New Voice: R. J. Anderson on Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter

R. J. Anderson is the first-time author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (HarperCollins, 2009)(read R. J.’s LJ). From the promotional copy:

There are humans at the bottom of the garden, and a glimpse inside their forbidden House convinces the fierce young faery hunter known as Knife that they have knowledge that could help her dying people.

But if the human world has so much to offer, why is the faery Queen determined to keep her people away from it? Is there a connection between the House and the faeries’ loss of magic? And why is Knife so drawn to the young Paul McCormick — that strangest of creatures, a human male?

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view – first, second, third (or some alternating combination) featured in your novel? What considerations came into play?

I’ve made many changes to Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter over the years, but I always knew it had to be written in the third person– I never even bothered trying anything else.

I think first person can be great and I’m not afraid to write it, but for this book it would have been all wrong: Knife is not a chatty character, she’s not emotionally self-aware, and since she’s a faery, her perspective on the world is so different from the reader’s that a first-person narrative would be confusing or even incomprehensible.

Knife is also a very physical character and gets involved in a lot of action scenes where there isn’t time for her to think about what’s happening, let alone describe it. So it was good to be able to pull back a little when necessary and use the third-person “camera,” so to speak.

But at the same time, I didn’t want readers to get too distant from Knife. I wanted them to see the world through Knife’s eyes, identify with her, and follow her steps as she tries to solve the book’s central mystery.

And I especially wanted readers to imagine how certain aspects of human life we take for granted–not just our technology, but our creativity, and the way we relate to each other–might appear startling and amazing to a faery who’d never encountered those things before.

So in order to do that, I had to immerse the reader in Knife’s point of view and never leave it, even once I had other significant characters on the scene. Which meant using a very strictly limited third person POV–no omniscience, no head-hopping, no shortcuts. It’s all Knife, all the time.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

I knew from the beginning that my story was going to take place in the real, modern world and not on some invented planet or magical fairyland, so in a way that made things simpler.

But I still had a lot to figure out about how to make the very isolated society in which the faeries live seem plausible. Since the faeries in my book have lost nearly all their magic and can no longer cast spells at will, they can’t just conjure up food and clothing–they have to forage and hunt for everything. And since they are small faeries, it’s only natural that they’d be at constant risk from predators.

So I had to do a lot of research about plants and herbs, pioneer methods for making soap and candles and tanning hides, what kind of weapons you could make if you didn’t have metal…and also the habits of carnivorous birds and animals who could pose a threat to the faeries if they weren’t careful.

I also had to think about ways in which the faery world might be different from the human one, not only in terms of technology but in terms of social interaction.

A lot of faery folklore implies that the faeries are lacking in some way, that the beauties of faeryland are an illusion and that if you look at the faeries themselves you may find them hollow inside. And that made me think about ways in which my faeries might also be “hollow” in terms of lacking emotional awareness and connection to each other, and how that would affect the way they relate on a day-to-day basis.

Once I’d figured out that they bargained for everything (faeries in folklore are also said to be fond of bargaining) and really had no concept of friendship or family, it helped me a lot in defining the differences between the human and faery worlds and also gave the developing relationship between Knife and Paul more impact.

None of this was easy. It took me many years and a lot of savvy editorial criticism to make my imagined faery society internally consistent and logistically plausible. But I learned a lot from the process, and I’m glad I went through it. Especially now that I’m hearing readers tell me the world-building’s one of their favorite aspects of the book.

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.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. Debbie points to a PDF file of resources provided to parents and educators by the National Museum of the American Indian as well as recommended books for young readers.

Teacher and Librarian Resources for Children’s and YA Books with Native Themes from Children’s Book Author Cynthia Leitich Smith. A collection of educator links and guide books. See also Native American Youth Literature Widget from JacketFlap. Add this widget to your blog to raise awareness of books by Native children’s authors and illustrators!

Aladdin M!X: official imprint website. Peek: “So you’re too old for kids’ books, but your mom will freak out if you come home with anything scandalous. Aladdin M!X is the perfect fit.” Reprints Out-of-Print Titles by Guild Members from the Authors Guild. Peek: “The Guild’s service makes out-of-print works available through online bookstores and the nation’s largest book wholesaler. There is no charge for members to participate, for most titles.”

Indie Bookseller Interview: Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy by Cindy Pon from the Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “What’s most rewarding is probably the reader who comes back and expresses appreciation for a recommendation, when I successfully tell someone about a book I enjoy that I think is a good match for their tastes.”

Reading beyond reality: Interview with Cindy Pon, author of Silver Phoenix, by Stacy Whitman at Tu Publishing. Peek: “I’ve read beyond my comfort zone and favorite genres since deciding to become a writer–and I would encourage all readers to do the same. If you only read romance, try some mystery. If you only read high fantasy, try contemporary or urban fantasy, etc.” Read a Cynsations interview with Cindy.

The Loft Literary Center: “Incorporated in 1975 in a space above a Minneapolis bookstore, The Loft Literary Center has grown to become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive literary center. It is located in the award-winning Open Book literary arts building in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the heart of one of the most literate and book-friendly regions in the country.” Note: offerings include classes in writing for young readers.

The Myth of Reading Up by Megan Frazer at Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “In my job as a high school librarian, I help teens to make their reading choices every day. For the most part, they want to read about other teenagers. When I look at the fiction on my return cart, I do not see a row of adult novels. Instead I see mostly YA, with a few Jodi Picoult and Stephen King thrown in – authors, it should be noted, who often feature teen characters.” Read a Cynsations interview with Megan Frazer.

Peaches & Messy First Drafts by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. Peek: “I have to say that too much mess isn’t good. If your manuscript keeps breaking off into big lumpy sections and has no unifying forces holding it together, then you could end up with a draft that can’t be made to fit no matter how many times you revise it.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

2009 Debut Library Giveaway from the 2009 Debutantes. Peek: “To celebrate Teens Read Week, the YA and MG authors of Debut 2009 are giving away a 46 book set of their debut novels to one lucky library, anywhere in the world! From Oct. 18 until Dec. 31, we’ll be taking entries from librarians only- public and school libraries are eligible.”

The Acquisition Process by the Buried Editor at Buried in the Slush Pile. Peek: “I created a flowchart of the acquisition process.” Note: context is acquisitions at Blooming Tree Press and CBAY.

Re-Agented! (or It’s a Small World After All*) by Deena Lipomi at Author2Author. Peek: “After my agent left the agenting business this summer and I was left floating on my own in a world of editor research, I am now re-agented! And let me tell you, the way this went down was nothing but serendipity (and a little bit of talent, right?).”

Writer Beware from Lucienne Diver at Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings. Advice on how to avoid scams and find a reputable agent. Read a Cynsations interview with Lucienne.

100 Best Book Blogs for Kids, Tweens, and Teens from Online School. Peek: “Whether you are interested in literature for the very young, teen and young adult literature, or specialized genres such as multicultural literature, poetry, or comics and graphic novels, these blogs will help you find the best books available–leaving you more time for reading and enjoying this literature.” Note: I’m honored to see Cynsations on the list.

2009 Co-Winners Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award from Texas State University are: The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans by Carmen Tafolla (Wings, 2008) and He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Source: Mitali’s Fire Escape.

Rejecting Rejection and Embracing Revision from Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings: A place to ponder books, as well as how the words get on the page. Peek: “Even the word, re-jec-ted, sounds so harsh. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it into a good thing.”

Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest: “Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Sourcebooks and Gotham Writers’ Workshop, is hosting its first Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition for a chance to win a one-on-one consultation with one of New York’s leading YA literary agents!” See details.

Jessica Leader: official site of the debut author of Nice and Mean (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X, 2010). Peek: “Jessica Leader grew up in New York City. Like the characters in Nice and Mean, she had many important conversations in the stairwells of her school and on the cross-town bus. In high school, she won a playwriting contest that led to her play being produced all over the country. She earned her undergraduate degree from Brown University and her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In between those two events, she taught English and drama, first in New York and then in Louisville, Kentucky.”

Cynsational Tip: if you have a don’t-miss link for the Friday round-up, please feel free to suggest it. I’m looking for substantial interviews, writer resources, articles on the writing life and craft, children’s-YA book giveaways, and other posts/resources of interest to teens, writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and other industry pros/community members.

Thanksgiving Giveaway: Giving Thanks to Public and School Librarians from the Class of 2k9: Middle Grade and YA Debut Authors. Peek: “Between now and Thanksgiving weekend, the Class of 2K9 will be celebrating the many wonderful librarians who’ve supported us throughout the year by offering…three sets of books.” These include a full set for public libraries and a set for an elementary/middle school and high school respectively.

Gothic Fantasy and Suspense for Teens and ‘Tweens from from Children’s Book Author Cynthia Leitich Smith. An annotated bibliography of spooky reads, links to author interviews, and writing resource links.

Editing: How To Avoid Staring Into The Great Black Abyss by Elana Johnson at Peek: “I’m going to give you some pointers that have helped me tackle my 320-page manuscript, edit it, polish it, get it to betas and then out the door in less than 30 days.”

Win a Signed Copy of Operation Yes! by Sara Lewis Holmes (Arthur A. Levine, 2009) from Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. Peek: “…we’re giving away two signed, personalized copies. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment at this post, telling us who your favorite teacher was/is (real or fictional), and why.” Deadline: midnight EST Nov. 5. See more information.

A Touch of Grace: Grace Lin’s new novel is a tribute to her late husband–and a reminder of what really matters by Madeleine Blais from School Library Journal. Peek: “‘Basically, I spent two years contributing to the world’s landfills,’ she says. An unusual tone of self-satisfaction creeps into her voice: ‘And then, a wonderful thing happened. I lost my job.'” Read a Cynsations interview with Grace.

The Reverse Snobbery of Low Literary Aspirations by Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “…there is definitely something that is lost in the over-celebration of mass appeal and the lowest common denominator and the dismissal of experts, and I really think it can be taken too far. What about aspiring to create something that is great, rather than merely popular.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Twitter Chats for Writers by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Daily Diversions for Writers. Peek: “If you want to say something in the chat, just post your comment to Twitter, but make sure the hashtag is included somewhere in your post so other people in the chat will see it. That’s the simplest way to participate in a chat so if you’re in a hurry, there’s no need to read further.” Source: Jessica Lee Anderson.

More Personally

Around the kitlitosphere, I loved this peek into a Liz Garton Scanlon preschool event. Gorgeous photography! You can almost see the fairy dust! I also enjoyed Jody Feldman’s report on P.J. Hoover and Jessica Lee Anderson’s signing party!

Cynsations: a recommendation from Elizabeth Burns (Liz B) at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: All I want: like Buffy, I want a chair. A fireplace. A tea cozy. And to talk about stories. Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea. Peek: “If you’re reading children’s and young adult books; writing them; reviewing them; or just want to know more about what is going on this part of the book world? Read Cynsations.” Note: this post means a lot to me.

Round-up of Quotes from my Tantalize Interviews from Jo Ann Hernandez at BronzeWorld: Latino Authors. Peek: “Tantalizing tidbits abound as Cynthia dishes on writing, Gothic lit, favorite things and her latest novel.”

Halloween Review: Eternal by Miss Attitude from Reading in Color. Peek: “This book will stay with me for close to eternity I’m sure! It was funny, sweet and thought-provoking in a very subtle way. Oh and I now officially love vampires. I understand the craze, because even though vampires are evil in Eternal, there is just something about them that draws you in.” Note: enter to win copies of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and Asleep by Wendy Raven McNair (CreateSpace, 2009) from Reading in Color. Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 31; see more information.

Highlights of the week included the Austin Teen Book Festival. My fan girl moment? Meeting Heather Brewer, pictured here with Austin authors Bethany Hegedus and Shana Burg.

Another thrill? Seeing rock-star YA author Carrie Jones (behind the book).

Varian Johnson with a yellow rose from the Texas Sweethearts.

Sweethearts Jo Whittemore and Jessica Lee Anderson.

The Westlake (TX) High dance team performing “Thriller” for the authors at lunch.

My gift bag! I especially loved the original art card. The vampire-mouth candies were fun too!

It was an amazing line-up–also including keynoter Libba Bray, Daniel Waters, Jennifer Ziegler, Justine Larbalestier, Rick Yancey, Lisa McMann, Matt de la Pena, Deb Caletti, and Terra Elan McVoy–sorry for the lack of pics! As I was still coughing (just a cold), I kept my distance to the extent practical from my fellow speakers (for their own protection).

Thanks so much to the speakers, teens, parents, BookPeople staff (especially my moderator Emily), and librarians who made this debut event such a success! Special thanks to the YA readers who drove in all the way from Houston to see me! Wow!

Last Call Spooky Cynsational Giveaway

Reminder: In celebration of the “Read Beyond Reality” theme of Teen Read Week, which is scheduled for Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, and the spooky season now upon us, I’m offering the biggest, winner-take-all Cynsational giveaway ever, with an emphasis on Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and spectacular read-alikes!

You can enter to win: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009); Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (Walker, 2009); Far From You by Lisa Schroeder (Simon Pulse, 2009); How to Be a Vampire: A Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, November 2009); Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (Harcourt, 2009); Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler (Simon Pulse, 2008); and Vamped by Lucienne Diver (Flux, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Read Beyond Reality” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I’ll contact you if you win).

You will get an extra chance to win for each of the following: (1) you blog about the giveaway and link to my related announcement posts at Cynsations at Blogger, LiveJournal, JacketFlap, MySpace or Spookycyn (send me the URL to your post with your entry); (2) you post the link to your Facebook page or tweet it (find me at Twitter and Facebook and CC me on those systems so I can take a look); (3) you are a YA teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (indicate school/library with your entry); (4) you are a book blogger (teen or grown-up)(include the URL to your blog with your entry message). Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 30. Good luck and stay spooky!

Cynsational Events

The Texas Book Festival take place Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 in Austin. 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! Note: I’ll be speaking on a panel “Deals with the Devil: Writing about Faustian Bargains” with Daniel and Dina Nayeri from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Texas State Capitol Building, signing to immediately follow. Hope to see y’all there!

SCBWI-Illinois’ Fifth Annual Prairie Writer’s Day: Brick by Brick: The Architecture of Our Stories will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Speakers include: Stacy Cantor, associate editor at Walker; Nick Eliopulos, associate editor at Random House; T.S. Ferguson, assistant editor at Little, Brown; Yolanda LeRoy, editorial director at Charlesbridge; Cynthia Leitich Smith, award-winning author and Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member; and Michael Stearns, agent and co-founder of Upstart Crow Literary.

