Thursday, September 13, 2007

Award-Winning Writers to Headline 2007 Austin Jewish Book Fair

AUSTIN, Texas — The 24th annual Austin Jewish Book Fair (JBF), presented by the Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA), will be held from Nov. 3 to Nov. 11 with a special preview event on Oct. 12. Venues include the Dell Jewish Community Campus, Barnes & Noble at Westlake, and at the Texas Capitol. For the first time, the Jewish Book Fair will co-sponsor select events with the Texas Book Festival.

"The Jewish Book Fair welcomes everyone in the Austin community to meet some of their favorite established and up-and-coming authors from across the world," said Lisa Apfelberg, director of the Jewish Book Fair. "Subjects covered will include politics, humor, family, science, mystery, religion, history, art, and current events. We look forward to hosting thought-provoking and educational discussions."

Children's author Judith Viorst is scheduled to speak at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 4 at the JCAA. According to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, "is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for children as well as adults. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (see adaptation), her most famous children's book, was first published in 1972 and has since sold over two million copies."

This year about 20 authors, illustrators, and performers will take part in the Jewish Book Fair. The theme is "Got Books?" and Barnes and Noble will provide an on-site bookstore at the JCAA. Those wishing to purchase books online are encouraged to click on the Barnes and Noble icon at www.shalomaustin.org/bookfair. The Book Fair will receive 5% back on all sales year-round through the B&N icon.

Austin-area middle school students will meet to discuss the novel, Cezanne is Missing by Frank McMillan, using the Holocaust to teach the importance of memory and tolerance in the face of fanaticism and hate.

The JBF takes place each year during Jewish Book Month. It is made possible by the JCAA's Spotlight on the Arts Patrons and Corporate Sponsors, the Annual United Jewish Campaign, and a dedicated team of volunteers. Attendees are encouraged to bring new or gently used books to the Book Fair for the Literary Coalition of Central Texas.

The Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA) is a gathering place for our members, for the Austin Jewish community, and for the community as a whole. It enhances the quality of Jewish life in the greater Austin area and around the world, through charitable, educational, social service, cultural, religious and recreational endeavors. The JCAA includes the Jewish Federation, Jewish Community Center, and the Jewish Family Service.

Author Interview: Kathleen Duey on A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger

Kathleen Duey on Kathleen Duey: "I don't like writing bios; it's is a self-conscious thing. I have always done it in third person. Everyone does, because that makes it easier to list your stuff and paint a small self-portrait. But it is also weird.

"This morning has so far contained puppy poo, ants in the pantry, and a phone message from an attorney about the HBO option. So it just feels like the right day to write my very first, first-person bio:

"I love and hate writing. We have no intention of splitting up, but there are rough days. I have written over 70 books for pre-readers through adults. I believe that literacy--the ability to pass on stories and facts through writing and reading-is a pillar of civilization.

"And so I am glad to live in interesting times. I am fascinated and excited as I watch media mix into wonderful new forms. I am terrified and excited to see the role of books and the existence of copyright--a relatively recent overlay--in flux worldwide. But the human need for story seems endless. That happy fact diminishes my chances of ever needing a day job."

Visit Kathleen's blog.

Could you describe your path to publication--any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Long, winding, bumpy, silly, ongoing. No MFA program, an odd life, a real love of books and story--it all adds up. It took me about three years to sell the first middle grade novel, with all of the typical detours along the way. I have always been adventurous and open to many different kinds of books and projects. I am sliding toward deeper, artful, hardcover work. But I am actively looking for other, less complicated things, too. So the road is going sideways just now, into audioscripts, book-based website development and other projects.

And the road seems to double back now and then, too. A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger (Atheneum, 2007) is the very first novel idea I ever had, about 15 years ago. I wrote 300 pages of it--then got lost in the woods. I set it aside and started learning craft. I think I have the skill to pull it off now, as a trilogy. Oh, I hope so. I am very involved with the characters--some of them come talk to me in dreams. The intellectual/thematic core of the book is becoming clearer to me as I write--and is even more interesting that I thought it was.

