Friday, January 02, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of Masterpiece by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Holt, 2008). From the promotional copy: "Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays' apartment. He is very much a beetle. James Pompaday lives with his family in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy.

"After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture and before these unlikely friends know it they are caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that could help recover a famous drawing by Albrecht Dürer. But James can't go through with the plan without Marvin's help. And that’s where things get really complicated (and interesting!). This fast-paced mystery will have young readers on the edge of their seats as they root for boy and beetle."

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 Jan. 5! Please also type "Masterpiece" in the subject line.

The winners of ARCs of Dead Is a State of Mind by Marlene Perez (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jan. 2009)(author interview) were Penny, a YA librarian from Illinois; Lynda, a YA librarian in Texas; Laurie, a YA librarian from Michigan; Meghan, a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! from Maine, and Jamie, a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! from Kentucky. Note: Laurie and Lynda both won in the "Cynsational reader" category, which is open to but not restricted to librarians (there were just a lot of librarian entries for this particular title).

More News

The PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship of $5,000: "offered annually to an author of children's or young-adult fiction. The Fellowship has been developed to help writers whose work is of high literary caliber but who have not yet attracted a broad readership." Deadline: Jan. 16, 2009.

Editor Arthur Levine sharing his handmade copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a gift from J. K. Rowling. Source: Pottercast via Lisa Yee.

Writing and Risk, Redux by Sara Ryan. Peek: "With any kind of narrative, anywhere I encounter it, I’m nearly always double-tracking: getting to know characters and following the plot, but simultaneously thinking about structure, stakes, how quickly the conflicts are established, the rhythm of the prose. It is far rarer for me to simply fall into a story." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Interview with P. J. Hoover from Authors Unleashed. Peek: "Set goals now. Write them down. Really think about what you want to accomplish, and you’ll be worlds ahead of the world!" Read a Cynsations interview with P. J.

From Page to Screen: The Tale of Despereaux movie review by Claire E. Gross from The Horn Book. Peek: "Despereaux-the-film is solid movie-making--and decent storytelling. But without the balance of dark undercurrents, it lacks the staying power of DiCamillo's book." Note: agreed.

This Year in Publishing by Nathan Bransford -- Literary Agent. Peek: "Even with all the turmoil the industry has endured, as of October book sales this year were UP over 2007. Up!! Let's repeat that with caps: UP!! How people are buying books is changing, what types of books they're buying is changing, who's publishing them is changing, but people are still buying them, and they still want good ones." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan. "Your World, Your Books:" official publisher site for YA books.

"The Teacher-Writer in the Mirror: Reflections on Making the Most of Dual Careers" by Liana Mahoney from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "My list of publishing credentials grew, and I suddenly found myself turning enough of a profit that I now had the option of leaving my teaching career. This was a tempting thought, since, at the time, I was frustrated by the lack of support in my classroom. In contemplating this decision..."

YA and Urban Fantasy-- Crossing generations and genres: a podcast at 5 p.m. Jan. 8 [unsure of time zone] "with NYT Bestselling authors Melissa Marr and Cassandra Clare along with authors Janni Lee Simner, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Carrie Jones, and Sarah Rees Brennan. Discussion moderated by Eos Executive Editor, Diana Gill." Source: Cassandra Clare.

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simmer (Random House, Jan. 2009) Official Website. From the promotional copy: "The war between humanity and Faerie devastated both sides. Or so fifteen-year-old Liza has been told. Nothing has been seen or heard from Faerie since, and Liza's world bears the scars of its encounter with magic. Corn resists being harvested; dandelions have thorns. Trees move with sinister intention, and the town Liza calls home is surrounded by a forest that threatens to harm all those who wander into it. Still Liza feels safe. Her father is strong and has protected their town by laying down strict rules. Among them: Any trace of magic must be destroyed, no matter where it is found. Then Liza's sister is born with faerie-pale hair, clear as glass, and Liza's father leaves the baby on a hillside to die. When her mother disappears into the forest and Liza herself discovers she has the faerie ability to see --into the past, into the future--she has no choice but to flee. Liza's quest will take her into Faerie and back again, and what she finds along the way may be the key to healing both worlds."