Destination Publication: An Awesome Austin Conference for Writers and Illustrators is scheduled for Jan. 30 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Keynote speakers are Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and Caldecott Honor author-illustrator Marla Frazee, who will also offer an illustrator breakout and portfolio reviews. Presentations and critiques will be offered by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, author-editor Lisa Graff of FSG, agent Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary, agent Mark McVeigh of The McVeigh Agency, and agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Advanced critique break-out sessions will be led by editor Stacy Cantor of Bloomsbury. In addition, Cheryl and author Sara Lewis Holmes will speak on the editor-and-author relationship, and Marla and author Liz Garton Scanlon will speak on the illustrator-and-author relationship. Note: Sara and Liz also will be offering manuscript critiques. Illustrator Patrice Barton will offer portfolio reviews. Additional authors on the speaker-and-critique faculty include Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jacqueline Kelly, Philip Yates, Jennifer Ziegler. See registration form, information packet, and conference schedule (all PDF files)!

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2010, at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. The faculty includes author Cynthia Leitich Smith, assistant editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, creative director Patrick Collins of Henry Holt, senior editor Alexandra Cooper of Simon & Schuster, senior editor Lisa Ann Sandell of Scholastic, and agent Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

New Voice: Megan Crewe on Give Up the Ghost

Megan Crewe is the first-time author of Give Up the Ghost (Henry Holt, 2009)(see Megan’s blog). From the promotional copy:

Cass McKenna much prefers the company of ghosts over “breathers.” Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody… and Cass loves dirt. She’s on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass’s whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim’s life, she’s surprised to realize he’s not so bad–and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it’s time to give the living another chance…

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

I consider myself lucky to have had many fabulous sources of support throughout my writing career so far. Most of them have been online, and I think that’s one of the best things about the Internet–the way it allows us to connect with so many like-minded people we might never have gotten to know otherwise.

When I was first starting out with short stories, I got most of my critiques at the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. It’s full of amazing critiquers who helped me identify the strengths and weaknesses in my stories. Ultimately I found it didn’t work quite as well for me when it came to novels, but I ended up meeting a couple of critique partners through the workshop I continue to exchange manuscripts with to this day.

In the last several years, I’ve gotten most of my feedback from one-on-one critiquers, met through workshops and writing communities. They’ve been invaluable. There’s nothing like getting a reader’s eye view of an entire novel, and my books have gotten much stronger for it. And a few of my critique partners have also been close friends, people I can turn to and who can turn to me when we need reassurance or guidance.

As well, I have an in-person writers group that I meet with once every two weeks. It’s wonderful being able to hash out everything from the details in one scene to the plot line of an entire book face-to-face. And we also do a yearly writing retreat with all of the same plus lots of writing, swimming, canoeing, and roasting marshmallows!

Since selling my first novel, I’ve also had the pleasure of joining a couple of amazing groups of writers: the 2009 Debutantes and the Class of 2K9. I don’t know how I could have made it through the last year and a half without them! We share tips on everything from writing and revising to submitting and promoting, and if anyone’s ever feeling down or stuck, we’re always there for each other to cheer on or find a solution.

Really, I’ve only had good experiences when it comes to the children’s and YA writing community. I think we all recognize that it can be a long and difficult journey, and we’re happy to help each other along the way.

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary 
tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular 
book or books inspire you?

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories that go at least a little beyond the boundaries of “reality as we know it.” There’s so much room for surprises, for the unexpected. And there’s something thrilling about seeing a character faced with a problem they never thought could exist. What do people do when faced with the (supposedly) impossible?

Naturally, I enjoy writing those sort of stories, too. Making my characters face the unexpected. Pondering the many “what ifs” that open up when you allow for the existence of things like ghosts. It’s those sorts of “what ifs” that get me excited about a story. I love realistic fiction as well as speculative as a reader, but when it comes to writing, the ideas that grab me and won’t let me go always have a paranormal or fantastical element.

Two of my favorite authors growing up were Roald Dahl and Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Dahl’s books are almost always fantastic, but what’s so wonderful about them is that he rarely lingers on the “wow, that’s so fantastic” part of the story. He gets straight to the consequences and how the characters deal with them. Okay, there are witches, there are giants, we know this now, let’s get on with the story.

That always appealed to me, because it’s the story of what happens after you’ve discovered the magic that I find truly interesting–not so much the story of the discovering itself. Which is probably why I tend to skip the discovering in my books.

Give Up the Ghost begins four years after Cass saw her first ghost; it’s about someone for whom the supernatural has become almost natural and what that means for her.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder writes some fantasy (like the Green-Sky trilogy (Atheneum, 1975-1977), but most of her books are realistic with just a touch of something magical–often something that’s only imagination.

I say “only,” but that’s inaccurate, because Snyder presents imagination as a very powerful force. It’s the intricate worlds that Martha and Ivy make up that gradually help Martha come into her own as a young woman in The Changeling, my favorite of Snyder’s books, for example.

Reading those stories, I think, inspired me to try to have a balance of the realistic with the paranormal in my books. To show that everyday concerns like bullying and sibling rivalries are just as affecting as something supernatural.

Give Up the Ghost may be a paranormal novel, but the most important element is how Cass ends up dealing with the real life troubles she’s experienced.

Maybe this is a funny thing for a paranormal author to admit, but really, what I like most about writing the fantastical is finding the realism inside it.

[Watch this book trailer for Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe.]

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.

A Tale of Two Uma Krishnaswami/ys

Children’s literature is blessed with an author named Uma Krishnaswami and an illustrator named Uma Krishnaswamy.

So, as a “Smith,” I know something about common names. But I’d never put “Uma Krishnaswami/y” in that category! Is it true that there are two of you?

Uma Krishnaswami: Yes, although the OU (Other Uma) spells her last name with a Y on the end–“Krishnaswamy,” not “Krishnaswami.”

Still, I admit, I was surprised. Not so much that there was someone else in the world with my name–it’s not a “Smith” exactly, but it’s maybe more common than–um, “Leitich”! But someone else in the world of children’s publishing? How likely is that?

How did you come to connect with one another?

Uma Krishnaswami: That’s a funny story.

I got an e-mail message from a reader in France who said he adored my books.

Well, that’s always nice to hear, but I noticed that I hadn’t written some of the books he listed. I wrote back pointing this out.

He replied, insisting, “I know that. You illustrated them,” and went on to tell me what he loved about my art.

Since I can’t draw to save my life, I astutely concluded I must have a namesake.

Google led me to her via one of her publishers, who, it turns out, is right around the corner from my parents’ house in Chennai, India. Just another example of the small-and-shrinking world in action.

What are the challenges of having the same byline?

Uma Krishnaswami: Well, I suppose reader confusion is one. I just got invited to a conference in Singapore and decided I’d better check and make sure I’m the one they really want. (It turns out that I am, but it’s best to clarify).

Another is that I sometimes get author copies intended for her, and once she nearly got a check meant for me. (Or was it the other way around? I can’t remember.)

What about it charms you?

Uma Krishnaswami: I love her artwork–it’s luscious and smart, combines a folk feel with a modern sensibility. I’d love to do a whole book with Uma doing the art–then we’d really stump everyone!

As it is, the name we share has taken on the quality of an extended joke. When Cicada magazine published a poem of mine titled “Lifeline,” they didn’t tell me they were hiring Uma to do the art. They added a little footnote to the effect that they were sometimes confused too.

Cynsational Note: switching Umas–text and art!

What did you think when you found out about Uma Krishnaswami, who’s also a children’s book creator (though an author, not illustrator)?

