Friday, March 07, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Art Director Interview: Martha Rago of HarperCollins Children's Books

Martha Rago is Executive Art Director for HarperCollins Children's Books. She has worked on such bestselling titles as 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle, Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein, Russell The Sheep by Rob Scotton and Diary Of A Spider, illustrated by Harry Bliss. Martha was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children's book publishing?

MR: Publishing as a career was not obvious to me at first, although now I cannot imagine anything for which I would be better suited. I was an Italian studies major with a great interest in European culture, language, history and art. I always drew, painted, and made art in some way without much thought about it.

I tried a few fields after college: fashion merchandising, then fashion design, among them, and soon started going to evening school for illustration with children's books in mind.

After my first course in typography, it was as though a light went on and my calling was clear. I felt passionate about combining my love of art and language with the beauty of type and the order and clarity essential to good design.

Once I realized what I wanted to do, I put all of my efforts into finding a position and began my career then as the assistant to the art director at G.P Putnam's Sons.

In your opinion, what makes a good art director?

MR: The art director I first worked with often likened her work to that of a midwife. These many years later I see that as an apt description for what is involved in bringing a book to life. The qualities one would seek in a midwife, an artist would probably want in an art director!

One would want someone with solid technical training for guidance and support in the process of creating the work and with a good understanding and a keen eye for what makes the final work successful.

Of course one needs to be organized, able to prioritize and juggle multiple tasks. But more than practical skills, a good art director needs to be sensitive to the nature and dynamic of the relationships involved in the creative process. The art director should have a positive and effective relationship with the artist, gaging when and how much information will be absorbed and useful. The editor has acquired the text for his or her own strong reasons as a viable project for the publisher. Their point of view and vision about the work is key, though not less than the author who may have his or her own feelings about the imagery.

Everyone brings to the work their personal response, even the art director. So the art director needs to have a good understanding of the dynamics of all the relationships involved. This includes a clear sense of the marketplace toward which the work is being directed, to bring out the best, most appropriate work to satisfy all these needs.

The art director's task is to apply a broader perspective, with consideration of technical, and practical aspects of the work, to mediate and unify all the points of view into harmony.

A good art director is technically savvy, an effective and sensitive communicator, and then, as needed, a counselor, nurturer, cheerleader, task-master, expediter, and even, yes, a trusted midwife.

Do you think a website is a useful tool for illustrators to showcase their work? How often do you look at a portfolio online?

MR: Absolutely, I refer to websites every day!

What kinds of things can turn you off of a portfolio?

MR: Material that is inappropriate and clearly not for children's picture books or illustrated books for children such as non-narrative or not character-driven images like still lifes, landscapes, adult-themed pictures.

What do you believe is the most important part of your job?

MR: What is important for an art director differs from publisher to publisher.

At HarperCollins, a major part of my job is managing: keeping the design department on track, inspired, and creative; keeping work flowing on schedule; solving any kind of internal problems as they come and go.

I am at heart, however, a designer. To be happy in my work, I need to feed my own creative spark. I do this by designing a few books every year, so I don't ever lose touch with the designer in me and to stay on top of ever-changing technology.

I need also to keep on top of the trends and changes in the industry, to be well-informed so my guidance of others is meaningful and I have the fuel to generate creative ideas all around. I visit bookstores and attend conferences and events. I assess the competition and mine the illustration world in any way I can for inspiration and ideas.

What is your favorite thing about being an art director?

MR: Being part of the creative process is tremendously satisfying for me. I really enjoy the discovery of different points of view and personalities through the work we do together. Often the discussions are full of humor and positive energy, simply because making art can be such a pleasure! Not every relationship is complex or fraught with problems--very few, really. And some are almost magical in the way they go so smoothly. Even the challenging ones give you a great sense of accomplishment in the end. The struggle often inspires deeper respect and stronger connections with those involved.

And in the end, when you make a book that you feel is well-crafted, that you are proud of, that will affect the readers in a positive way for many years to come, it is very, very pleasing.

Do you make suggestions for revisions to artwork? What sort of suggestions have you made and how in your opinion how have they improved the final product?

MR: The nature of my relationship with artists is to be a sounding board and offer feedback when I think my suggestions will be valuable and improve the work or give it the best chance in the marketplace. Sometimes requested changes are minor, sometimes they require rethinking a spread or series of images. Of course, we try to vet the sketches and dummies thoroughly so major changes are not made to final art. My input (and really it is the combined input of myself, the editor, and sometimes the publisher and sales department) is most observable in our work on the jacket, the book's most important sales tool.

David Weisner recently re-illustrated the jackets for the seven classic titles comprising C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. In his first sketch for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, David created a beautiful image of the open wardrobe, with the fur coats parted, snowy footsteps leading from the opening into the magical wintery world. It was stunning.

David and I carefully considered the concept further, and we agreed it was static and lacked the energy and the emotion of the story. We wanted something dramatic and that would appeal to both young and old readers, and we needed to follow this direction for six more titles in the collection.

Because of the collaborative nature of the work, I cannot say precisely who came up with what ideas to suggest to him, but when David was presented with the problem, he thought carefully about the solution and came back with his own ideas. He focused on the heart and soul of the story rather than on a symbol and depicted a powerful Aslan with Lucy and Susan at each side nuzzling into his mane. In doing this, he got right to the emotional core of the story in a fresh way. The characters add a sense of tenderness to the grouping, but the focus is on the magnetic gaze and the power and majesty of the lion.

It is appealing to children, but, with its archetypal feel, also works on an adult level. And artistically, the detail and color of the rendering is impeccable. This set a high bar for the rest of the jackets, but it helped make the direction clear and resulted in seven stunning, dramatic and effective jackets, giving a fresh look to these beloved classics.

I never tell an artist what to paint but make observations, present the need for change as a problem to be solved and invite the artists to solve it using their own vocabulary and ideas. I cannot say my suggestions make the jacket work, but it is the artist's response to my comments that makes the ultimate difference.

How would you go about matching an illustrator to an author?

MR: It is more often an illustrator is matched with an existing text, rather than putting two creative people together and hoping for the right dynamic. But when it works after careful consideration of artist matched to text, such as Jamie Lee Curtis with Laura Cornell, the publisher will want to continue that relationship as long as possible.

After reading the text, I have an immediate visual sense of what it could be as a finished book in terms of artist's style and often even the feel of the design--it's a personal, instinctive response. I'll have in mind a short list of potential artists based on that.

