Friday, March 16, 2007

Author Interview: Andrea Beaty on When Giants Come to Play

Andrea Beaty on Andrea Beaty: "I come from a very big family and a very small town in southern Illinois. There weren't a lot of thrilling things to do in town, so we had to make our own fun. We roamed the fields and woods looking for adventures and we made up sports. Our favorites were chasing each other around the yard with old tires and trying to make each other laugh until we begged for mercy. Of course we were easy tire targets because we kept falling over laughing. It's hard to say if we looked more like a bad Monty Python sketch or narcoleptic goats.

"Our mother was a voracious reader and filled our house with books so when I wasn't on an adventure or blowing soda out my nose from laughing too hard, I was reading. I had about a hundred things I was going to be when I grew up: spy, detective, arctic explorer, interpreter for the U.N., pirate, English veterinarian, head of the CIA, pool shark...

"I think the great thing about being a writer is that I can still be all of those things if I just keep writing! I guess I've already been a giant, an architect, and a bear doctor! What's next?"

What about the writing life first called to you?

It was probably the voices.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

It wasn't really a conscious decision. In my late 30s, random ideas and snippets of stories started popping into my head when I was gardening, taking a walk, or picking lint off my children. These ideas were all about giants, pirates, and slugs. A lot of them were in rhyme.

I started playing with the ideas and writing them down and they turned out to be kids' books and poems.

Maybe I would write for adults if they read more books about giants or slugs or pirates. Adult books can be so dull!

Perhaps someday that market will open up and I will at last write the Great American Novel in which GIANT SLUG PIRATES RULE THE UNIVERSE!!!! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

(See what I mean by "the voices?")

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

Syncopated is the word that comes to mind when I describe this journey. I started submitting stories to publishers about a year after I started writing. During the next three years, I had flurries of activity--getting some interest from editors, finding a literary agent and winning a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators grant for When Giants Come to Play, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Abrams, 2006).

These exciting times were always followed by long, slow periods when it seemed nothing would ever happen again. Even after I sold my first two books (at one time!), it was about three years before I sold more books. That was a bit hard, because I had bizarre delusions that once I sold my first book, the rest would be a cakewalk. Of course, that was nonsense and I knew it, but it was easy to think I'd be the exception to that rule!

I learned that the only way to stay sane during the lulls was to keep writing and not to get bent about the rest of the process. Of course, that was easier said than done.

It helped when I quit stalking the mailman to see if he had any book contracts for me. I used to love the way he said things like, "If by 'contract,' you mean 'restraining order' then yes!" and "Two-hundred yards is two-hundred yards, lady!"

Sometimes I miss those days, but in the end, I realized that the best way to use my energy was to write. Getting published is a fantastic, fun, and thrilling joy ride for me, and I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't. But as sappy as it sounds, it's really the deep satisfaction of writing that makes this journey the most exciting. Getting a new idea and being sucked into other worlds and stories is just plain magical.

Plus, I believe that when writing stops being magical, I won't write anything worth publishing anyhow! I try to spend my energy on the writing and figure the publishing part will follow. So far, I've been lucky and it has.

Your debut title is When Giants Come to Play, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Abrams, 2006). Congratulations! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Many of my books start when a word or phrase gets stuck in my mind. There are a lot of cobwebs in there so it can happen pretty easily. In this case, the word "giants" got stuck in my brain and rattled around for a bit. It grew into the phrase, "When giants come to play." That was an idea with potential.

I went to bed and literally woke up in the middle of the night with the complete book in my head. I wrote it down and polished it up the next day and sent it off to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators grant competition for unpublished writers. I was thrilled a few months later when it won the runner-up Barbara Karlin grant!

Writing When Giants Come to Play was a turning point for me. After I wrote it, I felt tingly for a week. I loved this book and felt that I had found my voice when I wrote it. Before Giants, I thought of myself as a person who wrote. After Giants, I thought of myself as a writer.

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

I have to say that this was a strange book in that sense. It happened VERY fast and didn't involve a lot of emotional or psychological challenges.

