Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Stick Man and Christmas Book Picks by Esme Raji Codell from The Planet Esme Plan. Peek: "if I could have one Christmahanukwanzaakah wish, it would be that children's books wouldn't go out of print quite so quickly, and publishers would back artists instead of titles." Read a Cynsations interview with Esme.

Agent Lauren Macleod Strothman Agency by Kathleen Temean. Peek: "Looking for: Contemporary YA & MG, narrative nonfiction for young adults, graphic novels, YA Dystopian with strong world-building..."

An Interview with Rabbi Jacobs from Jewish Books for Children with Author Barbara Bietz. Peek: "The Two Kings book series actually evolved from a play we performed for many years in front of tens of thousands of youth in Israel."

An Interview with Marilyn Singer from Children's Author David L. Harrison's Blog. Peek: "Poems to me are about capturing moments in time, answering questions I ask myself, exploring emotions I feel, or, if I’m writing narrative poems, capturing the essence of characters. They're also about playing with language in ways that are impossible to attempt in prose." See also Marilyn on What Makes a Good Young Picture Book? and What Makes a Good Poem? and What Is a Short Story?

Children's Books: Alarmingly Bright Futures by Rich Cohen from the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Peek: "The book, which explains the whys and hows of Day-Glo and is illustrated with tremendous Pop Art verve, began with [Chris] Barton's perusal of The New York Times’s obituary page, proving that the dead really do tell the best tales." Read a Cynsations interview with author Chris Barton.

17 Reasons Book Manuscripts are Rejected by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen from Quips and Tips for Successful Writers. Peek: "These 17 reasons book manuscripts are rejected are from a panel of editors, literary agents, and publishers at the Surrey International Writers' Conference in British Columbia, Canada."

Holiday Survival Guide for Introverts by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "If your time is too frazzled to actually make progress on your manuscript, consider personal journaling or maybe even character journaling."

Steal These Books by Margo Rabb from the New York Times Sunday Book Review. Peek: "At BookPeople in Austin, titles displayed with staff recommendation cards are a darling among thieves. 'It's so bad lately that I feel like our staff recommendation cards should read: 'BookPeople Bookseller recommends that you steal ________.' Apparently the criminal element in Austin shares our literary tastes, or are very prone to suggestion," Elizabeth Jordan, the head book buyer, wrote in an e-mail message." Read a Cynsations interview with Margo.

Attention Shoppers

Books Make Great Gifts from IndieBound. Find Austin Children's-YA Authors & Illustrators at IndieBound. See also my IndieBound page.

Shades of the Season by Kelly Starling Lyons from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...what if you're looking for a tale that celebrates the season and African-American culture? Here are 10 picture books to consider adding to your holiday book list that salute Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's Day." See a video below, celebrating Shante Keys and the New Year's Peas by Gail Piernas-Davenport, illustrated by Marion Eldridge (Albert Whitman, 2007).

Check out this book trailer for Fallen by Lauren Kate (Delacorte, 2009), suggested to fans of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009). Note: more on Fallen in 2010.

More Personally

Look for the paperback edition of Eternal (Feb. 2010) in the spring-summer 2010 Candlewick Press catalog! See page 108.

A Gift for Readers and Writers by JoAnn Early Macken from Teaching Authors: Six Children's Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Note: JoAnn kindly recommends my main website. Peek: "The massive Children’s & YA Literature Resources section includes interviews, bibliographies, and links to additional valuable resources: information about censorship, diversity, children’s book experts, guides for readers and teachers, state and national awards, recommended books, and writing for children and teenagers."

Look for the illustrated reader's theater, "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee," adapted by Christy Damio, on pages 4 to 9 in the Nov. 9 to Nov. 23, 2009 issue of Scholastic Action Magazine.

The reader's theater is an adaptation of my YA short story "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," which appeared in Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005).

