Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Children's Crown Award Reading Programs

The 2006-2007 nominee lists for the Children's Gallery, Crown, and Lamplighter Awards, endorsed by the National Christian Schools Association, have been announced.

On the Children's Gallery Award (kindergarten through second grade) nominee list, highlights include: Buddy, The Story of Buddy Holly by Anne Bustard, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster)(author interview); A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins); and When You Were Born by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Candlewick)(author interview).

On the Children's Crown Award (grades three through six) list, nominee highlights include: Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (HarperCollins)(author-illustrator interview); and The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney (Putnam)(recommendation)(author interview).

On the Lamplighter Award (grades six through eighth) nominee list, highlights include: Albino Animals by Kelly Milner Halls (Darby Creek)(author interview); and Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins (Delacorte)(excerpt).

Cynsational News & Links

The 5th Annual Plano Book Festival will be held in historic downtown Plano, Texas on March 26 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. See featured authors.

Monday, January 30, 2006

YALSA Announces 2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults

The Young Adult Library Services Association has announced its choices for 2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. Highlights include...

On the sublist of "Books That Don't Make You Blush:" Backwater by Joan Bauer (Putnam, 2000)(author bio); Dunk by David Lubar (Clarion, 2002)(sample chapter)(author interview); and Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview)(author blog).

On the sublist of "Criminal Elements:" Nothing to Lose by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2004)(author interview); The Last Chance Texaco by Brent Hartinger (HarperCollins, 2004)(author interview)(excerpt); Monster by Walter Dean Myers (HarperTempest, 2001)(excerpt); and See You Down the Road by Kim Ablon Whitney (Laurel Leaf, 2005)(recommendation).

On the sublist of "Diseases and Disorders:" Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (Aladdin, 2002) and Double Helix by Nancy Werlin (Puffin, 2005)(author interview).

On the sublist of "GLBTQ:" Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (Knopf, 2005)(excerpt); Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters (Megan Tingley, 2005)(author interview)(reading group guide); Luna by Julie Anne Peters (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview)(excerpt); Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez (Simon Pulse, 2003)(author interview)(author update); and The House You Pass Along the Way by Jacqueline Woodson (Puffin, 2003).

Cynsational Notes

Congratulations to all those honored, including my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith.

ALA Notables

The American Library Association has published its 2006 notables lists.

Highlights from Notable Children's Books include: Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (recommendation), illustrated by Raul Colón and written by Pat Mora (Knopf, 2005) and Yum! Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds by Linda Sue Park (author inteview) and Julia Durango (live journal), illustrated by Sue Ramá (Charlesbridge, 2005); Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Ann Jonas (Greenwillow, 2005); Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt, 2005)(author interview)(excerpt); The Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 2005)(excerpt); Babymouse: Queen of the World! by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm (Random House, 2005)(interview with Matthew); Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview); Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 2005)(author interview); The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, 2005)(author interview); Queen Sophie Hartley by Stephanie Greene (Clarion, 2005), and Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time by Lisa Yee (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2005)(author interview)(excerpt).

See also the Notable Children's Recordings List; Notable Children's Video's List, and Notable Computer Software for Children List.

Cynsational News & Links

I'm saddened to report that my grandmother Dorothy died last week. She was the inspiration for one of my short stories, "The Naked Truth," which appeared in an anthology titled In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Writers Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (HarperCollins, 2003). I offer related thoughts on spookycyn.

Writing with a Broken Tusk: A Blog About the Writing Process and the Creation of Books for Children from author Uma Krishnaswami (author interview).

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

ALA Midwinter Conference in San Antonio reports from Chris Barton, Debbi Michiko Florence, Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith, Don Tate.

Congratulations to Vermont College MFA graduate Liz Gallagher on her two-book deal with Wendy Lamb Books!

Hot off the Press from the Children's Book Council. Highlights include Babymouse, Queen of the World! and Baby Mouse: Our Hero, both by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm (Random House, 2005)(interview with Matthew).

Not Your Mother's Book Club: a community for those in 7th to 12th grade. "Authors, librarians, booksellers, teachers, and those who just love teen books are also WELCOME, but contests and other special treats are for those in grades 7-12 only." Designed as a forum for meeting fellow readers and authors, discussing new books as well as posting book reviews and stories. Thanks to author Tanya Lee Stone for the heads-up on this great news!

"You Should Read This!" "a purely subjective list based on young adult titles [] read and reviewed that were published last year" from Chasing Ray: For Your Consideration.

Young Adult and Chapter Books: Teens Run Into Trouble in Cyberspace by Deborah Wormser, special to The Dallas Morning News. Discusses Click Here (to Find Out How I Survived Seventh Grade) by Denise Vega (Little Brown), Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude and Other Commandments I Have Broken by Rosemary Graham (Viking)(author interview), and M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts (Razorbill)(co-authors interview).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Author Interview: Tim Wynne-Jones on A Thief in the House of Memory

A Thief in the House of Memory by Tim Wynne-Jones (Farrar, 2005). From the promotional copy: "It's been six years since sixteen-year-old Dec's free-spirited mother, Lindy, disappeared. Dec feels so trapped in the present, he's avoided examining his past. But when an intruder dies in the museum-like family home, the man's death sends forth tremors that reawaken forgotten memories. Suddenly Dec is flooded with visions of his mother so tangible it's hard to believe they're not real. At least Dec has his best friend - gifted, funny Ezra - to help him sort out what's real and what isn't. But as Dec's dream visions of his mother turn into nightmares, Ezra announces he's going away, leaving Dec haunted by questions that must be answered. What did happen to his mother? And who really is the thief in the house of memory? In this masterful new novel, Tim Wynne-Jones explores with wit, compassion, and humor the fictional territory he knows best - the prickly ties that bind families, the murky connections between imagination and real life."

What was the initial inspiration for creating this book?

I guess the initial inspiration came over twenty years ago when I was an instructor at a writing workshop at the Banff School of Arts in the Canadian Rockies. A thirty-something student wrote a memoir of when she was a little girl of five or six, playing with her dolls in the front hall of the house and catching bits of stray conversation between her dad and mom as they came and went. It was very vivid and very tense. In the middle of the class response, the student suddenly burst out, "Oh, my mother was having an affair!" Ever since then, I've been fascinated by the idea that if you can recall, accurately and deeply, an event from your childhood, your mature mind will be able to interpret data that your young mind could not have understood. That's the basis of Thief.

I guess I'm also obsessed by House since we never stayed in one place more than a couple of years when I was growing up. I don't think of myself as being very material but I am aware that there is a lot of stuff from my past that has been left behind -- stuff full of memories.

