YA & Kids! Books Central Auction: Bid on a First-10-Pages Critique by Children’s-YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Do you write for middle graders or young adults?

Bid to win a critique by me, author Cynthia Leitich Smith, of the first 10 pages of your novel in progress!

I’m the author of Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed (Feb. 2011), and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Feb., 2011; a graphic novel) as well as middle grade-YA short stories and books for younger children.

I’m also on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

I’ll provide extensive comments on the manuscript, an overview letter, and, if applicable, suggest both additional resources for study and marketing strategies.

Bidding begins at $10.

Auction ends at midnight CST March 30. Bid here!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Young Adult & Kids! Book Central and its auction. Peek: “We’re in the middle of a major fundraising effort in order to raise the money necessary to upgrade and expand the website. As part of that effort, we are hosting auctions with the prizes donated by supporters of YABC.”

Cynsational Events Round-Up

Children’s-YA author Bethany Hegedus spoke on scene and structure to Austin SCBWI members on Feb. 13 at BookPeople. She highlighted Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2000) as a model for study. Note: Bethany also works for the Writers’ League of Texas and is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Donna Bowman Bratton and former regional advisor Tim Crow.

Jo Whittemore. Jo looks forward to the release of Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin, March 2010).

Here’s a shot of the huge crowd, which doesn’t begin to show everyone in the audience.

April Lurie. April is celebrating the release of The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010), which is about a boy who’s hunting down a serial killer in Austin. Don’t miss this week’s Cynsations interview with April.

Debbie Gonzales, Bethany Hegedus, Brian Anderson, Jo Whittemore, Erin Edwards, Tim Crow, and Greg Leitich Smith at Opal Divine’s Freehouse.

Don Tate and Mark G. Mitchell at “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 on Feb. 15 at Round Rock (Texas) Higher Education Center. Note: I spoke on the young adult literature panel.

Four of the fabulous DDDs–Margo Rabb, Jennifer Ziegler, April Lurie, and Varian Johnson.

Last weekend, I had the honor of keynoting at the Houston SCBWI annual conference. The Friday night reception was held at co-chair Varsha Bajaj‘s home in Katy, Texas. Pictured above are fellow co-chair Carmen Bredeson and former regional advisor Mary Wade.

Tim with conference co-chair and hostess Varsha Bajaj.

In true Texas style, a barbecue dinner was served.

Lisa Ann Sandell, senior editor at Scholastic; Sara Crowe, agent at Harvey Klinger; and author Jenny Moss.

Here’s a peek at one of the rooms at the party, which filled the first floor of the lovely Bajaj home.

Children’s author Dotti Enderle.

Brazos Valley SCBWI regional advisor Liz Mertz (striped shirt) with Oklahoma author Anna Myers and College Station author Kathi Whitehead.

At the conference the next day, author Shirley Smith Duke shows off No Bows! illustrated by Jenny Mattheson (Peachtree, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with Shirley.

Alexandra Cooper, senior editor at Simon & Schuster; Sara, and Ruta Rimas, assistant editor at Balzar & Bray/HarperCollins.

Varsha accepts the Houston SCBWI Mary Wade Volunteer of the Year Award.

Afterward, attendees enjoyed their choice of chicken or beef fajitas at a local restaurant.

Mark, Varian, and Sara.

Cynsational Notes

Thank you to Blue Willow Bookshop for its support at the Houston SCBWI book sale!

Houston chapter members include Gail Greenberg, author of No Pig’s Brain Soup, Please! illustrated by Lauren Forgie (KAM Publishing, 2009). “…a humorous story about a…girl who thinks she must choose between the Jewish culture of her adopted family and her Chinese heritage.”

Back matter includes a recipe for Pig Brain Soup in Casserole. See excerpt and teaching activities (both PDFs).

Look for the book at Blue Willow Bookshop, Brazos Bookstore, River Oaks Bookstore, and Read it Again and Again in Houston. It is also available at www.gailegreenberg.com.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Three Days of Fey by Shveta Thakrar from A Desi Faerie Spins Stories of Stars and Silver, Jasmine in Her Hair. Featuring interviews with Cyn Balog, Malinda Lo, and watch this LJ for number three. Read Cynsations interviews with Cyn and Malinda.

“New Snow,” a poem by author Sharon Darrow. Read a Cynsations interview with Sharon.

Looking for Asian Guy Protagonists in YA Novels by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Surf over and suggest! Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Seeking Vegetarian Children’s-Authors by Roger Sutton from Read Roger. Peek: “For an upcoming article, we need to compile a list of children’s and YA authors and illustrators, living or dead, who are/were vegetarians.” Read a Cynsations interview with Roger.

AJA Affiliates with ALA from The Association of Jewish Libraries Blog. Peek: “The Association of Jewish Libraries has become an affiliate of the American Library Association.”

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with author-illustrator Matt Tavares by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “…my most recent books were done primarily in watercolor and gouache (which is opaque watercolor). My first couple books were monochromatic, done completely in pencil. This was for a couple reasons…. ” See also Coffee with Kathi [Appelt] and Kelly [Murphy], Singin’ the Blues…, likewise from SITBB.

Soup’s On: Arnold Hiura in the Kitchen Interview by Jama Rattigan from jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. Peek: “I think the ‘70s were a transformative time, when the so-called Hawaiian Renaissance led to new respect and appreciation of the Hawaiian language, music and dance, as well as local literature, Pidgin English and local food. The Hawai’i Regional Cuisine movement has its roots in this period.”

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month by Naomi Bates from YA Books and More. Peek: “In the state of Texas, 3 out of 4 individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 have been affected by relationship violence, either personally or about someone they knew? That means that in the average classroom 75% of students are experiencing abuse or know someone who is.” Post includes online resources and suggested bibliography of YA fiction.

Strong Writers Do This by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “‘Hoping an editor won’t notice’ isn’t a solid marketing plan. Even if they had the time (which they don’t), editors aren’t in the business of fixing the story for you or teaching you how to write. That’s up to you-but what can you do?”

28 Days Later: Jerdine Nolen by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature. Peek: “It was based in part on a chapter from my mother’s life; and her desire for each of her eight children to get a college education—something she so wanted, but was not able to achieve for a variety of reasons.” Note: please consider reading the whole series, and if you’re a blogger, highlighting whichever you determine to be the standout links.

Giving Your Writing Depth by Anna Staniszewski. Peek: “Do the characters’ motivations come across clearly in the story? Are their actions logically linked to their feelings and desires?”

So You Wanna Be a Children’s Book Editor by Alvina from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “if you’re not able to relocate, you could research to see if there are any literary agents living nearby, and see if they need interns and/or manuscript readers.”

