Friday, October 23, 2009

Remembering Norma Fox Mazer

The brilliant and spirited Norma Fox Mazer passed away on Oct. 17. She's already missed.

We first met in person when I joined the faculty of the Vermont College program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in July 2005.

I'll admit to having been fairly starstruck by the entire group. After all, we're talking about teaching with the likes of Kathi Appelt, Marion Dane Bauer, Margaret Bechard, Sharon Darrow, Louise Hawes, Ellen Howard, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Tim Wynne-Jones.

I mean, wow.

I'd packed only one book to be signed, a novelization of the movie "Supergirl" by Norma Fox Mazer (1984). An odd choice, I know. Of all the much acclaimed books by all of the award-winning faculty, Norma included.

But the book was special to me. One sunny day in the summer of 2000, I'd found the battered, used copy at Shakespeare & Company in Paris.

I'd first learned to read on superhero comics, Supergirl was one of my favorite heroes, and finding a Supergirl novel by Norma--and so far from home--was such a happy surprise.

She laughed when she saw the book and told me how she'd worked to add layers to Supergirl, no matter whether the editor expected to see them there or not. And we talked about how there's nothing wrong with having to make a living as a writer, a challenge we'd both struggled with to varying degrees over the years.

I didn't know Norma as well as I would've liked. She retired from teaching not long after I joined the faculty. But she made a particular effort to be welcoming. She brought me Kashi crackers when I wasn't eating much of the cafeteria food, and we connected over our experiences as writer women whose husbands were authors, too.

I'm honored that I had the opportunity to known her, to have heard her laugh and read. To have discovered that she was more super than I could have ever imagined.

More Memories

In Memory of Norma Fox Mazer by Elizabeth Bluemle from Shelf Talker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog. Peek: "Norma was ageless; her slight frame and whimsical braids, and her open, imaginative, curious and lively mind, gave her an air decades younger than her actual years. There was something magical about Norma; one felt happy to be around her."

Celebrating Norma Fox Mazer by Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "A teenage sensibility kept Norma ageless. The wisdom of years made her amazing."

Norma Jean Fox: One of the Giants by Stephanie Greene from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "She was one of the Giants. One of the Dependable Ones, as I think of them, who could be counted on to turn out strong and good and true books, year after year, without fanfare, without talk."

Norma Fox Mazer 1931-2009 by Julie Larios from Jacket Knack. Peek: "When I think of her, it's as if she stepped straight out of an illustration for a Beverly Cleary novel...."

In Memory of Norma Fox Mazer by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "She was a beloved wife to Harry Mazer, a mother, and a shining light in our field, a dear friend and mentor to innumerable others on the writing path."

A Letter to Norma Fox Mazer by Carrie Jones at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "When I first saw you at Vermont College, Emily Wing Smith grabbed my arm and whispered frantically, 'That’s Norma Fox Mazer.'"

Norma and the New Life by Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "In every life there are a tiny handful of people, maybe two or three, who genuinely touch your soul. Norma was one of mine."

The Circle of Life by Teri Lesesne/Professor Nana at The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "Ever the caring person, Norma wrote a lovely thank you to me (I still have it) with cartoon characters talking about their conference experience."

Remembering Norma from Bethany Hegedus from And Then: The Daily Dramas of a Children's Writer. Peek: "Truth With a Capital T, is much changed from the picture book Norma and I worked on together but when it hits the shelves in fall 2010, it will bear a dedication to Norma, for without her encouragement the book wouldn't be."

Unsigned Copy: Norma Fox Mazer by Zu Vincent at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Norma was no prima donna, she was in the trenches, cutting her eye teeth on pulp work and growing into literature. To me that’s why her story danced with life, and why her success was so precious."

Norma's craft and her art by Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "...go find a Norma Fox Mazer book at your local bookstore or library. Read it for fun. Then read it to learn. Norma has so much to teach us still."

Norma by Deborah Wiles at One Pomegranate. Peek: "This is what Norma would tell me to do -- write. Keep working. Try. I may be gone, but that is not an excuse for you not to do your job, not to meet your deadline. I know she is right. And I know I will find the words."

What I Learned from Norma Fox Mazer by Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "She taught us about honor and humility. Accepting your limitations. Not accepting them."

Norma Fox Mazer by Sharon Darrow. Peek: "She lived lightly and carefully on the earth and gave so much back, bringing flowers and beautiful stories into our lives."

Cynsational Notes

Award-Winning Author Norma Fox Mazer Dies at 78 by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal. Peek: "Mazer's books have won many awards, including a Newbery Honor, the Edgar Allen Poe Award, the Christopher Medal, the California Young Readers Medal, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award twice, the Iowa Teen Award twice, and the ALAN Award. She was nominated for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Book Prize, and her work often appeared on the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults lists..."

