Friday, August 31, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Reminder: I'm a 31 Flavorite author for October! I'll be chatting Oct. 29 at the readergirlz MySpace group forum about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). To participate, friend the readergirlz site, and their group forum; we are celebrating YALSA's Teen Read Week. Read a Cynsations interview with the Readergirlz Divas. Here's the schedule:

Week One
1. Meg Cabot
2. Tiffany Trent
3. Brent Hartinger (author interview)
4. Lorie Ann Grover (author interview)
5. K.L. Going (author interview)
6. Nikki Grimes

Week Two
7. Ellen Hopkins
8. Justina Chen Headley (author interview)
9. Chris Crutcher
10. Ann Brashares
11. Sarah Mlynowski
12. Cecil Castellucci (author interview)
13. Kirby Larson

Week Three

14. Tanya Lee Stone (author interview)
15. John Green (author interview)
16. Sara Zarr (author interview)
17. Deb Caletti
18. Rachel Cohn
19. Kirsten Miller
20. Mitali Perkins

Week Four
21. Sonya Sones
22. Lisa Yee (author interview)
23. Carolyn Mackler
24. E. Lockhart (author interview)
25. Janet Lee Carey (author interview)
26. Gaby Triana
27. Lauren Myracle (author interview)

Week Five
28. Holly Black (author interview)
29. Cynthia Leitich Smith (author interview)
30. Dia Calhoun (author interview)
31. Stephenie Meyer (author interview)

Attention Texas College Students! Enter the Writers' League of Texas annual College Horror Story Contest for the chance to win $200 and publication. The entry fee is five dollars per submission plus League membership ($15 for students). Deadline: Oct. 31. See details, guidelines, and entry form. Note: "Entry form may be printed and must be included with submission."

Author April Lurie launches her recently redesigned website. April is the author of: Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn (Delacorte, 2002)(excerpt)(author interview), Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)(excerpt)(author interview), and The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008); see more on April's books.

In a recent review of Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds, The Philadelphia Inquirer says, "April [the character, not the author] is in touch with her dark side, but she's upbeat and athletic too, and never hesitates to cream the guys in her neighborhood at tennis. She has a matter-of-fact feminism that made me smile, an ability to stand up for herself that feels fresh, easy, youthful, and empowering." Read the whole review.

Go see author David Lubar on The Campfire Weenies Book Tour. See The Curse of the Campfire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales (Tor/Starscape, 2007). If you're in Kentucky, Ohio, Washington, California, or Illinois (or can get there), check out the complete schedule! Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Mark your calendars! Children's Book Week is scheduled for Nov. 12 to Nov. 18. See history, materials, and how to promote at the Children's Book Council site.

YA Author/Title List: A Few Names and Titles to Get You Going by Mechele R. Dillard at Suite101.com.

More Personally

Congratulations to Kerry Collins, co-author (with Jana Seely) of Faces of Hearst Castle (Hearst Castle Press, 2007). "Faces of Hearst Castle offers a close look at over forty specially selected objects from William Randolph Hearst's art collection..."

Author Greg Leitich Smith will join me in sharing "Santa Knows Story Structure," a discussion of arc in the picture book, using our recent release Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006) among others. The event is sponsored by Austin SCBWI and will begin at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 at the Barnes & Noble in Round Rock.

Reminder: If you would like a signed Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) bookmark and/or a bookplate for any of my titles, please feel free to write me with a snail/street address. If you are underage, you may send a parent's/guardian's work street address. Check with them first.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Author Interview: Ann Angel on Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories About Beauty

Ann Angel on Ann Angel: "I'm a writer of young adult fiction and nonfiction with books that include Such A Pretty Face: Short Stories about Beauty (Abrams, 2007), Robert Cormier: Writer of the Chocolate War (Enslow, 2007). A biography of Amy Tan will be coming out with Enslow in 2008, and a biography of Janis Joplin, tentatively titled 'Under the Influence,' will be published by Abrams in 2009.

"When I'm not pushing a deadline, I'm teaching writing at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or working with some of the greatest local writers through SCBWI-Wisconsin. You can also find me hanging out with my husband Jeff and whichever of our four twenty-somethings happens to be wandering around the house. You can read more about my years as one of nine kids growing up in Wisconsin on my website."

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

I earned a degree in English Education and worked as a junior high teacher while pursuing a master in arts in journalism. So I began my career as a teacher and then a journalist writing for newspapers and magazines. I was the reporter that the Milwaukee Sentinel would send to cover nursing homes, schools and foster care stories because I loved learning everything I could about people. On the other hand, I was awful at writing about government. I just couldn't figure out what was so important about housing codes, or election practices, or tax incremental finance districts.

