Cynsational News & Links

Interview with Sarah Miller, author of Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller (Simon & Schuster, 2007)(excerpt) by Little Willow at Slayground. Here’s a sneak peek: “That’s an easy one. I saw ‘The Miracle Worker’ on stage at MeadowBrook Theatre in October of 1998. We came to the end, that famous scene with the water pump, and when the audience stood up to applaud, I realized I was crying. I don’t do that. And it’s not like the climax of the play was a surprise – I’d seen the movie, and I knew the story – but bam! there it was, and I got it.”

The Book of Life is a finalist in the 3rd Annual Jewish & Israeli Blog Awards (JIBA), in the “Best Jewish Podcast/Audio Blog/Video Blog” category. However, at this point it’s only received 1.29 percent of the votes. Please consider voting for this podcast by 10 p.m. May 16!

The Edge of the Forest: a new issue, and one of the best ever! Kelly Herold interviews Tracy Grand of JacketFlap and author Kerry Madden. Kim Winters talks about books In the Backpack as well as the writing life. Kelly Fineman interviews blogging writer David Lubar. Don’t miss Little Willow‘s interview with Deb Caletti or her thoughtful take on The Bermudez Triangle: Too Cool for School? Plus, there are reviews, a new interview archive, and the best of the blogs.

Margot Finke offers a new page, Writing Information for Children’s Writers. Read a Cynsations interview with Margot.

Congratulations to Don Tate on the sale of his first picture book manuscript. Don has a lovely and well-established reputation as an illustrator, but this is his first sale as an author. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

I Heart YA: Beige: a YouTube video by Cecil Castellucci about her latest novel, which has my highest recommendation. Visit Cecil’s site, LJ, and MySpace page. Read a Cynsations interview with her, too.

Happy 17th Birthday to Children’s Book Insider! In celebration, CBI is offer a free three-issue mini-subscription to its e-edition. Source: Create/Relate.

Reminder: please consider supporting If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything: a national reading club for Native American children.

More Personally

In celebration of Texas Writers’ Month, I’ll be speaking with a number of distinguished authors, including Tim Tingle, on the May program of the Writers’ League of Texas from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 23 at the University of Texas Club. The evening includes a free appetizer buffet and a cash bar. Attendence is free and open to the public. See more information. Date change updated 3/21.

Author Tanya Lee Stone says of my new release Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): “This book is a feast for the senses. I was immediately pulled into the characters and the story line, watching for clues in order to figure out who the true villain is. I particularly enjoyed the visceral and sensual aspects the author was able to bring to this story through the use of food. Bring your appetite!” Read the whole recommendation.

A new prize has been added to the Tantalize Fans Unite! MySpace group giveaway for May. In addition to a hard copy of A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2003)(author interview) and a Sanguini’s T-shirt, members also will be eligible to win an autographed paperback copy of Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004)(author interview). See board for details.

Murder in the Faerie Realm by Colleen Mondor at Bookslut in Training. An in-depth look at YA mystery-fantasy hybrids, including Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). She says in part: “Leitich Smith gives readers a very interesting character to watch. This is a very complex fantasy/horror/mystery novel and should be sought out by any reader with a fondness for something other than the usual high school vamp drama.”

Thanks to Brackenridge and Edison high schools in San Antonio for being a great audience yesterday!

Autographed copies of Tantalize are now available at BookPeople in Austin and Barnes & Noble–San Pedro in San Antonio. Two of my other books, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HaperCollins, 2002) as well as Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005) also are available at that B&N.

Author Interview: Dia Calhoun on Avielle of Rhia

Dia Calhoun is the winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature. She is the author of five young adult fantasy novels, three of which are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Her books are Avielle of Rhia (Marshall Cavendish, 2006), The Phoenix Dance (FSG, 2005), White Midnight (FSG, 2003), Aria of the Sea (FSG, reprint edition 2003), and Firegold (FSG, reprint edition 2003).

Dia is also one of the four readergirlz divas (www.readergirlz.com). Readergirlz is featuring The Phoenix Dance in May for National Mental Health Month. When she isn’t writing, Dia sings Italian arias, fly-fishes, and canoes down the Pacific Northwest’s beautiful rivers. She lives with her husband and two frisky cats in Tacoma, Washington. Learn more at www.diacalhoun.com.
Let’s focus on your latest release, Avielle of Rhia (Marshall Cavendish, 2006). Could you tell us a little about the story?

