readergirlz Chat Tonight with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lisa McMann & Holly Cupala

“Beyond Daily Life” readergirlz Chat will feature Cynthia Leitich Smith (Eternal), rgz diva Holly Cupala (Tell Me a Secret), and Lisa McMann (Wake) on Oct. 21.

“It all happens at the rgz forum ( beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific Time (7 p.m. Mountain Time, 8 p.m. Central Standard Time, 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time).”

See the whole readergirlz “Read Beyond Reality” chat schedule for Oct. 19 to Oct. 23. See also more information.

See a book trailer below for Eternal.

See a book trailer below for Wake.

Celebrate all week with readergirlz!

Teen Read Week: Lucienne Diver on Vamped

Learn more about Lucienne Diver.

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

I was/am a geek. A D&D playing, chorus-singing, braniac thespian. You know, the kind who took extra art and English classes because study hall and lunch were just wastes of time. I did junior high, high school and community theatre because, you know, all that homework wasn’t enough to keep me busy.

I was also a voracious reader and was caught several times reading fiction behind my text books–everything from Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov to Madeleine L’Engle, Elizabeth George Speare and Margaret Mahy to Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I didn’t and still don’t care what genre is listed on a book’s spine, as long as between the covers there’s a good story with wonderful characters.

All-time favorite YA books?

In no particular order: Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall (Atheneum, 1976), The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984), The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958), Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (Houghton Mifflin, 1960), The Monday Horses by Jean Slaughter Doty (Greenwillow, 1978).

I’ll never forget writing to Ms. Doty when I was a kid and receiving a letter back. It was one of the high points of my young life.

What first inspired you to write for young adult readers?

I didn’t so much decide to write for young adults as have a young adult character, Gina from Vamped (Flux, 2009), introduce herself to me. Well, maybe it wasn’t as formal as all that.

Gina started talking in my head one day, a recently vamped fashionista who finds true horror in the realization that she no longer has a reflection, no way to do her hair and make up. Eternal youth is completely wasted if she has to go through her whole unlife a total schlub.

So she decides to turn her stylist, a decision her geekboy sire isn’t too excited about until she tells him to get with the plan or pick up the styling slack.

The only way to get her out of my head was give her a story. Everyone loved it. “But this is a vignette,” they said, “and it really wants to be a novel.” They were right.

The thing was, I didn’t have a plot. Turns out, that was only a minor hurdle. If it meant more face-time, 200+ pages rather than ten, Gina was going to get right on that.

I know it’s weird that I talk about my character as though she really exists, but when I’m in the zone with a book, it feels more like I’m channeling my heroine’s voice than developing my own. The book practically writes itself.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

I’ve written since the fifth grade when my wonderful teacher Mr. Hart divided the entire classroom into writing groups and gave us assignments to write, critique, and revise on a regular basis.

I was hooked. I’d always had stories in my head. I’d just never committed them to paper.

Mr. Hart was also greatly encouraging about my work. I felt as though I’d found my calling.

In high school, I edited our literary magazine. In college, it was our anthropology publication. I had pieces published in both.

But the big bad world of professional publishing was a harder road to hoe. I have many apprenticeship works (aka trunk novels) that will never see the light of day, where I got all the clichés and said-bookisms out of my system (I hope).

My writers’ group was an amazing help and dragged me, kicking and screaming, to some realizations without which I’d never have seen publication. Even now that I’ve hit that stage, my critique partner, readers, and agent are invaluable for their input. I still need that push every now and then. Makes me a better writer.

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

I used to have trouble torturing my characters. When I first started writing, all my heroines were sort of the “she I want to be.” I think I identified too much.

When Gina started talking to me I knew exactly where she came from–the big-haired girl with the “reputation” who used to torment my sister in high school. Oh, it was so easy to torture her. Fun too! But once I set out to give her a novel, I had to develop and chance the character so she was someone I wanted to spend an appreciable amount of time around. I learned a lot from that experience. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s the first of my works to sell in a big way.

One of my biggest epiphanies, though–and here I’m about to get a little personal–was when one of my critique partners, a former editor and very successful author, challenged me to write characters who emote. See, that “she I want to be” meant no messy emotions. Tough as nails, confident, untouchable. I’d grown up in a family that saw emotions as a weakness, but as a writer, well, let’s just say they’re a necessary evil.

Anyway, that’s the biggest realization I was drawn to, kicking and screaming. If I could have done things differently, I’d have seen that a lot sooner. I don’t think I’d have nearly so many trunk manuscripts if I had.

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

As you can probably tell from my long-winded answer above, it was not smooth sailing. I had a lot to learn and a lot of dreck to get out of my system before I was ready for publication.

The successful part of my path started with “The Problem with Piskies,” a buddy cop story…if the cop is on a bender while recovering from a werewolf attack he’s yet to come to terms with and the buddy is an annoying little pisky named Bob, AKA Bobbin, AKA Kneebob on the run.

It placed in Quantum Barbarian’s fiction contest and was published in the final issue of the webzine under my pseudonym Kit Daniels. And it paid! (Not well, but hey….) Next it was my romantic comedy Playing Nice, which sold to Five Star (2006), another short story….

I chose an alternate name because I didn’t want anyone judging my work based on the fact that I was an agent or my agenting on the fact that I write, as I’ve always done. Ultimately, though, I decided that I wasn’t cut out for a secret life, thus “Kit” has faded into obscurity.

Congratulations on the success of Vamped (Flux, 2009)! What is the book about?

Here’s the blurb I used on my press release:

From “Valley Vamp Rules for Surviving Your Senior Prom” by Vamped heroine Gina Covello: Rule #1: Do not get so loaded at the after prom party that you accidentally-on-purpose end up in the broom closet with the surprise hottie of the evening, say the class chess champ who’s somewhere lost his bottle-cap lenses and undergone an extreme makeover, especially if that makeover has anything to do with becoming one of the undead.

Gina Covello has a problem. Waking up dead is just the beginning. There’s very little she can’t put up with for the sake of eternal youth and beauty. Blood-sucking and pointy stick phobias seem a small price to pay. But she draws the line when local vampire vixen Mellisande gets designs on her hot new boyfriend with his prophesied powers and hatches a plot to turn all of Gina’s fellow students into an undead army to be used to overthrow the vampire council.

