Friday, April 17, 2009

Hunger Mountain Presents the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing

Source: Hunger Mountain editors.

Calling all YA and children's writers! We are thrilled to present the inaugural Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult (YA) and Children's Writing in Hunger Mountain.

Hunger Mountain, the arts journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts, will launch our new online arts journal early this summer.

Our new site will include YA and Children's Literature. We'll feature articles on hot topics and trends in YA and children's literature, interviews with publishing industry insiders, and fiction selections by well-known and up-and-coming YA and children's authors.

Upcoming issues will feature pieces by Katherine Paterson, Carrie Jones, Cynthia Leitich Smith, K.A. Nuzum, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sara Zarr, and many others!

Writers of young adult fiction, middle grade fiction, and picture books are encouraged to enter the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children's Writing for a piece of fiction not yet under contract or under consideration by a publisher.

Newbery Award-winning author Katherine Paterson will judge.

One winner will receive $1000.00 and publication in Hunger Mountain online, and two honorable mentions will receive $100.00 each.

Entries may include:

• young adult (YA) fiction (novel excerpt or short story).

• middle grade (MG) fiction (novel excerpt or short story).

• picture book (PB) (text only).

Submission Fee: $20 per entry

Deadline: entries must be postmarked by June 30.

Contest Guidelines

Your packet should include:

• A one-page cover sheet offering:

o your name, address, email and phone number;

o the title of your manuscript;

o the category of your manuscript (YA, MG, PB);

o a brief (one-to-two paragraph/200-word) bio of yourself;

o a brief (one-to-two paragraph/250-word) synopsis of your manuscript.

• Your manuscript:

o up to 5,000 words of middle grade/young adult fiction, or one picture book manuscript (text only).

o entries must be double-spaced, with margins of at least 1”.

o please number the pages of your entry, and label each page with the title.

o please do not label the manuscript with your name (entries will be judged anonymously).

o please paperclip (do not staple) your entry.

• Entry Fee:

o check or money order for $20, payable to Hunger Mountain.

• A self-addressed, stamped envelope for notification of award winners.

• A self-addressed, stamped postcard for us to acknowledge receipt of your entry (optional).

Packets should be mailed to:

Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing
Hunger Mountain
Vermont College of Fine Arts
36 College Street
Montpelier, VT 05602

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Author Interview: Donna Freitas on The Possibilities of Sainthood

See Donna Freitas's official author website.

What were you like as a young reader?

I was as voracious with books as I was (am) with all Italian foodstuffs. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and so she was very big on reading me books and on me reading in general (television was heavily monitored and very discouraged in my house).

A couple of my strongest memories have to do with reading and how excited I got (I sound like such a geek) about choosing books.

My mother and I used to make frequent trips to the library, often several times per week, and I remember the very first time she let me go off on my own to pick out a book while she waited at a safe distance, as if she was minding her own business. I felt like such a big girl. I loved the feeling of independence and choice. I think I must have spent over an hour trying to decide what I would take home.

My other strongest, earliest reading memory has to do with my first chapter books, which I brought everywhere, including in the car (my parents were always advising me that I had to stop at intervals to look out the window or I was going to get sick), and I particularly remember reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (William Morrow & Company, 1965), and turning to my grandmother who was sitting next to me in the backseat and exclaiming, "Grandma, I've read 50 pages already!" I was very proud of this accomplishment.

So that was the beginning of a lifelong love of books. As I got older I read anything Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume (interview), Madeline L'Engle, all Noel Streatfeild's Shoe books (I was a dancer and a gymnast), and then eventually, Sweet Valley High (for summer fun), and classics--the usual suspects you read in high school. But I got a little obsessed with Ayn Rand's novels, too, which now makes me roll my eyes but then, we all have pasts.

Why do you write for teenagers today?

The stories that show up in my head feature teen protagonists and decidedly high school concerns and experiences so I've just gone with it. But then, I think young adulthood is one of the most exciting, rich, quirky, funny, and searching times in our lives, so it's a wonderful time to explore through fiction.

I've been a teacher of some sort for fourteen years now (high school and college), and I absolutely adore my students and think they are one of the best audiences around that a person could reach out to in her writing, so for me it's really an honor to write for a group of people I already respect so much. Writing YA fiction is another way to be in conversation with teens and college students.

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

Most of all I love a strong voice, and some of the best character voices around are in YA fiction—I'm thinking about Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Arthur Levine, March 2009) as a great, recent example.

Besides, with YA you get to dig down deep into romance—and I love romance—because that's such a huge part of being a teenager. At least it was for me—I was pretty boy-crazy in high school (and it's possible that my protagonist, Antonia Lucia Labella, from The Possibilities of Sainthood (FSG, 2008) has a lot of that in her, too).

The other best part about young hero/ines is that this is a time in life when you are asking and struggling with life's biggest questions. As a one-time philosophy major in college (at Georgetown) and now a professor of religious studies, I love Big Questions and I think children's literature is one of the most daring, risk-taking areas of literature in this regard.