Could you update us on your backlist, highlighting as you see fit?

Anyone who wants to see the whole backlist can look here:

Current:

Hoofbeats (Dutton/Puffin-11 titles): two sets of four books --one a pioneer story, the other set in medieval Ireland. Three single titles coming up 2007-2008. I grew up riding my horses, every day, in the Colorado foothills. We were true friends, and I love writing about that ancient bond between child and horse.

The Unicorn's Secret (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster-8 titles): These eight little books are one contiguous story. It's tightly based on dreams I had in the third and fourth grade. Every night I went to sleep here and woke up there--and the reverse. Two lives! It was wonderful. I am writing a book about that experience slowly, working on it now and then...

Congratulations on the release of A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger (Atheneum, 2007)(see also)! Could you fill us in on the story?

This is the book I couldn't finish so long ago. Now it is a trilogy. There is an excerpt as well as the blurbs and reviews here. I am working on the second title in the trilogy now.

And...no, I can't tell you the story, because is changing as I go. I can tell you the premise. It is two stories, set about 200 years part, told in alternating chapters.

Story 1: In the seacoast city of Limori, three scarred and complicated young adults are trying to rediscover and re-assemble magic in a culture that doesn't believe in it. Driven by Somiss, a young man or royal descent, to open a school to teach magic. They face increasingly ruthless resistance from the few who know and fear what will happen if they succeed.

Story 2: Two boys are attending the Limori Academy that these three founders eventually manage to create. In 200 years, it has become a brutal place. Some characters are alive in both stories. The why and how of that is central to the tale.

I am having an astounding experience getting this one on paper (and by paper, I mean hard drive).

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I don't know where this one came from. It woke up with me one foggy morning. The basics came all at once, the setting, the characters, the fact that it was two stories. The details are endless and in still progress.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

Psychologically, it is the deepest and most personal thing I have ever written. It is the darkest story I have ever done, too, and I love the characters so much it hurts sometimes.

The complexity was what stumped me years ago. But my tangle-tolerance has been recallibrated since then.

Writing Dead Cat Bounce, a 500 page, huge cast, action/thriller/mystery/love story manuscript, with partner Traci (I am not sure which of her professional surnames she wants to use so I am leaving it out) re-set my complexity gauges forever. Having survived that book, this one wasn't so overwhelming.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

Everything.

Three favorites:

first: I left home at 17 and became self-supporting from the day I left. I believe that teens are just inexperienced adults who are often bored because they are (here in the US, and now, in this era) often too sheltered. When they love a book, they really love it. Books really matter to the unjustly restricted.

second: Young adults are in the middle of a fascinating time of life that defines much of what follows, for each of us. What I loved then, I mostly still love. Most of what I struggled with then, I struggle with now. Some battles are decided and over, and some of the joys are lost, but most are still in place.

third: There are a few books that I read as a YA that changed my life. I am in love with the idea that a book of mine might do that for someone.

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

Travel father and wider.

Take notes and journal more.

Get serious sooner.

And on that snowy night in Steamboat Springs, Colorado? Don't burn all the poems, who cares if he read them?

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing fantasy?

It's a roomy genre. Stretch.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I travel more and more--the farther the better. I read on airplanes, interview strangers, meet bazillions of people when I am talking about books and literacy at school visits, writing conferences, bookseller's events and educators' conferences (all of which I love).

At home, I play my guitar, garden, tend my fruit trees, turn compost heaps, listen to a broad range of music, dance, and avoid writing as long as I can.

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

Barely. I just try to fit in everything I can, prioritizing school visits, both here in the US and at international schools. It's difficult to travel as much as I think I should and still get the books written. I always say I will write on the road, but I rarely get much done.

What can your fans look forward to next?

A Resurrection of Magic has two more titles coming, 2008, 2009.

I have just finished three new horse books. I intend now to write one a year as long as they will let me...

