Friday, September 16, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Alan Cumyn on the release of Tilt (Groundwood, 2011)! From the promotional copy:

Stan is an intense sixteen-year-old loner who desperately wants to make the junior varsity basketball team. And it seems that he may be about to do so, until he's blindsided by the unexpected attentions of Janine Igwash.

Suddenly Stan is no longer thinking about jump shots. Instead he is obsessed with Janine's spiky hair, her milky white shoulders and the mysterious little tattoo at the base of her neck, not to mention the heat of her breath, her dark eyes, wide hips and . . . Then Stan's father arrives on the scene with Stan's four-year-old half brother, and things become truly insane. 

Tilt is a wonderfully droll and insightful story about a sensitive, intelligent and gently funny young man living through an impossibly absurd time of life. This book is a rare achievement -- a witty, sexy compulsively readable work of high literary quality.

Note: Alan is on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

More News

Teen Read Week 2011 from YALSA. Join us for Picture It @ your library, Oct. 16-22. Now is the perfect time to begin planning your Teen Read Week celebration. See also Picture It Book List from YALSA. Note: learn more about Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins).

Character Entry Trait: Prejudiced by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. See also the Emotion Thesaurus and Character Traits Thesaurus.

Advice for Agents (Including Me) from Rachelle Gardner. Peek: "...it’s important to remember that the writer not only paid a lot of money to be at that conference, they also used up their precious “agent meeting” slot on you. They’ve probably been thinking about this meeting for days or even weeks. They deserve your very best, even if it stretches you." Source: Jon Gibbs. Note: much of this also applies to critiques of beginners by established authors. See also Let Your Agent Be the Bad Guy.

Safety Tips for Authors/Bloggers by The Buried Editor from Buried in the Slush Pile. Peek: "...think twice before telling the world how much you hate XYZ editor or ABC publishing house. You may want to do business with them someday, and if they find your comment (and they will), they may not want to do business with you."

How to Get the Most Out of a Critique by Tabitha at Writer Musings. Peek: "If there is something in the feedback that doesn’t make sense, ask for clarification. The information might be a gem if phrased in a different way."

Frustration: Your Novel's Best Friend by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "...while we try to avoid this emotion, it's important we make sure our characters don't."

Remembering 9-11-01 by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Note: Alvina highlights a series of 9-11 animated short stories by Story Corps as well as related thoughts from authors David Levithan, Meg Cabot, and Maureen Johnson (click byline links to view/read). See also Remembering 9-11: a children's book bibliography by Dianne White from ReaderKidZ and yet another author post from Bethany Hegedus.

Little Island Comics from Eric Orchard. Note: a peek into Toronto's newest comic book store.

A Talk with Award-winning Illustrator David Diaz by Kimberly Gee from Where the Sidewalk Begins. Peek: "The last few years have been a sort of perfect storm of change in the book industry which we are still navigating through. I recognized that I had to become proactive, to do things differently. Whenever there is uncertainty, there is opportunity."

Where Do I Go from Here? Three Literary Agents, Three Opinions: a workshop featuring Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency, Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates, and Ann Tobias of A Literary Agency for Children's Books from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at SLC Conference Center in New York, New York.

Cynsational Reader Tip: beware of pirate download sites, purporting to offer the text of children's-YA books in their entirety. Many are scams--the text isn't there and/or the download comes with computer viruses. All of them are violating the authors' copyright. "Stolen" sales undercut both the authors' ability to financially support themselves so they can continue writing and their official sales numbers, which publishers take into consideration when deciding whether to purchase future manuscripts. On a budget? Go to the library instead. If the book you want is not on the shelves ask the librarian to order it or request an inter-library loan.

What Are You Trying to Say? a question for author-bloggers from Megan Frazer. Peek: "How casual or formal do I want to be? Is this a place for my take on pop culture or more lengthy discourse on societal, cultural, and literary trends? Am I writing as an educator or a writer?"

