What’s In A Name by Ellen Wittlinger

What’s In A Name by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon Push, 2000). Scrub Harbor or Folly Bay? The rich families with the $500,000 a year dads, they’re the ones who think it’s a good idea to change the name to Folly Bay. Good for real estate, good for the future. But the working class families who’ve lived here forever–Scrub Harbor sounds like home to them. Now the town teens are divided between the “Follies” and the “Scrubs,” but that’s not all that separates them. Each is trapped within others’ expectations of who he or she really is. This novel, told from ten points of view, strips away those stereotypes, and looks deeper into what identity really means. Ages 12-up.

More Thoughts on What’s In A Name

I love Ellen Wittlinger‘s work, and her Prinz Honor book Hard Love (Simon & Schuster, 1999) is one of my all-time favorites. So, I was pleased to read What’s In A Name for my upcoming residency at Vermont College.

The characters include: Georgie, who lives in an apartment over The Pampered Pooch and whose previously absent dad suddenly wants her to move in with him in Los Angeles; O’Neill, who’s debating whether he needs to reveal his sexual orientation; Ricardo, an exchange student from Brazil; Christine, who’s long had feelings for O’Neill; Nadia, whose family moved to Scrub Harbor long ago from Russia but still doesn’t fit in; Nelson, an Ivy-League-bound African American who’s developing feelings for a girl bussed in; Shaquanda, who thinks Nelson doesn’t know what it means to be black but is sure that it’s not the sum total of her whole identity; Adam, who was popular at his old school but finding it hard to win acceptance; Quincy, O’Neill’s football star brother who’s not sure about his own girlfriend; and Gretchen, Quincy’s girlfriend, sure, but much more her mother’s daughter–at least in the eyes of the world.

But these, again, are the tags, the superficial descriptions, and this is a book about digging deeper, finding out more, and understanding commonalities. Read it for yourself and see.

Cynsational News & Links

See Create/Relate, Anastasia Suen’s blog, on Madonna’s alleged ghost writer and the denial of the story. This reminds me. The most hysterical thing I ever heard at the Texas Book Festival was Lindsey Lane’s reading of her poem, “Madonna Is Stalking Me.” Lindsey is the author of Snuggle Mountain, illustrated by Melissa Iwai (Clarion, 2003). See the 2005 list of children’s authors appearing at the Texas Book Festival.

Thanks to Professor Judy A. Leavell’s class at Texas State University San Marcos for their kind and enthusiastic thank you notes in response to mine and Greg’s recent visit.

Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia offers summer M.A. and M.F.A. programs in the study and writing of children’s literature.

Author Interview: Lara M. Zeises on Anyone But You

Anyone But You by Lara M. Zeises (Delacorte, 2005). It’s one hot summer. Seattle’s planning to spend her early vacation days hanging out with her stepbrothers–Jesse and Critter. But it’s too hot for Sea to skate, too hot for Critter to chase girls, and responsible Jesse is busy working. Layla, the boys’ mom, is working all the time, too, and Sea’s dad took off six years ago. That leaves step-siblings-turned-best-friends Sea and Critter to venture to a swimming pool in an nearby upscale town. It’s there that Critter falls for a pretty life guard, and before long, Sea’s spending all of her time with a skater boy who’s on the rebound and just visiting for the summer. Neither Critter nor Sea is happy, though both struggle with why, and then Sea’s dad reappears, even further confusing the roles of friendship, love, and family. Ages 12-up. More on Anyone But You.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I almost always start with character. I had this idea that I wanted to write about the best friend of the popular girl – you know, the silent one who secretly has all of the power? That’s how I started to conceive Sarah. And then I was thinking about how best to shake up her world, and thus Critter – a tall, skinny kid with a fixation on Rod Stewart – was born. But in playing the “what if” game, Critter suddenly had a blue-haired sister who wasn’t really his sister. And then two of them became way more interesting to me than Sarah, so she took a backseat and I focused more on Sea and Critter.

I didn’t know that Sea was a skateboarder until the second draft. This is partially because when I was writing the first draft I was convinced that Critter and Seattle were going to hook up. But by the time I started to write the actually hooking up parts, it just felt wrong. My editor, the brilliant Jodi Kreitzman, and I talked a lot about what direction to take the book in. The word “family” came up over and over and over. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t so much about a forbidden romance as it was a family in crisis.

In this context Seattle as a character needed some fleshing out. Jodi was pushing for her to join the swim team, but I knew Sea wasn’t a joiner. And then one day I was talking to my friend and he said his cousin was dating a pro-skateboarder and WHAM! I knew instantly she was a skateboarder.

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

I remember the exact spot where I thought, “What if Critter had a blue-haired sister who wasn’t really his sister?” I was walking across the parking lot to the Needham Library in MA, on my lunch break. This was November of 2000. In the summer of 2001, just after I’d sold/revised Bringing Up The Bones for Delacorte, I wrote maybe 16 pages, the first few in Sarah’s voice (which I quickly discarded) and the rest in Seattle’s voice (which I instantly loved).

