Fan Mail

Yesterday, I was honored to receive a couple of letters from readers of “Riding With Rosa,” a short story of mine that was published in the March/April 2005 issue of Cicada, a YA literary magazine, (p. 69, Vol. 7, No., 4).

Thematically, the story looks at the dynamic of a biracial boy, passing as white, and that of a gay boy, who’s just been “outed,” in a contemporary high school plagued by racism and homophobia. Though their personal circumstances are unique, the commonalities are explored.

The letters focussed on praising the sensitive portrayal of diversity of sexual orientation and the anti-bigotry subtext.

I write stories as stories first. I start with the character, consider his/her circumstances, etc. That’s the literary writer’s place. But certainly, it is gratifying when young readers say that my work challenged, enlightened or validated them.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, whose debut book (Sketches From A Sky Tree (Clarion, 2005)) I just recommended a few days ago, now has a debut blog, too. Surf over to Vaughn Zimmer to celebrate the launch, and shower Tracie with congratulations and good wishes.

Jacqueline Davies has added a few nifty PDF updates to her author Web site, including: (1) An Editorial Correspondence on The Boy Who Drew Birds between Jacqueline and Houghton Mifflin senior editor Ann Rider; (2) Booksignings: Stepping Into the Abyss. Note: the first took a while to download on my dial-up, but since I’m the last person in the world on dial-up, this probably applies only to me.

Building on Wednesday’s news about the L.A. Times review and signing for A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield (HarperCollins, 2005), surf over to hear “Seeing Red,” an interview with Amy about the book on “The Exchange” from New Hampshire public radio. Available on Real Audio or Windows Media. See also Amy’s About the Book: Inspiration.

Inspired by One Writer’s Journey, Debbi Michiko Florence‘s LJ (May 19 post), I found out my aura colors. They are: violet, green, and, to a lesser degree, yellow. Thanks for welcoming the newly syndicated spookycyn to LJ, Debbi!

Speaking of spookycyn, lately, I’m blogging about my ballgown & boots dream.

Ladies Who Lunch

I met Cyndi Hughes, former director of the Texas Book Festival turned literary agent/publicist, for lunch today at Green Pastures in South Austin.

Cyndi and I are both University of Kansas J-school graduates (AKA Jayhawks), so we have bonded on that and a book level.

Cynsational Links

Do As The Spider Does from Out of My Mind from Sharon A. Soffe. Some thoughts on generating writing ideas.

Check out the L.A. Times review of A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield (HarperCollins, 2005).

Surf over to spookycyn for my thoughts on dentistry.

Texas Writers Month; spookycyndicated

Texans love all things Texan, and this month we love writers in particular.

It makes me feel important and appreciated. Woo woo!

I’m just back from my local indie bookstore, BookPeople (2005 Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year), and the staff was celebrating Texas Writers Month in style.

The fancy-schmancy table in the BookKids department featured: Too Many Frogs by Sandy Asher, illustrated by Austinite Keith Graves (Philomel, 2005); Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly by Austinite Anne Bustard, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(see related author interview); Night Wonders by Austinite Jane Peddicord (Charlesbridge, 2005); How To Do Homework Without Throwing Up by Austinite Trevor Romain (Free Spirit, 1997)(see Trevor’s blog); Newbery and National Book Award winner Holes by Austinite Louis Sachar (FSG, 1998); Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Austinite Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003); Both Sides Now by Austinite Ruth Pennebaker; The Puppeteer’s Apprentice by former Austinite D. Anne Love (Margaret K. McElderry, 2003); 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by San Antonian Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow, 2002); Loony Little by Buda’s Dianna Hutts Aston (Candlewick, 2003); Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by the late Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault; and Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Austinite Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001).

A quick shout out of other Texas writers to know: College Station’s Kathi Appelt; Wimberly’s Janie Bynum; Houston’s Gail Giles; San Antonio’s Peni R. Griffin; Amarillo’s Kimberly Willis Holt; Dallas’ Helen Ketteman; Canyon Lake’s Tim Tingle; and Buda’s Jerry Wermund. Too many more to mention, but perhaps you’ll write in with some names.

Cynsational News & Links

Austin SCBWI has updated its member listings.

The brill Sharyn November has syndicated spookycyn for the thrills and chills of all of you LJ folks. Thanks Sharyn! For those of you unfamiliar with spookycyn, it’s more personal, chatty, and reflective of my journey through works in progress. It’s also where I’m more likely to feature books and authors of, say, gothic fantasy or suspense. Recent posts have centered on: Friday, the 13th; Over and Over You by Amy McAuley (Roaring Brook, 2005); my upcoming gothic fantasy YA novel; Capricorns; Lex Luthor; and of course my ghost. Thanks, Sharyn!

A Random Act Of Kindness

It’s a tough time in publishing right now with school/library cutbacks, a contraction in the picture book market, and so forth.

So, today, I’d like to ask cynsations readers to perform one random act of kindness for another book person. A writer, illustrator, teacher, librarian, bookseller, publicist, young reader–whomever.

It doesn’t have to be big or expense or dramatic, though it could be.

