Cynsational News & Links

Janet S. Fox: new official author website. Congratulations to Janet on the release of her debut book, Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit, 2005). (She has been previously published by Highlights and Spider). Janet offers Hot Tips to Get Organized and a Homework Checklist (PDF file). She provides information on her speaking programs. In addition to being an author, Janet is a 9th grade English and middle and high school study skills teacher. She was born in New York City, grew up in Illinois, and makes her home in Texas. Find out more.

“Fundamental is Fun: Reading Gets a Boost from School Book Fairs” by Karina Bland from The Arizona Republic. Find out which books are hot for the book fair crowd. Don’t miss the sidebar on “Mrs. Ayala’s favorites.” Featured authors include David Lubar (author interview).

Notes from the Windowsill: Celebrating Children’s Books Loved By Adult Readers from Wendy E. Betts. March 2006.

Katherine Paterson Wins International Award, $640,000 Prize by Robin Palmer from the Barre Montpelier Times Argus. Katherine has won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Literature. It was established by the Swedish government and is considered “biggest international honor for writers of children’s books.”

Roxane Beauclair Salonen: new official website from the debut author of P Is for Peace Garden (Sleeping Bear Press, April 2005) and First Salmon (Boyds Mills Press, October 2005). Roxane was raised on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Poplar Montana and now lives in Fargo, North Dakota.

Subverting Beauty Aesthetics in African American Young Adult Literature by KaaVonia Hinton-Johnson from Multicultural Review.

New teacher’s guides from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer include: poetry: Thanks A Million by Niki Grimes; illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera; picture books: The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup by Terry Farish, illustrated by Barry Root; Cha Cha Chimps by Julia Durango, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor; The Night Is Singing by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker; This Is the Dream by Diane C. Shore and Jessica Alexander, illustrated by James Ransome; middle grade: Abduction! by Peg Kehret; Confessions of a Closet Catholic by Sarah Darer Littman; Free Baseball by Sue Corbett (author interview); On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer; young adult: Anyone But You by Lara M. Zeises (author interview); A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone (author interview); Born to Rock by Gordon Korman; Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (author interview); It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini; Last Dance on Holladay Street by Elisa Carbone (author interview); My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham (author interview); and Teach Me by R.A. Nelson (author interview). Tracie is the author of Sketches From A Spy Tree, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005).

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Costanza Fabbri

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Costanza Fabbri will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury (editorial director interview), Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PDF (agent interview), Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Gabriella Ambrosioni/Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency, and Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview). Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information. Note: there have been some changes in the speaker roster since the schedule was first posted; check the website for latest details.

Costanza Fabbri comes to agenting from an art background. She works with Gabriella Ambrosioni in the Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency, representing authors, illustrators, publishers and other agents for foreign rights. She joins Rosemary Stimola, Gabriella Ambrosioni, Barry Goldblatt, and Rosemary Canter on the agents panel, “A is for Agent,” at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 Conference. Erzsi Deàk interviewed her in March 2006.

Erzsi Deàk: What led you to work in the field of children’s books? Can you give us a brief outline of your career?

Costanza Fabbri: My work led me here due to my interest in figurative art, which picture books are a sort of branch of. Then, it became something more. I’ve a degree in Modern Literary Studies with Historic-Artistic course (it is a specific course of study inside that Faculty) at Bologna University. Since getting my degree, I’ve started working as literary agent (at Gabriella Ambrosioni’s) and History of Art teacher (at the secondary school), keeping on with my studies by masters post-lauream in both branches at the same moment.

ED: Do you represent authors and illustrators?

CF: Inside of Gabriella Ambrosioni Literary Agency we represent both.

ED: Who needs an agent? Would you advise every professionally-minded children’s book creator to be represented by an agent?

CF: Most of publishing-roles should be represented by an agent. A literary agent is not a simple “instrument” whom writers achieve publication with, but a sort of consultant working together with them, in order to reach the same goal: obtaining better conditions in their agreements with publishers, giving deserved visibility to noteworthy-writers’ books we have worked so hard for. But an agent should be considered absolutely necessary also by publishers, who are interested in selling their foreign rights. Thanks to agents and co-agents, selling foreign rights is more diffused and effective: a sort of worldwide-web where every agency has to be responsible for its country, and handles agreements with local publishers for better conditions after selling. This makes all easier, effective and understandable. And optimizes time and gains. After these considerations, advising every professionally-minded children’s book creator to be represented by an agent sounds superfluous…

ED: What grabs your attention and makes you want to represent someone after the first “hit” of the person’s work?

CF: After realizing it is well written, I often pretend to see the manuscript as a book on any bookshop’s shelf: might it be there, according to publishing market and trends? Could it draw my attention as reader? Would I consider buying it? If I think, yes, for each question, then I realize it’s worth being represented.

ED: Can you describe what strategies you use for submitting your artists’ and authors’ work to publishers?

CF: Any sort of special strategy. After individuating the most suitable publisher/s for our client’s work, we start submitting manuscripts/books/CDs for their consideration. Usually we enclose a brief presentation for each work and, when it’s possible, press releases. Within suitable publishers, we prefer to start with the majors, and then, after eventual rejections, we keep on with smaller publishers.

ED: What kinds of books do you think travel best? Which books don’t? Do you encourage your artists and writers to adapt to the “global marketplace?”

CF: As an agent, I can say that selling picture books is more difficult than selling novels. That is to say, it’s easier selling high-ages-books (from 8-9 upwards) than lower. Moreover, fiction travels better than non-fiction. Humor and multicultural books go well. As well as educational books, not talking about “drama” or heavy language, but in preference to light and ironic words. Regarding picture books and the foreign market, Italian publishers deal more through co-editions than buying foreign rights.

ED: What is the role of agents in the co-edition world?

CF: As an agency we handle publishing and secondary rights, as an intermediary. From my experience, the co-edition world doesn’t provide for this role.

ED: Are you ever involved in the marketing campaigns for your clients’ work, once published (or once sold to the publisher)?

CF: Not directly.

ED: Do you have to actually like all your clients’ work to be able to represent it successfully?

CF: Most of the time I can say that. It depends on clients and circumstances: I have to like it when I deal with single persons (authors, illustrators, etc.). It’s not the same when I deal with publishers or agencies; in that case it depends on an eventual previous success of that title, on the publisher’s fame, etc.

ED: Are you still looking for new talent? Can you give any advice for an author or illustrator looking for an agent to represent them?

CF: We are always looking for new talent. But real talent is hard to find… A small bit of advice for authors and illustrators looking for an agent: Be humble.

ED: Are there any trends or new developments in children’s publishing at the moment that you would like to say a few words about?

CF: It’s difficult to say. Too many trends and novelties. Sometimes, I’m not so sure about their quality…

Thank you!

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, “The Gentleman Cowboy” as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

Comics with a Twist: New Graphic Novels are Anything But Predictable by Becky Ohlsen from BookPage.

Meet Agent Jennifer Flannery of Flannery Literary by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink.com. Jennifer represents authors like Gary Paulsen (Newbery Honor Books Hatchet (1988), Dogsong (1986), and The Winter Room(1990)), Graham Salisbury (PEN/Norma Klein Award for Blue Skin of the Sea (1992), Scott O’Dell Award for Under the Blood-Red Sun)(1994)(author interview), and Kimberly Willis Holt (National Book Award for When Zachary Beaver Came To Town)(1999)(author interview). Note: site requires $6 mini monthly membership or $1.95 fee per article or 24-hour “all access archive past” or its silver/gold membership package to view. I would not normally feature a link to a pay site; however, the fees are modest and writers seriously researching agents would do well to carefully consider Jennifer. See a free online interview: Behind the Scenes with Agents and Publicists: Jennifer Flannery-Agent from Denise M. Clark. See also Agents from Children’s & YA Writers’ Links on my website.

Booklist’s New Online Non-Fiction Series Roundup: “find reviews of series titles that we have recommended in the print magazine, starting with the April 15, 2004, issue, as well as selected reviews from previous years.” Online search engine that may be used to search by age-level, subject, or publisher.

