Friday, December 31, 2010

Cynsational Books of 2010

Congratulations to the children's-YA authors and illustrators of 2010!

Thank you to everyone who discussed and debated and cheered and championed this year's books!

Just for fun, here are a few of my favorites.

Quick caveats:

(a) to varying degrees, I know or have met some (but not most) of the authors/illustrators--if I discounted everyone I knew, potential picks would be so significantly reduced in number as to be meaningless;

(b) I will continue to read and feature 2010 titles in 2011 and beyond;

(c) these are highlights, not predictions, not an all-inclusive list of my favorites.

Picture Books

The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Tim Ladwig (Eerdmans, 2010)

Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2010)(author guest post)

Librarian on the Roof! A True Story by M. G. King, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin (Albert Whitman, 2010)(author interview)

Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2010)(author guest post)

Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy (Tulika, 2010)(A Tale of Two Umas)

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Karen Clarkson (Cinco Puntos, 2010)

Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly (Holiday House, 2010)

Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenfeld (Little, Brown, 2010)(author interview)

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Don Tate (HarperCollins, 2010)(illustrator interview)

Soar Elinor by Tami Lewis Brown, illustrated by François Roca (FSG, 2010)(author guest post)

Time to Pray by Maha Adassi, illustrated by Ned Gannon (Boyds Mills, 2010)(author interview; illustrator interview)

Chapter Books

Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Aladdin, 2010-)(co-authors guest post)

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benitez (Whitman, 2010)(author guest post)

Continuing Series: Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm (Random House); Joey Fly, Private by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Neil Numberman (Henry Holt); Piper Reed by Kimberly Willis Holt (Henry Holt).

Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins (Charlesbridge, 2010)

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O'Connor (FSG, 2010)

The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic, 2010)

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins, 2010)

The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier (Delacorte, 2010)(author guest post)

The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Knopf, 2010)(author interview)

Selling Hope by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb (Feiwel & Friends, 2010)

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet, 2010)(author guest post)

Truth with a Capital T by Bethany Hegedus (Delacorte, 2010)(author interview)

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House, 2010).

Middle Grade Fantasy

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (Abrams, 2010)(graphic format).

The Dark Deeps (The Hunchback Assignments #2) by Arthur Slade (Wendy Lamb, 2010)(author guest post)

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (Random House, 2010)(author interview)

The Suburb Beyond the Stars by M.T. Anderson (Scholastic, 2010)(author interview)

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R.L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin 2010)(series website)

Thomas and the Dragon Queen by Shutta Crum (Knopf, 2010)(author interview)

Middle Grade Nonfiction

Spilling Ink: A Young Writers Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Flashpoint, 2010)(co-authors interview)

YA Realistic Fiction

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (Dutton, 2010)

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson (Delacorte, 2010)

The Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard (Viking, 2010)(author interview)

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Dial, 2010)

Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala (HarperTeen, 2010)(author interview)

The Tension of Opposites by Kristina McBride (Egmont, 2010)(author interview)

Queen of Secrets by Jenny Meyerhoff (FSG, 2010)(author interview)

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy duBurke (Lee & Low, 2010)

YA Mysteries

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick, 2010)(author interview)

The Agency: The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick, 2010)(author interview)

Girl, Stolen by April Henry (Henry Holt, 2010)(author guest post)

The Less-Dead by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2010)(author interview)

Speculative YA Fiction

Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2010)(author guest post)

Another Pan by Daniel and Dina Nayeri (Candlewick, 2010)(co-authors interview)

Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill (Greenwillow, 2010)

Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson (Simon Pulse, 2010)(author interview)

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle (Henry Holt, 2010)(author guest post)

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer (Philomel, 2010)

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White (HarperTeen, 2010)(author interview)

Young Adult Nonfiction

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone (Viking, 2010)(author interview)

Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel (Amulet, 2010)(author guest post)

Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos (Clarion, 2010)

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)(author guest post)

All Ages

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis (Scholastic, 2010)

Keeper by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2010)(author interview)

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2010)

Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays, & Conversations, co-edited by Arnold Adoff (Hamilton’s husband) and Kacy Cook (Scholastic/Blue Sky Press, 2010)(guest post)

Favorite Trailer

Brains For Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?! by K.A. Holt, illustrated by Gahan Wilson (Roaring Brook, 2010). Trailer by K.A. Holt. Note: bonus points for being low budget; an inspiration in tough economic times.

