Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Not Your Mother’s Bookclub

Read the latest interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith (me again) at Not Your Mother’s Bookclub. The topic is my new YA gothic fantasy title, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and the Q&As are fangfully fantastic. Here’s a sneak peek:

“As for the long answer… It hardly seems possible, but I first began looking through magazines for photos to inspire characters and asking them to write letters to me in late 2001. I don’t know though that I did more than just flirt with the story in that first year. I was essentially gathering courage. In the couple of years that followed, I wrote short stories for a number of anthologies, taking full advantage of the opportunity to stretch my skills. Write stronger. Braver. Fangs out. Eventually, I sank in with a vengeance.”

More News & Links

Check out the latest review, this one from the Wordcandy Blog. Here’s a taste: “Tantalize features a genuine sense of foreboding, contrasted with the frenetic atmosphere of a major restaurant opening. This unusual combination made for a constantly surprising and highly effective horror story.”

The 11th Carnival of Children’s Literature from MotherReader.

2007 Oklahoma Book Award finalists include: Sharon Darrow for Trash (Candlewick); Molly Levite Griffis for Paradise of the Prairie (Eakin); and Tim Tingle for Crossing Bok Chitto (Cinco Puntos). See the whole list. Read a Cynsations interview with Sharon.

From Page to Screen: Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia by Martha V. Parravano from The Horn Book.

Author Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Niki Burnham and Mark L. Williams as well as agent Stephen Malk of Writer’s House.

Author Anastasia Suen has launched the Blog Central Guide, highlighting children’s authors and illustrators’ blogs. Read an interview with Anastasia.

Debbi Michiko Florence has launched her redesigned author site. See her new interview with Sally Keehn, author of Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon (Philomel, 2007). Learn more about Debbi’s superheroic web designer Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys (who also is my web designer).

Author Interview: Brenda A. Ferber on Julia’s Kitchen

Brenda A. Ferber on Brenda A. Ferber: “I grew up in a happy home in Highland Park, Illinois, the third of four children. I attended the University of Michigan and created my own honors major called, ‘Creative Writing for Mass Media.’ It was basically a combination of creative writing, film/video, and communications classes. Lots of fun! For my honors thesis, I wrote a screenplay, which is currently sitting in the back of my file cabinet, exactly where it belongs.

“After graduation, I moved to Chicago with Alan, my college sweetheart. I worked for Leo Burnett advertising agency, got married, and had three kids in 19 months. (Yes, we have twins.) Suddenly I was a stay-at-home mom, living in the suburbs, and driving a mini-van. It was time to reassess life.

“I had always dreamed of becoming an author but never saw it as a practical career. Now I figured I had to give it a shot. I wasn’t making any money anyway, so what did it hurt? I took a class through the Institute of Children’s Literature, devoured everything in the children’s department of our library, and started to write. A few years later I sold two stories to Ladybug. Then, amazingly, I sold my first novel to FSG!”

What about the writing life first called to you?

When I was ten years old, my aunt gave me a diary for Hannukah, and I’ve been journaling ever since. For me, writing equals thinking. I don’t really understand something until I’ve written about it. Not only did writing in a diary help me tackle the ups and downs of life, but it also helped me discover my writing voice. Journaling and reading as much as possible (Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Constance Greene were childhood favorites) added up to a natural desire to become an author.

I wasn’t one of those kids who wrote stories all the time, but I thought in story-mode, and I still do.

You know that inner voice you have? Well, mine is a story-telling voice. For example, right now I’m thinking, She tried to answer the interview questions while her ten-year-old son buzzed about the room and asked, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” I thought everyone’s inner voice worked like this until one day when I mentioned it to my husband, and he informed me otherwise. Who would have guessed?

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I’m much too hopeful and optimistic to write for adults. And I love examining the growing-up years. I find it fascinating.

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

In 2003, I attended the SCBWI Mid-Year Conference in NY. One of the editors I heard speak there was Beverly Reingold, from Farrar Straus & Giroux. At that time, I was in the middle of my first draft of Julia’s Kitchen, and Beverly struck me as the right editor for that manuscript. I can’t explain exactly why. It was just a gut feeling.

I went home and read several books Beverly had edited, and I became even more convinced that she should be my editor. Of course, I couldn’t send her a half-finished first draft, so I sent her a picture book manuscript instead. Soon after, I received a lovely rejection letter from her. I sent her another picture book manuscript, and another, and another. Each time, she sent a rejection requesting to see more of my work.

