Cynsational News & Links

Buried by Robin Merrow MacCready (Dutton, 2006) is the young adult winner of the Edgar Award, given by the Mystery Writers of America. Room One: A Mystery or Two by Andrew Clements (Simon & Schuster, 2006) won in the juvenile division. Read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

Coe Booth has won the LA Times Book Prize for Tyrell (Scholastic/Push, 2006).

The 2007 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards from the Jane Addams Peace Association went to A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy-Lee Tai, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino (Children’s Book Press), in the Books for Younger Children category and Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum), won in the Books for Older Children category. Read a Cynsations interview with Cynthia. Source: Mitali’s Fire Escape.

Attention Illustrators! Surf over to A Fuse #8 Production to check out a historic opportunity related to the Cybils awards.

Author Mary Bowman-Kruhm also debuts a new blog, Writing a Book: the Winding Path. Mary is the author of more than thirty books for young readers.

Author Anjali Banerjee debuts a new blog! Read a Cynsations interview with Anjali on Looking for Bapu (Wendy Lamb, 2006). Download a short audio excerpt of chapter one of the novel.

Editor, Writer Lisa Graff Looks At Both Sides of Publishing: an exclusive Authorlink interview with Lisa Graff, author of The Thing About Georgie (HarperCollins, 2007) by Susan VanHecke.

Children’s Book Illustrator Phyllis Hornung Peacock: official site features art, books, merchandise, biography, links, blog, etc. Books include A Place for Zero (Charlesbridge, 2003), The New House (Mondo Publishing, 2004), Simon Can’t Say Hippopotamus (Mondo Publishing 2004), What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? (Charlesbridge, 2004), Bubbe Isabella and the Sukkot Cake (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2005), The Princess Madison Trilogy (Baker Publishing Group, 2006-2007).

More Personally

“Cynsations:” an interview snapshot from Faye Likes Words: “a blog about writing, editing, publishing and associated blogs. I want to help other writers find good information using this ‘bloogle for writers’ blog.”

Going Goth: An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Also check out the latest review of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

Reminder: is giving away two autographed copies of the novel (see sidebar for information).

Thank you to librarian Debbie Leland as well as the administration, faculty, and staff of Forest Ridge Elementary in College Station, Texas. Last Thursday, Greg and I had the honor of speaking with Toni Simmons, Chris Espinoza, and Melanie Chrismer (author interview). Our focus was on our books for younger elementary readers and on getting to know a character.

Thanks to the self-proclaimed “Marian the Librarian” and her YA reading group at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas. I enjoyed visiting with them on Saturday morning.

Thanks also to Topher and the YA reading group at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. On Saturday afternoon, we enjoyed a Sanguini’s-style feast (really! think: chocolate drops with M&M centers for eyes), and then discussed Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). For giveaways, I provided bookmarks, copies of a bibliography of recommended gothic fantasy novels, a Sanguini’s cutting board, and a Sanguini’s T-shirt.

10 Award-Winning Authors/Illustrators at AJL Convention

From ALJ: Ten award-winning authors and illustrators who create books for children and teens will appear at the 42nd Annual Convention of the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL), scheduled for June 17 to June 20. All ten received recognition this year from AJL’s Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, which awards the best in Jewish children’s literature. The convention usually brings in only three or four such author/illustrators, making 2007 a bonanza year for lovers of Judaic literature for young people.

“Authors and illustrators who win the Sydney Taylor Book Award’s gold medal are always invited to the convention to accept their awards,” explains Rachel Kamin, chair of the award committee. “Those who receive honor awards are always welcome too, but this year our invitation received an overwhelming response! We are very excited to be able to meet so many talented, creative people during the convention.”

2007 is the first year AJL presented a book award for teen readers, and convention organizers are particularly pleased to welcome Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006), the Teen Book Award Winner. Zusak will travel all the way from his home in Australia to receive the award. Other award-winning authors and illustrators who will be present include:

Author Stephen Krensky and illustrator Greg Harlin, creators of the picture book Hanukkah at Valley Forge (Dutton, 2006), the Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers;

Brenda A. Ferber, author of the novel Julia’s Kitchen (FSG, 2006), the Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers;

Ann Redisch Stampler, author of the picture book Shlemazel and the Remarkable Spoon of Pohost (Clarion, 2006), a Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Younger Readers;

Brynn Olenberg Sugarman, author of the picture book Rebecca’s Journey Home (Kar-Ben, 2006), a Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Younger Readers;

Esme Raji Codell, author of the novel Vive La Paris (Hyperion, 2006), a Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Older Readers;

Jennifer Roy, author of the novel Yellow Star (Marshall Cavendish, 2006), a Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Older Readers;

Linda Press Wulf, author of the novel Night of the Burning: Devorah’s Story (FSG, 2006), a Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Older Readers;

Dana Reinhardt, author of the teen novel A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (Wendy Lamb, 2006), an AJL Honor Award Winner for Teens (this award will take on the Sydney Taylor name beginning in 2008).

All ten authors/illustrators will be presenting sessions during the convention on either Monday, June 18 or Tuesday, June 19. A reception and book signing will take place on Tuesday, June 19 followed by an evening awards banquet. The convention will be held at the Scottsdale Hilton Resort & Villas; information on attending the convention is available at

Cynsational Note

Read interviews with Brenda A. Ferber and Esme Raji Codell.