Avielle of Rhia is about fifteen-year-old Princess Avielle who is an outcast among her people because she looks like her Dredonian great-great grandmother Dolvoka, an evil woman with magical powers who cursed and killed all the birds in Rhia. Avielle fears that Dolvoka’s evil may rise in her. Avielle lives isolated in the High Hall, persecuted by her older brother, Crown Prince Edard.One night the Black Cloaks, an evil sect of wizard-priests from Dredonia, blow up the High Hall: only Avielle survives. She takes refuge with a kindly weaver named Gamalda who helps Avielle develop her magical gift for weaving. Avielle struggles with her grief, with her fear of being like Dolvoka, and with her fear of the Black Cloaks, all of which prevent her from coming forward as queen to lead her people.Hiding her identity, Avielle meets the common people, such as Master Steorra, the absent-minded astronomer, and Tinty, a girl whose magical power runs amok. Slowly love blossoms inside her, and this love brings her the power to face her fear of Dolvoka, defeat the Black Cloaks, come into her power as queen, and at last bring the birds home to Rhia.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

9/11 inspired me to write the book. I was profoundly shaken by 9/11, personally and artistically. Many people made eloquent speeches exhorting us all to be courageous. We were all told, as I have come to think of it now, “to go marching bravely on,” to go on with our lives to show the terrorists they hadn’t won.

However, as one speech followed another, I felt hollow. What, I thought, if you can’t go marching bravely on? What if you do feel despair? I felt awful having these feelings because they seemed so unpatriotic. Un-American. I was letting the terrorists win.

I kept waiting to hear some one talk about these feelings I was having. Oh, there were occasional news-reports by psychologists about people being depressed by the events of nine-eleven, but there were no great speeches, there was no hero for the frightened and the despairing. Who spoke for me?

Being a writer, I turned to my writing to make sense of what was happening to me. I wrote a truly terrible middle grade fantasy novel. It was nine-eleven, thinly veiled. I had to wait two years before the book would begin to transform into a real story, and oddly enough, the story that I really needed. Like me, Avielle wonders who speaks for her in her despair. Eventually she learns that it is she who must speak for her people, the despairing as well as the brave.

I wrote this book for three reasons. First, because I needed someone to speak for me, to speak for my experience of nine-eleven and terrorism. I had to create Avielle to do it. Second, because I wanted to speak for those like me, those who were too frightened to go marching bravely on. The third reason I wrote this book is that I want to be like Avielle.

By the end of the book, Avielle has acquired the Magnificent Heart. She has one shining magnificent moment when she does not wish for revenge upon the terrorists. Instead, she wishes them true strength. She wishes their hearts to be opened. That is her true heroic moment. I wish I could have a moment like that. I hope that when people read the book, they will have such a moment.

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

As I mentioned, the first draft was far too close to the real events of 9/11. I had twin towers blown up. I had poison in the flour—the anthrax scare. I had people flying the flags of Rhia to show their support for their besieged kingdom. It just didn’t work!

Eventually the idea that Avielle should be a princess rather than a commoner came to me, as did the idea to make her loss immense. I really wanted to explore the psychological trauma of someone dealing with a major cataclysmic loss–so I had her whole family die when the Black Cloaks blow up the High Hall.

Then one day, out of the blue, the birds and Dolvoka flew into my mind and that element transformed the entire story. Margery Cuyler, my wonderful editor at Marshall Cavendish, asked inspired questions that spurred me to new insights. So I would say the book took nearly five years from the initial idea until publication.

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

I did more research for Avielle of Rhia than I had ever done for any of my previous novels–and had great fun doing it, I might add! I researched weaving, astronomy in the time of Galileo, candlemaking, stained glass window making, silversmithing, and letterpress printing.

Psychologically the book was difficult to write because I was continually immersed in my feelings over 9/11. Avielle’s journey is not easy, and the issues of prejudice and terrorism she deals with are quite serious ones for our times.

The themes of darkness and light reappear in all my novels. I think the reason for this is my struggle with bipolar illness, which is a constant swing between an excess of darkness and an excess of light–see my book The Phoenix Dance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005). I think my expressions of greatest darkness exist in Avielle of Rhia, but also my greatest image of light: Avielle at the end of the book with her radiant cloak woven of love and light and wings. That image still fills my mind. It fills me with hope.

How long have you been writing with an eye toward publication? Looking back, what were your greatest triumphs and challenges along the way?

I began writing seriously in about 1990. I got up an hour early every morning and squeezed in an hour of writing before going to work. It may not seem like much time, but an hour a day–more on weekends–adds up.

It took about five years for me to write my first fantasy novel, Firegold, (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux 2003) originally published by Winslow Press in 1999. It took me five years to find a publisher for it.

During that time I kept writing–I increased my hours to two a day–and wrote Aria of the Sea (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2003) and part of White Midnight (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2003). My publisher subsequently took those books as well.

One great moment was that first letter of acceptance–how I celebrated! Another great moment was after Winslow Press went bankrupt and Farrar, Straus, & Giroux picked up my books.

I’ve been honored to work with my editor Wes Adams at FSG. Perhaps my greatest triumph was winning the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature for Aria of the Sea (Farrar Straus & Giroux 2003).

