Cynsational News, Links & Hiatus

Cynsations is going on its annual summer hiatus! To those who have interview questions pending, please complete them at your leisure and send them when they’re ready. I’ll go ahead and format so they’ll be ready to run when I relaunch.

In June, I’ll be returning to the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults to teach a summer residency. Other faculty in residence are: Sarah Ellis; Sharon Darrow (author interview); David Gifaldi, Uma Krishnaswami (author interview); Jane Kurtz (author interview); Julie Larios; Leda Schubert (author interview); Rita Williams-Garcia (author interview); and Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview). Visiting authors include: Susan Cooper; M.T. Anderson (author interview); Martine Leavitt; David Levithan (author interview) and Anita Silvey. Note: Kathi Appelt (author interview) will not be at the residency but will be teaching next semester; the same may also be true of Ellen Howard (author interview). The featured cover art is from The Boat in the Tree by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by John Shelley (Front Street, 2007).

The following month, I’ll be on the faculty at Writing & Illustrating for Children, the 36th annual summer of conference of SCBWI. The event will be held August 3 to 6th in Los Angeles. My topics are “Increasing Your Revenue & Book Sales: Blogs and Websites” (part of a special workshop track) and “Using the Web to Build Craft and Career.”

Austin-area readers, mark your calendars! I’ll also be speaking and signing at the Hastings Books, Music, and Video in Round Rock (2200 S. I-35) during the afternoon of Aug. 18. More details forthcoming! In addition, I’ll visit the University Hills branch of the Austin Public Library from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 23.

What’s Fresh With Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize: an interview at YA Fresh (from Kelly Para, author of Graffiti Girl (MTV, 2007)). Visit Kelly at MySpace! Note: watch for another upcoming interview with me at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) is a Junior Advisory Board (JAB) pick at Chapters. Emma-Lee Kramer, 12 from Edmonton, Alberta writes: “I found this book extremely entertaining. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith threw such curve balls and twists of plot that it was always a weird and wonderful read. Tantalize kept me transfixed and it was nearly impossible to put down. A book that keeps me that engaged can earn no less than five stars.” City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, Book 1) by Cassandra Clare (McElderry, 2007) also is a JAB pick. Note: “The JAB contest encourages and supports a love of reading for youths aged 10 to 16 years. The annual reading contest searches the country to find the nation’s [Canada’s] top young readers and give them a chance to voice their opinions about what kids should be reading.” Photo by Cecil Castellucci.

Kristen Pihlman of Tracy Press (CA) writes: “Tantalize is as delicious and satiable as a generous slice of rich and creamy, chocolate cake.” In addition, Lyn Seippel at BookLoons Reviews calls the novel a “darkly romantic, alluring urban fantasy.”

The July grand-prize giveaway for the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace will be a signed copy of Don’t Die Dragonfly from The Seer series by Linda Joy Singleton (Llewellyn, 2005)(excerpt). From the promotional copy: “After getting kicked out of school and sent to live with her grandmother, Sabine Rose is determined to become a ‘normal’ teenage girl. She hides her psychic powers from everyone, even from her grandmother Nona, who also has ‘the gift.’ Having a job at the school newspaper and friends like Penny-Love, a popular cheerleader, have helped Sabine fit in at her new school. She has even managed to catch the eye of the adorable Josh DeMarco. Yet, Sabine can’t seem to get the bossy voice of Opal, her spirit guide, out of her head…or the disturbing images of a girl with a dragonfly tattoo. Suspected of a crime she didn’t commit, Sabine must find the strength to defend herself and, later, save a friend from certain danger.” Read a Cynsations interview with Linda about the series. Note: runner-up prizes will be posted to the group board.

Eligibility for the June giveaways is ongoing. These include signed copies of Over and Over You by Amy McCauley (Roaring Brook, 2005)(author interview), Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004)(author interview), and Exile: Star Wars Legacy of the Force by Aaron Allston (Del Rey, 2007).

“How to Hook the Reluctant Boy Reader” by Denise Hamilton of the LA Times. Authors mentioned include David Lubar (author interview) and Greg Leitich Smith (author interview). The cover art to the left highlights Greg’s debut novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005). It’s a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner.

Greg and I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel on Saturday afternoon at the Writers League of Texas Agents Conference with authors Kathi Appelt (author interview) and Julie Lake (author interview) and agents Andrea Brown and Scott Treimel. Author sightings also included Mark G. Mitchell (author interview), Lila and Rick Guzman (author interview), Tim Tingle, and Jo Whittemore (author interview). We also briefly spoke to Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, which is our agency, though we’re represented by the other Ginger there (Ginger Knowlton).

More Globally

Amy Lin (formerly Amy Hsu) has launched editomato, “a small, online business offering developmental editorial services to children’s book writers aiming to be published in the trade market.” Find out more. Note: before leaving Little Brown, Amy was Greg’s editor.

Congratulations to Chris Barton of Bartography on the sale of his YA biography on Alan Lomax to Bloomsbury! Note: not many authors have multiple projects sold before the first is released. Keep an eye on Mr. Barton (and an eye out for his forthcoming titles).

Embarrassing Editor Moments by Barbara O’Connor at Greetings from Nowhere. Look for her latest, How To Steal a Dog (FSG, 2007).

Escape Reality Summer Reading List by “Book Diva” Melissa at MySpace. Note: I’m honored that Tantalize is included on the list. See also her Smart Chick Lit for Summer Reading.

