Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win an autographed hardcover of National Book Award Finalist Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) from Cynsations. From the promotional copy:

“Keturah follows a legendary hart into the king’s forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near. Little does she know that he is a young, handsome lord, melancholy and stern.

“Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and thereby gain a reprieve–but only for twenty-four hours She must find her one true love within that time, or all is lost.

“Keturah searches desperately while the village prepares for an unexpected visit from the king and Keturah is thrust into a prominent role as mysterious happenings alarm her friends and neighbors. Lord Death’s presence hovers over this all until Keturah confronts him one last time in the harrowing climax.”

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.

Congratulations to Martha in Wisconsin, the winner of paperback copy of Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde (Magic Carpet Books/Harcourt, 2008)!

More News

28 & Beyond Kimani Tru from Paula Chase-Hyman at The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “…readers are now presented with the trials and tribulations of growing up young in the hood (and this can be an urban hood or a rural/suburban one) or books with a less edgy more wholesome, christian layer to them. What’s still missing, in mass quantities anyway, are the portrayals that lie between the two. …Kimani Tru fills the void…” Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of the Brown Bookshelf.

Below, Elizabeth Scott reads from Something Maybe (Simon Pulse, March 24, 2009).

Kids book author accumulating accolades for first novel by Kayla Slimp from The Eagle of Bryan-College Station, Texas. Peek: “Kathi Appelt said she still feels like she’s shaking the glitter out of her hair.”

African American Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (AACBWI) will host its first conference on April 25 at the Hilton University Place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Presenters include: Sarah Ketchersid, Senior Editor of Candlewick Press; Eileen Robinson, creator of and former Scholastic Executive Editor and Harcourt Editorial Manager; Eleanora E. Tate, award-winning author; Don Tate, award-winning illustrator. See more information.

Maggie Gets Violent: My Thoughts on Bloodshed in Books by Maggie Stiefvater at Words on Words. Peek: “While I think there’s a time and a place for physical pain in a novel (anyone who has read any of my novels will see that I live by these words), I never think that physical pain will have the same affect on the reader that emotional pain does.” Read a Cynsations interview with Maggie.

Bethany Hegedus: official site of the author of Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009). Peek: “I now live in Brooklyn, where I miss the coming of the maganolias but look forward to the blossoms of the cherry trees. I hear ‘outtamyway’ and ‘standclearoftheclosingdoors please’ on a daily basis but I still recall the ‘howdy’s’ and ‘hey’s’ of the high school hallways. I may have left the south, but it hasn’t left me and Coca-Cola Cake willing, it never will.”

what do me, Kate Winslet, and Jamie Lee Curtis have in common? from Sara Zarr. Peek: “I am just really tired of and sad about my friends and random women and girls being so unhappy with themselves because they don’t look like women they see in magazines, who are uber-retouched, limbs lengthened, flesh carved away, etc. And tired of men thinking that’s how women look.” Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Class of 2K10: a cooperative debut author promotional group. If you are: 1. the author of a debut MG or YA novel that will be published in 2010 and; 2. being published by a house listed in the CWIM and in the U.S., you are eligible to apply for membership. Source: Dawn Metcalf.

Hats Off to Mom Writers! by Kristy Holl. Peek: “…last week a friend recommended a book for writer/moms that sounds wonderful called Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz.”

Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium by Carla Killough McClafferty (FSG, 2006): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: “McClafferty’s volume also weaves in the cultural impact of the discovery of radium: its widespread and casual uses as a medical cure-all and the subsequent realization that it is, in fact, highly toxic.”

Happy belated blogoversary to April Henry!

Audiobooks with Mary Burkey of Audiobooker from Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Peek: “No, I don’t feel that listening to audiobooks is reading – but it isn’t cheating either! In today’s world, we often overlook the listening component of Language Arts. By integrating audiobooks into a literacy program, students increase vocabulary, gain fluency, hear how phrasing and intonation results from punctuation, and experience authentic accents and dialects.”

Book Launch: Jane in Bloom (Dutton, 2009) from Janet Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “Doing the research on eating disorders was painful because the first-hand accounts are heart-wrenching. I think the hardest part of writing this story was in making it realistic but also appropriate for younger readers. I wanted parents to be comfortable with their children reading this book.”

Check out the book trailer for Taken By Storm by Angela Morrison (Razorbill, 2009). Source: The Compulsive Reader.

Marvelous Marketer – Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary) from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children’s Book Author. Peek: “On one hand, it is an agent’s job to fight for their author. Yet, on the other hand, I think there are times when an agent has to manage their author’s expectations. There will never be limitless funds available to promote every book in the way every author hopes (there is probably a finite overall budget for the whole list and whole year, laid down in advance, to be sliced up by the marketing director).” Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah.

A Birthing of Sorts: author Kimberly Willis Holt shares her process (including marked manuscript) for writing Skinny Brown Dog. Peek: “Christy always includes positive remarks in her notes. I have to admit when I first receive her editorial letters and notes, I search them out.” Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Author R.L. LaFevers of Shrinking Violet Promotions fame will be appearing at 11 a.m. March 22 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with R.L.

Interview: Cyn Balog – Author of the upcoming Fairy Tale (Delacorte, June 23, 2009) from Want My YA. Peek: “Fairy Tale is about a teenage girl who learns her boyfriend is a fairy, and that he’s due to leave her and return to Otherworld on his 16th birthday. She decides to fool the fairies and fight to keep him with her.” Learn more about Fairy Tale.

Skate by Michael Harmon (Knopf, 2006): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: “…a remarkable novel of responsibility, family, and self-reliance.”

Fillers and Drainers by Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: “After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: ‘Was I filler or a drainer today?’ Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take?”

The Best Present A Writer Could Ever Want by Siobhan at The Longstockings. Peek: “Mrs. Hetzel has always been my biggest supporter. Even when I was a crazy student who had endless energy (aka: behavioral issues) and probably drove her, and countless other teachers, completely bonkers, Mrs. Hetzel never told me to quiet down or reign it in. She was nothing but completely encouraging of me.”

Join author Michelle Knudsen to celebrate the release of The Dragon of Trelian (Candlewick, 2009) from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 14 at Books of Wonder (18 W. 18th Street) in New York City! Peek: “A middle-grade fantasy adventure involving a princess, a mage’s apprentice, a dragon, a hundred-year war, several secrets, old grudges, new enemies, lots of danger, a little romance, and an evil plot against the kingdom of Trelian that must be stopped at all costs!” Read a sample chapter (PDF file). Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen (Tricycle Press, 2008): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: “…an engaging, heartwarming, and sometimes funny story of growing up, responsibility, and what makes a family. ” Read a Cynsations interview with Lynn.

Children’s Book Biz from Anastasia Suen. Note: feeling overwhelmed by staff/organizational changes at children’s-YA publishers? Anastasia is 100% on top of it for you.

School Visit to Foley, Alabama! from Shana Burg. Peek: “In one workshop, The Power of a Question, we talked about how writers need to ask excellent questions to uncover information from sources. I shared details of the interviews I did when researching my book, and then we practiced what we learned by playing a game that left us all laughing.” Note: a former teacher, Austin-based debut author Shana Burg is highly recommended as a speaker. Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

More Personally

Attention MySpace readers: you may want to check out the fan-generated Eternally Tantalizing Role Playing Game and new character page for Sabine on MySpace. In addition, there are now over 400 members of Tantalize Fans Unite! (Thanks, Britmett Bear!).

Attention Facebook readers: you may want to check out my featured author interview at The Ultimate YA Reading Group.

Publishers Weekly says of Eternal: “The confessional style, alternating between Miranda and Zachary’s points of view, is intriguing as a diary—readers should be hooked by this fully formed world, up through the action-packed finale.”

Gwenda Bond of Shaken & Stirred says of Eternal: “the best kind of sequel–the kind that’s even better than the first book… If you never thought guardian angels could be awesome, we have something in common: We were wrong. Dark, witty, fabulous. Read this now.”

{Insert Book Title Here} YA Book Blog chimes in: “The whole vampire/guardian angel concept was interesting… I loved how she left us with a glimmer of hope at the end that left me begging. I want the third novel now! I can’t wait to see what this author will come out with next.”

Thanks to Kim Winters at Kat’s Eye for re-reading Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007)!

Thanks to Donna Bowman Bratton for her report on author Lila Guzman’s Austin SCBWI presentation (with photos!).

Publicist Interview: Julie Schoerke of JKSCommunications

Founder and Principal of JKSCommunications, Julie Schoerke promotes publishers, authors and books from across the country. She started the company in 2001 as a general public relations company.

Schoerke has built the literary publicity company by being sensitive to the divergent needs of the publishers, the authors, the agents and the media.

She works tirelessly to be sure that every member of the team has what is needed to make a book launch and publicity campaign sparkle and sizzle. She considers it a fluid process and is always on the lookout for the latest marketing opportunities in this fast-paced, dynamic communications world we live in today. Many of the clients Schoerke works with have sought out her work on the recommendation of agents, in-house publicists, and other authors. Most clients come through word of mouth.

Virtual Book Tours, Book and Media Tours (traveling with the author), book trailers and cultivation of independent booksellers for award nominations for books are a few ways that Schoerke promotes her clients.

Books/Authors in the past year that JKSCommunications has promoted:

The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press)
Mermaids in the Basement by Michael Lee West (HarperCollins)
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore (Crown Publishing)
The Blue Cotton Gown: A Medical Memoir by Patricia Harman (Beacon Press)
One Fell Swoop by Virginia Boyd (Thomas Nelson)
The Golden Rules for Managers by Frank McNair (Sourcebooks)
Charles Ghigna “Father Goose”

Before specializing in the book industry, Schoerke worked in the public relations for 20 years.

What first inspired you to enter the field of publicity?

I started out in politics and not-for-profit management years ago, became a stay-at-home mom for a number of years, and then found that I needed to go back into the work force.

I started my own PR business helping all kinds of companies, organizations, and celebrities. But as my business grew, I got the opportunity to become a little more selective in the clients I worked with.

I found that I loved the intelligence, sense of humor, and integrity of authors and people who worked in the book industry. Authors became my “rock stars,” and the real rock stars that I worked with flat out weren’t as interesting to be around as the writers.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I don’t have a book in me to write, so this was a dream come to true, to find a way to use my skills in publicity to help readers learn about terrific books and authors.

