Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Harcourt, 2005). Oliver K. Woodman is missing, but no worries! Private Eye Imogene Poplar is on the case. She travels across the United States, clear to the top of the world (Barrow, Alaska) to bring Oliver home. Ages 4-up. Highly recommended. See also the companion book, The Journey Of Oliver K. Woodman, from the same creative team (Harcourt, 2003).

Cynsational Thoughts

The Oliver K. Woodman books are in many ways a celebration of travel, the diversity within the United States, the kindness of strangers, and the loving appeal of home. The span of U.S. cities and regions also offers a rich opportunity for curriculum connections.

Joe Cepeda has illustrated another book I particularly like, Juan Bobo Goes To Work: A Puerto Rican Folk Tale by Marisa Montes (Harper, 2000), and one of my all-time favorites, What A Truly Cool World by Julius Lester (Scholastic, 1999).

Cynsational Links

An Activity Kit for Searching For Oliver K. Woodman from Harcourt Brace.

An Interview with Author Darcy Pattison and illustrator Joe Cepeda from Harcourt Brace.

An Interview With Julius Lester from Downhomebooks.com.

What a Truly Cool World: A Visual Interpretation from Janet Hilbun (hosted on Kay E. Vandergrift’s Special Interest Page; one of the children’s literature mega resources). Definitely do this. Go to the page and think about what the featured illustration says to you. Then learn more about Visual Interpretive Analysis of Children’s Book Illustration.

Who Wrote That? Featuring Marisa Montes from Patricia M. Newman (published in California Kids! May 2003). Patricia’s site also offers articles on numerous other children’s authors.

Status: currently reading Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005); lately blogging on spookycyn about my cousin, “Six Feet Under,” Mr. Clean, Vampire Kisses, ZTejas, and Rebel Angels.

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories For Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories For Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (Harper, 2005). Features “A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate” by Cynthia Leitich Smith; other contributing authors: Joy Harjo; Sherman Alexie; Richard Van Camp; Linda Hogan; Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Susan Power; Greg Sarris; and Lee Francis.

The other writers’ work for children and teens includes: The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000); A Man Called Raven by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by George Littlechild (Children’s Book Press, 1997); The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Hyperion, 1999), and Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac (HarperCollins, 2001).

Cynsational Thoughts

In my short story, “A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate,” Jason is defensive and dismissive of a girl who wanders into the costume shop where he works part time, only to realize that he may have misjudged her.*

It’s set in near South Austin, which is the same neighborhood where my gothic fantasy takes place.

I’m tremendously honored to have been invited to submit to the anthology and to have my writing featured in such good company. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Joseph Bruchac on companion YA short stories for an upcoming anthology to be published by Roaring Brook (more on that to come), and on the Okie Indian front, both Joy Harjo and Linda Hogan are among my role models.

In addition, it’s been lovely getting to know, Lori, whose other anthologies include Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing Up Hispanic in the United States (Henry Holt, 1994) and its upcoming companion Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States (Henry Holt, 2005). I also enjoyed working on the project with my Harper editor, Rosemary Brosnan.

Note: readers of “A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate” may also want to check out another of my YA short stories, “Riding With Rosa,” which appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Cicada.

Cynsational Links

A Chat With Joseph Bruchac from Wordsmith.org.

The Creative Instinct: An Interview With Louise Erdrich by Robert Spillman from Salon.com.’

Louise Erdrich from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

Greg Sarris and the Native American Literature from the Information Resource Center.

Joy Harjo from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

Linda Hogan from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

Holding A World In Balance: An Interview With Linda Hogan by Camille Colatosti from The Witness.

A Man Called Raven by Richard Van Camp from Children’s Book Press.

Susan Power from Voices From The Gaps: Women Writers of Color.

What It Means To Be Sherman Alexie: The Toughest Indian Writer In the World Angles for a Bigger Audience by Russ Spencer from Book magazine.

*Small spoiler alert:
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It’s my first published story featuring in part a romantic relationship in which no one dies. I’m oddly proud of that.

The Power of Perseverance

Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing.
— Donald Hall

For all the talk about talent, luck, targeted submissions, and trapping editors in bathroom stalls, the one quality common in all of the successful writers I know is that they haven’t given up.

They’ve continued to write with a determination, even a ferocity, as though it is something they must do and will succeed at. Sure, they have had their downs and doubts, but they rise again and again, even if it means getting kicked in the face. Sooner or later, they figure out how to kick back.

