Friday, December 21, 2007

Cynsational News, Links, Giveaway & Hiatus

"BEST GYMNAST. BEST speller. Best kazoo player. It seems everyone has a talent except Babymouse. That is, until Babymouse takes to the ice and surprises everyone with her spectacular spins and jubilant jumps. Until the famous Olympic coach, Coach Bearnakorva, discovers her and asks Babymouse to be her new protege. Will Babymouse's dreams of a medal come true? Or is she treading on thin ice?" (from the promotional copy). Note: Babymouse is an absolute must-read series! Highest recommendation.

Hurry! Hurry! Enter to win a Babymouse doll and a copy of the seventh Babymouse adventure: Babymouse: Skater Girl by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House, 2007)! To enter, just email me with your name and address by 3 p.m. CST TODAY! Two of these prizes will be awarded! I'll send them out via FedEx immediately after the deadline. Read a Cynsations interview with Matthew!

More News & Links

Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book 1, by Kathleen Duey (Atheneum, 2007): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Here's a sneak peek: "Duey skillfully uses Sadima's story to illuminate Hahp's, creating characters that are expertly drawn and a fantasy world that is textured and real." Read the whole recommendation and a Cynsations interview with Kathleen.

Why My Books Really Are 12-up by Alex Flinn. Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

Rudolph's Top Five Writing Tips: Revision Notes from Darcy Pattison. Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Bookmark "Beacons of Light" at Wordswimmer for 28 interviews from 2007 with such authors as Carolyn Crimi, Sarah Dessen, Sherry Garland, Louise Hawes, Carrie Jones, Lois Lowry, Barbara O'Conner, Graham Salisbury, Sonya Sones, Joyce Sweeney, Sarah Weeks, and many more. Here's a sneak peek from Norma Fox Mazer: "I learned long ago that only fear would stop me." A highly recommended link!

www.firstlightbook.com: the official tie-in site to First Light by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2007) brings you to an icy landscape where young readers can discover the science behind the story, including the truth about freshwater lakes nestled deep within frozen glaciers, the mechanics of ice melt in Greenland, and the exhausting realities of arctic fieldwork (think snow shoveling, and waterproof paper). There are also links to learn about carbon, climate change, firefly science, and how to build an igloo.

Visit Sara Zarr's newly redesigned author site! Sara is the author of Story of a Girl (Little Brown, 2007) and Sweethearts (Little Brown, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

"Spiderwick Chronicles meets up with SexySassySmartTV" at YouTube. Catch a short interview with Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. Now learn about the movie and the next Spiderwick series, also at YouTube. Visit The Spiderwick Chronicles, and read a Cynsations interview with Holly. Source: Melissa (subscribe to her blog at MySpace). Note: plan to see the "The Spiderwick Chronicles" movie on opening weekend! Coming February 2008!

Reminder to vampire fiction fans: don't miss Heather Brewer's fang-tastic new series, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod (Dutton, 2007-). Check out this trailer, read an interview with Heather by Little Willow at Slayground, and visit Heather at MySpace!

Top 10 Children's Books from Time Magazine's 50 Top Ten Lists of 2007. Highlights include: When Dinosaurs came with Everything by Elise Broach, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum) and Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts (Abrams). Read Cynsations interviews with Elise and Andrea.

Teaching This Week, from Chennai by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. See pictures of India from Uma's desk top. Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? "The Place to find out about Young Adult fiction books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning characters and themes...and other cool stuff from Lee Wind, Teen Action Fantasy author." Source: AS IF: Authors Support Intellectual Freedom.

Worth the Trip: Queer Books for Kids and Teens. See sidebar for lists of GLBTQ authors, resources, library recommendations, and more. Source: AS IF: Authors Support Intellectual Freedom.

Take a peek at Chess Rumble by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Lee & Low, 2007). From the promotional copy: "A story in free verse about a troubled boy who learns to use his mind instead of his fists through the guidance of an unconventional mentor and the game of chess." Scroll to read "how Chess Rumble came about" at G. Neri's site. Follow the link at Jesse Joshua Watson's site that says "see more Chess Rumble." Note: learn about more great youth literature at The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story.

The Graphic Novels Guy from Buzz, Balls & Hype by M. J. Rose.

Chronicle Books is currently running two contests--the Taro Gomi Squiggles & Doodles Creativity Contest and the Ivy & Bean Friendship Contest (for teachers and their classrooms).

Debut Author of the Month: S.A. Harazin... from Alice's CWIM Blog. Here's a sneak peek: "A writer can spend every hour of the day promoting and still feel like it isn’t enough. I try to balance promotion with writing—I am a writer. That is what I do best. I want to write, and that is the most important thing to me." S. A. Harazin is the author of Blood Brothers (Delacorte, 2007)(excerpt).

World Religions: Islam: a book list from The Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with editor Roger Sutton.

Global Reading: Selected Literature for Children and Teens Set in Other Countries compiled by Megan Schliesman from CCBC (2007).

Core Collections: Math in Fiction by Stephanie Zvirin from Booklist.

Host a Jewish Book Author: a new site that lists Jewish book authors worldwide, searchable by name, location, or genre. Each listing includes the author's city, book titles (up to four), lecture topics, areas of travel, along with contact information. Note: this is not a booking agent. It's a clearing house for JCCs, Federations, synagogues, book clubs, libraries, bookstores, and others who want to arrange visits and signings with authors. Authors themselves decide on the contact information to be listed on the site. They can choose their publicist, publisher, speakers' bureau, themselves, or anybody else. Each listing contains links to buy books. Authors interested in participating should contact Anna Olswanger. See the list of children's authors. Read an interview with Anna on her award-winning picture book, Shlemiel Crooks, illustrated by Paula Goodman Koz (Junebug, 2005)(a Sydney Taylor Honor Book), and another on her work as a literary agent.

Hot Off the Press: A Sneak Peek at Publishers' Newest and Hottest Titles from CBC Magazine. Updated Dec. 15.

Simmons in Boston is now offering an MFA in Writing for Children as well as a dual degree MA/MFA.

Attention writers: if you haven't already, take a look at this writer montage from YouTube! Source: Tanya Lee Stone. Note: just for fun!

Congratulations to Cynthia Cotten on her debut novel, Fair Has Nothing to Do With It (FSG, 2007)(book trailer). From the promotional copy: "There are two bright spots in Michael's life: Melanie, the new girl in town, and Charlie Andrews, an artist and retired teacher who used to work with Michael's dad and is now giving Michael private art lessons. Like Grandpa and Michael, Mr. Andrews knows how to observe carefully and deeply, and as his lessons progress, Michael understands better and better how to capture what he sees on paper. But after losing Grandpa, can Michael let himself get close to someone else?" Cynthia also has a new picture book, Some Babies Sleep, illustrated by Paul Tong (Philomel, 2007).