Author Interview: Kelly Bingham on Shark Girl

Kelly Bingham on Kelly Bingham: “I started my career as a story artist for Walt Disney Feature Animation, where I worked for twelve years on films such as ‘Hercules,’ ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire,’ ‘The Emperor’s New Groove,’ and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame.’ I received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College in 2004, and then moved to Georgia to spend more time with my family and writing. I live in north Georgia with my husband and our five children. Shark Girl (Candlewick, 2007)(excerpt) is my first novel.”

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

I spent over ten years trying to “learn” how to write for children. I took classes and workshops, had a critique group, and wrote a lot. After a long time, I realized my level of writing had plateaued…and it wasn’t that good. I then enrolled in something I had wanted to do for years…the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College.

I learned more there in the first semester than I had in the previous ten years of self-teaching. And I began working in earnest on the story I had brought with me to my first workshop…the manuscript that would become Shark Girl.

I finished the first draft of Shark Girl nearly two years later, just before graduation. And within a few days of finishing this, a girl in Hawaii was attacked by a shark while surfing and lost her right arm.

The coincidence was too much, and I couldn’t bear the thought of appearing as though I’d capitalized on her loss. So I put the book away for a while.

I sold a picture book and continued working on other projects, and two years later, took Shark Girl out of its drawer, largely because I was urged to do so by my mentors and friends and family. I revised for several months, then submitted it to the editor I had already sold a book to. He didn’t want it. I was disappointed but knew better than to give up too soon—rejection is part of the process, right? I tried again and submitted to Candlewick in the summer.

Liz Bicknell was too busy to read the story at that time. She asked me to resubmit in the fall, and in the meantime, she would understand if I wanted to submit it elsewhere rather than wait. But I was more than willing to wait for her, and when the time came, she read the first thirty pages, asked for the rest, and then sent me an e-mail saying she wanted to publish the book! I was thrilled, shocked, and overjoyed!

We started off agreeing the book would be published in 2008. But very soon Liz let me know they were bumping it to 2007. Great news! We tackled revisions, which were minimal, and then shipped it all off in short order. It was a fun, whirlwind experience.

So…from idea to publication took six years. But from submission to publication took only eight months!

Was there anything during your apprenticeship that you felt was especially helpful? Was there anything you wish you’d skipped?

Especially helpful was attending Vermont College. The program is fabulous, eye-opening, and for me, it was life changing as well! I found it helpful to really delve into the structure of story–for me that’s always the hard part. Turning points, plotting, sub-plots, psychic distance, point of view—all that stuff was a foreign language to me until I really got into the work of doing the MFA alongside amazing and generous faculty.

I can’t think of anything I wish I’d skipped, because it was all necessary to get me where I needed to be. All the mistakes, the floundering, the craft books that I’d read that didn’t do much for me, the form rejection letters for sub-par manuscripts….all that stuff was a road I had to travel before I was ready to acknowledge I not only needed to get serious about learning more, but I was willing to work hard to do so, as well.

Congratulations on the publication of Shark Girl (Candlewick, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

In the summer of 2001, there was a rash of shark attacks across the country. Among the victims was a little boy who had his arm bitten off and later reattached. I started thinking about the situation and thought, what a horrible thing to happen. And how much worse to have it on the news, and forever after be known for only that one thing that happened to you.

So I started writing the story from the point of view of a young boy. But Jane, the fifteen-year old girl from Shark Girl, kept stepping into my story. I found myself wanting to write for an older audience and to write from this girl’s point of view. I finally abandoned my original plan and went with Jane. She guided me the whole way.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life? I’m especially interested in the use of poetry, newspaper articles, etc.

Well, I hadn’t written much poetry before writing this book. And I did not set out to write Shark Girl in poetry form, by the way. I wrote in prose, but just groped and fumbled and couldn’t get a toehold for six months. Then a friend suggested writing it as a poetry novel, and right away I knew that was the best way to do the book. But I told myself, “you’re not a poet. Don’t even try it. You’ll look so stupid and you’ll feel like a fraud.” (This is how I talk to myself, isn’t it awful?)

Fortunately, I got past that, studied poetry and poets, and began writing volumes and volumes of poems for the book. The experience was electrifying. I love writing in poetry.

There were a few stumbles along the way. I wandered down many wrong roads while writing–I tried multiple point of view, for one thing, and then I experimented with several story lines that eventually petered out into nothing. I included characters I did not need. I had to go through this process to find what I did need, if that makes sense. And another problem I ran into was not knowing how to mix it up–an advisor of mine pointed out that having only poems in the book made it a bit flat. I couldn’t figure out what else to do, but eventually expanded the book to include conversations and newspaper clippings, as well as more letters from the public than I had originally intended. This seemed to work well and give another dimension to the story.

I also had to overcome the fear of writing about being an amputee. I thought, “I don’t know what that’s like. Isn’t it wrong of me to write about it? Am I trivializing what people actually go through?” I finally decided I wasn’t going to waffle around in indecision, and I jumped into extensive research. The more research I did, the more confident I felt that, yes, I could write about this without being offensive or insensitive.

And logistically, writing the book was tough simply because of the demands on my time back then. I was working full time, going to school for a master’s degree, and I had two children. It was always easier to do something else; anything else. And there were those days of discouragement; that whole, “I’ll never get this finished” attitude to push aside.