Norma Fox Mazer, Novelist for Young Adults, Dies at 78 by Margarlit Fox from The New York Times. Peek: "...an award-winning novelist for young people whose work helped illuminate many dark corners of adolescence, exploring subjects like poverty, betrayal, abandonment and loss..."

The faculty members listed above taught during my first residency and are still at Vermont College. I recall additional, wonderful folks being there, too, but I don't have a complete roster handy (or a reliable memory) and would rather not try to list everyone than to risk leaving anyone out.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Linda W. Braun: YALSA Teen Read Week --- Reading Beyond Reality from Teenreads.com. Guest post from the president of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Peek: "Teen Read Week also promotes the idea that reading for pleasure doesn’t happen just with books. Reading magazines, graphic novels, blog posts, sports websites, etc. are ways in which teens can enjoy content."

Your Inner Blogger, Advice for Blogging Authors, and Social Media Tips from Jama Rattigan at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. A Kidlitcon 2009 report. Peek: "I am more apt to pick up a book by someone who has taken the time to share who they are as human beings, engage with others, voice honest opinions, and express an interest in something other than 'me, me, me.'"

Nonfiction Writing As a Way To Learn by April Pulley Sayre from INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "Like teaching, writing involves shaping what you know into digestible pieces of information. You also have to open yourself to questions that might arise. This encourages you to fill the gaps in your own knowledge."

Win Hate List by Jennifer Brown (Little, Brown, 2009) from Devyn Burton at Faerie Drink Review. Deadline: Nov. 7. See more information. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Author Linda Sue Park Wins Empire State Author Award by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal. Peek: "Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park is this year’s winner of the Empire State Author Award, given to a New York State children's or YA author for a body of work." Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Sue.

Author Websites part 1.75: What Not to Blog from the Intern. Also includes recommended topics. Under "not": "Anything mean. You will regret it. No exceptions."

How I Wrote Liar by Justine Larbalestier from Teenreads.com. Peek: "...it was more like writing poetry than a novel. I rewrote each one multiple times before the draft was completed, thinking about every single word, worrying about its placement on the page." Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Angie Frazier: new website from the debut author of Everlasting (Scholastic, 2010). See also Angie Frazier: Adventures of a YA Novelist.

Creative Chaos II: The occasional postings of a writer, illustrator, and mom. from Anna J. Boll. Peek: Anna reviews nonfiction, fiction and poetry for middle grade and picture book audiences. She is accepting books, ARCs and F&G's for August 2009 to March 2010 books. No self-published books. After the review, books can be returned or donated to a local school library. Please email Anna at annajboll at gmail dot com for more information.

Featuring Mélanie Watt by Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "My husband taught our girls to say, at very young ages, 'commercials are for suckers.' This would be why I'm happy to share some illustrations today from Mélanie Watt’s newest picture book, Have I Got a Book for You! (Kids Can), in which Mr. Al Foxword, one very insistent salesman, tries just about everything to get you to buy his book already." Read a Cynsations interview with Mélanie.

Tina Kugler Studio: children's illustrator Tina Kugler spent ten years drawing storyboards for Walt Disney Studios and Nickelodeon Animation. Clients include Teaching Textbooks, Teacher's Discovery, and Birmingham Parent. Note: Tina is a Cynsational reader.

The Federal Trade Commission and Book Bloggers--update from Kidlitcon 09 from Charlotte's Library: fantasy and science fiction books for children and teenagers. Peek: "Book bloggers who don't get paid by publishers to act as shills for their books are independent reviewers, regardless of how many books they might get from publishers." See also An Introvert Goes to the Kidlitosphere Conference by Jennifer R. Hubbard from Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Missed Opportunities by Brian Yansky at Brian's Blog: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. Peek: "The good thing about fiction is a missed opportunity isn’t really missed. We get do-overs all the time. We get the gift of revision." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Rosemary Wells: new official site of the children's author-illustrator. Includes sections for kids, parents & educators, and original art. Note: don't miss the video featured in "In the Studio." Rosemary's new releases include Lincoln and His Boys, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick, 2009).

Marvelous Marketer: Michael Stearns (Upstart Crow Literary) from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "Do I Google new authors? Sure. Am I looking for the oft-bandied-about-but-never-adequately-defined-buzzword 'platform'? God, no. I wouldn’t know a platform if I saw it."

The Vibrant Triangle (part 1, part 2) from Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink. An interview with Tamara Ellis Smith on The Vibrant Triangle, "the dynamic between the picture book, the adult reader and the child listener."

Publishing 101: What You Need to Know by Jerry D. Simmons from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Here's your step-by-step guide to the publishing process–how it works, why you need to know and how you can play an influential role in your book’s success." Source: April Henry.

Congratulations to the Teens Top Ten books of 2009 (and their authors)!

