Thursday, June 07, 2007

Author Update: Nancy Garden

Nancy Garden on Nancy Garden: "I was born in 1938 in Boston, Mass., and have lived all my life in New England and New York, although I've traveled a fair amount in the US and abroad.

"When I was little I wanted to be a vet, and designed my own animal hospital; when I was older, I wanted to be in theater and indeed spent quite a few years as an actress, lighting designer, and Jill of all trades--but no matter what else I've done (teaching, office work), I've always written. I think the first thing I wrote for fun outside of school, in addition to a few poems, was a story I wrote when I was around eight, called something like 'The Valley that Turned into a Mountain.' Later, at around thirteen, I wrote a 'book,' called Dogs I Have Known.

"One of the wonderful things about writing, which I discovered early, is that you can write just about anywhere, and you can write even if you have to do other things in order to make a living.

"I grew up during World War II, and because my father was in the Red Cross instead of actually in the service (he'd been turned down by the Navy because of poor eyesight), we were victims of the housing shortage when the war ended. We moved a lot, and partly because of that, partly because I had no siblings, partly because I was sick fairly often--and perhaps mostly because I came from a reading family--books very quickly became my friends. I read avidly as a child, and told myself stories most nights before falling asleep.

"I loved working as a classroom teacher, and for a long time I taught a correspondence course in writing. I've also worked as an editor, which in a way can be another form of teaching. But my main 'job' now is writing, mostly books for young people, although I also write occasional reviews and book-related articles. I also speak at conferences, often about censorship as well as about my books, and I visit schools to talk about writing.

"You can find more extensive biographical information about me in Volumes 6, 8, 12, and 147 of the Gale Research series Something about the Author (available in many libraries); the most recent (Vol. 147) has the most extensive and up-to-date account."

You last spoke to Cynsations in September 2005, and you were then looking forward to the publication of Endgame (Harcourt, 2006)(see interview). Endgame centers on a boy who becomes a school shooter and the reasons behind that. You said, "Endgame grew out of Columbine and my strong feeling then and for years afterward that not enough attention had been paid to bullying as a causal factor." Could you tell us about the response you've had to the book? What conversations has it prompted (I'm recalling a panel at ALAN last fall)?

I was honored and excited to participate in that discussion, with Patrick Jones, Julie Anne Peters, and moderator C.J. Bott, who's the author of The Bully in the Book and in the Classroom (Scarecrow Press, 2004).

C.J. opened the discussion by asking for a show of hands from people in the audience who'd been bullied or who had been bullies, and started us off with definitions and some alarming statistics. We covered what bullying is, how it feels, how it's been ignored and still is ignored; we talked about its long-term effects on bullies, their victims, and bystanders (kids who witness bullying). We also described ways in which some schools and communities have tried to combat bullying.

Patrick and I gave examples from our books and from life, and Julie read poignant letters she's received from young readers who've been bullied.

C.J. closed by giving the audience an assignment: do something about bullying because "the lives of over 32,000 students depends on it."

Responses to Endgame have been few, but fascinating. I've had a small number of letters from kids who've indicated, usually reticently, that they've had experiences similar to Gray's (Gray is the book's main character, and he is a victim of bullies).

I had a letter from a teacher who wanted a paperback edition of Endgame so she could hold a class discussion of it, and one from a student doing "a project" on the book.

One of the most interesting and gratifying responses was from a police officer--a "crime prevention officer"--who runs a literacy program called "Book 'Em," which is dedicated to heightening reading skills as a way of combatting crime. He was very interested in Endgame and I believe has booktalked it on several occasions. And a couple of people have been keen on discussing the characters in detail. There have been some good reviews, and the book's given me the opportunity to have a few informal conversations at conferences about bullying in general.

But bullying is a tough subject, I think, for many people to face, let alone talk about openly, especially since generation after generation in this country has given it tacit approval by treating it as a normal part of childhood--a rite of passage that kids have to weather mostly on their own.

I've been encouraged, though, not only to see that the media have in the last few years been more conscious of the role bullying plays in school shootings, but also to see a growth in books and programs that treat bullying more realistically and responsibly than it's been treated in the past. I hope those developments will continue to raise the public's consciousness of this serious, ubiquitous problem in our schools and communities.

Congratulations on the 25th anniversary of Annie on My Mind! Could you tell us about the anniversary edition from FSG?

It has a lovely, romantic new cover, and in the back there's a "conversation" between me and Kathleen T. Horning, Director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

It's very exciting--amazing, too--that Annie's still going strong after all these years and that I still regularly get letters from kids who've just discovered it, and others from people who describe their first encounter with it years ago and tell me they've gone back to it over and over again.

