Author Interview: Kay Cassidy on The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest

Kay Cassidy is the first-time author of The Cinderella Society (Egmont USA, April, 2010). She also is the mastermind behind The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest, a “free library outreach program for teen and youth librarians.”

See information on library registration, librarian resources, and author participation.

Cynthia Interviews Kay

What made you decide to create The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest?

As a YA author and proud owner of a well-worn library card, I wanted to give something back to all the librarians whose book recommendations helped me grow as a writer and fed my imagination over the years.

With the economy in turmoil, funding for public libraries is taking a major hit. School libraries are struggling as well. So I set out to create a totally free program that teen and youth librarians could use to keep kids excited about reading.

Plus, I’m a huge fan of trivia, scavenger hunts, mysteries so The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest was a natural fit. I would’ve been all over this when I was younger. Trivia fans… unite!

What exactly is The Hunt?

The Hunt is a brand-new, super easy, totally free library outreach program for teen and youth librarians. The program is open to librarians in the U.S. and Canada, in public libraries and school libraries alike. It offers year-round free programming that will keep readers coming back to the library for more.

Over 120 YA and middle grades authors have created a ten-question scavenger hunt (i.e. super fun trivia quiz) for one or more of their books. Scavenger hunts include questions like “What was the color of Moe’s hideous car?” or “What is Gemma’s favorite comfort food?” Every scavenger hunt also has a special note from the author to give it a personal touch.

How does The Hunt work?

Once librarians register their library, their readers (called “hunters”) are eligible to participate.

Hunters can check out the list of more than 200 titles in The Hunt, read the book of their choice, complete the scavenger hunt, and turn it in to their librarian. The librarian checks the answers against the quick answer key.

If the hunter gets at least eight out of ten answers correct, the librarian can enter the hunter in the monthly contest.

(Note: All scavenger hunts must be submitted to a participating librarian in order to be eligible for the contest. Only participating librarians may enter hunters via the official contest entry form.)

And thus, the prizes! What kinds of prizes do you have, and how can people win?

Every month, I’ll choose one lucky hunter as the winner. The winning hunter will receive a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card (good in stores or online) to use for whatever their heart desires.

Even better? When a hunter wins, the host library wins too… a library prize tote filled with more terrific scavenger hunt books for the library’s collection. It’s a win-win!

Definitely a win! So, tell me more about your upcoming YA debut. When will hunters see a scavenger hunt for it in The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest?

My debut novel, The Cinderella Society, is the first in a new YA series. The series takes readers behind the veil of a secret society of extraordinary girls where ultimate life makeovers are the main attraction.

Lifelong outsider Jess Parker thinks life on the inside is her ultimate fantasy until she discovers the real force behind her exclusive society. It’s a battle of good vs. evil played out on the high school battlefield, and the Cindys in power need Jess on special assignment.

When the mission threatens to destroy her dream life come true, Jess is forced to choose between living a fairy tale and honoring the Sisterhood…and herself.

The Cinderella Society will be an April 2010 release from Egmont USA with book two in the series to follow in Spring 2011. I’m very excited about sharing a scavenger hunt of my own in The Hunt. Come on, next April!

Kay Interviews Cynthia

Now, let me turn the tables on you for a minute. First of all, thank you so much for participating in The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest. If it weren’t for authors like you, The Hunt couldn’t exist. Authors are incredibly busy people, so I owe a debt of gratitude to each of the authors (like you!) who graciously volunteered their time to create a scavenger hunt.

What made you take time out of your busy schedule to participate in The Hunt?

I’ve been active in promoting reading on the ‘net for some years now, and I was thrilled to see such an exciting and innovative new idea. I’m also always looking for ways to show that the relationship between books and technology can be cooperative rather than competitive. Plus, I, too, was a huge library kid, and I’m happy to pay it forward in any way I can.

How did you decide which book(s) to create a scavenger hunt for?

I went with those titles that spoke to the age level of readers who’d be active online (PDF links to follow): Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001); Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007); and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009).

Do you think you would’ve wanted to be a hunter when you were younger?

Absolutely! It’s wonderful that young readers today have so many opportunities to learn more about writing and reading and to celebrate their love of books online.

Hunger Mountain Auction: Bid on Critiques with Literary Agents & Authors & More

The Hunger Mountain Spring Fundraising Auction will feature manuscript critiques with notable authors and literary agents as well as limited edition letterpress broadsides!

All items will be available for bidding at The Hunger Mountain Store, beginning at noon EST May 2. Bidding ends at noon EST on May 9. One-on-one critiques in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, writing for children, writing for young adults, and writing for the stage will be conducted by phone, email, or snail mail.

The auction offers opportunities to work with award-winning children’s-YA authors Donna Jo Napoli, Sarah Ellis, Martine Leavitt, and Tim Wynne-Jones. Highly acclaimed picture book author-illustrator Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Newbery Honor author Marion Dane Bauer will also be offering their expertise.

In addition, literary agent Mark McVeigh, founding member of The McVeigh Agency, has donated a full-length children’s/YA fiction critique and Tracy Marchini, agent assistant at Curtis Brown, Ltd., has donated a middle grade/YA critique.

Those who write for adults may bid for critiques with such authors as Philip Graham, Jess Row, Thomas Christopher Greene, Natasha Saje, Xu Xi, Michael Martone, David Jauss, and David Wojahn.

Been toiling away on a script or stage production? Bid on a full-length play critique with playwright Gary Moore.

Sue William Silverman is offering a full-length creative nonfiction manuscript critique, complete with a complimentary signed copy of her latest book Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir (University of Georgia Press, 2009).

Also available are signed broadsides from the Stinehour Broadside Award Series including work by authors Alice Hoffman, Neil Shepard, David Rivard, and Lucia Perillo. These letterpress broadsides are all signed and numbered, limited edition, and frame worthy, making them the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates the artistry of literature!

All purchases are charitable in support of Hunger Mountain‘s non-profit mission to cultivate engagement with and conversation about the arts by publishing high-quality, innovative literary and visual art by both established and emerging artists, and by offering opportunities for interactivity and discourse.

Cynsational Notes

Hunger Mountain, the Vermont College of Fine Arts Journal of the Arts, is both a print publication and an online destination for readers, writers, artists and art lovers. (Look for Hunger Mountain online early this summer). Learn more about Vermont College of Fine Arts.

New Voice: Ellen Jensen Abbott on Watersmeet

Ellen Jensen Abbott is the first-time author of Watersmeet (Marshall Cavendish, April 1, 2009). From the promotional copy:

From her birth, Abisina has been an outcast–for the color of her eyes and skin, and for her lack of a father. Only her mother’s status as the village healer has kept her safe.

But when a mythic leader arrives, Abisina’s life is ripped apart. She escapes alone to try to find the father and the home she has never known.

In a world of extremes, from the deepest prejudice to the greatest bonds of duty and loyalty, Abisina must find her own way and decide where her true hope lies.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

Like most writers, I was a voracious reader. I swallowed books whole, investing totally in the worlds of each novel.

I remember coming into the kitchen as a teenager after reading a book called May I Cross Your Golden River? by Barbara Corcoran and Paige Dixon (out of print). I was sobbing, but my mom knew me well enough to not bother asking, “Are you hurt?” Instead she said, “Are you reading another good book?”

My style of reading was highly entertaining to some of my high school friends. If the narrator said, “She smiled angelically,” so did I. If it said, “She grunted and grimaced,” so did I. I would get pulled out of my book by my friends, giggling at the faces I was making. It got embarrassing!

So when the main character of Watersmeet came to me and insisted I tell her story, she was, of course, the heroine of a young adult novel. And since I was devoted to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia—I read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) thirteen times!—she had to be in a fantasy.

I’m sure this is why I’m a YA author now. I think tweens and teens are much better at reading with their hearts, before they learn how to find the metaphor and interpret symbols and consider if a text is modern or post-modern. I found that kind of reading stimulating in college, but I missed the joy.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

I find world building a wild mix of almost philosophical considerations and minute detail.

Watersmeet is a prequel to the first book I wrote and is set in the same land, Seldara. As I began to build the world of Seldara, I wondered about its origins, history, religion, myths, and heroes. That’s the philosophical element.

When I sent that manuscript around, Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish liked it but said it read like a sequel. So, I went back and started writing the heroic stories that I had invented as background. That book became Watersmeet—and Margery bought it!

Although it seemed like I had written hundreds of “wasted” pages, it made the world much more three-dimensional. I know how the past and the future will affect each other in Seldara, where the societies I created are headed and how deep the conflicts among them go.

