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."

Cynsations News & Giveaways

Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella, 2008) is now available at Borders and Waldenbooks! Note: when I picked up mine last weekend, the book wasn't in the system yet, but it was in the 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. Note: the title of my story is "Haunted Love," it involves a vampire and ghost, and it's set in a fictional small town, "Spirit, Texas."

Enter to win one of three copies autographed by contributor Cynthia Leitich Smith (that's me, obviously)! 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), 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.

Enter to win one of two copies of The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (HarperCollins, 2008)! From the promotional copy: "My name is Chloe Saunders, and my life will never be the same again.

"All I wanted was to make friends, meet boys, and keep on being ordinary. I don't even know what that means anymore. It all started on the day that I saw my first ghost--and the ghost saw me.

"Now there are ghosts everywhere and they won't leave me alone. To top it all off, I somehow got myself locked up in Lyle House, a 'special home' for troubled teens. Yet the home isn't what it seems. Don't tell anyone, but I think there might be more to my housemates than meets the eye. The question is, whose side are they on? It's up to me to figure out the dangerous secrets behind Lyle House...before its skeletons come back to haunt me."

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. 26!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 26! 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 one will go to any Cynsational readers. Please indicate status. Please also type "Summoning" in the subject line.

Reminder

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 autographed copies of Night Road by A. M. Jenkins (HarperCollins, 2008) were Moriah in South Carolina and Deena at Brighton Memorial Library in Rochester, NY! Read a Cynsations interview with A. M. Jenkins. Note: congratulations to the winners! Your books are on their way!

Note: weekend and monthly giveaways are ongoing at Cynsations. International entries are eligible. Those who have won previously are eligible. Of late, more YA book giveaways have been featured, but middle grade and picture book giveaways also are offered on a regular basis.

More News & Links

"Should I Fire My Agent?" by Tess Gerritsen from Murderati: Mysteries, Murder, and Marketing. Peek: "That's when I fired him. But it had taken me two years to do it, two years of agonizing over my decision. Only later did I learn that this same agent did the same thing to a far more prominent, internationally bestselling author – to the tune of millions of dollars. So as a victim, I was in good company." Source: The Longstockings.

Teaching the Idea of Story from The Friday Book Report: Tony Abbott's Blog. Peek: "The first question: describe yourself in a single word as you are right now. Second question: describe the person you want to be. The point? These words are the beginning an end of the story. What comes in between? How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?" Learn more about Tony Abbott.

Reading and Discussion Teacher Guides for Books by Cecil Castellucci; guides written by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Check out guides for Beige (Candlewick, 2007), Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005), and The Plain Janes (Minx, 2007). Read Cynsations interviews with Cecil and Tracy.

How to Avoid Sabotaging Your Writing Career (#1) from There Are No Rules by Jane Friedman. Peek: "This same rule applies to published writers—they are not an exception!" Source: Elizabeth O. Dulemba.

Where's My Book? from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "Yes, many booksellers like to support local authors. But here's the thing: keeping books on the shelves that do not sell uses valuable real estate for no gain, which in bookseller terms means financial loss. "

Interview: Dr. Jonda McNair by Carla Sarratt from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Dr. McNair talks about her literacy project, newsletter and African-American children's literature." Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of the Brown Bookshelf.

Join Author Micol Ostow's Popular Vote Cyber-Launch Party at First Person Present! From Sept. 8 to Sept. 13, Micol will be offering question-and-answer interviews with such youth lit authors as Jill Santopolo, Judy Goldschmidt, Nancy Krulik, Nancy Holder, Marjetta Geerling, Kim Kane, Liz Gallagher, and more! Each day, Micol also will also giveaway "1 copy and 1 bookmark of Popular Vote (Scholastic Point, 2008), plus a special prize from the visiting author of the day."


Becky's Book Reviews is hosting two giveaways. One is sponsored by Kane/Miller. There will be four winners. Each winner will receive one of four boxed sets featuring international picture books. The deadline is Aug. 26; winners will be announced Aug. 27. Learn more. The second contest is sponsored by Shadow Mountain/J. Scott Savage. She's giving away one ARC of Far World: Water Keep. Learn more. The deadline is Aug. 25; the winner will be announced Aug. 26th--Becky's two-year blogiversary!