This book hit me like a lightening bolt and was mostly complete in its first draft. And yet, it didn't sell to the very first editor who saw it! Or even the second! What was that about?????

About a year after I wrote When Giants Come to Play, I started working with a wonderful literary agent named Barry Goldblatt (agent interview). He read the book and said that it needed a story arc. A what???? How could my perfect book need work????

Of course, Barry was right, and after I added a new beginning and end to the story, it was so much better than the first draft. This sold to Susan VanMetre who was at Dutton but shortly after left for Abrams Books for Young Readers. I had met Susan at a conference and wanted to work with her, so we took Giants to Abrams, too. Susan signed on Kevin Hawkes to illustrate the book, which was simply beyond thrilling!

What did Kevin's art bring to your text?

Kevin's art captured the soul of these giants! He captured the whimsy and wonder of the text and played the jokes to the perfect pitch. He gave them the perfect balance between rough and gentle. Kevin's giants are a bit gruff but, at the same time, a bit childlike. They are devoted to the little girl, Anna, and treat her so tenderly.

Much of the humor of the book was written into the original manuscript via art notes, but Kevin took those ideas and ran with them even further. In some of the scenes he went entirely in new directions I hadn't considered. It was thrilling!

Kevin Hawkes is a wonder!

You have another picture book and a novel coming from Abrams and five picture books coming from Atheneum Books for Young Readers! Wahoo! It looks like you already have a hearty body of work in the queue. Please tell us how you smashed the odds in a tough picture book market!

I really and truly do not know. The only explanation I have is luck, timing, and a great agent! (And of course, I eat my Wheaties!) I have been extremely blessed in being able to sell some books in a tough market, but I don't take it for granted. Getting published seems to be a feast and famine adventure. I know that while I'm on a roll now, I might not be next year. I try to take it as it comes. (And eat my Wheaties!)

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

When you get an idea, write it down. It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how fleeting good ideas are. I know this because last year, I had the idea for the Great American Novel. Alas, I forgot to write it down, and now I can't remember what it was! I think it had something to do with giant pirate slugs.

Write for yourself. Don't try to please someone else when you write. It won't work. It's never possible to predict what trends will come down the road. Don't waste your time trying.

Not every piece of advice you get will be useful. (That probably includes some and/or all of this advice!) Always think critically about input you get on your writing. If it doesn't ring true to you, ignore it! Not everybody is going to get what you do. Most probably won't! The important thing is that YOU get it!

Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators if you want to write for kids. It's a great place to make contacts and find folks who have gone down the path before you. It's also a great place to meet folks who are at the same point in the journey as you. Both are extremely valuable! Plus, kids' writers are just plain fun! Get to know some!!!

Eat your Wheaties!

How about picture book writers in particular?

Oh boy! I'm full of advice on this topic! But before following my advice, readers should remember my earlier point. Advice should always be taken a grain of salt. Each writer has to listen to their inner voice and learn to trust themselves--even when it means discarding tried and true rules or advice from folks like me.

Having said that, this is the advice I offer to picture book writers.

-- Let the art do the heavy lifting. Don't add unnecessary descriptions in the text when they could be and should be handled by the artist. Sometimes that means including art notes, but use them only when you must. For example, an art note is important when some action takes place in the art but not in the text. Art notes are annoying and a bad idea when used to say what color the slug's shirt should be or what the weather is like unless it is vital to the plot. Before including an art note (or text in your story for that matter), ask yourself if it furthers the action of the story. If it doesn't, pitch it.

-- Picture books are, in my opinion, a form of poetry. Each and every word has to belong, make sense, and add to the sound of the book. If a word or phrase doesn't do that, cut it out.

-- I prefer short picture books. Any text that runs over 750 words needs a very good reason to do so. Most don't have one. There are many fine longer books, but if they work, it's because they NEEDED to be longer.

-- NEVER write a book in rhyme unless the book demands it. Writing rhyming books is more a function of music than poetry. (IMHO!) I think most people either have a natural facility with rhyme or they don't. If you don't have that, don't sweat it. Stick with prose, and you'll be ahead of the game.

