Author Interview: Roxyanne Young on Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist

Roxyanne Young is the co-author of Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May Or May Not Exist, with Kelly Milner Halls (author interview) and illustrator Rick Spears (Darby Creek, 2006). She’s also the creator and Editorial Director of, a professional resource site for children’s writers and educators, and administrator of the Write It Now! Competition.

How did the writing life first call to you? Did you shout, “yes!” Or run the other way?

I’ve been writing since I was able to hold a pencil. I wrote, illustrated, and self-published my first book in second grade. It was about a wild mustang pony and I still have it.

I began my first novel in 8th grade chemistry class. I was living in Savannah at the time, and attending an all-girl parochial academy downtown in the historic district, so my novel was a Southern Gothic Romance featuring a pampered belle named Olivia Dupree that thankfully never made it past chapter one.

In high school, I fell in love with Indiana Jones and set my sights on being a feature writer for National Geographic. I was going to travel the world and write about archaeology, foreign cultures, and all those wonderful, amazing things in that magazine. I even majored in anthropology at Auburn, with a double minor in history and journalism.

Shortly after graduation, I went on a cruise to the Bahamas with some girlfriends–my first experience in an actual foreign culture, which I loved, but found out along the way that I get frightfully seasick. Turns out I don’t travel well. Alas. So much for the globetrotting writing career.

After that, I did a few years as a social worker, and then earned my M.A. in English Education studying with Dr. Janet Allen and taught for a while. In doing that, I was reintroduced to an old love: books. As much as I enjoyed teaching, I really, really love children’s literature, and it awakened in me a new dream. Janet encouraged me to write for children and young adults. I’ve been pursuing land-based writing ever since.

Why did you decide to write for young readers specifically?

I had something of a turbulent childhood, and books were my salvation. They literally kept me sane and showed me that there was more to the world than what I was living. I’d forgotten how much they meant to me until I began reading them again in grad school. Here were my old friends, and lots of new ones. Richard Peck, Jane Yolen, Robert Cormier, Katherine Patterson, Bruce Coville, and so many more. I wanted to write novels like the ones I’d been reading.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles?

My first professional children’s writing credits were for a now-defunct magazine called Kids’ Wall Street News. I wrote an article about a shipwreck in the Mississippi River. Then they assigned an article on a shipwreck off the coast of San Francisco. And then another on the Titanic. I was fast becoming the Maritime Tragedy Queen, but I had my foot in the door and my full membership to the SCBWI. I attended conferences, did some freelance work for The San Diego Union-Tribune, started some really awful novels and completed some really awful rhyming picture books, and then a couple of years later, I started getting more positive editorial feedback on my submissions.

In the meantime, I was helping my husband start and run a Website design company, and I started and began really learning how this business works. I had to get over my timidity about meeting the people who had created the books that I loved so much (meeting Jane Yolen was a biggie for me, as were Richard Peck and Bruce Coville), and I confess that I’m still starstruck much of the time at conferences, but I’m still learning. I’m still very new at all of this. Or at least I feel like I am.

One of the most influential writers I’ve met is Kelly Milner Halls. We got to know each other and become friends after I emailed her a congratulatory letter for an article she had published in Writer’s Digest about ten years ago. We’ve been friends ever since, and she actually brought me on for the Tales of the Cryptids book as co-writer.

Congratulations on the publication of Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist (Darby Creek, 2006). What was the initial inspiration for this book?

Thank you! It was Kelly’s idea. She’s regularly working on three or four books at a time, all very interesting subjects. We Instant Message each other several times a day to check in, and one day she popped up on my screen with a “Hey, I’m writing a proposal for a book on cryptozoology. What do you know about Bigfoot?” And I started gushing everything I knew, which turned into pages and pages of text. I had helped her research other books for an educational publisher, and I offered to do the same with this book–cryptozoology is a subject that really fascinates me. She brought me on as co-writer instead.

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

It was fast. After Kelly’s IM and my gushing everything I could tell her about Bigfoot (which turned into much of the the sample chapter), she finished the proposal and sent it to her editor, Tanya Dean at Darby Creek. I think that was in August. It was approved and we began researching it in earnest within the week with the help of Kelly’s illustrator friend, Rick Spears, who is a major crypto fan himself. We finished writing it in December. There were some final edits to be made, of course, and Rick did an amazing job on the art. The book went to the printer in March and was released on September 1, 2006.

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

Keeping up with Kelly was a challenge. The woman is a writing machine! As far as writing the book, my main role was to research what would come to be called the Cryptidictionary, a resource of cryptid profiles at the end of the book. I also did some filler pieces for the front part of the book, some of which were kept, some of which were cut.

So cryptids…! Could you give us a sneak peek into these “mysterious creatures” featured in the book?

Cryptids is a term that applies to all the creatures in the world that we talk about, but have no proof that they really exist, like mermaids, sasquatches, lake monsters, and so on. Bigfoot and Nessie fall into this category–they’re probably the best known.

The lesser known creatures lurk in local myth and legend around the country, around the world, really. There’s the Bunyip of Australia, the Beast of Bodmin Moor in southwestern England, the Mapinguari of the Amazonian rain forest, the Kongamato of Africa. I read that there is an area of the Congo larger than the state of Florida that has not be explored yet because it’s so remote, so harsh a landscape. The local peoples tell of giant snakes and dinosaur-like creatures living in the swamps of this region, creatures with plates on their backs, thick legs, horns, and some that fly. In other parts of Africa, they have cryptids whose names translate to things like “overwhelmer of boats” and “elephant killer.”