The 2006 BookSense Book of the Year Winners are: (in children’s literature) Inkspell by Cornelia Funke (Chicken House/Scholastic, 2005) and (in children’s illustrated) Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth (Scholastic Press, 2005).

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Agent Interview: Rosemary Canter of PDF

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Agent Rosemary Canter of PFD will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury (editorial director interview), Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), and Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information.

Rosemary Canter is head of the Children’s Department at PFD, one of Europe’s leading literary and talent agencies. She is based in London. According to Erzsi Deàk (who offered the text below), Rosemary has stated that the information in this 2002 interview remains current in 2006.

What led you to work in the field of children’s books? Can you give us a brief outline of your career?

I fell into children’s books by accident, and stayed by enchantment. I was working in publishing as an editor, and acquired skills enabling me to put together illustrated books. On the strength of this, I found a job with Macmillan Children’s Books: and I was hooked.

I spent the first 17 years of my career as an editor in a variety of publishing houses, including Penguin, Hutchinson, Reed, editing adult and children’s work. One of the most exciting ventures I was involved in was setting up the Teens list for Methuen, one of the first paperback lists for teenagers. That was in 1987. In 1989, I left Reed and became an agent, with a brief to develop a list of children’s writers and illustrators for PFD. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave.

Some agents like to have a creative role in the relationship between their authors, illustrators and editors while others prefer to deal with the business of publishing. How do you see your role?

I enjoy the many facets of being an agent. I like to help writers develop saleable material for publishers, but not get further involved in the editorial process. I think it is my job to be a businesswoman, to get the best possible deals and contracts for my clients, and to help with legal advice, where necessary. But giving strategic advice on careers and making suggestions on individual projects is also an essential part of what I do.

Can you describe what strategies you use for submitting your artists’ and authors’ work to publishers?

There are lots of answers! We have a brilliant website, which we keep updated and which we advertise. I talk to publishers a lot about my clients, new ideas, etc. I arrange for writers and illustrators to meet editors or designers I think will like their work. Of course I send out material all the time, whether particular texts or projects, or general material on spec. The short answer is, whatever method is the best solution at the time.

What kinds of books do you think travel best? Which books don’t? Do you encourage your artists and writers to adapt to the “global marketplace?”

There are several kinds of books that travel well. There’s fantasy, which crosses cultural boundaries more easily than other genres, and the experience of being a teenager clearly also rings bells across nations. It’s pleasing that funny books on this subject appeal so widely. Picture books also work well in many countries. Again, the experiences of young children have universal similarities. Where there is often a gulf is the literature for children between picture books and older childhood, the time where children are just growing up into their individuality out of the home, spending time in school, learning how their own society works. This seems to be an intensely local experience, so it is much harder for books for, say, seven year olds to travel.

I don’t encourage writers or illustrators to consider the “global marketplace.” I think it is much more important that they produce work rooted in the world they know. If it is good enough, it will work in the home market, and if its concerns are deep and wide, then it will travel too.

Would you advise every professionally-minded children’s book creator to be represented by an agent?

What a good question! Almost all creative people need professional advice, I think, because they don’t have the time or contacts to understand all the different facets that make up the marketplace. Nor do they have the expertise to deal with contracts and bigger problems that may arise when companies change hands or go bankrupt. Most people simply don’t want to deal with these subjects. But, on a quieter level, I think some people can deal competently with contracts as well as their creative work.

Do you have to actually like all your clients’ work to be able to represent it successfully?

I’m enthusiastic about my clients’ work, or I would not have taken them on in the first place. But of course work can vary. The essential element is that I like and respect their work overall, and then selling it is not a problem.

Are you still looking for new talent? Can you give any advice for an author or illustrator looking for an agent to represent them?

I am always, always looking for new talent. Finding it is one of the most seductive aspects of a fascinating job. I’d like to give one piece of advice to writers looking for an agent: the letter you send is also a piece of writing.

Are there any trends or new developments in children’s publishing at the moment that you would like to say a few words about?

I’ve been working in the world of children’s books for 24 years now, and I think this is the most exciting of times. Children’s writers have a higher status now, perhaps higher than they have ever had, and the real possibility of earning a good living. Historical fiction and fantasy are, once again, hugely popular, and there is a glorious vitality about fiction overall. There have always been remarkably talented illustrators, and there is a mass of clever talent around. It’s a wonderful time to be involved.

You can check out the PFD website at www.pfd.co.uk/childrens for details of submissions policies for children’s authors and illustrators.

Cynsational News & Links

Current Staff Picks at BookPeople in Austin include The Wall and The Wing by Laura Ruby (HarperCollins, 2006)(author interview).

Author Interview: Douglas Rees on Vampire High

Vampire High by Douglas Rees (Delacorte, 2003)(Laurel Leaf, 2005). From the promotional copy: “Cody Elliot hates everything about Massachusetts . All he wants to do is go back home to California . He thinks that if he fails all of his classes, even homeroom, his parents will see that he doesn’t like it and will be willing to move back. Unfortunately, his parents don’t see it quite like he does. Instead, his dad decides that changing schools would be best for him and gives him two to choose from—Our Lady of Perpetual Homework and Vlad Dracul Magnet School. Knowing that he doesn’t want to attend a school with ‘homework’ in its name, he opts for the magnet school instead. Once there, he realizes that things are very different. First, he is told that as long as he plays on the water polo team, he doesn’t have to do any work in class and he’ll still get straight As. Then he finds out that most of the people are vampires. Finally, he learns that the vampires want absolutely nothing to do with the ‘normal’ kids because they think regular humans are a waste of time. So when Cody makes friends with two of the vampires, it begins to upset the entire school. The headmaster tries to expel him and the other vampires begin ganging up on him when no one else is around. It doesn’t take Cody long, however, to decide what’s more important—getting a free ride in high school or being a true friend.” Ages 12-up.

I’m a great fan of your novel, Vampire High (Delacorte, 2003)(Laurel Leaf, 2005). What was the initial inspiration for creating this book?

I was getting ready for work, and I was thinking about something Ken Kesey had said, to the effect that every novelist should, as part of their development, undertake something in each of the major genres — Western, detective story, all those –. And I was thinking, “Well I’ve always wanted to write a horror story, but the only thing that’s selling these days is vampires, and I hate vampire stories.” (I dislike that morbid, self-pitying Ann Rice stuff.)

So, as I was getting in to the shower, I thought (for I do sound like this in my head sometimes) “Surely even among the vampires there must be some decent chaps. I mean, they must go to high school–”

And as the hot water hit my back, I was looking at the silent halls of Vlad Dracul, with their tinted windows, sussurant students, and sandalwood-scented doors. And that was how the book began to unfold to me.

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

I think it took about three years, though that seems awfully short. Not long for publication, anyway. I stopped working on it for six months in the middle of things. Just stopped. It wasn’t writer’s block. Perhaps it was just that when, on my wife’s advice, I cut back to half time on my day job, writing got to be too easy. In any case, I eventually finished the book, and started sending it out. I had two or three rejections, then Karen Wojtyla, who was with Delacorte at that time, called and offered me a contract.

Working with Karen was easy. She had excellent suggestions for changes, and got back to me quickly when I responded with rewrites. Then, when we were nearly done, Delacorte started cutting staff, and Karen was one of the first ones they cut. I didn’t know what the status of my book was for a week or two.

Then Karen called and said she’d been offered a job finishing our work on contract. Was that acceptable to me? It was, in spades. So we did it, and it came out without further hassles.

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

This question doesn’t have a very interesting answer. Vampire High was the easiest of my novels so far. The hardest part was just sitting still and waiting for the story to unfold itself.

I drew deeply on my early teen years to write it; more deeply than I knew at the time. Certainly I was aware of basing the story on my one year in Massachusetts, when I went to a brand-new high school in Chicopee. What I didn’t realize until a year ago, was that I also was using the material laid down by my three years in Germany as an Air Force brat. Vlad Dracul is really just my old high school transmuted into a series of palaces. It really did have a student center and dormitories, and was a K-12 operation.

