Friday, May 02, 2008

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaways

Austin SCBWI offered a great line-up for its April 26 conference.

Featured speakers included: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist's agent Christina Tugeau; writing professor Peter Jacobi; illustrator Christy Stallop; and retired educator Naomi "Mama" Pasemann.

The Critique Clinic and Success Panel Authors included: Brian Anderson (author interview); Chris Barton; Lila Guzman (author interview); Helen Hemphill (author interview); Varian Johnson; April Lurie (author interview); Jane Peddicord (author interview); Jo Whittemore (author interview); and Brian Yansky (author interview).

Special contributions also were made by Julie Lake (author interview) and Gary Schumann, Lyn Brooks, and the conference committee--Regional Advisor Tim Crow; Lyn Seippel; Meg Shoemaker; Donna Bratton; Julie Lake; Christy Stallop; and Carmen Oliver.

Highlights included the inauguration of the Austin SCBWI Meredith Davis Volunteer-of-the-Year Award, named in honor of our chapter founder and first regional advisor. The first recipient was current ARA Lyn Seippel.

The night before the conference, Greg and I had the honor of hosting a reception in honor of the conference faculty and volunteers. The menu (above) included: green goddess crudites with anchovy green goddess dressing; peak season fruits paired with cheddar, Jarlsberg, Havarti and Gruyere cheeses, an assortment of bite-size pinwheels of carne asada, grilled vegetable and roasted turkey with fig spread on colorful tortillas, jumbo shrimp poached in a court-bouillon and served with a choice of traditional cocktail sause or spicy gazpacho sauce, along with fresh lemons, lime, and dill, and two-bite sweets--cookies, brownies, and bars. We also served red and white wine, water, and sodas. The event was catered by Whole Foods (Lamar).

Thanks to the committee, critique clinic faculty, and speakers for an amazing event! Cheers again to Austinite and rising star, Varian Johnson, on his first hardcover sale (to Delacorte)!

May Giveaway

The Cynsations grand-prize May giveaway is an autographed paperback set of all three of Lauren Myracle's New York Times bestselling Internet Girls novels (in chat-room-style writing)--ttyl, l8rg8r, and ttfn, all published by Amulet!

From a recent Cynsations interview with Lauren:

"The credit for inspiration all goes to my fabulous and adorable and brilliant-beyond-words editor, the great Susan Van Metre.

"One day, she and I were having a talk about how different things are for girls now than when we were teenagers, and we circled around to the whole IM thing. You know, how when we were in school, we'd come home and phone our buds and go over the day (who wore what, who said what, etc.), but now, girls come home and IM their buds to do their post-op.

"And Susan said, 'Someone should write a book all told in IMs.'

"And, being no dummy, I said, 'Okay!' And so I did."

Read Lauren's blog, and visit her at MySpace!

To enter the giveaway, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST May 31! Please also type "Internet Girls" in the subject line. Note: one autographed set will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader.

Giveaway Winners

Autographed copies of A Growling Place by Thomas Aquinas Maguire (Simply Read, 2007)(author-illustrator interview) went to Katie, a fifth grade teacher from Las Vegas as well as Cynsational readers Tracy in Poway, California; and Sheila in Coral Springs, Florida.

Autographed copies of How Not to Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2008)(author interview) went to Cana, an eighth grade teacher in Starke, Florida; and Em, a Cynsational reader from Boulder, Colorado! Visit Jennifer's LiveJournal and MySpace page!

And finally, Cynsational YA reader Kate in Bangor, Maine; and Tantalize Fans Unite! member Breanna in Tacoma, Washington; won copies of By Venom's Sweet Sting by Tiffany Trent (Mirrorstone, 2007)! Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

Hunger Mountain's Annual eBay Fundraising Auction

Visit between now and noon EST May 8th to place your bid on manuscript critiques with notable authors and limited edition letterpress broadsides.

One-on-one manuscript critiques in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and writing for children and young adults are offered by phone, email, and mail with award-winning authors.

Authors offering critiques: Gillian Conoley, Cleopatra Mathis, William Olsen, Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview), Robin Hemley, Randall Brown, Sebastian Matthews, David Huddle, Victoria Redel, Evan Fallenberg, Dara Wier, Jack Myers, Baron Wormser, Thomas E. Kennedy, David Jauss, Xu Xi, and Norma Fox Mazer (author interview). Note: Tim and Norma specialize in youth literature.

A new letterpress broadside featuring Lucia Perillo's poem "Breaking News" is now available. It is the fourth broadside in the Stinehour Broadside Award Series. These letterpress broadsides are all signed and numbered, limited edition, and frame worthy!

All purchases are charitable donations in support of Hunger Mountain's non-profit mission to bring readers outstanding creative work by both established and emerging writers and artists, as chosen by guest editors from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program faculty.

Visit www.hungermtn.org for more information, including contest and submission guidelines. (Don't miss the deadline for the Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize, awarding $1,000 and publication: entries must be postmarked by June 15, 2008.)

VCFA Picture Book Certificate Program

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program now offers a one-semester graduate-level picture book certificate program. This program is currently only available to graduates of the three MFA programs at the Vermont College of Fine Arts; however, for the fall 2008 semester, the program will be opened to graduates of other master's programs and to individuals without an advanced degree on a case-by-case basis. Note: "The picture book certificate program is modeled after a regular MFA-WC&YA semester with a few additional components."

