Author Interview: Marian Hale on Dark Water Rising

Marian Hale on Marian Hale: “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books, but it wasn’t until I was twelve and instructed to write a short story for my sixth grade English class that I first became aware that I loved writing, too. However, other than the occasional attempt at poetry over the years, I never pursued it. I suppose a lack of confidence had a lot to do with it. The path to becoming a successful author seemed nebulous and unachievable.

“I married the love of my life right out of business college, and some years later, I went into custom home design. Designing was a wonderfully creative outlet for me at the time. I enjoyed manipulating space to suit each client and the drafting of blueprints, but I especially loved that I could do most all of it at home with my three children close by.

“Years later I finally decided to give writing a real try. I wrote short stories for children and adults and eventually entered them in contests. When my efforts began to place and win prizes, I moved on to my first mid-grade novel, a failure on a professional level, but a huge success in exposing my strengths and weaknesses. It also reinforced my love for children’s literature–historical fiction in particular–and I’ve never looked back.”

What about the writing life first called to you?

I’m not so sure I was called to writing. I probably thought so during those early attempts, but it didn’t take long to realize that the choice was never mine to make. It’s just who I am, like being born with brown hair or blue eyes. Now, I can’t imagine not writing.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

It was just fun! I especially loved historical fiction, the way it allowed me to step back in time and experience intriguing eras and events as though I were there, seeing it all through the eyes of a teen or preteen. But I suppose what appealed to me most about writing for young readers was the opportunity to tell stories that would help my own children and grandchildren form a more intimate bond with the past, to ask the questions that would help them recognize the eternal connection we all have with older generations all over the world.

Congratulations on the publication of Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt,2006)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

Thank you! I first considered this project some years ago when my husband came home from work with a tattered book found in an old abandoned house about to be torn down. It was a full account of the 1900 Galveston Storm, written soon after it happened.

I’d read many articles over the years about the devastating Texas hurricane that took more than 8,000 lives, but never one written while wounds were still tender, while wind and floodwaters still haunted dreams.

I wanted to read more, to search out the multitude of hundred-year-old accounts and photographs, all of which were so vivid with intimate detail, so achingly real and painful that I felt as though I’d experienced this turn-of-the-century city and disastrous storm myself. It was this window to the past that brought me to write Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt, 2006), and in so doing, I wanted to honor the overwhelming loss and Herculean efforts to rebuild the great city of Galveston. I was able to incorporate hundreds of documented details into my story and was very pleased when Reka Simonsen, my editor at Henry Holt, encouraged me to include some spell-binding photos of the aftermath in an author’s note.

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

The inspiration for Dark Water Rising came in 2003, almost a full year before I could even think of starting a new project. When I could finally clear my desk, I spent the next six months researching and cataloging the details I wanted to use. I walked Galveston’s streets, studied the nineteenth century architecture, visited the Rosenberg Library to read transcripts of oral interviews, toured homes that survived the great storm, sought out where the two-story ridge of debris left by wind driven water had once encircled the city, and walked along the seawall where Saint Mary’s Orphanage had once stood, envisioning the two dormitories that had housed ten Sisters and more than ninety children who perished that day. It was a poignant and inspiring journey. I then spent the following six months trying to do justice to all those who had endured the deadliest storm to ever hit our country.

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

One of the most difficult challenges was choosing the best location in the city for my characters to experience the storm. I needed an actual home and surviving family, one that would allow me to show the devastation as fully as possible. I finally realized that I’d have to map the entire city, block by block, and key it to names and personal accounts before I could make that decision. The map also helped me locate major businesses, schools and churches, and gave me the confidence to write as though I’d walked through those 1900 neighborhoods and business districts myself.

Even more challenging was the emotional toll this story took on my day to day life. I don’t believe anyone could read the many accounts of individual loss from this storm and not experience an intense emotional response. I certainly couldn’t, but I couldn’t allow myself to take the easy path of skipping lightly through the horrific aftermath either, just to ease my own discomfort. I needed to stay true to even the smallest details, though it meant living with the grisly effects of this storm for a full year.

From the onset of this project, hundred-year-old photos and heartrending personal accounts haunted me every day, and they were the last thing in my thoughts before falling asleep each night. These were real people, caught up in a real disaster, something that could still happen to any one of us today, and more than anything, I wanted to stay true to their stories.

