Thursday, February 07, 2008

Author-Illustrator Interview: Hannah Bonner on When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long before Dinosaurs by Hannah Bonner (National Geographic, 2007). Ever wonder what the world was like before the dinosaurs? In this lively picture book, author-illustrator Bonner tells of the Earth during the Silurian and Devonian periods of the Paleozoic Era, from about 430 million years ago to about 350 million years ago. Filled with fun facts about the evolution of fish, the development of forests, and how animals got feet. A quirky and engaging introduction to the development of life on land. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

Congratulations on the release of When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs (National Geographic, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the book?

When Fish Got Feet (I usually abbreviate it since the full title is ridiculously long) tells the story of life in the Silurian and Devonian periods. At the beginning of the book, the oceans are teeming with life, but dry land is almost completely empty. We follow the evolution of plants as they gradually make the planet green and fertile. Many invertebrates come onto land as well, and we also see how one group of fish develops legs and crawls out of the water to join the fun.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I'm going to have to backtrack for a moment here. About five years ago I was having a series of conversations with Nancy Laties Feresten (editor interview), my editor at National Geographic, about doing a book about life in the distant past.

I was eager to delve into paleontology, which had always fascinated me, and Nancy had been reading about the cool giant insects of the Carboniferous period and thought they would be a great subject for a book. There was additional motivation in the fact that while there were zillions of books about dinosaurs, there were almost none about what came before them.

In the end, I decided to cover two periods, the Carboniferous and the Permian, and the result was When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth, which appeared in 2003.

Once it was clear the When Bugs Were Big was selling nicely, I was asked to do a second book, and started to work on When Fish Got Feet, which is actually a "prequel" to the first book.

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

Research the single most important part of the project. I read all sorts of books and articles and more importantly, corresponded with scientific advisers specializing in Paleozoic invertebrates, vertebrates, plants, and geology.

I had to understand what I was trying to tell and also find out what these ancient worlds looked like. Research for illustrations is more demanding that research for writing. You can write about a fish without knowing whether its top fin is pointy or rounded, but to draw it you have to get really specific, and you also have to be able to imagine your subjects in 3D so that you can show them from whatever angle suits a particular illustration. This is true whether the subject is an animal, a plant, or a landscape.

Doing the research was a challenge, but not an unpleasant one. Corresponding with the various scientists was especially rewarding, they were all extremely helpful and generous with their time and knowledge.

My biggest overall challenge in doing the book was time management, as I'm easily distracted and tend toward "deadline-itis," meaning a progressive acceleration of my pace of work as the deadline approaches, instead of a sensible steady pace all along. The last several months, when I was painting the final illustrations, were a marathon.

How did you approach the illustrations and why?

I work up the text and the ideas for pictures simultaneously. The beauty of being author-illustrator is that I can decide as I go along what to tell in pictures and what to describe in the text, or I can choose to combine both by adding informative labels or captions to illustrations. The cartoons are another case of the text and the image being inseparable. They are the most fun to do.

Technically speaking, I work the old-fashioned way: pen-and-ink and watercolors on watercolor paper. I sometimes add a bit of color pencil at the end.

What age level is the intended audience, and how did you address its specific needs?

When Fish Got Feet is intended for middle school-age kids. As far as addressing their needs, my inner eleven-year-old is alive and well and wrote the book for me!

I'm only half kidding. This is how I like to tell a story, regardless of who it's for. The only adjustment was to keep explanations relatively simple. My editor helped by getting me back on track whenever I got carried away with the details of some complex topic or used vocabulary that was too difficult. In any case, I think the book works for older kids and even for curious adults as well, since it packs a lot of information between cover and cover.

In what ways is the book teacher-librarian friendly?

It takes little-covered subject matter and presents it in (I hope!) an appealing way. Also helpful are a "where to learn more" section, a list of the sources I used, and an easy-to-read timeline of life on Earth.

Could you describe your apprenticeship as an author-illustrator? How did you build your skills on each front?

I was an illustrator long before I became an author. I still think of myself primarily as an illustrator, but one who likes to tell a story in images and add text to them as needed.

I've been drawing non-stop since I was a toddler, and have worked as an illustrator for many years. I've illustrated all sorts of things--early readers, science-oriented educational materials, Majorcan folk tales, images for cookie packages, sea birds, fish, you name it.

Over the years, I have been able to shift more and more into drawing only what I love, which is biology, paleontology, and the natural world in general. My biggest illustration job was researching and drawing over 200 illustrations for the Scholastic Science Dictionary that came out in 2000. It was also how I started to work for Nancy Laties Feresten, who at the time was working at Scholastic.

I have sometimes thought that had it been the other way around, if I had been an experienced writer but new to illustration, it would not have worked. I had the excellent help of editor Marfé Ferguson Delano (who is also a children's book author in her own right) to whip my imperfect text into shape. Besides, even someone who isn't a professional writer may in fact spend a lot of time writing. Drawing is different. If you haven't spent years and years honing a sense of design and the necessary drawing and painting skills, you are unlikely to be able to take on a project like this one.

What I deliberately didn't do was try to figure out how other authors handle writing nonfiction for kids. I figured that I was better off turning my lack of experience into a plus: I didn't self-censor as I wrote, figuring that if I wrote it however sounded best to me it would at least have a certain freshness and would be more original.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a pre-published writer-illustrator, what advice would you offer?

This is a hard one! I guess I would reassure myself that I was heading in the right direction and that chances would present themselves to put my various disparate talents and loves to work.

Which picture books would you suggest for study and why?

I can't really say, there are so many good ones. I can say that some of my biggest influences have been Larry Gonick's "cartoon guide" books, and the paleontological illustrations of Douglas Henderson in books such as Living With Dinosaurs or Dinosaur Tree.

What do you do when you're not writing or illustrating?

I walk to and from my studio (about 25 minutes each way--sometimes I cheat and take a bus part of the way), so part of every day I spend walking through town. On weekends, I sometimes go hiking with friends in the beautiful mountains of Mallorca. And I must admit that when I should be writing and illustrating I'm often checking or writing email instead! I also do Tai Chi twice a week, it's a great antidote to sitting in my studio.

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Razorbill, 2007)(excerpt)! From the promotional copy:

"Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with an unbreakable bond to the earth's magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest and most dangerous vampires--the ones who never die.

"The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa's best friend, makes her a Dhampir; she is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making her one of them.

"After two years of illicit freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir's Academy, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. Rose will continue her Dhampir education. Lissa will go back to being Queen of the elite Moroi social scene. And both girls will resume breaking hearts.

"Fear made Lissa and Rose run away from St. Vladimir's--but their world is fraught with danger both inside and out of the Academy's iron gates. Here, the cutthroat ranks of the Moroi perform unspeakable rituals and their secretive nature and love of the night creates an enigmatic world full of social complexities. Rose and Lissa must navigate through this dangerous world, confront the temptation of forbidden romance, and never once let their guard down, lest the Strigoi make Lissa one of them forever..."

Learn more about Richelle, read her LJ (Even Redheads Get the Blues), and take this quiz to find out if your school is a vampire academy. Also look for Book #2, Frost Bite, on sale April 2008.

Four copies will be given away! To enter, write me with your name and address by Midnight CST Tonight! Please type "Vampire Academy" in the subject line. Good luck!