More News & Links

BookPage Spotlight Award 2008: "reward a librarian for a job well done."

Cheryl Klein: official site of the senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books. Includes a number of "talks on writing and publishing," "on submissions and about me," and more. Recent additions include: "Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie" and "Principles of Line Editing." See also her blog, Brooklyn Arden.

Grace Lin in the Kitchen Interview from jama rattigan's alphabet soup: a children's writer offers food for thought & fine whining. Peek: "I think the biggest challenge when writing autobiographical stories is to really let go. Many times people like to keep things private; don't want others to know embarrassing or personal thoughts. But those are the things that are most interesting and perhaps what you most want to tell. Once you let that go, truly open yourself up to the page--then real writing happens. After that, the challenge is to figure out what events are interesting to an audience, not just yourself because it happened to you." Note: includes super-cute kid photos of Grace and editor Alvina Ling. Grace will sign two copies of The Year of the Rat (Little Brown, 2008) for two lucky people who leave a comment at jama rattigan's alphabet soup no later than May 7. "The books will be sent to her for personalization, so if you already own a copy, think in terms of a gift for someone special! And, if you mention this interview/giveaway on your blog, you'll be entered twice!" See post for details.

How Much to Tell [a Prospective Agent] from Bookends, LLC. Peek: "I get a lot of questions about how much to tell an agent. If an agent previously reviewed your material and liked it enough to ask you to keep her in mind for other work, should you remind her of this rejection? If your work is currently under consideration at a publisher..."

Launch Pad: Where Young Authors and Illustrators Take Off! "a new literary arts magazine devoted to publishing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, and artwork by children ages 6 to 12. The magazine is published six times a year and is fully accessible online."

Janee Trasler: official author-illustrator site. Her books include Ghost Eats It All (Little Brown). Don't Miss Janee's blog, Art & Soul.

Desperately Seeking Cinderellas (or Cinderfellas!) fAiRy gOdSisTeRs, iNk is offering a $1,000 SCBWI Summer Conference Grant for a SCBWI member to attend the Aug. 1 to Aug. 4 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. To apply, submit a 250 word double-spaced essay describing what you hope to accomplish by attending this year's summer conference. Application deadline: May 15; winner will notified June 1. Send to: fairygodsistersink@yahoo.com; questions? write: mlhershey@aol.com. Note: "Fairy Godsisters, Ink. is a small, benevolent squadron of children's book authors who believe in the magic of passing forward lucky breaks, bounty and beneficence, as so many have done for us." Members: Thalia Chaltas, Mary Hershey, Valerie Hobbs, R. L. La Fevers and Lee Wardlaw. Source: Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Literary Estate Representation by Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. Peek: "Many people think that representation stops when the author passes away. Not so! We here at Curtis Brown often work with the heirs of literary estates to try to make sure that the authors' works continue to find new life via new editions and make sure every new opportunity is explored."

Kathi Appelt hits the road to promote her debut novel, The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview)! See her live at 7 p.m. May 6 at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum (10000 Research Blvd.) in Austin; at 5 p.m. May 8 at Hastings (2311 Colorado Blvd.) in Denton, Texas; at 4:30 May 9 at Learning Express (6828 Snider Plaza) in Dallas; at 2:30 May 10 at Blue Marble (1356 S Fort Thomas Ave.) in Fort Thomas, Kentucky; at 6:30 May 12 at Borders (1 North La Grange Road) in La Grange, Illinois; at 6:30 May 14 at Borders (3140 Lohr Road) in Ann Arbor, Michigan; at 6:30 May 15 at Barnes & Noble (2800 S. Rochester Road) in Rochester Hills, Michigan; at 1 p.m. May 17 at Octavia Books (503 Octavia St.) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Note: Tell Kathi I said "howdy!"

"Where the Rubber Meets the Road:" African-American Imprints/Publishers by Paula Chase-Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "If you're looking for children’s books for and/or by African American authors here the following are a few places to begin." Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

Take a peek at The Castaway Pirates: A Pop-Up Tale of Bad Luck, Sharp Teeth, and Stinky Toes, story and pop-ups by Ray Marshall, illustrated by Wilson Swain (Chronicle, 2008)!



Take a peek at The Adventures of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street, fall 2008)!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Author Interview: Elaine Scott on Secrets of the Cirque Medrano

Elaine Scott on Elaine Scott: "I was born in Philadelphia and lived there until my father's career brought the family to Dallas in 1952. So I'm really a Texan, though I claim Philly, too.

"Dad was a banker, Mother a homemaker who loved reading and writing. In fact, she had dreamed of a writing career of her own, but she never pursued it.

"Instead, she encouraged her children (my older brother, George, and younger sister, Kathleen) to write for pure pleasure. Often Mother organized writing contests. Most notably, when we adopted a stray dog and a battle ensued over who would name the pup. Mother's solution? Whoever wrote the best poem about a dog would get to name him. Pencils flew across paper and…my brother won.

"I attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where I met and married my husband, Parker, who was in the oil exploration business. That business led us to Houston, where we have settled—with the exception of a stint in Lagos, Nigeria; in the early 1990s.