Then I usually frame it within the context of children's publishing: have I seen this before or is it totally new; what are the comparisons and competitive books available currently; how would this fit into the world in a practical way; what kind of impact could it have? The editor and I discuss our reactions and agree on a direction. Sometimes we spend a lot of time researching and looking at various artists' work, and other times it's a clear choice.

What are some of your favorite children’s books and why?

MR: I love pretty much anything written and illustrated by William Steig, who never wrote down to children or became overly sentimental. He used language beautifully and wrote with humor and tenderness. His use of line and color is unmatched.

Dr. DeSoto still makes me laugh, Brave Irene pulls at your heartstrings, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble will definitely make you cry and laugh at the same time.

Others that I consider classics I couldn't imagine life without: Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, The Trip, Peter's Chair; Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown; Wanda Gag's Millions of Cats; The Story of Ferdinand (Munroe Leaf and Robert Lawson); Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson; Marc Simont's re-illustrated picture book of George Thurber's Many Moons.

Why do I love these? Distinctive voices, characters, stories that feel true and/or bring you to a new awareness, and wonderful art.

More contemporary favorites are Paul Zelinsky's Swamp Angel (Anne Issacs, author) and Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann--both tall tales in their own way, with great characters and a surprising, engaging storyline.

This is just a smattering of the books I love, and more come to my attention every day!

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on?

MR: Last fall, we published Not a Box by first time author-illustrator Antoinette Portis, and we are following up with Not a Stick this winter. I am proud of these books because they are solid conceptually, fresh and distinctive in their approach and style and were for me a satisfying collaborative venture between the artist, editor, and myself.

Antoinette approached the editor, Margaret Anastas, with her idea, based on the endless imagination a child uses playing with a simple box. We both agreed we had something special that we could develop successfully: a strong concept, an appealing character, and a clear, distinct voice in both the style of writing and in drawing technique.

From the moment we started working together the three of us shared ideas, batted around large and small changes, experimented with colors and techniques, design approaches and production materials. The collaborative spirit of the work together was exciting, and we were thrilled with the final product. It is especially satisfying, too, that Not a Box won the Theodore Geisel Award this year, went on to the New York Times Best Seller list and was chosen as one of the ten Best Illustrated Books from the Times for 2007.

Is there an area on your list that you would like to "grow" at this time?

MR: I would love to find more artists-authors who can create strong character-driven stories.

What is the ideal art sample submission?

MR: As I become busier, portfolio reviews can be cumbersome, and I like to cut to the chase. First impressions are significant. I know within the first two pieces if an artist has the level of skill I am looking for and the individual style that will pull them out from the pack.

An artist should try to evaluate the work with this in mind. It's important to look at one's own work critically, and pull out weaker pieces. Keep the selection focused on one's strengths and on the kinds of projects for which one would want to be considered.

I like to see eight-to-12 pieces of art, less if the artist supplies a complete dummy with sketches and text blocked in. In that case, I would want to see two-to-three finished samples of color work related to the dummy and then a few pieces that show the artist's range--different characters and settings.

The ideal portfolio showcases the artist's best work. Don't create a dummy if you don't have a fresh idea, don't stretch it out to 12 pieces if four of them are weak. A picture book must have 17-32 terrific images, and I need to see a portfolio that shows me the artist can deliver all the way through.

What makes an artist's illustrations stand out for you?

MR: I would not underestimate technical skills, which are very, very important: anatomy, composition, and perspective, good use of color and line, and effective use of materials. But I am always looking for someone who has not just the technical skills but a distinct individual style, a clear voice and images that suggest narrative, through context, emotional tone, and the way they relate sequentially.

I look for work that demonstrates a strong narrative and clear characterizations, more than cartoon-y or exaggerated stylization. I appreciate distinctive characters, whether human or animal, that feel "true." Placed in a context that tells a story and creates a whole world and works sequentially, the work then has the essentials of a good story: character, place, narrative.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cynsational News & Links

Motivating Young Readers: An Interview with Famed Children's Book Author Joseph Bruchac by Claus E. von Zastrow from Public School Insights. "Bruchac spoke...about strategies for motivating children to read. He offered ideas for helping struggling readers, resources parents and teachers can use to combat stereotypes in children's literature, thoughts on the promise and perils of the internet, observations the shortcomings of standardized assessments, and a preview of his forthcoming books." See also Internet Resources on Native American Children's Literature, also from Public School Insights. Note: leave a comment!

"Zondervan, the evangelical Christian unit of HarperCollins, will begin publishing YA this spring. They plan to publish 10 titles a year." Source: Children's Book Biz News.

Meg Rosoff, Eoin Colfer, Melvin Burgess and Jonathan Stroud introduce Puffin's finest classics... from Times Online. Source: Achockablog.

Update from Blooming Tree Press from Miriam Hees at A Publisher's Life. Note: New successes, new imprints, a new award ("The Bloom Award") for unpublished writers! Congratulations, Blooming Tree! Read a Cynsations interview with Miriam.

Congratulations to Marla Frazee on the publication of A Couple of Boys Have the Best Weekend Ever (Harcourt, 2008). Read an interview with Marla about this book! Win your own copy of the book! Also, look for Walk On! by Marla (Harcourt, April 2008), which is a fun, spirited, spot-on baby-centric baby book. Read a Cynsations interview with Marla.

TeensReadToo is giving away 100 prizes in March. Enter to win books by such wonderful authors as Dorian Cirrone, Carrie Jones, Sarah Dessen, and more!

To Cheer or To Covet by Liz Garton Scanlon from Liz In Ink. Here's a sneak peek: "I'm here to admit right now that I've been on both sides of this thorny fence." Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Check out the delightfully kid-friendly new header at The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story (above). Note: if you have not already linked to this site, please consider doing so now. Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf. Visit The Brown Bookshelf at MySpace!

Concept Books: a bibliography of recommendations from the Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with Philip Yates on the recommended title Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 2003). Read a Cynsations interview with Roger Sutton of the Horn Book.

Dealing with the Newbies: Five Tips for Handling People Who Want You To Critique Their Manuscript (for free, of course) by Jonathan Moeller from Absolute Write. Looking for a reader? See: Perspiration: Professional Critiques from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's-YA Literature Resources. Note: a listing for editor Deborah Brodie is forthcoming.

