Author Interview: Steve Berman on Magic in the Mirrorstone

Steve Berman on Steve Berman: “At 17, Steve Berman sold his first children’s story, a makeshift fairy tale, to a small Midwestern journal. The editor promptly removed all mention of magic from the story without ever telling Steve. Since then, he’s been a bit more fortunate retaining the fantastical in his words, with over 80 articles, essays and stories sold. Magic in the Mirrorstone, an anthology aimed at young fantasy readers, released from Mirrorstone Books in February 2008. Steve resides in New Jersey, the only state in the Union with an official Devil. He has been well-trained by his polydactyl feline, Daulton, who is not impressed by writing but by one’s ability to nap well.”

Magic in the Mirrorstone edited by Steve Berman (Mirrorstone, 2008). From the promotional copy: “In this anthology for teen readers, fifteen best-selling and acclaimed fantasy authors weave all-new stories filled with magic. Comic and dark, epic and entertaining, these stories introduce new voices of Mirrorstone beside the treasured favorites of YA fantasy. Holly Black (New York Times best-selling author of Tithe, Valiant, Ironside and The Spiderwick Chronicles)(author interview), Cassandra Clare (New York Times best-selling author of City of Bones)(author interview), Cecil Castellucci (acclaimed author of Boy Proof and Beige)(author interview), Tiffany Trent (acclaimed author of Hallowmere)(author interview), and many more offer tales as varied as they are bewitching. A voodoo princess, a necromancer, and a wizard’s apprentice mingle with enchanted jewelry, talking amphibians, and an aloof unicorn. What binds these stories is the spell they cast over readers.” Note: “Includes a ‘lost’ story of Hallowmere by Tiffany Trent!”

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

As a kid, I wrote some really terrible stories. It had never been my intention to become an author–I wanted to be a physician, but when I discovered I fainted at the sight of blood, medical school was out. That left creative writing classes. I sold my first story while still a teen and thought, Wow, this is pretty easy.

Only, it wasn’t, and it took me a few more years before I sold another and then another. Along the way, I learned how helpful it is to work in the publishing industry, so you can understand the how and why books are bought and sold, and make friends who’re also invested in writing, so you develop a support network of trusted critics.

How about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Plenty of stumbles. I worked on several books before I ever managed to complete a novel. Then, after a single rejection, I dumped the manuscript into a drawer and never looked at it for years. I then started Vintage, a young adult novel, in 1997. Ten years later, it released to great reviews and award nominations, only for the publisher to fold months later.

Congratulations on the release of Magic in the Mirrorstone (Mirrorstone, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Well, the book collects fifteen fantastical short stories. Some are by well known YA authors, like Holly Black, Cecil Castellucci and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Then there are some terrific newcomers, like J. D. Everyhope and Craig Gidney.

I’ve always considered fantasy as much a genre of exploration as it is escapism, and one of the greatest times to read such stories is when you’re a teen. Your suspension of disbelief is less wary, and you aren’t so jaded, allowing you to immerse yourself in fiction with such eagerness. Reading becomes a magical act of its own.

And the fantastical elements within the story engage the teen protagonists, who struggle to incorporate the wonders into the chaos of their lives. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, which makes the unreal very realistic by the story’s end.

How did the project develop?

I had been invited to submit proposals to Mirrorstone for a dark fantasy series. They went with Tiffany Trent’s Hallowmere but remained eager to work with me. I had just finished editing So Fey for Haworth Press and, feeling ambitious, I pitched to Stacy Whitman (editor interview) several ideas for a Mirrorstone anthology. It took a couple of years, many ideas exchanged, before we finalized on a showcase for the sort of fantasy tales that Mirrorstone wants to offer young readers in the days to come.

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

I think I began corresponding with the editorial staff in 2004 and had a contract by early 2006. For So Fey, I relied on an open call for submissions in addition to asking some close friends to submit.

That worked well, but for Magic in the Mirrorstone I chose an invite-only approach that significantly trimmed the time spent reading submissions. I did not personally know all the authors I invited—I’d stalked Nina Kiriki Hoffman once at a convention–but others I’ve come to know well from sharing table of contents in other young adult anthologies.

The deadline was the first of 2007. I had an estimated word count and finalized the manuscript with 15 authors by the spring of 2007. The final manuscript was turned in by late summer. The book released this past February.

During the Midwinter ALA Conference, Mirrorstone sponsored an event at the Mummers Museum (more sequins and feathers than I ever wanted to see) and Greg Frost, Lawrence Schoen, Ann Zeddies and I attended. We signed a lot of free books for the librarians.

What challenges are inherent in putting together an anthology? Did any additional ones creep up that were specific to this book?

Well, because most successful authors are novelists, some people you invite just cannot spare the time to write a short story; they are facing deadlines to turn in a manuscript ten or twenty times the length. I almost lost Holly Black because of this. Fortunately, I know where she lives so I started sleeping outside her door. Nothing says “dedication” like an unwashed editor in a sleeping bag. Really, despite the restraining order, we’re close friends.

Then there are unforeseen problems. Late in the process, one author pulled her story from the book for reasons I can’t go into. But it created a ripple effect that jeopardized the editorial deadlines. Fortunately, I could rely on another member of the Nameless Workshop, a secretive Philadelphia-area writing group I attend. She revised a trunk story into a terrific piece. Crisis averted.

What do you do when you’re not in the book world?

My day job still involves writing, but it’s for a small consultant company in the field of human resources.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Vintage was named a finalist for the Andre Norton Award and has been reprinted by Lethe Press, who will release my second short story collection in August. I hope to soon finish another YA novel, Glamour & Gaslight, a historical fantasy with plenty of soot and grime and snogging.

Alessandra Balzer and Donna Bray to Launch New Imprint at HarperCollins

New York, NY (April 9, 2008)–HarperCollins Publishers announced today that it has appointed Alessandra Balzer and Donna Bray to the newly created position of Co-Publishers of the new imprint Balzer & Bray. They will join HarperCollins on May 5, 2008, reporting to Kate Morgan Jackson, Senior Vice President and Associate Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

“We are so pleased and proud that Alessandra and Donna are coming to HarperCollins,” said Kate Jackson. “Between them there is nothing they can’t do–they have published award-winning and bestselling books for children of all ages, from babies through young adults. They are a dynamic and savvy team who knows what their readers want, and we welcome them with great excitement.”

“After working together for twelve years, Donna and I are thrilled to start this new venture,” said Balzer. Bray said. “We are particularly excited to launch this imprint at HarperCollins, which has such a prestigious publishing history.”

Alessandra Balzer began her career at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and was most recently an Executive Editor at Hyperion Books for Children. Alessandra is the editor of bestselling author and artist Mo Willems, who has won three Caldecott Honors, for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. Alessandra edited Sold by Patricia McCormick, a National Book Award Finalist and John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith, a New York Times best seller. She also works with Eoin Colfer, author of the internationally best-selling Artemis Fowl series, and Jonathan Stroud, who wrote the New York Times bestselling Bartimaeus Trilogy.

Donna Bray started her career at Henry Holt and Company, and was most recently the Editorial Director of Hyperion Books for Children. Among the books that Donna has edited are the Newbery Medal title Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi; National Book Award Finalist The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich; the New York Times bestsellers Clementine, by Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee; I’d Tell You I Love You But I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter; We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson; and Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and LeUyen Pham. Donna also launched the blockbuster Baby Einstein book publishing program at Hyperion.