Texas News & Links

Jane Peddicord will discuss "the language of picture books" at 11 a.m. Jan. 12 at the Westlake Barnes & Noble. Sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Liz Garton Scanlon will be teaching an advanced workshop in Writing for Children at the Rio Grande campus of Austin Community College this spring. "This class presumes a basic understanding of the practice and craft and will address issues in texts ranging from picture books to young adult novels. The course will be 12 weeks long, starting in February, and will be held on Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. If you'd like to register, the course is in the creative writing department: ENGL 2308 Advanced Writing Workshop, 14329 Writing For Children." Contact Liz Garton Scanlon with questions. Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Scott Scribes Scholarship for Older Adults (age 40+) from the Writers League of Texas. Texas residents with financial need qualify. Fields of study are journalism/mass communications, creative writing, English composition/writing skills, and public relations/advertising. Deadline: Feb. 1. See details.

Author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell will be teaching a children's book illustration class again at the end of January. The class will be six weeks, on Wednesday nights, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Jan. 30 to March 5 at the Art School at the Austin Museum for Art. For more information, or to request a class outline or supply list, please contact Mark or can call the art school at 512-323-6380. Read a Cynsations interview with Mark.

Reminder: Austin SCBWI offers a great line-up for its April 26 conference. Speakers include: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview from Olswanger.com)(interview by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist's agent Christina Tugeau; and writing professor Peter Jacobi. See details at Austin SCBWI. Note: critiques with Deborah Noyes Wayshak and author April Lurie (interview) have already sold out!

More Personally

Congratulations to the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at The University of Kansas in Lawrence on its 60th anniversary! I'm a 1991 graduate in news/editorial and public relations. Note: I'm also a 1994 graduate of The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

From Publisher's Lunch, new deals for Dec. 14: "Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize, a graphic novel adaptation of the author's prose romantic suspense novel Tantalize, retelling the story from the werewolf's point of view, to Deb Wayshak at Candlewick, for publication in 2009, by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown (World English)." Note: I first learned to read by myself with the comic format (and have continued to enjoy it since), and the early drafts of Tantalize were written from Kieren's POV, so writing this book feels like coming full-circle as a reader and with this story. I'm thrilled!

In addition, Listening Library will be releasing an audio edition of Tantalize in 2008! Note: The book will be read by Kim Mai Guest, whose audio credits include Wait for Me by An Na, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, and Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth. This interview highlights my own writing process; however, it's also very much about the author's life more globally. I answer questions about blogging, creating a Web presence, the five keys to success now, our greatest obstacle, and promotion. Here's a sneak peek: "I have found that it helps to celebrate every victory no matter how small. You finished your draft? Celebrate! You received a personal rejection letter? Celebrate! Your workshop leader says your story arc is stronger? An agent asks for the whole manuscript? You've sold your first book? Your fiftieth? Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate!" Thanks to Jo Knowles, Debbi Michiko Florence, and Elizabeth O. Dulemba (congratulations, Elizabeth!) for related posts! Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah Aronson of Through the Tollbooth.

Reminder: I'll be chatting at Faerie Drink Forums from Jan. 1 to Jan. 8. See complete list of authors and schedule.

The December giveaway at the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace is two gift certificates for Italian dinners and two copies of The Far Sweet Thing by Libba Bray (Delacorte, Dec. 16 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Libba. Visit me at MySpace!

As of this post, Cynsations is going on a hiatus until Feb. 1. If you have a pending interview, please turn in your questions as your schedule allows. That way, they'll be ready to go in 2008. In the meantime, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys will be giving the main site a polish and buff for its ten-year anniversary! Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Thank you for your support and enthusiasm in 2007! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Author Interview: Susan Patron on The Higher Power of Lucky

Susan Patron on Susan Patron: "Born in San Gabriel in 1948, grew up in Hollywood. Two sisters. BA in English Lit and a master's in Library and Information Science. Married to Rene Patron; we live in a neo-Spanish-style house very similar to the one in which I grew up and about four miles away, which I grant you is a little weird. Especially for someone whose initial plan was to be a struggling writer renting a maid's room in a Paris attic.

"Hired in 1972 as a children's librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, I rediscovered children’s books, learned how to tell stories, and taught preschoolers how to make their fingers into eency-weency spiders. In 1980, I became LAPL's Juvenile Materials Collection Development Manager, which means I evaluated everything for branch library collections targeting kids up to the age of ten or eleven."

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

I loved my work as a librarian, but wanted to be a writer, too. I'd met editors at publisher booths during ALA conferences. Going against popular wisdom that no one wants to see folktale retellings from first-time writers, I sent a contemporary version of the "Stone Soup" tale to several houses before Richard Jackson at Orchard bought it. This picture book became the first in a trilogy about Billy Que, some bad boys who are friends of his, and two Dustdobbins who live in the dust under his bed.

These stories, Burgoo Stew (1991), Five Bad Boys, Billy Que, and the Dustdobbin (1992), and Bobbin Dustdobbin (1993) (all Orchard Books, illustrated by Mike Shenon) are meant to be told or read aloud like stories from the folk tradition. The text of Dark Cloud Strong Breeze, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto (Orchard, 1994), a rhythmic, circular tale for very young children, moves back and forth between the fanciful and the mundane, the wish-world and the everyday one. My chapter book, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe (Orchard, 1993) draws from my experiences as a middle sister.

(All these books are out of print, but Simon and Schuster/Atheneum will publish a new edition of Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe in the next year or so.)

After that, the mid 1990's, I hit a wall. I worked on various versions of what became The Higher Power of Lucky but couldn't find the story's heart until 2003. It was a painful interlude.

What was the best decision you made related to developing craft during your apprenticeship and why?

I began listening to lots of audio books. This gave me a better grasp of a novel's form and helped me to "hear" my own writing.

How did your career as a public librarian inform your writing? Your insight into the world of publishing?

Before retiring this year, I worked as a specialist in children's literature for nearly 35 years. It was deep immersion in the field, and included service on some book award committees, (Caldecott and the Laura Ingalls Wilder committees of the American Library Association; Patricia Beatty Committee of the California Library Association; PEN Literary Award Committee (juvenile/young adult category)).

The committee discussions with other librarians and writers called for deeper reading and thinking about books. It was good discipline for me as a writer.

