); Vinnie and Abe, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle, 2007); Flying Eagle (Charlesbridge, 2007); and more. Learn more about her books.

Why I Don't Have an Agent or Doing the Math by Barbara Kanninen. Barbara is the author of A Story With Pictures (Holiday House, forthcoming) and Circle Rolls (Henry Holt, 2007).

Don't miss what's happening tonight at the YA Authors Cafe (Tuesday, April 25) at 8:30 p.m. EST, 7:30 p.m. CST, 5:30 p.m. Pacific. To join the chats, go to and click the chatroom icon to enter. Debra Garfinkle (author interview) will moderate a panel of first-time novelists Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Dorian Cirrone (author interview), and David LaRochelle. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a senior at Yale and the author of Golden (Delacorte, 2006), in which a girl with supernatural powers must deal with high school cliques. Delacorte will publish three more of Ms. Barnes' young adult novels in the next few years. Dorian Cirrone, author of Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You (HarperCollins 2005)(recommendation), uses humor to address issues of body image, censorship and subtle messages girls are taught. She also writes a chapter book mystery series featuring Lindy Blues. David LaRochelle wrote Absolutely, Positively Not (Scholastic 2005), an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and winner of the 2005 Sid Fleischman Humor Award. He has also written and illustrated many picture books.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Children's and YA Book Promotion

The following thoughts are drawn from my recent post to childrenswriterstoday, "For writers, poets, illustrators, editors and publishers of all genres in the juvenile to teen market to announce their latest news, reviews, columns, books and publication works."

Promotion is a major responsibility. I liken it to a second job. You were a writer (maybe one with a day job who's also a parent and who knows what else). Now, you're a writer and an author. It's not a better job; it's an additional one.

The author hat demands promotion, a certain projected personality, keeping up with new media and contacts, etc., which, among other things, compete with your writer-self for time and energy. At the same time, nobody cares more about your book than you do, and no one will do a better job as its ambassador.

When I got started, the wonderous Jane Kurtz (author interview), told me to try to do one thing a week to spread the word about my books in print. She referred to it as "sprinkling seeds." You never know which will grow, but you keep the faith and keep planting.

So, what do I do? I host this blog and an extensive website, one that features my own titles (including teacher support information) as well as writer resources and children's/YA literature as a whole. I speak at schools, teacher and librarian conferences, museums, book festivals, universities and so forth. I also reach some long-distance audiences via online chats. In additional, I write the occasional article or do an interview for either a professional or mainstream periodical. I've also mailed out postcards to announce new titles and, every once in a great while, taken out an advertisement. Sometimes, I promote on my own, sometimes with my author-husband, and sometimes with my local SCBWI chapter.

It's not the only formula. Everyone will have their own approach. It's important to decide what works best in each individual case, taking into account one's own personality, predispositions, skills, competing responsibilities, and of course writing time.

For example, with the exception of state or national conferences, I take a months-on, months-off approach. I schedule more events in mid September to early December and early April through June. I try hard to set aside my other time for writing and teaching (a Vermont College M.F.A. residency in January and in July). I've found that I can pick up and put down shorter projects--picture books, short stories, and articles--or already drafted novels while traveling. However, to get down my two first drafts of a novel manuscript (I always toss the very first one), I need extended uninterrupted time to concentrate. This approach evolved after experimentation and a couple of years in which I wasn't nearly as productive as I am now. It's fluid, and I'll change it if and when need be, always putting the writing itself first.

Promotion can be a bottomless well. Yes, it's important, but it is not the writing. It is not the craft. While promotion certainly helps, those authors who are most successful are those who have written steadly and deeply committed themselves to improving. This of course also includes staying well read in the field.

Cynsational Notes

See my promotion-related resources.

Cynsational News & Links

Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House, 2006): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

The Toni Trent Parker Multicultural Children's Book Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 29 at Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 110th Street & Amsterdam Avenue in New York City. Featured authors and illustrators include: Michelle Meadows (author interview), Irene Smalls, Gloria Pinkney, Rita Williams-Garcia, Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (illustrator interview with Neil and Ying, who did the art for Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Morrow, 2000)). The event is free. Partial Proceeds will benefit low-income schools in the NYC area through Donors Choose.

