Cynsational News & Giveaways

Find out more about Beach Lane Books, a new Simon & Schuster imprint, launching in this video interview with publisher Allyn Johnston, author-illustrator Marla Frazee, author-illustrator Debra Frasier, and S&S executive art director Ann Bobco. Source: Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz in Ink.

Taking a Chance on a Young Agent from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “Every agent starts out with zero sales. They need someone to take a chance on them and place their faith in them, and quite honestly, a young agent can really do wonders for your career.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

How to Interpret Kludgy Submission Guidelines from Cynthea Liu at Writing for Children & Teens. Peek: “But what if my book is wrtten in diary or journal format? Send first twenty-five pages. That’s the average for first three chapters of a book.” Source: Stacy Whitman. Read a Cynsations interview with Cynthea.

Author Paula Yoo talks about her new book Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, illustrated by Lin Wang (Lee & Low, 2009). Peek: “As a little girl, all Anna May Wong wanted was to grow up to be a movie star. While most young girls abandon their childhood dreams, Anna May Wong chased and caught her dream, becoming the first Asian American movie star. In the 1930s, film roles for Asian Americans were few, and most were stereotypical and demeaning. Paula Yoo talks about how Anna May’s pioneering hard work and persistence paid off and paved the way for better roles for women and actors of color in film today.” Source: jama rattigan’s alphabet soup.

Skipping Stones Honor Awards – a Celebration of Cultural and Environmental Richness from Paper Tigers. Peek: “The honored books, published by both large and small publishers, promote cooperation and cultivate an awareness of our diverse cultures. Together, they encourage an understanding of the world’s diversity, ecological richness, respect for differing viewpoints and close relationships in human societies. Bound to provide a great reading adventure, they offer a variety of learning experiences.” Click for the 2009 honorees (PDF).

Conrad J. Storad: author of more than 30 science and nature books for children and young adults. Most recently, Conrad has published a number of nonfiction books with Lerner and southwestern tales with Resort Gifts Unlimited. Conrad is based in Arizona.

Book Links to Become Booklist Supplement from the American Library Association. Peek: “Book Links magazine is on the move; starting in October 2009, it will be published as a quarterly print supplement to Booklist, at no additional cost to subscribers, rather than as a stand-alone magazine. Book Links’ editorial focus and original content, popular with tens of thousands of readers for almost 20 years, will continue to fulfill the mission of connecting children with books and related media.” Source: Children’s Book Biz News.

Congratulations to Austin illustrator Laura Logan on the release of Two To Cuddle, written by Eileen Spinelli (FSG 2009)!

“Matchmaking Your Manuscript” with Laura Purdie Salas: a chat transcript from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Peek: “What do you do with your finished manuscript in the sea of market choices–this transcript gives super tips for guiding your through the process.”

The Infernal Devices: check out the gorgeous new site celebrating the latest from Cassandra Clare. Read a Cynsations interview with Cassandra.

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Rachel Caine from Trisha at The Ya Yas. Peek: “The romantic tension between Shane and Claire is, for me, the sweetest part of the series. I think at a certain point, as a writer, you have to let go and let your characters drive, and they seem to do that pretty well when it comes to having feelings for each other.” Read a Cynsations interview with Rachel.

What Are the Odds? from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: “Until the dust settles economically, I urge you to continue writing, to continue studying and improving your craft, and to maintain your good writing habits.”

Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan: an interview with Rukhsana by fellow author Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “I felt confident that I could write accurately about Kandahari and Kabuli culture because I am quite familiar with both. My son in law’s family is from Kandahar and my sister in law’s family is from Kabul, and I’ve seen first hand the differences.”

The Different Types of Critiquers from Elissa D Cruz at Just Write. Peek: “Global Critiquers. These are the people who can see the whole picture and can point out where the story is dragging, or where the characters are a little flat, or where things get a bit muddled and need to be revised for clarity.” Note: different manuscripts will need each of these (except the last) at different stages; however, writers willing to receive this sort of global critique also tend to be those most likely to succeed.”

Scholastic’s Summer Challenge: “be part of a team quest to eat, sleep, and dream books all summer! Find great reads, play book-based games, and help Scholastic support Save the Children! Your minutes can also count toward the World Record Challenge.” Source: Lisa Yee.

Enter to Win One of Three Copies of Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore from Cheryl Rainfield. To enter, comment here. Deadline: midnight June 15. Peek: “The book is marketed to adult readers, but will also appeal to teens and teen readers.”

Reminder: Bridget Zinn Auction is taking place between now and 12 a.m. PST May 31. Bid to win critiques from award-winning and other “big name” authors, agents, and editors, signed books, audio books & other CDs, promotional services, and much more. See Five Great Finds at Bridget’s Auction from Check It Out.

GLBT Month- Alex Sanchez Guest Blog Part 1 from Book Chic. Peek: “Imagine a teenage boy finding out he’s got the keys to something that’s even better than a Ferrari inside his pants but he’s got to wait until he’s 18 to drive it. How realistic is that? Even more extreme is the idea that teens not only shouldn’t explore sex, they shouldn’t even read about it.” Source: Jennifer R. Hubbard. Note: read an excerpt of Alex’s latest novel, Bait (Simon & Schuster, June 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

William Low: Portrait of a Digital Artist: a fascinating three-video series that offers a peek into the author-illustrator’s process. Originally posted on Saturday of last weekend.

Marvelous Marketer: Alan Gratz from Shelli at Market My Words: Rantings and ravings on how authors can better market their books to kids. Peek: “I wish I would have planned for selling more books from the outset, and designed an initial site that could be easily augmented as new books were added. I have that now, but it could have saved myself a lot of nights at the computer if I had made the original site focus on me, not a single book.” Read a Cynsations interview with Alan.

Interview with Jeannine Garsee by Debbi Michiko Florence. Peek: “Only when I start on the first revision do I really get into the souls of the characters.” To win a copy of Jeanine‘s Say the Word (Bloomsbury, 2009), leave a comment here by midnight PST June 7. Read a Cynsations interview with Debbi.

Authors Who Skype with Book Clubs from Kate Messner, Children’s Book Author at Kate’s Book Blog. Peek: “I am starting a list of authors who offer free 20-minute Skype chats with book clubs.” Note: opportunity for traditionally-published authors and book club coordinators. See initial list.

Congratulations to Annette Curtis Klause on the forthcoming release of a new edition (with a new cover) of The Silver Kiss. Includes two bonus short stories about Simon and Zoë, one of which (“The Christmas Cat”) has never before been published. Read a Cynsations interview with Annette.

Marianna: Further Thoughts on Dialogue — Distinct Voices for Similar Characters from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “In looking at YA novels that center on groups of friends, I found that some (definitely not all) writers successfully develop recognizable voices for their characters while still believably portraying close-knit groups with much in common. To do this, the writers key into the defining aspects of the characters’ personalities and create voices that reflect those traits.”

How Ursula K Le Guin led a generation away from realism: The most vital writers of my generation have been weaned from a puritanical distrust of imagination by her influence by Scott Timberg from The Guardian. Source: Miss Rumphius Effect.

Bowen to Join Greenburger Agency by John A. Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Brenda Bowen, who left HarperCollins in February, is moving in a new direction, signing on as a literary agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, beginning July 6. Bowen will represent authors and illustrators of children’s books for all ages (preschool to teen) as well as, in her words, ‘graphic novelists, animators and maybe a surprise element or two.'”

Take a peek at Let’s Do Nothing! from Tony Fucile (Candlewick, 2009). Read a CP interview with Tony (PDF). Peek: “I vividly remember those childhood moments of excruciating boredom. We tend to remember the interesting and exciting parts of youth, but what about those times when you feel like you are stuck in a vat of molasses?”

Lin Oliver: a writer and producer of movies, books, and television series for children and families. She has created over one hundred episodes of television, four movies, and several books. Note: paraphrased from Penguin. See also an Interview with Lin Oliver from SCBWI.

YA Paranormal Panel @ RomanceDivas: Christopher Golden, Cassandra Clare, Rachel Caine, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Lucienne Diver, Jeff Mariotte, and Alyson Noel are all talking about writing YA Paranormal fiction at the Romance Divas forum. Ends May 30. Source: Little Willow at Slayground. Read Cynsations interviews with Christopher and Rosemary. See links to interviews with Cassandra and Rachel above.

Congratulations to Austin writer Betty X. Davis on the acceptance of her story, The Last Bicycle, for publication in Spider magazine.

Congratulations to Buda author Jerry Wermund on receiving two honors for his 2009 book, Soil: More Than Just Dirt. It received the Pinnacle Achievement Award for Children’s Interest category from the North American Bookdealer Exchange and was the winner of the Children’s Nonfiction category in the National Indie Excellence Awards. The latter are for independently printed books. Read a Cynsations interview with Jerry.

How Tight is Your Bow? from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: “If we slow down–if we try to live a more balanced life–can we get it all done? Is it really possible?”

Tween and Teen Editors from Shana Burg. Peek: “In my case, I hired my former students. I begged them to be honest and promised them they wouldn’t hurt my feelings. I meant it. Then I trained them to critique me.” Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

Geringer to Work with Egmont by John A. Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Laura Geringer has partnered with Egmont USA, to selectively edit titles for the house on a nonexclusive basis.” Read an interview with Egmont publisher Elizabeth Law.

The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies by David Lubar (Starscape 2009)(ages 8-up): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: “In his fourth Weenies collection, Lubar delivers another set of often funny, sometimes gross, and occasionally creepy ‘Twilight Zone’-ish short stories.”