On a more practical level, the world of Seldara is based on the woodsy part of New Hampshire where I grew up. But it’s the White Mountains writ large—as I saw them as a kid.

And here’s where the nitty-gritty comes in: creating a map so the sun always sets in the west, following a calendar so spring doesn’t last for six months, researching tree types so there are no desert plants in an deciduous forest, reading up on archery so that a character who is described as a great archer doesn’t miss a target a beginner would hit.

In world building, you have to follow your decisions to their natural conclusions. If one of my dwarves lives primarily underground, how can she farm? If centaurs can speak with hoofed animals (as my centaurs can), would they eat them? How much faster would a faun move across given terrain than a human?

There are lots of details to keep straight, but that’s the fun of it! And the detail can be a relief from questions of what kinds of gods do these folk worship.

Cynsational Notes

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

Author Interview: Alex Flinn on A Kiss In Time

Congratulations on the release of A Kiss in Time (HarperCollins, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the novel?

A Kiss in Time is the story of Talia, whose entire life has been devoted to the avoidance of spindles. She’s been very sheltered and longs for the time when she can travel, as other princesses do. But when she touches the spindle shown to her by an old lady, she falls into a deep sleep.

It is also the story about Jack, who lives three hundred years later. His parents send him on a tour of Europe, a tour he finds very dull. So he sneaks away from the tour group to look for the beach. But he gets lost and ends up in a strange place, hidden from the world, where everything looks old fashioned, like Colonial Williamsburg, and everyone is asleep. He sees a castle, enters it, and goes upstairs. There, he sees a very beautiful girl his own age, and he feels compelled to kiss her.

Well, that’s where the problems start. Talia wasn’t supposed to touch the spindle, so everyone is mad at her when they realize they’ve been sleeping three-hundred years. And Jack wasn’t supposed to kiss the princess, so they throw him in the dungeon for sullying her. But Talia comes down to the dungeon and tells Jack that she will free him from his imprisonment…if he takes her back to Miami with him.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I was writing another fairy tale story, one that didn’t work out, and I started thinking about Sleeping Beauty. The story neglects to tell us what happens when the princess wakes up a hundred or so years later.

I grew up loving Sleeping Beauty, particularly Tchaikovsky‘s version, but since I grew up in New York, the tales of Washington Irving also played an important part in my life.

I remember listening to Rip Van Winkle on audio in the school library on snowy days when we couldn’t go to the playground (The version I remember even had songs!). I also loved the play “Brigadoon,” which is about a town that wakes for only one day every hundred years, and Woody Allen‘s movie, “Sleeper.”

It struck me that Sleeping Beauty was really sort of the same type of story, the story of someone who oversleeps and comes back into a whole different world. I started writing this story, and I never finished the other one.

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

The book was a quick write for me. Once I started writing, both characters’ viewpoints came flowing out of me, which was a relief after the other book I’d struggled with.

All told, it took about eight months. Then, another year to publish. There are eighteen months between this book and my last because of the one I chucked.

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

The main challenge of the book was to make there be some conflict, other than whether the boy and the girl would eventually fall in love, some obstacle. I was already very familiar with the underlying story, and the book was set in my hometown. I decided the conflict would come in the form of the evil fairy, Malvolia, who is very upset that Talia has been awakened by someone whom Malvolia believes is not her true love.

I tried very hard to make Malvolia a fully-realized character. In the story, Malvolia puts the curse on Beauty because she is upset about not being invited to a party. While I had dealt with party envy because I have young daughters who’ve been heartbroken, on occasion, at not being invited to other kids’ birthday parties, I didn’t really think this was sufficient reason for Malvolia to want Talia dead. There ends up being a much greater, and more understandable, reason why Malvolia hates Talia’s father and tries to take it out on Talia.

Other, smaller challenges, came from the timing. How would people not know about the kingdom? What would happen once they awakened? And how would it end?

I was especially taken with with your depictions of girls and women in the story. Could you give us some insights as to how, considering the original fairy tale, you approached the novel in terms of gender and character(s)?

There are so many stories, through the years, about girls who are treated as property that can be moved around at their fathers’ or later, husbands’ wills.

Whether it is the Bennet girls in Austin’s novels, set in England, who must live their whole lives in hopes of making a felicitous marriage to satisfy their parents and society, or the women in Lisa See’s novels, set in China, who undergo painful foot binding (including the breaking of their toes) so that they can marry well, women seldom have free will.

This is particularly apparent in fairy tales. My previous fairy tale novel was inspired by the idea of Beauty (in Beauty and the Beast) sacrificing herself to save her father.

This one was inspired by the idea of Sleeping Beauty being kept a virtual prisoner to keep her away from spindles, which were both common household objects and a fairly obvious symbol of male virility.

When she finally reaches her sixteenth birthday, she is supposed to marry, which symbolizes freedom, but since she hasn’t met her husband, it will really be a new form of imprisonment.

My thought was that women haven’t changed that much, inside, in the past several hundred years, though society’s treatment of them has in some cases. So a girl like Sleeping Beauty might be told that she can’t go out, can’t touch a spindle, or what all, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t scheme against it. In my story, the very first time Talia gets a bit of freedom, she pricks her finger on a spindle. But, because she wakes in 2009, the world treats her very differently.

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

I’ve thought about this a lot. This book is sort of a departure for me.

My first five books were realistic fiction, and then I wrote a book, Beastly (HarperCollins, 2007), which is a modern Beauty and the Beast retelling, set in New York City. But that book would still appeal to largely the same audience as my earlier books because it was a male narrator and sort of a violent, suspenseful book.

I wanted to write another fairy tale book, for kids who enjoyed Beastly. I think it’s important that, if readers like a book, that something else by me may appeal.

But A Kiss in Time is a gentler book, and it’s funnier than anything else I’ve written. I’m working on another fairy tale book right now, but I’ll probably go back to realistic books in the future, because I enjoy the impact they have on readers too. I feel a sense of loyalty to the readers of my realistic books because my books have been important to them.

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

I’m fortunate to be able to attend a lot of teacher and librarian conferences. These lead to school visit invitations which allow me to meet my readers directly.

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

I work alone, but I have some friends, including authors Debbie Reed Fischer, Marjetta Geerling, and Joyce Sweeney, who read my books before I send them in to my editor.

The critique-group format doesn’t seem to work for me. My books tend to work on a micro level–like, each chapter will be good–but need help on a macro level, like whether the plot is too complicated. So reading each chapter aloud doesn’t get me much help. I need someone to read my whole book.

Also, I just don’t like sharing my work until it is perfect in my mind. I wrote my whole first book with very little help from anyone until it was almost done, mostly because I didn’t know any writers.

Then, I got a critique group for my next four books, which was mostly social for me (I still get together socially with a group of writers three-to-four times a year). The critique group was an hour away, so when gas prices soared, I stopped attending and wrote Beastly and Kiss without the group. That’s when I realized I was better off on my own. I have the utmost faith in my editor, Antonia Markiet, so that helps a lot.

So far, what’s your favorite YA novel of 2009 and why?

Well, it’s only February [note: Cynsations works ahead], so I haven’t read a whole lot of 2009 novels yet. However, I really enjoyed a first novel, Shrinking Violet by Danielle Joseph (MTV, May 2009), which is about a girl who is extremely shy, but who comes alive as a radio host.

I was sort of invisible when I was in high school (This was brought home to me recently, when I visited my high school to be honored for my accomplishments and realized that the teachers and administration remembered all the other honorees–which included Jeff Bezos of Amazon–but not me), so I related to the character who was a different person in her heart and mind.

Cynsational News, Eternal T-shirt Giveaway & Kansas-Arkansas Report

Enter to Win an Eternal T-shirt this month at! Check out the available styles. Read a Cynsations interview with logo designer Gene Brenek. See the five-star review of Eternal from TeensReadToo. Peek: “This novel is definitely a page-turner. It is filled with danger, deception, humor, love, sadness, and hope.”

More News

Author Libba Bray will be doing a reading of The Sweet Far Thing and chatting at from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST on April 28th.

The McVeigh Agency
: a boutique literary agency handling writers, illustrators, photographers, and graphic novelists for both the adult and children’s markets. Note: children’s/YA author/illustrator clients include: Steve Björkman, the illustrator of Santa Knows (Scholastic Book Club); VCFA graduate Rebecca Van Slyke; Pooja Makhijani; and April Fritz Young.

