Friday, August 01, 2008

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The grand-prize giveaways for August are three autographed copies of My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson (Flux, 2008)! Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 30! One copy will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), and the other two will go to any Cynsational readers. Please also type "Rhombus" in the subject line.

You also may enter to win a copy of Monsterology: The Complete Book of Monstrous Creatures by Dr. Ernest Drake, illustrated by Douglas Carrell, Nicholas Lenn, and Helen Ward, edited by Dugald A. Steer (Candlewick, 2008)(inside spread).

From the promotional copy: "Do krakens really lurk below the ocean waves? Do griffins command the air above? In a fascinating new discovery sure to rival the ground-breaking Dragonology, the intrepid Dr. Ernest Drake turns his inquisitive gaze from dragons to other so-called mythical creatures.

"Included are:

* a removable letter from Dr. Drake;
* multiple foldouts, flaps, and pull-outs;
* textured "samples," including sea serpent skin and a feather from a winged horse;
* sundry booklets -- including riddles to tell a sphinx;
* a cabinet of curiosities containing yeti fur, a hippogriff feather, and more.

"For anyone who has ever wondered whether legendary beasts still wander among us, this lush look at an astounding array of creatures offers everything a true believer would want to know.

"A second major volume by the esteemed Dr. Drake--a lavish exploration of fantastical beasts, from yetis to unicorns."

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by midnight CST Aug. 11! Then you may either: (a) name your favorite monster and briefly explain why; or (b) share your favorite line from Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)(note: include the page number and whether you're quoting from the hardcover or paperback; a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! is collecting favorite quotes, so this should help). Please also type "Monsterology" in the subject line.

Additional giveaways are ongoing. See below for more information.

Note: international entries are eligible. If you have won a giveaway in the past, you also are still eligible to enter.

This Weekend

Slumber Party @ Teen Fest: YA authors 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!"

More News & Links

August is Piper Reed Month from author Kimberly Willis Holt at Jambalaya. Good news! Piper Reed Navy Brat was released last week, Piper Reed and the Great Gypsy comes out Aug. 19, there will be more Piper Reed books, and Kimberly is sponsoring weekly book giveaways through August, including a classroom set of Piper Reed Navy Brat for Educators. Learn more here. Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Young Texas Reader: Reviews and notes on Texas books, media, internet sites, and other formats intended for or otherwise adaptable for the youngest readers through high school from Will Howard "retired Texana Librarian." Recent posts include Texas alphabet books.

On to the Agent!: an interview with agent Erin Murphy from the Class of 2k8. Peek: "If we're uncertain which direction to go with revisions, we might test the waters with just one to three editors to start with, so we can try a different version if needed." See also a Cynsations interview with Erin.

At the Editor's Desk: an Interview with Andrew Karre, acquisitions editor for Llewellyn Worldwide and Flux from the Class of 2k8. Peek: "I think it's a good illustration of how capricious and gut-level publishing decisions can be." Read a Cynsations interview with Andrew.

Author Visit Show-and-Tell from children's author Kim Norman at Author School Visits by State! Read a Cynsations interview with Kim.



Sarah's Blog from Greenhouse Literary Agency. Peek: "Greenhouse is a new literary agency with a difference. We exclusively represent and manage the careers of authors writing fiction for children, from first readers through middle grade to sophisticated teen fiction." See also New Agent Interview: Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary from Alice Pope at Alice's CWIM Blog.

Editing versus Copyediting from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "...before you go and amend the complaint to "What was the copyeditor doing," here's how this process works (actual process may vary, but this is one example)." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Must-Read YA Titles: compiled by YA author Margo Rabb from Books, Chocolate, Sundries. Peek: "One commenter asked me to recommend YA titles that would give an adult a sense of the richness of the genre."

Award Winning Writer Libba Bray: author of A Great and Terrible Beauty by Laura L. Johnson from Suite101.com. Peek: "Bray attended [The] University of Texas, Austin, graduating in 1988 with a degree in theatre and high hopes of a playwriting career." Read a Cynsations interview with Libba.

The Tenners or 2010: A Book Odyssey: a new LJ group co-founded by Lindsey Levitt and Heidi R. Kling. They are currently accepting members, and the only requirement is that the author has a book debuting in 2010. "It's a relaxed, fun and supportive community with no dues or obligations." If you're interested in joining, send an email to heidi (at) seaheidi (dot) com (reducing spaces and replacing (at) and (dot) with the appropriate symbols. Be sure to mention your publishing house and book title.

