Author Interview: Drew Hayden Taylor on The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel

Biography of author Drew Hayden Taylor.

What first inspired you to write for teens? For adults?

Well, I started in theatre. In fact, my very first play was a play for young audiences called “Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock.”

The play was very popular, and it was remounted several times.

I won the Floyd S. Chalmers Award for outstanding new play for young audiences, which consisted of a plaque and a cheque for $10,000, which I almost lost in a bar that night. It’s a much longer story.

I hadn’t intended to write a teen play specifically, but the director told me it was perfect for them, and who was I to argue. I did several more plays over the years, aimed at young audiences and adult, too.

Then I was approached by the publishing company Annick Press, one of Canada’s leading publishers of YA, asking if I’d be interested in writing a book for teens.

Most of my novelist friends lament the fact that they write one or three novels and shop it around hoping to find a publisher. I kind of did it backwards. They offered me money up front, and I wrote it. I kind of prefer it that way. It’s easier

The Night Wanderer originally started out as a YA play titled, “A Contemporary Gothic Indian Vampire Story.” It had been produced once in the ’90’s but I wasn’t happy with the script. So I put it on the shelf and when I was presented with this opportunity, I blew the dust off it and reread it. Perhaps it was too big for a play. It needed the universe of a novel. So I adapted it.

Nothing in particular “inspired” me to write for teens or adults. It’s the story that suggests the audience. I just write them.

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

Again, things happened unusually for me. When my first play came out and was so successful, a publisher, Fifth House, called me up and asked if I’d like them to publish my play.

My first three books/plays were with them. Since then, I have had seventeen other books published by four other publishers. Different publishers prefer different genres, and I write in about half a dozen genres.

Congratulations on the success of The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel (Annick, 2007)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Basically, because I am bi-cultural (have Native, half white), I like combining or exploring examples of each cultures.

So for this book, I took a European legend and indigenized it.

Simply put, its the story about an Ojibway man who, 350 years ago, made his way to Europe and was bitten by a vampire. He spent all those years wandering Europe, feeling homesick but unwilling to return as the monster he’d become. But finally, unable to stop himself, he makes his way back to where his village once was in Canada, and it’s now a First Nations community. He takes up residency at a bed-and-breakfast, in the basement apartment. In that same house is a sixteen-year-old girl, Tiffany, who is having problems with her white boyfriend, father, and herself. Eventually, both their lives intertwine, and things happen!

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

A sense of fun. And I wanted to explore two different perspectives of death: one from a teenage girl who is contemplating suicide and one from somebody who has been “dead” for several hundred years. What better way to do it!

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

About 15 years! As I said, it was a play originally that I wasn’t happy with. So I forgot about it until about three years ago when I was approached by Annick Press.

I wrote the first draft in about six weeks, deciding what to keep and throw out in the original play, and after two rewrites, it was published about a year later.

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

Research. I had to research life 350 years ago. And I hate research. That’s why most of my plays and stories are contemporary. And the research got kind of weird.

I remember talking with my travel agent on how to get a vampire from Europe to Canada.

Also, upon request from the publisher, I changed the title from “A Contemporary Gothic Indian Vampire Story” to “The Night Wanderer.” I wasn’t happy about the change, but they thought it was important.

Also, when I signed the contract for the novel, I was committed to 50,000 words, and I had never written a prose piece longer then 4,000 words. It was quite daunting.

Every day when I would write, I would do a word count. It was like climbing a 50,000 foot mountain, 2,000 words at a time.

What, if anything, do you wish you could change about publishing (as a business) and why?

The length between delivering the final draft and seeing the actual book.

How have you grown as a writer over the course of your career?

I have become more comfortable with prose. I started out writing television scripts and plays, both of which are dialogue oriented. Coming from an oral culture, it was easy to tell a story through how people talked.

Having never been to university, I was always nervous about prose. But as the years went by and I wrote more and more, I became more comfortable with it. Now, I have sold my second novel and am about to start on a third.

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell him?

I would tell myself not to be so frightened of rewriting. It’s part of the process.

I always hated rewriting, and to a certain extent, I still do. I consider it a necessary evil.

What do you do outside the world of publishing?

Not a lot. Theatre and television. I travel the world lecturing on Native culture, identity, and literature. And chop wood.

What can your readers look forward to next?

My new novel [for grown-ups]. The working title is “Motorcycles and Sweetgrass.” And possibly a television series in Canada that I am developing, currently titled “Ojibwayworld.”

10th Anniversary Feature: John Michael Cummings

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, 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 John Michael Cummings:

Clearly, for me the most important lesson learned from my first novel was to advance the plot with urgency.

My background is in literary short stories, where I’ve spun more than a few nicely phrased sentences without taking the story forward. This all changed with The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel, 2008).

Not only was my first novel with a mainstream publisher, which makes its money from good, clear, entertaining stories, but it was young adult! That made it doubly difficult—my prose had to march double-time.

“Advancing the plot” is a simple way to say it, but it’s really much more than that. It’s about having a powerful organic voice that reels the story forward, whether in action or state of being. A plot need not press forward by the measure of its hero’s footfalls. His mind can be the conflict’s fiercest battleground, doing much to make “what happens next” all the more inevitable and believable.

In The Night I Freed John Brown, young Josh Connors is a lion out of its cage as he searches for a father figure. But he also fights fiercely with himself on the inside.

In fact, for all his travels through his historic hometown—through a ghostly abandoned house, through leaky caves and up to a scenic overlook, then into museums and richly renovated houses—his biggest climb is up the endless staircase of his own heart. He rises through his feelings—why he hurts, why he is angry, why he is ashamed.

Probably the best word for the effectiveness of this mix of internal and external conflicts is execution. How a novel is executed speaks to the many varied techniques by which it develops. I was lucky to have an editor who, in the margins of my drafts, wrote notes like, “stage this,” “shine light on this,” and “hold this moment.”

She was—and don’t laugh—my Steven Spielberg. But for all our red pens and fancy talk, sometimes we threw up our hands and wondered where the organic voice comes from, then marveled at how it cannot be gypped of its richness or yanked out of its poetic groove by forcing it to a word count or chapter length.