Favorite New Blogs

Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac: "Daily children's book recommendations from Anita Silvey. Discover the stories behind children’s book classics and the new books good enough to become classics."

Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels: Writing for Kids from the Heart of Texas AKA Jessica Lee Anderson, P.J. Hoover, Jo Whittemore, K.A. Holt, Jeanette Larson, Don Tate, and Emma Virjan.

Cynsational Notes

My 2010 release was an original tall tale picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton)(see sidebar for teachers guides by Shannon Morgan). Trailer by P.J. Hoover with voice-over by Tim Crow.

I also celebrated the paperback release of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010), which debuted at #5 on The New York Times bestseller list and #13 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list. Trailer by Shayne Leighton.

Cynsational Notes

"Fireworks" by Anna Cervova from

Thanks to Debbie Gonzales, Carmen Oliver, and Mark G. Mitchell at Austin SCBWI.

Thanks to Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, the designer and webmaster of Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Birthday

Q&A with Tweenie Author Christopher Grant from Medeia Sharif YA Author. Peek: "I think I'm afforded a unique advantage by getting to ride the NYC subway twice a day. The banter and colorful conversations that I hear are like gifts from God. Not a day goes by where I won't hear something and think to myself, 'Oh, that will fit perfectly with...'"

Scam Proofing Your Writing Career by Jan Fields from Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "The Internet is like one of those ancient treasure troves you read about in stories. You can find wonderful things there. Or you can hit the booby traps and get squashed flatter than a flitter."

Steampunk: Full Steam Ahead by Heather M. Campbell from School Library Journal. Peek: "Steampunk is both speculative fiction that imagines technology evolved from steam-powered cogs and gears–instead of from electricity and computers–and a movement that fosters a do-it-yourself attitude and a love of beautifully crafted, yet functional, objects." See also Arthur Slade on How to Put the "Steam" in Steampunk.

Use Photos on Your Blog and Articles by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Peek: "One of the best ways to make your articles look appealing and to hold reader’s attention is to use images to illustrate your work. But where do you find images that you can use without getting into copyright trouble?"

How's Your Query Letter IQ? an interview with Jessica Greene of J.R. Professional Writing Services by Dianne Ochiltree from Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating. Peek: "Number one, absolutely no contest, is spelling and punctuation. Surprised?"

Tenners in Eleven: a round-up of 2010-2011 new releases from this dynamic group of new voices by Teri Hall from the Tenners. See also Fall 2010 Flying Starts from Publishers Weekly.

E-Readers with Color Open Door for Pictures by Julie Bosman from The New York Times. Peek: "Publishers have been eager to sell illustrated books in digital form, particularly picture books for children, since they could eventually become a significant additional source of revenue."

Pathway to Becoming a Bestselling Author by from Peek (under "agented writers"): "Start working on a new project so if your current book doesn’t sell, you’ll have something new for your agent."

Teachers Guide for Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Spice, Magic, Slavery, Freedom, and Science by Mark Aronson and Marina Budhos (Clarion, 2010).

Endings and Beginnings in Nonfiction Picture Books by Carmen Oliver from Following My Dreams...One Word at a Time. Featured discussion books: What To Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father, Teddy, Crazy! by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic, 2008) and The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrations by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009).

Featured Sweetheart: Elaine Scott by Jeanette Larson from the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels. Peek: "When I realized that Hubble was approaching its 20th 'birthday' and the final servicing mission was headed to the telescope, the time seemed right to take a look at all the amazing science this fantastic instrument has facilitated through the years. I used my contacts at NASA and at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore to gain access to the latest information, and I am humbled that Dr. Mario Livio of STScI agreed to vet the manuscript for accuracy."

One Impossibly Crazy 2010 7-Imp Retrospective Before Breakfast from Jules. Note: a round-up from one of the top children's literature blogs; a must read, especially for fans of illustrated fiction.

The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction from The New York Times. Insights from Scott Westerfeld, Jay Parini, Andrew Clements, Michelle Ann Abate, Maggie Stiefvater, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Lisa Rowe Fraustino. Note: click author names for individual insights. Source: Jennifer Ziegler.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for The Lost Saint by Bree Despain (Egmont, 2010).

Check out this video interview with author Chris Barton by Vicki Smith, children's and YA editor for Kirkus Reviews. The focus is Chris's 2010 release Shark vs. Train, illustrated by illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little, Brown, 2010). See also a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Check out this video featuring author Susan Campbell Bartoletti, talking about They Called Themselves the KKK (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). See also a guest post by Susan Campbell Bartoletti on Writing Nonfiction and They Called Themselves the KKK.

