Monday, November 30, 2009

New Voice: Samantha R. Vamos on Before You Were Here, Mi Amor

Samantha R. Vamos is the first-time author of Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, illustrated by Santiago Cohen (Viking, 2009).

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

My husband was out of the country for business. It was a snowy, Chicago evening, and I was obsessively checking e-mail for messages from my agent, Jennifer Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Previously, Jen had told me that Anne Gunton, a former Viking editor, had expressed interest in a bilingual picture book manuscript of mine and that Anne intended to bring it to an acquisitions meeting.

My then-two-year old was squirming on my lap, struggling to press my laptop keyboard when an e-mail miraculously appeared from Jen.

The e-mail began, "It’s official!" and my mouth dropped open.

A few tears ran down my face and unbelievably, my husband walked in to the room where I was with our son. I was thrilled he was home to hear my news.

From my husband’s perspective, however, it appeared that something horrible had happened and he looked alarmed. I quickly explained things, and we laughed.

It was really exciting. A bit surreal.

I had written that manuscript many years ago, and it was just an incredible relief to know that it had finally found a wonderful home. Then, to my further shock, a little over one month later, Jen informed me that Yolanda LeRoy, editor of Charlesbridge Publishing, liked another manuscript I had written.

Jen basically said she felt that all indications were good, and approximately three months later, I learned that Charlesbridge was acquiring The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred [to be illustrated by Rafael López (2010)]. I was truly stunned.

In terms of celebrating, I ate a lot of chocolate (I always do, but it was probably a bit more than usual). Then, at some point, I went with my husband to Bistro 110 in Chicago and had my favorite chocolate cake: Gateau "Paradis au Chocolat"--which is this magnificent wedge of dense, chocolate cake layered with toffee (it's difficult to write about now so far away from Chicago here outside Seattle) and sitting on a bed of caramel. Sometimes, it even comes with sparklers! We opened some champagne, I think, the night after we found out Before You Were Here, Mi Amor sold.

The best celebrating for me came when I was able to talk with my family and close friends, all of whom have been so remarkably supportive of me pursuing my writing dreams for literally greater than twenty years. I called and emailed, and it was wonderful to share this news.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

Over six years ago, I attended the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference. I have since attended twice. One of the many things I like about that conference is the opportunity to meet with editors and agents on a one-to-one basis for both consultations and advance readings.

Prior to attending the first time, I reviewed the biographies of all of the conference speakers. I paid the nominal fee for two consultation appointments with two different agents whom I sensed would be most receptive to the type of stories I write. The consultation appointments are ten minutes each so I prepared by memorizing a short synopsis for each manuscript I hoped to discuss.

The second agent I met with was Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. At the end of my pitch, Laura asked me a few questions, and then to my surprise, handed me her card. She asked me to send her the manuscript I had pitched as well as another I had mentioned.

A few months later, after completing satisfactory revisions to each manuscript, I signed with her agency.

There were a few signs that made me know Laura was the right fit. First, I had been represented by two different agents over the prior ten years so I had a basis for comparison. One agent was primarily an illustrator agent and that was not an ideal fit for me. Then years later, I came to be represented by another agent, who was and is talented, honest and astute--terrific in all regards--but while my writing was growing and receiving nice marks from editors, this agent was rapidly developing a reputation among huge authors and I felt I needed more attention to really gain some traction.

Laura gave me that attention. She commented on my writing, and she was good about being responsive--either by telephone or e-mail--on a timely basis. A dialogue and communication were and are important to me.

Later, as Laura came to represent larger and more complex deals, I became represented by a younger agent (at the time within the same house at Andrea Brown)--the wonderful Jennifer Rofé. Jennifer had been an intern a few years earlier when Laura almost closed a sale for me.

I had two “almost-sales” with two different publishing houses, and I think those experiences motivated both me and my agency to hold on and not give up. I’m very grateful that Andrea Brown Literary Agency hung in there with me.

Ultimately, it is Jennifer Rofé who sold my first two manuscripts--almost back-to-back at the end of 2006 (to Viking Children’s Books) and the beginning of 2007 (to Charlesbridge Publishing). She’s a terrific agent, and I feel really lucky to be paired with her.

In terms of advice to writers looking for the right agent, I’ll offer just a few of the many traits that I like about Jennifer.

First, she is a careful reader, and she offers substantive comments that have helped me improve my writing.

Second, and just as important as the first point, she listens. If I disagree with a suggestion whether about my writing or even the marketing of a manuscript, she fairly and judiciously weighs comments.

Third, she’s flexible and is willing to try different approaches.

Fourth, she becomes genuinely excited about our successes together. I truly feel like we’re a team and a partnership, and that’s exactly what I really wanted in an agent.



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.

Bridget Kicks Cancer Auction! Bid to Win Art, Signed Books, Author/Agent/Editor Critiques, Proofreading Service & More

Browse, bid, and win for a good cause at this online auction to raise money for Bridget Zinn!

Bridget is a 32-year-old YA author and librarian who is currently being treated for stage 4 colon cancer – and her "healthy young person between jobs" health insurance does not cover many of her expenses. Read Bridget's blog for more information.

Coordinators have received dozens of generous donations of items to be auctioned off. Many authors – Bridget’s friends and acquaintances – have donated signed copies of their books; there are also a number of manuscript critiques and proofreading services for writers.