For me it was also about making every word proof of what was yet to come. Call it seeding, or foreshadowing, but it came down to an honest, consistent design that created a sense of time and place in which every sentence, every paragraph, cast subtle reflections backwards and forwards, raising up a three-dimensional world fraught with consequences.

At times, it felt like I was arranging puzzle pieces of information just far enough apart so that only when you stepped back and looked at the novel as a whole could you see how they all fit together. Other times, it was nothing but rewards for the reader every few pages. I often thought—this is harder than ten short stories written at once!

It was journey waiting for me to make.

Author Interview: Helen Hemphill on The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones

Learn about Helen Hemphill.

We last spoke in June 2006 about the release of Long Gone Daddy (Front Street, 2006)! Could you update us on your writing life since?

It’s been fast and furious! Last year, Runaround (Boyds Mills Press, 2007) was published for middle school readers, and Booklist named it one of the Top Ten Romance Books for Youth.

With two novels published in two years, I’ve been really busy writing, teaching, and learning the book business. There are so many gracious, generous people in children’s publishing, and I feel lucky to be part of the industry.

Congratulations on the early success of The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (Front Street, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the story?

Inspired by the African-American cowboy Nat Love, the novel is about fourteen-year-old Prometheus Jones as he and his cousin Omer take off on a cattle drive from Dodge City to Deadwood.

The book is a high adventure story, obviously written with boy readers in mind, but girls have loved the book as well.

How was Nat Love your inspiration for the story?

Three years ago I read Nat Love¹s autobiography, published in 1907. His voice is big bravado. Nat Love is the best at roping and riding and shooting and reading brands. I loved him!

But there were several nonfiction books out about Nat Love already, so I used his voice as my inspiration. Prometheus is very sure of himself and his abilities, but he thinks he’s lucky.

For him, luck is outside himself and can give or take his talent and confidence. One of the themes of the book is that Prometheus learns luck is made by his own grit, determination, and attitude.

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

The book took about 18 months of research. I actually drove the route of the cattle drive (in a car, not a wagon!), visited Deadwood, and tried to envision for myself what the landscape of 1876 might have looked like.

I also keep notes as to the specific distances and modes of travel in the story so that I could get the timing right–a cattle drive did well to cover 15 miles in a day.

The book was written in about a year, so total it was about three years from idea to publication.

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

The obvious challenges were writing across race and time. I wanted very much to draw Prometheus’s character as an authentic African-American boy, so research was critical.

I kept a vocabulary journal as I read both cowboy and slave narratives from the period. I researched black cowboys and the African American migration west, and I discussed dialect with my writers groups in both Austin and Nashville to get feedback along the way.

Ultimately, I focused on the fact that this story was the story of one boy, not a wide depiction of African Americans after the Civil War, so that was helpful.

Also, the very fact that it was historical fiction helped. I didn’t have to write a boy with modern-day problems.

The issue of writing across time came down to depicting all the various groups–the cowboys of various ethnic backgrounds, the settlers, and the Indians in the story with historical authenticity, given modern-day sensibilities. That was sometimes a balancing act and was one of the most difficult aspects of the book.

What advice do you have for those writing historical fiction?

Get your research right, but don’t expect to use every detail. Only about 5-10% of the material should be included in the book. For any piece of fiction, it’s the story that matters most. Let the history serve the story.

How about for those writing cross-culturally?

Be sensitive. Be open. Do your research, and be intentional about what you are writing. It helps to show your manuscript to someone from that cultural or ethnic background to get feedback. Be willing to revise and cut the manuscript if things aren’t working.

When we last spoke you were a debut novelist. Now, you have a couple of years as a published author behind you. What have you learned in that time–about publishing, about craft, about your writing life?

I guess I’ve learned it’s always about the manuscript. No matter what happens in terms of the business, a good story will always find its way to an audience.

So I work hard to keep getting better at my craft. While I do a number of things to promote my books and love talking to readers, I try not to let that be the focus of my work life.

I’m a writer, so I get my joy from the writing.

So far, as a reader, what are your favorite children’s-YA books of 2008 and why?

I loved volume two of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Kingdom on the Waves (Candlewick 2008) by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2008).

It’s a rich, full story with many layers about notions of freedom. It’s not an easy-reading novel because the language is so authentic to the 18th century, but that’s one of the many things that makes the book terrific. I can’t stop thinking about it.

I also just read Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games (Scholastic Press, 2008). It’s a thrill ride of a story!

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’m finishing up a book titled William Shakezpeare & the Tragedy Rap Tour. Written within a concert structure, it’s a hip hop poetry book that explores the themes of three Shakespearean tragedies: “Romeo & Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “Macbeth.” I also have a new YA novel in the works.

School Visits Added to Austin SCBWI Holiday Party Giveaways

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, Texas.

The event will include: short panels on writing picture books, middle grade novels, and YA novels (respectively); author signings; and door prizes!

Highlights include: Philip Yates–dressed as a pirate and reading his new release, A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas (Sterling, 2008)(author interview); book giveaways; and school-visit giveaways featuring:

picture book author Lindsey Lane (interview);

debut tween fantasy author P. J. Hoover (interview); and

YA author Jennifer Ziegler (interview)!

Note: limit of one entry per person for the school drawing and one entry per person for the other prizes; offer is only good for schools in the Austin (and surrounding) area.

Hope to see you there!

10th Anniversary Feature: Laurel Snyder

In celebration of the ten year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, 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 Laurel Snyder:

It’s funny, but with all I’ve learned over the past few years—through about 17 drafts, as many failed manuscripts, several amazing editors and agents…the biggest lesson I learned was not a writing lesson, but a personal lesson.

A lesson in how to be patient. How to turn off my ambition and relax. Wait for it.

A writer who wants to be published has to cultivate a kind of stubborn, constant energy flow. When I was sending out my book I was certain that the only way to make it happen was to keep at it.