Do Small Press Credits Hurt My Chances? by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “Getting published with a small press won’t hurt your chances at getting an agent, as long as it’s not a small press that you, yourself, founded to be your self-publishing or vanity project. It won’t necessarily increase your chances, though, either, because…”

Publicity: It’s Never Too Early to Think Ahead by Lizzy Mason, senior publicist at Simon and Schuster, from QueryTracker. Peek: “Particularly as marketing budgets decrease (meaning smaller, more circumscribed tours and less advertising), publicity has become more important than ever.”

Guest Post: Varian Johnson on Battling Time Suck from Justine Larbalestier. Peek: “When it comes to protecting your writing time, you have to be cold. Heartless. Merciless. Ruthless. Remember, you’re not Fredo Corleone. You’re Michael.” Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

What It Takes to Succeed as a Novelist by Libby Koponen from Crowe’s Nest. A list of eight qualities.

Marketing Stages by Guest Blogger Shelli Johanes-Wells from R.L. LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Note: don’t miss part two.

The YA-5: “a group of writers with a shared vision for change. Change in the way that information about YA books is shared on the web – with you, the people who read & love YA books. We don’t want to tell you which books to buy – we’d rather hear what you think.” Note: the blog team includes

Picture Book Endings: a series of posts by Michelle Markel from The Cat and the Fiddle. See also Picture Book Endings: Fantasy, Picture Book Endings: Realistic Fiction, Picture Book Endings: Historical Fiction, Picture Book Endings: Lyrical, and Picture Book Endings: A Biography, a Wrap-up. Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle.

Common Sense Raises Issues at B&N by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Sarah] Dessen‘s own feelings were initially mixed. ‘I’m not sure how I feel about this. I mean, I’m sure it’s useful for parents. But I worry it’s breaking a book down into these pieces that don’t do justice to the whole. What do you think?'” See also Kerfuffle from Sarah and Judy Blume: Too Hot for Sixth Grade by Kate Harding from Salon.com.

Checklist and Timeline for MG or YA book release by Lisa Schroeder from Lisa’s Little Corner of the Internet. Peek: “Put a call out for a street team. Send postcards, bookmarks, other swag to a certain number of people who are willing to talk up the book to their friends, teachers, librarians, etc. Make them feel special, perhaps give a little gift for helping!” Source: Gwenda Bond. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Read Me a Story, Ink.: Read-aloud Short Story Index from Robert Topp. Searchable index of children’s short stories. Peek: “An outgrowth of my 15-year hobby of reading aloud in the public schools, this index of read aloud stories is offered for the use of teachers, educators, parents or anyone who enjoys reading to children.”

On-site Research by P.J. Hoover from The Spectacle. Peek: “Okay, let’s start with the five senses, and for grin’s sake, let’s pick a sewage treatment plant as our perfect place to research.” Read a Cynsations interview with P.J. and Jessica Lee Anderson.

But How Do You Feel About That? by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker. Peek: “People told me my stuff was big, as in big-screen HD with a surround sound system. It was passionate and colorful and exciting.”

Pie-of-the-month Club – Toni Buzzeo by Heather Vogel Frederick from Set Sail for Adventure. Note: In celebration of a pair of pie-related books that she has coming out later this year–Babyberry Pie (Harcourt, Oct. 2010) and Pies & Prejudice (Simon & Schuster, Sept. 2010), Heather is hosting a “pie-of-the-month-club” on her blog. Throughout 2010 she’ll be serving up a stellar selection of new books by some fabulous authors and illustrators. Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course. Read Cynsations interviews with Toni and Heather.

Male from the Other Perspective by Karen Strong from Musings of a Novelista. Peek: “…what I find interesting is that some readers complain that the male voice is ‘feminized’ or not ‘authentic.’ And I often wonder what that means.”

What a Girl Wants: On the Eternally Infamous “Bad Girl” by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray. Peek: “Based purely on sex – or the suggestion of sex – a teenage girl can ruin her reputation while conversely, for identical, a teenage boy can cement his. It is a troubling double standard that permeates our society and can result in everything from shunning to, in its most dire circumstance, death.” A conversation with Neesha Meminger, Sara Ryan, Beth Kephart, Laurel Snyder, Lorie Ann Grover, and Zetta Elliott.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Isn’t Going Under: the official press release, courtesy of Jill Cocoran from Jill Cocoran Books. Peek: “Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Secures New $650 Million Cash Investment and Recapitalizes Balance Sheet in Historic Restructuring.”

Congratulations to Jaclyn Dolamore on the new U.S. cover for Magic Under Glass (Bloomsbury, 2010). From the Bloomsbury UK promotional copy: “Nimira is a music-hall performer forced to dance for pennies to an audience of leering drunks. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to do a special act – singing accompaniment to an exquisite piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new life. In Parry’s world, however, buried secrets stir. Unsettling below-stairs rumours abound about ghosts, a mad woman roaming the halls, and of Parry’s involvement in a gang of ruthless sorcerers who torture fairies for sport. When Nimira discovers the spirit of a dashing young fairy gentleman is trapped inside the automaton’s stiff limbs, waiting for someone to break the curse and set him free, the two fall in love. But it is a love set against a dreadful race against time to save the entire fairy realm, which is in mortal peril.” Source: Reading Extensively.

Moralizing in Books by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “The best way to deliver a message is to create a vibrant character who goes through something in the plot and emerges on the other side a little bit (or a lot bit) changed, but their realizations should never be blatantly expressed.”

On Not Everyone Appreciating Your Book The Way You Hope They Will from Jay Asher. Peek: “Your part of the author/reader conversation ended the moment you turned in your edits. From then on, the only thing that will change about your story will be the people reading it.” Read a Cynsations interview with Jay.

Is Magical Realism Fantasy? an interview with Jennifer Cervantes and her agent, Laurie McLean by Lena Castle from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “I live in New Mexico where you can wake up to the most magnificent sunrise creeping over the mountains and end the day watching swirls of pink and orange dance across the sky. I am truly captivated by the natural beauty of the southwest. It is the kind of place that feeds your spirit and makes you believe anything is possible.”

Spotlight on Bookstores: A Secular Temple: guest post by Susan Jane Gilman from She Is Too Fond of Books…And It Has Addled Her Brain. Peek: “The emotions, hopes, and fears of an entire neighborhood – perhaps an entire people – were articulated there that night amid the bookshelves, themselves testaments to our civilization’s struggles and endurance.”

Editor Alexander Cooper on Submitting to an Editor by Samantha Clark from Day By Day Writer. Peek: “One of the reasons publishing companies are more cautious on picture books right now is the cost and economy. Color picture books are printed in China, and the weak dollar is making printing costs rise.”

