Cynsational News & Giveaways

28 Days Later: Tonya Hegamin by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature. Peek: “I’m a storyteller. In teaching fiction and in teaching poetry I want to get my students to the same underbelly of human beauty that strikes a chord in the reader.” Note: 28 Days Later is a month-long series; be sure to check out the other interviews/features.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2009 Cybils! And special cheers to my two nominees, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane) and The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge). Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Guest Post: Ask Agent Jennifer Laughran from Justine Larbalestier. Peek: “So you want an agent. First of all—is your book finished? Not just ‘I have enough pages to basically make a book…sorta,’ but seriously finished, polished, like you could see it on the shelves of a store?” Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Deception by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “Writers aren’t like musicians. A lot of musicians can be very good when they’re very young. Most writers who’ve published have written a bad novel or two or three or four before they write a good novel.” See also Process by Brian. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

The Showdown by Jo Whittemore from The Spectacle. Peek: “Every good showdown is either physical, emotional, or mental. Sometimes, it can be a combination of the three. ” Note: features a list of elements to consider. Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Author Authenticity and the Right to Write by Renee Ting from Shen’s Books. Peek: “Who should have the right to tell a story? Can people outside of a group write authentically about members of the group?”

AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books 2010 SB&F Prize Winners from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Source: @mitaliperkins.

Let It Rain! by Emma Dryden from Our Stories, Ourselves. Peek: “…the very best stories—in books and in life—are those in which the characters make it through whatever happens, coming out the other side soiled or bruised or worse, but all the more strong and wise.”

Q&A with Dana Goldberg of Children’s Book Press from papertigers. Peek: “Founded in 1975, Children’s Book Press is a nonprofit independent publisher of multicultural and bilingual literature by and about people from the Latino, African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American communities.” Read an interview with Dana from Cynsations.

World Building by Anna Staniszewski from Alisa M. Libby: a ghost queen, a bloody countess, and me. Peek: “Not only does magic have to adhere to strict rules, it needs to come with a price, e.g. every time the boy has a vision, it drains him of his strength.”

Character Checklist by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: focuses on 17 character qualities. Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Book List: Nerd Alert and Geek Pride by Little Willow from Bildungsroman. Peek: “Someone online asked for a list of YA novels that included a lot of nerdy references. The request specifically asked for realistic fiction, nothing fantasy. I, a self-proclaimed geek and nerd, had many suggestions, including…”

Congratulations to Marion Dane Bauer on the release of The Very Little Princess, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles (Random House, 2010). From the promotional copy: “Regina is only 3-1/4 inches tall, but she knows from the moment she wakes up in her dollhouse bed that she is a princess. Why else would she have such a lovely pink gown? Why else would she have such golden hair and flawless skin? And why else would she have a four-foot, curly-haired human creature to wait on her? Meanwhile Zoey, that four-foot, curly-haired creature, has always dreamed that someday one of her dolls would come alive. But in her dreams, the doll never ordered her around. The doll didn’t call her a servant. And the doll was a whole lot nicer! In a classic storyteller’s voice, Marion Dane Bauer tells an exquisite tale of friendship, family, and loss, laced with humor and joy.” Read a Cynsations interview with Marion.

Print On Demand Does Not Equal Instant Bookstore by Tracy Marchini from My VerboCity. Peek: “If the publisher retains print-on-demand rights, how many books does an author have to sell in order to make it worthwhile for the author?” Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

Ethiopia in Her Heart: an interview with Jane Kurtz by LeAnne Hardy from International Christian Fiction Writers. Peek: “It does bother me when we Christians only talk with each other or others like us: one of the legacies of my childhood, no doubt. So one big advantage of my choice is having a voice in a wide and varied community of readers.” Read a Cynsations interview with Jane.

Peace Study Center: “Our mission is to build a more peaceful world, one book at a time. By sharing quality literature with children, we will inspire them to resolve differences without violence and learn to appreciate diversity through educational experiences.”

Win An Advance Copy of The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt from Kimberly. Deadline: noon CST Feb. 22. Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

When the Rubber Meets the Road by Rachelle Gardner from Rants & Ramblings on Life as a Literary Agent. Peek: “…I want you to tell yourself, “Okay, this is what I signed up for. They said it would be difficult, and this is what difficult looks like. I can do this.” Source: QueryTracker.

Austin SCBWI: official website — expanded with more community and member news.

Austin SCBWI 2010: a conference report by Donna Bowman Bratton from Simply Donna. See also Good News from the Austin’s Children’s-YA Writing Community from Simply Donna and Austin Scene Sparkles by Shana Burg from A Thousand Never Evers.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win Bell’s Star (Horse Diaries 2) by Alison Hart, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Random House, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Vermont, 1850s

Bell’s Star is a brown Morgan colt with a white star and two white stockings. He was bred for hard work, yet he longs to run free with his human friend, Katie, on his back. But when Star helps rescue a runaway slave girl, his ideas about freedom may change forever. Here is Star’s story . . . in his own words.

With exciting and knowledgeable text and lovely black-and-white art throughout—both by real horse owners—Horse Diaries are the perfect fit for all lovers of horses and history!

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 Screening Room

A video interview with Jerry Pinkney from Reading Rockets. Peek: “Jerry Pinkney talks about growing up as a slow reader and the early encouragement he received as a young artist.”

More Personally

Visit with Cynthia Leitich Smith from TRT Book Club. From those who missed it, a new Q&A author interview went live yesterday. Peek: “I’m a Capricorn of the mountain-goat variety, always try to push myself to greater heights and having to make a special effort to play once in a while.”

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review from Book Chic. Peek: “The climax was really fun to read and had me on the edge of my seat and turning pages as quickly as I could to see what happened next.”

It was my pleasure to provide a blurb for Kimberley Griffiths Little’s upcoming novel, The Healing Spell (Scholastic).

Cynsational Events

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:

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.

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!

Visit with Cynthia Leitich Smith at TRT Book Club & Comment to Win Eternal and an Eternal T-shirt

Come join me today at the TRT (Teens Read Too) Book Club!

There, you’ll find a new Q&A interview.

And in the comments section, you’re invited to ask questions or share your thoughts for a chance to win a paperback copy of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010)(excerpt) and your choice of an Eternal T-shirt!

Surf by and say howdy here!

And take a peek at the Eternal T-shirts (designed by Gene Brenek (illustrator interview) below (other colors available):

Cynsational Notes

Eternal is a YA Gothic fantasy, with some humor and strong romantic elements, set in the same universe as Tantalize (2007, 2008). The two casts will crossover in Blessed (Feb. 2011). There’s also a fourth (untitled) forthcoming prose novel in the series, and graphic novel adaptations of Tantalize (Feb. 2011) and Eternal are also in the works. The series is published Candlewick Press.

