Editor Interview: Andrew Karre on Carolrhoda

Andrew Karre on Andrew Karre: “I am the editorial director of Carolrhoda Books, the trade children’s book imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. The title is a little fancy, but ‘editor’ is the operative word. Carolrhoda publishes a small, select list of fiction and nonfiction for children of all ages, picture books through YA. I’m also the main blogger at carolrhoda.blogspot.com.”

We last spoke in November 2006 when you were an editor at Flux. Congratulations on your new job at Carolrhoda! Could you tell us about the Carolrhoda list? It’s part of the Lerner group, yes?

Yes, Carolrhoda is an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group and always has been. Lerner has been a leading independent children’s publisher for fifty years, and Carolrhoda has been publishing as an imprint since 1969.

Carolrhoda books are focused on the trade (so, bookstores and public libraries and the general book-reading public), but Lerner is a major school-and-library publisher, and having expertise in and access to those audiences is very exciting.

What about it attracted you?

I loved my time at Flux, but I really wanted to do the whole range of children’s books, including YA (always my first love), but also picture books and middle grade. And nonfiction, which is extremely exciting.

When I interviewed for the position, what immediately struck me was how very important the books are to people at Lerner. Awards and starred reviews are a big deal, and earning them is a goal of Carolrhoda. They set a high bar for this imprint. I was drawn to the challenge–and, honestly, to the opportunities to do things on a bigger scale.

What new directions at the house/imprint should we know about?

I don’t know if these are new directions, but they are directions.

It’s no secret that I love me some YA, especially serious YA with boundary-pushing writing, so I hope you’ll see some of that in seasons to come.

High-concept nonfiction is a big emphasis for us.

I need middle-grade, naturally.

And, of course, picture books are always part of this list. We’ve done lots of successful holiday picture books over the years, and there’s no reason to stop, but I am personally interested in less-traditional picture book forms, and I know my colleagues in the art department are, too. For example, we’re all really excited about Chris Monroe’s Monkey with a Tool Belt books.

What titles would you recommend for study to writers or illustrators interested in working with you there and why?

For authors, I like writing that nails voice and point-of-view to the wall. If you can do that, we can figure out a plot. Read M. T. Anderson, Peter Cameron‘s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You (FSG, 2007), stuff like that.

Of the books I’ve edited recently, Emily Wing Smith‘s The Way He Lived (Flux, 2008) makes me enormously proud to be associated with such a talented writer. Maggie Stiefvater (Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception (Flux, 2008)(author interview)) is an author I would clone in a heartbeat. She is the complete package.

In picture books, I’ve really loved Shaun Tan‘s work (just read The Rabbits, written by John Marsden (Simply Read, 2003)).

I was really excited to be part of an imprint that has a great relationship with Stephen Gammell (most recently I Know an Old Teacher (Carolrhoda, 2008)).

I have a nine-month-old son, and in addition to Goodnight Moon (by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947)) and Where the Wild Things Are (by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1963), I’ve really enjoyed reading him If I Were a Lion by Sarah Weeks and Heather M. Solomon (Simon & Schuster, 2004). I mentioned Monkey with a Toolbelt…

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submission process? What are pitfalls to avoid?

Focus on the quality of your work. That’s irritatingly simple, but it’s the best advice.

Killer query letters aren’t the key (especially for me, since I only take solicited submissions, per the instructions on my blog).

There’re so many unrefined ideas in the marketplace right now that all that ever stands out to me is really beautiful execution. It’s the craft.

Could you describe your dream writer? Illustrator?

Someone who reads like crazy and is fearless about revision and who tells me exactly how (or if) I can help them. Someone willing to talk ideas on the phone with me without end.

All this, and they should be an absolute pro about deadlines and be a shameless but disciplined self-promoter. Would it be too much to ask for training in classical French cuisine?

Seriously, I love working with writers who surprise me with their revisions and with the growth of their work.

As a reader, so far what have been your three favorite children’s-YA books of 2008 and why?

So, this excludes books I’ve edited or the Carolrhoda or Flux have published…

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traiter to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2006). He is a master, and the book is stunning.

I’ve been reading picture books like a fiend, as you might expect, so I’m a bit scattered on those, but I really liked Wabi Sabi by Ed Young (Little Brown, 2008) most recently.

I recently read David Almond‘s The Savage, and that was a fascinating and beautiful book. I don’t know if I liked it as much as Clay, but it’s a wonderful book and I love the hybrid approach.

If I can have four, I’d like to throw in Madapple by Christine Meldrum (Knopf, 2008).

