Guest Post: Arnold Adoff and Kacy Cook on Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays, & Conversations

Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays, & Conversations, co-edited by Arnold Adoff (Hamilton’s husband) and Kacy Cook (Scholastic/Blue Sky Press, 2010), gives us Hamilton’s voice throughout her career, from her first nationally published essay in 1971 to her final speech at a children’s book festival in 2001.

Through these pieces, Hamilton explored her creative process and shared her views on the role of the writer as well as insights on the central themes of her work.

Syndicated reviewer Kam Williams praises the book as “a rich portrait of a literary icon revealing her to be a brilliant, opinionated, and fiercely independent soul whose legacy and innovative approach to storytelling deserves to be the subject of study not merely by African Americans but by English scholars of all hues for generations to come.”

Kirkus Reviews says, “By any standards, Hamilton was an unusually clear thinker and brilliant wordsmith. Here, a lesser-known facet of her glittering reputation gets a fresh shine.”

this is arnold:

after virginia passed eight years ago, i closed the sliding door to her office and kept it closed….i traveled and spent time with our kids…in nyc and berlin…and mostly ran and ran and ran….

but slowly i began to stay here in ohio for longer periods of time…and i started to confront my own unfinished work…and the unfinished work of Virginia’s life….

she and I had often talked about doing a collection of her speeches…but the time never seemed just right: there was always one more novel, a new collection of folktales, that continuing movement forward which was the energy of our life together….

when our son, jaime, began to write and publish for young readers [see Jaime Adoff], i wanted to get out to conferences with him…to introduce him to old friends and colleagues, share a platform, enjoy a joint reading and our spirited public conversations….i began to re-enter the world of books and publishing…

This is Kacy:

I had been an editor and journalist for about 25 years when I began to look at a lifelong love of fiction and children’s literature as more than just a hobby. I spent my spare time writing, and started attending writers conferences for inspiration and guidance.

I met Arnold in 2006 at a conference where I volunteered. One afternoon, he and I found common ground in a lively discussion about having sons in rock bands. In the following weeks, through an email correspondence, he became my mentor and motivator.

When I first visited Arnold in Yellow Springs, he pointed out Virginia’s office to me through the closed sliding glass door. I was drawn to it like a magnet, but it was clear that Arnold was not ready to open that door.

Over the next six months or so, I came to realize that that door and what lay behind it was weighing very heavily on him. He well understood the importance and value of the vast collection of Virginia’s papers, but he found it difficult to wade back in.


kacy gained my trust, and, little by little, moved me forward into that old office…as we began working on collecting Virginia’s manuscripts for deposit into the library of congress, we found a number of hamilton speeches and essays…we soon realized that there were more than 150 such files, most of which had never been published….


When Arnold suggested that the speeches and essays would make an amazing collection, I began to think of how I could help him to make that happen. Because most of these files existed as single copies of typewritten documents, I decided to put them into digital format.

Rather than scan them, I began to type them onto my laptop. It was like a college of one! I had never met Virginia or heard her speak, but over the next several months, she became my constant companion. I learned so much and was greatly inspired by her words, and I became even more excited about sharing this treasure trove with others.

Once we had a digital archive and an outline of all the documents, Arnold and I began an intricately involved and deeply involving selection process.

We wanted to show the greatest cross-section of the breadth and depth of Virginia’s life and career, in her own words.

We had a collection spanning thirty years, so we first sought to represent each year. That was the easy part!

Next we looked to portray the splendor of her achievements through the abundance of awards and honors she had received—acceptance speeches for the Newbery, Hans Christian Andersen, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Coretta Scott King awards, among many others, as well as the Arbuthnot Lecture and an address at the Library of Congress.

Of course, we wanted to share her thoughts on her 40+ books and how they were created.

And we attempted to show the many subject areas that were important to her, including family, history, culture, the creative process, and the writing life.

