Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Author Interview: David Macinnis Gill on Soul Enchilada

David Macinnis Gill is the author of the debut novel, Soul Enchilada (Greenwillow). His stories have appeared in several magazines, and his critical biography, Graham Salisbury: Island Boy, was published by Scarecrow Press (2005). He holds a bachelor's degree in English/creative writing and a doctorate in education, both from the University of Tennessee.

David has been a house painter, cafeteria manager, bookstore schlepper, high school teacher, and college professor.

He now lives on the Carolina coast with his family, plus fourteen fish, two rescued dogs, and a nocturnal marsupial.

What were you like as a young reader?

Starved. I learned to read the first day of school and haven't stopped yet. In middle school, I signed up to be a library aide so that I could have free access to the library before school, after school, during lunch, homeroom, and any class when I finished my work.

I read just about everything, especially sports books as a middle reader then science fiction and horror as a teen. At home, I read comic books, and my comics collection was huge. Sadly, I sold it before going to college.

Why do you write for teenagers today?

I think we all get stuck in an age, to some extent. For me, that age was seventeen, and I still feel like I'm that old. Plus, I was a high school teacher, and I wanted to give students books to read, think, and talk about.

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

Like stories about lawyers and sports, stories with young adult heroes have built-in drama.

Who can resist a coming-of-age story? We are a society that appreciates a good butterfly hatching.

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

Stumbles, speed bumps, and traffic circles! My first fiction was published in literary magazines in the early 1990s. An agent read one of those stories and suggested I write novels instead.

I began immediately, and after only seven tries and thirteen years (I guess I'm a slow learner), I figured out how to write a novel and found a story premise that got a lot of buzz.

In June of 2007, I submitted it to my current agent, who signed me on. After two revisions, it sold to Greenwillow Books, a house that I had always admired and never dreamed would pick up Soul Enchilada.

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

I would have majored in something other than creative writing in college. It's more important, I think, to have something to write about than to spend time learning to write a very specific type of fiction.

Instead, I would have gone to workshops by practicing novelists who could have shortened my learning curve.

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

Those seven unpublished novels. There is nothing like finishing a story, then revising it until it's as good as it's going to be.

It's heartbreaking when you realize that the finished product isn't ever going to be good enough, but it gave me the confidence that I could enter any revision, no matter how huge, and still meet the challenge. It also makes it easier recognize and throw away something that just is never going to work.

Also, my critique partners, Julie, Shannon, Jean, Lauren, and Lindsay, who are excellent readers and writers, have saved my sanity a hundred times over.

Congratulations on your debut novel, Soul Enchilada (Greenwillow, April 2009)! What was your initial inspiration for writing the story?

The novel began as a short story in 2005. One of my writers groups was having a Halloween story contest. I was given several story seeds to begin my work, and I had to include the seeds in the story. While I didn't win, my idea was greeted enthusiastically by the group. I entered the story into the WIN short story contest, and it won.

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

Flash forward two years: I was struggling with the umpteenth revision of a ghost story when I decided to do something with the Halloween story. I set the other novel aside and began letting the narrator of the short story tell me more about her life. Her voice swept me up, and the first draft was down within a month. The whole timeline would be:

1. spark: 2005
2. first draft finished: 2007
3. agent signed: 2007
4. contract: late 2007
5. publication: 2009.

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

I should say, "getting the narrator's voice right," because she is so different from me. But that was the easiest part.

The challenge came from the setting, El Paso. I have never been to West Texas, so I needed a ton of information on places, names, locales, smells, sounds, and attitudes. My critique partners were invaluable, and I used the Internet for the rest.

The other difficult part was weaving all of these disparate elements of folklore, pop culture, sports, race, classism, and the American literary canon into one energetic narrative.

What about the publishing process has surprised you most and why?

The amount of time and energy my publisher will spend to make sure everything is absolutely right. I'm glad that I kept notes on my research, because there were many elements that I had to justify before including them.

Also, I was surprised that my editor likes exclamation marks. I had heard that they were verboten!

