Saturday, February 27, 2010

YA & Kids! Books Central Auction: Bid on a First-10-Pages Critique by Children's-YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Do you write for middle graders or young adults?

Bid to win a critique by me, author Cynthia Leitich Smith, of the first 10 pages of your novel in progress!

I'm the author of Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed (Feb. 2011), and Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Feb., 2011; a graphic novel) as well as middle grade-YA short stories and books for younger children.

I'm also on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

I'll provide extensive comments on the manuscript, an overview letter, and, if applicable, suggest both additional resources for study and marketing strategies.

Bidding begins at $10.

Auction ends at midnight CST March 30. Bid here!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Young Adult & Kids! Book Central and its auction. Peek: "We're in the middle of a major fundraising effort in order to raise the money necessary to upgrade and expand the website. As part of that effort, we are hosting auctions with the prizes donated by supporters of YABC."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cynsational Events Round-Up

Children's-YA author Bethany Hegedus spoke on scene and structure to Austin SCBWI members on Feb. 13 at BookPeople. She highlighted Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2000) as a model for study. Note: Bethany also works for the Writers' League of Texas and is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Donna Bowman Bratton and former regional advisor Tim Crow.

Jo Whittemore. Jo looks forward to the release of Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin, March 2010).

Here's a shot of the huge crowd, which doesn't begin to show everyone in the audience.

April Lurie. April is celebrating the release of The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010), which is about a boy who's hunting down a serial killer in Austin. Don't miss this week's Cynsations interview with April.

Debbie Gonzales, Bethany Hegedus, Brian Anderson, Jo Whittemore, Erin Edwards, Tim Crow, and Greg Leitich Smith at Opal Divine's Freehouse.

Don Tate and Mark G. Mitchell at "More Than Words: Making Connections With Authors and Classroom Readers and Writers," sponsored by the Texas Association for the Improvement of Reading and the Central Texas Writing Project on Feb. 15 at Round Rock (Texas) Higher Education Center. Note: I spoke on the young adult literature panel.

Four of the fabulous DDDs--Margo Rabb, Jennifer Ziegler, April Lurie, and Varian Johnson.

Last weekend, I had the honor of keynoting at the Houston SCBWI annual conference. The Friday night reception was held at co-chair Varsha Bajaj's home in Katy, Texas. Pictured above are fellow co-chair Carmen Bredeson and former regional advisor Mary Wade.

Tim with conference co-chair and hostess Varsha Bajaj.

In true Texas style, a barbecue dinner was served.

Lisa Ann Sandell, senior editor at Scholastic; Sara Crowe, agent at Harvey Klinger; and author Jenny Moss.

Here's a peek at one of the rooms at the party, which filled the first floor of the lovely Bajaj home.

Children's author Dotti Enderle.

Brazos Valley SCBWI regional advisor Liz Mertz (striped shirt) with Oklahoma author Anna Myers and College Station author Kathi Whitehead.

At the conference the next day, author Shirley Smith Duke shows off No Bows! illustrated by Jenny Mattheson (Peachtree, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with Shirley.

Alexandra Cooper, senior editor at Simon & Schuster; Sara, and Ruta Rimas, assistant editor at Balzar & Bray/HarperCollins.

Varsha accepts the Houston SCBWI Mary Wade Volunteer of the Year Award.

Afterward, attendees enjoyed their choice of chicken or beef fajitas at a local restaurant.

Mark, Varian, and Sara.

Cynsational Notes

Thank you to Blue Willow Bookshop for its support at the Houston SCBWI book sale!

Houston chapter members include Gail Greenberg, author of No Pig's Brain Soup, Please! illustrated by Lauren Forgie (KAM Publishing, 2009). "...a humorous story about a...girl who thinks she must choose between the Jewish culture of her adopted family and her Chinese heritage."

Back matter includes a recipe for Pig Brain Soup in Casserole. See excerpt and teaching activities (both PDFs).

Look for the book at Blue Willow Bookshop, Brazos Bookstore, River Oaks Bookstore, and Read it Again and Again in Houston. It is also available at

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Three Days of Fey by Shveta Thakrar from A Desi Faerie Spins Stories of Stars and Silver, Jasmine in Her Hair. Featuring interviews with Cyn Balog, Malinda Lo, and watch this LJ for number three. Read Cynsations interviews with Cyn and Malinda.

