Friday, July 04, 2008

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Happy Independence Day to those who celebrate it! Please note that Cynsations will be taking a very short hiatus, and will resume posting next Thursday, July 10!

The Cynsations grand prize giveaways for July are two signed copies of Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2008). From the promotional copy: "For 17 year-old Janie Hannagan, getting sucked into other people's dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but- nobody-notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. Janie's seen enough fantasy booty to last her half a lifetime. She can't tell anybody about what she does; they'd never believe her or, worse, they'd think she's a freak. So Janie lives on the fringe, cursed with an ability she doesn't want and can't control. Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. Because for the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else's twisted psyche. She is a participant...." See also the book trailer below!

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST July 31! Please also type "Wake" in the subject line. Note: one autographed copy will be awarded to a YA public librarian (please specify library with entry) and one autographed copy will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader.

Check out the book trailer for Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2008)!

And that's not all! Enter to win a copy of Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand by Louise Hawes (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)! Read a Cynsations interview with Louise.

From the promotional copy: "...and they lived happily ever after. Remember the fairy tales you put away after you found that no princess is as beautiful as common sense and happy endings are just the beginning? Well, the old tales are back, and they've grown up! Black Pearls brings you the stories of your childhood, told in a way you've never heard before. Instead of lulling you to sleep, they'll wake you up to the haunting sadness that waits just inside the windows of a gingerbread cottage, the passion that fuels a witch's flight, and the heartache that comes, again and again, at the stroke of midnight. Make no mistake: these stories are as dark as human nature itself. But they shine, too, lit with the fire of our dreams and our hunger for magic."

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST July 14! Please also type "Black Pearls" in the subject line.

June Giveaway Winners

Winners of the autographed sets of 25 Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) bookmarks in celebration of summer reading were: Rachel at Brentwood Public Library in Pittsburgh; Barbara at Suffolk Cooperative Library System in Bellport, New York; Deena at Brighton Memorial Library in Rochester; Laura at Uphams Corner Branch of the Boston Public Library (who also received a Tantalize audio), and Deb at San Marcos Public Library in San Marcos, Texas; (who also received a Sanguini's T-shirt (Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in the book)). Due to popular response, additional giveaways were awarded! Valerie at Chambers County Library System in Anahuac, Texas; and Edda at the International Mall Branch Library in Miami both won bonus sets. In addition, Chelsie at the Necedah Memorial Library in Necedah, Wisconsin, won the bonus set along with a Sanguini's T-shirt, and Ray at Rio Linda Public Library in Rio Linda, California, won bonus set, plus a Sanguini's T-shirt and Tantalize audio! Wahoo! Thank you to all who entered! Note: I'm currently out of bookmarks, but more are on order.

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

More News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Melissa R. Schorr on the paperback release of Goy Crazy (Hyperion, 2008)! Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

Lobster Press is giving away Summer Reading Book Bundles for three age groups -ages 3 to 7, ages 8 to 12, and ages 13-17 The contest ends July 20th.

Guest Blogger: Susane Colasanti at YA New York. Peek: "The Outsiders [by S.E. Hinton (Viking, 1967)] inspired me in a way I wish my books would inspire other kids. I want to write books for people who need to escape into stories, who rely on books to save them."

Vladimir Tod's Best Nighttime Photo: win an iPod nano and great prizes from Heather Brewer's The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd at Sugarloot: Sweet Contests. Deadline: Aug. 11. Learn more here!

Resistance Has Meaning by Ann Jacobus from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Having a routine and a time and/or page quota can help a writer push through resistance. I keep a written log of page production every day. OK, double-spaced pages, and any page I write—pre writing, essay, blog, research, journals—counts. But this has upped my production and helped me get through blocks because it prevents me from kidding myself."

How Important Is Your Book, or, Top Ten Ways to Blow a Book Deal #4 from Editorial Ass. Peek: "It is unforgivable to ever tell someone (or their boss) that you're too important to be working with them, or to imply the same."

Sarah Dessen on Time Management: "I used to be incredibly disciplined about my writing. I wrote seven days a week, two hours a day, until a book was done. If I skipped a day, or even cut one short, I felt horribly guilty and stressed out. Since I had my daughter, though, I don't have the luxury of control over my own schedule like I used to."

Where You Live: Blogging List from Cynthia Lord. Note: does my AAWW report count?

Do you have some odd books? 826 Valencia recently opened a satellite space at James Lick Middle School in San Francisco. They're looking for some donations. Source: McSweeney's Internet Tendency by way of author Donna Gephart.

In the Book Reviewer Hot Seat: a series of red-hot reviewer interviews from the Class of 2k8. Read a Cynsations interview with Marissa Doyle and Jody Feldman on the Class of 2k8!

Jacqueline Woodson: A Voice for Hope from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "My ideal is getting books in the hands of people who couldn't otherwise afford them. So if my publisher said 'Here's $5,000 to do with it as you will,' I'd buy a whole bunch of my own books in paperback and give them out at underserved schools and community centers, etc."