I find that my greatest challenge now is to write without worrying whether my books will continue to be successful. That kind of worry poisons the process.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love the “Ah-ha!” moments, the moment when ideas link, when images dawn, when a character suddenly acts on her own. Those moments send chills down my spine. They seem to be gifts from the blue, but they are really little rewards from my subconscious for working diligently.

Some books come more easily than others. My easiest book was White Midnight (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003). The rough draft poured out in two months! But I’d been thinking about that book for years before I sat down to write it.

I also love the process of polishing and revising, or crafting sentences until they sing. I read all my work aloud. I think if I hadn’t been a writer I would have been a singer–there is such music to language, such soul to voice.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I loathe doing character charts, but I do them. Some of the best secondary characters I’ve ever created are in Avielle of Rhia (Marshall Cavendish, 2006). I used to ask boring questions like, does the character like lime-Jell-O or strawberry Jell-O better, and would get nowhere.
Now I ask questions such as, what is missing in the character? Or, what would she like to change about herself? I seem to get further with that kind of approach. But I still loathe doing character charts!

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

What I love about the publishing process is working with my editor. Here at last is someone who, if you’re fortunate, loves your book almost as much as you do, and will discuss it with you as endlessly and minutely as though you were two fourteen-year-old girls chatting about their friends on the phone. I love what another creative eye, gently nudging me forward, can do for the story.

What I dislike—truly, madly, deeply—is the marketing aspect of publishing. I would much rather stay home curled up with my laptop and my cats in bed writing another novel, than going to bookstores and trying to look literary and charismatic. It’s the Author-as-Used-Car-Salesman that I really abhor.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Beginning novelists in any genre should try to work on their novels a little bit every day. I firmly believe that this keeps the waters of creativity flowing. This practice builds a tsunami in the subconscious that will reward your persistence.

I firmly believe and testify to all who will listen that the subconscious will do most of your work for you if you feed it. So even on days when nothing happens, sit before the screen. Try out ideas. Discard them all, if you have to, but think, imagine, and dream even if your ideas seem stupid, random, farfetched, or trite. Then leave it all. Take a walk, garden, cook, enjoy a storm. Somewhere inside you the wave will be building, drop by drop, to rush onto the page.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I sing! I just can’t get away from the sound of the human voice. Italian arias are my favorite. I live in the Pacific Northwest so I also do a lot of hiking, canoeing, and fly-fishing in our beautiful mountains.

My husband’s family has a commercial apple and pear orchard in the Methow Valley in Eastern Washington, and I love to spend time there. The magic of the orchard inspired two of my books, Firegold (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003) and White Midnight (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003).

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book is something of a departure for me. The Return of Light: A Christmas Tale (Marshall Cavendish, October 2007) is still a fantasy, but it is a short fable for all ages.

It is written from the point of view of Treewing, a young Christmas Tree who lives on a Christmas Tree farm on Faith Mountain. The magical Christmas Deer chooses him for a special destiny, and he is cut down and put on sale in an urban Christmas Tree lot. There he longs for a happy family to take him home.

This doesn’t happen, though, and to his despair, he’s left all alone on Christmas Eve. Then, with the help of a boy named Luke, a special baseball, and a group of homeless people, Treewing brings the Return of Light to those who need it most. Again in this book, I explore themes of light and dark. It does seem to be my topic!

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to the winners of the 2006-2007 California Young Reader Medal: in the primary division, My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003); in the intermediate, Christopher Mouse: The Tale of a Small Traveler by William Wise, illustrated by Patrick Benson (Bloomsbury, 2004); in the picture books for older readers, Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Wendy Watson (Scholastic, 2004); in the middle school, Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (Putnam, 2004); in young adult Shattering Glass by Gail Giles (Roaring Brook, 2002). See the 2007-2008 nominees. Read a Cynsations interview with Gail.

Bad Tickets by Kathleen O’Dell: a Q&A interview at the YA Authors Cafe.

Book Trailer for Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen.

Editorial Anonymous: A Blog of a Children’s Book Editor: source unknown, obviously. Note: the posts to date are entertaining and helpful at dispelling beginning writer myths and insecurities.

Interview with author Debra Garfinkle by Debbi Michiko Florence. Debbi says: “Debra’s first book, a humorous young adult novel called Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl, was published by Penguin in hardback in 2005 and recently released in paperback and German. In May, Penguin published her second and third young adult books: Stuck in the ’70s, a humorous time travel novel, and The Band: Trading Guys, a racy novel about a teenage rock band.” Note: Stuck in the ’70s is now available. See also a Cynsations interview with Debra about the novel.

Bruce Hale has launched a new site and now offers a monthly newsletter of writing tips. “Bruce’s book, The Malted Falcon, was a finalist for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe award… Altogether, the Chet Gecko Mysteries series has sold over half a million books.”

