Nominate Your Favorite 2009 Books for the 2010 Teen Choice Book of the Year

Teenreads.com is again collaborating with the Children’s Book Council (CBC) on the 2010 Teen Choice Book of the Year, offering teens an opportunity to share their five favorite books of 2009.

The five titles that receive the most votes will serve as the finalists for the CBC’s 2010 Teen Choice Book of the Year.

Once the five finalists have been determined, Teenreads.com will announce where to vote for them. The winner will be announced in May 2010.

See the list of nominees so far. On that same page, you can find information on how to nominate other titles published in 2009.

Deadline: this Monday, Feb. 1.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Wow, you have an impressive set of credentials, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to ask you some questions today.

I see on your client list that you have well-established YA authors like Ellen Hopkins as well as debut YA authors like Holly Thompson, my colleague in Tokyo. Are there things you do differently in your work with emerging clients and already established clients?

I enjoy working with authors at both ends of the spectrum and do represent well-established YA authors like Ellen Hopkins and talented debut YA authors like Holly Thompson, who is my colleague Jamie Weiss Chilton‘s client.

There are things that I do differently depending on where the author is in her or his career. With emerging clients, I tend to do a lot of hands-on editorial work; we may go through several rounds of revision before a work goes out. In planning my submission strategy, I think carefully about where the author is likely to get the most nurturing and support. I’m ideally looking for editors whom I know are very strong editorially (yes, I’m afraid all editors are not equal in this regard), who tend to be more hands-on, and who, by temperament, taste, and working habits, I believe will be a good fit and communicator with my client. Of course, I want the editor who I believe will be most passionate about the project. I also give consideration to whether, at a particular imprint within a particular house, there is real space for the author to grow.

For already established clients, I am typically working to strengthen their position within an existing house–assuming of course that we’re happy with the publisher. Certainly, I want to negotiate for the best deal terms possible and, ideally, want the terms to improve for each book.

There may also be aspects of the relationship that we want to change. I focus on commanding more marketing and sales support, and work to guarantee the author will be an active partner in key marketing and production decisions. I’m looking for tangible commitments that will help move the author to the next level of her career.

If we’re not happy with the existing publisher, then I’m thinking about the same things but also casting the net more widely and focusing on finding a house and imprint that has real space for my author to grow, that will publish her smarter and with more support, with the backing of an editor usually further along in her or his career, who will be a passionate champion and advocate.

In a previous interview with CBI Clubhouse, you mentioned the concept of “highly illustrated books for young readers.” Can you tell us more about this emerging new category, and do you continue to see this as a developing genre?

A one-size-fits-all approach to developing readers seems problematic. I think there is a gap between picture books and chapter books and see the new category of highly illustrated books for young readers as helping to fill this space.

These highly illustrated books for young readers have different proportions of text to art, but the commonality is that they allow developing readers to more fully experience and understand a story by providing illustrations that work in conjunction with the text. The form frees authors to tell a more engaging and compelling story because there are illustrations to foster understanding.

Additionally, I also happen to believe readers of all ages have an appetite for stories told in compelling ways with both text and images.

You have a new book of your own coming out in Spring 2011 called, Emma, The Extra-Ordinary Princess. Does this book fall into the highly illustrated books for young readers category, and if so, when you write a chapter book that you intend to be highly illustrated, how does that affect the way you write the story?

Emma, The Extra-Ordinary Princess, forthcoming Spring 2011 with Dutton, is a highly illustrated book for young readers.

As with picture books, while I was writing it, I had in my mind the fact that I needed to leave room for the art. As I worked on the story, I thought about the action and dramatic scenes in a more cinematic way, trying to imagine how they might work in the art.

Again, it’s the balancing act of leaving room for the illustrator while giving enough of a framework to create character and set dramatic events in motion. I think about finding the key telling detail that may speak volumes about the character or the physical environment but don’t write in a lot of description or scene-setting since this will be the work of the art.

In addition to Emma, you recently published your first picture book for young readers called Buying, Training & Caring for Your Dinosaur, illustrated by Marc Brown (Random House, 2009). I love the title!

What were your experiences being on the author-side of publication, and what’s been most exciting about your entrance into this new domain?

I’m glad you like the title–thanks! I have a good picture of both sides because my husband is an author himself (Barry Eisler–he writes political thrillers) and also because I do work so closely with many of the authors I represent.

However, it was still an illuminating experience for me to see how things work from the author-side of publication. I have a new-found respect for authors because now I know, first-hand, what it feels like to wait for reviews and to hold your breath as you try to gauge a book’s reception. The suspense!

I also am extremely hands-on as an agent, which serves me well on this front, but I realize now how much is not in the control of the author when it comes to the publishing process and the marketing of a book.

In terms of the most exciting things for me, I got to work with an editor I adore and respect, Michelle Frey at Knopf, and it’s been a joy to get to see how she works from the perspective of actually being one of her authors.

I also have found it intensely exciting and invigorating to do book signings, school visits, and even a presentation I gave at the New York American Museum of Natural History, where about 400 girls slept over. (I gave my talk in pajamas at 11 a.m. at night.) I love connecting with kids over my book and our shared love of pets and dinosaurs. Kids are so open and responsive at the picture book age. What a high!

Okay, now back to some agent-related questions! When writers are seeking agent representation, how would you suggest they best represent their work to an agent? Is a query letter with a sample manuscript enough?

Our website, www.andreabrownlit.com, gives specific guidelines for how we accept submissions. We accept only e-queries, and I do think that a strong and polished query letter with a compelling sample of the writing (we ask for the first 10 pages initially or a full picture book manuscript) is enough to get our attention.

To me, the best query letters convey the following–what makes the work special, what space in the market it occupies, what credentials you bring to the table that are relevant for your book. An irresistible 10 pages that raise burning questions in my mind, then seal the deal by compelling me to ask for more.

In the case of a picture book writer who may already have several manuscripts to submit, should they only select one to send to an agent, or do agents like to see the broader scope of a potential client’s writing?

I advise leading with your strongest picture book, and perhaps mentioning one of the other ones about which you feel most strongly. With picture books, in particular, there is a tendency toward cherry-picking. If we see something we love, and then see one or two more that leave us lukewarm, we may pass.

What would you say are some of the biggest challenges you encounter in selecting new clients?

The biggest challenge is the volume of material that comes in. Many times, we see work that is good, that is maybe even publishable, but for me to take something on, I have to be absolutely passionate about it and also believe that the author has other amazing books in her or him.

Another challenge is that the author must be able to revise. Some authors may come in with something strong, but if they can’t revise or aren’t open to editorial feedback, then I’m not going to offer representation to them.

Also in the interview with CBI Clubhouse you spoke a lot about authors; use of emerging technologies to market themselves and their books. How does a web presence and online expertise help a writer in today’s market, and more specifically, from an agent’s point of view, is online presence something you look at when evaluating a potential new client?

It is a truth of the market and the economy that publishers are doing less than probably ever before to promote authors, sometimes even when they spend considerable money acquiring a book. For this reason, the job of publicizing the book and getting the word out falls to the author.

A web presence is important for all authors since this is a key tool in publicity and marketing. This is especially true for middle-grade and young adult fiction since the readers for these categories are online and so computer savvy. Social networking presents an incredible opportunity for writers to connect to their audience and to publicize and market their books at minimal cost, apart from the time and energy commitment.

I do look for an online presence when evaluating potential clients although it isn’t a requirement. For middle grade and especially young adult fiction, I think it is something that can mean the different between an average deal and an amazing one.

What are some of the more effective and impressive online strategies you’ve seen?

I’ve seen some of my authors blog in incredibly smart ways–conveying their charm and personality, while providing great content in a truly entertaining, unusual, and fun package.

Many of my authors use social media like Twitter and facebook to network in smart, innovative ways that lead to growing a readership for their blogs, to repeat visits to their websites, and to recognition in the writing community and sometimes really important blurbs from big authors in their space.

One of your authors, Maggie Stiefvater who authored Shiver (Scholastic, 2009), has made an impact doing blog tours. Can you explain more about what that is and share how you think her efforts affected the response of readers to her book’s debut?

A blog tour is when an author does guest blogs on other sites. Again, the key here is doing the research to figure out which blogs are widely read, which focus on your target audience, and which are likely to be receptive to you guest blogging.

Then reverse engineer your approach. Come up with an angle or topic for a guest blog that is going to give value, interest the host blogger, and appeal to readers.

The great thing about blog tours is you can do this at little financial cost. (There is of course a significant time commitment.) You can reach a wide and diverse audience, and you can do this both within the smaller window around publication and make it an ongoing part of your campaign. It’s a great way to get the word out about your book and also to start to build name recognition and a brand for yourself as an author.

It’s smart viral marketing, since those who read book or publishing blogs care about books–they’ll pass along the word about you elsewhere.

I think Maggie’s incredibly smart blog tours and savvy online campaign have had a big impact on sales. They’ve helped build her as a brand and also helped recruit her publisher, who sees what a great investment she is and a great partner.

Lastly, if you could write a recipe for the next “breakout” book in terms of commercial success and/or literary acclaim, what are some of the ingredients you think it would surely need to have?

To me, books that break out this way are both literary and commercial. When I think about whether a book is strong enough to go into auction, I consider what commercial space it occupies in the market. I’m looking for something in an existing and lucrative space, but that also feels fresh and different enough from the big books that are already out there.

I believe key elements to a breakout book are a strong, original voice; a unique, fresh perspective or angle; a compelling, page-turning, riveting narrative structure/plot; and emotional power.

It also helps if there’s something special about the author — if there’s a story behind the story, or if the author has already shown that he or she can garner a certain kind of visibility.

Cynsational Notes

Update: Laura is now unable to attention the 2010 SCBWI Bologna conference, however, she has been rescheduled to participate on the 2012 SCBWI Bologna conference faculty.

