Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of three hardcover copies of The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale from the Five Kingdoms by Vivian French (Candlewick, 2008)(author interview). From the promotional copy:

High above the mountain village of Fracture, trouble is brewing. The sorceress Lady Lamorna wants a skull-studded gown of deep black velvet, but her treasure chest is empty of gold.

That doesn’t stop her, however–from kidnapping, blackmailing, and using more than a little magic to get what she needs.

Will her plans be foiled by the heroic Gracie Gillypot, two chatty bats, a gallant (if scruffy) prince, the wickedest stepsister ever, a troll with a grudge, and some very ancient crones?

Humorously macabre and wickedly illustrated in black and white, The Robe of Skulls is truly a scream. Fire up your cauldron for an exuberant, fast-moving, wildly entertaining tale with a cast of characters who are good, bad, and very, very ugly.

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 Nov. 3!

OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Nov. 3! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win.

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

Enter to win Listening for Crickets by David Gifaldi (Henry Holt, 2008)! From the promotional copy: “Can a ten-year-old protect his little sister from the harsh world around them?”

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 Nov. 3! OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Nov. 3! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “Crickets” in the subject line.

Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Winners of signed copies of The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2008) were: Greg of the University of Chicago Charter School, Woodlawn Campus; Yat-Yee of Colorado; and Becky in Texas. Read a Cynsations interview with Kathi.

More Giveaways & Auctions

Leave a Mark Auction: an auction to benefit First Book hosted by The Page Flipper. Between now and Nov. 3, bid to win a copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008) that I’ve marked in the margins with insider tidbits about the writing of the novel and much more.

The Great Pumpkin Contest Revealed: Lee “L.A.” Verday is sponsoring a contest at MySpace. The grand prize is an autographed paperback copy of Tantalize with a Tantalize bookmark.

Additional prizes include a copy of The Elite by Jennifer Banash (Berkley Trade, 2008); two copies of two copies of Chris Grimly’s illustrated book inspired by Washington Irving‘s tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow;” a DVD copy of “Sleepy Hollow,” starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, and spooky cool stickers celebrating the release of Jessica Verday‘s The Hollow (Simon Plus, fall 2009)!

Here’s how to enter: Carve or paint a pumpkin, take a picture, and post it to MySpace. Then–and this is important–tag the photo to Lee so it appears in her photos. Special bonus goodies for anyone who carves or paints with a sleepy hollow twist. The winners will be chosen on Halloween and notified Nov. 1st. Note: if pumpkins are sold out, you can draw one.

Codes, Spells, Incantations and Riddles: a contest at Eric Luper’s Random Musings. Peek: “I have listed a bunch of spells, codes, incantations and riddles from different books, movies, songs and television programs. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is not to solve the riddles, but to identify the book, movie, song or program in which the quote appears.” The prize is an author-marked copy of his debut novel, The Big Slick (FSG, 2007), and it will go to the first person to identify all the sources correctly. The contest will run through Nov. 5 (or until someone wins); however, if no one manages to rise to Eric’s challenge he will draw a random winner from the entries. Read a Cynsations interview with Eric.

More Recommended Reads

Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shandra Strickland (Lee & Low, 2008). From the promotional copy:

“Young Mekhai, better known as Bird, loves to draw. With drawings, he can erase the things that don’t turn out right. In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

“As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brother’s drug addiction, he escapes into his art. Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world. In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

“Told with spare grace, Bird is a touching look at a young boy coping with real-life troubles. Readers will be heartened by Bird’s quiet resilience, and moved by the healing power of putting pencil to paper.

“Bird, the recipient of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award Honor, is the first picture book of both Zetta Elliot and Shadra Strickland.”

Read a Lee & Low Book Talk with Zetta Elliot. Peek: “I really hope adults understand that children have questions that need to be answered; silence isn’t always the best response to trauma or crisis. I hope elders realize they are still needed: we need their stories, their wisdom, and their past experiences to help us navigate the present and the future.”

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). From the promotional copy:

“Another inky evening’s here— The air is cool and calm and clear. Can it be true? Oh, can it be? Yes!—Bat Night at the library!