Hey, if anyone’s going to create an undead entourage, it should be Gina! Now she must unselfishly save her classmates from fashion disaster and other fates worse than death.

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

I’m not sure about the exact timeline. I’d say that the initial draft took between four and six months to write, but the story went through so many drafts after that that I’d estimate the overall time it took to write Vamped was about a year.

Once it went out on submission it probably took another four months (and one more revision at the suggestion of the acquiring editor) to sell.

I can tell you exactly when that happened–Superbowl weekend 2008. I know because I got the call when my family and I were in the airport on our way to see friends, and I practically turned cartwheels right there in the terminal.

Then it was about fifteen months (from February 2008 to May 2009) for publication.

It’s funny, all the major events seemed to happen when I was traveling. The cover came in during another trip. I was so excited that I printed it out at an Internet café and showed it everyone I met, whether I knew them or not. I had to fend off a few men in white suits who wanted to lure me into their nice padded wagon, but the buckles on the jacket they wanted to fit me with were just so ’80s that I had to turn them down.

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

The biggest challenge is in finding the time to write. I’ve had to carve it out of sleep, waking up before my inner editor every morning so that I can find time to write that isn’t already committed to anything else.

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

Oh, there are crafty things I’d love to have taught myself early on so that I might have gotten farther faster, but in truth, I think sometimes an author needs to cure.

I became a better writer after my son was born. I don’t know if it conferred a new maturity or depth of feeling, but I do know that something in me shifted.

I think/hope that I’m improving all the time. Maybe in another ten or twenty years, I’ll actually have wrestled into submission some of the elements that continue to fight me.

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

Ack, that’s so tough! Both Rosemary Clement-Moore (Highway to Hell (Delacorte) and the forthcoming Splendor Falls (Delacorte)) and Rachel Caine (Carpe Corpus, Fade Out (Signet, 2009, both from the Morganville Vampires series) have new YA novels out this year and both are so amazingly fabulous that I just can’t choose.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Agenting, reading, wrestling with the puppy (or my husband), playing with my son, sunbathing, beading, shopping. Is there time for anything else?

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m very excited that Revamped (Flux) will be out next fall.

In the meantime, I’ve got a short story coming out in Strip Mauled, an anthology edited by Esther Friesner (Baen, 2009). It’s sort-of a sequel to “The Problem with Piskies,” though you can certainly read one without the other.

I also have a vampire story coming out in an as-yet-untitled Esther Friesner anthology to be published by Baen Books in 2010.

Cynsational Notes

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: Suzanne Selfors on Coffeehouse Angel

We last spoke in September 2008 about To Catch a Mermaid (Little, Brown, 2007) and Saving Juliet (Bloomsbury, 2008). Could you update us on these titles?

Saving Juliet is out in paperback and made some summer reading lists and continues to build readership.

To Catch a Mermaid will be included in Scholastic Book Fairs this fall, so that’s very good news.

Congratulations on the publication of Coffeehouse Angel (Walker, 2009)! In your own words, what is the book about?

Feeling lost. Feeling like you’re the only person who doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her life.

Katrina, the story’s protagonist, has two best friends with very clear-cut goals for college and life, while Katrina hasn’t yet figured out what she’s good at.

There’s also a strong theme of forgiveness running through the story. Forgiving others, but also, forgiving yourself. Allowing yourself to be who you are.

While this is a romantic comedy, readers should know that the romance isn’t the central component. Katrina’s identity struggle is the story’s core.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The story’s location was inspired by the town of Poulsbo, where I go a few times a week to write. It’s a Scandinavian-themed town, and that’s where I first saw Katrina and her grandmother’s old-world coffeehouse. They came to life there. If you visit my website you can see photos of Poulsbo and some of the locations I included in the story [scroll to view].

I was also influenced by a conversation I had with a friend who was stressed out because her teenage daughter wasn’t going to be doing enough during the summer. This girl was taking sailing lessons, a summer intensive language program, volunteering with her church, and a slew of other things I can’t remember.

Summer, for this mother, was all about plumping up her daughter’s resume so she could get into the best college, etc. Each day was planned.

It stressed me out just listening to her, and I realized that there’s this horrid pressure on this generation of teens to succeed. It kind of made me sick.

What happened to the great tradition of hanging out all summer?

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

Coffeehouse Angel was the second book in a two-book contract. I had six months to write it and another month for revisions. Because I’m under contract for middle grade novels as well, I have to weave the two projects. So while I’m writing one book, I’m usually waiting for a revision letter on another. It’s a tricky balancing act.

I’m happy to say that Coffeehouse Angel is part of the fall 2009 Kid’s Indie Next List!

How did writing this book “grow” you as a writer?

I think I’m becoming more comfortable with first person. First person is risky because you can turn the reader off immediately. I’ve walked away from many first-person novels because I didn’t want to spend time in that particular head.

Katrina in Coffeehouse Angel has a very warm voice, while Mimi in Saving Juliet can be quite cynical at times. But those voices are honest to those characters.

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

Don’t overlook the power of bloggers. My publisher mailed lots of ARCs to blog reviewers, but so did I. I made sure I had a stack of ARCs, and I set money aside for shipping.

If a request came in, I shipped an ARC, no questions asked. Even if the girl only had seven followers, that’s not the point. The point is, you’ve just found yourself a new reader. And word-of-mouth is huge in the YA market.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I love going to movies and plays. I usually have season tickets to the Seattle Rep and Seattle Children’s Theater.

And I love taking walks with my dog and going out on our boat with the family.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The next middle grade book comes out in May 2010, called Smells Like Dog (Little, Brown). I just got a sneak peek at the cover, and it’s adorable.

And I’ve just finished the first draft of my next YA book, not sure of the release date for that one.

In the video below, Suzanne talks about Coffeehouse Angel.

Cynsational Notes

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Suzanne. Learn more about Suzanne.

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.”

