The Pacific Coast Children’s Writer’s Workshop

The Pacific Coast Children’s Writer’s Workshop will be Aug. 15-17, 2008, at the Hilton Hotel in Santa Cruz, California.

The program is a team-taught seminar for 30 writers of character-driven, realistic youth novels. The 2008 focus is “Epiphanies and Endings: Bring Your Story Arc Full Circle.”

The faculty will be:

Anne Hoppe is an executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Titles she has edited include the multi-award-winning YA novel Your Eyes in Stars by M.E. Kerr (HarperCollins, 2006) and a New York Times bestseller by Alice Walker.

Edward Necarsulmer, agent, is director of the Children’s Department at McIntosh and Otis. He has represented Lynne Reid Banks, Nancy Garden (author interview), Madeleine L’Engle, Scott O’Dell Estate and M.E. Kerr, among others.

Deborah Halverson has authored three Delacorte youth novels. A Harcourt children’s book editor for 10 years, she edited Norma Fox Mazer (author interview), Gary Soto, and Eve Bunting, and also taught writing at University of California-Extension.

The program will consist of team-taught manuscript clinics and faculty-led discussion of peers’ early/later chapters and synopses, which attendees review in advance.

Focus sessions will include: Applied Writing; Marketing Tips & Demonstrations, keynotes; Q & A session. In sum, there will be 12 hours professional instruction, which are 90 percent interactive.

Tuition is $299-$599, depending on quantity and type of faculty critiques (written or in-person; up to three per writer); this includes most meals. Various discounts may apply.

Lodging: For doubles, add $53 to $137 per night per person (at Hilton or nearby Best Western). Singles also available.

For academic/professional credit, conferred by the University of California, add $90.

For more information, contact Nancy Sondel, founding director.

Call for Entries: Celebrating Friendship in Children’s Literature

From: Megan Murphy, Chair, The Friends Medallion:


Throughout the history of children’s literature, the best-loved stories usually center around themes of friendship–the Wizard of Oz and Charlotte’s Web and classic series such as Frog and Toad, George and Martha, and Winnie-the-Pooh embody that simple yet eternally-powerful theme.

The students at Friends School in Virginia Beach practice the Quaker concepts of simplicity, cooperation, harmony and community in their daily school life. Children are taught positive ways to resolve conflict, work together for the greater good and learn early that through friendship and cooperation, all things are possible. This year, for the first time, to celebrate those books that promote such goals, the elementary students at Virginia Beach Friends School will award The Friends Medallion to the book that they–the students themselves–feel best reflects the theme of friendship in its story.


The Friends Medallion will be presented to the top two winning authors in February of 2008. The winners will receive a Friendship Medallion, a plaque, and an invitation to speak at Virginia Beach Friends School in the spring of 2008.


You are invited to nominate a published book that you feel embodies the theme of friendship and cooperation.

There are no application forms or fees necessary to nominate a book. Simply send us one copy of the published book, along with a brief letter stating how you think this book reflects those themes.

Nominations must be received by Dec. 31.


* Books nominated for The Friends Medallion may be fiction, nonfiction or poetry.
* Books nominated should have friendship and cooperation as the central theme throughout the story.
* Books should be suitable for children from kindergarten through fifth grade.
* Books must have been published in the United States during 2007.

The only way to have a friend is to be one.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nominations and inquiries may be sent to:

Megan Murphy, Chair
The Friends Medallion
Virginia Beach Friends School
1537 Laskin Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Author Interview: Jo Knowles on Lessons from a Dead Girl

Jo Knowles on Jo Knowles: “I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire along with a menagerie of pets and people. I was never much of a reader, convinced I wasn’t any good at it. My sister, on the other hand, read constantly and could sometimes be persuaded to read out loud. I still hear her voice when I read old favorites to my son.

“It wasn’t until high school that I really fell in love with the magical act of reading to yourself–of entering the pages of a book wholly and completely, and living it. I finally got what it was all about.

“After college I went on to earn a master’s degree in children’s literature and I currently teach Writing for Children in the M.A./M.F.A. program at Simmons College. I’m also a volunteer writing mentor at a women’s prison in Vermont.