Austin Scene

For those who missed it over the holidays: Arrested Development? Young-at-heart Austin is home to a booming Young Adult literature scene by Melanie Haupt from The Austin Chronicle (cover story). Peek: "In many ways, the wedding of Victorian gothic to Austin's buzzing eclecticism within the context of Young Adult literature – itself a crazy amalgam of genres – is the perfect metaphor for the town itself. And it just so happens that Austin is a literary hotbed for the production and consumption of YA fiction. Austin and YA lit offer something for everyone, from dark, paranormal romances featuring werearmadillos to powerfully realistic portrayals of Southern racism during the Civil Rights movement."

Read in 2010: Austin Writers Recommend Their Favorite Books of the Year from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek from me: "I don't reach for historicals first, but [Y.S. ] Lee's Mary Quinn mysteries--[A Spy in the House (The Agency: Book One) and The Body in the Tower (The Agency: Book Two)(both Candlewick)]--read like lush, romantic fantasies, with plenty of page-turning intrigue and suspense." Note: recommendations from Chris Barton, Varian Johnson, and more.

More Personally

Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and support in 2010! I'm so grateful for the terrific fellowship, insights, and passion for the craft of writing and reading books for young readers. Here's to an even better 2011!

Vampires, Werewolves and Guardian Angels: a review of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2010) by Teri Lesesne AKA Professor Nana from The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "Archetypes, motifs, and plenty of references to other vampire literature make this a terrific read for fans of the genre, too. Quincie is no shrinking violet; she is a strong young woman surrounded by danger at every turn. Lots of action and blood and gore balanced nicely with a growing romance between Quincie and Kieren."

Blessed: Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Giveaway by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Peek: "I feel that her arc makes a fresh and substantive contribution to the literary tradition surrounding the vampire mythology. It calls long accepted metaphors into question, especially as they relate to gender, power, and the ability to be defined by someone else (versus defining yourself)." Giveaway deadline: midnight CST Jan. 9. Scroll for more information.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Stacey O'Neale from The Young Adult Fantasy Guide. Peek: "It's [Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011)] more romantic and horrific and sexier and has more heart than the previous two books. Quincie is also a far more reliable narrator than she was in Tantalize because she's on the other side of her transformation."

Author Insight: The Significance of Books from Wastepaper Prose and Other Literary Woes. Note: Insights from 30 authors, including me, every upcoming Tuesday and Thursday.

Reminder: Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2010) is now available for free as an e-book from! See more information!

Reminder: you're always welcome leave a comment at Cynsations at LJ. Please also find me at facebook, JacketFlap, Twitter, and YouTube. Check out Greg's news at GregLSBlog.

Even More Personally

Happy Birthday, Cynthia Leitich Smith from Happy Birthday Author: Where Reading and Birthdays Come Together. Peek: "I was born in a snowstorm on New Year's Eve in Kansas City."

Hey, hey, it's my birthday!

And yes, a birthday on New Year's Eve definitely prompts one to evaluate where she is in life.

That's okay! Don't panic. I'm a work in progress.

Much joy and many blessings to you in the new year!

My holiday has been almost entirely spent writing. I'm working on book #4 (still untitled) in the Tantalize series.

Here, you can see the dining room table set for Christmas dinner in the foreground and my work area in the background.

Dinner is turkey, giblet stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, and corn. Dessert was bananas foster, all made by Greg, naturally.

On the 28th, fellow Austinites gathered around that same table for yet another day of writing.

Here's former Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow with authors Jennifer Ziegler (in white) and Julie Lake (in green). Look for Jenny's Sass and Serendipity in July 2011 from Delacorte.

On the other side of the table, we have Greg with authors April Lurie and Chris Barton. Bethany Hegedus also joined us, a little later in the day. Look for Chris's Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities in April 2011 from Dial.

Menu: armadillo eggs, chicken enchiladas, homemade salsa, tortilla chips, tamales, fruit, cranberry apple casserole, chocolate-covered pretzels, and cookies! The armadillo eggs (cream-cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers, wrapped in bacon) were brought by Tim.

My present from Greg was Mr. Monk Is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg (Obsidian, 2010). I adore these parallel stories that tie into the series at various points.

