Author Interview: E. Lockhart on The Boyfriend List

The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, ruby oliver) by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005)(Listening Library, 2005). Everybody’s dumped Ruby–her boyfriend, her best friend, and all of the rest of her friends. She’s a leper at Tate Prep and the subject of unflattering scribbles on the bathroom wall. After a few panic attacks, Ruby’s parents whisk her to Dr. Z. Their visits prompt Ruby to compile a boyfriend list, the first draft of which falls into the wrong hands. Ages 12-up. Highly recommended. See more thoughts on The Boyfriend List, and read my boyfriend list.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I was sorting through a box of old high school memorabilia – yearbooks, school papers, picture, play programs – and I remembered this list I used to keep of all the boys I had ever kissed. (Sadly, it was not that long). Anyway, I couldn’t find the list, but I felt that lovely spark one feels when an idea appears. The Boyfriend List.

I decided on the concept for the book first – the whole thing is structured as a giant list – every boy Ruby Oliver (prep-school scholarship kid, thrift-store-fishnet-eyeglass girl) has ever had a crush on, a kiss, anything.

I really wanted to write about heartbreak. There are many wonderful novels about first love – but first love so often ends badly, and I hadn’t really seen a novel for teenagers about that. Having been repeatedly heartbroken in my day, I felt that I could write one honestly.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major challenges along the way?

The Boyfriend List was a fast thing. I wrote a proposal, and it sold immediately. I was shocked. I plunged into writing the manuscript, and realized that I had been an absolute lunatic to propose a book structured like a list – because a novel is not a list at all. A novel that is genuinely structured like a list is a bad novel.

So I had to really work on the structure, which contains a ton of flashbacks and flash forwards. I kept a highly detailed chronology of all Ruby’s boyfriends, her every shrink appointment, the day-to-day chronology of her breakup and each key event in her transformation from popular girl to leper to famous slut.

Besides the structure, I worked on the slang. I wanted a believable prep school sound — but not one that dated the book to any particular time, and I wanted Roo to sound like a teenager with a very specific vocabulary, grounded in her school’s culture but also a little different from it. I did a lot of search and replace actions before I settled on certain words she uses – “shattered,” “completely,” “debacle,” “Ag,” and so on.

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

There are footnotes in The Boyfriend List – sometimes copious one – that explain either Roo’s emotional life or some reference she’s just made. Once I had finished the novel, I had a group of teenagers (via email – my sister’s friends) take the “Freddy Krueger Quiz”– a test of their pop-culture knowledge. Do you know who Freddy Krueger is, and if so, who (or what) is he? What is AC/DC? What would a “Stephen King moment” be? That kind of thing, to make sure that the footnotes were entertaining and not annoying for my intended audience.

We cut about half of them – I had way over-written. I did the same thing for the sequel, The Boy Book. But the test was called “The John Belushi quiz.” The most entertaining answers were to the question: “Who was Freud and what was some stuff he thought?”

Cynsational Notes

Check cynsations tomorrow for an interview with E. Lockhart on her new book, Fly On The Wall (Delacorte, 2006).

When I was on the eighth grade drill team at Hillcrest Junior High (home of the Hillcrest Highlanders; now Westridge Middle School) in Overland Park, Kansas; our colors were black and blue (vaguely bruised looking) and we marched into the home gym to “Back In Black” by AC/DC during basketball season.

Cynsational News & Links

Bimonthly Showcase: Holidays and the Winter Season from CBC Magazine.

Interview with Korean American author Haemi Balgassi from This is a reprint (with permission) of an interview I did with Haemi for the Web site. Also from papertigers, learn about: Saelee Oh in the illustrators gallery; the book of the month (Korean Children’s Favorite Stories (Tuttle Publishing, 2004); “A Peek at Korean Culture Through Children’s Books” by Aline Pereira; and more.

Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2005; see related cynsations interviews with M.T. Anderson on Whales on Stilts (Harcourt, 2005) and Jennifer Richard Jacobson on Stained (Atheneum, 2005).

Snicket, Potter Publishers Find New Ways to Reach Children Online from Authorlink.

