Cynsational News & Links

Anneographies: author Anne Bustard on her fave picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday. Anneographies now offers a full year of recommended picture book biographies, listed by the subjects’ birthdays. A wonderful resource for classroom teachers, school librarians, students of biography, and writers of picture book biographies. Note: Anne is the author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Read a Cynsations interview with Anne about Anneographies and another one about Buddy.

A Day in the Life (of One Writer on Retreat) by Kim Winters of Kat’s Eye Journal for Writers from The Edge of the Forest. Here’s a sneak peek: “Honor Your Process. As hard as it is not to do so, don’t compare your process to anyone else’s.” See also an interview with Phil Bildner by Camille Powell of Book Moot. Note: don’t miss any of the other great articles, reviews, and more at the latest issue of The Edge of the Forest.

Michelle Knudsen will be reading Library Lion at The New York Times Great Children’s Read in the park on Sunday, October 14. Her reading is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Target Stage. The entire event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Early registration for the 2008 Writers’ League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference is open now. The first 50 people who register will receive the early-bird discount of $30 and first choice of agents. The conference is planned for the Sheraton Austin Hotel from June 20 to June 22, 2008. Members: $309 (Early Bird: $279); non-members: $354 (Early Bird: $324). Early-bird registrations must be submitted by phone. To register, call 512.499.8914. The schedule is still in development. For an idea of what the conference will be like, check out the 2007 information. Note: I’m not sure how many, if any early-bird slots are left; last year this conference sold out.

Blog Your Book to the Top! shows you exactly how to get your blog noticed, how to bring readers in by the dozens, and how to maintain an ongoing successful book marketing campaign. YA author Amber Kizer (Delacorte) said “Blog Your Book to the Top! makes it easy for the non-techie to grasp and command this vital forum to 21st century audience interaction.” Note: this book features an interview with me (among other author-bloggers).

David Davis: Writer, Speaker, Cartoonist: official site of the Fort Worth-based picture book author of Librarian’s Night Before Christmas (Pelican, 2007), Texas Mother Goose (Pelican, 2006), and Rock ‘n’ Roll Dogs (Pelican, 2006), among others. Learn more about David’s books.

Check out the new book trailer for The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going (Harcourt, 2007)(excerpt). From the back cover: “When Evie reluctantly moves with her father to upstate New York, where he has bought an apple orchard, they dismiss rumors that the trees haven’t borne fruit in decades because the town is cursed. After all, Evie doesn’t believe in things like curses or fairy tales anymore. If fairy tales were real, her mom would still be alive. But then Evie receives a mysterious seed as an eleventh-birthday gift and meets a boy who claims to be dead. When planted, the seed grows into a tree before their eyes, but only Evie and the boy can see it – or go where it leads. The Garden of Eve mixes eerie magical realism with a deeply resonating story that beautifully explores grief, healing, and growth.” See a note to teachers, questions for discussion, and activities. Read a Cynsations interview with K.L. Going.

Highlights Founders Workshops for Fall 2007, held in Northeastern Pennsylvania: author Debbie Dadey is teaching “Writing for Reluctant Readers” Oct. 4 to Oct. 7 (tuition $895; limit 14); author Rich Wallace is teaching “Writing Novels for Yong Adults” Nov. 1 to Nov. 4 (tuition $895; limit 8); Paula Morrow (former editor of Ladybug and Babybug, columnist for Once Upon a Time) and Marileta Robinson (senior editor of Highlights for Children and Highlights High Five; she also has written several picture books) are teaching “Writing Fiction for Children’s Magazines” Oct. 25 to Oct. 28 (tuition $495; limit 12). The following workshops are already sold out “The Whole Novel” with authors Carolyn Coman and Tim-Wynne Jones (author interview); “The Heart of the Novel” with author Patricia Lee Gauch; and “Every Word Counts: Writing the Picture Book” with Jane Yolen (author interview). See also a preview of Highlights Foundation Workshops for spring and summer 2008.

Round-up of reviews of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little Brown, 2007) from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

The Truth about School Visits by Alexis O’Neill from Lee & Low.

Author Interview: Melissa de la Cruz on Blue Bloods

From Hyperion: “Melissa de la Cruz is the author of the bestselling The Au Pairs novels for teens and the coauthor of the adult title How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less (Ballantine, 2003). She writes regularly for Marie Claire, Gotham, Hamptons, and Lifetime magazines and has contributed to The New York Times, Glamour, Allure, and McSweeney’s. She has spent time as a journalist covering the club scene in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Melissa de la Cruz is not a Blue Blood, but she knows people who are…” Visit Melissa at MySpace, and read her journal.

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

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I can remember. But when I graduated from Columbia, I took a job as a computer consultant because it would allow me to live decently in New York, and I wrote my first novel while working at Bankers Trust. I would write it at work and on the weekends. I felt like I had to “write” my way out of the corporate world, and I felt a huge sense of desperation. I was good at programming computers, but the longer I stayed in the corporate environment, the more depressed I knew I was going to be.

I’d always wanted to write books, so it never really occurred to me to try to get a job in magazines or publishing. I wanted to write books, not edit them. I finished my first novel at 22, and I sent it out to about twenty agencies I found through the Writer’s Market, following their query guidelines.

Three agents responded favorably, and I went with the agent who’d sold Auntie Mame some twenty years before! He was very supportive, but we were unable to sell the novel. But he did get it in the hands of Geoff Kloske, who was then a young editor at Little Brown (he discovered David Sedaris and Dave Eggers and is now the editor-in-chief of Riverhead). Geoff called me, said he was not buying my book, but he saw something in my writing, and wanted to talk to me about my career. I was floored–and extremely excited. He advised me to try to start writing for magazines, because it’s very rare that publishers buy a book from a complete unknown.

I finally published my first essay in the New York Press in 1996, and covered the trendy, fashiony beat for them for years, then I sold my first novel–an adult book called Cat’s Meow (2001), to Simon & Schuster in 1998.

By then. I was writing for a ton of women’s magazines. I still held on to my day job though–I was at Morgan Stanley by then. I got laid off right before Cat’s Meow was published in 2001, and I never looked back. I’ve been writing full-time since then. I published a non-fiction “chic-lit” book, How to become Famous in Two Weeks or Less, and during the book tour for that, I got a call from Simon & Schuster.

The YA market was exploding–and did I want to try my hand at doing a glamorous book for teens? I was a big fan of Gossip Girl, and I jumped on the opportunity. The Au Pairs published in 2004, and it was the book that changed my life.

Before then, my adult books sold okay, but the Au Pairs sold extremely well, and it opened up all these doors for me. Hyperion asked if I wanted to try my hand at horror, and I’d been kicking around and idea for a while to do a dark fantasy book, and Blue Bloods came to being. For S&S, I also have a new dark series set in LA, called Angels on Sunset Boulevard (excerpt), and a seventh-grade social-climbing saga, The Ashleys, and a jet-setting series called Social Life. And of course, more Blue Bloods books!

For those new to your body of work, could you highlight a few titles?

