Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Children's Crown Award Nominees Announced

"The mission of the Children's Gallery, the Children's Crown, and the Lamplighter Awards is to encourage elementary and junior high students to read wholesome and uplifting books by providing lists each year of the best literature." Learn more about the program.

Highlights at each age-range include...

K-2 Crown Gallery Nominees: Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell (Harcourt)(author interview).

6-8 Lamplighter Award Nominees: Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion)(author interview).

Cynsational News, Links, and Signing

Austinites, please mark your calendars! I'll be doing a table signing of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) at 2 p.m. March 17 at Barnes & Noble Round Rock. Stop by and say hi!

More News & Links

Check out Theo Black's revamp of author Laurie Halse Anderson's site. Laurie's upcoming title is Twisted (Viking, March 2007).

Congratulations to Chris Barton on the sale of his second book!

Congratulations to David Lubar on the launch of True Talents (Starscape, 2007)--much more on this to come! Read a Cynsations interview with David.

"A Conversation with a Bookstore Buyer." Andrew Karre of Flux interviews Jennifer Laughran of Books, Inc. in San Francisco and its Not Your Mother's Book Club. Read a Cynsations interview with Andrew.

Debut middle grade or YA novel scheduled for 2008? Check out the newly forming Class of 2k8! Learn more at Jody Feldman's LJ.

Thanks to carriejones for blogging about my picture book Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu being named to Best Multicultural Books for Early Childhood Educators in the most current issue of Montessori Life.

"To Blog or Not to Blog" by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Quotes on the subject from Sarah Dessen, Ann Brashares, Stephenie Meyer, Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, John Green, and me--Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Author Interview: Barry Lyga on The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

Barry Lyga on Barry Lyga: "Born on 9/11/71--you can imagine how I spent my thirtieth birthday! Lived for most of my life just about an hour below the Mason-Dixon Line, but never felt like a Southerner except when I visited family in New England, where I was told I talked like a rebel. Then, back in Maryland, friends said I sounded like a Yankee. So I guess I've felt like an outsider from the beginning!

"I learned how to read and write thanks to comic books--I absorbed the damn things as a kid, internalizing lessons in plot, characterization, and pacing. Some of those lessons were good, some of them were bad, but all of them led me to figure out more and more writing issues for myself. Plus, comics invigorated my imagination (anything could happen!) and also did wonders for my vocabulary (show of hands--who knew the words 'impervious,' 'invulnerable,' and 'continuum' in first grade?).

"My first book is The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). It's about what happens when a young comic book geek meets the girl of his nightmares and oh, yes, it was quite cathartic to write it."

What about the writing life first called to you? Did you shout "yes!" or run the other way?

I definitely shouted "yes!" but I also ran the other way at the same time! My earliest memory of "the writing life" is being very young--probably seven or eight. My grandmother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her, very seriously, that I wanted to be a writer. And she did Jewish grandmothers everywhere proud by saying, "Oh, so you want to starve!"

She was kidding, of course, but I was young and I didn't understand that she was kidding. And while I liked the idea of writing, I also liked the idea of eating! So for much of my life, I figured I would be something else and then be a writer as well--lawyer/writer, teacher/writer, etc. But that just didn't work for me. It wasn't until I fully embraced the writing life that things started to happen for me.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

I had always resisted it because I had this lingering prejudice--from the young adult books of my childhood, which were awful--that YA literature wasn't "real" literature. But people in my writers group, editors, my ex-wife, were all telling me I should try it. So I did, and I found it tremendously liberating and fun.

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

Well, I wrote the first draft of the book in a sprint--a five-week sprint! Stumbles along the way. You know, once I decided to write YA, everything pretty much fell into place. I would say the major stumbles came in the years prior to that, when I was writing stuff for adults and taking myself way too seriously and just spinning my wheels.

I think when we forget that writing should be fun, we lose our way--we become so serious and heavy that we bleed any joy out of what we're writing. I mean, even in my second book, which is about a very serious topic, there's room for humor. And a necessity for it.

We need humor as a way of contrasting the more downbeat moments. That's not just in the work itself, but also in the process of writing--you need to have fun doing it. Otherwise, what's the point?

Congratulations on the publication of The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

My own life! I've often said that the book is too autobiographical for my own good. When I decided to write something for teens, I went back not only to my own teen years, but also to my twenties. I think we tend to forget that those post-college years are just as nerve-wracking and transformative as the teen years in many respects.