The Prairie Wind: Newsletter of the SCBWI Illinois Chapter is available online! Highlights include tips for writers, illustrators, critique groups, career and promotion information, and much, much more! Consider "Finding Your Center of Gratitude" by Carol Coven Grannick. Peek: "The natural anxiety that arises during periods of uncertainty – it can feel like a low-level existential angst – has less on which to practice the optimistic turn of phrase."

Author Cecil Castellucci is giving away an advanced reader copy of her graphic novel Janes in Love (Minx, 2008)! Find out how to enter here. Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

How Much Money Do You Put Into Promotion? by Laura Purdie Salas: Writing the World for Kids. Peek: "I don't have money to burn, by any means. But I also realize I have to invest in myself and my career. But I'm nervous about losing money. But I know I need to support my book. But marketing is not my strong point. But if I don't do enough for my book, it's even more likely to sink without a ripple. But...well, you see my dilemma." Note: chime in with advice!

The PJ Library: Boosting Jewish Publishing from Heidi Estrin at The Book of Life. Peek: "The PJ Library selects, mass-purchases and mails Jewish children's books directly to children ages 6 months to 7 years on a monthly basis. Currently the books are mailed to 22,000 children per month, and projected to reach 44,000 by next year."

Are you a YA reader? Check out the bounty of giveaways at TeensReadToo!

Lisa Holton Announces New Venture, Teams with HarperCollins by Lynn Andriani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Fourth Story will produce stories and content that span multiple formats, including books, Web sites, online games, DVDs, audio/digital downloads and social networks. Its first series is The Amanda Project, an interactive, collaborative fictional mystery series for girls aged 12 to 14, told across a variety of different media including books, a Web site that features games and a social networking platform, a related series of blogs and satellite sites, music, and merchandise."

Character and Plot: Inseparable! from Nathan Bransford -- Literary Agent. Peek: "Plot is what makes the character interesting (because the character is tested) and character is what makes the plot interesting (because we're learning about the character)." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Author Claudia Gray is now fielding character interview questions! Peek: "What do I mean by that? You send in questions for Bianca, and she will answer. Although you're interviewing Bianca right after Evernight, when she has no idea what will happen in future books, feel free to ask her absolutely anything. I don't promise that she will answer every question asked, but we'll post a good interview with her here and on the website August 1." Learn more!

Book Blast Giveaway! from I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. "It's a nonfiction give-away contest of gigantic proportions! To support the children's nonfiction community, our fifteen published authors have each agreed to donate a signed copy of one of their books. That's fifteen books to one lucky winner." Deadline: Sept. 5. Learn more!

How Do Book Auctions Work? by Little Brown editor Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "In my experience, there are two main ways an agent will conduct an auction. Prior to the auction, the agent will generally send out an email outlining the rules of the auction. Sometimes this will include a request for a marketing plan. In general, the two types of auctions are Rounds, and the other is Best Offer."

Question of the Week Thursday: Lauren Myracle from Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks: "What's it like to write so many types of books?" Peek: "I've written "sweet" books for tweens, funny books for teens, scary books for teens, slightly-naughty books for tweens, books told all in IM, and even a collaborative novel about a road trip (for teens). And I'm about to embark on a lower lower grade series for boys! Good golly, now that you point it out...what am I thinking? Read Cynsations interviews with Lauren and Robin.

Check out a book trailer for Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, 2008)! Note: Deadly Little Secret is the first novel in the "touch novel series."

Attention, Texans!

"Create Your Own Future with Goals and Time Management" with P. J. Hoover from Austin SCBWI on July 19 at Barnes and Noble Westlake. "Imagine you can achieve anything. Imagine there is no way you will fail. What goal would you pick above all others? Half the battle in achieving goals in life is knowing what they are. The other half is formulating a plan to achieve those goals. Firm goals and excellent time management skills will lead to success in every aspect of life. Financial success. Strong relationships. Excellent health. All things are possible, and, with a little inspiration, you'll create a new future for yourself. Author P.J. (Tricia) Hoover will talk about some great ways set goals and to use time to achieve those goals. So come listen and learn how to make the most of life's most valuable resource--Time." P.J. is the debut author of The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree, Oct. 2008). The Emerald Tablet is the first book in her middle grade science-fiction trilogy, The Forgotten Worlds Books.

"Five Things To Consider When Plotting a Novel" with Helen Hemphill from Austin SCBWI on Aug. 16 at Barnes and Noble Westlake. It's thrilling to begin a new novel, but most writers know it's the middle and the ending that can make or break a story. A great plot is both planned and discovered. This mini workshop will offer up practical strategies for plotting a middle grade or young adult novel and suggest five things you'll want to consider as you plot your novel. Helen is the author of the middle grade novel Runaround (2007) and the young adult novel Long Gone Daddy (2006), both published by Front Street. Her new novel, The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (Front Street, 2008), will be published this fall. Helen holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College.

April Lurie will celebrate the release of her latest book, The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008), with a book signing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Barnes and Noble in Round Rock.

Slumber Party @ Teen Fest: April Lurie (author interview), Jennifer Ziegler (author interview), and Cynthia Leitich Smith will join forces in a "lively, intimate discussion about books and writing for teen girls" at noon Aug. 2 at Carver Branch Library/Austin Public Library in Austin, Texas. The event will include a book signing, "games, snacks, beauty tips, and even a passionate reading contest. Pajamas and pillows optional!"

