Friday, April 10, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways



Enter to win a copy of Naco the Party Puppy, a board book by Emma J. Virjan (Random House, 2008)(book trailer above). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Naco the Party Puppy" in the subject line. Deadline: April 29! Read a Cynsations interview with Emma.

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."

More News

Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror 2008 from Voya.

Writing Through Physical Pain from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: "Writing, as you know, demands a high level of energy, and people fighting chronic pain may use 30-50% of their daily energy just fighting their pain. If chronic pain threatens to stop you from writing, try these things..."

The Theory and Practice of Titles by B.W. Clough from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Peek: "Certainly it is true that a book these days is frequently marketed to bookstores on the cover flat and title alone, long before the actual text is printed. The buyers and jobbers never get a chance to read the deathless prose you sweat over. The first print run is then set depending on how copious those early orders are. And except in rare circumstances, the writer has no say at all about the cover art. So the book may stand or fall, utterly and solely, on the title you choose. " Source: April Henry.

Something, Maybe is here...and the Out Of This World Contest from Elizabeth Scott. Note: first prize is your very own star, second prize is a $25 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice, and third prize is a signed copy of any of Elizabeth's current novels. Deadline: April 26. See details. See also the Spread the Word contest to win one of six books/ARCs.

Writing Through Relationship Struggles by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: "Many talented writers lose confidence and lay aside their writing dreams because of marital problems. This isn't necessary. However, it does require you to fall back and regroup when you have an unsupportive spouse, whether this person is just mildly irritated with you or has filed for divorce."

Saying Yes to Possibility: The Art & Craft of Self-Promotion by Saundra Mitchell at Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Unless you're independently wealthy, send postcards to all the libraries in your home state, and again, make sure you write a personal note on each one."

Author-illustrator Randy Cecil: official site of the author-illustrator of Duck (Candlewick, 2008) and Gator (Candlewick, 2007). Peek: "I have been illustrating, and sometimes writing, children’s books for the last twelve years and have had fifteen books published, with three more in production. I still feel like I am just getting started." Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Randy at TLA this spring. He's based in the Houston area.

Le Finis by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Make it the best you can, close your eyes, and send it. You'll never be published if your novel stays in a drawer. Perfect is an illusion. A novel languishing in a drawer is the absolute ultimate dead end."

Author Shana Burg Visits Taylor, Texas High School from Taylor Independent School District. Peek: "'As a young, Jewish junior high student in Boston, I found out first hand about discrimination and I understood why my father was so passionate to help with the grassroots struggle to end racial discrimination,' Burg told the students."

Sarah Garrigues (SAIR-ah GAIR-eh-guse): writer blog features helpful post on 'Showing' Vs. 'Telling.' A must-read for writers who have received critiques that their manuscripts are plot-driven rather than character-driven.

Twelve Years of Teaching on Writers.com from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: "I'm thrilled to announce that Debby Edwardson has just completed the first 8-week session of First Steps for beginning writers who want to write for young readers." Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

2009 Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award from Chicken Spaghetti.

Lobster Press Blog has a new location.

Book Transfusion Auction: silent auction for items designed/donated by participating YA authors. Funds raised will go directly to the purchase of books for teen hospitalized patients through the Giving Library. Dates: June 1 to June 30. Note: "We invite you to be a part of this year’s Book Transfusion fundraising drive by designing/decorating and donating any kind of denim item you would like – hats, bags, shirts, etc. to be auctioned off during this event. Items will be displayed at booktransfusionauction.blogspot.com during the month of June, with bidding to take place during the final week, June 23 to June 30. Bios, book lists and links to participating authors will appear with their auction items during the month of June, and publicized in local/regional media and online throughout the event. If you have questions, please contact Devyn Burton at devynwburton@yahoo.com or Linda Gerber at gerb@gmail.com."

Editor Sarah Cloots (formerly of Greenwillow) is available for consulting, copyediting, proofreading, line editing, and critiquing. She can help your book at any stage of the game--from idea development and writing guidance through submission and marketing advice. She specializes in children's and young adult titles, both fiction and non-fiction, but is also happy to work on projects for adult readers. She is also available for writer's conferences. If you would like to hire Sarah, please send an email to sarahcloots@gmail.com with a description of your project (genre, page count, and reading level) and what service you would like to hire her for. Sarah will write back with a rate quote within 24 hours.

