Craft, Career & Cheer: Jane Yolen

Learn about Jane Yolen. Note: see more information about Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft (Writer’s Digest, 2006).

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

My short answer is that I get to work in my jammies. But that’s a devious and charming lie. I hardly ever work in my jammies any more unless it is that first rush of emails before I even
get out of bed. Besides, I wear a nightgown, not jammies.

What I love most is the white heat, the total involvement in an evolving story when something new to the world (and to me) suddenly leaks out of my fingers and onto the page. For the length of the writing, my back doesn’t hurt, the world as it is disappears and the world as I create it takes over, and time in real terms stops.

When I look up again from the computer screen, crossing back over the years and miles from fairyland or Emily Dickinson’s house or a walk in the owl moon woods, it is minutes, even hours later. Sometimes I can scarcely bear to come home.

Could you tell us about your writing community—your critique group or critique partner or other sources of creative support?

Before my beloved husband David Stemple died, he was my first reader and best critic.

Now I rely completely on my writing group of seven wonderful women (Patricia MacLachlan, Ann Turner, Leslea Newman, Ellen Wittlinger, Barbara Diamond Goldin, Anna Kirwan, and Corinne Demas) and my daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple, who lives next door to me.

Of course when I am in Scotland, where I have a house and live for four months each summer and early fall, I have my writing partner Bob Harris and his wife Debby.

All are fine writers and are not loathe to tell me when my stuff stinks or wobbles or misses the mark–though not quite in those rough terms. But they are also good at praise songs, too.

How do you psyche yourself up to write and to keep writing?

It is not a question I understand. Writing is what I love and enjoy. Writing feeds me, gives me strength, makes me happy, keeps me whole.

Why is your agent the right agent for you?

Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown Ltd. is my agent, and I adore her. She knows my backlist, understands I need to hear sooner rather than later, is the right combination of listening ear and whip hand, and knows everything about the tidal motion of the market. Also I think she likes me. A lot. It helps.

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

For me the answer is simple: I can write everything. And do.

Over the years (and I have been doing this for well over 40 successful years, my first two books coming out in 1963), I have tried every genre. I am flexible. I am my own brand.

I don’t write for the market–indeed I seem to be either ten years ahead or ten years behind every trend—but I write what I want to and assume the market will find me.

I can do that because of the sheer volume of stories, poems, essays, books that I write.

It also means I probably get more rejections in a month than most writers. Goes with the territory. A rejection just means I haven’t found the right editor yet.

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

I have always referred to Emily Dickinson as my neighbor. Not absolutely true as she lived two towns (not a hedge) away from where I now live and died in the nineteenth century.

I adore her poetry and have since childhood. I had always wanted to write a picture book about her.

But it took me approximately 30 years to find the story I wanted to tell about dear Emily, though in-between I had written sonnets and poems about (and to) her, included her in book references in my novel Armageddon Summer (with Bruce Coville (Harcourt 1999)) and essays about writing, etc.

Finally, talking to a friend who is a Dickinson scholar about the long-desired project, she gave me an anecdote that was perfect.

Emily–known to her niece and two nephews as “Uncle Emily”–once gave her youngest nephew, six-year-old Gib, a dead bee and a poem about a dead bee to take into school, which the reluctant boy did. We don’t know exactly what happened there, which gave me permission to creatively re-invent an historical moment.

So My Uncle Emily, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Philomel, 2009) was born.

Cynsational Notes

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

Author Interview: Suzanne Morgan Williams on Bull Rider

Suzanne Morgan Williams on Suzanne Morgan Williams:

“I’m the author of ten nonfiction books for kids aged ten to fourteen. My first novel, Bull Rider (McElderry, 2009), is for the same age group.

“Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection for 2009 and was chosen to represent Nevada in the Pavilion of the States at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. in September 2008. (The Nevada librarians displayed ARCs since Bull Rider was published in 2009.)

“I’m a Nevada Author in Residence and have received various grants supporting my writing, research, and community curriculum/events work from both the Nevada Arts Council and the Sierra Arts Foundation.

“In the course of my research, I’ve chatted about UFOs in Rachel, Nevada outside Area 51, been stranded (briefly) on the sea ice on Hudson Bay, dodged a bull’s horns while standing above a bucking chute at a local bull ring, and gambled in a wigwam near Rainy Lake, Ontario. Writing has taken me to places physically, emotionally, and creatively that I could never have imagined.”

From Suzanne’s site: “Bull Rider is an upper middle grade novel (ages ten to fourteen) about how one boy and his family deal with the loss and grief brought on by war. Fourteen year old Cam O’Mara is a ranch kid from the sage brush country of central Nevada. He is a skateboarder, not a champion bull rider like his brother Ben, but when Ben joins the Marines and is seriously injured in Iraq, Cam turns to his family traditions and in particular bull riding to overcome his grief and to give his brother hope for a new life.”

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I think I’ve always been a storyteller, but when I was a kid I used to draw pictures and tell myself stories to go with them. I was the one always begging my grandparents to tell me another story about when they were kids–and I remember those. As a teen, I wrote down stuff that bothered me–journal style–and then tore up the papers. That felt good.

But it was when our oldest daughter was about twelve and brought home a stack of middle grade books to read (and I read them too when she was asleep) that I thought “I want to do that.” I started writing seriously.

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

I guess I’m more tortoise than hare when it comes to writing kids’ books. My first publication was an article, “Bird Break in Hong Kong,” in Bird Talk magazine in 1994.

Shortly after that, I submitted a picture book to Pacific View Press, a new small press in Berkeley that specialized in books about China. Since my manuscript was about a Chinese immigrant girl in San Francisco, I decided to send it to people who would know the subject best.

It was a scary decision–but they contacted me about publishing it. That was my first children’s submission. I figured this market was mine! (Okay, don’t choke – I learned.) Well, they are a small press and they decided they didn’t want to tackle fiction–so they asked if I would submit a proposal for a nonfiction book on Chinese inventions. Of course I knew nothing about Chinese inventions, but I told them I’d learn.

Four years later, they published my first book, Made in China, Ideas and Inventions from Ancient China (Pacific View Press, 1997). I read more than fifty books on Chinese history and Chinese inventions, on ceramics and feng shui. I met with tai qi masters and traditional Chinese medical doctors. I took classes in Chinese. I loved the process and discovered I was obsessive about research. I’ve had one project or another with Pacific View ever since.

In the meantime, I kept writing fiction–both picture books and novels–but as I got more nonfiction contracts, I spent less time on my fiction. I’ve written eleven nonfiction books, and they’ve involved lots of on-site, library, and person to person research.

Still I kept writing fiction. Often it was related to what I’d learned in the nonfiction. In 2004, I was talking with an editor, telling her stories I’d learned from writing Nevada (Sea to Shining Sea the Second Series, Children’s Press, 2003), and from Indian and Inuit people while working on other nonfiction projects. She’d seen my writing and she asked me to submit chapters and an outline for a series set in Nevada. Something very Nevadan. We decided on cowboys, rodeo, and finally bull riders. She didn’t buy that series, but it was the beginning of my novel, Bull Rider.

In terms of craft, what was the single best decision you made during your apprenticeship as a writer?

It was giving myself permission to stop making money by publishing nonfiction and to take the time to really focus on fiction writing. That’s what I did from 2004 until now.

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

My first book was Made in China. Also with Pacific View Press are Pinatas and Smiling Skeletons, Celebrating Mexican Festivals, co-authored by Zoe Harris (Pacific View Press, 1999) and upcoming, China’s Daughters which includes biographies of seventeen Chinese women from Fu Hao, who was a queen in the Shang Dynasty (about 4,000 years ago), to Kang Keqing, who participated in the Long March during World War II.

I wrote Kentucky and Nevada for the Sea to Shining Sea Second Series, Children’s Press, 2001, 2003. And then came, The Inuit (Franklin Watts, 2003) a book of my heart. I have traveled to the Canadian Arctic four times, first to research The Inuit, and then to follow up with the friends I made there. That book marked a change for me both personally and professionally.

Between 2001 and 2003 I worked on a series about Indian Tribes for Heinemann Libraries. I wrote The Tlingit, The Chinook, The Powhatan, The Ojibwe, and The Cherokee (Heinemann Libraries, 2003). I worked with Native people on all of these projects. From them I learned to listen. To wait. To accept information that was not always comfortable. I made friends.

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

Well, remember that hare analogy? Editor #1 and I originally talked about creating a series for young readers–maybe second grade–in May 2004. Bull Rider was published in February of 2009.

What happened in between was I wrote the first book in the series, and there was a lot of interest, but ultimately they didn’t buy it. I got that rejection note in June 2005.