Chrismer, Lay win TSRA Golden Spur Award

The Texas State Reading Association has announced the winners of the Golden Spur award in the children’s literature (K-3). Phoebe Clappsaddle and the Tumbleweed Gang by Melanie Chrismer of Houston (Pelican, 2004) won in the children’s literature (K-3) division, and Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay of Arlington (Holiday House, 2004) won in the intermediate division.

The finalists were:

Children’s Literature: Ima and the Great Texas Ostrich Race by Margaret McManis of Angleton (Eakin Press, 2002); Bats Around the Clock by Kathi Appelt of College Station (HarperCollins, 2000); The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair by Dotti Enderle of Houston (Pelican, 2005), Finding Daddy – A Story of the Great Depression by Jo & Josephine Harper (scroll) of Houston (Turtle Books, 2005); Isabel and the Hungry Coyote by Keith Polette (scroll) of El Paso (Raven Tree Press, 2004); Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree by Jan Peck of Fort Worth (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

Intermediate: Angel of the Alamo – A True Story of Texas by Lisa Waller Rogers of Austin (Eakin Press, 2000); Lorenzo’s Secret Mission by Lila and Rick Guzman of Round Rock (Arte Publico Press, 2001); Katherine Stinson – The Flying Schoolgirl by Debra Winegarten of Houston (Eakin Press, 2000); Tofu and T. Rex by Greg Leitich Smith of Austin (Little Brown, 2005).

Cynsational Notes

This was the second presentation of the Golden Spur Award. Learn about the previous winner, Little Prairie Hen by College Station author Debbie Leland.

Read recent cynsational interviews with Kathryn Lay on Crown Me! and Melanie Chrismer on Phoebe Clappsaddle and the Tumbleweed Gang.

Cynsational News & Links

“Whose Story is This?” by Marion Tickner, in the Story POV section of Writing Tips from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

Holy Mackerel–Ninety Children’s Books and Counting with Bruce Coville from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

Read Roger: The Horn Book Editor’s Rants and Raves from Roger Sutton.

Author Walter M. Mayes and Illustrator Kevin O’Malley on Walter The Giant Storyteller’s Giant Book of Giant Stories

Walter The Giant Storyteller’s Giant Book of Giant Stories by Walter M. Mayes, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley (Walker, 2005). Those colossal lies about “evil” giants are all just a gigantic misunderstanding. You’ve heard all the stories of mean and bloodthirsty giants: David and Goliath, Jack and the Beanstalk, Gilgamesh. Imagine you found an unconscious giant on the shores of your tiny ravaged village—what would you do? Walter the Giant Storyteller is that unlucky giant, shipwrecked by a violent storm at sea. He awakens to find himself tied down and on trial for his life. He knows he’s a good giant, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the mob of tiny people holding him captive and responsible for the crimes of all evil giants in history. He has to use his best storytelling skills to convince the crowd that good giants do exist—because if he doesn’t, he’ll become a giant of legend himself. In this tour de force of storytelling and illustration, Mayes and O’Malley turn the giant genre on its ear.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Walter’s answer

I get asked all the time if I am a giant who tells stories or if I tell stories about giants, so I approached this project as a way of answering the question. In actuality, I am both! I was approached by Emily Easton at Walker to do a book and I dithered and dallyed about committing for so long that my agent, George Nicholson at Sterling Lord, finally said “Oh, for God’s sake, write the book!” Honestly, writing this book daunted me. But I brainstormed with Emily and George and very early on in the process requested Kevin to be my illustrator, so he was very much a part of the shaping of the project.

Kevin’s answer

I really was interested in trying to draw in several different styles.

I’ve never really tried it. Walter and Emily Easton [editor at Walker] liked the idea and gave me the okay.

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

Walter’s answer

This took nearly four years and what felt like fifty drafts but was really only five. I hate having to write–it feels like homework. I am a performer, with a performer’s need for an audience response. My computer was strangely silent as I wrote, offering me no feedback. It got lonely and depressing, and I wasn’t doing a good job of communicating that to my editor. It’s hard to interpret silence, and that was all I could come up with a lot of the time. She and Kevin took me out to dinner at a particularly low point and really bucked my spirits up. Kevin drew a portrait of me as a slug about to cross the finish line that was strangely inspiring. I could not have finished the book nor would it have been anywhere as successful a finished product without the two of them and their support and encouragement.

