Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cynsational News & Links

"Interview with Maureen Johnson, author of Suite Scarlette and many other books" from Julie Prince at YA and Kids Books Central. Peek: "So if I have any philosophy at all, it's that you should attack and dismantle your own fears and prejudices and hang-ups. I think you have the power to rewrite your own personality any way you like, and if something is holding you back, it's up to you to take that obstacle down." Learn more about Maureen Johnson.

Conference Etiquette from BookEnds, LLC. Peek: "One of the reasons I advise against getting in touch with agents or submitting just before a conference is that for a lot of agents this puts them in an uncomfortable position. They feel that you’re expecting something they don’t want to give—usually feedback or more personal, detailed critiques than they would normally give." See also "How to Impress an Editor" from Down a Dusty Gravel Road.

Elizabeth E. Wein hosts a virtual book launch to celebrate the publication of The Empty Kingdom and benefit Ethiopia Reads. See a related author interview with Jane Kurtz.

Avoiding Burnout from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "The act of writing, while it may be horrendously difficult sometimes, fills some deep, creative need within us. This is a gift we've been given in this life, and we need to cherish that and nurture that. And that often means striking some kind of devil's bargain with Publishing. Because the very last thing we want to happen is for Publishing to destroy our love of Writing. And it can happen."

Nancy J. Keane's Children's Literature Webpage: ready-to-use booktalks, lists of recommended reading, book reviews by children or other information about children's literature.

28 & Beyond: Almost To Freedom (by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Carolrhoda, 2003): a recommendation from Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

Question of the Week Thursday: Mary Pearson from Robin Friedman at JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks: "Your newest novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which has received such acclaim, is a departure from your previous work; what made you decide on this bold new direction?" Read Cynsations interviews with Robin and Mary.


Attention: Writers' League of Texas members: June 30 is the deadline for submission of a 2007 copyright-date book for the Teddy Award. The entry fee is $25. A $1,000 dollar cash prize and trophy will go to each winner. There are two youth literature categories--(a) short and (b) long works. See entry for and guidelines.

Evelyn B. Christensen - Author & Puzzle Creator: official author site features biography, information about her 33 educational puzzle books (including sample pages), teacher resources, weekly puzzles, articles, and a list of Educational Markets for Children's Writers. See also: Writing for the Education Market.

Not Your Mother's Book Club (Contents May Not Be Suitable for Parents): launched by Books Inc., a community for YA lit teen readers. Note: "Authors, librarians, booksellers, teachers, and those who just love teen books are also welcome, but contests and other special treats are for those in grades 7-12 only." A space to "meet each other, meet authors, talk about new books, post book reviews, post stories, and generally have fun."

Congratulations to Alleen Pace Nilsen and Kenneth L. Donelson on the publication of Literature for Today's Young Adults (Eighth Edition)(Allyn and Bacon, 2009)! From the promotional copy: "Writing with the belief that students will have a better chance of becoming life-long readers if they have choices and enjoy what they read, renowned authors Alleen Nilsen and Ken Donelson offer a comprehensive, reader-friendly introduction to young adult literature framed within a literary, historical, and social context. The authors provide teachers with criteria for evaluating books of all genres, from poetry and nonfiction to mysteries, science fiction, and graphic novels. Coverage of timely issues such as pop culture and mass media have been added to help teachers connect with students' lives outside the classroom." Note: it was my pleasure to contribute to this book "Young Adult Authors Speak Out: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Hosting 1.6 Million Visitors in Cyberspace" (pages 98-99).

Video Interview with Neil Gaiman at his home from Comic Book Resources. Neil discusses comics, graphic novels, being a Goth icon, working with artists, movie adaptations, script writing, promotion and traveling, getting to know his fans more personally than other authors, and his next children's book. Source: Amanda Williams.

Paula Yoo on Book Reviews from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "I think it's hard for writers to separate their personal selves and personal lives from their writing, because often, writers write what they know best - themselves." Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

The following institutions offer MFA degrees in writing for children and/or young adults: Chatham College; Hamline University; Hollins University; Lesley University; Seton Hill University; Simmons College; Spaulding University; Vermont College of Fine Arts; Western Connecticut State University. Note: many of these are low residency programs; I'm on the Vermont College faculty.

More Personally

Tantalize review from FlamesRising.com: "The story is engaging, the menu is (dare I say it?) tantalizing, and the locale shines. This one is worth reading for teens (the target audience) and adults alike."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Author and Illustrator Interview: Lucia Gonzalez and Lula Delacre on The Storyteller's Candle

"An accomplished storyteller, puppeteer, and children's librarian, Lucia M. Gonzalez started her career in library services to children in 1987 after receiving the Bachelor of Arts Degree in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara and while pursuing her Masters in Library Science at the University of South Florida. Lucia is the author of two award-winning bilingual books, The Bossy Gallito (Scholastic, 1994), winner of the Pura Belpré Children's Literature Honor Medal and among New York Public Library's 100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know, and Señor Cat's Romance and Other Favorite Stories from Latin America, an Americas Award Commended Title. Gonzalez was named the Jean Key Gates Distinguished Alumni by the University of South Florida School of Library and Information Science for 1998. Gonzalez's new book, The Storyteller's Candle, is a bilingual picture book illustrated by Lulu Delacre and published by Children's Book Press (Spring 2008)."

"Lulu Delacre, born in Puerto Rico to Argentinean parents, has written and illustrated many beloved books for children, including Horn Book Fanfare Book Arroz con Leche: Popular Songs and Rhymes from Latin America and Salsa Stories, an IRA Outstanding International Book. The Bossy Gallito and Arrorró mi niño: Latino Lullabies and Gentle Games are winners of the Pura Belpré Honor Medal for Illustration. Rafi and Rosi, and Rafi and Rosi: Carnival! are selections of the Junior Library Guild. The Storyteller's Candle and Alicia Afterimage, scheduled for 2008, are her latest books. A common thread in the artist's work is the celebration of her Latino heritage.