I also trained new children's librarians on the principles of intellectual freedom and freedom of access for children. This turned out to be useful when my own book came under fire because I knew the library profession would stand behind it, defending the right of young people to read it.

How have you grown as a writer? In what areas are you still striving to improve?

I thought it would get easier as I went along, but I'm still figuring out how a novel works. I feel myself groping in the dark, trying to find the key or the recipe or the formula. I have to learn everything all over again with each book.

Congratulations on winning the Newbery Medal for The Higher Power of Lucky (Atheneum/Richard Jackson, 2006)! For those who haven't yet had a chance to read the book, could you tell us about the story?

Thank you! This is the story of ten-year-old Lucky, who has lost her mom and was abandoned by her dad. She lives in Hard Pan, California; population 43, the ward of a beautiful Frenchwoman. Worried that she'll be sent to a foster home, Lucky eavesdrops on 12-step meetings in an effort to find her higher power.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

The location, a fictional former mining town in California's Eastern Sierra region.

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

This is the painful part. It took over ten years and many, many drafts. It was slow, plodding work and I couldn't figure out why. When my mother died after a long illness it affected me in a way I couldn't have predicted, and then I understood what Lucky was looking for.

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

The biggest challenge was one we all share: finding time to write. I was working full time, and tired at the end of the day. So I used weekends and vacations, trying to maintain the thread and stay in the story.

I notice that the book was published by Richard Jackson at Atheneum. Was he your editor on the manuscript? Could you describe your working relationship?

Richard Jackson has been the editor of all my books so far, and working with him is a writer's dream. He's kind, quirky, available, honest, and not afraid to take risks. I'm a fanatic self-editor and reviser and try to submit manuscripts that are as finished as possible, which meant that there weren't many changes made afterwards. Dick retired, so I'm working with the brilliant Ginee Seo at Atheneum on my current project.

Could you tell us about the day you found out you'd won the award? Did you have an inkling (from reviews, buzz, Mock Newbery events), or did it come as a complete surprise?

Lucky was published in November of 2006, and as far as I could tell, almost no one was reading it. No buzz, no Mock Newbery inclusion, no listserv discussion, only a couple of reviews as of the end of January when the awards are announced.

As a matter of fact, I'd become depressed about writing and was ready to send back the advance for the sequel because I figured, why would anyone want to read the sequel of a book they'd never heard of? So the Newbery phone call was an enormous, surreal, heart-stopping surprise.

I've mentored a handful of beginning writers, and I've been told more than once that they wish they could attain a certain level of fame or literary recognition if only so their self-doubt and anxiety will go away. Does it work this way?

Richard Jackson told me years ago that the hardest book to write is the one following a major award.

Privately I thought, okay, right, if you say so. Hey, I'd be willing to risk that--just give me a shot at it. Such validation from peers would surely provide enough ammo to counter those terrible self-doubts and fears.

But of course he was right: the anxiety shifts in a different direction, but is still present and even more intense.

You've had opportunities to respond to critics who objected to your use of the word "scrotum" in Lucky. I wonder if instead you could speak to writers. It seems to me that more and more are feeling the pressure to self-censor, to use the next most evocative word or plot twist in an effort to make sure their work reaches young readers. What do you say to them?

As I commented recently in the current issue of the SCBWI Bulletin, We writers choose each word with care so that it conveys our specific meaning, mood, emphasis, style, etc. And we write with respect for the reader's intelligence.

We're doomed if we permit the specter of censors or critics to enter our creative process. We must not let those crows of fear caw into our ears as we write, or we won't hear the genuine inner voice that we need to access in order to write honestly and well. Writers who believe that readers live in the same world we do must ignore those efforts to suck the life out of literature.

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

For a long time, I read very little YA fiction because my job specialty was children's lit and I needed to read as much of that as I could.

When I retired this year, I finally felt free to try other levels and genres. I started with Sonya Sones, John Green, Roddy Doyle, and Chris Crutcher. Then I couldn't stop; the YA field is incredibly dynamic, with superb writers. (Just now I returned from picking up Tantalize at the library.)

So my advice would be to read widely, dipping your literary toes in many different bodies of water, even ones you think you won't like. It's very refreshing.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm just finishing the revisions to a sequel to The Higher Power of Lucky. Pub date is early 2009.

What do you do when you're not writing?

My husband and I like to spend time in the Eastern Sierras, where we have a cabin.

We get into a variety of cooking projects—once we spent five days making an authentic cassoulet.

I also have a sort of ongoing long-range project, a gigantic wall mosaic using capsules, those little metal caps on top of the corks in champagne bottles.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Author Update: Kimberly Willis Holt on Piper Reed Navy Brat

You last spoke to Cynsations in August 2005 before the release of your debut picture book, Waiting for Gregory, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Henry Holt, 2006). Could you update us on this title?

Waiting for Gregory has been an interesting journey after the writing. I've learned how not to do story time with young children. Quite frankly, my first attempts were a disaster!

It is not a short text, so how much I read aloud depends on the age of my audience.

I also discovered that the humor of the book seems to appeal to first-fourth graders. And it helps if I do some interaction with them as I read.

How was is different, being a picture book versus novel author?

The main thing I learned was that even though I wouldn't be illustrating the book, I had to make room for pictures when I wrote. As someone that considers herself more auditory, this was a challenge at first. In a way, it's helped my novel writing, because novelists have to do that, too.

Once I took a fiction writing workshop and heard a writer say, "Readers tend to hear what they read or see what they read, but writers have to learn to write for both." In many ways, I owe that man my career because my writing improved greatly after that. I think that's great advice for picture book writers, as well as novelists.

What additional new publications have you had since?

Part of Me, Stories of a Louisiana Family (Henry Holt) came out in Fall 2006, followed by another picture book, Skinny Brown Dog (Henry Holt, 2007).

Congratulations on the release of Piper Reed Navy Brat, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Henry Holt, 2007!). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The most obvious is that I'm a Navy brat. Like Piper's dad, my dad was a Navy chief. And also like her, I'm one of three girls. However I'm the oldest daughter. I was a pretty serious kid, and I wasn't sure if that would be a fun point of view for young readers. My middle sister was the clown in the family. She was clever and funny. She certainly inspired Piper, although as I wrote the character became different.

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

I tease my editor that while she gave birth to Elena, I gave birth to Piper. In 2005, a voice came to me. It said, "I've lived everywhere."

My editor was on maternity leave, and I was waiting for an editorial letter. I decided I might as well follow that voice while I was waiting. In the spring, I flew to Pensacola, Florida, to research. I was born on the base, but we moved away when I was two.