Congratulations to Jessica Lee Anderson on the release of Calli (Milkweed, 2011)! From the promotional copy: "Fifteen-year-old Calli has just about everything she could want in life—two loving moms, a good-looking boyfriend, and a best friend who has always been there for support. An only child, Calli is excited when her parents announce that they want to be foster parents. Unfortunately, being a foster sister to Cherish is not at all what Calli expected. Funny, moving, and emotionally rich, Calli is a portrait of an endearing young woman caught between adolescence and adulthood, striving to do the right thing even when all of her options seem wrong." Note: Jessica will be doing a brief reading (with refreshments) following the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople on Sept. 17.

Call for Papers on "Children's Literature and Imaginative Geography" from IBBY Canada. Peek: "In October 2012, the Department of English at the University of Ottawa will host a symposium on 'Children’s Literature and Imaginative Geography: Past, Present, and Future.'"

Editing Books for Girls When You're a Boy by Daniel Nayeri of Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Peek: "As a male editor in children’s books / YA books, I get a lot of questions around the fact that there aren’t a lot of male editors in the children’s books / YA books."

Looking Around For A New Agent While Still Represented By Another Agent by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "It reflects poorly on you (even if we sign you, we will always wonder…are they querying others behind our backs?), and the agent you contact might, if they end up offering representation, get a reputation as a 'poacher,' someone who steals clients from other agents."

On Eurocentricity in Fantasy Fiction by Cinda Williams Chima from Diversity in YA Fiction. Peek: "I want the people in my books to reflect the diversity in the world at large, including people of color, strong characters of both genders, gay and straight people. Yes, it’s fantasy, but believable fantasy is always based on real life. In fact, much of the conflict in my high fantasy series is driven by racial and cultural clashes."

Congratulations to Marianna Baer on the release of Frost House (Balzar + Bray/HarperCollins, 2011)! From the promotional copy: "Leena Thomas’s senior year at boarding school begins with a shock: Frost House, her cozy dorm of close friends, has been assigned an unexpected roommate: confrontational, eccentric Celeste Lazar. But while Leena’s anxiety about a threat to her sanctuary proves valid, it becomes less and less clear whether the threat lies with her new roommate, within Leena’s own mind, or within the very nature of Frost House itself. Mysterious happenings in the dorm, an intense triangle between Leena, Celeste, and Celeste’s brother, and the reawakening of childhood fears, all push Leena to take increasingly desperate measures to feel safe. Frost is the story of a haunting. As to whether the demons are supernatural or psychological . . . well, which answer would let you sleep at night?"

The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Amistad/Harper, 2010): a book trailer by Gina Saldana and readers' guide by Annabel Moreno from Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Chidren. Note: includes summary, review excerpts, awards and honors, questions to ask before reading, suggestions for reading poems aloud, follow-up activities, and related websites and books.

Stats on LGBT Young Adult Books Published in the United States from Malinda Lo. Peek: "...a number of LGBT YA books weren’t actually about an LGBT teen, but rather were about a straight teen and his LGBT parents or adult guardians." Note: nifty use of graphs and charts.

This Week's Cynsations Posts
Cynsational Giveaways

Last call! Enter to win Liar, Liar and Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen (Random House, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with "Paulsen" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 16. U.S. readers eligible.

Enter to win one of three Snuggle Mountain apps (IPhone and IPad users only). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Snuggle Mountain app" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 26. For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links): blog about this giveaway; share the link to this post on facebook; share the link to this post on Twitter; share the link to this post on Google+; like Lindsey's Facebook author page.

Cynsational Screening Room

In an interview with the creators of Babymouse, a graphic novel series from Random House Children's Books, Jennifer and Matthew Holm discuss Babymouse, the character, the series, and the inspiration behind it all. Source: Random House.



Congratulations to Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel on the release of After Obsession (Bloomsbury, 2011)! Note: Carrie also is a co-anthologist for Dear Bully (Harper, 2011).