Send a card that says “thanks for all you do.” Drop an email that says “by the way, great hair!” Rent out a billboard on I-35 cheering on every mama who read a bedtime story to her kid last night. Anything, everything, whatever!

Just do something positive!


Today, I’m deep in the midst of reading manuscripts and answering author profile interview questions with Greg for a fall issue (October or November) of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

The books on my nightstand are: The Mother’s Tongue by Heid E. Erdrich (sister of Louise Erdrich)(Salt Publishing, 2005) and Looking For Alaska by John Green (Dutton, 2005)(yes, I know everybody else has already read it).

Cynsational News & Links

How to Become Rich and Famous in One Easy Step (and other stuff that has nothing to do with making kids’ books) by your pal Mo Willems from CBC Magazine.

Award-winning writer Jo Knowles debuts her Web site. I’m particularly fond of her FAQ, comprised of questions asked by her five-year-old son. Speaking of which, Batman can fly. He just needs to use a plane or other man-made invention to do so. What’s special about superheroes like Batman (and, say, Green Arrow or Oracle) is that they are people with normal potential who pushed and trained themselves to do extraordinary things so they could protect others. Batman was not given the ability to fly; he had to earn it.

Author Gail Giles blogs about Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005) at The YA Novel and Me (see May 9 post). See what I had to say about Storky.

Author Ellen Jackson blogs about 10 Great Picture Books That Appeal to Boys.

And on May 11, author Tanya Lee Stone calls me “lovely,” which I mention simply because it made me feel good.

Sketches from a Spy Tree, poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass

Sketches From A Spy Tree by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005). Sketches aren’t only drawings on the page but also pictures formed by words. In this case, poems. An invitation… To step into Ann Marie’s family portrait and snip out the father who snipped out some time ago himself, to find out what outsiders see in twins and what they’re blind to, to appreciate a quilt of cats eating soft, greasy chicken meat from the spotted hands of an elderly lady, to meet a stepdad and a grouch, to shiver in the March winds, to take a chance on someone new…or two. At times funny, at others tender, a self-portrait of a young artist sure to win hearts and challenge minds. Ages 8-up. Read a related author interview, and note that both the author and illustrator are twins.

Cynsational Links

Austin children’s illustrator Don Tate debuts his new blog, Devas T. Reads Kiddie Lit, with a discussion of My Father’s Summers by Kathi Appelt (Henry Holt, 2004).

The Art of Fiction: Who Do You Love? by Lisa Lenard-Cook from Authorlink, May 2005. A column focusing on reading. Note: as a reader, I love so many authors. Some that I haven’t mentioned lately: Donna Jo Napoli (author interview); Julius Lester; Martha Moore; Patrice Kindl; Margaret Peterson Haddix; among others.

In Search of Your Books Most Powerful Sales Tool: Your Title by Michael Larson from Authorlink, May 2005.

Far From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters

Far From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters (Little Brown, 2005). Between working out, playing softball, and keeping up the plumbing business her dad left behind, Mike’s days in Coalton, Kansas are if not full, at least familiar. Then one day, she walks into class. Xanadu. The most beautiful, smart-ass, conflicted girl in the world. Mike falls fast, and the two seem to connect. Only problem? Mike’s gay and Xanadu’s…not. A story of family, friendship, and unrequinted love. Barriers that can be broken and those that should be respected. Ages 12-up.

More On Far From Xanadu

Though the novel’s book-talk hook is the love story, the family and friendship threads are just as heavily weighted and highly satisfying reads. Mike’s best friend Jamie and brother Darryl are compelling, well-drawn, and especially resonate characters.

As someone who spent half of her childhood in Kansas, I found the town convincing and appreciated the opportunity to read a book set in the midwest. I also thought it was refreshing that “small town” didn’t automatically equal “universally bigoted.”

I’ve lived in and been around small towns, and it seems like this has become a stereotype. Call me an optimist, but some loving, good, clear-thinking people can be found everywhere.

Julie Anne Peters is one of my favorite YA authors. I highly recommend her other YA novels: Luna, Keeping You A Secret, and Define Normal–all published by Megan Tingley/Little Brown.

Cynsational News & Links

Interview with Julie Anne Peters by Malindo Lo from April 21, 2005. Note: this is an excellent, don’t-miss interview.

Read the first chapter of Far From Xanadu from Time Warner Books.

Surf over to Julie Anne Peters’ Blah, Blah, Blog.

“Anything Goes, But What Does a Banned-Book Author Do Next?”: a chat with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

The Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers 2005 Awards and Honors have been announced. Congratulations to all the honorees, especially Deborah L. Duval, author of Rabbit and the Bears: A Grandmother Story, illustrated by Murv Jacob (UNM Press, 2004) for best children’s book, Joy Harjo (author of The Good Luck Cat, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000)) for best screenplay, Devon A. Mihesuah, author of So You Want to Write About Indians? A Guide for Scholars, Writers, and Students (Booklocker, 2005), for research and Oyate for foundation/organization of the year!*

*one of my own books was a 2001 Wordcraft Circle winner: Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins). Follow Rain’s progress at

Social Justice In Native American Literature for Youth

Today, I received contributor copies of the Journal of Children’s Literature: A Journal of the Children’s Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (Vol. 31, No. 1, spring 2005), focusing on Special Collections of Children’s Literature, Book Illustrations, and Picture Book art.

