10th Anniversary Feature: Uma Krishnaswami

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, 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 first reply, this one from author Uma Krishnaswami:

About my craft, I have learned that the journey is everything. Every time I start a new work, I am beginning all over again.

Someone said to me the other day, “But you know how to write novels and picture books.”

And I replied. “No. I know how to write the novels and the picture books that I have written. The next ones that come along, I’ll have to learn how to write them, and each one will be different.”

About the writing life: it’s a roller coaster, and it always will be. You have to embrace the downturns, more than just expecting that they’ll come and bracing yourself.

I practice tai chi, and it’s a bit like yin and yang. The positive energy is great, but the negative allows you to pull back, return to being grounded again.

I’ve also learned that teaching feeds my writing. When I’m so busy with teaching that I don’t even have time to write–that’s when the ideas begin catching fire or I make breakthroughs in work in which I thought I’d lost my way.

About publication: I’ve learned not to pay attention to trends, and to treat “the market” as a giant conversation of books. And most of all, to write what I want to write.

Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

New Publisher, WestSide Books, To Launch Young Adult Line

WestSide Books, a company dedicated to publishing contemporary, realistic young adult fiction, will launch its debut list of seven young adult novels in Spring 2009.

WestSide is a sister company to Everbind Inc., a distributor and pre-binder that has been selling to public schools for thirty years. Each year, Everbind ships nearly two million books into the school market, and their national sales force goes into high schools in all fifty states.

According to Publisher Evelyn Fazio, WestSide’s focus will be on novels from both established and debut authors.

The list will be available in jacketed hardcover and will be sold into the trade, school and library markets.

WestSide Books www.westside-books.com plans to publish approximately twenty titles per year by 2010, from the company based in Lodi, New Jersey.

“I’m thrilled to be publishing this exciting new list for teenage readers,” says Fazio. “I’ve fallen in love with the YA market because the books are so refreshingly direct, so immediate and so real. I know I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to create this kind of a list and to work with these wonderful writers, not to mention being able to rely on the resources and infrastructure of such a solid, established, well run and respected company.

“At WestSide, we believe there’s an opportunity to publish great books for the high school YA audience, especially teenage boys, and we hope to bring them many of the kind of books they’ll want to read. I work directly with each author, and all the manuscripts get hands-on treatment to help writers make their books the best they can be.”

WestSide will handle its own sales and distribution, according to Charles B. Davis, Vice President and Director of Marketing. Both Ms. Fazio and Mr. Davis report to WestSide Books’ President Stewart Penn. As a sister company to Everbind, WestSide Books already has infrastructure and warehouse facilities in place. The marketing and sales synergies between Everbind and WestSide give the new publisher a unique opportunity to reach target markets from day one.

WestSide novels will feature typical kids grappling with the real issues and problems that teenagers face in contemporary society, such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, bullying, peer pressure, family problems such as divorce, and other typical teen issues.

Teenage readers will recognize themselves in these fresh stories of diverse young people who must navigate new friendships, learn about trust, or test the limits of family bonds.

The books will feature cover art by, among others, Michael Morgenstern, who created the cover art for Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak, and by Rick Leider, the cover artist for such YA bestsellers as A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park‘s Newbery Award-winning novel.

All seven authors on the debut list are first-time novelists with strong, original voices. They include a television writer and producer who has written for “Full House” and “Saved by the Bell,” and created the NBC Saturday morning series “Hang Time;” a classical trombonist who is CEO of a symphony orchestra, a former high school English and theatre teacher; a registered counselor; and several recent graduates of M.F.A. in Writing programs.

Evelyn Fazio has 28 years of publishing experience and has worked at Simon & Schuster/Prentice-Hall, Random House, Marshall Cavendish, and M.E. Sharpe. A former Vice President of E-Content Acquisitions for Baker & Taylor, she has also been a full-time literary agent and has co-authored seven nonfiction books. Ms. Fazio became publisher of WestSide Books in 2006, and is also publisher of the Everbind Anthology series.

Charles B. Davis worked at Van Nostrand Reinhold Company and was Marketing Director of the University of Pennsylvania Press before moving to Simon and Schuster in 1972. He spent ten years there, most of that time as Vice President, Marketing Services. In the early 1980s, he founded Practical Book Marketing Services, and later co-founded The Mesa Group, a boutique ad agency specializing in book publishing. After he sold off his interests in these companies in the 1990s, Mr. Davis joined Everbind Books, where he helped produce the Everbind Anthology series and has been instrumental in the early planning and start-up of WestSide Books.

Stewart Penn, co-founder and owner of Everbind Books and now WestSide Books, was a New York City high school English teacher prior to his involvement with Everbind. After running Everbind for many years, he decided to produce Everbind Anthologies, a publishing program for high schools that is widely used throughout the country. The success of Everbind Anthologies led Mr. Penn to seek a broader challenge, out of which grew the YA publishing company WestSide Books.

Source: Raab Associates.


In the winter of 1998, my agent sold a manuscript that would eventually be published as my first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000).