Simon Pulse Blogfest 2008 will be hosted March 14 to March 27 by Simon & Schuster. Featured authors include: Marc Aronson, Franny Billingsley, Holly Black, Judy Blume, Marina Budhos, Niki Burnham, Janet Lee Carey, Cassandra Clare, Rachel Cohn, Melissa de la Cruz, Kathleen Duey, Susan Fletcher, Lorie Ann Grover, Cynthia Kadohata, Annette Curtis Klause, D. Anne Love, Amanda Marrone, Alex Sanchez, Scott Westerfeld, Ellen Wittlinger, and many more! Note: most of the links above lead to Cynsations interviews.

Author Interview: Sara Zarr from Teen Troves. Here's a sneak peek: "Most teens have already accumulated a lot of thoughts, opinions, and experiences having to do with religion and faith, but I rarely see that reflected in YA unless the topic is explicitly about something related to religion. I like to give my characters spiritual lives or spiritual thoughts. Everyone has them!" Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: fights censorship and defends First Amendment rights of comic book professionals.

The Sky Inside by Clare B. Dunkle (Atheneum, 2008): a review by Norah Piehl from BookPage. Here's a sneak peek: "Life in the suburb might seem orderly, but there's a darker side. What happens to the people who suddenly disappear? And why is the government threatening to recall the latest batch of Wonder Children, the precocious kids—like Martin's sister Cassie—who are asking too many questions?"

Surviving A Writer's Hard Times: A Conversation With Bruce Balan from

Author & Illustrator Visits from Toni Buzzeo: Author, Library Media Specialist. Features include author wish list, visit tips, article links, resources, contacts, and more. Read a two-part Cynsations interview with Toni about school visits.

Farm life holds lessons for little ones by Katie Lewis from BookPage. A round-up of recent picture books with farm settings.

"If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything": "assisting Indian Communities in Increasing Literacy Skills While Preserving Native American Identity."

What I'm Working on Now (Viewer's Choice Blog) from Libba Bray. Note: WriteFest Update Alert! Read a Cynsations interview with Libba.

For younger fans of The Princess Diaries, a series all their own: an interview with Meg Cabot by Linda Castellitto from BookPage. Highlights Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Moving Day (Scholastic, 2008).

Teacher Guides by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Authors, illustrators, and publishers may contact Tracie to order a guide for a specific book. Read a Cynsations interview with Tracie.

Wide-Eyed and Curious: Working with Young Children in Groups by Shutta Crum. Some great advice for public speaking. Read a Cynsations interview with Shutta.

Glossary: book and publishing terminology from Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog offers recommendations of Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, May 2008) and Thaw by Monica M. Roe (Front Street, April 2008), both by debut novelists. Read an interview with Greg from Debbi Michiko Florence. GregLSBlog is syndicated at LiveJournal.

Cranky by Justine Larbalestier on the question of whether YA writers include "edgy" elements to increase sales. Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Author Interview: Rosemary Clement-Moore interviewed by her character Maggie Quinn. Read a Cynsations interview with Rosemary.

Congratulations to Michelle Lord, author of A Song for Cambodia, illustrated by Shino Arihara (Lee & Low, 2008). From the flap copy: "A Song for Cambodia is the touching true story of Arn Chorn-Pond. His heartfelt music created beauty in a time of darkness and turned tragedy into healing." Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Congratulations to Mélanie Watt on the publication in the latest in the Scaredy Squirrel series, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach (Kids Can, 2008). From the promotional copy: "...the lure of the genuine beach is strong--even a dedicated homebody such as Scaredy can't resist it forever. Can his back–up plans save him from its perils? Will his No.65 sunscreen protect his delicate complexion?" Read a Cynsations interview with Mélanie.

Do you love Austin, Texas? Do you love YA books? Visit BookPeople Teens, new at MySpace!


This month, my heroes at readergirlz are featuring author Sarah Dessen. Read the current issue of readergirlz. Note: if you have not already linked to this site, please consider doing so now.

Check out the limited edition readergirlz pendant at gypsywings. "Part of the proceeds will help underwrite all the fun free readergirlz programming to celebrate teen reading."

Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah, a Cynsations interview with the readergirlz Divas, and an interview with the latest diva Mitali Perkins by Jocelyn at Teen Book Review. Visit readergirlz at MySpace!


The SCBWI Bologna 2008 series is ongoing here at Cynsations! Did you read today's interview with Nancy Miles of Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency in the U.K. yet? Take note: she represents Roaring Brook Press and U.S. agents Rosemary Stimola [interview] and Barry Goldblatt [interview], with whom she has a reciprocal relationship.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

More Personally

Of late, I took the challenge to offer up 15 odd trivia facts about myself and tagged a few local friends. Don at Devas T Rants and Raves answered with 15 Random Things, Jo at Jo's Journal responded with 15 for Team, and Alison at Alison's Journal shared her own Funky 15 (bonus points for her son's Yoda impression). Read Cynsations interviews with Jo Whittemore and Don Tate. Visit Jo and Don at MySpace.

Question of the Week Thursday: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks me: "What's it like to write so many different kinds of books?" and I discuss pros and cons. Thanks, Robin!

Visit Robin's official author site, Facebook, and MySpace. Learn more about The Girlfriend Project (Bloomsbury, 2007), and watch her eat ribs on YouTube. Read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Agent Interview: Nancy Miles of the Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency

Nancy Miles is the founder of the Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency. She represents many highly acclaimed authors, including: Ronda Armitage, who wrote The Lighthouse Keeper series; Dominic Barker, who wrote Blart; and Justin Richards, who has adapted the television series, "Dr. Who." She was interviewed in November 2007 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What is the book experience that made you want to work in children's literature as a literary agent?

NM: I sold rights in children's books for 15 years. Specializing in children’s literature seemed a natural thing, and negotiating terms is what I knew!

Do you have a background in publishing?

NM: Yes. I worked for various children's book publishers in London over a 15-year period. My career was preceded by a three-year Diploma in Book Publishing at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes). So publishing has been the plan all the way through.

How did you get your start as an agent?

NM: I made my own start. My family decamped from London to the depths of west Wales with the birth of our third child. I didn't feel ready to stop working in the industry, and, with limited publishing opportunities in this part of the world, I had to look to myself for inspiration. With a background in rights selling and technology at my fingertips, I couldn't think of a good enough reason not to start my own agency.

In your opinion, what makes a good agent?

NM: I think one of the most important things for an agent to be is a good communicator. An author or illustrator needs to feel that his/her agent is at the end of the phone to listen, to discuss ideas and career paths, and to fight his/her corner where necessary.

Equally your client must feel confident that his/her agent has good relationships with publishers and other third parties to ensure that the right homes are found for their work.

Keeping your client in touch is really important.