Here in North America, there are stories of Bigfoot-like creatures in every single one of the continental United States and every Canadian province, and these sightings go back hundreds of years. There are lake monsters, too, and sea creatures off our coasts that are described as long, serpent-like creatures with heads like horses…and these reports are coming from experienced fishermen. People who can tell a whale or a shark from a horse with a serpent body.

Which cryptid most intrigues you and why?

Bigfoot, hands down. My grandmother told me a story about the Bardin Booger when I was little. This is my hometown’s version of the Bigfoot legend, and I’ve heard about sightings since then in the marshy forests that separate the small towns and cities of North Florida. It’s fascinated me since I was little.

What is the appeal of these mysteries? What about them is so especially fascinating to kids?

I think these stories capture their imaginations. They allow for the possibility of being. And that, for a young reader (and old ones, too), is truly a gift beyond compare.

You worked with two co-authors on this project, Kelly Milner Halls and Rick Spears, who also was the illustrator. Could you tell us about your collaborative process?

Because Kelly and I already have a great working relationship, I think the writing went really smoothly. Kelly was the lead writer, so I followed her direction. I would get an email from her with a request to research a particular creature, and I was on it, writing up the piece and sending it back to her for inclusion in the manuscript.

Conversely, I’m already on several message boards and other sites that cover crypto news, so I was emailing her almost daily with new research findings, experts to contact, and so on. I helped get some of the photos together (another friend, author Sandra McBride, even made a trip to get a photo of the Champ Sightings sign at Lake Champlain, and that made it into the book).

Rick and I brainstormed on the list of cryptids to profile and Kelly handled all of the actual interviews for the book, and we served as copyeditor for each other, double checking references and resources. It was a blast, really. And Rick was right there, too, with the art, sending us image files of preliminary art for the book and getting our input. (And thanks to him, one of my favorites, the Piasa Bird, made it into the book, too!)

It was a three-way collaboration all the way through.

What did Rick’s illustrations bring to the text?

Rick’s background is in building exhibits of animals and other creatures for museums, including dinosaurs. He has a lot of experience in anatomy and the general musculature of these creatures, as well as a lot of insight into how their respective environments will determine how much fur they have or what kind of skin they have, or what their eyes or teeth might look like, or how large they can grow, what they might eat, etc. For creatures based more on myth than actual evidence, that kind of insight is critical.

You’re also the editorial director of! Fill us in on that? What do you do? What is SmartWriters all about?

Well, started out about four years ago as an informational Website for children’s writers and illustrators. We’ve grown since then to include an international writing contest, the Write It Now! Competition, which has helped lots of writers get their first works published. I’m really proud of that. We also publish a monthly e-journal for writers with articles on the business and craft of writing for children, and we have done teleseminars over the summer–I’ll probably start those back up soon–and we have other projects in the works, too, which will be announced closer to their launch dates.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Let me save you five years of banging your head against the wall. In a nutshell:

1. Stop talking about writing and sit your butt in the chair and do it. 1,000 words per day will get you a first draft of a mid-grade novel in about a month.

2. Find a good critique group, either in person or online, with members who will challenge you to do your very best. You don’t need a rah-rah group. You need people who will point out that your plot has holes or your characters are two-dimensional, or this or that could just never happen, with love and support, of course, and you need to do the same for them.

3. Study the best of your genre. Read for entertainment, yes, but read to study the structure, too, and plot, and character, and descriptive language. Read, read, read.

4. If you’re working on a rough draft, stop editing yourself. The thing I see that freezes up new writers more than anything else is that they continuously edit their first drafts of novels, to the point that they get locked up around chapter three and are unable to move forward with the work. Shut the Inner Editor off and free your mind, let those ideas flow. When you’re done with the first draft, then you can let that Editor go to work.

How about those interested in picture books specifically?

Read at least two hundred picture books before you get serious about writing your own. Good ones, bad ones, mediocre ones. Study them. Look at what the very best writers can fit into 500-to-1000 words. See what they are able to do with that economy of language. Look at what the illustrator brings to the story, how the pictures help propel the plot and inform the characters. Picture book writing is perhaps the most challenging field of children’s writing, simply because you have to do so, so much with so few words. I admire picture book writers more than I can tell you. In fact, our Grand Prize W.I.N.NER this year was from the Picture Book Category, Leslie Muir‘s C. R. Mudgeon’s Cure.

And how about those who’re writing non-fiction?

Respect your reader. Do quality research. Check and double check your sources with experts. (You’d be surprised at the mistakes that make it into print because someone read it on a Website and didn’t get a verification from a more trustworthy source.) Present the information you find and cite your sources, and then let your reader make up their own mind about the subject. Don’t editorialize.

What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?


Is there anything you’d like to add?

I want to thank you, Cynthia, for the great work you’re doing here. The more resources we have that offer quality information to children’s writers, the better our industry will become, and that means better books and magazines for kids, and better reading material for kids means more intelligent, more thoughtful kids who will grow up into intelligent, thoughtful grownups, which means there’s hope for us all.

Cynsational News & Links

Currently Reading: Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper (Little Brown, 2006)(Simon & Schuster U.K., 2005). Read an interview with Justin from the St. Albans Observer.

Currently Re-reading: Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Bram Stoker, illustrated by Gary Blythe (Candlewick, 2004). Gorgeously illustrated, tremendous production. Are you in the thrall of the master? View an inside spread.

