Friday, June 15, 2007

Author Interview: April Lurie on Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds

April Lurie on April Lurie: "I'm a Brooklyn girl. When I write, I'm back in my old neighborhood reinventing my teenage life. But for the past fourteen years my husband and I have been raising our kids in Austin, Texas--a fabulous city with a vibrant and supportive children's and young adult writers' community."

You last spoke to Cynsations in 2002 about your debut novel, Dancing In the Streets of Brooklyn (Delacorte, 2002). Could you fill us in on your writing life since that time?

I've had a lot of ups and downs since my fist novel was released. For two years (maybe more, I lost track!) I wrote and revised a summer camp story that never came together.

I'm very stubborn, but when I finally let it go I decided to take a risk and write a story about a shy, Scandinavian girl who gets mixed up with the Italian Mafia. I sent my editor the first three chapters and she loved it! I wrote Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds in nine months and during that time I think I found my voice. At least, I hope I did.

After that, I decided to try something different and write a story from a fifteen-year-old boy's point of view. It was great fun. That book--The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine--will be coming out in May 2008 with Delacorte. I'm very excited.

Congratulations on the publication of Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)! Could you tell us about the story?

Thank you! Sure. The year is 1977, and fourteen-year-old April Lundquist lives in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, home of the Colombo and Bonanno crime families. April has always felt safe in her neighborhood (who's going to mess with the mob?), but when Salvatore "Soft Sal" Luciano, approaches April with a business proposition she can't refuse, things begin to change.

Not only is April finding hundred-dollar bills in her school books, but now her older brother, Matt, is in serious trouble for dating a crime bosses daughter.On top of this, her long time crush, Dominick DeMao--bad-boy rocker and heart-breaker--is suddenly interested in her.

It's a bit of a roller-coaster ride, but in the end, April learns a little about family, friends, and choosing the right guy.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I really put myself out there because this story is partly autobiographical. I grew up in Dyker Heights and several mobsters lived on my block. When I was a kid I thought it was totally normal (doesn't everyone live this way?), but as I got older I began to realize what a unique experience I had. Finally, I figured, hey, I should write about this!

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

Well, let's see. It was quicker this time around! I began writing the story in early 2005, and finished by the end of the year. I have a wonderful editor at Delacorte who was kind enough to read parts of it along the way and offer advice. The only problem was the cover art. It was difficult to find a concept that worked. Then, right before the catalogs were about to be printed, my editor sent me a jpeg of the final art. I loved it! Definitely worth the wait.

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

I was a teenager in 1977, but I still had to do quite a bit of research about the time period, i.e., fashion, movies, music. It was kind of like a refresher course. I read books about the Mob and watched all my favorite gangster flicks--"Goodfellas," "Donnie Brasco," "The Godfather"--which was very enjoyable. Of course, growing up around the Mafia helped a lot--I basically knew about their family life, what cars they drove, what clothes they wore, the lingo, the gestures, but of course the challenge was making it real for the reader. Hopefully, I did.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love coming up with an idea that excites me, and I love finding the voice of my protagonist. Writing is very solitary and sometimes I get lonely, so I enjoy the whole process of getting to know my characters so they seem like friends. I love working with my editor, who always seems to know how to make a story better.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

The first draft can be daunting. Staring at the blank page when you've had a bad week and would rather be out having lunch with a friend is tough. But I wouldn't skip any of it, really. Writing is a long, messy process and I suppose even the bad times are necessary.

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

Hmm, publishing. Yes, I suppose we do have a love/hate relationship. I'll admit, having a book published is a fabulous feeling. Kind of like giving birth. But then there are reviews and marketing pressures and (sometimes embarrassing) book signings. The highs and lows can be hard to deal with, especially when you are trying to be creative!

If you could go back in time to your beginning author self, what would you tell her?

Relax. Don't worry so much. Take your time and enjoy life.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Author Interview: David Lubar on True Talents

David Lubar on David Lubar: "I write novels and short stories for anyone with a sense of humor or a sense of wonder. My hobbies include procrastination, complaining, and voting for myself on teen-choice book lists."

You last spoke to Cynsations in 2005 about your YA novel, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (Dutton, 2005). Could you fill us in on your writing life since that time?

I've spent the last two years working ceaselessly on developing a neuro-linguist method for responding to interview question with answers that will be so captivating and charming that they will inspire everyone who reads them to immediately buy multiple copies of all my books. (Psssst. Hey you. You need True Talents (Starscape, 2007).) Where was I? Oh, yeah... Beyond that, my writing life involves far more writing than it did when last we spoke. Back then, I was on the road way too much. I've stopped doing school visits for a while. I now have much more time to write, and a deeper appreciation of the finer aspects of poverty.