Could you tell us about JSK Communications?

JKSCommunications is a full-service literary publicity and promotion company that has launched books in most genres.

Working with authors is such a personal thing. Authors have a huge stake in their books doing well, and the ones who hire us are driven to push the sales of their books.

As a result, messing up isn’t an option. I’ve never missed a deadline for a client, I try to be as available as possible for authors, especially ones who are being published for the first time and are worried about the business.

I encourage my clients to talk to me when they’re worried or trying to think through issues rather than calling their agents or editors on a whim. Agents and editors want to work with authors, but their job doesn’t include daily contact by any stretch!

Even in the down-economy, JKSCommunications has been able to grow! I have an amazing young woman who was a journalist and reporter that has come on board, Marissa DeCuir. She can get terrific television and radio interviews for clients and she is as picky about deadlines and details as I am! It took me seven years to find the right person to help me expand the company, and now I feel so lucky she is helping promote the great books we represent! We also have partnerships with web designers and book trailer producers.

What appeals to you about working with authors specifically?

Authors are thoughtful people–both in intelligence and in their demeanor, I’ve found. Authors want people to read their work above and beyond all else. That’s what motivates them.

I end up working with about 1/3 – 1/2 of the authors who contact me. I have to really love their book and connect with them personally or I can’t be enthusiastic in promoting their work.

Every day is an adventure, is fun, sometimes extremely challenging. There is nothing more rewarding than helping engage an audience for an author who has toiled for years to get published, who has put her or his whole heart and soul into it.

I’ve heard that there are authors who aren’t interested in helping other authors–but I’ve never personally worked with one. Authors and book people by nature seem to be very generous in every sense of the word.

Could you highlight a couple of the children’s/YA authors and titles that you’ve worked with?

The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press) launched at the end of 2008 and is a book I’m extremely proud to be associated with.

Helen is talented, bright, and has an intellectual curiosity that has made it possible for her to write critically-acclaimed YA novels that are also widely popular.

This book in particular was great to work on with Helen because it’s the story of an African-American cowboy–a story never told in children’s literature before as far as we’ve been able to discover.

The publisher and the publishing team were really behind this book and let us try some innovative and creative publicity things that brought a whole new audience to Helen’s work.

Helen worked tirelessly on this project. There were many nights when we were emailing each other at 11 p.m. to get ready for the next day’s onslaught of new publicity tactics.

I’m currently working with Charles Ghigna, Father Goose, on a new project that will encompass his entire body of work over the past several decades. He is the most published children’s poet alive today and is only behind Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein in published poetry for kids in the United States.

His poetry book for YA/middle school boys, Score!: 50 Poems to Motivate and Inspire (Abrams), is just his most recent of scores of books that have sold in the millions and been published by all of the major publishing houses.

Could you give us a case study to illustrate your approach? What were the unique challenges, opportunities, how did you respond to them, and what were your results?

Helen Hemphill

Front Street/Boyds Mills Press did an amazing job of providing all of the advance reader copies (ARCs) we requested–and we requested a lot! But we knew if the book got in the hands of the right people, the buzz would take off.

Helen and I went to the Southern Independent Booksellers Association, SIBA Conference in Mobile, Alabama; just as the book was launching. Every day we carried a stack of ARCs with us and talked to booksellers. We met with the actual foot soldiers who sell the books to bookstores through the distribution company, and we spent time with them.

Even today I’ve had two bookstores–four months after the book debuted–contacting me to set up book signings with Helen. She’s been so sought after that it’s been difficult to schedule all the book signings she’s been invited to do.

We made sure we touched teachers, librarians, and booksellers at least three times through email, postcard mailings, or other avenues before they got a book.

Helen’s books have always sold very well to librarians and teachers, educators. But we wanted to branch out to the retail market. It worked!

The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones was chosen as an Indie Next Pick in December, 2008. For a book to be chosen as an Indie Next Pick, it must have been nominated as the best book in that genre by numerous independent bookstores. The bookstore owners and managers take it upon themselves to contact IndieBound–the organization of all independent bookstores across the country–and go to the effort to nominate the book.

It was gratifying to get feedback that the book had been nominated by bookstores in every corner of the United States–Northwest, South, Midwest, even from the East Coast.

Helen “went” on a virtual book tour for about two weeks–“visiting” literary blogs through interviews and contests for her book. The on-line reviewers are delightful and make my job so much fun.

We also came up with two book trailers that are posted on YouTube and have received nearly 1,400 hits between them:

We wanted to do a book talk similar to those funny e-trade commercials with the baby. We dressed a cute little eight-month old boy up as a cowboy. But he kept crawling up to the camera and grabbing it, so we tied a bandanna around my dog, put some peanut butter in her mouth, and she did the book talk:

Helen is a magician on a Mac and she created this book trailer in a matter of hours. We got lots of positive feedback from librarians and others on this:

Helen is a highly sought after speaker at educational conferences, and she sometimes criss-crosses the country three times in a week to make presentations. The woman has as much energy as her teenage fans! And she continues to write while promoting–she has two new amazing books she’s working on right now!

[Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.]

In what other ways has your work connected with the youth literature market?

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore (Crown Publishing) was released as adult fiction/southern literature.

We targeted women in our messaging for the launch. Moms talked about how much they loved that book, and their daughters started grabbing the copies from their moms’ bookshelves. Pretty soon there was buzz in teen magazines and blogs for teens. The book was picked up as a summer reading project by schools whose librarians loved the book when they read it for their personal enjoyment.

Susan’s in-house publicist is just great to work with, loves the book, and has helped our team come up with ways to increase young readership also.

This was Susan’s first novel, and she worked endlessly on promoting. We did it through a strategic partnership with Dairy Queen and an exhaustive 30+ city book and media tour (that Susan chose to finance herself, using part of her advance).

The book is in its fourth hard-cover printing and will be coming out this summer in soft cover. And, yes, Susan will be hitting even more cities this summer to promote it.

I travel with her, and my other female authors as often as possible for a couple of reasons. I, as the publicist, can say things about the book (how great it is!) that the author can’t (or shouldn’t) say, and sometimes there are media opportunities that I can grab at the last minute, those that fall in our laps that authors on their own can’t do for various reasons.

Cottonwood Spring by Gary Slaughter (Fletcher House) is launching in March. It’s the fourth book in a series of historical fiction about life on the home front in Michigan during World War II.

Although written for adults, Gary’s style is accessible to all ages. After concentrating on targeting teachers and librarians, we’ve just learned that school districts in Michigan have decided to include it in curriculum.

Gary was a very successful businessman before becoming an author. He knew he needed to build his fan base through a grass-roots effort and started five years ago capturing the email of every single fan who wrote, every reader who came to his book talks throughout Tennessee and Michigan, and others until he had a database of more than 1,000 followers. These people have become quite loyal and buy each book in the series as they are published.

Now that the series is complete, we will probably negotiate with a large publishing house to consolidate the series into a shorter version with a goal of national exposure. The series has proven to be highly successful in targeted geographic regions, which is a key for authors in securing bigger publishing deals as they grow.

If you can prove that you are a commercial success in one area of the country, publishers will extrapolate that your book will have wide appeal in other parts of the United States.

Why should a published author consider working with a publicist?

I think the real validation for me came when an inside-publicist sent a published author to me and told her to hire me. The book industry is going through a tough time. Even before the blip in the fourth quarter of 2008, publishers were cutting back their marketing budgets.

Here’s a secret that makes most writers’ skin crawl: generally a publisher only needs one out of every nine or ten books to be successful in order for the publisher to make money. It’s gambling with the highest stakes for the authors. The publishers throw the book out with two weeks allotted for the inside publicist to concentrate on it–they see which books get natural buzz and then they support those books.

Publishers want to see that an author is committed to the success of the book. If an author is willing to make appearances, set up their own website, blog, create book trailers, reach out to their spheres of influence (such as the medical memoir written by a midwife–the midwife hired me, and we reach out to the thousands of midwives and women who have delivered babies through midwives to get buzz going about The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir (Beacon)), then the publisher knows it has a partner in the business.

Some authors are too shy or for some other reason won’t do these things. Their books don’t generally do so well.

Authors at first are nervous that the publisher or in-house publicist will have their feelings hurt if they hire an outside publicist–quite the contrary!

Many in-house publicists have at least 50 titles a year to launch. They are overworked, young, and doing the best they can with limited resources. To have someone come along and help out with the “heavy lifting” by thinking outside the box to create strategic partnerships, getting in contact personally with the local media during the book tour, and having strong personal ties with bookstore owners across the country is a plus.

Hey, if the book sells well, everybody wins and that’s what publishing is about–making money. I know that sounds crass, but publishing is a business.

What nobody tells you (several of my clients have asked me to write a book about this, but I think it would be a bit boring and self-serving!) is that the advance money you get, after working so hard to create this wonderful book, also needs to be stretched and partly spent on marketing and publicity. If you don’t want to be a one-book-wonder, you have to prove that your first book can sell through and you deserve a shot at having your second book published.

Another thing nobody tells you, the best promotional campaigns start at least three months before the launch (that’s when reviewers see it and many books are nominated for literary awards). So you want your publisher to provide plenty of advance reader copies (ARCs) three months in advance, and you want to have a professional publicist with an action plan so that both of you can hit the ground running.

I have a client who is an author of business books. He hired me nearly a year in advance of his next book to position him by getting him guest author columns in business and management publications and getting him on editorial boards of trade organizations and publications so that he’ll have a bigger fan base when his book is available.

What should an author consider in choosing a publicist? What are the questions to ask? How else can the author make the best possible choice?

My clients generally come to me through word of mouth. Ask your successful author friends who they use and what their experience has been. Check with your agent and see if he or she has a suggestion. Do a web search using key words for what you want in a publicist or in a publicity campaign, and see what comes up. If there is a book that is similar to yours and has done well, research why it has done well and set out to have the same kind of campaign. Go to conferences and lectures when publicists are speaking, and see if what they say resonates with you and makes sense. If so, check them out, and then call them up to talk.