When I returned, I watched the Blue Angels practice and later met them. The Blue Angels are Navy pilots that travel the world, participating in flight shows. NAS Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels.

Military kids don't have the same connections as other kids that grew up in one place. We rarely spend more than two years in the same location. So, while other people have lifetime relationships with people they went to school with since kindergarten, for us, it's the Blue Angels. Everywhere in the world that we lived, the Blue Angels seem to visit and perform.

I used that connection with Piper. As soon as she sees them practice, she wants to be a Blue Angel.

Besides researching on the base, I visited a school and interviewed current Navy Brats. Times had changed. Some of them had a mom serving on a ship. That change can be found in the story.

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

In many ways, it was my life. My dad was away from us several times for long durations for my childhood. I can relate to what Piper and her sisters are going through as they dread their dad leaving. My sisters and I went through that when our dad would go before us because there was no base housing available or when he had special assignments. But I had to find out what kids today go through. That's why I went to Pensacola.

On a literary level, I just tried to stay true to the voice of the book and characters. It wasn't difficult for me to stay with a simpler plot because I knew there would be more books to follow. Piper Reed Navy Brat is the first in a series. I have a chance to tell more in later stories.

Depictions of military families are rare in children's literature. What reactions have you had from that community of readers?

It's still so early, but at Book Expo many booksellers came up to tell me their stories. Some had been military children. Some had been military spouses. So they could relate. One bookseller told me how they had always moved every year. Then they had an extended assignment and got to stay an extra year. Her young son was confused when he didn't have to change schools the next year. He was so used to moving. I love that! I told her I'd might use that one day.

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

I would tell myself that no matter what would come my way--published books, awards, movies, that nothing beats writing a great sentence. Back then, I was like most unpublished writers. I thought the great joy would come from publication, but it is the process that keeps me returning to my yellow pads. If that ever leaves, I'm putting down my pen. Hopefully, it will never come to that.

How have you seen your writing abilities grow over time?

Writing is still as challenging to me as it was in the beginning. The one thing that has greatly improved is my ability to recognize what is wrong with my manuscript.

There was a day I didn't know how to rewrite, mainly because I couldn't tell what was wrong with my story.

I usually have to step away from the work, but when I return to it, I bring some knowledge with me. That doesn't mean I discount other advice. I have a few trusted souls I depend on. At the top of that list is my editor.

In what areas do you still hope to improve?

I wish I were funnier.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Besides planning my next meal, (I'm always hungry.) I love reading, watching movies, daydreaming about my future dream home in the canyon.

My husband and I also bought bikes this fall, but, unfortunately, we only rode a few times before my travel schedule began. But I'm itchy to start peddling.

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

It's only been the last two years that I've gotten a grasp on it. Now that my daughter is in college, I schedule my school visits in consecutive weeks. Sometimes that means I don't go home for two weeks or more. But when I'm finished, I'm home for long stretches to write.

If I'm gone for longer than that, my husband meets me on the road for a weekend. I've also learned to limit my events.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Piper Reed The Great Gypsy comes out in August 2008. There will be at least three total. I turned in a historical novel for older readers, but I'm just now beginning the rewrite for my editor. So, that could be 2009 or 2010 before it's out.

All in all, I love writing for every age. I think that comes at a cost, though. If I really wanted to make a name for myself, I would probably stick to writing for one age group.

Someone recently said to me, "You just want to do it all, don't you?"

Yep, I guess that's true. I love knowing that my readers can grow up with me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Author Interview: Kim Norman on Jack of All Tails

Kim Norman is the author of Jack of All Tails, (Dutton, 2007), illustrated by David Clark. Her second book, The Crocodaddy, illustrated by David Walker, is scheduled for publication by Sterling, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, in 2009.

2010 will see the release of her 2nd book with Dutton, I Know a Wee Piggy Who Wallowed in Brown, illustrated by Henry Cole, whose many credits include illustrating two books written by Julie Andrews.

Over the years, she has won awards at the Christopher Newport University Writers' Conference and now serves on their advisory council. For three years, she was the editor of the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI regional newsletter. Currently, she's graphics editor for the Newport News & Williamsburg Kidsville News.

Kim lives in southeastern Virginia where she is active in community theater. Among her favorite roles were the Mother Superior in "Nunsense" and the singing narrator in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." She spent a few years as a vocalist in a big band, but her "day job" has always been graphic arts.

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

I can only say, I wish it hadn't taken me so long. Because I'm kind of a maverick, ("Mother! I'll do it myself!" my favorite phrase as a toddler, I'm told), I learned about the children's writing biz very gradually, reading books about writing, attending conferences.

I'd say it was when I joined my online critique group in 2001 that I started to grow more rapidly as a writer. I felt like a bit of an impostor, in awe of these professional, accomplished writers and illustrators! I'm still in awe of their talents, and definitely indebted, considering the brilliant suggestions they've offered over the years to improve my work.

Congratulations on the release of Jack of All Tails, illustrated by David Clark (Dutton, 2007). Could you fill us in on the story?

It's a picture book about a human family who makes a living renting themselves out as pets, pretending to be dogs, cats, lizards, pigs...you name it! The main character is Kristi, a little girl who tends to get carried away, getting herself fired from some jobs. She has to assess her talents to figure out which pet she'd be best at impersonating.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

During school visits, I pique the kids' interest by whispering conspiratorially into the microphone: "I stole it." Then I explain that, no, I actually just borrowed the kernel of an idea and made it my own.

I have a book of letters written by early 20th century author P.G. Wodehouse. In one letter, he tells of a visit with playwright Lord Dunsany, who describes one of his plays, which had yet to be produced. It's about a man who loses his job and becomes a watchdog. A real dog--chasing cats, even. I have no idea what the play was called or if it was ever produced. But it was a funny idea that really stuck with me until I wrote a story of my own borrowing the same premise.

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

Funny you should ask. I just found my journals from 2001, when I was being very good about walking and journaling every morning. So it's intriguing to find my first entry about reading the Wodehouse passage in August of 2001. I was so inspired by it that I'd finished the first draft within a week. I joined my critique group a few months later.

"Jack" wasn't the first story I submitted, as I recall, but once I did submit it, my group helped in strengthening the story. They were positively heroic about reading countless revisions.

In October of 2002, I met my (future) editor at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference. We had a great meeting. She liked "Jack" and already had in hand a revision letter for me. I think I revised it for her two more times, and she made an offer in April of 2003.

It took four years for the book to come out, but I think that's partly because she liked the story but didn't really have any place for it in their line for some time, especially with a lot of other books already in the pipeline. In fact, I'd say the sale happened at the height of the picture book slump, so I feel fortunate it was bought at all!