Also, the Air Force had taken over a small palace built by the English fascist Houston Stewart Chamberlain, for use by Amerian youth groups. I think some of my notions of the not-quite-right elegance of Vlad Dracul and the jentis generaly go back to that place.

So there wasn’t much need for formal research. About all I can recall doing is looking up Rumanian and Hungarian names. (Parethetically I have to point out that Ileana is neither. The common form is Ilona. But I liked Ileana better, and as she is quite an exotic creature, even among the jenti, it seemed good for her to have a slightly exotic name.)

You’re also a writer of picture books. In Grandy Thaxter’s Helper, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Atheneum, 2004), your hero faces Death himself. How did this story come to you?

Once again, the library is involved. I was scheduled to work one Sunday at the main branch, and somehow they had given me the Children’s Desk for the first hour. They never put me on the Children’s Desk, possibly because they knew I was interested in
children’s books.

Anyway, it was very quiet, so I did what we were supposed to do in those days, which was to familiarize ourselves with some of the new picture books set out on display. I saw one that, from its title, made me think that it was the story of Grandy Thaxter. The whole thing came to me at once, and I opened the book excitedly, expecting to read the story I’d just imagined. Instead, it was some lame thing about a dog that wouldn’t stop barking. So I thought, “Well, I’ll write it then.” and I did.

What did S.D. Schindler’s illustrations bring to the story?

I can’t understand why Schindler hasn’t won the Caldecott yet. I suspect it maybe the same reason they say Cary Grant never won an Academy Award–he made it look too easy. Moreover, Schindler doesn’t have one recognizable style. Each of books is resonant with the the text in a wholly individual way. Perhaps that makes it harder for librarians (God bless ’em) to see the quality of his work.

Anyway, I think that his pictures for Grandy Thaxter are the best work he’s done yet. I still remember the first time I saw them, how beautiful the colors of the evening were, how much I laughed when I noticed the portraits in Grandy’s house following Mr. Death with their eyes. I couldn’t be more pleased with them.

What do you think is at the heart of the enduring appeal of gothic fantasy, especially for young readers?

At a certain age, usually about twelve, we –most of us–begin to perceive reality in a whole new way. It’s the moment Ray Bradbury records in the beginning of Dandelion Wine when Douglas realizes “I’m alive!” With that realization comes a new fascination with death. In my case, it took the form of collecting plastic skulls for a while. All perfectly usual.

Horror in general is another way of confronting this great unknowable. Horror movies are strongly associated with the teen years. It also has something to do with the onset of that other great mystery, sex. We’re not sure exactly what it has to do with castles, monsters and slithering vampires, but we sense there’s something there.

But I would say parenthetically that I don’t think Vampire High has much to do with Gothic fiction. It’s actually a comedy of manners: East Coast vs West Coast; the old, popular American theme of the get-it-done outsider who comes in and changes an intractable situation into a better one. Vampire High has as much to do with Destry or Babes in Arms as it does with The Castle of Otranto. Perhaps more.

Could you also tell us a little about your most recent book, Smoking Mirror: An Encounter with Paul Gauguin (? WWatson-Guptill Publications, 2005)hat drew you to that story? How did you go about the research?

Ah. You’re asking me for my war stories.

I had more trouble with Smoking Mirror than I did with all my other books combined. Even more than with Grandy Thaxter, which essentially went to press unedited because the editor had, apparently, sort of quit without mentioning it to anyone.

Anyway, the decision to write a novel about Paul Gauguin didn’t have any deep roots. Jackie Ching at Watson-Guptill called me one day and told me that she was starting a new series, Art Encounters and she’d read my first book Lightning Time. On that basis, she wondered if I wanted to write a novel for her. We talked about a couple of ideas, and, after much back-and-forthing, Gauguin was settled on.

At the heart of my interest in the story was a single event: the first moment when Gauguin arrives in Tahiti, wearing a gray suit and a cowboy hat, which he’d acquired just before leaving Paris at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He starts up the street from the docks to the military officer’s club, with his long hair flowing down his back, and all the Tahitians start laughing at him. He doesn’t know why. Later someone, perhaps his friend Jenot the marine lieutenant, advised him that, in Tahtian culture there are mahus, transvestites. Now Tahitians don’t think transvestites are funny, they think they’re sacred. But mahus don’t just grow their hair long, they dress and live completely as women. They thought Gauguin was some kind of weird French intermediate transvestite, and that tickled them.

Researching the story of Gauguin’s life in Tahiti was interesting. There’s plenty of information about him — though there’s a great deal we’ll never know, but opinions about him are so varied that deciding who the man actually was is hard. Was he a self-promoting cynic,or an artistic genius trying to get a living from hi work? A wife abuser, or a husband desperate to reunite his family? A child molester or a lover? The answer to all the questions, I decided, was yes. So, using the novelist’s prerogative, I wrote a Gauguin seen through the eyes of one character. My Gauguin is Joe Sloan’s Gauguin. Joe Solaon’s and nobody else’s.

What advice do you have for beginning writers? What about those authors looking to build a career?

Let me answer those questions in reverse order.

I would love to build a career writing my books. Maybe I’m doing that. But I’m pretty much in the dark about how. I don’t have an agent and have never been able to get one. I don’t go to conferences, and don’t know which ones to go to. I try to get readings in bookstores and usually get turned down by the events coordinators. What I mean is, I am definitely not the guy to ask for advice about building a career.

On the other hand, I am an expert at what to do before that first set of contracts hits the mailbox. Here’s what worked for me.

Recognize that your conscious mind is the servant of your unconscious. I really believe that, by the time your conscious mind “has an idea,” your unconscious has already done most of the work. But the thing is, the unconscious mind doesn’t deal in words. It deals in pictures and feelings. It’s up to the conscious mind to translate it into a form that a reader can absorb consciously, through reading. Now there’s one problem with that: these two parts of the self don’t readily communicate. You have to find the way to facilitate that.

There’s an image I like. In the part of the country I come from, there was a job title called zanjero. It’s a centuries-old Spanish term that means “ditch attendant.” His job is to keep the irrigation ditches clear of brush and dirt so that when th rains come the water can flow. Every writer needs to be a zanjero.

Drinking and drugs are both recommended by those who don’t know what they’re talking about. The best way, the most reliable, productive and cheapest way, is simply repetition. When Daniel Pinkwater decided to try to write, he didn’t know whether or not he could. But he knew he could stare at a piece of blank paper and a pencil for an hour. So he did that. Gradually, as he stared, ideas began to come. Within a year he was writing.

You need to find a way to have the courage to be rejected without being devastated by it. In my case, the key was to get several manuscripts incirculation. My goal was to have “One on the gun and three in the air,” an artilleryman’s phrase from World War I. It meant that, when the French 75 was banging away at its usual rate of fire, three were three spent shells flying backwards as the fourth round was being fired. When, eventually, I achieved that happy state, I found that individual rejections meant very little to me. “Oh. Did I sent that one there? Forgot about that. Now who gets it next?” It was a good day when that happened.

It’s also important to reduce the amount of egotism involved in your work if it gets in the way of producing. For years I gave up on things because they weren’t as good as I thought I was capable of doing. The problem with that is, whatever you’re writing at the moment probably is the best you’re capable of producing at that moment. Write it, and you will probably get better. And don’t worry too much about publication. Everyone wants that — and why not? All I’m saying is, don’t let the desire hurt your work.

There’s a passage in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons in which Sir Thomas More advises a young man named Richard Rich to become a teacher.

“You’d be a good teacher, perhaps a great one,” More tells him.

“Who would know it if I were?” Rich asks.

“You. Your students. God. Not a bad public, that,” More replies.

Writing is hard at any stage of the game, and it’s hardest by far when you’re starting out. No one wants your work, and the walls of the publishing houses seem as impregnable as the Siegfried Line. It helps to be able to think “Me. God. My friends. Not a bad public, that.”

What can your fans look forward to next?

