Friday, June 06, 2008

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaways

The Cynsations grand-prize June giveaway is an autographed hardcover set of First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton, 2007) and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton, 2008), both by Mitali Perkins. Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST June 30! Please also type "First Daughter" in the subject line. Note: one autographed set will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader.

In celebration of summer reading, I'm also giving away autographed sets of 25 Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) bookmarks to five YA public librarians.

One of those mailings also will include a copy of the Tantalize audio, and one will include a Sanguini's T-shirt (Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in the book).

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name, the name of your library, and the library snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST June 30! Please also type "Summer Reading" in the subject line. Note: prizes will be sent on a rolling basis.

Check out the Tantalize Reading Group Guide and the Tantalize Research Bibliographies. Watch the Tantalize Book Trailer, and listen to an excerpt of the audio book edition by actress Kim Mai Guest from Listening Library.

See also "Memoirs of a Writer's Summertime Reading" from The Bridge, Austin Public Library Programs for Youth (p. 2)(PDF file), a 2002 article I wrote about how important public library summer reading programs were to me as a young reader.

The winner of the Feast of Fools: The Morganville Vampires (Book Four) by Rachel Caine (NAL/ Jam, 2008)(sample chapter) giveaway was Zach, a YA reader in Missouri!

The winner of the 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 (Amulet)--was Olivia, a YA reader in Minnesota!

Congratulations to Zach and Olivia!

More Giveaways

Blue Bloods Poetry Contest: Author Melissa de la Cruz is awarding 35 copies of the Blue Bloods: Revelations four-chapter samplers. [Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.]

Directly from Melissa:

Here are the rules:

1.You can enter as many poems as possible, but can only win once.

2. Poems can be in any form: free verse, haiku, villanelle, epic, Dr. Seuss-style, what-have-you.

3. Poems should be spell-checked. If your words are spelled correctly that gives you huge ups. I don't mind misuse of capitalization so much--e.e. cummings never capitalized and did niFTy things like THis. But I do have to say, it is easier to
read correctly capitalized verse. So, up to you.

4.Poems should be about the Blue Bloods universe. Or in the voice of a Blue Bloods character. Up to you. You could pen a poem about Jack's hotness, Mimi's bitchiness, a ballad to Schuyler and Oliver, or about Michael and Gabrielle, anything you can come up with. Or you could write a poem in the voice of a character. Just make a note of who is supposed to be speaking.

5. I'm looking for creativity and polish, but also humor and originality. I was a huge poetry-entrant when I was in high school (and won a bunch), so I think this is a fun experiment.

6. We'll post the best poems on the site of course. We will have a grand prize, a first runner-up and a third-runner up, who will receive goodie-bags from my vast goodie-bag closet as well as the chapter samplers.

7. Poems are due by June 20th.

8. Poems should be e-mailed to: melissadlcoffice@gmail.com with the subject header: "Poetry Contest."

Summer Summer Snack Contest: win a copy of Yum: Your Ultimate Manual for Good Nutrition by Daina Kalnins, illustrated by Paula Becker and four other books of your choice from Lobster Press. From the promotional copy: "Many young people are trying to get on the road to good nutrition, or are being encouraged to do so. Chances are they've gotten advice from teachers, parents, doctors, and the media. But how can they use those suggestions to create a plan of action that makes sense for them and their lifestyle? It's time to get real, leave (most of) the junk in the dust, grab the next exit, and let Yum: Your Ultimate Manual for Good Nutrition move readers into the right lane." See contest rules and more information. Deadline: July 31.

Archer's Quest Quest: author Linda Sue Park celebrates the redesign and relaunch of her official site (by Theo Black) with a giveaway of ten paperback copies of Archer's Quest (Random House/Dell/Yearling, 2008). Deadline: midnight EST, June 8. Read an interview with Linda Sue about Archer's Quest.

June 2008 YA Book Giveaways at TeensReadToo.

More News & Links

The SCBWI Martha Weston grant awards $1,500 to one lucky winner each year. The money is to "fund the tuition, transportation, and hotel expenses incurred by attending the SCBWI Annual Conference in Los Angeles." Deadline: June 10 postmark. Source: Laurie Halse Anderson at Mad Woman in the Forest.

"When To Cut Ties with Your Agent" by Jessica at BookEnds, LCC. Peek: "...in at least a couple of instances I felt like the client was really, truly, for the first time telling me what she wanted, when she fired me." See also "Why Do You Seek Publication?"

