Friday, November 21, 2008

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series, edited by Rick Riordan with Leah Wilson (BenBella, 2008)(PDF excerpt)! Read a Cynsations interview with Rick. From the promotional copy:

How are the Greek gods like your middle school principal?

Would you want to be one of Artemis's Hunters?

Why do so many monsters go into retail—and why are they never selling anything a demigod really wants?

At the beginning of The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson tells us to stop reading: if we suspect we, too, might be demigods, we should put the book down right away. But how can we, when the world he lives in is so much fun?

Spend a little more time in that world—a place where the gods bike among us, monsters man snack bars, and each of us has the potential to become a hero.


Contributors: Kathi Appelt; Rosemary Clement-Moore; Paul Collins; Cameron Dokey; Sarah Beth Durst; Jenny Han; Carolyn MacCullough; Sophie Masson; Elizabeth M. Rees; Nigel Rodgers; Ellen Steiber; and Elizabeth Wein.

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 Dec. 2!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Dec. 2! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win. Please also type "Demigods and Monsters" in the subject line.

Enter to win an autographed copy of Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006)! Four runners up will receive audio productions of the book either on tape or CD (Scholastic Book Club, 2007)!

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 Dec. 8! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Dec. 8! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win. Please also type "Santa Knows" in the subject line, and specify whether you prefer tape, CD, or either. Visit www.santa-knows.com!

The winners of The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 2008) were Christine, a librarian and tutor from Pennsylvania, and Rhonda, a Cynsational reader (and grandma) from Maine.

Jingle Dancer [by Cynthia Leitich Smith] Giveaway sponsored by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. From the publisher promotional copy: "Jenna, a contemporary Muscogee (Creek) girl in Oklahoma, wants to honor a family tradition by jingle dancing at the next powwow. But where will she find enough jingles for her dress? An unusual, warm family story, beautifully evoked in Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu's watercolor art." Deadline: Nov. 29. Learn more about Jingle Dancer. See details on the giveaway. Note: I'll gladly send a personalized bookplate to the winner!

More News

Virtual Writers' Conferences by Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Peek: "...when you need a boost of inspiration and information, explore these virtual writers' conferences until you're able to make it to the real thing." Read a Cynsations interview with Donna.

The winner of the National Book Award in Young Peoples Literature is Judy Blundell, author What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic); finalists were: Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Chains (Simon & Schuster); Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum); E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion); and Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf).

2008 Winter Blog Blast from Chasing Ray. Highlights include: M. T. Anderson from Finding Wonderland: the WritingYA Weblog. Peek: "I believe that the language we use not only defines us, but in some way delimits and infuses what we see in the world around us." See also the Holiday Books Recommendation Event.

WBBT Interview: Tony DiTerlizzi by Miss Erin. Peek: "I feel that working in the fashion that was used in creating the Spiderwick books allows the collaborators to use all of their tricks, talents and point of view to create the best book possible. And doing so creates a final story that neither Holly nor I would create on our own--it truly is a hybrid."

Congratulations to the YA authors who made the latest Texas Library Association's Tayshas list! Highlights include: Flight by Sherman Alexie (Little Brown); The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong (HarperCollins)(author interview); Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview); City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (McElderry, 2007)(author interview); Derby Girl by Shana Cross (Holt); Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview); The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2007)(author interview); Right Behind You by Gail Giles (Little Brown)(author interview), Paper Towns by John Green (Dutton)(author interview); My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson (Flux)(author interview); Bliss by Lauren Myracle (Abrams)(author interview); Breathe My Name by R. A. Nelson; The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick)(author interview); The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Holt)(author interview); Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott (HarperCollins)(author interview); Impossible by Nancy Werlin (Dial)(author interview); and Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (Little Brown)(author interview).

Congratulations to the authors whose books made the Texas Library Association's Lonestar List. Highlights included: The Compound by S. A. Bodeen (Feiwel and Friends, 2008)(author interview); The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas (FSG, 2008); The Found (The Missing, Book One) by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster, 2008)(author interview); The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2008)(author interview); the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2008)(author interview); Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Simon & Schuster, 2008); and How Not to Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2008)(author interview).