The most popular books I’ve written are The Au Pairs and The Blue Bloods series. The Au Pairs centers on three different girls who work as nannies in the Hamptons to a rich family, babysitting by day and partying at night. It’s really fun and fast, and there’s a lot of romance and drama and social satire. I own that series in conjunction with Alloy. The rest of my books are totally my own.

Blue Bloods is about a group of diverse New York city teens who discover their secret heritage–they are Blue Blood vampires, fallen angels who are doomed to live on earth.

Angels on Sunset Boulevard is my series in LA, about a group of teenagers in the city who are trying to fight an evil cult that uses the Internet to lure its members. It’s also about rock and roll and fame with lots of sexy romance and drama.

The Ashleys is my newest series and very fun to write, about four girls, three of whom are named Ashley and who are the most popular girls in junior high, and one, Lauren, who’s gone from geek to goddess and wants to destroy the reign of the Ashleys to make the seventh-grade a better place to be.

I also still have a foot in the adult world–my latest book is called Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys (Dutton, 2007), an essay collection co-edited with my good friend Tom Dolby, about the relationship between straight women and gay men. We have some stellar writers in it like Cindy Chupack, Simon Doonan, Gigi Grazer and Andrew Solomon among many other fabulous names.

Congratulations on the success of the Blue Bloods series (Hyperion, 2006-)! Could you fill us in on the global story?

Thanks very much! It’s very rewarding that Blue Bloods found an audience. It’s very close to my heart. The story centers around a group of teenagers: Schuyler Van Alen, from a once-great and grand New York family that has fallen on hard times; her best friend Oliver Hazard-Perry, a sweet boy who’d rather go to museums than hit the lacrosse fields; Mimi and Jack Force, the richest and most fabulous twins in Manhattan with a strange and secret bond; and Bliss Llewellyn, a Texan transplant who is experiencing strange episodes of deja vu and dread.

They are the newest generation of Blue Bloods, who trace their ancestry to the Mayflower and are perennially reincarnated fallen angels who were cast out of Heaven with Lucifer and are doomed to live on earth. Just as they are starting to discover their new powers, something or someone is hunting them. They have to figure who or what it is–are the dreaded Silver Bloods, vampires who feed on vampires, back to feed once more?

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I read on the Internet once about how all these prominent Americans, like the Roosevelts and the Bushes, and also famous people like Marilyn Monroe, and even Oprah, are descendants of the people who came over from the Mayflower. And I thought, what if all their power and influence is because they’re immortal? They’re vampires, of course! And of course, I’m a very literal writer (LOL) so the blue bloods actually HAVE blue blood.

For Blue Bloods (Hyperion, 2006). What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I believe it took a year between the idea and publication. It took about three months to write, but it took about six months to even think about it. I wrote all the outlines and mythology and character sketches before I wrote the book. The major event for me was discovering the Roanoke mystery–it fit so well with the story, I think I was halfway done writing Blue Bloods when I stumbled upon the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. It was like a light bulb went on. From there it was a race to the finish! I couldn’t write the story fast enough.

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

In a way, it was really easy to write because it’s a story that I’ve lived–my best friend Morgan (who is the inspiration for Oliver) and I used to go to this club called The Bank, so the first chapter is just based on all those times we would stand there in line. We used to go to numerous nightclubs, and there was always the “will-we-get-in” worry. So it’s cool to have Schuyler use her vampire powers to gain entrance. Ha!

The research also fit in really well–a lot of people died in the Mayflower voyage and the first year, almost half of them were killed or died of disease. I had a pretty detailed outline, but like I said, it didn’t really click until the Roanoke thing. That’s when the book really came to life for me, when I felt like I was excavating a story instead of making it up.

Even the myth with the angels and Lucifer, it just all seemed so right, that it’s weird to me that the myth that vampires are fallen angels doesn’t exist anywhere but my books. It felt like I was just pulling from the air, like the story was there all along. That felt really awesome. I love Milton’s Paradise Lost, and I love the story of Michael and the archangels and Lucifer. There’s lots of good stuff in the Bible.

Did you always intend for the story to be a series? How did that aspect evolve?

Yes. Hyperion wanted a series, and they bought two books first, then after Blue Bloods pubbed, bought another two. I’d always intended for a nine-book series. (My editor said, let’s hope we get to Blue Bloods 19!) Which I think is a little much. I’m planning to do three three-book arcs for now. There’s tons of stuff in the Blue Bloods world, and I want to stay there for a while.

Where does Masquerade (Hyperion, 2007) take the story?

In Masquerade, we see the fabulous Four Hundred Ball, a vampires-only white tie affair, where Schuyler kisses a boy who’s wearing a mask. She also travels to Venice to find her grandfather, who holds the key to defeating the Silver Bloods. We learn more about vampire powers, and why Jack and Mimi are awfully close for brother and sister! Also, there’s a hot new boy in school who drives the girls crazy.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

They’re so enthusiastic! One of my fans started a Blue Bloods message board, and a site devoted to the book, breaking it down by character and chapter. It’s amazing. I get a lot of fan art and fan fiction (which I can’t and don’t read), but which is just so cool. Teens are the best readers–they read closely, and they’re not shy about telling you what they like. I feel like a teen myself, so really, I’m just writing for my peers.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I was pretty level-headed, practical and determined as a young writer. I don’t think anything I could say now would really change what I did back then.

I always had a single-minded goal: to become a commercial fiction writer. And now I am, and I don’t think I could have gotten here without all the experiences I had in the past.

I was a big club kid, I spent a lot of time in nightclubs, I had tons of fabulous friends, we all had boy drama, and friendship drama. I covered Fashion Week, I went to fashion shoots, I worked at Conde Nast, I summered in the Hamptons, everything in my books is inspired by my life, but I also use my imagination to take it to another level.

I dated and kissed a lot of cute boys before I found my husband, and I don’t regret any of them–even the ones who dumped me or never called after a one-night hookup. I feel like a lot of writers just want to write. But you know, you have to live so you have something to write about.

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing horror/gothic fantasy?

I guess I write about what scares me. Even though Blue Bloods isn’t very scary, or at least, it’s not gory, I am Catholic, and even though I say that I am a “secular Catholic,” the devil still scares me. Evil scares me, and in Angels on Sunset Boulevard, which is a deal-with-the-devil kind of thing, that scares me too. Like, what if you could have everything you want? Fame, Fortune, Rock and Roll Lifestyle, but you had to lose your soul to get it? I mean, would you say no? Or would you succumb to temptation? I mean, I would hope I would say no. But it’s very tempting isn’t it? So I write about it.

Which books would you suggest for study and why?

I got a lot of practice writing cliffhangers because I used to write a serial fiction novel for Gotham magazine, and at the end of every chapter I had to write a cliffhanger so people would ‘tune in’ for the next one. (I also have to add that for the Ashley and Au Pairs books I have all the fun chapter headings because I had to write ‘heds’ and ‘deks’ for magazines -you know, headlines like “Lash Attack” or whatever and that was good practice for that.)