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

It took a year and ten months to write Thief and thirteen drafts. I usually start to write a novel when I have a scene or an image that intrigues me and a character I like. I never plot or outline -- I want the story to unfold as I write. But in this case, I had an "idea." Hmmm. Sounds good but where to begin? Here's the idea conceived while washing the dishes: What if you used to live in a house so big that you never had to throw anything away and so you had every pair of shoes you ever owned, and every halloween costume, etcetera. But you moved out of the house when your mother left and now, when you return, you find a dead body in the front hall.

Thief came out a dry period (The well was good and empty!) where I had written two novels -- one adult, one young adult -- both of which were soundly rejected. After twenty-four books, rejection letters are a little disturbing. So I was on the rebound, so to speak, and wrote very gingerly. I wasn't exactly insecure but smarting. The thing was, I knew I was in the zone with this -- it was my kind of book. But it wasn't an easy book to unlock.

Major events? I started teaching at Vermont College. How great is that?

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

Oops! I guess my last answer already addressed the major challenge question. But let me explain further. The biggest problem was in creating a believable set of characters to act out this little drama. Idea can be a stranglehold. Like Theme, it can be very dry and lifeless. My protagonist went through a lengthy casting session before Declan came along. His precursor, Ray, was really boring and didn't have any friends. Finding some friends helped me to understand who he really was. It seems weird, after the fact, to realize how long it took to come up with him wanting to be an architect when he grew up, since that was my fondest dream from the age of eleven. It worked perfectly in this story. I also struggled with motivation, until I introduced Dec's step mother. Suddenly, I realized I had a Dad who lived in the past, a new mom who lived in the present and a protagonist who longed for the future and somehow that helped me get the sparks flying.

I also got hung up on the logistics of an inquest into a suspicious death. I didn't want to bring the cops into the story and in trying to avoid that I got hugely lost! When I finally talked to a coroner about how such a case might be handled, with regards to a minor, especially, I realized that there was a technical loop hole that worked perfectly for me. Dec could be blocked from attending the inquest. Yahoo! A little research can save you a whole lot of trouble.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Author Interview: Lori M. Carlson on Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories For Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (Harper, 2005). Features "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" by Cynthia Leitich Smith; other contributing authors: Joy Harjo; Sherman Alexie; Richard Van Camp; Linda Hogan; Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Susan Power; Greg Sarris; and Lee Francis. See also Lori M. Carlson on Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young And Latino in the United States (Henry Holt, 2005). See also Lori Marie Carlson on Red Hot Salsa (Holt, 2005).

What was your initial inspiration for creating this anthology?

I was inspired to create Moccasin Thunder a long time ago, after I gave a talk at a New York Library Association convention in Saratoga Springs. I was talking about the need for good young adult fiction that spoke to kids of all ethnicities and races in America. A librarian from Buffalo asked if I would do a book of Native American stories for teens. Actually I had wanted to do such a book in the early 90's but I was afraid that my motives would be questioned by some politically correct critic. (I could just hear someone scoffing, "What does a woman of Swedish and Italian ancestry know about the Native Amemerican experience." That sort of comment.) So even though I had the intention of doing a book like Moccasin Thunder for quite some time, I had let fear get in the way of acting on my intention, of trying to do some good. One day, I let my fear fly away. And I sat down at my desk and began to write a proposal.

I decided to focus on stories because storytelling is so important to Native American cultures. And I felt, too, that there was a real need for a book that explained Native American teens' feelings, situations, hopes, dreams, fears, loves, grievances in an anthology format for all American teens. I wanted to edit a book of truly contemporary stories that revealed the truth about Native American experience in the United States today, stories that shouted "We are here and WE MATTER."

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

Quite a few years passed from spark to publication because there were some unforeseen inhouse events at HarperCollins that slowed down publication. But I really do believe that books are born when the moment is just right. I am happy that Moccasin Thunder came out in 2005, as for me personally it was a very difficult year and the book's publication gave me cause for joy.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

Honestly, this book was a kind of blessing and gift. Every single writer who contributed to Moccasin Thunder enriched my life by sharing words of wisdom, thoughts about living, kindness, and artistry. I remember getting off the phone with Lee Francis, thinking "This man's voice is so beautiful and strong...what music!"

If there were challenges in bringing it to life I wasn't aware of them, as doing this book was like praying. A deeply moving experience.

Cynsational News & Links

Promote It Yourself: With Book Sales Flat, Authors Find Creative Ways to Pitch Their Offerings by Kerry A. Dolan from Forbes.com.

The 2006 Sidney Taylor Awards and Notable Children's Books of Jewish Content (PDF file) include Hanukkah, Shmanukkah!, by Esmé Raji Codell, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion, 2005)(author interview) and Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses, and Crescents by Mark Podwal (Doubleday, 2005)(recommendation).

The Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction went to Louise Erdrich for The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005).

Teacher Guides: Author, Poet, Teacher from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Lots of new guides! Don't miss this wonderful resource! See picture books, middle grade, and young adult!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers

"YALSA has announced its 2006 annual recommended list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers." Highlights include: Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States edited by Lori M. Carlson (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview); Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2005); Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview); The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs, and Me, Ruby Oliver by E. Lockhart (Random House, 2005)(author interview); Twilight: A Novel by Stephanie Meyer (Little Brown, 2005); and Broken China by Lori Aurelia Williams (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(2000 author interview).

ALA BBYA and Selected Audio Books

Best Books for Young Adults 2006 from the American Library Association. Highlights include: Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard (Roaring Brook, 2005); Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview); Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2005)(author interview); Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 2005)(author interview); Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview); Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview); Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar (Dutton, 2005)(author interview); Twilight: A Novel by Stephanie Meyer (Little Brown, 2005); A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2005)(author interview); The Lighning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, 2005)(author interview); Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (Razorbill, 2005); Sandpiper by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview); and A Thief in the House of Memory by Tim Wynne-Jones (Farrar, 2005). The Top Ten List also was posted.

2006 Selected Audio Books for Young Adults from the American Library Association. Highlights include “Prom,” by Laurie Halse Anderson, read by Katherine Kellgren (Recorded Books, 2005) and “The Truth About Sparrows,” by Marian Hale, read by Emily Janice Card (Listening Library, 2005).

The Center for Children's Books Announces the Winner of the 2006 Gryphon Award

The Center for Children's Books at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana is pleased to announce that the annual Gryphon Award for Children's Literature has been given to Michelle Edwards for her easy-to-read book, Stinky Stern Forever (Harcourt, 2005), illustrated by the author.

