Tribal Thoughts

In the past few days, more than one friend has asked me whether I’d consider writing a YA novel set on a reservation, possibly linked to the recent real-life shooting tragedy. It’s an interesting question, but the truth is that I wouldn’t be the best person to do such a book.

I’m personally familiar with the urban and tribal-town structures, not reservation life, and while there are some universalities to the indigeneous experience, it’s largely more specific than most folks probably realize. Reservations, each and as a whole, have their own culture.

While I definitely do believe that with respect and thorough research, it’s possible to write crossculturally (and do so myself with increasing frequency), I also think that to do justice to such a setting, I would have to live in such a community myself for some time, take time to see if I had the voice and perspective right, and then consult with people there for their insights and permission.

I don’t see that happening, at least in my near future. My muse is leaning heavily toward comedy and fantasy (gothic and festive) these days. But I strongly agree that there is a need for quality fiction and non-fiction about reservation life. See Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Cynsational News & Links

Anne Bustard debuts her author Web site. Anne’s books include T Is For Texas and Buddy: The Buddy Holly story. She’s also a university professor of education and, not surprisingly, offers top-notch curriculum support for her books as well as a list of her favorite picture book biographies. If you haven’t already, read my recent online interview with Anne.

Linda Joy Singleton debuts her new blog, talking most recently about Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone (HarperCollins, 2005), which is in my to-be-read stack. You can read from chapter one online.

Congratulations to pal Shutta Crum, who along with authors Doreen Rapport, Doreen Cronin, Susie Crummel, Pam Munoz Ryan, and Miss USA 2004 (who apparently has written a book), was honored at the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. Shutta is the author of Bravest Of The Brave, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Knopf, 2005).

I received a query this week about where to obtain in books in languages other than English. This is a frequent question, and, in case anyone’s interested, I usually recommend the Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, Illinois.

Angels, Monsters, and Austin Area Events

Let the angels and monsters rejoice as I sent my YA novel revision via Fedex to my Candlewick editor yesterday. I dropped it off at the box at BookPeople, which is Austin’s super indie.

I figure all that good-book vibe wears off on the package. While I was there, I ran into bookseller/buyer Jill, of the lovely long red hair, who was stacking books for an upcoming signing with Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Dessen.

So cool, except that it’s scheduled at 6 p.m. on April 7, which is during the publisher party at the Omni Hotel in conjunction with the Texas Library Association conference, so I’ll be there instead.

I went ahead and bought a copy of Sarah‘s The Truth About Forever (Viking, 2005) and Laurie‘s Prom (Viking, 2005), the latter of which I’ve already read via the ARC (read my related blog entry). That way, the books will be waiting, so I can still get autographed copies, support the authors, and support the store.

Read Sarah’s journal and Laurie‘s, too (note that Baker & Taylor/Penguin Young Readers Group are sponsoring a fan fic contest in conjunction with the release of Prom).

In other news, San Antonio author Diane Gonzales Bertrand will read from her works and discuss Texas Latino literature at noon April 9 at the St. John Branch of the Austin Public Library. However, I’ll have to miss that, too, because I’m already gong to the Anne Bustard and Kurt Cyrus signing of Buddy: The Story Of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005) that same day from 1 to 3 p.m.

It greatly vexes* me that I cannot be in two places at once.

Status: reading Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005).

*I’m trying to bring back the word “vex;” please try to use it today in a sentence.

Cynsational Links

Author Anastasia Suen debuts Create/Relate, her new blog, and kindly links to mine. Thank you, Anastasia!

Speaking of blogs, Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers has launched a page listing member blogs, including mine and Joy Harjo’s (poet, musician, and the author of a wonderful contemporary Native American picture book, The Good Luck Cat, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000)).

And Greg Leitich Smith blogs about Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2005).

A Gathering Of Readers

“If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything” invites schools serving indigenous children from all parts of the world to participate in the International Indigenous Youth Reading Celebration during the week of April 18-22, 2005. Schools from Zambia, Aotearoa-New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are already signed up. See A Gathering Of Readers for more information.

I received news yesterday that I’m one of the program’s honored authors, along with Pat Mora and Robert Sullivan. I’m deeply touched by this and, more globally, also heartened by the mission of the program.

Cynsational News & Links

Meet Lauren Barnholdt and learn about her debut YA novel, In The House (Simon Pulse, 2006).

E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (Random House, 2005), talks about her writing and YA as a genre at

On March 23, Jane Yolen blogs that she’s thinking of running for Congress. I’d be tempted to move just so I could vote for her.