"The author-illustrator has exhibited in Paris and in Puerto Rico, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington D.C. A graduate of L'Ecole Supérieure d'Arts Graphiques in France, she has lectured throughout the United States. Owners of her art include Keene State College, New Hampshire; The Kerlan Collection, Minnesota; Mazza Gallery, Ohio; and individual collectors in Canada, France, and the United States.

"Lulu is a grantee of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, Maryland, and has been honored as a Maryland Woman in the Arts and a Write from Maryland Author. Lulu lives with her family in Silver Spring, Maryland, since 1988."

What first drew you to youth literature as a career?

LG: I've always been fascinated by the folktales of other countries.

LG: It was while living in Venezuela that I came up with the idea that would lead to my books for children: I realized that many of the folktales, children's folk songs and games there were similar to the ones I had grown up with, with only slight variations.

LG: Since then, my dream became to compile some of the most popular stories told to children throughout the Americas and retell them in English, so that I could pass them onto our children in the U.S.A.

LG: My profession as children's librarian allowed my dream to come true. I was enchanted by all the wonderful children's books that were part of my everyday work. I realized that there were many books that needed to be written and many stories to be told.

LD: Since grade school I was happiest when drawing or painting. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I did not have access to children's books other than some paperback fairy tales published in Spain, and, therefore, I did not know that real people could write and illustrate children's books.

LD: After studies at the University of Puerto Rico, I decided to go to art school, in Paris, in the hopes of becoming a graphic artist. One day, at lunch time, while my classmates where in the corner cafe, I went into the American Gallery next to my school. The original art of In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, was on exhibit.

LD: Standing in front of Sendak's artwork, I had a revelation. I would become a children's book illustrator. I knew that was my path. Many years later, I discovered I could write my own material as well.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as children's book creators? What helped you the most? What might you do differently, given the opportunity?

LG: My professor from Library School, Dr. Henrietta Smith, editor of the Coretta Scott King Awards Book, has been my mentor in the field. Her Children's Literature and Storytelling classes provided me with my frame of reference for the books I wanted to write. As a storyteller, I tell before I write. The audience is my first editor.

LD: What helps me the most is to follow my instincts. I create the books I do out of love and the firm conviction that they are needed. When I illustrate another author's manuscript, I let the story dictate the media and style of the art. I find tremendously helpful to learn directly from the author what his or her vision is. Then, I go on to add, expand, and enrich the text as best as I can, being faithful to the spirit of the manuscript.

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

LG: My first job as children's librarian was programing that aimed at promoting libraries and reading through the art of storytelling. My job was to visit schools every day in the morning and to research stories in the afternoons. It was then that I started telling my own version of stories from Cuba and how I also became a published author.

LG: Scholastic was publishing a book on American folklore and searching for Cuban-American stories. I submitted my first two stories for inclusion in this anthology. One of those stories was The Bossy Gallito. The editor loved the story so much that she asked me if I wouldn't mind publishing it as a stand-alone picture book illustrated by Lulu. Imagine my surprise.

LD: After I graduated from art school, I married and I established myself in the United States.
I remember that in 1982 I took bus from Ayer, Massachusetts; to New York City. I had made twenty-two appointments to be held in a period of five days at children's book publishers. I had two portfolios with me, one to leave behind when the art director would not see me, and one to show personally.

LD: This happened before the Internet, when finding the list of publishers required a visit to the library and making appointments required multiple long-distance phone calls.

LD: I stayed at the YWCA in a tiny room without a bathroom, it was cheaper. I went to my appointments dressed in a navy blue suit, as my mother had told me a proper young lady should do. I still remember an art director asking me if I was the artist or the agent and leaving that office mildly offended.

LD: Even though I did not dress the part of the artist, I got my first assignment for illustrations on Sesame Street Magazine by Friday of that week. Since then, I have been lucky and persistent enough to keep publishing.

LD: There are projects that are harder to launch. There are projects that never see the light of day, because frankly, they are not worth it. All in all, I am very grateful to have been able to create books that children love. I have illustrated thirty-two books, of which I am the author of sixteen.

Congratulations on the release of The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos (Children's Book Press, 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

LG: I wrote this book to the memory of Pura Belpre, a devoted and talented librarian, author, and storyteller who became, in 1921, New York Public Library's first Puerto Rican librarian.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

LG: I was inspired by New York Public Library's storytelling tradition and the visionary children’s librarians who were pioneers in providing services to immigrant families and who understood the importance of honoring the immigrants' languages and preserving their stories.

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

LG: I was approached by Children's Book Press to write this book in early March 2006. By the first week of the following month I was on my way to New York City to start my research.

LG: From the moment I arrived in New York, everything happened by serendipity.

LG: I stayed at the YMCA in Harlem because I couldn't find another affordable place at the time. As I walked out of the YMCA the next morning and asked for the nearest NY Public Library, a man that was leaning against the dark brick wall pointed across the street. There, across from the room where I stayed, was the Schomburg Library, the first library where Pura Belpre worked in 1921.

LG: My heart pounded with emotion when I entered the place where Ms. Belpre first told the story of Perez and Martina to an eager group of children by the light of the storyteller's candle.

LG: It was a dream come true to be given the opportunity to write the first book about Pura Belpre. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to concentrate on the impact of her work on the lives children attending her programs at the library.

LD: I met with Lucia on a trip to Miami in the summer of 2006 to talk about the initial manuscript. We had a great meeting where we brainstormed about the story and I tried to visualize it. She brought part of her research material to the meeting and later took me to her home where she shared the puppets she had made in the style of Pura Belpre's.