When you think of the book, what are some of the memories that come to mind?

Many memories--let's see! A special one is of how enthusiastically my Farrar, Straus and Giroux editor, Margaret Ferguson, was about it when she first read it, how completely she understood exactly what I was trying to do and say with the book, and how enormously helpful she was (and still is, always!).

I also remember how I struggled with point of view while I was first drafting Annie. At first I wrote the story in the first person from the main character, Liza's point of view, then switched to the third person, and finally went back to the first for the main story, which is a flashback, but used the third for the very short sections that take place in the "present."

I remember being nervous about how the book would be received and how surprised and pleased I was that it was greeted mostly with enthusiasm. And of course I have many memories of the brouhaha that occurred eleven years after Annie was published, when it was burned and banned in schools in Kansas City in both Kansas and Missouri, and of the courageous high school students who sued (successfully) to have it returned to school library shelves in Olathe, Kansas.

If you could go back twenty-five years to the Nancy you were then, what would you tell her?

Oh, my! I guess I'd tell her that Annie was going to have a long life, and that LGBT literature for and about LGBTQ kids and kids growing up with GL parents was going to grow and become a recognized, viable genre. I'd tell her, too, that our community would make great strides in achieving equal rights, and I'd probably also tell her that by the time Annie on My Mind reached its 25th anniversary, its author and her partner would reach their 38th, which would also be their third as a legally married couple in Massachusetts!

Congratulations also on the publication Hear Us Out! Lesbian and Gay Stories of Struggle, Progress, and Hope, 1950 to the Present (FSG, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

In a way, Hear Us Out! developed over a period of many years, for as I explain in the introduction, way back in the '60s I started writing what I thought was going to be a collection of short stores, called Aspects, about being gay. But eventually I abandoned that project and concentrated on writing novels instead.

Much later, though, after Marion Dane Bauer (author interview) accepted a story of mine, "Parents Night," for her wonderful anthology Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence, I began writing stories again, and after a few years, I started thinking of doing a collection of my own.

When I realized story collections need some kind of glue to hold the stories together, I hit on the idea of dividing the book into sections according to decade, introducing each section with an essay describing the gay rights movement in that decade, and following the essay with two stories that could have taken place at around the same time. I started with the '50s since that was the era in which I was a teen, and went right up to the present.

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

I'm not sure exactly when I started putting the stories together or when I started writing the essays, but I was working pretty extensively on the book for around two years, although I probably started thinking about it and writing notes to myself about it long before that.

I assume that by major events you mean events that I felt were essential to cover in the essays. There were actually many important ones--landmarks, if you will--events like the founding of early gay and lesbian organizations and publications, the beginnings and growth of gay-friendly religious organizations, the early demonstrations and marches, the founding of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop (which was the first gay bookstore in the world), the Stonewall riots, the publication of John Donovan's I'll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip (the first kids' book with gay content), the murder of gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, the founding of the Hetrick Martin Institute and the Harvey Milk School, the founding of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the founding of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, the beginnings of gay-straight alliances in US schools, the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, the AIDS epidemic, Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the long battle both before and after it over the position of gays in the military, the beginnings and continuation of long battles about gay marriage and about adoption of children by same-sex couples, the major court cases: Romer v. Evans (which defeated an amendment in Colorado that would have prevented gays and lesbians from going to court to fight discrimination), Bowers v. Hardwick and Lawrence v. Texas (both of which were cases about the repeal of sodomy laws; Bowers failed and Lawrence succeeded), and Goodridge v. Department of Health (which established legal gay marriage in Massachusetts), and all along the way, highlights of the ongoing struggle against discrimination against LGBT people.

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

Although I love doing research, it's the area I found the most challenging as I worked on Hear Us Out! I knew I wanted to include as much material as possible showing the effect of the gay rights movement on kids, but I also knew that for the first few decades, there would be very little in general, and even less that was positive, for of course until the '80s or so, few if any people believed that kids could genuinely be queer. (I use the term "queer," by the way, not as the pejorative it used to be, but as a term that includes all of us--gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual; I also still use the more traditional term "gay" to do that, although that's often not quite as inclusive.)

Back in the '50s, many of us who knew we were gay or thought we might be soon discovered that it was almost impossible to learn anything about it--again, especially anything that was positive or even anything that made sense.

Homosexuality wasn't talked about; one didn't see gay people on TV or in the movies or read about them in books or newspapers, so many kids who felt same-sex attractions thought they were "the only one." In the early decades, I had to rely primarily on the stories alone to show how being LGBTQ affected kids.