“Join the free-for-all fun at the public library with these book-loving bats! Shape shadows on walls, frolic in the water fountain, and roam the book-filled halls until it’s time for everyone, young and old, to settle down into the enchantment of story time. Brian Lies’ joyful critters and their nocturnal celebration cast library visits in a new light. Even the youngest of readers will want to join the batty book-fest!” See the teacher’s guide.


28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature: The deadline for submissions for the 2009 28 Days later spotlights is Nov. 1! Brown Bookshelf co-founder Paula Chase-Hyman notes: “We could really use a good influx of YA and MG [nominations]–as this is the area where representations of young African Americans is least diverse.” Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

Take a Chance on Art: purchase one or more $5 raffle tickets to enter to win illustrator Don Tate‘s painting “Duke Ellington,” and support the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund. Note: it’s especially important this year in light of devastation caused by Hurricane Ike. To learn more, read interviews with TLA librarian Jeanette Larson and illustrator Don Tate.

Hurricane Ike Recovery Fund for Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas. Peek: “The Children’s Department, Technical Services, Circulation Department and Operations were located on the first Floor and all are gone. [emphasis added]” See more information. Note: Please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this blurb and link. The media has moved on to other stories, but efforts to deal with the aftermath are ongoing.

More News

We Ain’t Afraid Of No Vermont College Ghost from Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth.

Hey Editors and Agents: We’ve Got Some Questions for You… from Alice’s CWIM Blog. Peek: “Here at Writer’s Digest Books, we’re in the process of updating our popular title Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript and are looking for insight from agents/editors on how the industry is changing. Here are a few things we’re interested in knowing…”

Check out this trailer for Soulless by Christopher Golden (MVT, 2008); trailer designed by Jen Wardrip. Read a Cynsations interview with Christopher about the novel.

An Agent’s Responsibility from BookEnds, LLC. Peek: “How much responsibility does an agent bear for a book not selling?”

Chris Barton of Bartography
: a photo rhettrospective. Note: see a very young Chris, or several.

Ghosts, Shapeshifters, and Vampires, Oh My! by Allie Costa from SparkNotes. Peek: “If you’re looking for a spooky story to read on Halloween, you’ve come to the right place. Get ready to sink your teeth into these supernatural treats.”

Holly Black’s Secret Library from The Steampunk Home. Note: confirms my long-standing theory that Holly Black is the most totally awesome person on earth. (I was a teenager in the ’80s; therefore, I’m allowed to say “totally awesome.”) Read a Cynsations interview with Holly.

PowerPoint Tricks and Treats by Julie Bowe at Kidlit Central News. Peek: “Don’t let the PP slides be your program. Don’t rely too heavily on PP slides for your program or your audience will begin to drift. Change the focus by showing props, inviting volunteers to come up front…!”

Editorial Anonymous
offers a surprising (at least to me) answer to: “Is it acceptable to resubmit a manuscript to the same publisher and if so how often? Yearly? Or is no a no forever?”

Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States: Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: 2007 figures are available. Source: American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Indie Booksellers Urged to Prepare for Holiday Shopping from Galley Cat at Peek: “On the one hand, retail seers worry this is going to be the worst year for holiday spending since the ’80s; on the other, only one-fourth of the consumer base says they’ll be extra-frugal, and books are high on their shopping lists.”

Those Who Write, Teach by David Gessner from The New York Times. Peek: “It’s fine for writing teachers to talk in self-help jargon about how their lives require ‘balance’ and ‘shifting gears’ between teaching and writing, but below that civil language lurks the uncomfortable fact that the creation of literature requires a degree of monomania, and that it is, at least in part, an irrational enterprise. It’s hard to throw your whole self into something when that self has another job.”

Attention Target Shoppers: if you visit any Target store to pick up your copy of Blue Bloods: Revelations by Melissa de la Cruz (Hyperion, Oct. 2008), you’ll receive access to a special website, with a secret chapter excerpt from the book, exclusive for Target guests! Note: Melissa suggests you read the story only after you’ve read the book! “The secret chapter is called ‘The Lie That Conceals The Truth.'” Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa. See also the Revelations trailer below.