“By day I’m a freelance writer, but I try to work on my fiction whenever I can.” Visit Jo’s LJ and MySpace page.

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

Oh, there were countless bumps and stumbles for sure, but honestly I wouldn’t trade a single one. I took the long way and enjoyed (mostly) the view. Of course, this is all in retrospect and I’m sure if you’d found me lost on one of those back roads that seem to be going nowhere five years ago, I’d have answered much differently. But the truth is, I learned so much from every “wrong” turn, I really don’t think I would change a thing.

Congratulations on the release of Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

The idea came to me when I was at my old day job, writing a booklet about child abuse prevention. I came across an article about kids abusing kids. I was fascinated, and began to think about some of my own childhood friendships.

I don’t think it’s true that all children choose their own friends. It certainly wasn’t always the case for me. I began to wonder why some friends behaved the way they did–how a person could be so kind and cruel at the same time. And why? I started writing that night.

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

I think I probably finished the first draft sometime in 1997 or so. Then I revised and started submitting. The second place I submitted to held onto the manuscript for two and a half years. After that, I felt I’d lost focus and put the manuscript away for quite a while. When I finally decided to work on it again (in 2004, I think?), I shared it with my friend, Cindy Lord (author interview). She suggested that I submit the first ten pages to the PEN New England Discovery Award. I did, and to my shock, I won!

What that meant was that the manuscript was submitted to Candlewick! Happy end of story! (And one more confirmation of Cecil Castellucci‘s ten-year theory.)[Cyn Note: Miss Cecil’s theory is that it takes ten years to become an “overnight” success; read an interview with Cecil.]

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

I think the biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to frame the story. I knew the story started after Leah’s death. The challenge was figuring out how to tell it backwards.

Lainey’s journey required her to go back to the beginning of her friendship with Leah and revisit all those memories she’d suppressed. But for her to keep having flashbacks or memories was cumbersome and felt too contrived. I finally decided to just tell the story in chronological order, making that opening chapter when Laine learns the news a prologue. That setup really freed me.

The hardest scene to write was the confrontation at the end of the book. It wasn’t until the last round of revisions before I sold the book that I finally got the girls to both say the truth out loud.

I have Holly Black (author interview) to thank for that. She was generous enough to read the manuscript after hearing me talk about how stuck I was. I knew my being stuck had to do with not going deep enough, not getting close enough to the truth, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that. Then Holly said one phrase and everything clicked. Thanks, Holly!

I read your novel on the road, arguably amidst various distractions (including an eye injury, which meant I shouldn’t have been reading at all!). But I couldn’t stop. The story is tremendously affecting. In writing with such depth, did you find your emotional state fluctuating along with Laine and Leah’s? Cyn Note: the eye is better now.

Oh, thanks Cyn. And I’m sorry about your eye! This was a hard story to tell, for sure. I came to know both characters so well, and with each draft I felt I uncovered another layer of depth and understanding about each of them.

I knew the story before I really understood why each girl does the things she does. And so, to figure that piece out, I had to keep revising and uncovering. It was as if they were both holding back on me, only giving me a little bit with each draft.

When I finally got to the bare bones truth and fully understood their stories, it was with both relief and great sadness.

What scared you the most about writing this story?

Discovering my characters’ truths and saying them out loud.

What kept you going and raised you up during the process?

Reminding myself of the books I love that don’t take the easy way out: Books by Robert Cormier, E.R. Frank, Chris Lynch, Laurie Halse Anderson and others. I’ve always wanted to be as honest as they are, no matter how hard it is.

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

Exciting! Thrilling! Terrifying! Mostly I just really love it.

I think it’s easy to start worrying about how well your book is doing or whether or not you’ll get good reviews, or make the important lists, or any number of other things that are out of our control. But all that stuff is so minor compared to hearing from a teen who read your book and told you it made her think, made her feel like someone understood her. That’s what it’s all about.

You’re a member of the Class of 2k7, an innovative joint marketing effort by first-time youth literature authors. Could you tell us about your experience with the group? What else have you done to promote your new release?