LD: I remember asking Lucia to write in her story the sounds and smells that I couldn't paint. I believe we make a good team. Once I had the final manuscript, I spent about five months working on the book's art.

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

LG: In order to write this book, I dedicated weeks to doing original research. I visited the various library branches where Pura Belpre worked, spoke to people who knew her, spent days listening to her voice telling stories, perused through original letters written to her by children who attended her programs, as well as letters written by Pura Belpre herself.

LD: I loved the challenge this book offered. It is the first historical fiction picture book I illustrated. I wanted to set the book in the context of its time and place, the 1930s.

LD: One obvious way was to depict accurately vehicles, buildings, clothing and objects like stoves, cash registers or food cans. Another way was to imitate the sepia photos of that time. However, I wanted to go beyond those expected methods of placing the story in its proper context.

LD: Since the story is set in Manhattan, and a way to know the times is by the news that year, I went in search of the issue of the New York Times of the 6th of January of 1930, a date very relevant in the story Lucia tells. To my amazement and delight, I found a rare newspaper outfit from which I bought the specific issue.

LD: When I received my package, I found a yellowish and brittle issue of The New York Times and spent very long and rewarding hours hunting for the right article in the right value (back then, typesetting was not even as it is today) in order to use it for collage elements. Using the newspaper bits, at times as a color, at times to enrich the historical context provided me with sheer fun. I absolutely loved creating the pictures of The Storyteller's Candle. For a peek at the artwork go to my site: www.luludelacre.com

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers and illustrators?

LG: My advice would be: always write from the heart, don't preach, trust your story, and be knowledgeable of the literature.

LD: Be persistent, listen to your inner voice, write from the heart, or draw and paint what has meaning for you. As a still developing writer, I find it is extremely important to read aloud what I write, to listen to others' opinions on my writing, and to read good literature constantly.

LD: As an illustrator, I always have a small journal with me, where I can make quick sketches and keep my skills honed. I used to look at what other illustrators did when I was younger; now I just follow my instincts.

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

LG: I spend much of my time with my son and my family. We go to the movies a lot and to the beach.

LD: I travel a lot. I enjoy getting to know other countries, their peoples, and their cultures. I love to garden, to cook, to entertain and nurture my friendships.

What can your fans look forward to next?

LG: I am not sure of where my stories will take me next.

LD: Alicia Afterimage (Lee & Low, 2008) a young adult novel based on a true story. The book is a portrait of Alicia, who died in a car crash, seen though her friends eyes.

LD: It is also an exploration of teen grief, and an account of how a community changes and heals over a period of two years.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Author Interview: Ann Dee Ellis on This is What I Did:

Ann Dee Ellis on Ann Dee Ellis: "Ann Dee Ellis was born in Provo, Utah, five days before Christmas. She eats a lot of popcorn, drinks a lot of chocolate milk, and watches a lot of 'Project Runway.' Her first novel is in a drawer. Her second novel, This is What I Did:, was published by Little, Brown in the summer of 2007. Ann Dee teaches writing at Brigham Young University and enjoys not freezing in the snow with her husband and baby boy.

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

I feel like I'm always either sprinting or stumbling. I started writing for young adults in graduate school. I had never thought about creative writing when I applied. I wanted to teach writing and focus on rhetoric, but I can't really answer this question properly right now because I keep looking out my window, and it's snowing and snowing and snowing and this has been possibly the longest winter of all creation. But I know that's not true because I just finished reading Into the Wild [by Jon Krakauer], and I really should stop complaining about how cold I am and how dreary it is and how I can't get any writing done because my hands are about to break off. Ugh.

Long story short, I started writing for teens because I took a class from Louise Plummer (who is an amazing writer and a funny funny lady), and I decided that writing about things that mattered to me would be more fulfilling than writing computer manuals.

I immediately started writing about my boy problems at the time (I was twenty-three and had no shortage of this kind of material) and ended up with a novel about making out. For some reason, it never got published.

But my second book was a bit more successful. I took the first fifty pages to the Writing for Young Readers Conference at BYU and ended with with an agent and eventually a book contract.

Congratulations on the publication of This Is What I Did: (Little Brown, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

There are two things that inspired the book.

1. I'm extremely dorky in situations where I'm not supposed to be dorky. I'm horrible at mix-n'-mingle type things, I never did well at cool parties, and I always feel like I'm making things up to try to fit in. Logan and I have this in common.

2. I have someone close to me who was bullied beyond belief. Even more than Logan. I was thinking about him when I started the novel.

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

I wrote the beginning of the book during the summer of 2004 (I think--I should have written it down). Edward, my agent, had it in his hands around August. It was sold around March of 2005. And finally came out the summer of 2007.

The first book was smooth sailing. I love my editor. She understood Logan completely, and the revision process was fun. Really.

The hardest part for me when the book actually came out. I felt like a piece of me had been dropped on everyone and I couldn't take it back. I never realized how vulnerable I'd feel. Sometimes I'd be eating french fries and all the sudden think, "Why would I do that to myself?"

I was the most nervous to have my family and friends read it. Suddenly, people knew me in a different way, and it was both exciting and terrifying. I still have a hard time talking about my writing to people close to me.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

I wore shorts all winter long my freshman year in high school because I thought my butt looked fat in jeans. My mom's rule was no shorts until May, but I'd find a way to leave the house when she was gone or distracted.

I loved the same boy, day in and day out, for four years. I smashed eggs on his head, smeared mayonnaise in his sweater, and once asked him to a dance. He didn't ask me back.

I was the last one cut from the volleyball team, and once Megan Zimmerman, who drove a red jeep and made out with seniors, told everyone that she thought I had the best nose in the 10th grade.

Needless to say, this was the most intense four years of my life.

I still have intense times. I still am insecure. My butt still looks fat in jeans, but never are things quite so present as they were back then. Being a teenager is exhilarating and exhausting. Hopeful and horrible. That's what appeals to me.