Jo Knowles will be teaching a graduate course on writing for children at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College this fall in conjunction with the MA/MFA program.

Weekend highlights included a party and signing Saturday at BookPeople in celebration of Brian Anderson‘s Zack Proton chapter book series (Aladdin, 2006-). It was a wonderful event, drawing about fifty people, and featured games for the kids. Brian also did an upbeat and entertaining visual presentation about the series. Perhaps the most notable feature was the Warlord of Nibblecheese piñata. You can’t tell from the photo, but it’s enormous. Scroll for behind-the-scenes details and Austin kids save planet earth! Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Native Students in Chicago Public Schools by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Nonfiction Matters: a new blog from Marc Aronson at School Library Journal. Source: Bartography. Read a Cynsations interview with Marc.

PW Asks: Are There Too Many Books? from Alice CWIM Blog. Congratulations to Alice for sending the 2008 CWIM to the printer!

Writing for Educational Publishers with Pam Zollman: an Institute of Children’s Literature chat from June 2006.

Author Interview: Brian Yansky on Wonders of the World

Brian Yansky on Brian Yansky: “It’s an old story. I was born and I was very small and then I got larger and then one day I stopped growing and, with minor adjustments, I’ve stayed about the same size ever since. All of this growing happened in Iowa where, I once read, there are eight pigs for every person. I didn’t really notice at the time, but I still felt compelled to leave at my earliest opportunity. I had wanderlust.

“I moved around a lot for several years. Eventually, I ended up in Texas. I got a couple of degrees along the way. One at the University of Texas. One at Vermont College–an MFA in Writing [adult program]. I wrote a lot of unpublished manuscripts before I wrote a published one. Like being born and growing and having wanderlust, this is very common, at least among writers.

“My first published novel was My Road Trip to The Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003). My second published novel is Wonders of the World (Flux, June 2007). I live in Austin, Texas with my wife, Frances Hill, and some dogs and a cat named Chaos.”

How did the writing life first call to you? Did you shout, “yes!” Or run the other way?

I shouted “yes” in a quiet kind of way. I loved to write. I didn’t love to do many things, so finding something I loved to do was cathartic. It changed everything.

Why did you decide to write for teen readers specifically?

My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World was written as an adult novel but accepted for publication as a Young Adult. I started reading YA novels then, and I loved reading about characters that age. I discovered a lot of amazing novels and writers. I became a YA reader. I wanted to write another YA novel. This time I wanted to be aware I was writing a YA novel while I was writing it.

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

I’m the poster person for try, try again. I wrote five novels before I published my first novel. I wrote dozens of stories before I got one published in a literary journal.

Stumbles? Oh yeah. I kept myself going by telling myself this was what I wanted to do. If no one else was interested, I was still going to keep doing it for me. Being blindly obstinate can be helpful to a writer. The other thing that kept me going is that I love to write; I love the whole struggle to get a story down on paper.

Your first novel was My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003). What was the book about?

Identity. The main character is adopted (like I was) and is getting into trouble at school and with his parents and with the law. His girlfriend drops him and he decides to take off on a road trip to find his birth parents. He has some adventures along the way and ends up in the Pretty Girl Capital of the World, which is Austin, Texas, my adopted hometown.

Congratulations on your new release, Wonders of the World (Flux, 2007). What was the initial inspiration for this book?

The novel is about street kids and takes place on the street. I worked at the University of Texas for a while and I used to see this group of street kids getting up in the morning in a park across from campus. There were a lot of them some mornings, and some of them were very young. I wondered what their stories were. I thought about my own youth when, for a time, I hitchhiked around the country. When I was passing through cities, I sometimes stayed in the same places as street kids did.

Even back then there were kids living on the street. I decided that I wanted to tell a story about a teen who ended up on the street and his struggle to find a way off it.

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

I guess it took me a little over a year to write the novel and then another few months for my agent to sell it. Then it was a year and a half after that to publication. There are always major events of the imagination while working on a novel. You struggle with a certain point in the plot or a character and you find your way (at least you hope you do). Besides these internal struggles, I attended a workshop called Writefest that was very helpful in motivating me to finish the novel.

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

I did some research on street kids. Nothing in depth, but read a few articles and books and looked around on the web. I discovered a very useful site called Stand Up For Kids, an outreach group for children and teens who are homeless and living on the street.

I was appalled by this statistic: about 1.5 million kids and teens live on the street in America. It confirmed my sense that there are a lot more teens and kids living on the street than most people think. My biggest challenge was creating the world my characters live in. I hope I got it right.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Try to write the kind of work you love to read. Read. A lot. Write. Rewrite. Listen to everything writers you admire say about writing, then only use what works for you. This will take patient experimentation. Some of the best advice I got was try to find what your characters yearns for and let that direct the story. Characters will not always be up-front about this, so sometimes you will have to write a lot to figure out what they really want. Another good piece of advice for me was try to get to the place inside you that allows you to write intutitively in a kind of continous dream. Rewrite looking for places where you seem to have lost the flow of that dream.

How about YA novelists specifically?

For me, writing YA fiction is no different from writing adult fiction except that it’s about young people. It has a different feel because if you’re true to voice and character your characters will see the world through the eyes of someone who is a teenager regardless of how old you are.

Like me, you’re married to a fellow author. How do you relate to each other in the writing part of your lives?

