Do the Math: Incorporating Math and Numbers into Library Programming

From Jeanette Larson:

Too many children and teens may feel they hate math because it just doesn’t seem important or useful to them. But exploring this subject–which includes everything from counting, comparing, and recognizing patterns to problem-solving and organizing data–through stories and literature can make the concepts relevant and fun.

Please join us on Nov. 16 when Wendy Lichtman, author of Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra (Greenwillow, 2007), will discuss how fiction can be used to help kids better understand how they use math in daily life – even in their social relationships.

In a Web-based seminar, Wendy will discuss activities including understanding mathematical poetry, composing secret math codes, and designing math-symbol tattoos that will engage young people in math-related projects that can be incorporated into library programming.

Wendy’s YA novel, Do the Math: Secrets, Lies and Algebra, is about an eighth-grade girl who uses math metaphors to help her navigate the interpersonal storms of middle school.

Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, and other national publications. She often presents her ideas about math and literacy to groups of teachers as well as students and has recently spoken at the UCLA Summer Math Institute in Los Angeles, the Toyota Math and Science Program for Girls in Oakland, and the East Side Community High School in New York. She has a degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan.

Seminar Details At-A-Glance

Seminar: “Do the Math: Incorporating Math and Numbers into Library Programming”
Author Expert: Wendy Lichtman
Date: Nov. 16
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: info@raabassociates.com. You may either email or call in your credit card information at 914-241-2117.

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Kathy Duval on the publication of The Three Bears Halloween, illustrated by Paul Meisel (Holiday House, 2007). From the promotional copy: “Boo! It’s finally Halloween. Baby Bear is trick-or-treating with Mama Bear and Papa Bear. As the bears come up to the very scary house, they notice that the door is open. Maybe they should go inside. But is that a ‘tee-hee-hee’ coming from behind the bush? Could the three bears be in for a Halloween trick? Goldilocks gets a visit from the three bears in this spooky companion book….” Read a Cynsations interview with Kathy on The Three Bears Christmas.

Agent Interview: Jennie Dunham of Dunham Literary Inc. from author K.L. Going (scroll to read). Read a Cynsations interview with K.L.

Finalists for the National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature have been announced: Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown); Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One (Atheneum)(author interview); M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow (Atheneum); Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic); Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl (Little, Brown)(author interview). Read Cynsations interviews with Kathleen and Sara.

2007 Cybils: “the only literary awards by bloggers;” the committees are seeking nominations from book lovers (that means you!) in eight genres: fantasy/science fiction; fiction picture books; middle grade fiction; nonfiction (middle grade and YA); non-fiction picture books; poetry; young adult fiction. Deadline: Nov. 21. See details and nominate!

Finalists for the Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Awards have been announced. In the short-works category, the finalists are: Blue the Bird on Flying by Becky Due (Due Publications, 2006); Grandpa for Sale by Dotti Enderle and Vicki Sansum, illustrated by T. Kyle Gentry (Flashlight, 2006); The Man Who Named the Clouds by Julie Hannah and Joan Holub, illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye (Albert Whitman, 2006). And in the long-works category: Journey to the Alamo by Melodie Cuate (Texas Tech, 2006); Long Gone Daddy by Helen Hemphill (Front Street, 2006)(author interview); and Alpha Dog by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2006)(author interview). The awards ceremony will be held during the Texas Book Festival, Nov. at 3 p.m. in Capitol Extension Room E2.030. Read Cynsations interviews with Dotti, Helen, and Jennifer.

Congratulations to Lupe Ruiz-Flores on the release of The Woodcutter’s Gift/El Regalo del Leñador, illustrated by Elaine Jerome (Arte Público Press, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Lupe.

YA Author Gail Giles has revamped and expanded her official site. It now features additional pictures, a teacher’s guide for What Happened to Cass McBride (Little Brown, 2006), unofficial trailers for her books, and a page about school visits. Read a Cynsations interview with Gail.

To celebrate Halloween, there’s a special promotion taking place at Teens Read Too, where you can win a copy of Betrayed by P. C. & Kristin Cast, The Beast of Noor and Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey (author interview), Lord Loss and Demon Thief by Darren Shan (author interview), a Twilight audiobook CD by Stephenie Meyer (author interview), Don’t Die, Dragonfly by Linda Joy Singleton (author interview), Bras & Broomsticks by Sarah Mlynowski, A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (author interview), a Cirque Du Freak box set by Darren Shan (author interview), A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb, and Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (author interview)! Last but not least, you can enter for a chance to win a copy of Cristo’s Chronicles: The King’s Challenge by Anthony J. Mirarchi by checking out the Hidden Contest!

Editor Interview: Ben Schrank of Razorbill from Alice’s CWIM Blog. See also the interview with debut author Erik Luper.

More Personally

The Haggard Library/Plano (Texas) Public Library (2501 Coit Road) will host Cynthia Leitich Smith from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 13. Grades 6 to 12. Come dressed in your best vampire finery!

Star Lit, a children’s literary festival, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Plano (TX). The event benefits the Dallas Bethlehem Center. Featured authors and illustrators include: Will Hillenbrand; Dee Scallan and Daniel Myers; Laura Numeroff; Bryan Collier; Kim Brown; Kimberly Willis Holt; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Greg Leitich Smith; and Tracy Dockray.

Attention MySpacers! On the online events front, I’m honored to be featured as one of 31 Flavorite Authors by the Readergirlz on Oct. 29! I’ll be chatting about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) .

“More Hot Titles for Teens” from Copiague Memorial Public Library in Copiague, New York. Note: what great company! Read Cynsations interviews with Daria Snadowsky, Cecil Castellucci, Libba Bray, A.M. Jenkins, and Sara Zarr.

