Friday, August 29, 2008

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of three ARCs of The Devouring: Sorry Night by Simon Holt (Little Brown, Sept. 2008). From the promotional copy:

"When dark creeps in and eats the light,

"Bury yours fears on Sorry Night.

"For in the winter's blackest hours,

"Comes the feasting of the Vours.

"No one will see it, the life they stole,

"Your body's here but not your soul..."


"15-year-old Reggie doesn't know who penned the mysterious journal about the Vours, wicked creatures that inhabit children's bodies on Sorry Night, the darkness of the winter solstice. Once inside a human, the Vour assumes the victim's personality, banishing their soul to a dark netherworld called a fearscape. Frightening, but thought to be only the musings of an anonymous lunatic... until a midnight game awakens an ancient evil.

"After playing with the journal's incantations on Sorry Night, Reggie and her best friend Aaron discover the story of the Vours is all too real. When a demonic force consumes Reggie's little brother, Henry, she must race to save him. Slowly, she uncovers the truth: Vours have existed since the dawn of mankind, feeding on humanity's fright. Reggie acquires the ability to enter victims' fearscapes, psychic prisons sculpted from pure terror. Once inside, she must empower victims to conquer their fear and destroy the Vours that have enslaved them.

"Together with a small band of believers, Reggie wages war against an enemy she cannot touch or reason with, creatures powerful enough to enslave human bodies and steal souls without detection. The Vours gorge themselves on human fear—feeding their guile, their cruelty, and their power. A cataclysm called 'The Devouring' approaches, and only Reggie Halloway can stop it."

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 Sept. 8!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 8! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

One ARC will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), one will go to any Cynsational reader, and one will go to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please indicate status. Please also type "Devouring" in the subject line.

Last Chance

Enter to win Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella, 2008), now available at Borders and Waldenbooks! Note: there's some delay in adding it to the Borders website, so try to find a "brick-and-mortar" store.

This vampire-themed YA anthology includes short stories by P. C., L. J. Smith, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kristin Cast, Rachel Caine (author interview), Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, Richelle Mead, and Claudia Gray.

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!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 30! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

I'm giving away three copies, each autographed by contributor Cynthia Leitich Smith (that's me, obviously)! One copy will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), one will go to any Cynsational reader, and one will go to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please indicate status. Please also type "Immortal" in the subject line.

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!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 30! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

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.

Winners of The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (HarperCollins, 2008)(author interview) were Kearsten of the Glendale Public Library in Arizona and Royal in California.

This Weekend

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

In a starred review for KLIATT, Clare Rosser says: "
She writes with wit, intelligence, and compassion for her characters. This is a story about guys, primarily...brothers; fathers and sons; lonely young men who are feeling somewhat lost. Lurie does a wonderful job of making them real."

See also April's report on the Teen Slumber Fest at the Austin Public Library and speaking to kids at Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center through the Second Chance Books Project. And, while you're at it, read a Cynsations interview with Brazos Price on Second Chance Books.

More News & Links

10 Things I Hate About Your Web Portfolio from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "If you can do people, show me that. If you can't--if your proportions are always a bit off and you can't get a 3/4 profile right and you can't figure out why your children just look like short adults, then for the love of mike, don't do people."

We're warming up for the 2008 contest... from The Cybils 2008. Peek: "We open nominations to the public on Oct. 1 at cybils.com. Anyone 13 or older--authors and publishers included--may nominate a book in one of our eight genres." Don't miss the Call for Judges! Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly Herold and Anne Boles Levy on The Cybils.

Featuring Maggie Stiefvater from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "Lament (Flux, October 2008), as Maggie puts it at her art blog, is about a musically talented high school girl who falls for an enigmatic boy who seems to know a lot about her. And, adds Maggie, it 'sucks that he's a fairy assassin.' There is more information about the book here."

Talking Picture Books with Marla Frazee from Linda Urban at Crooked Perfect. Part two, part three, part four. part five. Peek: "I use the word 'form' because it is my job as the illustrator to envision the book as a physical object. What size will it be? What shape? Is it going to be oversized or small? Is it horizontal, vertical, or square? Will it work in 32 pages? Or should it be longer? Or shorter? Will the illustrations jauntily hop around in the midst of lots of white space or will they stretch across double-pages all the way to the edge of the paper? Or both? Will there be a formality to the book? Or is it more freewheeling?" Read a Cynsations interview with Marla.

Picture Book Topics to Avoid from Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes. Peek: "It's not that these topics are taboo. Instead, they are so common that you must really rise above the competition to be accepted." See also, The Illustrator Doesn't Tell YOU What To Do. Peek: "What if you hate the art?" Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Ready for School Visits by author-illustrator Don Tate from Devas T. Rants and Raves. Peek: "I adjusted my pricing down a bit. I'm charging $600 for a full day (three presentations). Four hundred for a half day (two presentations). And all that is negotiable." Read a Cynsations interview with Don. Learn more about school visits.

Interview with Editor Meghan Nolan from Lobster Press. Peek: "In this interview, Nolan shares her thoughts on writing children's books and the kind of manuscripts and characters that excite her. Authors interested in submitting manuscripts to Lobster Press can find more information on the Lobster website."