Three honor books, representing a diversity of styles, were also named: Jigsaw Pony by Jessie Haas (Greenwillow, 2005), illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu; Babymouse: Queen of the World! written and illustrated by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House, 2005)(illustrator interview); and Chameleon, Chameleon by Joy Cowley (Scholastic, 2005), illustrated with photographs by Nic Bishop.

The Gryphon Award, which comes with a $1,000 prize, is given annually to the author of an outstanding English language work of fiction or non-fiction for which the primary audience is children in Kindergarten through Grade 4. The title chosen best exemplifies those qualities that successfully bridge the gap in difficulty between books for reading aloud to children and books for practiced readers.

The Gryphon Award was started in 2004 as a way to focus attention on transitional reading, an area of literature for youth that, despite being crucial to the successful transition of children from new readers to independent lifelong readers, does not receive the critical recognition it deserves.

The award is sponsored by the Center for Children's Books at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and funded by the Center for Children's Books Outreach Endowment Fund. Income from the endowed fund supports outreach activities for the Center for Children's Books in general and the Gryphon Award for children's literature. Gifts may be made to the Fund.

See more information about the Center and the award.

Cynsational News & Links

"I Write What I Am" by Vicki Cobb from the Children's Book Council. "Vicki Cobb is the well-known author of more than eighty highly entertaining nonfiction books for children."

Non-fiction Submissions Editors Love with Cricket Group editors Heather Delabre and Paula Morrow from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Teen Angels: a bestselling novelist [Libba Bray] on why boys aren’t the only ones who like sci-fi, and how writing helped her survive a tough adolescence by Nicole Joseph from Newsweek. Note: I learned of this link on Big A little a. Read a Cynsations interview with Libba Bray.

Monday, January 23, 2006

ALA Award Cheers

Children's and YA literature circles are abuzz today with the award winners announced by the American Library Association. Read the press release for full information.

I'd like to send out particular congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson, the author of Newbery Honor Book Show Way, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2005). Jackie also was named recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award (for lifetime contribution to teen literature).

In addition, I'd like to cheer Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (author interview), Pura Belpré Honor Author of César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2005). By the way, David Diaz also earned a Belpré illustrator honor for this same title.

I also was pleased to see that Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (recommendation), illustrated by Raul Colón and written by Pat Mora (Knopf, 2005) took the Belpré Illustrator Medal.

Bravo to all the winners and honor recipients!

Cynsational Notes

Two recent author interviewees on Cynsations recommended Show Way among the best of their recent reads: Esmé Raji Codell and Justina Chen Headley.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tips for Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week: First Week in February

Check your library copy of Chase’s Annual Events and among such upcoming celebrations as American Chocolate Week and National Week of Student Action, you will find Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week (CAIW), annually the first week in February.

This week was started several years ago by authors and illustrators in Children’s Authors Network (CAN!), who wanted to celebrate the school visits, library programs, and hands-on workshops that authors and illustrators do to inspire a life-long love of reading and writing. Visit www.childrensauthorsnetwork.com for a list of tips to help share your love of books with children.

Parents & Caregivers

TALK with your child’s librarian or a local children’s bookseller. They can recommend the perfect books for your child’s age and reading level.

VISIT independent bookstores and children’s specialty bookstores. These stores typically have a large, diverse selection, as well as books by local authors. See if you and your child can discover a new author this week!

WRITE a letter (or an email) with your child to a favorite author or illustrator. Most authors now have web sites with contact information. If you can’t find an address, send the letter to the publisher. Publishers usually won’t give out an author’s address, but they are happy to forward mail. Just address the envelope to the author in care of the publisher.

ORGANIZE an author visit at your child’s school. Most children’s authors give presentations and/or conduct writing workshops at schools. The school will likely need volunteers to help with fund-raising (fees vary depending on the author) and handling book sales. A step-by-step guide to hosting an author is available on the Children’s Authors Network (CAN!) web site at www.childrensauthorsnetwork.com. A visiting author can inspire even a reluctant reader to pick up a book!

ATTEND a bookstore or library event featuring a children’s author or illustrator. These events are terrific ways for kids to meet an author or illustrator in an informal setting, ask questions, and perhaps come away with some writing or drawing tips.

READ as a family. Reading together is fun and helps create enthusiastic, strong readers. Even older children enjoy being read to, and they may want to take turns reading to younger siblings. So, turn off the TV, gather the family, and spend some time enjoying children’s books together!

Teachers & Librarians

HELP children write letters to favorite authors and illustrators. Most authors now have web sites with contact information. If you can’t find an address, send the letter to the publisher. Publishers usually won’t give out an author’s address, but they are happy to forward mail. Just address the envelope to the author in care of the publisher. Organize an author visit at your school or library. Most children’s authors give presentations and/or conduct writing workshops at schools and libraries. They can talk about their books, give tips for aspiring writers, and host informal question and answer sessions. Fees vary depending on the author. A step-by-step guide to hosting an author is available on the Children’s Authors Network (CAN!) web site at www.childrensauthorsnetwork.com. A visiting author can inspire even a reluctant reader to pick up a book!

CREATE a display of books by authors and/or illustrators in your local area or state. Invite one or more of these authors to give a presentation in your classroom or library.

ORGANIZE a "Mock Newbery" Book Club. These clubs meet periodically to read and discuss books they consider contenders for the Newbery award. Usually, a librarian chooses a few titles, and the children choose the rest (in keeping with the Newbery guidelines). The club votes on a winner in early January (before the actual Newbery is awarded) and awards a "Mock Newbery" prize. The club writes letters to nominated authors and, of course, to the winner.

GENERATE a newsletter or flyer with information on local/state authors and illustrators. Include a list of local events during Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week (such as special library events, author appearances at bookstores, etc.). Enlist the help of older children–they can conduct phone or email interviews with the authors/illustrators and help produce the newsletter.

DISPLAY a list of author web sites next to your computer stations (or have one available at the circulation desk). Encourage interested children to visit these sites and drop their favorite authors an email message. For more information about children’s authors and illustrators, visit the CAN! web site at www.childrensauthorsnetwork.com and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators at www.scbwi.org.

Vermont College MFA Ketchum-Smith Workshop Bibliography

I had the honor of leading a workshop with author Liza Ketchum in conjunction with the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults this past month. The following titles arose during our discussions with students during the sessions:

The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1) by Jonathan Stroud (Miramax, 2003).

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2000).

Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2004).

Big Mama Makes The World by Phyllis Root (Walker, 2002).

The Counterfeit Princess by Jane Resh Thomas (Clarion, 2005).