That fall I sold Contents Under Pressure to Delacorte, and then a month later moved back to Delaware. In adjusting to the move, looking for a job, and revising Contents, I didn’t get a chance to revisit Anyone But You until the fall of 2002. My agent had asked me for a full synopsis and some sample chapters and we used them to sell the book to Delacorte in spring 2003.

I turned the first draft – a big, ugly, messy draft – into my brilliant editor, Jodi Kreitzman, that fall. We talked a lot about what direction I wanted to take the project, and the word “family” came up over and over. So that’s what guided my revision all through the winter/spring of 2004 (while launching Contents Under Pressure and teaching two classes at the University of Delaware). The second draft crystalized what the story was really about – this loving, lower-middle class family trying very hard to keep it all together emotionally, financially, etc.

Jodi and I were both pretty happy with the second draft, but we did another round of minor revisions before sending the manuscript into production. Galleys were sent out in early June and the book will be out on November 8th.

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

Since this was going to be my third book, I wanted to stretch my wings a bit. People had been asking if I was ever going to write in boy voice. And I wanted to play around with structure, too. The result was these two alternating first person POVs.

Then I had to deal with the sexy parts. I’m very, very vigilant about making sure that every sex scene is there for a reason, and not just to shock people or whatever. So I walked a super-fine line when dealing with those scenes, trying to be certain that every word, every action served a specific purpose. Shelli, Critter’s “friend with benefits,” was particularly difficult to write because I didn’t want the reader to see her as pathetic, but I didn’t want them to see Critter as a villain, either. She gets to have a moment at the end that I think gives her some real dignity, and I was glad I could have that and stay true to the voice of the piece.

The research for the skating stuff was relatively easy. I used to be a journalist, and that helps out a lot when I’m researching. I e-mailed a female pro skateboarder and talked to her about skating. I watched videos of tricks online, and read up on everything there is to know. Finally, I had the female pro and a college friend who skates and writes for skater mags to read through my pages to make sure I got it all right. They corrected a few mistakes but overall thought I nailed it.

The final big challenge I dealt with was that this was the first book I wrote outside of grad school. And while I thought about my characters 24/7, the time I actually spent writing their story was brief – the bulk of the first draft was written in six weeks and revised in another eight. I’m still struggling with discipline in terms of a writing schedule. Actually, I’d kill to have the tiniest bit of structure in my life. How do other writers do it? I do not know.

Note: Don’t miss other recent cynsational front list interviews with: Anne Bustard on BUDDY: THE STORY OF BUDDY HOLLY (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005); Kathi Appelt and Joy Fisher Hein on MISS LADY BIRD’S FLOWERS: HOW A FIRST LADY CHANGED AMERICA (Harper, 2005); Elisa Carbone on LAST DANCE ON HOLLADAY STREET (Knopf, 2005); Mary E. Pearson on A ROOM ON LORELEI STREET (Henry Holt, 2005); Cecil Castellucci on BOY PROOF (Candlewick, 2005); Kerry Madden on GENTLE’S HOLLER (Viking, 2005); and Jennifer Richard Jacobson on STAINED (Atheneum, 2005).

Cynsational Links

Author Interviews: Lara Zeises from Downhomebooks.com. February 2004. Also visit Lara’s LJ, girl uninterrupted.

Interview with author James Deem from by Juanita Havill from The Purple Crayon. Emphasis on writing, Deem’s work, and promoting books online.

Musings July 2005: “Writing Time Outs” Can Help You Polish Your Picture Book by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon.

See also July publisher editorial staff changes at The Purple Crayon.

Pizza for the Queen by Nancy Castaldo, illustrated by Melisande Potter

“The World calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers,
but they are just the people who have never forgotten the way to fairy land.”
— L.M. Montgomery,
quoted on Nancy Castaldo’s Web site

Pizza for the Queen by Nancy Castaldo, illustrated by Melisande Potter (Holiday House, 2005). Raffaele is thrilled when the queen’s messenger asks him to make a pizza for her. What an honor! But what should he put on his pizza? Giovanni’s mozzarella, Maria’s olive oil, Guiseppe’s sausage, Niccolo’s little fishes? Wait! He’ll make three and the queen will have her choice of his best. But what does Meow-Meow do to the little fishes, and what then will Raffaele put on his third pizza? Which one will the queen like best? Ages 4-up.

More on Pizza for the Queen

Okay, it’s a pizza book set in Italy. I love Italian food. I love pizza. There you go.

But it’s also more than that. There’s a tremendous charm to the language and art–it’s like a vacation in a book.

The author’s note features some historical background and some fun facts. Did you know that “93 percent of Americans eat at least one pizza per month…”? I probably average two.

I’m into thin crust, and my husband Greg is into Chicago-style deep dish. It’s a mixed marriage.

note: Melisande has an accent mark over the first “e,” but Blogger formatting is refusing to accept it. My apologies.