Referrals, Blurbs, and Quotes, Oh My! from Nathan Bransford Literary Agent. Peek: "Someone wanted to know whether they should include quotes and blurbs in query letters from authors they know or who have read their book and commented favorably." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Back to School Reading List from Austin Public Library Teens. Peek [On Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar (Dutton, 2005)]: "While navigating his first year of high school and awaiting the birth of his new baby brother, Scott loses old friends and gains some unlikely new ones as he hones his skills as a writer." Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Some Thoughts on Book Design from Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "Personally, I trust our designers and their vision, and love working with them on cover designs. In some cases, I have an idea of what I want the cover to look like, but oftentimes I'll wait and see what the designer comes up with first so as not to taint their creativity."

Already Have Publisher Interest from Bookends LCC -- A Literary Agency. Peek: "Most agents will jump on the opportunity to consider a proposal that is currently under consideration with a major house. Be wary though because..."

My So-Called Picture Book from Alternative Teen Services. Peek: "Picture books can be used with reluctant readers and visual learners, they can be paired with novels or nonfiction works in history lessons, they can initiate art and design projects, draw on art historical connections and critical thinking strategies, and rekindle the personal experience with literature." Source: Propernoun.net.

Drawn to obsessive rituals, novelist uses writing to put her life in order by Laura Isensee from The Miami Herald. Peek: "The world that Crissa-Jean Chappell experiences is far from ordinary. We hear Cuban tree frogs. She hears puppies barking. We see a classroom with circular windows. She sees a ship. We smell an orchid. She smells maple syrup, eggs and bacon." Crissa-Jean is the author of Total Constant Order (HarperCollins, 2007).

Jay Asher on Thirteen Reasons Why from readergirlz TV, featuring team members Holly Cupala, Little Willow, and Justina Chen Headley. Read Cynsations interviews with Jay and Justina.



Hope Can Be So Fragile for Writers from Cheryl Rainfield: Avid Reader, Teen Fiction Writer, and Book-a-holic. All Things Books, With a Focus on Children's and Teen Fiction. Peek: "Hope feels so fragile sometimes, in the publishing world. Whether an editor or agent likes your manuscript is so subjective. They can be having a bad day when your query lands on their desk or in box. Or the subject matter might be something that turns them off or touches something they don't want to look at."

Are You a Gifted Enough Author? from Editorial Ass. Peek: "I think this is a three-way street: an author shouldn't be expected to buy a gift for her author or her agent, an agent shouldn't be expected to buy a gift for an author or an editor. These are things we should do if we want to."

Walter Dean Myers: A "Bad" Boy Makes Good by Juan Williams at NPR. Peek: "Then one day in the 1950s, he met Langston Hughes in Harlem. 'He didn't look to me like a writer because he wasn't white,' remembers Myers, now 70 years old." Source: NCTE.

Every month, for the 2008-2009 school year, debut author Jenny Meyerhoff will be giving one third grade classroom a "Third Grade Box O' Fun." The package will include her book, Third Grade Baby (FSG, 2008), promotional items for the whole class, tattoos, pencils, bookmarks, and activity guide for the book plus supplies to do the activities, and a virtual or actual visit from the author(depending upon location.) To enter, people simply have to email me with the name of their favorite third grade class. Teachers, students, parents, friends...anyone can nominate a class. Jenny will have a random drawing the first of every month; entries, once received, are eligible for the rest of the year. Learn more about the contest.

Guest Blogger, Donna Gephart: 12 3/4 Ways to Promote Your Novel from Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers at The Shrinking Violets. Peek: "Give your business cards to everyone you can think of. When I gave cards to the receptionists at my doctor's office, I ended up signing three copies of my novel for their children and grandchildren at my next visit." Read a Cynsations interview with Donna.

Sorry for last week's tech glitch with the book trailer to Amor and Summer Secrets by Diana Rodriguez Wallach (Kensington, 2008). Let's try this again!



Graphic Novels from The Horn Book. Peek: "Our handy primer gives a quick lesson on how to navigate comic pages and also provides a few recommended titles."

How to Mock Up a Picture Book from Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes. Peek: "The structure is so unusual, that you need a dummy to refine and polish your text. It can tell you which section of text is too long, let you look at pacing of the story across the pages, help you spot needless repetitions and much more."

Upsetting the Author-Agent Relationship from Bookend LCC - A Literary Agency. Peek: "If you enter a contest and an editor requests your work or if you are a nonfiction author who has been approached by an editor, go ahead and send the material. Otherwise, if you really want an agent, it might be wise to hold off."

Check out the trailer for The Kitchen Dance, a forthcoming picture book by Maurie J. Manning (Clarion, Oct. 2008)!



Coming Soon

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.

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 & Noble in Round Rock!

