Cynsational News & Links

Happy birthday to my husband, Greg Leitich Smith! Visit GregLSBlog to offer him cheers! Read an interview with Greg at Young Adult (+ Kids) Books Central.

This week Bookshelves of Doom offers a rousing recommendation of my upcoming YA gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). She concludes: “I suspect that there will be a pretty serious clamor for a sequel.” Thanks so much; I’m honored!

Thanks to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature for encouraging folks to read my Native-themed books and also for pointing out the importance of supporting Native writers and literature. More authors to know: Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Joy Harjo; Richard Van Camp; LaVera Rose, and Tim Tingle (among others!).

More News & Links

Laura Atkins has recently set-up a website and blog. Laura, who was a children’s book editor (working at Children’s Book Press, Orchard Books, and Lee & Low Books), is now offering manuscript critiquing to aspiring children’s book writers, and consulting services to publishers in the area of diversity. On her blog, Tockla’s World of Children’s Literature, she ruminates about children’s books, the children’s publishing world, and her attempts at becoming a freelance children’s book specialist. See her recent post, Increasing Diversity within the Children’s Publishing World.

Children’s Author Kelly Bennett: newly redesigned site from the author of 11 books, including Not Norman: A Goldfish Story, illustrated by (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview), which won Texas Institute of Letters Friends of the Austin Public Library Award for Best Children’s Book for 2005 and recently received a 2006 Oppenheimer Toy Award Gold Medal Award. She recently has sold to Candlewick a picture book manuscript, Dad and Pop, “in which a young boy introduces readers to his two dads and shows that even though they may be very different, in the most important way they are exactly the same!” Congratulations, Kelly! Note: Kelly’s site was redesigned by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys. Lisa also is the wonderful designer of my own author website.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Varian Johnson on the sale of his first YA novel, My Life As A Rhombus, to Flux/Llewellyn. Read all about it and send Varian cheers here.

A Cybervisit With Gail Gauthier: official author site includes biography, book information, classroom materials, material on appearances, and a weblog titled Original Content. Gauthier’s books include Happy Kid! (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006), Saving the Planet & Stuff (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003), and The Hero of Ticonderoga (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001).

“Secrets of the Savanna by Mark & Delia Owens, One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals by Deborah Noyes:” an article on non-fiction by Colleen Mondor of Learn more about Secrets of the Savanna and One Kingdom (both Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

“A Tiny Portion of What I Learned at the [National] SCBWI Conference” from D.L. Garfinkle’s LJ. D.L. Garfinkle is the author of Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl (Putnam, 2005)(author interview), Stuck in the Seventies (Putnam, 2007), and The Band (Berkley, 2007). Read a recent interview with D.L. Garfinkle from Pop Goes the Library. See also “Conference Confidential” from Lisa Yee, read a recent Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton

Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton (Candlewick, 2006). Humans are wimps, we’re told. We “can’t stand” cold, heat, live without food or water, and we have to have air to survive. But a handful of other earth creatures are pros and handling all of the above. Take “frog popsicles” for example. As the author points out, “usually, being frozen solid is very, very bad for living things.” But wood frogs survive by making the ice grow between all their key body parts. Conversational, funny, informative, and fascinating with humorous, clever illustrations–one of the most inspired works of creative non-fiction this year. Ages 8-up.

Eighth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference

The 92nd Street Y Buttenwieser Library and the Jewish Book Council are co-sponsoring the Eighth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan (New York City) Nov. 19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Featured speakers are: executive editor Deborah Brodie of Roaring Brook; executive editor Jill Davis of Bloomsbury; publisher Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben Publishing; marketing vice president Theresa M. Borzumato-Greenberg of Holiday House; literary agent Michele Beno of Curtis Brown Ltd.; and artist-and-author representative Ronnie Ann Herman of the Herman Agency.

Author Norman H. Finkelstein, winner of two National Jewish Book Awards, will give opening remarks, and the day will include the popular “Query Letter Clinic and First Pages” with the editors, sessions on the Grinspoon Foundation’s P.J. (Pajama) Library, “Drawing Inspiration from Israel’s Multicultural Mix” with Israeli author Anna Levine,” the Association of Jewish LibrariesSydney Taylor Manuscript Competition, and door prizes.

