Author Snapshot: Chris Eboch on Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs and Haunted: The Riverboat Phantom

Learn more about Chris Eboch.

Could you tell us about the Haunted series (Aladdin, 2009-)?

The Haunted series asks a question: What would you do if a ghost needed your help? Wait–what if you didn’t even believe in ghosts?

13-year-old Jon narrates the Haunted series. He’s a skeptic, even though his mom and stepdad produce a ghost hunter TV show. In book 1, The Ghost on the Stairs (Aladdin, 2009), Jon and his younger sister, Tania, go along with the TV show on a shoot. Jon is just looking forward to cable movies and room service. But then Tania shares a secret–she has seen the ghost.

Is she going crazy? Lying to get attention? Mistaken by a trick of the light? She couldn’t have really seen a ghost–right? Jon has to decide if he believes Tania, and if so, how he can help her–or if he should.

Writing Haunted from Jon’s point of view was a special challenge, because he does not see the ghosts. The reader has to get descriptions of the ghosts through Tania’s dialogue. But this choice of narrator also gave Jon the additional problem, does he believe his sister or not? Plus, he finds out what’s going on secondhand, which is incredibly frustrating for him. And sometimes he has to protect Tania from dangers he can’t even see.

I’ve never written a book with a male first-person narrator before, but that’s how the story came into my head. I checked with a couple of male friends, to make sure I nailed the voice. I also had a male editor initially, and he said we’re going for the boy audience. The focus is on fast-paced action, spooky fun and a touch of humor.

But I hope girls will like the series as well, especially since they have Tania as a main character. She’s really the one who drives the action, dragging Jon into all kinds of trouble. They have a fun relationship, sometimes teasing and bickering, and sometimes Jon is jealous of Tania’s gift, but they’re close underneath it all.

I have a brother who’s a year and a half older, and like Jon and Tania, we got stuck together on long vacations, so maybe some of the characters’ relationship came from that.

My family lived in Saudi Arabia for six years when I was in grade school, and I got interested in world history and culture during our overseas travels. My first novel, The Well of Sacrifice (Clarion, 1999), is a Mayan historical adventure. But with market changes, I found it too hard to sell historical fiction.

The Haunted series is a nice compromise, because the ghosts allow me to explore different historical eras, while keeping the characters and action contemporary, with a popular paranormal twist.

The Ghost on the Stairs is set in a Colorado silver mining town with a ghost from the 1880s. Book 2: The Riverboat Phantom (Aladdin, 2009) features a steamboat pilot still trying to prevent a long-ago disaster. Book 3: The Knight in the Shadows (Aladdin, Oct. 2009) is set in New York City and has a Renaissance French squire trying to protect a sword on display in the Metropolitan Museum.

I can take the kids all over the country–maybe someday all over the world — to provide fresh and unique settings as they explore the world of ghosts.

In this video, Chris talks more about the Haunted series.

Check out this book trailer for the Haunted series.

Cynsational Notes

“The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme” with author 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–Destination Publication. Seating is limited. Note: Austin SCBWI events often sell out, and at last report, there were only five spots available for Chris’s workshop!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Author Interview: Marissa Doyle from Alyssa at The Shady Glade. Peek: “I’m not so much a regular history buff as a super-sized, over-the-top, fully-fledged history geek. One of the things I loved most about writing historical YA is getting the chance to show teens that history isn’t just dry boring dates and lists of events–it can be vital and fascinating and full of juicy stories.”

Course Corrections by Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: “What does the moon mission have to do with writing? Well, I was looking at my yearly goals over the weekend, and like the Apollo mission, my trajectory is off course-and has been most of the year.” See also Kristi on Hardiness.

Where’s Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty? by Elizabeth Bluemle from ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog. Peek: “I’d like to compile a list of 2009 books that feature characters of color in books about contemporary American children, whether or not race is part of the story.” Don’t miss Elizabeth’s follow-up post: A World Full of Color.

Celebrates Science: “innovative resources for teaching science and tips for writing nonfiction.” Peek: “Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 100 nonfiction books for children. Her lifelong fascination with the natural world led her to earn a B.S. in biology and M.A. in science journalism.”

4 Stages of Character Development from Darcy Pattison at Fiction Notes. Peek: “Do your characters progress through similar stages? Blurry, confusing, deeper, inconsistent, exactly what I envisioned.” Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Rep Your Favorite Latino/a Book for Hispanic Heritage Month from Jo Ann Hernandez at BronzeWord Latino Authors. Peek: “I thought of one way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. We can celebrate our books written by our own and win a book in the process. I borrowed the idea from Darcy Pattison doing Random Acts of Publicity Week.'” Note: surf over to discover ways you can support Latino/a authors/books and enter to win a book, too!

Namelos Editions to Publish Electronic and POD Books by Karen Springen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: Stephen Roxburgh’s “namelos editions will publish one-color children’s and YA fiction, nonfiction and poetry in electronic and print-on-demand editions.” Source: Leda Schubert. Read a Cynsations interview with Stephen on namelos.

Banned Books Week Q&A: Nancy Garden by Emily at BookPeople. Peek: “It saddens me especially that many adults feel that they themselves should not only control what their own children read–which they of course have every right to do–but that they, by trying to ban certain books, should also seek to control what other people’s children read, which they of course have no right to do.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

Getting an Idea for a Novel from Elizabeth Holmes from Crowe’s Nest: An Agent and Her List Discuss Books, Publishing and Beyond. Peek: “An idea is a very personal thing. Before it can become a real, whole, completed, beautiful entity—novel, poem, whatever—it has to be nurtured, often for a very long time. And that takes love.”

Varsha Bajaj: new official author site. Varsha is the Houston-based author of How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? illustrated by Ivan Bates (Little, Brown) and the forthcoming T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet book, illustrated by Robert Crawford (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010). Learn more about Varsha and her presentations. Peek: “On Sept. 13, 1986, I came to America as a graduate student. I was young, naive, and idealistic. I arrived at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis with two suitcases, a few dollars and dreams.” Note: it isn’t often that an author bio makes me teary.

Reading Lists from the Texas Library Association. Peek: “The Texas Library Association sponsors reading lists to encourage free voluntary reading.” Lists include the 2 x 2 (age 2 through second grade), Texas Bluebonnet Award (third through sixth grade), Lone Star (sixth through eighth grade), and Tayshas (high school). Note: of my books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/Harper, 2000) made the 2 x 2 list, and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) made the Tayshas list.

alphabet soup autumn menu from Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. Peek: “I’ll just have to feed my desires with food memoirs, restaurant movies, supporting my favorite locally-owned restaurants, seeking out new ones with historic ties and/or personality, and, of course, reading tasty fiction that features chefs, aspiring chefs and the culinary arts.”

