Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Celebrating Poetry: Marilyn Singer (Part One)

Oggi & Marilyn Singer
By Kate Hosford
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Photo of Marilyn & Oggi by Laurie Gaboard of the Litchfield County Times 

Marilyn, congratulations are in order. You have five poetry books, as well as a prose picture book, coming out this year:

We’ll focus on poetry and talk about two of the poetry books today: The Boy Who Cried Alien and A Stick Is an Excellent Thing, and cover the other three in the second part of this interview.

What was the inspiration behind The Boy Who Cried Alien?

I grew up in the 50’s—an era of rather silly (though maybe not at the time) science fiction movies. I also grew up reading fairy tales and fables, including lots of Aesop. Stuff like that tends to stick in my subconscious mind and surface when I least expect it—and that’s pretty much what happened with The Boy Who Cried Alien.

In this rhyming picture book, you use a ‘silent movie’ structure. Could you describe this in more detail and explain why you chose to use it?

I’m a movie fan. One thing I like about silent movies is the placards that introduce scenes and provide transitions, and I used that device in this book.

I also like how many silent movies keep the plots tight and spare, so that influenced the storyline in this book—which, by the way, I wrote about eight years ago, way before "The Artist" won the Oscar.

The illustrations are cinematic, too, thanks to the wonderful Brian Biggs—different “camera” perspectives and “split screens.”

I do hope to see the book performed not so silently, though, in a reading with different people playing the different characters.

You have also invented an alien language that you use for portions of this book, without ever giving up your rhyme scheme. Could you talk about the process of inventing a language that works in rhyme and that children can decode?

Hoo, boy, that was tricky—but, as I said, I like a challenge. Actually, what I did first was come up with how the alien language would work. I chose a simple code—reversing the first and last letters of words (except plurals and past tenses)—knowing that making these words rhyme would be tricky enough. For example, “worthy” is “yorthw,” but “liars” is “rials.” “Pulled” is “lulped,” but “pleased” is “dleasep.” And some words aren’t translatable, such as “zon,” the word for a cow-like creature that lives on the aliens’ home planet.

Once I knew what the code for the language would be, I set about writing poems that would rhyme in that language. I think that when we’re kids, we like to decode things (maybe more than we do when we’re adults—when we seem to be more impatient, have less steam). But so that frustration doesn’t set in, it’s important to include the key for decoding.

You translate the alien language at the end of the book both literally and poetically. Why did you choose to provide both kinds of translations?

Yes, I wrote not just verbatim translations, but literary translations, the kind that translators would do for books in foreign languages, and those translations also had to rhyme.

I kept going back and forth between the alien speak and the translations to make things work. That was the hardest part, and I did it because a) I’ve never had to translate anything before and I was curious about how that might work; b) Because I respect the work of translators and how difficult it is; c) Because I’m nuts.

In your poetry collection, A Stick Is an Excellent Thing, you focus on the simple outdoor games that children have played for generations. Why is this topic important to you?

From the ages of 5-19, I lived in North Massapequa, Long Island. We had a small backyard and ample streets with little traffic. All the kids played outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall (and even a bit in the winter).

That was one of the few things I remember loving about growing up in suburbia.

My favorite game was our version of “Statues.” I’m not an especially nostalgic person, but I do remember those times with fondness.

I think that children who play outdoors not only tend to be healthier, but more imaginative and definitely more social, able to develop skills that are necessary for a happier adulthood.

I hope that kids reading this book will be encouraged to go out and play—and I hope that adults will join them.

You celebrate a variety of country games and city games in this book. What was your relationship to the outdoors both as a child and an adult? How does this inform your work as a poet?

Besides playing outdoors as a kid, I always liked to watch animals, but I didn’t really get to do that in a major way until I was in my twenties and my husband and I were able to travel and go bird-watching and hiking in natural areas.

Nowadays, we not only live in Brooklyn, N.Y.—right across from a public school, where kids are constantly playing games—but also in Washington, C.T., a rural area with lots of wildlife. It’s the best of both worlds for us. I spend a lot of time studying the natural world and writing about it.

Many of my poetry collections and all of my nonfiction books are about animals and/or plants. However, I also like to watch and write about people, and the city’s great for that.

You have written over ninety children’s books in many different genres, but I’ve read in several interviews that poetry is your favorite. What is your particular attraction to poetry?

I’ve loved poetry since I was a little kid. My parents both sang popular songs with great lyrics to me, and my mom read me poetry.

Though I don’t play an instrument, I am musical. I love to sing and dance. Poetry fits in with my musicality. I’m also fond of words and wordplay—always have been—and poetry lets me fool around with words. I really like the way poems can say a lot in a few lines. I don’t like to bore people (or to be bored, for that matter), so the spare quality appeals to me.

Then there’s the way that certain poems are photographic—can capture an image, a moment in time. I like the contradiction of both holding on to a moment and knowing that it’s gone.

What role did poetry play in your own childhood?

I began to write poems at a very early age. I showed them to my teachers and even read some at show-and-tell (probably to the annoyance of my classmates). I got a lot of good feedback and continued to write throughout high school and college.

