Thursday, August 31, 2006

Author-Blogger Interview: Anne Bustard on Anneographies (Picture Book Biographies)

Anneographies: "Author Anne Bustard on her favorite picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday." A wonderful resource for teachers, librarians, readers, and researching writers. The blog debuted Aug. 1, 2006.

Anne Bustard on Anne Bustard: "I was born and raised in Hawaii, with a few years in California sandwiched in between. I was an avid reader as a child, and when I was a teen, I had secret aspirations of being a writer, maybe a poet. I moved to Texas to go to college and took a class in children's literature my junior year. Revisiting beloved books and finding new ones fueled my dream. That's when I knew--I wanted to write for children."

Congratulations on the launch of Anneographies! For those who've yet to visit, can you offer a bit insight into the focus of this exciting new blog?

I'm blogging about my fave picture book biographies, and a few collective biographies, too, organized by the subjects' birthday.

What inspired you to offer Anneographies?

Once a bookseller, always a bookseller, and a teacher, too. I love talking about books, and I love the idea of connecting people and books outside of the traditional four walls. I was also inspired by two uber information-rich blogs, your Cynsations and Chris Barton's Bartography.

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

The idea for the blog came to me in early May, and I launched Anneographies on August 1, 2006. I spent the first month scrambling to accumulate the core data--books and birthdays, took a few mini-breaks in June, and then revved up again in July. Now I work on it a little bit each day.

What were the challenges (research, psychological, and logistical) of preparation?

Fact: Starting with birthday lists and then finding books to match was a mistake.

I quickly discovered my initial process was backwards--I had to start with the books. So off I went to my bookshelves, libraries, and bookstores in search of good reads.

Fact: The more days in the blog that I could match to books, the better.

I wish I had a match for every day of the year, but I don't. If I expanded the list to include chapter-book-length works, I'd be closer. However, that's a project for another soul.

So, about halfway through my first round of research, I decided to include a select number of collective biographies. Thank you, Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt for your wonderful series on the lives of presidents, artists, women and more. And thank you Cynthia Chin-Lee and Megan Halsey and Sean Addy for your terrific tributes to amazing women, Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World (Charlesbridge, 2005) and men, Akira to Zoltan: Twenty-Six Men Who Changed the World (Charlesbridge, 2006).

Fact: All picture book biographies and collective biographies do not contain birth and death dates (if applicable).

In each case, I had to know this critical information for my idea to work. I love playing detective. Who knew there was such a thing as the Social Security Death Index on the Web or that if I e-mailed the American Lighthouse Foundation, Bob Trapani, the executive director, would write me back with needed dates for Abbie Burgess? While all this searching took time, I didn't mind a bit. It's hot in Texas in the summer, and being inside was a good thing.

My problem was I couldn't stop, and at some point, I just had to. There are a number of birthdays that are still unknown to me. I'll never figure out Cleopatra's, but I just know someone in Saratoga Springs, New York, knows when George Crum, inventor of the potato chip, lived. And I'm hoping that person will write me. I've done a lot of research on Mr. Crum and some others without the needed results.

Anyway. I've decided to feature a few biographies of people with unknown birthdays each month. I figure we can celebrate these great people any day.

Fact: There are zillions of books out there about Johnny Appleseed, Christopher Columbus, and Abraham Lincoln. Okay, not a zillion. But a lot. Most people only have one book written about them.

When a subject was featured in more than one book, I chose my favorite. My blog is not meant to be all-inclusive.

Why did you decide to use birthdays as a framework?

I've heard that "Happy Birthday to You" is the most popular song in the English language. Birthdays seemed like a universal bond that everyone could relate to.

And I have a theory. I think that people like to know if someone famous was born on their day. I know I do. I used to think if there were children's authors born on my birthday, it was a sign that I could be one, too.

When I discovered--by reading Talking with Artists, compiled and edited by Pat Cummings (Bradbury, 1992)--that Pat Cummings and Lois Ehlert and I share the same birthday, I was thrilled. Believe me, having the same birthday as ex-vice president Spiro Agnew didn't have the same affect. Of course when I finally started to write, I realized my magical thinking wasn't enough. But I was grateful it was one of the many little things that kept me going.

You're the author of a picture book biography, Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman 2005)(excerpt)(author interview). What draws you to this literary form?

Biographies and I have a special relationship. I chose my college major and, therefore, university based on my favorite biography from elementary school. I wanted to be like Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher. I ended up switching my major to another field in education, but it was a biography that led my way.

I'm inspired by the lives of others--that one person can make a difference in the world--and I'm interested in the stories behind their stories. I have a high curiosity quotient, or maybe I'm just nosey.

Like many (or maybe most) writers, I'm very visual. I see pictures in my head when I write. For me, writing a picture book biography brings my experience full-circle. I don't know how he did it, but somehow Kurt Cyrus got inside my mind's-eye and Buddy Holly's and West Texas'.

Kurt's art invites the reader in, takes them to specific moments in time, and then interprets and adds to my words with glorious images and colors. Reading the pictures is an integral part of the book's experience and allows children of all ages and abilities to be touched by the story.

What are some of your favorite recent picture book biographies and why?

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully (FSG, 2006). What a captivating read. Margaret E. Knight was the first woman to receive a U.S. patent and is best known for inventing a machine that made paper bags. I was in awe of Knight's childhood tinkering and cheered as she fought and won her right to a patent in court as an adult.

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Jos. S. Smith (Abrams, 2006). Simple, in the best sense of the word, this book offers a fascinating look inside the world of the first geneticist. From experimentation and the observation of generations of peas, Mendel's theory of heredity was born. The artwork made me feel like I was standing next to Mendel in his garden. I loved it.

Theodore by Frank Keating, illustrated by Mike Wimmer (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2006)(excerpt)(author interview from the publisher). The oil-on-canvas illustrations in this book should be hanging in art museums. Wow. This biography of Teddy Roosevelt, told in his own words, offered me more than facts. I felt as if I also knew Roosevelt's heart.

Cynsational Notes

Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly by Anne Bustard, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman 2005)(excerpt)(author interview) won the 2005 June Franklin Naylor Award, is a Triple Crown National Award (Children's Gallery) Nominee for 2006-2007, and was a finalist for the 2005 Teddy Children's Book Award. See related curriculum ideas.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Novelist's Notebook by Laurie Henry

The Novelist's Notebook by Laurie Henry (Story Press, 1999). "An inspiring journal to help you complete your novel. Filled with imaginative exercises and advice from well-known writers." Written in a conversational, upbeat style, The Novelist's Notebook is a mentor in book form. Includes: planning; beginning to write; necessities; possibilities; when you're stuck; and double-checking and revising.

