New Voice: Debbie Gonzales on New Zealand’s Gilt Edge Readers Series

Debbie Gonzales is the first-time author of Birthday Skates, Charlie the Sleepy Bee, Kindness, Plunk! Dunk!, Raspberry Fizz, and Stormy, all to be published as part of the New Zealand’s Gilt Edge Readers Series, which will be released in winter 2009.

The books in the Gilt Edge Readers Series offer research-based multifaceted reading instruction to all children learning to read. While the series offers teachers the opportunity to provide explicit instruction in decoding, the texts are written with natural language which supports vocabulary development, fluency practice, comprehension instruction, and–most importantly–a love of reading.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft?

I’ve had many, many marvelous “ah-ha!” moments in this writing journey, but there are two particular experiences that have been life-altering.

The first happened in 2001, when I attended an annual creative writing conference sponsored by Florida International University. I will never forget the mixed emotions I felt while there–complete exhilaration and utter despair.

You see, I’ve always dreamed of being an author. As a child, I remember stroking an author’s name printed on a book cover. Oh, how I wished that my name would be printed on a book like that. However, during that first FIU conference, I was shocked into awareness: making this author dream become a reality was going to be hard, hard work.

At the FIU conference, I met some excellent and highly prominent writers whom I now consider to be mentors and friends, people who have generously shared their support, criticism, and influence with me over the years: John Dufrense, Lynne Barrett, Brewster Robinson, Madeleine Blais, Denise Duhamel, and Connie Mae Fowler, to name a few.

I continue to learn so very much from these folks. Simple, yet profound things. Good writers read. There is method to the madness of plotting. Approach the act of query submission with tenacity. The first page of a novel tells the entire story. Poetry is power.

Connie Mae Fowler taught me that, though the writing life can be grand, the real magic lies in privately honing the skills of the craft.

And Madeleine Blais told me that I was a writer worthy of pursuing a master’s degree. Me? Wow.

I wrote two pieces under FIU’s inspiration that mustered up a little recognition. I return to Florida and attend this conference every year, a homecoming of sorts. I love these people.

Madeleine’s words changed the direction of my life. As a direct result of Maddie’s (and my beloved husband John’s) encouragement, I’ve gone on to earn an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Connie’s words stayed with me throughout the two rigorous years of study, and I mean rigorous.

First and foremost, I came to Vermont to hone my skills and to learn all that I could about the craft. That’s where the magic lies, remember?

I literally sat at the feet of VCFA’s masterful faculty and absorbed all the wisdom I could from them. I was blessed with brilliant semester advisors who accepted no less than my very best: Jane Kurtz, Uma Krishnaswami, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Sarah Ellis. These excellent and highly-prominent authors have become my mentors and friends, as well.

I’m still quite active in the VCFA writing community, serving as a graduate assistant and participating in alumni activities. I love those people, too.

And now I live in awesome Austin, Texas, smack-dab in the middle of an amazing children’s writing community. Today my life is constant series of “ah-ha!” moments. Lucky, lucky me.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about teaching has been a blessing to your writing?

I would say that everything about being a teacher has blessed my writing. I have affectionately referred to my over thirty years in education as my “adventures in teaching.”

I’ve worked with high-schoolers to preschoolers, wealthy and poor, brilliant and disadvantaged, and had a blast with it all. As a teacher, a person walks shoulder to shoulder with a child, privileged to witness all the angst and elation involved in simply being a kid. And talk about characters! There is a plethora of them just skulking down the hallway!

I am trained to teach with the Montessori Method of learning, which is solidly founded on observation of the child. It is a simple, yet highly complex way to teach. In a nutshell, Montessorians are trained to closely consider the physical, intellectual, and social needs of a student and then design an individualized course of study for them.

Isn’t that what we do as writers when we create characters? Don’t we wait and watch, pondering just what direction the character will go? Then, don’t we orchestrate settings and scenes that compliment or conflict with their character traits?

Years ago I worked with kids that were deemed “troubled” or “at-risk” at a marvelous place called Dallas Can Academy. There I taught gang members how to reduce fractions. I helped desperate unwed mothers study for their GED. And there I learned just how a little bit encouragement can ignite a soul. Yes, I gleaned gobs of goodies for my writing bag of tricks in that place.

My middle-grade novel manuscript “Alien All-Stars” was inspired by a student’s response to writing prompt. In class, I dramatically described a dark and stormy night.

“You are all alone wearing your jammies,” I said. “And behold! A spaceship lands right in the middle of your backyard! What happened next?”

One of my students, an extremely shy fourth grader, came up with an incredible tale, complete with back-story! He cast himself as the protagonist, and rightly so. Earlier in the day, the protagonist had clobbered a baseball so high in the sky that no one could find it. The alien had come to return the ball. From that moment on, the alien and the boy became best friends.

Though the plot line of my novel differs from my student’s clever story, the theme of true friendship resonates throughout.

The role of teacher has totally prepared me for the early-readers I’ve written for Giltedge. Nothing is more exciting to a teacher than the moment when a child discovers that they can read! All that laborious sounding out of letters and struggle to blend them together to form words has finally paid off.

As a teacher, you want to fan that flame of enthusiasm by offering them interesting books that both challenge and delight the reader. They need stories that are alive and engage them, stories that they’ll return to time and time again.

The Montessori mantra for this sort of reading practice is “repetition equals mastery.” Novice readers need characters that they can emotionally connect with, settings that are believable, and syntax that respects their need for well-written literature. That is just what the books in the Gilt Edge Readers Series do.

How did you go about identifying your editor?

Actually an excellent illustrator, Brandi Lyons, told me about New Zealand’s Giltedge Publishing. She explained the book series’s concept and thought I might be interested in working on the project. I sent Kate McFlinn an email. She asked for a story. After a few rewrites and edits, Plunk! Dunk!–a book about overcoming the fear of learning how to swim–was born. Since then I’ve written five more titles for Giltedge and have a few others in the works.

Yes, I have been completely impressed by the books in the Gilt Edge Readers series that Joy Allcock and Kate have edited. These ladies insist upon excellence. Their early readers possess essential literary elements–age-appropriate and compelling stories, a dynamic change in the protagonist’s character, situations and settings that emotionally identifiable to the novice reader, as well as surprising plot twists.