Wonderfully. We support each other and read for each other. There are some parts of the writing business that are very difficult, and we help each other through these. I feel very lucky to be married to someone who walks into the room where I’m supposed to be writing and sees me staring out the window (at length) and does not feel obligated to point out that I do not seem to be writing, or for that matter doing anything. I seem to be lost in space. She understands that writing, in fact, requires that you stare out the window a lot. At least for me. When I start talking about a character as if he or she is a real person, she does not suggest I see a therapist or covertly call friends and family for an intervention. She understands. I feel very lucky to be married to another writer.

What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?

Teach, watch movies, travel, exercise, eat out, listen to music, play with my new Old English Sheepdog.

Author Interview: Deborah Davis on Not Like You

Deborah Davis on Deborah Davis: “I write contemporary, realistic fiction about teens who think seriously about themselves and the world, who take risks, make mistakes, figure out what they love, and learn to laugh at themselves. My books contain a lot of ‘issues,’ but they contain humor as well.

“When I teach writing workshops, I teach from the belief that everyone can write well, given the right support and encouragement. I love working with reluctant writers. As a teen, I was a reluctant writer. Terrified, even. Now I believe that the scared or hesitant writers usually have the most to say.

“I recently moved from Seattle to Berkeley, California, an area that is rich with writers and literary events. I’ve been warmly welcomed here, and I’m thrilled to be launching Not Like You (Clarion, 2007) from the Bay area.”

What about the writing life first called to you?

As a child and young teen I loved making up stories, but I had such bad experiences in high school English classes that by the time I graduated I believed I couldn’t write and was not creative in any way. In college, I studied history and Latin American literature, and after college I wanted only to be outside and helping people. That desire led me to work with adjudicated and “at risk” teens in wilderness programs.

After a few years doing that, I began having ideas for stories about young people and felt an irrepressible need to write them down. I felt so strongly that I had something to say, that I had to say it through writing stories, and that I needed to have those stories read by others. I quit working with teens, took several writing workshops and classes, spent many hours free-writing, and eventually found a job editing magazine articles. While working on the magazine, I wrote my first novel for young people.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

Most stories that come to me are through the point of view of teenagers. It’s just the way I imagine them. Or maybe that’s simply what interests me: a time of life when you are figuring out who you are, what’s important to you, and how you are both separate and connected to others.

Could you fill us in on your path to publication–any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I’ve alternately sprinted and stumbled–or maybe sprinted and paused–since I began writing my first novel, a chapter book titled The Secret of the Seal (Crown, 1989), in 1985. I write quickly, but I revise a lot and sometimes I need to let a story sit before I can work on it more.

I wrote The Secret of the Seal mostly on Sundays over a year, and the book sold fairly quickly–I had two offers within two and a half months of sending it out.

My second book, My Brother Has AIDS (Atheneum, 1994), went through several major revisions, but I got to develop that story under the brilliant guidance of Atheneum editor Jean Karl, who eventually offered me a contract for it. I took time off from writing when my son was young, and unfortunately Jean died right when I was finishing a third book, one that she and I had been working on together.

That manuscript still needs a lot of work, and I eventually set it aside to write Not Like You (Clarion, 2007). I did my fastest and longest sprint on Not Like You–writing 200 pages of the first draft in 18 days–but ultimately it was a five-year process from concept to publication, one interrupted by a half-year living in India, a major move, and editing an anthology.

For those new to your work, could you briefly highlight your backlist as you see fit?

The Secret of the Seal (Crown, 1989) is a sweet chapter book about an Inuit boy who encounters an unusual seal while hunting. It was an IRA Teacher’s Choice and a Notable Trade Book in Social Studies and has been used in elementary classrooms across the country. My Brother Has AIDS (Atheneum, 1994), which was included in the NYPL’s Books for the Teen Age, tells the story of a 13-year-old swimmer named Lacy who courageously faces a family tragedy and learns how to move beyond it. My third book, You Look Too Young to be a Mom: Teen Mothers Speak Out on Love, Learning, and Success (Perigee, 2004), is a collection of true stories by women ages 20 to 60 who became mothers in their teen years. I worked with more than 100 women to create that book, which was also included in the NYPL’s Books for the Teen Age.

Congratulations on the publication of Not Like You (Clarion, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

My stories often begin as images, and it’s hard to say exactly where they come from. For Not Like You, I had an image of a teenage girl finding her mother passed out from drinking on the floor of a trailer in the New Mexico desert. The girl felt a mixture of concern and fury, and that piqued my interest: what was her story? How would she reconcile her conflicting feelings of deep love and intense anger toward her mother? I was also inspired by having lived in New Mexico after college, by my own history with drinking, and by my experience of having an older boyfriend when I was 16.

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

I give a terrific hour-long talk about this timeline, so I’ll try to keep it brief! I began Not Like You in 2001. Simultaneously, I started soliciting essays for You Look Too Young to be a Mom. In early 2002 my husband, my then 8-year-old son, and I lived and traveled in India and Nepal for five months. I worked on the anthology there–when we had power–and had to put Not Like You aside, and when I returned from South Asia I signed a contract for the anthology and had to focus primarily on that.

In the fall of 2003, I got to spend three weeks in a paradise otherwise known as Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers, and I finished the first draft of Not Like You during that time (that’s where I wrote 200 pages in 18 days). The book went through a round of rejections from publishers in 2004, so I completely revised it, and in 2005 my agent sent it out again. In the summer of that year I received an offer from Jennifer Wingertzahn at Clarion, and over the next year I did four more drafts of the book for her, finishing in fall of 2006. Whew!