Elephants Aloft by Kathi Appelt (Voyager, 1997)(author interview).

Freewill by Chris Lynch (HarperCollins, 2001).

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 2002)(35th Anniversary Edition).

Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (HarperCollins, 1947).

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech (Joanna Cotler, 2003).

Henry & the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by John Manders (Candlewick, 2005)(author-illustrator interview).

The House That Jill Built by Phyllis Root (Walker, 2005).

How the Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont (HarperCollins, 1982).

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch (Atheneum, 2005).

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke (The Chicken House, 2005).

The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin (Delacorte, 1998)(author interview).

Knots and Crosses (An Inspector Rebus Novel) by Ian Rankin (Doubleday, 1987).

The Legend of the Valentine by Katherine Grace Bond, illustrated by Don Tate (Zondervan Publishing House, 2002)(illustrator interview).

The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going (Putnam, 2005)(author interview).

The Long Night of Leo and Bree by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2002)(author interview).

Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles (Gulliver, 2001).

Muskrat Will by Swimming by Cheryl Savageau, illustrated by Robert Hynes, featuring a Seneca traditional story retold by Joseph Bruchac (Northland, 1996).

Napping House by Don and Audrey Wood (Harcourt, 1994).

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson (Bodley Head, 2005).

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (Harcourt, 2003).

Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi (Clarion, 1996)(author interview).

Preston Falls by David Gates (Knopf, 1998).

The Queen's Knickers by Nicholas Allan (Red Fox, 2000).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001).

Rosa Sola by Carmen A. Martino (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview).

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking adult, 2002)(Good Morning America edition).

Sketches from a Spy Tree by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005).

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz (Harcourt, 1994).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999).

Subway by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Karen Katz (Viking, 2004).

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse (Hyperion, 2000)(revised edition).

The Trolls by Polly Horvath (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001).

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (Joanna Cotler, 1994).

What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005)(author interview).

What Is Goodbye? by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Raul Colon (Hyperion, 2004).

What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman (Front Street, 1995).

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Dial, 2000).

Additional authors mentioned: Jane Kurtz (author interview); Linda Sue Park (author interview); Valerie Worth.

Cynsational Notes

Unfortunately, the above listing isn't complete due to title fragments, inaccuracies, and/or my occasional inability to read my own handwriting.

While I'm on the subject of bibliographies, please note that I'm seeking suggestions for a list of young adult novels featuring a protagonist from the United States whose story takes place in another country. Any suggestions appreciated. Thanks!

Cynsational News & Links

An excerpt of Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown (Tricycle, 2006) is now available as a PDF file on her Web site.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Author Interview: Cecil Castellucci on The Queen of Cool

The Queen of Cool by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2006). From the promotional copy: "a funny, incisive look at a teenage girl who becomes bored with her popularity and dares to take off her tiara and do something really cool with her life." Ages 12-up.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I had just handed in Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview)(a Cynsational Book of 2005), and I was just kind of obsessed with the L.A. Zoo. I had gone to visit one day when I was having an emotional freak out. I was wandering around and I noticed there was a big picture of the Condor near the aviary only there were no condors to be seen. They keep them hidden away. That made me really sad. I got the idea for a scene, in a flash, about this girl who was totally cool who goes on a field trip to the zoo and sees a baby condor die while it's hatching and her life is changed. For some reason, she was sitting next to a girl who was a dwarf. I went home and wrote the scene. I called the girl "Libby," and she was so bored with her routine. And she was trembling because she (and I) knew that she was as rare a bird as that condor, and as rare a bird as Tina (aka Tiny) who was sitting next to her.

I started seeing everyone around me as these kind of endangered species. Then one day I was at this function (Forest Ackerman's 88th birthday party, if the truth be told) and before I'd gotten there, I was totally worried that I wasn't going to be cool enough to be there but then when I got there, I kind of felt like I was actually one of the coolest people in the room. That got me thinking about how it's pretty amazing that you can feel both totally cool in one situation and like the biggest loser who can't fit in no matter how hard you try in another social situation.

By the way, the Field Trip is not in the book. At all. Neither is the Condor. Just FYI. It turned out to be just a jumping off point. It was the core of the whole story, but not what made the book.

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

So this was like January 2004. I had met Aimee Bender, who is a fabulous L.A. author, at a literary speakeasy. When I told her that I had sold my first novel, she said "Write your second one before your first one comes out." I was like, "Why?" and she was like, "Because that way you won't freak out." She's kind of an L.A. literary Goddess, so naturally, I trusted her, and I just got to work. I kept scratching away at it but honestly, I was really busy working on my first indie feature film "Happy Is Not Hard To Be," because that's what a girl does sometimes, she makes a feature film. Meanwhile, Kara LaReau, my editor, kept asking me if I had anything else kicking around in my head. I wasn't finished with this cool zoo Libby/Tina thing. I only had like a skeleton of a story but I asked Barry if he thought it was worth sending. He thought it was pretty OK TOMATO. Kara bought it that Summer 2004. Only she changed the title, I had called Rare Birds and Animal Magnetism.

I was just finishing it up when I went to ALA in January '05 when Boy Proof came out and I was like WHOA! Good thing I listened to that smart Aimee!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life? I'm especially interested in how you found out about working behind the scenes at a zoo!

Literary challenges, as always for me is - plot, plot, plot! I had all of these characters! But what was going on? How do they get from here to there? Intertwining all the characters was challenging. I had one of my screenwriter friends read it and he was like YOU HAVE NO PLOT!!!!! I actually called Kara's office voice mail at like 2 in the morning in a panic about it. She called me the next day and laughed at me…with love and comfort.

Research wise I joined the L.A. Zoo. I went there a lot. I walked around. I talked to the docents. I talked to the animal services people if they were hanging around the cages. I talked to the student volunteers. I observed. I read the information signs in front of the cages! I called the head of animal services. He let me ask him questions. I also talked to the Zoo Librarian. They have a library there! Anyone can go and look stuff up! She really helped me with the nitty gritty of the animal stuff.

For the dwarfism stuff, which was mostly background-y kind of stuff so I really knew Tina, I did things like I went to the LPA (Little People of America) site and to a couple of LPA meetings. I also watched a great documentary called "Big Enough" (2004), which was on PBS. Also I watched the film "Tip Toes," which is a fiction film.

Queen of Cool follows your smash debut novel Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005). It doesn't seem you suffered at all from The Dreaded Sophomore Novel Block that plagues so many authors. Tell us about your momentum! What gets you up and writing and feeling the story each day?