I would suggest reading Michael Crichton‘s novels to understand how to write a page-turner. I can’t put his books down! It’s hard for me to say “study” books because when I can see the blueprint of the book it takes out the pleasure in reading it.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I am taking care of my nine-month-old baby, hanging out with my husband and my family (my parents and my sister’s family live near us), going out to dinner, seeing friends, planning extravagant vacations (it’s the only thing that gets me going to finish a book–knowing I get to have a fabulous vacation at the end of it like a reward), and spending way too much money on clothes, shoes and handbags.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

It’s hard. That’s the hardest actually. Because you can get really bogged down by doing all the PR work, and find you don’t do any of the real work, which is the writing. I love doing the PR work because it’s just part of procrastinating. I’ve hired publicists for some of my books (mostly my adult books) so that takes off some of the work. And I think the best promotion is really to write a good book. It gets the word out.

Of course, you need your publisher to put some backing behind you too–if they don’t do anything, no one will even hear about your book so how can the word be spread? I’m very lucky to be with S&S and Hyperion, both houses have done an excellent job of promoting my books.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The Ashleys drops in late December/early January, and Blue Bloods: Revelations, is out next fall. The fourth book is tentatively called Apocalypse. And the next book in Angels on Sunset Boulevard is The Strip.

Author Interview: Carrie Jones on Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend

Carrie Jones on Carrie Jones: “I am a Vermont College MFA graduate. I used to be in a song-and-dance company with comic/actress Sarah Silverman and Bridget Walsh, one of the first touring leads in ‘Annie’! We sang songs from ‘Fame!’ This is terribly embarrassing. Also at my middle school were the Myers brothers who now are writers on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Mad TV.’

“I went to Bates College with the brilliant director/poet/playwright Ozzie Jones who I have a perpetual crush on. I studied with poet Rob Farnsworth there.

“I am addicted to fudge bars, the low-fat frozen kind. I have a big, skinny, white dog and a ridiculously plump cat. We live in Maine.

“I’ve won a Maine Literary Award for adult nonfiction, a bunch of Maine Press Awards for column, editorial and sports writing. Yes! Sports! I swear it’s true. I’ve reported on football games. It’s hard to imagine if you know me. I’ve also received a Martin Dibner Award for most promising Maine writer.”

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

I’d been at Vermont College for almost a year when I decided to submit Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend. It had never been workshopped. No advisors had glanced on it. But I ignored all reason and sent it to Andrew Karre at Flux.

It was a slush-pile baby. And the biggest stumble to its publication was my query letter, which I detailed the whole horrible silliness of on my livejournal blog, which I have excerpted below:

So, I pick up the phone, and a nice resonating male voice says, “Um, is this C.C. Jones?”

“Yes,” I say, while pouring out cat food.

He then proceeds to tell me he is a real live editor person who received my query, wants to see more of my manuscript, but his email requesting it bounced back.

“Really?” I say. “That’s weird.”

“Let me tell you the address,” he says. “cjonese at…”

“Oh,” I say. “Oh. Oh. Oh.”

“What?” he says.

“There’s no e on the end of Jones.”

“I didn’t think so,” he says all deadpan dry.

Luckily, Andrew overlooked my inability to spell my name and bought Tips. He then acquired another young adult novel that’s now called Girl, Hero, but used to be known as The John Wayne Letters. Then he purchased Love (and Other Uses) For Duct Tape. I sold all three in about a year. I’ve also sold a nonfiction picture book to David Godine.

Congratulations on the publication of Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend (Flux, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Tips is about high school senior Belle Philbirck whose long-term boyfriend tells her he’s gay. It delves into the broader effects of homophobia and closetedness. It’s really about self discovery and understanding and all the different kinds of love out there. Okay. It’s not about hamster love or strudel love, but it’s about lots of different kinds of way people can love each other.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I’d heard about this girl who’d been harassed because her boyfriend announced that he was gay. It drove me crazy that something like that could happen. She was tormented for something that had nothing to do with her. I couldn’t understand it, so I began to write about it.

Plus, well, I’ve had a couple gay ex-boyfriends, and I’d found an old love note from one of them. I remembered how I’d absolutely believed every word in that note and how I believed that I’d marry him and live in this cabin on a mountainside and be really poor and have five kids who all wore cotton and wool.

So, the book came out of a combination of those influences, plus the desire to explore the stereotypes around relationships and identity.

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

I wrote the novel in a big rush in November. I submitted it in the winter. I doubled its length after it was accepted. It was published a year later.

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

It was difficult trying to create a form that would convey Belle’s pain and confusion. Because it’s a first-person present narrative, I wanted to illustrate the complex strings of her life and the claustrophobia of the small-town atmosphere while simultaneously having forward motion in her character’s struggle with identity.

I also wanted to make Belle have epilepsy but not have the epilepsy define her character. My critical thesis in Vermont delved into the perpetuation of epilepsy stereotypes and stigmas in children’s literature, and it was important for me to make sure Belle was a cool person who happened to have epilepsy, but not have that epilepsy propel either the plot or the character.

That was hard psychologically difficult for me because I have the same kind of seizures that I gave to her, seizures induced by caffeine and aspartame. Yes! Really! No more coffee for me. Writing anything without coffee is hard, actually. But Postum is a darn good substitute. And think of it… If a writer can write without coffee, a writer can really do anything.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

I think everyone in children’s publishing (the agents, editors, booksellers, authors, librarians) is really inspired by young adults. I mean, how cool is it that I can extol the joys of warm beverage cereal in a book? Only young adults would get that. But, it’s more than that.

Obviously, young adult books are about more than an age. They are about an openness to change, about the questioning of personal and political identity as well as the evaluation of cultural mores and practices. There’s an amazing freedom in writing for people who are into that.

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

It’s like a good party with a lot of appetizers on the table and decent wine.

With the Class of 2k7, I suddenly have 38 friends who are right there in the book stacks with me. We cheer each other on. We have food fights. Let me tell you, Greg Neri can really throw that lasagna across a convention center hall.

It’s a bit like having a posse. I am so lucky that my book was published this year and that I hooked up with such incredible writers and supportive people, even if it does mean I’m constantly wiping the mashed potato out of my hair and rinsing the JELL-O stains out of my shirt. Yes, I swear they are that bad.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Current Carrie: Hey! You! Writing in that notebook.

Fifth-grade Carrie: Ew! Am I really going to look like that? Where are my bangs?

Current Carrie: At least your glasses are gone.

Fifth-grade Carrie: Cool.

Current Carrie: Okay, listen. I have writing advice. You know how you’re having Captain James T. Kirk fall in love with your banged hair, glasses-wearing heroine?

Fifth-grade Carrie: Yeah.

Current Carrie: And how Mr. Spock is also in love with same heroine…

Fifth-grade Carrie: Uh-huh.

Current Carrie: And how the Dr. McCoy guy is in love with her too?

Fifth-grade Carrie: What’s your point?

Current Carrie: It’s not all that realistic, sweetie.

Fifth-grade Carrie: It isn’t?