Forget the slush pile. Forget trends. Write your story and the next one and the one after that with all the guts and gusto you have to offer.

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to Houston SCBWI for featuring my books and promotional materials in its booth at the upcoming conference of the International Reading Association in San Antonio.

Beyond The Library: Researching Non-Fiction for Children with Joanne Mattern from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

The Perfect Author Visit is a Circle from author Jacqueline Davies (a PDF file).

The Vermont Folk Life Center has expanded its children’s book pages with additional background on the books, teacher resources, links to original audio stories and more.

Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach

“A missing diamond. A 500-year-old necklace. A mystery dating back to the time of William Shakespeare.” — Elise Broach’s site


Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach (Henry Holt, 2005). Hero knows her unusual name comes from a character in the Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing,” but that’s no consolation on the first day of sixth grade at her new school. All the kids make fun, and she’s sure this year will be as empty as all the rest. But then Hero meets an elderly neighbor who tells her about a missing diamond, and much to her surprise, Hero finds herself becoming friends with one of the cutest, most popular boys in school. Ages 10-up.

Cynsational Thoughts

I’m not a teacher, but the first thing I thought upon finishing this debut novel was how much I’d love to share it with a classroom group.

The writing itself has a sort of old-fashioned cadence, which isn’t my usual preference, but I found myself settling in, enjoying the mix of contemporary setting and nostalgic tone. It fits a story of today that draws so much from the past.

A few days ago, I was blogging about how Comfort by Carolee Dean (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) would inspire an interest in poetry. Likewise, Shakespeare’s Secret will inspire an interest in history and the Bard’s plays.

I could say more, but then I’d deprive you of discovering the secret(s) for yourself–along with Hero and friends of course.

As I mentioned, this is Elise’s debut novel, but she is also the author of three–count ’em, three!–picture books to be released this year: Hiding Hoover, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith (Dial, July 2005); Wet Dog, illustrated by David Catrow (Dial, May 2005); and What The No-Good Baby Is For, illustrated by Abby Carter (G.P. Putnam’s, May 2005).

In addition, Elise has two more picture books and a YA novel under contract.

Wowza!

What else? As I’ve mentioned before, her Web site is super cute, too! Learn more about Elise (she can tell the color of an M&M by its taste!), and read her Q&A. Then read about what she’s reading and her thoughts on writing! (Only apparent flaw: prefers dogs to cats. Eek!).

Note: my fave version of “Much Ado About Nothing” is the 1993 film directed by Kenneth Branagh. Bonus points for Denzel and Keanu.

Cynsational Links

Joy Fisher Hein: new official site from the illustrator of Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers by Kathi Appelt (Harper, 2005). Surf by to see sample art from that debut picture book, and if you haven’t read it already, check out my Story Behind The Story interview with Joy and Kathi.

Author Anastasia Suen offers a 2005 Workshop Schedule page and a new five-day workshop, School Visits 101. Learn more about her intensive online writing workshops. Anastasia is the author of more than 60 children’s books and Picture Writing (Writer’s Digest, 2003), a book about writing for for young readers. My favorite book by Anastasia is Subway, illustrated by Karen Katz (Viking, 2004).

In Memorium: Michael Lacapa

I’m sorry to report that children’s book illustrator Michael Lacapa (Hopi-Tewa-White Mountain Apache) has passed away.

He was the author and/or illustrator of such books as: The Magic Hummingbird: A Hopi Folktale, collected and translated by Ekkehart Malotki, narrated by Michael Lomatuway’Ma, illustrated by Michael Lacapa (Kiva, 1995); Antelope Woman: An Apache Folktale retold and illustrated by Michael Lacapa (Kiva, 1995); and most recently, The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa ‘Kashtyaa’tsi Hiyaani by Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), illustrated by Michael Lacapa (The University of Arizona Press, 2004).

My favorite of his books, though, was: Less Than Half, More Than Whole by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa (Northland, 1994).

My sympathies to Kathleen and her children.

2005 Oklahoma Book Awards

The Oklahoma Center for the Book has announced the 2005 winners and finalists for the Oklahoma Book Awards:

Children’s Winner

The Gospel Cinderella by Joyce Carol Thomas (Joanna Cotler Books/Harper Collins)

Young Adult Winner

Simon Says by Molly Levite Griffis (Eakin Press)

Finalists

Grand Canyon Rescue by Devon Mihesuah (Booklocker);

Hoggee by Anna Myers (Walker);

No Dogs Allowed! by Bill Wallace (Holiday House);

Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting by Deborah L. Duvall (Univ. of New Mexico Press)(see also publisher information on this title);

We Go In A Circle by Peggy Perry Anderson (Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin).