The registration form (PDF) is available online. Call 212.415.5544 or e-mail for additional information or to request the form by mail. The fee is $85 before Nov. 1, and $100 after Nov. 1. Fee includes kosher breakfast and lunch The final registration deadline is Nov. 11. The conference sold out last year, so register early.

Author Interview: R.L. LaFevers on Werewolf Rising

R.L. LaFevers on R.L. LaFevers: “I began writing when I was seven years old and penned my first poem ­ an ode to my Madame Alexander doll. After that I wrote an ode to The Chronicles of Narnia, my favorite books at the time. Luckily, I quickly outgrew my Ode Stage and moved on to other genres. Embarrassingly enough, my mother still has all these old masterpieces and charges an annual fee to keep them hidden from the public eye.

“Books were a huge escape for me as a child. My father introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia [by C.S. Lewis] and I read that series once a year throughout the rest of my childhood. Other favorite escapes were: The Little Princess and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Little House on the Big Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; and The Once and Future King by T. H. White. As a teen, The Lord of the Rings by J. R.R. Tolkien totally rocked my world.

“I wrote all through my childhood and during my high school years. I won awards in high school and considered going straight into writing then, but all the well-meaning adults talked me out of it. It was just too hard. Too much competition. Too much rejection. And while all of that it true, it is equally true that in the end, passion and perseverance can pay off, which it did in my case. I began writing seriously with a goal toward publication in my early 30s, when I had two young boys who were gobbling up books faster than teething biscuits.”

Why did you decide to write for young readers?

I think one of the reasons I like to write for young readers is that their minds are still open. They’re still in the process of learning. Their minds are growing as fast as their bodies, and they are willing to try on new ideas and new perspectives. I’m one of those adults who still believes in magic, small quiet magic, to be sure, but magic nonetheless, and I’ve found kids to be very open to that element. Probably because they’re still so closely in touch with their own instincts and feelings when compared to the majority of adults. They are able to see and sense things that many adults have lost the ability or desire to see or sense any more.

Could you tell us about your path to publication–any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I’d always heard that one was most successful doing what one loved, and I love writing more than just about any other thing. While I’d always written, it wasn’t until I stayed home with my two small children that I finally carved out some committed writing time. I practiced and practiced, took classes and workshops and went to conferences, trying to improve my craft. After a very long apprenticeship (nearly ten years), I finally had a book accepted for publication.

Things moved quickly after that. I sold five books in about a year and a half, one of which was a contract for a trilogy, which allowed me to quit my day job and pursue writing full time. The truth was, I couldn’t have made those contracted deadlines and kept my day job, so it was the perfect nudge.

While I’d like to focus on your new release, let’s briefly spotlight your backlist titles. Could you give us a snapshot description of each?

Unfortunately, my first novel, The Falconmaster (Dutton, 2003) is now out of print but it was a medieval fantasy that told the story of the village cast off, Wat, and how by rescuing two young falcons, he found his destiny.

Currently on the shelves is my Lowthar’s Blade Trilogy (Dutton, 2004-), which is a heroic quest fantasy aimed specifically at young readers, 7-11 years old. When my own sons first graduated from easy readers to novels, they were so excited that the world of books was now open to them, but quickly became dismayed when there was so little action/adventure/fantasy out there that they, with their 3rd and 4th grade reading level, could actually read. The first book of the trilogy, The Forging of the Blade (2004)(excerpt) has been nominated to the TLA 2006-2007 Bluebonnet list, which was a huge thrill. The second book is The Secrets of Grim Wood (2005)(excerpt), followed by The True Blade of Power (2005)(excerpt).

I thoroughly enjoyed Werewolf Rising (Dutton, 2006)(excerpt). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Boy, this idea simmered in my subconscious just beyond my awareness for a long time. The first thing I ever published was a short story for Cricket Magazine called “Shield of the Wolf,” which was another shape shifting story that dealt with a young girl in a medieval setting. I’d always known that I’d wanted to expand that concept or something similar into book length, but I could never get the darn thing to gel into a firm story idea that I could work with. Years went by until a perfect storm of events occurred; my boys entered adolescence, I read a book about the needs adolescent boys, and I’d discovered that fantasy was my writing niche.