Call for Debut Authors for the 2010 CWIM...from Alice Pope. Peek: "I'm beginning to work on my lineup for the 2010 edition--which means I'm looking for a few debut authors and/or illustrators to feature in my annual First Books article!" Deadline: Aug. 8.

Tor.com: a publisher site for news and discussion of science fiction, fantasy, and all the things that interest science fiction and fantasy readers.

Cory Doctorow: Nature's Daredevils: Writing for Young Audiences from Locus Magazine. Peek: "There's a consequentiality to writing for young people that makes it immensely satisfying. You see it when you run into them in person and find out that there are kids who read your book, Googled every aspect of it, figured out how to replicate the best bits, and have turned your story into a hobby." Source: April Henry.

Just Us Books: Celebrating a 20-Year Legacy: an interview with Cheryl and Wade Hudson by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story. Peek: "Founded on the principle of cultural authenticity, Just Us Books has helped pave the way for the diversity in children's books we see today. The black-owned, family-run publisher has sold millions of books and given many black illustrators and authors — including me – their start in the field." Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

Books That Make You Go, "Oh!": The Secret to Creating Tension by Brenda A. Ferber from The Prairie Wind. Peek: "One way is to put your character into a life-or-death situation. But what if you are telling a quieter story than that?" Note: includes a case study of Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (Little Brown, 2008). Read Cynsations interviews with Brenda and Sara.

Sell, Sell, SELL! by Lisa Schroeder at Author2Author. Peek: "...here’s the thing. The truth I've only recently realized. I don't just want to be a published author. I want to be a successful published author. There's a difference, you know? A big difference." Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

The Disconnected: Who these 3.8 million people are, and why libraries need to help them by Kathy Degyansky from Library Journal. Peek: "Roughly 3.8 million people nationwide between the ages of 18 and 24 are neither in school nor employed, according to the National League of Cities. That translates to one in six adults in this age group." Source: Librarian Activist.

Booklists: Young Adult Speculative Fiction (Fantasy and Science Fiction) from Library Booklists. See more YA Fiction Booklists and Children's Fiction Booklists. Note: of use for building collections, studying craft, and identifying something to read.

Body Image Month with Author Melissa Walker at readergirlz. Note: "Melissa Walker will be chatting live at the readergirlz forum" at 6 p.m. PST/9 PM EST Aug. 28." Read a Cynsations interviews with the readergirlz divas and with the newest diva, Mitali Perkins.

Check out YA author John Green on the audio taping of his upcoming novel, Paper Towns.



After the end of the world: a bibliography of post-apocalypse-themed titles from YA author Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches.

Reader Questions about Writing, etc. from Words on Words by debut YA author Maggie Stiefvater. Note: questions about craft, business, and Maggie, future Queen of American and debut author of Lament: the Faerie Queen's Deception (Flux, 2008). Peek: "I really like www.agentquery.com. It lets you find agents that represent your genre, take e-subs, and are members of AAR."

A Lovely Land's Tragic Past: Ottawa author [Julia Durango] digs into historic record to pen children's novel by Melissa Garzanelli at The Times [Ottawa, Illinios]. Peek: "All of the setting locations are real, from the Jesuit Mission to the Leper Colony to the Inquisitor's Office, and most of the characters are based on real people from that time period. I took the most artistic license with my main character, Calepino. All we know about him from the archives is that he was an African translator who spoke 11 languages." Learn more about the book.

Question of the Week Thursday: Robin Wasserman from YA author Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks Robin: "Can you tell us about your road to publication?"

Making Stuff Up For a Living: YA author Saundra Mitchell's official website. Includes 5 Minute Interviews with established and debut authors, soundtracks, behind-the-pages secrets, links, and information about her Emerging Screenwriters program for young screenwriters. Saundra's books include Shadowed Summer (Delacorte, 2009)(book trailer below). See 5 Minute Interviews with: Sarah Prineas, Tiffany Trent, Rachel Vincent.