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

I never thought I'd publish a novel, not even when I started writing The Possibilities of Sainthood. But my wonderful agent (Miriam Altshuler)—who has represented all my adult nonfiction and some amazing children's/YA writers, including Alex Sanchez (interview) and Walter Dean Myers—was very excited when I told her I was writing a novel and especially after I told her the story.

She really cheered me on as did two very good friends of mine, Tanya Lee Stone (author of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006))(interview), and Beth Wright, the children's librarian at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. I'd also told them the plot and character, and they were amazingly supportive and pretty much the people who convinced me to go for it.

So I did—and I guess you could call my first draft a sprint: I finished it in about three and a half weeks. I wrote like a person possessed. It was a blast.

Once I had a draft, my agent sent it out to one editor in particular who was my dream editor: Frances Foster at FSG. One of the books Frances had edited—Holes by Louis Sachar (FSG, 1998)—was the book that inspired me to imagine my own story filled with quirks and wacky characters. My fantasy was that Frances would read The Possibilities of Sainthood and get its sense of humor and fall in love with the story. I didn't imagine I would get my wish, though!

When my agent called to tell me that Frances wanted a meeting, I almost fainted. It was a dream come true. And Frances is my heroine. Not only is she a wonderful editor, but I am learning so much as a writer by working with her. She’s hilarious, too. I pretty much want to be Frances when I grow up.

As far as the trials and tribulations of getting this first novel was really hard work, grueling even. While the first draft tends to pore out of me, revising is like pulling teeth. And Frances and FSG took a chance on me—for which I am grateful. The Possibilities of Sainthood needed a lot of work. Everyone at FSG put a lot of effort into shepherding this book to publication and helping me stay sane in the process.

FSG has incredible people in publicity and marketing, folks who make an author feel very loved and supported both before and after a book comes out, and then I was lucky to have Robbin Gourley design the cover, which I adore. I love looking at the cover. And she came up with it on the first try.

I still have to pinch myself, though, when I see the book. I can't believe it's real.

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

I don't know that I really had an apprenticeship. I didn't set out to become a writer, and even now I have a difficult time applying the title to myself. I've always written—but mostly academic papers in college and grad school when I was getting my Ph.D.

I loved writing philosophical treatises and all, but generally professors of philosophy and religious studies do not care about style, etc. They only care about content, the ideas you put out or grapple with. So no one gave me lessons on developing my writing style or character development or anything like that.

When I first realized I might have entire books in me, even novels, and then realized I might also write these books, I began to pay closer attention to my favorite books—both nonfiction and fiction: How did the authors use dialogue? Create setting? Character? And then I dived in and did the best I could.

It would have been great to have a mentor (or several) early on, but eventually I lucked out and landed my Frances, from whom I've learned so much, as well as finding wonderful writing friends to exchange work with for critique.

I often envy those who get MFAs in children’s writing at great places like Vermont College and The New School because of the ready-made, amazing community these programs provide aspiring writers, both in terms of teachers and peers.

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

Meeting writers willing to offer advice, answer questions, read drafts, and of course, paying attention to my editor's advice, even if it required that I rewrite the last third of the novel (which I did.) Also, learning to trust—and listen to—my character's voice.

As I said above, while revisions are really difficult for me, first drafts are pretty thrilling. I literally could "hear" Antonia talking in my head and realized that my job was to listen to her voice and go from there. I knew I could always come back and work on the manuscript later. The most important thing was to get it all out while I had the energy and spark.

That initial inspiration is key for me—taking advantage of it while it's there—and letting myself worrying about the rest later (you know: the polishing, um, the grammar, the readability, important stuff like that).

Congratulations on the success of The Possibilities of Sainthood (FSG, 2008)! Could you tell us about the novel?

The Possibilities of Sainthood is the story of Antonia Lucia Labella, a 15-year-old Italian girl from an immigrant family, living in Rhode Island.

She has two main desires: 1) to become the first ever official living saint in Catholic history (and she's been writing the Pope in Rome once a month, every month since she was seven, proposing new saint ideas and herself as the ideal candidate); and 2) to land her first kiss.

The setting is about as Italian and Rhode Island as you can get—Antonia's family owns an Italian market in Federal Hill (Rhode Island's famous Italian neighborhood) and they live above it. Her family is loud, melodramatic, and always either cooking food to sell in the store, eating food in general, or working in the store and talking about food. Antonia also goes to Catholic school, complete with plaid skirts, the whole thing.

When she's not proposing new saints—like the Patron Saint of Figs and Fig Trees or of People Who Make Pasta or, eventually, the Patron Saint of the First Kiss and Kissing—she's going back and forth between her two love interests (one's an Italian, the other a hottie Irish boy).

I hope, hope, hope that people find it funny. It's meant to be very lighthearted.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

A combination of being Italian myself (Italians are characters), growing up in Rhode Island (which brings me to more characters: Rhode Islanders are a quirky people), and then my mom and grandmother. My mom actually grew up above her family's Italian Market—it's called Goglia's Market and it' still there, but in Bristol, not Federal Hill—and all my life she told me these hilarious stories about the store and especially the two giant fig trees out back that came from clippings carried over from Italy. She'd talk about these trees like they were miraculous—for their size, the giant, succulent figs they would put forth each season, how they'd have to bury the trees so they'd survive the Rhode Island winter.