Rick Guzman (Austin) will speak at the Sept. 13 meeting of the CenTex Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers in Round Rock, Texas. "Book Publishing Contracts: What You Need to Know," will discuss what to look for, what to avoid, and what it all means. "Guzman's law practice includes publishing interests, and he writes biographies of famous Latinos, most recently George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy (Enslow, 2008)." Source: Writers' League of Texas.

"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.

More Personally

This week's highlights were the Austin SCBWI meeting, showcasing author Helen Hemphill's talk on plotting the novel, and Armadillocon. I'll tell you more about them in today's follow-up post.

Be especially sure to check out the two video interviews with graphic chapter book author Brian Anderson! They're the must-watch features of the day.

I also finished and sent in minor edits on the pass pages to Eternal (Candlewick, March 2008). After three reads, I'd found one actual line-editing issue, one minor fact tweak, and one missing scene break. The rest were all matters of fiddling and the fact that the text simply looks different typeset, suggesting additional minor adjustments. ARCs should be printed soon!

In the meantime, you can take a sneak peek at an excerpt in the back of the U. S. paperback edition of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008).


Right now, Austin area readers may find additional copies of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, autographed by me, at Borders (4477 S. Lamar Blvd.) at Westgate Marketplace along with autographed copies of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) in the young adult section.


In the Borders children's section, look for autographed copies of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002).

Note: Typically, you can also find autographed copies of Tantalize at Barnes & Noble Westlake (701 S. Capital of Texas Highway #P860) and Austin's famed indie BookPeople (603 N. Lamar). Go upstairs to the BookKids department, and look in the YA section.

Given last weekend's hectic schedule (Sunday morning panel?!), I'm going to sign off Cynsations a day early this week. But no worries! I'll be back online Monday!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Author Interview: Kelley Armstrong on The Summoning

"Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous.

"If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay. All efforts to make her produce 'normal' stories failed.

"Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon.

"Kelly lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, kids, and far too many pets."

Congratulations on the publication of The Summoning (Darkest Powers, Book 1)(HarperCollins, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

The Summoning is the first part of a trilogy. Chloe Saunders has spent her life moving from school to school, always being "the new kid." When she entered ninth grade, her dad agreed to let her enroll in a Buffalo school of the arts, and stay there until graduation.

So Chloe is finally a normal fifteen-year-old, and nothing could make her happier. At her new school, she's pursuing her dreams of becoming a Hollywood director, while making friends and meeting guys. A perfectly normal teen life.

Then, suddenly, she starts seeing ghosts--everywhere, talking to her, demanding things, chasing her. She's sent to a group home, where she's determined to accept her diagnosis, keep her head down and get out. But she soon begins suspect she really is seeing ghosts. And she begins to suspect Lyle House isn't what it seems.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I write a similar series for adults, and the idea for The Summoning came out of the second book. Writers are often asked where they get their ideas, but often the real question is how they find time to turn all their favorite ideas into stories. That second book had given me an idea that never quite fit into the series.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was best suited for a story about supernaturals just coming into their powers. In my fictional universe, though, that happens at puberty. So it needed to be a teen story.

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

I first added the basic idea to my plot file in 2003.

Then, in 2005, I decided that I wanted to try turning it into a novel. The problem was finding the time. I already had a book-a-year series, and had recently contracted for two crime novels, so it was really hard to justify writing something "just for fun." Now, I also run an online writing group on my website, and I'd been considering sponsoring a NaNoWriMo group (where writers try to write 50,000 words in November). To properly encourage my group, though, I'd need to participate...and that's where I saw the chance to write my YA book.

So I wrote The Summoning in one month and sold it and... Well, no. I did get a first draft done. And I realized that while I really liked the characters and the general setup, the plot needed work. So I put it aside to mull over. A year later, I had a reworked plot. I then rewrote the first 100 pages, and my agent sold it based on that and the new outline.

While I kept a few scene ideas, the novel was a page one rewrite. I'd done something similar with my first book, so I knew that while it seems like a lot of work, I prefer doing a full rewrite to cut-and-paste job on an old manuscript. And it did take more than one month for the new draft. I'm fast...but not quite that fast if I want something decent!

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

The biggest challenge was psychological. When I realized this story needed a teenage protagonist, I balked and it was a long time before I could bring myself to seriously consider writing it. I write first-person, meaning I don't just need to get into my narrator's head, but take on her voice. I'm...a little ways from being 15. I have a daughter that age, and there's nothing better than that to make you realize how far removed you are from an age group!