Big picture, what is it like, being a debut author?

Thrilling. Terrifying. Intense. Joyous. Lonely. Overwhelming. Flattering. Rumbling. Stumbling. Fumbling. And humbling, when you learn that there are many people that you've never heard of who are cheering for your little book to do well.

In terms of marketing and outreach, how do you connect with your readers?

With both hands and lots of Velcro? I have the requisite websites (personal and book specific), Facebook, MySpace, Goodreads, and Twitter. Readers can contact via any of those sites, as well as the contact page on my website.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author? Or, more globally, how is that adjustment going?

The way I maintain balance is to run from one side of the scale to the other, hoping that it won't tip. Balance-wise, I think I'm a lost cause. I've always been a hyper-attentive person who daydreams constantly, and I don't multi-task well, so there's a lot of putting out of fires and bouncing from one responsibility to next.

Someday, when I'm a grownup, I'll get organized.

Do you work with a mentor, critique group or partner, or exclusively with your editor? Why does that approach work for you?

Did I already say that I have an amazing critique group? Well, I have an amazing critique group full of (now) published authors. We got started via Verla Kay's blueboard [Children's Writers and Illustrators Message Board] and created an electronic meeting space. They are all smart readers and supportive of one another. It was their confidence in Soul Enchilada that made me realize that I had a unique idea.

Since my first sale, that has morphed somewhat, with my editor taking the lead in shaping my work. But I always want their feedback before I send work to my editor.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read with an eye for craft. The usual advice is read, read, read and write, write, write.

I support that advice, although I think starting writers should read widely in the genre of their choice and then chose a handful of accomplished writers whose work they admire. Read the books again with a critical eye, trying to recognize the structural elements that make the novel work.

And when you write, be reflective of both your process and your product. Can you write a scene more dramatically? Can you tweak your process so that you work more efficiently and create polished copy?

Be willing to walk away from a story that isn't working so that you can find a story that will.

You wear more than one hat in the field of YA literature! Could you fill us in on your other activities in the field?

I'm the past-president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, the largest professional group devoted to the study of young adult literature. I served on the ALAN Board of Directors for almost ten years.

In addition, I wrote an interview column for Teacher Librarian magazine and was a book reviewer. I've published books and article of literary criticism about the YA field.

How do the various "Davids" in YA literature inform one another? Do they always get along?

The author David is informed more by the scholar David than vice-versa. Publishing is a business, and working as ALAN president has given me great insight on how marketing, sales, and promotion work.

Because I was aware of how marketing-and-publicity departments choose authors and books to promote, along with where they are promoted and why, I was very informed about what happened after Soul Enchilada left my hands for the final time. I feel like I have a broader view of the field of young adult literature and how I how as a writer I fit into it.

Other than your own, so far what are your favorite YA novels of 2009 and why?

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (Greenwillow, May 2009) is a beautifully-written novel set in feudal China with a female protagonist who will win you over immediately.

I read an early ARC of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, March 2009) and still haven't been able to shake loose of its haunting narrative.

What can your fans look forward to next?

That's a great question. I wish I knew the answer!

Right now, I'm trying to find a knock-out idea for my second book. I'm a genre writer and reader, so it will be some fusion of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and comedy. But it will be YA.

Several librarians have asked about a sequel for Soul Enchilada. I have ideas, but only time will tell if there will be a second helping of Enchilada. In the meantime, read Soul Enchilada again. It will be a different book the second time through.

What do you do outside the world of books?

There's a world outside of books? Who knew? My official job is Associate Professor of English Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, but because I have two middle school daughters, I'm really a chauffeur. Preferably, a silent and invisible chauffeur, if my girls had their way.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Add? No, I’ve never been very good at math. Please visit me at www.davidmacinnsgill.com or www.soulenchilada.com to read my blog, get for more info about Soul Enchilada and the audiobook from Brilliance Audio, send me email, find examples of essays exploring themes in Laurie Halse Anderson's Twisted (Viking, 2007). You know, the usual stuff.

