Friday, July 31, 2009

Co-Editors Bethany Hegedus & Kekla Magoon on VCFA's Hunger Mountain

From Bethany Hegedus & Kekla Magoon
(please click names for articles, excerpts, or more information)

Quietly, and then not so quietly, the call went out to those in the children's literature field for contributions to this, the launch issue of the Young Adult and Children's Literature portion of Hunger Mountain, a journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts. Esteemed authors from near and far answered our call. We are thrilled and excited to be presenting this line-up of dynamic, wise, funny, and thought-provoking material.

We begin with thoughts from one of our industry's most inspirational and well-respected members: Katherine Paterson. In an address first given upon the inauguration of Vermont College of Fine Arts as an independent institution, Ms. Paterson spoke about the unifying journey we find ourselves on as fellow travelers. She shares letters from a reader moved by her work—a soldier in Afghanistan, who read Bridge to Terebithia (HarperCollins, 1997) for the first time while in combat—and connects their powerful correspondence to the larger journey upon which we as writers all embark.

Our theme for this issue is A Writer’s Journey: Craft & Process. Authors Janet S. Wong, G. Neri, and K.A. Nuzum share their personal tales of trial and triumph on the road to publication.

The columns we will feature in each issue delve into a variety of creative areas. The Flipside offers opposing points of view on a hot topic. This time around, it's Carrie Jones vs. Rita Williams-Garcia, each with a compelling case for why one might write fantasy or realistic fiction.

What My Last Book Taught Me is a glimpse into one author's aha! moment. We are lucky enough to have Susan Patron talking with us this issue.

The Writing Life is a window into the day-to-day challenges of keeping the creative juices flowing. Andrew Auseon takes us from the author's desk to the screenwriter’s studio...both of which are his dining room table. The Toolbox is our regular craft-focused offering.

Sara Zarr grips us by sharing the lessons learned in her years-long quest to perfectly nail the voice of her third novel. In the Industry Insider, we converse with the movers and shakers of children's publishing.

We spoke with a few folks who have changed hats mid-career: Kara LaReau, Mark McVeigh, and Jill Corcoran.

Last but not least, Jest a Minute tickles our funny bone. Alicia Potter gives a little nip and tuck to some popular and classic titles.

Be sure not to miss the main event! Our fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction selections come from seasoned authors and up-and-comers alike. We have something for everyone, ranging from gritty YA, to middle-grade fantasy, to poetry meant for the youngest ears.

Highlights include a sneak-peak excerpt from Sundee T. Frazier’s The Other Half of My Heart, which releases in June 2010, and the newly published The Uninvited by Tim-Wynne Jones.

We strive to engage all corners of the industry in a dynamic discussion. We hope you will be moved to chime in.

Enjoy the journey!

From Hunger Mountain:

"Bethany Hegedus cares deeply about kids, having once been a high school teacher and youth advocate. She serves as a mentor in the PEN Prison Writing Program and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

"Bethany’s debut novel, Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books) has been well received by reviewers, educators, and students alike. Her second novel, The One…The Only…Maebelle T. (for no Talent) Earl, a contemporary middle grade, is forthcoming with Delacorte Press in fall 2010.

"She lives and works in the New York/New Jersey metro area."

"Kekla Magoon is a New York City-based author/writer, editor, speaker and educator.

"Her debut novel, The Rock and the River (Aladdin, 2009), has earned praise from teen and adult readers alike, including mention in The New York Times and a Booklist starred review.

"Kekla holds a B.A. in History from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes constantly, at work on her second novel, under contract with Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.

"Her background in non-profit youth development lends itself well to making school visits, including a dynamic civil rights movement-themed presentation developed in collaboration with author Bethany Hegedus. She also leads writing workshops for youth and adults, and writes non-fiction titles for the educational market."

About Hunger Mountain

"Hunger Mountain is both a print and online journal of the arts. We publish fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, visual art, young adult and children's writing, writing for stage and screen, interviews, reviews, and craft essays. Our print issue comes out annually in the fall, and our online content changes on a regular basis." See more information.

Learn more about the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Joseph Medicine Crow Announced as Medal of Freedom Recipient

The White House announced yesterday that author Joseph Medicine Crow will be included among those 16 distinguished honorees to receive the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom on Aug. 12.

Among other accomplishments, his recent book Counting Coup: Becoming a Crow Chief on the Reservation and Beyond (National Geographic, 2006) was named a 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Award winner by the American Indian Library Association.

See Crow War Chief to Receive President's Medal from The New York Times and additional information (mini documentary, written interview, and more) from TeachingBooks.net.

See also the whole list of honorees--including Billie Jean King, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Sidney Poitier, and Chita Rivera--at Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

More News

Writing It Down: One Word After Another: a new blog from author-poet Cynthia Cotten. Cynthia's Rain Play, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (Henry Holt, 2008) is a finalist for the Library of Virginia's Whitney and Scott Cardozo Award for Children's Literature. "The Cardozo Award recognizes excellence in Children's Literature for ages 3 to 8, and will be given out at the 12th annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards Celebration Oct. 17 in Richmond." Vote online for the winner between now and Aug. 7.

What a Girl Wants #4: The girl vs the woman (when it comes to reading) from Chasing Ray. Peek: "...if YA did not exist would teens still be getting the best reading experience?" From Sara Ryan: "I think the YA authors who nail teen girls' voices credibly--and part of that is recognizing that a monolithic Teen Girl Voice does not exist--respect girls and their lives in a way that authors of adult books with teen girl characters often don't."

Striving for Contentment from Kristi Holl at Writers' First Aid. Peek: "To be honest, if you want to enjoy the writing life–if you want to enjoy the process, and not just the final product–you'll have to find a way to embrace both contentment and the urge to grow and improve." See also Restoring Balance to Your Life and A Writer's Renewal.

Reading Group Guide for Suzanne's Crowley's The Stolen One from Greenwillow/HarperCollins (PDF file). Read a Cynsations interview with Suzanne.

Michael Stearns Starts a New Agency, Upstart Crow Literary... from Alice Pope at Alice's CWIM Blog. Peek: "Michael will be joined at Upstart Crow by two other former Firebrand agents, Chris Richman and Danielle Chiotti."

Interview with Katie Kacer from Barbara Bietz at Jewish Books for Children. Peek: "Today, in synagogues across North America young people are encouraged to share their Bar or Bat Mitzvah with a child of the Holocaust. My publisher thought I should write a book about a twinning ceremony and I thought I would combine that wonderful premise with my desire to write about the Warsaw Ghetto."

Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon (HIP Books, September 2009) Contest from Cheryl Rainfield. Share Cheryl's "excited author" videos for chances to win signed books, more books, gift certificates to online book retailers, and more. See details. Contest open worldwide. Deadline midnight Sept. 30. Learn more about HIP Books.

Author Interview: Shelia Goss on The Lipstick Chronicles from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Although I’m aware of the African American YA books out there, many of the people I talk to are not. I have compiled a list of AA YA authors and give the list out to those people I come across."

Choosing Your Own Path by R.L. LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "So here’s the thing. There are at least a hundred different paths to success. No, I'm not kidding." Read a Cynsations interview with R.L. LaFevers.