Exclusives and Literary Agents from Nathan Bransford--Literary Agent. Peek: "I'm going to break down my thoughts on exclusives based on the different stages when they might arise and give you some dos and don'ts along the way..." See also Unagented Revisions. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Querying an Agency, Not Just an Agent from Bookends LCC. Peek: "...it continues to amaze me how many of you will query all three of us at once or query us one at a time as the rejections come in."

Skill Set by Sarah Prineas and Kid Writing Thoughts by Janni Lee Simmer both take on the question of how, in terms of ability, writers for young readers are different from writers for adults.

Books after Ink Exchange from Melissa Marr. Here's the full (and exciting scoop). I especially cheer the spoiler observations that follow. Peek: "The individual resolution for Leslie wasn't an authorial ploy to tease out a different romantic resolution. " Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

Guest Blogger Kerry Madden at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "The Care Bears were in town. (I think that’s why the Wolf Man didn't show. He knew better. Don't ever try to compete with the Care Bears.)" Don't miss part two! Read a Cynsations interview with Kerry.

10 Tips for Querying an Agent by Chuck Sambuchino from Writer's Digest. Peek: "If you have an automatic spam filter, turn it off. If you're lucky enough to garner a reply from an agent interested in your work, the last thing they want to deal with is a spam filter requiring them to prove their existence."

What Your Posse Says About You from Bookends LCC - A Literary Agency. Peek: "These authors find each other because of their drive and stick together because they constantly push and support one another. They don't get into petty fights or go into jealous rages when one succeeds and the others don't. Instead they see that as another step for them all to reach for and they see the success of one as the success of all."

Big Yellow Sunflower and Trip to Mexico from Esme Raji Codell at The PlanetEsme Plan. Note: Esme highlights more great books and shares great photos and news from her trip to San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico, where she visited with author Dianna Hutts Aston. Peek: "Dianna was living in the boonies, but even in her remote surroundings she had managed to surround herself with many brilliant, kind, capable and dynamic bilingual people who shared her enthusiasm for hot-air ballooning." Learn more about Dianna's Oz Project, and read Cynsations interviews with Esme and Dianna. Note: Dianna's upcoming releases include The Moon Over Star, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Dial, Oct. 2008).

How to Write a Picture Book Biography from Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes. Peek: "...there are successful picture book biographies and they usually focus on the narrative arc and/or the emotional core of the person." Note: looking for examples? See Anne Bustard's Anneographies: Picture Book Biographies and a few Collected Biographies, Too, Birthday by Birthday. Read Cynsations interviews with Darcy and Anne.

How the Writer Works in the Summertime by Maryrose Wood at Fresh Fiction. Peek: "Does it require superhuman levels of energy and concentration? The ability to multitask? A bottomless well of inspiration? No, my friends. Those are all icing on the cupcake. The key to poolside writing success is having the right equipment."

"This Semester You Can Expect": an original poem by author Liz Garton Scanlon. Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

To Blog or Not To Blog? Robin Friedman asks Dianne Ochiltree, and Dianne in turn interviews Cynthia Leitich Smith (that's me!), Debbi Michiko Florence, Lisa Yee, Bill Barnes, and Rebecca Grose of SoCal Public Relations. Peek from my answer: "The content quality of many blogs is as high as you'll find anywhere in the industry, and by the very nature of the Web, there are fewer barriers to diversity of point of view." Read Cynsations interviews with Robin, Dianne, Debbi, Lisa, and Rebecca.

Coming Soon

"Connections & Craft: Writing for Children and Young Adults:" hosted by Brazos Valley (Texas) SCBWI Nov. 15 at A & M United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas. "Editor Joy Neaves, agent Emily Van Beek, and author Cynthia Leitich Smith comprise our faculty for this day-long event. Published BV-SCBWI authors will also conduct a hands-on Writers' Workshop." Download the brochure. Read a Cynsations interview with Emily.

The first annual Hill Country Book Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Georgetown Public Library (Georgetown, Texas).

The children's activities will include author and illustrator visits; live music; face painting; crafts (puppets and collages). Free popcorn and snow cones will be available, as will hot dogs for $1.

Participating authors/illustrators include Liz Garton Scanlon, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Don Tate, P. J. Hoover, and Deborah Frontiera. The Biscuit Brothers also will be performing! See schedule.

More Personally

For me this week has been one of productivity and local writers!

I've reviewed and sent back copyedits on my forthcoming short story, "Cat Calls," which will appear in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, July 2009)(author interview).

I've signed and returned a foreign rights contract on Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008). More on that soon!

I enjoyed lunch at Suzi's China Grill and Sushi Bar with Blooming Tree publisher Miriam Hees (publisher interview), a performance at the Hyde Park Theater by author Lindsey Lane (author interview), and I'm off tomorrow to the Barnes & Noble Round Rock for YA author April Lurie's signing (author interview)(see event details above).

I've also read through and made notes on manuscripts for Austin SCBWI's Day With an Editor, which I co-leading with author-editor Jill Santopolo (author-editor interview) on Sept. 13.

On the book front, I'm honored to report that Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) is the recipient of the Dishchii'Bikoh High School Reader Award. DHS is on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona. See also a reading group guide for Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

Author Daria Snadowsky writes to report that Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) was included in this Houston ISD summer reading list! Read a Cynsations interview with Daria.