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

One of the most influential people in my writing and professional life has been Chris Crowe. He is an amazing teacher, writer and friend. He has always been supportive and he is an excellent example of someone who knows how to have balance in all aspects of his life.

I've also been so relieved at how friendly and encouraging other writers have been. It was great to be in the Class of 2k7. It was wonderful to have Sara Zarr (author interview) as a close friend who could tell me it was okay when I felt like going into a hole.

It was a relief to have mentors like Carol Lynch Williams and Virginia Euwer Wolfe encouraging me. I think the children's-YA writing community is such a valuable and crucial thing for some of us who tend to feel on the fringes.

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

Relax. Laugh.

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

This is hard for me. I don't do it well at all. Promotion has never been my strong point, and I tend to be either totally obsessed or totally absent. I'm still working on this one. I probably will never get it right, but I'm learning to be okay with that.

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

I spend a lot of time chasing my baby. He's not a baby anymore really. He runs now. So that's interesting. But he and my husband are the center of my attention.

When I'm not chasing them or writing, I like to get outside and do things. That's so descriptive. Let me try again: I like triathlons even though I came in last in the only one I've actually ever attempted. My goal is second to last next time.

I like to hike even though I don't get to do it as much as I'd like to. I like to dream about one day owning a Flat Pak house and being good at keeping things organized and clean.

I like Hawaii. I will trade houses with someone in Hawaii for a couple of weeks.

Utah is beautiful. Not freezing at all.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, Everything is Fine, will be out March of 2009. The book cover is on my website and details will be coming soon!

Cynsational News & Links

"Catherine Gilbert Murdock's first two YA novels, Dairy Queen (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and The Off Season (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), feature laconic Wisconsin farm girl--and football player--DJ Schwenk. Murdock's latest novel, Princess Ben (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), stars a very different type of character in an imagined fantasy world." Horn Book executive editor Martha Parravano interviews Catherine about "this shift from contemporary realism to fairy-tale fantasy." Listen to the Horn Book podcast!

"All Answers are Yes" from Editorial Anonymous. [On pre-contract revisions,] peek: "This is also a test: the good writers are the ones who are good at rewriting. Some people are only good at first drafts, or terrible at using feedback effectively, and I'd like to know that about someone before I commit to working with them for months/years and spending many thousands of dollars on their project."

"Going on Recon..." from Brooke Taylor. Peek: "If you know an ill or injured teen or one with sick family members or friends, the following books are recommended by YALSA librarians..."

Kids Q&A with Justine Larbalestier from Powell's Ink. Peek: "I remember that feeling when I was a young reader, finding books that were set in Sydney with Australian characters was incredibly exciting." Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

"From the Mixed-up Files of Agent Manners--age and writing" by Jennifer Jackson at Et in arcaedia, ego. Peek: "Age is unlikely to get you noticed. Brilliant writing and marketable concepts will. If you don't mention your age in an inquiry, it's unlikely an agent will ascribe any weight to such a statistic." See also "Multiple Offers of Representation." Peek: "...do keep in mind that the object here is not to play the agents off each other but to find the best match for yourself as author."

April Giveaway: Enter to win a copy of Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy by Kimberly Willis Holt, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Henry Holt, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly about the first book in the series, Piper Reed: Navy Brat (Henry Holt, 2007). Peek: "I'm a Navy brat. Like Piper's dad, my dad was a Navy chief. And also like her, I'm one of three girls. However I'm the oldest daughter. I was a pretty serious kid, and I wasn't sure if that would be a fun point of view for young readers. My middle sister was the clown in the family. She was clever and funny. She certainly inspired Piper, although as I wrote the character became different."

A Rose By Any Other Name by Susan E. Goodman from I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids). Peek: "As we all know, words matter. So what about the one that describes our genre of writing: nonfiction. I used to feel just fine about it, but now I have a slight twinge. After all, it does have a negative point of reference. The 'I'm not fiction' instead of the 'I am something' kind of writing." See also "To Quote or Not To Quote: Invented Dialogue" from Tanya Lee Stone, also at I.N.K.

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

Writing to Deadline by Liz Garton Scanlon. Peek: "Yes, I capture phrases out of dreams and pound out plots while I walk and generally try to stay in a muse-induced state as frequently as a mother of two with a marriage and a mortgage can. But I still produce most effectively when someone's expecting something from me. " Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

More Personally

Congratulations to Kathy Lenning on the publication of Amber Eyes (Book Surge, 2008). Note: Kathy was in my original critique group in Austin. She will be signing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 19 at Java Stop, 301 Main St., in Longmont, Colorado.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Editor Interview: Nancy Mercado on Roaring Brook Press

Nancy Mercado on Nancy Mercado: "Born and raised in Staten Island, youngest of three, brought up by a Colombian father and an American mother, married and currently living in Brooklyn; love traveling, talking to strangers, and dreaming of growing my own tomatoes."

What kind of young reader were you?

For most of my childhood, I lived two blocks away from the library, and my best friend Julie and I spent all of our time there. I can still remember exactly where all of my favorite books were on the shelves, I can remember looking for books with either the Newbery seal or the Dell Yearling horse (and they say kids don't pay attention to imprints!!), and I can also remember the moment when I was finally taller than the shelves!

Johnny Lion by Edith Thacher Hurd is one of the first books I remember reading by myself at that library (My childhood desk at home had knobs in the shape of a lion, and I thought it was very cool that I could put all of my Johnny Lion library books in there for safekeeping.) and so many of the books that I read there are intricately woven into the fabric of my childhood; books such as: Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban, Carolyn Haywood's Betsy books, the Something Queer series by Elizabeth Levy, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, The Adventures of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, the Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry, and anything and everything by Paul Zindel and Paula Danziger.

