Author Interview: Kerry Madden on Lousiana’s Song

Kerry Madden is the author the Smoky Mountain trilogy from Viking Children’s Books including: Gentle’s Holler (Viking, 2005), Louisiana’s Song (Viking, 2007), and the upcoming, Jessie’s Mountain. She is also the author of Writing Smarts from American Girl Library (2002). Her first novel, Offsides (Morrow, 1996), about growing up on the gridiron of college football was a New York Public Library Selection for the Teen Age in 1997. Kerry is currently at work on the biography of Harper Lee for teens for Viking’s UpClose Series.

We last spoke in July 2005 about the release of Gentle’s Holler (Viking, 2005)(author interview). Do you have any updates for us on that title?

Gentle’s Holler was released in April as a Penguin Puffin paperback and received a Mark Twain Nomination from Missouri, a Maine Student Book Award, and an ALA Schnieder Award Nomination. It was also included in the New York Public Libary’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Selection, Bank Street College Best Children’s Books, California Young Readers, and was a PEN USA Finalist in Children’s Literature.

Over the past two years, how have you grown as a writer?

I’ve written two books, and there were times when I didn’t believe it was possible. Each new book is like starting from scratch, and I have paralyzing self doubt what whether I can pull it off.

But I guess what I’ve learned is to allow myself to go through the agonizing panic of plot and write draft after draft of meandering dreck, and then slowly but surely, the story begins to reveal itself.

I have also written more personal essays that give me tremendous focus, because they have to be written so fast, but I love this form, and it helps me come back to my fiction with a fresh eye.

Congratulations on the release of Lousiana’s Song (Viking, 2007)! Could you tell us about this new title?

After Gentle’s Holler was published a young girl, Megan, from Colorado wrote me a letter and said, “I loved Gentle’s Holler, but I DID NOT LIKE THE ENDING! WHAT HAPPENS TO DADDY?”

So I wrote her back, and we struck up an email correspondence. I told her she was my very first fan letter (she had titled her email “Fan Mail”) She sent me some of her stories, and I made her the “Writer of the Day” on my blog.

Anyway, when I was thinking about writing the next part of the story, I thought of Megan’s rage, and I decided to begin the book the day Daddy comes home eight months after the accident. His children are all thrilled that he is finally coming home, but when he arrives he’s not the same Daddy that they knew, and so they all have to go through different stages of grief in figuring out how to love and care for this new father.

What made you decide to spend more time in this world?

I love these kids and this world. I am so grateful that Viking asked for two more books. I hope to write even more down the road. At first, I thought I’d write a book from each child’s point of view, but my editors at Viking convinced me that Livy Two truly is the storyteller of the these books–she’s the eavesdropper, the spy, the adventurer, and the catalyst too.

I tried writing Louisiana’s Song from Louise’s point of view and wrote about 40 pages, but it never came to life.

I was teaching a writing workshop and telling these fifth graders my dilemma of trying to figure out the POV for the next book, and this boy, unbeknown to me, took both versions off to read while I was working with other kids–Livy Two’s voice and Louise’s voice–and then he came up to me after the workshop, and said with a big grin, “This is the one!” It was Livy Two and it became the first chapter of Louisiana’s Song.

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

In the summer of 2005, Viking asked me to write two more books, and so I decided that the first one would be Louisiana’s Song and the next one would be Jessie’s Mountain about Mama’s childhood and how she came to have ten kids. I went back to the mountains three or four times in 2005-2007, and I stayed for several weeks in a cabin with our youngest daughter, Norah, in the summer of 2006.

A family of groundhogs lived under the porch in the cabin, (and the biggest wolf spider of my life resided in the kitchen sink) and now those groundhogs and spider are in Jessie’s Mountain.

Anyway, I wrote a very shaky draft of Louisiana’s Song that was mostly plotless, because I was afraid to deal with Daddy’s brain injury.

When that was clearly tanking, I began to do more research reading books on brain injury, including Oliver SachsThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I also went to a rehabilitation center in Bakersfield, California, where I spent the day observing the patients and talking to therapists. It gave me the confidence I needed to face the scary parts of the book.

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

We have three kids, and our oldest has now just finished his freshman year of college, so much of last year was consumed with him getting into college, the emotion of him leaving, and his rock star aspirations that often found me being a “roadie mom” driving the boys to their “Flypaper Cartel” gigs.