Book List: Horsing Around: a bibliography of “equestrian” books from Little Willow at Slayground.

Hurricane Ike Library Relief: “Following the destructive visit of Hurricane Ike, Blue Willow Bookshop [in Houston] is initiating a nationwide campaign to rebuild the library collections of Anahuac High School, Freeport Intermediate School and, closer to home, the Alief Hastings 9th Grade Center. These schools lost more than 75% of their collections. Our goal is to have 1,000 books to deliver to these libraries by Dec. 1.”

John Green thanks the Nerdfighters for their support of Paper Towns (Dutton, 2008) and announces the novel’s movie deal. Read a Cynsations interview with John.

Curtis Brown Guest Blogger [Tracy Marchini] talks PBs in the Slush from Kidlit Central News. Peek: “…a lot of the picture book slush I see comes in rhyme that is off meter. Bad rhyme will kill a good story. Writers should ask themselves–will this story really benefit by being told in rhyme?” Learn more about Tracy.

Ten Tips On Writing Race in Novels by Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “It’s unanimous: stay away from food metaphors when it comes to describing skin color. Scrupulously avoid cliché when talking about a character’s appearance.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali. See also Think Pink by Roger Sutton from Read Roger.

Author Interview: Amber Kizer on Books and Religion from Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “…you can be religious without being faithful and full of faith without practicing a religion. I know this will make me unpopular with some, but I’m okay with that—it’s quite possible you won’t like my work anyway if your ideas of religion are concrete and immovable and unquestionable.”

Politics in Prose: Books That Are Real Winners by Mary Quattlebaum from Washington Parent. Peek: “The vote’s unanimous for these books about the American political process.” Source: Mitali Perkins.

To support the creation of The Snowy Day 50th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp, visit the website of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and add your name to the Support the Stamp list. Note: “It takes three years for the subject of a postage stamp to be considered, accepted and developed. The fiftieth anniversary of The Snowy Day is in 2012.” Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah Pope, executive director of the Erza Jack Keats Foundation.

Thurber House Writers-in-Residence: “accepting applications for the 2009 Thurber House Residency in Children’s Literature. ..awarded of books for middle grade children. The recipient will reside in…James Thurber’s boyhood home in Columbus. Besides having time to focus on their own writing project, the resident will teach writing-based activities to middle grade children in a variety of community settings, including the Thurber Summer Writing Camp. The author selected for the residency will receive a stipend of $4,000.”

A Talk with the NBA Finalists (or: What I Saw Underneath the Disreputable Chains of the Spectacular Now) by Sue Corbett, Children’s Bookshelf–Publishers Weekly. A peek from E. Lockhart: “I had various ideas about things I’d read about that I wanted to get into a novel—urban exploring in sewers and steam tunnels, the panopticon, feminist theory I had read in graduate school. All this stuff belonged in the same book but there was no story.” Source: April Henry.

Agent Interview: Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I’m definitely interested in seeing dark or paranormal fiction, so long as the story is really original, sharp, and arresting. There’s so much in this area out there, that anything new really does have to stand out. I’d love to see a great ghost story.”

Writers First Aid: a medicine chest…to ease the pains of the writing life, increase your writing energy, and help make your writing dreams come true from Kristi Holl, “the author of 35 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including Writer’s First Aid. Through this blog, Kristi hopes to share the challenges of being a writer, bring you encouragement, and pump you full of perseverance!” See also information on Critiques by Kristi Holl. Note: Kristi has experience with both the mainstream and Christian markets!

“The Scavenger Bride” a spooky short story by author Linda Joy Singleton offered free online. See also “The Boy in the Mirror.” Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Joy Singleton.

The Lull by Sara Zarr from Teen Fiction Cafe. Peek: “Right now, I’m in the lull between having turned a manuscript in to my editor and getting editorial notes for revision. I do not have a day job, and I don’t have kids, and there are no pressing tasks on my immediate horizon. In other words: I’m in hell.” Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Here’s one last book video, this one to Parties and Potions by Sarah Mlynowski (Random House, 2008)! Source: E. Lockhart.