What inspired you to make children's-YA literature your career focus?

When I was in college I worked at a mall bookstore in Albany, NY called Lauriat's. I appointed myself in charge of the children's section (and well, there wasn’t exactly anyone beating me to it!), and I did displays based on my favorite books (a ballet end cap for Ballet Shoes, that kind of nerdy thing.) One day I was forced to work in the calendar kiosk (which was conveniently located in the no-man's-land part of the mall), and I read Missing May by Cynthia Rylant, and I felt like I got more from that book than any of the reading assignments in my Spanish-literature classes. Around that time I thought that I’d probably become a Newbery Judge when I grew up. (It wasn't until much later that I realized that "Newbery Judge" wasn't actually a job for which I could apply. Curses!)

How about editing specifically?

The desire to edit came from working at Scholastic and going to joint edit meetings where people like Tracy Mack, Jean Feiwel, and Arthur Levine would present their books and their ideas for books. I longed for that same connection to the book, that same intimate involvement in the process of book making.

How did you prepare for this career?

I never really thought about preparing for this career, though I suppose all my time spent working in bookstores certainly helped.

How did you break into the business?

After college, I worked for a while as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble in Union Square. It was great, but I was putting my rent on my credit card, and I quickly realized that I needed a job that paid more. I sent out a cover letter to ten of my favorite children's publishers.

That letter got me an informational interview at Scholastic. Six months after that interview, I got called back for a position as a book club assistant.

How did you get from day one to your current position?

I was the assistant for the TAB Book Club (Teen Age Books) and then I was promoted to be the book-club manager for Trumpet Intermediate. I was at Scholastic for four years doing those two jobs. Then in 2002, I got a job as an editor at Dial, was promoted to Senior Editor after a few years of being there, and then in December of 2007, I got a job as an executive editor at Roaring Brook Press.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

I think that the job of an editor is to seek out interesting and diverse voices, to work on books that are honest and well written, and to spend time thinking about whether or not young readers will connect with the books you are making.

What are its challenges?

It's challenging in publishing to stay true to your instincts and to remember the audience.

What are its rewards?

It is truly luxurious to be able to spend my days thinking about writing, talking about writing, and dealing with creative, inspiring people. That never gets old!

What makes Roaring Brook Press special? Would you please describe the list?

Roaring Brook is a very hands-on, author-focused and fun place to work. I feel like we know how to take risks, and, most importantly, our discussions always come back to what's best for the book. I also really like how our marketing goddesses come up with the coolest ideas for promoting the books!

I'm just beginning to become more intimately acquainted with Roaring Brook's back list and front list, but so far I'd say that the list is eclectic and ever changing. Sometimes it's bold and innovative, sometimes it's kid focused and silly, and sometimes it's wise and thoughtful. It just depends.

I'm in awe of Neal Porter and the books that he publishes under his imprint. I feel giddy about being in such close proximity to the amazing graphic novels they do at First Second, and I'm happy to learn from the quality and kid-friendly non-fiction coming out of our Flashpoint imprint.

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from writers or through agents? Why?

The majority of my manuscripts come from agents. To me, agents are just like Pandora.com (my new obsession)…they pass along things that they think I will like based on conversations we've had, books they know I've edited, or just a sense of what might jive with my personality.

Roaring Brook has a closed submission policy so we only take submissions from agents, authors that have been recommended to us, or people that we've invited to submit. And although that policy makes it sound so exclusive, what it does is it frees up the editor's time to focus on the books that are already acquired and the authors with whom we have a relationship. I'm really grateful for that.

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submission process? What are pitfalls to avoid?

Avoid being too cutesy or gimmicky in your cover letter. Most of all though, I think the greatest pitfall is spending too much time worrying about the submission process and not enough on the writing process!

What titles would you recommend for study to writers interested in working with you/the house and why?

Read Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen if you want to write in multiple perspectives, read anything by Tomi Ungerer if you want to do subversive picture books, read Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis if you want to learn how to write in third person and have it feel like first, read Ten Mile River by Paul Griffin if you want to write something edgy and realistic and yet not devoid of hope, read Laika by Nick Abadzis if you want to learn about dialogue, read Frindle by Andrew Clements if you want to write anything for middle graders, read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein if you want to write about a historical experience that will resonate throughout the ages, read the Gym Shorts series by Betty Hicks if you want to write sports stories that concentrate more on relationships than the scoreboard, read The Qwikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger if you want to do gross-out humor with heart, read Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack by M.E. Kerr if you want to write an unforgettable main character, and read Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’engle if you want to be a writer of anything at all.

What new books are you especially excited about in 2008?

I'll limit myself to four. (Sorry, you asked!) My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park by Steve Kluger is a personal favorite because it's upbeat, funny, and it's a YA that doesn't take itself too seriously. It also reminds me of one of my favorite books as a kid, Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman.

Ten Mile River is a YA novel by a first time author named Paul Griffin about two friends surviving on their own on the streets of New York City. I've been calling it "Of Mice and Men" meets "Good Will Hunting." (How's that for my Hollywood style pitch?)

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel (from Neal Porter Books) is a book that truly makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t even like cats! It's aimed towards an older audience than his picture books and it features his famous mischievous kitty, and I just love how it combines factual information about cats with zany, age-appropriate humor.

Finally, Wonderbear is a book that I acquired along with Lily Malcom, the art director at Dial, right before I left. I didn't have the pleasure of working on the book, but I'm so excited about Tao Nyeu and her magical drawings. You'll definitely be seeing this book all over in the Fall. I think Tao has a long career ahead of her.

Of the books you've edited over the course of your career, which three or four are you most proud of and why?

I'm most proud of Defining Dulcie by Paul Acampora, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis, and I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry, and all for different reasons.