Congratulations to Kurt Cyrus on the publication of Tadpole Rex (Harcourt, June 2008). Wonderful illustrations! From the promotional copy: "Rex is a tiny tadpole who can't wait to grow up and be big like everybody else. Unfortunately for Rex, he lives in a prehistoric swamp...and everybody else is a gigantic dinosaur. With a little time--and a lot of patience--Rex does grow, gaining arms and legs and, most importantly, a personality big enough to take on even the mightiest of his neighbors. Includes a note from the author about metamorphosis, prehistoric frogs, and the environmental challenges frogs face today."

ACLU Files Suit in Librarian Harry Potter Case by Joan Oleck from School Library Journal. Peek: "Smith, a Southern Baptist who believes that the Potter books encourage children to worship the occult, claims that after she declined to attend the celebration, where librarians were asked to dress as wizards." Note: the plaintiff is no relation. Source: Not Just for Kids.

"Dana Reinhardt: redefining the place called home" by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. Peek: "'I got to a place in my writing where I realized I needed to go back to Tennessee to get all of the details right, and as I was driving about an hour outside of Memphis, I realized there actually was a town just like I was writing about—except the people had all packed up and left.'" Don't miss "Meet [Author-Illustrator] Denise Flemming." and "See the USA in Surprising New Ways," both from BookPage.

Literary Bones: this week Zu Vincent at Through the Tollbooth talks with Elizabeth Wein on writing, the writers life, and--with an eye on the release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"--books to film and dramatic structure. Note: series continues throughout the week.

The Postcard by Tony Abbott (Little Brown, 2008)(ages 8-12): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "In this fun and quirky novel, Abbott delivers mystery, humor, suspense, and a touch of nostalgia." Learn more about The Postcard and Tony Abbott. Read a Cynsations interview with Greg, and subscribe to his blog syndication at LiveJournal.

The Audies 2008: awards sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association. Note: "Browse the winners and finalists by category; read reviews of the audiobooks; and listen to sound clip excerpts." Source: Audiobooker.

Attention Authors: Share Your Picks: Little Willow at Bildungsroman is putting together an Author Picks column for The Edge of the Forest. Peek: "Writers who are reading this post are invited to leave me name their favorite classic and contemporary authors in the comments below. Who inspired you to become a writer? Whose writing career would you most like to emulate? Tell me whose books you devoured as a kid, or whose novels you collect now as an adult." Deadline: July 20.

Sonics' lawyers don't want author Sherman Alexie testifying from The Seattle Times. Peek: "Prize-winning author, poet and humorist Sherman Alexie shouldn't be allowed to testify at an upcoming trial to block the Seattle SuperSonics from moving to Oklahoma City because he has nothing relevant to say and is known for his "profanity-laced" columns for a weekly newspaper, the team argues." Source Laurie Halse Anderson at Mad Woman in the Forest.

Guys Lit Wire: an ongoing examination of boy-oriented reads from various contributors.

Presenting [Author] Carolyn Mayer from britlitfan at Journey of an Inquiring Mind. Peek: "What's most interesting to me is how much disagreement there is among historians about facts, both major and minor."

Attention Austinites: debut author Shana Burg is hosting a launch party for A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008) from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin. Note: don't miss Shana's "Workshops for Students" and "Professional Development for Teachers."

Author Laurie Halse Anderson and her novel Prom (Viking, 2005) are being featured this month at readergirlz! Visit readergirlz at MySpace and join the forum. Note: I highly recommend Prom, too!

"Backstory's Emotional Weight" by Darcy Pattison from Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes. Peek: "By adding backstory, you can strengthen the motivations of the character and make events mean more. Backstory should add irony, poignancy, regret, hope, or other strong emotions." Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton (Flux, 2008). From the promotional copy: "Linda Joy Singleton, author of the successful Seer books, returns with another hot paranormal series." Coming in September; check out the sneak peek at Flux. Read Linda Joy's LJ, and visit her page at MySpace. Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Joy Singleton on The Seer series.

Deborah Brodie: Freelance Editor, Book Doctor and Teacher of Creative Writing: a new site detailing Deborah's freelance services, approach, resume and client list, events information as well as author/client quotes, interviews with her, tips for writers and contact information. Site designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys. Note: a finely detailed, information-packed site.

"Donating Gay (and LBTQ) books to a Junior High School Library? How to Honor the Memory of Larry (Lawrence) King. A Negotiated Solution..." by Lee Wind at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Congratulations to Perry Moore, whose novel Hero (Hyperion, 2007), winner of the 2008 Lammy for Best YA Novel with GLBTQ Content, Published in 2007 and to Brent Hartinger, winner in the bisexual-book category for Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Zombies & Bride of the Soul-Sucking Zombies (HarperCollins, 2007)(author interview).