Another research challenge was to reconcile opposing or varying accounts of some incidents. That, of course, is a challenge in almost any research into historical events of any era. And still another challenge, especially in the final essay, was to keep up with the fast-moving developments in the same-sex marriage struggle right down to the last moment--November 13, 2006--that the book's production schedule could accommodate changes.

I tried my best to include the most up-to-date information possible--but I did have to caution readers in a few places that by the time they read the book, many of those developments will have progressed, changed, and/or even been resolved.

I was blessed all along in having constant help and support from the folks at FSG--my editor, Margaret Ferguson, her assistant, Beth Potter, and FSG's truly amazing copyeditor, Elaine Chubb.

More globally, as you've watched the progress of YA fiction what has delighted you? Surprised you? Frustrated you? What do you anticipate for the future?

What has delighted me is the wonderful progress we've made, and the exciting changes: the demise of queer characters as defeated victims, the move toward LGBT novels in which being LGBT is a given or doesn't overshadow all other parts of the story, the move toward writing about universals from a queer perspective instead of only about about the difficulties of being queer, the fact that we're beginning to have humor in our books now.

We're in a transition period as a genre, from the early days when our books were--understandably--dark and gloomy to a time when not only can we concentrate on queer kids who aren't particularly downtrodden, even when they face homophobia, but can also, I think, join other YA authors in experimenting with literary forms.

We have some really terrific people writing kids' books with LGBTQ content now, and not only writing them, but also apparently committed to continuing to write them--and that's truly wonderful. It's also wonderful that queer characters appear more and more in YAs focused on straight kids, acknowledging and reflecting our presence in the human landscape.

It frustrates me that although there's a pretty steady stream now of YAs--even young YAs--with LGBTQ content, that stream is still only a brook compared with the torrent of YA books in general. But there's no sign of that brook's stopping, and it seems also to be growing, and that's encouraging.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read--read--read--anything and everything, and think about what you read. And write--write--write--anything and everything. Study what you've written when you've written it, put it aside for a while, study it again, and revise it. Like almost all of us, you'll probably find it needs revising. Someone once said that writing isn't writing; it's rewriting, and I've certainly found that to be true. As you grow and develop, make sure to read books, stories, poems, and/or plays of the kinds you think you might like to write, but continue to read other things, too.

How about those building a career?

Do all the above, but also read books about writing, and writers' magazines, too. Talk to writers, go to writers' conferences if you can, join a critique group (don't feel you have to stay if you don't like it or if you find it isn't helpful), take a creative writing course, consider joining a professional organization like the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, explore authors' websites and online writing groups and courses. Many of these things can not only help you with the act of writing itself, but can also teach you about the business of writing--especially about how to submit and market your work.

What do you think was the best decision you made for your writing?

Hmm--probably to work toward the day when I could quit my day job and concentrate on writing, and then deciding to actually do it when I finally could.

What would you do differently if you had the chance?

Find a way to be able to spend more time writing! I'm still trying to work that one out. As one progresses as a professional writer, one often finds that other, related activities are important to pursue, too--conferences, school visits, interviews, correspondence, book promotion, etc. These things are fun and valuable, but they do cut into the time one has at one's desk and in front of one's computer or typewriter or lined pad!

What are your favorite recent reads and why?

I just finished re-reading a book called A Darker Place by Laurie R. King. The reason I re-read it was that I was going to a writers' conference and her books are enthralling, well written, and make excellent airplane and escape reading. As I write this, I've been reading books I need to read for various work-related events and tasks, but this summer I hope to be able to concentrate on other reading as well. I'd like, for example, to re-read a biography of my favorite author, Virgina Woolf, along with re-reading Woolf's own books so I can study what the biographer says about them. And I'll be reading lots of new or almost new YA books this summer, too.

Cynsational Notes

See Nancy's newly redesigned and relaunched author site at www.nancygarden.com.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Author Interview: Ann Bausum on Our Country's First Ladies

Ann Bausum writes about U.S. history for young people from her home in Beloit, Wisconsin. Her books often examine social justice themes, including the voting rights of women (With Courage and Cloth (National Geographic, 2004)), the struggle to integrate interstate buses during 1961 (Freedom Riders (National Geographic, 2006)), and the power of free speech (Muckrakers (National Geographic, 2007)).

Her books consistently earn awards and recognition, including Sibert Honor designation for Freedom Riders and a Jane Addams Children's Book Award for With Courage and Cloth. Both titles were designated notable books by the American Library Association (ALA), too, and gained recognition on many other lists of commended books. In addition, Booklist named Freedom Riders "Top of the List" as the best youth nonfiction book of 2006.

Ann graduated from Beloit College in 1979. She and her husband have two teenage sons.

