Cynsational News

Movie Trailer for “Where The Wild Things Are” (Oct. 16, 2009).

Encouragement from friends on my path to publication by Don Tate from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “So what’s a guy like me doing with a literary agent like Sara? Well, hard work of course. But especially because of the encouragement, advice, and general goodwill I received from friends in the children’s literature community — and especially Austin SCBWI.” Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

The Things Children’s Book Writers Talk About… by Stephanie Greene at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I’ll never forget the time I sat with a critique group of twelve at Vermont College and seriously discussed the authenticity of the ‘fleaness’ of the main character – a flea – in one of the writers’ picture books.”

Hardcover versus Paperback Redux from Justine Larbalestier. Peek: “Say you have a $10 pb, that’s 60c per copy. If the advance was $20,000 you’d have sell more than 33,333 copies to earn out. If your hc retails for $17, you’d only have to sell 11,764 hardcovers.” Source: Gwenda Bond. Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Print Run Set for New DiCamillo Novel by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “This week Candlewick revealed the cover art and announced a hefty first printing of 500,000 copies for the 208-page fable, in which a boy who learns from a fortuneteller that not only is his sister alive but an elephant will take him to her.”

Project Book Babe: “This exciting (Tempe, Arizona) event to help The Book Babe beat breast cancer will feature a panel with popular authors, as well as live music. And for a small donation, you can get sketches from published comic book artists!” Note: online auction will feature autographed books by many youth literature authors. Several authors including Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer are involved.

The 2009 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards contest is open to American authors of books published in 2008 in the following categories: fiction; nonfiction; poetry & literary prose; children’s books (short works); children’s-YA books (long works). Publishers, publicists, and agents are welcome to submit books on behalf of their authors. Winners in each category receive: $1,000 cash; a commemorative award; an appearance at the Texas Book Festival on Oct. 31. Entry fee: $25. Deadline: April 30. See brochure and guidelines (PDF file).

YA Authors On Twitter: a list from Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape. Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Introducing the cover of Ash: an interview with designer Alison Impey from author Malinda Lo. Peek: “When I first read a manuscript, I’m immediately looking for imagery and moods that are specific and unique to the book. I try to focus on the themes that carry through the story. I usually read the manuscript once for the overall feeling of the book and a second time…”

YA Author Daphne Grab: new LiveJournal. Peek: “Why is it so hard to get back to work after a vacation? I think part of how I do get myself to write on a regualr basis is having it be a part of my daily routine: I write from 9-1 when the kids are in preschool. But anything that takes me out of that routine makes it tough to get back into it.”

Lori Calabrese: Children’s Author: new official site. Peek: “Lori Calabrese focuses on parenting in both her personal and professional life. Her publishing credits include Boys’ Life, Odyssey, Appleseeds, Focus on the Family Clubhouse Jr., Stories for Children Magazine, and The Institute of Children’s Literature’s Rx for Writers. Lori is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature and a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.”

Recommendations Request: Books that Deal with Teen Violence from Coe Booth at The Longstockings. Peek: “What are some really good books that deal with difficult teen relationships in a honest, non-preachy way?”

Free Book Stimulus Plan: Increase Your Karmic Footprint: ” Wanda Jewell, Executive Director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance for nearly 20 years, is overrun with books. All kind of books, galleys, advance reading copies, advance reader editions, paperbound and hardbound, slip-covered and not, limited editions, signed and unsigned, personalized and not; and finds herself overrun with books. Books here, books there, books, books, everywhere…and when contemplating the management of her extensive personal library, had her aha moment. How to weed her collection and support her southern indie bookstores at the same time? Thus was born the Free Book Stimulus Plan.” Source: David Macinnis Gill.

Mixing Writing & Adult Children from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: “Just when your days (or evenings and weekends) are blissfully free to write, your college-age children are home for the summer. They turn your precise schedule upside down. They also provide such a temptation to sit and chat and go shopping, etc. Or maybe your adult child moves back home, perhaps with small children.” See also Kristi on Staying Afloat in Hard Times. Peek: “The slump eventually ended, as it will again for writers struggling in the current recession. After five years of selling no books, I sold four of my middle-grade novels in one year. If I had quit writing my fiction during that recession, I would have had nothing to sell when publishers started buying again.”

Knowing What Your Words Mean from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “It’s a blog, or, if you want to get fancy, a weblog. It’s not a Blogger or a bloglines or a bloge or a blogjournal, all of which I see on a regular basis. You gotta know this stuff. You’re supposed to be a word person! You have to know what jargon the kids are using!” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Do you want more readers for your blog? JacketFlap is a social networking community where you can connect with more than 3,800 published authors and illustrators of books for Children and Young Adults. Read a Cynsations interview with CEO Tracy Grand of JacketFlap.

From Damsel in Distress to Warrior Princess by Tim O’Leary from The Torch: Exploring All Things Fantasy. Peek: “…it is in their influence on female characters in contemporary fantasy that one can see how the legacies of Buffy and Xena truly endure. And that influence is vast.” Source: Brent Hartinger.

The King’s Rose by Alisa Libby: an author interview from Melissa Wyatt at The YA Authors Cafe. Peek: “My agent advised me—rightly so—to cut the first 190 pages and have the story begin when Catherine arrives at court. Still, I was stuck for a while: should I start the story when she first arrives at court, or when she suddenly is noticed by King Henry? Or should it start later, when she is already the king’s favorite?”

The Autobiographical Portion of Our Program from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “Do not tell me you’re writing about china dolls because you have a collection of 379 of them from around the world and they line the walls of your writing room and with them watching you, you ‘never have to feel alone.'”

Children’s Book Press: newly redesigned website from the publisher. Peek: “Founded in 1975, Children’s Book Press is a nonprofit independent publisher that promotes cooperation and understanding through multicultural and bilingual literature, offering children a sense of their culture, history and importance.”

Marvelous Marketer: Alice Pope (Author, Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market) from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children’s Book Author. Peek: “Authors would be foolish to not create Facebook page at the very least and be proactive with it (send friends requests, update status, comment on other people’s pages, send notices and event invitations, etc.).”

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry: an author interview by Emily from Homespun Light. Peek: “I don’t write when the kids are awake and needing attention. I write when they’re asleep, or elsewhere. I need to focus in order to write, and that’s hard to do when they’re here.”

Event Planning by Kelly Bingham at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “We have noble intentions through our visits, and it is true that many authors do them for free. But most authors get paid, and to be frank, many authors earn up to half their annual income from school visits. So that is something to consider as well.” See also Creating Your Presentation(s). Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly.

More Personally

Hello, spring! I hope to see some of you at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 2 at the Candlewick Press booth at the Texas Library Association conference. On a related note, I was so incredibly jazzed and honored to see the cover art for Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) included in Professor Nana AKA Teri Lesesne’s slide show “Best New YA Books TLA 09.” See the low-down on other Austin authors at TLA from Varian Johnson.

