Author-Illustrator Interview: Carlyn Beccia on The Raucous Royals

Congratulations on the release of The Raucous Royals: Test Your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce which Royal Rumors are True. (Houghton Mifflin, Oct. 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

The Raucous Royals (you must say it with a British accent) reveals the rumors behind history’s most scandalous royals. Examples: Was Napoleon really short? Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers? Did Richard III murder the princes in the Tower? Did Mary Queen of Scots plot to assassinate Elizabeth I? and much more.

With each rumor, clues and codes are given, but in many examples whether a rumor is true or false is left to the reader to decide.

I am sure teachers are just going to love this book because its message is basically, “don’t believe everything you read or are taught.”

What is it about those royals that’s so fascinating? What fascinates you in particular?

I find it fascinating that there is so much debate surrounding the scandals and rumors. In particular, I find it interesting to trace the origin of a rumor. Between word of mouth, pamphlets, caricatures, paintings, jingles, and historians, there are so many factors that shape how a person is remembered.

Napoleon, the master of spin, said it best: “history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”

What inspired you to translate that interest into picture book form?

When you start to play history detective, you find that each royal is viewed so differently by historians. I wanted to get readers involved in the debate and have them rethink how they view history. I think history gets really boring when it is taught as a static subject, but if you show how it constantly changes, and how stories are formed and evolve over time, then it becomes much more interactive.

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

I started conducting research for the book in 2005, but I didn’t get the courage to submit it to my editor until the following year. I kept worrying about how little interest there is in European history and that I would never find a market for the book.

In 2005, I was on my honeymoon in Italy when I saw an exhibit on how Marie de Medici influenced art. It made me think how art was influential in shaping how we view rulers. I started to think how other mediums changed our view of history. This really motivated me to complete the research and send in the submission to my editor.

What were the challenges–research, literary, psychological, and logistical–of bringing the book to life?

The biggest challenge was to take such a broad subject and whittle it down to the juiciest bits. There are 13 raucous royals covered. That’s a lot of research.

I did a good part of my research in London visiting the National Portrait Gallery, Tower of London and the British Library. For my French royals, I went to Paris and visited Versailles, the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. I tried to find as many sources as possible because some of the rumors are unresolved.

Another challenge was remaining objective when some rumors are still so hotly debated by historians. For example, history is still undecided on whether Richard III killed his nephews. And Mary Queen of Scots always gets people deeply divided on whether she was a conniver or an unfortunate victim.

This book is a great example of lively, creative non-fiction! Did you use any other titles as models?

I actually did not have what you would call a “great literary work” for inspiration.

Instead, I used tabloid magazines like People as models. I am a People magazine fanatic. I can’t help but be interested in who is wrecking their life, who is making a comeback, and who is having yet another baby.

Although it is not the prettiest format, I think the busy, loud tabloid magazine layout appeals to kids (If you have ever looked at a typical MySpace page, then you will understand what I mean).

And teens in general are far more familiar with Britney Spear‘s antics then they ever will be with rulers that changed history.

I kept thinking if I could harness a tabloid magazine’s gossipy playfulness and put it into a history book, then it might be slightly less painful for readers.

I think it is important to look at other media like television and how kids use the Internet for inspiration as well.

For art inspiration, I looked to caricaturists like James Gillray. These political cartoons told stories with so much subtle depth and meaning. And, of course, they always captured the humor behind a ruler’s follies.

The book has a sort of multi-media feel, with various art elements working together (and sometimes whispering from the curtains, so to speak). How did this aspect evolve?

I have always loved activity books because they involve the reader in the learning process. I also find it intriguing when TV shows like “Entertainment Tonight” will state a rumor, but then they won’t give the answer until after the commercial break.

I am always on the edge of my seat screaming, “Tell me if Britney is going to lose her kids!”

So I thought to myself, what if I used the same technique to get kids to turn the page? By using art clues, codes, gossip, and most importantly–not giving the answer up front, it involves the reader in the process of tracing a rumor.

What were the other artistic challenges and opportunities?

One of the biggest artistic challenges was how to portray the royals. Should they resemble their official portrait, or should I depict them based on contemporary descriptions?

In the end, I decided to be less literal and more satirical in their portrayals.

The Raucus Royals strikes me as one of those picture books that can readily reach to the YA audience and beyond. How do you imagine the audience?

I think there is something magical about royalty that appeals to kids of all ages. We don’t like to point out the pitfalls of our presidents as much as we do with royalty. Maybe it’s because Americans have never had kings or queens. We have Hollywood, but it’s a poor substitute.

Unfortunately, teachers often don’t have the time and resources to cover European history. And with the explosion of historical fiction, inquisitive readers of all ages want to know the truth behind the drama.

Many adults (like me) grew up believing the rumors in The Raucous Royals. Ultimately, I am hoping the book will appeal to adults because it challenges what we already know and to kids because it introduces some colorful characters that they may never get exposed to in their regular curriculum.

Readers can visit a site dedicated to the book. What will they find there? How does it enhance the reading experience?

The purpose of the book is to get readers asking more questions and doing their own research. The site works as a tool to get them pointed in the right direction. includes family trees, a glossary, art clues, games and tons of recommended books to get more in depth information about each royal ruler. My theory has always been that a good book gets kids to pick up another.

The site is constantly evolving and definitely has been a labor of love. It also features the Raucous Royals Blog which features a new scandal or rumor each week (sometimes every other week when I get busy).

What advice do you have for writers researching historical non-fiction? For illustrators?

I always hear “write what you know.” That may work for fiction, but I would actually give the opposite advice for historical nonfiction–write what you have no clue about, but would like to learn. When we know a subject too well, it is often hard to relate to the reader learning it for the first time.

For illustrators of historical non-fiction, I think it is important to put yourself back in the place and time when the person lived. Most illustrators already do this, but sometimes it is tempting to just use the Internet for photo research. On-site research really brings your characters to life.