What about the writing life first called to you?

A love of books and reading--from the earliest ages--led directly to my writing life. Even as a kid I wrote picture books, memorized history, and organized neighborhood play productions. I don't think I could not be a writer. That's what I'm wired--and inspired--to do.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

After graduating from college, I used my writing skills and interests in very practical ways through public relations work. For ten years I wrote and edited news releases, catalog copy, and magazine stories.

Then I stopped working to stay home with my two young sons. My boys helped reintroduce me to children's literature during weekly visits to the public library and the reading of hundreds, even thousands, of books for young readers.

Finally I had the dangerous thought: "I could write one of these!" And I was off.

Could you fill us in on your path to publication--any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Thinking I could write a children's book was one thing; it took me years to figure out exactly how to do it. (And I'm still learning!) Eventually I focused on one topic and learned about the business through that project.

It took me about five years to go from the idea of writing a book about the explorer Roy Chapman Andrews to holding a finished copy of Dragon Bones and Dinosaur Eggs (National Geographic, 2000) in my hands.

Along the way I found the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (a tremendous resource for new authors), developed an understanding of how to write about history, and met my publisher, the National Geographic Society. My children were still pretty young then, so I learned how to work with short blocks of time, background chaos, and interruptions, too.

For those new to your work, could you briefly highlight your backlist as you see fit?

Sure. Dragon Bones and Dinosaur Eggs (National Geographic, 2000) tells the story of an adventurous explorer from the turn of the last century who helped find the first nests of dinosaur eggs. Roy Chapman Andrews made his discoveries during the first motorized expeditions to the Gobi of Mongolia. Camels carried in supplies--including thousands of gallons of gasoline--and hauled away fossils and other finds.

Our Country's Presidents (National Geographic, 2001, 2005 2nd edition) is just what it sounds like, an introduction to the 42 men who have served our country as chief executive. (Fact: George W. Bush is our 43rd President, but only 42 men have been President. Grover Cleveland is counted twice because his two terms were interrupted by the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison; thus Cleveland counts as #22 and #24). This book is packed with facts, trivia, and details that help to put a human/personal face on our national leaders.

With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman's Right to Vote (National Geographic, 2004) grew out of my passion for this subject--and childhood memories of meeting one of the suffragists featured in the book, Alice Paul. I wanted young people to know that women worked and sweated and schemed and dreamed and suffered and persevered for 72 years to gain a right that is too easily taken for granted.

Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement (National Geographic, 2006) tells two stories--the story of segregated life in the 1940s and '50s, and the story of how people crossed racial and geographic divides to end the practice of segregated travel in the South. During this struggle Freedom Riders exhibited tremendous courage and a deep commitment to act nonviolently.

See below for more about Our Country's First Ladies (National Geographic, 2007), a companion book to Our Country's Presidents, and my upcoming book Muckrakers (National Geographic, September, 2007).

Congratulations on the publication of Our Country's First Ladies (National Geographic, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for this book?

National Geographic proposed the idea for Our Country's Presidents, and Our Country's First Ladies is a natural extension of that book. A Wisconsin bookseller (from Harry Schwartz Books) first suggested doing a companion book about the President's wives, and I thought it sounded like a great idea. The same thought bubbled up through National Geographic staff members, too. I loved the notion of giving equal time to the women who partnered with our Presidents.

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

Actually we produced this book twice, once in 2005 as a 64-page supplement to a special edition of Our Country's Presidents, and again two years later as a stand-alone edition. We knew from the beginning that the supplement might turn into its own book, so I collected sources and notes during the first production that would enhance an expanded edition. It took about six months to reinvent the book into its new 128-page layout.

One highlight during my second round of research was attending a conference about the First Ladies at a new museum in Ohio, the National First Ladies' Library, that is devoted to all aspects of First Lady history. Not only did I meet and hear presentations by a number of First Lady historians, but I participated in behind-the-scenes peeks at the library's collection of photographs, correspondence, memorabilia, and clothing that had been worn by the First Ladies.

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

Number one challenge: Space. The design for this book designates a specific amount of space for each profile. I always try to "write tight" but a project like this requires constant reliance on that Strunk and White (The Elements of Style (Longman, 2000, 4th edition)) mantra of "omit needless words." I shoe-horned favorite stories and trivia into fact boxes, photo captions, even the blank spaces on the last lines of paragraphs.

Number two challenge: Logistics. A project like this requires a tremendous focus on detail. Are we being consistent in our presentation of facts in fact boxes? Have we duplicated information between section, e.g. in the case where a point of trivia that was shared by multiple First Ladies? (I try not to duplicate the same facts within a book.) Is any text running over the allotted space? (Text overages are easy to miss during proofing unless you systematically compare new and old versions.) Keeping consistent within our own parameters--such as how to list family members or earlier marriages--requires a lot of double-checking, too.