My own two boys had just gone through their own joyful puberty experience and I was struck by how these poor kids were basically flooded with testosterone and–pow!–found themselves no longer kids, something else entirely. I became aware of how foreign this hormonal influx made them feel.

And while I remember that from my own adolescent experience, now having sons, it felt as the experiences were hugely different. I think perhaps our culture prepares girls slightly better for the changes they go through. There is a marked rite of transition, for one, and because of the nature of that transition, it is often talked about beforehand. But for boys, or at least the ones I knew, it was just this big, confusing hormonal dump that left them feeling completely unlike themselves.

When I tried to think of a story that could encapsulate that same feeling, shape shifting felt closest to what they might be experiencing: shock to discover this beast living inside them, with all sorts of urges and drives and needs that they had never had to deal with before.

Around the same time, and for obvious reasons, I read a book that talked about how boys and their life transitions were failed by our society, with only the Jewish tradition having a coming-of-age rite for their sons. The book further went on to say how desperate these kids were to have someone guide them through the first scary years of manhood; to have extended family support structures with all the male relatives helping these guys to understand what being a man was all about. And that this huge lack in boy’s lives was one of the driving forces behind the increase in gang membership; they wanted an initiation and someone to mentor them into the mysteries of what being a man entailed. And as I looked at my sons and their friends and remembered my brothers coming of age, it really resonated for me. So I wanted to write a story that explored these issues in a dark, gothic way. Wolves were so perfect because of the Hollywood style werewolf cliche, which I wanted to play with a bit, and wolves also have amazing societal structures within their packs, which lent itself well to the story idea.

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

Like I said, the idea had been gestating in my bones for years and just needed to be coaxed out in some way or another. Truly, surviving male adolescence with both my sons and I intact was the catalyst. I started the book in October of 2001, finished it in August 2002, and sold it to my editor in January 2003.

One of the bumps the book ran into shortly thereafter was that I sent my editor a third book, The Forging of the Blade, a few months after Werewolf Rising and pitched it as a Lord of the Rings-styled fantasy, but for young emerging readers who needed the story told at a simpler reading level. She loved that idea, and in fact wanted a trilogy. She felt the market need was greater for shorter, boy-friendly books and so scheduled the trilogy to publish before Werewolf Rising, so there was a very long delay between acquisition and publication, over three and a half years.

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

Boy, there were a lot of challenges, of all kinds.

One of the biggest for me initially was to make the story bigger than just the protagonist watching his fur grow. While the core of the story was Luc coming to terms with his changing self, in order to be gripping or compelling, it had to be more than that. So I struggled for a long time trying to get enough conflict into the story so it wouldn’t feel like a strolling travelogue through One Boy’s Shape Shifting Experience. The characters were there, but putting them into dramatic conflict with each other was a bit of a challenge. I spend so much time avoiding conflict in real life, it’s hard for me to go looking for it. Then, conversely, once I unlock that conflict door, it’s hard to control and I can go over the top, so I had to try and temper the conflict so it didn’t overwhelm and sink the story.

Another difficulty I faced was trying to be believable when the main character was in wolf form. I had to show the reader how differently that form perceived the world compared to the protagonist’s human form. Hopefully, I was able to convey that.

The hardest scene in particular was the hunting scene, where again, I had to make Luc hunt a deer with his pack and then eat the fresh kill without being too off-putting. I mean, deer are very sympathetic characters! So I did a lot of research on how wolf packs hunt and then also some research on how Native American’s viewed hunting and the whole dance between predators and prey and maintaining balance in nature. Barry Lopez’s book Of Wolves and Men (Scribner, 1979)(excerpt) was hugely helpful in this regard, and hopefully the scene offers readers a perspective that is wholly different than their own, yet something they can understand.

One logistical challenge was that the book was originally turned in at 70,000 words, but when I got my revision letter, they said they wanted it cut down to 50,000 words because that was the length marketing had determined boys preferred. It would have been easier if they had said, this major subplot isn’t working so let’s get rid of that, but that wasn’t the case. It was just a case of cutting as close to the bone of the story as possible. Consequently there was a mass grave for all the darlings I had to kill!