-- If you do write in rhyme, always strive to use the unexpected word instead of the easy/obvious choice. Read authors like Lisa Wheeler who are masters of rhyme. Sailor Moo is a rhyming masterpiece. [ See Sailor Moo, Cow at Sea by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ponder Goembel, Atheneum, 2002 (author interview).]

-- Write out loud. Picture books are almost always intended as books that are read aloud. It is ESSENTIAL that you read your book out loud so you can tell how it sounds. In fact, I write out loud. It is almost impossible for me to write a word without saying it aloud at the same time. This helps me internalize the rhythm of the book and has the added benefit of making people think I'm nuts. They tend to leave me alone and I can get more writing done! It's a win-win situation!

-- Never write a book with the intention of making a point. Kids and editors can smell that a mile away and will run off screaming!

-- Eat your Wheaties!

You are one of the three geniuses behind one of my fave blogs, Three Silly Chicks! Could you share with us the story behind this fabulous team effort?

Geniuses? Actually, we prefer to be called Mad Chick Geniuses Who Plan to Take over the World. (Just saying . . .)

Boy, how I love the Three Silly Chicks! www.ThreeSillyChicks.com

It's a blog from me and two of my favorite children's authors who write funny books: Carolyn Crimi (author interview) and Julia Durango (author interview). We review funny picture books and novels for kids. Sometimes we have silly contests and we love to interview our favorite funny authors.

And we have a cool logo!

Our hope is that Three Silly Chicks will be a good resource for anybody looking for funny kids' books. That could mean teachers, librarians, parents, chickens or even giant pirate slugs! Everybody loves funny books! (At least everybody we like!)

The Chicks happened because we all have the same agent who holds a retreat every year for his authors. We get together and talk and laugh and learn from each other for a long weekend. It's brilliant! At last summer's retreat, there was a conversation about blogs. Someone said that a great way to do a blog is with someone who has similar interests.

Zap!!!

I looked at Carolyn. She looked at me! We had a blog! Julia came by a few minutes later and she was in, too! It was fantastic.

It's fun because we all have our own flavors of humor and we learn about funny new books from each other.

And sometimes when we're feeling lazy, we just spend the whole afternoon in the coop wearing funny glasses and doing the Chicken Dance. I love it!

What do you do when you're not writing?

The Chicken Dance, of course!

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am tickled to say that I have a number of books on the way.

Iggy Peck, Architect
Illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0810911062
August 2007

Iggy is a kid who is passionate about architecture. He builds from anything in his reach, including pancakes, chalk or even dirty diapers! Things get complicated for Iggy when his 2nd grade teacher turns out to hate architecture almost as much as he loves it.

Doctor Ted
Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 1416928200
Spring 2008

When a bear named Ted wakes up one morning and bumps his knee. He looks for a doctor everywhere. When Ted can't find a doctor, Ted becomes a doctor. Ted is a great doctor and can diagnose almost any condition on the spot. Alas, Ted's talent lands him in trouble at school.

Cicada Summer
Novel (ages 9-12)
Abrams Books for Young Readers
2008

Who is the strange new girl in Olena? The girl with the odd scar and a secret? Only Lily notices that this strange girl steals from Fern's store and lies. Only Lily knows this girl means trouble. Lily Mathis is the only one who knows. Lily could tell, but she won't. She never tells anybody anything... ...not since Pete.

Firefighter Ted
Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Spring 2009

Ted returns to save the day as a firefighter.

Hush, Baby Ghostling
Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Summer 2009

A tender, humorous rhyming picture book tells of a mother ghost trying (not very successfully) to get her baby ghostling to sleep.
Master Ted, True Artiste
Illustrated by Pascal Le Maitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
2010

Ted returns, with paintbrush in hand, as a master artiste!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Love the Baby by Steven L. Layne, illustrated by Ard Hoyt

Love the Baby by Steven L. Layne, illustrated by Ard Hoyt (Pelican, 2007). Who needs a new sibling who can't "play marbles or soccer or animal safari?" Who needs a new sibling that everyone else--Mommy, Nana, Daddy, everybody--loves...the same way they love big brother? What's more, who needs a baby sibling that cries all the time? Guess who. An emotional spot-on choice for new big brothers and sisters. Ages 4-up. See more on this title from Pelican.