Congratulations to fellow Austinite P.J. Hoover on the paperback release of Solstice (Andrea Brown, 2011). See the award-winning trailer below.



More Personally

Quiet week here, filled with writing. I did receive my author ARC copies for Diabolical (Candlewick, Jan. 2012), though, and I look forward to sharing the cover with you soon.

Generations United recommends Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) as a great book for Grandparents Week. Note: "National nonprofit works to connect children, youth and older adults through intergenerational programs and policies."

Cover Stories: Tantalize: Kieren's Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Melissa Walker. Peek: "He has a full head of hair and generous nose, both befitting a Wolf, but he’s still firmly human, too. This is important because it’s Kieren’s intelligence– rather than his instincts—that he relies on most." Note: see cover under "events" below.

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review from Moirae (the fates) Book Reviews. Peek: "All of the relationships felt believable, and I never felt like they were forced. The dialogue is strong, and Smith isn't afraid to show that her characters have flaws, which is really refreshing...."

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:


Cynsational Events

Attention, Houstonians! Please join Cynthia Leitich Smith for a discussion and signing of Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick, 2011) at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

Note: "This event is free and open to the public. In order to go through the signing line and meet Cynthia Leitich Smith for book personalization, you must purchase Tantalize: Kieren’s Story from Blue Willow Bookshop. A limited number of autographed copies of Cynthia’s books will be available for purchase after the event. If you cannot attend the event, but would like a personalized copy of her book, please call Blue Willow before the event at 281.497.8675."

Austin Teen Book Festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 1 at Palmer Events Center in Austin. The event is free! No need to register, just show up! Students do not need to be accompanied by an adult.

Illustrator Ming Doyle will be signing Tantalize: Kieren's Story at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard Street) in Brookline, Massachusetts. Guests are invited to participate in a vampire/werewolf costume contest.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be appearing at Austin Comic Con, scheduled for Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at the Austin Convention Center.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guest Post: Penny Colman on A Book Title with a Mind of Its Own

By Penny Colman

With three minor exceptions, the titles of my sixteen books are the ones I originally proposed.

In A Woman Unafraid: The Achievements of Frances Perkins (Atheneum, 1993), “Not Afraid” was changed to “Unafraid” (the designer said it fit better on the cover).

“The” was changed to “A” in Toilets, Bathtubs, Sinks and Sewers: A History of the Bathroom (Atheneum, 1994)(my editor thought “The” was presumptuous).

And “Cemeteries” was changed to “Crypts” in Corpses, Coffins, and Crypts: A History of Burial (Henry Holt, 1997). My editor wanted to evoke “Tales from the Crypt,” a hit television show at the time.

Given that track record, the title of my new book—Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World (Henry Holt, 2011)—had a mind of it’s own; at least that’s how it seemed to me.

My original title for this book about the legendary friendship between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and their fierce fight for women’s rights was "I Forged the Thunderbolts, She Fired Them: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, a Biography of a Powerful Friendship."

The main title is a quotation by Elizabeth Cady Stanton that describes the dichotomous way that their friendship was and still is typically characterized. But as I immersed myself in my research, I realized that that quote oversimplified the complexity of their friendship. I also began to wonder if perhaps Elizabeth and Susan, both brilliant strategists, perpetuated the notion that one excelled at this and the other at that as a way to legitimate their closeness.

Those realizations prompted me to rethink the title. So what were they about?

“Stirring up the world,” according to Susan, a sentiment that Elizabeth also echoed. That then became the new title: "Stirring Up the World: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, a Biography of a Powerful Friendship."

For several years, it remained the title, which I affectionately shortened to “Stirring,” whenever I talked to the graduate students in the classes I taught at Queens College, the City University of New York, about doing research and writing about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and their fifty-one-year friendship that fueled and sustained the nineteenth-century fight for women’s rights.