Food: a bibliography of recommended picture book and non-fiction reads from The Horn Book.

Author Heather Vogel Frederick is now on LiveJournal. Welcome, Heather! Source: Jo Knowles. Read a Cynsations interview with Heather.

The Great American Query Letter: Smoothly crafted letters aren't fooling this agent by Stephen Barbara from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Imagine my chagrin: one minute I'm intrigued by a smoothly crafted query letter, the next I'm staring down at a crackpot writing sample. For a literary agent who receives some 5,000 queries a year, this is a disastrous turn of affairs." Read a Cynsations interview with Stephen. Source: April Henry.

The Breathtaking Collages of Ed Young in Wabi Sabi (Little Brown, 2008): a feature by Mark G. Mitchell from How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator. Peek: "'It's flexible and alive. With other mediums you often get tight too quickly, then you get attached to it and it’s hard to change. Collage was something I used for sketching in the past. Now I use it to finish my work.'" Read Cynsations interviews with Ed and Mark.

Cover Art Interview with Saundra Mitchell on Shadowed Summer from Book Nymph. Peek: "I used to think I wanted a more classic typeface like Trajan for my cover, but I have grown to love the typeface they used for my title. It's called Cult, and it's so distinctive."

The D-Word by Sarah Sullivan from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "...how do you effectively capture a historical time and place without 'letting your research show,' by overloading the text with background information?"

Challenges and Rewards by Cynthia Lord. Peek: "Most authors who write about serious subjects will make some people angry or hurt, and I am no exception."

Query Clinic
from Editorial Anonymous. See also Synopsis Language.

Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog recommends: Swords: An Artist's Devotion by Ben Boos (Candlewick, 2008); Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times by L. Brittney (Feiwel & Friends 2008); Keeper of the Grail (The Youngest Templar, Book 1) by Michael Spradlin (Putnam, 2008); Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg, illustrated by Christopher Bing (Feiwel & Friends, 2008).

The Power of Youth from the Personal Blog of Shana Burg. Peek: "I want to shine the spotlight on a book for young readers called Witnesses to Freedom: Young People Who Fought for Civil Rights by Belinda Rochelle (Puffin, 1997)." Note: Congratulations to Shana, whose debut novel, A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008) was included among the Amazon Editors' picks for middle readers! Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

On Encouragement by Lisa Schroeder from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "That night, in my hotel room, I woke up in the middle of the night, and thought, what am I doing here? I almost got up and drove home at three in the morning! Fortunately, I didn’t act on that impulse." Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Our Secret Society by Margo Rabb from Books, Chocolates, and Sundries. Peek: "Our (not-so-secret-anymore) Delacorte Dames & Dude Society is featured in Publisher's Weekly! Here are a few outtakes from our photo session." Note: very cute author group pics! Read Cynsations interviews with Shana Burg, Varian Johnson, April Lurie, Margo Rabb, and Jennifer Ziegler.

Cover Stories: Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton from Melissa Walker. Peek: "Flux/Llewellyn often asks the author for cover suggestions. Then they let the art department and whoever is at their top secret meetings make the decisions (okay, the meetings probably aren't top secret, but as as author who would love to know what really goes on, they always sound mysterious to me)." Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Joy.

Selling Nonfiction With and Without an Agent by Marianne Dyson from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "To be more appealing to editors, send in your query with a list of sources, photos, and interview subjects. An article or book proposal with quotes and photos will win every time over one without those things!" Read a Cynsations interview with Marianne.

Writing for ALA Book Links: "Writers interested in submitting to Book Links should have a strong background in children's literature and should study the magazine for its style, approach, and focus prior to sending a manuscript."

Project WISE 2009 - Call for Authors: The Writers' League of Texas seeks authors who want to participate in the 2009 season of Project WISE (Writers In Schools for Enrichment), a program designed to put children's authors in Austin-area public schools at no cost to the school. This program is funded by the Writers' League of Texas and by the City of Austin. Authors are paid an honorarium of $300 for each three-hour visit to a school. Application deadline: Dec. 2. Note: You must be a current WLT member to be considered. See more information.