So I looked at the whole "writer's journey," all of the insecurity and worry and fear and sudden joys. I realized that the writer's life is very analogous to being a teen--the isolation, rejection, striving to find your place in the world. Between the two of them, I found a balance that worked for me and for the story.

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

From spark to publication was roughly three years. That includes a year between acceptance and publication. From the time I finished the book to the time it was accepted was about a year and a half. The most significant event along the way was meeting my agent at about a year in--from the point, things happened very quickly and a few months later I had a book deal.

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

Wow, I could go on for a looooooong time on this one! I'll try to keep it short, lest your readers drop into comas. :)

The biggest challenge was the psychological barrier of "Someone who knows me could read this someday." Since the book is autobiographical to a degree, I was concerned.

I wasn't worried that people would be angry about the real life events that I "adapted" for the book--rather, I was worried that they would think that the made-up stuff was a way to dig at them or bash them after the fact! But I realized that I couldn't let this concern prevent me from telling the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it. Once I got over that, I was able to bull through.

Logistically, the toughest thing about the book was a function of the tense and POV I chose. The whole book is told in first-person present-tense from the point of view of Fanboy, a solipsistic, gifted fifteen-year-old. He's smart, yes, but anyone who was once fifteen will tell you that fifteen-year-old boys aren't the most, uh, perceptive or empathic creatures on the planet.

Since the book was present-tense, there was little room for reflection or second-guessing on Fanboy's part. We were always in his head, in the moment. And he wasn't inclined to cut people slack.

So I was very, very worried that the supporting cast would come across as cardboard because there was no way to get into them and we only had Fanboy's very biased view of them to go on. I had to find ways to get across Mom and Tony and Kyra and Cal and the others without betraying Fanboy's singularly self-absorbed point of view. Not the easiest thing in the world, but I took it as a challenge.

Also difficult (at first) was "How Geeky Do I Go?" The book has a lot of comic book geekery in it, and I was worried that I was going to overdo it and scare off the non-comics readers.

Eventually, I just had to trust my gut on that one. It was scary, but it paid off. I've had a lot of people e-mail me to say, "I don't read comics and I didn't get half the comic book references, but I loved this book." Whew!

You're obviously a serious comics/graphic novel guy. Could you tell us about your background?

Well, I grew up reading comics. Like I said before, the YA fiction of my youth was pretty lame, so I didn't read it--I read comics instead. Fortunately for me, I grew up at a time when comics were growing up, too, as books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and Maus were changing perceptions of the medium. So I never went through a period of time where I forsook comics--I just kept reading them. I even used them as the basis for an independent study project at Yale (much to the horror of the English Department, might I add!).

When I got out of college, I went to work for the biggest comic book distributor in the country. I did a bunch of marketing stuff and learned a lot of behind-the-scenes details about the industry, which was both good and bad. I tried my hand at writing comics, with mixed results. By the time I figured out how to write for the medium, I was starting to see some success in prose, and I stopped writing comics to move into prose full-time. I feel like I never really put my best foot forward in comics, and I hope to rectify that someday.

What do you think about the heightened attention to youth graphic novels in the youth book market, and why?

It's very strange to see! Strange, but gratifying. If comics had been as accepted and as tolerated when I was a kid, my life would have been very different. It's terrific to see the medium being treated so seriously, but I do worry about the bandwagon effect, where you have people who aren't really qualified to talk about comics blabbing about them anyway, or comics that aren't worth reading being touted as great just because they're comics. I mean, there's as much crap in the comic book field as in any other--maybe more.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Don't be afraid to experiment. Don't wonder "Can I do that?"--just do it. Remember that no matter how good you think your early efforts are, they probably actually suck--it's just the law of averages. Early on, put everything away for six months minimum while you work on something else. When you come back to it, you'll see the flaws and you'll wince and you'll be glad you didn't send it out right away.

Oh, and if you think something isn't working, but "it's just me--readers won't notice," you're dead wrong. Go with your gut. Almost every single change my editor ever asked me to make was something I had known was problematic from the get-go, but figured would slide by without anyone noticing. Nope! People notice.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Not much! I'm an extremely boring person. When I'm not writing, I'm either reading or glued to my crack, I mean my Xbox. I played piano as a kid and now that I have some free time again, I plan to get back into it.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, Boy Toy (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) comes out in October. It's set in the same high school as Fanboy, the same town, with some of the same "walk-on characters," but it's a very different story: sex, violence, and uncontrollable urges. It's perfect for kids!