Congratulations to Pamela Todd, author of The Blind Faith Hotel (McElderry, 2008)! From the promotional copy: “When her family falls apart, fourteen-year-old Zoe feels like her whole world is going to pieces. Zoe’s mother takes her kids away from their father, a fisherman who ships out to Alaska, and moves them to a run-down farmhouse she’s inherited in the Midwest. Zoe’s stuck– in more ways than one.

“Surrounded by strangers and a sea of prairie grass, she loses her bearings. A brush with the law lands Zoe in a work program at a local nature preserve. But the work starts to ground and steady her. When she meets a wild boy who shares her love of untamed places, it seems he might help Zoe find her way. Or is he too lost, too damaged himself?

“Funny and poignant, sharp-eyed and real this is a portrait of a girl looking for her own true self and a place she can call home.”

More Personally

Boy, do I love Halloween! Here’s wishing you all a happy and safe one!

This week has been spooktacular, highlighted by P. J. Hoover‘s launch party for The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree/CBAY, 2008). See P. J.’s report and party pics (below)! Read a Cynsations interview with P. J.

P. J. herself in an Emerald Tablet T-shirt. She shared her book trailer and offered a first-rate PowerPoint presentation.

The crowd was enthusiastic, and refreshments were plentiful (there was also a candy table).

YA author Jennifer Ziegler with P. J.’s editor Madeline Smoot, who also works at BookPeople. Learn more about Madeline’s imprint, CBAY Books (Children’s Brains are Yummy).

2008 debut author Shana Burg (author interview) and author-poet Liz Garton Scanlon (author interview).

Author Jo Whittemore (interview), illustrator Gene Brenek (interview), and author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell (interview) and 2008 debut author-illustrator Emma Virjan. Note: Jo turns 31 today on the 31rst! Happy birthday, Jo!

My Events

Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith will be chatting with readergirlz at MySpace on Nov. 6. Joe will be featuring Sacajawea (Scholastic) and Cynthia will be featuring Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins). From Harcourt: “Joseph Bruchac has written more than 60 books for children and adults, and received many literary awards, including the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.” Read a Cynsations interview with Joe.

The Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators will be hosting its annual holiday party from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at BookPeople (6th and Lamar) in Austin. The event will include: panels on writing picture books, on writing middle grade novels, on writing YA novels; author signings; and much more!

“Connections and 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, editor Kim T. Griswell of Highlights, 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.

Due to a technical difficulty, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s discussion of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and related forthcoming books on the teen grid of Teen Second at Second Life has been rescheduled for for 3 p.m. Nov. 18. See more information.

Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) Workshop in San Antonio Nov. 24 to Nov. 25. An event I utterly adore for the depth of discussions, sophistication and dedication of the attendees-leadership, and wonderful company of fellow YA authors. Note: NCTE stands for “National Council of Teachers of English,” which has a preceding conference. Details on my signing and speaking schedule to come.

More Events

Happy Texas Book Festival weekend! Authors to be featured at the 2008 festival include: Kathi Appelt; Shana Burg; Melissa de la Cruz; Heather Vogel Frederick; Shannon Hale; Varian Johnson; Laurie Keller; Christopher S. Jennings; Marisa Montes; Yuyi Morales; Lauren Myracle; Margo Rabb; Tanya Lee Stone; Philip Yates; Paula Yoo; Emma J. Virjan; and Jennifer Ziegler. See the complete list. Note: due to a foot injury, I won’t be in attendance, but I wish y’all a wonderful festival!

Austin Jewish Book Fair 2008: “The Silver Anniversary Edition will feature author lectures and discussions, photography, politics, humor, the annual Book Lovers’ Luncheon, Civil Rights Sunday, youth author events, and Texas Book Festival appearances.” Note: author Shana Burg will speak with her father, Harvey Burg, at 10 a.m. Nov. 9 at JCC Community Hall. Read the first chapter of Shana’s debut novel, A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008).