Ha! Ha! Ha! Does it really look like I didn't suffer the dreaded sophomore novel block! It must be my regiment of salt scrubs, sleight of hand, balloon twisting and the art of mesmer! Honestly, I think it helped that I sold it before my first novel hadn't come out yet because I didn't know enough to be terrified. I told my agent Barry Goldblatt that what I was working on might just be a palette cleanser.

I don't feel it everyday. Sometimes I lay around staring at the ceiling thinking, "OK that's it. I've had my last idea. I'm done. It's over. I'm a big fat fraud. And I might be ugly, too." But Jennifer Richard Jacobson, who wrote the terrific book Stained (Atheneum, 2005)(author interview), once said that she tries to just write 9 lines a day. So I would have to say that it's not momentum that gets me writing, it's puttering. I leave the page open and I try to show up to it all the time. Sometimes that means taking a bath, or a walk, or slacking off. It’s all a part of the process.

Romantic that I am, I just adored two of your supporting chracters, Tina and Sheldon. Though marked as nerds by the popular kids at their high school, it's clear to me that they've got cool to spare. How did these characters evolve?

Sheldon comes of my love for boys with gorgeous brains. I've liked some boys that are eccentric huge brained geniuses like Sheldon, and I know they certainly didn't make it through high school being thought of as cool. But now, they are so friggin' cool I can't believe it! I want to kiss them all!

Tina came about because I think a lot about being small. I am quite small, though not as small as Tina and I wondered about how that would be, to be smaller than I am and yet be so big. Tina, is a pretty big girl on the inside. When I look back now, I think in part two things made Tina be in that field trip scene I wrote. At that time I was doing this writing assistantship at the New Works Festival at the Taper and I was working on this one woman show written by this differently-abled actress named Anne Stocking. She's like this powerhouse, sexy, amazing, talented writer performer. She's smaller than I am, but ballsier. I had also just gone to a wedding and my friends Uncle has achrondoplasia. He was trying to encourage me to join the LPA so I could get blocks for my car since I have trouble reaching my pedals. At 4' 10", I actually make the cut. So I did. It's been so interesting!

As I was finishing the novel, it struck me that I couldn't think of another YA title that included a character who, like Tina, is a little person. Are there some I'm forgetting or missed along the way? I wish they weren't so rare.

I can only think of Funny Little Monkey [by Andrew Auseon (Harcourt, 2005)] and Freak the Mighty [by Rodman Philbrick (Scholastic, 1993)]. Or A Prayer for Owen Meany [by John Irving (Ballantine)], which I guess isn't YA. I wish they weren't so rare either. In those two books, the little characters go to hospitals a lot, which of course, does happen in life. I wanted Tina to just be a normal teen, who happens to be a dwarf. This story doesn't take place during any hospital stay that Tina might have had to / or would do later. In this story, Tina's dwarfism was a way to sort of have Libby be confronted physically with a difference. A way for Libby to have to see past that and into the true meaning of cool. 'Cause Tina's pretty friggin' cool.

Of the young adult novels you've read of late, which are your favorites and why?

Well, I just read Nick and Norah's Ultimate Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan [(Knopf, 2006)]. E. Lockhart's The Boyfriend List [(Delacorte, 2005)(author interview)](really moved me with that whole carnation scene. It was like I had an Aha moment! I've read a draft of Holly Black's Ironside and WHOA! It's amazing! Honestly, I am ashamed I haven't read more. I am a really slow reader so I'm terribly behind on my reading.

What strikes you as "cool"? How would you define it in your own life--past, present, and future?

People who are their genuine authentic self are cool. That's always the case. Past, present and future. If you are yourself, true to yourself, 100% then that is cool. Always.

Were you the Queen of Cool as a teenager? You certainly are now!

I don't know if I was! I think I was in the middle. I wasn't the coolest person I knew but I wasn't the dorkiest. For me, I had this big personality, and I was sensitive and emotional and raw. (Uh, I might still be those things) (Don't tell)

I think now, the advantage of being an adult is that I can manage myself a little better, and I also can see the cool thing inside of pretty much everyone. In my opinion, everyone has something deliciously, exquisitely, divinely cool in them.

But I still have those social situations where nothing I do is cool enough and I guarantee you, I'm the biggest loser in the room. Then I remember that really, truly, I am a Queen. (And so are you!)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Author Interview: Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts on M or F?

M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts (Razorbill, 2005). From the promotional copy: "Frannie and Marcus are best friends-brain twins, in fact. They share a love of Bollywood movies, an unbridled passion for pizza, and the fact that neither of them has ever had a boyfriend. At least Marcus has an excuse-eligible gay boys are hard to come by in their small Illinois town. Frannie is desperate to get the attention of her crush, Jeffrey, but she's way too shy to make a move. Marcus insists that Frannie chat with Jeffrey online, but Frannie won't type a word without Marcus's help. In the chat room, Marcus and Jeffrey hit it off. The whole plan seems to be working! But the more Marcus writes, the more he's convinced that Jeffrey is falling for him, not Frannie. But if that's true, what does it mean for their friendship?

"Co-authors Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts tell the story from two different points of view-giving the reader he-said/she-said insight into troublesome issues like lying by exclusion, coming out to your family, the humiliation of minimum-wage jobs, assumptions about sexuality, living with an embarrassing grandmother, what it means to be a "perfect date," and the ever-pressing questions: Does this guy like boys or girls? M or F? Gay or straight? What's the deal???"

Lisa Papademetriou is the author of Sixth-Grade Glommers, Norks, and Me (Hyperion, 2005)(named one of the Best Books of 2005 by FamilyFun.com)(read excerpt) and co-author (with Chris Tebbetts) of M or F? (Razorbill, 2005). She has written and/or adapted over thirty books for children and young adults, including titles in the Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven, Kim Possible, and Sweet Valley High Senior Year book series. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with her husband, where she enjoys quilting, dancing around the house to eighties music, playing the guitar (badly), and drinking large amounts of coffee. Her next book, The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey will be published in May 2006.

Chris Tebbetts is a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction, as well as creative nonfiction. His books include The Viking (Puffin, ongoing), a middle grade fantasy adventure series, and M or F? (Razorbill, 2005), a young adult romantic comedy co-written with Lisa Papademetriou. He lives with his husband in Hinesburg, Vermont.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

Lisa's answer

LP: Actually, the publisher came up with the idea. They wanted a "Will and Grace" for high school. Then they hired Chris and me to write it. It was an arranged marriage--Chris and I had never met (or even heard of each other) before we started working together.