The entry form (PDF file) for the Writers' League of Texas Teddy (Children's) Book Awards are now available. The deadline is May 31. Books must have been published between June 1, 2005 and May 31, 2006. The awards ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 28, 2006. Last year's winners were Tammar Stein for Light Years (Knopf, 2005) in the long-works division and Kathi Appelt for Miss Lady Bird's Flowers: How a First Lady Changed America (HarperCollins, 2005)(author interview) in the short-works division. Learn more about the 2005 awards. Note: Greg Leitich Smith is a past winner for Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003)(author interview).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to David Lubar (author interview) on the publication of Punished! (Darby Creek, 2006). A word-play comedy perfect for both reluctant mid-grade readers and strong ones. A Junior Library Guild Selection.

Avoiding Repetitive-Stress Injuries: A Writer's Guide by Geoff Hart from Note: the last time I mentioned a tendon twinge to my doctor, he said, "Switch the mouse to your other hand." I replied, "But that will slow me down!" And he said, "Exactly." I still haven't done it.

Author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen offers recent interviews with five editors: John Rudolph from Putnam; Alexandra Cooper from Simon & Schuster; Leann Heywood from HarperCollins; Liz Waniewski from Dial; and Kristin Daly from HarperCollins. Learn more about Sudipta.

Coaxing Back Your Muse by Shari Lyle-Soffe from Out of My Mind. Note: I find that a bath or exercise seems to help me past writer's block.

LaReau Sisters: official site of author Kara LaReau and illustrator Jenna LaReau. Learn more about them, read the fun FAQ, check out their books, and more. The sisters are the creative team behind Rocko and Spanky Go to a Party (Harcourt, 2004)(author-illustrator interview), as well as individual books by each. Don't miss the nifty desktops from Jenna.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Author Interview: Dandi Daley Mackall on Eva Underground

Dandi Daley Mackall is the author of more than three hundred books for adults and children, including the Winnie the Horse Gentler series. She lives with her family in Ohio.

Dandi Daley Mackall on Dandi Daley Mackall: "I grew up in a small town in Missouri (population 1,701 before the shoe factory closed), where we had to make our own entertainment. I was the official storyteller. Both my parents told a good story. At night Mom read me a library book, but Dad would make up a story, letting me name the characters, horses, and disasters. My best friends were our horses, and I rode every day. My mom still lives in Hamilton, Missouri.

"At age ten, I won my first writing contest for my 50 words on why I wanted to be batboy for the Kansas City A's. But when they found out 'Dan' Daley was actually 'Dandi Daley,' they refused to let a girl be batboy. Today, I could sue them and be a millionaire; but then, all I could do was become a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

"When I set off for the University of Missouri, I thought I'd major in journalism and have my own newspaper, 'The Dandi Daily.' But sticking to facts wasn't for me, so I ended up with a BA in foreign languages...just because I liked learning them. Meanwhile, I wrote articles for magazines like Reader's Digest, Woman's Day, Guideposts.

"But it was in Poland that I wrote my first book, by hand, a funny, nonfiction inspirational for grown-ups. I lived in a house with 20 Poles and no heat. Every night I'd hunker under the covers in my room, where snow on my boots never melted, and I'd pen my book. I like to say that I wrote my first book 'undercover' in Poland, although it would be about 300 books later when I'd actually write about my experiences there.

"I've written for every age group, from 0 to adult. I've lived in: Aix-en-Provence, France; Houston; Dallas; LA; Ann Arbor; Toledo; Norman, Oklahoma; and Chicago.

"I met my wonderful husband, Joe, a phenomenal writer for grown-ups, in Oklahoma, where we were both getting a Master's in English and Creative Writing. His first words to me, as he caught me exiting my 'How-to-Write Mysteries' class were: 'So what's your favorite way to kill someone?' Two months later we were married. Now we live in rural Ohio with our three kids, Jen, Katy, and Dan, horses, dogs, and cats."

Congratulations on the publication of Eva Underground (Harcourt, 2006)(excerpt)! For those who haven't yet read the novel, could you share a bit about it?

Thanks! And I appreciate the invitation to join your amazing website. Eva Underground is set in Communist Eastern Europe in 1978, before "The Wall" came down. Eva Lott has a lot going for her in Chicago-cool boyfriend, a spot on the swim team, great best friend-until her dad drags her to Poland to help with a radical underground movement. In Poland, there's no pepperoni pizza. No good music. And the government is watching everywhere.