Funny Books: a bibliography of recommended reads from The Horn Book.

Adapting Prose to Comics Form by J.L. Bell from Oz and Ends. Peek: "In answer to the question "What types of prose books are the most suited for adapting to the graphic format?", three of those editors offered responses that seem typically gung-ho for fans of the medium."

Bluebird Works Creative Consulting: author-editor Kara LaReau (formerly of Candlewick and Scholastic) offers a variety of creative services to authors, agents, and publishers. Peek: "Throughout my career, I’ve been dedicated to providing artists with the attention they and their books deserve. While I’m always honored and delighted to work with established artists, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to nurture and champion burgeoning talent. I enjoy collaborating with artists who are passionate about their work and about writing in general, who understand and appreciate the role of revision in the bookmaking process, and who possess an open mind, a good sense of humor, and a willingness to take risks."

Indie Bookstores Press On Despite Economy from Jennifer Guerra at Michigan Radio (NPR). Peek: "At the center of it all is Jamie Robinson. She's the owner. She opened the independent bookstore 12 years ago, back then she only sold books. About four years ago she bought a bigger building and added an espresso bar and some breakfast snacks, which she says has done wonders for business." Source: Lara Zielin (also interviewed).

What will writers write in 50 years?: a question from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "What will 'historical fiction' of the present time look like in 50 years? How are writers going to tell children about the war with Iraq?"

Looking for undiscovered gems in a bestseller world from Shelia Ruth at Wands and Wolds. Peek: "It's true that we've looked to the bestsellers for a long time now, but there have always been ways to recognize and discover those good books that may not make bestseller status, but still have strong appeal for young people. Yet lately, it seems that many of these avenues have been succumbing, one by one, to a focus on the same bestsellers and big buzz books that appear everywhere else." Note: Shelia asks you to leave a comment, suggesting, "your favorite children's or YA books published in 2008 that were not widely buzzed, reviewed, or awarded. I'll compile all the suggestions into a book list and post it on my blog, with permission for anyone to copy it and post it elsewhere." It's asked that publishers not suggest their own books and authors/illustrators not suggest their friends'.

More Personally



Authors Kathi Appelt and Cynthia Leitich Smith invite you to join them at 1 p.m. April 11 at BookPeople (Sixth and Lamar) in Austin. They will be celebrating the success of Kathi's The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008), which was a National Book Award Finalist and newly crowned ALA Newbery Honor Book, and the release of Cynthia's Eternal (Candlewick, 2009). The event will include very brief readings, entertaining commentary, and a signing by both authors. Read a Cynsations interview with Kathi.

Debbie Reese, assistant professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the author behind American Indians in Children's Literature, displays a copy of recommended Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) in conjunction with "Widening the Circle." See a free readers' theater for Indian Shoes by Dr. Sylvia Vardell.

Cynsations now has a subscription option for those on Blogger; see sidebar. In addition, those on JacketFlap may subscribe here.

Highlights of the week included Wednesday morning's breakfast at Waterloo Ice House with Austin's own J. Jaye Smith, debut author of Batty About Texas, illustrated by Kathy Coates (Pelican, 2008). From Pelican: "J. Jaye Smith spent her childhood in Slidell, Louisiana, and found her passion in the creative arts while still in high school. She attended Belmont University and graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in elementary education in 1993. Smith has worked as a vocalist and a music teacher for most of her life and is also an accomplished songwriter. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family and spends her free time reading, dancing, and gardening."

From the promotional copy:

Bo the Mexican free-tailed bat is one of 100 million bats that live in Texas, and in this colorful picture book, he takes children on an exciting trip across the Lone Star State and educates readers with dozens of "bat facts."

There are thirty-two different species of bats living in Texas and more than one million living under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. Bo and his friends can be found all over, but most people will never see them up close. They love to hide, and caves are great places for that. In fact, the largest bat colony on earth can be found in Bracken Cave, near San Antonio. There are almost as many bats in that one cave as there are people in the entire state!