That's the first thing Antonia talks about in The Possibilities of Sainthood—burying the family fig trees and what a crazy task this is.

I guess the last bit of inspiration would just be the Catholic saints—I think of them as comedy just waiting to happen. There are saints for hilarious things and things you would never imagine. I had so much fun finding the most ridiculous ones, and of course, the ridiculous stories of how they died (they all have crazy martyrdom stories.)

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

I wrote the novel in the spring of 2006, and it just came out in the fall of 2008, so over two years. FSG has a really long lead time. They bought it in April 2006, and it was so difficult to wait for the release date.

Aside from writing it, the most major event was that meeting I had with Frances at FSG's offices (with my agent and another FSG editor and publisher as well) before she officially made an offer. It was one of the most exciting meetings of my life.

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

Revision, revision, revision! That was my biggest challenge. And speaking of literary—just hoping that lighthearted and funny could also have depth. That's part of why I hoped for Frances as an editor—Holes is such a funny book, but it's also really smart, and I had this fantasy that she'd get the humor in my novel, too.

In general, logistically, it can be difficult juggling my professorial responsibilities and my adult nonfiction with the fiction publication schedule.

Actually, the copy edits for my most recent, adult nonfiction publication, Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campuses (Oxford, 2008) and the copy edits for The Possibilities of Sainthood came in on the same day.

Both publishers wanted the manuscripts turned around ASAP of course. Plus, I was teaching new courses at Boston University and embroiled in the media controversy surrounding the movie of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. It was one of the craziest times in my life, trying to manage all of that at once.

The one other thing I'd say about challenges is just that my novel has so much of my mom and grandmother in the story (my grandma lived with us my whole life), and they died about 18 months apart, a couple of years before I started writing.

The novel is dedicated in their memory, and I wish with all my heart that they could read it. I hope it would make them laugh. But I loved bringing them alive in spirit on the page. For that, I am very grateful.

Yours is one of the few YA novels that comes to mind in terms of positive/upbeat depictions of religion. Why do you believe this is the case?

Positive depictions, or even funny ones, are pretty rare in YA lit. Though there are more and more that I am finding—like one I already mentioned, Marcelo in the Real World (which is deep and endearing), and Lauren Myracle (interview) has a lighthearted novel called Peace, Love, & Baby Ducks coming out this summer (Dutton, 2009) where faith, questions about God, and, in particular, Christianity is just a regular part of her protagonist's life so it's part of the book, too.

Then I have other favorites like Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Orchard, 2007), which is so wonderfully lighthearted, and The God Box by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2007), which is not only moving, but such a smart, sensitive discussion of navigating coming out in the context of a religious community.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006)(interview), which is also moving, subtle, and wonderful in handling faith with sensitivity.
So maybe times are a-changing on this front.

Though, I've learned to keep a low profile (at least at first) about my other life as a Professor of Religious Studies within the YA Lit world—that people make all sorts of assumptions about what that must mean for who I am and what I believe. Religion in general makes certain people nervous, and so having an affiliation like "Prof of Religion" sometimes makes people a bit anxious as well (not everyone, but still).

But it's a part of life for many, many, many of us—probably most of us to some degree—and certainly a part of the life of many teens who read our books as well, so I think it is important to have books that feature characters with a faith life that are not only about faith-in-crisis, but simply faith as a part of life or even as the foundation for a fun, quirky story as is the case in Does My Head Look Big In This?.

Why do you think it's important to reflect faith in the lives of young people?

Because they care—and deeply so, and YA literature should try to be inclusive of and sensitive about this interest. In my work as a scholar, I actually did a nationwide study measuring the level of interest in religion and/or spirituality among young adults in college—the results are published in Sex and the Soul which I mentioned above.

Teens and young adults—both for my research and several other major national studies--register as religious and/or spiritual to the tune of about 80%(!). That's such a huge number I don't think it can be ignored.

So theoretically, YA Literature is way behind on engaging this particular life dimension of our audience—if I had to guess, the percentage of YA novels published that feature a character who even mentions going to any sort of faith service is pretty low!

What insights did you bring into the process?

Well, I am a person of faith (I grew up Catholic), so I hope that helped!

And then, I'm a religion professor, so I hope all that work toward my Ph.D. did some good in the novel, too. I've long studied saints and mystics, especially women saints and mystics.

But maybe most of all, I am constantly talking to teens and college students about their faith lives, their questions and struggles, what they find humorous and especially ridiculous about religions and/or spirituality. That's my job as both a teacher and a researcher in the field.

And, in my study certainly, but also in the talks I give at universities and colleges across the country and classes I've taught, I've learned over the years that teens are fascinated by spirituality and religion, especially spiritual journeys of all sorts.

So I hope that my protagonist, Antonia's journey, however quirky and lighthearted it may be, will engage that hunger and interest that I see as so widespread about teens and young adults today.

The novel also has a terrific sense of place. Could you tell us how you developed and integrated the setting to best effect?