The next day, Friday, April 3, I’ll be speaking at 4 p.m. at the Barbara Bush Branch Library in Spring, Texas. The event will include an informal talk, reading, and Q&A session.

The latest recommendation of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) comes from Garden in my Pocket: “Once again, Smith has managed to grab hold of the vampire genre, spin it around her head and pitch it over a mountain.” Read the whole review.

What is Cynthia Leitich Smith reading? from Campaign for the American Reader: The official blog of the Campaign for the American Reader, an independent initiative to encourage more readers to read more books. What else? Writers Read: Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Highlights of the past week included a celebratory lunch (in honor of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) with the Delacorte Dames and DudeApril Lurie, Varian Johnson, Shana Burg, Jennifer Ziegler, and Margo Rabb–at Suzi’s China Kitchen in South Austin. Thanks, DDDs!

Sadly, I was feeling under the weather on Saturday and missed two sparkling social/book events. Greg was able to go, though, and he took this picture of Laurie Halse Anderson‘s reception at BookPeople. Here, Laurie is talking to Alison Dellenbaugh, April Lurie, Varian Johnson, and Carmen Oliver. You can also see Lindsey Lane and Mark G. Mitchell chatting in the background.

Here’s a closer look at Mark and Lindsey with Donna Bowman Bratton, April Lurie, and Jennifer Taylor in the background.

Later that night, author-illustrator Erik K hosted a book-signing party in celebration of A Dog a Day! Don’t miss the documentary.

And in other news, Greg and I received these nifty promotional items for Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, summer 2009). (Yes, that is a pocket protector and little box of candy). Our story in the anthology is “The Wrath of Dawn.”

Remember my interview with publicist Julie Schoerke of JSKCommunications? As a thank you she sent a set of six “antique book coasters” from Expressions. Aren’t they nifty? Perfect for a bookish hostess like myself. Note: catalog image used with permission.

The winner of Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) is Pamela in California! Watch for more Cynsational giveaways in the future!

And that’s it for me this week! Cynsations will be back online on Monday morning!

Author Interview: Catherine Gilbert Murdock on Princess Ben

Catherine Gilbert Murdock graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1988 and went on to earn a doctorate from Penn.

Her first novel, Dairy Queen (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), won the Borders Original Voices Award, the Midwest Booksellers Award, the Great Lakes Booksellers Award, numerous Readers’ Choice awards, and is currently in production for a television series. Her other books include The Off Season (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) and Princess Ben (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Um, I didn’t really set out to write for “young readers,” really, but for myself. I came up with the idea of a girl playing football and couldn’t stop until I’d written the book, because I was dying to read it.

But I’ve always adored YA fiction, and so I think on some level I was simply writing to my passion. Also, I have the mentality of a 13-year-old, so that part wasn’t hard at all.

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

I didn’t write Dairy Queen for publication, really–I’d been a screenwriter for almost a decade when I first set out and so was intimately familiar with rejection and quite accepting of it. The book was more of an intellectual exercise, a practice novel so I’d have a better sense of what to do when I actually wrote one.

Then my sister, who’s a published author, read it and said, “You need to submit this.” She recommended an agent, who read it and agreed to represent me, but the book needed tweaking. So I tweaked it for her, because again, I’d spent a decade interminably revising screenplays and was very comfortable with that process.

Then she called to say she’d sold it, and I thought, “Well, isn’t that nice.” Without ever realizing, at any point in this process, that what I’d just done was rare and extremely difficult. It’s not even a Cinderella story because Cinderella, you know, suffers a lot before she wins the prince.

I didn’t suffer, or at least I didn’t view it as suffering. I enjoy revising. It’s only now, looking back, that it’s slowly dawned on me that most writers, well, suffer. Now I feel really dumb.

Looking back on your writing apprenticeship, what helped you most in terms of developing your craft?

Screenwriting, screenwriting, screenwriting. If you want to write fiction, don’t write short stories: write screenplays. Because the structure is so precise, and the demands so rigorous, that you can’t fudge anything. You have to learn to create great dialog and sympathetic characters, and rising drama and a gripping conclusion because, well, that’s what a screenplay is.

And then you move from that experience to fiction, and everyone thinks you’re a genius because you can write tight dialog. Tight dialog doesn’t require genius, but it does require discipline. Screenwriting’s where you get that discipline.

Congratulations on the success of Princess Ben (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)! What first inspired you to write this story?

I had a dream about a girl jumping out the window with a broom. It was so dramatic, one of those dreams where you wake up gasping. And it just glommed onto my consciousness, so much that I had to keep going with it or I would have…well, I would have had to write the sequel to Dairy Queen, which was overdue and very stressful. So instead I pounded the first draft of Princess Ben in something like 16 days.

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

See above for the first spark. Then I sent it to my agent and editor, who both said, tactfully, “Fantasy is kind of oversold right now.”

I hadn’t thought of Princess Ben as fantasy–the term hadn’t even entered my consciousness until my agent uttered the word. I thought of it as a fairy tale.

But I responded with something like, “pooh pooh,” though now I know that fantasy is, well, pretty thick on the ground these days.

Plus, neither of them thought the manuscript was that stellar, which at that point it wasn’t. So I ground my way through The Off Season, and then went back and gutted the manuscript. Then gutted it again. That broomstick dream occurred in November 2005, and the book was released Spring 2008, so the process took a while.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in writing this novel?

Not much research! I love that about fantasy. I’d written my dissertation on drinking customs in late 19th and early 20th century America, so I had this wealth of slowly rusting facts related to dining etiquette and food preparation–can’t tell you what a blast it was to weave all that data in.

I did need a spot of research on military-dress terminology and forms of address for royalty and nobility; not that anyone will ever notice, but Princess Ben very precise about that sort of thing.

And since I imagined the kingdom of Montagne as a sort of southern European bastion, I needed to make sure that all the foods were Old World–I had a bit of panic, for example, about nectarines. But they’re as old as apples, whew.

It drives me absolutely bonkers when authors get that sort of detail wrong. I read a kids’ book last year that on the first page described a heifer who’d lost a calf. Well, a heifer by definition is a cow who hasn’t calved yet. You have a calf, you’re not a heifer. Period. Don’t use words you can’t even define.

Back to Princess Ben…psychologically, the story began with Queen Sophia as a classic fairy tale villainess, but the more I wrote, the more I kept returning to her–what made her tick? Plus I’d also done a fair amount of work on architectural history in my day, so tying that in and relating it to her, was just a joy. Now she’s my favorite character.

Logistically I’ve found that, unless I’m under painful deadline, I simply cannot write if my children are in the house. Don’t even speak to me about snow days. Alone, though, I just sit there and churn away until something good comes out. Or I play solitaire.

How do you balance your writing against the responsibilities of being an author (business, promotion, etc.)?

Badly! I did a lot of touring last fall, most of it with a hellacious head cold, and that was the tipping point. Don’t know how much more touring I’ll manage going forward.

I love meeting students, and I’ll confess I love staying all by myself in nicer hotels (i.e., the windows need to open), but it’s the traveling that takes it out of me.

