Author-Illustrator Interview: Katie Davis on The Curse of Addy McMahon

Katie Davis on Katie Davis: “I was writing and illustrating lots of really bad picture books and novels for children for a lonnnnng time, until I got a clue and learned how to do it better. Now I’ve gotten eight books published by Harcourt, Inc. and Greenwillow, combined.

“I’ve done freelance projects, including designing, writing, and illustrating literacy programs for children, restaurant activity booklets, and toy products.”

What were you like as a young reader?

I was very influenced–some might say suggestible!–by books and reading. Here is what I remember:

First grade

All the kids sit on the floor, crisscross applesauce, listening to Miss Terwilliger read a story. It’s April, and I’m the new kid. Again. As I stand in the doorway looking in, wondering if I’ll ever make a friend, Deena Teschner sees me, smiles, and waves wildly. I let go of my mom’s hand and go sit next to Deena.

Third Grade

I hate my name, Katey. No one is named Katey! Why couldn’t I be named Cynthia?* Then I read Katie John [by Mary Calhoun, illustrated by Paul Frame (1960)]. I love my name! But I change the spelling.

Fourth Grade

I’m the class scapegoat. I run home crying every day. Mrs. Ciricillo reads Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [by Roald Dahl (1964)] to us for what seems like the whole year. I get lost in the world of chocolate, bad children, and justice for good little kids.

Library Time

Every day we go to Library and listen to Mrs. Lee read to us. I love the smell of the books and learning about the Dewey Decimal System. I like saying “Dewey Decimal. ” I love getting a library card. It’s very official.

*Just a coincidence that it’s the same as yours, Cynthia! I thought it was the most glamorous name I’d ever heard when I was in third grade.

What about young fictional heroes appeals to you as a writer-illustrator?

You give me an underdog fighting injustice, or the downtrodden getting their due, and I dig in and can’t put the book down, regardless of genre. I find it very satisfying to watch the growth of a character. When I think of the books that made me utchy I realize it’s because the characters didn’t change or jump through hoops to do or get what they needed in order to resolve their issues. I also find that the most difficult thing to do as a writer.

Looking back on your apprenticeship as a writer-illustrator, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? If so, what and why?

I consider my whole life an apprenticeship, and since I’m a slow learner, I’m not sure I could’ve done anything differently. Regrets are a waste of time.

On the flip side, what was most helpful to you in terms of developing your art and craft?

When I go for school visits, a child inevitably asks, “How did you get so good at drawing?”

I always answer with the question, “What are you good at? Math? Making friends? Running?”

Whatever the answer, I respond with, “Do you do it a lot?” Yes, they tell me. I say, “That’s called practicing!”

But that is the easy answer. Add working very hard at what I do, plus help from friends, and you get success. For writing, astute readers are crucial. People who critique me on both the forest and the trees really help. In other words, both big stuff like plot and character development as well as punctuation and details often spark ideas I hadn’t expected.

For my art, I have freakishly talented friends like Janie Bynum (author-illustrator interview). She told me about using reference materials. I never went to art school, so I thought I was supposed to know how to draw any position or expression. I thought using a model, or looking at a photograph (i.e., reference materials) was called cheating.

I’m quite proud that I’ve been able to learn to draw better as the years have progressed. If you compare the art in my first versus my most recent picture book, you’ll see a big difference. In Who Hops? (Harcourt) the art is simple outline, no unusual positions,* which, happily, is exactly what that book needed. In Kindergarten Rocks! (Harcourt), I have much more sophisticated perspectives. I had to consciously learn that.

*Okay, except for the giraffe tangled up in knots. But you know what I mean.

I last interviewed you in September 2000. Could you catch us up on your back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

I’ve published a total of seven picture books, four of which came out from Harcourt between 2001 and 2005. They were: Scared Stiff; Party Animals (an ant is dying to go to the barnyard party, only to be ignored by all the farm animals. Don’t worry! It’s a surprise party for him); Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job (self-explanatory, no?); and lastly, Kindergarten Rocks! (a boy full of bravado is actually terrified about kindergarten and learns…guess what? Spoiler alert! That kindergarten rocks!).

I just got some fabulous news about that one. The Georgia education department bought 80,000 copies to give free to every incoming kindergarten student in the state. Nice state, huh?

Congratulations on the publication of The Curse of Addy McMahon (Greenwillow, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Well, if you insist! The McMahon family lore revolves around a curse. It started when Addy’s great granddad chopped down what was rumored to be a fairy lair back in Ireland. Addy blames this alleged curse for all the bad things that happen in her life, when maybe she should actually take responsibility for some of them.

Addy keeps her diary in graphic novel format, which she calls her “autobiogra-strip”. Through them we learn that her best friend hates her…the curse caused that? Everyone saw a mean comic she did…was that because of the curse? And worst, her dad died a few years ago, and it looks like her mom may have a new love interest. That’s just gotta be the curse…doesn’t it?

I wanted the book to be funny and heartrending, but they were fighting each other. That’s when I decided to extract the difficult emotional scenes and put them into the graphic sections. It allows the funny stuff to shine, and makes the harder scenes easier to take.

Kind of like Babar – can you imagine that picture book if the characters were human? A mother is shot by a hunter in front of her child. Making them elephants who live in a foreign land eases the burden of the scene.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the novel?

I read an article in the New York Times about an Irish storyteller who was trying to warn the local officials that all kinds of mayhem would erupt if they built a planned road, because it meant cutting down a white hawthorn bush rumored to be a fairy lair.

I instantly thought, “What if there were an Irish American girl whose great-great-grandfather had supposedly chopped just such a tree? Would she blame all her problems on the curse and would that keep her from taking responsibility for her actions?”

What makes it special?

I think it’s that juxtaposition of humor and poignancy. I wanted to make readers laugh out loud, yet still feel a tug at their hearts for Addy. It was a tough thing to balance. I also think the “autobiogra-strips” are pretty cool, and I’ve had lots of nice compliments on that part of the book. An unexpected (to me) bonus has been that boys are liking the book as much as girls, and that older teens are liking it, too.

But the most special thing for me is getting kudos from kids. My favorite, written by a teen who reviews books online was: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the author, Katie Davis, just stole a (very literate) 12-year-old’s journal and published it as fiction. It was that genuine.”

Being accused of theft and plagiarism turns out to be my greatest honor!

What was the timeline between spark and each publication, and what were the major events along the way? What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing each of these books to life?

Who Hops? came from a game I played with my kids in the car. They were babies at the time. That one was quick – it took about 18 months.

Mabel the Tooth Fairy came from my vast research flying around the world with the tooth fairy. That was the hardest book I’ve written. Not because I was working nights, either.

With Kindergarten Rocks! I made a thank-you dinner at the end of the school year for my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and all our kids.

I was just trying to make conversation when I asked the children, “What would be a great title for a book about kindergarten?”

All the kids hollered out their answers, except my daughter, who raised her hand (don’t forget, her teacher was sitting right there).

She said, “Kindergarten Rocks!,” and the idea hit me in the head like a bag of hammers.

Within two weeks I’d written and sold it. ‘Course, then it took me years to get the illustrations just right. That one was about equal in difficulty to Mabel.

The Curse of Addy McMahon: I read the article in the New York Times in 1999, and it came out in 2008. You do the math!