The Janus Gate: an Encounter With John Singer Sargent (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006), will be out this April. It’s less a historical novel than a ghost story. Only the thing in the shadows is something stranger than a ghost.

Cynsational Notes

See more author interviews as well as recommended young adult titles and YA book links.

SCBWI Bologna Editor Interview: Victoria Arms of Bloomsbury USA

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Editor Victoria Arms will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview); editors: Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda (editorial director interview), Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview); agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), and Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information.

Victoria Arms is the Editorial Director of Bloomsbury USA. She is responsible for creating the U.S. list, overseeing manuscript acquisition and art direction. Erzsi Deàk interviewed Victoria in March 2006.

Erzsi Deàk: Please tell us a little about your background. You come from a children’s book household. Did you ever consider working in another field? If so, what?

Victoria Arms: I was briefly a chef, but missed the book world too much. Perhaps someday I will be able to combine food and children’s books.

ED: What is your all-time favorite book?

VA: I have many favorites, but no one all-time favorite. Time and Again by Jack Finney (adult) is at the top of my list. I love The Wind in the Willows [by Kenneth Grahame], The Trumpet of the Swans [by E.B. White], Marjorie Flack‘s books about Angus, Frog and Toad [by Arnold Lobel], Fox in Love (and the other Fox stories [by James Marshall]); too many favorites to list. I love them because they are beautiful, emotional and funny.

ED: What book are you proudest of having worked on and why?

VA: Some of the recent books I am proud of include of course, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2005)(a Newbery Honor Book), an upcoming cookbook for kids called Kids Cook 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold and illustrated by Sara Pinto, and another up-and-comer by Susan Vaught called Trigger (Bloomsbury, 2006), a contemporary YA novel about a boy recovering from trying to commit suicide.

ED: How would you describe the children’s publishing program at Bloomsbury?

VA: We are open-minded and always looking for something unusual, child-centered and, if possible, either funny or meaningful, or both.

ED: How linked is Bloomsbury US to Bloomsbury UK?

VA: We work very closely with our U.K. office, publishing most books simultaneously. We share about 50% of our lists, and about 25% or more also go to our German publisher for release in that market. U.S. and U.K. editors speak on a daily basis, and we have a weekly phone call to catch up on production, submissions, jackets and other details

ED: Are you aware of any major differences between the U.K. market for children’s books and the U.S. market?

VA: In the U.K., the structure of mass market and institutional publishing is very different, so we tend to try for books that are mostly going to sell in the retail market–library is a bonus. In the U.S., institutional sales are a much bigger deal. The result of this is that the British picture books are often published in paperback only, or then board, while ours start out in hardcover and often have more serious themes. We have an easier time with nonfiction in the U.S., including history, biography and science. In the U.K., upper-YA novels are also tougher to publish successfully than they are in the US. Conversely, the U.K. market for early chapter books is much stronger.

ED: What are the biggest challenges you face/have faced in building a new list in an already established and competitive market?

VA: We don’t want to steal other houses’ authors, so often we must build new authors and artists’ careers from the ground up, without being able to rely on established names in the U.S. market.

ED: Are there any books on your current list that you would consider “quintessentially Bloomsbury”? If there is a difference between a Bloomsbury US and a Bloomsbury UK book, what is it?

VA: We seem to be doing more fantasy than many other U.S. publishers, and much of it seems very Bloomsbury – from U.S.-originated titles by Shannon Hale to Anna Dale’s Whispering To Witches (Bloomsbury, 2004).

ED: What can you tell us about the Bloomsbury US publishing program?

VA: We are publishing about 60 hardcovers a year, and 20 paperback reprints. We also publish some paperback originals in the chapter book, YA and graphic novel formats. We publish books from many different countries in addition to the U.K.: Australia, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany and more. We publish for all ages, 0 to 18 and beyond.

ED: What are you looking for? What grabs your attention and makes you want to publish someone after the first “hit” of the person’s work?

VA: I look for the unusual, the funny and the emotionally strong stuff and, of course, great writing and talented artists who are consistent and easy to work with.

If it really makes me smile or cry or it seems utterly unique.

ED: Anything you are definitely not looking for?

VA: I never say never.

ED: Are your acquisition decisions influenced by co-editions?

VA: Sometimes, Bloomsbury does try to buy books for a worldwide audience.

ED: What would you consider the role of the editor in the publishing process?

VA: First, the editor is responsible for finding talent and bringing it to the publishing house. Then the editor is responsible for making sure this talent is appreciated in-house. Then beyond the office, with the sales reps, the buysers and of course, children and parents who buy and read our books. The letters of complaint come right back to us if we mess up!

ED: Are you aware of any trends in publishing at the moment? How do you feel about them?

VA: There seems to be a trend for older YA’s to fall into the adult market. This can be a good thing if it really serves those true young adults (age 16-22), who tend to ignore traditional YA books and only go for “real” adult books. But it can also be a problem if the YA books are seen as too adult to be safely presented by booksellers to parents.

There is also a lot of computer art out there, which is not so good.

ED: Are you involved in the marketing campaigns for your authors/illustrators and their books? What say, if any, does your sales/marketing department have in the look or type of book you produce?

VA: Yes, our departments are small, so the publicity and marketing departments discuss all their plans with us editors constantly. I work very closely with sales and marketing, particularly on jackets and concept books, but the editing and art choices are strictly editorial. I try to listen to all opinions, however, including those of the buyers – if they don’t buy the books, we can’t sell them.

ED: Will you look at illustration samples? If so, do you advise an illustrator to send new samples every six months, or so?

VA: I love looking at illustration samples. Sending new samples periodically is always a good idea — even a postcard is nice.

ED: What are some of the common mistakes authors could AVOID making when submitting to you?

VA: Not sending an SASE, sending too many manuscripts at once, not knowing what kinds of books we publish, thinking we want books set in a faux English country village…

ED: Anything else you would like to add?

VA: Please forgive our slow response time– we are a small staff, and do try to really look at everything that comes in, but our priority is always our existing authors.

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, “The Gentleman Cowboy” as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

To Market: Learning the Ropes of PR: “Read Any Good Blogs Lately?” from Raab Associates. I’m honored that Cynsations was mentioned along with Read Roger–talk about good company!

Student Web companion to the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: Traditions in English (W.W. Norton, 2005). Features include: self-grading review quizzes; annotated web links; timeline; public domain illustrations; and additional resources for instructors. More on the Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature.

“Uglies in the New York Times” from Westerblog, the blog of author Scott Westerfeld (author interview). Scott discusses “Young Adult Fiction: Wild Things” by Naomi Wolf from the March 12 New York Times.

Author Interview: Marlene Perez on Unexpected Development

Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004). What did Megan do over her summer vacation, Mrs. Westland? Sex. That’s what she relates in her answering essay. But that’s not all. Megan also works at a pancake house, fends off sexual harassment, contemplates breast reduction surgery, and finds herself overwhelmed when a crush turns into a real boyfriend with everything that implies. Highly recommended. Ages 12-up. More on Unexpected Development from Cynsations.

Marlene Perez on Marlene Perez: “I’m the youngest of twelve children. I credit my love of reading to my siblings because they taught me to read before kindergarten. I grew up in Story City, a small town in Iowa. My parents divorced when I was a baby, and my mom raised us by herself. I now live in Orange County, California, also known as ‘The OC.’ I’m married with two great kids and a wonderful, supportive husband. We also have a cat, a dog, and a corn snake. I’m not so fond of the snake, but I am getting used to it.” Read Marlene Perez’s Journal.

What was your initial inspiration for writing Unexpected Development (Roaring Brook, 2004)?

Like Megan, the main character in Unexpected Development, I developed early and plentifully. I also worked in a pancake house during high school and college. I still have nightmares where I’m the only server in a packed restaurant. The other inspiration was that, in my own experience, anyhow, a lot of people didn’t realize that their perceptions/assumptions about girls with large breasts were NOT factually based and could be hurtful.

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

In August of 1999, I attended the SCBWI National Conference in LA and heard Norma Fox Mazer (author interview) speak. She talked about her method for shutting up that internal editor that we all have in our heads.