SCBWI Houston is sponsoring a "Nuts and Bolts" Picture Book Writing Workshop taught by award-winning author, Kathi Appelt Sept. 6. The workshop will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., lunch included. Before July 8, $40 members of SCBWI, $50 non-members. After July 8, prices go up $10. See details. Read a Cynsations interview with Kathi.

Austin SCBWI's "A Day with an Editor" featuring Jill Santopolo, author and senior editor at Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, and Cynthia Leitich Smith will be Sept. 13. "Mark your calendars now and prepare to register early as this event is expected to be a sellout. Registrations will open around July 1, and registration forms will be available at Austin SCBWI." Note: Jill is interested in literary novels, quirky middle grades, and picture books. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is the author of Alec Flint, Super Sleuth: The Nina, The Pinta and the Vanishing Treasure (Scholastic/Orchard, 2008).

More Personally

Again, please note that Cynsations will be taking a very short hiatus, and will resume posting next Thursday, July 10! Again, to those who celebrate it, have a wonderful and safe July 4th weekend!

Attention: Tantalize fans! A teen YA reader known as "Miss Quincie" has started a brand new Tantalize Fan Forum. For those of you on MySpace, see also Tantalize Fans Unite!

On a related note, the Sanguini's store at Printfection will be closing soon (no worries! the Sanguini's store at CafePress is being expanded soon--with new designs). Certain colors and styles of shirts with the Sanguini's logo will no longer be available, so shop Printfection now, if you have your heart set on one of its selections.

Thanks so much to the Denton (Texas) Public Library for featuring the Tantalize book trailer on your MySpace page! I'm glad you like it! See an interview with Shayne Leighton on the making of the trailer!

Tale of 3 Blogs (and 4 Bloggers) from Lynn E. Hazen at Imaginary Blog. Peek: "I'm imagining this experiment as a sort of literary, slightly random, Word-Association-Rorschach-Blotty-Blog-Interview..." Read a Cynsations interview with Lynn. Note: it was an honor to be interviewed with Elizabeth Bird, Eisha, and Jules! Thanks, Lynn!

Both the trade and library editions of Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) are going into reprint! Thank you for your continued support of the book!

Do you read Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library Professionals? What for "A Lawyer She Was, An Author She Is: An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith" by David Gill (June 1, 2008)(Pg. 64(2) Vol. 35 No. 5). Note: includes breaking news about Eternal (Candlewick, March 2009).

Bon voyage to all those leaving for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults summer residency! Congratulations to the graduates, who include my former advisees Lynn Acheson, Mari Jorgenson, Marianna Baer, and Rebecca Van Slyke! A big welcome to new faculty members Shelley Tanaka and Alan Cumyn! See you all in January! Note: the new VCFA URL is:


Author Goddesses Libba Bray and Maureen Johnson:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Awesome Austin Writers Workshop Report Round-up

Did you see Tuesday's Cynsations post about the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop?

If not, check it out as well as posts by Greg Leitich Smith, Liz Garton Scanlon, P. J. Hoover, Jo Whittemore, and--these just in--Alison Dellenbaugh, Alison's part two (AKA Coming Back to Earth), April Lurie, Shana Burg, Carmen Oliver, Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler, and Jennifer's part two (AKA Additional AAWW-tobiography)!

Here's a sneak peek from Jenny: "Together our group could take over the world! (But not to worry. We'd rather just write about it.)."

Just to recap, the participants were: Brian Anderson, Varsha Bajaj, Chris Barton, Gene Brenek, Shana Burg, Anne Bustard, Tim Crow, Betty X. Davis, Meredith Davis, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards, Debbie Gonzales, Helen Hemphill, P.J. Hoover, Varian Johnson, Julie Lake, Lindsey Lane, April Lurie, Mark Mitchell, Jane Peddicord, Liz Garton Scanlon, Greg Leitich Smith, Jo Whittemore, Phil Yates, and Jennifer Ziegler.

The pages were: Donna Bratton and Carmen Oliver.

And here are a few more pics!

(Liz Garton Scanlon (back), Helen Hemphill, Jennifer Ziegler, P. J. "Tricia" Hoover, Gene Brenek). Happy (belated) birthday, Helen!

(Anne Bustard (back) and Gene Brenek--note Gene's T-shirts).

(Front row: Betty X. Davis; second row: Jo Whittemore, Julie Lake, Liz Garton Scanlon; back row: P. J. "Tricia" Hoover, Greg Leitich Smith, Shana Burg, Jennifer Ziegler, Helen Hemphill, Debbie Gonzales, Chris Barton).

Catering by Pascal's at Helen and Neil Hemphill's downtown condo; see previous post for menu.

(Erin Edwards samples the mini pastries!).

(My very cute husband, Greg Leitich Smith, who's so supportive of all my crazy schemes, although in this pic he looks a little suspicious as to what might be next!).