During my junior year, I went to Reading University, England, and got some tough love there on my poetry from teachers and fellow students, which helped me enormously. These days, I get that tough love from my editors, fellow poets, and, especially from my husband, a great critic.

What rituals or routines do you build into your day to ensure that you stay inspired and focused?

I usually read, take walks, play with my dog, and research topics that interest me. I go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I can. I spend a lot of time thinking.

I play Scrabble and other word games (against robots!), and I watch TV—"The Daily Show", "The Colbert Report", "Real Time with Bill Maher", series featuring handsome detectives ("Castle," "The Mentalist," "White Collar"), singing competitions, and every dance show on the tube.

My husband and I take swing/ballroom/Latin dance classes twice a week, as well as dance workshops. That helps me get out of my head and into my body, which is very good for creativity.

On a regular, though not daily, basis, I go to the theatre, watch films, garden a little. Maybe I should sleep more?

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss part two of Celebrating Poetry: Marilyn Singer.

More on Kate Hosford
Kate Hosford grew up in Waitsfield, Vermont, and graduated from Amherst College in 1988. She was happy to return to her home state to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2011.

Before becoming a writer, Kate worked as a foster care worker, a teacher, and an illustrator.

Kate is publishing three picture books with Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group: Big Bouffant (spring, 2011), its sequel, Big Birthday (spring 2012), and Infinity and Me (fall, 2012). She loves writing picture books, children's poetry and middle grade novels.

She has lived in India, Germany and Hong Kong, but presently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two sons.

SCBWI Bologna 2012 SCBWI Chief Operating Officer Interview: Sara Rutenberg

Sara at the grave of Louisa May Alcott, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
By Caryn Caldwell for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Sara Rutenberg is the Chief Operating Officer of SCBWI as well as being responsible for the National Conferences and legal matters.

Prior to SCBWI, Sara spent 25 years as a business affairs executive in the entertainment industry working for such companies as Universal Television, Fremantle and National Lampoon.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Sara was a preschool and elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles area. She is an avid and obsessive speed reader as are her adult children, Ari, 29, and Meg, 23. Her husband Peter is a Grammy winning classical conductor, composer and producer.

You were an entertainment attorney for 30 years before joining the SCBWI team. How did you become involved in the world of children's books?

I was a teacher before I became a lawyer and always loved children’s books. In fact, my dream was to own a children’s bookstore! Lin Oliver and I met at Universal Television and kept in touch, and I did some legal work for SCBWI. I worked at the conferences in the bookstore.

Several years ago, when I felt I needed a change, the conference coordinator position became open and Lin, Steve Mooser, and I decided it would be good to bring me inhouse for the legal work and to do the conferences.

What do you most enjoy about working with the SCBWI?

The people and the books! I get to talk to the most amazing authors and illustrators -- a dream come true. And the employees and regional advisors are so extraordinary. I feel lucky every day.

SCBWI Group Front L-R: Brandon Clarke, Kim Turrisi, Liz Brown, Lin Oliver, Stephen Mooser; Back L-R: Gee Cee Addison, Chelsea Mooser, Sara Rutenberg, Sarah Baker, Jeff Miller

You are surrounded by writers and illustrators; do you write and/or illustrate books yourself?

Unfortunately, I have no ability in either of those areas!

How has the SCBWI changed over the years? How do you see it changing in the future?

It has and will continue to grow, both in the types of things we do and the membership. I see us getting even more involved with various literary organizations -- doing more outreach into the community.

Top: Sara Rutenberg, Bottom: Liz Brown, Chelsea Mooser, Sarah Baker

What is your view on the rise of new media?

Having been through this in the entertainment industry, it was inevitable. We have to embrace change and use it to improve literacy.

How do you see the growth of e-books and self-publishing affecting publishing?

My concerns are actually more about the creators themselves. I have two concerns -- protecting creative rights and making sure that authors don’t get taken advantage of by the vanity presses.

The other issue in self-publishing is the lack of editorial review, which often leads to lower quality books. Publishers are certainly jumping into the fray in both areas.

As the author of the SCBWI Bulletin's "Legally Speaking" column, you provide legal advice to writers and illustrators. How do you choose which topics to cover for each issue?

They often come from our members. I also try to ensure I am keeping them up-to-date on any litigation or hot topics that could affect them.

As the SCBWI's conference coordinator, what advice do you have for other conference planners?

Negotiate the hell out of the contract with the venue! Make sure you are very clear in what the conference is and is not.

In what ways do you feel conferences are advantageous for writers and illustrators? Do you have any tips for conference attendees?

I think it’s all about community and not feeling as if you are alone! Of course, the keynote speakers are inspirational, and the workshops and intensives provide very practical and useful knowledge.

We have so many success stories about people who came to our conferences as novices and now are award-winning writers and illustrators, such as Ruta Septys and John Rocco, among many.

As for attendees, again, know you are not alone -- everyone was once a beginner!

As a parent of grown children, you must have read many books together over the years. Do you have any particular favorites?

We read together all the time, and there are many. My son and husband were reading A Wrinkle In Time when I was pregnant with my daughter, and we basically named her after Meg in the book.