Jingle Dancer Named to Montessori Life's Best Mulitcultural Books List

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) has been named among best Multicultural Books for Early Childhood Educators in the most current issue of Montessori Life, Volume 19, Number 1, 2007. See page 97. Thanks to Debbie Gonzales for letting me know about this honor.

In other news, Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog discusses my revision process as mentioned in my recent interview on Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) at Not Your Mother's Book Club.

Thanks to A Fuse #8 Production for highlighting the YABC giveaway contest (20 copies of Tantalize) and Greg's post "How Bleak Thou Art." Thanks also to Stephanie Burgis for ordering Tantalize (enjoy!).

More News & Links

Poetry Friday: Yoga Poems. A recommendation of Twist: Yoga Poems by Janet Wong, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (McElderry, 2007). Source: Writing with a Broken Tusk by Uma Krishnaswami. Read an interview with Uma.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Writer Interview: Elisabeth Wilhelm on Absynthe Muse

"Absynthe Muse is an international community of young adult writers who are serious about writing and getting published."

Elisabeth Wilhelm on Elisabeth Wilhelm: "Elisabeth is an aspiring novelist and wonders if she should stay that way, after spending six months as a literary agent's assistant at Firebrand Literary. When she isn't wracked with sobs reading really bad queries or dealing with coding problems as Editor-in-Chief at, Lis can be found in a public high school somewhere in Brooklyn, beating small children with her gavel, introducing them to international relations and the Model UN experience. Or, more likely, she's procrastinating from classwork at Pratt Institute, where she's a sophomore majoring in creative writing, also known as the live-in-a-box-when-you-graduate track. But dammit, she'll be happy!"

I'm totally wowed by Absynthe Muse! Could you give our readers an overview?

First of all, to my knowledge, our young writers' community is the only website out there named after an alcoholic beverage. We decided Super Teen Power Writing Website was a really stupid name, so we chose something that had a sense of history, straight from the Bohemian movement in Europe around 1900, where young artists of all types imbibed in absinthe. They called it their green muse. Naturally, we don't condone underage drinking of any kind, but all of Absynthe Muse's members have a muse that moves them to write great things.

Absynthe Muse is an online community of young writers, ages 13 to 25, who want to connect with other young writers, regardless of where they happen to be located. We've got about 1,500 members from over 30 countries, and all their talent and passion makes AM a wonderful place to be as a young writer.

We hold the idea of karma in high esteem, which is why we host Absynthe Muse Projects, member-led writing initiatives. These have included the Little Owl Mentoring Program, connecting over 160 young writers with 180 writing mentors from all walks of life, all online.

The Internet is the great equalizer for us, and we feel that we can touch the lives of young writers who may not have such opportunities in their home communites. We also have the Jelly Paint ezine, hosted several writing classes taught by experienced young writers, and held several writing competitions. So much more is in the works for 2007, including gaining nonprofit status in New York state.

How did Absynthe Muse get started?

I grew up on military installations in Germany. There was no such thing as a creative writing class in middle or high school, so I decided to solve the problem myself. I went online and sought online communities, including the famed Teen Writers Dream website, which is sadly now defunct. However, I realized in all my experiences of online writing communities, I could do things better, and push others to help other young writers around them. So, I created AM.

How has it changed over time?

AM was actually a static site in early 2005, but I made the leap to Mambo, and then Joomla! open-cource content management system (CMS) software, that gave me much more flexibility on how the site looked and what kind of content it could retain. Joomla! and mambo both run on MySQL databases, things I really didn't understand when I started out, so through trial and error, and several website crashes, I expanded AM to include a forum, chatrooms, a private messaging system, polls, a classifieds section, and other fun parts of the site. However, I'm no coding expert, and still go apoplectic if a MysQL error runs across the top of the site when it's loaded.

In terms of membership, we've grown internationally, and have won several awards and even a grant! We're even getting groupies! We are also getting more article submissions and more proposals for Absynthe Muse Projects, and more libraries and other writying organizations are sending their young visitors our way. The more the merrier! However, the jovial, welcoming spirit that has always characterized AM will continue to characterize it.

What are the greatest challenges?

Funding. It's one of the reasons why I've been pushing so hard to turn nonprofit. There is so much good that AM can do, but it's all run by poor college students, so we are often hampered in putting our ideas into action by the limits of time and money. In my pie-in-the-sky wish list for AM, there would be a yearly AM conference in NY, a publishing house attached to AM, as well as our own cafe where patrons will be encouraged to scribble on the green tablecloths with permanent marker.