Author Interview: Louise Hawes on Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand

Louise Hawes, a North Carolina resident, is the author of two short fiction collections, Anteaters Don't Dream and Other Stories (University Press of Mississippi, 2007) and Black Pearls: a Faerie Strand (Houghton Mifflin,2008). Her novels include The Vanishing Point (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), Rosey in the Present Tense (Walker, 2001), and Waiting for Christopher (Authors Guild, 2006). She is a faculty member of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program.

What were you like as a young adult?

Introverted, achingly self-conscious, and highly romantic. I was the theater-arts, lit-mag kid who ended up, inexplicably, going to the prom with the basketball star. I could barely breathe, much less say a word all night!

(We became good friends and bridge partners after graduation, but I certainly wasn't confident enough to keep up with him then.)

What is it about the young adult audience that appeals to you as a writer?

I never sit down to write and say to myself, "This is going to be a YA" or, "This one's for adults." I go where I need to go, take the emotional journey I need to take.

I've written lots of short stories (and a collection of them) for adults, but most of my work has been focused on the place where my personal issues still resonate -- adolescence.

As a writer, then, I'm drawn to protagonists who are teens, but I can honestly say I don't "write down" for a YA audience. My basic approach is the same for both adult and YA fiction, with the slight difference that I tend to want to empower younger readers. I hope my work helps them realize that, even without a happy ending, they've got the inner resources to deal with this beautiful, angry, blissful, destructive, and thoroughly confusing planet!

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

Years ago (honesty compels me to add it was more like decades ago!), I was working in New York City, directing a team of writers who composed sample reading passages for an SAT prep firm. At that time, I'd just completed a draft of my first middle-grade novel, inspired by my young son and daughter. I had also begun sending out a picture book manuscript and was particularly touched by an extremely flowery, verbose rejection letter I received from a well-known publisher. It was highly complimentary and expressed actual distress at "not being able to buy your beautiful, touching book."

One day, as I was reviewing the work of a new hire at the office, I recognized in the reading passage she'd submitted, the very same elaborate writing style that characterized my favorite rejection letter! I asked her if by any chance she'd ever worked for a publisher, and if she had ever had occasion to read a certain picture book submission.

She had! In fact, she told me, she'd been hired to write rejections to the slush pile, but couldn't bare not to encourage the authors of books that moved her.

"What's the slush pile?" I asked, dense and naive as they come. And that's when my publishing education began.

She explained that her house had a strict policy of not considering unsolicited manuscripts and that I really needed an agent.

"Agent?" I asked. (I was an endless font of dumb questions.)

"Yes," she replied, patiently, and proceeded to explain what this intermediary did.

Then and more important, she proceeded to get me one! My new agent didn't sign my picture book, but she did sign my novel, and that was my first publication. A fluke of the luckiest sort!

We last spoke in August 2005 about The Vanishing Point (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). Could you update us on your writing life since that time?

Thanks for asking, she said, fluttering her lashes and grinning to the ends of her face. The Vanishing Point was issued in paperback in 2007, and I adore the new cover--feels like a whole new novel!

In 2006, I finally published my first picture book, Muti's Necklace, the Oldest Story in the World (Houghton Mifflin). It's not the picture book I was working on all those years ago, but it's a story that's very close to me, and I'm thrilled to see it in print.

In 2007, I published a short fiction collection for adults, Anteaters Don't Dream, with the University Press of Mississippi. That led to my visiting Ole Miss as one of the university's John Grisham Visiting Writers, a particular thrill. I got to sit at William Faulkner's desk on that trip and type him a private air letter!

Then last fall, my novel, Waiting for Christopher, was selected as the first Reading Initiative novel at the Mississippi University for Women. I was on campus for a week, did readings and class visits, and got a little rush every time I passed a student or faculty member wearing her "I Read Waiting for Christopher" wristband!

Congratulations on the release of Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

Black Pearls is a collection of dark fairy tales. There are seven pieces in all, each based on an old familiar story, but each told from the viewpoint of a character we heard little from in the original tale. Initially, Houghton Mifflin, the publishers, were going to market it in both adult and YA catalogs, because of the sensual content and the dearth of happily-ever-after endings. But I think they realized that teens are more than ready for dark faerie material.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I've always loved fairy tales, but realized, when I sat down to read them to my children, that this love was more nostalgia than active allegiance. As an adult, I no longer took fairy tales to bed at night or read them for pleasure.

Novels, you see, had come between me and those old, broadly sketched stories. I craved an idiosyncratic human being, an individual character with whose passions and hurts I could identify. So that was the challenge I set myself in Black Pearls: to find a beating heart behind the old archetypes and symbols; to do what I ask of all my students: go deep.

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

Several years ago, I read a first draft of one of these stories at a Vermont College residency. Everyone, students and faculty, were so receptive and enthusiastic about the piece, I decided then and there to follow up on it. That's the beauty of sharing writing "experiments" with a community of other writers--you find out what works and what doesn't.

A year later, I had five more stories to show my editor at Houghton, Kate O' Sullivan. She asked me for one more, and she was right. The last tale, a version of the story of Lady Godiva, is a tribute to how storytelling changes us, and I love it as the end note of the collection.