Want your name in my book? an auction from L.K. Madigan at Drenched in Words. Peek: "I'm offering up for auction two minor character names in my 2010 YA fantasy, The Mermaid's Mirror, scheduled for release in Fall 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt." Deadline: midnight Nov. 1.

Celebrating the National Day on Writing: A Revision Gallery: Kate Messner, author of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. (Walker, 2009) has created a resource for teachers who want their students to see examples of deep revision. Her "Revision Gallery" includes photos of marked-up manuscript pages from a collection of children's and young adult authors, along with a short note from each writer about the revision process. The gallery is available as a series of jpegs here on Kate's blog, where there's also a link to the full presentation on SlideShare. Includes samples from authors Sarah Miller, Sara Lewis Holmes, Kristin O'Donnell Tubb, Saundra Mitchell, Claudia Osmond, Maria Padian, Crissa-Jean Chappell, Kay Cassidy.

From Page to Screen: "Where the Wild Things Are" movie review by Claire E. Gross from the Horn Book. Peek: "...it's the movie's willingness to run with its new themes, darker than those of the book (yet, paradoxically, more invested in the underlying innocence of childhood) that allows it a measure of success."

Kids’ books face a rough path to the big screen: Turning a simple short story into a 90-minute movie can be tricky by Alonso Duralde from MSNBC. Peek: "In 'Wild Things,' screenwriters Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze start the story before Sendak does, giving us an idea of Max’s life and the factors that guide his behavior."

The 2009 Kirkus Reviews Teen Book Video Awards from Teenreads.com Blog. Peek: "To watch these enticing book trailers, vote for your favorite, and read more about the competition and each of the filmmakers, visit http://www.barnesandnoble.com/kirkusbva/. We had a lot of fun watching the videos, and can’t wait to see who wins. Which video excites you about reading a book the most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!"

Book Launch: Haven: an interview with author Beverly Patt on her debut novel Haven (Blooming Tree) from Janet S. Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "I struggle with guilt sometimes when I'm not writing. I have to remind myself that non-writing is good too. Not only does it pull you out of your hole and make you more sociable, it gives you new experiences to include in your writing." Read a Cynsations interview with Beverly.

National Coalition Against Censorship Salutes Judy Blume by Sara Antill from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "while...accusatory responses have come from adults, the letters Blume has received from young readers paint a different picture. 'Thank you for letting me know I’m normal,' read one of the letters presented." Read a Cynsations interview with Judy.

First Drafts by Brian Yansky at Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "Michelangelo was very eloquent about his approach to sculpting. He said, 'I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.' Oh, yes, very nice indeed. Very pretty. Lucky bunch, those sculptors." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Writing Contest: Create Another Another Faust from Daniel & Dina. Peek: "Write a 3000 word (max) retelling of the Faustian Bargain ("Another Another Faust") set in any time, place, dimension, or world. Your story can be from any viewpoint, and you can get as creative as you’d like! Don't exceed 3000 words, but don’t give us filler either. You can certainly tell an amazing story in just a few words." Deadline: Jan. 31. See details.

See the book trailer below for Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri (Candlewick, 2009).



See the book trailer below for Hold Still by Nina LaCour (Dutton, 2009). Read Nina's thoughts about making the trailer at Crowe's Nest.



See the book trailer below for Racing Against the Odds: The Story of Wendell Scott, Stock Car Racing's African-American Champion by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Marsahll Cavendish, 2009).



More Personally

Happy Teen Read Week! Thank you to everyone who turned out for my readergirlz chat with Holly Cupala and Lisa McMann on Wednesday night! See chat transcript! And don't miss tonight's readergirlz chat with authors Dia Calhoun and Sylvia Engdahl!

Cynthia Leitich Smith Celebrates Teen Read Week: a quick "Beyond Reality" Q&A from the YA Authors Cafe. Peek: Q: "What is the strangest thing you've ever seen?" A: "The yard gnome that Libba Bray gave me. I swear it comes to life at night."

My latest review is from AudioFile Magazine of the Eternal audiobook from Listening Library (2009), though kudos really go to actors Allyson Ryan and Jesse Bernstein. Audiofile raves: "Together the narrators create magic: Listeners will both love and hate Miranda as she drinks her way through Chicago's population, and the suspense is thrilling as Zachary desperately tries to figure out a way to save his undead princess." Listen to a clip from Listening Library/Random House.

Highlights of the week also included Kate DiCamillo's signing last Saturday and Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. Hoover's signing last Sunday, both at BookPeople in Austin.

Let's start with Kate:

Here's Kate, taking questions from a standing-room-only crowd, and this is on Texas-OU game day, which of course makes the turnout even more impressive. Kate's new release is The Magician's Elephant (Candlewick, 2009).

Here she is afterward, signing books. Note: I'd feature more pics of Kate, but this was about as close as I could get to her; it was one of those events where you had to get your specially color-coded bracelet in the morning.