Anyway, the deadlines from Viking were incredibly important to me, and so was outlining and doing interviews with a mother whose daughter had suffered traumatic brain injury. Still, the early drafts were so corny, because Daddy was home but “healing in the smokehouse” and Livy Two was babysitting and telling fairy tales, but nothing was happening.

It was my editor, Catherine Frank, who coaxed Daddy’s recovery out of me, asking the hard questions. On one of my many traumatically plotless days, my daughter, Lucy, then 15, came into the office and said very matter-of-factly, “Tell me chapter one, one line. Okay, now chapter two.”

We mapped out the whole thing on the white-out board. I didn’t erase the board for a year, because I loved her curly, loopy sentences that I dictated to her for each chapter and then my messy scrawled additions…

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

I would say this to myself and to all beginning writers… Trust yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Be good to yourself, and this is much easier said than done when the self-loathing sets up camp.

Alice McDermott says she keeps the inner editor at bay during the first draft. I would also say write your books with love…

Before these books, I wrote a novel (not published) out of spite and cleverness and rage, and this can work for some, but I didn’t write it with love, and my characters rang mean and hollow. (How my writing group suffered!)

When I began writing the Weems’ family with love and joy, it was like sticking my face in a field of wild flowers. It was also a story I didn’t read share for a long time. I wanted to be alone with the characters without feedback.

The story began to fly…of course, there were dark days, but I never forgot how much I cared for my characters and wanted to honor them…so I would tell writers (and remind myself) to love your characters. Then the discipline will come naturally, because you’ve established them–you owe them a life.

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing historical children’s fiction?

I didn’t even know I was writing historical fiction. I was just imagining how old my sister-in-law would be in 1961, because she was a young musician. But then I began to study headlines that led me to stories and the first woman (Russian) in space, Valentina Tereshkova. I did research on Emmett’s favorite comics and discovered Saturn Girl. I found out that Ghost Town in the Sky opened in 1961, which was perfect timing. I interviewed my husband’s aunt, Iris Lunsford, who was in her 80s, about her job working at the blacksmith shop at Ghost Town.

I also just read about Ann Wagner’s wonderful piece about North Carolina storyteller, Donald Davis, in the recent newsletter from the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California, and Davis said, “How do you kill Grandma? Don’t tell any stories about her. If one generation passes without telling and hearing stories about family, it’s as if those people and events never existed.”

I love that advice so much. It made me suddenly start telling my youngest, Norah, all about her great grandmother who loved pralines and cream ice cream from Baskin Robbins, who said the rosary three times a day, and who performed in “As You Like It” as a young woman and heard someone proclaim loudly from the first row about her performance, “She likes the sound of her voice!” Then she smiled at me telling that story and said, “You know what? I did. I really did.”

Recent historical fiction is a perfect venue for asking questions of those relatives still living and remembering the stories of those who aren’t here anymore…

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

I recently joined Winding Oak (publicist interview) at because I needed some help with that very thing. I was setting up my own school visits, and many were happening by word of mouth, but it was all very time-consuming.

One principal said to me, “Who are you and what do you do again? I have to get my fourth graders to lunch, so how long do you do what it is you do?”

So I am relieved to have somebody help me set up school visits, which I enjoy very much, but I don’t enjoy the cold calls and then trolling Travelocity for flights to the South.

As for balance, I take the dogs on long walks. I spend time with close friends. I spend time with my own kids who are not impressed that I write books… I listen to their stories and try not to freak out too much with my teens. I love going to plays and traveling with my husband. I love going to the movies solo except for a big box of Junior Mints–just to escape the daily chaos of our noisy house of kids and animals. Then I can come back with a clear heard, ready to face it all again.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Jessie’s Mountain will be published on Valentine’s Day in 2008, and I am currently working on the biography of Harper Lee for teens. I also have a new book that I’m writing for fun called The Sixth Grade Life of Jack Gettlefinger, inspired by my son’s fourth grade journal.

And I’m hoping to eventually write something about a kid’s travels in Turkey, since I traveled with five kids ages 6-18 (three of my own) on a bus throughout Western Turkey from Istanbul to Bodrum in the last few weeks.

We had an international teen love tempest with a teenage boy seeking a blackberry signal from Athena’s Temple, a teen girl with body image worries deleting photos of herself in historic places, brother/sister battles, temper tantrums, a pet clam saved from the Aegean that united all and was christened “Clammy.” We were in the thick of our mini-battle of Troy on a blazing hot day when we pulled up to the real ancient site of Troy.