But as Eva plots her escape, she forms an unusual friendship with a moody, handsome boy, Tomek, and she finds herself drawn into the country's beauty and its brave struggle for the freedoms she's always taken for granted. It's been called a "coming-of-age love story," and I guess, in the end, that's what it is.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

In 1978, I met a guy who knew a Polish priest who wanted someone to come over from the U.S. and teach writing and the Bible to a group of Polish students from various universities, people who wanted to make a difference in their country but needed writing skills and wanted to study the Bible. I naively said, "Cool!" and hopped a plane to Vienna, rented the cheapest car in that city, and drove the same route Eva and her dad drive through Czechoslovakia to Zakopane, Poland. The next 18 months were the most amazing of my life, as I was drawn into the spirit of these amazing people. I learned much more from them than they did from me. So the inspiration of the book was profound.

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

This is one long timeline! I knew in 1978 that I wanted to write about my experiences in communist Poland. But I was asked not to write about the events or people for ten years; the dangers were very real. After the Wall came down, and freedom flowed into Poland, I could have started my Poland book, but I was writing my first series, The Cinnamon Lake Mysteries, churning out picture books for Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers-Scooby Doo, Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Jetsons, and working on a new young adult novel.

When I finally turned my attention to Poland, I tried to write the novel as a contemporary, set in 1995, with older facts coming in through dialogue. It didn't work. Finally, I realized I had to set the story during the years I was there (duh!). At first, I wrote the whole novel in Eva's point of view. Something was missing. I let the novel sit for a whole year until I figured out that I needed to alternate points of view between Eva and Tomek, giving the reader insight into both mindsets. That's when Harcourt bought it. My wonderful editor at Harcourt, Tamson Weston, exclaimed, "Dandi, I love historical fiction!" That's when it hit me that my life had become historical. Sigh...

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

The literary challenge was finding the right genre and point of view, as I just explained. Much of the research was done-penned into big, fat journals I kept while I was living in Poland. I used the Internet and the library to double-check my facts and to supplement information. My best friend from Poland, Gosia Muchowiecka, read the manuscript and helped me immensely.

Psychologically, the challenge was to make the story relate to today's teens, many of whom have never heard of "The Iron Curtain" or "The Wall." The solution was in the relationships that cut to basic human nature and universal needs. Everybody loves a love story.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I've read some of the great advice you and others offer on your website, such as read voraciously and write prolifically. I second that. And love words-the sound of them: whispering, cantering, thump. Love the power of rightly placed words, the joy of a fresh image that can make a reader forever see things in a new way. Knowing that you've written a powerful sentence or created a fascinating, quirky character can help propel you past the pile of rejections until you're able to share your words with your readers.

How about those authors who're looking to build a career?

For the past 15 years, I've been making a very nice living writing children's books, and for that, I'm so grateful. Before that, I taught at a university part-time and wrote part-time. I wrote myself out of my day job by writing consistently and keeping lots of "irons in the fire." When you're waiting on one book to find a publisher, it's just not fair to the poor mailman you attack each day he shows up empty-handed or, worse, delivers a rejection. Just keep writing. And writing. I think you should love the book you're writing right now, love it more than anything you've ever written. If we're not growing as writers and getting better and better at it, something's wrong.

More than three hundred books! Wow! What's the secret of your productivity?

I honestly don't write fast. I do dozens of rewrites on everything. But I write a lot. Six days a week, dawn to way after dusk (if I'm not on the road or doing family things). I'm sure it helps that I love so many different kinds of writing for children-board books, picture books, historical, rhyme, middle-grade fiction, young adult novels. It's like changing channels. I can write the first draft of one novel in the morning, then do a rewrite on a rhyming picture book in the afternoon, and correct galleys after dinner. (But I'm a lot more fun than I sound like! Honest!)

What do you do when you're not writing?

There's nothing I like better than hanging out with my husband and kids-by the fire or at the barn or going to a movie. I do ride horses, play tennis, and go on long walks (always with my mini-tape player, a pad, and a pen, of course).

