Author Interview: Lupe Ruiz-Flores on Lupita’s Papalote

Lupita’s Papalote/El papalote de Lupita by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Pauline Rodriguez Howard, Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura (Arte Publico, 2002)(a bilingual picture book). Condensed from the catalog copy: Lupita sits on the wooden steps of her house and stares into the sky. Lupita cannot tear her eyes away from the colorful papalotes, or kites. Lupita yearns for one of her own. But the family needs to save all of its money for school supplies and other must-haves. The kite remains in Lupita’s mind until, with the help of her father, Lupita hatches a plan to make her very own.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

My father. When I was a little girl of about five, we really couldn’t afford to buy a fancy kite like some kids (not many) in the barrio where I grew up. I remember my father comforting me and telling me that we would make our own kite just like he used to when he was a little boy. Together we made it out of comics, old colorful rags, and bamboo sticks from the vacant yard next door. Then he taught me how to fly it. I remember the thrill of the kite pulling and tugging and the fear I felt at the force of the kite as it kept going higher and higher.

But what I remember most was a gesture that stayed with me to this day. When I was the most afraid of being swept up into the sky by the kite, my father who was standing behind me, must have sensed my anxiety because he placed his hand on my shoulder. As soon as I felt the warmth of his touch, the fear oozed out of me through my feet and I knew I was safe. The love that the human touch brings is powerful. I wanted that to be in my story. Excerpts in both English and Spanish can be viewed on my Web site:

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

The spark came in 1996 when I wrote a very rough first draft with the idea and filed it away for about three years. I was busy with career and family and didn’t know if I could even write something that someone would like. Once I retired from my career as an engineering technician, I really thought about pursuing writing. Since my background was all technical (Masters in Computer Information Management), I entered writing contests just to test the waters. I got my rejections but I also started winning some, i.e., subscriptions to magazines, a ton of deck supplies when I entered a Thompson Deck contest, and finally when I won a writing contest for Guideposts magazine, that gave me the self confidence I needed to continue.

In the summer of 1999, I revised the draft. I had no idea where or how to send it out. I read about a writing seminar being offered at one of our local universities. It was a one-day workshop and that was my initiation into the world of writers and publishing. One of the speakers, who turned out to be one of my closest friends, suggested to the audience that a certain publisher was looking for bilingual stories. I perked up. That was me. That was October 1999. I immediately mailed my manuscript out and by January 2000, I had a contract. Unbelievable! The book came out in October 2002.

I thought it was going to be easy from then on but it hasn’t been. I’ve had my share of rejections since then. Although now, I’m happy to announce, I just signed my second contract for another bilingual picture book tentatively titled, “The Woodcutter’s Gift.” Since then, I’ve attended as many writers’ workshops and conferences as I can. I’m immersing myself in the writing process. I have years to catch up on. This summer I attended the Highlights Foundation Workshop in Chautauqua, New York, and the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. I cannot tell you what an experience both were.

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

With Lupita’s Papalote, there really wasn’t any research because I wrote it from the heart. I embellished it, of course, because the story becomes a fantasy for the little girl. I think bringing the book to life gave me a real sense of accomplishment when my entire family of 10 brothers and sisters, plus nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, my son, daughters, grandchildren(total close to 100 friends and relatives who showed up for my book signing) were there. The characters in my story were named after my real brothers and sisters. My sisters cried when they heard the inspiration for the story because they remembered. (My father died in 1980). Logistically, it wasn’t hard to bring the book to life because the illustrator lives in the same city I do and the publisher is only three hours away. I lucked out!

How has the book been received?

Very well. As of July, it has gone into its second printing and is on the Accelerated Reader list. I am presently working on a middle grade novel which does entail tons of research.

Cynsational News & Links

Chris Barton’s blog talks about some of the contemporary picture books he’s sharing with his son. I was honored to see that he’d pulled from the suggestions on my Web site.

Chris has one of the best blogs on the ‘net; most recently, he drew my attention to this interview with Cheryl Klein, an associate editor with Arthur A. Levine Books on the Rocky Mountain SCBWI site. The site also features an interview with Yolanda LeRoy, editorial director at Charlesbridge, and an interview with Michele Burke, assistant editor at Knopf.