See the Oklahoma Center for the Book Web site for descriptions of each title.

My Thoughts

I’m a big fan of the Oklahoma Center for the Book. In fact, two of my own titles, Jingle Dancer (Morrow/Harper, 2000) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Harper, 2001)(Listening Library, 2001) were finalists for its award.

The awards ceremony is a swanky event, held at the Petroleum Club in downtown Okie City. Think white linens, dressy dresses, and beyond that, a feeling of tremendous enthusiasm for the literary arts.

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists, especially Molly Levite Griffis, Anna Myers, and Devon Mihesuah!

I remember the last time Molly won, the quote she offered as she thanked her husband, and how I thought it was so great when a writer had love behind her:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” — Virginia Woolf

Cynsational Links

Molly Levite Griffis from The Bookshelf, Sooner Magazine.

Devon Mihesuah: author profile from WritersNet.

Interview with Joyce Carol Thomas by Stacey Montgomery from Celebrating Children.

Bill Wallace Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Cynsational News

Thanks to author Philip Yates for sending in updated URLs for the State and National Awards listing page on my Web site. Phil is the author of Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 2003). He lives in the Austin area.

Thanks to Margot Finke for her “Wahoo” for Children’s Writers page, spreading good cheer and encouragement.

Congratulations to my local independent bookstore, BookPeople in downtown Austin, Texas; which yesterday was named the Publisher’s Weekly Bookseller of the Year for 2005! Note: I see more people in this neighborhood wearing bookstore T-shirts than sports team Ts. Consider that and then the force that is Texas football. Remarkable!

Anybody Can Write A Children’s Book

Sure, it’s simple, writing for kids . . . .
Just as simple as bringing them up.
Ursula K. LeGuin

Nobody likes to be minimized, and one common complaint of children’s/YA writers is having to cope with comments to the effect that our job is easy.

Let’s trace the source. Easy tasks are often described as “child’s play.” Children, teenagers and the people who devote their lives to them are undervalued in mainstream society. Unfortunately, a few really lacking children’s/YA books are published and these (too) often fall into the category of “push” books. Plus, any number of people project onto artists their own fears, insecurities, or jealousies.

It’s, if I may so, an easy put-down to say something like:

“When are you going to write a real (adult) book?”

“Oh, she’s just a children’s writer.”

“My little Brandon is the best writer ever. I know he could write a better story than any book on the shelves today.”

“How long can it possibly take to write eight hundred words anyway? How fast do you type?”

These are all actual examples, and they’re not my most egregious.

Here’s the thing, it’s understandable to feel frustrated, annoyed, whatever you’re feeling.

But don’t let anyone convince you that writing about children or teenagers, or for children or teenagers, or having the courage to go after your dream makes you somehow inferior.

Spend more time with other children’s and YA writers, readers, librarians. Pick up a good book and marvel at it. Challenge yourself to improve your craft.

After all… You value literacy, right? Education? Books? Children? Teenagers? The future? Wonderful prose? Inspiring art? Story? People who make their dreams happen? You know how hard it is to write well, don’t you? Did you use up all that ink and paper for nothing?!

Okay then.

Cast off that sinking feeling. The Annoying One is wrong. You don’t have to own their ignorance.

Chin up, sweetpea. Let’s see that smile.

That’s better!

Remember, the magic is in you.

Cynsational Request

If you can recommend any high-interest, low reading level books for fourth to sixth graders, please write with those suggestions.

Cynsational Links

Flipping Pancakes With A Shovel: Crafting and Promoting Compelling Books for Babies and Toddlers by Hope Vestergaard from her author Web site.

Layering Powerful Voice To Create Memorable Characters by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon.

One Writer’s Journey: writer Debbi Michiko Florence’s March 15 entry is in response to my recent blog about Writing, Fear, and Gender.

Page By Page: Creating A Children’s Picture Book from the Library and Archives: Canada.

Picturing Books: A Web Site About Picture Books from Denise I. Matulka.

Telling The True: A Writer’s Journal: Jane Yolen’s March 11-12 entry talks about revision and offers some perspective on rejection, too.