Another adult book.

A YA project called Free Rat--more on the website soon. It's another dark one, based on an historic event and set in the near future.

Thanks to everyone who reads my books. I am so grateful to have this job.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Author Stacy DeKeyser debuts her official website. Stacy's upcoming YA release is Jump The Cracks (Flux, 2008).

Check out up-and-coming articles at Multicultural Review.

Congratulations to Three Silly Chicks on their 1rst blogoversary! Check out their latest contest; winner announced Sept. 14.

Current nominees for the 19th Annual Lambda Literary Awards. The Lambda Literary Foundation, quoting the website, is "the country's leading organization for LGBT literature. Our mission is to celebrate LGBT literature and provide resources for writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, and librarians--the whole literary community."

Deborah Wiles: The Journal Tour: Chapter One, in which our heroine blogs The Aurora County All-Stars book tour for Harcourt, writes the next book for young readers, contemplates the complexities of the universe, and discovers connections everywhere. Help. Read an excerpt of the novel. Note: I look forward to seeing Deborah when she concludes her tour at the Texas Book Festival.

Digital Picture Books: Breaking the Paper Habit by Jean Gralley from CBC Magazine.

Interview: Editor Deborah Brodie from Alice's CWIM Blog. Here's a peek: "The help of an experienced book doctor can make enough difference to inspire a publisher to actually acquire the book. Or for an agent to decide to take on the writer as a client or, if the writer is already a client, decide that the manuscript or dummy is now ready to submit to publishers." See also Debut Author of the Month Marlane Kennedy from Alice's CWIM Blog.

Great Posts from the CW list from Margot Finke. With the permission of posters, Margot offers the best of the list on such topics as voice, word count, age-group markets, defining literary fiction, interpreting guidelines, agents, writing for boys, contracts, and delays (in hearing back from editors). Read a Cynsations interview with Margot.

A Second Look: Annie on My Mind by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Read a recent Cynsations interview with Nancy Garden in which she talks about the 25th anniversary of Annie.

Hot Off the Press: A Sneak Peek at Publishers' Newest and Hottest Titles from CBC Magazine.

Sandy Rideout & Yvonne Collins, profile by Dave Jenkinson from the Canadian Review of Materials. Here's a sneak peek from Sandy: "We grew up not far from each other in Scarborough, ON and attended the same high school, but we actually met at our part-time job at the public library where we worked as pages. She was 14, and I was 16."

Hidden Treasure: Exploring Language-Rich Books by Carolyn Munson-Benson from Book Links.

"How Making PB&Js Made Me A Better Writer" by Juliana Leroy from the Institute of Children's Literature. A "light-hearted look at writing, motherhood, and making the best of the combination."

Author Anastasia Suen hosts a new poll at IPB News. To the writers out there, are you a plotter, a planner, or an adapter?

Reminder: The Hero's Journey: A Full Day Writing Workshop with author Dr. Lila Guzman is scheduled for Oct. 20 at Wild Basin Reserve in Austin. See details at Austin SCBWI. Note: as of yesterday, there were only three spots left! Read a Cynsations interview with Lila.

The youth literature community is remembering Madeleine L'Engle; see coverage of her death from The New York Times. See also Tribute to Madeleine L'LEngle: I knew her when she was Mrs. Franklin by Barbara Karkabi from the Houston Chronicle.

More Personally

Indian Education students in the neighborhood of the Maxwell Park Library in Tulsa, Oklahoma will receive signed copies of my debut picture book Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000). The gift was made possible by the Charles W. and Pauline K. Flint Foundation grant to the Tulsa City County Library. This program provides children with a signed book of their own to help foster a love of reading and learning. Sue Anderson of Maxwell Park Library said, "Jingle Dancer was chosen for it's positive depiction of American Indian children in a contemporary situation." View interior illustrations from Jingle Dancer at HarperCollins and my website.

In its review of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), the International Reading Association's Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy writes: "Tantalize is a thinking reader's horror novel and an entertaining, empowering ride."