Author Interview: Kathryn Lay on Crown Me

Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay (Holiday House, 2004). From the flap copy: “Justin has always wanted to be a leader. He envisions himself as President of the United States–but he’ll have to start with the fifth grade class of Payton Middle School. He’s helped along by a new project in Mr. Bailey’s history class, where one boy and one girl are appointed king and queen for two weeks. The other students are their subjects who must obey or be punished. There are jesters and knights to be chosen. A dungeon to be built. Chaos erupts as Justin and his followers interrupts the PTA meeting. And a bicycle joust decides whether Justin will keep his crown, or lose it to the bully of fifth grade, Badger Crabtree. Look out world, here comes King Justin!” Ages 8-up.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Every year my family and I go to Scarborough Faire, a rennaisance festival. Several years ago I watched a kid, about 10, standing in front of the King, hands on hips and saying, “If I was King of my school, I’d make everyone obey me, we’d have pizza in class every day, and no homework on weekends!”

So, I got to wondering…what would a kid do if he was king of fifth grade for a couple of weeks and it went from there.

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

About 6 1/2 years from when I got the idea until it was published.

After writing it, I entered the first chapters in a contest and it won. The judge, a published author, said she definitely felt it was publishable. I sent it out over a two year period, getting lots of good rejections, but no sale. Then an editor asked to see the whole manuscript after looking at a few chapters.

During a long year of waiting for response on it, an online friend kindly referred me to her agent. After she accepted me as a client, she worked on trying to get a decision from the publisher who had King of Fifth Grade. After a few more months of declared interest and promises to make a decision, my agent pulled the book.

With her wonderful insights, she suggested I change the book from third to first person. When we’d completed rewrites, she sent the book to Holiday House to an editor I’d met at a SCBWI conference and two months later we got an acceptance!

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

Making it funny with modern issues using medieval issues (jousting, feasts, a dungeon, and so on). Creating a character who is so into politics when it’s definitely not my area. The variety of rewrites on my own, with my agent, and after acceptance.

Overall, this was a fun book to write and plan, the final sale was smooth and rewrite suggestions from my editors (the original editor left before final rewrites were done) were helpful. It was a great first book experience.

Cynsational Notes

Kathryn is also the author of The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer ( Publishing, 2004) and regional advisor for NE/NC Texas SCBWI.

Cynsational News & Links

BookTalk with Lynn Rubright, author of Mama’s Window (Lee & Low).

The Brothers Grimm: a CBC teacher movie review by Katrina Kearney.

Greg Leitich Smith recommends Wizards at War by Diane Duane (Harcourt, 2005).

Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature: “The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children’s Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004.” From the Alaska Native Knowledge Nework.

Author Update: Dian Curtis Regan

Though I’d known her through an author list serv, I first met Dian Curtis Regan in person at the 25th Anniversary Conference of SCBWI in Los Angeles. We’ve stayed in touch since, and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting her at her home in Wichita.

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

Newly painted office. New art on walls. New display shelves. This is also known as “circling” AKA “getting ready to get back to writing.”

When Ernest Hemingway was asked how he prepared to begin a new novel, he responded, “First, I defrost the refrigerator.” I can relate.

In the works: New mystery anthology coming out soon from Scholastic. Picture book in production at Holiday House and board book in production at S&S. A promise to write “Twenty Years After” for the editor of Byline Magazine since I was the children’s market columnist there when my first novel sold twenty (!!!!) years ago.

Could you tell us about your new book, The World According to Kaley (Darby Creek, 2005)? What was your inspiration for creating this book?

The concept for Kaley came to me while I was living in Venezuela. My husband and I were walking into the MareMares Resort to meet other expats, and I had one of those ‘slip of the tongue’ moments that made me immediately think of it as a book idea. I don’t remember the exact comment, but it was historically anachronistic. Or maybe it was hysterical fiction.

The idea stuck with me, and I knew I’d have to do a lot of research. However there were no libraries in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, and Google was just a baby.

I’d become friends with the director of a local private school, Escuela de las Americas, so I asked if I could borrow a few history textbooks. This turned out to be the perfect solution for finding historical facts, then twisting them a bit to make them funny.

I was back in Venezuela earlier this year when I found out the book was going to be published. Nice closure.

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

I wrote the first draft in 2000. The original title was Twisted History, and Kaley was not even in it. An editor told me, “No child is going to pick up a book with the word ‘history’ in the title.” Uh, good point.

After several more drafts, the book landed in its almost-final form, but then was shelved during the long move back to the USA. I’m awfully glad I finally took it out of storage and sent it off into the world.

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

Besides figuring out how to do the research, I needed to design the chart, graph, and spot art. I am not an illustrator, but I am a closet cartoonist and have had cartoons published. I spent a lot of time working on the graphics. The publisher brought in a few 4th grade girls to recreate some of the doodles and handwriting.