Cynsational News & Links

Old and New Stories from Appalachia by Tina L. Hanlon from The Five Owls. Thanks to author Kerry Madden for recommending this link. See also these related articles: Growing Up in the New South by Mark I. West; African Americans Making a Difference in the New South by Michelle H. Martin; and Ellen Foster: Survival in the New South by Paula Gallant Eckard.

Thanks to Cecil Castellucci for mentioning my recent interviews with authors Jennifer Richard Jacobson and Kerry Madden on her LJ (see 7/11 post).

Author Interview: Jennifer Richard Jacobson on Stained

Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (Atheneum, 2005). Jocelyn loves Gabe, loves Benny, but Father Warren sees her as a demon child, a temptation, in league with Satan, all bad. Or is that just a diversion from his own agenda and manipulations? Ages 12-up.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Sometimes an event will spark an idea for a story — and yet no trace of the inspiration exists in the final form. That’s what happened with Stained. I had a dream in which a childhood friend (clearly distressed) told me that a marriage of thirty years was ending. He also said that he would miss the close relationship he had with his father. The next morning, I learned that my friend had died that night. We were both thirty years old.

For years I tried to write a ghost story around that dream. As you can see, there is no trace of a ghost, a dream, or a premonition in Stained. But somehow the many, many attempts to tell the first tale led me to the story I needed to tell.

Incidentally, my working title for Stained was Flying Dreams.

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

I had the dream in 1988 soon after my daughter was born. I had decided not to return to teaching and instead set out to write and consult (educationally) fulltime. I spent many years off and on trying to write this novel, but the Jocelyn’s voice eluded me. All of my drafts sounded tinny and well, shallow. I published two picture books and eventually two young novels, but Stained languished.

Around 2000, I read Joanna Beard‘s wonderful memoir The Boys of My Youth and something went right through me. She writes of her childhood in first person present and you feel as if she hasn’t forgotten a single detail. Experimenting, I began to write some scene’s from Jocelyn’s youth. These scenes had a power, an energy that had not existed in my earlier drafts. Her voice emerged. It was then that I started alternating chapters from Jocelyn’s past and present. (Later I discovered a dream journal I had kept in my twenties. Jocelyn’s voice is identical to the voice I used when recording my dreams.)

Franny Billingsley, who had heard early chapters of Stained at a writing retreat, introduced me to Richard Jackson at an IRA convention. Dick expressed interest in seeing my story, but I didn’t have a completed manuscript. I couldn’t get the ending. Not wanting to blow my chances, I continued to work on the story for two more years. My agent, Barry Goldblatt, read the story helped me revise a draft, and we FINALLY decided to send it off.

Dick called to say that he loved the story — until page 136. He didn’t like the ending. But, if I was willing to make a significant change (no spoilers here), he’d would be happy to work on it with me.

I imagine that we worked on the story together for a better part of a year (I have no sense of real time when I think of the writing of Stained. It is the only project I have allowed to grow entirely in its own time.) What did that look like? Mainly, Dick asked questions and I went in deeper for answers. My mantra that year was: “Is it true, yet?”

I didn’t want to drive my characters – they couldn’t act as vehicles for the story. I wanted to be true to their natures. All three of the kids in Stained were carrying shame, and shame causes us to act in confused and sometimes destructive ways.

Before we were done, Ginee Seo at Atheneum had also weighed in on the ending. She asked: What’s Jocelyn’s position in the community now? Is she more of an outsider than ever before, or is she more accepted? Essential questions like these helped me to continue to focus on hope.

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

Like most writers, I experienced challenges on both a logistical level and an emotional level. The alternating chapters proved to be the greatest challenge of craft. When I wanted to insert a scene from the past, I had to write another scene for the present and visa versa. And they couldn’t be just any old scene. My goal was to have each scene from the past inform the present, and each scene in the present hint of the past. Sometimes I felt as I was constructing an elaborate puzzle. I don’t think I’ll use such a rigid structure again!

On an emotional level, I struggled with the larger themes: abuse, sexual identity, coming of age, faith. What did I want to say? Interestingly, one of the themes that interested me most, and has been largely ignored by reviewers, is misogyny. The early seventies is often referred to as a time of free love, but Jocelyn was caught in that psychological double standard that existed then and does so today. She was “in partnership with the devil, cheap.” Today girls call one another sluts – and it’s still meant to degrade. What does this do to the female psyche? How does it operate in our collective consciousness?

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the 70’s and recalling the details of my teen years. I had a wonderful copyeditor who doggedly researched the details. Fortunately, she caught an error right up front. In my very first chapter, I had an answering machine. Although they were invented in 1975, middle-class families hadn’t acquired them yet. Thank goodness for copyeditors.

Cynsational Links

I Am Alexandra Feodorovna AKA author Libba Bray’s WriteFest report, posted to her Live Journal. WriteFest is the Leitich Smith novel workshop. (See more on WriteFest at spookycyn; see primary workshop posts from June 14-19, including the participant roster).