Well, I think it's the food, really, that gives it a sense of place. There is constant talk of pasta of all varieties, spinach pies, meatballs, sauces—you name it. Is that possible—for smells and descriptions of cooking can evoke a sense of place, that food can shape a home, a store, and neighborhood? Everything in my house when I was growing up revolved around food, so it wasn't hard to use that as the center touchstone of the book. I suppose the plaid skirts, saint icons all over the place, and then quirky Rhode Island helps, too.

Rhode Island is such a distinctive place, and I love writing about it, so I don’t know that I can take much credit for that part of the setting. But I hope people find it as fun place to set a story and characters as I do!

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

Ooof. I find the balancing act very difficult. There are so many writers who maintain LiveJournals all the time and do tons of author appearances, etc. I haven't figured that part out yet.

I'm hoping to start doing school visits soon (I haven't done one yet, but am really looking forward to trying it out), but then, a lot of my time is also occupied by the writing and lecturing I need to do in relation to my research, especially for Sex and the Soul.

So if you have any advice about juggling, please send it my way!

What was it like, being a debut author in 2008?

Thrilling and intimidating, too. I feel like such a newbie when it comes to fiction, and I like to think that I have a long career ahead of me where I get to improve my writing and "polish" my craft, so to speak.

Then I look at other debut novels like Kristin Cashore's Graceling (Harcourt, 2008) or Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely (Harper, 2007)(interview)—just to name two—and think to myself, Wow: so this is their first try at this novel-writing thing?

Overall, though, it's been an utter thrill. I still get geeky excited just holding the novel in my hands, seeing that it's real.

As a reader, what were your favorite books of 2008?

Too many to name! But I have to gush about The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski (FSG, 2008), which is just lush in terms of place and description—Marie is a stunning debut fantasy author.

I also loved Graceling—what a romance!

And E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion, 2008)(interview) I fell in love with from the first page—I was so happy it was a finalist for the National Book Award and got a Printz Honor.

What do you do outside the world of books?

Um, there’s an outside? Well…As I mentioned before, I am a professor at Boston University and I love, love, love teaching, especially college students. I love being a part of a community whose whole purpose is to read and think and contemplate and ideally, somehow, through this process change the world. In other words, I am very idealistic.

As for other stuff: I am a huge "Buffy" fan (I just re-watched all seven seasons), and more recently, I'm hooked on "Battlestar," so I am kind of a TV-movie-junkie (I go to the movies all the time by myself, actually—I love that and I think it comes from being an only child—you learn to go off on your own a lot).

I also love to drink coffee and read novels for fun (surprise!) and most of all, hang out with friends and family.

Eat, too: eating is a favorite activity, as is cooking (and my husband is a very good audience for the eating of my cooking). I really do cook all those things mentioned in my novel for real—I grew up learning to make all those Italian goodies including homemade pasta.

And the last thing I'll mention is living in New York City—is there a more amazing place? I love walking the city and discovering new things (there is always something new to discover), and I love the people-watching. It's hard to imagine living anywhere else.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a draft of a sequel to The Possibilities of Sainthood sitting on my computer, which I originally thought would be my second novel, but it's far from ready at this point.

This is because I went and surprised myself and wrote an altogether different story than I expected to—I started it out of the blue one day. Antonia's story is so lighthearted and bordering on melodramatic with all that Italian passion poring out of her and I had such fun writing her story that I imagined that I would always, only write funny. This proved not to be the case.

So my next novel, The Gorgeous Game (FSG, spring 2010), is sad and dark—though ultimately hopeful, I think—and it does have some romance in it. But it's about stalking.

I used to think that it would be terribly painful to write a sad story, especially one with such darkness as involving a girl who is being stalked by someone. The experience of writing this novel surprised me tremendously, though. I felt like a warrior who was slaying a monster. It was one of the most empowering experiences I've had so far as a writer.

I hope readers who enjoyed The Possibilities of Sainthood will forgive the switch in style and tone for this one and be willing to discover a different kind of voice and story from me.

Next up after this one will be a funny story because I do love funny. But I'll be curious to see how people respond to my "stalking novel" as I've taken to calling it. Hopefully readers will like it. That's all an author can hope for, right?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Author Interview: Jenny Moss on Winnie's War

Jenny Moss on Jenny Moss: "I'm a writer and a mom of teens. And a Texan! My family moved to Houston when I was ten. They all left, but I stayed.

"I've wanted to be a writer since my early days in Louisiana, but I didn't think it was a realistic goal. I revered books and thought novels were created by people who were born with the Great Writing Gene or sprinkled with fairy dust, gifted in a way that I wasn't. I felt like a writer, but I couldn't imagine myself a part of that world.

"So I went into engineering and worked for NASA for a while, but I secretly wrote at night. Eventually, I returned to college and got a degree in literature."

What were you like as a young reader?

I read a lot. A lot, a lot. It opened up worlds a bit different than suburbia. As a young girl, my favorites were A Little Princess, Little Women, and every Nancy Drew I could find.

As a teen, I'd feel guilty when I read Gothic novels in lieu of one of the classics, but that didn't stop me, especially when it came to the books of Victoria Holt. I also liked Rebecca, Joy in the Morning, Jane Eyre, Marjorie Morningstar, and Agatha Christie.