Uma Krishnaswamy: I go this call one afternoon out of the blue, and the voice on the other end introduced herself as well…yours truly!

Oh, Oh! I thought a huge joke was being played on me, or that postprandial wooziness was playing tricks with my hearing. Until, of course, the voice launched into this rather complicated story full of twists and turns that ended up throwing the two Uma’s together.

We got chatting, and I was delighted that I got a chance to speak and meet Uma Krishnaswami. The added bonus, her being a children’s author. So much more to share and discuss.

What about sharing the same name charms you?

Uma Krishnaswamy: Absolute fun. When Uma’s book got reviewed (minus her pic) I was asked (with a touch of reverence) if I’d taken to writing as well. Very tempting to add that to my resume as my namesake does such a fabulous job of it.

And as Uma mentioned, Cricket Magazine Group has sent my copies and cheque to her while I anxiously waited at the gate for the magazine!

And that irreverent little aside from the editors of Cicada, when I did the artwork for her poem, would never happen in the normal course.

Apart from the fun factor of having our names together, Uma’s poem that I got to illustrate was something that really struck a chord, as it speaks of the same place that I come from. More coincidences.

Hopefully, in the near future, the two of us will get to do a book together to drive a few more people crazy!

Cynsational Notes

Uma Krishnaswamy’s art images are used with permission.

New Voice: Cyn Balog on Fairy Tale

Cyn Balog is the first-time author of Fairy Tale (Delacorte, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Morgan Sparks and Cam Browne are a match made in heaven. They’ve been best friends since birth, they tell each other everything, and oh yeah–they’re totally hot for each other.

But a week before their joint Sweet Sixteen bash, everything changes. Cam’s awkward cousin Pip comes to stay, and Morgan is stunned when her formerly perfect boyfriend seems to be drifting away.

When Morgan demands answers, she’s shocked to discover the source of Cam’s distance isn’t another girl–it’s another world. Pip claims that Cam is a fairy. No, seriously. A fairy. And now his people want Cam to return to their world and take his rightful place as Fairy King.

Determined to keep Cam with her, Morgan plots to fool the fairies. But as Cam continues to change, she has to decide once and for all if he really is her destiny, and if their “perfect” love can weather an uncertain future.

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?

When I started writing this book, the first thing that popped into my mind was the title—”Fairy Lust.” I kept thinking to myself, what could a book with that title be about?

I thought that to live up to the title, it would have to be steamy, and I wasn’t sure I was the person who could pull that kind of thing off.

After all, I’m a good, churchgoing girl. I could just see members of my congregation shaking their heads in disgust. And I have young children, and I live in fear of them one day reading my book and saying, “Mommy, why did you write about —?”

But as I wrote, I became more comfortable because the relationships are much more about longing than the actual, physical act. I think that by letting readers fill in the details with their own imaginations, it’s much more effective. Furthermore, it lets me off the hook; I might still get into heaven after all!

Afterward, my editor changed the title of the book to Fairy Tale, which, though difficult for me to get used to since I’d been using “Fairy Lust” as a working title for so long, is probably the right decision. Moms everywhere are cheering, I am sure.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

It’s not very easy. I have a full-time job that requires me to be in physical shape. I am the primary caretaker of a two-year old, and I have a baby on the way, due in July. [Cyn Note: July 2008; the interview has been in the queue for a while].

I always make time to write on my lunch half-hour, which really isn’t much time, but when you make an appointment and carve out the time for yourself, you tend to stick with it better than if you have a whole day free and just plan to write, say, sometime within those 24 hours.

But if this was just about writing, my career would be easy. Many writers tend to think that getting the first book published is the hard part and it’s all peaches and cream after that.

I know, believe me, I know, that it’s really difficult to get a book published, but it’s just as difficult to maintain that career. Immediately after a sale, writers tend to go a little crazy—”hey! I can write and sell a couple more books! I can fit in a bunch of appearances and a stint as creative writing teacher at my local college! Why not?”

But then suddenly you realize how much “hidden” work there is, apart from just writing your next book. It’s what you’d call a welcome nuisance.

Sure, you’ll probably be able to sell a bit easier as a published author. But that doesn’t cut down on the amount of work you’ll have to do. Did that first book take you years to write and perfect? Don’t expect to have that much time with your second—you will likely be on deadline, and there will be pressure from your editor and agent.

And the great thing about trying to find a home for your first book is that you had a wide-open field of numerous publishers that you could take your book to, so if one doesn’t like it, chances are, another will. However, if you are working on a second book from a two-book deal, your book is going to go in front of one publisher—and if they don’t like it, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board to fulfill your commitment.

You’ll probably go through the whole, “Maybe I am a one-book wonder” confidence crisis that 95% of writers experience. You may have rounds of edits upon edits from your editorial team to contend with. Plus, you’ll also be promoting your first book as even if you did get a heavy advance, you can’t ever rely completely on your publisher to do that for you.

It can be very stressful to fit all that in, especially if you, like me, only have a half-hour of “me”-time every day. But really, all the headaches are so worthwhile– I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!

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.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Esther Hershenhorn

Learn about Esther Hershenhorn. Visit her team blog, Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing.

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

I know, I know. We fiction writers hear that writing nonfiction can’t possibly be “fun.” But I am living proof now: it simply isn’t so.

In fact, I can honestly say I had the most fun I’ve ever had working on a book while writing my newest book, S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009).

I’ve been thinking on this truth the past few weeks as I readied a fall talk for children’s book writers – “N is for ‘Never-too-late-to-learn-something-new:’ One Fiction Writer’s (A-to-Z) Journey Through a Nonfiction World.”

S is for Story grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go, as did my picture books and middle grade fiction.

It required the very best telling of a very good story, as did my fictional titles.

My emotional connection to the story was every bit as essential as it was when telling my fictional tales.

And that, I see now, is why my fun grew exponentially.

S is for Story celebrates the all-important reader-writer connection.

It’s an A-to-Z journey through a writer’s life and process.

It just so happens I live and breathe my entries. My writing, teaching, and coaching informed every single sidebar.

While writing this book, I immersed myself daily in the real truths and facts of my beloved and treasured children’s book world, the one in which I’ve lived now for some thirty-two years.

The fun began once Sleeping Bear Press accepted my proposal. I brainstormed my twenty-six letter assignments with Ms. Jenny Vincent’s talented 2008 fifth graders at Chicago’s Louisa May Alcott School, where I’ve worked with young writers the past five years. It was they who gave me the perfect M word, to sit smack dab in the middle of my book. (Hint: think wands and top hats and bunnies with long ears.)

I envisioned my book as a gift-wrapped school visit, folded and packaged and tied up with a bow.

The contents, when opened, would shout “Writers are readers!”

I was writing to inform, affirm and ready. What better “show, don’t tell” than to use children’s authors and their titles and characters to support my text?

Once I chose my A-through-Z words, books of all sizes soon covered my apartment’s every room–piled high, stacked by subject, seemingly multiplying while I slept at night.

There were children’s books, of course, as well as those of Ralph Fletcher, E.B. White, Marion Dane Bauer, Betsy Hearne, Leonard S. Marcus, Anita Silvey, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Charlotte Huck. The Horn Book. Book Links. Children’s literature anthologies. Plus Lucy Calkins texts and writing teachers’ manuals.