"Houston is where my writing career began: first with articles for regional magazines—all written for adults—and eventually, children's books. After I wrote my first children's book, I was hooked. With the exception of raising my children, I'd say writing for children is the most satisfactory work I've ever done.

"My family consists of my husband, Parker, two outstanding daughters, Cindy and Susan, who each live in Dallas—six blocks apart from each other, and three furry felines, LaVerne and Shirley, and their brother, Troy, who live and freeload with us."

You last visited with me about your work in winter of 2001, not long after the publication of Friends! (Atheneum, 2000). Could you update us on your more recent back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears will Never be Neighbors (Viking, 2004): In early 2000, my book club (which has been meeting for over 37 years, mind you—w-a-a-y before Oprah!) read an account of Ernest Shackleton's incredible voyage to Antarctica. I was intrigued, and thought it would make a great children's book, and I enthusiastically began some research.

Then, in fall, 2000 Jennifer Armstrong came out with her amazing account of the same adventure, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World (Random House, 2000), and I knew the definitive book on this topic had been written. But no research is ever wasted, and after pondering what to do with what I had gathered, I came up with the idea for Poles Apart and was delighted when Viking snapped it up.

When Is a Planet Not A Planet? The Story of Pluto (Clarion, 2007): This book began as an account of the discovery of Eris, a celestial body everyone thought would become the 10th planet in our solar system, but as I soon discovered—not so fast.

After debating throughout the summer of 2006, the IAU finally came up with a scientific definition for "planet" and Eris wasn't one. Neither, they said, was poor Pluto. Now my book had to take a different slant, and it became When Is a Planet Not a Planet? It's a challenge to write science in real time, but it's also exhilarating.

Secrets of the Cirque Medrano (Charlesbridge, 2008). This book marked a return to fiction for me. I hadn't written a novel since Choices (Morrow, 1989).

Congratulations on the release of Secrets of the Cirque Medrano (Charlesbridge, 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

This is the story of Brigitte Dubrinsky, a 14-year-old orphan who must come to Paris to live with an older aunt and uncle, whom she really doesn't know.

Impetuous and willful, she resents the drudgery of working in her aunt's café, and the unpleasant personality of a young man who also works there. She longs for adventure and escape and thinks she may have found it in the Cirque Medrano, pitched at the foot of the Montmartre bluff.

Befriended by a young acrobat who also poses for one of the café’s customers, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte discovers that circus life is not what it appears to be. She becomes involved in a tangle of political intrigue and danger, and comes to redefine her own image of "home."

What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

I loved "Girl With the Pearl Earring" and thought I'd try my hand at writing a piece of fiction that drew its inspiration from a piece of art.

My decision was reinforced when the education director from Houston's Museum of Fine Arts asked me to help write some children's programs for the museum. Funding for those programs evaporated, but my interest in art had been whetted. And I had been introduced to Picasso's masterpiece of the Rose Period, "Family of Saltimbanques."

You know, Picasso once said, "A picture lives only through the one who looks at it. And what they see is the legend surrounding the picture."

Well, Secrets of the Cirque Medrano is the result of what I saw when I looked at that painting, which is hanging at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

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

It sure took a lot longer than my nonfiction! I'd say it took approximately three years between spark and publication.

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

As primarily a nonfiction author, I had to keep telling myself it was okay to make things up! But because it was a historical novel, and some of the characters were real people—Picasso, Fernande, Apollinaire, Max Jacob—to name a few, I was determined to be as careful with their words as possible.

For example, I put no words in Picasso’s mouth. None at all. I let Apollinaire, Fernande, and Max Jacob do most of the speaking for him, and when they did, I took their comments from documented sources.

Paco, who is fictional, also interpreted Picasso but even then, I stuck to literary sources—right down to the pet mouse in the drawer of Picasso's studio. My research kept the spine of the story twisting and turning.

As I researched Paris in 1904-1906, I came upon a de-classified CIA file that detailed the establishment of the Russian secret police in Paris—the infamous Okhrana, forerunner to today’s KGB. And in a bit of serendipity, I discovered that the Okhrana had had Picasso in their crosshairs. The papers also describe a young Polish girl—a milkmaid--whom they had turned into a double agent. This was pay dirt!

I returned to my original story and began to rewrite. Though Brigitte isn't exactly a double-agent in the book, she does share an age and nationality with the young girl mentioned in the CIA files. And of course, I had to learn a lot about Picasso's Blue and Rose periods and remain authentic to the paintings that are described in the text.

I owe many thanks to my brilliant editor at Charlesbridge, Judy O'Malley. She was crucial in helping me shape these disparate elements into a cohesive story.

You are well-known and respected for your picture books and non-fiction writing! How was the novel different?

As I said, making things up didn't come easily to me, so creating an entire world out of whole cloth was a different kind of writing experience. But I loved giving my imagination free reign, getting inside my characters' heads, wondering what animated them, pondering their hopes and dreams—it was a heady experience.

Why did you decide to make the leap to novel writing?

I wanted to stretch myself, to see if I could do it. I found I loved doing it, so there may be more.

You have been writing books for young readers for a few years now. What changes in the industry have you seen over the course of your career?

Well, publishers are definitely more crunched today than they were some years back. Companies are merging and are often owned by conglomerates that—at the top—have little to do with publishing. Profit is important for any company, and in publishing, money is tight. Books don’t stay on a backlist for any length of time. An author who might have been nurtured along in the past had better have some decent sales right away in today's market. Editors are losing their assistants, and the pace is much more frantic.