From the Mixed-up Files of Agent Manners: Schmoozing at Conferences from agent Jennifer Jackson at Et in arcaedia, ego. Saving the world, one book sale at a time. Peek: "Agent Manners...reminds you that everyone was new at one point--even agents have their first conference where they don't know anyone."

A Baker's Dozen of Father-Daughter Books from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape.

Question of the Week Thursday: Robin Friedman asks Lisa Schroeder: "What did you do in the way of promotion?" Peek: "Because I work 32 hours a week at a day job, I don’t have a ton of time for promotional type activities. So I decided six months or so before my novel came out that I needed to make the Internet my best friend."

An Interview with Agent Jennifer Laughran by Siobhan Vivian from The Longstockings. Peek: "I am picky. There are lots of things that would sell, or have sold, for a lot of money, that I would have no interest in repping. I really have to believe in the book and author." See also a new Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Book Trailers from How To & Education on Squiddo. Source: Children's Book Biz News.

The Official Minion Horde Summer Reading List by Heather Brewer at Bleeding Ink. Peek: "The official list (alphabetized just for you) of books, comics, and manga that a Minion just can't miss out on." Note: top-notch for speculative fiction fans.

Check out Sheryl McFarlane's Book Blog: Kids Book News and Reviews and Sheryl McFarlane's Teen Blog: Teen Reads! Sheryl says: "I'm mad about kids' books. I read them, write them, review them and buy way too many of them to fit into my tiny house! In short, I am addicted. So, if you have an addiction too, check out some of the titles I've reviewed."

More Personally

Thank you to S. Mozer at SCBWI Writers of Lower Fairfield for recommending Cynsations among resources for agent research! Note: to make the most of the agent resources, see the Writing Links page on the main site and, for the most recent news and interviews, use the search engine at Cynsations at Blogger (top guide bar).

I have joined the ranks of authors on Facebook. Please include include in friend requests that you're a Cynsational reader. You can also find me at my MySpace page.

Finally

Check out the trailer for How to Be Bad by Lauren Myracle, E. Lockhart, and Sarah Mlynowski (HarperCollins, 2008)! Visit the How To Be Bad MySpace page.

How to Be Bad

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Author Interview: Mitali Perkins on the First Daughter books

Learn more about author Mitali Perkins, read Mitali's Fire Escape, and friend Mitali at MySpace!

What were you like as a young reader?

Addicted. After school, I took a roll of sweet tarts and one of the seven books I was allowed to check out each week from the Flushing branch of the NYPL, crawled out onto the fire escape secretly, and read and read and read.

Why do you write for children and teenagers today?

Stories were my solace in stressful times. As an oft-displaced young person, I made myself at home in books and sunk roots into fictional places. I know firsthand how stories shape the human heart during childhood and adolescence, so it was a bit of a no-brainer for me--who wouldn't want one of the most powerful vocations on the planet?

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

Part of my soul got stuck at 14 or 15. There's nothing I can do about it so I may as well write from that place.

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

The Sunita Experiment was my first novel (Little Brown, 1993). I wrote it for fun in the early nineties, sent it to Megan Tingley at Little Brown--who was a lowly associate or assistant editor back then (she's since ascended to great heights)--and got an acceptance phone call in about three weeks.

Great, I thought, I'll be a writer! But then I wrote Monsoon Summer, which was rejected by at least 20 editors, if not more. I revised it so many times that multiple versions of the story began to suffocate my hard disk.

Finally, Francoise Bui of Delacorte agreed to publish it in 2004, and Monsoon Summer came out eleven years after Sunita (which was reissued in 2005 with a new title, The Not-So-Star Spangled Life of Sunita Sen.)

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

I would have made the transition from writing as a hobby to a vocation much earlier. I should have treated myself as a professional writer years before I actually gathered the courage to do so--even during those harrowing years of constant rejection.

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

Ironically, all those years of rejection and the many revisions I wrote of Monsoon Summer.

Could you catch us up on your back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Little Brown, 2005);

Monsoon Summer (Random House, 2006);

Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge, 2007);

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton, 2007);

First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton, 2008).

Congratulations on the publication of First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (Dutton, 2007) and First Daughter: White House Rules (Dutton, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about both stories?

Thank you! The First Daughter books are about Sameera Righton, the daughter of a front-runner candidate in the presidential election.