I blogged about it on my livejournal. I feel like I have the seeds to a new story with the Turkey adventure.

Natalie Goldberg said, “Writers live twice” and it does feel that way… I am always soaking up new stories, aware of the possibility of new stories…

Cynsational Notes

Louisiana’s Song was recently nominated for a Southern California Indie Booksellers Awards in the Children’s Novel category.

Author Feature: Darren Shan

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

I started out writing books for adults, and published my first in the UK a year before Cirque Du Freak (February 1999). I’d been writing a lot since I was 16, 17, but started writing full-time when I was 23. I didn’t make any money for a number of years, and then only very little money for a few more after that, but luckily I had very supportive parents who let me live at home with them.

I found an agent (Christopher Little) quite quickly after I started to write full-time, but it took longer to find a publisher.

When I sent Cirque Du Freak to him, he was very excited, but publishers were more wary–20 turned it down before HarperCollins in the UK took a chance on it! It took them nearly two and a half years to publish it (mainly because of an editorial change), and during that time their enthusiasm in-house grew, as it was passed around and read by people in different departments. Then, shortly before its release, Warner Brothers optioned the movie rights, which meant it exploded onto the scene on a wave of publicity which definitely helped get it noticed in the early days.

I’ve been very lucky–in children’s books, it’s hard to get noticed quickly, so authors normally have to plug away for many years, gradually building up their audience. I managed to make the breakthrough quite swiftly, so ever since Cirque was published, I haven’t had to struggle the way many children’s authors have to–I’ve been able to afford to write full-time.

The first of your books that I read was Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare, Book 1 in the Darren Shan Saga (Little Brown, 2001). There are eleven more in the series. Could you tell us about them?

The 12 book Cirque Du Freak series is about a boy called Darren Shan who becomes a vampire’s assistant. My vampires are very different to the traditional stereotypes–they’re not evil, they don’t kill, they don’t have fangs, they don’t live forever. The stories explore Darren’s life in the world of vampires, the struggles he faces to adapt to his new circumstances, the adventures he gets swept into.

Although it’s published as a horror series, I think it’s an adventure series more than anything else, which is why it appeals to such a wide range of readers, not just those who like horror. It has a strong horror edge in many books, yes, but also fantasy, science fiction and mystery elements.

Predominantly, though, it’s about adventure. It also focuses strongly on family and friendship, and what happens when you lose people close to you, or are betrayed by someone you thought of as a friend. That’s why I get far more letters and emails from readers saying they’re cried reading my books than saying they’ve had nightmares!

What inspired you to create these books?

I just write books that I’d like to read. With Cirque Du Freak, I tried to remember what I was like when I was 12, 13, 14 years old, the books and movies I enjoyed. Then I wrote a books which would hopefully include the best of everything that I liked, which the teenage me would have loved to read. I never write a book for an audience or to fill a market niche. I just tell stories which interest me, then hope to hell that other people are interested in them too!

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

I started writing the book a few days after having my initial idea. The first draft took 6 weeks to complete. My agent liked it and sent it out to 20 publishers, all of whom turned it down! Because it was different to everything else that was being published, and because it was so dark and not aimed at a specific age group of children, publishers were wary of it.

Then HarperCollins decided to publish it. It was meant to be published within 18 months, but because my editor left several months later, that got delayed. At the time that was very frustrating, of course, but instead of moping about it, I used that time to forge ahead with the series, to the extent that by the time the first book was published, I’d already written the first draft of book 8!

I release my books very quickly–at least 2 a year–but I spent an average of 2-3 years writing them, working on the editing process. That delay at the start of my career has meant I’ve always been way ahead of my publication schedule and have never had to worry about a deadline, so, looking back, I’d have to say that was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me!

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

The hardest part was letting the characters develop and change, without developing and changing so much that I started to lose the readers I’d attracted in the first place. The story of Cirque Du Freak spans almost 30 years. Darren only ages physically by 4 or 5 years during that time (because he’s a vampire), but obviously mentally he undergoes many more changes. I wanted to show this change, but not have him age so much that children could no longer identify with him. It was a delicate juggling act which I think I just about pulled off!

You followed up this success by launching The Demonata series (Little Brown, 2005-). Could you describe these books?

“The Demonata” is a 10 book series about demons. It’s very different than Cirque Du Freak in that there are three narrators, living in different time periods, who take it in turn to tell part of the overall story.