Having said all that doom and gloom, I'd add that editors are still eager to acquire books they love, and authors are eager to write them. Today's children's books are outstanding—in both design and content. There will always be a place for another good book, written with passion and conviction.

In terms of craft, how have you grown as a writer?

I think I've learned the importance of trusting my own instincts—and that goes from making decisions on a topic--Is it fresh? Timely? Do I really care about it?—to deciding how it should be organized in order to be effectively presented.

I've also learned quite a bit about illustration—not that I have any skills in that arena. But I have been doing my own photo research, and that learning curve has been a big one and it's also been a lot of fun, not unlike going on a treasure hunt.

I've also learned not to be afraid of my own voice, and I've certainly come to appreciate the value of first-hand research whenever it is possible.

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

Take joy in your gift, practice it every day, don't be easily discouraged, write what you love, and find a friend or a writing group where you can share your experiences.

How advice for middle-grade novelists?

All of the above, plus tap into the child you were when you were the age of your protagonist. For the most part, the things that worried you and thrilled you then are the same things that worry and thrill kids today (with adjustments for modern technology!)

How about non-fiction writers?

First-hand research, first-hand research, first-hand research. And a passion for your topic.

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

I love to read, travel, teach adult theology, hang out with family and friends, and play with the kitties, one of whom is trying to "help" me write this response.

Here are her comments: "xxxci000e" (I’ve told her again and again that this is not interesting or elucidating, but she insists…)

What can your fans look forward to next?

Mars and the Search for Life (Clarion, Fall 2008); All About Sleep From A to Zzzzzz (Viking, Fall 2008); a couple of biographies (new for me), and another novel.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Author Interview: Susan Marie Swanson on To Be Like the Sun

Susan Marie Swanson on Susan Marie Swanson: "I learned to read and write and ride a bicycle in a small Illinois town on the edge of the Chicago area. It was a lucky place to grow up. I went into the city with my family and on school trips, but we lived on the edge of a cornfield where we could see the sun set from the kitchen window. The stars were bright in the sky.

"My town had a wonderful public library and a cozy bookstore, and I loved to visit those places by myself when I was young. My family moved to Minnesota when I was a teenager, and now I've lived most of my life in St. Paul. I write poetry and picture books, and I've been writing poetry with children for many years through my work in arts education programs. I'm fascinated by the place where poetry and children's voices and books for children meet."

Would you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? How did you develop your skills?

I wrote as a child--poems, letters, scrapbook entries, a diary, stories--and during my college years I began to develop the strong sense of vocation that is with me still. I spent several years completing an MFA in poetry at University of Massachusetts Amherst in the late 1970s and early 80s, taking literature courses that had me reading writers from A.R. Ammons and Gwendolyn Brooks to Tarjei Vesaas and Virginia Woolf.

I spent many hours in workshops with a lively group of mentors and young writers. I remember going with friends to hear readings by Tomas Tranströmer, Maya Angelou, and Louise Glück. It was a rich, challenging time.

I read children's literature during those years and did some writing for children, but I didn't have any context for that work. That changed when I moved back to Minnesota. I began teaching with COMPAS Writers and Artists in the Schools in 1983, the same year that my first child was born. I was reading and writing with children in elementary schools, and I was reading and writing in the midst of family life. That set me on the path to writing for children.

How was your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Oh, paths to publication are all about sprinting and stumbling, aren't they? My poetry for adults appeared in many publications in the 1970s and '80s, including some of my favorite literary magazines, like Ironwood and American Poetry Review; and I was fortunate to be awarded several fellowships for my work as a poet.

My first publications in the field of children's literature were reviews and critical essays. I wrote for Hungry Mind Review and then for Five Owls, Riverbank Review, and New York Times Book Review. Most recently, a piece I wrote about Astrid Lindgren appeared in The Horn Book Magazine (Nov/Dec 2007).

Dick Jackson published my first book, Getting Used to the Dark: 26 Night Poems, with lovely black and white illustrations by Peter Catalanotto (Richard Jackson/DK Publishing, 1997). "Trouble, Fly," a poem from that collection, appears in Georgia Heard's anthology This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort (Candlewick, 2002). Peter Catalanotto also illustrated my second book, a picture book called Letter to the Lake (Richard Jackson/DK Publishing, 1998).

The First Thing My Mama Told Me, a picture book illustrated by Christine Davenier, was a New York Times Best Illustrated Book and Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book (Harcourt, 2002). The Zolotow Honor has meant a lot to me. It is an award that honors picture book authors, from the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Congratulations on the release of To Be Like the Sun, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (Harcourt, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

I am so happy that To Be Like the Sun is in the world. The text of this book is addressed to a sunflower, beginning with the seed that a child is about to place in the ground: "Hello, little seed, / striped gray seed. / Do you really know everything / about sunflowers?"

Both my text and Margaret Chodos-Irvine's artwork are concerned with patterns—the stripes on the seed, for example, and the rays of the sun, and the great cycle of the four seasons.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Two inspirations. First, real gardens with real sunflowers in them! We had a plot in the community gardens down by the railroad tracks near our city home, and of course we planted sunflowers. I remember taking a snapshot of my son standing by a flower that reached up over our heads.