Also, while I wrote the book, many people cautioned me that a poetry novel would be a “tough” sale. And they were right; I think in general poetry novels are approached by editors a bit more cautiously than prose. But in my case, I was fortunate enough to find Liz Bicknell at Candlewick almost right away, and she was so enthusiastic about the book! I feel very lucky to have landed with the right editor.

What is it like to be a debut author in 2007? What moments already stand out?

Being a debut author in 2007 is terrific!! As for stand-out moments: This is the first book I’ve ever published. So everything is a stand out! I couldn’t wait to see the cover…and was thrilled with it, too. (I was amazed at the attention to detail, too. I had one line in the whole book about Jane wearing a pink bikini that day, and there on the cover she is, in a pink bikini. Wow.) I couldn’t wait to hold the galley in my hands, and show it to my family. That was fun, fun, fun. And finding my book on the Internet, at bookstore websites (and even on E-bay, apparently,) that was exciting, too. And going out for the big celebratory dinner with my family….what a pleasure. I have enjoyed every minute of this whole experience.

Are you doing anything special to promote your new release?

I have joined up with thirty-eight other debut authors, and we call ourselves the class of 2k7. We’re helping each other promote our books by appearing at conferences, writing articles for newsletters like the SCBWI Bulletin, sharing a website, blog, and forum, giving away ARC’s, and things like that. It’s been wonderful to be linked with such talented and diverse authors. You can check us out at

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love it when an initial idea for a book comes along, and it’s so exciting it makes my toes tingle. That’s when I know I need to sit down and write about it. I love it when a character begins to take shape in my writing and in my mind, and even begins to “speak” to me and tell me her own story; what has happened, how she feels, where she’s going, what she wants to do. That’s very exciting. And I love it when a draft is coming together and almost “there,” because it seems to me at that point, everywhere I look, I find inspiration for the final pieces of the puzzle–characters to add to the story, a scene, a snatch of dialogue, an event, or some small thread to go back and weave into the manuscript. A simple trip to the store at that point can lead to a great idea to go back and weave into chapter one, for example. When the manuscript reaches a certain point, it all seems to come together rather quickly for me. I love that part.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I wish I could skip all the agony, the self-doubt, the frustration when months trail past and nothing worthwhile has made itself into words. The floundering part is the hard part for me.

Once I start to find my character, get rooted in her world, and roll along, then I’m okay. But that whole first part–where I have an idea but can’t figure out how to unlock it and get going—that’s like fumbling at a treasure chest with no key in sight and an imaginary clock ticking. I worry I’m wasting time and not getting anywhere, I worry I will never write another book, that the inspiration won’t come. It often takes me several months to find my story and start making real progress. I wouldn’t mind skipping that part.

How about publishing? What do you love about it? What do you abhor? And again, in both cases, why?

So far, I love almost all of it! Getting published is very exciting and certainly the high points make up for many of the low points along the writing process and submission process. I love seeing my book in print, I love discovering what the cover looks like, writing my thank-you page, working with my editor, and seeing my book for sale. But best of all is the knowledge that people are reading the book and getting something from it!! If I hear from one reader that the book moved them, entertained them, or gave them anything to think about at all, that alone is worth every bad writing day along the way.

The part I’m not so crazy about is the possibility that when you sell a book, you may not actually see it in print. Every once in a while a book is bought and for whatever reasons, does not actually get made. Once a manuscript is gone from our hands, there’s not much we can do. But as writers we certainly want our creations read–not just bought by a publisher. The other part of the publishing process that is hard is the whole submission process. It is very difficult to get work read these days, especially without an agent. Frustration is part of the business.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I would say study your craft. Read all the books you can in your genre. Read the good ones and bad ones and figure out why you like them or don’t like them. Get yourself a critique group and offer each other support, but also a little push to dig deeper and go further. Take some classes. Look into SCBWI. And write for the fun of it first and foremost.

You can’t write “for publication.” Write about the things that matter to you. Be open to constructive criticism, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you are willing to work hard enough, you can do anything. Just understand that writing is hard work and can be frustrating at times. Find yourself a community of writers, if you can–it helps so much to have others to talk to about the craft and business.

I would also suggest to people to be kind to themselves. If your kids are really young, this may not be the time to decide you’re going to write a novel in a space of six months. Give yourself realistic goals. I think it’s more important to write regularly than to write often, if that makes sense. If you can only squeeze in an hour two days a week, then take it. Don’t beat yourself up for not getting up at five a.m and writing every day because that is what “real” writers do.

Real writers do what works for them. Set yourself a time and stick to it. And don’t worry when that time is up and you can’t write for a while. Also, don’t worry if you sit down to write and nothing “usuable” comes. It’s okay. Not every day can be productive. Understand that all writers feel discouraged at times. Just free write and keep going. And keep reading. Do not compare yourself to others. Given enough time and persistence, you will get where you are going.

How about those interested in writing for the young adult audience in particular?

Know your audience. Know your genre. If you don’t have kids at home or feel you aren’t familiar with young adults, then get in their shoes a bit before you write. Watch them at malls, surf teen websites, eavesdrop when you’re in line behind a couple of teens at the movies. Write your story first and foremost; let the editor tell you if it’s out of bounds or too sophisticated. Young adults today are more savvy than ever and subject matter for teens is pretty much wide open.