More specifically, how did you make the transition from picture-book creator to novelist?

Once I had the idea for this novel, it wouldn’t let me go. It took a very long time for me to figure out what was best for the story (see above math challenge). But that isn’t what I would consider the real transition.

When I decided to put Addy’s diary in a graphic format, I studied comic books. I read Scott McCloud‘s books cover to cover. I read Eisner. Then I sat down to the drawing board and did it all wrong!

I illustrated it as I would a picture book. It took a while for me to realize why it wasn’t working. I needed to slow it down, and remember that comics are like movies: frame by frame. Even though you’d think that would be my transition from picture books to graphic novels, it was really what made me see the delineation between picture books and novels.

In today’s crowded market, it’s essential for authors to promote their work. How have you taken on this challenge?

Boy are you right! I’ve taken the last nine months to only work on marketing for this book. I’ve never taken that kind of time for a book, but with the changing market, it feels necessary. Here are some of the more productive things I’ve done.

– I learned Flash in order to create a book trailer (see below) and uploaded it all over the internet.

– I announced it by creating a newsletter, which I’ve decided to continue, planning to make it more global by including interviews and tips from other authors and illustrators.

– I have semi-regular author soirees or beach days or dessert parties where we can all get together and schmooze.

– I am about to launch, a site where kids can make their own autobiograstrips, upload them to the gallery and win prizes each month. I hope that other artists will submit their art so they can be promoted as well.

– I registered on all the friending sites and met people who love kid’s books and invited me to be the guest during live chats.

Marketing can lead to exciting things. For example, I emailed all the resident and day camps and summer programs for kids on Cape Cod because I have a signing there this summer. I want the camps to bring the kids to the store for the event. One woman who runs a theater camp wrote back asking about producing it as a play.

And of course, I have this interview on your site!

Phew, I’m tired just reading that.

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

I’ve finally conceded that I can’t do it all, but I try to balance and also remember to include down time within that mix. When I’m asked to speak, I always try to go. When I’m home, I’m working.

Right now, I’m concentrating on Addy, but this summer I hope to start to ease back into writing (I miss it!) by reworking a middle grade manuscript I haven’t looked at in years. I’m excited about that.

When fall rolls around, I assume I’ll be fully consumed and obsessive with that manuscript and will schedule writing time every day before I get to all the other stuff on my to-do list.

What advice do you have for other writer-illustrators–both beginners and those who’re established in their careers?

For beginners, I recommend two basic steps: joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and going to their local bookstore and see what is relevant to their interests. I think people who are well established know about glomming onto friends for support, joining listservs, going to conferences.

The one thing I think published authors underestimate, even now, is the importance of having a web site. It’s crucial. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling.

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

I loved The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Hyperion, 2007) and The Facttracker by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Pascale Constantin (HarperCollins, 2008). Also, Lessons From A Dead Girl by Jo Knowles (Candlewick, 2007)(author interview), A Book of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, 2007)(…there are so many! I know I’ll see this online and think, Ack! I forgot those 20 others I adored!).

How about as an illustrator?

I’ve been amazed by Mo Willems work. It’s so simple, yet so effective. It’s really quite stunning. Also Brian Selznick is just…beyond. I’m also drawn to quirkier work like Timothy Basil Ering and Yumi Heo. I haven’t been concentrating on picture books this year, though, so I’m a bit behind.

What do you do outside the world of books?

There’s a world outside of books?

Okay, I admit it, I do have other passions. I love my garden. I can think and listen to the birds, and smell the dirt and feel responsible for beautiful things growing. I love to knit, and make beaded jewelry, do mosaics… actually, you can see all my outside-of-the-world-of-books creative efforts on my site. Navigate to Info/ Sketchbook/Art of Life.

And of course there is my family, and my dog, Mango, the cutest dog on the planet.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Maybe my summer project! I’ve also been fiddling around on a really fun manuscript–a graphic novel format easy reader. I’ll tell you though, graphic novels are really hard!

2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market

The 21rst Annual Edition of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market edited by Alice Pope (Writer’s Digest, 2009) is now available.

The 2009 edition includes more than “700 listings for book publishers, magazines, agents, art reps, and more” as well as “exclusive interviews with award winning authors and publishing professionals.”

If you’re a beginner, this is a great resource for building your savvy! As an author, I often receive queries from new writers looking for information about youth publishing. In many cases, the answer is already in the CWIM. And remember, it’s important to do your homework before you begin actively networking (preferably before your first conference).

If you’re an established pro, it’s wise to keep up with the market. Do you hear “writing (or illustrating) as a business” and want to run the other way? The CWIM is a user-friendly, non-intimidating source for the ever-evolving industry that connects your art to young readers and supports your livelihood.

Here’s just a sample of the articles: “Six Reasons to Quit Writing (and One Reason You Shouldn’t)” by Donna Gephart (author interview); “What’s In? What’s Out? An Expert Panel Talks Trends” by Darcy Pattison (author interview); “A Long-time Editor Talks Picture Books” by Allyn Johnston; “Great Opening Lines in Picture Books” by Lisa Wheeler (author interview); “Getting Rid of the Dull Stuff” by Kathleen Duey (author interview); “Creating Memorable Characters” by Cecil Castellucci (author interview); “My Journey Into Young Chapter Books” by Lynn E. Hazen (author interview); “YA Fiction: A Matter of Perspective” by Andrew Karre (editor interview); “Children’s Graphic Novels: Formatting and Submitting Proposals” by Mac McCool; “Is An Agent Essential? Agents and Editors Weigh In” by Alma Fullerton; and “Sherman Alexie: Elevating–and Shaking Up–YA” by Kelly Milner Halls (author interview).

You’ll also find insider reports from folks like Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Katherine Applegate; Marissa Doyle; Michelle Meadows (author interview), Jay Asher (author interview), and more.

More personally, the articles include “Making Your Web Site Educator-Friendly” by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek: “Young readers may be your ultimate target audience, but educators–teachers, university professors, and school librarians–are on the forefront of efforts to connect books and kids. What’s more, they’re using the Internet more than ever to help them make a purchasing decision.”

The article includes insights from pros like: publicists Vicki Palmquist and Susan Raab (publicist interview); librarian Sharron L. McElmeel;, author-librarians Toni Buzzeo (author interview), Leda Schubert (author interview), and Shutta Crum (author interview); Candlewick educational marketing supervisor Anne Irza-Leggat; authors Tanya Lee Stone (author interview), Gail Giles (author interview), Fred Bortz, Rebecca Stead, and Katie Davis (author interview); and author-poets Hope Vestergaard (author interview) and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author interview).

My key subtopics are the importance of making your site educator-friendly, how to go about it, and what to include (with some innovative suggestions).

Sidebars discuss how to “Market Yourself as a Speaker” and feature a “Q & A with a Web Designer” (Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys).

That said, I also made sure to emphasize core content because, ironically, that’s where the need is highest. Many of us are doing better with the “bells and whistles” than the basics.

For example, at Cynsations, I do my best to include the following key information (with support links) for books: title; author; illustrator; publisher; year of publication. I’m also interested in cover art that’s bigger than a thumbnail.

I make an effort to include links from the title to either a dedicated book-information page on the author’s/illustrator’s official site or on the publisher’s official site. I also try to include links to the official creator (author and/or illustrator) sites.