I'll also be appearing twice to discuss Tantalize and related forthcoming books in October on the Eye4You Alliance Island at Second Life. From School Library Journal: "There will be two appearances, the first on the main grid of Second Life (for those 18 and over) on October 14, and again on October 28 on the teen grid of Teen Second." See more information.

Reminder

Join debut author Kimberly Pauley from now to Sept. 10 at the The Official Sucks to Be Me Book Launch Par-tay! Note: it's so gracious (and typical) of Kimberly to be highlighting other authors as she launches her own debut title! There are tons of amazing giveaways!

Speaking of which, don't miss our question-and-answer interviews with each other and her giveaways of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) as well as a Sanguini's T-shirt!

Then jump to her features on Marlene Perez, Lauren Myracle, and Tanya Lee Stone, and enter to win those giveaways, too!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Author Interview: Elizabeth Scott on Stealing Heaven

Elizabeth Scott on Elizabeth Scott: "I grew up in a very rural area of Southern Virginia. My parents were both high school teachers, and yes, I had them both as teachers when I was in high school. And no, it wasn't traumatic--I knew I was going to have them as teachers from the time I was very young, so I just took it as a given. I feel terrible when people say, 'Oh, you must have stories!' and all I have is that my mother moved me for talking the first week of classes.

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

I had no idea I wanted to write until I was twenty-seven and wrote a short story at work one day because I had nothing to do and was bored out of my mind. I still remember being surprised by how much fun writing was.

I was lucky enough to meet a group of people who read some of my earliest work and didn't laugh--in fact, they encouraged me to write more!

Five years later, after a lot of nudging from my friends, I sent out a few short stories and they got published. By then, I'd also started writing my first three young adult novels, and after they were done, I--well, I did precisely nothing for months. But then I stumbled across an agent blog, and the agent was talking about email queries and I thought "Hey, why not?" I figured I'd get the rejection, tell my friends, "Look! I tried!" and that would be it.

The agent ended up signing me--which was an amazing surprise and quite a shock--and two months later, Stealing Heaven (HarperCollins, 2008) sold.

I've been very lucky, not just in my friends, but in how publication happened for me, and believe me, I know it -- I still can't quite believe it's all real!

Could you please update us on your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

Sure! Right now I have two other novels out.

Bloom (Simon Pulse), my first young adult novel, was published in April 2007 and was a Borders Original Voices pick and a YALSA popular paperback as well.

Earlier this year, in March, Perfect You (Simon Pulse) was released. It's a story that took me a long time to write, but I'm glad I stuck with it. It's about Kate, who is dealing with family problems, boy problems, and a best friend who is no longer speaking to her.

There are lots of stories out there about teen girls who have to deal with extraordinary problems, but when I wrote Perfect You, I wanted to write about problems we all face, the things we all have to deal with. Life--even for "regular" people--is never easy, never simple. It's complicated because we're all complicated.

Congratulations on the publication of Stealing Heaven (HarperCollins, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Stealing Heaven is about a girl named Danielle, who travels around the country with her mother, robbing houses. They focus on stealing antique silver. (For real!)

But when they travel to a small coastal town, Danielle starts to really question what she and her mother do, and tries to decide what kind of life she wants.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I got the idea for the story because I wanted to write a book about a mother-daughter thief team, and I wanted the daughter to not want to be a thief.

The only problem was, what could they steal? I didn't want them robbing banks or anything like that, and after reading an article about someone who'd tried to steal antique silver, I thought "huh." It was just such an unusual thing to steal, and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like it was the right thing for my two thieves to chase after.

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

A looong time! I wrote the book in 2004, sold it to HarperCollins in June 2005, and it was published at the end of May 2008.

As far as major events go, besides selling it and seeing it in stores (which=huge thrill!), I'd say the most major event came after I finished the first draft.

Originally, I had two subplots in the story that I thought were amazing. You can probably guess what happened. Early readers who were kind enough to look at that very first draft pointed out that my beloved subplots made no sense. At all!

I was sure that couldn't be, so I went back and looked at the story again.

You can guess what I saw--those beloved subplots? Terrible. And removing them made the book so much stronger.

I learned a lot about writing when I was working on Stealing Heaven, but the most important thing I learned was that more than anything else, I have to be true to the story.

Just because I want something in the story doesn't mean it should be there, and I have to trust the story--and let it be the way it wants to be.

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

Well, the subplot situation was definitely a challenge. Other than that, I think the major thing was revising. Stealing Heaven is actually the second young adult novel I ever wrote, and it's the novel where I learned that one revision isn't so not enough. (Not for me, anyway!)

So, can you personally break into a house and get away with the goods?

Ha! No, but I can tell you that there is a very popular and very cheap brand of locks out there that I will now never buy because they are pathetically easy for a burglar to get past.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

Everything. I love the intelligence and intensity of teen readers. I love how honest they are about what they like and what they don't in. There simply aren't better and more passionate readers out there.