Kevin’s answer

Walter, of course, is a wonderful storyteller. He cares about words and how to use them.

This makes Walter is a very deliberate writer. The book took time. More time than I’m used to.

The real major event for me was when I got the final Manuscript and the go ahead to start the art.

I honestly can’t remember when Walter told me he’s like to do a book and asked if I’d be interested in illustrating it.

I do remember flying from Baltimore MD to San Francisco and getting into a rental car accident heading down one of those steep, steep hills.

I swear it wasn’t my fault!

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

Walter’s answer

At one point I received a note from my editor saying “You do realize this is a book for children and not a doctoral thesis on giants, don’t you?” Research was a trap and an incredibly convenient reason not to write or revise. And I find I got passive-agressive about revision–I actually responded to one draft that was sent back with a ton of notes by producing another draft with even more of the stuff that needed fixing in it. Kind of like, “Oh yeah? You hated it, huh? Well, let’s see how you like this!” I learned a lot about my process and Emily’s process and am just thankful that Kevin was extraordinarily patient as this book kept getting pushed further back and he had to arrange his schedule repeatedly to accomodate me.

Most of my writing problem concerned making sure that my storyteller voice, which is a kind of second skin to me, translated to the page. The Finn M’Coul story that ends the book is a story that takes me forty-five minutes to tell live. I handed in a first draft that included a near full-length version of the tale and a total word count of over 6,000! Cutting my words caused me to fear I was losing my voice, and the book didn’t make any sense to me if it didn’t sound like me. Luckily, we were able to come up with an edited version that sacrificed none of the momentum of the telling and I think it makes an excellent last story.

I have learned so much about myself and how this process works for me. I know all about picture books and can easily deconstruct what makes one work or not, but to actually apply that knowledge to my own work was one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Kevin’s answer

Jeez…psychological challenges. The only mental issues with this or book or any other are whether or not you should have listen to your father and listened a bit more in math class.

Research is always a good time.

Digging up old art style, fashion changes and tricky computer design, it’s all good to me.

The hardest part is starting with illustration 1 and hoping the last drawing and the bits in between are satisfying.

The computer is an amazing tool.

Emily, Walter and I were able to do most of the work thousands of miles apart through the powers of e-mail.

Since I’m an old data punch card guy, that still impresses me.

Cynsational Notes

Listen to Walter tell a story from his new book!

Where Is Walter This Week? Read Walter’s blog!

Cynsational News & Links

Big thanks to Jennifer L. Holm who sent me a Babymouse card and T-shirt in thanks for my having interviewed her brother and Babymouse co-creator Matthew Holm for cynsations! Read the interview!

Thanks also to D.L. Garfinkle for her comment on the cynsations recent Norma Fox Mazer interview and to Tanya Lee Stone and Debbi Michiko Florence for the question about the poster of me being released in conjunction with the U.S. federal government’s “Building a Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community” campaign this month. Unfortunately (?), the posters aren’t available to the general public, only to federal workplaces. (I was sent one). I’m looking forward to seeing Tanya and Debbi in January!

The Importance of Not Growing Up: An Interview with Ellen Jackson by Diana Boco from Vision: A Resource for Writers. Ellen is the award-winning author of more than 50 books.

Summer Reading Loss and What to Do by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee from CBC Magazine.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name Featured on Red Tales, Aboriginal Voices Radio, the Earth 106.5 FM

The audio production of Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith, read by Jenna Lamia (Listening Library, 2001) is the November book of the month on Red Tales, Aboriginal Voices Radio, 106.5 FM, The Earth (based in Canada).

“Red Tales shares stories from Aboriginal Peoples – First Nations, Métis, Status, Non-Status, Inuit, and Indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central and South America. Red Tales features literary news and information, poetry, spoken word and excerpts of short stories and novels by Native writers.”

As for the Listening Library production, Audio File said: “Jenna Lamia’s motherless Rain is as fresh, earnest, and appealingly impertinent as the character demands, while her secondary characters sing with individuality . . . . Rich with sorrow and the longing for resolution in a life diminished by loss, the story of Rain’s journey toward her own identity is captivating and exceedingly hopeful.”