I set Bull Rider aside to lick my wounds and figure out how I would make it a bigger book–big enough to stand on its own–and a book for older readers. The manuscript just kind of annoyed me for about eight months.

Then my friend, Ellen Hopkins, who is also part of my critique circle, started bugging me about it. We all need friends like that. She met a photographer from the PBR–professional bull riders–on one of her promotional trips. She came home and told me she’d arranged for me to interview some pro-bull riders when the PBR was in Reno. That was the turning point for Bull Rider.

I interviewed three pro-bull riders, two photographers who travel the circuit, got a behind the scenes tour of the chutes and tack room, and watched them unload the bulls–including one named Ugly. I was hooked and I left with my character–a new Cam O’Mara, who was older and more human–with more flaws–and one who was a little afraid of the bulls.

So from February to September 2006 I wrote the new manuscript. It was YA. I got an agent. Then I revised it to middle grade, and it sold in July of 2007. Two revisions later and the final manuscript was accepted in December 2007.

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

Well, by now you know I love research and I can immerse myself, perhaps drown myself in it, particularly when I’m stuck writing. The trick is to stop researching when I find the new spark that I need to continue writing.

I also needed to learn when research was important and facts were necessary and when I could depend on the book being fiction–there were lots of things about it I could just make up!

One thing I couldn’t make up was the information about bull riding, ranching, and Ben’s war injuries. Researching the bull riding was fun. I’m a rodeo fan and besides going to the PBR, I visited a local bull ring and watched some guys get on a bull for the first time.

I was able to connect with some ranchers, and there used to be a small cattle operation across the street from where I live. So far so good.

But psychologically, the biggest challenge for me was when I accepted the fact that Bull Rider needed to be about the two brothers’ relationship and that meant bringing brain injured, amputee Ben front and center. I was scared to learn about Traumatic Brain Injury, and I felt like it was intrusive to interview TBI victims–especially after all they’d already been through. I ended up interviewing the people who care for war injured.

I couldn’t have written Bull Rider without my experiences with Native people–learning to listen and to process very difficult information. I didn’t hear what I expected.

I learned that most injured soldiers want to return to their units. I learned that TBI can be invisible and still create life-altering changes in its victims’ thought processes. I developed a deep respect for the men and women who’ve given so much in the line of duty. I began to understand how people hold up in war time.

Talk about writing a book changing the author! I am so honored to share Bull Rider with readers. I believe we owe these veterans not only our respect, but continued quality care, perhaps for many years.

How did you approach the transition from writing nonfiction to writing the novel?

I had always been writing fiction of some sort so I just kept doing that. I did stop looking for nonfiction contracts, and I turned down some local, commission work to make time to work on the novel. Being a nonfiction writer made me more comfortable with tracking down the information I needed to ground Bull Rider and made it seem necessary to include real, convincing details in the text. I love blending fact and fiction and hope it creates a story that readers feel is true.

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?

Yes, I have a vision, and it’s mainly about writing novels. I love action, boy novels. I don’t know why. The novels I want to write have some purpose other than to just entertain–although that’s certainly important.

I am working on a novel based on my arctic experiences and also one with a girl protagonist just to switch things up. But since I don’t have the power to make everything happen as I envision, the answer to your question is I’m taking it book by book. I still don’t know what happens next…

How do you balance your writing against the pressures of being an author (contracts, promotion, etc.)?

Right now I’m not taking nearly as much time to write as I need. I have to start getting up at 5 a.m. or something. I’m doing a lot of promotion for Bull Rider on my own, I’m a member of the Class of 2K9, and I’m co-regional advisor for Nevada SCBWI so there’s always something going on.

And I have that life outside of writing, too–you know, the one with grocery shopping, appointments, plumbers. I know we have to make choices, and soon I have to make the choice to write more. Period.

In times when things are less hectic, I can strike a balance by writing new stuff when I’m inspired, editing old work when I’m not so hot creatively, and doing business chores when my brain is totally fried. If I’m feeling manic–that’s when I make promotional calls–“Would you like to do an event about Bull Rider? It’ll be great!”

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

I have belonged to wonderful critique groups in the past, and I’m blessed to know a lot of terrific writers. Right now, I’m pretty certain of the type of feedback that I want at any stage of my writing and so I usually ask one or two trusted writer friends for that.

Emma Dryden edited Bull Rider, and she is also a resource as I develop my new projects, as is my agent, Stephen Barbara.

Since Bull Rider is my first novel, this is the first time I’ve had access to all three–critique partners, editor, and agent–I consider myself very lucky.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The Official SCBWI Conference Blog: Alice Pope leads SCBWI’s “Team Blog” for up-to-the minute conference countdowns and live blogging from the conference floor! Note: for those who couldn’t make it to LA and those who want to look back on the experience.

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott Giveaway from MissAttitude at Reading in Color. Note: includes review and interview links. Deadline: Aug. 18. See also a recent Cynsations interview with Zetta.

The Acquisition Process by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon, to appear in the 2010 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. Peek: “Part of the reason why the process can be difficult and time-consuming is simply that it couldn’t possibly be more important to publishers. As noted above, this is how publishers build their future, and they want to get it right. So publishers think, and debate, and then think some more.” See also updates to Who’s Moving Where? News and Staff Changes at Children’s Book Publishers. Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Kid’s Book Revisions: Online Class and Manuscript Help: taught by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. Now taking registrations for a Sept. to Nov. session. Peek: ” We are experienced children’s book editors, working together to teach an online manuscript revision class three or four times annually. We also provide a variety of editorial services.” Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Check out this new book trailer for One Million Men and Me by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Peter Ambush (Just Us Books, 2007).

How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator: online course (with accompanying blog) from author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell. Peek: “Comprehensive, illustrated lessons come in PDF sessions that you can download and save. Monthly online group calls with teacher Mark Mitchell provide a valuable (but still fun) interactive component. Students also have 24 hour access to the Children’s Book Illustration Wiggio group site where they can chat with each other and Mark, check messages, review portfolios and share files and links.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mark.

Critiquing Critiques by Rick Daley from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “I recommend the sandwich approach, where you start with a positive point, give an honest opinion of what doesn’t work for you (may be multiple points), and then end with another positive point or words of encouragement.”

Revision by Brian Yansky‘s at Brian’s Blog: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. Peek: “Sheepdogs are naturally gregarious and, in my opinion, a bit over the top in their moment-to-moment living. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I tend toward the other end of the spectrum. A little too understated. Perhaps in life. Definitely in fiction.” See also He Wasn’t a Math Guy. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee Giveaway from Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink. Peek: “A signed copy of the book from my own personal stash, mailed to you the DAY the books arrive at my house — I promise! All you need to do is leave a comment here or on my facebook page or via email.” Deadline: today! Aug. 14. Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

How to Build a Marketing Platform by Christina Katz from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “A strong platform includes things like a Web presence, classes you teach, media contacts you’ve established, articles you’ve published, public speaking services you offer and any other means you currently have for making your name (and your future works) known to your readership.” Source: Laurie Wallmark at Just the Facts, Ma’am: News & Notes for Busy Children’s Writers.

A Day in the Life of An Editor by Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “If I’m not in a meeting, I’m mainly either responding to emails (including responding to authors and agents about submissions) or reviewing various materials in my inbox that are circulating, such as picture book mechanicals, proof, marketing materials, and so on.”

How to Recommend a Book By and About a Person of Color by Chasing Ray. Peek: “It cannot be about something as basic as ‘go read a minority book’–it needs to be read a good book on a topic you’re interested in, regardless of the color of anyone involved.” Note: strongly agreed, though I’d add that for collection building and curriculum purposes, it’s still quite helpful to offer bibliographies with a culture/race/ethnicity theme.

Anneographies: “Author Anne Bustard (below) on her fave picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday.” Here, Anne takes a peek at two brand new biographies, Cromwell Dixon’s Sky Cycle by John Nez (Putnam, 2009) and An Eye for Color: The True Story of Josef Albers by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Julia Breckenreid (Henry Holt, Sept. 2009). Note: pass on this link to your favorite elementary school teacher or school librarian. Read a Cynsations interview with Anne.

Rising Tide: The Boom in Historical Fiction About India and the Indian Diaspora by Sandhya Nankani from Multicultural Review (PDF). Source: Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk.

The Myth of “Just an Author” by Nathan Bransford from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “Hemingway found his way to publication in part because he knew the right people (namely F. Scott Fitzgerald), and his success owed a great deal to his larger than life stature, a literary self-promotional archetype dating back to Byron and beyond. Herman Melville became famous because he wrote travelogues…” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Routines–or Ruts? by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: “You may suspect your routines have become ruts if you are more bored than inspired when you sit down to write.” See also Change: Making It Stick.