I’m likewise a fan of your debut novel, The Truth About Sparrows (HenryHolt, 2004)(recommendation). Could you tell us a bit about this book?

Thank you; that’s always so nice to hear. The Truth about Sparrows was my first historical fiction and a story very close to my heart. It follows Sadie, a twelve-year-old girl who loses her Missouri home during the Great Depression and is forced to start all over in a one-room tarpapered house on the Texas coast. Although the characters are fictional, most of the events were taken from my parents’ and grandparents’ experiences, even the scene where Sadie has no choice but to help with the birth of her baby sister. It was a joy to recreate this struggling 1933 fishing and shrimping community for young readers, and I was especially grateful for the opportunity to include the character of “Daddy,” modeled after my own grandfather who had polio before he was a year old and never walked.

What do you hope readers take away from the story?

I suppose I’ve had the same hope for both books. I’d like to think my readers will come away with a deeper appreciation for what so many families, even their own, have endured and overcome, and perhaps be inspired to face their own adversities with that same kind of courage and determination to succeed.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

One turning point for me was learning to trust my own instincts and allow myself to become each character. This was tremendously helpful in letting readers in on my character’s thoughts so they could share in the emotion, understand the cause, and care about the outcome. I’ve always tried to let each part of my story evolve naturally to a believable conclusion, following when it insisted on wandering paths I’d never expected or drew me to characters I’d never planned, even when doing so could change the ending I’d envisioned. This seat-of-the-pants writing may not work for everyone, but some of my most surprising and gratifying scenes/characters were
written this way.

I suppose the best advice I could give to any new writer, besides the important “read, read, read,” is to love what you’re doing. Love the characters, the words and the images they evoke, and yes, even the revisions. Look at each revision as another chance to bring more clarity, to make some part of your story touch your reader more deeply and hopefully linger long after your book is back on the shelf.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m still doing an occasional home design and my family keeps me very busy since my daughter and her preschool children are with us now, but I try to always make time for the simple joys. When I can, which isn’t nearly often enough, my husband and I like to pull our travel trailer to a river or lake to fish and watch the sun go down. We take a few good books and CDs, grill fish, veggies, and stuffed jalapenos, and open a nice bottle of wine. My grandchildren are finally big enough to go with us occasionally, so we’ll probably need a larger travel trailer before long!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, untitled at this time, is another historical fiction set in 1918 Canton, Texas, and again, partially derived from old family stories.

It begins with the dreams of sixteen-year-old Mercy Kaplan, a sharecropper’s daughter, who has never wanted to be anything at all like her mother. Mercy longs to be free, far from the threat of being saddled with kids, dirty laundry, and failing crops the rest of her life. When the deadly 1918 flu epidemic sweeps through Canton, she gets what she wants in a way she never imagined and soon finds herself employed by the newly widowed Cora Wilder. But there’s something secretive and downright strange about the woman. And then there’s Daniel Wilder, her eighteen-year-old stepson, with his green eyes and fierce determination to protect his fatherless siblings, just the sort who could sweep a foolish girl off her feet and into a dull and wearisome life like her mother’s if she isn’t watchful. But Mercy is watchful, and observant enough to uncover the clues to Cora Wilder’s odd behavior, which inches her ever closer to exposing a twenty-year-old murder.

Cynsational Notes

on Dark Water Rising

“A master of her craft…this is historical fiction at its best.” –Kirkus, starred review

“…this fine example of historical fiction has something for almost everyone.” –Booklist, starred review

“… this is a stunning novel.” –Children’s Literature

“Fact and fiction are blended effortlessly together in an exciting read that leaves readers with a sense of hope.” –School Library Journal

on The Truth About Sparrows

Nominated for six state awards and selected for the following awards and honors: Editor’s Choice for 2004 by Booklist Magazine; Top Ten First Novels by Booklist Magazine; 2004 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers by VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates); Lasting Connections of 2004 by Book Links Magazine; Children’s Books 2004: One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing, by the New York Public Library; Teachers’ Choice for 2005 in the Advanced category by IRA (the International Reading Association); The Best Children’s Books of the Year 2005 edition, selected by the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education; 2005 Notable Books for a Global Society list by the NBGS committee of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of IRA (the International Reading Association); “Worthy of Special Note” books for The 2005 Virginia Jefferson Cup Award (for historical fiction and nonfiction); The Editor’s Choice – Best book of the Month by
Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review.