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to the finalists for the National Book Award in the Young People’s Category: Deborah Heiligman for Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Henry Holt); Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); David Small for Stitches (W. W. Norton & Co.); Laini Taylor for Lips Touch: Three Times (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic); Rita Williams-Garcia for Jumped (HarperTeen/HarperCollins)! Read a Cynsations interview with Rita! See also David Small’s Stitches: YA? Really? OK! by Ron Hogan at GalleyCat. Peek: “‘We always intended to submit Stitches in the young people’s category,'” confirmed Erin Sinesky Lovett, Norton’s assistant director of publicity. ‘We knew it would appeal to a YA audience as well as an adult audience.'”

Congratulations to Kathi Appelt, recipient of the PEN Literary Award in children’s literature for The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008)! The awards ceremony will be Dec. 2 in Beverly Hills. See more information (PDF file). Read a Cynsations interview with Kathi.

Congratulations to the finalists for Canada’s Governor’s General Award: Tim Wynne-Jones for The Uninvited (Candlewick); Shelley Hrdlitschka for Sister Wife (Orca); Sharon Jennings for Home Free (Second Story); Caroline Pignat for Greener Grass: The Famine Years (Red Deer); Robin Stevenson for A Thousand Shades of Blue (Orca)!

Interview with Pat Lowery Collins from Authors Unleashed, the blog of TeensReadToo. Peek: “This novel weaves the history of Antonio Vivaldi’s musical career into the lives of three amazing young women who find that the love they each seek is not where they expect to find it. and that the sheltered life of the orphanage has not prepared them for what lies outside its doors.”

It’s What You Don’t See by Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I talk to my students (sixth graders) often about using negative space as part of writing description, but it occurred to me that it may apply even more to drawing an authentic character that seems real on the page.”

Writing Under the Influence – Tips for Parents of Very Young Children by Suzette Saxton from Blog. Peek: “Create a daily routine and stick to it. Toddlers thrive on a routine, and you will, too! Plan out specifically when you will write, and stick to it as much as possible.”

Decline letters 101 by Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Alvina breaks down the various degrees of feedback offered and what each means. Peek: “…if you think of decline letters as a stepping stone to publication, that may make receiving them that much easier.”

An Interview with Rabbi Zach Shapiro by Barbara Bietz at Jewish Books for Children. Peek: “…I began to think about the tired, restless creatures on Noah’s Ark, from the ants to the zebras. I went home that night and wrote the first draft of my manuscript.”

Writing Extraordinary Queries by Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings. Peek: “While we’re on the subject of e-queries, never never never send a query to multiple recipients. Copy and paste each query into a new email, addressed to one specific person, with the word ‘query’ in the subject line.”

The Global Scene by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. A report on the recent biennial IBBY regional conference in Illinois. Peek: “I’ve always characterized it as more of a ‘retreat,’ than a conference, because you spend as much time in conversations and meals with colleagues—including the speakers themselves who stay and participate—as you do attending sessions.”

So, What Happens During the Editorial Process? by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “The entire thing is a great deal more complicated than I’d thought. I knew there would be revisions–I love revisions! I’d already made a bunch of revisions with my agent. But this was something else. So here’s what happens…”

Editing Is Like… by Victoria Schwab. Peek: “Surviving the fire swamp (you knew I’d go here, too). Because Wesley and Buttercup know that it’s going to be almost impossible (“We’ll never survive.” “Nonsense. You only say that because no one ever has.”) but they do it anyway because they are being chased and don’t have a choice…”

Author Interview: Jennifer Brown from Flip the Page! Book Reviews. Peek: “…I wanted readers to come away from the story hopeful, which sounds weird, given the subject matter, but I do think it’s possible to come out of darkness… hopeful.” Note: reading this one now–wow!

Some Thoughts On Marketing–From the Amazing Elizabeth Law of Egmont USA from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “Truthfully, a lot of trouble can come out of people making up stories in their minds when they don’t pick up the phone or send an email. We’d much rather you just ask us. And it’s our job to have a strong working relationship with the writers we publish.”

Guest Post: Strength in Numbers: a guest post by Bella Stander from Reading Under the Covers. Peek: “I am a lucky author. No, my publishing house doesn’t do squat for me promotionally, I didn’t win a major award with my very first novel, and I’m not on anyone’s bestseller list. What I am is a LAYA.”

Discovering Children’s And Young Adult Literature: Listservs from Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

Here’s a new book trailer for Choices by Deborah Lynn Jacobs (Roaring Brook, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #136: Featuring Il Sung Na by Eisha and Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “Evidently, Na created the illustrations by combining hand-made painterly textures with digitally-generated layers, all combined in Photoshop. The result? Very textured, delicate, intricate spreads over which other Illustration Junkies may enjoy poring.”

Blind Auditions and Gender Bias by Janni Lee Simner. Peek: “The simple act of adding a screen to hide the gender of classical musicians at auditions has had a significant impact on the gender balance of orchestras.”

Protocol: When An Agent Offers to Represent You from Rachelle Gardener from Rants & Ramblings on Life as a Literary Agent. Peek: “Then say something like, ‘I wanted to let you know that I’ve received an offer of representation from a literary agent. Would you like a chance to respond to my proposal before I finalize the arrangement with the other agent?'”

An Interview with Lisa Yee from Peek: “Arthur Levine discovered me and believed in me, even when I had no clue what I was doing. Cheryl started in the publishing world at the same time I did, so we’ve grown up together. They are both incredible to work with. I value their editorial insights and their friendship. Although…”

Interview: Artist Rebekah Raye by Carol Brendler at Jacket Knack. Peek: “I have learned from my publisher at Tilbury House that the eyes of your characters are very important and to make a connection to the audience as if they are really looking at you the viewer. While the interior illustrations contain images of the characters looking at each other to better tell the story.”

Why Omit Scenes by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “One scene was just the wrong focus. It was an assembly at school, where things got announced. But when I looked at it hard, I realized that my main character did nothing, except sit and watch the assembly happen.”

What I’ve learned in my first year as a published author by Kristin Tubb from Do Things Different. Peek: “Getting your book into specialty stores is time-consuming, but can be worth it.” Note: in celebration of the one-year anniversary of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte) one-year anniversary, Kristin will make a $1.00 donation to Friends of the Smokies for each valid comment she receives in the comment section of the above linked post between now and Oct. 31. See a book trailer for the novel below.