Defining Dulcie was one of the first books I edited, and the author and I learned so much about how a story unfolds and how to best invite the story to reveal itself.

I'm proud of Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree because I think it's a book that will stand the test of time and because it's an important book that will really help kids to see things through another perspective.

I'm proud of I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean because the author/illustrator came up with an idea (using paper and paint on layered glass plates!) that was both innovative and just plain fun to look at. Kevin also taught me about the beauty of pure, goofy enthusiasm in life and in picture books.

Could you describe your dream writer? Illustrator?

My dream writer or illustrator is someone who adores the collaborative process of making books.

What do you do outside your editorial/publishing life?

I teach yoga privately, I watch too much "Lost," I search for new documentaries I haven't seen yet, and I spend time looking at birds in the park with my husband.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Yes, I'd love to tell you about two books that I'm working on at the moment. One is called Episodes and it's a hilarious and tender memoir written by a 20-year-old high functioning autistic student named Blaze about his freshman through senior year of high school.

Inspired by the format of IMDB.com and TV.com, Blaze writes in episodes about his quest for the perfect trio of friends, his love of Hillary Duff, and his never-ending search for a girlfriend. The other is a brilliant and soulful graphic novel project by Tracy White, about a young girl's struggle with bulimia and depression. Both of them probably won't be out until next year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cynsational News & Links

Intensive Picture Book Workshop with 3 critiques from Anastasia Suen April 28 to May 23 ($325). Peek: "The Intensive Picture Book Workshop is a 20 day email course. It takes at least an hour a day to read five picture books and complete the homework. By clicking "reply" to your Intensive Picture Book emails, we can discuss storyboarding, plotting, pacing, page turns, and more." Note: "You will read 100 picture books..." A self-paced class also is available. Read a Cynsations interview with Anastasia.

"We Don't Make Fuzzy-Bunny Books" from Tony DiTerlizzi, co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles. Peek: "I am in the thick of finishing the 30+ illustrations for my upcoming chapter book, Kenny and the Dragon. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is inspired from Kenneth Grahame’s short story, The Reluctant Dragon, from his book Dream Days." Note: I covet the art of Mr. DiTerlizzi, which I suspect is out of my price range. Sigh.

Reading Queries by Agent Kristin at Pub Rants. Peek: "...the glaze factor can hit SF&F queries harder as I find writers will often ramble about world building in their queries. Short, succinct, and well done should be your mantra."

Presenting K. L. Going from Journey of an Inquiring Mind. Peek: "I would have to say the most valuable thing I learned was that editors and agents are regular people. It's easy when you're trying to break in to publishing to see them as somehow removed from the average person, to put their literary taste on a pedestal, but in reality, they're just as fallible as the rest of us, and somehow knowing that helps me to put my career in perspective." Read a Cynsations interview with K. L.

Rhymes with Young Readers by Robyn Smith from BookPage. Peek: "For children who love poetry—or might one day learn to appreciate it—here are a few of this season's most memorable poetry collections." See also: "A poet's advice on tapping your own creative genius" (Jack Prelutsky) by Heidi Henneman from BookPage.

The Heroic Journey of the Requested Manuscript from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "Sometimes I fantasize about taking time out of my day to sit comfortably with my reading and a cup of coffee and give everything the time and consideration it deserves. And then I roll my eyes or snort or laugh a little hysterically (depending on my current emotional stability) and get back to answering emails."

Author 2 Author: Kerry Madden: interview by Karen Zacharias from Authors Round the South. Peek: "When I come to a grinding halt plot-wise, (one of my fortes) I usually write an essay. It's a different form, and it frees me up from whatever is stopping me in the novel. I go for long walks with the dogs and try to imagine what a kid would do..." Read a Cynsations interview with Kerry.

How To Find a Literary Agent by Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. Peek: "...in today's publishing clime it's just not enough to have written a good book. Treat this business seriously, because it is a business."

"The Mood I'm In" by Jessica from BookEnds, LCC-A Literary Agency. Peek: "The truth is that you never know the mood of the agent you’re pitching to or what is happening in her personal life that might affect the choices she’s making. In fact, in a lot of ways you don’t know what’s happening in her professional life that affects the choices she’s making."

In Profile: NY Times Bestselling Novelist Lisa McMann by Kelly Spitzer from Writers in Profile. Peek: "There are millions of people who would give anything to be in your shoes. How badly do you want this? Enough to step out of your comfort zone and go get it? Enough that you don't want to have to start this process over again because you were too afraid to promote your first book and it's failing? If you want it, if you want this life as an author, if you ever want to sell another book, your goal needs to be this: You must do everything in your power to make this book succeed, because if you don't, and this book fails, nobody gets fired...except you." Learn more about Lisa.

America's Next Top Author: And You Thought Models Couldn't Read by Holly Brubach of the New York Times. According to Melissa Walker's blog: "The way this story came about was that I emailed a Times editor, saying that a lot of Young Adult books about the modeling world were coming out, and maybe they'd like to do a round-up."

Authors Talk About Agents in a week-long discussion led by Kelly Bingham at Through the Tollbooth. Note: begins at linked page and continues. Peek: "In many publishing houses, there is no more slush pile. “Not accepting unsolicited submissions at this time” has become the mainstay. Where does that leave us writers? In many cases, writers seek out agents." Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly.

Giveaways

The winner of the Magic in the Mirrorstone, edited by Steve Berman (Mirrorstone, 2008)(author interview) giveaway is a Cynsational YA reader from Crowley, Texas! Read a Cynsations interview with Steve.

Reminder: Enter to win a copy of By Venom's Sweet Sting (Mirrorstone, 2007). To enter, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST April 30! Please also type "By Venom's Sweet Sting" in the subject line. Note: one copy will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader, and one copy will be awarded to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please identify yourself accordingly as part of your entry! Don't miss the latest Hallowmere book, latest Hallowmere novel, Between Golden Jaws by Tiffany Trent (Mirrorstone, 2008)(sample chapter)! Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

More Personally

Interested in submitting a book to Cynsations? See the guidelines. Note: please do not write a "pitch" e-letter.