Fans in attendance included writers Erin Edwards, Julie Lake (author of Galveston's Summer of the Storm (TCU Press, 2003), and recent VCFA grad Jennifer Taylor.

Read a recent Cynsations interview with Kate about The Magician's Elephant!

And now let's go to P.J. and Jessica's event! (P.J. is the taller of the two and has lighter hair).

Note the very cute T-shirts.

Note the authors' family members, also in T-shirts!

Jessica and P.J. shared the stage, talked about their books, read, and took questions from kids in the audience. Jessica's new book is Border Crossings (Milkweed, 2009), and P.J.'s new book is The Forgotten Worlds Book 2: The Navel of the World (CBAY, 2009).

P.J. and Jessica signed their books!

Here's 2009 YA debut voice Bethany Hegedus (green)(author of Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009) with Austin SCBWI regional advisor Tim Crow and YA author Jennifer Ziegler (purple). Bethany has newly relocated to Austin from New York!

Here's another first-time Austin author--K.A. Holt, whose debut book is Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Random House, 2009)!

Tim again, this time with Betty X. Davis, the grand lady of our writing community.

Writer Erin Edwards with Emma J. Virjan, debut author-illustrator of Nacho the Party Puppy (Random House, 2008)!

Jo Whittemore with her husband. Jo is the author of The Silverskin Legacy trilogy (Llewellyn, 2006-2007) and Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin MIX, 2010).

A handful of us grabbed lunch at Opal Divine's on 6th Street afterward. Going around the table, here's YA author April Lurie (lighter green), picture book author Frances Hill, YA author Brian Yansky (end of table), Greg again, author Debbie Gonzales, and Bethany again (darker green). Note: in this pic, not everyone has arrived yet.

Afterward, a couple of the authors visited my house and were kind enough to sign their books. Here's Jessica and Bethany, both together and individually!

See also A Book Release Party and Other Random Bits from P.J. at Roots in Myth and An Interview with P.J. Hoover from Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings.

Spooky Cynsational Giveaway

Reminder: In celebration of the "Read Beyond Reality" theme of Teen Read Week, which is scheduled for Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, and the spooky season now upon us, I'm offering the biggest, winner-take-all Cynsational giveaway ever, with an emphasis on Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and spectacular read-alikes!

You can enter to win: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009); Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (Walker, 2009); Far From You by Lisa Schroeder (Simon Pulse, 2009); How to Be a Vampire: A Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, November 2009); Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (Harcourt, 2009); Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler (Simon Pulse, 2008); and Vamped by Lucienne Diver (Flux, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Read Beyond Reality" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I'll contact you if you win).

You will get an extra chance to win for each of the following: (1) you blog about the giveaway and link to my related announcement posts at Cynsations at Blogger, LiveJournal, JacketFlap, MySpace or Spookycyn (send me the URL to your post with your entry); (2) you post the link to your Facebook page or tweet it (find me at Twitter and Facebook and CC me on those systems so I can take a look); (3) you are a YA teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (indicate school/library with your entry); (4) you are a book blogger (teen or grown-up)(include the URL to your blog with your entry message). Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 30. Good luck and stay spooky!

Cynsational Events

From BookPeople: "The first Austin Teen Book Festival: Read Beyond Reality will be this weekend, on Oct. 24 at Westlake High School. From 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., the school will be filled with a who's who of YA authors signing and selling their newest books."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Teen Read Week: Lisa Schroeder on Far From You

Learn about Lisa Schroeder.

We last spoke in May 2008, after the release of I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse). Could you briefly remind us what it's about? Do you have any updates for us on this title?

I Heart You, You Haunt Me is the story of a girl, Ava, whose boyfriend dies and he loves her so much, he doesn’t want to leave her and comes back as a ghost. It’s a story of love and loss, healing and hope.

It was voted a 2009 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. It's also a 2010 New Hampshire Flume Reader’s Choice Nominee and a 2009-2010 South Dakota Library Association YA Reading Program Selection!

Congratulations on the publication of Far From You (Simon Pulse, 2009)! What is the book about?

Far From You tells the story of sixteen-year-old Alice, who lost her mother to cancer years ago, and time hasn't quite healed the wound. She copes the best she can by writing her music, losing herself in the love of her boyfriend, and distancing herself from her father and his new wife.

But when a deadly snowstorm traps Alice with her stepmother and newborn half sister, she'll have to face issues she's been avoiding for too long.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Each of my books generally starts with a few seeds of ideas, and this one was no different.

First, I had been thinking about that wonderful, award-winning novel, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1997) and how, as you read, you can almost taste the dust and feel the heat radiating off the page.

I then had the idea of going in the opposite direction with the temperature, and writing about people stuck in a blizzard.

In Oregon, where I live, we had recently followed the tragic story of the Kim family in the news, so it seemed timely as well.