About HarperCollins Publishers

HarperCollins, one of the largest English-language publishers in the world, is a subsidiary of News Corporation (NYSE: NWS, NWS.A; ASX: NWS, NWSLV). Headquartered in New York, HarperCollins has publishing groups around the world including the HarperCollins General Books Group, HarperCollins Children’s Books Group, Zondervan, HarperCollins UK, HarperCollins Canada, HarperCollins Australia/New Zealand and HarperCollins India. HarperCollins is a broad-based publisher with strengths in literary and commercial fiction, business books, children’s books, cookbooks, mystery, romance, reference, religious and spiritual books. With nearly 200 years of history HarperCollins has published some of the world’s foremost authors and has won numerous awards including the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott. Consistently at the forefront of innovation and technological advancement HarperCollins is the first publisher to digitize its content and create a global digital warehouse to protect the rights of its authors, meet consumer demand and generate additional business opportunities.

Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn Receives Lacapa Spirit Prize for Southwest Children’s Literature

The Lacapa Spirit Prize is proud to announce its 2008 winner. Named for Michael Lacapa, children’s book illustrator and writer who died in 2005, the award honors the legacy of his artistic vision and talent for storytelling. This prize acknowledges great books for children that best embody the spirit of the peoples, culture and natural landscape of the Southwest. Books published in the two years prior to the award are eligible for consideration.

The 2008 Lacapa Spirit Prize for Narrative was awarded to Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn by Veronica Tsinajinnie, illustrated by Ryan Singer, published by Salina Bookshelf Inc.

Jóhonaa’éí: Bringer of Dawn is a beautiful and peaceful story of the relationship the sun has to the earth and its inhabitants as he rises every morning and brings dawn. Veronica Tsinajinnie’s bilingual narrative is powerfully subtle in its presentation of Navajo culture. The story chronicles the journey of Jóhonaa’éí, the sun, as he passes over land, plants, animals, and humans, ushering in a new day. After Jóhonaa’éí wakes the field mice, the rabbits, and the sheep, he is “contented to know his job is done…” He finally arrives at a hogan door to wake “his children” who live inside. The sun then watches as the family offers “white corn to the morning spirits” and “give thanks to the bringer of dawn” before they begin their day also content to know that their job is done as well. Young readers will delight in Tsinajinnie’s progressive repetition, recognizing the daily path as one they, too, walk.

Michael Lacapa (Apache, Tewa and Hopi) worked with the Apache tribe in developing multicultural educational curricula for Native school-age children and often used storytelling as a teaching tool.

He was an exceptional storyteller and the talented illustrator of such books as The Magic Hummingbird, Spider Spins a Story, and The Good Rainbow Road. He is the author/illustrator of The Flute Player, Antelope Woman and Less Than Half, More Than Whole, the latter co-authored with his wife Kathy.

The Lacapa Spirit Prizes will be awarded to recipients during the 10th Annual Northern Arizona Book Festival in Flagstaff, April 25-26, 2008. This prize is made possible through the generous support of the Northern Arizona Book Festival. The festival schedule may be found at www.nazbookfestival.com

Cynsational Notes

Editor Interview: Jessie Ruffenach of Salina Bookshelf from Cynsations.

Author Feature: Donald R. Gallo on Owning It: Stories About Teens with Disabilities

Donald R. Gallo on Donald R. Gallo: “I have played a variety of roles in the education and book business during the past 47 years, each role overlapping and reinforcing the other. I have been especially fortunate.

“My professional life began as a junior high school English teacher in Connecticut and expanded into college teaching after I earned a PhD at Syracuse University in 1968.

S.E. Hinton and Robert Lipsyte had published their milestone YA novels months earlier, with others following shortly. Having discovered children’s and adolescent literature during my doctoral program, I immediately understood the value of YA lit to teenage students and latched on to it as something I wanted to be a part of. So I’ve been linked to YA lit since the beginning, and my career grew as YA lit developed.

“Along the way I published numerous articles about reading literature and teaching writing in professional journals, chapters in several educational texts, a book about author Richard Peck, and From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics with Sarah K. Herz (Greenwood Press, 1996; 2nd ed, 2005), and am about to complete a five-year term as YA literature columnist for the English Journal (see “Bold Books for Teenagers”).

“Through colleagues and at conferences I began to meet authors—Richard Peck, Walter Dean Myers, Harry Mazer (author interview) and Norma Fox Mazer (author interview), Paula Danziger, Bette Greene—and attended the first meeting of a group of English educators who formed the Assembly on Literature for Adolescent of the NCTE (ALAN), an organization of which I later became president.

“While teaching in Colorado and then at Central Connecticut State University, I not only championed books for teens but also noticed that while teens were reading and loving novels by YA writers, only a handful of books with YA short stories existed, all of them the collected works of individual authors: Norma Fox Mazer, Robert Cormier, Joan Aiken, Lois Ruby, and Nicholasa Mohr. (All other anthologies were reprints of previously published stories by adult authors, many of them classics most students’ grandmothers had to read when they were in school.)

“I approached the now legendary editor at Delacorte Press, George Nicholson, with a proposal for an anthology of original short stories for teens to be written by some of the most famous authors in the business that I would solicit and edit. George bought the idea almost immediately, and in 1984, Sixteen was released into the world.

“That book and subsequent volumes changed the world of literature for teenagers, and for that reason Chris Crowe started referring to me as ‘the Godfather of Young Adult Short Stories’. (My Latino amigo René Saldaña, Jr. prefers ‘the padrino of the short-story anthology’.)

“However I am addressed, I am delighted to have contributed something significant to the field of literature that I have loved and been a part of for my entire career.

“Nearly eleven years ago I retired from full-time teaching, got married (again), moved from Connecticut to Ohio where I have been writing, editing, interviewing authors for the Authors4Teens website, and speaking to teachers, librarians, and teens about recently published books they will enjoy.”

Could you please update us on your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

Short Story Anthologies Edited by Donald R. Gallo:

Connections: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1989). Out of print.

Destination Unexpected (Candlewick, 2003).

First Crossing: Stories about Teen Immigrants (Candlewick, 2004).

Join In: Multiethnic Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1993).

No Easy Answers: Short Stories about Teenagers Making Tough Choices (Delacorte, 1997).

On the Fringe (Dial, 2001).

Short Circuits: Thirteen Shocking Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1992). Out of print.

Sixteen: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1984).

Time Capsule: Short Stories about Teenagers throughout the Twentieth Century (Delacorte, 1999). Soon to be out of print.

Ultimate Sports: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1995).

Visions: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1987).

What Are You Afraid Of? Stories About Phobias. (Candlewick, 2006).

You are well known for your top-notch anthologies. What about this type of book appeals to you?

Most of the published fiction for teens has been in novel format, with novels in verse and graphic novels emerging in only recent years.

Although short stories have been available for adult readers for dozens of years, short story anthologies written by a variety of authors specifically for teens have existed since only 1984.

Short stories offer readers a number of things that novels never will. First and most important, they are short, so they are ideal for less-able readers and less-motivated teens. For young readers and teachers they provide a way to explore the writings of several authors—ten or more at a time—in the same amount of time it takes to read an average-length novel. For teachers, a single short story can provide a way to introduce the theme of a new unit—perhaps on peer pressure, adventure, war, cultural differences, or almost any teen problem you can imagine.

Unfortunately, short stories do not get the respect they deserve from many librarians because, by nature, librarians are avid readers who prefer longer works, and the kinds of teens who are most attracted to short stories are the ones who enter a library only when forced or attracted by a special program.

Congratulations on the publication of Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities (Candlewick, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about it?