Marvelous Marketer: Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: “Just as every writer work hard to perfect a voice that is all his or her very own, I encourage cultivating a marketing style that feels similarly authentic, comfortable, and unique.”

Daniel Schallau: Children’s Book Author: official site from the author-illustrator of Come Back Soon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). Learn about How the Book Came to Be. From the promotional copy: “It’s a long way from Elephant Island to Icetown, but good friends will travel great distances to visit one another. And so Elephant leaves home to see his penguin penpals–Elephant has helped them build a hotel, and there will be a party in his honor. In Icetown, things don’t go as planned. In fact, they don’t go smoothly at all. But just like friends will travel far across the sea to be with one another, good friends will also always help to make things right. A story of friendship, a story of travel and global community, Come Back Soon will cheer anyone who has ever made a mistake and been forgiven.”

Nominate Your Librarian: from American Library Association. “Nominate your librarian for the Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times I Love My Librarian Award! Up to ten librarians will be honored. Each will receive $5,000 and be recognized at an awards ceremony…” Nomination deadline: Oct. 9. Source: Three Silly Chicks.

Finding a Voice in a Graphic Memoir by Eric Konigsburg from The New York Times. Peek: “Roughly a half century ago, when Mr. Small was 14, he underwent an operation his parents told him was to remove a cyst in his neck but which he discovered by chance had been throat cancer. The surgery left him without one of his vocal cords or his thyroid gland. And, for nearly a decade, he couldn’t speak above a hoarse whisper.” Source: Brenda Bowen at Bunny Eat Bunny.

Thumbs Up for Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books and Giveaway from Esther Hershenhorn on Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: “For each teaching point, Ann offers not only supportive titles and authors to read and know; she also offers up her personal experiences.” Note: you can also enter to win World Builder by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2009). See giveaway guidelines. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 18.

Children’s Books: An Angelic Autumn by Karen Springen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Like modern vampires, they can be gorgeous, immortal and otherworldly heartthrobs…’ said Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, who calls angels ‘safe gothic’ and ‘romantic.'” Note: My Gothic fantasy universe features arch and guardian angels, vampires, shapeshifters, and ghosts. It includes Tantalize (2007), Eternal (2009), and Blessed (2011)(all Candlewick) and two short stories–“Haunted Love” from Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008) and “Cat Calls” from Sideshow: Ten Original Dark Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

Of Dogs and Writing–Curb Your Enthusiasm by Susan Taylor Brown. Peek: “The children’s publishing world is a small one. People move around all the time. Writers become editors and editors become agents and you never know who you will meet that will help you grow.” Note: when in doubt, err on the side of graciousness and forgiveness. Everyone has the occasional bad day.

See the video below for the Tu Publishing Kickstarter Fund-raising Project. Peek: “Tu Publishing is a woman-owned small press start-up that believes in the power of books to change lives. Children’s books, especially, have the ability to inform, inspire, and entertain in a way that few mediums can. Tu Publishing is dedicated to publishing fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction for children and young adults inspired by many cultures from around the world… To be able to achieve that goal, we need to raise enough money to fund the acquisition, production, marketing, and distribution of our first two books, for which we hope–with your help–to begin acquiring in January 2010. With your help, we can make this happen. Whether or not you can donate, I’d love to see people, especially teen readers/non-readers, share their own video or blog responses to this video…” Learn more at Tu Publishing and Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire: Thoughts on writing, editing, and publishing books for children and young adults.

Black Angels (Putnam, 2009): an interview with Linda Beatrice Brown by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I specifically wanted to explore what happened to children during the Civil War since I had taught about it in my Black Studies courses. I worked on Black Angels on and off for about 10 years.”Ages 12-up.

The Picture Perfect Picture Book: a chat transcript with Kim Norman from the Institute of Children’s Literature (Sept. 7 to Sept. 9). Peek: “…there probably aren’t any topics which haven’t been done and done, again and again. The trick to a sale is more in the execution, and in finding just the right publisher for that particular book.” Read a Cynsations interview with Kim.

Examining Narrative Arcs by Stephanie Greene from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “My point is that as I was trying to think about how to talk more clearly about narrative arcs, I decided to ask the class to read several books so we can diagram their arcs and talk about them together. They needed to be short so that everyone could read them in a week.”

Chris Barton’s SCBWI Talk

Debut author Chris Barton spoke on writing picture book biographies at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting last Saturday at BookPeople.

Author-illustrator Emma Virjan with Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow.

Author Jo Whittemore models the ARC for her upcoming novel, Front Page Face-Off (Minx, 2010).

Authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Jennifer Ziegler.

Jo again with YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie.

Jo one more time with fellow author P.J. Hoover.

More Personally

During the heat of my Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) deadline, I hosted a giveaway in which entrants were invited to ask me a question. Here’s one example:

“How do you decide which books to review on Cynsations?”

I consider Cynsations more of an interview-and-resources blog, celebrating the conversation of books, writing as a craft, and publishing as a business. I don’t do reviews per se, though I certainly highlight.

That said, in terms of selecting titles/voices to feature, it’s an organic process. I receive literally thousands of submissions a year from authors, publicists, and publishers. In addition, I buy a number of books. Some may be featured in the news round-ups, others in, say, author interviews. I do consider back-list titles.

I try to balance new voices, rising stars, innovators, established pros, best sellers, award winners, big names, risk takers, the under-appreciated, a variety of genres, traditions, age markets, and diversity in terms of not only race/ethnicity but also, say, faith, region, and socio-economics (of the artists and the art). I also have a particular interest in humor, nonfiction, poetry, and the international children’s-YA book scene.

I believe in going both local and global. I’ve probably interviewed more Austin-and-Texas based authors than most U.S.-based bloggers but also, on average, more voices from around the world and plenty in between.

If I’ve featured an author or illustrator before, I try to periodically update my readers on their goings-on with announcements and update interviews. The conversation is an ongoing one.

I’ve been active in children’s-YA publishing for some thirteen years (and I’m social) so I do know a lot of people. But most folks are new to me at the time I first interview them.

From now to the end of the year, of the interviews with book creators that are currently in the queue, 28 feature authors/illustrators with whom I’d had no previous interaction, nine feature professional acquaintances, six feature friends, one features a fellow faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and one features my Candlewick editor, who is also a critically-acclaimed author. Of the six friends, I didn’t know three of them when I first interviewed them for Cynsations. That’s a fairly typical sample.