The other inspiration was poetry. Our language is full of poems spoken to objects and individuals. Curious readers could thumb through Kenneth Koch's classic anthology of poems for young people, Talking to the Sun, and find many examples, including poems by Blake, Dickinson, Langston Hughes, and Frank O'Hara. Robert Herrick's poem of address in that volume begins, "Fair daffodils we weep to see / You haste away so soon." I found my own way to speak to a flower.

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

My projects take shape slowly, and I've altogether given up trying to keep timelines for them! But in May 2005, when I was preparing to teach a university course in writing children's literature, I went to observe a class taught by a friend, poet Deborah Keenan. She encouraged her students to stay connected with their older work.

Within a few days, I had sent the sunflower poem from my first book to Harcourt editor Jeannette Larson, with a letter asking if she thought it would work in a picture book. Before long, she wrote back to say yes. Later, Jeannette sent the revised and expanded piece to Margaret Chodos-Irvine. The two of them have worked together on a series of wonderful projects.

Now there's starred review for To Be Like the Sun in Kirkus Reviews, and a picture from the book will be on the May cover of Book Links. We're delighted.

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

Working with a series of drafts, writing and rewriting, I ask myself a lot of questions. How can I deepen and simplify my thinking and writing? What in my understandings about poetry can I bring to this text? Are the rhythms working when I read the work aloud? What knowledge of children's lives and voices can I engage in this piece?

What did Margaret Chodos-Irvine's illustrations bring to your text?

I am especially excited about the way that Margaret's bold mixed-media prints reach out to everyone in the room when the book is read aloud. At the same time, patterns and details in the art reward a close look. In my text, a child's perspective on experience is important, and in the art we see how that child stoops and stretches! And this is an artist who works beautifully with shapes, texture, and color.

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

I would tell myself, "Some of this work is going to be very difficult, even painful, but you can handle it."

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

I sing in a choir, and I enjoy going to concerts and the opera. Some of my favorite places in Minneapolis-St. Paul are the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota, where my family cheers on the women’s basketball team; and walkways along the Mississippi River.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm happy to tell you that To Be Like the Sun is one of two picture books written by me coming out this spring. The other is The House in the Night with inspired artwork by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)). It is a book about the night and the comforts of home--and the early reviews have had stars on them.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Author Interview: Mary E. Pearson on The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Mary E. Pearson on Mary E. Pearson: "I've been writing full time for about ten years now. I just sent my fifth novel off to my editor, and my fourth comes out this month.

"On a personal level, I have been married to the man of my dreams since I was a tot and have two beautiful daughters who both tower over me. My husband's tall genes are obviously much stronger than my short ones.

"We also have two golden retrievers who I do tower over, but they tend to rule the roost anyway. They're too darn sweet and cute to ever say no to them. I am an easy touch."

How would you describe yourself as a teenager?

I was very quiet. Of course with my small group of friends I could be loud and crazy, but in general, I was one of those on the perimeter who quietly "watched."

I didn't belong to any one specific group, but for the most part I hung out with the surfer crowd because my girlfriends and I surfed. But I also had cheerleader friends and jock friends and low-rider friends and band friends--you name it. Even though we had labels when I was in high school, I think you could flow from one group to another a little easier.

It was the "hippie" period, and that label almost covered everyone. At least all of our parents thought if you had long hair and wore beads (this was the '70s) that you were part of some hippie subculture. And I did have straight hair past my waist and always had leather beaded bracelets on my wrists and ankles.

Oh, and I went bra-less. Can I say that? My parents definitely thought I was just this side of joining a commune.

What is it about young people as fictional heroes and/or as an audience that especially appeals to you?

Beginnings. I love teen protagonists because they are making serious adult decisions, but it is pristine territory. It is not like it's their hundredth time of getting out of rehab or their eighth divorce. They are encountering a lot of firsts in a very important, life-altering way. I like exploring that territory.

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

Ha! Lots of stumbles. The first stumble came when I was in college, and my professors told me all I would ever be able to do with an English degree is be a teacher. I wanted to be a writer, and just being out of high school, a teacher was the last thing I wanted to be!

So I went with my alternate choice: art. If I couldn't be a writer I would be an artist. Very practical, huh? Youth.

So that set me back about twenty years--that and being a mother, teacher (turns out I loved teaching after all), and everything else in between.

But in retrospect, I think the detour turned out to be a good thing because I am not sure I would have been able to handle the real "stumbles" of this business at such a young age. That old rhinoceros-skin thing you have to develop, you know? And of course the various life experiences helped to give me a lot of perspective, too. So I really think I became a writer when the timing was right for me.

The sprint came when I sold my first book. Of course it didn't seem like a sprint at the time, but relatively speaking, the time from submitting my first manuscript to selling one was only a little over a year. And I've had stumbles and sprints ever since. It's part of the writing world. One thing for sure, it's never boring.

We last spoke in May 2005, shortly after the publication of A Room on Lorelei Street (Henry Holt, 2005). What has that book come to mean to you over time?

I love Zoe. I always will. Her story taught me a lot about writing honestly. And the many readers who have written to me and shared their thoughts--all those letter make me so grateful to be a writer.