If they’re a good publicist, they won’t agree to work with you until they’ve gotten a copy of your book (or manuscript) for review. Make sure that the chemistry is good. Like all other kinds of work, you want to be sure the person you’ll be in contact with a lot is somebody that you feel comfortable with and like.

What advice do you have for writers trying to handle their own publicity/media relations?

There are so many things you can do! Understand that in today’s economic atmosphere, publishing companies aren’t sending authors on limousine and caviar book tours any more. That advance you got is for you to use in part to market and promote your own book.

Easy, painless ways to promote:

• Ask your local bookstore (preferably an independent store – they tend to hand-sell books they like) to have a “launch party” for you where you read from your book and answer questions.

• Invite all your friends, colleagues, and neighbors to come help you celebrate the launch of your book at the reading. Send postcards, email–mail invitations if you like. If your book has a hook, use it! Susan Gregg Gilmore and I have eaten our weight in Dilly Bars from Dairy Queen in the past year promoting her book! Serve food that goes with your book.

• Be sure to let the local media know ahead of time that you’re doing this.

• Have somebody take photos that night and send them to the newspaper if nobody from the paper shows up. Put them on your blog and/or website. Yes, you do need a website to promote no matter what!

• Find out what local literary festivals are within driving range and apply to them (if you have a book trailer, email that to the head of the festival as an entertaining way to introduce yourself and your book).

• Whenever you travel anywhere, check out the bookstores before you go, call and let them know you’ll be in the area and would love to stop by and sign copies of your book while you’re there–that ensures better placement of your book in the store and that the bookstores will order your books.

• If you belong to Jacketflap, Facebook, LinkedIn, or another social networking site, be sure to promote the launch of your book there and give updates periodically.

• Know that the day after your book comes out it is “old” news to reviewers. Reviewers want to get an advance copy before it’s available in stores.

• Be nice, be friendly, have patience, do all you can to make it easy, fun, and pleasant for booksellers you meet to sell your book! Booksellers who hand-sell your book (tell customers how much they like the book and you) are your best friends!

Are you interested in speaking to writer groups?

Absolutely! I love to talk to writer groups. I find that writers often get inspired realizing that there is a whole, fun, exciting phase beyond the day they see their book in print for the first time. Ron Hogan, who is one of the geniuses behind Media Bistro: GalleyCat, and I will be doing some presentations together later this year.

How can people get in touch with you?

I can be reached at or by calling 615.476.1367.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

A warning: Understand completely the difference between being published by a small independent or major publishing house and a self-publishing or vanity press and what some of the challenges with self-publishing are.

I’m always saddened when people come to me after they’ve self-published, not realizing how that will affect their ability to get their books in bookstores and how it will affect their ability to promote their books.

The lines are blurring, but there are advantages by holding out, doing the editing an agent tells you to do and getting published by a publisher that offers you a contract that pays you. You don’t pay the publisher.

If you’re reading this blog, this means you’re already a fan of Cynthia’s. But, know that she is the gold standard of what a person in the business of books should be. She’s generous in helping others, she works endlessly, and is beloved by her fans of all ages because of her generous spirit. So, if you get published, pay attention to what Cynthia does to mentor others, and give writers behind you the same kind of hand to climb up the ladder too.

Thank you so much, Cynthia for giving me this opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned with all of your fans! It has been a real honor!

Author Interview: Heather Henson on That Book Woman

Learn more about Heather Henson.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer, but I hadn’t really thought about writing children’s books until after I graduated from college. I began temping to make ends meet in New York City, and one of the first temp jobs was at HarperCollins Children’s Books.

During that time, I rediscovered all the books I’d loved as a child, books my mother had read to me. I enjoyed working on children’s books so much that I decided to stay, and luckily the job became permanent.

Eventually I became an editor. I kept on writing in my spare time, though, and slowly my own work started to shift over to the world of young adults and children. Now I can’t imagine writing for “older” readers.

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

I was incredibly lucky because I was an editor before I was an author, and so I knew something about the business of publishing. But even so, there are always hurdles.

My first novel for young adults was published right away, but it’s taken about eight years for my second novel to come out. The revision process for that novel took a lot longer, and it changed editors’ hands a couple of times.

Also, the editor who published my novel didn’t connect with my first picture book manuscript, but I sent it to another editor, and she loved it.

You just have to keep sending stuff out to see what connects.

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

Making the Run, my first novel for young adults, was published by Joanna Cotler Books/HarperCollins Publishers in 2002. It was featured in Publisher’s Weekly’s Flying Starts and was chosen as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.

Angel Coming, my first picture book, illustrated by Susan Gaber, was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2005. It received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Congratulations on the success of That Book Woman, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

The book is about a young boy named Cal who lives high in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky where there are no schools or libraries because it is so remote.

One day a woman arrives on horseback with a saddlebag full of books. She is a Pack Horse Librarian, and she will return every two weeks to “swap” books.

Cal’s sister is overjoyed, but Cal is suspicious of the stranger. Why does she keep coming up the mountain in all kinds of weather? What’s so important about books? Why are they “free as air?”

Eventually we learn that Cal’s distrust is rooted in his shame over not being able to read. But because of the book woman’s bravery and perseverance, Cal comes to see the wonder of books, and he is able to overcome his stubborn pride and ask his sister to teach him to read.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

A photograph. While researching my fist picture book, Angel Coming, which celebrates the work of the Frontier Nursing Service of eastern Kentucky, I came across a photograph of a woman on horseback bringing books to a family in Appalachia. The woman was part of the Pack Horse Library Project, kind of a book mobile on horseback. There were more photographs and stories about these brave, remarkable women, and I was just hooked.

I knew immediately I’d found a great nugget of history for a picture book, I just wasn’t sure at first how to approach it. It took at least a year to really “find” the story. But once Cal started to “speak” to me, I just felt that I was on the right path.

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

It took about a year to write the manuscript. I finished it just before my twins were born!

When they were about four months old, I was able to focus enough to begin revisions. The manuscript went back and forth between me and my editor for nearly another year!

Finally, my editor felt it was perfect (she’s tough!), and she sent it to David Small. Lucky for me, he liked it and decided to make time in his busy schedule.

It came out earlier than I expected, which was a thrill, but still it was almost four years from start to finish.

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

Having twins! I honestly don’t remember the first year of their life, it’s such a blur, and so I’m not sure how I actually was able to work at all!

What did David’s art bring to your text?

Where do I begin? David is brilliant, so of course he brought his vast experience and unique vision. But one incredibly important thing: originally Cal was younger than his sister, Lark. But David made the choice to make him older, and this was a brilliant decision because it made the fact that he can’t read more poignant.

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

Write, write, write! Don’t stop!

What were your favorite books of 2008 and why?

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster, 2008) because the story and writing are so powerful.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview) because the writing is exquisite.

What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?

Being a mom. My twins are four now, and my son is 8.

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

It’s tricky. I’m too new at being an author to have a great solution. I’ve traveled much more for That Book Woman, because when Angel Coming was first published, the twins were only about ten months old. I’ve loved going to book fairs and libraries and schools and bookstores this past fall because the response to That Book Woman has just been so wonderful. But traveling to promote one book definitely takes you away from what you’re working on next.

I need to write every day, so getting off schedule is hard. I’m behind on a novel now in fact. But I hate to complain because I’m so lucky to have a reason to travel!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My novel for middle grade readers comes out Spring 2009. It’s called Here’s How I See It/Here’s How It Is, and it’s about a girl growing up in a summer stock theater, dreaming of being a famous actress.

Another picture book will be published Summer 2009. It’s called Grumpy Grandpa, and is illustrated by Ross MacDonald. It was inspired by my son’s relationship with his sometimes grumpy grandpa.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Rosemary Clement-Moore on the release of Highway to Hell (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil)(Delacorte, 2009)! From the promotional copy: “Maggie Quinn was expecting to find plenty of trouble with Lisa over Spring Break. Give a girl a bikini, a beachfront hotel, and an absent boyfriend, and it’s as good as a road map to the dark side. But Maggie doesn’t have to go looking for trouble. Trouble has started looking for her. One dead cow and a punctured gas tank later, she and Lisa are stuck in Dulcina, Texas—a town so small that it has an owner. And lately life in this small town hasn’t been all that peaceful. An eerie predator is stalking the ranchland. Everyone in town has a theory, but not even Maggie’s psychic mojo can provide any answers. And the longer the girls are stranded, the more obvious it becomes that something is seriously wrong. Only no one—not even Maggie’s closest ally—wants to admit that they could have been forced on a detour down the highway to hell.” Note: Rosemary will be signing the book from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. March 14 at Barnes & Noble in Hurst, Texas! Note: I would be there myself, except I’m heading out of state this weekend. Read a Cynsations interview with Rosemary.

Definitions for the Perplexed: Sell-In and Sell-Through from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “It’s a tough, tough business, and it’s only tougher these days. Do everyone a favor and go buy a book, okay?” Note: buy two! Also, if you haven’t already read through EA’s whole Publishing Dictionary. Very useful info.

Wonderful Bookclub Books! Cheap, Badly Bound, Wonderful Bookclub Books! from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “The idea of the Scholastic Book Clubs is to make children’s books available at prices that children could conceivably afford. In poorer areas, this is a blessing, and studies have shown the important psychological difference that owning a book makes to children.”

Congratulations to those authors and illustrators whose works appear among the Children’s Choices for 2008: A project of the International Reading Association and The Children’s Book Council. Peek: “Each year 12,500 school children from different regions of the United States read and vote on the newly published children’s and young adults’ trade books that they like best. The Children’s Choices for 2008 list is the 34th in a series that first appeared as “Classroom Choices” in the November 1975 issue of The Reading Teacher (RT), a peer-reviewed journal for preschool, primary, and elementary levels published eight times a year by the International Reading Association (IRA).” Note: highlighted books include A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg (Delacorte, 2008).

Interview with Flux Editor Brian Farrey from Karen Kincy at Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “You can learn from writers whose material you don’t care for just as much as you can from writers whose material you adore. Know what’s out there. It’s very, very easy for me to spot a submission written by someone who hasn’t read a contemporary YA novel. Ever.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Attention, Writers with an Advanced Degree: The Fourteenth annual Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers’ Conference is scheduled for Aug. 11 to Aug. 17. Note: The event will include two workshops in Writing for Young Adults, led by award-winning author-teachers Kathi Appelt and An Na. Note: the event is open to all writers with an advanced degree, not just VCFA alumni (though of course we hope they’ll come).