Isinglass Teen Read List hosted at the Barrington (NH) Public Library. Note: click relevant link on Teen Zone page. Highlights of the 2008-2009 list include Beastly by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2006)(author interview); Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale (Henry Holt, 2006)(author interview); Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic, 2004)(author interview); Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham (Candlewick, 2007)(author interview); Warrior Heir by Cinda Chima Williams (Hyperion, 2006)(author interview).

Something Real
by Mary E. Cronin at Tell It Slant. Peek: "But one goal still sticks clearly in my mind: I wrote that I wanted to have a poem published in a Lee Bennett Hopkins anthology some day." Note: sweet, inspiring, and LBH is one of my favorite people. So there.

Congratulations to Jessica Leader on the sale of Nice and Mean to Kate Angelella at Simon Mix!

Congratulations to Meredith Davis on being accepted to the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults! Meredith is the founder of Austin SCBWI.

Mitali Perkins Interview from Mother Reader. Peek: "I like to cross borders and shatter stereotypes, so I decided that in a book by a Boston-based writer of color published in New York, it would be good to make Sparrow's dad a Republican. I wanted to reach out to readers in red states who don't often see people in books who vote like their parents." Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

What Color is Your Revision?
from R. L. LaFevers. Peek: "I've discovered a enormously helpful new revision tool." Note: I'm going to try this for Blessed Candlewick, TBA)!

Interview with Elizabeth Scott from Becky's Book Reviews. Peek: "...the heart of Living Dead Girl is all about the moments where we see something--someone--that gives us pause, those moments where we know something is wrong...and turn away. That was, and is, the hardest thing to think about."

More Personally


Just for fun, here's one more pic of the Austin SCBWI Holiday Party at BookPeople--illustrator Erik Kuntz, Zack Proton author Brian Anderson, illustrator C. G. "Clint" Young, and YA author Thomas Pendleton AKA Dallas Reed (yes, he's a man of mystery).

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) has received a couple of lovely online mentions of late!

In The Next Dead Thing by Donna Freitas from Publishers Weekly, Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston says "She's having success with Melissa Marr's novels, the Blue Bloods series from Melissa de la Cruz, as well as Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Beastly by Alex Finn." Source: Michelle Meadows.

In a recent interview with Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth, agent Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary listed Tantalize among her favorite horror novels and said, "Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is brilliant in mixing horror with food. A winning combination that somehow really works. The final scene, between Quincie and Kieren, is... Well, you'll just have to read it!" Read the whole interview.

readergirlz and ALA YALSA also partner each year on Operation Teen Book Drop, which asks publishers to donate 500 copies of a title to affiliated hospitals to be distributed among their young adult intensive care and oncology patients. I was thrilled to learn that Candlewick has committed to donating Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)! More on that later!

Please come see me at NCTE/ALAN! Details below!

On a dare, Lauren Myracle faces her fear of doing the 'Thriller' dance in public..."



Events

NCTE and Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) Workshop in San Antonio Nov. 24 to Nov. 25. An event I utterly adore for the depth of discussions, sophistication and dedication of the attendees-leadership, and wonderful company of fellow YA authors. Note: NCTE stands for "National Council of Teachers of English," which has a preceding conference. Please stop by the Candlewick booth at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, where I'll be signing ARCs of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), and look for me at the ALAN Panel - "Gods, Foods, and Tatoos: The Mixed Mythos of Fantasy" on Monday at 2 p.m. ish at the Marriot Rivercenter (Salon E, Third Floor Room). I'll be speaking with Melissa Marr (author interview) and Rick Riordan (author interview).

American Identity in Children's Literature: a symposium to take place from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Newberry Library in Chicago. "Four scholars will discuss the development of ethnic or multicultural children's literature, which seeks to diversify the all-white world of children's literature." Speakers are: June Cummins-Lewis, San Diego State University; Debbie Reese, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Michelle Martin, Clemson University; and Phillip Serrato, San Diego State University. Source: American Indians in Children's Literature.