The Class of 2k7 has been a wonderful experience. I’ve made a lot of friends and learned so much about how to survive your first year as an author.

As far as my own promotion, I’ve booked signings, spoken at conferences and visited classrooms and reading groups. The best part of having a new book out is getting to meet lots of wonderful people who love books.

If you could go back and talk to your beginning writer self, what advice would you give her?

The road will be long and there will be times when you’ll believe that you will never make it, but don’t give up. Enjoy every turn the road takes. Meet as many people as you can along the way. Be kind. Listen. Work hard. Push yourself. Tell the truth no matter how hard it is. Don’t rush it. Keep writing. Be humble. Be grateful. Be generous. Enjoy every minute!

What can your fans look forward to next?

I sold my second novel to Candlewick and I believe it will be out late 2008 or early 2009. The title is Jumping Off Swings, and it’s about four teenagers and how their lives change in unexpected ways when one of them finds out she’s pregnant.

Author Interview: Dominique Paul on The Possibility of Fireflies

Dominique Paul grew up in a Maryland suburb just outside of Washington, D.C., and received her BA in English from the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles, where she will be directing an upcoming film based on her first novel, The Possibility of Fireflies (Simon & Schuster, 2006). She is also at work on her second novel, as well as a series of young adult books intended for the small screen. Visit Dominique at MySpace!

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

Bumps, stumbles and setbacks, oh my! I finished my novel in 2002 but didn’t even find a proper agent to represent it until 2004. Once I got an agent, the book sold rather quickly–in February 2005. But everything happens for a reason because if I’d sold the novel right away, I never would have turned it into a screenplay and who knows where I’d be now.

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, The Possibility of Fireflies (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

It had been bubbling up in me for a long time, then one day I finished eating my breakfast, sat down at my laptop and wrote chapter one. Literally. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew there was something banging on my insides that wanted out. So I just kept writing. The end result surprised me as much as anyone.

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

Let’s see, the initial spark was sometime in 2001, I believe, although I’d secretly wanted to be a writer my whole life. It just wasn’t something I’d ever said out loud.

It took me about a year and a half to write it. Then I sent it out and was immediately rejected by five different agents. The Lovely Bones had just come out and everyone said my novel wasn’t dark enough. I was so discouraged. I didn’t know anyone in the publishing world.

I did know a guy who was a TV agent though, and he suggested I turn the novel into a screenplay so he could get me work as a TV writer. I took his advice, and while the script didn’t sell either, I began pitching all over town, which –as anyone who’s ever done it can tell you– is a lot of work. So my novel sat neglected for two more years.

Finally, I got aggressive and convinced my screenwriting agent to help me find a book agent. I got a few more passes before I finally found Diane Bartoli. She suggested we try to sell it to the now savvy YA market. We did, and the book sold within a few weeks. There was even a bidding war! It was a dream come true.

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

Interestingly, I sat down to write a very different novel. I wanted to write a sort of ElvisPriscilla kind of love story from the Priscilla point of view.

But when I sat down to write, this really sad little girl kept rearing her head. Ellie. She was just…the truth. Over and over again. It became apparent that for a child to want to run off to God knows where with a man who is waaay too old for her, things would have to be pretty bad at home. So I just kept opening myself up to what “pretty bad at home” would mean.

I lived Ellie everyday for a year and a half, and then again for a year as I worked on the screenplay. Now, I have to go make the movie! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. She is so vulnerable, so lonely and yet so completely wonderful. I just love her. But it’s hard to write her because everything cuts her so deeply.

Why did you decide to set your story in the 1980s? What was it about that time that made it a good fit?

I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of humor with emotional intensity. There’s something about that that really turns me on. And let’s face it–the 80’s are a really funny time period. We didn’t think so at the time. There was such an innocence to the way we looked at things like Hair Metal back then. That’s why it’s so awesome. Because everyone was just genuinely like “This rocks!”