Current Carrie: No, honey. I hate to break it to you. It’s just not. My writing advice to you is that not everyone can be in love with your heroine, unless you’re Laurel Hamilton and your heroine has the ardeur or something.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I kayak. I sail. I walk the dog. I attempt to run. I read, but that sort of counts as writing, doesn’t it? I obsess about strudel and why there is an ultra-large pair of men’s Speedos in my basement. That just doesn’t seem right. Where did the Speedos come from? Why is this swimming suit/undergarment thing so large? And black? Why black? Has it ever been worn? Big life questions such as these bother me.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

It’s horrible. I grew up in New England and we are the kind of people who gasp and hold up garlic cloves and a cross when we hear the words, “self promotion.” I think M.T. Anderson (author interview) said something about that in an interview once, and it really resonated with me because it’s so ridiculously true.

So, I joined the Class of 2k7, a cross-publishers marketing group of debut authors, because I figured I could at least tell myself that I was promoting other people as well as myself. That made it a more altruistic thing, but it also takes a lot of time because I signed up for too many committees. Note to all other debut authors and my fifth-grade writing self: Sign up for only one committee.

Most of my time is still spent writing. The problem isn’t necessarily balancing the other aspects of the business in terms of time spent, but more keeping my mind from obsessively worrying about the other aspects of the business (the sales, the reviews, the promotion) so much that it affects my ability to write.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Free strudel for everyone? No, seriously, my advance was not that big. It’d more be like: Here everyone have a Tic Tac. No, not the whole container, just one.

The nonfiction picture book will be released January 2008. Love (and other uses) For Duct Tape comes out on my birthday, March 1, 2008. Girl, Hero comes out in the summer of 2008.

Cynsational Notes

A related read is The God Box by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2007). From the flap copy: “‘How could I choose betwen my sexuality and my spirituality, two of the most important parts that made me whole?’ High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they’re good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he’s also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel’s interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel’s outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand.” Read a Cynsations interview with Alex; see his list of “Great Gay Teen Books.”

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Arthur Slade on the upcoming release of Villainology: Fabulous Lives of the Big, the Bad, and the Wicked, illustrated by Derek Mah (Tundra, 2007). Listen to an audio author interview by the Headless Horseman. Note: it’s not working on my computer, but perhaps you will have better luck. Read a Cynsations interview with Arthur on Monsterology.

Author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell: official website. Mark is based in Austin, and his books include Raising La Belle (Eakin, 2002)(author interview). He’s offering a free download of Raising La Bell to anyone who signs up for his new newsletter/blog. The book was named winner of the 2003 Western Writers of America Spur Award for best western juvenile nonfiction book of 2003; winner of the 2003 United States Maritime Literature Award, and it was featured at the 2002 Texas Book Festival.

Capital Campaign: Montpelier’s fine arts college will soon be fact, even if a fiction writer led the way from Seven Days: Vermont’s Alternative Weekly. Note: this new college is to be the new home of the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Note: see photo of campus in the summer.

Copyright: United States Copyright Office from the Library of Congress.

Interview with K.L. Going, author of St. Iggy from the YA Authors Cafe. Here’s a sneak peek: “Honestly, the hardest part is putting my work out there and hearing what people think. I’ve mostly heard great things, but it’s tough when people say stuff that’s mean spirited. I thought I’d get more used to it when I had more books out, but instead there’s just more to hear!”

Hiss Me Deadly: Chet Gecko: a video book trailer at YouTube. Read a Cynsations interview with Chet Gecko series author Bruce Hale.

Entires are now being accepted by the 19th annual Oklahoma Book Awards. See eligibility information, deadlines, judges, and special notes from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. Note: for their respective years of publication, two of my books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) were finalists.

“Twelve Steps to Nonfiction Writing Success” by Maude Stephany from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Note: emphasis on magazine writing.

Why Do Bloggers Blog? by Ilene S. Goldman from the Prairie Wind (newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois chapter). Thanks to Erin Edwards for suggesting this link.


The 24th annual Austin Jewish Book Fair (JBF), presented by the Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA), will be held from Nov. through Nov. 11. The following two events may be of special interest:

Judith Viorst, author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (see adaptation) will be speaking on Sunday, November 4th at 10:30am. The event is $5 for seniors, students and JCAA members and $7 for the general public. You can buy tickets online at

Frank McMillan, author of Cezanne is Missing, will be speaking to middle school students about his book which explores the importance of memory and tolerance in the face of fanaticism and hate. This event will take place Nov. 7 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend. Admission is free. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Both events will be held at the JCAA, 7300 Hart Lane, Austin. For a full book fair schedule go to

More Personally

The Faerie Drink Review says of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): “From young hot werewolves to street bums with a Nosferatuian bite, Tantalize will have your mouth watering for more!” Read the whole review. See also my latest interview at Faerie Drink Review.

Members of Tantalize Fans Unite!, a reader-created group at MySpace, have been creating new logos and banners of late. Highlighted below is an example of their efforts.

Thanks to the Tantalize readers who road-tripped to the Holiday Inn in Tucson to meet me while I was speaking at Wrangling with Writing last weekend. (Hi, Zack!) I was honored, and it was a delight visiting with y’all.

Illustrator Interview: Marla Frazee on Mrs. Biddlebox: Her Bad Day…And What She Did About It

Marla Frazee is a children’s book author-illustrator. She teaches children’s book illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and works in a small studio cabin in the backyard under an avocado tree.

Could you please describe your path to publication, any bumps or stumbles along the way?

My path to publication? It was long, dusty, uphill, and without water or shade. And it took about ten years. Meanwhile, my path to becoming a freelance commercial illustrator was so easy it seemed like I was on one of those motorized walkways at airports. I breezed along, but I was doing work I didn’t want to do–advertising, toys, games, etc.

I’ve always wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, and when I graduated from Art Center College of Design, I left with a portfolio that I hoped pointed me in that direction. But publishers kept telling me that my illustration style was too commercial. I’ve come to understand that my work at that time wasn’t narrative. Now I teach and I try to address this with my students so that they can figure out in fourteen weeks what took me ten years to discover.

Could you give us a snapshot of your backlist titles, highlighting as you see fit?

I have illustrated a few books about complicated family dynamics with an emphasis on “mother anger” and/or parental exhaustion, such as The Seven Silly Eaters, written by Mary Ann Hoberman (Harcourt, 1997) and Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild, written by Mem Fox (Harcourt, 2000).

A bunch more of my books are about babies, like Hush, Little Baby (Harcourt, 1999), Everywhere Babies (Harcourt, 2001), New Baby Train, written by Woody Guthrie (Little Brown, 2004), and Walk On! A Guide For Babies of All Ages (Harcourt, 2006).

And in addition to Walk On!, I’ve written and illustrated Roller Coaster (Harcourt, 2003), Santa Claus the World’s Number One Toy Expert (Harcourt, 2005)(author interview), and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (Harcourt, 2008).

I am also illustrating a series of chapter books about a character named Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (Hyperion, 2006-).

Congratulations on the re-release of Mrs. Biddlebox: Her Bad Day…And What She Did About It! by Linda Smith (Harcourt, 2007), first published by HarperCollins in 2002. First let’s back up to the beginning. What first inspired you to illustrate Linda Smith’s text?