Interview with Susane Colasanti from What Vanessa Reads. Peek: "As a high school science teacher, I got to work with teens every day. But as an author, I can reach out to more teens and hopefully improve their lives in some way. Even if someone likes reading one of my books to escape for a while, I’ve maybe made their day a little brighter and that makes me happy."

The Best Way for a New Writer to Break In by J. B. Cheaney from Kidlit Central. Peek: "What is changing, according to my agent, is the quality of manuscripts in all genres. More writers, apparently, not only don't know how to write--they don't know how to read." Read a Cynsations interview with J. B. See also J. B. on What We Owe Children Who Read Our Books.

Congratulations to Laurie Faria Stolarz on the release of Deadly Little Secret (Hyperion, 2008)! From the promotional copy: "Until three months ago, everything about sixteen-year-old Camelia's life had been fairly ordinary: decent grades; an okay relationship with her parents; and a pretty cool part-time job at an art studio downtown. But when Ben, the mysterious new guy, starts junior year at her high school, Camelia's life becomes far from ordinary. Rumored to be somehow responsible for his ex-girlfriend's accidental death, Ben is immediately ostracized by everyone on campus. Except for Camelia. She's reluctant to believe he's trouble, even when her friends try to convince her otherwise. Instead she's inexplicably drawn to Ben...and to his touch. But soon, Camelia is receiving eerie phone calls and strange packages with threatening notes. Ben insists she is in danger, and that he can help – but can he be trusted? She knows he's hiding something...but he's not the only one with a secret." Read a Cynsations interview with Laurie.

I ♥ History: a new blog from Texas children's author Lisa Waller Rogers. Lisa's books include Angel of the Alamo: A True Story of Texas (W.S. Benson & Co., 2000); Get Along, Little Dogies: The Chisholm Trail Diary of Hallie Lou Wells (TTUP, 2001); The Great Storm: The Hurricane Diary of J.T. King, Galveston, 1900 (TTUP, 2002); and Remember the Alamo: The Runaway Scrape Diary of Belle Wood (TTUP, 2003).

Dude Looks Like a YA by Nathan Bransford -- Literary Agent. Peek: "To me the separation between YA and Adult is not necessarily thematic, it has more to do with pacing and presentation." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass (Little Brown, 2008): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: "...the three grow to appreciate each other, the search for exoplanets, and the wonders of the universe."

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Houghton Mifflin, 2008): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: "...a fun, lively fantasy, full of personal and political machinations, and a little bit of magic."

Favorites of 2008 from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Middle grades include: The Postcard by Tony Abbott and Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, both published by Little Brown, 2008.

Mind Blowers: Teen Books for the Precocious Reader by Emily at BookKids Recommends.

Tips for You from Agents Linda Pratt of Sheldon Fogelman Agency, Jennifer DiChiara of The Jennifer DiChiara Literary Agency and Tina Wexler of ICM from Colleen Ryckert Cook at Kidlit Central. Peek from Tina: "When it comes to author branding or building an identity, you must identify your focus: are you reaching future readers? Teachers and librarians? Other writers? As for blogs, always be aware of potential readers and keep content appropriate."

Collected Whips of Thought: Official Blog of K. L. Going, Author of Young Adult Fiction. K. L.'s next book will be King of the Screw Ups (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, spring 2009).

Supporting Authors When Your Heart is Bigger than Your Wallet from Lisa Schroeder. Peek: "If you see an interesting interview or a great review about an author you know, put the link in your blog and point people there. Stuff like this is much more interesting when it comes from someone besides the author herself."

Full Circle with David Almond: a correspondence between authors from Shana Burg. Peek: "When I heard you speak, I was riveted, and all of a sudden, I was struck with the idea that I was going to attempt to write a novel for young readers too." Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

First Pages by Daniel Schwabauer from Kidlit Central. Peek: "The trick is to present information that leaves something interesting unexplained. Your job is to drop hints that imply an intriguing answer, and then fulfill that expectation by answering the question in an intriguing way. This means, among other things, that you never answer your own questions until your reader needs you to."

Congratulations to the 2008 Cybils Finalists! See the featured books in the following categories: Easy Readers; Fantasy & Science Fiction; Fiction Picture Books; Graphic Novels; Middle Grade Fiction; Non-Fiction Picture Books; Poetry; Young Adult Fiction. Note: Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction is still forthcoming. Highlights include Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon & Schuster) in Fantasy & Science Fiction; Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Little Brown)(illustrator interview) in Fiction Picture Books; Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures by Julie Larios, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Harcourt); and Thaw by Monica Roe (Front Street/Boyds Mills)(author interview) in Young Adult.

