Saturday, December 05, 2009

Literacy Outreach, Start-Up Multicultural Fantasy Publisher & Book Trailer Scholarship Opportunity

Video Book Trailer Scholarship: "create a video book trailer for the verse novel Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown (Tricycle, 2006). Put together a cast and act it out, create an animation, or use photos with text set to music--it's up to you. Win a $1000 scholarship!" Read a Cynsations interview with Susan. Read an excerpt of Hugging the Rock.

Ethiopia Reads believes that education is the key to improving the next generation of Ethiopians and that books are key to fostering a genuine love of reading. Get involved. More on Ethiopia Reads from author Jane Kurtz.

"If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything: Mission: "to Encourage...Native children and community members to read for pleasure; to provide...Indian communities with opportunities to engage in and communicate about reading; to promote...library use at tribal schools; to help improve...tribal school library collections; to support...tribal school librarians!" Officially endorsed by the American Indian Library Association.

"Tu Publishing, a multicultural fantasy and science fiction press for children and young adults, needs your help to get started. In order to launch the press, Editorial Director Stacy Whitman has set up a kickstart funds drive to raise money from contributors. In order to help her reach her goals, this community has been formed to auction off items, services, crafts, and other various and sundry offerings, with all the proceeds going to the Tu kickstart page. We hope to help Stacy and Tu reach the goal of $10,000 by Dec. 14."

Friday, December 04, 2009

Guest Post: Finalist Rita Williams-Garcia on the National Book Awards

By Rita Williams-Garcia,
author of Jumped (HarperCollins)

Phone...Bible...Phone...Bible

The first thing I do each morning is read my Bible, but as I was reaching for my NIV, the phone rings.

Lord, you know I put you first, but I can't read my Scripture if I'm fixated on the ringing.

I answer. It's National Book Foundation Executive Director Harold Augenbraum, so I'm prepared to say, "Sure, I'll interview the finalists."

But that's not what he's asking me.

He's telling, not asking.

Rita. Pay attention.

I listen. Then, the shock. Disbelief. I'm dumbstruck and sworn to secrecy! But I can't contain myself. The first person I call is Grandma.

"Grandma. I have good news, but I have to wait until the announcement before I tell you. But it's good!" Yes. This is what I tell my 92-year-old grandmother who's on heart meds.

Then I put on two pairs of reading glasses and reach for my Bible.

The Announcement

The shock hasn't worn off, but now I can't stop smiling.

Have you seen my big, round face? Smiling and giggling. I call Grandma and Sis and tell them the good news.

Then Rosemary [Brosnan of HarperCollins] calls. "Why didn't you tell me?

I'm a Brownie, sworn to secrecy.

She kvells, but I still can't believe it.

After giving her a succession of "challenged" books, Rosemary deserves a medal. We kvell.

I'm finishing up my last packet (Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults) and am not sure if I'm coherent.

Focus, Rita. Stop smiling. That student has paid her money. Do what you're supposed to do. Hii-hee. My Michael Jackson giggle is all over that packet letter.

Next, email. Facebook. Geez! People know! This stuff gets around!

I write back to everyone. It's like playing Space Invaders. The messages are incoming, and I'm getting them all. I still can't believe it.

I call Cyn (Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)). I yak and yak. I can't believe it.

Oh! I'm late for the health care rally. "'bye, Cyn!"

I walk out among the good people of Jamaica, Queens, frightening them with my jack-o-lantern smile. I walk a quarter mile to the now-closed Mary Immaculate Hospital, the site of the rally. I can't stop smiling. I am of no help to the cause. I turn around and walk home, smiling.

Frightening the people.

I can't go to sleep. My smile is keeping me awake.

The New York Times!

The day of the media announcement I call Grandma. "Get The New York Times!"

Exciting! I've only seen my name in The Times listed among the Young People's panel for past National Book Awards. Now, I'll be listed as a finalist!

I run out and get The Times. Two copies. Demonic smile. Demonic smile.

I race home. Got the coffee going. Cast aside everything not the Arts and Leisure section. National Book Awards...National Book--there it is!

I scan. In one second, I know. There's no R with the W with the G? Where’s the "ita," the "ll" the "cia"? A second. One second. And I know.

I didn't make it to print. None of the Young People Finalists are named.

We've been robbed of our moment in print!

So I call Grandma. "Don't get the paper!"

I go online and print the web version instead. Deborah, Laini, Phillip, David, and I are named as finalists. That'll work!

Later I run over to Grandma's so we can ooh and ahh over my online mention.

I've made it to the big leagues. NYTimes.com.

Later, Rosemary emails and says, pick up The New York Times in the morning.

But that’s all she says.

It's payback for being a Brownie. I couldn't sleep to begin with, but now I really can't sleep.

I watch "Chelsea Lately" at 3 a.m. Hopefully she'll mention another article my daughter's written for The Advocate.com. Chelsea always tosses them some free publicity.

Wow. It's 7 a.m.

Go, Rita! Run outside. Get The New York Times. To the Arts Section! Page C7. Make haste!


"Look! Look! Laini Taylor's Lips Touch Three Times!" And--here I am! Next to the crossword. The "ita," the "R," the "ll," the "W" the "cia" and the "G" spring up pop-up style.

"HarperCollins Children's Books Congratulates our National Book Award Finalist."

Both book and name have made it to the printed NY Times. I have arrived!

I can't stop giggling. I smile standing on line at the DMV. I'm on the subway in full jack-o-lantern, frightening the good people of Manhattan.

Fairy Godmothers at Bed Bath & Beyond

I run around telling strangers I'm an NBA finalist. One such stranger teaches--or is a librarian--at Brandeis High School. She's even heard of me and knows what I’m talking about.

I promise myself I'll stop assaulting strangers with my NBA news. I promise.

I get a coffee and carrot cake at Café Beyond, the snack shop inside Bed Bath & Beyond. I've got a few pages to hammer out of my gaming novel. I'm way behind.

Get serious, Rita. Take out your netbook and get to key pounding.


The two ladies sitting at the next table exclaim that one of them had just bought the very same notebook. And that was all the permission I needed.

I start blathering on about the NBAs and being a finalist.

(The late Miss Essie is shaking her head right now.)

And so Gisele and Sarena, both song divas who tour in Israel (and happened to run into each other by chance), pull me in and we start talking.

