Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Walker Books (U.K.) will be releasing my upcoming gothic fantasy novel Tantalize in October 2008.

In addition, the U.S. publication date for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2006) has been moved up to February.

More News & Links

2006 Cybils: book awards from children's/YA literature bloggers and blog readers. Check out the announcement, nomination information, and rules. Also check out the blogs of the Cybils team: Book Buds Kidlit Reviews; A Fuse #8 Production; Bartography; Jen Robinson's Book Page; Wands and Worlds; Propernoun.net; A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy; and Chicken Spaghetti.

The Kansas Center for the Book at the State Library has announced the inaugural 2006 Kansas Notable Book List. Notable books include: Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader (Roaring Brook, 2005)(author interview); Deputy Harvey and the Ant Cow Caper by Brad Sneed (Dial, 2005); In the Small, Small Night by Jane Kurtz (Amistad, 2005)(author interview); and Maggie Rose and Sass by Eunice Boeve (PublishAmerica, 2005).

Congratulations to the winners and finalists of the PEN Center USA's 2006 Literary Awards, "honoring outstanding works published or produced in 2005 by writers who live west of the Mississippi River." In children's literature, the winner was Viola Canales, author of The Tequila Worm (Wendy Lamb Books), and the finalists were: J.B. Cheaney, author of My Friend The Enemy (Knopf)(author interview); Kerry Madden, author of Gentle's Holler (Viking)(author interview); Graham Salisbury, author of Eyes of the Emperor (Wendy Lamb)(author interview); and Gary Soto, author of Help Wanted (Harcourt).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Illustrator Interview: Kadir Nelson on Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Kadir Nelson began drawing at the age of three. At eleven, Nelson experimented with a variety of media, and at sixteen, he began painting with oils under the encouragement and tutelage of both his uncle and high school art teacher. He began entering his paintings in art competitions and ultimately won an art scholarship to study at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Upon graduating with honors, Nelson began his professional career as an artist, publishing his work and receiving commissions from publishers and production studios such as Dreamworks, Sports Illustrated, Coca-Cola, The New York Times and Major League Baseball, among others.

Nelson has also exhibited his artwork in galleries and museums throughout the country and abroad, including the Simon Weisenthal Center, Museum of Tolerance and the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences in Los Angeles, The Museum of African American History in Detroit, The Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington D.C., The Society of Illustrators and the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, The Bristol Museum in England, The Citizen's Gallery of Yokohama, Japan; and the Center for Culture of Tijuana, Mexico.

Among Nelson's most recent works are the epic paintings, "The Life of Marvin Gaye," "Marvin Gaye," "Swizz Beatz: Ghetto Stories" and "Angel," none of which are smaller than six feet high or wide.

Nelson has illustrated more than a dozen children's books, including the most recent Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, written by Carole Boston Weatherford (Hyperion, 2006), which Publishers Weekly described as having a "gorgeous," "poetic" and "larger-than-life presence." His other picture books include: Debbie Allen's Dancing in the Wings (Dial, 2000); the Coretta Scott King Award Book Ellington Was Not A Street by Ntozake Shange (Simon & Schuster, 2004); New York Times Best-Sellers Salt in His Shoes by Deloris and Roslyn Jordan (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, and Will Smith's Just the Two of Us (Scholastic, 2001) for which Nelson won an NAACP Image Award. Currently, Nelson is completing a tribute book about the Negro Baseball Leagues, which he is both writing and illustrating.

How did the artist's path first call to you?

I was born to be an artist. I have created artwork ever since I can remember. I think it's in my genes.

What inspired your interest in children's book illustration specifically?

I was initially asked by an editor and then a friend to illustrate children's books. My work has always had some sort of narrative and creating artwork for children's books felt quite natural to me.

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

After having graduated from college, I made a trip to New York to meet with publishers and potential clients. I didn't land any deals for books, though I was commissioned to paint a book cover. However, during my trip, I made a number of contacts, so when I was ready with a children's book idea, I had a number of contacts to share it with. The time to share the idea came several months later when Debbie Allen asked me to illustrate her book, after which we made a trip to New York to find a publisher.

Congratulations on the publication of Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (Hyperion, 2006)! What was it about Carole's manuscript that called to you?

I simply felt it was a very strong story and was well written. Also, Harriet Tubman has always reminded me of my grandmother, so I really had an affinity for the subject.