The main character had three different names along the way. I think “Kaley” is a perfect fit. Also, a subplot was changed at the eleventh hour.

Lastly, it’s easy to poke fun at ancient history, but as the essays drew closer to the 20th century, I noticed that history wasn’t so funny anymore. I had to come up with a way to segue into modern times and find topics I could address in a humorous way.

How about children’s or YA books that you’ve read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I recently revisited Stolen by the Sea by Anna Myers (Walker, 2001). It’s a haunting book, set during the 1900 Hurricane in Galveston. I kept thinking about the story all during the Katrina tragedy.

Other favorite new books:
Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005).
Double Helix by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2004).
101 Ways to Bug your Teacher by Lee Wardlaw (Dial, 2004).
Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (Atheneum, 2005).

Currently reading: What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005) and Totally Joe by James Howe (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

The publisher is nudging me to write a sequel to The World According to Kaley. Kaley has already started talking to me, so I can say that the story is underway.

I’m also eager to begin an SF novel I’ve been researching for a long time. See note above about circling. Guess I’d better go see if the refrigerator needs defrosting…

Cynsational News & Links

Attention Austinites: Free Writing Workshops at Barnes & Noble Westlake—As part of its “Year of Writing” program, B&N Westlake is featuring author Susie Flatau at 7 p.m. Thurs. Sept. 22. Susie will discuss “Metaphor-Based Writing.” On Wed. Oct. 12, 2 p.m., author Pat Flathouse will present “Writing the Stories of Your Family History.” On Sat. Nov. 12, 10 a.m., author and storyteller Tim Tingle will share “From Oral Tradition to Written Stories.” And on Sat. Dec. 3, 10:30 a.m., Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will give tips on “Writing the Young Adult (aka Teen) Novel.” Source: Austin SCBWI.

Author Q&A with Ursula LeGuin by M.E. Wood from BellaOnline: The Voice of Women.

Not So Wild About Harry: Independent booksellers say latest ‘Harry Potter’ book boosts store visibility, not bottom line by Laura B. Weiss from School Library Journal.

YALSA offers recommended reading for teens in light of recent disaster from the ALA. [Please continue to support Katrina survivors. Though many have responded in these early days, the need will persist. Thank you.]

Author Update: Uma Krishnaswami

When we last visited with Uma Krishnaswami, she was anticipating the release of Yoga Class (Lee & Low, 2000) and Beyond The Field Trip (Linnet Books, 2001). In the years that followed, Uma became a break-out name in children’s literature. Her picture books include Chachaji’s Cup (Children’s Book Press, 2003) and Monsoon (FSG, 2003). Her first novel was Naming Maya (FSG, 2004). Uma also was one of my co-contributors to Period Pieces: Stories for Girls edited by Erzsi Deak and Kristin Embry Litchman (HarperCollins, 2003).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

I’m so grateful to have a writing life, to be able to keep learning and finding joy in the process. I’m teaching new classes through (manuscript workshops and a class on picture book text are particularly exciting). And I’m working with teachers at a local site of the National Writing Project. All of it comes together, so each writing or teaching project ends up forging more links even when I’m not trying to make that happen.

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

I have a new picture book out this fall, The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story, published by Lee & Low, illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran. Another new picture book will be published in spring 2006, The Closet Ghosts from Children’s Book Press, with illustrations by Shiraaz Bhabha. And I’m thrilled to say that Jamel Akib, who illustrated Monsoon, will be doing the artwork for another picture book from Lee & Low.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

For quite a long time, The Happiest Tree was a theme looking for a story. I scribbled notes about yoga and theater and possible story points for months, then suddenly realized the perfect flaw for my character. She was sort of tripping around the outskirts of the story until then. You’ll know how mixed up I was when I tell you that the earliest title was “Feet Up in the Air.” At the time too I was struggling with a frozen shoulder, in every way a real pain. Suddenly one day I realized that the flaw Meena, in my story, needed was my own childhood clumsiness. From there on the story straightened up and began to grow its own roots.

The Closet Ghosts came out of a deliberate impulse I had to push my own writing. I wanted to try a contemporary story with a mythological character showing up in it. I’d read Jamila Gavin’s short stories that do precisely that, Three Indian Goddesses, but they were written for the middle grades, and I wanted to try this in a picture book format. In the book, Anu hates her new house, her new school, her new neighborhood. Then she finds out that she has ghosts in her closet. So she calls on the Hindu monkey god Hanuman to help her get rid of them. It’s been loads of fun to see it through with Children’s Book Press, where the editor really understood what I was trying to do and was very patient with my tortured revision process.