Guest Post: Author Alison Hart on Writing about Horses

By Alison Hart

I’ll admit it: I have been horse crazy since my first Steiff pony and Billy and Blaze picture book by C.W. Anderson (1936).

Decades later, I still ride, continue to read horse books (try Chosen by a Horse, a memoir by Susan Richardson (Mariner, 2007)), and now I have added writing about horses to my passions.

Under my real name, Alice Leonhardt, and my pen name, Alison Hart, I have written over fifty books about horses.

Many are contemporary, including books in the Nancy Drew and Thoroughbred series, my own Riding Academy series, and Shadow Horse (Random House, 2001), an Edgar nominated mystery, and its sequel Whirlwind (Random House, May 2010).

Most recently I have combined horses with history to create suspense-filled historical fiction. The two meld perfectly because human and horses have been intertwined as early as 3500 BC when horses were raised for milk and meat in Kazakhstan (see the fascinating March 2009 article in National Geographic).

Since then, horses have been used (and exploited) by humans in all parts of the world. In America, horses became extinct about 10,000 years ago and were then reintroduced by 16th century Spanish Explorers. That gives me centuries of history to write about.

My current books focus on the 1800s when horses were necessary for transportation, farming, commerce—and war.

During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union armies depended heavily upon horses. The animals were needed to pull wagons, cannons, and ambulances to and from battlegrounds. The horses also carried cavalry soldiers and officers into battle. About 1.5 million horses and mules died during the Civil War.

–from “The History Behind Gabriel’s Journey” by Alison Hart

Writing historical fiction means I have to know the facts. The Racing to Freedom trilogy (Gabriel’s Horses (2007), Gabriel’s Triumph (2007) and Gabriel’s Journey (2008), all Peachtree) took over two years to research. I have notebooks and file folders of notes and photos from visits to Lexington and Camp Nelson, Kentucky, and Saratoga, New York; magazine articles, old maps, and scrawled notes from over two hundred books and online sources.

My job as a writer is to use the facts to write a compelling story for young readers. Take for example, a scene from Gabriel’s Journey–which is about an African American cavalry unit that fought at the Battle of Saltville, Virginia–that I created around the statistics on the number of dead horses:

I lead Sassy and Hero up onto the road. In front of us, a bulky mound lies in the center of the lane. The horse that was shot is dead. Blood oozes from its neck and shoulder. Already someone has stripped it of bridle, saddle, and gear. Soldiers lead their mounts around it or step over it. No one but me pays it any mind. I remember Jackson’s words when we first visited Camp Nelson and saw the broken-down remounts: Horses don’t choose to fight, and they sure don’t get no enlistment fee.

And no glory neither, I see now. The body will be left for vultures and varmints. My eyes blur. I lead Sassy and Hero around the fallen horse and say a silent prayer.

Whether it’s a pony on the prairie during the Blizzard of 1888 (Anna’s Blizzard (Peachtree, 2005)) or a Morgan horse helping a runaway slave in 1850 (Bell’s Star (Random House, 2009)), each novel I write must be filled with vivid scenes that not only convey our history, but bring it to life for readers.

Cynsational Notes

Alison Hart is a Virginia author of over thirty books for young readers.

Upcoming books include the re-release of Shadow Horse an Edgar-nominated mystery from Random House, along with the new title Whirlwind, its much anticipated sequel (May 2010.)

Emma’s River (Peachtree), a historical fiction chapter book about a plucky girl and her pony and their adventures on the Missouri River is coming out in April 2010.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author Interview: Ellen Hopkins

Interviewed by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Your latest novel, Tricks (McElderry, 2009), focuses on the lives of five very different teens, whose stories interweave to form a larger narrative.

What was it like to work with five different characters and five story lines? Did you feel more attached to one particular character? I know that the character of Eden was particularly popular with a lot of your readers.

I enjoy writing multiple viewpoints and interweaving their stories. In Tricks, they actually don’t weave as tightly as the multiple storylines in Impulse (McElderry, 2007) and the book I’m writing now, Perfect.

But I like the way these five characters’ paths cross, some closely and others from a distance. And I also like the very different paths they each had to the same place.

As for a favorite character, not really, although Whitney was inspired by a young friend who I’m close to, so she may be closest to my heart.

You write novels in verse. Could you tell us how you came to write in this style?

I started my first novel, Crank (McElderry, 2004), in prose. The book is loosely based on my daughter’s story of meth addiction, and I wanted to write from her point of view to gain some understanding of what had just happened to the last six years of our lives.

But in prose, the voice was too angry…mine, not hers, so I put the book away.

Then I saw Sonya Sones speak at SCBWI LA and, having written poetry most of my life, I decided to give verse a try. It totally clicked.

I also wanted my verse novels to stand out from Sonya’s and other verse novelists’, so I spent a lot of time developing some interesting formatting, rather than always writing in standard stanzas.

Do you write with the aim of changing people’s attitudes and opening their eyes? Would you describe yourself as a campaigner?

I don’t think that’s the main reason I write difficult subject matter, but it does play a role. I feel it’s hugely important to shed light on the darker issues that touch lives every day. Only then can we gain understanding and empathy for those who experience things like addiction, abuse or depression. And also, to give hope to these people and let them know they’re not alone.

I have become a strong anti-censorship campaigner, with some book challenges and canceled school visits last fall.

One reviewer on Amazon writes in capital letters about Tricks that “This book is not for teens! This book should only be read if you are 18.” I’m sure it’s a point of view that you’ve heard before. Care to react?

Tricks isn’t for every teen. But it is an important book for many. That reviewer wants to believe all young people are living nice, innocent lives. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

I hear from hundreds of readers daily. Many share their stories. I have heard from young women who were raped in preadolescence. I have heard from young men who were forced to prostitute themselves while still teens.

In researching the book, I talked to young prostitutes who were coerced by pimps or who came to sell their bodies to afford drugs or maybe a pair of designer jeans. These young people can certainly handle reading Tricks.

Others should read the book, if only to understand the repercussions of making this very bad choice.

Your stories are emotionally involving for readers; you really make us care about your characters. I imagine that writing must be an incredibly intense experience for you. How do you switch off and carry on with your everyday life after a day of heavy writing? Or do your characters go everywhere with you when you’re in a writing phase?

My characters rarely go too far until I’m finished writing a book, and often they wake me up, talking to me. Very annoying!

But my husband and son provide a lot of light in my life, as do a cadre of caring friends. Almost all my friends are writers (go figure!), so we help each other through writer’s block, plot problems, character issues, and of course personal problems. And I get a lot of love from readers every day.