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

The biggest challenges were a combination of psychological and literary. For instance, I had to make sure that Kayla, who turns 16 during the story, didn’t sound too mature or too self-aware. As the child of an irresponsible and neglectful alcoholic, Kayla has been exposed to a lot, yet she’s still young emotionally, so I had to show that she was both experienced and naïve. I also felt challenged to make Kayla’s mother, Marilyn, realistic. So many mothers (and fathers) in young adult literature are either absent, neglectful, or thinly drawn.

I had to delve deeply into Kayla’s relationship with her mother, which is at the heart of the story, and it was difficult to balance the love they feel for each other with the far more negative emotions each of them experiences. For both characters, I had to mine my own history of relationships–not the details so much as the feelings and the dynamics. Writing dialogue was particularly gnarly. I probably rewrote the scenes with dialogue more than any others, trying to create both text (what the characters actually say) as well as subtext (what they really mean).

The research challenges included making sure my descriptions of the Southwest settings were accurate–a task accomplished during two writing retreats I did in New Mexico while revising the book. I also spent time reading about alcoholic families and discussing them with a social worker friend.

What do you hope readers take away from the story?

Not Like You is unusual in the YA field in its focus on the mother-daughter relationship. Both Kayla and her mother make bad decisions, yet neither one is a wholly bad person. I hope readers will take heart from Kayla and her mother’s efforts to find their way through a maze of complex emotions.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

It’s been said by others, but it’s true: write a lot, read a lot (in your genre and in others), rewrite a lot. And participate in a critique group. Very few people can write and then improve their work entirely on their own.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love settling into my ergonomically-designed rolling chair with a mug of hot green tea, the morning sun shining on the cat curled next to my desk, feeling curious and hopeful: what will I discover as I write today? What will my characters discover and say and do? What problems will we solve? Will their lives get messy or juicy or complicated?

The writing process for me is fascinating. It’s the most interesting, challenging, and satisfying work I’ve ever done. It scratches an itch that nothing else can reach. It gives me a sense of purpose that I rarely get from doing anything else–and I’ve done many other kinds of work! I love creating something substantial from an idea, and I love how the truth and beauty inherent in that story resonate with readers. The connection that occurs between me and people who read my writing simply cannot happen in any other way, and it’s really deep and precious. It’s as if I have a part of me that can only be known through my stories, a part that I want known.

Okay, that was a little heavy and off-track at the end, but it’s all true.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

Only my periodic self-doubt, jealousy of other writers, and lapses in confidence. And the anxiety that accompanies waiting–for my critique group to give me their comments on a new draft, for my editor’s thoughts on my latest revision, or for reviews to come out.

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

I’m not sure I can say I love anything about publishing, if you mean the business of it, unless it’s the kind of love one might have for a highly idiosyncratic or even insane relative. Publishing is a wacky, often unpredictable business. I enjoy talking about it, in small doses, and I love being published; otherwise, I try to walk steadily through the ups and downs of publishing, trying not to take anything too personally, trying to keep my focus on writing.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Aside from reading posts on too many listservs, updating my blogs, procrastinating (what is it about those REI and Sierra Trading Post catalogs?), and checking my refrigerator frequently to see if something decadent has spontaneously appeared, I read a lot, take long bike rides and walks and sometimes a dance class, or work out at the gym. I also hang out with friends and my husband and son, and I love to travel. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago and rafted the Colorado through the Grand Canyon last year. I’m aiming to do a 100-mile bike ride this fall.

[Visit Deborah’s LJ and MySpace].

What can your fans look forward to next?

My current work-in-progress is a novel about a 17-year-old named Lina, an ambitious student who hates to see people suffer and aspires to become a doctor. When her parents take her to India during her senior year of high school, she is miserable, and to earn money to return home she takes a job working for an attractive young photographer who photographs what he calls the beauty of suffering. Lina’s experiences in India challenge her beliefs about love and suffering, her confidence in herself, her commitment to her schoolwork, and her desire to pursue her dreams…

Author Interview: April Lurie on Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds

April Lurie on April Lurie: “I’m a Brooklyn girl. When I write, I’m back in my old neighborhood reinventing my teenage life. But for the past fourteen years my husband and I have been raising our kids in Austin, Texas–a fabulous city with a vibrant and supportive children’s and young adult writers’ community.”

You last spoke to Cynsations in 2002 about your debut novel, Dancing In the Streets of Brooklyn (Delacorte, 2002). Could you fill us in on your writing life since that time?

I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since my fist novel was released. For two years (maybe more, I lost track!) I wrote and revised a summer camp story that never came together.

I’m very stubborn, but when I finally let it go I decided to take a risk and write a story about a shy, Scandinavian girl who gets mixed up with the Italian Mafia. I sent my editor the first three chapters and she loved it! I wrote Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds in nine months and during that time I think I found my voice. At least, I hope I did.

After that, I decided to try something different and write a story from a fifteen-year-old boy’s point of view. It was great fun. That book–The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine–will be coming out in May 2008 with Delacorte. I’m very excited.

Congratulations on the publication of Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)! Could you tell us about the story?