Of course we read a great deal of Dr. Seuss and all of the classics -- Goodnight Moon, Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte’s Web, The Giver. They both loved the George and Martha series, all of the Beverly Cleary books, and of course, Judy Blume.

My own favorites growing up also included everything by Edward Eager and Noel Streatfeld, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, All of A Kind Family, Eleanor Estes Books and many more!

Sara and her husband, Peter Rutenberg
Cynsational Notes

Caryn Caldwell has been crafting stories since childhood (when she regularly rescued her Barbies from all types of imagined peril), through her teen years (when she wrote depressing poetry for fun), and into adulthood (when she discovered that writing books was a lot more enjoyable than housework).

She has been an English teacher, librarian, and white water rafting guide, and is currently a stay-at-home mom to a toddler who is kind enough to nap every afternoon so she can write. She lives in the southwestern U.S.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cradle Me by Debby Slier (Star Bright): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...Slier included a two-page spread that specifies each baby's tribal nation." See also Debbie's recommendation of Kunu's Basket: A Story from Indian Island by Lee DeCora Francis, illustrated by Susan Drucker (Tilbury House), which is also recommended by Cynsations--more coverage to come.

Marketing & Publicity: Street Teams by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Publishers can enhance a book’s profile through advertising and promotion; but midlist, debut, or little-known authors can use positive street cred to help with promotion. This is where your street team comes in."

Persistence by author/agent Mandy Hubbard. Peek: "I’d been standing at that door for so long, and now it seemed like I could hear someone on the other side, and all I needed to do was convince them to open the door. And this time, I refused to fail. So I tried a whole new approach." Source: Megan Crewe.

Roles in Publishing: Hatchette's Naomi Cartwright, Senior Rights Executive from Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: "...we’ll feedback to the Editor that a rhyming alphabet picture book, (the ones that go; A is for apple, B is for banana…) isn’t likely to sell anywhere other than America. Why? Well even if an international publisher had exactly the same alphabet as us, there’s no guarantee their word for apple would also begin with the letter A. Verse is also notoriously difficult to translate."

U.K. Agent Interview: Molly Ker Hawn at the Bent Agency from Tall Tales & Short Stories. Peek: "Obviously, no two fantastic writers’ voices are alike, but they all have something vital in common: they’re believable. If I read a few lines aloud, they sound natural and authentic, and they make me care about the protagonist immediately."

NBFAGS -Promise of the Night (Chronicle)
Notable Books for a Global Society 2012 from the Children's Literature and Reading Group of the International Reading Association. Peek: "...was developed to help students, teachers, and families identify books that promote understanding of and appreciation for the world's full range of diverse cultures and ethnic and racial groups."

The Canadian Library Association has announced the 2012 shortlists for their three major awards, the Young Adult Book Award, the Book of the Year for Children Award and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award. The winners of these awards, and the Honour Books, will be announced prior to the National Canadian Library Association Conference and Trade Show. The awards will be presented at the conference in Ottawa, Ontario on May 31 at at the annual awards reception. Source: Cynsations Canada reporter Lena Coakley.

Blogs to Explore in Transforming a Book to a Passport by Carol H. Rasco from Reading Is Fundamental. Peek: "...a list of blogs I hope you will find useful in your efforts to become more familiar with a wide array of multicultural books and customs."

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Lindsey Scheibe on the sale of her debut novel, Riptide, in a two-book deal to Brian Farrey at Flux! Cheers also to Lindsey's agent, Mandy Hubbard!

Oklahoma SCBWI 2012 Regional Conference at Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City on March 31. Featured speakers include editor Noa Wheeler from Henry Holt, senior editor Maggie Lehrman of Amulet/Abrams Books, executive editor Krista Marino of Delacorte/Random House, agent Marietta Zacker of Nancy Gallt Literary Agency and art director Jim Hoover of Viking.

Roll Call: Character Building and Pre-Writing, compiled by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith from the International Reading Association. Features Hanging Out with the People in Your Head by Jennifer Ziegler and "What Happened Next?" Know Your Character by Knowing Your Character's Timeline by Chris Barton. Peek from Jennifer: "In a well-written story, characters do things not because their writer needs them to, but because of who they are. Therefore, an author needs to know everything he or she can about a character before beginning the draft."

Congratulations to Mari Mancusi on the e-release of  Tomorrow Land! Peek: "...a post-apocalyptic, dystopian YA romance previously published as Razor Girl in Dorchester’s crossover Shomi line. Best described as a post-apocalyptic pilgrimage to Disney World in a zombie infested wasteland, the story follows two teens who had fallen in love before the apocalypse and then separated, Casablanca style, only to be reunited four years later and forced to find a way to trust one another again. All the while trying to deal with those pesky, flesh eating zombies!" See also the cover reveal of Blood Forever, the eighth and final book in the Blood Coven Vampire Series.

The Hans Christian Anderson Award Jury of IBBY Announces the 2012 Short List from Raab Associates. Peek: "Five authors and five illustrators have been selected from 57 candidates submitted by 32 national sections of IBBY for the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award. The award, considered the most prestigious in international children’s literature, is given biennially by the International Board on Books for Young People to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made lasting contributions to children's literature. The winners will be announced on Monday, March 19th at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair."