They are fabulous. Fabulous. They’ve got make-up and accessories and hair know-how

(Geez. What tipped them off that I might need help in those areas?).

I'm even encouraged to dig out an unopened pack of false eyelashes from a book cover shoot, some 15 years ago. It turns out, Gisele knows all about Cipriani's and paints the picture for me, and I'm getting excited about this whole magical thing that's going to happen in less than a month. I've been to the NBA Ceremony a few times, but this is too different.

I hadn't even thought about the what-to-wear aspect, but gorgeous Gisele and the radiantly expectant Sarena throw their wands at me and I'm psyched.

Not So Halloween-ish After All

The doorman buzzes. I go downstairs. They're re-flooring and repainting. Our hallways and lobbies are a mess, but who cares?

I can't stop grinning even before I see the bouquet of flowers. Beautiful fall flowers. Peach. Orange. Burgundy. Gold.


I take pictures, go on FB [Rita's page], and because the winds of chance are all blowing my way, my connection is behaving and I'm able to post my photo sans tears.

Then I email my oldest daughter, Michelle in LA, to concede she was right. Orange will work just fine for her 2010 fall wedding. It's not so Halloween-ish after all.

Don't get me wrong. Love Halloween. In fact, I hang out with my friends in the Village, enjoy the parade and hand out candy to kids every Oct. 31.

Keeping with tradition, I've visited with my friend Vincent who flew in from Chicago, and then went about my merry way with my bag of candy for trick-or-treaters.

I'm on 6th Avenue and stop inside Books of Wonder. I take a peek to see if Jumped is shelved in the teen section. Sigh.

I get over it, hit 6th Avenue, and dole out candy to Spidermen, Hulks, Xenas, and assorted princesses.

The following Monday, Laura (my HC publicist) asks if I'm available to do the finalists' author celebration at Books of Wonder.

I'd never let my students write such hokum, but this is real life and I'm silly and grinning. She also mentions the press, photos, and "red carpet" at the upcoming NBA ceremony.

I freak out and don't want to go.

Museum Pieces

In stores. Out stores. In stores. Out.

No to strapless. No to glitter and beads. No to backless. All this looking, and no gown.

Then, light bulb! I go home, open the gown bag in the closet. I try on the Tina Turner '80s thing to amuse myself. There is a '70s bronze, black and gold disco thing from 1976.

Plenty of wifely formal wear from annual military balls. I am a proud Desert Storm ex-wife.


I look at my museum pieces. Alas, size 6 no more. Back into the memory bag the costumes go. But then there's this one gown at the other end of the closet from four years ago.

I put it on. It fits. Just one adjustment needed.

I remove the rhinestones, and we’re good!

How does she do it?

How does Jackie Woodson do it? How does she not have a heart attack each year? I shriek when I see the silver finalist sticker on any book in Borders.

I’m wired. I jump up and down when I'm online at Starbucks, and it's not the caffeine.

I jump up and down when I'm at the laundry. I'm thrilled my book is being read, discussed, and made available.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I summon my inner Jackie Woodson. I behave. I calm down. Take it all in with grace.

The first packet has arrived after two weeks of being left to my own devices.

Good. Go deep into the packet, Rita. Get grounded. Hii-Hee.

M.J. and I can't stop giggling.

Books of Wonder

My transportation notes instruct me to take a cab. Nah. The subway is a block from my apartment. It's a 45-minute ride.

I'll allow myself 90 minutes so I can pick up the cord for my black knitted evening bag and then walk down to Books of Wonder.

I'm on the F Train. It’s a nice swift ride.

We're 15 minutes in, at Kew Gardens. The train slows, then stops for 15 minutes. I'm still good. I've got more than enough time to spare, and we’re moving.

To the next stop. We stand for a good thirty-five minutes. Technically, I still have time, but me and Murphy’s Law's got a thing going on.

I get out of the train in Forest Hills, hail a cab, and we're off. The bag cord will have to wait for the next day.

Books of Wonder is spectacular. I meet Deborah, Phillip, and Laini, her illustrator husband, and their newborn. We introduce ourselves, do a Q&A and a lot of book signing.

A woman hands me an envelope with a card that I’ll read later. One of author-editor David Levithan's (Love is the Higher Law (Knopf, 2009)) students gifts me with a chocolate cupcake.

I’ve got my eye on the event poster and ask Peter, the manager, for it.

Hooray. It’s mine. All mine!

I get an autographed copy of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Melanie Kroupa, 2009)!

Even though I'm on a personal mission to not collect stuff, I'm enjoying my gifts.

The 2009 NYPL Teen Press Conference

Last year, while I was up in Harlem visiting the Thurgood Marshall School for Behind the Book, Chris (the coordinator) and I crashed the Teen Conference where Laurie Halse Anderson, Kathi Appelt, Judy Blundell, Emily Lockhart, and Tim Tharp were the star attraction for their finalist titles. It was a mob scene. Hundreds of kids getting their books signed. Wow! Amazing!

Now, here we are. Deborah Heiligman, Phillip Hoose, David Small, Laini Taylor and I up on stage at the New York Public Library on 42nd and Fifth Ave., reading and fielding questions from kids from schools all over.


It's been a great presentation. Laini kicked things off with a wicked kiss. Deborah made us laugh and fall in love. David's slide show got under our skins. Then it was my turn.

Confession: I couldn't sleep last night. I couldn't pick which passage I'd read. Trina, Leticia or Dominique. I kept settling on Leticia, and then I'd read a Dominique or a Trina.

This has been going on for weeks now. There’s no excuse!

But here we are. I step up to the plate. First a little Trina. Then Dominique and last, Leticia, along with Madame LeCoeur, her French teacher.

In the words of the late James Brown, the hardest working man in show bizness, I "hit it and quit it."

And then the moment that made the event historical. Phillip Hoose and special guest star Claudette Colvin took the stage. Phillip set it off with his introduction, and then Claudette brought us the history and the pain. The kids went crazy. And we were all "the kids."


The Finalist Reception and Reading

I am hyper. Too hyper. I walk down 6th Ave. after the conference. I pick up a black cord for my evening bag. Yes. Hyper knitted her evening bag out of black satin ribbon a few nights ago.


I walk from 42nd down to Bedford in the West Village and have a burger and tater tots at Daddio's. I read the end of Kate DiCamillo’s, The Elephant’s Magician (Candlewick, 2009).