One in every four mammals is a bat, and bats help control mosquito populations. Bo explains echolocation and how it's used to help bats hunt and fly, and he explores the great state of Texas from a unique bat's eye view.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

New Voice: Rosanne Parry on Heart of a Shepherd

Rosanne Parry is the first-time author of Heart of a Shepherd (Random House, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Brother has never been the rancher that his father and the older boys are. Sure, he can ride a horse, rescue a wayward calf, or mend a broken fence, but his heart just doesn't seem to be in it. Even worse, every time one of the ranch animals dies he feels it too keenly. Still, with four older brothers to carry the load, it's never been much of a problem.

Then Brother's father is shipped off to Iraq with the rest of is reserve unit. With the older boys away at school, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He's determined to maintain the ranch just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father's safe return. But life rarely goes according to plan. The hardships Brother faces will not only change the ranch but also reveal his true calling.


In her first novel, Rosanne Parry takes a thoughtful, uplifting look at one particular corner of the heartland and the people who call it home.


Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there?

I've always thought of my process as leap first and then look. I never know if there is enough meat in a story idea to sustain a whole novel until I've really absorbed the voice of my main character and worked through at least a dozen scenes, so I tend to plunge into a new story.

It's not a completely random plunge. I need to have at least two characters, a setting, and a general story direction in mind before I get started, but I never know how the story will end while I'm writing that first draft. For example, in my next novel, coming out in 2010 from Random House, I started with three girl musicians living in Berlin at the end of the cold war. I knew that they would rescue a Soviet soldier and run away to Paris, but the girls were on the night train with two violins, a cello, an escaping communist, and an agent from the KGB in pursuit before I had any idea of what would happen to them when they got to Paris.

Once I have an endpoint in sight, I stop writing and begin researching, which in this case involved everything from music written for string trio to Russian fairy tales.

I do the major plotting work in the middle as well. Maps and timelines are much more fun for me to work with than a traditional outline. I like to have a timeline for all the events of the story and larger timeline that reaches long before and after the time period of my story. A map of the setting, family trees for my main characters, and a chart to track the interpersonal relationships round out my plotting tasks.

When most of the background work is in place, I go back and rewrite the beginning and carry it through to a finish. Once that is done, I run the story by my critique group a few chapters at a time, polishing and clarifying in response to their comments. Then I let the story rest for at least a month before I go back to a final revision of the whole draft. That final revision is usually the first draft my editor sees, and then we get down to the work of the "official" revision process.

What about this approach appeals to you?

This is not a very efficient process, and it's one I arrived at by instinct, not reflection. If I had more time to write, I might be inclined to plunge through an entire draft. I like the spontaneity of following the thread of a story idea. Sometimes a character will take a story in an unexpected direction, and the story is almost always stronger for it. On the other hand, there's no escaping plotting, so sticking that step in the middle seems to work for me.

What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I think the more you like to have plans, lists and detailed instructions in your day to day life, the more likely you are to be an initial plotter. For people who tend to rely on intuition and relish spontaneity, plunging into a story may be the only way.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career?

I would be lost without my tree house. I have four school-aged kids, and in the summer when they are all at home, my back-yard tree house gives me enough separation to concentrate, but not so much distance that they feel alone. I'm near enough hear trouble coming and help. On the other hand, I'm far enough away that my kids get a chance to practice independence (not to mention the long list of chores on the kitchen door.)

When it's too cold and wet to work outside, I work at this cozy window seat upstairs while the kids are at school.

After school is another story. My kids have lots of activities, ones I enjoy as much as they do, so I pack up my work and bring it along for the hours between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. when they have places to go. I've written at the doctor's office, the dentist, the dance studio, the children's theater, the fencing club, and in my car. I'm never in a comfortable chair. Often I sit on the floor. It's loud and busy, but it is possible to work.

I tend to save tasks that require less focus, like email, marketing, book keeping, reading for research and proofreading, for the afternoon. A laptop and earphones are the essential ingredients to success here—and an oven with a timer so I can cook dinner while I'm away from the house.

What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?


Short of hiring a nanny, a cook, and a housekeeper, there are no easy answers to the problems of work-at-home parenting. Although teaching your children to cook, clean and be kind goes a very long way. When I'm really pressed for a deadline, my kids do all the cooking, all the laundry, and most of the house and yard chores for a week or two, and as a result they feel like they had a substantial role in the creation of my book and are even more proud of it.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him at a conference? Did you read an interview with him? Were you impressed by books he has edited?