Coveside Writing Workshop & Retreat. Peek: “Now in its eleventh year, Coveside Writing Workshop & Retreat is the uniquely intensive, uniquely intimate, hands-on writing workshop for writers of all genres. Through a pyramid of guided meditation, free-writing, editing and revision, Anita Riggio leads the writer to discover the deeply personal wellspring of images and ideas that gives resonance to writing. Established and emerging writers alike will leave this workshop exhilarated, exhausted–and brimming with stories only they can write.” Dates: May 16 and May 17; June 6 and June 7; Oct. 4 and Oct. 5. Note: $325 includes lunches and a festive dinner at the author’s home and studio. See more information.

Editor/Author Interview with Jill Santopolo from Holly at Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “High quality writing is the most important thing to me. I love working on well-written, well-crafted books. And then the second most important thing is a cool concept—something different and fresh and unique. I always like books that project a feeling of empowerment.”

Marvelous Marketer: Anastasia Goodstein, editor-in-chief of Ypulse from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children’s Book Author. Peek: “One thing we as writers know how to do that other folks trying to market products sometimes don’t is writing. Blogs and other websites love good, free content. Guest post, offer to write newsletter articles, etc. and make sure your book is mentioned and/or integrated in some way (include the cover!). Work with your publicist to be able to do book giveaways combined with Q&As for blogs.”

Check out this book trailer for Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender (Hyperion, 2009).

An Author’s Responsibility by Tracy Marchini at My VerboCity. Peek: “I’d be interested to hear from writers, editors and agents – what responsibilities does one have if they create media for children? Where do you draw the line between age-appropriateness and censorship? How much power do you think children’s media has to change the way we socialize?”

Pondering Adult Characters In Children’s Books by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: “Our social order is run by adults, making children outsiders. Outsider child readers can connect with outsider adult characters.” See also Adult Protagonists in Children’s Books by Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk.

Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing (April Halprin Wayland; Carmela Martino; Esther Hershenhorn; Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford; JoAnn Early Macken; Mary Ann Rodman). Peek: “Here, we will share our unique perspective as writing teachers who are also working writers. While part of our goal is to discuss what we’ve learned about writing and the teaching of writing, we also hope to accomplish something here that we can’t do on our websites: facilitate conversations between writers, teachers, and librarians about the subjects we love best–writing, teaching writing, and reading.”

More Personally

Exciting news of late included a weekend rave review (“Romance in Eternal Rivals Twilight” by Kimberly J. Smith in the arts-and-entertainment section of The Dallas Morning News. Note: the review was originally posted at Cool Kids Read. Peek: “A true page-turner, I can’t imagine any fan of gothic suspense/romance not thoroughly enjoying this–and not just YA readers either.”

Entrevista a Cynthia Leitich Smith: an interview from Los Bloguitos. Peek: “Sí, mi último libro es Eternal. Estoy esperando un libro con dibujos, Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2009), que será un cuento original del sureste.” Note: translated from my replies.

Event Report

Road trip! Last Tuesday, Greg and I loaded up a rental Ford and took off north on I-35, through Dallas to Oklahoma…

We stopped for lunch at the Two Frogs Grill in Ardmore. Culinary highpoint of the trip. I had the most delicious ham-and-cheese sandwich on Texas toast. Plus, talk about atmosphere!

In addition to this nifty stage, hanging above our booth was an autographed Willie Nelson guitar, which spoke profoundly to our inner Austinites.
This was followed by much more driving up through the southern plains. We could see evidence of the wildfires in Oklahoma. I looked really hard for Big Foot to no avail.

We were on our way to Ottawa High School in Ottawa, Kansas.

Thanks so much to Sheryl, the OHS librarian, and Dr. Bushman of The Writing Conference. I had such an amazing time, visiting with teens and teachers at the school that day as well as young writers who’d won or placed in the writing contest (and their families) that evening. Notes: (a) check out the Literature Festival! I spoke there in 2003. (b) what a tremendously inspiring group of YA readers! I was seriously charmed. The photo above shows an informal group right after one of my three presentations.

Dr. Bushman was a tremendous host, and he kindly invited us to relax for a couple of hours in his home. He apologized that gigantic flower was late blooming, but we didn’t mind. What a huge and magical blossom it was, just waiting for our oohs and ahhs!

A Jayhawk myself, I appreciated his home decor. We’re talking about a dedicated professor emeritus here. In the yard, he has blue flowers spelling out “K” and red ones spelling out “U,” or at least he’s working on it.

But this is the takeaway: Dr. Bushman is one of those champions of reading and writing who’s touched more lives than he can ever imagine. I count myself among the lucky ones.

The next day, we were off to Russellville, Arkansas; for a local public library event. Here’s Greg, checking messages at the local Fairfield Marriott. Note: apparently, pal Jennifer Holm was in the area at the same time, and we missed her. Authors really should have a national flight plan filing system for this very reason.

I gave a brief talk, and then we had pizza and pasta! It was a tremendous group of teens, tweens, and families.

This is a sort of a middle-of-the-dinner shot. Some folks are chowing down, others up and about in the library. If you look closely, you can see Greg with his mouth stuffed (ha!). I was especially impressed with the YA readers and their parents. Such great questions.

And then I did a signing with photos and other glorious happiness! Sadly, not all of my pics turned out, but I’ll work on getting the URL of a boy who’s campaigning to work a word of his own into the language a’ la Frindle.

This library vixen is Lauren, the YA lit queen of Russellville! (Good luck at grad school!)

The next day, I hosted a workshop on “Writing for Young Readers” (here’s a “before” shot) in the quaint historical building that was the original library.

We had a lovely mix of teen and adult writers. See Workshop by Justus M. Bowman from Across the Multiverse. Peek: “This character was someone I would have never come up with, so when Cynthia told each of us to write a story in 15 minutes, I grew concerned. Ha ha. It turned out okay.” (Devious thing that I am…)

And afterward, Lauren and Co. rewarded us with lunch at Italian Gardens Cafe downtown.

Perhaps you’re wondering what a hard-working writer does for 24 hours in the car. Well, at least 14.5 of them were spent listening to a seriously first-rate audio production of Dracula, an overdue necessity as I’m in the midst of writing Blessed. Note: it’s different to listen than read. The ear hears things that the eye can’t see.

Don’t miss Greg’s report!

YALSA’s 2009 Teens’ Top Ten Nominees Include Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I’m honored to report that Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) has been included among the 25 nominees for the 2009 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten List!

From YALSA: “Teens’ Top Ten is a ‘teen choice’ list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year!

“Nominators are members of teen book groups in fifteen school and public libraries around the country.

“Nominations are posted in April during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year during Teen Read Week (Oct. 18 to Oct. 24). Readers aged 12 to 18 can vote right here, online, anytime that week.”

The 10 nominations that receive the most votes during Teen Read Week will be named the official Teens’ Top Ten.

See all the nominees (PDF)! Learn more about: Kristin Cashore; Kristin & P.C. Cast; Cassandra Clare; Suzanne Collins; Isamu Fukui; Neil Gaiman; John Green; Joanne Harris; Ellen Hopkins; E. Lockhart; Zoe Marriott; Lisa McMann; Stephenie Meyer; Katy Moran; Patrick Ness; Alyson Noel; Robin Palmer; Tamora Pierce; Elizabeth Scott; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Sherri L. Smith; Lynn Weingarten; Nancy Werlin; Lisa Yee.

Thank you to YALSA and Candlewick Press!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to Win an Eternal T-shirt this month at! Check out the available styles. Read a Cynsations interview with logo designer Gene Brenek. See the five-star review of Eternal from TeensReadToo. Peek: “This novel is definitely a page-turner. It is filled with danger, deception, humor, love, sadness, and hope.”

Win a Copy of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, sponsored by Brooke Taylor. Leave a comment at Brooke’s LJ to enter. Blog about the contest, and send Brooke the link (in comments) for extra chances to win. Deadline: April 22. Peek:

“Acclaimed authors Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci have united in geekdom to edit short stories from some of the best-selling and most promising geeks in young adult literature: M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tracy Lynn, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr.

“With illustrated interstitials from comic book artists Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O’Malley, Geektastic covers all things geeky, from Klingons and Jedi Knights to fan fiction, theater geeks, and cosplayers. Whether you’re a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on.” Read Cynsations interviews with Holly and Cecil.