My own kids were adopted from around the country and then the world at a time when little was written on the subject. I wrote stories and read them to my kids to help them understand their own beginnings. Some of those stories became my first publication, Real For Sure Sister, an early chapter book published by a small adoption and foster care press, Perspectives Press, in 1989.

From there, I began teaching college classes and working as a writer-for-hire and freelance editor with school supplemental publishers such as Raintree Books, Gareth Stevens, and the Sight and Sound Division of Disney-owned Webster Publishing, where I wrote the front matter and games at the end of the Hercules sight and sound books.

But I really wanted to get back into fiction and realized I needed more training. I joined the ranks of the first graduating class of Vermont College's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. There I wrote a young adult novel manuscript, "Bella's Spirit Guide" (which is being viewed, maybe even as we speak--or I as write this, by an editor I love to work with). That was the first of six novel manuscripts I've completed and which my agent has.

Congratulations on the release of Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories about Beauty (Abrams, 2007)! Could you tell us about this new title? Who are the contributors? What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

It was in the spirit of mentorship between new and known writers that I came up with the idea of creating an anthology that brought the work of new writers into the world alongside that of known writers. In the spirit of the program, it made sense to work on stories about beauty.

I loved the beauty of mentorship and ultimate friendships that formed at Vermont College. But with four children who don't look like one another and because of teaching in a women's college, I saw the effect of our culture and media's idealization of impossible standards of beauty.

It made sense to create a book that offered readers the chance to expand on their own visions of beauty. And so, Such A Pretty Face was born. Contributors include: Ron Koertge (author interview), who wrote a story about the unwritten rules of beauty; Mary Ann Rodman, Norma Fox Mazer (author interview), Chris Lynch, J. James Keels, Ellen Wittlinger (author interview), and Jamie Pittel, who wrote stories that recognize how we stack up in a world that prizes physical beauty; Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview), Lauren Myracle (author interview), Louise Hawes (author interview), and Anita Riggio, who wrote stories about seeing beauty even in the ugliest of situations; and Jacqueline Woodson, who wrote a story about finding beauty in difference.

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

I look back and find that, while I can recall the moment I came up with the idea of this anthology, I can no longer put a year to it. (I think this is similar to the way our minds work when we forget the pain of childbirth or a wicked accident.)

I imagine the idea formed shortly after I graduated from Vermont College, which goes all the way back to 1999. It took almost two years to find the stories and work with writers to create stories that wouldn't repeat specific themes or plots.

The collection sold to Abrams with the help of my agent, Barry Goldblatt, in 2005. Susan Van Metre, executive editor of Amulet, the imprint for Abrams Books for Young Readers, and I collaborated on final revisions over the next year. The book made its debut last May.

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

I was amazingly fortunate to know writers who believed I could make this happen. They encouraged me and, in turn, gave me their very best writing efforts. Every one of them turned in stories filled with heart and soul and memorable characters.

In the few cases where I asked writers for major revisions, they willingly took the challenge and, each story became stronger, better, more in line with the anthology's theme. Once the anthology was sold, working with Susan, my editor at Abrams, proved that working with a great editor is a dream. But in between gathering the stories and finding a publisher, I admit, there were moments of panic, anxiety and outright hopelessness on my part.

At first the idea had been to use the anthology to create a young adult writer's scholarship out of the proceeds. Because of political reasons I won't go into here, that idea died.

A few publishers looked at the anthology and, while they loved the idea of a collection on beauty, some didn't want unknown writers, others had a different vision for combining fiction and nonfiction.

It was truly fortune when Susan Van Metre saw the collection and shared the original vision of new and known writers working together to create the collection. But, because of the length of time that had passed since the stories were collected, I discovered some writers had sold their stories or had worked entire novels around their stories. I found that Susan and I were, sometimes, working on brand new stories trying to find the perfect space and order to the collection.

Meanwhile, I was putting together a reader's guide and an introduction for the book. I loved every step of putting this collection together. It was a creative high to work through the process.

I did have one moment of absolute panic, though, when Susan called and said I had to kill the "teacher-ly or academic" introduction I had originally written. She asked for my own turning point story. My first reaction was to tell Susan, "No one reads introductions anyway." In the end, I wrote a true story about how, as a truly insecure and dorky teen and the sister of one of the beautiful girls, I was set up to believe I had actually captured the attention of one of the beautiful guys only to learn the beautiful girls had paid him five dollars to kiss me.

Before I sent the story to Susan, I asked my sister to read it and okay it. I should note my sister's only culpability was that she couldn't stop the other beautiful girls from carrying out their humiliating plan. Katie told me that it was a beautiful story, and I could certainly have her permission to put it in the book. But she said, "I don't remember it." She added, "So it isn't true." I remember saying to her, "Oh, Katie. But it is."