Look for the “Dear Author” feature with me in the November issue of the Kidsville News! See if Kidsville News is published in your area! Note: special thanks to compiler and children’s author Kim Norman.

Reminder: Are You Predator or Prey? Giveaway Contest: In recognition of October’s spookiness, I’m giving away three Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) prize packages–two to people (booksellers, teachers, librarians) who connect books to YA readers and one to an individual reader. The packages each include an autographed copy of Tantalize, a Sanguini’s T-shirt, bat and wolf finger puppets, stickers, and additional surprises! In addition, the individual winner will receive one signed Tantalize bookmark, and the bookseller/teacher/librarian winners will receive twenty signed bookmarks. I’ll also send autographed bookmark stacks to at least three runners-up in the bookseller/teacher/librarian category. Deadline Oct. 15. See details!

The October giveaway at Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace is Ironside by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2007)(excerpt)(three copies).

From the promotional copy: “In the realm of Faerie, the time has come for Roiben’s coronation. Uneasy in the midst of the malevolent Unseelie Court, pixie Kaye is sure of only one thing–her love for Roiben. But when Kaye, drunk on faerie wine, declares herself to Roiben, he sends her on a seemingly impossible quest. Now Kaye can’t see or speak to Roiben unless she can find the one thing she knows doesn’t exist: a faerie who can tell a lie.

“Miserable and convinced she belongs nowhere, Kaye decides to tell her mother the truth–that she is a changeling left in place of the human daughter stolen long ago. Her mother’s shock and horror sends Kaye back to the world of Faerie to find her human counterpart and return her to Ironside. But once back in the faerie courts, Kaye finds herself a pawn in the games of Silarial, queen of the Seelie Court. Silarial wants Roiben’s throne, and she will use Kaye, and any means necessary, to get it. In this game of wits and weapons, can a pixie outplay a queen?

“Holly Black spins a seductive tale at once achingly real and chillingly enchanted, set in a dangerous world where pleasure mingles with pain and nothing is exactly as it appears.”

Author Interview: Tiffany Trent on In the Serpent’s Coils

Tiffany Trent was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia. She fell in love with reading at an early age and writing shortly thereafter. After a childhood steeped in fairy tales, myth, and the natural world, she went on to earn three master’s degrees in English, creative writing, and environmental studies. Besides breeding poison frogs, her most exciting job occasioned a move across the globe to Hong Kong, where she worked as a senior editor for a wildlife conservation organization. However, she continued nurturing her secret passion for writing fantasy, and now writes while teaching English at Virginia Tech. Her first novel, In the Serpent’s Coils (Hallowmere)(Mirrorstone, 2007), is a BookSense Children’s Pick for Autumn 2007.

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

Oddly, the sprints and stumbles seem to be coterminous. I’d worked on an Asian-inspired epic for most of my life. I submitted it two years ago to a writer’s workshop, and it was so well received that I was introduced to a senior editor at a large house. He kept the manuscript for a year and a half before finally rejecting it.

I had only just begun work on the Hallowmere proposal, and this editor really pushed me toward stretching my abilities. “You’ve been working on this too long. Work on something else,” he said, before tossing my darling epic back in my lap.

That stung, but he was very, very right.

Two months later, I had the Hallowmere contract and was suddenly faced with working on a ten-book series that I would never have dreamed of writing before that fatal rejection. I’m very glad it all happened as it did!

Congratulations on the release of In the Serpent’s Coils (Hallowmere)(Mirrorstone, 2007)(excerpt)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

As the Civil War ends, Corrine’s nightmare begins…

Orphaned by the Civil War, Corrine Jameson is forced to live with her aloof Uncle William. Mysterious letters, strange dreams, and supernatural encounters cause Corrine to be sent to Falston Reformatory School, where she is thrust squarely into an ancient conflict between mortals and fey. When Corrine’s schoolmates begin disappearing, Corrine wonders: will she be next?

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

A conglomeration of things, really. I’ve loved the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale “The Marsh King’s Daughter” since I was a child. Once, when I was in Charleston, South Carolina, I took a ghost tour and learned about the Gullah, descendants of West African slaves who live in the South Carolina Low Country. Also, a dear friend of mine owns an old farmhouse in Culpeper, Virginia (where the book is set), and she would often tell me Civil War ghost stories while we sat on her porch at midnight. Mash all that together, and you get In the Serpent’s Coils.

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

I had been toying with this idea off and on probably since 2000, but I hadn’t really done much with it, because I was working on the aforementioned epic and writing nonfiction essays.

My editor, Stacy Whitman, was searching for YA dark fantasy writers and asked my friend Shannon Hale if she knew anyone who might write that sort of thing. Stacy and I began speaking in August 2005. I had a couple weeks to draw up a proposal–an interesting task when you’re living in the middle of the Chinese wilderness, as I was at the time. (I was staying with my husband during his research on Asiatic black bears).

When I got to Hong Kong, I sent her the single novel idea I had in mind. Then she asked, “What if you had to do a 10-book series? Can you expand this idea?”

I gulped, and said, “Sure!”

In late December 2005, the final decision was made and Hallowmere was born. In the Serpent’s Coils was completed by April 2006 and launched on Aug. 28.

For some of the books, I’m very fortunate to have a great group of co-authors, among them Angelika Ranger, Paul Crilley, and Amanda Jenkins (author interview). I’m very much looking forward to seeing their books.

I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful the Mirrorstone publishing team has been, from the editors to the folks manning their beautiful booth at this year’s trade shows. Everyone has been truly excited and supportive from the very beginning. It means a tremendous amount to have a publishing team with that much faith in me.