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

I think gothics do a fantastic job of making our deepest fears concrete; whether our fear is that we are a beast or horrible person, beyond love or redemption, or that those we love will be horribly destroyed or turn on us as monsters themselves. These are fears that most of us experience at one time or another, and gothics take those fears out of the abstract emotional realm and make them real. Or at least real for the duration of the book. Have the abstract made real can be hugely satisfying to young readers.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I would encourage beginning writers to approach their writing journey with joy. They are about to embark on a long, rich, satisfying apprenticeship, usually of many years. So instead of racing toward publication, if they can focus on the joys to be found in the act of writing, in the act of creating and learning their craft, they will be much happier. And not only study craft, but challenge themselves to find ways to apply it to their own work, because really, that’s the hard part.

It can be helpful to try on lots of writing styles and genres until writers find one that showcases their unique writer’s voice at its strongest. Also, read widely and well, and then stop and pay attention to those books that move you or resonate in some way. Learn the rules that exist, both craft rules and publishing rules, then learn when breaking them is the right thing to do. But mostly persist. Never give up.

How about those authors looking to build a career?

Look long and hard and honestly at your own strengths as a writer, then use those strengths to build a career for yourself. If you’re a really fast writer, then a good career plan would incorporate your speed. If you are a slower writer, then you need to understand that about your process so that doesn’t become an issue. Many publishers are happy to publish a book every eighteen months rather than twelve, so just be aware of that limitation. If you have an amazing command of language, then perhaps a more literary niche will suit you, whereas those whose skill lies more in storytelling might be better served writing more commercial fiction.

Don’t try to be all things to all readers; accept that you write certain types of books that appeal to certain readers. This doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself or grow as a writer, only that if you try to please everyone, you will surely fail. Reading is too subjective for that.

Understand the concept of image branding, then explore whether or not that helps strengthen you as a writer or suffocates you, and act accordingly.

Put yourself on a true working writer’s schedule to see if it works for you. If you can’t get your muse to visit you except in dribs and drabs, then know that now before you commit to write a series that demands a book every two months!

Everyone has their own comfort level with where commerce and art meet. Understand where yours is. It will save you and your editor a lot of headaches. There is usually some core of our stories that are untouchable, by removing them we ruin it or make it a story we no longer wish to tell. Understand where your boundaries are.

And most of all, never, ever give up. Every setback you experience is one more road block you’ve conquered on the way to publication. I truly, truly believe that.

How about fantasy and/or gothic fantasy writers in particular?

Dig deep inside yourself to find what is truly terrifying. What fears wake you up in the middle of the night? What terrors are you afraid to look at too closely?

Don’t be afraid to go dark and edgy. As a writer, it used to disturb me that I wrote about dark things, then a much beloved writing teacher pointed out that I go into the dark corners of life in order to shed light on them, and that felt more comfortable.

Try to find a premise or two of truth in the fantasy or gothic world you’re building. The closer you can integrate it with our world or align it with the scientific principles we know, the more real that world will seem. Build the world fully, paying attention to both large societal elements and small personal details. The more real it feels to the readers, the more intense the reading experience will be.

Try, if you can, to crawl inside your character’s skin and be that character. Don’t just observe that character.

Try to build layers into your story for increased dramatic tension. Don’t have the fantasy or gothic elements be the only element of the story, but try to have other layers as well, human nature, personal growth, universal truths. Great fantasy and gothic books are never just about the fantasy, but about the characters who move through these dark or fantastical worlds.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

This is a little embarrassing, but not only is writing my day job, but it’s my hobby, and my recreation, and pretty much everything in between! Some might say I’m obsessed. I’m also a writing craft geek. Love to discuss writing craft and processes and the way writers overcome their struggles with the act of writing.

However, when I finally manage to tear myself away from writing, I love to read, do multimedia-type collages or altered books, research myths and ancient history, go for long walks, usually in the woods or on winter beaches, visit museums, and spend time with my family. At various times in my life I have also pursued scuba diving, backpacking, hiking, and in one moment of sheer insanity, parachuting.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, it’s another gothic fantasy, this time set in 1907 London. It’s called Theodosia Throckmorton and the Serpents of Chaos.

Theodosia’s father is the head curator of The Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London. Her mother is a renowned archeologist who brings magnificent artifacts back to the museum.