Interview with Lauren Baratz-Logsted, Author of Crazy Beautiful by Emily at BookKids! From the crazy folks at BookPeople. Peek: “a unique reimaging of the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.” Unlike many retellings, Baratz-Logsted approached her novel without magic or folklore, using the stark realities of high school to create her ‘Beauty’ and ‘Beast’ characters.”

Padma Venkatraman on Climbing The Stairs (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008) from readergirlz. Peek: “…if they are referring to the mistreatment of women in India in 1941, let me just point out that mistreatment of women has (unfortunately) occurred in all societies at different times in our shared human history (and I’ve never found it pretty).”

More Personally

Welcome to Austin, YA author Bethany Hegedus! Bethany is the 2009 debut author of Between Us Baxters (WestSide), and she blogs at And Then: The Daily Dramas of a Children’s Writer.

I’m honored to report that Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) is a nominee in the teen category for the fantasy/science fiction Cybils Award! See the whole list!

Speaking of Eternal, thanks to Shelli at Market My Words for the shout out about my “hot angel book!” Made my day!

Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith from YA Rock Starlette Blog. An interview about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008). Peek: “The restaurant setting came easiest. I’d worked as a waitress after high school and in college to help pay for my educational expenses.”

Here’s a book trailer by Shayne Leighton in celebration of Tantalize:

Celebrate the National Day on Writing on Oct. 20! Hear my thoughts on the subject!

I look forward to seeing “Where The Wild Things Are” with friends tonight. See the official trailer! Note: Austinites, we’re going to the IMAX Theater because the Alamo South was all sold out.

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

Kate DiCamillo will speak and sign The Magician’s Elephant, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka (Candlewick, 2009) at 4 p.m. Oct. 17 at BookPeople in Austin. See Kate’s entire tour schedule. Read a Cynsations interview with Kate.

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 Cynsations interviews with Jessica and P.J. And don’t miss this week’s blog post by both!

“Beyond Daily Life” readergirlz Chat will feature Cynthia Leitich Smith (Eternal), rgz diva Holly Cupala (Tell Me a Secret), and Lisa McMann (Wake) on Oct. 21. “It all happens at the rgz forum ( beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific Time (7 p.m. Mountain Time, 8 p.m. Central Standard Time, 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time).” See the whole readergirlz “Read Beyond Reality” chat schedule for Oct. 19 to Oct. 23. See also more information. Note: “Anyone who loves YALSA’s Teen Read Week is encouraged to let it out on their blog through a post or vlog, then send the link to readergirlz AT (subject line: entrant’s name, TRW Tribute). readergirlz will collect all contributions and post them at the rgz blog in a tribute that will run Oct. 23.”

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.

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. Note: critique slots are limited; Alexandra Cooper and Ruta Rimas critiques have already sold out.

Author Interview: Sara Zarr on Once Was Lost

You last visited Cynsations in June 2009 as part of the Craft, Career & Cheer series. Welcome back!

Congratulations on the release of your latest novel, Once Was Lost (Little, Brown, 2009)! In your own words, could you tell us about it?

Thanks for having me back! Once Was Lost is about a kidnapping in a small town, seen through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old pastor’s daughter (Samara) who is already in the midst of a crisis of faith.

The local tragedy catalyzes a series of emotional and spiritual challenges for Sam as she tries to reconcile what she’s always believed about her family and about God with the plentiful evidence of a broken world.

Oh yeah, there’s also a boy, the older brother of the missing girl who may be a good friend or may be dangerous. Read it and find out!

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

The challenges were numerous and daunting, but the most difficult thing was finding Sam’s voice. I’d been dabbling in the novel since 2002, and had about 100 pages of it written as an adult novel with alternating POVs: the dad, the mom, Sam, the youth group leader, and the hardware store owner.

When I began shaping it into a YA novel, it was from Sam’s point of view but in third person past tense. I wanted a kind of emotional distance because she is depressed, basically, but it came across so flat that my editor worried readers wouldn’t feel the necessary connection to Sam.

I remember sitting at my computer and notepad saying, “Talk to me, Sam. Talk to me! Who are you?” and kind of pulling my hair out.

For awhile there, I truly worried I wasn’t going to figure her out. But, as you know, if you sit with a writing problem long enough, it is eventually solved.

In the end, it’s a first-person present-tense story.

What did it teach you about yourself?

I learn this with every book, but then I forget it: the resources are there.

Inside me, or out in the ether, or however you look at it. When I feel empty and unable to give anything more, I have to remember that I’m not. I might be tired, and it could very well be time to take a few days off, but if I start thinking, “I can’t. I’m done. I got nothin’, that’s all she wrote,” I’ll become paralyzed and miserable.

I learned (and continually learn) that the answers for the writing process are there in the work and in myself. Sometimes they’re like frightened children, and beating the walls to get them to come out is counterproductive. I have to whisper and wait quietly and calmly.

I remember saying a few years ago that if someone tried to gauge faith in human society by reading books for young readers, they’d come to the conclusion that it was to be feared, that its leadership was almost uniformly corrupt and hypocritical, and that only the rarest and most unusual of families integrated religion into their lives. But, as I discussed in an interview with author Donna Freitas, this has changed of late.

What do you think brought us to that first, narrow place? What accounts for the change now? What do you anticipate in the future?

That’s a great insight, Cynthia. There are probably a lot of reasons we got to that point, one of which is that religious communities have not done a great job supporting and encouraging their artists.

Somewhere along the line, art got separated into the sacred and the secular—which is fine, and in some cases, appropriate, but some people became afraid and put this wall up around sacred art and basically said, “This is for Us and the secular is for Them and the only way to protect and control Us is to separate. So not only will we have our sacred art for iconography and liturgy and worship, but we can also have holy-fied, sanitized versions of secular art just for our consumption and not have to deal with all of that messy, complicated, uncomfortable stuff that comes with being human.”

Then you have this whole industry built around a fortress mentality where the religious music and books and art are weeded out, tightly controlled, and sold in their own marketplace to a very specific audience.

Therefore, when a person of faith, like me, who grows up in church feels like, “Oh, I think I might want to write,” we’ve been conditioned to believe that the correct place for that is in a segregated/subculture religious marketplace.