Congratulations on the publication of True Talents (Starscape, 2007)! It's a sequel to Hidden Talents (Tor, 1999)(Starscape, 2007), so let's start there! Could you tell us about Hidden Talents, and why you wanted to continue the story?

Hidden Talents, at its heart, is about the way that society is so quick to cast off kids and to slap labels on them. With Edgeview Alternative School, I created a place where the kids, the teachers, and even the building itself is a cast off. But these kids have been badly mislabled. And that's where the magic shows up. The kids aren't behavior problems. Instead, they have these amazing, unrecognized gifts.

I honestly didn't have any plans to continue the story. But there was a demand for a sequel, both from readers, and from my publisher. Kids wanted to know what happened next. My publisher wanted to build on the momentum and success of the first book.

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

The spark didn't happen until somewhere near the middle of the timeline. I started writing the book in July, 2003, and finished the first draft that October. It took up with the same narrator, Martin Anderson, as he was about to start high school. I kept working on it through October of 2004. I normally don't take that long with a book, but two things were working against me. I was traveling constantly, and I didn't like the way the book turned out. Meanwhile, my editor left Tor.

After talking with my new editor, I decided to start from scratch. I put aside the book I'd written, and began a new one focusing on a different character--Eddie "Trash" Thalmayer. The spark came when I thought about someone waking up from a drugged stupor in a research lab. When the first book ended, the guys still had a secret they were trying to keep from the world. Now, the secret was out. I had a first draft three months later. But it still didn't go into copy editing until last July.

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

The biggest challenge was psychological. Hidden Talents is still growing in popularity. There was no way I was going to sully it with a crappy sequel. I think that's why I dragged my feet for so long.

As for literary challenges, I wanted immediacy, but I also wanted to show what had happened to all of the guys from the first book. I decided to combine a first-person narrative from the main character with third-person sections from the other characters. I've always loved the whole "Roshomon" aspect of showing a story through more than one set of eyes. Since the book switches viewpoints so much, I put a lot of time into arranging these sections in a way I hoped wouldn't feel awkward to the reader.

I also took a big risk with the opening. Eddie is emerging from a drugged stupor. He's hallucinating, and his mind is wandering. The scene doesn't immediately make sense. That's a big risk, and I'm still worried I'll lose a few potential readers, but it seems to have worked out. Besides, how can you resist a book that opens with: "The gorilla who clung to the ceiling was wearing a Princeton T-shirt"?

How long have you been writing with an eye toward publication?

I was collecting rejection slips back when I was in high school. I got serious about publication when I got out of college 1976. I made my first fiction sale in 1978. So I'm far closer to my expiration date than many of the current novelists.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love writing dialogue, especially when my characters' personalities begin to emerge. I'll have this kid who's little more than a lump of clay, and he'll say something that suddenly defines a part of him. Often, my supporting characters will take over. I'm really fond of Ellis from Flip (Starscape, 2004), and Malcolm from Dunk (Clarion, 2002)(excerpt). I'm really bad with tools, and less than marginal with a drawing pencil, so I find it extremely rewarding that I can build things out of words.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I'd love to skip the delay that happens before I get feedback. I wish people could take in a novel like a painting and respond immediately.

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

I love they way I'm treated. Tor, especially, makes me feel like I stumbled into someone else's dream. They take me places, promote my books, and just treat me wonderfully. I love going out to dinner with my publisher because she has incredibly good taste in wine. And I love hearing from people who felt my books made a difference, because I didn't set out to change the world. I set out to entertain people. It's nice to know that my work has positive side effects.

As for things I abhor, I dislike not winning major awards, because I am pathetically needy and drink validation the way a vampire drinks blood.

How has the business changed over time, for worse and better?

It's tough for me to judge that, since my own relationship to the industry had changed over time. When I started, I was unknown. Then I became a rumor. Now, I'm vaguely familiar. The only constant change I've noticed is that more and more of the editors are the same age as my daughter.

If you could go back in time to your beginning author self, what would you tell him?

Buy Berkshire Hathaway. Stay off the Internet.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Author Feature: Olivia Birdsall

Olivia Birdsall on Olivia Birdsall: "I was born and raised in Orange County, CA, the second of ten children. (People always ask me, 'Sooo ten kids, how was that?' like my parents must have been cousins, or lived on a commune or a dirt farm, or something...

"I really loved having all of those brothers and sisters. They're all amazingly smart and beautiful and funny. That's probably the most annoying part about it: too many superstars.)

"My family moved to Utah while I was in high school, which was difficult, but interesting. Growing up, I never thought I'd be a writer; I always thought I was destined to make lots of money and be very important, but beyond that, my career aspirations weren't very consistent.