Finally, we wanted to demonstrate the diversity of her audiences (she was invited to speak all over the United States as well as in Russia, Japan, and Europe) and the variety of styles and formats (besides fiction and biography) in which she excelled—lectures, essays and articles, and interviews (both as interviewee and interviewer). Whew!


this collection, Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays, & Conversations, is the first of several collections of hamilton nonfiction work….and contains many of her major speeches….(the newbery acceptance speech is included in its entirety at….)

this book shows virginia’s vision for a new america of inclusion and excellence….with particular attention to race and gender…virginia was an american woman author, as well as an african american writer who was a woman….(plenty of room for all the labels on a chest….)

she talks about the “parallel cultures” of this america (in a logical and needful attempt to eliminate the judgmental terms of “majority” and “minority” we cling to in cultural desperation(s))…and describes her work as “liberation literature….” for young readers and their older allies….

virginia’s novels were “survival manuals” in practical as well as metaphoric meanings… and we would sit around on an afternoon..sipping herb tea and struggling with the simple concept: that our books would never fill a young belly, level a playing field (dreadful expression!) or deflect a bullet…

but we knew we were filling heads and carving steps….

this first collection of some of her speeches and essays presents thought and stance and system to young readers and their teachers and librarians and parents….her voice is powerful and authentic and relevant as the struggles of the last fifty years are relevant to the next….

More on Virginia Hamilton

Breaking new ground came naturally to Virginia Hamilton. In 1967, the publication of her first book, Zeely, launched the modern era of African American children’s fiction.

Through her more than forty award-winning books spanning multiple genres, in scores of speeches worldwide, and in essays for prominent magazines and journals, Hamilton helped to bridge cultures and generations.

In 2010, eight years after her death, this important legacy continues to grow.

Hamilton’s legacy continues through the efforts of her husband, poet and anthologist Arnold Adoff. He has revised and updated her website and is offering there the full text of Hamilton’s Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech as a preview of the new book.

Adoff has made Hamilton’s papers available to scholars and researchers by donating them to the Library of Congress, and April will mark the opening of the Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff Resource Center at Wright State University’s Bolinga Center.

Hamilton is America’s most highly honored author of children’s books. She was the first African American to win the Newbery Medal, the first children’s author to win the MacArthur Fellowship (“Genius” award), and one of only a handful of Americans to win the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal, know as “The Little Nobel Prize.”

She also won the National Book Award, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her body of work, among many others.

The Virginia Hamilton Conference, held each spring at Kent State University, is the longest running conference on multicultural literature for youth in the country.

Beginning this year, the American Library Association is presenting a new award to honor her memory.

The Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement will be given for lasting and significant contributions to youth or young adult multicultural literature, alternating each year between authors/illustrators and practitioners.

The first recipient of the award, announced Jan. 18 at the ALA Midwinter Conference, is Walter Dean Myers.

Virginia Hamilton book and award: Curating legacy of an American writer by Lauren Heaton from Yellow Springs News in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Peek: “She and Adoff chose to write for children because as the source of change and growth in America, the youth ‘were the only place that allowed us a sense of optimism for the future,’ he said. They felt their job was partly to help young readers break free from the labels that bound them. Hamilton called her work ‘liberation literature.'”

Writers Against Racism: In His Own Words…Arnold Adoff from Amy Bowllan at Bowllan’s Blog at School Library Journal.

Writing Across Formats: Marion Dane Bauer

Learn about Marion Dane Bauer.

What have you learned from writing in a variety of formats?

What I love about shifting genres and audiences is the different kinds of strengths each one requires.

When I shift into a short novella from longer work, I think, Oh, how fun. I barely get into a chapter and I can climb out again.

When I shift back to something older, I think, Now I can relax. I don’t have to get anywhere so fast. I have room to discover.

When I’m writing picture books or novelty books, I love playing with language and rhythm for their own sake.

When I’m writing a story, the story and the consciousness of the character always has to precede the language. There isn’t as much room for simply enjoying sounds and rhythms and word choice.

But each strength that I develop in each different genre carries back to every other piece I write.

I think all of my writing is more lyrical because I write picture books. It is more concentrated for having written 150-word nonfiction. It is more intense for the experience of the shorter chapter books. And when I climb into something longer, the sprawl is utterly satisfying.

What do you think about the pressure on authors to brand themselves by writing a certain kind of book?

I think we all should be writing whatever we most need to write for whatever audience we are best equipped to reach. But in the early years of a career, I suppose the realities of the market support a certain amount of “branding,” though I dislike the term and all its implications.

My pattern–a pattern that was forced on me rather than chosen–was to get myself established with one kind of book, the hard-hitting, realistic upper-middle-grade novel, before I turned to anything else. It’s what I came into the field needing to write.