“Hale’s evocative, sure prose, in Sadie’s colloquial voice, brings alive the setting and the family’s survival challenges with cinematic detail that’s reminiscent of the Little House books.” –Booklist, starred review

“…a beautifully realized work, memorable for its Gulf Coast setting and the luminous voice of Sadie Wynn.” –Kirkus

“…triumphant and memorable.” –Horn Book

“Sparrows is a breath of fresh air even when it brings tears to your eyes.” –USA Today

“…for its depth of detail, keen sense of place and, especially, for Sadie, Hale’s story is a debut novel worth seeking out.” –San Diego Union Tribune

“…this is a unique, powerful and enlightening novel which will speak to the inner person in all of us…a treasure of a book.” –Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review

How To Throw A Book Launch Party

Learn “How to Throw a Book Launch Party” via an article I’ve written that has been posted to Anastasia Suen’s blog, Create/Relate: News from the Children’s Book Biz.

Speaking of which, the lovely Elizabeth Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink is the latest blogger to chime in about my Tantalize launch party. Liz is the author of A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004). Visit her author site and read her recent interview at Cynsations.

Don’t miss the other party reports from Cynsations, GregLSBlog, Don Tate’s Devas T. Rants and Raves, Camille’s Book Moot, Jo Whittemore’s LJ (great pics!), and Alison Dellenbaugh’s Alison Wonderland. Read Cynsations interviews with Greg, Don, and Jo.

Author Interview: Robin Merrow MacCready on Buried

Robin Merrow MacCready on Robin Merrow MacCready: “I grew up in the 60s and 70s in Kennebunk Beach, Maine. My father was a realtor and we had a hotel and later an inn. Lots of people doing lots of things: fuel for great stories! After the summer was over, Kennebunk reverted back to a quiet town, but during the July and August it exploded with families from all over. I always worked as a chamber maid or a house cleaner or baby sitter. I also taught arts and crafts at the beach club. I love the contrast between the townies and the tourists. It’s rich and it’s infuriating, but it’s ripe with stories.

“I’m the oldest in my family. My brother is a musician, and my sister is an art director. My mother is a writer, and my father is a realtor and an avid reader. I have him to thank for my love of things that are a little bit creepy. I say a little bit because it doesn’t take much to scare me. I remember reading a scary paperback at the kitchen table and Dad jolting me and I screamed. I considered my ability to zone out a gift. Compared to my friends I was quiet and shy. I watched people, and daydreamed a lot, and although my report cards were not perfect, I loved English and reading and art. I even loved diagraming sentences although I can’t remember how to do it now!”

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

I was the kind of kid that played school. I read and wrote all the time. I thought everybody made homemade cards with poems inside. In high school, I made up stories, mostly romances, and kept a journal. The journal was only half true. I embellished the events to my satisfaction. It wasn’t until I began teaching that I considered being a writer. I was lucky to be a student at the New Hampshire Writing Project where a new writing philosophy reigned. That is: if you want to write go ahead and try! Everybody’s a writer!

What made you decide to write for young adults?

When I first wrote I imagined being the new Arnold Lobel. His Frog and Toad and Owl at Home are my favorites. I tried, but failed and put away my dream for ten years. When I tried again I thought I was writing an adult book and almost gave it up because the voice was that of a teenage girl, but I didn’t because I heard her story as clear as I bell and I believed it.

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

When I decided to become a published author I manned myself with every book and any course I thought I needed. The plan was that if I had all the information and followed the directions perfectly I’d make it. It partly worked that way. I worked my butt off! I listened to my critique partners when they had a point to make because they were usually right. I wrote down some goals to reach, tasks to do, and I didn’t let anyone get in my way. I was single minded in a way I never had been before.

I sent three chapters of Buried to Julie Strauss-Gabel after she spoke at a national conference of SCBWI, and she wanted to read the whole manuscript. She loved the first three chapters but said as the story progressed it wasn’t what she’d hoped. She wrote a kind of thanks-but-no-thanks letter. I wrote back and asked more questions about the problems she had with the manuscript and that began our nearly two year pre-contract relationship.