Thanks to Christy for asking great questions and thoughtfully applying my answers. It's a treat, too, to see these YA short story characters brought to life in the illustrations. I'm especially loving the Wonder Woman boots and cowboy boots up front in the first one.

I've been busy revising Blessed (Candlewick, Feb. 2011), trying to get as much done as possible before leaving for the Vermont College of Fine Arts winter residency. Sometimes I move around the house to get a new perspective. Here's my set up earlier this week in the guest room, with Mercury (gray kitty) and Blizzard (white kitty).

Meanwhile, Greg was working on a novel of his own down in the kitchen. Aren't those bangs hilarious in this picture?

But just because we're busy doesn't mean that there's no seasonal cheer to be found. Cynsations will be taking a brief holiday hiatus and resume posting on Dec. 28.

But first, here's a peek inside my house. Below is one of my newest ornaments, created by children's book illustrator Joy Fisher Hein--an angel kitty reading a book (does she know me or what?). The rest are self-explanatory. Enjoy and happy holidays!

Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Marshall Cavendish, 2009), one of three copies of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Delacorte, 2009), and/or one of three signed copies of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2005)!

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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Michelle Markel

Michelle Markel is the author of Tyrannosaurus Math (Tricycle/Random House, 2009).

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had working on a book? Why?

Tyrannosaurus Math was a pleasure for many reasons. It was a quick and easy conception. I was substituting in a second grade classroom, we'd run out of math activities, we'd covered a very dry dinosaur story in the morning, and the classroom library books were uninspired. We were all pretty bored.

I invented some word problems using dinos that the kids loved. Voila, there it came--math + dinosaurs = a fun idea for a children’s book!

They say creativity often comes from joining two or more disparate ideas; that's a good example.

There were few complications at birth (unlike my other books, where I spent hours, months, in protracted labor). I just amused myself creating the character--a bone-munching, number-crunching dinosaur.

(On reflection, I think the Tyrannosaurus was a way of channeling my violent disinclination to math. That, plus I've always had a weakness for T-Rex. I mean, he’s so vicious, but those short arms make him comical).

I also had a terrific editor, Joanne Taylor, who gently pushed me in the right direction. The revisions she suggested led me to deepen the emotional part of the story. The sibling conflict figures into the climax and resolution, which it hadn't originally. And Joanne found the perfect illustrator, Doug Cushman, who totally got the humor.

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

Well, in flagrant disregard of marketing wisdom, I haven't branded myself. I've got a wide range of interests, and I've doggedly written and published about just a few of them: social issues, cultural diversity, art, history. I wanted to get the stories out, even if it meant sometimes going with smaller presses.

The old saw is that "a good book will find its home." Finding that home, i.e. the editor who falls in love with your story, is key, but it takes patience and perseverance (oh, if only there was for writers and editors! ).

When I started writing back in the '90s I couldn’t search the Internet--or Cynsations--for information about the publishing industry like you can now. I managed to snag the right editors by joining SCBWI, reading Publishers Weekly, going to conferences, book fairs, and later being on listservs.

But I also inadvertently sold a book because of my careless tracking system. I submitted two different picture books to two editors at Houghton Mifflin, which is bad form. As soon as I discovered my mistake, I alerted the editors. When one of them rejected the manuscript I'd sent to her, the other found out and snapped it up. I have an agent now, who is discouraging me from wantonly spreading myself around at the houses.

In a competitive industry, the manuscripts that take chances (either stylistically or by choice of subject matter) are going to be noticed. I thought I was going out on a limb in writing a book about a labor organizer most people haven't heard of, but the story was compelling. The heroine had to be honored. (See below). To be successful, you need to take risks and you have to be generous. Writing is a gift, an act of love.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Brave Girl: Clara Lemlich and the Shirtwaist Makers Strike of 1909--about a young Jewish/Russian immigrant who started the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history (HarperCollins, 2011). I'm delighted that Melissa Sweet, who received a Caldecott Honor for River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (Eerdmans, 2008), will illustrate.