In return, I gave Greg Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dehaene (Penguin, 2010). From the promotional copy: "The act of reading is so easily taken for granted that we forget what an astounding feat it is. How can a few black marks on white paper evoke an entire universe of meanings? It's even more amazing when we consider that we read using a primate brain that evolved to serve an entirely different purpose. In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene explores every aspect of this human invention, from its origins to its neural underpinnings. A world authority on the subject, Dehaene reveals the hidden logic of spelling, describes pioneering research on how we process languages, and takes us into a new appreciation of the brain and its wondrous capacity to adapt."

Before bed most nights, we revisited favorite movies like "The Princess Bride" (1987), "White Christmas" (1954), and "Oh, God! You Devil" (1984)(I adore George Burns.).

I also fell in love with DreamWork's "How To Train Your Dragon" (2010), which we saw late one evening on DVD. Here's the trailer.

Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win a illustrator-autographed copy of Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, 2011)! The book will include a customized drawing--the winner can pick the buffalo's pose!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Buffalo" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post; I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Dec. 31. Sponsored by the illustrator; world-wide entries.

Don't miss the Blessed ARC giveaway by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books!

Cynsational Events

Jessica Lee Anderson will speak on seven things she's learned through her publishing journey...using songs at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at 11 a.m. Jan. 15 at BookPeople in Austin. Read an interview with Jessica and P.J. Hoover.

Save the Date! Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a guest post by Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To...And That's a Good Thing (on connecting books to technology). Don't miss the Night School blog tour!

A Cacophony of Conference Contests from Austin SCBWI in conjunction with Books, Boots, and Buckskin, the chapter's regional conference on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19. Note: includes drawings for saved seats and both author/manuscript and illustrator/portfolio critiques.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Writing Across Formats: Julia Durango

Learn about Julia Durango.

What first inspired you to write across forms in children's-YA literature?

When I first started writing for children, I wanted to write a historical fiction novel; but with two little boys underfoot, my progress on the novel was very slow.

At the same time, I was reading and enjoying dozens of picture books with my sons. Soon I found myself with several picture book ideas of my own, which gave me a fun break from the more serious subject of the novel.

What have you learned from writing in a variety of formats?

In the thirteen years I've been writing for children, I've now dabbled in several genres and formats: poetry, picture books, historical fiction, humor, fantasy, and non-fiction.

What I've learned is that while each has its own particular requirements in terms of structure and technique, first and foremost they all require a compelling story. A great story trumps all.

What do you think about the pressure on authors to brand themselves by writing a certain kind of book?

I think it's very unfortunate, unless the author truly wants to write just one kind of book.

For me, it would take away what I most love about writing: the ability to express myself in many different ways. Just as my reading choices are eclectic, so are my writing habits. Some days I want to be silly, other days I want to slow down and be more reflective.

What I write is who I am. And I am not a brand.

Cynsational Notes

The Writing Across Formats interviews were originally conducted in support of a keynote address by Cynthia Leitich Smith at a fall 2009 SCBWI-Illinois conference.

Check out Julia's blog, Three Silly Chicks: Readers, Writers, and Reviewers of Funny Books for Kids. Co-bloggers are Carolyn Crimi and Andrea Beaty. Don't miss the Three Silly Chicks Store!

New Voice: Greg van Eekhout on Kid vs. Squid

Greg van Eekhout is the first-time author of Kid vs. Squid (Bloomsbury, 2010). From the promotional copy:

The citizens of Atlantis are stuck selling cotton candy on the boardwalk, and only our hero can help.

Thatcher Hill is bored stiff of his summer job dusting the fake mermaids and shrunken heads at his uncle's seaside Museum of Curiosities. But when a mysterious girl steals an artifact from the museum, Thatcher's summer becomes an adventure that takes him from the top of the Ferris wheel to the depths of the sea.

Following the thief, he learns that she is a princess of the lost Atlantis. Her people have been cursed by an evil witch to drift at sea all winter and wash up on shore each summer to an even more terrible fate—working the midway games and food stands on the boardwalk.

Can Thatcher help save them before he, too, succumbs to the witch's curse?

With sharp, witty writing that reads like a middle-grade Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Greg van Eekhout's first book for young readers is a wild ride packed with as many laughs as it has thrills.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?

Of all the characters I've written about in various stories, Thatcher, the boy in Kid vs. Squid, was probably the easiest to discover. I actually didn't feel like I was discovering him. It was more like he showed up on the page, already talking, and I just had to listen to him.

His best weapon is his smart alec mouth, and my biggest challenge writing him was getting him to shut up.

But Trudy McGee, who started out as Thatcher's sidekick, kind of threatened to take over the book. She's sort of a detective/superhero, and she's all about solving problems, taking action, throwing fire crackers, whatever it takes to get the job done.