Number three challenge: What are the facts? You would think that a fact is a fact is a fact, but facts are subject to all sorts of interpretation--and error. I consult many respected sources when I write, but even the best books can contain mistakes. About two-thirds of the way through the production process on this book I discovered a series of math errors in my source for the ages at which women had become First Ladies. I went back through and recalculated every age myself--as well as all the other ages I had taken from this book, like age at marriage and age at death. Children rely on a book like mine for school report writing, so I work hard to make sure it presents accurate information.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I encourage young people to do three things.

First, read: Read a lot, read for variety, read for fun--just read! Readers soak up the way our language works without even realizing it. Reading builds vocabulary, too.

Second, learn the mechanics: All those spelling lists and grammar drills make a difference. Do them! You can't play a game if you don't know the rules.

Third, practice: Keep a journal, find a pen pal, write your grandmother. Writing is like music, or sports, or any other skill--you get better with practice.

One final bit of advice: Step outside your comfort zone. By reading the book you think you won't like, trying that food that looks suspicious, and visiting the place you never thought you'd want to see (as three examples), you'll learn and grow in ways that enrich your ability to think and write well.

How about those interested in non-fiction specifically?

Read about your area of interest--discover the facts, interpretations, and opinions others have about it. Ask a librarian to teach you how to find a variety of sources of information. Don't just rely on the Internet. Learn how to tell a reputable source from an unreliable one. Pay attention when teachers explain how to take notes (I still use note cards, just like I did in high school), plan an outline, and organize your thoughts.

Most of all, keep your passion for the subject. When all the stacks of reference books, note cards, and outlines are swept away, your love of a topic should remain.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I guess I just touched on part of the answer in my response to the previous question: passion. My connection to a topic fuels my work. A lot of what a writer does is tedious, repetitive, time-consuming, even painful. Typing up all my note cards (which is faster than writing them by hand) isn't much fun, but I love collecting facts. Sitting all day at a photo archive is uncomfortable, but I'm thrilled to see glimpses of the past. Revising a manuscript is hard work, but I find satisfaction in seeing the text grow stronger and more engaging. My commitment to a topic turns the steps in the process of writing into a pleasure instead of work. If I can share some of my passion with the reader, that's the best reward of all.

What about the writing process do you wish you could skip and why?

I love doing photo research--finding the images that illustrate my books--and I've done that work for all but the presidential titles. I could do without the paperwork, though, that comes with securing permission to reproduce an image. That's probably my least favorite part of the job. Or cleaning up my office at the completion of a project. I'd rather get going on the next book!

How about publishing? What do you love about it? What do you abhor? And again, in both cases, why?

I love working with my editor at National Geographic, Jennifer Emmett, who pulled my first book out of the mail pile of unsolicited manuscripts and has collaborated with me on every project since. Jennifer makes making books a joy. I love the production phase of a book--it's fun to feel part of a team after working solo on a project for so long.

What do I abhor? I hate how hard it is for good writers to break into the business of publishing. I'm grateful that I've had the opportunity to see my books reach print. Too many other talented writers and illustrators wait too long for that same accomplishment--or never achieve the recognition they deserve.

What do you do when you're not writing?

When I'm not writing, I'm busy with my family, gardening, hiking, cross-country skiing, traveling, cooking, or...reading. I like to read adult nonfiction U.S. history books--surprise!

What can your fans look forward to next?

There's no need to wait long; my next book will be out later this year. It's called: Muckrakers: How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism (National Geographic, September, 2007). This book grew out of a devotion to the power of news writing that dates back to my childhood. I came of age reading news reports about assassinations, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. This book examines an earlier period of in-depth reporting (from the turn of the last century) and places the tradition of investigative journalism into its historical context.

One of my favorite parts of any book is the back matter, that stuff that follows the "end" of the story. Of my own books, I think Muckrakers has my favorite back matter yet. We interspersed a lengthy chronology of significant investigative news stories with profiles of my favorite muckraker journalists. The book designer did a great job making this section--and the rest of the book--come alive. I hope readers can have their own sense of investigation and research as they explore the ending of this book (not to mention the rest of it!). Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Sameera Righton, the main character in First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (excerpt) and First Daughter: White House Rules by Mitali Perkins (Dutton), is blogging about the real first kid wannabes in the '08 campaign from now until November 2008 at www.sparrowblog.com. To celebrate the release of the first novel in this two-book series, ten signed copies will be given away. Here's how to win:

THIS SUMMER: Five libraries (school or public) can win free signed copies as visitors come to Sparrow's blog (www.sparrowblog.com) from June 15 to Sept. 1 and leave the name of the library they love in the comments. The five most frequently mentioned libraries win the books.