Cynsational Links

The Novelist's Notebook by Laurie Henry: a recommendation by Sarah Reaves White of WritersWrite.com. Scroll to read. Also reviewed on that page are: Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Bud Gardner (Health Communications, 2000); Achieving Financial Independence as a Freelance Writer by Ray Dreyfack (Blue Heron, 2000).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Author Interview: Lola M. Schaefer on An Island Grows

Lola M. Schaefer is the author of Arrowhawk, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Henry Holt, 2004); Toolbox Twins, illustrated by Melissa Iwai (Henry Holt, 2006), Mittens, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung (HarperCollins, 2006)(My First I Can Read Book), and An Island Grows, illustrated by Cathie Felstead (Greenwillow, 2006). She lives with her husband, Ted, on four acres in rural Indiana.

What about the writing life first called to you? Were you quick to answer or did time pass by?

As a child and young adult I never in my wildest dreams thought that I could or would write. I believed that writers were a special lot (which, of course, they are) all living together (which, of course, they don't) in a private setting with unique powers and abilities (I'm still waiting for those!).

I didn't consider writing until I became a seventh grade teacher. Watching the impact good books had on my students made me want to learn how to put words on paper that might have that same kind of appeal and import. It took quite a few years of experimentation and attending conference after conference, as well as professional reading, before a career began to emerge.

I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to write for young readers. I respect the honesty, intelligence, and unabashed passion of youth. In my opinion, they are the most discriminating audience which, in turn, becomes quite a motivating force for excellence.

For those new to your work, could you briefly summarize your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

I write what is important to me at the time. Since I've always been enamored with the natural world, many of my books, whether school/library or trade picture books, are about one of the processes that nurture the animals, plants, rocks, or weather of this planet.

In many of my picture books, I try to offer readers the joy and wonder of one aspect of nature. In Pick, Pull, Snap! Where Once A Flower Bloomed, illustrated by Lindsay Barrett George (Greenwillow, 2002), I try to intrigue readers with the amazing processes of pollination, fertilization, growth, and harvest of fruit without getting technical. Instead, I focus on the quiet day-to-day happenings that bring this marvelous fruit to our hands.

Recently, I've been exploring fiction. For me, this is more challenging. With topics from the natural world, the storyline is provided, and it's my job to find the correct format, language, and presentation. With fiction, I need to create it all and make it work, from character through resolution. I Can Read (HarperCollins) has introduced a new series in the My First I Can Read books that I've written entitled Mittens (2006). Mittens is a kitten who, of course, has some of the same concerns as the young people who will be reading it. And, I just completed a revision of my first novel for an editor. It's a work of historical fiction. Now, that was hard work--satisfying, but difficult!

In addition to all of the books that I write for children, Scholastic publishes my professional books for teachers. These offer strategies that can help students take responsibility for writer's craft and the quality of their writing.

Congratulations on the publication of An Island Grows, illustrated by Cathie Felstead (Greenwillow, 2006)? What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The inspiration behind An Island Grows is actually quite quirky. I heard about a college student's comment on how "islands float." I decided that maybe a simple book was needed for the younger reader to explain how one kind of island forms and how it is rooted to the earth. I was pretty sure that volcanic islands would offer more allure to younger readers than the
other types of islands, so I began my research.

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

When I shared the F & G's (folded and gathered) of An Island Grows last spring with a few elementary classes, I asked them to guess how long it took me to write this book. Estimations ranged from three days to three months.

Actually, it took me more than 2 1/2 years to complete this text. Why?

It was like putting a puzzle together. First I double-checked each stage of the progression with different scientists. This sounds silly, considering how straight-forward my topic was. But I never skip this part of the process. Quite often I learn how inaccurate common knowledge can be; plus, experts share fascinating details that add interest and an important layer to my understanding. Research can take a few weeks to a few months depending on your experts' schedules.

Next, I wanted to find a form for the story. I decided upon a "terse verse" explanation of how a volcanic island forms, hoping this unique cadence would illustrate the sporadic activity that creates this phenomenon from its earliest beginnings until it is a thriving habitat.

Finally, and this was the most challenging phase, I had to find rhyming couplets that would extend meaning instead of crippling the work. Frustration ran high while writing this text. I could only work on it for a few days at a time before I would hit a roadblock. I would then slide it back into the file cabinet and bring it out a few weeks later. The story nagged at me, but I was never sure that I could pull it off. Eventually, it fell into place. Thankfully, my editor at Greenwillow Books thought it was a great story, and she found the best illustrator for the project.

What did Cathie Felstead's art bring to your text?

I think Cathie's art for this book is exceptional. I love that she kept it clean and simple, same as the writing. I think she literally brought life to the words. It may sound silly, but I love the endpages. As a reader of picture books, as well as a writer, I'm always intrigued with that initial flavor that the endpages offer the audience. For me, her pattern is one of peacefulness, obviously a starting and ending point of the story.

Her use of red for the title excites me--the same color as the life source of the island--the magma and lava. I enjoy how the illustrations grow in detail and color as the island becomes rich with life, first plant and animal, then settlers. I also appreciate how the art takes up more of the page as the island becomes a prosperous habitat. Can you tell that I'm thrilled that [Greenwillow editor] Virginia Duncan selected Cathie? I think it was perfect match for this book.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Oh, I doubt that I can offer anything new that hasn't been said or written again and again to beginning writers, but here goes. Read, read, and read. Read for enjoyment, read as a writer, read as a book reviewer. Then experiment. I have to use that word. Most of us think that our first manuscript will flow from our fingertips word perfect. It doesn't, and now I realize it wouldn't be a good thing if it did.

Learn to love revision. Enjoy dinking with scenes, images, phrases, and words. Rethink when you revise because typically the first draft isn't anywhere near the core of what you want to write. But you don't know that until you get those first words down. With every revision comes a clearer understanding of what it is you're trying to say. And, for me, there's an ah-ha, a major moment when I see the "real" story, or the "real" concept that I want to convey. From that point on, polishing the manuscript is not only rewarding, it's absolute fun!

How about those building a career?

As I see it, building a career depends on two things--patience with your own writing so you can strive for excellence and an intelligent, generous editor. I'm blessed with the latter, and I'm working on the former.

From my perspective, nothing beats studying your craft, the industry, and networking with other authors. It takes time. And honestly, everyone should enjoy those months/years of study. It's a quiet time--a time without the responsibility of webpages and presentations. All of your time can be devoted to thinking about story, craft, or format.

As far as editors, I work with some of the very best. My picture books always improve from the suggestions of my editors. They bring their experience and wisdom to the project, and I take the text to a new level. It's great.

And in either case, how about those interested in creative non-fiction?

Creative non-fiction or narrative non-fiction is a powerful genre. I view it as facts with emotional impact. If a person wants to write about lions or rainbows or comets, find the slant that will appeal to the reader. Will it be funny? Poignant? Fill a reader with wonder? Is it a true story that offers a wide range of emotions?

Then, check and recheck your information. Don't rely on books. Consult experts in the field. They are always delighted to share their knowledge, and as I wrote earlier, quite often their comments offer insights that add another rich layer to the writing.

When you have both--the emotion and the facts, blend them, never letting the facts override the emotional appeal. Remember your audience, and make the information palatable and engaging on every level.

