Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cynsational News

Movie Trailer for "Where The Wild Things Are" (Oct. 16, 2009).

Encouragement from friends on my path to publication by Don Tate from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "So what's a guy like me doing with a literary agent like Sara? Well, hard work of course. But especially because of the encouragement, advice, and general goodwill I received from friends in the children's literature community — and especially Austin SCBWI." Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

The Things Children's Book Writers Talk About... by Stephanie Greene at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "I'll never forget the time I sat with a critique group of twelve at Vermont College and seriously discussed the authenticity of the 'fleaness' of the main character - a flea - in one of the writers' picture books."

Hardcover versus Paperback Redux from Justine Larbalestier. Peek: "Say you have a $10 pb, that's 60c per copy. If the advance was $20,000 you'd have sell more than 33,333 copies to earn out. If your hc retails for $17, you’d only have to sell 11,764 hardcovers." Source: Gwenda Bond. Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Print Run Set for New DiCamillo Novel by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "This week Candlewick revealed the cover art and announced a hefty first printing of 500,000 copies for the 208-page fable, in which a boy who learns from a fortuneteller that not only is his sister alive but an elephant will take him to her."

Project Book Babe: "This exciting (Tempe, Arizona) event to help The Book Babe beat breast cancer will feature a panel with popular authors, as well as live music. And for a small donation, you can get sketches from published comic book artists!" Note: online auction will feature autographed books by many youth literature authors. Several authors including Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer are involved.

The 2009 Writers' League of Texas Book Awards contest is open to American authors of books published in 2008 in the following categories: fiction; nonfiction; poetry & literary prose; children's books (short works); children's-YA books (long works). Publishers, publicists, and agents are welcome to submit books on behalf of their authors. Winners in each category receive: $1,000 cash; a commemorative award; an appearance at the Texas Book Festival on Oct. 31. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: April 30. See brochure and guidelines (PDF file).

YA Authors On Twitter: a list from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Introducing the cover of Ash: an interview with designer Alison Impey from author Malinda Lo. Peek: "When I first read a manuscript, I’m immediately looking for imagery and moods that are specific and unique to the book. I try to focus on the themes that carry through the story. I usually read the manuscript once for the overall feeling of the book and a second time..."

YA Author Daphne Grab: new LiveJournal. Peek: "Why is it so hard to get back to work after a vacation? I think part of how I do get myself to write on a regualr basis is having it be a part of my daily routine: I write from 9-1 when the kids are in preschool. But anything that takes me out of that routine makes it tough to get back into it."

Lori Calabrese: Children's Author: new official site. Peek: "Lori Calabrese focuses on parenting in both her personal and professional life. Her publishing credits include Boys' Life, Odyssey, Appleseeds, Focus on the Family Clubhouse Jr., Stories for Children Magazine, and The Institute of Children's Literature's Rx for Writers. Lori is a graduate of The Institute of Children's Literature and a member of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators."

Recommendations Request: Books that Deal with Teen Violence from Coe Booth at The Longstockings. Peek: "What are some really good books that deal with difficult teen relationships in a honest, non-preachy way?"

Free Book Stimulus Plan: Increase Your Karmic Footprint: " Wanda Jewell, Executive Director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance for nearly 20 years, is overrun with books. All kind of books, galleys, advance reading copies, advance reader editions, paperbound and hardbound, slip-covered and not, limited editions, signed and unsigned, personalized and not; and finds herself overrun with books. Books here, books there, books, books, everywhere...and when contemplating the management of her extensive personal library, had her aha moment. How to weed her collection and support her southern indie bookstores at the same time? Thus was born the Free Book Stimulus Plan." Source: David Macinnis Gill.

Mixing Writing & Adult Children from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: "Just when your days (or evenings and weekends) are blissfully free to write, your college-age children are home for the summer. They turn your precise schedule upside down. They also provide such a temptation to sit and chat and go shopping, etc. Or maybe your adult child moves back home, perhaps with small children." See also Kristi on Staying Afloat in Hard Times. Peek: "The slump eventually ended, as it will again for writers struggling in the current recession. After five years of selling no books, I sold four of my middle-grade novels in one year. If I had quit writing my fiction during that recession, I would have had nothing to sell when publishers started buying again."

Knowing What Your Words Mean from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "It's a blog, or, if you want to get fancy, a weblog. It's not a Blogger or a bloglines or a bloge or a blogjournal, all of which I see on a regular basis. You gotta know this stuff. You're supposed to be a word person! You have to know what jargon the kids are using!" Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Do you want more readers for your blog? JacketFlap is a social networking community where you can connect with more than 3,800 published authors and illustrators of books for Children and Young Adults. Read a Cynsations interview with CEO Tracy Grand of JacketFlap.

From Damsel in Distress to Warrior Princess by Tim O'Leary from The Torch: Exploring All Things Fantasy. Peek: "...it is in their influence on female characters in contemporary fantasy that one can see how the legacies of Buffy and Xena truly endure. And that influence is vast." Source: Brent Hartinger.