The first half of the series consists of stand-alone story arcs, and the characters and stories don’t seem to be particularly connected. But everything comes together at the midway point (books 5 and 6) and the story power straight ahead from there. It was risky, writing a series that for a long time seems to be just a collection of randomly connected story ideas and characters, but I hoped my fans would trust me to pull everything together and create order out of chaos, and luckily most of them have! The books are somewhat bloodier than my vampire books, and I would describe this as a horror series, but the focus of family and friendship remains the same.

In terms of your writing process, did you go about framing this series any differently than the first one? If so, how?

It was very different. Cirque Du Freak was an ongoing storyline, with one main characters, so it was simply a case of me asking myself, ‘What happens next?’ The story had a natural rhythm and flow, and I simply had to decide what I wanted to add to the mix on a book-by-book basis.

“The Demonata” began life as a series of free-standing stories. I wrote the early books out of order, with no sense of assembling them into a carefully structured series. Because I was so far ahead of publication schedule, I had lots of time to play around with things. I didn’t need to present my ideas to my publishers for a few years (I wrote the first draft of Lord Loss way back in 2001!), so I just experimented and went wherever the stories led me.

Fortunately, as I was working on the books, I had more ideas and started to see ways to link them up and mold them into something far more complex and interlinked than I’d originally intended. Through lots of re-writes and editing, The Demonata as we know it finally came together. But in the beginning there was no grand plan–indeed, no plan at all!

What about the children’s book audience appeals to you?

Their enthusiasm. If a kid or teenager likes something, they really get excited about it and don’t seek to contain that excitement. Adults are more reserved and will tell you politely how much they like your work. That’s very nice, but as a big kid myself, I much prefer the open gasps and exclamations of my younger readers!

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

The advice that others writers gave in interviews that I read–write! There are no shortcuts. The more you write, the more you learn and the better you get.

Like most young writers, I hoped there was some sort of trick to it, that I could just be inspired by some magical force, then write the books in a whirlwind daze.

Luckily, I realized quickly that good writing is the result of hard work, so I knuckled down and threw myself into it.

It’s frustrating when you’re starting out, not being able to write the way you’d like to, not being able to do justice to the stories you have inside your head, having to learn through a process of trail and error, having to write lots of bad stories before you learn to write good ones. But if you accept the need to work hard, and put in the hard work, that struggle and learning curve is what makes everything worthwhile.

I think you can only truly enjoy success if you’ve had to work for it. If you had a muse and writing came easy, then what would you have done that you could be proud of? A muse could speak through anyone–if the words aren’t yours, you can’t take credit for them.

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

It’s fun!

How about on writing a book series?

It’s hard work, but intriguing and stimulating. It’s fascinating taking a group of characters on a long, multi-book journey. You get to do things you hadn’t planned, go places with them that you never imagined.

I don’t think a writer should force a book series–with both Cirque Du Freak: A Living Nightmare and Lord Loss, I had no intention of writing a long series. Each was intended as a one-off book. But if characters grow on you, and you find yourself wondering what happens next with them, then you shouldn’t be afraid to take them forward and write a follow-up.

A good story will always suck you in and force you to write it, and you shouldn’t shy away from that just because you know some people will accuse you of cashing in and taking the easy option.

Gothic fantasy/horror is so popular with young readers. What do you think it at the heart of the appeal?

We’ve explored most of this world and it’s hard to get really excited about most things now, since we know so much and have seen so much of this planet. But the darkness and the mysteries it holds…they’re as enticing and unexplained as ever. People have always been drawn to the unknown and the unknowable, and I think they always will be.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I like to read. I watch lots of movies and TV shows (but only on DVD–I almost never watch a show when it’s first airing–I prefer to wait, then watch all the episodes in a short span of time). I enjoy going to art galleries. I like to travel. I go to soccer matches in the UK.

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

It’s difficult. Success brings a whole new set of problems–fan mail to respond to, a web site to maintain, tours to promote your work, interviews.

When you’re as prolific as I am, and published in so many countries, the problems are amplified. Some writers choose to bypass those problems–they only tour rarely, they hire someone to reply to fan mail or just ignore it, they don’t give interviews, they ignore the web or leave the running of their site in the hands of others.

I prefer to meet the problems head-on–I tour every year, I’ve been all around the world promoting my books, I’m always happy to give an interview, I run my web site myself, I reply personally to every letter that I receive. And I fit my work in around all that. It’s easy enough to do as long as you’re focused and make the most of your time.