School Visits 101 Workshop: a six-lesson, eight-week email course for published children’s book authors and illustrators taught by author Anastasia Suen. Peek: “…you will plan your school visit talk minute-by-minute, try out a webcam visit, decide on your school visit prices, create a mailing list of local schools, design a postcard, organize your book signings and update your webpage.” Dates: March 3 to April 21 or April 7 to May 26 or May 5 to June 23. Cost $149.

Voices You Should Hear: Nancy Bo Flood by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “…children are caught in the crossfire between warring nations. Children’s schools, homes, families and entire childhood are taken from them. But I wrote with a sense of hope. The human spirit endures, heals, even forgives, and re-builds. Someway I wanted to convey all of that.” Learn more about Nancy’s new release, Warriors in the Crossfire (Front Street, 2010), “which provides a historical perspective on American involvement in the Pacific front during WWII, an aspect of American history seldom represented in children’s literature.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

Let’s love some libraries by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: “…you put up a blog post during that week (although you can pick the exact dates of your involvement, and whether you want to do a shorter time frame or even extend past that time). You agree to donate a certain amount of money for every comment you receive on that post by a certain date. (You pick the amount.) The money goes to your local library, bookmobile, or other literacy-based charity… You can set a cap on the donation if need be.”

Copyright.gov has Resources to Answer Questions by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Online Platform Do’s and Don’ts by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “If you can’t update at least once a week, you should think of a static website like the one I mentioned above.”

There are no guarantees, in writing or in life by Lisa Schroeder from Author2Author. Peek: “I’ve heard stories of how some of them sell everything and go into huge amounts of debt to be able to go to the Olympics. Right now, I’m trying this dream thing on for size, doing the writing thing full-time. And it’s so scary.” Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Author Interview with Bobbi Miller by JoAnn Early Macken from Teaching Authors. Peek: “The language of the tall tale defies the tidy and restrictive, even uptight structure of formal grammar. It mocks it, in fact, using pseudo-Latinate prefixes and suffixes to expand on the root.”

On Not Giving Up Your Creative Dreams by T.S. from Must Love Books. Peek: “If you work hard enough and you have passion and a willingness to learn and grow, you will have options. And in the meantime, it isn’t going to help you to compare yourself to the competition. Be inspired by them, learn from them, but don’t be intimidated by their presence.”

Cynsational Screening Room

The Texas Sweethearts discuss their plans for March 2010.

Here’s a feature video on the film “Beastly” (July 2010), adapted from the novel by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

More Personally

It’s been an exciting release month! Tantalize and Eternal (both Candlewick) are now available as e-books, and Eternal is now available in paperback in the U.S.! See a fan trailer for Tantalize below!

You can bid soon to win a 10-page novel or short story critique with me from the Young Adult Books Central Fundraising Auction! Bookmark and check back often as new items will be added on an ongoing basis. Authors and publishers can bid now to win a book trailer from NoWickiProduction! Note: auction ends midnight CST March 15; if you have something you’d like to donate for auction, please contact kim@yabookscentral.com.

I’m also happy to say that my revision of Blessed is off to my editor. Given the extent of changes, I expect to do one more (hopefully smaller) round after this, and I look forward to it.

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review by Leslie from That Chick That Reads. Peek: “I loved the alternate point of views between Zach and Miranda; it’s funny because they don’t really anticipate each other’s motives or next moves.”

Greg and I stayed in this past Valentine’s Day, and he replicated the dinner he’d cooked for me on our first date.

Including the bananas foster–yum!

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win Bell’s Star (Horse Diaries 2) by Alison Hart, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Random House, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Bell’s Star” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up; I’ll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: Feb. 28.

Read “Writing About Horses” by Alison Hart from Cynsations.

Enter to win one of two copies of The Book of Samuel by Erik Raschke (St. Martin’s, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “The Book of Samuel” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up; I’ll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: Feb. 28. Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; the other will go to any Cynsations reader!

Cynsational Events

“Putting the Power in PowerPoint” with author P.J. Hoover will be at 11 a.m. March 6 at BookPeople. Peek: “Don’t think you’re savvy enough? Scared of animation? Sick of using the same old standard templates? Afraid of boring kids and adults alike? Then don’t miss out on this presentation by author P. J. “Tricia” Hoover. P.J. will dispel the burdening and fearful thoughts PowerPoint may conjure. She’ll explain how to build a fantastic PowerPoint presentation from the ground up, and how, once that first presentation is done, it can be modified and reused for others in the future. P.J. will go over the basics of creating your own custom template to personalize your presentation, and how to use animation and images to bring your presentation to life. Materials: bring an open mind and a bundle of energy.” Sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Jacqueline Kelly will be be reading from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009) and signing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 6 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Jacqueline.

Release party – author Jo Whittemore will celebrate Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin Mix, 2010) at 1 p.m. March 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Joint release party – YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie will be featured in a joint book signing at 2 p.m. March 27 at BookPeople in Austin. Varian will be signing Saving Maddie, and April will be signing The Less-Dead (both Delacorte, 2010).

Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 27 at Embassy Suites Hotel (1815 S. Meridian) in Oklahoma City. Faculty includes: editor Amy Lennex, Sleeping Bear Press; editor Greg Ferguson, Egmont USA; associate editor Kate Fletcher, Candlewick; Stephen Fraser, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency; and senior designer (art director) Kerry Martin, Clarion. See registration form, information on writers’ and illustrators’ critiques, and more. Note: registration closes March 23.

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:

Release party – author Chris Barton will celebrate Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) at 1 p.m. April 24 at BookPeople in Austin.

Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. Note: I usually list conference speakers/critiquers, but as you’ll see from the faculty bios (all eleven pages), it’s an unusually big group. I will say, however, that I’m honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

Master Class/Writing Salon Event Details from Austin SCBWI. Peek: A Master Class/Writing Salon for the advanced writer, led by author Carol Lynch Williams, will be held May 15 at the Ranch House at Teravista in Round Rock, Texas. The cost is $80. Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

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: Kathi Baron on Shattered

Kathi Baron is the first-time author of Shattered (WestSideBooks, 2009); visit Kathi at Blogger. From the promotional copy:

Teen violin prodigy Cassie has been tiptoeing around her father, whose moods have become increasingly explosive. After he destroys her beloved and valuable violin in a sudden rage, Cassie, shocked, runs away, eventually seeking refuge in a homeless shelter.

She later learns that her father, a former violinist, was physically beaten as a child by her grandfather, a painful secret he’s kept hidden from his family and the cause of his violent outbursts.

With all of their lives shattered in some way, Cassie’s family must struggle to repair their broken relationships.

As Cassie moves forward, she ultimately finds a way to help others, having developed compassion through her own painful experiences.