After hearing her speak, I realized that I could write a novel. I’d tried before, but ended up with a couple of really good chapters and nothing else, because I thought everything had to be perfect (or as close as I could get to perfection) before I moved on to the next chapter.

Nowadays, I’m a big believer in a down-and-dirty first draft. It took me six months to write a first draft and I lost count of the number of times I revised, polished, tweaked, and edited it after that.

An agent signed me up in August of 2002, the day before I left for another SCBWI National Conference. He sent out the manuscript in January 2003, and Deborah Brodie from Roaring Brook bought it in March 2003. It was originally scheduled for publication in the spring of 2004, but Roaring Brook Press was put up for sale and Unexpected Development’s publication was delayed until the fall. It all worked out well in the end, but it was a little scary at first.

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

I think the psychological part of writing is sometimes the hardest. It was hard to put myself out there and risk being rejected, risk failure, and risk my own idea that I could do it “someday.” But the most important thing to me was that I was as true and as honest as I could be. My first instinct was to protect my character, but eventually, I figured out that she had to go out there and endure the teasing and the comments. And I’ve learned the theme of teen sexuality is a sensitive one, especially novels about female teen sexuality where no one dies or gets a disease. We should be responsible about potential sexual consequences, but I don’t think we need to portray every sexual female as someone who should and will be punished.

Your site highlights an “alter ego,” Lana Perez. Who is she, and what does she do? Why are there two of you?

Lana Perez is my pen name for the mid-grade series fiction I write for Mirrorstone Books. The main series I write for is Starsisterz. Bright Lights for Bella is the first of the “Bella” books in that series. There’s a little of my own daughter in Bella, so I’m particular attached to that character. There are two of me for a couple of reasons. I wanted to a different name for my series fiction, something that would help to define the differences in style for the reader. It’s not a secret, at least not a very well-kept one, but it’s fun. And the other reason is that I simply like pen names. When I was a kid, I thought it was really cool to discover that some of my favorite authors had different identities.

As a reader, what are some of your favorite recent YA novels and why?

I read a lot. I always have. One of my favorite recent YAs is A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview). In fact, it’s probably the best book I’ve read in the last three years, YA or otherwise. I was blown away by Jennifer Richard Jacobson‘s Stained (Atheneum, 2005)(author interview). I’m a huge fan of fantasy, particularly modern or urban fantasy like Holly Black‘s. I have a mad literary crush on Neil Gaiman. I love his work. I like YA by Libba Bray, Elise Broach, E. Lockhart, D.L. Garfinkle, Lara Zeises, and Brent Hartinger. I love vampire fiction and read as much of it as I can, so I’m looking forward to your upcoming novel.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I just finished a manuscript tentatively titled Cupid In the Corner Pocket, which is a girl whose only love is pool, until she falls for the same guy as her best friend. And I recently started working on a modern fantasy that I’m really excited about.

Cynsational Notes

The “upcoming novel” of mine that Marlene mentions is Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and I’m honored by her enthusiasm.

“A Day at the ALA Midwinter Conference” by Marlene Perez from Smartwriters (February 2004).

Chat Log September 7, 2004: Publication Party with Marlene Perez from the YA Authors Cafe.

See more author interviews as well as recommended young adult titles and YA book links.

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Editorial Director Interview: Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda Books

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Editorial Director Shannon Barefield will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006.

Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview). Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview). Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency, and others. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information. [Note: speaker list has been changed/updated.]

Shannon Barefield is the editorial director of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group. She primarily edits fiction and picture books, along with the occasional nonfiction title. Shannon has spent all of her 10-year editorial career at Lerner, including a number of years working on series nonfiction. For most of that time, she lived in Minneapolis, where Lerner is based. Last fall, she moved to New York City to open Carolrhoda’s new editorial office there. She holds a BA in English from Rice University and an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Florida. Shannon will be participating in the SCBWI Bologna 2007 panel discussion, “Where Craft and Acquisitions Meet.”

Erzsi Deàk interviewed Shannon in February 2006.

Erzsi Deàk: What is your official title and role at Carolrhoda?

Shannon Barefield: My title is editorial director, Carolrhoda Books. I develop, acquire, and edit books for the Carolrhoda list with the goal of creating high-quality trade books for all sorts of young readers, pre-K through teen. I also supervise an executive editor and an editorial assistant, my main partners in this mission.

ED: Please tell us a little about your background. (How and why you got into children’s books.)

SB: I came to editing as a way of being involved with books, which have always been my greatest love. When I began to look for a job in publishing, I targeted children’s books in particular because I felt most inspired by them. I felt and continue to feel that editing for children is an honorable and important profession.

ED: What is your all time personal favorite picture book? Why?

SB: As a child, my favorite picture book was called Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne and H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1973). It’s about a mother kangaroo who has no pouch. She visits different animal mothers to learn how they carry their babies and eventually solves her problem by obtaining a carpenter’s apron full of pockets. I loved this story for its heartfelt portrayal of maternal love and for the facts it conveyed about different kinds of animal families.

My tastes as an adult are far less traditional and more oriented toward the humorous potential of the picture book format. I’m very enamored, for example, with a picture book from last year called Traction Man Is Here! by Mini Grey (Knopf, 2005). It’s visually innovative and has a wry sense of humor that both children and adults can appreciate.

ED: Is there a picture book you wish you had worked on? Why?

SB: I think it’s important to restrain editorial envy and not covet my competitors’ titles too wistfully – after all, the most important thing about the publication of a good book is the book itself, not the publisher or the editor!

ED: What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on and why?

SB: I’ve edited relatively few picture books, as my career has focused on fiction up until the past year or so. I’m very proud of our new novel Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You by Hanna Jansen, translated from the German by Elizabeth D. Crawford (Carolrhoda, 2006). This is a young adult novel based on the true story of Jansen’s adopted daughter, who survived the genocide in Rwanda but lost her entire family to the horrific violence of 1994. It’s an amazing, haunting, important book that deserves to be widely read.

ED: How would you describe the children’s publishing program at Carolrhoda?

SB: We believe that all types of readers–whether they enjoy so-called “literary” novels or genre books such as science fiction or sports–deserve the best possible writing and visuals. To this end, Carolrhoda focuses on both quality and appeal. We publish for all ages of children, and we’re open to many types of writing. Our list numbers about 18 books per year.

ED: What about the picture book publishing program? Do you have a specific brief? How many picture books do you produce each year? Do you handle board books as well as picture books? Handle non-fiction picture books? Poetry picture books?

SB: Lerner Publishing Group has three imprints that publish picture books. Carolrhoda Books publishes mainly trade-oriented titles with broad appeal and an occasional nonfiction title of particular distinction. Millbrook publishes nonfiction picture books that often have ties to the curriculum and applications in the classroom. Kar-Ben publishes picture books of Jewish interest. All three imprints publish poetry, though not in high numbers. Together, these imprints publish 15-20 picture books per year.

We don’t publish original board books; we have very occasionally published a board book version of a picture book already on our list.

Specifically, Carolrhoda’s mission as a picture book publisher is to offer children books of high appeal, quality, and originality. Some of our titles are highly focused on child appeal, while others also speak to the picture book as a work of art. An example of the former is I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Teresa Murfin (Carolrhoda, 2005). An example of the latter is Noel by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee (Carolrhoda, 2005).

ED: What are you looking for? What grabs your attention in a picture book? What about a picture book text?

SB: If I’m looking at a dummy by an author/illustrator, I’d like to see striking visuals paired with a text that is somehow original and surprising. A great picture book requires both the text and the visuals to work.

In an unillustrated text, I’m looking for a spark of some kind in the language and ideas, plus potential for intriguing, appealing illustrations. This market is so flooded that many perfectly adequate or “nice” picture book texts can’t compete. Only a work of true distinction can be published successfully.

ED: Anything you are definitely not looking for?

SB: We are not looking for overtly religious material or books whose main purpose is to preach or impart a lesson. We also aren’t interested in “me too” books that imitate successful titles already on the market.