Finally, she asked me if I could possibly write something longer than a picture book, and I told her about Julia’s Kitchen. She sent me a handwritten note saying to send it as soon as possible! I taped that note up to my computer and worked as fast as I could to finish the fourth draft.

Meanwhile, I had entered the third draft of Julia’s Kitchen in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition and was waiting to hear the results. Right around the time I heard I won, I finished the fourth draft and submitted it to Beverly. She loved it, and offered me a contract! I did one revision for her, and then we went straight to line editing. Working with Beverly was an amazing learning experience. She was every bit the editor I thought she would be… and more!

Congratulations on the publication of Julia’s Kitchen (FSG, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

In 2001, we were living in Austin, Texas, and there was a house fire in our neighborhood. A father and son died in the fire, and to make matters worse, the mother had died two years earlier in a car accident. There were two brothers who survived, and they went to live with relatives. I didn’t know the family, only their house and their story. But every day as I would drive by the burned out house, I wondered about the two boys. I wondered how they were dealing with all this tragedy. I also wondered how I would have coped in their place.

Then 9/11 happened, and it seemed everyone was walking around with a new level of fear.

I asked the age-old question: Why does God let bad things happen? I figured I could try to answer that question in a book. I always loved novels about grief and loss (I just love a good cry!), and I noticed all the mainstream books about death had Christian characters. Where were the Jews? I wanted to write a universal story about a Jewish girl dealing with loss and trying to figure out why God lets bad things happen.

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

I let the initial spark simmer in my head for about a year before I tried to write anything. During that time, we moved back to the Chicago area. I enrolled in ICL’s novel writing class and formed a critique group. I spent about a year writing the first draft, and six months writing the next three. I worked with Beverly for about a year, and then a year later, the book was released. So it was a total of four and a half years from spark to publication.

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

I am a naturally happy and optimistic person, so it was very hard for me to go as deep as I had to into Cara’s grief. I wanted her to get over it! I wanted her to be happy!

Thankfully, a member of my critique group is a social worker, and she kept pushing me to delve deeper inside Cara’s feelings. Also, one of my dearest friends unfortunately lost her mother to cancer while I was writing the book, and we had many talks about the grieving process. Through my friend, I learned that grief isn’t only painful, it’s also beautiful, and absolutely necessary to heal.

At one point while working with Beverly, it dawned on me that this was a terribly sad book. I wondered who would ever want to read such a heartbreaking tale, and I felt a bit panicked about that! But Beverly told me it has to be sad because it’s a sad situation. I had to be true to my character and her story. And of course, there is a hopeful and uplifting ending. Even in the depths of grief, there are happy moments, if you look for them.

Congratulations, too, on your Sydney Taylor Awards for Julia’s Kitchen–best manuscript (2004) and best book for older readers (2007)! What did this recognition mean to you?

Thank you! Winning the manuscript award in 2004 was amazing because it validated me as an author. It made me think I might actually get published. And it did help me find a publisher right away! But winning the gold medal in 2007 was even more exciting because there were so many outstanding Jewish books written this year. I was shocked and thrilled and flabbergasted and grateful that they picked mine as the very best. (I’m still trying to wrap my head around it!)

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Read, read, read. And don’t stop revising until your manuscript is as good as the best stuff out there today. Only then should you try to find a publisher.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I love to spend time with my family and friends. We go to White Sox games, play Monopoly or Scrabble, see movies, go out to eat. I also love to read, scrapbook, bake, and (when nobody’s watching) sing and dance to my iPod. My non-writing time also includes running errands, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, driving carpools, settling fights, and figuring out what’s for dinner. If I ever win the Newbery or write a best-seller, I’m getting a personal chef!

As a reader, what middle grade novels have you enjoyed lately and why?

I loved Sold by Patricia McCormick (Hyperion, 2006). It was hauntingly powerful, deeply sad, yet filled with hope. Right now I’m in the middle of Alabama Moon by Watt Key (FSG, 2006), and I’m loving it! The main character, Moon, is one in a million. I find myself thinking about him when I’m not reading and itching to get back to his story.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, will be published by FSG in spring 2009. It’s a middle grade novel about friendship, sailing, and growing up at an overnight camp in northern Wisconsin.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at the YA Authors Cafe

The YA Authors Cafe offers its first interview at a new location. Cynthia Leitich Smith (that would be me) is the featured author, and I’m talking about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

Here’s a sneak peek: “My world is eclectic, and (also unlike most genre fiction) reflects the diversity of our real one. Peel back the scary romp, and there’s depth there–thematic treatments of alcholism, feminism, race and class relations, all through analogy. But many YAs will just enjoy the marinara-baked chills, and that’s just fine.”