Read the whole two-plus-page extensive review (PDF file); scroll to pages 81 to 84 (pg. 7 to 10 of the file) for a Q&A author interview with me about the writing of Tantalize.

Reviews featured in this file also include Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar (First Second, 2006); The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, 2007); How Ya Like Me Now by Brendan Halpin (FSG, 2007); New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (Little Brown, 2006)(author interview); and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton, 2006)(author interview).

Attention Austinites: look for the page 1 story on the writing of Tantalize in the West Austin News.

The September giveaways at the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace will be Peeps (Razorbill, 2005), Pretties (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(excerpt), and Uglies (Simon & Schuster, 2001)(excerpt) by Scott Westerfeld. Scott's latest release is Extras (Simon & Schuster, 2007). Read a Q&A interview with Scott about Extras from Simon & Schuster. Read a Cynsations interview with Scott.

Thank you to RA Tim Crow for your hospitality at at Austin SCBWI's monthly meeting on Saturday. Greg and I spoke about picture book story structure. Thanks also to everyone who turned out (especially the handful of published folks, who could've given the talk themselves).

Congratulations to Buda, Texas, author Jerry Wermund on his article "Seeking My 'Style'" in the August/September issue of Scribe, published by the Writers' League of Texas.

Policy Change: Unfortunately, I am no longer able to accept self-published book submissions for recommendation/interview consideration. While I understand that gems are out there (and I'm rooting for them!), the time required to sort through growing stacks, dispose of mailing materials, and determine what to do with the books has become untenable. Please also note that e-books, TV/movie tie-ins, celebrity books, books with enclosed CDs, and toys with embedded books are still not within my scope.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Author Interview: Kerry Madden on Lousiana's Song

Kerry Madden is the author the Smoky Mountain trilogy from Viking Children's Books including: Gentle's Holler (Viking, 2005), Louisiana's Song (Viking, 2007), and the upcoming, Jessie's Mountain. She is also the author of Writing Smarts from American Girl Library (2002). Her first novel, Offsides (Morrow, 1996), about growing up on the gridiron of college football was a New York Public Library Selection for the Teen Age in 1997. Kerry is currently at work on the biography of Harper Lee for teens for Viking's UpClose Series.

We last spoke in July 2005 about the release of Gentle's Holler (Viking, 2005)(author interview). Do you have any updates for us on that title?

Gentle's Holler was released in April as a Penguin Puffin paperback and received a Mark Twain Nomination from Missouri, a Maine Student Book Award, and an ALA Schnieder Award Nomination. It was also included in the New York Public Libary's 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Selection, Bank Street College Best Children's Books, California Young Readers, and was a PEN USA Finalist in Children's Literature.

Over the past two years, how have you grown as a writer?

I've written two books, and there were times when I didn't believe it was possible. Each new book is like starting from scratch, and I have paralyzing self doubt what whether I can pull it off.

But I guess what I've learned is to allow myself to go through the agonizing panic of plot and write draft after draft of meandering dreck, and then slowly but surely, the story begins to reveal itself.

I have also written more personal essays that give me tremendous focus, because they have to be written so fast, but I love this form, and it helps me come back to my fiction with a fresh eye.

Congratulations on the release of Lousiana's Song (Viking, 2007)! Could you tell us about this new title?

After Gentle's Holler was published a young girl, Megan, from Colorado wrote me a letter and said, "I loved Gentle's Holler, but I DID NOT LIKE THE ENDING! WHAT HAPPENS TO DADDY?"

So I wrote her back, and we struck up an email correspondence. I told her she was my very first fan letter (she had titled her email "Fan Mail") She sent me some of her stories, and I made her the "Writer of the Day" on my blog.

Anyway, when I was thinking about writing the next part of the story, I thought of Megan's rage, and I decided to begin the book the day Daddy comes home eight months after the accident. His children are all thrilled that he is finally coming home, but when he arrives he's not the same Daddy that they knew, and so they all have to go through different stages of grief in figuring out how to love and care for this new father.