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children’s magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Rainbow Books 2010: a bibliography of picture books as well as fiction and nonfiction for older children and teens from ALA Rainbow Project. Peek: “The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table and the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association have released the 2010 Rainbow Project Bibliography of recommended titles for youth from birth to age 18 that contain significant and authentic gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (GLBTQ) content.” Note: selections include Newsgirl by Liza Ketchum (Viking, 2009).

Multiculturalism Rocks! A blog on multiculturalism in children’s literature. from Nathalie Mvondo. Peek: “This blog celebrates multiculturalism in children’s literature and the people who make it happen.” See Interview: Editorial Director Stacy Whitman of Tu Publishing from Multiculturalism Rocks. Peek: “As we started on this journey, working on a business plan with the local Small Business Administration office, I did a lot of research…, and found that small presses are growing now. Some of the big houses started out as smaller houses during the huge downturn of the late 1970s and during the Great Depression. So that gives me some hope that we’re on the right track….”

Interview with Editor-Author Jill Santopolo by Kyra from Throwing Up Words: Because sometimes it’s the only option. Peek: “I think the most important thing is to write about something you love or a story you feel compelled to share. That’s when an author’s writing is the strongest, when the story means something to him or her.” Read a Cynsations interview with Jill.

When the ALA Calls: Stead and Pinkney on Winning the Big Prize by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “When you win a Newbery or a Caldecott Medal, you find out in a phone call—usually very early in the morning—and then your life is instantly changed. Both Rebecca Stead and Jerry Pinkney got that phone call this past Monday morning; we spoke with both of them to find out where they were when the phone rang, what their reactions were, and what came next.”

Cover Stories: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams by Melissa C. Walker from readergirlz. Peek: “…when I saw the cover, I thought, ‘This is Kyra, free. This is Kyra on the inside.'” Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

Structure by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “In terms of structure, these localized desires need to feed into the larger themes. If they do, then the localized action will add to the larger action.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Whatcha Reading Now?: a new site from Jodi Wayne, Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Michelle Delisle, Susan Zide Safra. Peek: “We, the fabulous girls of Whatcha’ Reading Now?, promise to bring you books for kids and teens that will make you think, cry, laugh out loud, or keep you at the edge of your seat. We love books that will make you think about the world in a new perspective and books that you won’t forget long after you’ve turned the last page. We promise to read with passion, diligence, and open-mindedness to bring you reviews of books we love.” Don’t miss the January 2010 issue celebrating dystopian YA literature.

The Ghost Writer by Karen Cioffi from Karen and Robyn–Writing for Children. Peek: “He’s kind of like a superhero of the writing world. He lifts you up and helps you create what you don’t have the time, energy or skill to do yourself.”

The Carnival of Children’s Literature is Back by Anastasia Suen from Picture Book of the Day. Peek: “Our January 2010 host is Jenny Schwartzberg at Jenny’s Wonderland of Books. Our first 2010 carnival date is Jan 30. (Please have your posts in by midnight Jan 29.)” Note: For debut authors, Anastasia is offering the online class School Visits 101 Workshop, starting Feb. 3.

Congratulations to the children’s-YA nominees for the 2010 Edgar Awards, given by the Mystery Writers of America! Source: Tasha Saecker from Kids Lit: Books for toddlers through teens, plus reading, writing and more. Read Cynsations interviews with nominees John C. Ford, Saundra Mitchell, and Aaron Reynolds.

Peni R. Griffin: Idea Garage Sale: a blog from the San Antonio-based middle-grade and YA novelist. Peek: “The cliche question all authors hate – ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The idea is the easy part. The idea is so easy to get, you can’t give them away. I’m here to give them away, to share them, and invite you to recognize yours. We’re all creative. Not all of us pay attention.” Read a Cynsations interview with Peni.

K.A. Holt’s Online Disaster: Wherein I Write About Things A Writer Might Write About Writing: a new URL for the blog from the Austin-based speculative fiction novelist. See also K.A. Holt’s YouTube page. Read a Cynsations interview with K.A. Holt.

Decidophopia by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “Years down the road, when the kids were in school and then grown, Decidophopia set in. Suddenly I had some choices. Even with teaching part-time, I could schedule most of my days however I wanted.”

Getting the Most Out of Twitter by Kate Fall from Author2Author. Peek: “Just like the trick to loving a new neighborhood is to connect with the right people, the trick to loving Twitter is to follow the right people. Twitter is for my writing life. Facebook is for my personal life.”

2010 Amelia Bloomer List: Recommended Feminist Literature from Birth through 18 from Amelia Bloomer Project. Peek: “This list is in alphabetical order by author; a more formalized list (sorted by reading categories, with an introduction and annotations), is forthcoming.” Selections include Supergirls: fashion, feminism, fantasy, and the history of comic book heroines. by Mike Madrid (Exterminating Angel Press, 2009); see also a tie-in video (follows commercial).

Author-Editor Lauren Tarshis shares her Top 6 1/2 List of What Makes a Good Short Story from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Peek: “It’s essential that there is something your character needs to gain or stands to lose.”

Positivity by Adrienne Kress from The Temp, The Actress, and The Writer. Peek: “Twitter wisely. By which I mean, if you find you are following someone that you constantly feel jealous of, or if you find you are following someone who only wants to post links to articles about how crappy the writing world is these days, stop following them. Follow people who inspire you, follow people you care about; you have the choice.”

SCBWI Prairie Writer’s Day part one and part two by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings. “The best way to learn voice is through example, by analyzing published works. Look at word choice, sentence structure, and other writing features that create the voice. How did these authors do it? How would you do it?”

FSG’s [Margaret] Ferguson Gets Her Own Imprint by John A. Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The imprint was announced Monday in a memo to staffers from FSG BFYR publisher Simon Boughton, in which he called Ferguson ‘the heart, soul, and brains of the Farrar, Straus & Giroux children’s publishing program.’ The imprint will publish approximately 15 titles per year, across all age ranges and formats.” Source: Anastasia Suen.

Giveaway of Timekeeper Moon by Joni Sensel, 11th Grade Burns by Heather Brewer & Incarceron by Catherine Fisher from The Spectacle. Peek: “Authors talk about writing speculative fiction for teens and pre-teens.”

Marvelous Marketer: Cheryl Klein (Senior Editor, Arthur Levine Books) by Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: “Friends on Facebook from my high school class have told me they’re planning to buy my book, and most of them aren’t even interested in writing for children!”

Dialogue: A Balancing Act by Sarah Sullivan from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Pull out your writing how-to books and you will read that dialogue serves two purposes: 1. To reveal character and 2. To advance plot.”

Harper Debuts Writing Site for Teens by John A. Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…the official launch of inkpop, an interactive writing platform and community for teenagers created by the HarperTeen imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books. Inkpop serves as an online community for young writers; the publisher calls inkpop the ‘anchor’ of its digital strategy for the teen market.”

Sarah LaPolla is now freelance critiquing YA fiction, and Tracy Marchini is now freelance critiquing picture books, early chapter books, middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction. Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black: a short story from BSC. Peek: “…today we are pleased to offer our readers ‘The Coldest Girl in Coldtown,’ a story from Holly Black’s The Poison Eaters and Other Stories (Big Mouth House, 2010). I want to tell you how this is the first collection by Black, that she is the co-writer of the Spiderwick Chronicles, and that she has seen her name on the NY Times Bestselling list, but then I’d be stealing back the thunder that Grant stole from me by sending me this rather concise official word (after which, you can get to the story!)…” Read a Cynsations interview with Holly.

Staff Post: Christy Ottaviano, Editorial Director Christy Ottaviano Books
from Get to the Point: a Blog from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Peek: “Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to watch a writer I admire grow stronger with each new book and push themselves in ways they never thought possible.”

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Editor Alvina Ling by Jolie Stekly from Cuppa Jolie. Peek: “…I’m often asking authors to bring more emotion into the work, and am also keeping an eye on making sure each book is a very satisfying read.”

Conference Tips (Especially for the Less Experience Conference-Goer) by Jane Makuch from Alice’s CWIM Blog. Peek: “Clean and pressed doesn’t have to mean expensive, but it does show professionalism.” Note: many SCBWI conferences don’t have a “pitch” opportunity (if it’s not in the program, don’t try to create it independently by cornering an agent), but many of the other tips apply across the board.

Is It True Yet? I Sure Hope So. by Jo Knowles. Peek: “At some point, you can’t ask your beloved critique partners to read another draft. There’s just not enough time. And really, at some point, you have to stop relying on everyone else to tell you yes or no. Because you’re the only one who can really answer that all important question: “Is it true?'” Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Cynsational Author/Illustrator Speaker Tip: be respectful of regional diversity, your audience, and your hosts. Don’t say to a one-time hometown crowd, “Boy, I’m glad I made it out of this place!” or minimize local authors or make disparaging remarks based on your (mis)conceptions of local politics. Err on the side of graciousness and focus on writing, books, young readers and the people who connect books to them.

Dissect a Scene by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. A quick look at the basics of a scene. Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Book Addict: A blog about books, writing, authors, publishers and more books from Melissa Buron. Check out Melissa’s recent interviews with Varsha Bajaj, Vicki Sansum, P.J. Hoover, Kimberly Willis Holt, Shana Burg, Dotti Enderle, Jenny Moss, and Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek from Varsha, “My father and grandfather were perfumers and sampling strips of sandalwood and jasmine were always being sniffed and perfected. Making perfumes became a part of my imaginative play. Didn’t everyone make perfumes of dirt, crushed flowers and pebbles?” Note: add Melissa on LJ.

Fieldnote #2 by Steven Withrow: Steven Malk, Children’s Book Agent from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I completely understand the impulse to want to get your work out into the world as soon as you possibly can—I really do—but it really behooves you to take some time and think hard about your overall career strategy and what sort of agent you want.”

