Once Upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude

Once Upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude written and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, illustrated by Carol Heyer, illustrated by Scott Goto (Walker, 2005). Two kids–a boy and a girl (both true to traditional gender expectations)–attempt to tell a story together, each in his and her own voice and from his and her own point of view. With neat reversals and a pitch-perfect sense of humor, this book is a great read aloud not only for kids but also for adults and especially writers. Ages 4-(way) up.

Cynsational News & Links

Winners of the 2005 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards were announced April 28 by the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA). JAPA is the educational arm of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Visit Fiona Bayrock, Children’s Author. Her books include: The Ocean Explorer’s Handbook (Scholastic, 2005); Shark Sunglasses and Other Amazing Animal Adaptations (Kids Can Press, spring 2006); Bubble Homes and Fish Farts (Charlesbridge, 2007); and States of Matter: Sound (Capstone Press, 2006); and more.

More personally, I hit Daya yesterday and have bangs for the first time since the Clinton administration.

A Day In The Writer’s Life

Yesterday, I met poet Liz Garton Scanlon, author of A Sock Is A Pocket For Your Toes: A Pocket Book (HarperCollins, 2004), for a brunch-ish snack beneath an umbrella outside the new Whole Foods. I gobbled down a brown sushi rice spicy tuna roll with a bottle of water and was delighted by her gift of a handwoven basket and more from Tanzania.

It was fun. A lot of shop talk and an effort to save the American political system. We also brainstormed on balancing being a writer (creative side) and an author (business side). It’s a tough job.

I also picked up my signed copies of Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005) and The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (Viking, 2004) from BookPeople. I’m still vexed that I wasn’t able to go to the signing, which was scheduled against the TLA publisher party.

Great mail included a stack of promotional cards featuring the cover art to my chapter book short story collection Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002), courtesy of the publisher, and my check in payment for my recent YA short story, “Riding With Rosa” in the March/April issue of Cicada.

I was corresponding with an author pal recently who was in the midst of a million to-dos that were all about being an author and not at all about writing. She’d asked me something to the effect of: “Is this the life I was seeking?”

Right now, I’m not working on my own stories. I’m preparing for talks, speaking, traveling, reading, critiquing, waiting to hear back from my editors on manuscripts under contract.

What I do is set aside a few months in the winter just for writing and then try to fit everything else around it during the rest of the year. But sometimes I just let myself be an author without writing every day (beyond blogging and email), though I still build on related skills as a reader/critiquer.

Maybe all of that wasn’t originally a part of my vision of the writing life I was seeking, but each is an aspect of the life I’ve crafted so that I can go after my dream.

Cynsational Links

Picture Books Go Graphic: Graphic picture books gain steam, and a place on children’s publishing lists by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly.

Blogs I’m reading lately include One Over-Caffeinated Mom, and I thank Kim for the link.

See author interviews I did about Indian Shoes from Big City Lit (Caring Enough To Be Candid; (Part One) and Closing The Miles In Indan Shoes (Part Two) by Alexis Quinlan; By The Book (Indian Shoes) by Julia Durango; and The Book Review Cafe (Interview With Cynthia Leitich Smith) by Lisa.

Coming Soon to the YA Authors Cafe

The YA Authors Cafe chats are held Tuesday evenings at 8:30 p.m. EST. Please join in at www.yaauthorscafe.com. Click the cafe chatroom icon to enter the chat.

Mark the following on your calendar:

May 10 – Boys & Girls, Men & Women, Authors & Heroes: how gender affects how we write, who we write for, and what happens next. Cynthia Leitich Smith explores gender writing issues with panelists Nancy Werlin, D.L. Garfinkle, and Brian Yansky.

May 24 – Debby Garfinkle interviews award winning YA Author Gordon Korman, author of Son of the Mob and No More Dead Dogs. Note: Son of the Mob is one of my fave YAs.

Cynsational News & Links

I had the pleasure of brunching yesterday with Austin writer/illustrator Don Tate at Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard (review is for South Congress, but it’s basically the same). Good luck to Don on his upcoming Florida gig!

It appears that the Pecan Street Emporium, a gift shop on Sixth Street, has gone out of business. Where will I buy things like fiberoptic Dracula heads?

Where Is Walter This Week?: the journal of the wonderous Walter the Giant. He blogged about me and Greg the last time he was in Austin.