"New Snow," a poem by author Sharon Darrow. Read a Cynsations interview with Sharon.

Looking for Asian Guy Protagonists in YA Novels by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Surf over and suggest! Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Seeking Vegetarian Children's-Authors by Roger Sutton from Read Roger. Peek: "For an upcoming article, we need to compile a list of children's and YA authors and illustrators, living or dead, who are/were vegetarians." Read a Cynsations interview with Roger.

AJA Affiliates with ALA from The Association of Jewish Libraries Blog. Peek: "The Association of Jewish Libraries has become an affiliate of the American Library Association."

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with author-illustrator Matt Tavares by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: " most recent books were done primarily in watercolor and gouache (which is opaque watercolor). My first couple books were monochromatic, done completely in pencil. This was for a couple reasons.... " See also Coffee with Kathi [Appelt] and Kelly [Murphy], Singin' the Blues..., likewise from SITBB.

Soup's On: Arnold Hiura in the Kitchen Interview by Jama Rattigan from jama rattigan's alphabet soup. Peek: "I think the ‘70s were a transformative time, when the so-called Hawaiian Renaissance led to new respect and appreciation of the Hawaiian language, music and dance, as well as local literature, Pidgin English and local food. The Hawai'i Regional Cuisine movement has its roots in this period."

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month by Naomi Bates from YA Books and More. Peek: "In the state of Texas, 3 out of 4 individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 have been affected by relationship violence, either personally or about someone they knew? That means that in the average classroom 75% of students are experiencing abuse or know someone who is." Post includes online resources and suggested bibliography of YA fiction.

Strong Writers Do This by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "'Hoping an editor won't notice' isn't a solid marketing plan. Even if they had the time (which they don't), editors aren’t in the business of fixing the story for you or teaching you how to write. That's up to you-but what can you do?"

28 Days Later: Jerdine Nolen by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature. Peek: "It was based in part on a chapter from my mother’s life; and her desire for each of her eight children to get a college education—something she so wanted, but was not able to achieve for a variety of reasons." Note: please consider reading the whole series, and if you're a blogger, highlighting whichever you determine to be the standout links.

Giving Your Writing Depth by Anna Staniszewski. Peek: "Do the characters’ motivations come across clearly in the story? Are their actions logically linked to their feelings and desires?"

So You Wanna Be a Children's Book Editor by Alvina from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "if you’re not able to relocate, you could research to see if there are any literary agents living nearby, and see if they need interns and/or manuscript readers."

Do Small Press Credits Hurt My Chances? by Mary Kole from Peek: "Getting published with a small press won’t hurt your chances at getting an agent, as long as it’s not a small press that you, yourself, founded to be your self-publishing or vanity project. It won’t necessarily increase your chances, though, either, because..."

Publicity: It's Never Too Early to Think Ahead by Lizzy Mason, senior publicist at Simon and Schuster, from QueryTracker. Peek: "Particularly as marketing budgets decrease (meaning smaller, more circumscribed tours and less advertising), publicity has become more important than ever."

Guest Post: Varian Johnson on Battling Time Suck from Justine Larbalestier. Peek: "When it comes to protecting your writing time, you have to be cold. Heartless. Merciless. Ruthless. Remember, you’re not Fredo Corleone. You’re Michael." Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

What It Takes to Succeed as a Novelist by Libby Koponen from Crowe's Nest. A list of eight qualities.

Marketing Stages by Guest Blogger Shelli Johanes-Wells from R.L. LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Note: don't miss part two.

The YA-5: "a group of writers with a shared vision for change. Change in the way that information about YA books is shared on the web - with you, the people who read & love YA books. We don't want to tell you which books to buy - we'd rather hear what you think." Note: the blog team includes
Picture Book Endings: a series of posts by Michelle Markel from The Cat and the Fiddle. See also Picture Book Endings: Fantasy, Picture Book Endings: Realistic Fiction, Picture Book Endings: Historical Fiction, Picture Book Endings: Lyrical, and Picture Book Endings: A Biography, a Wrap-up. Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Common Sense Raises Issues at B&N by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "[Sarah] Dessen's own feelings were initially mixed. 'I'm not sure how I feel about this. I mean, I'm sure it's useful for parents. But I worry it's breaking a book down into these pieces that don't do justice to the whole. What do you think?'" See also Kerfuffle from Sarah and Judy Blume: Too Hot for Sixth Grade by Kate Harding from