How Do I Find an Editor's Name for Submission? from Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes. Peek: "You mention that is important to list the name of the submissions editor; however, I am finding this piece of information extremely hard to find." Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Agent Advice: Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary from The Guide to Literary Agent's Editor's Blog. Peek: "I would love to do some children's, YA, or middle-grade books about the Middle East. Multicultural books are appearing about a variety of ethnicities, but I'm not seeing them about Middle Easterners as much as I'd hoped." Source: Alice's CWIM Blog. Alice notes, "Ghahremani is interested in children's, YA, or middle-grade books about the Middle East, as well as graphic novels."

Interview: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes by Little Willow at Bildungsroman. Peek: "Writing to me is a form of discovery; I uncover the plot and the characters as I go along. Naturally, this often results in a very messy first draft, since I sometimes don't know where I'm going until half-way in, but that's what editing is for. I write to find out the story. Once I have a completed draft, then I outline."

"I Want a Divorce" from Allison Winn Scotch at Ask Allison. Peek: "I am a divorcee. This will come as news, however, to my husband. No, really, I have divorced an agent, and like many divorcees (both from their agents and their spouses), I am so much the better for it. So I do speak from experience here."

The Role of Dialogue and Narrative by children's author Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "Dialogue should not be used to replace action. Many newer writers have all action take place "off stage" and we only know about it because a character thinks about it or talks about it. Imagine if a movie did that."

YA authors Mary E. Pearson (The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Henry Holt, 2008)(author interview)) and Nancy Werlin (Impossible (author interview)) talk to each other about their new books. Source: Ed Spicer at Ed Spicer's Teen Book Reviews. See more of his author videos.





Upcoming Events

Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art: "An exhibition of the best American picture-book art of the last decade, 'Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art,' makes its West Coast debut" from
July 1 to Sept. 14 at the Central Library's Getty Gallery (630 W. Fifth St.) in Los Angeles.

"The primary focus of ArmadilloCon is literary science fiction, but that's not all we do -- we also pay attention to art, animation, science, media, and gaming. Every year, dozens of professional writers, artists and editors attend the convention. We invite you to attend the convention especially if you are a fan of reading, writing, meeting, sighting, feeding, knighting, and all the other things folks do at a sci-f/fantasy convention." You can find me at:

"Vampire Friends": a panel Aug. 16 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Phoenix North. Description: "The vampire mythos seems to resonate with something deep in human nature--sexuality, for one thing. Why is it so powerful, and how can the sub-genre stay fresh?"

"Challenges of Writing Genre for Younger Readers": panel Aug. 17 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Description: "How does writing for young adults differ from writing for adult readers? Our panelists discuss whether it's harder, easier, or pretty much the same, but with a different label." Note: I'll be signing books that same day from noon to 1 p.m. in the Dealer's Room.

"Five Things To Consider When Plotting a Novel" with Helen Hemphill from Austin SCBWI on Aug. 16 at Barnes and Noble Westlake. 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! Note: see you there!

The Texas Book Festival: An Unfolding Narrative: Interested in Participating?: how to submit a book for consideration by the Texas Book Festival. Peek: "The Texas Book Festival typically presents between 175-180 authors, some from Texas and some from the United States and abroad. The Festival's Author Selection Committee routinely selects authors who are published in the year the Festival takes place, but books published 18 months prior to the start of the Festival are eligible."

More Giveaways

Shooting Stars Mag offers Tantalize giveaway contest! Deadline: Aug. 1 at midnight EST! See also Genre of July -- Vampires at Genre of the Month. Note: hurry! Last day to enter!

Attention: members of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace! I'm giving away a copy of Zombie Blondes by Brian James (Feiwel and Friends, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Brian. All members of the group are eligible to win. Bonus points will go to those who make a comment on the forum by midnight today!

The winners of the Cynsations grand prize giveaways for July--two signed copies of Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2008)--were Lenore in Kansas and Aimee, a teacher in Texas.

The winner of the autographed copy of A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg (Delacorte, 2008) is Elaine in Alberta, Canada.
Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

The winners of the two signed copies of
The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley (Greenwillow, 2007) were Becky at the Orange City Public Library in Iowa and Kate in Maine.

More Personally

Thanks to all who joined me at Wednesday night's ALAN chat and/or blogged about it! Most appreciated! Couldn't make the chat? Log-in troubles? Read the transcript! Thanks again to David, ALAN, and all who participated!

Thanks to Jama Rattigan and Cornelius at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup for their report from the Virginia Barnes and Noble! It was a treat to see Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and many of my favorite titles on the shelves.

