Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Writer Musings; Smith & Lockhart Giveaway Reminder

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings: A place to ponder books, as well as how the words get on the page.

Peek: “After a break during college, I returned to reading comics, graphic novels, and children’s-YA literature while I was in law school. In an academic field with some weighty (sometimes intentionally convoluted) language, such works came as a welcome relief. Not long after graduation, I made the decision to write full-time.”

Giveaway Reminder

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.

June Giveaways at Writer Musings: Lockhart’s How to Be Bad & Frankie Landau-Banks; Smith’s Tantalize & Eternal

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).

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009).

Peek: “look for interviews with both Cynthia Leitich Smith and E. Lockhart later in the month!”

To enter, leave a comment at this post.

For one extra entry, post a link to this contest on your website or blog (or some other public forum), then let Tabitha know about it at this post.

For another extra entry, become a follower and then let Tabitha know about it at this post (or let her know you already are a follower).

Note: Tabitha will “randomly draw four names…June 27.”

Austin Area Event: Delacorte Dames & Dude to Speak about YA Lit on June 13

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.

The panel will be moderated by Sarah Bird.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Janni Lee Simner Super Giveaway

Enter to win Bones of Faerie (Random House, 2009) and 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.

Signed Eternal Bookmarks Giveaway

Attention YA Public Librarians: enter to win one of two sets of 10 autographed Eternal bookmarks to use for summer reading giveaways! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Eternal bookmarks” in the subject line. Deadline: June 8!

Cynthia Leitich Smith Contest

Do you live in Carbon County, Pennsylvania or the surrounding area? If so, you are eligible for the Cynthia Leitich Smith contest from Reading Escapes!

“Enter to win your favorite book by Cynthia! Email us to tell us what your favorite book by Cynthia is and why in less than 50 words by June 30 to enter to win a copy of it or another book of your choice by her. If you haven’t read any of her books yet, just let us know which book you would like to read and why you think you would like it.” See contact and more information.

More News

Stepping Up Your Game from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “Publishers right now want the surest of sure things that are so sure it beats surety over its sure head. And agents have to adjust what they take on accordingly.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Attention Teachers & Librarians: nominate a book for YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults list.

The winner of the 21st Annual Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Children’s/Young Adult was Out of the Pocket by Bill Konigsberg (Dutton)(excerpt). Honor books were: Hit the Road, Manny: A Manny Files Novel by Christian Burch (Simon & Schuster); How They Met & Other Stories by David Levithan (Knopf); Mousetraps by Pat Schmatz (Carolrhoda); What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson (Random House); and Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster). Note: “The Lambda Literary Awards seek to recognize excellence in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender literature.” Read Cynsations interviews with David and Ellen.

Writing Tips: Who Wants to be a Children’s Author? from Verla Kay’s Blog. Peek: “I never set out to be an author. I never wanted to write. Actually, I hated writing as a child and never dreamed I would grow up to be a writer. As a teenager, I wrote many poems and stories and tucked them away in a folder, to be shown only to my very best of friends.” Read a Cynsations interview with Verla Kay.

Polish Those Nuggets until They Shine! More on Writing Fiction Inspired by Reality by JoAnn Early Macken from Teaching Authors. Peek: “How do we unearth an event from real life and shape it into a story? Here are some possibilities.”

#BEA09 from Harper Studio. Peek: “Way way way less galleys. In fact, HarperCollins gave out egalleys.” Note: I wonder if we’ll be seeing a cutback in galleys at the teacher-librarian conferences as well.

Forest of Reading® Winners: “Thousands of schools and libraries across Ontario came together at the Harbourfront for the annual Forest of Reading – Festival of Trees on May 13 & May 14, 2009. Over the two days, more than 7,000 Ontario school children come together for the announcement of the hotly anticipated winners of Blue Spruce, Red Maple, White Pine and Silver Birch.” Congratulations to: Mélanie Watt, author of Chester (Kids Can Press/University of Toronto Press); Alan Cumyn, author of Dear Sylvia (Groundwood Books/HarperCollins Canada); and Mahtab Narsimhan, author The Third Eye (Dundurn Group/University of Toronto Press). See the whole list.

Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers Contest: “The prize of a book contract (on the publisher’s standard form) covering world rights for a hardcover and a paperback edition, including an advance and royalties, will be awarded annually to encourage the writing of contemporary young adult fiction. The award consists of $1,500 in cash and a $7,500 advance against royalties.” Source: BronzeWord Latino Authors.

KUHF-Arte Público Press Author of the Month: René Saldaña from 88.7 KUHS-FM/NPR. Peek: “His next book, The Whole Sky Full of Stars (Wendy Lamb Books, 2007), is ‘about the perils of friendship and the burdens of parental expectations,’ according to a starred review in Booklist. It centers on gambling, boxing, and a 1964 Ford Galaxie.”