Cynsational Notes

I also have lived in Missouri, Dallas, Ann Arbor, Oklahoma, Chicago, and France.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ohio Thunder by Denise Dowling Mortensen, illustrated by Kate Kiesler

Ohio Thunder by Denise Dowling Mortensen, illustrated by Kate Kiesler (Clarion, 2006). This lyrical, rhyming picture book brings to life a thunderstorm in the rural U.S. Midwest. Lovely sensory detail and storytelling illustrations. Ages 4-up. Learn more about the author.

Cynsational Notes

I have a particular interest in contemporary books set in the U.S. central and mountain time zones, which are oddly underrepresented in children's literature. It concerns me, too, that this underrepresentation seems to go largely unnoticed. If we're concerned about ethnic and religious diversity, regional should also be a consideration.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Harcourt, 2006). Ugly Fish is a big bully, and as a result, he finds himself lonely in the tank. What will happen when a bigger, meaner fish moves in? According to Kara's flap bio, she "was inspired to write this story after reading an article about childhood bullying," in which it was reported that some kids said they'd thought being mean was "cool." For those who like their picture books with humor and bite. Ages 4-up.

My Thoughts

For a long time, it seemed the prevailing theory was that bullies had low self-esteem. This is just anecdotal, but I was bullied by a girl in fourth grade, and my tormenter seemed quite comfortable with herself. In any case, that line of thought seems to be falling by the wayside, so books like this one are confronting the theme more head-on.

The two books have nothing in common except they're both about fish--arguably about dead fish. But for some reason, reading Ugly Fish reminded me of Arlene Sardine by Chris Raschka (Orchard, 1998), which was controversial at the time because of its dead-fish narrator.

Cynsational Notes

Interview with Kara LaReau and Jenna LaReau about Rocko and Spanky Go to a Party (Harcourt, 2004) from Harcourt Brace.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Author-Illustrator Interview: Matteo Pericoli on The True Story of Stellina

The True Story of Stellina by Matteo Pericoli (Knopf, 2006). From the flap copy:

"Stellina was a bird: 'CHEEP.'
"A very little bird: 'Cheep! cheep!'
"So begins critically acclaimed author Matteo Pericoli’s all-true story of how he and his wife, Holly, came to rescue and raise a little finch, Stellina, in the middle of New York City. When no zoo would take the abandoned bird, fallen from her nest onto a busy street, Holly took her home and gave her the best life she could. And there, in a Manhattan apartment, Stellina leaned how to eat, fly, and sing."

Matteo Pericoli on Matteo Pericoli: "I was born in Milan, Italy, in 1968. My family is from central Italy, from a region called the 'Marche' along the Adriatic coast. Cultivated hills roll one after the other accompanied by the sea on one side and the high Apennines on the other. From anywhere you can reach any of these three elements (water, hills or mountains) within a twenty minute drive. The multitide of different cultivations on the hills create a constantly changing color palette; the smells in the air follow the colors and the changing seasons.

"This idyllic image was in net contrast with Milan, a dense, mostly gray city that offers little or no color palette at all. One can easily be color blind in Milan and not realize it for his whole life.

"I studied architecture at the Polytechnic School of Milan. Right after graduation, in 1995, I decided to move to New York to work as an architect here, to learn what it means to be an architect in a place where history counts less than it does in Italy.

"And I moved here because I wanted to understand New York by being in New York. This city seemed far enough (distance-wise) and close enough (culturally speaking) to where I grew up to create a mixture of curiosity and fear about the move that proved to be very fertile. I have been living here since then, and during this time I have 'been' an architect, a teacher, an illustrator, a journalist, an author of adult books and, now, an author of children's book. My wife is from here (she was born in New Jersey), our bird was born in Manhattan, on the corner of 46th Street and Third Avenue, and our daughter (Nadia, two weeks away from her due date--I am writing this on April 11, 2006) will be Italian-American."

I found myself deeply affected by The True Story of Stellina (Knopf, 2006). For those who've yet to read it, could you tell us a bit about your inspiration for the book?

Stellina was a little wild finch that my wife found on a street corner in Manhattan. She reluctantly brought her home hoping to save her and give her away to someone who could take care of her. But since she was 'just' a wild finch, there was no one who would take her. So she was stuck with her, and probably vice versa too, they were stuck with each other.

Wild birds are very difficult to raise when they are that small. They die very easily. But my wife persevered, she not only saved her, she ended up raising her.