What do you do when you're not writing?

When I'm not writing, I read--a lot. I also enjoy fossil hunting, biking, walking, and gardening. Of course, visiting our two grown sons is top of the list.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I've always got quite a few different projects in the pipeline. Coming in 2007 with Greenwillow Books is an unusual, but fun (and funny), narrative non-fiction picture book. I can't spoil the surprise and tell you what it's about. All I can say is watch the HarperCollins site a year from now to get the scoop on this original book.

The second book about Mittens will appear in spring, 2007.

And in the fall, a zany picture book about the son of Frank N. Stein will debut.

In the meantime, I'm completing a narrative-nonfiction novelty book, another character driven early reader, and I'm starting a new novel. Whew! Never a dull moment.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Author Interview: Laurie Faria Stolarz on Bleed

Bleed by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, September 2006). From the catalog copy: "Over the course of a single day, the lives of ten teenagers will intersect in powerful and unexpected ways. Among them are Nicole, whose decision to betray her best friend will shock everyone, most of all herself; Kelly, who meets the convicted felon she’s been writing to for years; and Maria, whose definition of a true friend is someone who will cut her. Derik discovers his usual good looks and charm won’t help him get the girl he really wants, while Joy, a fifteen year old waitress, hoping for true intimacy, narrowly escapes a very dark fate. Seamlessly woven together, this collection of interconnected short stories paints an authentic portrait of today’s teen experience that is at once funny, moving, and often very haunting." Ages 12-up.

How did writing first call to you?

I've been writing since before I could even hold a pen. As a small child, I was constantly telling stories to whomever would listen to me. When I'd exhausted my family with my endless babbling, I'd go out and tell my tales to the neighborhood kids--passing the stories off as truth. I'd tell of going into the meadows at night and wrestling with a mountain lion or the time I found a boa constrictor in my mom's garden and had to grapple for my life, winding the snake from around my neck just in the knick of time. Telling stories is just something I've always done. I used to write plays and scripts for my Barbie dolls and make people watch the performances.

My love of creating stories continued into school when I'd have to write a paragraph or short essay about what I did during Christmas vacation or summer break. I never thought my own life was exciting enough, so I was forever inventing stories.

People along the way, including some teachers, would tell me that I should pursue writing as a career but, at the time, it wasn't a possibility. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, and majoring in something like English wasn't really an option. It was more like a luxury. I ended up going to business school, following in my older brothers' footsteps.

It wasn't until after I got my B.S. in marketing that I pursued my graduate degree in creative writing. I'm thankful for my marketing degree now, however, because it really helps me with my books.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I have a folder filled with rejection letters for Blue is for Nightmares. My favorite rejection letter is from an editor who said: "While this is an interesting project, I do not feel it is strong enough to compete in today's competitive young adult market."

That same young adult novel has sold well over 100,000 copies, was named a Reluctant Reader Quick Pick, and was nominated for YALSA's Top Ten Teen pick list. And that same editor has since expressed interest in my future work.

When I speak to young people and aspiring writers, I always tell them this story, that if I had stopped persevering, like many of my former classmates, after I received my first--or my 40th rejection letter--I may never have been able to enjoy the success of my series. I was finally lucky enough to find an enthusiastic home for Blue is for Nightmares at Llewellyn Publications.

Perseverance is key--and so is believing in yourself and being open to learning and getting better in your craft.

Your backlist glows with the best-selling Blue is for Nightmares series (Llewellyn, 2003 -). Could you tell us a bit about it?

I first started Blue is for Nightmares in an adolescent fiction writing workshop at Emerson College. I knew I wanted to write a mystery/thriller. I loved suspense novels as a young adult, and I really wanted to write something that would have appealed to me at that age, adding in elements of humor, romance, and drama. I wanted my main character to be relatable for teens; I wanted her to be flawed, to have secrets, and to have lots of opportunity for growth.

When I started the novel, I had no idea I would delve into the world of magic and witchcraft. That is until I did a free-writing exercise in my workshop class. I had no idea what I wanted Stacey, my main character to do, so I had her meditating in front of a blue candle, looking for answers. Because I had made Stacey originally from Salem, MA, like me, people in my writers group made the witchcraft connection with the candle. They encouraged me to go in that direction. That one scene ended up being the inspiration for the novel and now the series.

Even though I grew up in Salem, I didn’t know too much about the formal practice of the Craft, though I had heard growing up that my grandmother had experience with the sixth sense. I started doing research and asking lots of questions. I learned a lot this way. I learned of passed-down home remedies, interesting family superstitions, tea readings, card readings, and specific experiences with the sixth sense, some of which find themselves in the novel.

I also researched the more formal practices of Witchcraft and Wicca, as well as other folk magical practices/home remedies that pass down within families.

Having done this research and seeing the way that Witchcraft is so often negatively portrayed in the media, I wanted to show the true peaceful nature of this earth-based religion, without the hocus-pocus. I wanted to weave an education into the story, using Stacey Brown as a reflective, self-empowering young woman.

When I sold Blue is for Nightmares, I knew I wanted to write a trilogy. But, the ending of Silver is for Secrets, the third book, is somewhat of a cliffhanger, which is why I wrote the fourth book, Red is for Remembrance. Teens write to me all the time, asking if I plan to continue the series. We'll see.

[The second book in the series is White Is For Magic.]

Congratulations on the publication of Bleed (Hyperion, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thanks! I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday--even the smaller ones--can affect others in ways we may never even consider. The decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone's house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach--how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people's lives...even the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend's boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

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

I wrote the manuscript in about a year, while I was trying to sell Blue is for Nightmares, so, even when I was finished with the manuscript, I still didn’t have any publication credits behind me. It took over a year to sell, but it finally found a great home at Hyperion.

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

The novel is told from ten different points of view, some of them male. Getting into the heads of all the drastically different characters was a challenge, especially when dealing with some of the more sensitive and troubling issues in the novel. I also didn't want to churn out what's already out there. I wanted to show a different take on eating disorders, on bullying, on cutting.

Also, because the novel takes place over the course of just one day, I wanted to show the potential for character growth while still being true to the events.

In other words, at the end of a single day, it wouldn't have been realistic to wrap everything up in a pretty bow or to have a seriously troubled character evolve completely. I had to walk a fine line--tying things up in a satisfying and yet believable way.

What do you love about your writing life?

Getting to connect with my readers. I'm lucky to receive between 50-100 reader e-mails per week, telling me how the books have touched them, impacted them, empowered them in some way. It doesn’t get much better than that. Also, I like having an excuse to watch MTV and read Teen Vogue on a regular basis.

What are its tougher aspects?

Writing can be very isolating, which is why it's so important--for me--to try and connect with other authors, friends, colleagues whenever I can. I love making school visits or attending author events, stepping out of my quiet office to connect with readers and people in the business.

What advice do you have for beginning writers/authors?