Thank you. The subtitle, of course, explains what the stories are about. What that doesn’t indicate are the specific disabilities that the ten stories examine. Written by Chris Crutcher, Alex Flinn (author interview), Ron Koertge (author interview), Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson (author interview), Robert Lipsyte, David Lubar (author interview), Julie Anne Peters (author interview), René Saldaña, Jr., and Brenda Woods, the stories are about a blind boy, a paralyzed girl in a wheelchair, a boy with Tourette’s syndrome, a brain-damaged girl, a boy with asthma, another with ADHD, an alcoholic, an obese boy and his skinny friend, a girl with severe migraines, and a hospital ward filled with young men with testicular cancer.

Not every physical and mental problem in the medical books, but a hefty dose of significant problems. But while their disabilities are interesting to read about, more interesting is how they each deal with their condition. Their resiliency is inspirational.

What was the initial inspiration for creating this book?

A teacher friend of mine—Darla Wagner–asked me at the ALAN Workshop a couple years ago what my next anthology was going to be about and I said I had no idea. She later passed me a note that said she needed a book of stories “for Jessica, Cassidy, Eddie …who deal with serious illnesses/diseases…and for all their teachers and students who are part of their lives.” Bam! Perfect idea. And, of course, Darla is now the world’s most avid promoter of Owning It.

In the introduction, you write, “…while increased attention has been paid to disabled children and disabled adults, the group that has received the least attention is disabled adolescents.” Why do you think this is the case?

I have no proof, but teens generally get less attention than any other age group except for when they cause trouble in their communities. Little children can’t take care of themselves; many old people can’t take care of themselves; and most adults in their working years have money and know how to handle the necessary systems to get help; but teens are in a kind of no man’s land where they try to avoid adults and think they can take care of themselves, but they have neither the resources nor the connections to get authorities to listen to them. And they are generally a healthy segment of the population, so problem areas don’t get noticed as much as they should. That’s just my guess, as I said.

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

From Darla’s note to the recent publication took two years and three months. It usually takes about six to eight months from the start to when I deliver the finished manuscript to the publisher. The steps consist of: getting a proposal accepted by my publisher; inviting the right authors; editing their stories and working with the authors on revisions; writing the introduction to the book, the intros to each story, and the author bios; and responding to questions and concerns from the in-house editor. Then Candlewick takes 18 months to prepare it properly for release.

Some other publishers do it in less time—about a year—but Candlewick intentionally takes its time in order to do it right. I value that care…but the wait can seem like years.

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

The foremost challenge of putting together any anthology is finding the right people—the most competent and notable authors—to write the stories. And of course it’s necessary to find writers who are willing to write a story on the designated theme and can do so by the assigned deadline.

For this theme, I was looking for authors who had either written about a specific disability in one of their novels or who had some close contact with a disability, possibly a personal experience. Once I had those people, I counted on them to provide accurate information about the disability featured in their story.

At the same time, I searched the Internet for information about each of the disabilities my authors chose to write about, so that I could not only confirm that the information in the stories was accurate but could also include some statistics in the information about the disability that each writer provided along with his or her biographical details that I always include after each story.

Speaking of the Internet, contacting a group of authors and corresponding with them about their stories is so much easier and faster than when I did my first anthology in the early 1980s. Back then I typed every piece of correspondence on a standard (i.e., not electric) typewriter, with a carbon copy on onionskin paper, and send it surface mail. That would take days between my residence and an author’s home across the country. Mail to and from authors living abroad took even longer. Now correspondence is exchanged within hours—minutes, sometimes–and the whole process moves so much faster.

How did you compile your slate of contributors? What challenges are inherent in working with so many authors, trying to balance so many stories?

As I indicated above, I began by searching for writers who had experiences with some kind of disability. I also always attempt to have a balance of male and female writers, and to be as culturally diverse as possible. That balance has been very difficult to achieve in some anthologies I’ve done, especially when someone with a special background drops out at the last minute. But that was not a problem with this book. One author did have to withdraw his story late in the process, but I was able to find another author who was able to produce a story in a relatively short period of time so we could still meet our deadline.

Getting the requisite number of good stories was extremely difficult for my first anthology, Sixteen, because very few YA authors were producing short stories in the early 1980s (there was no market then). Chris Crutcher, for example, had never written a short story before I asked him to write something for Connections. The story he turned out has become one of his most famous, as well as the basis for a Disney movie: “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune.”

In addition, few people knew whether or not I was competent and trustworthy as an editor. Once my editorial reputation was established and authors saw that short stories were selling, it became much easier for me to gather the necessary number of star-quality writers who produced first-rate stories.

Now if I need ten stories, I may have to contact between twelve and fifteen people, only ten of whom agree to send me a story. In contrast, I have learned that some other editors of short story anthologies have solicited dozens of stories and then selected for publication the best dozen or so that fit the theme, which I believe alienates all those people whose stories have been rejected. For the thirteen YA anthologies I have edited to date, I have rejected not much more than a handful of stories, and most of those were ones where the author submitted something that did not quite fit the stated theme.

By starting with really top-notch writers, there’s little chance that I’m going to have to reject a story. I mean, when you start with the likes of Richard Peck, Chris Crutcher, Joan Bauer, David Lubar, Graham Salisbury (author interview), Jane Yolen (author interview)!…the stories are going to be fantastic, no matter what the subject.

I also spend a lot of time at the start defining the parameters of the theme of each book, suggesting various possible topics for authors to consider, so writers have a good idea of a direction in which they might direct thinking.

For Owning It, I listed several disabilities and invited potential authors to suggest others they might prefer. With a topic like Disabilities—as it was for Phobias—the first respondents got first pick. So when the seventh or eighth person said he/she would like to do a story about a teen with, say, asthma, I could respond: “Sorry, that’s already been chosen. How about Down’s syndrome, or AIDS, or a prosthetic leg?” As a result, every story I received was on a different topic.

Most importantly, I have been amazingly fortunate that the stories I have received for all of my books have all been different from one another and yet fit smoothly together. And all of the authors have been wonderful to work with.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

First, I want readers to enjoy the stories. Second, I really want these stories to give recognition and hope to disabled teens who can’t possibly see themselves in novels and stories about their non-disabled peers. Third, I hope all readers will learn something about each disability and will become more sensitive to the problems of others.

I also expect that some readers will discover the work of one or more authors whom they haven’t known before and will seek out other works by those writers.

Similarly, I also hope that those readers of this book who are unfamiliar with my other short story anthologies will want to read one or more of those—perhaps No Easy Answers (Delacorte, 1997) or On the Fringe (Dial, 2001) or What Are You Afraid Of? Stories about Phobias (Candlewick, 2006).

As a reader, so far what are your favorite YA books of 2008?

I’m still reading a lot of 2007 titles! But for 2008, in no particular order, I’m excited by The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer (HarperTeen, 2008); the second book in David Klass’s Caretaker Trilogy called Whirlwind (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008); The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2008); The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2008)(author interview) though I liked its predecessor Life As We Knew It (2006)(author interview) a little better; Hurricane by Terry Trueman (HarperCollins, 2008); and Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 2008). My favorite of all of those is The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I love to travel and do so with my wife as much as I can. I’ve been to almost every state in the U.S. including Hawaii and Alaska. I’ve vacationed on several islands in the Caribbean; toured parts of Mexico, parts of Canada, and almost all of Europe (some by car, some by tour bus, some by riverboat); and have spent time in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and Cambodia. The most memorable trip of all has been a two-week safari in Tanzania and Kenya.

In good weather, I love to garden and be outdoors.

Most recently I have developed a passion for photography. I always liked to take photos, but my first digital camera propelled me into the field with a passion, and being retired from teaching has given me the time to pursue this interest.

