Cynsational News & Links

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith are the Austin area Barnes & Noble December authors of the month for Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006)!

Note: our last official signings for 2006 will be from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 2 Barnes & Noble Round Rock in Round Rock, Texas (I-35 and 1325) and 1 to 3 p.m. on Dec. 3 Barnes & Noble Westlake in Westlake, Texas (701 S. Capitol of Texas Highway).

Attention Ohioans: We will be interviewed about Santa Knows at 8:10 a.m. EST on WEOL AM 930/”Les in the Morning” in Elyria-Lorian, Ohio on Dec. 1.

Radio Disney in Chicago features Santa Knows events through December. See Radio Disney at hotline 312.409.3212 for all the information.

“Meet Authors & Illustrators: An Interview with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith” on Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006) from Children’s Literature.

Cynsational News & Links

31 Days of Giving: A Holiday Spectacular Sweepstakes Event from

Children’s Writers in the Central U.S.: A Gathering Place for Anyone Associated with Children’s Lit in the Central U.S. Reposting this link with love to the region.

The Iowa Association of School Libraries children’s/YA book award pages have moved. Find out more about the Iowa Children’s Choice Award; Iowa Teen Award; and Iowa High School Book Award. See my listings of state and national awards. Please let me know if an URL is incorrect or you’re familiar with an award that’s not yet listed. Thanks!

Outside of a Dog: a new blog from eight writers and illustrators who came together in 2000 as an on-line writing group. Learn more about Terri Murphy, Sandra Alonzo, Liz Goulet Dubois, Kim Norman, Joe Kulka, Becky Hall, Barbara Johansen Newman, and Anne Bowen. Note: thanks for the link to Cynsations!

Shopping? Suggested seasonal titles include Josie’s Gift by Kathleen Long Bostrom, illustrated by Frank Ordaz (Broadman & Holman, 2005)(author interview); On A Wintry Morning by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Viking, 2000)(author interview); Hanukkah, Shmanukkah! by Esme Raji Coddell, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion, 2005)(author interview); One Splendid Tree by Marilyn Helmer, illustrated by Dianne Eastman (Kids Can Press, 2005)(author interview); Santa Baby by Janie Bynum (Little Brown, 2005); Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Godell (Harcourt, 2005); and Here Comes Darrell by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Mary Azarian (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)(author interview).

Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy, author of The Power of Un (Front Street, 2000) and Cat In Glass and Other Tales of the Unnatural, illustrated by David Ouimet (Front Street, 2002), from the Horror Writers Association. A frank discussion of warning signs and why writers are so vulnerable. Be good to each other out there. Take care of yourselves.

Editor Interview: Andrew Karre of Flux

Andrew Karre on Andrew Karre: “I am the acquiring editor for Llewellyn’s Flux imprint. If you submit to Flux, you’re submitting to me. I live in Saint Paul, MN.”

What kind of young reader were you?

I was an avid reader when I was young, but when I was a YA I didn’t read much of the contemporary YA. I wanted to read “adult” books, not “children’s” books.

Don’t misunderstand; I wasn’t precocious in my comprehension, just in my aspirations. I managed to write a book report on Hemingway‘s The Sun Also Rises in sixth grade that said something like “I don’t understand what Jake’s problem is. Why can’t he and Brett just get together?” Somehow, I managed to miss the exact nature of Jake’s problem.

Anyway, I read a lot, and eventually got a little better at it. There are a couple YA books that stick out in my mind as books I read and reread at that age: Robert Cormier‘s I Am the Cheese (which I just reread with much pleasure) and John Christopher‘s Tripod Trilogy (which my best friend and I spent hours casting for the movie we would eventually produce).

What inspired you to make YA book editing your career focus?

I didn’t choose YA so much as it chose me. I chose to make my career in publishing here in the Twin Cities, and, while it is a fantastic community for readers and publishers and general book nerds, it’s not like you can be tremendously picky about what you edit when you start out.

I knew that I wanted to be an editor and that I wanted to be an acquiring editor–the one who makes the choices and helps the author shape the text. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure. I began editing home improvement books and business management books (I even wrote a book about residential lighting and a book about staircases), but I knew I wanted to at least try to edit fiction (in my mind, this probably meant serious adult literary fiction, but again, I wasn’t picky).

So, when the opening to edit children’s fiction at Llewellyn appeared several years ago, I applied and managed to get the job. I learned a lot about working with novelists, but I wasn’t actually acquiring the books and this was a little frustrating, so after a bit over a year, I actually went back to the home improvement publisher to acquire new books for them. This was one of those “good career moves” that actually makes you miserable (and is far too involved a story for this interview), so suffice it to say, when Llewellyn decided to launch Flux and they suddenly needed an acquiring editor, they didn’t have to ask me twice. It is a decision I have never regretted.

How did you prepare for this career?