I would recommend reading what it is you love. Ask yourself why you love it, why you feel it works. What technique does the writer use that works for you? What point-of-view? What do you like about the dialogue? The characters? Do the same for books that don't appeal to you. Become a better reader.

By answering some of these questions, you'll become one. You'll be able to identify what works for you as a reader. Then, apply those elements to your writing. Also, consider joining a writers' group. I rely heavily on mine. They're there for inspiration as well as critiques. We support each other through every step of the process--from that first idea to the finished book.

And lastly, of course, it goes without saying that before you send anything out, know the market. Know which editors are looking for your type of book, what their policy is on reading unsolicited manuscripts, if you’ll need an agent, and which agents are accepting new clients in your genre. Also, be sure to ask your agent for a client list, check that they're a member of AAR [Association of Author Representatives], and never pay reading fees.

How about for short story writers and novelists specifically?

Same as above. Become a better reader. This will help you become a better writer. It will help you channel your inner critic. And, always remember, perseverance is key.

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

I'm big into yoga. I also love healthy cooking, going for long power walks, seeing a good suspense film, watching lots of reality TV, and reading YA books.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on the edits for my companion book to Bleed. The working title is Project 17, and it explores one of the characters from Bleed more deeply. It's about a group of teens who break into an abandoned asylum at night to film a movie.

Cynsational Notes

According to the publisher website, Laurie will be "blogging exclusively at fluxnow.com and at myspace.com/fluxnow" from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Flux Sponsors Writing Contest for YAs

Happy Birthday to Flux, a new Llewellyn imprint dedicated to YA fiction, which is launching this coming week.

In celebration, Flux is offering a contest for young readers aged 11 to 19. The tweens and teens are asked to respond to the following (see Flux for complete passage): "We're interested in all kinds of change, sudden and gradual, physical and emotional, hilarious or tragic. In 500 words or less, tell us about how change has affected your life."

Five winners will receive a complete set of signed Flux books.

One entry per tween/teen. The deadline is Oct. 11; winners will be announced Oct. 23. See complete details on the Aug. 26 post.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Phil Binder, author of The Greatest Game Ever Played, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Putnam, August 2006). Ages 5-up. A father-son story against the backdrop of a legendary football game.

The Boulder Public Library Teen Web offers recommendation lists, including: Adult Mysteries for Teens; Classics that Won't Kill You; Comics...Mythology in the Making; Coping with Hurricane Katrina; Do Something; Don't Know Much about History; GLBTQ & Advocates (Fiction and Nonfiction); Guy Books You'll Actually Want to Read; Horror; If You Loved Angus, Thongs...; Love and Love Stinks; To Be Or Not To Be...Popular; and Who Dunit? Highlighted authors included: M.T. Anderson; Marion Dane Bauer; Margaret Bechard; Holly Black; Niki Burnham; Cecil Castellucci; J.B. Cheaney; Nancy Garden; K.L. Going; Brent Hartinger; Jennifer Richard Jacobson; Annette Curtis Klause; Ron Koertge; David LaRochelle; E. Lockhart; Stephenie Meyer; Linda Sue Park; Julie Anne Peters; Marsha Qualey; Alex Sanchez; Greg Leitich Smith; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Vivian Vande Velde; Nancy Werlin; and Ellen Wittlinger.

Fall 2006 Banned Books Book Sense Top Ten Picks: Compiled by the American Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE). Highlights include: Geography Club by Brent Hartinger (HarperTempest)(author interview) and Forever by Judy Blume (Atheneum)(author interview). Banned books week kicks off Sept. 24. See also: AS IF: Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom.

"The Complete History of Young Adult Novels" by David Lubar, a short humor article originally published in the Spring 2003 issue of the ALAN review. Visit David's blog, Gladfly in the Ointment, and read a recent Cynsations interview with David.

How To Find an Agent by fantasy author Cinda Williams Chima (PDF file). Learn more about agents on my website.

"A School Story" by Eden Ross Lipson from Perspectives at CBC Magazine. "Eden Ross Lipson edited the children's books coverage of the New York Times from 1984 through 2005. She continues to write and speak about children's books."

Linda Skeers debuts her official website. Linda is the author of Toy Makers (Lucent, 2004), The Impossible Patriotism Project, illustrated by Ard Hoyt (Dial, 2007), and Tippy-Toes Aren't My Style (Dial, forthcoming). Surf by her guestbook and welcome her to the Web.

On Voice from Linda Sue Park's LJ. Linda Sue unravels the mystery and emphasizes what matters most. Read a recent Cynsations interview with Linda Sue.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Author Interview: Barbara Dee on Just Another Day In My Insanely Real Life

Just Another Day In My Insanely Real Life by Barbara Dee (McElderry/Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt). From the promo copy: "Twelve-year-old Cassie has a lot to cope with when her father moves 'out of the picture.' Her mom's constantly working overtime, her teenage sister's going AWOL, and her little brother seriously needs attention. It's up to Cassie to prevent total chaos at home--or so she thinks. She can't control everything, though. At school Cassie's two 'best' friends are turning nasty, and a cute boy is sending mixed signals. And then there's Mr. Mullaney--the weirdest, hardest English teacher in the seventh grade--who hates everything she does. Since Mr. Mullaney isn't even reading her brilliant work, Cassie starts submitting journal entries like A Virtual Tour of My Insanely Messy Desk. But her sassy humor isn't winning her any friends or helping her ailing grades. What's a girl to do when life gets totally insane?" Ages 10-up.

Barbara Dee on Barbara Dee: "I grew up in Brooklyn, the tall geeky kid whose head was always in a book. After graduating from Yale, I married a classmate, taught at Andover and at Kent School in Connecticut, and earned my M.A. in English at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English. Something possessed me to try law school, so I enrolled at the University of Chicago, where, amazingly, I made law review. I practiced law for a couple of unhappy years until the birth of my first son, then began reviewing books.

"When my youngest child started first grade, I said to myself: 'Okay. You've always wanted to write a children's book, and here's your chance. The house is finally quiet, so no more excuses!'

"I wrote two warm-up manuscripts, then Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life, which was published this past spring."

How did writing first call to you?

Probably in the womb! I still have books I wrote when I was five years old. My kids think they're hilarious, but I think they're cute.

Congratulations on the publication of Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life (McElderry, 2006). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I live in a comfortable, peaceful suburb where many kids lead intensely structured lives. One day I found myself wondering what would happen if all that structure just fell away. And that's when I started thinking about Cassie, who uses her fantasy journal--and her sense of humor--to cope with the chaos.

I also had a more general inspiration: I spend hours every week at the local library, scouring the shelves for good reads for my own middle-school-aged kids. It seems that for tweens there's an abundance of new fantasy novels right now, but fewer set in the recognizable, actual world.

And while I have nothing against wizards and dragons, I do think there's something profound and magical that happens when you look at a character and think: "Wow! She's exactly like me!" So I decided to try writing a highly realistic story about a fantasy-obsessed kid.

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

The first draft, which was about a girl who turns her life into a science fiction story, took me just about four months to write in the spring/summer of 2003.