It may also be of interest that one out of five people to whom I send questions–after asking first–never respond.

(I also highlight agents, editors, publishers, publicists, booking agents, journal editors, gurus, booksellers, teachers, librarians, university professors of youth literature, etc.)

See submissions guidelines. Note: established publishers may contact me for another address.


Enter to win a contributor-signed copy of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009)! My short story, “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, is included in the collection, and we are happy to sign and personalize the book, if the winner so desires. To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Geektastic” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30.

Enter to win one of four paperback copies of Not Like You by Deborah Davis (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, 2009). One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children’s-YA literature, and three will go to any Cynsations readers! To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Not Like You” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30. Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should ID themselves in their entries! Read an excerpt, listen to an excerpt, see discussion guide. Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Enter to win Cromwell Dixon’s Sky-Cycle by John Abbott Nez (Putnam, 2009). To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Cromwell Dixon” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30. Read a Cynsations interview with John.

Austin Events

San Antonio author Diana López will be speaking and signing her middle grade novel, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009), at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Read a Cynsations interview with Diana.

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.

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–only 3 more spots available!–register today! See more information. Read Cynsations interviews with Kathi and Sharon.

“The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme” with author 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. Last I heard, there were only 5 more spots available!

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.

The Hill Country Book Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 14. Featured authors/illustrators include Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Don Tate, Liz Garton Scanlon, Lila Guzman, P.J. Hoover, and Jennifer Ziegler.

Editor Interview: Alana Joli Abbott on Something about the Author

Alana Joli Abbott worked as an in-house editor for three years at Thomson Gale (now Gale Cengage) before taking on the life of a freelance writer and editor.

She is the author of two novels, short stories featured at Coyote Wild, and The Edge of Propinquity, and the Web comic Cowboys and Aliens II.

Along with her personal projects, Alana is the contract editor for the Gale Autobiographies Project, a series of essays by notable authors featured in the ongoing reference series Contemporary Authors, and Something about the Author.

How did you come to your current professional position?

I worked directly at Gale for three years after I graduated college. After moving away from Michigan and out to the East Coast to get married, I eventually started doing some work for Gale as a freelancer. I also do a number of freelance projects for other companies, working on everything from comics to articles about Connecticut history.

What do you love about it?

I really love the flexibility that comes with managing my own work flow. The variety of projects keeps me interested in everything I’m doing, and I’m always learning something new.

The Gale Autobiographies Project is especially fulfilling, because it gives me the chance to work with prominent writers and also a chance to contact writers I admire and invite them to write autobiographies for the series.

Even when they aren’t available, it’s great fun for me to get in touch with folks I admire, like Melissa Marr and Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.

It’s even better when I actually get to work with those writers–Sherwood Smith, whose work I’ve loved since I was a teen, did a wonderful original essay recently, and George Ancona, whose work I’d reviewed for School Library Journal, updated an essay for me that he’d published years ago in one of Gale’s older volumes. Corresponding with authors can really make my day!

What are its challenges?

One of my biggest challenges with working as a freelancer is time management. Because I like to take on a lot of projects and a wide variety of them, juggling them to make sure they’re all completed on time can be a job in itself!

I also could never get used to the solitary life of a freelancer. To resolve that, I ended up taking a part time job at my local library, which I love — it keeps me in touch with the books people are reading and gives me plenty of face time with other people who love books!

Could you tell us about Something about the Author?

Something about the Author (SATA) is a series that compiles biographical and critical information about children’s writers and illustrators, mixing people who are well into their careers with people whose first books have just come out.

Most of the entries are overviews of the author’s or illustrator’s career, sometimes including a few quotes from the author or illustrator him or herself, talking about their jobs. Volumes of SATA also include longer autobiographical essays that run about 10,000 words.

Award-winners, best-sellers, and other critically acclaimed writers and illustrators are invited to talk about their lives, in their own words. Those essays are placed after the same type of overview, which is called the “sketch,” that make up the rest of the volume.

What is its history?

SATA was first published back in 1971, and since then, the series has included more than 12,000 writers and illustrators. Currently, Gale publishes about twelve volumes per year, and there are almost 200 volumes in print.

Who is the audience?

Because SATA covers authors who write for children and young adults, the sketches are geared toward a grade-school-to-middle-school audience.

School libraries and public libraries are definitely the goal market, since very few families are going to want to keep a reference series on their shelves at home!

What can SATA enthusiasts look forward to next?

I’ve just finished working with Sherwood Smith and George Ancona, so their essays should be available soon (if they’re not in print already).

Herbie Brennan wrote a great original essay for an upcoming volume, and illustrator YongSheng Xuan updated his original essay, so those will both be appearing soon.

Chester Aaron, Jan Adkins, and Carolyn Marsden have all agreed to work on essays for future volumes, and I’m looking forward to working with them!

What do you do outside of your editorial life?

I’m actually quite a gamer –after becoming a freelancer, I expanded into writing for one of my hobbies: Dungeons and Dragons. It’s now both part of my work life and my social life! I also dabble in Wii and X-box games (we still have an X-box, not a 360, but believe me, it’s on our wish list!)

I get the chance to talk about games for a segment on the Secret Identity Podcast with host Brian LeTendre and convention coordinator Max Saltonstall on a semi-regular basis.

I also study kempo karate with my husband.

Over the last several years, I’ve had the chance to do a lot of traveling as a teaching assistant on Professor Mark Vecchio’s mythology study tours in Greece, Turkey, Ireland, and England. Since mythology is a great passion of mine, and I really love to travel, it’s been a great opportunity!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m very excited to be interviewed for Cynsations! I’ve been following the blog for quite awhile–it’s one of the resources I love to use when I’m writing sketches for SATA!

I also keep up a blog that you can follow from my Web site or from livejournal–I’m alanajoli.

New Voice: Eduardo F. Calcines on Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro

Eduardo F. Calcines is the first-time author of Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro (FSG, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Eduardo F. Calcines was a child of Fidel Castro’s Cuba; he was just three years old when Castro came to power in January 1959.

After that, everything changed for his family and his country. When he was ten, his family applied for an exit visa to emigrate to America and he was ridiculed by his schoolmates and even his teachers for being a traitor to his country. But even worse, his father was sent to an agricultural reform camp to do hard labor as punishment for daring to want to leave Cuba.