I was an English literature major in college and I attended the Denver Publishing Institute. I did publishing internships in college, and I edited my college newspaper. And I read. I’ve never had a job outside of publishing.

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

The shorter list would be what jobs I DON’T see as jobs of the editor. Ultimately, I see the editor as a book’s advocate in the publishing house and in the industry. And advocacy casts a big shadow. It means working with the author to make the manuscript the best book it can be. It means giving art, sales, marketing, and publicity all the tools they need to do their jobs effectively on behalf of the book. It means following trends (but following them critically, rather than slavishly). It means putting myself in the way of talented authors so we’ll have a chance to publish their books (as I’m doing right now). Basically my job is to fall in love with books that will help the company make money and then to get everyone else in the company to fall in love with the book, too.

What are its challenges?

Advocacy kind of implies opposition and resistance. Much of publishing is about saying “no” over and over so you can eventually say “yes.” We say “no” to projects and ideas far more often then we say “yes,” and a well-developed ability to say “no” is actually much more important than the ability to say “yes.” But it’s not much fun.

Beyond this, children’s publishing has the unique structural challenge of layers of gatekeepers between book and audience. Think about it: An author who is not a child writes a book and sends it to an agent (not a child), who sends it to an editor (ditto), who eventually presents it to an all-adult sales force that goes out and meets with book buyers (yep, grown-ups, too), who decide whether to stock the book so that, eventually, adult parents will buy the book for (finally) a kid. This distance makes it all too easy to forget how smart and sophisticated the audience really is.

What do you love about it?

I love the authors, I love their books, and I love playing a part in introducing them to the world. I love that this is important, challenging work. Anyone who thinks writing for children is a lesser literary endeavor is crazy.

For those unfamiliar to Flux, could you offer an overview of the list and its philosophy?

Flux is a general YA fiction imprint. We publish teen fiction from new and published authors in all genres in trade paperback and hardcover. We do about 20 books a year. The one common strain we hope to maintain across all of our books is that the authors approach young adult as a point of view and not a reading level. Basically, we want us to publish authors who are writing for and about teens because the teen years are simultaneously universal and unique to all who pass through them.

Why did Llewellyn decide to launch this imprint? How’s it going so far?

Llewellyn launched Flux mainly because of the initial success of the YA books they published under the Llewellyn name, particularly Laurie Faria Stolarz‘s Blue is for Nightmares (Llewellyn, 2003)(author interview), which is still a very strong seller. Basically, Flux was a way to have more of a good thing. And so far, so good.

Part of the reason I think it’s going well is that Flux is a combination of a small group of young-ish people who are extremely passionate about these books (me, a production editor and designer, and a couple of awesome publicists) and a larger group of extremely experienced publishing professionals who are fully committed to making this venture work (our B&N rep, for example, has been selling to B&N since before I was born).

How is the YA line at Flux different from other publishers’?

In some ways we’re not all that different. I respect my colleagues at other houses, and I know they care about these books, too (they’re not in it for the money). I do feel competitive with imprints that are also doing great work, but on the flip side, I don’t get too bent out of shape when I lose a book to another house, because, by and large, the other houses do great work, too, and I hope the author clicked with the other editor.

When an author does have her pick of several houses and several editors, I hope she picks Flux because she feels like she and her books are getting very personal attention and that we “get” her book. I want an author to choose us because she feels she can have a productive and rewarding editorial partnership with me (meaning that she thinks two out of three of my ideas are at least decent and that she can stand my jokes). I want an author to choose us because she respects the work we’ve done in the past.

If you had to pick just three, what are Flux’s don’t-miss titles of 2006? And why?

You are asking me to pick my children. Please don’t miss any of them.

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from writers or through agents?

It’s probably 50-50 at the moment. I love working directly with authors, so the sooner I can do that, the better–but, that said, agents help a lot. It would be dishonest to say otherwise. There are some very, very talented agents in this business and if you can connect with one, you should. This is largely a business, and agents can help take much of the business part off your plate.

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

First, see above so you can stop worrying about the next point. Second, I think authors who are getting started must keep their priorities straight (and it’s easy to get them out of whack). Make sure you are a writer first, a reader second, and submitter a distant third. Submitting books can seem so complicated and time consuming that I fear authors spend more time polishing query letters than revising novels. (And I realize the industry perpetuates this.) Resist with all your might. If you can write a good novel and a quick, efficient cover or query letter, you’re in good shape.

What titles would you especially recommend for study to writers interested in working with the house and why?

I’m going to pick three authors. First, Christine Kole MacLean‘s How It’s Done (Flux, 2006)(author interview) because this is a book that your readers are somewhat familiar with and I think it exemplifies “young adult as point of view, not reading level” perfectly. Second, King Dork by Frank Portman (Delacorte 2006), because I think this is a fantastic example of a novel that has great voice, an infectious and resonant story, and a healthy disdain for The Rules. Finally, two books by one author (take your pick) Octavian Nothing or Feed by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick 2006 and 2002, respectively)(author interview).