Theodosia’s problem is that she is the only one who can see the ancient Egyptian curses and black magic that still cling to the artifacts her mother brings back. Since no one else is able to see them, she’s the one who has to try to neutralize them before the evil magic begins to affect the museum or those working in it.

When Theodosia’s mother returns to Britain from her most recent archaeological dig, she happens to be carrying an object with a particularly vicious curse, one which has the potential to topple all of Britain. Theodosia must use all her resources and skills to nullify the curse and find a way to return the artifact to its rightful resting place before it destroys her country and her family.

Cooking Up Reading

Cooking Up Reading: “providing these tasty connections between [picture] books and food.” “Each recipe is unique, many of them contributed by the authors of the books themselves.” The site includes safety tips and recipes.

See a sample recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies associated with Edwina the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2006).

Why not suggest a recipe? Have the book and author information ready to go!

The site is authored by Shirley Goodness and Mercy Will of Forney, Texas. Visitors may request specific recipes on CD or DVD for $10. Proceeds will be donated to the authors’ local library.

Cynsational News & Links

Calling Karen Halvorsen Schreck, author of Dream Journal (Hyperion, 2006) and Barbara Dee, author of Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life (McEdlerry/Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt). Please send me an email! Note: Read a review of Karen’s novel (as well as several other new books) from Magic Tree Bookstore. See more comments at The Goddess of YA Literature. See also an interview with Barbara from

Congratulations to Laura Ruby, author of Good Girls (HarperCollins, 2006), which is a fall 2006 Booksense Pick. Read a recent Cynsations interview with Laura.

Congratulations also to Phyllis Root, on the publication of Looking for a Moose, illustrated by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2006)(inside spread)–one of the best read-alouds of the year. Read a Cynsations interview with Phyllis.

10 Days in Vermont by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. A brand new LiveJournal syndication of Uma’s blog is now available.

America is Drawn to Manga: Why Girls and Publishers Love Japan’s Comics by Coco Masters from Time Magazine. Aug. 6, 2006.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library have called for nominations for the 2006 June Franklin Naylor Award for Best Children’s Book on Texas History. Find out guidelines and procedures at their website. The 2005 winner was Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly by Anne Bustard, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview) and the honor book was Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (HarperCollins, 2005)(author-illustrator interview). Learn more about the 2005 award.

Take a sneak peek at the cover art for David Lubar‘s True Talents (Tor, 2007), a sequel to Hidden Talents (Tor, 1999).

The Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas has posted guidelines for the 2007 First Book Award Competition. See the website for details. According to Storytellers: Native American Authors Online, winners of the 2006 Native Writers Circle Awards have been determined. The 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award went to Luci Tapahonso (Navajo). The First Book Award for Poetry was given to Rebecca Hatcher Travis (Chickasaw). The First Book Award for Prose was won by both Judy R. Smith (Quinnipiac-Mohican) and Frederick White (Haida).

Recent releases with noteworthy art include: The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated by Ryan Price (Kids Can, 2006), another in the YA-friendly graphic poetry series; Augustine by Mélanie Watt (Kids Can, 2006)(author-illustrator interview); and Moon Plane by Peter McCarty (Henry Holt, 2006).

The Official Zack Proton Intergalactic Web Site: your portal to everything you need to know about the Zack Proton books by Brian Anderson, illustrated by Doug Holgate (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Salt Water Cowboys by Christopher T. Assaf of the Baltimore Sun. A must-see audio and photo essay for fans of Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. Or, for that matter, anyone who loves horses. Note: if you’re on dial-up, turn off audio while it loads and then replay.

Attention Austinites: Jo Whittemore will be signing Curse of Arastold (Llewellyn, summer 2006), Book Two of the Silverskin Legacy trilogy at 2 p.m. Aug. 19 at Barnes and Noble, Round Rock (in La Frontera Village at IH 35 and 1325). Read a Cynsations interview with Jo about Book One of the trilogy, Escape from Arylon (Llewellyn, spring 2006). See also Jo’s LJ.

Who’s Moving Where? Editorial Staff Changes at Children’s Publishers from Harold Underdown at the Purple Crayon. See the latest in musical chairs and learn about a new company.