"I decided to major in English in college when I realized that I really loved reading, and talking about books and stories more than almost anything. I graduated from NYU with an MFA in Creative Writing in 2005, and I now teach writing at NYU full-time (which means about two or three days a week, seven months a year--it's a dream job!).

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

I began working on Notes on a Near-Life Experience (Delacorte, 2007) during my last year as an undergraduate. Back then it was a book about a dancer with an eating disorder whose older brother ran away and was living in a video arcade (I still want to write the story of the kid who runs away to live in a bizarre place like that).

I took a year off from writing it to work full-time and apply to grad school, and I worked on it off and on for two years at NYU. I sent it to the 2004 Delacorte contest (without an ending, but with a note that said I’d be more than happy to write a really great ending if they published it), and it was rejected. I re-submitted it the next year with a different first scene and with a pretty weak ending, and they took it. That made me a big believer in the importance of first scenes/chapters.

Was there anything during your apprenticeship that you felt was especially helpful? Was there anything you wish you'd skipped?

I really, really valued the encouragement and advice of my workshop groups and professors. I think I would have given up if they hadn't told me time and again that I wasn't a complete loser. I wish I hadn't been so scared and critical of myself. I still feel as if I am my own worst critic and that the constant criticism and doubt that comes from my own brain prevents me from writing more, writing better, and taking bigger risks.

Congratulations on the publication of Notes on a Near-Life Experience (Delacorte, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

I wanted to write about redefining and reconstructing family because my own experiences with an evolving concept of family (divorce, the death of a sibling) were the ones that shaped me the most as a person. I think one of the most difficult things we face as we’re trying to figure out how to grow up is making sense of things that don't look the way they do on TV, that don’t turn out the way you expected them to.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way? In particular, could you tell us about your experience with the Delacorte Press contest?

I think I did that in the publishing question above... But, I do love to talk about myself, so.... Winning Delacorte was like having a dream fall out of nowhere into my lap. I didn't feel like I had earned publication.... I thought I'd have to send out my manuscript to every publishing house on the planet and be rejected by all of them twice before I'd ever have anything published.

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

I'm not a very consistent writer. If I sat down and wrote, even for an hour, every day I'd churn out thousands of pages (albeit mediocre ones) a year. However, I am lazy and most often write under the gun (which is why having a workshop group, deadlines, etc. is still SO crucial for me); my biggest challenge is my own laziness and fickleness.

What is it like to be a debut author in 2007? What moments already stand out?

I really loved my book party. I organized it as a combination thirtieth birthday party and book party--it had a prom theme (in honor of the book)--we had a balloon arch where we took Polaroid pictures of all of the guests, a punch bowl, cookies, music from when I was in junior high and high school; my friends read anecdotes about their own high school experiences; we even ended it with a cheesy, awkward slow dance. It was pretty much the awesomest book party I've ever attended.

Are you doing anything special to promote your new release?

I've tried talking to everyone I know in journalism to get them to talk about my book and say nice things about it. I've offered free kissing lessons to anyone who'll buy the book, but, come to think of it, no one has taken me up on it...strange. If you have any promotional suggestions, or if you know of a place that will let me a stage a Notes on a Near-Life Experience bake/book sale or car wash, please let me know. Seriously. Call me.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love what the process has the power to illicit from me. I love it when an especially beautiful, powerful, or hilarious turn of phrase shows up on my screen out of nowhere, like a gift. I love it when my characters refuse to do what I want them to, and ask me to tell a different story than the one I was planning on. I love all of this because it says writing really is about something more than self-gratification and self-indulgence; it can transcend the writer.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I wish I could skip the Internet surfing that I do to distract myself from writing, and the lack of confidence... I love the writing; I even enjoy revising to some degree, what bothers me is the time that I waste, that I just can’t bring myself to stop wasting.

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

My experience with publishing is so limited. I wish that it moved faster, I guess. I wish that the publicity/promotion stuff was easier to figure out.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Write, write, write. Get a great workshop group. Give yourself deadlines. SUBMIT your work. And don’t beat yourself up; everyone sucks sometimes, and plenty of people who are writing worse books than yours have been published. Louise Plummer used to tell our class: "Good writers borrow; the best writers steal!" I think that's great advice.

How about those interested in writing for the young adult audience in particular?

Don't preach or moralize. Try to find out how teenagers live, talk, and interact NOW rather than relying solely on your own experience. Remember how smart your readers are.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Author Anastasia Suen is now offering all five of her online children's book writing workshops with a Independent Study option. Students are invited to work with her at their own pace. For more information, contact Anastasia at

Primer (part one and part two), insights for beginning writers by Diana Peterfreund. Source: Justine Larbalestier. Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Congratulations to Lisa Rondinelli Albert who has signed with agent Caryn Wiseman at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and to Caryn for signing Lisa!