If ever you think there’s something your audience won’t get or that something might be over their heads, shut off your computer and pick up either of these. Few authors respect their audience like M.T. Anderson.

In what ways do you work with teachers and librarians in support of your titles and their efforts?

I’ll work with them any way I can. I meet a lot of librarians on MySpace and at shows. I’m also trying to reach out to people who work with creative, bookish teens (“the new literati”) in other capacities.

How about booksellers?


What do you do outside your editorial/publishing life?

I ride my bike a lot. I play the French horn. I love to cook and then eat. I live to serve every whim of our cat.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Where is the two-narrator novel narrated by an 18-year-old American being recruited to join the military and the 18-year-old Iraqi being recruited to become a suicide bomber? Somebody please write it and send it to me.

Cynsational News & Links

Of Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith (Dutton, 2006), Book Moot says: “Steve Björkman‘s illustrations tell the story with humor. Alfie’s pajamas are hilarious. …a sweet tale for families with young (and older) children who want to believe.” Thank you! Read the whole review.

Worthy Stories for the Holidays by Sue Corbett of the Miami Herald. In addition to Santa Knows, recommendations include This Is The Stable by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Delana Bettoli (Henry Holt, 2006).

“Ho, Ho, Ho!” from Jambalaya, the What’s New? page of Kimberly Willis Holt‘s website. A snap-shot interview on the writing of Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006). Learn more about Kimberly’s latest, Part of Me (Stories of a Louisianna Family)(Henry Holt, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Thanks to everyone who has supported my early chapter book short story collection Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)! I’m pleased that the trade edition is going into another reprint (though I’ve actually lost track of which edition this will be).

More News & Links

Congratulations to Michelle Knudsen on her New York Times bestselling picture book, Library Lion, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick, 2006)(excerpt). Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Don’t miss the photo caption contest at Three Silly Chicks: Readers, Writers, and Reviewers of Funny Books for Kids. Learn more about chicks Andrea Beaty, Julia Durango, and Carolyn Crimi. Read a Cynsations interview with Carolyn.

A Commonplace Book: a new blog from author Julius Lester. Note: my favorite book by the author is What a Truly Cool World, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Scholastic, 1999). See a visual interpretation designed by Janet Hilbun.

Indian Teacher & Educational Personnel Program’s Curriculum Resource Center at Humbolt State University has posted an Alibris Wish List of books requested as donations. ITEPP started in 1969 to support Native students obtaining a university degree. “When the students started donating their books back to the program, the CRC (Curriculum Resource Center) began.” They currently hold “6,000 books, videos, periodicals, curriculum and Microfilm, on, about and by Native American Indians.” They add, “With the lack of funding for California Education system our wishlist and patron donations have become our main source of adding new material to our collection.”

Just One More Book: a thrice-weekly podcast “in which we take a few minutes out of our morning coffee ritual to discuss one of our many favourite children’s books.” Episodes run from five to 12 minutes. They may be played from the web page or downloaded to an ipod. Each is an informal discussion of a children’s books. Features also include author interviews, discussions of literacy, and audio reviews (submitted by listeners). Download brochure (PDF).

“Nancy Werlin: Get Thee To A Bread Store” by Melody Joy Kramer and Marc Silver from Novel Ideas at NPR. Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

Picture Books for Teens, a Book List from the Austin Public Library Dell Wired for Youth Centers. See my recent post: Picture This! Picture Books for Young Adults.

“Science-Themed Novels:” Elementary School Through Middle School by Kay Weisman from Book Links. Highlighted titles include: Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003)(author interview); Tofu and T.rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview); Runt by Marion Dane Bauer (Clarion, 2002)(author interview); Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2005)(author interview); and Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Signed Children’s Books: An Author’s Bookstore from Anastasia Suen. Order by Dec. 17 for Christmas delivery. Read a Cynsations interview with Anastasia.

Author-Publisher Interview: Lee Merrill Byrd of Cinco Puntos

Lee Merrill Byrd was born and raised in New Jersey, but then relocated to the southwest. She founded Cinco Puntos Press with her husband, poet Bobby Byrd in 1985. Cinco Puntos publishes adult non-fiction, adult fiction, poetry, and children’s literature. Its focus is on “multicultural literatures of the American Southwest, the U.S./Mexico border region and Mexico.”

Lee’s debut children’s book was The Treasure on Gold Street, A Neighborhood Story (Cinco Puntos, 2003), which was named a Skipping Stones Honor Book Award and received a Southwest Book Award, a Paterson Poetry Center Prize, and a Teddy Award from the Writers’ League of Texas. She also has published Lover Boy, A Bilingual Counting Book (Cinco Puntos, 2005). Her first novel, Riley’s Fire, was published by Algonquin in spring 2006.