Both characters could dominate a scene, Thatcher with his wisecracks and Trudy with her backpack full of crime-fighting gear. And whenever I had the two of them on the page together, it felt like watching a pair of actors improvise. All I had to do was nudge them along to keep the story moving.

Most of the time, writing doesn't work like that for me, but these two characters made it easy.

Most of the other characters in Kid vs. Squid came about just by imagining who would live in a town cursed by the severed head of a witch from Atlantis. It just made sense that there'd be jellyfish boys riding bikes, and that the king of Atlantis would be working the popcorn stand.

A couple of characters, though, fell in my lap out of real life. I was on the beach one day when this guy walked out of the surf, completely draped in kelp. So much kelp that it looked as if he was made of kelp! So I took that image and made up the evil witch's henchmen, the kelp guys.

Real life is weird!

As a fantasy writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time fantasy reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I think most kids start out as fantasy fans, even if the fantasy they're into isn't necessarily Tolkien-style with swords and wizards and eating stew with elves. Dr. Seuss is fantasy. "Toy Story" is fantasy. Spider-Man is fantasy. Most entertainment for kids features an elevated reality in which people have abilities that we don't have in real life or the laws of physics don't resemble what goes on in the real world or animals talk.

That's fantasy.

A walking, talking sea sponge? Total fantasy. So basically, I've been a fantasy fan all my life.

My inspiration comes from so many sources that it's really hard to narrow it down to any particular books, but just off the top of my head, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Simon & Schuster, 1962) stands out. I like the idea that you don't have to go somewhere else to experience fantasy, that there's weird stuff going on all around us, maybe out in the open, maybe in the shadows, and Bradbury often takes that approach.

Probably, though, the more immediately visible influences on my work are comic books and cheesy '70s and '80s Saturday morning cartoons.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

I'm lucky in that my local indie bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, has been incredibly supportive. They've had me to the store twice for signings, and they've gotten me on panels at Comic-Con, and they set up my first school visit.

I'm a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of self-promotion, so my approach is just to do things that I enjoy. Answering interview questions is fun. And I like meeting readers face-to-face. So even if turns out that making appearances doesn't have any real measurable impact on my sales, at least I've gotten to meet people who've read my book or might potentially read my book, and that's it's own reward.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews cheers, "Drawing together a memorable supporting cast that ranges from a half-human Atlantean princess to a genial shark-man ('Howdy-do. Swim with us to shore or we’ll eat your legs'), van Eekhout chivvies the plot along at a lively pace to a hold-your-breath climax and a deftly choreographed resolution."

School Library Journal cheers, "Van Eekhout carefully balances his tongue in his cheek with some really creepy situations, and the result is a humorous fantasy that will rush over young readers like a tidal wave."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Voice: Ilsa J. Bick on Draw the Dark

Ilsa J. Bick is the first-time author of Draw the Dark (Carolrhoda Lab; 2010). From the promotional copy:

There are things the people of Winter, Wisconsin, would rather forget. The year the Nazis came to town, for one. That fire, for another. But what they'd really like to forget is Christian Cage.

Seventeen-year-old Christian's parents disappeared when he was a little boy. Ever since, he's drawn obsessively: his mother's face...her eyes...and what he calls "the sideways place," where he says his parents are trapped. Christian figures if he can just see through his mother's eyes, maybe he can get there somehow and save them.

But Christian also draws other things. Ugly things. Evil things. Dark things. Things like other people's fears and nightmares. Their pasts. Their destiny.

And some things the people of Winter would rather forget—like murder.

But Winter won't be able to forget the truth, no matter how hard it tries. Not as long as Christian draws the dark...

How did you approach the research for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you encounter? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

I’m going to turn this question around a bit because I think that the research process for any story is reflexive and reflective of history (personal and otherwise) and imagination.

As a child psychiatrist, I’ve always been interested in the sideways place in people’s minds: that hole down cellar where darkness lives. So, for me, researching a story means digging deep, personally and otherwise.

So, some things you need to know:

a) I’m Jewish and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor;

b) I live in rural Wisconsin about a stone’s throw away from an old Hebrew cemetery—which is weird because we’re the only Jewish family in town;

c) A German PW camp once stood about four miles from my house, and was only one of thirty-eight such camps in the state;

d) I think all art tells a story.