Both Kate and I very much wanted this collection to be illustrated. We both remembered the books of our childhood, and the wonderful illustrators who brought them alive--artists like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, and Maxfield Parrish.

We also realized that Rebecca Guay, who had done the lush illustrations for my picture book, would be wonderfully suited to these darker, grownup tales. There's a sensuous, romantic lyricism in her work that reminds me of both Rackham and Aubrey Beardsley. We were delighted when she agreed to do the book, and a year later, her gorgeous cover is winning us new readers every day.

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

In most of my writing, I start with a character and let him or her lead me to their story. In this case, though, I wanted to be true to the source tale, so I had to work backwards--that is from story to character. None of these tales are contemporary; nobody speaks "American" in these stories; all the old symbols and events from the original tales are included. But in most cases, I had to back so far up to find the beginning of my character's story that the source tale is not evident until readers are well into each piece.

My protagonists, you see, are not the main characters from the old stories; those familiar heroes and heroines play secondary roles in Black Pearls. My version of "Snow White," for instance, is told by one of the dwarfs; "Cinderella" is narrated by the prince; "Rapunzel" unfolds from the witch's point of view. As a result, I've had to change a lot more than the title of each story.

That's because the old character's happy ending might mean the new one's total despair. On the other hand, an old character's loss could mean a new one's victory. That tangled web, that interconnection is, I think, one of the themes of the collection.

It's a loop the reader completes, by comparing the familiar version of the fairy tale in her or his head, to the one in the book in front of them.

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

Ask questions. Ask for help. Believe in your writing enough to grow it. A great way to do this is by joining a writer's group or an MFA program.

No one, at least no one I've ever met, can be objective about his or her own work. You need the support of a community of practice and the feedback from eyes and hearts you trust.

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing faerie tales?

So many students come to me with fantasy pieces or fairy tales they've written, and too often this work is missing humanity. It's heavy on action and plot, but light on that beating heart we all look for in fiction.

When I ask the authors why, they usually reply, "Oh, that's because it's fantasy."

Whoa, Nellie! Fantasy and faerie worlds require the human connection just as much, perhaps more, than other stories. Readers need a bridge between their world and the book's, and the best bridge of all is a fully developed, deeply felt character.

You're a writer who also teaches writing. Could you briefly update us on your teaching history and current endeavors?

Recently, I took several years off from teaching at the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I spent some of that time dealing with family issues and some teaching in various venues (especially in Mississippi, as you just heard, and at women's workshops in Maine and North Carolina, as well as at a fiction program in Kentucky).

This July, I'm thrilled to be coming home (and that's exactly what it feels like!) to Vermont. I've learned I need the stimulation of a writing community and the excitement of holding my students' newly published books in my hands each year!

I thought I'd write more without such "distractions," but in fact I get more done when others around me are creating and sharing and spreading the good word!

What does teaching teach you?

I've often been down, reached a low point where it seemed to me there was nothing new under the writing sun. And then, out of nowhere, a student's work will knock my socks off, and I'm a believer again.

Plus, there's no denying that teaching gives you the precious opportunity to practice what you preach. How could I ask my student writers to ground their fantasy in the human heart without anchoring mine there as well? That's, essentially, how Black Pearls was born.

What do you wish all of your students would take away from your time together?

The same things I do: encouragement, faith in the work, and the knowledge that you have a story to tell and the tools to tell it with.

How do you balance your writing against the responsibilities of being a published author (contracts, promotion, events, etc.)?

Not very well at all. I simply can't walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. Sometimes I think I love readings and promotional events (the ex-actress in me is a big ham). But then, when I see how little my regional events boost national sales, I decide I'm best advised to focus on writing.

The final word on all this isn't in, but I'm realizing that the best way to maintain balance is not to worry about it; I can do both, or not do both, but I definitely don't help either by fretting and angst.

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

I enjoy yoga and meditation--okay, make that, I need yoga and meditation. They're non-negotiable. I also love sketching, scrabble, being outdoors, and it looks like that ham part of me has found a new outlet in a NC-based stand-up venue called The Monti (

Most of all, though, I thrive on visits with my two children, who are now grown with kids of their own. I'm always astonished and delighted at how my son and daughter "turned out." Even if they weren't related to me, I'd want to count them among my friends. They and their families keep my life grounded, remind me what really counts.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on a fantasy novel, whose central character is a witch's daughter. And a second picture book. Neither is finished, but I hope at least one will be a wrap before the year's out.

Oh, and Rebecca Guay and I are talking about turning some or all of the stories in Black Pearls into a graphic novel. I'd love to know what your readers think about this idea. All feedback welcome!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Author Interview: David Gifaldi on Listening for Crickets

David Gifaldi to David Gifaldi: "I grew up in the snow country of Western New York, in a village near Lake Ontario between Buffalo and Rochester. Even though I now live in a big city (Portland, Oregon), I'm happy to return to the small-town pace and country spareness of the old hometown when I visit my family every year.

"After college (the first time), I worked for a year in an automotive plant to earn enough money for a sixth-month trip to Europe. I studied Italian in Florence, then paid a visit to my grandfather's family in the mountainous Abruzzo region of central Italy. I had a letter from Grandpa Vanzie in my pocket and was treated by the Italian relatives like a long-absent king...being the first to come back from the America that had drawn my grandfather to its shores when he was just sixteen.