As an exercise, those of you who’re authors/illustrators may want to start at Google or another major search engine and–pretending you don’t already know it–try to fill in that list of key information for one of your books.

As an example, I’ll pick on my husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith.

Let’s say an interviewee mentions that his debut novel Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo is among their favorites. The interviewee doesn’t mention the author’s name, so I do a search using the title. (Many people looking for information on a book know either the title or author but not both). Using Google, the first page to pop up features only Greg’s cover art.

But good news! Now, I know what the book looks like, who the author is, and I’m on his official site. So I click “Books” in the sidebar of that page.

This leads me to a page featuring all three of his titles. Ninjas, his first book, is at the top, and that listing includes publication information (Little Brown, 2003, 2005)(Recorded Books, 2004), a nice array of awards and honors, and a link on the title. I click that link.

There I find a dedicated page that includes the cover art, publisher description, publication information, awards and honors, blurb, and review quotes. In terms of basic information, I have everything I need (and more!) to help raise awareness of the book that my interviewee recommended.

If it were a picture book, I’d also hope for the illustrator’s name and a link to the illustrator’s site, if available. But it’s not, and in any case, three clicks for all that information isn’t bad. Often, it takes eight or more, plus an image search, and pouring through the publisher’s site (once I figure out which publisher it is).

How easy is it to find basic information online for the titles you care about most? If it’s harder than you thought, don’t panic! But do consider augmenting your listings and making your Web resources easier and quicker to use.

And pick up a copy of the 2009 CWIM–it’s jam-packed with even more useful information!

Prestigious $20k prize celebrates most distinguished English-language Canadian children’s book of the year

Finalists Announced for TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Toronto–The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) and TD Bank Financial Group (TDBFG) are proud to announce the finalists of the 2008 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for the most distinguished book of the year. This annual award recognizes excellence in Canadian children’s literature with a $20,000 prize.

This year’s nominated titles will captivate the hearts and imaginations of children (and adults!) everywhere. Readers will be introduced to the young Sherlock Holmes and the crime-ridden streets of 1867 inner-city London; 11-year-old Elijah, the first African Canadian child to be born into freedom in Buxton, Ontario, a settlement for runaway slaves; a young girl named Kate who is fraught with jealousy after being selected by artist John Singer Sargent to be a model for a painting, only to be replaced; a young bat named Dusk who can not only fly, but see at night using echo vision; and young Louise, the little sister who pesters her older brother so much so that he wishes she would just disappearŠ and she does!

All books, in any genre, written by a Canadian for children ages one through 12 were eligible for the award. Entries were judged on the quality of the text and illustrations and the book’s overall contribution to literature. The winner will be announced at a gala at The Carlu in Toronto on November 6, 2008.

The finalists for the 2008 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award are:

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting by Hugh Brewster, illustrated by John Singer Sargent (Kids Can Press);

Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins);

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic Canada);

Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His First Case by Shane Peacock (Tundra);

Please, Louise! by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay (Groundwood).

Jury members: Maya Munro Byers, owner, Livres Babar Books, Montreal; Theo Heras, Children’s Literature Resource Collection Specialist, Lillian H. Smith Library, Toronto Public Library; Dr. Dave Jenkinson, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba; Dr. Ron Jobe, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia; and Norene Smiley, author, Pugwash, Nova Scotia.

Jury comments on the finalists for the 2008 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting by Hugh Brewster with paintings by John Singer Sargent: “An outstanding information book… Beautifully written and produced, with a fine balance of illustration, biographical and historical detail and insight into the creative process, all through the viewpoint of a child whose humanity makes it true.”

Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel: “Darkwing continues Oppel’s reputation for creating textured, engrossing animal societies that win generations of fans. The exceptional writing is filled with descriptive details, emotive connotations and visual sightings that give a richly plotted, fact-filled glimpse into this prehistoric world.”

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis: “Tears of laughter and sadness commingle as Curtis immerses readers in the daily happenings of the nineteenth century Ontario community of Buxton whose inhabitants are slaves who have escaped from the United States. This novel engagingly and dramatically brings to life a little known segment of Canadian history.”

Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His First Case by Shane Peacock: “Historical fiction at its finest! The plot, speculating on the childhood adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is well-constructed, fast paced and embedded with details. Superb characterization is accompanied by witty dialogue and the author’s love of vivid descriptive words.”

Please, Louise! by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay: “A gem of a picture book delighting in the warm relationship between brother and younger sister. Lively watercolours explode across the pages adding detail and humour to the powerful simplicity of the text. The words sing as they are read!”

Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith of “Tantalize;” Audio Review

Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith of “Tantalize” from the Columbia County Rural Library District of Dayton, Washington.

Peek: “I’ve been a writer since third grade or so. Maybe even first. First. I remember… I wrote a story about crawdad fishing, and it was read over the elementary school sound system. That was my first ‘audio publication.'”

Audio Review

Tantalize is available on audio (2008), read by Kim Mai Guest, from Listening Library. In a review of the production, the Horn Book Magazine calls the story, “…a gothic elixir, a dark romantic thriller that is equal parts Bon Appetit and Dracula.” Listen to a clip.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of two two autographed copies of Night Road by A. M. Jenkins (HarperCollins, 2008)! Read a Cynsations interview with A. M. Jenkins.

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 18!

OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 18! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win.

One copy will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), and the other will go to any Cynsational reader. Please also type “Night Road” in the subject line.


The grand-prize giveaways for August are three autographed copies of My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson (Flux, 2008)! Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 30!

OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Aug. 30! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win.

One copy will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), and the other two will go to any Cynsational readers. Please also type “Rhombus” in the subject line.

The winner of Monsterology: The Complete Book of Monstrous Creatures by Dr. Ernest Drake, illustrated by Douglas Carrell, Nicholas Lenn, and Helen Ward, edited by Dugald A. Steer (Candlewick, 2008)(inside spread) is Cheryl in Florida.

As for her favorite monster, Cheryl writes: “I’ll choose the chupacabra as I live in South Florida and have neighbors who swear they’ve seen one! Plus, it’s not a commonly known monster.”

The winners of Gone by Michael Grant (HarperCollins, 2008) were Elizabeth in Georgia, who blogged it, and Cyn (not me, obviously) in Pennsylvania!

This Weekend

“The primary focus of ArmadilloCon is literary science fiction, but that’s not all we do — we also pay attention to art, animation, science, media, and gaming. Every year, dozens of professional writers, artists and editors attend the convention. We invite you to attend the convention especially if you are a fan of reading, writing, meeting, sighting, feeding, knighting, and all the other things folks do at a sci-f/fantasy convention.” Note: I’ll be speaking Saturday night on the vampire panel, and Sunday morning on the YA panel. Hope to see y’all there!

“Five Things To Consider When Plotting a Novel” with Helen Hemphill from Austin SCBWI on Aug. 16 at Barnes and Noble Westlake.

Helen is the author of the middle grade novel Runaround (2007) and the young adult novel Long Gone Daddy (2006), both published by Front Street. Her new novel, The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (Front Street, 2008), will be published this fall. Helen holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College.