[Watch both of these trailers, the "Bug" version and the "Beals" version. They're both entertaining and a sort of great study in perspective/point of view.]

Cynsational Notes

David Macinnis Gill
Soul Enchilada (Greenwillow/HarperTeen, April 9).
Audiobook (Brilliance Audio, April 9)(excerpt).

An "action-packed, power-punch of a debut" --Kirkus (starred)

"Delightfully wacky" --Horn Book

"Gill knows what will make teens laugh" --Publishers Weekly

"Bug is a refreshingly gutsy female protagonist...that will win over readers." --Booklist

"A powerful voice of young adult literature" --Chris Crutcher

"Wonderful and unexpectedly touching..." --Melissa Marr

"Tasty" --Teri Lesesne

"Warm, funny, and full of grace.... Highly recommended." --Greg Leitich Smith

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Texas Library Association Conference Report

Enter to Win an Eternal T-shirt this month at TeensReadToo.com! Check out the available styles. Read a Cynsations interview with logo designer Gene Brenek. See the five-star review of Eternal from TeensReadToo. Peek: "This novel is definitely a page-turner. It is filled with danger, deception, humor, love, sadness, and hope."

Enter to Win one of 25 Advance Copies of Piper Reed Gets a Job from author Kimberly Willis Holt. Deadline: noon CST on Thursday, April 9. Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

More News

Check out the book trailer for I and I Bob Marley by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Lee & Low, May 2009). Source: G. Neri.

Rhyme Time: A Children's Verse Workshop with Laura Purdie Salas: four week-workshop will take place from May 7 to June 4. Cost $195. More details.

Poetry Makers - J. Patrick Lewis: an interview from The Miss Rumphius Effect. Peek: "When I discovered poetry, I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with it. All I knew was that I loved it. So I donned a hair shirt, lived on scarabs and watercress, and did nothing but read poetry, books about poetry, poetics, prosody—the classics for both adults and children—for three years until I learned the craft."

A Revision Medley by Lisa Schroeder. Peek: "What do authors go through when writing or revising a book? This gives you a peek into one author's revision process, featuring a medley of songs to tell the story." Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Straight Talk on Race: Challenging the stereotypes in kids’ books by Mitali Perkins from SLJ. Peek: "Books for a generation of readers who regularly mix and explore race and ethnicity must express diversity lest we fall into the trap of the television show Friends, in which an all-white cast lived and worked in an apparently all-white New York City." Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Interview - Ellen Jensen Abbott from the Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "Westtown is a Quaker school, and while I am not Quaker, I have learned a lot about Quakerism. Some of the themes of Watersmeet have been influenced by this. I couldn't write about war in Watersmeet without thinking hard about the Quaker peace testimony. What is worth fighting for?"

Barnes & Noble Tagged: Molly welcomes Children's Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman to the Studio to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Writing Through the Storms from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: "Sounds contradictory, but it's not. Do schedule writing time, as usual. Strive to keep that appointment, no matter what else is going on in your life."

Black Kid's Lit Authors/Illustrators - Up 7.8% in 2008 from Kyra at Black Threads in Kid's Lit. Note: numbers of Latino, Native, and Asian Americans also are up.

Writing after Major Losses from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: "Always having 'everything tightly under control' leaves a writer too rigid to produce a decent rough draft."

Curtis Brown Ltd.: new official agency website. Peek: "Founded in 1914, Curtis Brown, Ltd. is among the most venerable and prominent literary agencies in the world..." See submissions information. Note: I'm honored to say that I have been happily represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown for the entirety of my career.

Blue Slip Media: new publicity-and-marketing agency, specializing in youth literature. Peek: "In a business climate where publicity and marketing resources at major publishing houses are stretched thin, we offer expertise in crafting effective press releases, targeted mailing lists, niche and local market outreach, and event planning to create comprehensive campaigns for print and online media." See testimonials.