In September of 1998, I launched a do-it-yourself, official author Website (www.cynthialeitichsmith) and monthly e-newsletter. Over time, the newsletter eventually attracted more than 1,000 subscribers.

The focus included my own work, but also celebrated youth literature more globally.

Each issue highlighted publishing news, writer resources, and a couple of original author interviews.

This information was then archived in a major section of the main author site, Children’s and YA Literature Resources, which grew more extensive with each passing month.

In 2004, the Cynsations blog replaced the e-newsletter. By that time, the main site was attracting more than 100,000 unique visitors a year.

Then in 2006, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys (interview) transformed my amateur design effort on the main site into a work of art, and by then, Cynsations had become its biggest feeder after Google.

By 2007, the number of unique visitors had climbed to more than 2 million. At current traffic rates, 2008 looks likely to top that.

For the past decade, it has been my great pleasure to take part in the discussion of youth literature on the Internet, and so I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you!

Thank you to the writers, artists, authors, illustrators, editors, agents, bloggers, publishers, publicists, booksellers, book doctors, teachers, librarians, reviewers, readers, gurus, university professors, and children’s-YA book enthusiasts of all stripes who have visited my site-blogs!

Thank you to everyone who passed along my URL on a listserv or site or blog or message board or chat or at a live event!

Thank you to everyone who suggested a resource to feature or shared your thoughts in an interview!

Thank you all for your support and encouragement!

And if you haven’t surfed by lately, please check out www.cynthialeitichsmith.com!

Cynsational Notes

In a Dec. 12, 2007 interview with YA author Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth, I advised fellow writers:

I have found that it helps to celebrate every victory, no matter how small.

You finished your draft? Celebrate!

You received a personal rejection letter? Celebrate!

Your workshop leader says your story arc is stronger?

An agent asks for the whole manuscript?

You’ve sold your first book? Your fiftieth?

Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate!

So, in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked several well-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?

And in my tradition of highlighting new voices, I also asked several first-time authors:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Answers are incoming (and fascinating)! Over the next few months–amidst more typical postings–I’ll share them as they become available.

I’ll also be offering a 10th anniversary giveaway and other celebratory features.

Stay tuned, and thanks again!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of four ARCs of Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez (Harcourt, 2008)(author interview)! From the promotional copy:

“Fashion statement…or something freakier?

“The first installment of this creepy, campy paperback original series introduces the psychic Giordano sisters—and their very strange hometown, Nightshade, California.

“Teenage girls are being mysteriously attacked all over town, including at Nightshade High School, where Daisy Giordano is a junior.

“When Daisy discovers that a vampire may be the culprit, she can’t help but suspect head cheerleader Samantha Devereaux, who returned from summer break with a new ‘look.’

“Samantha looks a little…well, dead, and all the popular kids at school are copying her style.

“Is looking dead just another fashion trend for pretty popular Samantha, or is there something more sinister going on? To find out, Daisy joins the cheerleading squad….

“Dead is the New Black is a fast-paced mystery that combines romance, humor, sibling rivalry, and lots of attitude.”

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 Sept. 15! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 15! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win.

One ARC will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), two will go to any Cynsational readers, and one will go to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please indicate status. Please also type “Dead is the New Black” in the subject line.

Attention: teachers and school librarians! Enter to win a copy of Jake Starts School by Michael Wright (Feiwel and Friends, 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. 8! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 8! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “Jake Goes to School” in the subject line and indicate your school or library.

Read a Cynsations interview with Michael.

Enter to win one of three ARCs of The Devouring: Sorry Night by Simon Holt (Little Brown, Sept. 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. 8!

OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 8! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win.

One ARC will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), one will go to any Cynsational reader, and one will go to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please indicate status. Please also type “Devouring” in the subject line.

The winners of the Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella, 2008)(exclusive to Borders/Waldenbooks) giveaway were: Ann, a school library media specialist in Tennessee; Lucile in Florida; and Ciera in South Carolina. Note: there’s some delay in adding it to the Borders website, so try to find a “brick-and-mortar” store. Note: read a related interview with P. C. and Kristin Cast. Didn’t win? Don’t despair! Enter another Immortal giveaway, sponsored by fellow contributor Claudia Gray!

The winners of the My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson (Flux, 2008) August grand-prize giveaway were: Chantele at the Hurst Public Library in Hurst, Texas; Brooke in Florida; and Asma in Malaysia! Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

More Giveaways

Join debut author Kimberly Pauley from now to Sept. 10 at the The Official Sucks to Be Me Book Launch Par-tay! Note: it’s so gracious (and typical) of Kimberly to be highlighting other authors as she launches her own debut title! There are tons of amazing giveaways!

TeensReadToo is giving away books by Dakota Lane, Sarah Mlynowski, Julie Anne Peters, Laura Resau, Dandi Daley Mackall, Sally Nemeth, Margo Rabb, Kathi Appelt, Michael P. Spradlin, Tamora Pierce, and Kenneth R. Besser. Learn how to enter here!