And a biography about Henri Rousseau from Eerdmans. The story is all about a highly unlikely triumph over relentless rejection, so lots of writers will relate!

Cynsational Notes

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

From "The Rex Green Show:" in the video below, Dino-host Rex Green interviews author Michelle Markel about her new math book for kids. Note: Michelle does a great job of holding her own versus the host, a T. rex hand puppet.

Monday, December 21, 2009

New Voice: Penny Blubaugh on Serendipity Market

Penny Blubaugh is the first-time author of Serendipity Market (HarperTeen, 2009). From the promotional copy:

When Toby breathes on Mama Inez's bird-shaped invitations, giving them the power to fly, plans for the Serendipity Market begin. Soon, eleven honored guests travel from afar and make their way to the storytellers' tent to share their stories.

Each tale proves what Mama Inez knows—that magic is everywhere. Sometimes it shows itself subtly—a ray of sun glinting on a gold coin, or a girl picking a rose without getting pricked by the thorn—and sometimes it makes itself known with trumpets and fireworks.

But when real magic is combined with the magic of storytelling, it can change the world.

This is a breathtaking debut novel written with elegance and grace.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you're debuting?

The first book I remember loving was a big green book filled with fairy tales and fantasy poems. I don't remember the title, just the large format and the endpapers with princesses and fairy creatures with tiny wings, all cavorting in a glade of primal trees filled with rich spring flowers. I could pour over those endpapers for hours.

The next book that comes to mind is actually a two volume, slip-cased set of illustrated Grimms' and Andersen's Fairy Tales, published in 1955 (Grimms' Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm, translated by Mrs. E. V. Lucas, Lucy Crane, and Marian Edwardes, illustrated by Fritz Kredel (Grosset & Dunlap) and Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hand Christian Andersen, translated by Mrs. E. V. Lucas and Mrs. H. B. Paull, illustrated by Arthur Szyk (Grosset & Dunlap)). One red, one green, and again, gorgeous illustrations in full color.

After that, Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie (Peter and Wendy; Margaret Ogilvy by J. M. Barrie, illustrated by F. D. Bedford (Scribner, 1913)). This one was a treasure, published in 1913 with black and white illustrations by F. D. Bedford. Each illustration was protected by an onionskin flyleaf, and even as a kid, I recognized the beauty in this old brown book with the gilt edges.

And one more, a double like the Grimm/Andersen set. This one was Barnaby and Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley, both by Crockett Johnson (Barnaby (Henry Holt, 1943) and Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (Henry Holt, 1944)).

Set during World War II, these are the stories of Barnaby, his "little friend Jane," his talking dog Gogon, Gus the Ghost, and Mr. O'Malley, Barnaby’s fairy godfather. Mr. O'Malley wears a homburg, smokes cigars, gambles, drinks and sports pink wings. Absolutely perfect! And completely on par with Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, with decorations by Ernest H. Shepard (E. P. Dutton, 1950) for showing the fantastic as completely normal.

After those, in rapid succession, came Trixie Belden (1948-1986), Nancy Drew (1930-), Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, (Harcourt, Brace, 1957), and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (Farrar, Straus, 1962).

Mystery, light romance, lost worlds, science fiction with dashes of dystopia and fantasy as part of the everyday world.

It’s not much of a surprise, then, that Serendipity Market is a reality-based fantasy drawing on old fairy tales and fantasy poems. In fact, it seems like it was inevitable!

I love fantasy because it can say so much about what's happening in the world and, at the same time, can do it on a slant. The best fantasy doesn't need to trumpet its intentions (Look! Isn’t it amazing the way the wizard comes out of his bottle in dire times?!).

Instead, it makes the reader feel that, if they turn that corner at just the right time, in just the right way, they'll find that fantasy world, too. It won’t be a world of safety, flowers, and unicorns. But it will be a world where anything can happen, where they have to keep their wits about them, where there's danger but they've never felt more alive.