Check out the latest Tantalize fan trailer! See also the official trailer.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Author Interview: Donna Gephart on As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President!

Learn about Donna Gephart!

What were you like as a young reader?


My family didn't have much money, so riding my bike to the public library provided hours of free entertainment. I could rarely narrow my selections down to the twelve books that patrons were allowed to borrow. As a young child, I also didn't have many friends. The characters in books often kept me company.

Why do you write for kids today?

So that I can provide that "temporary friend" for young readers today. Books also provide a bridge for children to feel empathy and develop understanding for those who are different or live differently than they do.

What about young fictional heroes appeals to you as a writer?

Children often feel powerless. But the books they read show young fictional heroes as powerful in the way that they have control over their destiny. Characters make mistakes, but learn and grow and achieve their goals through their own initiative. I think that empowers young readers to believe they can affect a change in their own future.

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

I've written an article for the 2009 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (edited by Alice Pope) (Writer's Digest Books, 2009) called "Six Reasons You Should Quit Writing and One Very Important Reason You Shouldn't." I gave a speech at the FL SCBWI in Miami this January called, "Don't Quit." Does this give you an idea of my path to publication?

I believe it takes at least a decade of reading, writing, revising and rejections to become an "overnight success."

Looking back on your apprenticeship as a writer, is there anything you wish you'd done differently? If so, what and why?

I started writing short--greeting cards, puzzles, jokes, etc. Then I tried my hand at funny essays and stories, some of which appeared in Highlights for Children and Family Circle Magazine.

Eventually, I took the plunge and wrote novels. Sometimes, I wish I'd started writing books for children sooner. But perhaps a direct route isn't always the best path. I learned a lot about writing succinctly and shaping my fiction from the other types of writing I did.

On the flip side, what was most helpful to you in terms of developing your craft?

Joining and later leading critique groups helped me grow most as a writer. I think it's true that good writing is not written but rewritten.

When I first attended critique groups, I was in awe of those who could offer solid advice on story structure. It took years of hearing their words in my mind to develop my ear for fine-tuning story structure in my own work and the work of other's.

Also, spying. I love people-watching at the airport or the mall. I'm forever eavesdropping on people's conversations and observing how they interact with one another. That helps me write scenes where tension develops between characters. It also helps me write dialogue that seems genuine.

Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel, As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! (Delacorte, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the story?

I'm really excited about this story and the response it's getting from young readers. One girl told me she liked the book so much that the moment she finished it, she started over and read the whole thing again. Letters like those make the long journey worthwhile.

A brief summary: Preparing for spelling bees, having a secret admirer, and waiting for her chest size to catch up with her enormous feet are pressure enough, but Vanessa Rothrock must also deal with loneliness and fear as her mother, Florida's Governor, runs for President of the United States.

Young readers will learn about primaries during this election season as well as the trials and t-r-i-b-u-l-a-t-i-o-n-s involved in competing in spelling bees. All the while, they will hope for this klutzy character to come to terms with herself, her mother's campaign and ultimately find the courage to thwart an assassination attempt.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I'd initially written this as a short story for an anthology seeking pieces about mother/daughter relationships. Members of my critique group and my agent really liked the voice and encouraged me to turn the story into a novel.

When coming up with the initial idea, I remembered a myth that Chelsea Clinton, when she was ill, told the school nurse to call her father because her mother was too busy. My research showed that what really happened was that Chelsea Clinton needed medication, and the school's policy is to get parental permission. Chelsea reportedly said, "Call my father. My mother is out of town." Decidedly less amusing, but the impetus for my story about a girl whose mother is often too busy to attend her spelling bees or show up at the hospital when she breaks her wrist in P.E. class.

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

I wrote the story in 2005. Research and revisions lasted into early 2006.

Once Tina Wexler, my agent at I.C.M., submitted it, we received an offer in about three weeks--in April 2006.

Even though the book sold in early 2006, it wasn't released until nearly two years later--February of 2008--to coincide with the election season.

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

Staring with a blank page and ending with a novel is never an easy endeavor.

This particular book required quite a lot of research. I read dozens of books and reviewed many Web sites about campaigning and the political process. I interviewed a spelling bee champ who made it to the bee at the national level twice. I searched for obscure words to include in my fictional spelling bees. I enjoyed the research because I learned about worlds different from my own. And the revisions, although challenging, were very rewarding as I watched the current book take shape.

So, what is it like connecting this timely book to young readers in an election year? What special opportunities does that present?

It presents a great opportunity to let young readers know about the election process in a fun way.

This is such an exciting, historic election that it's wonderful to be involved in connecting young readers to the process. I wish a book like this were available when I was a kid because then it wouldn't have taken me so long to become excited about and involved in the political process.

What has it been like, being a debut author in 2008?

The interesting thing about having a book released is that it opens up a whole different set of opportunities. Now instead of spending my time reading, writing and revising, I'm still doing those things, plus I'm giving interviews, speaking at conferences, doing presentations at schools and libraries--a whole new aspect of the business.

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

Be patient. It takes more time than you'd like.

Have faith. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not an oncoming train.

Work hard. Seeing a youngster clutching your book is way more exciting than catching up on the latest "Lost" episodes.

Dream big. But enjoy the journey because spending time in the company of your imagination is a fine way to pass a few hours each day.

Please tell us about your blog, Wild About Words--your approach to blogging, your focus, why it's important to you?

I started blogging July 2007 and love it. I've connected with so many interesting people through my blog. I have a Web site, which is nice for someone to learn more about me and my book, but a blog is current and constantly updated. It's a great way to let people know what's going on with the book, pass along writing tips and advice or share in someone else's success.