Then one day, as I was about to finish the manuscript, the thought occurred to me that they did more than stir up things—they changed history.

And with that insight, this title spontaneously popped up: Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed History. I emailed my editor, who liked it very much and agreed to use it.

But the title wasn’t done yet, for as I reviewed the first pass pages, I noticed two changes: the word “and” replaced the ampersand and “history" was replaced by “world.”

Replacing the ampersand was okay, but, whoa, I thought, how did “world” get inserted?

My editor didn’t know, but said it was up to me whether or not to keep it.

And I did because it is true. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony did change the world; besides who was I to argue with a title that clearly had a mind of its own.

Cynsational Notes

Like Penny's author page at facebook.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Voice: Shayne Leighton on Of Light and Darkness

Paperback cover.
Shayne Leighton is the first-time author of Of Light and Darkness (Book 1: The Vampire's Daughter) (Decadent, 2011). From the promotional copy:

When one human stands before an army of impossible obstacles, the likelihood of overcoming them in this coming-of-age modern fairytale may result in war between light and darkness. 

Abandoned as an infant in Prague, naive and strong-willed Charlotte Ruzikova was raised by one of the last vampires left alive. As a human, she knows no other home than the one nestled deep in the woods of Eastern Europe, where witches drew spells of enchantment, phasers threw tea parties, and elves are the closest in kin. 

Charlotte has lived her life in the dark with her guardian, content to having him to herself and reveling in his attention, until she's realizes she wants more... 

Resident medical doctor and vampire, Valek Ruzik fears the day his ward would come of age and blossom into a fine woman, and he is forced to confront his own motives as time is of the essence once his past catches up to him, and their lives become endangered...

As genocide and war threatens their secret society, the dictator in power is ready to wipe out Valek's race, but Charlotte will not allow that to happen. Fighting for the only one she's ever loved and truly believed in, she will do whatever it takes to save their love...before the sun comes up and light takes over.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

"Shayne" by Margo Hulse
I began writing Of Light and Darkness (Decadent, 2011) when I was sixteen years old and in high school. At sixteen, you think you know everything. I remember writing several pages when I probably should have been paying attention in class, sharing them with my friends, and since the feedback I was getting was so positive, thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Wrong!

Of course, I'm (mostly) joking. I knew I wasn't anywhere near the greatness of sliced bread yet. But when I set out on this story, I loved the quirkiness of the characters and the plot so much, I knew this was the first novel I would finish. I made a decision that someday this would be published. I just wasn't aware of how much work would be involved!

My pre-contract revision process was sort of like finding your way through a dark room with a dim flashlight. I could sort of tell that a lot of things needed to be fixed, and I tried my best to fix them. But being a young writer with no formal training or experience, the "how-do-I-fix" was the hardest part.

I consider Cynthia Leitich Smith my biggest mentor throughout writing this manuscript. In the really early stages, I sent her my opening pages, and she wrote back with tons of encouragement. She recommended that I get a beta reader, which was the best advice she could have given me at that point.

I had many of my friends and family members beta read.

Ebook cover
For any writer starting out, that is the best advice and I can lend as well. Get people to read your book. (The best are people you don't know because then they can give you an unbiased opinion.) It will change your outlook. It changed mine.

But the real shock didn't occur until my post-contract revisions began and Decadent Publishing assigned me my brilliant editor, Barbara Sheridan! (Terry Bruce was also a huge help and support and always on stand-by.) It wasn't until this point, that I saw my manuscript as it was--a great story that needed a lot of tweaking.

These wonderful ladies shed light on everything I was missing. There were so many head-hops (point of view shifts) from paragraph to paragraph, unneeded scenes, slow moments, and other technical issues. They became my teachers.

Yes, it was painful to nix some things, but in the end, the story shines brighter.

As a paranormal writer, how did you go about building your world?

I had a lot of help and inspiration from my husband who hails from the Czech Republic, where this story takes place.