I probably won’t always be able to keep so many balls up in the air at the same time, but for as long as I have the energy, I like fitting so much in.

My favorite ever quote was by film director Cecil B. DeMille‘s brother, who said, ‘The problem with Cecil is he bites off more than he can chew–but then proceeds to chew it!’

I like setting the bar high and having a running at it. Life’s easier if you settle for the things you can comfortably manage–but where’s the fun in that?!?

What can your fans look forward to next?

The rest of The Demonata series (10 books, coming out every April and October). Then…something else! I’m already hard at work on my next project, but I can’t talk about it yet.

All I’ll say is, there’s still a lot more to come. I’m nowhere near to easing up yet!

Author Interview: Sara Ryan on The Rules for Hearts

Sara Ryan on Sara Ryan: “I write books and comics for teens and others. I’m also a librarian.”

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

The Rules for Hearts is my second novel, and it came out in April from Viking. My first, Empress of the World, came out in 2001, and honestly, it’s funny that you used those phrases, because after Empress, there was a stumble of about three years’ duration, and then a sprint.

Shortly after Empress was published, I wrote an entire manuscript–several drafts, in fact–and then threw it out. It was my first attempt to tell my protagonist Battle’s story, and it became increasingly clear that it was simply the wrong story. It wasn’t what happened. As soon as I knew that in my gut, around the spring of 2005, I dragged the old manuscript to the trash and started writing Rules. Fortunately, I have an extremely patient editor!

Congratulations on the release of The Rules for Hearts (Viking, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Thank you! I’m thrilled, as you might infer from my answer to your first question.

In Rules, Battle Hall Davies moves to Portland, Oregon for the summer before she starts at Reed College. What she wants: to reconnect with her brother Nick, whom she hasn’t seen since he ran away four and a half years ago. What she gets is more complicated: a room in Forest House, a part in a Theater Borealis production, and immersion in a world of strong personalities, mixed signals, lies, and–finally–truth.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

After I wrote Empress of the World, I knew that Battle Hall Davies–who’s the love interest in Empress–needed her own voice. In Empress, we only see her through her girlfriend Nicola Lancaster’s eyes–beautiful, compelling, ultimately inexplicable. But of course, that’s not how Battle sees herself.

I also knew that Battle’s brother meant a lot to her. I wanted to see how he compared to the vision of him she built up in his absence from her life.

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

Great question! Someone asked me, while I was working on Rules, what the biggest difference was between being a first-time author and writing a second book. I said, “The weight of expectations.” That was a huge challenge, and I think it’s one that a lot of authors share.

Three more challenges:

1. Getting Battle’s voice right. Nicola’s voice in Empress of the World is not far off from my own, and I share Nic’s tendency to over-analyze both myself and everyone else within range. But Battle isn’t like that, and it took me some time to figure out how to make her voice feel true. That was one of many places where my editor, Sharyn November, was especially helpful. She helped me to see that Battle is much more comfortable in her body than Nic is, and so she experiences the world in a more immediately physical way.

2. Writing a believable (if dysfunctional) sibling relationship. One of the most important relationships in Rules is the one between Battle and her brother Nick, but I’m an only child, so I don’t have any firsthand experience. So any time I was in the company of siblings, I paid close attention to their dynamic. When I was writing the scenes with Battle and Nick, I tried to convey a complicated combination of love, loyalty, teasing, worry and exasperation on Battle’s part.

3. Revealing what happens with Battle and Nicola Lancaster’s relationship after the end of Empress of the World. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of fans who were eager for Rules to be the next chapter in Battle and Nic’s blissful romance. But (SPOILER ALERT) I knew that the truth of Nic and Battle’s relationship was more complicated. They’ll always be important to each other, but the roles they play in each other’s lives have shifted, and may shift again.

On the less-challenging side, research was relatively easy, as I took the lazy writer’s way out of setting the story in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I’m a little worried that the Pittock Mansion folks might track me down and demand an explanation, but aside from that…

Could you tell us about your comic writing and how the two worlds intersect?

Well, I can’t draw, but I love writing comics. So I am super lucky to be in Portland, Oregon, which is chock full of cartoonists. And I’m closely affiliated with Periscope Studio (as a matter of fact, I’m at the studio as I type this) which means that I’m surrounded by seriously talented artists, or as I like to think of them, potential collaborators.