YA Science Fiction is Alive and Well. Really. From Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: "...most of the YA SF out there is in fact published by the YA imprints of mainstream houses. That's a function of the way the YA genre markets itself--mysteries and romances and SF and fantasy and sometimes graphic novels all hang out side by side." See also Boy Books, Girl Books, Kid Books. Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

YA Books, Xenophobia, and Global Poverty by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Best writing life story of the week and highlights "books released in the last couple of years set in contemporary times can inspire teens to battle global poverty and xenophobia." Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Jericho Primary School Nairobi - Kenya - Needs Books from Amy Bodden Bowllan at School Library Journal.

A Character's Controlling Belief by Mary Atkinson from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "A character’s goal is different. Goal answers the question, what does a character want? Controlling belief answers, why does she want it?"

JacketFlap: "a comprehensive resource for information on the children's book industry. Thousands of published authors, illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, and publishers visit JacketFlap every day." Includes social networking features and blog registration. A great way to increase your children's-YA blog's readership! Read a Cynsations interview with JacketFlap CEO Tracy Grand.

Coretta Scott King Book Award-winning Authors, Illustrators, & Books: "a free curricular resource center" from TeachingBooks.net. Peek: "Hear directly from African American authors and illustrators as they talk about and read from their books" and much more. Source: Children's Book Press.

The book trailer below features The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren by Wendy Toliver (Simon Pulse, 2007).



And this book trailer features Wendy's 2009 release Miss Match (also Simon Pulse).



How 19 Jobs Prepared Me for the Writing Business by Kimberly Willis Holt at A Good Blog is Hard to Find. Peek: "I don't view my former jobs as mere pit stops along the journey. No matter how unrelated those positions might seem to the writing profession, each contributed to my earning a byline." Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Diversity Roll Call Roundup: POC in Sci-Fi & Fantasy by L.M. Baldwin from Color Online. Reading recommendations!

Secret Agent by Brian Yansky at Brian's Blog. Peek: "I am a writer. You are a writer. I am a secret agent. You are a secret agent. " Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Less is More by Kelly Bingham from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Your best poetry is going to take shape when you figure out which details to select and which ones to leave out." Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly.

"Hook, Line and Sinker" by Gayle C. Krause from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "What can 'Paul Bunyan,' 'Bronc Burnett,' and the 'Jolly Fisherman' do for you as a writer? Answer: Follow their leads to get your manuscript read by an agent or an editor."

What kind of book becomes a Harlequin TEEN? by Natashya Wilson, senior editor, Harlequin TEEN from Jennifer Rummel at YABOOKNERD. Peek: "Yes, most of our stories do include a love interest--whose real-life story doesn't?!--but romance is just one part of what we’re about."

Between a Rock and a Can of Worms: Gail Carson Levine on cliches. Peek: "When you play out a cliche without using its words you freshen it up and get to the core that made it a cliche." Read a Cynsations interview with Gail.

Open Heart Surgery—Writing a Holiday Story by April Halprin Wayland from Teaching Authors: Six Children's Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: "I could write this story because I got chills when I thought about tashlich. I think it’s called emotional honesty."

New & Redesigned Author Sites

Author Bobbi Miller: official site of the picture book author of One Fine Trade and Davy Crockett Gets Hitched (both Holiday House). Peek: "Stories tend to be organic, and sometimes outlines, research, and all the 'great plans of mice and men' need to be tossed as characters take over. In which case, I tag along for the ride!" Site design by Hit Those Keys.

Andrea Vlahakis: Children's Writer, Poet, Writing Instructor: official site of the author of such works as Christmas Eve Blizzard (Sylvan Dell, 2005), a 2005 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award Finalist. Site design by Hit Those Keys.

Nancy Werlin: National Book Award Finalist and Edgar Award Winner: official site is newly redesigned by Hit Those Keys. Atmospheric!

More Personally

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Listening Library, 2009) is now available in audio formats. The readers are Allyson Ryan as Miranda and Jesse Bernstein as Zachary. Watch Cynsations for a giveaway announcement!

I've received the revised final art, copy-edits, and what not for my next picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, fall 2010)--progress!

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Compulsive Reader. Peek: "[On what makes my Gothic fantasies unique] it's probably the girl-empowerment themes and the combination of multicultural, religious, and economic diversity in fantasy settings. They're also upper-level YAs that include, say, quasi-epistolary elements, unreliable narrators, alternating point of view, etc., which gears them toward more YA sophisticated readers."

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) is going into another printing--both in the library and trade editions. View interior illustrations at HarperCollins and at my official author site. See teacher resources. Thanks so much to everyone who's supported this picture book over the years! Note: Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature says of Jingle Dancer: "...one of my all-time favorites. The story and illustrations reflect the life of a Native child and her family in ways that are realistic, not romantic or tragic." I'm honored!

Thank you to the Austin area Barnes & Noble CRMs for their hospitality at my signing last Friday afternoon at the Texas PTA conference at the Austin Convention Center.

Business Notes

If you would like to submit a book for consideration, request confirmation of receipt, or request a book donation, or submit any other request, please first see the contact page of the main site.

Blurb requests on manuscripts should be sent, after query, by agents or editors, not by authors.

Note: the above policies apply both to strictly professional colleagues and to those who have a personal tie. Thanks for your understanding!

Last Call for July Giveaways

Enter to win one of five author-signed copies of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)! Three copies are reserved for teachers, librarians, and/or university professors of education, library science, and/or youth literature! (Please indicate title and affiliation). Two copies are reserved for any Cynsations readers!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Day-Glo Brothers" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header). Deadline: July 31! Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Enter to win Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009)! Note: the collection includes my short story, "Cat Calls," which is set in the Tantalize/Eternal universe and features new characters!

Enter to win one of three copies! One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children's-YA literature, and the other two will go to any Cynsations readers! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Sideshow" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header). Deadline: July 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should indicate themselves as such in their entries! Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Austin Interest

Meet the Author, Jacqueline Kelly and join the Austin Public Library for a discussion of her book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 the Pleasant Hill Branch, 211 E. William Cannon Drive. As eleven-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate explores the natural world around her, she comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century. This novel is her story. A book signing will follow the discussion. It is free and open to the public. For more information please call 512-974-3940 or visit www.cityofaustin.org/library.

Mark Your Calendars

Liz Garton Scanlon will celebrate the release of her picture book, All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/S&S), with story time at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 26 at BookPeople in Austin. Read Cynsations interviews with Liz and Marla.

Destination Publication: an annual conference of Austin SCBWI will be held Jan. 30, 2010, and registration will open Sept. 1. Conference faculty will include Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson, Caldecott illustrator David Diaz, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, author/FSG editor Lisa Graff, agent Andrea Cascardi, agent Mark McVeigh, agent Nathan Bransford, and a to-be-announced editor; see bios. Featured authors will include Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates, and Patrice Barton; see author bios.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Voice: Leigh Brescia on One Wish

Leigh Brescia is the first-time author of One Wish (WestSide, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Overweight Wrenn Scott desperately wants to be popular and snag a hot boyfriend. Living with her single mom and younger sister, Karly, she lands a lead role in the high school musical, her voice for once overshadowing her weight. Pushing to get thinner by opening night, Wrenn's waistline shrinks as she learns all the wrong ways to lose weight from a new "it-girl" friend in the show.

