Cynsational News & Links

I found out yesterday that my new novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), which was released Feb. 13, is already in its third printing. Thanks to all for your support!

Thanks also to A Fuse #8 Production and Buried in the Slushpile for the kind words about my recent article “How to Throw a Book Launch Party” at Create/Relate.

Here’s the latest:

“An Appetizing Gothic Fantasy:” a review of Tantalize by Norah Piehl of BookPage. She cheers: “Quincie’s sarcastic narration and take-charge attitude, will appeal to fans—both teens and adults—of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. …readers will certainly be licking their lips at the end of Tantalize, their appetites whetted for Smith’s next enticing adventure.” Read the whole review.

In other news, I have launched a new MySpace! For now, I have selected the sunset lake design because it reminds me of Austin. Although there will be some crossposting, my plan is to emphasize YA lit on this site–both my own and books by other authors. Please surf by to check it out and consider adding me as a friend.

From Vermont

Union Institute, the current owner of Vermont College, is selling its three MFA programs (including the one in Writing for Children and Young Adults), the campus, and various buildings to the newly-formed Vermont College of the Fine Arts. See the article in the Barr Montpelier Times-Argus. Read interviews with past faculty chair Kathi Appelt and present chair Sharon Darrow.

More News & Links

“Building with Plot Blocks” by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci‘s graphic novel The Plain Janes, illustrated by Jim Rugg (DC Comics/Minx, May 2007). More soon on her fierce and amazing new prose novel, Beige (Candlewick, 2007); read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

The Den of Shadows: author site by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.

“Every picture tells a story in Selznick’s ‘Invention'” by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. See also “Recent graphic novels explore strange new worlds” by Becky Ohlsen from BookPage.

BookPage also offers reviews of the children’s books Skyscaper by by Lynn Curlee (Atheneum), The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Atheneum), Runaround by Helen Hemphill (Front Street), Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam), and A Dog Called Grk by Joshua Doder (Delacorte). In addition to Tantalize, featured YA titles include Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking), The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti (Simon & Schuster), and Harmless by Dana Reinhardt (Wendy Lamb/Random House).

Congratulations to Brent Hartinger on the glowing review by USA Today of his new release, Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (HarperCollins, 2007). Read a recent Cynsations interview with Brent.

“Increasing the Odds That the Book Will Be Read:” an exclusive Authorlink interview with Alan Gratz, author of Samurai Shortstop (Dial, 2006), by Susan VanHecke (March 2007).

Melissa Marr, author of Wicked Lovely (HarperCollins, 2007), visits the YA Authors Cafe. Read her interview and ask her a question. Visit Melissa’s site, and learn more about Wicked Lovely.

Newly featured authors and illustrators at Children’s Literature include Cynthia Kadohata, Walter Dean Myers, and Susan L. Roth. Read a Cynsations interview with Cynthia.

“Rising Star – Sy Montgomery” from the Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books. Here’s a peek: “Sy Montgomery‘s enthusiastic and skilled nonfiction work first came to the attention of the Bulletin with The Snake Scientist [Houghton Mifflin, 1999], a look at the work of zoologist Bob Mason, who studies, among other subjects, the red-sided garter snakes that inundate Manitoba.”

“Writing a Memoir: Should You Do It?” by Lisa Silverman at Absolute Write.

YA Authors Create Online Book Salon for Gutsy Girls

SEATTLE, March 1–In honor of Women’s History Month, four young adult authors are launching readergirlz, a new online book salon celebrating gutsy girls in life and literature.

Starting on March 1, readergirlz founders Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey, Lorie Ann Grover, and Justina Chen Headley will unveil a monthly book selection, featuring young adult novels with gutsy female characters.

More than just a book club, readergirlz aims to encourage teen girls to read and reach out with community service projects related to each featured novel. As well, readergirlz will host MySpace discussions with each book’s author, include author interviews, and provide book party ideas, including playlists, menus, and decorations. All content will be available through the readergirlz website (www.readergirlz.com), MySpace (www.myspace.com/readergirlz and groups.myspace.com/readergirlz), and Live Journal (readergirlz.livejournal.com).

“We want girls to be the best women they can be,” explains Headley. The inspiration for readergirlz came from Headley’s book tour last spring where she made a special effort to visit urban communities that couldn’t otherwise bring in authors. Headley spoke at November’s NCTE conference in Nashville and also attended a rousing session about teen literacy led by three librarians (Lois Buckman, Bonnie Kunzel, and Teri Lesesne). Inspired, Headley recruited three critically-acclaimed novelists—Calhoun, Carey, and Grover—to start readergirlz as a way to talk to teens about reading and writing.