Checklist and Timeline for MG or YA book release by Lisa Schroeder from Lisa's Little Corner of the Internet. Peek: "Put a call out for a street team. Send postcards, bookmarks, other swag to a certain number of people who are willing to talk up the book to their friends, teachers, librarians, etc. Make them feel special, perhaps give a little gift for helping!" Source: Gwenda Bond. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Read Me a Story, Ink.: Read-aloud Short Story Index from Robert Topp. Searchable index of children's short stories. Peek: "An outgrowth of my 15-year hobby of reading aloud in the public schools, this index of read aloud stories is offered for the use of teachers, educators, parents or anyone who enjoys reading to children."

On-site Research by P.J. Hoover from The Spectacle. Peek: "Okay, let’s start with the five senses, and for grin’s sake, let’s pick a sewage treatment plant as our perfect place to research." Read a Cynsations interview with P.J. and Jessica Lee Anderson.

But How Do You Feel About That? by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker. Peek: "People told me my stuff was big, as in big-screen HD with a surround sound system. It was passionate and colorful and exciting."

Pie-of-the-month Club - Toni Buzzeo by Heather Vogel Frederick from Set Sail for Adventure. Note: In celebration of a pair of pie-related books that she has coming out later this year--Babyberry Pie (Harcourt, Oct. 2010) and Pies & Prejudice (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2010), Heather is hosting a "pie-of-the-month-club" on her blog. Throughout 2010 she'll be serving up a stellar selection of new books by some fabulous authors and illustrators. Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course. Read Cynsations interviews with Toni and Heather.

Male from the Other Perspective by Karen Strong from Musings of a Novelista. Peek: "...what I find interesting is that some readers complain that the male voice is 'feminized' or not 'authentic.' And I often wonder what that means."

What a Girl Wants: On the Eternally Infamous "Bad Girl" by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray. Peek: "Based purely on sex - or the suggestion of sex - a teenage girl can ruin her reputation while conversely, for identical, a teenage boy can cement his. It is a troubling double standard that permeates our society and can result in everything from shunning to, in its most dire circumstance, death." A conversation with Neesha Meminger, Sara Ryan, Beth Kephart, Laurel Snyder, Lorie Ann Grover, and Zetta Elliott.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Isn't Going Under: the official press release, courtesy of Jill Cocoran from Jill Cocoran Books. Peek: "Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Secures New $650 Million Cash Investment and Recapitalizes Balance Sheet in Historic Restructuring."

Congratulations to Jaclyn Dolamore on the new U.S. cover for Magic Under Glass (Bloomsbury, 2010). From the Bloomsbury UK promotional copy: "Nimira is a music-hall performer forced to dance for pennies to an audience of leering drunks. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to do a special act – singing accompaniment to an exquisite piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new life. In Parry’s world, however, buried secrets stir. Unsettling below-stairs rumours abound about ghosts, a mad woman roaming the halls, and of Parry’s involvement in a gang of ruthless sorcerers who torture fairies for sport. When Nimira discovers the spirit of a dashing young fairy gentleman is trapped inside the automaton’s stiff limbs, waiting for someone to break the curse and set him free, the two fall in love. But it is a love set against a dreadful race against time to save the entire fairy realm, which is in mortal peril." Source: Reading Extensively.

Moralizing in Books by Mary Kole from Peek: "The best way to deliver a message is to create a vibrant character who goes through something in the plot and emerges on the other side a little bit (or a lot bit) changed, but their realizations should never be blatantly expressed."

On Not Everyone Appreciating Your Book The Way You Hope They Will from Jay Asher. Peek: "Your part of the author/reader conversation ended the moment you turned in your edits. From then on, the only thing that will change about your story will be the people reading it." Read a Cynsations interview with Jay.

Is Magical Realism Fantasy? an interview with Jennifer Cervantes and her agent, Laurie McLean by Lena Castle from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "I live in New Mexico where you can wake up to the most magnificent sunrise creeping over the mountains and end the day watching swirls of pink and orange dance across the sky. I am truly captivated by the natural beauty of the southwest. It is the kind of place that feeds your spirit and makes you believe anything is possible."