Thank you! Sure. The year is 1977, and fourteen-year-old April Lundquist lives in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, home of the Colombo and Bonanno crime families. April has always felt safe in her neighborhood (who’s going to mess with the mob?), but when Salvatore “Soft Sal” Luciano, approaches April with a business proposition she can’t refuse, things begin to change.

Not only is April finding hundred-dollar bills in her school books, but now her older brother, Matt, is in serious trouble for dating a crime bosses daughter.On top of this, her long time crush, Dominick DeMao–bad-boy rocker and heart-breaker–is suddenly interested in her.

It’s a bit of a roller-coaster ride, but in the end, April learns a little about family, friends, and choosing the right guy.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I really put myself out there because this story is partly autobiographical. I grew up in Dyker Heights and several mobsters lived on my block. When I was a kid I thought it was totally normal (doesn’t everyone live this way?), but as I got older I began to realize what a unique experience I had. Finally, I figured, hey, I should write about this!

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

Well, let’s see. It was quicker this time around! I began writing the story in early 2005, and finished by the end of the year. I have a wonderful editor at Delacorte who was kind enough to read parts of it along the way and offer advice. The only problem was the cover art. It was difficult to find a concept that worked. Then, right before the catalogs were about to be printed, my editor sent me a jpeg of the final art. I loved it! Definitely worth the wait.

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

I was a teenager in 1977, but I still had to do quite a bit of research about the time period, i.e., fashion, movies, music. It was kind of like a refresher course. I read books about the Mob and watched all my favorite gangster flicks–“Goodfellas,” “Donnie Brasco,” “The Godfather”–which was very enjoyable. Of course, growing up around the Mafia helped a lot–I basically knew about their family life, what cars they drove, what clothes they wore, the lingo, the gestures, but of course the challenge was making it real for the reader. Hopefully, I did.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love coming up with an idea that excites me, and I love finding the voice of my protagonist. Writing is very solitary and sometimes I get lonely, so I enjoy the whole process of getting to know my characters so they seem like friends. I love working with my editor, who always seems to know how to make a story better.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

The first draft can be daunting. Staring at the blank page when you’ve had a bad week and would rather be out having lunch with a friend is tough. But I wouldn’t skip any of it, really. Writing is a long, messy process and I suppose even the bad times are necessary.

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

Hmm, publishing. Yes, I suppose we do have a love/hate relationship. I’ll admit, having a book published is a fabulous feeling. Kind of like giving birth. But then there are reviews and marketing pressures and (sometimes embarrassing) book signings. The highs and lows can be hard to deal with, especially when you are trying to be creative!

If you could go back in time to your beginning author self, what would you tell her?

Relax. Don’t worry so much. Take your time and enjoy life.

Author Interview: David Lubar on True Talents

David Lubar on David Lubar: “I write novels and short stories for anyone with a sense of humor or a sense of wonder. My hobbies include procrastination, complaining, and voting for myself on teen-choice book lists.”

You last spoke to Cynsations in 2005 about your YA novel, Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (Dutton, 2005). Could you fill us in on your writing life since that time?

I’ve spent the last two years working ceaselessly on developing a neuro-linguist method for responding to interview question with answers that will be so captivating and charming that they will inspire everyone who reads them to immediately buy multiple copies of all my books. (Psssst. Hey you. You need True Talents (Starscape, 2007).) Where was I? Oh, yeah… Beyond that, my writing life involves far more writing than it did when last we spoke. Back then, I was on the road way too much. I’ve stopped doing school visits for a while. I now have much more time to write, and a deeper appreciation of the finer aspects of poverty.

Congratulations on the publication of True Talents (Starscape, 2007)! It’s a sequel to Hidden Talents (Tor, 1999)(Starscape, 2007), so let’s start there! Could you tell us about Hidden Talents, and why you wanted to continue the story?

Hidden Talents, at its heart, is about the way that society is so quick to cast off kids and to slap labels on them. With Edgeview Alternative School, I created a place where the kids, the teachers, and even the building itself is a cast off. But these kids have been badly mislabled. And that’s where the magic shows up. The kids aren’t behavior problems. Instead, they have these amazing, unrecognized gifts.

I honestly didn’t have any plans to continue the story. But there was a demand for a sequel, both from readers, and from my publisher. Kids wanted to know what happened next. My publisher wanted to build on the momentum and success of the first book.

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

The spark didn’t happen until somewhere near the middle of the timeline. I started writing the book in July, 2003, and finished the first draft that October. It took up with the same narrator, Martin Anderson, as he was about to start high school. I kept working on it through October of 2004. I normally don’t take that long with a book, but two things were working against me. I was traveling constantly, and I didn’t like the way the book turned out. Meanwhile, my editor left Tor.

After talking with my new editor, I decided to start from scratch. I put aside the book I’d written, and began a new one focusing on a different character–Eddie “Trash” Thalmayer. The spark came when I thought about someone waking up from a drugged stupor in a research lab. When the first book ended, the guys still had a secret they were trying to keep from the world. Now, the secret was out. I had a first draft three months later. But it still didn’t go into copy editing until last July.

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

The biggest challenge was psychological. Hidden Talents is still growing in popularity. There was no way I was going to sully it with a crappy sequel. I think that’s why I dragged my feet for so long.

As for literary challenges, I wanted immediacy, but I also wanted to show what had happened to all of the guys from the first book. I decided to combine a first-person narrative from the main character with third-person sections from the other characters. I’ve always loved the whole “Roshomon” aspect of showing a story through more than one set of eyes. Since the book switches viewpoints so much, I put a lot of time into arranging these sections in a way I hoped wouldn’t feel awkward to the reader.