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: sponsored by the Texas Book Festival in cooperation with the museum.

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.

Tantalize Fan Trailers; Bid on Author-Marked Copy

Happy Halloween! I thought it would be fun and timely to share a few YA-reader-produced book trailers for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008).

I’ve featured this one by Jaden before, but I really love it!

These two by Jamie are new to the blog, and both are awesome!

Thanks, Jaden and Jamie! On a related note, my reader mail from guys tends to emphasize the murder mystery and from girls tends to emphasize the romance. Cynsational readers, do you think this holds for these teasers, too?


Leave a Mark Auction: an auction to benefit First Book hosted by The Page Flipper.

Between now and Nov. 3, bid to win a copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008) that I’ve marked in the margins with insider tidbits about the writing of the novel and much more.

Author Interview: Margo Rabb on Cures for Heartbreak

Margo Rabb‘s novel, Cures for Heartbreak, was published in paperback this fall by Delacorte Press.

It was named one of the Best Books of 2007 by Kirkus and Booklist and selected for the Texas Tayshas and Capitol Choices reading lists. It also is the winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Award.

Margo’s short stories have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope, Seventeen, One Story, and Best New American Voices, and broadcast on National Public Radio.

Read Margo’s Blog, Books, Chocolates, and Sundries.

What first inspired you to write for young adults?

I actually wrote Cures for Heartbreak with an adult audience in mind and was initially surprised that it sold as YA.

I recently published an essay [“I’m YA, and I’m Okay”] in the New York Times Book Review about this experience–it turns out that many, many authors are writing books that are selling as YA these days, even though they didn’t originally conceive of them that way. (Since publishing that essay, many more authors have written to me to tell me about their similar experiences.)

But it’s been a wonderful experience having Cures published as YA, and I’m thrilled to be part of the genre.

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

Finishing this book was a long, long, long process. It started out as short stories with a very
autobiographical subject–they were based on the experience of losing my mother, who died almost 18 years ago.

A few years after starting the book, I also lost my father. So I had to stop writing such autobiographical material for a while.

(Or more accurately, I kept writing autobiographical fiction, but I didn’t feel it was very good, so I threw out a lot of work over the course of several years.)

Finally, years later, I returned to the material with a fresh eye and finished the book in about eight months.

Congratulations on the success of Cures for Heartbreak (Delacorte, 2007, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the novel?

I think of the book as being about how people try to find a way out of grief and heartbreak, and though that sounds a bit depressing, I don’t think of it as a depressing book.

Or, to quote one of my favorite writers, Alice Munro: “I myself find most ‘cheerful’ or ‘positive’ books depressing, but I could be a bit screwed up.”

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

I first started the book as connected short stories around 1997. I began to publish many of the stories in magazines, and I finished a draft of the book a year later, and that’s when my father died.

I worked on it off and on over the years, but I didn’t really figure out how to make it work as a novel until the fall of 2004. That’s when I threw out about 100 pages and rewrote them, and finished it by the summer of 2005.

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

It was a huge challenge turning a story collection into a novel.

I actually still view the book less as a novel or a collection, and more in the tradition of the genre of “novels-in-stories”–a genre which I love, and which includes several of my favorite books of all time: The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro, Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin, and The Elizabeth Stories by Isabel Huggan.

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

My daughter was born three months before Cures for Heartbreak was published, so my experience of publication is inextricable from my memories of major, intense exhaustion and sleep deprivation!

You write for both young adults and adults. In what way, if any, is your approach different in writing for these two markets?

I don’t approach the two markets differently at all.

In fact, I think that the large number of books that could be published either as YA or adult shows the immense sophistication and complexity of the YA genre.

What do you like about each? What are its special challenges?

I have a deep and abiding love for short novels in both the YA and adult genres. Maybe this is because I also passionately love poetry and short stories–generally speaking, I always feel that the less words used, the better; I deeply appreciate and admire economy of language and of plot.