And so every time a rejection came back I sent it back out. I talked to any agent who’d chat with me. I lurked on all sorts of bulletin boards and in chat rooms, read blogs, and revised and revised and revised. I never stopped thinking about how to get there

But then, gloriously, astoundingly, it all paid off! I sold two books at once (both from slush), and I found that there wasn’t anything to do anymore but write.

Suddenly, I had an agent and an editor and I didn’t have to think about getting there. And I found that was weirdly difficult. To stop the ambition wheels from spinning in my brain. To slow down my breathing and think of stories I wanted to tell, instead of thinking about how to get people to read the stories I’d already written.

I’d sit down to write, but instead I’d find myself online, surfing the blueboards for editors who might like my next picture book idea (though I already had an option to fulfill). I’d reconsider my agent choice for no good reason. I actually dreamed about becoming an agent myself.

See, while it’s frustrating to be unpublished, the constant ebb and flow of submissions is also kind of addictive. Every day there’s something to do. Every day there’s a hold-your-breath-and-open-your-mail moment. And you make it happen. You’re in charge. It’s a roller coaster, and I’m a roller coaster kind of girl.

It turns out that being a published author is the opposite. You’re not in charge anymore, and the publishing world moves at the speed of a sleeping sloth.

So you sit, and wait, and crack your knuckles, and dream about the book that is, in theory, going to come out. But you can’t make it happen. You can’t flood the world with emails and speed things up. And for me, that was hard, a lesson to learn.

It took effort. I had to learn to take a deep breath, turn off the Internet, and just start the next book…

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of two hardcover copies of The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 2008)!

From the promotional copy:

“Here follows the story of a most extraordinary year in the life of an Ojibwe family and of a girl named ‘Omakayas,’ or Little Frog, who lived a year of flight and adventure, pain and joy, in 1852.

“When Omakayas is twelve winters old, she and her family set off on a harrowing journey. They travel by canoe westward from the shores of Lake Superior along the rivers of northern Minnesota, in search of a new home. While the family has prepared well, unexpected danger, enemies, and hardships will push them to the brink of survival. Omakayas continues to learn from the land and the spirits around her, and she discovers that no matter where she is, or how she is living, she has the one thing she needs to carry her through.

“Richly imagined, full of laughter and sorrow, The Porcupine Year continues Louise Erdrich’s celebrated series, which began with The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999), a National Book Award finalist, and continued with The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005), winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.”

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. 17!

OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Nov. 17! 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 one will go to any Cynsational reader. Please indicate status. Please also type “Porcupine Year” in the subject line.

The winner of Listening for Crickets by David Gifaldi (Henry Holt, 2008) was Gail in Arizona. Read a Cynsations interview with David.

The winners of The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale from the Five Kingdoms by Vivian French (Candlewick, 2008)(author interview) were: MaryAnn, a librarian at Redwood Day School in California; Lauren in Kentucky; and Dawn in Connecticut.

More News & Links

Behind the Pages of Shadowed Summer: RC & Moonpies from Saundra Mitchell. Note: I’m hooked on these teasers, already charmed by the Southern setting, and impressed with Saundra’s marketing savvy and this fresh idea.

Digital Shadows 2: RC & Moonpies

Authors on the Verge: Meet Saundra Mitchell, young adult novelist from Writing for Children & Teens by Cynthia Liu. Peek: “I submitted it to the Delacorte Press prize, then miraculously got an agent while I was waiting to hear. I didn’t win the prize (I didn’t even place), so my agent and I revised. And revised. And revised, until my 75,000 word book had become a 45,000 word book.”

National Museum of the American Indian Education Print Resources: “Please feel free to download PDFs of our teaching materials, below.” Note: you can also order hard copies. See also [American Library Association Native-Themed] Posters for Your Classroom or Library. Source: American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Brookdale Clothing
: featuring tie-in T-shirts for the novels of YA author Barry Lyga. Read a Cynsations interview with Barry.

There’s a New Gang in Town: Austin’s Delacorte Dames and Dudes by Edward Nawotka of Children’s Bookshelf from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “DDD—no, it’s not a heavy-duty new battery. It’s the acronym for an informal group of Austin, Tex., writers all published by Delacorte Press.” Note: actually, it’s just the one dude, but color me a mega fan! Click the link if only to check out the super cute picture. Go Austin! Read Cynsations interviews with Shana Burg, Varian Johnson, April Lurie, Margo Rabb, and Jennifer Ziegler.

Soup’s On: Zoë B. Alley in the Kitchen {Author] Interview from jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. Peek: “Originally, this project came about through the desire of my editor/publisher (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press), to fill a market niche (i.e., the graphic novel/comic book/panel format for the picture book market). Traditionally, this genre had been done for the young adult (and older) demographic (don’t you hate words like that?!), but not for this younger one. “

Making History Come Alive for Young Readers: an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson by Linda M. Castellitto from BookPage. Peek: “‘I have a theory about historical fiction, particularly for middle-grade readers,’ she says. ‘Fifth grade or so is a time before you get into the really difficult challenges of late adolescence. Books allow kids to test themselves out against a scary world, but in a safe way—and historical fiction allows kids to test their morality, too.'”

Novel Secrets: A Novel Retreat in 3 Acts: “Have you always wanted to write a young adult or middle grade novel for children, but have not carved out the time to get it done? Do you have a draft of a novel written, but are looking for ideas and strategies to revise and strengthen it? Would you like the chance to meet with an editor or an agent to pitch your novel and gain critical feedback about this novel in particular and the fiction market, in general? All of this is possible if you attend…” Features authors Elaine Marie Alphin, Darcy Pattison, editor Jill Santopolo, and agent Stephen Barbara. See more information.

Here’s a must-watch new book trailer for Abc3D by Marion Bataille (Roaring Brook, 2008). Source: The Longstockings.

5 Minutes with [Debut Author] P. J. Hoover from Saundra Mitchell: Making Things Up for a Living. Peek: “People are still people, whether they’re embalming the dead or designing chips.” See also a Cynsations interview with P. J.

Bookie Woogie: a new children’s book review blog by three kids and their dad. Peek: “You’ll see how these particular three kids’ minds work…what elements they pick up on…what parts of a story are important to them.”