I also took a big risk with the opening. Eddie is emerging from a drugged stupor. He’s hallucinating, and his mind is wandering. The scene doesn’t immediately make sense. That’s a big risk, and I’m still worried I’ll lose a few potential readers, but it seems to have worked out. Besides, how can you resist a book that opens with: “The gorilla who clung to the ceiling was wearing a Princeton T-shirt”?

How long have you been writing with an eye toward publication?

I was collecting rejection slips back when I was in high school. I got serious about publication when I got out of college 1976. I made my first fiction sale in 1978. So I’m far closer to my expiration date than many of the current novelists.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love writing dialogue, especially when my characters’ personalities begin to emerge. I’ll have this kid who’s little more than a lump of clay, and he’ll say something that suddenly defines a part of him. Often, my supporting characters will take over. I’m really fond of Ellis from Flip (Starscape, 2004), and Malcolm from Dunk (Clarion, 2002)(excerpt). I’m really bad with tools, and less than marginal with a drawing pencil, so I find it extremely rewarding that I can build things out of words.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I’d love to skip the delay that happens before I get feedback. I wish people could take in a novel like a painting and respond immediately.

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

I love they way I’m treated. Tor, especially, makes me feel like I stumbled into someone else’s dream. They take me places, promote my books, and just treat me wonderfully. I love going out to dinner with my publisher because she has incredibly good taste in wine. And I love hearing from people who felt my books made a difference, because I didn’t set out to change the world. I set out to entertain people. It’s nice to know that my work has positive side effects.

As for things I abhor, I dislike not winning major awards, because I am pathetically needy and drink validation the way a vampire drinks blood.

How has the business changed over time, for worse and better?

It’s tough for me to judge that, since my own relationship to the industry had changed over time. When I started, I was unknown. Then I became a rumor. Now, I’m vaguely familiar. The only constant change I’ve noticed is that more and more of the editors are the same age as my daughter.

If you could go back in time to your beginning author self, what would you tell him?

Buy Berkshire Hathaway. Stay off the Internet.

Author Feature: Olivia Birdsall

Olivia Birdsall on Olivia Birdsall: “I was born and raised in Orange County, CA, the second of ten children. (People always ask me, ‘Sooo ten kids, how was that?’ like my parents must have been cousins, or lived on a commune or a dirt farm, or something…

“I really loved having all of those brothers and sisters. They’re all amazingly smart and beautiful and funny. That’s probably the most annoying part about it: too many superstars.)

“My family moved to Utah while I was in high school, which was difficult, but interesting. Growing up, I never thought I’d be a writer; I always thought I was destined to make lots of money and be very important, but beyond that, my career aspirations weren’t very consistent.

“I decided to major in English in college when I realized that I really loved reading, and talking about books and stories more than almost anything. I graduated from NYU with an MFA in Creative Writing in 2005, and I now teach writing at NYU full-time (which means about two or three days a week, seven months a year–it’s a dream job!).

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

I began working on Notes on a Near-Life Experience (Delacorte, 2007) during my last year as an undergraduate. Back then it was a book about a dancer with an eating disorder whose older brother ran away and was living in a video arcade (I still want to write the story of the kid who runs away to live in a bizarre place like that).

I took a year off from writing it to work full-time and apply to grad school, and I worked on it off and on for two years at NYU. I sent it to the 2004 Delacorte contest (without an ending, but with a note that said I’d be more than happy to write a really great ending if they published it), and it was rejected. I re-submitted it the next year with a different first scene and with a pretty weak ending, and they took it. That made me a big believer in the importance of first scenes/chapters.

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

I really, really valued the encouragement and advice of my workshop groups and professors. I think I would have given up if they hadn’t told me time and again that I wasn’t a complete loser. I wish I hadn’t been so scared and critical of myself. I still feel as if I am my own worst critic and that the constant criticism and doubt that comes from my own brain prevents me from writing more, writing better, and taking bigger risks.

Congratulations on the publication of Notes on a Near-Life Experience (Delacorte, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

I wanted to write about redefining and reconstructing family because my own experiences with an evolving concept of family (divorce, the death of a sibling) were the ones that shaped me the most as a person. I think one of the most difficult things we face as we’re trying to figure out how to grow up is making sense of things that don’t look the way they do on TV, that don’t turn out the way you expected them to.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way? In particular, could you tell us about your experience with the Delacorte Press contest?

I think I did that in the publishing question above… But, I do love to talk about myself, so…. Winning Delacorte was like having a dream fall out of nowhere into my lap. I didn’t feel like I had earned publication…. I thought I’d have to send out my manuscript to every publishing house on the planet and be rejected by all of them twice before I’d ever have anything published.

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

I’m not a very consistent writer. If I sat down and wrote, even for an hour, every day I’d churn out thousands of pages (albeit mediocre ones) a year. However, I am lazy and most often write under the gun (which is why having a workshop group, deadlines, etc. is still SO crucial for me); my biggest challenge is my own laziness and fickleness.

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

I really loved my book party. I organized it as a combination thirtieth birthday party and book party–it had a prom theme (in honor of the book)–we had a balloon arch where we took Polaroid pictures of all of the guests, a punch bowl, cookies, music from when I was in junior high and high school; my friends read anecdotes about their own high school experiences; we even ended it with a cheesy, awkward slow dance. It was pretty much the awesomest book party I’ve ever attended.