Congratulations to Deborah Davis on the paperback release of Not Like You (Graphia, 2009)! From the promotional copy: ““Starting a new chapter” is how Kayla’s mother, Marilyn, has always referred to their abrupt moves—five in the past two years. But what Kayla hates even more than moving is Marilyn’s drinking. It once landed Kayla in foster care, so she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her mother from falling apart again. Just until she turns eighteen, less than three years away. Now Marilyn has moved them to New Mexico, and promised, yet again, to quit booze for good. Kayla knows better than to believe her, but something about this move does feel different. Kayla is putting down roots, earning money as a dog walker, and spending time with Remy, a twenty-four-year-old musician. He’s her refuge from Marilyn’s daily struggle to stay sober. And after years of taking care of her mother, Kayla is starting to think of herself and who she wants to be. She knows for sure who she doesn’t want to be. But is she willing to do whatever it takes to create her own life—even if it means leaving her mother behind?” Read an excerpt, listen to an excerpt, see discussion guide. School Library Journal said: “Thoughtful, touching, and honest, this story hits all the right notes…a book to learn from and remember.” Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Dealing With Negativity from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “All of this boils down to one thing: negativity is a test of strength. If you show weakness in the face of negativity: you lose. If you show strength and character in the face of negativity: you win.” See also suggestions from Nathan’s readers on Dealing with Frustration. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

How (and When) to Follow-Up with Agents and/or Editors from Tracy Marchini at My VerboCity. Peek: “Sometimes, it seems that writers are over-anxious in their follow-up methods after submitting to an agent or editor. Here’s some basic guidelines to make sure your follow-up is professional and effective.”

Karen Cushman: new official site from the Newbery author includes book information, news, 20 odd facts, and much more. See where she writes. Peek: “Now I live on a soft, green island near Seattle with my husband, Philip, who is a professor. Our daughter, Leah, is a librarian. The love of books runs in the family.” Note: Otis the cat is obviously awesome.

How to stay organized if you are a disorganized writer by Emily Marshall at Author2Author. Peek: “Sometimes I’m dealing with hundreds of story ideas, multiple drafts of a project, and even two or three books at a time. That’s a lot of computer files, paper, and general confusion.”

Agent Advice: Kelly Sonnack of The Andrea Brown Literary Agency from Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents. Note: Kelly is looking for middle grade fiction and cultural memoirs. Peek: “I will admit a particular soft spot for picture books but there’s only so many of those I can take on at a time. I really love literary, coming-of-age YA, as well as quirky and smart MG. I’m also particularly loving graphic novels for kids these days. We’re living in a time that is ripe for them, and it’s exciting to help shape that.” Source: Alice’s CWIM Blog.

Congratulations to Arthur Slade on the U.S. release of Jolted! See trailer below. Trying to get a feel for steampunk in the children’s-YA market? Check out the covers of Arthur Slade’s upcoming novel, The Hunchback Assignments.

Trapped by Kimberly Willis Holt at A Pen and a Nest. Peek: “As writers we sometimes forget to explore the endless possibilities when we create our worlds. Sometimes we hit a barrier and if we’re too tunnel-visioned we may lose the chance at adding another layer or plot point that enriches our story.” Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Sara Crowe Literary Agent: new official site features client list, news, and blog. Peek: “I am always looking for young adult fiction and middle grade fiction for my children’s list. I represent a few wonderful picture book writers and am not looking to add to that list at this time. I am open to hearing from author/illustrators.”

Swagology 101 by Mary Hershey from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “…as a former kid that had no disposable income, I love being able to give a child something totally free, no strings attached. I give out postcards, candy, stick-on gem earrings, small notebooks, fun erasers, and pencils. Only the postcards have my promotional information on them.”

Author-Illustrator Salima Alikham: official site of the Austin based children’s book creator. Salima’s books include Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas by Joe Gribnau (Pelican) and Pieces of Another World by Mara Rockliff (Sylvan Dell). She looks forward to the publication of The Pied Piper of Austin (Pelican, 2009). Peek: “My mother is from Germany, and my father was born in India and raised in Pakistan. Therefore I grew up with a very interesting mix of fairy tales in the household.” Note: Salima makes her home in Austin.

The Book Roast blog will be hosting a Pitch Party on St. Patrick’s Day–March 17 from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. EST. Peek: “We’re inviting participants to submit a pitch for a book (real or for fun). The theme is ‘luck,’ and the pitches will be limited to 75 words. One pitch per participant. You’ll have fun, and you can use a pen name if you like! Five highly esteemed editors (Evil Editor; Editorial Anonymous; Edittorrent; Moonrat; Ms. Spitfire) will select their favorite three, and say why those pitches stood out. The winning pitches will be announced at 9 p.m. EST.” Note: “Ms. Spitfire is technically in marketing, but she has occasion to touch the slush.” More info will be posted late Friday evening on the Book Roast blog.

Books for Teens of Color from GalleyCat. Peek: “Here are few hints: They have sold nearly 5 million copies of their books. There are over 15 books in the series. They’ve received accolades from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, the Young Adult Library Services Association and were selected for the 2009 Quickpicks for Reluctant Readers. In fact, they are among the most buzzed about books in high schools and middle schools around the country. What are they? The Bluford Series, published by Townsend Press.” See also the teacher’s guide to the series. Source: April Henry.

Exploring Diversity through Children’s & Young Adult Books: Background Reading from my website. Notes: (1) Additional sections of the site celebrate interracial, Asian/Asian-American and Native American themes in youth literature as well as other historical underrepresented communities in the field. Please feel free to suggest additional resources. (2) Those wishing to support authors-illustrators from the Native community may want to add the widget available at JacketFlap. Special thanks to author-illustrator Don Tate for featuring the Native authors widget at his blog, Devas T. Rants and Raves.

A Story of a Teenager’s Suicide Quietly Becomes a Best Seller by Motoko Rich from The New York Times. Read a Cynsations interview with Jay Asher. Source: Gwenda Bond.

Q & A with Melissa Marr from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…it only gets easier to work with this world. When I write I often know where my characters will go in the future.”

Congratulations to Jennifer Ziegler on signing with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency and to Erin for signing with Jennifer! Congratulations to on the sale of Jennifer’s “Sass & Stupidity” to Stephanie Elliott at Delacorte. Read Cynsations interviews with Jennifer and Erin.

Resource Recommendations

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Image Continuum, 1993). As relevant for writers as musicians as painters as photographers as dancers, this economical slim paperback is a godsend for anyone who’s a human being and trying to create art.

Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy (HarperCollins, 1993). This gem of a paperback is a must-have for the writer’s peace of mind and piece of soul. From the promotional copy: “This daily motivator of people who write provides an insistent wake-up call for the creative urge, with insights on how to work against resistance, live with the loneliness, develop discipline, and dare to take deeper risks in their work. These 200 essays explore every aspect of the process of writing.”


Enter to win a paperback copy of Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde (Magic Carpet Books/Harcourt, 2008)(originally published in 1999) from Cynsations. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Dead Man” in the subject line. I’ll touch base if you win. Deadline: March 18! All Cynsational readers are eligible! Read a Cynsations interview with Vivian.

Donations Request

Serene Hills Elementary Library recently opened in conjunction with its new elementary school in Austin (TX) Independent School District. Areas of interest include: (a) non-fiction, with a copyright no older than 2004. Non-fiction is needed at all levels K – 5th grade (are 12 would be highest); (b) fiction, in particular: picture books and any chapter books/I can read/Reading Rainbow and character-based series (e.g. Like Nate the Great, Junie B. Jones); (c) Texas authors – there is an entire reading program dedicated to Bootscooting Across Texas + Bluebonnet Book award winners; (d) hardcover and paperback, new or used. Send to: Serene Hills Elementary Library; 3301 Serene Hills Drive; Austin, TX 78738.

More Personally

The social highlight of the week was a surprise visit by author Shana Burg, who came bearing an out-of-this-world gift–a Princess-Senator Leia Organa Flash Drive!

Do you think it holds the plans to the Death Star?

I’m guessing that many of you will want one of your own. So FYI: designs featuring C3P0, Wicket, Luke Skywalker, and others are also available. Note: Han Solo and Boba Fett are low on stock (figures). See Star Wars MIMOBOT designer USB flash drives.

Attention Austinites: as you know, it’s almost time for SXSW 2009! If you’re like me and want to support our live music scene, but feel somewhat lacking in band savvy, you may want to check out Turn2live (“the first online tool that enables users to discover shows using intuitive search terms. These terms exist outside of the traditional boundaries of genre, artist and venue and include creative, mood-oriented keywords such as ‘sunny’ and ‘sensual.'”)

Donna Bratton at Simply Donna highlights Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002). Peek: “Through it all, Grandpa Halfmoon is there for him whether it is to rescue Ray from a catastrophic haircut, or to share a precious night-fishing trip where the biggest catch had nothing to do with a fish.”

Booklist calls Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) a “witty, dark love story of death and redemption” and says “Miranda and Zachary are complex, sympathetic characters, and their hopeful ending is well earned.”

Notes from the Hornbook says of Eternal, “Suspenseful, entertaining, and enthusiastically gruesome, Smith’s latest will be lapped up by vampire fans.”

Thanks to author P.J. Hoover for reading Eternal and saying “Love the attitude of the guardian angel (GA for short). So go out and buy this book.” Read a Cynsations interview with P.J.

Author Interview: A.S. King on The Dust of 100 Dogs

A.S. King on A.S. King: “A.S. King was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. After earning a degree in photography and working in a few stinky darkrooms, she moved to Dublin, Ireland; where she swore off television and started writing novels.

“Two years later, she moved to a small farm in rural Tipperary. There, she divided a decade between writing, teaching literacy, breeding rare poultry, and finding exciting ways to feed herself. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and children.

“Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines and has been nominated for cool stuff. The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux, 2009) is her first young adult novel. “

What were you like as a young reader?

When I was a child, I’d stay up reading in my “office” (my bedroom closet) later than everyone else in my family, even though I was the youngest. I can’t remember much of what I was reading. I recall A Wrinkle in Time and a few other titles (Harriet the Spy and a lot of mysteries and ghost stories) but for the most part, I’d read anything. The weirder, the better. Once I found Paul Zindel, my early teen life was complete.