Also, no more bookstore events. Ever. Unless one is Stephenie Meyer, there is simply not enough turnout.

It makes me very jealous of picture book writers, who have the most enthusiastic fans who show up in droves while we YA writers sit in a sea of empty chairs…

I may have to write a picture book one of these days just to feel that love.

Who are your first manuscript readers and why?

My children. I read draft #3 or 4 aloud to them; when they start to squirm, it means the writing’s bad, and should probably be deleted. Took me many years to learn, but boy, is this method foolproof. Then a couple drafts later, I send it to my agent, who has an eye like a jeweler.

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

I wouldn’t tell her how hard it is, that’s for sure! Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss. I don’t think I’d tell her anything, really; though I wouldn’t mind my 2011 self giving me some tips on how to get through this dry patch.

As a reader, so far what is your favorite children’s/YA book of 2009 and why?

I just read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, 2008) last weekend and loved it. This means something, because I’m instinctually suspicious of award winners–I read with a jealous and critical eye. But it was truly wonderful.

My 13-year-old son is reading it now, and I can’t tell you how sweet it is to discuss it with him. We had a great chat last night about Miss Lupescu versus Lupin in Harry Potter.

What do you do outside the world of books?

Cook, garden, procrastinate — I cleaned out the medicine cabinet on Monday! Oh, it’s tidy now. Lots of child schlepping. Some teaching of creative writing, but it’s not really my calling. Hard to critique others when I’m too busy criticizing myself.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My lips are sealed. But it will not be set in Wisconsin.

Author Interview: Rita Williams-Garcia on Jumped

You last visited Cynsations in September 2006! What is new in your writing life since then?

Ah, yes! 2006. I was still adjusting to suddenly having time to write. Now I get up and start reading and writing.

I’ve finished One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins, 2010), a middle grade novel set in 1968, that reunites three sisters with the mother who abandoned them and is now living in Oakland and involved with the Black Panthers.

I’ve written a small play for the War Is… anthology, edited by Marc Aronson and Patty Campbell (Candlewick 2008). That inspired me to go back to “Captain Bowman,” a longer play about a Vietnam vet. I’ve written a romantic comedy screenplay that BET has shown some interest in. My latest picture book, Bottle Cap Boys of Royal Street (Marimba Books, 2009), will be out this August.

When a novel isn’t working, I focus on shorter pieces until I can work out my problem with my original set of characters and larger story. It’s hard to see issues when you’re knee deep in them. But stepping away, doing something different always sparks the “aha!” moment. Then I’m back on the scent of the novel.

Congratulations on the release of Jumped (HarperCollins, 2009)! Could you tell us, in your own words, a little about the story?

An opportunity to talk about my story? Suddenly I’m twelve again.

Okay. Jumped is a story that takes place in the span of one school day. Leticia, forced to take a make-up math class during the early pre-hours of school, cuts out, only to witness Dominique target the oblivious Trina for a beating at 2:45.

If this were a Shakespearean tragedy, Leticia would torture herself pondering what to do. But alas, Leticia is concerned with gluing on her false fingernail tip and getting a good seat to the fight at 2:45.

What first inspired you to write this novel?

The rise of girl-on-girl violence. It’s so out of hand that the newspapers have stopped reporting it. I’m always looking at girl culture, so this type of violence stands out to me. The statement the attacker seeks to make. How brutal. How random.

But let’s not forget the ever-present spectator! Most books deal with the bully and victim, but the spectator also plays a large role in promoting the prowess of attacker. I was more interested in the spectator point of view, so I leaned on Leticia a lot. It didn’t matter. She couldn’t care less.

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

Getting through Jumped was a trek through the desert. I thought I’d have this thing wrapped up in six months, tops. It took two years to submit the manuscript to my most patient editor, Rosemary Brosnan. Thereafter, Jumped went through editing and was placed on the publisher’s calendar for release two years later. So altogether, it’s been four years from spark to print.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in writing this novel?

Jumped was my hardest novel to write to date. These three girls kicked me at every possible turn. They were uncooperative. So many drafts. So many restarts. A ton of pre-writing that belonged only in a journal.

Although the novel is slim, maybe even my shortest novel, I have a huge “unused” folder. So much had to be scrapped.

I also had personal things going on. Managing my life without a full-time salary, my youngest daughter’s unforeseen long-term hospitalization—she’s now fine and back in school—and the passing of my father.

I doubt that I liked either girl in the beginning. I doubt that I knew them. It was only when I began to respect who they were and what was important to them—regardless of my own thoughts—did I gain some entry.

These are archetypal characters. The spoiled daddy’s girl, the tough girl, the pretty girl who believes she’s the pretty girl. I wanted them to be distinct, but I didn’t want to delve so deeply into their lives and give the reader an out, to sympathize with them. I wanted the reader to see what’s important to these girls but I didn’t want to let any of them off the hook because of what’s happening in their home lives or what has happened in their pasts. No cuing the violins.

How do you balance your writing against the responsibilities of being an author (business, promotion, etc.)?

Prior to Jumped, I had no time to think about promoting my books. My job let me off to do appearances, but to sit down and have a marketing plan for my books…it just didn’t happen. My marketing plan was, “Gee. I think it’s a good book. I hope they like it.”

I’m now more involved. I’ve done some online chats. I’ve sent out my postcards. I’ve introduced myself to booksellers. I run around to libraries and say, “Hey! I’ve got a book out.”

Last year I bid for and won the services of Through The Tollbooth. So they’re always coming up with neat things for Jumped, like a book trailer on YouTube. Aren’t those things incredible?! I love watching them. I’m giving out Jumped T-shirts to the first fifty who do a thirty-second video reading of Jumped as one of the girls.

For the first time, I’ll be writing up a discussion guide. But the record, I do believe the book belongs to the reader. That what they get from it is always right—even when they don’t like the book at all. It’s their book to not like. I feel a little false about leading the reader to topics and themes, but I’ll give it a shot.

Who are your first manuscript readers and why?

I used to have the same two readers for my first four novels. Friend and teacher Rashamella Cumbo and author-librarian Monalisa DeGross (Donovan’s Word Jar (HarperCollins, 2007)).

These days, I pick readers by the questions I have about my portrayals. Two high school teachers read Jumped. They claim to have Leticia, Dominique, and Trina in their classes.

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

My message to third-grade Rita would be to pay attention to tenses in grammar so her 50+ year old counterpart wouldn’t have all this gray hair.

Jumped had to be written in present tense for immediacy, but to not deal with the headache I felt coming on… “She’s relaying events in simple past, now she’s speaking of what occurred in her distant past, but she’s also speaking of what would always happen but no longer happens, etc.”

I know the rules and caveats, but applying the proper tense isn’t what I do naturally.

Foundation, foundation, foundation!

But if I could tell my beginning-published-writer self something, I would say clearly and slowly, “Money is not a bad thing. When they offer lots of money to write a project, take it. That money will enable you to write the thing you love.”