In the first novel, Extreme American Makeover, campaign staffers try to package Sameera into what they think would be a more "American" version of the Pakistani-born only daughter of James Righton. Sameera, of course, resists, and it's essentially a story of celebrating and using your authentic voice.

In Book Two, White House Rules, Sameera moves to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with her parents and her cousin, and figures out a way to play the First Kid game according to her own set of rules.

In both stories, Sameera's romance with Bobby, a guy she meets on the trail, plays a role (of course; I'm a sucker for a good romance).

What was your initial inspiration for writing these books?

My agent called over two years ago to tell me that Dutton was on the hunt for a book about a first daughter. Would I be interested in putting my own spin on it?

As a parent of two adopted teens from South Asia, the idea of an adopted Muslim-origin girl leaped into mind.

I had no idea that John McCain had adopted a daughter from Bangladesh, and by the time I found out about Bridget, the first book was already written. I wrote the Senator's office and explained my dilemma--I had no desire to exploit Bridget's real life joys and challenges for my own purposes.

If she objected to the publication of books in any way, I'd be willing to dump them. McCain's office responded with a lovely note setting me free to go ahead, asking for copies once the books were released, which I gladly sent.

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

I created Sparrowblog, a blog I ghost-write for Sparrow, to track the real First Kid wannabes in the election, because I know teens are interested in what it must be like to have a powerful parent.

Sparrowblog's a safe, fun, bipartisan take on life in the campaign limelight, and gets lots of visitors (including Elizabeth Edwards, John Edwards' wife, who once stopped by and left a comment.)

Every chance I get, I try to speak to kids about how important it is to get involved in this election, even if they can't vote yet. A middle schooler who is fourteen today will be going to college, applying for jobs as an adult, and eligible to fight as a soldier before our next President leaves the White House. The Web provides this wired generation with incredible opportunities to express opinions and inspire changes.

As the general election draws nearer each day, how has real life been mirrored in your fiction?

It is very eerie. McCain is now the Republican frontrunner, and Bridget is in the news whether she likes it or not, much like Sparrow in my book. As I wrote the books before anybody was running for President, I'm awed by my own prescience.

More globally, you've said that you like to write about life between cultures. Why is this important to you? Why should it be important to everyone?

Although it brings a litany of losses, growing up between cultures provides many gains as well. Global nomads end up without strong allegiances to a single culture and yet strangely better able to savor the best in most of them. They get good at border crossing, learning languages, both spoken and unspoken, and tearing down walls fast to get close to people. And last but
not least, staying between cultures provides a great vantage point for storytelling.

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

Hone the craft. Cast away fear. Don't waste time. You have stories that must be told--run, don't walk, to find them.

In today's crowded market, it's essential for authors to promote their work and act as ambassadors for youth literature. How have you taken on each of these challenges?

I'm proud to be the newest readergirlz diva, standing with Justina (author interview), Lorie Ann, and Dia (author interview)(original-divas interview) in a collaborative effort to connect teen girls with great books. I love the emphasis on community service, like Operation Teen Book Drop, which partnered libraries, publishers and authors with teens in pediatric hospitals throughout the country.

I'm on the editorial advisory board of Kahani Magazine, a wonderful periodical showcasing the gifts South Asian cultures bring to North America.

I blog regularly on the Fire Escape, participate actively in the kidlitosphere, and try to use the Web to promote my work and the works of other writers--tapping the power of social networks, listservs, YouTube, slide shows, widgets, groups, and other internet-based gadgets and gizmos.

I also speak to educators, librarians, parents, teachers, and students about how good stories can help immigrant, multiracial, and internationally adopted children stay balanced as they straddle cultures.

On a personal level, what about writing Asian American-related fiction delights, frustrates, amuses, and confounds you?

I'm proud to be an Asian American author, and yet hope that many young readers from all different backgrounds will enjoy my stories. I don't like being automatically shelved in the multicultural section, and feel that being labeled like that sometimes hinders my books from getting into the right hands or more hearts. Some of my books are about race, but in others,
like the First Daughter books and Monsoon Summer, ethnicity plays only a small part in the plot.

I also echo Hazel Rochman's clarion call to end apartheid in the world of children's books-- let's
create authentic, creative stories without having to prove that we've got the right set of socioeconomic-cum-ethnic credentials to write them.

Meticulous research, listening carefully to other voices, a nourished imagination laced with empathy, and great storytelling--now those are the right creds.