Handy Guide to Who Owns Whom from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: “Keeping track of which imprint belongs to which publisher makes one feel a little like Danny Kaye in ‘The Court Jester’ trying to keep track of whether the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the flagon with the dragon, or the chalice from the palace. But here’s my best effort…”

Writing from Life Without Boring Yourself by Mary Ann Rodman from Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: “…unless it makes sense within the context of the story, nobody cares if it ‘really happened that way.’ This is fiction. Fiction is shaped reality.”

Shrinking Violet Promotions has been celebrating independent bookstores!

President Obama and First Lady named Honorary Chairs of the 2009 National Book Festival from Lori Calabrese. Peek: “President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will serve as Honorary Chairs of the 2009 National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress. Now in its ninth year, this popular event celebrating the joys of reading and lifelong literacy will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between 7th and 14th Streets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (rain or shine). The event is free and open to the public.”

Congratulations, Helen Hemphill

Congratulations to Helen Hemphill, author of The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (Front Street, 2008), winner of the Virginia M. Law Award for the most distinguished book for young adults on Texas History. The award is given by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

Here’s Helen with Connie Impelman, the Library Committee Chairman at the DRT Library.

Note: “The Virginia M. Law Award, endowed by Mrs. Law’s daughter Nancy M. Law and sponsored by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library, is given annually to the author and/or illustrator of the most distinguished book for young adults, grades 7-12, that accurately portrays the history of Texas, whether fiction or nonfiction. Mrs. Law was an active member of the Alamo Mission Chapter, Daughters of the Republic of Texas, an enthusiastic supporter of the purposes and efforts of the DRT, and a strong proponent of education.”

See also Grammar School from Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I promise it won’t be as painful as you remember, but maybe it will give you an insight into why grammar is every bit as important to a manuscript as voice, point of view, setting, and plot.” See also a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Congratulations, Victoria Laurie

Congratulations to Austin author Victoria Laurie, author of Oracles of Delphi Keep (Random House, 2009)! Victoria is shown above (in the multicolored top) with Mandy Books, Kids and Young Adult Events Coordinator from BookPeople. This photo was taken on Tusday night in the small red house at Jeffrey’s in conjunction with a Random House dinner party, celebrating the release.

From the promotional copy:

“Ian Wigby is about to find out that he is a very special boy.

“Along the southern coast of England, atop the White Cliffs of Dover, stands a castle. And at that castle’s old keep is an orphanage. Delphi Keep has seen many youngsters come and go through its gates, and Ian Wigby and his sister, Theodosia, are happy to call it home. Life has always been simple at the Keep, and the orphanage safe, until one day, Ian and Theo find a silver treasure box. And within the box, a prophesy. Three thousand years ago a great Greek oracle wrote of a quest. A quest on which the fate of the world depends. A quest that names two children—Ian and Theodosia. Suddenly Delphi Keep is no longer safe. And Ian and Theo, along with a very special group of friends, realize they must unravel the meaning behind the scroll of Dover cavern before darkness falls on the world. And before an unfathomable evil catches up with them.”

Cynsational Winners

Congratulations to the twenty winners of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin’s Press, 2009) are: Aimee in Pennsylvania, Ben in Arizona, Auburn in Texas, Carlene in Texas, Caroline in Florida, Deb in Massachusetts, Deb in Washington, Emily in Ontario, Eric in North Carolina, C. Hope in South Carolina, Janine in Utah, Jeannine in Ohio, Lindsey in Alabama, Lori in Missouri, Navah in Connecticut, Nicholas in Maryland, Olivia in Connecticut, Paul in Alaska, Richard in Kentucky, and Tisa in Washington!

St. Martin’s Press will be sending your books out soon!

Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

More Personally

Hooray! I’ve heard from Listening Library/Random House that Jesse Bernstein and Allyson Ryan will be playing the voices of Zachary and Miranda for the Eternal audio book, which will be available July 14. Jesse’s credits include the Percy Jackson series audio books. Allyson’s include The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going and the Suddenly Supernatural series by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel audios. Click links to hear their voices! I’ll keep you posted as more details arise! Note: news of the cover artist for Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, TBA) is coming soon.

Author-illustrator Annette Simon sends this shot of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) from Target in Columbus, Ohio.

On the Reading Table: Eternal from Lindsey Lane at This and That. Peek: “Fascinating. Leitich Smith is in full command of the world she has created in this book.”

Beyond that, my Memorial Day weekend was quiet and productive–with a razor focus on my upcoming deadline. Greg made sushi on Monday afternoon.

Thank you to Michelle Stewart and her students at Mt. San Jacinto College for their hospitality during my conference call visit on Wednesday!

Thank you to Chris Eldin for the book roasts!

Howdy to Jennifer Ziegler‘s mom! Thanks for reading Cynsations, and good luck with your manuscript! I’m rooting for you! Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Congratulations, Austinites! The Austin Public Library will join the community 9 a.m. May 30 to celebrate the grand opening of the newly constructed North Village Branch located at 2505 Steck Avenue near the corner of Burnet Road and Steck Avenue. This newly constructed 11,000 square foot library is replacing the 5,000 square foot storefront lease spaced facility located in the North Star Home Shopping Center at 2139 W. Anderson Lane where it has been located since 1971. Source: Austin Public Library. See more information.

Attention: Aleksie in Indiana: your signed bookplate and bookmark have been returned by the postal service as undeliverable. Please contact me to confirm a new address. Thanks!

Last Call for Entries
Enter to win a paperback copy of Sacajawea by Joseph Bruchac (Harcourt, 2008)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Sacajawea” in the subject line. Deadline: May 30! Read a Cynsational interview with Joe.

Enter to win an ARC of Pure by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon Pulse, 2009)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Pure” in the subject line. Deadline: May 30. Read a Cynsations interview with Terra.

Author Interview: Lesley Livingston on Wondrous Strange

Lesley Livingston on Lesley Livingston: “I am a writer and actor living in Toronto, Canada. I hold a master’s degree in English, with a specialization in Arthurian literature and Shakespeare from the University of Toronto.

“As a principal performer and founding member of the Tempest Theatre Group, I have the good fortune to be able to bring Shakespearean classics to life in productions and workshops for high school students across southern Ontario.

Wondrous Strange is my debut novel, the first in a trilogy.”

What were you like as a young reader?

Voracious. I would read anytime, anywhere. I would read toothpaste tubes if there was nothing else available. I would read walking home from school. I used to keep novels open surreptitiously in my desk while I was supposed to be studying math (there may possibly be a correlation between this and my present-day dreadful lack of math skills…). When I was very young, I used to read under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime.

None of these habits have really changed with the passage of time. Except I don’t have to use a flashlight anymore (unless I want to!).

Why do you write for teenagers today?

Having performed for teens for years before I actually started writing for them, I can tell you from experience that they are the both the scariest and the best audiences possible. Because they are never neutral. They love something or they hate it, and they are, in my experience, not shy about letting you know which it is. So if you can get them–truly get them–it is the best. thing. ever. That’s one of the reasons.

The other is that it is just–plain and simple–a pure joy. For teens, a lot of what they experience, they do so with fresh eyes and remarkable passion.

It is, in that sense, enormously freeing and so much fun to write, because I get to throw myself into those never-before-worn shoes and experience that same rush of emotion that my characters and, hopefully, my readers do.

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

A lot of it is the freshness I mentioned above–and the capacity for undiluted passion. That sense of purpose with which you can imbue a younger person whereas an older character carries the baggage of experience that sometimes dulls that impetus. And you can still wrap it all up in the fears and freak-outs and insecurities that come with being a teen.

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

Wondrous Strange came about as a sprint after a long-distance haul, actually. My first (unpublished) book took years to write. I came close to getting an agent more than once for it but, alas, it was not to be. Then I wrote a second book which took substantially less time, and I hooked a fantastic agent for that one. Huzzah, right? Well, not quite. That one hasn’t sold either (yet). But… here’s where it gets interesting.

I went to New York to meet my agent, the fantastic Jessica Regel, face to face. I went with another author friend of mine, who was meeting her publisher for the first time.

Both of us were wowed by the city as a whole, but I was absolutely captivated by Central Park. Even in February. We did the touristy stuff on that trip–carriage ride, Tavern on the Green (both of which are now plot points in Wondrous Strange!)–but it was on my next trip that I really got to wander around the Park with some New Yorker friends. We spent hours there, night and day, and I started to get ideas. Ideas about things in the Park that the average park-goer doesn’t get to experience. Magical things.

I was also performing Shakespeare, and had already written a short story about an actress in a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Well, those two disparate elements–the Bard and the Park–came together in a flash of inspiration prompted by an off-hand comment from my boyfriend John (bless him!). And Sonny and Kelley and Co. presented themselves to me, en masse and emphatically.

Fortuitously, according to Jessica, it was just the kind of thing that HarperCollins editor Laura Arnold was looking for. Jessica got in touch, and Laura asked me to write an outline for the story. We had many fantastic conversations. There was back-and-forth, sample chapters and synopsis-writing, and apparently the whole thing went over pretty well, because, based on the first five chapters and an eight-page synopsis, HarperCollins made me an offer for two books (which then became three books)! And there was much rejoicing!

Laura is now my editor, and I simply cannot say enough good things about her.

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 think there’s anything I could have done differently. I think that the way things have worked out for me so far, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

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

You know… I suppose, for the question previous to this one, I could have said “I wish I hadn’t taken so freaking long to write my first book” (the one that failed to land me an agent)…but, conversely, I truly believe that the process I went through and the things I learned while writing and re-writing (and re-writing) that book was what taught me the craft. From the ground up.