How about those writing creative non-fiction for young readers? And again, for illustrators?

I think writers of creative nonfiction sometimes get caught up worrying about whether a subject has been done before. Even if a subject has never been done, that never ensures success.

I would advise to not focus on the subject, but instead on how you can take a fresh approach to that subject. The same applies for illustrators.

We last spoke in September 2007 about Who Put the B in Ballyhoo? (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Do you have any recent news about that book to share?

Yes! Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo was recognized as the 2007 Golden Kite Honor Book for Illustration.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book is called I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat (title pending), which will be released in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin.

The book features the most bizarre and grossest cures doctors have used throughout history for common kid ailments like bumps, bruises, headaches, coughs, colds and sore throats.

It will contain tons of gory illustrations of leeches, maggots, ground up mummies, and occasional frog slime.

I have become a bit of a hypochondriac while researching it, but my stomach is much stronger now!

10th Anniversary Feature: Kathi Appelt

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest answer, this one from author Kathi Appelt:

I think I could probably write a thesis on this, but when all is said and done I’m thinking that the biggest lesson is one that I have to remind myself of, and that is to always keep in mind that there is a “love factor” involved: love for the process even when things aren’t going swimmingly; love for those in your life, which means surrounding yourself with people who are supportive.

Likewise, we have to be providers of love, not just takers.

And finally, it requires love for our young audience.

It all seems so obvious, but maybe it’s that obviousness that makes it so easy to forget.

Amadi’s Snowman by Katia Novel Saint-Lot, illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo

Congratulations to author Katia Novet Saint-Lot and illustrator Dimitrea Tokunbo on the release of Amadi’s Snowman (Tilbury House, 2008)! From the promotional copy:

“Why does Amadi’s mother insist he learn to read words when he is going to be a great businessman? Why should an Igbo man of Nigeria waste precious time on books, anyway?

“When Amadi disobeys his mother and runs off to the market instead of sticking around for a reading lesson, he encounters a much-admired older boy secretly reading at a book stall.

“Crowding himself in among the stacks of books, Amadi becomes intrigued by a storybook with pictures of a strange white creature with a carrot for a nose.

“Over the course of a typical mischievous day, unable to shake his questions about the snowman, Amadi discovers the vast world reading could open up—especially for an Igbo man of Nigeria.”

“Amadi’s Snowman is a beautiful tribute to the power of reading and one boy’s journey of self-discovery through books. Dimitrea Tokunbo’s evocative illustrations underscore the loving interchange between a mother and son. The richly hued paintings invite us to enjoy Nigeria’s many splendors and provide the perfect stage for Katia Novet Saint-Lot’s imaginative story.” —Andrea Davis Pinkney

“Katia Novet Saint-Lot has given us an important and moving glimpse into the curiosity, wonder, and knowledge a book can bring—and into the life of children in modern African cities. As Yohannes Gebregeorgis, founder of Ethiopia Reads, says, ‘Books change lives.’ How terrific to have a story that shows how and why.” —Jane Kurtz

“Amadi’s first-ever glimpse at a snowman—one depicted in the pages of a book—inspires him to transform from a resistant to an enthusiastic student of reading. Children will identify with Amadi’s initial reluctance, his mixed feelings about a new challenge, and his attempts to rationalize staying the same. Yet they also will likely be inspired, as Amadi is, by the possibilities of reading, the way it can fill one’s heart and shine a light on the unknown.” —Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynsational Notes

Read an interview with Katia by Annette Gulati at The Writing Wild Life. Peek: “The first version had a fantasy element in it. I did, and sent the manuscript back but the postal service being totally unreliable in Nigeria, we only used the diplomatic pouch, and this was just after the Anthrax scare. Mail took weeks and weeks to reach me. By the time I replied to the editor, she had left the publishing house and I could never find her again.”

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Wahoo! In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, children’s author Michelle Meadows is sponsoring the giveaway of a signed copy of her picture book Pilot Pups, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster, 2008)(excerpt)!

From the promotional copy: “When a couple of kids forget to put away their toys, it’s up to Pilot Pups to go on a special search and rescue mission to bring their toy buddies back home. “

To enter, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “Pilot Pups” in the subject line. All Cynsational readers are eligible!

Read a 10th Anniversary Feature Interview with Michelle! Peek: “I realized that I didn’t have to give up. I didn’t have to let my past rejection letters swallow me up. At any moment, I could have a fresh start; I could choose to write something totally new and try again.”

REMINDER: Enter to win one of two autographed hardcover copies of The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2008)! To enter, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “Dylan Fontaine” in the subject line. One copy will go to a high school teacher, YA librarian, or university professor of YA literature (please indicate) and one will go to any Cynsational reader.

REMINDER: In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I’m offering one rather eclectic giveaway package, which will include paperback copies of the following books: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958); Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977); Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (1997); and Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (2008)(signed). To enter, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with a question to for me answer (about writing, my books, etc.) as well as your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “anniversary giveaway” in the subject line. All Cynsational readers are eligible!

Thanks again to Angela L. Fox of Pickled Pixel Toe for sponsoring the T-shirt giveaway in honor of the ten-year anniversary of The winner was Vivian in Massachusetts, and she chose the “Don’t Talk to Me…I’m Revising” shirt.

More News & Giveaways

Enter to win an autographed copy of Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton (Flux, 2008). Peek: “…is about 17-year-old Amber who has a bad sense of direction–so bad that when she has a near-death experience, she makes a wrong turn and wakes up in the gorgeous, rich, popular body of a girl who’s attempted suicide. Then it’s a race for time to find her real body to switch back before her organs are donated and Amber is trapped forever in the wrong body. ” Deadline: Sept. 29. See details.