I was a child at play, making my way over and around and through and beside, bookmarking pages, turning down corners, discovering delicious telling details. And when I wasn’t reading? I was Googling non-stop, then tracking down morsels at my Chicago Public Library.

I’ve always likened writing a novel or picture book to solving an acrostic. The back-and-forth-and-all-around flow of the discovery process as one follows the clues is much like the flow of discovering one’s story. And the same is true for a nonfiction story.

For instance, the Egyptian origins of the alphabet led me to the creation of vowels and Braille, then Sequoyah and Pig Latin and Lewis Carroll‘s words to start at the beginning and go on until the end. B found me lost in the Dewey Decimal system and Gutenberg’s printing press, then on to swim in waters with an assortment of characters. Fairy tales led to genres, which led to Heroes and Heroines, which lead to ideas an journals, to letters and notebooks.

I was living and breathing children’s books and writing.

I earnestly subscribe to noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s Theory of Flow. The former University of Chicago professor has spent his life’s work studying what makes people–truly–happy, and “truly” is the operative word. His definition of “flow,” as in “in the flow,” is the experience of optimal fulfillment and engagement.

“Flow,” he wrote, “whether in creative arts, athletic competition, engaging work, or spiritual practice, is a deep and unique human motivation to excel, exceed, and triumph over limitation.”

Believers note that when flow is occurring, the ego drops off, time flies, actions, movements, and thoughts follow inevitably from previous ones.

I am an “in the flow” person, whether writing a book about a 19th century limner or readying a manuscript or a lesson on plot or shaping a teachers’ writing workshop or a young authors visit or cooking up chicken soup or an interview answer.

I was–truly–in the flow, though, while writing S is for Story.

I was writing the book I live and breathe.

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

The key word in the above question? “Thrive.”

I often tell students and writers and the public at large: there are all sorts of currencies in this world of ours.

Were dollars and cents the only determinant of one’s life’s work’s success, I’d unfortunately be in a whole lot of trouble.

Uncovering my voice, telling my story, connecting with young readers and especially fellow writers: this is the Stuff of my ongoing writer’s journey and its inevitable yet surprising satisfactory endings.

I learned early and often there were no guarantees–think of the books that had Sept. 11, 2001 publication dates. As for competition, I’m continually amazed by and choose to focus on the generous spirit that pervades my children’s book world.

Which is not to say that it wouldn’t be nice if the capital S in Stuff referenced above were a $. Because it would be nice. It’s simply that I knew from the get-go that writing children’s books would not provide a true means of support. I was always prepared, if push came to shove, to earn my keep in other ways.

The trick, for me, was to make sure those “other ways” were somehow connected to the children’s book world.

I happen to live inside concentric circles, each a neighborhood in its own right, but part and parcel of, as well as connected to, the grander world of children’s books.

The children’s book writing community. SCBWI. The world of children’s literature. The publishing world. The Kidlitosphere. Librarians. Teachers. Booksellers. Reviewers. Readers. Students. Schools.

I move in and out of these circles daily, weekly, sometimes even hourly, learning and growing, receiving and giving, paying kindnesses forward, creating in many ways that wondrous “flow” of which I spoke in an earlier answer.

To earn my keep I’ve written an abecedarian telling of Illinois’ story, language arts exercises, Christian Sunday school materials, stories for interchangeable characters, teacher guidelines, book reviews, writing programs, literacy book lists.

Some days I’m in the schools, visiting classrooms, facilitating young-writer workshops, teaching teachers about writing. Some nights I teach adults how to write for children–picture books, novels, and nonfiction, too.

In between, I coach children’s book writers, wherever they are in the writing process, helping them discover and tell their stories. The common denominator: children and children’s books.

I recently joined five fellow children’s book authors who also teach writing to create the group blog Teaching Authors. I’m an author who teaches; I’m a teacher who authors books. Each ensures, at any given moment, I’m in the flow, alive and thriving.

Cynsational Notes

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

Remembering Norma Fox Mazer

The brilliant and spirited Norma Fox Mazer passed away on Oct. 17. She’s already missed.

We first met in person when I joined the faculty of the Vermont College program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in July 2005.

I’ll admit to having been fairly starstruck by the entire group. After all, we’re talking about teaching with the likes of Kathi Appelt, Marion Dane Bauer, Margaret Bechard, Sharon Darrow, Louise Hawes, Ellen Howard, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Tim Wynne-Jones.

I mean, wow.

I’d packed only one book to be signed, a novelization of the movie “Supergirl” by Norma Fox Mazer (1984). An odd choice, I know. Of all the much acclaimed books by all of the award-winning faculty, Norma included.

But the book was special to me. One sunny day in the summer of 2000, I’d found the battered, used copy at Shakespeare & Company in Paris.

I’d first learned to read on superhero comics, Supergirl was one of my favorite heroes, and finding a Supergirl novel by Norma–and so far from home–was such a happy surprise.

She laughed when she saw the book and told me how she’d worked to add layers to Supergirl, no matter whether the editor expected to see them there or not. And we talked about how there’s nothing wrong with having to make a living as a writer, a challenge we’d both struggled with to varying degrees over the years.

I didn’t know Norma as well as I would’ve liked. She retired from teaching not long after I joined the faculty. But she made a particular effort to be welcoming. She brought me Kashi crackers when I wasn’t eating much of the cafeteria food, and we connected over our experiences as writer women whose husbands were authors, too.

I’m honored that I had the opportunity to known her, to have heard her laugh and read. To have discovered that she was more super than I could have ever imagined.

More Memories

In Memory of Norma Fox Mazer by Elizabeth Bluemle from Shelf Talker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog. Peek: “Norma was ageless; her slight frame and whimsical braids, and her open, imaginative, curious and lively mind, gave her an air decades younger than her actual years. There was something magical about Norma; one felt happy to be around her.”

Celebrating Norma Fox Mazer by Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “A teenage sensibility kept Norma ageless. The wisdom of years made her amazing.”

Norma Jean Fox: One of the Giants by Stephanie Greene from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “She was one of the Giants. One of the Dependable Ones, as I think of them, who could be counted on to turn out strong and good and true books, year after year, without fanfare, without talk.”

Norma Fox Mazer 1931-2009 by Julie Larios from Jacket Knack. Peek: “When I think of her, it’s as if she stepped straight out of an illustration for a Beverly Cleary novel….”

In Memory of Norma Fox Mazer by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: “She was a beloved wife to Harry Mazer, a mother, and a shining light in our field, a dear friend and mentor to innumerable others on the writing path.”

A Letter to Norma Fox Mazer by Carrie Jones at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “When I first saw you at Vermont College, Emily Wing Smith grabbed my arm and whispered frantically, ‘That’s Norma Fox Mazer.'”

Norma and the New Life by Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “In every life there are a tiny handful of people, maybe two or three, who genuinely touch your soul. Norma was one of mine.”

The Circle of Life by Teri Lesesne/Professor Nana at The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: “Ever the caring person, Norma wrote a lovely thank you to me (I still have it) with cartoon characters talking about their conference experience.”

Remembering Norma from Bethany Hegedus from And Then: The Daily Dramas of a Children’s Writer. Peek: “Truth With a Capital T, is much changed from the picture book Norma and I worked on together but when it hits the shelves in fall 2010, it will bear a dedication to Norma, for without her encouragement the book wouldn’t be.”

Unsigned Copy: Norma Fox Mazer by Zu Vincent at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Norma was no prima donna, she was in the trenches, cutting her eye teeth on pulp work and growing into literature. To me that’s why her story danced with life, and why her success was so precious.”