I met Stellina (and my future wife) at a later stage, when Stellina had already learned to sustain herself at home. When Holly and I moved in together, Stellina followed and I, too, was accepted instantaneously by the bird as a member of the family. We went on like this, i.e. a small family of two humans plus a feathered vertebrate, for almost eight years.

What really pushed me to write this story was my own sense of wonder and disbelief in realizing how such a tiny being (a wild finch is quite small) is capable of so much love. Not only to convey it, but to generate it around her. Every morning was a feast of joy as if that very morning was going to be the first and last of her life. Seeing Holly, my wife, was for Stellina the best thing that could happen to her. And, that's funny-- I thought--that's how I feel too.

I was raised in a family in which the hunting of birds is a deeply-rooted tradition, and birds such as Stellina often ended up on a plate, roasted, rather than freely flying on someone's head trying to build a nest. To say that living with a wild bird changed my view of hunting is a definite understatement.

Her death in late 2003 created such an unexpected void in our life that I searched for a way to make a sense of the whole experience. To whomever suggested that I write about it, I answered that it was such a simple and uneventful story that could not be told in an interesting way. But I knew that even simple stories, or especially simple stories, can be very revealing.

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

I would say that the major challenge was finding a way to draw Stellina that would convey the idea of Stellina, her character, her presence, her multifaceted personality rather than what she actually looked like. The fact that Stellina was a bird is, in my mind, almost coincidental. I always felt that this was a story about love and, as in most stories about love, joy coexists with sadness, doubts, uncertainties and labor.

What advice do you have for beginning writer-illustrators?

I don't have any advice. But I have a wish: each of us has a voice, our own way of communicating who we are, what we feel and what we need to convey. My wish is that through work and tries and mistakes and doubts everyone finds her own voice. I am still looking for my own.

As a reader, what are your favorite recent books for the children's/YA audience and why?

I believe that Edward Gorey found his voice in his books. And you can tell. I also immensely enjoyed, both when I was a kid and now, the work of Gianni Rodari.

What can your fans expect next?

I am currently working on a new children's book about a line that disappears from a drawing.

Cynsational Notes

What I love about this book is its profound kindness.

Cynsational News & Links

"A Career In Picture Books--Twice!" a chat with Dori Chaconas from the Institute of Children's Literature. April 13, 2006. Dori answers a lot of great beginner questions with an emphasis on picture books and easy readers.

Congratulations to winners of the Maine Library Association Awards! In the picture book category, the Lupine Award went to A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, 2005). The Lupine Honor Award in picture books went to Carmine: A Little More Red by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). In the young adult category, the winner was Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (author interview), and the Honor Award went to Broken Song by Kathryn Lasky (Viking, 2005). In addition the recipient of the Katahdin Award for lifetime achievement ("to recognize an outstanding body of work of children's literature in Maine by one author or illustrator") is author Nancy Garden (author interview). Winners were announced April 13th at Reading Round Up (a children's and young adult literature conference) in Augusta, Maine; they are not yet posted to the website.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Absolutely Positively Not by David LaRochelle Receives 2005 Sid Fleischman Humor Award

David LaRochelle's novel Absolutely Positively Not (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2005) is the recipient of the 2005 Sid Fleischman Humor Award.

From the flap copy: "Steven doesn't know if he'll pass his driver's test or if he'll ever understand his parents, but there's one thing he knows for sure: He's absolutely, positively NOT gay. How could he be, when he conscientiously collects photos of girls in bikinis and makes a point to sit at the jock table? So what if he takes a golden retriever to the dance because he can't face telling his mom that he doesn't have a date? So what if he thinks Coach Bowman is, well, extremely, unnervingly handsome. Who wouldn't? Right? David LaRochelle's first novel is a riotously funny look at the life of a regular boy who's finding out what it takes to be a real man."

The award, presented by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, is given annually to an author whose work exemplifies excellence in humor writing. LaRochelle is an author and illustrator of twenty-five books, including The Best Pet of All, illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama (Dutton, 2004), a Children's Book Sense Top Ten selection. Absolutely Positively Not is LaRochelle's first novel for young adults.

The award will be presented on Sunday, Aug. 6 during the Golden Kite Awards Luncheon, which is part of SCBWI's 35th Annual Conference on Writing and Illustrating for Children. It will be held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel from Aug. 4 to Aug. 7, 2006.