Portland is also a center of zine culture, and I’ve taken kind of a DIY zine-style approach with some of my comics work (though I’ve also had comics published in Cicada Magazine and in a Hellboy anthology from Dark Horse). I attend a fair number of comics and zine conventions, and it’s nice to have my short comics available as little chapbooks.

As for how the worlds intersect, I actually have a couple of comics stories about characters who are also in my novels. “Me and Edith Head,” illustrated by Steve Lieber, is about Katrina Lansdale, Battle and Nic’s good friend in Empress of the World. It takes place before Empress happens, and it’s about how Katrina develops her interest in costumes. Another story, “Click,” illustrated by Dylan Meconis, is about Battle’s senior year of high school, between Empress and Rules. It’s why Battle won’t be attending any high school reunions. You can find both of them on my website.

You’re also a librarian! Wow, how do you do it all?

Um, I’m not sure! But it helps tremendously that I feel connected to a very supportive community of writers and artists, and an equally supportive community of librarian colleagues in the Young Adult Library Services Association.

What do you do when you’re not writing or connecting books to young readers?

I am a thrift-store-and-estate-sale addict. Also, I try to restrain my cat’s appetite for destruction.

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

I would tell myself something that Sharyn told me numerous times during the process of working on both Empress and Rules: It will take as long as it takes.

Do you have any thoughts on contemporary YA fiction more specifically? How about stories with GLBTQ characters or themes?

This may sound a little starry-eyed, but I think writers should tell the stories that they’re passionate about, and then worry about whether or not publishers will be receptive. I honestly believe that publishers–and readers–will respond to a powerful story. And if you let the fear that publishers won’t be receptive to your controversial themes (GLBTQ or other) stop you from telling your story, how will we get more great stories that include those themes?

What can your fans look forward to next?

I don’t know yet! More comics and more novels, certainly, but watch my website for specifics.

Fantasy Genre Web-based Seminar: Learn How to Tame Dragons, Negotiate with Wizards and Attract More Kids and Teens to the Library

From Jeanette Larson (author interview)(recommendation) and Raab Associates:

The fantasy genre captivates people of all ages, especially children and teens. Whether you’re a devoted fantasy reader or wish you knew more about the genre, get the inside scoop on fantasy in our culture by joining us on Sept. 28, when the Authors as Experts Web Seminar Series presents “A Practical Guide to Fantasy” with Nina Hess. Author of A Practical Guide to Monsters (Mirrorstone, 2007), Hess is an experienced guide to this literary world. She will teach participants how to keep monsters at bay, tame dragons and negotiate with wizards.

Hess is also a senior editor at Mirrorstone Books, a company that is totally immersed in the genre. In this Web-based seminar, Hess will discuss the popularity of fantasy for all kids and its value in encouraging reluctant readers–particularly boys, to feel at home in the library. She will also talk about incorporating role-playing, costume parties, and fantasy script-writing into library programs for children and teens.

These one-hour web seminars provide continuing education courses for public and school librarians. They can also be adapted for teacher groups upon request.

Seminar Details At-A-Glance

Seminar: A Practical Guide to Fantasy

Date: September 28, 2007

Time: 11 a.m. Eastern Time [10 a.m. CT, 9 a.m. MT, 8 a.m. PT]

Format: This is a Web-based seminar. Registered participants will receive participation instructions, log-on information and a toll-free number to dial in for the audio portion of the seminar upon payment of the registration fee. Seminars run for one hour.

Cost: $50 per person

Discounts are available for group registration. To Register: send name and contact information to: You may either email or call in your credit card information at 914-241-2117.

About the Authors as Experts Web Seminar Series

This Web Seminar is part of a series of programs produced by Raab Associates Inc., marketing consultants specializing in children’s books, in cooperation with Library Services Consultant Jeanette Larson, the former Youth Services Manager at Austin Public Library.

Author-Illustrator Interview: Carlyn Beccia on Who Put the B in Ballyhoo?

Carlyn Beccia is the author and illustrator of Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo? (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). She has also illustrated jackets for A Houdini and Nate Adventure by Tom Lalicki (FSG, 2006-2008) and Christopher Paul Curtis‘s latest book Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007). Note: Carlyn’s author-illustrator and book sites are exceptionally intriguing.