ED: Is there such a thing as the perfect Carolrhoda picture book?

SB: I don’t believe there is. We recognize the rich breadth of possibility in many kinds of picture books.

ED: What do you see as the role of the editor in creating picture books?

SB: The editor has many roles. One is helping the author make the text as strong as possible through honest feedback. Another is working with the creative director to choose an appropriate artist for the book, then collaborating with the artist and design team throughout the illustration process. Finally, the editor plays a key role in helping the marketing department generate ideas for publicity efforts.

On the whole, the editor is an advocate for the reader, the publishing house, the author, and the illustrator, all at different moments in the process. It’s a bit of a juggling act!

ED: What do you see as the role of picture books in the lives of young children?

SB: Picture books play a critical role in helping children develop language and visual awareness as well as a love for stories and, eventually, reading itself. It’s been proven that the earlier children experience books, the more likely they are to grow into literate readers. So picture books are indispensable. Besides, the best of them are an awful lot of fun.

ED: Are you aware of any trends in picture book publishing at the moment? How do you feel about them?

SB: Picture book sales in general are flat in the United States. Many publishers have cut their lists because sales do not support a large picture book list. Because our list is purposefully small, we’ve been able to maintain the same number of titles–but we’re more selective than ever about which books we publish.

On the whole, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for picture books to have a flat cycle for a while. Many poorly made and unoriginal books have flooded bookstores over the past few years. If the current climate forces publishers to raise their standards, that will be a good thing for children–and eventually for those publishers who survive the downturn.

ED: What say if any does your sales/marketing department have in the look or type of book you produce?

SB: Our acquisitions are generated entirely by the editorial department, but our sales and marketing directors give input on each acquisition. If we lack sales/marketing support, it’s difficult to persuade the publisher to go forward with a project. The same directors provide input on the design, content, and appearance of covers. They are among several parties who approve covers in our company, the others being editorial, design, production, and the publisher himself.

ED: What are some of the common mistakes authors could AVOID making when submitting to you?

SB: Due to volume, we’re able to accept unsolicited submissions only in November. (Send full manuscript to Zelda Wagner, Fiction Submissions, Lerner Publishing Group, 241 1st Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA.)

The most common mistake we see is the submission of materials not appropriate for our list. I would encourage authors to target submissions to publishers whose books they have studied, with an eye toward compatibility. This is NOT to say that you should imitate books already published. But if you’ve written a quirky, humorous book, look for publishers who are putting out that type of book and target your submissions accordingly.

ED: Can you address the “co-edition” issue in regards to how Carolrhoda produces a picture book?

SB: We occasionally partner with other publishers on co-editions. In such cases, the other publisher is the originator of the book, and we publish the U.S. edition. However, such books generally comprise no more than 20% of our picture book list; most of our picture books are developed in house.

ED: Overall, are most of your picture books created by author/illustrators (one person) or by an author and an illustrator?

SB: It’s a mix. We do slightly more books with a separate author and illustrator, but that’s much more a matter of chance than design. Both processes can produce wonderful results.

ED: Will you look at projects created by two people (an author and an illustrator)?

SB: Yes. However, we suggest that authors be aware that most publishers strongly prefer to select an illustrator themselves. It may be that the story works for the publisher, but the art does not, and then there’s really no way to proceed.

ED: Should illustrators send samples to you directly?

SB: Illustrators should direct samples to: Creative Director; Lerner Publishing Group; 241 First Avenue North; Minneapolis, MN 55401 U.S.A.

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, “The Gentleman Cowboy” as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

Juvenile Series and Sequels from the Mid-Continent Public Library. [My first public library was a Mid-Continent branch. My mama took me there every Saturday morning, and in the summer between second and third grade, I won the summer reading contest.]

Writing Rules: advice on the writing process, globally, from middle grade writers (PDF file), compiled by Cynthia Lord, author of Rules (Scholastic, 2006)(author interview).

Author Interview: Cynthia Lord on Rules

Rules by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2006). Catherine, 12, finds herself torn between her love for her little brother David and her frustration with dealing with his autism. What will getting to know Jason, who talks with words printed on cards, and Kristi, who’s new in town, reveal about friendship and what’s really “normal?” Funny and touching with well-crafted characters. This debut should make a big splash. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Ages 9-up. See a recommendation from Debbi Michiko Florence.

Cynthia Lord is a former middle-school teacher and bookseller. She lives in coastal Maine with her husband, and though they have two teenagers, Cindy can still speak fluent Ubby-Dubby from her childhood days of wishing she were Lori on the PBS show “Zoom” (0-2-1-3-4! Send it to Zoom!). Cindy also won the 2004 SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for an Unpublished Writer. Learn more from Adams Literary, and read Cindy’s LiveJournal.

Congratulations on the publication of Rules (Scholastic, 2006)! Could you tell us a bit about your path to publication?

I’ve always loved children’s books and writing, but I didn’t put the two together until 2000, when I began writing Rules. Before that, I wrote short stories for adults, catalog copy, and teaching materials. Scholastic accepted Rules at the end of 2001, and I did several revisions between that initial call and publication.

What was your inspiration for writing Rules (Scholastic, 2006)?

I have a son with autism, and I wanted to explore the unique dynamics that exist in a family that has a child with severe special needs.

One thing I found missing in most books that included a character with special needs was the sense of community that families like mine so often have with each other. As soon as my son was diagnosed, we were immediately part of a network of special needs families and professionals.

My son had weekly occupational and speech therapy at a local clinic and at those appointments, I would meet other families who also had special needs children. We formed a sort of “waiting room club” and would cheer on each other’s kids as they hit milestones and comfort each other over challenges. My daughter was too young to stay home alone so I would bring her with me to her brother’s appointments. She grew up having one foot in two very different worlds.

“Where do we fit in?” is a question all families have to answer, and when you have a child with a severe disability that answer can be very complicated and conditional. I wanted to both grieve and celebrate that difference.

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

I wrote Rules in 2000, and it was accepted by Scholastic at the very end of 2001. Sometimes books need to be moved from list to list for a variety of publishing reasons, especially books by first-time authors, and that happened in my case.

I revised several times after the book was accepted, then it went to copyediting and typesetting last summer. There were also a few tweaking passes at the very end. It really brought home to me why an editor will say, “I have to love it” about a book he/she acquires. I saw firsthand how many times my own editor, Leslie Budnick, had to carefully and thoughtfully read through my novel.

My galleys came in November and just a few weeks ago, an exciting envelope arrived from Leslie with my first hardcovers.

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

One literary challenge for me was that I had to learn more about plotting. When Scholastic accepted Rules, the book was only a “slice of life,” more than a true plot. I needed to create for myself a crash course in plotting to fix that.

Psychologically, it proved challenging to write such a personal book. It was emotionally draining to keep digging backward to old feelings with each rewrite. Having Rules’ release date moved was especially hard, because I had to hold open emotions that I craved to close and grow past after awhile. But I couldn’t close them, because I knew I would have to access them again with the next rewrite.

What is it like being a debut author in 2006?

It’s thrilling! Books today are beautifully produced, and there are so many amazing authors writing today. It’s both an honor and a joy to have people investing their talents in something I created from blank pages.

I’m even getting fan mail now from children and that touches me deeply each and every time.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I’m also honored to be interviewed by you, Cyn. I have always thought it would be incredibly cool to have an interview on your blog. So thank you for the opportunity.

I have more information about Rules on my website, including a discussion guide and a few interviews with me.

Cynsational Notes

Cynthia Lord‘s debut novel Rules (Scholastic, 2006) was recently hailed as “a heartwarming first novel” by Booklist.

An Interview with Cynthia Lord from Meghan McCarthy.

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Publishing Director Interview: Anne McNeil

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Publishing Director Anne McNeil will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview). Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Mary Rodgers/Lerner. Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola (agent interview), and others. See registration information.

Anne McNeil is the Publishing Director of Fiction and Picture Books at Hodder Children’s Books. She was interviewed by Ann Jacobus in November 2005.

Ann Jacobus: Please tell us a little about your background.