Thanks to author Varian Johnson at They Call Me Mr. V for his recent post “Super Cyn.” I’m blushing. (Do I get a cape and tights with that?)

More News & Links

Authors/Illustrators/Storytellers Online Visit Opportunities from author Toni Buzzeo. A listing of those who offer online programs for schools, libraries, etc. An budget-friendly alternative and/or supplement to an in-person event. Read a Cynsations interview with Toni. See information on booking online events with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The web page for the Georgia Peach Award has moved. 2006-2007 titles include: Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 2005)(author interview); see the complete list (PDF file).

Kidlitosphere by Ilene S. Goldman from the Prairie Wind, newsletter of the SCBWI Illinois chapter. See also Promote that Book! by Tracey Daniels of Media Masters Publicity and Learning to “Do” Optimism by Carol Coven Grannick.

Kirby Larson: official site of the author of Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree, illustrated by Nancy Poydar (Holiday House, 1996); Second Grade Pig Pals, illustrated by Nancy Poydar (Holiday House, 1994); The Magic Kirchief, illustrated by Roseanne Litzinger (Holiday House, 2000); and most recently Hattie Big Sky (Delacorte, 2006). Hattie Big Sky has received starred reviews in Booklist and SLJ. It’s also a Junior Library Guild selection, a Border’s Original Voices pick for December, and a Barnes & Noble Teen Discover title for the holidays. Learn more about Hattie Big Sky. Read Kirby’s blog.

Monica’s Blog: visit the blog of author-illustrator Monica Wellington, whose latest book is Pizza at Sally’s (Dutton, 2006).

The Kennedy Center’s 11th Annual Multicultural Children’s Book Festival will be held Nov. 4 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Roof Level, in the Atrium, Galleries and Theater Lab of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. “The festival is a project of the Kennedy Center Education Department. The event attracts more than 7,000 people…” Featured speakers include Lulu Delacre, Jennifer Elvgren, Anthony Chee Emerson, Edwin Fontánez, Eloise Greenfield, Nikki Grimes, Karen Katz, Grace Lin (author-illustrator interview), W. Nikola-Lisa, Pooja Makhijani, Dr. Raouf Mama, Walter Dean Myers, Gaylia Taylor, and Linda Trice.

The October Country by Colleen Mondor at Bookslut in Training. Highlights books fitting the mood of the month, including a couple I’ve also featured: Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Henry Holt, 2006)(author and illustrator interviews) and Glass Houses (The Morganville Vampires–Book One) by Rachel Caine (NAL Jam, 2006)(author interview).

In the Coop with Lisa Yee: A Three Silly Chicks interview. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Here’s hoping to see some Cynsational readers this weekend at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. The Texas Book Festival is scheduled for Oct. 26 to Oct. 29 at the State Capitol in Austin. Authors will include: Brian Anderson, Dianna Hutts Aston, Avi, Brad Barkley, Sharon Creech, Kathy Duval, Keith Graves, Lila and Rick Guzman, Helen Hemphill, Heather Hepler, David Levithan, Laura Numeroff, Richard Peck, Jane Peddicord, Rick Riordan, Louis Sachar, Lola M. Schaefer, Tanya Lee Stone, Sarah Weeks, and Kathy Whitehead. Look for me and Greg Leitich Smith tomorrow at the panel and reception in honor of the Writers’ League book award winners and finalists. (Greg is a finalist in the children’s long book division for Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005)). See event details! See Austin kids book author-illustrator Keith Graves by Patrick Beach from the Austin American-Statesman.

And now off with you to the new issue of The Edge of the Forest! Highlights include “A Day in the Life of Patricia Malone” by Kim Winters of Kat’s Eye.

Cynsational Events Roundup

Attention New Yorkers: meet Gennady Spirin, illustrator of Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night Before Christmas (Marshall Cavendish, 2006) at Books of Wonder, 18 West 18th Street, on November 2 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at a publication party hosted by the publisher. From Raab Associates: “A classically-trained artist, Spirin graduated from Moscow’s Surikov School of Fine Art and the Stroganov Institute of Art and immigrated to the United States in 1991. Five of his books have been awarded the Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and four have been named to the New York Times’ list of ‘Best Illustrated Books of the Year.’ Well known in Russia, Germany, and England, Spirin has also won several prestigious international awards, including the Golden Apple of the UNESCO Biennial of Illustration Bratislava, the First Prize for Illustration at the Barcelona International Children’s Book Fair, and the Premio Grafico at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.”

Reading the World IX: A Conference Celebrating Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults will be Feb. 24 and 25, 2007 at the USF Presentation Theatre in the School of Education Building, 2350 Turk Street, in San Francisco. Keynote speakers will include: Joseph Bruchac (author interview), Ashley Bryan, Teri Sloat, Yuyi Morales (illustrator interview), Jane Yolen (author interview), Darwin Henderson, and Debra Fraiser. Note: I was a keynoter at Reading the World VI.

Reminder: “Wise Words, Perfect Pictures, and How to Get Them Published,” the second annual fall conference of Southwest Texas SCBWI will be from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 11 at St. Phillips College in San Antonio. Featured speakers include: Newbery honor author Marion Dane Bauer (interview); author Anastasia Suen (interview); author Peggy Caravantes; author Kristi Holl; author-illustrator Janee Trasler; agent Jennifer Jaeger from Andrea Brown Literary Agency; editor Lauren Velevis from HarperCollins; editor Alyssa Eisner Henkin from Simon & Schuster. See also Fingerprints Newsletter & Blog from Southwest Texas SCBWI.