Congratulations on your debut novel, Wondrous Strange (HarperCollins, 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

Here’s what it says on my website (it pretty much gives you the gist!):

Kelley Winslow is living her dream. Seventeen years old, she has moved to New York City and started work with a theatre company. Sure, she’s an understudy for the Avalon Players, a third-tier repertory company so far off-Broadway it might as well be in Hoboken, but things are looking up—the lead has broken her ankle and Kelley’s about to step into the role of Titania the Fairy Queen in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Faeries are far more real than Kelley thinks, though, and a chance encounter in Central Park with a handsome young man will plunge her into an adventure she could never have imagined.

For Sonny Flannery, one of the Janus Guards charged by Auberon, the King of Winter, with watching over the gate into the lands of Faerie that lies within Central Park, the pretty young actress presents an enigma. Strong and willful, she sparks against his senses like a firecracker and he can’t get her out of his mind. As Hallowe’en approaches and the Samhain Gate opens, Sonny and Kelley find themselves drawn to each other—and into a terrible plot that could spell disaster for both New York and Faerie alike.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

Well, I mentioned Shakespeare and Central Park above, but it really was the Park that was the first and foremost inspiration. Once I got home from that first trip, I started to do some research on the history of the place and I discovered all these immensely cool factoids about the Park, about one of its founders, and about the Carousel and some of the landmarks, all of which started percolating around the story that I had yet to write.

Since that time–it seems like a very short while ago–I have been back to the Park several times and have busily populated it with beings from the Otherworld. Do be careful where you walk!–not all of them are friendly…

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

There was a degree of research involved, especially with respect to the Park and getting it right. It’s such a huge place and, even though my story mostly centres on a small portion of the Park, it was important to get it right.

Same thing with Faerie lore. There’s an awful lot of it and, depending on whose telling the tale, the details don’t always agree. Which is fine–I was free to choose interpretations, which I liked–but I had to know where they came from and why they worked for me, and I had to avoid inconsistencies.

My Shakespeare, on the other hand, I had down pretty much cold!

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

How much fun it really is. How nerve-wracking it really is, even after (sometimes especially after) you get the contract. How utterly passionate the people who work in this industry are about the books they make and sell. It’s all very gratifying and more than a little bit humbling.

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

Big picture? Monster roller coaster. Terrifying, thrilling, unexpected and worth every single second of the metaphorical three-hour lineup to get there.

And I’m still not sure it’s quite sunk in yet!

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

Thanks to sites like yours, actually, it has become so much easier to reach such a wide audience (thank you!). Signings and events are lovely and useful but, especially for a debut author, to be able to reach readers through interviews and chat sessions like this is really marvelous. And when those readers touch base with you through MySpace or Facebook or wherever–it’s so great to be able to reach back.

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?

Ha! I’m not what you would call the most balanced person, anyway, but I do try! And I’ve learned that you really do have to budget your time.

It is so much fun interacting online or doing school visits or cons, but you have to be so mindful that–in the busyness of being an author–you cannot forget that, first and foremost, your duty is to the page.

There are times when I go radio-silent online, and my friend requests pile up and my status updates go stale and a tumble-weed rolls through my blog… That’s when you can tell that I’m probably neck-deep in the story.

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

Exclusively with my editor. I’m one of those people that needs to see the story through in my own head before I start getting outside input. And Laura’s input is fantastic.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read. Read everything. Through sheer osmosis you will pick up on cadence and structure and pacing and all that good stuff. Read. Aside from that? The best writing advice I ever received was–write.

I’m not being facetious. Guy Gavriel Kay told me that when I was an aspiring writer. And I know that aspiring writers have all heard that one before, but it’s true. You can’t edit a page full of nothing. And you can’t call yourself a writer unless you write. Write. Keep writing.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I’m an actor. I frequently perform with a Shakespearean theatre company called Tempest Theatre Group. In summer, I inadvertently terrorize the plants in my garden. I have three cats.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m presently doing the copy-edits for the next book in the series (it’s a trilogy), and it should be on the shelves late this year! Both books two and three are the direct continuation of Sonny and Kelley’s story. All the old familiar faces are back, plus one or two new ones. I had such a blast writing this latest book. I can’t wait to find out what my readers think!

Co-Editors Interview: Cathy Kurkjian & Sylvia Vardell on Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature

Cathy Kurkjian on Cathy Kurkjian: “I am a professor in the Department of Reading and Language Arts at Central Connecticut State University where I teach graduate courses in Reading and Language Arts and in Children’s Literature.

“I have had a life-long love of children’s literature as a classroom teacher and in my work as a university professor. I served as a columnist and Department Editor of Children’s Books for The Reading Teacher and, before that, as president of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association as well as co-editor of its Journal, The Dragon Lode.

“In addition to editorial experience on The Dragon Lode, I was editor of the New England Reading Association Journal for eight years. Currently I am president of this regional literacy organization. I am very interested in the intersection of literacy, literature, and the Internet, and I have focused my research in this area.

“Right now I am serving as one of a team of two editors of Bookbird, an international journal of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). I feel that all I have done has led me to this work, and there is no other position that is more suited to my passions, interests, and talents.

Sylvia Vardell on Sylvia Vardell: “I’m a professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University where I teach graduate courses in children’s and young adult literature.

“I’ve written four books on poetry and literature for children, as well as 20 book chapters and about 75 journal articles. I’ve been lucky enough to have served on several national award committees including the ALA Odyssey Award for audiobooks, the ALA Sibert Award for informational literature, the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for nonfiction, and the NCTE Award for Poetry.

“I am currently co-editor of the international journal, Bookbird, and previously was President of the United States Board on Books for Young People, the U.S. arm of the International Board on Books for Young People.”

Could you tell us about Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature? What are the goals of the journal?

Bookbird publishes articles on children’s literature with an international perspective. Our goal is to provide a forum for considering books, topics, themes, and issues in the field of children’s literature that are of interest to professionals and scholars around the world.

Articles that compare literatures of different countries are of interest, as are papers on translation studies and articles that discuss the reception of work from one country in another.

Articles concerned with a particular national literature or a particular book or writer are also featured from time to time.

What can readers expect from Bookbird?

CK: Readers can expect that Bookbird will speak to an international audience with voices that appeal to a broad international readership.

Readers can look forward to scholarly literary pieces, commentary on timely issues/themes of concern, and analysis of both seminal and current children’s literature from around the world.

They can also expect a cornucopia of resources on international literature which include reviews of international children’s books in the form of “Postcards from Around the World” and professional resources found in our “Books on Books” column.

In our “Focus IBBY” column, readers will find information on upcoming events and IBBY projects whose goal it is to bring books to children around the world, especially in developing countries.

Finally, readers can count on Bookbird to be a journal with aesthetic appeal. One yearly issue that will be particularly appealing–both from an aesthetic and literary perspective–is our Hans Christian Anderson issue in which we will highlight the illustrators and authors who are nominees for this prestigious award.

What inspired you to become involved in Bookbird?

CK: Each of us has a passion for children’s books as well as intersecting and unique skills and talents that prepared us for this editorship.

More importantly, we are both committed to the idea of books as a way of promoting understanding, friendship, and joy among the peoples of the world.

Could you offer us some history of the publication? How has it changed over time?

CK: The first issue of Bookbird was published in 1963. Dr. Richard Bamberger of Austria who was connected to IBBY for over 50 years was a co-founder of the journal along with Jella Lepman, the founder of IBBY.

The first issue was sixteen pages long and largely contained reports and proceedings of various IBBY events. Through Dr. Bamberger’s leadership, it quickly evolved into a journal that highlighted contemporary issues, research, and books from around the world, and by 1968, it grew to the length that it is today. Dr. Bamberger’s editorship extended until 1982.

Since then Bookbird has been in the hands of editors from Austria, the U.S., and Ireland and now back to the U.S. Each editorial team has put its own personal stamp on the journal to include the many features it retains today such as a format that has a strong aesthetic and visual appeal.

We’d like to express our appreciation to Valerie Coghlan and Siobhan Parkinson, our Irish predecessors, for paving the way for us.

What are your roles as editors?

CK: We see ourselves as stewards of Bookbird with the responsibility of carrying the legacy of Jella Lepman and Richard Bamberger into the future.

As such, we generate articles that will promote children’s literature in support of IBBY’s mission to bring books to children around the world.

This means highlighting the important work of IBBY, disseminating information and resources that are of interest to our international audience, and providing scholarly international literary pieces to our readers.

Sylvia and I work as a team in creating a vision for each issue so that there are some major intersecting foci within our collection of selected articles. Sylvia coordinates the manuscripts from the department editors focusing on IBBY Projects and Professional Books. I coordinate book reviews from the department editor of Postcards from Around the World. Each of us edits these pieces and sends them off for proofing.

I take on the primary role for generating a backlog of manuscripts in order to meet our quarterly deadline. At times, I contact authors and commission a piece on a topic of their expertise.

Generally, I have the first contact with the authors as I facilitate the reviewing process to keep them informed regarding the status of their respective manuscripts. Since this is a referred journal, I also coordinate the process of sending manuscripts to our editorial board for their review and work to keep our editorial board current and growing.

At each quarterly interval, Sylvia and I work to select complementary manuscripts that provide a given issue with a coherent focus. Once the authors are notified that their piece has been selected, we gather images to accompany each article and begin to work with our amazing graphic artist, Regina Dardzienski, in formatting the journal.