Spotlight on Bookstores: A Secular Temple: guest post by Susan Jane Gilman from She Is Too Fond of Books...And It Has Addled Her Brain. Peek: "The emotions, hopes, and fears of an entire neighborhood – perhaps an entire people – were articulated there that night amid the bookshelves, themselves testaments to our civilization’s struggles and endurance."

Editor Alexander Cooper on Submitting to an Editor by Samantha Clark from Day By Day Writer. Peek: "One of the reasons publishing companies are more cautious on picture books right now is the cost and economy. Color picture books are printed in China, and the weak dollar is making printing costs rise."

School Visits 101 Workshop: a six-lesson, eight-week email course for published children's book authors and illustrators taught by author Anastasia Suen. Peek: " will plan your school visit talk minute-by-minute, try out a webcam visit, decide on your school visit prices, create a mailing list of local schools, design a postcard, organize your book signings and update your webpage." Dates: March 3 to April 21 or April 7 to May 26 or May 5 to June 23. Cost $149.

Voices You Should Hear: Nancy Bo Flood by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "...children are caught in the crossfire between warring nations. Children's schools, homes, families and entire childhood are taken from them. But I wrote with a sense of hope. The human spirit endures, heals, even forgives, and re-builds. Someway I wanted to convey all of that." Learn more about Nancy's new release, Warriors in the Crossfire (Front Street, 2010), "which provides a historical perspective on American involvement in the Pacific front during WWII, an aspect of American history seldom represented in children's literature." Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

Let's love some libraries by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: " put up a blog post during that week (although you can pick the exact dates of your involvement, and whether you want to do a shorter time frame or even extend past that time). You agree to donate a certain amount of money for every comment you receive on that post by a certain date. (You pick the amount.) The money goes to your local library, bookmobile, or other literacy-based charity... You can set a cap on the donation if need be." has Resources to Answer Questions by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Online Platform Do’s and Don’ts by Mary Kole from Peek: "If you can't update at least once a week, you should think of a static website like the one I mentioned above."

There are no guarantees, in writing or in life by Lisa Schroeder from Author2Author. Peek: "I've heard stories of how some of them sell everything and go into huge amounts of debt to be able to go to the Olympics. Right now, I'm trying this dream thing on for size, doing the writing thing full-time. And it's so scary." Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Author Interview with Bobbi Miller by JoAnn Early Macken from Teaching Authors. Peek: "The language of the tall tale defies the tidy and restrictive, even uptight structure of formal grammar. It mocks it, in fact, using pseudo-Latinate prefixes and suffixes to expand on the root."

On Not Giving Up Your Creative Dreams by T.S. from Must Love Books. Peek: "If you work hard enough and you have passion and a willingness to learn and grow, you will have options. And in the meantime, it isn’t going to help you to compare yourself to the competition. Be inspired by them, learn from them, but don’t be intimidated by their presence."

Cynsational Screening Room

The Texas Sweethearts discuss their plans for March 2010.

Here's a feature video on the film "Beastly" (July 2010), adapted from the novel by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

More Personally

It's been an exciting release month! Tantalize and Eternal (both Candlewick) are now available as e-books, and Eternal is now available in paperback in the U.S.! See a fan trailer for Tantalize below!

You can bid soon to win a 10-page novel or short story critique with me from the Young Adult Books Central Fundraising Auction! Bookmark and check back often as new items will be added on an ongoing basis. Authors and publishers can bid now to win a book trailer from NoWickiProduction! Note: auction ends midnight CST March 15; if you have something you'd like to donate for auction, please contact

I'm also happy to say that my revision of Blessed is off to my editor. Given the extent of changes, I expect to do one more (hopefully smaller) round after this, and I look forward to it.

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review by Leslie from That Chick That Reads. Peek: "I loved the alternate point of views between Zach and Miranda; it’s funny because they don’t really anticipate each other's motives or next moves."

Greg and I stayed in this past Valentine's Day, and he replicated the dinner he'd cooked for me on our first date.

Including the bananas foster--yum!

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win Bell's Star (Horse Diaries 2) by Alison Hart, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Random House, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Bell's Star" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up; I'll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: Feb. 28.

Read "Writing About Horses" by Alison Hart from Cynsations.