What about young fictional heroes appeals to you as a writer?

I relate well to young heroes and heroines. Younger characters tend to have genuine innocence, and can explore certain themes and subjects that adult characters can’t approach realistically. I feel this type of character has the potential to change (or at least, challenge) minds — and that will attract me every time.

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

Well, it took me seven novels and fifteen years to finally sell a book. I can’t say there were any sprints in that. Mostly, I stumbled along.

Looking back on your apprenticeship as a writer, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? If so, what and why?

While we were living on the farm in Tipperary, I wrote all day nearly every day, balanced with farm chores–gardening to feed us, minding the chickens. It was the most ideal writer’s life I could ever imagine.

Though I did query agents and try occasionally to seek publication, it became clear that I was in the wrong country to sell the books I was writing, so I concentrated on enjoying my time there, because, man, was it nice! So, there was nothing I would have done differently.

I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

On the flip side, what was most helpful to you in terms of developing your craft?

I think, relating to craft, taking a few years to write poetry, and more recently, short fiction was most helpful to me as a novelist. I’d sworn off short stories back in 1996, when I’d written a few that were horrid. Then, in 2006, I wrote a story that got published and nominated for an award, so I continued to write and publish about fifteen more stories. It’s amazing how concentrating on the short form for a year made my novel-length fiction more immediate and fresh.

Congratulations on The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux, 2009)! Could you tell us about the novel?

I like to say The Dust of 100 Dogs is part historical, part contemporary and part dog-training guide, but here’s the back cover blurb for a better description:

“In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of 100 dogs, dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before retuning to a human body–with all her memories intact. Now she’s a contemporary American teenager, and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.”

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

The idea came from my journeys into Irish history. I used to walk my dogs down my small road [in Ireland] and think of the people who had walked that road before me. The rest unraveled from there.

My exploration of what the Irish endured, especially during Cromwell’s time, stirred feelings about the things women have endured throughout history.

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

For The Dust of 100 Dogs, the timeline goes something like this:

Idea circa 1999/2000.

Started writing in 2001/2.

Finished in 2003.

Queried and rejected by a lot of U.K. agents.

Moved to the U.S. in 2004. Rewrote book and queried U.S. agents with no luck. Put book in drawer with five other drawer books and started writing seventh book.

2006 – agent liked #7; he offered to represent me and started shopping the older novels, including The Dust of 100 Dogs.

Sold The Dust of 100 Dogs to Flux in late 2007.

Publication in 2009.

I think that makes it an even decade between idea and book. I’m really hoping to slim that down next time around.

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

The big challenge when it came to publishing The Dust of 100 Dogs was my location.

Even as late as 2004, many agencies refused to accept email, which made things very expensive for someone like me, who had to spend up to $60 per full manuscript sent.

On the more positive side, that same location made the Irish history research easier through generous neighbors who offered their libraries of books I would have never found elsewhere.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author? Or, more globally, how is that adjustment going?

Though I enjoy promoting, I’m still most excited by writing, and I’ve trained myself to turn off the Internet before noon when I am writing new material.

As promotion becomes a bigger part of my life, I plan to invoke the “I’m Allowed to Disappear Any Time I Want” rule at least twice a year.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I’m a mother of young children, and I run a contracting business from home.

At different times in my life I’ve been: a breeder of rare poultry; a photographer; a master printer; a pizza delivery driver;an electrician; a self-sufficient smallholder; a swimming addict; and (my favorite job ever) a literacy teacher.

And now that I’ve settled into my new home here in the U.S., I’ve started serving on my community library board as well as the swimming pool board. (Spot my two favorite things.)

What can your fans look forward to next?

I just finished a YA book called Ignore Vera Dietz and I’m working on another historical/contemporary YA mix that I should finish by December, all going well.

You can find me online at or, or my blog, where I keep readers updated on D100D events and hold weekly writing contests.

Author Interview: Lynn E. Hazen on Shifty

We last spoke in 2006. What is new in your writing life since then?

I’m happy to say I had two new books published in 2008. Shifty (Tricycle, 2008) is a young adult novel, and Cinder Rabbit (Holt, 2008) is a young chapter book. I wrote an article published in the 2009 CWIM (Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market), and I’ve been teaching writing workshops at Stanford Continuing Studies, U.C. Berkeley Extension, and at local writers conferences.

Note: photo by Sonya Sones.

Congratulations on success of Shifty (Tricycle, 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

Shifty is a contemporary young adult novel set in San Francisco. Fifteen-year-old Shifty drives illegally, swipes court documents, and lies to police and social workers–all in an effort to stay out of trouble. Shifty parks in a handicapped zone and fast-talks his way out of a ticket by convincing the cop that an old homeless woman is his grandmother. He drives off without a ticket, but with a new pretend grandma in the back of his van. Now his younger foster sister has very opposing views of what to do with their new fake grandma.

Both funny and tender, Shifty’s misadventures touch on themes of resiliency, home, and lost-and-found family. And it all begins with a $275 burrito!

I’m pretty jazzed about the reader response. Kirkus praised Shifty as “a realistic story that resonates.” It was also chosen for VOYA’s Top Shelf Fiction, as a CCBC Choice, and as a Smithsonian Notable.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

I had several sources of inspiration: the words “shifty” and “shiftless;” a couple of characters bouncing around in my mind; the city of San Francisco; an old woman and her cat; my experiences years ago working at a summer camp with children and youth in foster care; and the universal need for home.

(Please see to learn more about how these sources of inspiration came together).

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

Let’s see, the original “spark” occurred in a slightly sleep-deprived state in January 2003. I jotted down a few notes of dialogue between two characters which (over the next six months) eventually grew into a first draft.

Shifty won the Houghton Mifflin Scholarship at Vermont College, which not only helped with my tuition, but gave me confidence as a writer.

My faculty advisor, Alison McGhee, encouraged me with Shifty, as did Norma Fox Mazer. Shifty became by creative thesis for my MFA, then my calling card for finding an agent.

After expanding and revising again over the next couple of years, Shifty was published in September 2008. Shifty is also being published in Australia and the U.K., so that is very exciting.

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

1. Finding or creating time to write and revise.

2. Believing in my characters, their story and my ability to capture it all on the page.

3. Not giving up.

How do you balance being a writer with the demands of being an author (contracts, promotion, etc.)?

My agent, Jodi Reamer, is the contract pro so I am grateful for that. I am still working on a finding a good balance. Juggling is more like it. There are only so many hours in a day!

As for writing and promotion demands, if I keep moving (or keep my fingers moving on the keyboard), I tend to get things done eventually. But “balance” to me also means sometimes doing nothing, going for a walk, visiting family and friends, or simply taking a nap. That does wonders for my “balance.”

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

Flashback dialogue to my high school self:

“Lynn, stop that silly prank of unplugging your classmates’ humongo electric typewriters, even if they are doing the same to you. Learning to type properly just might come in handy someday.”

To which I am sure my teen self would roll her eyes and say, “Yeah, sure.”

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

I love the picture book, Dinosaur v. Bedtime by Bob Shea (Hyperion). It’s short, silly, fun and emotionally true. Perfect for growly preschoolers or growly writers. I can relate to the dinosaur as he grapples and growls through his many challenges. On a more poetic note, I also love Jim Averbeck‘s In a Blue Room, illustrated by Tricia Tusa (Harcourt).

For middle grade, I loved Kathi Appelt‘s, The Underneath (Atheneum)(author interview). It is so well written, layered, and rich in evocative details. I interviewed her on my blog to understand some of her writing process.

And my favorite YA? This sounds odd I know, but I’d have to say Shifty–because I invested a good portion of my heart writing it and it seems to be connecting with readers of all ages. The story and characters are still very emotionally real to me, so it’s one of my favorite books of 2008!

What do you do outside the world of writing, reading, and publishing?

I’m a preschool teacher and director. I love to garden, hang out with my friends and family, go for walks and splash around in the water.

What can your readers look forward to next?

The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail (Holt, May 2009) is a young chapter book about Seymour, an artistic snail who is looking for a job in the wrong places.

I’m working on a variety of other younger, middle grade, and YA projects, too, but I don’t know what will be finished or published next.

Readers can find out more at my Imaginary Blog or websites or

Author-Illustrator Interview: Emma J. Virjan on Nacho the Party Puppy

Emma J. Virjan on Emma J. Virjan: “I was born in San Antonio, Texas, under an Aries moon on a Wednesday evening, my Dad’s bowling night. This might explain my attraction to shiny, hardwood floors and crunchy, snack bar french fries.

“In first grade, I became permanently right-handed because Sr. Bridget refused to have left-handers in her class. After a successful high school career, I went off to college and had to decide between art, my all-time favorite subject, and medicine, a subject that intrigued me since the Christmas I received my first doctor’s kit and the game Operation. It was a course called Advanced Algebra for Scientists and Engineers that helped me decide on art. I never looked back.

“There were jobs at design firms and various advertising agencies. Then, I left Texas, my family, my friends and my job and moved East, to Connecticut, where I started my career as a freelancer and learned all about N’oreasters. After five years of that I decided to do my ‘own thing’ and Virján Design, a graphic design and illustration studio, was born.

“In 1999, I moved back to Texas and made Austin my home, where I continue to live my days as a graphic designer and illustrator.”

What were you like as a young reader?

I was quite shy as a kid, so books were great company for me, and I was lucky enough to have learned to read early. I read anything I could get my hands on, from my brother’s comic books to the World Book Encyclopedia. Maps and diagrams fascinated me. I never complained about having to take a nap because I was allowed to take a book and my Big Chief tablet with me.

What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors/illustrators?

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernhard Waber (Random House, 1965). Long before I could read this on my own, I would spend hours looking at the illustrations and making up my own story.

Amos & Boris by William Steig (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971). William Steig is my absolute favorite children’s book author and illustrator. I love everything he did, but this story is by far my favorite.

Ten Apples Up on Top by Theo Lesieg (AKA Dr. Seuss), illustrated by Roy McKie (Random House, 1961). I like to count things. Always have. I liked the dog the most.