The King's Rose by Alisa Libby: an author interview from Melissa Wyatt at The YA Authors Cafe. Peek: "My agent advised me—rightly so—to cut the first 190 pages and have the story begin when Catherine arrives at court. Still, I was stuck for a while: should I start the story when she first arrives at court, or when she suddenly is noticed by King Henry? Or should it start later, when she is already the king’s favorite?"

The Autobiographical Portion of Our Program from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "Do not tell me you're writing about china dolls because you have a collection of 379 of them from around the world and they line the walls of your writing room and with them watching you, you 'never have to feel alone.'"

Children's Book Press: newly redesigned website from the publisher. Peek: "Founded in 1975, Children's Book Press is a nonprofit independent publisher that promotes cooperation and understanding through multicultural and bilingual literature, offering children a sense of their culture, history and importance."

Marvelous Marketer: Alice Pope (Author, Children's Writers & Illustrator's Market) from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children's Book Author. Peek: "Authors would be foolish to not create Facebook page at the very least and be proactive with it (send friends requests, update status, comment on other people’s pages, send notices and event invitations, etc.)."

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry: an author interview by Emily from Homespun Light. Peek: "I don't write when the kids are awake and needing attention. I write when they're asleep, or elsewhere. I need to focus in order to write, and that's hard to do when they're here."

Event Planning by Kelly Bingham at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "We have noble intentions through our visits, and it is true that many authors do them for free. But most authors get paid, and to be frank, many authors earn up to half their annual income from school visits. So that is something to consider as well." See also Creating Your Presentation(s). Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly.

More Personally

Hello, spring! I hope to see some of you at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 2 at the Candlewick Press booth at the Texas Library Association conference. On a related note, I was so incredibly jazzed and honored to see the cover art for Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) included in Professor Nana AKA Teri Lesesne's slide show "Best New YA Books TLA 09." See the low-down on other Austin authors at TLA from Varian Johnson.

The next day, Friday, April 3, I'll be speaking at 4 p.m. at the Barbara Bush Branch Library in Spring, Texas. The event will include an informal talk, reading, and Q&A session.

The latest recommendation of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) comes from Garden in my Pocket: "Once again, Smith has managed to grab hold of the vampire genre, spin it around her head and pitch it over a mountain." Read the whole review.

What is Cynthia Leitich Smith reading? from Campaign for the American Reader: The official blog of the Campaign for the American Reader, an independent initiative to encourage more readers to read more books. What else? Writers Read: Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Highlights of the past week included a celebratory lunch (in honor of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) with the Delacorte Dames and Dude--April Lurie, Varian Johnson, Shana Burg, Jennifer Ziegler, and Margo Rabb--at Suzi's China Kitchen in South Austin. Thanks, DDDs!

Sadly, I was feeling under the weather on Saturday and missed two sparkling social/book events. Greg was able to go, though, and he took this picture of Laurie Halse Anderson's reception at BookPeople. Here, Laurie is talking to Alison Dellenbaugh, April Lurie, Varian Johnson, and Carmen Oliver. You can also see Lindsey Lane and Mark G. Mitchell chatting in the background.

Here's a closer look at Mark and Lindsey with Donna Bowman Bratton, April Lurie, and Jennifer Taylor in the background.

Later that night, author-illustrator Erik K hosted a book-signing party in celebration of A Dog a Day! Don't miss the documentary.

And in other news, Greg and I received these nifty promotional items for Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, summer 2009). (Yes, that is a pocket protector and little box of candy). Our story in the anthology is "The Wrath of Dawn."

Remember my interview with publicist Julie Schoerke of JSKCommunications? As a thank you she sent a set of six "antique book coasters" from Expressions. Aren't they nifty? Perfect for a bookish hostess like myself. Note: catalog image used with permission.

The winner of Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) is Pamela in California! Watch for more Cynsational giveaways in the future!

And that's it for me this week! Cynsations will be back online on Monday morning!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Author Interview: Catherine Gilbert Murdock on Princess Ben

Catherine Gilbert Murdock graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1988 and went on to earn a doctorate from Penn.

Her first novel, Dairy Queen (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), won the Borders Original Voices Award, the Midwest Booksellers Award, the Great Lakes Booksellers Award, numerous Readers' Choice awards, and is currently in production for a television series. Her other books include The Off Season (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) and Princess Ben (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Um, I didn't really set out to write for "young readers," really, but for myself. I came up with the idea of a girl playing football and couldn't stop until I'd written the book, because I was dying to read it.

But I've always adored YA fiction, and so I think on some level I was simply writing to my passion. Also, I have the mentality of a 13-year-old, so that part wasn't hard at all.

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

I didn't write Dairy Queen for publication, really--I'd been a screenwriter for almost a decade when I first set out and so was intimately familiar with rejection and quite accepting of it. The book was more of an intellectual exercise, a practice novel so I'd have a better sense of what to do when I actually wrote one.

Then my sister, who's a published author, read it and said, "You need to submit this." She recommended an agent, who read it and agreed to represent me, but the book needed tweaking. So I tweaked it for her, because again, I'd spent a decade interminably revising screenplays and was very comfortable with that process.