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

Buy a grammar book and actually read it! Also, when you're writing something and there's a tiny voice inside you saying, "Nope, this isn't right for the story," listen to it.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Hang out with my husband and dog, read, watch television. Catch up on all the cleaning I swore I'd "get around to" when I was in the midst of whatever project frenzy I was just in.

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

It's hard, but for me, the best part of writing is the actual writing part of things, so I try to always set aside at least a little bit of time for that.

What can your fans look forward to next?

This September, my next book, Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse) will be released. It's very different from my other novels--more intense and much darker. It's about a girl called Alice who was kidnapped when she was ten and has spent the last five years living with her kidnapper.

And in 2009, I have two novels coming out--Something, Maybe (Simon Pulse) in March, and Love You Hate You Miss You (HaperCollins) in June.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Editor Interview: Judy O'Malley on Editors-at-Large

Judy O'Malley is an editor with 35 years of experience in educational and professional books and magazines, as well as trade books and magazines for children.

She was the editor of Book Links: Connecting Books, Libraries, and Classrooms, a publication of the American Library Association, and launched and edited ASK: Arts and Sciences for Kids, a nonfiction magazine for Cricket Magazines.

During eight years as a children's book editor, she has been an editorial director of children's books for Houghton Mifflin, an executive editor of Charlesbridge, and a senior editor for Cricket Books.

She has worked with such authors and illustrators as George Ancona, Eve Bunting, Peter Catalanotto, Olivier Dunrea, Nikki Grimes, Cristina Kessler, Stephen Krensky, Maxine Kumin, Ellen Kushner, Pat Mora, Anne Sibley O'Brien, Liz Rosenberg, Robert D. San Souci, Elaine Scott (author interview), Janet S. Wong (author interview), Jane Yolen (author interview), and Ed Young (author-illustrator interview).

Judy is now a freelance editor for publishers and a book doctor for writers and literary agents. She offers critiques and developmental editing, working with manuscripts in all genres and age groups—picture books, early readers, middle grade, and young adult; fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

As a result of Judy's broad editorial experience and extensive contact base, she can also provide assistance in targeting a writer's work to a particular sector of the publishing field.

Judy is a sought-after presenter for workshops, writers' retreats, and panels on writing and publishing for young people.

She has served on the boards of directors of the American Library Association’s Association of Library Services to Children, The Foundation for Children's Books, and the United States Board on Books for Young People (of which she is past-president).

Visit Judy O'Malley's official site, which includes additional information on her services, workshops, and more. Note: biography adapted with permission.

Could you tell us about the trend toward more editors-at-large in youth publishing?

Many senior editors have recently (and not-so-recently) been laid off, due to mergers of large publishers, changes in top-level management, and for many smaller publishers, the paring of staff salaries, which often starts at the upper levels of editorial staff.

The result is that there are many more experienced editors-at-large, working freelance on a project basis, as contract editors, or finding other new ways of doing their work without full-time jobs with a publisher.

What caused you to shift from a full-time, traditional editorial job to freelancing?

A serious illness in fall 2007 resulted in speech problems, the contracture of both of my hands, and the amputation of the tops of both of my feet.

The dedication of many doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and the amazingly generous and constant support of colleagues and friends in all segments of the children's book industry have made it feasible for me to be doing some very rewarding editorial work, though I am not now able to work full time for a publisher.

What are the pros of freelance editing?

Although my current situation of working entirely freelance and part-time is due to health changes and challenges, I had formerly been working a four-day week for Charlesbridge Publishing while working evenings, weekends, and "freelance Mondays" as a "book doctor"--helping writers develop their work before submission and assisting them in targeting appropriate agents, publishers, and editors who may be a good match for their particular styles, genres, and audiences.

I was also doing a good number of workshops and presentations for writers, illustrators, teachers, and librarians. I had always loved working with authors and illustrators, but increasingly, I found my freelance work the most rewarding and exhilarating of my two jobs, both of which seemed to claim my 24-7 attention.

Working independently meant I could focus directly on developing an author's manuscript. The job did not involve the daily meetings, scheduling, or committees that I had viewed as unavoidable throughout my thirty-five years as an editor for a wide range of nonprofit and for-profit publishers.

Like most editors, I changed jobs and publishers several-to-many times during my career. Most changes were my choice, as editors must often have to move outside of a publishing house to move up. Some changes were due to budget cuts, discontinued staff positions, or changes in command due to mergers. Always, though, it was difficult to leave friends and colleagues, as well as policies, procedures.

My new free-wheeling status means I'm looking forward, once again, to considering all publishing people my close colleagues, while respecting confidentiality about any projects on which I work with publishers. And maybe I'll even get back on the A-list for publishing parties.

Could you tell us about your editorial life today?

I am pleased to be doing some informal consulting with Charlesbridge Publishing on a long-term project for which I had formerly (and formally) been editor and project manager.

I have had conversations with other publishers with whom I hope to be doing editorial and acquisitions work.

I have also been working with authors, again on an informal basis, to review and suggest revisions on their works-in-progress.

I'm very much looking forward to expanding my work with writers, and getting back to traveling for presentations and workshops.

I will be attending NCTE 2008 in San Antonio, ALA Midwinter 2009 in Denver, IRA 2009 in Minneapolis, and ALA Annual 2009 in Chicago, all in an informal marketing capacity for Charlesbridge.