If we don’t feel like we belong there or are not welcome there or are misunderstood there, we go out into the mainstream. But then, we’ve been told, or we observe, that faith stories or stories that might involve something religious or spiritual aren’t welcome, so that might be lead to self-censorship—we assume mainstream publishing doesn’t want or get faith stories, so we don’t write them. Vicious circle ensues.

I think all that is definitely changing. There’s been a movement in certain parts of Christendom for awhile now, welcoming artists and creative people back into the religious community and realizing that the safe, pleasant, Thomas Kinkade-esque visions of the world they were previously endorsing in the Christian product marketplace actually have nothing to do with Christianity. (I’m not sure how it is in other religious communities—I can only speak from my experience.)

Also, I think publishers recognize that there’s a real hunger for these kinds of stories, that faith is important to a lot of people and teens are no different. I think faith-oriented issues will be the next big wave in realistic YA fiction.

You’re someone who found early success, as your debut novel, Story of a Girl (Little, Brown, 2007), gained acclaim, a wide readership, and was eventually named a finalist for the National Book Award. Looking back, what were the blessings that came with success? The challenges?

All blessings. Even the challenges. I couldn’t have asked for more things to go right as a debut author.

The primary challenge of course is the pressure of expectation. When you’re a debut author, no one really cares what you do or where you came from, and as far as the publishing world is concerned, you could go crawl back under your rock or fall off the face of the earth and things would carry on as normal.

Now, with every book, more is at stake. And I definitely feel that. That’s a blessing, too, though, because it forces me to work hard and work regularly.

If I didn’t have that pressure of expectations and deadlines, I don’t know if I would write consistently, and therefore, I’d be miserable. Because a non-writing Sara is an unhappy Sara!

What would you say to the big breakout voices of 2009?

Be proud of your hard work.

Also be grateful for all the factors you didn’t control that made you a breakout.

Know that there are also fantastic books and authors that few people have heard of and that sell pitifully. It could have been you!

Finally, don’t ruin your moment of golden opportunity by letting fear of failure keep you from forging ahead with whatever is next.

How about to those who feel they’ve somehow fallen short?

Be proud of your hard work.

Understand all the factors you didn’t control in the publication and marketing process.

With the help of your agent and writer friends, try to figure out the factors you can control next time.

Know that there are plenty of fantastic books and authors that few people have heard of and that sell pitifully!

Be grateful that you can toil away in a low-pressure environment while you craft your next masterpiece, and work on those controllable factors.

You mentioned in our last interview that you don’t do Google Alerts. This year I’ve received more phone calls from writers heartbroken or panicked about something someone said about them on the Web than ever before. Often something personal about them, not their book. Often something that exhibited a lack of understanding about the craft of writing and/or writing for young readers in particular.

In most cases, it was a “tipping” moment. It’s easy to talk about having “thick skin” when your father isn’t dying of cancer or your husband hasn’t just lost his job or you’re not a “name” author still fighting to make rent and doing without health insurance. It’s easy when you’ve never been told in that same conversation to “bare your soul.”

Could you talk to writers about why you made that decision–to step away from the noise–and why maybe at least some of them should too?

I am so sensitive. I always have been, and I know this about myself. I can be near tears if I think I’ve disappointed a stranger on the freeway who misunderstood my turn signal and thought I did something intentionally mean or stupid.

If that upsets me, you can imagine how a specific negative comment about me or my writing would feel. I’m weak, and my skin doesn’t thicken by poking at it, it only hurts more.

For authors who are struggling with this, I ask you to ask yourselves: Is the positive ego hit you get from praise so great that it more than makes up for the negative comments? Do you remember the positive comments and think, “I’m awesome!” or do you remember the negative ones and think, “I suck!”? I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Can you live without the ego hit of the positive? Can you separate your identity as a writer from your popularity as a writer? Because they are not the same thing.

If you allow your writing to get tangled up in your popularity, you’re going to make your writing life a lot harder on yourself than it needs to be, and you could wear down before you’ve really done all you want to do with your writing.

Even if your popularity as at an all-time high, that’s not going to help you be a better writer.

It’s the old therapy question: What is this behavior doing for me, and is it worth it?

Cynsational Notes

In the video below, Sara talks more about Once Was Lost:

Guest Blog: Authors Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. Hoover on Sophomore Novels

Authors Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. “Tricia” Hoover will be celebrating their latest releases with a party and signing at 2 p.m. Oct. 18 at BookPeople in Austin.

Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed, 2009) follows Manz on his journey to discovering and understanding the voices in his head. This touching story leads us through a series of what should be wonderful teen experiences such as friendship and first love. But, for Manz, the experiences are complicated by the trauma of schizophrenia. Manz’s story is so vivid and realistic, it is both compelling and heartbreaking. You’ll be left thinking of Manz for weeks to come. –P.J. Hoover

The Navel of the World (The Forgotten Worlds, Book 2) by P.J. Hoover (Blooming Tree/CBAY, 2009) is about Benjamin Holt’s quest to find his missing brothers. Together with his unique friends, Benjamin–a telegen with special abilities–must use his wit to solve mysteries, overcome dangerous obstacles, and to navigate traveling back in time. I particularly enjoyed the action, surprises, and the humor. –Jessica Lee Anderson

JLA: Tricia, The Navel of the World is a second book in a trilogy, The Forgotten Worlds. How did you get the inspiration for this novel? Also, had you completed The Navel of the World when you sold the series?

PJH: My inspiration for The Forgotten Worlds came from a love of archaeology and all things unknown, reading tons of fantasy, and a youth spent watching way too many science-fiction shows on TV.

I love mentioning an awesome 1980s TV show “The Powers of Matthew Star” (1982) and also the “Star Trek” episode “Who Mourns for Adonis” (1967) as I credit these two shows above all else for sparking the ideas of superhumans with telepathic and telekinetic abilities.

I was in the middle of revisions of The Navel of the World when I sold the trilogy. Thankfully, I managed to finish drafts of all three books before final edits for The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree/CBAY, 2008), which let me sneak extra special things into The Emerald Tablet that will make a ton more sense once book three (The Necropolis) is published.

PJH: Jessica, your second novel is quite different than your first. For starters, Border Crossing is written for an older audience. And secondly, Trudy (Milkweed, 2005) and Border Crossing differ in who is suffering the mental illness. Can you talk a little about these differences?