2006 Growing Good Kids – Excellence in Children’s Literature Award

Alexandria, VA: Five children’s books published in 2005 received the 2006 “Growing Good Kids – Excellence in Children’s Literature Award” July 29 at the American Horticultural Society‘s National Children & Youth Garden Symposium in St. Louis, Missouri. The award honors engaging and inspiring garden and ecology-themed books for children.

The award-winning books are: Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Walker); Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (Harcourt)(publisher interview); Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (HarperCollins)(author-illustrator interview); Our Apple Tree by Görel Kristina Näslund, illustrated by Kristina Digman (Roaring Brook); and The Tree Farmer by Chuck Leavell and Nicholas Cravotta (VSP Books).

The “Growing Good Kids” book award program was developed jointly by the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) program, part of Texas A & M University’s Cooperative Extension Service, and the American Horticultural Society (AHS), a non-profit educational organization based in Alexandria, Virginia. The award program debuted last year with a list of 40 “classic” children’s gardening and nature books published in the last century.

“These are exemplary kids’ books that serve to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of plants and the natural world,” said Randy Seagraves, national curriculum coordinator for JMG. Of the 2006 award winners, Seagraves adds, “Titles were nominated by very large and small publishers from around the country, and only five were selected by a panel of experts to receive this recognition. We are excited to bring more attention and, hopefully, larger audience of kids, to these deserving titles.”

See more information about the “Growing Good Kids” book award program.

The American Horticultural Society (AHS), founded in 1922, is an educational, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization that recognizes and promotes excellence in American horticulture. One of the oldest and most prestigious gardening organizations, AHS is dedicated to “making America a nation of gardeners, a land of gardens.” Its mission is to open the eyes of all Americans to the vital connection between people and plants, to inspire all Americans to become responsible caretakers of the Earth, to celebrate America’s diversity through the art and science of horticulture; and to lead this effort by sharing the Society’s unique national resources with all Americans.

Dear Fish by Chris Gall

Dear Fish by Chris Gall (Little Brown, 2006). When Peter Alan writes inviting the creatures of the sea to visit, they take him up on it. Pufferfish float, a shark bucks a bullrider–talk about a whale of a tale! An imaginative juxtaposition of land and sea. Endpapers include a guide to the featured fishies. Ages 4-up. Highly recommended. Take a PDF peek at the interior pages from Chris’ site (bottom right-hand side).

Cynsational Notes

Fanciful book. The appeal reminds me of the “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” where we see the dinosaurs in our world, which was a sort of “King Kong” tribute.

Dear Fish was a 2006 Borders “Original Voices” Book and a Barnes and Noble Book of the Week.

Learn more about this title at Can’t Stop Reading.

Author Interview: David LaRochelle on Absolutely, Positively Not

David LaRochelle on David LaRochelle: “My mother used to tell her friends that her son never grew up, and she was right. The things that I enjoy doing now (drawing, reading, making up stories, and using my imagination) are the things that I loved to do when I was a kid. A perfect evening for me as an adult is still a night spent with friends playing board games.

“I was born in Minneapolis in 1960, and I have lived my entire life in Minnesota. I studied art and English at St. Olaf College in Northfield, and even by then I was writing and illustrating children’s stories for my class assignments. When I graduated from St. Olaf in 1983, I had my future all planned out: I was going to be an illustrator for Hallmark Cards. When that plan fell through (I was told by Hallmark officials that I couldn’t draw well enough), I went on to plan B, which was to become an elementary school teacher. While teaching fourth grade I continued to write and draw, and was thrilled to have my work featured in a local children’s magazine. A fellow teacher and good friend, Kathy Haubrich, encouraged me to send one of my stories to a book publisher, but I balked, lacking the confidence. So instead, Kathy called up the editor herself and read my story over the phone (which is probably the surest possible way to annoy an editor). Miraculously the editor asked to see the story, and that was how my first book, A Christmas Guest (illustrated by Martin Skoro, Carolrhoda Books, 1988) came to be.

“I eventually left teaching to pursue writing and illustrating full time. Even though I am no longer a classroom teacher, I still visit many schools a year, which I enjoy a lot. I feel very lucky; I get to go into a classroom and do the things I like most (read my books, draw, tell stories, have kids create their own stories) without having to handle all the difficult aspects that regular teachers have to face every day.”