Anne McNeil: Passionate reader; I applied for a job as advertised in the Guardian for an editorial assistant in the early eighties, and that was my beginning. I have always worked in children’s books.

AJ: What is your all-time personal favorite book?

AM: I don’t think I can name just one, I’m afraid. I would include Breaktime by Aidan Chambers (Bodley Head, 1978)(Red Fox Definitions, 2000), as it used form and content so perfectly. I found it so thrilling in its accessibility and such a brilliant rendering of the state of adolescence. On the list would also be Middlemarch [by George Eliot], which I love for its scope and characterisation. And I would have to include Under Milk Wood by [Dylan Thomas (1954)], which my father read aloud to me before I was old enough, and I adored its dialogue so much I tried to mimic the characters – until I heard Richard Burton’s fabulous audio. And then there’s Wind in the Willows [by Kenneth Grahame]…

AJ: What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on and why?

AM: Shirley Hughes’ A Life Drawing [Bodley Head, 2002] would be one. The story of Shirley’s life through her art read perfectly as a work of narrative. And then, suddenly, between us we had the vision of the potential for artwork. The book is a collection of her own paintings and roughs – along with reproductions of many of the classic painters who inspired her. It is a beautiful book and very interesting, both from a domestic history perspective and from the perspective, too, of a working illustrator. The Great Grammar Book [by Kate Petty, illustrated by Jennie Mazels (Bodley Head, 1996)], and its follow up titles, was one of the most innovative pop-up titles of its time. I learnt about conceptualising in 3-D. Cressida Cowell’s Hiccup titles have shown how a picture book author can very successfully make the leap up the age range, and David Almond’s Kate the Cat and the Moon demonstrates the same in reverse. Hilary McKay’s Permanent Rose is a masterpiece of characterisation and was absolutely terrific to edit. And Susan Cooper’s The Boggart is the last one I will mention. She wrote it after a long gap from the end of the classic The Dark is Rising sequence – it felt like a new beginning.

AJ: How would you describe the children’s publishing program at Hodder?

AM: The Hodder list has an immensely strong fiction programme. Underpinned by very successful series and brands including Enid Blyton and Animal Ark – it is a wide-ranging list which includes top literary titles like David Almond’s Skellig, Hilary McKay’s Casson family books and newer stand-alone titles like the bestselling The Valley of Secrets [by Charmian Hussey (excerpt)]. Hiccup by Cressida Cowell is a global brand in the making, with extremely strong and funny writing selling in over 21 languages; and Cherub by Robert Muchamore goes from strength to strength. We are currently expanding our younger fiction through innovative sequence publishing. We publish approximately 70 new fiction titles each year, and are growing to about 40 picture books. The picture book list is strong on novelties and character including Felicity Wishes and Kipper. We have a successful stand-alone list, also, with illustrators such as Lauren Child and David Melling [scroll for interview] to name but two.

AJ: What about the picture book publishing programme? Do you have a specific brief? How many picture books do you produce each year? Do you handle board books as well as picture books?

AM: We don’t have a specific brief, although we often look at developing characters. As above, there is a strong novelty list at Hodder which works well. A super lead for next year is The Story of Everything, which tells the history of mankind in ten spreads. We have established characters like Mick Inkpen’s Kipper and Wibbly Pig books, alongside Emma Thomson’s bestselling Felicity Wishes titles. We are aiming at approximately forty titles. Texts have to be absolutely brilliant – as they are much, much more than vehicles for the art. I do not publish non-fiction, but “yes” to board books.

AJ: Can you address the “co-edition” issue in regards to how Hodder produces a picture book?

AM: We proof our books a year prior to publishing, or eighteen months in the case of novelties. This gives optimum time for our rights teams to find customers. We publish only the books that we absolutely love – and hope to discover that others will love them too. We always print for all comers – sometimes splitting US from Europe against our hardback and then paperback pub dates. We attend Bologna and Frankfurt to sell rights – plus selling trips throughout the year to the US, France, Spain… As far as China.

AJ: What can you tell us about your fiction department? How many fiction imprints does Hodder currently have? How do they differ from each other?

AM: Everything is published under Hodder, the Hodder imprint. We only have one sub-imprint, which is Bite: a list for teenagers.

AJ: What are you looking for? (What grabs your attention in a picture book? What about a novel?) Anything you are definitely not looking for?

AM: Texts need to be strong – really strong, to stand the test of time. We do tend to publish quirky rather than cute; but that might change. We look for enduring themes, strong characters and great punchlines. Art needs to properly carry its own subtext so that the two combine to make something special.

AJ: Is there such a thing as the perfect Hodder book?

AM: Not really, although I would say that we are entirely child-focussed in our publishing. We don’t publish for the adult gift market but for the end reader.

AJ: What do you see as the role of the editor in creating books? What are some of the challenges you face working with first-time writers?

AM: It varies completely from project to project. Sometimes one’s role is minimal in that only line editing is required. Sometimes a complete re-think is necessary, and sometimes the author looks to the editor for primary ideas. The most important role for editors is that they should enable the author to write the book that is in the author’s head – the book they think they have written. The editor needs to stay close to the author’s vision at all times – whilst creating a bridge between the author and the market.

AJ: Are you aware of any trends in children’s book publishing at the moment? How do you feel about them?

AM: There are trends towards the upper end of teenage (the 18-plus market), which we are not really going for. Adult writers are experimenting more with children’s books, which can be successful if they are really prepared to change their vision and write from the inside out, rather than looking back on childhood.

AJ: What say if any does your sales/marketing department have in the look or type of book you produce?

AM: It is a collaborative process. The days of editors buying the books and then handing them over to colleagues has long gone, and personally I think it is for the best. Working on the book and taking it to market is the combined responsibility of everyone in the publishing house. The editors and publisher drive the process – but talk to all colleagues throughout. We work hard to bring colleagues in sales and marketing on board with all our decisions and listen to their views. Fiction covers absolutely must be approved by sales and marketing.

AJ: What are some of the common mistakes authors could AVOID making when submitting to you?

AM: Single-space typing and over-complicated synopses on fiction. For picture books it has to be the inclusion of roughs illustrated by a next-door-neighbour!

Cynsational Notes

British spellings remain as they arrived, which I wish was the case in American editions of British books.

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to author Phyllis Root, recipient of the Loft Award in Children’s Literature/Younger Children. Administered by The Loft Literary Center, the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Writers provide “Minnesota writers of demonstrated ability with an opportunity to work on their writing for a concentrated period of time. A $25,000 fellowship is awarded each year in children’s literature, including poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction.” This year the award was offered to an writer for children younger than age eight. Next year, the focus will shift to a writer for older children. “The fellowship does not include educational material for children.”

The front page of Shutta Crum’s website is now a functioning blog. Surf over to check out photos from her recent school visits. Shutta’s books include The Bravest of the Brave, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Knopf, 2004) and My Mountain Song, illustrated by Ted Rand (Clarion, 2004).

Showcase: National Women’s History Month and National Poetry Month from CBC Magazine.

Author Feature: April Pulley Sayre

April Pulley Sayre is the author of more than 50 books for publishers such as Greenwillow, Holt, Candlewick, and Charlesbridge. She is best known for her non-fiction writing and is hands-down one of the most engaging author-speakers in all of children’s literature.

Could you tell us a bit about your path to publication, and how you’ve built your career? What were the highs and lows?

I have always loved science and writing. I studied biology, particularly primatology, at Duke University. I didn’t take many English courses, but I did write for, and eventually become the editor of Vertices, a campus popularized science magazine.

After Duke I had a job offer as a medical writer but I took an internship writing for the National Wildlife Federation‘s activist newsletter. Then I interned at National Geographic Society and later took a staff position producing teacher education materials at National Wildlife Federation.

My first book arose when I answered an ad in the Washington Post for people to write children’s biographies of scientists. My husband and I had just returned from studying with a primatologist in Madagascar so I wrote about her.