Chris's answer

CT: The idea behind the story is Cyrano-inspired. We knew we wanted one character helping another to spark a romance, only to get sucked further into it than he originally intended. Then there was the gay-straight twist layered onto that. Then there was the idea that two characters (and two authors) should tell the story. All of it was a natural launching pad for Lisa and me to create a plot that was intentionally as complicated as possible, with unanswered questions and loaded situations thrown in at every turn. In a way, I was inspired by those old weekend-in-the-country farces, where someone's always coming into a room just as the person they're looking for is exiting through another door.

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

Lisa's answer

LP: I guess the book took about a year to write and another to publish. Because we were essentially writing two stories that had to intertwine and eventually dovetail, Chris and I were very careful about plotting and outlining together. We each started with a character sketch of our main protagonist, worked on a skeleton plot, then hammered out an outline. At that point, I came up to Vermont and met Chris in person for the first time! We spent several days going over that outline, page by page and line by line until we felt it was right. Then we started the long haul of actually writing the manuscript. Three revisions and many months later, we finally
had it.

Chris's answer

CT: We started the project by exchanging a long string of emails and phone calls, getting to know each other while we were also getting to know our characters. It was time well spent. After that, we created our plot together, over a weekend, and then spent about eight months playing writer tennis: I wrote Chapter One, sent it off to Lisa, who then wrote Chapter Two and sent the whole thing back to me. Once we had a first draft, we spent another weekend together identifying issues for the rewrite, and then another month in a less structured back and forth, getting the whole thing done.

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

Lisa's answer

LP: The greatest challenge, for me, was to make sure the book had flow. We wanted it to sound like it was told by two different characters...not two different authors.

Chris's answer

CT: Besides the logistics of collaboration, we also wanted to create a gay character whose "problem" wasn't his own sexuality. This book was always meant to be a light comedy, so it was a balancing act to set aside some of the heavier aspects of being a young, out, gay man in a homophobic world, without completely ignoring that reality. In the end, it was much harder to combine comedy and substance than I thought it was going to be.

What were the special challenges, if any, of collaboration? Are you two "brain twins" like your alternating protagonists?

Lisa's answer

LP: That term "brain twins" actually came from our experience working together--we referred to each other as brain twins before we referred to Marcus and Frannie that way. Chris and I are on the same wavelength to a degree that is borderline freaky. There were surprisingly few challenges in working together--whenever we didn't agree on something, we just talked it
through. I think we both accepted the fact that sometimes you have to sacrifice your beloved idea in the interest of creating a story that works.

Chris's answer

CT: I think the major challenge was logistical-keeping track of plot details and two different, but dovetailing, arcs for two different protagonists. Any changes to one character's story affected the other character's story, and of course, the other writer, so the process was more cumbersome than usual. It was like going from juggling three balls on your own, to juggling six balls with a partner. Having said that, I feel the same way Lisa does: our chemistry, as friends, made all the difference. This project was a pleasure, beginning to end.

What can your fans expect from you next?

Lisa's answer

LP: I've got a novel called The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey due out in May with Razorbill/Penguin. And, of course, I'd love to work with Chris again. We're talking about what that will look like... We'll keep you posted!

Chris's answer

CT: I'm working on a middle grade novel that doesn't have a home yet, and I'm too superstitious to say more than that. Meanwhile, I'd love to work with Lisa again, so our fingers are crossed for a sequel, or who knows, maybe something totally new.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Author Update: Annette Curtis Klause

Annette Curtis Klause is the award-winning author of Alien Secrets (Delacorte, 1993), The Silver Kiss (Delacorte, 1990), Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1999), and most recently, Freaks: Alive on the Inside (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

When I last interviewed you, you'd just had a short story, "Summer of Love," published in the anthology, The Color of Absence: 12 Stories about Loss and Hope edited by James Howe (Atheneum, 2001). It was a tie-in story to your acclaimed YA vampire novel, The Silver Kiss (Delacorte, 1990). Have you continued writing short stories? If so, what can your fans expect on that front next?

I don't write a lot of short stories, although I have a few stashed away unpublished as yet. Last winter I was asked for a short story for an anthology of teen horror stories called The Restless Dead, to be published by Candlewick Press. I realized I’d been hoarding a title which would be perfect for this theme--“Kissing Dead Boys.”

All I needed was a plot to go with it. I had already jotted down some ideas when I received shocking news--my younger sister, Julie, who lived in England, had died unexpectedly. This was the sister I shared a room with while we were growing up; the sister I shared fantasy friends and adventures with. I began to write the story to try and take my mind off my depression.

I had wanted to write a zombie story, but it kept on insisting it was a vampire story, so I went with the flow. The writing was slow going at first, but then, after a few pages, the narrator mentioned her sister. I didn’t even know she was going to have a sister! That’s when I realized I was really writing a story about my feelings for Julie, and the story took off and almost wrote itself. The editor was happy with what I sent her, and the story will be published next Halloween, and dedicated to my sister.

Your last gothic fantasy novel, Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1999), which featured werewolves, was a smash hit, a Top Ten BBYA, a Top Ten Quick Pick, a Booklist Editors' Choice, and a School Library Journal Best Book (among other honors). It also received stars from Booklist and SLJ. Is it right that a movie is currently in the works? What can you tell us about it?

Yes, the movie was filmed in Romania this past fall and I believe it's in post production now. I'm not sure how much it will be like the book, however. They seem to have made the characters older, as well as setting the story in Eastern Europe which kind of negates the whole point of the plot--werewolves could be sitting right next to you in your high school homeroom. I am flattered by the outraged posts on the Internet Movie Database message boards and sympathetic with the posters, but I'm afraid that if you aren't Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King you don't get much say in what the film companies do. The producers don't even keep me up to date--I find my information on the Web.

I knew there was a good possibility that the film wouldn't resemble my story, but how often do you get a chance to have something you wrote made into a movie? It had to be a laugh, at least, right? A glimpse into a whole new world. We can at least pray that the movie works on it's own terms, and hope that it inspires the viewers to read the book. It might be fun, despite being different. The script writer is Ehren Kruger ("The Ring," "The Skeleton Key"), so it's got a good chance of working. Aiden will be played by Hugh Dancy, who's done British TV as well as a few films; Vivian is played by Agnes Bruckner; and Gabriel is played by French heartthrob Olivier Martinez (who's handsome but seems a little short to be a kick-ass werewolf dude, but what can you do?) You can read the full cast and crew on www.imdb.com.