More News

Author Tammi Sauer (above) shows off Cowboy Camp, illustrated by Mike Reed (Sterling, 2005), with a few of the 1,500 preschool cowpokes who celebrated Read Across Oklahoma at the OKC Zoo on April 7. Tammi writes: “I feel so blessed to have been part of such an amazing event. The Read Across Oklahoma Committee, the sponsors, and countless volunteers put tons of time, energy, and heart into creating a memorable day for lots and lots of little buckaroos. One word captures the feeling behind it all: Yeehaw!” See Pre-schoolers Descend on Zoo from the Edmond Sun.

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #110: Featuring Jason Stemple and Jane Yolen from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “A book with photos has to be overshot, needing many more photos than just the ones he already has. But, of course, unlike posed pictures, he has to get what he finds. Still, as Pasteur said, ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.'” Read a Cynsations interview with Jane.

Three Tips for a Successful Book Fair from 100 Scope Notes. Peek: “Book fairs come with plenty of things that are definitely not books. Software, games, pencils with all manner of fluffy and/or furry tops–there’s a lot of stuff to sort through. If you don’t like the idea of selling those items, stick to your guns.”

Children’s Books Bookshelf from The New York Times Book Review highlights debut author Kekla Magoon. Peek: “Magoon’s first novel shows movingly how the two sons of a civil rights leader come to bear the cost of the struggle.”

Your Approximately Perfect Writing Life by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: “What’s important to you? What would spell success for you in the writing life? Have you written down your goals? Look at each one closely. Are they truly your goals and desires?”

Interview – Elizabeth C. Bunce by P.J. Hoover at the Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “…as occasionally maddening a job as this is, it’s still just about the coolest gig out there. And you’ll go crazy if you don’t stop and remember that every once in a while.” Read a Cynsations interview with P.J.

Donna Bray, co-Publisher at Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, on Title Changes from Agent Kristin at Pub Rants. Peek: “I have in the past stood up for a title that sales was unsure of–some felt, for instance, that We Are The Ship by Kadir Nelson was not obvious enough, even with the subtitle ‘The Story of Negro League Baseball.’ Every day, editors and publishers do support the vision and instincts of the creative people we work with–-and we bump up regularly against the demands of the marketplace, which presents more and greater challenges daily.”

Marvelous Marketer – Ruta Rimas (Assistant Editor, Balzer + Bray) by Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children’s Book Author. Peek: “I certainly Google prospective authors, more so for a complete picture of the person than for knowing if they have a web presence or platform (note: authors, take down any embarrassing pictures of yourself that you do not want editors/agents/readers to see).”

Book Launch: The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen from Janet S. Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “I think one reason it took me such a long time, especially in the beginning, is that I was terrified of actually finally trying to write a novel. I kept expecting someone to come and stop me. And I often put it aside to work on other projects, or to figure out back-story, or various other things.” See also Greg’s recommendation of the novel. Peek: “…an exciting adventure and a great read, filled with treachery and mayhem, and with engaging and likeable characters.” Read Cynsations interviews with Michelle and Janet.

Articles on Self-Publishing: The Need for Balance by Victoria Strauss from Writer Beware. Peek: “These hard facts are way less sexy than the vision of a brave new technological world that makes it possible for (a few) authors to bypass the traditional route to success–but they are no less real.” Source: Janni Lee Simner.

Get Ready- For A Literary Agent from Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “The time to find a literary agent is when you are ready. That sounds so simple. It seems to go without saying. But nearly every failed agent/client relationship can be traced to that simple cause–the writer wasn’t ready to sign with an agent. Any agent.” See also The Myth of Querying Widely, Going on an Agent Hunt, and More Questions for Your Agent to Be or Not To Be.

Art for Art’s Sake… Is Fine if You Don’t Want to Be Paid from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “…you shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone who is doing something brilliantly unless you understand all the things they are doing brilliantly in it. Not sure you do?”

Interview with Deborah Taylor, Chair of ALA’s Coretta Scott King Committee from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Dr. King’s vision included a path that acknowledged the work that needed to be done for getting there. We are on that path. The purpose of the award is to highlight the contributions of African Americans in literature for young people. This broadens the landscape for all readers to read and appreciate the works of these talented artists.” Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of the Brown Bookshelf.

Interview with Alisa Libby from Becky’s Book Reviews. Peek: “Catherine was a teenager and hadn’t been a member of the court for a year before she was wed to the powerful King Henry. But in spite of her naivety, she must have known that the king had already beheaded one of his former wives, Anne Boleyn, on charges of adultery—and Anne was Catherine’s cousin. You would think that, knowing this, she would have been on her best behavior, regardless of her past indiscretions.”

On writing verse novels by Lisa Schroeder at Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “I sat down to write, and what came out was sparse, poetic language. I had written three mid-grade novels prior to this one, and half of a young adult novel, all of them in prose. This verse stuff was all new territory.” Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

On Passive Writing by Dorothy Winsor from Kidlit Central News. Peek: “…you have to differentiate between passive voice, emphasis on action, and the delights of characters who shape situations rather than just respond to them.”

An open letter to…people from Kidliterate because reading Children’s Books Never Gets Old. Peek: “If you’re not ashamed to admit you’re watching ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ why should you be embarrassed to be seen reading The Dark Is Rising?” Source: Confessions of a Bibliovore.

Interview with Susane Colasanti from Katie’s Book Blog. Peek: “In high school, it felt like I was always waiting for something to happen. I was waiting for a boy to fall in love with me, waiting for my real life to start, waiting for the bad times to finally come to an end. So I knew that I wanted to incorporate the sensation of endless waiting into my book.”

Confess Your Biggest Screw Up! from K.L. Going. Win a $100 gift certificate to your local independent bookstore, Borders, or Barnes & Noble, plus a complete set of autographed K.L. Going YA books. Three runners-up will receive an autographed copy of King of the Screwups. Contest runs: April 1 to June 30 2009. Peek: “It’s easy–we all make mistakes, sometimes big ones, sometimes small ones, sometimes hilarious ones (at least they’re funny after the fact).” Send K.L. one paragraph or more describing your most heinous screw up. If she laughs hysterically or cries in sympathy, you just might be a winner! The time has come to spill your guts, so start typing.” Read the first three chapters of K.L.’s new release, King of the Screw-ups Houghton Mifflin, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with K.L. Going.

Why Keep Blogging from Becky’s Book Reviews. Peek: “So essentially, if you want to grow your blog, you’ve got to put some thought into it. Think about what your readers would like to see, hope to see.”

What Josh Whedon Taught Me About Storytelling by Christine at Release the Magic. Peek: “Whedon gives us characters with whom we identify and grow to love deeply. Complex characters who don’t have a clear line of good and evil. Real people. His characters become real. Where else can a character introduced in Season 2 as the current ‘big bad’ come back season after season, becoming a love interest and ultimately saving the world?”

Check out this trailer for The ABCs of Writing for Children by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.

There’s Good News, and There’s Good News. Which Do You Want First? from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “So You’ve Gotten a Bad Review. The Good News Is: Nobody cares. No, really. You’re the only one.”

Bonnie Adamson Illustration: the official site for the children’s book illustrator. Bonnie’s books include the four books of the “I Wish” series of bilingual picture books from Raven Tree Press: I Wish I Had Freckles Like Abby; I Wish I Had Glasses Like Rosa; I Wish I Was Strong Like Manuel; and I Wish I Was Tall Like Willie. Also featured: the three books of the Travels with Anna series, also from Raven Tree, and one title from Magination Press: Feeling Better: A Kid’s Book About Therapy.

How can I become a children’s book editor? from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “People who are a good fit for the job have been reading a lot of children’s books (and a lot of different kinds of children’s books), and have a lot to say about them.”

Susan Patron: new official site from the Newbery-winning author. Peek: “I remember the exact moment when I decided I wanted to become a writer. Our fourth grade teacher had just finished reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to the class. I was leaning my head on my arms, and by peeking to the side I could see that a lot of other people had their heads down, too. It is a very private and personal moment, when you hear about Charlotte’s death; I didn’t want anyone to see my face.” Read a Cynsations interview with Susan.

Pics [and Report] from TLA from YA author Varian Johnson. Highlighted authors include Sara Zarr, Chris Barton, and Wendy Lichtman. Read Cynsations interviews with Varian and Sara.