Do you represent writers and illustrators?

NM: Yes, but mostly writers.

Do you look at art samples?

NM: Yes. I'd love to have one or two more fabulous illustrators on my list. But probably not more than that.

Do you also represent other publishers or agents abroad? If so, can you tell us which publishers and agents?

NM: Yes. I represent one New York based publisher--Roaring Brook Press. I also represent U.S. agents Rosemary Stimola [interview] and Barry Goldblatt [interview]. I have a reciprocal arrangement with Barry.

How many clients do you represent?

NM: I currently represent 14 individuals, plus publisher and U.S. agents as above.

Do you represent on a project-by-project basis, or do you take on the "whole" writer or the illustrator or even the entire list of a publisher?

NM: I always commit to the "whole" writer or illustrator. Developing a working relationship with your client, working out a career strategy, considering changes of direction, etc., happens over time. I wouldn't want to share my investment with anyone else, and it's hard to see how a project-by-project arrangement wouldn't leave all parties dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

On the other hand, I do take on the entire list of a publisher, though I will cherry pick from that list. It doesn't do agent or client publisher any good to submit material indiscriminately. And you would try the patience of the U.K. publisher if you were to persist in submitting material which is unsuitable for their list, the U.K. market, or whatever.

At what point in a manuscript do you "know" you either want the project or not?

NM: Usually almost instantly, if it's a "no."

The "maybes" are far trickier to judge. In my experience, it's rare to read an unsolicited manuscript that blows your socks off. More common is the text that shows promise but needs lots of work. You have a stay of execution by limiting the first submission to three chapters. So if it's a "maybe" you can ask for more--or the whole book if it's written--and this will invariably answer the question for you.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

NM: Not very much. A brief line or two about who you are, what you're submitting, and who it's for. If the author/illustrator has been published, this is always good to know. And, unless there's artwork involved, I can't understand why people want their material returned. It's a waste of everything. So ideally I'd like the letter to say, "don't bother to return the manuscript!"

What kinds of things "turn you off" a manuscript right away?

NM: Quite often it's the covering letter. I loathe it when people compare their work to books written by established authors. A dreadful title will also put me off. Poor sentence structure and spelling mistakes are the voices of doom.

From an agent's point of view, what are the "realities" of children's book publishing?

NM: That's a big question. One of the first things that seem to surprise a lot of aspirant authors is how difficult it is to write a good children's book. Writing for children is not the easy option it's often believed it to be.

Although children's books have enjoyed a tremendously exciting 10 years or so with an increasing number of high-profile authors making headlines, the market remains intensely competitive, and publishers will expect and require a very good reason to acquire a title, especially from a new author.

There are tons of children's books out there, and, with publishers spending limited amounts on marketing most children's titles, it's incredibly difficult to sell books in volume.

Picture books have been having a particularly tough time, and publishers will rely heavily on co-edition success to make them profitable. Young adult novels suffer from being neither children's or adult books, and few book stores seem to know how to sell them well. It's not easy to get published. It's a long, hard slog, and there are no short cuts.

What was the easiest book to sell and why?

NM: A good book is easy to sell, and a book is good for all sorts of reasons.

Have you ever represented a book that you loved but couldn't convince an editor to publish? What advice do you give authors in this situation?

NM: Yes. I submitted a lovely, touching novel by an unknown author a few years ago that I could not persuade any publisher to take on. Most of the rejections were "good" ones, and it was a difficult book to pin down in terms of who it was for. Although it could be read on several levels, it was perhaps pitched a bit too high for the target age. It was probably a bit overwritten, too, which is a common problem with less-experienced authors.

In this particular situation, I showed the author the publisher responses I felt were constructive. I encouraged him to come up with new synopsis, taking on board the editorial feedback he'd received.

Are you accepting new clients now?

NM: Yes, especially for authors of young, middle grade, and young adult fiction to balance out my list. I've got enough picture book authors for the moment but would love another illustrator or two.

Do you get involved with the marketing aspect of the book?

NM: Yes. Where appropriate, I'll ask a publisher for their marketing plans at negotiation stage. Although these do not go into the contract, it does concentrate the mind.

By the time publication time arrives, everyone's forgotten what's been promised, and you do have to ask questions well in advance of publication. And keep asking them.

Marketing performance will certainly affect my decision on whether to place titles with a publisher.

Do you give any pre-submission editing and revision requests to your clients?

NM: Yes, though this will vary from client to client and from project to project. An established author with an on-going publisher/editor relationship will need less input from me than a first timer. But I will always offer suggestions for revisions, even with an established author, if I feel it will improve the submission and attract a better quality offer.

Do you specialize in any particular genre and/or are you looking for anything in particular at the moment? What are publishers telling you about the market and what they'd like to see?

No and no. I'm always looking for a strong voice and a good, satisfying story, preferably with a good dose of humor. The combination is not easy to find, but it is possible to tease a book out of a good story, even if the voice needs to be brought out. But you need to be prepared to put the work in.

It depends who you talk to! Picture-book publishers are telling me that the market is tough and there's a dearth of good texts. The market for YA fiction is shrinking, and booksellers struggle to position them effectively in the stores. Strong, commercial series for middle graders are in demand as is fantasy (as ever) and action packed thrillers, especially for boys.

How many new clients do you take on each year?

There's no pattern. If I have the opportunity to sign up someone fantastic, I will.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Historian-Critic Interview: Leonard S. Marcus

Leonard S. Marcus is one of the children's book world's most respected and versatile writers, historians, and critics. He has written many highly acclaimed books about children's literature, and the authors and artists who create it. Leonard's book reviews have been featured in many U.S. magazines including Parenting magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and Publishers Weekly. He was interviewed in January 2008 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Did you always want to be a writer?

LM: I started writing when I was in the second grade, and I always knew I enjoyed writing. Around fifth grade, I was a big fan of "Perry Mason" on TV and thought I wanted to be a lawyer like him. Then for a brief time I wanted to be president of the United States. But a love of writing was a constant thread, even though it was a long time before I had any idea of how to go about making a living or a life as writer.

What other jobs have you had (that led to being a writer)?

LM: For my first three years in New York, I was a lowly copywriter for Dover Books, a New York paperback publisher specializing in reissues of out-of-print classics. I learned a great deal about art and bookmaking there, and a lot about the stinginess of publishers. After that I freelanced, writing book reviews and also teaching courses on children's books at the School of Visual Arts and elsewhere while trying to get started as an author.

What are you working on at the moment?