Read the whole interview. Leave a question in the comments today.

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Feb. 13, 2007) is now available. Here’s a peek:

Classified Ads: Restaurants
Sanguini’s: A Very Rare Restaurant is hiring a chef de cuisine. Dinners only. Apply in person between 2 and 4 P.M.

Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her hybrid-werewolf first love threatens to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. And just as she and her uncle are about to debut Austin’s red hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef.

Can Quincie transform the new hire into a culinary dark lord before opening night? Will Henry Johnson be able to wow the crowd in fake fangs, a cheap cape, and red contact lenses? Or is there more to this earnest fresh face than meets the eye?

As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?

Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as an author of dark fantasy.

Here are the official blurbs:

“Looking for something to read that will make your TV jealous? Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize has it all—hot vampires and wolf-boys, a super-cool heroine in cowboy boots, nail-biting suspense, romance, chills ‘n’ thrills, and Austin, Texas. What more could you want?”

Libba Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels

“Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, Tantalize creates a froth of danger, suspense, and wit. This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you? Predator or prey?”

Annette Curtis Klause, author of Blood and Chocolate, The Silver Kiss, and Freaks! Alive on the Inside

In breaking news, we have new reviews:

“If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy…” and goes on “…the immersion in food culture–including an overhauled menu, as grisly as it is gourmet–successfully builds on the sensual aspects of vampire mythology.”

–Booklist

“An intoxicating romantic thriller… Quincie’s longing for a physical relationship with her boy-wolf is as palpable as the taste of the food… Smith adds a light touch of humor to the soup, but the main course is a dark romance with all the gory trimmings.”

The Horn Book Magazine

“Quincie must make a terrifying choice in a heart-pounding climax that will have teen readers weeping with both lust and sorrow.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Check out all the buzz!

Cynsations Launches Mirror Site at LiveJournal; Cynsations and Spookycyn Redesigned

Previously, I have had online ties to the LiveJournal community through syndications of Cynsations and Spookycyn from here at Blogger. However, occasionally errors or blocks occur.

So, I’m launching a mirror Cynsations on LiveJournal. My hope is that–tech gremlins aside–one or the other system will always be running.

You are welcome to read there or here at the original Blogger blog. However, you may want to bookmark both in case of future freezes or other difficulties.

In other news, visitors will notice that I have used the nifty Blogger format upgrade to make some design changes. My hope is that Cynsations now matches my official site better and Spookycyn is, well, a little spookier. Along these lines, I’d like to thank Karl at Blogger for helping me through the last stages of upgrade–most appreciated!

Thanks to Colleen Cook, Jo Knowles, and Sara Zarr for helping me announce these changes.

Alma Fullerton Offers Author, Editor, and Agent Interviews

Author Alma Fullerton is now offering interviews! Learn more about authors Amy Goldman Koss, Linda Joy Singleton, Verla Kay, Judy Gregerson, and Sherry Garland. See also interviews with Red Deer Press editor Peter Carver and agent Stephen Barbara of the the Donald Maass Literary Agency in Manhattan.

Here’s a sneak peek from Stephen Barbara’s interview: “Make it an absolute law not to allow negative people and influences into your life. You simply can’t afford to squander your mental energy on pessimistic, disbelieving thinking of any kind,especially since, as an aspiring author, you’ll have to deal with rejection and indifference before that happy day when you get your first contract.”

Alma’s books include In the Garage (Red Deer, 2006).

More News & Links

Thanks to the following bloggers for cheering the release of my YA gothic fantasy novel Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): D.L. Garfinkle; A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy; Blog Central Guide; What’s HOT in YA Lit.

Cynsational News, Links, and Return

Congratulations to the winners of the 2006 Cybils! I’d like to send out a special cheer to previously featured winners: author Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long for An Egg Is Quiet (Chronicle)(author and illustrator interview); author-illustrator Melanie Watt for Scaredy Squirrel (Kids Can); and David Levithan (along with his co-author Rachel Cohn) for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Knopf)(author interview). I’d also like to say thanks to all the amazing volunteers behind this wonderful new award program. This is an amazing effort. Please do know that it is appreciated!