Max Elliot Anderson, author of the Tweener Press Adventure series, writes that he has a new Web site. Read an interview with Max Elliot Anderson from

Author Interview: Elisa Carbone on Last Dance On Holladay Street

Last Dance On Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone (Knopf, 2005). It’s 1878, and young Eva, 13, has lost Daddy Walter to tetanus and Mama Kate to consumption. All she has left is a name and address that lead her to Holladay Street, a half sister, and a biological mother from a house of ill repute. Desperate and indebted, Eva tries to make due as a dance-hall girl, which is still better than working upstairs. But is this the life Daddy Walter and Mama Kate would’ve wanted? A tender, thoughtful story of perseverence and loyalty. Highly recommended. Ages 10-up. Read my related blog entry.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

When I first learned about the brothels in the 1800’s and how young women and girls were coerced and pressured into working there, I was struck by the parallels with what is going on today, with young girls often being pressured into sexual activity when they are much too young. I wanted to write a story that would be empowering to young readers, that would help them see the value in sticking up for themselves. I wanted to inspire them to be strong, be true to themselves, and most importantly, NOT give in to peer pressure.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The spark alighted in fall of 2000, and the book was published in March of 2005. That is a pretty typical timeline for me for historical novels–they always take years to research, mull over, and write.

In November of 2000, I was in Arizona on a rock climbing trip at Cochise Stronghold. On a rainy day (when we couldn’t climb) my climbing partner and I decided to drive into Tombstone, the nearest town. We stopped in to see the “Shoot-out at the O.K. Corral” exhibit, and my attention was drawn to a book about the fallen women of the old west. As I flipped through the pages of the book, I was riveted by a photograph of a young girl, “Jackie.” The caption said that she began her career as a prostitute at “age 15” but the photograph is obviously of a much younger girl, probably 12 or 13 years old.

I couldn’t take my eyes off her face, so innocent and yet determined and somehow worldly. I wanted, desperately, to save her.

My mind began to race with questions: what pressures had caused Jackie to choose this profession? With the right help, could she have made a different choice? How was she like the young girls of today who, at younger and younger ages, are feeling pressured into becoming sexually active? I knew I had to write a story about Jackie, and give her a chance to choose a different path. That was how, at least in my imagination, I would be able to reach back in time and save this young girl. At the same time, I hoped to create a parable for modern young readers that would offer them the strength and insight to choose their own different path. Jackie, of course, became Eva.

I never did see the shoot out at the O.K. Corral. The small museum there in Tombstone also has a fascinating exhibit about the Tombstone prostitutes. My climbing partner, Eric, kept coming to find me and I¹d be engrossed in reading yet another plaque or article about the ladies of the evening. I told him I was thinking of writing a book about it and he shook his head in dismay, saying, “You’re a children’s author. What are you thinking?!”

I presented the idea to both my editor and my local children’s librarian, Diane Monnier. Diane hesitated at first, then said with conviction, “I think it could work. If you save her, it could work.” My editor asked for an outline, and we were on our way.

When I had finished the first draft of Last Dance on Holladay Street, I happened upon the book, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher. In her therapy practice, Dr. Pipher works with adolescent girls, many of whom have been brought to her because they have slipped into depression or trouble or both. She describes a pattern she sees over and over again. At age 12 or so, girls are typically happy, interested in sports or other activities, and they talk freely with their parents. As adolescence progresses, and as peer pressure mounts for experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex, many of these girls draw away from their parents, are tempted into destructive behavior, and in the process, lose their sense of self. The way out of this pit is through a reclaiming of their own inner strength and, with the right guidance, finding a sense of purpose through meaningful work.

As I read Pipher’s book, I was stunned to realize that in Last Dance on Holladay Street, Eva had gone through each of the stages Pipher describes. Mama Kate plays the part of Eva’s real mother, Sadie, Pearl and the others at Miss B’s create the peer pressure, and by the end, with the right help and guidance, Eva finds her sense of self and her meaningful work. As I edited Last Dance on Holladay Street, I actually molded it to fit Pipher’s paradigm even more closely.

The pressures of economic survival that plagued the girls and women of the old west are no more real than the social pressures and need for love and acceptance that young girls are faced with today. It is my hope that this story can act as a bridge from past to present, and as a springboard for discussion.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I’ll speak to research, since that’s one of my favorite parts of writing, and for me it’s the cornerstone of how I seek to bring my stories to life. I do the usual book, article and photo research, though I focus mostly on original sources rather than secondary sources because they have more life to them. Also, I’m an experiential learner, so I use a lot of fun research methods to help make the story come alive for me. For Last Dance on Holladay Street, I got a private tour of a Colorado silver mine (because one of the characters is a miner). I rode a narrow gauge railroad train up into the Rocky Mountains the way Eva did. I even got to touch an old fashioned curling iron (tongs that were placed into a kerosene lamp to heat up) in a museum, and this inspired me to add a scene where Lucille is talking to Eva while curling her hair for her evening’s work (the scene includes the smell of burning hair — those curling irons were hard to regulate!). I find that if I can touch and experience the things my characters did, I will discover the details that will make the story vivid for my readers.

