Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Author Interview: Marian Hale on Dark Water Rising

Marian Hale on Marian Hale: "I can't remember a time when I didn't love books, but it wasn't until I was twelve and instructed to write a short story for my sixth grade English class that I first became aware that I loved writing, too. However, other than the occasional attempt at poetry over the years, I never pursued it. I suppose a lack of confidence had a lot to do with it. The path to becoming a successful author seemed nebulous and unachievable.

"I married the love of my life right out of business college, and some years later, I went into custom home design. Designing was a wonderfully creative outlet for me at the time. I enjoyed manipulating space to suit each client and the drafting of blueprints, but I especially loved that I could do most all of it at home with my three children close by.

"Years later I finally decided to give writing a real try. I wrote short stories for children and adults and eventually entered them in contests. When my efforts began to place and win prizes, I moved on to my first mid-grade novel, a failure on a professional level, but a huge success in exposing my strengths and weaknesses. It also reinforced my love for children's literature--historical fiction in particular--and I've never looked back."

What about the writing life first called to you?

I'm not so sure I was called to writing. I probably thought so during those early attempts, but it didn't take long to realize that the choice was never mine to make. It's just who I am, like being born with brown hair or blue eyes. Now, I can't imagine not writing.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

It was just fun! I especially loved historical fiction, the way it allowed me to step back in time and experience intriguing eras and events as though I were there, seeing it all through the eyes of a teen or preteen. But I suppose what appealed to me most about writing for young readers was the opportunity to tell stories that would help my own children and grandchildren form a more intimate bond with the past, to ask the questions that would help them recognize the eternal connection we all have with older generations all over the world.

Congratulations on the publication of Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt,2006)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

Thank you! I first considered this project some years ago when my husband came home from work with a tattered book found in an old abandoned house about to be torn down. It was a full account of the 1900 Galveston Storm, written soon after it happened.

I'd read many articles over the years about the devastating Texas hurricane that took more than 8,000 lives, but never one written while wounds were still tender, while wind and floodwaters still haunted dreams.

I wanted to read more, to search out the multitude of hundred-year-old accounts and photographs, all of which were so vivid with intimate detail, so achingly real and painful that I felt as though I'd experienced this turn-of-the-century city and disastrous storm myself. It was this window to the past that brought me to write Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt, 2006), and in so doing, I wanted to honor the overwhelming loss and Herculean efforts to rebuild the great city of Galveston. I was able to incorporate hundreds of documented details into my story and was very pleased when Reka Simonsen, my editor at Henry Holt, encouraged me to include some spell-binding photos of the aftermath in an author’s note.

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

The inspiration for Dark Water Rising came in 2003, almost a full year before I could even think of starting a new project. When I could finally clear my desk, I spent the next six months researching and cataloging the details I wanted to use. I walked Galveston's streets, studied the nineteenth century architecture, visited the Rosenberg Library to read transcripts of oral interviews, toured homes that survived the great storm, sought out where the two-story ridge of debris left by wind driven water had once encircled the city, and walked along the seawall where Saint Mary's Orphanage had once stood, envisioning the two dormitories that had housed ten Sisters and more than ninety children who perished that day. It was a poignant and inspiring journey. I then spent the following six months trying to do justice to all those who had endured the deadliest storm to ever hit our country.

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

One of the most difficult challenges was choosing the best location in the city for my characters to experience the storm. I needed an actual home and surviving family, one that would allow me to show the devastation as fully as possible. I finally realized that I'd have to map the entire city, block by block, and key it to names and personal accounts before I could make that decision. The map also helped me locate major businesses, schools and churches, and gave me the confidence to write as though I'd walked through those 1900 neighborhoods and business districts myself.

Even more challenging was the emotional toll this story took on my day to day life. I don't believe anyone could read the many accounts of individual loss from this storm and not experience an intense emotional response. I certainly couldn't, but I couldn't allow myself to take the easy path of skipping lightly through the horrific aftermath either, just to ease my own discomfort. I needed to stay true to even the smallest details, though it meant living with the grisly effects of this storm for a full year.

From the onset of this project, hundred-year-old photos and heartrending personal accounts haunted me every day, and they were the last thing in my thoughts before falling asleep each night. These were real people, caught up in a real disaster, something that could still happen to any one of us today, and more than anything, I wanted to stay true to their stories.

I'm likewise a fan of your debut novel, The Truth About Sparrows (HenryHolt, 2004)(recommendation). Could you tell us a bit about this book?

Thank you; that's always so nice to hear. The Truth about Sparrows was my first historical fiction and a story very close to my heart. It follows Sadie, a twelve-year-old girl who loses her Missouri home during the Great Depression and is forced to start all over in a one-room tarpapered house on the Texas coast. Although the characters are fictional, most of the events were taken from my parents' and grandparents' experiences, even the scene where Sadie has no choice but to help with the birth of her baby sister. It was a joy to recreate this struggling 1933 fishing and shrimping community for young readers, and I was especially grateful for the opportunity to include the character of "Daddy," modeled after my own grandfather who had polio before he was a year old and never walked.

What do you hope readers take away from the story?

I suppose I've had the same hope for both books. I'd like to think my readers will come away with a deeper appreciation for what so many families, even their own, have endured and overcome, and perhaps be inspired to face their own adversities with that same kind of courage and determination to succeed.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

One turning point for me was learning to trust my own instincts and allow myself to become each character. This was tremendously helpful in letting readers in on my character's thoughts so they could share in the emotion, understand the cause, and care about the outcome. I've always tried to let each part of my story evolve naturally to a believable conclusion, following when it insisted on wandering paths I'd never expected or drew me to characters I'd never planned, even when doing so could change the ending I'd envisioned. This seat-of-the-pants writing may not work for everyone, but some of my most surprising and gratifying scenes/characters were
written this way.

I suppose the best advice I could give to any new writer, besides the important "read, read, read," is to love what you’re doing. Love the characters, the words and the images they evoke, and yes, even the revisions. Look at each revision as another chance to bring more clarity, to make some part of your story touch your reader more deeply and hopefully linger long after your book is back on the shelf.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I'm still doing an occasional home design and my family keeps me very busy since my daughter and her preschool children are with us now, but I try to always make time for the simple joys. When I can, which isn't nearly often enough, my husband and I like to pull our travel trailer to a river or lake to fish and watch the sun go down. We take a few good books and CDs, grill fish, veggies, and stuffed jalapenos, and open a nice bottle of wine. My grandchildren are finally big enough to go with us occasionally, so we’ll probably need a larger travel trailer before long!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, untitled at this time, is another historical fiction set in 1918 Canton, Texas, and again, partially derived from old family stories.

It begins with the dreams of sixteen-year-old Mercy Kaplan, a sharecropper's daughter, who has never wanted to be anything at all like her mother. Mercy longs to be free, far from the threat of being saddled with kids, dirty laundry, and failing crops the rest of her life. When the deadly 1918 flu epidemic sweeps through Canton, she gets what she wants in a way she never imagined and soon finds herself employed by the newly widowed Cora Wilder. But there's something secretive and downright strange about the woman. And then there's Daniel Wilder, her eighteen-year-old stepson, with his green eyes and fierce determination to protect his fatherless siblings, just the sort who could sweep a foolish girl off her feet and into a dull and wearisome life like her mother's if she isn't watchful. But Mercy is watchful, and observant enough to uncover the clues to Cora Wilder's odd behavior, which inches her ever closer to exposing a twenty-year-old murder.