Marvelous Marketer: Illustrator Jim Di Bartolo from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: “..if you’re not succeeding with your current style, maybe consider something drastically different with your technique or materials. Or if you’re getting a lot of feedback that seems to be suggesting that the foundation of your skills is lacking, you don’t have to quit necessarily.”

Author Interview & Constest with Marlene Perez from Amberkatze’s Book Blog. Peek: “The first line of Dead Is The New Black popped into my mind, fully formed. “Being dead became fashionable approximately forty-five minutes after Samantha ‘the Divine’ Devereaux came back from summer break.” Enter to win one of three copies of Dead Is So Last Year. Deadline: 4 p.m. CET June 7. Note: the series is published by Harcourt. Read a Cynsations interview with Marlene.

Roundtable Discussion: Working With An Editor: a conversation with authors Linda Joy Singleton, Jo Whittemore, and P.J. Hoover from The Spectacle. See the continuing discussion with Joni Sensel, Parker Peevyhouse, and Greg Fishbone. Read Cynsations interviews with Linda Joy, Jo, P.J., and Greg.

Trusting My Gut from Kimberly Willis Holt at A Good Blog is Hard to Find. Peek: “In my gut, I knew it wasn’t ready. Something about the story didn’t feel right, but I was impatient and slipped the envelopes in the mail anyway.” Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Purple Prose People Eaters by Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings. Peek: “Purple prose is a choice of words that aren’t there for the sake of the story, they’re there for the sake of themselves. The words go beyond packing a punch and leave bruises on the reader.”

Win an 8GB iPod Touch and Signed Audiobooks! from Listening Library/Random House. Peek: “f you could go on a fantasy road trip with a character (or characters!) from your favorite series, where would you go? What would you do along the way? How would you travel? Create a video and show us! Best selling authors Libba Bray, Tamora Pierce and Rick Riordan will judge the videos and choose three grand prize winners!” Note: “The contest will open for entries June 1 to Aug. 17.” See more information. Source: Libba Bray. Read Cynsations interviews with Libba and Rick.

What Kind of Tree Are You? Win an ARC of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z! from author Kate Messner. Deadline: 11 p.m. EST June 5. Note: The contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. From Kate: “This humorous middle grade novel, due out with Walker on Sept. 1, is about a girl whose ‘beautiful Vermont autumn’ is being ruined by the monster school leaf collection project she left to the last minute. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment on Kate’s blog about what kind of tree you’d be if you were a tree.”

Writing and Canine Criticism from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “Last week my Old English Sheepdog, Merlin, pulled some of the manuscript pages of my latest WIP from my desk and began to eat them.” Note: Brian Yansky is the author of two YA novels. His third, Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences, will be published by Candlewick in 2010. Brian is based in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Picture Book Math from Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site Newsletter, Volume 14, Number 3. Note: this site and e-newsletter are especially recommended to those with an interest in linking trade books to the classroom.

Talking with Shelley Tanaka by Barbara A. Ward and Terrell A. Young (author) from Booklist. Peek: “What was important about her (Amelia Earhart) was her passion for flying—and that’s where the book started, of course—but the other reason I chose to start with that anecdote was that it actually set her in the history of airplanes.” Source: Leda Schubert.

Teens Read Too is giving away several great books this month, including 20 copies of the ARC for The Chronicles of Vladamir Tod: Tenth Grade Bleeds by Heather Brewer (Dutton), which is highly recommended. See more information. See book trailers for the series.

Eerie Books: a horror specialty shop at 205 N. Ballard Street in Wylie, Texas. Also features horror art, movies & DVDs, a book club, storytime, and much more!

Five Stages of Procrastination from Kristi Holl at Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “This brings the deadline closer and creates more pressure. You delay starting so long that you can’t really be tested on your actual writing ability (what you are capable of if you’d started sooner).”

Librarian Koren Stembridge: Forgive and Forget by Donna Liquori from School Library Journal. Peek: “When Koren Stembridge heard that kids in Boston’s public schools avoided the library because they had late fines or lost materials, the programs and youth services manager for the Boston Public Library helped launch ‘New Start,’ a mass amnesty campaign for the 57,000 kids with outstanding fines. It worked. Many of Boston’s youth came back.” Source: Elizabeth O. Dulemba.

Visualizing Composite Characters, Whether Or Not They’re Modeled on “Real” People by Carmela Martino from Teaching Authors. Peek: “When I wrote the short story’s first draft, the main character was me–I used my own name and the real names of all the other people involved.”

Mindful or Multitasker by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “Is there honestly an alternative to the chicken-with-her-head-cut-off chickenfrenzied multi-tasking that many of us use to get through our days?” See also Kristi on Unblock: Two Techniques.

Enter to Win a Copy of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2009) from The Shady Glade. Deadline: June 15. Note: Maggie is one of my favorite new voices, and this is one of the most highly anticipated YA Gothics of the year. See details. Read a Cynsations interview with Maggie.