"Upon my return, I took a job tutoring elementary-school kids in reading. That's when I fell in love with teaching. And teaching has been part of my life ever since, twenty years in the elementary school and, more recently, at the university level."

What first inspired you to write for kids?

It's a little strange, really. I believe it was in the cards all along. There's a kid in me that somewhere along the line decided to use writing to make sense of the world as he experienced it...and seemed, eerily, to know that writing stories was the key to helping my adult self find his way on this particular life journey.

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

I started by taking a course from the Institute of Children's Literature in Connecticut. One of my assignments became my first published picture book, though not before being turned down by thirty there's a sprint and a stumble all in one!

After seeing my first story in Children's Digest magazine, I thought, "Well, I can die now and everything will have been worthwhile."

Sounds silly, but I felt I had finally communicated something of myself to the world, however small that "world" may have been. Someone, somewhere, would read what this person, David Gifaldi, really thought and felt.

I collected rejections in a special box set on a shelf in my closet, and waited for the mail every day, hoping for good news. Mostly what I received were rejections. Yet I was proud of that bulging box. Within the stack of form letters were just enough hand-written notes from editors to let me know that I wasn't completely deluding myself in thinking of myself as a writer.

What was the best decision you made related to developing craft during your apprenticeship and why?

The best decision was allowing myself to be a substitute teacher for nearly five years. This became my writing apprenticeship. I was working with kids nearly every day, observing, listening, journaling. Kids of all ages.

Yet there was time to write because I didn't have the pressure of being a regular full-time classroom teacher. I barely survived financially, but wrote two novels and a slew of short stories. One of the novels--the second of course--became my first published book.

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

My back list includes two realistic middle-grade novels (One Thing For Sure and Toby Scudder, King of the School...the latter first published as Toby Scudder, Ultimate Warrior.

I have a crazy tall tale titled Gregory, Maw, and the Mean One, which features an orphan boy, a talking crow, and a very odious adult villain who needs to find out what happened to his "heart" when he was a boy.

Two picture books: The Boy Who Spoke Colors and Ben, King of the River.

I also have published a YA novel (Yours Till Forever), which deals with the question of reincarnation, and a collection of contemporary YA short stories entitled Rearranging and Other Stories.

I've managed to keep One Thing for Sure and Gregory in print through the Authors Guild's Back-in-Print program. Toby Scudder, King of the School is available in paperback from Clarion. And Ben is available from Albert Whitman.

But thank goodness for the Internet because any out-of-print book can now be tracked down and purchased.

A couple of years ago I was ecstatic to find the first chapter book I read as a child available at an independent bookstore in Missouri. There it was, a mystery called Three-Part Island by Anne Molloy. I couldn't write the check and send the envelope fast enough.

When the book arrived, I handled it with reverence, taking in the smell of old paper and ink as I recalled feeling so "big" and satisfied after finishing the story on my uncle's porch one warm summer afternoon when I was nine.

Over the course of your career, how have you grown as a writer? In what areas are you still striving to improve?

I'm still trying to improve everything! Still trying to make my characters and their lives as real as if they walked whole from the street into my story, with no false writerly accoutrements. Still trying to make my work give me gooseflesh, the same gooseflesh I've experienced reading others' books.

But every new book is like stepping into uncharted territory. There are sure to be unseen dangers lurking about as I try to do something for the first time, such as telling a story through multiple viewpoints or trying my hand at a traditional fantasy.

Confidence is huge. I can't tell you how many promising characters have been aborted simply because I didn't have the courage to begin or stay with their stories for fear of failing.

In terms of my growth as a writer...well, the only thing I know for sure is that with experience comes the knowledge and sensibility to know what isn't working, what doesn't work, and to know down to your toes when the gears actually mesh and the passage you've just written does work.

I've also learned that good writing is all about revising, rewriting, and fine-tuning. There are no shortcuts. Every sentence, every word has to be considered over and over again.

Is there a better way to say this? Would this person really say or think or feel this? This is about as subtle as a brick through a window. Please...I'm your reader...why do you insist on insulting me like this?

Congratulations on the release of Listening for Crickets (Henry Holt, 2008)! What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Jake's voice came to me one day when I was rapid-writing, trying to come up with a story idea...seeing what was inside and in need of coming out. Not totally out of the blue, though, because I quickly realized that he was based on a boy who lived across the street from me for a time. Sometimes I'd observe the boy and his father outside, working or playing, and I couldn't help but sense that there was an emotional void between them. From that germ came the fictional family and occurrences of Crickets.

Publication was a long time in coming. The book was accepted right away, but it wasn't until two summers ago that I received my first editorial notes from my editor, Christy Ottaviano, at Holt. Christy saw things I couldn't/didn't see, and two major revisions later, the book was placed in production.