Norma’s craft and her art by Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “…go find a Norma Fox Mazer book at your local bookstore or library. Read it for fun. Then read it to learn. Norma has so much to teach us still.”

Norma by Deborah Wiles at One Pomegranate. Peek: “This is what Norma would tell me to do — write. Keep working. Try. I may be gone, but that is not an excuse for you not to do your job, not to meet your deadline. I know she is right. And I know I will find the words.”

What I Learned from Norma Fox Mazer by Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “She taught us about honor and humility. Accepting your limitations. Not accepting them.”

Norma Fox Mazer by Sharon Darrow. Peek: “She lived lightly and carefully on the earth and gave so much back, bringing flowers and beautiful stories into our lives.”

Cynsational Notes

Award-Winning Author Norma Fox Mazer Dies at 78 by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal. Peek: “Mazer’s books have won many awards, including a Newbery Honor, the Edgar Allen Poe Award, the Christopher Medal, the California Young Readers Medal, the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award twice, the Iowa Teen Award twice, and the ALAN Award. She was nominated for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Book Prize, and her work often appeared on the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults lists…”

Norma Fox Mazer, Novelist for Young Adults, Dies at 78 by Margarlit Fox from The New York Times. Peek: “…an award-winning novelist for young people whose work helped illuminate many dark corners of adolescence, exploring subjects like poverty, betrayal, abandonment and loss…”

The faculty members listed above taught during my first residency and are still at Vermont College. I recall additional, wonderful folks being there, too, but I don’t have a complete roster handy (or a reliable memory) and would rather not try to list everyone than to risk leaving anyone out.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Linda W. Braun: YALSA Teen Read Week — Reading Beyond Reality from Guest post from the president of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Peek: “Teen Read Week also promotes the idea that reading for pleasure doesn’t happen just with books. Reading magazines, graphic novels, blog posts, sports websites, etc. are ways in which teens can enjoy content.”

Your Inner Blogger, Advice for Blogging Authors, and Social Media Tips from Jama Rattigan at Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. A Kidlitcon 2009 report. Peek: “I am more apt to pick up a book by someone who has taken the time to share who they are as human beings, engage with others, voice honest opinions, and express an interest in something other than ‘me, me, me.'”

Nonfiction Writing As a Way To Learn by April Pulley Sayre from INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: “Like teaching, writing involves shaping what you know into digestible pieces of information. You also have to open yourself to questions that might arise. This encourages you to fill the gaps in your own knowledge.”

Win Hate List by Jennifer Brown (Little, Brown, 2009) from Devyn Burton at Faerie Drink Review. Deadline: Nov. 7. See more information. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Author Linda Sue Park Wins Empire State Author Award by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal. Peek: “Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park is this year’s winner of the Empire State Author Award, given to a New York State children’s or YA author for a body of work.” Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Sue.

Author Websites part 1.75: What Not to Blog from the Intern. Also includes recommended topics. Under “not”: “Anything mean. You will regret it. No exceptions.”

How I Wrote Liar by Justine Larbalestier from Peek: “…it was more like writing poetry than a novel. I rewrote each one multiple times before the draft was completed, thinking about every single word, worrying about its placement on the page.” Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Angie Frazier: new website from the debut author of Everlasting (Scholastic, 2010). See also Angie Frazier: Adventures of a YA Novelist.

Creative Chaos II: The occasional postings of a writer, illustrator, and mom. from Anna J. Boll. Peek: Anna reviews nonfiction, fiction and poetry for middle grade and picture book audiences. She is accepting books, ARCs and F&G’s for August 2009 to March 2010 books. No self-published books. After the review, books can be returned or donated to a local school library. Please email Anna at annajboll at gmail dot com for more information.

Featuring Mélanie Watt by Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “My husband taught our girls to say, at very young ages, ‘commercials are for suckers.’ This would be why I’m happy to share some illustrations today from Mélanie Watt’s newest picture book, Have I Got a Book for You! (Kids Can), in which Mr. Al Foxword, one very insistent salesman, tries just about everything to get you to buy his book already.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mélanie.

Tina Kugler Studio: children’s illustrator Tina Kugler spent ten years drawing storyboards for Walt Disney Studios and Nickelodeon Animation. Clients include Teaching Textbooks, Teacher’s Discovery, and Birmingham Parent. Note: Tina is a Cynsational reader.

The Federal Trade Commission and Book Bloggers–update from Kidlitcon 09 from Charlotte’s Library: fantasy and science fiction books for children and teenagers. Peek: “Book bloggers who don’t get paid by publishers to act as shills for their books are independent reviewers, regardless of how many books they might get from publishers.” See also An Introvert Goes to the Kidlitosphere Conference by Jennifer R. Hubbard from Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Missed Opportunities by Brian Yansky at Brian’s Blog: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. Peek: “The good thing about fiction is a missed opportunity isn’t really missed. We get do-overs all the time. We get the gift of revision.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Rosemary Wells: new official site of the children’s author-illustrator. Includes sections for kids, parents & educators, and original art. Note: don’t miss the video featured in “In the Studio.” Rosemary’s new releases include Lincoln and His Boys, illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Candlewick, 2009).

Marvelous Marketer: Michael Stearns (Upstart Crow Literary) from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: “Do I Google new authors? Sure. Am I looking for the oft-bandied-about-but-never-adequately-defined-buzzword ‘platform’? God, no. I wouldn’t know a platform if I saw it.”

The Vibrant Triangle (part 1, part 2) from Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink. An interview with Tamara Ellis Smith on The Vibrant Triangle, “the dynamic between the picture book, the adult reader and the child listener.”

Publishing 101: What You Need to Know by Jerry D. Simmons from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “Here’s your step-by-step guide to the publishing process–how it works, why you need to know and how you can play an influential role in your book’s success.” Source: April Henry.

Congratulations to the Teens Top Ten books of 2009 (and their authors)!

Want your name in my book? an auction from L.K. Madigan at Drenched in Words. Peek: “I’m offering up for auction two minor character names in my 2010 YA fantasy, The Mermaid’s Mirror, scheduled for release in Fall 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.” Deadline: midnight Nov. 1.

Celebrating the National Day on Writing: A Revision Gallery: Kate Messner, author of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. (Walker, 2009) has created a resource for teachers who want their students to see examples of deep revision. Her “Revision Gallery” includes photos of marked-up manuscript pages from a collection of children’s and young adult authors, along with a short note from each writer about the revision process. The gallery is available as a series of jpegs here on Kate’s blog, where there’s also a link to the full presentation on SlideShare. Includes samples from authors Sarah Miller, Sara Lewis Holmes, Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, Saundra Mitchell, Claudia Osmond, Maria Padian, Crissa-Jean Chappell, Kay Cassidy.

From Page to Screen: “Where the Wild Things Are” movie review by Claire E. Gross from the Horn Book. Peek: “…it’s the movie’s willingness to run with its new themes, darker than those of the book (yet, paradoxically, more invested in the underlying innocence of childhood) that allows it a measure of success.”

Kids’ books face a rough path to the big screen: Turning a simple short story into a 90-minute movie can be tricky by Alonso Duralde from MSNBC. Peek: “In ‘Wild Things,’ screenwriters Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze start the story before Sendak does, giving us an idea of Max’s life and the factors that guide his behavior.”