How about children’s or YA books that you’ve read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean (HarperTempest, 2005).
I admire her writing greatly, have done ever since I read A Pack of Lies years ago. This one’s a retelling of the Noah story from a fictional daughter’s viewpoint–not an easy book to read, but a gripping book and in many ways courageous.
In the Coils of the Snake by Clare Dunkle (Henry Holt, 2005). Book III of the Hollow Kingdom Trilogy.
She paints a fantasy world in which humans exist as just another, sometimes inconsequential race. Lots of very prescient material here about war and the making of war for trifling reasons!
Finally a collection that I know you know well, Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005).

Middle grade
The Girl From Chimel, Rigoberta Menchu’s stories as told to Dante Liano, with glorious pictures by Mexican artist Domi (Groundwood Books, 2005).
The voice is so clear and true you can almost hear the teller’s chuckles and sighs as the stories turn. Lovely.
Thora by Gillian Johnson (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2005). Thora’s a half-mermaid and that’s just the beginning. Told with lots of loving energy and whimsical humor.

Picture books
The Road to Mumbai by Ruth Jeyaveeran (Houghton Mifflin, 2004).
Funny, sweet, child-centered, luminously beautiful art.
The Travels of Benjamin Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century by Uri Shulevitz (Henry Holt, 2005)[BookLoons Review; NPR excerpt].
Nonfiction with really compelling voice.
Albert by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Harcourt, 2001).
Not your standard picture book. The premise is so startling and strong that it just carries the entire story and you suspend disbelief without a thought.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I have more story ideas pressing their faces against the window than I know what to do with. It’s always the case. I have a novel that needs conjoined twin surgery–it’s really two novels in one, only I didn’t know it at the time. That needs dedicated time, however, so unless I land some dream residency that will give me a month in the woods….

Oh and I’m working on a humorous picture book manuscript based on a story my father told me recently. My parents live in India and we call them once a week. When my father turned 80 he began telling me stories on the phone from time to time, urging me to write them down. Some I’ve heard from him before. Others are new to me. They’re all wonderful, and I’m so grateful for them. I’m hoping at least one will end up working itself into a picture book.

Mind you, I’m not sure those are goals. I take tai chi classes, and I think those stories are the horizon I’m supposed to keep my eye on.

Cynsational News & Links

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami is one of my all-time favorite picture books.

Author Lori Aurelia Williams has a new YA novel out, Broken China (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(read an excerpt). Lori was born in Houston, graduated from the Mitchner MFA program at UT, and lives in Austin.

Thanks to kelcrocker and bravebethany (I probably was thinking of Trash!) for their comments on What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005).

Author Update: Kimberly Willis Holt

When we last talked to Kimberly Willis Holt, her novel Dancing In Cadillac Light (Putnam, 2001), had just been published. See An Interview with Children’s Book Author Kimberly Willis Holt. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don’t work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted? Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

I always said that when I grew up, I would write picture books. I haven’t grown up yet, but I am now writing them. Which I guess means that I sometimes think like a five year old, as well as a twelve year old. My first picture book, Waiting For Gregory, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Henry Holt, 2006), comes out in April. I’ve sold a few others and they will be out sometime in the future.

2006 is a year of firsts for me. My first short story collection comes out in the fall. Part of Me: Stories of a Louisiana Family (Henry Holt, 2006) is set in various places around my home state of Louisiana.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

Waiting For Gregory was inspired by the birth of my nephew Gregory. In 1996 my daughter and I drove to a Tulsa hospital to wait for my nephew to be born. So many interesting things happened while we waited in the waiting room. I thought it was a shame that my sister was missing all those tiny moments. So I wrote about them in brief sentences and arranged the snippets in a photo album. I titled it Waiting for Gregory: Snapshots.

On the way home I decided I’d turn that waiting process into a picture book. The main problem with the original draft was that it took place in a waiting room and there were few picture opportunities. I’m ashamed of that early draft because it shows that I had not done my homework about writing picture books. Of course, it was rejected.

A couple of years later my editor asked to see it again and told me it had potential. When I asked if the text or the concept had potential, she said, “The concept.” I put away the original draft and didn’t think about writing it until a couple of years later when an idea for a new draft came to me. I rewrote it many times before I sent it to my editor. And then I rewrote it many times after that.

Part of Me: Stories of a Louisiana Family was inspired by a picture that I saw in my good friend Kathi Appelt‘s book, Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky (HarperCollins, 2001). The photo showed WPA book mobile librarians that worked in the Louisiana bayou communities.