It’s only now, in hindsight, that it’s friggin’ hysterical. Anyway, I just loved the idea of this really sad story layered over this hilarious, somewhat ridiculous era. And it’s even more ironic that the characters don’t even see the humor in it. They’re all just livin’ it with their lighters in the air! It’s so honest.

How has the book been received? Did any of the responses especially surprise, vex, or delight you? If so, please fill us in!

I have had wonderful reviews! I am so lucky. My favorite was when someone said the book “felt more like it grew than it was written, like it came into being through its own sheer force of will.” I cried when I read that. Because that’s exactly how it was. I didn’t want to write this book, I had to. That person really got it and it meant the world to me.

The only negative anything I’ve gotten was from someone who posted on Amazon that they just didn’t care about the character (Ellie), which I found odd. But that person also went on to give away the ending so I guess that says a lot about them. She doesn’t even warn you about the spoiler either. She just flat out ruins the ending. It’s unbelievable.

If you could go back and talk to your beginning writer self, what advice would you give her?

Oh. I wish I could give her a big hug! It was such a tiny flame at the time. So much fear and insecurity. My advice to her would be to do exactly what I did: to drown out the negative voices until the voice that says “Go, go, go!” is the loudest one you hear.

The voices of fear and insecurity never went away, they just eventually got drowned out by that little drill sergeant inside of me that said “Just shut up and write!” So yeah–make the voice of yes the loudest. And accept your schizophrenia. Ha ha!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, despite the drama and the setbacks, I will be directing the movie version of The Possibility of Fireflies in 2008.

Currently I am working on another YA novel, this time focusing on a father/daughter relationship.

I am also doing a series of YA novels that have a fantasy element that we hope to turn into a series for television. It’s about a group of misfit girls who go away to summer camp and discover that they are super heroes. I’m all about the girl power.

Cynsational News & Links

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray (Delacorte, Dec. 26, 2007). From the promotional copy: “It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.

“The Order–the mysterious group her mother was once part of–is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.”

Visit Libba’s LJ.

Part Two: Can You Hear Us Now? from Blogging In Black. A round-table discussion hosted by Paula Chase-Hyman and featuring Varian Johnson, Carla Sarratt, Don Tate, and Kelly Starling Lyons. Here’s a sneak peek from Don Tate: “100 African American authors published in 2006, out of 5,000? That’s sad. On the flip-side, it’s very exciting. 100 African American children’s book authors were published in 2006! Wow!–that’s something to shout about. “

Andrea Beaty debuts a new blog. Read a Cynsations interview with Andrea.

Blogging for a Cure Christmas Ornament from Sam Riddleburger. Here’s an ornament for everybody! Also don’t miss your last chance to bid at Robert’s Snow Auction 3.

Wrath by Gail Giles from The Seven Sins of YA Literature: Presented at ALA PreConference June 2007, Washington, D.C. Here’s a sneak peek: “Anger rules the teen years. It’s normal and in my opinion it’s important. Some teens can climb the steep hill from childhood to adulthood with grace, dignity and poise. My best friend did. I certainly did not. I chewed and stomped and clawed and knuckled my way through every single minute.” Gail offers the texts of several additional speeches of interest, including: The Key to Unlocking Mystery and Suspense; Keeping You on the Edge of Your Seat; Reaching Reluctant Readers; Stereotypes in YA Fiction; Getting Out of Your Own Way; Taking Risks; and Why Teens Need Edgy Fiction.

Check out the pumpkin photos at David LaRochelle‘s site. David is the author of Absolutely, Positively Not (Scholastic, 2005).

Great Gay Teen Books: recommended by author Alex Sanchez. Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

12 Again by Sue Corbett (Puffin, 2007) is now available in paperback. Read a Cynsations interview with Sue.

Esme’s Writing Magic: click on the video in the top corner. Highlights Esme’s Diary of a Fairy Godmother (Hyperion, 2005), which is intrinsically cool but also serves as an example of a new way authors are connecting books to readers online. Don’t miss the Planet Esme Book-a-Day Blog. Read a Cynsations interview with Esme.

Full Cast Audio: founded by Bruce Coville to create unabridged, full cast recordings of great books for young readers.