More News & Links

Heather Brewer has shared the new cover art to Tenth Grade Bleeds (Dutton, 2009). Note: Loving it, and, FYI, Heather is a gracious, reader-friendly author. You know, in an appropriately spooky and fang-y kind of way. The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series also has great dual-gender appeal.

readergirlz TV: surf over to watch interviews with Sonya Sones, Paula Yoo, and more! Read a Cynsations interview with the readergirlz divas and the newest diva, Mitali Perkins.

Author Websites from Nathan Bransford — Literary Agent. Peek: “…definitely don’t forget that professional part, and that goes for every single thing you post online, whether it’s a blog, blog comment, or Twitter.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Write what you know: Author uses life experiences to inspire first novel by Eva Niessner from The Herald-Mail. Peek: “‘A girl had been harassed because her boyfriend came out. I couldn’t understand it,’ she says of the hate crime and adding that writing the book helped her figure out how it could have happened.” Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Tanita S. Davis in the Kitchen Interview! from jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. Peek: “I think we are taught to assume, ‘Oh, well, guys, when you write them, you have to use terse sentence structure, and keep things really tight and minimal,’ but I don’t think all guys sound a particular way, and it’s crucial to keep assumptions and stereotyping out of writing. At least, that’s important to me.”

Corpus Libris: An Ongoing Photo Essay on Books and the Bodies that love them… Peek: “…began as a fun little photo essay on a Thursday night while working at Skylight Books in Los Angeles.” Note: Outstanding! Please do submit photos! Source: Cecil Castellucci.

Managing Critiques for Revision: Befriend the Binder System by Lisa Rondinelli Albert from Kidlit Central News: Children’s Publishing News from the Central U.S. Peek: “I needed my critiques handy, but organized. I opted to invest in binders of various sizes and colors, a good quality three-hole punch and lots of sheet tab dividers. (I love office supplies!).”

Helping readers away from YA Books: an essay from YA author Alex Flinn. Peek: “I then pointed out that I was the only kid in my high school performing arts program who hadn’t been allowed to see the R-rated movie, ‘Fame,’ and that I was still traumatized by that. She [Alex’s mother] said, ‘Well, you didn’t get pregnant in high school,’ and I said, ‘You think I would have if I’d been allowed to see R-rated movies?’ (Unlikely. I didn’t date in high school).” Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

Shakespeare Helps You Write a Better Picture Book from Darcy Pattison’s Revision Notes. Peek: “I think you can compare picture book structure to the structure of poetry. For example, sonnets have 14 lines, picture books can have 14 double-page spreads. So, taking a sonnet as an example of structure, you can imitate one of these sonnet structures.”

Kids Reading List from Oprah’s Book Club: “some great recommendations from the American Library Association.” Big cheers to OBC for going to real experts in youth literature!

Did you read Margo Rabb‘s essay I’m YA, and I’m Okay from The New York Times Book Review? Then don’t miss the interviews behind the process: Mark Hadden interview (“I haven’t experienced any of this stigma in recent years. Partly, I think because Curious was seen by most people as an adult novel which was also sold to young readers, as opposed to a YA novel also marketed to adults.”); Markus Zuzack interview (“The adult and children’s divisions of publishing houses don’t seem to be down the corridor, they’re in different buildings, and the publishers don’t seem to know each other very well. I think that’s the main reason I had a novel categorized for adults in Australia and for young adults in America.”); Michael Cart, Linda Sue Park, Justine Larbalestier, and the YA Community (Michael says: “With the rate we’re going, every single member of the adult literary community will be writing for young adults in a matter of time.”); and Barnes & Noble interview (“I can’t think of another YA book offhand that would fit as an adult book. This is a unique situation.”). See also Margo’s list of Must-read YA Titles.

The Stigma of Changing Agents from BookEnds, LLC. Peek: “A reader recently emailed to ask if leaving an agent makes it more difficult to find another agent and if it labels her as high maintenance and difficult to work with.”

Interview with Ellen Wittlinger: part one and two from Mark Dursin at Teacher Trenches: Notes from the so-called “trenches” of education… and, you know, other stuff. Peek: “I think teens have read and seen so many happy-ending stories that some of them just expected these two would end up together no matter how unlikely that scenario was, and when it didn’t happen, they were upset with the character (instead of me!). I don’t like to tie up my books with pretty ribbons at the end. I like them to be hopeful, but not unrealistically happy.” Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen.

Hugo and Campbell Winners from Locus Online News. “…this year’s Hugo Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer were announced…at Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention, in Denver…”

Rainbows and Bullying from Lois Lowry at Lowry Updates [title tweaked]. Peek: “I do remember with regret and shame that in college, freshman year, in a small dorm, most of us cruelly excluded a girl who was ‘different’ in ways we didn’t understand.”

“kidlit 08” shop!: a CafePress shop with apparel and mugs from Laini Taylor at Grow Wings. Note: all proceeds go to support the 2008 Kidlitosphere Conference in Portland on Sept. 27.” Note: upbeat and fashionable! Brava!

Impressions of SCBWI Conference by Deborah Hodge at West Coast Writer. Peek: “Arthur [Levine] suggests the fall of independent booksellers is the key reason for the picture book struggle of today.”

Editors and Assistants
from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “Two revisions is one too many without a contract, if you ask me.” See also Of Course I’m Right: Moral Compasses In Children’s Lit.

Publicity Packages for Smaller Presses by Rose Fox from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…be very, very wary when comparing an author to other authors or a book to other books. I’ve lost count of the authors who have been proclaimed ‘the next Tolkien’ or ‘the next Robert Jordan’.” Source: Sherwood Smith. Note: Great article (for authors as well)! I would add that, if you’re sending a hardcover, please tuck the relevant information inside the cover.

Surf over to the Class of 2k8 for interviews with award-winning authors Meg Rosoff, A. M. Jenkins, and Carolyn Mackler.

Mirrorstone Changes Submissions Guidelines from Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. Peek: “the Discoveries imprint will cease publishing at the end of the year, and Mirrorstone will now focus solely on books inspired by the lore of Dungeons and Dragons, such as the Dragon Codex books and The New York Times best-selling Practical Guide series.”

In Case You Guys Think I Don’t Like Vampires from Holly Black. Peek: “I am in the process of making Cassie a belated birthday Vampire Hunting Kit.” Read a Cynsations interview with Holly.

Mistaken identity for submissions reveals the importance of researching before submitting from Cheryl Rainfield. Peek: “I stare at the emails–huh? Why are you submitting to me? I’m a writer! A reader. I write book reviews. But nowhere, not one place on my blog or my site, do I say that I’m a publisher or an agent. ” Note: I get a number of these myself, and my guidelines do specify that I’m not an agent or publisher.

Interview with David Macinnis Gill by Julie M. Prince from Young Adult Books Central. Peek: “The role of Bug will take an actress with the chops to pull off outer toughness, inner marshmallow, and athletic prowess, all with comedic timing.”

Five Ways That Another Author’s Career Can Sideline Yours from Pub Rants. Peek: “This is a long haul business and we have seen new authors who rush too hard to get projects out that should have been edited more. Don’t kneecap yourself by worrying about your friend’s recent deal.”

Banned Books Week, Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, is sponsored by the American Library Association. Site features “about,” “events,” and “what you can do.” Peek: “More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities.”