My wonderful agent Denise Shannon told me it was "good but still very rough." One big problem, she said, was that girls simply didn't read science fiction.

She also felt that Cassie's mom needed to be more involved in the family, even if the novel's premise was that she was always working overtime. So I developed Mom's character and changed Cassie's journal into a fantasy-novel version of her life (which was actually easier for me, and a whole lot more fun to write). Denise sent the manuscript around in the winter of 2004, and I didn't hear anything for about five or six months.

Gradually, I began to get some non-form-letter rejections, usually praising Cassie's voice but finding fault with various aspects of the plot (e.g., too much fighting between the sisters about food shopping).

One editor seemed a little more positive than the others, so Denise asked her if she'd be willing to reread the manuscript if I made the changes she suggested. When she agreed, I locked myself in my bedroom for two weeks that summer, unearthed my other rejection letters, and wrote a new draft that addressed as many of the criticisms as I could. I also added some new chapters that took the story in an entirely different direction--for example, when Cassie runs away on her bike, and has a revelation about her dad.

Denise loved the new version, sent it to the editor--who promptly mailed back a rejection. I was devastated, but I knew by then that the manuscript had more emotional depth.

And just a few months later, in the late fall of 2004, Margaret McElderry made an offer. I was lucky enough to have Karen Wojtyla as my editor, and she worked patiently with me until publication in the spring of 2006.

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

Two big challenges come to mind. One was writing an ending that accounted for Dad's absence without tying it up with a perfect little bow. It was important to me that by the end of the book, Cassie begins to understand the difference between real life and fantasy: in fantasy novels, you can have "absolutely perfect conclusions," but in real life, people sometimes act "insanely."

I needed Cassie to be able to love and forgive her dad without having all the answers about his behavior, and I needed to accomplish this without compromising her funny/angry/anxious voice.

The broader challenge for me was serving the audience. I recently gave a speech to the Shoreline, CT chapter of SCBWI in which I described preteen readers as "tadpoles"--not quite children, not quite YA.

I think it's incredibly tricky to write for this age group: on the one hand, you need to respect their innocence, but on the other hand, you can't--and shouldn't--completely avoid some challenging topics. But you have to touch on those topics very, very lightly, because there's a chasm between what a fifth or sixth grader is ready to grapple with, and what's increasingly available in the YA section (although I'm always delighted to see my novel there, as well!).

Of course, the most important thing is to create appealing characters, because I think that for middle schoolers, reading is almost a social experience. You need characters your readers can identify with, or maybe even want to hang out with.

What are the challenges of your writing life?

The main challenge is dedicating a solid block of time to work. I'm a mom, and there's always someone to take to the orthodontist.

What do you love about it?

The fact that when I'm writing, I'm completely unscheduled. I don't have to nag myself to work, or clean up after myself, or drive myself anywhere. I'm just at my computer, writing and deleting. And when something works, there's no better feeling.

The other thing I love is talking to kids. When they really like what you've written, you can see it in their eyes, and that's just so touching to me. And they have all sorts of brilliant ideas for a sequel, which someday I just might do!

What advice do you have for beginning authors?

Before you send your manuscript anywhere, try to find someone who's able to be positive and critical at the same time. (My own first reader is always my husband, who knows how to tell me what doesn't work without freaking me out.) And when you start to get rejection letters, try to view the negative comments as a vote of confidence.

After all, editors are incredibly busy people, and if they're willing to rescue a beginner's manuscript from the slush pile, read it all the way through, and then take the trouble to write up some feedback, they're taking you seriously. Most importantly, consider what they're telling you, especially if they're all saying the same thing.

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

Aside from the typical mom stuff, swimming, doing crossword puzzles, and watching movies and baseball games.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm currently working on a manuscript about a girl who discovers she can read codes. I've finished the first draft, and it needs significant revision. But I've learned that writing is really just re-writing, so this isn't surprising. Thanks goodness for the delete key!

Cynsational News & Links

An Interview With Barbara Dee from TeensReadToo. She notes, "You don’t have to figure out everything all at once. If you want to do something creative, or just hard, give yourself time."

Emma Dryden: An Interview from KidBookPros. Emma is "Vice President and Editorial Director of Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of the Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Aliens Are Coming! The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast by Megan McCarthy (Knopf, 2006): a recommendation by Esmé Raji Codell from The Planet Esmé Book-A-Day Plan. Esmé also discusses her review philosophy, noting, "I try not to read reviews until after I experienced a book myself, and sometimes I just can't believe the critic and I read the same book[;] have you ever had that experience?" Read a Cynsations interview with Esmé.

Starting October 1st, Lauren Barnholdt (author of Reality Chick (Simon Pulse, 2006)(excerpt)) will be teaching her online writing course, "Writing YA for Girls." Lauren's students have gone on to be published by Random House, Simon and Schuster, and Penguin Putman, and have signed with top agents like Jenny Bent (Trident Media Group), Ethan Ellenberg (Ethen Ellenberg Literary Agency), and Rachel Vater (Lowenstein-Yost Associates). For more information, you can email her at lauren (at) laurenbarnholdt.com. To check out what people are saying about the class, visit her website at www.laurenbarnholdt.com and click on "classes and consultations."

"The Children's Publishing Merry-Go-Round: Ten Exercises to Help Picture Book Writers Hang On" by Nancy Viau from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Class of 2K7 Blog: Debut Children's and Young Adult Authors of 2007. Authors to watch include: Ruth McNally Barshaw, author of Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel (Bloomsbury); Kelly Bingham, author of Shark Girl (Candlewick); Sara Zarr, author of Story of a Girl (Little Brown)(author site and blog); Greg R. Fishbone, author of Penguins of Doom (Blooming Tree)(author site and blog); Sarah Aronson, author of Head Case (Roaring Brook)(blog); and Jo Knowles, author of Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick)(author site and blog). See the whole list.

Highlights of the Fall Children's Book Sense Picks include: Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 2006))(author interview); Twilight and New Moon, both by Stephenie Meyer (Little Brown, 2006)(author interview); Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson (Clarion, 2006); Shug by Jenny Han (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(recommendation); Good Girls by Laura Ruby (HarperCollins, 2006)(author interview); Saint Iggy by K.L. Going (Harcourt, 2006)(author interview).

The Disco Mermaids are holding a contest to give away two autographed copies of The dePaola Code, their spoof of The DaVinci Code. Note: They report, "Both copies are signed by all three Disco Mermaids...and TOMIE dePAOLA!!!" The contest is open to both authors and illustrators.

Rebekah K. Goering launches critique service for children's-YA writers. Rebekah has completed an editorial internship with Dial Books for Young Readers, reading and responding to manuscript submissions, and comes with the highest recommendation of Dial's Editorial Staff as well as that of authors Jane Kurtz (author interview) and Nancy Werlin (author interview). Nancy says, "Rebekah served as an early reader for my most recent YA novel, The Rules of Survival (Dial, 2006)(excerpt), and I can't recommend her strongly enough." Rebekah charges $50 to critique picture book manuscripts and $1 per page to critique novel manuscripts. For more information and/or to request services, contact Rebekah.