While researching for the book in Houma, Louisiana, I met a former book mobile driver. She got the job in the 1940’s at the age of seventeen. She had such wonderful vivid memories of that time and she became the inspiration for Rose, the character in my first set of stories. Rose is a fourteen year girl in those early stories and the eighty year old great-grandmother in the last ones.

How about children’s or YA books that you’ve read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I am currently reading So B. It by Sarah Weeks (HarperCollins, 2004)(read excerpt). It’s a wonderful story that I put off reading for awhile, probably because it included a mentally retarded mother. Since I had visited that myself in My Louisiana Sky (Henry Holt, 1998), I was concerned that I might discover that Weeks had tackled that better than me. Isn’t that terrible to admit that? I’m not finished with the the book yet, but so far it is lovely and our stories are very different.

Two picture books I’ve most enjoyed recently are The Milkman by Carol Foskett Cordsen (Dutton, 2005). Cordsen manages to show us the day in the life of a milkman and tell a delightful story at the same time. It’s beautifully constructed. I should also give a salute to the illustrator, Douglas B. Jones. His charming pictures capture the time period well.

I love love love Grandpa Gazillion’s Lumber Yard (PDF interview) by Laurie Keller (Henry Holt, 2005). Of course, I love everything Laurie does. I wish I could borrow her clever brain for just one day.

I recently read Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2004) and enjoyed it immensely. I thought the sisters’ relationship was beautiful and the thought of the family’s struggle to buy a home still puts a lump in my throat. I’m happy I got to know those characters.

Kathi Appelt’s My Father’s Summers (Henry Holt, 2004) is powerful. I admit Kathi is my friend, but I am a critical person when it comes to reading. (ask Kathi) When I finished the book, I told Kathi the only thing I didn’t like about it was that I didn’t write it.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I am currently working on a chapter book about a Navy Brat. It is lighter than any novel that I’ve ever attempted and I’m having fun writing it.

I’m also working on a detailed outline for a historical novel. I’ve never used a formal outline like this before, but this story certainly calls for it. This in one of two books about a father and a son. I’ve struggled with the son’s story since 1997. Finally I realized I didn’t know enough about the father. When I started to explore the father’s background, I became very interested in his story. At first, I thought I would combine the stories. But after a year of struggling with that, I realized I had two books. That struggle taught me that sometimes we’re not ready to write certain stories yet. I’m ready to write those stories now.

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, whose debut novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003, 2005) was recommended on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Higher Ground” program on Sept. 10.

Kimberly Willis Holt Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Dick’s Picks by Richard Jackson: a children’s book editor looks back on some career highlights.

Texas Escapes Reboots Book Reviews; Launches Mailing List

Texas Escapes ( is reactivating its Book Reviews section. Jamie Engle is the Reviews Editor and will be reviewing books about Texas or by Texas authors. She will also write articles about Texas Literature and conduct author interviews.

“The site focuses on Texas travel and history, so not every book written by Texas authors is a fit,” she says. “Nonfiction will be the primary focus, but we are expanding to include fiction set in Texas (especially historical fiction).”

To have your book considered for review, email your book information to Jamie at

Jamie has also started a yahoogroups for authors, publicists or publishers based in Texas or writing/publishing books about Texas. She will post requests for suggestions of books and authors to include in future articles. The articles are for print and online venues. For example, if an upcoming article is about mysteries set in Austin or Texas ghost towns, a post will be made requesting suggestions for mysteries set in Austin or books about Texas ghost towns to include in the articles.

To subscribe, send a blank email to: Source: The Book Promotion Newsletter.

When asked about youth titles, Jamie replied: “Children & teen books would be great! In fact, I have a historical Texas fiction series for children on the slate for review already. Older releases are fine, so long as the titles are readily available (online, or a bookstore can order them with no problem).”

Cynsational News & Links

“It’s a Balancing Act” by Katie Clark, in the Work Habits section of
Writer’s Support (Passing up excuses not to write) from the Institute of Children’s Literaure. See also “4 Rs for Ideas” by Bonita Pate Davis, in the Getting Started section of Writer’s Support (How to get ideas when ideas don’t show up) from ICL.

Kids Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia: Math and Reading Help for Kids is a directory of hundreds of original articles, tips, and resources centered on the topic of children’s learning. Although the articles in this site are primarily written to help parents make informed decisions about their child’s education, there is also a comprehensive Just for Kids section containing dozens of articles written for a younger audience.