5 Minutes With Neesha Meminger from Saundra Mitchell at Making Up Stuff for a Living. Peek: "Having to come up with something close to the power of the Punjabi words pushes me, challenges me to bridge the two, to merge them into something I can put forward to the reader and hope (pray) that I succeed in making that connection with them."

Enter to Win
a Copy of Need by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury, 2008). Deadline: midnight EST Jan. 8.

Business Notes

I receive many requests from folks to read their fiction (and others just send it without asking). Unfortunately, I am unable to critique these stories. If you are looking for a reader, I offer a list of qualified professionals on my main site.

Please also don't write to pitch a book, to confirm whether I've received a book (or ARC), or to follow up asking whether I'll be featuring a book. See submissions guidelines.

More Personally

Yowza! A sighting of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) in the same store as Lisa Schroeder's Far From You (Simon Pulse, 2008). Click the link to take a look! Shop Pickled Pixel Toe! Note: photo below is from a different store; see caption under the image.

And here's another one (above) at Borders in the East 30s in Manhattan. Thanks to Melissa Walker for the photo!

After many years of buying more formal presents for the cats, we decided to give them what they wanted most--the leftover tissue paper. Here we have Bashi (gray) and Leo (tawny). This scene is typical of their relationship--Leo plunges in, and Bashi watches on with great interest.

Favorite Birthday Greeting: "Eternal good wishes! Hope your cake is tantalizing, and that you jingle dance the night away on your Indian shoes! P.S. By now, I'm sure Santa knows that Rain is not your Indian name." -- Elizabeth Bluemle, children's author and owner of The Flying Pig

This holiday season brought many joys and one great loss. My great aunt Anne, to whom Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) is dedicated, passed away this month. For a time, I lived with her in Dallas. She was like a grandmother to me. Aunt Anne was just shy of age 89 when she died.


Writing For The Mass Markets: My Publishing Boot Camp With Jennifer Ziegler at 11 a.m. Jan. 10 at BookPeople, sponsored by Austin SCBWI. "Discover what you can learn from writing for the mass markets. How does it differ from writing trade novels? Can it help or hurt your career? Will it improve your craft? Will it help you make valuable connections? Most importantly, will your literary friends and associates still want to hang out with you? Jennifer Ziegler, an Austin-based author and former English teacher, has been writing teen novels for twelve years – many of them for mass market YA series. One of them, Alias: Recruited (Bantam, 2002), made the New York Times' Bestseller List for children's chapter books. Her trade novels include How Not to be Popular (Delacorte, 20089)(author interview), and Alpha Dog (Delacorte, 2006)(author interview) which was a finalist for the 2007 Teddy Award." Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will be speaking on "First Drafts" at the February monthly meeting of the Writers' League of Texas at 7:30 Feb. 19 at the League office in Austin (611 S. Congress Avenue).

Due to a technical difficulty, Cynthia's discussion of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), and related forthcoming books on the teen grid of Teen Second at Second Life has been rescheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 24. See more information.

Cynthia will be speaking on "Writing and Illustrating Native American Children's Literature" (with S. D. Nelson) and "Monsters and Magic: Writing Gothic Fantasy Novels for Teenagers" on March 15 at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Cynthia will visit the YA book club at the Cedar Park (Texas) Public Library at 11 a.m. May 30.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: Cynthia Leitich Smith

This interview is in response to questions from Cynsations readers in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of

Who or what has influenced your writing the most?

I read a novel almost every day. I read a stack of picture books at least once a week. Plus, I read nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, etc. That's a cumulative influence.

More specifically, I can point to Linda Hogan and Joy Harjo on my Native writing, Annette Curtis Klause, Bram Stoker, and Joss Whedon on my Gothic YAs.

When I was a kid, I read most of the Newbery winners. Beyond that, memories of kitchen-table talk linger in my memory.

How do you get into the mood of writing? you just sit down and write, or do you have to do something special first?

I typically write rough drafts only between midnight and four a.m. I need to world to quiet, fade away, so that I can lose myself in the story.