More Reminders

Take a Chance on Art: purchase one or more $5 raffle tickets to enter to win illustrator Don Tate's painting "Duke Ellington," and support the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund. Note: it's especially important this year in light of devastation caused by Hurricane Ike. To learn more, read interviews with TLA librarian Jeanette Larson and illustrator Don Tate.

Hurricane Ike Recovery Fund for Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas. Peek: "The Children's Department, Technical Services, Circulation Department and Operations were located on the first Floor and all are gone. [emphasis added]" See more information. Note: Please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this blurb and link. The media has moved on to other stories, but efforts to deal with the aftermath are ongoing.

Hurricane Ike Library Relief: "Following the destructive visit of Hurricane Ike, Blue Willow Bookshop [in Houston] is initiating a nationwide campaign to rebuild the library collections of Anahuac High School, Freeport Intermediate School and, closer to home, the Alief Hastings 9th Grade Center. These schools lost more than 75% of their collections. Our goal is to have 1,000 books to deliver to these libraries by Dec. 1."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Author Interview: Linda Joy Singleton on Dead Girl Walking

We last spoke in April 2007 about The Seer series (Llewellyn, 2004-). Could you update us on news of your writing life since that time?

Well, at that time I was getting a little nervous about what would sell next since I'd finished the fifth The Seer. I happened to mention my Dead Girl Walking book in an email to my editor, and he suggested I turn it into a series.

So a three-book Dead Girl series (Llewellyn/Flux, 2008-) was contracted in summer 2007. Since then I've been writing the books. As I'm typing today, in another window are revisions for number two, Dead Girl Dancing, and when these are done, I'll return to writing the third book, Dead Girl in Love.

I've been very lucky to find such a supportive publisher as Flux.

Congratulations on the publication of Dead Girl Walking (Flux, Sept. 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

In 1988, I came up with the idea of a girl having an out-of-body experience then returning to the wrong body. I subbed this around for a few years, then put it aside.

I brought it back a few times only nothing clicked until last summer when my previous editor at Flux, Andrew Karre [now at Carolrhoda], pointed out my heroine was too whiny and, if I'd rewrite her plus add more paranormal danger to the plot, he'd offer a three-book contract. I am forever grateful for his insight and delighted with the finished book.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I was curious what it would be like to live someone else's life. Also I've always had a fascination with otherworldly topics like astral projection, psychics, and near-death experiences.

When I came up with idea 20 years ago, I loved it but didn't realize it would take some years to hone my craft to do justice to the idea.

If you want to see an example of early writing compared to more seasoned writing, I posted the original first page in comparison to the published first page over at my LJ.

The first plan was for Dead Girl to be a middle-grade book with a light tone about a girl who falls to her near-death while trying to rescue a cat from a tall pole. Her real body would have died, and she would have had to deal with making a completely new life. When I ultimately sold it as a series, the ending drastically changed.

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

Rewrite more before submitting (I was always so impatient and subbed too soon). Also to learn more about craft. And to write the books I truly want to write rather than leaning toward those I thought would be easier to sell. But I really can't regret any of the packaged or ghost-written books I wrote as they were all learning experiences and I truly loved every book.

What special advice would you offer to those interested in writing a series?

Write one really strong first book that could stand alone. Dead Girl Walking was meant to be a single title, but I was flexible with my editor's suggestions and happy to stretch Amber's body-changing adventures into a trilogy.

Other than your own, what your three favorite YA titles of 2008?

Good question! I love to read juvenile books and get excited when I discover exciting new titles.

1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008);
2. Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles DeLint (Viking, 2007);
3. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor, 2008).

Impossible by Nancy Werlin (Dial) was amazing, too. So was Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater (Flux)(author interview). Obviously there were other amazing books in 2008, these are just the ones I've found time and copies to read.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Dead Girl Dancing (Flux, March 2009), Dead Girl in Love (late 2009), and Into the Mirror (Blooming Tree, Oct. 2009), a middle-grade mystery.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: Stacy A. Nyikos

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you've learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here's the latest reply, this one from author Stacy A. Nyikos:

I had a very forthright editor once who said, "Stories are about emotions, my dear."