Our community has been so generous in giving their time and effort to making AM great, but right now, support ands guidance from adult writers is what we need most.

The greatest joys?

I am the daughter of a woman who was both doctor and soldier. She never did things the easy way, and neither do I. I relish taking the challenges that confront AM head-on. Hope Clark, the editor of and co-founder of the Little Owl Mentroing Program, and I were approached by Jane Guttman, a wonderful woman who has a vocation that's downright saintly--she's a librarian at an incarceration facility in California. And she wanted us to tailor the mentoring program to her kids' needs.

One thing led to another, and I found myself in the outskirts of LA two days after Thanksgiving, teaching a class of boys how to fold a paper crane. Then, I explained what a haiku was, and we clapped our way through an example, before I had them write their own across the wings of their paper cranes. Their poems were heartbreaking--many of them about the harsh lives they had come from, others about the bad food, and still yet others about the family members they missed. Later, Jane would tell me that this is probably the first time that some of these boys have ever accomplished anything like folding a paper crane, with the praise I gave them. Most of them have never written a poem before.

I had been filled with some doubt with what direction AM was going to take, after a drawn-out paper trail and lawyer stuff, where I just felt like beating my head against a wall. However, between the boys and the girls in maximum security writing their secrets out on postcards to be mailed to PostSecret the next day, I had found the reason for why AM must go nonprofit, why it must become not just a good website, but a great organization dedicated to young writers everywhere. Not everyone has Internet access. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have been encouraged as children to read and write at home. Not all students are given creative outlets through which to express themselves.

AM is going to change that, one young writer at a time.

What advice do you have for other young writers?

You don't need to get published before you're legal to drink---there's so much to life you've still got to experience, but don't ever let anyone tell you that you don't know enough about life to write a book about it. What you know can fill tomes, but it's just a matter of writing it down, going at it with a chainsaw, rewriting it, and never giving up when seeking feedback, and perhaps even publication. Remember that just because you're 13 and a novelist submitting your manuscript to a publisher, you don't and should not get special consideration. No matter how old you are, what blood type you are, or how many As you have on your report card, at the end of the day, your writing must shine. It must outshine all the old people who are also in this writing rat race.

Having said that, you're way ahead of the curve on this writing thing. Turn your brain into a sponge and suck up everything around you. Watch people. Study abroad. Wear mismatched socks. Write really bad poetry. Laugh about it. Write better poetry. Read the backs of shampoo bottles. Whatever you do, don't lose your love for words and the world you live in. Remember, a boring person is a boring writer. And being zit-faced in this day and age is far from boring.

As a reader, what are your favorite young adult books and why?

My favorite book in middle school was The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (Ace, 1987). It's about a kidnapping, tall, dark, handsome men in the desert, and a heroine who is as stubborn as a barnacle, and about just as fragile. What makes it even better that Robin had written it, almost in a rage, as a reaction to The Sheik by E.M. Hull, the quintessentiall bodice-ripper romance of the 30s. This was a fantasy story where helpless damsels were nowhere to be seen, and romance was pretty much an afterthought. I still sometimes try to fall asleep hard enough on some nights, hoping I wake up in that world.

Tantalize Giveaway Contest at YABC

Young Adult (& Kids) Book Central is sponsoring a giveaway contest that features 20 available copies of Tantalize. The challenge is: "Make up a favorite recipe/dish for either a vampire or a werewolf. Be Creative! And remember, answers DO count!" See the entry form. The event is co-sponsored by YABC and Candlewick Press. Please help spread the word!

In review news, Publishers Weekly cheers "...horror fans will be hooked by Kieren's quiet, hirsute hunkiness..." I love the alliteration "hirsuit hunkiness." How fun is that?

Thanks to BookPeople of Austin, Texas for featuring the book in its March newsletter! This is my local independent bookstore. Yay, Austin!

Thanks also to Cat for her kind and enthusiastic welcome to MySpace. I'm honored.

And last, I'd also like to note that I've signed a contract for a new picture book ("Holler Loudly") with Dutton. I'll keep you posted on illustrator and pub-date news.

More News & Links

Congratulations to my pal and fellow Austinite Chris Barton of Bartography on the sale of his SECOND book! Wahoo!