The Kristina books are based on your own family’s experiences with your daughter’s meth addiction. Has the attention been difficult for your family to deal with?

I think, with the initial success of Crank, we all had to come to terms not only with being thrust into the spotlight, but also with the ghosts we carried. Overall, by finally letting go of those shadows, I think we are stronger as individuals, and as a family.

You’ve been doing a lot of school visits lately. Could you tell us about your contact with readers? I can imagine that your books touch many readers on a very personal level.

I’m actually traveling around 100 days a year right now doing school and library visits, book signings, conferences, festivals, etc.

While part of me would like to slow down a little, the outreach and personal contact with my readers is hugely important to them, and to me. I like them knowing I’m a real person.

And they appreciate knowing I care enough about them to make an appearance where they might be able to see me. Always, after I speak, at least one and often several come up and share their stories with me. They like that I listen.

You’ve been praised for your ability to write as teens really speak. Any tips for other YA writers out there?

Spend time with your potential audience, in person if you can. Visit schools. Hang out at the mall or stores teens frequent. Listen, but also talk to them and show a real interest in their lives. Alternately, connect with them online through MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They will talk to you if you talk to them. If you’re not sure how to start, visit my pages and lurk a while.

Could you tell us a little about your research methods? For example, when you were writing Tricks, did you interview teens who were involved in prostitution?

I research heavily with every book. In-person interviews are always the best. With Tricks, I worked with Las Vegas vice, and yes, I talked to kids on the street working as prostitutes.

You have to be courageous in your research and not just rely on the stories you read, although those can be valuable, too.

Now, I’m fortunate enough to be able to throw out a question to my readers through my online avenues, and have them answer me. With Perfect, for instance, I wanted to know how steroids make you feel. I asked. Dozens answered.

If you weren’t a writer, can you imagine what other job you might be doing now? Do you think you might still be working as a journalist and tackling similar issues as in your books?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and can’t really imagine working for anyone else. I might have enjoyed teaching, but wouldn’t like the parameters thrust on teachers today (teaching to the test, for instance). I’m much too creative. I loved the freelancing, although it wasn’t especially lucrative.

And until I took the plunge into YA, I didn’t really realize how important it was to make a difference in teen lives. I did teach as an artist-in-residence, though, and liked that very much.

You’ve been working on Fallout, a sequel to Crank and Glass. And Perfect is due out in 2011. Could you tell us a little about these books?

Fallout is the third and final book in the Crank trilogy. My readers wanted “the rest of Kristina’s story.” And I wanted the last book to be the best of the three. So I chose to move into the point of views of three of her children, teens in the book, and dealing with their own lives, which were to a large degree built by the choices she made at their age.

I wanted the hope of the stories to lie with this generation, who can choose to break the cycle, and to give voice to readers who are dealing with their parents’ addictions.

Perfect is about the drive for perfection, whatever the costs. Four characters, and a study of beauty/body ideals among four populations: athletes, pageant/models, lesbians and blacks.

Are you considering a sequel to Tricks? Would you like to revisit any of the characters?

Not considering it at the moment, but there have been lots of requests, including one by my publisher. So you never know.

What are you planning to do next? Will you be taking a break, or are you already working on a new idea?

My focus right now is Perfect, and I don’t know yet what I’ll do after that. I have been invited to do some adult projects, in verse. And I have resurrected the first (prose) adult novel I ever wrote and may revise that. Both my agent and editor feel it’s a viable project.

But I also have a contract for two more YA verse novels, and those will have to take precedence over anything I might write on spec.

Any news on the film front? I’ve read that a script for Crank is making the rounds. If it is made into a film, how closely would you like to be involved with the filming? And do you have any casting suggestions?

Still nothing firm on the film side of things, but there are some “almosts.” I have asked to be involved in whatever projects get off the ground, at least as far as some kind of script approval.

Casting? Could we find a role for Johnny Depp, do you think?

I’m a translator, so I’m always fascinated to hear about writers’ experiences of the translation process. Have many of your books been translated into other languages? Have you had much contact with the translators?

Funny you should ask. I’ve heard from both German and Italian translators, and I always get a good chuckle out of the exchange. American sayings can be difficult to translate.

The one I best remember was a line about Kristina not eating anything: “eating zip.” The translator was very confused about what “zip: might be. Some strange American dish?

Do you read many books by other YA authors? Are there any books you’ve recently read that you’d particularly recommend?

I do read lots of YA, often sent for blurbs in fact. So I often see books before they release. There’s a Neal Shusterman book to be on the lookout for, called Bruiser (HarperCollins, 2010), about an empathy. Already out in the fantasy area is a book by Michelle Zink called Prophesy of the Sisters (Little, Brown, 2009)[see book trailer immediately below]. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (Viking, 2009) is a good contemporary read, as is Laura Weiss’s Such a Pretty Girl (MTV Books).

Finally, any suggestions for writers who would like to follow in your footsteps? What’s the Ellen Hopkins Route to Success?

I think you need to experiment–to read and write cross genre. I don’t think going in you always know where you belong as a writer. And I’d also say to remember always who your audience is–not reviewers or awards committees, but readers.

Write bravely. Create three-dimensional characters, with solid motivations for what they do or don’t do. That goes for your antagonists as well as your protagonists.

In YA, character is everything, even in genre fiction. If your readers can’t relate to your characters, they will stop reading.

Cynsational Notes

Ellen Hopkins is a poet and the award-winning author of twenty nonfiction books for children, and six New York Times bestselling young adult novels-in-verse. Her latest novel, Tricks (McElderry, 2009), debuted at the number one spot on the coveted NY Times list. Ellen lives near Carson City Nevada with her husband and youngest son, plus two dogs, one cat and four ponds (not pounds!) of fish.

See the book trailer below for Tricks.

Laura Watkinson is a translator, from Dutch and Italian into (British) English, and an occasional writer. She translates children’s books for all ages, from picture books to YA/cross-over novels, and has recently completed projects for Piccadilly in the UK and Arthur A. Levine in the States. She’s a champion of books in translation and loves making different cultures accessible to younger readers.

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.

Guest Post: Author Robin Friedman on the ’80s, GenX & The Importance of Wings

By Robin Friedman

Sandwiched between 80 million baby boomers and the 78 million members of Generation Y (who are also called millennials), Generation X—roughly defined as anyone born between 1965 and 1980—has just 46 million members, condemning it by numbers alone to demographic insignificance.

It’s my generation, defined as much by Pac-Man, Cabbage Patch Kids, Atari, and “Dynasty” as the Cold War, John Hughes movies, and Boy George.

We are the generation that graduated from college just in time for a recession, watched our parents get divorced and get laid off (or work so much that we became latchkey kids), and witnessed a selfish phase of the 1980s that we don’t want to repeat.