As with any audience, respect your reader. Never dumb things down, or tread lightly around touchy topics. Your reader’s feelings are real, their life is real, and I think any reader appreciates an author who is blunt and honest with their character’s emotions and flaws.

The more real you are, the more your reader can connect. And isn’t that why we read in the first place? I know I do–I love that connection to a book; that sense of, “I know exactly how that character feels!” And then going on a journey with that character to see what they do and how they do it.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

When I started writing Shark Girl, I honestly thought I wasn’t a “real” writer, and that it would be a miracle if I ever finished a manuscript. When I finished the manuscript, I thought it would be a miracle if it ever got published.

I suspect I’m not the only writer who started out this way. I think lack of confidence may be an issue for many of us. I just want to say, do not let that stop you, whatever you do. Just go for it. Just write. And worry about the results later.

If you can’t sit down and write a novel from start to finish, as a mentor of mine used to say–then just write two pages a day. Every day. When enough days pass, you will have a two hundred page manuscript.

Stick to it. Put yourself in that chair and do it. Take time to smell the roses, regroup, refresh the well, and find inspiration…but then get back to work. Don’t let yourself get too discouraged for too long. And always keep your eyes open for that new idea, that untold story, that character that needs a voice. Be open to trying new forms of writing, and have fun!

Cynsational News & Links

The Texas Library Association has announced its 2007-2008 Tayshas list. Titles include: Blue Bloods by Melissa De La Cruz (Hyperion, 2006); Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Viking, 2006)(author interview); Copper Sun by Sharon Draper (Atheneum, 2006); What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles (Little Brown, 2006)(author interview); An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton, 2006)(author interview); Strong at Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse by Carolyn Lehman (FSG, 2005)(author interview); A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (Wendy Lamb, 2006); The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2006)(author interview); and Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (Razorbill, 2005)(author interview). See the whole list (PDF).

Working under a grant from the Canadian government, Annick Press has produced a series of brief web video interviews with several of their authors and illustrators.

Inventing and Reinventing Your Writing Self: hosted by the MFA-Writing for Children & Young Adult Program at Vermont College, Montpelier. Lectures, presentations, readings, book discussion, book signings and more! Join faculty, students, and guests M.T. Anderson, Anita Silvey, David Levithan, and Martine Leavitt for thought-provoking sessions related to the writer’s identity and concerns, the scope of the work of writing, and how this work changes over time. Registration is $100 ($75 for Vermont College alumni). $10 discount for early-bird registration received by June 1. For registration and more information, contact Susannah Noël by phone (802) 828-8637, (800) 336-6794, ext 8637 or email:

13th Carnival of Children’s Literature from Jen Robinson’s Book Page.

Attention Austinites: Mark your calendars for April 28th when Austin SCBWI authors and illustrators will be featured in a MEET THE AUTHOR autograph party from 11a.m. to 1 p.m at Barnes and Noble Westlake. At last count, twelve authors and two illustrators were planning to be on hand to sign books. Note: Greg and I will not be at the event; however signed copies of our books will be available.

Interview with Heather Brewer, author of Eighth Grade Bites (Dutton, August 2007), by Little Willow at Slayground.

What are Your Favorite Writing/Publishing Blogs? Chime in on the MySpace page of agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown.

More Personally

Congratuations to Varian Johnson on receiving a merit scholarship to the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults!

Congratulations to April Lurie on her star from KLIATT on Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)!

Speaking of which, KLIATT says of my new release Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): “For those who enjoy the horror of the original Dracula or the heart-wrenching sorrow of Romeo and Juliet, Smith’s book will be seen as a fresh, updated version of these timeless classics.”

School Library Journal raves: “Readers will be tantalized by this dark, romantic, and disturbing fantasy of vampires, werewolves, and a strong no-nonsense heroine. Fans of Stephenie Meyer and Annette Curtis Klause will eat it up.”

In related news, Tantalize has been nominated for the TLA 2008-2009 Tayshas list! Nominees also include: Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2007); St. Iggy by K.L. Going (Harcourt, 2006)(author interview); Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale (Holt, 2006)(author interview); Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 2006)(author interview); 21 Proms, edited by David Levithan (Scholastic, 2007)(author interview); The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)(author interview); Wait for Me by An Na (Putnam, 2006)(recommendation); Notes from a Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic, 2006)(author interview); Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2006); Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans (Little Brown, 2007); and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (Little Brown, 2007)(author interview). See all the nominees (xls file)!

Thanks to everyone at the Arkansas Literary Festival. Greg and I had a great time on our panel. Authors at the event included Walter “The Giant Storyteller” Mayes, Deborah Wiles, and Jerry Wermund.

Thanks to Darcy Pattison for mentioning Cynsations in “Blog Basics for Children’s Literature,” and to WOW! Women on Writing for their recent link.

Even More Personally

Like many (all?) authors, I’m utterly “skinless.” The Doubt-O-Nator* stalks me. It is much like the folk, unkept.

So, when I first began writing, I decided that I wouldn’t read reviews of my books, obsess over sales ranks, or otherwise fret–good or bad–whatever might emerge in reply from the universe.

I quickly found out that this was counter-productive. Such references are important to keeping up one’s bio, promotion, targeting markets, updating teaching applications, etc.