"How Bleak Thou Art:" my comedic writer (and very cute) husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, blogs about the dearth of YA/tween comedies at Blogger. See also comments on his LJ syndication.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature blogs about Less Than Half, More Than Whole by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa (Northland, 1999). See my bibliographies on books with interracial family themes and Native themes.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Finalists for the LA Times Prize

Finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize are:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick);

Tyrell by Coe Booth (Scholastic);

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton)(author interview);

Just in Case by Meg Rosoff (Wendy Lamb/Random House);

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (Dial)(author interview).

Source: The Goddess of YA Literature.

SCBWI Announces 2006 Golden Kite Awards

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has announced its 2006 Golden Kite Awards and Honees. The Golden Kite is the only award presented to children’s book authors and artists by their peers.

Gold Kite Award Winners


Firegirl by Tony Abbott (Little Brown)
Editor: Alvina Ling


The Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
Editor: Arthur A. Levine

Picture Book Text

Jazz by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers (Holiday House)
Editor: Regina Griffin

Picture Book Illustration

Not Afraid of Dogs, illustrated by Larry Day, written by Susanna Pitzer (Walker)
Editor: Emily Easton
Designer: Nicole Gastonguay

Golden Kite Honor Recipients


Wings by William Loizeaux (FSG)


Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin)

Picture Book Text

Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Scholastic)

Picture Book Illustration

Hippo! No, Rhino! illustrated and written by Jeff Newman (Little Brown)

The Golden Kite Awards, given annually to recognize excellence in children's literature, grant cash prizes of $2,500 to author and illustrator winners in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration.

Authors and illustrators will receive an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to attend the award ceremony at the Golden Kite Luncheon at SCBWI's Summer Conference in August. To promote the award winners, the SCBWI will produce a half hour film featuring the four winning books and their creators. The film, which will include interviews with winning authors and illustrators, will be distributed on DVD to 1,000 outlets for promotion, including chain bookstores, independent bookstores, reviewers, and television, radio and print media. SCBWI will also work with publishers to see that Golden Kite recipient books are promoted across all media.

The SCBWI also recognizes the work of editors and art directors who play pivotal roles in shaping the Golden Kite-winning books. Editors of winning books will receive $1,000, and for the winning book in the Picture Book Illustration category, an additional $1,000 will be given to the book's art director/designer.

The Golden Kite Awards are given each year to the most outstanding children's books published during the previous year, and written or illustrated by members of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Four panels of three judges each (one panel for each category, consisting of author or illustrator members of SCBWI whose own works are that of the category being judged), award the titles they feel exhibit excellence in writing or illustration, and that genuinely appeal to the interests and concerns of children. An Honor Book plaque is awarded in each category as well. A certificate of acknowledgment is presented to the author of the picture book illustration award book and the illustrator of the picture book text award book.

About the 2006 Golden Kite Award Recipients

Tony Abbott, author of Firegirl, is the author of more than sixty children's books, including the popular series The Secrets of Droon.

The Adventures of Marco Polo marks Russell Freedman's sixth Golden Kite Award in the category of Nonfiction; he won his first Golden Kite Award in 1991 for The Wright Brothers.

Walter Dean Myers, author of the Golden Kite Picture Book Text award winning Jazz has received multiple Coretta Scott King Awards and Newbery Honors, and the Michael L. Printz award in 2000 for Monster.

Larry Day, illustrator of Not Afraid of Dogs, has illustrated several picture books while working in the advertising industry creating storyboards for clients like Hallmark and Disney.

About the 2006 Golden Kite Honor Recipients

William Loizeau is the author of stories, essays, and two books for adults; Wings is his first book for childern.

Catherine Thimmesh, author of the Nonfiction Honor recipient Team Moon: How 4000,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon is the author of several books for children including the New York Time Notable Book Madame President: The Extraordinary, True, (and Evolving) Story of Women in Politics.

Carole Boston Weatherford, author of the Picture Book Text honor recipient Dear Mr. Rosenwald, is the author of many children's books including the Caldecott Honor recipient Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom.

Jeff Newman, illustrator and author of Hippo! No, Rhino! is also the author and illustrator of Reginald.

General Information

Founded in 1971, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers' and illustrators' organizations, with over 20,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children's literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia.

The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children's book authors and leaders in the world of children's literature. Several of the most prestigious children's literature professionals sit on the SCBWI Board of Directors.

The Golden Kite Awards will be presented to the winners on Sunday, August 5th at the Golden Kite Luncheon. This luncheon is part of the SCBWI's 36th Annual Conference on Writing and Illustrating for Children, taking place at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel August 3-6, 2007.