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

Learn to say “no,” firmly and decisively, but also trust your instincts about an author, even if conventional analysis tells you otherwise. I’d also remind him that you publish books but you should acquire authors, and so the author-editor relationship should never be neglected.

10th Anniversary Feature: Jody Feldman

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 Jody Feldman:

When the movie, “Field of Dreams,” came out in 1989 (coincidentally, the year I started writing The Gollywhopper Games (Greenwillow, 2008)), you couldn’t get very far in any given week without hearing the refrain, “If you build it, they will come.”

Nineteen years later, When The Gollywhopper Games was released, those words wouldn’t leave my mind. I built it. Will anyone come? Anyone besides my family and friends and writing communities? Why would anyone notice a new author’s new book?

Somehow, the efforts of my publisher, the Class of 2k8 and my own attempts of promotion–plus major portions of luck and serendipity–have graced me with my share of strangers coming to my characters and my story. I built it. Readers have come.

Yet, I find it disturbing that other authors, new and experienced, who have done just as much or even more than I have to get their books noticed haven’t met with the same results. And I’m talking about some brilliant books here.

If you build it, will they come? Hard to say. I’ve learned the business part of this industry is a giant question mark. No matter how hard we promote or how fervently we beg our Amazon rankings to climb, there’s so much we can’t control in publishing.

The only thing we can control is how much we work on character, plot, setting, dialogue, and theme to make the next book even better. And we can hope that if we continue to build ourselves as authors, our readers, most often, will come.

Read a Cynsations interview with Jody.

10th Anniversary Feature: Barrie Summy

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 Barrie Summy:

I learned a very, very important lesson this past year as a debut author.

I have a problem.

It’s called time management.

There it is, folks. I’ve admitted it. It’s on your screen. And zipping around cyberspace. Miss Muklowska, my first grade teacher, might even see it.

If only there were more than twenty-four hours in a day and more than seven days a week. And more weeks in a month. And more…

Where do the seconds and minutes and hours trickle away to?

Cyberspace. I spend way, way too much time online. I love the blogsphere and research and email and marketing and classes and just meandering from link to link.

Revising. I love to revise. Over and over and over. I’m never done. I could fiddle and tweak and change this word for that forever. The thesaurus is my BFF.

Outlining. I’m a huge outliner. I keep a recipe box per book. The box has dividers for the major plot points. Whenever I have an idea for a scene or a description or a little detail, I jot it on a note card (love those colored and lined note cards!) and plop it in the box according to where it would probably fit in plot-wise. Then I painstakingly type up the contents of the box.

The Rest of My Life. Because somewhere in the midst of all this is a family—a husband and four kids and a veiled chameleon and Dorothy the Dog. Not to mention scads of sports activities and music lessons, and, oh yeah, homework, and friends, and cooking and laundry and…

Yikes! I have to write another book!

Enter the Class of 2k8.

We’re an online group of 27 debut middle-grade and young-adult writers from a variety of publishing houses who banded together for marketing purposes. We’ve ended up becoming great friends. Who share the ups and downs of life as a debut author.

And guess what? I’m the baby of the class (in terms of pub date, that is!). Which means I get to watch my classmates navigate the publishing experience before me.

And see just how much there is to juggle!

And learn how they’re managing their time.

And get a sense of what’s coming at me from down the pike.

And it all helps. Tremendously.

Not saying I don’t still have time management problem.

But now it has a name.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia edited by Herbie Brennan (BenBella, 2008)(PDF excerpt)! Read an interview with Herbie.

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 Dec. 15!

OR, if you’re on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Dec. 15! But DON’T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I’ll contact you for it if you win. Please also type “Wardrobe” in the subject line.

The winners of autographed copies of Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 2008) were Sally, a teacher in Michigan, and Lucile, a Cynsational reader from Florida! Read a Cynsations inteview with Jennifer.

More News

How Not to Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2008): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: “a hilarious take on popularity and fitting in.” Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

“Secret Vampire, the first book of nine in L. J. Smith’s Night World series, can be freely downloaded until Dec. 21.” Source: School Library Journal by way of Janni Lee Simmer.

Is There Ageism in Publishing? by Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “Publishing is a difficult, competitive industry no matter what your age.”

Building Your Mailing List — Data Mining for Authors by Saundra Mitchell at Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “Sure, there’s all kinds of information on the web, but some sites are more accurate than others. Weigh your sources when you search for information- a dated government website listing all the libraries in your region is probably more accurate than an undated Geocities website made by an unknown author.”

The Highlights Foundation is currently accepting applications for financial aid to its 25th anniversary Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. Although deadline is mid-February, please apply as soon as possible. For an application, e-mail me jalloyd@highlightsfoundation.org.