What’s On Your Summer Reading List? Children’s and Young Adult Authors and Illustrators Tell All by Daryl Grabarek, Curriculum Connections, from School Library Journal. Get the scoop from Susan Patron, Mo Willems, Kate DiCamillo, Adam Rapp, Elise Broach, Melissa Marr, Deborah Hopkinson, Megan McDonald, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Marilyn Singer, Avi, Brian James, Richard Peck, Laurie Halse Anderson, E. Lockhart, Jerry Spinelli, Juanita Havill, Sara Zarr, Ridley Pearson, Dave Barry, Ann M. Martin, James Preller, Joyce Sweeney, and Paul Janeczko. See also A Need to Read: What Parents Can Do to Encourage Summer Reading by Nancy Twigg from Knox news. Source: Teri Lesesne. Read Cynsations interviews with Elise, Melissa, Deborah, Brian, E., and Sara.

An Agent Talks Trends in MG/YA Publishing from Mitali Perkins at Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “At our Boston Bookish Tweetup on Sunday, literary agent Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency reflected on the current and future state of Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA) books.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Date rape. Anorexia. Slavery. Is there a topic that Laurie Halse Anderson won’t tackle? by Kathleen T. Horning from School Library Journal. Peek: “A word that often comes up when they write me is they feel that my books are honest. I don’t sugarcoat anything. When they’re reading about an emotional experience in my books, it’s something they identify with. It feels real to them.”

Living the Dream by Sarah Prineas. Peek: “One of the first things I learned is that being an author is not the same as being a writer. The writer part is pretty much the same as it always was. Authoring is the add-on to that. Being an author means doing school visits, traveling, giving presentations, being ‘on’ and friendly, spending time and energy on being the human representative of a book. It also means doing interviews, answering questions from foreign translators, dealing with taxes, etc.” Read a Cynsations interview with Sarah.

The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (McElderry 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: “a terrific read, rich in atmosphere and wit. Best of all, the relationships between and among the pairs of siblings are thoughtfully constructed (to explore what it means to be family), without stinting on either horror, action, or suspense.”

Blogging Dos and Don’ts – Advice for Writers from author-agent Lucienne Diver. Peek: “Remember your mother telling you ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’?” Learn more about Lucienne’s new release Vamped (Llewellyn, 2009).

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the 2009 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children’s Literature! Read Cynsations interviews with M.T. Anderson and Tanya Lee Stone.

Revising your manuscript from Samantha Clark at Day by Day Writer. Peek: “Think those award-winning books or bestsellers were brilliant the day their authors typed The End? Think again. Most writers go through revision after revision after revision.”

Check out the book trailer for Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul (Writers Digest, 2009). Trailer by Tina Nichols Coury. Learn more about the book. Source: Alice’s CWIM Blog.

Youth Tribes, Double Bottom Line & Multiple Platforms by Anastasia at YPulse: Youth marketing to teens, tweens & Generation Y (Gen Y). Peek: “It’s not that racial identity is no longer important to young people or that there aren’t differences to be aware of, but that’s just one part of their identity and not necessarily the part to target in a campaign.”

Ten Writing Tips by Verla Kay – Part 1. Peek: “Believe that what you are writing is worthy of being read. Believe that you can do this, that you can write and finish a story so compelling, so entertaining, so special, that editors and kids will love it and ‘have’ to read it.” Read a Cynsations interview with Verla Kay.

What Are Your Author Goals? from Tracy Marchini at My VerboCity. Peek: “What are your goals as a writer, one, five and ten years from now?” Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

Cynsational Winners

The winner of the paperback copy of Sacajawea by Joseph Bruchac (Harcourt, 2008) was Rebecca in Alaska, and the winner of the ARC of Pure by Terra Elan McVoy (Simon Pulse, 2009) was Skipper in Michigan! Thanks to all who entered! Read Cynsations interviews with Joe and Terra.

More Personally

Highlights of the week included receiving contributor copies of Geektastic: Stories of the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009). The story Greg and I wrote is “The Wrath of Dawn.” Full contributor list: M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tracy Lynn, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr. With illustrated interstitials from comic book artists Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O’Malley. Read Cynsations interviews with Holly, Cecil, M.T., Libba, Cassandra, David, Barry, Scott, Lisa, and Sara. Note: do you see that vampire avatar in the top row with the black dress and the red cowboy books and the sunglasses? That’s me!

Thank you to the Cedar Park (TX) Public Library for your hospitality last weekend! Through a grant program, the library sponsors a YA book club to bring in local authors and purchase copies of their latest book for participants. Other recently featured Austin area authors include April Lurie and Jennifer Ziegler.

Author Laurie Faria Stolarz sends a couple of picks of my Gothic fantasy books in New York City. Here they are in the YA Dept at the Barnes & Noble on 5th Ave. (She also set a shot from the New York Public Library (Grand Central Branch), but I can’t seem to get the image twisted around yet–soon, I hope!). Thanks, Laurie! Read a Cynsations interview with Laurie.