Query Critiques from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Nathan analyzes samples from volunteers. Peek: “It’s so important not just to present the heart of your work, but also to give a sense that your writing is up to the challenge.”

Attention Minions of Heather Brewer: she’s now offering a new forum.

Coauthor Agreements from BookEnds — LCC. Peek: “I’m here to tell you right now, this very minute, sit down and get something on paper. You don’t need a lawyer to do it, you simply need wording you can both agree to.”

“Different Families” Book Display from Under the Covers. Peek: “Here’s the promised book display to highlight our new GLBTQ list. “Different Families / Same Love”—that goopy enough for you?” See also the Adoption and Celebrate Diversity lists.

The Allure of Innocence from Musings of YA Author Dawn Metcalf. Peek: “…this underlines a yearning to explore a perhaps ‘outdated’ (or ‘vintage’ as it may be returning) notion of the more ‘experienced’ female MC and a more ‘innocent’ love-interest.”

Congratulations to author Kimberly Griffiths Little on her three-book deal with Scholastic!

Overnight Success by Sara Bennett-Wealer. Peek: “As aspiring authors, we hear people say that persistence counts and it’s easy to think, ‘yeah right–for everybody else, and not for me.’ Well, for this writer, it turned out to be true.” Note: Sara mentions a friend saying it takes an average of eight years to land get published. I’d put it at seven-to-ten for a contract (because publishing schedules can be delayed, especially with picture books).

Tracy Vaughn Zimmer: an author interview from Guys Lit Wire. Peek: “As a writer, I get to access that part of myself which is more masculine, and that’s lucky because in society we don’t allow ourselves much wiggle room in this arena without serious social repercussions.”

Facebook and Library Services: an interview with Emily Platz, a Teen Services Librarian at Farmington Library in Farmington, Connecticut; from Fran Cannon Slayton. Peek: “After spreading the word about ‘Facebooking’ me library related questions, I started to get all sorts of reference questions via facebook. I get two-to-five reference questions a day ranging from putting holds on items for teens to questions about homework resources. I was getting so many reference questions, that I installed the ‘Social I.M.’ application to add instant messaging chat to my Facebook account.” See also Fran’s take on What I Learned about Being an Author at ALA.

The Future TXT: Tips for the next generation! Peek: “[Writing] Tips and tricks from your favorite authors!” A new network for new voices.

Goldie’s Book Talk: The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill. Read a Cynsations interview with Helen. Note: I love how the Internet empowers such a diversity of voices, canines included.

Author Interview: Richelle Mead from Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I’ve actually found that as far as voice and intelligence, there’s very little difference between teens and adults in my writing. I know some authors ‘talk down’ to their teen readers in YA, and after being a teacher, I found there’s no need for that.”

It’s a Small World After All from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “At this point you’re deeply afraid that this author has not understood something fundamental about the children’s book industry: word gets around.”

Creating Connections: Marilyn Carpenter (a university professor) and Melissa Carpenter (her daughter, a fourth grade teacher) have teamed up to create this blog, using poems from A Suitcase of Seaweed by Janet Wong (McElderry, 1996) to spark discussion among their students (graduate students in education and fourth graders), as well as to inspire them to write and think about their own “connections” to Janet’s poems. Please feel free to share your favorite anecdotes…or even a poem!

Author Interview: Lauren Myracle from Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “The sort of horror I like is psychological horror. Creepy weird brains in creepy weird people making creepy weird things happen. And of course, the poor innocent whose drawn inextricably into the whole creepy mess.” Read Cynsations interviews with Lauren and Liz.

Enter to Win Book Giveaways from TeensReadToo.com.

Which book do you think will win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature?: respond to the survey at Into the Wardrobe.

Cover Stories: Skinned by Robin Wasserman from Melissa Walker. Peek: “I did send along a selection of cool cyborg images that I found online. I thought this might help them find a way to depict the fact that Lia (the main character) is both human and machine.”

An Interview with Kashmira Sheth from Judy Bryan at KidLit Central. Peek: “There are many things that can’t be translated from one language to another without changing the meaning… I prefer to use the Gujarati words for them.'”

Thoughts on Process from A. M. Jenkins. Peek: “For me, every book has an ideal form, and my job as a writer is to strive toward that ideal, to feel out the possibilities with an open mind, and to figure out what the book needs and wants to be.” Read a Cynsations interview with A. M.

Western Heights High School Book Club (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) seeks donations for fund-raising raffle. See more information.

Check out this book trailer for The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Random House); see excerpt.

Writing Blurbs or How To Make Your Head Explode by Robin LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “What do you emphasize? Which essence do you choose to distill down to? How few details can you use to establish character?”

When Is a Book Better Than Cookies? from Brenda Ferber’s Blog. Peek: “Turns out, when you publish a book, magical things can happen.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brenda.

Melissa Walker interviews Sarah Dessen for readergirlz below; see also a Cynsations interview with Sarah.

Tantalizing News

I’m honored to announce that Editions Intervista has bought the rights to Tantalize in France! I’ll keep you posted on details as they arise. Note: I studied law abroad in Paris in 1991 and returned with my husband on vacation in 1999–amazing, fantastic, wonderful country!

Due to a technical difficulty, my 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.

More Personally

Congratulations to my fellow U.S. citizens on the election of Barack Obama as our next president! Thank you to all–Democrats, Republicans, and Independents–who voted in this past week’s election! See also “¡Obamos a leer!” from La Bloga, Blog the Vote from Chasing Ray, and Little Rock 9 Take Pride in Obama’s Victory by Peggy Harris from The Boston Globe.

Thank you to readergirlz for hosting my Thursday night chat! readergirlz may now be found at: www.readergirlz.com; www.myspace.com/readergirlz;
http://groups.myspace.com/readergirlz; www.youtube/readergirlz; http://readergirlz.blogspot.com; and facebook.

Thank you to illustrator Joy Fisher Hein for giving me permission to feature an image of one of her interior illustrations from Miss Ladybird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt (HarperCollins, 2005) in the header of Cynsations at Blogger. If you’re reading the blog at another location, I encourage you to check it out!