Their teaching guides are academically sound, lively, and creative. They illustrate how to best instruct the skills of phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. Techniques such as acting out plays or participating in reader’s theatre are employed to assure learning how to read continues to be an entertaining process.

And the illustrations are superb! For instance, in my book Raspberry Fizz, illustrator Robin Kerr created a little red bird with a story line of its own. I can just imagine a young reader searching the page for that tiny feathered friend, delighting in its role in the story. The concept was Robin’s doing and I love it!

The way the series works is that an entire story is written around a particular sound. It is critical that the sound is repeated throughout the story in a non-didactic or redundant manner, that it almost invisible, thus allowing the story line to be the central focus.

For example, the long ‘e’ sound is the focus of my book Charlie, the Sleepy Bee. There are number of confusing letter combinations that make the long ‘e’ sound. For example there is the ‘ie’ in Charlie, or ‘ee’ in bee, or even ‘e’ in regal. Yikes! This is like a very bad joke to a new reader. The reading rules keep changing! How can the beginner ever remember all of this?

The answer to that question is by practicing the act of reading. The solution to the problem of getting a novice reader to practice is to give them quality learning material that they willingly reread over and over again. The Gilt Edge Readers Series books do just that. I am proud to be a part of this important project.

Along with writing these early readers for Gilt Edge, I continue to write for the middle-grade audience. I have two newly completed novels that need a home, one is “Alien All-Stars,” which I mentioned earlier, and the other is “Bear Mountain,” a historical fiction action/nature story set in the Pacific Northwest. My current project is another middle-grade historical fiction piece entitled “Whistle Punk,” set in a 1930’s logging camp.

The Washington DCJCC Now Accepting Submissions for 2009 Sugarman Award

The Washington DCJCC is now accepting submissions for the 2009 Sugarman Award.

The Sugarman Award was established in 1994 by Joan Sugarman to help thank, encourage and inspire writers and illustrators of Jewish children’s literature. Every other year a monetary award is presented for best Jewish children’s book. The presentation to the winner will take place during the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center in Fall 2009.

Award Guidelines

1. Books published in the United States for use by children (3-16 years of age), between Oct. 1, 2008 and Oct. 1, 2009. Self-published books are not eligible.

2. An applicant must live in the United States. Applicants need not identify as Jewish.

3. Submissions may include picture books, fiction, and nonfiction.

4. Books should present a Judaic perspective or include Jewish characters, worthy of emulation and reflecting our Jewish heritage in an honest and meaningful way.

5. The writing must accurately reflect Jewish concepts, trends, traditions, experiences, characters, settings, conflicts, and current mores, either in America or elsewhere and be done with integrity, style and quality creating living characters or delineating accurate concepts understandable by a child reader.

If you would like to submit a book for consideration, please send three copies of each book, a $25 entry fee, and the completed entry form to:

Sugarman Award
Attn: Margalit Rosenthal
DCJCC
1529 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

Note: All submissions must be received no later than Aug. 1, 2009.

For additional guidelines and to download an entry form, visit the official website.

About The Washington DCJCC

The Washington DCJCC works to preserve and strengthen Jewish identity, heritage, tradition and values through a wide variety of social, cultural, recreational and educational programs and services. The 16th Street J is committed to welcoming everyone in the community; membership and all activities are open to all. The Washington DCJCC is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and a designated agency of the United Way.

New Voice: Danielle Joseph on Shrinking Violet

Danielle Joseph is the first-time author of Shrinking Violet (MTV/Pocket Books, 2009). From the promotional copy:

High school senior Teresa Adams is so painfully shy that she dreads speaking to anyone in the hallways or getting called on in class.

But in the privacy of her bedroom with her iPod in hand, she rocks out—doing mock broadcasts for Miami’s hottest FM radio station, which happens to be owned by her stepfather. When a slot opens up at The SLAM, Tere surprises herself by blossoming behind the mike into confident, sexy Sweet T—and to everyone’s shock, she’s a hit! Even Gavin, the only guy in school who she dares to talk to, raves about the mysterious DJ’s awesome taste in music.

But when The SLAM announces a songwriting contest—and a prom date with Sweet T is the grand prize—Sweet T’s dream could turn into Tere’s worst nightmare…

Could you tell us the story of “the call” or “the email” when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

Like many writers, I dreamed of getting “the call” for a few years. Would I be home when my agent called? If not, would she try my cell? Would it come when my kids were in the middle of an argument or would they be quietly playing and then the sound of the glorious phone would break the silence?

When I actually got an offer on Shrinking Violet I couldn’t have been farther away from my home in Florida. I was visiting my sick grandmother in Cape Town, South Africa. I randomly checked my email one day, and there it was. But since I had been waiting for the actual call for so long, I decided to phone my agent the next day.

So basically, I was the one that made “the call,” and it was a wonderful feeling! I celebrated by going to the beach with my family, and my sons made me a “book cake” in the sand!

And the best thing was that my grandmother, an avid reader, lived long enough to hear that my book would be coming out the following year.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

In college, I studied creative writing and immediately felt at home in my children’s writing class. I just started writing in the voice of a teen without really giving it much thought. It felt very natural to me.

I am the oldest of five siblings (my youngest sister is now a senior in high school), so I really haven’t totally left that world yet. I like to watch teen movies, listen to a lot of the same music as my youngest sister, and have not graduated to “old lady” clothing yet! I have many memories from my teen years, and we go through so much as adolescents that I’m constantly pulling stories and situations out of that “memory box.”

For people that are trying to find their “teen voice” I would suggest that they talk and listen to teens—go to high schools, the mall, even listen to how they interact with each other at Starbucks or other local hangouts. Writers can also watch TV shows that feature teen characters, read teen magazines, and of course, read a lot of YA!

The biggest mistake people make is forcing teen lingo on their character, but what makes an authentic teen voice is not only what you say, but how you say it.

Teens have different fears, goals, and ways of going about things than adults do, and that is what a writer has to tap into in order to make a believable teen character.

Cynsational Notes

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

Author Interview: Richard Uhlig on Boy Minus Girl

Learn about Richard Uhlig.