More News & Links

Marlene Perez, new official site from the author of Unexpected Development (Roaring Brook, 2004), Love in the Corner Pocket (Scholastic/Point, 2008), and Dead Is the New Black (Harcourt, 2008). Learn more about her books. Read a Cynsations interview with Marlene. Note: Marlene's Web designer is Lisa Firke at Hit Those Keys, who also designed my own author site.

"A Spoonful of Humor" by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh 'Tude: "a take with 'tude on writing, books, and life in the Garden State by an author, journalist, and Jersey girl." Read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

GLBTQ Book List for Youth from the Rainbow Project, "co-sponsored by the American Library Association's Social Responsibility Round Table and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Round Table, an annual bibliography for young readers from birth through age 18."

Congratulations to noted illustrator Don Tate on the sale of his first book as an author. Visit Don's site, his blog, read a Cynsations interview with Don, and read a Cynsations interview with Don and his co-founders of the Brown Bookshelf. Visit Don at MySpace!

Tips for Teen Writers from Cassandra Clare. Here's a sneak peek: "I can only say what works for me or what I've observed, and in this post I'll talk about what I remember about being a teenage writer and what was helpful for me." Learn more about The Mortal Instruments. Visit Cassandra at MySpace!

The Literacy Site: "dedicated to funding free books for children. On average, over 70,000 individuals from around the world visit the site each day to click the 'Click Here to Give - it's FREE' button. To date, more than 55 million visitors have helped provide more than a million books to children who need them the most."

Looking for a reason to smile? Check out Two Lovely Brooklyn Girls from April Lurie at April Afloat. Read a Cynsations interview with April.

Did you know that writers as accomplished as Laurie Halse Anderson actually toss (er, re-file) large chunks of their manuscripts on deadline sometimes? Notes: (a) gives me hope; (b) it's in this same post that I first heard of Judy Blume's blog.

The Page Flipper blog has announced that it will begin awarding monthly prize pack giveaways of YA books! See details here.

I.N.K. (Interesting Non-Fiction for Kids): "Here we will meet the writers whose words are presenting nonfiction in a whole new way. Discover books that show how nonfiction writers are some of the best storytellers around. Learn how these writers practice their craft: research techniques, fact gathering and detective work. Check out how they find unusual tidbits...."

Lisa Graff: "Where can you find thoughts about children's books, the publishing industry, and Lisa's totally wacky six-month long beauty experiment all in one place? (Hint: Right here.)" Lisa describes herself as "writer, a children's book editor, and an all-around lover of good books." See also The Longstockings. Note: Lisa will be speaking April 11 and April 12 at the SCBWI Arkansas conference (along with editor Jennifer Emmett of National Geographic, author Darcy Pattison (author interview), and illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg). Source: Children's Book Biz.

Reminder: 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature at the Brown Bookshelf is ongoing! Rita-Williams Garcia was the featured author on Feb. 4. Here's a sneak peek at what Rita said: "Regardless of class, my characters tend to struggle with self and choice, and not with race, although they're never divorced from issues that surround black teens. I just don’t write from that point of view where the character is suddenly aware of or suddenly confronted with their race. Unless we're separated from community, our race is a given and we live it." Read Cynsations interviews with the founders of the Brown Bookshelf (Paula Chase-Hyman, Varian Johnson, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, and Carla Sarratt) and with Rita Williams-Garcia.

Top Five Children's Books about the Chinese New Year by Elizabeth Kennedy from Children's Books. Note: I had the honor of meeting Elizabeth last fall at the Kansas Book Festival.

More Personally

The Superbowl of Authorial Intrusions - Cynthia Leitich Smith from L. K. Madigan at Drenched in Words. Note: I'm still blushing from the flattering introduction. Thanks so much!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Editor Interview: Stephen Roxburgh on Boyds Mills and Front Street

Stephen Roxburgh on Stephen Roxburgh: "I was born in Boston (Quincy, really) in the middle of the twentieth century (1950) and grew up in a small town on Narragansett Bay. I started school early (age two) and stayed late (twenty-seven) with only a few recesses."

Were you an avid young reader, or did you come to this love later in life?

I have no recollection of not being a reader. What I remember most about my early life is the time I spent reading.

What inspired you to enter the field of children's and young adult publishing?

I discovered children's books by accident in my mid-twenties. I thought I could be a children's librarian but discovered that I didn't much like children. So I went to the university to study children's literature but learned that I didn't much like academics either. So, I landed in publishing as a refugee.

Could you summarize your career to date?

Manic obsessive. I entered publishing in children's books at Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1978. I left FSG to found Front Street in 1994. Front Street and Boyds Mills Press joined forces in 2004.

What prompted you to found Front Street?

It was time to move on, and I didn't see myself working for a large publicly-held corporation (not that one would have wanted me). I knew that if I didn't start my own company then, I never would. I founded Front Street, deliberately, on April 1, 1994. Fools walk in where angels fear to tread.

What challenges and opportunities did you encounter at the head this new company?

Everything was a challenge: founding a tiny independent publishing house was a lunatic scheme. Everything was an opportunity: there were no guidelines that were relevant, no rules I needed to follow, no standard procedures.

How would you describe the list today? What sorts of books do you publish?

The same answer to both questions: Best of kind.

If you had to highlight three recent titles that would give us a feel for the list, which would you choose and why?

Prior to joining with Boyds Mills Press, we published a little bit of everything at Front Street, although we were best known for our young adult fiction. Subsequently, we have decided to focus our imprints based on content and Front Street has become our fiction list.

Recent titles include Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (a 2007 National Book Award finalist). Martine is an extraordinary writer who I met when she was working toward an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. My wife, the novelist Carolyn Coman was on the Vermont faculty at that time and introduced us. I had the opportunity to read Martine's work in progress, a novel entitled Heck, Superhero (2004), which I eventually published.

What Happened by Peter Johnson is a first novel by a well-established prose poet. I love publishing first novels, and we always have one or two on our list. This novel is a nontraditional narrative told from the point of view of a highly idiosyncratic and, I should add, unreliable narrator, about whom the reader comes to care a great deal.

A book we've just published that looks like a picture book but is graphic fiction is entitled Run Far, Run Fast by Timothy Decker, an extraordinary pictoral story about a girl wandering the countryside during the Black Plague in fourteenth-century Europe. The book defies categorizing and is one of the most remarkable books I've ever published.

Which would you recommend to writers for study and why?

Study Martine Leavitt for storytelling power, Peter Johnson for conciseness and precision, and Tim Decker for shear off-the-wall brilliance.

You became an associate publisher at Boyds Mills in 2004. What prompted this development?

When Kent Brown, then publisher and founder of Boyds Mills Press, and I agreed to join forces, the plan was that I would immediately take charge of the editorial side of the company and eventually take over as publisher as part of a transition plan that would enable him to focus his efforts on the Highlights Foundation of which he is the executive director. I assumed the position of publisher of Boyds Mills Press in February of this year.

Could you give us an overview of Boyds Mills in terms of its history and objectives?

Boyds Mills Press was founded in 1990 by Kent Brown, Clay Winters, and Larry Rosler. The company is the trade-book division of the Highlights for Children, Inc. The goal of the company is to publish books in keeping with the corporation's mission and values.

How would you describe its list? What distinguishes it from other children's book publishers?

Our list is a general trade list with a strong commitment to the library market, to our backlist, and to keeping our titles in print.

Who are the big names, rising stars, and hot new voices?

As far as I am concerned, all our authors and artists are big names, rising stars, and strong voices. This may be what most distinguishes us from other children's book publishers.

What do you see as your jobs in the publishing process?