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

The challenges stemmed mostly from balancing the tight publishing schedule with teaching full-time. Being on deadline definitely changed the speed at which I wrote! Also, I had to do a bit of gear-shifting because I had been spending all my creative time steeped in Chinese lore for the other series and suddenly I needed to be thinking about Civil War-era Virginia. It was definitely a bit of a head-spinner, but also very refreshing–a splash of cold water to the brain.

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

Go toward the writing that feeds you, and don’t be ashamed of it. If genre feeds you, then feast. If literary fiction feeds you, devour it. Don’t let anyone make you feel that your desire to write is invalid or not worthy because of the stories that have chosen you to write them.

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

What I like best about writing historical fantasy fiction is that it opens up a forgotten world by connecting me with people who are often long-dead. Getting to know someone’s past, even through something as simple as the weather she experienced in 1865, is an excellent exercise for the imagination. Such work forces me to seek answers. Even if I don’t always find what I’m looking for, research helps me craft the novel carefully.

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

Life for me has always been a balancing act between writing and whatever else I needed to do to survive, so I’m very accustomed to splitting my time between those things. Thus far, promotion has been very well-organized by my publisher and I’m deeply grateful for that. Right now, I’m learning how to do promotion for myself. It’s definitely a challenge but also fun to use my creative skills in a different way.

What can your fans look forward to next?

More Hallowmere! Book 2 will be out in December and Book 3 will be out in March or April. A Hallowmere story called “Blackwater Baby” will be in the Magic in the Mirrorstone anthology, edited by Steve Berman, in 2008. A YA Victorian dark fantasy is also in the works.

LIVEbrary offers Media Awareness Program, Grades 4-8

From Annick Press:

Annick Press has begun an ambitious new online program for middle school and junior high schools students, teachers, librarians and homeschoolers called the “LIVEbrary.” The two-year program is funded by a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

The first season begins Oct. 15 with a five-week program on Media Awareness. Among others, it features media literacy pioneer Shari Graydon, author of Made You Look (Annick) and In Your Face (Annick), books that challenge kids to become aware of how advertisers try to manipulate them.

The Series Librarian for the LIVEbrary program is Gary Price, editor of ResourceShelf.com and director of information technology for Internet search engine, ASK.com.

The LIVEbrary publishes a lesson plan each week that includes a reading, discussion questions, an assignment, and a quiz. Students may participate through the LIVEbrary blog, email, and/or live chat. Live chats are every Thursday afternoon from 2-3 pm ET. The chats are provided with assistance from Skype Technologies, makers of the popular SKYPE Internet phone software.

Teachers, librarians, parents and homeschoolers must register in advance to participate in the LIVEbrary. More information, including registration, instructions, and a complete schedule are available at the LIVEbrary Blog or via email.

Watercolor Contest Celebrating Little Toot

Little Toot is being celebrated this year because it is the 100th birthday of author/illustrator Hardie Gramatky. See additional programming ideas.

Young readers are invited to create a watercolor picture of Little Toot; this reflects the medium Hardie Gramatky used.

They may use watercolor paints/markers/crayons to create their picture.

To enter, contestants must create an illustration featuring a tugboat. Librarians will choose one entry to submit in each of two age categories: five and under and six to 10. Entries will be judged according to originality and creativity. The final product must be the child’s own original work.

One Grand Prize winner and three runners-up will be chosen in each of the two age categories: five and under and six to 10.

All entries must be submitted with: librarian’s name; title; organization name; address; city, state, zip code; email; phone number; name and age of child entering (first name only).

The libraries that are Grand Prize winners in each age category will each receive a framed giclée print of an illustration from the book, Little Toot, for the library and a copy of the newly restored classic edition of Little Toot, autographed by Linda Gramatky Smith, to give to the child whose art has won. Three libraries chosen as runners-up in each age category will each receive two autographed copies of Little Toot—one copy for the library and one copy for the child whose work has won.

Deadline for entries is November 1st. All entries must be sent in a .jpg format to: www.littletoot.org/contest.

Each participating library will receive an e-mail message with a printable certificate that can be given to all of the children who entered from the library.

Winners will be notified by Nov. 8th. Winning artwork will be posted at www.littletoot.org. By accepting a prize, winning libraries grant Web host, Linda Gramatky Smith, the right to use the library’s name, show an image of the winning piece of art, and list the first name and age of the artist who submitted the entry for promotional purposes without further compensation or permission.

Author Interview: Shutta Crum on A Family for Old Mill Farm

Shutta Crum is an award-winning writer of books for children and poetry for adults, as well as a storyteller and a youth librarian who was awarded the Michigan Library Association‘s Award of Merit as Michigan’s youth librarian of the year for 2002. She is also an educator who taught writing at the college level, as a high school English teacher, and to third-graders under the auspices of the Michigan Council for the Arts. In addition to writing, she does author talks and leads writing workshops for writers of all ages, for classroom teachers, and for librarians.

She is the author of eight picture books, one novel, many published poems, several magazine articles, as well as three forthcoming books. Her books have graced state lists, or the Bank Street College‘s Children’s Books of the Year lists as well as other prestigious lists. Shutta was also honored by being one of eight authors invited to read at the 2005 White House Easter Egg Roll.

We last spoke in August 2005 about the release of The Bravest of the Brave, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Knopf, 2005). Do you have any updates for us on the book?

Since we last spoke The Bravest of the Brave has won a Children’s Choice award for 2006, and it made the Chicago Public Library‘s Best of the Best list.

Perhaps the thing I am most tickled about is when I run across information that The Bravest of the Brave has been donated to a school or library in honor of one of our soldiers. It seems to be making the rounds of military families and libraries. That’s so cool!

Congratulations on the release of A Family for Old Mill Farm, illustrated by Niki Daly (Clarion, 2007)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

Ha! I have to laugh when you say, “tell us a little about this new title,” for this book is very autobiographical. Twenty-five years ago we started looking for our place in the country. It took us almost three years to find it. Now, twenty-two years later, a very personal book has come out. So…it’s hard to put all that into a few lines.