I also love books about teenagers, whether they’re shelved in the YA or adult sections. Some of my favorite short novels in both categories: Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, In Summer Light by Zibby Oneal, The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and Flight by Sherman Alexie.

(All of those books, even the last two, which were published as adult, happen to be about teenagers…)

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

Be patient and don’t doubt yourself. Turn off the phone and the Internet. Don’t give up, and don’t take no for an answer.

All of us in Austin are thrilled to have you here as a new member of our community! Are you interested in speaking in Central Texas? If so, how can planners contact you?

I am really loving Austin–I had no idea I would like it so much. It’s an amazing city, and the YA writers’ community here is wonderful.

I’d love to speak at schools, libraries, or any events in Central Texas, and can be contacted through my website,

I’m taking part in the Texas Book Festival Nov. 1 to Nov. 2, and am really looking forward to that.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m working on both a new YA novel and an adult novel, and I also have a short story collection that’s half-finished. I’m looking forward to completing all three!

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb Wins Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Award

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb (Delacorte) is the winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Award. Read a Cynsations interview with Margo.

The finalists are: We Are One by Larry Dane Brimmer (Calkins Creek); The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn, illustrated by Paul Mirocha (Cinco Puntos); The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley (HarperCollins)(author interview); The Red Queen’s Daughter by Jacqueline Kolosov (Hyperion).

Don’t miss the Writer’s League Violet Crown and Teddy Book Awards panel at 3 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Texas State Capitol Extension 2.026 in conjunction with the Texas Book Festival.

10th Anniversary Feature: Peni R. Griffin

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 Peni R. Griffin:

It’s been a rough ten years. Reviewing them, I find little in the way of codifiable wisdom.

I write better now, but I can no more articulate what I do better than a carpenter can articulate for the lay audience the way his hammering technique has improved. You use the muscles, they function better.

Alas, I haven’t improved my marketing skills noticeably. I never feel that I have learned enough about the business end to advise others beyond the most basic beginning principles.

Even now that I’ve quit the day job forever, I can’t see the way I live as part of a broader subculture that could be called “the writing life.” I see images of that life, but I’m not sure they’re true. Isn’t “the writing life” just life with writing? When you accept creativity as a normal part of human variability, writing life is ordinary life.

I’ve learned that I like writing for young people because their brains are still growing. I never used to know what the factor was, but reading about neuroscience I figured it out.

I’ve learned that I need a base level of emotional security in order to write.

I’ve learned that I really do need an agent, that I’m not as good at knowing when a book is ripe as I thought I was, that as skills improve the ability to create new things atrophies, but the process can be braked by a constant influx of new skills.

I’ve learned that I need to be less patient and more selfish, but implementing that learning is still underway.

My research skills have improved with practice.

I’m relearning the use of third-person omniscient now that it’s becoming more acceptable to the editors of age groups I write for, but I can’t say that I have learned it.

It’s freaking hard, after decades of complete identification with one character at a time. But hard is good. You can’t appeal to growing brains if your own brain keeps firing the same synapses over and over.

Read a Cynsations interview with Peni.

Leave a Mark Auction: Bid to Win an Author-Marked Tantalize

Leave a Mark Auction: an auction to benefit First Book hosted by The Page Flipper.

Between now and Nov. 3, bid to win a copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008) that I’ve marked in the margins with insider tidbits about the writing of the novel and much more.

Note from Chelsea at The Page Flipper

“If any authors have bookmarks/postcards/promo items made for their book(s), and would like me to pass them out in my prize packs, as well as to booksellers and other readers, I’d gladly do so.”

Author Interview: Vivian French on The Robe of Skulls

Vivian French on Vivian French: “Born in England, now living in Edinburgh, Scotland–and loving it!” See also Vivian’s author bio from Candlewick Press.

Would you like to update us on your recent back list, highlighting as you see fit?

My most recent books: a new series of The Tiara Club, and a picture book for older children called Singing to the Sun. It’s illustrated by Jackie Morris–I think she’s wonderful, and I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to work with her at last. (We’ve known each other for a long time.) She’s got a truly wonderful website–Google her, and enjoy!