Since then, Katie and I have talked a lot about growing up together and growing up being such different personalities. We both agree our individual turning points are the stories we each recall. But I was amazed to learn she was just as scared and insecure and sure the world found her wanting as I.

What challenges are inherent in putting together an anthology?

The challenge I was most aware of initially was that I wanted the stories to explode traditional ideals of beauty in a way that would make readers think about their own definitions and expectations and possibly change the ways they viewed beauty. I was looking for stories with characters that were real and funny and sad. But the stories needed to be different from each another in a way that each made readers think in new ways.

I received so many excellent stories from both new and known writers. It was really tough to make selections and then to send stories back to writers when they were well written and unique. But I often found myself writing letters that said the story, as strong as it was, really only dealt with beauty on a peripheral level or it was a story that was too close in theme or plot to a story I already had accepted.

What did you learn from the process?

I think the experience gave me confidence in knowing what is good and what is interesting. But I also learned more about my own writing, about what works and doesn't work, and about how some ideas and ideals are more easily accepted by the world than others. Finally, I learned I love putting together anthologies and I hope I have a chance to do this again.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I'd like to tell you I bungee jump and sky dive--I have a sister who actually does those things. The truth is I teach. I do laundry. I cook. I love to cook. I often find myself at the mall where I say I'm doing fashion research for fiction I'm working on, but I'm probably either heavily into retail therapy or a mall addict. Jeff and I travel, usually to warm climates where he gets a little stir crazy and finds things to do like climbing cliffs or exploring underwater caves full of rocks covered with sea urchins, or para-kiting. I, meanwhile, stand on the beach with my book and stare down into the water or up into the sky feeling a little sick at how high he's going.

We just went to Italy where I was amazed at all the graffiti and open air markets where knock-off purses and sunglasses are sold. I can't wait to go back.

What's next in your writing life?

I'd love to sell some of my fiction and I'm currently working on a novel about two sisters. But I'm also deep into research for Under the Influence, the life and times of Janis Joplin. My deadline is fast approaching. I tend to always be working on one piece of fiction in conjunction with a piece of nonfiction.

Thanks for the chance to talk about Such A Pretty Face and all the wonderful writers I've gotten to work with so far. I really, truly, hope this is just the beginning of a trend in anthologies.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Author Interview: A.M. Jenkins on Beating Heart and Repossessed

A.M. Jenkins on A.M. Jenkins: "I live in Benbrook, Texas with my three sons. Novels: Breaking Boxes (Delacorte, 1997); Damage (HarperCollins, 2001); Out of Order (HarperCollins, 2003), Beating Heart (HarperCollins, 2006); Repossessed (HarperCollins, 2007); Night Road (HarperCollins, spring 2008). I also do freelance work for educational and trade companies; I'm currently working with Tiffany Trent on a fun project called Queen of the Masquerade, a book in the Hallowmere series (Mirrorstone, August 2008)."

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

I'm wary of speaking about publication in a way that encourages treating it as a writing goal. Personal goal, yes, but it's not like once you're published you've got it made and can relax and enjoy the rarefied air whilst dishing out advice to the great unwashed. Plus, the publication "path" is seldom straightforward. It usually doubles back on itself, forks off in different directions, or comes to a grinding halt in the middle of nowhere. IMHO, writing is about moving forward, and the real path for beginning and experienced writers alike is one of learning, stretching, and improving what's on the page.

With that in mind, my answer is:

Stumbles: rejection, rejection, rejection. Always rejection.

Sprints: Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel, California Young Reader Medal, L.A. Times Book of the Year Finalist, ALA Top Ten Best Books, Booklist Editor's Choice, BCCB Blue Ribbon Books, BBYA, Quick Picks, PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

Congratulations on your recent releases--Beating Heart: A Ghost Story (HarperCollins, 2006) and Repossessed (HarperCollins, 2007)! Let's start with Beating Heart. Could you fill us in on the story?

Beating Heart is the story of a dead girl and a living guy. She thinks he's hot, but also believes he's the one who killed her. He has his own problems, romantic and otherwise, and now he's also unwittingly being stalked by a ghost.

What was your initial inspiration for writing Beating Heart?

Some years ago there were a couple of movies that came out fairly close together, both with dead main characters who didn't know they were dead. (and the audience didn't know either, till the end). I thought about that dead MC scenario a lot, about how it would be difficult to do that in a novel because you usually use physical details to ground the scenes and to provide info about the emotional aspects of the story. The fact that I was too short-sighted to see a way to do this made me want to figure out a way to do it.