Don’t miss this super cool video interview with author David Lubar as he talks to Expanded Books about his forthcoming True Talents (StarScape, March 2007)(excerpt). Visit here, and read a related recommendation by Greg.

Interview with Kimberly Duncan-Mooney by Jenna Glatzer from Absolute Write. Kimberly is the US editor of Barefoot Books, a small publisher established in 1993 with offices in Cambridge, Mass.; and England.

“An Unsafe Bridge” by Peter T. Chattaway from Christianity Today. Author Katherine Paterson chimes in on the film version of “Bridge to Terabithia.”

Submit to the 11th Carnival of Children’s Literature, sponsored by Big A, little a.

Picture Books: Plan, Polish, and Publish by Dori Chaconas. Read interviews with Dori on On A Wintry Morning (Viking, 2000) and One Little Mouse (Viking, 2002) from my web site.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast #6: Kelly Herold at Big A little a: an interview with one of my favorite bloggers.

Thanks to Greg at Greg LSBlog for inviting me to be a guest blogger this past week. The featured authors and illustrators from those posts will be highlighted once more here so that no one misses hearing about their wonderful books. This will result in some short-term repetition; however, I’ll be sure to also include new news as we’re catching up.

Huge thanks to all who’ve supported my guest blogging (during tech woes) and the launch of my new YA novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), including: Book Moot; Laura Bowers; Julia Durango; Alex Flinn; Carrie Jones; Cynthia Lord; Liz Garton Scanlon; Laurie Stolarz; Three Silly Chicks; Lara Zeises; April Lurie, Jo Whittemore; Shaken & Stirred; Colleen Cook; Mitali Perkins; Varian Johnson; Chris Barton; Kellye Carter Crocker; Jody Feldman; Debbi Michiko Florence; Varian Johnson; Jo Knowles; Uma Krishnaswami; Carolyn Lehman; David Lubar; Kerry Madden; Mary E. Pearson; Laura Ruby; Tanya Lee Stone; Anastasia Suen; Don Tate; Kim Winters; Sara Zarr.

Where Do Media Tie-ins Come From? with Laurie Calkhoven from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

BCCB Honors Strong Black Girls and Women and More Cynsational Links

“Strength Like A Rock” selected by Cindy Welch of BCCB. “[C]elebrates the power and determination of strong black females, young and old, who rise to the occasion, sustain family, and carry forward the dreams of a nation.”

“True Blue Patricia C. McKissack” by Deborah Stevenson from BCCB. Patricia’s titles include Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States (with Fredrick L. McKissack)(Scholastic, 2003).

“What Does Black History Month Mean to You?” a Q&A with noted voices in children’s literature from Lee & Low Books. Note: I learned of this link at Don Tate’s blog, Devas T Rants and Raves, which includes more thoughts on the subject. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

More News & Links

The February 2007 issue of SmartWriters features: “Alert the Media! Press Releases 101” by Roxyanne Young; “Book Trailers are Easy…If You’ve Got the Software, and the Savy,” also by Roxyanne; and “Writers Retreats & Conferences” by Margot Finke. Read Cynsations interviews with Roxyanne and Margot.

Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape recommends Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2006) and Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent (HarperCollins, 2007). The blog also features Books About Adoption.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature recommends SkySisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Brian Deins (Kids Can, 2000).

More personally, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s enthusiastic post about the upcoming publication of my YA gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, Tracie! Don’t miss Tracie’s next release, Reaching for the Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007).

Look for the Tantalize ad in the upcoming issue of Publishers Weekly!

Author Interview: Elizabeth Garton Scanlon on A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes

Elizabeth Garton Scanlon on Elizabeth Garton Scanlon: “I grew up in Vail, Colorado, before it was Vail, Colorado. Our ski passes were $57 a year and we lived in ‘the country’ outside of town. Television didn’t reach that far and stories were everything. My sister and I created serial imaginings that we’d go back to, day after day. Since then I’ve lived in Wisconsin, Ohio, the U.K., Wisconsin, Colorado and Texas–with my fair share of wanderings in between.

“Now I’ve been in Austin for 14 years–longer than I’ve ever been anywhere. I met my husband here and had my babies here and found my cats and dog here. I worked doing corporate copywriting when my husband was in graduate school and then gave myself a well-deserved pay cut to teach at Austin Community College. I’ve concocted a happy hybrid life, teaching, writing, mothering. Stories are still everything. Both the real ones and the made up.”