Enter to win a copy of Champlain and The Silent One (North County Books, 2008) from author Kate Messner! Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac says: “Kate Messner’s sense of American history and human nature is as strong as her clear, evocative prose. Her multicultural cast of characters truly comes alive in this wonderful little novel that gives one of the best pictures I’ve yet seen of that period of early contact.” The deadline is midnight EST today, Sept. 26! See more information.

Lost Dog by Ingrid Lee (The Chicken House/Scholastic, 2008): a five-copy giveaway from Cheryl Rainfield. Peek: “Dog Lost by Ingrid Lee is a moving, uplifting middle-grade book…. It depicts some abuse, but there is so much hope and people acting with kindness that it is a feel-good book.” Deadline: midnight EST Oct. 15. See more information.

Congratulations to 2k8 debut author Donna Freitas (interview) on the publication of The Possibilities of Sainthood (Frances Foster/FSG, 2008)! Check out the book teaser below:

An Interview with Anna Levine about Freefall (Greenwillow, 2008) from Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Peek: “Once you have been in the field with someone, carried them, carried their equipment, leapt from planes with them, ate, celebrated and cried with them, these experiences become the glue that binds.”

Attention: authors/illustrators! Tracy Vaughn Zimmer writes: “If I’ve written a guide for your wonderful book and you have examples of student projects that have resulted from them, would you be so kind to share them with me? Or, hey, if you’ve done a project with my own books with your students…! I’m speaking at two teacher conferences this fall and would love to have examples…” See contact information. Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

The Drift Record: a blog from author-poet Julie Larios. Julie also is one of my colleagues on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

SCBWI South Africa – News: News about Children’s Books, Writers and Illustrators in South Africa.

Editors Speak: an extensive archive of interviews with children’s magazine editors from Kid Magazine Writers Market Guide.

Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog: Articles, interviews, advice and more from Sally Murphy and visiting bloggers. Recent articles include 5 Reasons to Join an Online Writers Community by Sally and A Common Pitfall: Expository Dialogue by Laura Backes, Publisher, Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers. Note: especially recommended to beginners.

Papertigers Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with features such as: interviews with author Pam Muñoz Ryan and Houston librarian Rose Zertuche-Treviño, both by Aline Pereira; Susan Guevara and David Diaz in the illustrators’ corner; an article by Yuyi Morales; and much more!

Críticas: An English Speaker’s Guide to the Latest Spanish-Language Titles: “an authoritative one-stop source for English-language reviews of new adult and children’s titles from the national and international Spanish-language publishing world. It also covers Spanish-language publishing news as it pertains to U.S. readers, librarians, and booksellers.” Source: Rose Zertuche-Treviño via Papertigers.

The Book Transfusion by Devyn Burton – YA Author. Devyn is coordinating a “book raising” event for hospitals in lower east Michigan. Peek: “Being in the hospital so much I noticed a trend, teens in the hospital had two options–A) color and do crafts meant for a six year old or option B) ‘suck it up’ like an adult watch TV all day. That is unacceptable, we need something to occupy our minds as well—and even if you did partake in options A & B, you can only color and watch TV so much! A book is a wonderful tool for anyone in the hospital.” Note: YA authors, publishers, businesses, readers, there are ways that all of you can help! Just blogging the link will help!

CanLit for Kids: Outstanding Recently Published Canadian Children’s Books. Peek: “Our goal is to meet the needs of school libraries by providing recently published, high quality books that are affordable, relevant and reflect upon our Canadian heritage, values and culture.” Source: Karen at 55 Degrees North.

Check out the book trailer below for Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Boyds Mills Press/Wordsong, 2008):

The Picnic Basket: “Deborah Sloan’s delicious blog for librarians, teachers, and other gluttons for good books–all you can read (and write) about forthcoming children’s literature!”

Author Carrie Jones offers a fond farewell to former Flux editor Andrew Karre (now of Carolrhoda) and welcomes his replacement. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Author Spotlight: Deborah Hopkinson from the ALSC Blog. Peek: “Recently I have become increasingly interested in historical literacy. I think that developing critical thinking skills in looking at the past is important, because we can then use those same skills in looking at the present.”

PENPals: A Correspondence with Brian Selznick and Paul O. Zelinsky from PEN America Center. Peek from Paul: “I’ve also felt relief, or sometimes shock and depression; and sometimes elation, when I’ve first held a printed version of what had previously only been sketches and dummies. Actually, it is always a shock to me, whether good or bad. It mostly has to do with the page turn, which is the equivalent to a change of scene in a novel or a movie, right?”

28 Agents Who Want Your Work by Chuck Sambuchino from Writer’s Digest. Note: actually, only two of the listed agents–both from Writers House–are interested in working with children’s authors: Lindsay Davis (“actively seeking: picture books, tween, YA, and middle grade”) and Josh Getzler (“does not want to receive: picture books”). A few others list YA among their areas of interest. If you’re interested in an agent who lists YA among many other categories, make sure they know our market. See also my agent resources from the main website.

28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature: “Submissions for the 2009 28 Days later spotlights will open Sept. 29.” Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

Check out my directories of state and national awards for children’s and YA books. Suggest a resource link for one of these pages.

The Big Questions: Science Fiction and Young Adult Fiction Share Themes and, Hopefully, Readers by Adrienne Martini from Baltimore City Paper. Peek: “The Potter bubble has passed, yet those readers–and their younger siblings–are still buying books by the bucketful.” Source: Gwenda Bond.

Art of the Agent Search from Pub Rants: A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants about Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry. Peek: “Here a few tips on some things that will hinder your agent search.”

Check out the book trailer for Third Grade Baby by 2k8 debut author Jenny Meyerhoff (FSG, 2008):

For the Fantasy Writers Out There from Buried in the Slush Pile. Peek: “I thought we’d start with the trickiest fantasy to write — first person high fantasy.”