Author Interview: Janni Lee Simner on Bones of Faerie

Janni Lee Simner on Janni Lee Simner: “I was born aboard a pirate ship, but as soon as I came of age booked passage with a caravan bound for the Sahara, and spent the next decade as a seeker of lost cities, hidden tombs, and ancient artifacts before settling down in the Sonoran desert to write…

“Well, okay, maybe that’s not how it really happened, but it’s kind of how I wish it had happened.

“I was actually born in New York and might have stayed there, if not for a Girl Scout cross-country camping trip the year I was thirteen. I fell in love with the western United States on that trip, and I also caught my first glimpse of the St. Louis Arch there.

“I returned to St. Louis (where Bones of Faerie is set) for college, started writing for publication after graduation, and soon after moved further west and really did settle down in Arizona’s Sonoran desert.”

What were you like as a young reader?

I was one of those kids who got so lost in books that I wouldn’t hear people talking to me, or even calling me in for dinner. You know, that kid who walks down the street with a book in hand, while everyone but her worries that any moment someone will hit her… Actually, I’ve occasionally been seen doing that as an adult, too.

Why do you write for kids and young adults today?

I never stopped reading kids’ and YA books, so I’m writing what I most love to read!

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

I’d been filling notebooks with stories since junior high school, but just out of college I spent the last of my student loan money on a computer (DOS based, 5 1/4″ floppy disks, no hard drive, which gives an idea of how long ago that was!) and decided to see if I could make something of this writing thing.

Early on, I sent for guidelines to an anthology edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. She pointed out that while writing a novel might be frightening, if you write a page a day, you have a book in a year. After that I made myself write something–even if it was only a few lines–every day.

I submitted my first short story to that anthology, and it sold, and for a little while I thought maybe this writing thing wouldn’t be so hard after all.

It was only after that sale that I got my first rejection slip–and lots more after that–and settled down to the business of really learning how to write.

Early on, did you have the support of a mentor or critique group?

After I sold that first short story–I was still living in St. Louis at the time–I met up with a group of local writers, the Alternate Historians, who invited me to join their critique group.

I remember wondering if I really needed a critique group, which seems hilarious now. I learned so much the two years I was with the Alternate Historians–as much as any MFA program could have taught me.

After two years I moved to Tucson, where I’ve been lucky enough to find two more excellent critique groups: a children’s and YA group with Carole Adler, Dawn Dixon, Patricia McCord, Jennifer J. Stewart and a more fantasy-focused group with Larry Hammer, Jill Knowles, and Frances Robertson.

I’ve learned so much from all of them, too. Hopefully I’ve given as much back in return.

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

Taken myself and my writing a little less seriously, maybe. I wouldn’t want to lose the focus and dedication and willingness to make time in my life to write–but as important as writing is, it actually isn’t everything, and it’s important to make time for other things, too.

Doing so gives you more to write about–and is a way to avoid burnout (which is what I think writer’s block often actually is), too.

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

My critique groups, definitely.

Giving myself permission to write badly, and not being afraid to then revise as much as I need to. The way my process works, if I can just get the story down on paper, I can always revise it into something better later, because I’m a better re-writer than writer.

Also, I’m stubborn, and don’t give up easily–definitely useful as a writer!

How about as you have progressed in your career?

Learning to trust my instincts and my own (very messy!) writing process. Writers tend to give each other lots of advice. Sometimes that advice is presented as “you must do this to succeed,” but even when it’s not, we tend to hear it that way.

It took me a while to gain the confidence to say that it doesn’t matter how another writer–even a bestselling writer or a writer whose work I adore–writes. If something doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t work for me, and I should do something else.

Could you fill us in on your back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

I’ve written four middle grade novels: The Phantom Rider trilogy (Scholastic, 1996) is about a girl who discovers a magical ghost horse in her backyard; Secret of the Three Treasures (Holiday House, 2006), is a humorous mystery about a girl who’s determined to become a professional adventurer, no matter what.

I’ve also published more than 30 short stories for kids, teens and adults, including appearances in Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004), Cricket magazine (October 2006), and Moving Targets and Other Tales of Valdemar (DAW, 2008).

Congratulations on Bones of Faerie (Random House, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the novel?

Bones of Faerie is a post-apocalyptic YA fantasy set almost 20 years after the War between the human and faerie realms destroyed most of the world. Nothing has been seen or heard from Faerie since, but the world is filled with the deadly magic the War left behind: trees that seek out human blood, glowing stones that burn with cold fire, forests whose shadows can swallow a person whole. The few surviving humans search for magic and cast it out wherever they find it, because they know magic destroyed the world.