Cynsational News & Links

Check out the exhibit of illustrator Don Tate's work at the San Antonio Children's Museum. Don's books include The Hidden Feast, written by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (August House). Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Open Discussion: What's Missing? from the YA Authors Cafe. The question is: "What genre or subject matter seems to be neglected in today's contemporary teen lit?" There are already some great comments; be sure to add yours.

Showcase March/April: Friends in the Animal Kingdom from CBC Magazine. "Children enjoy stories, fables, and tales about animals. This Showcase highlights stories of classic, as well as soon-to-be classic, animal characters in picture books, nonfiction, and novels for all ages."

The fifth annual Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop convenes Aug. 17-19 at the Hilton Hotel near coastal Santa Cruz, CA. Congenial, intensive seminar for 35 writers of realistic, character-driven, upper MG and YA novels. Work closely with all faculty: Julie Romeis, editor, Bloomsbury-USA Children's Books; Andrea Cascardi, Agent, Transatlantic Literary Agency; Barbara Shoup, multiple-award-winning author and writing teacher for 35 years. Highlights: manuscript clinics (pre-workshop readings), focus sessions ("Subplots and Secondary Characters"); 90 percent hands-on. $299-499 plus lodging for up to three in-person faculty critiques. Academic/continuing-ed credits available through the University of California. For the most critique options, request application by April 2 or ASAP. Details and faculty interviews are on the workshop's website: www.childrenswritersworkshop.com

"Side-Stroke or Crawl?" Wordswimmer looks at point of view in Wait for Me by An Na (Putnam, 2006)(recommendation) and also references my recent interview with Barry Lyga on The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Andre Norton ballot from janni. See Cynsations interviews with finalists Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld.

Teaching Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades and The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High School from Thirteen WNet New York.

Turn Your Idea into a Book by Laura Backes from Absolute Write.

Virtually attend the debut signing (from Paula's Jort Too) and launch party (from Laura Bowers) for So Not the Drama by Paula Chase Hyman (Kensington Books, 2007)(excerpt).

Visit Tanya Lee Stone's new page on MySpace. Read a Cynsations interview with Tanya.

More Personally

Thanks to Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature for her shout out about my new gothic fantasy YA, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). Debbie says "While I'm not a fan of vampire stories, I can say that I was drawn into Cyn's tale. I read it a few months ago, and with great ease, can feel myself walking around inside Sanguini's." How sweet is that?

Thanks to Stephanie Burgis for her kind words about Tantalize. She reports: "Italian food descriptions to salivate over, a really cool depiction of how werewolf dynamics would mix with teen angst and hormones, and a theory of why vampires would move to Austin, Texas, that made me laugh out loud." I'm honored!

Thanks to Jennifer Lynn Barnes, who callls the novel, "a wonderful, beautiful, heart-breaking book that you should all read." Don't miss her recent release, Golden (Delacorte, 2006)!

Thanks to mango_firefly at Hello Ma'am, whose take is, "a fine combination of edge of your seat suspense, mixed with sensuously atmospheric romance." She goes on, "Fans of Twilight, Great and Terrible Beauty, and Blood and Chocolate will rejoice in this gothic fantasy masterpiece, that will keep them guessing until the end. With gorgeous cover art, well-researched plot, and a unique splash of wit, Tantalize is a keeper."

Finally, wowza! I'm honored to be listed as an author and blogger at These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things by Three Silly Chicks! Learn more about chicks Andrea Beaty, Carolyn Crimi (author interview), and Julia Durango (author interview).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Author Update: D. L. Garfinkle

We last spoke with D. L. Garfinkle in September of 2005, right after the hardcover publication of Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl (Putnam). Read a previous Cynsations interview with D. L. Garfinkle.

Your first book, Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl, (available in paperback from Puffin/Penguin, March 2007), received a lot of critical acclaim, with foreign rights sold in three other countries. What was that like, and did you feel pressure to follow it up with another success?