LM: I'm just finishing a book I've worked on for the last 14 years. It's called Minders of Make-Believe and is a history of American children's book publishing. I'm also finishing up a book of conversations with funny writers for children called Don't Make Me Laugh.

If you could be a character from one of your books, who would it be and why this particular character?

LM: I mostly write nonfiction. Of all the people I've written about as characters I might pick Feodor Rojankovsky, the great Russian illustrator of Golden Books, because his art has so much energy and he traveled so much and led such an adventurous life.

How has your childhood influenced what you write?

LM: As the youngest of three children, I spent plenty of time being "the child of the family" and thinking about childhood. Although very verbal, I started out as a painfully slow reader. Then the reading specialist who was assigned to help me at school suggested that I try writing poems to read to her. It was then that I began my writing and reading life. Thanks to that teacher, I experienced a feeling of great satisfaction because I found that it was easy to read what I myself had written and that made me want to write more and more.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

LM: My favorite picture book was a Little Golden Book called Laddie and the Little Rabbit. It had photographic illustrations by Bill Gottlieb, a photographer who took some of the best known pictures of Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. I think I loved the book because I wanted to have a dog and wasn't allow to. Laddie was a springer spaniel.

I recently met Bill Gottlieb's widow Delia and--all these years later--learned that the dog in the photos was her dog and that his real name was James Thurber! During my "presidential" phase, the book I treasured was the Young People's edition of President Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.

Is there a book already published that you wish you had written? Why?

LM: Goodnight Moon would be nice. I value clarity and musicality in writing, and that book is one of the ultimate examples.

How long does it take you to write a book? [See listing of Leonard S. Marcus's books.]

LM: It really depends. I spent maybe six to nine months on each of the three shorter books I have published with Walker (A Caldecott Celebration; Side by Side; and Pass It Down). My biography of Margaret Wise Brown took ten years. I spent about two years editing Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

LM: Saying exactly what I mean.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea or in isolation?

LM: I sometimes listen to dreamy background music, not because it puts me in a dreamy mood but because it serves as a kind of company, in the way that having a cat around does.

How much do you think a writer needs to market his/herself/the work? What do you suggest?

LM: Shel Silverstein did none of that and had bestseller after bestseller. But I think that most writers do need to make an effort. I enjoy giving talks and readings and try to do as many of them as possible. Lately, I have been making more of an effort to group these programs so that I get the most out of a trip to another city or region. Publishers appreciate (or at least they should appreciate) an author's own promotional efforts and sometimes can be persuaded to help, for instance by contacting a public radio station in the city where a talk is about to take place.

Do you have a blog, and if so, how often do you blog? Do you get lots of feedback from readers?

LM: No. But I do have a Web site.

Can you share your favorite fan mail, if you have one?

LM: My favorite fan comment came from the wife of the illustrator of Goodnight Moon. After reading my biography of Margaret Wise Brown, Edith Hurd said to me: "You know us better than we knew ourselves."

When reviewing children's books, what qualities make the book stand out from the crowd?

LM: I look for a book that feels like one I've never read or seen before; one that has been done as well as it possibly could be done.

Why did you decide to write books about the creation, marketing, and world-wide impact of popular children's literature?

LM: As a history major in college, I got interested in early 19th-century American children's books as a mirror of life in America when it was still a pretty new nation. I enjoyed the history side of this study, and it also stirred memories of my own childhood.

After a while, I realized that because children's books are usually illustrated I would have the chance while writing about them to write about art as well as literature. I became fascinated by the challenge of telling stories in two different media, and by all the many different ways that artists and writers have found to do this effectively. I began to wonder why children's book art wasn't exhibited in museums.

This in turn raised questions about the value our society places on childhood and the things of children's culture. From there, one thing led to another as a searched for projects that interested me and that someone was willing to pay me to do.

What has been the most interesting and insightful interview you have ever conducted?

LM: That would be hard to say. Lloyd Alexander, who I interviewed for my book The Wand in the Word, was possibly the gentlest and, if I can say this, most humane person I have ever met.

William Steig, who I interviewed for two books, was feisty and very funny and deeply serious all at the same time.

I talked with Ursula Nordstrom when I was just starting work on my Margaret Wise Brown biography. She was retired by then, but sly as ever, and she did her best to turn the tables by interviewing me. She kept asking me personal questions and made me feel that she really wanted to know the answers.

I realized that that was how she drew her authors out, got them to write about the things that mattered the most to them. This was years before I knew that I was going to have the chance to edit a book of her letters.

When it came time to start in on that huge project (there were more than 100,000 letters to choose from in the Harper files), it helped a lot to have actually met her and to have heard her voice.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Editorial Director Interview: Katherine Halligan of Scholastic UK

Katherine Halligan is currently Editorial Director for Picture Books and Novelty at Scholastic U.K. She joined Scholastic in September 2006, and since then has been responsible for re-launching their picture book list. She has worked with authors such as Angela McAllister and Malachy Doyle, and illustrators such as Gary Blythe, Charles Fuge, Caroline Jayne Church and Ross Collins. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children's book publishing?

KH: At the risk of sounding obvious, a childhood passion for books and a love of words and pictures made it a clear choice for me--I can't imagine doing anything else. I began my publishing career in foreign rights, as I had studied languages, but quickly realized I needed to be part of the creative process. My job now is a perfect outlet for my overactive imagination!

In your opinion, what makes a good editor?

KH: A good editor is something of a chameleon: a sympathetic listener and champion of her authors and illustrators; a constructive critic; a creative and resourceful problem-solver; an energetic and effective communicator; an optimist and also a realist. Above all, a keen eye and a discerning ear are crucial.

When you're reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it's something you want to pursue?

KH: Picture book manuscripts are of course very short, but usually I know after the few lines of text whether I even want to finish reading--and by the end it is very clear whether it's a "yes" or a "no." Every word counts, and the best writers' voices are immediately apparent.

What kinds of things "turn you off" a manuscript right away?

KH: I lose interest when I read anything that sounds overly contrived; anything that doesn't have a child's interests and sensibilities at its heart; anything that is overly long or over-explained.

What are the "realities" of children's publishing?

KH: Ever since I started in publishing, I’ve heard about what a "tough market" we're in, but I've been lucky enough to work on some very successful books. The reality is that not every book can be a bestseller, but if you publish every book with the belief that it might be, then you will have created an excellent book--and that can only be a good thing.

Another reality is that publishers are always looking for new talent and new ideas, and that children will always read books, so however difficult the current market there is always scope for growth. Yet, at the same time, it is certainly a reality that the market is incredibly competitive, so we have to be incredibly discerning about what we do publish.