The 2009 Kirkus Reviews Teen Book Video Awards from Blog. Peek: “To watch these enticing book trailers, vote for your favorite, and read more about the competition and each of the filmmakers, visit We had a lot of fun watching the videos, and can’t wait to see who wins. Which video excites you about reading a book the most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!”

Book Launch: Haven: an interview with author Beverly Patt on her debut novel Haven (Blooming Tree) from Janet S. Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “I struggle with guilt sometimes when I’m not writing. I have to remind myself that non-writing is good too. Not only does it pull you out of your hole and make you more sociable, it gives you new experiences to include in your writing.” Read a Cynsations interview with Beverly.

National Coalition Against Censorship Salutes Judy Blume by Sara Antill from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “while…accusatory responses have come from adults, the letters Blume has received from young readers paint a different picture. ‘Thank you for letting me know I’m normal,’ read one of the letters presented.” Read a Cynsations interview with Judy.

First Drafts by Brian Yansky at Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “Michelangelo was very eloquent about his approach to sculpting. He said, ‘I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.’ Oh, yes, very nice indeed. Very pretty. Lucky bunch, those sculptors.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Writing Contest: Create Another Another Faust from Daniel & Dina. Peek: “Write a 3000 word (max) retelling of the Faustian Bargain (“Another Another Faust”) set in any time, place, dimension, or world. Your story can be from any viewpoint, and you can get as creative as you’d like! Don’t exceed 3000 words, but don’t give us filler either. You can certainly tell an amazing story in just a few words.” Deadline: Jan. 31. See details.

See the book trailer below for Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri (Candlewick, 2009).

See the book trailer below for Hold Still by Nina LaCour (Dutton, 2009). Read Nina’s thoughts about making the trailer at Crowe’s Nest.

See the book trailer below for Racing Against the Odds: The Story of Wendell Scott, Stock Car Racing’s African-American Champion by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Marsahll Cavendish, 2009).

More Personally

Happy Teen Read Week! Thank you to everyone who turned out for my readergirlz chat with Holly Cupala and Lisa McMann on Wednesday night! See chat transcript! And don’t miss tonight’s readergirlz chat with authors Dia Calhoun and Sylvia Engdahl!

Cynthia Leitich Smith Celebrates Teen Read Week: a quick “Beyond Reality” Q&A from the YA Authors Cafe. Peek: Q: “What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?” A: “The yard gnome that Libba Bray gave me. I swear it comes to life at night.”

My latest review is from AudioFile Magazine of the Eternal audiobook from Listening Library (2009), though kudos really go to actors Allyson Ryan and Jesse Bernstein. Audiofile raves: “Together the narrators create magic: Listeners will both love and hate Miranda as she drinks her way through Chicago’s population, and the suspense is thrilling as Zachary desperately tries to figure out a way to save his undead princess.” Listen to a clip from Listening Library/Random House.

Highlights of the week also included Kate DiCamillo‘s signing last Saturday and Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. Hoover‘s signing last Sunday, both at BookPeople in Austin.

Let’s start with Kate:

Here’s Kate, taking questions from a standing-room-only crowd, and this is on Texas-OU game day, which of course makes the turnout even more impressive. Kate’s new release is The Magician’s Elephant (Candlewick, 2009).

Here she is afterward, signing books. Note: I’d feature more pics of Kate, but this was about as close as I could get to her; it was one of those events where you had to get your specially color-coded bracelet in the morning.

Fans in attendance included writers Erin Edwards, Julie Lake (author of Galveston’s Summer of the Storm (TCU Press, 2003), and recent VCFA grad Jennifer Taylor.

Read a recent Cynsations interview with Kate about The Magician’s Elephant!

And now let’s go to P.J. and Jessica’s event! (P.J. is the taller of the two and has lighter hair).

Note the very cute T-shirts.

Note the authors’ family members, also in T-shirts!

Jessica and P.J. shared the stage, talked about their books, read, and took questions from kids in the audience. Jessica’s new book is Border Crossings (Milkweed, 2009), and P.J.’s new book is The Forgotten Worlds Book 2: The Navel of the World (CBAY, 2009).

P.J. and Jessica signed their books!

Here’s 2009 YA debut voice Bethany Hegedus (green)(author of Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009) with Austin SCBWI regional advisor Tim Crow and YA author Jennifer Ziegler (purple). Bethany has newly relocated to Austin from New York!

Here’s another first-time Austin author–K.A. Holt, whose debut book is Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Random House, 2009)!

Tim again, this time with Betty X. Davis, the grand lady of our writing community.

Writer Erin Edwards with Emma J. Virjan, debut author-illustrator of Nacho the Party Puppy (Random House, 2008)!

Jo Whittemore with her husband. Jo is the author of The Silverskin Legacy trilogy (Llewellyn, 2006-2007) and Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin MIX, 2010).

A handful of us grabbed lunch at Opal Divine’s on 6th Street afterward. Going around the table, here’s YA author April Lurie (lighter green), picture book author Frances Hill, YA author Brian Yansky (end of table), Greg again, author Debbie Gonzales, and Bethany again (darker green). Note: in this pic, not everyone has arrived yet.

Afterward, a couple of the authors visited my house and were kind enough to sign their books. Here’s Jessica and Bethany, both together and individually!

See also A Book Release Party and Other Random Bits from P.J. at Roots in Myth and An Interview with P.J. Hoover from Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings.

Spooky Cynsational Giveaway

Reminder: In celebration of the “Read Beyond Reality” theme of Teen Read Week, which is scheduled for Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, and the spooky season now upon us, I’m offering the biggest, winner-take-all Cynsational giveaway ever, with an emphasis on Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and spectacular read-alikes!

You can enter to win: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009); Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (Walker, 2009); Far From You by Lisa Schroeder (Simon Pulse, 2009); How to Be a Vampire: A Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, November 2009); Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (Harcourt, 2009); Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler (Simon Pulse, 2008); and Vamped by Lucienne Diver (Flux, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Read Beyond Reality” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I’ll contact you if you win).

You will get an extra chance to win for each of the following: (1) you blog about the giveaway and link to my related announcement posts at Cynsations at Blogger, LiveJournal, JacketFlap, MySpace or Spookycyn (send me the URL to your post with your entry); (2) you post the link to your Facebook page or tweet it (find me at Twitter and Facebook and CC me on those systems so I can take a look); (3) you are a YA teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (indicate school/library with your entry); (4) you are a book blogger (teen or grown-up)(include the URL to your blog with your entry message). Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 30. Good luck and stay spooky!

Cynsational Events

From BookPeople: “The first Austin Teen Book Festival: Read Beyond Reality will be this weekend, on Oct. 24 at Westlake High School. From 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., the school will be filled with a who’s who of YA authors signing and selling their newest books.”

Teen Read Week: Lisa Schroeder on Far From You

Learn about Lisa Schroeder.

We last spoke in May 2008, after the release of I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse). Could you briefly remind us what it’s about? Do you have any updates for us on this title?

I Heart You, You Haunt Me is the story of a girl, Ava, whose boyfriend dies and he loves her so much, he doesn’t want to leave her and comes back as a ghost. It’s a story of love and loss, healing and hope.

It was voted a 2009 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. It’s also a 2010 New Hampshire Flume Reader’s Choice Nominee and a 2009-2010 South Dakota Library Association YA Reading Program Selection!

Congratulations on the publication of Far From You (Simon Pulse, 2009)! What is the book about?

Far From You tells the story of sixteen-year-old Alice, who lost her mother to cancer years ago, and time hasn’t quite healed the wound. She copes the best she can by writing her music, losing herself in the love of her boyfriend, and distancing herself from her father and his new wife.