Author Chat: Amy Novesky on Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased by Jama Rattigan from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "There’s no place like Kauai. It’s green and gorgeous. The air is soft and warm and fragrant with the scent of flowers and saltwater. The ocean is full and lovely; one of the places I feel most deeply connected to everything. The people are warm and wise and generous."

Second Sight: An Interview with Executive Editor Cheryl Klein from The Whole Megillah. Peek: "...your protagonist should have an emotional backstory that enhances or complicates the plot of this book now."

Crafting Memorable Scenes in Fiction by Martina from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "For me, the process of crafting a scene is visual. The truly great scenes, the ones I remember, play in my mind like a film. I can see the action, but unlike film, a novel also lets me smell the coffee, and taste the fear or sorrow. I can get closer to the character than I would in a film, so the emotion is right there close to my heart."

Book Buzz! Tomo Anthology, Edited by Holly Thompson & Giveaway from Debbi Michiko Florence from DEBTastic Reads. Peek: " incredible collection of young adult stories that are either located in Japan or related to Japanese culture and/or history. From the website: Proceeds from the sales of this book will go directly toward long-term relief efforts for teens in Tohoku, the area most affected by the disasters, in the northeast region of Japan’s main island, Honshu." Giveaway eligibility: North America. Deadline: midnight PST March 16.

Your Story's Timeline: Cut It Up by Darcy Pattison from Fiction First Aid. Peek: "...literary folks have traditional ways of dealing with timeline distortions."

Anatomy of a First Draft by Dianne Salerni from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Every new novel begins with an inspiration comparable to The Big Bang – an explosion of light and matter and creative force capable of producing an entire universe, not to mention critical acclaim, several awards, and New York Times best seller status."

Christian Trimmer: Editor at Disney Hyperion by Mindy Alyse Weiss from Journey of a Children's Book Writer. Peek: "Research helps make the world more believable. Pay attention to the details!  This helps make sure that readers can see the scenes, too, and adds a layer of credibility." See also Mindy's notes on Picture Book Workshop with Abrams Editor Tamar Brazis and Voice Workshop with Agent Jill Corcoran.

10 Things Authors Should Know About Twitter from Angela James. Peek: "Essentially, by locking your account, you’re creating a very small circle of people you can have a conversation with. If you’re an author, this makes Twitter a lot less effective as a promotional tool. How are you going to get new people to follow you if they can’t see you conversing with others?" Source:

Cynsational Blogger Tip: Quoting from another blog or website? Keep it under 50 words or ask permission.

Talia Vance on When Revision Means Rewriting from Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing. Peek: "This revision was not simply a matter of tweaking a scene of changing a character’s motivation. It involved reimagining the story in a way that fulfilled the promise of the hook. As I outlined and planned, I was amazed by how far off track I had let the original story get." Note: includes some great advice from agent Sarah Davies.

Successful Writing: A Weekly Quota of Words by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I love the idea of setting a quota. However, the quota of “words written” only works for me for rough drafts, when you’re pulling words out of thin air and creating new pages of your novel. So little time, though, is spent writing that first draft."

The 2012 Golden Kite Award Interviews: Kate Messner (Picture Book Text for Over and Under the Snow) by Lee Wind from the Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "If you want to write picture books, write them. Whether you are feeling inspired or not. Some of them will be awful, and this is okay. Don't send them out. Let them live their lives out quietly on your hard drive, and learn from them. Some of them will be good. Revise these."

It's Been Done Before, Or, The Snapped Twig by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: " know one thing that is on those lists of no-nos? Starting a book with a character waking up. And yet that's how The Hunger Games starts, and I think we all know how well that has turned out for Suzanne Collins."

Creating an Authentic Cultural Voice: A Highlights Foundation Program, with award-winning authors Mitali Perkins and Donna Jo Napoli, editors Alvina Ling and Stacy Whitman and special guest Kathryn Eskine, which will take place April 26 to April 29. Peek: "Through impeccable research, imagination, empathy, and experience, a true cultural voice can be achieved." 

March Into Mysteries by Jeanette Larson from ReaderKidZ. Peek: "Mysteries for the youngest readers usually involve simple situations in familiar settings but those for older readers become more complex and may even involve more serious crimes. Check out these titles for intrigue and excitement..."

On Publishing and Being a Writer in the Right Now by Janni Lee Simner from Desert Dispatches. Peek: "No writing era has ever been good for everyone. We all have our careers with their lumps and bumps and good times and awful times that make us want to give up, and all of those can happen at any time. I find this unpredictability as terrifying now as I did 20 years ago, but it isn't new."

Patriotic Poetry: recommendations by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Comment today (March 16) for a chance to win Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year by Janet Wong and a signed copy of her autobiography, Janet S. Wong: Before It Wriggles Away (Richard C. Owen)(a Meet the Author biography).

How Life Has Changed Post Book Deal from Victoria Scott.  Peek: "Writers want goodies to look forward to. So here’s what I’m going to tell you…  Life changes. Here’s how..."

This Week's Cynsations Posts

2012 SCBWI Bologna Series

The ongoing SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Authors for Henryville

Bid for a chance to win a signed copy of Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith from Authors for Henryville. Peek: "We're authors helping to rebuild the school libraries after the March 2 tornadoes that devastated Henryville, Indiana."