DC Cancels Minx Imprint by Matt Brady from Peek: “At the time of the line’s launch, it was noted that DC would team with Alloy Marketing + Media to promote Minx in the coming months, and had a budget of $250,000, making it ‘the largest thing we’ve done in at least three decades,’ according to DC president and publisher Paul Levitz. The titles in the line received their share of positive press and reviews, but never really caught on in the numbers that justified their continued existence, apparently.” Note: I’m saddened by the cancellation of the line but grateful for the quality books that Minx did release. See Cecil Castellucci’s thoughts.

The Fine Art of Writing Blurbs by Saundra Mitchell from Crowe’s Nest: An Agent and Her List Discuss Children’s Books, Publishing and Beyond. Peek: “I’m not advising you to write your blurb in rhyming couplets, but the basic rules of poetics should apply to your advertising. The sounds of words, the assonance, the consonance, the rhythm of the words- these are important in any writing, but especially important here.” Note: Crowe’s Nest is now syndicated to LJ.

Cuentecitos: Reviews, Views & News on Latino Children’s and YA Literature.

More Personally

Welcome back, (much of) Houston!

It’s my understanding that many of y’all had your power returned this week, and we’re glad to have you online again!

That said, I also just read that 430,000 remain without power. It’s been 13 days, and that has to be awful. My thoughts remain with you and those even more adversely affected.

On a related note, the Austin SCBWI Day with an Editor (Jill Santopolo) has been rescheduled for Dec. 6. Thanks to Jill, Debbie Gonzales, and RA Tim Crow for of your efforts! Thanks too to Gene Brenek, who had originally volunteered his home as a venue!

For me, this week has been a productive one. Greg and I reviewed pass pages for our joint short story to appear in Geektastic: Stories of the Awesomely Uncool, edited by Cecil Castellucci and Holly Black (Little Brown, 2009), and I sent a revised draft of my graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candewick, TBA) to my editor.

Beyond that, I’m working hard to update my own writer’s guide to my Gothic fantasy universe and on Blessed (Candlewick, TBA), which will crossover the casts of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, March 2009), picking up at the end of the first novel.

I also had the honor of reading/critiquing two manuscripts for local writer pals, one a picture book and the other a young adult novel. Austin area writers are amazing!

My pop-culture highlight was the season three premier of “Heroes.”

More personally, thank you to Sarah for creating her gorgeous Tantalize fan page at MySpace!

Thanks also to author David Lubar for his blog cheers on the ten-year anniversary of! I’m honored!

Online Events

Reminder: I’ll be appearing twice to discuss Tantalize and related forthcoming books in October on the Eye4You Alliance Island at Second Life. From School Library Journal: “There will be two appearances, the first on the main grid of Second Life (for those 18 and over) on Oct. 14, and again on Oct. 28 on the teen grid of Teen Second.” See more information.

More Events

To all those heading to Portland this weekend, please know you’re in my thoughts! Have a wonderful time. I wish I could be there!

ALA Banned Books Week is Sept. 27 to Oct. 4. See video below. Source: ALA Library. See also Children’s book on male penguins raising chick tops ALA’s 2007 list of most challenged books and a Cynsations interview with Lauren Myracle.

Plan to celebrate the release of Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception (Flux, 2008) with debut author Maggie Stiefvater. The physical launch will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 EST at Creatures & Crooks Bookshoppe in Richmond, Virginia. The virtual launch will be in the Enchanting Reviews chat room at 8 p.m. EST Oct. 1. See details.

The Youth Literature Festival, sponsored by the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be Oct. 4. All events are free and open to the public and will be held at various locations across the Urbana-Champaign community. I hope to see you there!

The first annual Hill Country Book Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Georgetown Public Library (Georgetown, Texas). 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.

R. L. Stein’s Halloween Party will begin at 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Austin Children’s Museum (201 Colorado St.). R. L. Stein will read and tell a communal (audience-participation) ghost story at 3:30 p.m. and sign books from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The event is free, but space is limited to 350. Costumes welcome. Note: Barnes & Noble will be selling books; sponsored by the Texas Book Festival in cooperation with the museum.

“Connections & Craft: Writing for Children and Young Adults:” hosted by Brazos Valley (Texas) SCBWI Nov. 15 at A & M United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas. “Editor Joy Neaves, agent Emily Van Beek, and author Cynthia Leitich Smith comprise our faculty for this day-long event. Published BV-SCBWI authors will also conduct a hands-on Writers’ Workshop.” Download the brochure. Read a Cynsations interview with Emily.

The Tenth Annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 23 at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Avenue) in New York City. The fee is $95 before Nov. 1, $110 after Nov. 1 and includes kosher breakfast and lunch. Featured speakers are associate agent Michelle Andelman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, publisher David E. Behrman of Behrman House, executive editor Michelle Frey of Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, editor Larry Rosler of Boyds Mills Press, director Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben Publishing, and illustrator’s agent Melissa Turk of Melissa Turk & The Artist Network. Award-winning author Johanna Hurwitz will give opening remarks, and the day will include sessions on publishing and writing in Israel, the Sydney Taylor Book Award and Manuscript Competitions, and individual consultations with editors and agents from past conferences. The registration form is available for download (PDF file). Call 212.415.5544 or e-mail for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is Nov. 17.

10th Anniversary Feature: Brent Hartinger

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Brent Hartinger.

That I’m absolutely crazy-insane to make my living as a writer of fiction, and that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lately I’ve been doing some work for some friends producing online content, so I’ve had a chance to really compare the two mediums: publishing versus the Internet.

And after ten years in publishing, I kind of have to describe it as something of a harsh, desolated crack expanse of earth, where you maybe can grow enough food to eat, but it’s really, really hard. You have to know exactly what you’re doing and, frankly, you have to have a lot of luck.

Meanwhile, the Internet world is like that scene in The Magician’s Nephew [by C. S. Lewis, 1955] where Narnia is only a couple of hours old and everything is lush and rich and productive. Bury a toffee in the ground, and a couple of hours later you have a toffee tree!