I loved this text from the minute I read it, but it scared me. So I turned it down. About two months later I got it out again, felt like an idiot for turning down such a gorgeous and emotional text, and called the editor to ask if it was still available. Luckily, it was.

In the beginning I was afraid of it because I’d heard that the author, Linda Smith, wrote the story while battling breast cancer and it was in response to a very bad day she was having as a result of her treatment. I’d heard that her cancer was quite advanced, that she was 39 years old, and that she had eight kids–the youngest one was four or five at the time.

When I illustrate a text, I immerse myself in the world of the story for a year or more. I selfishly felt that I didn’t want to–or couldn’t–go to the place I needed to go to do justice to her text because it would be too sad. But when I read it again later, I realized that I could. Linda’s situation was indeed very sad, but her text is funny, irreverent, whimsical, and highly imaginative. And this was what I focused on when I illustrated it.

What what were the challenges (artistic, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the story to life? What were the major events along the way?

The primary challenge for me was how to portray depression in a book for children because that is essentially what the book is about. Mrs. Biddlebox wakes up in a bad mood and proceeds, in anger, to take the entire day apart. This is a pretty intense premise for children. I wanted the book to seem real, in that this was a character the reader could relate to. And yet, the book by its fantastic nature, had to feel unreal as well.

I eliminated a lot of the details that I normally put in my pictures to create a familiar world. Mrs. Biddlebox lives in a weird house on a bleak hill. She has hardly any furniture. She is child-sized, which I think makes her appear more vulnerable and overwhelmed by her surroundings. These were all conscious decisions. And most importantly, she has no family–only a pet goose.

Before I began working on Mrs. Biddlebox, I called Linda to ask her if there was anything she’d like to tell me about her text before I got started. She was way too professional to engage in this dialogue with me, and she kept saying that she didn’t want to say anything that would influence me. Finally after much prompting, she said that she always imagined that Mrs. Biddlebox had a pet of some kind–a mangy dog, or a skinny cat, or something.

After Linda had died and I started working on the story, I tried drawing a cat, a dog, then a raccoon, and even a goat, before I realized that Mrs. Biddlebox’s pet just had to be an angry goose. My agent, Steve Malk, was also Linda’s agent, and he suggested that we send the sketches to Linda’s husband and kids so they could see how the book was developing. We received an email back from her husband that said Linda once had a goose named Gabby who would follow her around and bite her through her blue jeans, actually drawing blood. He told us that Linda would have been delighted.

This email about that goose made me feel like I was doing right by Linda and that was very important to me.

What happened after publication?

The book was embraced wholeheartedly by HarperCollins, and I think they had high hopes for it. It won some significant awards, including the Borders Original Voices Award and the Golden Kite Award from the SCBWI. It was a Parents’ Choice Award Winner, a BookSense recommended book, a Southern California Booksellers Association Award finalist, on the Miami Herald Best Book list, starred in Publishers Weekly, and took second place in the New York Book Show.

And then it went out there and didn’t sell well. It was a bummer.

How did the possibility emerge that the book would be brought into print by Harcourt? What steps were involved?

My editor, Allyn Johnston, the Editor in Chief of Harcourt Children’s Books, has always been a big fan of this book even though I worked on it with another editor at another house.

Allyn and I were speaking at a SCBWI conference together, and while there, she spent some time paging through the book again. Before we left the conference, she had decided to pursue bringing the book to Harcourt where I’ve been publishing for many years. At that point, neither one of us knew that the book was already out of print at HarperCollins. Once we found that out, it was pretty straightforward.

If you could go back in time and speak to yourself at any point during this story, what moment would you choose and what would you say?

This is such a fascinating question. I began working on Mrs. Biddlebox by doing thumbnail sketches (which is how I begin all of my picture books). It was a couple months after Linda Smith had died. In puzzling out the ending, I realized that I was going to bring Mrs. Biddlebox up to the rooftop on some rickety stairs into what could be interpreted as heavenly light–and by doing so, I was making the end of the book a metaphor for death. It seemed be what the book needed.

I sat there crying for Linda, her kids, the immense loss of this person I never met but felt so connected to, wondering if this was really the right decision for the book or if I was just milking the sadness.

I wish I could go back to that moment and tell myself that it was okay, even desirable, to feel all of that. Children’s books are an emotional medium. They can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. But when strong emotions fuel the creative process, it is always, always, always a good thing for the book.

What do you do when you’re not creating children’s books?

I’m married to a photographer and we’ve got three sons and a dog named Rocket. I teach Children’s Book Illustration at Art Center College of Design. I spend a lot of time hiking in the hills above Pasadena. I lead a caffeinated life and therefore I have to listen to music that calms me down.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Next up is a picture book I wrote and illustrated called A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (Harcourt, 2008). It was inspired by a week that my youngest son, James, and his friend, Eamon, spent together one summer. It is part comic book, part buddy movie, part Malibu. I had the Best Time Ever working on it. And it even comes with an idea for a Make-a-Penguin craft out of mussel shells and rocks.

Wrangling with Writing: Web Extension

I had the pleasure of speaking at “Wrangling with Writing,” a conference sponsored by the Society of Southwestern Authors Sept. 15 to Sept. 16 in Tucson. I would like to thank the SSA officers and planning committee. Special thanks to Jennifer J. Stewart, author of “seriously funny books for children,” for her hospitality and efforts. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Fellow faculty member, Janni Lee Simner, spoke on young adult fantasy. Janni’s first YA fantasy will be published by Random House in spring 2009. Her fourth children’s book, Secret of the Three Treasures, was recently published by Holiday House.

Her editor, Jim Thomas, offered an overview presentation on children’s publishing. Jim is editorial director of middle grade and YA books at Random House.

Because of conflicting schedules, I was unable to attend Janni and Jim’s presentations. However, I did sit in on Sarah Ketchersid’s. Sarah is a senior editor at Candlewick Press, and she delivered one of the most informative and inspiring presentations I’ve ever heard on picture books.

As promised, the bibliographies and resource lists that follow are Web extensions (and cheat sheets) for audiences at my two talks, “Imagining the Middle Grades” and “Marketing Manuscripts to Agents and Editors.”

Imagining the Middle Grades

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000)(interior illustration).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001)(Web extension)(readers’ guide).

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002)(readers’ theater).

Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006)(book site).

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007)(readers’ guide).

favorite books from childhood

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

craft building

Author Kathi Appelt

Author Debbi Michiko Florence

Author Jane Kurtz

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Arizona Chapter of SCBWI

Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories, and Scripts by Raymond Obstfeld

The Giblin Guide to Writing Children’s Books by James Cross Giblin

Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver

Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King with illustrations by George Booth

What’s Your Story: A Young Person’s Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer

heart books

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner

Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen


Cynthia Leitich Smith Children’s and Young Adult Literature Resources


Planet Esme; The PlanetEsme Plan

genre reading

Bringing Mysteries Alive for Children and Young Adults by Jeanette Larson

Genrefluent (see also guide books)

writing process

Jennifer Armstrong‘s “Blood from a Stone;” Nancy Werlin and Jane Yolen‘s responses.