Then I print, read the draft, throw it away, and delete the file. That initial plunge is just about getting to know the character, setting, story. It's less intimidating because no one else will see it. The best parts will come back. As for the rest, I'm not interested in building on a weak foundation. I take what I've learned to inform the drafts that follow. Once the second or third (sometimes I have to repeat the process) "first" draft is down, though, I can work on it any time.

I tend to write in soothing rooms—the sun room, the reading room, the sleeping porch.

If I get stuck, I dance around in the dark to pop songs of the '70s and '80s. If nothing else, it entertains the cats.

Caveat: there's no one right way to write.

What is the most difficult thing about the entire writing process, from initial idea to publication?

That moment when I'm printing the revised copy to send to my editor and the toner runs out. This always happens. I am a normally happy woman, but right then, I want very much to heave the printer out the window. Or at least the toner cartridge.

Beyond that, I'm not one to angst over process. Once the real "first" draft is down, I have full faith that the answers to any challenges in the novel are at least hinted at in the existing draft. A picture book is different, more like a puzzle. With those, I just keep trying. Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) went through more than 80 drafts.

How do you care for your muse?

I take extreme field trips.

For Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), I walked the streets of Austin asking furry people if I could take their pictures as models for shape-shifter characters. Being proudly weird Austinites, they were all quite flattered.

I also went to open houses and picked up floor plans and chose where my characters would live (though I re-imagined the exterior facades and relocated the "inspiration" homes out of respect to the real-life residents). I confessed my ulterior motive to the real estate agents, who were quite gracious about the whole thing.

For Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), I went to Chicago and walked every street that my characters did and made notes of what it looked like through their eyes. The ink in my pen froze on Navy Pier.

I step into my world quite literally.

Why did you choose to write YA rather than adult, and what do you think is the main difference between the two these days?

I'd previously published books for children (another of which is in production).

Though the children's and YA markets each have their own focus and personality, the two categories are part of the same "family" of writers, illustrators, publishers, and the folks who connect books to readers.

But even if that weren't the case, I would elect to write for and about young adults—partly because they're so dynamic, partly because theirs are the books I love to read, and partly because my inner teen is alive and growling. I value the audience and my colleagues.

What else? YA literature tends toward immediacy. It's usually marked by its fine focus, quick pacing, and underlying optimism. It's resonant without always having to take itself seriously.

All of that is works for me--a usually thinking, sensitive optimist with a sense of humor and the attention span of a gnat.

In an October 2008 interview, author Thomas Pendleton made a comment that resonated:

"The young adult audience is in this wonderful place between childhood when anything was possible and the world was full of mysteries, miracles, and monsters, and adulthood where many of the mysteries have been solved, many of the miracles have a price, and the monsters wear human faces.

"They really get the themes in fantastic fiction, even if it's only subconsciously because they are close enough to look behind them and see the magic or look ahead and see the reality. Most adults lack that amazing perspective."

What was your most favorite part of writing a novel with vampires and werewolves?

If only because she may devour me otherwise, I feel obligated to point out that Tantalize also features a werecat as well as a handful of shifters inspired by the Texas setting—a wereoppossum, a werearmadillo, and turkey werevultures. Eternal and the tie-in short stories expand the multi-creature verse even more with ghosts, angels, and additional shifters.

But absolutely the vamps and Wolves have a particular appeal. They're old-school, classic monsters. They were screen stars in black-and-white movies. They both did "The Monster Mash." You can find them in folklore and other stories from around the world. And they appear--together and separately--in a formidable list of books, recently including Superman and Batman versus Vampires and Werewolves (DC Comics).

My story came together when I had the idea of a writing murder mystery in which the central question was whether it was a werewolf or a vampire in wolf form who's the murderer. I stumbled across it while I doing my homework. Stoker's 1897 classic Dracula held the key.

I read that you started Tantalize in 2001. What took you so long? Eternal isn't going to take that long, is it?

Yes, I started Tantalize after I finished Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002).

I'd always wanted to write a novel that drew on the vampire mythology as well as a novel set in a restaurant, so that intersection was a place to begin.

But between 2001 and when the novel sold in 2005, I had to learn how to write a more mainstream fantasy. I'd done only realistic contemporary fiction up until that time, much of it influenced by Native literary traditions.

Meanwhile, I also was working on various short stories and a couple of picture book manuscripts—Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006) and Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010).