What do you do outside the world of books?

My father gave my brother, sister, and I boxing gloves when we were kids. I have a pair of bag gloves, and I go to the gym and hit the speed bag or body bag. I also knit. I used to dance, but not so much these days.

What can your fans look forward to next?

One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins 2010) will come out next year this time. It’s a novel for younger readers, say, 9-12, for a change.

Right now I’m digging into a gaming novel. It’s just time to step away from the estrogen and tap into boy-head. Having fun with this.

Cynsational Suggestion for Group Blogs

For those collaborating on group blogs, perhaps consider including a byline that links to your official site/individual blog at the top of the post and a brief credit line, again with a link, at the bottom.

For example: Cynthia Leitich Smith is the author of several books and short stories for young readers. Her latest release is Eternal (Candlewick, 2009). She is also on the faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Reasons behind this tip:

(1) My realizing only after a couple of years that one of my favorite authors was one of the voices behind one of my favorite blogs (the sidebar links may be too subtle, especially from those reading a syndication).

(2) In considering blog posts, it often helps to know the source. Who is the author? What does she know about the topic? What perspective does she bring?

(3) I know there are folks who worry about being too promotional, but trust me, you can overcompensate. A while back I received an email from a university professor of children’s literature: “Oh, I didn’t realize you were an author yourself, and I’ve been using your website for years.” Ow.

New Voice: J.T. Dutton on Freaked

J.T. Dutton is the first-time author of Freaked (Harper, 2009). From the promotional copy:
At a grateful dead concert you need: Acid: two windowpanes taped to chest
Checked Tape deck for recording shows
Checked Wad of cash
Checked PB&J sandwiches for the munchies
Missing Tickets to the show
Missing .45 handgun
What? Scotty Loveletter is in big trouble. He’s about to be expelled from school, but all he cares about is getting to Freedom to see Jerry Garcia—even though he doesn’t have tickets. But if dedicating his life to Jerryism has taught him anything, Scotty knows he’s got to keep on trucking and smile, smile, smile. In a stunning debut novel, J. T. Dutton crafts a brilliant story about an unforgettable teen finding himself in the music of one of the world’s most beloved bands. In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

Both Freaked (Harper, 2009) and my second Stranded (Harper, TBA) plunge into pretty dark territory. Freaked deals aggressively with drugs, Stranded with sex. Both stories are told from the point of view of a teen deeply immersed in self-destructive behavior.

I wouldn’t want my own kids doing what my protagonists do, but both stories are, in my opinion, “true.” We’d like the world to be better than it is, but kids struggle with hard things and are sometimes forced to grow up sooner rather than later.

I try to be honest about what kind of temptation both maturity and immaturity entail–why sugarcoat? Why lie?

As someone with a MFA in Writing, how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

There are programs out there who do a much better job of teaching the publishing “tricks of the trade” than my MFA program did; and yet, I received three important things from my MFA. I made a lot of writer friends whose work and talent influenced mine. I read books and studied theory with successful faculty who taught me to “read” as a writer. I learned to teach and my academic career dovetails nicely with my writing career.

But here’s the kicker: my classmates 10 years later have produced an exceptionally large percentage of award-winning books even without guidance about how to find an agent, etc. So really, at least in my case, just having a place to study and be for a while helped.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.

Firebrand Literary Welcomes Two New Agents

New York, New York, March 24, 2009– Firebrand Literary has expanded its agent team with the addition of Danielle Chiotti, formerly a senior editor at Kensington, and Stacia Decker, formerly an editor at Harcourt.

Chiotti and Decker will be responsible for expanding the Firebrand list into the nonfiction and adult fiction book markets. Authors interested in representation should check the Firebrand website for details on how to submit.

“The addition of Danielle and Stacia broadens Firebrand’s reach dramatically, transforming us from a primarily children’s books–focused agency into an agency that can represent every kind of author and every kind of project,” said Michael Stearns, partner and co‐founder of Auden Media, the parent company of Firebrand Literary.

See more information about Firebrand Literary and biographies of its agents. Read a Cynsations interview with Michael.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Last call: enter to win an autographed hardcover of National Book Award Finalist Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) from Cynsations. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Keturah and Lord Death” in the subject line. Deadline: March 30! All Cynsational readers are eligible! Note: there is a slight uneveness to the cut of the back of the cover and a couple of slightly bent page corners, but it’s otherwise in great shape.

More News

Congratulations to the finalists for the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Best Young Adult Book: Varian Johnson for My Life as a Rhombus (Flux), Anne Estevis for Chicken Foot Farm (Arte Publico/Pinata), and Jo Harper for Birth of the Fifth Sun (Texas Tech Press). The TIL winners in all categories will be announced at the organization’s annual meeting in April.

Marvelous Marketer: Harold Underdown (Author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books) from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children’s Book Author. Peek: “Some books can be effectively and efficiently promoted by their authors, while others can’t. Some authors aren’t good promoters. There are times when writing is a better use of your time, and writers shouldn’t feel guilty about that.”

Check out NYPL’s Stuff for the Teen Age 2009. Categories include The Undead, Girl Drama, For Real, Urban Stories, It Hurts, For Guys, LOL, Sci Fi/Fantasy, and RIP.

Attention Young Readers: vote in the Children’s Choice Book Awards. Note: teachers/librarians may also want to highlight this link to their students/patrons.

Writing and School-Age Kids by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: “You may also work full- or part-time. More demands are made on your evenings and weekends. At this stage, the key is to be flexible and disciplined.”

A Rotten Resolution from Stephanie Green at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “The ending is where you tie up loose ends. The resolution is the moment when your main character realizes the circumstance she has created and accepts the consequences of her actions and acts accordingly.”

Fairy Tale Contest from Cyn Balog, author of Fairy Tale (Delacorte, 2009), at the B-log Blog. Peek: “Grand Prize: A signed copy of Fairy Tale (hot off the presses, before you can buy it in stores!) AND A hand-crafted, silver fortune cookie necklace with a special message, Believe. This is just like the one that Morgan wears in Fairy Tale!”

Parent Ex Machina from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “Parents swoop in to solve kids’ problems, give them things they couldn’t have gotten by themselves, and save them from danger. That’s real life. But it’s not real storytelling.”

A Chart & A Checklist from Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “So let’s randomly say that a novel is 200 pages. If it’s longer or shorter, you can figure out the percentages on your own. Here’s a story sequence chart that I made up from my notes…” Note: tons of insight into pacing a novel! Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Skype an Author Into Your Library or Classroom from library media specialist Sarah Chauncey and author Mona Kerby. Peek: “This Wiki provides a page for each author who joins the network. A template has been designed to ensure consistency of content among authors and to keep things simple for authors, teachers, and librarians. The author pages provide procedural and contact information.” Source: Elizabeth O. Dulemba.

Erik Kuntz-One Bad Mouse from Lindsey Lane at This and That. Peek: “I blog about my art, I create tutorial blogs for computer graphics and web issues, and I sometimes write about pop culture. I also post a regular webcomic, which is sort of a blog.”