Oh, and last year there was Chocolate: The Bean that Conquered the World. (Illustrated by Paul Howard. He’s amazing–I’m such a fan of his.)

Congratulations on the publication of The Robe of Skulls (Candlewick, 2008)(excerpt)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Thank you so much. The Robe of Skulls is a story about Lady Lamorna, a sorceress living in the high mountain village of Fracture. Lady Lamorna wants a new black velvet dress (decorated with skulls, hence the title) and sends an order to the Ancient Crones…only to find she has no
money left in her treasure chest. Together with her servant, Gubble, (a troll with an unreliable head–if slapped, his head falls off) she makes a plan to blackmail the local royalty.

Luckily, Gracie Gillypot and Prince Marcus are able to thwart her plans with the help of a bat called Marlon (a great admirer of M Brando)–and no help at all from Gracie’s wicked step-sister, Foyce Undershaft.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

It was more desperation than inspiration.

I’d had an idea that had gone terribly wrong, and wasn’t sure what to do–and then I heard someone on the TV talking about evil. The actor had a very distinctive voice; I remembered seeing her in a play years and years and years ago, and I also remembered she had worn a long black velvet dress. I put the two things together, and Lady Lamorna appeared.

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

I’m not sure quite how long the timeline was–about eighteen months, perhaps? The first draft only took me about three months; I enjoyed writing Robe enormously–I had fun.

Looking back on it it feels as if it went very smoothly, although I’m sure I had more than a few wobbly moments along the way. I do remember my wonderful editor suggesting I write an extra chapter at the end, which I did–and she was quite right. It really needed it.

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

I certainly didn’t do any research. When I was little I loved fairy stories and folk tales, and I was a storyteller for many years using those very same stories, so I think a lot of the characters come from the same background.

When it comes to a story like The Robe of Skulls I just sit down and get on with it… I can always hear the characters talking and see the actions unfolding in my head as I write.

I make a lot of notes about the plot before I begin, but then I usually lose the notes–but I don’t miss them. If something doesn’t seem to be working out I delete that section, then begin again and again until it feels right.

A lot of it is instinct; I read sections out loud, and I can tell (I hope!) if something isn’t working.

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

I became a writer very suddenly. It wasn’t something I’d always wanted to do; I wanted to be an actor or a long distance lorry driver when I was growing up.

I think I’d tell myself, Always make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be. Actually, I think I’ve always told myself that–I am so incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do.

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

Not very well. Sometimes it gets to be a bit of a muddle, but I’m taking time out next year so I can spend more time writing and less time rushing around.

I do think it’s important to talk to children, and tell them that they can be writers. Nobody ever said that to me when I was at school, so I was extremely surprised when I had my first books published. (So was my mother.)

What do you do outside the world of books?

I have a lovely husband, four daughters and three grandchildren, so I spend time with them. I read a lot, and I adore going to hear live music (anybody else out there love Mary Gautier? Or The Willard Grant Conspiracy?)

Also I have a number of really good friends, and I probably spend much too much time drinking coffee and talking…

What can your fans look forward to next?

The Bag of Bones is another story from Tales From the Five Kingdoms; Gracie and Marcus have to cope with a hideous witch called Truda Hangnail. And I’m currently working on the next story–The Heart of Glass.

10th Anniversary Feature: Regina Scott

In celebration of the ten year anniversary of, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

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

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Regina Scott:

The most important lesson I’ve learned is to listen to my inner voice. We start out with stories we’re burning to tell, stories that are uniquely ours. I think of them as gifts from God.

And then we learn more about the publishing industry, what’s hot, what’s not, what’s conventional, what’s expected. We hear from other writers, agents, editors, and readers who tell us to change our characters, our plots, our writing style, and our vision.

Don’t get me wrong — everyone has more to learn and grow. But when you let those other voices into your head, you tend to lose your voice, which is what drew you to write in the first place. Only when you stay true to yourself does the story really satisfy you, your publisher, and your readers.