Bartography: the blog of Chris Barton. Chris is the author of The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2007). Happy belated birthday, Chris!

Come to Your Senses from Out of My Mind, Sharon A. Soffe’s blog. On integrating sensory details into your writing.

The Quill Awards from Create/Relate, Anastasia Suen’s blog. A listing of nominees, including: September Roses by Jeanette Winter (FSG, 2004); The People Could Fly: The Picture Book by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Diane and Leo Dillon (Knopf, 2004); Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005); Gentle’s Holler by Kerry Madden (Viking, 2005); Pinned by Alfred C. Martino (Harcourt, 2005); The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005); Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005); So Hard To Say by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2004); Spin Control by Niki Burnham (Simon Pulse, 2005); Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005). Mark your calendars! Voting begins online August 15.

Sarah Sullivan Official Author Site: new debut site from the author of Root Beer and Banana, illustrated by Greg Shed, and Dear Baby, illustrated by Paul Meisel, both published by Candlewick, 2005. Includes school visit information.

Anyone But You by Lara M. Zeises

Anyone But You by Lara M. Zeises (Delacorte, 2005). It’s one hot summer. Seattle’s planning to spend her early vacation days hanging out with her stepbrothers–Jesse and Critter. But it’s too hot for Sea to skate, too hot for Critter to chase girls, and responsible Jesse is busy working. Layla, the boys’ mom, is working all the time, too, and Sea’s dad took off six years ago. That leaves step-siblings-turned-best-friends Sea and Critter to venture to a swimming pool in an nearby upscale town. It’s there that Critter falls for a pretty life guard, and before long, Sea’s spending all of her time with a skater boy who’s on the rebound and just visiting for the summer. Neither Critter nor Sea is happy, though both struggle with why, and then Sea’s dad reappears, even further confusing the roles of friendship, love, and family. Ages 12-up.

More Thoughts on Anyone But You

Great Shades of Greg and Marcia! Lara Zeises is a genius. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Read it in one sitting. Okay, I was actually sprawled on the bed in front of the fan with a glass of iced tea, but it was one-sitting-ish.

Both Sea and Critter’s alternating voices are engaging and distinct, conveying character and giving the reader insights that clarify motivation and fuel the story.

I, like Critter, am a fan of Rod Stewart. One of my clearest childhood memories is my one older cousin Laura dancing to “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” in my Grandma Melba’s living room.

The skater (as in skateboard) girl perspective and culture was interesting.

I also especially liked how Critter found a variety of female body types attractive. His analysis of the girls from “Clueless” (especially Brittany Murphy) was appreciated.

The ending will leave you panting for more.

Cynsational Links

Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Chair Kathi Appelt has informed me that I’ll be guest teaching under the wing of Margaret Bechard and leading a workshop with Ron Koertge. I am of course ecstatic.

Nancy Childress, daughter of Robert Childress, illustrator of the Dick and Jane books, writes announcing a tribute site to her father’s work. Nancy was the model for “Sally.” She is available for related presentations.

“Letting Go of Your Babies” by Linda George, in the Work Habits section of Writer’s Support (Growing up as a writer) from the Institute of Children’s Literature. On reworking early manuscripts rather than moving on to new projects. See also: “Overcoming CP (Chronic Procrastination)” by Heather Tomasello, in the Getting Started section of Writer’s Support, also from ICL.

“Basketball and Murder: Taking the Perfect Shot at Mystery Writing for Young Adults.” An ICL chat transcript with author Elaine Marie Alphin and Shannon Barefield, Editorial Director of Carolrhoda Books.

2004-2005 Crown Reading Award Winners

The Crown Award Reading Program, which is endorsed by the National Christian Schools Association, has announced its annual children’s/YA book awards:

Children’s Crown Gallery Award

Winner: The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Mary GrandPre (Dial)

Honor Book: Eaglet’s World by Evelyn Minshull and illustrated by Andrea Gabriel (Albert Whitman)

See the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 nominees.

Children’s Crown Award

Winner: Runt by Marion Dane Bauer (Clarion)

Honor Book: Stolen by the Sea by Anna Myers (Walker)*

Honor Book: The Great Serum Race by Debbie S. Miller, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle (Walker)*

Honor Book: Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot by Margot Theis Raven and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (Sleeping Bear Press)

See the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 nominees.

* a tie

Lamplighter Award

Winner: Among The Betrayed by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster)

Honor Book: Tree Castle Island by Jean Craighead George (HarperTrophy)

See the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 nominees.

Nominate a book for the Crown Reading Awards Program.

Cynsational Links

Across The States Reading List: a bibliography of recommended books by setting from SJLibrary.org.

Q&A With Author Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin, whose picture book My Name is Bilal was illustrated by Barbara Kiwak (Boyds Mills Press, 2005). A look at religious prejudice: what is it like to be one of the only Muslim kids in school?

The Journal of African American Children’s Literaure: official Web site includes call-for-papers, CSK Awards, book reviews, and much more. I found out about this site from illustrator Don Tate. See the spotlight honoring illustrator-author Tom Feelings.