And check out this Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from writesalot’s blog. Peek: “Don’t want to be an author. Want to be a writer. Want to be a writer so much that when you finally become an author, your responsibilities as such—however enjoyable—vex you because they’re getting in the way of your writing time. “

Word has zipped around the kidlit community to the point that I want to reassure everyone that my fractured right foot is much better. It’s mostly able to bear weight, I can get it into my Teva sandals, and I have every intention of enjoying the San Antonio Riverwalk at NCTE/ALAN (though it may take me a little longer on the stairs). As a result of the need to elevate, though, I’ve been mostly off-line. Please forgive any email delays, and just say NO! to cute shoes.

On a more fun subject, everyone has their geekdoms. My forever one is this:

Source: Karen Mahoney.

My Events

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 door prizes! Highlights include a school-visit giveaway featuring debut author P. J. Hoover (interview) and Philip Yates dressed as a pirate!

“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.

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

Author-poet Philip Yates will be speaking on “Everything is Coming Up Posey! How to Make Your Writing Come Alive with Poetry” to Austin SCBWI at 11 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Barnes & Noble Westlake (Texas). Read a Cynsations interview with Phil.

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).

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 library@92Y.org for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is Nov. 17.

Reminder: Vote for Yohannes and Ethiopia Reads

Yohannes Gebregeorgis, a native of Ethiopia and children’s literacy advocate, has been named a Top 10 Hero of the Year by CNN. Mr. Gebregeorgis was selected from more than 3,000 individuals nominated by viewers throughout the year. Finalists were selected by a Blue Ribbon panel of judges that includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jane Goodall and Deepak Chopra. The Top 10 Heroes will be recognized in CNN’s “All-Star Tribute” to air on Thanksgiving.

Yohannes was first recognized as a “hero” by CNN in May for his work championing children in Ethiopia. A former political refugee who worked as a librarian at San Francisco Public Library, Yohannes is the co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization that works to create a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. In a country where 99% of schools have no libraries, Yohannes and Ethiopia Reads are improving lives, one book at a time.

Vote for Yohannes, then visit Ethiopia Reads web site for more updates. Note: please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this announcement and these links!

From Oct. 12 to Dec. 15, Yohannes will visit cities across the United States, sharing his story and vision for Ethiopia Reads. Cities include Washington, DC; San Francisco; Seattle; Kansas City, Kan.; Denver; Albuquerque; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; and New York.

More Reminders

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.

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.”

A Celebration of Books for Children and Young Adults–Austin Style!

You Are Invited To
A Celebration of Books for Children and Young Adults–Austin Style!
Thursday, November 13, 2008

At BookPeople – 6th & Lamar 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Readings * Panel Discussions * Door Prizes * Refreshments * Book Signing

Presented by: The Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Your #1 resource for published authors and illustrators of youth literature

&

BookPeople: “2005 Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year”

6:30 Social Time – Second Floor
Visit and enjoy refreshments.

7:00 A Holiday Reading – Amphitheater
Join us in the amphitheater as author Philip Yates (in full pirate costume) reads from his latest book, A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas (Sterling, 2008).

7:15 Picture Book Panel Discussion – Amphitheater
Featuring: Greg Leitich Smith, Philip Yates, Don Tate, and Emma Virjan. Moderated by Brian Anderson.

Middle Grade/Young Adult Panel Discussion – Second Floor by the Stairs
Featuring: Lila Guzman, Shana Burg, P. J. Hoover, Helen Hemphill, and Jo Whittemore. Moderated by Tim Crow.

8:15 Young Adult Panel – Third Floor
Featuring: Jennifer Ziegler, Cynthia Leitich Smith, April Lurie, Brian Yansky, and Varian Johnson. Moderated by Julie Lake.

Authors and Illustrators Scheduled to Appear

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lila Guzman, Jane Ann Peddicord, Greg Leitich Smith, April Lurie, Mark G. Mitchell, Shana Burg, Frances Hill, P. J. “Tricia” Hoover, Helen Hemphill, Phyllis Peacock, Jennifer Ziegler, Christy Stallop, Julie Lake, Brian Yansky, Jessica Anderson, Varian Johnson, Philip Yates, Emma Virjan, Brian Anderson, Anne Bustard, Don Tate, Jerry Wermund, Jo Whittemore.

Note: highlights will include the giveaway of a school visit with debut author P. J. Hoover!

For more information about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, visit our website at www.austinscbwi.com or www.scbwi.org. — Tim Crow, Regional Advisor.

Author Interview: Philip Yates on A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas

Philip Yates on Philip Yates: “My earliest memories of writing were of making up stories in second grade and sometimes having to pay for it.

“In third grade, I became something of a class clown when, on the first day of class, the teacher called out my name for attendance and I corrected her and said it was not ‘Yates,’ but ‘Yatez’ (Ya-tez). The class laughed because they knew how my name was pronounced, but the teacher got angry and scolded them because she thought they were laughing at the weirdness of my name. She felt sorry for me, but every time she called roll and shouted, ‘Yatez,’ and I replied ‘Here,’ I got a big laugh while she just looked at me with such sorrow in her eyes. One kid got sent to detention because he called me ‘Yatez’.

“I was a bad kid then. I’m much more shy and retrospective today, though. The made-up stories then began to translate to paper, and I wrote lots of macabre ones that I would never dare attempt to publish, but National Enquirer might.

“Around this time my Dad was directing “American Bandstand” in Hollywood, and I got to hand in stories in class about rock n’ roll idols I met on the set, and then things turned upside down because that was when the teacher thought they were mad- up stories (how could I possibly have met Bobby Darin). So my teacher believed my name was ‘Yatez’, yet refused to believe I had met the Beach Boys.

“I wrote and wrote and wrote all through my teens and college years, then started writing plays. I received a bachelor’s in English, then later a master’s in theatre and wrote several plays, three of which I had produced.

“The real publishing came when I took a stand-up comedy course and actually took a stab at real stand-up and was a disaster. The humor was very cerebral–‘Some burglar is terrorizing my neighborhood with a pricing gun. Last night I came home, and everything in my house was marked down twenty percent.’