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

For me, the first hurdle was getting past the idea of grounding scenes in the traditional sense--after all, if the point-of-view character has no physical body there is no concrete scene to set. The second hurdle was getting the story to move along, when its MC (main character) had no sense of the passage of time, no dialog, no interaction with anyone or anything. She also was an unreliable narrator, to the point where the reader would have no clue what was going on. It was clear fairly quickly that the story would need to be nailed down somehow in order to be more than a collection of wispy impressions.

Your use of alternating point of view in prose and poetry was brilliant! Could you talk about this decision?

It was purely trial and error. Once I decided that the story had to be nailed down in order to work, I tried adding in a second point-of-view character in real time.

I thought at first that alternating the dead girl's "floaty" voice with more traditional prose sections would be too jarring, so I went through a phase where I tried the manuscript out as half-graphic novel (real-time guy), half "free verse" (dead girl).

From there I eventually came to see that the real-time parts might work if I could take my graphic novel script and turn it into a flat-voiced, removed, third-person prose that didn't compete with the dead girl's sections, which were as evocative as I could make them.

So I'd like to claim brilliance, but unfortunately I'm more along the lines of the proverbial monkey with a typewriter.

Moving on to Repossessed, could you tell us about this title?

A demon is sick of doing his job in hell, and decides to take an unauthorized vacation by hijacking a teenage guy's body and using it to experience physical life.

Again, how did the idea come to you?

I spend quite a bit of time in the car because my kids have to be dropped off at different schools, so I think a lot about things like whether there's really a Satan, and what's the point of having a hell, and whether I should stop and get a Milky Way at the Texaco.

What were the challenges in writing this story? The thrills?

This story was probably the most straightforward thing I've ever written. The challenge came in making the book more than just "The demon experiences A, B, C, D, etc." so that the reader would continue to want to read it--and, frankly, so that I'd continue to want to write it.

How did you get in touch with your inner demon-fallen angel? Or put another way, I found the voice irresistible. Did it come to you fully formed or did you have to fight for it, and if so, how did it finally emerge?

The voice was the easiest part. I would guess it's probably the closest to my own voice, out of anything I've written. I'm just snarkier and less grammatical than the demon is.

Are you a plotter or a plunger, or does it vary from book to book?

I am a plunger who is always trying to stretch my abilities. Someday I hope to learn to plot. It hasn't happened yet.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I'm trying to think of any advice I'd offer my old self, but nothing is coming to mind because I'm pretty sure my old self wouldn't have listened. I've made a lot of mistakes, but I don't think any advice on earth would have kept me from making them. And I don't think I'd have learned from advice as well as I've learned from experiencing the ups in all their glory and the downs in all their horror.

If I had to give somebody else advice, I'd say it's generally a good idea to focus on the work more than on getting/being published. The ironic thing is that once you focus on the work, you increase your odds of getting/being published.

And I will share my all-time favorite quote about writing, by Barry Moser: "I would rather have the two-hundred fifty-six imperfect books that mark the vectors of my journey through my art form than to have one perfect book that marks nothing but its own perfect self."

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing horror/gothic fantasy? Which books would you suggest for study and why?

These are tough questions. On one hand, it's extremely important to be aware of what's already out there so you know what's been done, and who bought it (editor/publisher-wise). On the other hand, you don't want to accidentally soak up somebody else's style. There's so much great fantasy on the shelves that it's already hard enough to find something unique to say and a unique way to say it.

I suppose that a writer of horror/gothic fantasy has to walk a line between being familiar with the market, and being too derivative. I think everyone has to figure out what works for their own writing process and not feel worried that they're doing it the "wrong" way.

In my own process, I try to avoid reading fiction that's even remotely similar to what I'm currently working on. However, I read as much related nonfiction as I can get my hands on--and I tend to wander pretty far afield, because I never know what book is going to have a chapter or paragraph that sparks something, or provides a detail that helps me create a world.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I deal with my family, mostly. Otherwise, I work out, then eat enough to counter any effects of working out. I e-mail friends. I watch TV (anything related to any manuscript I'm working on, plus various anime series, "Robot Chicken," "Top Chef," "Project Runway," "Ghost Hunters," and anything involving Jane Austen, Mount Everest, or 18th-19th century naval life). I also read, mostly non-fiction and some manga series.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

There's not a lot to balance because I don't do much promotion. I'm more of a behind-the-scenes grunt-work type of person.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Night Road is a book about two "vampires" who take a third newbie "vampire" on a road trip for training purposes. This is the manuscript that was awarded the PEN/Phyllis Naylor fellowship.

Queen of the Masquerade is the fifth book of ten in Hallowmere, a fantasy/historical series by Tiffany Trent.

Cynsational Links

Award-winning YA author Amanda Jenkins from Suite101.com.
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