What made you decide to spend more time in this world?

I love these kids and this world. I am so grateful that Viking asked for two more books. I hope to write even more down the road. At first, I thought I'd write a book from each child's point of view, but my editors at Viking convinced me that Livy Two truly is the storyteller of the these books--she's the eavesdropper, the spy, the adventurer, and the catalyst too.

I tried writing Louisiana's Song from Louise's point of view and wrote about 40 pages, but it never came to life.

I was teaching a writing workshop and telling these fifth graders my dilemma of trying to figure out the POV for the next book, and this boy, unbeknown to me, took both versions off to read while I was working with other kids--Livy Two's voice and Louise's voice--and then he came up to me after the workshop, and said with a big grin, "This is the one!" It was Livy Two and it became the first chapter of Louisiana's Song.

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

In the summer of 2005, Viking asked me to write two more books, and so I decided that the first one would be Louisiana's Song and the next one would be Jessie's Mountain about Mama's childhood and how she came to have ten kids. I went back to the mountains three or four times in 2005-2007, and I stayed for several weeks in a cabin with our youngest daughter, Norah, in the summer of 2006.

A family of groundhogs lived under the porch in the cabin, (and the biggest wolf spider of my life resided in the kitchen sink) and now those groundhogs and spider are in Jessie's Mountain.

Anyway, I wrote a very shaky draft of Louisiana's Song that was mostly plotless, because I was afraid to deal with Daddy's brain injury.

When that was clearly tanking, I began to do more research reading books on brain injury, including Oliver Sachs' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I also went to a rehabilitation center in Bakersfield, California, where I spent the day observing the patients and talking to therapists. It gave me the confidence I needed to face the scary parts of the book.

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

We have three kids, and our oldest has now just finished his freshman year of college, so much of last year was consumed with him getting into college, the emotion of him leaving, and his rock star aspirations that often found me being a "roadie mom" driving the boys to their "Flypaper Cartel" gigs.

Anyway, the deadlines from Viking were incredibly important to me, and so was outlining and doing interviews with a mother whose daughter had suffered traumatic brain injury. Still, the early drafts were so corny, because Daddy was home but "healing in the smokehouse" and Livy Two was babysitting and telling fairy tales, but nothing was happening.

It was my editor, Catherine Frank, who coaxed Daddy's recovery out of me, asking the hard questions. On one of my many traumatically plotless days, my daughter, Lucy, then 15, came into the office and said very matter-of-factly, "Tell me chapter one, one line. Okay, now chapter two."

We mapped out the whole thing on the white-out board. I didn't erase the board for a year, because I loved her curly, loopy sentences that I dictated to her for each chapter and then my messy scrawled additions...

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

I would say this to myself and to all beginning writers... Trust yourself. Don't be so hard on yourself. Be good to yourself, and this is much easier said than done when the self-loathing sets up camp.

Alice McDermott says she keeps the inner editor at bay during the first draft. I would also say write your books with love...

Before these books, I wrote a novel (not published) out of spite and cleverness and rage, and this can work for some, but I didn't write it with love, and my characters rang mean and hollow. (How my writing group suffered!)

When I began writing the Weems' family with love and joy, it was like sticking my face in a field of wild flowers. It was also a story I didn't read share for a long time. I wanted to be alone with the characters without feedback.

The story began to fly...of course, there were dark days, but I never forgot how much I cared for my characters and wanted to honor them...so I would tell writers (and remind myself) to love your characters. Then the discipline will come naturally, because you've established them--you owe them a life.

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing historical children's fiction?

I didn't even know I was writing historical fiction. I was just imagining how old my sister-in-law would be in 1961, because she was a young musician. But then I began to study headlines that led me to stories and the first woman (Russian) in space, Valentina Tereshkova. I did research on Emmett's favorite comics and discovered Saturn Girl. I found out that Ghost Town in the Sky opened in 1961, which was perfect timing. I interviewed my husband's aunt, Iris Lunsford, who was in her 80s, about her job working at the blacksmith shop at Ghost Town.