I nodded, my bottom lip trembling at the sight of the flocks of red marks soaring across my manuscript. I was having emotions. Lots of--sniff, sniff--emotions.

Of course, what she was trying to tell me was that emotions guide a story as much as--if not more than--plot, character, and sequence of events. Emotions have to be consistent. You can't have a sad character who suddenly gets happy, which is what I'd done.

As I deleted, I promised my now very distressed character we'd get out of the mess I'd gotten her into, but we had to get through trials and tribulations first. She wasn't happy, but she went along.

The story became all the richer both for the consistency of emotion that drove it, and the happy resolution it produced in the end. Dragon Wishes (Blooming Tree, 2008) became about redemption in the face of loss, not about running away from it.

For me, emotion is one of the core foundational blocks of a story. A story based on a driving emotion takes on a life outside of the sum of words and paragraphs that make up the narrative. It lives and breathes through the feelings evoked in my readers, lingering well after the words begin to fade.

TSRA Literature Awards

TSRA Literature Awards for Children

Awarded by the Texas State Reading Association.

Winner: When is a Planet Not a Planet? The Story of Pluto by Elaine Scott (Clarion)(author interview).

Honor: The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley (HarperCollins)(author interview).

Honor: Lightship by Brian Floca (Richard Jackson/Atheneum).

TSRA Literature Award for Young Adults

Winner: Derby Girl by Shauna Cross (Henry Holt).

Honor: Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins (HarperCollins)(author interview).

Honor: The Red Queen's Daughter by Jacqueline Kolosov (Hyperion).

Honor: Feels Like Home by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo (Laurel Leaf/Random House).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Author Feature: Marilyn Singer

Marilyn Singer on Marilyn Singer:

"I have written over eighty books in many genres for toddlers to teens, as well as articles, poetry for adults, teaching guides, filmstrips, film notes and catalogs. I like to write lots of different stuff because it's challenging and it keeps me from getting bored.

"For four years I taught high school English. I have a B. A. from Queens College and an M. A. from NYU. I am the former host of the AOL Children's Writers Chat and the current co-host of the ALSC Poetry Blast at the ALA annual conference, which will be going into its sixth year in 2009. In addition, I have appeared as both a participant and as a moderator on many panels at ALA and other conferences.

"My current interests include: ballroom/Latin dance; dog training; birdwatching; hiking; going to the theatre and seeing films; and reading. I live in Brooklyn, New York; with my husband Steve Aronson, our standard poodle Oggi, a cat named August, two doves, and a talking starling named Darling."

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Some kids have imaginary friends. I invented characters. What I mean by that is that I made up beings that I knew were made up, specifically Lightey the Lightning Bug and his friends. I'd sit in the bathroom, flashing a flashlight on the ceiling, and telling stories about them. Many years later, I wrote those stories down.

Then I wrote more stories and realized that they might appeal to kids. From that batch came my first picture book, The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn't (Dutton, 1979).

I sold The Lightey Stories later on as a novel (The Lightey Club (Four Winds, 1987). I remember very well being a kid—in my heart I still am—so that's why I like writing for us...them...us.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any bumps or stumbles along the way?

Well, my path was actually smooth at the beginning. I was fortunate enough to have my first book accepted quickly—as well as my next two books.

But then things got bumpier. A lot bumpier. In fact, you name a bump, and I've gone over it: books that were delayed or canceled for a variety of reasons ranging from illustrations that didn't work out to imprints that folded; books that did get published, but didn't sell well; long stretches without sales so that I've contemplated trying to find another career; editors who left, resulting in books in limbo or those lack of sales, etc.

Actually, I think that editors leaving is a particularly big bump. I believe that the relationship a writer has with an editor is extremely important. Your editor is your mentor and advocate, and to lose her or him can be traumatic. Over the years, many of my editors have moved on (I hope I didn't push 'em into it), and it never gets easier when they do. Although they're irreplaceable, there are other editors who become new mentors and advocates.