Are you doing anything special to promote your new release?

I’ve tried talking to everyone I know in journalism to get them to talk about my book and say nice things about it. I’ve offered free kissing lessons to anyone who’ll buy the book, but, come to think of it, no one has taken me up on it…strange. If you have any promotional suggestions, or if you know of a place that will let me a stage a Notes on a Near-Life Experience bake/book sale or car wash, please let me know. Seriously. Call me.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love what the process has the power to illicit from me. I love it when an especially beautiful, powerful, or hilarious turn of phrase shows up on my screen out of nowhere, like a gift. I love it when my characters refuse to do what I want them to, and ask me to tell a different story than the one I was planning on. I love all of this because it says writing really is about something more than self-gratification and self-indulgence; it can transcend the writer.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I wish I could skip the Internet surfing that I do to distract myself from writing, and the lack of confidence… I love the writing; I even enjoy revising to some degree, what bothers me is the time that I waste, that I just can’t bring myself to stop wasting.

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

My experience with publishing is so limited. I wish that it moved faster, I guess. I wish that the publicity/promotion stuff was easier to figure out.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Write, write, write. Get a great workshop group. Give yourself deadlines. SUBMIT your work. And don’t beat yourself up; everyone sucks sometimes, and plenty of people who are writing worse books than yours have been published. Louise Plummer used to tell our class: “Good writers borrow; the best writers steal!” I think that’s great advice.

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

Don’t preach or moralize. Try to find out how teenagers live, talk, and interact NOW rather than relying solely on your own experience. Remember how smart your readers are.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Anastasia Suen is now offering all five of her online children’s book writing workshops with a Independent Study option. Students are invited to work with her at their own pace. For more information, contact Anastasia at

Primer (part one and part two), insights for beginning writers by Diana Peterfreund. Source: Justine Larbalestier. Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Congratulations to Lisa Rondinelli Albert who has signed with agent Caryn Wiseman at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and to Caryn for signing Lisa!

Speaking of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, congratulations also to Jo Whittemore who signed there with Michelle Andelman and to Michelle or signing Jo. Check out Jo’s Details of the Great Agent Hunt! Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Why I Organized the Summer Blog Blast Tour by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Note: I’m packing up and locking down for hiatus, but please know I’m cheering y’all on.

More Personally

Tantalize/Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Erin L. Nappe from Required Reading. Learn about my five favorite vampires, foods, things I can’t live without, people who have influenced my work, and songs that would be on Quincie’s iPod.

Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance

Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance (Henry Holt, 2007)(excerpt). Thriller novelist Ian Tremblin is sponsoring a short-story contest, and five finalists receive the opportunity to spent the night with the horror king at infamous Daemon Hall. The winner’s story will be published, but is a contest worth dying for? At times seriously scary, Daemon Hall is a fearsome mind bender from a debut YA author to watch. Ages 12-up.

Author Bio

“Andrew Nance is retired from a twenty-five-year career as a morning radio DJ. He uses his storytelling skills to give ghost tours throughout historic St. Augustine, Florida, where he lives. This is his first novel for young adults.”

Cynsational News & Links

Author taps love of comics for 1st graphic novel by Matt West from CNN. Here’s a sneak peek: “I’m a big believer in no matter what kind of art you do or want to do that you have to really delve into that genre a lot,” says [Cecil] Castellucci. “I took out my charge card and bought a [ton] of comic books!” See a new interview with Cecil Castellucci from Bookslut.

Every Picture Book Tells a Priceless Story by Teddy Jamieson of The Herald. Focusing on children’s picture book illustration. Source: ACHOCKABLOG.

Flight Tour Blog from author Sherman Alexie. Source: American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Linda Johns, author of the Hannah West mystery series (recommendation), launches a new site designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

Guest Blogger Alan Gratz on the post-contract revision of Samurai Shortshop (Dial, 2006) from Darcy Pattison’s Revision Notes.

Humor with Ruth McNally Barshaw from the Institute of Children’s Literature. A chat transcript.

Levine Greenberg Literary Agency: official agency site. “We love middle grade, young adult, and cross-over titles that strike a chord with young readers, and we are always looking for projects that reflect the real lives, inner imaginings and issues of today’s teen and preteen readers.”

Linda Urban, author of the forthcoming, A Crooked Kind of Perfect (Harcourt, fall 2007) also debuts a new site, also designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys. Note: Lisa doesn’t just design sites for people named Linda; she also designed mine.

Never Mind the Snakeskin, My Boy Got the Sheepskin by Kerry Madden from The Washington Post. A personal essay from the author of Louisiana’s Song (Viking, 2007)(excerpt).

Picture Book Fans! Enter for a chance to win Pest Fest by Julia Durango, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2007) from Three Silly Chicks. See an excerpt.

Potter artist Mary GrandPré makes magic from The Detroit Free Press. Source: Big A little a.

Promoting Your Novel: How To Make a Book Trailer by romance novelist Brenda Coulter from No rules. Just write. Source: Mitali’s Fire Escape; see Mitali’s book trailer.