Speaking of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, congratulations also to Jo Whittemore who signed there with Michelle Andelman and to Michelle or signing Jo. Check out Jo's Details of the Great Agent Hunt! Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Why I Organized the Summer Blog Blast Tour by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Note: I'm packing up and locking down for hiatus, but please know I'm cheering y'all on.

More Personally

Tantalize/Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Erin L. Nappe from Required Reading. Learn about my five favorite vampires, foods, things I can't live without, people who have influenced my work, and songs that would be on Quincie's iPod.

Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance

Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance (Henry Holt, 2007)(excerpt). Thriller novelist Ian Tremblin is sponsoring a short-story contest, and five finalists receive the opportunity to spent the night with the horror king at infamous Daemon Hall. The winner's story will be published, but is a contest worth dying for? At times seriously scary, Daemon Hall is a fearsome mind bender from a debut YA author to watch. Ages 12-up.

Author Bio

"Andrew Nance is retired from a twenty-five-year career as a morning radio DJ. He uses his storytelling skills to give ghost tours throughout historic St. Augustine, Florida, where he lives. This is his first novel for young adults."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Author taps love of comics for 1st graphic novel by Matt West from CNN. Here's a sneak peek: "I'm a big believer in no matter what kind of art you do or want to do that you have to really delve into that genre a lot," says [Cecil] Castellucci. "I took out my charge card and bought a [ton] of comic books!" See a new interview with Cecil Castellucci from Bookslut.

Every Picture Book Tells a Priceless Story by Teddy Jamieson of The Herald. Focusing on children's picture book illustration. Source: ACHOCKABLOG.

Flight Tour Blog from author Sherman Alexie. Source: American Indians in Children's Literature.

Linda Johns, author of the Hannah West mystery series (recommendation), launches a new site designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

Guest Blogger Alan Gratz on the post-contract revision of Samurai Shortshop (Dial, 2006) from Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes.

Humor with Ruth McNally Barshaw from the Institute of Children's Literature. A chat transcript.

Levine Greenberg Literary Agency: official agency site. "We love middle grade, young adult, and cross-over titles that strike a chord with young readers, and we are always looking for projects that reflect the real lives, inner imaginings and issues of today’s teen and preteen readers."

Linda Urban, author of the forthcoming, A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Harcourt, fall 2007) also debuts a new site, also designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys. Note: Lisa doesn't just design sites for people named Linda; she also designed mine.

Never Mind the Snakeskin, My Boy Got the Sheepskin by Kerry Madden from The Washington Post. A personal essay from the author of Louisiana's Song (Viking, 2007)(excerpt).

Picture Book Fans! Enter for a chance to win Pest Fest by Julia Durango, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2007) from Three Silly Chicks. See an excerpt.

Potter artist Mary GrandPré makes magic from The Detroit Free Press. Source: Big A little a.

Promoting Your Novel: How To Make a Book Trailer by romance novelist Brenda Coulter from No rules. Just write. Source: Mitali's Fire Escape; see Mitali's book trailer.

The Texas Book Festival has re-designed and relaunched its site. "Now visitors will have the convenience of the same familiar web address, but will see great new user-friendly content. The website will feature printable event schedules, author bios, photos, past festival information, and up-to-date details about the 2007 festival, November 2-4. The new website also features the vibrant 'Children's Chapter' with information on all of their favorite authors." Note: I'm thrilled to see such great names as Shannon Hale, Kimberly Willis Holt (author interview), Deborah Wiles, and Mo Willems already on the schedule. This just in--I'll be joining them, speaking about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) at the festival on Nov. 4! Hope to see some of you there!

YA fans! Enter for a chance to win Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins, 2007). Source: Class of 2K7 blog.

More Personally

Author David Lubar says of my new release Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): "It's a fun, inventive read, filled with vampires, werewolves, and food. Bravo to Cynthia. (Though there's no way I'm ever letting her cook anything for me. Read the book to find out why.)" Glad to hear you're reading again! Read the whole post.

Burlesque of the Damned chimes in: "in Quince, the author has created a strong female character capable of kicking supernatural butt with a pair of snazzy red cowboy boots. Verdict: Tantalizingly cute."

Cynsational Notes

Soon Cynsations will go on summer hiatus! If you're an interviewee who has yet to turn in answers, please touch base with me on your status. It likely will make the most sense to defer your interview until regular posting resumes.

Thank you to the Central Texas Teachers of English for the lovely gift certificate to Mars on South Congress in Austin! The Tandoori chicken is highly recommended!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...