It's come to my attention that one of the world's great women (Carrie Jones) wrote "'Xanadu' is one of the WORST musicals ever. Seriously." As someone who has cured many a writer's block dancing in the dark to the "Xanadu" soundtrack, I respectfully disagree. I'm telling you: dancing, darkness, "Xanadu." Works every time. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

As long as I'm spilling secrets: if a cat sits on a manuscript of its own free will, the book will sell. Note: this is not why I have four cats.

Even More Personally

Welcome to my newborn niece, Olivia, and congratulations to her proud parents, Jamilya and Keith! Olivia is the daughter of my brother-in-law and his wife. I'm honored to be her auntie.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Author Interview: Varian Johnson on My Life as a Rhombus

Varian Johnson on Varian Johnson: "I was born in the thriving metropolis of Florence, South Carolina; in the late seventies. I had always enjoyed writing, but I gravitated toward math and science in middle and high school.

"While pursuing a B.S. in Civil Engineering at the University of Oklahoma, I started writing novels in my free time—not that I had much free time.

"The first novel I ever completed sits safely in a file cabinet in my home office. The second full novel I completed, A Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press), was published in 2005.

"A few months after I sold my second novel, My Life as a Rhombus (Flux/Llewellyn, 2008), I decided to go back to school to get my MFA in Creating Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

"So now I write books and design bridges and give workshops and write articles and go to school…and every once in a while I get around to seeing my wife and mowing my lawn."

Read Varian's blog, and visit him at MySpace!

What kind of young reader were you?

I was a voracious reader. Library visits were a big deal in my house--my brother and I would routinely fight over who would get to read certain books first. I remember being a big fan of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse, 2003).

However, I found that the books that really resonated with me were Judy Blume's novels, especially Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (Yearling, 1986) and Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (Yearling, 1986).

As I grew older, I actively sought out books featuring African-American teens. Two novels that I fondly remember are Virginia Hamilton's Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (Amistad, 1983) and Walter Dean Myers's Motown and Didi (Laurel Leaf, 1987).

What led to your decision to become a writer?

Well, I had always enjoyed writing, but it wasn't until college that I really tried to write something for publication.

I had been a big fan of YA literature, but my work tended to waffle between YA and adult.

Then I read Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 1999)(author interview), and I knew that YA was where I belonged. I wouldn't be a YA author today if I hadn't read that novel.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

Everything seems so immediate and fresh and awe-inspiring when you're a teenager. The teen years are when most people are figuring out who and what they're destined to be. It's an age where the simplest things can cause the most spectacular results.

I love trying to capture those key things that define who we are. Looking back at my own teen years, I clearly remember certain people and events that had profound effects on who I am today. The teen years really are a time of wonder and enlightenment.

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

Sprints—no. Stumbles—yeah, a bunch. When I first tried to write, I didn't know nearly enough about the craft or the industry, and what little research I did on becoming a writer was based mainly on adult publishing.

I tried writing mysteries, literary fiction, and science fiction for about two years before I finally found my voice in contemporary teen fiction.

Even then, my work teetered on the edge of YA and adult, mainly because at the time I had no idea what I was doing.

After I graduated from college, I moved to Dallas, and got involved with a few local writing groups. More importantly, I joined SCBWI and attended my first local and national conferences.

I worked on A Red Polka Dot for a few more years, and finally the manuscript landed me an agent. We sold the novel in 2002, but due to lags in the publication schedule, the novel wasn’t released until November 2005.

I was happy with the novel, but in my heart, I knew that I didn't belong in the adult publishing industry. So after careful consideration, I cut my ties with my agent and publisher, and went about writing a true YA novel.

In Feb 2006, I landed my current agent, Sara Crowe (agent interview), and a few months later, she sold My Life as a Rhombus to Flux, Llewellyn's new teen imprint. [Read a Cynsations interview with Flux editor Andrew Karre.]

Congratulations on the publication of My Life As a Rhombus (Flux, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

When people ask me about the novel, I like to say that the novel is about friendship and forgiveness, but plot-wise, it's about math tutor Rhonda Lee, and how through her friendship with Sarah and David Gamble, she slowly comes to terms with the abortion that her father encouraged her to have three years ago.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Well, the novel was inspired by a lot of events, but the main premise of the novel was inspired by a friend that was mulling over the decision of whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. I wanted to be the best friend for her that I could, which meant I sometimes gave advice when it wasn't warranted. Finally, she told me that there were just some problems that I couldn’t fix—this was her decision, and she would be the one that lived with the decision, not me. She reminded me that sometimes the best thing a friend could do was to just listen, which is exactly what I forced myself to do after that point.