A somewhat longer version:

Being Jewish and a survivor’s daughter, I’ve always felt the Holocaust as a kind of background music. Couple that with my move from the East Coast to Wisconsin almost a decade ago—to a place where we are, literally, the only Jews in town. Virtually no one in my village has ever met a Jew.

I remember the first time this older guy found out I was Jewish. First thing out of his mouth: "Hey, I heard Jewish people get buried standing up."

I’m not making this up. To put this in perspective, there used to be about a thousand Jews and several synagogues as late as the 1950s--so many Jews, they called this area, “Little Jerusalem."

But . . . wait a minute. There’s that Hebrew Cemetery just spitting distance from my house. So what’s with that?

So I got curious and unearthed some interesting stuff, which led me a fabulous book, Stalag Wisconsin: Inside WW II Prisoner-of-War Camps by Betty Cowley (Badger Books, 2002). From Ms. Cowley’s work, I learned that prior to 1942 England held several thousand German prisoners of war but became increasingly nervous that Hitler was going to destroy England from the inside-out by air-dropping weapons to all those prisoners. So England asked the U.S. to take the PWs off their hands.

The first PWs started arriving here in 1942. Wisconsin’s Camp McCoy was one of the first Army base camps where captured Germans (and Italians and Japanese) were processed before moving along to other smaller, rural branch camps to ease manpower shortages on farms and in factories.

At its peak, the number of German PWs in the U.S. was about a half-million men. In many towns, especially in the heavily Germanic Midwest, camp officials were deluged with requests from U.S. citizens about German relatives.

Cowley’s book is chock-full of stories about things like German PWs knocking on relatives’ doors or those of German-Americans, only to discover a cousin or uncle or brother in a nearby PW camp.

After the war, many German PWs came back to the U.S.—to these communities—to live.

All that history got me thinking: what would it be like to be Jewish and to live here at that particular time? Here are Germans PWs, soldiers who’ve pretty much wanted to wipe you out, and now they’re just down the road. Your neighbors aren’t unhappy; in fact, they’re thrilled because some of these PWs are relatives or friends.

Think about that.

That’s where my protagonist, Christian Cage, enters: at the intersection of history and imagination and into a story I wanted to tell about darkness, secrets and guilt. (Christian’s name says it all, don’t you think?)

Christian tells his personal story to himself by painting his questions. Sometimes, his darkness freaks him out, but he keeps going and, personally, I think that takes guts. No matter how frightening, I think the journey through the darkness is worth it.

Call the reward insight; call it understanding. Or hope.

How did you go about identifying your editor?

Actually, my editor identified me!

I came up with the idea for this book at a writer’s workshop devoted to crafting queries and synopses. When I got home, I shot out my query and synopsis to a couple editors whom I’d researched pretty heavily in terms of what their houses were putting out and what their personal tastes appeared to be.

One answered immediately and wanted to see the book—which was kind of a trip because I hadn’t yet written the darned thing! So I typed my fingers off for about eight weeks and sent off the resulting book, originally titled "Stalag Winter."

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. And . . .

Well, you know the drill. After about five months of waiting, I contacted her again, only discover that she’d since quit her job.

At around the same time, I stumbled on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and figured, fine, I’ll submit "Stalag Winter." There was no YA category that year, and so I submitted under "mystery," thinking my chances were slim to none.

I mean: a YA paranormal mystery? Hellooo . . .

As it happened, I made it to the semi-finals: the final hundred out of over five thousand entries. So I was pretty stoked; by then, other people had passed on "Stalag Winter," but that was fine. I had another book ready to make the rounds anyway; I figured that I’d mention "Stalag Winter" and the ABNA in the queries. Couldn’t hurt.

I sent out five queries—for a completely different book—on a Sunday afternoon.

By Monday morning, I had five replies, asking for the manuscript. On Wednesday, my fantabulous Carolrhoda Lab editor, Andrew Karre (interview), popped into my email, asking if we could talk. (Uh . . . that would be yes.)

We talked on Friday; Andrew wanted the book; it was kismet.

Andrew is the best kind of editor: one who’s boundlessly energetic, enthusiastic and eager to get under the book’s hood—not to yank out the distributor cap but figure out how the book works and how to make it work better. Above all, Andrew is interested in the writer. He wants to know what makes a writer tick. My kind of guy.

Mind you, though, his was a call for "Sin-Eater," not the book that became Draw the Dark. That book was still in the running for the ABNA. Andrew asked to see every YA I’d written, so I also shot him "Stalag Winter"/Draw The Dark.