But, let me try…the format is two alternating stories. Basically, the plot revolves around a young couple with a son who want to move into a bigger house because they are due to have a second child. The human realtor they work with, based on their responses to each house shown, takes them to a series of remarkable, but inappropriate, houses. In the meantime, in the alternate story, there is a raccoon realtor who finds very comfy homes for his customers at an old run-down farm. Of course, our human couple finally finds that the charms of Old Mill Farm are also “perfect” for their family.

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

Well, let’s not count the “research years,” the 22 years we spent fixing this place up, or the three years we spent finding it! I think I started the manuscript sometime in mid-2002. I signed a contract for the sale in May of 2003. That’s when the real work on it began! It came out in June of 2007, four years after it was sold.

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

Here I have to take a deeeeeeeep breath! OMF (Old Mill Farm) was probably the most difficult book I’ve ever written. It took many months of rewrites, it took cutting up the manuscript and rearranging (by me and my editor), it took a grid outline used by my editor to keep track of where we were. And when I had to explain the format to a group of adults at the book launch, I designed a sort-of Cliff’s Notes for it. (See image.) Of course it can be enjoyed without the Cliff Notes…it’s just that talking about the writing of it was easier with an outline of the plot.

The problem was that I got myself into a great deal of work with the format. It is written in rhyme with a specific meter, and some repeated refrains. It has two inter-connecting plots, and there had to be a logical sequence of houses that were based on the responses of the humans. Further, those responses would need to be reflected in the homes that were found by the raccoon realtor for his customers—otherwise why have the animals at all? Then, at the end, it all had to come together. Whew!

Little did I realize the rewriting problems I’d run into with this! First off, I had started my story with the animal plot line. The publisher, Clarion, wanted it to start with the humans. Rightly so. After all, as readers we identify most with their plight and I needed to start there. Duh! I wish I had realized that early on. Because what happens when you suddenly have to flip-flop all the connections between the two inter-looping stories? And it’s in rhyme! Of course, the whole thing had to be rewritten to get new rhymes for the redirection of the action, and the rotation of the houses in a different order. (This is where my editor’s grid came in handy. And a meter template.)

Did I let all that work stop me? Thank God, no—for I like the story very much. And I adore Niki Daly’s wonderfully energetic illustrations. Did I learn the KISS lesson—keep it simple? No.

Unfortunately, when I daydream new story ideas I can’t seem to keep from asking myself…but wouldn’t it be neat if this also happened. So, I’ve done it again. My agent has a new manuscript I’ve just submitted to her with a dual plot. There must be a streak of masochism in me!

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

For one thing, I can see a little more clearly how a manuscript has to grow. It doesn’t keep me from challenging myself with more and more difficult things to do—it just makes me less anxious, because I know from the start when a manuscript is going to require a lot more time. I’m in less of a hurry.

Also, I continue to grow in my respect and awe of good editors! It takes a great deal of persistence and elbow grease to bring out a story’s inner glow,…and I’d prefer to always do the really hard work with a good editor at my side. Marcia Leonard, who edited A Family for Old Mill Farm is talented and has the patience of a saint!

Additionally, I have to thank my critique group—a great group of writers—for forcing me to rethink lines, to look carefully at my word choices, and to power revise using the best verbs possible. The downside to this is that, since I’ve become a full-time writer, I’ve begun to feed my addiction for dictionaries and thesauri of all kind. They crowd my writing space and take up room on my favorites list.

Finally, I’m also at that point in my career where I am making more trips across the country to speak to new writers, teachers, and librarians. As a librarian, I’ve always loved sharing the joy of books. Now, I love to share the joy of writing, as well. And I am fortunate to be able to speak from a variety of experiences since I’ve worked with five publishers and many editors on a variety of formats. (I have a novel out with Clarion, Spitting Image (Clarion, 2003). And one of the new manuscripts I’m working on is a chapter book.)

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

Don’t rush it! The heart of the story has to be there first, and sometimes it takes a while to discover what that is for each manuscript. It’s a bit like walking in someone else’s moccasins…you have to live with the story for a while to understand what it needs and where it wants to go.

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing picture books?

Ha! To that, I first have say that I’ve been contemplating writing a book about how to write a picture book—mostly because I get asked this so much!

Unfortunately many of the uninitiated assume it’s easy to do, simply because picture book texts are so short. Writing short isn’t easy! Think of Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, or Robert Frost and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” If writing short were easy, we’d all be alongside haikuists Issa or Basho in the pantheon of beloved poets. Mark Twain said it best: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

So, number 1: get over the idea that it’s a slam-dunk—despite anything Billy Crystal has said. (We don’t all have his name.)

Number 2: Do your homework. (A lot of people do not want to hear this bit of advice.) This means: read a lot of picture books. Study the field. Know the classics, know the best sellers, know the authors that have pushed the envelope. Know where the format has been so you can boldly go where no other picture book has gone. There’s no shortcut for this! (It took me at least 18 years of being a youth librarian and storyteller before I began to consider writing for kids.)

What recent picture books would you suggest for study and why?

(These are not just picture books. You can learn a lot about writing for young children from all sorts of books.) I particularly like books that stand out from the crowd—that, as I said earlier, push the envelope. These include, but are not limited to…

–the books by Mo Willems. (To see how someone from the visual arts approaches the hard dimensionality of a book. To see how illustration and text are indivisible in a picture book.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabaret by Brian Selznick (Simon & Schuster, 2006). (To see how a master has inventively recreated the graphic novel.)