We did a couple of tweaking revisions after the sale, and David Clark was hired as the illustrator about a year later. It was a lot of fun to see his hilarious sketches as they came in. One thing that delighted me about the project was that everyone involved was on the same page. Everyone (my editor, her assistant, and the illustrator) really got the humor of the book; the dry, matter-of-fact way Kristi talks about her nutty family as though people impersonating pigs is an everyday thing.

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

One major reason there were so many revisions (more than 20, I estimate) was because--initially-- it was more a slice-of-life story--a first-person narrative by Kristi, (named after my niece): "Here I am; here's my family; here's this nutty thing we do." I was worried editors would say, "It's funny...but where's the plot?"

So, for several sets of revisions, I tried to wedge in various plots. I remember there was a lost dad-the-dog at one point; there was even a monkey in there for a while.

Finally, Joe Kulka, the lone male in our group, pitched a fit, saying, "No no no! You're ruining it!"

And his instincts were correct. The plot(s) felt artificial and forced.

(I love that my group does not pull their punches. If something isn't working for them, they bluntly say so; no sugar-coating. A critique group is useless if people aren't honest.)

I thought long and hard about what Joe had said and decided he was right. So, I took the story back much closer to its slice-of-life roots. But it still needed some form of conflict, to hold the readers' interest. Finally I found it: Kristi's uncertainty about her pet-impersonating talents. (She keeps getting fired.)

My group made great suggestions with the latter revisions, too, like when illustrator Terri Murphy suggested I add some repetition to the text by having people say, "No! No! Bad dog/cat/pig/lizard!" every time Kristi got fired. I think that strengthened the manuscript immensely.

What did David Clark's illustrations bring to your text?

Because of the antics of this zany family, it's a story with a lot illustration potential. David Clark did a marvelous job illustrating all those funny scenes.

When I do school visits, kids laugh uproariously at his illustrations. I like pointing out details that aren't in my text. I also love the exaggerated physical characteristics, like Kristi's brother with the long lizard tongue or Kristi's wide mouth, looking just like a hippo's when she's roaring.

What is it like being a first-time writer in 2007?

Gosh, it has all gone so fast, especially after that long wait! I had worked at our town's weekly newspaper for a dozen years, and my boss and his wife generously offered to throw me a launch party. Until moments before the party, I was worried no one would show up to eat the food my boss had paid for! But not to worry. It was a gorgeous, cool June evening and dozens arrived to congratulate me. A lovely, memorable evening.

I've worked hard to market the book. Sometimes it feels like a full-time job! Because I'm a graphic artist, I've created all my own print materials, from brochures and postcards to a full press kit. I've gotten "Jack" a bit of national exposure with a write-up in the national Kidsville magazines (it's a franchise with issues produced in cities all around the country), plus a nice spread as recommended reading in the New Jersey Star Ledger. (Just luck and timing with that one. Struck up an online friendship with the niece of a friend, who happens to work as an editor at the newspaper.)

I've also tried to make myself memorable in my own unique way with my song parodies, which people can listen to on my website [scroll to play]. The song parodies brought me to the attention of Alice Pope, editor of the CWIM, who featured me as her Debut Author of the Month in the August 07 CWIM newsletter. She's a doll, isn't she?!

There's been a lot of talk about the ups-and-downs of the picture book market, but you've certainly found success. What insights do you have to share on this front?

As I mentioned above, I got my big break right in the middle of the slump in picture book sales. Happily, it seems to be waning, as Boomer grandkids are coming along.

While it's wise to study the current market, (very different books from the ones we cherished as children), I still believe you must write what's right for you.

I simply adore picture books and feel very at home writing them. But it's not the first thing I tried when I started. I wrote light verse and nonfiction articles and even took a stab at romance writing before I found the perfect fit. I encourage new writers to try many different genres, (both reading and writing them) to discover what works for them.

More globally, if you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Keep track of your revisions! I wish I could find the genesis of all my stories as I found that first reference in my journal the Wodehouse passage. I'm fascinated by the story process--how a story evolves--so I wish I'd done a better job of cataloging my revisions.

Also, don't waste time trying to illustrate the stories! Because I'm a graphic artist, at first I thought I could illustrate them, too. So I made up some tight dummies. They weren't terrible, but the more I learned from the true illustrators in my critique group, the more I discovered I did not know about illustrating. (Including having no strongly-defined style.) So, for now, I'm leaving that to the professionals!

What do you do when you're not writing?

I've done a lot of theater over the years, but not so much in the past couple of years. It's so all-consuming that these days, I'm contented to watch my sons (14 and almost 20) on stage.

If the right role comes along, I could be lured back. I'm just waiting for "Mama Mia!" to be released to amateur theater companies. I'll will be so there! How perfect is that? A singing lead for a middle aged woman? Those roles are darned few and far between!

I also enjoy gardening, when I get the chance. It's a quiet, pensive activity that allows my mind to wander, thinking up new plots or ruminating on stories-in-progress.

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

Sometimes not very well. I was relieved in October, at our Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference, to hear Bruce Coville say he doesn't write every day.

We've all been beat over the head with that bossy admonition: "A writer writes every day!" Well, I don't. Some days, it's all I can do to take care of my freelance graphic art clients. I try not to beat myself up over the fact that I can't do it all. I'd probably be more widely published by now if I could but... Oh well, I'll just have to enjoy being a late bloomer.

Because I mostly write picture books, I can take my work with me in notebooks. So, this past summer, when I took my younger son to mow my mother's lawn, I'd bring my notebooks with me and scribble in them while he did the yard work.

I'm fortunate that I enjoy public speaking and school presentations. I know some writers have to push themselves to do it, so I feel lucky that I came "pre-installed" as a ham.

You're quite the musical author! Fill us in on how you've put the writer's journey to song! Note: scroll here to listen.

Right now, I'm in the process of turning one of my songs, "A Writer's Wish List," (a parody of Santa Baby)(scroll to listen), into a video. That song has been my biggest "hit" so far, probably because it's a holiday song. Last year, many people shared the link when folks were in the mood to hear funny holiday songs. Now, I'd like to give the song a second life by creating a video.

I do wish I had time to write more songs for my presentations. People keep telling me I should pitch myself as a performer at one of the national SCBWI conferences--that my song parodies for writers would be a big hit; maybe they would, but I'd like to have a few more songs written and recorded before I do that.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm excited that any minute now I'll be seeing the first sketches for The Crocodaddy, which will be published by Sterling, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble, in 2009. I can't wait to see what David Walker has done with the story since it takes place both in the real world, (a boy playing with his dad in the lake) and in the boy's imagination, where dad is the sly old crocodaddy. I think David Walker's style is perfect for this book because it's for a slightly younger crowd than Jack of All Tails was.