Well, he completely flipped and wanted Draw The Dark, too.

All I had to do was lose the contest.

I did, but honestly, I won, big time. At this point, Draw The Dark is the first of three books Carolrhoda will be putting out; the others are Sin-Eater and Sweet.

I can say, with complete honesty, that I really look forward to working with Andrew on all these projects and many more.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Writing Across Formats: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

Learn about Carmen T. Bernier-Grand.

What first inspired you to write across forms in children's-YA literature?

My editor at Marshall Cavendish asked me to write César: ¡Sí se puede! Yes, We Can! illustrated by David Diaz (2006) with a special voice.

The words started coming to me in the form of free verse. Strange, because I never considered myself a poet before that.

César was successful, so I used the same form to write Frida: ¡Viva la vida! Long Live Life! illustrated by Frida Kahlo (Marshall Cavendish, 2007) and Diego: Bigger Than Life, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2009).

What inspired me to write in this form? Maybe my editor, maybe my I CAN READ Juan Bobo: Four Folktales from Puerto Rico, illustrated by Ernesto Ramos Nieves (HarperCollins, 1995), or maybe Marilyn Nelson’s Carver: A Life In Poems (Front Street, 1997). I don’t know.

As I said before, the form came to me as a gift, almost as if I were channeling.

What have you learned from writing in a variety of formats?

Writing in itself is a learning experience. Picture books have taught me about rhythm; easy-to-reads have taught me to write a story using fewer words; novels have taught about story arc; nonfiction books have taught me that they can be as interesting as fiction; and poetry has taught me how to discover a voice I didn’t know I had.

What do you think about the pressure on authors to brand themselves by writing a certain kind of book?

For years, I wrote just what came to my heart, in the form it wanted to be. I published an easy-to-read, a biography in prose, a novel in prose, and a collection of folklore from Puerto Rico.

Editors kept telling me that readers wouldn’t know me unless I wrote in a genre or specific form.

I, however, know well-known authors who, from the very beginning of their careers, wrote in different forms. Why couldn’t I do the same?

I want to write whatever my heart dictates. But right now my heart is enjoying having readers.

Believe me, having readers is the best award.

Cynsational Notes

From Marshall Cavendish: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand grew up in Puerto Rico. She is the author of several children’s books, including Pura Belpré Honor Books Frida: Viva la vida! Long Live Life!, César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!, and Diego: Bigger Than Life. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Look for Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). From the promotional copy:

On August 8, 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve the Court.

In elegant free verse, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand describes Sotomayor’s remarkable journey from her childhood in the projects near Yankee Stadium to her stellar academic achievements at Ivy League universities to her rapid rise in the legal profession.

When confirmed as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, she said, "I feel I can touch the sky."

Also included: Biographical Summary, Glossary, Chronology, Sources, and Notes. Also available in Spanish.

The Writing Across Formats interviews were originally conducted in support of a keynote address by Cynthia Leitich Smith at a fall 2009 SCBWI-Illinois conference.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Voice: Dee Garretson on Wildfire Run

Dee Garretson is the first-time author of Wildfire Run (HarperCollins, 2010)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

The president's retreat, Camp David, is one of the safest places in the United States. So why can't the President's son, Luke, and his friends, Theo and Callie, stay there without Secret Service agents constantly hovering over them, watching their every move?

And yet, when an earthquake sets off a raging wildfire, causing a chain reaction that wreaks havoc at Camp David, they are suddenly on their own.

Now Luke needs a plan:

* To override the security systems

* To save those who were supposed to save him

* To get through an impassable gate

* To escape Camp David

Debut author Dee Garretson delivers a heart-pounding tween thriller—an action-packed adventure with undeniable suspense.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist?

I think of writing a story as a puzzle that needs to be put together, and that's how I go about piecing together the elements that make up a character.

Luke Brockett, the protagonist in Wildfire Run, was the result of a long learning curve in character development.

When I first started writing, I would have a set idea of a character in my head and often found myself trying to mold the plot to fit them. But the more I wrote, the more I discovered that tactic wasn't getting me where I needed to go in terms of improving my storytelling. I found it was important to stay away from a common mistake beginning writers make, putting either too much of their own personality (or what they would like as their personality) into a character.

One of my favorite quotes about writing is from G.K. Chesterton: "A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."

In the stories I write, the character needs to serve the plot and the plot needs to showcase the character. I can't separate the two.

In planning Wildfire Run, I started with the idea I wanted the character to be the son of the President of the United States.