“You did stand-up at midnight, and the audience was mostly drunk, and they’d throw beer bottles at you. I gave it up almost at once but hooked up with a member of the class, Matt Rissinger (mattandphilipjokebooks.com) and we started writing joke books for kids.

“We simply wrote a book of jokes about food and sent it off to several publishers. Sterling Publishing said they were interested, but wanted a general joke book that ran the gamut from Armadillos to Zombies, and we produced.

“Now it’s nearly fifteen books later (we have two new ones coming out in November–Nuttiest Knock-Knocks (Sterling) and Galaxy’s Greatest Giggles (Sterling)).

“The well has run dry with the joke books, but I’m still publishing picture books—Ten Little Mummies came out in 2003 and A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas this October, 2008.”

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

In my twenties and thirties I can’t tell you how many stories I sent out to publishers. They were mostly bizarre “Twilight Zone” tomes, like a lonely witch who summons up the spirits of dead children to accompany her on Halloween night.

After this unsuccessful period and fifty rejections later, I started writing plays—comedic tragedies highly immersed in Catholicism jokes like–“If Jesus died, then rose, I understand why Jesus died, but who was Rose and why did she have to die, too?”

After getting our first contract for a joke book, we got a contract from Disney to write jokes and humor columns for their Disney Adventures Magazine.

I also had a poem published in Lee Bennett HopkinsDino-Roars, illustrated by Cynthia Fisher (right alongside Jane Yolen) (Golden Books, 1999), and then the picture books happened.

How did you train as a writer?

I had no training except for the typical college composition classes and a playwriting class in college. You have to train by reading. Read everything and anything you can get your hands on. That’s Ray Bradbury‘s advice. Read everything from Moby Dick to the National Enquirer to the back of a cereal box.

I once wrote a story about a kid who finds an old box of cereal. I mean, fifty-years old and when they used to put prizes in them. He discovers a decoder ring in it, which still works and hooks him up with some old-time radio detective hero. Nothing ever came of the story, but it was inspired by the back of a cereal box. It made me want to write, no matter how stupid the story came out.

I tried reading books on the mechanics of writing, but most of them I found, except for a few, were written by people who hadn’t been published.

Plus, no there’s no better way to learn structure than to read, read, read books of great and not-so-great fiction and non-fiction. I studied theatre and got my master’s in theatre, and I’ll never forget what the great Broadway director Harold Clurman said…that we need the bad plays to provide the manure for the good ones.

Some people might laugh at this, but the best training I ever got was from learning how to write jokes. Jokes are concise and have a beginning (the setup) a middle (the problem) and an end (the punchline).

I also believe authors have to become students of human nature.

A book on writing won’t teach you how to become an astute observer of life.

I look at photographs a lot in art books and say to myself, “Who is that woman, and what is she looking at in the distance?” I try to answer that by writing a story about the woman.

Don’t get in trouble with this, but you have to master the art of eavesdropping, if you want to become an author. Listen to what people whisper to each other on the bus, in the art museum, in the express line at the grocery store, in the diner. That’s where stories come from.

Let your mind wander and then let it wonder. Listen to what children say and do because that’s the only way you’ll learn how to see things from their point of view.

I try to be a student of human nature, observe all that goes on around me, then write it down, no matter how trivial it might seem. It might blossom into a story later on.

A little girl came into the library once and told her mom, “I love you so much I want to throw up.” I thought this was hilarious and touching because a moment later the girl hugged her mom and added, “Throw up my arms and hug you and kiss you.” This later became a picture book about how much a child can love a parent or guardian.

We last spoke in October 2005 about your debut picture book, Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 2003). What is new in your writing life since? [See a previous Cynsations interview with Philip]

I’m very close to getting an agent finally. It’s very difficult even for some published authors to get agents. You truly have to show a diverse portfolio nowadays.

People automatically assume that if you’ve been published that you also have an agent. There are some writers I know that haven’t been published but have agents. More power to them because not only are they gifted writers, but they are also pretty good at selling themselves and can show a great variety in their work.

I’m very slow in writing and very precise, so I don’t have a lot to show to agents that I feel confident about. Ten Little Mummies only has 300 words and took two years to bring to perfection.

Though I have at least twenty picture books close to completing, there’s probably two that are publishable and that I would send to an agent.

So I’m trying to branch out and make myself diverse and prolific with a young adult novel, which I previewed at the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop in June 2008 and got great feedback on, a book of poetry on dinosaurs (told from the dinosaurs point of view), and an historical biography of probably the first child star, a young prodigy named William Betty, who was all of thirteen when he played Hamlet on the London stage. A great mixture of projects. You need to have that to keep you going when the rejections come pouring in.

I’m also trying to regularly keep a journal, which I know is nothing new, but it’s a must for all writers. I write down ideas for stories, or snatches of dialogue, or names of people that are unusual that I might use for a story.

I think it was both Dickens and Ayre who requested that their diaries be destroyed after their deaths, and I think that’s the kind of journal writers have to keep. A journal that’s so full of honesty that it begs to be destroyed after the author’s passing. One full of hopes and dreams and secrets and that may one day be used to write that great story. You have to brave enough to write everything in the journal that comes into your head, no matter how scandalous, or insignificant. Just be sure you put it in your will that it has to tossed into the fire after you die.

Congratulations on the publication of A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Sebastia Serra (Sterling, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

I knew going into this project that there are a million rip-offs of “A Visit From St Nicholas.” There’s “A Thanksgiving Before Christmas,” and so on. I think people truly groan and say, “Oh, not another takeoff!” I felt, however, that I had a new and exciting take on the old chestnut.

It began with questions like: How would pirates celebrate Christmas? Answer: They were too mean to be rewarded by Santa Claus, so they needed a new icon of holiday celebration–one that’s a Davey-Jones-like Pirate Claus.

What would I replace reindeer with? Well, what about seahorses?

I wrote the whole story by asking questions and putting myself into this world that is uniquely the pirates’.

That’s what writing successful picture books is all about–asking the right questions and letting the answers come in the most heartfelt way. I also knew that the story had to be told by a child and that I had to immerse myself in that child’s world in order for the reader to become immersed in the story.