Then she called to say she'd sold it, and I thought, "Well, isn't that nice." Without ever realizing, at any point in this process, that what I'd just done was rare and extremely difficult. It's not even a Cinderella story because Cinderella, you know, suffers a lot before she wins the prince.

I didn't suffer, or at least I didn't view it as suffering. I enjoy revising. It's only now, looking back, that it's slowly dawned on me that most writers, well, suffer. Now I feel really dumb.

Looking back on your writing apprenticeship, what helped you most in terms of developing your craft?

Screenwriting, screenwriting, screenwriting. If you want to write fiction, don't write short stories: write screenplays. Because the structure is so precise, and the demands so rigorous, that you can't fudge anything. You have to learn to create great dialog and sympathetic characters, and rising drama and a gripping conclusion because, well, that's what a screenplay is.

And then you move from that experience to fiction, and everyone thinks you're a genius because you can write tight dialog. Tight dialog doesn't require genius, but it does require discipline. Screenwriting's where you get that discipline.

Congratulations on the success of Princess Ben (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)! What first inspired you to write this story?

I had a dream about a girl jumping out the window with a broom. It was so dramatic, one of those dreams where you wake up gasping. And it just glommed onto my consciousness, so much that I had to keep going with it or I would have...well, I would have had to write the sequel to Dairy Queen, which was overdue and very stressful. So instead I pounded the first draft of Princess Ben in something like 16 days.

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

See above for the first spark. Then I sent it to my agent and editor, who both said, tactfully, "Fantasy is kind of oversold right now."

I hadn't thought of Princess Ben as fantasy--the term hadn't even entered my consciousness until my agent uttered the word. I thought of it as a fairy tale.

But I responded with something like, "pooh pooh," though now I know that fantasy is, well, pretty thick on the ground these days.

Plus, neither of them thought the manuscript was that stellar, which at that point it wasn't. So I ground my way through The Off Season, and then went back and gutted the manuscript. Then gutted it again. That broomstick dream occurred in November 2005, and the book was released Spring 2008, so the process took a while.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in writing this novel?

Not much research! I love that about fantasy. I'd written my dissertation on drinking customs in late 19th and early 20th century America, so I had this wealth of slowly rusting facts related to dining etiquette and food preparation--can't tell you what a blast it was to weave all that data in.

I did need a spot of research on military-dress terminology and forms of address for royalty and nobility; not that anyone will ever notice, but Princess Ben very precise about that sort of thing.

And since I imagined the kingdom of Montagne as a sort of southern European bastion, I needed to make sure that all the foods were Old World--I had a bit of panic, for example, about nectarines. But they're as old as apples, whew.

It drives me absolutely bonkers when authors get that sort of detail wrong. I read a kids' book last year that on the first page described a heifer who'd lost a calf. Well, a heifer by definition is a cow who hasn't calved yet. You have a calf, you're not a heifer. Period. Don't use words you can't even define.

Back to Princess Ben...psychologically, the story began with Queen Sophia as a classic fairy tale villainess, but the more I wrote, the more I kept returning to her--what made her tick? Plus I'd also done a fair amount of work on architectural history in my day, so tying that in and relating it to her, was just a joy. Now she's my favorite character.

Logistically I've found that, unless I'm under painful deadline, I simply cannot write if my children are in the house. Don't even speak to me about snow days. Alone, though, I just sit there and churn away until something good comes out. Or I play solitaire.

How do you balance your writing against the responsibilities of being an author (business, promotion, etc.)?

Badly! I did a lot of touring last fall, most of it with a hellacious head cold, and that was the tipping point. Don't know how much more touring I'll manage going forward.

I love meeting students, and I'll confess I love staying all by myself in nicer hotels (i.e., the windows need to open), but it's the traveling that takes it out of me.

Also, no more bookstore events. Ever. Unless one is Stephenie Meyer, there is simply not enough turnout.

It makes me very jealous of picture book writers, who have the most enthusiastic fans who show up in droves while we YA writers sit in a sea of empty chairs...

I may have to write a picture book one of these days just to feel that love.

Who are your first manuscript readers and why?

My children. I read draft #3 or 4 aloud to them; when they start to squirm, it means the writing's bad, and should probably be deleted. Took me many years to learn, but boy, is this method foolproof. Then a couple drafts later, I send it to my agent, who has an eye like a jeweler.

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

I wouldn't tell her how hard it is, that's for sure! Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss. I don't think I'd tell her anything, really; though I wouldn't mind my 2011 self giving me some tips on how to get through this dry patch.

As a reader, so far what is your favorite children's/YA book of 2009 and why?

I just read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, 2008) last weekend and loved it. This means something, because I'm instinctually suspicious of award winners--I read with a jealous and critical eye. But it was truly wonderful.

My 13-year-old son is reading it now, and I can't tell you how sweet it is to discuss it with him. We had a great chat last night about Miss Lupescu versus Lupin in Harry Potter.

What do you do outside the world of books?

Cook, garden, procrastinate -- I cleaned out the medicine cabinet on Monday! Oh, it's tidy now. Lots of child schlepping. Some teaching of creative writing, but it's not really my calling. Hard to critique others when I'm too busy criticizing myself.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My lips are sealed. But it will not be set in Wisconsin.
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