The easy part of developing Luke was deciding how his personality would lend itself to the plot-getting him through the adventures in the story. I made him "MacGyver"-ish (1985-1992), for those of you old enough to remember the television show, a resourceful kid who likes gadgets. But I also wanted Luke to have an internal journey, to give the story more depth and to show how he changes over the course of the book.

That's where I had to consider what imperfections to give him, both real and in his own imagination. The use of the word "imperfection" is tricky. Imperfection implies a negative, and that's not quite accurate.

"A degree or more off the imagined ideal" is too unwieldy a phrase, but that's more what I mean by imperfection.

There's a fine line to walk when giving characters flaws. A perfect character is boring, yet so many times an agent or an editor will reject a work because they "just don't connect with the character."

I think the biggest turnoff is to make a character too self-centered, and it's easy enough to avoid that, yet the possibilities for other imperfections are endless and require careful choices.

The imperfections need to tie in with the external journey as well. How can a character's personality traits help them along the way to move the plot forward? I find it fascinating to play with different personality traits, writing a character's responses to a situation based on some part of what makes them who they are.

And that's where the puzzle analogy comes in. I have to pick the right pieces of the puzzle. In Luke's case, I chose three imperfections. One is mostly in his own imagination. He assumes his father--a brilliant and learned man--is continually disappointed that Luke is not inclined toward academic learning. It made sense in terms of the set up of the story: there would be a lot to live up to if your father were the President.

Once into the adventure, Luke tries to do what he thinks his father would, until it becomes clear he needs to follow his own instincts. That's where I chose the second part of his personality. Luke is impulsive, very impulsive, and it's gotten him into trouble in the past. Yet eventually his impulsiveness carries him through.

The third trait tied into both the setup of the story and the plot. I imagined that a child who had lived with Secret Service protection for much of their life (and who was constantly warned of potential dangers) would have a very skewed perception of the world. I gave Luke the baggage of dealing with an almost paralyzing fear of life without bodyguards.

All these factors came together to influence how I wrote both the external and internal journey Luke makes. When the story was finished, I realized if I had even left out one of the pieces of the puzzle, it would have been a very different book.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

Cell phones are the bane of my writer life. It's very difficult to write believable adventure stories when in real life people can usually call for help if they find themselves in danger.

I spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out why my characters (a) don't have cell phones, (b) have them but lose them, or (c) have them but find they don't work.

The issue had to be dealt with, though, because I think most readers will not get as involved in the story if they don't believe the plot, nor will they connect with character.

It's easy to get disgusted with characters too stupid to figure out what an average person knows. That's why I could never stand the horror movies in which the girl goes and opens a door to the closet she knows has a high probability of holding an ax murderer.

Any glitch that makes a reader stop and ponder whether something makes sense can destroy their engagement with the story and make them stop turning the page.

I feel sorry for writers who have romance elements in their plots. Could "Romeo and Juliet" be set today? Lack of ability for the two to communicate is an essential part of the plot. The ease of staying in touch now has taken away a whole swath of potential plot complications used since storytelling began.

In a sense, I'm glad I have to place my characters in situations where they don't have access to communication technology. If it's not there at all, it solves the problem of the new features such technology will have in years to come. Writing for the younger crowd is tricky because most of them only have a very hazy notion that certain things haven't been around forever, and that will hold true in the future for the next group of young readers.

Right now we can imagine a scene where a character is in a location without cell service, but that possibility won't last for long. In ten years, will a young reader realize lack of cell phone service is a logical problem characters might face in the time the story is set? I don't think so.

It's different from reading a book like Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (HarperCollins, 1971, 1935). Even without an extensive knowledge of history, a younger reader knows there was very limited technology in the murky reaches of long, long ago, but not so much about what has changed in the span of a shorter period of time.

Short of including a timeline of technology development in later editions of books, there's no method of providing this information.

I did worry about dating my manuscript in writing about the security systems at Camp David. Luckily for me, I'm writing fiction, so I just had to make it believable, not necessarily accurate. There's no way for an average person to find out exactly what is at Camp David. Some of what I put there I based on reading about emerging technologies, and some was based on what made sense to me. I hope it makes sense to the reader as well. It will be interesting to see in five or ten years how well that part of the story holds up to change.

Someday, I think I might attempt to write fantasy. If I could create my own world, it wouldn't have cell phones.

Wildfire Run Book Trailer - Escape from Camp David from Wildfire Run.

Wildfire Run - Meet Dee Garretson from HarperKids.