The story’s protagonist, Liza, pretty much accepts this–until her father sets her infant sister out on a hillside to die for showing signs of magic. Liza’s mother disappears soon after, and then Liza discovers signs of magic in herself and flees the town she’s known all her life, heading into the deadly forest that surrounds it.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I wrote the opening scene when I was still living in St. Louis. I loved that opening, but after I wrote it I stopped short, because I had no idea what happened next! It took me ten years–and a lot of learning and growing as a writer–before I was finally ready to finish the book.

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

Once I got past that initial scene, it took me about two years to write Bones of Faerie. I spent a year or so marketing the book on my own, then some months querying agents. My agent sold the book to my editor a few months after that.

What were the main challenges in framing the story as a fantasy?

I love to read fantasy, so I frame my stories as fantasy without even thinking about it. Even Secret of the Three Treasures, my one “realistic” story, feels fantasy-sympathetic to me. I think keeping the magic out of my stories would be a bigger challenge than including it.

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

That yes, she really can do this! And that one day other people really will read those stories she’s writing in her notebooks right now.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I also write freelance science and health articles, as well as doing occasional other business and marketing writing. When not working I like to read (of course!) and go hiking and camping with my husband (and first reader, and fellow writer) Larry Hammer.

Right now I’m also learning how to fence, which has been a lot of fun, even if I’m not very good at it yet. I think most people can learn most things, even the things we think we can’t, if we’re willing to be really bad at them first!

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m working on a couple other YA projects right now, and I hope to return to the world of Bones of Faerie as well. In the meantime, I have a short story set in that world online–“Invasive Species” in Coyote Wild’s YA issue (Aug. 2008).

After setting Bones of Faerie in the Missouri, I became curious what the war with Faerie looked like in Arizona–where, even without magic, the plants know how to bite. I wrote “Invasive Species” to find out!

New Voice: Cheryl Renée Herbsman on Breathing

Cheryl Renée Herbsman is the author of Breathing (Viking, April 16, 2009). From the promotional copy:

What if the guy who took your breath away was the only one who could help you breathe?

Savannah would be happy to spend the summer in her coastal Carolina town lying in a hammock reading her beloved romance novels and working at the library. But then she meets Jackson. Once they lock eyes, she’s convinced he’s the one–her true love, her soul mate, a boy different from all the rest.

And at first it looks like Savannah is right. Jackson abides by her mama’s strict rules, and stays by her side during a hospitalization for severe asthma, which Savannah becomes convinced is only improving because Jackson is there. But when he’s called away to help his family–and seems uncertain about returning–Savannah has to learn to breathe on her own, both literally and figuratively.

This debut novel has it all — an endearing, funny, hopelessly romantic main character, lots of down-home Southern charm, and a sunny, salty beach setting that will transport you to the Carolina coast.

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?

For me, the excitement began with an email from the person who would become my agent. Before submitting Breathing, I had been trying to sell a YA fantasy for about two years. So I’d been through the ups and down of the submission process for some time.

When I first sent out queries for Breathing, I had an agency say they loved the manuscript and wanted to help me launch my career. But first they wanted me to do a revision. They emailed suggestions. We talked by phone several times. I revised. I sent it back–full of hope and confidence. And they rejected it. (I like to say they e-jected it as it was via email.)

I was feeling very low, considering giving up, feeling like I was back at square one yet again. But my cheering squad said, “You can’t give up!”

And truthfully, on this manuscript, I had only sent out three queries so far. So I sent out five more e-queries and received two immediate requests for the full manuscript.

A couple of days later, on a Monday, one of the agents who had requested the full, Leigh Feldman, emailed me to say, “Don’t accept representation until we talk. I’ll call you on Thursday.”

This was pretty much the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me on the book sale front. Of course I was going crazy until Thursday. Then Thursday came and I was in a panic – what if she didn’t call? What if she did? And then she did! And she wanted to represent me!

After two years of rejection on the other manuscript, this felt like the most wonderful of dreams-come-true.

Leigh sent the book out a couple of days later, and we received two offers right away. I was able to talk with the editors at each of those houses to see what vision they had for the book.

After talking with both of them, I decided to go with Joy Peskin at Viking. (She has been fantastic to work with, and Viking has been great all the way through.)

In the end, the final call was mine. I called Leigh to tell her of my decision to go with Viking, and she passed it along.

When the book sold, my first reaction was a lot of screaming. In fact, I think I said to my kids, “Don’t be scared. I’m really happy, so I’m going to scream now,” which I then proceeded to do for quite some time, while they looked on and laughed. But seriously, there is so much pent up emotion going through this process, I felt it was necessary.

When I was done shrieking, my family took me out to dinner and bought me flowers. I emailed pretty much every person I knew and was sort of floating in disbelief for weeks.

I don’t think any of it seemed real until a couple of weeks later when Joy sent me some Viking books and wrote on the card, “Welcome to the Viking family of authors.” What a rush!

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist?

The protagonist in my debut novel, Breathing, is Savannah Georgina Brown, a fifteen-year-old hopeless romantic.