As it turned out, it was really just a psychological block. Once I started working on Chloe as a character, I was able to pull up that teenage self inside me with surprising ease. The more I worked with her, the more I remembered what it was like to be that age and, more importantly, what it felt like to be that age.

You're an established, bestselling author for the adult market, and this is your first YA novel. What about writing for the young adult audience appeals to you?

There are two main aspects that appeal to me: one reader-oriented, one totally selfish.
With my adult novels, I do get a lot of teen readers, and they're wonderful--they're so enthusiastic and quick to tell me what they like and dislike. But I've always felt bad, having only one main character their age--who is quickly outgrowing her teens! So the chance to write novels specifically for that audience is great.

And for the selfish reason, it's something new--a fresh and original (for me) approach to storytelling, with new avenues for creativity and new challenges to explore.

Despite a wide age range of narrators in my adult novels, adults share a basic set of core concerns that are different from teens, and they have a very different set of tools for dealing with them. It's a fresh take on "my world" and I love it.

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

Not to get discouraged. Which, I suppose, is what a lot of published writers would tell their younger selves. I had a lot of early encouragement, so I grew up with the misguided idea that if I ever managed to finish a whole novel, naturally it would be published.

When I reached my twenties and started taking workshops and joining writing groups, I discovered it's definitely not that easy! So I prepared for rejection, but I think that having had so much encouragement, as hard as I tried to be modest in my expectations, I couldn't help but think it would be different for me. It wasn't. And I'd get horribly discouraged.

There were periods when I couldn't bring myself to write because, as much as I tried to do it just for myself, writing resurrected the dream of publication and the disappointment was so hard to deal with.

How about on the subject of writing fantasy specifically?

I'd tell myself to keep writing fantasy, despite anyone's well-meaning advice to the contrary. I've always written fantasy and horror, but what was once quite acceptable in my childhood and teens became...less acceptable as I reached adulthood.

I was gently--and repeatedly--advised to get more serious, more mainstream. It didn't help being Canadian, with our strong tradition of literary fiction. I was in my twenties before I could name a Canadian genre writer. There are plenty out there, but in the media and school system, all we see is Canadian literary fiction. As a child, I had the misguided notion that to write genre horror or fantasy, I'd need to move to the U. S.!

What do you do when you're not writing?

You mean there's supposed to be time when I'm not writing? Some days, I have to remind myself of that. I'm in the very happy position of having turned my favorite hobby into a career, so I've had to expand my list of recreational activities. Reading, of course--I've been an avid reader all my life. Cooking and baking--my kids appreciate the baking more than the cooking. Movies--I spent my teen and college years working in a movie theater because it meant unlimited double passes. Computers--I'm a former programmer so, yes, I'm a computer geek, meaning I like to do my own website, design my book trailers, etc.

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

I think the biggest surprise that came with being published was discovering that I can't just spend my days writing and editing. At one point, the "business" side of writing was taking more time than the creative side, and that was very frustrating. The best advice I got was from my accountant. He suggested that I hire someone to do the parts that didn't need my personal touch. It took a couple of years for me to take that advice.

Having an assistant seemed almost...pretentious, like something only really big-name writers did. I ended up hiring my sister when she was pregnant with her second child and looking for administrative work to do from home. That was the best move I've made. Now I can stick to the parts I really enjoy: writing, editing, the website, speaking engagements, answering reader email etc. Without her, I wouldn't have been able to consider doing a young adult trilogy in addition to my main series.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The sequel to The Summoning comes out in April '09. It was scheduled for summer, but I've finished it, so it was bumped to spring. It's called The Awakening. It's hard to say much about it without giving away spoilers for The Summoning, only that it'll answer (most of) those pesky unresolved questions and will add a few new and (hopefully) unexpected twists to Chloe's story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Author-Illustrator Interview: Katie Davis on The Curse of Addy McMahon

Katie Davis on Katie Davis: "I was writing and illustrating lots of really bad picture books and novels for children for a lonnnnng time, until I got a clue and learned how to do it better. Now I've gotten eight books published by Harcourt, Inc. and Greenwillow, combined.

"I've done freelance projects, including designing, writing, and illustrating literacy programs for children, restaurant activity booklets, and toy products."

What were you like as a young reader?

I was very influenced--some might say suggestible!--by books and reading. Here is what I remember:

First grade

All the kids sit on the floor, crisscross applesauce, listening to Miss Terwilliger read a story. It's April, and I'm the new kid. Again. As I stand in the doorway looking in, wondering if I'll ever make a friend, Deena Teschner sees me, smiles, and waves wildly. I let go of my mom's hand and go sit next to Deena.