Your titles are being highlighted in conjunction with FUSION STORIES. Could you tell us more about how this came to happen? Who were the driving forces behind the intiative? Why did the idea take off?

The mind of Justina Chen Headley is the engine behind many a great initiative, and the rest of us jumped on board quickly. We wanted to feature Asian American books for Asian Pacific Heritage Month this year; books that aren't immigrant stories nor tales set in other countries (although we think those books are great, too). We're open to other titles that fit the bill; just send them our way .

You're an active blogger in the kidlitosphere! Please tell us about your blog--your approach to blogging, your focus, and why it's important to you?

I've always loved to spout off about a gamut of issues as well as listen to others, and visiting the blogosphere while still in my pajamas with a mug of steaming coffee nearby is my favorite way to join illuminating conversations and bracing debates.

My approach to blogging is to share my voice, with all of its' strengths and weaknesses, my attempts at humor, and my feeble efforts to make sense of life on this planet.

In my Web presence as in my life, I strive for authenticity and integrity--not that I succeed, in fact I often fall short, but those are my goals.

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

I don't do it very well. I've been way too busy on the author side and will have to pull back mercilessly and soon so I can get back to writing. I'm typing this on a plane back from TLA in Dallas, where I spoke. I will arrive in Boston at midnight, do a full-day author visit tomorrow, and leave in the evening to spend two days in California, followed by three days in Colorado.
Where am I? Who am I?

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

I've been reading exclusively for readergirlz so far this year -- devouring great new books like Good Enough by Paula Yoo, A La Carte by Tanita Davis, Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen (author interview), Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, and Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham (author interview).

And as an ex-jock myself, I have to put in a plug for my good friend Karen Day's forthcoming No Cream Puffs (Wendy Lamb Books), a delightful coming of age tale with baseball as a backdrop.

You should see my nightstand! It's loaded with great reads I can't wait to get to -- all the Fusion novels I haven't yet read, new South Asian novels by Chitra Divakaruni, Jumpa Lahiri, Padma Venkatraman, and Kashmira Sheth. I need a hammock, a beach, and a mango smoothie.

What do you do outside the world of books?

Walk the labs. Play tennis. Watch television, listen to music, and go to the movies. Hang out with my teen sons and hubby. Fly to California regularly to spend time with my beloved parents. Worship. Pray. Study the Bible. Write bad poetry in my journal. Travel. Eat too much.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Secret Keeper (Delacorte) comes out January 2009, followed by Bamboo People from Charlesbridge in 2010. The former is a YA novel set in India in the 1970s about two sisters discovering the power of their family's secrets. The Bamboo People is about two fifteen-year-old boys--one drafted into the Burmese Army against his will and the other a Karenni refugee hiding in the jungles along the Thai-Burma border.

Thank you!

No, thank you for all that you do in the world of children's and YA literature, connecting, enlightening, and encouraging so many of us!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Agent Interview: Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Jennifer Laughran on Jennifer Laughran: "I got my first job at my older sister's bookstore when I was about 12. As I recall, she paid me $5 a day and all the stripped copies of Sweet Valley High I could read. I've since worked in bookstores all over the country. I've been a buyer for a large independent bookstore here in San Francisco for a number of years. I am a huge fan of kids' books, especially YA. I founded and continue to run Not Your Mother's Book Club, which is a very popular YA author event series, featuring the best YA authors in the world. And since the beginning of 2008, I've been an associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency."

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

The first agent I ever met was Barry "Mr. Fantastic" Goldblatt (agent interview). He helped me get Not Your Mother's Book Club started by generously donating the use of his clients. I remember thinking, "I don't know exactly what an agent does, but if he's one, I want to do that!"

It turns out that agenting is the best of all worlds for me, and a natural extension of book-selling. It combines matchmaking, hand-selling, evangelizing for my favorite authors, and of course, lots of reading.

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

I want the manuscripts to be in the best possible shape before they go out. However, the author is the artist, and I don't believe in imposing my sensibility on their work. Therefore, while I do give notes, the notes I give tend to focus on clarity rather than extensive re-working.

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

I think I can speak for all the agents at Andrea Brown when I say that we are very much interested in the long-term careers of our clients.

Why should unagented writers consider working with an agent?

An agent knows what a fair price is--most authors don't know the market, or how much they can ask for. Also the agent is experienced with contracts and will get the best terms.

When necessary, the agent can play bad-cop and chase your money for you without marring the relationship between editor and author.

I happen to adore lots of editors, but the fact is, they work for the publisher. The agent works for you. Editors move around, quit, get laid-off, have babies, and get promoted in the blink of an eye--your agent is a constant in what can be a topsy-turvy business.

What sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

I gravitate toward character-driven stories with a strong voice. A typical answer, right? I love books with ensemble casts, too, like those set in theaters or restaurants or big, busy families.

My taste is eclectic--I like old-fashioned stories, family stories, comedies, mysteries, adventures, hybrids--and some books that don't have a category at all.

Could you give us some examples of books for study as "your kind of thing" and a few reasons why?

The books that I have sold aren't going to be out for a long time, so I will have to use examples from the world. These are some of my fave books--and you'll see that there are a few running themes:

Ballet Shoes (orphans, backstage, stardom, early 20th c. England);

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (orphans, boarding school, rags-to-riches, Victoriana);

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp (HarperCollins)(orphans, haunted houses, creepy Gothic);

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)(orphans, creepy-Gothic, spiritualists, con-artists, Victoriana);

Saffy's Angel and sequels by Hilary McKay (big family, artists, funny);

Empress of the World and The Rules for Hearts (Viking), companion books by Sara Ryan (YA, smart girls, GLBTQ romance, theatre, camp)(author interview);

Dramarama by E. Lockhart (Hyperion)(YA, drama, camp, GLBTQ romance)(author interview);

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion)(YA, smart girls, feminist);

Beige by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick)(YA, music, punk, Los Angeles)(author interview);

Stormbreaker-Alex Rider by Anthony Horwitz (Walker)(addictive series, fast-paced adventure, spies);

Alanna and other Tammy [Tamora] Pierce series (addictive series, fast paced adventure, strong girls, feminist);

Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater (funny, bizarre and unfettered by convention).

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

JennL at andreabrownlit dot com

Do you have any particular submissions preferences?

Most definitely. Our submissions guidelines can be found on our website:

--email only;

--include first 10 pages in the body of the email;

--be professional and concise;

--please read ABLA agent bios and preferences carefully, as a "no" from one of our agents is a "no" from all.

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

I am much more an email person than a phone person, though I do call when there is good news to share. I am an open book when it comes to the submission process and anything else.

My clients know they can be in touch with me any time they like--I am a very communicative person, so I think they are satisfied that I am really here, and really paying attention.

As a reader, which books have you enjoyed lately and why?

I love Libba Bray's books! I finally finished the latest, The Sweet Far Thing (Delacorte, 2008)(author interview). It was a long one, but totally worth it -- I think Libba is some kind of mad genius.

I also adored Tennyson by Leslie M. M. Blume (Random House, 2008)(excerpt)-- atmospheric and wonderful.

I am now reading the positively addictive summer read Model by Cheryl Diamond from Simon Pulse.

And one of my clients, Daniel Pinkwater, has a significant amount of backlist that I am slowly but happily working my way through -- 100 books!

Anything else you want to add?

This gets said a lot, but I don't think it can be said enough. Most problems I see in slush would be solved if the author was a better reader. If you want to be a good writer, read a lot. Read a lot of children's books, read a lot of adult books, read a lot of classics, read weird things on subjects you don't normally touch. Now read some more. No no, that isn't enough, read more.

Now write a book.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Author Interview: Sarah Prineas on The Magic Thief

Learn more about Sarah Prineas at her author site, her LJ, and from the Class of 2k8! Also visit www.magicthief.com, a microsite celebrating the novel with games, contest, wallpaper, and more!

How would you describe yourself as a young reader?

Lacking. Which is not to say that I didn't read because I did,
voraciously. But I didn't discover fantasy until I was an adult, and as a kid I would have loved it. If I found a book I loved, I read and re-read it until it became part of me.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? What helped you the most?

I started writing in 2000 when I had a new baby and was living in Germany where my husband had a postdoctoral appointment in physics.

During that time I was supposed to be working on my dissertation (I have a PhD in English), but it was not going well, and writing fiction was a way for me to procrastinate and feel productive at the same time. For a long time I wrote fantasy for adults—short stories and one unpublishable novel.

In late 2005, I started The Magic Thief, and something about writing for children was perfect for me; maybe I found my voice. In May 2006, I went to a novel critique workshop called Blue Heaven, held on an island in Ohio (yes!), and got the support and encouragement from writer colleagues that prompted me to get an agent.

The two key pieces of writing advice I got along the way were: 1) The Protagonist Must Protag; and 2) Never Surrender!

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

My kid readers are awesome because they are completely honest. It's like there are no barriers, no "cool" factor, they just tell you how they feel. Meeting kid readers for the first time blew me away, made me realize—yes!—this is why I'm doing this writing gig.