Contributor Claudia Gray is giving away three copies of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella, 2008)(exclusive to Borders/Waldenbooks)! Learn how to enter. Read a new interview with Claudia from Book Review Maniac. Peek: “I am currently working on a couple of proposals that are both definitely supernatural and romantic, but no vampires — one involved witchcraft, and the other–hmmm–let’s call them reincarnated time-travelers.”

Enter to win from the Texas Book Festival! Grand prize: VIP Trip for two to the Texas Book Festival in Austin from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. Second prize: Fort Worth Arts and Culture Tour. Third prize: Barnes & Noble and BN.com Gift Basket & Gift Card. Check out the amazing details (airline tickets, spa resort, and much more)!

Between now and Dec. 31, author Suzanne Selfors is running a video contest! The winner “will be announced in January and will receive a $150 gift certificate for the bookstore of his/her choice and a signed copy of Suzanne’s next teen novel, Coffeehouse Angel. [The] winning video will also be featured on Suzanne’s website.”

To celebrate the paperback release of Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra (HarperTeen, 2007) and the release of Do The Math #2: The Writing on the Wall (HarperTeen, 2008), both by Wendy Lichtman, librarians are invited to enter a drawing sponsored by Raab Associates. Ten teen librarians will receive a free autographed copy of each book plus 25 original, limited edition Do the Math temporary tattoos.

It’s easy to join in the celebration! Simply answer a few questions and submit your responses with your name, library name, mailing address, and email address. The deadline for entries is 5 p.m. EST Sept. 15. Ten lucky libraries will be selected at random. No purchase is necessary and you may enter regardless of whether your library sponsors a teen advisory group or not. Winners will be contacted by Sept. 22.

Join Author Micol Ostow’s Popular Vote Cyber-Launch Party at First Person Present! From Sept. 8 to Sept. 13, Micol will be offering question-and-answer interviews with such youth lit authors as Jill Santopolo, Judy Goldschmidt, Nancy Krulik, Nancy Holder, Marjetta Geerling, Kim Kane, Liz Gallagher, and more! Each day, Micol also will also giveaway “one copy and one bookmark of Popular Vote (Scholastic Point, 2008), plus a special prize from the visiting author of the day.”

More News

Author Paula Yoo visits with readergirlz.

Hip, Hip Hooray, It’s Monsoon Day!/¡Ajúa, ya llegó el chubasco! by Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford (Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Press), is one of five finalists for Arizona’s ONEBOOK. Online voting will determine which of the titles that Arizona children will read during April 2009. Voting will be from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30. Vote here.

World Religions: Buddhism and Hinduism: a recommended bibliography from The Horn Book.

April Henry seeks suggestions of YA books to review that were published in the past six months and are somehow connected to the U.S. Pacific Northwest (in terms of author residence, setting, etc.) She writes a YA book column for The Oregonian.

How It Came Together (with Pictures): author Debbi Michiko Florence takes you behind the scenes to check out the process for writing and publishing her debut book, China: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book (Williamson Books, 2008). Peek: “My editor then made changes based on my suggestions (or not) and then it went to book design where the text with photos and illustrations were arranged as it would look for the book. Once that was completed….” Read a Cynsations interview with Debbi.

First Steps: Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults: an eight-week class taught by children’s author Debby Dahl Edwardson. “Do you have a passion for children’s literature? Have you dreamed about trying your hand at writing for children but don’t know where to start? Or started writing but stalled out too many times? First Steps: Introduction to Writing for Children, offers a jump-start for those interested in writing for young readers and submitting to today’s vibrant children’s and young adult book and magazine market. In this eight-week online class, you can learn about the many forms and genres within this field. Ask your burning questions, nourish your story ideas. Develop your writing muscles with a series of online lectures, exercises and discussions.”

Why You Should Never Submit Unagented to Publishing Companies from Editorial Ass. Peek: “All authors seeking publication should work with agents on their projects. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. But even the exceptions are ill-advised.”

Cycler Interview: the transcript of an IM interview with Lauren McLaughlin, author of Cycler (Random House, 2008)(excerpt) from Scott Westerfeld. Note to self: must read this book!

Some Thoughts on Writing from Elizabeth Gilbert. Peek: “…all writers think they suck.” Source: Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Writer April Henry tells what really happens when you quit your day job by April Henry from The Oregonian. Peek:”I am more creative. I am currently writing four books, and revising three more that are already accepted for publication. When I had a day job, I could only manage one book at a time.”

Preparing for Critique Sessions from Editorial Anonymous. Peek [from Questions Not to Ask]: “‘Why is getting published so hard?’ (No matter how sympathetic the editor seems, don’t start whining to her. Be professional, cheerful, and accepting of critique. We meet a broad spectrum of people at conferences, and these qualities usually mark the people who have a chance at making it in the industry.)”

Where Have All the Titles Gone from Buried in the Slush Pile. Peek: ” Since fewer books are being acquired right now, are people just holding on to them until the market turns around?”