We passed the book back and forth. I valued Julie’s insight and light touch, but in the late summer of 2004 I felt it was time to send Buried. I sent it to Julie and two other major houses that had shown interest during SCBWI critiques. I teach and the summer was quickly winding down–I had about two weeks of summer left. I spent a week researching agents in a big way. I finally got it down to 10 and queried them. Wendy Schmalz [scroll for bio] phoned me and said she was interested in representing me and Buried, but first she scolded me about the way I went about the process. Buried was already sitting in three houses. For her it was probably not the way she’d planned to sell it. But for me it was a relief. Now I could go set up my classroom. Within the week I had a sale with Dutton, and I’m very happy I could continue with Julie.

Congratulations on the publication of Buried (Dutton, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The climactic scene came to me one day when I was writing with my sister. We were just fooling around, but I saw Claudine in her horrific situation and it was clear like a movie. That was my initial contact with Claudine, but the inspiration for her comes from a girl I knew growing up. I was her sometimes babysitter. Her mother was a guidance counselor and an alcoholic. Whenever I sat for the little girl it was like hanging out with a peer. She was older acting, a little rough around the edges, and competent. Too competent for age seven. One night she took care of me while I had the flu and later her mother came home drunk, so she cared for her too.

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

The challenge was to let myself go deeper and deeper and not lose the storyline. It sounds simple but it’s a fine line to walk. When Claudine’s OCD was aggravated my instinct as a friend/mother was to turn it off, not let it rip. When I let it get out of control it was sometimes scary. As far as the addiction model goes, I wanted it to be real. Buried is a story. It’s not true, but I would argue that Claudine’s pain, her shame, and all her feelings are shared by children of alcoholics.

You’re an Edgar nominee. Wow! That’s great! What does the nomination mean to you? How did you react when you found out?

Julie left a message on my machine saying that she had some great news for me. I had no idea what it could be. I’d been talking to my agent that day because I was worried about how sales were going. When Julie told me I was a nominee I said, “Oh, really?” I didn’t know what it meant. I’d seen the list of submissions and there were a lot of books, so it still didn’t register as a big thing until she said I was one of five in the Best YA category. I’m thrilled! I’m up against some big competition, but I’m bursting with pride. It’s especially exciting because there are five writers from Maine and Stephen King is one of them. It’ll be a great night.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

If you want to be published you have to be willing to take some heat. Listen to your critiques and make changes if there is validity, but don’t listen to the people who want to discourage you. Politely ignore all those that think you’re wasting your time. Also, I think SCBWI is a great organization for beginning writers. I know I wouldn’t be published without it.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I teach reading and writing to 4th-6th graders. I write on the weekends and sometimes at night.

Cynsational News & Links

My new novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) received a five-star review from Karin Perry at TeensReadToo.com! Karin calls the novel “…a stimulating paranormal mystery mixed with romance. The relationship between Quincie and Kieren is touching and so deep that the reader feels Quincie’s pain at the thought of losing Kieren, while at the same time understanding Kieren’s reasons for keeping Quincie at arms length…” Read the whole review.

Speaking of Tantalize itself, though, Alison Dellenbaugh (AKA She Who Brought Her Own Fangs) offers her report on the novel’s launch party at Alison Wonderland. So does Jo–news with many party pics!–at her LJ. And Tanya Lee Stone offers cheers. See the full launch party report.

More News & Links

Interview with Robin Friedman on The Girlfriend Project from Little Willow at Slayground. The Girlfriend Project will be published by Walker in April. Read an excerpt. (By the way, The Girlfriend Project official site is an excellent example of a book-specific site and was designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

The lovely and talented Newbery Award honor recipients offer a show of solidarity for this year’s recently challenged winner, Susan Patron, at Cynthia Lord’s LJ, “from Jennifer Holm, Kirby Larson, and Me.”

Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Kristy Dempsey, Dori Chaconas, and Douglas Rees. She also offers a new interview with agent Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary. Nadia says: “I’ll overlook a lot for a great story. I mean, I’ve read some fabulous books that are perfectly crafted but really boring stories – but a really perfect story, even if it isn’t perfectly crafted will have such MEANING and resonance. I want those.” Read the whole interview.