"India Ink" by Pooja Makhijani, a guest column at Chicken Spaghetti, on comics/graphic fiction. Pooja is the anthologist of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America (Seal, 2004)(read the introduction). She looks forward to the publication of Mama's Saris (Little Brown, 2007). Learn more about Pooja. Note: Chicken Spaghetti also recommends the blog Wordswimmer, which featured an interview with me earlier this summer.

Kirchoff/Wohlberg Literary Agency: established in the early 1980s. Represents children's book authors and author/illustrators to trade publishers. See the client list.

Cara Lockwood: Wuthering High (MTV Books): an interview by David Gill from ALAN Online. She says, "Wuthering High is the story of a haunted boarding school called Bard Academy."

A Terrific Query Letter from Jenny Bent, literary agent. An example of a letter that works with an explanation as to why.

Trash by Sharon Darrow (Candlewick, 2006)(excerpt) is now available. From the catalog copy: "For sixteen-year-old Sissy and her brother Boy, trash is a reminder of one too many sorry foster placements they've endured, a way of life they can't wait to escape. Now on the run in search of their big sister Raynell, ironically they are forced to rely on their trash-picking skills for sustenance and shelter. Reunited at last with Raynell in St. Louis, Boy and Sissy shed their old identities, reinvent themselves as graffiti artists, and splash their new names on city bridges and walls. But one night's expedition goes horribly wrong, and Sissy looks again to trash, this time as the beginning of something artful and beautiful. Two teen siblings run from foster life -- and find new expression as graffiti artists--in a stark but hopeful poetic novel." Read a recent Cynsations interview with Sharon.

An Interview with Jennifer Zeigler from Random House. Jennifer is the author of Alpha Dog (Delacorte, 2006). Her recommended writing aids include: "Cups of extra strong Columbian Supremo with cream and an eensy bit of sugar."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Author Interview: Julie Larios on Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary

Julie Larios on Julie Larios: "I was born on July 8, 1949, which makes me a child of the first half of the 20th century. So my frame of reference is black-and-white television, Howdy Doody, Joseph McCarthy, JFK, Dallas, LBJ, Vietnam, Berkeley in the 60's, Hitchcock, The Lettermen, Elvis, Roy Orbison, the Beach Boys, Otis Redding, The Beatles, City Lights Books, beatniks, hippies, Patty Hearst, Students for a Democratic Society and and and and and....so now I'm entering my dotage and can't remember my name or the date.

"Somehow, that crazy mix is helping me write. I got my M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Washington, where I studied with brilliant poets--Rick Kenney, Heather McHugh, Linda Bierds. I have three very patient children, all grown now and married and/or in love, all three with frames of reference of their own. My husband comes from Mexico and is very open-minded about my lack of interest in housework.

"I've had poetry published in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, The Georgia Review, Field and others--and my work was chosen to be included in The Best American Poetry 2007, edited by Billy Collins, as well as the Pushcart Prize Anthology XXXI and The Best New Poets 2006. I just won a prize called the Strong Rx Medicine Poetry Prize from the Margie Review. I'm hoping that the strange fence which divides kids' poetry and poetry for adults can be straddled without too much pain."

What set you on the path to a poet's life?

I'd love to say I had some kind of poetry epiphany while reading T.S. Eliot at the precocious age of eleven or twelve, but no such luck. I think it was when I was three or four years old, and I was given "The Bumper Book," edited by Watty Piper (long out of print). It was full of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Eugene Field, and many more. It was a great big, book printed on heavy paper, and I spent lots of slow time reading it before going to bed at night. I still have it (the binding all in tatters) and can still recite by heart most of the poems in it. It had Edward Lear's wonderful "The Owl and the Pussycat"--who can forget lines like "They dined on mince, and slices of quince, / Which they ate with a runcible spoon; / And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, / They danced by the light of the moon...." Come to think of it, that's not far from the best of T.S. Eliot, is it? T.S. himself would agree.

Round about age fourteen, I had a huge crush on my English teacher, Jim Ernst, at Edwin Markham Junior High, and Mr. Ernst gave me Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" as part of a poetry prize. I wrote poetry galore after that--horrible poetry, most of it, though one poem won a national prize from Scholastic Magazine. Ah, sloe-eyed, beautiful James Ernst--that was the beginning of my downfall. And then there was Walt Whitman waiting in the wings--no impressionable 14-year-old girl can resist the "barbaric yawp" of Whitman! (If she can, she's not going to be a poet.) "I sing the body electric" - yikes.

What are the great joys of it? The challenges?

The great joys of it? Hmmm. Well, poetry is like any other craft where the object you're producing takes shape very slowly. That slowness is a joy. A piece of wood from a walnut tree becomes a bowl slowly, very slowly, when a woodworker turns it on his lathe. There's satisfaction in working hard and producing something delicate--a poem--from something as large as language. Most of the joy, I'd say, is in the work. Sometimes the bowl is delightful, too--that's fun. And of course there's joy in the words themselves. For example, I made a list recently of the names of certain marbles--shooters, peewees, cat-eyes, steelies, corkscrews, aggies, popeyes, commies, glassies, oxbloods, bricks, jaspars, boulders, bumblebees, guineas, puries, micas, swirlies, slags, eyeballs. A poet gets giddy with joy, just hearing that list.

The challenges of it? Poetry is about a way of being in the world which isn't always easy: it requires you to slow down, to let your attention come to rest on what my sister calls "the marvelous real." We all know that the world is a crazy, busy, hurtling place--it's easy to charge through each day with great speed, doing "what needs to be done." You forget to proceed slowly and carefully sometimes. You forget to raise your eyes and look around. If you're a poet, you can't forget to do that. You have to let some things slide that other people think are important. Once you slow down and begin to see what a mysterious place the world is, then it's just a matter of working hard (and finding the time to work hard) with language in order to say what you see. Those are the secondary challenges--finding time, and confronting the limitations of language. Of course, confronting language is part of the joy, too--what makes it hard makes it a joy (poetry is nothing if not a riddle.)

I'd like to focus on your most recent title, but let's touch base with your backlist. Could you tell us briefly about Have You Ever Done That? illustrated by Anne Hunter (Front Street, 2001)?

I like to remember myself as a fearless tomboy, willing to do anything, but the fact is I was a closet worrier. Cows scared me, believe it or not (they're really so much bigger than we think! Maybe they still scare me....a little. They are huge!) Also, things I couldn't see under water (like fish and sea grass and kelp) scared me when I was swimming. Sleeping outside scared me and thrilled me, both. So my second book, Have You Ever Done That? begins with the sense that some acts--even small acts, like sleeping underneath the stars on a warm summer night)--require courage. Anne Hunter, who lives in Vermont, is a wonderful artist, and I think she understood the book completely. She enlarged upon the text, the way only a good illustrator can.