It felt wonderful. It took me a long time to get Storky published, so when my book was a success I felt not only proud but vindicated. As to pressure to follow up with another success, I’m a horrible worrywart so would feel pressure no matter what. But I have twelve more books coming out in the next few years, so I figure at least one of them should be a hit.

The author credit on your books is listed as D.L. Garfinkle. Is there a reason you’ve decided not to use your first name (Debra)?

I'm hoping the J.K. Rowling magic will wear off on me, ha ha. Really, just like Joanne Rowling, I chose to use my initials rather than my first name because I thought boys might be wary of picking up a novel if they knew a female wrote it.

What was your inspiration for your latest YA novel Stuck in the 70’s (Putnam, May 2007)? How did you come up with the idea?

I had just reread and enjoyed Freaky Friday, and decided to take a crack at writing a humorous magic realism book myself. I figured it would be funny if a very popular girl traveled back in time and had to rely on a nerdy boy's help to get home. And then I thought she'd really be helpless if she suddenly found herself naked in his bathroom in the middle of the night, 28 years in the past.

Shortly after I wrote the first page, it was read aloud at a writing conference and got a lot of laughs. There’s nothing better than hearing people laugh at my writing— as long as the humor is intentional! So I kept going with the rest of the book.

This new book takes place in the 1970's. How did you prepare to write it? Did you do any special research?

I thought it would be easy to set the book in the fall of 1978, since I was a high school sophomore back then and there's so much to make fun of from that period, like disco, big perms, and polyester. But it turned out a lot harder than I thought. I researched fashion, prices, music, movies, and news events from that time period. What really killed me is that since time travel is involved, I had to research physics. That stuff was murder on my brain!

Tell us about how you developed your lead characters, Tyler and Shay, for Stuck in the 70's. And in particular, how are you able to write so well in the voice of a teenage boy (in this book, as well as for your first novel, Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl)?

I admit I was pretty wild in high school, so Shay wasn't too hard to write. As to my teenage male characters, I was also a bit of a tomboy and had a lot of male friends in high school, as well as two brothers. Also, there were two male writers in my critique group, and my editor at Putnam is male. So they helped me a lot. One of the best compliments I ever received was reading a blog of a teenage boy who read Storky and thought that a real teenage boy had published his diary. I’ve also received great emails from teenage boys who’ve said that Storky is just like them.

Tyler and Shay essentially represent opposite groups in school: the nerds and the popular crowd. Did you intentionally set up this polarity for the story? In which group did you fall when you were a teen, and what were you like?

I intentionally set this up. There’s more potential for conflict when the characters are from different social worlds besides different eras.

As a teen, I flitted between different groups. I sometimes hung with the nerd crowd. I used to love to play backgammon, and have always had a thing for nerdy guys. I also was in the drama club, hanging out sometimes with Kevin Spacey and Val Kilmer, who were a few years ahead of me at my high school. And I was a yell leader, so I knew the cheerleaders and football players. Also, I was senior class vice president, so I was in the student government crowd. I was busy in high school and really loved it. Middle school, however: Ick.

In addition to Stuck in the 70's, you also have the first book coming out in your new YA series The Band (Berkley, May 2007). Tell us a little about that series.

It's been really fun to write The Band series. The Band is about the rising careers and rocky romances of five teens in a rock band. The books are full of music, humor, drama, romance, fights, and juicy makeout scenes. Three books in that series are coming out this year. I'm tired!

Do you read a lot of other YA novels to keep up on what's new and popular? If so, what are some of your favorite recent ones and why?

I started to read YA novels to keep up with the competition, but now I read them because I love them. Novels for teens are often like adult novels, except without the boring descriptions I used to skip over anyway. Some of my recent favorites are Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview), and Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004)(author interview). All three books are character-driven yet fast-paced, and the characters in them have unique voices.

Your writing style is very relatable and will no doubt inspire many of your readers to start writing themselves. Do you have any advice for teens who want to become writers?