The Literal, Tedious Novel Draft from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “A former student wrote to me saying she’s bogged down in an early novel draft, can’t seem to get past the middle, goes back to read what she’s written and it feels clunky and awkward. The more she tries to push ahead, the weaker the writing gets.” Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

Hardcover Deep Discount Clause (and part two) from David Lubar. Peek: “This works out to 17 cents a book. Which means that a ton of books were sold at an even deeper discount than 50%. (In the interest of full disclosure, the hardcover earned a bit more than twice that.)” Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Sources for Grant Money to Finance Author Visits from Jennifer Ward. Note: author-speakers are encouraged to feature this link. Event planners may want to bookmark it.

Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (HarperTeen, 2009): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: “Part action-adventure, part romance, Wondrous Strange is a thrilling, fun ride into a world of intrigue and dangerous bargains and where Celtic mythology (and Shakespeare’s take on it) might be all too real.”

Everyday Poetry: Audiovisual Poetry by Sylvia Vardell (Book Links, March 2009). Peek: “Would you like to introduce kids to the poets themselves? On YouTube you’ll find speeches and readings by and interviews with Billy Collins, Pat Mora, Nikki Grimes, Naomi Shihab Nye, and an American Idol–style introduction of J. Patrick Lewis.” Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia.

Here’s “For Mohammed Zeid, of Gaza, age 15” from Naomi:

and the introduction of J. Patrick:

Critique/Mentor Services

Lesléa Newman Critique Service. Lesléa is the author of 55 books for adults and children, including the YA novel Jailbait (Delacorte, 2005), the middle grade novels Hachiko Waits (Henry Holt, 2004) and Fat Chance (Putnam, 1996), and many picture books including The Boy Who Cried Fabulous (Trycle, 2004), A Fire Engine for Ruthie (Clarion, 2004), Skunk’s Spring Surprise (Harcourt, 2006), and Heather Has Two Mommies (1990). She has made her living as a full-time writer since 1988. Her literary awards include creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, a Parents’ Choice Silver Medal, a Children’s Crown Honor, the Alabama Children’s Choice Award, a James Baldwin Award for Cultural Achievement, and a ASPCA Henry Bergh Honor. Currently she is the Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts.

Lesléa has taught creative writing for over twenty years and has mentored hundreds of students. Most recently she was on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine and a guest faculty member at Lesley University’s Writing for Young People MFA program. She has led many writing workshops and retreats for SCBWI and Rowe Conference Center.

Lesléa says: “As your mentor, I will mark up your manuscript in purple ink and write you a long editorial letter. I look at the big picture (themes, plot, character development) and the small picture (is this the best word choice?). I am always available for email correspondence and pre-arranged phone meetings. And if your manuscript is ready, I am happy to advise you on how to get it published.” Lesléa’s fees vary, depending on the project. She usually charges $100 to critique a picture book and $2,000 to critique a 250-page novel. Fees are negotiable, depending on needs, the time she thinks it will take to critique your work, etc. Please visit: or write

Reminder: Bluebird Works Creative Consulting: author-editor Kara LaReau (formerly of Candlewick and Scholastic) offers a variety of creative services to authors, agents, and publishers. Peek: “Throughout my career, I’ve been dedicated to providing artists with the attention they and their books deserve. While I’m always honored and delighted to work with established artists, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to nurture and champion burgeoning talent. I enjoy collaborating with artists who are passionate about their work and about writing in general, who understand and appreciate the role of revision in the bookmaking process, and who possess an open mind, a good sense of humor, and a willingness to take risks.”

More Personally

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith on the release of the Korean edition of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (DongSanSa, 2008)! Note: We just received the author copies. I love this cover. It really conveys the idea of three alternating narrators and the comedic feel of the story. It’s also been suggested that Shohei looks like Greg and Elias looks like either Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Harry Potter.

Congratulations to Rebecca (green-and-white striped shirt) on her admission to The New School‘s MFA program! We’ll miss you! Note: here, Rebecca stands between authors Debbie Gonzales and Thomas Pendleton AKA Dallas Reed. Author Anne Bustard is to the right. This photo was taken last fall at my Halloween party.

Congratulations to Sean Petrie (shown with his girlfriend Sara) on your admission to the joint MFA program in Writing and in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts! This photo was taken at a recent Austin Youth Lit Meet-Up at Waterloo Ice House North.

Even More Personally

I’m honored to report that 2009 nominees (PDF) for YALSA’s Teens Top Ten include Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)! Voting will take place Oct. 18 to Oct. 24. Note: I’ll offer more information about the award program and links to the other nominees in a post to follow.

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review from Kimberly J. Smith at Cool Kids Read. Peek: “A true page-turner, I can’t imagine any fan of Gothic suspense/romance not thoroughly enjoying this–and not just YA readers either.”

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a recommendation by Teen Reviewer Iulia G., age 17, from Teen Books (and beyond!) blog from the Palatine Public Library. Peek: “Regardless of your religious views, it’s hard not to believe in angels after you read this novel.”

Thanks to Jennifer Holm for letting me know that Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) is now available at SuperTarget. Note: given that I am known to walk into Target for, say, a bath mat and walk out with a full cart, this is especially satisfying. It’s like The Great Circle of Shopping.

As readers of my YA Gothic fantasy series know, my shifters are inspired by the age of giant Ice Age mammals. For fans of Travis, the werearmadillo from Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), here’s an article on the “Giant Armadilo” from the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Thanks also to Sara Shacter for letting me know that Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) is now available in paperback at Jewel grocery stores. Note: I used to shop at Jewel when I lived in Chicago. Perhaps I can see the book when I return for my visit this fall.

Extraordinary Authors from Carmen Oliver. Peek: “They [me and Kathi Appelt] reminisced about the first time the two of them met twelve or thirteen years ago at a writer’s conference, and how that encounter has evolved into a friendship, a sister-like bond.” Note: thanks to all who attended and blogged the event! I’ll feature more links in my next round-up. See my report!

I’m thrilled to say that this week I received final art for Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010), and it’s amazing–loud, funny, colorful, energetic, charming, warm, wow! I can’t wait to share the cover art when it’s available.

Thank you for your ongoing support of my Native-themed children’s titles (Jingle Dancer (2000)(ages 4-up), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001)(ages 10-up), and Indian Shoes (2002)(ages 7-up), all HarperCollins) as well as the Santa Knows DVD production from Scholastic Book Club (ages 4-up) over the past several months! Note: of my Native-themed books, Jingle Dancer continues to be my best seller. I just heard this weekend that it’s going into its 18th printing (the library edition is in its 10th!). Hooray!

Cynsations is going on a brief hiatus. I will resume blogging on April 27. Have a great week!

Hunger Mountain Presents the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing

Source: Hunger Mountain editors.

Calling all YA and children’s writers! We are thrilled to present the inaugural Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult (YA) and Children’s Writing in Hunger Mountain.

Hunger Mountain, the arts journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts, will launch our new online arts journal early this summer.

Our new site will include YA and Children’s Literature. We’ll feature articles on hot topics and trends in YA and children’s literature, interviews with publishing industry insiders, and fiction selections by well-known and up-and-coming YA and children’s authors.

Upcoming issues will feature pieces by Katherine Paterson, Carrie Jones, Cynthia Leitich Smith, K.A. Nuzum, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sara Zarr, and many others!

Writers of young adult fiction, middle grade fiction, and picture books are encouraged to enter the Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing for a piece of fiction not yet under contract or under consideration by a publisher.

Newbery Award-winning author Katherine Paterson will judge.

One winner will receive $1000.00 and publication in Hunger Mountain online, and two honorable mentions will receive $100.00 each.

Entries may include:

• young adult (YA) fiction (novel excerpt or short story).

• middle grade (MG) fiction (novel excerpt or short story).

• picture book (PB) (text only).

Submission Fee: $20 per entry

Deadline: entries must be postmarked by June 30.

Contest Guidelines

Your packet should include:

• A one-page cover sheet offering:

o your name, address, email and phone number;

o the title of your manuscript;

o the category of your manuscript (YA, MG, PB);

o a brief (one-to-two paragraph/200-word) bio of yourself;

o a brief (one-to-two paragraph/250-word) synopsis of your manuscript.

• Your manuscript:

o up to 5,000 words of middle grade/young adult fiction, or one picture book manuscript (text only).

o entries must be double-spaced, with margins of at least 1”.

o please number the pages of your entry, and label each page with the title.

o please do not label the manuscript with your name (entries will be judged anonymously).

o please paperclip (do not staple) your entry.

• Entry Fee:

o check or money order for $20, payable to Hunger Mountain.

• A self-addressed, stamped envelope for notification of award winners.

• A self-addressed, stamped postcard for us to acknowledge receipt of your entry (optional).