I’m still hyper.

We’re getting medaled in a few hours. And we're reading. With the other finalists. The adults. The generalists. Them. Namely, poet Carl Phillips. Geez.

I walk around to wear myself down a little.

Ow.

What’s that?

Ow, Rita. Ow. You’ve been dogging us, now ease up.

My feet and my Kenneth Cole Nip Squeaks have had it. I get a table at French Roast Café on 6th and have a coffee. That should calm me down.

Then I remember.

Deadline. The reason you got here in the first place! I take out my pad and write.

Someone says my name. I look up. It's author and VCFA alum Bethany Hegedus (Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009)), who's meeting with her writing group, including fellow alum Kekla Magoon (The Rock and the River (Aladdin, 2009)). I join them.

They're here for the Finalists' Reading, and I'm relieved that friends will be in the audience.

I leave the café and join the other finalists at the Reception in The New School.

I finally meet Harold Augenbraum after two terms of working as a panelist and being involved with the National Book Foundation's community outreach, and I come up with this expression of exuberance. "Hi."

Rosemary [pictured with Rita] and Laura greet me right away.

And then Dia Calhoun and Lori Ann Grover of readergirlz fame are there to support Laini and me.

I think: faerie ball from Holly Black's Tithe (Simon & Schuster, 2002).

All they need are wands.

Rosemary introduced me to poet finalist, Lyrae Van Cleif-Stefanon, whose Cornell tenure review comes up this Friday. How on time is that?

It occurs to me, as all twenty finalists disappear down a back staircase, that all of us, all twenty, will read. Five minutes each. But…come on.

We're writers. Lovers of our own words. Five minutes?

But then Deborah ascends the steps, stand up to the mic and, boy, is she at home up there! That’s right. Young People's Literature Finalist! We've arrived.

The readings, diversely wonderful. My butt, numb.

If Colum McCann's young daughter can hang in there, so can I.

Still, I time each reader to gauge what I'm going to do. I had four minutes planned, but I could go two minutes or three, and I thank Leticia for giving me options. Four, three, two, ripcord!

I hear myself marching across the wooden stage. I'm sure Kenneth Cole intended his chunky heeled pumps to be smartly percussive, but I feel like I'm my dad marching in military formation.

I read a few paragraphs from "Imaginary or Not." They laugh. I only look up to find Rosemary in the audience. Three minutes, it is, so I "hit it and quit it."

Afterward, my seat mate, Keith Waldrop (eventual 2009 NBA Poetry Winner) told me I read well.

Wefi, Where Art Thou?

Stephanie [Rita's younger daughter] calls. She's just made it in from DC on Amtrak. She'll be at my house in less than an hour.

I take my Finalist medal out to Dunkin' Donuts to pick up some bagels for the following morning. I show everyone--heaven help them, everyone--my medal.

Stephanie arrives. We catch up, and then we start getting ready.

I have an "I Love Lucy" premonition as I glance at the 15-year-old, never-tested false eyelashes.

Red carpet. Red carpet. Red carpet.

I nix the false eyelashes. My fairy godmothers will understand.

The doorman buzzes. Our chariot awaits.

He’s early! Yikes.


"Give us fifteen minutes!"

This Is It!

We're in the limo, on our way. Guests are pouring in as we arrive. We check in and are ushered to The Dreaded Red Carpet. I smile too big. Too silly.

I silently promise to never laugh at Hollywood A-listers posing for the red carpet. School Library Journal is there. Publishers Weekly. The AP. Mediabistro.

I do the mini interviews and take some pictures. Mediabistro is the funniest. He asks what am I wearing. "Long black dress from Daffy’s." I’m sure it's from Daffy’s.

He asks about Twilight [by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown, 2005)], the book. I get it. Twilight needs a lot of press. I'm pulling for them.


Coe Booth (Kendra (Push, 2008)) spots us right away. Yay! YA people in the house.

She is so calm about this stuff--but it doesn't rub off. I'm excited.

And Nancy Werlin (Impossible (Dial, 2008)), the YP Chair makes her way over. Arthur A. Levine is sporting a pink goatee in all-out Laini support. I meet Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese (First Second, 2006)).


We follow Coe upstairs to the cocktail party, and it is sardines on top of sardines. But I spot Rosemary and Barbara Lalicki immediately. I'm so claustrophobic that we have to go back downstairs to our table.

We take pictures and just pinch ourselves because this is all exciting. And then Kathi Appelt came by, and I was thrown by her new stylish bob. I kept staring.

My brain isn't working, and on top of it, I’m mesmerized. Cipriani's is everything Gisele and Sarena described.

The ballroom is filling up, and all of our table is present. I can’t believe I'm sitting with the HarperCollins heads of state. I'm so pleased to give Rosemary, Susan Katz [pictured below], and Barbara something to cheer about.


Comedian Andy Borowitz does his opening remarks, and then the still-luminous Joanne Woodward introduces Gore Vidal, and Gore Vidal…talks…and then his talk is followed by other people talking. And I'm soaking it all up because in the final words of Michael Jackson, "This is it." The whole National Book Award experience.

And the food. The food is great. My favorites were the cheezy fried onion thing, followed by the potato tart. The wait staff kept pouring the wine and then brought out the dessert plates. Pumpkin pie and chocolate cake. Stephanie had her first flute of champagne.

I lost and found my pearl earrings twice. Finally, I put them away.

And now for the announcement! The naming of the winner!

I take my typed speech out of my hand-knitted, satin-lined, beaded, fringed bag. I printed it on card stock so I wouldn't crumple it in my hand.

Rosemary advised me strongly to have one ready when she took me out for a lunch time celebration weeks ago. I went home that day and typed it up.

In it, I remembered my friend and colleague, Norma Fox Mazer (The Missing Girl (HarperCollins, 2008)[pictured]), thanked my family, friends, colleagues, my publisher, and Rosemary, my editor of 23 years.

I've timed myself saying it fast--one minute and forty-three seconds. And doing it in a normal speed -- two minutes and fifteen seconds. I happily ate my last bite of pumpkin pie.

Nancy thanked the panel. She spoke about their task and made us proud that we were writers of books for Children and Young People.

Our jacket covers appeared on big screen as she read the titles, mine last and center. It was better than the Academy Awards.