JLA: I’d started writing Border Crossing, a young adult novel, shortly after I began to submit my middle grade novel, Trudy.

At that time, I hadn’t thought about author branding, but rather gave in to the voice of my protagonist and his story that unfolded in my head (which is ironic, given that he’s schizophrenic).

Border Crossing is told through Manz’s first person point of view as he loses his grip on reality. This contrasts with my first novel as it is Trudy’s father who loses his memories—the story is about Trudy accepting this change, much like I had to do in my own life when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Writers are often given the advice “write what you know,” and this was a good starting point for me. With my second book, I adopted the philosophy, “write what you want to know.” For me, so much of writing is about experimenting and taking chances.

JLA: How has your writing evolved since writing The Emerald Tablet, Tricia?

PJH: I like to hope it’s improved and keeps on improving. And you know, feeling like you’re getting better at something is a pretty darned good feeling.

I write most every day, I read most every day, and I attend workshops and conferences whenever possible. I critique others’ manuscripts when I can as my theory is this will help me become more objective of my own work.

Also, more and more, I appreciate the need for balance. I practice Kung Fu, I volunteer in the school library, and I watch “Star Trek” with my kids.

PJH: Jessica, what did writing Trudy teach you about the writing process?

JLA: Writing my first novel taught me that there is always room for improvement. Also, I realized I had to let go of my perfectionism and accept that you can’t please everyone. I was much more adventurous when it came to revising Border Crossing as well as my other works in progress.

I’ve been an instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature for four years now, and I’ve become much stronger at self-editing. I also attend workshops and conferences as much as possible to keep me challenged and growing as a writer.

JLA: Tricia, what are some things you’re doing to get your books noticed? What are you doing differently the second time around?

PJH: For starters, I’m less stressed out the second time around. One beautiful thing about a trilogy is that when the second book comes out, it brings new life to the first book. I’m also on author panels at several conferences in the next year, including a couple in Oklahoma and Texas as well as the Virginia Festival of the Book.

I’m working on introducing myself and my books to more librarians and focusing on Internet marketing. Social networking is beautiful when used with the right balance.

In addition, one huge thing I learned in the last year is the power of group marketing. Last year I was a member of The Class of 2k8, but seeing as how we’re now in 2009 and moving on, I’ve been seeking out new group efforts.

I’m a member of a couple group blogs: The Spectacle (focusing on middle grade/young adult speculative fiction) and The Enchanted Inkpot (focusing on MG/YA Fantasy).

Jessica Lee Anderson, Jo Whittemore, and I have also formed a collaborative marketing group we’re calling “The Texas Sweethearts.” Our aim is to get our books and ourselves recognition while also having fun.

PJH: What about you, Jessica, especially since our debut and sophomore novels are published by smaller presses? What are you doing to help with marketing this time?

JLA: I’ve been traveling more to connect with readers, teachers, and librarians, and I’m also on author panels at conferences and book festivals, including the South Dakota Festival of Books and the Texas Book Festival.

I recently started working with Blue Slip Media—Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy are exceptional, and they’re coordinating marketing efforts with my publicist extraordinaire, Jessica Deutsch, at Milkweed Editions. Plus, I’m looking forward to being part of The Texas Sweethearts.

[Authors Barrie Summy, Jessica Lee Anderson, Donna St. Cyr, P.J. “Tricia” Hoover, and Zu Vincent.]

JLA: What advice do you have for sophomore novelists, Tricia?

PJH: Learn to relax. True happiness in life isn’t going to be measured by how many books you sell or how big of a deal you get. True happiness comes from doing the things you enjoy, spending time with the people you love, and always seeking to improve yourself and reach your goals.

Also, enjoy the fan mail and fan art! This is the best part of getting a book published!

PJH: Jessica, any words of encouragement you have to share?

JLA: To complement your wonderful advice, Tricia, I would encourage writers to find validation apart from writing. Writing is what we do, but it shouldn’t completely define who we are (especially in a business where so much is out of our control).

Totally enjoy those moments when your words connect with others!

JLA: Tricia, what is a sophomore novel you’re looking forward to reading?

PJH: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan (Delacorte, 2010)! I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009). Beyond all others (with the possible exception of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2009)), it’s the best book I’ve read all year. It makes me feel like a fan girl!

PJH: And you, Jessica?

JLA: I recently read and enjoyed I So Don’t Do Mysteries by Barrie Summy (Delacorte, 2008), and I’m looking forward to reading what hilarious situations Sherry Holmes Baldwin gets herself into in I So Don’t Do Spooky (Delacorte, 2009).

Cynsational Notes

Read previous Cynsations interviews with Jessica Lee Anderson and P.J. “Tricia” Hoover. See also Cynsations interviews with Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy on Blue Slip Media and with author Jo Whittemore.

Jessica and P.J. will have a joint book release party at 2 p.m. Oct. 18 at BookPeople in Austin.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Cinda Williams Chima

Learn more about Cinda Williams Chima.

How do you define artistic success?

For me, artistic success is a moving target. It is always painful to read my books after they are published because, in hindsight, I can always think of ways they can be improved.

I want to go out to bookstores and libraries and put sticky notes in with all my changes.

Kate DiCamillo once said, “Understand and accept that you’ve lost half your audience the moment you open your mouth.”

I understand it, but I don’t always accept it.

I love to explode assumptions about genre. So far, my published novels have all been young adult fantasy. I love to surprise and engage people who don’t think of themselves as fantasy fans.

Whatever kind of fiction it is, the author’s first responsibility is story and the characters that live through it. That’s why I always cringe when I hear someone say, “I want to write novels for teens because I want to teach them X or impress upon them the consequences of Y.”

Really good fiction always teaches, but story comes first.

I sometimes get those emails from teens that say, “Can you tell me the theme of your book in 150 words before tomorrow?” And it gets me to thinking–what is the theme? Writing fiction is kind of like I imagine therapy to be–things surface unintentionally.

When I read over my books, the common element is transformation. If my main characters are the same at the end of a book as they were at the beginning, I’ve failed. I love the notion that I can transform myself–and I have, over and over. I’m still not finished. That’s what teenagers do–transform themselves into who they are as adults.