Cynsational Notes

on Dark Water Rising

"A master of her craft...this is historical fiction at its best." --Kirkus, starred review

"...this fine example of historical fiction has something for almost everyone." --Booklist, starred review

"... this is a stunning novel." --Children's Literature

"Fact and fiction are blended effortlessly together in an exciting read that leaves readers with a sense of hope." --School Library Journal

on The Truth About Sparrows

Nominated for six state awards and selected for the following awards and honors: Editor's Choice for 2004 by Booklist Magazine; Top Ten First Novels by Booklist Magazine; 2004 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers by VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates); Lasting Connections of 2004 by Book Links Magazine; Children's Books 2004: One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing, by the New York Public Library; Teachers' Choice for 2005 in the Advanced category by IRA (the International Reading Association); The Best Children's Books of the Year 2005 edition, selected by the Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education; 2005 Notable Books for a Global Society list by the NBGS committee of the Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of IRA (the International Reading Association); "Worthy of Special Note" books for The 2005 Virginia Jefferson Cup Award (for historical fiction and nonfiction); The Editor's Choice - Best book of the Month by
Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Review.

"Hale's evocative, sure prose, in Sadie's colloquial voice, brings alive the setting and the family's survival challenges with cinematic detail that's reminiscent of the Little House books." --Booklist, starred review

"...a beautifully realized work, memorable for its Gulf Coast setting and the luminous voice of Sadie Wynn." --Kirkus

"...triumphant and memorable." --Horn Book

"Sparrows is a breath of fresh air even when it brings tears to your eyes." --USA Today

"...for its depth of detail, keen sense of place and, especially, for Sadie, Hale's story is a debut novel worth seeking out." --San Diego Union Tribune

"...this is a unique, powerful and enlightening novel which will speak to the inner person in all of us...a treasure of a book.” --Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Review

How To Throw A Book Launch Party

Learn "How to Throw a Book Launch Party" via an article I've written that has been posted to Anastasia Suen's blog, Create/Relate: News from the Children's Book Biz.

Speaking of which, the lovely Elizabeth Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink is the latest blogger to chime in about my Tantalize launch party. Liz is the author of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004). Visit her author site and read her recent interview at Cynsations.

Don't miss the other party reports from Cynsations, GregLSBlog, Don Tate's Devas T. Rants and Raves, Camille's Book Moot, Jo Whittemore's LJ (great pics!), and Alison Dellenbaugh's Alison Wonderland. Read Cynsations interviews with Greg, Don, and Jo.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Author Interview: Robin Merrow MacCready on Buried

Robin Merrow MacCready on Robin Merrow MacCready: "I grew up in the 60s and 70s in Kennebunk Beach, Maine. My father was a realtor and we had a hotel and later an inn. Lots of people doing lots of things: fuel for great stories! After the summer was over, Kennebunk reverted back to a quiet town, but during the July and August it exploded with families from all over. I always worked as a chamber maid or a house cleaner or baby sitter. I also taught arts and crafts at the beach club. I love the contrast between the townies and the tourists. It's rich and it's infuriating, but it's ripe with stories.

"I'm the oldest in my family. My brother is a musician, and my sister is an art director. My mother is a writer, and my father is a realtor and an avid reader. I have him to thank for my love of things that are a little bit creepy. I say a little bit because it doesn't take much to scare me. I remember reading a scary paperback at the kitchen table and Dad jolting me and I screamed. I considered my ability to zone out a gift. Compared to my friends I was quiet and shy. I watched people, and daydreamed a lot, and although my report cards were not perfect, I loved English and reading and art. I even loved diagraming sentences although I can't remember how to do it now!"

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

I was the kind of kid that played school. I read and wrote all the time. I thought everybody made homemade cards with poems inside. In high school, I made up stories, mostly romances, and kept a journal. The journal was only half true. I embellished the events to my satisfaction. It wasn't until I began teaching that I considered being a writer. I was lucky to be a student at the New Hampshire Writing Project where a new writing philosophy reigned. That is: if you want to write go ahead and try! Everybody's a writer!

What made you decide to write for young adults?

When I first wrote I imagined being the new Arnold Lobel. His Frog and Toad and Owl at Home are my favorites. I tried, but failed and put away my dream for ten years. When I tried again I thought I was writing an adult book and almost gave it up because the voice was that of a teenage girl, but I didn't because I heard her story as clear as I bell and I believed it.

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

When I decided to become a published author I manned myself with every book and any course I thought I needed. The plan was that if I had all the information and followed the directions perfectly I'd make it. It partly worked that way. I worked my butt off! I listened to my critique partners when they had a point to make because they were usually right. I wrote down some goals to reach, tasks to do, and I didn't let anyone get in my way. I was single minded in a way I never had been before.

I sent three chapters of Buried to Julie Strauss-Gabel after she spoke at a national conference of SCBWI, and she wanted to read the whole manuscript. She loved the first three chapters but said as the story progressed it wasn't what she'd hoped. She wrote a kind of thanks-but-no-thanks letter. I wrote back and asked more questions about the problems she had with the manuscript and that began our nearly two year pre-contract relationship.

We passed the book back and forth. I valued Julie's insight and light touch, but in the late summer of 2004 I felt it was time to send Buried. I sent it to Julie and two other major houses that had shown interest during SCBWI critiques. I teach and the summer was quickly winding down--I had about two weeks of summer left. I spent a week researching agents in a big way. I finally got it down to 10 and queried them. Wendy Schmalz [scroll for bio] phoned me and said she was interested in representing me and Buried, but first she scolded me about the way I went about the process. Buried was already sitting in three houses. For her it was probably not the way she'd planned to sell it. But for me it was a relief. Now I could go set up my classroom. Within the week I had a sale with Dutton, and I'm very happy I could continue with Julie.

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

The climactic scene came to me one day when I was writing with my sister. We were just fooling around, but I saw Claudine in her horrific situation and it was clear like a movie. That was my initial contact with Claudine, but the inspiration for her comes from a girl I knew growing up. I was her sometimes babysitter. Her mother was a guidance counselor and an alcoholic. Whenever I sat for the little girl it was like hanging out with a peer. She was older acting, a little rough around the edges, and competent. Too competent for age seven. One night she took care of me while I had the flu and later her mother came home drunk, so she cared for her too.

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

The challenge was to let myself go deeper and deeper and not lose the storyline. It sounds simple but it's a fine line to walk. When Claudine's OCD was aggravated my instinct as a friend/mother was to turn it off, not let it rip. When I let it get out of control it was sometimes scary. As far as the addiction model goes, I wanted it to be real. Buried is a story. It's not true, but I would argue that Claudine's pain, her shame, and all her feelings are shared by children of alcoholics.

You're an Edgar nominee. Wow! That's great! What does the nomination mean to you? How did you react when you found out?