I spent perhaps ninety percent of my time researching pirate lore–the language, the grammar, the slang, the history, the parts of the ship, and exploring questions like: what would a pirate ask for at Christmas? Well, a plank, of course.

I also wanted the language to be authentic in every way, so that when you read it out loud, you would sound like a pirate.

Who didn’t dream of being a pirate when they were a kid? It’s a dream-come-true for a child. No parents hanging around, stay up as long as you wanted to, dig for buried treasure on the weekends, don’t worry about brushing your teeth, capture and burn ships, kidnap men and women and make them walk the plank. Look at Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and their overwhelming desire to be pirates. It’s the ultimate kid fantasy.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

In 2004 I stumbled upon a book by Don Foster called Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. Foster is a scholar who developed a method to unmask many “anonymous” literati and solve the mysteries of authorship. For example, he investigated and suggested who was the real author of Primary Colors (1996)(and he turned out to be right).

Now here’s a great leap to the inspiration part, but this is precisely what happened in my head. Foster investigated the claim that “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” was written by one Major Henry Livingston, not Clement Moore. There was never any substantial proof in the end pointing to Livingston (there’s a cool website created by his great, great, great, great, great grandaughter that says otherwise), but it led me to begin analyzing the poem myself, whose rhyme structure is anapestic tetrameter, a form that can also be found in Dr. Seuss‘s Yertle the Turtle and Cat in the Hat. It’s a breezy, whimsical, magical form that just flows beautifully and is highly contagious when read out loud.

Around the time the Johnny Depp pirate movies were just being introduced and the two ideas collided like ships on the Spanish Main. “How would pirates celebrate Christmas?” Surely they would not be visited by St. Nicholas, no, not these robbers and murderers, unless he left coal in their stockings. The idea continued to haunt me until I came up with the solution that if pirates were to celebrate their own Christmas, they had to have their very own pirate Santa Claus and that’s when Sir Peggedy was born.

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

Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, unlike Ten Little Mummies, which took a couple of years to write, wrote itself in about two days!

The book was sent to Penguin, Bloomsbury and Sterling Publishing, which, only until recently, has begun publishing picture books and of great quality.

I sent the manuscript out on a Monday, and the editor called me on Friday of that same week with an offer. I had studied the Sterling catalog and found that their product was quite excellent and said “yes”. The following week, both Penguin and Bloomsbury called with offers. So it was a little over a week between submission and acceptance. I was most fortunate to have three publishers begging for the manuscript, and that is something most writers would kill for.

I was also lucky to get the illustrator I got because I can’t see anyone doing a better job than Sebastia Serra, who lives in Barcelona. Who would have a better view of the Spanish Coast than him? I’m glad I stuck with Sterling because the end was stupendous.

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

The simple part was that I was adhering to the anapestic structure of the original ballad poem. I had the recipe for the poem/story already laid out.

The difficulty was in keeping the language accurate to pirate lore and not messing up or forcing the rhymes. “There” always had to be “thar,” and every word with an “ing” on the end had to be changed to “‘in.”

Adhering to the slang without forcing the rhymes was a real challenge. I had to throw all proper grammar out the window. Pirates would fail English composition, and that was how they needed to come across.

Another enormous challenge was the setting of the pirate ship. Not having ever spent time on a pirate ship, I had no idea how to present the ship in any accurate light. So I got books on ships (there are books called Cross-Sections, which outline all the parts of airplanes, ships and trains) and I had to be precise in describing such places as the poop deck (what kid wouldn’t love that name), the mast, the crow’s nest.

I knew that, if the illustrator was brilliant, I had it made, but it was up to me to create the inspiration for the world through the text.

The other problem was that my publisher didn’t want references to alcohol (like rum or grog) since that might be a bad influence on children. I wouldn’t budge on this for a while, but finally excluded it when I realized I wanted to have the child in the crow’s nest with a dog rather than a bottle of grog and the “og” had to rhyme with “fog,” anyway. In the end it was my call, however.

Do you work with a critique group, an editorial agent, on your own, etc.?

I used to work with critique groups, but soon got discouraged–not because I didn’t like the members, but because I came to the conclusion that I was the wrong fit for the group in terms of the type of writing I submitted.

I was writing lots of poetry at the time and the group just wasn’t into poetry. It’s so essential to have that connection with other writers who have similar writing interests. The positive chemistry is so crucial. It needs to be a marriage that works.

I’m mostly a self-editor and, even after fifteen books of humor and two picture books, I’m terribly shy about the my work. Which is odd because I was such a class clown.

I recently came out of the closet to show some chapters of a YA novel called “The Manatee” which I’m excited about. I’m a brutal editor of my own stuff. I labor over the words.

I’m very secretive about what I’m writing, which I think most writers are. I never let the story slip into someone else’s hands until perhaps the tenth draft.

If someone asks me what I’m writing I tend to give them a synopsis of something which is a total lie of what I’m actually writing.

I cross my fingers behind my back and tell them a fantastic story that has nothing to do with what I’m actually writing. It might be paranoia that they will steal the idea or that I feel, that by talking about it, I’m putting some kind of curse on the work.

All writers, despite what I’ve just said, should go to critique groups. I just haven’t found the right one yet.

I do have great editors at Sterling and Penguin who are always giving me great feedback.

Sometimes, if the cat pukes out hairball on the manuscript that’s a pretty good sign it’s time to put this one away for a while.

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

The first thing I’d say is, “Is there anyone else in the room with me?” Then if there was no reply, I’d feel comfortable enough to say things like: “Share your work with someone you trust, no matter how you feel about it.” “But I will only give my work to people I know and love and who will also be brutal with criticism.”

In the end, if it gets published, it’s going to be in the hands of thousands of people. Write from the heart and not from the head.

I’d also say things like, “Read The Elements of Style a little earlier since this is the greatest book you could ever read on writing.”

I’d say “Read more classics!”

I’d advise: “Don’t ever walk away from the writing just when it’s getting good, and you think that tomorrow it’ll get even better. Stay put in the chair until you are really satisfied.”