Yet authors are often left out of the news cycle. Publishers may pass on reviews or articles or announcements of awards/nominations…or they may not. Often, we bring the information to them. Why? No one else is affected more, and no one else cares as much. It’s up to us to “Google” ourselves and our titles.

Still, I have been doing that too much lately.

Tantalize followed very shortly after Santa Knows (Dutton, fall 2006). The new novel has largely completed its pro review cycle, and overall, the reception has been lovely. We’re in the fifth printing. And I’m honored to play a small role in the YA literature community I’ve so long admired.

At the same time, I’ve been living in the famed “season of nausea” since ARCs went out at the last BEA. I’ve spent more than one sleepless night fretting 102 ellipses, waited out a cover art revision, and second-guessed myself for initially not trying to sell more than one of the books in my intended, overarching story.**

Consequently, I need to just say nada to Google and Technorati and their Web-scanning pals. Regroup, focus, write.

My point being: if there is something you’d like me to see, please just write me personally. Don’t assume I’ll know otherwise.

Meanwhile, I’ll be tapping away at my keyboard, sporting my PJs uniform, drinking iced tea with Splenda, assisted by my writer cats. Studying and celebrating books by other folks. Living footloose and nausea free. Thanks!

*Nancy Werlin calls hers “Fearnando,” which is (a) my inspiration (b) more charming.

**I’d felt convinced that I had to first prove readers would accept my doing non-Indian-themed work. Others seemed to think so, too. Given early signs, though, I feel comfortable saying that I’ve always envisioned Tantalize as the beginning of a larger story, and I wrote it that way. If the universe is willing, I have hopes for more to come.

London Calling by Edward Bloor

London Calling by Edward Bloor (Knopf, 2006)(excerpt). When he falls asleep listening to a Philco 20 Deluxe radio, Martin Conway, a miserable scholarship student at All Saints Preparatory School, begins to have amazingly realistic dreams or, as he believes, time travel adventures with another boy during the London Blitz of WWII. The story deftly explores the relationships between fathers and sons and demonstrates how history can touch and affect the present. A ghost story, a historical novel, a mystery, and a time travel adventure bundled into one book, this elegant novel defies genre classification and shows Bloor is, once again, not afraid to take chances in his writing. Recommendation by Frances Hill.

See also a review of London Calling from

Guest recommender Frances Hill is the author of The Bug Cemetery, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry (Henry Holt, 2002). She lives in the Austin area and is married to YA author Brian Yansky.

Texas Library Association Annual Conference

The Texas Library Association annual conference is one of my favorite youth literature events. This year, the setting was San Antonio, my hotel was the Westin Riverwalk, and my sponsoring publisher was Candlewick Press.

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I drove to San Antonio on Friday and attended the TLA Welcome Party at the San Antonio Musuem of Art. It’s not a children’s/YA literature event per se, so we didn’t know a lot of people there. But it was quite festive. The planners featured a string group outside and a horns group inside. A Mexican buffet was served. Guest were welcome to wander the museum, which had a wonderful collection and historic architecture.

I spoke the next morning on a YA Roundtable panel, “Magic in the Middle,” with Tim Wynne-Jones, who’s a pal of mine from the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and Margaret Peterson Haddix. It was my first time to meet Margaret, which was exciting. She’s one of my favorite YA authors, and I often hold up her writing as an especially good example of plot and pacing. Gary Schmidt also was supposed to be on the panel, but like a number of authors, he was snowed in up north.

My signing at the Candlewick Press booth followed, and I was pleased to hear that Tantalize sold out at the conference. Thanks to all who stopped by! Thanks also to everyone who told me how much they had enjoyed the novel!

That night, I attended the YART author/publisher dinner. The other author at my table was Lila Guzman, and it was lovely to see her.

We stayed over for the TLA Joint Publishers Reception on Friday, which was elegant. I was especially impressed by the fountain. It was held at the Hilton Palacio del Rio.

On a more personal note, highlights included:

(1) Being mistaken for Laurie Halse Anderson. Chalk it up to conference brain fuzz, but I actually didn’t realize what had just happened until the librarian had walked away. She’d mentioned reading Twisted (Viking, 2007), which I agreed was amazing (I just finished it), and the challenges of placing upper YA in middle school libraries. Jeepers. Oh, well. I’m sure she later realized the misunderstanding. And frankly, I’ve always wanted to be Laurie Halse Anderson (who wouldn’t?). So, that was my chance!

(2) Meeting for the first time A.M. Jenkins, Sharon Draper, Justine Larbalestier, Grace Lin, Yuyi Morales, Mitali Perkins, Dana Reinhardt, and Scott Westerfeld. I was beyond star struck. I also can’t stop thinking about Justine’s statement that there are fox-sized bats in Australia. I may have to visit. Really. Soon.

(3) Coming “home” to TLA. I couldn’t begin to name all the Texas librarians I’ve known and worked with over the years. How great to see so many in one place! I’m thrilled by all their efforts and proud of their success. It’s a particular pleasure to hear my out-of-state author colleagues gush about the conference and our state association.

My one lingering question: could someone please recommend shoes comfortable enough for the conference floor? By the end of day one, my feet were plotting revolt.