Meanwhile, her mom is falling for Phil, "a balding Channel 8 News-nerd"; her sister is wrapped up in her own share of middle school drama, and Wrenn's best friend has fallen for a guy she met online—but hasn't even seen yet! Topping it off, geeky stage manager Steven has a crush on her.

But Wrenn doesn't want to be seen with him—she's holding out for a trophy boyfriend whom everyone will envy. By opening night, the old Wrenn has almost disappeared. After a crisis reveals her weight-loss tricks, Wrenn realizes there are much more important things than being thin, popular, or even dating a hunk.


Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2009, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Considering that I wrote the first draft of One Wish in 2004, yes, I'm surprised that I'm debuting in 2009. I'd heard this crazy rumor about it taking five years from writing the manuscript to see the fruits of my labor, but I didn't realize it was actually true! Had I known, well, I hope I still would have persevered.

I began to query agents with my manuscript in May of 2004, and I signed a contract in the winter of 2005. My agent started shopping One Wish around, and in 2007, the people at a new publishing imprint, WestSide Books, said they were interested in using it for their launch line in the spring of 2008.

Things took a bit longer than expected, and the launch was pushed back to spring 2009. It was such a hard day for me when I learned I would have to wait another year before I would see my book on store shelves, but now I can honestly say it was for the best.

Because my pub date was pushed back, I was able to join the 2009 Debutantes on LiveJournal. As writers we tend to lead semi-solitary lives, and it's so wonderful to be able to sign in online and talk to authors who are at the same stage in the process as I am.

If I have any kind of question (whether it's writing, publishing, or marketing-related), I know exactly where to go for answers. If I'm frustrated, they send me hugs and virtual chocolate, and if I have good news they celebrate with me. I've learned so much from them, and have come to depend on their insights and advice. Now I wonder how I even handled writing-related stresses before I knew them!

As a writer, the best thing to do is just hang in there; take things day by day. There are great moments, and there are pathetic moments. I'm a firm believer in a master plan. Even though I might not understand the timing, it's for a greater purpose.

Yes, I had to wait an extra year to be a "published" author, but I discovered some of the best writer friends ever in the process. Sit back, relax, and keep pushing forward. Each day will bring you closer to your dream. There's always the possibility that you will be the exception to the rule!

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist?

Without a doubt, in order to find Wrenn's voice, I freed my inner adolescent. Many things that Wrenn said or thought in One Wish could have come almost verbatim from my diaries when I was her age. Wrenn's story isn't "mine" and One Wish isn't autobiographical, but it could have been. When asked why she liked Wrenn as a character, one of my readers said: "because she could be me." And it's true: she is "everygirl."

I really tried to tap into the insecurities of the average teen girl when I was writing this book. Women in particular are bombarded at all angles: we see these images of actresses and models with body types and physical features that are nearly unattainable, and yet we're supposed to look like them, act like them, and be them. It's discouraging, because it's not possible. The idea that inner beauty is the most important kind of beauty is a message that I'll never get tired of hearing and trying to pass on.

The truth is that I relate to many of my first-person protagonists. It seems that bits and pieces of their stories are my story. Sometimes without even thinking I'll throw something into a novel and think: "Wait. That happened to me!" or "That's exactly how I felt!"

Though times are changing, the foundation of the teen experience generally stays the same: there are first loves, first dates, first cars, friend issues, parent issues, proms/dances, broken hearts, mistakes, decisions... The possibilities are endless but the core group of issues is the same as it was ten, twenty, and even fifty years ago.

Chances are, if I sit back and reflect on my own experiences as a teen, someone out there can relate. The good part is, being on the other side of those experiences, I can offer a bit of insight and advice from what I learned along the way. Ultimately, I would love for girls to better understand themselves after having read my stories.



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, July 29, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Paula Chase-Hyman

Learn about Paula Chase-Hyman. You can also find her at The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story, which is "designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers."

How do you define artistic success?

Before my book sold to Kensington, the answer to this question would have been very different. I used to think of success in terms of books sold, readers gained. I mean, how can you not?

When a publisher buys your book, they're buying it because they believe it can sell. So it's only natural, to some degree, that authors link our success to our book's sales record, good reviews, and buzz. And many of us socialize in online communities where the issues of marketing and promotion are constant worries. We pick them apart and try to find a formula that even the publishing Powers That Be haven't found.

Five books later and many lessons learned, I feel very differently about artistic success. No doubt, I still want to sell books.

I've met people along the way who believe that writing "for money" taints the art of writing. While that's an extreme way to look at it, it's not totally untrue. The business of writing definitely impacts the artistry of writing.

However artistic success, for me, is when you don't let it. It's being able to create without my mind to the industry. That's not the easiest thing to do, but I believe when you create under those circumstances you're much more likely to produce your best work. Listening to the voices of your character and letting them, and only them, direct you produces the purest, most organic work.

Let the marketing team market, the publicist promote. They'll figure out how to sell your book. Our job is simply to create. And if you do, that's artistic success.

How do you approach the task of connecting your books to young readers?

I chose to answer this question because, by doing so, maybe I'll understand it better myself.

Every author has their cross to bear when it comes to promotion. But I'm willing to risk the lashing by adult fic authors to say this: the hardest working authors out there when it comes to reaching their audience has got to be YA authors. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a YA author. It's the stone-cold truth.

Real quickly, let's go over the hurdles YA authors have to jump simply to reach readers:

1) The fact that most readers read "up" means our target audience has either moved on or is about to move on to adult fiction. So we've got to work double hard to show we're not talking down to them.

2) We must appeal to both teen readers and the adult gatekeepers who serve as a recommendation resource to teen readers.

3) Awareness of where they live is tough. Sure, they live on the Web. But teen readers are savvy. They're as likely to ignore a banner ad promo about a book as an adult reader is to pass by a weight loss ad or [insert any other product being sold online]. And infiltrating their social networks exclusively to promote your book is a huge no-no.

I'm not saying adult fic authors don't experience challenges. Recall I said every author has some sort of promotional cross to bear. What I'm saying is, the promo process with teen readers is a delicate process.

Alright, alright. You're saying, "well, what the heck is the process?!"

Here's the secret... ready? I connect my books to young readers by making sure the books showcase them in a realistic light. Ta-da!

In the end, it always comes back to the writing. Always.

For all the effort I put into promoting my books, that effort is all about making sure the reader knows they're there. My promotion has never been about how good or great the books are, what awards they've received or accolades. I stick with strict "here are my books" awareness campaigns because I've found that once a young reader knows about my books, they enjoy them.

Every time a reader writes to me and says they connected to this character or that, I consider it a nod to my un-process process.

To be fair, though, specifics on how I promote my books: I put most of my promo eggs into my website and networking with other YA authors and lovers of YA lit. I encourage them to share my books with teen readers and others who love teen fiction. It works for me, despite it being a more indirect approach.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

Flipping The Script (March 2009), is the fifth and final book in my Del Rio Bay series. I tackled this book as if it were my last, all the while hoping I'd be optioned for one more so I could take the clique into their senior year. However, the option wasn't to be. So Flipping The Script has a melancholy feel to it that left both me, and many readers who have reached out to me, sad.