Written in lyrical prose, Shattered tells the moving story of how one girl finds inner strength through music.

Looking back, were 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?

Yes, I’m surprised! My journey to this book has been 13 years long. I woke up on my fortieth birthday in May 1996 crying because I had not yet focused on my writing.

My husband, who is a psychiatrist, responded with, “Then, write.”

Before Shattered, I wrote two novels, five short stories, two picture books, many, many poems and a non-fiction essay. I’ve submitted all of these pieces over the years…to publishers, contests, and literary journals. One of my short stories received an honorable mention in a writing contest. It was supposed to be published in an anthology for young adults, but the publisher changed her mind and never published the collection of stories by contest winners.

So even though Shattered is the only thing I’ve published so far, it was all fruitful work. Each piece offered me opportunities to learn about pacing, page turning, plot, point of view, tense, and dialogue.

I’ve been afraid to count my rejections because there are so many! The most memorable is one from an agent I received on my second novel. He was brutally honest, harsh.

I cried reading it and thought of giving up. But playing with words and figuring out plots, discovering characters and researching things gives me so much joy that not writing anymore wasn’t an option. Instead, I decided I didn’t have enough skill to match the stories in my head.

In 2002, I applied to the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

There I learned how reading and critique could support my writing. In the role of apprentice, I tried to take in everything from my mentors.

Louise Hawes supported me to find the courage to write a story on domestic violence. She had me do “freewrites”—short pieces on whatever comes to mind. This is now an integral part of my process.

Sharon Darrow taught me to look for spaces in my text where I could go deeper emotionally.

From Kathi Appelt, I learned that working at poetry improves a sentence.

Tim Wynne-Jones helped me to not run from conflict, teaching how it’s “the engine” of story.

When the novel I wrote at Vermont didn’t sell, one of my classmates, Angela Morrison invited me to partner with her on a revision. I started over. For six months, we swapped manuscripts.

I almost didn’t submit it because I didn’t want to deal with rejection, but she pushed me to do so. I was completely ecstatic when not only did an offer come in from WestSide Books, but within three weeks, Angela sold her young adult novel, Taken by Storm (Razorbill, 2009).

Yet I didn’t believe my book would get published until I held it in my two writing hands this past summer.

I keep the faith through connection with other writers—through SCBWI, 1:1 and group critiques, and an “Artist’s Way” group.

I also pray for guidance to do my best work. I’m always on the look-out for inspiration; from other artists, nature, children, craft books, and baseball.

Finally, it’s easier to revise if I think of myself as an advocate of my main character, focusing on my belief in their story and in wanting to share it. If I’m focused only on trying to get published, then revision feels like pure drudgery. But if I believe in a story, my passion kicks in and being creative is playful. In the end, better writing prevails.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

In the fall of 2007, Vermont College emailed a letter from Evelyn Fazio at WestSide Books to alumni. It arrived shortly after I had finished my young adult novel, Shattered.

Evelyn’s note explained that WestSide Books was a new publisher of young adult fiction. She described the kind of manuscripts they were looking for: edgy novels reflecting real problems that teens face, including abuse.

She had just signed a Vermont College grad and was publishing her debut novel: Between Us Baxters by Bethany Hegedus (WestSide Books, 2009). Evelyn was very impressed with Bethany’s work and was writing to invite other graduates of the program to submit manuscripts.

I was in the program at the same time as Bethany and had heard her read her various pieces of work at student reading nights. I loved her work and thought it would be a dream to follow in her footsteps.

I also remember thinking that my manuscript was a good fit with Evelyn’s description. But instead of getting busy and following the submission guidelines, I made the decision not to submit my manuscript.

I know it doesn’t make sense, but at that time my son was struggling with a number of health complications as a result of going through six months of chemotherapy. He’s well now, but to me, there is nothing worse than seeing a child suffer. So my spirits were not exactly up and my faith was waning. I didn’t feel up for rejection, and I wasn’t in a place to hope for a sale.

Fortunately, when Angela Morrison heard my decision, she said something like, “Are you crazy?! Yours is perfect for WestSide! Submit. Today.” I have always been grateful for her kind words, and that I had enough sense to take her advice.

Evelyn called me in January 2008 and made me an offer.

What a gift to start the New Year by selling art!

Not only did I discover that Shattered is, in fact, a good fit with WestSide, but working with Evelyn is wonderful. During the revision process, it seemed she knew my main character even better than I did. She is fiercely loyal to readers, wanting everything to be clear and true.

Shattered is about intergenerational child abuse, which means the story not only is Cassie’s (the main character), but also her dad’s, and his dad’s, too. It was difficult for me to keep focused on Cassie’s story, while also telling her dad’s and grandfather’s.

Evelyn guided me to tell the tale of all three generations of this family without taking the focus off of Cassie. This is something I struggled with for many years. It was rewarding to get her help and to have it turn out as I had hoped.

I had submitted a previous version to 15 publishers and nothing worked out. While I was in the process of yet another revison, WestSide Books was born and eventually contact was made with Vermont College graduates via Bethany.

For me, it was a lesson in resilience. So much of the writing life is finding a way to keep going during long periods of hearing nothing and hearing a lot of “no.”

It becomes important to find ways to keep your spirits up, and especially to have supportive people in your life so you can be open to risk. You never know when your “yes” moment will happen.

Fortunately, because of Angela’s kindness, I didn’t miss mine.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. Note: interviews with the debut authors of 2010 are scheduled to begin soon.

E-Book Releases of Tantalize and Eternal

Tantalize and Eternal, both by Cynthia Leitich Smith are now available as e-books from Candlewick Press.

In celebration, here are a couple of my fave fan trailers for Tantalize. The difference in approaches is interesting. Jaden emphasizes the murder mystery, and BloodLustEnt. emphasizes the romantic elements.

“Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize in a little over a minute. Created by jadennation.com.”

And from BloodLustEnt.

Tantalize Reviews

“[Readers] will be well rewarded with an impeccably paced suspense story, a sexy romance, and a tough and witty heroine.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Cynthia Leitich Smith is the Anne Rice for teen readers…Smith has a vivid imagination, and her intricate plot keeps readers guessing until the very end.” —The Bloomsbury Review

“Readers will be tantalized by this dark, romantic, and disturbing fantasy of vampires, werewolves, and a strong no-nonsense heroine. Fans of Stephenie Meyer and Annette Curtis Klause will eat it up.” —School Library Journal

See also Tantalize bibliography, blog buzz, interviews, reviews, and readers’ guide.

See also more information on Eternal in conjunction with this month’s release of the U.S. paperback edition. Don’t miss blog buzz, interviews, reviews, and readers’ guide.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Publisher Interview: Gita Wolf of Tara Books

Interview by Sarah Blake Johnson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

First of all, congratulations! Your book Do! illustrated by Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram Dhadpe, is the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons award winner for 2010.