Writing, Fear, and Gender

If we had to say what writing is,
we would define it essentially as an act of courage.
–Cynthia Ozick*

Every woman artist has to kill her own grandmother.
She perches on our shoulder whispering,
“Don’t embarass the family.”
–Erica Jong**

I’m thinking about Greg’s recent blog post on writing the novel, specifically as it relates to fear. I wonder if, for women, this dynamic is somehow heightened by our childhood gender socialization.***

After all, from our earliest days, we’ve been told to please and to be careful about drawing too much attention to ourselves. Each of these influences is a landmine. Together, they’re a formidable opponent. I suspect they are among the strongest roots of our fear.

Consider the pressure to please, to be “a good girl.”

I’m a Gen Xer. When I was a child, I remember outgoing girls being scolded to be “ladies,” while outgoing boys were praised as “high spirited.” The message to both genders was that doing what other people wanted–pleasing them–would result in approval.

Of course impulse control and behaving respectfully are desirable and necessary child-rearing goals, but because those standards are applied unevenly, we have traditionally raised and praised girls and women for behaving in a meeker manner. Peel back a generation or two, and this dynamic was even more pronounced.

Problem is, the moment we start making decisions about where our story is headed, we’re already alienating some potential readers. Perhaps even those in our all-important immediate circle. We’re failing to please everyone.

Maybe we try anyway, and the result is a bland mush of a story. It might even sell well, but will it ever really sing?

Remember… Not every book is or should be for every reader. If we have to please someone, let it be the young readers inside ourselves. No one will live with the book longer or more intimately.

On another front, I can’t tell you how many new female authors have said to me, “I don’t want to promote or to have any attention.” Or “I’m not one of those people who always needs attention.” In seven years, I’ve heard only one man say anything of the kind.

A couple of related considerations, both with the same solution.

First, this isn’t our third grade reading class. It’s not only an arts community. It’s also a business. If only the boys raise their hands, only the boys will get credit, achieve success. To an extent, that already happens too much in our adult publishing world.

Second, it’s not just a business. It’s also an arts community. It’s about our book, our body of work, about all children’s/YA titles, about children and teen readers, about children’s and teen literacy, and about all the other people (teachers, librarians, parents, caregivers) who make our world spin. Art by its nature is meant to be shared. A community is a place where sharing happens.

We have something to say. Let’s raise our pens (or laptops) and say it.

Related Resources

Art and Fear: Observations On The Perils (And Rewards) Of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Image Continuum, 1993). As relevant for writers as musicians as painters as photographers as dancers, this economical slim paperback is a godsend for anyone who’s a human being and trying to create art.

The Courage To Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes (Holt, 1996).

Take Joy: A Book For Writers by Jane Yolen (The Writer Books, 2003). A celebration of writing, a reminder that it is such a wonderous experience and to enjoy it. Plus, a lot of very true and helpful how-to thoughts. Good for beginners and the well published. Worth the price for p. 49 alone, though the quote on p. 51 is particularly insightful, too. Read a review from BookLoons.

Walking On Alligators: A Book Of Meditations For Writers by Susan Shaughnessy (HarperCollins, 1993). A quote, a consideration, a call to action. This gem of a paperback is a must-have for the writer’s peace of mind and piece of soul.

Writing Past Park: Envy, Fear, Distraction And Other Dilemmas In A Writer’s Life by Bonnie Friedman (Harper, 1993). Worth twice the cost for the chapter on envy and the “anorexia of language” alone.

*the Jung quote came from In Their Own Words: Eminent Writers On The Craft of Writing: Knowledge Cards by Dona Budd.

**the Ozick 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; see also her Notes On Writing.

***yes, I realize that guy artists feel fear, too. I just suspect its root structure varies. That said, big hugs, guys!

Cynsational News

Mark Mitchell is teaching a workshop on “Writing A Non-Fiction Book” from 1 to 4 p.m. April 16 through the Writers’ League of Texas. Mark’s third nonfiction book, Raising La Belle told the story about the great French explorer Robert Ca velier, Sieur de la Salle, and how archeologists recovered his ship, the Belle from the bottom of Matagorda Bay in 1997. The book won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for best juvenile nonfiction – 2003 and the United States Maritime Literature Award – 2003. The fee is $45 for WLT members/$90 nonmembers. For more details, visit www.writersleague.org or call 499-8914.

Cynsational Links

Mary E. Pearson’s journal features a March 12 entry on why she writes for, or rather about, teenagers.

Marlene Perez’s journal talks on March 9 about how a recent Entertainment Weekly article misrepresents the status of sexual themes in YA lit and muses over related gender bias within the publishing arena.