Then, in 2010, will come the release of I Know a Wee Piggy Who Wallowed in Brown, a color concept book based on "I know an old lady who swallowed a fly."

Dutton has hired Henry Cole to illustrate it, which just thrills me! I am so proud that I now can boast sharing an illustrator with my childhood singing idol, Julie Andrews. He's a prolific illustrator who seems just the right person for the job, having grown up on a farm in Virginia.

SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008


Saturday and Sunday, March 29 and March 30, Bologna, Italy

Speakers include:

Tracey Adams, literary agent, US
Stephen Barbara, literary agent, US (scroll to read link)
Marc Boutavant, author-illustrator, France
Val Brathwaite, art director Bloomsbury, UK
Babette Cole, author-illustrator, UK
Steve Chudney, literary agent, US (agent interview)
Pat Cummings, author-illustrator, US
Carmen Diana Dearden, publisher, Ekaré, Venezuela
Kathleen Duey, author, US (author interview)
Susan Fletcher, author, US
Susanne Gervay, author, Australia
Fiametta Giorgi, editor, Mondadori, Italy
Candy Gourlay, author, Philippines - UK
Emmanuel Guibert, author-illustrator, France
Laura Harris, publisher, Penguin, Australia
Katherine Halligan, editor, Scholastic UK
Amy Ho, editor, Commonwealth Publishing, Taiwan
Jana Novotny Hunter, author-illustrator, Czech Rep - UK
Susanne Koppe, literary agent, Germany
Pauline Mermet, editor, Bayard, France
Nancy Miles, literary agent, UK
Sarah Odedina, publisher, Bloomsbury, UK
Martha Rago, creative director, HarperCollins, US
David Saylor, creative director, Scholastic, US
John Shelley, illustrator, UK- Japan
Bridget Strevens-Marzo, author-illustrator, UK- France
Marie Wabbes, author-illustrator, Belgium
Cecilia Yung, art director, Penguin Putnum, US
Paul O. Zelinsky, author-illustrator, US

Register at SCBWI Events (see sidebar for SCBWI @ Bologna)!

Cynsational Notes

Interested in a major children's-YA writer/illustrator conference in the U.S.? Check out the winter 2008 national conference of SCBWI, scheduled for Feb. 8 to Feb. 10 in New York City, NY! Speakers include such authors as Judy Enderle, Susan Patron, and Jane Yolen (interview), such illustrators as Jerry Pinkney and David Wiesner, such agents as Tracey Adams, Barry Goldblatt (interview), and Holly McGhee, and such editors as David Gale, Jennifer Hunt, and Anne Schwartz.

Register at SCBWI Events (see sidebar for Annual Conference (NY))!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Author Interview: Sarah Aronson on Head Case

Sarah Aronson on Sarah Aronson:

"Officially: I have been an aerobics instructor, physical therapist, and religious school principal. I received my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College in July 2006. Currently, I work for Jewish Lights Press in Woodstock, Vermont. Head Case (Roaring Brook, 2007) is my first novel.

"Unofficially: I drink too much coffee and spend too much time on the telephone. I'm getting married in late December. I could probably quit my day job, if I didn't have to pay for haircare and shoes. My year will be perfect if the book inspires people to have greater respect and empathy for people living with disabilities."

Visit Sarah at MySpace!

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

Does anyone make it to publication without a stumble or two? I began writing seriously about seven years ago, after a friend encouraged me to try writing for children. That was all the encouragement I needed! At the time, I had just left physical therapy, and was looking for something creative. Like a lot of other writers, I started with picture books, then worked my way to longer manuscripts. The first time I hit page 100, I threw myself a party, complete with caviar!

I wrote four "practice" novels before writing Head Case. I accumulated a huge stack of positive rejections. I am so grateful to everyone who read that work.

My future editor, Deborah Brodie, was the first to suggest I apply to one of the MFA programs. Even though I was newly divorced and totally broke, I applied. Her comment rang true. I needed to learn more about the craft of writing. When I was admitted to Vermont College, I had a feeling that it was going to change my writing life.

I was right. VC was just what I needed. My advisors, faculty, and friends supported and guided me as I studied. I began to read more and more. Head Case was the first novel I brought to VC. I acquired an agent during my first semester, and he sold the novel shortly afterwards.

Note to all aspiring writers:

The second editor who read Head Case did not like it at all. Had we listened to her, we would have never submitted it again. We all need reminders that editors are readers, and like us, they have preferences. Finding your perfect editor is like a scavenger hunt. I'm so glad my agent believed in the manuscript enough to send it out again.

Congratulations on the publication of Head Case (Roaring Brook, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Head Case is the story of Frank Marder, a seventeen year old who sustains a complete spinal cord injury after causing a fatal car accident. He was drunk. Two people die. The novel follows his first eight weeks home from the hospital and his journey toward forgiveness.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850). I asked myself: who was today's Hester Prynne? In today's young adult world, what is the most unforgivable crime? I decided that vehicular manslaughter--especially driving under the influence of alcohol--was something a community would have a hard time forgiving. The "A" was his wheelchair.

As a physical therapist, I had worked with people with head and spinal cord injuries. I was always impressed and inspired by the spirit and determination of my patients and their families. But that didn't mean I could skip the research. I talked to therapists and doctors. I went onto chat rooms and listened to what people with spinal cord injuries were talking about. I was also lucky enough to speak to Christopher Reeve, who gave me great insight into living with a spinal cord injury…in the spotlight.

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

I started the novel on May 9, 2004. (I know this because my son's appendix was removed the day before. We were stuck in the hospital for five days.)

My first draft was in delineated prose. I captured emotions, moments, and observations without worrying about connecting the dots.

Then I went to VC. Both Kathi Appelt (author interview) and Jane Resh Thomas read drafts of the novel.

With Kathi, I focused on emotion. With Jane, I revised the book into prose. It was a tremendous leap for me, but one that paid off.

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

There were so many. First, I needed to become an authentic boy. His voice and raw sense of humor came first, and luckily, that I never questioned.

Structure was a big challenge, too. When I began drafting, I wasn't sure how the legal aspects of the story would fit into the novel. I talked to many judges and lawyers. At one point, I actually structured the entire book around his trial. (I'm a huge "Law & Order" fan.)