My job is to make sure that we publish authors, not books. Our goal is to publish a few good books well. "Well" means that we and our authors and artists are proud of what we do and that we are profitable enough to keep doing it. Our books need to be best of kind. We need to maintain our commitment to our underlying vision and values over time.

What are your challenges?

We are a small company with finite resources in a world of large companies with seemingly infinite resources. We need to pay attention, be nimble, and be quick.

What do you love about it?

Everything. I am never, ever bored.

How has publishing changed--for better and worse--since you entered the field?

It hasn't, at least not essentially. I have gotten older.

What global improvements would you like to see and why?

Clean air, clean water, less violence, universal education and health care. These would be an improvement over what we have now.

What qualities do you look for in a manuscript?


In each case (Front Street and Boyds Mills), how can writers/illustrators submit their work for consideration?

Any way they want. The door is open.

Any submission recommendations or pet peeves?

Save paper and postage whenever you can.

Please describe your dream author.

I married her.

Please describe your dream illustrator.

Like I said, I married her but she can't draw worth a fig.

Do most of your books begin as submissions from writers, writer-illustrators, or agents? Why?

Writers and artists. Just lucky, I guess.

Looking back on your career to date, which of the books you've worked on stand out most in your memory and why?

The ones that stand out most in my memory are far too painful to discuss in a public forum. What's more important is which of the books I've worked on stand out in a young reader's mind. I suspect I won't ever know which those are.

What do you do outside the world of children's and young adult books?

Not much.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Boyds Mills and Front Street.

Author Interview: Jay Asher on Thirteen Reasons Why

Jay Asher on Jay Asher: "My past five jobs include working at an independent bookstore, a chain bookstore, an outlet bookstore, and two public libraries (I still work full-time at a library). I do have a favorite type of 'book distribution' among those jobs, but I'm not here to make enemies. Except for six months I spent in Wyoming, where I began writing Thirteen Reasons Why (Razorbill, 2007), I've lived my entire life in California." Visit Jay at MySpace!

What prompted you to write stories for young readers?

I took a class in college called Children's Lit. Appreciation. For my final project, I wrote a picture book titled "Stop, Easter Bunny! You Forgot Something." The book never sold (shocker, I know!), but I was hooked.

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

I don't think there were any real bumps on the path; it was just an insanely huge mountain. It took me around twelve years to sell my first book.

Along the way, I worked on everything from picture books to chapter book series to middle grades. But they were all humorous books. Eventually, I started this suspenseful YA...and it sold. I guess I should've looked beyond humor years ago!

Before selling this book, I'd won a lot of awards (a free trip to New York to meet with editors, a work-in-progress grant, etc...), and I suppose I got my hopes up a few too many times. In fact, I almost quit writing about nine months before this book sold. I started questioning whether there was some other creative outlet out there for me.

Looking back, though, I wouldn't change a thing. I'm so happy that Thirteen Reasons Why is my debut novel.

Congratulations on the release of Thirteen Reasons Why (Razorbill, 2007)! Could you tell us a little about the story?

It's about a high school junior, Clay Jensen, who comes home and finds a package on his doorstep. Inside are seven audiotapes, their sides labeled one through thirteen. He finds a tape player, pops in the first tape, presses play, and out comes the voice of Hannah Baker...his classmate and crush who, two weeks earlier, committed suicide. Each side of each tape tells a story about a different person at their school who, Hannah feels, led to her decision. And since Clay received the tapes, he's one of the reasons why.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

I took an audio tour at a museum several years ago, and I felt that would make for a fascinating way to format a novel: someone's recorded voice leading another person on a journey through their town.

So that's the inspiration for the way the story's told, but the main issue in the novel was something of interest to me because a close relative of mine attempted suicide when she was Hannah's age. Since then, she and I have had many conversations about her state of mind at the time as well as how she may not have seen things exactly for what they were.

When the novel's format clicked with the subject of a girl discussing her reasons for taking her life, it gave me chills, and I knew I had to explore that idea some more.

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

I began writing the book in the winter of 2002-2003 and finished it the summer of 2006. Along the way, it won a work-in-progress grant from SCBWI and the Write-It-Now competition (with Chris Crutcher as the YA judge!). With those endorsements, I knew I had to finish the book, but I also wrote a mid-grade novel, a chapter book, and a few picture books during that time. I found an agent in August 2006 and ended up having three houses bidding on the book by the end of September.

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

Logistically, I lived in four houses, in two states, and worked five different jobs while working on Thirteen Reasons Why. Who knows, maybe writing this book kept me sane during all of those changes.

The format of the book was definitely a challenge; popping back and forth between two voices, sometimes several times per page. To keep the voices consistent, I wrote Hannah's side of the story all the way through. Then I went back and added Clay's story. Quite often, it felt like I was putting together a puzzle rather than writing a story.

Other than my relative, I spoke at length with a lot of my female friends about their high school experiences (being a boy, it turns out, is a totally different experience).

I didn't straight-out use any of the scenarios they told me about; I mainly focused on trying to capture some of the emotions they spoke of. But I also read a lot of books on suicide to make sure Hannah's emotional journey rang true.

What scared you the most about writing this story?

I was mainly afraid of writing a book no one wanted to read because it was too depressing. Since there was no way to get around the seriousness of the issues (nor did I want to), I wrote it as if writing a suspense hopefully compel people to read through to the end.

What kept you going and raised you up during the process?

First, my wife. From the day I started writing this book, she refused to let me doubt my ability to write it successfully (which I did quite a lot). Then, Robin and fellow Disco Mermaids. They kept this journey fun.

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

Pretty cool. For starters, it's the year of the Class of 2k7...a co-op of debut middle grade and YA novelists. It's been fun to watch so many careers in that community take-off and to be a part of it.

Other than taking part in the Class of 2k7, what else have you done to promote your new release?

I've been speaking at schools as often as possible, which has been amazing. Not only does my personal twelve-year journey give me a lot to talk about, but there are a lot of serious issues raised in my book, which have provided for some intense discussions.

Other than that, MySpace is huge. Not only is it a great way to interact with teen readers, but it puts me in touch with librarians and booksellers all over the country, some of whom I'm now working with to organize Thirteen Reasons Why book clubs.

If you could go back and talk to your beginning writer self, what advice would you give him?

Learn the value of patience...immediately!

You're an active member of the kidlitosphere! Please tell us about your blog.

Robin, Eve, and I started The Disco Mermaids mainly as a way to infuse some much needed fun into the depressing world of rejection letters. Not only do we discuss the ups and downs of writing for children and teens, but we try to write some silly posts, as well.

For example, our dePaola Code series got the attention of Tomie dePaola, and he wound up reprinting it on his website...which we still have trouble believing (Tomie is a god to us!). Basically, Robin and Eve are my closest friends, and it's just something we like doing together.

What about the community appeals to you?

There's just no cooler group of people than those who write for children and teens. My very first writing conference I went to, it felt like I was surrounded by friends...and I didn't know any of them! But with blogging, I can be a part of that community whenever I need it.

According to your MySpace page, you think the best show ever was "My So-Called Life." What about it worked for you?

Everything! The acting, the dialog, the small story details...even the coloring on the screen. It was just so honest. I feel blasphemous saying this, but that show influenced my writing more than any book. The characters were so real. No one was without faults, but all of their faults made sense. While I was writing Thirteen Reasons Why, the MSCL soundtrack was playing in the background almost constantly.

What can your fans look forward to next?