I hope these opportunities will lead to more assignments in these areas, allowing me to love both my work and my job because they are finally, literally, on the same page.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Official Sucks to Be Me Book Launch Par-tay!; Win Tantalize and Sanguini's T-shirt

Join debut author Kimberly Pauley from now to Sept. 10 at the The Official Sucks to Be Me Book Launch Par-tay!

Every day, Kimberly will feature a different author and associated giveaway. Return each day to enter for the new giveaway giveaway ("and to learn about some of the coolest authors around!"). You'll have a week to enter each daily contest. Those entries will also count for the "grand Poo-bah of Prize Packs." Really, it's impressive!

What else? Win a free author visit! Learn about the online party, featured authors, prize entries, and more!

Don't Miss

Book Launch Party!! Day One: Cynthia Leitich Smith: check out the interviews, and enter to win a copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and a Sanguini's T-shirt. Sanguini's is the fictional vampire-themed restaurant in Tantalize.

Kimberly asks me: "Tantalize is primarily a vampire book, but I love how you envisioned the were-people. Can you tell me a bit about how you came up with that?"

And I ask Kimberly: "In modern literary and film interpretations, the vampire arguably reigns as the sexiest of Gothic creatures. But if you had to pick a first runner-up between the other popular monsters—werewolves, ghosts, zombies, ghouls, faeries, etc.—which would you choose and why?"

See our answers, and learn how to win!

Author-Editor Interview: Jill Santopolo

Jill Santopolo is the author of The Nina, The Pinta, and The Vanishing Treasure (Book One: Alec Flint: Super Sleuth)(Orchard, 2008), an editor at Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, and a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She makes her home in New York City. Learn more about Jill.

What were you like as a young reader?

When I was a kid, I read everything, all the time. I have memories of stretching out along the top edge of the couch and balancing there for whole Saturdays, reading.

My favorites (I had a lot of them) were the Encyclopedia Brown series, the Bobbsey Twins series, the Boxcar Children series, the Nancy Drew books, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (Random House, 1964), Matilda by Roald Dahl (Viking, 1988), Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (HarperCollins, 1990) and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (HarperCollins, 1943).

I loved the worlds these books took me to, and I loved the things I learned when I read--like what dumbwaiters were, and that if you put lotion on your hands and then wore white cotton gloves to bed, your skin would get softer. I saw books as portals to other times and other places and adored reading because of that.

Why do you write for kids today?

I write for kids today because I know how much I loved reading as a kid and want to pay it forward, so to speak. I also think that reading is one of those things that, once you're hooked, is a love you can take with you your whole life.

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

What I love about young, fictional heroes is also what I love about the kids I meet when I do school visits--they are energetic and creative and can explore tons of different paths.

They're still shaping themselves and their future, and that exploration of the world is such a fun thing to write about.

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

My path to publication was a relatively uneventful one, as far as sprints and stumbles go. Since I work as an editor at HarperCollins, I knew some agents before I started writing.

I was lucky enough to get in touch with one of them, Jodi Reamer, who loved Alec Flint as much as I did, and after a bit of revising of the initial manuscript on my part--Alec started out as a 25-page story and grew substantially, thanks to Jodi--she found a fabulous editor at Scholastic, Lisa Sandell, who loved Alec Flint as much as both of us did.

The most exciting part about the whole process was that shortly after Jodi sent the manuscript out to editors, I went on a trip to Italy for my birthday. I found out that Scholastic made an offer from an Internet cafe in Rome a few days before my 25th birthday. It took a little more than two years from that day for Alec to make it into bookstores.

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

I wish I'd taken more writing classes in college. I took one writing class during the summer before I began college with a professor who said, "If you want to be a writer, the best thing to do is to read everything you can. It's only by knowing what has been done by the writers who came before you that you can write something that will make an impact."

And I took that professor at her word and majored in English literature in college--basically, I read my way through school. And I did find all of that reading very helpful as a writer.

But still, if I had it to do over again, I would've taken some writing classes, too. I think that's a bit part of why I decided to go back to school to get an MFA.

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

I'd have to say two things were most helpful to me: One is the friends I have in the children's publishing field who gave me notes on my stories and helped me to craft them in the just the right way, and the other is the MFA in writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. The community there is wonderful, and the faculty and students really informed my writing and helped me to grow and fine-tune my skills.

Congratulations on the publication of The Nina, The Pinta, and The Vanishing Treasure (Book One: Alec Flint: Super Sleuth)(Orchard, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the story?

Of course! The Nina, the Pinta and The Vanishing Treasure is about a fourth grade Super Sleuth-in-Training named Alec Flint whose father is an officer on the Laurel Hollows Police Force. One day, a whole exhibit on Christopher Columbus goes missing from the museum, and Alec's dad can't figure out what happened. Alec decides that he needs to solve the mystery--with the aid of his new best friend Gina Rossi--before something even worse happens.

What was your initial inspiration for writing these books?

As I mentioned earlier, I loved reading mysteries as a kid. I loved trying to solve them as I went along, I loved learning new facts, and I loved finding out what happened in the end.

So when I sat down to write a book for kids, I thought about the kid I was and what I would've loved reading if I were eight- or nine-years-old now.