You’ve been writing children’s books for a number of years. For those new to your work, could you offer a brief list of your more recent backlist titles and some insights into what makes each sparkle?

My most recent picture book is The Best Pet of All (illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama, Dutton, 2004). It’s the story of a boy whose mother won’t let him have a dog, but says that he can have a pet dragon…if he is able to find one. Those are words that she lives to regret! Hanako’s retro-style illustrations are outstanding. They are nothing like I imagined when I wrote the story (I pictured a typical fat, scaly dragon; Hanako’s dragon is a thin, hip, debonair dude). Even though I have illustrated other books, Hanako’s artwork is far, far better than anything I could have dreamed up myself.

I also love puzzles, and a collection of six of my puzzle books has recently been released under one title, Detective Dave’s Mad Mysteries (Price Stern Sloan, 2006). Detective Dave is a bumbling sleuth, and it’s up to the reader to get him through each mystery.

Congratulations on the much-acclaimed Absolutely, Positively Not (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2005)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

One day my friend Gary remarked to me how much he hated being coerced into taking a girl to his high school prom. Both Gary and I are gay, and I could easily relate to that feeling of awkwardness. I began to think of ways that a teenage boy, who was not interested in women but not yet ready to admit that he might be gay, could avoid taking a girl to his prom. My solution was that this boy could take a dog to his dance instead. While this might seem a bit far-fetched, when I was in high school two guys took mannequins to their prom. Why couldn’t someone take a golden retriever? This idea prompted me to write a humorous short story called “Taking Alice to the Prom,” which was published in Cicada magazine in 2001, and which eventually became my first novel, Absolutely, Positively Not.

What was the timeline from spark to publication?

I began working on the novel in 2000, and I didn’t finish my last revision until the fall of 2004. It went through many, many revisions, both before I sent it to Arthur Levine, and after. The original manuscript that I sent Arthur was only 80 pages, but with his encouragement to slow down the pace and give some more information about the major characters, it eventually became a 200-page book.

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

A huge challenge for me was making the switch from writing 500-word picture books to writing a full-length novel. When my editor wanted me to expand my 80-page story, I was terrified. I had written everything I knew about these characters and was extremely doubtful whether I could write anything more. It was a matter of going back to the very beginning and recreating the main character, Steven DeNarkski. If I had started with a more solid background in the first place, it would have saved me a lot of time and many rewrites, but then again, maybe I needed all those rewrites in order to learn about Steven.

Another challenge for me was that I was afraid I would have nothing of interest to say to teenagers. Typically I write for, and work with, much younger kids. But teenagers? I went back to my old high school for a day to sit in on some classes in order to sharpen my “teen awareness.” To tell the truth, it didn’t do me any good. I was never very knowledgeable about what was cool and trendy back when I was young, and I knew I couldn’t pretend to be knowledgeable about that stuff now. In the end, I relied on what I remembered feeling when I was a teenager. Fashions and language may have changed, but I think the emotions that teenagers feel today are in many ways the same. Young people still struggle with figuring out who they are. That’s what Absolutely, Positively Not is about: learning to be the person you truly are and not just the person that everyone expects you to be.

My final worry was that I thought the premise for my book might be outdated. With all the great role models today of proud and respected gays and lesbians, I thought maybe kids don’t struggle with identifying their sexuality anymore. And while it is easier for some kids in some places to admit to being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender, I learned from friends whose children were currently wrestling with these issues that it is by no means an easy process for a lot of young folks.

You’ve encountered some resistance from censors. What happened, and what was your response?

I had been asked to speak at a writing conference for young people. At the last minute, I was informed that Absolutely, Positively Not would not be allowed to be displayed at the book fair with the other authors’ books because the organizers felt that my book might make some parents uncomfortable. I was disappointed with this decision, but didn’t protest. However, my friend and fellow YA writer John Coy, was furious. He was scheduled to give a keynote address about “voice,” but at the last minute changed his speech to focus on the voice that was not allowed at this conference: my book.

I was awed and honored to hear him speak so passionately and forcefully against the censorship of books. But to be honest, I was also mortified finding myself at the center of this controversy. I am one of the least confrontational people you will ever meet, and while John handled the situation in the way that was right for him, it was not what I would have done.