More unusual relationships. Writing this book made me realize how fascinated I am by the way people interact...and the obstacles that keep us from understanding each other better.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Agent Interview: Emily van Beek of Pippin Properties

Emily van Beek on Emily van Beek: "I relocated from Toronto to New York City in 2000 expressly to pursue a career in children's book publishing (this was my Plan A, and I did not have a Plan B!). I began my career at Hyperion Books for Children, and during my four years there, I became a full editor. But I also began to dream about exploring the view from the agent's side of the desk...and in October of 2003, I joined Pippin."

Pippin Properties, Inc. is a focused, boutique children's literary agency located in New York City. Along with Holly McGhee, the founder of the agency, we represent some of today's most exciting talents in children's books, including the Newbery Medal-winning author of The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo, the Caldecott Medal-winning artist, David Small, a host of bestselling clients such as Doreen Cronin, Betsy Lewin, Harry Bliss, Alison McGhee, Peter H. Reynolds, and Sarah Weeks in addition to veteran New Yorker artists including George Booth and Edward Koren.

I'm honored to say that we also represent some exciting new and emerging talent in children's books, including the picture book author/artist of Grumpy Bird, Jeremy Tankard, CLA Book of the Year Award Winner, Hadley Dyer, Jenny Han, Tao Nyeu, and Taeeun Yoo, Recipient of the Society of Illustrators' 2007 Founders Award, to name but a few.

Pippin will celebrate its tenth birthday this spring!

What were you like as a young reader?

I had an insatiable appetite for stories. As a little kid, children's books (and equally as important, the ritual of being read to every day), were a mainstay of my upbringing. We moved often, but despite changes of address, of language, of schools, of continents, and of friends, the evening routine of bedtime reading was a constant I could count on, a security blanket of sorts.

From Enid Blyton's Noddy books, to Pooh Bear and Piglet, Paddington, Madeline, Mowgli, and Peter Rabbit, my parents would take turns reading to my brother and me every evening, 365 days a year (I still have some of my old and well-worn 365 Day Treasuries and other favorites stowed away in a steamer trunk that has traveled with me through the years and across borders, stories I hope to share with children of my own one day).

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

After about three and a half years in the editorial department of a leading publishing house, I realized that I wanted to experience and to contribute to children's book publishing from a different perspective. I wanted to work even more closely with authors and artists, to become a part of the conversation at an earlier stage in the publishing process, and to be a team player in a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment.

I also loved the idea of seeking out new, as yet undiscovered talent, and helping authors and artists not only launch their careers, but to help them plan for the future, to establish life-long professions, and to publish books that would stand the test of time.

I had a keen interest in the business side of publishing and I realized that as a literary agent I would have all the more opportunity to exercise those muscles. Before setting out for NYC, I flirted with the idea of becoming a lawyer. Agenting is a marriage of these passions of mine. I love negotiating (and yes, I actually enjoy reading contracts).

To top it off, I was intrigued by subsidiary rights with a particular interest in international and audio publishing. Holly often reminds me that during my interview I told her I wanted to conduct Pippin's first audio auction, and shortly after I joined the company, I had the honor of doing just that for a beautiful debut novel--it was so much fun!

As a literary agent at Pippin, every day presents me with opportunities to seek out secondary licenses for our books across a spectrum of industries. Whether we're working collaboratively with our dramatic rights co-agent on feature film deals or with audio publishers to create books on CD, whether we're establishing relationships with licensing agents or forging partnerships with foreign sub-agents in order to share our books with readers beyond our borders, all of these areas of publishing are thrilling to me.

What led you to specialize in youth literature?

You mean there are other kinds of literature? I've always had blinders on when it comes to publishing and the area in which I hoped to contribute. I think it's precisely because of the meaningful role children's books played in my own childhood that I followed the dream of a career in youth literature. On more than one occasion people outside the industry have smiled politely when they've discovered that I work in children's book publishing, only to go on to ask when I hoped to be promoted to adult books. Little do they know!

I spoke recently to a group of beginning writers and asked, "Who is interested in working with an agent?" Every hand went up. Then I asked, "Who knows what an agent does?" No hands. So, what all do you really do?

A literary agent is, first and foremost, an advocate for an author or an artist. We are our clients' greatest champion!

A large part of our role is to manage the business side of publishing so that our clients can focus their attention on the creative aspect of their relationships with their editors.

It is our responsibility to handle the negotiation of all agreements, to be fluent in the language of contracts, to successfully exploit reserved subsidiary rights (such as audio, dramatic, foreign, commercial and merchandising, etc.) as well as to handle the day to day aspects of the business side of things, such as the proofreading of royalty statements.

Our clients count on us to think strategically about their career trajectory with the aim of creating a meaningful and lifelong career. Moreover, at Pippin, we endeavor to help our clients publish fewer books better, and to publish books that will endure.

Given Holly McGhee's and my editorial background, we often work editorially with an author before sending out a submission. We frequently brainstorm new ideas with our clients. This has, at times, meant rounds and rounds of revisions over the course of years, but this sort of hard work and dedication on the part of our clients can result in the passionate acquisition of a project by an incredibly enthusiastic editor and the support of an entire house.

It's also our responsibility to know the editors and their tastes really well to ensure that submissions are well-tailored and the most dynamic and happy relationships can be forged between authors/artists and editors.

Why should unagented writers consider working with an agent?

Agents open doors. Many publishing houses won't consider unagented material, oftentimes returning it unread, whereas a polished, agented submission is far more likely to attract the attention of a well-suited editor.

Additionally, if an author is presented with an offer to publish the work, an agent acts as the author's delegate, someone who is well-versed in the art of negotiation and contracts, and who will make certain the author's best interests are protected.

Beyond the initial acquisition, an agent is also present throughout the manuscript's journey toward publication. We're here to navigate bumps that may arise along the way and to be a voice for our client.

What should a writer look for in a literary agency?

It's really important for aspiring writers to do their research when it comes to selecting an agent. It's useful to know about an agent's current roster of clients and the types of projects they feel passionately about (in terms of genre, format, and audience). Are your tastes compatible?

I think a writer should look for an agent who is responsive (someone who returns calls and emails with dispatch).

One might also consider the size of an agency. Do you want to be part of a larger agency that represents a variety of genres, or would you prefer to be represented by an agency with a narrower focus?

I also think it's best to speak with a prospective agent (or, even better, to meet in person) before making the decision to partner. At its core the relationship between a writer and an agent is just that, a partnership, and it's important to get a feel for one another. A writer might also ask to speak with other clients currently represented by the agent to get a sense for what it might be like to work together.

What makes Pippin Properties special?

When it first dawned on me that I really wanted to make the transition from the editorial side of the desk to agenting, I sat down with a colleague and confided in her that my pie in the sky dream was to join an agency like Pippin. An agency with a reputation for excellence. An agency with an exclusive interest in books for children. One that represented some of the most thrilling and significant talents in the field. When the planets aligned and an opportunity presented itself for me to join Holly at Pippin, I could not believe that my dream had come true.

At Pippin the bar is set high. We strive to live and work by the following philosophy:

--The world owes you nothing. You owe the world your best work. And this can be painful at times (especially when it means telling a writer that their work isn't there yet, that a particular story isn't ready for submission, that s/he needs to try again). Even the best of the best need to write and rewrite. As Holly once observed: "Some books are ready to go, some books will require two years of work, refinement, editing, and polishing. There is no recipe. No detail is too small." And as agents at Pippin, we strive to meet the same standards we set for our clients.