Let’s begin by talking about your own novel, Riley’s Fire (Algonquin, 2006). Could you tell us about the story?

Riley’s Fire is the story of a seven-year-old boy named Riley Martin. He’s a big boy, much too big for his age. He’s adventurous, inquisitive—a dreamer, an experimenter. He wants to know what will happen if he throws a match on some gasoline he’s spilled on his garage floor. The match calls to him, a destiny as persuasive as the needle on Sleeping Beauty’s spinning wheel.

Within hours of the fire, he and his family are flown to the Shriners Burns Institute in Galveston, Texas, where Riley spends the next three months. The fire and its consequences and its impact on the people around him, his mother especially, are not nearly as engaging as the world of the hospital and its fascinating inhabitants–“kids of all shapes and sizes and colors, bandaged and pinned together, missing arms and legs and noses, with contorted lips or strange outcroppings of skin–wounded soldiers in a complex battle,” who are there at the hospital for the sole purpose of fueling and confounding Riley’s intense imagination. Riley Martin finds out–though it’s no surprise to him–that suffering isn’t always tragic and that it forms and shapes us and bears fruit beyond what we can even imagine.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

In 1981, our two sons, Johnny and Andy, were caught inside a playhouse that had been accidentally set on fire by a friend. At that time they were 7 and 4. Johnny suffered third-degree burns over thirty-five percent of his body, Andy sixty-three percent. Within 14 hours, we were taken out of our regular lives–the hospital in El Paso wasn’t equipped to take care of severely burned children–and flown to the Shriners Burns Hospital in Galveston, Texas. As you can imagine, the fire changed our lives.

Almost from the very first day we were in Galveston, I began to write down everything that we were going through. Every impression, every smell, every person, every story went into my notebooks. It was part of the way I began to deal with–to give a shape to–what was happening to my family.

When we came home from the hospital after three months, I was often overwhelmed with how many things I had to write–wanted and needed to write–about the fire. There was the fire, the one that changed our lives. I had a dozen stories I wanted to write about that fire. And then there was fire itself, consuming and transforming. And there were the scars–so deceptive, it took so long before they actually became apparent–sometimes months–and then it took so long to see past them. And there were those kids–our own among them–who were strong and remarkable. Incredible kids.

I wrote three or four long stories, but there were many more to be told. I would start some and write notes for others. I seemed to be telling the same story over and over, but always from a different point of view–I couldn’t leave anything out. Some stories I finished, some I never did, but there was one in particular that could find no end, no safe harbor, and that story was about a boy who entered my imagination: Riley–a big over-sized boy who looked like he was ten but was really only seven, an adventurous, inquisitive, talkative boy who was the essence of all the kids we met at the hospital. I loved this boy–his jaunty aggressive ways, his reverent pursuit of understanding. He seemed to breathe in the back of my heart, but I didn’t know how to tell about a life that would be such a mix of sorrow and joy.

More than twenty years passed. I published a few of the stories about the fire, but they were only a part of the picture. I couldn’t seem to put down everything I wanted to say. There was just too much of it to pull together. Just talking about the things that happened didn’t really get to the heart of what I wanted to say, and I was really tired actually of writing about the fire. It was frustrating, so I decided to just quit writing altogether. And that was okay with me.

But then one day I remembered an editor who has also been a friend in the publishing world–Shannon Ravenel–and I asked if I could send her the story about Riley. She asked to see the rest of the stories I’d written about the fire. “Why don’t you consider putting them all together?” she suggested. I’d thought of that many times before but I never could see how to make it work. Her encouragement and the passing of so many years–just waiting–helped me to figure out the next step.

It turned out that the key was Riley. I could tell the story–all of it–from his point of view because a seven-year-old doesn’t see like an adult–thank God!–and a seven-year-old has such a wondrous, hearty preoccupation with himself that the world could spin out of control around him and he might notice, but probably not. So every story I had ever written got filtered through Riley’s eyes and it was Riley’s cheerful myopic vision of his particular tragedy that freed me finally to set down his story in a way that was completely satisfying to me. And, I hope, to the reader.

Just so you know: our two sons are now 33 and 30, strong handsome men.

You’re also the author of a couple of recent bilingual children’s books, The Treasure on Gold Street/El Tesoro en la Calle d’Oro: A Neighborhood Story in Spanish and English, illustrated by Antonio Castro L. (Cinco Puntos, 2003) and Lover Boy/Juanito el Cariñoso: A Bilingual Counting Book, illustrated by Francisco Delgado (Cinco Puntos, 2006). Could you tell us about each?