And if the world is built on a template of our normal everyday world, hopefully that’s exactly what will happen. Fantastic normalcy.

In Serendipity Market, I tried to make all the fantastic seem as normal and everyday as possible. Scrying pieces of metal for their internal forms? Watching stream ripples and knowing there's a story in Texas? Breathing life into origami birds? Mere everyday happenings. No fanfare.

Nothing unusual. All as normal as brushing teeth. Or, reality-based fantasy.

Because who didn't believe, at least for a little while, that Peter and Tink were going to come and take them to Neverland, too? Who didn't memorize the directions (second to the right and straight on till morning) just in case they needed them someday? Who didn’t believe that Pooh could talk to Christopher Robin? Or that Nancy Drew would beat all the adults, including the police, to the criminal?

Just like all of my favorites, Serendipity Marked is fantasy based on the real world. Everything that happens, no matter how amazing, should seem like it could happen, should seem like it's right around the corner. Holding its breath, waiting just for you.

How did your MFA help you advance your craft?

Getting my MFA from Vermont College was the thing that pulled me from the it-might-be-nice-to-write phase of my life into the oh-look-I appear-to-be-a-writer phase. It was also one of the highly good things I've done with my life.

Before my coursework at Vermont, I'd spent years in sporadic attempts at writing. Trixie Belden knockoffs at age 12, journal attempts in college, some professional articles about young adults and libraries which got me published but didn't zoom me on to fame and glory. Then I saw an ad for the brand new MFA program in Writing for Children at Vermont and I applied. To my happy surprise I was accepted–and, wow! What an amazing experience.

During my time at Vermont, I learned what it meant to commit to the writing and to believe that something decent can evolve out of a morass of nothing. I learned to persevere, to believe in myself, and to trust that I have both a vision and a voice that truly are mine and mine alone.

These aren’t things that I'm always aware of. My self-doubt is huge. And the voice thing? I'm just finally starting to understand what that means, to know what my own voice sounds like. (I think it was about a month ago when I realized that I'm a dialogue-heavy writer!)

The self-knowledge, along with the craft, seems to evolve bit by bit, piece by piece. And the only way to keep that evolution going is to write.

By writing, I don’t mean only the physical act of putting pen to paper, which is the luddite way that I start everything--for those who care, it's a Rotring Art Pen and a Clairefontaine grid notebook. I also mean thinking about the work, thinking about writing in general, reading a variety of things--I love poetry and adult nonfiction in addition to kidlit--and analyzing what I’m reading.

The MFA gave me the skills to do this analysis, to read with a fine eye, to know when fine-eye reading is important, and to be able to put pen to paper even when the whole idea of facing that blank page is scary. The finer points of many of these skills didn't float to the surface for years, but when I needed them, there they were, just waiting for me to call upon them.

It’s amazing what can be remembered. Ten years later, I can suddenly hear someone saying, "You can’t 'say' with a roll of the eye." Or "There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word 'said' after a character has spoken." It’s like carrying a little recording around in your head that snaps on and off when you need specific instructions or information

For people who want to write, the first thing I'd say is, writing is hard! It's work. And it's worth every bit of that work when your find the right phrase, the perfect word, the beautifully executed scene.

Then I'd add the old butt-in-chair advice that everyone seems to give. Remember, it’s not a cliché if it’s true. So sit down and write.

It's so hard to silence that inner critic that tells you how terrible you are, that says you should just give up and not even try. But the more you ignore that niggling little voice and keep working, the better you get. Honestly! It can’t work any other way. You will improve.

And publishing? Again, old advice. If you're good, if you can write with style and grace, if you've learned your craft, someone will notice. True?

Probably more truth than untruth here, even when the market is tight and it feels like nothing good will ever happen. Because that's almost exactly when something amazing may happen. And that idea (you know it's going to happen at some point!) should keep you going when things get bad. Keep writing, and someone in the world will find you.

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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