Carlyn attended the University of Massachusetts on a four-year art scholarship and graduated in 1995. She worked as a graphic designer for 10 years before returning to her first love–illustration. In 2005, Carlyn was the Grand Prize Portfolio Winner in the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) portfolio exhibition. In 2006, she was awarded a certificate of Merit in The Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Illustration West 44 Annual and was also the Grand Prize Portfolio Winner in the New England, Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (New England SCBWI) portfolio exhibition.

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

My first book didn’t get picked up in the traditional way. I sent an 8.5 x 11 art sample illustrating different circus acts to my current editor. She suggested that it would make a great circus alphabet book and that she would like me to be the author as well as illustrator. I immediately panicked and explained that I was not a writer. My editor was persuasive and insisted that I try writing the book. The rest is history. I am forever grateful that she had faith in me. Now, I can’t imagine not writing.

Congratulations on your debut release, Who Put the B in Ballyhoo? (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the book?

Ballyhoo is an alphabet book illustrating the most famous circus stars throughout history. Each letter of the alphabet is showcased in a circus poster ranging from the beautiful, bearded lady Annie Jones of the 1800’s to present day hoaxes like “Lancelot the Last living Unicorn”.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

My initial inspiration was all these wacky and wonderful performers, especially those showcased in the sideshows of the early circuses. For example, there was the petite, but fearless tiger trainer, Mabel Stark, who slept with her favorite tiger, Rajah. Then there were invented spectacles like P.T. Barnum‘s Feejee Mermaid–a fantastical combination of a monkey’s head and a fish’s tail made to look like a real mermaid.

Many books have the underlying message that it is cool to be unique, but in the days of the circus it really did pay to be different. The strangeness of each one of the performers didn’t make them handicapped, it made them true stars.

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

It took about a year to complete the book. During that time, I visited the American Dime Museum in Baltimore and spent most of the time researching circus legends. I also experimented with some different illustration techniques to capture an old and textured look that would mimic vintage circus posters.

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

The typography was a challenge because each circus poster has its own unique font and design elements that illustrate a different time period. I poured over thousands of newspaper clippings and vintage circus posters and used them as a reference to hand letter the type so that each page looks different. I think you would have to be a graphic designer to appreciate the differences, but it was important to me to be true to each time period.

What is it like to be a debut author-illustrator in 2007?

It is an exciting feeling to have your work published. However, publishing the book is just the beginning. I have been learning a lot about marketing and promoting books. I would have to say one of the most rewarding things I have experienced is going out and reading the book to kids and seeing their reaction to the various personalities in the book.

Could you describe your apprenticeship? How did you build your skills on each front?

I worked as a graphic designer for 10 years before breaking into children’s publishing. I did study art in school, but I consider myself self-taught. I paint in digital mixed media using Corel Painter. The program didn’t even exist when I was in school.

As far as writing, I think most authors are self-taught as well. I am working on my second book which has significantly more text than my first book. I feel this experience has enhanced my skills as a writer.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a pre-published writer-illustrator, what advice would you offer?

I would sit myself down and tell myself not to read any book reviews!

Which picture books would you suggest for study and why?

I have so many favorite illustrators. I love the spontaneity and line work of Henry Cole‘s work. One of my favorite illustrators is Yuyi Morales (illustrator interview). Every single page she paints has this amazing emotional impact. She never gets lazy with her art. Any one of her books is a lesson on keeping the passion in every page.

One of my favorite writers is Kathleen Krull because her nonfiction picture books never lose sight of the person behind the story. My philosophy has always been that history is told by the people who changed it.

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

I used to Salsa dance and horseback ride but I can’t do either right now because I am seven months pregnant. Well….I can sort of still salsa dance but it is not pretty. The baby has his/her own salsa routine. In fact, I think he or she is doing it right now because my stomach is getting kicked from every side.

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

I am learning that I can’t do every aspect of promotion so I try to focus on the ones that I love. I prefer to do library talks and school visits over book signings. I give live presentations to kids on digital painting. Kids are pretty fearless when it comes to painting on the computer and it is always fascinating to me how quickly they pick it up.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am currently working on a tell-all book that uncovers the biggest rumors throughout European history, called The Raucous Royals, The True and Untrue Rumors of Kings and Queens, (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). I would describe it as “history lesson meets tabloid magazine.” I feel that kids today can be subjected to rumors at a very young age. This book pokes fun at all the ridiculous rumors that have survived throughout history. Was Napoleon really short? Was there a real Prince Dracula? Did Marie Antoinette really suggest that the poor eat cake?