Packets should be mailed to:

Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing
Hunger Mountain
Vermont College of Fine Arts
36 College Street
Montpelier, VT 05602

Author Interview: Donna Freitas on The Possibilities of Sainthood

See Donna Freitas’s official author website.

What were you like as a young reader?

I was as voracious with books as I was (am) with all Italian foodstuffs. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and so she was very big on reading me books and on me reading in general (television was heavily monitored and very discouraged in my house).

A couple of my strongest memories have to do with reading and how excited I got (I sound like such a geek) about choosing books.

My mother and I used to make frequent trips to the library, often several times per week, and I remember the very first time she let me go off on my own to pick out a book while she waited at a safe distance, as if she was minding her own business. I felt like such a big girl. I loved the feeling of independence and choice. I think I must have spent over an hour trying to decide what I would take home.

My other strongest, earliest reading memory has to do with my first chapter books, which I brought everywhere, including in the car (my parents were always advising me that I had to stop at intervals to look out the window or I was going to get sick), and I particularly remember reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (William Morrow & Company, 1965), and turning to my grandmother who was sitting next to me in the backseat and exclaiming, “Grandma, I’ve read 50 pages already!” I was very proud of this accomplishment.

So that was the beginning of a lifelong love of books. As I got older I read anything Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume (interview), Madeline L’Engle, all Noel Streatfeild‘s Shoe books (I was a dancer and a gymnast), and then eventually, Sweet Valley High (for summer fun), and classics–the usual suspects you read in high school. But I got a little obsessed with Ayn Rand‘s novels, too, which now makes me roll my eyes but then, we all have pasts.

Why do you write for teenagers today?

The stories that show up in my head feature teen protagonists and decidedly high school concerns and experiences so I’ve just gone with it. But then, I think young adulthood is one of the most exciting, rich, quirky, funny, and searching times in our lives, so it’s a wonderful time to explore through fiction.

I’ve been a teacher of some sort for fourteen years now (high school and college), and I absolutely adore my students and think they are one of the best audiences around that a person could reach out to in her writing, so for me it’s really an honor to write for a group of people I already respect so much. Writing YA fiction is another way to be in conversation with teens and college students.

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

Most of all I love a strong voice, and some of the best character voices around are in YA fiction—I’m thinking about Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Arthur Levine, March 2009) as a great, recent example.

Besides, with YA you get to dig down deep into romance—and I love romance—because that’s such a huge part of being a teenager. At least it was for me—I was pretty boy-crazy in high school (and it’s possible that my protagonist, Antonia Lucia Labella, from The Possibilities of Sainthood (FSG, 2008) has a lot of that in her, too).

The other best part about young hero/ines is that this is a time in life when you are asking and struggling with life’s biggest questions. As a one-time philosophy major in college (at Georgetown) and now a professor of religious studies, I love Big Questions and I think children’s literature is one of the most daring, risk-taking areas of literature in this regard.

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

I never thought I’d publish a novel, not even when I started writing The Possibilities of Sainthood. But my wonderful agent (Miriam Altshuler)—who has represented all my adult nonfiction and some amazing children’s/YA writers, including Alex Sanchez (interview) and Walter Dean Myers—was very excited when I told her I was writing a novel and especially after I told her the story.

She really cheered me on as did two very good friends of mine, Tanya Lee Stone (author of A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006))(interview), and Beth Wright, the children’s librarian at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. I’d also told them the plot and character, and they were amazingly supportive and pretty much the people who convinced me to go for it.

So I did—and I guess you could call my first draft a sprint: I finished it in about three and a half weeks. I wrote like a person possessed. It was a blast.

Once I had a draft, my agent sent it out to one editor in particular who was my dream editor: Frances Foster at FSG. One of the books Frances had edited—Holes by Louis Sachar (FSG, 1998)—was the book that inspired me to imagine my own story filled with quirks and wacky characters. My fantasy was that Frances would read The Possibilities of Sainthood and get its sense of humor and fall in love with the story. I didn’t imagine I would get my wish, though!

When my agent called to tell me that Frances wanted a meeting, I almost fainted. It was a dream come true. And Frances is my heroine. Not only is she a wonderful editor, but I am learning so much as a writer by working with her. She’s hilarious, too. I pretty much want to be Frances when I grow up.

As far as the trials and tribulations of getting this first novel published…it was really hard work, grueling even. While the first draft tends to pore out of me, revising is like pulling teeth. And Frances and FSG took a chance on me—for which I am grateful. The Possibilities of Sainthood needed a lot of work. Everyone at FSG put a lot of effort into shepherding this book to publication and helping me stay sane in the process.

FSG has incredible people in publicity and marketing, folks who make an author feel very loved and supported both before and after a book comes out, and then I was lucky to have Robbin Gourley design the cover, which I adore. I love looking at the cover. And she came up with it on the first try.

I still have to pinch myself, though, when I see the book. I can’t believe it’s real.

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

I don’t know that I really had an apprenticeship. I didn’t set out to become a writer, and even now I have a difficult time applying the title to myself. I’ve always written—but mostly academic papers in college and grad school when I was getting my Ph.D.

I loved writing philosophical treatises and all, but generally professors of philosophy and religious studies do not care about style, etc. They only care about content, the ideas you put out or grapple with. So no one gave me lessons on developing my writing style or character development or anything like that.

When I first realized I might have entire books in me, even novels, and then realized I might also write these books, I began to pay closer attention to my favorite books—both nonfiction and fiction: How did the authors use dialogue? Create setting? Character? And then I dived in and did the best I could.

It would have been great to have a mentor (or several) early on, but eventually I lucked out and landed my Frances, from whom I’ve learned so much, as well as finding wonderful writing friends to exchange work with for critique.

I often envy those who get MFAs in children’s writing at great places like Vermont College and The New School because of the ready-made, amazing community these programs provide aspiring writers, both in terms of teachers and peers.

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

Meeting writers willing to offer advice, answer questions, read drafts, and of course, paying attention to my editor’s advice, even if it required that I rewrite the last third of the novel (which I did.) Also, learning to trust—and listen to—my character’s voice.

As I said above, while revisions are really difficult for me, first drafts are pretty thrilling. I literally could “hear” Antonia talking in my head and realized that my job was to listen to her voice and go from there. I knew I could always come back and work on the manuscript later. The most important thing was to get it all out while I had the energy and spark.

That initial inspiration is key for me—taking advantage of it while it’s there—and letting myself worrying about the rest later (you know: the polishing, um, the grammar, the readability, important stuff like that).

Congratulations on the success of The Possibilities of Sainthood (FSG, 2008)! Could you tell us about the novel?

The Possibilities of Sainthood is the story of Antonia Lucia Labella, a 15-year-old Italian girl from an immigrant family, living in Rhode Island.

She has two main desires: 1) to become the first ever official living saint in Catholic history (and she’s been writing the Pope in Rome once a month, every month since she was seven, proposing new saint ideas and herself as the ideal candidate); and 2) to land her first kiss.

The setting is about as Italian and Rhode Island as you can get—Antonia’s family owns an Italian market in Federal Hill (Rhode Island’s famous Italian neighborhood) and they live above it. Her family is loud, melodramatic, and always either cooking food to sell in the store, eating food in general, or working in the store and talking about food. Antonia also goes to Catholic school, complete with plaid skirts, the whole thing.

When she’s not proposing new saints—like the Patron Saint of Figs and Fig Trees or of People Who Make Pasta or, eventually, the Patron Saint of the First Kiss and Kissing—she’s going back and forth between her two love interests (one’s an Italian, the other a hottie Irish boy).

I hope, hope, hope that people find it funny. It’s meant to be very lighthearted.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

A combination of being Italian myself (Italians are characters), growing up in Rhode Island (which brings me to more characters: Rhode Islanders are a quirky people), and then my mom and grandmother. My mom actually grew up above her family’s Italian Market—it’s called Goglia’s Market and it’ still there, but in Bristol, not Federal Hill—and all my life she told me these hilarious stories about the store and especially the two giant fig trees out back that came from clippings carried over from Italy. She’d talk about these trees like they were miraculous—for their size, the giant, succulent figs they would put forth each season, how they’d have to bury the trees so they’d survive the Rhode Island winter.

That’s the first thing Antonia talks about in The Possibilities of Sainthood—burying the family fig trees and what a crazy task this is.