Real Men Read at MN High School by Debra Lau Whelan from School Library Journal. Peek: “Media specialist Tori Jensen was always interested in reluctant readers—maybe because she was one herself as a child. So she recently launched the Read Men Read program—and the results have been nothing but positive. From September to November, her library’s circulation has more than tripled from 122 to 432 books.” Source: Sarah Darer Littman.

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.

Perfecting Your Craft by Justine Larbalestier. Peek: “I was more obsessed with seeing my name in print than I was with becoming a better writer.” Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Let’s Get It On: Sex Scenes in Young Adult Novels by Marianna Baer from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “Once I stepped back and looked at YA novels I think handle sex beautifully, I realized I needed to come back to that – the craft. Because, in the end, good craft will set us free.”

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #78: Judy Blume from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I think we’re better off than we were twenty years ago (actually, it was following the presidential election of 1980 that the censors crawled out of the woodwork). Better off because we’re aware. We’re organized and determined now, the way the censors were then. (Check out ncac.org and judyblume.com/censorship for more info.)”

Congratulations to Deborah Noyes on the release of Encyclopedia of the End: Mysterious Death in Fact, Fancy, Folklore, and More (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)! From the promotional copy: “How much do we truly know and understand about our own mortality? Enter Encyclopedia of the End, a compulsively readable and beautifully illustrated compendium that explores this most taboo of topics. Entries present a kaleidoscopic mix of topics from afterlife to assassination, forensic science to funeral foods, rigor mortis to reincarnation and more. With an appreciation for the profound and profane, Deborah Noyes helps lift the shroud of secrecy surrounding one of the most fascinating and ordinary phenomena of life. After all, who says that a book about death can’t be lively?” Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Melissa Marr Interview from The YA YA YAs. Peek: “When I started, I wrote a short story. About a year later, those characters and that story evolved into a novel. As soon as I finished it, I began writing another novel (parts of which eventually became the second and third books, Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity respectively). Currently, I’m planning a total of five books in this world. The fourth of those is the one I’m currently writing.” Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

Black teens enjoy reading, too…Whowouldathunkit? from anti-racist parent: for parents committed to raising children with an anti-racist outlook. Peek: “Why the notion of young people of color finding enjoyment escaping into a good book is a concept so hard to grasp that it must be digested slowly escapes me, but at least publishers are gradually ‘getting it.'” Source: The Brown Bookshelf.

Finalists for the William C Morris YA Debut Award: A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic); Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt/Houghton); Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne (Harper/Laura Geringer); Madapple by Christina Meldrum (Knopf); Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine (Harper). Source: thunderchikin. From ALA: “William C. Morris was an influential innovator in the publishing world and an advocate for marketing books for children and young adults. Bill Morris left an impressive mark on the field of children’s and young adult literature. He was beloved in the publishing field and the library profession for his generosity and marvelous enthusiasm for promoting literature for children and teens.” Note: what an extraordinary year this has been for debut authors! Three of these are high on my to-read pile, but I still haven’t cracked even one of them yet. On the upside, much to look forward to!

As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Raul Colon (Knopf, 2008): a recommendation from author Shana Burg. Peek: “It was only after I read this beautifully-told and gorgeously-illustrated picture book that I learned the extraordinarily powerful story behind the story: namely, what led to Michelson’s passion for civil rights in the first place. Like the men he writes about, Michelson too transformed a horrible childhood experience into a future devoted to justice.” Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

Writers You’ll Be Hearing a Lot About by Sarah Aronson from Through the Tollbooth. A celebration of pre-published talent. See interviews with: Gene Brenek (who, incidentally, designed the Sanguini’s T-shirts); Elly Swartz; Kellye Carter Crocker (one of my former VCFA students–go, Kellye!); Sean Petrie (of the Austin community).

Autographed Books for the Holidays Contest from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Enter to win one of two autographed copies of As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President! (Delacorte, 2008). Deadline: midnight: Dec. 17 (not sure of time zone). Read a Cynsations interview with Donna.

Keep Writing! by Jill Cocoran Books. Reflections on the financial status of publishing from a variety of voices.

Reminder: Firebrand Literary is taking a Query Holiday: see detailed information on how to submit your first chapter between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15. Note: due not submit without reading guidelines.

Book Party Tips from Marianne Mancusi from Pub Rants. Peek: “Gift Bags! Take a page from red carpet events and make up gift bags for each guest. You can solicit companies to donate products—it’s much easier than you might think!”

AuthorsNow!: “The Internet’s Largest Collection of Debut Authors and Illustrators.” Peek: “New talent is in town! Learn about what’s hitting the shelves in children’s and teen literature today from our debut authors and illustrators. Not only will you find information about our books, but we’ll also point you to other popular groups, web sites, blogs, and communities who love children’s books as much as we do!” See also the application to become an AuthorsNow! member.