What made you decide to write and illustrate books for children?

I was so influenced by books as a kid that I decided that I wanted to write and illustrate them. My sister, Grace, who was a student at U.T. when I was in first grade, told me that meant I wanted to be an author and an illustrator. I thought those were the most exciting words on the planet.

On career day, I announced to Sr. Bridget (the same person who made me right-handed) my career plan. Unfortunately, she wasn’t very encouraging and told me that no one can make a living from art and that I had no talent anyway. Fortunately my family encouraged me to ignore her and continued to encourage me to draw.

I also wanted to be a major league baseball catcher, a biology teacher, a painter living in the south of France, and at one point an accountant. I’m not sure why the south of France, but I’m sure it was appealing at the time.

When I realized that I very much wanted to be an artist, I chose the field of graphic design and illustration.

How did you train as a writer? As an artist?

I received my formal art training through college and copious continuing education classes.

I’ve never considered myself a Writer, with a cap W. I had some poetry accepted into college publications, but for the most part I write in personal journals.

When I lived in Connecticut, I took some writing classes and workshops and came to the conclusion that I liked writing and have continued to take courses since then.

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

Nacho, as a character was developed in a creative writing class I took at Parsons in 1995. He wasn’t part of an assignment; he was something that emerged while I enrolled in the class.

The class was taught by Esther Cohen,who is a published author. She was instrumental in not only encouraging me to develop Nacho, but in putting me in touch with my now agent, Edite Kroll.

From 1995 until 2006, I developed Nacho further and started writing stories around and about him. In 2005, I showed some of what I had to Esther and she told me it was time to get Edite on board because she thought I had something worth showing.

Edite and I then spent the next few months talking about what we should show. I had story book manuscripts and writings for a much younger audience, the one-to-four-year-old range.

Much to my own surprise, the writings and drawings that Edite and I both responded to were for the younger kids. I had always thought Nacho would start at the storybook level.

With Edite’s encouragement, I put together a board book manuscript with drawings, and she sent those to Random House. I was fortunate enough to meet with Random House in May of 2006. I met with Kate Klimo, the VP of children’s books. She liked Nacho, and by October of 2006, I had a contract for two board books.

The entire journey feels like a sprint and a marathon.

How did you react to the news of your first sale?

I wasn’t expecting it. I couldn’t believe it. I was in NY, and it appeared as if it was all playing out like a scene in a movie. I walked back to my hotel and when I got into the elevator, I told everyone there that I had just learned I was going to be published. Yes, I know I broke one of the rules of Elevator Etiquette by speaking, but I couldn’t help it.

Congratulations on the publication of Nacho the Party Puppy (Random House, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Nacho the Party Puppy is all about celebrating your birthday the Nacho Way. It’s a board book with large flaps, textures, bright colors, and a few surprises.

If you want to have a swingin’ time at your next party, you definitely want to see how Nacho celebrates. He’s Nacho Average Pup.

What was your initial inspiration?

I love dogs and love to draw, so I think it was natural for me to develop a dog character. He’s a combination of just about every dog with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing my life – Nippy (né Napoleon), Toby (né Tobias), Yum-Yum, Sugar, Spice, Brownie, Rugby, Charlie and Maddie.

As far as depicting him as a Party Puppy, I had just finished making my niece a birthday card and placed it on top of a Nacho drawing. I asked myself, “How would Nacho celebrate his birthday?” and started drawing him in different scenes – at a party, with a cake, singing a song.

After a few dozen drawings, I started working on the text. When I had the text I liked, I drew the corresponding illustrations and strung it together.

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

Let’s see…he was “born” in 1995, and the book released in September of 2008, so thirteen years in total.

The biggest event that happened in that time frame is that I moved back home to Texas. Connecticut is beautiful, but there isn’t enough Mexican food. And shoveling snow isn’t as fun as it looks in movies.

Most of my family is in San Antonio, so Austin is the perfect location and it feels like home. Upon my return, I had considered getting a Real Job as my mom calls it, but I had already tasted the life of a consultant while in Connecticut, so I decided to continue with hanging out a shingle and focused on growing my graphic design and illustration business, Virjan Design.

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

The biggest challenge was my Internal Revision Process. After finishing a drawing, I’d think of another way to depict what I wanted and would redraw, redraw, and redraw.

Some of that was helpful. Some of that was frustrating and basically got me nowhere near a finished drawing. I had to work at teaching myself to stop and move onto the next one.

And just when I thought all of the drawings were done, I’d get it in my head that I should review them one more time!

Thank God for my agent who said, “Send them. Now.”

What was it like, being a debut author-illustrator in 2008?

Absolutely fantastic. I still can’t believe it.

I’m thrilled, humbled, concerned that people won’t buy the book, addicted to the process and overall very pleased with the accomplishment.

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

I think I would give the same advice I give myself today and that is to keep drawing and writing, even if it’s a tiny sketch or an idea that hasn’t been completely formed.

The blank page can get a little scary sometimes, so I find it best to mark it up as quickly as possible, rendering it no longer blank. If I don’t like what I drew or wrote, I can always try drawing or writing it again.

Other than your own, what were your favorite children’s books of 2008 and why?

Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody by Michael Rex (Penguin Group). I like how the author took a classic bedtime story and changed it to include things you wouldn’t normally consider at bedtime, like mummies, tombs and lagoons. Werewolves have to go to bed too, so it makes sense that their goodnight ritual would involve saying goodnight to something other than kittens or mittens.

Daft Bat
by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross (Sterling Press). Everyone thinks the bat is daft because he sees things differently. He says the sky is at his feet. For him, it is. I loved the premise of seeing everything from his point of view. And I loved the illustrations. There’s a simplicity to them, but they also convey a lot of information.

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

I’m enjoying every bit of it. I just started book events and school visits, so I’m learning how much I can do comfortably and reasonably.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I spend my days as a graphic designer and illustrator. My life also includes hanging out with family and friends, going to movies, spending time outdoors, especially working in my yard, reading fiction, fiction and more fiction.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Nacho the Downward Dog, a yoga board book for kids releases in Fall 2009. In this one, Nacho and his friends teach us how to strike various yoga poses.

I’m also working on a story for young readers that features Nacho and his girlfriend, Holly Penyo, as they go on an adventure.

In the meantime, folks can visit Nacho’s web site, and join his birthday club, download coloring pages, and hear My Name is Nacho, written and performed by Austin’s own Ray Benson, with Asleep at the Wheel.

Cynsational Notes

Nacho Average Pup: an in-depth article from Mark G. Mitchell at How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Margarita Engle’s Historic Newbery Honor by Debra Lau Whelan from School Library Journal. Peek: “Margarita Engle’s The Surrender Tree (Holt, 2008), a verse novel about Cuba’s fight for independence, just received a Newbery honor, marking the first time that a Hispanic author has ever received such a distinction.”

The finalists for the Oklahoma Book Award are: Chosen by P.C. and Kristen Cast (St. Martin’s Press); On a Road in Africa by Kim Doner (Tricycle Press); It Wasn’t Much: Ten True Tales of Oklahoma Heroes by Jana Hausburg (Forty-Sixth Star Press); The Trial of Standing Bear by Frank Keating (Oklahoma Heritage Association); Spy by Anna Myers (Walker); The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (Random House).

Pairing Nonfiction Books & Web Sites by Jessica Mangelson and Jill Castek from Book Links: Connecting Books, Libraries, and Classrooms. Peek: “In the examples we describe, the online resources can be used before reading to provide a backdrop for activating background knowledge or explored after reading as an extension that supports the interpretation of information found in books. Both approaches give multiple options for delving deeper into a topic.”

“Beyond the Shamrock: An Irish Dozen” selected by Deborah Stevenson, Editor from the Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books. Peek: “With Saint Patrick’s Day approaching, we offer a generous collection of Irish-themed material; there’s nonfiction history and historical fiction, contemporary fantasy and folkloric picture books, contemporary adventure and broad-ranging collections. Those looking for a way to take the holiday beyond the Lucky Charms leprechaun will find a hundred thousand welcomes here.”

Radio Interview with Illustrator Don Tate by Rodney Lear NPR Cincinnati. Note: a wonderfully thoughtful and inspiring audio interview. Highly recommended.

Featuring Valeri Gorbachev by Eisha and Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: …what I love…The colors, always cozy, always warm; the expressive, detailed character work (always anthropomorphized animals who are endearing, yet Gorbachev’s never saccharine or cloying about it); the subtle humor; the sense of community that pervades his titles…his ability to create original cumulative tales that work; and, last but not least, if any illustrator today is working in a Richard-Scarry-esque vibe…”

Cynsational Tip: most authors hold the copyrights to their books, but that doesn’t extend to everything written about them. If you are republishing reviews or articles in full on the Web (or elsewhere), you may be violating someone else’s copyright.

Congratulations to author Mary Dodson Wade and illustrator Joy Fisher Hein on the release of Sam Houston: Standing Firm (Bright Sky, 2009)!

Top Ten Verse Novels for Young Readers from Jame Richards at 2010: A Book Odyssey.

Who’s Moving Where?: News and Staff Changes at Children’s Book Publishers from Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon.

The Booklist Interview: Melina Marchetta from Booklist Online. Peek: “Australian author Melina Marchetta is the recipient of the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award for On the Jellicoe Road (HarperCollins, 2008), a suspenseful, complex novel about a boarding school student who becomes a reluctant leader in the school’s territory wars. From her home in Sydney, Marchetta discussed the process of creating Jellicoe and how her experiences as a former high-school teacher continue to inform her writing.”

Mothers and Fathers in Children’s Literature: two lists of recommendations being compiled by Susan Taylor Brown at Susan Writes. Chime in with your suggestions.

Bid to win an Original Painting by Children’s Book Author Grace Lin at Ebay. Proceeds will benefit the Foundation for Children’s Books.

Question and Naming Contest from editor Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Alvina is interested in what you want to know about North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (Little, Brown, 2009) and she is looking for suggestions as to what to title her “insider” book posts. Peek: “If I pick your question and/or naming idea, I’ll send you a Little, Brown book of your choice! This contest will close at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 15, and you’ll find out if you’ve won when I post on Monday morning.”