Author Interview: Christine Kole MacLean on How It’s Done

Christine Kole MacLean on Christine Kole MacLean: “The high points, such as they are: I grew up on a farm in West Michigan, where I spent a lot of time avoiding chores. My five older siblings all thought I was spoiled, but I was just good at disappearing for long stretches of time. My first week of college, my roommate and I wanted to build a loft, so we went looking for a power drill. I ended up marrying the guy who loaned us one (years later–not that night!).

“After college, I wrote and edited for magazines in the Boston area, including ‘Teenage’ magazine, which eventually morphed into ‘Jane’ and moved to New York. I did not. I spent some time working at an advertising agency and then a corporation. Now, my family and I live in West Michigan, where I do freelance writing.

“About five years ago, I started taking fiction-writing seriously. My picture books include: Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms, illustrated by Mike Reed (Dutton, 2002) and Everybody Makes Mistakes, illustrated by Cynthia Decker (Dutton, 2005). My mid-grade novels include Mary Margaret and the Perfect Pet Plan (Dutton, 2004) and Mary Margaret, Center Stage (Dutton, 2006). The third one is coming out in February.

“Happily, that series was recently picked up by the Scholastic Book Clubs and Fairs program. There’s more information about all my books, including lesson plans for them, on my website: Also, Mary Margaret has her own site with some fun activities for kids:”

What about the writing life first called to you? Were you quick to answer or did time pass by?

I’ve known since I was about nine that I wanted to be a writer. I believe it had something to do with being the youngest of a large, busy family and rarely feeling “heard,” and writing fills the need to be heard. At any rate, once I decided to be a writer, I never looked back. Oddly, I’ve never felt compelled to write, the way some writers do. Maybe that’s because I’ve never not written. To me, writing is like breathing. I have always done it, in some form or another.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

In all honesty, I could have written How It’s Done (my first YA book) as an adult book, and I think the only thing that skews it YA is that it’s very firmly from an eighteen-year-old’s point of view. I skewed it that way because I believe it’s more likely to make a difference in a reader’s life if she reads it before she’s in a serous relationship. Personally, I think it could be a great discussion starter for mothers and daughters.

Congratulations on How It’s Done (Flux, 2006) being a Book Sense Pick! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thanks! In high school, almost all of us in my group of friends dated guys who were older–sometimes a lot older. They held enormous appeal to us, in part because they were forbidden. Usually the guy got bored and broke things off. But the opposite happens to Grace, my main character. She gets everything she thinks she wants with Michael, and more than she bargained for. She struggles with who she is–apart from her parents, her friends, and Michael.

This is the question that intrigued me: “How does a young woman who is in the process of ‘becoming’ navigate a relationship with someone who already knows who he is and what he wants?”

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

Grace was a little problematic. Sassy or clever characters are easier for me to write, I think, because they are so different from me. Grace has a lot going on, but initially it’s under the surface. She’s been letting life carry her along, not rocking the boat, and I wanted her to be stronger. But it’s a strength she has to grow into.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Make sure you have at least two true-blue friends–one who is a writer and one who is not. Both will keep you sane and grounded, but in different ways.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing books, I’m often doing projects for my corporate clients, including, an e-zine about balancing work and life. I spend a lot of time with my kids.

And I worry, always imagining and dreading the worst! I’ve decided that worrying is to a writer what scales are to a musician.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The third book in the Mary Margaret series, Mary Margaret Meets Her Match will be released in February 2007. This time, Mary Margaret goes to a dude ranch and learns how to ride. Her confidence exceeds her skill, however, and she gets into a bind. As usual, her problems aren’t big in the scheme of things (she has a family that is in tact and loves her), but they are still huge to her.

Austin SCBWI “Follow Me” Fall 2006 Conference Wrap-Ups

Austin bloggers report on our local SCBWI fall 2006 conference. If you haven’t already, read my conference report and…

“Reading? Writing? Who Needs ’em?” by Chris Barton at Bartography.

“Damn Yankees” by Varian Johnson.

“Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” by Jo Whittemore, who includes party pics, from Jo’s Journal.

“A Successful Fall Conference” by Don Tate at Devas T. Rants and Raves.

“Inspired” by Alison Dellenbaugh at Alison’s Journal.

“Austin SCBWI Conference” from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog.

Learn more about Texas children’s & YA authors & illustrators at my website.

Editor Interview: Jessie Ruffenach of Salina Bookshelf

Jessie Ruffenach on Jessie Ruffenach: “Salina Bookshelf is the first publishing company I have worked for, and I have been with them for four years. I started as an editorial intern during the summer of my freshman year in college, and once the semester began I was offered the job as editor. It was a definite challenge at times, starting so young and having no previous experience–and, especially, having no other editor in the company to learn from. I worked part-time until I graduated with my BSBA from Northern Arizona University in December of 2005. Since then, I’ve been working full-time.

What inspired you to make children’s books part of your career focus?

My love of books. Growing up, I read constantly and enjoyed writing my own stories; when I was in fourth grade, I lived on the same block as the city library and went there almost every day after school. One of my greatest pleasures was being drawn into other worlds created by the skilled, clear words of a writer. My favorite books were those that moved me in some way–made me laugh or cry or think about the world differently–and I would continue thinking about those books long after I finished reading them. I would replay the stories over in my mind, and little by little I would make changes (“improvements,” as I liked to think) to them. Before long, I would have an entirely different book on my hands, just barely recognizable as an offshoot of the original story.