A list of previous Golden Kite Award winners and honor books is available on the SCBWI’s website:

Friday, March 02, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

I found out yesterday that my new novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), which was released Feb. 13, is already in its third printing. Thanks to all for your support!

Thanks also to A Fuse #8 Production and Buried in the Slushpile for the kind words about my recent article "How to Throw a Book Launch Party" at Create/Relate.

Here's the latest:

"An Appetizing Gothic Fantasy:" a review of Tantalize by Norah Piehl of BookPage. She cheers: "Quincie's sarcastic narration and take-charge attitude, will appeal to fans—both teens and adults—of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. ...readers will certainly be licking their lips at the end of Tantalize, their appetites whetted for Smith's next enticing adventure." Read the whole review.

In other news, I have launched a new MySpace! For now, I have selected the sunset lake design because it reminds me of Austin. Although there will be some crossposting, my plan is to emphasize YA lit on this site--both my own and books by other authors. Please surf by to check it out and consider adding me as a friend.

From Vermont

Union Institute, the current owner of Vermont College, is selling its three MFA programs (including the one in Writing for Children and Young Adults), the campus, and various buildings to the newly-formed Vermont College of the Fine Arts. See the article in the Barr Montpelier Times-Argus. Read interviews with past faculty chair Kathi Appelt and present chair Sharon Darrow.

More News & Links

"Building with Plot Blocks" by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci's graphic novel The Plain Janes, illustrated by Jim Rugg (DC Comics/Minx, May 2007). More soon on her fierce and amazing new prose novel, Beige (Candlewick, 2007); read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

The Den of Shadows: author site by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.

"Every picture tells a story in Selznick's 'Invention'" by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. See also "Recent graphic novels explore strange new worlds" by Becky Ohlsen from BookPage.

BookPage also offers reviews of the children's books Skyscaper by by Lynn Curlee (Atheneum), The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Atheneum), Runaround by Helen Hemphill (Front Street), Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam), and A Dog Called Grk by Joshua Doder (Delacorte). In addition to Tantalize, featured YA titles include Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking), The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti (Simon & Schuster), and Harmless by Dana Reinhardt (Wendy Lamb/Random House).

Congratulations to Brent Hartinger on the glowing review by USA Today of his new release, Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (HarperCollins, 2007). Read a recent Cynsations interview with Brent.

"Increasing the Odds That the Book Will Be Read:" an exclusive Authorlink interview with Alan Gratz, author of Samurai Shortstop (Dial, 2006), by Susan VanHecke (March 2007).

Melissa Marr, author of Wicked Lovely (HarperCollins, 2007), visits the YA Authors Cafe. Read her interview and ask her a question. Visit Melissa's site, and learn more about Wicked Lovely.

Newly featured authors and illustrators at Children's Literature include Cynthia Kadohata, Walter Dean Myers, and Susan L. Roth. Read a Cynsations interview with Cynthia.

"Rising Star - Sy Montgomery" from the Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books. Here's a peek: "Sy Montgomery's enthusiastic and skilled nonfiction work first came to the attention of the Bulletin with The Snake Scientist [Houghton Mifflin, 1999], a look at the work of zoologist Bob Mason, who studies, among other subjects, the red-sided garter snakes that inundate Manitoba."

"Writing a Memoir: Should You Do It?" by Lisa Silverman at Absolute Write.

YA Authors Create Online Book Salon for Gutsy Girls

SEATTLE, March 1--In honor of Women's History Month, four young adult authors are launching readergirlz, a new online book salon celebrating gutsy girls in life and literature.

Starting on March 1, readergirlz founders Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey, Lorie Ann Grover, and Justina Chen Headley will unveil a monthly book selection, featuring young adult novels with gutsy female characters.

More than just a book club, readergirlz aims to encourage teen girls to read and reach out with community service projects related to each featured novel. As well, readergirlz will host MySpace discussions with each book's author, include author interviews, and provide book party ideas, including playlists, menus, and decorations. All content will be available through the readergirlz website (, MySpace ( and, and Live Journal (

"We want girls to be the best women they can be," explains Headley. The inspiration for readergirlz came from Headley's book tour last spring where she made a special effort to visit urban communities that couldn't otherwise bring in authors. Headley spoke at November's NCTE conference in Nashville and also attended a rousing session about teen literacy led by three librarians (Lois Buckman, Bonnie Kunzel, and Teri Lesesne). Inspired, Headley recruited three critically-acclaimed novelists—Calhoun, Carey, and Grover—to start readergirlz as a way to talk to teens about reading and writing.