During the years to come, as he grew up in Glorytown, a neighborhood in the city of Cienfuegos, Eduardo hoped with all his might that their exit visa would be granted before he turned fifteen, the age at which he would be drafted into the army.

In this absorbing memoir, by turns humorous and heartbreaking, Eduardo Calcines recounts his boyhood and chronicles the conditions that led him to wish above all else to leave behind his beloved extended family and his home for a chance at a better future.

What is it like to be a debut author in 2009?

To be a debut author is like what my wife must have felt after giving birth to our first son, especially when she was in labor for sixteen hours. Could I say that being a debut author is like giving birth? Conceivably, it is!

After many years of laboring and writing my story about growing up in communist Cuba and looking for an agent, I was able to find a wonderful agent, Doris Booth, who believed in my story. This led to finding a great editor, William Kowalski, and finally selling the book to FSG.

I love everything about being a published author, considering how difficult it is to publish a book at this level! In terms of challenges, after surviving the final part of the book editing process, nothing is a challenge!

The biggest surprise was Edel Rodriguez‘s illustration of the book cover. The illustration’s brilliance and impact is exactly what I had always envisioned it would look like.

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

The inspiration was clear for me. I felt that the free world needed to understand the oppressive and destructive impact that Castro’s regime brought upon a good people.

The fascinating thing to me is how amazingly delightful the writing process is. Through the long journey of telling my story, I re-visited areas of my heart and opened doors to my soul that I thought had closed forever. There were times when I cried uncontrollably and laughed uncontrollably.

Best of all, I relived precious moments of my childhood. The reason I wanted to offer more information to young readers is that there had never been a book written about the first ten years of Castro’s communist regime from a child’s/young person’s perspective.

The birth of our sons was God’s greatest gift to me. It was as if He was granting me another chance at a happy childhood, and happy it was!

While the boys were growing up, Papa had to tell them stories about his childhood in Cuba. I never revealed to them the dark side of dealing with the harsh treatment of the newly established government. Instead, I told them stories of those special moments my friends and I had in those endless days under the sun.

It was through those special moments during our son’s first ten years that I refined my storytelling ability, and eventually, Leaving Gorytown surfaced naturally as a book for young readers. The greatest thing is that the book is being recommended in the educational arena.

Cynsational Notes

In a starred review, School Library Journal said, “Calcines’s spirited memoir captures the political tension, economic hardship, family stress, and personal anxiety of growing up during the early years of the Castro regime in Cuba.”

Booklist said, “Calcines’ vibrant writing gives readers an intimate, front-porch view of his family…will captivate readers and open a door to a subject seldom written about for teens.”

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.

New Voice: Megan Frazer on Secrets of Truth & Beauty

Megan Frazer is the first-time author of Secrets of Truth & Beauty (Hyperion, 2009). From the promotional copy:

When Dara Cohen was little, she was a bright, shiny star. She was the cutest seven-year-old who ever sang Ella Fitzgerald, and it was no wonder she was crowned Little Miss Maine.

That was then. Now Dara’s seventeen and she’s not so little anymore. So not little, that when her classmates find out about her illustrious resume, their jaws drop. That’s just one of her many problems. Another is that her control-freak mom won’t get off her case about anything. Yet the one that hurts the most is the family secret: Dara has an older sister her parents tried to erase from their lives.

When a disastrously misinterpreted English project lands her in the counselor’s office–and her parents pull her out of school to save face–Dara realizes she has a decision to make. She can keep following the rules and being misunderstood, or she can finally reach out to the sister she’s never met–a sister who lives on a collective goat farm in Massachusetts. Dara chooses B.

What follows is a summer of revelations, some heartbreaking, some joyous; of friendship, romance, a local beauty pageant; and choices. And as autumn approaches, Dara finds she may have to let go of everything she’s taken for granted in order to figure out who she really is, and what family really means.

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

When I first started writing Secrets of Truth & Beauty, I was living in the Boston area. For a year or two, I had been a part of the Boston Writer’s Workshop. It was a very eclectic goup. We were writing literary fiction, sci fi, personal essays, zombies- you name it.

Actually, one of the other members, Kate Racculia, recently signed with an agent, and I expect to hear news of her sale soon.

Anyway, I had been working on a literary novel for adults when I decided to try writing YA. The group could have been dismissive of YA, since that prejudice still exists, but they were not at all. Some of the members, especially the guys in their late twenties, really weren’t sure what was “okay” for young adult literature. I told them to treat it just like anything else brought to the group, and we were great from there.

Part way through writing the novel, I moved to Maine. I kept in touch with Kate, and she read a complete draft for me, which was immensely helpful.

When I sold, I emailed the group, and they were so supportive. I am still on their email list and love to hear what is new with them. But I needed a new community.

Online I found the 2009 Debutantes. The Debs are great because it’s a group of other YA and middle-grade authors who are going through the same things I am. It’s wonderful to be able to ask questions, share triumphs, and commiserate over setbacks with people who really get it.

I still wanted an in-person connection though. On Cynsations I read about Austin’s Delacorte Dames and Dude, a group of Delacorte authors all in Austin.

I knew there were a bunch of YA and middle-grade authors in Maine, including fellow Deb Deva Fagan (author of Fortune’s Folly (Henry Holt, 2009)(new voice interview)), so I contacted them, and we have met a couple of times.

This is more shop talk than a workshop, and again it is very comforting. We are all in different stages of our careers, so that is very useful. It’s nice to actually be able to give some advice, as well as to receive it.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn’t address these factors? Why or why not?

Technology was both a boon and a challenge in writing Secrets of Truth & Beauty. Dara needs to find her older sister. With the advent of the Internet, this hunt can take place in the space of a few paragraphs. Before the Internet, it might have taken a whole chapter. She has some pieces of information, puts them into Google, and there’s Rachel!

Having her own cell phone was also a help because she can make the phone calls she needs to arrange the visit in relative privacy–no concern about not having a phone in her room or her parents picking up the other line.

On the other hand, I needed Dara to be somewhat isolated once she got to Jezebel Goat Farm. She goes there willingly, but if she can be in constant contact with her friends when things get tough, well then that would be a very different–and far less interesting–story. How Dara spent a summer texting her friends and checking her MySpace page. Not exactly riveting, and not exactly transitional for Dara.

Fortunately, I had already sent her best friend off to Belgium, and Jezebel is located in a small, remote town, so it was conceivable that there was no Internet. I took it away for the sake of the story. I did need to address the issue, though. I couldn’t just have their be no Internet; that would ring false to many teens. So Rachel specifically apologizes for the lack of Web access.