Question of the Week: Robin Friedman asks Barry Lyga: “Did your publishing experience turn out as you expected?” at Robin Friedman’s JerseyFresh Tude. Peek: “See, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about eight years old. When you spend the bulk of your life fantasizing about something — and when you’re blessed with a good imagination — it takes on a ridiculously inflated position in your mind.” Read Cynsations interviews with Robin and Barry.

Wave by Suzy Lee (Chronicle, 2008): a celebration of the picture book from the publisher. Watch the video and read an interview with the author-illustrator (php file). Check out the Chronicle Books Blog.

Coming Soon

The first annual Hill Country Book Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Georgetown Public Library (Georgetown, Texas).

The children’s activities will include author and illustrator visits; live music; face painting; crafts (puppets and collages). Free popcorn and snow cones will be available, as will hot dogs for $1.

Participating authors/illustrators include Liz Garton Scanlon, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Don Tate, P. J. Hoover, and Deborah Frontiera. The Biscuit Brothers also will be performing! See schedule.

April Lurie will celebrate the release of her latest book, The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008), with a book signing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Barnes & Noble in Round Rock!

Attention Authors & Bloggers

Do you write YA Gothic fantasy, suspense horror, paranormal romance or otherwise spooky stories? If so, feel free to send me (CYALR PO Box 3255 Austin TX 78764) bookmarks, buttons, or other fun promotional items. I typically spend the last several moments of presentations to teens highlighting related books of interest, and I can use such materials to support that effort. Note: I’m featuring Mary E. Pearson‘s cover art as a reminder to check out The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Henry Holt, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Mary.

Do you sponsor giveaways? I am happy to help promote them, whenever possible. You are welcome to email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with the name of the giveaway, the book (or other item–must be youth-lit related), the deadline, and the URL for more information. I’ll do my best to feature it–keeping in mind that I have some editorial discretion, am sometimes sincerely swamped, and every once in a blue moon, take a day off. Note that the news round-up usually runs on Fridays, so please check your calendar and contact me with the info before the deadline expires. Thanks!

More Personally

Thanks to deenaml at LJ for listing Cynsations among her favorite blogs!

Happy birthday to my very cute husband and (sometimes) co-author Greg Leitich Smith! Greg is turning 41.

You can wish him a happy birthday via email or at his blog.

Floral cake from; photo used with permission.

A friend of Cyn? Keep in touch with me at Blogger, LiveJournal, MySpace, JacketFlap, and most recently, Facebook!

Author Interview: A. M. Jenkins on Night Road

We last spoke in August 2007 about Beating Heart (HarperCollins, 2006) and Repossessed (HarperCollins, 2007). Since then, Repossessed was named a Printz Honor Book! Congratulations! How did you first hear of this and how did you (and yours) react?

By a huge coincidence, I was attending ALA in Philadelphia when I got the call. I have a group of writer friends I seldom get to see in person, and a few years ago we agreed we’d meet at Midwinter 2008 because that was the easiest ALA for most of us to get to. So I wasn’t there as An Author, I was just hanging out with buddies and generally having a good time.

On Sunday morning my group had met for breakfast, and that’s when my cell phone rang. So I got the news while surrounded by my longtime YA writing pals, the few people in the world who truly understood what that phone call would mean to any writer and to me in particular.

Every one of my friends knew instantly–just from the look on my face–who was on the other end of the line. It was one of the best moments of my life.

What does the Printz honor mean to you, both personally and professionally?

Personally, it means that somebody actually reads and appreciates what I write. You might think that this is a given, but for me it’s not; I write with the bottom-line acceptance that it’s entirely possible that nobody will ever read or care about anything I’m working on. This frees me up to focus on writing, and to write what I please.

On top of that, I do little to no marketing and promotion. When my books come out, all my hard work feels like the proverbial tree in the forest: if nobody’s there to hear it, does it make a sound? The Printz honor answers this question: Yes, my writing does make a sound–or at least it did in this one case.

Professionally, I don’t know. Check back in a year, and we’ll see.

Congratulations, too, on the release of Night Road (HarperCollins, 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about the book?

I guess you could say it’s “vampires” meets road trip meets coming-of-age.

What was your initial inspiration in writing this story?

I don’t even remember, it’s been so long.

I’m not sure when I started the manuscript, but it was before my first published novel got accepted, which means I had to have been working on it in 1995.

What literary influences played a role and how?

The terrible thing is that I haven’t been able to read any vampire books in all that time (except I accidentally read Robin McKinley‘s Sunshine (2003) when it came out; I picked it up thinking it was a fairy tale retelling, and then I was too weak-willed to put the book down and walk away). I remember M.T. Anderson‘s Thirsty (Candlewick, 1997) came out while I was working on the manuscript, and I was tempted to read that, but I couldn’t let myself. I haven’t let myself read any of the hot new vampire titles, haven’t read Stephenie Meyer (author interview) or Melissa de la Cruz (author interview) or even your own Tantalize. I was slightly comforted when Stephenie Meyer told me she can’t read vampire books either, for the same reason I can’t; we don’t want to accidentally absorb another author’s voice or outlook.

What’s weird is that I seem to have influenced myself. I was working on my second book, Damage (HarperCollins, 2001) concurrently with Night Road for several years. Damage is about depression, and Night Road is also steeped in that heavy feel and mood. The main character, Cole, is borderline depressed, and would probably be deeply so, if it weren’t for the fact that he has to get out of bed every night, has to keep going, has to keep putting one foot in front of the other. He’s all self-control, and part of the reason for that is that he can’t let depression affect his routine and behavior.

The biggest outside influence was probably Conrad Richter‘s Awakening Land Trilogy, which has nothing do with vampires or horror, and which I talk about in an author’s note at the back of the book. I ended up cutting a lot of my backstory that was more concretely based on AL, but even so the mood of time slipping away and being lost forever is still there.

What was the timeline from spark to publication and what were the major events along the way?

The timeline was at least thirteen years. This was one of the projects I plugged away at during the years I was learning the basics of building an idea into a book.

One major event–not publishing-wise, but writer-wise–was that this was the first book I managed to write in third person. It was very difficult for me to pick up a third-person voice. I still struggle with it; my beginning drafts in third person are about as ugly and ponderous as you can get. But the Night Road manuscript wasn’t working in first person, not from anybody’s point of view. I tried every character and point of view I could, some of them at the same time. You name it, I tried it.

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

Aside from the usual writer-problems like finances, I didn’t have the craft developed for a long time; then for a few years I had the general story down on paper, but I didn’t know what it was really about, which meant the scenes added up to something pointless, meandering, and unsatisfying. Now I have basically the same scenes, but (I hope) they’ve come to feel more like they tie together by the end.

Thinking back on the novel, the mood, tone, and setting struck me as mesmerizing. How did you build your fictional world?

In my humble opinion, the way the reader perceives the mood, tone, and setting is due in large part to Cole’s mindset. Everything is colored by the way he feels, from the way he sees the road rolling away under him when he drives, to the things he thinks when he’s swimming.

If, for example, the demon in Repossessed was doing these same things, the mood and tone would be completely different–and the setting would seem different, too, because a writer/reader usually focuses on whatever the main character is noticing about his surroundings.

Last we chatted, you were working with author Tiffany Trent on Queen of the Masquerade (Hallowmere)(Mirrorstone, 2008). Could you give us a hint what to expect from that book?