Taking close-up photos of flowers in our gardens and returning from our travels with really good shots of what we’ve seen—a spectacular sunset from the balcony of our cliff-side room on the Greek island of Santorini; the magnificent ancient temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia; a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro through the morning clouds–provides a great deal of pleasure (though we’ve run out of room on our walls on which to display more photos!).

Last week I won my first blue ribbon in a local photography show for a photo of traffic in New York City!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Coming (I think) this fall is a book about author Richard Peck’s life and writing, coauthored with Wendy Glenn, from Scarecrow Press. It’s supposed to be titled Richard Peck: The Past Is Paramount, but we haven’t seen the cover design yet (or heard from the editor!), so we’re not sure. I’ve also been trying to sell a couple of children’s book manuscripts, but so far nobody seems to want them. I have sketched out some ideas for a new short story anthology but have not gone beyond the thinking stage to committing myself yet. Stay tuned.

Author Interview: Carla Killough McClafferty on Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium

Carla Killough McClafferty, award-winning author of nonfiction middle grade books, is not one of those people who always knew they wanted to be a writer. She backed into the field from a background in science. She has two books out with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-ray (2001) and Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie & Radium (2006). Her third book with FSG will be released in September 2008 titled In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry. Also, she is widely published in magazines including Cricket, ASK, Clubhouse, and The Upper Room. Carla is the regional advisor for SCBWI Arkansas.

What were you like as a young reader?

I have always loved books. One of my earliest memories is my mother bribing me with a Golden Book.

When I was small, I made a habit of going to sleep in my parent’s bed every night. I’d go to bed when my Mama went to bed, then my Daddy would have to carry my sleeping form to my own bed before he turned in. E

ventually the time came when they tried to convince me that I should start out the night in my own bed. I disapproved of this plan since I liked things just as they were. It was only when my mother promised me that if I went to bed by myself that she would buy me a couple of a Golden Books. The lofty goal of having the rare privilege to get books of my own did the trick. From that point on, I started out the night in my own bed.

For most of my growing up years, the small town where I grew up did not yet have a public library. So when I was about twelve, I started borrowing books from my neighbor. I read books by Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. Then in my teen years, I read countless paperback romances. Today when I go on vacation, for something fun to read, I’ll take along a paperback romance.

Why did you decide to commit to creating youth literature?

My first book was a nonfiction Christian Inspirational. After that, I wanted to write something totally different. I took the writer’s adage to “write what you know” to heart.

Since I am a Radiologic Technologist and knew the world of X-rays, I thought it would be a great topic for a nonfiction book for young readers. That resulted in The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-ray. The second book, Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium, came out of the first book. Next, I chose to set aside the world of science to write about refugees in France during World War II for a book titled In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry.

What education prepared you for your career today?

I do not have the traditional background of a degree in English or journalism, I come to writing with a science background. Honestly, the only thing that prepared me for a career in children’s books is the fact that I’ve been a voracious reader all of my life. I believe that if an editor loves your work, they couldn’t care less about your background.

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

My first book came about as a result of personal tragedy in my life. When my youngest son, Corey, was fourteen months old, he fell off of the swing in our back yard. He died from a head injury as a result of that very minor fall. I was devastated.

It caused a crisis of faith in my life as I experienced a difficult Spiritual battle. Ultimately, God brought me through the anger, doubt and bitterness and back to a place of peace with my God and my life. I knew that God was leading me to write about my experience, but I absolutely refused to do it for about two years.

Finally, I knew this was a book I had to write. But I didn’t know how. I didn’t know anything about writing, or publishing, or even where to start. But I’ve learned that when God tells me to do something, He shows me the way to accomplish it. So, I wrote the book. It was the first thing I had ever written (with the exception of a really bad poem in the third grade). It was published under the title of Forgiving God.

After this book, I wanted to continue writing. It was at that point that I started writing nonfiction middle grade books. I’ve been writing middle grade nonfiction ever since.

Congratulations on the success of Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium (FSG, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The book has been well received and has gotten some nice recognition including being chosen as the 2007 IRA Children’s Book Award Winner in the intermediate nonfiction category, also it was a 2007 NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor Book.

Originally I had Marie Curie as a chapter in my first book, The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-ray because of Curie’s work with mobile X-ray units in World War I. However, at the very end of the editing process, one of the copy editors at FSG suggested that I take out the chapter on Marie Curie. Even though I focused on Curie’s work with X-rays, of course, I had to explain that she and her husband discovered radium, which is why she is famous. The copy editor felt that it didn’t fit in with the rest of the book because radioactivity is very different from traditional X-rays. They left it up to me, I could either take it out or leave it and they would back me up either way.

At first, I was angry about her suggestion because the book was finished. But after I cooled off a couple of days and really thought it over, I understood her point. I told FSG that I would take Marie Curie out of that book, if they let me write a book about Marie Curie. And they did! I signed a contract with them for this book before I wrote it. This is very unusual because Head Bone did not yet have a sales record or even any reviews. So, with a signed contract in hand for a book about Marie Curie, I began the research which became Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium.

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

Something Out of Nothing took five years. I signed the contract in 2001. The book came out in 2006. I researched for a year, then wrote for a year, and it generally takes a year to edit and go through the production process. That makes three years. The other two years was spent waiting for my editor.

Another facet of this particular book is that it contains a lot of science, therefore the editing was complicated. Many bemoan the fact that there is less editing than in the years past. This is not true at FSG, they edit ferociously and expertly. I’m blessed to be the recipient of great editing.

What were the challenges (literary, artistic, research, and/or logistical) in bringing the story to life? How did you decide to address each?

The biggest challenge for me was that it took place during another year of personal tragedy. At the same time I started the research, my mother was diagnosed with liver cancer. The year was filled with doctors, chemotherapy, and hospitals.

My bag of research went with me everywhere I went. I would work while waiting for her in the therapy waiting room, or at her hospital bedside through many long nights when I couldn’t sleep. The research was a way to get my mind off of what was happening to my mother for a little while. My beloved mother passed away about a year after her diagnosis, at the same time that I was finishing the research for the book.

After her death, I started writing the manuscript. In many ways, I see that my experiences influenced the book. When writing about the sorrows of Marie Curie’s life, I felt her grief. Perhaps I better understood how tragedy may have affected her life. I hope that it made Marie Curie real to my readers.

If you could go back to visit yourself when you were a beginner, what advice would you offer?

Because I do a lot of research, I’d offer advice on how to do it more effectively. I learned how to research and then to organize that research the hard way, by trial and error–lots of error. Each nonfiction author must find a system that works for them.

What advice do you have for those writing non-fiction?

You must chose to write about a topic you are genuinely interested in. You must think about it for too long to choose something you don’t like. Also, you need to read great nonfiction books by other authors. You can learn a lot by studying how another author puts their story together. I believe nonfiction is better today than ever before.

Are you an active member of a local youth writing community? If so, could you tell us about it?

There isn’t any sort of organized youth writing community here. However, I’ve read the manuscript of a teenage writer I know personally. I’ve tried to encourage her and give her some pointers.

I’m also the SCBWI regional advisor in Arkansas, which means I have the privilege of pointing many beginning writers in the right direction.

Do you have a critique group? If not, who are your early readers?

Yes, I have a critique group which includes my friend, well-known author Darcy Pattison (author interview). My critique group is helpful to me in many ways including the social aspect of sharing with others who know what the writing life is like. Every writer should have some sort of critique group.

Do you offer speaking programs for schools, writing groups, etc.? Could you fill us in?