--Evergreens. We want to create books that will stand the test of time. As I mentioned earlier, we believe in publishing fewer books better. Books that will be read and re-read for years and years to come.

--And we want to work with people who share this philosophy.

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

At Pippin we certainly do spend a lot of time on the creative side of things, especially at the beginning of an author's career or when a career is first launched. We want to ensure that an author puts his or her best foot forward (first impressions are important!), and we want to make certain that only polished and compelling projects make it out the front door toward an editor's desk. So, yes, we often edit manuscripts prior to submission.

That said, once a writer has established a relationship with an editor, we respect that dynamic and take a step back, allowing the editor and the writer to focus on the creative ("too many cooks in the kitchen" and all); however we are always nearby and willing to assist should some point of editorial concern arise.

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

Definitely the latter. Pippin is such a small agency (my associate, Samantha Cosentino, Holly and me--that's the whole company!), and likewise our list of clients is quite small. Together with our client, we see ourselves as architects of a publishing career.

We prefer to invest our time in representing authors who feel as passionately about children's books as we do, authors who aim to tell stories for years to come and who seek to build lifelong careers in this field as opposed to handling a patchwork of manuscripts by a much broader group of writers whom we wouldn't have the time to get to know as well.

Harry Bliss is the perfect example! He joined Pippin at the very beginning of his career in children's books. Harry’s debut picture book, A Fine, Fine, School was written by Newbery Medal-winning author Sharon Creech, and it went on to become a bestseller. Since then, he has created extraordinary artwork for stories written by the venerable William Steig, as well as New York Times bestselling authors Doreen Cronin and Alison McGhee. And he's now putting the finishing touches on a picture book by Kate DiCamillo.

What do you look for in a prospective client?

We look for passion and dedication. We look for a writer who is willing to work really hard. Someone who can keep the goal in sight when we ask for the eighth revision. We are looking for ingenuity. We're looking for voices that stay with us.

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

We are especially looking for fresh, compelling voices in middle-grade and young-adult fiction. I would love to discover and represent some new novelists!

We are also looking for strong, unique picture books (if a writer's story idea has been done before--bedtime, brothers, bullies, blankies, etc.--is his or her story executed better than anyone else who has previously published on a similar topic?) Books for boys would be great, too!

We often say that we're not looking for the "next Harry Potter" rather we're looking what comes after those books, what pushes boundaries in terms of content, format, and most importantly, voice.

Do you represent author-illustrators or illustrators who don't also write? If so, what particular advice to you have for them?

Yes, we do represent author-illustrators, but we represent very few artists who don't also write their own work. For illustrators who don't write, I'd recommend they seek out an illustration agency, one that specializes in the representation of artists exclusively.

In my experience, it's enormously helpful when author-illustrators send links to their personal websites (online portfolios). This is a fantastic way to make an author-illustrator's introduction and to get a sense, right off the bat, of whether or not we might be a good match.

I think it's also important for an author-illustrator to compile a portfolio of compelling samples that represent the range of styles in which s/he'd like to illustrate (whether in color or black and white) and the variety of mediums s/he'd like to use. A varied portfolio is a good way to avoid being too quickly categorized or pigeonholed. We'd also like to know whether or not an author-illustrator is open to the idea of illustrating a manuscript written by another writer.

If an author-illustrator has a picture book idea, the submission of a dummy (even if only in sketch stage) can also be worthwhile.

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

We are always on the lookout for new authors and artists. We try to keep our eyes and ears peeled at all times. The best way to be in touch is to visit our website ( and to follow the submissions guidelines outlined there.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

A few months ago, my colleagues and I were discussing submissions and some of the slip-ups aspiring writers can make. We compiled a "submissions cheat sheet", a check-list for a writer to consider before pressing "send". Here are a few of the items from the list:

--Is your first sentence the best is can be? Is it irresistible?

--Do you feel the need for a lengthy explanation of your manuscript in the cover letter? If so, this may be a warning that your story needs more work before submission.

--If you're submitting electronically, are you absolutely certain that the name of each agency you're approaching does not appear in the "to" field? Triple check!

--Is your submission (cover letter and manuscript) free of typos and grammatical errors?! There is no excuse for sloppiness.

--Is your manuscript double-spaced?

--Have you verified that the person who gave you the agent's name actually knows that person? This is a short cut to losing credibility.

--If you decide you are ready to submit, give the agent time to consider your work.

If a writer is turned down by one agent at Pippin, may s/he submit at a future date? What considerations might apply?

Yes, if s/he has been invited to submit again or if s/he has followed any editorial suggestions proffered by the agent and made significant revisions, then I'd say s/he is welcome to try us again.

If a writer is turned down by one agent at Pippin, may s/he submit to another? Likewise, what considerations might apply?

At Pippin, decisions regarding representation are collaborative. If we invite a writer to join our family, then we have each fallen in love with that writer's voice. However, the reverse is also true, if one of us has decided to pass on the chance to represent an aspiring writer, then s/he would be better off turning her/his attention to another agency.

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

Contact with clients varies. We always endeavor to return phone calls and emails quickly, but the speed often depends on what information needs to be gathered. Because we're so small, if one of us is busy when an author calls, the other of us is often up to speed and able to assist.

We interact with some clients on a daily basis and with others less frequently, it all depends on a client's needs and wishes, and also on the level of activity going on for any given client at any given time (i.e. if we're in the middle of an auction, we're more likely to speak with an author several times a day whereas if a client is settled and deep at work on a particular project without any real emergencies on the horizon, we may chat less frequently).

Would you like to highlight a few of your clients and/or their recent titles?

I feel so honored and so lucky to work with the amazing authors and artists who make up our list!

An upcoming project I’m particularly excited about is an atmospheric and literary middle-grade novel called The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. When Kathi joined Pippin she had an extensive backlist of picture books to her credit, but she desired to write a literary middle-grade novel. And for the next two years and through eight revisions, Kathi, as she puts it, worked out of her comfort zone. Here is how she charts her journey:

"Tobin Anderson once told me: "write what you think you can't." At first I understood that to mean write in places where I never had. As primarily a picture book writer, a novel was a place I wasn't sure I could write. During the editing and writing process, I lost the boy. I lost the cat. I lost characters I loved.

"Love and loss. They're the twin sisters of the heart. And now I understand that Tobin meant for me to write in a way that wasn't about avoiding loss, but was about realizing loss, and how important that is to fully appreciate love. Could I stand it? Could I lose the boy? Or the cat? The ones I loved? The fact is, not writing that way would have been the bigger loss. It scared the living daylights out of me, but it also reminded me of what was at stake--everything.”

The Underneath, featuring illustrations by none other than Caldecott Medal-winning artist David Small, will be published by Atheneum this year. I'm so looking forward to holding the finished book in my hands.

I'm also looking forward to the publication of Only a Witch Can Fly by #1 New York Times bestselling author Alison McGhee with enchanting illustrations by Taeeun Yoo, the recipient of the Society of Illustrators Founders Award (Feiwel & Friends, 2009), as well as Let's Do Nothing! by debut picture book author-artist, Tony Fucile (Candlewick Press, 2009).

Tony recently made an extreme career move. Prior to jumping into the world of children's books (via the slush pile!), Tony was a Supervising Animator at Pixar where he worked on films like the Oscar-winning "Finding Nemo," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," and where he co-creator "The Incredibles." But Tony decided to follow his dream of creating books for children, and I cannot wait for readers to discover Let's Do Nothing! this spring.