The characters are juniors, and they're 180 degrees different from when we met them as freshman in So Not The Drama (2007). That's what I love the most. That you can see the growth in all of them. Yet for the JZ character, perhaps not enough growth. Flipping The Script deals with the complexity of long-distance dating, trust issues, and homophobia.

While it's not necessarily how I wanted to leave the clique, it's also a very realistic ending where friendships and relationships are concerned. And realism is what I strove for throughout the series.

Despite my pretty-in-pink covers, my goal was always to have the pages between those covers chock full of real teen experiences. And I'm confident I met that goal. It was sad ending the series, yet very satisfying.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Author and Illustrator Interview: Micol Ostow and David Ostow on So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)

Micol Ostow has written, co-written, or ghostwritten more than 40 published works. Her novel Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa (Razorbill, 2006) was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, which made her feel pretty nifty. Alas, hybrid graphic novels aside, she is not very punk rock at all. She does, however, speak nearly fluent Hebrew. Cool, right?

David Ostow always liked to draw as a kid but never took it too seriously. He was trained as an architect at the University of Virginia where his professors would often tell him that he was placing too much emphasis on making pretty drawings and too little on designing interesting spaces. Today David works at a design firm in New York City where he continues to place too much emphasis on making his drawings pretty and too little on making deadlines. He illustrates on a freelance basis.

So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) is by Micol with art by David (Flux, 2009).

What were you like as a teenager?

MO: It depends during what stage you caught me. At 13, I was an angsty, hormonal mess, writing tortured poetry and fantasizing that I was the Claire Danes character in "My So Called Life" (1994-1995). Essentially, I was waiting for my Jordan Catalano.

That said, it was actually quite a lot of ado about nothing--I had caring, available parents, good friends...not a lot of "real" problems, per se. I kept waiting for something horrible to happen to justify why I was so emotional all of the time.

Around 15, I got my braces off, started to feel a little bit more comfortable in my body, and decided to fake a little positivity. You'd be surprised how far that got me.

Dave and I both attended a small school (very similar to Leo R. Gittleman), so "popularity" didn't have exactly the same connotations as they might have had somewhere else, but I had a good group of friends, worked hard at school, read a lot, and wrote in my free time.

Come to think of it, being a teenager wasn't all that different than my experience of being an adult has been so far. I'm still emotional, but I think, as a grown-up, I've learned to channel all of that...um...passion...into more useful places than bad poetry (less-bad prose?).

DO: I was pretty insecure and, despite plenty of evidence that a lot of people liked me, I had a hard time breaking out of my shell. In middle school, it seemed like all the popular kids were playing sports and getting good grades. So I joined the basketball team and started working hard to get placed in the most advanced classes.

I was terrible at basketball (and really every other sport) and it only made me feel more insecure sitting on the bench. But I loved music, and around freshman year, I had an epiphany.

Somewhere from the furthest recesses of my mind, I dredged up memories of my dad playing guitar for me and my sister when we were very young. I knew he had an old electric guitar lying around, and I asked him to teach me some chords.

Every movie about high school I ever saw confirmed for me that girls liked musicians as much as they liked jocks. It never dawned on me that no matter how good you were at the guitar or how many sports you played you wouldn't get anywhere with girls if you were too nervous to talk to them. That one took me a little while. Now I probably talk too much.

What first inspired you to create books for YA readers?

MO: See above re: still a teenager, from a cognitive level.

It was kind of a no-brainer and a very organic process. I graduated from college and took at job at Simon & Schuster working in one of their adult trade imprints. We published very serious, grown-up books, and it didn't take me long to discover that my interests were neither serious nor grown-up.

After about a year, I made the jump to Pocket Books, working in their YA division with authors that I'd grown up on, like Christopher Pike and Francine Pascal. Rediscovering the mass-market genre was like winning the lottery. I couldn't believe that editing books like that was an actual job!

Editing kept me plenty busy, and I didn't have designs to write my own fiction, but my boss knew that I wrote on the side, for fun, and she invited me to submit a short story to a media tie-in collection, which I did. I've been lucky enough to be working steadily ever since.

Eventually, the writing overtook the editing, but I will say that leaving my job was a very tough decision. I do still miss it sometimes.

Writing fiction for adults has never held any real appeal for me--adolescence is where my head and heart are. Never say "never," but as long as the inspiration keeps coming, YA seems to be where I'm meant to be.

DO: I was not a reader when I was a kid and when I did start reading in high school it was stuff like Sartre and Dostoyevsky, which I didn't understand but which I felt cool reading anyway.

When I approached Micol about the idea of doing a book together I had been out of architecture school for a year or so and had a job as a junior designer at a small firm in Lower Manhattan. It was a good job, but architects don't typically draw by hand these days (it's mainly done on computers now), and I missed drawing the way I had in grad school.

I never would have imagined myself working on a YA book, but I found pretty quickly that my drawing style meshed well with the tone of Micol's writing.

Since beginning work on the book I've been thinking a lot about my days as a teenager, what an emotionally charged time it was for me, and what a rich source of humor it is for me now. Writing about teen life as an adult is fun because you can look back on all the things that made you cringe back then and kind of laugh at all of it.

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

MO: I got very, very lucky. I entered into publishing via the back door, as an editor, and because I had made so many connections during my time as an editor, have been able to pay the bills with ghostwriting and work for hire projects on an ongoing basis. I think the rejection karma came back to me when it was time to shop SPR, but frankly, I haven't had too many stumbles. ::cringes:: Don't hate me! Trust me, I know how fortunate I am. I don't ever take it for granted.

DO: I never would have even considered trying to get published if I didn't have a very successful published author so near at hand. I was surprised that Micol took my proposal seriously, and part of me refused to believe that someone was publishing my work until the galleys came in.

We've gotten some nice reviews, and it feels good to know that our sister/brother effort was by many measures a success. We will definitely collaborate again, and I would like to think that this whole thing wasn't just a flash in the pan for me. We'll see what the future brings.

Could you update us on your back list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

MO: I've ghostwritten zillions of titles for young readers of all ages. Under my own name, Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa (Razorbill, 2006) was one of my earliest original novels, and in many ways, I think is thematically a precursor to So Punk Rock.

It's about a girl who is half Puerto Rican, half Jewish, but has been raised Jewish, and spends a summer getting more in touch with her Latina roots.

The "Judaism" in the story--such as it exits--is mostly incidental, which was very much how I was experiencing my own religion at the time. As someone raised conservative, in a fairly observant household, being Jewish was something very ingrained and passive, whereas any other cultural experience had to be actively sought out.

Now, three years later, So Punk Rock has just released, and I'm finally realizing that cultural identity is something that we grapple with every day, even if we're not always aware of that fact. Hence Ari being forced to confront his own ideas of morality in relation to his religion and his community.

In an entirely different vein, I've also written three novels for the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies line, 30 Guys in 30 Days (2005), Gettin' Lucky (2007), and Crush Du Jour (2007), which is a fun series of very girlie, commercial chick lit. Other "beachier" reads I've written include the launch title in the Puffin Students Across the Seven Seas series, Westminster Abby (2005), and the recent election-themed Popular Vote (Scholastic, 2008).



DO: Let's see, there's So Punk Rock. Did I leave anything out?

Congratulations on the publication of So Punk Rock (And Other Ways To Disappoint Your Mother)(Flux, 2009)! In your own words, could you tell us about the book?