Here's a sampling:

--One Critique of a Query Plus the First 10 Pages of Your Middle Grade or Young Adult Novel by Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency. Peek: "Jill Corcoran is an Associate Agent at Herman Agency representing middle grade and young adult authors. Jill is a huge fan of humor. If you can make her laugh or crack a smile, you are her kind of writer. Even in a serious literary book, there is room for humor. Jill prefers realistic and paranormal [fiction] to high fantasy. A commercial hook with a literary bent."

--Manuscript Critique by Bestselling Author April Henry: "Have the first 20 pages (up to 5,000 words) of your manuscript critiqued. The critique will include 'big picture' comments as well as a line edit. April Henry has written eight mysteries and thrillers for adults and teens, with five more on the way."


--The Texas Sweethearts Writing Critique: Three Authors, Three Sets of Eyes, Three Helpful Opinions: Peek: "What could be more helpful than a critique to strengthen your story? Three critiques! Multiple-published members of The Texas Sweethearts—[children's-YA authors] Jo Whittemore, P.J. Hoover, and Jessica Lee Anderson—will individually critique your query letter, synopsis, and first three chapters (up to 30 pages)."


--The Art of Writing for Teens and Tweens: Online Course. Peek: "An online eight-week writing class guaranteed to be fun and informative! Taught by [Ann Gonzales] the author of the YA novel Running for My Life (WestSide, 2009)(signed copy also available in this auction!)."


--A Picture Book Critique by Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "Critique of one picture book manuscript, not to exceed 2,500 words. Fiction or non-fiction."

--Set of Two Poster-Sized Kevin Henkes Originals: For the Kevin Henkes enthusiast who thinks s/he has everything! Peek: "These two signed original marker sketches are each 27" x 32." They are on butcher paper and have been rolled up, so they do have some wrinkles and yellowing. They would look fantastic in frames--perfect for a child's room, a studio, or a library!" Learn more about Kevin!

But that’s not all – there’s something for everyone! The auction includes works of art, food and drink, baby gifts, jewelry, and more. Many of the items would make lovely gifts, just in time for your holiday shopping. Take a look – you may find just the thing you’re looking for!

Auction items can be viewed at http://www.32auctions.com/view_auction?id=bridget&pwd=rules - or just go to www.32auctions.com and use the Auction ID: bridget and Password: rules (as in: Bridget rules!!) to view the auction.

You will need to create an account on the site in order to bid on auction items.

(Creating an account simply requires your name, email address, and a password, and it is required so that coordinators can contact you if you win an item.)

Bidding will begin Nov. 27 and continue through 9 p.m. central time Dec. 11.

Do You Live in Madison?

Bridget lived in Madison for 10 years. Bridget was a youth services librarian at the Madison Public Library (Lakeview branch) until she moved to Portland last year. Many local businesses and organizations have generously donated items to the auction. You'll see all of these Madison-specific items – such as gift certificates for local services and businesses, and tickets to local events – labeled "for Madison-area bidders" in the online auction.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: David Lubar

Learn about David Lubar.

What do you love most about your creative life? Why?

I love solving problems. And, really, that's the main job of a fiction writer. We solve our characters' problems.

We have the added pleasure of giving them the problems in the first place.

What is the one craft book that you refer to again and again? Why?

The Art of Answering Interview Questions by Askya Qanda.

How do you psyche yourself up to write and to keep writing?

I don't need to psyche myself up. I love writing.

So far, what's the most fun you've ever had working on a book? Why?

I've been walking around with a giddy grin ever since starting my new series, Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie (Starscape, 2009).


I get to write sentences such as, "Even though I don't feel pain, I didn't want to give birth to a pile of chicken wings," and do dreadful things with defibrillators.

How do you define artistic success?

I write the books I want to write, and I've found an audience. I'm not stuck in a rut, writing the same sort of thing all the time.

(I've always seen Bruce Coville as a role model. He writes everything.)

I've written horror, humor, real life, science fiction, fantasy, YA novels, chapter books, and short stories. As for success, I can make my living writing. I get lots of positive feedback from kids, teachers, and librarians.

You can always look a couple rungs up the ladder. It's easy to fall into the trap of envying someone who just won a big award or got a movie deal. But I'm sitting in my office in sweat-shorts and a T-shirt, listening to a nice CD and answering questions that will appear on a popular blog.

If I want to take a break and play a video game or go for a walk, there's no boss to tell me what to do. I have eight books scheduled to come out in the next four years. Really, I have no reason and no right to complain or to want more than I have.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

I love making something out of nothing. I love the infinite possibilities of the unwritten book. Paradoxically, once the path is set, I love paring those possibilities into a story that seems, in the end, both inevitable and surprising. And I love answering interview questions like this one.

How do you reach out to teachers and librarians?

First, I have to extricate myself from their hugs. Having accomplished that, I try to speak at lots of conferences. I'm fortunate to have a publisher that takes me to plenty of national events. I'm also fortunate to be invited to speak at lots of state conferences.

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

Nails are far too painful, and even staples draw more blood than I'd like, so I've settled for string or those "Live Strong" yellow wristbands.

How have you come to thrive in such a competitive, unpredictable industry?

By some stroke of luck, my interests mesh pretty well with those of the typical sixth or seventh grader.

So far, what has been the highlight of your professional career? Why?

A couple things come to mind. The New Jersey branch of NCTE gave me the first Muriel Becker Literary Award. She was an amazing woman and an important scholar in the science fiction world. As a Jersey boy, that was especially thrilling.

Speaking of New Jersey, another highlight was being asked by the NJ Educational Media Association to give the keynote at their conference many years ago. I've given tons of talks since then, but this really felt like I was coming home.

How do you define professional success?