The Treasure on Gold Street is a story, told in the voice of my granddaughter Hannah, about our neighbor Isabel, an older woman with mental retardation whose mind is that of a very young person. When we first moved to our neighborhood 30 years ago, Isabel came over every day to play with our kids. Now that our daughter and her family live next door, Isabel comes to play with our grandkids. In fact, Isabel has probably played with every kid on the block at some point, at least until that particular kid realized there was something different about Isabel. But different or not, Isabel is still the treasure on our street. The artist, Antonio Castro L., illustrated the book from photos that I have taken of Isabel over the years, so this book, as Kirkus noted, “is actually a work of sociology based on the lives of Byrd’s family and neighbors. An excellent introduction to the value of some of our society’s least appreciated citizens.”

Lover Boy is a bilingual counting book. I have a very affectionate grandson, Johnny Andrew, who loves to hug and kiss, so each person in his family and circle of friends gets a different number of kisses. What really makes the book so great are the colorful, lively illustrations by Francisco Delgado, who used his own son Pedro as the model. So two boys actually inspired Lover Boy—-Johnny Andrew and Pedro.

What are the challenges in writing for very young children? What advice do you have for beginning writers?

My advice to writers is always the same, whether they write for kids or for adults: write and write and write and always read. Writing and reading—-done regularly and often—-are your two best teachers.

You’re an editor/publisher at Cinco Puntos. How would you describe the house and its mission with regard to literature for young people?

Our mission has always been to publish good writing. That’s what we look for and that’s what delights us, whether we find it in books for kids or books for adults, fiction or non-fiction.

Could you fill us in on the history of the house?

My husband Bobby and I started Cinco Puntos Press in 1985. At that time, we were two writers—-I’m a fiction writer and Bobby is a poet—-with three kids, and we were sick of working for other people and wishing we had more time to write.

We went to visit Richard Grossinger and his wife Lindy Hough who run North Atlantic Press in Berkeley. At that time, they were publishing poetry and a lot of books on marital arts, although they are currently best known for publishing Walter the Farting Dog [by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, illustrated by Audrey Colman (North Atlantic, 2001)]. They had published a book of Bobby’s poetry, called Get Some Fuses for the House (now available through Cinco Puntos). They told us they were making about $25,000 a year as publishers. It was 1985, and that sounded really good! So, without knowing anything, we decided that we would become publishers.

We decided to name our press Cinco Puntos, after the Five Points neighborhood in El Paso where we live. For the first fifteen years we were in business, we worked out of our house. At first both of us kept our regular jobs, but eventually Bobby was able to be at home and run the press. In 1996, the press began to support us both.

The first book we published was a collection of short stories called Winners on the Pass Line by Dagoberto Gilb (Cinco Puntos, 1985).

Our second book was by storyteller Joe Hayes. It was his classic—and ours—La Llorona, the Weeping Woman (Cinco Puntos, 1987), which has been one of our best selling titles. We sometimes call ourselves “the house that La Llorona built,” it’s been such a steady seller for us. We published it in a bilingual format because this is how Joe liked to tell stories. There weren’t too many publishers doing that then.

Since we are both writers, our first inclination had been to publish fiction, and we have published some great fiction and poetry. We didn’t know much about children’s books and hadn’t imagined that we would start publishing, but we actually ended up over the years making our living (i.e. keeping the press afloat) with children’s books, most of them bilingual.

I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we live and work here in El Paso, within walking distance (maybe a couple miles) from the U.S./Mexico border. El Paso and its fronterizo life have given us a unique perspective on American culture. We’ve also had the good fortune to explore publishing slowly, one book at a time, doing the things that interest us without the pressure and hype peculiar maybe to publishers in other cities.

We are distributed nationally to the trade by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution (1.800.283.3572). Cinco Puntos Press (CPP) is a nationally known, independent, NOT non-profit, literary press that specializes in publishing books (fiction, non-fiction, and books for kids) from the U.S./Mexico border, Mexico and the American Southwest.

In recognition of our importance as a voice from this part of the world and our commitment to literature, we have received the American Book Award for excellence in publishing and been inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. We have received five publishing grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and three similar grants from the Texas Commission for the Arts. We have also received two grants from the Fideicomiso para la Cultura de México y Estados Unidos (funded jointly by the Belles Artes and the Rockefeller Foundation) to publish Mexican literature in translation.

I like this statement that was made by the Before Columbus Foundation when we received the American Book Award for publishing in 1999:

“We always hear about passion in this business, but rarely devotion. What Bobby and Lee Byrd have created is what begins as a dream and ideal for most people. But after the hard work and constant battles take their toll, most get jaded and things get reduced to a simple business proposition. Unlike the NAFTA-mindedness of corporate publishing culture, Bobby and Lee Byrd and all of Cinco Puntos have the integrity to continue to live their dream, not just on the border, but across borders. This is one family, one publisher, which deserves our attention and respect.”

How would you describe your children’s and YA lines in particular?

Our children’s books offer, we think, a mirror into the culture on the U.S./Mexico border, especially into the folktales that are so important to the Hispanic culture, like the beloved La Llorona or the bogeyman story El Cucuy (2001).