Check out the book trailer for Take the Reins (Canterwood Crest) by Jessica Burkhart (Aladdin Mix, Jan. 2009)

I Heart Daily: a free email newsletter and website that delivers one item each day from the world of entertainment, fashion, beauty or news. The idea for I Heart Daily was born when former co-workers Anne Ichikawa and [YA author] Melissa Walker were both editors at the now-defunct teen magazine ELLEgirl. They realized there was no resource providing content that appealed to the girl who knows what she wants and likes, but is always open to get psyched for something new. “Each day, you’ll find out about one thing we think you’ll like,” explain Anne and Melissa. “The band you should hear, the girl who’s making a difference in the world, the new lip gloss color that looks good on everyone, the undiscovered designer who is making amazing clothes. Our reader understands that what’s interesting is more than just what’s trendy. You’ll never hear about stuff we hate, just stuff we heart.” Source: Debbi Michiko Florence.

Interview with 2008 Oregon Book Award Winner Sara Ryan from Multnomah County Library Podcasts. “Librarian Laural Winter interviews 2008 Oregon Book Award Winner for Young Adult Literature Sara Ryan about her book The Rules for Hearts (Viking, 2007).” Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Attention Authors, Illustrators, Web Promotion Pros: remember to include the publisher, publication date, and ISBN for each book on your websites. Please also be aware that reviews are copyrighted. You may not reproduce them in the whole without permission. Stick with a short quote and a link back to the review source.

Kids ♥ Authors Day: “Bookstores, authors, and illustrators are teaming up to make V-Day 2009 an unforgettable one for New England families.” New England authors, illustrators, booksellers, and media can find out how to participate here. Source: Cynthia Lord.

More Personally

Thanks to all who cheered the cover of Eternal (Candlewick, Feb. 2009)! The book now has its own page on my official website, and the readers’ guide (warning: spoilers) is up too. If you’d like a smaller version of the countdown widget, you can find it on either of those pages. More Web features are in the works and will roll out over the next couple of months.

On a related note…

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith — Review from Karin’s Book Nook. Peek: “Reading Tantalize first isn’t necessary, so in February when Eternal hits the shelves run to the bookstore and get your copy.”

Last weekend I had the pleasure of co-leading Austin SCBWI‘s Day with an Editor with Jill Santopolo of HarperCollins. Thanks so much to RA Tim Crow, workshop hostess Debbie Gonzales, her dedicated team of volunteers, and all who participated! Read a Cynsations interview with Jill. See also author Kristi Holl‘s thoughts on the day from The Gift of Time at Writer’s First Aid. Here’s a pic of Jill herself…

Another of Jill, this one with VCFA student and Sanguini’s T-shirt illustrator Gene Brenek.

Author Lindsey Lane.

VCFA student Jennifer Taylor.

An array of talented participants (on break).

And refreshments provided by Caribbean Cart Catering.

In other news, author-illustrator Annette Simon sends in this shot of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) from a Wal-Mart in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Thanks, Annette! Note: a non-writer pal asked me this week why folks were sending in photos of my book in stores across the country, and my answer was: “Because it’s never happened before, and these are people who know that for someone who’s been writing and loving books so long, it’s a small miracle.” Thanks again to all for the enthusiasm, support, and cheers.


Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will be speaking on “First Drafts” at the February monthly meeting of the Writers’ League of Texas at 7:30 Feb. 19 at the League office in Austin (611 S. Congress Avenue).

Due to a technical difficulty, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s discussion of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), and related forthcoming books on the teen grid of Teen Second at Second Life has been rescheduled for 3 p.m. Feb. 24. See more information.


Fifth Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts will be March 27 to March 29, 2009. Featuring: author Kathi Appelt; author Elise Broach; and editor Cheryl Klein of Scholastic. Includes: lectures; organized workshops; writing exercises; one-on-one critiques with one of the guest authors; one-on-one critique with guest editor (extra fee); open mike; discussions; room and board. Cost: $450. Registration begins Dec. 1. For more information, contact Sarah Aronson.

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 little peek at home life–say howdy to Leo in his house.

Author-Illustrator Interview: Ed Young on Wabi Sabi

We last spoke in 2007 about Beyond the Great Mountains (Chronicle, 2005). Congratulations on your new much-buzzed release, Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibstein (Little Brown, 2008)! Could you tell us how the book came to be?

I was introduced to author Mark Reibstein by a mutual friend, author Roni Schotter.

Mark had lived in Japan, where he had a cat named Wabi Sabi. He worked on the manuscript for many years.