Mystery Writing Lessons from Kristi Holl.

Visit Rorex Bridges Studio, online home of Jeanne Rorex Bridges, the illustrator of Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle (Cinco Puntos, 2006). Don’t miss the catalog; many of the prints and tiles are quite reasonably priced and absolutely gorgeous.

The Texas Institute of Letters has issued a call for entries for best books published in 2007. Categories include the Friends of the Austin Public Library Award for best children’s book ($500) and best young adult book ($500). See additional information. Note: Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Jim Madsen (HarperCollins, 2002) is a past finalist for this award.

Picture Books: Plan, Polish, and Publish: One Writer’s Plan by Dori Chaconas. See also Dori on Writing in Rhythm and Rhyme.

Interview with author Kerry Madden from Debbi Michiko Florence. Here’s a sneak peek: “I was missing the Smoky Mountains, and I knew I wanted to open a book with a little girl hiding in a red maple tree, watching her mama put the newest baby to sleep in a drawer while the daddy picked the banjo on the porch.”

Horn Book Fanfare: Best Books of 2007. Highlights include Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems) by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Istvan Banyai (Clarion, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book.

Top 10 Sci-Tech Books for Youth 2007 from Booklist Online. See also: Websites for Students: Science.

Children’s and Young Adult Author Debbie Levy: official author website features biography, reader’s guide, poetry, and links. Levy’s most recent books include the novel Underwater (Darby Creek, 2007); Richard Wright: A Biography (Twenty-First Century Books, 2007), and The Signing of the Magna Carta (Twenty-First Century Books, 2007). Forthcoming: Maybe I’ll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight and Other Funny Bedtime Poems (Sterling, 2009).

Multicultural Review is now available online.

More Personally

Cheers to Ms. Dorsey’s English 9 class in Oxford, NY! I hope you’re enjoying the read-aloud of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) and that you like the autographed bookmarks! Keep reading!

Attention, JacketFlap subscribers! Oddly, my last news-and-links post doesn’t seem to have been snagged by the system. But highlights include the opportunity to bid for manuscript critiques by such luminaries as Julie Larios and Martine Leavitt.

Author Interview: J.B. Cheaney on The Middle of Somewhere

The Middle of Somewhere by J.B. Cheaney (Knopf, 2007). Twelve year-old Veronica Sparks is on a road trip across Kansas with her grandfather (a wind prospector) and hyperactive younger brother. Her attempts to take control of her own life are thwarted by her brother’s impulsiveness and her grandfather’s threats to take them all back home. And then her brother disappears… Warm, funny, richly drawn, and satisfying. And, hey, there’s a human cannonball! Ages 8-up. Recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith.

J. B. Cheaney was born sometime in the last century in Dallas, Texas. While growing up shy and day-dreamy, she read a lot but wasn’t that interested in writing.

But years later, after she’d dropped out of college to get married, she found herself writing a novel. In time she wrote another, and another, and another–meanwhile raising and homeschooling two children in her spare time. Fiction writing had become habit-forming, but her first four manuscripts were never published.

Then came her epiphany: Instead of writing for grownups, why not try writing for a really demanding audience?

Her first novel for young people, The Playmaker, was published in 2000, followed by The True Prince (2002) and My Friend the Enemy (2005). All are published by Knopf and all are historical. Her latest, The Middle of Somewhere, is a contemporary, humorous story for middle-grade readers.

We last spoke in October 2005 about My Friend The Enemy (Knopf, 2005). Could you update us on your writing life over the last two years?

I’m happy to learn that some schools have incorporated my first novel, The Playmaker, into their school curriculum as an introduction to Shakespeare. Paperback sales for that book are still doing reasonably well.

My Friend the Enemy was also named as one of the “year’s ten best” books for young readers by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and was a finalist for the PEN Center award for children’s literature.

One big thrill was seeing My Friend the Enemy in the Scholastic Book Club for December! When my kids were in school we used to get those Scholastic fliers, and I daydreamed about one of my books showing up there. So I guess that’s a dream come true.