Julie left a message on my machine saying that she had some great news for me. I had no idea what it could be. I'd been talking to my agent that day because I was worried about how sales were going. When Julie told me I was a nominee I said, "Oh, really?" I didn't know what it meant. I'd seen the list of submissions and there were a lot of books, so it still didn't register as a big thing until she said I was one of five in the Best YA category. I'm thrilled! I'm up against some big competition, but I'm bursting with pride. It's especially exciting because there are five writers from Maine and Stephen King is one of them. It'll be a great night.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

If you want to be published you have to be willing to take some heat. Listen to your critiques and make changes if there is validity, but don't listen to the people who want to discourage you. Politely ignore all those that think you're wasting your time. Also, I think SCBWI is a great organization for beginning writers. I know I wouldn't be published without it.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I teach reading and writing to 4th-6th graders. I write on the weekends and sometimes at night.

Cynsational News & Links

My new novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) received a five-star review from Karin Perry at TeensReadToo.com! Karin calls the novel "...a stimulating paranormal mystery mixed with romance. The relationship between Quincie and Kieren is touching and so deep that the reader feels Quincie’s pain at the thought of losing Kieren, while at the same time understanding Kieren’s reasons for keeping Quincie at arms length..." Read the whole review.

Speaking of Tantalize itself, though, Alison Dellenbaugh (AKA She Who Brought Her Own Fangs) offers her report on the novel's launch party at Alison Wonderland. So does Jo--news with many party pics!--at her LJ. And Tanya Lee Stone offers cheers. See the full launch party report.

More News & Links

Interview with Robin Friedman on The Girlfriend Project from Little Willow at Slayground. The Girlfriend Project will be published by Walker in April. Read an excerpt. (By the way, The Girlfriend Project official site is an excellent example of a book-specific site and was designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

The lovely and talented Newbery Award honor recipients offer a show of solidarity for this year's recently challenged winner, Susan Patron, at Cynthia Lord's LJ, "from Jennifer Holm, Kirby Larson, and Me."

Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Kristy Dempsey, Dori Chaconas, and Douglas Rees. She also offers a new interview with agent Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary. Nadia says: "I'll overlook a lot for a great story. I mean, I've read some fabulous books that are perfectly crafted but really boring stories - but a really perfect story, even if it isn't perfectly crafted will have such MEANING and resonance. I want those." Read the whole interview.

A Novel Writing Workshop with D. Anne Love

Author D. Anne Love will lead an Austin SCBWI novel writing workshop on March 24.

"D. Anne Love shares her secrets for writing great plots, compelling characters, and dialogue that will keep your readers wanting more. Toss in a few wrting exercises for creativity and time for quesitons and answers and you'll leave the workshop with plenty of ideas for finishing your novel and getting it pulblished. Ten manuscript critiques will be available to SCBWI members on a first come, first served basis."

D. Anne Love is the award-winning author of numerous novels for middle grade readers and young adults. Her books take readers from the world of itinerant puppeteers in medieval England to the gates of the Alamo and the windswept plains of the Dakotas, from a ranch in modern-day Texas to a South Carolina plantation at the start of the Civil War. A former teacher, school principal, and university professor, She fills her stories with details gleaned from the meticulous research she conducts for each of her novels.

Her first novel, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt (Holiday House, 1995), was featured in The Iowa Reading Journal, The Mailbox magazine, and was nominated for multiple state awards. My Lone Star Summer (Holiday House, 1997) won the Friends of American Writers Juvenile Fiction Prize. Other books received multiple nominations for state awards and are a part of state reading lists nationwide. The Puppeteer's Apprentice (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2003)(excerpt) was a Book of the Month Club alternate. Her recent titles include: The Secret Prince (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2005)(excerpt); Semiprecious (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2006)(excerpt); and Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia (Holiday House, 2006).

D. Anne holds degrees from Lamar University and the University of North Texas.

Download the Austin SCBWI novel workshop registration form. Read a Cynsations interview with Dorothy Love.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Tantalize Launch Party

Thanks to all who celebrated with us in person or in spirit at the launch party for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) on Friday, Feb. 23!

In keeping with the Sanguini's motif (the fictional vampire restaurant in the novel), guests were asked to sign in as predator or prey.

We decorated in low-key Gothic colors, mostly with accents--including the framed Sanguini's fangs-style logo in the foyer, black-and-red linens for the daybed, black tapers in the candlesticks, black votives in the tray display, black-and-red pillar candles in the fireplace, red drop crystals in the parlor chandelier, black coasters, and black table cloths. Off-limits rooms were marked with crime-scene and police-line tape.

We also set three tables with the matching linens on the front terrace for those who wanted to enjoy the bright, breeze, 70-something degree night.

So far as wardrobe went, I opted for a slinky black shell and pants, black cowbody boots, my snake-wrapped earrings, my antique gold watch necklace (originally grandma's), and a full-length black net cape.

The previous day, Barbara Marin at Bo Salon on South Congress had taken my hair to a near black featuring a subtle dark blue sheen with red stripe accent streaks in front, and Kate Pham, also of Bo, painted my nails in alternating red and black. Many guests commented that they thought I should keep the 'do permanently.

The to-die-for menu, from Primizie Catering, featured: antipasto; smoked salmon gravlox; fresh vegetable crudite platter; imported and domestic artisan cheese board with vineyard grapes and seasonal berries; fresh seasonal fruit; oven dried tomatoes finished with local goat cheese balsamic vinaigreette and snipped chives; Italian sausage "spiedini" with peppers and pecorino romano cheese; calzone with mushrooms and Italian cheeses; miniature stuffed and baked pizza pockets filled with Italian cheeses, wild mushrooms and charred tomato; cocktail sandwiches (wild mushrooms, garlicky spinach and artichoke herb spread on Italian flatbread); and stuffed porcini mushrooms. Absolutely delicious! The calzone and porcini mushrooms were especially popular with our crowd. Guest Anne Bustard graciously provided an Italian creme cake.

Colby Neal 's The Flower Studio designed the gorgeously gothic buffet flowers.

Candlewick Press co-sponsored a giveaway of the final book (guests were each welcome to take one). I pre-autographed the copies. A few folks also bought (prior to the party) and brought more for me to sign.

Door prizes included ARCs of the following 2007 novels by Austin-area authors: Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (Delacorte); Onaj's Horn: the Silverskin Legacy (Book Three) by Jo Whittemore (Llewellyn); Runaround by Helen Hemphill (Front Street); and Wonders of the World by Brian Yansky (Flux).

We also gave away a basket filled with fixings for an Italian dinner from Central Market. Contents included: black squid ink pasta; pesto sauce with truffles; sun-dried tomatoes; parmesan; dark chocolate; Sanguini's mug, sticker, mousepad, and magnet; wine biscuits; and a bottle of Travis Peak Cabernet Sauvignon.

We had a crowd of about eighty from throughout Central Texas, though with ebb and flow, there were usually only about sixty people inside the house at any given time.