What first inspired you to write for YA readers?

I wasn’t inspired to write for YA readers because I didn’t know the genre existed. About five years ago, at a dinner party here in New York, I met Rachel Cohn and Patty McCormick, two big time YA authors, who explained to me just what YA was.

At first I thought: Oh no, Sweet Valley High.

But Rachel convinced me that YA was infinitely more sophisticated and edgy than that.

When I told her I had written an unpublished novel about an eighteen-year-old boy and his first love, a novel that wasn’t selling, she urged me to market it as YA.

I suggested this to my agent, she agreed, and within a few weeks, we had two offers from major houses.

I received a deal to write another YA novel, so I started reading YA books–and loved them! I found them to be more engaging than a lot of contemporary adult literary fiction, certainly less pretentious.

Let’s face it, adolescence is a dramatic time of life: you’re trying to make sense of your changing body and your forming identity while being forced to make major life decisions. You’re not quite an adult, yet you’re no longer a child, and everything is just so darn over-the-top (first love, first break up, make-it-or-break it tests). Let’s not even get into how lonely those years can be.

Could you tell us about your path to publication?

I come from the world of film. I grew up on movies and television, not books, and attended film school. But something about the film-making process didn’t entirely work for me at that time in my life, finding I enjoyed being alone rather than waiting around on a set for hours while lights were being set up. I’ve never been much of a joiner, and working on film is a very collaborative experience.

Consequently, I went into screenwriting. I quickly learned the only way to write is to force yourself to sit down and do it, that there are no short cuts, no easy outs.

Screenwriting taught me story structure, plot and suspense. After two of my films were made, I found I wanted to try my hand at a novel, chiefly because I was frustrated with the ways my movies turned out.

I was fortunate to sell the first novel I wrote, but again, I’d been writing screenplays for almost ten years. That said, my first novel was rejected by agents everywhere. But I listened to their comments (when I could get them) and kept rewriting the book.

I’m a tenacious guy. I think you have to be to make it as a writer. Eventually, I hooked an agent who sold the book.

Could you tell us about Boy Minus Girl (Random House, 2008)?

It’s very loosely based on an uncle of mine who came to visit my family for a short while when I was in high school. He, in fact, dated waitresses from the topless bar he owned. He was larger than life, a real character.

I was also bullied in junior high and had read a book on how to seduce women.

Those elements were the springboard for the story. I just took it from there and ran with it.

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

It’s different with each novel and screenplay. For my first novel, it was about three years. For my second novel, it was less than a year.

The easiest part for me is coming up with story ideas, but where it gets tough is when I set out to write the first fifty pages. Usually, I can fire off the first few chapters pretty effortlessly, setting up the characters, their wants and their problems.

Invariably I run out of steam and am forced to roll up my sleeves and slug through it, word by painful word. Sometimes the story just won’t catch fire, and that’s when I have to go back to those first chapters and rework them, and that can take months.

But once I get it right, once the characters’ motivations are clear to me, and I know what sort of story I want to write, then the rest usually unfolds at a steady clip, and the process becomes fun again.

What are the challenges in bringing the book to life?

First, staying motivated and focused. Whenever I’m in the midst of writing a book, I always get the itch to write something else, something that seems like a lot more fun, a lot more dramatic than what I’m presently writing.

But over time I’ve learned to jot down these ideas, toss them in my desk drawer, and forget about them until I’m finished with the current project. Otherwise, I’ll never finish a book or a screenplay. “Completion” is the name of the game.

Secondly, once the book is done, I have to force myself to pound the pavement to market it. That means either following up on every lead I have for an agent, or, if I have an agent, to stay in constant contact and make recommendations.

This I struggle with. I’d rather write the thing and let it find its home, but that doesn’t happen very often. Writing is only half of the equation.

The book is set in the central time zone and in the second half of the 20th century. So why Kansas? Why the 1980s?

I grew up in small town Kansas in the 1980s, that’s when I was a teenager, and I draw on that time and place because I know it so well.

Secondly, I presently live in New York City, a place that is the antithesis of rural Kansas, and that offers me a certain perspective, a certain distance, on my hometown. There’s something about the prairie and the uninterrupted horizon that just makes me want to write. Perhaps characters seem larger than life in such a desolate place.

I was struck by your successful mix of comedy and more serious themes. What advice do you have for those interested in writing a story with some humor in it?

Let the humor come from the characters! Never force them to say or do things that they wouldn’t do. In other words, don’t go for a joke for the joke’s sake.

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

I belonged to a writing group for a few months, but it fizzled because everyone was too busy with other things. I typically write alone. My first editor is my dad, a writer himself with a great sense of what makes a story work, followed by my wife, who is the least sentimental, least phony person I know, then it’s on to my agent, who is painfully honest, and finally the book editor and or/producer. That’s more than enough critiques for me!

How do you balance your work as writer with the responsibilities of being an author?

I don’t do a very good job of balancing it, to be honest. On my first book, I put together a book tour in the region where the novel was set, and I sold several hundred books. I was on TV, had several newspaper articles written.

However, I prefer to write. I’d really rather work on something new than to talk about something I wrote months ago.

Is there anything you would like to add?

If some kid from Kansas, who grew up watching “The Munsters” and “Leave It To Beaver,” can write and sell novels, you can too.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Lorie Ann Grover

Learn about Lorie Ann Grover.

Could you describe the best experience you’ve had working with an editor?

I have worked with amazing editors from Margarget K. McElderry, Little Simon, and Scholastic. However, the one who I hold first in my heart is Emma Dryden.

Emma found me in a slush pile back in 1999. She coaxed me out and told me that the picture book I had written really was meant to be a novel. Through revision after revision, she helped me layer my story like I was building up a sculpture on a wire armature.

I can actually remember her saying, “And now it’s time to name the main character, Lorie Ann.”

Emma believed in my words and helped them to fly. Our first work together was Loose Threads (McElderry, 2002). I was writing about the death of my grandmother from breast cancer as Emma was recovering from her own mother’s passing.

Then we moved onto On Pointe (McElderry, 2004), where she danced with me from one end of the novel to the other, even though she was never a ballet dancer herself.