And then she announced the winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Young People, Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. The audience erupted!

As Phillip and Claudette made it to the stage, Rosemary and I stood.

It was a fine, fine moment.

I gave my speech to Rosemary. I think I was making it for her.

I reach out to the other finalists as the crowd was breaking up into parties.

Then Stephanie and I scarf up as many free books as we can carry.

I'm sorry I didn't bring Tupperware for an extra piece of pumpkin pie, but Stephanie reminds me to behave. "Remember, Mom. You're on a mother-of-the-bride-dress-fitting-mission."

Then we get in the limo. Before we ride off, we spot Claudette and her assistant, and I call out to her, "Madame Colvin! Madame Colvin!"

She is one of the great dames of American civil rights history. It was a highlight to hear her speak and to later tell Grandma all about it.

It’s been a week since the festivities.

My smile has worn down to a happy sigh.


Cynsational Notes

Thanks to Lorie Ann Grover and readergirlz for photos of the table and big screen. Note: "readergirlz received the National Book Foundation's first Innovations in Reading Prize. From over 150 entries, readergirlz was chosen as a program that innovatively sustains a love of reading for life."

Read a recent Cynsations interview with Rita about Jumped. Peek: "Most books deal with the bully and victim, but the spectator also plays a large role in promoting the prowess of attacker. I was more interested in the spectator point of view, so I leaned on Leticia a lot. It didn't matter. She couldn't care less."

Watch the book trailer for Jumped:



In January 2010, look for Rita's next book, One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins)! Ages 9-up. Note: It's her best work yet!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Marshall Cavendish, 2009)! From the promotional copy:

From her birth, Abisina has been an outcast-for the color of her eyes and skin, and for her lack of a father. Only her mother’s status as the village healer has kept her safe.

But when a mythic leader arrives, Abisina’s life is ripped apart. She escapes alone to try to find the father and the home she has never known.

In a world of extremes, from the deepest prejudice to the greatest bonds of duty and loyalty, Abisina must find her own way and decide where her true hope lies.


Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen about Watersmeet.

Enter to win one of three copies of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Delacorte, 2009)(excerpt)! From the promotional copy:

Lotus Lowenstein's life is merde. She dreams of moving to Paris and becoming an existentialist. Yet here she is trapped in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a New-Agey mom, an out-of-work dad, and a chess champion brother who dreams of being a rock star.

Merci à Dieu for Lotus’s best friend, Joni, who loves French culture enough to cofound their high school’s first French Club with Lotus. At the first meeting, the cutest boy in the world walks in. His name is Sean, and he too loves French culture and worships Jean-Paul Sartre.

At first, Lotus thinks Sean is the best thing to happen to her in years. He’s smart, cultured, and adorable. Unfortunately, though, Joni feels the same way. And having an existentialist view of love, Sean sees nothing wrong with enjoying both girls’ affections. Things come to a head when all three depart for Montreal with their teacher, Ms. G, on the French Club’s first official field trip.

Will Sean choose Joni over Lotus? And will Lotus and Joni’s friendship ever recover?


Check out the book trailer for The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein:



As a holiday gift from my house to yours (or your library), enter to win one of three signed copies of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2005)! From the promotional copy:

Elias, Shohei, and Honoria have always been a trio united against That Which Is The Peshtigo School. But suddenly it seems that understanding and sticking up for a best friend isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Elias, reluctant science fair participant, finds himself defying the authority of Mr. Ethan Eden, teacher king of chem lab. Shohei, all-around slacker, is approaching a showdown with his adoptive parents, who have decided that he needs to start 'hearing' his ancestors. And Honoria, legal counsel extraordinaire, discovers that telling a best friend you like him, without actually telling him, is a lot harder than battling Goliath Reed or getting a piranha to become vegetarian.

What three best friends find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo's choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science.


Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo is a Parents' Choice Gold Award Winner, Writers' League of Texas Teddy Award Winner, Junior Library Guild Selection, and ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adult Readers. Read a Cynsations interview with Greg about Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.

Greg has been known to describe it as a "romantic science comedy courtroom drama" for the tweener set.

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Watersmeet" and/or "The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein" and/or "Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo" 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 write you for contact information, if you win). Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; those eligible in these categories should indicate their affiliations in the body of their entry messages. The other two will go to any Cynsations readers!

Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 31.

Cynsational Winners

The winners of two author-signed copies of Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Raven Tree, 2009) were Staci in West Virginia and Jimmy in Texas.

The winners of three author-signed copies of My Father's House by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Raul Colón (Viking, 2007) were Line in Alabama, Danielle in Michigan, and Charles in California.

The winner of an author-bookplate-signed copy of Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Amulet, 2009) was Jane in Oregon.

And the winner of a contributor-signed copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, Oct. 2009) was Glenda in Kentucky.

Note: international entries are always welcome and sometimes win, though the majority of entries still come from the U.S. (followed by Canada).

Celebrating Laura Ruby

Congratulations to Laura Ruby on her newly redesigned author site and the release of Bad Apple (HarperCollins, 2009)! From the promotional copy:

For Tola Riley, life is not a fairy tale, it only feels like one. She's got evil classmates, a runaway dad, a wicked stepmother, a possible Prince Charming, and her very own troll. But it's only when someone accuses her of having an affair with her art teacher that her whole world turns into something out of Grimm's. Because the person accusing her is her own mother.

'If I really wanted to open up, I'd confess that I really am the liar everyone believes I am.'

High-school junior Tola has green hair, a nose ring, an attitude problem, and a fondness for fairy tales, which are a great escape from real life. Everyone thinks she's crazy; everyone says so. Everyone except Mr. Mymer, her art teacher. He gets her paintings and lets her hang out in the art room during lonely lunch periods.

But then rumors start flying and Tola is suddenly the center of a scandal. The whole town is judging her—even her family. When Mr. Mymer is suspended for what everyone thinks is an affair, she has no choice but to break her silence. Fairy tales won't help her this time . . . so how can she tell the truth? And, more importantly, will anyone believe her?

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Laura.

More News

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

"Writing Advice: Money" by Barry Lyga. Peek: "I get asked about money a lot -- how much do authors make? What percentage of the book's price comes back to the author? How do royalties work? Well, I'm going to try to de-mystify this voodoo a little bit." Read a Cynsations interview with Barry.