I met my editor, Jim Thomas, at the Oregon SCBWI Fall Retreat at Silver Falls. It's a wonderful four-day retreat with lots of time for leisurely meals and long conversations. Jim critiqued a story of mine, liked it, and asked me to send the whole manuscript. A few months later he sent it back saying, great writing! Send me something else. So I threw something large and heavy at him (fortunately there is a continent between us.) And then I took a few more workshops and read some books on craft and practiced the things my critique group regularly flagged as issues and wrote a better story. I sent him that story and got the same response.

I might have gotten discouraged at that point except by that time I'd made many friends in the writing community who encouraged me to stick with it. I also realized that I was enjoying the process of writing even if I wasn't being published. I invested more time in my writing, and applied for a fellowship from the Oregon Literary Arts. I was awarded that fellowship and shortly after found my agent, Stephen Fraser, and most importantly, I finished a story that was stronger than anything I’d written before.

I had a hunch Jim might like Heart of a Shepherd, even though it's nothing like any of the other books he's edited, so I asked my agent to send it to him. Jim loved it and made an offer right away.

As we got to work on the manuscript, I was very relieved that we’d had the opportunity to get acquainted at the retreat four years earlier. The revision process ended up being much more intense than I thought it would be.

Heart of a Shepherd
is about a family with a dad deployed to Iraq. My husband is a veteran, and I have extended family members on active duty. Several deployments occurred while I was working on this book. If I hadn't known my editor and trusted him, I'd have written a much easier but far less honest book.



Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Author-and-Illustrator Interview: Peggy Thomas and Layne Johnson on Farmer George Plants a Nation

Peggy Thomas on Peggy Thomas:

"I am the author of 17 books for kids and young adults, including two picture books: Snow Dance (Pelican, 2008), and Joshua The Giant Frog (Pelican, 2005).

"My background is in anthropology, which has fueled many of my nonfiction projects such as Talking Bones (Facts On File, 1995).

"I am also a writing instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature and a frequent speaker at schools and writer's conferences."

Layne Johnson on Layne Johnson:

"Layne Johnson has illustrated more than a dozen picture books for children, including the acclaimed Farmer George Plants a Nation (by Peggy Thomas), a picture-book biography of George Washington's life as a farmer, inventor, and scientist.

"Mr. Johnson is also a frequent speaker in schools and libraries. When not painting, he loves spending time with his family, gardening, and traveling to historic sites. He lives in Texas, where his wife and family help him pick tomatoes from his garden."

Why did you choose to focus on work for young readers?

PT: I suppose I focus on kids books because it has been the family business. My mother, Margery Facklam, has been writing kids books for more than 50 years. I learned early on that writing was a possible career choice, and what better genre than colorful, accessible, and creative children's books.

LJ: I've done loads of artwork, but being able to do art in narrative form for children was very enticing. It's challenging to show, not just what the words say but what they don't.

I also remember how much time I spent combing over all the children's books I had as a child--they made an impact on me. I soon discovered that, with children's art, I could make a difference in the life of a child, too.

How did you approach your apprenticeship, as a writer and an illustrator respectively? What helped you the most?

PT: I was lucky enough to learn from one of the best. My mother was always my first reader, my most honest critic, and eventually my writing partner. We even wrote two books together -- The Kids' World Almanac of Amazing Facts About Numbers, Math and Money (World Almanac, 1992) and New York: the Empire State (Charlesbridge, 2007), and we have been working on a third.

LJ: Going from commercial art to the fine art of children's picture books was such a career change. My old portfolio was useless. I had to think more emotively, and as I got books under my belt, developed more of my own style.

Still, always looking at what all the other great artists are doing helped me to stretch everything I was doing. Attending SCBWI conferences and learning the business was a necessity! A good, encouraging, guiding hand from a respected editor or art director does wonders.

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

PT: I lucked out with my first book contract. My mother was writing a book for a series on natural disasters. The writer who was working on the volcano book abandoned the project leaving the editor in the lurch. The editor asked my mother if she knew a writer who would be interested, and she recommended me.

I have often asked my mother if she had a deal with the editor--that if I screwed up my mother would fix it, but she denies it. And I'm happy to say, she didn't have to.

I learned the publishing business on the fly, but I also had the best apprenticeship possible.