Congratulations to Jo Knowles on the release of Jumping Off Swings (Candlewick, 2009), which has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly! From the promotional copy: “One pregnancy. Four friends. It all adds up to a profound time of change in this poignant, sensitively written YA novel. Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For a while anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their ‘one-time thing’ is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind.”

Engaging the Young Adult Reader by Coert Voorhees from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “…YA doesn’t so much reflect a writer’s decision to write for a particular audience as it does a marketing decision based on a combination of protagonist and narrative stance.”

Play It Again, Julie! from Jama Rattigan at Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. A celebration of Julie Larios‘ poem, “A Night on the Town.” Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

The Picture Perfect Picture Book, featuring Author Kim Norman, Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 in the Writers Retreat from The Institute of Children’s Literature. “Drop into the Writer’s Retreat discussion board to ask questions for our workshop leader, Kim Norman, on the subject of ‘The Picture Perfect Picture Book.’ Plot, rhythm, language, pace, how do you balance the elements of great picture books? How can you tell if you’ve written one? Come and see!”

Enter to win a copy of Dead Girl in Love (Flux, 2009) from author Linda Joy Singleton, and check out her twenty-year timeline to the publication of the trilogy. From the promotional copy: “Oh, wow—I’m my own best friend. Or at least, I’m in her body! Okay, this assignment will be quick and easy. Thanks, Grammy! See, my dead grandmother keeps finding people who have big problems and then I have the freaky experience of stepping into their life—and their body!—to provide help. This time, I’m in the body of my BFF, Alyce. Since Alyce and I know everything about each other, I won’t have to do a lot of detective work, which is a definite plus. But, as Alyce, I’ve got some really pressing questions to answer—starting with, What am I doing in this coffin?” Deadline: Aug. 15.

Sylvan Dell Announces Next Generation EBook, Offers Free Trial of All 45 of Its EBooks from Sara Dobie’s Blog. According to publisher and co-founder Lee German, “These are the most technologically advanced eBooks in the world today, featuring Auto-Flip, Auto-Read, and Selectable Language.”

Follow Through by Liz Gallagher from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “The difference between people who have written books and those who want to write books is that those who have written them…have written them. But following through, getting to the end, is hard!” Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Slow, Steady Growth for Charlesbridge at 20 by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Despite today’s harsh retail environment, Charlesbridge, the trade arm of educational press Charlesbridge Publishing Inc. (a privately held company founded in 1980), is doing better than simply holding its own. Over the past decade, its sales have shot past those of CPI, and it is preparing to grow by adding early childhood books.” Source: Children’s Book Biz News.

Enter to Win August YA Book Giveaways from Teens Read Too, including one of 90 copies of Extras from the Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2009 reprint edition). Read a Cynsations interview with Scott.

Making your Bookmarks by Kristina Springer at Author2Author. Peek: “First, you need a snazzy design. If you’re photoshop savvy, this will be easy for you. You just need to create a bookmark that includes your cover, some book info or a tease about your book, release date, ISBN, your website URL (and e-mail if you’d like), and don’t forget to put what age your book is for!”

The Essential Elements of Narrative Nonfiction by Barbara Kerley from I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: “I revised and revised through 14 drafts, trying to shape an accurate, engaging story. Other books and magazine articles followed, and I began to get a better sense of what needs to be in place for narrative nonfiction to work…”

Social Networking in 15 Minutes a Day from Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent. Peek: “A lot of people wonder how they can do all the online networking they’re ‘supposed’ to do without it completely draining all their time and energy. Well, I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve developed a strategy that works for me…”

Obtaining Cover Blurbs from BookEnds, LLC – A Literary Agency. Peek: “The important thing to remember in all of this is that no matter who you, your editor, or your agent approach, that author has every right to say no and that’s okay. An author’s schedule can be insane between writing the next book, revisions, edits, and yes, a large number of requests for blurbs.”

The Voices of Autism: A look at some recent books about autism and the people who write them by Suzanne Crowley from School Library Journal. Peek: “What I found were some richly textured works with highly unusual voices, individuals trying to cope and navigate their worlds in unusual ways, and, most surprisingly, characters who possessed sharp insights into human nature and who had much to teach us. And their authors had heartfelt and personal reasons for sharing their stories.” See also The Spectrum of Autism Fiction from J.L. Bell at Oz and Ends.

Time – How Long It Takes from Idea to Publication by Carrie Ryan. Peek: “It feels like there’s this sudden zeitgeist where people are similarly inspired. And it’s not just in writing that this happens — huge discoveries in our world happen the same way. It’s pretty amazing!”

Book Publishing Glossary from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Note: if you want to succeed in the publishing business, it helps to speak the language. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Show, Don’t Tell: a Writing Workshop from April Halprin Wayland at Authors Teaching Authors. Peek: “In effect you’re saying, ‘I know you’re smart and that I don’t have to pound you over the head to tell you I’m sad—I know you will understand it viscerally.'”

Two Contests from author Laurie Faria Stolarz

Black is for Beginnings (Flux, Sept. 2009) Contest: Answer the following questions based on the bestselling Blue is for Nightmares (Llewellyn, 2003-) series:

1. What is Drea’s favorite snack?
2. What is the name of the fraternity in Red is for Remembrance (the one that sponsors the charity cruise)?
3. Who is Ms. McNeal?
4. Who is Cory?
5. According to PJ, what does BVS stand for?
6. According to Amber, what does T.O.D. stand for?
7. According to Stacey, what does BJD stand for?
8. According to Stacey, what is a Devic crystal?
9. In White is for Magic, what image does Amber lipliner to her face and why?
10. With all the danger surrounding Hillcrest Prep over the past couple of years, what is the nickname that students have given to the school?

Send responses to Laurie. Winners will receive an autographed (and personalized, upon request) book jacket for Black is for Beginnings. Deadline: Midnight, Aug. 16.

Project 17 (Hyperion, 2007) Contest: To enter, imagine that your mission is to design a new cover for Project 17. “When artists design covers, they read the novel first and create the cover based on the story. If you’re not an artist, that’s okay. Describe in as much detail as it takes, what you think the cover should look like, taking the story into account. Describe the scene/picture, background, and any details.” Explain what colors should be used and why. And if there’s a particular way you’d like the title and Laurie’s byline listed, explain that as well. Then, explain why you chose this as the cover. What about the story makes your cover most suitable?

Entries may consist of a jpeg of the proposed cover, for the artistically inclined, or entries may include an original photo, in which case, your image will be the description (a picture is worth a thousand words), but be sure to still include an explanation of why the image would make a good cover.

All entries should be sent Laurie. Winners (and their English teacher or favorite young adult librarian) will receive an autographed (and personalized, upon request) copy of the paperback version of Project 17. There will be three winners for this contest. Deadline: Midnight, Aug. 31. Read a related Cynsations interview with Laurie.

More Personally

Highlights of the week included breakfast with YA author Marjetta Geerling, in town from Florida, on Saturday at Waterloo Ice House!

Marjetta is the author of Fancy White Trash (Viking, 2008). From the promotional copy:

“Finding love is simple with the One True Love Plan.

“’If only life were as easy as your sisters.’ Abby’s heard that one before. And it’s true —Shelby and Kait aren’t exactly prim and proper. Abby is determined not to follow in their footsteps, so she has created the One True Love Plan. The most important part of the plan is Rule #1: Find Someone New. This means finding a guy who hasn’t already dated Shelby or Kait. But when Abby starts falling for the possible father of Kait’s baby, she has to figure out if some rules are meant to be broken.

“This debut novel, a modern comedy of errors, is as lighthearted and irreverant as its title.”

I’m on deadline for Blessed (Candlewick, 2010) right now, but how I wish I could’ve participated in the mini Austin Authors Writers’ Workshop this weekend at Meredith Davis‘ home!

But Greg had a great time and author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell was kind enough give me a ride to the dinner afterward.

Pictured (from right to left) are Debbie Gonzales, Julie Lake, Jenny Ziegler, and Brian Anderson. Shana Burg is in pink on the other side of the table. Other participants included Varsha Bajaj; Chris Barton; Donna Bratton; Gene Brenek; Alison Dellenbaugh; Helen Hemphill; P. J. Hoover; Carmen Oliver; Lyn Seippel; Andy Sherrod; Don Tate; Brian Yansky; Frances Hill Yansky. See reports with more photos from Greg here, Donna here; Don here; Deb here and here; Alison here, and P.J. here. Note: let me know if I missed any!