IndieBound Gear Store: "Rally around the celebration and wear your indie with pride! Independent bookstores are destinations of growth, choice, and surprise. Show your indiethusiasm with scribble logo and spirit line clothing!"

15 New YA Books Featuring Forgiveness: compiled by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "I'm still collecting titles on the theme for tweens and kids, so feel free to add those in the comments." Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Finding the Right Balance In Critique Groups by Kelly Bingham from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "I have had to sort out for myself how to participate in a critique group, and how to get the most from my peers. And I'm guessing you are too. For me, I want to mix writing and socializing. And cookies. Lots of cookies." Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly.

Korean Folktales by Dongwol Kim Roberson: official author site. Peek: "Dongwol Kim Roberson is currently an ESL instructor at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in Kingsville, Texas. She has taught gifted & talented programs at the elementary school level. She holds a B.A in English Language & Literature from Ewha Women's University in Seoul, Korea and a Masters of Education from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas. Currently, she is a Doctoral candidate for Bilingual Education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in Kingsville, Texas."

Multiple Journals by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I gathered my stack of mostly empty journals and read through them, deciding what 'theme' each one represented, and decided to entitle them as such. Then, depending on my need and mood, I will get out the appropriate journal."

Guest Post: Author Bonny Becker – Have We Gone Too Far In Stripping Bad Things From Picture Books? from Natasha at Maw Books Blog. Peek: "Bad things happen. As a child, I found it scary, intriguing—and encouraging—when bad things happened in books. Encouraging because I felt trusted with grown-up information; yet even more encouraging was the fact that bad things happened, but I could move on. I couldn’t have put it in words, but the message was misfortune didn’t mean despair."

2010 Debut Author Challenge by KarinLibrarian from Karen's Book Nook. Peek: "The objective is to read a set number of YA (Young Adult) or MG (Middle Grade) novels from debut authors published this year [2010].* I'm going to challenge everyone to read at least 12 debut novels! I'm hoping to read at least 30!"

Bug Boy by Eric Luper (FSG, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "...exposes in compelling fashion both the glamor and dubious ethics of the 1930s horse-racing culture." Ages 12-up.

The Literacy Site Shop: "When you shop at The Literacy Site store, each item you buy also helps fund books for children--at no extra cost to you!" Features a number of book-themed items, among others.

What does a map in a fantasy novel do for you?: an Inkpot Poll by Ellen Booraem at Freelance Ne'er-do-well. Peek: "In a couple of weeks, I'll be hosting a discussion at The Enchanted Inkpot about maps in fantasy novels. To help get the discussion started, I'd love it if you'd take the poll below...and then check in at the Inkpot on Dec. 14, to contribute your two cents!"

Charlesbridge Acquires Mackinac Island Press List: Children's publisher acquires rights to a 30-book backlist and several forthcoming titles by Lynn Andriani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "MIP will continue to operate as a book developer, producing between eight and 12 children’s titles and one and two series a year. The backlist and forthcoming titles will be published by Charlesbridge under the Mackinac Island Press imprint." Read a Cynsations interview with Charlesbridge editor Yolanda LeRoy.

Attention Central Texans: children's author Chris Barton will be signing The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009) from noon to 2 p.m. in conjunction with the the Brentwood Christian School Holiday Book Fair at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum in Austin. Peek: "...if you drop by to say hi during that time, you can also get yourself in the running for a free advance copy of Shark Vs. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010)." Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka (Henry Holt, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "...a fun new take on "Hansel and Gretel," with 21st Century protagonists and all the Old World charm, err, creepiness, of Bavaria's Black Forest."

Seeing Your Mistakes
by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "Writers can’t see their own work clearly sometimes. Even the great ones. Sometimes a writer won’t see how good her work is. Other times writers can’t see where they’re failing. Sometimes writers get stuck making the same mistakes over and over because of this." See Using Your Life in Your Writing, also by Brian. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

"Genre Prejudice" by Mary Lindsey from QueryTracker.net. Peek: "'Hating' a genre doesn't equate donning a white hood, but it is unwarranted and often unfounded, with the person degrading the genre and its authors sometimes having never even read a book in the genre (or at least not knowing he/she has read one. *wink*). A little tolerance and respect for other readers and writers goes a long way, especially when you're trying to build a potential fan base."

Class of 2k10: "a group of the hottest debut authors of middle grade and young adult fiction." Note: be sure to bookmark for future reference. Don't miss the Grad Party Giveaway in celebration of the Class of 2k9, and comment by midnight Saturday for a chance to win a book!

Finish Everything by Scott Westerfeld. Peek: "There will always be a part of your brain that wants to give up when characters aren’t behaving, when you don’t know where to go next, when the inspiration has faded. Don’t give the start-something-else part of your brain any extra leverage, or it will win every time." Source: Elizabeth Scott. Read a Cynsations interview with Scott.

Sea of the Dead by Julia Durango (Simon & Schuster, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "Training to become a warrior himself, and trying to live up to his family's expectations, Kehl is kidnapped from barracks by the minions of the Fallen King." Ages 8-up. Read chapter one.

The 6th Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of the Fine Arts in Montpelier will be March 19-2. Faculty include author Uma Krishnaswami, author E. Lockhart, and Nancy Mercado, editor at Roaring Brook Press. For more information, email Sarah Aronson at sarah@saraharonson.com. Source: Through the Tollbooth. Read Cynsations interviews with Uma, E., Nancy, and Sarah.

First Annual Inkies Giveaway Extravaganza from Ellen Oh at The Enchanted Inkpot. Enter to win one of three overflowing themed baskets of awesome books. Categories are "fairy tales and folklore," "adventure and witchcraft," and "ancient curses, modern ghosts, post-apocalyptic." Deadline: Dec. 9.

How to Respond to a Manuscript Critique/Editorial Letter by Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown. Peek: "An editorial letter is kind of like a radioactive substance that you need to become gradually acclimated to over the course of several days. It needs to be absorbed in small doses and kept at arm's length and quarantined when necessary until you are able to overcome the dangerous side effects: anger, paranoia, excessive pride, delusions of grandeur, and/or homicidal tendencies." Note: when I get an editorial letter, I set a heavy object on it, back away for three days, and then rewrite it, sprinkling in more praise like: "Wow, that parallel construct--brilliantly executed!" or "Gee, your hair looks nice today!" Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Enter to Win a Copy of Linger by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2010) from KarinLibrarian at Karin's Book Nook. Deadline: Dec. 20. Read a Cynsations interview with Maggie.