Enter to win one of two copies of The Book of Samuel by Erik Raschke (St. Martin's, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "The Book of Samuel" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up; I'll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: Feb. 28. Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; the other will go to any Cynsations reader!

Cynsational Events

"Putting the Power in PowerPoint" with author P.J. Hoover will be at 11 a.m. March 6 at BookPeople. Peek: "Don’t think you’re savvy enough? Scared of animation? Sick of using the same old standard templates? Afraid of boring kids and adults alike? Then don’t miss out on this presentation by author P. J. "Tricia" Hoover. P.J. will dispel the burdening and fearful thoughts PowerPoint may conjure. She’ll explain how to build a fantastic PowerPoint presentation from the ground up, and how, once that first presentation is done, it can be modified and reused for others in the future. P.J. will go over the basics of creating your own custom template to personalize your presentation, and how to use animation and images to bring your presentation to life. Materials: bring an open mind and a bundle of energy." Sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Jacqueline Kelly will be be reading from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009) and signing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 6 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Jacqueline.

Release party - author Jo Whittemore will celebrate Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin Mix, 2010) at 1 p.m. March 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Joint release party - YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie will be featured in a joint book signing at 2 p.m. March 27 at BookPeople in Austin. Varian will be signing Saving Maddie, and April will be signing The Less-Dead (both Delacorte, 2010).

Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 27 at Embassy Suites Hotel (1815 S. Meridian) in Oklahoma City. Faculty includes: editor Amy Lennex, Sleeping Bear Press; editor Greg Ferguson, Egmont USA; associate editor Kate Fletcher, Candlewick; Stephen Fraser, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency; and senior designer (art director) Kerry Martin, Clarion. See registration form, information on writers' and illustrators' critiques, and more. Note: registration closes March 23.

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 at Alief Taylor High School, and admission is free! Speakers include keynoter Sharon Draper and:

Release party - author Chris Barton will celebrate Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) at 1 p.m. April 24 at BookPeople in Austin.

Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. Note: I usually list conference speakers/critiquers, but as you'll see from the faculty bios (all eleven pages), it's an unusually big group. I will say, however, that I'm honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

Master Class/Writing Salon Event Details from Austin SCBWI. Peek: A Master Class/Writing Salon for the advanced writer, led by author Carol Lynch Williams, will be held May 15 at the Ranch House at Teravista in Round Rock, Texas. The cost is $80. Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop is scheduled for June 14 to June 18 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Peek: "Full-day participants spend their mornings in small workshops led by award-winning faculty. Both full- and half-day participants enjoy afternoon plenary sessions by national children's book editors and an agent, as well as breakout sessions by our workshop faculty and guest presenters. The keynote address and book signing are open to all conference attendees." See faculty.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Voice: Kathi Baron on Shattered

Kathi Baron is the first-time author of Shattered (WestSideBooks, 2009); visit Kathi at Blogger. From the promotional copy:

Teen violin prodigy Cassie has been tiptoeing around her father, whose moods have become increasingly explosive. After he destroys her beloved and valuable violin in a sudden rage, Cassie, shocked, runs away, eventually seeking refuge in a homeless shelter.

She later learns that her father, a former violinist, was physically beaten as a child by her grandfather, a painful secret he’s kept hidden from his family and the cause of his violent outbursts.

With all of their lives shattered in some way, Cassie’s family must struggle to repair their broken relationships.

As Cassie moves forward, she ultimately finds a way to help others, having developed compassion through her own painful experiences.

Written in lyrical prose, Shattered tells the moving story of how one girl finds inner strength through music.

Looking back, were you surprised to debut in 2009, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Yes, I’m surprised! My journey to this book has been 13 years long. I woke up on my fortieth birthday in May 1996 crying because I had not yet focused on my writing.

My husband, who is a psychiatrist, responded with, "Then, write."

Before Shattered, I wrote two novels, five short stories, two picture books, many, many poems and a non-fiction essay. I've submitted all of these pieces over the publishers, contests, and literary journals. One of my short stories received an honorable mention in a writing contest. It was supposed to be published in an anthology for young adults, but the publisher changed her mind and never published the collection of stories by contest winners.

So even though Shattered is the only thing I've published so far, it was all fruitful work. Each piece offered me opportunities to learn about pacing, page turning, plot, point of view, tense, and dialogue.