The jury praised the books text and artwork stating: “Paper and figures are embroidered with a lace like precision. There is a wealth of narrative in the details that beg to be explored at length. …an exquisitely crafted, eminently readable book.”

Quality, innovation, and collaboration are words that are connected with Tara Books [of Chennai, South India]. How do you foster these attributes and what is the philosophy of Tara Books?

I’ll take on collaboration and innovation first. We work with great artists–especially from the folk and tribal communities of India–so our collaborations are in themselves very exciting. We’re interested in creativity that is manifest in unusual places, and in bringing this to the form of the book.

Many of our artists come from traditions which paint on walls and floors, or on narrative scrolls. To bring them into the book form involves close collaboration with a creative group of people–not only artists and storytellers, but designers and bookmakers as well.

The artists we work with are not only incredibly talented, they also come from communities which have very different realities from urban middle class ones in India, and I would also assume, elsewhere in the world.

That is one of our aims–to welcome different voices and subjectivities to speak to us. It is this variety which brings unexpected richness into creative work. Innovation is then automatically part of such interactions. To do justice to such work requires an attention to quality–communicative design and good production.

You have written many award-winning books, in addition to being a publisher of books for children, teens, and adults. What is it that you most enjoy in story? What inspires and informs your own writing?

I like building up a structure of words and then whittling away at it. I enjoy crafting and editing, which is a little like sculpture–you chip away until you’re satisfied, and the work has a form you can live with. I suppose I share the universal human interest in narrative, in what happens to a set of characters and how it all ends.

In my writing for children, I’m inspired by my memory of reading as a child, and how freeing it was. I particularly enjoy whimsy and humour in children’s writing.

You started Tara Books 15 years ago. It is now a collective, owned by those who work at Tara. What does this fairly recent change mean for your readers?

I guess it means more to the functioning of Tara, rather than a great change as far as readers are concerned. For instance, earlier, those of us who were part of Tara and also writing books didn’t take out their royalties–we just put it back into doing more books.

With a more formal structure, we now pay ourselves royalties, and this also means that the company is more realistically structured and less subsidised by our work. We function with as little hierarchy as possible, and knowing that we own the company together gives us a feeling of…well, ownership. And all the commitment and satisfaction that comes with it.

The prize-winning illustrations in The Night Life of Trees are incredible [see last video below]. Yet what struck me most when I first opened the book was the fragrance, which added the sense of smell to this very visual reading experience. What led you to use handmade paper and individually hand-printed pages in some of your books?

It’s a long story, going back to a time when I took a couple of sample pages of my story The Very Hungry Lion to the Frankfurt Book Fair. I’ve spoken about this in other places, but it was a serendipitous thing. Here’s a link to a Globe and Mail story, which describes what happened.

Tara Books runs workshops for both professionals and children. Can you explain the philosophy behind your workshops? Which Tara Books titles developed because of this interaction?

We want to work with artists who haven’t created books before. We typically invite them to workshops, and work closely with them to generate images. The workshops are a way for us to develop and nurture dialogue and creative partnerships with a range of artists and authors.

We’ve had a lot of books published as a result of these interactions – the major ones have been The London Jungle Book, The Night Life of Trees, Tsunami, Monkey Photo, Do!…

Can you explain your artist-in-residence program?

This is a year-long internship program for designers who would like to learn and work with us on designing books. The exciting part is the artists and creative people they come into contact with at Tara and our handmade book process.

You’ve recently expanded your list to include graphic novels. Your most recent catalogue highlights two books: Sita’s Ramayana [scroll for interiors] and I Seen the Promised Land. Why did you choose to retell these two stories, that of a well known Indian epic from Sita’s point of view and that of a famous American, Martin Luther King? How does the graphic novel format add depth to these stories?

Again, I’d like to give you a link to an article I wrote on this.

All your books deal with culture, whether the culture of India, the experience of an individual in a foreign land (The London Jungle Book), or the culture of other countries. What do you think about the role of books in cultures and the role of culture in books? Do you feel your embrace of culture is the reason for the international appeal of Tara Books?

Culture can mean so many things. For us, it is a manifestation of the creative spirit in art and language. We’re attracted to unusual artists, simple people who have a wealth of imaginative worlds in them, that other people don’t know (and often don’t care) about. A book holds a world within itself.

We’re also interested in the book as an object, as a structure of meaning whose form is as inspired as its content. To take the creativity that manifests itself in unexpected people, and nudge it along the path to becoming a desirable cultural object is what motivates us.

Perhaps it is this spirit that appeals to so many people. You can see that each of our books is made with great care and commitment.

How many handmade books have you published, and what are some recent titles? What languages have these books been translated into?

We have published seventeen handmade books, and these books have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Dutch, French, German and Portuguese, among others.

Do!, Fingerprint, and SSSS: Snake Art and Allegory are three of our recently published titles.

List of all titles that are handmade:

Circle of Fate
The Night Life of Trees
In the Dark
Tiger on a Tree
Elephants Never Forget!
The Very Hungry Lion
Beasts of India
Nurturing Walls: Animal art by Meena Women (partially screenprinted)
Oedipus the King
The Bacchae
SSSS: Snake Art and Allegory
Hen-Sparrow Turns Purple [shown below, designed as a scroll]

You’ve been very successful at finding talented artists. Also, many of your books use tribal art, which allows readers to experience traditional art from many regions of India. From what artistic traditions do these artists come?

Meena from Rajasthan, Gond from Madhya Pradesh, Patua from West Bengal, Warli from Maharashtra, Patachitra from Orissa, Kalamkari from various parts of the country.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out this video on the making of Do! Note: 2 minutes, 2 seconds long.

John Berger Presents Nurturing Walls from Tara Books. “Screen-printed on brown kraft paper, the art from the walls of Meena tribal homes in Rajasthan is seen for the first time outside of their villages. The women of the Meena tribe practice this art form, known as Mandana, painting the muds walls and floors of their homes to mark festivals and changing seasons. Mothers teach their daughters, passing on their skills and keeping the art tradition alive.

“Launched at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London in October 2008 with an exhibition of art prints from the book, renowned art critic John Berger opened the show with warm words.” Note: sound doesn’t begin until 46 seconds into the video, which is 10 minutes, 25 seconds long.

“Watch the making of the handmade book The Night Life of Trees.” In the video below, learn more about the handmade book process from Tara Books. Note: 10, 2 seconds long, and it’s hard to read some of the explanatory text but still a fascinating peek into the company.

Cynsational Notes

Visit the Tara Books blog.