Congratulations to author, BookPeople bookseller, & CBAY/Blooming Tree editor Madeline Smoot on the newest addition to the Austin children’s-YA literature community!

Cynsational Tip: Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet! I read hundreds of posts every week to select those to feature among these links, and I frequently come across completely bogus or outdated information, especially as related to publishing as a business.

Eternal Audiobook Giveaway

Enter to win one of two copies of the new Eternal audiobook (Listening Library, 2009)! One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children’s-YA literature, and one will go to any Cynsations reader!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Eternal audio” in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should ID themselves in their entries!

More Cynsations Giveaways

Enter to win both Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Ed Young (Philomel, 2009) and Hook by Ed Young (Roaring Brook, 2009)! To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Ed Young” in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Ed.

Enter to win a paperback of Stealing Heaven (Harper, 2008) and a hardcover of Love You Hate You Miss You (Harper, 2009), both by Elizabeth Scott. To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Elizabeth Scott” in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31. Read a related Cynsations interview with Elizabeth.

Enter to win Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, 2009). To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “J. Patrick Lewis” in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31. Read a previous Cynsations interview with J. Patrick Lewis.

Austin Events
Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Day in the Lone Star State: acclaimed authors Kathi Appelt and Sharon Darrow will lead a conference on the craft of writing for young readers on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3 at Teravista (4333 Teravista Club Dr.) in Round Rock, which is located just 20 minutes north of Austin. Note: open to alumni and all other serious writers for young readers! Participants are incoming from nation wide. Spots are filling fast–register today! See more information. Read previous Cynsations interviews with Kathi and Sharon.

“The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme” with National SCBWI Speaker Chris Eboch sponsored by Austin SCBWI is scheduled for Oct. 10. Attendees will receive a $10 discount when registering for the local January 2010 conference. Seating is limited. Registration opens July 6. Note: Austin SCBWI events often sell out. From the author site: Chris has a new series, Haunted, debuting August 2009 [from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin] with two books: The Ghost on the Stairs and The Riverboat Phantom.

Destination Publication: an annual conference of Austin SCBWI will be held Jan. 30, 2010, and registration will open Sept. 1. Conference faculty will include Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson, Caldecott illustrator David Diaz, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, author/FSG editor Lisa Graff, agent Andrea Cascardi, agent Mark McVeigh, agent Nathan Bransford, and a to-be-announced editor; see bios. Featured authors will include Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates, and Patrice Barton; see author bios. Read Cynsations interviews with Mark, Nathan, Chris, Shana, Jessica, Liz, Jennifer, and Philip.

New Voice: Jenny Moss on Winnie’s War

Jenny Moss is the first-time author of Winnie’s War (Walker, 2009). From the promotional copy:

A debut novel set against the backdrop of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.

Life in Winnie’s sleepy town of Coward Creek, Texas, is just fine for her. Although her troubled mother’s distant behavior has always worried Winnie, she’s plenty busy caring for her younger sisters, going to school, playing chess with Mr. Levy, and avoiding her testy grandmother. Plus, her sweetheart Nolan is always there to make her smile when she’s feeling low.

But when the Spanish Influenza claims its first victim, lives are suddenly at stake, and Winnie has never felt so helpless. She must find a way to save the people she loves most, even if doing so means putting her own life at risk.

Could you tell us about your writing community–your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

The PB/MG/YA writing community is awesome. I know writers who write for adults–they don’t seem to have the same supportive community that we do. This lack of extreme competitiveness is surprising, especially considering there are only a few book “slots” available each year. But I’ve found that PB/MG/YA writers want to help one another. That made my journey (i.e., struggle) to get published bearable and even enjoyable! And it has made the publishing process more fun.

I joined SCBWI in 2003. Through SCBWI, I found two wonderful critique groups.

The first was a group of writers I met at the national conference in LA: All talented writers and good critiquers. We lived in different places, so worked through e-mails, snail mail, and the occasional conference call.

My second critique group was right here in Houston. I met Mary Ann Hellinghausen at a regional conference, and she invited me to join her critique group. The Yellow House Writers was led by the amazing Joyce Harlow and was so named because we met in Joyce’s house and it was yellow. Joyce is an awesome researcher–she spent the night in an underground WWII bunker in Estonia when she was researching one of her books–and is a gifted writer. She served us hot tea in china cups and guided us through many meetings. Another member of the critique group was Bettina Restrepo, who is represented by the Dunham Literary agency.

Through the SCBWI discussion boards, I found Verla Kay’s Website for Children’s Writers & Illustrators, nicknamed “the Blueboards.” I lurked for a while, way too shy to post. I learned so much about the publishing business from Blueboarders, especially the submissions process. Eventually, I began posting, and now I’m a moderator. I’ve met many many writers through that board. I encourage other shy lurkers to start posting on the Blueboards. There’s a warm, welcoming community there.

Through the Blueboards, I learned about the LiveJournal community. No way did I ever think I would have the courage to start a blog. But I did and found many writer friends. It broadened that community for me even more.

Through LJ, I got to know Jackson Pearce. She started the Debut 2009 LJ community (“the Debs”), which is a group of MG and YA authors debuting in 2009. We do some marketing, but are mostly a social group. The ongoing support and community of that group has been amazing. We’re going through a similar experience. If a Deb has a question, one of the other fifty of us is bound to know the answer! Or be able to find out!

When I first became involved with SCBWI, I had the very mistaken impression that being involved in a writing organization was the only way to get published.

While I didn’t think personal contacts would get me a publishing contract, I did hope that one-on-one critiques with editors would result in a closer look at my manuscript, as compared to the slush pile experience. But after all the conferences and critiques, I ended up getting pulled out of slush anyway!

What I did get from the conferences, critiques, SCBWI, the blueboards, and LJ: a community of other writers. And now after all this talking about that community, I’m at a loss for words in trying to succinctly describe its importance to me. But I’m very appreciative of it and thankful for it.

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

I’ve had so much going on in my life this past year, it’s been difficult to properly promote my book. I’ve had to pass up some opportunities (e.g., Internet venues, interviews, contacts with teachers and librarians) because of the craziness of life. But I do think there are so many marketing options for writers right now, even if I’d had more time, I couldn’t have done it all!

Winnie’s War was released on February 3, 2009. The following Saturday, I had a launch party at my local B&N. A friend had designed a postcard invite for me. I’d paid Kinko’s to print up 300 invites and mailed them out to mostly friends, but also to a few teachers and librarians in the area. Many friends came–one dressed in 1918 garb, dropping off cookies and lemonade, and bringing their friends. A reporter from a local paper took pictures. A high school friend I hadn’t seen in thirty years surprised me and showed up! I talked to many kids about my book. Adults were interested in the research I did. I thought I’d be too nervous to have fun, but it was a wonderful wonderful day.

We sold out of books, which made my CRM happy. But it felt more like a party than a book signing to me. I highly recommend debut authors having a launch party.

What I learned was what Elizabeth Bunce had told me before the party: Have a party–your friends and family want to celebrate with you.

Each of the Debs posted an interview with me on her (or his – we have boy Debs) blog or LJ. I also did some non-Deb interviews, a couple for local newspapers. I hired a website designer and worked with him to get up a site.

I’m now focused on visiting schools and libraries. I’m looking forward to talking to readers.

I am enjoying the process so much. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m having a blast.

My advice would be to make friends with other writers. Come out of your shell. Reach out to others. Join groups. All of it does take time, but it is definitely definitely worth it.

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.

Celebrating Varian Johnson’s & Jennifer Taylor’s VCFA MFA WC&YA Degrees

The Austin children’s-YA writing community (and friends) gathered to celebrate Varian Johnson and Jennifer Taylor’s recent graduation from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults last Thursday at Waterloo Ice House.


Congratulations to the graduates! Varian’s next novel, Saving Maddie, will be published by Delacorte in March 2010. Read Cynsations interviews with Varian and with Varian and his co-founders of The Brown Bookshelf. Jen is not an Austinite, but she joined us for a while after the Galveston Hurricane and we’re hoping to lure her back permanently.

Special thanks to authors Shana Burg (with balloons) and Jennifer Ziegler (with bag) for party planning! Author Carmen Oliver smiles from the left-hand side of the frame. Shana’s latest novel is A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008), and Jenny’s is How Not To Be Popular (Delacorte, 2008). Read Cynsations interviews with Shana and Jenny.

Here’s a closer look at Carmen and Jenny.

Here we have picture book authors Liz Garton Scanlon–author of the quickly forthcoming All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane, 2009)–and Jane Peddicord, whose most recent release is That Special Little Baby (Harcourt, 2007). This week Liz is sponsoring a giveaway of All the World, which has received stars from SLJ, Kirkus, and the Horn Book!