The most exciting news for me is that The Middle of Somewhere was selected for the 2008-09 master list for the Texas Bluebonnet award. As a Texan, my heart is warmed.

Congratulations on the release of The Middle of Somewhere (Knopf, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

I call this book a “happy convergence.” It started when I combined two story ideas–a road trip and a dysfunctional sibling–into one, making it a story of a road trip with a dysfunctional sibling.

Other pieces started coming together: a newspaper article about a wind prospector that I’d clipped while working on another novel, a real human cannonball moving to a town nearby (with atendant publicity), memories of living in Kansas and a road trip with some friends to the western half of the state.

Instead of an initial inspiration there were several, all coming together like the center of a spiral nebula!

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

In the summer of 2004, I had enough pieces together to make my primary research expedition: not only a road trip but a camping trip as well–my first!

It was just a little three-day journey, but I gathered a lot of material that ended up in the story, from my first night in a tent to the young man in a pickup I met near the Gray County wind farm, who became the character of Howard. I wonder if he’ll ever know somebody put him in a book?

I sent the manuscript to my editor early in 2005, and at the ALA convention in Chicago that summer I met Chip Gibson, president of the children’s division at Random House and all-around nice guy. He hinted to me that my editor was very positive about the manuscript, and later that summer we signed a contract. I was hoping for a summer 2006 release, but it was not to be. The Kansas postcards that appear in the text slowed production a little.

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

This book presented the fewest challenges of any I’ve written, but the chief obstacle is getting a handle on the main character.

When the main character is a 12-year-old girl with problems (like every 12-year-old girl), and the voice is first-person, the tendency is to produce a pre-adolescent whiner. Ronnie sounded whiny to me and I didn’t like her that much but wasn’t sure what to do about it–until I recognized her recent discovery of self-help books. Sure, she has problems, but she’s an enterprising sort of person and Kent Clark’s SEIZE THE WAY! hands her a method for “advantagizing” her life. The self-help book turns out to be as simplistic and cliched as most of that genre, but in the process of understanding that, Ronnie also learns that the challenge of life is being there for it.

You’re originally from Dallas, Texas, and now based in Bolivar, Missouri. How have the settings of your life affected your writing?

I’ve found a way to write about almost every place I’ve ever lived–whether or not the manuscript was ever published. The northwest was the setting for My Friend the Enemy, as well as a time-travel romance that never made it past the editor. I’ve also written a historical romance set in east Tennessee (where we lived twice) and a railroad novel inspired by our experience of living in the mountains of New Mexico, where my husband worked on a steam railroad.

The Middle Of Somewhere has some significant Texas connections, because that’s where the kids’ grandfather is from. We’re pretty well settled in Missouri now, but all those places we’ve resided are still residing in me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they find their way out in future books.

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

Not very well. I can either write or do publicity/marketing–not both. That’s why my output is relatively small, compared to some other children’s book authors (but we shouldn’t compare ourselves, should we?). It’s a matter of discipline, I think. But next year I’m joining the Y, eating better, establishing better work habits…

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning writer self, what advice would you give her?

What a great question! And how I’d love to go back and lecture myself about good work habits! But the lecture would probably fall on deaf ears–or at least, unprepared ears.

I probably came to be a writer the only way I could: by fits and starts, failure seesawing with success, brash confidence struggling with trepidation. All those unpublished manuscripts turned out to be absolutely indispensable, because each one taught me something, and we all have to learn in our own way.

One thing I would tell myself is what I tell all writers: open your eyes and ears and noses and mouths and take it all in. The world is crammed full of writing fodder, and the hardest part of writing is deciding what not to write.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well. I’m not sure. My editor has a manuscript that she likes but isn’t crazy about, and I’m thinking it needs some revision, especially in that mendacious middle part. I’m also kicking around an idea based on a drawing by my son the artist. The crystal ball is very fuzzy right now.

Author Interview: Randi Hacker on Life As I Knew It

Randi Hacker is the Education Outreach Coordinator at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, a job that is a synthesis of many of the other career tracks she has followed in her life: educator, editor, author, student of Chinese. Randi earned her BA in English Literature from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and spent the better part of her thirties working as the editor of The Electric Company Magazine published by Children’s Television Workshop.