The Texas Book Festival has re-designed and relaunched its site. “Now visitors will have the convenience of the same familiar web address, but will see great new user-friendly content. The website will feature printable event schedules, author bios, photos, past festival information, and up-to-date details about the 2007 festival, November 2-4. The new website also features the vibrant ‘Children’s Chapter’ with information on all of their favorite authors.” Note: I’m thrilled to see such great names as Shannon Hale, Kimberly Willis Holt (author interview), Deborah Wiles, and Mo Willems already on the schedule. This just in–I’ll be joining them, speaking about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) at the festival on Nov. 4! Hope to see some of you there!

YA fans! Enter for a chance to win Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins, 2007). Source: Class of 2K7 blog.

More Personally

Author David Lubar says of my new release Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): “It’s a fun, inventive read, filled with vampires, werewolves, and food. Bravo to Cynthia. (Though there’s no way I’m ever letting her cook anything for me. Read the book to find out why.)” Glad to hear you’re reading again! Read the whole post.

Burlesque of the Damned chimes in: “in Quince, the author has created a strong female character capable of kicking supernatural butt with a pair of snazzy red cowboy boots. Verdict: Tantalizingly cute.”

Cynsational Notes

Soon Cynsations will go on summer hiatus! If you’re an interviewee who has yet to turn in answers, please touch base with me on your status. It likely will make the most sense to defer your interview until regular posting resumes.

Thank you to the Central Texas Teachers of English for the lovely gift certificate to Mars on South Congress in Austin! The Tandoori chicken is highly recommended!

Author Follow-up: Tanya Lee Stone on A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl

Author Tanya Lee Stone last spoke to Cynsations about her debut novel in February 2006. She updates us on the latest news of the book.

Congratulations on the release of the paperback edition of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2007)! What’s new for your readers in the soft cover?

The first thing you will notice is its hot and sexy new cover! With the boy’s eyes open and the girl’s eyes closed, it kind of says it all about our resident predator Bad Boy, don’t you think?

There is also a bonus Reading Guide in the back, with questions from the fabulous Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. I’m excited about that, as a lot of the feedback I get is how the book is serving as a way to jump-start what can sometimes be hard discussions about love and sex. The reading guide should also appeal to book clubs, and I’m planning on making myself available (virtually) to some book club discussions. Some high schools are already looking ahead to do this for next year. Anyone who has a book club (school or otherwise) and is interested in that option should just email me!

Since we last talked, what kind of response has the book generated among readers?

You know, the book is really about how the choices we make affect who we are and who we want to be. And that we learn from every experience we have, good or bad. The response I’ve gotten in relation to this has been incredibly touching. I’ve had girls write and tell me the book helped them avoid a bad situation, or that they gave it to a friend they were worried about. I’ve also had teens write and tell me they wish they had read the book earlier, but that it really helped them understand some of the emotions they were feeling. I’ve even had parents say it gave them a concrete way to reach out to their kids and communicate with them better about these issues of teen sex.

Some people have expressed surprise that the book hasn’t generated any challenges (that I’m aware of), and I’m hoping it’s because people understand that although I didn’t shy away from the sex scenes (after all, the book is about love and sex!) readers agreed that there was nothing gratuitous in there, and that I take my responsibility to my readers very seriously.

Also, I often get wind of a school where the book is making its rounds and the girls are passing it to each other. There’s nothing better than finding out teens are saying “you’ve got to read this” to their friends. And I’ve been told by librarians that some of their copies are mysteriously “disappearing.” Always a promising sign (grin).

What have been the highlights of your journey with the book to date?

I’d have to say one of the major highlights was getting to know Judy Blume a little bit. Random House sent her a copy of the book, which, I must admit, initially freaked me out. I mean, it had never occurred to me that she might read it. And since I had threaded her book Forever as a theme in my book, I had a moment of panic. What if she hated that I did that?

Thankfully, she didn’t. She loved the book and even mentioned it in an interview. We were put in touch with each other and met for breakfast, where we had a long talk about life and books, books and life. And she was every bit as fabulous as the image I had of her in my head.

The other big highlight has been all the positive personal responses I’ve been sent from teenagers, parents, and even grandparents. There was also the amazing news I got one day telling me that girls were writing in the back of their library copy of my book (a la, the trend I had Josie start in the back of Forever). That copy is now filled with the same kind of support messages I fictionalized! How cool is that?

I blogged about it in a letter to librarians, asking them to please forgive me and consider it a good exception to the rule of never writing in library books!

Also, although I’ve been publishing books for awhile, Bad Boy was my foray into YA fiction and I’ve been thrilled with the welcome I’ve gotten from that community. I’ve made a lot of new writer friends.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a few more books that feature strong girls on the horizon; this time nonfiction. Elizabeth Leads the Way is a picture book about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was the person who started the whole suffrage movement to get women the right to vote. That book has fantastic, quirky illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon.

Also out next spring is a Young Adult biography of Ella Fitzgerald. If you don’t know much about how she went from being a homeless teenager to being one of the most well-known singers on the planet, you’ll have to check that out. An incredibly inspiring story.

The third in this theme of amazing women is a book called Almost Astronauts, about the women who began astronaut testing in 1961 but were not allowed to continue. It was another 20 years before the first women were let into the space program. And I am almost finished with the next novel, but I’m not giving any teasers about that! My website is being redesigned as we speak, so look for new things there, too.

Cynsational Notes

So far, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl has been named to the following state lists: Texas Tayshas, Kentucky Bluegrass Master Award List, and Maryland’s Great Books for Teens 2006. It also has been listed among New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, ALA Quick Picks, and nominated for ALA Best Books for Young Adults and Popular Paperbacks.