Finally, we completed Hold Me Tight (McElderry, 2005), my most difficult novel where she ended up acting as a therapist in some measure as I faced ugly scenes from my past and tried to make sense of them. She was patient through my fears and tears and stood alongside me through the journey.

When Emma advanced at Simon & Schuster and I began to market my work outside of Margaret K. McElderry books, she remained my friend who celebrated each of my successes and supported my work with readergirlz. Her first response to our online book community as she stood by my side at our booth for our pre-launch at Midwinter ALA 2007 was: “This is smart. Very smart.”

Emma Dryden is an editor who asked me question after question to make my work the best I could possibly make it. I count her my mentor and friend.

Why is your agent the right agent for you?

Oh, my agent! My agent that Emma Dryden recommended I pursue because I needed “someone who could be tender with my sensitive nature.” Ha! Me, sensitive?

I’ve discovered it is true, and Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown, Ltd. is my dream agent for my sensitive self.

Oh, to have an agent who tells you, “Work on whichever novel you’d like next. Follow your passion.”

And one who says, “Let me call and find out for you. They’ve had long enough to consider this.”

She said, “Sure, send me your board books.”

I said, “But I have about thirty dummies.”

Her response: “Send them all.”

Wow!

Elizabeth is in my corner with me. And how wonderful is that? After ten years of working alone, I have someone by my side. It’s as if I’ve teamed up with the biggest, toughest kid in the playground, who gets me a turn on the swing, or I’m walking down the high school hall with the most beautiful, popular girl as my bestie. And she is a beauty inside and out.

I’ve counted every day that Elizabeth has represented me as a blessing. And our relationship has only begun!

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

I have three novels I’m hoping to place in the very near future. The first is about my experience living in South Korea in the 1980s. The second is my venture into prose. It is a fantasy concerning self worth and religious persecution. The third is a novel in verse about a horrible accident. I hope to announce sales of these and a few board books soon, soon, soon!

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win your choice of an Eternal T-shirt, hat, or mug from CafePress! Note: various designs and colors are available.

You may also win an ARC of one of three YA paranormal books: Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, 2008); Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2008); or Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins, 2008)!

Here’s how to enter:

(1) visit this link: Eternal Book Trailer by Naomi Bates at YA Books and More. Watch the trailer!

(2) (a) Email me (scroll to click envelope); (b) Type “Eternal trailer giveaway” in the subject line; (c) Offer your cheers about the trailer! What do you love about it? What questions does it raise in your mind? (d) Indicate your preferred T-shirt style, size, and color; (e) Rank the ARCs in the order of preference. Note: if you already have one or more of the books, you can mention that too.

Note: You are also encouraged to share your cheers in a comment at this post on Naomi’s blog, though this is not required to enter. It’s just friendly.

Deadline: midnight central time June 30!

Just for fun, see also How I create digital book trailers by Naomi. See also an interview with artist Gene Brenek on the various Eternal tie-in designs. Read author interviews with Laurie, Lisa, and Lesley.

Do you want to win a copy of the novel Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)? If so, check out the June giveaway at Writer Musings: A place to ponder books, as well as how the words get on the page.

More News & Giveaways

Visit author-illustrator David Macaulay‘s studio and see/hear him talk about his process. Source: Mark Mitchell. Note: see Mark’s comments for more information.

Multicultural Literacy Events from papertigers. A listing of events around the world. Source: Children’s Book Biz News.

10 Ways Not To Get An Agent by Tracy Marchini from My VerboCity. Peek: “Send multiple revisions of partials. (This makes us feel like you aren’t taking enough time to read and revise before you’re sending out material.)” See also When Should You Revise? Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

Revision Checklist from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “Do your main characters emerge from the book irrevocably changed?” See also This is a Blog from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “I have to be honest that it’s mildly alarming how many queries I receive that misuse the word ‘blog.’ I’ve seen everything from ‘the webpostings on your Blogsite’ to ‘your blogspot on your website.’ People are personalizing, which is great, but… word people should not be misusing words.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Jessica Verday: the author’s site has been gorgeously redesigned. Her debut novel, The Hollow, will be available from Simon Pulse in September 2009.

How to Fire Your Agent from Rachelle Gardner: Literary Agent. Peek: “I think the mature way of handling a situation like this is to say, ‘This isn’t working for me. Can something be changed?'” Source: Nathan Bransford.

Ten Writing Tips by Verla KayPart Two and Part Three. Peek: “If you believe in yourself, if you are writing and learning your craft and the business of writing for children, if you are working hard to become a published author, then never give up.” Note: Part One for those who missed it. Read a Cynsations interview with Verla.

Firebrand Started A Blog. Should You? from Stacia Decker at Firebrand Literary Blog. Peek: “Get a feel for the time commitment and your inclinations by substitute teaching for blogger friends on vacation or contributing posts to others’ sites.” See also Submission Etiquette and Taking Your Time from Chris Richman. Peek: “If I request revisions, I’m not going to forget a project in two, three, or even six months. If it takes a writer that long to get to the changes, that just makes me assume they’re taking the revisions seriously.” Note: Firebrand Literary is “a full-service literary agency specializing in books for young readers.” Read an interview with Michael Stearns of Firebrand Literary.

Craft Issue: Plot Points (Or, How to Twist Your Character) by Janet Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “Make sure that at the end of Act I the action of the story spins your character into a new, increasingly tense situation.” Read a Cynsations interview with Janet Fox.

Two Minutes, Not Two Pages by Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “The crazy schedule of 2009 has made me master of the writing snippet, which I will now name the Summer Snippet.” Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Featuring Duane Smith and Janet Halfmann from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “‘When I found out how he had stolen a Confederate gunboat and ran it past several forts in Charleston Harbor, I knew that this was a great adventure story that kids would love.'”

People may be able to taste words by Victoria Gill, Science reporter, BBC News. Peek: “…according to Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, we are all ‘synaesthetes’ up to a point.” Source: Gwenda Bond.

Lightning, Lightning Bugs, Twain, Madness of Art from Brian Yansky at Brian’s Blog. Peek: “Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t, but if you’re never out in that rain, you will never be struck by lightning.” See also Thank you, Mr. Twain and Wrath. Note: one of the best, brainiest new writer blogs on the Web; highly recommended! Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

The First Annual Complete Your Draft Contest brought to you by Les Trois Graces in association with Tuesday Night Chatters. Deadline: June 30; see prizes.