A Novel Writing Workshop with D. Anne Love

Author D. Anne Love will lead an Austin SCBWI novel writing workshop on March 24.

“D. Anne Love shares her secrets for writing great plots, compelling characters, and dialogue that will keep your readers wanting more. Toss in a few wrting exercises for creativity and time for quesitons and answers and you’ll leave the workshop with plenty of ideas for finishing your novel and getting it pulblished. Ten manuscript critiques will be available to SCBWI members on a first come, first served basis.”

D. Anne Love is the award-winning author of numerous novels for middle grade readers and young adults. Her books take readers from the world of itinerant puppeteers in medieval England to the gates of the Alamo and the windswept plains of the Dakotas, from a ranch in modern-day Texas to a South Carolina plantation at the start of the Civil War. A former teacher, school principal, and university professor, She fills her stories with details gleaned from the meticulous research she conducts for each of her novels.

Her first novel, Bess’s Log Cabin Quilt (Holiday House, 1995), was featured in The Iowa Reading Journal, The Mailbox magazine, and was nominated for multiple state awards. My Lone Star Summer (Holiday House, 1997) won the Friends of American Writers Juvenile Fiction Prize. Other books received multiple nominations for state awards and are a part of state reading lists nationwide. The Puppeteer’s Apprentice (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2003)(excerpt) was a Book of the Month Club alternate. Her recent titles include: The Secret Prince (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2005)(excerpt); Semiprecious (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2006)(excerpt); and Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia (Holiday House, 2006).

D. Anne holds degrees from Lamar University and the University of North Texas.

Download the Austin SCBWI novel workshop registration form. Read a Cynsations interview with Dorothy Love.

Tantalize Launch Party

Thanks to all who celebrated with us in person or in spirit at the launch party for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) on Friday, Feb. 23!

In keeping with the Sanguini’s motif (the fictional vampire restaurant in the novel), guests were asked to sign in as predator or prey.

We decorated in low-key Gothic colors, mostly with accents–including the framed Sanguini’s fangs-style logo in the foyer, black-and-red linens for the daybed, black tapers in the candlesticks, black votives in the tray display, black-and-red pillar candles in the fireplace, red drop crystals in the parlor chandelier, black coasters, and black table cloths. Off-limits rooms were marked with crime-scene and police-line tape.

We also set three tables with the matching linens on the front terrace for those who wanted to enjoy the bright, breeze, 70-something degree night.

So far as wardrobe went, I opted for a slinky black shell and pants, black cowbody boots, my snake-wrapped earrings, my antique gold watch necklace (originally grandma’s), and a full-length black net cape.

The previous day, Barbara Marin at Bo Salon on South Congress had taken my hair to a near black featuring a subtle dark blue sheen with red stripe accent streaks in front, and Kate Pham, also of Bo, painted my nails in alternating red and black. Many guests commented that they thought I should keep the ‘do permanently.

The to-die-for menu, from Primizie Catering, featured: antipasto; smoked salmon gravlox; fresh vegetable crudite platter; imported and domestic artisan cheese board with vineyard grapes and seasonal berries; fresh seasonal fruit; oven dried tomatoes finished with local goat cheese balsamic vinaigreette and snipped chives; Italian sausage “spiedini” with peppers and pecorino romano cheese; calzone with mushrooms and Italian cheeses; miniature stuffed and baked pizza pockets filled with Italian cheeses, wild mushrooms and charred tomato; cocktail sandwiches (wild mushrooms, garlicky spinach and artichoke herb spread on Italian flatbread); and stuffed porcini mushrooms. Absolutely delicious! The calzone and porcini mushrooms were especially popular with our crowd. Guest Anne Bustard graciously provided an Italian creme cake.

Colby Neal ‘s The Flower Studio designed the gorgeously gothic buffet flowers.

Candlewick Press co-sponsored a giveaway of the final book (guests were each welcome to take one). I pre-autographed the copies. A few folks also bought (prior to the party) and brought more for me to sign.

Door prizes included ARCs of the following 2007 novels by Austin-area authors: Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (Delacorte); Onaj’s Horn: the Silverskin Legacy (Book Three) by Jo Whittemore (Llewellyn); Runaround by Helen Hemphill (Front Street); and Wonders of the World by Brian Yansky (Flux).