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

As I write this, my desk is piled high with a full calendar, notes for an upcoming school presentation, lists of people I need to contact for publicity, empty dishes from the lunch I ate while working, etc. Balancing the new demands of promotion and speaking with my love of quiet, uninterrupted writing time and time for family and friends is something I work on daily. If anyone has any advice, I'd love to hear it!

As a reader, so far what are your favorite books of 2008?

I have a stack of new books by my bed that I'm eager to read. E. M. Crane's YA novel, Skin Deep (Delacorte, 2008)(excerpt), really moved me. Great characters, touching story. I'm still in awe of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (Little Brown, 2007) from last year.

What do you do outside the world of books?

Long walks. And bike rides. The weather in South Florida is fantastic this time of year. And there are always interesting creatures--turtles, ibises, alligators (gulp), geckos, hawks, etc.--to enjoy watching. And the hibiscus and bougainvillea are also lovely. Luckily, we live close to the beach, too. When I'm not outside, I enjoy playing Scrabble with Hubby. Our teenage boys are a lot of fun. And I always love reconnecting and sharing a laugh with friends.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a top secret project on my agent's desk right now. It doesn't involve politics, but it does involve a boy who wants to become a famous talk-show host like Oprah, that is, if he can survive his first year of junior high school!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring Flowers, The Writing Life, Lost Pines

Spring equals flowers...sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy days...and blessedly comfortable temperatures.

Greg and I have been doing some socializing. We had Varian Johnson and his wife over to dinner late last month. Greg prepared hearts-of-palm, red onion, and tomato salads, chilled asparagus soup, beef filets with salmon sashimi, mushroom ragu, and a chocolate cheesecake with mixed berries.

That same week, I also had lunch with Don Tate at Maudie's Too on South Lamar and enjoyed one of my old favorites, the chicken fajita salad with queso sauce.

The following weekend, we had dinner with Shana Burg and her husband at their home. They prepared a fresh greens and vegetable salad with asparagus and chicken marinara over (I think) fettuccine. We had chocolate mousse with wee mint candies for dessert.

What else? Easter came early! That morning, Greg and I took a long walk through Zilker Botanical Garden.


Later that day, he made dinner--chicken and lobster in a pot with a salad and berries. Anne Bustard was our guest.

It's been an incredibly productive period for my writing. So far this year, I've finished the final revision of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)(just signed off on the flap copy!) and written/revised three short stories--one for Geektastic: Geeky Stories, edited by Cecil Castellucci and Holly Black (Little Brown); one for Cabinet of Curiosities edited by Deborah Wayshak (Candlewick); and one for an as-yet unnamed vampire anthology (BenBella, 2008). At the moment, I'm working on the graphic-novel adaptation of Tantalize. More on all of that as details arise.

On a related note, I often say that I believe in celebrating every bit of good news in the writing life. I can't tell you yet what's pending, but this week, Greg and I had a particularly outstanding celebratory dinner at Cibo, which is at 819 Congress, not far south of the Capitol Building. It's the row restaurant where I first enjoyed a lunch with Ruth Pennebaker, whose husband is the subject of a glowing front-page feature in today's Statesman. For dinner, I had the fried fresh calamari with frisee, radicchio, grapefruit, olive oil, and red wine vinaigrette, followed by risotto with porcini and hedgehog mushrooms (for two; we split it), followed by the grilled "polletto alla diavola" with olive-oil whipped potatoes, green beans, and micro kohlrabi. The real news was the risotto. Absolutely heaven, and you could make a meal out of just that (we had big to-go boxes).

This afternoon, we're just back from a long writing weekend at the Hyatt Lost Pines, a new full-service resort about 20 minutes outside Austin (near Bastrop). Note the "dueling laptops." A dear friend had given us a gift certificate to Stories Fine Dining Establishment for Christmas, and as long as we were going, it only made sense to stay a couple of days.

I worked on the Tantalize graphic-novel adaptation (12 new manuscript pages!), and Greg worked on his novel in progress, which I haven't yet seen.

For our "fancy" dinner on Friday night, I had tuna tartare with yuzu, avocado mayonnaise, candied ginger and black pepper potato chips, followed by roasted Maine lobster with corn fondue, grilled house smoked bacon, avocado and cornbread soufflé. Afterward, we had a drink at Scribes' Club.

I especially appreciated how, throughout the hotel, Texas authors were featured alongside musicians and other local artists, though I'd like to see more attention paid to youth literature. I may send a letter to the manager about that.

We also enjoyed breakfasts and lunches at the Fireside Café and Shellers Bar and Grill.

At Fireside, I recommend: the Cedar Creek Wrap (pecan-smoked turkey, jalapeño bacon, jack cheese and herb spread). Note: They hard-sell the breakfast buffet, but order off the menu. Just the basic scrambled eggs with a side of ham was divine.

At Shellers, I recommend: the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail with Bloody Mary horseradish sauce (excellent sauce!) and pickled vegetables; the "Traditional" Cheese Pie (it's a pizza) with sautéed mushrooms, onions, and sausage; and the Grilled Chicken Pecan Wrap (chicken salad with toasted pecans, grapes, apples and honey-mustard in a whole-wheat wrap served with vegetable chips).

I also enjoyed my hour-long Django massage at Django Spa. The Four Seasons spa still has it beat, but overall, the new Hyatt resort is serious competition, especially for those wanting to get away from it all. The service at both are outstanding.

This is peak season for travelers to Texas, so prices were a bit, well, pricey, but it was a special treat to see the wildflowers. I'm wondering if some of my local writer pals might be interested in retreating to the Lost Pines during the off-season. If it's too hot, we'll just get more work done. (See also Greg's report).

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