Reed’s Interview with Gary Paulsen from National Geographic Kids. Peek: [on his favorite sled dog] “Cookie saved my life once. I was trapping beaver. I took one step and went down in 12 feet of water. It was about 30 below outside above the water. I saw a rope that had come with me off the sled, and it started to move. Cookie got the team up and pulled me out of the hole. When I retired her, I brought her in the house and she never went out again.” Source: @randomhousekids.

Featured Sweetheart: David Macinnis Gill from the Texas Sweethearts. Peek: “Know your field of literature and know the audience that it serves. There are reasons that the books published today are being published, and to understand those reasons—and how you work fits into a growing canon of work—you need to read.” Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Tricks of the Trade: Revision Tips from Picture Book Authors by Michelle Markel from The Cat and the Fiddle. Peek: “Today TC & TF features revision tips from authors who have taught in UCLA Extension’s Writers Program.” Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Anatomy of Buying a Picture Book by Josie Leavitt from ShelfTalker: A Children’s Bookseller’s Blog. Peek: “I buy fewer [hardcover picture book] titles, but more copies of books. This is risky, but there’s a comfort level customers see with multiple copies of a single title. It sends a message that we like this book enough to have five on hand. Multiple copies are also easier to display, thus making them easier to see and to buy.”

Show v. Tell by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “This ridiculous advice is passed along like it’s one of the Ten Commandments. I’m hear to tell you, brothers and sisters, it is not. No novel only shows.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Starting Over: Why Helen Hemphill gave up a successful career in business to write novels for children by Susannah Felts from Chapter 16, a community of Tennessee writers, readers & passersby. Peek: “Twelve years ago, the Texas-born, Nashville-based novelist was doing PR for the finance industry–about as far from the bright colors and characters of the children’s–book section as it’s possible to get. Then, after more than two decades, Hemphill walked away: “It was glitzy and glamorous in a crazy way, but it wasn’t me….” Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Eddie Gamarra of the Gotham Group by Lee Wind from I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: “Eddie Gamarra is a literary manager/producer at The Gotham Group, specializing in representing works for TV, Film and Dramatic rights.”

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Razorbill President Ben Schrank from Suzanne Young. Peek: on blogging/vlogging, “I have heard our marketing people say that ‘it depends on the author’ and I agree with that. We know that Sarah Dessen has been blogging forever and is enormously successful at it. But there are authors who do not blog, who are also very successful.”

Growing a Thicker Skin by Mary Kole, a children’s-YA writer and associate agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, from Kidlit.com. Peek: “It’s in your best interest to develop a thick skin, learn how to take criticism and rejection, separate yourself from what you’ve put on a page, learn everything you can about the industry, get realistic, and keep writing every day.” Source: @inkyelbows.

28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature kicks off Feb. 1 at The Brown Bookshelf. We’re talking 24 authors and 4 illustrators in 28 days! See the 28 Days Later downloadable poster from Don Tate. Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

On “Using Social” Media by Janni Lee Simner from Desert Dispatches. Peek: “My take on the Internet from a writer’s perspective is this: it isn’t a street corner for hawking your wares. It’s a giant sprawling party. The rules of how to act here aren’t all that complicated, because they’re pretty much the same rules that apply to parties everywhere: Be polite….” Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

YALSA Axes Venerable BBYA List by Debra Lau Whelan from School Library Journal. Peek: “BBYA will no longer exist, but there’ll be a new list called ‘Best Fiction for Young Adults.'”

This Week’s New Releases from Teenreads.com Blog. Highlights include the paperback release of Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (Random House). Read “Invasive Species” a short story by Janni set in the same universe from Coyote Wild (Aug. 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

Children’s Books with Muslim and Related Cultural Themes from Rukhsana Khan. Categories include contemporary picture books, contemporary novels and short story collections, folktales, nonfiction, and other resources for educators.

Writers: Always Working by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “You understand that ‘I’m thinking’ means ‘so please don’t interrupt.’ Chances are, your family won’t. Instead they will walk into the room where you’re ‘thinking-writing’ and say, ‘Oh good, you’re not doing anything. Can you hold the ladder for me?’”

Love Me or Hate Me, It Doesn’t Matter by Lisa Schroeder from Author2Author. Peek: “I turned off my Google Alerts recently, and YA author Sara Zarr congratulated me on taking that step.” Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Congratulations to Bethany Hegedus and Kekla Magoon on the winter issue of Hunger Mountain, dedicated to the memory of Norma Fox Mazer and focusing on the theme of controversy. Highlights include tributes to Norma by her daughter Anne Mazer, editor Rosemary Brosnan of HarperCollins, former student Deborah Wiles, and Marion Dane Bauer. Beyond that, Kathi Appelt talks about Blurring the Lines, Lisa Jahn-Clough tackles censorship, and J. Patrick Lewis asks “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” See also thoughts from agent Regina Brooks and agents Holly McGhee and Emily Van Beek and much more!

Judy Goddard Award

Since 1983, the Judy Goddard Award has been given every year to an outstanding writer or illustrator of books for children. In 1997, a second Judy Goddard Award was added for an author of young adult literature. Note: recent honorees include S.D. Nelson.

The winners must either live in Arizona or have a close connection with the state. The prize is awarded jointly by Libraries, Ltd, an Arizona organization founded by Mrs. Goddard (wife of Arizona Governor Sam Goddard) and her friends 40 years ago to promote literacy in children, and the Arizona Library Association.

Source: Joan Sandin.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out this video of Sydney Taylor Book Awards Gold Medal Winners from Jewish Books for Children with Author Barbara Bietz. Read Cynsations interviews with Robin Friedman and April Halprin Wayland. Don’t miss the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour from The Association of Jewish Libraries Blog!

Check out this book trailer for Positively by Courtney Sheinmel (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

See the video below for Inside Notes for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon with Grace Lin. Source: Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader. Read a Cynsations interview with Grace.

Terrific new videos also include Copyedits Unveiled from Denise Jaden and Crisis Intervention from Kiersten Writes.

More Personally

Don’t miss the half-page ad for Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010), which appears on page 43 of the February/March 2010, Vol. 16, Issue 4 of GL: Girls’ Life Magazine! It’s positioned across from an article, “How To Date a Vampire (Without Getting Bit) by Georgia Clark and a fashion sidebar, “Vamp It Up!”

Eternal will be released in paperback in the U.S. Feb. 9! See the blog buzz, cover art, interviews, review quotes, and reader’s guide.

The Eternal ad is featured with a half-page ad for Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri (also Candlewick). Austinites may remember Daniel and Dina as the adorable brother-sister team who spoke with me last fall on a panel at the Texas Book Festival.


Cynsational Events

Author Bethany Hegedus will speak on “scene and structure” (“If You Build It, They Will Read”) from 11 a.m. to noon Feb. 13 at BookPeople in conjunction with Austin SCBWI. Note: “bring a notebook and get ready to examine Aristotle’s Incline and the 7 Key Scenes every book needs. Please be familiar with Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2000)…, as Bethany will discuss the Seven Key Scenes used to build this gem of a book.”

“More Than Words: Making Connections With Authors and Classroom Readers and Writers,” sponsored by the Texas Association for the Improvement of Reading and the Central Texas Writing Project, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at Round Rock (Texas) Higher Education Center. Featured authors are: Margo Rabb; Jennifer Ziegler; April Lurie; Varian Johnson; Liz Garton Scanlon; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Don Tate; Chris Barton; Anne Bustard; and C.S. Jennings. Pre-registration ends Feb. 8. Cost: $20.00 Teachers; $10.00 Students/TC’s. Make checks payable to TAIR-CTWP Conference. Mail to: Diane Osborn; Texas State University; Department of Curriculum & Instruction; 601 University Drive; San Marcos, Texas 78666. Questions? Contact Dr. Catherine Davis or Dr. Sharon O’Neal.

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 at Alief Taylor High School, and admission is free! Speakers include keynoter Sharon Draper and:

2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop is scheduled for June 14 to June 18 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Peek: “Full-day participants spend their mornings in small workshops led by award-winning faculty. Both full- and half-day participants enjoy afternoon plenary sessions by national children’s book editors and an agent, as well as breakout sessions by our workshop faculty and guest presenters. The keynote address and book signing are open to all conference attendees.” See faculty.

New Voice: Lara Zielin on Donut Days

Lara Zielin is the first-time author of Donut Days (Putnam, 2009), which was recently name to the 2010 Texas Library Association Lone Star List. From the promotional copy:

Emma has a lot going on. Her best friend’s not speaking to her, a boy she’s known all her life is suddenly smokin’ hot and in love with her, and oh yes, her evangelical minister parents may lose their church, especially if her mother keeps giving sermons saying Adam was a hermaphrodite.

But this weekend Emma’s only focused on Crispy Dream, a hot new donut franchise opening in town, where Harley bikers and Frodo wannabes camp out waiting to be the first ones served. Writing the best feature story on the camp for the local paper might just win Emma a scholarship to attend a non-Christian college. But soon enough Emma finds the donut camp isn’t quite the perfect escape from all her troubles at Living Word Redeemer.

In a fresh, funny voice, newcomer Lara Zielin offers up a mesmerizing, fast-paced narrative full of wit and insight.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2009, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Recently, at a Chicago book event with several other authors who’d had their debut novels published in 2009, someone in the audience asked how long the writing process took for each of us, from rough start to finished publication.

At the low end of the scale, some writers said between two and three years. I was at the high end of the scale, falling somewhere between eight and nine years.

I penned my first draft of Donut Days in 2001. It was pretty godawful. I revised and re-wrote for a long time, and it wasn’t until early 2007 when I finally landed an agent.

The book sold relatively quickly, and then came the editing process. Somehow, in my head, I assumed this wouldn’t really be that arduous or take that long.

I was wrong.

The editing process was super tough for me [don’t miss video below!].