Fellow VCFA WC&YA graduate Gene Brenek with Varian. Cynsations readers may remember Gene as the artistic genius behind the Tantalize and Eternal logos at my Sanguini’s shop at CafePress. Read a Cynsations interview with Gene.

St. Edward’s University education professor Judy Leavell (in blue) chats with authors P.J. Hoover and Anne Bustard as well as Varian’s wife, Crystal. P.J. looks forward to the upcoming release of The Forgotten Worlds Book 2: The Navel of the World (CBAY, 2009). Anne is the author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005) as well as the mastermind behind Anneographies, a blog celebrating picture book biographies. In addition, she is a third-semester student in the VCFA WC&YA program. Read Cynsations interviews with P.J. and Anne.

Author Greg Leitich Smith poses with VCFA WC&YA graduate Debbie Dunn and VCFA WC&YA second-semester student Meredith Davis. Meredith is currently enrolled in the picture book concentration semester.

Debbie again, this time with first-semester VCFA student Sean Petrie. Sean is jointly enrolled in both the MFA in Writing (for adults) and the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults programs.

2009 debut authors Chris Barton and Debbie Gonzales. Chris is the author of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009). Debbie is the author of several books to be published in New Zealand’s Gilt Edge Readers Series. In addition, she’s the founder of the Student Author Book Publishing Program. Check out her new blog, Simple Saturdays. Read Cynsations interviews with Chris and Debbie.

Writers’ League of Texas executive director Cyndi Hughes smiles with author Cynthia Levinson. Hear Cynthia speak on “Writing for the Magazine Market” at 11 a.m. Aug. 15 at BookPeople in conjunction with Austin SCBWI.

Author Betty X. Davis, who’s received media attention for writing into her 90s, chats with debut author Jenny Moss, who drove in from Houston for the event. Jenny is the debut author of Winnie’s War (Walker, 2009). Look for a Cynsations interview with Jenny tomorrow!

YA author Jessica Lee Anderson chats with fellow writer Erin Edwards in the foreground, and author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell visits with P.J. in the background. Jessica’s next novel, Border Crossing, will be released by Milkweed in fall 2009. Read a Cynsations interviews with Jessica and Mark. Learn more about Mark’s blog and online class, How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator.


P.J. with Chris.

Author Brian Yansky is a graduate of the VCFA MFA in Writing (for adults) program. Brian’s next novel, Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences, will be published by Candlewick in 2010. Check him out at Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk (especially recommended to fans of sheepdogs).


Here’s one last cheer for Jen!

And one last cheer for Varian!

Craft, Career & Cheer: Arthur Slade

Learn more about author Arthur Slade.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I write in my office, which is in the basement of my home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (It’s near Moose Jaw, in case anyone wonders).

Through the window I can see the sun shine or the snow pile up, but it’s such a small view that it never distracts me from my work.

I start writing at about 7 a.m. every morning (except Sunday) and write until noon.

I take a break every 40 minutes to clear my head. I find I work much harder if I know I’m going to get a break.

After years of writing at the same time every day, my brain wakes up every morning expecting to write. I will sometimes write in the afternoon, but that is usually the time I spend doing all the other writerly chores: paper filing, phone calls, organizing things, big contract signing (err, any contract signing, I should say).

Oh, and I should add that I write on a treadmill desk. Yep, it’s weird. Yep, it works. Yep, it actually helps my writing. But it’s far to much to explain, so just visit this link.

Why is your agent the right agent for you?

My agent is Scott Treimel, and he’s the right agent for me because he catches onto my jokes. Or at least he laughs at them.

All kidding aside, since I first signed with him in 2000, I have had an increase in money (which is kind of nice), and, perhaps more importantly, he’s really helped me push my skill as a writer to the next level.

In the beginning stages, he worked hard (for months) on my novel Tribes (Wendy Lamb Books, 2002) before he would submit it. He is an extremely good editor and extremely picky. It was so helpful for me at that stage to realize how much harder I had to work to make my writing stronger.

And he does try to build a career for authors, instead of just selling book by book. I really appreciate his approach. And finally he’s quite generous.

Did I mention he bought me lunch?

Could you tell us about your latest book?

My upcoming book is The Hunchback Assignments (Wendy Lamb/Random House, Sept. 2009). I’d recently read The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) and really wanted to do something that was inspired by it. I’d also been reading Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927). So, I wondered how I could fuse the two.

The biggest problem was how to have a hunchbacked detective? He’d really stand out. So I hit upon the idea of him being able to change his shape so that he could look like other people. It is explained as an evolutionary development, and he goes back to being the hunchback after several hours.

In my novel, he is raised by a British lord to be a secret agent for the British empire. This meant that I could tap into all sorts of Victorian literature for my inspiration (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, (1886) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870), anything by Dickens (1812-1870)).

It’s the first book in a series, and it has been an absolutely wonderful experience writing these books. I feel like a kid again. Which, as a writer, is my main goal!

Cynsational Notes

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

Author Interview: Lyn Miller-Lachmann on Gringolandia

Lyn Miller-Lachmann on Lyn Miller-Lachmann: “Since 1994, I have served as Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review, a quarterly journal that publishes articles and reviews on aspects of diversity in the United States and around the world.

“I edited the award-winning multicultural bibliography of children’s and young adult books, Our Family, Our Friends, Our World (Bowker, 1992) and Once Upon a Cuento (Curbstone Press, 2003), a collection of short stories for young readers by Latino authors.

“My first novel for adults, the eco-thriller Dirt Cheap was published by Curbstone in 2006.

Gringolandia is my second novel for young adults and my first to appear in 22 years.

“I have two children and live with them and my husband, a sociologist, in Albany, New York.”

Congratulations on the release of Gringolandia (Curbstone, 2009)! Could you fill us in on the story?

In 1980 in Santiago, Chile, 11-year-old Daniel Aguilar watched helplessly as his taxi driver/underground journalist father was beaten and arrested by the secret police of then-dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Nearly six years later, Daniel, his mother, and his younger sister live in Madison, Wisconsin, and the immigrant teenager, now 17, considers himself “American.” He plays in a rock band, has a cute and smart “gringa” girlfriend, and has started to apply for his U.S. citizenship.

Then his father is suddenly released and rejoins his family in exile. Daniel doesn’t recognize his father after years of prison and torture. He wants a relationship with the father he remembers, but all his father wants to do is return to Chile to continue the struggle—unless he drinks himself to death first.

Daniel’s effort to reach his damaged father, complicated by the interference of a gringa girlfriend with her own agenda, lies at the heart of the book.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, in the 1980s, and many of my friends there were from Central and South America.

Through them, I became involved in several organizations seeking to change our government’s policy toward the region.

Among my closest friends was a family who had fled the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, a dictatorship that came to power in 1973 with U.S. support. Through this family and other exiled Chileans, I helped to organize concerts of musicians from Chile who were living in exile or working underground within the country to restore democracy.

One of the exiled musicians had recently reunited with his son after a separation of nearly 12 years. Seeing them together—they stayed in my house for several days while on tour—gave me the idea for writing a novel about a son and a father reunited after experiences that had so drastically changed them both.

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

After the event that sparked the novel, I didn’t start writing for another year. My first YA novel, Hiding Places (1987) came out in the meantime, and my son was born. The encouraging response to Hiding Places, including an editor from a major publisher who was interested in my idea, spurred me to complete the manuscript.

In fall 1989, I received a SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant to travel to Chile for research. But shortly before I was supposed to leave, the editor dropped the project. I went anyway in early 1990, traveled through the country, interviewed former political prisoners and human rights activists and their families, and observed the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Upon my return I talked to several editors at other publishers, but we couldn’t agree on the direction of the novel. I put it aside and gave up writing fiction altogether.

That’s when I became a commentator on multicultural children’s books and editor of MultiCultural Review. I didn’t return to the manuscript again in earnest until 2006, when my adult novel, Dirt Cheap, was about to appear from the independent literary publisher Curbstone Press.

At that time, I completely rewrote the story now titled Gringolandia, changing the narrative from third to first person, adding a second point-of-view character, and totally changing the ending.

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

Probably the biggest challenge, particularly after I became a critic of multicultural children’s literature, was whether I, as a cultural outsider, had the “right to write” a book about a Chilean-American family. In fact, bringing in the character of Courtney, “la gringa,” was a way for me to work through this issue, as Courtney takes Marcelo’s (Daniel’s father’s) story and “translates” it to an audience in the United States, with mixed and sometimes unexpected results.

Having lived among Chilean exiles and been part of the “committee” for many years, I became familiar with the foods, the language (including the unique Chilean slang), the challenges parents and children faced, and their (especially the adults’) nostalgia for their beautiful but suffering country between the mountains and the sea.