I like writing kid protagonists because if a kid has agency in his or her own life, as many kid protags do, there's dramatic tension inherent in that situation. The kid gets to act in the world, and not necessarily with a protector or parent or guardian to intercede for him or her. I love the possibilities that opens up.

The other thing is, a kid protagonist gets to act in the world without the same kinds of responsibilities that weigh on an adult protagonist; it's liberating, I think.

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

It was pretty much a sprint, once I figured out that I should be writing for kids. I wrote Magic Thief in one mad rush during late 2005 early 2006, took it to that novel workshop I mentioned above, got an agent (via a referral), and after I'd finished cleaning the novel up a bit, she submitted it and sold it by the end of 2006. So, it was just over a year from the day I started the book to the day my agent sold it.

Then things got even sprint-ier! HarperCollins originally scheduled the book for publication in spring 2009, but after some exciting international rights interest, they bumped up publication to spring 2008. That put the book onto a "crash" publication schedule starting in June 2007. I did edits in two weeks (while I had Lyme disease…which I caught from a cursed tick on that Ohio island), and the book was rushed into production. Despite the rush, it turned out really well; Harper makes beautiful books!

Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel, The Magic Thief (HarperCollins, June 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

Sure! In Wellmet, a fantasy city similar to early-Victorian London, Conn, a scruffy kid with a dark past, picks the pocket of a cranky wizard, Nevery, and steals the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus and deploy magic. Conn becomes absolutely certain that he is meant to be Nevery's apprentice—if only he can stay out of trouble long enough. He also discovers a plot to steal the city's supply of magic. Conn and Nevery set off on an adventure involving danger, excitement, biscuits, the most amazing locus magicalicus in the world, Underlord minions, misery eels, pugilistic displays, truth-telling drugs, getting everything you ever wanted and losing it again, and crossing a (mostly) frozen river on a night of stars as bright as daggers.

The novel is the first book in a trilogy; Conn's adventures continue in book two, The Magic Thief: Lost. In book three, The Magic Thief: Found, there are dragons.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

As I said, I'd been writing fantasy for adults. I had the first two lines of the book--"A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands, and I can make things disappear"—in a file on my hard-drive for over a year, but I didn't have a character or story to put with them.

Then I was reading the Letters-to-the-Editor page of the December 2005 Cricket magazine, and a kid's letter asked for more stories with wizards and magic, and for more two-part stories. Chapter one of The Magic Thief was the story I wrote in response to that letter (Cricket is still considering the story for publication!), but once I had that written I realized that Conn's story was novel sized. And when I finished the novel, I realized it was trilogy sized…

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

The book was ridiculously fun to write. I had to cook bacon and biscuits for research, and visit my husband's physics lab for inspiration—the Device in the book is based on his lab equipment. I did some research on early Industrial-Age London, because the city of Wellmet is (very) loosely based on that. I also started writing on a laptop for the first time while working on this book, and became a Mac person, and I'm sure that helped me write faster.

Do you outline first? Do you just begin writing and see where it goes? Or, put another way, are you a plotter or a plunger and why?

I'm totally a plunger, or an "organic writer," as I call it. The story "grows" as I write it. I love writing as an act of discovery, writing into the void, trusting that I can come up with what comes next. The key for this succeeding, for me, is having a protagonist who protags, who motivates the plot through his actions.

I have a general idea of where the story needs to go, but for the specifics I just create a situation and then ask, "Okay, what would Conn do?" The kid knows how to get himself into trouble, which his writer appreciates.

What is it like being a debut novelist in 2008? What has surprised you the most?

Oh, the whole process has been an incredible learning experience. I am fascinated by how publishing works.

Fairly early on, my editor sent me a book called Dear Genius, the letters of venerable HarperCollins editor Ursula Nordstrom to her authors. From reading that book, I learned that publishing is a business, but it's run by people who passionately love books, who can be, as Nordstrom describes, "shimmering with happiness" at discovering a new manuscript.

I love that our publishers are romantic about books. I've seen this attitude throughout the publishing process, when I've talked to booksellers and teachers and librarians and sales reps.

It's a business, yes, but it runs on the joy of reading and the love of books. This really was a surprise to me.

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

Get involved in the children's writing community earlier. I came to publishing from the adult fantasy/science fiction world. From the etiquette to the expectations to the sense of community—it's all very different. I did get involved in the Class of 2K8, which has been nice.