Sylvia has the primary responsibility to work with the author to fine-tune and edit manuscripts to get them ready for publication. Sylvia works with the images and the manuscript to format the article in an aesthetically appealing and accessible way.

Finally, we send the manuscripts off to be proofread by the brilliant Connie Rockman, and then to the graphic artist for formatting.

Both Sylvia and I do a final proofreading to make sure that we are ready to go to press.

We work well as a team and build on each other’s areas of interest and expertise. This is our second round of editing, and I believe we have a successful modus operandi in place that will be further streamlined and refined as we go through a yearly publication cycle.

Who are the other major players, and what do they do?

SV: Dr. Glenna Sloan at Queens College in New York solicits and coordinates the mini-book reviews of children’s books from around the world for our “Postcards from Around the World” feature. These are brief 100-150 word book reviews focused on international books for children and young adults. Anyone can write them and send them to Glenna for consideration for publication in Bookbird. This is where we keep our radar tuned for the next “Harry Potter” sensation from other countries.

Dr. Christiane Raabe, Director of the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany, coordinates our “Books on Books” column that features reviews of professional books published in various countries. For example, in our April issue, you can read critiques on books about the child/adult stance in children’s literature in France, on capturing “memorial culture” and the history of children’s literature in Germany, on the relationship of painting and illustration to Russian folklore and history, on the 100 years of New Zealand School Journal, and on the scholarly study of fairy tales, myths, and legends from Spain.

Liz Page, works for IBBY headquarters in Switzerland as member services, communications, and new projects director, and she gathers the information about IBBY activities around the world and writes the Focus IBBY column for Bookbird. Here, for example, you’ll learn about how the Irish IBBY section raises funds to support the literacy activities of the Zimbabwe IBBY section in a “twinning” project.

Those are the major contributors to each journal (besides the authors of articles), but there are even more players behind the scenes, so to speak. We rely on over 15 members of our editorial review board in India, Denmark, Italy, Australia, and beyond to review manuscripts.

We also appreciate the support of our Bookbird board, headed up by Dr. Joan Glazer, and including treasurer Ellis Vance and members, Alida Cutts from the U.S., James Tumusiime from Uganda, and Mingzhou Zhang from China. Finally, we also want to give a shout out to Carol Hamblen, at Johns Hopkins University Press, who handles distribution and subscriptions.

Who writes the articles? If applicable, how can prospective contributors contact you? What should they know?

CK: Articles are written by researchers, professors in library science, children’s literature and other related areas, as well by as authors and illustrators. We have designated people as departmental editors who write or recruit articles for their area of focus.

There is a rolling deadline for many of our issues, but at times we plan to call for articles revolving around thematic topics or for feature articles. For example, each year we have an issue that focuses on the Hans Christian Andersen award and highlights all the nominees.

We also have a special issue focusing on the hosting country in which the IBBY World Congresses is held.

We also rely on the national sections of IBBY in 60+ different countries to help us generate manuscripts. Both Sylvia and I recruit at international Congresses, at the annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and at other professional conferences. We do our best to be inclusive of as many cultures as possible.

A style sheet is posted on our website and submission information is also included on the web and in each journal. We can be reached at and

How can we support Bookbird?

SV: Subscribe. Write. We’re looking for readers and an ever-widening audience, as well as writers who have something to say to an international audience.

We also appreciate help spreading the word about our international gem—professors using it in classes, librarians subscribing to it for their libraries, authors reading it for insights into international trends, etc.

What do you see in the future of the journal?

SV: The journal has an outstanding reputation and excellent support from the sponsoring organization, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), so we are very optimistic.

We hope to continue featuring the mix of articles and columns by scholars, teachers, authors, and illustrators.

In addition, we’re looking at how to maximize a Web interface to enhance access to journal content. For example, we hope to publish some of the journal articles in their native languages on the Web, while the English translation is featured in the print journal (since the journal is published in English). And of course, previous issues of the journal are available online through Project Muse.

Why should all of us care about international children’s literature?

SV: We live in a global world and can learn a lot about what is universal about books, reading, childhood, and pedagogy by sharing ideas and information about our beliefs and practices around the world.

It can be very enlightening to read about the depiction of war in books for young people in China, for example, or consider the roots of storytelling in Denmark. There are teachers, writers, artists, and scholars whose lives are dedicated to creating unique books for kids in nearly every corner of the world. It can be fascinating to see how alike—and different—we are.

If we did not cast an international net, we would miss out on gems like Heidi, Pippi Longstocking, Mary Poppins, and Harry Potter, to name just a few!

What are current matters of particular concern?

SV: The role of censorship plagues nearly every country that publishes literature for young people. That is a concern for all of us in the field of children’s literature.

In the U.S., we struggle with responses to books that may be perceived as controversial.

In other countries, however, writers struggle to have the freedom to write the truth at all.

Access to quality literature continues to be an issue in many places in the world, too, as well as providing opportunities to respond to books through discussion, drama, drawing, etc.

In some countries, books provide a respite and release for children who face natural disasters, armed conflicts, and crises of all kinds. Bookbird tries to highlight those issues and share stories of how books are helping in these difficult situations.

What are areas within the body of international children’s literature that are particularly exciting right now?

SV: The art in children’s books is a fascinating area across the globe. As there are new opportunities for budding artists and illustrators, and new publishing companies and technologies, there is great experimentation in how a children’s book can look.

People are trying all kinds of media, styles, and stories—with graphic novels and more heavily illustrated fiction being particularly popular at the moment. And when those artists are from Korea or Hungary or Japan, for example, it’s an eye-opening experience to see what emerges.

More personally, what are a couple of your favorite children’s books from around the world?

SV: Well, I grew up on Heidi and Winnie-the-Pooh and Pippi Longstocking, all creations by international authors (Swiss, British, and Swedish, respectively). And I’m loving a lot of the YA fiction coming out of Australia now, like the work of Melina Marchetta and Markus Zusak.

But I’m particularly keen to find poetry from other countries. Of course, I’m looking for poetry written in or translated into English—which limits my global selection—but I’ve enjoyed several recent collections, especially these:

Argante, Jenny. Ed. 2007. Poetry Pudding; A Delicious Collection of Rhyme and Wit. Ill. by Debbie Tipuna. Auckland, NZ: Reed Publishing, p. 105.

Cashman, Seamus. 2004. Something Beginning with P: New Poems from Irish Poets. Dublin: O’Brien Press.

Lujan, Jorge. 2008. Colors! Colores! Translated by John Oliver Simon and Rebecca Parfitt. Ill. by Piet Grobler. Toronto: Groundwood.

Wright, Danielle (Ed). 2008. My Village; Rhymes from Around the World. Wellington, NZ: Gecko Press

CK: Like Sylvia, I was weaned on Heidi. It was one of my very favorite childhood books. The characters in Beatrix Potter‘s books fascinated me as well, particularly the hedgehog, Mrs.Tiggy Winkle!

Not to mention Collodi‘s Pinocchio! I am particularly fond of the version illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, the Hans Christian Andersen award winning illustrator in 2008.

One of my most recent favorites is the wordless graphic novel The Arrival by Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan.

Don’t get me started….there are so many works of art from around the world that it is hard to single out a few.

Collodi, C. (2005). The Adventures of Pinocchio. Ill. by R. Innocenti. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.

Tan, S. (2006). The Arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

SV: Look for a new feature in Bookbird: a poem on the last page of each issue of the journal. We’ll be featuring a variety of children’s poets from around the world. We’re proud of that new addition to the journal’s tradition.

CK: In our efforts to be inclusive, we are hoping to capitalize on our website to post translated articles published in their original language. Be on the lookout for our issue focusing on Spain. We will publish the translated articles in English in Bookbird, but will post pieces in the various languages of Spain online at the IBBY website.

Author-Educator Interview: John H. Bushman on Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom

John. H. Bushman on John H. Bushman:

Undergraduate Degree — Ottawa University, 1962

Master’s Degree — University of Kansas, 1966

Ph.D — University of Illinois, 1971

“I have taught 9th grade English in USD 290 (Ottawa, KS), taught English at Ottawa University (1965 – 71), and taught English Education at the University of Kansas from 1971 to 2005.”

What about young adult literature first called to you as a reader? As an educator?

My first reading of YA Lit was The Chocolate War (1974). I was fascinated with Robert Cormier‘s style. Grabbed me from the first paragraph and kept me reading until I was finished. Really was disturbed–perhaps too strong a word–with the ending. But didn’t realize until a couple of years later after reading other works that he was “right on.” His ending clearly showed that “the good guys don’t always win.” That’s life!

It was so easy to get my students–undergrad and graduate to read his novels. Most grabbed on and stayed reading. It was somewhat easier to move from the Cormier style to other works.

How have you seen young adult literature grown and change over the course of your career?

There is a great range of YA Literature from the early days to the present. For me, the literature has become a little more real–i.e., there is more for the mature reader to enjoy. Perhaps more for the high-school reader. Language is stronger–more sophistication in the writing.

Congratulations on the success of Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom, co-authored by Kay Parks Hass, (Prentice Hall, 2005)(fourth edition)! Could you tell us about the book?

What we try to do with our book is to make it very practical for the classroom teacher.

There is some research, but we try to apply that to the classroom. We make every effort to help teachers have the strategies and the content to “do what is right for kids.”

Something must be right with the book — we are in the 4th edition!

What about this topic spoke to you? Why do you think using YA books in English classes is so important?