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

Yikes, I don't even know. I guess...I first started thinking about Alec Flint as a character in the summer of 2004. So, spark to publication took four years.

Scholastic bought Alec in the spring of 2006, so deal to publication too a little over two years. It seemed so far away when I first heard the publication date, but the two years have gone by very quickly.

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

Well, there was definitely research on Christopher Columbus involved, and then choosing what information to include from the facts I'd learned. I also was having a trouble with the order the scenes, which a wonderful writer-friend helped me out with a lot.

The biggest challenge, really, was finding time to write. But this book was--and still is--very important to me, so I made writing a priority.

Although Christopher Columbus is by no means the focus of the story, he is mentioned and related to it. I was struck by your decision to clarify in the text that Columbus isn't seen as a hero by all and that you further underscored that in the author's note. Why did you think it was an important consideration?

One of the reasons Christopher Columbus has always interested me is the fact that he's a very important figure in American history, but that he did some very questionable things very publicly. I chose to include that information, because I think it's important for kids to be as informed as possible about history--and about everything, really--so they can make their own decisions--like Alec does--instead of believing something just because it's what an adult tells them to believe.

I also think it's important for kids to understand that people--even famous people--are far from perfect, and that one person's hero may be another person's villain.

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

I would tell myself to calm down and enjoy the ride.

What is it like being a debut author in 2008?

I've had a great time being a debut author! I've done some signings, visited some schools, gotten interviewed on some blogs, had some nice reviews--it's really been a blast.

I guess the biggest difference between being a debut author in 2008 and being a debut author in, say, 1988, is the Internet. It's still incredible to me how quickly and easily word can spread about anything on the Internet--including a children's book.

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

Well, I started a website that has information about me and my books on it. I also spread the word about being available to do author visits in schools and have gotten a great response to that. I've gone into a few schools already and talked to kids about writing and helped them write their own mysteries.

I also connected with a bunch of great bloggers (like you!) who write about children's literature, and I had a book launch party at Books of Wonder in New York City. I also started some pages on social networking sites, but I haven't been very good about updating all of them that often.

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

Because I still have a full-time job, and because I was also pursuing and MFA while I was working on the Alec Flint books, I've been able to train myself to write in short bursts pretty much anywhere. As long as I have my laptop and an outlet, I'm fine.

When I'm in full swing with a manuscript, I try to write a little bit every day--two pages is my goal--and that doesn't change if I'm speaking at conference or answering interview questions online or doing school visits. I make sure to remember that without the writing, there's no reason to do the rest of the stuff.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The next book in the Alec Flint series is coming out in Summer 2009--it's called The Ransom Note Blues: An Alec Flint Mystery.

In the book, something has gone missing from Alec and Gina's town, but no one knows exactly what it is. It's up to the two super sleuths-in-training to figure out what the missing something is before the villain makes good on the threat to "turn the town blue."

I've got some other Alec Flint ideas, and a few non-mystery manuscripts floating around half-finished on my computer, but I don't know if those will make the transformation from e-file to finished book anytime soon.

You have a double identity: Jill Santopolo, author, and Jill Santopolo, editor at Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins. How do your inner author and inner editor work together?

My inner author and my inner editor seem to be pretty good friends and help each other out a lot. Experiencing the process from both sides keeps both my inner author and my inner editor in check, I think. Though I do wish I could edit my own writing a bit better than I can.

What are the challenges of a dual identity?

The main challenge is finding time to write! But I've separated my life so that I edit in the office and write at home, which seems to be working out well for me.

The only issue is that it often means late nights in the office so I can get editing done before I head home to write.

What qualities do you look for in a manuscript? What sorts of books most intrigue your editorial eye?

I look for three main things when I'm scanning submissions. The first and most important is good, solid writing. The second is a really compelling character and voice. And the third is a story that's new, different, and surprising.

I'm a big fan of quirky middle grade novels and YA manuscripts with strong female protagonists. One of the things that I think the books I write and the books I edit have in common is a sense of empowerment. I love when readers can leave novels feeling stronger.

What do you see as the jobs of an editor in the publishing process?

I think the editor plays the role of Book Auntie. She's there to provide objectivity and to help guide the book (and the author) so that the novel can be the best version of itself.

Then after the writing process is done, the editor is there to make sure the novel is getting as much attention as possible by people inside and outside the publishing house.

What do you do outside the world of books?

So much of my life revolves around books, it's a little crazy.

Outside of writing and editing, I'm also teaching--one class is through Media Bistro on writing YA novels, and the other is a writing class for teens through Writopia Lab in New York City.

Completely non-writing-related, I play dodgeball on an organized dodgeball team, and once in a while I play kickball and touch football, too.

I learned recently that you can take trapeze lessons in downtown Manhattan, and think that might be a lot of fun. But I've got some more writing--and editing--to do before I look into that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Publisher Update: Miriam Hees of Blooming Tree Press

We last spoke in December 2005! Over the past few years, I'm hearing more and more exciting things about Blooming Tree Press (blog). What's new?

We have a lot of exciting things going on! First of all, we have added a couple of new imprints to our house. Below you will find the list of all five, but the new ones are Tire Swing Books, which is our new children's paperback imprint, and Sentinel Books, which is our new adult paperback imprint.