A year later, after I’d written the book and it had been accepted and edited, the publisher was acquired by Holt and they canceled my book. Talk about lows! My first book, all done, was cancelled. At the time they called I was having an asthma attack and that news didn’t help at all.

Spunkiness has helped in my career. I wrote to the new publisher and told them that I had done my part and deserved the second half of the advance and by the way here are my qualifications. They paid me that advance and asked me to write six more books so I forgave them! That press, Twenty-First Century Books, was bought and sold many times over the years but I wrote twenty-eight books for them. Those were my bread-and-butter, school library books. I learned a lot while writing them.

My first picture books were acquired by publishers out of the slush pile by blind submission. (Once, even after I had published many books, a publisher acquired my manuscript from a slush pile. The editor I knew and had contacted had left to become an actress so the manuscript had been dumped back into the slush!)

Tenacity has been the key to my career. My first editor, Virginia Koeth, with whom I have done 25 books, is an angel and has kept me sane in this business. I have worked with many other good editors who have left the business or switched houses. That has been hard. Publishing is a tough business. I really admire editors; they have to be champions for our books, and have to really bond with the books to usher them through the many stages of production and marketing.

You earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College program. How would you describe this experience? What did you gain from it?

I went into the MFA program at Vermont College after I had already established my career writing middle grade nonfiction and creative nonfiction picture books. I just had a feeling that it would benefit me in some incalculable way.

The program met and exceeded my expectations. It deepened my knowledge of the literature and made me a more confident critiquer. I learned about writing novels, early readers, and other genres previously out of my realm. The faculty at Vermont is top rate and incredibly generous.

Most importantly, for me, I went from being an isolated writer to a person with a broad community of support nationally and internationally. I keep in contact with my Vermont colleagues and have traveled and met more terrific writers and educators because of my experience at Vermont. Now I can participate in the literature in general by helping my colleagues in their work. That kind of connection sustains me in this work, which is so solitary by nature.

You’re a noted author of children’s non-fiction–picture books and older reader titles. You’ve also written non-fiction for adults. What about this area appeals to you? What advice do you have for other writers interested in following in your footsteps?

Nonfiction writing is about sharing what you care about with the world. What could be more delightful than that? Nonfiction also gives me an excuse to go out and research. I love to learn.

Everyone should try writing nonfiction. They should dip in and read some of the awesome nonfiction writing being done today. Children’s nonfiction is a locus for what adult writers are calling “creative nonfiction.” Take a look at what Byrd Baylor (bio; bio with photo) was doing decades ago. Creativity has been the hallmark of nonfiction in the children’s realm for a long time.

I was particularly taken by Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust, illustrated by Ann Jonas (Greenwillow, 2005). What was the initial inspiration for this book? What was the timeline from spark to publication? What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

This is probably my favorite text I have ever written. I thought it would never get published. It was rejected 53 times over 7 years. When I first wrote it, about ten years ago, it was a straightforword expository text with scanning electrong micrograph illustrations from a scientist. The text was almost bought by a publisher but that publisher held it for two years, saying they just wanted to think about illustrations. Fortunately, I gave up on them. I rewrote it a few times and submitted it many times.

Then, one morning at Vermont College, I was looking at the sunrise and had an epiphany. I realized that I should recast the entire book as a nonfiction picture book about how we and all these other elements of the universe help create the colors of the sunrise and sunset. I called it “We Make Sunsets” but it became Stars Beneath Your Bed. Some of my previous book text became the endmatter in the new book. Even in its current form, the manuscript was rejected by many editors who loved it but couldn’t convince marketing that a book about dust would sell. Finally Greenwilow was brave enough to publish it.

One of the peak moments of my career was accepting the AAAS/Subaru/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books for this book. I cried with joy when I received the letter telling me about the award.

I also love the playful language in Ant, Ant, Ant: An Insect Chant, illustrated by Trip Park (NorthWord Books/T&N Publishing, 2005) and Trout, Trout, Trout: A Fish Chant, also illustrated by Trip Park (NorthWord Books, 2004). How did you go about writing these books? Tell us about your love of language.

Okay, I confess, I am a word nut and those who know me laugh a lot in my presence. I believe this is because of the funny things that I say but perhaps my fashion needs help, too. The trout book began when I was in my office writing a lovely, lyrical book about fish in the sea. Then this scientist in rubber pants walked down the stream behind my house and he seemed to be having more fun. So I put on my waders and helped him survey fish and I discovered that fish names are just plain goofy.

Soon I was reading fish guides and pestering my family by telling them about hilarious fish names. The names began to bounce and clump in my mind. They became poetry, or perhaps you might say, a rap. Thanksgiving weekend my mom sat in my office and I read out little stanzas I had made out of fish names. She’d give a thumbs up, thumbs down, and then I kept on making more stanzas. Ant, Ant, Ant: An Insect Chant followed. I have other chants in the pipeline. Rhythm and rhyme is practically a disease with me. I can’t stop creating it once I start.

I’m interested in your fiction picture book, Noodle Man: The Pasta Superhero, illustrated by Stephen Constanza (Orchard, 2002). What inspired this story? Can we expect more fiction from you in the future?

Noodle Man: the Pasta Superhero began after a pasta dinner one night. I asked what I should write next. Someone, and we’re not sure who, said, “Why don’t you write about a guy named Al Dente?”

I got out my notebook and started scribbling. Who is he? What are his problems? Would he use pieces of fettucine to ski? Would he lasso things with spaghetti? I kept bothering everyone to talk about Al Dente. Later I wrote the story. Rebecca Davis, then at Orchard, did a great job of editing it. I actually have written quite a bit of fiction including a some novels. But at the moment I am more involved in polishing what I feel is an important part of my life’s work: a book for adults who want to expand their creativity. That book is my passion.

You host the Children’s Media Professionals’ Forum on your website. Could you fill us in on how it came to be? Its mission?

The Children’s Media Professionals’ Forum is an online community where librarians, media specialists, authors, educational consultants, publishing industry professionals and television producers can have targeted, professional, friendly discussions of ideas, problems, and solutions. Your readers are welcome to come to my www.aprilsayre.com and click the forum link to see what it is about. They are welcome to join.

The CMP Forum came out of my concern for quality. The publishing industry and the education field are going through a lot of changes right now. New media are emerging and old business models are changing. I heard authors talking to authors, educators talking to educators, and booksellers talking to booksellers about the challenges they were facing. Yet I didn’t hear enough dialogue between these groups. All of these professionals are involved in getting quality content to children. There is no point producing a great book or video if there aren’t the marketers, booksellers, librarians, and educators that put that material into the hands of the child. I wanted place where educators could chat with authors, and vice versa.

My hope is that the CMP forum will energize people and help address the challenges they face in this journey to bring quality material to kids. I also hope that ultimately CMP forum will help people in emerging media—in video, podcasting, music, movies, interactive software and games—mingle with and learn from some of the professionals who have experience in creating and delivering quality material through books and magazines. I am very involved in new media but not all my colleagues in publishing are—yet. I want the advocates of quality in this field to stay strong and have the power to promote great material for the kids of the future.

Is there any breaking news you’d like to share?

Stars Beneath Your Bed: the Surprising Story of Dust received an ALA Notable (2006 Notable Children’s Books). As I mentioned, it received the AAAS/Subaru/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. This is exciting because AAAS/Subaru/SB&F awarded this prize in three categories. Mine was in the picture book category. Last year they inaugurated the award by giving lifetime achievement awards to some of the biggies in science writing. This year they began the new program of recognizing individual books. These awards should help recognize quality in the field of science writing for children. More than ever, we need terrific science education for children and great science literature helps.

What can your fans look forward to next?

This year I have paperbacks being released of One is a Snail: Ten Is A Crab; The Bumblebee Queen, and Secrets of Sound: Studying the Calls of Whales, Elephants and Birds.

Next year I have several terrific picture books coming out. One is with a Caldecott honor winning illustrator who does terrific nonfiction books and I’ll just leave you with that little mystery of who that is! Most of all, I’ll be doing lots of talks at conferences on literacy, writing, and teaching science. We have an exciting year ahead.