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

It usually takes a few days to create thumbnail sketches, and then a few more days to make larger clearer sketches. The finishes took approximately four months to complete. After the artwork was accepted, approximately one year later the book was published.

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

The only real challenges were finding clear pictures of Harriet. There are really only a few. Creating original and varied night time scenes was also challenging.

What do you love about your artist's life?

I love the fact that I don't have to fight traffic and go in to work everyday. It's really a blessing.

What are its tougher aspects?

Running a couple of businesses at once is tough. I'm starting to delegate more these days. It's making life a bit easier.

What advice do you have for beginning illustrators?

I think beginning illustrators need to find their voices and toughen their skin. There is a lot of rejection in the beginning, but it gets better.

How about those building a career?

I'd have to say the same thing. It's also important to surround yourself with good, competent, supportive people. And have some fun with it!

What do you do when you're not illustrating?

I spend time with my family. I'm also a Scrabble nut.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Spring '07 will bring two new books, Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, which is about a Virginia slave during the mid 1800's who mailed himself to the free state in of Pennsylvania in a wooden crate to escape slavery. The second book is entitled, Michael's Golden Rules by Deloris and Roslyn Jordan, which is about Michael Jordan's childhood pursuits of playing baseball.

Cynsational Notes

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion, 2006) is one of the most inspiring, beautifully written and illustrated picture books of the year.

Q&A with Carole Boston Weatherford on Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom from the author's website.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tim Tingle, Heather Hepler win Writers' League Awards

The Writers' League of Texas has announced its Teddy (Children's Book) Award winners.

In the short works (picture book) division, the finalists are The Pledge of Allegiance by Barbara Clack (Texas A & M University Press Consortium, 2005) and Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon (Simply Read Books, 2005).

The winner is Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos, 2006)(recommendation).

In the long works (middle grade/YA) division, the finalists are Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview) and Czar of Alaska: The Cross of Charlemagne by Richard Trout (Pelican, 2005).

The winner is Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Heather Hepler, co-authored by Brad Barkley (Dutton, 2006)(co-authors interview).

Honorees will be featured at the Texas Book Festival in a special discussion panel and signing on Oct. 28 at the Texas Capitol building. A reception with hors d'oeuvres and cash bar will follow at the Brown Bar at 201 W. 8th Street (Colorado is the cross street) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

This is the Eleventh Annual Teddy Children's Book Awards. The awards were established to honor outstanding published books written by Writers' League of Texas members. Learn more about the awards. Learn more about Texas children's/ya authors and illustrators.

More News & Links

The amazing Lisa Yee reports on the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color in Dallas. See my report and Greg Leitich Smith's.

Patti, a teen services librarian from Austin is the latest of the bloggers to chime in on my upcoming gothic fantasy YA, Tantalize (Candlewick, February 2007). She writes: "There is murder, love gone awry, distrust and suspicion, menacing foes, were-people and vampires, and more murder. This is a fun read and one that you probably will want to read from cover to cover because it is just that enjoyable and easy to read." As a writer who loved her setting, I'm especially thrilled that Patti enjoyed the Austin references integrated into the story. Read the whole post!

Be Water, My Friend by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee (Lee & Low, 2006): a recommendation by Chris Barton of Bartography. Chris is the author of The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2008). Fans of picture book biographies also should visit Anneographies.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Author Interview: Michelle Knudsen on Library Lion

Michelle Knudsen on Michelle Knudsen: "Who am I... I can't think of that phrase without hearing Jean Valjean in my head. And then I get a little lost in my own private mental recital of 'Les Miserables' and have to shake my head and find my way back to the question. Which was?

"Oh, right. Well, in the beginning, I was born. I grew up in Staten Island, left for Ithaca to go to college at Cornell University, then moved back to Staten Island for one year and Queens for three, then back to Ithaca for five years, and then back to NYC again, this time in Brooklyn, where I've been for almost two years now.

"I've worked in libraries and publishing houses and bookstores and other kinds of stores, including one of those candy-and-nut kiosks in the middle of the mall. I'm the author of 28 or 38 books for children (depending on whether you count the coloring books) and a handful of published magazine articles and a drawer full of unpublished short stories that will probably stay in that drawer.

"I like snacks. I am easily distracted by shiny objects, often stay up way too late, and very often write too-long sentences. I like semicolons and the em dash. Jean-Luc Picard is my favorite Star Trek captain, and 'The Pirates of Penzance' is my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan operetta."