More informally, Bob Langstaff, WAMV AM/Amhert, VA said, “It’s kind of like a combination of ‘Northern Exposure’ and ‘Party of Five’.”

See the schedule for Rain Is Not My Indian Name; listen online!

Note: the story was published in hardcover by HarperCollins.

Bruchac, Smith Featured in Perma-Bound 2005 Author and Illustrator Birthday Calendar

Thanks to everyone who turned to the November page of their Perma-Bound 2005 Author and Illustrator Birthday calendar and wrote to say how excited they were to see me there. I never thought I’d qualify as a “Miss November.”

That said, I’m hononored to share the page with Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac. His featured books are Skeleton Man (2001) (read excerpt) and The Dark Pond (2004). Mine are Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) (read excerpt) and Indian Shoes (2002). All are these are published by HarperCollins (though Jingle Dancer still carries the pre-buyout Morrow label on the spine).

Happy birthday to November babies: Betty Bao Lord (3rd); Bram Stoker (8th); Neal Shusterman (12th); Astrid Lindgren (14th); Daniel Pinkwater (15th); Marion Dane Bauer (20th); Elizabeth George Spear (21rst); Megan Whalen Turner (21rst); Yoshiko Uchida (24th); Crescent Dragonwagon (25th); Charles Schultz (26th); Kevin Henkes (27th); Louisa May Alcott (29th); Madeleine L’Engle (29th); C.S. Lewis (29th); and Mark Twain (30th).

Cynsational News & Links

The Art of Fiction: Where Do I Begin Revising by Lisa Lenard-Cook from Authorlink. November 2005.

Boffo Idea and Killer Sample Chapters Make the Sale: An Interview with Libba Bray by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink. See also a recent cynsations interview with Libba Bray. November issue includes a round-up of editor likes and dislikes in Editor’s Speak; a special report on Moo Cow Fan Club (a new magazine); a look at the east coast SCBWI conference; and an article on writing “as told to” teen profiles in That’s A Fact.

Author Interview: Norma Fox Mazer on What I Believe

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. Read more of my thoughts on What I Believe (Harcourt, 2005).

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I wrote this story the first time more than a dozen years ago, when the country was in a recession, big lay-offs going on, downsizing, companies firing people who had worked all their lives for one corporation or in one factory. A lot of people were in shock. Families were losing not just jobs, but their homes, and often they were moving out of and away from places they’d lived in for years and years, the towns and schools that meant home to them. In a way, it was like Hurricane Katrina, except it wasn’t a natural disaster, but one human made, both, though, having the same kind of devastating effect on families. So I was thinking a lot about the impact of this kind of wrenching change on kids.

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

Timeline between spark and publication? My computer shows that I finished a first draft in February, 1995. It usually takes me anywhere from six months to, much more likely, a year to do a draft. So it’s somewhere between eleven and twelve years.

The second part of your question makes me laugh. Major events along the way? None, nada, but lots of minor events, otherwise known as revisions. I was doing draft after draft after draft, time after time after time. My editor was very patient. There was something about the story that didn’t fall into place for her, or for me. Every time I sent off another revision or draft, I’d think, Okay, this time I nailed it, and then the manuscript would come back with her notes, and I’d read the pages – and cringe, because I liked them so little.

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

Bringing the story to life is exactly what I was struggling with. I worked on this story over those nearly a dozen years, between other writing projects. It wasn’t a research thing that held me up; it wasn’t the psychology or the logistics that sent me back to it repeatedly.

You know, it’s not a complicated story, it’s not rocket science, but what was at issue was the background about the Marnets’ privileged life. I wanted to make that background real, not just tell the reader it was there, but make it felt by the reader. I wanted that solidity of house and cars and private schools as a contrast to the financially and emotionally precarious life the family leads in the aftermath of finally acknowledging that are head over heels in debt and have to let go of their material life – which they’ve been doing gradually, but still clinging to it.

The problem for me as a writer was how to invest the back story with life, with interest, with energy; that is, how to make it readable. Why was it a problem – because the consuming events of the story all place after that life is over. I was continually writing those 20 or 30 opening pages, trying different techniques, different approaches, and none of them satisfied me.