LJ: Not long after I attended my first conference I started sending out postcards. I soon picked up an early reader book with Random House, and I was off.

After completing a picture book assignment with a small regional Texas publisher, I then had more samples I could send out in postcard form.

Albert Whitman and Co. offered me several picture book assignments, and my portfolio soon grew. When I changed from watercolor to oils in 2002, I found my stride and truly started developing a style I love.

Congratulations on the success of Farmer George Plants a Nation (Calkins Creek, 2008)! In your own words, could you tell us a little about the book? What does it add to the conversation of books about George Washington?

PT: Farmer George Plants a Nation is about George Washington's earthier side. Before he was a general or president, he was a land owner who worried about keeping his plantation afloat. When he discovered that tobacco ruined the soil, he diversified and experimented with different crops and fertilizers. He worked to make Mount Vernon as self sufficient as possible. What he did on a small scale at MV, he applied to the new nation.

There are hundreds of books about Washington and his military and political career, but very few about his farming interests. I think it humanizes an iconic figure and shows the importance of agriculture to the development of the United States.

LJ: Well, basically Peggy hit upon a great, and to kids, fairly unknown part of Washington's life--his love and respect of farming. I enjoyed showing George not as the mythical figure he's become to some, but as a hard working, inquisitive, problem-solving sort of guy.

That quality is what we all try to teach our kids, right? They can relate to someone like that. Telling that kind of story, in a non-didactic way was exactly what a good picture book can do!

Peggy, what was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I got hooked on this project when I visited Mount Vernon with my family several years ago. There was a hot, stagnant line waiting to get into the mansion, but the shady path that led down to the farm beckoned. I started writing notes in the margin of my brochure and couldn't get enough. And of course being a gardener myself I loved learning about his seed experiments, his inventions and his passion for trying new things.

Layne, how did you connect with the manuscript? What about it appealed to you?

I thought the story was fascinating from the first read. It had a perfect title, right from the beginning. It was funny, though--I thought, "There sure is a lot of poo in this story!" Ha!

I realized that I would be able to show George when he was young and then age him--what a great challenge! How could I resist?

I really connected to the story when I visited Mount Vernon. Standing on the piazza, looking out over the Potomac, I imagined George standing next to me. It gave me goosebumps. It still does.

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

PT: I'm a slow writer. I think I went to Mount Vernon in 2001 and came home and began researching. I wrote an article for Cricket Magazine in 2003 (it appeared in 2005), and I sent a complete manuscript to Carolyn Yoder at Boyds Mills that same year.

Carolyn is a wonderful editor and extremely thorough. After sending it out to experts, she reported back with great advice on how I could revise the manuscript.

I had originally organized it by farming activities, but she suggested a chronological approach. It was difficult because Washington spent a lot of time away from home, and each season brought similar problems. But using a chronological approach and twice as many quotes, by 2005, I finally got the strong narrative that we had both been looking for.

Up to that point, Carolyn wanted to use photographs and period illustrations for the book, but I felt strongly that kids needed to see George as a farmer. She finally agreed to illustrations, and Layne came into the project.

I think I saw Layne's first sketches in 2006 and was thrilled. And that was before I saw his color work that pops off the page. I could not have asked for anything better.

LJ: As far as timeline, I'm thinking it took me from the time I first read the manuscript to turning in art (40 page book), about eight months.

The major event to me was being patient and asking a lot of questions. I visited Mt. Vernon to do just that. The premise is if you ask and get the answers to detailed questions from both the author and the subject matter experts (Mount Vernon) before drawing anything, then you can render intelligent pencil sketches that need little revising. A non-fiction author and the experts are ultimately the ones who approve the pencils, after all.

Everything worked. Not many revisions. Yay!

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

PT: For me the most challenging thing was trying to create a narrative that flowed chronologically. It sounds like the simplest way to organize information, but it wasn't.

For example, in the original manuscript I talked about his experiments with fertilizers over time. Every year was different, but I couldn't discuss every year. So now I had to clarify my focus and choose the most important aspects of those experiments. Sometimes it meant leaving cool information out. But the result was a stronger manuscript.