Next, I had always wanted to write a book about a girl who was a singer/songwriter, and I had always wanted to write a book that contained Alice's Adventures in Wonderland [by Lewis Carroll (1865)] elements. So, I combined all those things, and Far From You was born.

What was it like, writing your "sophomore" novel?

It was hard. And exciting. And scary. My first novel had been so easy to write, and this one wasn’t anything like that, so I worried that meant something. But I don't think it really does. The process for each book is going to be different, and that’s okay.

With the second book, I was keenly aware that if I could finish it and make it something my editor might like, people would be reading it and judging the writing. It's a much more difficult place to write from, with that noise going on in your head.

I found music helped immensely. I've never been one to write to music really, but that changed with this book. I'd write for hours with ear buds in my ears, listening to music that helped me get inside Alice's head.

I think when we struggle, we need to look around and try different things. Try new ways of plotting, try new and different places to write, or different times of days. What has worked before may not work this time around.

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

I will admit it's challenging at times, especially because I have a day job too. For me, unfortunately, promotion probably doesn't get as much time as it should. I've always believed that the best thing you can do as an author is to keep writing books. So, first and foremost, that's been my priority. By spring of next year, I'll have four novels out in three years, and I'm proud of that.

The rest of it, I do what I can and try not to stress about it. The thing about promotion is that there's always more a person can do, and it's so easy to feel badly that you aren't doing enough. Most of the promotional stuff that I do is online, because I can do that early in the morning or on the weekends when I'm not working.

When I'm working on a new book, I try to write at least thirty minutes a day. I also spend time most days doing blog posts, answering interview questions, responding to reader e-mails, etc. I find it's best for me to spend time on both each day, even if it's just a little time each day.

What one promotion tip would you like to share with fellow authors?

Figure out what you like to do and do that. Think about what your strengths are in regular life and figure out how to use that in your promotional stuff.

Maybe you think like a teacher because you are a teacher or have been a teacher. How can you promote your books for teachers and get into schools? You’re going to know that better than someone like myself who has never been a teacher. So play to your strengths, and don't feel badly that you can’t do everything.

What do you do when you're not writing?

A big chunk of my time is spent working in Human Resources at a large teaching hospital.

For fun, I love to walk my dog, play games with my kids, read books (of course!) watch favorite TV shows like "Project Runway" and "Friday Night Lights," read blogs, and bake delicious treats for my family.

What can your fans look forward to next?

In January, Chasing Brooklyn (Simon Pulse), another ghost story told in verse, will be released. This one is told from the POV of two characters, Brooklyn and Nico, who are both being haunted by two different ghosts. I’m hoping fans of I Heart You, You Haunt Me will like this one.

In March, my first mid-grade novel will be released. Called It's Raining Cupcakes (Aladdin), the book is about a girl who dreams of traveling the world but is stuck in a small town in Oregon trying to help her mother get a cupcake shop off the ground.

"A Revision Medley" by Lisa Schroeder



Cynsational Notes

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Teen Read Week is Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, 2009! From ALA/YALSA: "This year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Teen Read Week: Beth Fantaskey on Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Learn more about Beth Fantaskey.

What were you like as a teenager? What were your favorite books and why?

I was a geeky, gawky, shy teenager who was lucky enough to have a really wonderful, if small, set of amazing friends.

I was also lucky to live within bike-riding distance of my local library, and I read tons of books. I was a huge fan of Tolkien and, oddly enough, James Thurber, the classic humorist. I've tried to get my students at Susquehanna University to connect with Thurber, and they all think I'm crazy. I guess I've always had a twisted sense of humor!

What first inspired you to write for young adult readers?

I didn't set out to write for a YA audience. I just dreamed up a story that featured a young heroine, and the next thing I knew, I was a YA author.

I feel very lucky, though. I love how readers of YA fiction interact with authors. It's a really interconnected audience. I feel like I've actually made friends with a lot of readers.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

My whole career has centered on writing, and each editor I've worked with has imparted new lessons, so I've basically been apprenticing for my entire adult life.

However, I would say my biggest learning experiences took place at my first PR job, where my boss was a brutally honest--and skilled--editor. I was assigned to write a lot of speeches, and during the first year, everything came back marked up with red pen to the point that I nearly wanted to cry.

He did me a great favor, though. After a year, I was a solid writer. I could stand on my own.

What was the single best thing you did to improve your craft? What, if anything, do you wish you'd done differently?

I think writing is a skill that you can only learn by doing and revising and getting feedback from editors. Therefore, I'd say the best thing I've done is to write on a consistent basis and submit my work to newspapers, magazines, and, eventually, an agent and publisher.

I really don't think I would have done anything differently... except maybe try to write fiction even earlier. I was almost forty before I focused on novels.