Basically, if you’re smart and you have talent and you work hard, you’ll be a huge success in the world of the Internet. But in publishing? Well…that’s just not necessarily true.

Okay, now that I’ve completely depressed you, let me know also say that working in publishing can still be extremely satisfying–more satisfying than working in the Internet.

Why? Because the people who still read books, though they’re decreasing in numbers and influence, are some of the best, smartest people in the world.

And the people who still choose to work in publishing, they’re some of the nicest people in the world.

Finally, the whole process of creating characters and inventing stories for them to inhabit?

It’s just so phenomenally, wonderfully satisfying. That’s why a lot of people do it even without getting paid. So imagine a situation where you do get paid for it–and get gushing fan mail to boot! It’s still a pretty heady thrill.

What am I saying? Basically, that it’s an incredibly tough business, getting tougher every day. And yet, somehow, it’s still a wonderfully satisfying life.

I confess, I might change my mind in a few years if things get too much worse. But for the time being, it’s still a pretty easy call: I absolutely love being a writer.

Read a Cynsations interview with Brent.

Ethiopia Reads Opens Library #16

Twelve more libraries due this year

Addis Ababa — Ethiopia Reads started the 2008-2009 school year on a high note, opening the doors of new libraries for children in schools across Addis Ababa.

These libraries are used by students, teachers and school directors, providing a safe and inviting environment for study and reading.

On average, Ethiopia Reads opens one new library every month, bringing books into the lives of thousands of children. This fall, we expand to schools in southern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia Reads libraries are planted in partnership with families, businesses, schools, community groups and service clubs in the United States.

Cynsational Notes

“Ethiopia Reads’ mission is to create a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. We do this by planting libraries for children, publishing books in English as well as local Ethiopian languages, and training Ethiopian librarians and teachers to cultivate a love of reading. Our supporters include readers, writers, educators, librarians, children, grandparents–anyone who shares our belief that books make a difference in the lives of children.”

Please click here to support our work with a tax-deductible donation.

For more information, please visit

Read an author interview with Jane Kurtz on the Ethiopian Books for Children and Educational Foundation and Memories of the Sun: Stories of Africa and America.

Don’t Be a Couch Potato…Publicity for Your New Release

By publicist Sara Dobie of Sylvan Dell Publishing

Guess what? You’re a published author. Sitting on your couch, it’s hard to believe. Publishing is what happens to other people—people who wear black, smoke cigarettes, and talk about Kerouac.

It doesn’t happen to people like you, who have day jobs, families, and car loans. Obviously, you’re excited. You can already see yourself on the cover of People magazine, Pulitzer in hand.

You pat yourself on the back—job well done. You can finally relax and wait to become a millionaire. Right?


Your work has just begun, and it’s the work of “publicity.”

If there is no publicity, no one knows your name. If no one knows your name, no one knows your book. If no one knows your book, it doesn’t sell, and it dies on the shelves faster than you can say”backlist.”

So as an author, what can you do to beat the competition? And no, you should not start harassing managers at Barnes & Noble.

1) The Review

Getting your book reviewed is mainly in the hands of your publisher. However, there are plenty of things that you, as an author, can do to assist in the process and make it more effective.

Publishers know about the big dogs. They know Publishers Weekly, the New York Times, the LA Times, etc. However, they don’t know the specialists in your field.

If your book is about birds, your publisher isn’t going to know the most famous ornithologist who just has to endorse your book.

So think—what contacts do you have? Which of these contacts could be used to the advantage of your book? Pass this on to your publisher, and they will thank you for it!

If you are willing to help your publisher, it will pay off. They will be much more willing to focus on you, because you’ve done your research. You have the names and organizations; all your publisher has to do is send the emails.

Think alumni associations, your local media contacts, state reading associations and national topic-specific magazines that would want to know about your book. The opportunities are endless, and it will keep you ahead of the pack.

2) What’s your pitch?

In other words, what are you selling? Is your book about a new diet that promises Michael Phelps abs? What about a children’s book that can teach kids about ADD?

Can you explain the entire theme/mission/importance of your book in five words or less? You need to, because that’s about as much time you’ll have to impress the random Oprah intern who just happens to give you a call. The real question is, can you sell yourself?

Let’s face it—in the media and in stores, no one is booking your novel. They are booking you. If you are lacking in passion for your product, they’ll know, and your book will suffer. You have to be willing to go out there and get those interviews. Get those events.

I suggest selling yourself as a package. Any author can just sit there and sign a book. What about an author who can use her book to teach kids about bullies? What about a different author who can show math teachers a better way to interest students in fractions?

You have to make bookstores believe you have something to offer. Make them believe you are the one doing the favor, as opposed to vice versa. You are the main attraction. People will come to see you because you are worthy of seeing. If you don’t think so, who will?

3) The Launch

I cannot emphasize how important your book launch is. I have said it over and over and over to authors all over the country. Some believe me, and some don’t. Who do you suppose has the better book sales? If you said the ones who don’t believe me, I’m glad I’m not your publicist.

Okay, in the publishing world, there is a “publication date.” This is when your book is available for purchase to the public. Your launch date should be scheduled around this time. A specific scheduled event should be referred to as your “launch date,” in fact, because a definite date makes it tangible to the media, meaning more likely to be covered.

The media likes tangible events, as opposed to vague announcements, as in “People can buy my book now! Cool, huh?” No. They don’t care. They care, however, when you have a cluster of events coming up where people can actually meet you.

What does a cluster entail? I’m talking fifteen to twenty scheduled events, clustered around a two-week period, with your launch right at the beginning.

I realize you probably don’t have fifteen to twenty individual bookstores in your hometown. It helps to travel, making it more of an official Author Tour.

If your funds require you to stay close to home, no problem! Start with bookstores. Now, what about gift shops and specialty stores whose clientele would relate to your book? What about libraries? If your book is about astronomy, what about planetariums or museums? If it’s about salt marshes, what about national parks?