Each book takes as long as it takes, but you do tend to pick up some transferable skills along the way. Hopefully, I'm getting a little faster.

Eternal will be out in February 2009.

You refer to your YA work as "Gothic fantasy." What is that exactly?

Deborah Noyes in the forward to Gothic: Ten Original Dark Tales (Candlewick, 2004)(author interview) writes: "...think of Gothic as a room within the larger house of horror. Its decor is distinctive. It insists on the burden of the past. It also gleefully turns our ideas of good and evil on end."

Or more personally, my YA Gothics are horror novels involving monsters, some of whom are human beings. The books may include comedic and/or romantic elements, but they're intrinsically horrific. Magic comes at a huge price, and I'm not promising a happy or even hopeful ending. You may get one, but you can't count on it.

As a side note, I've written realistic YA fiction, too.

Why are there so few American Indian authors?

I suspect there are more than you think. If you are interested in supporting Native voices, please consider featuring the Native Youth Lit widget available from JacketFlap.

Of course it would be wonderful to have more (and more tribally diverse) representation. But the more pressing need is for teachers, librarians, and booksellers of all backgrounds to champion such voices as well as for Native professionals to excel in the publishing industry across the board.

How has publishing changed since you started in the business?

Horn Book editor Roger Sutton nailed it when he said in a 2007 interview: "The biggest change has been the rise of the retail market over the school and library."

The commercial success of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (Scholastic) can't explain all of that, but it certainly seems like an indicator.

Not long afterward, I had good friends—some of them well established mid-listers—whose publishing careers quickly evolved or slipped away.

On the upside, we now have an extraordinary number of new voices, some of them very young. In contrast, when I first began working with my Harper editor in my late twenties/early thirties, I only knew of a couple of authors near my age. The vast majority were at least 15 years older.

It's good and bad. We have fresh energy, and reading itself has a higher, more positive profile. But many quiet books, multicultural books, historicals—the kind of books that need time to build an audience...those without a shiny new name or publisher push…those that have traditionally relied on word of mouth... Books like that face additional challenges.

Beyond that, the idea of "branding" was largely foreign (at least to me and several colleagues I've spoken with on the topic).

I understand that readers who love an author's work often want more of the same. But I obviously wasn't writing Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) with the idea that it would set up my audience for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), and I would've considered such a dynamic a creative straight jacket.

At the time, it was widely held that most authors would seek to stretch our craft with different kinds of stories, and, as a pleasant side effect, that would offer us more room to maneuver in the market.

Finally, we're now seeing authors from historically underrepresented racial/ethnic communities in the body of literature writing about whatever we please. The fact that someone is, say, African-American doesn't necessarily mean that, over the course of their career, all or even most of their protagonists will be.

In addition, culturally-grounded stories from such voices are increasingly appreciated not only for their teach-ability but also for their literary merit. For example, ten years ago, Christopher Paul Curtis, Linda Sue Park, and Cynthia Kadohata had not (yet) won a Newbery award. How diverse was the list of winners in 1998? Significantly less so than it is today.

How has the kidlitoshere changed specifically?

The biggest change is that there is one.

Back in the day, it wasn't hard to have a Web page listing children's-YA author websites, by which I mean all of them. During my apprenticeship, I was a member one of the first published-author listservs--invited by a mentor--and met my agent that way. What became Cynsations was a monthly text email newsletter.

How did you build such a powerful author platform?

I never heard the words "author platform" before this year. I was just sharing information and, hopefully, offering encouragement.

Early on, my career goal had been to be a journalist. I majored in news/editorial and public relationship at the William Allen White School at The University of Kansas. When my University of Michigan Law School classmates were in the midst of their all-important post 2L summer clerkships, I was working as a reporting intern for The Detroit Legal News and Dallas Morning News.

Cynsations and the main website allow me to feed that part of myself while focusing on positive news. When I got started, the situation in publishing was much like it is now--layoffs, buyouts, canceled contracts, low author morale.

Sometimes it's good to light a candle. Sometimes it's good to light a bonfire.

How have you grown as a writer?

I've gained more faith in my creative side and built up my analytical one.

It helps that I don't limit myself to books that I initially thought of as "my kind of thing." By reading broadly, my tastes and knowledge base have expanded.

Teaching has been a blessing because it's forced me to explain what I had been doing largely by instinct. That process of articulation deepens my own understanding of the skill set.