My book went through many, many drafts and, even though my editor had great insights the whole time and was absolutely directing me toward the right changes, I just couldn’t make it all work. At one point I submitted a draft that was largely acknowledged as being much worse than the one that came before it.

My halting ability to do what my editor really needed me to definitely pushed out the publication date. I’m happy, actually, that it was 2009; for a while there, it was looking like it was going to be 2010.

I’m so thankful I had a solid editor who really was improving the book and not just asking for things willy-nilly. Ironically, I’m a magazine editor for my day job, and I kept thinking, I have the word “editor” in my job title. Why can’t I do what she needs me to do? I never quite figured that out, actually. The good news is, my editor’s work really made the novel sing–and I think that’s what kept me going, even amid all the frustration.

My second book, Promgate, which we’re editing right now, is slated for release in 2011. I’m hoping I’ll have an easier time of it, now that I have one book under my belt. We’ll see!

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?

While there is a huge part of me that would love to write full-time, there’s a bigger part of me that’s grateful I have a job that I love doing work where I get to be creative and where I am surrounded by awesome colleagues. I think if my income was at all dependent on my writing, I would stress out about it a lot more.

I read once that the best advice anyone could offer for newly published writers is: Don’t quit your day job. Adopting an attitude that embraces full-time work for the mental freedom it offers me–versus carping about how I can’t have yoga pants for business attire–has been a great help.

In general, I’m the kind of person who thrives on structure. If you give me carte blanche to do whatever I want, I’ll probably lay around in my jammies all day eating cheese. It’s that bad. Having a day job is a good thing for me: it means I get up at a regular time, that I have a routine, and that I have to plan out when I’m going to write and actually be slightly thoughtful about it.

Most of the time, I don’t write during the workweek. Usually, I try and crave out some time on the weekends, ideally in the morning because I’m most productive (and creative) before noon. The challenge, of course, is to not fill up my weekend with errands and social events so that I can actually use my free time for writing.

I have found that it’s essential for me to communicate with my husband about what my writing needs are, and to collaborate with him about how to get it all done. So, for example, we had a schedule for a while where, during the workweek, I would walk our dog Amos in the morning, and my husband would walk Amos at night. Now, that schedule varies because I’ve decided to either write some mornings or attend a spin class. But I couldn’t have made that change without the help of my husband and communicating with him about how to make sure things–like the dog–still get taken care of.

One area where I’m looking to improve my productivity is to be more regular about writing. Because I mostly write on weekends, I won’t pen a word for five days, then I’ll sit down and pound out 6,000 words in one day. I think these fits and starts are fine, but I would like to try and have a bit more of a steady writing diet, versus starving then gorging myself.

I guess this means I’ll probably have to watch less Reality TV in the evenings (it was nice knowing you, “Ghost Hunters” and “Top Chef”!) but ultimately, I know it will be a positive change. And hopefully one that yields more published results!

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009.

In the video below, don’t miss “Lara Zielin’s agony and ecstasy as she edits her debut novel, Donut Days. ‘Editing Letter’ is sung, karaoke style, to Corey Hart‘s ‘Never Surrender.'” Note: highly recommended.

American Indian Youth Services Literature Awards

Congratulations to the winners of the third American Indian Youth Services Literature Award, given by the American Indian Library Association!

The winner for best picture book was A Coyote Solstice Tale by Thomas King, illustrated by Gary Clement (Groundwood, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Trickster Coyote is having his friends over for a festive solstice get-together in the woods when a little girl comes by unexpectedly. She leads the party-goers through the snowy woods to a shopping mall–a place they have never seen before.

Coyote gleefully shops with abandon, only to discover that filling your shopping cart with goodies is not quite the same thing as actually paying for them.

The trickster is tricked and goes back to his cabin in the woods–somewhat subdued–though nothing can keep Coyote down for long.


The winner for best middle-school book was Meet Christopher: An Osage Indian Boy from Oklahoma by Genevieve Simermeyer, illustrated with photographs by Katherine Fogden (Council Oak Books, 2008, produced in association with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian). From the promotional copy:

In this fourth book in the series, My World: Young Native Americans Today, meet Christopher, an eleven-year-old Osage boy from northeast Oklahoma.

Join Christopher and his family at the annual I’n-lon-shka Dances on the Osage Reservation, where they gather for outdoor feasts, dress in their traditional outfits, and dance with the entire community. Go fishing at the lake with Christopher and his brothers, hear him play the trombone in music class, and learn the Osage language as he learns it, too. Watch Christopher’s mother practice finger weaving, and meet his grandmother, who works at the Osage tribal museum. Learn the stories of Osage ancestors, those who hunted buffalo and lived in hide-covered lodges, and those who first learned to drive cars and pilot airplanes.


The winner for best young adult book was Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me: A Novel by Lurline Wailana McGregor (Kamehameha, 2008). From the promotional copy:

Moana Kawelo, PhD, has a promising career as a museum curator in Los Angeles. The untimely death of her father–and the gravitational pull of Hawai’i when she returns home for his funeral–causes Moana to question her motivations and her glamorous life in California.

Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me is the story of Moana’s struggle to understand her ancestral responsibilities, mend relationships, and find her identity as a Hawaiian in today’s world.


“He Hawai’i Mau:” “This short film [below] is a two-minute journey through the life of the filmmaker [and author of the AILA award-winning novel for YAs] Lurline Wailana McGregor. Her voice-over describes her life as shown through old family movies and photos from her childhood to the present day. The theme is her growing awareness of her Hawaiian identity, what defines her today as a Hawaiian and why Hawaiians have become so passionate about their culture and its future.”

Source: Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Cynsational Notes

From the AILA website: “Books selected to receive the award will present Native Americans in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts. Additional information about the award and criteria used to evaluate books can be found here.”

Craft, Career & Cheer: Warren Hanson

Warren Hanson is an illustrator and author who has helped create some very beloved books.

He illustrated Tom Hegg’s NYT Bestseller A Cup of Christmas Tea (Waldman House, 2004) and four books about a lovable, many-colored bear named Peef (Waldman House). He has written and illustrated The Next Place (Waldman House, 1997), Older Love (Waldman House 2003), Kiki’s Hats (Tristan, 2007), Beginning: Encouragement at the Start of Something New (Waldman House, 2002), Raising You Alone, and many other books for children and adults.

He looks forward to the release of The Sea of Sleep, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Scholastic, fall 2010), and has recently moved from St. Paul to Houston.

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

I’m not a very disciplined writer. Or at least it would appear that I’m not. I will go for weeks without writing a word. But the appearance is deceiving. I have many seeds planted in the soil of my mind all the time, and those seeds are each at a different stage of development. When suddenly one of those seeds is ready to sprout and be put down on the page, then I will write feverishly, for several hours a day.

During that stage, it doesn’t matter where I am. At my desk (often the least appealing), in the back yard, in a hotel room, at the library (my satellite office) or the coffee shop (my other satellite office). I seem to be able to tune out the noise around me and concentrate fully, no matter where I am. During those times, I am never without my notes and emerging manuscript. I have to be able to stop what I’m doing and write no matter where I am.

When a story is in this growth stage, and I am beginning to craft the actual words that will appear in the final version, I am often in awe of the process.

I suspect that all writers will say that there are times when we look at the page or screen in front of us and say to ourselves, “Oh my gosh, that is beautiful! Where in the world did that come from?!” So that old cliche of “it wasn’t written by me but through me” often feels real.

Of course, that is not to deny the hard, hard work that goes into this. It’s like working in a diamond mine. You dig and dig, toil and toil, and then suddenly there is a beautiful, sparkling gem winking at you out of the darkness. (I hope you geologists out there aren’t too critical of this illustration.) You just stare at it in awe. You suspected it was there, of course. But when it’s finally right there in front of you, it can be absolutely breathtaking.

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

Well, most of the time it feels less like thriving and more like its rhyming partner, surviving. And I do it by using every tool in my toolkit every day.

People who are outside the writing/illustrating/publishing arena often ask me what a typical day is like. But there is no such thing. Some days I’m writing. Some days I’m drawing. Some days I’m doing school visits. Some days I’m doing a program for a church group or a volunteer luncheon or a book club. And some days I’m answering email, networking, mailing postcards, freshening my website, researching publishers. And most days I’m doing a little bit of all those things and more.

Most authors get contacted often by people who have written a story and want to get it published. Those people make it feel like a hobby. But I work very, very hard every day.

Sometimes it doesn’t look like work. I might be sitting in the back yard with a pad of paper, staring at the sky. But that work is exhausting. So in order to “thrive,” I use every asset that I have, every day.

I’ve always been comfortable in front of an audience. In fact, I enjoy it. So I seek speaking engagements, both for the income and for the opportunity to read new work and gauge reactions. I’ve always enjoyed music, so now I incorporate my singing and songwriting into my public appearances, using music to relate to people in the same way that I try to with my books.

And I’ve never been afraid to act silly in front of other people. This now is a tool I use in cultivating school visits. If I can entertain the kids and at the same time teach them about the creative process, I feel like I’m doing good work.

So I’m very busy. Every day is full. And that’s how it needs to be, if I am to earn a living doing what I love to do.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a children’s bedtime book coming from Scholastic for fall 2010, and I’m really excited about it. The book is entitled The Sea of Sleep. It is a very lulling, gently rocking rhyming book that is truly intended to send little ones into dreamland. (I made the mistake of reading it to a group of kids during a school visit once. Bad idea!)

It’s illustrated by Jim LaMarche, who has long been an inspiration to me in my own illustration work. I had originally envisioned a very dreamy, ethereal approach to the artwork, and I knew from the beginning that I was not going to be the appropriate illustrator. I actually wrote it with Mary GrandPré in mind. This was before she got so busy with a boy named Harry.

The manuscript languished for years. Scholastic bought it in 2003. Then it languished again as the quest for an illustrator kept bogging down and editors kept leaving.