The opportunities are endless. You just have to be ready to work. Events sell books. Yes, authors are artists, and your books do mean a lot to you. However, a book—no matter how good it is—dies without sales. Get out there and schedule events. It’s the way to turn your book into your career.

Don’t mean to be pushy….

The publishing industry is cutthroat. If you’re not careful, your book is old news before you’ve even unwrapped your complimentary copies. You have to retain the passion you had while writing your book through the entire process.

Do not let yourself think that once your book is on the shelf, you’re done. You cannot sit back and collect royalty checks. Work with your publisher. Give your input, and use your contacts to encourage word of mouth. Believe in yourself, and bookstores will believe in you, too.

Finally, always keep those events coming. Stay in the public eye, and your book will, as well. It feels good to be recognized for your work, but it won’t happen until you get off the couch and show ’em what you got.

Cynsational Notes

Sara Dobie is the Public Relations Coordinator for Sylvan Dell Publishing in South Carolina. Learn more about Sara and Sylvan Dell Publishing at

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith To Appear at Second Life

Young adult author Cynthia Leitich Smith, will be presenting on the main grid of Second Life on American Library Association’s Island at (129, 105, 29) Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. PST, and on the teen grid at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County‘s Eye4You Alliance island (118, 153, 21) Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. PST. She will present on her YA Gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007-2008) and (Listening Library, 2008) as well as forthcoming related releases.

“I’ve long been interested in the idea that books and technology can compliment, rather than compete, and look forward to stepping into this new virtual venue,” says Smith.

For more information on how to access ALA’s island on the main grid, contact Donovan Vicha, Web Developer, ITTS at For information on how to access the teen grid, contact Kelly Czarnecki, Technology Education Librarian at

Cynsational Notes

Founded in 1903 as a Carnegie Free Library, PLCMC has become one of the premiere libraries in the country with 24 locations, 1.6 million volumes, and 28,000 videos, DVDs and CDs. The library sponsors a variety of community-based programs–from computer- and Internet-education workshops to the award-winning Novello Festival of Reading, a celebration that accentuates the fun of reading and learning.

Author-Editor Interview: Lisa Graff

Lisa Graff on Lisa Graff: “I grew up in a town called Big Bear, which is a tiny ski resort in Southern California where everyone knows everyone.

“After high school I moved to Los Angeles, where I studied Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology at UCLA. Then I switched gears completely and entered the MFA program in Writing for Children at the New School in Manhattan.

“I was just finishing up my thesis semester when I landed an editorial job at Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers, where I’ve been ever since (now as an Associate Editor). And right around that same time, I sold my first two middle grade novels to HarperCollins.

“Now I’m living in Brooklyn with a crazy cat named ‘Henry,’ and trying to balance my editorial life with my writing one (and loving pretty much every minute of it).”

What kind of young reader were you?

My older brother, Ryan, was (and still is) a complete genius, so growing up, there were always stories about how he had started to read at two by watching “Sesame Street” and blah blah blah (love you, Ryan!). This drove me insane, since I was three years younger and most certainly not a genius. So, when I could finally read by myself, I devoured everything I could find.

My mom is a librarian, so we always had plenty of reading material around the house, and for several years I went through a phase for where I only wanted to read “grown up books.”

In third grade, all the other kids had Amelia Bedelia [by Peggy and Herman Parish (HarperCollins) on their reading logs, and I had Moby Dick [by Herman Melville (1851). Not that I understood a single word, but I thought it was pretty impressive.

Anyway, I think it was because of all of this overachieving that, by the time I got to middle school, I didn’t want to read anything that taxed my brain too much (at that point I went through a very intense Baby-Sitters Club [by Ann M. Martin] phase, which lasted about three years).

In high school I was a rather schizophrenic reader, switching between adult books like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [by Ken Kesey (1962)], and those I’d missed out on as a kid, like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret [by Judy Blume (Bradbury Press, 1970)].

How did the writing life first call to you? Did you shout “yes!” or run the other way?

I’d always loved writing as a child, again because my older brother did it and I wanted to be just like him. When I was fourteen, my half-brother, Robert was born, and I decided I’d write him a children’s novel, just for fun. It took three years, and the book turned out to be pretty terrible, but I had lots of fun doing it, so I continued writing children’s books all through college.

I think I enjoyed it because it set me apart from everyone I knew, and it was a nice break from my studies (I was on a science track for most of college).

While I was in Italy studying abroad my junior year, my Italian professor there encouraged me to translate a children’s novel I’d written into Italian for my year-long language project, and this was what ultimately hooked me into writing.

The novel was, again, fairly awful (as was my translation of it, I’m sure), but spending that much time thinking about every single word I’d written gave me a new appreciation for the craft and made me realize just how much I loved it.

What inspired you to make youth literature in particular your career focus?

When I got back from Italy I started to look into graduate schools for children’s writing. There are a handful [see education], but I only found two at the time (the New School, where I ended up, and Mills College in Oakland).

I think I had this idea that if I was accepted into graduate school, then I really could be successful as a writer, and if not, well, I’d have to figure out something else to do with myself.

Luckily for me, I got in, or I may have very well have ended up a Linguistics professor in Massachusetts (Lisa’s life plan #2).

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

I actually had a pretty smooth ride, once I started down that path. My first year of grad school I sent out lots of queries and submissions to various publishers in a by-the-book, unsolicited submission sort of way. All I got back were form rejection letters, but I wasn’t too discouraged by it, since I knew I was just starting out.

I was in my second year at the New School when I attended a graduate-reading night and did a five-minute reading of the novel I was working on at the time.

Well, who should be in the audience but one Mr. Stephen Barbara (agent interview), who was looking for new clients? He handed me his card, and I (inwardly) squealed a whole bunch, and he signed me up at his agency pretty much right away. (He is still my agent, by the way, and I love him oodles.)