MO: Thanks! We're excited! We've been calling the book "the VH1 Behind the Music story of an epic Jewish rock band that never was." Or, as Tim Wynne-Jones, my former advisor at VCFA referred to it, "'Spinal Tap' meets 'Yentl.'"

It's the story of Ari Abramson, a sixteen-year-old everyguy and junior at Leo R. Gittleman Jewish Day School, who believes that popularity is just a mere verse/chorus/verse away. He recruits his longtime best friend, the charismatic, if self-absorbed, Jonas Fein, to play bass in a band, and thus The Tribe is born. A one-song set at a local bar mitzvah catapults the group to sudden stardom--setting in motion a series of clashing egos, misunderstood friendships, and broken hearts.

Ari may not realize this, but he's more of a visual artist than a musician, and the narrative is peppered with graphic interstitial "outtakes" from his notebook that my brilliant brother drew.

DO: I think Micol pretty much covered it. It's a story about a kid who wants to stand out, who tries to be someone he isn't and who--in the process--learns a little bit about who he really is.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

MO: David had been, I assume, reading some graphic novels during the height of the craze two or three years ago--when mainstream publishers were first getting excited about graphic novels as a viable genre and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2007) had just won the Printz.

And he emailed and asked me if I wanted to write a graphic novel together, but my understanding was that the process of doing so was actually quite different than writing a straight novel.

So I suggested something that used both formats, similar to Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown, 2008). And I suggested that Dave mine his own adolescence for some plot fodder. The Jewish day school/band story was very loosely based on his own experiences, but we found quickly that it melded both of our sensibilities together well.

DO: Again, Micol has summed it up pretty well. I didn't have a story in mind when I asked her if she wanted to collaborate, but once we hit on our high school experience, it felt like a gold mine. You are so many different people in your lifetime, and from the vantage point of 30-year-old me, the 15-year-old me is kind of a riot.

Why a graphic/prose hybrid?

MO: Like I say, it was a compromise of both of our talents--but I will add that I think it went a long way toward solidifying Ari's character for us. I think seeing each other's work throughout the process really helped us to fully shape our own material and create a better-realized protagonist.

DO: I had this urge to draw but no recognizable outlet for it. So the question for me at the beginning of the process wasn't "why a graphic/prose hybrid" so much as "how do I make my drawings relevant to this story?"

As Micol mentioned, the combination of media did really flesh out the little world we were imagining. Because the starting point for the story was my experience in a high school band, I fed Micol a lot of ideas for characters. But when Micol started writing, her own sensibilities turned them much more three-dimensional, and my drawings started to respond to her vision. Then it was just back and forth inspiration (with some yelling and some dodged phone calls thrown in).

What were each of your roles? In what ways did you work together?

MO: I say that the idea to create some version of the graphic novel, and the concept for the story itself, came from Dave. He seems to think some of it came from me. But I'm the older sister so I have veto power here.

Once we came up with the concept, we pitched it to my agent, who was enthusiastic. We put together a proposal, with an overview, summary, chapter-by-chapter outline, and some sample chapters and artwork, which she sent out on submission (more on that below).

When we were working on the proposal, we literally sat side by side hashing the material out. Once the book was sold, though, we conferred several times throughout to confirm certain plot points and check in with each other about story developments on either of our ends (with Dave, often it was an issue of updating me on places he'd decided to pull as inspiration for illustration). And we were reading each other's stuff throughout, feeding chapters and artwork back and forth.

But it was pretty rare that we were sitting in the same room at the same time, working. Mainly because Dave's drafting board isn't very portable, and I can't be bothered to leave my apartment without a very good reason.

DO: Yeah, we must have started working on it over a holiday or something because I remember the earliest brainstorming sessions taking place in my parents' house, in Micol's childhood bedroom. I was throwing out ideas as they came to me, and Micol was literally reading out loud to me as she typed. It was very weird and a little too much like screwing around for me to think of it as work.

After a month or so it felt like work. Micol is definitely the more disciplined of the two of us, and she demonstrated a very low threshold for my procrastination. I would spend all weekend in my room drawing. I'd get drafts from Micol and find that some things in her prose were at odds with some things in my drawings.

Luckily, since it's harder to edit an ink drawing than it is a typed page, Micol was often the one who had to give. But it seems like ultimately the process ironed itself out because many people think that the book coheres well. I don't know about Micol, but I look at the book and sometimes cringe at the open seams, but I suppose everyone is their own worst critic. The next time we collaborate the process will be that much smoother.

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

MO: Emails between David and myself started up sometime in the fall of 2006, when I was still working as an editor. I left in January '07 to pursue my MFA and write full-time, and we sold the book, I believe, in February or March of 2007. And it's just coming out now, July '09. Which for me, as someone who is mostly accustomed to a mass-market (ie: under twelve-month) turnaround, feels like a lifetime.

Major events along the way:

-- I think to me, just the idea of doing something in such an innovative format was "major." And I had only signed with my agent the previous spring, I believe, so this was the first original Micol Ostow project heading out into the world with a big, bad, ninja agent having its back.

-- Also major was the fact that the book was solidly rejected by literally every house we pitched it to with the exception of, of course, its eventual publishers, Flux. Whereas many of the books I'd written before had either been developed or commissioned by publishers or packagers, so I'd had five or so original novels under my belt and had never been rejected before. It was a real learning experience.

Most significant was how enthusiastic and thoughtful the rejections were--honestly. People had wonderful things to say about the writing. But the theory was that band books were a very niche market, and that Jewish content books were a very niche market, so that to try to sell a combo of both was thought to be the kiss of death, in terms of commercial viability.

Which I completely understand. And frankly, without a doubt, the book ended up in the right place. Flux was smaller and could afford to take more risks. And to them, someone with my "track record" (meaning, 30 Guys sales, which had somehow managed to begin to earn out), was someone they'd push. So we were a slightly bigger fish in a slightly smaller pond.

They've gone out of their way to build their relationships with the school and library and blogging communities, and boy, has it paid off. I can't tell you how many reviewers have contacted me, expressing interest in this book. The attention seems much more focused than it's been for any of my more "commercially viable" titles.

And since it's a title that is so much more personal than some of my earlier works, of course, the response has been immensely gratifying. We're so grateful to Flux for taking a chance on our book, and to everyone who's taken the time to read it or offer us a shout-out!

DO: I was still in my twenties when we began this thing! The proposal took a long time. I was very doubtful that my drawing was "professional" quality.

I had also just discovered the graphic novelist Chris Ware whose drawings have this crisp, machine-like precision to them. I wanted that type of precision, but for that, I knew I'd need a machine. So my first drawings were done on Adobe Illustrator, which I didn't know very well, and consequently the drawings were very slow in coming. Not only that, but to say they were nowhere near as magical as Chris Ware's would be a gross understatement.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finished the proposal (Micol had finished weeks before I did). Then came the eternity of waiting. As Micol mentioned, we got rejected all over the place.

I was ready to forget the whole thing when out of nowhere popped a magical little imprint (Flux) from a magical land that I had only heard of (the Midwest).

Micol had been referred to them by a friend of hers in the writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was so serendipitous, which is another reason why I think it took so long to sink in for me that it was real.