While I do think technology needs to be included, trends do change so quickly. I work in a high school, and my students never email their friends. They text all the time. As of the moment that I am writing this, many are migrating from MySpace to Facebook. If they’ve heard of Twitter, most are not impressed, but maybe it will catch on. Or maybe something new will come along.

It would be a risk to make a novel depend on a specific current technology, because it could become passe before the book even is published.

I think Sarah Dessen was smart to create her own social network for Lock and Key (Viking, 2008).

I don’t want to be the old person who thinks she’s with it, but really isn’t.

At the same time I don’t think an over-emphasis on technology is needed. Students tell me they send eighty, ninety, one hundred texts a day. A writer doesn’t need to include each and everyone of them.

Technology is such an integral part of teens’ lives, it’s like eating or going to the bathroom: the readers will assume the characters are doing it even if it’s not on the page.

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.

Children’s Author Diana López to Visit BookPeople of Austin on Sept. 19

San Antonio author Diana López will be speaking and signing her middle grade novel, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009), at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas.

In a recent Cynsations interview, Diana said:

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

Craft, Career & Cheer: Cecil Castellucci

Learn about Cecil Castellucci.

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

I have been really blessed by working with some incredible editors, Shelly Bond, Deborah Wayshak, and David Levithan among them.

But I have a special place in my heart for Kara LaReau with whom I did my first three novels with (Boy Proof (2005), The Queen of Cool (2006), and Beige (2007), all Candlewick Press).

She is fun, talented and savvy. She knows how to edit with gentleness and fierceness that makes me feel safe enough to leap and take chances as an author.

Working with her was like drinking champagne all the time. She is generous with her heart, her editorial eye and has a great sense of humor (she is now doing freelance editing).

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

Bon bons and hot baths.

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

On the porch with sunlight and a coffee. I am like a spring flower.

So far, what’s the most fun you’ve ever had working on a book? Why?

I loved working on my graphic novel The Plain Janes with illustrator Jim Rugg (Minx, 2007). It was fun to collaborate on a project with someone who cared just as much about the characters and what was happening to them as I did.

Jim is incredibly talented and the drawings that he did of the Janes made it easy for me to write for them. When you’re working on a graphic novel, the images of the characters are important. So much is conveyed through the art.

I found that once I got the thumbnails for Jim’s art, I would then go back and revise my text so that I could add a layer rather than have the text say exactly the same as the image.

Sometimes Jim would change the pacing of what I wrote, say, by adding a few panels or by compressing something I had said in a few panels into one panel.

It was helpful to have a “swim buddy” who was interested in telling the story in the best way possible. I likened working with Jim to jamming with a jazz band. I hope to do another project with him in the future.

How do you define artistic success?

Getting to keep doing it. Stretching and growing in the craft. Writing things outside of what is comfortable. Singing in a new voice. Getting to work with excellent people. Doing new projects that are exciting.

How do you reach out to teachers and librarians? How do you approach the task of connecting your books to young readers?

Los Angeles has an amazing writing and literary community. There are three amazing indiebound bookstores–Skylight Books, Vroman’s Bookstore and Book Soup–that host excellent readings.

We’re also the home to the SCBWI main offices, and there is the annual (summer) conference here.

Some YA authors here have banded together in support, we call ourselves the LA YAs. One thing that I have been trying to do is to promote YA literature as a whole.

For example, I started a YA book club at my fave indie bookstore Skylight Books. It’s called “Pardon My Youth.” We meet at the bookstore the third Sunday of every month. Every month a different Los Angeles YA author leads the discussion.

We’ve had Ben Esch discuss I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak (Knopf), Lisa Yee discuss What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic, 2008), and Kerry Madden discuss Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (Simon & Schuster, 1996). We have YA librarians, aspiring writers, teachers and even some teens who have been coming.

I also am throwing a YA Mix and Mingle Pizza Party at Vroman’s Bookstore with the LA YAs. I feel that by promoting YA as a whole it helps to connect my books to readers, teachers, and librarians.

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

I drink a lot of water.

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

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, co-edited by Holly Black (Little, Brown, 2009) is an anthology of short stories about geeks and the geek observed with some of the most geeky YA authors today contributing stories. M.T. Anderson, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Wendy Mass, Lisa Yee, Sara Zarr, David Levithan, Tracy Lynn to name a very few.

This year, for me, is all short stories, all genre. Amongst them, my first non-YA stories:

Baby in The Basket” (Strange Horizons, 2009);

“The Bread Basket,” which will appear Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009);

“Wet Teeth,” which will appear in Eternal Kiss: 12 Vampire Tales of Love and Desire, edited by by Trisha Telep (Running Press, 2009);

“The Long and the Short of Long Term Memory,” which will appear in Interfictions 2, edited by Delia Sherman and Chris Barzak (Small Beer Press, 2009).

My next YA novel is Rose Sees Red (Scholastic, 2010), and I also look forward to the release of a picture book, Grandma’s Gloves (Candlewick 2010).

And of course I have a million other things in the hopper that I’m excited about.

[In the video below, Cecil talks about Beige.]

Cynsational Notes

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Cecil.

Enter to win a contributor-signed copy of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009) from Cynsations! My short story, “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, is included in the collection, and we are happy to sign and personalize the book, if the winner so desires.

To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Geektastic” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30.

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

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The Texas Book Festival, which will take place Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 in Austin, has announced its slate of featured authors for 2009!

Featured children’s-YA authors include: Jessica Lee Anderson, Libba Bray, Janie Bynum, Kristin Cast, P.C. Cast, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Keith Graves, Heather Hepler, K.A. Holt, Jacqueline Kelly, Rick Riordan, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Rene Saldana, Jr., Tammi Sauer, Liz Garton Scanlon, Anita Silvey, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Samantha R. Vamos, Rosemary Wells, Kathy Whitehead, Mo Willems, and Sara Zarr. See the whole list!

Read what TBF has to say about my own featured book, Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)! Peek: “Smith’s humor is in the details: an angel offers Yahoo maps as a directional aide, Dracula purchases a coffin for a reduced rate online, and Zachary gets a tattoo of a cherub on his chest while intoxicated in Austin.” Read the whole recommendation.

More News

“Free! Writing Lessons Here” by Tammi Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Believe it or not there are lots of places you can hone your writing skills for absolutely no money. Don’t expect to receive a one on one critique of your work for free. Do expect to stand back as writing advice floods over you. Here are some places to look…” Don’t miss To MFA or Not to MFA… from Tammi. Note: part of a week-long series on writing education. See also Perspiration: Self-Study from my website.