My grandmother told me that every good Southern woman had a copy of the Bible and Gone with the Wind by her bed, so I read those, too.

Why do you write for teenagers today?

Such a fascinating time of life! Teenagers have an energy and a fresh point of view that's engaging and also contagious. Listening to them and writing for them helps me to remember things I've forgotten along the way--important things.

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

Some stumbling, but I think it was mostly plodding. My efforts at publication began in 2003.

A couple of years later, I put aside that first novel after many critiques, revisions, and rejections. I'd spent a lot of time with those characters and with learning craft and applying what I learned to that book, so it was hard to let it go!

I began writing two new ones: a YA fantasy and Winnie's War. I finished the fantasy first and sent that out to agents. Nancy Gallt liked it and offered me representation. The fantasy will be released by Scholastic next year.

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

Sometimes I wish I'd focused solely on writing from the beginning. When I'm writing, I get the feeling I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. And that's a great feeling. On the other hand, I think things probably happened exactly when they were supposed to.

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

I think critiquing others' work helps to improve your own. My first experience with critique was in college in my creative writing classes. Each student would read her work and get feedback from the professor and the other students. I was amazed by how quickly my professor could respond, and I paid attention to his observations.

Through SCBWI, I was involved in two critique groups. The discussions we would have about what works and what doesn't--in our own work, as well as in books we'd read--helped me to apply what I'd learned in my literature classes to my own books. Hence, I'm a big advocate of critique in the pre-publication years.

After numerous professional critiques with editors, I realized my first novel lacked voice. That part of writing seemed like magic to me (the Great Writing Gene again), and I wondered how writers created memorable voices. I realized, when I was writing that first novel, I'd held back just a bit, keeping the protagonist a little distant. I'd been reluctant to put some of me in that
character. That realization made a difference, I think.

Congratulations on your debut novel, Winnie's War (Walker, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Thanks so much! It's still surprising to see it on the shelves.

The novel is about twelve-year-old Winnie, living in 1918 small town Texas and trying to protect her family from the Spanish influenza sweeping the world.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I wanted to create my own small town. But it was Winnie's voice that pulled me into the story, helping me to see things through the eyes and worries of a twelve-year-old girl.

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

I wrote the first scene of Winnie's War in March 2005. (That scene became the prologue, which was dropped from the book during the editorial process.) I was also working on another book, a YA fantasy. I jumped back and forth between the books, completing the fantasy first. I sent that out to agents and went back to Winnie.

I sensed something different was happening for the fantasy because of the agent and editor response I was getting as compared to my first book. A lot more interest, some revision suggestions. Nancy offered representation in August 2006. After she sent that book out on submission, I picked up Winnie again. Winnie went out on submission to editors in fall 2007. Emily Easton at Walker made an offer. We accepted in January, and I had my first revision letter in hand in early February! The ARCs were out by July. Whew!

I was surprised at the speed and efficiency of the process. I had a lot of questions, but the Walker folks were always patient. (Thank you, Mary Kate!)

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

A couple! The first involved the research. I thought it'd be easy because I live in the area where I placed the fictional town of Coward Creek. But at times I had to dig deep to find what I needed. For example, I went through files and books in the Helen Hall Library, looking for mention of the
Spanish influenza and its impact on a Galveston county town. I found very, very little.

I ended up at Clayton Library in Houston, going through every death certificate issued in the fall of 1918 in Harris and Galveston counties. When I found an influenza death, I wrote it down. It was time consuming, but I liked it.

The second challenge was writing about death, especially for middle-grade fiction. I knew the book had to be realistic. I couldn't shy away from it. The impact to many children during that time was just devastating. And I wanted to be true to that. In a way, it seemed to me that we'd, as a nation, forgotten the pandemic, and if I didn't depict things as they were, then I'd be doing the same thing, turning from something because it was difficult.

There was one scene in particular I didn't want to write. I sketched it out in a skeleton draft, and then just skipped over it, and wrote around it. But I thought about it all the time. And I did the research needed because there were things I had to know about the influenza in order to write the scene. By the time I sat down to pen the chapter, I'd prepared so much, the writing just flowed. The essence of the scene changed very little after that first draft.

What was your biggest research coup?

I found most things very slowly, so I'm not sure there was a coup! One thing: I came across a book by Marguerite Johnston: Houston, The Unknown City (Texas A&M Press, 1991), which had a couple of paragraphs on the impact of the influenza. So still not much. But the bibliography revealed Johnston had conducted a lot of interviews. I tried to contact her and discovered she'd died in 1998.

I did find her papers in the Woodson Research Center at Rice University. Those archives contained transcripts of all of her interviews. Some very interesting information in there (including some not relevant to my book, such as observations by interviewees about the young Howard Hughes!).

Writers definitely build upon the efforts of other writers. Thank you, Marguerite Johnston.

Too often authors whose books relate to a landmark historical event tend to have flat characters, meant to illustrate rather than breathe. How did you get past this to create such three-dimensional, resonant individuals for your story?