Third Grade

I hate my name, Katey. No one is named Katey! Why couldn't I be named Cynthia?* Then I read Katie John [by Mary Calhoun, illustrated by Paul Frame (1960)]. I love my name! But I change the spelling.

Fourth Grade

I'm the class scapegoat. I run home crying every day. Mrs. Ciricillo reads Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [by Roald Dahl (1964)] to us for what seems like the whole year. I get lost in the world of chocolate, bad children, and justice for good little kids.

Library Time

Every day we go to Library and listen to Mrs. Lee read to us. I love the smell of the books and learning about the Dewey Decimal System. I like saying "Dewey Decimal. " I love getting a library card. It's very official.

*Just a coincidence that it's the same as yours, Cynthia! I thought it was the most glamorous name I'd ever heard when I was in third grade.

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

You give me an underdog fighting injustice, or the downtrodden getting their due, and I dig in and can't put the book down, regardless of genre. I find it very satisfying to watch the growth of a character. When I think of the books that made me utchy I realize it's because the characters didn't change or jump through hoops to do or get what they needed in order to resolve their issues. I also find that the most difficult thing to do as a writer.

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

I consider my whole life an apprenticeship, and since I'm a slow learner, I'm not sure I could've done anything differently. Regrets are a waste of time.

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

When I go for school visits, a child inevitably asks, "How did you get so good at drawing?"

I always answer with the question, "What are you good at? Math? Making friends? Running?"

Whatever the answer, I respond with, "Do you do it a lot?" Yes, they tell me. I say, "That's called practicing!"

But that is the easy answer. Add working very hard at what I do, plus help from friends, and you get success. For writing, astute readers are crucial. People who critique me on both the forest and the trees really help. In other words, both big stuff like plot and character development as well as punctuation and details often spark ideas I hadn't expected.

For my art, I have freakishly talented friends like Janie Bynum (author-illustrator interview). She told me about using reference materials. I never went to art school, so I thought I was supposed to know how to draw any position or expression. I thought using a model, or looking at a photograph (i.e., reference materials) was called cheating.

I'm quite proud that I've been able to learn to draw better as the years have progressed. If you compare the art in my first versus my most recent picture book, you'll see a big difference. In Who Hops? (Harcourt) the art is simple outline, no unusual positions,* which, happily, is exactly what that book needed. In Kindergarten Rocks! (Harcourt), I have much more sophisticated perspectives. I had to consciously learn that.

*Okay, except for the giraffe tangled up in knots. But you know what I mean.

I last interviewed you in September 2000. Could you catch us up on your back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

I've published a total of seven picture books, four of which came out from Harcourt between 2001 and 2005. They were: Scared Stiff; Party Animals (an ant is dying to go to the barnyard party, only to be ignored by all the farm animals. Don't worry! It’s a surprise party for him); Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job (self-explanatory, no?); and lastly, Kindergarten Rocks! (a boy full of bravado is actually terrified about kindergarten and learns...guess what? Spoiler alert! That kindergarten rocks!).

I just got some fabulous news about that one. The Georgia education department bought 80,000 copies to give free to every incoming kindergarten student in the state. Nice state, huh?

Congratulations on the publication of The Curse of Addy McMahon (Greenwillow, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Well, if you insist! The McMahon family lore revolves around a curse. It started when Addy's great granddad chopped down what was rumored to be a fairy lair back in Ireland. Addy blames this alleged curse for all the bad things that happen in her life, when maybe she should actually take responsibility for some of them.

Addy keeps her diary in graphic novel format, which she calls her "autobiogra-strip". Through them we learn that her best friend hates her…the curse caused that? Everyone saw a mean comic she did…was that because of the curse? And worst, her dad died a few years ago, and it looks like her mom may have a new love interest. That’s just gotta be the curse…doesn’t it?

I wanted the book to be funny and heartrending, but they were fighting each other. That’s when I decided to extract the difficult emotional scenes and put them into the graphic sections. It allows the funny stuff to shine, and makes the harder scenes easier to take.

Kind of like Babar – can you imagine that picture book if the characters were human? A mother is shot by a hunter in front of her child. Making them elephants who live in a foreign land eases the burden of the scene.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the novel?

I read an article in the New York Times about an Irish storyteller who was trying to warn the local officials that all kinds of mayhem would erupt if they built a planned road, because it meant cutting down a white hawthorn bush rumored to be a fairy lair.

I instantly thought, "What if there were an Irish American girl whose great-great-grandfather had supposedly chopped just such a tree? Would she blame all her problems on the curse and would that keep her from taking responsibility for her actions?"