What is your favorite thing about being a children's book editor?

KH: Do I have to pick just one thing?! I love the moment an idea hatches, the moment a brilliant manuscript lands on my desk, the moment an illustrator's first roughs arrive, the moment their final artwork is delivered, the moment the proofs come in... All part of this process that is ultimately about creating books--and that is my very favorite thing.

What are some of your favorite books and why?

KH: There are far too many to list here, but many of my favorites are books I loved as a child, such as Marcia Brown's Cinderella; Anno's Journey, Eloise, Goodnight, Moon and Ferdinand. All of these books share a richness of language, or imagery, or both--and all invite a child (or an adult!) into a particular world that is immediate and true.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

KH: Peter Pan. When my younger sister was born, she came home from the hospital with a copy of the book--and, for the next year or so, I thought I was Peter Pan... If I am still in touch with my "inner child" then it's because of him.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on? Why?

KH: Recently, I have been very proud of the deliciously silly Aliens Love Underpants, by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort, which I commissioned at Simon & Schuster. When it was featured on the "Richard and Judy" show (where it was a category award winner), I was delighted that it was brought to the attention of such a wide audience across the U.K. I have been proud of it all along because of its unfailing ability to make everyone who reads it--parents, children, publishers, booksellers--laugh out loud.

Have you worked with both fiction and non-fiction? If so, how do the processes compare? What do you like most (and/or least) about each?

KH: So far, I have only worked on fiction. I think I would find it very difficult to stick to the facts!

What does the ideal cover letter say?

KH: Very little. The manuscript or artwork is what matters, and nothing you can say in a cover letter is going to make up for a submission that isn't good enough. Any other information that is needed (biographies, bibliographies, etc) can be gleaned later. In the first instance, it's best to let the words or pictures do the talking.

Is there any area on your list you'd like to "grow" at this time? Do you look at art samples?

KH: As I was brought to Scholastic to re-launch the picture book and novelty list almost from scratch, we've been in a continual pattern of growth. I look at art samples constantly--it is completely fundamental to what I do.

How involved in the marketing of the book are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house? A YA novel? Etc.

KH: Our average marketing budget for a picture book is usually very modest, although the occasional big book does get a bigger, dedicated marketing campaign. We have a general budget for marketing all our picture books, much of which is dedicated to promotional spend, as well as creating postcards and brochures. I am in close touch with the marketing team, and for big titles we brainstorm plans together.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Monday, March 03, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author Interview: Candy Gourlay

Candy Gourlay was a London correspondent for the global news agency, Inter Press Service (IPS). She was also the Manila correspondent for Asia Magazine, a South China Morning Post publication. Candy has co-edited a collection of oral testimonies Woven Memories: Filipinos in the UK and part of her novel Ugly City features in the British SCBWI's first anthology, Undiscovered Voices. She was interviewed in January 2008 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Did you always want to do what you do?

CG: I wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but I had no idea what sort of writer until I stumbled into journalism after university. Journalism was a good way to get into writing, but I found reporting and gathering facts scary and intimidating. You had to talk to total strangers. You had to get it right. You had to resist the temptation to make a dull story a little bit more interesting.

But journalism is a great training ground--you learn how to edit your own work and how to be edited, you become meticulous about facts and gathering background information, and you have no fear of sitting down and writing when you need to (I perform best when up against a deadline).

I spent the eighties writing about miscellaneous dictators in the Far East, but the nineties found me at home surrounded by dictators of a nappy-clad variety. I missed the buzz of the daily deadline. From churning out two thousand word pieces a day, I found myself counting the minutes between naps and play groups.

Then the Internet came along. I suddenly struck on the idea that I could use my reporting and design skills to produce my own magazine online. This was pre-blog, pre Web 2.0. I bought some software that claimed to make it easy but I couldn't make the Web pages look the way I wanted them to. So I taught myself code--learning what I needed to upload my first website Mum at Work (Let's Do It All, We're Already Tired Anyway).

This lead to my current source of bread and butter, Web design. But my true love is writing.

What are you working on at the moment?

CG: I have just finished a novel called Ugly City--about a dystopian city state where parents must leave and children stay; it's the law. I had begun a novel based on some reporting I'd done in the Philippines about the children of migrant workers who had everything--Playstations, TV, cell phones--but who lived alone, with no parents. I thought, these kids must think they are so lucky, they had everything. Except of course, the most important thing: parents to look after them. But I got bogged down by the realities of the setting--the history and politics of the Philippines. Then I thought, why not just make the setting up? And that's how the Ugly City came to be.

Ugly City almost wrote itself--and I was fortunate to win a place in the recent SCBWI (UK) competition, the prize being inclusion in the anthology Undiscovered Voices, which will be distributed to editors and agents. Ugly City also led to my signing with an agent, and I am going to spend the whole of 2008 with my fingers crossed. Ugly City taught me a lot about action, plot and character. I am currently rewriting a novel I completed in early 2007, Volcano Child.

How has your childhood influenced what you write?

CG: I grew up in Manila during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the sixties and seventies. In that time, the Philippines spiraled into economic decline and the best and brightest people fled overseas to find work. I remember some of my teachers in grade school left to become maids in the United Kingdom.

Sadly, the emigration habit has become firmly entrenched in the Philippine mindset--everyone I know has a relative who is working abroad--often in menial jobs. My dad, who was an architect, left to work in the Middle East in the eighties as our house faced foreclosure. He says he worked as an architect. Sometimes I wonder what he really did out there. I had a week to learn to drive before he left, and in the first weeks, driving the younger kids to school, I had two collisions! Perhaps this is why the two novels I've written so far dwell on the themes of separation and yearning.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

CG: I loved so many books, especially those by Enid Blyton and Charles Dickens (to a girl living in sweltering Manila, the English landscape was the stuff of fantasy better than Hogwarts)--but If I had to choose a favorite book, it would be Little Women. I so identified with the March family, their poverty and struggle to cope with the absence of their father--I especially identified with Jo; I knew what it was like just needing to write!

Why do you blog? Is blogging for all writers?

CG: The rise and rise of Web 2.0--heightened interactivity of the Web--and my burning desire to write led me to blogging. I realize now that Mum at Work was a form of blogging in itself, because I was writing essays on why women should not neglect their creative side when they become mothers.