Out of My Mind: the journal of Shari Lyle-Soffe. In particular, check out “Don’t Believe Everything You Hear” and “Don’t Knuckle Under to Naysayers.”

BookPeople Party

As you may recall, my local indie, BookPeople, has been named the Publishers Weekly 2005 bookseller of the year!

Greg and I were thrilled to join the staff last night for a celebration.

It was great. They had a good crowd, food, drinks, and live music.

The mayor spoke about Austin’s character, and I got to catch up with Jill, the children’s buyer, author Anne Bustard, and Cyndi Hughes, the former director of the Texas Book Festival.

Politico celebrity sightings included Jim Hightower.

Cynsational News

I received a copy of an invitation to one of my upcoming events that refers to me as “renowned children’s author Cynthia Leitich Smith.” I was so flattered. I repeated it to myself several times while trying to catch up on my laundry.

I also received a box of books from Walker, which included several interesting-looking titles: Fifteen Love by Robert Corbet; Shelf Life also by Robert Corbet; The Great Cake Bake by Helen Ketteman, illustrated by Matt Collins; Once Upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude by written and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, illustrated by Carol Heyer, and illustrated by Scott Goto; and Red, White, and Blue Good-bye by Sarah Wones Tomp, illustrated by Ann Barrow. I also got my ARC of My Big Sister Is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read This Book by Mary Hershey from Wendy Lamb Books.

Author Anastasia Suen debuts Blog Central: Blogs to Inspire Children’s Authors and Illustrators (divided in three categories: agents, artists, authors).

Author Interview: Holly Black on Tithe: A Modern Faeire Tale

TITHE: A MODERN FAEIRE TALE by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2002). Kaye Fierch has been passing through life as a blond Asian, connecting with faries but not counting herself among them…until now. Excellent juxtaposition of the fantasy elements against the New Jersey setting. Some readers may be familiar with Black for the Spiderwick Chronicle series (for the younger set). Ages 12-up.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I had a visual image of a girl in the middle of a circle with the cuffs “softly burning” her wrists. I jotted it down on piece of paper and started thinking about why metal would burn someone. I remembered that iron burned faeries. I also remembered a short story that I’d written for a creative writing class about a faery changeling that was really more a very long vignette. Putting them together was the beginning of the looooooong process of writing TITHE.

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

Conservatively, it took me about five years to finish writing TITHE. I have about three completely different drafts. I really had no idea how to structure a novel. I had a very hard time learning the shape of a book.

Once I finally finished, I showed the book to some of my friends. At the time, I was teetering between considering TITHE a YA novel or an adult novel. Tony (who I would later work on the SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES with) agreed to show the book to his editor, Kevin, and ask for his professional opinion. Kevin said it was indeed a young adult novel and that he wanted to buy it.

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

The biggest challenge was trying to get the tone that I wanted for the book along with a plot that I liked. I very much enjoyed the faery folklore research and would while away (read: waste) a lot of time in research. I found plotting to be a hugely difficult–at first it seemed an imposed and unnatural structure. In trying to understand it and make it organic, I think I wound up with a lot more plot than I expected. But the most important and thing was to understand the dynamics between all of the characters. Once that was in place, the story came to life and started moving on its own.

Cynsational Links

Recent children’s books with a focus on cats are eligible to enter the 2005 Cat Writers’ Association Communications Contest. The postmark deadline is July 1.

More personally, a pair of mourning doves are nesting in the pecan tree just outside the window of my sleeping porch.

First Things First

I’m forever amazed at the number of beginning writers who’re looking harder for an agent or an editor than at improving their prose. It is key to learn the industry, and it is a hard, increasingly big-money industry to learn, especially as related to its culture and politics. But…

As important as all that is, it’s insignificant next to the quality of your work. You cannot control if your manuscript sells. You cannot control if your book sells (though an agent/editor good at negotiating “push” is certainly a blessing). But…

You can write as well as you can rewrite.

Cynsational Links

Michelle Edwards, author of Papa’s Latkes (Candlewick, 2004), offers a lovely essay “Artifacts of a Knitting Life” from Lionbrand.com.

“Serve Up Critique Etiquette Like A Good Cup Of Tea” by Jodell Sadler from kidmagwriters.com. If the link doesn’t work, go to the main page and click “essential resources.” The April issue also features time-management tips, collecting “cool facts to wow your readers,” and critiquing poetry.