I've been afraid to count my rejections because there are so many! The most memorable is one from an agent I received on my second novel. He was brutally honest, harsh.

I cried reading it and thought of giving up. But playing with words and figuring out plots, discovering characters and researching things gives me so much joy that not writing anymore wasn't an option. Instead, I decided I didn't have enough skill to match the stories in my head.

In 2002, I applied to the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

There I learned how reading and critique could support my writing. In the role of apprentice, I tried to take in everything from my mentors.

Louise Hawes supported me to find the courage to write a story on domestic violence. She had me do "freewrites"—short pieces on whatever comes to mind. This is now an integral part of my process.

Sharon Darrow taught me to look for spaces in my text where I could go deeper emotionally.

From Kathi Appelt, I learned that working at poetry improves a sentence.

Tim Wynne-Jones helped me to not run from conflict, teaching how it’s "the engine" of story.

When the novel I wrote at Vermont didn’t sell, one of my classmates, Angela Morrison invited me to partner with her on a revision. I started over. For six months, we swapped manuscripts.

I almost didn’t submit it because I didn't want to deal with rejection, but she pushed me to do so. I was completely ecstatic when not only did an offer come in from WestSide Books, but within three weeks, Angela sold her young adult novel, Taken by Storm (Razorbill, 2009).

Yet I didn’t believe my book would get published until I held it in my two writing hands this past summer.

I keep the faith through connection with other writers—through SCBWI, 1:1 and group critiques, and an "Artist’s Way" group.

I also pray for guidance to do my best work. I'm always on the look-out for inspiration; from other artists, nature, children, craft books, and baseball.

Finally, it's easier to revise if I think of myself as an advocate of my main character, focusing on my belief in their story and in wanting to share it. If I'm focused only on trying to get published, then revision feels like pure drudgery. But if I believe in a story, my passion kicks in and being creative is playful. In the end, better writing prevails.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

In the fall of 2007, Vermont College emailed a letter from Evelyn Fazio at WestSide Books to alumni. It arrived shortly after I had finished my young adult novel, Shattered.

Evelyn's note explained that WestSide Books was a new publisher of young adult fiction. She described the kind of manuscripts they were looking for: edgy novels reflecting real problems that teens face, including abuse.

She had just signed a Vermont College grad and was publishing her debut novel: Between Us Baxters by Bethany Hegedus (WestSide Books, 2009). Evelyn was very impressed with Bethany’s work and was writing to invite other graduates of the program to submit manuscripts.

I was in the program at the same time as Bethany and had heard her read her various pieces of work at student reading nights. I loved her work and thought it would be a dream to follow in her footsteps.

I also remember thinking that my manuscript was a good fit with Evelyn’s description. But instead of getting busy and following the submission guidelines, I made the decision not to submit my manuscript.

I know it doesn’t make sense, but at that time my son was struggling with a number of health complications as a result of going through six months of chemotherapy. He’s well now, but to me, there is nothing worse than seeing a child suffer. So my spirits were not exactly up and my faith was waning. I didn't feel up for rejection, and I wasn't in a place to hope for a sale.

Fortunately, when Angela Morrison heard my decision, she said something like, "Are you crazy?! Yours is perfect for WestSide! Submit. Today." I have always been grateful for her kind words, and that I had enough sense to take her advice.

Evelyn called me in January 2008 and made me an offer.

What a gift to start the New Year by selling art!

Not only did I discover that Shattered is, in fact, a good fit with WestSide, but working with Evelyn is wonderful. During the revision process, it seemed she knew my main character even better than I did. She is fiercely loyal to readers, wanting everything to be clear and true.

Shattered is about intergenerational child abuse, which means the story not only is Cassie’s (the main character), but also her dad's, and his dad's, too. It was difficult for me to keep focused on Cassie’s story, while also telling her dad's and grandfather's.

Evelyn guided me to tell the tale of all three generations of this family without taking the focus off of Cassie. This is something I struggled with for many years. It was rewarding to get her help and to have it turn out as I had hoped.

I had submitted a previous version to 15 publishers and nothing worked out. While I was in the process of yet another revison, WestSide Books was born and eventually contact was made with Vermont College graduates via Bethany.

For me, it was a lesson in resilience. So much of the writing life is finding a way to keep going during long periods of hearing nothing and hearing a lot of "no."