Interview with Brent Hartinger from Shrinking Violet Promotions; don’t miss part two. See also The Good Karma Networking Approach.

L.A. Times Book Award and Book Festival: get the low-down from author Nancy Werlin, who was a finalist for The Rules of Survival (Dial, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

Winner Robin Merrow MacCready‘s trip to the Edgar Awards part one, part two, and part three, hosted by Cynthia Lord’s LJ. Read Cynsations interviews with Robin and Cynthia.

Unabridged: a new blog from Charlesbridge. Read an interview with editor Yolanda LeRoy of Charlesbridge.

Writing & Illustrating for Children: the 36th annual summer of conference of SCBWI. The event will be held August 3 to 6th in Los Angeles. Note: I’m honored to be a member of the distinguished faculty of authors, editors, art directors, etc. I’ll be speaking on “Increasing Your Revenue & Book Sales: Blogs and Websites” (part of a special workshop track) and “Using the Web to Build Craft and Career.” I hope to see some of you in Los Angeles!

More Personally

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I had the honor of doing a public reading of poetry and essays by young writers (elementary through high school) involved with the O. Henry Writing Project at the Barnes & Noble Westlake last Saturday.

The program teacher and event emcee was Austin author Spike Gillespie. Other reader-presenters included Brian Anderson (author interview) of Austin and Jerry Wermund (author interview) of Buda. By the way, there are signed copies of Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007) available at the store.

Tantalize has been nominated for the BBYA list. See the complete list of nominees!

Author Interview: Janet Lee Carey on Dragon’s Keep

Janet Lee Carey spent far too much time in school staring out the window dreaming of imaginary worlds. Her teachers worried she’d never be able to get a “real job.” Fortunately her “real job” requires a lot of staring out the window dreaming of imaginary worlds, and sometimes her imaginary worlds become books that earn starred reviews! She’s published five books including Wenny Has Wings (Atheneum, 2002), winner of the 2005 Mark Twain Award, The Beast of Noor (Atheneum, 2006), a NY Library Best Books for the Teenage 2007, and fall Book Sense pick, and Dragon’s Keep (Harcourt, 2007)(excerpt) which earned a School Library Journal starred review and a Booklist starred review. Janet also teaches novel writing, speaks in the U.S. and abroad, and yes, she even cooks and cleans and takes out the trash now and again because writers don’t life in ivory towers. Her website is www.janetleecarey.com. See also a Cynsations interview of the Readergirlz divas.

What about the writing life first called to you?

Creating stories is deeply satisfying. I love every part of the process. Every book provides new challenges and gives me a new mystery to solve.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

A lot of adults have pretty solid opinions about themselves and the world. I find children and teens interesting because they’re still growing and open to new ideas.

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

Oh, it’s been more like long distance running than sprints, but yes to the stumbles part. Like most writers, I faced many years of rejection before I sold my first novel. It’s one reason why I keep the book Rotten Rejections edited by Andre Bernard (Pushcart Press, 1990) within easy reach.

Congratulations on Dragon’s Keep (Harcourt, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for this book?

I thought I’d write a fairytale that turned the “perfect princess” model on its head by mixing the princess and dragon together. The short fairytale fattened up to fifty pages, then to one hundred, and so on until I had to face the fact that I was writing a novel.

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

Dragon’s Keep went through a lot of permeations. My first draft was about five hundred pages (a length that makes any editor shudder). I couldn’t sell the early draft, so I revised it over and over again for, cough, nine years! I had to cut hundreds of pages and find the perfect opening before it finally sold. I was thrilled when Kathy Dawson, bought it for Harcourt! Dragon’s Keep was the first fantasy Kathy ever acquired. It also found a home with Julia Wells at Faber and Faber in the U.K. and will come out there this summer under the title Talon.

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

I faced a number of challenges with Dragon’s Keep because I wanted the fantasy to be set during the time of England’s civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. The story takes place on Wilde Island, a fictitious English prison colony, but the historical events occurring in England are significant because the central character’s mother is convinced Princess Rosalind will wed Empress Matilda’s son. The conflict of England’s civil war mirrors the mother/daughter conflict on Wilde Island and the dragon’s interference heats things up all the more.

I also found writing Dragon’s Keep in first person somewhat challenging, but it couldn’t have been written any other way. I’d like to give a hat’s off here to Karen Cushman for her delicious first person novel Catherine Called Birdy (Clarion Books, 1994).

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Apprentice yourself to the story. Believe in the idea and the characters. Write it from the inside out–from the core of the character’s desire. Don’t think about marketing your work–just work. Write, revise then seek a good critique group for feedback. When you’ve revised the manuscript again it’s time to start marketing your work.

How about those with a strong interest in writing fantasy?