Thank you. I think the best things I did as a teen were to read a lot, keep up a journal and do creative writing, and perform in plays. I did these just for fun, but they ended up really helping later on. Reading gives writers an innate sense of how to structure a book. The best way to get better at writing is to write a lot, and acting is a great way to learn character development.

What's coming out next for you, and what are you working on now?

I'll be doing something really different for me. I'm writing a series of humorous books for children called The Supernatural Rubber Chicken. It's about an ugly, cranky rubber chicken that can grant superpowers. The first four books in that series come out next year. I'm also working on another humorous novel for teens. Just the title alone made my agent laugh, so that's a good sign.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Little Crow to the Rescue: El Cuervito Al Rescate Wins Lacapa Spirit Prize

Villaseñor's bilingual book, Little Crow to the Rescue by Victor Villasenor, illustrated by Felipe Ugalde Alcantara (Arte Publico, 2005) has won the 2007 Lacapa Spirit Prize for Southwest Children's Literature.

From the press release: The story explores the interdependence of humans and animals. Crows learn to fear humans, sons learn from their fathers, fathers learn from their sons--all have knowledge that must be shared.

One prize judge noted, "Villaseñor and illustrator Filipe Ugalde Alcántara have teamed up to create a book that will entertain and inspire young readers …Told with humor and respect for tradition, Victor Villaseñor hopes this story will inspire young people to share their wisdom with their elders. Illustrator Filipe Ugalde Alcántara uses brilliant color and bold images to visually tell this story. His paintings portray the curvature of the earth and suggest the circular nature of story that begins and ends by asking and answering the question of why humans cannot catch crows. Both story and illustration spring from Villaseñor and Alcántara's Mexican heritages and have greatly enriched the body of Southwest children's literature."

The 2007 Lacapa Honor Prize for Narrative was given to Evangeline Parson Yazzie for Dzání Yázhí Naazbaa’: Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home: A Story of the Navajo Long Walk, published by Salina Book Shelf and the 2007 Lacapa Honor Prize for Illustration went to Kendrick Bennaly's illustrations for Frog Brings Rain, also from Salina Bookshelf.

Michael Lacapa (Apache, Tewa and Hopi) worked with the Apache tribe in developing multicultural educational curricula for Native school-age children and often used storytelling as a teaching tool. He was an exceptional storyteller and the talented illustrator of such books as The Magic Hummingbird, Spider Spins a Story, and The Good Rainbow Road. He is the author/illustrator of The Flute Player, Antelope Woman, and Less Than Half, More Than Whole, the latter co-authored with his wife Kathy.

The Lacapa Spirit Prizes will be awarded to recipients during the 10th Annual Northern Arizona Book Festival in Flagstaff, April 20-22, 2007. This prize is made possible through the generous support of the Northern Arizona Book Festival and Rising Moon/Luna Rising, imprints of Northland Publishing, Michael Lacapa's first publisher. More information on submissions requirements for next year's award, including entry form, and the Northern Arizona Book Festival schedule may be found at www.nazbookfestival.org.

Sources: American Indians in Children's Literature, Northern Arizona Book Festival.

Cynsational News & Links

An Interview with Melanie Watt from the Cybils. See also a Cynsations interview with Melanie on Scaredy Squirrel (Kids Can, 2006). Don't miss the companion book, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend (Kids Can, 2007), which is reviewed at Big A little a.

Joseph Bruchac from the Blue Rose Girls. A report on the winter dinner meeting of the Massachusetts PAS North Shore Council of IRA. Read a Cynsations interview with Joe.

Conference sketches of SCBWI in NYC, Feb 2007 from Ruth McNalley Barshaw. Could make it to the conference? No worries! Tag along with Ruth as she makes the journey and soaks up the inspiration, information, and fun. Ruth is the author-illustrator of Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel (Bloomsbury, May 2007).

Congratulations to Varian Johnson on his admittance to the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Read interviews with past VC faculty chair Kathi Appelt and current chair Sharon Darrow.

"A Conversation with an Editor:" Jennifer Laughran, a buyer for Books, Inc in San Francisco and its Not Your Mother's Book Club interviews Flux editor Andrew Karre. Don't miss the prequel: "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.