Yes, I love to speak to any sort of group. As a matter of fact, I would very much like to expand my speaking schedule. I’m a speaker at both the local and national level. I’ve done presentations at the annual SCBWI conference in LA, at the national NCTE conference, and nonfiction writing workshops. I enjoy speaking to writers, teacher groups, and students.

When speaking to students, I usually close with a slide show of X-rays of all sorts of interesting things such as broken arms, Barbie dolls, monkeys, cantaloupes and chocolate chip cookies. It is always a big hit because I encourage them to holler out what they think each object is. They love it.

How do you balance your writing life with the responsibilities (promotion, submissions) of being an author?

Sooner or later every author finds out that having a career in publishing is not only about the writing. It also includes marketing yourself as an author and speaker. I’ve found that I could spend all my time marketing, but if I do, I’ll soon run out of books to market. For me, I try to do as much marketing as seems reasonable for my books. And for me it goes in spurts. I’ll do a lot of marketing, then I’ll stop for a while. Like everything in life, there must be a balance.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m active in my church where I have several different commitments including teaching a women’s class. I love to prepare lessons, and I love to teach. Which I find uses many of the same skills as writing nonfiction for young readers.

I spend as much time as possible with my family. My two wonderful children are in their busy twenties, which means that anytime they are available, my husband and I make ourselves available for them. I also spend as much time as possible with my two sisters and their families.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m very excited about my next book that will be released in September 2008 by FSG. The title is In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry. It is about a Harvard educated American journalist who went to Marseilles, France, in 1940, where he helped more than 2000 Jews out of Europe before the Nazis could get them.

Varian Fry is basically the “American Schindler.” He was the first American to be named at the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem as Righteous Among the Nations. This powerful, true story has never been told to young readers before. I’m thrilled to be the one to bring it to life for a new generation of Americans.

Record Numbers of YA Books Will Be Donated to Teen Patients As Part of Readergirlz, YALSA Literacy Program

“Operation TBD” puts 10,000 books into North America’s top pediatric hospitals in celebration of Support Teen Literature Day on April 17

April 14, 2008 (Seattle, Wash.) – Teen patients in pediatric hospitals across the United States and Canada will receive 10,000 young adult novels, audio books, and graphic novels Thursday as readergirlz and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) celebrate the second annual Support Teen Lit Day on April 17.

This unprecedented teen literacy program, coined “Operation TBD” (short for Teen Book Drop), will put free books—altogether valued at more than $175,000—donated by 20 book publishers into the hands of many of the teens most in need of solace, entertainment and a sense of personal accomplishment. After all, long-term hospital stays can be difficult on many levels—for teenagers and their families.

Justina Chen Headley, co-founder of readergirlz and award-winning novelist, wanted to find a way to support teen patients going through such difficulties through a massive book drop. “While touring my local children’s hospital to research my novel, Girl Overboard, I couldn’t help noticing that teen patients didn’t seem to have the comfort objects that the little ones did,” she said. “As an author, I knew that YA books—books with exceptional characters and fabulous stories—could provide teen patients with some of the escape and inspiration they needed. And I knew that readergirlz and YALSA were just the groups to spearhead a teen literacy program of this magnitude.”

Operation TBD also aims to encourage teens to choose reading for pleasure as a leisure activity, as young adults now have many options for entertainment and often choose reading less often. This meshes well with YALSA’s Support Teen Literature Day, which kicks off Teen Read Week, a weeklong event held the third week of October that encourages teens to read, just for the fun of it. Teen Read Week 2008 is Oct. 12-18, with the theme of Books with Bite @ your library®.

To help incite the broader teen community to participate in Operation TBD in its drive to spur reading on a national scale, readergirlz has invited all teens and YA authors to leave a book in a public place on April 17. When visiting www.readergirlz.com, participants can download bookplates to insert into the books they’ll leave behind, which explain the surprise to the recipient and tell them to read and enjoy.

“By working with children’s hospitals to connect with teens, generous publishers who are donating the books that will be supplied as a part of Operation TBD and the readergirlz, YALSA is bringing together a powerful partnership uniquely positioned to provide hospitalized teens a chance to explore the growing and vibrant world of teen literature,” said YALSA President Paula Brehm-Heeger. “Teens will be encouraged to pass along the books received through Operation TBD to another teen after they’re finished reading them, allowing this new initiative to ensure that Support Teen Literature Day has lasting impact.”

Participating book publishers who have donated books or audiobooks include Abrams Books, Bloomsbury USA, Candlewick Press, Da Capo Press, Full Cast Audio, Harcourt, HarperCollins, Hyperion Books, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Marshall Cavendish, Mirrorstone (imprint of Wizards of the Coast), Newmarket Press, Orca Book Publishers, Peachtree Publishers, Perseus Book Group, Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, TOKYOPOP, and Tor Books.

“Books have always been a form of escape and entertainment and Mirrorstone is thrilled to have the chance to participate in this very worthy cause,” said Shelly Mazzanoble, associate brand manager for Mirrorstone Books. “Our hope is that the donated books really connect with the teen patients who need them, as well as inspire all teens to turn to reading for pleasure.”

Pediatric hospitals that have signed up to receive books include All Children’s Hospital Foundation (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Children’s Hospital Boston, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation, Children’s Medical Center (Dallas, TX), Children’s Memorial Hospital (Chicago, Ill.), Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics (Kansas City, MO), Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health—Library Library/Family Resource Center (Palo Alto, CA), Seattle Children’s Hospital—Children’s Hospital Foundation, SickKids Foundation (Toronto, Ontario), St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation, Texas Children’s Hospital (Houston, TX).

“Participating children’s hospitals are most grateful for the generous donations of books,” said Marion Woyvodich, executive director of The Woodmark Group, an organization that represents 24 prominent children’s hospitals of North America.

Everyone who participates in Operation TBD is invited to celebrate at the TBD Post-Op Party on April 17th on the readergirlz MySpace group forum: http://groups.myspace.com/readergirlz.

About Support Teen Literature Day

For the second consecutive year, Support Teen Literature Day will be celebrated April 17, 2008 in conjunction with ALA’s National Library Week. Librarians all across the country are encouraged to participate in Support Teen Literature Day by hosting events in their library. The purpose of this new celebration is to raise awareness among the general public that young adult literature is a vibrant, growing genre with much to offer today’s teens. Support Teen Literature Day also seeks to showcase some award-winning authors and books in the genre as well as highlight librarians’ expertise in connecting teens with books and other reading materials.

About the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

For 50 years, YALSA has been the world leader in selecting books, videos, and audiobooks for teens. For more information about YALSA or for lists of recommended reading, viewing and listening, go to www.ala.org/yalsa or contact the YALSA office by phone, 800.545.2433, ext. 4390.

About readergirlz

readergirlz is the foremost online book community for teen girls, led by four critically-acclaimed YA authors—Dia Calhoun (Avielle of Rhia)(author interview), Lorie Ann Grover (On Pointe), Justina Chen Headley (Girl Overboard), and Mitali Perkins (First Daughter: White House Rules). readergirlz was co-founded by Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey (author interview), Lorie Ann Grover, and Justina Chen Headley (co-founders interview)—all four of whom have been touched by children’s hospitals or hospitals in some way or other.

To promote teen literacy and leadership in girls, readergirlz features a different YA novel and corresponding community service project every month. For more information about readergirlz, please visit www.readergirlz.com and www.myspace.com/readergirlz, or contact divas@readergirlz.com

Author Interview: Deborah Lynn Jacobs on Choices

Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author of three books for young people. Visit Deborah at MySpace, and read her LJ!

The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks Press, 2000) is about a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, and her struggle for identity and self-acceptance.

Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006)(author interview) explores the various aspects of power from the multiple viewpoints of two teens who develop very special abilities. Too bad they nearly destroy each other before they come to terms with their powers. Powers has just been released this spring (2008) as a paperback. Powers was nominated as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, was a Sunburst Award honorable mention, and is on the Wisconsin AR list.

Choices (Roaring Brook, 2007) follows Kathleen as she shifts between alternate realities, trying to find a world in which her brother is still alive. It’s a quick read, with plot twists and turns, and a touch of romance. Choices is an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and received a starred review from Kirkus.

Debbie is an avid reader, a somewhat rabid gardener (meaning she gets a little crazy this time of year, when everything bursts into bloom) and a sane mother and wife. (Mostly sane. Most days.)

We last spoke in March 2007 about the release of Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006). Do you have any updates to share related to that title?

Yes! Powers was released in paperback on April 1 (2008.) I’m very excited about that, as it has a new cover and will be more affordable for teen readers.

Also, Powers received an honorable mention by the Sunburst Awards Committee. The Sunburst is a juried Canadian award, given for outstanding speculative fiction novels. Speculative fiction can include science fiction, fantasy, horror, magic realism or surrealism.

Congratulations on the release of Choices (Roaring Brook, 2007)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

On one level, Choices is about Kathleen, a seventeen-year-old whose life fractures after the death of her brother. At first, Kathleen thinks she is suffering post traumatic stress, or perhaps multiple personalities. Her world becomes unpredictable, changing from one day to the next. Today, her hair is shoulder length and brown. Tomorrow, it’s two inches high, spiked, and blue.

When she meets Luke, who introduces himself as her brother’s friend, she is offered an alternate, mind-blowing possibility—she is shifting between alternate universes. Each choice she makes causes her reality to split, leading to infinite “Kathleens” living out an infinite number of lives.

On another level, Choices is about love—love for your sibling, love for your parents, and love for that one person who helps you make sense of your life.

Choices is on the 2007 ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list.

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

I have trouble answering this one, since I’m not a good record keeper. From what I can reconstruct, it took about a year to write Choices. I had a workable draft, labeled Choices 10, by Feb. 2005. The “ten” indicates it was my tenth draft.

I took this draft to a novel revision workshop in April 2005. This SCBWI-WI sponsored weekend featured Darcy Pattison (author interview) as the workshop leader.

I revised, and sent it to my critique group. (Either that or I sent it to my critique group before the novel revision workshop—I can’t remember!)

After another revision, I sent it to my agent (Steven Chudney (agent interview)) and my editor at Roaring Brook, Deborah Brodie. I believe Deborah and I did three more revisions, but the last two were fairly minor. Choices was released in September 2007.

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

There were two challenges. One was to keep the timelines accurate. I had to know what was going on in each universe, even when Kathleen wasn’t “there.” I had a big flow chart, which started the night Kathleen’s brother died, and ended up splitting into eight universes. I didn’t write about each of those eight universes, but I had to know what was going on as the result of each choice Kathleen made.

The second challenge was to blend quantum mechanics theory into the narrative without boring the reader. There was one scene, which I labeled “the omelet scene,” where I had to balance quantum mechanics theory, Kathleen’s attraction to Luke, and Kathleen’s suspicion of Luke. I spent at least two weeks revising that scene.

I kept sending new versions to my editor, who would write back saying, “better, but not quite there yet.” Finally, we came up with something that satisfied us.

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

Don’t expect your road to publication to be fast or easy. It can take years to bring your writing to publishable standards. I’d recommend being part of a critique group, especially a small online group where you critique whole manuscripts at once. If one critique group doesn’t work for you, join another, or form your own. It can take time to find the right combination of people, but when you do, it’s magic.

I also recommend reading books about the craft of writing, and joining SCBWI. Through SCBWI, you can find a critique group, attend both local and national conferences, use all the resources on their website, and bring your writing to a more professional level.

What would you say on the topic of writing young adult fiction?

I love writing young adult fiction! At the age I write for, 12 to 18 or so, there is so much emotional and intellectual growth. Unlike a child, who accepts what they are told, a teen begins to question everything—what their teachers and parents tell them, authority in all its forms, including government, right and wrong, justice…even the ultimate questions of what is reality, is there a God, and why are we here? It’s such an exciting time, but confusing as well.

I love writing novels that challenge readers to entertain new ideas—what if teens developed powers, what if multiple universe theory is real? It’s so exciting to think that my “what if?” will unlock something in the mind of a questioning teen.

I love reading young adult fiction because it is generally so well crafted, and because it explores universal and important themes.

What recent books would you suggest for study and why?

For “how to” books, I recommend anything in the Writer’s Digest Series, especially any written by Nancy Kress.

About books similar to my genre, I’d suggest any books by Stephenie Meyer (author interview), Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Neal Shusterman, Gail Giles (author interview)…

And on fantasy specifically?

You’ve got me there! Although my books are often called fantasy, I don’t agree. I prefer “speculative fiction,” which is a term that comes into favor and goes out of favor about every decade. Speculative fiction is the “what if” story, and can include fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, horror, supernatural, paranormal, etc. When I think fantasy, I think “high fantasy,” with wizards, invented languages, orcs, trolls and so on.

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

Badly. (Big grin.)

I have trouble juggling it all. I guess that isn’t uncommon. What I try to do is keep to a schedule—one hour to check and respond to email, one hour to do marketing/promotional stuff (such as setting up school or library visits, posting on MySpace or LiveJournal) and four or five hours of writing.

Of course, if I’m caught up in writing, I let the other stuff slip. And, if I have a month with more appearances/visits, I’ll do less writing.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’ve written a new novel. I’m very excited about it, but don’t like to jinx it by talking about it too soon!

“The School Librarian” by J. Patrick Lewis

“The School Librarian”

A sign hangs on her door,

BOOKLYN, NEW YORK
WE OPEN UP A MIND
YOU’LL NEVER CLOSE!

When you walk in, the whole library knows—

A welcome bell hums like a tuning fork.

She’ll tell you what to read and what to skip.

You name a book; she heads right to the shelf.

The rumor is she’s read them all herself.

No one has ever run a tighter ship.

These days, a job like hers is electronic

Because computers answer every need.

Librarians belong to a new breed.

But here at Booklyn, isn’t it ironic?

She still treats books like they are dreams come true.

And you had better treat them that way, too.

Cynsational Notes

School Librarian Day is April 4.

“The School Librarian” is offered with permission from children’s author and poet J. Patrick Lewis.

From Candlewick Press: “J. Patrick Lewis has written many books for children, including The Last Resort, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, which was a New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year, and Arithme-Tickle: An Even Number of Odd Riddle-Rhymes, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. Of Once Upon a Tomb (Candlewick, 2006), he says, ‘The dead can be very funny. Some of their best one-liners are written in stone.'”

Cynsational News & Links

Interview: D. Anne Love on Defying the Diva from Little Willow at Slayground. Here’s a sneak peek [on how publishing has changed in the past decade]: “It has become more competitive, but also more open to edgier and more challenging themes. There was a time when Robert Cormier‘s The Chocolate War and Katherine Patterson‘s Jacob Have I Loved were considered “out there.” Now we have authors tackling the subjects of sexuality and sexual identity, date rape, and other difficult topics. This new freedom is good for authors and good for readers, too.” Read a Cynsations interview with D. Anne.

Question of the Week Thursday: Mitali Perkins. Robin Friedman asks: “How Does Your Background Inform Your Writing?” Read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

Interview with E. Lockhart from Debbi Michiko Florence. Here’s a sneak peek: “Most of my books stem from anger or outrage about something. In this case, I was thinking about the old boys network that still operates and determines power in the world, despite our egalitarian values.” Read a Cynsations interview with E.