Before completing an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language from St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, she dropped out of quite a number of well-respected graduate schools including the University of Michigan, UCLA and Columbia University in New York City.

In addition to her duties as Outreach Coordinator, Randi is the mother of a 12-year-old daughter adopted from China. Her Vermont-based sitcom “Windy Acres” was broadcast on Vermont Public Television and won a Boston/New England Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment Program. Her young adult novel, Life as I Knew It (Simon & Schuster, 2006) was chosen as one of the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age 2007. She is currently at work on her second YA novel, “Home Page Temporarily Disabled.”

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

Well, it depends on what you mean by “publication.” If you mean magazine articles, then the path was winding and is paved with rejections though my work (and the work I did with a writing partner) has appeared in many publications including Spy, Punch and The New York Times Book Review.

If you mean novels, then the path was short: it took about two years to write the first draft after which I called on an old magazine colleague of mine from back in the 20th Century, himself a successful YA author (Dan Gutman) who very kindly gave me the name of his editor at S&S and I sent the first three chapters off to her. Three days later, she asked for the rest of the book and, a week later, she bought it. I negotiated my advance myself. However, this is not something I would like to repeat.

Congratulations on the release of Life As I Knew It (Simon Pulse, 2006)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Thank you. It was a great thrill for me to see this book published. It’s the story of a 16-year-old girl whose father suffers a stroke and dies and the effect this catastrophic event has on all the relationships in her life, especially the one with her mother with whom she has always shared a low level of hostility. It takes place in a tiny town in Northern Vermont where everyone knows everyone else’s business. It’s a story of evolution, awakening maturity, tolerance and acceptance.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

It is based on the true story of some dear friends of mine who lived up the hill from me in our small Vermont town: the father of the family suffered a stroke, was incapacitated and died, all within a year. I watched this family go through this and come out the other side better than they were when they went in. They pulled together. They took care of each other. They learned, I think, a deeper meaning of love.

Though the family members in my book are fictitious and the events surrounding the stroke are different, the story itself–one of love and responsibility and evolution–is true to the original. I wrote this book as a gift for them.

Oh yeah. I also named the tiny town I set the story in after my neighbors in Vermont–an older couple who had grown up in the town, left and lived abroad then come back to retire there.

I know I gave them many amusing moments when they watched me from their kitchen window as I made the dramatic transition from NYC apartment dweller to the ex-urban, wood-stacking, garden-growing, horse-owning, chicken-killing lifestyle.

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

I guess about five years went by between the actual event and the day I sat down to write my story of this event, then another two years of writing before I mailed off the ms and then another year of rewrite before it was released.

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

Just getting pages done day after day was difficult, though double espressos helped, and I did take a six-month break at one point. Worrying about the ending. Worrying about the quality of the writing itself. Judging myself for being too corny or not being funny enough. And, you know, my greatest fear was that the people whose story I based it on would not like it.

I was bitin’ my nails when I handed the book over, but the mother liked it very much. Phew. The daughter–who was 10 at the time of the stroke–has not yet been able to finish it: she says it evokes too many memories still. I can respect that.

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

Just write it out: don’t worry about style or humor or melodrama or fashioning the brilliant metaphor. You can go back and craft it once you’ve got the story down.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Read. Cook. Run. Do yoga. Watch old movies. Play Gin Rummy with my daughter–you know, I taught her the game and now she beats my brains out every time!

What can your fans look forward to next?

A YA sci-fi trilogy set in the post-computer age.

Cynsational News & Links

Meet Mary Newell DePalma, author-illustrator of The Nutcracker Doll (Arthur A. Levine, 2007), from BookPage.

The charmed lives of Gilded Age teens: an interview with Anna Godbersen by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. Anna is the author of The Luxe (HarperTeen, 2007). Here’s a sneak peek: “‘I had a fondness for the Edith Wharton-type of novel,’ says Godbersen, a Berkeley, California, native and Barnard graduate. She also expected the glamor and excesses of the time to appeal to her teenage readers. Because she lives in New York City herself, it was easy to choose Manhattan as the setting for the book.”