Congratulations to Carla Killough McClafferty on the release of In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry (FSG, 2008). “…American Holocaust rescuer Varian Fry, who was a Harvard educated American journalist who went to Marseille, France in 1940 and arranged the escape of more than 2000 predominately Jewish refugees before they could be arrested by the Nazis. Varian Fry was the first American to be honored at the Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.” In a starred review, Booklist says: “…amazing information about the unassuming hero who saved so many.” Read a Cynsations interview with Carla.

Query Stats by Word Count from Nathan Bransford — Literary Agent. Peek: “Anything shorter than 250 usually (but not always) seems too short and anything longer than 350 usually (but not always) seems too long.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Writer’s Block: Is It All In Your Head by Lauren Baratz-Logsted from The Red Room: Where the Writers Gather. I sometimes get the impression that the questioner has never suffered it themselves but merely expects to, and it is, I find, a romanticized–in a bad way–view of the writing life. It reminds me of the woman I knew once who kept expecting the other shoe to drop in an amazing relationship until I explained to her that high romance didn’t necessarily have to equal high (bad) drama.”

Congratulations to Maha Addasi on the release of The White Nights of Ramadan, illustrated by Ned Gannon (Boyds Mills Press, 2008)! From the promotional copy: “Maha Addasi’s bright and happy story, richly illustrated by Ned Gannon, captures the merriment of a festive holiday and the greatest joy of all—the joy of giving.”

When an Agent Isn’t Loving Your Work from Bookends, LCC – A Literary Agency. Peek: “Talk to your agent first to see whether or not the two of you are on the same page. Does she believe in you and your career in the way you want her to? Is this the agent you really want or do you think that someone else might be a better fit?”

Targeting Your Submissions by Laura Manivong from Kidlit Central News. Peek: “For me, targeting submissions means keeping a detailed reading log so you can get a sense of who likes what.”

Things I Don’t Need to Know in a Query from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “Here is a list of things I don’t need to see in a query. There are exceptions to most of these rules, so, in the end, use your best judgment. But hopefully this list will help you wield the delete button wisely…” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Are Sequels Easy or Hard to Write? Robin Friedman asks Sarah Beth Durst. Peek: “My muse… She’s a chocoholic who delights in making snide comments about my hair. She also likes loud music, so one of my writing tricks is to play loud music when I want to write so that my muse starts dancing and leaves me alone to get some work done.”

Call for Entries: 20th Annual Oklahoma Book Awards from the Oklahoma Center of the Book. There is a children’s/YA category. Peek: “Books considered for this award must have an Oklahoma-based theme, or entrants (authors, illustrators, or designers) must live or have lived in Oklahoma.” Books must have been published in 2008; deadline: Jan. 7, 2009. Learn more. Note: two of my books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) were OBA finalists.

Congratulations to author Kimberly Griffiths Little on signing with Tracy Adams of Adams Literary Agency, and congratulations to Tracy on signing Kimberly! Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

Stephen King’s On Writing by Liz Gallagher from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “You might be surprised to learn (I was!) that King doesn’t plot. He just tells stories as they go. Even the really complicated ones. He says that stories are like relics, and that the writer’s job is to uncover the relic, keeping as much of it in tact as possible.” Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Joan Bauer: Stories Connect Us: official newly designed and relaunched author website. Features include new teaching guides, wallpaper downloads; information about Joan’s latest novel, Peeled (Putnam, 2008), her blog, and Teaching 9-11.

A Captive Audience – Bringing Books to Teens in Detention by Dodie Ownes from School Library Journal. Peek: “‘We often only get through two or three chapters because we stop and talk about the characters and try to challenge the boys with questions about their own opinions or how they can relate to the situation,’ reports Skipper. ‘The discussions we have about the books are what make the club successful to me.'” Source: April Henry.

Controlling What We Can from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “…it was of great comfort to me to hear Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin’s Press emphasize that publishing is a business of relationships, whether with your publishing house or your readers.”

The Fine Art of Writing Blurbs from Making Up Stuff for a Living. Peek: “As writers, we tend to think about too much when we’re trying to describe our work. There are so many elements! This part is especially meaningful! Oh, and the backstory, did you ever see such a poignant backstory? Nobody cares.” Source: Author2Author.

Check out this new book trailer for Zombie Blondes by Brian James (Feiwel & Friends, 2008), and read a Cynsations interview with Brian about the novel.

Coming Soon

Rick Guzman (Austin) will speak at the Sept. 13 meeting of the CenTex Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers in Round Rock, Texas. “Book Publishing Contracts: What You Need to Know,” will discuss what to look for, what to avoid, and what it all means. “Guzman’s law practice includes publishing interests, and he writes biographies of famous Latinos, most recently George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy (Enslow, 2008).” Source: Writers’ League of Texas.

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.

Speakers will include: Ashley Bryan; Betsy Hearne; Dan Keding; W. Nikola-Lisa; Alice McGinty; Patricia Hruby Powell; Melodye Rosales; Marc Aronson; Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Chris Crutcher; Jan Spivey Gilchrist; Jennifer Holm; Paul Jancezko; Francisco Jimenez; M. E. Kerr; Robert Lipsyte; Robert San Souci; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Joyce Carol Thomas; Richard Van Camp; and Janet Wong.