After he read my book, Cat and Rat (Holt, 1995), he thought I might be interested in collaborating.

I liked the story, so I submitted it to a number of houses, but didn’t have any luck until a friend, Molly Bang, suggested her editor at Little, Brown, Andrea Spooner, who passed it on to Alvina Ling, our editor.

What was the timeline from your accepting the manuscript to its publication? What were the major challenges along the way?

Since the story of Wabi Sabi is a journey, I chose a horizontal design in an accordion format (like Mouse Match (Harcourt, 1997)), and worked in ink, pastel and collage. Because of the Japanese words and the complexity of haiku and text, the book evolved into a vertical design with a hinge on top.

The final art was near finished in April 2007, when my wife suddenly became sick and needed immediate surgery. Knowing that the months after that would require my total attention, I turned in the art in April, although the deadline was November.

When my wife was released from the hospital, I discovered that the art had been lost in transit. I was unable to follow up on it until after my wife’s memorial service.

By July, after many failed attempts to recover the art, I decided to start anew. All of my preliminary sketches and collage materials had been discarded in April. It was a miracle that I was able to condense two years of work into two months.

What’s more, the second version was superior by far. The strange thing was that the package containing my first version mysteriously turned up after the second one had gone to press. So, now we have two versions of art for the same book.

What did this experience teach you?

From Wabi Sabi, two of my convictions have been confirmed:

– Every object has intrinsic beauty. It is up to us to discover that beauty by suspending our own bias and seeing the object as it is.

– No book is ever finished, for it can, given more time, always be made better. Be persistent.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My forthcoming books are:

Tsunami by Kimiko Kajikawa (Philomel, 2009);

Hook by Ed Young (Roaring Brook, 2009);

Seven Fathers by Ashley Ramsden (Roaring Brook, 2010);

Moon Bear by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, Spring 2010).

I’m also currently working with Chronicle on a riddle book for young children (title undecided, Spring 2010).

Interview: Cathie Mercier on the Simmons MFA program in Writing for Children

Cathie Mercier has been at Simmons College since 1985, when she began teaching at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature; she is currently Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In her work as associate director and then as director of the Children’s Literature program, Cathie oversaw development of the MFA in Writing for Children to complement the MA degree, as well as a dual degree programs with Education and Library and Information Sciences.

Cathie has co-authored three biocritical studies of young adult authors, including the forthcoming Reading Russell Freedman (Scarecrow, 2009). Her interest in children’s literature–especially the visual images in picture books and the figurative power of adolescence in literature for adults–has contributed to a variety of publications across disciplines with footholds in children’s literature.

She served on the 1994 Caldecott Committee, the 1999 Newbery Committee, and the 2000 Sibert Committee; she chaired the 2004 Sibert Committee and 2009 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award Committee.

Why would a children’s/YA writer want to pursue an MFA degree? What doors does it open, creatively and professionally?

Students enter the program for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they want a structured and rigorous academic environment in which to develop as writers.

The MFA program at Simmons contextualizes the writer’s art and craft within the discipline of children’s literature. Students focus not only on their writing, but also on the historical and contemporary writing of others; they develop not only their artistic sensibility, but also a finely tuned critical sensibility.

Could you offer us some insights into the history of the Simmons MFA program in Writing for Children?

The program is relatively new (“now we are six”) and was begun for two reasons. Many students in the MA program wanted to do additional work in writing, and they especially wanted guided mentorships as they worked on manuscripts. And, we had many inquiries from those who already held MFA degrees but felt they lacked the academic and scholarly context that characterized the MA program.

In short, we took what we had done very well for over 25 years and extended that work to reach others driven to write and to study literature for young people.

What is required for the degree, how is it structured? What is required for admission?

Please see “Degree requirements” (PDF).

Could you describe the academic “culture” of the program?

Intense, rigorous, academic study. Okay–and we have fun, too!

Students typically take two courses per term so that they can balance workload (each course expects 150-20 hours of work per week).

Students are actively engaged in publishing groups, study groups for theory and other genre classes, paper and conference partners, and writing groups. The hallmark of graduate study here is the passion of the students to pursue their questions about children’s literature outside the classroom and to bring that knowledge back to class to inform discussions and to feed their academic and creative writing.

Could you tell us about your faculty? Their credentials and areas of expertise?

Faculty are drawn from traditional academic and professional areas- so, some of us have a Ph.D. (in English, or in Children’s Literature), others are practicing professionals in the areas they teach (e.g., Anita Silvey, former editor of Horn Book and at Houghton Mifflin and renowned author for her “best books” titles teaches the publishing course; writers teach writing. Some faculty profiles can be found at www.simmons.edu by searching on the faculty member’s last name. Try Kelly Hager. Or Susan Bloom. Or…Cathie Mercier.