“Readergirlz is a way I can connect wonderful books to girls I’d never be able to meet otherwise,” agrees Calhoun.

The founders hope readergirlz will change the way girls experience literature and see themselves. “I want to challenge girls to go for their dreams,” says Carey. “I learned how brave girls can be through books, and I want to share the power of literature with girls, wherever they are.”

Using MySpace and a website, the readergirlz founders, dubbed the divas, plan to provide a rich literary experience for teen girls online. “We already have over 750 friends on MySpace. From surveys to playlists to author interviews, we’ll provide young adult readers with fun, meaningful content,” explains Grover. “Why not harness the power of MySpace to get girls to think critically about what they want to be in the future?”

Each book selection will dovetail to a topic, identified by the readergirlz divas and prominent children’s lit bloggers as topics teen girls should know about in this millennium.

The first topic is Tolerance, a theme explored in the kick-off book selection for readergirlz, Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies). As prominent blogger, Jennifer Robinson of http://jkrbooks.typepad.com, noted, teens “need to know that when they are mean or intolerant to other people, they’re doing damage.”

In conjunction with the first novel, teen girls will be encouraged to visit www.tolerance.org to learn how to safely stop bullying and to apply for one of the organization’s Mix It Up grants to break social and racial barriers within their schools.

About the Readergirlz Founders

Dia Calhoun is the winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature, and author of five young adult fantasies, including Avielle of Rhia and The Phoenix Dance.

Janet Lee Carey won the 2005 Mark Twain Award for Wenny Has Wings, and her forthcoming young adult fantasy, Dragon’s Keep, has already received a starred review in Booklist.

Lorie Ann Grover is a former ballerina-turned-verse-novelist whose acclaimed work includes On Pointe and Loose Threads, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.

Justina Chen Headley sold her first two novels at auction, including her debut, Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies), named Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best.

For more information about readergirlz, please visit their website (www.readergirlz.com), MySpace (www.myspace.com/readergirlz and groups.myspace.com/readergirlz), and Live Journal (readergirlz.livejournal.com).

Author Interview: Deborah Lynn Jacobs on Powers

Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author of Powers, (Roaring Brook, 2006), and The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks Press, 2000) Her next book, Choices, will be released by Roaring Brook Press in fall, 2007. Visit her LJ and MySpace.

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

I was eight when I wrote my first novel. It was a space opera type book, about two kids who stowed away on a Federation starship. However, I floundered in the middle of the novel, which is something that still happens to me, and didn’t finish it. I wish I still had the book, but it was disposed of years ago.

In high school, I was a reporter and later editor of our school newspaper. I joined the newspaper to make friends, but found I liked the writing as well.

In my professional life as a counselor, I found ways to bring writing into my job–a departmental newsletter, a back-to-school guide for adults, research projects. But it wasn’t until I left my full-time job and moved to a small town in northwestern Ontario that I got back to writing–newspaper features, magazine articles, and my first attempts at writing a novel.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

My first novel was an adult science fiction novel. Really awful writing, now that I look back on it. After two rejections, I stuffed in a drawer where it belonged.

I realized that the issues people face in their late teens were far more interesting to me. It’s such a wonderful time of life, and so incredibly exciting to be on the verge of adulthood. Suddenly, the decisions you make–who to date, what school to go to, what career to choose–become life decisions. Sure, you can go back and change your mind, but only to some extent. The decisions you make as an eighteen-year-old have a lasting effect on your life. It’s that whole “road not taken” thing, and I find it fascinating.

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

Sprints? Hmm…not so many. It was pretty much a slow and steady thing. Write, rewrite, submit, revise–the usual. There were times where I wrote very little because of the necessity of making a living!

Stumbles along the way? A few. I rewrote Powers a gazillion times. I wrote it as a stand alone book, then rewrote it as the first two books of a series, then collapsed the two books into one. At that point, Deborah Brodie of Roaring Brook read it. She gave me editorial advice, the most difficult of which was “cut about a hundred pages.” Gulp. So, I cut a third of the book, slashed a few subplots, changed the ending, and resubmitted the book. Thank goodness she accepted it!

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

It actually evolved from the first book I wrote for kids. The Green Stone. See, this kid finds a green stone, which is actually a meteorite, and it gives him special powers–the ability to fly, to talk to his dog through telepathy, etc. (Pretty hashed-over premise, if you ask me.)