1. Blooming Tree Press (Children's - Adults)
2. CBAY Books (Our Edgier Children's Imprint)
3. Ready Blade (Our Graphic Novel Imprint)
4. Tire Swing Books (Our new Paperback Children's Imprint)
5. Sentinel Books (Our new Paperback Adult Imprint)

We also have some amazing new books on the horizon. As of the end of 2008, we should have 24 titles in print. We have that many and more contracted for the coming three years.

What have been the greatest publishing challenges you've faced over the last few years?

Just keeping up with the industry and all it demands! You know, the market changes constantly, and being able to forecast it is impossible. So, we are doing the best mind-reading we can.

While we can't always pick what topic is hot and which is not, we are trying our best with constant research.

The greatest victories?

Little Bunny Kung Fu by Regan Johnson was selected as the February 2008 "Original Voices" for Borders Books nationally. This was a huge victory for us, being that our book was chosen out of all the books published.

What changes/expansions have you seen when it comes to staff?

Staff constantly changes at a publishing company. Ours is no different. Right now with all of our imprints we have made a few changes, and I'll try and list some of the top ones here.

Madeline Smoot is now the Editorial Director of CBAY Books.

Anna Herrington is now the Editorial Director of Blooming Tree Children’s and Tire Swing Books.

Bradford Hees is now the Editorial Director of Blooming Tree Adult and Ready Blade Graphic Novels.

Karen Wrigley is now our Marketing Director.

We have added a few artists to Ready Blade and an associate editor to our adult imprint as well as an intern to our children’s imprints.

What are a few of your favorite new releases for 2008?

Patrick the Somnambulist by Sarah Ackerley just took off for us this spring. I would have never guessed that a plunger-wearing sleepwalking penguin would have been so popular. But apparently he is because kids are just eating it up.

Knowing Joseph by Judy Mammay has also been well received. This middle-grade book about autism seems to have found its place. Because it is comes from the brother's perspective, it hits a boys' audience in need.

We will round out 2008 with Life in the Pit by Kristen Landon, Camp Lizard #1, and Dragon Wishes by Stacy Nyikos, illustrated by Regan Johnson. If you ever wanted to know where dragons came from, don't miss out on the October release of Dragon Wishes.

What advice do you have for writers interested in publishing with Blooming Tree?

Right now we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. If you have an agent or if you have attended one of the conferences we have spoken at, we will be more than happy to look at your work.

This was a hard decision to stop taking unsolicited submissions because we love you all, but we had to make that choice in order to have time to be a publishing company.

How about for illustrators?

Illustrators may send postcard-size samples to our address every six months. We'll be more than happy to have look.

More globally, in terms of publishing as an industry, what do you see on the horizon, and how are you preparing for it?

I don't see that people will ever stop reading books. Period.

But I do feel in these changing times we are going to see a difference in what people want to read and how much they can spend on that reading.

We are addressing this by opening two new imprints that publish only paperback, mass market, and trade paper books. We want readers to be able to get the best bang for their buck.

We are also constantly researching the market for what it is readers want. And of course, we want to be the one who puts out books that are totally original. Keep an eye on us. I think we are going to surprise you with some amazing things.

We also continue to address the green issue. We have always looked out for the environment the best we could, and we won't stop. Here are just a few of things we do:

a. We don't throw away books. All our titles are left in print for as long as possible. Any that go out of print are donated to various organizations.

b. We reuse all boxes, packing material and pallets, and we recycle office supplies.

c. We donate all our used postage stamps to an organization that sells them to support an orphanage in Mexico.

d. Our staff does not come into the office every day. They do a lot of their work from home. This saves on gas and energy. We have routine meets, the Internet, and cell phones for everything else.

You wear many hats--publisher, writer, consultant. Is there anything new in your writing life?

Screenplays. I have written several in the past, and I love writing them. I intend to pick that up again one day very soon.

Could you tell us about your work as a consultant?

Our new consulting company is called "Frontlist Media" (blog). It is a premiere professional Book Consulting Service for authors and small presses.

It is in no way connected to Blooming Tree Press--which is a traditional publisher. It has separate staff and a separate operation.

I get asked quite often if I can help someone get a book printed. These people are not interested in the standard publishing route. They just want to print a book about their family or a biography or something with a niche market that they want to pursue on their own. After being asked so many times, Frontlist Media was born. It provides a service for those who don't want to wait or go through all the hoops that a traditional publisher demands.

We provide authors with the guidance and tools necessary to create a market-ready and professionally designed book with top notch cover designers, editing services, layout and printing specialist, and marketing guidance.

This is not for everyone, but everyone's dreams are different. This is just one more way we can help a writer see their book in print. I am very excited about this new company. I hope it provides a much-needed service.

What do you do outside of the world of book publishing and youth literature?

Ah, so you do know I do other things! Well, let's see. I sew for an organization called Touch Global. It brings medical clothing, quilts, baby clothes and medical supplies to a hospital in Africa in the Tandala area. This organization has been around since the 1940s, and I am the fourth generation in my family to sew for it. My children are the fifth generation.

I also quilt in my spare time for family, friends, and the local Linus Project for seriously ill children.