What makes it special?

I think it's that juxtaposition of humor and poignancy. I wanted to make readers laugh out loud, yet still feel a tug at their hearts for Addy. It was a tough thing to balance. I also think the "autobiogra-strips" are pretty cool, and I've had lots of nice compliments on that part of the book. An unexpected (to me) bonus has been that boys are liking the book as much as girls, and that older teens are liking it, too.

But the most special thing for me is getting kudos from kids. My favorite, written by a teen who reviews books online was: "I wouldn't be surprised if the author, Katie Davis, just stole a (very literate) 12-year-old's journal and published it as fiction. It was that genuine."

Being accused of theft and plagiarism turns out to be my greatest honor!

What was the timeline between spark and each publication, and what were the major events along the way? What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing each of these books to life?

Who Hops? came from a game I played with my kids in the car. They were babies at the time. That one was quick – it took about 18 months.

Mabel the Tooth Fairy came from my vast research flying around the world with the tooth fairy. That was the hardest book I've written. Not because I was working nights, either.

With Kindergarten Rocks! I made a thank-you dinner at the end of the school year for my daughter's kindergarten teacher and all our kids.

I was just trying to make conversation when I asked the children, "What would be a great title for a book about kindergarten?"

All the kids hollered out their answers, except my daughter, who raised her hand (don’t forget, her teacher was sitting right there).

She said, "Kindergarten Rocks!," and the idea hit me in the head like a bag of hammers.

Within two weeks I'd written and sold it. 'Course, then it took me years to get the illustrations just right. That one was about equal in difficulty to Mabel.

The Curse of Addy McMahon: I read the article in the New York Times in 1999, and it came out in 2008. You do the math!

More specifically, how did you make the transition from picture-book creator to novelist?

Once I had the idea for this novel, it wouldn't let me go. It took a very long time for me to figure out what was best for the story (see above math challenge). But that isn't what I would consider the real transition.

When I decided to put Addy's diary in a graphic format, I studied comic books. I read Scott McCloud's books cover to cover. I read Eisner. Then I sat down to the drawing board and did it all wrong!

I illustrated it as I would a picture book. It took a while for me to realize why it wasn't working. I needed to slow it down, and remember that comics are like movies: frame by frame. Even though you'd think that would be my transition from picture books to graphic novels, it was really what made me see the delineation between picture books and novels.

In today's crowded market, it's essential for authors to promote their work. How have you taken on this challenge?

Boy are you right! I've taken the last nine months to only work on marketing for this book. I've never taken that kind of time for a book, but with the changing market, it feels necessary. Here are some of the more productive things I’ve done.

- I learned Flash in order to create a book trailer (see below) and uploaded it all over the internet.

- I announced it by creating a newsletter, which I've decided to continue, planning to make it more global by including interviews and tips from other authors and illustrators.

- I have semi-regular author soirees or beach days or dessert parties where we can all get together and schmooze.

- I am about to launch autobiograstrip.com, a site where kids can make their own autobiograstrips, upload them to the gallery and win prizes each month. I hope that other artists will submit their art so they can be promoted as well.

- I registered on all the friending sites and met people who love kid’s books and invited me to be the guest during live chats.

Marketing can lead to exciting things. For example, I emailed all the resident and day camps and summer programs for kids on Cape Cod because I have a signing there this summer. I want the camps to bring the kids to the store for the event. One woman who runs a theater camp wrote back asking about producing it as a play.

And of course, I have this interview on your site!

Phew, I'm tired just reading that.

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

I've finally conceded that I can’t do it all, but I try to balance and also remember to include down time within that mix. When I'm asked to speak, I always try to go. When I'm home, I'm working.

Right now, I'm concentrating on Addy, but this summer I hope to start to ease back into writing (I miss it!) by reworking a middle grade manuscript I haven't looked at in years. I'm excited about that.

When fall rolls around, I assume I'll be fully consumed and obsessive with that manuscript and will schedule writing time every day before I get to all the other stuff on my to-do list.

What advice do you have for other writer-illustrators--both beginners and those who're established in their careers?

For beginners, I recommend two basic steps: joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and going to their local bookstore and see what is relevant to their interests. I think people who are well established know about glomming onto friends for support, joining listservs, going to conferences.

The one thing I think published authors underestimate, even now, is the importance of having a web site. It's crucial. Unless you're J.K. Rowling.