But when a deadly snowstorm traps Alice with her stepmother and newborn half sister, she’ll have to face issues she’s been avoiding for too long.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Each of my books generally starts with a few seeds of ideas, and this one was no different.

First, I had been thinking about that wonderful, award-winning novel, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1997) and how, as you read, you can almost taste the dust and feel the heat radiating off the page.

I then had the idea of going in the opposite direction with the temperature, and writing about people stuck in a blizzard.

In Oregon, where I live, we had recently followed the tragic story of the Kim family in the news, so it seemed timely as well.

Next, I had always wanted to write a book about a girl who was a singer/songwriter, and I had always wanted to write a book that contained Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland [by Lewis Carroll (1865)] elements. So, I combined all those things, and Far From You was born.

What was it like, writing your “sophomore” novel?

It was hard. And exciting. And scary. My first novel had been so easy to write, and this one wasn’t anything like that, so I worried that meant something. But I don’t think it really does. The process for each book is going to be different, and that’s okay.

With the second book, I was keenly aware that if I could finish it and make it something my editor might like, people would be reading it and judging the writing. It’s a much more difficult place to write from, with that noise going on in your head.

I found music helped immensely. I’ve never been one to write to music really, but that changed with this book. I’d write for hours with ear buds in my ears, listening to music that helped me get inside Alice’s head.

I think when we struggle, we need to look around and try different things. Try new ways of plotting, try new and different places to write, or different times of days. What has worked before may not work this time around.

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

I will admit it’s challenging at times, especially because I have a day job too. For me, unfortunately, promotion probably doesn’t get as much time as it should. I’ve always believed that the best thing you can do as an author is to keep writing books. So, first and foremost, that’s been my priority. By spring of next year, I’ll have four novels out in three years, and I’m proud of that.

The rest of it, I do what I can and try not to stress about it. The thing about promotion is that there’s always more a person can do, and it’s so easy to feel badly that you aren’t doing enough. Most of the promotional stuff that I do is online, because I can do that early in the morning or on the weekends when I’m not working.

When I’m working on a new book, I try to write at least thirty minutes a day. I also spend time most days doing blog posts, answering interview questions, responding to reader e-mails, etc. I find it’s best for me to spend time on both each day, even if it’s just a little time each day.

What one promotion tip would you like to share with fellow authors?

Figure out what you like to do and do that. Think about what your strengths are in regular life and figure out how to use that in your promotional stuff.

Maybe you think like a teacher because you are a teacher or have been a teacher. How can you promote your books for teachers and get into schools? You’re going to know that better than someone like myself who has never been a teacher. So play to your strengths, and don’t feel badly that you can’t do everything.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

A big chunk of my time is spent working in Human Resources at a large teaching hospital.

For fun, I love to walk my dog, play games with my kids, read books (of course!) watch favorite TV shows like “Project Runway” and “Friday Night Lights,” read blogs, and bake delicious treats for my family.

What can your fans look forward to next?

In January, Chasing Brooklyn (Simon Pulse), another ghost story told in verse, will be released. This one is told from the POV of two characters, Brooklyn and Nico, who are both being haunted by two different ghosts. I’m hoping fans of I Heart You, You Haunt Me will like this one.

In March, my first mid-grade novel will be released. Called It’s Raining Cupcakes (Aladdin), the book is about a girl who dreams of traveling the world but is stuck in a small town in Oregon trying to help her mother get a cupcake shop off the ground.

“A Revision Medley” by Lisa Schroeder

Cynsational Notes

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Teen Read Week is Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, 2009! From ALA/YALSA: “This year’s theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.”

Teen Read Week: Beth Fantaskey on Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Learn more about Beth Fantaskey.

What were you like as a teenager? What were your favorite books and why?

I was a geeky, gawky, shy teenager who was lucky enough to have a really wonderful, if small, set of amazing friends.

I was also lucky to live within bike-riding distance of my local library, and I read tons of books. I was a huge fan of Tolkien and, oddly enough, James Thurber, the classic humorist. I’ve tried to get my students at Susquehanna University to connect with Thurber, and they all think I’m crazy. I guess I’ve always had a twisted sense of humor!

What first inspired you to write for young adult readers?

I didn’t set out to write for a YA audience. I just dreamed up a story that featured a young heroine, and the next thing I knew, I was a YA author.

I feel very lucky, though. I love how readers of YA fiction interact with authors. It’s a really interconnected audience. I feel like I’ve actually made friends with a lot of readers.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

My whole career has centered on writing, and each editor I’ve worked with has imparted new lessons, so I’ve basically been apprenticing for my entire adult life.

However, I would say my biggest learning experiences took place at my first PR job, where my boss was a brutally honest–and skilled–editor. I was assigned to write a lot of speeches, and during the first year, everything came back marked up with red pen to the point that I nearly wanted to cry.

He did me a great favor, though. After a year, I was a solid writer. I could stand on my own.

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

I think writing is a skill that you can only learn by doing and revising and getting feedback from editors. Therefore, I’d say the best thing I’ve done is to write on a consistent basis and submit my work to newspapers, magazines, and, eventually, an agent and publisher.

I really don’t think I would have done anything differently… except maybe try to write fiction even earlier. I was almost forty before I focused on novels.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints on stumbles along the way?

“Sprints and stumbles” pretty much sums up the whole experience! I wrote Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Harcourt, 2009) fairly quickly, over the course of summer 2006, and it sold to Harcourt on Oct. 31 of that year. You’ll then notice a pretty big gap between sale and publication! It was a long process–but worth it.

Congratulations on the success of Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Harcourt, 2009)! In your own words, what is the book about?

It’s the story of a very rational girl who is forced to come to terms with a very irrational truth about herself–that she is actually a vampire princess betrothed to a vampire prince. If they don’t marry, according to a pact signed at their births, their rival clans will go to war.

Unfortunately, Jessica doesn’t believe in vampires–and she doesn’t even like her promised husband–at least not until it seems to be too late…

What was your initial inspiration for writing this story?

My children are both adopted, and we sometimes wonder what their biological parents were like. I took that to the extreme by imagining that my adopted heroine, Jess, was born to vampire royalty. That’s the root of the story.

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

My editor at Harcourt couldn’t recall any other time they’d hired a freelance Romanian translator to help finish a book!

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

The same thing I’m constantly telling myself now: Sit down and write. Get to work!

So far what is your favorite YA book of 2009 and why?

I honestly haven’t read any other YA fiction this year. I’m trying to finish up my doctoral dissertation, and when I read, it’s basically nonfiction about female reporters in the 1920s. If I ever get done with that, I have lots of great fiction waiting for me!

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I like to think while I run, so that is like a hobby for me. Right now, I’m also training for a “sprint triathlon” with a couple other women, but I have yet to get in the pool, so we’ll see…

Other than that, I like to just hang out with my friends and my kids. We live near an amusement park, so I ride a lot of roller coasters with my girls.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book is called Jekel Loves Hyde, and it’s due out next year. It’s also a YA romance with a paranormal twist, so I hope readers will like it!

Cynsational Notes

Don’t miss reading The Wedding of Anastasia Jessica Packwood and Lucius Valeriu Vladescu at Beth’s website.

Teen Read Week is Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, 2009! From ALA/YALSA: “This year’s theme is Read Beyond Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read something out of this world, just for the fun of it.”