It finally landed in the hands of Dianne Hess, and she just about knocked me out when she called to say that Jim LaMarche would do the art.

He took it in a different and wonderful direction by drawing a baby otter floating in the sea on his mother’s loving tummy. The art is done, and I am absolutely thrilled!

But there are other projects in the works. I’ve had a picture book accepted by Beach Lane Books, Allyn Johnston’s imprint at Simon & Schuster. As I write this, I haven’t received the contract yet, so I don’t know anything about a schedule. It’s called It’s Monday, Mrs. Jolly Bones, and it’s a rather wacky book for young children.

I’m shopping a middle-grade boy novel called “Dawn of the Dork,” and I’ve had some nibbles. I’ve just finished writing an adult feel-good book called “Today’s Special,” which I trust will be picked up by Tristan, my long-time publisher in Minnesota. And I have a couple other irons in the fire. So I’m wishing on a lot of stars at the moment.

Cynsational Notes

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

In the video below from Tristan Publishing, Warren Hanson sharing his new release, Everything Happens For A Reason (Tristan, 2009) on KARE11 News.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Co-Founder & Editor-In-Chief Interview: Tessa Strickland of Barefoot Books


Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Barefoot Books has a delightful and inspiring founding story. How did your experiences when you were starting out shape the values of your company today?

The publishing values of the company have remained a constant since the beginning; I think what has shaped the corporate values of the company is the desire to support and promote writers and artists and in particular to support mothers with young families, whether they want to write or to take advantage of the Barefoot Ambassador programme as independent distributors.

Running a small business with young families taught me and my business partner, Nancy Traversy, the importance of flexibility and the value of persevering and sticking to what you believe in.

One of the aspects that makes Barefoot Books stand out from other publishers is the fact that you have created an ingenious network of Barefoot representatives who embrace your products and sell them in their homes, schools, and communities. How does this aspect of your company affect the quantity and type of books that you choose to develop?

This is by far the most rapidly expanding area of our business. We have invested a lot of time and money in creating an online offer, which anyone and everyone can use to earn money by selling Barefoot Books, both in their local communities and online.

The rise of social media has changed and will continue to change the way in which parents and educators buy books and exchange ideas and experiences; this is now at the heart of our business, and it is exciting to see how quickly it is growing.

How many manuscripts do you receive each year, and what qualities make the good ones stand out?

We bring out about twenty new books a year; we often receive more [manuscripts] than this in a week. Many are very good indeed; to stand out, a manuscript needs to explore an idea or a theme that we don’t already have on the programme; beyond that, everything is in the execution. It can be funny, serious, intimate, exotic; it needs to work on its own terms.

This is easy to prescribe but difficult to achieve; I think a successful children’s writer somehow needs a lightness of touch and, at the same time, the ability to touch on the big issues in a way that makes sense to a young child; the ability to awaken a sense of the mystery and wonder and complexity of life.

What are some of your favorite titles published by Barefoot, and what makes them so?

This is a very difficult question to answer! However, there are three books in particular that my own inner child returns to again and again. They are Hugh Lupton’s Tales of Wisdom and Wonder, The Barefoot Book of Buddhist Tales by Sherab Chodzin and Alexandra Kohn, and The Gift, a new book by Carol Ann Duffy, which is scheduled for publication this autumn.

In quite different ways, each of these authors has written stories that are beautifully crafted, profound, and ambitious in the themes they embrace, and respectful of children’s natural ability to be reflective and curious about their place in the world.

Are there any tips you can give writers and illustrators in presenting their work to a publisher like Barefoot Books?

Presentation matters. So does researching what we do and not sending material which is out of keeping with our offer. For example, there is no point in anyone sending us a fifty-thousand word fantasy novel; we have a very small young fiction programme, and its emphasis is on original stories of no more than twenty-thousand words which offer children a window into different ways of life.

We also work a lot with rhyme for under fives and with stories of between 1,500 and 2,000 words that carry a simple message without moralizing.

It’s important that writers don’t try to attach themselves to illustrators; we do some books with illustrators who also write, but when a good manuscript comes in, we prefer to find the illustrator ourselves.

Barefoot offers a large collection of stories from around the world, however the industry often tells us that multicultural folk tales are a “hard sell.” Can you tell us what your take is on this, and also, why do you think Barefoot is so successful bringing multicultural tales to the market?

When I started Barefoot Books, multicultural folk tales were published in a very dreary way. The retellings were flat and “anthropological” and the presentation dismal. No wonder they were a hard sell.

If stories have stood the test of time for centuries in the oral tradition, it seems to me reasonable to assume that this is because they are at some level conveying quite significant messages about the human condition. If these stories can be presented in an engaging way, with language which attracts young readers and is a delight to read aloud, there is no reason why they can’t sell well.

However, I have found that a certain sleight of hand helps: for example, I have a collection of princess stories – they are all multicultural folk tales, but they work because they are marketed as “princess tales” and because two of the stories are very familiar to adult western readers–(The Princess and the Pea and The Sleeping Beauty). The majority of stories in the collection are quite unusual, but it is the comfort of recognition, I think, that gives buyers the confidence to buy the book.

What advice do you have for writers of folk tales or multicultural stories?

First, it is important to acknowledge your sources and to have at least two written sources for each story. If you have that, you are then free to make the story your own.

I work with a lot of writers who are also professional storytellers because the work they have done “live” with children has often helped them to shape their stories. Practice your craft not just by writing but also by telling your stories to young audiences; you will find nothing helps you create a sense of pace and drama as well as a roomful of children. When you are writing for children, it pays to use children as your critics. They know what they like.

What are some of the top qualities or desired topics that will you be looking for in books submitted to you in 2010?

Stories with environmental themes are doing very well for us at the moment, and we expect this trend to continue.

It’s impossible to talk about Barefoot Books without also acknowledging the colorful, vibrant, playful illustrations contained in your stories. What is your process for finding and selecting illustrators, and how would you recommend that an illustrator approach you with his or her work?

This can be the best and worst part of the job! Sometimes, it can take nearly forever for us to find the right illustrator for a project; at any one time, I have a pile of manuscripts in need of illustrators and illustrators whose work would be great for us if we could find the right manuscript.

What I try to look for is illustrators who have found their voice; it is quite hard to define what this means, but their work needs to be completely their own. It may well reveal influences, but it has to be the kind of art that you look at and say “that must be so-and-so.” It can’t look anonymous or neutral. Electronic submissions are fine in the first instance.

And last, stories of the infamous Slush Pile are told among writers like ghost stories around the camp fire, leaving many writers feeling uneasy about how to navigate this mysterious unknown. Can you tell us a little about your own slush pile — how you handle it, when you tackle it, and what you hope you’ll find when reading it?

Ah, the infamous Slush Pile! I think it is essential for writers to appreciate that they are in a field where supply outstrips demand. Often, manuscripts are rejected because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because they are lacking in merit.

I recommend that writers look at publishers’ programmes before they make their submissions; most publishers don’t want to cover the same picture book topic twice. For example, I have a wonderful rhyming story about a small boy who won’t go to bed. I don’t need another picture book on this topic.

There are almost certainly many topics and manuscripts out there which would be just right for Barefoot, but I won’t recognize them until they land on my desk. The process is continually surprising–that is what makes it fun!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Tessa Strickland. Peek: “Though I was born and brought up in rural England, I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures, by the relationships between people and their surroundings, and by the stories we share to make sense of our world. I graduated with a degree in classics from Cambridge University and taught English to schoolchildren in Japan for several years. On my return to London, I began my career in publishing, working first at Penguin and later at Random House, where I was Editorial Director of the Rider List.”

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children’s magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Author Interview: Carole G. Vogel on The Man Who Flies with Birds

Carole Garbuny Vogel is the award-winning author of 26 nonfiction books for children and young adults. Her father was a physicist, and she inherited his fascination with science.

Her first book was Why Mount St. Helens Blew Its Top, co-authored with Kathryn A. Goldner (Dillon Press, 1981), and Carole went on to write books about earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and many other environmental-related topics.

Early in her career one of Carole’s editors dubbed her the “Queen of Natural Disasters,” and the nickname still fits.

What kind of child were you?

I had an immense curiosity about the natural world. I lived for books and outdoor activities like camping, hiking, boating, playing in the snow, horseback riding, and exploring new places. I also had a passion for family history and science. Except for the horseback riding, I haven’t changed much.

The problem for me was that my elementary school in suburban Pittsburgh, was third rate. It didn’t even have a library. Instead there was a “book room,” a large janitor’s closet where teachers could choose books for the two narrow shelves in each classroom devoted to extracurricular reading. Every year, I exhausted the content of the two shelves within the first couple of months of school.

Adding to this, the suburb of 60,000 where I lived didn’t have its own town library. Instead, the book mobile from the county library system came every Thursday to the local strip mall. The book mobile was a converted bus and held more books than the two classroom shelves, but the selection was static. It took me longer to work my way through its selection, but eventually I ran out of books there, too.

My mother was as appalled by the lack of books as I was. So every weekend, she would take my two sisters and me to the main library in Pittsburgh. It was my most favorite place in the city (actually, it tied with the zoo and the dinosaur exhibit in the museum).

Mom decided to do something about the lack of a local library and worked with other like-minded volunteers in the League of Women Voters to get our township to build its own facility. When news of the League’s aspirations appeared in the local newspaper, we received a spate of obscene phone calls, including one death threat, from irate citizens who didn’t want to fund a library with their tax dollars.

Who were your favorite authors?

I didn’t have a favorite author but I gravitated toward books with themes of the natural world. For instance, one of my favorites was Songs of the Swallows by Leo Politi (Scribner, 1949). This Caldecott Medal winning book immortalizes the annual return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano Mission and the boy who loved them.