This habitual thinking of stories made me adept at manipulating words, and I eventually recognized that as one of my strongest skills. By the time I was fourteen, I knew that I wanted to be in publishing. I wanted to be able to share the pleasure of a great story with other people.

How did you prepare for this career?

I prepared for my career in editing by extensive reading and regular writing. When reading, I paid careful attention to the structure of books, how the stories developed, the flow of dialogue, and what made the characters and situations believable. When writing, I was very attentive to the mechanics–grammar, spelling, and word choice. I loved grammar, and read books like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White just for fun.

As I began my job with Salina while I was still in college, I didn’t have any professional experience that recommended me for the position. But I was enthusiastic, I could write well, and I knew–just from reading so much–what made a great story.

What do you see as the job(s) of the editor in the publishing process?

Salina is a small company with only six employees, so what I do as editor is doubtlessly very different from what editors at other companies may do. At Salina, though, I’m involved in every stage of the publishing process–I sort through the unsolicited manuscripts that come in the mail, edit the stories, provide illustration notes for the artist, write the book descriptions for the catalog, send out books to reviewing journals, and submit the books for any awards and/or reading lists for which I think they would be appropriate.

The most important part of my job, however, is working with the author on revising the manuscript. Some stories arrive with very little editing necessary; others, however, need to go through several rewrites. For example, in March 2005, Salina published Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home by Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, illustrated by Irving Toddy. The story is about the Navajo Long Walk, the period from 1864-1868 when the Navajos were forced to leave their homeland and live in captivity at Bosque Redondo (Fort Sumner).

The manuscript was originally submitted to us in 2003. As soon as I saw the story, I knew we would want to publish it; however, the manuscript was twice as long as I wanted it to be, and it contained information that would be upsetting to young readers. Over the next several months, I worked closely with Evangeline to shorten the story and revise the content. We weren’t “sugarcoating” the story, taking out disturbing but true details; rather, we were changing how those facts were presented. The result is a compelling, historically accurate book that has received national recognition. Little Woman Warrior has been named a Children’s Choices Book for 2006, a Notable Children’s Social Studies Trade Book for 2006, and has won the 2006 IPPY Award for best Multicultural, Nonfiction Juvenile Book. I think this example shows the importance of the editing process.

Could you describe Salina Bookshelf? Its history, mission, and goals?

Salina Bookshelf was founded in 1994 by Eric and Kenneth Lockard, twin brothers who grew up on the Navajo Reservation. Their mother was an elementary school teacher in a small, rural community named Pinon, and Eric and Ken quickly picked up the Navajo language from their classmates. However, even as elementary students, they were struck by the poor variety of books available in their school library. There were almost no books featuring Native American, much less Navajo, characters, and there were even fewer books written in the Navajo language.

Eric and Ken began Salina Bookshelf when they were sixteen, still students in high school, and they have been continuing with their work ever since. The mission of Salina Bookshelf is to publish stories of the Navajo people in the Navajo language, and its goal is to make those stories available to a wide variety of curious minds–to readers both on and off the Navajo Reservation.

Beyond the description above, could you offer some specifics about the list? What kind of manuscripts should writers be sending? What kind of books can teachers, librarians, and young readers hope to find?

Salina Bookshelf publishes stories about the Navajo people. Most of our titles are children’s picture books, and these may be anything from historical fiction (Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home), to retellings of folktales (Frog Brings Rain by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Kendrick Benally), to stories about Navajo characters involved in everyday activities, historical or contemporary (Proud to Be a Blacksheep by Roberta John, illustrated by Keith Smith). We also publish textbooks and reference materials for learning the Navajo language, as well as biographies of outstanding Navajos (Keeping the Rope Straight: Annie Dodge Wauneka’s Life of Service to the Navajo by Carolyn Niethammer).

What are the challenges (editorial, logistical, marketing, translation, etc.) in publishing bilingual books?

All languages are very different from one another, so telling the same story in two (or more) different languages is going to present some challenges. For example, there is not a one-to-one correlation between English and Navajo; oftentimes, a word in English will not have an equivalent counterpart in Navajo, and vice versa. In such cases, concepts rather than words must be translated. To minimize problems in translation, we are careful in how we tell the story in English. For instance, if we know that a particular paragraph will not translate well, we will rewrite it.

Also, Navajo has several different dialects. When we do our translations, we try to use the most commonly accepted form of the language; however, we still get people coming to us and saying we should have used one form over another. This can be stressful, but at the same time we recognize that it’s impossible to please everyone.

How about those in Navajo-English specifically?

Marketing Navajo-English books is difficult. The primary reason for this is that book buyers often have the perception that since our books are in Navajo and English, only Navajos would be interested in reading them. This is very wrong, of course–our books treat universal themes, and our Navajo focus is simply one of the factors that make our titles unique. However, it is often a challenge to convince distributors and bookstore owners that our books have general interest appeal.

Who are your authors and illustrators? Native speakers, tribal members, urban Indians, southwesterners, etc.? What kinds of knowledge and insights to do they bring to the fold?