Past Pippin successes include The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by the Newbery Medal-winning author Kate DiCamillo (a #1 New York Times best-seller, as well as a 2006 Boston Globe-Horn Book and Christopher Award winner), the New York Times bestselling Diary of a Fly, Diary of a Spider, and Diary of a Worm books by Doreen Cronin and Harry Bliss, and the #1 New York Times bestselling Someday by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

American Indian Youth Book Awards 2008

PHILADELPHIA--The American Indian Library Association (AILA), an affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA), is pleased to announce the recipients of its American Indian Youth Literature Award. This new literary award was created as a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Books selected to receive the award present Native Americans in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.

The award is presented in each of three categories-picture book, middle school, and young adult-and each winner receives $500 and a custom-made beaded medallion, which will be presented at a ticketed event during the American Library Association Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA. See the AILA web site for more detailed information about the books, authors and award event.

"We are grateful to have this opportunity to honor authors and illustrators who best portray Native American culture for young readers," Naomi Caldwell, Chair, AILA American Indian Youth Literature Award committee. "We celebrate the official recognition American Indian literature for youth."

Picture Book

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges. Cinco Puntos Press, 2006.

A beautifully inspired story of a friendship between Martha Tom, a Choctaw girl, and Li' Mo, an enslaved boy, and how their relationship brought wholeness and freedom to Mo's family and also to many enslaved people. Bridge's illustrations enhance the story by resonating the joy of friendship, the light of faith, and the leadership of children.

Middle School

Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond by Joseph Medicine Crow. National Geographic, 2006.

This appealing autobiography of Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Absarokee) is a winner with the young and old. The author recounts his adventures and training as a traditional Crow warrior and his service as a decorated World War II veteran. Walk, run, and ride with him as you learn first-hand about real-life on the Crow reservation before during and after encounters with newcomers. In a text that is not preachy but an honest read, Joseph Medicine Crow tell how he over came many challenges to fulfill is role as Chief of the Crow Nation.

Young Adult

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Little Brown Publishers, 2007.

A realistic, bittersweet, yet humorous look at the life of Arnold, a Spokane Indian teenager making his way in life on the reservation while attending an all-white high school. Alexie brings to life the challenges many young native people experience as they learn to navigate and balance Indian life in a modern world. Part autobiography, Alexie's Arnold reminds us of the complexities of coming of age, bigotry, bullies, loyalty to family, and the meaning of love.

In the near future an American Indian Youth Literature Award free downloadable bookmark and brochure will be made available on the AILA Web site.

Members of the American Indian Youth Literature Award are: Naomi Caldwell, chair, GSLIS, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, R.I.; Carlene Engstrom, D'Arcy McNickle Library, Salish Kootenai College, Pablo, Mont.; and Gabriella Kaye, Mashantucket, Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT., Lisa A. Mitten, Choice Magazine, Sarah Kostelecky, Institute of American Indian Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Cindy Carrywater, Montana State Library Commission, and Jolena Tillequots, School Library Media Specialist, Yakima Nation.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Eternal: the Cut-and-Paste Report

I'm pleased to report that I'm working on final line edits for Eternal, which will be the second book in the Tantalize universe and will be likewise published by Candlewick Press.

I'd turned in the second big revision just after Thanksgiving and had been awaiting my editor's reaction.

She'd asked me, among other things, to further develop one of the main characters, to push back the start point, and to give the alternating point-of-view characters more of a unifying mission early in the story.

The upshot was a lot of new scenes, a lot of deleting, a lot of moving text around. It was fascinating because the process of revision began like it normally does. I panicked at my perception of the magnitude of the task, set a heavy object on the letter, and backed away slowly.

Then, only a couple of days later, I found myself in a frenzy. Normally, revision epiphanies come to me in a slow series of sparks. This was more like standing in the middle of an inferno.

I had so many ideas that the word processing itself got in the way. It was too distant, too slippery, when I knew--just knew--what to do with these flesh-and-bone fictional people.

So I abandoned my typical writing spots--the sleeping porch and sun porch--for the dining room table where I could spread out with scissors and tape and literally cut, literally pasted, which slowed me down just enough to think. Something about physically holding onto the pieces of the story grounded me and provided a certain reassurance that I could do it, that it was all there. Or, at least, that it eventually would be.

So what's was the result? My editor's reaction included words like "bloody," "astonishing," "wonderful," "amazing" and "gulp," which are certainly encouraging. But I'm still smoothing!

Cynsational Notes

Been spooky lately? The above post is originally from my Spookycyn blog, which features news and interviews related to speculative youth fiction as well as behind-the-scenes glimpses at my own writing life (including foodie reports). If you missed them, check out my holiday report, Libba Bray's signing in Austin, my thoughts on "Angel: After the Fall," and my latest trip--to the Arizona Biltmore.

Cynsational News, Links & YA Public Librarian Giveaway

Wonders of the World by Brian Yansky (Flux, 2007)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

"'I have been everywhere. Everywhere it is the same. All that really exists is the savage truth. Kill. Be killed. Live. Die. There's nothing more.'

"So says Bluebeard, king of the streets, purveyor of drugs, women, and pornography. This isn't the world Eric imagined. At seventeen, he runs away to discover the wonders of the world—the wonders his storyteller father told him about throughout his childhood. But all Eric finds on the street in Riverton is gangs, junkies, sex, and ruined lives. He also stumbles onto a gift for acting and discovers an imagined world might just be his ticket out of a broken real one—if he can say no to the devil.

"Brian Yansky expertly conjures a gritty and original portrait of life at street level, complete with cynical adults, doomed teens, a villain who isn’t quite human, and a brilliant but unlikely hero."

Ages 14-up. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

An autographed copy of Wonders of the World will be given away to a YA public librarian! To enter, email me with your name and address by 4 p.m. CST Monday, Feb. 4! Please also type "Wonders of the World" in the subject line. Good luck!

More News & Links

Favorite Poetry Books of 2007 from Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children. Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia.

Creativity: Overcoming Too Many Ideas Syndrome by Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant from Writers Digest. "Don't let your creativity get in the way of your productivity. Here are nine tips for overcoming Too Many Ideas Syndrome."

Genre Fiction for Young People: Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction, and Fantasy from CBC Magazine.

Congratulations to Shana Burg on the launch of her official author site. Shana is the debut author of A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008)(Listening Library, 2008). Read chapter one. Shana is based in Austin, Texas.

Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature from Alaska Native Knowledge Network at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Source: American Indians in Children's Literature.

Ready for some book trailers? Check out "Storytime Boogie" from children's author Kim Norman (author interview)(that's really her singing!) and "Greetings from Nowhere" from children's author Barbara O'Connor.

Top 100 interview: National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie from USA Today.

Ten: ten lessons learned in ten years of publishing from Grace Lin at Blue Girls. Source: One Writer's Journey.

Congratulations to Tiffany Trent on the release of By Venom's Sweet Sting (Hallowmere Book 2)(Mirrorstone, 2007)! From the promotional copy: "Are Corrine and her friends strong enough to take on the Fey? Following the destruction of Falston, Corrine and her schoolmates embark for Scotland to chase Rory and the stolen rathstone. On the moors of Kenmore, tensions mount between the friends as a new love interest comes into Corrine's life. In the layers of lies and secrets, who can she trust? In this exciting sequel to In the Serpent's Coils, Tiffany Trent delivers a larger-then-life battle between the Fey that readers will never forget." Visit Tiffany at MySpace, read her LJ, and learn more about Hallowmere. Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

Dorian Cirrone: new official site from the author of the Lindy Blues mysteries (Marshall Cavendish, 2006), Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You (HarperCollins, 2005)(excerpt), and Prom Kings and Drama Queens (HarperTeens, 2008)(excerpt). Read a Cynsations interview with Dorian. Note: Dorian's site is designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, who also designed my own official site.