I'm interested in historical events, very much so, but I want to see an historical event through the eyes of an individual. What about a person's culture or time period makes her different? Which responses to tragedy and circumstances are common, which unique?

I'm particularly interested in human sameness that stretches across generations because it connects us to our grandparents and great-grandparents. I think we can learn from what others have already experienced.

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

The number of times I've had to read my manuscript as it went through the process!

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

I think, for me, reaching a goal later in life, after years of wishing and working at it, has brought a certain contentment. I've worked a long time to become an author, and it's something I've always wanted to do. It means a lot to me to realize that dream. I'm very thankful.

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

I so much want to connect with readers! There were kids and teens who attended my launch party, and I enjoyed talking to them. The experience made me anxious to get into the schools. This is the part of the publishing adventure that's still ahead of me.

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?

I'm still figuring this out. My revision for my fantasy was due by the end of February, so I was working on that during the time my first book was released. It limited the things I could do promotion-wise.

Now that my revision is complete and on my editor's desk (yay!), I want to plan school and library visits. Juggling writing, school visits, and promotion will be interesting! I'll be looking to my more experienced author friends for advice.

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

My last critique group fell apart three years ago: jobs, moves, and life got in the way. But I've found working with an editor is a very close collaboration. I do have readers I send things out to.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Write, read, and join a critique group. And write.

How about those interested in historical fiction specifically?

Winnie's War took a lot of research. Some days I would flip through old papers for hours, and at the end of the day, still not have anything usable for the novel. But that was okay--because I love researching.

If a writer's not interested in days and days of looking for information, I would think researching would be grueling and sap the fun right out of writing a book!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Something completely different! Scholastic is publishing my YA fantasy in 2010. My editor there is Lisa Ann Sandell. I feel very lucky to have her.

In addition to being an editor, she's also a YA author.

Her writing is stunning.

RIF: "Fly with US. Read with Kids.®" Campaign Soars Again

RIF Read with Kids Challenge Raises Goal to 5 Million Minutes,
Dividend Miles and Special Edition Children's Book
Offered to Supporters

WASHINGTON-US Airways (LCC) has joined with Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) for a second year to celebrate the wonder of reading through the "Fly with US. Read with Kids.®" campaign. It features the online Read with Kids Challenge and supports RIF programs serving children across the nation.

The 2008 Read with Kids Challenge achieved overwhelming success in its first year with more than 16,000 participants logging 3.8 million minutes of reading. This year, the challenge is climbing to new heights with a goal of collectively logging 5 million minutes spent reading with children from April 1-June 30. Participants can register and log their minutes online at

Registrants can join individually, or new for this year, create a team of three or more adults (see below). All participants will be entered to win a grand prize drawing of a Walt Disney World®; Resort vacation package from US Airways Vacations, US Airways gift cards, and other great prizes. The team determined by random drawing will win the opportunity to select a featured RIF program, as well as a school in their community, to receive a special children's book collection.

"US Airways is proud to team up with RIF to help children throughout the country discover the joy of reading and provide them with a better foundation for success," said Doug Parker, Chairman and CEO of US Airways.

US Airways--the official airline of RIF—is also encouraging customers, employees, and readers nationwide to support children's literacy by making a donation to RIF. Donors can receive a special edition of Off You Go, Maisy!--a children's book by best-selling author Lucy Cousins-and be eligible to receive up to 5,000 US Airways Dividend Miles. Note: different Maisy book is pictured.

"RIF is grateful to US Airways for their continued support," said Carol H. Rasco, President and CEO of RIF. "We hope to build on the incredible success of last year's campaign-not only raising awareness of the importance of reading, but encouraging participants to support the children in RIF programs across the country, which provide books to children who otherwise might not have access to them."

US Airways' campaign with RIF, the nation's oldest and largest children and families' literacy nonprofit organization, also provides books and literacy services to children served by RIF programs throughout the country. US Airways' employee volunteer corps, the Do Crew, will participate in RIF book distributions and reading rallies in communities where the airline has a large concentration of employees and passengers: Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; New York City; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; and Washington, D.C.

Look Who's on board with the Challenge! Al Roker of NBC’s "Today Show," radio personality Russ Parr, and children's book authors Eric Carle, Susy Becker, Mo Willems, Uma Krishnaswami, and a host of others are on board with the Challenge as honorary team captains! Check out the official Challenge site to see them all.

About US Airways

US Airways was America's number one on-time airline in 2008 among the "Big Six" hub-and-spoke airlines according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. US Airways, along with US Airways Shuttle and US Airways Express, operates more than 3,200 flights per day and serves 200 communities in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. The airline employs nearly 34,000 aviation professionals worldwide and is a member of the Star Alliance network, which offers our customers more than 16,500 daily flights to 912 destinations in 159 countries worldwide. And for the tenth consecutive year, the airline received a Diamond Award for maintenance training excellence from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its Charlotte, North Carolina hub line maintenance facility. For more company information, visit (LCCG)

About RIF

Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), founded in 1966, motivates children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. RIF's highest priority is reaching underserved children from birth to age 8. Through community volunteers in every state and U.S. territory, RIF provides 4.5 million children with 16 million new, free books and literacy resources each year. For more information, and to access reading resources, visit RIF's website at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blooming Tree Press: The Bloom Award to Include a Book Contract

Submissions Guidelines

"The Bloom Award" celebrates the life of Mildred Bloom, matriarch of Blooming Tree Press. Mildred passed away in 2007 at the amazing age of 88. She touched thousands of people's lives with her generosity, hard work, and faith that hopes and dreams will always prevail.