2007 Friends Medallion Book Award

The 2007 Friends Medallion Book Award is chosen by the elementary students at Virginia Beach Friends School from twenty nominees. After more than a month of reading and critiquing each submission, the two books that the children felt best reflected the theme of friendship were:

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend by Mélanie Watt (Kids Can Press). Read a Cynsations interview with Mélanie. From the promotional copy:

“That lovable little worrywart is back. And he’s as scaredy as ever! In his latest adventure, Scaredy Squirrel sets out to make The Perfect Friend.

“And once he’s spotted a perfectly safe candidate (with no teeth), Scaredy’s ready. Armed with a name tag, mittens, a mirror and a lemon, he’s prepared to make The Perfect First Impression. But just when every detail is under control, Scaredy’s Action Plan takes a surprising—and “toothy”— turn. Will he survive this ordeal? Will he find his kindred spirit? Will he discover the true meaning of friendship? Read Scaredy’s nutty story to find out…”


The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians by Carla Morris, illustrated by Brad Sneed (Peachtree). From the promotional copy:

“Every day after school Melvin goes to the library. Everything has its place in the library and Melvin likes it that way. And his favorite people–Marge, Betty, and Leola–are always in their places, behind the reference desk.

“When something interests Melvin, his librarian friends help him find lots and lots of books on the subject. When he collects creepy bugs in a jar, they help him identify, classify, and catalog the insects. When he is cast as the Enormous Eggplant in the school play, Betty reads aloud from Organic Gardening to help him find his motivation. As the years pass, Melvin can always find the answers to his questions–and a lot of fun–in the library. Then one day he goes off to college to learn new things and read new books. Will he leave the library and his friends behind forever?

“Readers will enjoy Brad Sneed’s delightful illustrations that colorfully capture the fun-loving spirit of Carla Morris’s story about the contagious enthusiasm of learning.”

Spooky Cyn-terview and Sanguini’s T-shirt Giveaway Contest

Spooky Cyn-terview and Sanguini’s T-shirt Giveaway Contest from Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth.

The focus is reading and writing with an emphasis on Gothic fantasy (with the obvious caveats that mileage–and approaches–may vary).

Peek: “Of course it’s okay for books to stretch the audience in a myriad of ways. But I’d like to make a special case for unreliable narrators. For worse and better, people are unreliable. We don’t always represent themselves or facts truthfully—sometimes with negative intent, sometimes for other reasons.

“For example, consider the current election cycle. Whatever your political predispositions, I hope we can all agree that future and/or new voters need to be prepared to process potentially unreliable information in a critical manner. Frankly, it’s an important life skill.”

Giveaway Contest

Think up a creepy, gross food item for the Predator menu, and post it in the comments! Or, tell The Tollboothers the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten.

They’ll pick a random commentor (names-in-hat style) on Halloween, and that person will receive his or her choice of a Sanguini’s T-shirt. Note: Sanguini’s is the fictional vampire-themed restaurant in Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008).

Pictured here, we have the ever popular “Cell Phones Will Be Eaten” T-shirt. Other designs include: “I HEART Baby Squirrel;” “Drop in for a Late Night Bite;” the bird and dragon “Predator or Prey” logos; and the classic Sanguini’s restaurant logos (flowers and fang-marks). See all of the designs.

Winners will be able to specify color and size.


The upside down skull in a crystal ball photo was taken on my dining room table with the lens facing the ball and the skull behind it. The ball was purchased as part of my research for an upcoming short story, “Cat Calls,” which will appear in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, July 2009). The skull was purchased at Pottery Barn simply as a Halloween decoration.

Read a Cynsations interview with Liz Gallagher on her debut novel, The Opposite of Invisible (Wendy Lamb, 2008). Peek: “I love Halloween time and wanted to set a story then. While walking past a big junk shop in Fremont (the neighborhood of the book, and the one where I live now, though I didn’t at the time), I realized that it was the perfect setting for a Halloween story. The original first line–‘It all started with this dress.’–came to me on the page, and I just kept going.”

The Sanguini’s T-shirts were designed by illustrator Gene Brenek. Read a Cynsations interview with Gene.