Congratulations to Marion Dane Bauer on the release of The Christmas Baby, illustrated by Richard Cowdrey (Simon & Schuster, 2009)! From the promotional copy: "When a baby was born in the manger, Mary and Joseph rejoiced. The angels sang, and kings journeyed to bring gifts. When you came into the world, there was a celebration too—because every new baby is a small miracle." Read a Cynsations interview with Marion.

Marvelous Marketer: Hayey Gonnason (Publicist at Tricycle Press) from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "We recently had a book launch party, and there was a miscommunication and books were never ordered for the event. When I found out, I had to drop everything to make sure the books were there in time for the event. In the end the launch went off without (as far as people attending knew) a hitch but little things like that come up all the time."

Congratulations to readergirlz, recipient of the National Book Foundation's first Innovations in Reading Prize! "From over 150 entries, readergirlz was chosen as a program that innovatively sustains a love of reading for life."

Author School Visits: The Best Case Scenario by Stephanie Greene at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Talk about the number of rejection letters you got before you sold it. Kids love to hear stuff like that. (In my most recent visits, I showed them a close up of the F+ I'd received in writing on my second grade report card. The audience gasped. 'What's with the plus?' I said to them. 'That was supposed to make me feel better?' We all laughed." Note: part of a week-long series. See also Can an Author Change Students' Minds About Revision?

Love, Red Sox & Romance: An Interview with YA Romance Author Niki Burnham from Bitter Lawyer. Peek: "Breaking in is not easy. At the first writers' conference I attended, an editor with a major house noted that she receives over 2,000 manuscripts a year—that’s full manuscripts, not proposals—from new-to-her authors. On average, she acquires two new authors a year." Note: Niki was a classmate of mine at The University of Michigan Law School (and she's not at all bitter; that's just what the site is called). Read a Cynsations interview with Niki.

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jackie Morris by Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I usually paint in watercolour and also use gold leaf. I love the way the colour comes off the brush, the purity of the colours, and the way they can be layered and layered for a depth and richness of colour."

YALSA announces Morris Shortlist by Stephanie Kuenn from YALSA. Peek: "The William C. Morris Award honors a book written for teens by a previously unpublished author." Read a Cynsations interview with Malinda Lo.

Expert Scoop: Interview with Educator Tonya Pointer on Picture Books in the Classroom from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Picture books are especially useful to promote the core values that underpin the curriculum, and to generate thoughtful debate on a range of issues. These discussions promote oral language development. They also provide ideal material to develop students' visual literacy..."

Religious Diversity and End-of-the-Year Celebrations from Papertigers.org. Features interviews with Maya Ajmera and Rukhsana Khan, an illustrator's gallery highlighting Demi, book reviews, personal views by both Amelia Lau Carling and Katia Novet Saint-Lot and much more!

Interview with Bookseller Caitlin Doggart of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Marissa Doyle form The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "The real value of the indies lies in the unique physical charm that each offers as their own personality. Offering a physical space to look at and touch books is the driving force behind independent bookstores." Read a Cynsations interview with Marissa.

Screening Room

The Last Newspaper Boy in America by Sue Corbett (Dutton, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: "Altogether, a charming read: very 21st Century, yet with an almost nostalgic feel." See the official book trailer:



The Multicultural Minute with Mitali Perkins from . Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.



Below is the book trailer for Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2009). I've featured a link to it previously at Cynsations, but just discovered that the code is now available on YouTube and at Random House. It's "udderly" hysterical. Read a Cynsations interview with Libba.



Reminder: Bridget Zinn Kicks Cancer! Auction

Bridget Zinn Kicks Cancer Auction! Bid to Win Art, Signed Books, Editor/Agent/Author Critiques & More! Peek: "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." See more information.

Don't miss bidding on "A Foot in the Door Critique Package" from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Raise your entire middle grade or YA novel to a new level with the help of the nine published writers at Through The Tollbooth. We'll provide a detailed, professional editorial letter on your entire novel- structure, characters, voice, everything! We'll include detailed suggestions on how to conquer your weak spots, and we'll go over your query letter and synopsis with a fine tooth comb. Everything you need to prepare for submission to editors or agents and get your foot in the publishing door. Tollboothers: Carrie Jones, Tami Lewis Brown, Stephanie Greene, Sarah Aronson, Liz Gallagher, Kelly Bingham, Sarah Sullivan, Zu Vincent and Helen Hemphill help get your novel noticed."

Note: new items include A Chapter Critique of Your Middle Grade Novel by author Jennifer Cervantes and One Critique of a Query, Plus the First 10 Pages of Your Middle Grade Novel by agent Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Learn more about Jennifer Cervantes and Jennifer Laughran.

Auction I.D.: bridget Password: rules Auction closes Dec. 11.

More Personally

Congratulations to everyone who successfully finished (or took a hearty stab at) NaNoWriMo! Teen writers are encouraged to celebrate with Kay Cassidy!

Would you like a signed copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) or Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) for the holidays? You can find them at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Note: the store can ship at an extra cost.

You are also welcome to email me to request a personalized bookplate for any of my books--be sure to include (a) which book (b) recipient (c) your snail mail address. Thanks!

Order paperback copies of Santa Knows at Scholastic Book Club!

Congratulations to fellow Austin author Liz Garton Scanlon on the sale of her picture book manuscript "Think Big" to Michelle H. Nagler at Bloomsbury Children's!

Cynsational Submissions

If you're an author/illustrator who would like to be featured on Cynsations, take a look at the sort of folks/books I feature (traditionally published literary trade single titles and series), decide if you're a fit, and then send your books and bio information. Please do not write or call to pitch the book, write to confirm receipt, write to nudge, or otherwise contact me. Please note that I don't participate in typical online book tours; I schedule features on my own timeline. Note: This information likewise applies to publicists. See How to Get Your Book Reviewed on a Blog by Anastasia Suen at Blog Central.

Seeking a Blurb: requests should be sent via email by the author's editor or agent, as early as possible before the quote is needed. I am not interested in hearing from authors directly.