PUB DATE CONTEST: Five libraries can win free signed copies on pub date by linking to and sending the most visitors to Sparrow's '08 campaign blog (www.sparrowblog.com) before June 14, 2007. Right now, the libraries in the lead are: Beaverton City Library, Oregon; Westerville Public Library, Ohio; Mamaronek Library, New York; West Bend Library, Wisconsin; Bellingham Public Library, Washington.

More News & Links

Among the BEA reports, it's a thrill to see a photo of K.L. Going (right), Dian Curtis Regan (left), and my own agent Ginger Knowlton (center) of Curtis Brown Ltd. at Alice's CWIM Blog. Read author interviews with Dian and K.L. from Cynsations.

Congratulations to honorees of the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards. Here's sending a personal cheer to M. T. Anderson and Tim Wynne-Jones!

High School Scrapbook by Karla Lucht and Jane Optie, Spring 2007, LIS 404 Literature and Resources for Young Adults Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Entertaining and informative new site links YA books and movies to the high school experience in the following categories: academics, extracurricular, love and life, and non-fiction. It also features short interviews with such YA authors as Brent Hartinger, Lauren Myracle, Justina Chen Headley, Dia Calhoun, and Cynthia Leitich Smith on our own high school experiences. See also interviews with Brent, Lauren, Justina from Cynsations.

Hot Off the Press: A Sneak Peek at Publisher's Newest and Hottest Titles from Children's Book Council. Highlights include: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Orchard, 2007); More Saints: Lives and Illuminations by Ruth Sanderson (Eerdmans, 2007), The Rainforest Grew All Around by Susan K. Mitchell, illustrated by Connie McLennan (Sylvan Dell, 2007); and The Buffalo Soldier by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Ronald Himler (Pelican, 2007).

PaperTigers Blog: "speaking of multicultural books for children and young adults." New on the scene from PaperTigers; be sure to bookmark this one!

R.A. Nelson: new official site of the author of Teach Me (Razorbill, 2005) and Breathe My Name (Razorbill, 2007). Here's a sneak peek from his bio: "R.A. Nelson lives in north Alabama, works at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and loves poetry, quantum physics, old movies like It Happened One Night (Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert), spelunking, history, traveling, astronomy, archeology, basketball, exploring, and just plain old walking in the woods." Read a Cynsaitons interview with R.A. Nelson.

"Setting As Character" by Timothy Hallinan from Absolute Write.

More Personally

An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Debbi Michiko Florence. Here's a sneak peek: "For obvious reasons, people don't usually think about vampires and restaurants together. But that juxtaposition freshened the blood, so to speak. It allowed me to offer something new to the old tradition."

June giveaways at the Tantalize Fans Unite! MySpace group include signed copies of Over and Over You by Amy McCauley (Roaring Brook, 2005)(author interview), Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004)(author interview), and Exile: Star Wars Legacy of the Force by Aaron Allston (Del Rey, 2007).

Monday, June 04, 2007

Author Interview: Dian Curtis Regan on Princess Nevermore and Cam's Quest

Dian Curtis Regan on Dian Curtis Regan: "I'm writing this on a tornado-y afternoon in Kansas, where I've lived for six years. Before that, I lived in Venezuela, Oklahoma, Texas (in backward order) and grew up in Colorado.

"This year marks the publication of my 50th book, plus the publication (finally!) of the sequel to Princess Nevermore (Darby Creek, 2006; updated and expanded re-release edition). My life pretty much revolves around writing and reading, thinking about writing and reading, discussing writing and reading with friends, and longing for more time to write and read.

"Oh, and a cat who could care less about books unless they happen to be in her favorite napping spot..."

Our last interview was in September 2005, shortly after the publication of The World According to Kaley (Darby Creek, 2005). How has Kaley been since?

Kaley is doing fantastic. The book was one of three finalists for the Benjamin Franklin Award. It landed on the Texas Horned Toad Tale List, and will be in Scholastic book clubs and book fairs. There will also be a Spanish edition. The sequel, CyberPals According to Kaley (Darby Creek, 2006) is on the shelves.

What else has been happening in your writing life?

Currently working on the 3rd Kaley book: Love According to Kaley. Up next is Fourth Grade According to Kaley. Both will be out in 2008. I also have two board books coming out this year, Peek-a-Boo Zoo and Nice Catch (TransGlobal 2007).