Guests included such luminaries as writers Brian Anderson, Kathi Appelt, Anne Bustard, Janie Bynum, Betty Davis, Alison Dellenbaugh, Peni R. Griffin, Lila and Rick Guzman, Helen Hemphill, Frances Hill, Varian Johnson, Lindsey Lane, April Lurie, Mark Mitchell, Sean Petrie, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Liz Garton Scanlon, Elaine Scott, Jerry Wermund, Jo Whittemore, and Brian Yansky, illustrators Gene Brenek, Joy Fisher Hein, Christy Stallop, and Don Tate, current and former Austin SCBWI RAs-authors Tim Crow, Meredith Davis, Debbie Dunn, Julie Lake, and Nancy Jean Okunami, as well as a bounty other book pros (teachers, school and public librarians, university professors of children's/YA lit, and so on), including author-librarian Jeanette Larson, librarian-blogger Camille Powell, and a number of additional book lovers, friends, and significant others.

Kathi Appelt was kind enough to propose a toast!

I'd say about a third of the guests were writers or illustrators, about a third other book folks, and about a third significant others and additional guests, which made for a lovely mix.

My special thanks to the central Texas children's and young adult book community for all of its enthusiasm and support. I'm so honored and thrilled to have such amazing people in my life.

Cynsational Notes

Thanks also to our servers, Anna and Eric! They looked fierce in their custom Sanguini's T-shirts designed by Gene Brenek. Thanks to author Julie Lake for facilitating their hiring.

Thanks also to Michael Helferich for lending us his chainsaw. Because the weather cooperated, we didn't need to have the outdoor fireplace on the terrace, but it gave us peace of mind to have it as a back-up plan.

Primizie Osteria – Italian Café and Wine Bar will open soon at 1000 E. 11th Street, Suite 200 in Austin.

See more party news and pics at GregLSBlog. Once the festivities started, we were too busy to keeping shooting photos, but I'll be sure to highlight any other party posts that may arise. Speaking of which, check out Don's "A tantalizing party" at Devas T. Rants and Raves, Liz's "Community" at Liz In Ink, Camille's "Friday Night Highlights" at Book Moot, "Tantalize Party" (with excellent party pics!) at Jo's LJ, and Alison's "A tantalizing weekend" at Alison Wonderland.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Keeping Up With Roo Wins Dolly Gray Award

Keeping Up With Roo by Sharlee Glenn, illustrated by Dan Andreason (Grossett & Dunlap, 2004) has won the 2006 Dolly Gray Award for Children's Literature in Developmental Disabilities, sponsored by The Council for Exceptional Children's Division on Developmental Disabilities and Special Needs Project.

Scroll for Sharlee's acceptance speech and more information about the award.

More News & Links

"A Grown-Up Brouhaha over a Book for Kids" from the New York Times. Letters to the editor include one by young adult author Alex Flinn. Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess (MTV Books, 2007) is the currently featured title at the YA Authors Cafe. Surf by to learn all about it and ask Laura a question.

CCBC Choices for 2007 have been announced. Learn more about highlighted authors and illustrators, including M.T. Anderson, Dianna Hutts Aston, Karen Ehrhardt, Jenny Han, Kimberly Willis Holt, Cynthia Kadohata, Gail Carson Levine, David Levithan, Grace Lin, Cynthia Lord, Marisa Montes, Yuyi Morales, An Na, Rick Riordan, Susan Goldman Rubin, Lola M. Schaefer, Leda Schubert, Scott Westerfeld, and Jane Yolen. Check out all the honorees!

"So You're An Old Wanna-be" by Kathe Campbell from the Institute of Children's Literature. "A light-hearted look at how one late bloomer looks at rules, challenges, and success."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Illustrator Interview: Gene Brenek on the Logo for Sanguini's from Tantalize

Gene Brenek on Gene Brenek: "Well I had to put on a little 'ABBA Gold' to gear up for this. Let's see, I was born in Houston many moons ago, but not as far back as when ABBA was still in heavy rotation. I was an 80's kid, more Prince back before he changed his name to a hieroglyph and way before he went back to being Prince. Why is my bio suddenly full of old pop artist references? Dunno, I guess that's what happens when I'm left to my own devices.

"Let's move this ahead a few years shall we? I'm currently a creative director for a big ad agency in Austin, Texas. In my spare time, I'm working on a master's in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College, which is truly a great program. I also have been illustrating dummies for my own picture book ideas. Let's just say I don't sleep. And I'm waiting, PATIENTLY, to be discovered. Ahem."

Thanks so much for designing logos for Sanguini's, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). What was your initial inspiration for the designs?

Designing a logo is a lot like creating a picture book in a way. You need a very simple idea. A logo can't contain several different concepts at once and be effective. The ones with staying power are very iconic.

Certainly what separated the dead from the undead restaurants was the vampire mythology. So I started brainstorming and writing down anything that came to mind when I thought about vampires.

Usually I spend a fair amount of time trying out various color combinations but this assignment begged for two colors. Black, the color of night and red. Yes, black is the absence of color but when you're talking to printers it's still an ink color. Red seemed an obvious but essential choice: blood, wine, marinara.

One logo idea, that for better or worse got nicknamed "the girly one," came out of Quincie's, the protagonist's, femininity. I loved the idea of blood draining off the gothic lettering and dripping down a flowering vine, as if elements of the restaurant were changing who she was.

I also kept coming back to puncture wounds. The other logo (see above) incorporated that idea. So thank you for coming up with a restaurant that had two i's in the name, you made my job easy. If you ever write a book about a vampire-themed Ikea, I may have some leftover ideas for all those umlauted furniture names.

What considerations came into play when developing the logos?

I treated this project as I would any other design project. Before starting any sketches I had a few questions. What the owners were like? What was their vision for the restaurant? Who was their clientele? What cues could I get from the interior spaces? And while that may seem like a tough assignment, given that it's a fictional place, I found that the writing was crafted in such a way that it was very easy for me to get a sense of all of these things.

I approached this as not a design project for author Cynthia Leitich Smith but for Quincie [the protagonist]. I tried to understand her as much as I could and what her sensibilities were. Now it could be argued that Cyn and Quincie are one in the same, certainly there are aspects of that, but they are different people.

What were the challenges in bringing them to life?

Honestly the biggest challenge was not getting to design the menu, interior, the matchbooks, the business cards –all the elements that go into shaping one's identity.

What was your experience working with Printfection and CafePress? Why did you select those companies?

I went with these two companies because they offer so much flexibility. They print on demand, meaning that rather than doing a run of say 100 shirts in every size that I then had to store and ship, when someone places an order then it gets printed and shipped. They take care of it all. And I like the quality of their merchandise.

What advice would you give to folks trying to design and produce book tie-in promotions?

Think outside the box. Why not create items for a fictional vampire themed restaurant? But know that your reader is smart. Just because a tie-in isn't physically in the book, it's a part of the book. Initially I had envisioned staying away from a gothic typeface. I was leaning toward something more modern. Then I read a passage about the gothic lettering on the menu and it guided me away from something slick and contemporary. I needed to remain faithful to the book. It wasn't an entirely blank canvas.

Restaurant items made sense; to me Sanguini's was a prominent character in Tantalize. Designing items based around where the protagonist had gone to school would've made no sense what so ever.

More personally, do you count yourself among fans of the fanged ones? If so, what do you think is the appeal?

Of course I'm a fan. Vampires seem to have all the smarts. They also have big personalities, charisma. You want to hang out with them. Imagine a book where someone opens a tax-attorney-themed restaurant. Yawn.

What do you do when you're not working for the undead?