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

"Sprints and stumbles" pretty much sums up the whole experience! I wrote Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Harcourt, 2009) fairly quickly, over the course of summer 2006, and it sold to Harcourt on Oct. 31 of that year. You'll then notice a pretty big gap between sale and publication! It was a long process--but worth it.

Congratulations on the success of Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Harcourt, 2009)! In your own words, what is the book about?

It's the story of a very rational girl who is forced to come to terms with a very irrational truth about herself--that she is actually a vampire princess betrothed to a vampire prince. If they don't marry, according to a pact signed at their births, their rival clans will go to war.

Unfortunately, Jessica doesn't believe in vampires--and she doesn't even like her promised husband--at least not until it seems to be too late...

What was your initial inspiration for writing this story?

My children are both adopted, and we sometimes wonder what their biological parents were like. I took that to the extreme by imagining that my adopted heroine, Jess, was born to vampire royalty. That's the root of the story.

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

My editor at Harcourt couldn't recall any other time they'd hired a freelance Romanian translator to help finish a book!

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

The same thing I'm constantly telling myself now: Sit down and write. Get to work!

So far what is your favorite YA book of 2009 and why?

I honestly haven't read any other YA fiction this year. I'm trying to finish up my doctoral dissertation, and when I read, it's basically nonfiction about female reporters in the 1920s. If I ever get done with that, I have lots of great fiction waiting for me!

What do you do when you're not writing?

I like to think while I run, so that is like a hobby for me. Right now, I'm also training for a "sprint triathlon" with a couple other women, but I have yet to get in the pool, so we'll see...

Other than that, I like to just hang out with my friends and my kids. We live near an amusement park, so I ride a lot of roller coasters with my girls.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book is called Jekel Loves Hyde, and it's due out next year. It's also a YA romance with a paranormal twist, so I hope readers will like it!

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss reading The Wedding of Anastasia Jessica Packwood and Lucius Valeriu Vladescu at Beth's website.

Teen Read Week is Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, 2009! From ALA/YALSA: "This year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it."

readergirlz Chat Tonight with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lisa McMann & Holly Cupala

"Beyond Daily Life" readergirlz Chat will feature Cynthia Leitich Smith (Eternal), rgz diva Holly Cupala (Tell Me a Secret), and Lisa McMann (Wake) on Oct. 21.

"It all happens at the rgz forum (http://readergirlz.blogspot.com) beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific Time (7 p.m. Mountain Time, 8 p.m. Central Standard Time, 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time)."

See the whole readergirlz "Read Beyond Reality" chat schedule for Oct. 19 to Oct. 23. See also more information.

See a book trailer below for Eternal.



See a book trailer below for Wake.



Celebrate all week with readergirlz!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teen Read Week: Lucienne Diver on Vamped

Learn more about Lucienne Diver.

What were you like as a teenager? What were your favorite books and why?

I was/am a geek. A D&D playing, chorus-singing, braniac thespian. You know, the kind who took extra art and English classes because study hall and lunch were just wastes of time. I did junior high, high school and community theatre because, you know, all that homework wasn't enough to keep me busy.

I was also a voracious reader and was caught several times reading fiction behind my text books--everything from Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov to Madeleine L'Engle, Elizabeth George Speare and Margaret Mahy to Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I didn't and still don't care what genre is listed on a book's spine, as long as between the covers there's a good story with wonderful characters.

All-time favorite YA books?

In no particular order: Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall (Atheneum, 1976), The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984), The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958), Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (Houghton Mifflin, 1960), The Monday Horses by Jean Slaughter Doty (Greenwillow, 1978).

I'll never forget writing to Ms. Doty when I was a kid and receiving a letter back. It was one of the high points of my young life.


What first inspired you to write for young adult readers?

I didn't so much decide to write for young adults as have a young adult character, Gina from Vamped (Flux, 2009), introduce herself to me. Well, maybe it wasn't as formal as all that.

Gina started talking in my head one day, a recently vamped fashionista who finds true horror in the realization that she no longer has a reflection, no way to do her hair and make up. Eternal youth is completely wasted if she has to go through her whole unlife a total schlub.

So she decides to turn her stylist, a decision her geekboy sire isn't too excited about until she tells him to get with the plan or pick up the styling slack.

The only way to get her out of my head was give her a story. Everyone loved it. "But this is a vignette," they said, "and it really wants to be a novel." They were right.

The thing was, I didn't have a plot. Turns out, that was only a minor hurdle. If it meant more face-time, 200+ pages rather than ten, Gina was going to get right on that.

I know it's weird that I talk about my character as though she really exists, but when I'm in the zone with a book, it feels more like I'm channeling my heroine's voice than developing my own. The book practically writes itself.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

I've written since the fifth grade when my wonderful teacher Mr. Hart divided the entire classroom into writing groups and gave us assignments to write, critique, and revise on a regular basis.