Visit Liz In Ink, her LJ!

What about the writing life first called to you?

For ages I didn’t know that it was the writing life I was settling into. I wrote letters and poems and political rants. I read like a fiend. I slept with my thesaurus. But I didn’t know what any of that had to do with my big-picture life. I went from degree to degree and from job to job with a scary sense of disconnect.

It’s really only been in the last five years that I’ve recognized the intuitive flow I followed from journalism to teaching poetry, from Michener fellowship to writing for IBM, from blogging to books.

The writing life can be fantastically nebulous, so much so that I didn’t know I was in it ’til I was in it. Now, I’d say that it’s been a calling more than a choice, and maybe what I love the most are the shifting borders, the flexibility, the dynamic space it makes for a changeling like me.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I wrote for children once I had children. I remember sitting in the rocker (and driving to the store and pushing the stroller) singing little ditties, silly rhymes with my daughters’ names and the cats’ names and the hot sun and the dogs leash, whoops, wrapped around my knees. And I thought, ahem, here’s another diversion. Now that they’re older (my girls), I’m writing for older kids. My books, growing with their books. I love that.

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

Oh, gosh. My first sale was so deceptively easy. I wrote in the stupor of early motherhood, mailed my manuscript out pell-mell and more than one house responded! It was the simultaneous submission nightmare–or dream–or something. I wanted to feel all a’flutter but instead I was sick with worry and indecision. Steven Malk, an agent with WritersHouse, rescued me and before that week was over, I had things all sealed up with HarperCollins. I was giddy. So, that was a sprint. Then began the long slog ’til it came out.

And since that first sale, a few stumbles. I’ve got four picture book manuscripts out there in the world, none of which have been snapped up with that early vigor. Once, I left a piece with a very interested editor for almost two years, exclusively. I revised for her and crossed my fingers and waited and hoped and it never materialized. I really learned about being a firmer, more careful advocate for my own work. In that way, stumbles are worth it, but oh-so-heartbreaking when you’re in the midst.

Your debut title was A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes: A Pocket Book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I was dressing my daughter–singing to her as she kicked on the changing table–and I heard myself say, “A sock is a pocket for your toes.” And then I thought, it is! It’s a pocket! The concept became an obsession for me; the world is teeming with metaphoric pockets. One of my sweetest delights is to hear the ideas school kids have for pockets of their own–a hat is a pocket for a rabbit, a head is a pocket full of brains, a napkin is a pocket for your green beans–things I’d never have come up with on my own. I really like taking something simple simple simple and exploding it wide open.

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

I began writing that piece in, I think, early 1999. It hit the shelves in March 2004. (See reference to sprint and slog, above.) The early stages were auspicious; the latter, full of pregnant pauses. (Literally, in one case. My first editor at Harper went away on maternity leave and never came back. The next switched houses, so by the end, I was on my third.) Still, each milestone thrilled me: receiving final sign-off on my edits; seeing the first pen-and-ink sketches; opening that year’s catalogs and seeing my book on page 24! Accepting offers from the Junior Library Guild and Children’s Book of the Month club; launching my Web site, and finally, receiving glossy F&Gs in the mail. Not long after, there was that satisfying thump–a box of books on my front stoop. It was worth the wait. Especially since it dawned on me that bringing the living, breathing book to children is the real beginning, the hatch, the birthday. I’m still celebrating that.

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

My first editor, Kara Vicinelli, asked me to even out the rhyme and rhythm of the piece. I’d written something akin to jazz, I thought, and she wanted it to scan. The argument was that children learn how to make sense of poetry by starting with more simple structure (in the same way that they learn to make sense of sentences) and then, later, they can climb up onto that building block with a more sophisticated eye and ear. I trusted this explanation, but oi, that was tough. Once verse (especially rhyming verse) is “complete,” it’s like blood-letting to go back in and pick it apart. My husband actually had to board a plane with our daughter and leave me to flog it out in private. But in the end, the piece became more lyrical and my daughter got to toddle around the Seattle Zoo, so no regrets.

After the edits were done, Kara left me in the hands of Ellen Stein (who gets credit for finding Robin) and later still, my book and I were adopted by Anne Hoppe, who saw it through. This editorial round-table may not have been the most efficient arrangement, but I think it made for a serendipitously collaborative effort, and a different, lesser book would’ve been born without all their insights.