I guess the last bit of inspiration would just be the Catholic saints—I think of them as comedy just waiting to happen. There are saints for hilarious things and things you would never imagine. I had so much fun finding the most ridiculous ones, and of course, the ridiculous stories of how they died (they all have crazy martyrdom stories.)

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

I wrote the novel in the spring of 2006, and it just came out in the fall of 2008, so over two years. FSG has a really long lead time. They bought it in April 2006, and it was so difficult to wait for the release date.

Aside from writing it, the most major event was that meeting I had with Frances at FSG’s offices (with my agent and another FSG editor and publisher as well) before she officially made an offer. It was one of the most exciting meetings of my life.

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

Revision, revision, revision! That was my biggest challenge. And speaking of literary—just hoping that lighthearted and funny could also have depth. That’s part of why I hoped for Frances as an editor—Holes is such a funny book, but it’s also really smart, and I had this fantasy that she’d get the humor in my novel, too.

In general, logistically, it can be difficult juggling my professorial responsibilities and my adult nonfiction with the fiction publication schedule.

Actually, the copy edits for my most recent, adult nonfiction publication, Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses (Oxford, 2008) and the copy edits for The Possibilities of Sainthood came in on the same day.

Both publishers wanted the manuscripts turned around ASAP of course. Plus, I was teaching new courses at Boston University and embroiled in the media controversy surrounding the movie of Philip Pullman‘s The Golden Compass. It was one of the craziest times in my life, trying to manage all of that at once.

The one other thing I’d say about challenges is just that my novel has so much of my mom and grandmother in the story (my grandma lived with us my whole life), and they died about 18 months apart, a couple of years before I started writing.

The novel is dedicated in their memory, and I wish with all my heart that they could read it. I hope it would make them laugh. But I loved bringing them alive in spirit on the page. For that, I am very grateful.

Yours is one of the few YA novels that comes to mind in terms of positive/upbeat depictions of religion. Why do you believe this is the case?

Positive depictions, or even funny ones, are pretty rare in YA lit. Though there are more and more that I am finding—like one I already mentioned, Marcelo in the Real World (which is deep and endearing), and Lauren Myracle (interview) has a lighthearted novel called Peace, Love, & Baby Ducks coming out this summer (Dutton, 2009) where faith, questions about God, and, in particular, Christianity is just a regular part of her protagonist’s life so it’s part of the book, too.

Then I have other favorites like Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Orchard, 2007), which is so wonderfully lighthearted, and The God Box by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2007), which is not only moving, but such a smart, sensitive discussion of navigating coming out in the context of a religious community.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006)(interview), which is also moving, subtle, and wonderful in handling faith with sensitivity.
So maybe times are a-changing on this front.

Though, I’ve learned to keep a low profile (at least at first) about my other life as a Professor of Religious Studies within the YA Lit world—that people make all sorts of assumptions about what that must mean for who I am and what I believe. Religion in general makes certain people nervous, and so having an affiliation like “Prof of Religion” sometimes makes people a bit anxious as well (not everyone, but still).

But it’s a part of life for many, many, many of us—probably most of us to some degree—and certainly a part of the life of many teens who read our books as well, so I think it is important to have books that feature characters with a faith life that are not only about faith-in-crisis, but simply faith as a part of life or even as the foundation for a fun, quirky story as is the case in Does My Head Look Big In This?.

Why do you think it’s important to reflect faith in the lives of young people?

Because they care—and deeply so, and YA literature should try to be inclusive of and sensitive about this interest. In my work as a scholar, I actually did a nationwide study measuring the level of interest in religion and/or spirituality among young adults in college—the results are published in Sex and the Soul which I mentioned above.

Teens and young adults—both for my research and several other major national studies–register as religious and/or spiritual to the tune of about 80%(!). That’s such a huge number I don’t think it can be ignored.

So theoretically, YA Literature is way behind on engaging this particular life dimension of our audience—if I had to guess, the percentage of YA novels published that feature a character who even mentions going to any sort of faith service is pretty low!

What insights did you bring into the process?

Well, I am a person of faith (I grew up Catholic), so I hope that helped!

And then, I’m a religion professor, so I hope all that work toward my Ph.D. did some good in the novel, too. I’ve long studied saints and mystics, especially women saints and mystics.

But maybe most of all, I am constantly talking to teens and college students about their faith lives, their questions and struggles, what they find humorous and especially ridiculous about religions and/or spirituality. That’s my job as both a teacher and a researcher in the field.

And, in my study certainly, but also in the talks I give at universities and colleges across the country and classes I’ve taught, I’ve learned over the years that teens are fascinated by spirituality and religion, especially spiritual journeys of all sorts.

So I hope that my protagonist, Antonia’s journey, however quirky and lighthearted it may be, will engage that hunger and interest that I see as so widespread about teens and young adults today.

The novel also has a terrific sense of place. Could you tell us how you developed and integrated the setting to best effect?

Well, I think it’s the food, really, that gives it a sense of place. There is constant talk of pasta of all varieties, spinach pies, meatballs, sauces—you name it. Is that possible—for smells and descriptions of cooking can evoke a sense of place, that food can shape a home, a store, and neighborhood? Everything in my house when I was growing up revolved around food, so it wasn’t hard to use that as the center touchstone of the book. I suppose the plaid skirts, saint icons all over the place, and then quirky Rhode Island helps, too.

Rhode Island is such a distinctive place, and I love writing about it, so I don’t know that I can take much credit for that part of the setting. But I hope people find it as fun place to set a story and characters as I do!

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

Ooof. I find the balancing act very difficult. There are so many writers who maintain LiveJournals all the time and do tons of author appearances, etc. I haven’t figured that part out yet.

I’m hoping to start doing school visits soon (I haven’t done one yet, but am really looking forward to trying it out), but then, a lot of my time is also occupied by the writing and lecturing I need to do in relation to my research, especially for Sex and the Soul.

So if you have any advice about juggling, please send it my way!

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

Thrilling and intimidating, too. I feel like such a newbie when it comes to fiction, and I like to think that I have a long career ahead of me where I get to improve my writing and “polish” my craft, so to speak.

Then I look at other debut novels like Kristin Cashore‘s Graceling (Harcourt, 2008) or Melissa Marr‘s Wicked Lovely (Harper, 2007)(interview)—just to name two—and think to myself, Wow: so this is their first try at this novel-writing thing?

Overall, though, it’s been an utter thrill. I still get geeky excited just holding the novel in my hands, seeing that it’s real.

As a reader, what were your favorite books of 2008?

Too many to name! But I have to gush about The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski (FSG, 2008), which is just lush in terms of place and description—Marie is a stunning debut fantasy author.

I also loved Graceling—what a romance!

And E. Lockhart‘s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion, 2008)(interview) I fell in love with from the first page—I was so happy it was a finalist for the National Book Award and got a Printz Honor.

What do you do outside the world of books?

Um, there’s an outside? Well…As I mentioned before, I am a professor at Boston University and I love, love, love teaching, especially college students. I love being a part of a community whose whole purpose is to read and think and contemplate and ideally, somehow, through this process change the world. In other words, I am very idealistic.

As for other stuff: I am a huge “Buffy” fan (I just re-watched all seven seasons), and more recently, I’m hooked on “Battlestar,” so I am kind of a TV-movie-junkie (I go to the movies all the time by myself, actually—I love that and I think it comes from being an only child—you learn to go off on your own a lot).

I also love to drink coffee and read novels for fun (surprise!) and most of all, hang out with friends and family.

Eat, too: eating is a favorite activity, as is cooking (and my husband is a very good audience for the eating of my cooking). I really do cook all those things mentioned in my novel for real—I grew up learning to make all those Italian goodies including homemade pasta.

And the last thing I’ll mention is living in New York City—is there a more amazing place? I love walking the city and discovering new things (there is always something new to discover), and I love the people-watching. It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a draft of a sequel to The Possibilities of Sainthood sitting on my computer, which I originally thought would be my second novel, but it’s far from ready at this point.

This is because I went and surprised myself and wrote an altogether different story than I expected to—I started it out of the blue one day. Antonia’s story is so lighthearted and bordering on melodramatic with all that Italian passion poring out of her and I had such fun writing her story that I imagined that I would always, only write funny. This proved not to be the case.

So my next novel, The Gorgeous Game (FSG, spring 2010), is sad and dark—though ultimately hopeful, I think—and it does have some romance in it. But it’s about stalking.

I used to think that it would be terribly painful to write a sad story, especially one with such darkness as involving a girl who is being stalked by someone. The experience of writing this novel surprised me tremendously, though. I felt like a warrior who was slaying a monster. It was one of the most empowering experiences I’ve had so far as a writer.