She appeared in my head one night at a writing group. We were doing a writing exercise where we had to jot down a list of things, like a color, two numbers, two genders, a secret, etc., then write a piece that incorporated all those elements.

As it so happened, that night a woman joined the group who had never been there before. She had a deep Carolinian accent that brought up tons of memories for me. I grew up in North Carolina and hadn’t been back in a while. So hearing her talk just awakened something in me.

The combination of hearing her speak and the elements that I’d chosen to write about came together to create Savannah.

Once Savannah came into existence, she came full-blown, with a mind and a voice of her own. From then on, it felt like magic. I could hear her voice so clearly. I think it helped that hers was so different from my own. When a character is too similar to me, I find it harder to write her voice. It ends up sounding generic.

That wasn’t a problem at all with Savannah. She has a unique way of thinking and of seeing the world. If a week or two went by and I hadn’t worked on that project, when I next sat down to it, what would come out was something like, “Well, where have you been? I’ve got all this stuff going on and I been wanting to tell you about it and you’re nowhere in sight. How long do you expect me to wait around?” So she knew her mind and wasn’t afraid to let it be known.

A book that inspired me to find a character with that unique voice was a chapter book called Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (Hyperion, 2006).

An editor from Hyperion had used it as an example of voice at a conference. That editor also said that voice was the most important element of a submission, that editors can help with plot, character arcs, etc., but if you don’t have the voice, they can’t fix it. So that had put in my mind the idea that I needed to play with creating a character with a strong voice.

Clementine, even though it’s for a younger audience, is such a great example of the importance of specificity in character development. That kid just thinks differently from everyone else. That’s what I was hoping to create.

About halfway through the first draft of Breathing, when I had a good sense of who the players were, I did character sketches on everyone. (Some of these can be seen on my website). As I learned more about each character, I went back and wove the new knowledge into the story.

This may not seem like the most straightforward method of writing, but it works for me. I like writing without knowing where the story is going, watching it unfold. And I also like the going back and weaving part. It’s like figuring out a puzzle.

I think that when trying to allow a character to come through in this manner, the most important thing to do is to get out of the way. This can be harder than it sounds. Our left brain or logical, thinking side wants to control everything, figure everything out ahead of time. But I believe the story comes out much more interestingly if we let the right brain or more artsy, subconscious side take control.

So when I’m writing, and my left brain is trying to critique the words as they come out or suggest a certain path for the story to take, I just keep telling it to be quiet and step aside and see what wants to come from that quieter, deeper place.

I’m usually pleasantly surprised. When I first started writing Breathing, in the very first chapter, I knew that Savannah had a dream of one day seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had no idea that the opportunity would arise in the course of the book. But when it did, I went back and wove the possibility into the first chapter. I enjoy the element of surprise as I write.

I often use visualization or meditation techniques to help get the inner critic or logical brain out of the way. So if someone is wondering how to let the magic of the right brain, the more mystical side take over, I think the key is getting the left brain to be quiet for a while. Ask it to wait outside until you’re through and remind it that it will get its turn during revisions!

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.

Literary Agents Assistant Interview: Tracy Marchini on Curtis Brown Ltd.

Tracy Marchini on Tracy Marchini: “I’ve been with Curtis Brown for three years, working with Ginger Knowlton and Laura Blake Peterson. Before joining Curtis Brown, I’d worked as a freelance children’s book reviewer and a local newspaper correspondent.

“In my personal life, I like to write, read, go to ballgames and explore the city. After completing the qualifying races last year, I’m now training for my first marathon and learning that it’s possible to injure oneself in a multitude of embarrassing ways (for example, with my own gym shorts.)”

Could you give us a general description of Curtis Brown, Ltd.?

Curtis Brown was founded in 1914 and is a full service literary agency, with a foreign rights and film department. We are the home of many literary greats, including the estates of Ogden Nash, D.H. Lawrence and A.A. Milne. We’re also the proud home of many contemporary greats, including our very own Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith!

You can see more about Curtis Brown’s submission policies and the specialties of our individual agents on our website.

How did you come to be a literary agent’s assistant?

When I was younger, my mother started writing children’s literature and became active with the local SCBWI. I started writing regularly a year after she did, and later went to college for a BA in English, with a concentration in Rhetoric.

When I graduated, I started attending the SCBWI conferences. We were sitting at the staff dinner after my first conference, and it came up in conversation that I had just graduated and wanted to work in publishing. I happened to be sitting across from one of our fabulous Curtis Brown authors, and she recommended that I send my resume to her agent.

I didn’t end up interning at CB, though. One of their agents was leaving to form their own agency, the Kirsten Manges Literary Agency, and she offered me an internship. It was really inspiring to watch someone build an agency from the ground up, and when it was time for me to move on, Kirsten passed my resume back to CB because they had an assistant opening.

What about the job appeals to you?