My first book, On the Stairs, (Front Street, 1995) was illustrated by my sister, Mary Cornish, who is a wonderful poet and artist. She just won the Field Poetry Prize, and Oberlin Press will publish her first book of poetry, Red Studio, next spring. I want to toot her horn a bit. She's a wonderful writer--such intelligence!

Congratulations on Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Harcourt, 2006). What was the initial inspiration behind this book?

Yellow Elephant actually began in the head of the illustrator, Julie Paschkis. She had an idea to put colors and animals together, but wasn't having much luck with the text. She knew my work and liked it, so she handed the text part of the project to me. We presented both art and text as a package to Jeannette Larson at Harcourt, who is a wonderful editor, both practical and imaginative. And Harcourt said yes.

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

I began work on the project in December of 2003, and it was sent in to Harcourt in mid-March 2004 with sketches by the illustrator. In May, we got the good news that Harcourt wanted it. Then the whole editorial process kicked in, with Jeannette making suggestions for small changes in both text and illustrations, most of which had to do with fine tuning things like the ordering of the poems, the movement from one color/poem to another, the jacket copy, the table of contents.

Jeannette took the project seriously, and she has a good ear and eye for the way poetry and illustrations come together. Though the details were small, they were important to the look and feel of the final book. A good editor like Jeannette is a real blessing. Julie Paschkis was sending in finished artwork to her at this stage, and I got some sneak previews, because Julie P. and I are friends. Final proofs were sent back to us in May of 2005 and the book came out in April, 2006. It's an agonizingly slow process. The first ingredient for a successful writer might just be patience.

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

The biggest challenge for me was conceptual--how to think about animals in a fresh way, using combinations of colors and animals that were unlikely--a frog that turns blue, an elephant that could be yellow if it glowed in the sun, a donkey that turned red when it was angry.

Once I got my head around the idea of seeing each animal not just with my eyes but with my imagination, the poems came. I tried to anchor each poem with something like a rhyming couplet at the end, and I cared about the sound qualities in the poem, but I wanted the meter of each to be loose and unpredictable, not sing-song. That was a challenge--opening the meter up.

Yellow Elephant was a 2006 Boston Globe-Hornbook Award Honor Book in fiction and poetry. Hooray! How did you hear the news, and how did you celebrate?

Harcourt sent me the news by email, and everyone there was lovely. Jeannette Larson sent the most beautiful, huge bouquet of flowers. And I believe Julie Paschkis and I toasted each other's brilliance over lunch with another good writer and friend, Laura Kvasnosky (author-illustrator interview), at the Essential Baking Company in Seattle.

What advice do you have for beginning children's poets?

Read, read, read, read, read. That's the best advice any writer can get. Read slowly. Read the way a writer reads, looking for craft.

Get a good book about poetic forms and experiment with every form in the book. Then look at poems by poets who had nothing to do with poetry for children. Go back to poets like W. H. Auden to hear the cadences of nursery rhymes. Read Dylan Thomas and John Donne and Robert Herrick and John Clare. Read Robert Frost. Look at riddles and curses and blessings and proverbs, try to figure out the "sound" of each. Look at the work done for kids by wonderful poets for adults--poets like Richard Wilbur, X. J. Kennedy, Ted Hughes, Nancy Willard, Valerie Worth. Read Lewis Carroll--immerse yourself in his work! Read some theories on the value of play, and the value of nonsense, and then indulge in wordplay. Read Kay Ryan and Catherine Wing and Jonah Winter to see how crazy and wild modern poetry for adults is getting. Understand the traditions you're writing from. Then write, write, write, write, write. If you do all of that, you'll be fine. And you'll have fun.

How about those building a body of work?

Once you've found your voice, I'm not sure you need any more advice, other than making sure that what you write comes from someplace authentic inside you. Trust your own passions. Don't, for goodness sake, study market trends and try to shape your work to those. Ackkkk--that drives me crazy!

What do you do when you're not writing?

I usually work part-time job at a bookstore, because I love to touch new books. It's a bit weird, but people who have the same obsession will understand. Recently I gave up bookstore work in order to teach part-time at Vermont College in their M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

I read a lot and have been known to fall down deep holes researching odd things like Curiosity Cabinets and automata and Civil War medicine. I admit to going through phases of doing absolutely nothing besides dreaming and lolling about. My husband and kids have been very patient with me over the years; they know I go into trances, and I've convinced them good poems come from strange places inside my head.

I do like a good baseball game to keep me sane. I used to like gardening, but the other day I saw a dandelion at least four feet tall in my garden, so that's that. And I'm thinking of trying to find a choir to sing with--not a church choir, just a choral group. I'd love that. There's nothing like harmony to make you love the world, even when reading a newspaper breaks your heart.

What can your fans look forward to next?

There'll be a companion book to Yellow Elephant coming out in April 2008 (long agonizing process, etc.) It's also illustrated by Julie Paschkis and is tentatively titled Curious Creatures. Each poem in it will focus on an imaginary animal--mermaids, firebirds, sea monsters, gargoyles--the list goes on.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Author Interview: Amy Goldman Koss on Side Effects

Side Effects by Amy Goldman Koss (Deborah Brodie/Roaring Brook, 2006). From the promotional copy: "As if it doesn't suck enough to have cancer, practically every time you pick up books or see movies where characters get sick, you know they'll be dead by the last scene. In reality, kids get all kinds of cancers, go through unspeakable torture and painful treatments, but walk away fine in the end." "Side Effects is about the pain, fear, and unlikely comedy of 15-year-old Izzy's journey, told in her own powerful and authentic voice. It is Izzy's story—screams and all." Ages 10-up.

From Roaring Brook: "Amy Goldman Koss is the author of The Girls (Dial, 2000), an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and Quick Picks selection, and Poison Ivy (Roaring Brook, 2006), called 'fascinating and intriguing' by Publishers Weekly. She lives in Glendale, California."

How did fiction writing first call to you?

Probably in babytalk. I've been fictionalizing forever.

What drew you to young people as protagonists?

I wrote for little kids at first, but since discovering middle grade and YA there was no turning back. It never again occurred to me to talk to or as anyone much older or younger--both seem relatively pale and limp. Whereas that middle stuff is so vivid and wonderful and terrible to live through--who could resist?

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Ha! Any stumbles! Although actually, I've been inexcusably lucky--which is not to say that I don't feel entitled to wall-to-wall complaining. Next year it'll be twenty years since my first book was published. It was a picture book, illustrated by me, with great enthusiasm and ineptitude, called What Luck! A Duck! (1991)(sigh).

After that came three more picture books including Where Fish Go In Winter (2002)--non fiction science questions in verse, that actually made some money and is still out there though re-illustrated.

That earliest stuff was with Price Stern Sloan Publishing. I'd been liberated from the slush pile--although the book that got picked never actually got published.