Years ago, I told myself, "If I could make my living writing short stories, I'd be happy." I really love stories.

Much to my amazement, I actually make a good part of my living from the Weenies collections. The fourth one, The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies (Starscape, 2009), is already in a third hardcover printing.

Everyone in the industry will tell you that stories don't sell, but I seem to have found an exception to that rule and a loyal readership.

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


My Rotten Life (Starscape, 2009) tells how Nathan Abercrombie becomes a zombie after getting splashed with an experimental formula. Throughout the first book, he and his friends attempt to find a cure.

If I may boast a tiny bit, I have to say that the book has the finest ending I've ever written.



What can your fans look forward to next?

Book two, Dead Guy Spy comes out in January. And, after several more books in this series, I'll be working on a fifth story collection. Also, with luck, some awesome blogger will ask me for another interview. A guy can only hope....

Cynsational Notes

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

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The Eyeball Collector by F.E. Higgins (Feiwel & Friends 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Seven Characteristics You Need to Get Published by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker.net. Peek: "The first thing every real writer needs is a willingness to learn and grow. All agents or editors—no matter how busy—are interested in quality work."

2009 Cybils Widget is now available from JacketFlap. Show your support by adding it to your blog!

Balancing Acts by Kelly Bingham from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "How do you take all those reams of writing advice, all the lessons you have gleaned from novels and books on craft, and make them balance out? Because haven't you heard pieces of advice that contrast with one another? Who is right? Who is wrong?"

Top 10 Myths About E-Books from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "...because e-books are (usually) much cheaper than print books, it doesn't take long before an e-reader pays for itself - since most hardcovers that sell for $25 or more are available for $9.99, all it takes is roughly 20 e-books for an e-reader to pay for itself."

Unlocking Your Potential by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Some of my most brilliant students gave up after a rejection or two and never were published. But I have books on my shelf from medium-talented students who refused to give up on their dreams–books published by large New York publishers."

Congratulations to Nicola I. Campbell, whose picture book Shin-chi's Canoe (Groundwood), "about a little boy leaving home for a residential school, has won the $25,000 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award." Note: the illustrator of the book is Kim LaFave. Sources: CBC News; Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature.

Attention Central Texans: children's author Dianna Hutts Aston will be reading and signing in the Buda (TX) Public Library in conjunction with Budafest at 1 p.m. Dec. 5.

The Importance of White Space
by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "White space could be wielded as effectively as the most brilliant prose, and to equally devastating effect. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in."

Altitude and Attitude
by Susan Uhlig from Kidlit Central. Peek: "As an adult we think it is funny or cute when kids do certain things. Unless they are trying to be funny, often what they are doing is very serious business."

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers’s "List of Attributes that Make a Good Children’s Book" from Michael Stearns at Upstart Crow Literary. Source: Cynthia Lord.

Winners of Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books: compiled by Michael Thorn at ACHOCKABLOG. Peek: "John Fardell, Lari Don and Keith Gray have been named as this year's winners for the 2009 Royal Mail Awards, Scotland's largest children's Book Prize which is voted for exclusively by Scottish children themselves."

National Book Award Dinner Photo Montage by Lorie Ann Grover at readergirlz.

Writers' Conferences: Approaching Other Writers by Ami from Write Out Loud. Peek: "Once you’ve made a connection, the easiest way to start a conversation is to introduce yourself and ask what type of writing the person does."

Writing While White by Justine Larbalestier. Peek: "What we all have to remember when we write about people—any people—is that the risks of reinforcing stereotypes and thus hurting people is very high. So the onus is on us to do the very best job we can. We also have to remember that even when we do a wonderful job, even if we are a member of the group we’re representing, there are still people who will be offended."

Wasted by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "Here I’m referring to the idea that every manuscript does not become a published book even from writers who have published books and even from famous writers who have published books."

Choose Cybils Books for the Holidays from Jen Robinson's Book Page. Peek: "I've always felt that one of the biggest benefits that comes out of the Cybils process is these categorized lists of nominees and finalists. I hope that if any of you are planning to buy children's or young adult books for the holidays, you'll take advantage of this resource."

Cynsational Screening Room

In the video below, "Author Mary Amato demonstrates how she wrote Invisible Lines (Egmont, 2009), her new novel for ages 10 and up."



Take a sneak peek at the film, "Beastly," based on the novel of the same title by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins). Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

Beastly Teaser Trailer

Trailer Park | MySpace Video


The video below celebrates the New Zealand Book Council: Where Books Come to Life. Note: this is much cooler than I'm making it sound--definitely do click to view. Source: Janet Reid, Literary Agent.



Remember Shayne Leighton, the amazing young filmmaker who created my book trailers for Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)?

Here's a peek at her latest project, "The Incubus." See also a Cynsations interview with Shayne.



More Personally

Happy (American) Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it!

Special cheers to readergirlz, Through the Tollbooth, and of course American Indians in Children's Literature for their thoughtful and respectful posts on Native children's-YA literature and related educational considerations!

Thanks to MissAttitude at Reading in Color for featuring the Native American Youth Lit widget from JacketFlap on her blog!

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Raven Tree, 2009), one of three author-signed copies of My Father's House by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Raul Colón (Viking, 2007), an author-bookplate-signed copy of Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Amulet, 2009) and a contributor-signed copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, Oct. 2009)!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón" and/or "My Father's House" and/or "Operation Redwood" and/or "Immortal" 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). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30.