One of the biggest challenges in writing Jake's story was that it didn't seem to follow the traditional arc of a story as I knew it. Jake thinks he can handle what's happening around him. He gives his father the benefit of the doubt time and again, wanting so much to keep the family together. So his story "problem" doesn't rise in a single line toward a climax. It rises and falls as he continues to believe that everything will work out, that all is fine. He has an array of coping mechanisms that prevent him from seeing what's really happening. His optimism and strong desire to make things right take him on a roller-coaster ride emotionally. So there are several mini rising actions and climaxes along the way, instead of the traditional build-up to a single one. At least that's the way I see it.

You're a writer who's also a writing teacher! Could you tell us how teaching fits into your writing life?

As I mentioned, I discovered early on that teaching was in my blood. It was just something I knew I could do well. Maybe it's because, to some extent, all students doubt their own abilities. Well, I know where they're coming from. I've experienced the same doubts. So I seem to speak their language, be they little kids or big adult kids. I constantly feel as if my students and I are in the same boat together: trying to keep alive our imaginations, in need of encouragement, being given the time to discover who we are and what we want and need to say.

How do you balance being a writer with the responsibilities of being a published author (contracts and other business, promotion, etc.)?

For the bulk of my career I didn't have an agent. And I don't believe an agent is necessary for getting published, even though I have one now, which cuts down on the record-keeping and market research that goes along with submitting manuscripts.

My "time" problem has more to do with meshing my two loves of teaching and writing. Whether working with kids in the public school, or with adults in a college setting such as at the Vermont College of Fine Arts [right], I tend to take my teaching responsibilities to the enth degree. And more often than not, writing takes a back seat to teaching.

I could use that as an excuse for why I'm not as prolific a writer as I'd like to be. But I won't because the fact is I'm a slow writer, always have been, and I need a lot of mulling time before jumping into a project that will take up one or two years of my life.

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

This aligns perfectly to what's above. I'd say, "Listen, you need to jump in need to take a few more chances...and stop being such a perfectionist!"

I've only recently come to the realization that perfectionism is all about ego. It's a fact we carefully hide from ourselves. So I'd offer the same advice I give to my students: "Swallow your ego and your need to please everyone, and write!"

What can your fans look forward to next?

I've completed a YA novel set in a small town in Washington state from the viewpoint of two main characters, a girl who is grieving a friend lost to the war in Iraq and a boy who is confused about his sexuality and who questions his stable of friends.

I'm currently working on a middle-grade fantasy. But the short story is a favorite genre of mine, and I'd love to get another collection in the works.

What do you do when you're not writing?

You mean other than secretly watching episodes of "SpongeBob SquarePants" when no one's home? (I have a thing for irrepressible sponges who see their fry-cook job as a gift from God.)

Swimming is my chosen physical exercise. I can't get enough of it. It's great for thinking or trying to solve a story problem. I also have a favorite coffee shop for every mood, one for every type of reading or journaling I need to do on a certain day. I weigh my options and choose the best one for the situation.

Having so many different venues keeps the regulars in any one shop from wondering too deeply about the guy in the corner who stares a lot, seems to be eavesdropping, and is probably planning something.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Awesome Austin Writers Workshop

Sparkling local writers joined forces at the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop from June 27 to June 29 at my home.

The objectives were to build and nurture an already strong youth literature writing community (we rock!), to exchange ideas (we shared!), to support one another (we cheered!), to gain insights into our works in progress (we learned!), to offer a venue for advanced writers to interact and work on craft (we s-t-r-e-t-c-h-ed), and to have fun together in a respectful, upbeat forum (we partied)!

The participants were: Brian Anderson, Varsha Bajaj, Chris Barton, Gene Brenek, Shana Burg, Anne Bustard, Tim Crow, Betty X. Davis, Meredith Davis, Alison Dellenbaugh, Erin Edwards, Debbie Gonzales, Helen Hemphill, P.J. Hoover, Varian Johnson, Julie Lake, Lindsey Lane, April Lurie, Mark Mitchell, Jane Peddicord, Liz Garton Scanlon, Greg Leitich Smith, Jo Whittemore, Phil Yates, and Jennifer Ziegler. (Brian Yansky and Frances Hill submitted manuscripts and donated chairs but had to bow out due to a last-minute conflict).

This well-qualified group--with some overlaps--included nineteen published children's-YA book authors (including one published author-illustrator), an additional professional illustrator, four published children's magazine writers, two former booksellers, eight educators, five students pursuing an MFA in writing for children and young adults, and one graduate of an MFA program in the same. Not every participant was published/agented; however, absolutely no one doubted that they would be soon.

Our magnificent, charming, and unflappable pages were Donna Bratton and Carmen Oliver. They assisted us in ordering, preparing, and serving breakfasts, running errands, cleaning up, and maintaining the flow of the event in too many ways to list. Suffice it to say, they were critical to the success of the workshop.

Over the course of two and a half days, the group discussed about 30 manuscripts (a few of those with short pieces turned in two) of no more than 10 pages during 40-minute sessions. Works discussed included fiction and non-fiction, poetry and picture books, middle grade and YA novels.

The level of conversation was as high as I've ever enjoyed in such a forum.

We spent the first several minutes discussing positives, followed by questions, concerns, comments, challenges, and finally ending with more hoorays.