Picture book authors Jill Esbaum and Linda Skeers are hosting writing
workshops in April and July, 2008. Learn more about their workshops! Read a Cynsations interview with Jill.

Monthly Special: Reluctant Readers: recommended titles from The Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with editor Roger Sutton. Visit his blog, Read Roger!

Here's a rousing cheer for Debbi Michiko Florence, author of the forthcoming China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book, illustrated by Jim Caputo, (Williamson Books, 2008)!

Debbi has been offering author interviews at her site since 2001. Don't miss her latest with Eric Luper. Here's a sneak peek: "Feisty and fine. I pored over those words for hours. Then, there were a bunch of numbers after that, splits and percentages and advances and all that. That's when I realized that, although my writing might be fine and feisty, my knowledge of the publishing industry was weak and wanting."

Want to win a free book? Surf over to TeensReadToo for the (Nearly) 30 Books in (Almost) 30 Days contest! Simon & Schuster is giving away 145 (total) books by such wonderful authors as Niki Burnham (author interview), Micol Ostow, and Aimee Friedman. Looking for more? Don't miss the regular monthly giveaway, featuring books by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm (illustrator interview), Judy Gregerson, Lauren Myracle (author interview), Liz Gallagher, and more!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Author Feature: Marissa Doyle and Jody Feldman on the Class of 2k8

The Class of 2k8 is the home of a group of middle grade and young adult authors, all with their debut novels being published in 2008. Visit the class at MySpace, Facebook, and Jacketflap!

Marissa Doyle on Marissa Doyle: "I graduated from Bryn Mawr College with the intention of being an archaeologist, but somehow that never happened...but I think I've always known that someday I would end up as a writer. I live in Massachusetts with my family, an opinionated pet rabbit, and a collection of books that has strained the joists supporting the second floor of my house. Fortunately, my husband is handy."

Jody Feldman on Jody Feldman: "Imagine an 18-year-old freshman, sitting on a built-in desk, staring out her dorm window, realizing she can't stand her major (psychology) and stressing over what she's going to do for the rest of her life. Picture her mind racing through the list of colleges at the University of Missouri, but pausing every time she gets to their distinguished School of Journalism. Then pausing again and again, knowing she really doesn't love writing.

"Fourteen minutes after I'd first perched on that desk, I hopped off with a new grand plan. I was going into advertising. It turns out that advertising is an amazing background for writing fiction. It turns out I didn't hate writing as much as I thought I did. Fast forward past lots of ads, three works-for-hire, and a guidebook to St. Louis. And here I am, still in my native St. Louis, but with a whole new career ahead of me."

Congratulations on your debut novels! Could you tell us about your books?

MD: I'm never sure how to categorize Bewitching Season (Henry Holt, 2008), so I stick to just calling it a YA novel...but it's set in 1837 London and features a pair of twin sisters making their debuts in society (which means they were entering the aristocratic marriage market) who end up rescuing their kidnapped governess and the soon-to-be Queen Victoria from an evil plot to control the British throne. "YA novel" is ever so much easier to say than "coming of age-historical-romantic-fantasy."

JF: I'm like Marissa in that I never knew how to categorize The Gollywhopper Games (Greenwillow, 2008)...until my publisher had associated it with the word, "interactive." So I'll stick with that and add two words of my own: contemporary interactive adventure. The Gollywhopper Games of the title is a once-in-a-lifetime event that starts with 25,000 contestants and narrows to one winner. What separates the players from the amazing grand prize are puzzles, brainteasers, and physical stunts. (Readers, if they choose, can play along.) Gil Goodson, son of a disgraced ex-employee of the sponsoring company, feels that winning the Games is his chance not only to win the prize, but to find a new life for his family.

When did you find out about your first sale? What happened? How did you celebrate?

MD: My agent had let me know that my editor-to-be was very interested in Bewitching Season shortly after the book was submitted, so the sale was more like the tide coming in than a tsunami. We had sent the book out for submission in early November, which of course meant that the holiday season was coming...and then, right after New Year's Day, my agent said to expect a call from Holt...and then a few days after Kate Farrell and I spoke, the formal offer came in. But it was still an "ohmigod" moment when my agent called and said Holt was offering for two books. It was mid-afternoon, just after my children had gotten off the school bus, so I stood in the middle of the kitchen hugging the three of them and sobbing my eyes out. My husband was on a business trip overseas and said he was completely bummed that he wasn't there to see my face.

JF: My agent loves to tell the story of calling me while I was driving to my haircut appointment in a blinding rainstorm and how I nearly veered off the road when she told me we had an offer. Then I love to tell the part about sitting in the car in the parking lot, making Haircut Guy wait while I tried to call my family. Tried. I couldn't reach anyone. So I sat in his chair with this goofy grin on my face and with this knowledge all to myself for the next 45 minutes. No way Haircut Guy would be the first to know. As for the celebration, I celebrated by barely sleeping for the next week. That same goofy grin kept me awake.

What about being a debut author has surprised you most?

MD: This may sound silly, but I'm always so pleased and humbled when someone says, "Oh, I can't wait to read your book when it's out." I'd been working on writing for publication for two years before selling, wanted enormously to see my books on shelves in bookstores and libraries...but the one-on-one interaction with potential readers is thrilling and touching.

JF: Just two years, Marissa? You were a baby.

I'll agree with the above and add another one, one which shouldn’t have come as any surprise at all. I have author friends who have told me this would be true. No, I thought, it won't be like that. Not for me. It won't be hard to find time to write something new. Listen to your friends. It's been hard to concentrate on developing new ideas. Between rewrites and galley proofs and developing a bit of a promotional plan (promotion is not a necessity for everyone, but with a background in advertising, it's something I need to do), the writing has been coming in last. I need to change that.

You're both involved in the Class of 2k8 cooperative promotional effort! Could you explain what this means?

MD: The Class of 2k8 is a group of authors with debut YA and MG books being published in 2008 who have banded together to promote our works and each other. Debut authors don't always have the marketing clout that established authors have, so our goal was to join forces and gain some attention for our books. It's all our work--we decided what we wanted to do and how to do it. There was no publisher involvement, no publicist (though we did hire one to examine our marketing plan)--just a group of authors working together.

Our primary goal is to reach out to what we call "BLTs"--booksellers, librarians, and teachers--to let them know about some fantastic new books and authors and offer them "extras" that will make our books extra appealing. So on our website and blog we have features like downloadable discussion guides for each of our books, meet the author launch parties, book videos, and more.

JF: It also means we have all these different, creative, brilliant, caring minds from different backgrounds and different parts of the country (and one from Canada), and we're accompanying each other on this wonderful, mysterious and sometimes scary journey. It also means we have so many more opportunities. In January, for example, I co-presented a workshop on promotion with fellow 2k8er Debbie Reed Fischer at the Florida SCBWI conference. I never would have been there if it weren't for this group.

What was its inspiration? And what is the inspiration for continuing?

MD: I'll need to back-track a little on this one. 2k8 is the successor to the Class of 2k7, which was founded by Greg Fishbone (author of Septina Nash and the Penguins of Doom, Blooming Tree Press). Jody, Zu Vincent, and I were all originally members of 2k7 but had our release dates moved...and so we decided to found 2k8 with Greg's blessing.