Congratulations on the re-release of Princess Nevermore (Darby Creek, 2007) and the publication of Cam's Quest (Darby Creek, 2007)! For those readers new to Princess Nevermore, could you tell them a little about the book?

How great to be given the opportunity to go back to a novel I started writing when I, myself, was a young reader. The new edition of Princess Nevermore is about 6,000 words longer and has been updated to the 21st century. Characters who play a role in the sequel are introduced, and many scenes in the original story have been expanded.

Could you also explain the history of Princess Nevermore, its relationship to Cam's Quest, and the path these two novels have taken?

In the dozen years since Princess Nevermore was published, I've received piles of letters and emails from readers asking for a sequel (and a movie, but that's a whole other interview...). I admit that I left the reader hanging at the end of Princess Nevermore. I'd always intended to continue the story, but I never meant to wait so long.

More recently, I'm receiving letters from readers in their 20s, telling me that they discovered the book when they were in middle school or high school, and how much the story meant to them‹enough to go back and re-read it year after year. They always ask about a sequel, so I'm happy I can finally answer, "Yes, it exists!"

How would you describe Cam's Quest?

At the end of Princess Nevermore, all we know about the wizard's apprentice is that his heritage is very cryptic and unknown to him, and that he's smitten with the princess, yet will never be considered a proper suitor since he does not come from nobility.

The sequel sends Cam off on a quest to unlock the secrets of his past so he can find his future. I love stories with twists and turns and surprises, so I promise that his (multiple) quests are fraught with all of the above. And, just when the reader thinks Cam is home free--well, he isn't.

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

I'm not a fan of novels that switch viewpoint characters, but it was necessary in Princess Nevermore so that readers would know what was happening in Mandria and on Outer Earth at the same time.

Likewise in the sequel, while Cam is off on his mission in our world, the princess, still in Mandria, steals away from the kingdom. Viewpoint switches allow readers to follow both stories at the same time as Cam's experiences and memories weave together with those from the princess's point of view.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I just attended an SCBWI conference--which was excellent. However, questions from attendees all centered around marketing. Beginning writers should immerse themselves in learning the craft, not be overly concerned with how to submit a manuscript or acquire an agent. Believe me, if you put in the weeks, months, or years necessary to produce an outstanding book for young readers, you will not have difficulty finding a publisher.

How do you balance your writing life (research, drafting, revisions, etc.) with your responsibilities as an author (marketing, promotion, etc.)?

Ah, balance! I don't think I've taken a day off since 1993, so I'm not the best person to give advice. For now, I'm making myself stop and focus on promoting the new edition of Princess Nevermore and Cam's Quest because these feel like important books for me. I'm doing a lot of promo myself, plus I've hired a publicist and am signing at both BEA and ALA.

I don't know how to work any way other than constantly. Fortunately or unfortunately, my husband tends to work in other countries, so I have lots of time at home alone.

What tips do you have for newcomers in this regard?

As soon as writers have a book published (or in production), they should definitely put up a website to consolidate information about themselves and their books. They should make themselves available for school visits, and also go to conferences because networking is so important.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Travel to a book conventions, conferences, family gatherings, or whatever country my husband is in. READ. Hug my cat. And, oh, yeah, watch "American Idol."

What can your fans look forward to next?

There's a possibility of a third book about Mandria, making the story a trilogy. In the meantime, I'm enjoying writing shorter books. I have two picture books in production at Holiday House and am working on a possible chapter book series, much shorter than writing long fantasy adventure sagas!

Also, I am pleased to have loyal fans who have put up a fansite for Princess
Nevermore and Cam's Quest: http://princessnevermorefansite.com

And also a forum for readers to visit and discuss the books:
http://thewishingpool.proboards44.com

What an honor to have readers who connect so strongly with these books.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

"Won't Stock a Book with the Word 'Gay' in the Title" from Carrie Jones. She's the author of Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend (Flux, 2007). Read an excerpt.

The Acquisition Process: From Submission to Contract by Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Chad Beckerman: Associate Art Director, Book Publishing by Paul Maniaci from the Career Cookbook. Source: Book Moot.

CBC Showcase: May/June: Fiction on the Edge: "includes both light and serious fiction on the many and varied issues facing teens and pre-teens." Highlights include Powers by Deborah Lynn Jacobs (Roaring Brook, 2006)(author interview) and Gone by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson (Roaring Brook, 2007)(author interview). See also the CBC Summer Reading Extravaganza.

Charlesbridge Open House from Unabridge. Highlights include a photo of the lovely Mitali Perkins and editor Judy O'Malley in a sari.

Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins: recommendation and Q&A interview at the YA Authors Cafe. Here's a sneak peek: "My feeling has always been that religion, the supernatural and the afterlife are *the* most important issues any human has to face. We're alive on this earth for less than 100 years (most of us, anyway), and then there's the question of what happens to us for the rest of eternity. I'd say the answer to that question is crucial. And the answer--or lack of an answer--that each of us comes up with is what provides us with a moral system to live by."

Jon Scieszka Worldwide: new official site is bright, entertaining, everything you'd expect. Source: A Fuse #8 Production (congratulations to Fuse #8 on moving to SLJ).

Interview: Sonya Sones by Little Willow at Bildungsroman. Here's a sneak peek: "I'd been taking a class at UCLA on writing poetry for children, taught by the great Myra Cohn Livingston. I'd been concentrating on writing funny poems. But one day Myra asked us to write a poem using dactyl and trochee rhythms, which are these really somber rhythms. When I sat down to do the assignment, something very unexpected happened: I ended up writing a poem about having to visit my older sister in the mental hospital on my thirteenth birthday, and about how sad and scary that had been for me."

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #28: Author and blogger and all-around rocker, Cecil Castellucci. Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

Librarian of Congress to Name National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

The Library of Congress announced yesterday that, through its Center for the Book, it will create the post of National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Appointed for a two-year term by the Librarian of Congress, the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature will speak to the importance of fiction and non-fiction books in children's lives. Selected for extraordinary contributions to the world of books for young people, the National Ambassador will encourage the appreciation of young people's literature throughout the United States through both personal and media appearances.

“"The Ambassador will be an award-winning author or illustrator whose position will acknowledge ­at the national level ­the importance of exceptional authors and illustrators in creating the readers of tomorrow,"” said James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress.

The National Ambassador program is a joint initiative of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Children's Book Council (CBC). The appointment of the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature will be announced in January 2008.

"We are thrilled. The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature will honor and promote the essential role young people's literature plays in every aspect of our society,"” said Simon Boughton, Chair of the CBC Board of Directors and Executive Vice President & Publisher of Roaring Brook Press.

The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature will travel and speak extensively during the two-year term, participating in book and reading promotion events throughout the United States. While each term will bring new events in different areas of the country, the National Ambassador will speak in Washington, DC each fall at the National Book Festival and in New York City each spring during Children's Book Week.

The National Ambassador will choose a platform on which the two-year term will focus. This platform will emphasize literacy, education, and related issues concerning books and young people. In addition to regular speaking engagements, the National Ambassador will work with national media outlets to promote this platform to an even wider audience.

The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature position is patterned after the Children's Laureate in the United Kingdom. The Center for the Book and the Children's Book Council will administer the project jointly, including naming the Selection Committee, overseeing the selection process, and organizing the National Ambassador's travel schedule.

The Selection Committee will consider all nationally-prominent creators of fiction and non-fiction books for children and young adults in the United States. Selection criteria will include, but will not be limited to, level of national prominence and popularity with young people, as well as the candidate's known enthusiasm for specific issues in children's and/or young adult literature.

Financial support for the National Ambassador program is provided by Cheerios(r) cereal, which has been getting books into children's hands and encouraging families to read together through its Spoonfuls of Stories(r) program. Over the past 5 years, Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories has distributed more than 25 million books free inside boxes of Cheerios cereal, and donated more than $2 million to First Book(r), an international children's literacy organization. Additional financial support for this program is provided by HarperCollins Children's Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, Random House Children's Books, Holiday House, Inc., National Geographic Children's Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Harcourt Children's Books and Candlewick Press. The CBC, through its associated 501(c)(3) entity, the CBC Foundation, is seeking additional financial support for the National Ambassador program from the private sector and encourages those interested in supporting this exciting program to contact CBC and CBC Foundation Executive Director, Robin Adelson at 212-966-1990 or Robin.Adelson@cbcbbooks.org .

The Children's Book Council, established in 1945, is the non-profit trade association of publishers and packagers of trade books and related materials for children and young adults in the United States. The goals of the Children's Book Council are to make the reading and enjoyment of children's books an essential part of America's educational and social goals; to enhance public perception of the importance of reading by disseminating information about books and related materials for young people and information about children's book publishing; to create materials to support literacy and reading encouragement programs; and to encourage the annual observance of Children's Book Week.

The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress was established in 1977 by Public Law 95-129 to use the resources of the Library of Congress to stimulate public interest in books and reading. Its entire program is supported by private funds. To carry out its mission, the center has created two national networks: affiliates in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and national reading promotion partners, mostly non-profit organizations, such as the Children's Book Council, that promote books, reading, literacy, and libraries. The Center for the Book plays a key role in the development of the National Book Festival, held each year on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
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