Once I knew that he would not go to jail, I began to think about his life after discharge. What would his home be like? How would his family react? When someone is injured, it affects many people. I challenged myself to re-imagine the plot from many points of view.

Then, I had to deal with the idea of paralysis. And what that would be like. And how I was going to impart that reality to readers.

As I say on the jacket of the book: I never set out to show people what it is like to sustain a spinal cord injury. I wanted to explore a character who felt trapped and labeled, a character who needed to rise above society's judgments, forgive himself and move beyond his mistakes.

As I revised, I needed breaks from Frank. Being in the head of a completely paralyzed character was challenging and exhausting. In between drafts, I tried writing something from the omniscient point of view. I'm sure I wasn't the easiest person to live with!

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

It is a time of change, a period of calamity. I think my natural voice is about seventeen.

What is it like, being a debut author in 2007?

Exciting! 2007 has been a great year for YA fiction. Meeting people who have read the book has been humbling. Every day, I hear from people committed to giving books to kids, many with tragic stories of their own.

And there are so many great books being published! It's such an honor to be included.

One of my favorites is Gail Giles' Right Behind You (Little Brown, 2007)(author interview)--another book about forgiveness.

I'm really excited that Every 15 Minutes is recommending Head Case to students. They are a great organization dedicated to preventing drunk driving.

What has been your social-professional experience in the children's-YA writing community? Who has made a difference for the better and how?

We have a great community, don't we? I am so grateful to my friends, who stand by me, read my work, and listen to me debate politics, writing style, and where to buy a wedding dress!

I joined the Class of 2k7 and we had a lot of fun banding together to market our novels. It was a lot of fun! Every day, there is something to cheer for. It is a talented, supportive group.

Besides the Class, many writers have taken an interest in me and have been so supportive. I'm so grateful to my writing group and my friends and faculty at Vermont College--especially my very brave advisors: Kathi Appelt (author interview), Jane Resh Thomas, Margaret Bechard, and Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview). And people like you, Cyn, who help new writers get found.

I'm part of a VC blog on livejournal, called Through the Tollbooth. Special thanks to them--especially for covering me, when I forgot it was my week!

But day to day, we need our sisters. Tanya Lee Stone (author interview) has been my writing sister for four years. My kids call her "Auntie Tanya." She reads everything--and I do the same for her.

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

Try everything.

Don't get stuck on one story or one point of view.

Don't be afraid to put your work in a drawer and move on.

Get an MFA.

Don't worry about trends.

You also work for Jewish Lights. What is your role in the company? Could you tell us about it?

I sell books to Jewish and Christian bookstores. I also organize special sales directly to synagogues. I like to sell books in bulk!

What advice do you have for fellow writers?

My advice to all writers:

Think about programs that your book can support. Ask yourself who wants to read about the characters or situation in your book. Make it easy for consumers to use your book as part of a program. Write a reader's guide. Create a curriculum.

And even with the rise in Amazon, do not forget your independent bookseller. These people handsell books every day. They identify consumers. They read! Also most people, no matter where they buy a book, buy it because they have seen it on a shelf.

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

Balance? Sometimes, the best I can do is wish for it!

No, really, many things have had to be tabled. I haven't participated in a school committee for three years. I don't lunch the way I used to. One of these days, I'll clean off my desk.

What do you do when you're not in the book world?

I love going to the movies. And watching football. I walk a lot and am guilty of buying too many shoes, nice dresses. and good leather bags.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am working on the (hopefully) last draft of Can't Let Go, a novel that examines the aftermath of a young woman's attempted suicide.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Author Interview: Cecil Castellucci on Beige and The Plain Janes

We last spoke to Cecil Castellucci in January 2006 about the release of her second YA novel, The Queen of Cool (Candlewick, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

Wow! This has been a huge year for you! Let's start with the release of Beige (Candlewick, 2007). Could you tell us a little about the book?

It's about a girl named Katy who goes to Los Angeles from Montreal to spend a couple of weeks with her punk rock dad, nicknamed "The Rat," while her mom is on a dig in Peru.

The Rat is a punk rock drummer whose legendary band, Suck, never made it out of Los Angeles because of a drug problem. He's clean and sober now, but music is his whole life. Katy hates music. She's forced to hang out with her dad's band-mate's daughter Lake, who thinks Katy is the most boring person on earth. So she nicknames Katy "Beige."

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I moved to this neighborhood that was a music neighborhood. I started working at Epitaph records. I ate at a restaurant where a member of the Circle Jerks worked. I wrote at a cafe that Eric Melvin from NoFX owned. I sat next to Tim Armstrong from Rancid at Thanksgiving dinner.

Everyone was so punk rock! I felt like I was pretty boring, bland and well...beige! I thought it might be interesting to tell a story from the point of view of someone who was totally outside of the scene and observing the scene. So a "normal" person would be the outsider in this alternative world.

Also, having been in a band, I really wanted to write a book about music. This was that book.

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

Interestingly enough, I think I'll say that there was ten years. The first YA novel manuscript I ever wrote, called "Chloe's Jam," was a music novel about a girl who plays classical music and feels totally normal befriending a crazy punk rock girl with a brother in a band.

I really feel that Beige is a kind of reinterpretation of this very first idea for a YA novel that I had. Only I was at a much better place to write it now than I was then. I do credit that first, terrible never-to-be-seen novel, as really opening a lot of doors for me. And many of the same themes and ideas from that book are, at heart, in Beige.

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

The biggest challenge was that Katy/Beige hates music and I don't. She's also very with holding and repressed. I'm not like that either. So it was difficult for me to get into her head. She was a frustrating character. How can you not like music! Music is everywhere!

Another thing was that even though I have a very wide range of love for music, and I am an indie girl, I'm not the punkest person I know. So, it was fun to ask all my pals to give me their most essential punk songs. I even share some of them at http://isbeigepunk.blogspot.com

The point is that what is essential punk is different for everyone. And all of it is really terrific music. That's something I love about that scene. You can't define it so easily. And there is so much to it!

You also debuted a graphic novel this year with The Plain Janes, illustrated by Jim Rugg (Minx, 2007). What about the graphic format appeals to you?

I love that graphic novels go along at a quick clip. You have to be lean and mean when you are writing the text that will go in the balloons or captions because there is that extra added element of the image.

The image is really freeing, you can have this great tension between picture and text. Also it allows for a much more visceral reaction to the story.

In a prose novel, you often have to describe emotions, or how someone feels. With a graphic novel, one panel can tell you everything you need to know emotionally.