Read a Cynsations interview with S. Terrell French. See also a PDF excerpt of Immortal which highlights my short story, "Haunted Love." The story is set in the same universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and features new characters.

Cynsational Events

Destination Publication: An Awesome Austin Conference for Writers and Illustrators is scheduled for Jan. 30 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Keynote speakers are Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and Caldecott Honor author-illustrator Marla Frazee, who will also offer an illustrator breakout and portfolio reviews. Presentations and critiques will be offered by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, author-editor Lisa Graff of FSG, agent Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary, agent Mark McVeigh of The McVeigh Agency, and agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Advanced critique break-out sessions will be led by editor Stacy Cantor of Bloomsbury. In addition, Cheryl and author Sara Lewis Holmes will speak on the editor-and-author relationship, and Marla and author Liz Garton Scanlon will speak on the illustrator-and-author relationship. Note: Sara and Liz also will be offering manuscript critiques. Illustrator Patrice Barton will offer portfolio reviews. Additional authors on the speaker-and-critique faculty include Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jacqueline Kelly, Philip Yates, Jennifer Ziegler. See registration form, information packet, and conference schedule (all PDF files)!

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2010, at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. The faculty includes author Cynthia Leitich Smith, assistant editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, creative director Patrick Collins of Henry Holt, senior editor Alexandra Cooper of Simon & Schuster, senior editor Lisa Ann Sandell of Scholastic, and agent Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Susan Patron

Learn more about Susan Patron and her latest book, Lucky Breaks, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum/ginee seo, 2009).

How do you psyche yourself up to write and to keep writing?

When I was eight, I had to keep my little sister captive in the bathtub every night until she got clean. This was my job, and it wasn't easy; she was four and squirmy.

So I made up stories, probably pastiches of comic strips in the Los Angeles Times, in which my sister played a pivotal role.

But here's the trick: I believed that I was retrieving the stories from the bathroom's built-in laundry hamper.

Since people were always throwing their dirty clothes into it, there was a continuous supply of stories, which somehow rubbed off them and onto their clothes. All I had to do was open a little window in my mind and the stories would fly in.

It was my way of bringing forth, every day, a miniature drama or narrative--I wasn't "creating" them, I was "finding" them.

I also discovered that I could deliver a beginning and a middle, but if the end was elusive, it was okay to stop midstream with a promise that we'd find out the ending tomorrow. And the next day I'd sit again on the lid of the toilet, focus on the laundry hamper, and "receive" stories through the little window in my mind, while my small sister sat in the cooling water, sucking her washcloth, waiting.

I know this is odd. It was about creating diversions, ways of tricking myself, so as to avoid the difficult task of "making up" stories--even though that's exactly what I was doing.

When, as a grownup in the early 1990's, my sister casually recounted our old bathtub-stories family saga to the editor of my picture books, he turned to me and said, "Go write that. It's a book--a novel, not a picture book."

I was filled with equal parts joy (he thinks I can actually write a novel!) and fear (how the hell does one write a novel?).

So I tricked myself into doing it by setting down the story as if it were an oral tale, like my picture books--as if it came from the folk tradition and I was just doing a "modern retelling" of stuff I "knew."

(The book was called Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe, illustrated by Abigail Halpin (Atheneum paperback reprint, 2009)).

What I'm saying is, if I were to poise my fingers expectantly over the keyboard every day saying, "now I'm going to write a cohesive, exciting, original, relevant, wonderfully-realized novel," I'd crack open and die, like a rock committing suicide. Instead, I fool around--in a very serious way--pretending that this isn't the important part and I'll just jot down one little scene for now and get to the hard part later.

And if I pay really close attention to what I already "know" about the characters--what I've already written, about how the crabby neighbor always hesitates a second and licks her baby finger before turning a certain corner, for instance--I have to trust that I had some reason for envisioning that, and now my job is to tease it out, to peel off the layers to find out why she licks her finger and how that relates to her crabbiness, because of course it must. I just open the little window in my mind, and it all comes wafting in.

How have you come to thrive in such a competitive, unpredictable industry?

If I have thriven (and thank you for the rare opportunity to use that form of the verb), it's mostly due to respecting the intelligence and sensitivities of readers. This means trying to write a story in which some form of truth (something I need fairly urgently to express) is revealed—not directly, but through the fiction itself. A kind of truth, in other words, that speaks directly to the heart of the reader, and can be expressed only by means of the story.

Add to that a couple of really lucky breaks.

And finally: watching for opportunities and finding them in events that at first appear to be inopportune. For example, I have had a different editor for each of the three books in the "Lucky's Hard Pan" trilogy.

The editor for my first six books, Richard Jackson, announced his retirement after publishing The Higher Power of Lucky (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum/Richard Jackson, 2006). I was hard at work on Lucky Breaks, which he had acquired.

The prospect of a new, unknown editor was daunting: I'd known of editors being coerced into taking on projects they hadn't acquired and resenting it; I'd heard about the dire fate of many orphaned books, etc.

Plus, there was significant fear in writing a sequel to a book that had just won a major award; this was by far the most difficult book I'd ever undertaken, and I was already struggling to stay on the project.

The brilliant Ginee Seo agreed to edit the book, and I loved working with her. She got me through that paralyzing insecurity about measuring up to the previous book. She taught me a great deal. (There is a very short piece about this, "A Lucky Break: What My Last Book Taught Me," in "Hunger Mountain," a publication about writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.)