This bleak inheritance labeled us, but our legacy isn’t gloom and doom; on the contrary, we’re resilient, independent, and pragmatic. We gave the world the gifts of Google, YouTube, and Amazon.

Few of us can resist the pull of our early days, and authors are no exception. In fact, mining the rich veins of our childhoods—often useful, always embarrassing—is something of a specialty for writers.

So, after three novels for young readers with boys as main characters, I decided to write The Importance of Wings (Charlesbridge, 2009), a novel about Roxanne, a thirteen-year-old girl, born in Israel, growing up on Staten Island in the 1980s. She hates gym, watches too much TV, and can’t get her hair to do what everybody else’s hair is doing; that is, feathering into a set of perfect wings (another ’80s phenomenon and the meaning behind the title).

Plunging into the depths of my adolescence was both fun and horrifying. Here’s how I used the decade of Michael Jackson‘s moonwalk and Farrah Fawcett‘s feathered hairdo as the background for my story.


Television dominated my decade. With no Internet—no surfing, no emailing, no texting, no blogging, no tweeting—no DVDs and little cable, most of us watched broadcast TV on a handful of networks. Quaint, isn’t it? Take away the remote (necessitating an actual walk to the tube to change the channel), and you have the electronic equivalent of the Dark Ages.

In fact, because of the absence of all the entertainment niches we have today, many of us watched the same shows, leading some experts to call Generation X the last to have a “national culture.”

Television is certainly a nice reference of pop culture for any novel set in the past. For my main character, it’s an obsessive passion. Her favorites are “Wonder Woman,” “Super Friends,” “Little House on the Prairie,” and “The Brady Bunch.” And she does watch “The Smurfs,” too.


When I was a teen, the grand summit of style was squeezing into tighter-than-spandex designer jeans by Sasson, Jordache, and Sergio Valente, instantly elevating a girl’s school status to the stratosphere.

It’s distressing, looking back, to realize a girl’s worth boiled down to dark-wash denim. I suspect, though, that while fashion references may change, school statuses generally do not.


One of the themes of The Importance of Wings is Roxanne’s desperate desire for the right hair. There are several scenes involving blow dryers, curling irons, and ozone-depleting hairspray.

Like fashion, hairstyle is a pop reference that’s instantly recognizable to an era, from the bobs of the 1920s to the beehives of the 1960s.


My decade featured the golden age of arcade games, with several, such as Pac-Man, entering the realms of popular culture. Other iconic games, such as Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Centipede, Frogger, and Galaga, were similarly renowned.

There are several scenes in the novel where Roxanne plays games in a mall arcade, even gauging a friend’s coolness factor by how well she can manipulate a joystick.

Though I included few pop references to music and movies in the novel, they’re certainly excellent anchors of a time period, as are prominent news events.

I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the ’80s when I wrote my novel; I only hope readers enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Cynsational Notes

Read chapter one of The Importance of Wings, and see also a tie-in discussion guide (PDF).

Illustrator Interview: Susan L. Roth on TLA’s “Take a Chance on Art 2010: Disaster Relief Raffle”

Interview with Susan L. Roth

by TLA member Jeanette Larson
of Austin, Texas

Take a Chance on Art 2010: Disaster Relief Raffle sponsored by the Texas Library Association. Peek: “Big white mouse and little brown mouse are tending a garden of flowers on the May pages in Susan L. Roth’s charming board book for preschoolers, My Love for You All Year Round (Dial, 2003).

The original artwork for this spread (above), donated by the artist for the 2010 Texas Library Disaster Relief Raffle, is a multi-layered collage of colored and textured papers rich in color, shading, and detail.”

Why did you decide to donate a piece of your work to the Texas Disaster Relief Fund Raffle?

There are many worthy causes, but this one seems especially important. Many times people react quickly to help acute emergencies, but after the emergency is no longer in headlines, people tend to forget. Before the victims’ lives are ever back to normal, new headlines replace old ones.

This is a small thing for me to do, but I hope that it will help someone a little bit, especially those who are still in need but whose cause is out of the front-and-center spotlight.

How did you decide on which piece you would donate?

I picked this piece because I wanted it to be a cheerful piece, and I thought it would be nice if there were a publication associated with it–and it is from a cheerful book. I wanted my contribution to feel positive and hopeful.

Several of your books, including Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea, also by Greg Mortenson (Dial, 2009), deal with people helping people. Why are causes like this fund important to you?

Most days I sit in my “ivory-tower” little studio at my little desk. As I cut and tear and paste and glue, I think about how, completely by chance, I have been blessed with amazing fortune.

I have never known hunger, cold or war; my family is close to me, I have good friends; and I am able to do professionally that which I love to do and have always wanted to do.

But when things are quiet and sometimes a little repetitious, my mind wanders from my hands. I have time to consider this business of making books for children, and I do realize that pretty books and sweet books are fine for what they are, but for me, they cannot carry enough weight to rationalize the self-indulgence that they seem to demand.

One of the most important roles that I see for children’s books is as vehicles for teaching our children about other peoples, cultures and places, leading them easily, comfortably, and naturally to understanding and appreciation of other peoples, cultures and places.

This is how I prefer to help people, using the only voice I have. My heavier subject matters seem to me to be logical choices as ways to do this best.

Besides, I do support the philosophies that I write about.

Share a little bit of information about the piece. How was it created, and what book is it from?

This piece does not have such a high-minded origin. The book, My Love for You All Year Round, is a modest teaching device, a concept book to teach children the months of the year. But I have tried to present this with warmth and love and, I hope, not too many of the usual clichés associated with calendars.

The flowers are so colorful and really speak to those of us who love wildflowers. How do you get such bright, rich colors?

Thank you! My papers and fabrics come from all over the world. So I guess I could say that I am leading the children to other peoples, cultures and places through the papers, even when dealing with more regular subject matters. I have gone to the sources to collect most of these art supplies since I, myself, am perpetually interested in other peoples, cultures and places.

In case someone who doesn’t win the raffle is interested, is your original art available through a gallery?

Most of my originals are still in my studio closet. Occasionally I do give a piece of art to a very special friend. More occasionally, I might sell a piece. If someone is interested in purchasing something, I can be reached though my website:

Cynsational Notes

The raffle will be April 16 during the second general session of the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio. Tickets are available online (mail by April 9) and will also be sold at the conference: $5 each or 5 for $20.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Cover Stories: Alibi Junior High by Greg Logstead from Melissa Walker at readergirlz. Peek: “My publisher asked for ideas, and unfortunately, all I could come up with was my very vague ‘it should be really cool’ suggestion. Which in retrospect isn’t much help at all.”