Then we had to make the freaking book, which felt like another eternity. Between drawing for the book and grassroots guerrilla promotional projects here and there, I spent about a year of my life in constant production mode.

By the way, did you know that the Empire State Building was built in under a year?!

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

MO: Honestly, the biggest challenge was finding a publisher willing to take a risk on such a quirky project!

Beyond that, I'd say the brother-sister dynamic is a blessing and a curse. We're pretty brutally frank with each other. Which certainly has its ups and downs.

I think also there was a learning curve for Dave with timing, since this was his first professional illustration project. He has a day job, too, so he was turning in illustrations literally up until the bitter end. But all in all, rejections aside, it was a pretty smooth process. No complaints here.

DO: I think for both of us, writing a book about growing up grappling with the meaning of Jewish identity brought the whole issue of our own identities to the forefront. We come from a family that wears its Jewish heritage with pride. My grandparents were very entrenched in their Judaism. They were the most sophisticated, intellectual people I've ever known and somehow they managed to weave Jewish identity, learning, and ritual into their lifestyle while remaining 100% free of superstition.

The world is more secular now, and growing up Jewish in an American suburb was more of a balancing act for us. That's really where the conflict in the book comes from.

When we described the idea to our grandfather--who unfortunately never got to read the book--he perceived it as a sort of testament to the waning presence of Jewish identity in contemporary society.

I can't say I don't know where he was coming from, but I think the fact that Micol and I made a project of this identity question speaks to the fact that it's still a relevant issue to people from our generation. We've grown up in a very secular era, and yet there's a sense that we may be losing something. Lots of young writers and artists are exploring this conflict.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer/artist, what advice would you offer?

MO: It's only been five years that I've been writing and two that I've been writing full-time, so I'd like to think that I'm still just starting out! And what I try to tell myself every single day is mainly to relax and appreciate the fact that I am so blessed as to be able to do exactly what I've always wanted to do.

There are definitely days when it feels more like a job then a calling, or projects that are less about passion and more about bills. And there are days when I can't stop worrying/wondering what the next project will be--the perils of the freelance lifestyle. It happens. I try to keep the bigger picture in mind.

DO: You should have been using a straight-edge from the beginning.

What can your fans look forward to next?

MO: I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Seriously, I have another standalone project coming from Puffin in summer 2011, but we actually don't have a title yet. Stay tuned!

And in the meantime, I'm pretending to plan my wedding, which mainly involves staring at pictures of elaborate wedding cakes online.

DO: Just about all of my fans are related to me. They can look forward to less frantic phone calls.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Voices: Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance on The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading

Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance are the first-time authors of The Geek Girl's Guide to Cheerleading (Simon Pulse, 2009). From the promotional copy:

When Bethany–self-proclaimed geek girl–makes the varsity cheerleading squad, she realizes that there's one thing worse than blending in with the lockers: getting noticed.

She always felt comfortable as part of the nerd herd, but being a member of the most scrutinized group in her school is weighing her down like a ton of textbooks.

Even her Varsity Cheerleading Guide can’t answer the really tough questions, like:

* How do you maintain some semblance of dignity while wearing an insanely short skirt?

* What do you do when the head cheerleader spills her beer on you at your first in-crowd party?

* And how do you know if your crush likes you for your mind or your...pom-poms?

One thing's for sure: It's going to take more than brains for this girl genius to cheer her way to the top of the pyramid.


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? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

Charity: I like to think of myself as doing a combination of plotting and plunging, but from all the plungers I've talked to, they'd definitely cast me as a total plotter

I do a lot of pre-writing and pre-work. I like to do scene cards, but I always have what I call a road map. I need to know how I'm getting from A to Z, which doesn't meant I can't take side trips or completely reroute the journey.

It's the same with revisions. I need to draw a new path through the story, then I follow that.

For writers struggling with plot, I suggest investigating different methods. Not everything will resonate, but knowing what doesn't work can be just as helpful as know what does. Look for methods that feel natural or organic to the way you write and see stories.

Darcy: I am a plunger, though I always have a premise, a couple of characters I've done some free-writing about, and I have a pretty good idea how the story will end. After I have that in place, I write most of the scenes in a linear progression--but if something strikes me, I might write out of order, then go back and fill in.

I like the surprises that being a plunger brings, the way the characters seem to come to life and tell me where they want to go. There are problems with being a plunger though--it's not always the right tool for the job. Sometimes you get a clog that just won't go away, then you have to pull out the Drano and dissolve a scene or two. And sometimes the only thing that works is a complete re-plumbing.

When that happens to me, I go back to the beginning and compare my plot to The Hero's Journey model of story structure. I try to identify where I veered from the path or steps in the journey that I might have skipped. If that doesn't work I call in a master plumber. I ask my writing partner or another trusted writing friend to help.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Charity: Probably the most significant thing I don't do is watch television. If a show looks intriguing, I'll get the DVD or download episodes--and I don't do that often. This explains my answer for favorite TV show on my Simon & Schuster profile ("Firefly"). I'm still looking for time to watch "Friday Night Lights."

For me, it's been learning to recognize those blocks of time that I do have, along with being flexible. For instance, I wrote the rough draft of this at my daughter's dance class. I purposely leave books at home. It's amazing what you can write when you need to amuse yourself.

I've also learned the best time of day for creative writing. Endless writing books and gurus will tell you to write first thing in the morning. While I'm a morning person, this has never worked for me. I'll do other things, exercise, edit, eat, but I'm an afternoon writer. I try to embrace that and not feel guilty because I don't fall out of bed and let my muse spill all over the page.

Speaking of guilt, I've found that you have to manage that as well (or at least, I do). Sometimes it feels like you're not writing enough, blogging enough, promoting enough. Take small steps. Complete one promotion task per day, or write a page in your work in progress. When you do get a block of time to accomplish more, you'll be ready to go.

Darcy: Like Charity, I don't watch much TV. I get up early most mornings (when the house is still quiet) and I try to write or do promotional tasks before I allow myself to be distracted by the lure of the Internet.

I also keep a pad of paper and pencils with me at all times. That way, when spare moments present themselves, I'm ready -- even if it's just writing down a word or two to jog my memory later.

Finally, I'm a big fan of working while I sleep. I think about the next scene I want to write or the next blog post we need to prepare just before I drift off to sleep. It's surprising how many mornings I wake up with an answer to a plot snarl or a mental image of just how a scene should flow.



Cynsational Notes

Read the first chapter at the Simon & Schuster site. Read the story behind the story.

Wizards of the Coast: Dragon Song Contest

From librarian Jeanette Larson

Wizards of the Coast LLC is sponsoring a lyrics-writing contest for libraries and kids and teens ages 8-14 to explore the world of dragons. Entrants will write lyrics set to the story of the Green Dragon, and the winning lyrics will then be set to music to tie in with the Mirrorstone® book, A Practical Guide to Dragons by Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer (2006), and the books in the Dragon Codex series.

Lyrics about the first four dragons in the Dragon Codex series – Red Dragon (2008), Bronze Dragon (2008), Black Dragon (2008) and Brass Dragon, all by R. D. Henham -- provide the start of the song and will be provided on the Wizards of the Coast website.