See more information. 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).

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.

“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.

Online Events

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 October 14, and again on October 28 on the teen grid of Teen Second.” See more information.

More personally

Happy belated 14th wedding anniversary to Greg Leitich Smith! Last night we had a wonderful, celebratory dinner at Eddie V’s.

Thank you to Lobster Press for nominating Cynsations for a Brillante Weblog Premio award!

Autographed paperback copies of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008) are available at the Barnes & Noble Westlake (Texas), where April Lurie signed The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008) last Saturday. April also signed stock after the end of the event, so you can find them there, too, along with signed copies of her previous novel, Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)(author interview).

Autographed hardcover copies of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) are available at Austin’s famed indie bookstore, BookPeople. Go upstairs toward the BookKids section and you’ll find the YA shelves along the east wall (and in that area). You can also call BookPeople at: 800.853.9757, to purchase a signed copy and request that it be shipped to you (postage will be charged).

You can of course also find the book at more fine indies, the various national chains (now including Wal-Mart), and libraries! If you’d like a signed bookplate for a copy of your own, feel free to write me with a snail/street mail address, and I’ll zip it right off!

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

Author Interview: Marlene Perez on Dead Is The New Black

Dead Is the New Black by Marlene Perez (Harcourt, 2008). From the promotional copy:

Fashion statement…or something freakier?

“The first installment of this creepy, campy paperback original series introduces the psychic Giordano sisters—and their very strange hometown, Nightshade, California.

“Teenage girls are being mysteriously attacked all over town, including at Nightshade High School, where Daisy Giordano is a junior.

“When Daisy discovers that a vampire may be the culprit, she can’t help but suspect head cheerleader Samantha Devereaux, who returned from summer break with a new ‘look.’

“Samantha looks a little…well, dead, and all the popular kids at school are copying her style.

“Is looking dead just another fashion trend for pretty popular Samantha, or is there something more sinister going on? To find out, Daisy joins the cheerleading squad….

“Dead is the New Black is a fast-paced mystery that combines romance, humor, sibling rivalry, and lots of attitude.”

We last spoke in March 2006 about Unexpected Development (Roaring Brook, 2004)(author interview)! What’s new in your writing life?

I’ve been writing up a storm. I try to keep working on something no matter what. Unexpected Development was the first novel I ever completed. After that, I promptly wrote a novel that will stay in a drawer. Then I wrote Love in the Corner Pocket, which came out in May.

I want to focus on your new paranormal series, but first, tell us about Love in the Corner Pocket (Scholastic, 2008). How would you describe the story?

It’s about a love and billiards triangle, and it’s set in Laguna Beach, California, which is very close to the city where I live. I played pool (unlike Chloe, the main character in LITCP, I played it badly) when I was in high school, and I was intrigued by the idea of a female competing in a traditionally male game.

While I was writing the book, I had to learn about serious pool playing, and I spent hours watching competitive pool on television. There are some amazing female players.

Congratulations, too, on the release of Dead Is The New Black (Harcourt, 2008)! I love that it’s a genre bender–a paranormal mystery with romance and comedic elements! Could you tell us more about the book?

Dead Is the New Black is the first book in a trilogy. It’s about three sisters who solve paranormal mysteries in their California high school. I think the reason it’s a genre bender is because I love to read in so many genres myself.

The main character is Daisy, who is the youngest. She feels inferior to her two beautiful and psychic sisters and her gorgeous mother, who is also psychic.

Daisy becomes suspicious that something strange is going on at her high school when the head cheerleader returns from summer vacation with a new look and suddenly, “dead” is in.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the novel?

I love urban fantasies, paranormals, and especially vampire novels. I started reading Anne Rice novels when I was in high school and try to read everything in the vampire canon. I’m also a huge “Buffy”/“Angel” fan.

I also have a thing for protagonists who use humor as a shield. That’s definitely part of my own make-up. If someone compliments me, I immediately make a joke. Although I’m trying just to say “thank you” instead.

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

I’d always wanted to write a paranormal novel, and I’d been working on an outline.

One of the things that may be different about me from other writers is that I always like to start with a good title. I’m very attached to my titles, although like most authors, I’ve had to give them up occasionally. I’m thrilled that the “Dead Is” titles have stayed the same.

For some reason, Dead Is The New Black popped into my mind and then Daisy kind of just bloomed (bad pun intended) from there.

I’d just signed on with a new agent in August 2006, after he’d read the manuscript of Love In The Corner Pocket, and he asked me what else I was working on.

When I told him about my idea for Dead Is The New Black, he loved it and immediately began shopping the outline and three chapters around. It went to auction and sold to Julie Tibbott at Harcourt the day before my birthday.

A month later, he sold Love In The Corner Pocket to Abby McAden at Scholastic/Point, right after my husband’s birthday. I really like birthdays these days! So, it will be a little over two years from concept to publication.