Enter to win copies of To Be A Slave by Julius Lester and Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin from Lee Verday at By Pen or By Sword…a blog about books, writing, and other things that matter. See more information.

Top 10 Black History Books for Youth: 2010 by Gillian Engberg from Booklist. Peek: “From 1775 Virginia to 1968 Chicago, the settings are as diverse as the subjects in these top black-history titles, all reviewed in Booklist over the past 12 months. Spotlight them in February, and share them throughout the year.” Source: Anastasia Suen.

Libby Schmais on Romance… à la Française from Blog. Peek: “Maybe writing about Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir seems an odd choice for a book about teens, but what I like about JP and Simone is that they are so not the poster couple for a healthy relationship, but at the same time they had a great romance.”

Blurring the Lines by Kathi Appelt from Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts. Peek: “If you think that we can participate in this industry without becoming advocates for children, then that is a mistaken notion. It’s our job to write for all of our citizens, not just children, but especially for children.” Read a Cynsations interview with Kathi.

How to Buy Books by Sara Zarr. Peek: “You know what I love about shopping at my local independent book store? I go in there, and they know me.” Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Rita Williams-Garcia on the difference between MGs and YAs, girlish hearts, and more by Stephanie Greene from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “I’m always working to show a reader what they haven’t considered, to force them to see it anew or at all. You say ‘Black Panthers,’ and there is an immediate image. You say ‘female genital mutilation,’ and there’s an immediate and visceral association and image. A little bit of knowledge mutes the possibility of discovery. But to eyes and ears in discovery mode, it’s all new.” Read an interview with Rita and her guest post about being a finalist for the National Book Award.

Inside or Outside? by Jo Whittemore from The Spectacle. Peek: “…is the main character someone who is already well-ensconced in the fantastical world around them or are they stepping into this for the first time?” Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

28 Days Later: Dwayne Ferguson by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature. Peek: “Any creative person will tell you, you don’t control the art, it comes from and flows through you.”

It’s a question as old as time itself: Which is better, the Zombie or the Unicorn? Go vote! Note: You’ll also learn more about Holly Black and Team Unicorn as well as Justine Larbalestier and Team Zombie. Read Cynsations interviews with Holly and Justine.

Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr: Q&A from Karen’s Book Nook. Peek: “I don’t buy the notion that we have one single person in all the world that will complete us. I think there are many people who can fit into our lives in beautiful ways (and, of course, that we need to be whole and healthy before we find those perfect melds).”

Advance Story/Character by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “I think one thing that even very good writers struggle with is structure. I know, for a long time, it was one of the things that kept me from being published.” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Class of 2k10 “Feel the Love” Giveaway: features three signed books and a bunch of nifty swag, “all bundled up in a dreamy tote.” Deadline: midnight Feb. 14. See more information.

Yasmin Shiraz by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children’s Literature. Peek: “When I asked young women in the room, ‘What do you like, what do you love, what do you hate?’ a teen girl responded, ‘I hate the girls who jumped me.’ I couldn’t get her voice out of my head.”

Dear Lucky Agent Contest: Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels by Chuck from Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog. Judge: Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Deadline: Feb. 21. See more information.

Peni R. Griffin, author of 11,000 Year Lost: an interview from Moss Green Children’s Books. Peek: “I think megafauna are way cooler than dinosaurs, and the work being done today in the Americas is the most interesting archaeology you can do, turning up questions we didn’t even know how to ask. Once the Ice Age bug bites you, you stay bit.” Read a Cynsations interview with Peni.

Wild Geese Guides from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Peek: “This blog will feature interviews, discussion guides, book club activities and other reading related content for children’s literature.” Read a Cynsations interview with Tracie.

Texas Sweethearts Giveaway: enter to win your choice of a signed book by one of the sweethearts and a $20 online gift card to Powell’s bookstore. See more information.

Random House editor Nicholaus Eliopulos on Writing the YA Novel: a report on the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Writer’s Day Conference by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings. Peek: “The pacing must be quick and the stakes need to go up in order to keep that attention. Nothing holds a teen like a ticking clock: will the main character make it in time? What happens if he doesn’t?”

Never Right the First Time or How I Learned to Love Revision by Mary Ann Rodman from Teaching Authors: Six Children’s Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: “Not until I was in the MFA program at Vermont College that I learned what true revision is. How to take apart a story and put it back together, using any number of techniques.”

Button Up by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) is the winner of the 2010 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. See honor books and more information by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia.

My Best of the Best List by Dawn Metcalf from Officially Twisted. Note: her must-watch list of online children’s-YA book publishing/writing sites, blogs, networks, and folks.

The Call or What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation from Literary Rambles. Peek: “Do you have a plan for submission in mind already? Which houses/editors do think will be a good fit for this project?” Note: those doing agent-submissions research, should also see the sidebar of this blog.

Ask the editor: Tips for blending in the back-story from The Book Deal: An Inside View of Publishing. Peek: “Here are some of the options that make good storytelling so interesting but hard to achieve.”

Apple’s iPad is no book-killer: Author says technology is a threat to reading we can overcome by Katherine Paterson from The Daily News. Peek: “…we are not the first generation to fear change of this kind. Plato had Socrates argue in ‘The Dialogues’ that if people learned to read and write – if, in short, the populace became literate – poetry would disappear, for it was only in the oral tradition that poetry could be preserved properly.”

An Accurate Definition of “Push” by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “Does that mean we sit back and wait a few decades until young North Americans move beyond the primacy of racial self-identification? Not if we believe that good stories are for all readers.” Congratulations to Mitali on the inclusion of Secret Keeper (Delacorte, 2009) among the 2010 Notable Books For A Global Society.

Wedding and Funerals and Everywhere in Between by Diane Roback from Children’s Bookshelf – Publishers Weekly. Peek: “We asked editors about the strangest place they’ve been pitched a book, and have collected a number of their stories.”

Seven (Give or Take) Questions Over Breakfast with Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek from Jenni: “Yes, finally, I have a new historical coming out in May 2010. (Sorry, I have been very slowed down by popping out kids.) It’s called Turtle in Paradise and is inspired by my Key West family. It involves diaper changing, scorpions, treasure and, well, just read it already!”

Four Tips on Promoting to Educators by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “The ArLA is mostly public school librarians who are concerned about programming special events, balancing a collection and keeping funding when it relies on politics. The ARA has a large number of classroom teachers who are concerned about teaching reading to kids. The AAIM are librarians, who must follow the state standards for teaching library skills, as well as function as the technology expert for their school.” Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Are We Ruled by Happy Endings? by Anna Staniszewski from Writing It Out. Peek: “While the original tale had ended tragically, the closer I got to the ending of my retelling, the more I couldn’t bear to make my characters suffer any longer. Had I gone soft? Was I caving to the pressure of happy endings? Or was the happy ending simply what the story needed?”