–all the books of M. T. Anderson. (He’s an American treasure—a seminal writer whose writing will effect the direction of children’s literature in the United States for many years. Why? His word choice, his range [Feed (Candlewick, 2002) and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (Candlewick, 2006)(excerpt)], his humor, his way with a metaphor—awesome.)

–the books of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. (To see where boy-energy and outrageous fun can lead.)

–the books of Peggy Rathman. (To see how a picture book master manipulates plot with text and illustration. She handily puts the reader in control of information that is not available to all the characters in the book.)

–books published in other countries. (Taste a bit of the exotic—we are not the only game around, and the world is getting smaller by the minute.)

I could go on and on…but that would take too long. (Remember, I’m also a librarian.)

However, I do want to especially mention that writers of picture books should also study illustrators—to see how plot, characterization, and mood are manipulated by illustration, and to see what fun, creative things illustrators like Eric Rohmann, David Catrow, Janet Stevens, David McLimans, the Pinckneys, David Wiesner, and many, many others are doing—including many fine graphic-novel illustrators.

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

Wha
a
a
t? Oops! It’s a crazy life whatever century you live it, so don’t obsess about it. Do what you feel like doing, as much as you feel like doing, and when the spirit moves you–dance.

I take on a few conferences and trips in the fall, try to keep my local base of support strong by doing very reasonably priced gigs for local groups, and I do allow myself to go crazy one month: National Reading Month–the month ALL teachers want you to visit. I will schedule more work at that time with the notion that I know I can survive one month of craziness on the road.

My husband is retired, so I do get to see a good deal of him. We travel a lot. (We were in Ireland this summer.) He writes poetry and is very supportive of my writing. We have two grandchildren nearby–I hit them up for doses of Vitamin “G” periodically. In-between, I write and I work on our farm. I also do other creative projects, like mosaics, three-dimensional doodling, or quilting to keep the ideas flowing. (To view some of my fun doodling, see my blog.)

I love color…it keeps me happy during the dreary winter months in Michigan. I’ve painted circles and triangles around the house. I have my own “playhouse” converted from our garage where I use life-giggly colors and fabrics. This is also where I have the hammock, so I can crash. (See photo—a most important piece of writing equipment! Every good book requires a few naps to dream up ideas.) It all keeps me sane…to some degree.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have two more picture books that are forthcoming from Clarion (Houghton Mifflin). Again, I will get to work with Marcia Leonard—YAY! She wasn’t frightened away by the contortions of my manuscript for OMF. I also sold a picture book to Hyperion/Jump at the Sun some time ago…I hope that will soon make its appearance. And I’ve got new work on the desks of some of my editors, and on my agent’s desk. I hope the work, and the joy I feel in it, never stops.

Ciao! Gotta go dance…

2007 Kansas Book Festival

The 2007 Kansas Book Festival was held Oct. 5 to Oct. 6 at Koch Arena on the campus of Wichita State University.

The festival was a joint presentation of the Governor’s Cultural Affairs Council, the State Library of Kansas, the Kansas Center for the Book, the Kansas Historical Society, Wichita Public Library, Kansas Arts Commission, and the Kansas Humanities Council.

The 2007 Festival benefited the State Library’s Statewide Summer Reading Program, which reaches 80,000 children through public libraries in 400 Kansas communities every year. This marked the festival’s second year.

Featured youth literature authors included: Polly Basore, All Is Bright; Alice Bertels, John Steuart Curry: The Road Home; George Brandsberg, AFOOT: A Tale of the Great Dakota Turkey Drive; Christie Breault, Logan West, Printer’s Devil; Michael Buckley, “The Sisters Grimm” series; Beverley Olson Buller, The Story of William Allen White; Ally Carter, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy; J. B. Cheaney, The Middle of Somewhere; Shane Evans, When Gorilla Goes Walking; Randi Hacker, Life As I Knew It; L. D. Harkrader, Airball: My Life in Briefs; Cheryl Harness, The Remarkable Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and Just for You to Know; Kimberly Willis Holt, Piper Reed: Navy Brat; Richard W. Jennings, Ferret Island; Stephen T. Johnson, Alphabet City, My Little Yellow Taxi, and Tour America; Jane Kurtz, What Columbus Found (It Was Orange, It Was Round); Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tantalize and Santa Knows; Greg Leitich Smith, Ninjas, Piranhas, & Galileo and Santa Knows; Justin Matott, Go Ask Mom: Stories From the Upper Bunk; Brandon Mull, The Candy Shop War and the “Fablehaven” series; Susanna Pitzer, Not Afraid of Dogs; Tim Raglin, The Curse of Catunkhamun; Dian Curtis Regan, Princess Nevermore and Cam’s Quest; Lois Ruby, Shanghai Shadows; Brad Sneed, The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians; Roderick Townley, The Red Thread; and Richard Uhlig, Last Dance at the Frosty Queen.

Greg and I arrived Friday night, and so we attended only the Saturday program. In the morning, we presented Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006) in the Read Me A Story Tent. In the afternoon, we presented Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), which is set in northeast Kansas, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) in the Read A Latte Lounge, and later I participated in the closing “Kansas on the Literary Map” panel with authors Don Coldsmith, Antonya Nelson, and Nancy Pickard in the arena. Our moderator was Cyndi Hughes, former director of the Texas Book Festival, and a consultant to Kansas.

Our busy schedule included signings after each presentation. Book sales were brisk, and we were wowed by the efforts–hand-selling, author relations, humor–of Town Crier Bookstore of Emporia, Kansas.

All of this excitement (and meeting escorts a half hour before each event) left little time for watching other author presentations. However, we did catch the second half of debut author Richard Uhlig‘s session. He talked about his path to writing YA fiction, landing a two-book deal with Knopf, and launching his first novel, Last Dance at the Frosty Queen (excerpt), in his home town. In the discussion that followed, he and a local librarian talked about the need for YA literature that reflects the full diversity of the small-town experience (beyond football and the popular kids) and noted that not every boy reader is a sports fan.