So, with all the bumps, I keep riding along, changing tires as necessary, consulting a map, trying not to lean too much on my horn.

You've published more than 80 books for children and young adults! How did you do it? What is your writing schedule like?

I don't know how I did it. I'm not joking. I mean, I know that I have a lot of ideas and that I write a lot—pretty much every weekday, but with no fixed hours—and that I've met a lot of editors over the years who have been encouraging.

One thing I do know is that I am persistent. If a manuscript is rejected, I send it elsewhere, and I keep working on other things. Jane Yolen (author interview) has been a great role model for me—she believes in sending out lots of manuscripts to better your chances of making a sale. I think she once said you've got to have a dozen out there to sell one.

But, to be honest, it's kind of a mystery to me where many of my ideas came from and how I turned them into manuscripts. Some of those have been published, but I've got loads of manuscripts that haven't been.

Do you work with a critique group? If not, who are your early readers?

When I first started writing, I went to the Bank Street Writers' Lab, a critique group which was very helpful to me.

I don't have a group now, but I do have some trusted critics. Number One is my husband, Steve Aronson, who doesn't mince words. For poetry, I sometimes ask some of my talented poet friends such as Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Kristine O’Connell George, and Joanne Ryder for their honest opinion—and they tell it to me straight.

Looking back, which three of your books are closest to your heart and why?

That's a tough question to answer, but the three that immediately come to mind are: The Dog Who Insisted He Wasn't, because it was my first published book; Turtle in July (Simon & Schuster, 1989), my first poetry collection; and The First Few Friends (HarperCollins, 1981), a young adult novel about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, which got really good reviews and probably sold about three copies. It was about the sixties, published in the eighties, and probably before its time in terms of what was acceptable YA literature.

What was most useful to you in developing your craft on various fronts? What, if anything, do you wish you'd done differently?

Well, obviously, reading great writers is always valuable. Good critique groups are, too—so the Bank Street Writers' Lab was really important to me. I was a member for a number of years at the beginning of my career.

The immensely talented editors I've had have been incredibly helpful. For example, Simone Kaplan basically taught me how to write very young picture books. Debby Pool, formerly of Carus Publications, showed me how to write non-fiction articles, which was useful in writing longer non-fiction books. Liz Gordon, my editor at Harper for a long time, never let me get away with being self-conscious or mushy in my novels.

There are so many more fab editors I've known—too many to mention. I can't stress enough how helpful editors can be, and that any writer worth her/his salt will always process their advice and be willing to revise.

Off hand, I can't think of anything I would've done differently, except being born rich, the better to support my writing habit.

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

Let's see. City Lullaby, a picture book published by Clarion and illustrated by Carll Cneut, got a great review in the New York Times and made Time Magazine's list of the top ten children's books of 2007.

Venom, a non-fiction book about venomous and poisonous animals, published by Darby Creek last year, won an Orbis Pictus Honor Book award.

Another non-fiction book, Eggs (Holiday House, 2008), with gorgeous illustrations by Emma Stevenson, came out this spring and has gotten quite good reviews.

So, I'm pretty happy about my recent back list.

Congratulations on the publication of Shoe Bop!, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata (Dutton, 2008) and First Food Fight This Fall and Other School Poems, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa (Sterling, 2008)! Let's start with Shoe Bop! What was your initial inspiration for the story?

Most times I come up with my own ideas for books, but sometimes my editors suggest ideas. Lucia Monfried and Margaret Woollatt of Dutton Books were looking for a manuscript for Hiroe Nakata to illustrate and asked me to write a collection of poems with a connecting storyline in prose about a little girl going shoe shopping, so I did. I had fun visiting children's shoe stores in my neighborhood for inspiration.

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

Because Hiroe Nakata was already signed up, the book came out quite quickly—under two years, I believe. That is an atypical situation. It can take a long time to find an illustrator and then get on that illustrator's schedule.