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

I loved The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Hyperion, 2007) and The Facttracker by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Pascale Constantin (HarperCollins, 2008). Also, Lessons From A Dead Girl by Jo Knowles (Candlewick, 2007)(author interview), A Book of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2007)(...there are so many! I know I'll see this online and think, Ack! I forgot those 20 others I adored!).

How about as an illustrator?

I've been amazed by Mo Willems work. It's so simple, yet so effective. It's really quite stunning. Also Brian Selznick is just…beyond. I'm also drawn to quirkier work like Timothy Basil Ering and Yumi Heo. I haven't been concentrating on picture books this year, though, so I'm a bit behind.

What do you do outside the world of books?

There's a world outside of books?

Okay, I admit it, I do have other passions. I love my garden. I can think and listen to the birds, and smell the dirt and feel responsible for beautiful things growing. I love to knit, and make beaded jewelry, do mosaics... actually, you can see all my outside-of-the-world-of-books creative efforts on my site. Navigate to Info/ Sketchbook/Art of Life.

And of course there is my family, and my dog, Mango, the cutest dog on the planet.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Maybe my summer project! I've also been fiddling around on a really fun manuscript--a graphic novel format easy reader. I'll tell you though, graphic novels are really hard!

Monday, August 18, 2008

2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market

The 21rst Annual Edition of the Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market edited by Alice Pope (Writer's Digest, 2009) is now available.

The 2009 edition includes more than "700 listings for book publishers, magazines, agents, art reps, and more" as well as "exclusive interviews with award winning authors and publishing professionals."

If you're a beginner, this is a great resource for building your savvy! As an author, I often receive queries from new writers looking for information about youth publishing. In many cases, the answer is already in the CWIM. And remember, it's important to do your homework before you begin actively networking (preferably before your first conference).

If you're an established pro, it's wise to keep up with the market. Do you hear "writing (or illustrating) as a business" and want to run the other way? The CWIM is a user-friendly, non-intimidating source for the ever-evolving industry that connects your art to young readers and supports your livelihood.

Here's just a sample of the articles: "Six Reasons to Quit Writing (and One Reason You Shouldn't)" by Donna Gephart (author interview); "What's In? What's Out? An Expert Panel Talks Trends" by Darcy Pattison (author interview); "A Long-time Editor Talks Picture Books" by Allyn Johnston; "Great Opening Lines in Picture Books" by Lisa Wheeler (author interview); "Getting Rid of the Dull Stuff" by Kathleen Duey (author interview); "Creating Memorable Characters" by Cecil Castellucci (author interview); "My Journey Into Young Chapter Books" by Lynn E. Hazen (author interview); "YA Fiction: A Matter of Perspective" by Andrew Karre (editor interview); "Children's Graphic Novels: Formatting and Submitting Proposals" by Mac McCool; "Is An Agent Essential? Agents and Editors Weigh In" by Alma Fullerton; and "Sherman Alexie: Elevating--and Shaking Up--YA" by Kelly Milner Halls (author interview).

You'll also find insider reports from folks like Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Katherine Applegate; Marissa Doyle; Michelle Meadows (author interview), Jay Asher (author interview), and more.

More personally, the articles include "Making Your Web Site Educator-Friendly" by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek: "Young readers may be your ultimate target audience, but educators--teachers, university professors, and school librarians--are on the forefront of efforts to connect books and kids. What's more, they're using the Internet more than ever to help them make a purchasing decision."

The article includes insights from pros like: publicists Vicki Palmquist and Susan Raab (publicist interview); librarian Sharron L. McElmeel;, author-librarians Toni Buzzeo (author interview), Leda Schubert (author interview), and Shutta Crum (author interview); Candlewick educational marketing supervisor Anne Irza-Leggat; authors Tanya Lee Stone (author interview), Gail Giles (author interview), Fred Bortz, Rebecca Stead, and Katie Davis (author interview); and author-poets Hope Vestergaard (author interview) and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author interview).

My key subtopics are the importance of making your site educator-friendly, how to go about it, and what to include (with some innovative suggestions).

Sidebars discuss how to "Market Yourself as a Speaker" and feature a "Q & A with a Web Designer" (Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys).

That said, I also made sure to emphasize core content because, ironically, that's where the need is highest. Many of us are doing better with the "bells and whistles" than the basics.

For example, at Cynsations, I do my best to include the following key information (with support links) for books: title; author; illustrator; publisher; year of publication. I'm also interested in cover art that's bigger than a thumbnail.

I make an effort to include links from the title to either a dedicated book-information page on the author's/illustrator's official site or on the publisher's official site. I also try to include links to the official creator (author and/or illustrator) sites.