Sarah Blake Johnson is a student in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. During her MFA program, she has written a young adult novel, nonfiction, short stories and several picture books. Originally from the western United States, Sarah has moved all over the world with her husband and children. She has lived in Brazil, Finland, Iceland, and China, and she currently lives in Germany.

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.

“Why Was My Manuscript Rejected?” 3 Literary Agents, 3 Opinions

From Anna Olswanger:

Have you written a children’s or YA manuscript that you believe is publishable, but which has been turned down without encouragement or advice by agents and publishers?

Are you hungry for feedback on your writing for children?

We think we can help!

We are three literary agents in daily contact with clients and publishers, who specialize in children’s books, and we are offering to read your manuscript and give you our reactions to it.

The workshop promises to be lively with three, possibly different opinions about the strength and weaknesses of each manuscript We will also discuss marketplace considerations, writing tips, and hold a general Q&A session.

Faculty: Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency, Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates, and Ann Tobias of A Literary Agency for Children’s Books.

Workshop date: April 25.

Location: Shelburne Hotel
303 Lexington Avenue (at 37th Street)
New York, NY 10016

Time: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Our previous workshops in April and November, 2009 sold out.

Register early for the special rate of $195. After March 25, the rate goes up to $225. Group size is strictly limited to allow a full discussion of each participant’s manuscript, which the agents will read in advance of the workshop.

For further information, please visit our website www.3LiteraryAgents.com.

Author Update: April Lurie on The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine & The Less-Dead

Welcome back, April Lurie! You last visited Cynsations in June 2007 interview to talk about Brothers, Boyfriends and Other Criminal Minds (Delacorte, 2007)! Do you have any news to share about this title? How about any of your other back-list books?

Thanks for having me back! Actually, yes, I have good news about Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds. It made the Texas Lone Star List. It’s also a New York Public Library Book for the Teenage.

Since then, you have published two new books for young adults–The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008) and The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010)! Let’s take the first one first! In your own words, could you tell us about The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine?

I wish I had a one-liner for this book, but I don’t. It’s one of those complicated stories about life, love, jealousy, sibling relationships, karma, and trying to find one’s place in the world.

Dylan is a fifteen-year-old guy who’s in love with his best friend Angie, who unfortunately has no romantic interest in Dylan–at least not yet. Meanwhile, she decides to cast him as the main character in her movie set in Greenwich Village. Dylan reluctantly agrees, and in the process he discovers his “latent powers.” There are other things going on like underwear theft and drug deals and rock concerts, but you’ll have to read the book to find out all the gritty details.

What was your inspiration for writing this book?

The inspiration for this book came from the darkest period of my life–when my son Daniel ran away from home.

He was fifteen at the time, in a rock band, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. He was kicked out of school for smoking weed on campus, in trouble with the police, and eventually he ran away. The police found him a month later.

Before I go on, I should say that he’s doing great now! He’s twenty-two, and he just graduated college with a music degree.

Anyway, I never thought I would revisit that time in my life, but I decided to give it a try. It turned out to be cathartic.

Strangely, I think it’s the funniest book I’ve written to date, but I’ve discovered that sometimes pain and humor go hand in hand.

What were the challenges?

The first challenge was that I’m a a girl and I had to write from a fifteen-year-old boy’s point of view.

The next challenge was getting my son Daniel’s approval. Thankfully, he liked the book. It was a huge relief.

What do you hope that readers take away from the story?

Mostly, I hope readers will form a bond with Dylan. It’s a character-driven story, and if readers walk away feeling glad that they got to know this young man, well, that makes it all worth while.

How about your new release, The Less-Dead? Could you tell us a little about it?

I’d love to. This book is much easier to describe. So, here’s my one liner: It’s about sixteen-year-old Noah who hunts down a serial killer in Austin, Texas.

On the surface, the story is a mystery, but it’s also an exploration of Evangelical Christianity versus the gay community and a young man’s struggle with with his own feelings about homosexuality and having a gay friend.

How did the novel evolve over time?

Strangely, my editor suggested I write a story about a serial killer. I wanted to set the book in Austin, which is such an interesting place because it’s in the Bible Belt, but it’s also a very liberal city with a thriving gay-and-lesbian community. It was the perfect place to present a serial killer who is targeting gay foster teens.

What advice do you have for other writers when it comes to writing a mystery?

Don’t make the same mistakes I did! When I wrote the first, second, and third drafts of this book, I focused mostly on the plot, and I forgot all about Noah and his personal journey.

Thankfully, my editor helped me find the heart of the story, which was Noah coming to terms with his own prejudice. My editor is a genius.

In The Less-Dead, you included a fairly substantial author’s note and additional resources. Why did you feel this was important?

The book has received a number of reviews now, and they all mention the lengthy author’s note. It’s getting attention, and I’m glad.

I list the six “clobber passages” in the Bible that supposedly condemn homosexuality, and I show how these passages have been misunderstood over the centuries.

I hope my author’s note will reach the right people.

These books both strike me as titles where you’re dealing with intense themes and edgy situations. However, in neither case did you elect to use strong profanity. Was this simply a reflection of the individual characters? Or was it more of a stylistic decision–the way you write?

I think a little of both. Dylan and Noah narrate their stories, and they’re guys who don’t use much profanity. If you don’t need the F-bomb, I figure, don’t use it.

But if you have a character whose speech requires it, by all means pepper the dialogue with as many four-letter words as necessary.

Likewise, both stories feature male protagonists. What advice do you have for those trying to write across gender?

Oh gosh, this could bet me in trouble with some of my guy friends. Guys are well, simpler. They respond more readily to visual stimuli like say, a girl in a bikini, but are sometime clueless when it comes to deeper things like say, an emotional conversation. (Of course, I’m saying this with a smile on my face.)

And for guys who want to write across gender, consult my good friend Varian Johnson. He’s an expert.

You’re a teacher at the Institute of Children’s Literature! Could you tell us a little about what the Institute offers?

ICL is a really great program for both beginning children’s and young adult writers and more advanced students. Students work one-on-one with an instructor via email or snail mail. The beginning course teaches the basics of writing short stories, and the advanced course takes the student through the process of writing a novel.

You’re also a member of the Delacorte Dames & Dude. How did this group come to be? What is its mission?

Oh yes, the famous DDDs–Shana Burg, Bethany Hegedus, Varian Johnson, Margo Rabb, Jennifer Ziegler, and me. Mostly we get together to drink wine, share our ups and downs, and give each other moral support. Jenny was the one who gave us our name, and it stuck. If we have a mission, I have no idea what it is. Oh, wait a minute. Friendship. That’s it.

From a creative standpoint, who are your early readers? Do you have a critique group? If so, who are the members, and what about it works for you?