Once I finished the book, I was particularly gratified that Marjorie Agosín, a Chilean-American poet, essayist, and memoirist whose work I have long admired, chose to endorse it.

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

Take advantage of networking opportunities. Don’t be intimidated or give up if a few doors slam in your face.

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

It’s a hard balance to strike, especially when you add in a family and a full-time job. For me, it’s the writing that gets shortchanged because the others have tangible results, and writing is far more uncertain. Even experienced and successful authors have manuscripts that don’t work out or don’t sell. I have to give myself permission to write.

What are your three favorite YA reads of 2009 and why?

There’s an interesting pair of novels that came out at the same time and cover different aspects of the civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s in the South and the North, respectively—Bethany Hegedus‘s Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009) and Kekla Magoon’s The Rock and the River (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2009).


In fact, Bethany and Kekla, who met at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, give joint presentations to middle schools on the history of the civil rights movement.

I was so impressed with their books and other materials that I asked them to write an article that’s appearing in the winter 2009 issue of MultiCultural Review.


Another recent book that I liked—it actually came out at the end of 2008—is Padma Venkatraman’s Climbing the Stairs (Putnam, 2008). It’s set in India during the Second World War and the height of the independence struggle. The author does a superb job of weaving historical events into the family’s story.


You also are the editor-in-chief of MultiCultural Review! Could you tell us a little about the publication?

MultiCultural Review publishes feature and book and media reviews on aspects of cultural diversity in the United States and around the world. The quarterly journal began in 1992; I took over as editor-in-chief at the end of 1994.

About a third of our reviews focus on children’s books and more than half of our articles are multicultural bibliographies or discuss ways of using multicultural books in the K-12 classroom.

Among them is a semi-annual column on recommended children’s and young adult books in Spanish and country-specific bibliographies focusing on different regions in Asia.

Why are multicultural books for young readers such a passion for you?

I used to teach high school in New York City, and my students responded to books that portrayed their experiences and affirmed their heritage.

I remember holding a contest one year, and the grand prize was a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). It’s a difficult book for any reader, but the winner, a Puerto Rican girl, came back next year to let me know how much she loved the book and how it opened her eyes to the richness of Latin American history and culture.

This was at one of the roughest high schools in the city—it has since been closed down—and the students weren’t used to teachers who listened to them and materials that reflected their lives.

What do you do in your so-called spare time?

Watch my kids play video games. Due to poor eye-hand coordination, I never get beyond the first level, but my daughter is especially skilled. She’s been beating her older brother at combat games since she was four years old.

What can your fans look forward to next?

When my editor at Curbstone Press accepted Gringolandia, he suggested I write a companion or sequel from the point of view of Daniel’s younger sister, Tina. I was thinking along the same lines myself, so I agreed to do it.

Several months after I finished the first draft, he passed away suddenly, but I’m moving ahead with revisions and will probably start shopping the manuscript around in the fall.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win both Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Ed Young (Philomel, 2009) and Hook by Ed Young (Roaring Brook, 2009)! See entry details at end of giveaways listing. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Ed.

From the promotional copy of Tsunami!: “Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village, doesn’t join the others at the rice ceremony. Instead he watches from his balcony. He feels something is coming—something he can’t describe. When he sees the monster wave pulling away from the beach, he knows. Tsunami! But the villagers below can’t see the danger. Will Ojiisan risk everything he has to save them? Can he?

“Illustrated in stunning collage by Caldecott winner Ed Young, here is the unforgettable story of how one man’s simple sacrifice saved hundreds of lives. An extraordinary celebration of both the power of nature and the power each of us holds within.”

From the promotional copy of Hook: “Hook is about the universal need to find oneself. An orphaned bald eagle is adopted by a caring but confused hen and must try again and again to rise to where he belongs in life. A very simple text sketches the story, while Young’s pastel drawings on speckled burnt sienna paper glow as they bring the story to life.”

Enter to win Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, 2009). See entry details at end of giveaways listing. Read a previous Cynsations interview with J. Patrick Lewis.

From the promotional copy of Countdown to Summer: “Whether readers love poetry, riddles, and rhymes or just like to laugh, this richly varied collection of original poems is sure to keep them coming back for more! J. Patrick Lewis’s fun and accessible poetry features delightful wordplay and a variety of subjects and forms featured in a compendium that counts down from the first day of school to the last. Paired with Ethan Long’s lively art, these poems will have readers wishing there were more days in the school year!”

Enter to win a paperback of Stealing Heaven (Harper, 2008) and a hardcover of Love You Hate You Miss You (Harper, 2009), both by Elizabeth Scott. See entry details at end of giveaways listing. Read this week’s Cynsations interview with Elizabeth.

From the promotional copy of Stealing Heaven: “Dani has been trained as a thief by the best–her mother. Together, they move from town to town, targeting wealthy homes and making a living by stealing antique silver. They never stay in one place long enough to make real connections, real friends–a real life.

“In the beach town of Heaven, though, everything changes. For the first time, Dani starts to feel at home. She’s making friends and has even met a guy. But these people can never know the real Dani–because of who she is. When it turns out that her new friend lives in the house they’ve targeted for their next job and the cute guy is a cop, Dani must question where her loyalties lie: with the life she’s always known–or the one she’s always wanted.”

From the promotional copy of Love You Hate You Miss You: “It’s been seventy-five days. Amy’s sick of her parents suddenly taking an interest in her. And she’s really sick of people asking her about Julia. Julia’s gone now, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. They wouldn’t get it, anyway. They wouldn’t understand what it feels like to have your best friend ripped away from you. They wouldn’t understand what it feels like to know it’s your fault.

“Amy’s shrink thinks it would help to start a diary. Instead, Amy starts writing letters to Julia. But as she writes letter after letter, she begins to realize that the past wasn’t as perfect as she thought it was–and the present deserves a chance too.”

To enter these contests, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Ed Young,” “J. Patrick Lewis,” or “Elizabeth Scott” in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name(s) in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31. Note: you may enter more than one giveaway, but please send a separate email/message for each entry.

Reminder: the Eternal audiobook giveaway is ongoing!

June Giveaway Winners

The winners of Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009) were Kristen in Illinois, Erika in Florida, and Elaine Willis of Irwin County Middle/High School in Georgia. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Deborah.

The winners of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009) were Jeffrey in Florida, Kathi in Texas, Barbara at Farmington Public Library in New Mexico, Patricia at the University of Richmond in Virginia, and Stella (an LMS) in New York.

Listen to Mark Perzel’s radio interview with Chris on WBXU 91.7 in Cincinnati. See also a recent Cynsations interview with Chris.

More News

Congratulations to Justine Larbalestier and Bloomsbury USA on the new cover of Liar (2009)! Justine writes: “…given the paucity of black faces on YA covers, and the intensity of the debate around the original Liar cover, Bloomsbury felt really strongly that a more representative approach was needed. Rather than using a stock photo, Bloomsbury went the whole hog and did a photo shoot.” Note: you can catch up on the discussion–much of it about representations of diversity more broadly–which contributed to a change in Justine’s US cover, at her blog and several others. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Justine.

Cupa Chat with Author Karen Cushman by Jolie Stekly from Cuppa Jolie. Peek: “The Newbery Awards changed my life. Professionally, the awards mean my books will stay in print, I get letters from enthusiastic readers who ask enthusiastic questions, and I travel to bookstores and schools and conference and meet a lot of fabulous people and eat a lot of rubber chicken.”

Collecting Literary Tattoos by Jason Boog from Mediabistro. Peek: “According to the LA Times, bloggers Justin Taylor and Eva Talmadge from HTMLGiant are looking for submissions for a literary tattoo collection.”

Texas librarians show wild side in calendar by Kelly Shannon from the Associated Press. Peek: “Texas librarians are baring their skin and revealing their tattoos – all to raise disaster relief money to help damaged libraries. Photos of the librarians and their body art appear in a new calendar sold by the Texas Library Association.”

The 2009 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Finalists: “The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the finalists for the inaugural Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.” The finalists are: After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson (Putnam); Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt); The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins); Me, The Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins); My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger (Dial). Source: The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance.

The Bluebonnet List & Readers Theater: 2009-10 Master List Suggested Scripts from the Texas Library Association. Highly recommend to elementary educators, includes 11 scripts.

Brothers Delacorte: “Adam Selzer, James Kennedy and Daniel Kraus, three young Chicago authors who write young adult and middle grade novels for Random House’s acclaimed Delacorte Press imprint. They have joined forces to cross promote their books and appear at stores, conventions, and schools in Chicago and across the country.” See also Austin’s Delacorte Dames and Dude.