We also gave away a basket filled with fixings for an Italian dinner from Central Market. Contents included: black squid ink pasta; pesto sauce with truffles; sun-dried tomatoes; parmesan; dark chocolate; Sanguini’s mug, sticker, mousepad, and magnet; wine biscuits; and a bottle of Travis Peak Cabernet Sauvignon.

We had a crowd of about eighty from throughout Central Texas, though with ebb and flow, there were usually only about sixty people inside the house at any given time.

Guests included such luminaries as writers Brian Anderson, Kathi Appelt, Anne Bustard, Janie Bynum, Betty Davis, Alison Dellenbaugh, Peni R. Griffin, Lila and Rick Guzman, Helen Hemphill, Frances Hill, Varian Johnson, Lindsey Lane, April Lurie, Mark Mitchell, Sean Petrie, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Liz Garton Scanlon, Elaine Scott, Jerry Wermund, Jo Whittemore, and Brian Yansky, illustrators Gene Brenek, Joy Fisher Hein, Christy Stallop, and Don Tate, current and former Austin SCBWI RAs-authors Tim Crow, Meredith Davis, Debbie Dunn, Julie Lake, and Nancy Jean Okunami, as well as a bounty other book pros (teachers, school and public librarians, university professors of children’s/YA lit, and so on), including author-librarian Jeanette Larson, librarian-blogger Camille Powell, and a number of additional book lovers, friends, and significant others.

Kathi Appelt was kind enough to propose a toast!

I’d say about a third of the guests were writers or illustrators, about a third other book folks, and about a third significant others and additional guests, which made for a lovely mix.

My special thanks to the central Texas children’s and young adult book community for all of its enthusiasm and support. I’m so honored and thrilled to have such amazing people in my life.

Cynsational Notes

Thanks also to our servers, Anna and Eric! They looked fierce in their custom Sanguini’s T-shirts designed by Gene Brenek. Thanks to author Julie Lake for facilitating their hiring.

Thanks also to Michael Helferich for lending us his chainsaw. Because the weather cooperated, we didn’t need to have the outdoor fireplace on the terrace, but it gave us peace of mind to have it as a back-up plan.

Primizie Osteria – Italian Café and Wine Bar will open soon at 1000 E. 11th Street, Suite 200 in Austin.

See more party news and pics at GregLSBlog. Once the festivities started, we were too busy to keeping shooting photos, but I’ll be sure to highlight any other party posts that may arise. Speaking of which, check out Don’s “A tantalizing party” at Devas T. Rants and Raves, Liz’s “Community” at Liz In Ink, Camille’s “Friday Night Highlights” at Book Moot, “Tantalize Party” (with excellent party pics!) at Jo’s LJ, and Alison’s “A tantalizing weekend” at Alison Wonderland.

Keeping Up With Roo Wins Dolly Gray Award

Keeping Up With Roo by Sharlee Glenn, illustrated by Dan Andreason (Grossett & Dunlap, 2004) has won the 2006 Dolly Gray Award for Children’s Literature in Developmental Disabilities, sponsored by The Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Developmental Disabilities and Special Needs Project.

Scroll for Sharlee’s acceptance speech and more information about the award.

More News & Links

“A Grown-Up Brouhaha over a Book for Kids” from the New York Times. Letters to the editor include one by young adult author Alex Flinn. Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess (MTV Books, 2007) is the currently featured title at the YA Authors Cafe. Surf by to learn all about it and ask Laura a question.

CCBC Choices for 2007 have been announced. Learn more about highlighted authors and illustrators, including M.T. Anderson, Dianna Hutts Aston, Karen Ehrhardt, Jenny Han, Kimberly Willis Holt, Cynthia Kadohata, Gail Carson Levine, David Levithan, Grace Lin, Cynthia Lord, Marisa Montes, Yuyi Morales, An Na, Rick Riordan, Susan Goldman Rubin, Lola M. Schaefer, Leda Schubert, Scott Westerfeld, and Jane Yolen. Check out all the honorees!

“So You’re An Old Wanna-be” by Kathe Campbell from the Institute of Children’s Literature. “A light-hearted look at how one late bloomer looks at rules, challenges, and success.”