Many of our children’s books have a political edge to them, either in a straightforward way (like The Story of Colors by Subcomandante Marcos (Cinco Puntos, 1999) or ¡Sí, Se Puede!/Yes, We Can! by Diana Cohn (Cinco Puntos, 2002)) or they make a political statement just by virtue of the fact that they are bilingual and they are reflecting a culture that hasn’t been considered much in mainstream literature, especially in children’s books.

In the past few years, we’ve been ranging outside this part of the world geographically, but not politically. We’ve done a book on homeless kids in Haiti (Selavi: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme (2004); a wonderful new book by Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle called Crossing Bok Chitto (2006)[recommendation]; and next season we’re going to do a book called The Bee Tree (2007), which is set in Malaysia but presents the ancient culture of honey hunters and a way of life which is in danger. We’ve moved outside the border, but not outside of the political issues that we think are important.

We don’t have a large YA list, but what we have is indicative of what we’re after: reflections of culture, both Hispanic and Native American, that aren’t currently part of the YA world. I don’t think lots of writers of color are being encouraged to write for teenagers, so I try to encourage writers to do that when they call.

What are the challenges particular to the success of a regional press?

Probably overcoming being considered a regional press! I think that perception of Cinco Puntos will change as the population of the United States changes. The last census shows us that 36 million people are Latinos. They are moving all over the United States. They are moving into the middle class. They are book buyers, and they want to see themselves in books.

How about marketing–in part–bilingual books?

Marketing bilingual books depends a lot on going to book conferences. We go to lots of book conferences, particularly educational ones that focus on bilingual books, like the National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), TABE (the Texas association) and CABE (California). And we are members of REFORMA, which is a caucus of the American Library Association that supports the acquisition of Spanish-language materials into libraries, and this is very important to us.

What qualities do you look for in a manuscript?

Good writing, vitality, quirkiness, energy, a writer who knows how to write and cares about his or her work, an authentic voice. Life!

How can writers and illustrators get in touch with you/the house? Any submission recommendations or pet peeves?

Illustrators can mail me a Xerox sample representative of their work or email me a link to a website with representative work. I keep these on file if the work interests me. The main point here is not to overwhelm me with lots of stuff. It’s better to send one or two really good samples than a mess of things. We always have our eye open for illustrators and artists as we travel around.

I ask writers to call me before they send anything to me. I love it when people know what Cinco Puntos does and are familiar with our work. I love it when they’ve read CPP books and really understand our list. I think any small press publisher feels the same way. I love to hear from writers–people who really write, who are committed to writing. I love to talk to writers who understand that a publisher is making an enormous commitment of time and money when they agree to publish a work and so don’t submit things lightly. I love it when writers give us their very best work.

I like to talk directly to a writer, even if they do have an agent. I do better when the writer will just call and talk to me about their work. I’m not particularly interested in the story or the plot, which many writers feel compelled to tell me, but only in the writing. I often ask writers to just mail me the first chapter or first ten or twenty pages. That way I can tell if the writing engages me.

I am probably not as anxious to talk to people or to see their work if they haven’t taken the time to find out what we do or if they assume that because we live on the border that what we are looking for is books on drugs or immigration or cactuses and coyotes. I don’t get really interested when people tell me they just wrote their first story or poem or when they wonder how you get a book published.

But, of course, whenever I say things like that, someone calls me up and says all the wrong things and I end up loving the thing they finally convince me to look at!

Do most of your books begin as submissions from writers, writer-illustrators, or agents?

Books have come to us in all sorts of odd ways. Some come by submission, some come because we got into an odd conversation with a writer at some conference, a few have come because other publishers get the manuscripts and know it’s not their book (maybe they don’t publish kid’s books) and so recommend us, some books have come through rights sale. Each book has its own miraculous story.

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?

La Llorona/The Weeping Woman by Joe Hayes: This is our longest lived and best-selling title. It’s a folktale greatly loved by people from Mexico and Latin America. It has an enormous attraction for young and old, rich and poor, every economic level, whether they are readers or non-readers. It’s a great teaching tool because even kids who hate to read want to find out if Joe Hayes’ version of this classic story is the “right” one, and they also want to tell you their own version.

Vatos: a poem by Luis Alberto Urrea with photos for each line or two by José Galvez. It’s essentially a photograph book, though the poem by Luis is what really gives it meaning. It’s a YALSA Reluctant Readers Quick Pick. When José sent us this book, we all said right away, Oh yes, that’s ours. I think José had tried to pitch it to other presses, but they didn’t respond. The same thing happened to us with Rudolfo Anaya and his wonderful Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez—-it was a book he couldn’t sell in New York, which we knew right away would do really well for Cinco Puntos.

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (2004)(recommendation): This is our first YA novel. It’s a great book, great literature. The response to it nationally just shows us how hungry folks are for Latino voices.