Conflict and Character within Story Structure from the Everyday People’s Guide on How to Write a Novel

middle grade fiction

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn by April Lurie (author interview)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Jacob I Have Loved by Katherine Paterson

Julia’s Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber (author interview)

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee (author interview)

P.S. Longer Letter Later: A Novel in Letters by Paula Danzinger and Ann M. Martin

Rules by Cynthia Lord (author interview)

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach (author interview)

Shug by Jenny Han (recommendation)

The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed
by Heather Vogel Frederick

boy versus girl books?

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (author interview)

Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (author interview)

multicultural books

Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos (author interview)

Hannah West series by Linda Johns (recommendation)

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (author interview)

note: attendees seeking a copy of the humor-writing points may contact me directly.

Marketing Manuscripts to Agents and Editors

ABCS of an Author/Illustrator Visit by Sharron McElmeel

An Author’s Guide to Children’s Book Promotion by Susan Salzman Raab

The Association of Authors’ Representatives; see FAQ

Attorney Interview: Aimee Bissonette on Law & Publishing from Cynsations

Author & Illustrator Visits by Toni Buzzeo

Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown (author interview)

Editorial Anonymous: a blog of a children’s book editor.

How to Write a Query from Agent Query.

It’s a Bunny-Eat-Bunny World: A Writer’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Today’s Competitive Children’s Book Market by Olga Litowinsky

Literary Agents Directory at

The Purple Crayon: A Children’s Book Editor’s Site, especially The How-Do-I-Get-Published Quiz, Children’s Book Agents and Artists’ Representatives: A Primer, Finding and Choosing Literary Agents, and Publishing Glossary.

Some Writers Deserve to Starve! 21 Brutal Truths about the Publishing Industry by Elaura Niles

A Terrific Query Letter by Jenny Bent, literary agent.

Why I Don’t Have an Agent or Doing the Math by author Barbara Kanninen.

Why I Have an Agent by author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.

Writer Beware by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

See also the related links on my main site.

Editor Interview: Roger Sutton on The Horn Book

Roger Sutton on Roger Sutton: “I’ve been working with children’s books for about twenty-five years, beginning in 1980 as Zena Sutherland‘s assistant at the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. After getting my M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago, I worked in a variety of public library youth services positions and began book reviewing and writing about children’s literature and librarianship for a number of journals. Since 1988 I’ve been working full-time as a book reviewer and editor, first at the Bulletin and, since 1996, at the Horn Book, working in a number of adjunct teaching jobs along the way.”

How did you come to devote your professional life to literature for young readers?

It was really Zena who got me into this. While I came into library school with an idea that I wanted to be in youth services (inspired by one Louise Bailey, now a respectable library director in Mansfield, Connecticut, then a hippy-chick children’s librarian at the Pomona Public Library in California, where I spent a year as a security guard), Zena Sutherland led me to see what kind of possibilities there were for a “life of the mind” in children’s literature.

What led to your becoming the Editor in Chief of Horn Book Publications?

They asked.

What do you love about it and why?

I love the variety of the work, from book reviewing to soliciting and editing articles, planning Magazine issues, writing the blog, figuring out how to keep going in a changing publishing environment.

What do you wish you could change about it and why?

I wish we could afford to print in color, and I wish we could get more subscribers. And advertisers.

For those new to the Horn Book Magazine and the Horn Book Guide, could you outline the mission of each and how they complement one another?

The mission of the Horn Book, Inc, was set down by Bertha Mahony Miller in the first issue of the Magazine: “to blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls.” The Magazine reviews very selectively–about 800 books a year, I think, and they are mostly the ones we think are truly “fine” (or if NOT fine, then worthy of comment for one reason or another) and also includes other features–articles, columns, interviews, the editorial, etc.–that we hope readers can use to think about children’s literature in a larger way, not just one-book-at-a-time.

The Guide is our effort to, one, provide comprehensive review coverage of children’s trade books, and, two, to provide reliable reviews that are short and workable in electronic as well as print format, thus allowing us to slice and dice (and sell) ’em digitally: you can go to the Horn Book Guide Online, for example, to find reviews of all hardcover picture books about, say, fish, published in the last three years.

How do you select the books to be reviewed in the magazine?

The other editors and I look at everything that comes in–more than 10,000 books a year, easily, quickly reject and assign some, either to magazine or Guide, read others more thoroughly before making a decision, and the whole process refines itself again after books are read by the reviewers. When it comes to books being reviewed in the magazine, the operative question is “Do we have something we want to say about this book?”

How do you select your reviewers? What credentials are necessary, preferred?

Our reviewers have a mix of backgrounds and areas of expertise. Good reviewers have an instinct for the short form and understand that reviewing is a kind of service journalism, giving people information to make informed decisions about book selection.

What opportunities exist for writers to contribute to the Horn Book? Could you offer examples of articles for study?

I’ve started a series on the blog regarding our various columns and what we look for in features. I would recommend that any would be contributors to the Horn Book (or any other periodical) thoroughly browse at least the most recent two years’ worth of issues.

When I think of the Horn Book, my mind goes first to the debates it’s fielded. As a writer, I enjoyed the conversations surrounding Jennifer Armstrong‘s “Blood from a Stone” as well as Nancy Werlin and Jane Yolen‘s responses. I also closely followed the debate between Marc Aronson‘s “Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes” and Andrea Davis Pinkney‘s “Awards That Stand on Solid Ground.” It’s clear that the Horn Book is willing to delve into controversial subjects and offer competing opinions. Are these features generated from outside the Horn Book? Or, in the alternative, do you ask writers to address certain topics?

That goes both ways–sometimes the author gets the ball rolling, as did Marc with his article on prizes, and then Andrea called to see if we would publish a rebuttal. Sometimes I’ll suggest a project–like Kimbra Wilder Gish’s piece on fundamentalism and Harry Potter [“Hunting Down Harry Potter: An Exploration of Religious Concerns in Children’s Literature”] some years ago. Kimbra had been posting on the topic at child_lit, and I thought it deserved sustained consideration.

More recently, you’ve started a blog, Read Roger. What do you see as its mission? Is it Roger’s perspective, the Horn Book’s, or is there a difference?

The Horn Book has really brought out the (to paraphrase Carson McCullers) editorial “we of me.” If I’m speaking for the Horn Book, it’s we; if I’m speaking for myself, it’s me. Both voices show up on the blog.

Read Roger allows comments. Do you moderate them, or just let readers post?

In either case, why or why not? They are not moderated because there aren’t enough abusive or off-topic comments to make that necessary. I’ve only removed a (non-spam) comment once.

More globally, what are the most significant changes you’ve seen in children’s-YA publishing over the course of your career, and why do they matter?

The biggest change has been the rise of the retail market over the school and library.

Which trends are you inclined to celebrate? Which do you abhor? In each case, why?

I don’t think this way.

With regard to craft, what are your pet peeves?

Opening paragraphs that Use All Five Senses to Pull the Reader In.

What are the five books you wish every author would study?