Queen is the fifth book in the ten-book Hallowmere series. It’s about Christina, whom fans of the series know as the beautiful French girl with secrets. I had a lot of fun writing this book; it pushed me in new directions and challenged me to stretch myself craftwise. I learned a lot in a very short time, and am trying to apply what I learned so that I can keep stretching. It was a wonderful experience all around.

I’d like to say more, but I don’t want to give the story away, so all I’ll say is that Hallowmere fans should make sure they have a box of Kleenex handy, just in case.

When it comes to your solo-byline books, what can your fans look forward to next?

I have no idea. As of this moment, nothing is sold and accepted. I’m finishing up a fun, fast-paced, midgrade/YA adventure that I think of as Alexandre Dumas with a manga series sensibility. I have a first draft of an upper YA graphic novel script that I feel very passionate about, but I think I’m not quite there yet, craft-wise. There’s a Night Road sequel in the works, but it’s still mixed up with the first book (in my head), so I have to wait and let that unsnarl.

And speaking of books that take forever to write, I still have the very first manuscript I ever wrote, which I am determined to develop into a readable, publishable book if its the last thing I do on this earth. That’s a midgrade historical. I finally got the right voice and point of view character (see learning to write in third person, above), so that was a real shot in the arm.

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

Hmm, I made a list and there were more than three, so I’ll just name one. I just finished David Yoo‘s second book, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before (Hyperion, 2008). It’s funny and sweet, and it gets back to a good ol’ YA tradition that seems to me to have faded lately–inherent, character-driven subversiveness. Nowadays it seems like subversiveness is mostly about format or concept, and that’s no fun. I find it very satisfying to read a YA where the main character is what’s stirring the pot.

Barry Gott to Illustrate Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I’m pleased to announce that Barry Gott will illustrate my upcoming picture book, Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010)!

My Dutton editor was kind enough to send me the early sketches last week, and I’m absolutely thrilled with them.

Here I’m highlighting the cover art to Barry’s Dino-Hockey (Carolrhoda, 2007), which was written by one of my favorite authors, Lisa Wheeler (interview).

Barry uses a different approach for Holler Loudly, one which fits with the original southwestern tall tale, but the dinos are super cool, too.

Barry is a digital artist, published by Lerner Books, Random House, Scholastic, Harcourt, Albert Whitman, Time Warner, and Penguin Putnam, among others.

He’s based in Cleveland, and according to his site, lives with “one each of the following: Wife, Son, Daughter, Dog, Loud Cat, Quiet Cat, Lizard.”

Visit Barry’s site, and check out his Sketchblog.

Author Feature: Joseph Bruchac

What kind of young reader were you?

I was voracious–in more ways than one. Not only did I read everything I could get my hands on, I developed a taste for books, literally. Whenever I read a page I would tear off the lower outside corner and eat that postage-stamp-sized piece of paper.

A gentle (but firm) children’s librarian managed to break me of that habit by reminding me that others would be reading the books after me and they might find a nibbled-upon copy somewhat distasteful.

Whenever I had any spare money I would use it to buy books (you could buy hardcover books back then for a dollar or less), and I had bookcases on every wall of my room by the time I was ten.

What first inspired you to write for children and teenagers?

I was primarily writing and publishing poetry in literary magazines for the first decade of my writing career. Having my own two sons inspired me to write for young readers. They are also the ones who turned me into a storyteller.

Once I began writing for young people, I realized what a wonderful and important audience they are. Our native traditions remind us that our children are the continuation of the circle, and there’s no more fertile and creative soil to plant the seed of story than in the mind of a child. When I write for kids, I feel as if I am reaching for the hands of seven generations.

You’re an extensively published and widely acclaimed author! How many books have you written, and how do you maintain such a high level of quality and productivity?

I’m not quite sure right now. If you count small books, picture books, chapbooks of poetry and so on, then it is about 140 now, more or less.

As far as quality goes, I have been blessed with some very outstanding editors over the years and a first reader–my wife of 44 years, Carol–who’ve helped me keep my standards high. (I’ve also never written anything just to get it published. I always write something because I care about what it says. Love, not money or success.)

As far as productivity goes. I was blessed by the Creator with a very high level of energy and given the gift of being able to express myself with ease and some facility.

If you could pick four of your books, those that are closest to your heart, which would they be and why?

That’s both hard and easy to do. My favorite book is always the one I’m working on because my spirit is immersed in the journey of walking that story. I never write or talk about a book specifically while it’s in process, so I won’t say more about that.

My autobiography, Bowman’s Store: A Journey to Myself (Lee & Low, 2001), is dear to my heart because it tells the story of my family, especially my grandfather, Jesse Bowman, the man who put my feet on the path I follow today, even though he could barely read and write.

Hidden Roots (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2006) is important to me because it tells the story of many of my Abenaki people who had to hide their Native identities to survive, and it’s also a book about the love of books, about the difficulties of work, about family violence, and about some of my own experiences, once removed into the realm of fiction.

Wabi: A Hero’s Tale (Puffin, 2007) is my wife Carol’s favorite of my novels, and I feel very connected to the main character, both when he is an owl and when he is a person trying to make sense out of living in this confusing human world.

There’s the four that come to me today. Tomorrow (except for the first book), I’d probably list different titles.

We last spoke in September 2005 about the publication of Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War II (Dial, 2005). What’s new in your writing life since then?

I’ve had several novels published since then and have four or five books coming out over the next year or so. They include The Way (Darby Creek, 2007), a novel about a boy learning martial arts, Geronimo (Scholastic, 2006), Jim Thorpe, Original All American (Dial, 2006), The Return of Skeleton Man (HarperCollins, 2006), Bearwalker (HarperCollins, 2007), and my two newest, Buffalo Song (Lee & Low, 2008) and March Toward the Thunder (Dial, 2008). The last one is a novel about the Civil War, and it draws in part from the experiences of my own great-grandfather, an Abenaki Indian who served as a Union soldier in the NY 69th, the famed Irish Brigade.

Congratulations on the publication of Buffalo Song, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth (Lee & Low, 2008)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Hearing the story of Walking Coyote and the Buffalo Orphans about 12 years ago while I was out in Montana with Nora and Dick Dauenhauer, doing workshops at Stone Child Community College on the Chippewa Cree Reservation.

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

I did my first draft of the story 11 years ago. A few years later, one of my previous editors took it and planned to publish it. But when she moved to another publisher, the project died.

That was fortunate, for I’d learned more about the story since then–largely from information given me by friends at Salish Kootenai College. I kept learning more about the story and the culture surrounding it over the years until I finally decided, about three years ago, to do another revision and send it to Lee & Low.

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

I think the biggest challenge was continuing to believe in my telling of this story after the initial attempt to see it published failed. But it was a blessing in disguise, for the eventual story I told is far superior to the earlier draft that might have been printed.

Blending fact and fiction is also a challenge–I want to avoid at all costs, distorting the truth. So the framework of people and events is very true to everything that I’ve discovered in the years I’ve been researching the story. What I’ve done is to imagine conversations and try to get into the heads of the characters–human and animal–in my telling.

What did Bill Farnsworth’s illustrations bring to your text?

Bill knows the area and is a good researcher. He also showed me the drafts of his paintings and was very interested in whatever advice and sources I could offer him to help insure cultural accuracy. I think he did an excellent job of visualizing the story, showing the people and the places in a creative and respectful manner.