How competitive is admissions?

Quite competitive–and getting more so every year. Applicants need to have a solid grounding in children’s literature, whether that be through prior academic study of children’s literature or through work and career choices.

Thus, students arrive with a deep and wide knowledge of the field. MFA applicants submit convincing and ambitious portfolios of their writing for young people; many applicants submit published material. We read applications looking for those who are prepared, but also for those to whom our program can bring depth and challenge.

In addition, we seek students who bring their own intellectual engagement in the field of children’s literature to the program. Applicants come from across the world, boast strong GPAs in competitive schools.

For some applicants, the MA or MFA is a second degree and we have had doctoral degree holders who simply want to know ch lit more and more deeply. Similarly, we attract a goodly number of career changers — doctors, lawyers and others in fields not related to children’s literature who have decided that they must study children’s literature!

As creative writers, at what level are students when they enter the program? Upon graduation?

Because applicants must submit a portfolio of their writing, students enter the program demonstrating skill across forms and audiences and eager to develop new areas and to seek new challenges.

When they graduate, they leave having completed two mentorships, generally with publishers. The mentorships take off where two intense creative writing classes “end”–with the development of a sustained, single project that moves toward publication. So, they start as students but end as professionals.

How about as scholars?

A similar trajectory. Our MFA program combines the scholarship of children’s literature with writing for young people. Students find their voices as critics, but, I would argue, that critical voice is as original as is the “creative” writing voice. Yes, these are different forms of writing and different audiences, but both critical writing and creative writing express the unique ideas, attitudes, beliefs, values, of the author.

Could you give us some examples of Simmons success stories?

The MFA program is relatively new, but we’ve always had writers in our program.

The first graduate of the MA program was Gregory Maguire, author of many books for children and young adults and probably best known for his fresh rendering of the Wizard of Oz tales in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995), Son of a Witch (2005), and A Lion Among Men (2008).

One of our more recent MA alumni [Jo Knowles] published Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick, 2007)(author interview) last fall and an even more recent MA alumni (Kristin Cashore) released Graceling (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) to rave review this fall. We’re eager to see the second books of these talented writers.

MFA alumni have been honored with prizes for their potential. For example, Anna Staniszewski served for a year as the Boston Public Library Children’s Writer-in-Residence, a position also held by a number of other MFA alumni. A graduate from last year was named an “Emerging Artist” by the St. Botolph Club of Boston, and another is now working in the children’s trade division at Houghton/Harcourt.

Could you describe the campus in Boston?

Simmons is in the heart of downtown Boston– a baseball throw away from Fenway Park, right next door to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and a block away from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

We’re a short public transportation ride from theatre, music, and Boston’s history. We’re in the middle of the College of the Fenway, a consortium of six colleges.

The campus has an academic quad and a quad on the residence. MFA students are part of the College of Arts and Sciences, but Simmons also has four other graduate schools. We run an active service learning program for graduate students that engage Simmons students in the daily life of Boston residents.

You also offer an MFA in Writing for Children at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. How is this program different? What special opportunities does it offer?

The Carle program is a cohort-based program. Thus, students begin and go through the program as one group. They get to know each other and their faculty remarkably well, better — if that’s possible–than on-campus students.

In addition, their courses meet at the Carle Museum, which enables the course to build museum events, exhibits and author/illustrator talks into the fabric of the courses.

In addition, your programs include a dual degree in teaching and liberal arts. Could you give us a quick overview of it?

We have a number of dual degree programs that combine the liberal arts degree of Master of Arts in Children’s Literature with a variety of professionally directed degrees.

We have a dual degree that combines the MA and the MFA; a program that combines the MA and a Master of Arts in Teaching, another that joins the MA and an MS in Library Science-Children’s Services; we even have a dual degree with the English department, a popular choice for graduates intending to pursue doctoral work.

These dual degree programs allow students to follow a program of study in which theory and practice directly complement each other. The programs are designed so that students do the full range of work in each program but have the benefit of taking a total of fewer courses than two independent degree programs would allow.

The MA-MS Library Science program has a single course designed specifically for that program to interrogate arenas where literature and reader, the artistic and pragmatic, theory and practice can meet face to face–or, should we say: “head on!”

Could you tell us about the Summer Institute in Children’s Literature?

The summer institute examines children’s literature from across genres and periods from a thematic perspective.

The Institute brings authors, illustrators, editors, critics, and others involved in today’s children’s literature together to offer their unique vision on the theme.