Author/illustrator sightings included Brian Anderson, Dianna Hutts Aston, Anne Bustard, Chris Barton, Toni Buzzeo, Cecil Castellucci, Esme Raji Codell, Kathleen Duey, Lupe Ruiz Flores, John Green, Peni Griffin, Helen Hemphill, Emily Jenkins, Julie Lake, Debbie Leland,E. Lockhart, Patricia McMahon,Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, Leda Schubert, Don Tate, Tim Tingle, Jerry Wermund, Kathy Whitehead, and Jennifer Zeigler. My apologies to anyone I’ve missed.

Special thanks to Candlewick Press, the YART librarians, and other TLA planners! All of your efforts were most appreciated. It was such an honor to join you all!

More on TLA

Never Sign Near Mo and Other Conference Survival Tips by Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape.

Suitcase? There’s No Suitcase Here… by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog.

TLA–1 from Camille at Book Moot.

TLA, Just Plain Fun by Grace Lin at The Blue Rose Girls.

TLA Today by Don Tate at Devas T. Rants and Raves. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Author Interview: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer on Reaching for Sun

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer on Tracie Vaughn Zimmer: “Let’s see, I’m an identical twin. I’ve got two fabulous kids. Chocolate is a major food group for me. I collect refrigerator magnets and I write books for kids–mostly poetry. Since poetry barely buys shoes, I also use my teaching credentials to write discussion guides, book-club guides, and other school-related materials for all the major publishers. It is one sweet gig to be paid to read books I would be devouring anyway. I love visiting schools and sharing my love for poetry and children’s books and writing!”

Congratulations on the publication of Reaching for Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

Since Sketches from a Spy Tree, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005) was set in a whole neighborhood, I wondered if I could write a book set in a single yard. It ended up expanding in revisions though–in every direction and season.

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

I revised a dozen times over four years for different editors and houses who would eventually consider it “too” quiet, poetic, “too” something for publication. It finally found Melanie Cecka who started to turned it down but then called my agent back because she couldn’t get Josie and Gran out of her head. She gently pulled the rest of the story out of me…

Are you doing anything special to promote your new release?

A blog tour! No suitcase, no airports, and I never have to put on pantyhose. Hooray!

What do you love about the writing process and why?

Trying to find that perfect word or image that will bring a character or moment to life. Plot hides from me so I rely on my writing partners (uber-talented team Julia Durango (author interview) and Jessica Swaim) to help me unearth one.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

Nothing. I just won’t complain because it is such a dream come true to be an author. I still pinch myself sometimes.

How about publishing? What do you love about it? What do you abhor? And again, in both cases, why?

Meeting other kindred spirits in writers, librarians, teachers, publishing people and booksellers. Passionate and generous, all.

Abhor? Celebrity books. No explanation required, methinks.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read. Everyone says it but it’s true. Reread the books that haunt you and figure out why (and keep a journal or blog about what you learned). Carve out time to write until it is a habit then you won’t be. Able. To. Stop. (like me with Hershey’s Kisses).

How about those interested in poetry in particular, both in terms of the craft and the market?

Don’t give up on poetry!!! Yes, the market is tight but I’m a slush-pile survivor so you can be, too.

I’d like to be a Poetry Preacher–I truly believe it can transform children’s reading skills (fluency, vocabulary And comprehension) but even better than all that it grabs the hand of its reader and changes the way we see the world.

In addition to your own, what books in verse do you especially recommend for young readers and why?

All of Maria Testa, Karen Hesse, Helen Frost, Jennifer Roy, Sonya Sones, etc. Etc.!

Other poets: Kris George, Walter Dean Myers, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, Nikki Grimes, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Ralph Fletcher, etc!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Yes, actually: Tantalize Rocks!!

Author Interview: Ysabeau S. Wilce on Flora Segunda

Ysabeau S. Wilce on Ysabeau S. Wilce: “Ysabeau S. Wilce was born in Northern California and, though she has traveled the world, considers herself a Californian still. After being trained as a historian, she turned to fiction when the truth no longer compared to the shining lies of her imagination. She’s published in both boring scholarly journals and in exciting fiction magazines and is equally proud of both. Ysabeau lives in the Middle West, with her husband, a cheese-swilling financier, and a border collie named Bothwell. They do not have a butler!”

What about the writing life first called to you?

I’ve always been drawn to making things up, and if you don’t write down the things you make up, they’ve got no sense of permanence. And I was also drawn to a sense of permanence, hence: writing! But although I’ve been writing down stories for years and years, it was only about five years ago that I decided to try fiction professionally.

I’ve got a degree in history and was working as historian, but as much as I loved researching and writing factual pieces, it was hard sometimes not to drift into “what if…” But historians must (for the most part) shun such thoughts.

So I decided to look at history through the prism of my imagination, and Califa was born. So far all my fiction has taken place in this tiny country. Califa is not supposed to be an alternative history of any one place, but I’ve drawn from a lot of historical detail, as least as far as material culture goes. Once I decided to try to write professionally, I was very lucky how quickly I was able to proceed.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I wanted to write the kind of book that I would have liked to have read when I was young. Of course, there were many books I read when I was young that I loved–but in my hubris, I thought that maybe I could add something to genre, something that girls like me would like. And I was a pretty weird girl! I had a young reviewer comment that she thought Flora Segunda was a book for weird kids, and I felt very satisfied with this compliment!

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

I was pretty lucky. The first publishing event I went to (a retreat sponsored by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (, I met a very kind editor who took an interest in my rough draft of “Flora Segunda.” He asked for a submission, and then a rewrite, and then bought the rewrite.