When I was little, I thought the children who lived near San Capistrano were the luckiest kids in the world because they had these special birds that came back to visit them every year like clockwork. I wish somebody had told me that the cardinals and the robins in my yard were just as special.

All migrating birds respond to an internal clock that lets them know when it is time to migrate, and they commute back and forth between the nesting area where they were born and feeding grounds in warmer climes. One of the things I most enjoyed about writing The Man Who Flies with Birds (Kar-Ben, 2009) is that I got to write about migration triggers and how birds find their way between nesting and feeding areas.

When I was a preschooler I loved Scuffy the Tugboat, a Golden Book by Gertrude Crampton, illustrated by Tibor Gergely. It was the story about a toy tugboat who longed for bigger things than just sailing in a bathtub. One day his owner placed him in a small brook with a quickly moving current and he sailed away. The small brook turned into a larger one and the larger one turned into a river and the river flowed into the ocean.

What I loved about the book was the metamorphosis of the flowing water from tiny babbling brook to large stream to giant river to ocean.


I lived at the top of a steep hill a few miles from the Allegheny River. When it rained hard, the water from our yard cascaded down our driveway, through our backyard, through our neighbor’s yard, down a road, and into a storm drain that emptied into a small stream. The small stream joined a bigger one that collected even more water and became a large creek (pronounced “crick” by western Pennsylvanians). The creek emptied into the even larger Allegheny River. About ten or more miles downriver, the Allegheny combined with the Monongahela River and formed the roiling Ohio River. Many hundreds of miles later the Ohio joined the mighty, muddy Mississippi and eventually spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. I wanted to follow the rainwater from my yard on its long and wonderful journey to the ocean.

Do you know where the water from your yard ends up?

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer?

My grandmother lived in New York City and was a great believer in letter writing. So from the time I was in first grade, I wrote to her regularly. She detested letters that started out, “How are you? I am fine.” So I tried to spice my letters up by tattling on my sisters and describing the trouble that the boy next door got into. I left out the part about my role in these events.

I loved writing letters, and by the time I entered college, I had mastered the craft. One of my old boyfriends saved all the letters that I had sent to him freshman year. When he married someone else several years later, he mailed them all back to me with a note saying that he couldn’t destroy the letters because they were so beautiful.

What was the single best thing you did to improve your craft?

Switched from using passive verbs to vivid, active ones.

What, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently?

I should have gotten a Ph.D.

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

I majored in biology, earned a master’s degree in teaching, and taught elementary school for five years in Pittsburgh. My husband found a job in the Boston area, and we moved, but I couldn’t find a teaching position in our new location.

Then I saw an ad in the newspaper for an el-hi science textbook editor. I landed the job and began ghostwriting science text books and teachers guides for the elementary school market.

While at work I met another science editor whose skills and expertise were comparable to mine. At lunch one day, we discovered that we shared the same desire–to write a children’s book. The next day Mount St. Helens erupted, and we decided to write about the volcano together.

Through dumb luck and perseverance, we found a publisher, and we went on to write eight more books and launched a freelance-editing partnership. We parted nine years later when our interests diverged.

Congratulations on the release of The Man Who Flies with Birds, co-authored by Yossi Leshem (Kar-Ben, 2009)! In your own words, could you tell us about the book?

The Man Who Flies with Birds is the story of Yossi Leshem, an Israeli bird expert. Yossi actually soars with eagles—and with storks, pelicans, and other high-flying birds. Using a silent glider, motorized only for takeoff and landing, he can stay aloft among bird flocks for eleven hours. By tracking the migratory patterns of the 500 million birds that pass over Israel each year, he has been able to significantly reduce the number of bird/airplane collisions.

Since early childhood, Yossi has been fascinated by birds, but it wasn’t until he reached his mid-thirties and learned about birds striking planes that he began his life’s work of studying and eventually flying with migratory birds.

Spending so much time in the air made Yossi acutely aware that birds have no boundaries. He wondered if a shared concern about birds could be used to connect people of different nationalities.

This unique nature book is based on Yossi’s research and offers new insights into the science of migration, examines the impact of changing ecological and cultural conditions on birds, and tells the story of one man’s mission to protect the environment and make peace in the Middle East, one bird-lover at a time.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I read an article in New Scientist Magazine that described Yossi’s work, and I immediately knew his life story would make a great children’s book. So I contacted Yossi and asked him if I could write a children’s book about him. He was interested but on the condition that we would co-author it together. I agreed, and so “The Man Who Flies with Birds” is an autobiography, even though it is told in the third person.

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

Shortly after I signed the contract with Lerner Publishing for The Man Who Flies with Birds, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

Between the stress and the anesthesia, I completely lost my writing ability for about ten months. This was more traumatic than the cancer.

The cancer was picked up so early that the cure rate is nearly 100 percent, so I wasn’t panicked about dying from cancer. What panicked me was the thought that I might never be able to write again. It was a short-term memory issue. I would start to write a paragraph, and by the time I got to the second or third sentence, I would lose my train of thought. I didn’t know where I was going.

What made this even more frustrating was that I had outlined the book completely before my diagnosis. I knew what was supposed to go on each page. But I was dealing with extremely complex science concepts, and I needed to address the complicated political situation in the Middle East. Putting all of this at kid level and making it an interesting and fast-paced read was the challenge. My ability to write came back gradually, and finally, I was able to complete the manuscript and quickly go through the editing and production stages with my editor.

I got a great conciliation prize for delaying publication. The very week that the finished layout was scheduled to go the printer, a U.S. Airways jet taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport encountered a flock of geese. The impact destroyed the engines, and the pilot, Captain Sullie Sullenbeger, made his extremely skilled emergency landing in the Hudson River. All aboard survived.

My editor and I made the decision to include a photo of the passengers standing on the wings of the downed airplane and a description of the incident.

This made for one monumental headache. Remember, the book was already complete. There were no holes that need to be filled. Fitting Sullie’s story in, meant pulling an existing photo from the book and writing new text that fit in seamlessly. We pulled this off successfully. If you read the book, you don’t get the sense that something else should have been in the spot.

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

My co-author is an Israeli and lives in Tel Aviv, which is seven time zones away from my home in Massachusetts. During part of the time we were collaborating, Yossi was on sabbatical in Japan, which was even further away, so finding a time when we could speak was a challenge. Luckily, we both used Skype so telephone bills weren’t exorbitant and most of our communication was done via email.

Language was a tremendous barrier. Yossi’s native language is Hebrew, and some of the reference articles that I needed were written in Hebrew. I found translations for some, but occasionally the meaning of words was lost in translation, and the information was incorrect. So, I was extremely dependent on Yossi for providing the information I needed. Luckily, he was an expert on his own life and work!

Yossi’s written communications were clear cut, but he speaks with a thick Israeli accent, so sometimes I had difficulty deciphering what he said. For instance, he pronounces the word for “birds” as “beards.”

Could you update us on your back-list books, highlighting as you see fit?

Wow–I’ve written 26 books so the list is long. Let’s start with The Restless Sea, a six-book series on the oceans for middle school students (Scholastic Library, 2003). I wish I had published these six books as individual trade titles and not as a series for an institutional publisher. The books represent some of my best writing and most important ideas, and they are enhanced by the most amazing photographs. I devoted three years of my life to this series. This is how I describe the individual titles:

Shifting Shores

Read about sunken cites that lie beneath the ocean and cities which are sinking now and may drown in the near future. You may be surprised by the causes of their demise. The ground beneath your feet may feel rigid and unmovable, but the Earth’s thin, outer crust is broken into large slabs called tectonic plates. The plates move relative to each other, colliding, ripping apart, or scraping past each other. This jostling gives rise to spectacular mountains ranges and immense canyons on land and beneath the sea.

Learn how these tectonic movements reshape coastlines and unleash the world’s cruelest natural disasters—monster earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. A discussion of doomsday rocks—giant meteorites—and their potential to wipe out life as we know it rounds out this book.

Note: In this book I predicted the destruction of New Orleans by a strong hurricane two years before the city was destroyed. When I was writing the text, I felt so strongly that New Orleans was doomed that I convinced my husband to change our vacation plans so we could show the city to our kids. I’m glad he listened!

Human Impact

Human beings have collectively become one of the potent forces in nature, transforming the ocean through overfishing, uncontrolled coastal development, global warming, and pollution. The most dangerous refuse in the ocean may be discarded military equipment, such as bombs, mines, and poison gas.

The ocean is not as resilient as it once seemed. Filthy harbors, dead zones, toxic algae blooms, mass extinctions, and alien invaders from distant waters are all ominous signs of troubled seas. The current generation of scientists and policy-makers has had limited success in reversing the decline of the oceans.

Read why the next generation—the kids in school today—will be better equipped to make a difference when they reach adulthood.

Ocean Wildlife

It’s eat or be eaten beneath the sea. Discover how underwater creatures adapt to their dangerous environment and how they survive and even thrive in a place where most wildlife ends up in the belly of a predator. Cannibalism, deadly venoms, and even sex transformation (changing from a male to female or vice versa) are successful strategies used by some species to compete.


Dangerous Crossings

Gripping real-life stories about killer storms, ship crushing ice, fire at sea, and starved sailors turned cannibal will keep readers turning these pages filled with incredible oceanic disasters and the natural forces that contributed to them. Bloodthirsty pirates of long ago—male and female—come to life in these narratives, along with harrowing accounts of modern-day piracy.


Savage Waters

From the violent origin of Earth and its oceans in a cosmic demolition derby to the celestial impact on waves, tides, and ice ages, readers will be awed by the extraterrestrial forces at work in the natural world. Journey along the hidden landscape of the sea and discover the complex paths of currents, and the relationship between ocean and climate in this dramatic investigation of the world ocean and the secrets it has yet to reveal.