After we had finished our work together on Lucky Breaks and after Ginee acquired the final book of this trilogy, she left Atheneum. My sense of loss and sadness (okay, despair) were mitigated, and I was again hugely fortunate, because I was given the chance to work with another of the great editors of our time, Caitlyn Dlouhy. I'd heard about her formidable editorial talents for years from my friend Cynthia Kadohata.

Caitlyn and I are now working fruitfully and happily on the concluding title in the "Lucky's Hard Pan" trilogy.

Three different editors, each with a distinct style and process, working on three closely related books. I believe that each editor wanted what was best for the book, and I hold them all in highest regard. What could have been seen as difficult and conflicting was for me an opportunity. I guess it's about faith and trust. And 'tude.

Of course I'm aware that the question may refer to a more practical type of action, such as maintaining an online presence and having a Facebook page for your main character. And while these are useful, I resist the temptation to give them tremendous weight, which would invite a correlation between successes and failures and some form of pajama marketing.

Better, I think, to look at craft, to remember that what editors, agents, librarians, book retailers, and readers want is a memorable story.

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

This final book in the trilogy [tentatively titled "Lucky for Good"] brings Lucky face to face with an excruciating moral dilemma involving Miles and his mother, Justine, who returns to Hard Pan. Lucky also gets into serious trouble for starting a fight with an older boy, discovers a strange relative called "Stick," and says the hardest goodbye of her life. Meanwhile, Hard Pan residents join together into an unlikely army, declaring war against the closure, by the County Health Department, of Brigitte's Hard Pan Café.

In facing deep questions of belief and faith, truth and meaning, this concluding book continues to explore the vast, rocky landscape of the human heart. As always, Lucky is brave and foolish, impulsive and tender, vulnerable and determined. Ultimately she forges her own path: Lucky for good.

In the video below, check out a "Chidren's Book Trailer for middle grade novel Lucky Breaks, a sequel to Newbery winner, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron."



Cynsational Notes

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Executive Director Interview: Cyndi Hughes on the Writers' League of Texas

Cyndi Hughes is the executive director of the Writers' League of Texas.

She was the proprietor of Cynthia Hughes Literary Management, a literary publicity and consulting firm based in Austin.

Before founding CHLM, she was the founding director of the Texas Book Festival from 1996 to 2003.

Claim to fame: She's the only person in the world who coordinated two state book festivals with two different governors (George W. Bush and Kathleen Sebelius) -- she also produced the 2007 Kansas Book Festival in Wichita (and yes, she's one of those crazy Jayhawks!).

She lives in Austin with Patsy Clementine, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who specializes in snoring, and Edina the Cat, a.k.a. Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger.

What is the Writers' League of Texas? What is its mission?

The Writers' League of Texas is a nonprofit professional association that supports writers of all kinds at any stage of their career. The League's mission is to elevate the art of writing and promote literacy.

What can you tell us about the membership? What professional interests are represented? From where do folks hail?

The WLT has around 1,300 members; about half of them are in the Austin/Central Texas area. The other half are spread out all over Texas and even in other states. Most members are writers, although we do have some publishers, editors, and even publicists in our membership.

We cover the gamut of writers. Some want to write just for themselves and their families; others have had multiple books published. Our membership includes authors, journalists, business writers, historians, poets, essayists, bloggers, children's-YA writers, graphic novelists--you name it, we probably have someone who writes it!

With the caveat that of course you can't mention everyone, who are just a few of the League's living legends, grand dudes and ladies, established pros, rising stars, and new hot things?

Oh, this is the fun part: Sarah Bird, Carol Dawson, Karleen Koen, Liz Carpenter, Robert Flynn, Kathi Appelt, Varian Johnson (pictured), April Lurie (pictured), John Pipkin, Lila Guzman, Mary Willis Walker, Austin Bay, some dynamic duo known as Cynthia & Greg Leitich Smith -- and that's just a start! And you'll have to figure out who goes with what label!

How would you describe the culture of the organization?

Welcoming and open and professional, although also somewhat disparate, because of the geographical sprawl of our membership! But we're working on that through some online initiatives and groups.

Readers seeking the complete low-down on the League's programs and events can check out the website. But could you highlight for us which are most popular with members and why?

The biggie is the annual Writers' League of Texas Agents Conference, which takes place in June. We bring in around 20-25 literary agents from New York and elsewhere, along with editors from various publishing houses, to meet with aspiring authors and give them the opportunity to pitch their books and learn about the latest trends in the publishing industry.

Several authors landed book deals as a result of the conference (most recently, the wonderful Jacqueline Kelly with The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009)).

Behind that would be our annual Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine, Texas, our ongoing classes and workshops, and our writing/book contests.

Many Cynsations readers are children's/YA writers. What does the League offer specifically to them?

We offer classes and workshops on the craft of writing and the business of publishing (such as how to write a query letter or synopsis and how to get started in social media and publicity), along with the opportunity to meet agents and editors who specialize in children's-YA literature.

We're partnering with Texas SCBWI chapters to offer complementary programs that will benefit children's-YA authors. [See chapters in Austin, Brazos Valley, Houston, North Central/Northeast Texas, and Southwest Texas.]

How did the League come to be? Could you tell us about its history and growth over the years?

The League was founded in 1981 as the Austin Writers' League to provide a community for writers in the Austin area. Over time, the organization grew and expanded. Then in around 2000 the League changed its name to the Writers' League of Texas with the goal of being more statewide in scope.

What do you love about the job? What are its challenges?

What I love about my job is dreaming up new ideas for programs and events that can better serve our members along with writers who've never heard of the Writers' League! And from a purely selfish view, I just love being immersed in the world of books and writers and doing everything I can to promote Texas writers.