Illustrator Interview: Gene Brenek on the Logo for Sanguini’s from Tantalize

Gene Brenek on Gene Brenek: “Well I had to put on a little ‘ABBA Gold’ to gear up for this. Let’s see, I was born in Houston many moons ago, but not as far back as when ABBA was still in heavy rotation. I was an 80’s kid, more Prince back before he changed his name to a hieroglyph and way before he went back to being Prince. Why is my bio suddenly full of old pop artist references? Dunno, I guess that’s what happens when I’m left to my own devices.

“Let’s move this ahead a few years shall we? I’m currently a creative director for a big ad agency in Austin, Texas. In my spare time, I’m working on a master’s in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College, which is truly a great program. I also have been illustrating dummies for my own picture book ideas. Let’s just say I don’t sleep. And I’m waiting, PATIENTLY, to be discovered. Ahem.”

Thanks so much for designing logos for Sanguini’s, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). What was your initial inspiration for the designs?

Designing a logo is a lot like creating a picture book in a way. You need a very simple idea. A logo can’t contain several different concepts at once and be effective. The ones with staying power are very iconic.

Certainly what separated the dead from the undead restaurants was the vampire mythology. So I started brainstorming and writing down anything that came to mind when I thought about vampires.

Usually I spend a fair amount of time trying out various color combinations but this assignment begged for two colors. Black, the color of night and red. Yes, black is the absence of color but when you’re talking to printers it’s still an ink color. Red seemed an obvious but essential choice: blood, wine, marinara.

One logo idea, that for better or worse got nicknamed “the girly one,” came out of Quincie’s, the protagonist’s, femininity. I loved the idea of blood draining off the gothic lettering and dripping down a flowering vine, as if elements of the restaurant were changing who she was.

I also kept coming back to puncture wounds. The other logo (see above) incorporated that idea. So thank you for coming up with a restaurant that had two i’s in the name, you made my job easy. If you ever write a book about a vampire-themed Ikea, I may have some leftover ideas for all those umlauted furniture names.

What considerations came into play when developing the logos?

I treated this project as I would any other design project. Before starting any sketches I had a few questions. What the owners were like? What was their vision for the restaurant? Who was their clientele? What cues could I get from the interior spaces? And while that may seem like a tough assignment, given that it’s a fictional place, I found that the writing was crafted in such a way that it was very easy for me to get a sense of all of these things.

I approached this as not a design project for author Cynthia Leitich Smith but for Quincie [the protagonist]. I tried to understand her as much as I could and what her sensibilities were. Now it could be argued that Cyn and Quincie are one in the same, certainly there are aspects of that, but they are different people.

What were the challenges in bringing them to life?

Honestly the biggest challenge was not getting to design the menu, interior, the matchbooks, the business cards –all the elements that go into shaping one’s identity.

What was your experience working with Printfection and CafePress? Why did you select those companies?

I went with these two companies because they offer so much flexibility. They print on demand, meaning that rather than doing a run of say 100 shirts in every size that I then had to store and ship, when someone places an order then it gets printed and shipped. They take care of it all. And I like the quality of their merchandise.

What advice would you give to folks trying to design and produce book tie-in promotions?

Think outside the box. Why not create items for a fictional vampire themed restaurant? But know that your reader is smart. Just because a tie-in isn’t physically in the book, it’s a part of the book. Initially I had envisioned staying away from a gothic typeface. I was leaning toward something more modern. Then I read a passage about the gothic lettering on the menu and it guided me away from something slick and contemporary. I needed to remain faithful to the book. It wasn’t an entirely blank canvas.

Restaurant items made sense; to me Sanguini’s was a prominent character in Tantalize. Designing items based around where the protagonist had gone to school would’ve made no sense what so ever.

More personally, do you count yourself among fans of the fanged ones? If so, what do you think is the appeal?

Of course I’m a fan. Vampires seem to have all the smarts. They also have big personalities, charisma. You want to hang out with them. Imagine a book where someone opens a tax-attorney-themed restaurant. Yawn.

What do you do when you’re not working for the undead?

What do you mean? I’m an art director for an ad agency. I’m always working for the undead.