It becomes important to find ways to keep your spirits up, and especially to have supportive people in your life so you can be open to risk. You never know when your "yes" moment will happen.

Fortunately, because of Angela’s kindness, I didn’t miss mine.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. Note: interviews with the debut authors of 2010 are scheduled to begin soon.

E-Book Releases of Tantalize and Eternal

Tantalize and Eternal, both by Cynthia Leitich Smith are now available as e-books from Candlewick Press.

In celebration, here are a couple of my fave fan trailers for Tantalize. The difference in approaches is interesting. Jaden emphasizes the murder mystery, and BloodLustEnt. emphasizes the romantic elements.

"Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize in a little over a minute. Created by"

And from BloodLustEnt.

Tantalize Reviews

"[Readers] will be well rewarded with an impeccably paced suspense story, a sexy romance, and a tough and witty heroine." —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Cynthia Leitich Smith is the Anne Rice for teen readers...Smith has a vivid imagination, and her intricate plot keeps readers guessing until the very end." —The Bloomsbury Review

"Readers will be tantalized by this dark, romantic, and disturbing fantasy of vampires, werewolves, and a strong no-nonsense heroine. Fans of Stephenie Meyer and Annette Curtis Klause will eat it up." —School Library Journal

See also Tantalize bibliography, blog buzz, interviews, reviews, and readers' guide.

See also more information on Eternal in conjunction with this month's release of the U.S. paperback edition. Don't miss blog buzz, interviews, reviews, and readers' guide.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Publisher Interview: Gita Wolf of Tara Books

Interview by Sarah Blake Johnson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

First of all, congratulations! Your book Do! illustrated by Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram Dhadpe, is the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons award winner for 2010.

The jury praised the books text and artwork stating: “Paper and figures are embroidered with a lace like precision. There is a wealth of narrative in the details that beg to be explored at length. exquisitely crafted, eminently readable book.”

Quality, innovation, and collaboration are words that are connected with Tara Books [of Chennai, South India]. How do you foster these attributes and what is the philosophy of Tara Books?

I'll take on collaboration and innovation first. We work with great artists--especially from the folk and tribal communities of India--so our collaborations are in themselves very exciting. We're interested in creativity that is manifest in unusual places, and in bringing this to the form of the book.

Many of our artists come from traditions which paint on walls and floors, or on narrative scrolls. To bring them into the book form involves close collaboration with a creative group of people--not only artists and storytellers, but designers and bookmakers as well.

The artists we work with are not only incredibly talented, they also come from communities which have very different realities from urban middle class ones in India, and I would also assume, elsewhere in the world.

That is one of our aims--to welcome different voices and subjectivities to speak to us. It is this variety which brings unexpected richness into creative work. Innovation is then automatically part of such interactions. To do justice to such work requires an attention to quality--communicative design and good production.

You have written many award-winning books, in addition to being a publisher of books for children, teens, and adults. What is it that you most enjoy in story? What inspires and informs your own writing?

I like building up a structure of words and then whittling away at it. I enjoy crafting and editing, which is a little like sculpture--you chip away until you're satisfied, and the work has a form you can live with. I suppose I share the universal human interest in narrative, in what happens to a set of characters and how it all ends.

In my writing for children, I'm inspired by my memory of reading as a child, and how freeing it was. I particularly enjoy whimsy and humour in children's writing.

You started Tara Books 15 years ago. It is now a collective, owned by those who work at Tara. What does this fairly recent change mean for your readers?

I guess it means more to the functioning of Tara, rather than a great change as far as readers are concerned. For instance, earlier, those of us who were part of Tara and also writing books didn't take out their royalties--we just put it back into doing more books.

With a more formal structure, we now pay ourselves royalties, and this also means that the company is more realistically structured and less subsidised by our work. We function with as little hierarchy as possible, and knowing that we own the company together gives us a feeling of...well, ownership. And all the commitment and satisfaction that comes with it.

The prize-winning illustrations in The Night Life of Trees are incredible [see last video below]. Yet what struck me most when I first opened the book was the fragrance, which added the sense of smell to this very visual reading experience. What led you to use handmade paper and individually hand-printed pages in some of your books?