The final, um, challenge, was that soon after Robin committed to doing my book, 9/11 happened. The myriad ripple effects of that horrific day, logistical and psychological, are impossible to fathom or trace. But I do know that a certain vice president’s wife had written a patriotic primer that suddenly seemed especially apt. Robin was Mrs. Cheney‘s illustrator, too, and her book naturally leap-frogged mine. I remember thinking that the pause in our timeline was a good way to slow down my mind during that mind-boggling time. Plus, I would’ve waited years–a baker’s dozen–for Robin’s art.

What did Robin’s illustrations bring to your text?

Everything. What a gift. I wrote a little verse–a string of metaphors–that I hoped would be funny and playful and clever and sweet. Robin laid a visual narrative over the top, a whole ‘nother layer that pops with joy. She really brought the human presence to the page. I think all that Robin does is genius. My personal favorite is You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum, written by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman (Dial, 1998).

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Read. Read stacks and stacks of picture books. They are instructive and inspiring, and I think there is nothing sillier than to imagine one can be a writer without being a reader. People worry about becoming imitative, but my own experience has been that reading the work that I admire (and the work that I don’t) helps me to recognize my own authentic voice more easily. When I read Cynthia Rylant, for example, I feel more determined than ever to stick to my own chops and write what I believe in. She’s been a North Star, to be sure.

How about beginning children’s poets?

Again, read. But read aloud. Poetry should resonate–and not just on the page. I think that to write compelling poetry, we need to be able to hear it. It’s like watching a kid learn how to play an instrument or sing on key. You’ve got to grow your poetic ear. Also, humor. Humor offers an open door into poetry for children. Mary Ann Hoberman comes to mind. And really, for adults, too. Billy Collins became poet laureate because he was able to make ordinary folks laugh–with poetry. Imagine!

What have you learned about publishing since selling your first book?

Really, I’m learning on the fly. Early on, I wrote and submitted intuitively so everything I know about craft and submitting and marketing is new, or at least new at the conscious level. I’ve been beneficiary to a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge, thanks to a generous network of writers–many of whom I met through Austin’s SCBWI chapter. They exchange work with me, over coffee or online, and give me editor’s names and tell me stories and share their lucky omens. That’s been priceless, and fun. And the other most elucidating thing for me is teaching new writers about the craft; there’s something about articulating the practice to others that helps me embody it myself.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I do a lot of laundry and a lot of yoga, I watch a lot of home-made musicals and pick up a lot of piles. I’m a mom of young kids at a school with a lot of sign-up sheets. Time is a tricky juggle. Every day I try to balance one piece of my life with another. I’m lucky to have a desk, a heap of ideas and a husband who thinks it’s good, what I do.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have high hopes that my picture books will see the light of day soon (look for titles “Alia’s Good Tidings,” “The Good-Pie Party,” “Moolie the Seasick Seal,” and “The Old Man and the Marvelous Wind.”) My newest project is an historical middle-grade novel that’s as-of-yet untitled. Stay tuned…

Ghost Fever/Mal de Fantasma Becomes First Bilingual Book to Win Texas Bluebonnet

Ghost Fever/Mal de Fantasma by Joe Hays, illustrated by Mona Pennypacker (Cinco Puntos, 2004) is the winner of the Texas Library Association‘s 2006-2007 Bluebonnet award. The title is a bilingual middle reader, and this signifies the first time a bilingual book has won the award. According to the TLA website, the award program “accounts for over 850,000 books read through the direct influence of Texas librarians.”

See a Cynsations interview with publisher Lee Merrill Byrd of Cinco Puntos.

More News & Links

Thanks to debut author Greg R. Fishbone for featuring Cynsations as a Word of the Day. Read a Cynsations interview with Greg. Thanks also to Carrie Jones and A Fuse #8 Production for linking to this interview and the latter for also noting my recommendation of The Silenced by James DeVita (Laura Geringer Books/HarperCollins, June 2007).

“Stone Listens to Tough Inner Editor:” an exclusive Authorlink interview with Tanya Lee Stone, author of A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2006) by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink. Read a Cynsations interview with Tanya on this same title.

Surf over to Spookycyn for “Windy City Predators,” the low-down on my research trip to Chicago.

The Writer’s League of Texas has launched its recently redesigned website.