I also love the collaboration aspect of the medium. Working with Jim Rugg was fantastic. I really feel like we are a team and we both care about the story and have long discussions about the Janes. It's been one of the most rewarding things I have done as an author. I'm so looking forward to the sequel, The Janes in Love. It comes out in 2008.

How would you describe the book?

It's the story of a girl named Jane who is in a terrorist attack in the fictional Metro City. Her parents freak out and move her to the far out suburbs. At the scene of the attack, she saves a young man, a John Doe and finds a sketchbook with him that says "Art Saves."

Jane takes this saying to heart. Eschewing her old self who tried so hard to fit in, at her new school she heads straight to the reject table in the lunchroom which is filled with three other extreme individual girls all named Jane, too. (Theater Jane, Brain Jane and Sporty Jane--guess which girl likes what!)

With them, she decides to form a guerilla art girl gang in order to try to make the mad world beautiful. Only the local authorities don't agree that art is beauty. They see it as a threat. Also there is a mean girl and a cute boy!

Hopefully people who read the book will take a look around while on their daily constitutionals and see the little beauties of street art everywhere. 'Cause it's there if you look, and in my opinion, it does make the world beautiful. Art does save.

What advice do you have for budding graphic-novel writers--in terms of the craft and the business?

Well, I would read comic books and graphic novels. I would read scripts (for example, Sandman v. 3 has a script in the back).

I meet a lot of people think that it is easy to change a current WIP project that they have into a GN script. It's not really true.

I mean, obviously you can, but you really want to take the best advantage of the medium. For example, it's a visual medium. You have to really move the story along visually. You have to be brave enough to let go of the words and let the image do the talking.

Also, I would go to comic book conventions. If you are a writer-illustrator, make a mini-comic to show editors what you can do. That's a great calling card.

Heck, if you are a writer, go to artists alley at the conventions and hook up with an artist to bring your mini-comic to life. Or, make a Web comic. That's a great way to showcase your goods.

Also, once again, read comic books. I meet so many people who say they want to write a graphic novel, but they haven't really read any. Read a lot of them! It's just like writing for YA, you really have to read a lot them to get it! There are some amazing GN's out there. Really amazing. Go to it! Have fun! It's an incredible medium! And I can't wait to read all of your books!

It's been a couple of years since your debut prose YA novel Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005) was released. How have you grown as a writer since then?

I am now 4' 10 1/4!!! (Okay, that's not really true. I'm still only 4'10, and probably shrinking)

I think one thing is that now I think I can actually finish writing a novel. When I was first starting out, I didn't believe that I would ever have it be done. Now I know how it works, and that there is a certain panicked process to it, but that I'll actually get through the drafts and it will become a book. So I suppose that means I have a wee bit more confidence. (But just a wee bit!)

I am also trying to become more sophisticated in my knitting together of stories. I'm trying to flesh out more of the worlds and the characters.

I also think I use more words. I mean, Boy Proof is so lean and quick and you can eat that book in a hour! But Beige has so much more richness to it! It's like a full-on lunch! Maybe one day I'll hand in a 750-page book! A whole three-course meal! You never know! It could happen!

If you could go back in time to your beginning writer self and offer some advice, what would you tell you?

Read more. Learn more vocabulary words. Read more. Read even more. Relax. Show up to the page. Learn how to put better ears on so you can listen to critiques.

Don't be so precious. Don't be afraid to cut, cut, cut, 'cause you can always use all of that in another novel. And yes, you will have another idea for another book. Don't worry.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Agent Interview: Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown

There's more than one "Ginger" at Curtis Brown. Could you clarify for us, which is which and who does what?

Ha! This is a problem that is rather unusual to have for an agent, but yes--there are two Gingers at CB, and we are entirely different people. Ginger Knowlton is Vice President and represents almost exclusively children's books--and is also one of the owners! I arrived about two years ago from Writers House, and half my list is adult and the other half children's books.

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

I worked at Tor Books for more than a year as an editorial assistant, and then got a job as an assistant at Writers House. After six months, I knew I didn't want to go back to the editorial side. I love the agenting side--the lawyer side in me enjoys the contracts and negotiating in particular.

How long have you been in the business? How has it changed?

Since Fall 1998, and while I have seen less consolidation in publishers the way those working in the 80s and 90s did, it still happens. Houghton has just bought out Harcourt earlier this year--who knows what that means for their future editorially?

I've watched children's books be taken a lot more seriously by both readers and publishers.

I've also seen comics and graphic novels grow in sales and respect.

Would you describe yourself as an "editorial agent," one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I would say I'm more on the publishing side of things--I don't line edit. I rarely, however, send out a book on submission that has not been through at least one round of suggested edits by me.

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript, or do you see yourself as a career builder?

You have to be a career builder with clients in order to be a good agent, because if you just focus on selling each book you aren't giving them long-term guidance.

In terms of markets (children's, YA, fiction, non-fiction, genres, chapter books, ER, picture books, etc.), what sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

Well, half my list is kids and half is adult. On the children's side, I do young adult and middle grade fiction.

What I am specifically looking for right now on that side is YA or MG science fiction—series based would be great, but not required. I'd love a fresh YA fantasy series, too (particularly YA urban fantasy) and contemporary "boy books." And of course, YA paranormal romance/chicklit would be great as well.

On the adult side, I do science fiction, fantasy, literary horror, and paranormal romance. I'd love to see some military SF; alternative history; post apocalyptic SF; urban fantasy; romantic fantasy; and paranormal romance that is not heavily focused on vampires.

Do you work with author-illustrators and/or illustrators?

I actually just took on my first (and probably) only author-illustrator. I'm not planning on adding others to my list right now.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Yes. They can mail me a letter and SASE, and they will get some kind of answer from me within 4 to 6 weeks. An email I will look at faster, but I don't respond unless I'm interested in seeing more.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

Correct business format and proof-reading is always appreciated. Also, please don't call me Mrs. or Miss. Ms. is fine.

How much contact do you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, listservs? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I mostly email and call my clients, as often as it comes up. I have one or two clients who are not very active right now who I am not in constant contact with; but some clients I email or call several times a week, particularly if something pressing is going on.

What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

The rejections, of course. I get frustrated with lots of rejections, too. And seeing the number of readers out there get smaller and smaller.

What do you love about it?

Having good news for my client--an offer on the next book in a series, that the book is going to auction, that we've just sold foreign rights.

Cynsational Notes

The 5X5 Interview: Ginger Clark, Assistant Literary Agent from Gawker.

Guest Blog: Ginger Clark on How to Handle an Offer of Representation from Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent.

Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown from Cynsations. See also my full list of agent-related links.
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