Stephen told me that the novel I’d been sending out wasn’t very good (it wasn’t), but that the other novel I’d written, The Thing About Georgie, seemed pretty promising. So we started to send that one to publishers. And for almost five months, I continued to get rejection letters–but at least those ones had my name in them, so I was pretty excited about that.

Finally, we wised up and sent the book to Jill Santopolo (author-editor interview) at Harper, who not only loved it, but ended up signing me for a two-book deal (for Georgie, and my second novel, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, which I was working on at the time for my master’s thesis).

First, let’s focus on your recent debut. Could you tell us a little about The Thing About Georgie (Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, 2007)?

The book is about Georgie, a ten-year-old boy with dwarfism, and it mostly centers around his reaction to the news that his parents are having a second child–one who will not be a dwarf.

But at its core I think it’s a traditional school story, with friendship troubles (Georgie and his best friend Andy get into a big fight, which threatens the success of their dog-walking business) and first crushes (Allison Houseman, the prettiest girl in the seventh grade), and that kid who drives you nuts (Jeanie the Meanie, who of course gets paired up with Georgie for their Abraham Lincoln project).

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

I started working on the book at the very beginning of 2004, and it came out in January of 2007, so it was almost exactly three years. I probably wrote the first draft in about three months (this is abnormally fast for me, but I was in grad school at the time so I really had that fire burning), but then Jill and I went through several rather enormous revisions before settling upon something that was really working.

I’m a draft writer, so I tend to plop things down on the page pretty quickly to begin with, and then scoop out all the stuff that’s not working and toss new ideas into the mix to see what will work. With Georgie I’d say that only about 30% of the published book was there from draft one.

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

I did do quite a bit of research for this book (Internet, books, movies, interviews), but I love that sort of thing, so I didn’t find that aspect of it too challenging.

Probably the hardest part was learning how to revise, since this was the first time I’d ever had to do it seriously.

And finding the time to revise was a big issue too, since I’d just started at FSG. I used to leave work on my lunch hour and walk over to the New School cafeteria, because that was the only place I knew of where I could sit for an hour without having to buy anything, and I’d eat my sad little roast beef sandwich and sip at my juice box and scribble away furiously on my manuscript, and then head back to work.

The weekend before my final draft was due to my editor, I stocked up my fridge with of my favorite foods and unplugged my TV and told myself I wasn’t allowed to leave my apartment until 10 o’clock on Sunday evening, when–if I had finished my draft–I could go see a movie. It was pretty grueling, but it was fun too, and I definitely learned a lot from the experience.

Congratulations on your latest book, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower (Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, 2008)! How would you describe the novel?

Life and Crimes is about a twelve-year-old girl who is at heart a good kid, but after her supposed best friend, Ashley, frames her for running a school-wide cheating ring and Bernetta loses her scholarship to private school, she decides that the only way to earn her tuition for seventh grade is to join up with a mysterious (and very cute) boy named Gabe and become a con artist for the summer.

It’s mostly fun and silly, with tons of hijinks and magic tricks thrown in (Bernetta’s father is a professional magician, so she’s learned some very useful sleight-of-hand techniques from him). It’s very loosely based on “The Sting,” which is one of my all-time favorite movies.

Many authors struggle with publishing their sophomore novel. How did you manage to meet this challenge so well?

I think it definitely worked to my advantage that I had a finished draft of Bernetta written before I’d even sold Georgie, so I didn’t really have that pressure that new authors so often face, to churn out something as good as their last book.

Still, this was a real doozy of a book to write, much harder than the first book was. A lot of the trouble came out of the fact that the story has such an intricate plot, with twists upon twists, so every time I’d change one tiny plot point, which I did frequently, I’d have to change the entire novel.

But the larger problem was that I wanted to write about a girl who was doing some seriously awful stuff and I needed the reader to like her anyway. It took me forever to figure out how to do this.

Surprisingly, I found that the way the story was structured had a huge influence on how you felt about the character. Originally I had started out the way most con-artist films do, by leaping right into the heart of the action and showing Bernetta in all her con-artist glory, back-pedaling later to tell the reader how she got that way.

But what I ultimately discovered was that in children’s books, we really need to love our protagonist and support her actions from page one. So eventually I made the decision to start the story off more slowly and build up to all the juicy stuff, which I think works much better.

Of course, I had a ton of help from my genius editor throughout it all, and that was probably what saved me from tossing my manuscript down the trash chute on several occasions.

What did you love most about your protagonist?

I love that Bernetta is quirky but still an “every-girl,” and that she never gives up, even when she’s wrong. And that when she finally figures out that she’s wrong, she does her best to fix things, with the exactly the same amount of gusto she set out with in the first place.

What, if anything, scared you about her?

The whole unlikability factor, definitely. I mean, I loved this girl because she sprung from my brain, but would anyone else love her?

I also worried a lot about how to make her tricks and cons fun to read about without making them so appealing that children who read the book would want to run out and try everything in the story. It was a fine line.

In one draft it would be totally jolly and easy, very “Ocean’s 11,” and I’d think, no that’s not quite right. But then in the next draft she’d be so miserable with all her stealing that Jill would write me a note saying, “I don’t get why she doesn’t just stop!” And I’d have to tone that down, too.

What do you hope your readers take away from the book?

Like all of my books, I first and foremost want this to be a fun book to read. And if that’s all readers get out of it, that’s perfectly fine by me.

If they take away anything else, I suppose it would be the idea that all of our decisions have consequences, but that we can change our paths at any moment, no matter how embroiled we become in something.

What advice do you have for first-time authors?

It’s probably the same advice most authors have, which is to read. Read!!!! Four exclamation points.

After that, I’d say that you should do whatever you need to in order to take yourself seriously as a writer. For me it was going to graduate school, but for other writers it might be setting a time to write every day no matter what or finally finishing that rough draft.

Being published doesn’t make you a writer. Writing does.

How about those building a career?