A few months later, I found myself thinking about my friend's situation, and I started to wonder what would have happened if she were younger, and if someone had forced that decision on her. After a few weeks of loose plotting and daydreaming, I had the nuts and bolts of the novel that would become My Life as a Rhombus.

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

Let's see…I started the novel sometime in the summer of 2003. I had a great critique with Allyn Johnston (then with Harcourt, now with Simon & Schuster) at the 2003 SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. Based on her notes, I decided to re-write the entire novel.

I got married in November 2003, and the day after I got back from my honeymoon, I started on a fresh manuscript. I had numerous obligations that delayed my work on the novel—I took four months off to prepare for my state licensing exam in civil engineering, then I took another few months off to prepare for the Fall 2005 release of my first novel. I'd say that I finally completed a serviceable manuscript in November 2005.

I was really worried about getting the voice right, so in December 2005, I hired writing coach Esther Hershenhorn (author interview) to critique and edit the manuscript. In addition to making a lot of good suggestions, especially concerning plot issues and the incorporation of the "rhombus" theme in the manuscript, she gave me confidence and a much-needed shot in the arm.

I finished editing the manuscript and started sending it out, and within six months, I had a new agent and a sale.

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

For a long time, I struggled with whether or not I should tell this story. Finally, I decided that if I was going to do it, I was going to be as accurate as possible. I conducted phone interviews with women's clinics, consulted state laws concerning abortion rights, and read as much as I could on both pro and anti-abortion positions. Sometimes I still worry if I got everything right, but so far, reaction to the novel has been pretty positive.

Your previous novel, A Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press/Black Coral, 2005) was published for adults. Could you tell us about it?

A Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid is a coming-of-age story about a girl that finds out her father is alive, after believing that he was dead for most of her life. She rushes cross-country from her home in South Carolina to Oklahoma, where she finds a man that is nothing like she expected. However, she decides to stay in order to get to know him, and in the process, she learns a lot about herself and her view of the world.

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

I would tell myself to calm down and to enjoy the ride. I would also encourage myself to really study the craft of writing. Lastly, I would encourage myself to surround myself with other writers that really understood writing for children and young adults.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I work at an engineering firm where I design bridges and other transportation-related structures. If you live in Dallas or Austin, you've probably driven over one of the bridges that I designed.

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

I don't.

Seriously, I've yet to find a good balance between writing and everything else. When I'm really passionate about a novel in progress, I tend to ignore everything else about the business. When I'm stuck on a novel, I throw myself into promotion.

So far, it seems to have worked out pretty well, but my goal for this year is to have a more organized plan—or rather, a plan in general—for juggling all of my writer responsibilities.

What can your readers look forward to next?

Stephanie Lane at Delacorte just acquired my latest novel. It's tentatively called The Path of the Righteous, and it's a coming of age story about a preacher's kid set in South Carolina. And this time, the main character is a boy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Interviews: Cynthia Leitich Smith; Join Me at the ALAN Chat Tonight

Please join me in chatting live about Tantalize at The ALAN Book Chat tonight--July 30th at 9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Central.

I'll cross fingers and fangs that I "see" you there! Note: You do not have to be a member of ALAN to join the online Book Chat.

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Jaden Nation at the underground[unrest]. Peek: "I try to pick music that suits the book I'm writing. Tantalize [Candlewick, 2007 2008] was written to a lot of Eartha Kitt, a lot of Willie Nelson, Los Lonely Boys, and the soundtrack to 'Frances Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula.' Eternal [Candlewick, March 2009] was written to, again, the 'Dracula' soundtrack as well as to Johnny Cash, a bit of swing, and the soundtrack for 'The Blues Brothers.'"

Cynthia Leitich Smith on Writing Horror/Fantasy: a Poised at the Edge Author Interview by Melissa from Hello Ma'am. Peek: "
What new voices in horror would you recommend to your readers?" Find out which of the many spectacular speculative fiction authors I highlight, (sorry I couldn't list them all!) and check out my tip for writing horror.