On Word Counts and Novel Length from the Swivet. Here’s a sneak peek: “YA fiction=Can be anywhere from about 50k to 80k; sometimes-but rarely-goes above 90k.” Source: Gwenda Bond at Shaken & Stirred.

Kathryn Erskine: official author site. Kathryn’s latest release is Quaking (Philomel, 2007)(excerpt). From the promotional copy: “After years of being batted around, fourteen year old Matt has learned to rely on herself at school and everywhere. Biology is good. I am an expert. We are studying morphing, but I have already morphed. I have my own exoskeleton… I have spent years developing my armor and I will not let it be pierced. She must call on all of her resources to handle Mr. Warhead, the Rat, and the Wall at her new school, not to mention the Beast in her head. But somehow it is even more difficult to cope with the warm Quaker family, her ‘last chance,’ who has taken her in. Why does Jessica insist on acting like a mom, for God’s sake? Why can’t their little boy with his gack covered fingers just leave her alone? And why does Sam have to care about her–and everything–so much? Doesn’t he realize that only gets you hurt? And even though Matt knows that pain very well, why is she finally letting down her armor and allowing herself to care?”

Rutgers One-on-One: “A Unique Program for Authors and Illustrators of Children’s Books Sponsored by the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature.” Note: The next One-on-One Plus Conference will be Oct. 18.

P. J. Lynch Gallery: the Dublin-based illustrator “has won many awards including the Mother Goose Award, the Christopher Medal three times, and the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal on two occasions, first for The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, and again for When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest.” Site features bio, books, other work (posters, murals, stamps), and store. See also the P. J. Lynch Gallery blog.

Check out the book trailer (below) for Chess Rumble by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Lee & Low, 2007). From the promotional copy: “A story in free verse about a troubled boy who learns to use his mind instead of his fists through the guidance of an unconventional mentor and the game of chess.” Source: Melissa.

Heather Brewer is giving away three paperback copies of Eighth Grade Bites (Dutton, 2007)(excerpt))! Learn how to enter. Deadline: May 1.

Sketchy Words: “Professional artist and writer indulges herself and hopes you will, too.” A new blog from Janie Bynum, who says, “I will post snippets, thoughts, sketches and other gibberish pertaining to the world of art and publishing.” Read a Cynsations interview with Janie. See also Bynum Creative: Design, Illustration, Photo, Fine Art.

Greg R. Fishbone is requests feedback on his Survey: Author/Illustrator Websites. Please surf over and help him out! Read a Cynsations interview with Greg.

Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going (Writer’s Digest, 2008). Here’s an excerpt: “When you watch the world around you, keep an eye out for conflict and tension. Part of what appealed to me about that particular news story was that the teens were meeting with resistance from the school board and people in their town. This intrigued me. I wanted to know how they would handle the opposition and how the situation would get resolved. Conflict makes for great stories, and although we wish it didn’t exist, it’s everywhere.” Read a Cynsations interview with K.L.

Meredith Wood offers a thoughtful review of Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles (Candlewick, 20007). Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Debut Author of the Month: Jody Feldman from Alice’s CWIM Blog. Here’s a sneak peek: “True revision means being brave enough to imagine your story could possibly be different than when you first conceived it.” Read a Cynsations interview with Jody.

XRR Book Reviews: “innovative, enticing, and engaging. (I’m tooting my own horn here, by the way. Take it with a grain of salt :)) Why? Because it’s got reviews of awesome (and not so awesome) books written in a straightforward but still somewhat charismatic and flamboyant style. It’s not a place to dis all books, and it’s not a place to rave about all books. It’s a place to tell it like it is.” Note: see information on submitting books for review and requesting an author interview.


The Children’s Writer Guide to 2008 is now available. It packs hundreds and hundreds of shrewd insider tips, market-tested strategies, and pointed insights from more than 250 leading editors, publishers, and authors in the children’s field.” Note: check out my quotes in Chris Eboch‘s article on horror and ghost stories.

René Saldaña, Jr.: a blog from the YA author of The Whole Sky Full of Stars (Wendy Lamb, 2007); Finding Out Way (Wendy Lamb, 2003); and The Jumping Tree (Delacorte, 2001). Note: “Originally from Nuevo Peñitas in South Texas (a suburb of Peñitas Viejo),” René now lives in Lubbock and teaches at Texas Tech University (in their College of Education).

Agent Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency, LLC in Boston has declared a YA specialty at the agency and is actively looking to acquire YA writers (both fiction and non-fiction). See submissions guidelines.

Congratulations to Sylvia Vardell on the release of Children’s Literature in Action: A Librarian’s Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2008)! Sylvia says: “It’s intended to help the new librarian or library media specialist become knowledgeable about the field of children’s literature in preparation for guiding young people, ages 5-12, in their reading. It provides practical ideas for generating interest in reading, strategies for connecting with the school curriculum, and guidance for reaching out to families and the wider community through children’s literature.” Don’t miss: Authors in Action (written by Pat Mora, Seymour Simon, Janet Wong (author interview), Kristine O’Connell George, Laurence Yep, T. A. Barron, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Ashley Bryan). Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia.

Reminder: Enter to win a copy of By Venom’s Sweet Sting (Mirrorstone, 2007). To enter, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST April 30! Please also type “By Venom’s Sweet Sting” in the subject line. Note: one copy will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader, and one copy will be awarded to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please identify yourself accordingly as part of your entry! Don’t miss the latest Hallowmere book, latest Hallowmere novel, Between Golden Jaws by Tiffany Trent (Mirrorstone, 2008)(sample chapter)! Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

Check out the latest book giveaway contests at Teens Read Too!

“Triple the Query Critique, Triple the Fun:” agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown looks at query letters for three YA fantasies and chimes in on what works, what doesn’t, and why. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Congratulations to Lee Bennett Hopkins on the release of America at War, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Note: excerpt includes double-page interior illustration and poems by Brenda Powelson-Vick, Cynthia Cotten (author interview), and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

Reminder: Austin SCBWI offers a great line-up for its April 26 conference. Speakers include: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview from Olswanger.com)(interview by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist’s agent Christina Tugeau; and writing professor Peter Jacobi. See details at Austin SCBWI. Note: I hope to see you there!

Calendar this for April 17 from readergirlz! Read a Cynsations interview with the readergirlz divas.

How Do You Celebrate a Sale? from Mindy Alyse Weiss. Note: highlighting as a reminder to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate good news! Writing for publication has its lows. Make the highs something to remember!

Agent Query: the Internet’s largest and most current database of literary agents. Source: Mindy Alyse Weiss.

More Personally

An excerpt of Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000), will soon (if not already) be featured at the Office of Indian Education’s Teacher-to-Teacher website. See a featured illustration from Jingle Dancer!

Thank you to Devona Carpenter, youth programmer of Austin Public Library, and everyone at Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center for their hospitality this morning! In conjunction with Second Chance Books, Greg and I spoke to two groups–the first made up of about 70 kids who’re awaiting the next step in the legal process, and the second made up of about 15 girls who’re longer-term residents. “Second Chance Books is an award-winning collaboration between the Austin Public Library and the Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center. The collaboration began in 2003 and has become an invaluable resource to the incarcerated youth at Gardner Betts. Incarceration is not pleasant, but through the work of Gardner Betts teachers and Austin Public Library librarians, incarcerated youth are provided with books that they would like to read either for pleasure, personal growth, or both.” See “Program uses literature to change lives in juvenile center: Second Chance Books a success as accolades, grants keep rolling in” by Reggie Ugwu from The Daily Texan.