I also just read about Ann Wagner's wonderful piece about North Carolina storyteller, Donald Davis, in the recent newsletter from the Children's Literature Council of Southern California, and Davis said, "How do you kill Grandma? Don't tell any stories about her. If one generation passes without telling and hearing stories about family, it's as if those people and events never existed."

I love that advice so much. It made me suddenly start telling my youngest, Norah, all about her great grandmother who loved pralines and cream ice cream from Baskin Robbins, who said the rosary three times a day, and who performed in "As You Like It" as a young woman and heard someone proclaim loudly from the first row about her performance, "She likes the sound of her voice!" Then she smiled at me telling that story and said, "You know what? I did. I really did."

Recent historical fiction is a perfect venue for asking questions of those relatives still living and remembering the stories of those who aren't here anymore...

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

I recently joined Winding Oak (publicist interview) at because I needed some help with that very thing. I was setting up my own school visits, and many were happening by word of mouth, but it was all very time-consuming.

One principal said to me, "Who are you and what do you do again? I have to get my fourth graders to lunch, so how long do you do what it is you do?"

So I am relieved to have somebody help me set up school visits, which I enjoy very much, but I don't enjoy the cold calls and then trolling Travelocity for flights to the South.

As for balance, I take the dogs on long walks. I spend time with close friends. I spend time with my own kids who are not impressed that I write books... I listen to their stories and try not to freak out too much with my teens. I love going to plays and traveling with my husband. I love going to the movies solo except for a big box of Junior Mints--just to escape the daily chaos of our noisy house of kids and animals. Then I can come back with a clear heard, ready to face it all again.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Jessie's Mountain will be published on Valentine's Day in 2008, and I am currently working on the biography of Harper Lee for teens. I also have a new book that I'm writing for fun called The Sixth Grade Life of Jack Gettlefinger, inspired by my son's fourth grade journal.

And I'm hoping to eventually write something about a kid's travels in Turkey, since I traveled with five kids ages 6-18 (three of my own) on a bus throughout Western Turkey from Istanbul to Bodrum in the last few weeks.

We had an international teen love tempest with a teenage boy seeking a blackberry signal from Athena's Temple, a teen girl with body image worries deleting photos of herself in historic places, brother/sister battles, temper tantrums, a pet clam saved from the Aegean that united all and was christened "Clammy." We were in the thick of our mini-battle of Troy on a blazing hot day when we pulled up to the real ancient site of Troy.

I blogged about it on my livejournal. I feel like I have the seeds to a new story with the Turkey adventure.

Natalie Goldberg said, "Writers live twice" and it does feel that way... I am always soaking up new stories, aware of the possibility of new stories...

Cynsational Notes

Louisiana's Song was recently nominated for a Southern California Indie Booksellers Awards in the Children's Novel category.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Author Feature: Darren Shan

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

I started out writing books for adults, and published my first in the UK a year before Cirque Du Freak (February 1999). I'd been writing a lot since I was 16, 17, but started writing full-time when I was 23. I didn't make any money for a number of years, and then only very little money for a few more after that, but luckily I had very supportive parents who let me live at home with them.

I found an agent (Christopher Little) quite quickly after I started to write full-time, but it took longer to find a publisher.

When I sent Cirque Du Freak to him, he was very excited, but publishers were more wary--20 turned it down before HarperCollins in the UK took a chance on it! It took them nearly two and a half years to publish it (mainly because of an editorial change), and during that time their enthusiasm in-house grew, as it was passed around and read by people in different departments. Then, shortly before its release, Warner Brothers optioned the movie rights, which meant it exploded onto the scene on a wave of publicity which definitely helped get it noticed in the early days.

I've been very lucky--in children's books, it's hard to get noticed quickly, so authors normally have to plug away for many years, gradually building up their audience. I managed to make the breakthrough quite swiftly, so ever since Cirque was published, I haven't had to struggle the way many children's authors have to--I've been able to afford to write full-time.