I was hooked. I'd always had stories in my head. I'd just never committed them to paper.

Mr. Hart was also greatly encouraging about my work. I felt as though I'd found my calling.

In high school, I edited our literary magazine. In college, it was our anthropology publication. I had pieces published in both.

But the big bad world of professional publishing was a harder road to hoe. I have many apprenticeship works (aka trunk novels) that will never see the light of day, where I got all the clichés and said-bookisms out of my system (I hope).

My writers' group was an amazing help and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to some realizations without which I'd never have seen publication. Even now that I've hit that stage, my critique partner, readers, and agent are invaluable for their input. I still need that push every now and then. Makes me a better writer.

What was the single best thing you did to improve your craft? What, if anything, do you wish you'd done differently?

I used to have trouble torturing my characters. When I first started writing, all my heroines were sort of the "she I want to be." I think I identified too much.

When Gina started talking to me I knew exactly where she came from--the big-haired girl with the "reputation" who used to torment my sister in high school. Oh, it was so easy to torture her. Fun too! But once I set out to give her a novel, I had to develop and chance the character so she was someone I wanted to spend an appreciable amount of time around. I learned a lot from that experience. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's the first of my works to sell in a big way.

One of my biggest epiphanies, though--and here I'm about to get a little personal--was when one of my critique partners, a former editor and very successful author, challenged me to write characters who emote. See, that "she I want to be" meant no messy emotions. Tough as nails, confident, untouchable. I'd grown up in a family that saw emotions as a weakness, but as a writer, well, let's just say they’re a necessary evil.

Anyway, that's the biggest realization I was drawn to, kicking and screaming. If I could have done things differently, I'd have seen that a lot sooner. I don't think I'd have nearly so many trunk manuscripts if I had.

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

As you can probably tell from my long-winded answer above, it was not smooth sailing. I had a lot to learn and a lot of dreck to get out of my system before I was ready for publication.

The successful part of my path started with "The Problem with Piskies," a buddy cop story...if the cop is on a bender while recovering from a werewolf attack he's yet to come to terms with and the buddy is an annoying little pisky named Bob, AKA Bobbin, AKA Kneebob on the run.

It placed in Quantum Barbarian's fiction contest and was published in the final issue of the webzine under my pseudonym Kit Daniels. And it paid! (Not well, but hey....) Next it was my romantic comedy Playing Nice, which sold to Five Star (2006), another short story....

I chose an alternate name because I didn't want anyone judging my work based on the fact that I was an agent or my agenting on the fact that I write, as I've always done. Ultimately, though, I decided that I wasn't cut out for a secret life, thus "Kit" has faded into obscurity.

Congratulations on the success of Vamped (Flux, 2009)! What is the book about?

Here’s the blurb I used on my press release:

From “Valley Vamp Rules for Surviving Your Senior Prom” by Vamped heroine Gina Covello: Rule #1: Do not get so loaded at the after prom party that you accidentally-on-purpose end up in the broom closet with the surprise hottie of the evening, say the class chess champ who's somewhere lost his bottle-cap lenses and undergone an extreme makeover, especially if that makeover has anything to do with becoming one of the undead.

Gina Covello has a problem. Waking up dead is just the beginning. There's very little she can't put up with for the sake of eternal youth and beauty. Blood-sucking and pointy stick phobias seem a small price to pay. But she draws the line when local vampire vixen Mellisande gets designs on her hot new boyfriend with his prophesied powers and hatches a plot to turn all of Gina’s fellow students into an undead army to be used to overthrow the vampire council.

Hey, if anyone's going to create an undead entourage, it should be Gina! Now she must unselfishly save her classmates from fashion disaster and other fates worse than death.

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

I’m not sure about the exact timeline. I'd say that the initial draft took between four and six months to write, but the story went through so many drafts after that that I'd estimate the overall time it took to write Vamped was about a year.

Once it went out on submission it probably took another four months (and one more revision at the suggestion of the acquiring editor) to sell.

I can tell you exactly when that happened–Superbowl weekend 2008. I know because I got the call when my family and I were in the airport on our way to see friends, and I practically turned cartwheels right there in the terminal.

Then it was about fifteen months (from February 2008 to May 2009) for publication.

It’s funny, all the major events seemed to happen when I was traveling. The cover came in during another trip. I was so excited that I printed it out at an Internet café and showed it everyone I met, whether I knew them or not. I had to fend off a few men in white suits who wanted to lure me into their nice padded wagon, but the buckles on the jacket they wanted to fit me with were just so '80s that I had to turn them down.

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

The biggest challenge is in finding the time to write. I've had to carve it out of sleep, waking up before my inner editor every morning so that I can find time to write that isn't already committed to anything else.

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

Oh, there are crafty things I'd love to have taught myself early on so that I might have gotten farther faster, but in truth, I think sometimes an author needs to cure.