A Very Geektastic BEA from Alivina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “what could be more geeky than a bowling party?” Note: Wish I could’ve been there! Greg and I contributed a short story, “The Wrath of Dawn,” to Geektastic: Stories of the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009).

Congratulations to Austin’s own Liz Garton Scanlon, who’s been chosen as a featured author at the Texas Book Festival! Look for her upcoming picture book, All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, this September from Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

The Unschedule
from Kristi Holl at Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “I have a five-hour critique to do today. Always in the past, I did the five hours non-stop, then crashed with a bad neck ache and headache. Today I’ve scheduled it in small chunks with rewards interspersed frequently. I also have a phone call with a friend at noon on the schedule.”

Cynsational Author Tip: you don’t own the rights to everything published about your book! Try to keep review/recommendation quotes short (under 50 words) and link to the main source.

Introducing the New Teenreads.com Blog! from Marisa Emralino, Editorial Coordinator for Teenreads.com. Peek: “Teenreads decided to launch this new blog, as a way to bring you–our readers–even more book and author news on a more frequent basis, in addition to our regular monthly updates. But, what makes this feature stand out is that we’re asking authors to help bring this content to you directly.” See Tim Wynne-Jones on The Uninvited (Candlewick, 2009).

Going Online to Get Published by Cyn Balog. Peek: “The first thing I did was start reading agent blogs. I then started up my own LiveJournal, and began friending as many writers for Young Adults I could find.”

Michael Cart on libraries, and “What is YA? from Margo Rabb at Books, Chocolates, Sundries. Peek: “‘I’m not even sure how welcome it is now,’ I said, ‘since I’ve had three different YA authors tell me they thought my book wasn’t YA. Because of the short story structure or because it’s such an interior novel’.” Read a Cynsations interview with Margo.

It Was, Like, All Dark and Stormy Teenage readers are gravitating toward even grimmer fiction; suicide notes and death matches by Katie Roiphe from The Wall Street Journal. Peek: “Unsettling as it is, there is a certain amount of comfort to be gleaned from the new disaster fiction; it makes its readers feel less alone.” Source: YA Books and More.

Five questions for Gene Luen Yang (and other nifty stuff) from Notes from the Horn Book. Peek: “Books are about communication. And books communicating through images, even sequential images, aren’t something new trying to substitute for the tried and true.”

Interview with Susan C. Griffith on the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards by Aline Pereira from papertigers. Peek: “For fifty-six years, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award(JACBA) has been given to children’s books that most effectively and engagingly invite children to think deeply about issues related to peace, social justice, world community and racial and gender equality.” Source: Children’s Book Biz News.

Check out the book trailer for Surf Mules by G. Neri (G.P. Putnam, 2009)!

The Book So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades from Blue Yonder Ranch. Peek: “Chris has generously offered to share an autographed copy of The Day Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009) with one of our readers. For your chance to win this book all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling us what your big dreams were as a child.” Deadline: June 14 p.m.

Enter to Win a Copy of Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell from Kristina Springer. Deadline: midnight CST June 12. Learn more about Shadowed Summer (Delacorte, 2009).

First Draft Tips from Lisa Schroeder at Author2Author. Peek: “Don’t get too caught up in details. Details are easy to add in later.” Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

“How To Have a Successful Book Event” led by BookPeople events coordinators, Alison Nihlean and Mandy Brooks will be at 11 a.m. June 20 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: “It’s a collaborative effort that when performed creatively and appropriately, fabulous events happen. They’ll share success stories and not so success stories about their years as BookPeople’s event organizers, then the floor will be open for questions.” Note: sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Real-space Event & Online Giveaway

Double the Pleasure! Double the Fun! Double the Mysteries! Come join author Jill Santopolo for the publication party in celebration of her second Alec Flint Mystery, The Ransom Note Blues (Scholastic, 2009) and celebrate the paperback publication of The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure (Scholastic, 2008)! The event will be at 6 p.m. June 23 at Books of Wonder (18 W. 18th St. NYC). Learn more about the series and RSVP to Jill Santopolo (see “contact” at top bar)!

The first two people to e-mail jill@jillsantopolo.com with their mailing address, saying that they read this message on Cynsations and correctly cracking and answering the coded question below will receive a free copy of The Ransom Note Blues. (Hint: The key to Alec and Gina’s code can be found at www.jillsantopolo.com). Here’s the coded question that needs to be cracked and answered: Dszg xzmwb rh Trmz vzgrmt lm gsv xlevi lu Gsv Izmhln Mlgv Yofvh?

Read a Cynsations interview with Jill.

Giveaway Updates

Enter to win a bookplate-autographed copy of the new release, Bones of Faerie (Random House, 2009), and traditionally autographed copies of both Secret of the Three Treasures (Holiday House, 2006)(hard copy) and Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2006)(paperback). Note: Gothic includes Janni’s short story “Stone Tower.” To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Janni Lee Simner” in the subject line. Deadline: June 30! Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

Breaking News as of June 12: Janni has upgraded this giveaway so that all three books will now be autographed!

Tabitha Olson at has announced her June book giveaway at Writer Musings: A place to ponder books, as well as how the words get on the page. The featured books are: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion, 2008); How to Be Bad by E. Lockhart, Lauren Myracle, and Sarah Mlynowski (HarperCollins, 2008); Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007); and Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009). To enter, leave a comment at this post. See also information on extra entries. Note: Tabitha will “randomly draw four names” June 27.

Don’t miss the “autographed gimmies,” including signed Eternal bookmarks from Cynthea Liu’s Paris Pan Takes the Dare online launch party! While you’re there, enter to win a copy of Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000)! See all the giveaway books. Note: Cynthea also is auctioning off prize packages, virtual visits, and critiques with authors, editors, and agents to benefit a Title 1 school in Oklahoma City. Check it out!

Winners of the signed Eternal bookmarks giveaway were Jennifer at the Natrona County Public Library in Casper, Wyoming and Deena at Brighton Memorial Library in Rochester, New York. Thank you to all who entered!