"Come for the Xbox, Stay for the Books" by Lauren Mechling from The Boston Globe. Source: yalsa_blog.

David Gill recommends Beastly by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

An Interview with Jennifer L. Holm from Little Willow at Slayground.

Author Interview: Melissa Marr on Wicked Lovely from HarperCollins.

"Indian to Indian: How Humor Dances Across Borders and Speaks the Truth:" a recent session by Marguerite Houle (Huron), Vermont College MFA alumna, and Uma Krishnaswami (Indian American) [in case you didn't get the "Indian to Indian" reference) at the National Writing Project Rural Sites Network conference in Albuquerque. Uma and Marguerite both offer their PDF bibliographies.

Melissa (AKA "Book Diva") is blogging of late about YA literature at her MySpace. Check out recent interviews with authors Rachel Cohn, Linda Joy Singleton, and Lori Stolarz.

Poetry with Laura Purdie Salas: a chat transcript from the Institute of Children's Literature. Visit Laura's author site.

Reminder: Cynthia Leitich Smith will be signing Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) and select backlist titles at from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 17 at Barnes & Noble Round Rock (TX).

Reminder: Young Adult Book Central is sponsoring a giveaway contest featuring 20 copies of Tantalize. Here's the challenge: "Make up a favorite recipe/dish for either a vampire or a werewolf. Be Creative! And remember, answers DO count!" Please feel free to pass this on to the YA readers in your life.

Shrinking Violet Promotions: Marketing for Introverts: a new blog from Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers. Don't miss their interview with Ellen Jackson. See also an interview with Robin from Cynsations. Source: Bartography.

Jane Yolen at Telling the True: A Writer's Journal offers some gems from her upcoming talk on revision (March 5-7 entry).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Author Interview: Janet Wong on The Dumpster Diver

Janet S. Wong is the author of eighteen books, including three titles published this year: Before It Wriggles Away, part of the Meet the Author Series (Richard C. Owen, 2007), Twist: Yoga Poems, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Margaret K. McElderry, 2007)(excerpt), and The Dumpster Diver, illustrated by David Roberts (Candlewick, 2007).

Janet S. Wong on Janet S. Wong:

I am a poet and a picture book author
because I can't sit still for very long

I am an eater
always hungry for dim sum, sushi, gnocchi, noodles, potato
chips, blueberries, roast pork skin and stinky cheese

I am a West-coast woman living near Princeton, NJ (a trailing spouse)

I am an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold and nearly a United Premier

But first-most I am a mom
driving my son here and there (and there and there)
and doing a whole lot of waiting

What about the writing life first called to you?

I was in a tiny children's bookstore looking for a gift for my young cousin. I had an armload of picture books, books that I wanted to buy for myself because I loved them so much. That's when the idea hit me: people wrote these books. Why couldn't I be one of them? What a different life that would be!

I was a lawyer then. I was making a ton of money, and I love spending money--but I was so miserable that the money wasn't worth it. I wanted to do something important with my life, and I couldn't think of anything more important than working with kids. I knew I couldn't be a teacher; I had tried substitute teaching in a local elementary school while I was a student at Yale Law School, and it was the hardest job I've ever had! I decided that writing books for kids would be fun and would also give me the feeling that I was helping to make a better world.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I decided to write picture books because that's what I was attracted to. I've never been much of a novel-reader; it's the problem I described above with sitting still. I loved the way the silly picture books made me happy, the way the serious picture books made me pause and think/feel/react beyond the book, the way you can get so much from a picture book in a five-minute reading.

Congratulations on the publication of The Dumpster Diver, illustrated by David Roberts (Candlewick, March 2007)(inside spread)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I was at an arts fair and saw a chair made from old wooden skis. I asked the artist, Kerry Wade, what gave him the idea to use skis. He said, "Oh, I'm just a Dumpster Diver!" About a third of the way through The Dumpster Diver, I made Steve and the kids build something out of old wooden skis. In the original draft, they transformed the skis into a chair (imitating real life), but my very keen editor Kara LaReau (also an author) suggested that I make the creation something a little more unusual. Several drafts later the skis became a "Paraskater!" (which kids love).