Nice Work–Just Change Everything by Jenna Glatzer from Writersdigest.com. On receiving revision suggestions from one’s editor.

Danitra Brown, Class Clown by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Danitra Brown, Class Clown by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Amistad/Harper, 2005). It’s back to school for best friends Zuri Jackson and Danitra Brown, and Zuri’s full of worry–about the new teacher, about the note Luther snatched, about her mom’s health, her math homework, and more. But Danitra is always there–loyal and true. This third book starring Zuri and Danitra is another winner. Beautifully illustrated by Lewis, brimming with truth, heart, and friendship. Ages 5-up. Highly recommended.

More Thoughts on Danitra Brown, Class Clown

A wonderful title for back to school!

Don’t miss the companion books: Meet Danitra Brown and Danitra Brown Leaves Town, both by the same acclaimed author-illustrator team.

Cynsational Links

Susan Taylor Brown blogs about Finding Your Writer’s Voice at Write On Right Now!

Interview with Susanna Reich from the “Secrets Of Success” column on author Ellen Jackson’s Web site. Susanna’s first book, Clara Schumann, Piano Virtuoso (Clarion, 1999), was followed by a dry spell. But now, here comes the rain (and new books!).

YA Comes Out with Brent Hartinger, Julie Anne Peters, Ellen Wittlinger, Alex Sanchez and Chris Tebbetts: a YA Authors Cafe chat log from April 2005.

Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee

Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee (Clarion, 2005). An exuberant, rhyming picture book told from the perspective of a hungry young girl during her family’s preparations to eat bee-bim bop (rice topped with vegetables and meat or “mix-mix rice”) for dinner. Lee’s illustrations are warm and add humor, especially in their depictions of the family dog. A recipe with directions for “you” (the child reader) and a grown-up are included as is an author’s note that features a lovely photo of the author with her niece and nephew to whom the book is dedicated. “Hurry, family, hurry…Gotta hop hop hop…Dinner’s on the table…and it’s BEE-BIM BOP!” Ages 3-up.

More Thoughts on Bee-bim Bop!

The author’s bio on the back flap notes that Linda Sue Park has worked as a food journalist and won cooking contests.

The illustrator’s bio notes that Ho Baek Lee lives in Seoul–making this a Korean-American meets Korean crafted book, which is delightfully international and appropriate.

This picture book made me sing the words, laugh, and hungry! I’m definitely trying bee-bim bop soon!

Other Recent Picture Book Recommendations: The Good Rainbow Road/Rawa ‘Kashtyaa’tsi Hiyaani by Simon J. Ortiz, illustrated by Michael Lacapa (The University of Arizona Press, 2004), Buddy: The Story Of Buddy Holly by Anne Bustard (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(link features interview with author); Hotel Deep: Light Verse From Dark Water by Kurt Cyrus (Harcourt, 2005); Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Harcourt, 2005); Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla (Boyds Mills Press, 2005); Night Wonders by Jane Peddicord (Charlesbridge, 2005); Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (HarperCollins, 2005)(link features interview with author and illustrator); Once Upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude written and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, illustrated by Carol Heyer, illustrated by Scott Goto (Walker, 2005); Houdini: World’s Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Walker, 2005); and It Is The Wind by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins, 2005).

Cynsational News & Links

AuthorSchoolGig.com: “a fully searchable website of talented authors, illustrators, storytellers, musicians and entertainers such as magicians and clowns who specialize in presentations to grades Pre-K through 12.” Very new (still under construction) but beautifully designed site. Perhaps bookmark for further investigation.

BookConnector: “connects authors and publishers with people and resources that promote your manuscript. We intelligently match your book’s characteristics with our large database of reviewers, review sites, book clubs, and reading venues.” Note: I haven’t tried this yet myself as you have to be a member, and I haven’t registered.

KidMagWriters.com has posted its July issue. The staff is celebrating by giving away a free e-book, filled with articles from its first year. New articles focus on writing for testing companies, speaking at schools before you’re published, creating a Web site before you’re published, and writing poetry.

Congrats to my husband, Greg Leitich Smith. Yesterday was the official release date of his new novel, Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005) as well as the paperback edition of his debut novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005).

Author Interview: Kerry Madden on Gentle’s Holler

Gentle’s Holler by Kerry Madden (Viking, 2005). From the flap copy: “The sixties may have come to other parts of North Carolina, but with Mama pregnant again, Daddy struggling to find work, and nine siblings underfoot, nobody in the holler has much time for modern-day notions. Especially not twelve-year-old Livy Two, aspiring songwriter and self-appointed guardian of little sister Gentle, whose eyes ‘don’t work so good yet.’ Even after a doctor confirms her fears, Livy Two is determined to make the best of Gentle’s situation and sets out to transform the family’s scrappy dachshund into a genuine Seeing-Eye dog. But when tragedy strikes, can Livy Two continue to stay strong for her family?”