Critique: Reader Strategy

It’s usually helpful at some point to have thoughtful fellow writers* look at your work and offer comments for improvement. Especially if you’re a novelist, think hard about who’s good at what. One critiquer may be a wonderful big-picture person, another a great question-asker, a third good at helping to polish or trim prose. Be careful to have each read at the most helpful point in your process, even if they’re to read again later on. And remember that there may be a declining return if they’ve seen the manuscript too many times. The whole point is to get a fresh eye, not a tired one.

*writers, meaning not kids, not family members, not teachers, not your mail carrier (unless of course your kids, family members, teacher, and mail carrier also are writers)…

Cynsational News & Links

Am I the only one freaked out about the Arizona referendum Greg blogged about this week?

On a brighter note, congratulations to author Jane Kurtz on the birth of her granddaughter, Ellemae Inku Goering, born March 22, 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Pet Words

Writers tend to lean heavily on certain words or expressions. Nothing is wrong with this at the early stages because it helps get the draft down.

But especially if the same words appear again and again in most of the characters’ speech patterns, some tweaking is in order to distinguish the voices and add more variety to the prose.

A few thoughtful minutes, an awareness of the tendency, and the search function are usually all that’s needed in remedy.

I myself am particularly guilty when it comes to “oh” and “sort of.”

Cynsational Links

“E-Mail Submissions Made Easy” by Brandy S. Brow from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

Jan Thornhill: official author/illustrator site features biography, information on books, illustration techniques with step-by-steps, school visits, links, etc. Thornhill’s books include The Wildlife ABC & 124; Before & After: A Book of Nature Timescapes; The Rumor; and Over In The Meadow.

Madeleine Thien, author of The Chinese Violin (Whitecap Books, 2001), talks about writing, the beauty of reading, and the influence of her parents and of Malaysian culture in her work in an interview by Laura Atkins from Papertigers.org.

Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

“My mind is the key that sets me free.”
— Harry Houdini

Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Walker, 2005). Brilliantly crafted picture book biography unveils (some) secrets behind the famous magician. Includes bibliography. Ages 7-up.

In coordination with the publication of the book, Walker is encouraging readers under age 14 to share with them the book that provided them with a great escape. In 25 words or fewer, readers should include the title and author of the book as well as an explanation as to why the book is so special to them. Each entry will receive a free bracelet (like the Lance Armstrong bracelets, only red) that is inscribed with the Houdini quote featured above. Readers should see the Walker site for details (though your friendly blogging Cyn couldn’t find any).

I’m sporting my bracelet now and thus can verify that it is quite fetching.

Krull also is the author of another wonderful picture book biography A Woman For President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Jane Dyer (Walker, 2004)(ages 7-up)(see teacher’s guide).

Cynsational News & Links

Author Spotlight: Anjali Banerjee, author of Maya Running from the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. A new Q&A with a quickly rising star!

Author Anastasia Suen’s blog led me to a list of children’s/YA literary agencies at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (translation: players) and information on the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Collection Memorial Fellowship. Bookmark Anastasia for more news, including the latest changes at Harcourt!

Trust Your Reader

Greg is blogging this week about the importance of trusting your reader as related to potentially challenging vocabularly or references.

He talks about how critical it is to maintaining the authenticity of the point of view and secondary characters.

I’d like to offer another example or two.

Dialogue is too often filled with thinly veiled exposition. Here’s an example:

“Son, I was just thinking about our people, those the white man call ‘the Creek’–“

“Yes, Father, but we call ourselves ‘Mvskoke’ and–“

Nobody talks this way. Nobody has ever talked this way–outside of the aforementioned fiction and the occasional John Wayne movie. And what’s the kid doing interrupting his dad right then anyway?

Characters shouldn’t be mouthpieces for this kind of forced background information. It should be seamlessly integrated.

Another variation in children’s/YA books with social justice themes is to have a character, especially an adult character (elder, teacher, grandparent, social worker), state the lesson the writer hopes that young readers will take away.

Trusting your reader in part means letting them come to those conclusions for themselves. Then they’ll own the perspective and it will resonate with them in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Cynsational News & Links

Greg also talks this week about how one should Go Not To The Elves For Counsel…

Distractions and the Writers Who Love Them by Krysten Weller from Young Adult Books Central.

Lisa Yee’s Blog is now online. Lisa is the author of Millicent Min, Girl Genius (Arthur A. Levine, 2003), winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. In other blog news, Avenging Sybil takes a look at female teen sexuality in YA novels. Note: I found out about both of these blogs from E. Lockhart.