Cynsational Notes

Absolutely Positively Not also was named a Booklist Top Ten Novel by a New Author; a CCBC Choice; a Booklist Editor's Choice; and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. See a review of the novel by Brian Farrey of

Learn more about Sid Fleischman.

Cynsational News & Links

Enter to win one of 10 copies of Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies), a new novel by Justina Chen Headley (Little Brown, 2006)(author interview)(excerpt) from YA Books Central.

Author Interview: Cynthia Kadohata from Cynthia is the author of numerous books, including the 2005 Newbery Medal novel, Kira-Kira (Atheneum, 2004)(excerpt) and Weedflower (Atheneum, 2006)(excerpt), a Junior Library Guild selection.Read a recent Cynsations interview with Cynthia Kadohata.

Author-Editor Dialogue: Rita Williams-Garcia and Rosemary Brosnan from CBC Magazine. See also An Interview with Rosemary Brosnan from SCBWI France and Rita Williams-Garcia. Rita's books include No Laughter Here (HarperCollins/Amistad, 2003).

A Bibliography of Novels in Verse by Susan Taylor Brown from Once Upon a Time There Was A Girl Who Wanted to Write (That Would Be Me). Look for Susan's upcoming middle grade novel in poems, Hugging the Rock (Tricycle Press, 2006)(PDF excerpt).

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Knopf, 2006): reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke from BookLoons Reviews. See also Endgame by Nancy Garden (Harcourt, 2006)(author interview): reviewed by by Lyn Seippel from BookLoons Reviews.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus (Candlewick, 2006)(excerpt featuring Philip Pullman)(audio reading). Features in-depth interviews with thirteen acclaimed fantasy authors: Lloyd Alexander; Franny Billingsley (author interview); Susan Cooper; Nancy Farmer; Brian Jacques; Diana Wynne Jones; Ursula K. Le Guin; Madeleine L'Engle; Garth Nix; Tamora Pierce; Terry Pratchett; Philip Pullman; and Jane Yolen. Includes author photos, including childhood photos, copies of marked manuscripts, etc. Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

A gorgeously designed and crafted book.

I wouldn't be surprised if most readers, as I did, turn first to their favorite authors and then take the opportunity to learn more about the rest. In my case, I turned first to Franny Billingsley and Jane Yolen.

I took particular note of Jane's comment that "We know ourselves by the stories we tell about ourselves. If you can't remember the stories, then who are you?"

I also was struck by Franny's declaration that "...I might live a life of words." I love that--"a life of words." The next time I'm feeling overwhelmed by my writing and writing life, I'll remind myself that not only do I have a life, I have a life of words.

By the way, Brian Jacques has beautiful handwriting.

Recommended to fantasy readers and writers; makes a lovely gift.

Cynsational Notes

Franny Billingsley's next release will be her picture book debut, Big Bad Bunny, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Atheneum/Richard Jackson, 2008).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Author Feature: Ellen Howard

Ellen Howard on Ellen Howard: "I'm a late-bloomer. Although I told and wrote stories from childhood (and gained some familial notoriety for keeping my little brother and sister awake after bedtime with said stories), there was an 18-year hiatus between the last story I wrote in high school and the first story I wrote for a college creative writing class in 1978 or so.

"But I was reading continually and compulsively from first grade right up to this afternoon. I'm told I traded my new tricycle for a picture book on the very day it was given to me. The unending battle of my childhood had to do with grown-ups wanting me to 'go out and play,' when all I wanted to do was curl up with a book.

"All that reading had to lead somewhere, and in my case it led to learning, on my fortieth birthday, that my first book would be published. I've been contentedly writing ever since--not for fame or fortune (which is a good thing), but for simple joy. I write to amuse myself, more than for any other reason, and stories have kept me happy all my life."

As a young reader, were you enthusiastic about books? Do you recall your favorite(s)? What were the early signs of your fruitful imagination?

I figured something out pretty early, I think. In stories, we can live many, many lives. I feel almost sorry for people who live only their own life in their own time and place.

I've lived all over the world, in many different eras. I've been a girl and a boy and a rabbit and a man and a woman and an angel. I've been young and old, strong and weak, good and wicked. I've had countless adventures, faced tremendous odds, been in danger again and again. All in stories.

It's not that I don't love my own life. It's simply that I want more, and I can have that more in the stories I read, the stories I write.