My first reader is my husband, Ed. He’s awesome because he’s brutally honest. We have a really good working relationship.

I also have an amazing critique group, and we usually meet once a month. The members are Julie Lake, Varian Johnson, Brian Yansky, Frances Hill Yansky, and Helen Hemphill. When the six of us get together, we usually wind up laughing ourselves sick. It’s great fun.

How do you balance writing, teaching, being an author/ambassador for your books, and your personal life?

Mostly I take one day at a time. I try to set goals, but if things don’t work out as planned, I just take a deep breath and move on. My kids always seem to keep my life fun and vastly entertaining.

Over the past few years, how have you grown as a writer–both in terms of skills and in terms of your creative philosophy?

Every time I approach a new project, I’m excited, scared, worried that I won’t remember how to string a sentence together, and overwhelmed at the hugeness of writing a novel.

But I think I’ve learned a little bit each time around. At least I hope I have.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but my work-in-progress is a story about mushrooms, a psychopath, friendship, and first love. I suppose that either sounds intriguing or insane!

Cynsational Notes

April Afloat: April Lurie’s blog.

“In her compelling mystery, Lurie draws attention to the prejudice and hatred many gay teens face … suspenseful and emotional.” —Publishers Weekly

“Lurie has wrought a compelling, edge-of-your-seat thriller that will keep readers riveted to the end.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Peppered with surprises … Lurie’s character detail are totally refreshing … dead on.” —Booklist

Agent Interview: Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Literary

Mandy Hubbard began her career in publishing on the other side of the desk: as an author. Her titles include Prada & Prejudice (Razorbill/Penguin, 2009), Driven (Harlequin, 2010), You Wish (Razorbill/Penguin, 2010) and Shattered (Flux, 2011).

She interned with The Bent Agency before joining D4EO Literary, where she is now building a list of middle-grade and young adult fiction. She can be reached at mandy@d4eo.com, and her agency tweets @d4eo.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

I love that there aren’t the same expectations and boundaries in young adult and middle grade book. You can have a werewolf romance shelved right beside a historical, which is sitting next to a realistic coming of age story. It makes it possible to read a huge range and yet still know the market and what’s out there.

Why did you want to become an agent specifically?

As an author, I’ve had many, many writers come to me for advice. This industry is crazy and maddening and so dang hard to break into. I really love trying to play tour guide and help writers as much as I could, and in many cases, I’ve worked heavily on revising manuscripts for authors I truly believed in. A few of my friends nearly rewrote their novel with my advice, and ended up signing an agent quite quickly afterward.

At some point, I realized that if I were an agent, I wouldn’t have to “give up” playing tour guide–I could continue guiding them throughout their career. Interning with The Bent Agency confirmed that desire for me.

What sort of work are you looking for?

I represent middle grade and up, so no chapter books or picture books, and no nonfiction. I’m interested in a broad range within the MG/YA category, whether it’s paranormal or realistic, light or dark.

That said, I’m not big on truly epic fantasy, so if you can liken your novel to Lord of the Rings [by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-1955)] or The Chronicles of Narnia [by C.S. Lewis (1950-1956)], it’s probably not for me.

In terms of a wish list, I’d love to see a really great romance-heavy book, a la Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (Bloomsbury, 2009), a great issue book a la Hate List by Jennifer Brown (Little, Brown, 2009) or Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Penguin, 2009), as well as something really light and funny, a la A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker (Razorbill, 2010).

On the paranormal front, I just need to see something other than the same ‘ol trope of paranormal creatures falling in love with mortal girls. It can certainly work, if done really well, but it needs to be done really well to stand out. Paranormal and Fantasy definitely dominates the query pile, so bring on something fresh and exciting!

More globally, what is your attitude/approach toward today’s challenging economic market?

Things truly are crazy right now– I’ve experienced that first hand as an author– but books are still selling.

Just check out the livejournal groups for debut YA authors (i.e., the 2009 Debutants). The groups are filled to bursting with new voices in young adult and middle grade fiction.

You can’t control the economy, but you can control your writing, so keep polishing it ’til it shines.

What “model” published books would you suggest to prospective clients for “study” purposes and why?

I think this varies from author to author–the “model” books you should be studying are those that may be similar to your book. You wouldn’t believe how many queries I see where an author thinks they have something truly original that is going to fill a gaping hole in the market, except that part of the market is saturated.

I’ve seen some that say werewolves are “woefully neglected.” Haven’t they heard of Shiver by Maggie Steifvater (Scholastic, 2009)? Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Egmont, 2010)?

If you don’t know how your book fits in the market, you can end up looking rather silly.

Would you describe yourself as an “editorial agent,” one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I definitely intend to be editorial. As an author, I just can’t turn off the part of my brain that analyzes books and figures out how to make them better. There’s just something thrilling about taking a diamond in the rough and working with someone to polish it. If I fall in love with your concept and voice, I’ll help you on the rest.

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript, or do you see yourself as a career builder? In either case, why?

Career builder! I’m in this for the long haul. I hope you are, too.

What do you see as the ingredients for a “breakout” book in terms of commercial success, literary acclaim, and/or both?

I wish it were easier to put to words! Sometimes it’s an amazing hook, but other times the book’s concept is rather quiet and it’s the voice that sells me. Each book has it’s own special mix, and that’s what makes slush-reading so exciting. Every time I think I know what I want, I find something that totally breaks the mold.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Yes. I’d like to see a query letter and the first five pages of your manuscript, both pasted into the body of the email. You can send it to mandy@d4eo.com

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

I really prefer you to just dive right into the hook of the story, rather than using a couple of paragraphs to talk about yourself. The book is what matters. Put the bio at the end!

Describe your dream client.

Insanely talented, open to revisions, and willing to work really, really hard.

How much contact will you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, list servs?

I’m very email oriented, so I intend to be very accessible that way. And of course, before I sign you, we’ll chat on the phone to be sure our personalities are a good fit.

What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I want the sort of clients who trust me and are open to my editorial ideas, but who are also unafraid to pipe up if they have other visions. I want this to be a real partnership, so I don’t want anyone to be intimidated.

Some of my author friends are afraid to email or call their agents because they don’t want to “bother” them. Don’t worry about that with me.

As an author I know every crazy, insecure thought that may be running through your head. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Do you expect your writers to develop a market brand and stick to it? Or are you open to them pursuing a variety of projects within their body of work? In either case, what is your reasoning?

This is actually a hot topic for me– I’ve created a brand with Prada & Prejudice and You Wish that is light and funny, but I’ve also ventured into darker waters with Shattered.

In my case, I chose to use a pen name, because I’m a prolific author and it made more sense to build two brands. I’ll absolutely encourage you to pursue whatever books you’re most interested in writing, and we’ll discuss the strategy for branding when the time comes.