What did David Roberts' art bring to your text?

I bow down to David for being a genius-inventor. For instance, look at what he created with nothing more than these words: "And an old table plus two banged-up skateboards plus a ripped crib mattress plus a hand-held shower plus thirty-two screws and a roll of duct tape can become...anything we want it to be."

The hand-held shower isn't used just as a prop. If I'd drawn it, it would've been a visual prop and nothing more. But David hooked it up to a very long hose, squirting at the other kids!

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

One thing I kept waffling over was whether to have Steve the Dumpster Diver get hurt. I didn't want this book to be heavy-handed and preachy. Didacticism: the kiss of death in reviews! I didn't want my book to discourage "respectable people" from Dumpster diving. I wanted this book to be a call-to-action to all of us to stop wasting so much stuff, and an inspiration to make new things from junk.

But I also didn't want thousands of kids to start crawling into Dumpsters. Their parents would hate me. And how would I feel if some kids got hurt or sick? My solution was to have Steve get cut on broken glass and rusted metal when the Dumpster trash collapsed under him--and to have this inspire the kids to start collecting their Useful Junk in a different way. Kind of corny, I know, but as I said, I am first-most a mom--and I want my readers to stay out of trouble!

Are you doing any special promotions in conjunction with the release?

All for Kids Books in Seattle is working with me on The Dumpster Diver's Junk Is Good contest. Kids and adults can enter by building something or imagining something built from junk, and there are categories for individual entries, team entries, and classroom entries. We've received some pretty neat feedback. Apparently there are a lot of people out there with a whole lot of junk in their closets, basements, attics, and garages!

You're one of children's literature's most distinguished poets! How would you describe the current state of the children's poetry market? What changes have you seen over the course of your career? What do you anticipate for the future?

When I started writing in 1991, it was easier to sell an unthemed collection of poems, poems about whatever. And because of this I was able to write a wide variety of poems (varied in tone and subject matter) in Good Luck Gold (Margaret K. McElderry, 1994) and A Suitcase of Seaweed (Margaret K. McElderry, 1996)(excerpt), including poems about racism and ethnic identity, a poem about cheating, and poems about illness and death--all alongside silly poems about food, celebratory poems about birthdays, and odes to friendship.

But things quickly became different, soon after I started. It became apparent (at least to me) that collections must have a theme, in order to sell. I've written themed-collections on mothers, driving, dreams, superstitions, and yoga. But I have a ton of poems that would be hard to fit into a themed book--and so, for now, those poems sit in my computer or on little scraps of paper scattered throughout the house.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Don't give up.

Getting published is like winning the lottery; you can't win if you don't play. Write like crazy, snatching little bits of time and capturing ideas before they disappear. In Before It Wriggles Away, my Meet the Author book, photographer Anne Lindsay shows me writing at the dentist's office, writing in the car, writing at my son's fencing practice, writing late at night, writing at the lake--writing everywhere and anywhere, even if just for five minutes at a time. If you wait until you have a whole free day to start writing your story, you might never write it!

Once you've written a shoebox full of stories, send your best stuff out. If your books come back with rejection letters, send them out again. Rejection is part of the process.

In the meantime, while your stories are out circulating, revisit them with a critical eye. Write different drafts. Don't try for better writing, just different writing. Experiment. See what you can do. If you were a basketball player, would you practice only lay-ups? No: you would challenge yourself, you would take risks in practice. Take risks with your writing. And have fun!

Girl Uninterrupted Features Cynthia Leitich Smith; Tantalize Readers Form Online Group

"Presenting...Cynthia Leitich Smith:" a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview by Lara M. Zeises of Girl Uninterrupted: the rambling confessions of a not-so dangerous mind. Lara's books include Anyone But You (Delacorte, 2005), which was a A Pennsylvania School Library Association Fiction Selection for 2005-06 and A Teen People Top 10 Pick. Read a Cynsations interview with Lara.

Thanks to it's not just a sunset, it's a moonrise too, Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007) readers may join a new MySpace group, Tantalize Fans Unite!
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