Cynsational Screening Room

The Solstice MFA Program offers this peek into its community. Read a Cynsations interview with Director Meg Kearney of the Solstice Creative Writing Programs of Pine Manor College in Massachusetts.

Cynsational Giveaways

5 Chances to Win!
Awesome Prize Package!
Reminder! Enter to win ongoing Cynsations giveaways: five ARCs of Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood for YA fans (eligibility: U.S.; deadline: March 26) and the Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart Prize Package for middle grade book lovers (eligibility: North America; deadline: March 26)!

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Meltdown! The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy Future by Fred Bortz (Twenty-First Century/Lerner, 2012).

To enter, comment on this post 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 "Meltdown!" in the subject line. Deadline: March 26. Publisher sponsored. U.S. entries only.

 More Personally 

What fun I had in Albuquerque and Tucson! Thanks to all for your enthusiasm and hospitality--look for a full report soon! (Sorry, I'm running late. I have to figure out how to pull the images off my new phone.) You can order signed copies of the Tantalize series and Holler Loudly from Alamosa Books.

This week's highlight was last night's Writers' League of Texas monthly meeting on nonfiction, celebrating children's author Cynthia Y. Levinson and moderated by YA author and new publicity and programming director Jennifer Ziegler. Children's-YA author Bethany Hegedus, formerly of the League staff, also was in attendance.

I'm also honored to announce that I'm among the contributors to Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves, edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kinneally (Zest, fall 2012)(shap-shot interview from Jen Bigheart's I Read Banned Books). Peek:

Dear Teen Me includes advice from over 70 YA authors to their teenage selves. The letters cover a wide range of topics, including physical abuse, body issues, bullying, friendship, love, and enough insecurities to fill an auditorium. So pick a page, and find out which of your favorite authors had a really bad first kiss? Who found true love at 18? Who wishes he’d had more fun in high school instead of studying so hard? 

Some authors write diary entries, some write letters, and a few graphic novelists turn their stories into visual art. And whether you hang out with the theater kids, the band geeks, the bad boys, the loners, the class presidents, the delinquents, the jocks, or the nerds, you’ll find friends–and a lot of familiar faces–in the course of Dear Teen Me.

Personal Links:
From Greg Leitich Smith:
About Greg Leitich Smith
Cynsational Events

Greg Leitich Smith will launch Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012) at 2 p.m. March 24 at BookPeople in Austin. The program will include an author presentation and dinosaur cookies, cupcakes and other refreshments. Pre-order the book.

Cynthia will appear at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference:
  • April 18: 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. "Connecting Teens and Authors: Teen Book Festivals and Awesome Author Visits." 
  • April 20: 8 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. "Introducing the Spirit of Texas Reading Programs." 
  • Signing coordinated by Candlewick Press and TLA. See program for details. 
Note: Greg Leitich Smith also will be signing at the conference.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear at A Festival of Authors, which will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 12 at Reagan High School in Northeast Austin.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear June 30 at Bastop Public Library in Bastrop, Texas.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia this summer? Try the 13 Annual Conference of Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers from June 18 to June 22 in Sandy, Utah; the Southampton Children's Literature Conference from July 11 to July 15 in Southampton, New York; or the 17th Annual Postgraduate Writing Conference from Aug. 13 to Aug. 19 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. See more of Cynthia's upcoming events.

Note: Due to volume, I can't feature the author/illustrator events of all of my Cynsational readers, but if you're Austin bound for an appearance here, let me know, and I'll try to work in a shout out or two.

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author-Illustrator Interview: Sergio Ruzzier

Photo by Massimiliano Tappari
By P.J. Lyons
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Sergio Ruzzier was born in Milan, Italy, in 1966, and moved to New York City in 1995. He has created a number of picture books, including The Room of Wonders (Frances Foster/FSG, 2006), Amandina (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2008), and Hey, Rabbit! (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2010)

He has also illustrated books written by other authors, such as KarlaKuskin, Emily Jenkins, Lore Segal, and Eve Bunting. Bear and Bee, his forthcoming picture book, will be published by Hyperion in January 2013.

He was a recipient of the 2011 Sendak Fellowship. Sergio lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his girlfriend Karen and his daughter Viola.

See also Sergio's blog and facebook page.

Describe your process when you illustrate a book.

If I am illustrating someone else's text, I begin by breaking up the manuscript into spreads. Next, I make a very quick thumbnail storyboard so that I know where I'm going. After that, I expand and refine those sketches and build a dummy. After the dummy is approved, I start working on the finals.

If I am the author of the book I'm illustrating, the process may be different each time: sometimes I start with writing the whole text; some other times I begin with random sketches that might help me to work the story out.

Do you prefer illustrating your own manuscripts or those of other authors?

It depends. So far I've been lucky to collaborate with exceptional writers such as Lore Segal, Karla Kuskin, Emily Jenkins, Eve Bunting, Caron Lee Cohen, and others.

Every time it has been a pleasure.

I like to be free to interpret, expand and even sabotage the text, when the editors let me or are too distracted to notice.