Event Reminder

The “Everything You Wanted to Know about Young Adult Fiction But Were Too Afraid To Ask” panel discussion will feature the Delacorte Dames and Dudes, five authors of tween-young adult (YA) novels at 1 p.m. June 13 at BookPeople. They are all published by Delacorte Press (Random House), and they all live in Austin!

Delacorte Dames are April Lurie, author of The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (2008), Jennifer Ziegler, How Not to Be Popular (2008), Margo Rabb, Cures for Heartbreak (2007), and Shana Burg, A Thousand Never Evers (2008). The lone Delacorte Dude is Varian Johnson, whose novel Saving Maddie is forthcoming in 2010.

More Personally

Highlights of the week included Sunday brunch at Hyde Park Bar & Grill with author Varsha Bajaj and her family! Varsha is a dear pal and the author of How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? illustrated by Ivan Bates (Little, Brown, 2004). From the promotional copy: “‘How many kisses do you want tonight?’ the animals ask, snuggling critters tight. This adorable counting bedtime book celebrates the special ritual of goodnight kisses. Children and baby animals request from one to a million kisses from their parents when they settle in for the night. The simple, rhyming text makes for a perfect read aloud.” School Library Journal said, “Sure to be an instant sleepy-time favorite!” Look for a new picture book from Varsha in the near future! Details to come!

Thank you to Youth Services Librarian Nicki Stohr and everyone at the Schertz Public Library in Schertz, Texas for your hospitality on Tuesday afternoon. It was a pleasure visiting with you!

Thank you to Pat Anderson, Vickie, and everyone at Texas Overlooked Books for your hospitality at the Texas Authors & Illustrators margarita reception at the annual conference of the Texas Association of School Library Administrators, held Tuesday night in the presidential suite at the Radisson Austin North! See Pat and Melissa Ritchie in the first photo below. Note: Texas authors in attendance included Austin’s YA rising star Jennifer Ziegler; you can see her farther below with her fellow DDDs (and in person at BookPeople on Saturday!).

For those of you who live for such things, I have it on good authority that this was the suite Elvis stayed in when he last performed in Austin. I know you’re excited! I was. Note: I think it was a Hilton back then.

Here’s a bright smile from Anastasia Suen, the author of 114 books for children! Anastasia is based in Plano. She’s also an active blogger in the kidlitosphere.

The author (and performance artist) in the wheat-colored jacket is San Antonio-based Dr. Carmen Tafolla. Carmen’s most recent release is What Can You Do with a Paleta? illustrated by Magaly Morales (Tricycle, 2009).

Here’s Austin’s own author-illustrator Keith Graves, hiding behind one of my all-time favorite picture books, Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance (Chronicle, 2006)(paper edition).

Cynthia Leitich Smith on Summer Reading from Teenreads.com Blog. Peek: “Back then, I loved any books that had to do with magic, especially those about putting on a magic show. I wanted to be a magician when I grew up.”

New Voice: Cynthea Liu on Paris Pan Takes the Dare

Cynthea Liu is the author of Paris Pan Takes the Dare (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, June 11, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Twelve-year-old Paris Pan’s life is a mess. She’s just moved to a tiny town in Nowheresville, Oklahoma; her family life is a comical disaster; her new friends are more like frenemies; and the boy she has a crush on is a dork.

Things couldn’t possibly get worse, until she discovers that a girl mysteriously died years ago while taking a seventh-grade rite of passage–the Dare–right near Paris’s new house. So when Paris starts hearing strange noises coming from the creepy run-down shed in her backyard, she thinks they could be a message from the ghost of a girl. But while she has no plans to make contact with the great beyond, her two new friends have other thoughts.

Everyone who’s anyone takes the Dare, and now it’s Paris’s turn.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist?

Interestingly enough, Paris Pan’s voice wasn’t difficult to create. She sounds a lot like me! (Yes, I often talk like a twelve-year-old.) I figured out Paris’s story by sitting down in front of my laptop on a cold November day. I waited for the first scene to pop into my mind and started writing. The scene was a girl on the first day at a new school in a teeny Oklahoma town.

As I got further into it, I knew Paris would make some friends with a whole lot of trouble in store for her, that trouble being the Dare. I then found I was injecting tons of my own childhood experiences into the manuscript. All the moving I did as a kid. The constant feeling that I never had money despite the fact that my parents worked so hard to make it. And of course, those quirky family dynamics!

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book?

I try to keep a strong Internet presence. Not because I feel I have to. Because I like to and I have been, long before my agent sold my first book. Sure, at times, it can be overwhelming, but there is nothing like being able to connect with other writers who get it.

With my books out now, there are even more people to connect with–teachers, parents, librarians, booksellers, book reviewers…and the kids!

Though it seems to me for a middle grade novels like Paris Pan, reaching out to adults (versus kids) makes more sense since many 10-year-olds aren’t surfing the Internet to buy books off Amazon or Indiebound. They’re still doing super-cool stuff. Like moving around. Outside. Hopefully! So if they find me online, they’ve already read my book and want to tell me so.

I’ve also broadened my scope online to include more writers. It’s lonely being just me and Snoop (see photo) out there.

I built AuthorsNow! to help children’s book enthusiasts like book reviewers, librarians, and teachers learn about all kinds of debut books for children and teens.

For Paris Pan specifically, I’m throwing a launch party online called “Take the Dare: Show You Care.” For me, launch parties are not about selling books; they’re about celebrating.

And I’m celebrating big along with many fabulous author friends for a great cause– all royalties for launch party sales of Paris Pan will go toward a Title I school [Tulakes Elementary in Oklahoma City], and I can’t wait to present a school-in-need with a nice check.

Offline, I am making a concerted effort to do school visits, and I am equally excited about a huge essay contest I’m holding for my readers.

It’s their chance to get published, win some cold hard cash, and make their teachers, librarians, and parents all proud and happy at the same time.

What advice do you have for your fellow debut authors?

Do what you can do. What you want to do. All this stuff? I don’t think it will make or break your book. Sure, there are always exceptions where one thing you did led to the next thing and the next. But there are so many factors that go into how a book will perform in the marketplace and not all of them are under your control. In fact, most of it is not under your control!

So again, do what you’re comfortable with. What you want.