The 2009 institute, “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” will be launched by Roger Sutton, editor-in-chief of The Horn Book (editor interview); Roger will teach a four-credit graduate symposium on the theme that concludes with the intensive summer institute. The institute runs Thursday-Sunday July 23-26.

Cynsational Notes

Like me, Cathie has a reading cat!

Author Interview: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer on The Floating Circus

Visit Tracie Vaughn Zimmer! Read a previous Cynsations interview with Tracie.

Congratulations on the release of The Floating Circus (Bloomsbury, 2008)(recommendation)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

It’s an adventure novel at its heart, set on a circus barge before the Civil War.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

When I read about the enormous, opulent boats that brought the circus to middle America through the rivers I knew it was a fabulous setting for a novel for kids.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

Baraboo, Wisconsin in January for a research trip for one!

No, really- I love every part of writing, even holing up in obscure museums in blizzards for authentic historic details.

We last spoke in April 2007 about the release of Reaching for Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007). Is there any news about that book that you’d like to mention?

Reaching for Sun won the Schneider Family Book Award from ALA which celebrates “the literary depiction of the disability experience.” I am so honored and humbled by this award!

You also write teacher guides! What approach do you use? Who are your clients?

After eight years, I write for all the major publishers and individual clients as well (though I have less time for that now).

I try to stay up to date on the latest pedagogy so teachers can put a new book into their curriculum with less hassle!

I love writing guides! I also teach part-time these days so that keeps me current.

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

Don’t think of this as a career.

Think of it as a wonderful hobby which you sometimes get paid to do.

Book trailer for The Floating Circus by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (Bloomsbury, 2008), a middle grade historical novel:

Firebrand Literary Query Holiday

Introducing the Query Holiday

From Michael Stearns of Firebrand Literary
(agent interview)

The ability to write an amazing first chapter is a much more important skill, as a novelist, than the ability to write a good query letter. So as a gift for the holidays, we’ve decided to skip the query stage.

That’s why we’re announcing the first annual Firebrand Query Holiday-—to support authors who want to spend their time and energy perfecting their manuscripts and not just polishing their sales skills.

We want to read your first chapter.

Our usual, query-based submission system will be closed for a short period (don’t worry, any query that was already in our system will be answered even while the system is “down”). And then–beginning on Dec. 15 and ending on Jan. 15—-we will be accepting sample chapters via a unique email address: queryholiday@gmail.com.

We pledge to review all samples by the end of January, and will respond to those that we are interested in no later than Feb. 1.

Who should submit?

We’re looking for talented authors–with completed books–who are interested in working closely with an agent before and after a publishing deal is done. If you’re interested in revising your manuscript, partnering with an agent, and marketing your book—you’ve come to the right place.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve queried Firebrand before—-all that matters is that you are ready to submit the best material you have to offer.

Instructions on What and How to Submit

1. Paste the first chapter/twenty pages of your most polished work into a new word document. On a cover page provide the title of your work, the market, the word count of the entire manuscript, and your name, phone number, and email address.

2. Email this material as a word document attachment to: queryholiday@gmail.com between Dec. 15 and midnight Jan. 15.

3. If we like what we read, you will hear from us by February 1.

If you don’t hear from us, we are sorry to say that have we passed on your manuscript. You should feel free to query us after Query Holiday with other works, through our normal website submission system guidelines.

Happy holidays!

Read a Cynsations interview with Michael.

10th Anniversary Feature: Toni Buzzeo

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors–folks I’d featured early on–a few questions about what they’ve learned over the past decade.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft?

A decade ago, I had yet to land my first children’s book contract for The Sea Chest (Dial, 2002). I had put in three years of study, experimentation, and development of my knowledge, voice, and style. I’d tried my hand at picture books, easy readers, a transitional novel (“chapter book”), and an older novel. I’d worked with a variety of authors in critique group settings and with one author, in particular, in a mentor relationship.

Ten years later, I’ve just published my eighth picture book, The Library Doors, illustrated by the amazing Nadine Bernard Westcott (UpstartBooks, 2008) and have six more under contract with Upstart, Dial, and McElderry.

I believe that I am a successful picture book author because I’ve continued to study my craft. I regularly read new picture books as they are published and pay attention to what my colleagues are doing in their work—and what I might learn from their work.

As my body of work has grown, I have continued to try new things and to experiment with new types of stories which has allowed me to grow in my craft.

The Sea Chest is a quiet and lyrical story that employs a frame structure, which was difficult to accomplish so early in my development as an author. In fact, I think it would still be a challenge to me now!

— In my companion books, Dawdle Duckling (Dial, 2003) and Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling (Dial 2005), I learned how to carry character traits forward and to consider how those traits drive plot in two different stories.