It was kind of a surreal experience. One minute, I’m without an agent and/or a book contract, and then suddenly, I had a fabulous agent and four books under contract and only one of them (Love In The Corner Pocket) was written. And much of the credit goes to my dynamo of an agent, Stephen Barbara (agent interview).

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

I’ve always loved supernatural stories, but I think it was a challenge to try to bring something new to the table. There are so many wonderful authors out there who write in this genre.

I did do a lot of research, especially to learn more about psychics. I love music, so it was fun to find the perfect songs for the jukebox. It was also a challenge to create an imaginary town and to give it the perfect name.

I have to confess that I asked for help in naming the town where Daisy and her family live, and my critique partner and my daughter both came up with Nightshade, which I think is just right.

Is this the first book in a series or trilogy? Could you give us some hint as to where it’s going?

Dead Is The New Black will be followed by Dead Is A State of Mind and Dead Is So Last Year. Daisy finds out something surprising about herself, and we may or may not finally find out what really happened to Daisy’s father.

What inspired you to do a multi-book storyline?

I really loved Daisy and her sisters and thought that there were more stories to tell.

And I had so much fun writing those books! When I wasn’t banging my head against the wall, wondering why I thought I could write a mystery-romance-humor-paranormal, that is.

What advice do you have for writers who’re interested in doing the same?

I read a lot of writing books about how to write a proposal. I also think you really need to like your main character because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with her.

Back in March 2006, you were still relatively new to the author’s life. What lessons have you learned since?

Don’t let either praise or criticism go to your head, give back to the writing community whenever you can, and surround yourself with positive people who believe in you.

What did you do right? What, given a chance, would you have done differently?

What did I do right? Wow, it was all such a blur! Two of the things I did right were to ask other, more experienced writers for advice and to keep a positive attitude.

One of the things I would have done differently is I would have worked on a paranormal much earlier, since I’d been wanting to write one for years.

In what areas, if any, are you still pushing yourself–both in terms of craft and publishing as a business?

I think you always have to push yourself to try new things in your craft, so I’m always looking for ways to improve and grow as a writer.

I think the best way to pick a new project is to pursue the one you’re the most scared of, to go toward the fear. I’ve heard several actors say that’s how they pick the roles they choose, and I think it applies to writing as well.

And we all have those ideas that are bigger than what we’re currently capable of, so my next goal is to work on something that will help my writing stretch and grow.

What are you doing when you’re not writing?

Hanging out with my husband and kids, going to the beach (although I’ve been on deadline this summer and haven’t made it once) and reading.

We’re all really into comic books, and just got back from the “nerd prom” otherwise known as Comic-Con.

What can your fans look forward to next?

After the Dead Is books, I have a stand-alone contemporary YA coming out with Scholastic/Point called The Comeback, which is about a girl who is ousted from the popular clique and plots her way back to popularity.

Author Interview: Suzanne Selfors on To Catch a Mermaid and Saving Juliet

Suzanne Selfors on Suzanne Selfors: “I grew up on Bainbridge Island, which is a thirty minute ferry ride from Seattle. Really, it’s an ideal place to grow up because we had the beach, the woods, and a safe place to run wild.

“My dad taught history in middle school and fished in Alaska during the summer. My mom stayed at home for most of my childhood. I have a younger sister who is an ultra marathon runner. She’s amazing.

“When I graduated from high school, like most everyone in my class, I wanted to get as far away from the island as possible. And I did, traveling through Europe and going to school on the East Coast. But when I got pregnant with baby #1, I moved back. It’s still an ideal place to raise kids.”

How would you describe yourself as a kid? As a young adult?

I was a happy kid. I loved playing dress-up with my best friend, Elizabeth. And we made tons of movies with my super 8 camera. I wrote plays and picture books and watched lots of Saturday morning cartoons. We built forts, rode horses and bicycles, and ran wild. It was a different world before computers.

I was fairly happy in my teen years too, though I limited myself to a smaller group of friends. I was madly in love with one guy, but he didn’t notice me until our senior year when I finally got the courage to ask him out. High school was all about performing for me, in plays and in dance productions. My parents started having marriage problems, and so being in plays was a way to get out of the house.

College was tough for me. I had a major depressive episode that changed my life for a couple of years. It was horrid.

Why first inspired you to write for young readers?

My kids. I have two, and my husband and I used to read to them every single night. I loved what I was reading and realized that there was this huge Renaissance going on in children’s literature.

Every time I went to a bookstore, I’d start in the adult section, find nothing I wanted to read, and then ended up in the kids’ section with an armful of books. I wanted to be a part of it.

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

Stumbles? Ha! I fell on my face!

The first year of writing was a glorious year. September to September, I wrote an adult novel, signed with an agent, and the novel went into submission to twelve major houses. I thought I was in heaven. I thought I was a sure thing. Could it get any easier?

Of course nothing is a sure thing in this business. I got twelve rejections. I felt like a total loser. Then my next two adult novels didn’t sell, and my agent lost interest in me.

Here’s a big lesson learned: Do not write a sequel until you have sold the first novel!

Here’s another lesson learned: Sometimes, in this business, you have to be willing to reinvent yourself.