The first of your books that I read was Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare, Book 1 in the Darren Shan Saga (Little Brown, 2001). There are eleven more in the series. Could you tell us about them?

The 12 book Cirque Du Freak series is about a boy called Darren Shan who becomes a vampire's assistant. My vampires are very different to the traditional stereotypes--they're not evil, they don't kill, they don't have fangs, they don't live forever. The stories explore Darren's life in the world of vampires, the struggles he faces to adapt to his new circumstances, the adventures he gets swept into.

Although it's published as a horror series, I think it's an adventure series more than anything else, which is why it appeals to such a wide range of readers, not just those who like horror. It has a strong horror edge in many books, yes, but also fantasy, science fiction and mystery elements.

Predominantly, though, it's about adventure. It also focuses strongly on family and friendship, and what happens when you lose people close to you, or are betrayed by someone you thought of as a friend. That's why I get far more letters and emails from readers saying they're cried reading my books than saying they've had nightmares!

What inspired you to create these books?

I just write books that I'd like to read. With Cirque Du Freak, I tried to remember what I was like when I was 12, 13, 14 years old, the books and movies I enjoyed. Then I wrote a books which would hopefully include the best of everything that I liked, which the teenage me would have loved to read. I never write a book for an audience or to fill a market niche. I just tell stories which interest me, then hope to hell that other people are interested in them too!

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

I started writing the book a few days after having my initial idea. The first draft took 6 weeks to complete. My agent liked it and sent it out to 20 publishers, all of whom turned it down! Because it was different to everything else that was being published, and because it was so dark and not aimed at a specific age group of children, publishers were wary of it.

Then HarperCollins decided to publish it. It was meant to be published within 18 months, but because my editor left several months later, that got delayed. At the time that was very frustrating, of course, but instead of moping about it, I used that time to forge ahead with the series, to the extent that by the time the first book was published, I'd already written the first draft of book 8!

I release my books very quickly--at least 2 a year--but I spent an average of 2-3 years writing them, working on the editing process. That delay at the start of my career has meant I've always been way ahead of my publication schedule and have never had to worry about a deadline, so, looking back, I'd have to say that was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me!

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

The hardest part was letting the characters develop and change, without developing and changing so much that I started to lose the readers I'd attracted in the first place. The story of Cirque Du Freak spans almost 30 years. Darren only ages physically by 4 or 5 years during that time (because he's a vampire), but obviously mentally he undergoes many more changes. I wanted to show this change, but not have him age so much that children could no longer identify with him. It was a delicate juggling act which I think I just about pulled off!

You followed up this success by launching The Demonata series (Little Brown, 2005-). Could you describe these books?

"The Demonata" is a 10 book series about demons. It's very different than Cirque Du Freak in that there are three narrators, living in different time periods, who take it in turn to tell part of the overall story.

The first half of the series consists of stand-alone story arcs, and the characters and stories don't seem to be particularly connected. But everything comes together at the midway point (books 5 and 6) and the story power straight ahead from there. It was risky, writing a series that for a long time seems to be just a collection of randomly connected story ideas and characters, but I hoped my fans would trust me to pull everything together and create order out of chaos, and luckily most of them have! The books are somewhat bloodier than my vampire books, and I would describe this as a horror series, but the focus of family and friendship remains the same.

In terms of your writing process, did you go about framing this series any differently than the first one? If so, how?

It was very different. Cirque Du Freak was an ongoing storyline, with one main characters, so it was simply a case of me asking myself, 'What happens next?' The story had a natural rhythm and flow, and I simply had to decide what I wanted to add to the mix on a book-by-book basis.

"The Demonata" began life as a series of free-standing stories. I wrote the early books out of order, with no sense of assembling them into a carefully structured series. Because I was so far ahead of publication schedule, I had lots of time to play around with things. I didn't need to present my ideas to my publishers for a few years (I wrote the first draft of Lord Loss way back in 2001!), so I just experimented and went wherever the stories led me.