Each year's award will recognize a different genre, target age group, and imprint. This award includes a publishing contract for one winner--if all parties can come to an agreement. The award is for unpublished authors only.

The first Bloom Award will recognize the following:

1. age group: middle grade;

2. genre: mystery/adventure, who-done-it. (fiction only);

3. imprint: "Tire Swing" (our children's-paperback imprint).


Each submissions package should include:

1. a book proposal;

2. a detailed synopsis;

3. a detailed outline;

4. an author biography (include email address);

5. the first three chapters (8 ½ x 11 double-spaced pages, 12-point font).

Additional Guidelines

1. Our definition of an "unpublished author" is one with no previous full-length published book in the children's or young adult market. Published short stories, poems, or magazine articles don't count.

2. Only one entry per person.

3. If you make the first cut, you will have to be able to produce the completed manuscript immediately. So don't enter if you don't have a completed or near-completed manuscript.

4. Manuscript length should be between 18,000 and 40,000 words.

5. If you are the winner, you must be willing to promote and market your book to the best of your ability.

Submissions Dates and Mailing

Postmarks are as follows...

Submissions window opens: May 18.

Submissions deadline is: Oct. 31.

Again, please make sure your submission is not postmarked before May 18 or after Oct. 31.

Please mark clearly on the outside of the package "The Bloom Award."

Note: All submissions will be read, but no material will be returned. All communication will be via email and phone.

Mailing Address: Blooming Tree Press, P.O. Box 140934, Austin, Texas; 78714.

Award Announcement

The winner will be announced no later than Dec. 25. The winning book will be released each year on Mildred Bloom's birthday – April 25. (The first release is scheduled for April 25, 2011)

Please submit any questions or concerns via The Publisher's Life Blog.

Source: Miriam Hees, publisher, Blooming Tree Press.

Tantalize, Eternal Nail Designs

Remember Brittany's nails--decorated in tribute to Tantalize and Eternal and featured in my report on my signing party with Kathi Appelt at BookPeople?

Brittany, age 22 (almost 23) was kind enough to send these awesome shots so y'all could take a closer look. Check out the varying claw marks of the different kinds of shifters and the bat and the crest of Dracul and the spiderwebs. Wow.

Thank you, Brittany!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Event Report: Kathi Appelt and Cynthia Leitich Smith at BookPeople

It was a terrific honor to join Kathi Appelt in celebrating the release of my Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and the success of her latest novel, The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008), on Saturday at BookPeople in Austin!

The event drew more than 100 guests from all over central Texas and as far away as San Antonio and Houston!

For those who couldn't make it, here's a virtual peek.

First, Meghan, the BookKids buyer, welcomed everyone.

Then, I gave my own welcome:

Thank you all for joining us this holiday weekend.

Thanks to the BookKids staff for your hospitality.

Thanks to Anne Bustard for the yummy cookies.

Thanks to Kathi for the honor of celebrating with her today.

During the hour-long program, Kathi and I introduced one another and offered very brief readings from our latest books, followed by Q&As with each other, followed by a few short excerpts from fan mail, and then we opened it up to questions from the rest of the group.

Here's my introduction of Kathi (shown holding up art by a young reader):

It’s lovely to have an opportunity to introduce Kathi Appelt, or—since this is a home crowd, jam-packed with friends—perhaps I should just say “rejoice” in Kathi’s amazing-ness instead.

I’ve spent some time thinking back this week, and I believe that the first time I saw Kathi was at an Austin SCBWI conference some 12 or 13 years ago.

Kathi had just burst onto the children’s picture book scene with early multiple sales that immediately put her on the map of as “name” author of quality writing for the youngest readers.

There are so many wonderful and critically acclaimed titles that we could talk about, but I’ll just mention a few of my favorites—The Alley Cat’s Meow (cats!), The Bubba and Beau series, and Miss Ladybird’s Wildflowers, illustrated by fellow Texan and dear friend, Joy Fisher Hein.

But, as successful as Kathi was on that front, she didn’t limit herself to picture books.

She encouraged other writers with Just People & Paper/Pen/Poem as well as Poems from Home Room: A Writers Place to Start.

She celebrated the courage of librarians in Down Cut Shin Creek: The Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

She spoke to teenagers in Kissing Tennessee and Other Stories from the Stardust Dance.

And she shared with us the girl she was in My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoir.

These early books were cheered and awarded by the American Booksellers Association, International Reading Association, Bank Street College, and many, many others.

Today, we’re here to celebrate her debut novel, The Underneath, a finalist for the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor Book.

I mean, wow.