I wrote my first story in fourth grade, and illustrated it myself. I heard my first story before I could talk and read my first story when I was six. So many stories I can't remember them all: But I do remember these: Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink, Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Only the other day, I read another good story: Where the Great Hawk Flies by Liza Ketchum (Clarion, 2005)(author interview).

What put you on the path to publication? What were the ah-ha moments? Were there any stumbles along the way?

I was so lucky: I wrote my first book, Circle of Giving, about 1981. I began sending it out to publishers in 1982. A wonderful writing teacher steered me to the great editor, Jean Karl at Atheneum and, on May 8, 1983 (my fortieth birthday), I received a letter from Jean accepting the manuscript for publication.

That's much, much faster than most writers achieve publication. It has very little to do with the quality of my work and a great deal more to do with the loving support of several people--my husband Chuck, who made it possible for me to attend my first writing conference, where I met Zola Helen Ross and began writing my first story for young people; Zola, who referred me to Jean Karl; my mother who first told me the stories of her childhood which inspired Circle of Giving; and, of course, Jean Karl, who was my editor for sixteen years and eleven books.

Jean's death gave me my first "stumble," I must admit. It has been hard for me to write, knowing that she is no longer there to read it. But I have worked with other fine editors, Pamela Pollock, Margery Cuyler (interview), and Regina Griffin, and little by little, I've regained my confidence that there are other editors who will like my work.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Well, I'm afraid my advice isn't particularly original. The truth is, we learn to write by reading and writing. We can be supported along the way. I often think that this is my function as a faculty member of the MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. I can teach a few basic story-telling principles, but mostly I'm there to nurture the talent of others, a role I treasure.

My only real advice to new writers is to try to do something for a living that takes up as little emotional energy as possible. We can always make time to write, if we care enough to do so. But we need to leave ourselves the energy, the emotional stamina and the quiet that are the real necessities of the writing life.

You've served as SCBWI regional advisorin Oregon and Michigan. First, thank you for this service to the children's-YA writer-illustrator community. I know RA positions require a lot of thought and work. What inspired you to take on these roles? What did you learn from them?

My terms as SCBWI regional advisor in Oregon and Michigan were tremendously helpful to me in becoming part of a writers' community. But I didn't know that would be the case. The truth is that I took the position in Oregon out of gratitude to SCBWI for receiving a Golden Kite Honor Award for my first book. I thought I should try to give back to the organization that so honored my book.

For those new to your work, could you briefly highlight a few of your more recent titles and offer some insights into the intial spark behind each?

Although I have published sixteen books since 1984, I'm sorry to say that only three of them are presently in print. The Gate in the Wall (Atheneum, 1999) was inspired by three summer holidays spent on a narrowboat, floating the canals of England. The canals were such a magical place that I knew on the first trip that I wanted to set a book there, but I didn't find my story until the second trip, when we visited a restored silk mill and I discovered that many of the mill workers in the 1800s were children. Almost immediately, my imagination had created Emma Dean, ten years old, who has been working in a mill since she was seven years old. When Emma flees her hard life, she finds not only another, better life on a narrowboat, but also discovers that life can bring not just pain, but accomplishment, love and joy.

Since 1996, I've written four books in the "Log Cabin" series, published by Holiday House. The Log Cabin Quilt (1996) and The Log Cabin Church (2002), beautifully illustrated by Ronald Himler are still in print, and they will be joined by The Log Cabin Wedding in the spring of 2007. The first book, The Log Cabin Quilt, came to me as no other book ever has, almost magically. On a long, boring drive, I "heard" Elvirey's voice, telling of her family's struggles in their new log cabin home. This is the way my mind keeps me amused. By the time I got home, I had heard the entire story in my imagination. I had only to type it up! I thought that would be the only "log cabin" story, but you can see that the story continued after that book was published. I think The Log Cabin Wedding is the end of Elvirey's stories.

You're an accomplished writer of historical fiction. What is it about the past that calls to you?

I think imaginations work differently in different people. I could no more imagine what the future will be like than fly to the moon! But, from the time when my grandparents, who lived with us, were telling about their childhoods and my mother was telling about hers, I have been imagining the past. Now, even my own childhood is historical! In 1993, I published The Tower Room (Atheneum), which was set in the year 1953, when I was ten years old. I was astonished when reviewers called it "historical fiction!"