Fortunately, as I was working on the books, I had more ideas and started to see ways to link them up and mold them into something far more complex and interlinked than I'd originally intended. Through lots of re-writes and editing, The Demonata as we know it finally came together. But in the beginning there was no grand plan--indeed, no plan at all!

What about the children's book audience appeals to you?

Their enthusiasm. If a kid or teenager likes something, they really get excited about it and don't seek to contain that excitement. Adults are more reserved and will tell you politely how much they like your work. That's very nice, but as a big kid myself, I much prefer the open gasps and exclamations of my younger readers!

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

The advice that others writers gave in interviews that I read--write! There are no shortcuts. The more you write, the more you learn and the better you get.

Like most young writers, I hoped there was some sort of trick to it, that I could just be inspired by some magical force, then write the books in a whirlwind daze.

Luckily, I realized quickly that good writing is the result of hard work, so I knuckled down and threw myself into it.

It's frustrating when you're starting out, not being able to write the way you'd like to, not being able to do justice to the stories you have inside your head, having to learn through a process of trail and error, having to write lots of bad stories before you learn to write good ones. But if you accept the need to work hard, and put in the hard work, that struggle and learning curve is what makes everything worthwhile.

I think you can only truly enjoy success if you've had to work for it. If you had a muse and writing came easy, then what would you have done that you could be proud of? A muse could speak through anyone--if the words aren't yours, you can't take credit for them.

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing horror?

It's fun!

How about on writing a book series?

It's hard work, but intriguing and stimulating. It's fascinating taking a group of characters on a long, multi-book journey. You get to do things you hadn't planned, go places with them that you never imagined.

I don't think a writer should force a book series--with both Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare and Lord Loss, I had no intention of writing a long series. Each was intended as a one-off book. But if characters grow on you, and you find yourself wondering what happens next with them, then you shouldn't be afraid to take them forward and write a follow-up.

A good story will always suck you in and force you to write it, and you shouldn't shy away from that just because you know some people will accuse you of cashing in and taking the easy option.

Gothic fantasy/horror is so popular with young readers. What do you think it at the heart of the appeal?

We've explored most of this world and it's hard to get really excited about most things now, since we know so much and have seen so much of this planet. But the darkness and the mysteries it holds...they're as enticing and unexplained as ever. People have always been drawn to the unknown and the unknowable, and I think they always will be.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I like to read. I watch lots of movies and TV shows (but only on DVD--I almost never watch a show when it's first airing--I prefer to wait, then watch all the episodes in a short span of time). I enjoy going to art galleries. I like to travel. I go to soccer matches in the UK.

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

It's difficult. Success brings a whole new set of problems--fan mail to respond to, a web site to maintain, tours to promote your work, interviews.

When you're as prolific as I am, and published in so many countries, the problems are amplified. Some writers choose to bypass those problems--they only tour rarely, they hire someone to reply to fan mail or just ignore it, they don't give interviews, they ignore the web or leave the running of their site in the hands of others.

I prefer to meet the problems head-on--I tour every year, I've been all around the world promoting my books, I'm always happy to give an interview, I run my web site myself, I reply personally to every letter that I receive. And I fit my work in around all that. It's easy enough to do as long as you're focused and make the most of your time.

I probably won't always be able to keep so many balls up in the air at the same time, but for as long as I have the energy, I like fitting so much in.

My favorite ever quote was by film director Cecil B. DeMille's brother, who said, 'The problem with Cecil is he bites off more than he can chew--but then proceeds to chew it!'

I like setting the bar high and having a running at it. Life's easier if you settle for the things you can comfortably manage--but where's the fun in that?!?

What can your fans look forward to next?

The rest of The Demonata series (10 books, coming out every April and October). Then...something else! I'm already hard at work on my next project, but I can't talk about it yet.

All I'll say is, there's still a lot more to come. I'm nowhere near to easing up yet!
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