Congratulations to Cecil Castellucci on the paperback release of Beige (Candlewick, 2009)! Peek: “Exiled from Canada to Los Angeles, Katy can’t believe she is spending the summer with her father–punk name: the Rat–a recovered addict and drummer for the band Suck. Even though Katy feels abandoned by her mom, even though the Rat’s place is a mess and he’s not like anything she’d call a father, Kathy won’t make a fuss. After all, she is a girl who is quiet and polite, a girl who smiles, a girl who is, well, beige. Or is she? From the author of Boy Proof and The Queen of Cool comes an edgy L.A. novel full of humor, heart, and music.” Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil Castellucci on Beige.

Marvelous Marketer: Laini Taylor (Author of Dreamdark series) from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children’s Book Author. Peek: “…through blogging (which I started shortly after selling my first book, long before it came out), I lucked into some getting some interview requests and articles that helped spread the word about my book, and I started to become familiar with many review sites. I also went to the first Kidlit Bloggers Conference, right after my book came out, and then I co-organized the second one.”

Congratulations to Carrie Ryan on the release of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009)(excerpt). See the book trailer below.

Congratulations to Andy Auseon on the release of Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lot (HarperCollins, 2009)! From the promotional copy: “Jo-Jo Dyas doesn’t believe he has any reason to live, but then he finds the naked black-and-white dead girl in the culvert and she convinces him otherwise. She is the drummer for a punk rock band called the Fiendish Lot, and for a dead girl, she has more life and spark than anyone Jo-Jo’s ever met. She and her band come from the Afterlife, a strange, colorless world where souls sometimes pause on the journey between life and death. Jo-Jo follows her into the depths of the Afterlife, where gets a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make right all the things that have gone wrong in his life.”

Visit P.J. Hoover at the Book Roast today and enter to win a copy of The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree, 2008). Answer this question in the comments at the Book Roast: “Whose mind would you like to be able to read, and why?”

Resource Recommendations

Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life by Bonnie Friedman (HarperCollins, 1993). From the promotional copy : “The first book for writers that explores the emotional side of writing–dealing with everything from envy to guilt to the dreaded writer’s block.” Note: Worth twice the cost for the chapter on envy and the “anorexia of language” alone. I’ve noticed lately that community morale is a tad shaky. If you’re going through a hard time, please don’t think you’re alone or that no one cares. Be good to yourselves and each other, and, if the TV news is freaking you out, just turn it off for a while. Seriously. Hugs.

See also Fear of Browsing by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: “If I found my books on the shelves, I’d wonder why they hadn’t sold. If I didn’t find my books on the shelves, I hoped they were sold out, but I never had the nerve to ask if they’d ever been on the shelf in the first place.”

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner (Riverhead, 2000). Everybody Hurts says: “Far more than a how-to manual, this book offers inspiration, inside views, and a colorful, anecdotal look at the publishing world-all delivered in the smart, funny, unpretentious voice that has helped to make Lerner one of the most prominent names in the business.”


Enter to win a paperback copy of Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde (Magic Carpet Books/Harcourt, 2008)(originally published in 1999) from Cynsations. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Dead Man” in the subject line. I’ll touch base if you win. Deadline: March 18! All Cynsational readers are eligible!


My husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, recommends A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2009), The Books of Pellinor (Candlewick, 2005-2009), and discusses literary coincidences–the latter being a must read for those with any interest in cannibalism, the Titantic, or the way fiction mirrors/predicts reality.

More Personally

Authors Unplugged: author P.J. Hoover reports (with exciting Q&As) on my lunch with her, and fellow authors Jody Feldman and Jo Whittemore at Z’Tejas on 6th Street in Austin. Peek: “We each brought questions for the others. I agreed to do the abridged version, though those around us…definitely got the unabridged version. I think we were getting a few strange looks.” See Jody’s report.
Review: ‘Eternal’ by Melissa Medore-Moore from San Antonio Express-News. Peek: “The offer of redemption sets this tale apart from others that feed upon the current fascination with vampires and the occult that possesses preteens and teens.” Note: at at time when review columns are being trimmed, it’s so wonderful to see such thoughtful coverage devoted to YA literature in a daily newspaper.

Once Upon A Romance’s Review Of… Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Amy Lignor. Peek: “Not only is this a good read for 14-year-olds, but I believe that mothers will truly enjoy the wit as well.”

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review by eplteenlibrarian from The Cool Cafe @ Englewood (Colorado) Public Library. Peek: “The ending to the love story (because it does become one, though a twisted one) is moving and hopeful in a way you don’t expect.”

Thanks to Melissa Walker for the (above) photo of the almost sold-out display form a bookstore in Utah.

Thanks to Janet Fox at Through the Wardrobe for letting me know that Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) are on the shelves of her local bookstore in College Station and to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature for letting me know that Tantalize is at her local Meijer in Urbana, Illinois.

Thanks also to Cecil Castellucci for the snapshot of a young girl at an LA restaurant reading Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001).

And thanks to Don Tate who highlighted Cynsations (“Your Blog Is Fabulous”) at The Brown Bookshelf. Don says: “There are so many social networks now, and the kidlitosphere has grown so large that it’s hard to keep up with all that’s going on. So Cynsations and/or SpookyCyn has become my main source of industry news.” See more recommendations!

Editor Interview: Brian Farrey of Flux

Brian Farrey on Brian Farrey: “I am the new acquiring editor for Flux, the young adult imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide. I previously spent three years as senior publicist at Llewellyn Worldwide, where I helped launch the promotional efforts for Flux.” See also The Flux Blog.

What kind of young reader were you?

If the letters were arranged in a format that made sense to me, I read it. I can’t decide if it’s a blessing or a curse to become more discerning when you get older, but growing up, I read anything I could get my hands on.

I gravitated towards science fiction and any book featured on the PBS shows we watched in class. (There was one show–I can’t remember the name–where a narrator read you an excerpt from a book while an artist sketched the scene being narrated. That’s where I got all my pre-Internet book recommendations.)

In my teen years, I moved away from sci fi and into more realistic fiction. Today, I read all over the place but my tastes continue to be informed by everything I absorbed in the early years.

Congratulations on your new job as the editor at Flux! What inspired you to make YA literature your career focus?

Thanks! YA has come into its own so much over the last decade. There’s some exciting, exciting stuff happening around the world in terms of YA literature, and I felt like this was a dialogue I wanted to be part of.

How about editing more specifically?

I jokingly told the members of my writing group recently, “Yeah, being an editor is great. It’s like doing a writing workshop only the writer has to do what I say.” That is, of course, a gross exaggeration.

I suppose I got into editing for somewhat selfish reasons. There’s a lot of talent out there, and I want to be the one who discovers it. (Or at least one of the people who discovers it.) I love working with writers. They speak my language.

How did you prepare for this career?

I recently finished my MFA in creative writing at Hamline University, which felt like an intensive boot camp for fiction.

While there, I served on the editorial board for Water-Stone, Hamline’s literary journal. These experiences really helped shape the way I see fiction. It’s easier to see manuscripts that have potential and how I might be able to guide the writer to drive it home.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

I think editors need to nurture talent, and I truly relish the partnership that that brings about. People I’ve spoken to think the editor’s job ends with finding good writing and buying it.

The part of the job you don’t hear a lot about is how an editor needs to have a vision for the book. They need to have ideas for the cover, how to market it properly, ways the author can promote themselves. They need all this stuff because, in a lot of ways, they represent the author at the house and should be there to shepherd a project through the many processes.

What are its challenges?

The fact of the matter is that when I take a project to my editorial board, I can’t get them to buy into it by simply gushing over what I think is amazing writing.

The challenge, for me, is setting aside my love of writing to become a cold, hard businessman who presents the logical rather than emotional reasons why we should take on a particular project (i.e.–why will this make us money).

Even now, I feel a little awkward about saying that, as if it’s a dirty little secret in the industry. But it’s not.

The good news is that I don’t take something to my board unless I’m in love with the writing and I know it will satisfy all necessary business requirements. So it’s win-win.

What are its rewards?

Cruel as this sounds, I love watching an author bounce off the walls with excitement as the moment of their book’s release draws near. I get excited with them, and I hope they can maintain that same level of thrill each and every time a new project of theirs hits the market.

What makes Flux special? How is it different from other houses?

Actually, I think we’re very similar to other YA publishers. The colleagues I know at other houses share my passion for good writing, and we’re all trying to do the best work we can.

If we’ve carved out a niche, it’s that we take risks and we really shoot for strong narrative voices (but I challenge you to find a house that doesn’t claim the same).

I hope that if we stand out in the minds of authors it’s because we can offer that writer/editor synergy so necessary to bringing a project to fruition.

What new directions should we know about? Do you have a different “take” on the line than your predecessor, and if so, how?

That’s the number one question I get asked. Most often I get asked that question in fear: “are you going to change everything?”

The fact is that Andrew Karre and I shared a very similar vision for Flux and my goal is to adhere to that as much as possible.

That’s not to say that I won’t experiment every once in a while (anybody got a YA steampunk they want to pitch me?).

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

If I taught a course in writing–not even necessarily a course in YA writing–I would make David Almond‘s Kit’s Wilderness (Delacorte) mandatory reading.

I often tell people that I find it to be a technically perfect novel, a brilliant synthesis of everything I’ve ever been taught constitutes good writing.

I love a strong, distinct voice. Some of the best I’ve seen recently are in Christina Meldrum‘s Madapple (Knopf, May 2008), Peter Cameron‘s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You (FSG, 2007), and Elizabeth Scott‘s Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse, 2008).

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submission process?

Absolutely, positively number one–do your homework. This is good general advice, whether submitting to Flux or any house. I can’t tell you how many picture books and middle grade titles I get daily (some mailed unsolicited at great expense). Flux doesn’t publish these types of books, and our submission guidelines clearly say that.

Some people dream of being the underdog. They want to be that diamond in the rough, plucked from the slush pile and thrust from obscurity to fame. Mass mailing a manuscript to dozens (if not more) publishers who simply can’t consider your book is the surest path to bankruptcy, not literary fame.

Understand the best places to submit to. Look at the books published by a house that interests you. Have a sense of what’s out there. Don’t go into this blindly.

What are pitfalls to avoid?

Please don’t send out a first draft. Please. I know how great it feels to finish a project, and I understand the desire to send it out ASAP to see who likes it. But don’t.