In the end, the whole experience proved to be very positive. I received a great deal of support for my book, both from friends and strangers. After this incident, a similar writing conference which had refused to carry my book in the past, had my book on display this year. I guess sometimes it’s necessary to be confrontational in order to produce change.

What advice do you have for writers who find themselves in that position?

Be true to yourself. I know that some people would have liked me to have been more vocal and outspoken against the organizers of the event that banned my book. But that’s not the kind of person that I am. In the resulting newspaper interviews, I was careful to express how I felt, and not just what other people wanted me to say.

More globally, what advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. It’s the same old advice that everyone gives, but it’s true.

How about those building a career?

It was only after I began making my writing a top priority that I started feeling like a real writer. I had had some books published, but my career was not going in the direction that I wanted. Then I signed up for a writing class from a respected teacher, joined a critique group, and made writing a priority every day (well, most days). On my refrigerator is a sign that says, “How badly do you want it?” I want to be a successful author very badly, and if this is my dream (which it is), I’ve got to be dedicated to making it happen.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy camping, orienteering, playing most any kind of game, and going to theater. I love to enter contests, and have won prizes ranging from a 7-minute grocery shopping spree to $40,000! I also love to carve pumpkins, and I’ve even been featured on “Good Morning America” with some of my pumpkin creations.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book is a picture book illustrated by Richard Egielski. It is called The End, and is a fairy tale that is told backwards. Once again I was blessed with an outstanding illustrator. It will be published by Arthur Levine at Scholastic January of 2007, and I am quite excited!

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to Sherry York for including my debut picture book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) in her recent article, “Culturally Speaking: Multicultural Pairs: Outstanding Authors + Talented Illustrators = Exceptional Picture Books,” which appeared in Library Media Connection March 2006 (volume 24, number 6, pages 29-31). Highlighted titles include: My Pal Victor/Mi Amigo Victor by Diane Gonzales Bertrand, illustrated by Robert L. Sweetland (Raven Tree, 2004)(author interview); Chicken Soup By Heart by Esther Hershenhorn, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Simon & Schuster, 2002)(author interview); The Happiest Tree: The Yoga Tree by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran (Lee & Low, 2005)(author interview).

More News & Links

Armstrong Brings Patterns in History to Life for Kids: An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Jennifer Armstrong by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink. August, 2006.

The Book of Life: Jewish People and The Books We Read: a blog by Heidi Estrin, library director at Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida. Note: Heidi is “President of the South Florida Chapter of the Association of Jewish Libraries, as well as Past Chair of AJL’s Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.” Don’t miss the latest podcast The Book of Life Tells Stories.

Children’s Book Authors: Learn How To Promote Children’s Book Week, Your Books, and Yourselves by Juanita Havill, Charline Profiri, and Jennifer J. Stewart from CBC Magazine. See also a Cynsations interview with Jennifer J. Stewart.

CB Publishing: “Children’s Book Publishing is the place for the exchange of ideas and processes of the children’s book publishing industry. If you publish children’s books (large, small, independent) or are contemplating becoming a small publisher the exchange of information on this listserv can be a valuable tool for you.” A yahoo group.

First Look Teen from HarperCollins. “[A] program to preview books in a variety of genres, with readers who make a difference – you!” An ARC giveaway program to facilitate reader reviews. You must register (takes approximately two minutes) to be eligible. August reads include: the ARC of Diva by Alex Flinn (author interview); Sins of the Fathers by Chris Lynch; and Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (author interview).

Shattering the Sounds of Silence: An Interview with Karen Cushman by Deborah Hopkinson from BookPage. See also Meet Nicole Rubel from BookPage.

Great Gay Teen Books: a bibliography compiled by Alex Sanchez (author interview). Alex’s latest novel is Getting It (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt). Note: Is it just me, or does the guy on the cover look like a very young Donny Osmond?

Walter “The Giant” Mayes blogs about the past few days at Children’s Literature New England at Where Is Walter This Week? Read a Cynsations interview with Walter.

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI offers interviews with the following editors: Michele Burke; Cheryl Klein; and Yolanda LeRoy.

Alan Silberberg: official site of the author of Pond Scum (Hyperion, 2005)(excerpt). Alan is also a cartoonist with a background in television. Don’t miss Alan’s blog.