Today, I write a blog on trying to get published (Notes from the Slush Pile) as well as a blog on writing my novel in progress, Volcano Child. I have also taken to writing blogs that have a clear end point. Last year, I kept a comic blog about the building of my shed. This year, I am blogging about a paradise island I recently visited which is a paradise no longer.

I blog because I like to write. I blog because journalism is a habit that is hard to shake. Some people say, but don't you run out of things to say? On the contrary, there is so much to say about everything that sometimes I can't sleep with all the ideas swirling in my mind. So I write it up. And the wonderful new technologies of Web 2.0 allow others to read and comment and share their thoughts on what I write.

Blogging isn't for everyone. I am a compulsive writer, and it works for me. It keeps me sharp. But it could be a big time waster or procrastination device for someone else. I think we writers must always ask ourselves, Are we writing the book? If not, then we should stop all other activity and get on with the thing we set out to do.

Do you think the Internet is an important marketing strategy for writers? Why?

CG: The Internet is a huge opportunity for writers, especially with the realities of shrinking marketing budgets, commercial challenges and Amazon. There is so much out there for the writer--research tools, free thesauruses and dictionaries, blogs to talk up your work, ways to sell, social networks to well, network with. But all these take time and require a learning curve.

If you are at the early stages of writing, if you struggle with word processing, the Internet would be a curse. It is easy to lose an hour or two when all you wanted to do was check your "in" box. At the end of the day, it is up to you to judge whether you will have the wherewithal to resist the Web's addictive attractions. Keep your eye on the ball.

What does new technology have to offer a writer for children?

CG: I remember the days when I spent an hour each day snipping cuttings from newspapers and magazines to file away just in case I needed the information in the future. No longer. The Internet has transformed the process of writing.

Through my blogs and through writers' listservs, I have met like-minded people with whom I can maintain a running conversation from the comfort of my study. I run an online critique group that has been a great way to get quick feedback from my peers--and also to measure myself against the quality of the competition out there, which is scarily high. It helps me raise my game.

There is much to say about the Internet but one should not forget the other technologies that help the children's writer. If you write for children, you should watch children's programming. It allows you to hear the voices of your audience--as well as give you ideas about the way your chosen age group thinks.

And we mustn't forget that this is the world that our readers take for granted--TV, computers, games, the Web--this is the world our readers know. As writers for children, it is our responsibility to inhabit it with them.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaway

Enter to win one of two paperback copies of Moongazer by Marianne Mancusi (Love Spell/Dorchester, 2007)(excerpt)!

From the promotional copy:

"Imagine every night entering a nightmare world you can't escape and being told real life is a dream. Skye Brown has it all: the cool job, the hot boyfriend, the apartment on New York's Upper West Side. But lately she can't enjoy any of it. She's having dreams of a post-apocalyptic world. Of a bleak futuristic wasteland. Of a struggle against oppression. And she's been told she's a...MOONGAZER.

"But what is that? And what is reality? In her dreams, she's not Skye Brown at all, but Mariah Quinn. In her dreams there's Dawn, the beautiful yet haunted soldier, and Skye is but the empty shell of a girl he once loved. And there was a betrayal, a great betrayal. Ripped between Dark Siders and club kids, the mundane and the mystic, Skye must discover who she is, what she wants and who wants her. And why. But in the glow of the moon, it's not always easy to recognize the face in the mirror."

Read Mari's blog, and visit her at MySpace. Join Boys That Bite, Mari's group at MySpace. Note: you can also find her at YA Paranormal Authors.

Two paperback copies of Moongazer will be given away to any Cynsational reader over age 18! To enter, email me with your name and address by 10 p.m. CST March 3! Please also type "Moongazer" in the subject line.

The winner of the autographed copy of Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2007) was Brent in Maine!

Read April's blog, April Afloat, and visit her at MySpace! Read a Cynsations interview with April!

More News & Links

The 2008 Writers' League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference will be held June 20 to June 22 at the Austin Sheraton Hotel. See answers to frequently asked questions. Note: the 2007 conference sold out. Register now for 2008.

Author Heather Brewer has opened her bin of Minion Stuff! Products include the hoodie of Vladimir Todd "(as featured on the cover of Eighth Grade Bites (Dutton, 2007)(excerpt))" and a fangalicious T-shirt "(as featured on the cover of Ninth Grade Slays (Dutton, 2008)(excerpt))." Visit Heather at MySpace!

Notes from Uncle Albert: the blog of Albert Whitman & Company, "an independent publisher of children's books in the Chicago area for more than 85 years."

Picture Book of the Day: Using Picture Books to Teach the Six Traits of Writing from Anastasia Suen. Read a Cynsations interview with Anastasia.

Take a Chance on Art! Enter the Texas Library Association disaster relief raffle of Diane Stanley's illustration from Charles Dickens--The Man Who Had Great Expectations, a picture-book biography (Morrow, 1993). Tickets are only $5. Note: checks should be made out to TLA; do note on the check that it's for the disaster relief raffle. See additional details.

P.J. Hoover: official site of the debut author of The Forgotten Worlds Books, published by Blooming Tree Press. From the promotional flap copy of the first book, The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree, October 2008): "Benjamin and his best friend Andy are different from normal. They love being able to read each other's minds and use telekinesis to play tricks on other kids. In fact, they are getting all set to spend their entire summer doing just that when Benjamin's mirror starts talking. Suddenly, Benjamin's looking at eight weeks of summer school someplace that can only be reached by a teleporter inside the ugly picture in his hallway. And that's the most normal thing he does that summer." Read P.J.'s blog, Roots in Myth. Visit P.J. at MySpace!

What Would You Give Up? An intriguing question for those of us in the literary and visual arts, asked by Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink. Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Shana Norris, author of Something to Blog About (Amulet, 2008), visits with author Marlene Perez at the YA Authors Cafe this week. Here's a sneak peek: "Developing the character of Seth, the love interest, was the hardest part for me. At first, he was a little too detached and mysterious, so I had to really work at him to make him into someone that Libby would be attracted to." Read the interview and then ask Shana a question or cheer on her new release! Read Shana's LJ. Visit Shana at MySpace and at Facebook! Read Marlene's LJ, and visit her at MySpace. Read a Cynsations interview with Marlene.