Do you work within a community of writers (a critique or workshop group), with an editorial agent, or solo before submitting to a publisher? Why? What are the benefits to you?

I have four or five trusted first readers—these are all good friends from the adult sf/f world. We read and critique each others' novels.

I also go to the Blue Heaven workshop every year for another round of helpful critique. Then my agent, who used to be an editor, kicks my novel's butt (she once had me cut 40 pages from the first third of a book!). Then the book goes to my editor at HarperCollins, and by that point it doesn't need a whole lot of work.

I just looked back at my query letter for book one, and when I submitted The Magic Thief to my agent, it was 88,000 words long. The final manuscript was around 55,000 words. I don't remember cutting that much, but evidently I did… That's where I benefit most from critique—readers telling me what to cut. Sometimes things are clearer, I've learned, if I explain them less.

What advice do you have for fantasy novelists?

Believe. In his Introduction to Shakespeare, poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge talked about "suspension of disbelief." You've probably heard that term before, and it's the idea that somebody watching a play or reading a book can "forget" their mundane situation long enough to sort-of pretend that the play or book is real.

But Tolkien said that fantasy writers don't just create suspension of disbelief, they create something even more powerful and amazing; they create belief. I think a fantasy writer has to immerse herself in her world, to believe in it so completely that she can convey the reality of that imagined world to her reader. When a reader engages with a thoroughly "believed" world, she can transcend reality, and comes back to our world changed. I'm totally with Tolkien that fantasy novels can change the world.

As a reader, so far what is your favorite YA novel of 2008?

This is such a hard question! I've been reading tons of YA and MG this year, trying to educate myself about this genre that's still fairly new to me. And there's soooo much good stuff. Some recent books that I've really grooved on (and I'm getting to some of them late!) include Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, Catherine Gilbert Murdock's The Dairy Queen, A.M. Jenkins' Repossessed, and Pat Murphy's The Wild Girls. Oh, and Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (I can't wait to read Twisted; that's up next). See, this isn't answering your question; none of these books are from 2008, are they? Some books I can't wait to get my paws on include Ingrid Law's Savvy, Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season, and Kristin Cashore's Graceling.

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

Well, I'm a mom to two kids, Maud (age 12) and Theo (age 8), and the partner of my husband, John. I play the piano and run and read LiveJournal and check email.

In the past, I taught for the University of Iowa Honors Program, but now I just work half time as their Scholarship Coordinator, helping very high-achieving students apply for the major awards like the Rhodes and Fulbright and Truman scholarships. My writing really is a full-time job, but I haven't been able to give up the day job because I love working with students so much.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My fans! What a concept. I don't think I have any yet…but up next is the second book of the Magic Thief trilogy, due out a year after the first book, and then the third book.

After that, I'd like to do some more Wellmet-world books, and I've got a couple of stand-alone novel ideas, and an idea for a whole new fantasy world. Any of these would be fun to write. Depends on the vagaries of publishing, I suppose…

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just thanks to Cynthia for putting together these interview questions and thanks to you, reader, for taking the time to read my responses to them.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sydney Taylor Book Award Celebrates 40th Anniversary

Cleveland, OH--The Sydney Taylor Book Award, established in 1968 by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), commemorates its fortieth anniversary this year. Authors, publishers, and librarians will gather to celebrate Taylor's legacy during the Association's annual convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

Named in memory of Sydney Taylor (PDF), author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series, the Sydney Taylor Book Award recognizes the best in Judaic literature for children and teens. Medals are awarded annually for outstanding books that authentically portray the Jewish experience.

Celebration Planned

The celebration will kick off on the evening of Tuesday, June 24 with the presentation of the 2008 Sydney Taylor Book Awards during the convention's annual banquet. Winners Sonia Levitin (Strange Relations), Sid Fleischman (The Entertainer and the Dybbuk), and Sarah Gershman and Kristina Swarner (The Bedtime Sh'ma) will be honored at the banquet. Honor Award winners will also be recognized. See the winners' list (PDF file).

A full-day program on Wednesday, June 25 includes panels on the history of Jewish children's literature, teen fiction, picture books, illustrated non-fiction, trends in publishing, and a keynote address by Sid Fleischman. A book signing and dessert reception will conclude the festivities.

Organizer Rachel Kamin says "Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family books changed the way American readers viewed Jewish literature. Readers of all backgrounds embraced these characters, and continue to connect with the Jewish characters in our award-winning books. It's so exciting to have reached the forty year milestone, and we look forward to another forty years of top quality Jewish literature!"
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