Cynsational Notes

Shooting Stars Mag offers Tantalize giveaway contest! Deadline: Aug. 1 at midnight EST! See also Genre of July -- Vampires at Genre of the Month.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Author Interview: Monica Roe on Thaw

"Monica Roe works as a traveling physical therapist. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, she now works here and there around the country.

"She spent last winter in the northwoods of Wisconsin, learning to build wooden furniture and being educated about the finer points of Packers football.

"Last month, she moved to Nome, Alaska, where she just saw the finish of the Iditarod dogsled race. She currently kills and eats one king crab every week and tries to stay warm while she waits for the halibut fishing to get good...."

How would you describe yourself as a teenager?

I was an observer. I spent a lot of time watching the interactions between people around me and wondering about what motivated them. I always chose the company of a few good friends over a lot of casual acquaintances.

I had the good fortune to grow up in a beautiful, rural part of New York state, and the outdoors was always right in my backyard. As a teenager, it wasn't uncommon for me to take a book and a blanket out to our field and spend an afternoon reading on top of a hay bale.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? What helped you the most? What might you do differently, given the opportunity?

Well, I started scribbling stories almost as soon as I learned how to write, though I wouldn't exactly describe my early efforts as good! Several middle- and high-school English teachers encouraged me to pursue writing further. I was a biology/pre-med major as an undergraduate, with a dual minor in chemistry and English writing.

Looking back, I'm really glad to have had the chance to pursue coursework in both science and the arts, because I think it made me more well-rounded, both as a person and as an author.

Also, the years of science coursework (seven so far, and I'm still not quite finished) have given me a pretty strong work ethic that I've found very helpful as a writer, especially when I'm stuck in the middle of a manuscript and it feels as though there's no end in sight.

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

I started submitting short stories to children's and young adult magazines in college and collected a pretty impressive stack of rejection letters. Now I wish I'd saved them all so I could show them to people who tell me that they'd like to write but are afraid of rejection! I think I sold my first short story when I was about 24, then a few more in the three years after that.

I was very, very, lucky when it came to getting Thaw published. It ended up being bought by the first house I submitted to, which was absolutely fantastic.

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Thaw (Front Street, 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

Sure. The book centers around a character who believes in natural selection over interdependence, self-reliance over human interaction. He's never had to deal with imperfection in himself, so he has very little tolerance for it in others, which is apparent in his method of dealing with the people in his life, particularly the ones who care about him.

Of course, he ends up forced into a situation where he loses control over most areas of his life and, therefore, has to rethink his isolationist views regarding himself, others, and the world around him.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

As a physical therapist, I often work with people who are trying to rebuild themselves. Usually that means physically, but how we define ourselves as people is often very much tied together with our physical abilities.

I was interested in writing about a character who would have very little tolerance for sub-optimal performance--particularly from himself--and how that would affect how well he would do in a rehabilitation setting.

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

The initial idea for the book occurred to me early in 2004, during my last clinical rotation of PT school. I spent about two months just outlining, then maybe a year writing the initial draft.

After that I think I took around six months to revise (that's actually my favorite part of the whole process--I can't stand first drafts!).

Front Street bought the manuscript in the summer of 2006, which started another round of revisions between myself and my editor.

Without giving too much away, how did you frame the psychology of your main characters? Do you do a lot of pre-writing?

When I created Dane (my main character), I wanted to form a character who was initially not at all user-friendly. I believe that an early reader referred to him as an "anti-hero," which is about right. He's one of those individuals who is smart and skilled at almost anything he tries, but he's lacking a certain humanity, especially in terms of empathy for other people (or for himself, for that matter). Yet he's very dynamic and draws people to him, even though he doesn't really treat them very well.

I chose to write a character like Dane because I'm interested in people who shy away from close human relationships--interested in what motivates them to choose absolute self-reliance over friendships. Is the choice a matter of conscious preference, or are they driven by other factors beyond their control? And do their choices make them happy, or merely keep them safe? Those were some of the questions I explored with Dane.

Yes, I prewrite. A lot.

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?

Definitely a plotter. I do a huge amount of outlining before I try to write any prose. I learned this one the hard way--I once ended up scrapping almost 150 pages of a novel I'd spent a year working on (ouch!) because I'd tried to just jump in and start writing without doing any outlining beforehand. I know that some very successful writers are able to plunge right in and I admire them for that, but I, unfortunately, don't seem to have that talent. Too left-brained, I suppose.