Get some trusted beta readers (non-family members preferred). Give their feedback due consideration. And revise.

Could you describe your dream writer?

My dream writer is enthusiastic but realistic. Confident but open to suggestion. Talented but willing to revise.

As a reader, so far what were your three favorite YA books of 2008 and why?

Ohmanohmanohman. You sure don’t throw softball questions, you go right for the throat. Making me pick, that’s just mean. Okay…

Madapple by Christina Meldrum (Knopf). A wonderfully lyric debut novel.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic). I’m a sucker for good dystopian books.

And the third book is a yet-to-be published manuscript by an established author that came across my desk recently. I wasn’t able to acquire it, but it blew my socks off.

(I know this one is cheating, especially because I can’t even say what it was, but it really is one of the very best things that I’ve read this year. Ask me again in 2010 when it hits the shelves, and I’ll rave about it.)

What do you do outside your editorial/publishing life?

I love to put the Food Network on in the background and putter around the kitchen. Summers are all about getting on my bike and taking off. And I’ve been known to haunt a few of the Twin Cities’ many theaters. (I’m a bit of a musical theatre fan.)

Is there anything you would like to add?

No, seriously. I’m dying to see a really well-written YA steampunk. The address is if you’ve got it. Anyone? Anyone?

Author Interview: Saundra Mitchell on Shadowed Summer

Saundra Mitchell on Saundra Mitchell: “I’ve been a phone psychic, a car salesperson, a denture-deliverer and a layout waxer. Now that I’m an author and screenwriter, I’m happy that I’ve finally found my calling.”

What were you like as a young reader?

Voracious. Cereal boxes, newspapers, toothpaste tubes, comics, books, equipment manuals, if it had words on it, I wanted to read it. To this day, I can tell you that Crest is a clinically approved dentifrice and you don’t get ice cream at Dairy Queen–you get quiescently frozen dairy treats.

My mother claims she took Kathleen Windsor‘s Forever Amber (MacMillan, 1944) away from me when I was four or five. Shortly after that, she introduced me to the library. (And probably specifically the juvenile section!)

Why do you write for teenagers today?

That’s just what comes out! When I wrote Shadowed Summer, I thought I was writing for an adult mainstream audience. Rachel, one of my beta readers, finished it and said, “This is a young adult novel!” And my response was, “Really?”

I don’t know why I was surprised; YA and MG are the only fiction I read, and I set out to write a book that made me feel giddy and destroyed and overwhelmed like The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause (Laurel Leaf, 1990)(author interview) did when I was 17. Sometimes, you’re the last one to know yourself.

What about young fictional heroes appeals to you as a writer?

Everything is the end of the world. Everything is new. Everything is possible; everything is impossible. I love the absolute desperation that comes with smart people who are experiencing things for the first time.

I joke with my friends that I like to blow stuff up, but in a way that’s true. I like to see how things can explode and what happens when they do. And that works best with teen protagonists. I mean, think about it.

If Romeo and Juliet were 30, they wouldn’t be tragic–they’d be pathetic.

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

I’ve had a slightly weird path, in that I’d been a screenwriter for fifteen years before publishing my first novel. So I never know whether to include that path with this one. For example, if I hadn’t been a little burned out on film, I never would have written a novel at all.

But I wrote my very first script because someone read one of my short stories and asked if I could adapt it. (I said yes, then spent the weekend learning how to write scripts.)

So, they’re completely tangled, but completely unrelated. Do the hitches and stumbles trying to secure representation in LA really reflect on the challenge of finding a literary agent? I’m not sure.

I’ve had a really exciting and rich career in short film. More than three hundred productions, a hundred and fifty festival selections, and 10 trips up to Academy Award eligibility. (No nominations… yet!) Even though I’ve worked on the periphery of Hollywood instead of fully in it, I’ve met amazing people and learned so much.

But films aren’t yours in the same way that novels are; they’re a collaborative art form. The director decides what the eye sees; the actor decides the tone of voice, the motion of their hands. The editor decides the pace and rhythm of the story.

Yes, absolutely, in fiction, you have your agent, and your editor, and the copyeditors, all working together to make a novel as good as it can possibly be, but in the end, that book is your book. The characters say what you want, the way you want. The picture in the window is yours.

And I wanted a taste of that after spending a long, long, long time of handing my words to the next person down the line and letting go. As publication paths go, I know I’m actually very, very lucky.

I wrote my second novel and got my first agent within the same year. My climb to publication is actually pretty fast, if I isolate fiction from screenwriting. But if I don’t, it’s been a long career full of all kinds of stumbles and sprints that don’t finish with my book being published.

My friend Kurtis Scaletta talked recently about the difficulties of describing a career in writing as a “path.” This is exactly the sort of question he had in mind!

Looking back on your apprenticeship as a writer, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? If so, what and why?

I wish I had realized what I was doing when I was younger. I feel like I’m getting a very late start compared to so many amazing authors.

I mean, Jessica Burkhart is twenty-two, a total sweetheart, and she’s got the whole Canterwood Crest Series (Scholastic, 2009) on shelves and in hands already. I definitely feel like I’m trying to catch up!

Congratulations on Shadowed Summer (Delacorte, 2009)(excerpt)! Could you tell us a little about the novel?

Thank you so much! Shadowed Summer (Delacorte, 2009) is a southern gothic ghost story, about Iris Rhame’s fourteenth summer in dying, backwater Ondine, Louisiana.

Just when Iris and her best friend Collette are about to give up their childhood games of pretending magic and conjuring magic, a real ghost whispers in Iris’s ear–“Where y’at?”

And with that whisper, Iris, Collette, and Collette’s first boyfriend, end up immersing themselves in mystery of a teen who disappeared decades ago. But what they discover is that in a town as small as Ondine, every secret is a family secret.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

Initially, I had the main character, Iris show up in my head. She didn’t come with a story. She didn’t seem to want anything. She loomed there, silently waiting–for what, I had no idea.

Finally, I decided I would write a supernatural love story, and that’s when Iris intervened. She wasn’t interested in falling in love–with the living, or the dead. So I still had a character, and some of her friends but no idea what to do with them.

Around that time, I got news that one of my best friends from high school had taken his own life. Which stirred up embers of thoughts I had mostly let cool after my brother’s suicide when we were teens.

It was a shock, both times, because it’s a terrible, final reminder that we can’t really know anyone.

So Iris settled down with me to think about that–to roll that idea over with me: we don’t know what other people contain. And that means no one else will ever know what we contain, either.

That’s where Shadowed Summer came from.

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

I wrote the first draft of Shadowed Summer in the summer of 2003. I submitted it to the Delacorte Press YA prize that year, and landed my first agent with it. I didn’t win (or even place!), and over a year and a half my agent and I revised with a publisher interested enough to give notes, but not interested enough to make an offer.

Eventually, the editor asked if maybe my main character could be crazy instead of haunted, and I withdrew it from consideration. I eventually parted company with my first agent as well, I think in 2006?

I waited six months and started my agent search anew…with exactly one query. I was ready to give up! But I told myself, I should try one more time–fully expecting to give myself an easy out! Luckily for me, the one agent I queried–Sara Crowe–took me on. Three months later, in January 2007, she sold Shadowed Summer to Delacorte Press. (I guess it was destiny!)

Then, the first thing I had to ask my brand new editor was- “Will it be okay if we don’t start revising until July?” My part in the film programs for which I work devours every second of time I have from February ’til June, when I hand the scripts off to production. She was totally understanding, which was such a relief!

We revised from July until November in 2007, and then I saw my copyedits and FPPs in the spring of 2008. My book will finally be on shelves February 10, 2009! My daughter was barely a year old when I started this novel. She starts second grade in the fall!

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author? Or, more globally, how is that adjustment going?

This is my first novel, and so far, I’m overwhelmed. Trying to figure out the rhythm of the waiting–between edits, or between sales–that’s tripped me up a couple of times. And since it’s my first, I feel like I should do everything people ask me to, to promote it.

I’m not a relaxed anticipater–if something is going to happen, I’m wound up until it actually happens. I’m still adjusting to an industry where “soon” can be measured in months. And I’m not really chill about getting things done at a leisurely pace. If I have an interview, or a revision, I have to bang on it until it is done.

I think I’m getting better, though! I actually said “no” to some things this week, I let some questionnaires wait overnight, and I’m starting to get the hang of ignoring submissions and potential news so I can get back to work.

So I figure, at this rate, I will be Publishing Zen… soon.

What was it like, being a debut author in 2009?

Terrifying! This whole debut thing is scary anyway, right? I had no idea that three-revision passes were normal. I didn’t even know what FPPs were, or that I would see them! Copyedit symbols, ARCs, whether an ARC is a galley… there’s so much to learn, punctuated by long periods of time where everyone’s too busy working to talk to you.

So it’s already nerve wracking, and then late in the year, some houses quit acquiring new books. Then other houses started laying people off, erasing entire divisions–so many friends lost their editors in November and December! (I feel so lucky that I wasn’t one of them!)

Which means, of course, people have to start talking about how the Newbery is no longer relevant and the returns policy has to change or it’s all over and publishing might be dead anyway because of the Kindle.

Then, to top it off, came the news that all books without third-party lead-free certification might be pulled from shelves on February 10th–the same day I’m supposed to debut.

Talk about a relaxing and exciting entrance into the world of publishing!

What do you do outside the world of books?

I’m a screenwriter, and now an executive producer with the teen film series Fresh Films and Girls in the Director’s Chair. We teach talented teen all over the U.S. how to produce a movie, and then we give them the equipment and the support they need to do it!

I used to write all the screenplays based on teen-submitted ideas, but now I run the Emerging Screenwriters program. Under my instruction, nine teens revise, refine and sometimes write brand new scripts until they’re ready for production.

And, it’s not wicked exciting or anything, but I do a lot of corporate and and content writing on the side. I draft letters, or newsletter copy, or…basically, anything people want written, I can write it for them! The words are an addiction for me, what can I say?

What can your fans look forward to next?

Novel-wise, we’re still working on what my next book should be. But I’ll definitely be spearheading the next season of Emerging Screenwriters with Fresh Films and Girls in the Director’s Chair.