My best advice there is to celebrate all your victories. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles in this business, and it’s easy to get bogged down with fears and insecurities and forget how exciting it all is.

I have a tradition now that whenever I first see my book in a bookstore, I have to treat myself to a waffle. It’s silly, but it makes me remember that, Hey, I did something good. I deserve a treat.

Let’s shift gears! You’re also an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux! How did you prepare for this career?

There wasn’t much in the way of preparation, really, except for being ridiculously analytical and a super fan of children’s books. And again, reading up a storm. All of that helps you figure out what works in a story and what doesn’t and what could work with some tinkering.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

An editor is first and foremost a book’s #1 advocate. We sell the book to the publisher when we’re first attempting to acquire it, then we sell it to the marketing team when they’re deciding how to market it, and lastly we sell it to the sales department so they can go out and push it as hard as possible. That’s why it’s so important for an editor to love a project before she takes it on, because it’s impossible to fake that kind of enthusiasm.

Other than that, an editor helps the author shape the story according to the author’s vision. I like to think of an editor as a baseball coach–the baseball player is the one hitting the ball, but the coach makes sure the player is giving his peek performance, so he can hit the ball as far as humanly possible.

What are its challenges?

Time can be a big challenge–just finding a moment to read new projects. And I think especially since I’m a writer, I always second-guess myself when I’m editing something, wondering if I’m editing according to my personal style or according to what works best for that particular story. I think all this worrying keeps me in check, though, so it’s probably a good thing.

What do you love about it?

I love working with dozens of different authors, all with unique voices and stories to share. And getting to see the way a manuscript morphs into a finished book and how all the various pieces come together to make something beautiful.

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from writers or through agents?

Probably most of them are directly from writers, although I’ve been getting more agented submissions lately.

What recommendations do you have for writers interested in working with you? With your house?

The number one thing to do is to look at our catalogs and website to get a good sense of the kinds of books we publish, because even if I adore your story, if it’s not something we would ever do then I can’t work with you, and you’ve wasted your time and mine.

Besides that, simply being professional and friendly counts for a lot.

What makes FSG special?

We’re a small house, and in the children’s division, we only publish about 80 books a year, so we treat every single one like a work of art. We’re incredibly meticulous, with everything from design to copyediting, and we’re staunchly “literary,” but our books are fun, too.

How does your writer self inform your editor self and vise versa?

As an editor, I read tons and tons (and tons) of children’s books, both finished and in draft form, so this has given me a great sense of the problems other writers have faced, and how they’ve fixed them, and how to avoid them all together.

And as a writer, I know exactly how stressful it can be to send your manuscript off into the dark, scary world of publishing, so I think this has made me more sensitive to the authors I work with.

I also think it’s given me a better idea of what I can expect from an author in terms of revision and what to stress and what to let go.

Let’s shift again! You’re a member of one of my favorite team blogs, The Longstockings! Could you tell us about it?

The Longstockings is a group of eight children’s and young adult authors, all of whom came out of the New School MFA program. We met up in grad school, befriended each other, started a writing workshop after we graduated, and then started a blog.

On the blog we chat about everything from what’s stressing us out that particular week (we’re stressed out a lot) and industry gossip, to exciting news about our books and what’s inspired us, writing-wise. I think it’s a good mix of the serious and the fluffy, and it’s lots of fun.

What does blogging offer you?

In all honesty, I am a horrible blogger. I have a personal blog, which I haven’t posted on for (I just had to check…) a month and a half.

But I love having the Longstockings because: one, there is always someone to pick up the blogging slack when one of us is terribly busy; and two, we are there to support each other when it’s most needed.

I love being in the blogger community for this same reason. Writing is such a lonely profession, so it’s amazing to have people who not only know exactly what you’re going through, but can empathize with you from all over the globe. It’s been wonderful to meet so many writers, readers, and librarians this way, so I feel very lucky.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

Since both of my jobs are children’s book related, the answer to this is: not a whole lot.

When I’m not editing, writing, or reading children’s books, I tend to do the normal sit-around-and-loaf things: movies, books, brunch with friends.

Recently I’ve joined a bocce ball team. I am supremely bad at it, but it’s very fun and they haven’t kicked me off yet, so they must not mind too much.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My third novel, Umbrella Summer, is coming out in Summer 2009, again with Laura Geringer/HarperCollins. It’s about a ten-year-old girl named Annie, who’s become a bit of a hypochondriac ever since her older brother died, and it begins to affect the way she interacts with her family, friends, and neighbors.

It takes place in a tiny town that’s based on the one I grew up in, and it’s full of some very fun and funny characters. This one has been a long time in coming (when it’s done, it will be about five years from first draft to publication), so it really is close to my heart and I’m very excited that it’s almost a real book.

10th Anniversary Feature: Michelle Meadows

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from children’s author Michelle Meadows.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past decade is that I am in charge of my writing. That means that it’s up to me to take my writing seriously and work on my craft.

There was one time in particular where I went through a period of reflection. I had one picture book published pretty quickly, and then the rejection letters piled up.

I felt so tired. So I decided to take a break from writing, step back, and think about whether I wanted to keep writing and trying to get published.

A few important things happened during this period of reflection. One important thing is that I found out that I couldn’t stay away from writing. Even though I was supposed to be taking a “break,” new ideas for stories kept coming and characters kept talking to me.

Another thing was that during this same time, I bought one of those little books of inspirational quotations as a birthday gift for a relative. Right before I wrapped the gift, I decided to flip through the book and read all the quotations.

And there was one in particular that struck me. It was this quote by actress Mary Pickford: “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down but the staying down.”

I love that. Especially the part about “a fresh start any moment you choose.”

I realized that I didn’t have to give up. I didn’t have to let my past rejection letters swallow me up. At any moment, I could have a fresh start; I could choose to write something totally new and try again.

The next manuscript I wrote after that was Pilot Pups (Simon & Schuster, 2008)!

Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.