I am amazed at how many people told me that Zoe's story was their story, too. We read to escape, but we also read to see ourselves. I am grateful to be part of that process.

How have you grown as a writer since you began working on your craft in a serious way?

I think with each book I am learning to dig deeper. With A Room on Lorelei Street especially, I think I learned to banish my internal editors and just write the story that was speaking to me--the one I wanted to write--and write it as honestly as I could, even if it was painful at times.

And of course I'm always striving to make my vision match my execution. It's not just a matter of saying what you want to say, but creating the atmosphere and feelings of the world you want to share with others.

But at least half of what happens in the writing process seems to happen subconsciously anyway--those fun surprising things that don't even seem to come from your own head--so growing for me also means just trusting the process.

I think what is frustrating is that sometimes I want the story to come now, but that just doesn't happen. It comes when it's ready, in fits and spurts. My editor has been awesome that way, telling me the story will be done when it's done. That really gives me a lot of freedom to listen.

Congratulations on the release of The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Henry Holt, 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

It's a near-future story about Jenna Fox who wakes from a coma and can't remember who she is or the accident that took away her memory. She lives with her family but can't remember them either. There is something odd and curious about the whole situation, and piece by piece, she puts the clues together.

The heart of the story is about finding identity and how we define humanity and its value.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Two questions fueled the story. How far will medicine advance in fifty years? And, how far would a parent go to save their child?

I asked myself both of these questions when my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and I witnessed not just what we went through, but what other parents with hospitalized children were going through and the tough decisions they had to face.

Luckily, my daughter had a choice of treatment with a good success rate. Just fifty years earlier she would have died of this cancer. I was infinitely grateful for the time and place we lived.

Of course, I didn't know that these questions would be the impetus for a story years later, but they niggled at me long after my daughter was well.

When my second daughter was diagnosed with the same illness 3/4 of the way through writing this story, it at first turned my world upside down as it would any parent, but then, I think, deepened the story--especially the secondary characters.

(Note: Both of my daughters are well and healthy, and have agreed, under the threat of eternal-mother hovering, not to give me any more inspiration.)

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

Well, there was one major obstacle when I began this book. It was something that I hadn't even considered. How do you get to know a character who doesn't even know herself? I was banging my head against a wall just a short way in, thinking, how do I write about a character who has so many gaps? What have I taken on?! Jenna had no point of references or very few. All of our world perspectives are built on prior experiences and yet she had none.

I really had to shift gears and be prepared to experience her world as it came and Jenna slowly developed her new identity.

As for research--that was fun and ongoing. I loved reading about the brain, brain damage, language acquisition, and all the different control centers and what they do.

But the interesting thing is the mind. The mind and the brain almost seem to be two different entities. There is still so much we don't know. It's like it is the last frontier.

And of course, lots of other research popped up along the way as different characters and situations presented themselves. Prosthetics are making amazing advances. Sometimes I felt like my imagination was barely staying ahead of reality. And just recently we have been hearing about seed vaults in the news, and seed preservation was a passion of Jenna's grandmother.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I just recently sent off the completed draft of my next book to my editor. The title isn't settled yet, though my editor and I do have a favorite that we are wild about, but it is a little "different" so we are letting it simmer a while. Titles are so hard, but this one jumped at me during one particularly head-banging moment and I thought, yes! Perfect!

Anyway, it's about four teens from a boarding school who set out on an "unauthorized" road trip. The story explores the ways chance weaves in and out of our lives. Kind of a fun, outrageous, quirky, and hopefully thought-provoking sort of story. It should be out in 2009.

55th Jane Addams Children's Book Awards

Winners of the 2008 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards were announced April 28 by the Jane Addams Peace Association.

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom, the winner in the Books for Younger Children Category, is written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully and published by Farrar Strauss Giroux.

Mrs. Washington declares that young Oney is just like one of the Washington's own children, but Oney is not fooled. On the night Mrs. Washington tells Oney she will not grant her freedom upon her death, Oney thinks quickly, acts courageously and flees.

Expressive watercolors within this well-researched biography portray the bravery of Ona Maria Judge, an African-American woman who claimed, and fought for, the right to have "no mistress but herself."

We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin by Larry Dane Brimner, published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc., is the winner in the Books for Older Children Category.

Working behind the scenes because of his sexual orientation and unpopular political stands, African-American pacifist and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, a trusted adviser to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Succinct prose, powerful quotations and fresh historical photographs place the story of Rustin’s life alongside the story of the March, revealing the breadth and depth of Rustin’s decades of commitment to confronting racism and promoting peace in the United States and in countries around the world.

One book has won honors in the Books for Younger Children Category.

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II, written and illustrated by Lita Judge is published by Hyperion Books for Children.

After discovering one thousand yellowed foot tracings in her grandmother's attic, Lita Judge wrote this tribute to her grandmother who had used these newspaper tracings to find appropriately-sized shoes to send to needy German families in the aftermath of World War II.

A combination of paintings, collages of original photographs and reproductions of foot tracings underscore the message of compassion at the heart of this family story.

Three books have won honors in the Books for Older Children category.

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins, with illustrations by Jamie Hogan and published by Charlesbridge, is a contemporary novel set in Bangladesh.