Author Update: Nancy Garden

When we last visited author Nancy Garden, she had just published Molly’s Family, illustrated by Sharon Wooding (FSG, 2004), a picture book about a girl with two moms whose classmate says her family can’t be a real one. See the story behind the story. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don’t work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

I have a new book called Endgame coming out in the spring from Harcourt, about a school shooting — from the point of view of the shooter. He’s trying to do well in a new school, but the odds are against him; he’s bullied badly at school and his father is abusive and wants him to be different from who he is.

And FSG is publishing a story collection of mine in 2007. Each story has a gay or lesbian protagonists, and the stories are arranged in sections. Each section represents a decade from the 50s to the present and is introduced by an essay about the gay rights movement in that decade. Needless to say, I’ll need to update of the final essay in galleys! (Yes, I’m the author of the stories and the essays.)

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

Endgame grew out of Columbine and my strong feeling then and for years afterward that not enough attention had been paid to bullying as a causal factor.

The story collection grew gradually; I wrote some GL stories years ago, but then concentrated on novels. After Marion Dane Bauer invited me to contribute to Am I Blue? Coming Out From The Silence (HarperTrophy, 1995), I began writing stories again, and when I thought about publishing them in a collection, I realized they needed some sort of glue to hold them together. That led to the idea of the essays.

How about children’s or YA books that you’ve read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I love Meg Rosoff‘s How I Live Now (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004), David Levithan‘s Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003)[read an excerpt], Julie Ann PetersFar From Xanadu (Little Brown, 2005) — and of course the latest Harry Potter. They’re all innovative works of art, each in its own way, and especially Levithan’s and Peters’ are groundbreaking.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

Oh, my! To finish a YA novel about a runaway that I started almost two years ago. To revise a young YA novel that I think needs revising. To write a middle-grade novel that’s been developing gradually in my head. But first I have to prepare some gigs I have scheduled — and figure out how to promote the iUniverse/Backinprint edition of Good Moon Rising, which has been out of print for a few years.

What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005)

What I Believe By Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005). When Victory Marnet’s dad loses his high-paying executive job, the family tries to remain hopeful. But after a while it becomes clear that no equivalent opportunity will arise. So, her mom decides they’ll sell the house and “extras” to begin again in a small, city apartment. But the adjustment is ongoing and involves continued financial tension, taking on a boarder, dad’s depression, and temptation that Vicki can’t quite pass up. A deeply felt look at downshifting economic class. Ages 10-up.

From the back flap: “Norma Fox Mazer is an award-winning novelist and a faculty member for the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. Her books have received a Newbery Honor, a Christopher Award, an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery, a National Book Award nomination, and other prestigious honors. She lives in Montpelier, Vermont.”

My Thoughts

Because it was by Norma Fox Mazer (I’m a fan), I opened this novel with high expectations. Generally, I don’t feel this way about novels in poems (though the writing forms here extend beyond poems to include lists, memos, journal entries, dialogue, and several more, I’m sure, that I’m not savvy enough to identify). They’re perhaps overpublished at the moment, and more often than not, either the poetry or the story succeeds–not both. Characters tend to be underdeveloped, plotlines hole-ridden, and compelling voice–especially “regional” voice–sacrificed in favor of showy language.

So when a novel in poems (or mixed forms, like this one) succeeds, I’m wowed. My favorites include Split Image: A Story in Poems by Mel Glenn (HarperCollins, 2000) and A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006), and now, What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005). For those of you interested in writing this way, I highly encourage you to study these books.

But zeroing in on the novel at hand, what struck me most was its vulnerability and intelligence, the intensity of Vicki’s believability. She’s flawed yet inspirational, and readers can’t help but feel closer to her with each turning page. What’s more, the author shows as much care in crafting her minor characters as her stars. No one is merely a device or place holder.

The book is particularly recommended to writers working on showing emotion. Take a look at “The Real Estate Agent” on pg. 18, contrasting what Nina Byrd says and how Vicki acts in reply. Don’t you feel the moment? Yet no emotional “label” is used or needed. Then turn to pg. 19, “We’re Still Here On 5555 Sweet Road,” and see how much it achieves using dialogue alone. Think about the home-shoppers’ comments that Vicki elects to repeat and what they say about her state of mind.

As for the story itself, I have to be careful not to give away too much. (Don’t you hate when reviewers do that?). But I will say that I recognized the feeling of being helpless in the face of your parents’ financial responsibilities and the guilty frustration at wishing they were somehow stronger in the world. I also was struck by Mom’s comment that “Your parents aren’t newbies at sorrow, but I so wanted to spare you” (pg. 89). So many parents are like this, and who can blame them? Yet, in the end, all it does is raise their children’s anxiety level. Kids already have less power in the world. If a problem affects them and they’re denied a context for it, they’re also deprived of a starting place to cope.