That book evolved into A Power of Our Own. This guy, and his autistic sister, find this meteorite (it’s green) and that allows them to talk to alien dragon guys through telepathy. Only, the alien dragon guys are bad guys, who collect kids from many planets and put them in a zoo. The kids, from all over the universe, find their latent powers are unlocked by the dragon’s stone and each kid develops a power of their own and, naturally, they defeat the dragon alien bad guys. (Don’t laugh–this could happen!)

A kind editor told me she liked the autistic-sister angle, but the dragons really threw her. So, A Power of Our Own became two books: one about a girl with an autistic sister (The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks, 2000)) and a book about two teens with psychic powers (Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006)).

The initial inspiration, though, for all of this, was my sense of awe about things that are mysterious, things we can’t explain in the usual way. I’m not saying psychic powers are real, but I’m not saying they aren’t real either!

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

Ten years? Twelve?

I started writing Powers in 1994. I had an idea that I wanted this book to be about how developing special powers would affect two people on a personal level. I didn’t want the book to be about defeating some villain, or saving the world. Powers is a much more intimate exploration than that, about the power struggle between two people, and the power struggle within each of them.

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

The two voices. At first, they both sounded like “me.” It took some time, some advice from my critique groups and my first readers (my kids and their unsuspecting friends!) to make the voices distinct.

The psychological (and psychic) relationship between Gwen and Adrian is fascinating. How did you manage their tug-of-war?

I managed it slowly. At first, Adrian was such a nice guy. So sweet and understanding. Gwen was the spunky, sarcastic one. But you know what? It didn’t work. My critique buddies, and my first readers, read early versions and said Adrian sounded like a girl. Sigh.

I needed more conflict, more friction. In early drafts, Adrian and Gwen worked together to solve crimes and save people. No friction. No sparks. No fireworks.

I put the book away for months, or maybe a year at a time, while I worked on other books. Then I realized that what I wanted to write wasn’t a book about two people using their powers for good. It was far more interesting to have them at each other’s throats, manipulating each other and using each other.

Plus, it was a heck of a lot more fun to write!

I worked the tug-of-war the usual way. Put your character in a scene, figure out what they want the most, and then thwart them and send them further from their goal. Except, writing in the two voices, I worked each scene in this way: put both characters in the scene, give them goals which are opposites, thwart them both, and move them both further from their goals.

I took a lot of long walks, with a little notebook. I’d ask each character, “What do you want most? What will devastate you most if you don’t get it?

I also flowcharted the scenes, using colored pens, to make sure the conflict was steady, and that no one character took over the story for too long. So, part of writing the book was technical, rather than artistic.

Still, it wasn’t sharp enough. Not until I changed Adrian’s voice to first person, present tense. Wow. All of a sudden, I could hear him. Could see him. Even dreamed about him.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Never give up. Don’t lose faith in yourself. I truly believe success in writing is 99% perseverance and learning the craft.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Gardening, especially my wild perennial garden.

Cooking. I use a lot of garlic, onion and hot spices, so beware!

Bird watching, camping, canoeing, hiking, walking-generally communing with nature.

Oh, and reading young adult literature, of course.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Choices, in the fall of 2007. I’d tell you about it, but I can’t figure out how to do that without totally giving away the plot! I’d call it speculative fiction, with a twisty plot and a few surprises!

Interviews with Author Cynthia Leitich Smith and Agents Nathan Bransford and Dan Lazar from Alma Fullerton

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Alma Fullerton. Here’s taste: “Writing fiction seemed a tremendous indulgence against great odds. It was something I’d do someday. But it slowly occurred to me that many people ‘someday’ their way through their entire lives. The only way to make dreams a reality is to commit to them fully.” Read the whole interview.

Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown from Alma Fullerton. Nathan is looking to see “Anything original with a great plot.” Read the whole interview.

Agent Interview: Dan Lazar of Writers House from Alma Fullerton. Of today’s children’s market, Dan says: “From what I can tell, it’s become more and more of a ‘business’ and less and less of a quaint ‘club.’ Which is not necessarily a bad or good thing, but it’s a dynamic that affects how we all work.” Read the whole inteview.

Writers’ League of Texas Calls for Teddy Award Entries

The Writers’ League of Texas calls for entries for its Teddy Book Awards in the “long works” and “short works” categories. The awards “were established to honor outstanding published books written by Writers’ League of Texas members.”

The entry fee is $25 per submission. Books published between Jan. 1, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2006 are eligible. Download the 2007 entry form (PDF). The deadline is June 29, and there is a $1,000 cash prize and trophy in each category. Members may join the League at the time of their entry.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 3, 2007.

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

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

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

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