What advice do you have for event planners in undertaking a conference of similar scope?

Lots of Happy Camper herbal pills?!

No, seriously, it's all about three things: (1) developing a dynamic program with the top speakers you can land; (2) clear, concise, and frequent communication with everyone -- hotel staff, agents, editors, attendees, sponsors, staff, volunteers; and (3) extending Texas hospitality to everyone and treating them like rock stars!

What new horizons do you foresee for the League in the future?

Expansion comes immediately to mind. We're working to expand programming to other cities so we can help our members connect with one another in both social and professional settings.

We're also developing online programming and benefits and constantly upgrading our programs and events to take the Writers' League to its next level.

Outside of your role as WLT executive director, what do you do in life?

Ha ha ha -- what don't I do! Well, let's start with this: I read (big surprise, that) and write, dote on my Cavalier, indulge in my divided sports loyalties (Nebraska football, Kansas basketball, and UT baseball, with the Chicago Cubs and Red Sox thrown in for good measure).

I also knit, love to cook (in my parallel life, I'm a skinny pastry chef), and play guitar with the little-known (for good reason) "We Don't Suck Too Bads."

Interesting factoid: I once had an encounter with a rabid bat and had to have rabies shots. But the good news is that I'm not foaming at the mouth anymore. I also write about books for DogCanyon.org and write for the Writers' League's A Brief Word blog, Dr. Greg Jackson's Reality Check: How to Live Better Longer blog, and my own blog, 50 Fabulous Firsts.

Oh yeah, and I love living in Austin, Texas, the center of my literary universe!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Cyndi.

Cover Stories: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Melissa Walker

I'm honored that the cover story for Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) is featured today at Melissa Walker's blog. Peek: "I couldn't figure out how the designers would incorporate two similarly laid-out profiles, unless one was on the front and one on the back, but then, how would they pick which would go where?"

The post includes a sneak peek at the Eternal covers coming soon from Walker UK (12/07/09 release date) and Walker Australia and New Zealand (12/01/09 release date).

Surf over and check it out!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Melissa.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Anita Silvey

Anita Silvey's latest book is Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life (Roaring Brook, 2009).

So far, what’s the most fun you’ve ever had working on a book? Why?

I know that many authors suffer from the "my newest baby is my favorite baby" syndrome. Certainly, that defines my state of mind at the moment.

From beginning to end, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book provided more happiness and excitement for me than any book I have worked on.

The moment Lauren Wohl of Roaring Brook Press suggested the title, I felt a chill running down my spine. She had just summed up in one phrase the work of my lifetime.

Early in my career, I started asking anyone I met (at cocktail parties, dinners, even in cabs and elevators) about the books they read as a child. A universal ice breaker, this question often elicited smiles and fond memories.

However, for my "new baby," I talked to people that I would not ordinarily meet -- about 110 leaders of society in a variety of fields such as science, arts, politics, sports, or journalism.

To them I posed a more serious question: “What children’s book changed your life in a profound way?”

As I conducted interviews with Pete Seeger, Andrew Wyeth, Steve Forbes, Julianne Moore, Peter Lynch, and Kirk Douglas, I realized that I possess far too little faith in the power of children's books.

What these icons read as children shaped them as adults – in amazing ways. Some recalled a character with fondness; some became attracted to a location or country because of a book. Some have remembered a single line from a book for decades. Many chose careers because of a children’s book. Many found a personal, social, or political philosophy that has sustained them for decades.

What was the most important thing you learned in your research?

Not only do those who write children’s books affect young people, but those who put books in children’s hands have just as much influence. Most of my contributors link a particular book to the person who shared it with them.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book is, in fact, dedicated to those who find daily inspiration on Cynsations: "For my colleagues: the women and men who have created, published, taught about, promoted and championed children’s books over the years. They have made it possible for our children to find the right book at the right time."

What has been the highlight of your professional career and how do you define success?

I've always felt that my best moment professionally is the one I am living--right here, right now. Success, for me or any other writer, lies in perseverance, in staying the course.

So I am thrilled to be headed out on book tour to talk about the importance of children’s books and the many ways in which books shape young readers.

Thank you for letting me “natter on” about the new baby.

Cynsational Notes

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

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Author Round-up: Writing Around The Holidays by Tina Ferraro from YA Fresh. Peek from Sydney Salter: "I exchange knowing glances with the other café regulars and I buckle down and write as fast as I can for an hour or two while sipping a peppermint mocha."

Native American Spirituality in Children's Books by Debby Dahl Edwardson from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "The question you, as a non-Native writer, should ask yourself is this: why don’t Native writers put overt references to Native religion, spirituality and worship in their books? Take a minute to think about it. This is important." Read a Cynsations interview with Debby.

Craft Issue #9: Desire
by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Drag the word out, now, breathy and low: d-e-s-i-r-e. There you go." Read a Cynsations interview with Janet.

Preparing for The Call by Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings. Peek: "The Call, with an offer of representation. Sometimes agents will send an email ahead of time, asking to schedule a phone call, and others will just call out of the blue. I experienced both, and my planning-oriented brain much preferred the scheduled phone call. Because you just can’t get your brain oriented properly for a spontaneous phone call."

When Characters Take Over by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog. Peek: "Maybe it is just finding the place, the altered state, which allows you to access that part of the brain that makes intuitive leaps. Or maybe you’re connecting to a higher power, any higher power." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

ReadMe: The Dog Who Loved Tortillas: an interview with Benjamin Alire Sáenz from Spanglish Baby. Peek: "I'm especially concerned that we're losing boys. Reading has become a girl thing. That's a silly concept. We need to do a better job. We need a new motto: Real men read books."