Let me say that again:
Today, we’re here to celebrate her debut novel, The Underneath, a finalist for the National Book Award and a Newbery Honor Book.

Kathi and The Underneath are—hands-down—the story of the year, the one that has taken youth literature in the Lone Star State to the next level.

It’s an ambitious novel of the highest caliber, drawing deep from its Texas roots. It’s the rare book that will live on as a classic. And most importantly, it includes cats.

I know Kathi as a teacher and mentor, a writer and reader, a sister and friend. She's the glittery-est of starry stars and one of Texas’s own. Please welcome Kathi Appelt.

I don't have a tape of Kathi's reading, but you can see another one below, when she appeared at the National Book Award Finalist's Reading.

After the readings, we offered a question-and-answer session with each other. For a peek into our conversation (and more), see:

Author Interviews: Kathi Appelt and Cynthia Leitich Smith Interview Each Other from BookKids at BookPeople in Austin.

Peek from Kathi: " matter who we are, or what our circumstances, we can choose love over fear."

Peek from Cynthia : "
My inner teen is thriving and a reminder that to be an adolescent is to be a (literal) shape shifter, to feel like the 'other,' to struggle with monsters outside and in. These readers deserve the best stories that we can give them--ones that speak to this time in their lives and ones that honor their growing sophistication."

During the event, we also showed the book trailers for Eternal and The Underneath. Above, Greg works on the tech aspect with BookKids's own Madeline Smoot while author Debbie Gonzales smiles on.

Eternal Trailer

Here's the trailer for Eternal.

Here's the trailer for The Underneath.

One of my personal highlights of the event was seeing these gorgeous fingernails, painted to coordinate with various aspects of my series. The Mantle of Dracul dragon is my favorite. Brittany, the YA reader attached to these nails, was an absolutely delight. My extra thanks to her and all the other young readers who turned out. It was awesome to see y'all there!

The crowd begins to gather. (For privacy reasons, photo IDs below will be limited to folks who I can make out clearly and are "public figures" in the Austin youth lit scene).

Here, author Erin Edwards chats with author Jo Whittemore's husband, Roger, up front. Farther back, illustrator Christy Stallop chats with author Chris Barton. Farther still at the refreshments table, Madeline and Emily visit with author Carmen Oliver (I think). Author Shana Burg is coming into view from the right.

YA author Ruth Pennebaker (black blouse, black-and-white skirt) greets author Betty X. Davis (reddish jacket).

Meghan (white shirt) and author-VCFA student Anne Bustard (lime green) at one of the refreshment tables, Madeline and Emily in the background.

Because the event was scheduled for 1 p.m. (after lunch), we went with light refreshments--coffee, water, fruit punch, fruit trays, and the world's best sugar cookies, designed by Anne to coordinate with the featured books!

Here we have the cats of The Underneath...

and the bats and angels of Eternal.

Author-illustrator Don Tate.

The still-growing crowd.

Kerry, Michelle, Nichole, and Loriene. Note: Kerry is formerly of Austin Public Library, Michelle is currently of Austin Public Library, Nichole is a rogue quasi-librarian, and Loriene is a professor at The University of Texas and former president of the American Library Association.

After the presentation, folks started lining up to have their books signed.

Authors Donna Bowman Bratton, P.J. Hoover, and Shana Burg.

Writers' League of Texas director Cyndi Hughes, author-VCFA student Anne Bustard, and librarian Jeanette Larson.

Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow with authors Julie Lake and Brian Yansky.

Jennifer Ziegler, YA author.

BookKids's Emily and Meghan with Sean Petrie, who's newly admitted to VCFA.

YA author-VCFA student Varian Johnson models shopping at your local bookstore and chatting with YA author Margo Rabb.

Cynsational Notes

Thank you again to Meghan, Madeline, Emily, Mandy, and Topher of BookPeople's BookKids department for your hospitality! Thanks also to the one-hundred-plus book fans--kids, teens, parents, writers, readers, and librarians--who helped make it an unforgettable event! Thank you to Candlewick Press and Atheneum! And biggest thanks to Kathi. What a thrill to share a stage with you!

Signed stock of The Underneath, Eternal, and its companion book, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), is still available from BookPeople! Stop by or call (512) 472-5050 ext. 202 for more information! Note: you can request that the store ship your copy to you (for a fee).

Attention Authors: It's terrific fun to do a joint event! You may pull in a wider range of folks and make new connections with readers. The event may be livelier as you're featuring two voices, two books, and your own interactions. It's also a great way to support your local bookstore!

Attention Bloggers/Social Networkers: you are welcome to use any of the above featured photos for your own posts about the event.

Planning Notes: For an event like this, my budget was about $20 for fruit punch, and my time allocation was about 20 hours for promotion, about 10 hours for planning. Again, the rest of the refreshments were provided by the store and Anne. In the past, I have done snail mailings; however, this time, I spread the word by email, eVite, Austin SCBWI, MySpace, and Facebook. We probably lost about 25-30 otherwise for-sure attendees due to the holiday weekend, but it was the date that worked for the authors and bookstore. Big picture, there's nothing that I would've changed. The Appelt-Smith event was a huge success! Thanks again!
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