Texas Children's & YA Authors & Illustrators: if you're traditionally published, contact me about a website listing.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Barbara O'Connor

Learn about Barbara O'Connor.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I'm a morning person all the way. I love the early morning and am always freshest and most creative then.

Honestly, I don't think I could write at night if I had to. My mind simply cannot get into the flow of creativity and, like most writers, I certainly can't force the writing. It has to flow naturally and I have to be in sort of a zen-like state, with a fresh, clear, and energized mind.

I have to have total quiet, which makes things difficult sometimes. I'm easily distracted by noises and movement, etc., in the house when I'm trying to work. The best case scenario is being home completely alone. But I do have family so that doesn't always happen.

I was working on a book last summer while we were having some walkways and retaining walls installed in the yard. It nearly drove me crazy knowing those workers were out there while I was trying to write. They weren't even being noisy! (And you can imagine how popular I was with them when I asked them nicely to keep their radios turned way low. Ha!)

As for place, the ultimate dream writing spot for me is on my screened porch in the summer. I love (and am not distracted by) the birds and butterflies. I have honeysuckle on a trellis on the side of the porch, and hummingbirds come often.

But I live in New England and time on the porch is short. During the winter, I retreat to my office inside. I like it there and have a lovely desk that was handmade by a friend, loaded with photos of loved ones and my bird nest collection.

I'm frightfully organized, so that space works well for me because it has all my files and labels and drawers and containers and all the things a frightfully organized person loves. I even have a wonderful vintage wooden "in" box.

If you were writing your recipe for success, how would you proportion out the time and effort you spend researching, writing, marketing manuscripts, dealing with business correspondence, doing online promotion, doing real-space publicity, speaking at events, and/or teaching/critiquing? What about this combination works for you?

Oh, boy....I love this question because I wrestle with this all the time--trying to balance all the stuff necessary for a successful writing career, besides just writing.

In a perfect world, my recipe would be:

1 heaping helping of writing
1 pinch of speaking at events
1 pinch of speaking to kids

Mix and enjoy.

But, of course, this is not a perfect world. Those other ingredients (online promotion, business correspondence, etc) are necessary and important.

It would be wonderful to pay someone to do the things I don't enjoy and am not good at, but that belongs in that fantasy perfect world, too. So I'm learning that I just have to suck it up and jump in there and do things that need to be done.

I'm trying to stop being so frustrated by having to take time away from writing to do those other things, but I confess that I haven't exactly mastered this yet and find myself frustrated more often than I'd like.

I'm still working on learning to say "no," particularly when it comes to events and travel. I do a lot of school visits, which takes up a huge amount of time. So other speaking engagements need to be chosen wisely. I love going to events where I can connect with other writers (like SCBWI conferences) or librarian/teacher conferences where I can make connections and promote books.

Another area that uses up a huge amount of time (and cuts into my writing time) is preparing marketing materials, (like brochures), making sure my website is up to date, blogging, Facebook-ing, tweeting, etc. I try to use shortcuts (like preparing a week's worth of blogs at one time and setting Blogger to post each day), so that helps. But, still, it does take time.

That being said, the online sites have helped me make wonderful connections with teachers, reading specialists, and other authors, and there is a lot of value in that.

So, that's a round-about way of saying I haven't found the perfect recipe yet, but I'm working on it. And I still think that, while marketing is important, the best thing I can do for my career is to write another book. So I try to keep that in focus at all times and remind myself that I'm a writer--and writers write books. (Step away from Facebook, Barbara...)

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

I have a middle grade novel that is literally hot off the press. It's called The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Frances Foster, 2009).

Popeye is bored. Every day is the same, waking up in the little house on the gravel road in the small town of Fayette, South Carolina. Then one morning everything changes. A shiny silver motor home gets stuck in the mud in the gravel road, sending Elvis and his passel of rowdy siblings into Popeye's usually uneventful life.

When Elvis convinces Popeye that all they need is a small adventure, the two boys set out to find one. Boats on a creek, a girl with butterfly wings, and mysterious messages all add up to a small adventure that brings big changes to Popeye's boring world.

The story was inspired by a blog post by Tamra Wight, author of The Three Grumpies, illustrated by Ross Collins (Bloomsbury, 2005).

She posted a photo of a boat her son had made from a Yoohoo drink carton. I loved it!


Cynsational Notes

From Barbara's site: "The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis...has received three starred reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal)!"

Watch a book trailer for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.



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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

New Voice: Selene Castrovilla on Saved by the Music

Selene Castrovilla is the debut YA author of Saved By the Music (WestSide, 2009)(read her LJ). From the promotional copy:

The last place fifteen-year-old Willow wants to spend her summer is on a run-down former coffee barge in a boatyard in Rockaway in New York City. But that's where her force-of-nature Aunt Agatha, a talented violinist, is converting the broken down "steel atrocity" into a floating chamber music concert hall, and Willow has no choice but to help. Her moody, unstable mother has kicked her out for the summer to make room for her latest boyfriend.

Willow feels lonely, depressed, and hopeless, especially when she sees the uncomfortable living conditions on the barge--there isn't even a shower!

As if that's not bad enough, Willow also has to deal with Craig, the verbally challenged, dangerously leering hunk of a construction worker who's helping with the conversion. The one bright spot is Axel, an older teenage boy who lives alone on a neighboring sailboat.

As she gets to know him, Willow is surprised to find that he's the one playing the cello that she hears late at night on the barge deck. Introverted and mysterious, Axel has the soul of a poet, a penchant for Shakespeare, and a deep, philosophical mind. But he also carries the scars of a disturbing past and the searing pain that goes with it.

The two bond through their shared pain and loneliness, and make each other laugh. But when devastating traumas threaten to destroy each of them, Willow and Axel struggle to save each other—and themselves— before it's too late.


Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I'm a definite plunger.

Actually, it's more like my characters have climbed up behind me on the diving board and shoved.

At first I clung to the board, dangling, doing anything to avoid that freefall into words.
It took years to let go and splash.

Willow, who would become the voice of my novel Saved By the Music, literally launched into a soliloquy in my mind while I was driving home one night. Her first words were, "Sometimes I feel translucent."

I didn't know what to make of this strange internal voice, but I did know that what she was saying was important. I pulled over, yanked out my notebook and took her dictation.

She complained about her name. "How could anyone named Willow be substantial? I bend, I fold with the weight of the rain bearing down on me. What kind of a whooshy, wishy-washy, spill-your-guts-and-weep kind of a name is 'Willow,' anyway?"