Cynsational Links

Historical Fiction for Hipsters: Stories from the past that won’t make you snore from Reading Rants features a review of Last Dance On Holladay Street (among other recommendations).

The First Amendment First Aid Kit from Random House.

Author Greg Leitich Smith blogs today that Just Because It Happened Doesn’t Mean It’s Realistic.

Happy Easter

Greg and I will celebrate Easter. We have eggs, we have dye, we have shrimp for an appetizer, turkey breast with green bean casserole and whole wheat stuffing for the main course, strawberries for the grand finale. We even have company coming for dinner.

But we’ll also work. We have another forty some pages of my YA manuscript to read aloud so I can key in changes and send it back to my editor. The read is going blessedly well.

I’d rather have done it on a day not Easter, but it’s a 50,000 word manuscript, Greg has his day job during the week, and I have lots to do before the Texas Library Association conference in early April.

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it, and have a beautiful Sunday to those who don’t!

Cynsational Links

Brent Hartinger’s Journal: brand new from the author whose name it bears. Brent is the author of Geography Club, The Last Chance Texaco, and The Order of the Poison Oak, all published by HarperCollins. Learn more about his books.

YA Writer Blogs: courtesy of Lara Zeises. Her books include Contents Under Pressure and Bringing Up The Bones. Learn more about her books.

Tell Tales For A Living

My latest published article is “Tell Tales For a Living: Children’s Book Author” by Cynthia Leitich Smith from the April/May 2005 issue of Career World magazine 33:6. See pg. 26.

It’s part of a series of articles called a “Career Map” that ask: “Where do I go with creative writing?” Interviews with a newspaper columnist and advertising copywriter also are featured.

I don’t think teens should feel like they have to have everything figured out by the time they graduate high school, but it is important to have some kind of a plan. They can always change their minds, but having a goal offers focus and a reason to move forward. Once they’re in motion, exploring their interests, the misty path should begin to clear.

“Children and Television” (nicknamed “KidTV”) was my favorite class in college outside of the journalism school. It was fun, fascinating, encouraged critical thinking, and reminded me of the importance of youth as an audience. It was an early flag, pointing me in the direction of doing what I’d most love.

People always talk about life as a journey, and it is. We focus on its moments of hardship because they demand our attention. But it’s also important to reflect on moments of illumination. That class illuminated me.

I hope my Career World article is illuminating for at least one future children’s/YA writer.

Cynsational News and Links

Battling Rejection Depression by Christina Majaski-Holoman from the Institute of Children’s Literature. See also Conflict: Taking it Out of Second Gear by Lori Mortensen from ICL.

Point of View chat transcript from the YA Authors Cafe from Feb. 15, 2005. Featured authors were Catherine Atkins, Libba Bray, A.M.Jenkins, and Mary E. Pearson.

Busting Stereotypes

A college student wrote yesterday asking for my thoughts on teaching children to question and, when appropriate, dismiss stereotypes.

This was my reply: To me, the most powerful means of change is by example. Inviting both a Native storyteller to visit the class but also a Native attorney or engineer. Showing powwow video but also images of everyday life.

One of the ways I counteract the stereotype of “the primitive” is to do online chats with classroom groups. Saying Native people are not stuck in the past is one thing. Logging on to chat with one in cyberspace personalizes the experience.

That said, in neither my Native nor non-Indian stories do I set out to “bust stereotypes.” I tell a story about characters I can believe in, and for the most part, it’s a naturally occurring side effect.

Cynsational News & Links

According to The Purple Crayon, Meredith Mundy Wasinger (formerly of Dutton) has joined Sterling Publishing as a senior editor. She’s acquiring picture books and non-fiction. See also Keeping Books In Print by Harold Underdown.

Author Elisa Carbone writes that her novel, Last Dance On Holladay Street (Knopf, 2005) is now available. See the description, author’s notes, and review excerpts. Read my related blog entry.

Novelist Anjali Banerjee Mixes Culture and Humor by Linda Johns from Authorlink May 2005. Anjali is the author of Maya Running (Wendy Lamb, 2005). Read my related blog entry.

Empowering Young Girls: Author Julia DeVillers by Sue Reichard from

If I Only Had The Time…

The trick is to make time–not to steal it–and produce fiction.
–Bernard Malamud*

I have friends who will write a book when they have the time.

Meet folks at parties, the hair salon, and the grocery store. They’re on the same someday schedule.

Would-be writers everywhere. They’ll get around to it. Eventually, they say.