Then I had some kids and one thing and another that I can't recall, until our story resumes with the wise and wonderful Cindy Kane, then editor extraordinaire at Dial Books For Young Readers, pulling a picture book proposal outta their pile and suggesting it would really rather be a chapter book. I was pretty sure I couldn't sustain interest in anything so long and arduous and wondrous--so I tried, and that became my first of twelve or so novels. Some successful, others, well, let's just say they lived quieter lives...

Cindy Kane has long since abandoned, deserted and forsaken the business and resorted to educational publishing of all things. Leaving me in the gentle hands of Lauri Hornik for several books with Dial. A pleasant little interlude with the breathtakingly lucrative Pleasant Company overlapped in there, with a few books, and now I am working on my third novel with Roaring Brook Press under the editorship of Deborah Brodie.

Could you briefly catch us up on your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

Price Stern Sloan: What Luck! A Duck! (1991); Where Fish Go In Winter (2002); Curious Creatures (1989); City Critters Around (1991); all picture books.

Dial: How I Saved Hanukkah (1998); The Trouble with Zinny Weston (1998); The Ashwater Experiment (2000); The Girls (2000); Strike Two (2001); Stranger in Dadland (2001); Gossip Times Three (Dial, 2003); The Cheat (2003); (not necessarily in that order).

Pleasant Company: Stolen Words (2001); Smoke Screen (2000); and Kailey (American Girl Today)(2003).

Roaring Brook: Poison Ivy (spring 2006) and Side Effects (fall 2006).

Congratulations on the publication of Side Effects (Roaring Brook, 2006). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Spite, mostly. I wanted to get back at all the people I thought acted like jerks when someone I knew got cancer. (I don't want to exploit this kid, since she's a minor so I'm not saying who it is) But ah! Writer's revenge! It shows up in all my books in little or big ways. It's the tattletale in me I guess. But besides spite, I also thought writing a funny, tough cancer book would be fun. A real life horror story--as far as the ghastliness of chemo etc. but un-sentimental, non-denominational and sap-free. Above all I wanted to write a first person survivor's story that I wouldn't be embarrassed to have an actual teenager with cancer read.

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

Some books have to be savagely scraped and gouged from the leathery resistant lining of my skull. Others, like Side Effects, land effortlessly on the page like bird doo on the windshield. Concept to completion this book was...maybe eight months?

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

Research-wise... First I lived it through my secret source. Next I pooped it on the windshield. Then I sent it to a case worker on the blood cancer aisle of Children's Hospital Los Angeles to make sure my meds and reactions and sequence was correct.

Emotionally, I had to deal with various superstitious relatives of my secret-inspirational-cancer-patient, thinking whatever hooey weirdness people think when you write anything. Example, my book would cause a recurrence and death. It would tempt the evil eye. The usual.

What do you love about your writing life?

When it is going well there's no buzz like it. Ah! The good days, when the words flow onto the screen, when I crack myself up, when I stroke my theoretical beard of wisdom murmuring how true, how pithy and true, upon re-reading my own words. How tall and strong and young and thin and blond I feel! How smart and funny and clever and charming and how lucky are those who can read my books and bask in my mighty glow!

What are its tougher aspects?

The days when the words are stilted and stupid and I hate my dog and my kids piss me off and my husband is a jerk and the world sucks in its entirety, and I must gorge on chocolate and know, deep within my shabby soul that I'm am a has-been, talent-free hack finally revealed as the fraudulent turd I'd always suspected myself to be.

What advice do you have for beginning authors?

Be honest, even as you lie.

How about novelists specifically?

Here's what I tell my students: think of it as a water color. You keep going back and adding layer upon transparent layer, but try to stop before it turns to mud.

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

I yell at my children, gain weight, and play snood.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I've got a novel oozing out in fall '07 that I'm quite pleased with as of 2:14 this afternoon. It's about two sisters who live upstairs from a woman's rest home. I've been having a blast with these characters, but I still don't have a title that works.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Happy birthday to my husband, Greg Leitich Smith! Visit GregLSBlog to offer him cheers! Read an interview with Greg at Young Adult (+ Kids) Books Central.

This week Bookshelves of Doom offers a rousing recommendation of my upcoming YA gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). She concludes: "I suspect that there will be a pretty serious clamor for a sequel." Thanks so much; I'm honored!

Thanks to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature for encouraging folks to read my Native-themed books and also for pointing out the importance of supporting Native writers and literature. More authors to know: Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Joy Harjo; Richard Van Camp; LaVera Rose, and Tim Tingle (among others!).

More News & Links

Laura Atkins has recently set-up a website and blog. Laura, who was a children's book editor (working at Children's Book Press, Orchard Books, and Lee & Low Books), is now offering manuscript critiquing to aspiring children's book writers, and consulting services to publishers in the area of diversity. On her blog, Tockla's World of Children's Literature, she ruminates about children's books, the children's publishing world, and her attempts at becoming a freelance children's book specialist. See her recent post, Increasing Diversity within the Children's Publishing World.

Children's Author Kelly Bennett: newly redesigned site from the author of 11 books, including Not Norman: A Goldfish Story, illustrated by (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview), which won Texas Institute of Letters Friends of the Austin Public Library Award for Best Children’s Book for 2005 and recently received a 2006 Oppenheimer Toy Award Gold Medal Award. She recently has sold to Candlewick a picture book manuscript, Dad and Pop, "in which a young boy introduces readers to his two dads and shows that even though they may be very different, in the most important way they are exactly the same!" Congratulations, Kelly! Note: Kelly's site was redesigned by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys. Lisa also is the wonderful designer of my own author website.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Varian Johnson on the sale of his first YA novel, My Life As A Rhombus, to Flux/Llewellyn. Read all about it and send Varian cheers here.

A Cybervisit With Gail Gauthier: official author site includes biography, book information, classroom materials, material on appearances, and a weblog titled Original Content. Gauthier's books include Happy Kid! (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2006), Saving the Planet & Stuff (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2003), and The Hero of Ticonderoga (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2001).

"Secrets of the Savanna by Mark & Delia Owens, One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals by Deborah Noyes:" an article on non-fiction by Colleen Mondor of Bookslut.com. Learn more about Secrets of the Savanna and One Kingdom (both Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

"A Tiny Portion of What I Learned at the [National] SCBWI Conference" from D.L. Garfinkle's LJ. D.L. Garfinkle is the author of Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl (Putnam, 2005)(author interview), Stuck in the Seventies (Putnam, 2007), and The Band (Berkley, 2007). Read a recent interview with D.L. Garfinkle from Pop Goes the Library. See also "Conference Confidential" from Lisa Yee, read a recent Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton

Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton (Candlewick, 2006). Humans are wimps, we're told. We "can't stand" cold, heat, live without food or water, and we have to have air to survive. But a handful of other earth creatures are pros and handling all of the above. Take "frog popsicles" for example. As the author points out, "usually, being frozen solid is very, very bad for living things." But wood frogs survive by making the ice grow between all their key body parts. Conversational, funny, informative, and fascinating with humorous, clever illustrations--one of the most inspired works of creative non-fiction this year. Ages 8-up.
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