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

I started writing when I was really young; long enough ago that I can't remember what exactly was the first thing that made me love it. My mother likes to tell people (friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, random passersby, etc.) about the "books" I wrote when I was four.

I still have one, written on half-pieces of pinkish construction paper: Mickey and the Broken Lamp. It's a rousing tale of a certain famous mouse whose lamp breaks, and then he goes and gets a new one. (It's also an early sign of why I'm not an illustrator.)

I always liked writing projects in school, and wrote in my room and in the back seat of the car on long cross-country driving trips I took with my parents. It probably helped that I was an only child and had a lot of time to myself.

At first it was just something I liked to do, and then at some point, probably after I became addicted to reading, I started to think about Being a Writer as a possible future goal. It helped a lot that I received so much encouragement from my friends and parents and teachers.

As for being "quick to answer," my first impulse was to say no, that I wasted a lot of time before really getting on with the whole Being a Writer business...

But looking back, I guess that's not really true. I think it just felt like a long time before I started to find forms of writing that really seemed to fit. I wrote poems and stories and long notes to friends. I wrote bad love poems to unworthy boys in high school and mediocre pieces for the high school yearbook. I wrote arts and entertainment reviews for my college paper, and made my first actual paid sale my senior year of college (an article about online fishkeeping resources in Freshwater and Marine Aquarium), but I also didn't get into the advanced creative writing course I'd applied for and had pretty much everything I submitted rejected by a student-run literary magazine. There were a lot of ups and downs and wondering whether I was really meant to be a writer, and that was all before I'd even vaguely considered writing for children.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

My first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant in the Random House children's division. At the time I started, I liked children's books but didn't really know much about them beyond the books I remembered from when I was little. I certainly never imagined I'd write them; I'd always dreamed of writing enormous science fiction and fantasy novels of the sort I loved (and still love) to read.

I thought working in children's books would be a fun job, and it was...but it also turned out to be a really good fit for me as a young writer. I started writing board books and beginning readers while I worked there, and eventually realized that I liked writing children's books even more than I liked editing them.

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

I've written a lot of different kinds of books over the past eight years or so, including board books, coloring and activity books, and beginning readers. I like different things about all of them...the shiny silly rhymingness of the board books, the challenge of telling a story or presenting information within the tight boundaries of a beginning reader, the fact that working on the Star Wars coloring books meant I got to go to the Skywalker Ranch and read the script of Episode I way before the movie came out.

Library Lion is my first traditional picture book, though, and a very different kind of book than anything else I've written.

Congratulations on the publication of Library Lion, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick, 2006)(excerpt). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I wish I knew the full answer to this question! I was working nights and weekends at the Cornell University library when I wrote it, and certainly the library aspect comes from that, along with memories of other school and public libraries... But I'm really not sure about the lion.

I had come home after a late-night shift and wasn't quite ready to crawl into bed, so I made some tea and sat down at the dining room table to unwind. My recollection is that the first line just popped into my head, and I grabbed a pen and scribbled it down on a piece of paper. And then I just kept going, until I had most of the first draft written out.

We did occasionally get animal visitors at the Cornell library--birds, squirrels, the occasional dog that got tired of waiting for its owner to come back out--but never any lions, I'm fairly certain. So the lion's origin is a bit of a mystery to me. Several people have assumed he's based on the lions outside the New York Public Library, but honestly I hadn't been thinking of those guys at all at the time. I think there's just something about the library--especially lovely old ones, like one of the libraries I was working in at Cornell, and especially being there late at night--that makes it seem as though anything could happen there.

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

I had been trying for a while to write a picture book, but everything I sent to my agent (the fabulous Jodi Reamer) was just not quite right, somehow. And I knew it, I knew it when I sent them out, but I guess I kept hoping I was wrong. They weren't bad (well, okay, some were bad), but mostly they just weren't really strong or well put together. They didn't have that special something that picture books need to really work.

Jodi continued to be encouraging, and I sent myself to the bookstore to browse picture book titles and read and read and figure out what those authors were doing right that I couldn't seem to figure out. And even though I didn't come up with any one particular answer, I think it helped to have the voices of all those writers in my head, all those examples of books that worked. I think just immersing myself in good picture books for a while made it easier for me to find the right way to tell this story when the time came.