Building the magic in this setting came easily, because Czech's rich history and culture go back a long way and are shrouded in mystery. Prague provides the perfect backdrop for vampires, wizards, and other creatures of the night.

Since I was a very little girl, I always loved fairy tales, and I was introduced to fantasies early.

I pulled my mythical objects, words, and events from every culture and story. I went the library and read about mythologies and legends, looked up the meanings of various symbols.

The research for building the Of Light and Darkness world took months, and I continued it throughout my writing process.

I write whenever I get the chance and something inspires me. I always carry around a small pad of paper and a pencil. I'll write in the middle of coffee shops, book stores or at home after everyone has gone to bed.

Of Light and Darkness is my absolute favorite story that I've come up with so far, and I have a lot planned for the series' future.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guest Post: Ellen Jensen Abbott on The Pain in the Backstory

By Ellen Jensen Abbott

First, a little quiz from the Queen of Sequels, Carolyn Keene and her minions:

Match the character name to the description:
  • Bess Marvin
  • Nancy Drew
  • Carson Drew
  • Hannah Gruen

____ a. pleasantly plump with a motherly expression

_____ b. a slightly plump pretty girl

_____ c. blue eyes, “titian blonde” hair

_____ d. tall and distinguished

And, all together now: What car did Nancy drive?

A blue convertible!

I remember giggling with my girlfriends over the repeated phrases in Nancy Drew novels as Keene reintroduced characters we had met in five, ten, maybe 20 previous books. We could each recite the epithets that we were sure to find in the first two or three chapters before the mystery really got going.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this technique—and secretly longing to use it—as I wrote my own sequel to my debut novel, Watersmeet (Marshall Cavendish, 2009). Sequels are everywhere these days, and readers seem hungry for them. One of the most common questions my writing friends and I get asked is, “Will there be a sequel?”

But the “slightly plump, pretty girl” (poor Bess, seen reaching for a “third sandwich” on the first page of The Clue in the Diary) was not going to work for my sequel.

Nancy Drew is a static character living in a sort of Ground Hog’s Day of middle grade literature. She’s always just gotten the blue convertible for her birthday, it’s always summer, and she’s always about seventeen. This can be comforting for a reader. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you pick up a Nancy Drew mystery.

But in The Centaur’s Daughter (Marshall Cavendish, 2011), the sequel to Watersmeet, the seasons have changed; Rueshlan, the shape-shifting leader of Watersmeet, is dead; and my main character, Abisina, has become a full-fledged young adult.

She has to ask herself who she wants to be now: Can she be the leader her father was? Can she keep her new home, Watersmeet, from being destroyed? And how does she feel about that guy, Findlay, who had always been just a friend?

The art of writing a sequel came down to one essential question for me: How do I handle backstory? Readers who read Watersmeet want to be reminded of important events in the first novel but don’t want to re-read it. New readers need to know enough to follow the events of this novel without feeling like they came late to the party and are missing all the inside jokes.

I tried several techniques and read a lot of sequels to figure out how to strike the right balance.

How jealous I was when I read the following line in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Of Avonlea (L.C. Page, 1909): “Both girls laughed over the old memory…concerning which, if any of my readers are ignorant and curious I must refer them to Anne’s earlier history.” (The ellipsis is Montgomery’s!)

But I didn’t think I should do that. My novels are fantasy novels, and to allude to the fact that they are crafted novels sold in bookstores or online pulls the reader out of the moment of the novel and reminds them that it’s 2011 and they have homework to do or a text to send.

The same was true for character descriptions. I would have loved to go back to Watersmeet and recycle my descriptions of Icksyon, the maniacal centaur who tries to kidnap Abisina. After all, I had worked hard to get just the right words and images when I described him initially. How could there be another set of “right” words and images? At the same time, it didn’t seem fair to my returning readers to recycle from the first book.