When my children were grown and grandchildren became part of my life, my emotional focus shifted and I began to have a real need–not just a passing desire–to write younger.

I’m approaching my 71st birthday, and I find myself feeling farther and farther removed from the world of tweets and text messages and all that is so integral a part of the lives of the kids I used to write for.

I don’t think the emotional reality has changed for our young people, but the same emotional realities are being housed in very different vessels.

Thus, I find myself, even when I write novels, moving younger, back into the space where family is central, because that has always been the only territory I know how to write out of. And it’s harder these days to spin a story totally out of family if you are writing about older kids. So I have turned to animal stories or to novellas about younger kids.

Finally, I’ll add another piece that isn’t often spoken of. It’s enormously difficult to support yourself solely with writing novels. They take too long to write, and unless they are unusually successful, they often don’t sell enough to pay for the time committed to them.

My collection of YA short stories, Killing Miss Kitty and Other Sins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), took me two years to write. The publisher and I had great expectations it, but we quickly discovered that it was an equal-opportunity book. There was something in there to offend just about everyone. And while the books flowed out quickly with the first buzz that surrounded the collection, they came flowing back to the publisher with equal speed. So, considered solely in financial terms, those two years were a bust.

For the last twenty-two years of my career, I’ve been supporting myself exclusively with my writing and a little teaching on the side. Writing and being able to sell the younger pieces has made that possible.

And the success of a board book such as Toes, Ears and Nose! illustrated by Karen Katz (Simon & Schuster, 2003) or How Do I Love You? illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church (Cartwheel, 2009) makes it possible for me to write just about anything else I need to write . . . including a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories that bombs!

Cynsational Notes

The Writing Across Formats interviews were originally conducted in support of a keynote address by Cynthia Leitich Smith at a fall 2009 SCBWI-Illinois conference.

Cover Art: Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott

Here’s a sneak peek at the cover art for Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010)(ages 4-up).

From the promotional copy:

Holler Loudly has a voice as big as the Southwestern sky, and everywhere he goes people tell him to “Hush!” From math class to the movies and even the state fair, Holler’s LOUD voice just keeps getting on people’s nerves. But Holler can’t help himself–being loud is who he is!

Will Holler ever find a way to let loose his voice–without getting into trouble?

Cynsational Notes

The story is an original southwestern tall tale, one of those “heart” books that I revised countless times between 2002 and 2008.

See also an interior illustration from Barry’s portfolio.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author Interview: Stephen Mooser of SCBWI

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Hi Stephen, it is my pleasure to have the chance to ask you some questions today in preparation for the upcoming 2010 SCBWI Bologna Symposium. The conference is certainly shaping up to be another exemplary SCBWI event. Before getting into some questions about your writing craft, I’d like to start with a few questions about your role as co-founder of SCBWI.

In anticipation of the upcoming Bologna event, what are important takeaways that you hope SCBWI conference-goers will get from this or any SCBWI international event?

At all SCBWI events, we strive to impart as much practical information as possible. We mix in some inspiration, hopefully a little humor and lots of opportunities for networking.

What are some of the reasons that you, Lin Oliver and so many others, invest so much time, energy and care into the annual conferences that SCBWI offers?

I think it is because of the organization we all belong to. More than a professional association, more than a club of like-minded people (though it is certainly both of those things), it is a community of friends, actively involved in helping one another improve their craft.

We spend time putting together events because we, too, want to go to those events, to learn things, to see old friends, and meet new ones.

You’ve talked in previous interviews about how SCBWI was begun, looking back now to those early days, do you feel you’ve achieved all the things you set out to do back then? Did you have any idea how long-lasting and influential this organization would be?

We had no idea what we were creating, certainly no concept we would still be involved forty years later. The minimal goals we set–put out a newsletter, put on a conference–were met years ago. We could have never envisioned the electronic world we live in now, so could never have imagined how the Internet could have helped us became a worldwide organization.

What other things do you have in mind for SCBWI in the coming years?

We want to expand our online presence, be able to bring national, international and regional events into member’s homes. We want to increase our services to the professional membership, and to improve and increase communications between authors, illustrators and the publishing industry.

What is one of the aspects of membership in SCBWI that you feel benefits members most?