Although I was awaiting escort in the green room, Greg had the good fortune to hear J. B. Cheaney speak, and she was kind enough to attend and ask questions at our second presentation. Her latest release is The Middle of Somewhere (Knopf, 2007)(book talk). Read a Cynsations interview with J.B.

Other highlights included meeting Elizabeth Kennedy of the About.com Guide to Children’s Books and a Friday night dinner with author Kimberly Willis Holt and Pulpwood Queen Kathy L. Patrick of Beauty and the Book. See Spookycyn for the behind-the-scenes story of the trip and GregLSBlog for Greg’s report.

What I remember most, though, is a comment that Don Coldsmith made about Kansas’ proud literary history. He spoke about the majesty and sometimes eeriness of the plains, how you feel so exposed, like anything can happen. He talked about the peacefulness of it, how you can stretch your eyes and see your neighbors miles away. This weekend, I stretched my eyes and saw Kansas anew. Thanks to all for your efforts!

Cynsational News & Links

Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, December 2007) book trailer. Learn more about the novel from Laurie’s site. Read a Cynsations interview with Laurie.

Book Lists for Young Adults on the Web: a resource for librarians, YA readers, and YA writers studying a thread within the body of literature.

Do You Hear It? The YA Voice by Susan Sundwall from WOW! Women on Writing. Here’s a sneak peek: “It’s so easy to get the young and the adult mixed up. The proper voice can keep it in balance, but there’s always a tension present between the two.”

Home Free: Seeing Slavery through the Eyes of a Child: an interview with Christopher Paul Curtis by Deborah Hopkinson from BookPage. See a book talk from Scholastic.

“Debbie Michiko Florence is Going Places” from WOW! Women on Writing. Debbi is the author of the upcoming China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book (Williamson, 2008).

Harry Potter and the Fundamentals of Fantasy by Philip Martin from Absolute Write.

The Horn Book offers a new podcast with author M.T. Anderson.

Hot Off the Press: new releases from CBC Magazine.

Web Connections for September 2007 from Book Links.

Are you in the Massachusetts area? The snowflake ornaments to be auctioned in conjunction with Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure are on exhibit at Child at Heart Gallery at 48 Inn Street in Newburyport through Oct. 22. Open house: Oct. 6.

Ninth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference

From Anna Olswanger:

The 92nd Street Y Buttenwieser Library and the Jewish Book Council are cosponsoring the Ninth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference from 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m. Nov. 18 at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.

Featured speakers are senior editor Reka Simonsen of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, editor Jennifer Wingertzahn of Clarion Books, senior editor Lindsey Silken of JVibe/JFL Media, sales manager Sarah Aronson of Jewish Lights Publishing, literary agent Kirsten Wolf of Jill Grinberg Literary Management, and associate art director Einav Aviram of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Author and illustrator Neil Waldman, winner of the National Jewish Book Award, will give opening remarks, and the day will include sessions on publishing and writing in Israel, the Sydney Taylor Book Award and Manuscript Competition, and new this year: a panel on “How I Got My First Book Published.”

The registration form is available for download (PDF file). Call 212.415.5544 or e-mail library@92Y.org for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is Nov. 12.

If you write or illustrate children’s books for the Jewish market, this conference is for you!

Ninth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference
Nov. 18, 2007, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY
$85 before Nov. 1, $100 after Nov. 1
Fee includes kosher breakfast and lunch.

More Personally

Reminder: Are You Predator or Prey? Giveaway Contest: In recognition of October’s spookiness, I’m giving away three Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) prize packages–two to people (booksellers, teachers, librarians) who connect books to YA readers and one to an individual reader. The packages each include an autographed copy of Tantalize, a Sanguini’s T-shirt, bat and wolf finger puppets, stickers, and additional surprises! In addition, the individual winner will receive one signed Tantalize bookmark, and the bookseller/teacher/librarian winners will receive twenty signed bookmarks. I’ll also send autographed bookmark stacks to at least three runners-up in the bookseller/teacher/librarian category. Deadline Oct. 15. See details!

Author Interview: Bill Cochran on The Forever Dog

Bill Cochran on Bill Cochran: “I grew up in Palo Alto, California where I was a pretty lousy student in virtually every subject–in fact, I recall getting a 38 out of 124 on a chemistry test once and never getting good grades on any papers I wrote. I was strangely good at math, so I figured maybe I’d be a math teacher some day. I never really believed I could make a living being ‘creative.’

“But as the years went by I figured I had to at least try. After being asked out of the economics department, I backed into a theater major in college (with an emphasis on writing). After college and an appearance on the game show ‘Press Your Luck,’ I wound up working for talk shows and game shows in Hollywood–I helped run the voting machine on ‘Love Connection’ for one season, plus had an awkwardly close working relationship with Charles Nelson Reilley.

“I know, this all sounds so glamorous, but I wanted something even more creative, so I went back to school to study advertising copywriting. I am now a Creative Director at a large advertising agency in Dallas. I’ve been at the same agency now for 14 years and really love the job. It lets me be very silly and still get paid. I’ve done work for lots of different clients and gotten to work with everyone from Michael Jordan to Roger Clemens to Tim Duncan to a $35,000 robotic talking ham sandwich. Oh, and I had Easter Supper once with Michelle Pfeiffer but that’s another story.

“Oh, I also still hold my high school record in the high jump. That doesn’t have much to do with writing, but I’m proud of it.

“As far as being a children’s writer. This is my first book–I did have a story I wrote, ‘Dusk on the Klamath River,’ which appeared in my sixth grade year book.

“Oh, I also channel my creativity performing with Dallas’s oldest and most popular Improv comedy troupe.”