Your soon-to-be released novel is Freaks! Alive, On the Inside (McElderry, January 2006). Could you tell us a little about the story? What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Okay, you asked for it, this is my handy-dandy, all-purpose, sumptuous, far-too-long annotation:

“When a boy’s first romantic interlude is with Phoebe the dog faced girl, he feels a need to get out into the world and find a new life.

"However, the increasingly possessive Phoebe is only one of seventeen-year-old Abel’s reasons for wanting to leave the Faeryland Revue of 1899.

"Abel is born into the world of sideshow performers. His parents, and most of the inhabitants of the entertainment resort they live and perform in, are human oddities—-'freaks' many call them—-people with physical differences that set them off from most of the population.

"But Abel has no interesting physical difference, and he feels that he will never have a chance to excel until he goes out into the world among people more like him. 'Why would someone want to come see an ordinary boy like me throw knives when there are such wonders around me?'

"He is just dependable, kindly Abel, the lad who runs errands into town and who helps back stage, the one who is stuck minding twelve-year-old Apollo, an irrepressible puppy boy who can’t stay out of trouble. Abel doesn’t want to be good, however. He yearns for adventure--the sort of adventure a young man can only have when not surrounded by people who know his parents.

"When the Siamese twins depart the show, one of them gives Abel an Egyptian ring as a gift to remember her by, and Abel starts to have disturbing, delicious dreams of a beautiful dancing girl. She seems the physical embodiment of the adventure he craves, and where would he ever find a woman such as that?

"Not at home.

"That's when Abel decides to creep out at night and walk across the Maryland countryside to join a traveling circus as the first step on his way to find his fortune. But fortune, in the shape of the voluptuous dancing girl who haunts him in twilight and in sleep, has her own plans for Abel, and through misadventure and mishap (complicated by a little problem he thought he’d left behind) she leads him back to the freaks—a raggle-taggle band of traveling performers very different from the proud, independent souls he grew up with, held in thrall to a manipulative showman and his thugs. They break his heart. Faced with kidnapping, abuse, and murder, it is only by using the qualities he thought were unimportant and mundane, that Abel can help them and, through that, finds his place in the world and the love of his life."

As to what inspired me--well, I just gave a half-hour speech on that last November and still didn't fit everything in. I'll try to summarize. I've always been interested in outsiders because I've often felt like one myself. My books reflect that. The ectoplasm of this book comes from a variety of sources--my father's medical books, featuring bizarre illnesses, which fascinated me as a child; the 1930's Tod Browning movie, "Freaks," which I discovered in college; two wonderful medical museums I visited as a teenager which featured skeletons of dwarfs and giants, and deformed babies in jars; a book a room mate lent me called Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, originally published in the 19th century; and the wonderful 19th century fantasy adventures of H. Rider Haggard.

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

Yikes! You do ask tough questions. The idea for this book came to me probably a little before Blood and Chocolate was published in 1997. It's all blurry and far away now. I was visiting New York and told my idea to my publisher who then offered me a contract based merely on my vague synopsis. I was stunned.

I'm not sure I should have signed that contract--in one way, it forced me to write the book; in another way, it panicked me and froze me at times. It meant I was committed to deliver a book. WHAT IF I COULDN'T DO IT?

Before that, I usually waited until I had a book to turn in before I signed anything. I think I'm going back to that method, then we will see if that was just an excuse.

Anyway, as you can tell, it took at least eight years to come up with another book. I really, really, really, really hope the next one doesn't take as long. In the meantime: that publishing executive retired; I am on my third agent with the same agency; I'm on my third computer; my editor was fired; my editor was hired somewhere else; Random House was generous enough to release me from the original contract; and I'm now published by a totally different publisher (and back with my editor). Whew!

Three or four summers ago I took several months off from my job as a librarian in the hopes of finishing the book. Ha ha ha ha ha! You can tell that worked. I did love that taste of being a full-time writer, though. I wish I could afford it. But, as you can tell, my output is a little iffy.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? I'm especially interested in the research you did on the lives of people who worked in "freak shows" and circuses as well as that related to ancient Egypt.

Well, I touched a little on the psychological hurdles above. The main logistical problem was that I have a full-time job and as I get older, I have less energy when I get home from it.

The other problem/joy was research, research, research. I needed to know the history of the circus and sideshows, and after I decided on my time period, I had to not only find out about everyday life in the 19th century, but the particular life in the shows at that time. I wanted to discover the lingo and the lives of the performers. I was curious about all the physical possibilities there were and how they would effect people's lives. I obsessed about knowing enough true facts to weave a believable plot within a realistic setting. And I am very hard on myself--I researched tiny details that my readers would probably never catch me out on, but I would know if I was slipshod, wouldn't I? I found way more information in books and on the Internet than I could ever use in one work. My head was bursting with characters, anecdotes, weird trivia, and a new vocabulary, and my library of strange items grew every day. There are still books in my house that I didn't get around to reading, and those unbought that I still might pursue, and I own my personal set of throwing knives, although I can't throw them straight.

I'm sure I was using research as a form of procrastination because I was afraid I couldn't pull the whole thing off--the trick of spinning the straw of notes into the gold of a satisfying story. I finally had to force myself to stop the research and start the writing.

I have a large cast of unusual characters in this book , and while the people in my story are imaginary, their physical differences are often inspired by those of people who really lived, and many characters are composites of people I came across in photographs and accounts. A bizarrely compelling postcard on eBay of a sweet little boy with a huge head dressed in Chinese costume and entitled “Master Handsome—Hydrocephalic Mind Reader” was responsible for my creation of a small child called Minnie whose stage name is Little Beauty and whose powers might be more than carnie bunkum. Mr. Bopp’s appearance is based on a real life performer in the movie Freaks, Prince Randian, who performed as The Human Torso for forty-five years, starting in the late 1800’s. Abel’s father is patterned on Johnny Eck, the Half Boy also featured in "Freaks," a Baltimore native and already a sideshow star in his own right before the making of the movie, but Mr. Dandy also has a little Eli Bowen in him. I have some wonderful family pictures of Mr. Bowen with his wife and son--physical anomalies didn't stop many of these performers from finding love and raising a family. And while there was a four-legged woman called Myrtle Corbin, Albert Sunderland, the four-legged man is mostly based on Francis Lentini, a famous three-legged man who also kicked a soccer ball around on stage, and I have photographic evidence of his…ahem…other extras.

Yes, I read up on ancient Egypt, too--the role of women was one of my focuses. I chose an era that suited my needs and gave historical background to a little piece of business I needed for the plot. I was especially interested in the idea of the ka and the ba, aspects of the human soul--the spiritual parts of us that transcend the body. One of my favorite books was a reproduction of a 19th century study of Egyptian magic. The Egyptian ideas about the magical power of words and symbols gave shape to my plot.