I hope readers who enjoyed The Possibilities of Sainthood will forgive the switch in style and tone for this one and be willing to discover a different kind of voice and story from me.

Next up after this one will be a funny story because I do love funny. But I’ll be curious to see how people respond to my “stalking novel” as I’ve taken to calling it. Hopefully readers will like it. That’s all an author can hope for, right?

Author Interview: Jenny Moss on Winnie’s War

Jenny Moss on Jenny Moss: “I’m a writer and a mom of teens. And a Texan! My family moved to Houston when I was ten. They all left, but I stayed.

“I’ve wanted to be a writer since my early days in Louisiana, but I didn’t think it was a realistic goal. I revered books and thought novels were created by people who were born with the Great Writing Gene or sprinkled with fairy dust, gifted in a way that I wasn’t. I felt like a writer, but I couldn’t imagine myself a part of that world.

“So I went into engineering and worked for NASA for a while, but I secretly wrote at night. Eventually, I returned to college and got a degree in literature.”

What were you like as a young reader?

I read a lot. A lot, a lot. It opened up worlds a bit different than suburbia. As a young girl, my favorites were A Little Princess, Little Women, and every Nancy Drew I could find.

As a teen, I’d feel guilty when I read Gothic novels in lieu of one of the classics, but that didn’t stop me, especially when it came to the books of Victoria Holt. I also liked Rebecca, Joy in the Morning, Jane Eyre, Marjorie Morningstar, and Agatha Christie.

My grandmother told me that every good Southern woman had a copy of the Bible and Gone with the Wind by her bed, so I read those, too.

Why do you write for teenagers today?

Such a fascinating time of life! Teenagers have an energy and a fresh point of view that’s engaging and also contagious. Listening to them and writing for them helps me to remember things I’ve forgotten along the way–important things.

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

Some stumbling, but I think it was mostly plodding. My efforts at publication began in 2003.

A couple of years later, I put aside that first novel after many critiques, revisions, and rejections. I’d spent a lot of time with those characters and with learning craft and applying what I learned to that book, so it was hard to let it go!

I began writing two new ones: a YA fantasy and Winnie’s War. I finished the fantasy first and sent that out to agents. Nancy Gallt liked it and offered me representation. The fantasy will be released by Scholastic next year.

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

Sometimes I wish I’d focused solely on writing from the beginning. When I’m writing, I get the feeling I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. And that’s a great feeling. On the other hand, I think things probably happened exactly when they were supposed to.

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

I think critiquing others’ work helps to improve your own. My first experience with critique was in college in my creative writing classes. Each student would read her work and get feedback from the professor and the other students. I was amazed by how quickly my professor could respond, and I paid attention to his observations.

Through SCBWI, I was involved in two critique groups. The discussions we would have about what works and what doesn’t–in our own work, as well as in books we’d read–helped me to apply what I’d learned in my literature classes to my own books. Hence, I’m a big advocate of critique in the pre-publication years.

After numerous professional critiques with editors, I realized my first novel lacked voice. That part of writing seemed like magic to me (the Great Writing Gene again), and I wondered how writers created memorable voices. I realized, when I was writing that first novel, I’d held back just a bit, keeping the protagonist a little distant. I’d been reluctant to put some of me in that
character. That realization made a difference, I think.

Congratulations on your debut novel, Winnie’s War (Walker, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Thanks so much! It’s still surprising to see it on the shelves.

The novel is about twelve-year-old Winnie, living in 1918 small town Texas and trying to protect her family from the Spanish influenza sweeping the world.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I wanted to create my own small town. But it was Winnie’s voice that pulled me into the story, helping me to see things through the eyes and worries of a twelve-year-old girl.

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

I wrote the first scene of Winnie’s War in March 2005. (That scene became the prologue, which was dropped from the book during the editorial process.) I was also working on another book, a YA fantasy. I jumped back and forth between the books, completing the fantasy first. I sent that out to agents and went back to Winnie.

I sensed something different was happening for the fantasy because of the agent and editor response I was getting as compared to my first book. A lot more interest, some revision suggestions. Nancy offered representation in August 2006. After she sent that book out on submission, I picked up Winnie again. Winnie went out on submission to editors in fall 2007. Emily Easton at Walker made an offer. We accepted in January, and I had my first revision letter in hand in early February! The ARCs were out by July. Whew!

I was surprised at the speed and efficiency of the process. I had a lot of questions, but the Walker folks were always patient. (Thank you, Mary Kate!)

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

A couple! The first involved the research. I thought it’d be easy because I live in the area where I placed the fictional town of Coward Creek. But at times I had to dig deep to find what I needed. For example, I went through files and books in the Helen Hall Library, looking for mention of the
Spanish influenza and its impact on a Galveston county town. I found very, very little.

I ended up at Clayton Library in Houston, going through every death certificate issued in the fall of 1918 in Harris and Galveston counties. When I found an influenza death, I wrote it down. It was time consuming, but I liked it.

The second challenge was writing about death, especially for middle-grade fiction. I knew the book had to be realistic. I couldn’t shy away from it. The impact to many children during that time was just devastating. And I wanted to be true to that. In a way, it seemed to me that we’d, as a nation, forgotten the pandemic, and if I didn’t depict things as they were, then I’d be doing the same thing, turning from something because it was difficult.

There was one scene in particular I didn’t want to write. I sketched it out in a skeleton draft, and then just skipped over it, and wrote around it. But I thought about it all the time. And I did the research needed because there were things I had to know about the influenza in order to write the scene. By the time I sat down to pen the chapter, I’d prepared so much, the writing just flowed. The essence of the scene changed very little after that first draft.

What was your biggest research coup?

I found most things very slowly, so I’m not sure there was a coup! One thing: I came across a book by Marguerite Johnston: Houston, The Unknown City (Texas A&M Press, 1991), which had a couple of paragraphs on the impact of the influenza. So still not much. But the bibliography revealed Johnston had conducted a lot of interviews. I tried to contact her and discovered she’d died in 1998.

I did find her papers in the Woodson Research Center at Rice University. Those archives contained transcripts of all of her interviews. Some very interesting information in there (including some not relevant to my book, such as observations by interviewees about the young Howard Hughes!).

Writers definitely build upon the efforts of other writers. Thank you, Marguerite Johnston.

Too often authors whose books relate to a landmark historical event tend to have flat characters, meant to illustrate rather than breathe. How did you get past this to create such three-dimensional, resonant individuals for your story?

I’m interested in historical events, very much so, but I want to see an historical event through the eyes of an individual. What about a person’s culture or time period makes her different? Which responses to tragedy and circumstances are common, which unique?

I’m particularly interested in human sameness that stretches across generations because it connects us to our grandparents and great-grandparents. I think we can learn from what others have already experienced.

What about the publishing process has surprised you most and why?

The number of times I’ve had to read my manuscript as it went through the process!

Big picture, what was it like, being a debut author?

I think, for me, reaching a goal later in life, after years of wishing and working at it, has brought a certain contentment. I’ve worked a long time to become an author, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It means a lot to me to realize that dream. I’m very thankful.

In terms of marketing and outreach, how do you connect with your readers?

I so much want to connect with readers! There were kids and teens who attended my launch party, and I enjoyed talking to them. The experience made me anxious to get into the schools. This is the part of the publishing adventure that’s still ahead of me.

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?

I’m still figuring this out. My revision for my fantasy was due by the end of February, so I was working on that during the time my first book was released. It limited the things I could do promotion-wise.

Now that my revision is complete and on my editor’s desk (yay!), I want to plan school and library visits. Juggling writing, school visits, and promotion will be interesting! I’ll be looking to my more experienced author friends for advice.

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

My last critique group fell apart three years ago: jobs, moves, and life got in the way. But I’ve found working with an editor is a very close collaboration. I do have readers I send things out to.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Write, read, and join a critique group. And write.

How about those interested in historical fiction specifically?

Winnie’s War took a lot of research. Some days I would flip through old papers for hours, and at the end of the day, still not have anything usable for the novel. But that was okay–because I love researching.

If a writer’s not interested in days and days of looking for information, I would think researching would be grueling and sap the fun right out of writing a book!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Something completely different! Scholastic is publishing my YA fantasy in 2010. My editor there is Lisa Ann Sandell. I feel very lucky to have her.

In addition to being an editor, she’s also a YA author.

Her writing is stunning.