Kids come out of elementary school with a great desire to read and enjoy what they are reading, and they are then often faced with Great Expectations.

The YA Literature captures its readers. The plots are about them. They can see themselves in the characters. There is very little about Pip or Estella that turns kids on.

I strongly believe that we (teachers) have a strong mission to keep kids reading, and we can do that by providing them with literature that they can get excited about.

I have never said that the “classics” are bad in and of themselves. I do believe that they are bad for sixth through eleventh graders. Seniors–most of them–have the intellectual ability to understand the complexity of plot and of language. They can work with the classics.

In my tenure at the University, I have visited classroom after classroom and seen kids plodding along with a novel or play in which they find no excitement, no connection. Most of the time, the teacher is reading and or interpreting the work. The kids aren’t reading at all.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) of first bringing the book to life? Of the latest edition?

One of the major challenges is to include the latest and most relevant literature. My challenge is to keep up with my reading, and then I have to be selective in what is included.

The other challenge is to be aware of any changes in the research–what emphasis has changed.

There has always been some literature on “Reader Response.” There seems to be more emphasis on that approach in recent years. But I think the most important challenge is to be sure to include the right literature and place it in the right context.

We also have to provide enough of a change in a new edition so that when it is sold the new edition is significantly different from the previous one.

Could you give us a few (maybe three or four) examples of YA novels featured in your book that work especially well in English classrooms? What makes each such a great pick?

Some of the older works that I still believe are workable in the English classroom are The Chocolate War by Cormier (Dell, 1974), Chinese Handcuffs by Crutcher (Greenwillow, 1989) and Far North by Hobbs (Morrow, 1996).

These are basic, great quality books with much interest for students. Their characters are strong, and the plot lines are very well executed. Perhaps most of all, kids can still relate to them.

More recent past, I like Dessen‘s The Truth about Forever (Viking, 2004) and Draper‘s Copper Sun (Simon & Schuster, 2006) Both take on a different set of values and basically give young people choices to think about.

What new YA releases would you consider highlighting to English teachers?

I would urge English teachers to consider new releases such as Deadline by Crutcher (Greenwillow, 2007), Thirteen Reasons Why by Asher (Penguin, 2007), Handcuffs by Griffin (Delacorte, 2008), Thaw by Roe (Front Street, 2008), Timelock, The Caretaker Trilogy: Book 3 by Klass (FSG, 2009) and Walkaway by Carter (Holiday House, 2008).

There are so many books that hit the market almost everyday, it is very difficult to keep up. I find I’m reading every spare moment and I’m still behind. My library is bulging with books.

What strategic suggestions do you have for teachers wanting to use YA literature, but don’t have the support of their administrations, districts, etc.?

If test scores are not very high in reading, most administrators will want to know why. Often times, teachers can explain that students are not reading because they don’t want to read. It is not that they can’t read (most of the time), but it is simply due to the lack of reading interest. There are many articles from The Alan Review, English Journal and other journals that speak to this issue. Teachers can copy these and give them to those who question the teaching of YA Lit.

Book clubs before and after school can provide young people with quality reading. This may very well carry over to the regular curriculum if those in power can see the benefits.

I suppose the most important suggestion is to “go slow.” Introduce one book at a time. Then more may be added as the years go by.

Suggest that the curriculum committee read one or two YA books.

On another front, could you tell us about The Writing Conference? What are its goals and activities?

The Writing Conference is a nonprofit organization with its mission to increase the reading and writing skills by providing services for young people and teachers. The Conference was started in 1980 and has been moving along ever since.

One of the major concerns now is the lack of funding. We offer many activities for students that are not revenue generating.

The Writing Conference, Inc., sponsors writing contests, which are follow up by a Celebration of Writing event in which winners are invited to attend. An author is invited–our own Cynthia Leitich Smith was the 2009 author.

We also have the Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. YA Lit is nominated, and then a committee of 20 read the nominated books and then meet in late August to determine the 10 finalists. That list is made available through our web site.

Students then read as many of the 10 finalists as they can, and then they vote. The winner is determined in April and is invited to the Literature Festival in October.

From time to time, other conferences are held.

More specifically, would you like to fill us in on the upcoming Literature Festival?

The Literature Festival, held at the University of Kansas on Oct. 13, brings together books, young people and authors.

Small group discussions are held on the author books, the new Heartland Books, and the book read for this Festival. Students rotate through a number of discussion groups throughout the day.

Who were the winner and honor authors of this year’s Heartland Award?

The 2009 Winner of the Heartland Award is Thirteen Reasons Why by Asher (Penguin, 2007). The two Honor books were Deadline by Chrutcher (Greenwillow, 2008) and Elsewhere by Zevin (FSG, 2005).

I was very impressed with the Heartland choice that the students made. Thirteen Reasons Why concerns a problem that many young people face. Asher does an incredible job. And, of course, Crutcher is being Crutcher with Deadline. We all love him!

In considering YA literature in the whole, what would you like to see more of and why?

In general, I would like to see more high-school level young adult literature. There is plenty of mid-level literature–more and more each day, it seems. I know the argument: that’s where the reader base is. Well, if there were an increase in the more sophisticated, more “mature” themes, perhaps that readership would increase.

SCBWI British Isles Anthology Contest

From Sara Grant and Sara O’Connor, Undiscovered Voices Co-Editors

The deadline is fast approaching for SCBWI British Isles‘s second Undiscovered Voices anthology contest. This is a great opportunity for unagented, unpublished writers living in the British Isles to break out of the slush pile.

The stories to be included in the anthology will be selected by a fantastic panel of editors and agents including: Julia Churchill, The Greenhouse Literary Agency; Zoe Duncan, Scholastic Children’s Books; Lindsey Heaven, Puffin Books; Sarah Manson, Literary Agent; Jo Unwin, Conville and Walsh; and Emma Young, Macmillan Children’s Books. In addition, award-winning author Melvin Burgess will serve as the honorary chair.

The first anthology in 2008 helped many of its authors take the next steps on the road to publication–four of the twelve selected authors signed book contracts following their selection and seven of the twelve signed on with agents.

Undiscovered Voices 2010 will include a dozen extracts from early readers up through young adult novels. To showcase new talent and promote SCBWI members to U.K. and U.S. editors and agents, the anthology will be printed in early 2010 and sent free of charge to U.S. and U.K. children’s book editors and agents.

The anthology is being produced thanks to the kind support of Working Partners Ltd. There is no submission fee, but only unagented and unpublished members of SCBWI British Isles are eligible. New members still have time to join. The submission deadline is June 1.

Please visit for more details. Any questions on eligibility or submission guidelines should be directed to

William Low: Portrait of a Digital Artist

From Macmillian: “William Low is the author and illustrator Machines Go To Work (Henry Holt, May 2009), Chinatown (Henry Holt, 1997) and Old Penn Station (Henry Holt, 2007)(a New York Times Best Illustrated Book), as well as the illustrator of Henry and the Kite Dragon by Bruce Edward Hall (Philomel, 2004) and Willy and Max: A Holocaust Story by Amy Littlesugar (Philomel, 2006).

“Mr. Low is a four-time Silver Medal winner at the Society of Illustrators. He teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.” Source: Leda Schubert.

William Low’s series of videos (below) is highly recommended to illustrators, picture book writers, and those who’re students or enthusiasts of children’s literature.

Author Kathi Appelt Takes Over Cynsations, Interviews Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Dear Cynsations Fans—

Our host, Cynthia Leitich Smith has interviewed literally hundreds of folks in the children’s-YA literature community here on Cynsations.

She’s interviewed authors, illustrators, editors, agents, book packagers, publicists, bookstore folks. You name it, she’s interviewed us.

She’s done this for over ten years now, so I thought I’d give Cyn a day off and take on the role of guest editor.

But then I thought, hey, the person I want to interview is Cyn!

So here you go, sports fans, an interview with our very own Cynthia Leitich Smith about her new book, Eternal (Candlewick, 2009).

(I know, not much of a day off, but at least she didn’t have to think up the questions).

Here’s an introduction…

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the successful author of Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), Santa Knows (Scholastic Book Club, 2007), and numerous short stories.

Her newest book Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) comes on the very successful heels of Cyn’s first Gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), but while it features some of the same elements, it’s definitely its own novel.

KA: Welcome to Cynsations, Cyn! And congratulations on the release of Eternal!

Thank you, Kathi! Welcome to Cynsations yourself!

KA: In a conversation we had on the phone, you explained to me that both Eternal and Tantalize fall into a category of horror literature known as “Gothic fantasy.” For me, horror has always been just that, horror. And yet, it seems to those of us who are unfamiliar with the genre, there are different categories. Can you describe what Gothic fantasy is and how it differs from other sorts of horror?

In Gothic: Ten Original Dark Tales (Candlewick, 2004), anthologist Deborah Noyes says, “…think of Gothic as a room in the house of horror. Its décor is distinctive. It insists on the burden of the past. It also gleefully turns our ideas of good and evil on end.”

I tend to think of myself as a sense-of-place author, and I’m fairly obsessed with the “burden of the past,” the “conversation of books” over the ages. So Deb’s vision and definition are definitely in sync with mine.

My Gothics are interwoven with nods, tributes, and counterarguments to various pieces within the body of classic and, to a lesser extent, current literature. Tantalize is largely inspired by the Pygmalion tradition and offers a parallel construct to Hawthorne’s short story, “Young Goodman Brown.” Eternal touches on DickensA Tale of Two Cities and Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet.”