What do you mean? I'm an art director for an ad agency. I'm always working for the undead.

Actually, I'm writing and illustrating a couple of ideas of my own in the picture book arena. Depending on who you talk to that particular market is either dead or undead. For my sake, I'm hoping it's undead.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini's at Printfection and CafePress; see the other Sanguini's logo option.

Sanguini's Shops

Austin illustrator Gene Brenek has designed two logos to celebrate Sanguini's, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my upcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

The logos are now available on T-shirts, a mousepad, and a cutting board for sale at Printfection and on more T-shirts, a mug, a magnet, and a sticker at CafePress.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini's at Printfection and CafePress.

Read a story-behind-the-logos interview with Gene and see the other Sanguini's logo option.

More News & Links

Hurry, hurry! Zip over to Julia Durango's LJ to enter her giveaway of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007). Read a related Cynsations interview with Julia.

Artist and Author Cynthia von Buhler Talks about Her Cats at CatChannel.com. Cynthia is the author-illustrator of The Cat Who Wouldn't Come Inside (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

A couple of bloggers have commented on my recent interview with Not Your Mother's Book Club, specifically about my revision process. Check out Justine Larbalestier's "Different Strokes" and Stephanie Gunn's "suddenly my writing methodology doesn't seem so strange."

Thanks also to Elizabeth Garton Scanlon and Lara Zeises for cheering my new release, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and return to blogging. Read Cysational interviews with Elizabeth, which was recently recommended by HipWriterMama, and with Lara.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Author Feature: Julia Durango

Julia Durango on Julia Durango: "I was born in Las Vegas of all places, but my family moved often and by the time I finished high school I'd attended seven schools in five states (California, Utah, Rhode Island, Indiana & Missouri). I moved again to attend the University of Illinois where I received degrees in Latin American Studies and Political Science. I traveled frequently to Latin America during that time, but mostly to Colombia, where I worked in a program for street children. Now I live in Ottawa, Illinois, with my two sons (ages 6 and 10). In addition to writing children's books, I work full-time at the public library in Ottawa and I review funny books for kids with my pals Andrea Beaty and Carolyn Crimi over at www.ThreeSillyChicks.com."

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Angels Watching Over Me is an adaptation of the African-American spiritual by the same name. My mother used to sing me to sleep with it when I was a baby, and I in turn sang it to my boys...only my youngest son would take forever to fall asleep, so I'd keep making up new verses until he finally dozed off (at which point I'd make myself a stiff drink and remind myself not to have any more babies!).

Your previous titles include Dream Hop, illustrated by Jared Lee (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Could you tell us a bit about this book? What did Jared's illustrations bring to your text?

Dream Hop was inspired by my oldest son when he was going through a particularly bad bout of nightmares. One morning he woke up and asked if I'd ever "dream hopped" from a bad dream into a good one. I started writing Dream Hop the same day. As for Jared Lee, my sons and I are huge fans of his Black Lagoon series (written by Mike Thaler, Scholastic) so we were thrilled when he signed on for Dream Hop. His illustrations are a perfect blend of scary and silly!

Along with Linda Sue Park, you also are the co-author of Yum Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds, illustrated by Sue Ramá (Charlesbridge, 2005)(interview with Linda Sue). Could you describe the process that you shared with Linda Sue?

Much of what I know about writing I've learned from Linda Sue, so collaborating with her was a treat. The process itself was something like: one hundred e-mails, two dozen phone calls, and one crucial brainstorming week-end in New York City. It could also be described as: mucho research, beaucoup drafts, molto fun.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Think like a kid. Get rid of your "wise elder" voice. Let loose and have fun (it shows!).

What do you do when you're not writing?

Between my job at the library and the hard work of raising boys (i.e. playing Legos and Guitar Hero and basketball...whew!), I'm usually too tuckered out for much else. I may be the only person in America who has never seen an episode of "American Idol" or "Desperate Housewives" or "Lost." But I read and do a crossword puzzle every night without fail. Nerdy-girl habits die hard.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Pest Fest, a picture book illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, June 2007); The Walls of Cartagena, an historical fiction novel (Simon & Schuster, 2008); Under the Mambo Moon, a story in poems (Charlesbridge, 2009), and Go-Go Gorillas, a companion to Cha-Cha Chimps, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Simon & Schuster, 2009). I'm also working on a project with my lovely critique partner, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author of Reaching for Sun, Bloomsbury, March 2007), which has been a blast!

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Not Your Mother's Bookclub

Read the latest interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith (me again) at Not Your Mother's Bookclub. The topic is my new YA gothic fantasy title, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and the Q&As are fangfully fantastic. Here's a sneak peek:

"As for the long answer... It hardly seems possible, but I first began looking through magazines for photos to inspire characters and asking them to write letters to me in late 2001. I don't know though that I did more than just flirt with the story in that first year. I was essentially gathering courage. In the couple of years that followed, I wrote short stories for a number of anthologies, taking full advantage of the opportunity to stretch my skills. Write stronger. Braver. Fangs out. Eventually, I sank in with a vengeance."

More News & Links

Check out the latest review, this one from the Wordcandy Blog. Here's a taste: "Tantalize features a genuine sense of foreboding, contrasted with the frenetic atmosphere of a major restaurant opening. This unusual combination made for a constantly surprising and highly effective horror story."

The 11th Carnival of Children's Literature from MotherReader.

2007 Oklahoma Book Award finalists include: Sharon Darrow for Trash (Candlewick); Molly Levite Griffis for Paradise of the Prairie (Eakin); and Tim Tingle for Crossing Bok Chitto (Cinco Puntos). See the whole list. Read a Cynsations interview with Sharon.

From Page to Screen: Gabor Csupo's Bridge to Terabithia by Martha V. Parravano from The Horn Book.

Author Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Niki Burnham and Mark L. Williams as well as agent Stephen Malk of Writer's House.

Author Anastasia Suen has launched the Blog Central Guide, highlighting children's authors and illustrators' blogs. Read an interview with Anastasia.

Debbi Michiko Florence has launched her redesigned author site. See her new interview with Sally Keehn, author of Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon (Philomel, 2007). Learn more about Debbi's superheroic web designer Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys (who also is my web designer).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Author Interview: Brenda A. Ferber on Julia's Kitchen

Brenda A. Ferber on Brenda A. Ferber: "I grew up in a happy home in Highland Park, Illinois, the third of four children. I attended the University of Michigan and created my own honors major called, 'Creative Writing for Mass Media.' It was basically a combination of creative writing, film/video, and communications classes. Lots of fun! For my honors thesis, I wrote a screenplay, which is currently sitting in the back of my file cabinet, exactly where it belongs.

"After graduation, I moved to Chicago with Alan, my college sweetheart. I worked for Leo Burnett advertising agency, got married, and had three kids in 19 months. (Yes, we have twins.) Suddenly I was a stay-at-home mom, living in the suburbs, and driving a mini-van. It was time to reassess life.

"I had always dreamed of becoming an author but never saw it as a practical career. Now I figured I had to give it a shot. I wasn't making any money anyway, so what did it hurt? I took a class through the Institute of Children's Literature, devoured everything in the children's department of our library, and started to write. A few years later I sold two stories to Ladybug. Then, amazingly, I sold my first novel to FSG!"