The loose format worked well as everyone seemed fully prepared, willing to respectfully disagree, and sincerely invested in the process and manuscripts.

During sessions, the writer of the featured work in progress was not allowed to speak without permission. Comments were addressed to me, the moderator, and/or the group as a whole. On those rare occasions in which someone had a burning question, I decided whether the writer would respond.

I also took hands for comments, although I did occasionally call on someone without warning.

The pages acted as timers, noted any books/films mentioned as possible models, and after the conclusion of the workshop, provided a bibliography to the group.

(Erin, April, Phil, Varian, Gene, Varsha, and Lindsey.)

(Greg, Varian, and Julie.)

(Varian, April, and Brian).

(Tricia, Jenny, Chris, Varian, Carmen).

(Liz, Jo, Tricia, Chris).

(Alison, Erin, Betty, Phil).

(Erin and P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, taking a break).

(Lindsey, Shana, Jo, and Julie).

Breakfasts began at 7:30 a.m., and the group was dismissed each day at about 5 p.m.

We took five minute breaks between each session, and an hour and a half breaks for lunch.

We believe in feeding "starving writers."

Breakfasts included a daily fruit plate (strawberries, cantaloupe, red seedless grapes, watermelon, and pineapple)--prepared fresh each morning by the pages--with bananas, and assorted flavors of yogurt.

Daily "specials" were: kolaches (mixed fruit, sausage-cheese-jalapeno, bacon-cheddar, ham-and-swiss, sausage, and sausage-cheese) from Lone Star Kolaches on Friday; assorted bagels with assorted cream cheeses and muffins (blueberry and cherry) from Einstein Brothers Bagels on Saturday; and breakfast tacos (potato-egg-cheese and bacon-egg-cheese) with salsa, again from Lone Star Kolaches, on Sunday.

Mid-afternoon snacks were cookies (sugar, peanut, chocolate chip, and M&M), brownies, mixed mini Snickers and York Peppermints, and trail mix (Jumbo Runner peanuts, Jumbo Flame Raisins, M&Ms, California Almonds, and whole cashews) with more fruit.

Participants were sent off to find their own lunches in the neighborhood and encouraged to go with folks that they didn't already know or know well. The pages and Greg accompanied me to The Galaxy Cafe on Friday and The Shoal Creek Salon on Saturday.

Thursday and Friday night dinners were optional. On Thursday, Meredith, Helen, Brian, and Tim joined me and Greg for dinner at Opal Divine's Freehouse on Sixth Street; and on Friday, Meredith, Chris, Varian, and Carmen joined me and Greg at Maudie's Too on South Lamar.

The Saturday night party was a component of the workshop itself. As with the lunches (and beyond), the idea was to informally continue the conversations of the sessions. Helen and her husband Neil were heroes of the weekend--offering their gorgeous downtown condo as party central.

The menu, brilliantly catered by Pascal's, included seasonal fruit and cheese, spicy boiled shrimp, crab claws, Chicken Acapulco choux, mini crab cakes, chilled asparagus, smoked salmon tartlets, beef tenderloin medallions on toast rounds, large mushroom caps filled with Italian sausage and cheddar cheese, southwest vegetarian empanadas, and a chef's selection of assorted mini pastries, along with red and white wine, bottled water, and miscellaneous sodas.

(Helen, Debbie, Jane).

(Mark, Neil, and Meredith, the founder of Austin SCBWI).

(Gene and Anne).
(Donna, Meredith, Jane, Brian, Greg, Tim, Carmen (part of her anyway)).

(Betty, Mark, Alison).

(Lindsey and Debbie).

Sunday, afternoon, at the conclusion of the event, the pages were presented with thank-you gifts, and Greg and I were surprised by gifts in return.

The pages presented us with a Whole Foods Gift Basket, featuring organic blue corn tortilla chips, chili con queso la hacienda, two-bite brownies, pineapple green tea, and chocolate.

And on behalf of the participants, Jane presented us with a gift certificate to BookPeople and a "library" bird house designed by Austin writer (and VC grad) Debbie Dunn (who was invited, but couldn't make it). It's simply remarkable! The scene features mini versions Tantalize as well as April's The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008), Jane's That Special Little Baby (Harcourt, 2007), Greg's Ninjas, Piranhas, and Gallieo (Little Brown, 2005), Brian Anderson's Zack Proton (Aladdin, 2006-), Brian Yansky's Wonders of the World (Flux, 2007), Helen's Long Gone Daddy (Front Street, 2006), and both There's a Yak in My Bed by K. Pluta and Austin illustrator Christy Stallop (Blooming Tree, 2007) and The Lucky Place by VC graduate Zu Vincent (Front Street, 2008). You can see it on Greg's blog.

Thanks again to: pages Carmen and Donna; Tim, Frances and Brian, Gene, and Shana for the chairs; Tim and Donna for the coolers; Meredith for the personal shopping; Anne for the paper towels; Helen and Neil for hosting the party; and AAWW participants and pages for the lovely gifts; and everyone who played a role in creating workshop magic!

See Greg's report, P. J. "Tricia" Hoover's (both with more pics), Liz's, and Jo's! Updated to add: Alison's.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...