By the same token, “don’t ever walk away when the writing gets bad because there’s always a rainbow around the corner, if you just be patient.”

“Don’t be afraid to have a bawl-fest when you are writing a particularly moving passage. Sometimes it’s good to clean the keyboard with a few salty teardrops.”

What about the picture book audience appeals to you?

You can take a child by the hand and bring them to worlds they’ve only dreamed of. Anything can happen and does in a picture book—mummies frolic in the Egyptian sun, animals talk, cars fly, pigeons drive buses, llamas wear pajamas, dogs conduct safety assemblies at schools. You could go on forever, and that’s the appeal–it’s limitless in terms of coming up with imaginative ways to tell a story and still hit the heartstrings of a child.

And a parent. I think every picture book author writes for two audiences–the child and the parent. We transport the child to another world, and the parent accompanies them like the conductor. If we’re successful with the story the child and the parent are both enchanted. If only the child is enchanted we’ve only done half our job.

If the child believes in the Wild Things and the parent doesn’t then something is wrong with the story because it’s a mutual sharing, mutual accepting of this world they step into through the written word.

If the parent reads a child a story, they must be on the train, too, sitting right next to them. They both must believe in order for the story to come alive. The child in the parent must nod his/her head and go, “Yes, when I was young I, too, saw the Wild Things and when I came home, though it felt like I’d been gone forever, my dinner was still warm.”

That’s what I like—connecting to those two audiences—the child and the inner child in us all, whether we’re ten or 100.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

To keep in touch with all children’s publishing, I’m fortunate to work at the Austin Public Library here in Austin. I see every new kid’s book that comes in. I see catalogs, and I do my homework pouring over them and finding the latest trends.

I also love to go to museums, not to see the art but the people. Watch what they do, hear what they say. You never know if it might come in handy in a story. Like if you happen to be there when, say, a mother is chasing her diaper-less child through a gallery of still-life nudes, that’s a pretty funny juxtaposition.

I’m a voracious reader, of course. Not just books, you’ll find me reading the mug shots at the post office, the menus on the restaurants on Sixth Street, someone’s grocery list that blows down the sidewalk and clings to my pants. I mean, everything.

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

When the joke books came out in the early nineties, my co-author and I did joke shows for kids nearly every week in libraries, bookstores, and at community events.

You’d think, how did we get time to write nearly ten books of jokes in eight years? Every joke show, we had the kids come up onstage and tell their own jokes, which we would twist around and make them our own. So every event we went to, we had ten new jokes we hadn’t heard, and they went into the next joke book. So we were writing the next book as we were promoting the previous one.

Now that I’m into picture books and YAs and poetry, you can’t do that because, of course, the work is finished.

You have to put yourself out there at schools, libraries, conferences, and sometimes the writing just has to go on hold except for the journal you’re always keeping with you.

I’ve heard where famous authors spend more time now promoting than they actually do writing, and I guess that’s the way to go if you want to keep your name out there.

What can your fans look forward to next?

As a last hurrah to the joke books, there are two final ones coming out in November, Nuttiest Knock-Knocks, and Galaxy’s Greatest Giggles.

My editor at Sterling has been asking for sequels to the Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, but some variations on that, dinosaur Christmas and so on, but I think I want to move on.

Joseph Bruchac, Cynthia Leitich Smith to Chat with readergirlz Tonight

“In celebration of Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage Month, Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith will chat online at the readergirlz forum at MySpace at 6 p.m. PDT, 7 p.m. MDT, 8 p.m. CDT, 9 p.m. EDT Nov. 6.”

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.

My teen/tween fiction with Native themes includes Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and “A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate” from Moccasin Thunder: Native American Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005)(anthologist interview).

Cynsational Notes

Teachers/Librarians: please keep in mind the importance of including contemporary images of Native people. Please highlight Native contributions across the curriculum (not just related to history/culture, but also science, engineering, art, medicine, etc.) and do so, not only in November, but throughout the year.

That said, I understand that some of you are constrained by prescribed curriculum, and now is your window. In that case, by all means, knock yourselves out–and thank you for your efforts!

On a related note, those who follow annual counts of multicultural books know that the numbers in this area are low–only six youth lit books by Native authors and only 44 titles about Native people were published in 2007. Source: CCBC. Please consider supporting Native voices via this new widget from JacketFlap.

Learn more about Native American Themes in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Don’t miss the teacher/reader guides, which include a free readers’ theater for Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Jim Madsen (HarperCollins, 2002)(ages 7-up). See also Debbie Reese’s blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Check out this book trailer for Rain Is Not My Indian Name, designed by Shayne Leighton.

round 5

10th Anniversary Feature: Shana Burg

In celebration of the ten year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, 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 Shana Burg:

What have I learned about craft? I’ve learned that art imitates life, but also life imitates art.

The only way I can describe it is like this. Yoga helped me stretch my first book from an idea to a finished manuscript.

In yoga, they say what you learn “on the mat” applies to life. If you learn to focus intensely on the mat, you can take that skill into your everyday life. If you develop persistence on the mat, that transfers too. I refined and strengthened these skills through yoga, plus patience, balance, and the ability to just let go.

Similarly, I can practice the same skills that I do “on the mat” when I am “on the page.”

I can practice being authentic and true to the characters in my world. I can practice approaching revisions with a daredevil attitude. I can practice believing in my story and knowing that what I’m creating has a purpose no matter what anyone else might think. All of these struggles “on the page” seep into the rest of my life and help me be the kind of person I want to be.

Sometimes my life becomes my art and my art becomes my life.

At these times, who I am as a writer with a voice is not too different from who I am as the person who makes breakfast, drives my son to school, calls friends, and folds the laundry. I’ve found when I get to that point—and I get there and lose it and get there and lose it—that things are humming, and both writing and living seem like they’re flowing as they should.

Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

Cynsational Notes

“Told in the first person through the eyes of a perceptive African-American girl living in the deep south during a period of racial tension and social upheaval, this first novel is a gripping page-turner. Without being didactic, the author teaches what it was like to be poor and live under the injustices of segregation.” Source: Parent’s Choice.

Read chapter one of A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008).