Cheryl Savageau’s Muskrat Will Be Swimming: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “I strongly urge teachers and librarians and parents to get books that are about modern day Native people. Those that incorporate elements of traditional culture can do a lot to help children know that Native people are still here—that we didn’t vanish.” Note: would you like to support Native voices? Please consider adding the Native Youth Literature Widget from JacketFlap to your blog/site sidebar.

Meet and Greet: Judy Young: an author interview from Susan Uhlig at Kidlit Central News. Peek: “…these books are not typical alphabet books. They have the ABC component but are more about the subject matter that happens to be arranged in alphabetical order. And they are multi-tiered for different ages. Each page has a letter, a poem, sidebar expository and captivating illustration.” Note: “Judy is speaking at the Missouri SCBWI conference in St. Charles on Nov. 7.”

Back-to-School “Jewels” Giveaway: enter to win The Amethyst Road by Louise Spiegler (Clarion, 2005) and an ARC of The Navel of the World: The Forgotten Worlds Book 2 by P.J. Hoover (CBAY, 2009) from The Spectacle. Peek: “To enter, leave a comment on this post with your favorite thing about fall. If you can tie it to a book, so much better.” Winner posted Sept. 21. Read a Cynsations interview with P.J.

Picture Book Boot Camp with Lisa Wheeler: “This one-day workshop teaches participants how to develop a lean, muscular body of work.” The first boot camp is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Holiday Inn in Lake City, Florida. The second is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Shapleigh, Maine. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Writing it Right!: Kristi Holl at Writer’s First Aid recommends Writing It Right!: How Successful Children’s Authors Revise and Sell Their Stories by Sandy Asher (Writers Institute, 2009). Peek: “In the book, each story (full picture book or a chapter from a longer work) is analyzed in several ways. You’ll see before and after versions… In another section, you will see the actual line edits that brought about the changes.”

“Deus ex Machina and Foreshadowing: Advice for Writers” by Jo Whittemore from The Spectacle. Peek: “When your reader gets to the point where the main character resolves the conflict, it must be believable. To make it believable, you must have left an impression in the reader’s mind that such an event was bound to happen based on the events that preceded it.” Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Author-Illustrator Mark G. Mitchell will teach a six week class in Children’s Book Illustration from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday evenings from Sept. 14 to Oct. 19 in conjunction with The Art School of The Austin Museum of Art. Peek: “This enjoyable, information-packed class will cover the basics of illustrating for children’s books and magazines. Complete a finished, full color piece for your story. (Editors want to see a sample of your color work.) Learn the steps in preparing thumbnails, a dummy and a submission package for an editor and/or art director at a children’s book publishing house. Also covered: using visual references, transferring sketches to a painting surface, how to submit final art (after you get that contract) and how to market yourself and your work.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mark.

Q & A with David Levithan from Blog. Peek: “…after such a tragic event, we could have spiraled into chaos, both as a country and as individuals. But the opposite happened. Even though we were in shock, and even though we were in uncharted territory, we managed to maintain our better selves.” Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Gingerbread Pancakes with Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “When she called, I said something along the lines of, ‘Who are you?’ because it seemed to me like she was way too amazing of a writer to be sending off a manuscript in this way. It was completely against the Children’s Book Publishing Rules! But she knew that and she did it anyway.” Note: a don’t-miss interview!

Writing Beyond Illinois Borders: Former SCBWI-Illinois members Carol Brendler and Keith McGowan talk about their experiences as debut authors living abroad from The Prairie Wind: Newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois Chapter. Peek: “Canadians have an understandable desire to promote and support Canadian authors, so I find that a visit to the bookshop or the library is full of unfamiliar but intriguing new finds.”

The Student Author Book Publishing Program, presented by author/educator Debbie Gonzales, is a unique, program-specific, in-school writing workshop in which students experience all stages of the publishing process and have their work published in a hard-bound book, just like a real author. Learn more from Debbie! Read a Cynsations interview with Debbie.

Trouble Spots: The Last Time I Was in Trouble by Rita Williams-Garcia from The Horn Book. Peek: “I remember my defiant march beyond our wooden fence . . . and making it as far as the end of the block, when I heard a howl from (I was sure) a rabid dog or a coyote. I ran home, banged on the door, and cried for my mother to let me in.” See also Nobody Knows… by Betsy Hearne from The Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with Rita.

Contests: enter to win book giveaways from TeensReadToo. You can enter to win copies of Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Curbstone, 2009), Me, My Elf and I by Heather Swain (Speak, 2009), Crash Into Me by Albert Borris (Simon Pulse, 2009), and more! Read a Cynsations interview with Lyn.

Banned Books Week Q&A: Brent Hartinger! from Emily at The BookKids Blog! From the crazy folks at BookPeople. Peek: “The idea that we can’t write about sex in a teen book when that’s one of the three or four top things on a list of topics that teenagers think about and are interested in…well, it’s ridiculous beyond words.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brent.

Author Liz Garton Scanlon debuts her newly redesigned author website this week. Peek: “I can say that Louise Fitzhugh and Judy Blume made my adolescence survivable, that Mary Ann Hoberman‘s rhyme is the high bar I jump for, and that if I ever write a book with half the heart that Cynthia Rylant‘s have, I’ll die happy.”

In the Authors’ Tent: Jeannine Garsee from Melodye Shore at Front Pages. Peek: “Martha, the main character in my first novel, was loosely based on a girl I’d met while working as a nurse on a medical floor. In STW [Say the Word (Bloomsbury, 2009)], Shawna is interested in medical school, her dad is a doctor, and there is a scene at the beginning where her mother is on life support. I obviously drew a lot of that from my own experiences as a nurse.”

Interview With Author Diana Lopez by Rene Colato Lainez from La Bloga. Peek: “For me, stories start with questions, questions I don’t know the answers to. If I were wise, I wouldn’t need to write. If I were wise, I’d be a priest or counselor. But I’m a writer, one who believes Robert Frost when he says, ‘Poems should delight first, teach later.'” Read a Cynsations interview with Diana.