The most important lesson I learned was when I teamed up with a writer friend who was also writing a sequel. Neither of us had read each other’s first books so were perfect “new” readers: We agreed to read drafts of the sequels, telling each other where we needed more information and where we were overwhelmed with backstory.

Because she was on a different schedule for her book than I was, we only managed to trade pages once, but I learned two important lessons. In reading her early draft, I hit blocks of backstory that I found frustrating as a new reader. I wanted to say, “Get on with it already! I know you wrote another book, but I’m reading this one!” I held onto that feeling as I waded into my own sequel.

At the same time, when I pointed out the backstory to this writer, she talked about how it helped her see how parts of the story fit together, even as she knew it need to be cut. Another lesson to hang on to.

In my early drafts of The Centaur’s Daughter, I just let myself go. My approach has always been to put it all out there, then cut, cut, cut, so I decided to do that with my backstory as well. To some extent, all novelists do this. We know so much more about our characters and settings than ever shows up in the final draft.

(Thank goodness! I could bore you to extinction with details of the world of Seldara. Do you really need to know the step-by-step process of drying and grinding cattail reeds into bread flour?)

My first draft of The Centaur’s Daughter clocked in at 423 pages, the last draft at 295. And some vast proportion of the 128 pages I cut was backstory.

To some extent, this was unavoidable. I didn’t know exactly where my story was going when I started, even though I thought I did. But on later reads, it became very clear what story I was telling and where to weed out extraneous backstory.

Of course, it helped that I had a great editor.

And yes, I did find sentences or phrases as late as my final read that I had to cut.

There is ego involved, too. Let’s say I include some backstory from a bit I think was particularly cool or inventive or interesting in my first book. I am less likely to see that it’s unnecessary, because I like it. I read it again, and I think, “Oh yeah. There’s that great bit!”

Again, that’s where your editor—and hopefully your own sense of proportion—comes in.

So as I look back—and if I were to give advice to someone contemplating writing a sequel—I would say this:
  1. You will struggle mightily. It’s writing, isn’t?
  2. Don’t worry about it too much. You will put in too much backstory because you don’t always know what’s relevant. If you want to write: “Hey! Reader! Go back and read my book! I’ll give you the bookstore link!” that’s a good sign that you’re doing too much.
  3. It will get clearer what you should cut. If you are sighing with boredom and using “had been” a lot, it’s time to hit delete.
  4. Get it down as far as you can—and then tell your editor not to hold back.

This backstory struggle was worth it because there are many rewards that come with sequel writing. Writers often talk about their characters as if they were their children. A sequel allows you to watch these characters grow and develop—at times in very surprising ways.

In The Centaur’s Daughter, I got to be there for my main character’s first kiss! (Do you think my kids would ever let me do that?) I got to see her grow up and develop the leadership qualities and courage that was just budding in her at the end of Watersmeet.

Stopping after one book can feel like sending your child to boarding school when she is eight or nine. With a sequel, you can at least get her through adolescence.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Author & Illustrator Interview: Kallie George & Abigail Halpin on The Melancholic Mermaid


Kallie George is an author, editor and speaker living in Vancouver, B.C., near the sea. She is the co-creator of the award-winning Simply Small board book series, and author of the art book, Mr. M: The Exploring Dreamer (Red Leaf) and author of the picture book, The Melancholic Mermaid (Simply Read).

When she’s not writing or editing picture books, she’s teaching creative writing workshops to children around the world and picture book writing workshops to adults.

She has her Masters of Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia. She loves picture books, fairy tales, beautiful art and music, and baking cookies. 

Abigail Halpin is an illustrator living in beautiful (albeit snowy) New Hampshire. Her illustrations are a blend of traditional and digital media, mixing watercolor, ink, pencil, scanned textures, typography and more.

Most recently, her illustrations appeared in The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami (Atheneum, 2011). She is inspired by all things vintage, good music and strong coffee.

Kallie, what was your initial inspiration for the book?