Brighton Children's Book Festival: Leaping from the Page will be held April 19 to April 20 at the University of Brighton. From the promotional copy: "Want to hear David Almond, Dakota Blue Richards (young star of "The Golden Compass" film), Michelle Magorian, Valerie Bloom and many others--all at one exciting event? Aimed at young people and adults, this year's Brighton Children's Book Festival celebrates the way children's books "leap from the page" into film, theatre, radio, TV, digital media and much more. With a weekend of talks, hands-on workshops, storytelling, performances and screenings, everyone is invited to join in the fun. There will also be a panel discussion with publishers and agents on how to get published. Find full details and buy tickets on the website:

Don't miss Question of the Week Thursdays at Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Tanya Lee Stone answers: "How did being an editor in the book publishing industry in the past affect you as an author in the present?" Dianne Ochiltree answers: "What about the publishing business has changed the most since you started as an author in the 1990s?" And Brent Hartinger answers: "Is it easy or hard to write sequels?" Visit Robin's site and MySpace page. Learn more about The Girlfriend Project (available in paperback July 2008) and read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

Interview: Jennifer Ziegler by Little Willow from Bildungsroman. Here's a sneak peek: "I used to think people were popular because they were extremely self-confident. Although I still believe that's somewhat true, life has taught me that it isn't quite so simple. Confidence can be faked. True self-assurance comes from knowing yourself (flaws and all) and being fine with who you are." Visit Jennifer's site, LJ, and MySpace page. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Author [Katherine] Paterson Keeps Young Readers in Mind by Fritz Lanham from the Houston Chronicle. Here's a sneak peek: "You write from out of yourself, and I'm a recipient of grace and a daughter of hope." Source: BookMoot.

Balancing Business and Emotion by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature.

First Kiss Winners: check out the winning stories from Cecil Castellucci's LJ, The Divine Miss Pixie Woods. Winners each received a copy of First Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments edited by Cylin Busby (Bloomsbury, 2007). Read Cylin's LJ. Visit Cecil's site, and read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

World Religions: Christianity from The Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book.

I Don't Need You To Be Me from Sara Lewis Holmes at Read Write Believe. Here's a sneak peek: "Do readers need to see themselves in the books they read? Is the reason fiction works because you hook yourself into the main character's psyche and go along for the ride?" Source: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes.

Guest Blogger: Paula Yoo from The Ya Ya Yas. Paula is the author of Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008). Here's a sneak peek: "I never intended this to be a novel preaching about the stereotypes of the Asian American model minority myth or about the cultural difficulty in communicating with immigrant parents. But at the same time, my novel is not solely about cultural issues. In the end, it's just a story about a girl named Patti. She could be any ethnicity/race. The book's universal theme is…what makes us happy? Who can’t relate to that?" Visit Paula's official site and Paula at MySpace. Source: Mitali's Fire Escape.

Gate City Book Award: "chosen by students in grades 3 and 4 in Nashua, New Hampshire." Check out the 2007-2008 nominees. Read Cynsations interviews with Marion Dane Bauer, David Lubar, Deborah Hopkinson, and Vivian Vande Velde. Read a Cynsations recommendation of Three Good Deeds by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2005).

Fran Cannon Slayton: official site of the author of How To Stop a Moving Train (Philomel, 2008). Great tie-in pages include Trains. A must-visit for teachers, librarians, readers! Recommended to those seeking models for a first-rate author site (both content and design). Sign up for Fran's bi-weekly Children's Book News Email. Visit Fran at MySpace! Note: title has changed since most recent available cover art.

Creating Characters with Disabilities Who Are NOT Stereotypes by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Here's a sneak peek: "Writers can and should incorporate characters with epilepsy and disabilities into children’s fiction and they can do it without perpetuating negative biases against people with disabilities. To do so, authors must be aware of the stereotypes, write against the stereotypes, and create well-rounded characters." Visit Carrie's author site, her LJ, and her MySpace page. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Interview: Dorian Cirrone by Little Willow from Bildungsroman. Here's a sneak peek: "I was very shy as a kid and I think being forced into situations where I felt uncomfortable helped." Visit Dorian's site! Read a Cynsations interview with Dorian.

Interview with agent Jamie Weiss Chilton of Andrea Brown Literary Agency from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing With a Broken Tusk: A Blog About Writing Process and the Creation of Books for Children. Here's a sneak peek: "It can take a lot of tenacity and patience to get published. Keep trying, and while you're waiting for those agent and editor responses, continuing honing your skills at conferences and with your critique group." Read a Cynsations interview with Uma

Children's Writer Molly Blaisdell: official author site features biography, bibliographies, articles, interviews, links, her inspirational blog--Seize the Day, and her annual Golden Coffee Cup motivational competition. Molly's titles include Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs (Barron’s Educational Series, 2008). After two decades in the Houston area and then a decade in College Station, Molly currently resides in Woodinville, Washington. Visit Molly at MySpace!

Amy Goldman Koss: official site of the author of several novels, including Side Effects (Roaring Brook, 2006). Learn more about Amy, and visit her MySpace page! Read a Cynsations interview with Amy.

Effective March 3, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux is moving to 18 W. 18th St., New York, NY 10011.

Effective March 10, 2008, Candlewick Press is moving to 99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144.


28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature has wrapped up at The Brown Bookshelf. Read a Cynsations interview with the team behind The Brown Bookshelf, Paula Chase-Hyman, Varian Johnson, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, and Carla Sarratt.

Here's a sneak peek at their Feb. 23 interview with Irene Smalls: "The toughest obstacles are still there, the overall perception in the marketplace that Black children's books generally don't sell well."

Here's a sneak peek at their Feb. 26 interview with Celise Downs: "I'm all about the entertainment factor. As I mentioned above, some authors write about 'real' issues. But when teens read my books, I want them to escape. I don't think they should have to deal with real life in 'real life' and when they pick up a book, too."

Note: This historic initiative was a huge undertaking. Congratulations to the Brown Bookshelf team and the featured authors and illustrators!

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 series is ongoing here at Cynsations! Check back Monday and beyond for more insightful question-and-answer interviews with agents, editors, authors, and illustrators about the U.S. and international youth publishing scene.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

More Personally

Listening Library's audio production of Tantalize is now available! Actress Kim Mai Guest is the reader of the book. Listen to an audio excerpt. Note: I appreciate that the excerpt zeros in on the murder mystery that in many ways drives the story. Learn more about the text novel from Candlewick Press.

Candlewick Press will publish a paperback edition of Tantalize on its Fall 2008 list. The cover will be the same as the hardcover (above) with my byline and the title slightly larger. An excerpt from Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), which is set in the same universe and currently nearing production, will be included in the back matter.

Of late, Greg Leitich Smith talks about the line-edits of my forthcoming YA Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and explains how primary voting works in Texas. Note: Greg's blog is syndicated at LiveJournal.
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