Self-Publishing and Self-Editing from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "You're building a name for yourself, remember-- and you want the qualities associated with that name to be consistent, whether it's 'fun / character-driven', '"literary / romantic', 'suspenseful / humorous', etc. You don't want to confuse people with 'fun / ugly', 'literary / boring', or 'suspenseful / like a bad acid trip'."

Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner - Richard Michelson from Jewish Books for Children with Author Barbara Bietz. Peek: "Twelve years later, less than 10 percent of those living in the neighborhood were Jews. There was anger, bitterness--and friendship --on all sides. Much of my work is an attempt to both heal society’s racial wounds, and those within myself."

People of Color: a new blog from Jeff Rivera at GalleyCat. Peek: "features people of color throughout the publishing industry - agents, editors, authors and anyone else in the business of books." Source: The Brown Bookshelf.

Workshop Proposals by Robin (R.L.) LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "Think of the workshop proposal as a query letter for your workshop. You want to put your best, most professional foot forward, as well as hook your audience, in this case the conference organizers." Read a Cynsations interview with R.L. LaFevers.

More Personally

Thank you so much to Jennifer Yoon of Candlewick Press editorial and both Sharon Hancock and Jenny Choy of Candlewick Press marketing for your support, enthusiasm, and hospitality at the Texas Library Association conference in Houston.

Thanks also to everyone who was kind enough to come to my signing at the booth and to Dr. Teri Lesesne AKA The Goddess of YA Literature for including Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) among her Best New YA Books of 2009. What an honor, and talk about great company!

Let's take a tour of the exhibitor floor!

Here's Brian Anderson, author of the Zack Proton series (Aladdin, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Greg poses with Writers' League of Texas director (and fellow Jayhawk) Cyndi Hughes. For more details on our trip, see Greg's report.

Rising star Varian Johnson smiles for the camera. Get the scoop on TLA from Varian. Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

Elaine Scott signs Mars and The Search for Life (Clarion, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Elaine.

Melanie Chrismer shows off Phoebe Clappsaddle and the Tumbleweed Gang, illustrated by Virginia Marsh Roeder (Pelican, 2004). Read a Cynsations interview with Melanie.

Here's Mary Dodson Wade with her latest release, Sam Houston: Standing Firm, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (Bright Sky, 2009).

What a treat it was to see author-librarian Debbie Leland! Read a Cynsations interview with Debbie.

Wendy Litchman's Do the Math #2: The Writing on the Wall (Greenwillow) was one of my Cynsational Books of 2008.

Chris Barton's T-shirt is an introduction to his upcoming debut picture book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009). See Chris's TLA report.

Illustrator Don Tate displays Ron's Big Mission (Dutton, 2009). See Don's report (part two). Note: the star is from Kirkus Reviews. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Here's a winning smile from YA author Jennifer Ziegler. See her TLA report. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

YA author Margo Rabb poses at the Random House booth. Her latest book is Cures for Heartbreak (Delacorte, 2007), which received too many stars to count. Read a Cynsations interview with Margo. Note: next to her is a lovely and gracious RH publicist.

Next up is author Jessica Lee Anderson. Jessica's next book is Border Crossing (Milkweed, fall 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Jessica.

Say howdy to debut author Joy Preble and Texas author Janet S. Fox. Joy's Dreaming Anastasia is forthcoming from Sourcebooks in fall 2009. Read a Cynsations interview with Janet.

Check out the Horn Book booth. Read a Cynsations interview with Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.

Author sightings also included Justina Chen Headley, Lorie Ann Grover, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Toni Buzzeo, Jan Peck, and David Davis. Note: SCBWI members who were manning the booth (or at least one of you) are encouraged to contact me so that I can confirm your names and include your photo in my next round-up. Note: sorry, I forgot!

On a related note, huge thanks to Rebecca and everyone at the Barbara Bush Branch Library/Harris County Public Library in Spring, Texas for your hospitality on Friday afternoon!

Finally, I was just delighted by this fangtastic homemade thank-you card from one of my former VCFA students, Rebecca Van Slyke!
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