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I grew up the daughter of a college football coach, (ten states) which meant we moved constantly to various football towns, adopted the various mascots (cyclones, wild cats, panthers), and dressed in the obligatory orange and white, blue and gold, purple and white. In high school, we moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, and while I didn’t care much for Big Orange Football, I fell in love with the Smoky Mountains, the setting for Gentle’s Holler.

When my dad got a job with the Detroit Lions when I was a senior in high school, I opted to stay in Tennessee. I never realized how that decade in Tennessee would inform my writing. I met my husband toward the end of college, who grew up one of 13 children, in Middle Tennessee. His uncle, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, was also a songcatcher in the mountains of North Carolina.

The spark? In 2001, when I was doing some particularly soul-killing writing (“How to Stay Healthy if you Sell Insurance”) and ghostwriting for celebrity spawn, and writing a particularly mean-spirited adult novel that did not sell (big surprise). I knew that if I didn’t write about something I cared about and loved, I was going to lose myself. I know this sounds dramatic, but it’s the truth. I also needed to write Gentle’s Holler with love…instead of being clever or mean – I’d done that – this needed to be a book written with love and joy and of course, doubt, fear, worries too…that’s inescapable for me…but I let the love and joy for these mountain kids come first…and I listened to Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Mississippi John Hurt, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, Lucinda Williams, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Reno & Smiley… The stories of this music was a balm and salve to my psyche, and I played it when I wasn’t writing…even though it drove my kids crazy, especially the teenagers dove for volume button whenever I picked them at school, Hank Williams blasting.

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

2001: I began writing it in the fall of 2001, and I don’t think 9/11 informed it other than I knew I needed to write something I loved. When I was writing the drudgery paying work, I had to force myself to write, but when I would switch files and write Gentle’s Holler, it was like sticking my face in a field of wild flowers. I felt this sanity/serenity happen whenever I worked on Gentle’s Holler.

2002: Of course, I sent it out too fast, (my worst fault which I hope I have since corrected) based on my need to sell a book. It had been a long time since Offsides was published (1996), and I was beginning to feel desperate as all my friends were landing book deals and I was so busy teaching fiction writing and raising our three kids… I think I was beginning to feel less like a writer and more like a cheerleader of other writers. So I sent out the first three chapters to an editor, who loved the voice and asked me to write the whole book. I wrote the whole book fast, and it was rejected as it should have been. It was wobbly and rushed and not much good. So I did more revisions and sent it out to more editors, racked up more rejections.

A note: The early versions were happy/sappy versions, where everything worked out…nothing too sad happened… One editor told me how corny it was, and another encouraged me to cut eight of the ten kids…but mostly I received generic rejections… I also showed this early draft to my friend, Amy Goldman Koss, a wonderful children’s writer, and she said, “I like it. But we’re at page 18, and I really think something should happen by now.” The kids had been sitting in the garden for ages shooting the breeze doing absolutely NOTHING…

2003: After about the 10th rejection, I was driving with my son, Flannery, who was 13 at the time, and I said, “It’s hopeless. Nobody wants it.” He said, “I know what you need to do,” to which I replied, “What do you mean, you know? you don’t know…” His response? “Mom, you haven’t done anything with the dad. You need to do something BIG with the dad.” I said, “I don’t have to have this major thing happen with the dad…” Flannery said, “Fine, don’t do anything with the dad – leave it all just the way it is…” Silence. We both knew he was right…but it meant really going deep and dark into the material, and I was scared.

So I spent the winter and spring really writing it…taking my time… I refused to rush it… Biggest thing of all for me? I refused to let anyone read it. I just decided to be alone with my story for as long as it took. When it was ready, I sent it to an agent, Marianne Merola at Brandt & Hochman, who liked it, but said, “It’s so depressing – the poor kids who read this – can you give them just a little hope?”

Before I had this conversation with Marianne, I also attended an SCBWI Writers Day in California and Melanie Cecka, (now an editor at Bloomsbury) looked at all of us 400 plus attendees and said, “Don’t give me your manuscript, I can’t carry them all on the flight, but send it to me, and I will read it if you tell me you attended Writers’ Day.” So I sent her the sad version too.

Then I had the conversation with the agent, Marianne, about giving more hope to the story, so I rewrote a new version injected with some hope and sent it back her. Marianne didn’t read it for a while, but then Melanie Cecka wrote me and said that she liked it, and she had read the dark version… I called Marianne (my first call to her) and said, “Viking is interested, but I have this more hopeful revision…have you read it? Are you interested? What do I tell Viking?”

Marianne said, “I’ll read it this weekend…and in the meantime, tell Viking you have a new version.” I wrote to Melanie and told her about the new draft, and she was thrilled because she’d been worried about how dark/sad/depressing it was too…so she asked me to email her the new draft. Melanie loved the new draft and became my editor, and Marianne loved the new draft and become my agent…and they worked out the deal. That was in the fall of 2003, and the pub date was March 2005.