Read Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller, and plan to join the Readergirlz online chat with the author Dec. 11. Also note the chat with Deb Caletti on Dec. 18.

GregLSBlog recommends When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: a Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs by Hannah Bonner (National Geographic, 2007) and Whale Port by Mark Foster, illustrated by Gerald Foster (Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books, 2007).

Gretchen Laskas: official author site. Gretchen is the author of The Miner’s Daughter (Simon & Schuster, 2007). From the backstory: “This is the story of the Lowell family, told through the eyes of Willa, who is 16 in 1932 and remembers little of that world before the grinding poverty sets in. While her brother Ves is eager to see what the new Roosevelt administration brings, Willa is more cautious; sometimes it is harder to have to stay and wait, as she does when her father and brother mine, or when they go away to find work. When a missionary comes to Riley Mines with a library of books, Willa’s eagerness to find words to express her own growing sense of self are coupled with the awareness that the world of literature seems as far removed from her life as the moon and the stars.”

Hunger Mountain’s Holiday Fundraising Auction begins Dec. 1 at Ebay. From between Dec. 1 to Dec. 8, bid on manuscript critiques with notable authors, custom signed new books, and limited edition letterpress broadsides. Find out more about Hunger Mountain, The Vermont College Journal of Arts and Letters. Youth literature authors offering manuscript critiques include Martine Leavitt and Julie Larios. Martine was a 2006 National Book Award Finalist in Young People’s Literature for Keturah and Lord Death (Front Street). Julie’s Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Harcourt) was a 2006 Boston Globe-Hornbook Award Honor Book in fiction and poetry. Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

Sea Princess Azuri: official site in celebration of the books by Erica Reis (TOKYOPOP, 2006 and 2007). Erica is originally from Austin and now lives in Illinois.

Illustrator Survey from Lee & Low. Six house illustrators–Christy Hale, Patricia Keeler, Betsy Lewin, Ted Lewin, Don Tate, and Jesse Joshua Watson–offer advice on breaking into the world of children’s publishing. Note: this link also is recommended to picture-book writers. You need to know what’s happening on the other side of the book-creation process.

Are you a YA reader? Don’t miss the December giveaway books at TeensReadToo! Good luck with your entries.

More Personally

Congratulations to Rebecca Van Slyke for winning the Candlewick Press (picture-book writing) Scholarship at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

The winner of the November giveaway for a signed copy of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and signed poster of Commander John Herrington (Chickasaw)(NASA Astronaut and flew on the space shuttle in 2002) is Kati Nolfi, a children’s librarian at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library at DC Public Library. Congratulations, Kati, and thanks for all you do for young readers! Thanks to all who participated and especially to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature for helping to spread the word!

At the papertigers blog, Majorie says of Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006): “Let Alfie F. Snorklepuss’ experiences (what a glorious name!) be a warning to all those doubters out there!” Visit!

Congratulations to the winners of the 2007 Scariest Story Contest, sponsored by the Valley Morning Star of Harlingen, Texas! Thanks too Loreen at the Star for all of her efforts and cheers to my co-sponsors, children’s authors Alexis O’Neil, Janet Wong, April Halprin Wayland, Julie Lake, Jeri C. Ferris, Joan Bransfield Graham, Merrily Kutner, Barbara Bietz, and publishing company Lee & Low.

Robert’s Snow for Cancer’s Cure 2007: Auction 3

Robert’s Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children’s book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. The snowflakes will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to cancer research.

Auction 3 will begin accepting bids on Dec. 3 at 9 a.m. with a starting bid of $150 for each snowflake. All bids must be before the close of Auction 3 on Dec. 7 at 5 pm. Don’t forget that 100 percent of the proceeds from this online auction will benefit sarcoma research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and that all but $25 of the winning bid is tax deductible.

Read about all the illustrators who contributed to this auction at the sites linked below. (The order presented is the same as on the auction page.)