Actually, I’m writing and illustrating a couple of ideas of my own in the picture book arena. Depending on who you talk to that particular market is either dead or undead. For my sake, I’m hoping it’s undead.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini’s at Printfection and CafePress; see the other Sanguini’s logo option.

Sanguini’s Shops

Austin illustrator Gene Brenek has designed two logos to celebrate Sanguini’s, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my upcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

The logos are now available on T-shirts, a mousepad, and a cutting board for sale at Printfection and on more T-shirts, a mug, a magnet, and a sticker at CafePress.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini’s at Printfection and CafePress.

Read a story-behind-the-logos interview with Gene and see the other Sanguini’s logo option.

More News & Links

Hurry, hurry! Zip over to Julia Durango’s LJ to enter her giveaway of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007). Read a related Cynsations interview with Julia.

Artist and Author Cynthia von Buhler Talks about Her Cats at CatChannel.com. Cynthia is the author-illustrator of The Cat Who Wouldn’t Come Inside (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

A couple of bloggers have commented on my recent interview with Not Your Mother’s Book Club, specifically about my revision process. Check out Justine Larbalestier’s “Different Strokes” and Stephanie Gunn’s “suddenly my writing methodology doesn’t seem so strange.”

Thanks also to Elizabeth Garton Scanlon and Lara Zeises for cheering my new release, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and return to blogging. Read Cysational interviews with Elizabeth, which was recently recommended by HipWriterMama, and with Lara.

Author Feature: Julia Durango

Julia Durango on Julia Durango: “I was born in Las Vegas of all places, but my family moved often and by the time I finished high school I’d attended seven schools in five states (California, Utah, Rhode Island, Indiana & Missouri). I moved again to attend the University of Illinois where I received degrees in Latin American Studies and Political Science. I traveled frequently to Latin America during that time, but mostly to Colombia, where I worked in a program for street children. Now I live in Ottawa, Illinois, with my two sons (ages 6 and 10). In addition to writing children’s books, I work full-time at the public library in Ottawa and I review funny books for kids with my pals Andrea Beaty and Carolyn Crimi over at www.ThreeSillyChicks.com.”

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Angels Watching Over Me is an adaptation of the African-American spiritual by the same name. My mother used to sing me to sleep with it when I was a baby, and I in turn sang it to my boys…only my youngest son would take forever to fall asleep, so I’d keep making up new verses until he finally dozed off (at which point I’d make myself a stiff drink and remind myself not to have any more babies!).

Your previous titles include Dream Hop, illustrated by Jared Lee (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Could you tell us a bit about this book? What did Jared’s illustrations bring to your text?

Dream Hop was inspired by my oldest son when he was going through a particularly bad bout of nightmares. One morning he woke up and asked if I’d ever “dream hopped” from a bad dream into a good one. I started writing Dream Hop the same day. As for Jared Lee, my sons and I are huge fans of his Black Lagoon series (written by Mike Thaler, Scholastic) so we were thrilled when he signed on for Dream Hop. His illustrations are a perfect blend of scary and silly!

Along with Linda Sue Park, you also are the co-author of Yum Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds, illustrated by Sue Ramá (Charlesbridge, 2005)(interview with Linda Sue). Could you describe the process that you shared with Linda Sue?

Much of what I know about writing I’ve learned from Linda Sue, so collaborating with her was a treat. The process itself was something like: one hundred e-mails, two dozen phone calls, and one crucial brainstorming week-end in New York City. It could also be described as: mucho research, beaucoup drafts, molto fun.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Think like a kid. Get rid of your “wise elder” voice. Let loose and have fun (it shows!).

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Between my job at the library and the hard work of raising boys (i.e. playing Legos and Guitar Hero and basketball…whew!), I’m usually too tuckered out for much else. I may be the only person in America who has never seen an episode of “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost.” But I read and do a crossword puzzle every night without fail. Nerdy-girl habits die hard.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Pest Fest, a picture book illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, June 2007); The Walls of Cartagena, an historical fiction novel (Simon & Schuster, 2008); Under the Mambo Moon, a story in poems (Charlesbridge, 2009), and Go-Go Gorillas, a companion to Cha-Cha Chimps, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Simon & Schuster, 2009). I’m also working on a project with my lovely critique partner, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author of Reaching for Sun, Bloomsbury, March 2007), which has been a blast!