What about the writing life first called to you?

When I was ten years old, my aunt gave me a diary for Hannukah, and I've been journaling ever since. For me, writing equals thinking. I don't really understand something until I've written about it. Not only did writing in a diary help me tackle the ups and downs of life, but it also helped me discover my writing voice. Journaling and reading as much as possible (Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Constance Greene were childhood favorites) added up to a natural desire to become an author.

I wasn't one of those kids who wrote stories all the time, but I thought in story-mode, and I still do.

You know that inner voice you have? Well, mine is a story-telling voice. For example, right now I'm thinking, She tried to answer the interview questions while her ten-year-old son buzzed about the room and asked, "What's for dinner, Mom?" I thought everyone's inner voice worked like this until one day when I mentioned it to my husband, and he informed me otherwise. Who would have guessed?

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I'm much too hopeful and optimistic to write for adults. And I love examining the growing-up years. I find it fascinating.

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

In 2003, I attended the SCBWI Mid-Year Conference in NY. One of the editors I heard speak there was Beverly Reingold, from Farrar Straus & Giroux. At that time, I was in the middle of my first draft of Julia's Kitchen, and Beverly struck me as the right editor for that manuscript. I can't explain exactly why. It was just a gut feeling.

I went home and read several books Beverly had edited, and I became even more convinced that she should be my editor. Of course, I couldn't send her a half-finished first draft, so I sent her a picture book manuscript instead. Soon after, I received a lovely rejection letter from her. I sent her another picture book manuscript, and another, and another. Each time, she sent a rejection requesting to see more of my work.

Finally, she asked me if I could possibly write something longer than a picture book, and I told her about Julia's Kitchen. She sent me a handwritten note saying to send it as soon as possible! I taped that note up to my computer and worked as fast as I could to finish the fourth draft.

Meanwhile, I had entered the third draft of Julia's Kitchen in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition and was waiting to hear the results. Right around the time I heard I won, I finished the fourth draft and submitted it to Beverly. She loved it, and offered me a contract! I did one revision for her, and then we went straight to line editing. Working with Beverly was an amazing learning experience. She was every bit the editor I thought she would be... and more!

Congratulations on the publication of Julia's Kitchen (FSG, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

In 2001, we were living in Austin, Texas, and there was a house fire in our neighborhood. A father and son died in the fire, and to make matters worse, the mother had died two years earlier in a car accident. There were two brothers who survived, and they went to live with relatives. I didn't know the family, only their house and their story. But every day as I would drive by the burned out house, I wondered about the two boys. I wondered how they were dealing with all this tragedy. I also wondered how I would have coped in their place.

Then 9/11 happened, and it seemed everyone was walking around with a new level of fear.

I asked the age-old question: Why does God let bad things happen? I figured I could try to answer that question in a book. I always loved novels about grief and loss (I just love a good cry!), and I noticed all the mainstream books about death had Christian characters. Where were the Jews? I wanted to write a universal story about a Jewish girl dealing with loss and trying to figure out why God lets bad things happen.

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

I let the initial spark simmer in my head for about a year before I tried to write anything. During that time, we moved back to the Chicago area. I enrolled in ICL's novel writing class and formed a critique group. I spent about a year writing the first draft, and six months writing the next three. I worked with Beverly for about a year, and then a year later, the book was released. So it was a total of four and a half years from spark to publication.

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

I am a naturally happy and optimistic person, so it was very hard for me to go as deep as I had to into Cara's grief. I wanted her to get over it! I wanted her to be happy!

Thankfully, a member of my critique group is a social worker, and she kept pushing me to delve deeper inside Cara's feelings. Also, one of my dearest friends unfortunately lost her mother to cancer while I was writing the book, and we had many talks about the grieving process. Through my friend, I learned that grief isn't only painful, it's also beautiful, and absolutely necessary to heal.

At one point while working with Beverly, it dawned on me that this was a terribly sad book. I wondered who would ever want to read such a heartbreaking tale, and I felt a bit panicked about that! But Beverly told me it has to be sad because it's a sad situation. I had to be true to my character and her story. And of course, there is a hopeful and uplifting ending. Even in the depths of grief, there are happy moments, if you look for them.

Congratulations, too, on your Sydney Taylor Awards for Julia's Kitchen--best manuscript (2004) and best book for older readers (2007)! What did this recognition mean to you?

Thank you! Winning the manuscript award in 2004 was amazing because it validated me as an author. It made me think I might actually get published. And it did help me find a publisher right away! But winning the gold medal in 2007 was even more exciting because there were so many outstanding Jewish books written this year. I was shocked and thrilled and flabbergasted and grateful that they picked mine as the very best. (I'm still trying to wrap my head around it!)

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Read, read, read. And don't stop revising until your manuscript is as good as the best stuff out there today. Only then should you try to find a publisher.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I love to spend time with my family and friends. We go to White Sox games, play Monopoly or Scrabble, see movies, go out to eat. I also love to read, scrapbook, bake, and (when nobody's watching) sing and dance to my iPod. My non-writing time also includes running errands, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, driving carpools, settling fights, and figuring out what's for dinner. If I ever win the Newbery or write a best-seller, I'm getting a personal chef!

As a reader, what middle grade novels have you enjoyed lately and why?

I loved Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion, 2006). It was hauntingly powerful, deeply sad, yet filled with hope. Right now I'm in the middle of Alabama Moon by Watt Key (FSG, 2006), and I'm loving it! The main character, Moon, is one in a million. I find myself thinking about him when I'm not reading and itching to get back to his story.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, will be published by FSG in spring 2009. It's a middle grade novel about friendship, sailing, and growing up at an overnight camp in northern Wisconsin.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at the YA Authors Cafe

The YA Authors Cafe offers its first interview at a new location. Cynthia Leitich Smith (that would be me) is the featured author, and I'm talking about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

Here's a sneak peek: "My world is eclectic, and (also unlike most genre fiction) reflects the diversity of our real one. Peel back the scary romp, and there's depth there--thematic treatments of alcholism, feminism, race and class relations, all through analogy. But many YAs will just enjoy the marinara-baked chills, and that's just fine."

Read the whole interview. Leave a question in the comments today.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Feb. 13, 2007) is now available. Here's a peek:

Classified Ads: Restaurants
Sanguini's: A Very Rare Restaurant is hiring a chef de cuisine. Dinners only. Apply in person between 2 and 4 P.M.


Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her hybrid-werewolf first love threatens to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. And just as she and her uncle are about to debut Austin's red hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef.

Can Quincie transform the new hire into a culinary dark lord before opening night? Will Henry Johnson be able to wow the crowd in fake fangs, a cheap cape, and red contact lenses? Or is there more to this earnest fresh face than meets the eye?

As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?

Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith's delicious debut as an author of dark fantasy.

Here are the official blurbs:

"Looking for something to read that will make your TV jealous? Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize has it all—hot vampires and wolf-boys, a super-cool heroine in cowboy boots, nail-biting suspense, romance, chills 'n' thrills, and Austin, Texas. What more could you want?"

--Libba Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels

"Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, Tantalize creates a froth of danger, suspense, and wit. This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you? Predator or prey?"