LJ: The biggest art challenge I had to address was obvious to me as soon as I read the wonderful story. One a positive note, the story included many changes of scene. However, picture books do well with lots of action, and lots of emotion. But this story doesn't have battle scenes or fighting or other big action elements. And in that time period, outward emotive behavior was not a personal quality to be cultivated by gentlemen. Pensive manner and personal restraint were qualities men of status wanted. See the challenge?

I had to make sure George was portrayed accurately in this manner. I was determined to respectfully show George as the thinking man--the problem solver.

What was your biggest research challenge? Your biggest coup?

PT: A big coup was finding a quotation that was both meaningful, of the right time period, and understandable for fifth graders. Early American English is not always crystal clear.

LJ: One of the hardest things to nail down was the plow-seeder. Just figuring out exactly what it would look like was challenging. Peggy and I spent some time on the phone talking about that. Once that was figured out, how would I clearly show its movement, what it did, how it worked?

The biggest coup was being able to visit Mount Vernon. Seeing the reconstructed wheat treading barn was very helpful!

Peggy, what did Layne's illustrations bring to your text?

Layne's illustrations make Washington a real person. The reader doesn't have to envision the staunch white-haired portrait of a dead president; they get to see a young man grow old.

I was blown away when I saw the color proofs. They glow, and Layne's panoramic perspectives make you feel as if you are standing on the grounds of Mount Vernon, turning your head to take it all in. I think Layne's illustrations make this book the success that it is.

The book includes a timeline, a further discussion of "George at Mount Vernon," "George's Thoughts on Slavery," additional recommended resources, and a bibliography. How did this approach evolve?

PT: In order to make the text the strong chronological narrative that I wanted, I had to take out important information that I also wanted to share with the reader, especially about the slaves at Mount Vernon.

In the text, slaves are dealt with in a fairly unemotional way. They were part of Washington's everyday life, and the text reflects that. But slavery is a very emotional issue, and Washington understood that too.

However, his words and actions were contradictory. He owned slaves, but felt slavery was wrong. He did not try to abolish slavery but he did free his slaves upon his death.

I think separating the narrative from the discussion reflects this dichotomy and allowed for a more thorough explanation.

Because this is a book that kids may use for research, Carolyn Yoder and I felt that a quick-reference timeline and a bibliography would be helpful.

LJ: I thought Peggy did really well here. I thought it appropriate to frame these pages with a tree George planted, one that's still at Mount Vernon today, the tulip poplar (they're huge!). Not only that--but to show the tree in all four seasons with the appropriate animals around.

What advice do you have for beginning writers and illustrators?

PT: Read all you can about the craft, and then take only what is useful to you. Every writer does it differently, and many beginners get caught up in the process rather than focusing on the act itself. It doesn't matter if you use notebooks or index cards or digital files, as long as you are writing. It doesn't matter if you write longhand or on a computer, as long as you are writing. It doesn't even matter if you write every day or once a week, as long as you are writing. Find out what works for you.

LJ: Join SCBWI and practice your craft. Don’t wait for editors and art directors to come knocking on your door. Get out there at conferences and meet them.

In this economy, it's hard. But don't quit.

Also, try your best to do the kind of art you really enjoy most.

And don't put your coffee cup too close to your paintbrush cleaning bucket!

What do you do outside the world of books?

PT: When I am not writing or reading, I am probably monkeying around with my family or walking our dog Lily or snuggling with one of our five cats. I love to sing, so I am in two choirs, and I love to be outside in the garden.

LJ: Believe it or not...I garden! We love tomatoes and basil! (And hate weeds!)

What can your fans look forward to next?

PT: My mother and I are working on a book about how to write nonfiction for children. We hope to have it out sometime next year.

I just finished something different for me--a historical novel, which is just now getting out to editors, and I'm rooting around for my next children's nonfiction project.

LJ: I've been blessed to be busy. Damon, Pythias, and the Test of Friendship, written by Teresa Bateman (Albert Whitman, 2009) is just coming out now.

I just finished the art for Off Like the Wind, The Story of the Pony Express, written by Michael P. Spradlin (Walker), which I believe has some the best art I've done to date.

I'm currently in the middle of The Declaration of Independence from A to Z, written by Catherine L. Osornio (Pelican).

After that, I have three more book projects with three different publishers slated--taking me well into next year. I'm very happy, but I'm gonna need a vacation!

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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