2004: I spent 2004 working on Livy Two’s brother’s book and doing the edits for Gentle’s Holler and preparing to do my own book tour. I knew I wanted the tour to be writing workshops for kids, because I’d done a book tour with Offsides and read to the clerks in empty bookstores, and I didn’t want a repeat.

Then my editor, Melanie, left Viking for Bloomsbury but she left after we’d completed the major edits, and I inherited a new editor, Catherine Frank, at Viking. It was hard to see Melanie go, but I really like Catherine, and she’s been very supportive with the sequel and the idea of a series. Although I have now finished a draft of the brother’s book, Ghost Town Days, Viking wants me to write m ore books in Livy Two’s voice, so Ghost Town Days is on hold for now, while I write Louise’s Palette, about the shy sister who paints.

{Ghost Town Days is definitely YA, not middle-grade – and it’s about a fifteen-year-old Emmett Weems, Livy Two’s big brother, who has run off to work up at Ghost Town in the Sky, an amusement park built on top of Buck Mountain in Maggie Valley. He loves the superhero, Saturn Girl, wants to be a gunslinger in the Wild West Show, but gets stuck working the merry-go-round, which wounds his pride deeply. An iguana, a Cherokee Indian, graverobbers, a blacksmith, and an incorrigible uncle, (the nervous night watchman of Ghost Town who steals Emmett’s paycheck to pay his poker debts) are all part of Emmett’s story. Ghost Town Days is about Emmett becoming a man, forgiving his father, finding peace with himself. I really loved writing his story too.}

Anyway, Viking would like me to build my audience with younger girls before I tell Emmett’s story.

And finally in 2004, Rosemary Wells and Betsy Byars, my writing heroes from childhood and whose books my own children were raised on, gave me jacket quotes for Gentle’s Holler…I felt enormously grateful.

2005: In February of 2005, I received an early Starred Kirkus. I was shocked…I didn’t even know there were Starred Reviews…Then it received a Starred PW…Then I went on the book tour to the setting of the book, Maggie Valley, North Carolina, to do writing workshops with the mountain kids.

The Mayor of Maggie Valley (population 900) gave me a key to the city and declared April 19, GENTLE’S HOLLER DAY.

I felt so lucky to meet so many people who wanted to tell me their stories about growing up in the mountains.

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

What a question…a great question. I’ll really show my ignorance now, but I didn’t realize there was a difference between YA and middle grade novels when I wrote Gentle’s Holler. I just thought I was writing YA but I’ve since learned that Gentle’s Holler is more middle-grade, because Livy Two is twelve even though her older brother is definitely experiencing my “YA” problems. I also didn’t know it was historical fiction because of the 1962 setting. I just wanted to write a story about kid who dreams of adventures from her mountain home and worries about her sister’s eyes. I had a disturbing fascination with Helen Keller when I was a kid, which is how I came to create Gentle, the blind child in my novel.

LITERARY: I didn’t grow up in a mountain holler, so I had this fear that I what I wrote wouldn’t ring true.

RESEARCH: My three kids were great inspirations for some of the characters. Our youngest, age six, Norah, is like a fairy child, and she asks me questions like “Is it tomorrow yet?” and walks around in feathery masks and wants to go on fairy hunts. I found myself thinking of her when I wrote Caroline. She makes her big sister draw her pictures of fairies and princesses for her to color, and she’s constantly dressing up our poor dogs in various frocks. Our daughter, Lucy, 14, loves adventure, (she’s going to Turkey in a few days to stay with family for a month) but she loves also loves to paint, so she is like Louise and Livy Two. Our son, Flannery, 16, is a really happy, dreamy kid who just eats up life and Dodger baseball…and he loves books, so he was such a helpful editor…and I also see bits of him in Emmett, but he doesn’t have Emmett’s sadness. He loves to write songs at the piano…his latest is called “Ossified Lady.”

We have an incorrigible basset-coon hound that has eaten chickens and applesauce cakes right off the table, so he helped inspire Uncle Hazard. So did our dachshund who is very sly and hates to get wet…I used to bribe Norah with more Uncle Hazard stories if she would just stay in her carseat…then he become part of Gentle’s Holler.

My husband, Kiffen, however, was my greatest source…he grew up on a farm in Tennessee, so I could ask him questions about the garden, the seed catalog, and he loves Astronomy, so I asked him about the Pleidies and other star patterns… His mom had babies in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, and I was just fascinated by the sheer magnitude of his family. I grew up drawing pictures of giant families, and then I met Kiffen who came from one, and somehow both fed Gentle’s Holler…His older sister, Tomi Lunsford, is a musician, and I sent her the lyrics from the book, and she adapted them into music… Mama’s Biscuits, Daddy’s Roasted Peanuts, Grandma’s Glass Eye, A Ring of Seven Sisters, and others… I thought of her when I was first writing Livy Two.