That said, I'm very much a work in progress.

Which writers' work do you love?

I love the writing of many, many, many authors.

Two headliners that deserve even more attention are E. Lockhart and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer.

What kinds of books do you wish there were more of?

Provided they were well written...

Comedies, especially those with diverse casts. Fantasies with diverse casts. Westerns. Stories wherein the faith of the protagonist is central to his or her world view. Stories set in the U. S. central and mountain time zones. Stories rooted in the so-called "working class" AKA "lower middle class," socio-economically speaking.

As a reader, what are your "heart" books, the ones you need to return to again and again?

On the picture book front, Chance by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Dee Huxley (Philomel, 2003) and The Moon Came Down on Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004)(author-illustrator interview).

My novels are The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958) and, more recently, Marley's Ghost by David Levithan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Dial, 2005).

What upcoming releases do you look forward to?

It probably makes the most sense to highlight...

I've already read and adored So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow (Flux, 2009) and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin's Press, 2009). Both break new ground in YA literature.

Coming up, I look forward to Need by Carrie Jones (Bloomsbury, Dec. 2008) Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (Harper, Dec. 2008), Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (Random House, Jan. 2009), Fly Girl by Sherri L. Smith (Putnam, Jan. 2009), and Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell (Delacorte, Feb. 2009), among others.

On the Austin front, I'm happy to highlight Jessica Lee Anderson's Border Crossing (Milkweed, fall 2009) and Chris Barton's debut picture book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge, July 2009)--wait until you see the art! In addition, P. J. Hoover's latest installment in The Forgotten Worlds trilogy, The Navel of the World, will be released by Blooming Tree in October.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Ah, this is one of my frequent questions turned around on me. With the caveat that giving advice is always a little perilous...

Focus on craft. Take the long view (and a class on public speaking). Contribute to the community. Give yourself some credit. Push through your fear. Resist the temptation to compare. Stay out of flame wars. Forgive each other and yourselves. Celebrate each step, no matter how small. Stay positive but real. Encourage your peers, respect your audience, and honor the champions who connect books to young readers. Write. Read. Enjoy living your dream.

And when necessary, step away from the Internet.

What advice do you have for writing teachers?

Keep in mind that beginning writers are beginning writers. Yes, core talent is a factor, but so is determination, a positive attitude, environment, resources, and practice. Odds are, your student will get better--especially if both of you are doing your jobs.

I would extend the same thought to authors/editors who're critiquing for a writers' workshop or conference. It's too easy to glance at either a beginning writer or a manuscript at an early stage and jump to conclusions about the potential of that writer in the whole.

Incidentally, one of the most useful things I ever did was read, back-to-back, all of Paula Danziger's books in the order they were published. She was always a great writer, but I could really see how her craft developed over time.

Writing for publication puts one at the mercy of many uncontrollable forces. But we can all strive to make our next manuscript better than the one that came before.

What writing project(s) are you currently working on?

At the moment, I'm all about Blessed, a prose novel which will crossover the casts of Tantalize and Eternal. I'm also working on the graphic novel adaptation of Tantalize.

In addition to Eternal, my immediately forthcoming works are two short stories--"Cat Calls," to appear in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009) and "The Wrath of Dawn," co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, to appear in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little Brown, 2009).

Is there anything you'd like to tell your website visitors?

Thank you to everyone who's visited the site, passed on the URL, and shared your thoughts. Thanks for your enthusiasm and for all you do--online and off--for each other and young readers! Happy new year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cynsational Books of 2008

Congratulations to all of the authors and illustrators of our 2008 children's-YA reading list, defined broadly!

And thank you to everyone who discussed and debated and cheered and championed this year's books!

Just for fun, I'd like to share a few of my favorites.

Quick caveats: (a) I haven't read every 2008 book published, though I did read 500+; (b) to varying degrees, I know or have met some (but not most) of the creators below--if I cut everyone I knew, potential picks would be significantly reduced in number;* (c) I will continue to read and feature 2008 titles in 2009 and beyond; (d) these are highlights, not predictions, not an all-inclusive list of my favorites.

Beyond that, I made an effort to sidestep bestsellers as well as previous ALA and NBA honorees, though one or two may have sneaked in.