Know that the hard work is already finished–you wrote the book. Now write the next one!

Cynsational Notes

Surf over to The Paris Pan Takes a Dare Launch Party! Enter to win giveaways, bid on auction items, and so much more!

Giveaways include autographed books, posters, and T-shirts, including an autographed copy of Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000). Note: there are 18 giveaway books–from picture books to YA novels!

Auction items include query letter, synopsis and manuscript critiques by authors, agents, and editors as well as prize packs, virtual author visits, and audio books! Donors include: authors Esther Hershenhorn, Saundra Mitchell, Susan Taylor Brown, Brenda Ferber, Maggie Stiefvater, Lindsey Leavitt, Jay Asher, and Bruce Hale as well as agent Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, author-agent Ammi-Joan Paquette, and editor Karen Chaplin of Puffin/Speak. Note: many more offerings, including more in various categories from some of the folks listed here; see the whole list.

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

Author Interview: Suzanne Crowley on The Stolen One

You last visited Cynsations in July 2008 to discuss your debut novel, The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous (Greenwillow, 2007). Welcome back, and congratulations on your 2009 release, The Stolen One (Greenwillow)! In your own words, could you tell us briefly what the book is about?

The Stolen One is about willful, fiery-headed Katherine (Kat) Bab trying to find her place in the world and who she really is.

When her foster mother Grace Bab dies, Kat flees to London and after a chance encounter with the queen, Elizabeth gets invited to court.

As Kat works on embroidering a special gown for the queen, rumors begin to swirl that she is her secret daughter.

The Stolen One is full of mystery, intrigue, and lush period detail, but is ultimately, I hope, a memorable, compelling love story.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I grew up with the family legend that we are distantly related to the family of Lady Jane Grey, the tragic queen of nine days. As a little girl with a vivid imagination, I was very intrigued with this.

After a visit as a teenager to England, particularly Hampton Court and the Tower of London, I began reading any books on the Tudor era as I could. I came across an intriguing nugget of history in my reading that never accounted for more than a sentence or two, but it was enough to plant a seed. And I knew it would make a wonderful story someday.

As soon as my agent signed me up four years ago, I told her about it. I can’t give away what it is without spoiling the ending though!

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

I knew I had the deadline of Dec. 1, 2007 to turn in the first draft of The Stolen One, but didn’t start writing it until Sept. 1 (four months before)!

My first book came out August 27, 2007; and as all writers know, you are kept busy with the book almost till the last second, and I went on a four-city pre-publication tour too.

So as soon as my kids went back to school, I sat down to write just a few days after Merilee debuted. Very scary. Very, very, scary. I knew what I was going to write about and I knew how it was going to end, but there is nothing like a blank computer screen staring at you.

I was terrified.

My editor, Virginia Duncan, said just start – write something. So I wrote the first paragraph (now the second in the finished book) and emailed it to her.

A few minutes later on her way home on the train, she emailed back that she loved it and to keep on going. She has such a gentle touch and knows how to keep a writer calm and centered.

I’d write twenty pages or so and send it to her and she always responded with great enthusiasm And if she hadn’t heard from me in a week or so, she’d nudge me. And that’s how I did it under the pressure, page by page.

In terms of research, luckily I’d already read dozens of books on the era through the years, and in the months leading up to writing the book. And I collected even more while I was writing the first draft, some obscure ones, including a book of folklore on the area in the country where we first find Kat.

Books would arrive daily as I was writing. That’s the good thing about revisions, you can always add telling and visual detail later.

I particularly drew great inspiration from Janet Arnold’s book Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlocke’d which I had to pay $200 for from England! And I must say I put on some weight–I always had a bag of M & M’s (or any other chocolate) close by to fortify myself!

So far, what have you learned about yourself and your writing-and-publishing life?

My naive little self thought the finish line was getting my first book published. Little did I know what it takes to get your book out there and people talking about it.

I’m a shy, creative, homebody and I’ve had to learn how to push myself to network online, at conferences, school visits etc, when I’d rather be writing. But overall, it’s made me more confident as a writer and added so much richness to my life with so many new friends.

How goes your adjustment from being a children’s author to being a children’s-YA author?

I’m not sure if it’s because YA writers have much more of an online presence, or if the importance of being online has become more important in the last couple of years since my first book came out, but I definitely am spending more time on the computer trying to reach out to readers. I heard somewhere that most teenagers who buy books have read about it online.

So I’m on Facebook, MySpace, Jacketflap, LiveJournal, and Goodreads now. I’ve yet to do Twitter, I guess that’s next.

Luckily, I have a teenager in the house as a built in sounding board. She helped me with my MySpace page and can tell me what’s cool and definitely what’s uncool! My book has been selected as a Seventeen magazine summer read, and I think I have finally impressed her. That and the time I rode up the elevator with Laurie Halse Anderson at a conference!

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

This was not something I worried about until The Stolen One. I’m now realizing how different the two genres are that I have written for although there is some bridging as kids read up and down. I’ve thought about whether I’ll go with the genre in which my books are the most successful, but ultimately, I think I’ll have to follow my heart and write what I’m most passionate about–whether it is middle grade or YA.

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

Gosh, that’s a hard one. There have been so many excellent reads, but I have to say The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Delacorte, 2009). She somehow was able to combine zombies and romance in such a way I couldn’t put the book down!

I also need to put a shout out to Silver Phoenix: Beyond The Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon and Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill, fellow Greenwillowites. Both fresh, highly unusual reads.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m working on two ideas–another Texas book, and another historical–this one set in Venice in the eighteenth century. We’ll have to see which one wins out!

Agent Interview: Emily Masters on Keen Literary

Emily Masters has an MA in English Literature and worked for Humanities Tennessee for more than eight years. While there she helped to organize the Southern Festival of Books, one of the nation’s top book events and she established various contacts in the children’s and young adult publishing market. She is now transitioning into a career as a literary agent and looks forward to exploring new horizons in the literary world.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

I spent the past eight years of my career directing youth programs for Humanities Tennessee. I worked with children and teens interested in writing and with authors writing specifically for those age groups. During that time I believe I developed a knack for recognizing outstanding children’s and YA literature.