Be There by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “You have to be there in the scene you’re writing. You have to write it from the inside out and not the outside in.” See also Avoiding a Filter. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Brian.

Catching Up with Coe by Jeff Rivera from School Library Journal. Peek: “Writing about inner-city kids is near and dear to my heart, especially considering the fact that I used to be an inner-city kid myself! And since I live in the Bronx, it’s only natural that I’d be inspired by the things I see around me.” Source: April Henry.

Kendra by Coe Booth: the August feature from readergirlz. Peek from Lorie Ann Grover: “‘We were enthusiastic to discover this Bronx teen girl, working through abandonment, restriction, and physical attraction. Our community will engage with Kendra and the realistic cast that surrounds her. Brava, Coe!'”

Siblings in Children’s Books: You Gotta Love ‘Em, Right? by Stephanie Greene at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I just want to talk about books which I feel portray siblings realistically. And those that don’t. And why kids love reading about siblings. And what, in the readers own experience as a sibling, affects their response to siblings in a book.” See also All Happy Siblings are Alike, Siblings, Siblings Everywhere, and There’s a Limit to How Interesting Siblings Find One Another.

What Fuels Your Writing? by Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: “Energy from hurts and wounds and pain can be very useful to you as a writer. But, if you’re just wounded, does that automatically translate into books others will want to read? No.” See also What Motivates You? and Get Inspired Daily.

Hammond Starts Picture Book Line from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Themes of the new line will center around self-awareness, the importance of personal choices and social awareness.” Source: Children’s Book Biz News.

Congratulations to Debbi Michiko Florence on the release of Japan: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book, illustrated by Jim Caputo (Williamson Books, 2009)! From the promotional copy: “Are you curious about Japan? Do you want learn how to make omusubi and mochi? Do you celebrate Children’s Day? Would you like to learn some Japanese words? In Japan: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book, you can discover the amazing places, art, food, games, history, and holidays of Japan through over 40 hands-on/minds-on activities.” Read a previous Cynsations interview with Debbi.

Piper Reed Giveaways: Kimberly Willis Holt is sponsoring a whole month of giveaways of books from her Piper Reed series, including one entire classroom set, in celebration of the release of Piper Reed Gets a Job (Henry Holt, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins from Terry Pierce: Children’s Author. Peek: “My taste in books…Well, it has to be something that moves me—in a humorous way, in a touching way, in a thought-provoking way…” Note: Ruta is on the Kansas SCBWI fall conference (“Wrangling Words and Works of Art”) faculty on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12. Source: Kidlit Central.

Check out this book trailer for Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert (MTV Books, 2009). Join the online release party. See also What’s Fresh with Stephanie Kuehnert’s Ballads of Suburbia from Kelly Para at YA Fresh.

Marvelous Marketer: Melissa Sarver (Literary Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan Agency) from Shelli at Market My Words: Rantings and ravings on how authors can better market their books to kids. Peek: “In fiction, I am looking for literary and commercial projects; I gravitate toward dark, edgy stories with brilliant prose and strong voice as well as quirky stories with a fresh sense of humor. I especially enjoy family sagas, multicultural stories and similarly emotional stories with dystopian themes.”

Working with Your Partner, the Writer: a guest post by Carly Wells from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “As a high school English teacher, I already have a life that drives me crazy with busyness, but I still want to be a part of my writer-partner’s journey toward being published, and I’m sure I’m not alone in those feelings. Here are the ways I’ve found that have helped out…”

Interview: Lara Zeises from Little Willow at Slayground. Peek: “The book had been optioned by its producer, Barbara Lieberman, on behalf of Lifetime the summer of 2006. I didn’t hear anything for months and months, but then, in the spring of 2007, my agent casually mentioned in a voice mail message that things were moving along with the movie deal. Shocker!” See also Lara’s newly redesigned website. Read a Cynsations interview with Lara.

Roxie Munro: official site of the author-illustrator of Amusement Park (Sterling, 2009), Inside-Outside Dinosaurs (Marshall Cavendish, 2009), Go! Go! Go!: More than 70 Flaps to Uncover and Discover (Sterling, 2009), Mazeways: A to Z (Sterling, 2007), Rodeo (Bright Sky, 2007), and many more (several Western-themed) books for young readers. Roxie was born in Texas and now makes her home in New York.

How do your critiques vary? by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. P.J. takes a look at how she approaches first-page v. partial v. full-manuscript critiques. Peek: “I love reading first pages. I don’t want to be confused. I don’t want too many characters. And I really don’t want to see too many adjectives or adverbs. I want to see conflict. I want the voice to make me want to keep reading.” Read a Cynsations interview with P.J.

Interview with Author Kathleen Duey by Alice Pope from Alice’s CWIM Blog. Peek: “To move from my very competently written paperback series to the kind of books I am writing now, I had to recover the deeper parts of my own artistic process. It was tricky at first. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I set it aside and why, and I very purposefully set out to get it back.” See also a Cynsations interview with Kathleen.

Check out this trailer for the forthcoming Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe (Henry Holt, Sept. 15, 2009). See also Megan’s insights on the making of the trailer.

How to Write a Log Line by David Macinnis Gill at I Am Chikin, Hear Me Roar. Peek: “A ‘log line’ is Hollywood terminology that means a one-to-two sentence descriptor of a story. It gets its name, I imagine, from a time when someone had to log each story line, and they wanted to write as little as possible.” Read a previous Cynsations interview with David.

The age-old, oft-discussed, oft-annoying discussion: what is the difference between MG and YA? by Stacy Whitman at Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. Peek: “Yes, the author needs to tell the editor what age group you see it as, because it helps us to know whether you have a firm enough grasp on the market to be able to place it. However, where you say it is may not be where it ends up.” Read a previous Cynsations interview with Stacy.

Neil Gaiman and Ashley Bryan at ALA: videos courtesy of Joyce Valenza Ph.D at School Library Journal.

Jo Knowles: Did It Happen To You? from Teenreads.com. Peek: “‘Where did you get your idea?’ Often when I give the usual answer, I can see a bit of disappointment on some faces. Or is it suspicion? I think this is because the real question some people want to know is, is the book ‘true’? In other words, did it happen to me?” Read a previous Cynsations interview with Jo.

More Personally

I’m honored that one of my favorite authors (and people), Carrie Jones, included being featured on Cynsations as the fulfillment as one of her Writing Dreams. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Please note that I’m on deadline for Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) until mid September. Unless you have a time-sensitive matter, please hold off on sending me email (to the extent practical) until after that time. Thanks!

Reminder: the Eternal audiobook giveaway is ongoing!

VCFA Day in Texas
Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Day in the Lone Star State: acclaimed authors Kathi Appelt and Sharon Darrow will lead a conference on the craft of writing for young readers on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3 at Teravista (4333 Teravista Club Dr.) in Round Rock, which is located just 20 minutes north of Austin. Note: open to alumni and all other serious writers for young readers! Participants are incoming from nation wide. Spots are filling fast–register today! See more information. Read previous Cynsations interviews with Kathi and Sharon.

Central Texas Events

Liz Garton Scanlon will celebrate the release of her picture book, All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/S&S), with story time at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 26 at BookPeople in Austin. Read Cynsations interviews with Liz and Marla. See the All the World curriculum guide (PDF) created by Natalie Dias Lorenzi. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Liz.

Jessica Lee Anderson (Border Crossings (Milkweed, 2009)) and P.J. Hoover (The Forgotten Worlds Book 2: The Navel of the World (CBAY, 2009)) will have a joint book release party at 2 p.m. Oct. 18 at BookPeople. Read previous Cynsations interviews with Jessica and P.J.

Austin SCBWI

Cynthia Levinson will speak on “Writing for the Magazine Market” at 11 a.m. Aug. 15 at BookPeople and Chris Barton will speak on “Writing the Picture Book Biography” at 11 a.m. Sept. 12 at BookPeople, both in conjunction with Austin SCBWI. Read a recent Cynsations interview with Chris.

“The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme” with National SCBWI Speaker Chris Eboch sponsored by Austin SCBWI is scheduled for Oct. 10. Registration information will be posted on the Austin SCBWI website this week. Attendees will receive a $10 discount when registering for the local January 2010 conference. Seating is limited. Registration opens July 6. Note: Austin SCBWI events often sell out. From the author site: Chris has a new series, Haunted, debuting August 2009 [from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin] with two books: The Ghost on the Stairs and The Riverboat Phantom.