Kallie George
My dad used to tell me fairy tales about me when I was little. As I grew up and began creating my own stories, he helped me bring them to life—editing them with me, helping me with ideas, and even, when I was in elementary school and high school, he helped self-publish them for me so I could give them out as Christmas presents. So it is no surprise that he is the inspiration behind this story.

It happened like this: I was really upset about something--I can’t remember exactly what now--and he took me to White Spot (a non-glamorous restaurant) for a coffee and ice cream pick-me-up. But it didn’t work. I began to cry about whatever I was upset about.

In an attempt to distract me, he asked me this question: “If I were a mermaid, would I be crying?” (He knew how much I loved--and still love--mythical creatures.)

I replied that I didn’t think so, because mermaids live in water so their tears would just become part of the ocean... But then I thought maybe mermaids’ tears would be bubbles.

I was excited by the visual image of a mermaid crying bubbles and I began doodling and writing down the idea on the restaurant napkin and I was completely distracted. My dad’s plan had worked! Little did he know it would become this book!

To both, could you describe the book in your own words?

Early concept sketch.
K: That's a tough question! Basically, it's a fairy tale for older kids (either to read themselves or to be read to over a couple nights), about two misfits accepting themselves, finding each other and discovering friendship. To me, it's also a book about getting stuck in sadness and finding the strength to pull oneself out of it.

Maude is sad/melancholic because she is teased because she is different. Ultimately, nothing can rescue her--not even her new friend Tony, until she takes charge of her own life and rescues herself.

A: The Melancholic Mermaid is a fantastical story of mermaids and misfits, with lots of undersea adventures and circus tales. But at its core, The Melancholic Mermaid is a story of friendship and belonging, which I think anyone can relate to. I know I can!

Kallie, could you describe your writing process? How did the text evolve over time?

K: I am a strong believer in editing—especially since I am an editor myself! I had so much help honing the story. First, from my dad, then from my classmates in the UBC children’s book creative writing class. And I had one of my best friends, and my writing soulmate, Vikki Vansickle look over it. We email work back and forth every month, and it keeps us focused and motivated. Finally, I had the marvelous help of Tiffany Stone, who is one of the best picture book editors around. So... I had a ton of help making it the story it is now.

I would say, however, that the fundamental parts of the story and even its structure didn’t change much throughout the editing process.

One thing that was a bit of a struggle was to make Maude a little less of a passive character. This was hard because she is depressed, after all, until the end of the story. Something quite major that changed was that at, one point, Tony’s mitten was caught under the rock and Maude rescued it when Tony is cleaning the tank (instead of Tony’s webbed hand being caught under the rock). I made that change on the advice of Tiffany to give the scene more impact.

Abigail, how did you come to connect with the manuscript? What drew you to Kallie's text?

Abigail Halpin
I was contacted by Dimiter Savoff, the publisher at Simply Read Books. He asked if I was interested in illustrating a story about a mermaid.

One read through the manuscript, and I knew the answer was yes. I've lived most of my life near the ocean, so was immediately drawn to the story Kallie had written. And Maud and Tony's struggles to fit into the world really spoke to me, because I think at one time or another, we all feel like the odd man out, the one that just can't fit in.

Abigail, could you please describe your illustration process?

My illustration process for The Melancholic Mermaid involved reading the story through a few times, after which I let it percolate in my head for awhile. There was so much terrific imagery to work with in the story, that it was tough to narrow down what I wanted to illustrate.

I spent a lot of time researching the circus, ocean life and mermaids in folklore, so that I'd have a visual vocabulary to reference. From here, I worked on sketches, refining, then final art.

For the final art, I did pen and ink drawings with watercolor. These illustrations were then brought into Photoshop, where I built up more colors and shading digitally.

Kallie, how did Abigail's art expand your vision?

K: Abigail’s art is absolutely perfect, I think. I was so worried about how someone could illustrate a two-tailed mermaid and still make the mermaid look pretty, and Abigail achieved that. Before I saw Abigail’s art I used to have nightmares about how the two-tailed mermaid might look. I really like pretty illustrations.