Marvelous Marketer: Kaylan Adair (Assoc. Editor at Candlewick Press) from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "If an author has an online presence that I feel is lacking (maybe they have a blog they only update every few months) or inappropriate (perhaps the content of their website or blog isn't appropriate for their book audience), I'll discuss ways in which they can more effectively or appropriately manage their online presence."

An Interview with Elizabeth O. Dulemba by Greg Pincus at The Happy Accident. Peek: "When I discovered iPhone Picture Book Apps, I thought it was a fantastic new way to share stories and could be a nice complement to physical books." Read a Cynsations guest post on marketing by Elizabeth.

Keeping Your Audience in Mind, Just Like Darwin Did by Deborah Heiligman from I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "He worked very hard to make his argument airtight. And he wrote it in a tone that would not offend."

Top 10 Religion Books for Youth: 2009 by Illene Cooper from Booklist Online. Read a Cynsations interview with Micol and David Ostow on So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)(Flux, 2009).

How to Make a Storyboard: An Illustrated Tutorial from "Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books" by Uri Shulevitz from Mighty Art Demos and Tutorials. Peek: "The storyboard gives you a bird's eye view of the whole book: it shows all the pages of the book, greatly reduced, on a single sheet of paper."

Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "...a fascinating and disturbing novel of Manz's descent into hallucinatory paranoia and suspicion...." See also: Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson: a recommendation by Jeff Rivera at GalleyCat. Peek: "Will Manz be able to tell what is real and what is imagined before the summer is over, or will it be too late?" Read a Cynsations interview with Jessica and P.J. Hoover.

WBBT: Writing with Jacqueline Kelly by Vivian from HipWriterMama. Peek: "Callie is a combination of me and my mother. We both hate to cook, sew, and do any kind of housework. It must be genetic. I also need to add that my mother is very funny, and not at all like the mother in the novel." Read a Cynsations interview with Jacqueline.

The Winter Blog Blast Tour continues today, with several outstanding interviews. The whole series is highly recommended! Just to highlight a few faves to date, don't miss Mary E. Pearson, Laurie Faria Stolarz, and Laini Taylor.

Because my kid needs my shoulders, or why I don't quit writing by Pam Bachorz. Peek: "This book made me a real-life superhero in my son’s eyes. A superhero whose cape he can borrow." Read a Cynsations interview with Pam. Note: one of best links of the week, hanky alert!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!: How to Heighten Suspense from Gail Carson Levine. Peek: "Separation from the problem. Suppose your main character, Lucy, has an enemy, and suppose Lucy has to go on a class wilderness week. What is the enemy doing while she's away? What’s going to greet her on her return?" Source: Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Read a Cynsations interview with Gail.

Eight Hanukkah Books: One for Each Day
by Bianca Schulze from The Children's Book Review. Note: picture book recommendations.

The Irrepressible Writer
from Carol Grannick. Peek: "We all have to face negativity in our lives, but I love helping other writers use the time they have in the most productive ways they’re able, without feeling dragged down because of unnecessary and irrational negativity."

Congratulations to the Parent's Choice Award Winners! Special cheers to fellow Austinite Liz Garton Scanlon, author of All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane, 2009) and fellow VCFA faculty member Tim Wynne-Jones, author of The Uninvited (Candlewick, 2009)!

Interview with P.J. Hoover by Gretchen McNeil at The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "For The Forgotten Worlds trilogy, I took a spark from one of my favorite 'Star Trek' episodes, 'Who Mourns For Adonis.' This was the episode where the Enterprise found Apollo on a planet, and he tried to make them worship him." Read a Cynsations interview with P.J. and Jessica Lee Anderson.

Booklover of the Week presents...Cathy Berner & Becky Lee from Kay Cassidy. Peek: "This week, I’m delighted to welcome not one but two great indie booksellers from Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas!"

Young Adult Science Fiction: A Reading Guide: a bibliography from Megan Crewe at Tor.com. See also Megan's YA fantasy guide.

The Big Read: an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts to restore reading to the center of American culture by providing citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. The initiative includes innovative reading programs in selected cities and towns, comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature, and an extensive website providing comprehensive information on authors and their works. Maximum award: varies. Eligibility: literary organizations, libraries, and community organizations across the country. Deadline: Feb. 2, 2010. Source: PEN Weekly NewsBlast.

Writing Cliches by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "It happens to all of us. It stalks us until our brains and fingers are weak and then it sneaks its way onto our pages, taunting us, daring us to notice, and so often we, poor overworked writers that we are? We are oblivious." Note: the first post in a week-long series. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Interview with Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books & Music from Juliette Dominguez at The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "When I was first starting out, I was terrified when people would ask me for recommendations - it puts you on the spot and what if you can't think of anything to recommend? Once I learned to have confidence in myself and my opinions, I became much more comfortable with it. Now I love giving recommendations."

Congratulations to Phillip Hoose on Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Melanie Kroupa Books, 2009). See video below. Source: Cynthia Lord.



Take a sneak peek at the Class of 2k10. Source: Denise Jaden.



Prairie Writer's Day

Thank you to author Sara F. Shacter and everyone at SCBWI-Illinois for your hospitality at the Fifth Annual Prairie Writer's Day: "Brick by Brick: The Architecture of Our Stories"!