So the writing part went really quickly, although I forced myself not to send the first draft right to Jodi, which is what I usually did. My (then) husband, Matt, who was always my first reader, read the first draft, and told me he liked it but that it needed something more. And he was right, and I knew it. So I wrote two more drafts, adding and revising, and sent the third draft to Jodi. And she loved it, and said she knew exactly who she wanted to give it to, which was Sarah Ketchersid at Candlewick.

And then I primed myself to be patient, since we all know how long it can sometimes take for editors to have time to read and respond, but in this case it happened amazingly fast. I think it was only about two weeks! Jodi called and said Sarah had loved the story and made an offer on the book. I remember going to work that night at the library, feeling like I was flying through the parking lot and up the library steps.

I did a bit more revising under Sarah's direction, and then soon it was time to find the illustrator. This was my first experience ever being asked my opinion about an artist--previously my publishers had always let me know who the artist would be after the decision was made. I was nervous when I received the packet of samples from Sarah. What if I didn't like who Candlewick was suggesting? What would I say?

But of course that didn't turn out to be an issue at all, since the artist they had in mind was Kevin Hawkes, and I loved his work. So THEN I got to be nervous about whether he would take on the project. Happily, he responded very enthusiastically. In fact, his method of accepting was sending Candlewick a huge sketch of a lion with a note that said he'd love to illustrate the book! Because of the other projects Kevin was already working on, we ended up needing to postpone Library Lion's pub date a full year...but it was definitely worth it. I've become so attached to Kevin's lovely pictures and can't imagine the story being illustrated any other way.

What did Kevin Hawkes's art bring to your text?

Kevin did such an amazing job--it really made me appreciate to a new degree the collaborative nature of picture books. I mean, I liked the way my story turned out once the words were finished, but when Kevin's illustrations were added there was suddenly this whole other dimension to the story...the characters were more alive, the library was more real, and the classic feel of the style he chose was so perfect! It makes me view Miss Merriweather's library as both a very specific, particular location but also a symbolic representation of all libraries, especially the ones I went to as a child.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Read lots of picture books! I think that's the most important thing. It's amazing to me how many people want to write for children but don't actually spend much time reading the books that are already out there.

It's also really important to think about the illustrations, even if you're not an illustrator yourself. The words and the pictures are going to work together, and you need to make sure there's something for the artist to illustrate on every page or spread. It can help to page out the book in spreads as you work, although I would only recommend doing that as an aid to writing; most editors, I think, prefer to receive manuscripts without page breaks added.

The other side of thinking about the illustrations is to remember that some of the story is going to be told in the artwork, so you wouldn't necessarily want to spell out every detail in the text, either. Make sure there's action, something happening for the art to depict, but then also leave enough out so the artist has room to add his or her own elements to the story.

What do you do when you're not writing?

For the past year or so I've been working full-time as managing editor for an educational resources company, but although I love the job, it's become so all-encompassing that it's not leaving me any time to write!

So as of November first I'll be switching to part-time, which will be a big relief. When I'm not working or writing, I love to watch movies, eat Frosted Flakes, play fantasy role-playing computer games, and go out with friends, especially if there is karaoke involved.

I try to get to the gym enough to offset the Frosted Flakes consumption, and lately I've been trying to take more advantage of being in New York City, visiting museums and exhibits and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

I also like to perform in community theater sometimes, especially musicals; the last show I did was "Yeomen of the Guard" with the Village Light Opera Group last fall.

Oh, and I read, of course! More science fiction and fantasy than anything else. Fantasy novels are always my favorite escape.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I recently sold my first middle-grade novel (an as-yet-untitled fantasy story) to Candlewick, which I'm really excited about! Sarah will be my editor again, and I couldn't be happier--she is very wonderful and I love working with her. I'm also working on some new picture book manuscripts, and possibly another beginning reader.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

"Annual Fair Focuses on Disabilities" by Bob Vosseller of the Ocean County Observer. Highlights Liz B of A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy and a diversity program at her library that will feature my picture book Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000).

"Birthing a Book: Revelations about the Publishing Process" with Bonny Becker, a chat transcript from the Institute of Children's Literature.

In celebration of Teen Read Week, Bookburger: feeding hungry readers is running a search for "America's Next Top Librarian."

Also, Bookburger's own Covergirl will be picking the winner of the National Book Awards based on which finalist has the best-looking book jacket.

MLA and Photos from author Shutta Crum. See her revision process in action. Read a Cynsations interview with Shutta.
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