The same answer as above. It’s all about finding the unique stories you want and need to tell. Of course the other part of the apprenticeship is to read well-written books within and beyond your chosen genre. Writers need to study other word craftsmen. They need to see how they handle descriptive prose, transitions, action scenes, characterization, dialogue, and how they weave all these threads into a single seamless story.

How do you balance your role as a writer (research, writing, revision) and as an author (marketing, contracts, promotion)?

I try to begin the day with meditation, good, strong tea, journaling and writing. Ray Bradbury’s advice in Zen in the Art of Writing (Joshua Odell Editions, 1990) is to go directly from your bed to your writing desk in order to keep your “morning mind,” the part of you that dreams, and capture that on paper.

I agree, though I admit I nearly always do a quick e-mail check. First because my editors are in N.Y. and the U.K. and their time zones are ahead of mine. And second because I like to see what’s happening with readergirlz. The trick is not to get sucked into the afternoon work (marketing, contracts, speaking engagements, promotion) before I get my morning writing done. Am I perfect at all this? Far from it. Sometimes I work on everything but the novel. It’s rather nasty to leave a character dangling from a dragon’s claw for five or six days while I work on other aspects of the business, but ah, well.

What do you love about your writing life?

I love losing myself inside the story I’m writing. When it’s going well, I’m in a timeless state.

What is its greatest challenge?

Meeting deadlines. (Did I mention juggling balls?)

What are some of your favorite recent reads by other authors and why?

I love fantasy, historical fiction and realistic fiction.

For fantasy I have to mention the one I recently finished. It’s the fifth book in the Earthsea series, The Other Wind by Ursula K. LeGuin (Harcourt, 2001). I think LeGuin’s writing is rich and deep and thrilling.

The best historical fiction book I recently read was The Splendor of Silence by Indu Sundaresan (Atria Books, 2006). It’s a powerful story of forbidden love that takes place in WWII India.

Finally I’ve had the privilege to read the advanced reader copy of Justina Chen Headley‘s upcoming book, Girl Overboard (Little Brown, 2008). I loved her fresh characterization and inspiring wordplay. Note: Writers read for story, but we also read for the splendor of well-crafted prose, so we’re sometimes hard to please.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m kind of a homebody so I like hanging out with friends and family. I also enjoy long walks, reading and yoga. We have a beautiful garden. If I were a good girl I’d be out there pulling weeds right now, but I’d much rather be answering these interview questions. Thus, the weeds are winning the garden war. Ray Bradbury could easily make Dandelion Wine from the hearty weeds in my yard.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I just finished revising The Ancients. I actually sent it off yesterday which is why I’m finally getting back to this review today (did I mention juggling?). The Ancients is the sequel to The Beast of Noor. It’s due out in summer 2008. In this tale, someone or something is poisoning the ancient Waytrees that hold the worlds of Noor and Oth together. Miles and Hanna sail east to Jarrosh and join the dragons in their fight to keep the worlds from splitting apart. I loved writing The Ancients and can’t wait for it to hit the shelves!

CEO Interview: Tracy Grand on JacketFlap.com

JacketFlap has become the world’s largest and most comprehensive resource for information on the children’s book industry. Writers, illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, and publishers visit JacketFlap every day.” –quoting site.

Tracy Grand, CEO of JacketFlap.com, on Tracy Grand: “Believe it or not, there are actual natives to Los Angeles. I’m a third generation LA girl, and I grew up in the 70’s watching “H.R. Pufnstuf” and reading Judy Blume (author interview). My friends always said my mom was like Carol Brady, as there were always warm chocolate chip cookies waiting for me when I got home from school. I grew up with lemonade stands, tree houses, and in general had a sweet-as-apple pie childhood. After college, I worked at Los Angeles Magazine as an Editorial Assistant, and then I started an Internet PR company in 1994, which was later acquired. I’m married, have two daughters and another daughter due in May (we’re stocking up on conditioner). My fourth child, JacketFlap, was conceived in 2005 and born in 2006.”

For those new to JacketFlap, could you briefly explain what it is?

JacketFlap is a comprehensive resource of information on the people and companies in the children’s book industry. It also provides community features that our members often refer to as the “MySpace of Children’s Literature.” Thousands of writers, illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, and publishers visit JacketFlap every day.

What are its features?

JacketFlap has what we believe is the world’s largest database of information on children’s book publishers. At last count, there are more than 10,000 publishers in the JacketFlap.com database. We also offer a Children’s Publishing Blog Reader. Similar in many ways to news aggregators like Bloglines, Google Reader or Live Journal’s friends, JacketFlap’s Blog Reader lets readers view posts from many blogs on a single page, without having to visit all of the different blog sites individually to check for updates. We also include a blog’s comments, and we notify users when there are new posts and comments on the blogs that interest them. Our newest addition is our People feature that brings people together from the children’s literature industry in a MySpace-type of environment. This has created a sense of community by connecting people who are spread throughout the world and often feel disconnected from their peers in children’s publishing.