“It ain’t browsing unless there are shelves…” by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: “Now, of course, I had favorite authors and would always check if there was something new by them. But it also allowed me to ‘discover” new authors I never would’ve ‘met.'” Read a Cynsations interview with Greg. See also Meet Cathy Anderson of The Briar Patch, Bangor, Maine by Ellen Booraem from The Enchanted Inkpot.

Using Freelance Editors by Mary Kole from Peek: “…there are a lot of wonderful writers and publishing professionals who either make a career in or supplement their income with freelance editing. Their talents are many and their insights are deep. I have a lot of great respect for them and for what they do. However, I would not point all writers to freelance editors. Let me try to articulate…”

My Little Round House: The journey of a picture book from Mongolia to Canada by Helen Mixter from papertigers. Peek: “Whereas usually as a translator I work very hard to keep the voice of the original text intact and to remain as true as possible to the word for word of it, this process wasn’t really possible here.”

Stuff To Know About Shen’s Books: A Chat With Editor Renee Ting by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “…it is impossible for me to tell the race or ethnicity of an author just from their name on a manuscript. These days, we can’t assume anything from people’s names. And it just seems wrong to me somehow to judge work based on any criteria other than its own merit.”

The deadline for the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer fellowship has been extended. This $5,000 fellowship goes to an author in financial need who has written at least two novels for children or young adults, and is given to support the completion of a book-length work-in-progress. Completed applications must be postmarked by March 1. See complete guidelines.

New Children’s-YA Agent

Mandy Hubbard has joined the D4EO Literary Agency where she will concentrate on middle-grade and young adult fiction.

Mandy began her career in publishing as an author. Her debut novel, Prada & Prejudice (Razorbill/Penguin, 2009), is in its fifth printing. She has four other books under contract, divided among Harlequin, Llewellyn Flux, and Razorbill/Penguin. Mandy also interned at The Bent Agency before joining D4EO Literary.

Mandy is interested in a broad range of middle grade/YA manuscripts, whether they be contemporary or historical, fantasy/paranormal or realistic. She loves books with a heavy focus on romance, as well as “issue books” with a strong voice. If your book has a high concept or a big hook, she wants to see it.

However, if your story includes portals to fantasy worlds, wizards or dragons, it’s probably not for her. She says, “Please no chapter books, pictures books, poetry, nonfiction, or books for the adult market.”

To query Mandy, send your query letter, along with the first five pages of your manuscript (both pasted into the body of an email) to See also Mandy’s LJ.

Cynsational Screening Room

In the video below, Josh Berk celebrates the release of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halprin (Knopf, 2010) with a musical video.

Author Interview: Loretta Ellsworth from Shelf Elf: Read, Write, Rave. Peek: “My nephew died in a motorcycle accident, sort of a freak accident when his front tire hit a hole and the bike flipped. He had designated himself as an organ donor on his license. For a long time I couldn’t write. When I did, I found myself drawn to a story of organ donation.” See the book trailer for In A Heartbeat (Walker, 2009). Read an excerpt (PDF file).

Check out the book trailer for Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Dial). Read an excerpt. Source: Blog.

In the video below, “Laurie Halse Anderson recounts the conception and building of her writing cottage. The cottage is off-grid and was built to be easy on the environment as well as warm and quiet. It was designed and built for her by her husband, who is a carpenter, and several of his friends.”

In the video below, Erin Dealey presents The Writer’s Rap. Music and Video by Andrew Heringer. Source: Linda Joy Singleton.

Austin SCBWI 2010: Destination Publication

Here’s continuing coverage of the recent Austin SCBWI conference. See the original post.

The video below is a series of short conversations with attendees at Austin SCBWI‘s recent “Destination Publication” conference. It’s just under 7.5 minutes long. It features established authors like Phil Yates and illustrators like Don Tate, agent-speaker Nathan Bransford, rising star illustrator Clint Young, and founding chapter members Betty X. Davis and Jerry Wermund (talking about co-founding RA Meredith Davis, mentor Kathi Appelt, and author Anne Bustard) as well as tons of newcomers, some attending their first conference.

Conference debrief by Mark G. Mitchell from How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator. Peek: “Still children’s publishing is ‘not an industry in ruins, but in transition,’ he [Mark McVeigh] continued. He spoke about the emerging digital media and mobile media (Kindle, iPhone, etc.) marketplace. But he kept returning to the sovereignty of language, individual creativity — and the Emily Dickinson poem he keeps in his wallet.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mark.

See SCBWI Austin 2010: Conference Report by Peni R. Griffin from Idea Garbage Sale. Peek: “Maybe I’ll never need to understand how artists think for a story, but understanding visual art better is a good in itself.” Read a Cynsations interview with Peni.

See also Lisa Graff on Writing and Revising from Day By Day Writer. Peek: “She said an editor is in charge of finding the true story a writer is trying to tell; because writers are so in their head, it’s often hard for them to see the story for the words. But, she pointed out, editors can’t do their best work until writers have done theirs.”

See also Black and Yellow, a Sneaky Fellow by Diandra Mae from Taking Flight. Peek: “Besides the fantastic opportunities of hearing Marla Frazee speak to the conference (and to the illustrators in a breakout session), I was also able to display my portfolio and participate in a silent auction fundraiser for the Austin SCBWI‘s illustrators.” Features insights into how Diandra decorated her frame for the auction.

More Personally

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a recommendation from Karen Healey’s LiveJournal AKA Attention Rebellious Jezebels. Peek: “Oh my Lord, I loved it. I am about to spoil the heck out of this book, so if you absolutely cannot stand knowing anything about a book turn away, and if you want to be spoiled a little bit but don’t want to know the end, I will white that out so you can risk it.” Notes: (a) very, very entertaining; (b) she’s not kidding about the spoilers, but as noted, there’s white space before her analysis of the ending so you can wait to the read the rest if you want to.

Reminder: as of this week, Eternal is now available in the U.S. in paperback from Candlewick Press. Today, you can enter to win one of two copies. See more information.

Additional giveaways are ongoing this week at the Cynthia Leitich Smith Facebook Fan Page. Comment/message me to enter to win a copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2009), Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009), and How To Be a Vampire: The Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, 2009). Note: both Immortal and Sideshow include short stories set in the Tantalize-Eternal-Blessed (forthcoming) universe.

Attention Readers in the Philippines: Tantalize is available from National Bookstore, Power Books, and Sketch Books.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire by Julius Lester (Harcourt, 2007)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Cupid” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I’ll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: Feb. 12.