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith: About Writing and Researching the Book from Deborah Heiligman. Peek: “I have been to England and visited Down House. I loved to be able to walk in the rooms where Charles and Emma sat and worked. Walking into Charles’s study was amazing and walking on the Sand Walk with my husband and children was a true experience. But when it came time to write the book…” Note: Charles and Emma, a YA nonfiction book, (Henry Holt, 2009) has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.” Source: Deborah Sloan at The Picnic Basket.

“Dying to be Thin” a podcast reading and interview with Laurie Halse Anderson from Boston NPR.

Online Social Networking for the Busy Writer: How to Blog, Tweet, and Friend (and Still Have Time to Write): an online class from author Susan Taylor Brown. Note: ” May 4th – May 7th That’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.” Cost is $60.

Library-lovin’ challenge from Jennifer R. Hubbard. Peek: “Why not open up a blog post in which I promise to donate 25 cents per comment (per unique commenter, that is–no getting 100 comments from the same person!) to my local libraries?” Also: “I’m going to do this starting the evening of March 26 and ending around noon on March 28.” Note: Bloggers, let her know if you’d like to host a challenge, too. Source: Jama Rattigan.

Getting All Blogged Down by David Lubar. Peek: “A great trailer or a killer essay might get attention. But even then, I’m not sure it translates into increased book sales or even return blog readers. I’m pretty sure it is much better to have a blogger with tons of readers mention your book.” Learn more about The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies (Starscape, March 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Maggie Stiefvater: the newly designed official author site. Read a Cynsations interview with Maggie.

Writing the Query Letter: a Q & A with Wendy Burt-Thomas, author of The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (2009), from The Stiletto Gang. Peek: “I remember telling someone about a really high-paying writing gig I got and he said, ‘Wow. You have the best luck!’ I thought, Luck has nothing to do with it! I’ve worked hard to get where I am.” Source: Susan McBride’s Blog.

The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway: each day in March, Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama: How To Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (Writers Digest) is blogging and offering a giveaway copy at a new location. See schedule. From Zook Book Nook: “So, whom will you lean on while you write your book? Pick a few people so you don’t wear any one person out. And don’t include your agent, your editor, or any of the others on your professional team on your list.”

Lisa Yee talks about Absolutely Maybe (Arthur A. Levine, 2009) at readergirlz TV. See a related interview with Lisa from

New Voices Award: “Lee & Low, award-winning publisher of children’s books, is pleased to announce the tenth annual New Voices Award. The Award will be given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500.” Note: “Manuscripts will be accepted from May 1, 2009, through September 31, 2009 and must be postmarked within that period.” See eligibility, submissions, and announcement information. Source: The Brown Bookshelf.

Encouragement For Writer Wannabes a video interview from Mitali Perkins. Peek: “Each rejection means you can learn. Each rejection means you can pick yourself up and try again.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

First Color eBook Reader is Here! from Tracy Marchini at Curtis Brown. Peek: “…does mean that perhaps we’ll see beautiful e-picture books? Or maybe, depending on the resolution, beautiful books on the arts that can reproduce an image as well as the print edition?”

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones: a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith of GregLSBLog. Peek: “…a richly atmospheric story of stalking, suspense, lies, and family ties.”

Tenners, Writing Communities, and a Tsunami Story: “an interview with Heidi R. Kling, author of the upcoming novel Sea and a co-founder of the Tenners, a group of debut novelists” from Jennifer R. Hubbard. Peek: “It’s rare, even in live writing groups (which I’m a member of locally) to find other writers in your exact same stage of writing. We are going through the same things at the same time. I liken it to a new mommy group. I mean, no one else can relate to you the same way as someone experiencing the same exact thing.”

For Children’s Authors: Need a teacher’s guide for your book? Ideas for school visits? from Natalie Dias Lorenzi. Peek: “I’ll show you how to present your book as an essential link to learning, not merely an ‘extra.'” See sample guides, highlighting A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2004) and My Father The Dog by Elizabeth Bluemle, illustrated by Randy Cecil (Candlewick, 2006), both PDF files. Source: Liz Garton Scanlon. Peek: “eachers are given less and less discretionary time to devote to these sorts of non-standards-based enrichment activities. And PTAs, librarians and districts are likely to see less and less discretionary funding made available for the same. I’m lucky in that I actually love doing school visits. They exhaust but inspire me and remind me of exactly what it is I’m doing and why.”

Mark McVeigh has announced the formation of The McVeigh Agency. Mark has a long career in publishing as an editor and was most recently at Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Mark may be contacted at: Note: Mark was the editor for Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006)(available from Scholastic Book Club).

Cynsational Tip: if you are running a giveaway contest, please include the deadline. Note: at least for me, when I’m trying to decide whether or not to feature the link, it helps to know whether the online promotion is still ongoing.

Celebrating Joy Fisher Hein

Congratulations to illustrator Joy Fisher Hein on her recently redesigned website! Peek: “Joy and Kathi [Appelt’]s, Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America [(HarperCollins, 2005)], has received numerous awards, including, Growing Good Kids Award 2006, June Franklin Naylor, Honorable Mention 2006, Children’s Crown Award Finalist 2006, Teddy Award 2005.” Read a Cynsations interview with Joy. Note: an interior painting from the interior of Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers is featured in the header at Cynsations at Blogger.

Congratulations also to Joy on her artwork being featured in celebration of 2009 Texas Reading Club Libraries: Deep in the Heart of Texas! ¡Bibliotecas: En lo más profundo del corazón de Tejas!, a project of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Peek: “The Texas Reading Club is designed to encourage youth to read for pleasure and to promote library usage. A statewide theme is selected each year. The theme for 2009 is Libraries: Deep in the Heart of Texas! The artist is children’s book illustrator Joy Fisher Hein.”

More Personally

Via the Native American Student Services’ program (NASS), I’m thrilled to report that Native students in Lawrence (KS) public schools will be reading Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002). Note: “565 students [are] enrolled in Native American Student Services, (Pre-K-12) which is about 5% of the total population of the school district.” See a free readers’ theater for Indian Shoes.

Walker U.K. has tentatively slated Eternal for a fall 2009 release. It will also be published in hardcover by Walker Books Australia and New Zealand in May 2009. See more information.

At Writers Read, Kathi Appelt says of Eternal: “Romance, sorrow, longing … lots of longing … all lead up to a story of redemption in the darkest place imaginable, the soul.”

Thanks so much to everyone at the Tuscson Festival of Books for their hospitality, especially my escort, Aimee! Thanks also to author pals Janni Lee Simner and Jennifer J. Stewart for making me feel extra welcome!

Highlights of this week included R. L. LaFevers signing at BookPeople. See R.L.‘s and P.J. Hoover’s reports.

Author Interview: Rebecca Kai Dotlich on Bella & Bean

Rebecca Kai Dotlich on Rebecca Kai Dotlich: “I grew up the middle child of three, in a family of five, in a close-knit neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana. My brother was two years older, my sister five years younger. My father was a banker, my mother a stay-at-home mom.