What was the initial inspiration for launching JacketFlap?

Like many new moms, when reading books to my kids, I thought, “I’ve got a great idea for a children’s book,” as so many great ideas come from being a parent. When I began going through the process of looking for publishers, I realized that there was a great need for an up-to-date searchable resource for researching publishers. With my Internet know-how, I decided to build that resource in the hopes that if I build it, they will come.

How has it changed and grown over the years?

JacketFlap launched a year ago in March of 2006. At that time, we were focused on building a resource for writers and the site’s main feature was the children’s publishing database. As time went on, we found ourselves visiting dozens of blog web sites and reading hundreds of blog posts daily to keep up on the business. It became clear that there was a need for a focused place to read and search blogs related to children’s publishing.

We introduced our Children’s Publishing Blog Reader in August of 2006, and that introduced us to hundreds of illustrators, editors, agents, publishers, librarians, and many others in the business. Interacting with these amazingly talented people allowed us to see the need for a place in addition to blogs, where these people could meet and interact in a more visual way. This led us to create our People feature in March of 2007, which provides profile pages for our members that include the ability to see pictures of their JacketFlap Friends (or JFF’s), meet new people in the industry, have conversations, feature their artwork and display their books.

What are the unique challenges associated with running the site?

As our database of publishers grew into the thousands, we realized we needed help in keeping the information up-to-date. To address this, we offer Amazon gift certificates as rewards to our members for assisting us in keeping our information current.

How can it be useful to beginning writers?

The searchable database helps writers research publishers that might be interested in their work. If you are an unpublished writer and have written a book about horses, a publisher of religious books may not be for you. JacketFlap lets you research the types of titles a publisher has published and the number of new authors they publish each year. And, with hundreds of daily posts by writers, illustrators, agents, editors, librarians and more, the Blog Reader can provide an incredible amount of insight into the minds of the various people in the industry.

How about to published authors?

Published authors take advantage of our publishing database, they keep up with various blogs, and they participate in our People community. Many published authors and illustrators have told us that they start their morning each day with a cup of coffee and read JacketFlap like their morning paper.

And how about publishers?

For publishers, JacketFlap should help reduce the volume of inappropriately targeted unsolicited manuscripts and letters. Publishers are able to directly edit their contact information and submissions policies. If a publisher is not accepting unsolicited manuscripts or unpublished authors, JacketFlap is a perfect way to let writers know their policies. We also provide a Featured Book section where publishers can advertise their books to our 90,000+ monthly unique visitors.

What’s new and exciting at JacketFlap?

Last week we launched an entirely new site design, which we have been told is much easier to navigate and easier on the eyes. We were also just included in Writer’s Digest Magazine‘s 101 Best Web Sites for Writers in 2007.

What are your plans for the future of JacketFlap?

Our plan is to listen to the needs of our growing community and incorporate them into JacketFlap. We will begin publishing a regular newsletter soon featuring content from our website and original articles from some well-known children’s literature bloggers.

How about you? What do you do outside of your efforts on the site?

Carpool.

Author Interview: Laura Bowers on Beauty Shop for Rent

Laura Bowers on Laura Bowers: “I’m a wife, mother of two active boys and I live in a house where baseball season never ends. (Go ahead, ask me the rules on balking!) As a kid, I was a total tomboy who loved everything about horses. As an adult, I’ve had a lot of job titles: waitress, gym membership salesperson, data entry, telemarketer, real estate agent, receptionist, secretary, and in my broke college days, a roving character in costume at holiday mall parades. In 1998, I made the decision to add my favorite job title: writer. (But dressing in costume was pretty cool, too!)

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

I’ve had many, many stumbles and lots of trials and errors! My trials? The time spent trying to write sophisticated books like Sidney Sheldon or epic novels like Jean Auel first comes to mind. That didn’t exactly work out. My errors? Thinking I could be the next Dr. Seuss during my picture book phase is one of my many errors. Sprints? The editing process of Beauty Shop for Rent (Harcourt, 2007).

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

It’s such a blessing to have fantastic writer friends who love and support me. Having someone in your corner is a definite must in this biz! What could I have skipped? The many times I procrastinated instead of writing. But hey, live and learn, right?

Congratulations on the publication of Beauty Shop for Rent (Harcourt, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

For years, I would pass a sign posted in front of a charming old house that read, “Beauty Shop for Rent…fully equipped, inquire within.” The rusted corners and the way it started to slant with time intrigued me and I was often tempted to pull up the driveway and find out what the owner was like. Was she old? Longing to retire? When I asked myself what would happen if a young girl was left on her doorstep, I realized the sign wasn’t just a curiosity–it was a book!