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 name in the header; 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

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 Seven 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.

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference will be held Feb. 20 at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. Faculty includes Cynthia Leitich Smith, award-winning author and Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member; Ruta Rimas, assistant editor at Balzar & Bray/HarperCollins; Patrick Collins, creative director at Henry Holt; Alexandra Cooper, senior editor at Simon & Schuster; Lisa Ann Sandell, senior editor at Scholastic; Nancy Feresten, vice president and editor-in-chief National Geographic Children’s Books, and Sara Crowe, agent at Harvey Klinger. Note: “All the speakers will be doing critiques. Critique spots are limited.” See registration and information.

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:

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!

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.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: Rosemary Stimola

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010.

First, Rosemary, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our attendees at the 2010 SCBWI Bologna conference.

I should probably admit, up front, that I spent so much time smiling alone in my office while reading about you on the Internet that I began checking to make sure no one was watching me in the process.

I was blown away by the enthusiastic comments being shared about you, and it was impossible not to feel good reading other peoples’ inspiring words of praise. Even writers who had been turned down by you were big fans, repeating phrases like “rock-star agent” and “super-star agent.” My favorite quote from one of your clients–“Ro is made of awesome.”

Ah, that would be Ms. [Leah] Clifford and her lovely “Agents’ Appreciation Day” YouTube video. I quite adored that description, made me blush!

What do you feel are some of the most successful attributes of your approach to agenting that inspire such approval from your clients?

I am ethical, honest, reasonable, responsible, timely and experienced, working always with my eye on the longer term and the best interests of my clients in mind. All serves to establish the kind of author-agent trust wanted and needed in this very important relationship.

Before becoming a literary agent you were a professor of language and literature at the City University of New York, and later you opened and operated a successful children’s bookstore. How do you think these two experiences influenced you as a literary agent, and what was it that spurred you to move into the field of literary agenting?

Oh, had it not been for these two previous lives, I would not be able to do what I do today. I loved teaching and always found children’s literature particularly exciting (but was not a fan of academia). Then I loved book selling and thought I would be a bookseller for eternity. We had a fabulous and exciting ten years, but the market changed and it was not as supportive of independents as it had been.

After my store closed, an editor friend suggested I consider agenting. With the aesthetic intuitions I honed as an academic and the business smarts I developed as a bookseller, I was well-armed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sometimes as a writer, it’s too easy to get lost in the thinking of “what can I do to make this story appealing to a publisher” rather than “what do I want children to experience when reading this story.” With your PhD in linguistics, specializing in children’s literature, what can you tell us about how writing should connect to children in a meaningful way?

Well, I do tend to think of language as rather musical, so, the language of a text plays a melody that must strike the right notes for me and, in my opinion, for its intended audience. It’s all about how words are strung together, creating a voice and that sense of “signature” that speaks a compelling story.

On the Stimola Literary Studio website [submissions], you mention the agency “is committed to finding and nurturing new talents and, as such, remains open to unsolicited queries.” Can you tell us more about what kinds of queries you’re hoping might come across your desk in 2010?

I look for the “stand out” in a concise and well-written query: a premise that intrigues, a character that appeals, an approach that breaks new ground. There is a wide spectrum for YA these days, pushing to boundaries of adult fiction and even crossing that boundary from time to time, so I am always looking for something new and wonderful in that realm.

And then, I never walk away from a pitch-perfect, character-driven middle grade with the right blend of humor and pathos.

You further elaborated in a 2006 interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith that you always welcome submissions, but, “have to be blown away by the writing, the story, the characters.” Can you tell us some specific qualities you look for in the story or characters that are sure to blow you away?

Would that I could! It is the intangibles here, those gut feelings and responses that come into play. When I am compelled to read on, when I can’t put a manuscript down, I know I have something special. And sometimes, you can tell from the very first paragraph.

Would you say that there is a primary method by which most of your clients approach you? For example, through an unsolicited query, at a conference, or by a recommendation?

E-queries are most common these days, and I am sorry to say, there are so many unsolicited on a daily basis, that we can only respond to those we wish to consider further. We do, however, strive to respond to all that come via referral or conference connections.

For an author who may have more than one manuscript to submit, how would you suggest he or she best communicate that to a prospective agent? Should a writer limit his or her submission to only one, or will agents want to see a sampling of an author’s work?

A query should focus on one work, at least for me. A writer might note there are other works done or in progress. Listing more than one overwhelms.

You’ve stated previously that market trends often dictate what sells better at certain times. Do you notice any current trends in the market right now for a particular type of work?

Well, all things paranormal are alive and well in young adult. You would think we would have had our fill of vampires and such, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Graphic middle grades seem to have found their moment in the sun, and in a weak picture book market, most being acquired these days are spare of language, character-driven, and have commercial appeal.

One of the things I most enjoyed about the Stimola Literary Studio website is the comprehensive and appealing “clients” page. You’ve gone to a lot of effort to shine the spotlight on each of your clients while also providing links and easy access to their own blogs or websites.

In this emerging environment of social networking, blogging and online connectivity, what are your thoughts about the relevance of an online presence for both emerging and established writers? Is an author’s web presence something that you might include in a pitch to a publisher or editor?

A web presence is essential, and the social networking of facebook, bloggers, and the like offer an opportunity to promote and literally “go viral” like never before. If web presence is a solid one, I do include link to author info in a submission, so publisher can gain an early sense of how this author may serve as his/her own best marketing tool.

What kinds of promotions or activities, if any, do you like to find your clients involved in before, while, and after you have contacted an editor about a manuscript?

Writers’ conferences are always a plus, at any time.

Lastly, what advice can you give to a writer who is interested in finding an agent, but who has not, as yet, begun approaching any? What are some of the first steps on the road to finding representation?

Do your homework! Visit their websites to get a sense of who they already represent and what kinds of books fall under their realm of expertise. You want to work with someone who shares your goals, short-term and long-term. Speak to existing clients to get their take on their agent-author relationship.

And don’t jump at just any offer! Make sure your agent is reputable, known, and practices business in accordance with the Association of Authors’ Representatives canon of ethics.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on these questions. We look forward to learning more from you in Bologna!

See you there!

Cynsational Notes

Rosemary Stimola, a former professor of language and literature and an award-winning children’s bookseller, formalized the Stimola Literary Studio in 1997, offering representation to writers and writer-illustrators of children’s books.

Representing both fiction and nonfiction from preschool through young adult, she is honored to count among her clients many New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, including Suzanne Collins, Jodi Lynne Anderson, Lisa Papademetriou, Mary E. Pearson, Tanya Lee Stone and Matt Tavares.

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.