Given the fact that I write for teens (and remembering my own sons when they were teenagers), I am always conscious of pacing. I think one key to pacing is to leave room for the reader. You don’t have to include absolutely every detail.

Fiction is a partnership between writer and reader–you must trust your reader to do his part and contribute to the final story. Anything else is condescending. And boring.

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

I love being with book people–writers, librarians, editors, bookstore owners, reviewers, bloggers, illustrators, and readers. All my life, I’ve felt out of place. I am a day-dreamer, a wool-gatherer, always focusing on the stories in my head.

When I’m with book lovers–at book fests, book clubs, conferences, conventions, school and library visits, signings, etc—I feel so in context. Like we all have the secret password. We may differ in politics, religion, race-ethnicity and socio-economic class, but we all have this one thing in common. And usually more than one thing, because books change you.

I still can’t believe I get to do this.

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

The Demon King (Hyperion) comes out Oct. 13, the first book in a new fantasy series set in a place called The Seven Realms. It’s medieval high fantasy, unlike the Heir books, which were set in Ohio.

One anxious librarian wrote to me, saying, “Oh, dear, I just know there’s going to be a map in the front.”

There is a map in the front, and we’re not in Ohio any more. Sorry.

Two viewpoint characters intertwine in this series.

All of his life, street thief Han Alister has carried a demon’s curse, signified by the silver cuffs that bind his wrists. When Han takes an evil-looking amulet from Micah Bayar, the High Wizard’s son, he soon learns that the powerful Bayar family will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna chafes against the constraints of court life and the prospect of a political marriage to a foppish noble with a big palace and a tiny brain. Her mother Marianna is weak, and the thousand-year war between wizards and the Spirit Clans threatens to rekindle. Raisa aspires to be like her ancestor, the legendary Queen Hanalea, who defeated the Demon King and saved the world.

When the lives of Raisa and Han intersect, they find common interest as they struggle to survive in a treacherous time. And transform themselves.

A Video Interview with Cinda

In the video below, Ed Spicer interviewed Cinda. She talks about her books, her writing process, and especially revision. See also Ed Spicer’s Teen Book Reviews.

Cynsational Notes

Read the first chapter (PDF) of The Demon King.

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

22 Award-winning Nonfiction Authors Launch Free Online Database of Children’s Books Aligned to National Curriculum Standards

Twenty-two leading children’s book authors have launched a free online database of nonfiction books,, designed to help teachers, librarians, and homeschoolers find the books they need to meet curriculum requirements in grades K-12.

The database will enable users to build an outstanding classroom or home library that includes material required by school districts nationwide. Visitors will be able to search by National Standards, subject, grade level, author names, titles, and keywords. The result will be a printable list of award-winning books that will ignite kids’ enthusiasm for reading and provide the information they need to excel.

Participating authors are:

Don BrownVicki CobbSneed B. Collard IIIMarfé Ferguson DelanoSusan E. GoodmanJan GreenbergCheryl HarnessDeborah HeiligmanSteve JenkinsBarbara KerleySusan KuklinLoreen LeedySue MacyDorothy Hinshaw PatentSusanna ReichApril Pulley SayreRosalyn SchanzerDavid M. SchwartzMelissa StewartTanya Lee StoneGretchen WoelfleKaren Romano Young

Most classroom materials written to State or National Standards are designed to meet test requirements, rather than to stimulate kids’ natural curiosity, fire up their imaginations, and inspire innovative thinking.

Recent studies have shown that many students, especially boys, prefer nonfiction to fiction. If kids are exposed to creative, well-written nonfiction, they are significantly more likely to become lifelong readers.

In addition, assessment tests mandated by No Child Left Behind require that students be skilled in reading and writing nonfiction. Kids need great books to serve as models of good expository writing, and the books in the INK Think Tank database fill the bill.

The INK Think Tank Web site grew out of the blog INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids, to which all of the authors have contributed.

The blog, founded by Linda Salzman, enables authors to share thoughts about all aspects of their craft—from research and discovery to design and illustration. Now these authors have taken the next step by creating INK Think Tank: Nonfiction Authors In Your Classroom.

The INK Think Tank web site includes supporting literature about how to use nonfiction trade books in the classroom as building blocks for literacy. Users will also find information about the authors’ school visits and professional development workshops, which will ultimately be available through video conferencing.

Books listed in the INKThinkTank database have been awarded more than two hundred national, international, state, and regional honors and awards.

Craft, Career & Cheer: Kate DiCamillo

Learn more about Kate DiCamillo.

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

What I like about the creative life is that it demands that I pay attention.

I learned to pay attention for the crass reason that I was looking for ideas, for stories.

But the longer I looked and the more carefully I listened, the more I learned that the work of paying attention is a gift in and of itself, a way to love the world, to be present in it, to celebrate it.

What is the one craft book that you refer to again and again? Why?

It’s not a craft book so much as a survival manual. It’s called Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmarking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Image Continuum, 1993). I reread it often and pick it up and skim through it when I’m afraid (often) or doubting (often) or feeling lazy (often).

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

I write first thing in the morning. The coffee pot is set to go off at 5 a.m., and I come downstairs and pour a cup and head right to the desk. I do it that early because there is something magical about being up before the rest of the world is awake; and I do it first thing because that way I don’t have the time to talk myself out of doing it (fear, doubt, laziness again).

Why is your agent the right agent for you?

Holly McGhee (at Pippin Properties) is perfect for me because she is open to whatever new idea I want to try and sometimes she laughs at my jokes. She listens to me, encourages me, and helps me to keep the larger picture in mind.

How do you approach the task of connecting your books to young readers?

I work to tell the truth.

So far, what has been the highlight of your professional career? Why?

Truly, the highlight has been that I get to keep doing it. This is what I want to do (tell stories) and I get to do it and that seems miraculous to me.

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

The Magician’s Elephant, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka (Candlewick, 2009), is about a boy named Peter who sets out to find his (long-lost) sister, Adele. It’s a story about magic and hope and love and home. And elephants. At least I think it is about all those things. I hope it is about all those things.

I know for sure that it’s a book about elephants.