Fourteen Years Later by Ruth Pennebaker from The Fabulous Geezersisters Weblog. Peek: “Today, I’ve now officially been a cancer survivor for 14 years. I was 45, sitting in my home office on a beautiful fall day, when the news came.” Note: Ruth’s books include Both Sides Now (Laurel Leaf, 2002), which is told in alternating points of view by Liza, a 15-year-old whose mother has breast cancer, and her mother. Order a copy for your local high-school and public libraries. And, as long as I’m recommending, Ruth’s Don’t Think Twice (Henry Holt, 2001)–about pregnant teens in 1967–also is a riveting read.

“Boost Your Writing Time Budget” by Sheila Wipperman from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Peek: “…as a writer, I have found ways to maximize the time that is available to get down and write. Here are some tips you can use to take advantage of even the busiest moments in your life. “

A Short Interview with Hope Larson about Editing from Dash Shaw at Comics Comics. Peek: “As for my editors being used to working on all-word books, most of them have been comics fans, and most of them have worked on picture books. It hasn’t been a completely new language to them, for which I’m grateful.” See also “Editor speaks: ‘I yam what I yam” from Calista Brill at First Second Books–Doodles and Dailies. Source: Children’s Book Biz News.

Screening Room

A challenge: World’s Longest Domino Rally with Children’s Books. A World Record? Probably. from HarperCollins UK. Source: Alvina Ling.

More Personally

I’m happy to report that the Blessed (Candlewick, spring 2011) manuscript arrived on my Candlewick editor‘s desk this week!

Blessed crosses over the casts of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), picking up at the end of Tantalize with Quincie at Sanguini’s.

In the meantime, I’m catching up on everything that was put on hold while the manuscript was in its last stages of this draft. That includes sending out interview questions and formatting responses for Cynsations, sending updates for the main site to my web goddess (Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys), critiquing manuscripts for a local pal, catching up on correspondence, etc. Long days, but it’s nice to check to-dos off the list.

Amidst all of that, I took a look at my 2009-2010 speaking schedule, and–wow!–it’s packed. However, I’m now open to 2010-2011 invitations. See contact information.

Please note that my original southwestern tall-tale picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton) will be available in fall 2010.


Enter to win a contributor-signed copy of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009)! My short story, “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, is included in the collection, and we are happy to sign and personalize the book, if the winner so desires. To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Geektastic” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30.

Enter to win one of four paperback copies of Not Like You by Deborah Davis (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, 2009). One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children’s-YA literature, and three will go to any Cynsations readers! To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Not Like You” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30. Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should ID themselves in their entries! Read an excerpt, listen to an excerpt, see discussion guide. Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Enter to win Cromwell Dixon’s Sky-Cycle by John Abbott Nez (Putnam, 2009). To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Cromwell Dixon” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30. Read a Cynsations interview with John.


“Why You (Yes, You) Should Write a Picture Book Biography–with Chris Barton” an Austin SCBWI monthly program at 11 a.m. Sept. 12 at BookPeople, 603 North Lamar, in Austin. Peek: “There’s somebody out there whose life story would be best told by you–and as a picture book, no less. Austin author Chris Barton will help you figure out who the heck that person is and what on earth you should do about it.” Note: Chris also will be speaking at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 18 at the Sulphur Springs (Texas) Public Library. Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

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.

The Annual KidLitosphere Conference: “The Kidlitosphere Conference is an annual gathering of the Society of Bloggers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The 2009 conference will take place in Washington, DC, on Oct. 17. While sessions are not scheduled for Friday, a Library of Congress visit is currently in the planning stages. An informal outing in DC will be scheduled for Sunday as well.” Source: The Brown Bookshelf.

New Voice: Kirstin Cronn-Mills on The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is the first-time author of The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind (Flux, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Morgan wants out of her life in Central Nowhere. Period. Nobody’s listening, nobody cares. Even though life sucks (of course), her sane-and-urbane grandmother helps her cope with her crazy family, and her crush on co-worker Rob helps her cope with high school. Then sometimes-friend Tessa kisses her, and the world shifts.

As she solves the Tessa riddle, her grandma’s health collapses, and family secrets emerge before Morgan’s ready for them. But, as her life transforms, Morgan discovers people are listening to her. She’d better start listening, too.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

I knew my book was going to be considered “edgy,” because it has LBGT themes. My main character, Morgan, grows up in Nebraska, which is a solidly conservative state, especially in its central and western regions, so it was easy to establish edginess based on the setting alone.

I chose to explore the edgy behavior in the book with no drama on the part of those participating in the behavior. Outrageous behavior comes instead from those who react to the edgy behavior. I wanted the edgy characters to be emotionally engaged with their tensions but not overwrought about them.

Given how LBGT issues remain contentious on the national stage, I believe my decision to juxtapose low-key decision-making with nutty outside reactions makes sense. I wanted the main characters to stay away from hysteria. Craziness got left to the haters, so they would look dumb in the face of serious, thoughtful consideration of the issues.

For example, Morgan’s neighbor and classmate Tessa surprises Morgan with a kiss, so Morgan (who has two boyfriends throughout the book) has to choose how to feel about it–because she liked kissing Tessa. As the book continues, Tessa is outed and is the recipient of verbal violence from other classmates. In the midst of all the outside commotion, Morgan and Tessa are working out the parameters of their relationship. There is tension, but no extra drama. As well, Morgan is coming to terms with her possible bisexuality, which is also calmly explored.

The culmination of this storyline is a pleasantly shared dance and kiss between Morgan and Tessa at their junior prom. The repercussions of prom are intense, but Morgan and Tessa remain friends.

In terms of other kinds of edgy behavior, the book also contains references to straight sex between Morgan and her boyfriend, Derek, as well as Morgan’s speculations about sex with Rob, her crush. These references are handled with relaxed sensibility, and though they’re not graphic, a reader cannot misconstrue what’s going on. Even Morgan’s grandmother handles a discussion about sex with calmness. There are also storylines about child abuse and alcoholism, and these topics are handled with emotion, but not with overt drama.

Curse words also add to the edginess of Sky. Because Morgan is a writer who loves words, for a few drafts her favorite words were four-letter ones, and lots of them. There are still carefully chosen curse words, but well-placed F-bombs are much more effective than too many.

In general, I believe in “edginess” because I believe in getting big issues on the table, and I believe in diversity and multiculturalism, which feels pretty edgy to some people. I want to discuss difficult things in my books, because talking about taboo subjects is where we learn about the intricacies of the human condition.

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

I don’t think I could have asked for a better profession to prepare me for being an author.

Most specifically, being a teacher informs my writing because of audience. When I teach a literature class, I have to gauge the students’ reactions to the book as I teach it, because I’ve got to help them connect their own experiences with the ones in the book. If I can’t do that (provided they haven’t done it for themselves), the experience of the book is lost to them.