“Our days were spent riding bikes on trails down by the creek, skating with keys around our necks, putting on plays in the backyard, building sheet-tents on clotheslines and elaborate forts in the snow.

“Our backyard backed up to the Indianapolis 500 racetrack, and the entire month of May was filled with the roar of engines. We sold lemonade and cookies to the fans who were lined up for days on the asphalt drive. One time, (or maybe two) we watched the race from lawn chairs on our roof.

“I was enchanted by a big fat book of fairy tales. I wish I still had it. We also had Golden Books that Mom bought us from the grocery for probably 25 cents or something. The Gingerbread Man, The Three Little Pigs, Nurse Nancy and many more. Those are the books I remember reading.

“My father didn’t read to us as much as he sat on the bed and made up stories. They were full of nonsense, but we loved them.

“A few years down the road, I started reading the Nancy Drew mysteries and devoured them one by one. I loved the titles. We didn’t have a library close, and Mom didn’t drive, so we walked to the bookmobile parked a few blocks away. It seemed quite an adventure. I also started reading biographies of famous people. I was curious about their childhoods more than anything.

“I still live in Indiana with my husband. I have two grown children and am blessed with two small grandchildren that I get to read and bake with whenever I want.”

What kind of young reader were you–avid, reluctant, encouraged?

I always loved books. My older brother was the avid reader in our family, but I was a close second. And because I was not allowed to touch his books, I touched them plenty whenever
he left the house. I would say I was a good reader, a curious reader.

I think curiosity is a real key. Maybe the key.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

After having my children, I truly began my life as a writer. I began studying and reading everything I could. I brought home stacks of books from the library, I read articles, I signed up for a local conference, I immersed myself in learning the craft as best I could. Not a day went by that I wasn’t writing, or reading about writing. Writing was definitely my passion.

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

Oh, the stumbles. Inevitable, I think. Finding rejections in the mailbox for years (my own was a ten-year stumble) was disappointing and always disheartening, for sure.

I don’t know all the answers, each writer has to answer this for himself, but for me quitting was not an option. Finally, I began to get acceptances from magazines. My first book acceptance didn’t come for a few more years.

I have Kent Brown to thank for publishing my very first book, Sweet Dreams of the Wild (Boyds Mills, 1996) and many more poetry collections after that. He and Bee Cullinan were both strong advocates of mine.

Wordsong, the poetry imprint of Boyds Mills Press, is the only publishing imprint dedicated solely to poetry, and that is a rare and golden opportunity for both poets and poetry lovers.

Could you update us on your back list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

Sweet Dreams of the Wild (Boyds Mills Press, 1996);

Lemonade Sun and other Summer Poems (BMP, 1998);

When Riddles Come Rumbling; Poems to Ponder (BMP, 2001);

Over in the Pink House; Original Jump Rope Rhymes (BMP, 2004);

Castles Old Stone Poems, co-authored by J. Patrick Lewis (BMP, 2006);

What Is Science? (Henry Holt, 2006);

Peanut and Pearl’s Picnic Adventure: a My First I Can Read (HarperCollins, 2007).

Congratulations on the release of Bella & Bean, illustrated by Aileen Leijten (Atheneum, 2009)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

I’m over the moon happy with everything about Bella & Bean. It took a long time for me to get these two characters right. Actually, the characters were always right; I knew who they were and their personalities and conversations came effortlessly, but it was the story–the story came slower. I wasn’t sure how the tale of their friendship would unfold.

Aileen Leijten created a magical world for Bella & Bean. I hope one that will enchant the reader. I was completely ecstatic when my editor first sent me her sketches for our book. The house where Bella writes, as PW says, is a ‘fairytale concoction.’ They also describe her work in the book as having ‘offbeat whimsy,’ which is absolutely spot on and the thing I love most about her work. I adore Bella for all her gentle grumpiness, but it might be Bean’s whimsy and spunk that, in the end, will win reader’s hearts.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Bella just came to me one day, years ago. She was sitting on a bench in a garden (which I have never done, because I’ve never had a garden, and Bella didn’t end up doing it in the book either) with her notepad.

But in my first drafts her name was Olivia. (We all know why I changed that name, by the time my story found it’s way, there seemed to be only one Olivia!).

And I knew her friend (which was always Bean) wanted her attention desperately.

And even though Bella loved her dearly, she had this passion.


I am definitely a Bella. My family and friends are my Beans.

On any given summer day, my husband calls through the window, “it’s a gorgeous day, come out!” But like Bella, I get grumpy because I am thinking of words. I think it’s something writers have to fight for every moment of every day. I love my Beans more than anything in the world.
But I really just want to write with lots of peace and quiet.

So it’s finding how to make peace with both and keep your passion for both.

When my daughter was a teenager she had a few friends over one summer night, and one of her friends said to me, “I wish I had feet like yours.”

You do, I asked? Why?

“Because,” she said, “they are so cute! Not one of your toes is crooked.”

We had a good laugh over that. But I immediately knew that comment was totally Bean. I wrote it down in my notes. Pure inspiration.

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

It was a long, long time. Probably eight years. I wrote and rewrote this picture book so many times. I found myself going over and over and over the same paragraphs, the same dialogue, countless times. Revising them of course, but not pushing the story forward. I am a relentless
re-writer, oftentimes to my detriment.

I was on a weekend retreat with two writer friends (Lola Schaefer and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley) when they both demanded I leave the first page alone and move on to page two. Period. After lunch, they said, we’d better see page two.

It made me laugh. I knew it was true. I couldn’t get past rewriting that first page. That’s also something Bella struggles with, although I’m not sure it is glaringly evident.

Fast forward: I finished the book and a fantastic editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy with Simon & Schuster, loved it and offered me a contract. She has always been Bella & Bean’s cheerleader. I did receive a few pages of revisions, but they were so on the mark and not too difficult. I love revision for the most part.

Caitlyn was committed to finding just the right illustrator. This took a few years. And Aileen’s art was worth waiting for.

What did Aileen Leitjen‘s art bring to your text?

Complete whimsy. A fairy tale world in which these two live. But in addition to that, a liveliness, an energy.

What advice would you offer to today’s beginners who’re interested in writing picture books?

The best advice I can give is to identify the kind of book you want to write: the tone, the length, the theme. Then grab all you can from the library. Bring home stacks of them.

Pour yourself a nice hot cup (or fifty) of coffee or tea, and then pour yourself into them and over them. Take notes. Actually type out a few picture books you admire to see them on the page without illustrations. It’s important I think to visually see the text without the art.

How about early readers?

I have always, always adored early readers. I was not one of those people who thought they looked easy. I knew the undeniable truth; these things were hard to write. Every word mattered. My goodness, to come up with a beginning, a middle, and an end (with plot, tension, and good dialogue thrown in) in only a few words was a challenge, and something I admired.

I loved reading them to my children when they were young. I wanted to write one for the longest time.