Well, I know this is going to sound like some serious sucking-up, but I have to say that Ginger and Laura both have a fantastic list of authors to work with.

Whether it’s throwing title suggestions back and forth, giving encouragement during a tough time or just teasing someone about their baseball team’s performance, I love working with our authors. Sometimes someone will say something and my whole day is brightened, and sometimes I find myself worrying about clients if we don’t hear from them for a while.

Also, I like that everybody that we work with is creating something. I think one of the best feelings is to put something together and say “I made this,” so I really enjoy working with a ton of people who are constantly sharing with us something that they’ve made. And then, I enjoy being a part of the next step, which is–what can we turn this into? (book, film, merch, etc.)

What are its biggest challenges?

The amount of time in a day. Sometimes I am amazed by just how many people touch a book during the publication process, and on some days it feels like I’m talking to them all at once!

Also, recently, I found it’s difficult not to be (at times) discouraged by the news coming out of publishing. Down first quarters, massive lay-offs, and questions about whether the industry as a whole will even be relevant 50 years from now.

But I think it’s important to remember that people will always want to read (no matter the format), and so we will always need writers.

Will we always need agents? I think so. But I think that we will see the role change over the next few years.

I always imagine people who work at literary agencies going to glittering NYC parties in shoes so expensive I’ve only seen them on HBO. Am I on target or off base? And in either case, what’s the scoop?

I think it was Moonrat that just did a great blog post on entry-level salaries in publishing, and I can tell you that at my level, we go to the parties not only for the networking, but for the happy hour and potential for free appetizers! My shoes are frequently a pair of uber-fabulous black Pumas, though I have been caught in a pair of Stuart Weitzman’s.

I’ve been to only one or two publishing parties that was probably HBO-worthy, but it’s more common for a publishing party to be a group of agents and editors at a favorite bar who are looking to meet other up-and-coming editors/agents to help build their contact list.

Once there was a cupcake party going on at the same time as a pub party, and I managed to win a book about cupcakes and eat a cupcake — success!

(You can, however, feel free to imagine me in expensive shoes, drinking a martini and talking to Judy Blume and Meg Cabot.)

Could you describe a typical day in your work life?

It’s hard to say what a typical day is like, because you never know what’s going to be in your IN box or what frantic phone call might come in during the day.

At any given point though, I could be comparing contracts, pitching audio books, reading unsolicited queries, preparing submissions, reading client manuscripts, tracking down royalty statements or payments, negotiating permissions, researching new editors or imprints, researching what rights we have available for certain projects…

What advice do you have for writers looking to make a positive first impression on an agent?

I was thinking this morning about how an author in bygone days might have been a creator first and a business person second. In this climate though, I think you have to wear both hats consistently.

So, when approaching an agent, I would advise that you have already done your research, prepared a clean, well-written query letter, followed their submission guidelines, and then be patient. Frequent phone calls to “follow-up” before the agency’s announced response time elapses are only going to hurt your cause, not help.

It’s not groundbreaking advice, I know, but I think sometimes people forget that when you approach an agent, you’re doing this as a business person. Professional agents want to work with professional writers.

What does the downturn in the economy mean for those seeking representation?

I think that it is going to be tougher to wow an agent when the publishers aren’t buying many books. It’s discouraging for an author to take them on and not be able to sell the first few books, even if the agent loves their writing.

When publishers aren’t interested in acquiring too many mid-list books, it makes an agent really think about taking on debuts. And, unfortunately, a published author with not-so-great track record is going to have a tough time as well.

But publishers are, of course, still buying books. So, all you can do is keep write, submit, repeat.

How about for the market more generally?

It’s hard to watch industry suffer, and it’s always sad to hear that someone you liked working with was let go. But in the long run, I think that we’ll see publishing change for the better due to the downturn.

Publishing houses are talking about how to use print-on-demand in order to eliminate the return system. And I think a smaller list will likely lead to higher quality books, since more time (in every stage – editing, layout, marketing, etc.) could be devoted to each one.

It could also help a publisher grow a community around their imprint. I also think branding is going to become more important, and that could be great for savvy authors, and perhaps a bit more difficult for those who are not as technologically fluent.

Are you interested in speaking to writers’ groups? If so, what kind of event would interest you?

I’ve gone as an industry professional to the Rutger’s One-on-One Conference and the SCBWI Poughkeepsie conferences.

In addition to talking about what an agent can do for writers, I’ve been thinking about how interesting it could be to host a discussion on social networking that’s geared specifically to writers. I enjoy speaking to writers both one-on-one and in a larger conference setting.

You recently attended the O’Reilly Media Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. What should writers know about emerging technologies?

I think the first thing writers should know is that the print book is not dead. E-book sales to print sales are still comparatively small. Publishers are still trying to figure out the best way to price an e-book, and agents are concerned about securing the fairest e-book royalty rate for their client.