When I work on my own stories, it's a more involving and intense experience, but also more daunting. It's like drawing while the author is constantly behind your shoulders, nervously observing what you are doing with his story.

Whose art has influenced your art? What current artists inspire you?

I grew up looking at Medieval and Early Renaissance art and reading picture books and American comic strips. Hieronymus Bosch, Elzie Chrisler Segar, Simone Martini, Edward Gorey, George Herriman, Giotto, Charles M. Schulz, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti were, and still are, among my favorite artists. It's a mix of sacred and profane, I know.

When I moved to New York from my native Milan, Italy, in 1995, I discovered other exceptional authors and illustrators I didn't know before: William Steig, Arnold Lobel, Tomi Ungerer and more.

One of the best things that happened to me is meeting an artist whose work inspired me since I was a little child: Maurice Sendak.

He chose me last year for his Sendak Fellowship, which meant spending a month in a house next to his, working on my projects, chatting with him, and walking with him in his woods.

We are still in touch, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have had this chance. I have written an article about that experience that will be published soon in the SCBWI Bulletin.

How do you think your personal experience of growing up and beginning your career in Italy then moving to New York City influences your work?

I don't know if this always comes through in my work, but I am particularly sensitive to themes that are rarely considered in most picture books in the US.

I'm used to talking with my daughter, since she was a toddler, about subjects many people would consider too adult for a child, including death, depression, racism, war, intolerance, and other facts of life.

I wish publishers were more willing to make books for children without feeling the need to overprotect them, which often means lying to them.

How has your work evolved over your career?

I have the feeling that my drawings have gradually become more accessible and less cryptic. I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing.

What are you working on now?

These days I am working on the finals of a picture book that has to do with a duck and some new socks. It was written by Eve Bunting, with whom I have already collaborated with on the book Tweak Tweak (Clarion, 2011).

I'm also giving the final touches to Bear and Bee, the first in a series of picture books I'm writing and illustrating for Disney/Hyperion. It will be out in January 2013. Both the story and the illustrations are simpler and more comedic than my usual work. Bear and Bee is about prejudices and honey.

I have other ideas as well, and once in a while, I go back and work on them.

What words of advice do you have for emergent illustrators?

It is very difficult to answer this question, when asked generically. A person who wants to be in this field (or any other artistic field) should be more interested in saying something personal and original than trying to fit in the market. It's always very annoying when illustrators follow a trend, whether their books are successful or not.

Is there something you know now that you wish you had known when you first started illustrating?

That it is okay to challenge your editor's opinion if you don't agree. I have been too docile in the past, and I wish I had the nerve to fight more for my ideas. Most editors (at least the good ones) are open to hear what you have to say, and they actually appreciate if you explain and defend your decisions.

Cynsational Notes

P.J. Lyons has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and an art major from Calvin College.

She is the author of Little Lamb's Bible, Little Lion's Bible, and The Wonderful World that God Made.

Her earliest memories are of telling stories to her stuffed animals while cutting and pasting pictures.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Marketing Consultant Interview: Susan Raab of Raab Associates

Susan & Teddy
By Laurie Cutter for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Susan Raab is president of Raab Associates Inc., the first agency to specialize in marketing and promoting children's books and products – now in its twenty-sixth year.

Clients have included Bantam Doubleday Dell, Barron’s, Clarion, the International Board on Books for Young People, The Julie Andrews Collection, Kane Miller, Kids Can Press, Listening Library, National Geographic, Oxmoor House, Penguin, Pleasant Company, Scholastic, Wizards of the Coast and many of the bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators.

Susan is author of An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion. She is Marketing Advisor to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a feature columnist for the SCBWI Bulletin.

She reports on the publishing field as a broadcast correspondent, covering children’s books, authors and illustrators for the Teachers for a New Era program and Dodd Center at the University of Connecticut. Her interviews are also heard on and Los Angeles Public Library’s children’s podcasts. She was also a national correspondent for Recess! Radio, a program syndicated nationally to 500 public radio stations.

Your agency is in touch with the latest trends and changes in the children’s book market. What are some of the most important developments in that field which we should know about?

There have been so many changes in the past few years that it’s tough to know where to start! Every aspect of this business is being re-examined and redefined.

We’re asking ourselves the most basic questions: What is a book? Who’s my target audience? What should I expect from my publishers? How will I reach my potential customers? Where can I get the tools, expertise (and stamina!) I need to make my career a success?

I think one of the most important developments for authors and illustrators is that social media has made direct-to-consumer relationships the norm, which is consistent with what we’re seeing happen in many areas of business. This means you have to think about how you want to present yourself and your work in the marketplace and need to be aware that everything is much more public than ever before.

E-books and apps seem to be in a special marketing niche. Do you promote them differently? How?

Lindsey Lane & Snuggle Mountain App
Yes, promoting an ebook or app is quite different than promoting books.

On a personal front, it’s related to work I did before starting Raab Associates, which was working as an Account Executive for tech products at an ad agency. It’s been funny to tap into that background after 25 years, but it was excellent training learning how to work with tech media and how to set up a news-oriented product campaign designed to generate excitement both tied to evolving product content and to current and creative technology.