As an exercise, those of you who're authors/illustrators may want to start at Google or another major search engine and--pretending you don't already know it--try to fill in that list of key information for one of your books.

As an example, I'll pick on my husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith.

Let's say an interviewee mentions that his debut novel Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo is among their favorites. The interviewee doesn't mention the author's name, so I do a search using the title. (Many people looking for information on a book know either the title or author but not both). Using Google, the first page to pop up features only Greg's cover art.

But good news! Now, I know what the book looks like, who the author is, and I'm on his official site. So I click "Books" in the sidebar of that page.

This leads me to a page featuring all three of his titles. Ninjas, his first book, is at the top, and that listing includes publication information (Little Brown, 2003, 2005)(Recorded Books, 2004), a nice array of awards and honors, and a link on the title. I click that link.

There I find a dedicated page that includes the cover art, publisher description, publication information, awards and honors, blurb, and review quotes. In terms of basic information, I have everything I need (and more!) to help raise awareness of the book that my interviewee recommended.

If it were a picture book, I'd also hope for the illustrator's name and a link to the illustrator's site, if available. But it's not, and in any case, three clicks for all that information isn't bad. Often, it takes eight or more, plus an image search, and pouring through the publisher's site (once I figure out which publisher it is).

How easy is it to find basic information online for the titles you care about most? If it's harder than you thought, don't panic! But do consider augmenting your listings and making your Web resources easier and quicker to use.

And pick up a copy of the 2009 CWIM--it's jam-packed with even more useful information!

Prestigious $20k prize celebrates most distinguished English-language Canadian children's book of the year

Finalists Announced for TD Canadian Children's Literature Award

Toronto--The Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC) and TD Bank Financial Group (TDBFG) are proud to announce the finalists of the 2008 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for the most distinguished book of the year. This annual award recognizes excellence in Canadian children's literature with a $20,000 prize.

This year's nominated titles will captivate the hearts and imaginations of children (and adults!) everywhere. Readers will be introduced to the young Sherlock Holmes and the crime-ridden streets of 1867 inner-city London; 11-year-old Elijah, the first African Canadian child to be born into freedom in Buxton, Ontario, a settlement for runaway slaves; a young girl named Kate who is fraught with jealousy after being selected by artist John Singer Sargent to be a model for a painting, only to be replaced; a young bat named Dusk who can not only fly, but see at night using echo vision; and young Louise, the little sister who pesters her older brother so much so that he wishes she would just disappearŠ and she does!

All books, in any genre, written by a Canadian for children ages one through 12 were eligible for the award. Entries were judged on the quality of the text and illustrations and the book's overall contribution to literature. The winner will be announced at a gala at The Carlu in Toronto on November 6, 2008.

The finalists for the 2008 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award are:

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting by Hugh Brewster, illustrated by John Singer Sargent (Kids Can Press);

Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins);

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic Canada);

Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His First Case by Shane Peacock (Tundra);

Please, Louise! by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay (Groundwood).

Jury members: Maya Munro Byers, owner, Livres Babar Books, Montreal; Theo Heras, Children's Literature Resource Collection Specialist, Lillian H. Smith Library, Toronto Public Library; Dr. Dave Jenkinson, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba; Dr. Ron Jobe, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia; and Norene Smiley, author, Pugwash, Nova Scotia.

Jury comments on the finalists for the 2008 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting by Hugh Brewster with paintings by John Singer Sargent: "An outstanding information book... Beautifully written and produced, with a fine balance of illustration, biographical and historical detail and insight into the creative process, all through the viewpoint of a child whose humanity makes it true."

Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel: "Darkwing continues Oppel's reputation for creating textured, engrossing animal societies that win generations of fans. The exceptional writing is filled with descriptive details, emotive connotations and visual sightings that give a richly plotted, fact-filled glimpse into this prehistoric world."

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis: "Tears of laughter and sadness commingle as Curtis immerses readers in the daily happenings of the nineteenth century Ontario community of Buxton whose inhabitants are slaves who have escaped from the United States. This novel engagingly and dramatically brings to life a little known segment of Canadian history."

Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His First Case by Shane Peacock: "Historical fiction at its finest! The plot, speculating on the childhood adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is well-constructed, fast paced and embedded with details. Superb characterization is accompanied by witty dialogue and the author's love of vivid descriptive words."

Please, Louise! by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay: "A gem of a picture book delighting in the warm relationship between brother and younger sister. Lively watercolours explode across the pages adding detail and humour to the powerful simplicity of the text. The words sing as they are read!"
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