I’m less concerned about what authors read than I am that the editors and reviewers who go on to engage with their manuscripts/books have a strong understanding of the history and possibilities of children’s literature.

Looking back, what were the funniest moments during your tenure?

The time we almost reviewed the book Magid Fasts for Ramadan (Clarion, 2000) as Magid FEASTS for Ramadan.

The most poignant?

It’s a sad week here–Thomas Todd, who hired me and whose family has published the Horn Book since its inception, died.

But I’m also reminded here of another funny moment: when we moved our offices from downtown Boston to Charlestown some years ago, Mr. Todd reflected to me that it was like coming home again, because Charlestown was where his family first lived.

When I asked when this was, he replied “1647.”

I’ll miss him.

Award-Winning Writers to Headline 2007 Austin Jewish Book Fair

AUSTIN, Texas — The 24th annual Austin Jewish Book Fair (JBF), presented by the Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA), will be held from Nov. 3 to Nov. 11 with a special preview event on Oct. 12. Venues include the Dell Jewish Community Campus, Barnes & Noble at Westlake, and at the Texas Capitol. For the first time, the Jewish Book Fair will co-sponsor select events with the Texas Book Festival.

“The Jewish Book Fair welcomes everyone in the Austin community to meet some of their favorite established and up-and-coming authors from across the world,” said Lisa Apfelberg, director of the Jewish Book Fair. “Subjects covered will include politics, humor, family, science, mystery, religion, history, art, and current events. We look forward to hosting thought-provoking and educational discussions.”

Children’s author Judith Viorst is scheduled to speak at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 4 at the JCAA. According to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, “is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for children as well as adults. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (see adaptation), her most famous children’s book, was first published in 1972 and has since sold over two million copies.”

This year about 20 authors, illustrators, and performers will take part in the Jewish Book Fair. The theme is “Got Books?” and Barnes and Noble will provide an on-site bookstore at the JCAA. Those wishing to purchase books online are encouraged to click on the Barnes and Noble icon at The Book Fair will receive 5% back on all sales year-round through the B&N icon.

Austin-area middle school students will meet to discuss the novel, Cezanne is Missing by Frank McMillan, using the Holocaust to teach the importance of memory and tolerance in the face of fanaticism and hate.

The JBF takes place each year during Jewish Book Month. It is made possible by the JCAA’s Spotlight on the Arts Patrons and Corporate Sponsors, the Annual United Jewish Campaign, and a dedicated team of volunteers. Attendees are encouraged to bring new or gently used books to the Book Fair for the Literary Coalition of Central Texas.

The Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA) is a gathering place for our members, for the Austin Jewish community, and for the community as a whole. It enhances the quality of Jewish life in the greater Austin area and around the world, through charitable, educational, social service, cultural, religious and recreational endeavors. The JCAA includes the Jewish Federation, Jewish Community Center, and the Jewish Family Service.

Author Interview: Kathleen Duey on A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger

Kathleen Duey on Kathleen Duey: “I don’t like writing bios; it’s is a self-conscious thing. I have always done it in third person. Everyone does, because that makes it easier to list your stuff and paint a small self-portrait. But it is also weird.

“This morning has so far contained puppy poo, ants in the pantry, and a phone message from an attorney about the HBO option. So it just feels like the right day to write my very first, first-person bio:

“I love and hate writing. We have no intention of splitting up, but there are rough days. I have written over 70 books for pre-readers through adults. I believe that literacy–the ability to pass on stories and facts through writing and reading-is a pillar of civilization.

“And so I am glad to live in interesting times. I am fascinated and excited as I watch media mix into wonderful new forms. I am terrified and excited to see the role of books and the existence of copyright–a relatively recent overlay–in flux worldwide. But the human need for story seems endless. That happy fact diminishes my chances of ever needing a day job.”

Visit Kathleen’s blog.

Could you describe your path to publication–any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Long, winding, bumpy, silly, ongoing. No MFA program, an odd life, a real love of books and story–it all adds up. It took me about three years to sell the first middle grade novel, with all of the typical detours along the way. I have always been adventurous and open to many different kinds of books and projects. I am sliding toward deeper, artful, hardcover work. But I am actively looking for other, less complicated things, too. So the road is going sideways just now, into audioscripts, book-based website development and other projects.

And the road seems to double back now and then, too. A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger (Atheneum, 2007) is the very first novel idea I ever had, about 15 years ago. I wrote 300 pages of it–then got lost in the woods. I set it aside and started learning craft. I think I have the skill to pull it off now, as a trilogy. Oh, I hope so. I am very involved with the characters–some of them come talk to me in dreams. The intellectual/thematic core of the book is becoming clearer to me as I write–and is even more interesting that I thought it was.

Could you update us on your backlist, highlighting as you see fit?

Anyone who wants to see the whole backlist can look here:


Hoofbeats (Dutton/Puffin-11 titles): two sets of four books –one a pioneer story, the other set in medieval Ireland. Three single titles coming up 2007-2008. I grew up riding my horses, every day, in the Colorado foothills. We were true friends, and I love writing about that ancient bond between child and horse.

The Unicorn’s Secret (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster-8 titles): These eight little books are one contiguous story. It’s tightly based on dreams I had in the third and fourth grade. Every night I went to sleep here and woke up there–and the reverse. Two lives! It was wonderful. I am writing a book about that experience slowly, working on it now and then…

Congratulations on the release of A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger (Atheneum, 2007)(see also)! Could you fill us in on the story?

This is the book I couldn’t finish so long ago. Now it is a trilogy. There is an excerpt as well as the blurbs and reviews here. I am working on the second title in the trilogy now.

And…no, I can’t tell you the story, because is changing as I go. I can tell you the premise. It is two stories, set about 200 years part, told in alternating chapters.

Story 1: In the seacoast city of Limori, three scarred and complicated young adults are trying to rediscover and re-assemble magic in a culture that doesn’t believe in it. Driven by Somiss, a young man or royal descent, to open a school to teach magic. They face increasingly ruthless resistance from the few who know and fear what will happen if they succeed.

Story 2: Two boys are attending the Limori Academy that these three founders eventually manage to create. In 200 years, it has become a brutal place. Some characters are alive in both stories. The why and how of that is central to the tale.

I am having an astounding experience getting this one on paper (and by paper, I mean hard drive).

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I don’t know where this one came from. It woke up with me one foggy morning. The basics came all at once, the setting, the characters, the fact that it was two stories. The details are endless and in still progress.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

Psychologically, it is the deepest and most personal thing I have ever written. It is the darkest story I have ever done, too, and I love the characters so much it hurts sometimes.

The complexity was what stumped me years ago. But my tangle-tolerance has been recallibrated since then.

Writing Dead Cat Bounce, a 500 page, huge cast, action/thriller/mystery/love story manuscript, with partner Traci (I am not sure which of her professional surnames she wants to use so I am leaving it out) re-set my complexity gauges forever. Having survived that book, this one wasn’t so overwhelming.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?