Destination Publication: an annual conference of Austin SCBWI will be held Jan. 30, 2010, and registration will open Sept. 1. Conference faculty will include Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson, Caldecott illustrator David Diaz, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, author/FSG editor Lisa Graff, agent Andrea Cascardi, agent Mark McVeigh, agent Nathan Bransford, and a to-be-announced editor; see bios. Featured authors will include Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates, and Patrice Barton; see author bios. Read Cynsations interviews with Mark, Nathan, Chris, Shana, Jessica, Liz, Jennifer, and Philip.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Keith Graves

Learn about Keith Graves.

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

I love the freedom to dig into my creative sub-conscious every day and pull out the interesting things I find in there.

Then it’s like a science project where I build this cool thing that I can kind of see, but there’s no blueprint for how to put it together. I have to figure out what the thing is and how to create it on the fly.

Sometimes it comes together smoothly, logically, but often it’s all trial and error, and starting over a bunch of times.

Then when it’s done, it’s like seeing your papier mâché volcano erupt. It’s a blast like no other.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I write in my studio so early in the morning that it’s barely actually morning. It’s kind of a spooky, peaceful time of day with no distractions, when almost anything seems possible. I sometimes put on ambient creepy sound effects for mood enhancement in the background.

Also, I’m most creative when I first wake up in the morning, more likely to come up with good stuff. Still, I will sometimes sit down and write at other times if the feeling hits me.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

I love inventing entire worlds and peopling them with interesting beings. I love telling myself stories and then tweaking them over and over again, adding things that make them cooler, thinking “Yeah, like that!”

It’s like entertaining myself with wilder and wilder ideas until I’m completely obsessed with the whole thing. At that point, I’m hooked and there’s no way out except to write the story.

Then there’s the thrill of having the book in your hand at the end, when the thing gets (hopefully) published, and knowing that a bunch of other people might have as much fun reading it as you did writing it.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Next up is Chicken Big, which will be published by Chronicle Books. It’s a funny picture book about a giant chick’s identity crisis, and the dumb chickens around him who make matters worse by suggesting he may be anything from an elephant to an umbrella. Anyway, I think it’s my funniest one.

Then there’s my new YA book series tentatively titled “Gory, Horrid, and Macabre.” It’s a creepy/funny/mysterious/disgusting story about a kid who doesn’t know who (or what) he is, or where he came from. Now that I’m writing this, he sounds a little like Chicken Big! I guess I’m into characters with identity problems these days.

But, unlike the chicken book, it’s a story with an insane murderer, mutant monsters, a walking corpse, a fourteen year old girl who hates make-up, anhydrous ammonia, a gangster cat, and quite a bit of the stuff the title suggests. I’ve done some illustrations to go with the story as well, one of which I’ve included here. Coming soon.

Cynsational Notes

See the video “Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance” from Lost Boy Studios, in association with Vanguard Films, featuring a story by Keith Graves. Note: don’t worry if the whole guide bar doesn’t load, “buttons” should still work.

Author Interview: Elizabeth Scott on Something, Maybe and Love You Hate You Miss You

You last visited Cynsations in August 2008 to discuss Stealing Heaven (HarperCollins, 2008). Do you have any recent news to share on that novel or your other books?

After Stealing Heaven came out, it was named to the Texas Library Association’s reading list and was a 2009 Best Book for Young Adults pick, which made me very happy!

I also had another novel released in 2008, Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse). It was a departure from my previously released books–much darker in tone, about a girl who has spent five years living with her kidnapper.

I was fortunate to receive a lot of support for Living Dead Girl from my publisher, readers, and librarians–all of whom have really championed the book. Living Dead Girl was named a 2009 Best Book for Young Adults, a 2009 Quick Pick for Young Adults, a 2009 Amelia Bloomer Project pick, a VOYA’s Editor’s Choice for Teens, and was recently named one of the NYPL’s 100 picks for 2009’s Stuff for the Teen Age. Quite frankly, it’s been amazing and, as I said, I’ve been very fortunate!

Congratulations on your 2009 releases–Something, Maybe (Simon Pulse, 2009) and Love You Hate You Miss You (HarperCollins, 2009)! Let’s start with Something, Maybe! What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

I actually got the idea for the book when I came up with the original title, Live! Nude! Mom. There was just something about it that I loved, and I knew there was a book in there–and sure enough, all the characters fell into place. It’s a little strange getting an idea from a title, but hey, when an idea comes, you hold onto it!

Moving on to Love You Hate You Miss You, what were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the book to life?

Love You Hate You Miss You was challenging to write because both my personal and professional life changed quite a bit while I was writing it, and there were times when I wanted to give up. But I really believed in Amy and her story and was lucky enough to have a friend, Jessica Brearton, who really encouraged me to keep going, and so I did.

Love You Hate You Miss You did require a certain amount of research, mostly about young women and drinking and how that drinking is perceived. It’s strange–there’s a lot of worry about it, but there’s also a fair amount of “it’s a stage, it’s not really a problem because most girls don’t drink every day”–and that was something I thought about a lot, and that Amy comes to her own conclusions about in the book.

Love You Hate You Miss You was also originally in an all-letter format, but my editor asked me to think about doing both letters and chapters and I’m really glad she did. I think that the mix of the two helps the book flow better and gives you a better look into Amy’s life.

Looking at Love You Hate You Miss You and Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse, 2008), it’s clear that you’re able to go to emotionally difficult places with your characters. How do you go about approaching characters in such profound distress? Why is it important to you to do so?

I’m drawn to writing about characters in trouble–I always have been. All of us have our dark moments, all of us have pain, and we try so hard to pretend it away. We pretend we don’t see others’ pain.

And that fascinates me, because the more you try to hide your hurt, the deeper it grows. It can become all you are.

Coming back to pretending, we can’t see others’ pain–why do we do that? Because it’s too hard to see? Because we’re scared? Because it’s easier to turn away?

I don’t know. I wish I did. But it’s something else I think about a lot.

I love writing romance–I adore love stories–but I also want to write about those little (or not-so-little) moments when who you are or who you think you are crack open. When you start to break, or when you do break–and what happens. Or what happens if you see someone else breaking.

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

I won’t lie–I’d love to be a best-selling author! Who wouldn’t? But you know, at the end of the day, all I can do is write the books that call to me and make them the best I can. And that’s what I try to do.

I’m so impressed by your combined level of quality and productivity! What advice do you have along these lines?

First, thank you! I don’t consider myself very productive, actually, so it’s always a lovely surprise when people say I am.

Second, a huge part of why I’ve been able to have more than one book come out a year is that I sold my first three young adult novels–Bloom (Simon Pulse), Stealing Heaven (HarperCollins), and Love You Hate You Miss You (HaperCollins)–back in 2005. And Bloom didn’t hit stores until 2007, with Stealing Heaven following in 2008, and Love You Hate You Miss You was scheduled to be in stores early this June.

So I had a good two year period–plus a little extra–to write, and as I’m lucky enough to be able to write full-time, thanks to my husband’s job, that’s what I did.

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

I’m not really sure what’s the most effective way to reach readers, but I do think that it’s important to have a web presence and to interact with your readers–to reply to their emails, to listen to what they’d like to see on your website, etc.

Luckily, I love my readers! I love hearing from them, and I also really, really love giving books away, which has proven to be pretty popular! I think reading is amazing–the best thing ever, actually–and I love being able to share books, to give people a chance to fall into someone else’s world.

Ultimately, though, I think what really gets a book out there is a combination of publisher enthusiasm/support and people picking the book up, liking it, and telling others to check it out. I’ve been very lucky to have some amazingly supportive and vocal fans–and I hope they know how much I adore them!

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

I tend to write all my drafts without showing them to anyone except one person who reads everything I write. When I’m done with a draft, I have a group of truly lovely friends who will look over what I’ve done and tell me what works and–more importantly–what doesn’t. So then I rewrite until it’s as good as I can get it, and then I go through a couple more rewrites with my editors, who know how to push me to make my books even stronger.

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

I haven’t read a lot of YA in 2009 because I can’t read it while I’m working on something, and so I tend to have these twice-a-year-or-so binges where I’ll read something like forty to sixty young adult novels, just gobbling them up. But late last year, I read a novel called Dooley Takes The Fall by Norah McClintock (Red Deer, 2008) after Bookshelves of Doom wrote a rave review for it. The review happened to mention the movie “Brick,” which I love, and I knew I had to read the book after that!

And when I did read Dooley Takes The Fall, I just loved it. It’s smart and sharp and the writing is gorgeous. I hear there is a sequel coming [Homicide Related], and I’ve been checking to see when it will be released because I can’t wait to read it!

Cynsational Notes

Watch this video featuring YA author Elizabeth Scott on Love You Hate You Miss You from HarperTeen.