In clear prose and detailed black-and-white drawings, ten-year-old Naimi excels at painting alpanas, traditional designs created by Bangladeshi women and girls. Her talent, though valued by her family, cannot buy rice or pay back the loan on her father’s rickshaw as a son’s contribution would do. Determined to help financially, Naimi disguises herself as a boy and sparks surprising events that reveal an expanding world for herself and women in her community.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., is a sensitively-written historical novel infused with the spirit of youth.

Eleven-year-old Elijah bursts with pride at being the first child born free in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just across the border from Detroit. When a scoundrel steals money saved to buy an enslaved family's freedom, Elijah impulsively pursues the thief into Michigan. The journey brings him face-to-face with the terrors of slavery, pushing him to act courageously and compassionately in the name of freedom.

Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford is published by Wordsong, an imprint of Boyds Mills Press, Inc. Deftly-written free verse and expertly-chosen archival photographs lay open the horror of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing by telling the story in the voice of an imagined girl in the "year I turned ten." Four memorial poems, each a tribute to one of the four girls murdered in the bombing, conclude this slim, powerful volume and carry its emphatic message: No More Birminghams!

Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award annually acknowledges books published in the U.S. during the previous year. Books commended by the Award address themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community, and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literary and artistic excellence.

A national committee chooses winners and honor books for older and younger children. Members of the 2007 Jane Addams Children's Book Awards Committee are Susan C. Griffith, Chair (Mt. Pleasant, Michigan), Barbara Bair (Washington, D. C.), Ann Bower (Harwich, Massachusetts), Sonja Cherry-Paul (Yonkers, New York), Eliza T. Dresang (Tallahassee, Florida), Oralia Garza de Cortes (Pasadena, California), MJ Grande (Juneau, Alaska), Daisy Gutierrez (Houston, Texas), Margaret Jensen (Madison, Wisconsin), Jo Montie (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Sarah Park (Long Beach, California), Pat Wiser (Sewanee, Tennessee) and Junko Yokota (Skokie, Illinois). Regional reading and discussion groups participated with many of the committee members throughout the jury’s evaluation and selection process.

The 2008 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards will be presented Friday, October 17th in New York City. Details about the award event and about securing winner and honor book seals are available from the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA).

For additional information about the Jane Addams Children's Book Awards and a complete list of books honored since 1953, see www.janeaddamspeace.org.

Founded in 1948, JAPA is the educational arm of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In addition to sponsoring the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards and many other educational projects, JAPA houses the U.N. office of WILPF in New York City and owns the Jane Addams House in Philadelphia where the U.S. section of WILPF is located. Organized on April 28th in 1915, WILPF is celebrating its 93rd year.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Editor Interview: Audrey Maynard on Tilbury House

Audrey Maynard on Audrey Maynard: "I was a 'lifer' at an all-girls school in New York City. I learned to love discussing ideas there, and books were usually at the heart of those discussions. In fact, Blue Balliett (author of Chasing Vermeer) and I were classmates.

"The first word I can remember sounding out as I was learning to read was the word 'surprise.' To this day, I love surprises in books, in people, and in life. I am generally open to trying things in new ways. I am an optimist.

"Also, I am generally a very patient and consistent person. For example: I have lived in Maine for 24 years (18 years in the same house), and have been married for 25 years. In recent years, when I meet new people, I have been asked where I am from in Maine. I find this quite amazing. In the spirit of full disclosure, I spent a decade in my twenties living on the West Coast, and in the U.K."

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

Books really were everything to me when I was young. I had the type of childhood that promotes being a reader. My parents limited TV (Sunday night!), disapproved of games, and of course, forbade play with Barbie dolls! However I was allowed to read any type of book. My reading life was completely uncensored.

I have a lot of curiosity, so I read to learn about the rest of the world. My grandfather was a Quaker, and my godmother lived in Asia.

From the start, I was given books to expand my horizons. I read a lot of books about WWII, China, Japan, religious persecution, and what we call now social justice. I remember reading Gone with the Wind, All Quiet on The Western Front, and Valley of The Dolls in the same summer.

Among my favorite picture books were Harold and the Purple Crayon, Huge Harold, and a book called Gwendolyn The Miracle Hen. This last was a family favorite and featured a hen with special powers that saved the family farm from a greedy landlord! When I was in middle school, I actually wrote several children's stories with a friend.

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

In the late 1980s and '90s I began to read picture books addictively as a form of relaxation. At the time, I worked primarily as a teacher with low-income pre-school-age kids, plus I had two school-age kids of my own. I was also in graduate school working on my Master's degree in Early Childhood Education, so I was very busy.

However, I was fascinated to discover that the field of children's literature was being transformed by larger social trends. Not only were picture books becoming more diverse, but they were addressing subjects that publishers had previously felt were "unsuitable" for children.

To a certain extent, you can trace my "inspiration" to a picture book review I read in 1985 in the New York Times. The book reviewed was Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti. I bought the book and started asking myself lots of questions about children's interests, and the information that adults share with them. Ultimately, this curiosity is what has guided my professional career.

In Maine, most people don't get to be choosy about what they do for work. So, I feel lucky to work where I do. I never presumed that I would be able to work in the field of children's publishing, although when I now tell people what I do, they smile and say that I have found myself the perfect job.

Could you summarize your career to date?

My resume is eclectic--besides teaching pre-schoolers in both rural and urban settings, I have taught college courses on child development and children's literature.