Our authors are anyone who can tell authentic stories of the Navajo people. Most often, they are tribal members and native speakers; however, we also publish stories of writers who have lived on the reservation or who have done significant research on the Navajo people and culture. Our illustrators, on the other hand, are all tribal members. We don’t have a policy against using other artists, but we’ve never looked elsewhere because we’ve never had to. Several Navajos are incredibly talented artists, so we are always able to find just the right illustrator for a project.

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from authors/author-illustrators or agents?

Most of our manuscripts come from authors. We have done a few projects with author-illustrators, and have never worked with agents.

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submission process? What are pitfalls to avoid?

Before submitting work, writers should always study the publishing company, get a feel for the types of books that have been published, and request a copy of the manuscript guidelines. I am always impressed by writers who show some knowledge of our company in their cover letter, because it indicates that they have done their research and that they know we have very specific needs.

How about illustrators? What is the best way for them to connect with the house?

We find our illustrators by attending art shows, such as the Santa Fe Indian Market and the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market. We do this because we want serious artists with authentic Native American art.

If you had to highlight four titles that could give us a feel for the list, which ones would you suggest for study and why?

The first book I would like to mention is Zinnia, How the Corn Was Saved, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Kendrick Benally (Salina Bookshelf, 2003). This is a retelling of a Navajo folktale, and both the language and the artwork are stunning. Zinnia is a perfect example of how we take traditional stories and present them in a manner that is appealing to contemporary audiences.

Secondly, I’d like to mention Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home by Evangeline parsons Yazzie and illustrated by Irving Toddy (Salina Bookshelf, 2005). This book is about the widely known story of the Navajo Long Walk, and it is significant because it is the first time the story has been told from the Navajo perspective. When writing the book, Evangeline drew on the stories that had been passed down to her from her elders.

The third book I’d like to mention is Diné Bizaad: Speak, Read, Write Navajo by Irvy Goossen (Salina Bookshelf, 1995). This is our language textbook, and has been a consistent best-seller. Diné Bizaad is used in high school and universities wherever the Navajo language is taught, and is an example of Salina’s efforts to encourage students to learn their native language.

Finally, I would like to mention Keeping the Rope Straight: Annie Dodge Wauneka’s Life of Service to the Navajo by Carolyn Niethammer (Salina Bookshelf, 2006). This is the biography of Annie Dodge Wauneka, a Navajo leader and activist who brought about unprecedented improvements in the health care and education available to her people. An inspiring story, Keeping the Rope Straight is an example of the type of biography Salina would like to do more of.

What can we expect from Salina Bookshelf in the future?

More great bilingual books! We will continue publishing children’s books, we have a new language textbook in the works, and we hope to do more biographies of Navajo leaders. We also have plans for a Navajo board game and a book of Navajo songs. This November, we’re releasing Little Black, A Pony–a Navajo version of the popular book by Walter Farley, originally published in 1961. We’re expecting this book to be a great hit with horse lovers.

Austin SCBWI “Follow Me” Fall 2006 Conference Report

The Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators held its Fall 2006 Conference, “Follow Me” (PDF). The event was Oct. 21 at the Texas School for the Deaf in south Austin. My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I had the honor of hosting a reception at our home in honor of the speakers the evening prior to the conference.

Local luminaries at the reception included: Austin outgoing SCBWI RA Julie Lake (interview); Austin incoming SCBWI RA Tim Crow; SCBWI ARA Lyn Seippel; author Brian Yansky; author Anne Bustard (interview)(blog); former Austin SCBWI RA and founder Meredith Davis; author Varian Johnson (blog); former Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Dunn; author Brian Anderson (interview); author Jo Whittemore (interview)(blog); author Jane Peddicord; author April Lurie (interview)(blog); author Frances Hill; author Lila Guzman (interview); illustrator Christy Stallop; former Austin SCBWI RA Nancy Jean Okunami; writer Meg Shoemaker; librarian-author Jeannette Larson (interview); author Chris Barton (blog); author Helen Hemphill (interview); author/poet Jerry Wermund (interview); and Barnes & Noble Westlake CRM Jo Virgil, who dropped off books for Bruce to sign because he had to fly out to speak at the SCBWI Iowa conference the next day after giving his speech. Author-illustrator Janie Bynum (interview) also joined us from Dallas.

Featured conference speakers included: agent Sara Crowe of the Harvey Klinger Agency; author Bruce Coville; art agent Suzanne Cruise; author-book doctor Esther Hershenhorn (interview); Clarion associate editor Lynne Polvino; illustrator Tony Sansevero of Austin; and illustrator Don Tate of Austin (interview)(blog). Faculty also included myself and Dianna Hutts Aston (interview), who was unable to attend but mailed critiques.

Flowers were by Julie‘s husband, Gary Lake, and catering by Central Market. The menu featured Texas gulf shrimp, an assortment of quesadillas (goat cheese and wild mushroom, grilled chicken, and grilled shrimp), vegetarian sushi rolls, ham and brie cocktail sandwiches, fresh mozzarella and tomato cocktail sandwiches, rustic cut fromage, Texas wines, and much more. Special thanks to the two wait staffers, Anna and Erik. Thanks too to Anne for bringing extra ice at the last minute.

The next day at the conference, special events included: an art portfolio contest; a silent auction of items created by member artists; and a bookfair-signing featuring the works of the speakers and chapter members. I also spotted author Lindsey Lane, author-illustrator Regan Johnson, illustrator Gene Brenek, writer Allison Dellenbaugh, who is newly returned to us from Florida, and both Kathy Whitehead (interview) and Janet Fox from College Station (among others!).