Underwater Exploration

The ocean floor covers nearly 71 percent of the Earth’ surface, yet we know more about the sun, moon, and stars than about the depths of the sea. Until recently, the extreme pressure and inability to navigate underwater made deep-sea exploration almost impossible.

Journey deep beneath the sea on a quest for adventure, knowledge, and sunken treasure in this exciting look at how ocean mapping, manned submersibles, and underwater robots are revealing the secrets of the ocean.


Here are my other titles:

Weather Legends: Native American Lore and the Science of Weather (Millbrook Press, 2001).

This book juxtaposes Native American myths of the origin of interesting weather occurrences with an explanation of the meteorological forces that create weather. In it, you will find native legends of murderous serpents, immense sky warriors, and kindly spirits beings, and how these entities are linked to the amazing dramas that take place in the sky overhead. The book also gives a brief summary of how scientists understand the meteorological forces that dominate the atmosphere and create the weather we experience.

Breast Cancer: Questions & Answers for Young Women (Twenty-First Century Books, 2001).

This is a revised edition of my award-winning book, Will I Get Breast Cancer: Questions & Answers for Teenage Girls. It really should have been titled “Everything You Want to Know about Breasts and Breast Cancer.”

It provides a thorough explanation of breast physiology, function and health. I don’t shy away from issues dealing with size and development, sexual response, and how to respond to stupid wise-cracks from boys.

I tackle breast cancer head on in a non-frightening way. I explain what cancer is, how it is diagnosed and treatment options. I also deal with the emotional and physical aspects–what to expect when someone has breast cancer–and I wrap up with current research and hope for the future.

I may be one of the few self-help writers who has actually benefited greatly from the content of her own writings after publication. I had not experienced breast cancer personally when I wrote the book, but I found the book extremely helpful later when my own cancer was diagnosed. I went into panic mode, but I knew I could trust what I had written.

Nature’s Fury: Eyewitness Reports of Natural Disasters (Scholastic Reference, 2000).

Tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes, wildfire–read for yourself the eyewitness accounts of people who faced 13 different natural disasters and lived to tell about it. Their stories are taken from historical archives, newspapers, and other published sources and from personal interviews and correspondence. These first-person accounts show the courage, ingenuity, and resilience of survivors in the face of natural forces that cannot be controlled. It is a very real view of what it is like to face nature’s fury and survive. This book was a winner of the Boston Authors Club Book Award for young readers.

Legends of Landforms: Native American Lore and the Geology of the Land (Millbrook Press, 1999).

Exploding volcanoes, earth-rattling quakes, mammoth floods, as well as a myriad of other geological and meteorological events have shaped the landscapes of North America. Long ago, Native Americans attributed these events to fearsome dragons, bloodthirsty serpents, helpful giants, and other spirit beings with earth-sculpting capabilities. These interpretations were passed on in the form of legends. This book retells some of these legends and also provides dynamic scientific and explanations of earth-shaping forces.

Some of my earlier titles are:

Shock Waves Through Los Angeles: The Northridge Earthquake (Little Brown, 1996);

The Great Midwest Flood (Little Brown, 1995);

• The Great Yellowstone Fire co-authored with Kathryn A. Goldner (Sierra Club/Little Brown, 1990).

My website shows most of the other books that I have published.

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

I would tell myself to get a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Holocaust studies, and become fluent in German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Italian, and French so I could read original documents. Additionally, I would study conflict resolution so the lessons of the Holocaust could be applied to current events.

What special advice do you have for children’s nonfiction writers?

Unless you have a trust fund, make sure you have the skills and degrees necessary to get well paying work to supplement your writing income.

Other than your own, what is your favorite children’s nonfiction book of the year and why?

I need to take a pass on this question. I am on the awards committee for the Boston Authors Club, and so I see a lot of incredible books but I am not comfortable publicly identifying which one I like best.

However, if you are looking for a good read, go the Boston Authors Club website and check out the award-winning books and recommended ones for both young readers and adults. The top award winner in each category takes home a prize of $1,000.

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

My husband and I have spent the last few years rebuilding my grandparents’ 75-year-old lakeside cottage. We alternate our time at the lake between grunt work in the house and yard, and fun things such as hiking, kayaking, throwing barbeques and dinner parties, and entertaining out-of-town guests. Some of our biggest challenges involve keeping bats, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels out of the attic and keeping Canada geese and great blue heron off our dock (if we don’t, our dock gets covered in bird poop.)

Genealogy is one of my greatest passions. I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and as a result, I have tremendous interest in family history and the historical events that impacted my family. This interest has led me to some of my most amazing life experiences.

For instance, I joined a dialogue group that brought together children of Holocaust survivors with sons and daughters of Nazis. In the group, I met a woman Inge Franken whose father, like mine, was born in Germany in 1912.

My father’s life and the lives of his family members in Germany were shattered when Hitler came to power and enacted his anti-Jewish legislation. Many of his relatives were murdered. I have been able to learn the fate of most of his close relatives, but to this day, I still don’t know how one of his uncles perished—he vanished without a trace.

Inge’s father became a devout Nazi, joined the German Army, and participated in the siege of Leningrad, which killed 1.5 million civilians, mostly by starvation.

Together, Inge and I speak in classrooms in both the United States and Germany about growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I’ll let it be a surprise.

Cynsational Notes

The Man Who Flies with Birds was named to the Smithsonian Notable Books for Children 2009 list, and it was recognized as a 2010 Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book for Older Readers. “The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) since 1968, the Award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature.”

Cynsational News

Story Secrets: Ice by Sarah Beth Durst from Holly Cupala. Peek: “I wrote this book as a love letter to my husband. It’s about true love… the kind of love where you’d go east of the sun and west of the moon for each other. So this novel is very closed to my heart. It’s also about polar bears, one of the coolest animals ever. No pun intended.”

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Bonnie Doerr by Janet Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “The Florida Keys! What an exotic, beautiful place to set a story. Hundreds of acres of wildlife refuge surrounded me. The adorable endangered Key deer would be delightful subjects. There was a rich human success story in their survival. Wonderful science behind it. What mystery could surround them? How could teens get involved? Add a little danger, unique characters, a taste of the wild on land and sea.”

The Call (Yes, the call. With the agent!) by Kristina McBride. Peek: “I had spent two years writing three novels, countless hours researching agents to query, double that in time spent on perfecting the query letters, and finally, after everything, I was going to speak to an actual, real-life literary agent sitting in one of those crazy tall buildings in NYC! After freaking out for a few hours, I decided that I needed a plan.”

Before Accepting Agent Representation by Kathleen Temean from Writing and Illustrating: Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children. Peek: “Don’t skip this crucial step because you’re worried that questions will scare him off, or that the offer won’t last. This isn’t a TV promo, it’s a potential business partnership. His offer is on the table, waiting patiently for your consideration and ultimate response.”

Interview with Libby Schmais, author of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein from the YA Authors Cafe. Peek: “I remember writing the first sentence and immediately liking the character of Lotus. The beginning is pretty straightforward, in the classic first person narrative ‘Call Me Ishmael’ tradition. Lotus starts with: As you may have guessed, my name is Lotus Lowenstein and this is my diary.”

Interview with Nancy Holder by Malinda Lo from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “It’s just as hard to write a short story as a novel, and harder to write a comic book. The comic book form is incredibly difficult, and I’m humbled by the artistry of my betters (and grateful for my great artists). I used to prefer writing short stories, but I like the sense of continuity and flow that I can get from working on a novel. But really, what I like to do is write. “

Stages of Revision by Natalie Whipple at Between Fact and Fiction. Peek: “The plot is your base—your story relies on this as a firm foundation. If you have weak areas, you risk readers putting down your book. Because of that, my first revisions always revolve around tightening the plot.” Souce: Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent.

Social Networking: What a Children’s Publisher Expects: A Conversation with Donna Spurlock from Charlesbridge Marketing by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon Blog. Peek: “”It’s always been the case (even at Charlesbridge) that a few books are your ‘lead books’ and they get the majority of the marketing dollars. Here it’s been more of an even distribution, but when a book starts to pull ahead in sales, or we know going in that a Jerry Pallotta or Mitali Perkins is going to be working overtime to promote the book, we get behind them more financially. Authors need to do the legwork to get to that point. And it’s their personality that’s going to do it.” Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Alisha Niehaus on Editing Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne (Dial, 2010) from Before I forget…musings, ramblings, and ideas to note from author Erin Dionne. Peek: “One thing I always do is approach each draft as a new manuscript—unless I have a specific question, I don’t go back to my previous notes. This way, if one element has been ‘fixed’ by a new one, or if it wasn’t that big of an issue in the first place—or if something still feels unaddressed, I have fresher, more holistic eyes.”

How to Write a Great Query Letter: An Example That Worked by Cheryl Klein, editor at Arthur A. Levine Books from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: “Gbemi [Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich ] has kindly allowed me to reprint her original letter here and annotate it….”

Top 10: Selling Your First Children’s Novel by Jen Nadol from 2010: A Book Odyssey. Peek: “54% of Tenners got an agent with less than 10 queries, but 17% of us queried more than 40 agents before getting an offer. As one of that 17%, I can vouch that persistence (read: stubbornness) pays off…to a point. “

“Rock Bottom” by Kerry Madden from A Good Blog is Hard to Find. Peek: “…that year of writing somebody else’s story and then the grief and distraction of trying to get paid, I realized I was losing my own voice. I had hit rock bottom. I still took care of the kids and lived my life with a very patient and loving husband, but I had let my stories go in the name of money, and what a paltry sum it was. And so I returned to the first few chapters of a children’s novel I’d started called Gentle’s Holler (Viking, 2005), and those Weems’ children saved me.” Read a Cynsations interview with Kerry.