It's a long story, going back to a time when I took a couple of sample pages of my story The Very Hungry Lion to the Frankfurt Book Fair. I've spoken about this in other places, but it was a serendipitous thing. Here's a link to a Globe and Mail story, which describes what happened.

Tara Books runs workshops for both professionals and children. Can you explain the philosophy behind your workshops? Which Tara Books titles developed because of this interaction?

We want to work with artists who haven't created books before. We typically invite them to workshops, and work closely with them to generate images. The workshops are a way for us to develop and nurture dialogue and creative partnerships with a range of artists and authors.

We've had a lot of books published as a result of these interactions - the major ones have been The London Jungle Book, The Night Life of Trees, Tsunami, Monkey Photo, Do!...

Can you explain your artist-in-residence program?

This is a year-long internship program for designers who would like to learn and work with us on designing books. The exciting part is the artists and creative people they come into contact with at Tara and our handmade book process.

You’ve recently expanded your list to include graphic novels. Your most recent catalogue highlights two books: Sita’s Ramayana [scroll for interiors] and I Seen the Promised Land. Why did you choose to retell these two stories, that of a well known Indian epic from Sita’s point of view and that of a famous American, Martin Luther King? How does the graphic novel format add depth to these stories?

Again, I'd like to give you a link to an article I wrote on this.

All your books deal with culture, whether the culture of India, the experience of an individual in a foreign land (The London Jungle Book), or the culture of other countries. What do you think about the role of books in cultures and the role of culture in books? Do you feel your embrace of culture is the reason for the international appeal of Tara Books?

Culture can mean so many things. For us, it is a manifestation of the creative spirit in art and language. We're attracted to unusual artists, simple people who have a wealth of imaginative worlds in them, that other people don't know (and often don't care) about. A book holds a world within itself.

We're also interested in the book as an object, as a structure of meaning whose form is as inspired as its content. To take the creativity that manifests itself in unexpected people, and nudge it along the path to becoming a desirable cultural object is what motivates us.

Perhaps it is this spirit that appeals to so many people. You can see that each of our books is made with great care and commitment.

How many handmade books have you published, and what are some recent titles? What languages have these books been translated into?

We have published seventeen handmade books, and these books have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Dutch, French, German and Portuguese, among others.

Do!, Fingerprint, and SSSS: Snake Art and Allegory are three of our recently published titles.

List of all titles that are handmade:

Circle of Fate
The Night Life of Trees
In the Dark
Tiger on a Tree
Elephants Never Forget!
The Very Hungry Lion
Beasts of India
Nurturing Walls: Animal art by Meena Women (partially screenprinted)
Oedipus the King
The Bacchae
SSSS: Snake Art and Allegory
Hen-Sparrow Turns Purple [shown below, designed as a scroll]

You’ve been very successful at finding talented artists. Also, many of your books use tribal art, which allows readers to experience traditional art from many regions of India. From what artistic traditions do these artists come?

Meena from Rajasthan, Gond from Madhya Pradesh, Patua from West Bengal, Warli from Maharashtra, Patachitra from Orissa, Kalamkari from various parts of the country.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out this video on the making of Do! Note: 2 minutes, 2 seconds long.

John Berger Presents Nurturing Walls from Tara Books. "Screen-printed on brown kraft paper, the art from the walls of Meena tribal homes in Rajasthan is seen for the first time outside of their villages. The women of the Meena tribe practice this art form, known as Mandana, painting the muds walls and floors of their homes to mark festivals and changing seasons. Mothers teach their daughters, passing on their skills and keeping the art tradition alive.

"Launched at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London in October 2008 with an exhibition of art prints from the book, renowned art critic John Berger opened the show with warm words." Note: sound doesn't begin until 46 seconds into the video, which is 10 minutes, 25 seconds long.

"Watch the making of the handmade book The Night Life of Trees." In the video below, learn more about the handmade book process from Tara Books. Note: 10, 2 seconds long, and it's hard to read some of the explanatory text but still a fascinating peek into the company.

Cynsational Notes

Visit the Tara Books blog.

Sarah Blake Johnson is a student in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. During her MFA program, she has written a young adult novel, nonfiction, short stories and several picture books. Originally from the western United States, Sarah has moved all over the world with her husband and children. She has lived in Brazil, Finland, Iceland, and China, and she currently lives in Germany.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.