Now it’s your turn to tell the Green Dragon’s story in lyrics. We’ve provided:

• the chorus and the lyrics about the first four dragons plus music for where the winning lyrics will go;

• information on the Dragon Song format;

• tips on how to write great lyrics (it's a lot like writing poetry!);

• a fact sheet about Green Dragon with information from A Practical Guide to Dragons (2006) and from the new book in the Dragon Codex series, Green Dragon Codex (2009).

Check your library for these and all the Dragon Codex series books. Now your group can be the bard and give us the words!

The contest is open to legal residents of the U.S. and Canada. No purchase necessary to enter. Void where prohibited. The contest will be open from 12:01 a.m. PST June 25 until midnight PST Aug. 9. The winner will be announced on or about Sept. 1.

To enter, email Raab Associates the text of your lyrics along with your Library Participation Form (scroll for link) and the Entry Form for each participating child/teen (scroll for link). By participating in the contest, participating library and each entrant agrees to be bound by the official rules.

Once the contest is done, Wizards will record the final stanza and credit the winning library and the first name (or team name) of the entrant when we announce the winner. The song will be posted at Mirrorstone.

The winning library will receive two copies each of:

A Practical Guide to Dragons by Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer (2006);
Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham (2008);
Bronze Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham (2008);
Black Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham (2008);
Brass Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham (2008);
Green Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham (2009);

plus two Practical Guide calendars and an assortment of bookmarks.

Plus each member of the winning team will receive one copy of A Practical Guide to Dragons (200) and Green Dragon Codex (2009)!

Visit Mirrorstone for contest details. This is a great summer promotion that can tie in with summer reading programs and which you can do as a group writing activity, or have kids write their own entry and have a contest at your library to pick the entry you think is best to submit. Don’t forget to listen to the Dragon Song lyrics we have started it off with and also check the website for tips to help you create a winning entry!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Day-Glo Brothers Giveaway

Enter to win one of five author-signed copies of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)!

Three copies are reserved for teachers, librarians, and/or university professors of education, library science, and/or youth literature! (Please indicate title and affiliation). Two copies are reserved for any Cynsations readers!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Day-Glo Brothers" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header). Deadline: July 31!

Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

On a related note, check out Writing Community Events from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. An awesome report and photos of Chris Barton's book release party! See the day-glo couple below!

Sideshow Giveaway

Enter to win Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009)! Note: the collection includes my short story, "Cat Calls," which is set in the Tantalize/Eternal universe and features new characters!

School Library Journal raves: "Like The Restless Dead and Gothic!, this is a masterpiece of ten short stories by world-class authors.... Several of the stories pack the same punch as old-fashioned O. Henry or Roald Dahl classics and are the stuff that will fill the English literature textbooks of tomorrow....fantastic."

Enter to win one of three copies! One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children's-YA literature, and the other two will go to any Cynsations readers!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Sideshow" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header). Deadline: July 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should indicate themselves as such in their entries!

Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Sideshow & Geektastic are Now Available

Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009) and Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009) are now available! Note: both anthologies include short stories by me!

The Great Geek Escape: play the online game from the official Geektastic Site. And don't miss About the Authors! Isn't it sweet that my avatar is next to Greg's?

More News

Congratulations to Julia Durango on the release of Sea of the Dead (Simon & Schuster, July 2009)! From the promotional copy: "As the son of the Warrior Prince, Kehl has always known certain things about the world. First and foremost is...that the Teshic Empire is its center, and that everything--and everyone--beyond the empire's borders has been created ultimately to be brought under Teshic dominion. Furthermore, because Kehl is being trained to follow in his father's warrior footsteps, he is all too aware of the expectations placed upon him to never show weakness or fear, to instead show an unwavering loyalty to the Teshic Empire... But when Kehl is abducted by a seafaring band of rebels and taken beyond the borders to the enigmatic Sea of the Dead, a whole new world begins to open up before him... A world where Kehl's future--as well as his past--may be linked to the renegade crew of a ship named Carillon's Revenge and the Fallen King who captains her." Read chapters one and two! Notes: Julia will be signing copies from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 1 at Book Mouse in Ottawa, Illinois. Check out Julia's team blog, Three Silly Chicks: Writers, Readers, and Reviewers of Funny Books for Kids.

Journal Through Summer (part two) from Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Use a summer journal to take snapshots. In addition to using a camera, use your jour­nal." See also Press On to Finish Strong.

Games to Play While Waiting for an Idea from Tim Wynne-Jones. Peek: "When the ideas aren’t flowing you can prime the pump. Here are some games I have discovered along the way." Read a Cynsations interview with Tim.

Interview with YA Author Sara Zarr from Suzette Saxton at QueryTracker.net. Peek: "Basically, being published accomplishes one thing and one thing only: getting your book to readers in the marketplace (and that in turn might earn you some money, maybe a living, possibly a nice living)." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

The Top 7 Things Every Aspiring Author's Website Must Have by Jordan McCollum, a guest blog from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. See also Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Novel, in 1000 Words by Victoria Mixon.

Right Now in Speculative Fiction: a news round-up from Parker Peevyhouse from The Spectacle.

When adversity strikes....: the first in a series of posts about challenges in the writer's life from Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "It would be nice to learn from the low moments, but as an avid Dear Abby reader, we should at least be able to acknowledge them, smile in solidarity, and move forward." See also More Adversity (when your editor hates your new manuscript), Another Common Problem (another author has published a book similar to your work in progress), Review Angst, and Antidotes for the Low Points. Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah.

In the video below, Dana Goldberg, Executive Editor of Children's Book Press, talks about the house, its philosophy, and its books. Source: La Bloga.



Personal and Peculiar from Brian Yansky at Brian's Blog. Peek: "...any advice about writing can only be of use if what’s given fits into your peculiar way of writing." See also Bad Things to Good People. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

The Fabulous Tamora Pierce on her Favorite LGBT-Themed Books from BookKids: the crazy folks at BookPeople.

Check out this video of the Oak Park (IL) Library Warrior Librarians winning the 5th annual Library Book Cart Drill Team Championship at the 2009 annual conference of the American Library Association. For a complete report and videos of the runners-up, see also Book Cart Drill Teams Battle for Supremacy by Sydney Beveridge from Mental Floss: Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix.



Rejection Netiquette from Angela at The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Now more than ever, it's easy to connect with others, sharing details and commiserating. A little crying, a little fist-shaking and we can get on with the day. The question is, should we?" Source: Children's Book Biz News.

Book lists: Multicultural SF/F for MG and YA from Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. Note: to clarify, Quincie from Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) is English-Italian-Texan. In that book, Kieren is Mexican-Irish American (Mexican on the human side, Irish on the Wolf side), and he will be the protagonist and POV character in Tantalize: Kieren's Story, a graphic novel adaptation currently in production from Candlewick Press. In addition, Miranda, a co-protagonist from Eternal (set in the same universe, also Candlewick (2009)), is Chinese-Scottish American. Read a Cynsations interview with Stacy.

The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford (Viking, 2009): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "Full of suspense and a pile of fascinating and sometimes hilarious characters..."

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin's Press, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "a compelling, finely-wrought, exquisitely written tale of one girl's difficult journey and struggles with temptation, hypocrisy, and group thought control..." Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

So Punk Rock (and Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow (art by David Ostow)(Flux, 2009): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "a hilarious look at high school, rock bands, and taking control of one's life."