That said, I’ve started to think about my projects in terms of “what is the best format for the story I’m trying to tell?”

Children’s writers especially need to think about how tech savvy their audience is. Teens are constantly creating content — original and fanfic-wise.

Maureen Johnson does an excellent job of interacting with her audience and encourages her readers to blog, video, etc. and then she gives them feedback.

(One thing that Adobe’s panel at TOC mentioned was that teens expect feedback on their work from their peers.)

On a larger scale, Fourth Story Media and Scholastic’s 39 Clues series are excellent examples of packagers/series that are thinking across multiple platforms.

How are technology changes affecting literary agencies?

An agent’s role is to protect the rights of their client, and we traditionally sell only what the publisher needs. For example, we sell the U.S. print book rights to HarperCollins, the audio book to Listening Library, and the Italian edition to Mondadori.

But the growth of digital rights is eventually going to make the idea of territory obsolete. Also, the rights required to publish across multiple platforms could be seen as a large rights grab unless the publisher has concrete plans to use each right they’re requesting.

I think that agents are going to have to balance protecting an author’s rights with allowing the publisher room to create synergy.

What inspired you to launch your blog, My VerboCity? Who is the intended audience, and what is your focus?

I’ve blogged off and on since college, maybe even high school. I’ve experimented with character blogs, personal blogs, and group blogs.

My VerboCity was originally going to be a more personal blog about living and writing in New York City. But as I gained more experience in the industry, I found that most of the posts started to focus on the craft of writing and my thoughts on publishing. My readers are mostly writers and others in the industry.

So far, what are your two or three favorite children’s/YA reads of 2009 and why?

This is a tough question, because of course more than two Curtis Brown authors have published a YA in 2009!

But outside of our ridiculously talented authors, I would say I’m still thinking about The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams (St. Martin’s)(author interview), and I was also blown away by the stories in HarperTeen’s There’s No Such Thing As The Real World. (Okay, our own K.L. Going did contribute, so I guess I slightly broke my own outside CB rule!)

What do you do outside of the world of books?

Since I write outside of work, I can’t say I’m ever fully outside the world of books!

But I love the Yankees, and have a small-but-growing collection of Yankee books and ballgame ticket stubs. I seriously considered buying a piece of Yankee field for $80, but, alas, I think I’m going to have to draw the line at buying Yankee dirt… for now.

I also love going to concerts, and wish that feeling of being part of the pit could translate into other areas of life (like, for example, the subway.)

Craft, Career & Cheer: Brent Hartinger

Learn about Brent Hartinger.

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

Isn’t it funny how our lives make so much sense in retrospect?

As a kid, I hated being told what to do. Whether it was my teachers or my parents, I was generally of the opinion that I knew far better than they did what was best for me (and you know what? I still think I was right!).

As an adult, I now know there is nothing else I could be doing other than a life in the arts, a life where I’m in control, I’m the one deciding what project to do next and how exactly to execute that project.

I absolutely love the exhilarating freedom that comes from being a writer. But that freedom comes at a very steep price, as you’ll see in my answer below.

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

The successful writers I know understand that it’s all a big wheel, and sometimes you’re up (or on the way up), and sometimes you’re down (or on the way down).

The scary thing is, because of the crazy, unpredictable nature of art (and the even crazier, unpredictable nature of publishing), we really don’t have that much say over which direction our careers are heading.

What was that I was saying about freedom in the answer above?

While it’s true we have complete control over our stories as writers, we have very little control over how people respond to them and how our careers are impacted by them.

Ironic, isn’t it?

This lack of career-control is scary for a lot of people — especially driven, bull-headed people like me. As a society, we like to believe that we control our fates — and in most cases, I honestly believe we do. Just not in the arts.

Literally, every non-insane, non-bitter artist I know accepts this. They don’t dwell on it, but they acknowledge it, and then they move on.

What does this mean exactly? That they don’t rant and rail when that “certain” book or movie deal falls through, or when the chains decide not to order a particular title of ours. They don’t fall into the deep spiral of depression, cursing God and saying, “Why me?”

Okay, maybe they do this a little. But they aren’t consumed by it.

Then they say, “I guess it was not to be. Now what shall my next book be?”

Every good writer knows that for a story to be engaging, the antagonist must be more powerful than the protagonist. That way, to defeat the antagonist, the protagonist must change: they must become more than whoever they were. If they don’t, they will be destroyed by whatever they’re confronting, if not literally, then spiritually.

Writers like to say that their lives, unlike the lives of their characters, are “boring,” but I’m not so sure this is so true. By choosing to be writers of books, we confront some pretty powerful obstacles. And if they defeat us, it isn’t pretty.

But we also have the option facing down the unpredictability of a life in the arts, of growing, of becoming stronger than who we were.

The question was, how do I thrive in this industry? I’m not sure I do. But I’m holding my own against the hurricane. And that alone is something of which I am very proud.

Cynsational Notes

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