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

Well, I'm not a big shoe shopper, but I do understand how any shopper can be both excited and daunted by a huge variety of something. And I do like the possibilities that shoes suggest.

The challenges involved researching that variety and those possibilities and writing the poems in the voice of a young girl. I'm always conscious of voice and being consistent with it.

Another challenge was connecting the poems with a short prose through-line. I'd never done that before. Lucia and Margaret were particularly helpful in making sure I did a good job with that.

Funnily enough, when I started working on the book, my husband and I began to take ballroom/Latin dance lessons (which we're still doing!), and I bought my first pair of dance shoes with special suede soles for moving easily on the floor. That helped me understand shoe shopping the most.

What did Hiroe's art bring to your text?

I love Hiroe's art. It's got the right zip and palette, and the characters are terrific. Her shoes make me want to buy shoes!

Now, let's move onto First Food Fight This Fall and Other School Poems! How did that topic come to you?

This book had quite a different genesis from Shoe Bop!

Many moons ago, I had a wonderful editor named Michele Coppola, who has since left publishing.

We were sitting on a plane together, returning from the ALA conference, and I seem to recall talking about last days of school, first days of summer, or something to that effect.

Michele said, "That would make a great book."

We discussed it the whole flight home. I turned the conversation into a manuscript. But it didn't entirely work for Michele, so she never published it.

Much later on, I showed it to another brilliant editor, Meredith Mundy Wasinger at Sterling, and she suggested that I make it the final poem in a collection of poems about school. That was the spark I needed. I created characters, each of whom has an arc—growing, developing during the course of a school year—and I used different poetic forms for their voices.

I had a great time writing this book, though it was certainly challenging. Meredith pushed me in all the right directions.

Again, what was the timeline?

This one took quite a while. From the time I finished the poems to the time my publisher found an illustrator was several years alone.

And again, what were the challenges?

As I said, school is a universal topic, which is both good and bad. It's easy to fall into clichés, which I did not want to do.

So I focused on the characters instead and let them tell me their stories and lead me to the poems. Creating unique voices for each was tricky, as was writing in so many forms.

And what did you think of Sachiko's illustrations?

She outdid herself! I love them so much that I'm buying a piece of the art. Sachiko did collages for each. I'm going to buy the school bus piece, which has appliqué flowers and other items on it.

What advice do you have for those writing poetry for children?

Whenever I'm asked this, I always say the obvious—read a lot and write a lot.

Be observant, be idiosyncratic. Every good poet will tell you the same thing: a poem has to make the reader see something in a new way. But to do that, the poet has to have seen it in a new way herself/himself.

On my web site, I've posted Ten Tips for Writing Poetry.

What other thoughts would you like to share on the topic of poetry for young readers?

I like to laugh a lot, but I don't think that all poetry for kids has to be funny. And I don't think it's all about wordplay either. I think it's really necessary to look at the world through your own eyes (and other senses) and to convey that to readers.

I also believe that sometimes kids are more sophisticated than adults give them credit for. Poetry can be indirect, but kids can often understand the metaphorical in their hearts before their minds get it. That doesn't mean a poet writing for children should be abstruse. It means not dumbing down your writing. It's a neat trick to be both clear and figurative.

What advice do you have for those authors whose body of work includes many different kinds of books?

I don’t want to wag a finger, but I really do think that if you're going to write in different genres, you need to take each of them seriously and hone your craft in each. Then you have to encourage your publishers to use the word "versatile" as often as possible and hope the critics use it, too.

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell her?

This is an interesting and difficult question to answer. Because things went smoothly at the beginning, I would say that I didn't realize how rocky the road was going to get.

So, if I could go back in time, I would tell myself that there'd be lots of ruts ahead, but to never forget—and you will forget sometimes—that you really do love the destination (and, often, the journey) and to keep driving.

What can your readers expect from you next?

I have quite a few more poetry books coming out, including: one about holidays for dogs; another featuring a poetry form that I invented; a third about kids' games and play; a fourth called A Full Moon Is Rising, a world tour with a full moon as the star; and last, but not least, The Boy Who Cried Alien, a science fiction tale told through poems, some of which are in a made up alien language.