"Readergirlz is a way I can connect wonderful books to girls I'd never be able to meet otherwise," agrees Calhoun.

The founders hope readergirlz will change the way girls experience literature and see themselves. "I want to challenge girls to go for their dreams," says Carey. "I learned how brave girls can be through books, and I want to share the power of literature with girls, wherever they are."

Using MySpace and a website, the readergirlz founders, dubbed the divas, plan to provide a rich literary experience for teen girls online. "We already have over 750 friends on MySpace. From surveys to playlists to author interviews, we'll provide young adult readers with fun, meaningful content," explains Grover. "Why not harness the power of MySpace to get girls to think critically about what they want to be in the future?"

Each book selection will dovetail to a topic, identified by the readergirlz divas and prominent children's lit bloggers as topics teen girls should know about in this millennium.

The first topic is Tolerance, a theme explored in the kick-off book selection for readergirlz, Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies). As prominent blogger, Jennifer Robinson of, noted, teens "need to know that when they are mean or intolerant to other people, they're doing damage."

In conjunction with the first novel, teen girls will be encouraged to visit to learn how to safely stop bullying and to apply for one of the organization’s Mix It Up grants to break social and racial barriers within their schools.

About the Readergirlz Founders

Dia Calhoun is the winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature, and author of five young adult fantasies, including Avielle of Rhia and The Phoenix Dance.

Janet Lee Carey won the 2005 Mark Twain Award for Wenny Has Wings, and her forthcoming young adult fantasy, Dragon's Keep, has already received a starred review in Booklist.

Lorie Ann Grover is a former ballerina-turned-verse-novelist whose acclaimed work includes On Pointe and Loose Threads, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.

Justina Chen Headley sold her first two novels at auction, including her debut, Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies), named Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best.

For more information about readergirlz, please visit their website (, MySpace ( and, and Live Journal (

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Author Interview: Deborah Lynn Jacobs on Powers

Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author of Powers, (Roaring Brook, 2006), and The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks Press, 2000) Her next book, Choices, will be released by Roaring Brook Press in fall, 2007. Visit her LJ and MySpace.

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

I was eight when I wrote my first novel. It was a space opera type book, about two kids who stowed away on a Federation starship. However, I floundered in the middle of the novel, which is something that still happens to me, and didn't finish it. I wish I still had the book, but it was disposed of years ago.

In high school, I was a reporter and later editor of our school newspaper. I joined the newspaper to make friends, but found I liked the writing as well.

In my professional life as a counselor, I found ways to bring writing into my job--a departmental newsletter, a back-to-school guide for adults, research projects. But it wasn't until I left my full-time job and moved to a small town in northwestern Ontario that I got back to writing--newspaper features, magazine articles, and my first attempts at writing a novel.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

My first novel was an adult science fiction novel. Really awful writing, now that I look back on it. After two rejections, I stuffed in a drawer where it belonged.

I realized that the issues people face in their late teens were far more interesting to me. It's such a wonderful time of life, and so incredibly exciting to be on the verge of adulthood. Suddenly, the decisions you make--who to date, what school to go to, what career to choose--become life decisions. Sure, you can go back and change your mind, but only to some extent. The decisions you make as an eighteen-year-old have a lasting effect on your life. It's that whole "road not taken" thing, and I find it fascinating.

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

Sprints? Hmm...not so many. It was pretty much a slow and steady thing. Write, rewrite, submit, revise--the usual. There were times where I wrote very little because of the necessity of making a living!

Stumbles along the way? A few. I rewrote Powers a gazillion times. I wrote it as a stand alone book, then rewrote it as the first two books of a series, then collapsed the two books into one. At that point, Deborah Brodie of Roaring Brook read it. She gave me editorial advice, the most difficult of which was "cut about a hundred pages." Gulp. So, I cut a third of the book, slashed a few subplots, changed the ending, and resubmitted the book. Thank goodness she accepted it!

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

It actually evolved from the first book I wrote for kids. The Green Stone. See, this kid finds a green stone, which is actually a meteorite, and it gives him special powers--the ability to fly, to talk to his dog through telepathy, etc. (Pretty hashed-over premise, if you ask me.)

That book evolved into A Power of Our Own. This guy, and his autistic sister, find this meteorite (it's green) and that allows them to talk to alien dragon guys through telepathy. Only, the alien dragon guys are bad guys, who collect kids from many planets and put them in a zoo. The kids, from all over the universe, find their latent powers are unlocked by the dragon's stone and each kid develops a power of their own and, naturally, they defeat the dragon alien bad guys. (Don't laugh--this could happen!)