My article “Social Justice in Native American Literature For Youth” appears on pg. 7. It was adapted from a speech I gave as part of the 2004 CLA Workshop on Social Justice in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Susan Taylor Brown debuts her blog, Write On Right Now! Her recent topics include: the balancing act: writing and the day job.

Tribute to Charlemae Hill Rollins from the de Gummond Children’s Literature Collection. “During her 30 year career as a librarian, author and storyteller, Mrs. Rollins was an advocate for the positive portrayal of African Americans in children’s literature.”

The Children’s Writing Update features the magazine market, insights from a librarian, and rules beginners should never break.

Who Wrote That? Featuring Laurie Halse Anderson from Patricia M. Newman. I learned about this profile from Laurie’s LJ.

Greg and I were invited to Walter The Giant‘s upcoming birthday party! The invitation came this week. Woo woo! Walter–a long-time children’s/YA lit guru–is now also the author of Walter The Giant Storyteller’s Giant Book Of Giant Stories, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley (Walker, 2005).

Congratulations to author Amanda Jenkins, recipient of the latest PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship!

Thank you to Kids Lit: Books and More for Kids and Teens for mentioning mine and Greg‘s blogs!

Picture Book Length

Picture books should be as long as they need to be. That every-word-perfect standard is high.

Traditionally, the core market audience for picture books is 4 to 7. However, picture books are increasingly used with older kids, even teenagers; ie: In fact, Kelly Milner Halls’ Albino Animals was both a YALSA Quick Pick and BBYA this past year.

Forces I suspect drive the shorter-picture book trend include: (1) pushing younger and younger children to read novels (AKA “growing up is a race”);* (2) the decline of the school/library market, which means that there is less money for literary trade books in the classroom; (3) the emphasis on standardized testing, which means there is less time for literary trade books in the classroom; (4) the decline of local bookstores (buyers appear to favor curriculum tie-in and bedtime stories); (5) the rise of national bookstores (buyers appear to favor books more for a rousing storytime); and (6) an emphasis on mainstream American consumers (as opposed to ethnic minorities, urbans, etc.).

That said, the industry is notoriously cyclical, and change can be counted on.

My first picture book, Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) was 850 words. The picture book that my husband and I wrote together this past year and for which we just signed a contract with Dutton is 1012 words (before final edits). The latter is a quicker read aloud because of the pacing and tone.

So, believe in your stories and polish, polish, polish!

More Thoughts

*”My seven year old can read Harry Potter!”
“Well, my four year old can read Harry Potter!”
“My baby read Harry Potter in utero!”

Madame Esmé and I spoke about this rather frightening parenting trend on a panel at a recent Texas Book Festival. Visit her at Planet Esmé.

Cynsational Links

Thanks to the following folks for their recent comments on this blog or its LJ syndication: illustrator Don Tate; author D.L. Garfinkle, author Haemi Balgassi; the Complimenting Complimenter; author Laurie Halse Anderson; author Mary E. Pearson; writer Kimberly Pauley; and author Cynthia Lord.

It was on CynthiaL’s blog that I learned about another great one, Notes from the Slush Pile.

Thanks also to Debbi Michiko Florence for her recent congratulations on mine and Greg’s picture book sale to Dutton!

Boys & Girls, Men & Women, Authors & Heroes

Last night, I led a chat exploring gender writing issues with author panelists Nancy Werlin, D.L. Garfinkle, and Brian Yansky at The YA Authors Cafe. I’ll let y’all know when the transcript is posted online, but in the meantime, here’s a sampling of the questions I asked them:

What are your experiences, challenges, and/or lack thereof when it comes to writing a cross-gender protagonist? I.e., from a female point of view if you’re a male.

Is there such a thing as “gender authenticity” in voice? Is it sexist to ask? Is it sexist not to?

It’s often said that girls will read “boy” books, but boys won’t read “girl” books. What do you think is a “boy” book? What is a “girl” book?

Assuming boys won’t read “girl” books, but “girls” will read either, should we be more worried about this? Is it part of the reason there are, say, so few women in Congress?

Do male authors have an advantage in a business so dominated by women? And if so, why and how does it manifest itself?

Are there downsides to being a male author? And if so, why and how do they manifest themselves?

Overall, do you think men and women approach the craft and/or business differently, and if so, how?

Any thoughts appreciated!

Cynsational Links

Check out the latest from editor Harold Underdown’s May blog on: resubmitting to an agent or publisher; source citation in children’s nonfiction; non-profit and grant-supported publishers; responding to a personal rejection; picture book length; and more.

The Secret to Becoming a Published Writer by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon. Notice that my secret is included! I was so flattered. Visit the author mentor/teachers I mentioned, Jane Kurtz and Kathi Appelt, to learn more about them and their work.