After a continental breakfast, highlights included a Bruce‘s opening speech on fantasy. He’s one of the strongest speakers I’ve ever seen/heard, essentially an actor on stage, and there’s as much substance as humor in his presentations. Brilliant! Unfortunately, I had to miss Tony‘s talk because I had to exit the auditorium at that time to meet with the six writers whose manuscripts I had critiqued (a reminder to them all: congratulations on all of your hard work so far; let me know if you have additional questions about my comments!). Critiques moved well with Debbie and Nancy Jean managing the flow.

The most heartfelt moment was the recognition of our outgoing RA, Julie. She was presented with roses, a crystal ball filled with ribbons, and a piece of original artwork by our own Frances. In addition to being Austin’s hardest working children’s writing volunteer these past few years, Julie is the author of Galveston’s Summer of the Storm (TCU, 2003) and I look forward to more wonderful novels from her in the future.

We also welcomed Tim into the RA role. By day, Tim is a sixth grade teacher at Taylor Middle School, home of the fighting Taylor Ducks. He’s also an extremely promising writer of middle grade and young adult novels, and he has the best smile and voice in the state of Texas.

I had a great chat with Janie over a turkey sandwich at lunch, and then attended Lynn Polvino’s talk on the slush pile (specifically, how to get out of it). She also emphasized the importance of strong opening lines. Sarah Crowe’s presentation followed, and she offered the audience examples of query letters that work (from clients she’d signed) and critiqued queries sent in by our attendees. Esther brought the event home, offering insights into all aspects of the writing life. She is highly recommended as a speaker, teacher, and source of inspiration.

A signing of speaker and published member books followed. Greg and I sold quite a few copies of Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006) as well as a few of his Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003)(paperback, 2005) and Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005). I also sold a few copies of Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). Thanks to everyone for their interest and enthusiasm!

The continental breakfast and box lunch were from Sweetish Hill Bakery.

For more information, see conference program (PDF), including faculty biographies.

Cynsational Notes

Bruce‘s the Sixth Grade Alien series, which was made into a TV show, was illustrated by Tony.

Agent Sara Crowe has recently signed Austin YA authors Brian Yansky and Varian Johnson.

Upcoming Austin SCBWI events include: “Louis Sachar Speaks to Writers” at 11 a.m. Dec. 9 (Louis is from Austin); “Creating a Fantasy World with Jo Whittemore” Jan. 13, 2007; “A Novel Writing Workshop with D. Anne Love” March 24, 2007; “Illustrator Day” with Abigail Samoun of Tricycle Press and illustrator Priscilla Burris May 5, 2007; “Using Humor When Presenting to Kids with Sean Petrie June 9, 2007;” and “Santa Knows Story Structure with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith” Sept. 8, 2007. Our 2007 conference will be in October of that year. Keep checking the Austin SCBWI website for details as they become available!

Visit Austin area bloggers: author Chris Barton; author Anne Bustard; author Varian Johnson; author April Lurie; writer Allison Dellenbaugh; author Jo Whittemore; and illustrator Don Tate. Learn more about Texas children’s/YA book authors and illustrators.

Cynsational News & Links

Walker Books (U.K.) will be releasing my upcoming gothic fantasy novel Tantalize in October 2008.

In addition, the U.S. publication date for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2006) has been moved up to February.

More News & Links

2006 Cybils: book awards from children’s/YA literature bloggers and blog readers. Check out the announcement, nomination information, and rules. Also check out the blogs of the Cybils team: Book Buds Kidlit Reviews; A Fuse #8 Production; Bartography; Jen Robinson’s Book Page; Wands and Worlds;; A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy; and Chicken Spaghetti.

The Kansas Center for the Book at the State Library has announced the inaugural 2006 Kansas Notable Book List. Notable books include: Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader (Roaring Brook, 2005)(author interview); Deputy Harvey and the Ant Cow Caper by Brad Sneed (Dial, 2005); In the Small, Small Night by Jane Kurtz (Amistad, 2005)(author interview); and Maggie Rose and Sass by Eunice Boeve (PublishAmerica, 2005).

Congratulations to the winners and finalists of the PEN Center USA’s 2006 Literary Awards, “honoring outstanding works published or produced in 2005 by writers who live west of the Mississippi River.” In children’s literature, the winner was Viola Canales, author of The Tequila Worm (Wendy Lamb Books), and the finalists were: J.B. Cheaney, author of My Friend The Enemy (Knopf)(author interview); Kerry Madden, author of Gentle’s Holler (Viking)(author interview); Graham Salisbury, author of Eyes of the Emperor (Wendy Lamb)(author interview); and Gary Soto, author of Help Wanted (Harcourt).

Illustrator Interview: Kadir Nelson on Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Kadir Nelson began drawing at the age of three. At eleven, Nelson experimented with a variety of media, and at sixteen, he began painting with oils under the encouragement and tutelage of both his uncle and high school art teacher. He began entering his paintings in art competitions and ultimately won an art scholarship to study at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Upon graduating with honors, Nelson began his professional career as an artist, publishing his work and receiving commissions from publishers and production studios such as Dreamworks, Sports Illustrated, Coca-Cola, The New York Times and Major League Baseball, among others.

Nelson has also exhibited his artwork in galleries and museums throughout the country and abroad, including the Simon Weisenthal Center, Museum of Tolerance and the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences in Los Angeles, The Museum of African American History in Detroit, The Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington D.C., The Society of Illustrators and the Studio Museum in Harlem in New York, The Bristol Museum in England, The Citizen’s Gallery of Yokohama, Japan; and the Center for Culture of Tijuana, Mexico.