Also, I have a query for the cumulative brain: if you know how to be hired as a translator by a publisher, will you please email me with that information. A fellow Cynsational reader is seeking information. Thanks!

Editor Interview: Sheila Barry on Kids Can Press

Sheila Barry on Sheila Barry:

The Personal

“I am 44 years old, and I live in Toronto with my husband, our daughter, our cat, and some fish.”

The Professional

“I have worked in publishing for sixteen years. I have been editor-in-chief at Kids Can Press for almost five years, and I still wake up many mornings excited to go to work.”

Kids Can Press (KCP) is a children’s book publishing company in Toronto, Ontario. It was founded in 1973.

Were you an avid young reader, or did you come to this love later in life?

I devoured books as a child, mostly looking for material to fuel my incredibly active fantasy life. Stories about orphans or boarding schools (or even better, orphans in boarding schools) were my favorites.

What inspired you to enter the field of children’s and young adult publishing?

I started my publishing career as a production editor working on college textbooks. I learned a great deal about editing and budgets and the production process (and of course, since this was my first real office job, I learned how to get along with difficult people without becoming one myself), but I realized after a few years that once you have worked on 50 books that are mostly text with maybe a graph or photo here and there, there really isn’t much left to learn.

And then, I discovered illustrated books and a whole new world of complexity and beauty. Children’s books are so much richer than other printed materials–you never have that “been there; done that” feeling. And you get to work with the most wonderful, talented, creative and committed people.

What challenges and opportunities did you encounter at KCP?

Kids Can Press is a wonderful place to work, but it’s hard to get rich working anywhere in children’s publishing. And often the projects we are most excited about are the hardest to make work from a financial perspective. Still, we persevere, and by and large, we are pretty proud of what we do.

How would you describe the list? What sorts of books do you publish?

Every season, we aim to publish innovative picture books (Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse by Frank and Devin Asch and Alphabeasts by Wallace Edwards (author interview) are good examples of the breadth of our picture book list); non-fiction that opens up the world for children (for example, If the World Were a Village, written by David Smith and illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong); and fiction that delights and entertains (The Strictest School in the World by Howard Whitehouse is just wonderful fun).

If you had to highlight three recent titles that would give us a feel for the list, which would you choose and why?

Melanie Watt‘s Scaredy Squirrel (author-illustrator interview), the tale of a little squirrel who is neurotically afraid to leave his nut tree, is original, witty, visually stimulating, and emotionally satisfying–everything a picture book should be.

One Hen, written by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes, shows that there is no subject you can’t make accessible for children. This non-fiction title describes the transformative potential of micro-loans through the true story of a young boy in Africa who receives a small amount of money–just enough to buy one hen–and manages over the course of the book to provide food for his family, go to school, and eventually use his knowledge and hard work to help his entire community.

Exploits of a Reluctant (But Extremely Goodlooking) Hero by Maureen Fergus is a funny and irreverent novel, perhaps even a bit tasteless at times. It’s the story of a boy with no redeeming qualities who, by the end of the book, shows barely a glimmer of a moral sense.

Which would you recommend to writers for study and why?

Picture-book writing seems to me to be one of the highest art forms. A good picture book is like a poem (and sometimes it really is a poem) in its use of language distilled to a pure essence. Some of my favorite Kids Can Press picture book texts are: Bella and the Bunny, written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Kate Endle; Stanley’s Party, written by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin; and Rosie and Buttercup, written by Chieri Uegaki and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch.

In each of these books, the beautifully told narratives employ a full range of emotions, from joy to despair and back to joy again–although in the case of Stanley’s Party, about a canine house party gone wrong, the emotional range is that of a dog rather than a human. I think a writer could learn a great deal from any of these books about story structure and how to craft a sentence.

What do you see as your jobs in the publishing process?

As editor-in-chief, it’s my job to make sure we have books on our list each season–and ideally, they will be the right mix of books, the right balance of picture books, non-fiction and fiction, the right ratio of riskier titles to safer titles. I do this by working with our publisher and our editors to decide which projects we should focus on, which ones we should drop and which ones we should attempt to contract.

I also do some hands-on editing myself each season, which is a welcome break in a workday that could otherwise be consumed by emails and meetings.

What are your challenges?

The hardest part of my job is having to say “no” so many times in a day or week. We turn down far more manuscripts than we publish (we probably reject 100 manuscripts for every one we accept), and I write more rejection letters than I can count.

Many of the projects we turn down are perfectly publishable, but they just aren’t exactly right at this particular moment for Kids Can Press, and it can be hard to keep finding ways to say: “We like your work, but we don’t like it quite enough to contract.” I’m almost always impressed by the graciousness of the people I turn down. But I still don’t enjoy doing it.

What do you love about it?

The three things I love most about my job are: 1. My coworkers, who are smart and funny and creative. 2. Our creators, who are also smart, funny and creative, even if some of them aren’t always punctual. 3. Our books, which I love to share with children I know, and which I love to imagine being enjoyed by children I will never have the chance to meet.

How has publishing changed–for better and worse–since you entered the field?

Advances in technology mean that a lot more illustrators are producing their work digitally. Their work isn’t better or worse than conventional illustration, but it is different.

The other big change I’ve seen in children’s publishing over the last decade or so is that production values are consistently much higher. Again, because of changes in technology, it is possible to make books that are much more heavily designed, and it is possible to print more and more four-color titles.

Only twenty years ago, most non-fiction for children was visually a bit on the dull side, with fewer illustrations and only one or two colors on the page.

Now, almost everything, with the exception of fiction, is four color, and there are more and more visually stunning books published each year.

Every now and then I get a bit nostalgic for the days of simple black line art, but for the most part, I think the quality of children’s books is higher now than it has ever been.

Do you have any thoughts on the state of youth literature publishing in Canada? How about around the world?

There is an enormous number of books being published each year for children (and for adults), both in Canada and around the world. I hesitate to say there are too many books out there, but it certainly is a challenge for small, independent publishers like Kids Can Press to make sure their books get noticed and their authors and illustrators get the attention (and the sales) that they deserve.

What qualities do you look for in a manuscript?

This is one of the hardest questions to answer, but of course it is a question that gets asked a lot. I guess that I look for a manuscript that surprises or enlightens me in some way. It is true that there are no new stories out there to be told, but it is also true that there are always new ways to tell a story. So I look for freshness, for originality of thought, for something in the use of language, whether it’s in the voice or in a turn of phrase, that suggests this manuscript was written by someone who really has something new to bring to children’s books.

I also look for some evidence that the person writing the manuscript likes children, remembers being a child, and thinks of his or her work as being first and foremost an art or craft–not just a medium for teaching children lessons.

I don’t think that the point of children’s literature is to teach morals or math or even reading. The point of it is to introduce children to words and images that have come together to create a work of art. So I guess I look for manuscripts that have been written as art, not as teaching tools.

How can writers/illustrators submit their work for consideration?

Our submission guidelines are available on our website–www.kidscanpress.com. We are currently only accepting submissions from Canadian authors and illustrators.

What do you do outside the world of children’s and young adult books?

I nap with the kind of commitment that more energetic people might apply to marathon running.

Cynsational Notes

Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP): “a group of professionals in the field of children’s culture with members from all parts of Canada. For over twenty years, CANSCAIP has been instrumental in the support and promotion of children’s literature through newsletters, workshops, meetings and other information programs for authors, parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and others. CANSCAIP also has over 500 friends–teachers, librarians, parents and others –who are also interested in aspects of children’s books, illustrations and performances.”

SCBWI Canada: see both the Eastern and Western Canada chapters.