In my own Native-themed writing, I’ve tended to stick close to home, so to speak–focusing on characters with whom I have a common heritage and/or those from areas in which I’ve lived and whose communities I’ve known. How do you go about approaching a story immersed in another region/Nation?

I’m always hearing new stories as I travel. Often, when that story is told by someone who is a Native writer or storyteller himself or herself, what I do is to urge them to tell that story, to write that book. There are many stories that I’ve heard that I keep in my heart, but I do not write or tell them.

But if it is a traditional tale that I would like to write down, then I ask about the proper way of my telling it. Is it okay for me to tell it, what do I need to know about it? (If the answer is “No, don’t tell it,” then I don’t.) It may mean that it will be a long time, years even, before I am well prepared enough to tell that story.

I also find that there are many people who want to help me tell a story the right way. For example, Navajo Code Talkers read my manuscript, Code Talker, as did Harry Walters, who runs the Museum at Dine College and several fluent Navajo speakers.

How do you go about researching and, if need be, acquiring permissions? In what situations do you find seeking permission a good idea and why?

I don’t just rely on books. I turn to people, those who experienced the story or are the descendants of those who lived that history. For my two books about Jim Thorpe [Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path, illustrated by S. D. Nelson (Lee & Low, 2004) and Jim Thorpe: Original All-American (Dial, 2006)], I interviewed his surviving children and other Sac & Fox people, visited the Carlisle Indian School, walked the Oklahoma hills where Jim lived and listened to the land.

In terms of written source material, I always go first to primary sources. It’s amazing how much inaccuracy there is in secondary materials.

I also immerse myself as much as possible in the Native language, using dictionaries, recordings of speakers, having fluent speakers make sure I have something right.

What would someone speaking Chiricahua Apache say–or not say? For example, in Chiricahua, there are no words for “warrior,” or “raiding,” or “renegade.” I took that to heart. As a result, my novel Geronimo may be the only books ever written about Geronimo in which those words are never used.

I love to study languages. They tell you so much and living languages are always growing and changing. That’s why my novel Pocahontas (Harcourt Paperbacks, 2005) has a double glossary in the back, one a dictionary of the Powhatan language and the other of Elizabethan English.

By the way, I should add something I’ve already inferred. For me, research also means walking the land where the story lived and still lives.

In one way or another, I find that seeking permission is always a good idea. For one, it is the honorable thing to do. For another, it usually results in your getting great advice, and a final manuscript that is much better than it would otherwise have been.

With regard to retellings in particular, many writers are interested in adapting traditional stories for the picture book market. Such efforts are well reflected within your own body of work. What special considerations should come into play?

Writers need to be very careful when adapting a story that comes from a tradition other than their own to avoid certain assumptions that stem (I fear) from a sense of cultural superiority and entitlement. One is the assumption that you understand the story just because it is written in English and you’ve read it a few times. Another is that it is perfectly all right to make drastic changes in such a story because such alterations “seem right” to you and are your creation prerogative. A third is that the story is “just a story” and nothing more.

You need to know something (at least) of the original language. You need to know who was the teller of that story. (I know of many Abenaki stories, for example, that were collected in a form that is either incomplete or distorted because the “informant” either didn’t know the story well or was misunderstood by the person who wrote it down, or was reticent to tell it.)

You need to know the purpose of the story. What is the cultural context? What did it teach within its own community? Why and when was it told? What did those who heard it know that you do not know?

To know a story well enough to retell it, you need to be familiar with that story. I mean “familiar” in the very deepest sense of that word. The story needs to be part of your family, part of you, as close to you as your own relatives. And that is not easy to do.

Adoption in found in every culture in the world, so it is possible to develop a family tie to a story. But it is never done quickly, and it is never done for fame or financial gain.

What are good resources for students of Native youth literature?

Native people first. Two of my favorite books to recommend (both indispensable): A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children, edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin and Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children, edited by Doris Seale and Beverly Slapin.

Do all of your books have Native characters and themes? If not, what other kinds of stories have called to you and why?

No. I’ve written about Africa. I lived in Ghana for three years as a volunteer teacher and have been to West African several times. I’ve written about popular music. I’ve written books of poetry without a single obvious Indian reference. I’ve written collections of Adirondack tall tales.

I also have now written two novels that take place in medieval Slovakia–the other side of my family. Janko and the Giant has been published in serialized form in newspapers over the last three years. I’m just finishing another Slovak novel that is a hero’s quest type of story, based on Slovak traditional stories.

How have you grown as a writer over the course of your career? In what areas are you still working to improve?

I’ve grown to the point where I know I can always sit down, start writing, and find something to say that I think is worthwhile. I’ve also become more disciplined as a writer, accepting that just a few pages a day is all you need to do to complete the longest project. (To climb the mountain, take one step, then another.)

I’m still working to improve every area I can think of.

If you could go back in time to your beginning writer self and offer some advice, what would you tell you?

Be patient with yourself; few good things happen fast.

What do you do outside the world of storytelling and books?

I teach karate two or three days a week. I’m a fourth degree black belt in Pencak Silat, the martial art of Indonesia. I’ve been studying an teaching martial arts for 35 years. I also was a high school/junior high wrestling coach for a time and have been working in Brazilian ju-jitsu for a few years.

I have that in common with my two sons. Jim’s also a fourth degree black belt–in Korean karate, and Jesse runs a mixed martial arts academy. Hitting each other, kicking each other, choking each other out. Perfect father/son togetherness. We are all crazy.

I do a lot of gardening–both indoors and out. Vegetables, flowers, trees.

How much gardening?

Well, a few years ago my wife Carol said, “Joe, how many jade plants do you have now?”

“Five or six, I guess,” I replied.

“Count them,” she countered.

I did. There were 57.

I also work some with my son Jim at our family nature preserve and Native outdoor center, teaching traditional skills such as shelter building, animal tracking, fire-making. It’s the Ndakinna Education Center.

I write songs and perform traditional and contemporary music. A few have been recorded by other artists, but I don’t push it. Just finished doing three days of performance at the Old Songs Festival, where I was also doing workshops on Native American flute. I play flute, guitar, drum.

My sister Marge, Jim and Jesse and I have performed together as The Dawnland Singers. We have a couple of CDs, and we’re working on a new one now. We’ve also all taught workshops and classes in Northeastern American Indian Traditional Dance.

I also do some traditional crafts. A little jewelry, mostly earrings, necklaces.

Also, mostly in winter, I make rattles, drums, and flutes.

I’ve been involved some in documentary film of late. Tom Weidlinger, who’s a well-known documentary film maker and I are now on the final edit of a film about the life of Jim Thorpe to be shown on PBS in 2008. And I’m working with my son Jim Bruchac on several film projects focussing on Adirondack and northeastern American Indian storytellers, musicians and tradition bearers. Jim is the co-owner of On Track Production, a small hi-def film making company that is located at our Ndakinna Education Center.

Also, Ndakinna is now doing an every-other-year large Native Festival. We did it in 2006 and 2007 and attracted about 5,000 attendees each year. Next one will be in 2009. Kind of like a pow wow but with more emphasis on education.

What can your readers expect from you next?

I have a couple of new things due out soon. One is a collection of retellings of traditional tales done by myself and my son Jim (we have now written eight books together)[see How Chipmunk Got His Stripes by James Bruchac and Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey (Dial, 2001)].