I know I’m only supposed to talk about four books, but in the same breath I want to say that I think Walking the Choctaw Road by Tim Tingle, though geared for adults and young adults, really opens up the Native American world for readers in the same way that Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood did. I get excited to see books by writers from so many different ethnic backgrounds now coming out because it shows how eager readers are to know how other cultures view the world.

Ringside Seat to a Revolution by David Dorado Romo. This is an underground cultural history of El Paso and Juarez during the years of the Mexican Revolution. David is an incredible historian and researcher. The history brings to light these years from a perspective of a Mexican, Mexican-American, fronterizo (a person with one foot on either side of the border), and puts aside much of the cowboy and Wild West history that has prevailed about this part of the world. It’s an amazing book and one that we’re really proud of.

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

In a very small publishing house like Cinco Puntos, we all work together in the publishing process. I generally do the front work on an acquisition, deciding if it’s a book I should get the rest of the people here to pay attention to. Once a book has been acquired and the production process starts, different ones of us will edit, but I usually end up doing the line editing towards the end of the process, mostly because I like detail and I worry over the final parts of a book. Before a book is finished, we all have gone over it a number of times. When the book finally arrives, it’s almost impossible to say, “This is my book,” as if one or the other of us was completely instrumental in either acquiring or editing the book. It’s really a very collaborative process.

What are its challenges?

As a publisher, it’s important to know, understand and be in agreement with what you’re publishing. I’ve gotten manuscripts before that I didn’t want to acquire, not because they weren’t good, but because I knew that I didn’t understand the cultural background associated with the manuscripts. An example that comes to mind was a story sent ten or fifteen years ago that involved crypto-Jews in the Southwest. I knew I didn’t really understand very much about crypto-Jews and why this subject had become so prominent in New Mexico in the last several decades. I also knew there is a whole lot of controversy surrounding this issue. I didn’t know enough to make a decision about whether the manuscript was reliable and I didn’t know the writer well enough to trust her understanding, so I passed on it. I also didn’t have the time or inclination to find out more about the topic.

On the other hand, I didn’t know a whole lot about Choctaw history or culture, but we were fortune to get to know Tim Tingle, a Choctaw storyteller and a solid historian. We knew that we could trust the work that he was doing. We feel the same way about Joe Hayes and his deep and rich understanding of folklore throughout the world and particularly in the southwestern part of the United States. We trust his knowledge of this subject so fully so that we can acquire his work without question.

What do you love about it?

My husband Bobby always says that publishing is like writing–it’s an act of discovery. I agree with this. Each book takes us to a new place, to new understandings, to meet new people.

It’s also a collaborative process. There’s nothing that makes me happier than working together as a group with the people at Cinco Puntos (there are six of us). We’ve also had the great pleasure of working with our kids in this business. Our daughter Susie and her husband Eddie worked for us for a number of years back in the late 1990s. Our son Johnny has now come back from Austin, where he lived for a long time, to be an important part of our business.

There’s also nothing better than hearing that people love one of the books we’ve published–it’s like hearing good things about our kids. We’re proud of each one. Publishing is a very creative, very satisfying work, and it’s a work that’s larger somehow than writing. With writing, you can only use your own voice, write out of your own understanding. With publishing, you can be part of making many voices heard. It’s exciting!

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

Well, our grandkids and our daughter and her husband live next door, and our son Johnny lives and works with us, so we both really enjoy being with our family.

This is what you can do with grandkids when you live on the border: Drive to Mexico ten minutes away, eat dinner, then take the kids to the feria (the fair) where lots of families congregate so they can watch their kids go on miniature ferris wheels and spinning teacups and merry-go-rounds and bumper cars. It’s fun!

Cynsational Notes

People magazine gave Riley’s Fire four stars and called it “astonishingly uplifting.”

Texas Library Association Reading Lists

The Texas Library Association reading lists have been annouced. Highlights include…

2X2 list: Andy Shane and the Very Bossy Dolores Starbuckle by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Abby Carter (Candlewick)(author interview).

Bluebonnet list: The Blue Ghost by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Suling Wang (Random House)(author interview); Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum)(author interview); The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin (Little Brown)(author interview); and Ballet of the Elephants by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Robert Parker (Roaring Brook)(author interview).

Lone Star list: Shug by Jenny Han (Simon & Schuster)(recommendation); Airball: My Life in Briefs by Lisa Harkrader (Roaring Brook)(author interview); The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou (Razorbill)(author interview); and Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic)(author interview).

Tayshas list (PDF): Desert Crossing by Elise Broach (Henry Holt)(author interview); Copper Sun by Sharon Draper (Atheneum); What Are You Afraid Of? Stories About Phobias edited by Donald R. Gallo (Candlewick); What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles (Little Brown)(author interview)(recommendation); An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Penguin); Strong at Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse by Carolyn Lehman (FSG)(author interview); A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone (Random House)(author interview); Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (Razorbill)(author interview); and The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (Dial)(author interview).