I became a better writer after my son was born. I don’t know if it conferred a new maturity or depth of feeling, but I do know that something in me shifted.

I think/hope that I’m improving all the time. Maybe in another ten or twenty years, I'll actually have wrestled into submission some of the elements that continue to fight me.

So far what is your favorite YA book of 2009 and why?

Ack, that’s so tough! Both Rosemary Clement-Moore (Highway to Hell (Delacorte) and the forthcoming Splendor Falls (Delacorte)) and Rachel Caine (Carpe Corpus, Fade Out (Signet, 2009, both from the Morganville Vampires series) have new YA novels out this year and both are so amazingly fabulous that I just can’t choose.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Agenting, reading, wrestling with the puppy (or my husband), playing with my son, sunbathing, beading, shopping. Is there time for anything else?

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m very excited that Revamped (Flux) will be out next fall.

In the meantime, I’ve got a short story coming out in Strip Mauled, an anthology edited by Esther Friesner (Baen, 2009). It's sort-of a sequel to "The Problem with Piskies," though you can certainly read one without the other.

I also have a vampire story coming out in an as-yet-untitled Esther Friesner anthology to be published by Baen Books in 2010.

Cynsational Notes

Teen Read Week is Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, 2009! From ALA/YALSA: "This year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Teen Read Week: Suzanne Selfors on Coffeehouse Angel

We last spoke in September 2008 about To Catch a Mermaid (Little, Brown, 2007) and Saving Juliet (Bloomsbury, 2008). Could you update us on these titles?

Saving Juliet is out in paperback and made some summer reading lists and continues to build readership.

To Catch a Mermaid will be included in Scholastic Book Fairs this fall, so that's very good news.

Congratulations on the publication of Coffeehouse Angel (Walker, 2009)! In your own words, what is the book about?

Feeling lost. Feeling like you're the only person who doesn't know what she's going to do with her life.

Katrina, the story's protagonist, has two best friends with very clear-cut goals for college and life, while Katrina hasn't yet figured out what she's good at.

There's also a strong theme of forgiveness running through the story. Forgiving others, but also, forgiving yourself. Allowing yourself to be who you are.

While this is a romantic comedy, readers should know that the romance isn't the central component. Katrina's identity struggle is the story's core.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The story's location was inspired by the town of Poulsbo, where I go a few times a week to write. It's a Scandinavian-themed town, and that's where I first saw Katrina and her grandmother's old-world coffeehouse. They came to life there. If you visit my website you can see photos of Poulsbo and some of the locations I included in the story [scroll to view].

I was also influenced by a conversation I had with a friend who was stressed out because her teenage daughter wasn't going to be doing enough during the summer. This girl was taking sailing lessons, a summer intensive language program, volunteering with her church, and a slew of other things I can't remember.

Summer, for this mother, was all about plumping up her daughter's resume so she could get into the best college, etc. Each day was planned.

It stressed me out just listening to her, and I realized that there's this horrid pressure on this generation of teens to succeed. It kind of made me sick.

What happened to the great tradition of hanging out all summer?

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

Coffeehouse Angel was the second book in a two-book contract. I had six months to write it and another month for revisions. Because I'm under contract for middle grade novels as well, I have to weave the two projects. So while I'm writing one book, I'm usually waiting for a revision letter on another. It's a tricky balancing act.

I'm happy to say that Coffeehouse Angel is part of the fall 2009 Kid's Indie Next List!

How did writing this book "grow" you as a writer?

I think I'm becoming more comfortable with first person. First person is risky because you can turn the reader off immediately. I've walked away from many first-person novels because I didn't want to spend time in that particular head.

Katrina in Coffeehouse Angel has a very warm voice, while Mimi in Saving Juliet can be quite cynical at times. But those voices are honest to those characters.

What one promotion tip would you like to share with fellow authors?

Don't overlook the power of bloggers. My publisher mailed lots of ARCs to blog reviewers, but so did I. I made sure I had a stack of ARCs, and I set money aside for shipping.

If a request came in, I shipped an ARC, no questions asked. Even if the girl only had seven followers, that's not the point. The point is, you've just found yourself a new reader. And word-of-mouth is huge in the YA market.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I love going to movies and plays. I usually have season tickets to the Seattle Rep and Seattle Children's Theater.

And I love taking walks with my dog and going out on our boat with the family.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The next middle grade book comes out in May 2010, called Smells Like Dog (Little, Brown). I just got a sneak peek at the cover, and it's adorable.

And I've just finished the first draft of my next YA book, not sure of the release date for that one.

In the video below, Suzanne talks about Coffeehouse Angel.



Cynsational Notes

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Suzanne. Learn more about Suzanne.

Teen Read Week is Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, 2009! From ALA/YALSA: "This year's theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it."
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