More research? I listened to mountain and country music from the 50’s and 60s…I watched “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and read The Dollmaker… I went to the mountains a lot when I lived in Tennessee…and always being the new kid, I learned fast to pick up the different accents, so I wouldn’t feel like such an outsider… I was very shy as a kid, and this made me a good listener…

PSYCHOLOGICAL: Money, three kids, finding time to write… My husband teaches 4th grade, and raising three kids in Los Angeles on a teacher’s and writer’s salary is always a bit of a finance dance… I had this fear of the length between books… What if I did just have one novel in me that would see the light of day? I did write Writing Smarts for American Girl Library that was published in 2002, but that’s a how-to book, not a novel… (Except Writing Smarts is my first book to give me royalties, and that’s pure relief.)

My novel, Offsides, came out in 1996 to glowing reviews, potential movie deals with Diane Keaton etc…and then it went out of print. My next book, Hop The Pond, was rejected…it was called too YA by the adult publishers and too adult by the YA publishers. My next book, The Gallery, was just bad…and my agent dropped me…

I was teaching more and more – sometimes 30-35 students in various weekly workshops – and I am good teacher, but I was becoming overwhelmed with teaching so much, which meant cleaning and scrubbing the house for the writers coming over to our house…

With our schedules and kids, I feared I would never publish again… I even applied for a job in PR because we were so broke. (Thank goodness I didn’t get it.) We’ve never even bought a house, and our son goes to college next year… But I had to find ways to let it all go and just write a book I loved… I also quit ghostwriting and doing journalism. I could handle the teaching, but I couldn’t handle the ghostwriting and journalism and my own writing…so ghostwriting and journalism had to go, and I don’t miss them at all!

LOGISTICAL: I couldn’t get back to the mountains when I was writing Gentle’s Holler, so I would go online and google wild mountain flowers blooming times. And my kids are on year-round school, so they’re home for chunks of time, which slays my writing and concentration. But I also write well in chaos (or so I tell myself)…

As of late, I have become a bit of a roadie mom…my son is in a rock band, and I’ve been recruited to drive members of The Flypaper Cartel to various gigs, but I’m taking notes, because surely that could lead to some kind of fiction. None of the band members have driver’s licenses yet, and most are still in braces.

And finally – a word on the joy? I love doing writing workshops with kids and getting them to know they are rich with stories. I had one kid in the mountains say to me, “Look, I am not a rider (writer).” I said, “What do you like to do?” and he said, “Fish!” and I said, “Write about fishing then,” to which he replied, shocked, “I can ride about fishing?” I said, “You can write about anything.” So he wrote this great story about how he brags when he catches a big bass…He also wrote that night-crawlers come twelve to a can, and a can costs around $1.25. He told me, “You lose a night-crawler, it’s like throwing a dime in the water.” Now many of the kids are sending me their stories to post on my live-journal.

That’s the joy…seeing the faces of the kids tell their stories. And my daughter, Lucy, an 8th grader, went with me on the book tour and did a documentary of our book tour… Anyway, I’m lucky – I’m doing what a love to do. What more can you ask for?

Visit Kerry’s Live Journal.

Cynsational News & Links

All Work and Hard Play Make Author Prolific and Content by Ellyn Wexler. Focus on Elisa Carbone, author of Last Dance on Holladay Street (Knopf, 2005).

The Children’s Writing Update (June 30, 2005): features Judy Blume on “writing from the heart,” Barbara Seuling on “common mistakes,” Laura Backes on “Creating Page-Turning Picture Books,” and more.

Interview with author Mitali Perkins by Laura Atkins from papertigers.org. Mitali is the author of Monsoon Summer (Delacorte Press, 2004) and The Not-So-Star-Spangled- Life of Sunita Sen (Little Brown, 2005).

Perspectives: Time Traveling with the Newbery Awards: 1922-2005 by Michelle F. Bayuk from CBC Magazine. See also the CBC Bimonthly Showcase: From the Ancient World.

An Interview With Greg Leitich Smith at Smartwriters.com

I had the pleasure of interviewing my very cute husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, for Smartwriters.com (click link and scroll to read).

Greg talks about writing companion books, alternating point of view, his diverse casts, writing comedy, and his upcoming projects. He is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003; paperback, 2005) and Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005).

The July issue of Smartwriters also includes Writers Retreats and Conferences by Margot Finke; Eureka! A New Crypto-Program for Educators by Edith Hope Fine; and two new Write It Now! competitions.

Cynsational Links

Interview with Melissa Lion, author of Upstream (Wendy Lamb, 2005), by Carolyn Juris from teenreads.com. Read an excerpt.

Interview with Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser, co-authors of The Rise and Fall of a 10th-Grade Social Climber (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, 2005), by Renee Kirchner from teenreads.com. Read an excerpt.

Writing Fiction for Young People by Kerry Madden, author of Gentle’s Holler (Viking, 2005) from the Tennessee Alumnus Magazine.

I’m blogging lately on spookcyn about my final novel revision, “Teen Titans,” the Bram Stoker Awards, and Independence Day.