In a lot of ways, the difference is between doing a slow-build nurturing campaign, which is what we do for books and authors, and generating news by leading up to the unveiling of a new technology or product platform.

Over the years, you’ve interviewed many authors and illustrators at the Bologna Book Fair. What interviews especially stand out to you? Tell us about them.

The Bologna Book Fair interviews are always intriguing. They can be with authors and illustrators, and also oftentimes with publishers and other experts from throughout the international community.

They give me the chance to explore trends and issues with people from all over and to hear about their concerns about children and reading, education and social issues like censorship and the preservation of cultural storytelling and art.

On the illustrators’ side, each year I interview the spokesperson for the country being featured at the Book Fair – last year was Lithuania, and, in previous years, I spoke with representatives from Bratislava, Hungary, Korea, Slovakia, and Argentina.

I’ve interviewed author Roy Freeman, who discussed his own work as well as his father’s classic, Corduroy.

I spoke with author/illustrator and Hans Christian Andersen Award winner Roberto Innocenti about his body of work.

I’ve also recorded conversations with representatives from the African Publishers’ Network, the International Board on Books for Young People, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the International Youth Library, and many others in the publishing and technology fields. I think there are close to a hundred interviews I’ve done in Bologna and elsewhere.

How might someone prepare for a job such as yours in the publicity and marketing of children’s books? Do you have any tips for those just starting out?

As I mentioned earlier, talking about apps, you can be surprised at how different aspects of your experience can be useful as you evolve your career. With publicity and marketing, I’ve found some of the most important skills to be strategic, organizational, technological and journalistic.

It would be very difficult to work in this area these days, if you were not prepared to aggressively learn about and use new technologies. On a practical level, methodologies and tools are changing all the time, and it takes a great deal of patience and perseverance to sort out which are important in the long term for efficiency and execution, and which are not worth spending more than a cursory amount of time exploring.

This ties in with the fact that marketing and publicity are extremely labor intensive and detail oriented, so tools and resources need to be constantly reevaluated and upgraded to ensure that you stay on track with concurrent campaigns and with client needs.

You also have to be very strategic as you prioritize and balance the work. If you, as in our case, are in regular contact with many thousands of individuals and outlets, you need to develop systems that can help you.

On the PR side, results turn on your relationships with journalists who have many people approaching them (now more than ever), and they have many stories to choose from. They have as many or more reasons to turn you down as they do to consider covering your story.

New authors and illustrators should keep this in mind and recognize that it will take time to build a meaningful marketing presence. Think of it as building a foundation that you will use to support your career over a long period of time. 

You’ve listed hundreds of various marketing ideas on your agency website. Would you briefly share some of the best ways for authors and illustrators to get the word out about their new books? 

It varies a great deal, depending on the individual’s strengths and the topic and positioning of the books they’ve done. That said, it’s important to promote across platforms.

You should have a strong online presence (website, blog, and social media), so your audience – teachers, parents and kids/teens can find you and connect.

You should also have an overarching strategy and message that helps define and brand you in the marketplace.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be narrow-focused, or pigeon-holed, but what you do want is to have people understand what’s special about you – whether it’s your illustrating technique, your origins as an author, your relationship with your fans, or the voice or style of your work.

How have you helped to promote international and multicultural stories here in the U.S.? Do you see a greater need for those types of books for children?

This is a particular passion of mine. I’ve always looked for opportunities to work with publishers and authors from around the world. Some of the most fascinating campaigns have been working with people trying to educate others about their culture.

For example, we worked with an Asian-American publisher who was simultaneously publishing the same books in five or six language editions, including English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Hmong and Vietnamese. We did national and targeted local market campaigns to serve the list as a whole and to give individual books opportunities with micro communities that were hungry for the specialized material.

We’ve promoted books from Australia, Canada and Europe, as well as a series of East African books written in English and Kishwahili, so children in Kenya could be introduced to written work in their own language.

We’ve also promoted Kane Miller Books for more than a dozen years, which is a company that brings books from throughout the world to the U.S. as a way to help children here learn more about other parts of the world.

What are few of your favorite books from your childhood?

Blog tours almost seem obligatory now when a new book is released. What are some of the more creative ideas you’ve seen done for those tours?

There are a lot of creative options with a blog tour. You can blog as a character from your book. You can give away topical prizes, or provide clues to solve a mystery at the end of the tour. You can incorporate games and activities, and you can tour as part of a group.

The main things are to provide a reason for readers to follow you from day to day and to help drive traffic to the sites, so it’s important for you, the bloggers, and others involved to do advance publicity to ensure that you’ll have a good audience throughout.

Have you implemented any unusual publicity or marketing techniques during your time at Raab Associates? Which were most effective and why?

New by Jane Yolen, J. Patrick Lews & Sophie Blackwell
We’ve done all kinds of things throughout the years. We set up literary and arts ambassadorships. We ran a focus group to explore Spanish language publishing. We coordinated the children’s book segment on "Celebrity Apprentice."

We’ve set up city proclamations, a Victorian tea party, and have gotten product into swag bags at conferences and at the Tony Awards.

We’ve put together original art raffles, set up advisory boards, and initiated many business alliances and partnerships.