New Voice: Deborah Lytton on Jane in Bloom

Deborah Lytton is the first-time author of Jane in Bloom (Dutton, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Jane’s big sister, Lizzie, has always been the center of attention. No one ever pays attention to boring, plain Jane.

But when Jane’s twelfth birthday marks the beginning of Lizzie’s final descent into a fatal eating disorder, Jane discovers that the only thing harder than living in her big sister’s shadow is living without her.

In the wake of tragedy, Jane learns to look through her camera lens and frame life differently, embracing her broken family and understanding that every girl has her season to blossom.

Spare and vulnerable prose marks this beautiful debut that is at once heartbreaking and uplifting.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?

I get to know my main characters by writing. I start with an idea about who the character is and what she needs to say. Then I write a few pages from her point of view so I can begin to hear her voice. This usually happens with a pen and paper rather than the computer. My imagination tends to have more freedom when I touch the pen to paper.

Next, I delve more fully into her character by creating a diary for my main character–her birthday, her favorite color, the things she likes to eat, her favorite movies and music. I might add tear-outs from magazines, if I find something that resonates with me. I spend a lot of time thinking about the character until I have a visual of her to go with her voice.

With Jane, I used works of art and music to help enhance the connection with her. I listened to Michelle Branch, “The Spirit Room,” because her voice and lyrics sounded like Jane to me. And the painting, “Girl Before a Mirror” by Pablo Picasso was a visual representation for me of Jane’s view of herself, with the bright colors reflecting the chaos around her.

As I worked on my first draft of Jane, I discovered more about her, and this connection allowed me to further develop her character during the revision process.

I also use my background as an actress to become one with the character emotionally, almost as if I am preparing to play the role. I speak the dialogue out loud and visualize the manuscript as if it is a film.

When I was writing Jane in Bloom, I cried with her. My tears are in the manuscript because, as I wrote Jane’s story, I experienced her pain.

I use a similar method to discover my secondary characters. Again, I use the process of putting words on the page to allow the character to breathe and come alive. But my secondary characters sometimes necessitate a bit more research. They tend to be more removed from me. And that leads me to reading first-person accounts or talking to people in similar situations. I need to feel their emotions and their perspectives to connect with them.

In Jane in Bloom, there is a secondary character who is an older woman, Ethel. And she has a passion for growing roses. I know next to nothing about flowers, so I did a lot of research on the subject. Ethel’s passion for the art of growing roses flowed into an approach to life that is so optimistic. And Ethel allows Jane to bloom.

When I discovered Ethel, I also found the heart of my novel.

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?

I work as an attorney by day, and I am also a single mother of two young daughters. I long for the day when I can devote myself to writing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But for now, I have to fit my writing schedule around the rest of my life. And that means I mostly write when my daughters are sleeping, either late at night or in the very early morning. I find this works well for me, because when I am tired, I am less critical and more creative. The next day, I begin writing by reading through my work from the previous night and revising.

I have also learned to write without being next to the computer. I write while I am sitting in traffic, by going over my story in my head and finding and discarding ideas as I drive. When I find one I like, I jot it down on a scrap of paper while stopped at a red light.

I also think about the story before I go to sleep.

Another thing I have learned is to click into my creative mode quickly. I do this by listening to music that connects me to the story, and I also use a bulletin board or book of visuals such as art or photographs to set the scene.

I’m sure that my schedule makes me slower to complete a manuscript, but I also know that taking more time forces me to let the manuscript breathe. And in that creative space, amazing ideas are born.

On the publicity side, I have learned to be especially organized. I make lists of things I need to accomplish and try to do a few things every week. My BlackBerry has been instrumental in this. I can respond to emails quickly and easily that way, and reserve non-writing computer time for blogging and promotion on Jane in Bloom. I wish I could say I have accomplished every single goal on my lists. But I just try to do the best I can.

For others like me who are trying to work and begin a career as a writer, I want to say this–you can do it. Believe in yourself and your talent. Set realistic goals for yourself, and find creative ways to write even when you are not at the computer.

The key to this life is balance. Be fair to yourself, and play to your strengths. If you work best in the daytime, set aside every Saturday morning to write. If you are a night owl, work for a few nights in a row and then get some sleep. Remember to keep pads of paper in your car and next to your bed for those moments when brilliance strikes. And never ever give up.

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.

A video interview with Deborah about Jane in Bloom from Stellar Media Group. Note: 9 minutes, 26 seconds.

U.S. Paperback Release of Eternal & Giveaways

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith is now available in paperback in the U.S. from Candlewick Press. From the promotional copy:

At last, Miranda is the life of the party: all she had to do was die.

Elevated and adopted by none other than the reigning King of the Mantle of Dracul, Miranda goes from high-school theater wannabe to glamorous royal fiend overnight.

Meanwhile, her reckless and adoring guardian angel, Zachary, demoted to human guise as the princess’s personal assistant, has his work cut out for him trying to save his girl’s soul and plan the Master’s fast-approaching Death Day gala.

In alternating points of view, Miranda and Zachary navigate a cut-throat eternal aristocracy as they play out a dangerous and darkly hilarious love story for the ages.

“Suspenseful and entertaining.” —The Horn Book

“Fanpires will not be disappointed with the newest addition to the genre, and the mythology is subtle enough for general fiction readers.” —VOYA

“A true page-turner, I can’t imagine any fan of Gothic suspense/romance not thoroughly enjoying this – and not just young adult readers either.” —The Dallas Morning News

Read a sample chapter (PDF) from Candlewick.

Eternal Trailer


Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of two copies of Eternal!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Eternal” in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to comment or message me with the title in the header; if you win, I’ll write you for contact information).

You will receive an extra entry for posting news of these new editions and this giveaway on your blog and/or any social networks; one extra chance for each post/tweet/link. (Include posting information and URLs with your entry).

Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 13.

Additional giveaways are ongoing this week at the Cynthia Leitich Smith Facebook Fan Page. Comment/message me to enter to win a copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2009), Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009), and How To Be a Vampire: The Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, 2009). Note: both Immortal and Sideshow include short stories set in the Tantalize-Eternal-Blessed universe.

Cynsational Notes

The casts of Eternal and Tantalize will crossover in Blessed (Candlewick, 2011), which picks up where Tantalize leaves off and is a more direct companion to that earlier novel. The series will continue in a still-untitled prose novel, which is a more direct companion to Eternal.

There also are graphic novel adaptations of Eternal (TBA) and Tantalize (2011) in the works from Candlewick Press, and e-book editions of both will be available on Feb. 23.

The series is widely available. But if you can’t find one of these books at your local bookstore, just ask the bookseller to order them. You can also find them in many school and public libraries. Talk to your librarian, if you need to request an interlibrary loan.