Currently, I think it is the services available on the website from the Discussion Board Forums, the Online Publications, the live blogs from the Summer and Winter Conferences, to the online Illustrator’s Gallery to just mention a few of those benefits that can be found on our web site

SCBWI reaches out to around 22,000 members in more than 30 countries through the various regional chapters of SCBWI, which are run by an army of talented, well-known and often award-winning writers, illustrators and other champions of children’s books. What are some of the things you see the SCBWI regional chapters do that you applaud?

We constantly look to the regions for suggestions and ideas. New Regional writing and illustrating awards–the Silver Kites–were first proposed by Christopher Cheng in Australia; small-scale retreats in other areas that focus on a specific aspect of writing or illustrating are other innovations.

Some regions have also led the way in partnering with book related gatherings such as IRA, BEA and others.

[The Silver Kite Peer Awards will be given annually for best book as chosen by the members of each SCBWI Regional Division, beginning in 2011 for books published during the 2010 calendar year.]

You’ve undoubtedly witnessed a variety of changes taking place in publishing over the last many years since you began writing books for children. Is it harder for authors to get published in today’s book market than in previous years?

It has always been hard. It is not easy now, but there have been times in the past 40 years when it was equally as difficult.

What I have observed, however, over the years is that a unique, well-written project, or a distinctive art style, will find a publisher. Persistence, study and hard work does pay off.

You’ve also likely watched a number of people cross that line from unpublished to published. Are there any qualities you continue to observe time and again in the people who manage to find success as a writer or illustrator?

The qualities that I outlined above. Persistence, hard work and the ability to come up with something special and unique—something that makes an editor or art director sit up, wake up, and say, “Wow—I’ve never seen that before!”

What are some of the most common questions that new authors or illustrators ask you, and how do you answer?

How do I get an agent? I answer that getting a legitimate agent is nearly as hard as finding a publisher–maybe harder. Look for an agent if you want, but at the same time start sending out your work. It may take longer for an editor to read your work, but if it is really good, they will buy it. Having it come from an agent won’t sell it, if it is not great.

In a previous interview conducted by Anna Olswanger, you said, “My books are now character-based rather than plot-based, although I still have strong plots.” Can you tell us more about the what it means to write books with strong plots and books with strong characters?

I think both plot and character are important. A really good plot with weak characters will still probably sell. But it is always character that will lift the book above the ordinary.

A book with a distinctive character–someone no one has ever seen before–will almost always find a publisher. The same can’t be said for a distinctive plot. However, combining great character and great plot will really bring your manuscript out of the shadows.

I was intrigued by a link I found to a compilation of “Stephen Mooser Papers,” which contains a remarkable collection of correspondence, composition notes, proofs, and illustrative material from writing you did between 1967 and 2005. Four linear feet of writing to be exact! Can you tell us the process that led to you donating this rich resource to the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature?

The Curator of the Arne Nixon center is Angelica Carpenter. Her mother was our first Florida RA, and so our relationship goes way back.

When she became Curator at Fresno State, I was quick to offer my papers because I grew up in Fresno, where my mother had been a librarian.

I actually never thought the papers were very important until I saw the way that they organized and cataloged them. I’m delighted to give them my papers, and even more delighted that they were interested in receiving them in to their wonderful collection.

In addition to the long list of published work during that time period, I was also amazed to note the list of unpublished books, series books, short fiction and short nonfiction that you wrote and that was not published for a variety of reasons.

What lesson can writers take from this example? How did you know when it was time to abandon a writing idea and move on to something new?

I’ve sold maybe 60 books, but there were at least another 60 I never sold. Some I still believe in, but most I realized were just not good enough.

At that point, I had to decide whether to try to make them good enough or abandon them for another idea that may have popped into my head.

Someone once said, maybe the illustrator Don Freeman, “Ideas are easy. It is the execution that is hard.”

In an earlier interview with SCBWI France, you talked a bit about your writing and editing process. Are there any skills, strategies or methods with regard to the writing process that you have learned throughout the course of your career and that you wish you’d known earlier?

Not really. The education of a writer, including trial and error, is important, I think. Perhaps, the one thing I wished I’d learned earlier was the importance of character.

And last, you talked in your interview with Anna Olswanger at about your real-life adventures going treasure hunting, which has also been an inspiration to you as a writer.