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

The only sprint along the way was writing the manuscript itself. That probably only took a day or two. Everything else: s-l-o-w. I wrote the manuscript 12 years ago, and it took about seven years from the time I wrote it until I had my contract with HarperCollins. It was really just a story I wrote–I didn’t know if it was children’s book material, magazine article material, or merely something for my mom to read.

Sure there were stumbles, but now that it’s out in stores, I just don’t really remember what they were.

Congratulations on the release of The Forever Dog, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (HarperCollins, 2007). Could you fill us in on the story?

It’s about a young boy, Mike and his dog/best friend, Corky. Warning: Don’t get too attached to Corky–he dies before the mid-fold. It’s a story about how Mike learns to work through his sadness and embrace Corky’s memory. Total tear jerker.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

My golden retriever, Mo, died when I was 26. Mo was only two years old. And I was devastated. I mean–devastated. We had lots of pets growing up: dogs, cats, guinea pigs and even a green parrot named Broccoli, and losing them was always very painful, but nothing compared to losing my first pet. Mo was “My Dog,” the first one that I had raised from a puppy. Did I mention I was devastated?

About a week had passed after Mo died, through all my sorrow, I remember so clearly just having a moment where I simply remembered the good things about her. The love she brought to my world. The stupid things she did that made me laugh. And I knew that nothing could ever take that away from me.

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

I wrote the story a few weeks after Mo died. Then I just kind of sat on the story. One day I showed it to my mom and she burst out crying. Over the next few years I showed it to a few other people, slowly people encouraged me to “try to get it published.”

I didn’t know what that entailed, so I did the whole “trying to get published thing”–I went to the book store, bought a book entitled How to Sell Your Children’s Book, sent out manuscripts to 15–20 different publishers big and small, and I waited. It wasn’t long before I started to get my rejection “notices.” I’ve always thought that it’s funny that many of them aren’t even full letters. They’re quarter page things that are easier to fit in your SASE. Hilarious.

I had really hoped someone would’ve just told me it’s good or not good enough, but with those form letters I really just felt like no one was even reading it.

Anyway, after all those rejections I sort of sat on it again for a year or two. Then one day I was shooting a TV commercial (for my real, paying job) and I overheard the wardrobe assistant talking to a prop assistant about children’s publishing. I asked if they “knew” someone in publishing. Turns out she did. Her sister had a friend who was an editor.

After a few e-mails I sent my manuscript to this editor–and badda boom, badda bing–after nine months I learned she had lost my manuscript! Ha! So I sent it again. Then nine months later, she e-mailed me saying she’d read it and thought it could sell.

I had to re-read that e-mail several times to understand what it really said.

Three weeks later I had a two-book contact. Insane.

Of course, then things slowed down considerably. That was five years ago.

Over the next few years there was some trouble procuring the right illustrator, but finally Dan came on board and everything couldn’t look better. Plus, my release date got bumped a few times, but heck, it’s out now, so life couldn’t be better. What’s 12 years in the grand scheme of things?

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

The hardest part was actually killing off my main character–the dog Corky–in the book. It was really painful writing that portion of the story. But I’ll never forget writing the final words of the book and having a huge feeling of “Wow, this really came together nicely. I kind of gave myself goosebumps. And that doesn’t happen when I write that often.”

The title of the manuscript was The Forever Plan and almost immediately my editor told me, “Well, we’re gonna have to change that title.” That took me by surprise a little, the title meant a lot to me–it was sort of the whole original concept of the story and I hated to lose it. But now, lots of people come and tell me–“I love the title,” so I generally take full credit.

What did Dan Andreasen’s illustrations bring to your text?

It was funny. I was really nervous about seeing what he would do. I had lived with the manuscript for so long “un-illustrated” that I didn’t know how I would react. However, I was almost brought to tears when I saw them. I wrote Corky to be an “everydog,” a mutt that anyone could associate with, but the crazy thing is, Corky looks a lot like Mo did when she was a puppy–right down to the red dog collar. And Dan and I have never spoken–nor did he ever see picture of Mo.

There’s also this one illustration at the back of the book, it’s just a picture of a dog collar and a ball. Ooph. That one got me the first time I saw it.

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

First thing I would tell myself is: “You can do it.” I think more than anything that’s what I would want to hear. I know all creative people go through self-doubt, but I struggled so much in school I had huge confidence issues. I would also tell my “back-then” self to ask girls questions like “What do you want to do?” and not just nervously talk about myself all the time. Okay, that doesn’t have anything to do with writing, but it would’ve helped me with the girls.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I love hanging out and acting silly with friends–I throw very bizarre parties sometimes. I’ve had parties with a spelling bee, a paper airplane contest, and rock-scissors-paper tournaments. I also love working out as much as possible so that I can eat as much as possible.

That being said, I can seriously be a total couch potato and I’m not ashamed to say it. I watch tons of sports, but I can also get sucked into a day of VH1 without even realizing it. I’m also a huge fan of track and field, though I’m long retired from that. Oh, and I’m addicted to this backgammon game on my computer.

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

I’m trying to make it just a part of my life. It’s incredibly rewarding to see people reading your book. It’s incredible to look out during a reading and see four of five people with tears in their eyes as I read my story. It’s incredible to get e-mails from people I don’t know telling me how much my book helped them. I’m still so new to the whole thing that I just take it one day, one event, one challenge at a time. It’s too easy to look back and thing of all the mistakes I’ve made. I do love blogging though. I’m pretty sure it’s just friends and family who visit it regularly, but I have a great time doing it, and if nothing else it’s really interesting to go back and see what I felt like before my book came out and really relive the whole experience.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m really excited to say I’ve sold a second manuscript. It’s a story about a boy whose parents get divorced. Yes, another semi-autobiographical tear jerker. It’s just one of those things, I sent HaperCollins a fair amount of manuscripts which were all light hearted and fun.