--Annette Curtis Klause, author of Blood and Chocolate, The Silver Kiss, and Freaks! Alive on the Inside

In breaking news, we have new reviews:

"If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy..." and goes on "...the immersion in food culture--including an overhauled menu, as grisly as it is gourmet--successfully builds on the sensual aspects of vampire mythology."

--Booklist

"An intoxicating romantic thriller... Quincie's longing for a physical relationship with her boy-wolf is as palpable as the taste of the food... Smith adds a light touch of humor to the soup, but the main course is a dark romance with all the gory trimmings."

--The Horn Book Magazine

"Quincie must make a terrifying choice in a heart-pounding climax that will have teen readers weeping with both lust and sorrow."

--Kirkus Reviews

Check out all the buzz!

Cynsations Launches Mirror Site at LiveJournal; Cynsations and Spookycyn Redesigned

Previously, I have had online ties to the LiveJournal community through syndications of Cynsations and Spookycyn from here at Blogger. However, occasionally errors or blocks occur.

So, I'm launching a mirror Cynsations on LiveJournal. My hope is that--tech gremlins aside--one or the other system will always be running.

You are welcome to read there or here at the original Blogger blog. However, you may want to bookmark both in case of future freezes or other difficulties.

In other news, visitors will notice that I have used the nifty Blogger format upgrade to make some design changes. My hope is that Cynsations now matches my official site better and Spookycyn is, well, a little spookier. Along these lines, I'd like to thank Karl at Blogger for helping me through the last stages of upgrade--most appreciated!

Thanks to Colleen Cook, Jo Knowles, and Sara Zarr for helping me announce these changes.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Alma Fullerton Offers Author, Editor, and Agent Interviews

Author Alma Fullerton is now offering interviews! Learn more about authors Amy Goldman Koss, Linda Joy Singleton, Verla Kay, Judy Gregerson, and Sherry Garland. See also interviews with Red Deer Press editor Peter Carver and agent Stephen Barbara of the the Donald Maass Literary Agency in Manhattan.

Here's a sneak peek from Stephen Barbara's interview: "Make it an absolute law not to allow negative people and influences into your life. You simply can't afford to squander your mental energy on pessimistic, disbelieving thinking of any kind,especially since, as an aspiring author, you'll have to deal with rejection and indifference before that happy day when you get your first contract."

Alma's books include In the Garage (Red Deer, 2006).

More News & Links

Thanks to the following bloggers for cheering the release of my YA gothic fantasy novel Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): D.L. Garfinkle; A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy; Blog Central Guide; What's HOT in YA Lit.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cynsational News, Links, and Return

Congratulations to the winners of the 2006 Cybils! I'd like to send out a special cheer to previously featured winners: author Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long for An Egg Is Quiet (Chronicle)(author and illustrator interview); author-illustrator Melanie Watt for Scaredy Squirrel (Kids Can); and David Levithan (along with his co-author Rachel Cohn) for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Knopf)(author interview). I'd also like to say thanks to all the amazing volunteers behind this wonderful new award program. This is an amazing effort. Please do know that it is appreciated!

Don't miss this super cool video interview with author David Lubar as he talks to Expanded Books about his forthcoming True Talents (StarScape, March 2007)(excerpt). Visit here, and read a related recommendation by Greg.

Interview with Kimberly Duncan-Mooney by Jenna Glatzer from Absolute Write. Kimberly is the US editor of Barefoot Books, a small publisher established in 1993 with offices in Cambridge, Mass.; and England.

"An Unsafe Bridge" by Peter T. Chattaway from Christianity Today. Author Katherine Paterson chimes in on the film version of "Bridge to Terabithia."

Submit to the 11th Carnival of Children's Literature, sponsored by Big A, little a.

Picture Books: Plan, Polish, and Publish by Dori Chaconas. Read interviews with Dori on On A Wintry Morning (Viking, 2000) and One Little Mouse (Viking, 2002) from my web site.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast #6: Kelly Herold at Big A little a: an interview with one of my favorite bloggers.

Thanks to Greg at Greg LSBlog for inviting me to be a guest blogger this past week. The featured authors and illustrators from those posts will be highlighted once more here so that no one misses hearing about their wonderful books. This will result in some short-term repetition; however, I'll be sure to also include new news as we're catching up.

Huge thanks to all who've supported my guest blogging (during tech woes) and the launch of my new YA novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), including: Book Moot; Laura Bowers; Julia Durango; Alex Flinn; Carrie Jones; Cynthia Lord; Liz Garton Scanlon; Laurie Stolarz; Three Silly Chicks; Lara Zeises; April Lurie, Jo Whittemore; Shaken & Stirred; Colleen Cook; Mitali Perkins; Varian Johnson; Chris Barton; Kellye Carter Crocker; Jody Feldman; Debbi Michiko Florence; Varian Johnson; Jo Knowles; Uma Krishnaswami; Carolyn Lehman; David Lubar; Kerry Madden; Mary E. Pearson; Laura Ruby; Tanya Lee Stone; Anastasia Suen; Don Tate; Kim Winters; Sara Zarr.

Where Do Media Tie-ins Come From? with Laurie Calkhoven from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

BCCB Honors Strong Black Girls and Women and More Cynsational Links

"Strength Like A Rock" selected by Cindy Welch of BCCB. "[C]elebrates the power and determination of strong black females, young and old, who rise to the occasion, sustain family, and carry forward the dreams of a nation."

"True Blue Patricia C. McKissack" by Deborah Stevenson from BCCB. Patricia's titles include Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States (with Fredrick L. McKissack)(Scholastic, 2003).

"What Does Black History Month Mean to You?" a Q&A with noted voices in children's literature from Lee & Low Books. Note: I learned of this link at Don Tate's blog, Devas T Rants and Raves, which includes more thoughts on the subject. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

More News & Links

The February 2007 issue of SmartWriters features: "Alert the Media! Press Releases 101" by Roxyanne Young; "Book Trailers are Easy...If You've Got the Software, and the Savy," also by Roxyanne; and "Writers Retreats & Conferences" by Margot Finke. Read Cynsations interviews with Roxyanne and Margot.

Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape recommends Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2006) and Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent (HarperCollins, 2007). The blog also features Books About Adoption.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature recommends SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Brian Deins (Kids Can, 2000).

More personally, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's enthusiastic post about the upcoming publication of my YA gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, Tracie! Don't miss Tracie's next release, Reaching for the Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007).

Look for the Tantalize ad in the upcoming issue of Publishers Weekly!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Author Interview: Elizabeth Garton Scanlon on A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes

Elizabeth Garton Scanlon on Elizabeth Garton Scanlon: "I grew up in Vail, Colorado, before it was Vail, Colorado. Our ski passes were $57 a year and we lived in 'the country' outside of town. Television didn't reach that far and stories were everything. My sister and I created serial imaginings that we'd go back to, day after day. Since then I've lived in Wisconsin, Ohio, the U.K., Wisconsin, Colorado and Texas--with my fair share of wanderings in between.

"Now I've been in Austin for 14 years--longer than I've ever been anywhere. I met my husband here and had my babies here and found my cats and dog here. I worked doing corporate copywriting when my husband was in graduate school and then gave myself a well-deserved pay cut to teach at Austin Community College. I've concocted a happy hybrid life, teaching, writing, mothering. Stories are still everything. Both the real ones and the made up."