Do you work with a critique group? If not, who are your early readers?

I am lucky enough to go on a writer’s retreat once a year with four other talented writers who are my friends and early readers. (Kathi Appelt, Lola Schaefer, Kimberly Willis Holt, and Jeanette Ingold.)

One year, Kathi invited us to her family’s ranch, and we have continued the tradition every year. I take this time to work on picture books, because they are all seasoned picture book writers
and novelists. So they offer me tremendous and solid advice. Besides that we have loads of good conversation and fun.

My early reader of poetry is Pat Lewis. We share and critique many of our poems by email.

And I show most everything to Lee Bennett Hopkins and my agent, Elizabeth Harding with Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York.

My daughter is a writer, and I run some things by her. She has a good sense of the English language and a great eye.

Did you have a mentor who made a great difference in your life? If so, can you tell us about him/her?

Mrs. Bradford, my 11th grade English teacher, was the first to tell me I had a talent for writing, and especially for poetry. She wrote words like “enchanting” and “lovely” in red pen on my papers. Many times she asked me to stop by after school to show her the poems I was writing.

Many years later, my mentor would be Lee Bennett Hopkins.

I had always read and admired his poetry anthologies. I had a copy of Side By Side (Simon & Schuster, 1998) and read it to my children until it was in tatters. Lee gave me a chance to submit a few poems for consideration in his collections. (With a firm admonishment of course, that he was looking for only the best.) So I gave it a shot, and he gave me one.

The first book he accepted my poems for was a book titled Small Talk (Harcourt, 1995). It meant everything to me. I felt validated. He believed in my work. And he has ever since.

I respect him so very much. He is such a champion for poetry, for children, and for new voices in poetry. He’s a very giving person. He’s made a huge difference in my life.

How do you balance writing itself against the responsibilities of being an author (negotiation, promotion, etc.)?

For any author, there is a healthy bit of paperwork. Some more than others of course. Writing bios, composing session content For conferences, writing talks, correspondence regarding school visits And workshops, and (if we are lucky) book fans. Luckily, my agent takes care of all contracts and negotiations for permissions.

All of it can take away from the writing time and energy, but it’s all good, and I always remind myself it’s part of the job, the serendipitous adventure and journey of publishing.

I try to admonish myself when I start feeling overwhelmed with both writing and paperwork responsibilities — it’s a lot of work, sure, but like Billy Collins once said in an interview, “Not to a coal miner, It isn’t.” I love that. (The quote is as close as I can remember it.) It reminds us to keep things in perspective.

For you, what is the biggest challenge of your writing life?

Procrastination and Confidence. Neither is a virtue I possess.

Procrastination is big. Wait, one more…it’s something my grandmother became consistently exasperated by: sticking to one thing until it’s finished.

Focus is a problem for me. Oh, and disorganization.

Gee, to look at this answer, I wonder myself how I get any writing done.

It must be love.

And the more constant and immediate challenge is finding the time, even with an empty house, to write without feeling the pressure to be cleaning or grocery shopping or returning phone calls. I haven’t mastered it. At all. It’s a daily struggle.

What do you love about it?

Oh, let me count the ways.

Being a writer gives me an excuse to buy school supplies. Goes back to my Captain Kangaroo days, I believe. Colored folders and pens and sharpies and…

It gives me a reason to collect words. There’s nothing better–I mean, what a job!–to spend the day splashing words on the page, moving them, choosing them. Saying something in a way no one has said it before. Or at least trying.

Connecting with the child who may be sitting on a cracked stoop or in a flowered chair– knowing they are reading something I wrote, I love that. Knowing that words are making them think or smile or wonder.

And other things I love about being a writer…

It makes my family proud. Especially my mother.

It provides me and allows me a passion.

The excitement I feel when the writing is going well.

The way it suspends my worries for a time.

The amazing people I’ve met.

What do you do when you’re not in the book world?

Oh, that’s a tough one. Because that and being with my grandchildren is what my life truly centers around. Although I love going to movies, taking long walks (I’m not sure that I love taking walks or the fact that my heart probably loves me taking walks.)

I bake. (But as my daughter just laughingly asked, “You do? When?”)

So I reminded her of all those homemade cookies I made when they were young and my very delicious peanut butter cookies and the Christmas cookies we still make together every year and the cherry pies (okay, pie) I bake every summer. So I feel sure that counts as “bake.”

I like to play Scrabble. I used to ice skate and play tennis when my children were young, but I don’t anymore. Maybe I should again. Mostly I spend time in my writing room.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, there is no doubt that if readers like Bella & Bean I am anxious and ready to write them into another story. (They are after me all the time.) I’m working on one, but I’ll wait for my editor to decide if I go forward.

I’m always working on new poetry collections and hope to have a few books of poetry out over the next few years. I’m also working on a picture book intended for a boy audience and a beginning chapter book starring a character who keeps me amused.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Reminder: enter to win an autographed hardcover of National Book Award Finalist Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) from Cynsations. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Keturah and Lord Death” in the subject line. Deadline: March 30! All Cynsational readers are eligible! Note: there is a slight uneveness to the cut of the back of the cover and a couple of slightly bent page corners, but it’s otherwise in great shape.

More News

Check out the awesome cake (I can tell how it tastes by looking) that Penguin sent Laurie Halse Anderson in celebration of the release of Wintergirls! Attention Austinites: Laurie will be at BookPeople on the evening of March 28!

Here’s the book trailer to Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins, 2009). See also the newly launched micro site. Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

Getting a Spine by Tiffany Trent from Eudaimonium. Peek: “I’ve always hated it when people tell me the two basic things about fiction: a character must want and a character must change. Because the rebel in me always says: Why?” Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

Barry Goldblatt Literary has added two new agents: Joe Monti and Beth Fleisher. Source: Jo Knowles via Publishers Weekly. Read a Cynsations interview with Barry.

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Emily Gravett from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I try and make school visits as interactive as possible. The kids I talk to can be quite young, so I get them to do lots of shouting out and joining in. I tell them a little bit about how I became an illustrator, using slides with photos and drawings, and then we write a book together with me doing the drawings. It’s fun, nerve-wracking (for me), and sometimes a little chaotic!”

Combine Babies and Bylines by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: “The (survival) skills you need to both write and parent change with each stage of your children’s lives. (Sometimes your biggest need is time or energy. Other times your biggest need is keeping your sanity!) So over the next few days, I thought I’d blog about practical ways to combine writing and parenting throughout these stages.”

On Conflict from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “A character at peace with their surroundings and the characters they’re interacting with is, well, completely boring.”

The Last Exit to Normal by by Michael Harmon (Knopf, 2008): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: “Harmon eschews cliches and portrays each of Ben, his father and stepdad, and the people of Rough Butte as authentic, realistic, and rounded.”