It also seems to work better for me if I spend a lot of time mulling over characters in my head before starting to write about them. If I try to get them down on paper too quickly, their voices don't really feel distinct or authentic to me.

It seems that a common challenge among writers is fighting their instinct to protect your characters. After all, the bigger the obstacle, the stronger the conflict and, often, the protagonist's growth. Did you ever have to push yourself to push the characters? How did you deal with these dynamics? Or were they an issue at all?

My protagonist wasn't exactly the most likable character at the outset of the story. In this case, therefore, my biggest challenge was trying to make him sufficiently engaging for an audience to even care enough to stick with him through the book, even if they thought he was a jerk.

That said, it was actually a lot of fun to try and develop Dane into a character capable of personal growth, and to change him (believably) enough to elicit empathy from an audience.

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

When I was younger, I worried that I wouldn't be able to be a writer since I'd chosen not to major in English. Looking back, I'd tell myself to relax and just write about the things I know and love.

What advice do you have for YA novelists?

Find at least one writing friend to partner with. Even if you don't write the same type of things, you can help keep each other motivated, offer an outside pair of eyes, and get each other through the times when you're blocked or frustrated (if you're anything like me, you will have those times in abundance).

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?

My most solid writing partner is my friend Tessa. She and I don't write in the same genre, but we trade manuscripts back and forth and critique one another pretty regularly.

The greatest thing about working with one of your best friends is that you can expect (and give) brutal honesty and nobody's feelings are hurt. I know that the criticism she offers will only make my work better, and vice versa.

I also have a wonderful teacher who's been immeasurably helpful to me as a writer, and I bounce a lot of things off her when I'm in the middle of a project.

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

I travel a lot for my job, so I always enjoy seeing new places. I do make it a point to get back to New York every few months to spend some time with my wonderful family. Visiting my closest friends is also very important to me--they're spread out across the country (the world, in some cases), but I try to see all of them at least every year or so.

Outdoors, I love to canoe, fish, hike, camp, snowshoe, and cross-country ski. I've also gotten pretty good at growing portable vegetable gardens (tomatoes in pots, peas in hanging baskets--that sort of thing). I live at at least part of each year in Alaska, which is an absolute playground for the types of outdoor things that I love to do.

Indoors, I enjoy woodworking, cooking, and lounging in front of the fireplace with a good book or movie.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on a novel that revisits a few characters from Thaw a couple of years down the road. I wouldn't exactly call it a sequel, but I think it'll address a few ends that were left hanging at the end of the first book.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Green Earth Book Award: 2009 Call for Entries, 2008 Winners

Nominations are now being accepted for the Newton Marasco Foundation's 2009 Green Earth Book Award!

NMF created the Green Earth Book Award in conjunction with Salisbury University to promote books that inspire children to grow a deeper appreciation, respect, and responsibility for their natural environment.

This is an annual award started in 2005 for books that best raise awareness of the beauty of our natural world and the responsibility that we have to protect it. In 2009, the Green Earth Book Award will be awarded in four categories:

Picture Book: for books for children from pre-school to age 8 where the pictures and illustrations are as important as the text

Children's Fiction: encompasses novels for young readers up to age 12

Young Adult Fiction: includes books for readers from age 13 to 21

Nonfiction: includes books for readers from infancy to age 21

See eligibility requirements, award criteria, nomination instructions, and schedule here.

Cynsational Notes

The 2008 winners were:

in the children's fiction category: Winston of Churchill: One Bear's Battle Against Global Warming by Jean Davies Okimoto, illustrated by Jeremiah Trammell (Sasquatch Books);

in the young adult fiction category: The Light-Bearer's Daughter by O. R. Melling (Abrams);

in the non-fiction category: The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon (Scholastic).

The honor books were: Adventures of Riley: Polar Bear Puzzle by Amanda Lumry and Laura Hurwitz (Eaglemont Press); An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming by Al Gore, adapted by Jane O'Connor (Viking); On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole (Greenwillow); Secrets of the Sirens by Julia Golding (Marshall Cavendish); and The Sorta Sisters by Adrian Fogelin (Peachtree).
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