Fellow faculty included agent Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary Agency and editors Stacy Cantor of Walker, Nick Eliopulos of Random House, Alisha Niehaus of Dial, and Yolanda LeRoy of Charlesbridge. Read a Cynsations interview with Yolanda.

Here's Stacy again! Take note, Austinites! Stacy will be joining us for the upcoming Austin SCBWI conference in January. Register now before it sells out!


Author Kimberly Pauley author of Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe)(Mirrorstone, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.


Author Cynthea Liu. Read a Cynsations interview with Cynthea. Check out her website--Writing for Children and Teens!


Huge thanks to author Sara F. Shacter, who is a fabulous public speaker! Learn about Sara's book, Heading to the Wedding (Red Rock, 2006)!

Author, speaker, and writing coach Esther Hershenhorn. Read a Cynsations interview with Esther.

Over Chicago deep dish pizza at Uno's Chicago Grill, Greg chats with Michael and Alisha. Don't miss Greg's report on the conference.

More Personally

Howdy to Ms. Deignan's Dover Street School second graders and Ms. Craft's eighth graders! Thank you for your questions about Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), respectively! It was lovely corresponding with you!

Four Vampire Books Read This Weekend: Vamped by Lucienne Diver, How to Be a Vampire by Amy Gray, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey, and Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a recommendation/review wrap-up from The Sassy Librarian. Peek: "I was impressed by how different this book was to Tantalize - sometimes you like an author but their narrative voice is very similar between books (and that's okay) but Smith has the ability to really embody her characters and I'm appreciative."

Thanks to Jo Ann Hernandez at BronzeWord Latino Authors for featuring the Native American Youth Literature Widget on her blog this month! The support is appreciated.

Even More Personally

Congratulations to my alma mater, The University of Michigan Law School! According to Law Quadrangle, The William W. Cook Legal Research Library "was selected as one of the top 100 buildings, bridges, monuments, and memorials in a recent American Institute of Architects' public poll--ahead of Radio City Music Hall, Penn Station, and Fenway Park." Pictured above is the Reading Room.

Cynsational Giveaways

In celebration of the Winter Blog Blast Tour, I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me to let me know (so I have your contact information). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 22. See: WBBT: Writing the True with Cynthia Leitich Smith: an interview by Vivian Lee Mahoney at HipWriterMama. Note: Check out my deep thoughts on my publishing background, writing across formats, Native youth literature, writing cross-culturally, girl power & Gothics, true love, and a myriad of other topics. Thanks to readergirlz for the shout out!

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Raven Tree, 2009), one of three author-signed copies of My Father's House by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Raul Colón (Viking, 2007), an author-bookplate-signed copy of Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Amulet, 2009) and a contributor-signed copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, Oct. 2009)!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón" and/or "My Father's House" and/or "Operation Redwood" and/or "Immortal" 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). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30.

Read a Cynsations interview with S. Terrell French. See also a PDF excerpt of Immortal which highlights my short story, "Haunted Love." The story is set in the same universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and features new characters.

The winner of The Twelve Days of Christmas in Texas by Janie Bynum (Sterling, 2009) giveaway was Jane from Oregon. Congratulations, Jane!

Cynsations Correction

Blessing's Bead: An Interview with Debby Edwardson by Carol Brendler at Jacket Knack.

Note: this link was incorrectly attributed on Nov. 16 to Carol's fellow blog team member Julie Larios. It has been corrected at all three Cynsations URLs. My apologies for the error.

Carol is the author of Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer, illustrated by Ard Hoyt (FSG, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Winnie Finn is crazy about earthworms and knows everything about them. When spring arrives in Quincy County, all she can think about is the county fair coming up. This year, she would like nothing more than to win a prize for her worms so that she might buy a shiny new wagon for transporting them around. Trouble is, there’s no prize at the fair for worms...

Bright, energetic illustrations accompany this jaunty tale about a young girl’s creativity that will inspire readers of all interests— but especially those with a love for something wiggly.

School Library Journal
said: "Winnie’s spunky, good-natured heart anchors a gentle and entertaining read."

Kirkus Reviews
said: "Hoyt's sprightly cartoons add just the right amount of humorous action to Winnie’s worm-farming tasks, while Winnie's winning personality allows readers to learn a bit about the positive aspects of worm composting. An author's note includes directions for creating a worm farm and sources."

Learn more about Carol Brendler.

Cynsational Events

Destination Publication: An Awesome Austin Conference for Writers and Illustrators is scheduled for Jan. 30 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Keynote speakers are Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and Caldecott Honor author-illustrator Marla Frazee, who will also offer an illustrator breakout and portfolio reviews. Presentations and critiques will be offered by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, author-editor Lisa Graff of FSG, agent Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary, agent Mark McVeigh of The McVeigh Agency, and agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Advanced critique break-out sessions will be led by editor Stacy Cantor of Bloomsbury. In addition, Cheryl and author Sara Lewis Holmes will speak on the editor-and-author relationship, and Marla and author Liz Garton Scanlon will speak on the illustrator-and-author relationship. Note: Sara and Liz also will be offering manuscript critiques. Illustrator Patrice Barton will offer portfolio reviews. Additional authors on the speaker-and-critique faculty include Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jacqueline Kelly, Philip Yates, Jennifer Ziegler. See registration form, information packet, and conference schedule (all PDF files)!

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2010, at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. The faculty includes author Cynthia Leitich Smith, assistant editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, creative director Patrick Collins of Henry Holt, senior editor Alexandra Cooper of Simon & Schuster, senior editor Lisa Ann Sandell of Scholastic, and agent Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.
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