Also being published are a board book and several picture books, including Check-Up, about visiting the doctor; I’m Your Bus, with a school bus protagonist; Tallulah’s Tutu, about a girl in ballet class; and What Is Your Dog Doing?, which asks and answers that question.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Austin SCBWI Holiday Party; Brazos Valley SCBWI Conference


About 200 people descended on the second floor of BookPeople last Thursday night for the Austin SCBWI annual holiday party!


To kick off the festivities, author-poet Philip Yates read from his latest book, A Pirate's Night Before Christmas (Sterling, 2008).


Author and VCFA student Lindsey Lane coordinated a group photo in support of Amadi's Snowman by Katia Novet Saint-Lot, illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo (Tilbury House, 2008)! See Lindsey's report!


Greg (pictured signing) spoke on a picture book panel with Philip, author-illustrator Don Tate, and debut author-illustrator Emma Virjan in the amphitheater. Author Brian Anderson served as the moderator. Note: my whole-panel pics turned out blurry, but you can find one at Don's blog.


Author Lila Guzman, debut author Shana Burg, debut author P. J. Hoover, author Helen Hemphill, and author Jo Whittemore await the beginning of the middle grade/YA panel, moderated by regional advisor Tim Crow.

Later, I spoke on a YA panel with authors Jennifer Ziegler, April Lurie, Margo Rabb, Brian Yansky, and Varian Johnson. This one was moderated by author Julie Lake (thanks, Julie!), but I couldn't get a picture because I was busy participating.


VCFA graduate Debbie Gonzales and VCFA student and author Anne Bustard.


Author April Lurie with VCFA student and author Varian Johnson.


Tammy Tate and author-illustrator Don Tate.


Chris Barton models the F&G of his debut picture book, The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009), "the true story of how young Bob and Joe Switzer invented those eye-popping oranges, yellows, and greens."


Author Jerry Wermund, illustrator Christy Stallop, and Greg.


Author April Lurie, Author Jennifer Ziegler, and Greg. If you peek over April's shoulder, you can see debut author-illustrator Emma Virjan.


Author Julie Lake and regional advisor Tim Crow. Thanks to Tim and his whole crew of volunteers!



And thank you, BookPeople! What an amazing night!


The next day, I received a tasty get-well treat from my fellow faculty members at Vermont College of Fine Arts--a chocolate foot to help my real one get better!


Then it was time to pack my bags! This past Saturday, Greg and I had the honor of being on the faculty of "Connections and Craft: Writing for Children and Young Adults:" hosted by Brazos Valley (Texas) SCBWI at A & M United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas. Other faculty members included Pippin Properties agent Emily van Beek, Highlights editor Kim T. Griswell, and author Sherry Garland. Unfortunately, we couldn't bring Bashi, our medium-sized tabby.


We had great fun staying at the home of Kathi and Ken Appelt, who're getting ready to leave this week for the National Book Awards dinner in New York. Thank you, Appelts, and congratulations again, Kathi! Here's Ken in the kitchen, making music.


And here's Kathi (author interview), along with her agent, Emily van Beek, at the conference. I'll be seeing Kathi again later this week at The San Antonio Express-News Children's Book & Author Celebration. See: Author Might Have a Classic or a National Book Award Winner by Vincent T. Davis from The News-Express.


Stars of the Brazos Valley group also include authors Kathy Whitehead and Sherry Garland.

Kathy is modeling her picture book biography, Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2008).

Sherry is modeling her historical picture book, The Buffalo Soldier, illustrated by Ronald Himler (Pelican, 2006).


Janet Fox is modeling Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit, 2006).


Highlights of the weekend included meeting editor Kim T. Griswell of, well, Highlights. Appropriate, don't you think?!


The conference book sale is illustrated here by Austin-based author Lindsey Lane. Thanks to Barnes & Noble Booksellers -- College Station!

And a final rousing thanks to Liz Mertz, Janet Fox, and the Brazos Valley chapter for all of their hard work, hospitality, and a five-star event!
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