Q&A with Elizabeth Bluemle by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Formerly editorial director of a small press, creative director of a book packager and a school librarian, and currently a bookseller, children's author and blogger (PW's ShelfTalker blog), Elizabeth Bluemle knows publishing from the inside out."

Check out this book trailer for A Circle of Time by Marisa Montes (Harcourt, 2002). Read a Cynsations interview with Marisa.



Marion Dane Bauer on Voice from Zu Vincent at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Concentrate on knowing your character. Your perceiving character will impact your voice in every story even when you are writing in third person. And concentrate on writing the very best you can." See also Janni Lee Simner Speaks Out on Voice and More from Janni Lee Simner on Voice. Read Cynsations interviews with Zu and Janni.

"Respecting Your Reader" with D.L. Garfield: a chat transcript from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "I was lucky that I'd kept a diary through my teen years and saved it all these years. Looking back at it, I saw I was often exhilarated one day and sobbing the next, and never sure of anything. As an adult, I'm more mellow and confident. So I think the inner life of teens is much more a factor of their individual personalities and their age than the era they're raised in."

Check out this book trailer for Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron (Atheneum, 2009), a sequel to The Higher Power of Lucky (Atheneum, 2006). Trailer by Tina Nichols Coury at Tales from the Rushmore Kid. Read a Cynsations interview with Susan.



What Advice Would You Give to New Or Aspiring Writers? from Deborah Brodie: Freelance Editor, Book Doctor & Teacher of Creative Writing. A selection of tips from various pros! See also great news from Deborah's clients.

Choosing a freelance editor: What you need to know by Alan Rinzler from The Book Deal: An Inside View of Publishing. Peek: "Has the editor worked on books that have been published successfully? Your prospective editor should be able to provide an author list of published titles that you can examine." Source: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent.

New Agent Alert: Brenda Bowen of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates from Chuck at Guide To Literary Agents Editors Blog. Nuts and bolts for submitting.

Congratulations to Bettina Restrepo author of Moose and Magpie, illustrated by Sherry Rogers (Sylvan Dell, 2009)! From the promotional copy: "It isn’t easy being a moose. You're a full-grown adult at the age of one, and it itches like crazy when your antlers come in! Young Moose is lucky to find a friend and guide in the wisecracking Magpie. 'What do the liberty bell and moose have in common?' the Magpie asks as the seasons begin to change. Then, when fall comes: 'Why did the moose cross the road?' Laugh along with Moose and Magpie, and maybe—just maybe—Moose will make a joke of his own!"

Reading: Not Such Hard Work from Editorial Anonymous. Tips for reading like a book professional.

Readers, Writers, and Professors- a contrast in close reading by Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "I've outlined the novel, made notes in margins, used timelines and performed every kind of analysis known to man- or at least to writer- to understand how Audrey Couloumbis pulls off so much in such a little space, writing a story that is, in my opinion, both perfect for a sensitive child reader and a sophisticated adult."

The Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word: "a three-day literary festival celebrated each year during the second full weekend of October" in Nashville. Mark your calendars! The newly announced author line-up includes Hester Bass, Melissa de la Cruz, Kate DiCamillo, David Macinnis Gill, Peter Huggins, Jacqueline Kelly, Ronald Kidd, Justine Larbalestier, G. Neri, Elise Primavera, Donny Bailey Seagraves, and Sara Zarr. See the whole list with bios.

New Classes with Laura Purdie Salas

Writing Children's Nonfiction Books for the Educational Market: a two-week intensive online class scheduled from Aug. 10 to Aug. 21. Laura will teach the basics needed to pursue this market. Intermediate writers or writers with good critique groups will be all set. For beginning writers or those without access to helpful feedback, she's offering two optional critique add-ons. If you add the critique(s), you would have up to six months to send her your cover letter and/or your writing sample for critique. See details here (click on "For course information, click here").

Matchmaking Your Manuscript: Finding the Children's Book Publisher That Is Right for You: Laura and Lisa Bullard will teach the course, broken into two modules, this fall.

More Personally

Thank you to everyone who made the summer 2009 residency of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Young Adults such a success, and congratulations to our graduates! Special thanks to outgoing faculty chair Sharon Darrow, incoming faculty chair Margaret Bechard, special day ("Good & Evil") coordinators Julie Larios and Tim Wynne-Jones, program director Kate Gustafson, assistant program director Susannah Noel, the graduate assistants (Katie Mather, Cheryl Coupe, Debbie Gonzales, Stephanie Greene, Sharry Wright, Ann Jacobus Kordahl, and Nancy Bo Flood), and alumni mini-residency organizers Sarah Aronson and Mary Atkinson. And one last cheer to our speakers author Deborah Noyes, author Nancy Werlin, and editor Stephen Roxburgh!


Teens' Top Ten Nominees: Eternal: a review by Tara Olivero, Allen County Public Library Teen Advisory Board from YALSA Blog. Peek: "With a cast of vibrant and contemporary characters, Eternal is a must-read. Smith employs the perfect combination of wit and sincerity, making for an enthralling tale..." Note: "Eternal is one of 25 Teens’ Top Ten nominees chosen by teen advisory groups from around the country. Read all about TTT here."

Update: remember my judging the Ann Arbor District Library 2009 IT'S ALL WRITE! Short Story Contest for middle/high school students? Now, you can read all the winning stories online and order the book. Note: The contest was held in conjunction with the Ann Arbor Book Festival, and awards and publication "were made possible through a grant from the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library.

The Pizza-A-Day-Diet by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. While I was at the VCFA summer residency, my husband and sometimes co-author decided to take advantage of the situation to dive into a pizza-based diet (because I'd never sign off on that, if I were at home). For photos, reviews, and behind-the-scenes insights, see Pizza-A-Day and Other Weird Activities, Mangia Chicago Stuffed Pizza, Conans Pizza, Home Slice Pizza, Austin's Pizza, Rounder's Pizza, Frank and Angie's Pizza, Whole Foods, and Grand Finale: The Ultimate Pizza.

Austin Interest

Liz Garton Scanlon will celebrate the release of her picture book, All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/S&S), with story time at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 26 at BookPeople in Austin. Read Cynsations interviews with Liz and Marla.

Illustrators on Pet Parade: a peek at The Inklings, a picture book critique group in Austin SCBWI, from Mark G. Mitchell at How To Be a Children's Book Illustrator.

Photos of the Writers' League of Texas Agents' Conference includes a shot of YA authors Jessica Lee Anderson and Varian Johnson.

Reminder: Austin Public Library Fundraiser Seeks Book Donations: The APLF annual fundraising event and silent auction that will be held on Sept. 12. Authors interested in donating an autographed book(s) or item for the silent auction should contact Diane Hernandez--no later than the second week in August--to arrange for shipping and/or for her to pick up your donated item and form.

Mark Your Calendars

Destination Publication: an annual conference of Austin SCBWI will be held Jan. 30, 2010, and registration will open Sept. 1. Conference faculty will include Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson, Caldecott illustrator David Diaz, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, author/FSG editor Lisa Graff, agent Andrea Cascardi, agent Mark McVeigh, agent Nathan Bransford, and a to-be-announced editor; see bios. Featured authors will include Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates, and Patrice Barton; see author bios.
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