YA Novelist Cecil Castellucci To Debut Graphic Novel

For Graphic Novels, A New Frontier: Teenange Girls by George Gene Gustines from The New York Times. Don’t miss this article, which among other news of note mentions: “The first Minx graphic novel will be ‘The P.L.A.I.N. Janes,’ written by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Jim Rugg.”

I had the honor of taking a sneak peek at Cecil’s book at NCTE/ALAN, and as a girl who’s been loving graphic novels since they were still called “comic books” (age five, actually), I strongly encourage checking out this one.

Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil on Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005) and another on Queen of Cool (Candlewick, 2006).

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to the Barnes & Noble Sunset Valley for today’s successful Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006) storytime and signing. Celebrity sightings included author Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrator Don Tate (interview).

White, Bray Win TSRA Golden Spur Awards

Texas State Reading Association‘s Golden Spur Children’s-YA Awards have been announced. They honor work by Texas authors.

The winner was Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 by Andrea White (Eos/HarperCollins) and the honor books were The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)(author interview) and Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About A Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart by Pat Mora (Knopf)(recommendation).

The YA award went to Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (Delacorte)(author interview), and the honor books were Light Years by Tammar Stein (Knopf) and Let Me Play, The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future for Girls in America by Karen Blumenthal (Simon & Schuster).

Cynsational News & Links

The Secret of the Rose by Sarah L. Thompson (Greenwillow, 2006) Official Website: invites visitors into Elizabethan London but challenges them first to a quiz on the setting (“Do you know enough to survive HERE?”). Visitors may also register to win a free copy of the book as well as learn more about the title and its author. Read an excerpt.

Take a sneak peek at The Rainforest Grew All Around by Susan K. Mitchell, illustrated by Connie McLennan (Sylvan Dell, April 2007).

“Thankful for Reading:” check out the candidates for the Cybil Non-Fiction Picture Book at Bartography.

“Why I Write Multicultural Books” by Cynthia Chin-Lee from PaperTigers.

More on NCTE/ALAN 2006

Here’s highlighting author Sneed B. Collard III., who was on the “Picture This” panel with me at the ALAN workshop. Sneed’s recent books include Flashpoint (Peachtree, 2006), which was nominated for the Green Earth Book Award; Shep: Our Most Loyal Dog, illustrated by Joanna Yardley (Sleeping Bear, 2006); Dog Sense (Peachtree, 2005), which won a 2005 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award; The Prairie Builders: Reconstructing America’s Lost Grasslands (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), which also won a 2005 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award; and One Night in the Coral Sea, illustrated by Robin Brickman (Charlesbridge, 2005), which was a NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book and a recipient of the John Burroughs Award for nature writing. In addition, Sneed has been selected as the winner of the Washington Post–Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award for 2006 and winner of the AAAS 2006 Subaru/SB&F Prize. Find out more about all of his books!

“Howdee! On Life in Opryland!!!” an NCTE/ALAN report on Coe Booth. Includes reference photos. See also my NCTE and ALAN reports, which link to numerous others.

“Last Day in Nashville” from Reading, Writing, Etc.–the final of a fantastic series of photo-blogger posts. Bravo!

“My Top Takes on ALAN 2006” from David Gill, ALAN President-Elect for San Antonio 2008. Greg and I are honored to be referred to as “the dynamic duo of writerdom” and we hold up our “Road Warrior Trophy” with appreciation.

Thanks to Debbi Michiko Florence at One Writer’s Journey: The Bumpy Road for her shout out to the NCTE/ALAN conference participants. Thanks also to Liz Gallagher and Carrie Jones for their comments on my NCTE report (glad Carrie enjoyed Tantalize; hoping Liz likes it too–thanks so much for your enthusiasm!).

Cynsational Notes

Attention: College Station! Greg and I will be appearing on “TV Magazine” with Sharon Colson #0648 to discuss Santa Knows at 7 p.m. Nov. 29, 6 p.m. Dec. 2, and 7 p.m. Dec. 3 on KAMU TV in your area. Double check local listings to confirm show times.

Thanks to the Junior League of Austin for its hospitality during “A Christmas Affair!” We sold out 75 copies of Santa Knows in four hours on Nov. 16 because of your enthusiasm and tremendous organizational efforts.

Thanks to the Twig Book Shop in San Antonio for hosting our signing on Nov. 24! Greg and I did a storytime to a crowd of about 30 (about 20 of whom were kids whose activity it was to write a letter to Santa), sold fifteen books, and signed six copies of stock. Special thanks to San Antonio writer Carmen Richardson for joining us today!

“Jingle Dancer” from Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. Notes on my first book and a tie-in puppet show. Thanks, Liz! Most appreciated!

“A String of Bright Lights: Great Blogs about Children’s and Young Adult Literature” by Pooja Makhijani from PaperTigers. Thanks, Pooja, for highlighting Cynsations!