Clearly, we don’t all live under the same set of circumstances. For example, I’ve never had triplets or a husband running for political office or handimen remodeling my historic house.

Oh, wait. I do qualify on that last one. I’ve also written while moving, through grief, on the floor of a hotel bathroom in Paris.

I don’t fit writing into my life. I fit my life into my writing.

No regrets.

*the Malamud quote came from A Creative Writer’s Kit: A Spiritual Companion & Lively Muse For The Writing Life by Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book Of Days.

Cynsational News

I received a postcard announcing the publication of Cork and Fuzz by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by Lisa McCue (Viking, 2005), which received a star from Kirkus. It’s a level 3 Easy-to-Read for ages 6 to 9, grades 1 to 3.

The Austin Book Nook, benefitting the Austin Children’s Shelter, is requesting donations of new or gently used books. The Shelter has indicated a special need for books for newborns up through age 8 and kids 14-17 as well as multicultural books and books in Spanish. Visit the site for more information.

Children’s Book Press has released a 15th Anniversary Edition of Family Pictures/Cuadros de Familia by Carmen Lomas Garza with an introduction by Sandra Cisneros. More than 400,000 copies of the original book have been sold. The new edition will officially debut at the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin on April 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. Garza will also be speaking at the TLA annual conference in conjunction with the rally at the Texas State Capitol on April 6 from 4 to 5 p.m.

Harcourt Picture Book Round-Up Spring 2005

I’ve already talked about how much I enjoyed Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (see my blog entry) and Hotel Deep: Light Verse From Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus (see my blog entry) but I also wanted to highlight three more titles on Harcourt’s spring 2005 list.

I adored:

the enthusiasm in the language of Starry Safari by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jeff Mack;

the art from Kitten’s Big Adventure, written and illustrated by Mie Araki (related booktalk);

and the title poem from Please Bury Me In The Library by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Kyle M. Stone (related booktalk).

Cynsational Links

J. Patrick Lewis Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Frequently Asked Questions From Beginning Writers and Research Is For The Background from Greg Leitich Smith‘s blog. Greg is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) and the upcoming companion book, Tofu And T.Rex (Little Brown, July 2005). Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo was recently nominated for the Georgia Children’s Book Award for 2005-2006.

Understanding Rejection Slips by Jennifer Minar from Writing Fiction.

Hotel Deep: Light Verse From Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus

Hotel Deep: Light Verse From Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt, 2005). Dive into the deep, guided by twenty-one poems–wet, witty, and wild–that bring to life the ocean’s dangers and delights. Magnificiently illustrated, grand in scope, and yet still child-centric in its focus on a lone sardine in search of his school. All ages. Highly recommended.

Cynsational Thoughts

Hotel Deep is a must-buy, must-read, must-pass-on-to-other-readers kind of picture book.

(And this is coming from a woman who saw “Jaws” at an impressionable age.)

The text is by turns suspenseful, funny, thrilling, and oh-so smart. The paintings are irresistible. I could spend hours studying the art.

Plus, the back matter, featuring mini illos identifying various sea creatures make Hotel Deep not only a poetic and artistic triumph, not only emotionally affecting with an all-ages appeal, but also a wonderful tool for teachers.

In case, I’m not being clear enough, think: amazing! Caldecott-worthy!

Wait, stop thinking and just grab a copy for yourself!

Kurt will be speaking as part of the Poetry Round Up at the Texas Library Association conference in Austin from noon to 1:50 p.m. on April 6 with Brod Bagert, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Pat Mora, Walter Dean Myers, Susan Pearson, Joyce Sidman, Quincy Troupe, and Janet Wong.

By the way, Kurt also illustrated another new book, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story by Anne Bustard (Simon & Schuster, 2005); if you haven’t already, read her Story Behind The Story interview. Anne and Kurt will be signing at BookPeople at 6th and Lamar in Austin on April 9 from 1 to 3 p.m.

In addition, Kurt is the illustrator of one of my other favorite books, Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler (Harcourt, 2002).

Cynsational News

I received a note yesterday letting me know That New Animal by Emily Jenkins (FSG/Frances Foster, 2005) and The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005) are now available! Read E. Lockhart’s blog.

I also received a postcard from Kimberly Willis Holt announcing the 2005 Random House paperback edition of Keeper of the Night, originally published by Henry Holt in 2003. I love the new cover art! Keeper of the Night received stars from Publisher’s Weekly, SLJ, and Kirkus. It was also a BBYA, an ALA Notable, an SLJ Best Book, and a Kirkus Editor’s Choice.

Thanks to Allison for mentioning my blog in her March 21, 2005 Live Journal entry. Regarding the death of characters in love stories, kill off as many as you need to (and no more) to get the story told.