I love to cook! I was raised by two Swedish caterers so I am excellent cook and pastry chef.

What can we expect from you next?

I hope and pray for success! And what I mean by success is: I expect to provide a publishing business that meets the needs of authors, illustrators, readers and fellow publishing people for years to come. I expect to be someone who gives back to the community and someone who holds integrity, honestly, happiness, and hope in all the things that I do in my professional and personal life. I expect to make some small difference.

I want to take a minute to thank all of you who have supported Blooming Tree Press all these years. You are awesome, and I will do my best not to let you down.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hello Houston: Hotel ZaZa, Leonardo, Lucy, Beasties, and Butterflies

Greg and I took a few days off this weekend--Thursday through Sunday morning--and made our way toward the Texas Gulf Coast.

We stayed at the Hotel ZaZa in the Houston Museum District. It's seriously swanky, or, as the website says, "This decadent urban resort is a mix of glamour and warmth, of high style and creature comforts. With exquisite lighting and swooping drapes, it's a theater to entice the senses and intrigue the mind." Here's a peek....


While in town, we dined exclusively at the hotel restaurant, The Monarch. For breakfast, I recommend a personal omelet. I found the smoked chicken with wild mushrooms and Swiss a satisfying choice. For lunch, I suggest the smoked turkey wrap with apple-smoked bacon, Swiss, and Vermont maple mustard. Of the appetizers, I especially enjoyed the salt-and-pepper rock shrimp with lemon cilantro aioli and ponzu as well as the French fries (a house specialty) and deconstructed ahi roll (ahi tartar with avocado, crab ceviche, sushi rice, and white truffle dressing). The portions are huge; Greg and I split virtually everything we ordered. As a side note, the check is delivered in a pretty silver box (see below).


On Friday, we were off to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where we saw two special exhibits, "Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius"...


and "Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia."

Both were impressive, but the latter was particularly affecting. According to the museum site: "Lucy's Legacy tells the amazing story of Ethiopia over the past 5 million years. In addition to the fossil of Lucy, over 100 artifacts such as ancient manuscripts and royal artifacts from a dynasty Ethiopians believe stretches back to the son of the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba will be on display." The controversial exhibit continues at the museum through Sept. 1 and then will move to Seattle.

I also enjoyed the fossils of prehistoric animals. Those of you who've read Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) know that my shifters' history can be tracked to the Ice Age, a time of great beasts like this giant armadillo who inspired the character Travis.



Moving on to the living, I adored visiting the Cockrell Butterfly Center and Live Insect Zoo.






The next day, we visited the Houston Zoo, where we saw a really big (komodo) dragon.

And a really cute baby elephant.

Our destinations were chosen by Greg, as the trip was in celebration of his birthday. But it was a gift to us both. See Greg's report.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Austin, Authors, and Armadillocon


Helen Hemphill spoke on plot to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 70 writers at last weekend's Austin SCBWI meeting, and she is highly recommended as a thoughtful, nurturing, funny, effective, and brilliant speaker. I've been to my share of workshops, and this one was a standout.

She also will be teaching a Highlights Foundation workshop on "Plotting the Novel" from Sept. 18 to Sept. 21. The program is for experienced fiction writers, limited to 10 participants, and costs $898. See more information.

Read a Cynsations interview with Helen, and watch for her posts at Through the Tollbooth, a must-read, craft oriented blog for writers.


Among participants, Sanguini's logos designer Gene Brenek is pictured with YA author Brian Yansky, who's modeling the new "predator or prey" dragon shirt. Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008). Read Cynsations interviews with Gene and Brian.


But that wasn't my only local writer event of the weekend! I also spoke on two panels at the 30th Annual Armadillocon in Austin--"Bloodsucking Friends" and "Challenges of Writing Genre for Younger Readers."


Bill Crider (above with his wife Judy) did a great job as the opening ceremonies speaker! You can learn more about his books here.


Excellent people who I met included horror author Stephen E. Wedel, a fellow werewolf affectionado. Check out his LiveJournal and MySpace page.


It was a treat speaking on the "younger readers" panel with Mark London Williams, author of Candlewick's Danger Boy series.


Personal highlights included saying hello to Julie Kenner, author of the Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series. I went to her signing and basically babbled like the geeky fangirl I am.


It also was great fun visiting with Brian Anderson, author of the Zack Proton series (Aladdin, 2006). Brian's cool-ness includes the facts that he makes custom pinatas and that he's a docu-blogger. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian, and check out the wonderful interview videos below. Favorite quote: "You ave not partied until you have partied with librarians."

See also: The Community Turns Its Camera On KLRU's 'Docubloggers' mixes new media and old by Ashely Moreno from The Austin Chronicle. Source: Jennifer Ziegler.





More Armadillocon authors to know: Central Texas paranormal romance novelist Tess Mallory; and Austin YA horror novelist Thomas Pendleton (his latest book is Mason (HarperCollins, 2008).

My indisputable statement of the weekend (on the "younger readers" panel):

"YA fiction ranges in sophistication from accessible series books like Nancy Drew to The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2006). I'm a fan of both. But most YA fiction falls somewhere between Nancy and Octavian."
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