Looking at the Agent Search by Lisa Schroeder from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “I didn’t whine publicly about the rejections. You never know who might be reading, so it’s important to keep that frustration under control and always be professional. Have writer friends you can vent to, or set up a special locked LiveJournal account for friends to read only.” Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Key to Marketing Your Book: Time Well Spent by Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “Needless to say: unless you were born with more hours in the day than the rest of us, doing everything is not possible.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Be Kind to Failure by Tami Lewis Brown from Cynsations. Peek: “Creativity is all about moving into new directions. Taking chances. Being risky. Breaking the rules. And when you break those rules you’re upsetting the applecart, for others and for yourself. You’re grabbing failure by the neck and giving it a good strong shake.”

Children’s/YA Books Set in Haiti: a bibliography compiled by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “Stories can bring faraway people and places from the screen into our homes and hearts, and keep them there, even through information overload or compassion fatigue.” See 2009 Illustrated Books with African American Characters, also from Mitali. Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Thematic Book List – Earthquakes by Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect. Peek: “The list that follows explains the science behind earthquakes. You’ll find some nonfiction titles, some poetry, and a bit of history, both true and imagined.”

Teaching Professional Development Classes for Teachers by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “As freelance writers, we often need to look for creative ways to generate income to pay those pesky bills. One solid way for me has been to teach professional development sessions in the summer, continuing education classes for teachers which are required for renewal of their certification.” Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Kidlitosphere Immersion Week: an online class taught by children’s author Anastasia Suen. Peek: “Immerse yourself in the social media world of children’s book authors, illustrators and reviewers and have your social media questions answered in this 5 lesson email workshop. During this week you will explore: blogs, microblogs, book reviews, virtual tours, and your social media plan.” Dates: Feb. 22 to Feb. 26; March 22 to March 26. $19.99.

Myracle Worker by Debra Lau Whelan from School Library Journal. An interview with YA author Lauren Myracle. Peek: “I just like them. So yes, I guess I do hang out with tweens and teens a lot, whether at church, or my kids’ schools, or through contact with the scads and scads of awesome babysitters I’ve lured into my life. I ask them questions, I Facebook them with ‘how do y’all feel about _____’ concerns, and I actively solicit interaction on my blog.”

What Can You Do with a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla, illustrated by Magaly Morales (Tricycle, 2009) is the thirteenth annual winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. The award is given by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), a library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Interview with a Two-Time Newbery Committee Member Vaunda Micheaux Nelson from Spellbinders. Peek: “The secrecy is both necessary and part of the fun. I cannot tell you what went on behind the closed doors during the many hours of sequestered meetings. (Committee members need to feel free to speak frankly, knowing that their comments will not be repeated outside.) I cannot tell you what books were or were not discussed. I cannot tell you specifics about the balloting. It’s all confidential. Forever. But there are some things I can tell you about my year.” Note: Vaunda also is the 2010 winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.

The Writer’s Page: Hot Dog, Katsa! by Kristin Cashore from The Horn Book. Peek: “Writing fantasy happens to be all about limitations. It’s about keeping to the rules; it’s about building a world that’s believable to the reader because it’s both comprehensive and consistent; it’s about assembling a body, a structure, that stands up on its own.”

In Which I Am the Bearer of Very Bad News by Kiersten White from Kiersten Writes. Note: Kiersten is the debut author of Paranormalcy (HarperTeen, 2010). Peek: “Expect submissions to be hard. Expect to be something of an emotional wreck. But expect to succeed. And work toward this success by being smart about things. What should you do while you’re on submission?”

Where Have all the Folktales Gone? by author Bobbi Miller. Peek: “The question sparks this wonderful conversation among writers, editors, agents, and librarians — a gathering of wisdom from those who share the love of the traditional tale — as they explore the following questions: Have we outgrown our need for folktales? Are there contemporary complements? Where do the retold, re-imagined and refurbished folktales fit in a folktale collection? Are they folktales? What is the folklore process anyway?”

Official Jekel Loves Hyde Book Trailer Contest from author Beth Fantaskey. Awesome first-pace prizes include meeting the author! Deadline: March 15.

Whole Novel Workshop for Fantasy with authors Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu from May 1 to May 8 from Highlights Foundation. Peek: “The Whole Novel Workshop offers writers the rare opportunity to have the entire draft of a novel read and critiqued prior to the workshop, followed by a week of intense, one-on-one mentoring.”

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Melissa Sweet by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “Her mixed-media collage illustrations are detailed and exuberant, always visually appealing; her watercolors, luminous. Full of graceful details for young children and picture book aficionados alike, they clearly mark the work of an illustrator with a keen eye — for nature and for children, in particular.”

Sylvan Dell Publishing’s Blog: “…will keep you updated on all that’s happening around the Sylvan Dell offices, from new book releases and awards won to stellar national reviews and exciting technological advances. Come back often to read entries from the Sylvan Dell staff, as well as articles and advice from our authors and illustrators.”

Expert Scoop with Agent Jennifer Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency from The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story. Peek: “Ten percent of my clients are ‘people of color.’ Though this isn’t a primary factor in my selection process, I do find myself attracted to stories featuring multicultural characters where race isn’t the issue.”

Screening Room

In the video below, YA author Lisa Schroeder talks about How to Do a Drive-By Book Signing. Short, sweet, and nicely illustrative. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

In the video below, Renee Ting of Shen’s Books talks to Debbi Michiko Florence about what she loved most writing her two non-fiction titles, China and Japan. Read a Cynsations interview with Debbi.

Check out the book trailer for Darklight by Lesley Livingston (HarperTeen, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Lesley.

Here’s a sneak peek at the book trailer for Front Page Face-Off by Jo Whittemore (Aladdin Mix, March 2010). See also Jo on revision.

Check out the book trailers for Hearts at Stake (The Drake Chronicles) by Alyxandra Harvey (Walker, 2009).

Thanks to reader Clandestine Mariane from the Philippines for creating this fan book trailer to celebrate Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010).

More Personally

I’m thrilled to be back at Cynsations after my winter hiatus teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults winter 2010 residency in Montpelier! Note: VCFA is now accepting applications from international students!

While in Vermont, I was honored to learn that I’d been featured as Author of the Month at Fully Booked Bookstores in the Philippines! It was such a thrill to hear from so many new readers because of that great news.

Harley students review ‘Indian Shoes’ by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002) from the DemocratandChronicle.com of Rochester, New York. Peek: “Ray convinced the lady to take his shoes, a pair of sneakers with neon orange laces, instead.” Note: includes photo with student art. Learn more about Indian Shoes. Don’t miss the reading group guide and free readers’ theater.

Thanks to D.L. Keur from The Deepening: World of Fiction for featuring Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010).

Even More Personally

Congratulations to all of the ALA award winners, honorees, and list makers! See Austinites put in a solid showing in American Library Association literary awards. Peek: “Nice job, folks. Austin grows by the day as a literary mecca, but our authors really seem to do a bang-up job with kids’ stuff.” Read Cynsations interviews with Jacqueline Kelly, Liz Garton Scanlon, Chris Barton, and beloved expat Libba Bray.

Congratulations to Austin YA author Margo Rabb on the Dec. 30 birth of her son, Leo Stephen. Read a Cynsations interview with Margo.

Congratulations to Austin’s Erin Edwards on the publication of her “Oracle of Love” craft in “Disney Family Fun Magazine.”

Austin Area Events

Congratulations to the incoming Austin SCBWI regional advisor Debbie Gonzales on her new leadership role in the chapter (and to the members, who’ll wildly benefit from her efforts).

Author Bethany Hegedus will speak on “scene and structure” (“If You Build It, They Will Read”) from 11 a.m. to noon Feb. 13 at BookPeople in conjunction with Austin SCBWI. Note: “bring a notebook and get ready to examine Aristotle’s Incline and the 7 Key Scenes every book needs. Please be familiar with Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2000)…, as Bethany will discuss the Seven Key Scenes used to build this gem of a book.”

More Cynsational Events

From The New York Times: “‘Tea with Chachaji’ (Monday through Thursday) Inspired by Uma Krishnaswami’s book Chachaji’s Cup (Children’s Book Press, 2003), the show focuses on the relationship between Neel, a young American of Indian ancestry, and his great-uncle Chachaji, whose traditions seem more foreign as Neel grows older. Presented this week in the Bronx, the show will travel to Manhattan and Brooklyn. (Through Feb. 11.) At 10:30 a.m., Lovinger Theater, Lehman College, 250 Bedford Park Boulevard West, at Goulden Avenue, Bedford Park, the Bronx, (212) 573-8791, makingbookssing.org; $16; $8.50 for school groups.” See more on the production from Children’s Book Press.

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 at Alief Taylor High School, and admission is free! Speakers include keynoter Sharon Draper and:

Note: bring money to purchase books and food.

Cynsations Winter Hiatus & VCFA Winter Residency

Cynsations will be on hiatus from now until sometime shortly after Jan. 22 while I teach at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults winter 2010 residency in Montpelier.

I look forward to working with fellow faculty members Kathi Appelt, Margaret Bechard, Alan Cumyn, Sharon Darrow, Sarah Ellis, A.M. Jenkins, Ellen Howard, Uma Krishnaswami, Julie Larios, Martine Leavitt, Laura McGee Kvasnosky, Leda Schubert, Shelley Tanaka, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Tim Wynne-Jones. In addition, Carolyn Coman will be matched with post-graduate students.

Kimberly Willis Holt is the writer in residence. Sarah is leading the picture book certificate program, and the visiting author-illustrator is Lynne Rae Perkins.

Our graduate assistants will be Marianna Baer, Debbie Gonzales, Sarah Sullivan, and Zu Vincent.

Cynsational Notes

Children’s-YA writing enthusiasts should watch my Twitter account! Beginning Sunday, I’ll be tweeting the occasional faculty quote from the winter residency. Note: you do not have to be registered at Twitter or to “follow” me to read the tweets. You can just go to my Twitter page, and they’ll all be displayed there, in descending order, from most to least recent.