JF: Having worked, ourselves, to help develop the Class of 2k7, then not being able to fully participate in this group was a bit of a letdown. Like digging a hole, and knowing China was just shovelfuls from you, then having the shovel taken away. Although 2k7 hadn't officially launched by the time we left, it was apparent they were already making an impact. We knew we'd have to start from just-past scratch with a new group, but we could see a potential pay-off.

How did the class come together?

MD: Greg started getting e-mails from interested authors about a potential Class of 2k8 when 2007 was barely underway. We put out a formal call for members in April 2007 and immediately got dozens of inquiries and applications. We've had members come and go as release dates have been moved (and the embryonic Class of 2k9 already exists as a result), but our goal was to keep our membership at 28, equally divided between YA and MG.

JF: And we're still getting inquiries. That's a tribute to what the Class of 2k7 accomplished.

Now, if the question, in its second context, is asking how we gelled as a group... Well, do you have a few hours? Truthfully, it was a great, but sometimes overwhelming process involving a series of Class meetings (which means thousands of emails), an outpouring of ideas and the willingness of many of us to at least try a few things that were outside our comfort zones. Also, an understanding that group work is hard, but the rewards can be magnified.

What were the criteria for membership eligibility and why?

MD: We decided to use 2k7's criteria: members had to be first-time children's lit authors (we do have members published in adult fiction and non-fiction) with a YA or MG novel being released in 2008 from a royalty-paying publisher listed in CWIM.

Our goal was to make sure we were presenting uniformly high quality books to BLTs...and though our books cover the spectrum of moods and topics and intended audiences, they
all share the fact that they're debut novels.

JF: Once applicants passed that criteria, we required that they agreed to become a working member of the group. Everyone has at least one role in the Class, and each is expected to participate in some notable way.

Who are your members?

MD: Our wonderful MG authors: Ellen Booraem (The Unnameables), Jody Feldman (The Gollywhopper Games), P.J. Hoover (The Emerald Tablet), Jenny Meyerhoff (Third Grade Baby), N.A. Nelson (Bringing the Boy Home), Stacy Nyikos (Dragon Wishes), Sarah Prineas (The Magic Thief), Courtney Sheinmel (My So-Called Family), Laurel Snyder (Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, Barrie Summy (I So Don't Do Mysteries), Kristin Tubb (Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different), Nancy Viau (Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head), and Annie Wedekind (A Horse of Her Own); and our amazing YA authors: M. P. Barker (A Difficult Boy), Jennifer Bradbury (Shift), Teri Brown (Read My Lips), Elizabeth Bunce (A Curse as Dark as Gold), Terri Clark (Sleepless), Marissa Doyle (Bewitching Season), Debbie Fischer Reed (Braless in Wonderland), Donna Freitas (The Possibilities of Sainthood), Liz Gallagher (The Opposite of Invisible), Daphne Grab (Alive and Well in Prague, NY), Lisa Schroeder (I Heart You, You Haunt Me), Regina Scott (La Petite Four), Brooke Taylor (Undone), and Zu Vincent (The Lucky Place).

JF: Also, our members are or have been teachers, professors, librarians, sales reps, freelance writers, attorneys, moms, editors, reporters, talent bookers, human resource directors, engineers, gondola operators, fund raisers, speech pathologists, anthropologists...and it just so happened that we're all female in this particular Class. We had some male classmates, but they needed to drop out for personal reasons. (No. No need to draw any conclusions.)

What is your role in it?

MD: Because of our experience with 2k7, we had a pretty good idea of what worked well and what was less doable. So we formed the broad outline of what the class would be doing and led discussions of how we'd accomplish our goals and came up with a plan. That's easy to say in one neat sentence, but it meant many months of e-mailed group discussions and meetings and re-discussions. Now we're sort of the orchestra conductors--making sure every note in the score (our plan) gets played by the right person at the right time.

JF: Our title is co-presidents, but actually, we're nags, cheerleaders, email addicts (by necessity), mediators, dictators, directors, hire-ers, scramblers, observers, players and friends.

Why did you decide to participate?

MD: Two reasons: Writing doesn't stop being a lonely profession after you sell a book. And first books often need an extra boost in the marketplace. 2k8 for me has meant having so many other authors all going through the same process as me--our e-mail loop is a safe place to ask questions and advice and share our good and bad moments. And it's made me feel like I'm doing my best to give my incipient publishing career a strong launch.

JF: My decision came shortly after I got The Call. I knew Greg Fishbone (Class of 2k7 President and Originator) from an on-line critique group, and I knew him as someone who wouldn't stop until he accomplished whatever he set out to do. Even though I didn't have a release date then, I did know my book would hover the 2007-2008 line. Then once I'd gotten a taste of how such a group could grow, I was hooked, both by the promise of the group and by being a part of a community.

What has been accomplished so far?

MD: Tangibly or intangibly? We've got a terrific website and blog that we hope will help BLTs learn about our books as well as a presence on MySpace, Facebook, and Jacketflap. We're getting mentions and attention from many areas of the children's publishing world...and hopefully that will help our sales. But we've also come together as a strong supportive group of friends with friendships that I hope will continue well past 2008. That's a pretty big accomplishment, I think.

JF: We've also developed a confidence and a trust. We can go out into the big, bad world of publishing promotion and try things that may have been inconceivable without the aggregation of ideas and energies. Even when we wonder whether or not we can, there’s a member pushing from behind, encouraging us to try. That not only goes into the group effort, it spills over into individual effort as well.

What have been your challenges?

MD: Trying to accomplish as much as possible on a small budget. That has meant sometimes axing great ideas and plans members have had because we just don't have the resources. That's been hard. And during the member application process we were very upfront with the fact that this was going to be a hands-on, labor-intensive project--thankfully, our members have been fully on-board with that.

JF: It would be so much easier if we could all meet in a big conference room and brainstorm, hammer out ideas, figure out logistics and do it the way traditional companies do. But because we're from Washington to Florida and back up to Maine, we have to rely on email to form all our plans. I don't know that I've ever typed so many words in a year.

What plans do you have on the horizon?

MD: Writing more YA fiction and using what I've learned through the Class of 2k8 to promote my books more effectively...but I don't know what I'll do without exchanging 10 or 20 daily e-mails with Jody once 2008 is over.

JF: I don't think the emails between us will stop. I've made a really good friend in Marissa. In fact, my plans are very similar to hers: to keep writing and keep promoting. I have another interactive MG completed, and I'm halfway through a third. I'm also going to see if I like the school-visit circuit as much as I always thought I would.

What advice to you have for beginning writers?

MD: Write every day if possible, if only for a half hour. Know that your first manuscript will probably be terrible, but don't let that stop you because that's how you learn. Finish that first book and write a second, and then a third. Join a critique group but stay true to your voice. Join groups like SCBWI and the amazing Blueboards on Verla Kay's website and read the posts, because that's the best way to learn about the industry. Be gracious to everyone you meet both on-line and in person, because this is a small industry and you just never know. And I'll stop there...but those are the biggies as far as I'm concerned.

JF: Because I have to say it to keep the mantra alive: Read, read, read; write, write, write. Now, another answer. Find your passion. Don't write what you believe readers want to read. Don't write what you think editors want to buy. Write the type of story that excited you as a child. When you pull up those emotions and turn them into words, your writing will be what the readers and editors want. That's the way it happened for me.
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