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

September 2002: Began writing.

Spring 2003: Talked myself out of it and quit.

October 2003: Had an editor tell me she loved the first chapter at a conference. Knew I had to tinkle or get off the pot. Wrote book.

February 2004: Submitted manuscript to editor, found an agent.

May 2004: Editor said no. Darn.

November 2004: Agent submitted to eleven publishers.

May 2005: Was offered contract from Harcourt. Screamed “Hallelujah!”

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

As you can tell from my timeline, I was sometimes my biggest challenge by the way I’d let those nagging feelings of self-doubt take over. This is when my awesome writer friends would kick in with all their encouragement!

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

Wow, it’s a lot of things. Wonderful, scary, exciting, surreal. I’m also fortunate to be a part of Class of 2k7, a group of mid-grade and young adult authors with books debuting in 2007. It’s awesome being surrounded by so many talented writers who are all going through the same wonderful, scary, exciting and surreal experience as me!

What do you love about the writing process and why?

Editing. I love taking that big, fat rough draft and molding it into shape. Most of all, I love those rare and wonderful moments when you finally figure the story out, or when you fall so in love with a new, dynamic character and can’t wait to tell their story!

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

Writing the first draft! And, while I do enjoy marketing, it’s hard to strike that balance between writing and marketing.

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

I loved working with my editor and the folks at Harcourt. They made the whole process relatively painless. Abhor? Waiting for reviews. It’s agonizing when you know your book–your baby–is on someone’s desk, waiting to be judged!

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Find a writing buddy who can hold your hand when things are rough, always be true to your unique voice, and take time to celebrate your accomplishments, whether it’s finishing a rough draft, getting a contract, having an article published or figuring out the perfect title!

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

Be true to the story and characters, rather than publishing trends.

Ethiopia Reads

From author Jane Kurtz:

“Pennies promise poetry.
Dollars deliver dreams.
A buck can buy a book and books change lives.

“Instead of asking ‘a penny for your thoughts,’ we’re asking you to put your two cents in by donating a dollar to Ethiopia Reads during the month of May help in celebration of our fourth anniversary.

“Ethiopia Reads was founded in May 2003 by Yohannes Gebregiorgis after he realized how much even one book changed his life. Our mission is to develop a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books.

“Be a part of our efforts to put books into the hands of every Ethiopian child by participating in our give a buck campaign. That same dollar may not travel far here, but just imagine all the stories it can tell in Ethiopia.

“Thank you. Amesegenallo.”

For more information: visit www.EthiopiaReads.org. See also an interview with Jane Kurtz on the Ethiopian Books for Children and Educational Foundation.

You can donate to Ethiopia Reads and its current and future projects by visiting the EthiopiaReads.org website and donating through Paypal. The Paypal button is on the left side of the page. Your donation will be secure and is tax-deductible as allowed by law.

If you prefer you can mail your donation to:
Ethiopia Reads
50 South Steele Street, Suite 325
Denver, Colorado 80209

Author Interview: Daria Snadowsky on Anatomy of a Boyfriend

Daria Snadowsky on Daria Snadowsky:

Some measure out their lives in “coffee spoons,”

Others in Judy Blumes . . . .

1988: Peter Hatcher from Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing became my first literary boy crush.

1989: Blubber marked the first time my friends and I ever saw the word “bitch” in print. We were so stunned and delighted by this novelty that we kept passing the book around to each other under our desks during class, with the famous “bitch page” doggy-eared.

1990: I polished off Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret in two hours, and for me, that event was no less than a religious solemnity. It seemed that the book was “happening to me” as I was reading it. I felt so much more grown-up by the time I reached the last page.

1991: Then Again, Maybe I Won’t was my introduction to the adolescent male psyche. I was grateful it explained the mystery of why boys would sometimes bring a book (as coverage) with them to the chalkboard.

1992: There is no way to exaggerate Forever‘s influence on every aspect of my high school life. (It was also around this time I first watched “The Thorn Birds”–that the Richard Chamberlain character was called “Ralph,” a name which figures rather largely in Forever, made him all the more enticing.)

1993: I was too young to read Wifey, but I tore through it anyway. It shattered my fairy tale fantasies of “happily ever after,” which is probably a good thing in the long run.

1998: I had the honor of reviewing Summer Sisters for a local magazine. It was wonderful to be able to rave about Blume not just to my friends but also to the general public.