Yes, I love Kathi Appelt's The Underneath (Atheneum)(author interview) and E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (Hyperion), as well as Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Little, Brown)(author-illustrator interview), among others! But such books already get a lot of attention, and I'm hopeful that you'll find at least one read in the list below that's new to you.

Here we go:

Picture Books

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin); see Bats at the Beach, also by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

That Book Woman by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum)

Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered by Barry Denenberg, illustrated by Christopher Bing (Feiwel & Friends)

Our White House: Looking Out, Looking In by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance (Candlewick)

The Raucous Royals: Test Your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce which Royal Rumors are True. by Carlyn Beccia (Houghton Mifflin)(author-illustrator interview)

Middle Grade

The Floating Circus by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (Bloomsbury)(author interview)

Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen (Tricycle)

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg (Delacorte)(author interview)


the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt)(author interview); see Life As We Knew It, also by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2006)

Do the Math #2: The Writing on the Wall by Wendy Lichtman (Greenwillow); see Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra, also by Wendy Lichtman (Greenwillow, 2007)

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas (FSG)

Young Adult

I Know It's Over
by C. K. Kelly Martin (Random House)(author interview)

Living Dead Girl
by Elizabeth Scott (Simon Pulse)

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
by Mary E. Pearson (Holt)(author interview)


Bliss by Lauren Myracle (Abrams)

Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins); see Wicked Lovely, also by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins, 2007)

Night Road by A. M. Jenkins (HarperCollins)(author interview)


The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins); see The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999) and The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005), also by Louise Erdrich


Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Boyds Mills/Wordsong)

For Avid & Reluctant Readers

How To Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury)(author interview)

The Compound by S. A. Bodeen (Feiwel & Friends)(author interview)

Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton (Flux)(author interview)

by Christopher Golden (MTV)(author interview)

New Voices

Varian Johnson (My Life as a Rhombus (Flux))(author interview)

Maggie Stiefvater
(Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (Flux))(author interview)

Zu Vincent
(The Lucky Place (Front Street))(author interview)

*That said, I exempted my former VCFA advisees as well as my editor Deborah Noyes, author of The Ghosts of Kerfol (Candlewick) and Encyclopedia of the End (Houghton Mifllin)(interview) due to the nature of our particular relationships; however, I am--as ever--wowed by them and their books. Note: I'll add advisees to the mix on their second or third books out.

Cynsational Notes

In 2008, my novel Tantalize was released on audio by Listening Library and in paperback by Candlewick and Walker U.K.

In addition, my short story, "Haunted Love," was published in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella). Contributors were: P. C. Cast, L. J. Smith, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kristin Cast, Rachel Caine (author interview), Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, Richelle Mead, and Claudia Gray.

Monday, December 29, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: P. J. Hoover

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, 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 P.J. Hoover:

How fun to talk about craft, the writing life, and publishing. Three important aspects of being an author!

Regarding craft, wait as much time between revisions as possible. Just close the document. Resist that urge to open it and read your wonderful opening page just one more time. Seriously. Resist it.

Do anything else you can think of. Draft another story. Read a book. Mop the floor. Clean the toilets. (Note: a manuscript and a toilet are not the same. Do not wait as long as possible between cleaning the toilet.)

The fact is this: the longer you wait, the more fresh the manuscript will appear, the more objective you will be, and the better a writer you will become.

If you can, wait a year. If you start to wear the polyurethane off your floor, at least give it a month. Okay, maybe a couple weeks. Just get away from it for some amount of time measurable on something besides a wall clock.

As for the writing life, treat yourself as a professional. Go get those publicity photos taken. Have a website designed. Print up some real business cards. The more professionally you treat yourself, the more professionally others will treat you.

Think of your writing life as your own personal business with you in charge. How do you want people to view your business? What kind of businesses do you support? The one where the manager is rude, the fries are burned, and the counter is covered in ketchup? Or the one where you're given a full refund, no questions asked, and told to have a nice day.

Give people a reason to support your business.

For publishing, keep in mind no one's story will be the same. Everyone who reaches publication will have done so differently. Each writer has ups and downs, successes and failures, good days and bad days. I wouldn't trade my life for anyone's in the world. And as such, I wouldn't trade my publishing career with anyone else, either. Because everything goes hand in hand. Writing and life. Life and writing.

So stop comparing yourself to others, and start creating your own future.
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