Visit Liz In Ink, her LJ!

What about the writing life first called to you?

For ages I didn't know that it was the writing life I was settling into. I wrote letters and poems and political rants. I read like a fiend. I slept with my thesaurus. But I didn't know what any of that had to do with my big-picture life. I went from degree to degree and from job to job with a scary sense of disconnect.

It's really only been in the last five years that I've recognized the intuitive flow I followed from journalism to teaching poetry, from Michener fellowship to writing for IBM, from blogging to books.

The writing life can be fantastically nebulous, so much so that I didn't know I was in it 'til I was in it. Now, I'd say that it's been a calling more than a choice, and maybe what I love the most are the shifting borders, the flexibility, the dynamic space it makes for a changeling like me.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I wrote for children once I had children. I remember sitting in the rocker (and driving to the store and pushing the stroller) singing little ditties, silly rhymes with my daughters' names and the cats' names and the hot sun and the dogs leash, whoops, wrapped around my knees. And I thought, ahem, here's another diversion. Now that they're older (my girls), I'm writing for older kids. My books, growing with their books. I love that.

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

Oh, gosh. My first sale was so deceptively easy. I wrote in the stupor of early motherhood, mailed my manuscript out pell-mell and more than one house responded! It was the simultaneous submission nightmare--or dream--or something. I wanted to feel all a'flutter but instead I was sick with worry and indecision. Steven Malk, an agent with WritersHouse, rescued me and before that week was over, I had things all sealed up with HarperCollins. I was giddy. So, that was a sprint. Then began the long slog 'til it came out.

And since that first sale, a few stumbles. I've got four picture book manuscripts out there in the world, none of which have been snapped up with that early vigor. Once, I left a piece with a very interested editor for almost two years, exclusively. I revised for her and crossed my fingers and waited and hoped and it never materialized. I really learned about being a firmer, more careful advocate for my own work. In that way, stumbles are worth it, but oh-so-heartbreaking when you're in the midst.

Your debut title was A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I was dressing my daughter--singing to her as she kicked on the changing table--and I heard myself say, "A sock is a pocket for your toes." And then I thought, it is! It's a pocket! The concept became an obsession for me; the world is teeming with metaphoric pockets. One of my sweetest delights is to hear the ideas school kids have for pockets of their own--a hat is a pocket for a rabbit, a head is a pocket full of brains, a napkin is a pocket for your green beans--things I'd never have come up with on my own. I really like taking something simple simple simple and exploding it wide open.

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

I began writing that piece in, I think, early 1999. It hit the shelves in March 2004. (See reference to sprint and slog, above.) The early stages were auspicious; the latter, full of pregnant pauses. (Literally, in one case. My first editor at Harper went away on maternity leave and never came back. The next switched houses, so by the end, I was on my third.) Still, each milestone thrilled me: receiving final sign-off on my edits; seeing the first pen-and-ink sketches; opening that year's catalogs and seeing my book on page 24! Accepting offers from the Junior Library Guild and Children's Book of the Month club; launching my Web site, and finally, receiving glossy F&Gs in the mail. Not long after, there was that satisfying thump--a box of books on my front stoop. It was worth the wait. Especially since it dawned on me that bringing the living, breathing book to children is the real beginning, the hatch, the birthday. I'm still celebrating that.

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

My first editor, Kara Vicinelli, asked me to even out the rhyme and rhythm of the piece. I'd written something akin to jazz, I thought, and she wanted it to scan. The argument was that children learn how to make sense of poetry by starting with more simple structure (in the same way that they learn to make sense of sentences) and then, later, they can climb up onto that building block with a more sophisticated eye and ear. I trusted this explanation, but oi, that was tough. Once verse (especially rhyming verse) is "complete," it's like blood-letting to go back in and pick it apart. My husband actually had to board a plane with our daughter and leave me to flog it out in private. But in the end, the piece became more lyrical and my daughter got to toddle around the Seattle Zoo, so no regrets.

After the edits were done, Kara left me in the hands of Ellen Stein (who gets credit for finding Robin) and later still, my book and I were adopted by Anne Hoppe, who saw it through. This editorial round-table may not have been the most efficient arrangement, but I think it made for a serendipitously collaborative effort, and a different, lesser book would've been born without all their insights.

The final, um, challenge, was that soon after Robin committed to doing my book, 9/11 happened. The myriad ripple effects of that horrific day, logistical and psychological, are impossible to fathom or trace. But I do know that a certain vice president's wife had written a patriotic primer that suddenly seemed especially apt. Robin was Mrs. Cheney's illustrator, too, and her book naturally leap-frogged mine. I remember thinking that the pause in our timeline was a good way to slow down my mind during that mind-boggling time. Plus, I would've waited years--a baker's dozen--for Robin's art.

What did Robin's illustrations bring to your text?

Everything. What a gift. I wrote a little verse--a string of metaphors--that I hoped would be funny and playful and clever and sweet. Robin laid a visual narrative over the top, a whole 'nother layer that pops with joy. She really brought the human presence to the page. I think all that Robin does is genius. My personal favorite is You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum, written by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman (Dial, 1998).

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Read. Read stacks and stacks of picture books. They are instructive and inspiring, and I think there is nothing sillier than to imagine one can be a writer without being a reader. People worry about becoming imitative, but my own experience has been that reading the work that I admire (and the work that I don't) helps me to recognize my own authentic voice more easily. When I read Cynthia Rylant, for example, I feel more determined than ever to stick to my own chops and write what I believe in. She's been a North Star, to be sure.

How about beginning children's poets?

Again, read. But read aloud. Poetry should resonate--and not just on the page. I think that to write compelling poetry, we need to be able to hear it. It's like watching a kid learn how to play an instrument or sing on key. You've got to grow your poetic ear. Also, humor. Humor offers an open door into poetry for children. Mary Ann Hoberman comes to mind. And really, for adults, too. Billy Collins became poet laureate because he was able to make ordinary folks laugh--with poetry. Imagine!

What have you learned about publishing since selling your first book?

Really, I'm learning on the fly. Early on, I wrote and submitted intuitively so everything I know about craft and submitting and marketing is new, or at least new at the conscious level. I've been beneficiary to a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge, thanks to a generous network of writers--many of whom I met through Austin's SCBWI chapter. They exchange work with me, over coffee or online, and give me editor's names and tell me stories and share their lucky omens. That's been priceless, and fun. And the other most elucidating thing for me is teaching new writers about the craft; there's something about articulating the practice to others that helps me embody it myself.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I do a lot of laundry and a lot of yoga, I watch a lot of home-made musicals and pick up a lot of piles. I'm a mom of young kids at a school with a lot of sign-up sheets. Time is a tricky juggle. Every day I try to balance one piece of my life with another. I'm lucky to have a desk, a heap of ideas and a husband who thinks it's good, what I do.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have high hopes that my picture books will see the light of day soon (look for titles "Alia's Good Tidings," "The Good-Pie Party," "Moolie the Seasick Seal," and "The Old Man and the Marvelous Wind.") My newest project is an historical middle-grade novel that's as-of-yet untitled. Stay tuned...
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