The only hitch in my git-along was that towards the end of the final edit process, the acquiring editor decamped for another publisher, leaving me behind. It took some time to get me a new editor, who, lucky for me, was just as fabulous as the first!

Another thing that was very helpful in my journey was attending Clarion West in 2002. Clarion West ( is a six-week long residential writer’s workshop held in Seattle. It’s a chance to work with professional in the field, and to do nothing but write for six weeks. I made great contacts there, had a fabulous time, learned a ton of stuff, and met my husband there! It was a very worthwhile experience and I urge anyone thinking of making a career in SF/F (adult or YA) to consider applying to Clarion. It’s a once in a life-time experience.

Congratulations on the publication of Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog (Harcourt, 2007)(excerpt)! What was your initial inspiration for this book?

Well, I rather made it up as I went along. The only clear thoughts I had in mind when I was writing the first draft was that I wanted to write about a cranky girl, and I wanted to try to capture the feeling that you have when you are kid and everything seems so super important, and yet the adults around you are oblivious to this. When you are a kid, everything can feel so super-charged, and yet as adults we forget this and figure that nothing in a kid’s life can possibly be that important.

I had already written several stories that took place in Califa, but with other characters. I’d never met Flora until I started writing, and it look me several chapters to figure her out. But her voice came through so strongly that even from the first she seemed like a real person, with a great story to tell. The book is really her accomplishment; I was just the secretary!

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

Well, I wrote the first draft in two weeks. Lots of coffee, no sleep! Then I wrote drafts of Book 2 & 3 in about two months. Then, about six months later, I went to the SCBWI conference. From initial submission to rewrite was about a year. Then another six months to an offer, and another six months to contract. Then, alas, almost three years to actual publication. So, about five years total. It’s a long process–I didn’t realize that when I started! Somehow you think once the book is bought it will magically appear on the shelves in six months! Alas, no. Tho’ from what I understand, my situation was a bit prolonged because I had the editorial switch in the middle. The journey of “Flora Redux” will be much shorter.

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

The biggest challenge I had was sticking to Flora’s voice, while making sure that subtleties of her inner life came through. Flora talks a lot, but she doesn’t always say what she’s truly feeling, which can be a problem in a first person point of view (POV) book. There many times I wished I had not written the book in first person!

It would have been easier to have lots of exposition (“And now Flora wished she’d never eaten that last cupcake…”) than to try to communicate that Flora wished she hadn’t eaten that last cupcake, when she’s too proud to admit that fact out right. Lots of first person POV often falls into exposition (“Oh, how I wished I hadn’t eaten that last cupcake!”) and sometimes it works, but other times it’s too fake. After all–how many times do we stand in front of a mirror and describe ourselves out loud, yet this is a common scene in many first person books. So, trying to convey information without seeming too out of character was hard. You have to get readers to read through the lines, and thanks tricky.

My second huge challenge was that the first draft was much shorter than the final. Originally, the book was very straight forward in its plot. But my first editor really felt that to get a true feeling of the characters and the world, the book needed to be longer–“breathe” as he called it–so I had to add about 40,000 words. Which is a lot of words!

Trying to retro fit a new plot-line (which turned out to be the Dainty Pirate) without making the book appear to be pieced together or starting completely over was a challenge. But thanks to editorial advice I think I pulled it off! The irony is that usually I write very long, and trying to make the first draft short had been quite an effort. I’ve had some feedback that the plot is a bit too convoluted in places, but I like that–life is convoluted and roads are rarely straight. And though Flora Segunda is a novel, it was important to me that Flora and her world feel real. Hence, Flora’s journey must be complicated and full of surprise.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

The feeling that they were entertained, and that Flora and Califa seemed real. And that they’d like to know more about both.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Keep writing. And read everything you can get your hands on, from newspapers to novels. Try to make sure you leaven the good stuff with the bad–it’s as important to see how you shouldn’t do it as to how you should.

Don’t be afraid to branch out–even if you think you don’t like mysteries (for example) try one anyway. Every book is different, and they can all teach you something.

Also, read old books–not necessarily classics, but writers that people have forgotten today like Edna Ferber, Norah Lofts, and James Branch Cabell. All three of these writers were great storytellers and big names in their day, but no one remembers them now. Still, they have a lot to say about how to construct a great story and fabulous characters and their writing styles, though wildly different, have a fluidity that is harder to find today.

How about for fantasy novelists specifically?

Ditto above. In fact, I think it’s more important for fantasy novelists to read outside of the fantasy genre. If you stick to your own genre only, you risk becoming insular. And great fantasy is, oddly enough, realistic, so it behooves you to read broadly. I think sometimes genre writers can get so engrossed in the genre elements (the fantasy, the SF, or even the mystery) that they short-change the characters and the story. Yet it is the realistic elements (characterization etc.) that makes the reader buy into the genre details.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Walk the dog and read books. Nap. Eat snacks. Read more books. I read even when I’m writing, somewhere between five to ten books a week. Gotta keep the furnace stoked!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, Flora’s adventures will continue next year in Flora Redux, which will be published in Spring 2008. For overseas fans, the UK edition of Flora Segunda will be out in July. After Flora Redux, there will be one more Flora book. I’m also about half-way done with an adult fantasy set in Califa called Metal More Attractive. And I have plans to collaborate with another author on a YA book about a young girl mad scientist who decides to make a guardian so she isn’t sent to an orphanage. Consider it the young Jane Eyre meets Frankenstein…! So there’s plenty coming!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Ysabeau via interviews from BookPage and Harcourt. See also a recommendation of Flora Segunda from Bookshelves of Doom. Note: the novel received a rare full-page review in the New York Times.