Three favorites:

first: I left home at 17 and became self-supporting from the day I left. I believe that teens are just inexperienced adults who are often bored because they are (here in the US, and now, in this era) often too sheltered. When they love a book, they really love it. Books really matter to the unjustly restricted.

second: Young adults are in the middle of a fascinating time of life that defines much of what follows, for each of us. What I loved then, I mostly still love. Most of what I struggled with then, I struggle with now. Some battles are decided and over, and some of the joys are lost, but most are still in place.

third: There are a few books that I read as a YA that changed my life. I am in love with the idea that a book of mine might do that for someone.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Travel father and wider.

Take notes and journal more.

Get serious sooner.

And on that snowy night in Steamboat Springs, Colorado? Don’t burn all the poems, who cares if he read them?

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing fantasy?

It’s a roomy genre. Stretch.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I travel more and more–the farther the better. I read on airplanes, interview strangers, meet bazillions of people when I am talking about books and literacy at school visits, writing conferences, bookseller’s events and educators’ conferences (all of which I love).

At home, I play my guitar, garden, tend my fruit trees, turn compost heaps, listen to a broad range of music, dance, and avoid writing as long as I can.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

Barely. I just try to fit in everything I can, prioritizing school visits, both here in the US and at international schools. It’s difficult to travel as much as I think I should and still get the books written. I always say I will write on the road, but I rarely get much done.

What can your fans look forward to next?

A Resurrection of Magic has two more titles coming, 2008, 2009.

I have just finished three new horse books. I intend now to write one a year as long as they will let me…

Another adult book.

A YA project called Free Rat–more on the website soon. It’s another dark one, based on an historic event and set in the near future.

Thanks to everyone who reads my books. I am so grateful to have this job.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Stacy DeKeyser debuts her official website. Stacy’s upcoming YA release is Jump The Cracks (Flux, 2008).

Check out up-and-coming articles at Multicultural Review.

Congratulations to Three Silly Chicks on their 1rst blogoversary! Check out their latest contest; winner announced Sept. 14.

Current nominees for the 19th Annual Lambda Literary Awards. The Lambda Literary Foundation, quoting the website, is “the country’s leading organization for LGBT literature. Our mission is to celebrate LGBT literature and provide resources for writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, and librarians–the whole literary community.”

Deborah Wiles: The Journal Tour: Chapter One, in which our heroine blogs The Aurora County All-Stars book tour for Harcourt, writes the next book for young readers, contemplates the complexities of the universe, and discovers connections everywhere. Help. Read an excerpt of the novel. Note: I look forward to seeing Deborah when she concludes her tour at the Texas Book Festival.

Digital Picture Books: Breaking the Paper Habit by Jean Gralley from CBC Magazine.

Interview: Editor Deborah Brodie from Alice’s CWIM Blog. Here’s a peek: “The help of an experienced book doctor can make enough difference to inspire a publisher to actually acquire the book. Or for an agent to decide to take on the writer as a client or, if the writer is already a client, decide that the manuscript or dummy is now ready to submit to publishers.” See also Debut Author of the Month Marlane Kennedy from Alice’s CWIM Blog.

Great Posts from the CW list from Margot Finke. With the permission of posters, Margot offers the best of the list on such topics as voice, word count, age-group markets, defining literary fiction, interpreting guidelines, agents, writing for boys, contracts, and delays (in hearing back from editors). Read a Cynsations interview with Margot.

A Second Look: Annie on My Mind by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Read a recent Cynsations interview with Nancy Garden in which she talks about the 25th anniversary of Annie.

Hot Off the Press: A Sneak Peek at Publishers’ Newest and Hottest Titles from CBC Magazine.

Sandy Rideout & Yvonne Collins, profile by Dave Jenkinson from the Canadian Review of Materials. Here’s a sneak peek from Sandy: “We grew up not far from each other in Scarborough, ON and attended the same high school, but we actually met at our part-time job at the public library where we worked as pages. She was 14, and I was 16.”

Hidden Treasure: Exploring Language-Rich Books by Carolyn Munson-Benson from Book Links.

“How Making PB&Js Made Me A Better Writer” by Juliana Leroy from the Institute of Children’s Literature. A “light-hearted look at writing, motherhood, and making the best of the combination.”

Author Anastasia Suen hosts a new poll at IPB News. To the writers out there, are you a plotter, a planner, or an adapter?

Reminder: The Hero’s Journey: A Full Day Writing Workshop with author Dr. Lila Guzman is scheduled for Oct. 20 at Wild Basin Reserve in Austin. See details at Austin SCBWI. Note: as of yesterday, there were only three spots left! Read a Cynsations interview with Lila.

The youth literature community is remembering Madeleine L’Engle; see coverage of her death from The New York Times. See also Tribute to Madeleine L’LEngle: I knew her when she was Mrs. Franklin by Barbara Karkabi from the Houston Chronicle.

More Personally

Indian Education students in the neighborhood of the Maxwell Park Library in Tulsa, Oklahoma will receive signed copies of my debut picture book Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000). The gift was made possible by the Charles W. and Pauline K. Flint Foundation grant to the Tulsa City County Library. This program provides children with a signed book of their own to help foster a love of reading and learning. Sue Anderson of Maxwell Park Library said, “Jingle Dancer was chosen for it’s positive depiction of American Indian children in a contemporary situation.” View interior illustrations from Jingle Dancer at HarperCollins and my website.

In its review of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), the International Reading Association’s Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy writes: “Tantalize is a thinking reader’s horror novel and an entertaining, empowering ride.”

Read the whole two-plus-page extensive review (PDF file); scroll to pages 81 to 84 (pg. 7 to 10 of the file) for a Q&A author interview with me about the writing of Tantalize.

Reviews featured in this file also include Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar (First Second, 2006); The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion, 2007); How Ya Like Me Now by Brendan Halpin (FSG, 2007); New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (Little Brown, 2006)(author interview); and An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Dutton, 2006)(author interview).

Attention Austinites: look for the page 1 story on the writing of Tantalize in the West Austin News.

The September giveaways at the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace will be Peeps (Razorbill, 2005), Pretties (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(excerpt), and Uglies (Simon & Schuster, 2001)(excerpt) by Scott Westerfeld. Scott’s latest release is Extras (Simon & Schuster, 2007). Read a Q&A interview with Scott about Extras from Simon & Schuster. Read a Cynsations interview with Scott.

Thank you to RA Tim Crow for your hospitality at at Austin SCBWI‘s monthly meeting on Saturday. Greg and I spoke about picture book story structure. Thanks also to everyone who turned out (especially the handful of published folks, who could’ve given the talk themselves).

Congratulations to Buda, Texas, author Jerry Wermund on his article “Seeking My ‘Style'” in the August/September issue of Scribe, published by the Writers’ League of Texas.

Policy Change: Unfortunately, I am no longer able to accept self-published book submissions for recommendation/interview consideration. While I understand that gems are out there (and I’m rooting for them!), the time required to sort through growing stacks, dispose of mailing materials, and determine what to do with the books has become untenable. Please also note that e-books, TV/movie tie-ins, celebrity books, books with enclosed CDs, and toys with embedded books are still not within my scope.