Another is a new scary novel from HarperCollins called Wings In The Night. I’m also working on some graphic novels–illustrated by other people, of course–for First Second books. Then there’s one or two other things…

Austin YL (Youth Lit) Informal Social

The Austin children’s-YA book creator community is hard-working, up-and-coming, and bursting with talent. We also like to play.

Folks met for an informal get-together at Waterloo Ice House north last Wednesday night. YA author Jennifer Ziegler was our location scout, and she did an amazing job!

Say howdy to my very cute husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith and Frances Hill, author of The Bug Cemetery (Henry Holt, 2002). Frances is also an illustrator. If you’ve ever been to our home, you may remember her collage work in the guest room.

You may be wondering why they’re both sporting faux fang marks. Let’s just say it’s a long and intriguing story, fraught with drama and peril. Envious? You can order your own from Boutique de Vampyre in New Orleans.

Here, Donna Bowman Bratton and Alison Dellenbaugh may be contemplating fang marks for themselves.

Donna writes short stories, fiction, and non-fiction for the children’s magazine and book markets. Her story “Leader of the Band” appeared in the anthology, Mistletoe Madness (Blooming Tree, 2004). She also writes for newspapers and was one of the pages at the recent Awesome Austin Writers Workshop.

Alison is a humor and children’s writer. You can find some of her work in Summer Shorts (Blooming Tree, 2006). Her all-around marvelousness also includes having been one of 50 nationwide winners of Oscar Mayer’s 2004 “Oh I Wish” contest. Alison used her day in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to “give free books (and wiener whistles, of course) to kids at the Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, TX, and at the Faulk Central Library in Austin, Texas.” How cool is that? Don’t miss Alison’s report (with pics), Write Night!

Here we have Brian Yansky, Mark G. Mitchell, and Jerry Wermund.

Brian is Frances’ husband and the author of both Wonders of the World (Flux, 2007) and My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003), that capital of course being Austin. He’s celebrating a recent YA novel sale to Candlewick Press, and we are standing in solidarity against the local Delacorte dames and dude (Shana Burg, April Lurie, Margo Rabb, Jennifer Ziegler and Varian Johnson)–they’re a formidable bunch. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Mark is one of our author-illustrators. Mark has numerous books to his credit, including the award-winning Raising La Belle (Eakin, 2002). Check out The Admiral’s Blog, How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator: Art School in a Blog, and read a Cynsations interview with Mark.

Jerry is a rare, self-publishing success story. A retired geologist from The University of Texas, he founded Rockon Publishing in 2002 with the mission of creating poetic picture books for kids about earth-related sciences. He’s just back from the ALA conference in Anaheim, where he landed big sales with public libraries in California (among others). Look for Soil: It’s Not Just Dirt (2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Jerry.

It’s a big year for these two writers!

P. J. Hoover is the debut author of The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree, 2008) and a member of the Class of 2k8. You can also find her at her blog, Roots in Myth and check out her event report (with pics) Fab Austin Writing World.

Debbie Gonzales is a new graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts! She is a model for attitude, work ethic, and craft–look out world!

Speaking of Blooming Tree, Madeline Smoot is Tricia’s editor, a BookPeople BookKids bookseller, and a novelist. How does she do it all?

Speaking of multi-talented folks, Sean Petrie is a writer-stand-up comedian-lawyer and now a law professor at UT. It was a treat to meet his girlfriend Sara.

These pink ladies are Lila Guzman and Carmen Oliver. Lila is the author of numerous books, most recently George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy (Enslow, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Lila. Carmen is a children’s magazine and book writer. She also was one of the pages at the recent Awesome Austin Writers Workshop. Read her LJ report on the get together!

The big smile belongs to the lovely Jo Whittemore, shown here with her husband Roger. Jo is the author of The Silverskin Legacy trilogy (Llewellyn) and is past the finish line on the most successful agent search in recent (or distant) memory. Read Jo’s event report and a Cynsations interview with Jo.

I’ll call these next three photos the “Jerry with…” series. Up first, Jerry is with Jane Peddicord, the author of such picture books as The Special Little Baby (Harcourt, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Jane.

Next up, we have Jerry with writer-illustrator Debbie Dunn. Debbie is a recent Vermont College grad and a former Austin SCBWI regional advisor. Her daughter was also at the party (but, again, no kid pics on the ‘net).

Finally, we have Jerry with Anne Bustard! Anne is the author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005) and a first-semester student at Vermont College. She also has this amazing blog, Anneographies, which features picture book biographies posted on the subjects’ birthdays. Read a Cynsations interview with Anne.

Author-illustrator Don Tate was kind enough to bring his lovely wife Tammy. Don is a successful illustrator who recently made his first sale as a writer to Lee & Low and a co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf. His many titles include The Hidden Feast, written by Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss (August House, 2006). See his report on the event, Austin Youth Lit Creators Social, and read a Cynsations interview with Don.

The gentleman with Donna is Brian Anderson, author of the Zack Proton series (graphic-style chapter books), illustrated by Doug Holgate (Aladdin, 2006-). Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Here we have authors Lindsey Lane and Margo Rabb. They both have good news!

Lindsey is a first-semester student at Vermont College (and the author of Snuggle Mountain (Clarion, 2003)). She also has a new blog, This and That.

Margo’s much acclaimed debut novel, Cures for Heartbreak (Delacorte, 2007, 2008) is now available in paperback. Margo is new to us from New York City, and you can keep up with her at Books, Chocolates, and Sundries.

Let’s see… Who here haven’t I already introduced? Ah, Chris Barton of Bartography fame is the second writer from the left (by Lindsey) and Varian Johnson is the second from the right (by Margo).

Chris is just back from a retreat for clients of literary agent Erin Murphy, and he’s already sold three books–to Little Brown, Dial, and Charlesbridge respectively–before his first has been released.

Varian is a “hot new thing” this year on the YA book scene with My Life As a Rhombus (Flux, 2008). He’s also a co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf and a student at Vermont College, where he recently received The Alumni Award. You can keep up with his writing life at They Call Me Mr. V, including his report “Me and My Peeps” on the get together (with pics). Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

Shana Burg is a newcomer in more ways than one, having moved to Austin from the Boston area and as the debut author of A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008), which is getting exciting award buzz. Don’t miss her blog, and read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

Here’s Chris with Carl and Jennifer Ziegler. She’s the YA author of Alpha Dog (Delacorte, 2006) and How Not to Be Popular (Delacorte, 2008), both of which are set in Austin. Check out her LJ, and read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer. Thanks again to Jenny for finding the perfect location!

You can catch just a glimpse of Cynthia Levinson between Greg and Chris. Cynthia does a lot of children’s magazine writing and just signed with agent Erin Murphy to represent her book manuscripts.

Once again, here’s Shana, Jo, and Alison chatting toward the front, Carmen and Donna in the back booth. My apologies to all I didn’t catch in the photos. The lighting was a bit weird as the sun went down.

To me, writing for young readers is foremost about craft and community. I’m honored and grateful to be part of Austin’s youth lit scene. It’s a genuine, down-to-earth, fun-loving, and supportive crowd. I’m as inspired by my local peers’ talent and commitment as I am appreciative of their company and good cheer. Thanks to all!