Prior to working at Tilbury I had great experience consulting with Born To Read, an early reading program at the Maine Humanities Council. The most important thing that I can say about my "preparation" for the field of children’s publishing is that my work experiences cumulatively gave me:

1) Absolute faith in the transformative power of all types of literature.

2) A clear sense of what interests children.

3) A fascination with the question of what is considered "appropriate" for children in our culture.

What led you to Tilbury House?

I met with Jennifer Bunting, Tilbury's publisher, in the summer of 2001 to discuss the economics of publishing at a Maine Humanities Council meeting. I was clueless about the business and production side. Jennifer and I had a great lunch together. We discovered that we shared passion for the idea of publishing books that would empower kids.

Jen knew that she had job openings coming up, and she gave me a call to see if I was interested in working with her. Before I took the job, I gave a full disclosure of things that I'm not good at. For example, no one would ever hire me as a copy editor. But sales and marketing were something I thought I could tackle. I started at Tilbury the last week in August 2001.

What challenges and opportunities did you encounter at the company?

The business side was all new to me, and so I had a big learning curve when I started. Marketing is demanding, but you have to give it your best shot. Our company has three full-time employees, and five part-time people. We all happen to be women. It's a pretty cooperative, egalitarian atmosphere.

When I started, we only were doing two children’s books a year (our company also publishes regional non-fiction for adults). Now we are working on three or four picture books a year.

We're growing, and our children's books regularly win awards. That's so exciting!

Still, at the core, I'd say working at Tilbury is more like the experience of working in any small business. Our shipper and part of our inventory is housed amidst our offices.

The goal is simple: we want to create books and see them shipped out. Returns are bad news. There is a lot of redundancy in the book-selling business.

And because we are so small, we can't spend much on advertising or going to conferences. We are also very low tech. We all work on older turquoise i-Macs. The fact is that this is an expensive; there are all these other built-in costs--like printing and shipping.

When I started out, I did work that was mostly focused on sales and manuscript review. Gradually I have shifted my focus to the editorial side. But starting with sales was important as a reality check! I can and do need to evaluate how "profitable" a book can be for us. A big part is sticking with one's "brand." We don't stray from our mission. And that also keeps life simple.

That said, I knew right away that children’s literature would be affected by the events of 9/11, as so many things were. And I was right. We had already published a number of picture books that speak to the theme of immigration and tolerance. I'm talking about Who Belongs Here, Shy Mama's Halloween, and the Gita books. A month after 9/11, we had several big orders for these books going out all over the country. A few months later, we brought out The Carpet Boy's Gift, which also benefited, I think, from being a story set in the Middle East.

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

When I started, Tilbury House was equally known for publishing picture books that explore cultural diversity, nature, and the environment.

In recent years, we have had a bit more difficulty bringing out environmental titles that we were so strong on earlier. We'd like to re-energize that side of our list.

But, in terms of publishing books on cultural diversity and social justice, we're thrilled with the way things have been working out. It's important that we continue to grow in this area.

We continue to seek to have authors and illustrators of different classes, color, religion, and region tell stories of universal significance. The fact that we are in rural, northern New England means that we work even harder to find stories that will resonate everywhere!

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

It's hard to pick! But, I'll start with Say Something. I always hope that our books will get kids talking to each other more. This truly is a book that invites conversation. It's about bullying from the bystander's perspective, I like to think that this is a book that helps improve school culture for those who are "different." Bullying begets violence, violence begets fear, and fear begets bullying once again. It's a vicious cycle. Say Something might spark someone to make a difference in his or her community. That's huge!

Thanks To The Animals was submitted to me on a storytelling and song CD--so it exactly followed the description of a "nontraditional submission" that was talked about in my multicultural literature course in graduate school. Alan Sockabasin wasn't optimistic about his chances of getting the story published. But I listened when he said that he thought kids would like the story. So I checked it out, and I agreed with him! Kids love this story because it's exciting. On top of that, this story has built new awareness about Native Americans in Maine. It's been a gift on so many levels.

Playing War is probably the most complex story we have published, and certainly one of our most important. I've watched people pick up the book and read it at conferences, with tears running down their faces. It's a wonderful example of having just the right book when you need to talk about a difficult subject with children.

Which would you recommend to writers for study and why?

I respect writers who can create characters that will engage children. We need just the right details to make the reader want to find out "what will happen next." [See editorial guidelines.]

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

My job is to select titles that I think will be good Tilbury House books. This means I have to see how a book really fits on our list. Next, I have to take the story and make the book be as good as it can be--so that it can reach its potential.

Sometimes I joke that I am the book's therapist. Occasionally, I have to balance the different visions of a book that evolve as the book goes through the illustration process. I need to communicate effectively between all the different parties. Finding the right illustrator is very important, because he or she "delivers" the book to kids in his or her own way. When the illustrator does his/her job, it's like watching a book learn to dance. I love that.

What are your challenges?

Well, I wish we could have a patron who would just come and buy all our books and place them in schools and libraries around the country. I get frustrated that more people don't know about our books--so I confess to frustration with the marketing side of things.

All things considered, I believe we do a good job with it. (We call it "publishing by triage.") Still, I'd love to see what an infusion of capital would do for our company! I actually think we could benefit from being a little bigger, since we have a really good team working here.
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