Among Nelson’s most recent works are the epic paintings, “The Life of Marvin Gaye,” “Marvin Gaye,” “Swizz Beatz: Ghetto Stories” and “Angel,” none of which are smaller than six feet high or wide.

Nelson has illustrated more than a dozen children’s books, including the most recent Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, written by Carole Boston Weatherford (Hyperion, 2006), which Publishers Weekly described as having a “gorgeous,” “poetic” and “larger-than-life presence.” His other picture books include: Debbie Allen’s Dancing in the Wings (Dial, 2000); the Coretta Scott King Award Book Ellington Was Not A Street by Ntozake Shange (Simon & Schuster, 2004); New York Times Best-Sellers Salt in His Shoes by Deloris and Roslyn Jordan (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis-Lee, and Will Smith’s Just the Two of Us (Scholastic, 2001) for which Nelson won an NAACP Image Award. Currently, Nelson is completing a tribute book about the Negro Baseball Leagues, which he is both writing and illustrating.

How did the artist’s path first call to you?

I was born to be an artist. I have created artwork ever since I can remember. I think it’s in my genes.

What inspired your interest in children’s book illustration specifically?

I was initially asked by an editor and then a friend to illustrate children’s books. My work has always had some sort of narrative and creating artwork for children’s books felt quite natural to me.

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

After having graduated from college, I made a trip to New York to meet with publishers and potential clients. I didn’t land any deals for books, though I was commissioned to paint a book cover. However, during my trip, I made a number of contacts, so when I was ready with a children’s book idea, I had a number of contacts to share it with. The time to share the idea came several months later when Debbie Allen asked me to illustrate her book, after which we made a trip to New York to find a publisher.

Congratulations on the publication of Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (Hyperion, 2006)! What was it about Carole’s manuscript that called to you?

I simply felt it was a very strong story and was well written. Also, Harriet Tubman has always reminded me of my grandmother, so I really had an affinity for the subject.

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

It usually takes a few days to create thumbnail sketches, and then a few more days to make larger clearer sketches. The finishes took approximately four months to complete. After the artwork was accepted, approximately one year later the book was published.

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

The only real challenges were finding clear pictures of Harriet. There are really only a few. Creating original and varied night time scenes was also challenging.

What do you love about your artist’s life?

I love the fact that I don’t have to fight traffic and go in to work everyday. It’s really a blessing.

What are its tougher aspects?

Running a couple of businesses at once is tough. I’m starting to delegate more these days. It’s making life a bit easier.

What advice do you have for beginning illustrators?

I think beginning illustrators need to find their voices and toughen their skin. There is a lot of rejection in the beginning, but it gets better.

How about those building a career?

I’d have to say the same thing. It’s also important to surround yourself with good, competent, supportive people. And have some fun with it!

What do you do when you’re not illustrating?

I spend time with my family. I’m also a Scrabble nut.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Spring ’07 will bring two new books, Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, which is about a Virginia slave during the mid 1800’s who mailed himself to the free state in of Pennsylvania in a wooden crate to escape slavery. The second book is entitled, Michael’s Golden Rules by Deloris and Roslyn Jordan, which is about Michael Jordan‘s childhood pursuits of playing baseball.

Cynsational Notes

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion, 2006) is one of the most inspiring, beautifully written and illustrated picture books of the year.

Q&A with Carole Boston Weatherford on Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom from the author’s website.

Tim Tingle, Heather Hepler win Writers’ League Awards

The Writers’ League of Texas has announced its Teddy (Children’s Book) Award winners.

In the short works (picture book) division, the finalists are The Pledge of Allegiance by Barbara Clack (Texas A & M University Press Consortium, 2005) and Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon (Simply Read Books, 2005).

The winner is Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos, 2006)(recommendation).

In the long works (middle grade/YA) division, the finalists are Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview) and Czar of Alaska: The Cross of Charlemagne by Richard Trout (Pelican, 2005).

The winner is Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Heather Hepler, co-authored by Brad Barkley (Dutton, 2006)(co-authors interview).

Honorees will be featured at the Texas Book Festival in a special discussion panel and signing on Oct. 28 at the Texas Capitol building. A reception with hors d’oeuvres and cash bar will follow at the Brown Bar at 201 W. 8th Street (Colorado is the cross street) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

This is the Eleventh Annual Teddy Children’s Book Awards. The awards were established to honor outstanding published books written by Writers’ League of Texas members. Learn more about the awards. Learn more about Texas children’s/ya authors and illustrators.

More News & Links

The amazing Lisa Yee reports on the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color in Dallas. See my report and Greg Leitich Smith‘s.

Patti, a teen services librarian from Austin is the latest of the bloggers to chime in on my upcoming gothic fantasy YA, Tantalize (Candlewick, February 2007). She writes: “There is murder, love gone awry, distrust and suspicion, menacing foes, were-people and vampires, and more murder. This is a fun read and one that you probably will want to read from cover to cover because it is just that enjoyable and easy to read.” As a writer who loved her setting, I’m especially thrilled that Patti enjoyed the Austin references integrated into the story. Read the whole post!

Be Water, My Friend by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee (Lee & Low, 2006): a recommendation by Chris Barton of Bartography. Chris is the author of The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2008). Fans of picture book biographies also should visit Anneographies.