What advice do you have for those writing historical fiction?

I'm a very old-fashioned writer (I still write on a typewriter and am computer illiterate.) So I'm an old-fashioned researcher too. Almost always, I go to books first. Those books lead me to other books and articles and sometimes to people. Since I love to read, all this is pure joy! And finding out things may be my second most favorite thing after reading.

My advice for historical fiction writers has more to do with the writer's sensibilities than it has to do with research. If you are fascinated not only by what was done in the past and how it was done, but also with how it might have felt, then historical fiction may indeed be your forte.

But I am appalled by "historical fiction" that only dresses modern characters in period dress and allows them to think, feel and behave as people do now. People in the past, even people in other places in the world today, saw or see the world and life through very different eyes than ours. They "knew" things we think are silly; they worried about things that don't even occur to us and didn't worry about things that obsess us; they used different standards to judge things by. It is true that no one knows for sure just what it was like to live in the past, but we have many clues. I believe it is the responsibility of the historical novelist to explore those differences just as thoroughly as she explores our common humanity.

You were born in North Carolina and have lived in Oregon, Michigan, and Colorado. How, if at all, has your setting inspired those in your books?

You ought to realize by now that I only "live" part time in current home. I am always "living" in the books I read and write. So my books may very well be as much inspired by all those fictional places they are by my actual residence. I lived in North Carolina very briefly, yet the voices of my Southern relatives have influenced my voice, especially in the "log cabin" books. And a house in my neighborhood in Kalamazoo, Michigan in the 1990s inspired The Tower Room. But I don't think I am in any way a regional writer. Rather, my stories come out of other stories--stories read and heard, stories of real people and stories of fictional ones that made me wonder, what would that be like?

You've published several books, writing for the picture book audience through the teen one. Is there one age range that particularly calls to you? Or do you have many "inner children"?

Someone once said that children's writers were "cases of arrested development." If that's true, my development was probably arrested somewhere around the age of ten or twelve. Certainly, writing about the concerns, the feelings, the thoughts of girls from ten to twelve or so seems most natural to me. I've been writing a book about a ten year old boy, and that has been hard. And writing about contemporary teenagers is hard, because I don't know their world, except as I know it through my grandchildren. The truth is, I scarcely remember my own teen years, but eleven is as vivid in my memory as yesterday.

As a reader, what are your favorite recent reads?

My favorite author is Rumer Godden, an Englishwoman who wrote for both children and adults for over fifty years. She died just a few years ago. Now I read her books to my younger grandchildren: Candy Floss, Holly and Ivy, The Mousewife, and many more. Of her adult books, my all-time favorite is The River, but I first read it when I was twelve years old.

These days I love Anne Tyler's books for recreational reading. Her ditzy characters remind me of myself and my family. The best book I've read in the last five years is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

But I can't end without putting in a plug for two of my own childhood favorites: Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones and Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink. My granddaughters and I just read Baby Island together a few days ago, and I loved it all over again.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, I'm hoping that my novel about the ten-year-old boy who accompanied the explorer, La Salle, on his last journey will be next. I'm in the middle of a revision right now, and hope to find a publisher for it soon. It's called The Red Cap.

But I'm also writing a new book, called The Queen's Child, and set in the first year of Queen Elizabeth I's reign. My heroine, Mary Seymour, is based on the real child of Katherine Parr. We know Mary was born; we know she was living with her mother's friend, the Duchess of Suffolk, for more than a year after Katherine Parr died. But then all mention of her disappeared from history. I am having great fun imagining what might have happened to her!

Cynsational Notes

Ellen's first editor, Jean Karl, also was the author of How to Write and Sell Children's Picture Books (Writers Digest, 1994). Note that some information may be dated, but it's nevertheless a chance to "sit at the knee" of an editorial legend.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Giblin Guide to Writing Children's Books by James Cross Giblin

The Giblin Guide to Writing Children's Books by James Cross Giblin (Writer's Institute Publications, 2005)(fourth edition--revised and updated). Giblin's Guide highlights the various forms, including non-fiction, fiction, ages categories within fiction, types of fiction, picture books globally, and rhyme in picture books specifically. It also features information on "from submission to contract" and "from contract to publication."

Recommended as a companion to What's Your Story? A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer (Clarion, 1992) and especially to children's non-fiction writers.