For those of you looking hard for them, this novel does include a biracial (black/white) secondary character. I’m still recalling Sara’s comment that, “My dad says anyone whose family has been in this country for more than a century has a good chance of being a brother or a sister, whether they know it or not” (pg. 75), and it reminds me of something Marc Aronson said this summer, something about how people make the biggest deal out of the smallest differences (brainy thing that he is, Marc said this far more eloquently).

This is a recommended novel to use as a springboard for taking about class, race, depression, and parent-child relationships. But it’s also a wonderful story to simply savor.

Beyond that, I suggest reading it aloud, if at all possible. The short entries are perfect for young audiences, and this ‘tweener would be an excellent selection for a classroom group. Like Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar (Dutton, 2005), What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005) should not only be a winner with young readers but also a gift to English teachers looking to integrate quality trade books into the curriculum.

Cynsational News & Links

I’m pleased to report that in light of the sale and completion my upcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, to be published in fall 2007 by Candlewick, I’m now a full member of the Horror Writers Association.

If Rock and Roll Were A Movie: an Untraditional Screen Treatment of the Novel by Terry Davis from VOYA.

2005 Texas Institute of Letters Awards: Entry deadline is January 6, 2006. Authors born in Texas or those who have resided in the state for at least two consecutive years are eligible as are books “whose subject matter substantially concerns Texas.” Children’s/YA titles that qualify will be considered for the Friends of the Austin Library Award. See site for further requirements and other information.

Author Interview: Julie Lake on Galveston’s Summer of the Storm

Galveston’s Summer of the Storm by Julie Lake (TCU Press, 2003). From the catalog copy: “When fourteen-year-old Abby Kate boards the train in Austin to spend three weeks with her grandmother in Galveston, she’s full of excitement—about the train ride and the prospect of days on the beach, exploring Galveston with her cousin Jane, family picnics, and her grandmother’s good food. But things go wrong even before she gets to her grandmother’s house. Abby Kate gets off the train briefly in Houston—and the train leaves without her. Stranded in the railroad station, she is befriended by a man traveling with his two sons and eventually reaches Galveston safely. Then word comes that Abby Kate’s young brother, Will, has diphtheria, and she will have to stay in Galveston indefinitely. Abby Kate is still in Galveston on September 8 when a massive hurricane strikes the city.” Read an excerpt (PDF file).

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I was doing some research about ten years ago on a fairly boring insurance project (I wrote on staff for an insurance magazine at the time) and I was going through a box of old documents–ledgers, old insurance brochures, etc. I came to this black and white photograph of storm wreckage from the 1900 Galveston hurricane. I’d heard about that storm and knew there might be some images of it in that file, but nothing prepared me for the reality of that image. The devastation stretched on and on and on.

My eyes were drawn to a point in the middle of the picture, to the single sign of life in that unbearable landscape—a child, a little boy in bare feet, who stared towards the camera. I felt as if I’d been sucked back in time and the hurricane became real.

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

For the next year or two I found myself thinking about what it would be like to survive a hurricane of that magnitude. I sort of became obsessed with hurricanes in general and this storm in particular.

I’d be interviewing an insurance agent for an article about how to prepare a business for natural catastrophes–things like the importance of backing up computer data offsite, how to keep taking care of clients despite power outages, flooding etc.–and I’d start asking things like, “What is it really like to be in a hurricane? How did you feel? What was it like afterwards?”

A lot of these people had grown up on the coast, and they shared all kinds of stories, like cleaning up the house afterwards and finding snakes in the kitchen. The story began to come alive in my mind.

I began to read books on writing fiction and took a class. I also did some market research to see if there were already a lot of children’s books on the 1900 hurricane. I found there were many adult books, both fiction and nonfiction, but very few geared toward teens or upper elementary students.

I brainstormed my idea with Robin Krig, a librarian in Katy, specifically my concern that the story would be too sad. Robin listened and then said, “So it’s a little like Number the Stars” [by Lois Lowry (Houghton, 1989)]. That was a very pivotal moment for me. To have my spongy draft of a story compared in any kind of way with such a powerful piece of children’s literature.

Another important milestone was when I sent an early draft to my sister’s fourth grade class. As a new fiction writer, it was great to hear that they laughed at the funny parts. The kids, however, all shared one major criticism of my story–that I didn’t kill enough people. And in their helpful way, they made specific suggestions on who needed to die, when and even how.