However, both novels (and Blessed, which I’m working on now) are foremost a conversation with Abraham “Bram” Stoker, the author of Dracula.

Dracula is the quintessential horror novel, perhaps—as often said—more for its elements than execution, but nevertheless a fascinating place to begin. To varying degrees of subtlety, I take on many of Stoker’s themes, such as invasion, the “dark” foreigner, the role of religion, corruption, sensuality/sexuality, and especially gender.

Does a reader have to have studied Stoker (or Hawthorne or Dickens or Shakespeare) to understand my books? Nope, but I have heard from teens that my novels have inspired them to pick up the referenced classics and I’m delighted by that.

I would add that my YA Gothics reflect a multi-faith, multicultural world and include both some humor and strong elements of romance. The latter isn’t new to the tradition. Dracula itself includes some heavy romantic content.

What else? Horror should challenge the readers’ comfort zones. Beyond that, in my universe, magic must have a proportional price. I’m not guaranteeing any happy endings (you have read the book to find out what happens). It’s not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad, and I like a set of teeth on my monsters or–in other words–a little horror in my horror novel.

KA: One of the trademarks of Eternal and Tantalize is the parallel world that you show in Austin, Dallas, and Chicago, making readers feel as though we could easily step across the portal from one to the other and not even realize that we’ve crossed such a dangerous border. How did you manage to go from a real setting, one that is easily recognizable to anyone who has tramped around in those cities, to one that could be there and yet remains unseen to most of us?

I’m tempted to ask why you’re so sure that magical “parallel world” isn’t the real one. Then again, I’ve been writing Sabine—the eternal queen—so I’m feeling rather saucy.

The short answer is that I’m fond of field trips.

Tantalize is set in Austin. Eternal is partly set in Austin, partly in Dallas, and mostly in Chicago. I make my home in Austin, lived in Dallas one summer, and lived in Chicago for three years. So, I’m already starting on familiar turf, but I don’t take anything for granted.

For example, while writing Eternal, I visited to Chicago and walked every street my characters did. In February (brr). I shopped on North Michigan Avenue with Miranda. I went out for egg rolls with Zachary in Chinatown. I’d ridden the El thousands of times, but it was different trying to imagine it from the perspective of a guardian angel.

What else? I’ve shot rolls and rolls of film in Austin neighborhoods (I’ve since gone digital), visited open houses to find homes for my characters, picked out clothes for them in local boutiques… My theory is that if the universe isn’t real to me, it won’t be to anyone else, and so I try to step into it to the extent possible.

KA: So sometimes you refer to the books as “in a universe” and sometimes as a series. Could you explain that?

It’s a series of books set in the same universe.

It’s not necessary to read Tantalize before Eternal or vise-versa. But the casts of those two novels will crossover in Blessed, which picks up with Quincie right where Tantalize leaves off.

There’s also a Tantalize graphic novel in the works, told from Kieren’s point of view and offering many new scenes.

In addition, I’ve written a couple of short stories set in the universe: “Haunted Love,” which appears in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008) and “Cat Calls, which will appear in Sideshow: Ten Original Dark Tales of Freaks Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, July 2009).

KA: Tantalize introduced all kinds of new werebeasts, including werepossums, werearmadillos and werepossums, and yet it was very much a vampire story (okay, there was that cute werewolf, but still, we’re talking mostly vampires). Eternal, on the other hand, brought in a different kind of supernatural being, a guardian angel. What inspired you to tap into the angels?

I’m working with a multi-creature-verse. While the vampires often take center stage—partly because of Stoker’s influence and partly because they’re grabby that way—I see the world as very diverse in its fantastic entities. Anyone who begins with the Tantalize graphic, for example, will likely think of it as a “werewolf” story.

The idea of guardian angels in Eternal came from the editing team.

My original thought had been to do an elf in the role instead, but he kept coming off too young and naïve to go toe-to-toe with my fearsome vampire princess.

Editorial was right–I needed a new concept for that character. I loved the idea of GAs so I took the story to the studs and began rebuilding.

Notes: Eternal also features werebears; my critique group is still mourning the elf.

KA: While we’re on the subject of heavenly bodies, I want to bring up the question of religion. How in fact did you deal with competing religions, heaven, the “Big Boss,” etc.?

In Dracula and many horror movies, there’s the idea that Catholicism, or at least Christianity, alone can fight the big baddies, and I decided to take a more inclusive tact both in terms of my heroes and “the forces of good.” It’s clearly specified in Eternal, for example, that everyone gets a guardian angel.

“Forget what you might have heard,” Zachary says. “There are no separate corps of angels for agnostics, atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Unitarians, Hindus, Druids, Shintoists, Wiccans and so on.”

I’ve received notes from several young readers specifically saying that they appreciated my including whichever group they identify with.

That said, my angels are fictional fantasy beings, not pulled from any real-life tradition of faith.

K.A: Throughout the story, we get small glimmers of light, including some humor perhaps especially in Zachary’s story. But we never forget that this is a horror story. Can you talk about the horror for a moment? What compelled you to write in this genre?

I’m writing the kind of story that I love to read. In junior high, I was a huge Stephen King fan, and by high school, I was a fan of spooky movies. (Less “Freddy,” more “Poltergeist,” less “Jason,” more “Lost Boys.”). I didn’t start writing Gothics until I finished Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) in late 2oo1, but I was already taking part in the related conversation.

In a 2001 Cynsations interview, author Annette Curtis Klause said:
“Reading about violence and horror is a way for a person to not only clarify their stance on moral issues by exploring the alternatives (and in doing so give license to the antisocial creature within in a safe venue) but to exercise their responses to the terrible and be prepared for it in real life. “It is foolish to try and sanitize literature and the arts under some mistaken idea that one is protecting youth. Children and teens need to explore the dark side as a healthy part of growing. “If a child is protected from everything dreadful, he will have no coping mechanisms in place when finally confronted with disaster.” In my twenties, when I began looking at young adult fiction with a writer’s eye, Annette’s Blood & Chocolate (Delacorte) wowed me. It was her female protagonist that impressed me most.

And before long, I was a dedicated “Buffy” fan!

When it comes to gender, horror has had its shining moments (Dracula (1897) arguably cuts both ways), but I still craved female heroes–like Buffy and Annette’s werewolf Vivian–and other fully-rounded female characters who were more than the fawning dependent, bait, or gender-clichéd victim or villain.

So, I guess it was that, a combination of an affection for horror and a predisposition, as a YA author, to give the girls their due. I’m not offering super-heroic slayers or shying away from the romantic tradition. But I am featuring, in the mix, active female characters willing to stand and, if necessary, fight on their own.

All of which isn’t to say that it’s an all-girl-powered series. Protagonists Kieren and Zachary are male heroes in the series.

This spring I had the honor of visiting with YA librarians from the Austin Public Library, and I was dismayed when one of them mentioned that a boy patron had dismissed books about vampires as “girl books.” He wanted to read one that spoke to him.

I don’t mean to gender stereotype. Obviously, I’m a woman who enjoys a scary read. But we want to encourage boys to read, horror appeals to some boy readers, and I’m always happy to recommend books like Thirsty by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 1997) or Heather Brewer‘s tween series, The Chronicles of Vladamir Tod (Dutton).

Note: I mentioned above that Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897) “cuts both ways.” Quickly… On one hand, Mina is a “modern woman” who can use a typewriter and organize all the available information about the monster and help track him. When the men are grief stricken over Lucy’s death, Mina is the one they turn to for support. On the other hand, at times her delicate sensibilities are protected (she’s sent to her room like a child, and she goes).

KA: Eternal has two strong voices. What was it like writing from alternating viewpoints?

Finding Miranda and Zachary’s voices for Eternal came naturally. I could hardly shut them up.

Finding Quincie’s solo voice for Tantalize was more of a challenge. But I think that’s in part because, back then, I was still haunted by the voice of Cassidy Rain from my debut tweener, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). It sometimes takes an extra effort to get past that debut novel. The release of my “sophomore” novel took five years.

In between, though, I’d done several first-person short stories, which helped. Don’t get me wrong, short stories are a wonderful form unto themselves. But they’re also great labs for experimentation and learning.

KA: You have a whole community of teen readers who are Tantalize/Eternal fans. Can you describe how this closeness to your fans impacts you and your work?

I’m tremendously appreciative of their support and enthusiasm. That said, it’s not only teenagers. I’d say half of my reader mail comes from grown-ups age 25 and up. If there was ever a doubt about the YA crossover market, at least with regard to fantasy, good news! The market lives.

I spend a lot of time writing back to YA readers on the ’net.

(Not all authors can do this—I don’t have, say, three-year-old twins at home).

But especially with teen readers, if at all possible, I want to thank them for reading, cheer their excitement, and point them to other books they might enjoy, no matter whether they’re mine or someone else’s.

Altruism aside, it’s not a bad strategy to tell that reader begging for your sequel to, in the meantime, go read Carrie Jones‘s Need (Bloomsbury, 2008)!

K.A.: It could be said the Tantalize and Eternal are “genre” books, and yet when we think of genre literature, we don’t always equate it with “literary.” But both Tantalize and Eternal are exquisite in their literariness—your use of language, detail, symbolism, etc. all combine to make stories that are linguistically beautiful as well as wondrous in the ways in which they fulfill the requirements of their genre. How did you do that?

Thank you! (Working on learning to take a compliment…).

Much of the credit goes to my wonderful editor, Deborah Wayshak and her team, as well as my early readers, especially my husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith.