That’s what I did. I got another agent and I tried my hand at a different genre. My first kids’ book, To Catch a Mermaid (Little Brown, 2007), went out on a Thursday, and by following Monday, we had two offers. Three more came in over the next few days. I had found my voice.

Congratulations on the release of To Catch a Mermaid (Little Brown, 2007) and Saving Juliet (Bloomsbury, 2008)! Let’s start with To Catch a Mermaid! Could you tell us a little about the story?

It’s the story of a brother and sister who find a lost merbaby and their quest to return the merbaby to its parents.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

My inspiration was a walk in Stanley Park, in Vancouver, Canada. All these kids were playing in the tide pools, squealing with delight as they discovered little wonders. It hit me right then that whether a kid grows up on the beach like I did or whether a kid grows up in the city, the beach always yields treasures.

I asked myself, what would be the most amazing treasure a kid could find on the beach?

My answer–a merbaby.

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

I wrote the book quickly, in about five months. It poured forth. Not like the adult novels where I often found myself fighting through a chapter; this story came fast and furious. I loved writing it.

My agent wasn’t quite sure she wanted to represent a kids’ book but she read it and got really excited. It ended up going to auction, which was one of the best days of my life. There’s nothing like feeling wanted after you’ve gotten so many rejections.

But the biggest event was when I shipped the manuscript off to Jeanne DuPrau. I’d never met Jeanne, I still haven’t, but City of Ember (Yearling, 2004) was one of my favorite books that I had read with my daughter. Jeanne said she wasn’t all that fond of books about magic, but she read it over Labor Day weekend and loved it! When I got that email from her, I started crying.

Having an author you admire read your work and praise it is one of the best feelings in the world.

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

The biggest challenge for me, each and every time I sit down to write, is trying to balance my “mom” role with my “author” role. I don’t have a daily schedule. I don’t write every day. It’s really difficult for me to separate myself from my domestic duties.

I find moments–sometimes at my desk, sometimes in my car while my son is at water polo practice. I haven’t figured out the right formula, and it’s a constant struggle.

The “direct descendants of Vikings” play a charming role in the book! How did this come to be?

My father was Norwegian and very proud of that fact. He belonged to a club called The Sons of Norway. He used to wear a Viking hat around the house.

Funny, but I didn’t realize that the character of Halvor was based on my father until I had finished the book. It’s so obvious now, but it wasn’t at the time. He died at age 59, and his spirit found its way into my story.

Although it has dual-gender appeal, yours has to be the most boy-friendly mermaid story I’ve ever read! Do you have any thoughts on gender and reading choices?

I wanted to write a book for boys and girls. This was a strategy on my part, hoping it would make the book more marketable. And I wanted my son and my daughter to enjoy the story. That’s why the mermaid is more of a wild creature and not a Disney mermaid. I definitely wanted to draw boys in.

The title of the book was not my first choice. I didn’t want the word “mermaid” to appear in the title, afraid that it would turn off boys. But publishing houses rely on the shared wisdom of a sales staff, marketing staff, editorial staff, art staff, etc, and more girls buy books than boys, hence their choice of title.

From my visits at schools, boys have admitted that they were worried about reading a “mermaid” book. So most of my readers are definitely girls. The way boys will discover this book is through word of mouth.

What did Catia Chien‘s (interior black-and-white) illustrations bring to your story?

Catia gets me. She gets the quirky, weirdness of my stories. She’s gets the odd humor. I love her interpretations. She’s doing the interiors for my next middle grade, too.

You have a wonderful facility for intertwining the humorous and heartfelt! Do you have any advice for other writers in this regard?

Humor is tricky. It can’t be forced. I don’t even think it can be taught. And it’s so subjective. People either get you or they don’t.

Humorous books don’t tend to win awards, they don’t tend to be taken seriously. One reviewer called me “hysterical” while another called me “twee.” I had to look up that word. It’s not very nice.

The humorous and the heartfelt, as you put it, come from the same place, and that is honesty.

Kids want honesty.

Shifting focus, what first inspired Saving Juliet?

I was under contract for a second middle grade novel, and my intent was to start writing it, but this story wouldn’t get out of my head.

I never planned to write YA, never even read much YA but the story wanted to be written.

The most logical course is to stick with one genre, develop readership and write, write, write. But I wanted to tell the Juliet story, and so I threw logic out the window.

How would you describe the novel?

It’s a quest of self-discovery. A girl trying to figure out who she is, like most teen girls–trying to find her own voice and find the courage to let others hear that voice.

It’s a fantasy because the hero, Mimi, gets transported into the story of “Romeo and Juliet.”

What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?


At this point in my life, I’m totally in touch with middle graders because that’s what I’ve just been through with my kids.

But teens? Whoa, that’s a whole other world I’m just entering. So, I knew right off that I wouldn’t write a trendy book, using trendy language.

The roadblock I faced was that while the story was very high-concept, which excited my agent, the magic would prove to be an issue. There’s this idea that teens aren’t so interested in magic, they want real things, real problems in the real world.