Ultimately they said, we really like how you handled grief. Can you do it again? Okay, well, I was devastated when my parents got divorced–so the story kind of became “what I would really want to hear when I was seven.” It took a whole lot of false starts and bad finishes to get through the sugary-sweet saccharine manuscripts I didn’t want to write out of my system. But in the end, I’m really proud of the story, because actually, it’s pretty funny. It’s with the illustrator now.

Currently I’m working on writing a longer manuscript–I don’t know where it would fit in–mid grade, chapter book? I don’t know, but I’m really just trying to be authentic and write from the heart. And you know what? If it sells, great. If not, that’s okay. I’m really proud of this book because it’s totally “me.”

I also wrote a screenplay that I love, but just have been waiting for the right people to share it with. I figured if I can sell a book by waiting for the right people to come along, why not a screenplay?

Oh, and if you’re ever in Dallas come see my show at Ad Libs!

Are You Predator or Prey?

In recognition of October’s spookiness, I’m giving away three Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) prize packages–two to people (booksellers, teachers, librarians) who connect books to YA readers and one to an individual reader.

The packages each include an autographed copy of Tantalize, a Sanguini’s T-shirt, bat and wolf finger puppets, stickers, and additional surprises!

In addition, the individual winner will receive one signed Tantalize bookmark, and the bookseller/teacher/librarian winners will receive twenty signed bookmarks. I’ll also send autographed bookmark stacks to at least three runners-up in the bookseller/teacher/librarian category.

To enter, leave a comment at the mirror to this post on my LJ or my MySpace page or my JacketFlap or email me, answering the following question: are you predator or prey? (bonus points for saying why; I reserve the right to share your answers).

Be sure to include a link to your own page, blog, or LJ that includes an email address or clear link to contact information or include your email addy in your post, so that I can get in touch with you! If you are a teacher/librarian/bookseller, please indicate that, too. The deadline is Monday, Oct. 15! I’ll send off winner packages right away.

Note: any and all efforts to spread the word about this giveaway will be most appreciated!

More News & Links

Tantalize fan blog in Spanish from Noemi.

Library Media Connection says of Tantalize: “Darkly humorous… Takes the classic vampire mythology up a notch.”

Authors, readers unite at National Book Festival: Texas represented at event that is modeled after Texas festival by Bob Dart of the Washington Bureau of the Austin American-Statesman. Note: incorporates an interview with me.

Cyn On The Road–October Public Events

2007 Kansas Book Festival will be held from Oct. 5 to Oct. 6 at Koch Arena on the campus of Wichita State University. The festival is a joint presentation of the Governor’s Cultural Affairs Council, the State Library of Kansas, the Kansas Center for the Book, the Kansas Historical Society, Wichita Public Library, Kansas Arts Commission, and the Kansas Humanities Council. The 2007 Festival will benefit the State Library’s Statewide Summer Reading Program, which reaches 80,000 children through public libraries in 400 Kansas communities every year.

Featured authors: Polly Basore, All Is Bright; Alice Bertels, John Steuart Curry: The Road Home; George Brandsberg, AFOOT: A Tale of the Great Dakota Turkey Drive; Christie Breault, Logan West, Printer’s Devil; Michael Buckley, “The Sisters Grimm” series; Beverley Olson Buller, The Story of William Allen White; Ally Carter, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy; J. B. Cheaney, The Middle of Somewhere; Shane Evans, When Gorilla Goes Walking; Randi Hacker, Life As I Knew It; L. D. Harkrader, Airball: My Life in Briefs; Cheryl Harness, The Remarkable Rough-Riding Life of Theodore Roosevelt and Just for You to Know; Kimberly Willis Holt, Piper Reed: Navy Brat; Richard W. Jennings, Ferret Island; Stephen T. Johnson, Alphabet City, My Little Yellow Taxi, and Tour America; Jane Kurtz, What Columbus Found (It Was Orange, It Was Round); Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tantalize and Santa Knows; Greg Leitich Smith, Ninjas, Pirhanas, & Galileo and Santa Knows; Justin Matott, Go Ask Mom: Stories From the Upper Bunk; Brandon Mull, The Candy Shop War and the “Fablehaven” series; Susanna Pitzer, Not Afraid of Dogs; Tim Raglin, The Curse of Catunkhamun; Dian Curtis Regan, Princess Nevermore and Cam’s Quest; Lois Ruby, Shanghai Shadows; Brad Sneed, The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians; Roderick Townley, The Red Thread; Richard Uhlig, Last Dance at the Frosty Queen.

The Haggard Library/Plano (Texas) Public Library (2501 Coit Road) will host Cynthia Leitich Smith at “Prom with Bite” from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 13. Grades 6 to 12. Come dressed in your best vampire finery! I will.

Star Lit, a children’s literary festival, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Plano (TX). The event benefits the Dallas Bethlehem Center. Featured authors and illustrators include: Will Hillenbrand; Dee Scallan and Daniel Myers; Laura Numeroff; Bryan Collier; Kim Brown; Kimberly Willis Holt; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Greg Leitich Smith; and Tracy Dockray.

On the private events front, I also will be speaking Oct. 19 at a meeting of District Three of the Texas Library Association and Oct. 25 to a school group at BookPeople.

On the online events front, I’m honored to be featured as one of 31 Flavorite Authors by the Readergirlz on Oct. 29!

Future events include the 25th Annual Children’s Book Festival and 25th Annual Young Adult Book Conference at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, on Nov. 3, the Texas Book Festival in Austin on Nov. 4, and the Norman Public Library in Norman, Oklahoma, on Nov. 11.