Also, I never concretely placed the book in the 1930s era, but I love that era and Abigail’s art and especially the clothing of the characters created such a sense of time and place.

Jupiter
Also a very funny thing happened because of Abigail’s art—it helped me overcome my fear of owning a fish.

The fear began because when I was young I had a pet fighter fish that died tragically.

I came home one day from school, and I thought the fish was dead because it wasn’t moving at all. I even poked it a few times with my pencil trying to get it to move, but it wouldn’t.

I had heard somewhere that when a fish dies you flush it down the toilet, so I took my fish bowl to the bathroom, dumped it in the toilet and flushed.

Just when the water began to spin down... my fish began to swim up! I was so startled I couldn’t do anything except watch, horrified, as my fish was sucked away. I couldn’t get over how I had flushed away my live fish!

I hadn’t bought a fish since, until I saw the cute pictures of the little red fish that seem to hang around Maude in Abigail’s illustrations. My boyfriend liked the fish, too, and he decided to make it the star in the animation he made for me for the book trailer... and then he and I decided to actually buy a little red fish. We named him Jupiter (Jupi for short).

To both, do you have any mermaid-related memories?

K: Like many girls, when I was young I would spend much time in the pools and ocean pretending to be a mermaid.

But probably my most vivid memory of mermaids is seeing Disney’s "The Little Mermaid." It was the first movie I remember seeing in the theatres. I think that the first movie you see in the theater is a big thing. I was with my mom. I remember we both cried at the end. I also vividly remember seeing soon after that an animation/movie of the real The Little Mermaid story when I was with my aunt and uncle—I was very scared at the end when the mermaid turned to foam.

A: Growing up near the ocean, an awareness of mermaids was inevitable. I remember making sand mermaids at the beach, decorating them with seaweed hair and shell-studded tails. And I was absolutely mesmerized by Disney's “The Little Mermaid” when that came out.

To both, what is it about mermaids that fascinates us so much?

K: I think there are many reasons people are drawn to mermaids: their beauty, their danger (as some folktales say, mermaids songs lure fishermen to death), their ability to live underwater. One reason, too, is that they are misfits. They are neither human, nor fish. I am personally attracted to characters that are misfits as I have often felt like a misfit myself (bookish, too bubbly). I think that most people are attracted to misfit characters, because most people, at one point or another, feel like they don’t fit in. Of course, I made Maude even more of a misfit—she is a misfit among mermaids.

A: The ocean is this beautiful, magical expanse, but at a moment's notice can become terrible and deadly. The idea that this delicate, mythical creature could inhabit such a volatile environment really captures the imagination. And then there's the whole being-able-to-swim-under-water thing that appeals to anyone who's ever tried to hold their breath for longer than 30 seconds!

To both, what do you do when you're not writing/illustrating?

Abigail's drawing space.
K: Too many things! Mostly I edit and teach kids creative writing, and I love to read (no surprise there).

In the summer I teach a lot of creative writing camps for kids. I also love, love, love yoga and spending time outdoors, baking and hanging out with my boyfriend. We spend a lot of time being kids: making up goofy songs, dancing around the house, watching kids' movies, building pirate ships and papermache sea creatures (in particular a seahorse named Poky).

A: Outside of illustrating, I am a die-hard knitter and love to sew (especially vintage patterns). I'm also a big reader, with a weakness for graphic novels and old whodunits.

To both, what can your fans look forward to next?

K: I have a few projects in the works—one is an early reader series, the other is story in a similar fairy-tale vein as The Melancholic Mermaid but it is about winged horses. I see a lot of magical creatures in my future at this moment!

A: I've just finished final art for Andrea Cheng's The Year of the Book, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). It's a lovely story and I'm very excited about its release next year.

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss the animated book trailer for The Melancholic Mermaid.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

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