Another challenge was writing a book with the flavor of the style of the time without being exactly the style of the time which might have turned off contemporary readers because of it's complexity. I use slang and expressions of the 19th century and try to convey a certain formality without losing the immediacy today's reader needs. Writing this book also required suggesting the prejudices of the time without using the blunt language that would be accurate, but make contemporary readers very uncomfortable and open the way for misinterpretation of my motives. My main character needed to be more formal and polite than today's teens without appearing stuffy or too good to be true. I probably made him more liberal than is strictly accurate but I needed him that way for a modern reader to identify with him, so I had to make his attitude believable within the constraints of the time period.

The book touches on the question of insiders, outsiders, and the relative perspective on who is odd. Abel Dandy, your protagonist, for example, feels that he is unusual because unlike his extended "family," he is physically like most people. What is your thinking on this subject, and how does the question resonate with you? Why did you think it would be an interesting theme to explore for the YA audience?

Growing up, I was the odd girl teased for her red hair and glasses who never seemed to belong in whatever neighborhood she moved to. I read lots of books, I was shy, I wrote, I had an imagination, and things popped out of my mouth sometimes that I wished I could retract when I saw the wary looks in other people's eyes. When I came to this county from England at the age of fifteen, I finally found a group of people I fit in with--we all considered ourselves a bit odd and we decided to make it a positive thing. One of the reasons I loved the movie "Freaks" so much when I was a teenager, was that it treated with respect the people considered freaks by the “normal” world. In the 1960’s the media called the type of people I hung out with “hippies,” and less than kind people called us “freaks” so we took on that title of Freak and wore it proudly. We made it our own to say that being different was acceptable. (I used that title for this book in the same spirit and also to pay tribute to Tod Browning who endured much criticism and censorship for his attempt to show that even those who look very different still have the same feelings as we all do.)

I know there are plenty of teens who feel the way I did. It's a time when we are so painfully aware of our quirks, exaggerate them in our minds even, and yet we bemoan our mundane qualities. It's when we yearn to be different, yet are embarrassed by our differences. It's a time when our bodies seem to betray us with every step we take as they warp and change out of our control (although I have to admit that I'm discovering that middle age is rather like that, too), and yet we are obsessed with our bodies and those of the others around us.

Adolescence is a period when a person is trying hard to define him or herself, and I think that teens are naturally inclined to want to make a study of what is considered abnormal and compare themselves to that standard.

Nowadays I don't care how weird people think I am, so I thought I'd share my obsessions and make people think about them. There’s a certain repulsion-attraction mechanism in humans. The "oh gross" response compels them to pay attention and gives me the chance to plant the seed of thought. Maybe my book will help people consider the right of people to control their own destiny; confirm for them that it’s character that counts not looks; reassure them that to be unique is valuable; or guide them to a sense of wonder where they least expected it, and bestow a fascination with the mystery of the human body and the strength of the human spirit.

I noticed that Freaks is marked for ages 14-up, which is a relatively new designation in YA, signalling that the book is targeted at the YA/Adult crossover market. What are your feelings about this 14-up category? What are the challenges today in writing, publishing, and marketing upper YA?

I think that this category is right for this book. I would feel uncomfortable offering it to someone younger because I don't think as many younger kids would enjoy it on the level that it is intended to be enjoyed. I require a certain level of surging hormones in my readers. *grin* I was a little annoyed when one review placed the book at 12 and up. I wondered if the reviewer had read the book properly.

I don't feel that upper YA is a challenge for me to write--it's just where I land, both feet together--plop. I do think it's a tightrope walk for some, however. I think it's a matter of knowing how far out to push the envelope so one can be honest and true to the kids without alienating the gatekeepers because, no matter how we may not like it, there are adults between the writer and the teen audience who may be more conservative than the teens and may not give the kids enough credit for what they can absorb.

A writer has to remember, too, that there isn't just one generic teen. People are people, and they have differing sensibilities, they mature at different rates, and some people are just not going to get you however old or young they are. Another challenge is the YA category itself--some teens who are the perfect age for the category are going to reject it as childish just because it is marketed for teens. I would have been one of them. A good cover can help that, and subtle placement in bookstores and libraries. That is out of the writer's control, however. Another frustration.

What advice do you have for writers who're interested in crafting horror or gothic fantasy novels?

Be aware of the genre and don't ignore your predecessors: learn from them, and then make a style of your own. Write in those genres because you love them, not because you feel the genre will sell. You can't fool a true fan. All the rules of good writing apply--they are not waived because you are writing genre fiction. Remember, the more fantastic your plot, the more important it is to ground the story in reality so your reader believes everything. Your characters must come alive, the details of your setting be real, and your facts based on accurate research. Yes, even fiction needs to be researched.

How has your writing changed over the past few years? What are your goals for the future?

I haven't a clue as to how my writing has changed. Perhaps it hasn't. I don't think my style has changed much, but I do hope my writing has improved. I'd hate to think I was stagnating. (There's nothing grosser than a green and slimy writer.) My goal is to write faster. LOL! I haven't gotten very far on that yet. My last short story came out rather fast, though--I do hope the next book I have in mind will, too. All I have are a bunch of notes and a sound track in my head so far. I'm setting it in the here and now so that should give me a head start, but I have to do some research on demons. Ahhhhhhhhhh! Research. Here we go again.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Think about writing. Work full-time as a children's librarian at the management level. Think about writing. Make a fuss over my six cats--three of which are Siamese but none are Siamese twins. Think about writing. Hang out on a Siamese cat Internet bulletin board. Think about writing. Listen to music that is probably too young for me but who cares anyway. Think about writing. Read when I can but mostly mess about on the computer. Think about writing. Never get around to renovating the house that needs it. Think about writing. Fall asleep on the couch watching TV with my husband. Dream about writing. Sorry, I don't do extreme sports or travel the world and have adventures--I do stuff in my head.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I didn’t expect to learn old songs when I began Freaks, I didn’t know I’d be printing out glossaries of circus slang, and I didn’t know I would fall in love with my characters as much as I did. I may have started reading about unusual people out of curiosity, but what I brought away was respect—respect for people who fought the odds against them and created lives for themselves. They made the best of what they had, earned a living, loved, married, had children, and left a legacy when they could—just like anyone. We are all different—and how boring life would be if we were all the same—but some of those differences may be more obvious than others, and present greater challenges. Yet one thing unites us—we are all human. Let’s treat each other that way.

Cheers!
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