I should also point out that there’s certainly amazing and literary genre fiction out there. A recent example would be Night Road by A.M. Jenkins (HarperCollins, 2008).

As for me, the most significant thing I do—beyond my homework and reading widely—is to take my time. I’m serious about meeting deadlines, but I try to set realistic ones, and I’m going for quality over quantity.

(I know there are novelists who can achieve both higher output and solid craft, but since I also teach and write shorter fiction, I’m not sure I’ll ever be one of them).

Also, my books are for the crossover (age 14+) market, which means I’m under no pressure to make them more accessible than I would otherwise.

Note: outside of the “book world,” it can be challenging to explain (mostly to parents) that reading level is more than vocabulary or length or profanity/sexual content. Not every tween/young teen is ready for an upper-level YA with an unreliable narrator or quasi-epistolary elements or alternating point of view or that disrupts his/her comfort zone (which horror tends to do). That’s okay. They’ll get there. And at the same time, we still need books that challenge strong readers as well as those in transition.

K.A.: You are one of the pioneers of the children’s literary Internet community. How do you balance the demands of your on-line presence with your own writing?

I pre-format most of my non-time-sensitive posts a couple of months in advance. Many mornings, I do a fair amount of just copying and pasting the code to reach my audience via various outlets.

With regard to the main website, I’m blessed (there’s that word again) to be working with the wonder woman that is Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

In addition, Greg contributes a fair number of the book recommendations.

KA: You have a picture book coming out next year. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Holler Loudly will be a humorous, original southwestern tall tale, illustrated by Barry Gott and published by Dutton. It’s a love letter to small-town folks, public librarians, and everyone who likes to be heard.

I should also mention that Greg and I have a short story, “The Wrath of Dawn,” coming out in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, Aug. 2009).

Note: the Geektastic cover shown is not final.

KA: Thanks for letting me to be the guest editor! If I ever set up my own blog, will you do another interview?

But of course! Thank you!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Kathi Appelt.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of TWENTY copies of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin’s Press, 2009)! Read a Cynsations interview with Carol. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “The Chosen One” in the subject line. Deadline: May 25!

Enter to win one of FIVE signed copies of Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009) from Free Book Friday Teens! Giveaway will be May 22!

Enter to win a paperback copy of Sacajawea by Joseph Bruchac (Harcourt, 2008)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Sacajawea” in the subject line. Deadline: May 30! Read a Cynsational interview with Joe.

Enter to win an ARC of Pure by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon Pulse, 2009)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Pure” in the subject line. Deadline: May 30.

More News

“For over 100 years, Booklist magazine has been reading everything–so you don’t have to. But how do we read that many books? For the first time ever, the intrepid editors of Booklist provide a glimpse into the their top-secret methods. Prepare to be shocked and amazed.” From the American Library Association.

Enter to Win Suddenly Supernatural (ages 8-up) from Laura’s Review Bookshelf. Peek: “There will be one winner and a second winner for Book 3 (Books 1 & 2 are allocated).” Deadline: May 23.

Getting Crazy With Fonts from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “I honestly don’t know what’s behind the wacky formatting craze, but it seems to be sweeping query nation.”

Dead Girl Walking Interview with Linda Joy Singleton from J. Aday Kennedy : A Writing Playground. Peek: “For instance, some people think I’m outgoing but that’s only when I’m around other writers and in my element. In different situations, around different people I can be shy, polite, crude, silly, stubborn, easy-going, hard-working, lazy, dark and light. But if you show all of these traits in one character in a book, they’ll come off as unstable.”

Why we write for kids by Deborah Heiligman from INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: “It might be easier for the outside world to understand why people write fiction for kids, but non-fiction? Why do we go through all the research, learn about our topic front and back, inside and out, and then write it as a picture book for preschool through second-graders, or as a middle grade book, or as a YA?”

Criticism, Commentary, and Calmness from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: “It’s important to remember that this is one of the magics of creating art, and one of the heaving frustrations.” See also EA’s answers to submission questions.

Meet author-illustrator Jerry Craft from Don Tate at The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I’ve been fortunate to be able to work on some really cool projects over the years. For me, the biggest would have to be my Mama’s Boyz comic strip that has been syndicated weekly by King Features for more than 15 years. But it’s not so much as doing the comic strip each week as it is publishing my own Mama’s Boyz books.”

The Best Way to Improve Your Writing from E.M. Rowan at Postscripts of a Writer. Peek: “If you read enough books, you can learn how to write a novel without ever taking a writing class. Many published authors do not have a degree in English, Creative Writing, or a related major. Study your favorite books to learn about plotting, good characters, and even little things like grammar and mechanics.”

SBBT: Kekla Magoon Interview by Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: “I’d recently read something about The Black Panthers online that surprised me–the fact that they ran a free breakfast program for school children. As I learned more about them, I graduated from surprise to shock to outrage that I hadn’t known about the depth of the Panthers’ community engagement before. I’d only ever heard about their militancy.”

Nonfiction: Because Children Ask: a week-long series from Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “This week we will look at nonfiction books that are the ‘best’ and explore why.”

Craft Issues from author Janet S. Fox at Through the Wardrobe. A series of posts about such topics as research methods, creating the plot summary, and “the sticky-note method of plotting.”

“Baby in the Basket” a short story by Cecil Castellucci from Strange Horizons.

PBS KIDS Gets Cat in the Hat TV Series by Thomas J. Mclean from Animation Magazine. Peek: “Production has begun on 40 animated half-hour episodes of ‘The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!,’ with actor Martin Short voicing the lead character.” Source: KidsLit at Caestecker Public Library.

SBBT: Amber Benson from lectitans: reading eagerly on. Peek: “You can deal with very topical subject matter, but throw it into an alternate world and no one gets offended. It’s really freeing.” See the whole schedule, featuring Kekla Magoon, Carrie Jones, Jo Knowles, Barbara O’Conner, Maggie Stiefvater, Cindy Pon, Lauren Myracle, and many more authors. Source: Chasing Ray.

Top 10 SF/Fantasy for Youth: 2009. by Gillian Engberg from Booklist Online. Peek: “Debut novels make a strong showing on this year’s roundup of the top 10 science fiction and fantasy titles for youth, all published in the past 12 months.” Source: Mitali Perkins.

Donate Spanish-language Preschool & Kindergarten Books: Austin-based children’s writer Lindsey Scheibe seeks donations for Makarios, a small, non-profit missionary school in the Dominican Republic, which educates Dominican and Haitian children. The school also provides students with two meals a day. Please send Spanish-language preschool and kindergarten books only to 3267 Bee Caves Rd, Suite 107-71, Austin, TX 78746. Note: donations also are welcome at the website.

Coleen Salley Endowment Fund: established at The University of Southern Mississippi to promote storytelling during the annual Book Festival. “Ms. Salley was a regular at this festival for over 40 years and helped bring some ‘big names’ in the children’s book world to the Book Festival. In November, 2008, the” Coleen Salley – Bill Morris Literacy Foundation “gave $10,000 to the Endowment Fund.” Note: “The Foundation Board has decided to terminate the Coleen Salley/Bill Morris Literacy Foundation in order to further the development and enrichment of the Endowment Fund.” See also the USM Foundation.

Pardada Pardadi from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: “What a thought. What if we all spent an hour a day to think about others, to think about the planet, to think of doing good in small, practical ways? I sent a box of books and here they are two months later, in the girls’ hands.”

“At a time when we are regularly discussing the importance of teen readers ‘seeing themselves’ represented in their literature, you have to wonder what the shop kids and retail workers think of being left out of the conversation.” An excellent interview with YA author Melissa Wyatt about her new novel Funny How Things Change at Chasing Ray.

I Don’t Do Morals by Jeannine Garsee from Bookluver-Carol’s Reviews. Peek: “Teens, like adults, make some very bad choices, yet they learn from their experiences and somehow manage to grow up into responsible adults.”

Sorting Out the Voices from Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: “How many voices try to tell you what to write, when to write, and how to write? What voices do you listen to?”

And You Thought a Royalty Involved a Crown from Editorial Ass. Peek: “I realized that royalty accounting must be so mysterious to anyone unpublished. Or published. Or anyone. I realized even I didn’t really know what I was talking about. So here is my imperfect attempt to describe to you an author’s possibilities for making money with her/his books.”


Bridget Zinn Auction is taking place between now and 12 a.m. PST May 31. Bid to win critiques from award-winning and other “big name” authors, agents, and editors, signed books, audio books & other CDs, promotional services, and much more. Latest additions include a custom kitchen knife, a thirty-page read from Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, a basket of MG books by the Class of 2k9, a basket of YA books from the Class of 2k9, and more!

Austin Author Christine Rose

Highlights of the week included a Wednesday brunch with local author Christine Rose at Waterloo Ice House.

Christine’s debut novel, co-authored by her husband Ethan, is Rowan of the Wood, which was published last fall by a small local press.

What Would You Do to Win a Kindle 2 Contest! sponsored by authors Christine and Ethan Rose at Bitten by Books. Deadline: May 30.

More Personally

Cynthia Leitich Smith: an Interview with the Author of Eternal (and many other books). from Shutta Crum: author and teller of stories. Peek [on character names]: “I often look for variety in terms of syllables, vowel and consonant sounds, first letters, etc. or meanings. The name ‘Miranda’ from Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) means ‘miracle.'”

Once Upon A Romance’s Review Of…Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Amy. Peek: “His name is Zachary and let’s just say that he is a character that girls everywhere would want to live out eternity with… There’s danger, romance, and a high dosage of really good writing.”