Because my students are usually between the ages of 18-24, they also keep me in close contact with the needs of a YA audience–a fast pace, an ending that contains a kernel of hope, a story line about identity (in one form or another). Without an audience, a book won’t succeed.

Since I can’t be there in person to help Sky’s audience connect with my book, I have to make Morgan and her compatriots as accessible as possible.

My students also keep me current. The first few drafts of The Sky Always Hears Me had no cell phones, thanks to their nonexistence when I was growing up and my uneasy relationship with them now. That’s just plain wrong in a 21st-century teen novel, even if cell signals are difficult in central Nebraska! Students’ pre-, post-, and in-class discussions also keep me up to date on pop culture trends and what’s cool (or not), and give me first-hand looks into their own identity dramas. All of it gives me fodder for characters and storylines.

Teaching also helps me with my author presence. I’ve been presenting myself as an interesting individual for seventeen years, and creating an author persona isn’t hard to do with that much public speaking experience. If I treat my book like any other literature, school visits will be as natural as conducting class!

Cynsational Notes

Scroll for photos of where Morgan lives in central Nebraska.

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

Author Interview: Jacqueline Kelly on The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Jacqueline Kelly on Jacqueline Kelly: “Born in New Zealand, raised in western Canada, moved to Texas in high school. Undergraduate degree from UT El Paso, medical degree from UT Medical Branch Galveston, law degree UT Austin. Presently working part-time as a physician and life-care planner, forecasting future medical needs for the catastrophically injured.

“Married to astrophysicist Rob Duncan. Live in Austin and Fentress, with various dogs and cats.”

Note: photo by Deanna Roy.

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

I was a bookish child, but apparently a high-energy one (my first nickname was “Cannonball”). I think probably all writers start out as bookish children.

I adored Kenneth Grahame‘s The Wind In The Willows (1908), and all the Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting (1920-1952) et. al.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

I started out writing short stories some years ago, taking classes and workshops whenever I could find the time.

My novel started out life as a short story. I presented it to my writing group, and they all said that I should turn it into a novel.

My reaction to that: “Aaaargh!” It just felt like too much to take on. A short story is relatively manageable, but a novel consumes your life for far too long.

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

I got over my self-consciousness about showing my work to others. I wanted so desperately for my writing to be good, but I was worried that it might not be, so I kept it hidden away in a drawer for a long time.

If you want to improve as a writer, and if you want your work to see the light of day, you have to be willing to hold it up for criticism. Now I’ll show my work to anybody. Also finding the right writing group is incredibly important.

I’m so lucky to be in a great group here in Austin. We formed during a short story writing class taught at the Writers’ League of Texas by Karen Stolz about eight years ago, and we have been meeting every two weeks ever since. The critiques are incredibly useful, and we have so much fun.

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

I entered three chapters in the Writers’ League Agents & Editors Conference in 2002, and ended up winning the mainstream division. The woman who judged the contest, Marcy Posner, became my agent.

At first I couldn’t confess to her that what she’d read as my entry was all there was. But I think she figured it out when it took me several years to get the rest of the book to her.

The only other stumble I can think of is that I thought the first book cover Holt sent me was all wrong for the novel. I spoke to my wonderful editors at Holt about it, and they ended up re-doing the cover into what you now see. I think it’s just perfect for the book. It’s a real silhouette, cut by Beth White. You can find her artwork for sale online.

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

My agent Marcy telephoned me and told me. Unfortunately, my husband was hiking at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and was unreachable for several days!

I called my family and close friends right away, and the next day my friend Gwen and I went to the Four Seasons for a celebratory lunch and champagne.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The book was inspired by my huge 140-year-old Victorian farm house in Fentress, a tiny community on the San Marcos River. I bought the house some years ago and promptly ran out of money to fix it up. The house is grand but falling down around my ears.

One summer, I was lying on the daybed in the living room under the ancient air conditioner, which was barely cooling the room, and I thought to myself, how did people stand it in the heat a hundred years ago, especially the women, who had to wear corsets and all those layers of clothing? And with that thought, Calpurnia and her whole family sprang to life to answer the question for me.

By the way, I made a promise to the house that if I made money from the book, I would use it to restore it to its former glory.

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

Just do it. Just sit down and write. You can’t wait for the muse to show up before you sit down. It won’t all be good, but a lot of it will be, and it will get better, the more you do it. Writers write.

So far, other than your own, what is your favorite children’s-YA book of 2009 and why?

I love One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Truman (Candlewick, 2009), and I really enjoyed Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman (Holt, 2008). Are we seeing a common thread here?

Several Austin children’s-YA authors have trained as lawyers (you, me, Greg Leitich Smith, Louis Sachar, Ruth Pennebaker, Jane Peddicord). Why do you think there are so many of us?

A friend of mine, a very successful trial attorney, once said, “Every lawyer I know has got a novel hidden away in his laptop somewhere.” I think it’s because we all love language, and using it to convey precise ideas. Or maybe it’s because so many lawyers were English majors who couldn’t then figure out what to do with their degrees.

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

I spend time in Fentress, I listen to KMFA, the local 24-hour non-commercial classical station (at 89.5 on your dial–plug!), I enjoy visiting with friends and family. I love reading fiction, and I love talking about it with other fiction writers.

My husband and I travel quite a bit. Two years ago we hiked across the Grand Canyon, a feat of which I’m inordinately proud, and I have the T-shirt to prove it.

We visit New Zealand every few years to see my relatives, all of whom live there except for my parents, who live in Corpus Christi. New Zealanders are mad for dangerous outdoors activities, such as bungee jumping and zorbing. My husband has bungeed, but I haven’t. I may have to jump on out next trip before I get too decrepit.

I have gone zorbing though, where they put you in a giant vinyl ball and roll you down the side of the hill. I screamed with laughter the whole way!

We also went swimming with the seals on our last trip and will go swimming with the wild dolphins on our next one.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I have started a sequel to The Wind In The Willows. It’s tentatively called The Willows Redux. I only hope I don’t embarrass myself. Grahame was such an amazing writer, especially considering he lived such a sad life. But Ratty, Mole, Toad, and Badger live on, and have brought so much joy to so many. The book really is for all ages.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009), and read an excerpt of the novel.

In the video below, check out The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate: ALA Book Talk by Lynn Rutan (a middle school librarian in Holland, Michigan; and book consultant) from Macmillan Children’s Books.