But I wanted that magical element, and so I just went for it.

How is it different writing for the upper YA audience (as opposed to middle graders)?

I think that Juliet is really for a younger YA market. Most of my letters come from 13- and 14-year-olds. And ninth graders write to me to tell me that they enjoyed it because they had to read “Romeo and Juliet” in school.

What is different? Middle graders are all about adventure. They believe anything is possible. And so writing fantasy for them is the ultimate fun ride.

Teens want an element of romance, which is always the most difficult part of the story for me to write.

What are the important considerations in writing a fantasy? What, if anything, did you have to learn the hard way?

Setting is everything in fantasy. I read fantasy because I want a story to take me to another place and time. In my own stories, the setting may seem to be of this world. There are aspects of it that are certainly recognizable, but something is always different, something is always other-worldly. Blending in the magic is the trickiest part.

One thing I’ve had to learn is not to rush my endings. I tend to do this because after so many revisions a writer can just say, “Let’s end this thing already. I’m sick of writing this story!” So, I’ve learned to set the work-in-progress aside more often. Take a good break before I head into the final stretch.

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

I’ve only been published since September 2007, so I’m still learning how to balance.

With the first book I went a little nuts on the local level, doing bookstores, schools, conferences, etc., and it really exhausted me and took time from my writing.

So when Juliet came along in February 2008, I was so worn out I didn’t do a thing. Feast or famine, there’s got to be a better way. I’m writing two books a year, which is nuts in itself, so how does one go about promoting two books a year and finding time to write? I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe someone will let me know.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I play with my kids, raise chickens, grow vegetables and flowers, draw cartoons, walk my dog, go to lots of movies and plays, volunteer for our local library newspaper, and sort an endless pile of laundry.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next middle grade book is Fortune’s Magic Farm, March 2009. It’s about a girl who inherits the last piece of land on Earth where magical ingredients can be grown. I love this book!

My next YA book is Coffeehouse Angel, Spring 2009. I’m working the final revision right now. It’s about a girl who works in a failing coffeehouse and an angel who befriends and falls in love with her. It’s a lot of fun.

Weekend Wonders: YA Author April Lurie, Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary

Austin area author April Lurie (above) held a signing in celebration of her new release, The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008) at the Barnes & Noble Round Rock (Texas) last Saturday.

Local authors in attendance included Greg Leitich Smith and P. J. Hoover

Shana Burg and Frances Hill

as well as (Greg again, pictured with…) Varian Johnson and Brian Yansky.

The following day, Greg and I visited the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary! From the website: “With more than 300 animals across more than 100 different species, Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary is a private, non-profit zoo rescuing animals and serving the Austin community.”

Note: “The problem of unwanted or rescued animals is large. Austin Zoo is forced to turn down an average of 200 requests a month to care for additional animals, ‘from goats to elephants.’ Due to the growth of ‘roadside zoos’ and private ownership of exotic animals, along with the release of older animals from big city zoos to smaller facilities, the number of animals in need of a safe and healthy home has multiplied at a rapid rate.” Learn how you can help and meet some of the animals….

Arte y Pico Award: Recognizing Blogs That Inspire Others; Brillante Weblog Premio Award; I Heart Your Blog

Arte y Pico Award: Recognizing Blogs That Inspire Others

Children’s author Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day has chosen Cynsations for an Arte y pico Award!

Q. What is Arte y pico?

A dollmaker in Uruguay created this award to recognize blogs that inspire others.


1) You have to pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award, creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award-winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award winners and those who give the prize must show the link of “Arte y pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5) To show these rules.

So, in turn, it’s my pleasure to present five blogs with this award:

The Class of 2k8: a cooperative blog by 2008 debut authors. Read a Cynsations interview with Marissa Doyle and Jody Feldman about the class.

Liz in Ink from author Liz Garton Scanlon, who’s goddess poet-ness shines through, no matter whether she’s talking craft or daily life.

The Longstockings: For the Love of Pippi and All Things Children’s Books: a cooperative blog from authors Kathryne B Alfred; Daphne Grab; Lisa Greenwald; Siobhan Vivian; Lisa Graff; Jenny Han; Caroline Hickey; Coe Booth.

Shrinking Violet Promotions: Marketing for Introverts: a team blog from Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers. Highly recommended to writers of all personality types.

Through the Tollbooth: Thoughts on Writing for Children and Young Adults: a cooperative blog from Carrie Jones; Helen Hemphill; Kelly Bingham; Liz Gallagher; Sarah Aronson; Sarah Sullivan; Tami Brown; Stephanie Greene; Zu Vincent. Note: I’ll admit a bias here as the authors are Vermont College alumni, but that aside, the Tollbooth is a craft oasis for serious writers.

Brillante Weblog Premio Award

Thanks to Cynthea Liu at Writing for Children and Teens for honoring Cynsations with a Brillante Weblog Premio Award!

I “Heart” Your Blog

Thanks to Carlyn Beccia at The Ballyhoo for “hearting” Cynsations!

Read a Cynsations interview with Carlyn!