What I mean to say is that I wrote the book during a dark time and telling the story gave me hope and light and that I hope that readers find those things in the story, too.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’ve got several “toy trucks” (it’s a phrase that Stephen King (in his wonderful book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Scribner, 2000) uses to describe a little project that might turn into something bigger (and might not)) that I’m pushing around. I hope that they become real trucks, but you never know. You just hope.

A Reading by Kate

In the video below, Kate “reads the first chapter of her new book, The Magician’s Elephant.”

Cynsational Notes

Kate will speak and sign The Magician’s Elephant at 4 p.m. Oct. 17 at BookPeople in Austin. See Kate’s entire tour schedule.

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

Co-authors Interview: Sarah Kinney and Stefan Petrucha on Nancy Drew: Girl Detective

Learn more about Sarah Kinney and Stefan Petrucha. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Stefan.

In your own words, could you tell us about Nancy Drew: Girl Detective (Papercutz, 2005-)? And, wait, I’m confused. Is Papercutz somehow connected to Simon & Schuster?

SK: Young mystery buffs have loved the brilliantly curious Nancy Drew since 1930 when she was created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate to fill a need for their growing female readership.

Stefan took part in the updating of this ageless character and wrote the first ever Nancy Drew Graphic novels for Papercutz in 2005. If that wasn’t cool enough, he got his actual name on the cover–the books have been ghost-written for decades by a variety of authors using the name Carolyn Keane.

SP: Papercutz, founded by my pal Jim Salicrup and Terry Nantier, is a completely separate entity, focusing on graphic novels for tweens. Simon & Schuster bought the rights to all the Stratemeyer Syndicate characters in 1984. A few years back, Papercutz licensed the rights to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys from S&S. Long walk, but there you have it!

While the prose books continue to be published under the house name Carolyn Keene, the folks who’ve written the movies and the TV series in the seventies were always credited, so it was argued that Sarah and I could use our names on the graphic novels.

Sarah actually started co-writing the graphic novels with me around book five in the series, The Fake Heir, but isn’t credited until the tenth, The Disoriented Express.

What is at the heart of the timeless appeal of Nancy Drew?

SK: Nancy speaks to something in the teenage heart which never changes – the fearless quest to know more.

SP: Ed Stratemeyer and the early writers he worked with (notably Mildred Benson) really hit the nail on the head. She’s the original girl-power figure, popular for decades, enjoyed by new readers daily and fondly recalled by such prominent figures as new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She’s also the basis for more recent characters like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Veronica Mars.”

Why was this character a great fit for a graphic-novel series?

SK: Nancy Drew, while living in a small town, gives us the opportunity to engage a real variety of characters and backdrops. Comics are a great venue for bringing the reader closer to those characters, settings, and tense moments in which Nancy faces danger. Her first-person narrative is a perfect fit for a graphic medium.

SP: I was shocked to learn that this was the first comic series for Nancy! She’d been in just about every other media. The graphic novel is a very intimate, inviting media, especially for reluctant readers. It seemed a natural place for such an iconic character.

What are the particular challenges in writing such an established character?

SK: As with any licensed character, there are times when we have to hold back an impulse to change the character. Story arcs can’t become character arcs in quite the same way.

Though she can learn lessons along the way, Nancy has to emerge from every story with her values, beliefs, friends, family, and reputation in tact.

SP: There’ve also been hundreds of Nancy Drew stories, so it’s a fun challenge to try to come up with ideas that haven’t been done before. I’m very proud of what we’ve come up with so far, including vanishing lakes, stolen computer chips, edgy magicians and even an entire town that went missing. Our latest features Nancy hanging from a cliff for the entire story, trying to figure out who pushed her! It’s our nineteenth, called Cliffhanger (get it?) and it’s out in October.

What did you love about it?

SK: Nancy’s character presents us with a lot of possibilities. Her insatiable curiosity, willingness to try anything, and variety of expertise (she’s a real know it all) opens up a whole world of possible mysteries to solve and ways that she can solve them.

SP: She has the same appeal as any detective character–her obsessive attitude toward mysteries can take you anywhere, really. Add to that that she’s a young, self-possessed girl, and things can really click in cool and exciting ways.

As a young reader, were you a Nancy fan?

SK: No. My sister had the entire collection, and I loved the little blue books with the outline of Nancy with her magnifying glass embossed on the cover, but I never read more than a few. I was an Ed McBain fan — gritty stuff.

SP: Again, nope. My mother had a few on her shelf, so I likewise remember the covers very clearly, and I may have thumbed through one or two, but I was more into Encyclopedia Brown (1963-) by Donald J. Sobol and superhero comics. I like her now, though!

How did you learn to write in a graphic format?

SK: I’ve been writing Mickey Mouse and other Disney character comics for many years. I had-on-the-job training for that.

SP: My grandfather taught me to read by sitting me on his lap and reading comic books to me. I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I attempted my own comics for the first time around age eight or nine. It’s been a lifelong love.

How is it different than writing a prose novel?

SK: Completely. I can describe something simply and the artist takes it to the next level of creativity. Often when I see the final work, it’s like reading something new. It’s very cool to be able to inject an image with very sparse and intimate narrative to create incredibly rich and pivotal “moments” in a story. It’s more like directing a movie.

SP: Yes, it’s very much more of a collaborative process than a novel. You give up some control, but inviting someone else’s sensitivities in makes for a really nice experience.

The big trick writing-wise is to make sure that, in scripting, you really use the pictures to tell the story as much as possible.

What advice do you have for other writers interested in writing graphics?

SK: Don’t do it! You’ll starve. Get a real job.

SP: It’s the same advice for any kind of writing, really. Develop great taste, by reading and studying absolutely everything, and then write what you like. I’d also read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993) – the seminal book on the subject.

So, what’s it like being writers and married to each other and also devoted to Miss Drew?

SK: Really fun.

SP: Totally cool. As I said it’s already a collaborative process. It’s nice to sit down with Sarah and hash out a plot together.

We’ll break it into three chapters, and usually one of use will write the full script, then we pass it back and forth until it’s done.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

SK: Buy Nancy Drew!

SP: While you’re at it, check out the newest issue of Tales from the Crypt, also from Papercutz! It features a satire of Twilight [by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown, 2005)] co-written by myself and our daughter Maia. We’re keeping it all in the family!