I was like, “How could they kill off Ian? He’s one of my favorite characters.” But I realized they were right. I was trying to write an historical novel about a storm that had killed 6,000-8,000 people, and not have Abby Kate, my main character, suffer any significant personal loss. I was trying to protect her.

I have a saying now taped to my computer: “Spare no one. Not the characters. Not your readers. Not even yourself.” I really believe that. Sometimes, as writers, we flinch when we get to the hard part of the story. We want to rescue our characters too soon, and in a sense, rescue ourselves from dealing with important, often painful issues.

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

I think the hardest thing was tapping those emotions of frustration and sadness and hopelessness that were appropriate for my characters to feel at certain points of the story.

After the hurricane scene, I really wanted to get Abby Kate out of the rubble, away from the dead bodies, and back home to her family in Austin. I wanted so much for her to be okay. It was tough writing those scenes showing the aftermath of the storm and letting the healing process play out in a natural way.

Many readers have told me that they like how the story didn’t just end after the hurricane. That they liked how I showed the characters struggling at points to find their footing and dealing with all the different kinds of emotions we have when we face these sudden, life-changing events.

Do you feel that authors have a responsibility to young readers to offer an element of hope in their stories?

I really do. Children and teens need to know that even when life is very difficult that there is always room for something good to happen, and that things can get better, though maybe in a different way than you might expect or hope.

I really wanted to have a positive scene at the end of my book, something that would show Abby Kate taking some kind of power. After a lot of crumpled pieces of paper, I finally had this “aha” moment. Suddenly I knew what she needed to do. Something that was within her ability to do and something that would make a real difference for one of the other characters in the story.

When we talk about disasters, we often focus on physical rebuilding of homes, businesses, etc. There’s another type of rebuilding that has to happen, too. The emotion restoration of the people themselves.

Author Update: Bruce Hale

When we last visited Bruce Hale, he had just published his second Chet Gecko book (Harcourt, 2000-), and he shared with us the story behind the stories AKA how the series came to be. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don’t work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

The Chet Gecko series (Harcourt, 2005) is 11 books strong, and I’ve begun working on humorous fantasy series that’s a blend of manga (graphic novel) and conventional fiction. It’s called Underwhere (HarperCollins, 2006), and it’ll be out in Fall 2006.

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

Chet Gecko’s Detective Handbook (and Cookbook) (Harcourt) comes out this month. It’s my first nonfiction book (as much as detective tips from a lizard can be nonfiction). The handbook will tell readers how to be a private eye and how to cook some of Chet’s favorite bug-related recipes.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

This book was born during an over-caffeinated brainstorming session between me and my editor at a Starbucks in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we couldn’t include the secret messages in invisible ink that we wanted to, but most of our other ideas made it into my finished book.

How about children’s or YA books that you’ve read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I recently read M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts (Harcourt, 2005), and loved it for its off-the-wall humor. Also, the first two books of Philip Reeves’ Hungry City Chronicles (Eos) were imaginative YA fantasy/sci-fi, set far in Earth’s future.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

To keep balancing Chet Gecko and Underwhere, and to get a little sleep in between my writing sessions.

Cynsational News & Links

Tonight at the YA Authors Cafe: guest host, Lara M. Zeises, interviews three rising stars in young adult literature. Guests will be R. A. Nelson, author of the controversial new novel, Teach Me (Razorbill, 2005); Bennett Madison, author of the hilarious and hip Nancy Drew-made-modern mystery Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls (Penguin, 2005); and Melanie Gideon, author of the Girl’s Life Top Ten Pick The Map That Breathed and the forthcoming Pucker (May 2006). To join the cafe chats, go to and click the cafe chatroom icon to enter the chats. All chats are held at 8:30 p.m. EST, 7:30 p.m. CST, 5:30 p.m. Pacific.

“News You Can Use!” by Juliana LeRoy, in the Getting Ideas section of Writing Tips from the Institute of Children’s Literature. See also “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, No, It’s Superbook?” by Marilyn E. Freeman from ICL.

Promotional Brainstorming and Independent Bookstores from Once Upon A Time There Was A Girl And She Wanted To Write (That Would Be Me) AKA Susan Taylor Brown’s LiveJournal.

Meet Author Varian Johnson from Don Tate’s blog. Varian is the debut author of Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press/Black Coral, 2005), a YA being marketed by an adult publisher. Both Don and Varian are members of Austin SCBWI.