2006: Since I knew I’d be dedicating Anatomy of a Boyfriend (Delacorte, 2007) to Blume, I mailed her a partially-edited version of the manuscript. I didn’t expect to hear back since she’s so busy, but I did! Last May she emailed me that she read Anatomy, thought it was “so good,” and enjoyed it so much she “had trouble putting it down.” 🙂

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I was still in my early twenties when I started Anatomy of a Boyfriend, so I felt qualified writing for teens since those adolescent years were still fresh in my memory. Oddly enough, a lot of the reader emails I’ve received lately come from adults who stumbled across the book in Target stores (Target is currently shelving the book in the “Bookmarked Breakout” section, not the young adults section). So maybe the story has a wider appeal than I imagined.

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

I finished the rough draft in mid-2003, and I began querying agents through Writer’s Market shortly thereafter, right as I was beginning law school. An agent accepted me several months down the line and submitted the manuscript to more than a dozen publishers. It was universally rejected–apparently, 599 pages is a bit too long. Instead of ending his representation, my agent graciously allowed me to take my first summer after law school to halve the book’s length. It was this new, shorter draft that was bought a few weeks later.

Congratulations on the publication of Anatomy of a Boyfriend (Delacorte, 2007)(excerpt)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thank you! I remember my first hall meeting during freshman year of college–we were introducing ourselves and discovering that almost half of us had boyfriends from high school. Then by the following semester, almost everyone had dumped or been dumped by her high school sweetheart. So I wanted to focus on that part of a girl’s life when she’s simultaneously excited for and scared of how college will change things. In the book, Dominique, the protagonist, says, “I used to think of college acceptance letters as emancipation proclamations. Now they’re like divorce papers.”

I also wanted to do a straightforward, nonjudgmental treatment of the emotional roller coaster of love. I resent that all of the words associated with romantic love are so pejorative. We’re often called “nuts,” “obsessed,” “head over heels,” “infatuated,” and “addicted.”

Why is love saddled with such negative words considering that any one of us, no matter how brainy, sane, or logical, can feel this way? Anatomy of a Boyfriend concerns a girl whose intelligence is above average but still longs uncontrollably for her knight in letterman jacket. Her behaviors may seem crazy, but in truth what she’s experiencing couldn’t be more natural and human.

Could you briefly describe the story?

Seventeen year old Dominique can’t wait to graduate from high school and go pre-med. She’s rational and level-headed and never had a serious crush before. However, during winter break of her senior year, she meets shy but dreamy fellow senior Wes. For the first time in her life, all of her priorities become completely reordered, and she finds herself thinking about him every minute of the day, reading into every little thing he says or does, and desiring to be his girlfriend more than she wants to be accepted into her first choice college. This is the story of Dom’s emotional and sexual journey through the euphoric highs and hellish lows of first love. It also follows Dom’s transition to college as she tries desperately to keep her relationship with Wes intact.

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

The biggest logistical challenge was juggling literary revisions with the rigors of law school. Luckily, I was able to schedule all of my classes on Mondays through Thursdays, so I had three-day weekends to devote to the book.

One of the many aspects of this book that I appreciated was Dominique’s smart, sometimes clinical, sometimes vulnerable, always real voice. Could you give us some insights as to how you came to know this character?

Thank you, again! We see Dom before and after she falls under love’s life-altering spell, and every emotion she experiences I’ve endured as well. Before I had ever been in love, I was so impatient with my girlfriends who wouldn’t stop “obsessing” over their (ex)boyfriends. I kept telling them, “Just get over him! He’s not right for you! How can a smart, sensible girl like you act this pathetically?” Then when I finally fell for a guy, I found myself guilty of everything I had railed against. For the first time ever, I identified with Scarlett O’Hara, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and a host of other characters from literature whom I had initially written off as unrealistic, clingy, selfish dopes unworthy of carrying a novel.

So although Dom and I differ in most ways, I understood her plight all too well. I just tried to express it in Dom’s uniquely scientific, analytical voice. More than anything, I tried to make her sound honest. That’s what I appreciate most about Blume’s characters–they are always very straight with the reader about everything they are going through, even if what they’re feeling, be it spite, jealousy or hate, isn’t all that complimentary.

What is it like, being a debut novelist in 2007?

I’m lucky we have email and MySpace to make direct communication virtually effortless. I feel much more connected to readers and writers than I probably would have ten years ago.

Growing up in the eighties, I rarely sent fan mail to authors because it was too time-consuming to find the address, write out a letter, and schlep it to the post office, especially since there were no assurances that the author would ever receive it, let alone respond. Now I rarely read a book without emailing the author afterwards.

What are some of your favorite recent reads?

Nine Wives by Dan Elish (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005). It’s about a thirty-something musician/legal assistant in Manhattan who’s raring to get married, but his standards are a tad skewed. It’s perfectly written, highly thought-provoking, and totally hilarious. Elish actually spoke to my fifth grade class back in the eighties about his middle-grade book, The Worldwide Dessert Contest. I remember him describing how arduous and frustrating editing can be, and knowing that comforted me during my own revision process.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Praying for “The Wonder Years” to be released on DVD.