A kind editor told me she liked the autistic-sister angle, but the dragons really threw her. So, A Power of Our Own became two books: one about a girl with an autistic sister (The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks, 2000)) and a book about two teens with psychic powers (Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006)).

The initial inspiration, though, for all of this, was my sense of awe about things that are mysterious, things we can't explain in the usual way. I'm not saying psychic powers are real, but I'm not saying they aren't real either!

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

Ten years? Twelve?

I started writing Powers in 1994. I had an idea that I wanted this book to be about how developing special powers would affect two people on a personal level. I didn't want the book to be about defeating some villain, or saving the world. Powers is a much more intimate exploration than that, about the power struggle between two people, and the power struggle within each of them.

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

The two voices. At first, they both sounded like "me." It took some time, some advice from my critique groups and my first readers (my kids and their unsuspecting friends!) to make the voices distinct.

The psychological (and psychic) relationship between Gwen and Adrian is fascinating. How did you manage their tug-of-war?

I managed it slowly. At first, Adrian was such a nice guy. So sweet and understanding. Gwen was the spunky, sarcastic one. But you know what? It didn't work. My critique buddies, and my first readers, read early versions and said Adrian sounded like a girl. Sigh.

I needed more conflict, more friction. In early drafts, Adrian and Gwen worked together to solve crimes and save people. No friction. No sparks. No fireworks.

I put the book away for months, or maybe a year at a time, while I worked on other books. Then I realized that what I wanted to write wasn't a book about two people using their powers for good. It was far more interesting to have them at each other's throats, manipulating each other and using each other.

Plus, it was a heck of a lot more fun to write!

I worked the tug-of-war the usual way. Put your character in a scene, figure out what they want the most, and then thwart them and send them further from their goal. Except, writing in the two voices, I worked each scene in this way: put both characters in the scene, give them goals which are opposites, thwart them both, and move them both further from their goals.

I took a lot of long walks, with a little notebook. I'd ask each character, "What do you want most? What will devastate you most if you don't get it?

I also flowcharted the scenes, using colored pens, to make sure the conflict was steady, and that no one character took over the story for too long. So, part of writing the book was technical, rather than artistic.

Still, it wasn't sharp enough. Not until I changed Adrian's voice to first person, present tense. Wow. All of a sudden, I could hear him. Could see him. Even dreamed about him.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Never give up. Don't lose faith in yourself. I truly believe success in writing is 99% perseverance and learning the craft.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Gardening, especially my wild perennial garden.

Cooking. I use a lot of garlic, onion and hot spices, so beware!

Bird watching, camping, canoeing, hiking, walking-generally communing with nature.

Oh, and reading young adult literature, of course.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Choices, in the fall of 2007. I'd tell you about it, but I can't figure out how to do that without totally giving away the plot! I'd call it speculative fiction, with a twisty plot and a few surprises!

Interviews with Author Cynthia Leitich Smith and Agents Nathan Bransford and Dan Lazar from Alma Fullerton

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Alma Fullerton. Here's taste: "Writing fiction seemed a tremendous indulgence against great odds. It was something I'd do someday. But it slowly occurred to me that many people 'someday' their way through their entire lives. The only way to make dreams a reality is to commit to them fully." Read the whole interview.

Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown from Alma Fullerton. Nathan is looking to see "
Anything original with a great plot." Read the whole interview.

Agent Interview: Dan Lazar of Writers House from Alma Fullerton. Of today's children's market, Dan says: "
From what I can tell, it's become more and more of a 'business' and less and less of a quaint 'club.' Which is not necessarily a bad or good thing, but it's a dynamic that affects how we all work." Read the whole inteview.

Writers' League of Texas Calls for Teddy Award Entries

The Writers' League of Texas calls for entries for its Teddy Book Awards in the "long works" and "short works" categories. The awards "were established to honor outstanding published books written by Writers' League of Texas members."

The entry fee is $25 per submission. Books published between Jan. 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2006 are eligible. Download the 2007 entry form (PDF). The deadline is June 29, and there is a $1,000 cash prize and trophy in each category. Members may join the League at the time of their entry.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 3, 2007.

Last year, in the short works (picture book) division, the finalists were 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 was 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 were 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 was Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Heather Hepler, co-authored by Brad Barkley (Dutton, 2006)(co-authors interview).
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