The Ambassadorships, which were for Jane Yolen and for Julie Andrews were particularly rewarding because they were ongoing and provided platforms for discussion of important issues and advocating for children.

Your agency works “with authors, illustrators, brands, publishers, series, games, apps, audio and events for the family and arts markets.” Do you focus on some of these areas more than others, and how do you decide that?

We like variety, so enjoy working with many different authors, illustrators, publishers, companies and organizations that create innovative products or have an interesting story to tell. We think a lot about market positioning and strategy, so time is spent educating and consulting with clients.

Decisions about what to take on are based primarily on quality, and on whether we feel we can bring good value to the project at hand. We also work closely with clients, so it’s important to get a read on how they’ll be to work with, and we to try to make sure it feels like a good fit to both parties.

You co-sponsor a children's illustration award, the Raab Prize, for students at the University of Connecticut. Any stories about the award winners and their art that you’d like to share with us?

The relationship with UConn has been an extraordinary experience for me in so many ways. First because, when I attended UConn, I had good friends and courses I liked, but since it was such a large university, I didn’t feel connected to the school as a whole.

I did, however, take several courses that made a big impression on me. The first was a publishing course taught by Feenie Ziner, who was also a children’s book author.

The other two were a children’s book and an adolescent literature course taught in the most hilarious and memorable way by Professor Sam Pickering. He was the inspiration for the gifted teacher portrayed by Robin Williams in the film, "Dead Poet’s Society," and he showed us what a really great teacher can do to make books come alive.

Some of the most gratifying moments giving the Prize at UConn have been meeting with the winning art students ahead of time to hear what they hope to do in the art field – some have been pursuing careers I wouldn’t have expected, such as tattoo art, which has been the case with two of the winners!

We’ve also had some very funny moments, most particularly this past year, when the Raab Prize winners, who are invited to the VIP dinner with authors and illustrators from the Bookfair, got to see a table full of illustrators, including Mo Willems, turn dinner into an art show when they started illustrating plates, cups, saucers, silverware and even floral decorations. Mo signed this piggy saucer for me.

By the end, there were salt-and-pepper shaker tin soldiers, illustrated wine glasses, collectable art napkins, and cup handles that were turned into noses on cup faces.

Terri Goldich, who is the curator for the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection at UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, scooped up a batch of them for the archive.

Looking forward to next year’s dinner – if the kitchen staff will let us back in!

What types of self-promotion should children’s book authors and illustrators avoid?

Avoid self-promotion that’s at the expense of others. Over the years, I’ve met a number of people who believe the way to get where they want is by bulldozing everyone in their path.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot in our society that encourages that behavior. However, when I think about some of the most beloved authors and illustrators in the field, they’re people who have been admired for their generosity and their willingness to share what they have and what they’ve learned. They’re also the people who acknowledge the help they’ve received.

For example, I vividly remember being at one of my first conferences and meeting Lloyd Alexander, who was one of the authors I was responsible for. We were in a crowd of more than 500 teachers who were pushing forward to try to meet Lloyd. He turned to me to say how nice it was that people like his books and how surprised he was that they made time to come to hear him talk. He really made everyone there feel wanted and special, and he was a pleasure to work with.

Another person I admired was S.E. Hinton, who had shot to stardom as a teenager with her first, groundbreaking book, The Outsiders.

Whenever I think of working with her early in my career, I remember how different it was that she asked the editor-in-chief of our large publishing company whether it was necessary to go out for a fancy dinner when she’d be perfectly happy just getting a casual bite to eat. That was in contrast to people who had far less fame, but were still difficult and very demanding.

I’ve watched authors and illustrators, including Jane Yolen and Tomie dePaola, generously mentor others both in their own communities and via their work with SCBWI, which is so supportive to members at all levels.

What kinds of feedback have you gotten on your book, An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion? To which parts do people respond the most enthusiastically?

The Author’s Guide has been consistently popular as both an introduction to the children’s book industry and as a handbook for understanding the complexities of the marketplace. It’s now in the eleventh edition, and people often come up to me and tell me which earlier edition they started with and how it’s been helpful to them over the years.

It’s been called: “a down & dirty guide to book promotion,” (Elizabeth O. Dulemba); “a great compact guide,” (Bella Online, Writing for Children; “especially useful to beginners,” (Cynthia Leitich Smith); and a particularly helpful “reference source a writer turns to with each book published,” (Chicago Reading Roundtable).

Susan, is there anything else I haven't asked about that you'd like to mention? 

Just that while I think this is a challenging time, it’s also very exciting to be an author or illustrator right now. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and help as you tackle new areas, and know you can get good support from peers and colleagues, if you know where to look.

What SCBWI’s put in place around the world – from L.A. to Mongolia, and what’s unique about the children’s book world, is that there are people who will offer a hand to those just starting out and are idealistic enough to try to make their dream a reality.

Cynsational Notes

Laurie Cutter is fascinated by other cultures and much of her writing is infused with a cross-cultural flavor. She grew up as a missionary child in Burundi, Africa, and has lived in Kenya, Germany, and the Pacific Northwest. Laurie’s picture book, The Gift, is published in Dutch, and she’s written many picture books and a YA poetry manuscript. Find her at Twitter.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.
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