I didn't like the name either, but I didn’t say so. She wasn't looking for a conversation--she was just venting.

She didn't like her mom either: "I bet my mom did that to me on purpose. She wanted to saddle me with a wimp name so she could bask in the sunlight. Isadora, that's her name. Why would an Isadora make a Willow? To stomp all over her, that's why."

She went on for some time. I wrote it all down dutifully, and when she finished--as abruptly as she'd started--I continued down the block and around the corner to my house, went inside and typed it all into my computer. I knew I had something, but no idea what.

Willow would remain in that file for quite some time.

Meanwhile, I'd written a picture book manuscript about my aunt's floating concert hall and how I'd helped build it from a coffee barge. I cannot possibly convey the thought and sweat I put into trying to make that sucker work. Many people, editors included, told me they thought it was a novel.

No way. I couldn't write a novel. Not me.

A couple of years and about thirty barge revisions later, I had to write my MFA thesis. Well, might as well start that novel everyone insisted the barge picture book was, since I had to produce something.

My advisor told me I had to change the name of my character, which had been Selene in the nonfiction picture book.

Hmmm. A name. I needed a name. What's in a name...

Then I remembered her.

I remembered that girl who'd ranted in my brain over two years back. I remembered her words, safely stowed in my computer.

"Willow," I told my teacher. "Her name is Willow."

"Uck. That's a terrible name," she said.

"I know," I said. "She hates it."

But still I teetered at the edge of the diving board, hesitant and afraid. I bought a huge notebook and made tabs: plot, setting, characters, timeline, weather--yes, I made a tab for the weather in my manuscript, and even more nit-picky tabs that I can’t recall.

Now this may work well for some very meticulous writers, and I applaud you if it does--but as I'm not an organizer in my life, trying to force myself to be one in my writing was akin to banging my head against the proverbial wall.

So there I was with my big fat binder and nothing written down except vague notes about plot and some deep thoughts on the weather (it would be hot, definitely, I decided--not a tough call, since the novel takes place in the summer.) I was stalling.

This went on for some time, until I had a dream.

I dreamed a whole other novel.

"Jesse's dying," I thought, as soon as I’d opened my eyes.

Then I wondered, "Who's Jesse? I'm writing about Willow and Axel!"

But this other novel had made its entrance, and it would not be ignored. I started to type it, and an even stranger thing happened. I was able to start the barge novel without any difficulty at all.

I just plunged right in.

Finally.

It was like my subconscious put the second novel in my mind to prove to me that I wasn’t a planner, and that I needed to just get on with it. The message was clear: Get in there and swim, girl!

Once I took that plunge, it was like I'd grown gills and fins. I swam very happily through those first two novels, finishing them both that semester. And three more since--not to mention the four manuscripts on the American Revolution I’ve done.

Now, writing about the American Revolution does involve lots of planning. That's a whole other story. But for me, the only way to write a novel is to sit down and write it.

I've come to believe that one should write as one lives. This is my best advice for beginning writers struggling with plot. If you’re great at organizing your life--or even your closets--then maybe you’re a good candidate for plotting. Go to it, but don't let it stop you from the crucial step: doing the writing.

If you're more of "wing-it" type like me, why not plunge in and write something? A scene, a paragraph, a sentence. It doesn’t have to be the beginning, it doesn’t have to even be good. (For more on this, read Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor, 1995), my bible on the craft of writing.) It just has to be authentic.

I can't tell you how to write the truth, but you'll know when you're doing it.

You'll know when your writing is right--when you've found your "voice," as they say--and the plot will follow.

How will you know? You'll feel a great relief, a huge contentment that you've put to paper exactly what it was that you meant (or were meant) to say.

Trust that plot will come, because plot springs from characters. They make all the moves, and they do all this based on who they are.

Listen for your characters, but if you can't actually hear them--that's okay. If you open your heart to them, they'll get their message to you about what they want to say.

This has been my experience.

Remember, I resisted all this, and all that did was waste time.

Don't let this be you.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children, how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

The greatest thing about participating in New School University’s MFA writing program was being in abundant creative company. Writing can be so lonely!

I was older than most of the other students--it had been ten years since I graduated from NYU with a degree in English. While I thought I'd have a hard time acclimating, this turned out to be a very good thing.

I’d been balking at the idea of writing a novel for quite some time. Who was I to write such a thing? Didn't the gods have to come down and grant you permission?

But there my classmates sat--all these young writers brimming with determination, endlessly producing pages of their manuscripts, not facing any sort of confidence problems at all.

It hit me: If they can do it, so can I.

The writing program also gave me the urgency I needed to get started. I had to write a thesis, so might as well take a shot at that novel I kept avoiding.

I picked up a lot of technical pointers from my teachers. Things like tips on running more seamless dialogue and the background things characters do while they're talking. These seem trivial, but they're no more minor than learning carburetor adjusting would be at auto mechanics' school.

I also perfected the art of going through a book I loved to figure out what the author did to make me love it. This is an invaluable tool for learning the craft. To me, sensory details always made the difference, so I made sure my work was flooded with them.

I was lucky enough to have Jackie Woodson for a teacher, which was great because I got to talk to her about her writing process. There is something so thrilling about discussing a writer's work with them, and how they achieved it. I found out the words don't just pour out perfectly--that she too revises. What a relief!

The writing program helped me use my passion more effectively and gave me the confidence I sorely needed. Yes, I could have a career in writing!

I would advise other MFA students/graduates to take it easy on yourselves, and to be your own biggest supporters. There's going to be a lot of rejection. Some of it warranted, some of it for absolutely no good reason.

I received one letter that stated: "Your writing is beautiful and flowing. It possesses energy and soul, which is why I'm sorry to say that we won't be publishing it."

You have to laugh and move on or these things will torment you and make you drink like Hemingway. Strive for Hemingway’s success and level of craft, but not his liver.

Believe in yourself and success will follow. If you know you’ve written something fine, keep sending it out and keep writing. There’s a certain luck factor you can't control, so don't try.

But then, as Shakespeare wrote: "Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing." My greatest achievement has not been getting published--it has been getting the writing done.

Oscar Wilde wrote: "If one tells the truth, one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out." Tell the truth, and they'll find you out, eventually.

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.
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