Little Loon and Papa (Dial, 2004) explores my own childhood fears, but required me to go beyond the personal to the universal as I paid careful attention to plot structure in successful “pattern of three” books.

— My character-driven Mrs. Skorupski series has allowed me to create a main character who is a thinly disguised version of myself as a school library media specialist: Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us ANYTHING! (UpstartBooks, 2006), Fire Up with Reading (UpstartBooks, 2007), and The Great Dewey Hunt (UpstartBooks, 2009) while searching for universal experiences that would appeal to all readers (and all librarians who would share the stories with children).

— My first rhymed picture book, R is for Research (UpstartBooks, 2008) was published last spring. While I’d tried my hand several times at rhyme, this is the first time that I was successful enough for publication. Rhyming is incredibly difficult and places such restrictions on the text!

— In The Library Doors (UpstartBooks, 2008), I experimented with song adaptation, also a first for me. In some ways, it was a pleasure to have the pre-established structure of the song (in this case, “Wheels on the Bus”). But in other ways, it was a huge challenge to design the text in a way that satisfied the rhyme and meter of the original while making use of the concepts I wanted to include in the new (library) setting.

Through the writing and revision of all of these books, I’ve learned so much about the range of my own voice as a picture book author. My strength continues to be in language and character development. Plot is still, and has always been, the most difficult aspect of writing for me, and so I continue to work on it, read about it, think about it, and face down my plot demons with each new manuscript.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about the writing/artistic life?

Oh, how I wish I were well endowed with an understanding of how to build an intellectually challenging, artistically and commercially successful, and peaceful writing life—which is my goal!

I do think I have the first two nailed, as my life as a full-time writer and speaker certainly excites my intellect and has proven to be successful in the terms I have set out (and each writer’s terms are different, of course, when measuring artistic and commercial success).

But the cost of the first two is a big compromise of the third aspect—a peaceful life. I have yet to come to terms with that, so I can’t say that I’ve learned the one, true lesson I am most in pursuit of.

What I have learned is that it requires most of a writer’s time to effectively write, speak, market, and promote her work. There are no forty-hour work weeks. There are no regular hours. There are few vacations and few down times (taking a half an hour for lunch most days is an undue luxury).

As a result, many authors find it necessary to have a day-job (unless, of course, they have the gift of a “day-spouse”!), but for those of us who choose to live only the writing life, the demands are enormous and balance (the key to a truly peaceful existence) is a far off glimmer.

It will be interesting to see whether I’ve resolved the dilemma when the next decade has gone by and we celebrate twenty years of Children’s and YA Literature Resources!

By the way, I invite any authors or illustrators reading this response to e-mail me with your wisdom if you’ve found the key to that final goal of mine.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about publishing, and why?

What I knew when I started and what I still know today is that publishing, like most other human endeavors, is about relationships.

There’s the relationship between the author and the editor, between the author and the publishing house, between the author and the illustrator, between the author and the reader, between the author and the marketplace. And each relationship is essential to the success of the author’s writing life.

I am a person who tends relationships as some of my most successful gardening friends tend their flowers and vegetables.

I believe in connections between people as the tiny inner mechanism that makes the Earth spin on its axis, the planets revolve around the sun, the galaxies mind their places in the universe.

It is all—always—about relationships for me, in life and in publishing. The children’s publishing community is a world in itself, a world I am so happy to be a part of, and I tend the relationships I have in this world with great care and concern.

Read a Cynsations interview with Toni.

Hunger Mountain Holiday Fundraising Auction Features Critiques, Broadsides

From Caroline Mercurio, Managing Editor, Hunger Mountain, The Vermont College Journal of Arts & Letters Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Who’s the writer on your gift list? Join us for the Hunger Mountain Holiday Fundraising Auction, featuring manuscript critiques with notable authors and limited edition letterpress broadsides.

All items will be available at Caroline’s Hunger Mountain Store, beginning at noon EST Dec. 6. Bidding ends at noon EST Dec. 13.

One-on-one critiques in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and writing for children will be conducted by phone, email and mail. This is a great way to study with a writer you admire and support non-profit literary publishing!

Authors offering critiques in the auction include: Kathi Appelt, Carolyn Coman, Louise Hawes, Norma Fox Mazer, among others.

Also available are broadsides from the Stinehour Broadside Award Series. These letterpress broadsides are all signed and numbered, limited edition, and frame worthy, making them the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates the artistry of literature!

All purchases are charitable in support of Hunger Mountain’s non-profit mission to bring readers outstanding creative work by both established and emerging writers and artists from around the world.

Visit Hunger Mountain for more information, including contest and submission guidelines. Thank you for your support!