I’m an avid reader anyway, and I love to read picture books and middle grade and YA as much as I love to read the latest adult literary fiction sensation. But I feel the most confident in my ability to recognize outstanding writing for young people and figure out where those works might fit best in the publishing world.

What sort of work are you interested in representing?

I’m looking primarily for inventive and creative picture books and middle grade and YA fiction (from realistic to fantasy and everything in between), but I would also be interested in looking at teen-oriented memoir and poetry collections for children and youth.

I am passionate about poetry, so I get really excited when I see something I enjoy.

More globally, what is your attitude/approach toward today’s challenging economic market?

I see that more families are looking for fun ways to spend time together at home without the usual “I’m bored” reaction from kids. I think publicity/marketing departments are going to rise to the occasion and turn our economic woes into opportunities for more inexpensive and traditional forms of entertainment to flourish.

What could be better than a family sitting around together looking at a beautiful picture book of poems while listening to those poems being read on a CD?

Would you describe yourself as an “editorial agent,” one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I can’t help but comment. I have an MA in English, and I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to my reading preferences. I won’t take on a project if I’m not passionate about it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still make suggestions where I see fit.

Having said that, I see the main strength I can bring to my clients in my ability to navigate the sometimes difficult waters of the publishing world.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Yes! I am looking at many, many queries (all via e-mail). I ask that writers wait to send manuscripts after I’ve specifically made that request, but I will look at a query from anyone.

I’m on Publishers Marketplace right now, but as of June 30 I will be a partner in a new firm called Keen Literary. Along with Julie Schoerke (a firecracker of a book publicist) and Susan Abel (formerly with Ingram Book Group and extremely knowledgeable about publishing), I will work to help authors find “homes” for their work.

Note: Julie is pictured in pink.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

When a query is just very poorly written, that sends up a red flag. Editors are wonderful, but they aren’t going to want to have to create something basically from scratch. If the query is grammatically flawed, boring, too wordy or even just plain weird I’m turned off immediately.

How much contact will you have with your clients?

I am very accessible via e-mail, and I am available to meet with local clients. I’m based in Nashville, which some would say is a publishing industry hub. Nashville is built on the music business, the health care industry, and book publishing. That’s surprising to some, but it really is a book town!

What do you anticipate as the greatest challenges of being an agent?

I know that I’m taking something very personal and import to someone (their written work) and trying to turn it into a commodity. I think that could be difficult for some writers to wrap their minds around, but I also know that what they really want is to be published and widely distributed, so I hope my advice and guidance will be taken to heart.

What do you think you’ll love about it?

I am so excited every time I get a new query in my IN box! It’s fun to see what’s out there (and some of it is really “out there”), and it’s fun to see how much creativity and promise there is still to be discovered.

So far, what are your favorite children’s/YA books of 2009 and why?

I just reviewed If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Dutton) for BookPage, and it was an absolutely thrilling read.

I’m excited to snag a copy of Goldilicious by Victoria Kann, as my five-year-old daughter and I are big fans of Pinkalicious (2006) and Purplicious (2007). HarperCollins puts out such fun and bright picture books.

I haven’t yet read–but am looking forward to–Candlewick’s Punkzilla by Adam Rapp. I could go on for a while on this one….

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

I own a dance studio in East Nashville. Dance has always been one of my great loves, and I still teach ballroom and tap at the studio and in other venues in Nashville “on the side.”

For now though, developing my career as a literary agent and spending as much time as possible with my husband and two children (ages 5 and 1) are my main passions.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m very excited to be partnering with two of my talented colleagues here in Nashville to launch Keen Literary on June 30. Julie Schoerke is a talented book publicist and Susan Abel knows the ins and outs of the publishing world very well.

While I concentrate on children’s-YA submissions, Susan will focus on adult literature submissions.

We’ll be working with Julie to offer more comprehensive assistance packages to our clients in the form of “publicity included” agent agreements, wherein clients can sign on for assistance with book publicity from Julie after their book is in publication.

I think this new approach to publicity (putting the cart before the horse in a way–but we’re hoping in a good way) will appeal to authors and publishers alike.

Cynsational Notes

Read a Cynsations interview with Julie, and learn more about Keen Literary, launching June 30, 2009.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Sara Zarr

Learn about Sara Zarr.

What do you love most about your creative life? Why?

I love the solitude. I like the expanse of quiet, empty space in the day.

As a classic introvert, I’m refreshed by my time alone. It enables me to be contemplative about myself, my stories, human nature, God, the universe, and all that good stuff that hopefully makes for deeper writing.

Then, the wells are filled and I can be “on” when I need to be on, like on a visit or at a conference or touring.

All of this great alone time has spoiled me for any other employment, so I really need to keep the writing career going!

How have you come to thrive in such a competitive, unpredictable industry?

I think the key to this, for me, has been cultivating a certain amount of not caring. I don’t get my Google alerts, I don’t actively seek to know what people are saying about me or my books.

When I do read reviews, I read them once or twice, looking for a good quote for my web site, and then let go.

I try not to get entangled in publishing gossip, or read all the blogs and articles about new deals or predictions of industry collapse and the like. I try hard to keep a balance between staying informed at a basic level while focusing my energy on what I can control. Which isn’t much.

I can control the time and energy I invest in my writing, and the outreach/inreach I do with my blog and web site, and that’s about it.

To an extent, I can control meeting my deadlines, but sometimes even that becomes something out of your hands if the publisher’s needs and time lines change because of stuff that has nothing to do with you.

My goal is to invest the minimal amount of time and energy in industry stuff—just what’s necessary to stay smart—and to not care too much about the fact that there will always be people who don’t like my books. There are enough people who do. The rest are not my audience for whatever given book.

Every story speaks in a certain language, and there will be some who speak that language and some who don’t. And that’s okay.

Also, I have a pretty balanced life, in general. I have plenty of friends who have nothing to do with the publishing industry or the writing life. As much as writers desperately need our writer friends, we just as desperately need our non-writer friends.

There’s a whole life and world outside of publishing, and if you get too caught up in mirror-gazing, you can forget that. Then, when hard times in your writing/industry life come, it’s hard to have perspective.

A book is a wonderful, miraculous thing. But in some sense, it’s also just a book.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.