Sort of in desperation, a few years ago, I wrote an opening in which a poet comes into Vicki’s classroom and says to the kids, “You all are going to write a poem before the day is over.” So Vicki writes a rap poem about her family and how demoralized they are [of course she never says it that way], and I did other work, then sent the manuscript off once again to my editor.

Months later –it was spring of 2003-she and I had lunch together in New York City, and, almost casually, toward the end of the meal, she said, “I like that rap poem. Maybe Vicki should write some more poems.”

I was taken aback, completely surprised by the idea. It had never occurred to me, but, of course, I said I’d think about it. Very tentatively, I went back to all the stuff, the scenes I’d written and struggled with about the family before they move -all those scenes that were half dead on the page, and I found that in every scene there were always one or two lines that vibrated, that had life, that had a little shine of energy to them. I pulled those lines and began to write free verse from them, but at this point, revision eight or nine, I still planned on the book being primarily a narrative with some poetry here and there.

After a while, I sent a bunch of the poems I’d been writing off to my friend Meg Kearney, who’s a poet and who just wrote her first young adult book [which I hope everyone reads – it’s wonderful – called The Secret of Me (Persea Books, 2005) – and Meg gave me some pointers, even starred two or three of the poems. That was thrilling, and gave me a shot of confidence to keep going. Months later, I had a bunch of poems, but a hefty part of the book was still the kind of narrative I’ve always done. Two or three of my writer friends read parts of the manuscript and, somehow, that process of having others read it made me realize that the poetry was much more alive than the prose.

So, more than a year after my editor first put my feet –or my hands- on this path, I took a deep breath and decided to scuttle the whole standard narrative. I started all over again, from the beginning, and had a glorious time –at last!- writing the book the way it now feels it was meant to be.

Cynsational News & Links

E. Lockhart writes with news of Not Like I’m Jealous Or Anything: The Jealousy Book edited by Marissa Walsh (Delacorte, 2005). Features stories by Siobhan Adcock, Christian Bauman, Kristina Bauman, Marty Beckerman, Matthea Harvey, Thatcher Heldring, Susan Juby, E. Lockhart, Jaclyn Moriarty, Irina Reyn, Anneli Rufus, Dyan Sheldon, Reed Tucker, Ned Vizzini.

Melissa Stewart: Non-Fiction Inspiration by Sue Reichard from

Secrets of Success: Barbara Kanninen by Ellen Jackson. Barbara is a magazine writer who has recently transitioned to books. She’s sold an emergent reader to Seedling, a rhyming concept book to Henry Holt, and a YA anthology. She also has Ph.D. in natural resource economics.

“Building a Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community”

A poster featuring a photograph of me and my first three books–Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)–has been published by the Equal Employment Opportunity division of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

It is one of three posters in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. The theme of the series is “Building a Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community.”

The other two posters feature Blue Wolf, an Apache song catcher/flute player (the first in three generations) and the Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals, which launched the first native-speaking immersion preschools in Minnesota in October.

The series will be displayed this month in federal workplaces throughout the United States.

Cynsational News & Links

While I’m an advocate of integrating Native literature and curriculum throughout the school year, I’d also much rather folks feature it in November than not at all (a disturbing trend due to it not being a standardized-test subject), so I’d like to highlight some related resources.

An Interview With Debbie Reese (Pueblo), “an advocate of multiculturalism-done-right in the field of children’s literature” from

The Cradleboard Teaching Project: provides Native curriculum to tribal and mainstream schools; founded by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree).

“If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything“: a national reading club for Native American children: “assisting Indian Communities in Increasing Literacy Skills While Preserving Native American Identity.” For 2004-2005, there are 29 participating schools in 9 states from all over the U.S.! [Please consider donating books or money to this excellent organization; a big thanks to my fellow donating authors].

Native American Cultures Across the United States by Debbie Reese from Edsitement. Includes activities and links.

Oyate: evaluates educational resources and fiction by and about Native people, leads workshops for teachers, and distributes excellent examples of such materials, making an effort to highlight Native authors and illustrators. Particularly good source of hard-to-find small press books.

Rethinking American Indians by Karen Martin (Creek) at Stanford University. Focuses on stereotypes and activities for reconsidering them. Part of a larger site, First Americans for Grade Schoolers. Emphasis on Dine (Navajo), Muscogee (Creek), Tlingit, Lakota, and Iroquois.