What do you anticipate being the greatest challenges of agenting?

I hate that I have to reject people, and I know I won’t have the time to give feedback. Form responses suck. Contract negotiations will be quite a challenge too–these days publishers are hanging onto everything they can.

What do you think you’ll love about it?

Working with amazing, talented people. Getting knee deep in revisions and helping them percolate new, exciting directions to take their work. Calling up editors to share my excitement. What’s not to love?

You’re also an author! Could you give us the latest scoop on your writing career?

My next novel for teens, You Wish, hits shelves in August, and I’m incredibly excited to see how readers respond.

I’ve been so lucky with Prada & Prejudice, and I hope that extends toward my next book for teens.

What are your thoughts on wearing two hats (author and agent) in children’s-YA publishing?

I think it will have its challenges–I had to reject a perfectly good query because it dealt with a subject that was in a book my agent is shopping. I don’t ever want my clients to feel they are competing with me, so I’ll be careful not to take projects that might create a conflict.

All that said, I think I’ll be able to offer a unique perspective and understanding to my clients–I’ve ridden the roller coaster for years as an author, and I know how you feel.

So far, what are your favorite children’s/YA books of 2010 and why?

A Match Made in High School is one of the best new books in 2010. I laughed so hard while reading it. I’d love to find something like it in my slush pile.

I’m about to start on Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (Bloomsbury).

I recently read romance called Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean (March, Avon) and adored it. I’m a sucker for anything romance heavy, and that’s why I loved the YA she released last year called The Season (Scholastic).

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

There’s a whole world out there? Kidding. I have a two-year-old. So mostly I watch “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” I do get out on my four-wheeler/ATV as often as possible.

Cynsational Notes

Check out the book trailer for Prada & Prejudice:

New Voice: Lauren Kate on Fallen

Lauren Kate is the first-time author of Fallen (Delacorte, 2009). From the promotional copy:

There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, Fallen is a page turning thriller and the ultimate love story.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

Is it possible to be both a plotter and a plunger? Or a plunger who’s working on plotting? And sometimes a plotter who’s dying to plunge? I have struggled with plot for my whole writing career, and I’m still looking for the perfect mix of meticulousness and mystery.

Character is easy for me. Dialogue? Bring it on. Descriptions sometimes have to be pulled out of me like teeth, but I’ll give ‘em up eventually.

But plot? Most of the time I don’t have a clue. I’m the writer who spent six years working on a love story between a teen girl and her uncle—whose plot still needs a major kick in the pants to come to any sort of resolution.

I’m also the writer who kicked out four pseudonymous novels in two years with fun but very straightforward plots. You could say I was looking for a middle ground.

The two novels I have published on my own are getting closer to that. The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove (Razorbill, 2009) and Fallen were both meticulously plotted out before I wrote them. Character descriptions, paragraph-long synopses for each chapter, “big” endings, the whole deal.

Both outlines (along with a few chapters) were shared with writer-friends, agents and/or editors at very early stages.

And because the stories were larger and more complicated than I’d first realized, I actually did revisions on the outlines. Way more plotting than I’d ever done before.

At the end of plotting, when I was ready to plunge, it was comforting to sit down every day and know I had to write a chapter where X happened, followed by Y, and then Z.

But sometimes, it was also uninspiring. Suddenly, Y bored me, and Z felt really predictable. But it was in the outline, which fit together like a puzzle! What to do?

Eventually, I realized there were days when I would have to loosen my leash from my outlines, to let the story adapt and change organically as I went along. This was a very good decision, one that took me too long to make.

Right now, I’m in the middle of revising Torment (Fallen’s sequel). And honestly, the experience writing the first book and the second book has been night and day. Maybe it’s because much of the structure and world-building (see below) is already in place from the first book. Maybe it’s because I know the characters better.

But I know part of it is because I’m constantly refining my plotter-to-plunger ratio: freeing myself to stray when inspiration strikes, returning to my outline when I want to feel more grounded.

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

When I started writing Fallen, I wasn’t really aware that I was building a world. Looking back, I wonder how that was possible. Because world-building seems like Step One in how to write paranormal fiction, doesn’t it?

I used to work in YA publishing and got to edit many paranormal and fantasy authors. Working with them, I was always very conscious of the ways in which they built and experimented with their worlds.

I even enjoyed being a task-master if they broke the rules they’d set up. “But you said a wizard could only come back from the dead eleven times! This makes twelve.” That kind of thing.

But when it came to writing my own story, Fallen really began with the character. I had Lucinda and I had her conflict: she was looking for an escape from her past and a connection to something that felt real. That was where Daniel came in—bringing with him the beginnings of what I guess is called “the world.”

Suddenly, angels, demons, millennium-old curses, scores of reincarnations, and dueling forces of good and evil were all battling for a piece of the action in my little romance story. So it—the world, I mean—had to get bigger. Yank us into the world of Sword and Cross, my agent demanded when I sent him the first few chapters. Make it oppressive and inescapable and all-encompassing.

Oppressive? I had never written paranormal fiction in my life, and suddenly I wondered: could I do it?

Writers talk frequently about the worlds of fantasy and paranormal fiction, but of course, every novel has a world. A world is really just a setting, isn’t it? A setting whose bricks and mortar are really just description and imagination.

Even though, technically, Long Island already existed, Fitzgerald still had to build the world in The Great Gatsby (1925), didn’t he? You could say it’s just description, but the kind of description that informs everything else in the book—the protagonist, the conflicts, the emotional arcs of every character—that’s when description becomes world-building.

Turns out, it’s much less scary to think about world-building as imaginative description. The biggest difference between writing the worlds of straightforward contemporary fiction and paranormal fiction is that you get to make up fun new rules and dialect. I can’t say where most of these terms or rules come from. They just pop out of my mind onto the screen of my computer, and then I spend the rest of the series working through (and sometimes paying the price for) that little bit of impulsiveness.

For example, at the end of Fallen, I made an offhanded reference to a truce that is to last for eighteen days. Didn’t think too much about it, kind of just made it up. I had no idea that that one line would dictate the entire structure of the sequel, Torment. But once it went to the printer and I sat down to plot out Torment, eighteen days was what I had to work with, so eighteen days it was!

I’m not complaining, but I’ve learned to keep a notebook with a list of rules and terms for when I forget what I’ve tossed into Luce’s world. And I love the fact that I have three more books to work though, to let the world grow bigger, denser, and more complicated over the course of the series.

As you can see, building the world of my books is something I’m still figuring out, but I’m learning how to make the most of it, and sometimes even to enjoy it.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. Note: interviews with the debut authors of 2010 are scheduled to begin soon.