Signed copies of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) and Eternal are available at BookPeople in Austin! You can order online or call: (800) 853-9757.

The Royal Bat logo (above), among other designs, is available on T-shirts, caps, and other items celebrating Eternal and Tantalize at the Sanguini’s CafePress store.

Check out Carmen Oliver’s report on the May Austin SCBWI meeting, featuring author Shana Burg. Peek: “When Shana begins a new novel, she starts with the setting. She says some writers choose character or plot but whatever element you begin with, you need to infuse them with rich details. Oprah Winfrey says, ‘Love is in the details,’ and Shana said the more love the better.”

And finally, here’s a little beauty from my world to yours. My Easter lilies are blooming again.

Author Interview: Terra Elan McVoy on Pure

Learn more about Terra Elan McVoy.

Could you describe yourself as a teen? Who were your favorite authors?

I was a very serious teenager–serious about writing and literature, serious about my job, serious about my church involvement, serious about boys and serious about my friends. My favorite authors were serious authors: J.D. Salinger, Robert Penn Warren, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

Well, I’ve been writing pretty much since I learned how to, and I developed my poetic voice at St. Andrews Presbyterian College while I was there for undergrad, but my studies at Florida State in their MA program for Creative Writing really helped me get rid of my writing baby fat for real. The teachers there are all top-notch but so are the students, so you’re getting good professorial help but also good help from your peers, too.

What was the single best thing you did to improve your craft?

The single best thing I’ve done to improve my craft is to read every book, short story, and poem I can get my hands on.

How did you find out that you’d sold your first novel? Did you celebrate, and if so, how?

I found out about the sale of my book through a phone call from my editor, who is also a friend of mine. At the time, I celebrated with some champagne at home and then dinner with friends a couple of nights later, but the best celebration was on April 17 when we threw a really giant book release party at the bookstore I manage, Little Shop of Stories. We had about 200 people there with champagne and cupcakes and Ring Pops and even live music. It was great!

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Pure (Simon Pulse, 2009)! Could you tell us about it?

Pure is a book about five close friends, all of whom wear purity rings. When one of the girls breaks her promise, the rest must decide what it is they really believe.

But this book is about a lot more than purity rings. It’s about friendship, faith, and first love. Even more, to me, it’s about that deliciously horrible time in life when, for the first time, you find yourself making choices that separate you from your friends, your parents, your teachers and mentors: when you begin defining yourself as an individual.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I wanted to write a book that addressed the challenges of being a teenager, on top of being a teenager who was trying to sort out his or her own faith. To write about that time when you’re really forging your own morality.

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

I think the biggest challenge was just sitting down and having the discipline to get the writing done.

How goes the transition from writer to writer-author?

So far it is going okay, though it is a lot more work than being just a writer! Writing is one thing, but working on promoting your book, doing appearances and interviews–that’s another ball of wax altogether.

Also writing is pretty much a solitary activity, while being an author out there in the world is definitely more community involved.

How have you set out promoting your novel to YA readers?

Well, managing a bookstore really helps with promotion. But I’ve also done some out-of-town signings, and gone to talk to local schools and a couple of churches, too.

The release party at Little Shop of Stories was great. I’ve also got my own website. I’m doing a lot of interviews like this one on other folks’ blogs, and am interviewing authors on my own website, too!

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

Keep it up. You don’t suck as much as you think you do.

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

I’m never not in the book world–it’s both my job and my pleasure. But sometimes I do cook. And do decoupage. And I really like movies.

What can your readers look forward to next?

Well, my second book is still sort of forming as we speak, but I can tell you that there won’t be a sequel to Pure, that’s for sure!

Author Interview: Diana López on Confetti Girl

Diana López on Diana López: “Diana López is the author of Sofia’s Saints (Bilingual Review Press, 2002) and the middle grade novel, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009).

“Her work is also featured in Hecho en Tejas, an anthology of Texas Mexican writers, and in journals such as Chicago Quarterly Review, Sycamore Review, and New Texas.

“She lives in San Antonio where she teaches English at St. Philip’s College.”

What kind of teenager were you? Who were your favorite authors?

Very skinny, very shy, tomboyish, and clumsy. By the time I was in eighth grade, I had fractured seven bones for things like playing Tarzan and trying to be a Harlem Globetrotter.

But I felt graceful when I ran. How I loved to run. I grew up in a small house–three bedrooms, one bathroom, six people. So I was desperate for solitude, and running was a great way to be alone.

Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton wrote about kids that felt like the kids in my neighborhood and school. But the stories I couldn’t stop reading were the Greek myths. I still have my Edith Hamilton book from the seventh grade. The Diary of Anne Frank taught me that a journal could be a best friend, and I’ve had my own version of Kitty since 1985.

The first Chicano novel I encountered was Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolpho Anaya (1972). What a great book. The way the protagonist, Tony, felt torn between two worlds and the questions he asked about religion, vocation, miracles, myths… I had the same questions. I wasn’t alone after all, and as long as there are good books, I’ll never be alone.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

My writing began with a journal. After a while, I started to dramatize my experiences with description and dialogue. So I thought I could write stories, but I didn’t know how. In the early nineties, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center offered writing classes with people like Nan Cuba, Jesus Cardona, and Pat Mora. I signed up, and they were wonderful workshops. But, I could never work my way into a critique group. That’s when I realized I’d have to pay someone to read my stuff.

So I took the MFA path by going to Texas State. I was so intimidated at first. My professor, Tom Grimes, advised me to spend time away from workshops because I “was writing for the class.”

Since I didn’t have deadlines, I decided to try a novel, Sofia’s Saints. When I returned to workshops, I met Dagoberto Gilb, who became a wonderful mentor and friend. I finished my novel and eventually, Bilingual Review Press published it.

What was the single best thing you did to improve your craft? What, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently?

I wish I’d made friends at Texas State, but I was teaching middle school full time and commuting from San Antonio. I simply had no time to socialize.

I didn’t realize how important the networking aspect of an MFA program was until I graduated and found myself floundering with my second book. Some people can work in isolation, but I need feedback and the motivation that a critique group provides.

So to answer the second question, I discovered and joined the Daedalus critique group in San Antonio and have been participating for the past five years. We meet once a month and the members have become my cherished friends.

How did you find out that you’d sold your first novel? Did you celebrate, and if so, how?

When I sold Sofia’s Saints, I got nervous. I imagined my mother reading it, and my hand shook for about twenty-four hours after I got the call from Bilingual Review. (You never outgrow the fear of a mother’s reproof.)

When I sold Confetti Girl, I treated my friends to margaritas at La Fogata. It’s okay if Mom reads this one.

Congratulations on the release of your debut children’s novel, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, June 2009)! Could you tell us about it?

Confetti Girl is my second book but my debut for the middle grade reader. It’s about a girl named Apolonia Flores, Lina for short. She’s a sockiophile (one who loves socks) whose mother died a year ago. She’s ready to move on, but her father isn’t.

Meanwhile, she falls in love, verbally combats a bully, gets kicked out of sports, and endures many break-up and make-up scenes with her best friend.

The book’s called Confetti Girl because Lina’s best friend’s mom makes cascarones (confetti eggs) as a coping mechanism after her divorce. Cascarones are a Tex-Mex tradition. You fill eggshells with confetti and glue tissue over the hole. Then on Easter morning (or all during Fiesta if you live in San Antonio), you sneak up to people and crack the eggs on their heads.

I had just finished visualizing Lina’s home, how her father has so many walls of books. But I was really struggling to find a memorable visual for her best friend’s (Vanessa’s) house.

Then I noticed a lady in my neighborhood selling cascarones. That’s when it hit me: Vanessa’s mom has a cascarones-making obsession! It’s amazing how one detail can give birth to a whole character. But even so, I was halfway through the book before I realized how symbolically rich cascarones could be.

I also didn’t realize how little-known the practice was until I tried to get the book published. I had to take photographs and send instructions to the people in New York.

At a dinner last year, a librarian from the Midwest asked, “So this is a family tradition?”

Her eyes got so big when I told her it’s something the whole South Texas region does.

Maybe cascarones will go mainstream like piñatas and salsa.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

This book was inspired by Don Quixote. I was going to write a contemporary Don Quixote story about a father who loses touch with reality by reading books. In fact, my first title was “Dad’s Windmill,” and he’s the first character I imagined though I sensed this would be from a daughter’s point of view.

Then Lina was born. I loved her. I had to chisel into stone to discover the other characters but Lina came to me fully developed like Athena busting out of Zeus’s head.

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

I started the novel in 2005. The year before, I’d won the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award sponsored by author Sandra Cisneros. I used the money to go to the Latino Writers Conference in Albuquerque. This practice of going to an agent’s conference and pitching an idea in five-minutes-or-less is impossible for me. But I love to give readings.

Luckily, the conference sponsored an open-mike. Each reader had five minutes. I must have done a good job because later that day, I had a lengthy conversation with Stefanie von Borstel of Full Circle Literary. She represents children’s and YA literature, something many agents don’t do. Plus, she had a lot of enthusiasm for my work.

She said, “I know just the editor at Little Brown for this book.” She sent it to many places, but in the end, it was Alvina Ling from Little Brown who championed my book.

I don’t mean to make the process sound easy because it wasn’t. I had a lot to learn about writing for this age group. The book went through many, many revisions.

But through it all, I could hear Lina’s voice, and her voice is what made this writing experience worth all the effort.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m writing another middle grade novel about a girl who’s named Windy (there were gusts up to 25 mph on the day she was born).