Giveaway of Autographed Copies of Tantalize at

Win an autographed copy of Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007) at All you have to do to enter is send an email. The deadline is April 30. See complete information.

Becky’s Book Reviews says: “No one is safe in this thrilling vampire tale of murder and seduction.” Read the whole review.

Author Alex Flinn writes: “It’s more mystery than horror, more horror than comedy, more comedy than coming-of-age story (and probably more Thirsty than Twilight), but it’s all these things and more. Even if you don’t know much about vampires, I highly recommend Tantalize. It’s good undead fun, and I hope Cyn plans a sequel.” Read the whole review.

In other news, Tantalize is now in its fifth printing!

Thanks to all for your support!

More News & Links

Melissa Wyatt has launched a new MySpace page. Melissa is the author of Raising the Griffin (Wendy Lamb, 2004).

Enchanted Fridays – Journey of a Novelist features an interview with Polly Shulman, debut author of Enthusiasm (G.P. Putnam’s, 2006) from Kimberly’s Wanderings: Thoughts, Musings, and the Writing Life of YA Author Kimberley Griffiths Little.

Cynsational News & Links

On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover: a book review by Mechele R. Dillard from See excerpt. See also an interview with Lorie from Little Willow at Slayground.

Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.: official site. Learn about the agency, clients and sales, submissions, and check out the offered advice.

Nominees for the 2008 Best Books for Young Adult List, sponsored by the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association include: Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2007); Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey (Harcourt, 2007)(excerpt); Beige by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2007)(excerpt); Split Screen Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies by Brent Hartinger (HarperCollins, 2007)(author interview); The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)(author interview); The Restless Dead: Ten Original Stories of the Supernatural edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2007)(author interview); and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (Little Brown, 2007)(author interview).

Blogging for Mom: the children of author Brenda A. Ferber offers insights into her writing life. Brenda writes: “Since I’m too busy writing books to get sucked into blogging, and my kids are madly infatuated with anything cyber related, I agreed to let them create a blog for me. Faith will be the main blogger. (This was her idea.) Sammy will be chiming in, too. Jacob would rather play baseball.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brenda.

CBC Showcase: March-April “Friends in the Animal Kingdom.” “This Showcase highlights stories of classic, as well as soon-to-be classic, animal characters in picture books, nonfiction, and novels for all ages.”

“Interview with Andrea Casardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency” by Nancy Sondel of the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop. Don’t miss part two. See also “an interview with editor Julie Romeis of Bloomsbury-USA,” also from the PCCWW. The Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop will be held Aug. 17 to Aug. 19 at the Hilton Hotel in Coastal Santa Cruz, California. It’s a team-taught seminar for thirty-five middle grade and young adult novelists specializing in character-driven, realistic fiction. The 2007 focus will be crafting subplots and secondary characters.

Congratulations to Dori Chaconas on the publication of Virginnie’s Hat, illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick, 2007). View an inside spread.

Faye Likes Words: A blog about writing, editing, publishing and associated blogs. Faye says: “I want to help other writers find good information using this ‘bloogle for writers’ blog.”

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Loss Leader” from Shelf Awareness at Fresh Eyes Now: Envisioning New Bridges Between Authors and Readers. Source: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown.

“An Interview With Rose Kent–Author Of Kimchi and Calamari” at A Year of Reading. See also a Cynsations interview with Rose.

“Interview with Illustrator Sylvia Long on An Egg is Quiet” (Chronicle, 2006) from Paradise Found. Source: Bartography. Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia and “Egg” author Dianna Hutts Aston.

J. Alison James debuts a new author site. Her books include The Drums of Noto Hanto (DK Ink, 1999). Learn more!

“Magic or Madness–the Interview” (an interview with Justine Larbalestier) from Not Your Mother’s Book Club.

Kristen D. Randle has relaunched her official author site. Her books include Slumming and Breaking Rank, both published by HarperCollins.

What are your three reasons? Check out this YouTube video and leave a comment on why you love your library. Nancy Dowd writes: “The goal is to make a ‘library video’ not only the most viewed, but to set the record for the most comments ever posted to one video on YouTube. Why? Because we have all heard the argument that with Internet there is no need for libraries, so where better to dispel that myth than online on the ever-popular YouTube?”

Tips for a Successul Writers Group from Coffee and Ink.

More Personally

Thanks to Brittany for designing the new Tantalize Fan Group banner. This is a new MySpace group that she has founded. I’ve offered to pop in now and then with breaking news, to highlight gothic fantasy YA releases by other authors, and to supply giveaway items. Horror, gothic fantasy, and YA enthusiasts on MySpace are welcome to join. See also Cyn’s MySpace page.

Winning entries of the Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) giveaway at Young Adult Books Central have been posted. Entrants were asked to “make up a favorite recipe/dish for either a vampire or a werewolf.” Check out the winners!

In other news, I’m pleased to report that my first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) is going into another printing. Thanks to all for your support!