I think it’s a subject that will appeal to both adults and kids because its basic message is: don’t believe everything you read..not even this book. Many adults will be surprised by the truth behind the rumors and it teaches kids to be their own history detectives!

Cynsational News & Links

Piper Reed: Navy Brat by Kimberly Willis Holt, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Henry Holt, 2007)(excerpt) is now available. From the promotional copy: “It’s not easy being the middle child, especially when your dad is a Navy Chief. Meet Piper Reed, a spunky nine-year-old who has moved more times than she can count on one hand. From Texas to Guam, wherever Piper goes, adventure follows, inspired by her active imagination, free-wheeling spirit, and a bit of sister magic. Unlike her older sister, Piper loves being part of a Navy family, and unlike her little sister, Piper is no prodigy genius. Piper is Piper—fearless and full of life. Based on her own childhood experience, Kimberly Willis Holt portrays the life of a Navy family with warmth and humor.” Download bookmark. Read the story behind the story. See intro with sample illustrations. In a September 2005 interview for Cynsations, Kimberly said, “I am currently working on a chapter book about a Navy Brat. It is lighter than any novel that I’ve ever attempted and I’m having fun writing it.”

Historically Speaking: A Blog Journal by Author Nancy Castaldo. Debut posts include an interview with author Kirby Larson. Nancy is the author of Pizza for the Queen, illustrated by Melisande Potter (Holiday House, 2005)(recommendation).

Check out “Amy Goldman Koss — My Books” at YouTube. Read a Cynsations interview with Amy.

The Brazos Valley (Texas, College Station area) SCBWI chapter will hold its fall mini conference on Sept. 22. Portfolio critiques with Joy Fisher Hein (illustrator interview) are still available, and the discounted hotel rate is good for reservations made by Sept. 1st.

Children’s and Young Adult Author Sheri Sinykin: official author site features first chapter of current book, biography, bibliography, author visit information, teacher guides, peer editing guide, links, etc. Sinykin launches a “second writing career after a lengthy period of writer’s block” with Giving Up The Ghost (Peachtree, 2007)(excerpt)(teacher’s guide) and her first picture book, Zayde Comes to Live (Peachtree, TBA). She was lead author of the Magic Attic Club series and the author of nine other books for young readers in the 1990s.

Cherry Books is a new independent bookstore in in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Guerilla Marketing and Other Secrets of the Trade: Book Marketing for Independent Publishers by Jessica Powers from NewPages. Jessica is the author of The Confessional (Knopf, 2007).

“Patricia MacLachlan sees signs of life wherever she looks” interview by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. See also Meet Jack Gantos from BookPage.

August 2007 reviews at TeensReadToo include: Blood Brothers by S.A. Harazin (Delacorte, 2007); The Confessional by J.L. Powers (Knopf, 2007); Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance (Henry Holt, 2007)(author interview); Head Case by Sarah Aronson (Roaring Brook, 2007); and Scary Beautiful by Niki Burnham (Simon Pulse, 2007)(author interview). In addition, this month’s giveaways include two copies of my novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). See the complete list.

Recommendations from Under the Radar: Romina’s Rangoli, by Malathi Michelle Iyengar: a guest column by Pooja Makhijani at Chicken Spaghetti. Source: Writing with a Broken Tusk.

Take a sneak peek at the cover art for Varian Johnson’s forthcoming YA novel, My Life as a Rhombus (Flux, 2008).

Author Brian Yansky will be signing Wonders of the World (Flux, 2007)(author interview) at the Barnes & Noble Round Rock at 2 p.m. Sept. 15.

More Personally

Listening Library/Random House has purchased audio rights to Tantalize. I’ll keep you posted on the release date and reader.

The Candlewick Press website debuts audio of a brief reading by me of Tantalize as well as additional thoughts on the novel. Click here and see the sidebar.

I look forward to presenting both this novel and my recent picture book, Santa Knows, co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006), at the upcoming Kansas Book Festival in Wichita Oct. 5 and Oct. 6. Featured authors also include: J.B. Cheaney (author interview); L.D. Harkrader (author inteview); Kimberly Willis Holt (author interview); Greg Leitich Smith (author interview); and Dian Curtis Regan (author interview). Note: I am a fellow of the Kansas Center for the Book.

Congratulations to Austinite Erin Edwards on the publication of her haunted house table centerpiece craft (made out of tissue boxes with tissue ghosts) in Family Fun (pg. 91)!

Love and best wishes to my husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, as today is our 13th wedding anniversary!