“Take a right turn. Or a left.” from Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “So, as you are working the middle of your novel, you probably are thinking about the conflict and moving your story forward. You probably aren’t thinking that your story should just change directions. But it should—that’s what will keep readers turning the page.” Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

An Author at Home: Jen Bryant from Kimberly Willis Holt at A Pen and A Nest. Peek: “Jen Bryant writes picture books, novels and poems for readers of all ages. Her biographical picture book: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, received a Caldecott Honor award and her historical novel in verse Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial is an Oprah Recommended Book for ages 12 & up.”

Me, Tom by Troy Howell from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “The more time you spend in a character’s shoes—or feet, with one toe wrapped—whether you’re a reader or writer (or an illustrator, for that matter), the deeper the experience, the more natural the representation. You can hear his voice, smell her hands.”

The Silence of the Bunnies: the revelation of Horn Book editor Roger Sutton’s Kryptonite from Read Roger. Peek: “We’ve been entrusted with the care of Ruby for a couple of weeks. She may look like a rabbit but behaves more like a Sphinx, her silent inscrutability causing me to project all manner of implacable menace into her unblinking gaze.” Note: raises the question of whether Roger is a vengeance demon, but to be sure, this is my Geektastic link description of the day. Read a Cynsations interview with Roger.

In celebration of the upcoming release of Stargazer (HarperCollins, March 24, 2009), author Claudia Gray is giving ten winners their choice of Evernight Academy T-shirts and other nifty stuff. Learn more here. Note: peek at the Stargazer prologue and chapter one.

More Personally

Thank you to my website designer, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, for my beautiful new page to showcase my book trailers. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Thanks to author Helen Hemphill for reporting a sighting of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) in Cape Town (South Africa). Wow, I can hardly believe a story made it all there way there from that first draft tapped out on the daybed in my sun room. Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith from {Insert Book Title Here}. Peek: “I’m pretty happy as a human being. But if I had to pick, I’d rather be an angel. Among other things, I’d get better hair with the deal. Are shape shifters an option? It would be fun to be a werecat!”

Author Interview: Laurie Faria Stolarz on Deadly Little Secret

You last visited Cynsations in December 2007 to discuss the release of Project 17 (Hyperion, 2007). Do you have any more recent news to share on that novel or your other books?

Project 17 will be coming out in paperback in June. For its release, I’ll be launching a very exciting contest (more details will be available this spring). Also, I was very happy to hear that Project 17 made the ALA Quick Pick List for 2009.

Congratulations on the success of Deadly Little Secret (Hyperion, 2008)! Could you tell us about the novel?

Up until three months ago, everything about sixteen-year-old Camelia’s life had been fairly ordinary: decent grades; an okay relationship with her parents; and a pretty cool part-time job at an art studio downtown.

But when Ben, the mysterious new guy, starts junior year at her high school, her life becomes far from ordinary.

Rumored to be somehow responsible for his ex-girlfriend’s accidental death, Ben is immediately ostracized by everyone on campus. Except for Camelia. She’s reluctant to believe he’s trouble, even when her friends try to convince her otherwise. Instead she’s inexplicably drawn to him, and to his touch.

But soon, Camelia is receiving eerie phone calls and strange packages with threatening notes. Ben insists she’ in danger, and that he can help, but she’s not so sure she can trust him. She knows he’s hiding something, and he’s not the only one with a secret.

What was the inspiration for writing it?

I wanted to write a story where the main character has to struggle with the idea of falling in love with someone who could potentially be dangerous. I tinkered with this concept in the first three books of my Blue is for Nightmares Series [(Blue is for Nightmares (Llewellyn, 2003), White is for Magic (Llewellyn, 2004), and Silver is for Secrets (Llewellyn, 2005) as well as in Bleed (Hyperion, 2006)].

In Bleed, in particular, there’s a young male character who was convicted for the murder of his girlfriend. His next relationship consists of pen pal letters he exchanges with a young girl while he’s in prison. Without giving too much away, the relationship is briefly pursued once he is released, but I wanted to bring this concept to another level.

Additionally, I wanted to continue experimenting with the supernatural (which I also use in my Blue is for Nightmares Series as well as in Project 17), showing how we all have our own inner senses and intuition and how, with work, we can tap into those senses and make them stronger.

I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power of psychometry (the ability to sense things through touch). The concept fascinated me, and so I wanted to bring it out in a character, showing how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

Lastly, I wanted this book to be part of another series because I love the idea of growing a main character over the course of several books. Deadly Little Lies, the second book in the Touch Series, will be released this fall.

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

I sold the book based on a detailed synopsis. It came out about a year and a half later. I keep a strict ten-pages-per-week deadline for myself while I’m working on a project. This keeps me right on target, time-wise.

Do you have a vision for your career as an author or take it book-to-book or both? How does that come together in your mind?

I definitely do like to take things book-by-book. I’d like to be able to continue this career for many years to come. I’m having fun with it, I have a generous and devoted fan base, and I’m learning a lot. I’m very lucky and very grateful. For now, that works for me.

Of the ways you reach out to your readers, which do you think are most effective and why?

I’m really enjoying Facebook right now. It’s very user-friendly, which is definitely a big plus for me. I like being able to update it so easily, and I’ve been able to connect with a lot of my readers by using it. I also send out an e-newsletter every couple of months, informing readers about signings, events, new books, and contests.

Do you have a mentor (or did you earlier on)?

Yes, my English professor during my undergraduate time at Merrimack College, Dr. MaryKay Mahoney. I was a business major in college with huge dreams of becoming a writer. It just never occurred to me that I could actually pursue that dream.

I came from a very practical family with not a lot of money, and the idea of becoming a writer was about the equivalent of going to Hollywood and becoming the next Julia Roberts. It just wasn’t within the realm of possibility for me.

But MaryKay told me that I owed it to myself to pursue my writing, that I was very talented, and that she knew if I tried I could do it. No one had ever said anything like that to me before. Not so coincidentally, I dedicated Deadly Little Secret to her and to my mother.

Do you work with a critique group, a partner, or exclusively with your editor? Why does that work for you?

For years, I worked in a writers group that I really loved, but then people started doing other things and taking breaks, and so I went back to working on my own.

For Deadly Little Lies, I swapped first draft pages with Stacy DeKeyser, author of Jump the Tracks (Flux, 2008). I really like getting feedback on my work. I think it’s important to get that perspective. I get so close to my work and I like having someone there to ask just the right questions along the way.

How has publishing changed since you first entered the field?

It feels as though the young adult market has quadrupled since I first started. It’s exciting. There are so many more options for teens to read than when I was a young adult, which makes more opportunities for writers.

I never imagined having the opportunity to write graphic novel, being able to return to my love of screenwriting (I wrote the draft in screenplay format), and having the opportunity to work with an illustrator. But I was able to do just that with Black is for Beginnings, the fifth book in my Blue is for Nightmares Series (Flux, 2009).

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

I think she managed pretty well on her own, though I would tell her to have a bit more confidence. Looking back there are indeed some things I would have changed, but I’ve learned a lot since then, and I think I’m better for the process.

Cynsational Notes

Listen to Laurie read from the first chapter of Deadly Little Secret.