Can you tell us, for fun, about one of your favorite adventures hunting for treasure or visiting ghost towns or about an adventure you had that ended up in one of your books?

I spent four or five years looking for treasure, some of that time in Panama, searching for a buried shipment of goods from long ago, and the rest of the time in Utah searching out the locale of a Butch Cassidy stash of stolen silver.

We found the mesa where the silver was, but never the precise spot. The search turned out to be my first published piece, in “True Treasure Magazine.”

It was only later I learned that it was a famous treasure, and because I had inside information from one of the descendants of Butch’s gang, I was supplying the magazine’s readers with some crucial missing pieces of the puzzle. So, I may have lost the silver, but embarked on a writing career. I think things worked out for the best—in fact, forty years later, I know it.

Thank you so much, Stephen, for sharing your time for this interview. It’s been an honor to interview someone who has made such a lasting impact on literature for children and those who love it.

Cynsational Notes

Stephen Mooser is the author of more than 60 books for children, from picture book titles such as The Ghost With The Halloween Hiccups, illustrated by Tomie dePaola to nonfiction, Lights! Camera! Scream! How To Make Your Own Monster Movies, series and chapter books, The All-Star Meatballs, The Treasure Hounds, The Creepy Creature Club, Young Marian’s Adventures in Sherwood Forest, and novels such as The Hitchhiking Vampire and It’s A Weird, Weird School. A former filmmaker and treasure hunter, he is co-founder of the SCBWI and currently serves as the organization’s president.

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.

Seizing that “Some Day” — a Feature Article about Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Lawrence-Journal World

Seizing that ‘Some Day’: KU Alum Follows her ‘Eternal’ Dream and Gets a Best-selling Surprise by Cathy Hamilton from The Lawrence Journal World. Peek:

“‘I literally gasped,’ Smith laughs. ‘I’ve always read that: ‘She gasped,’ and I thought no one ever really does it. But, apparently, yes, if you make The New York Times best-selling list for the first time and you had no idea it was going to happen, you will gasp.'”

Cynsational Notes

I graduated from the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas in 1990. My majors were news/editorial and public relations with a concentration in English. I took every fiction writing class and children’s literature class offered.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Publisher Interview: Sarah Foster of Walker Books Australia and New Zealand

Interview by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Sarah, you’re a publisher and managing director with Walker Books in Australia. Could you tell us a little about your career and what path you took to reach this position?

I joined Walker Books in 1986 as their first Export Manager and spent the following three years traveling five months per annum for the company in to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Far East in particular.

Part of that role was spending time with Walker authors in those territories, which Sebastian Walker felt I was good at and I enjoyed doing; good practise for what was to come!

In 1988, after a messy break-up in the U.K., I was offered the opportunity to run the domestic sales team for Scholastic Australia and emigrated in 1989; it felt just far enough away at the time, though I was sad to leave Walker.

I left Scholastic in 1992 to spend time with my first child and shortly after, was offered the job by Walker to set up the Australian company from scratch. We founded Walker Books Australia in 1993 and went in to New Zealand in 1999.

I have always had to have a number of roles at Walker Australia, in addition to simply running the business. Initially, I looked after all the product and the special sales and managed the sales team. Gradually, I divested myself of all those roles as we grew and took on more staff and then would adapt my role to whatever we needed.

We decided the time was right to set up our local list in 2006.

In 2007, we published our first five books; the list grew to 26 titles in 2008 and has been a similar size since. I took on the role of publisher partly as, with years of sales and marketing experience, I felt I knew our market and knew what we could successfully publish better than anyone who could come into the business would.

Also from a practical view, I knew I couldn’t edit or design a book to save my life and wanted to spend money employing some good editors.

What might you do during a typical week at work these days? Which part of the job do you enjoy most?

I never have two days the same–which is one of the joys of my job and one of the frustrations. I always think I’d love more routine, but in truth, I’ve come to realise that I thrive on the variety of it.

I have some set meetings–staff meeting runs on to a product meeting where we look at stock and print runs and new material on a Monday.

On Wednesdays, we have publishing and covers and marketing meetings.

I can be a Jack of all trades–I was on the phone last week to an aspiring author whose unsolicited offerings weren’t right but whose writing, with work and re-direction, could fit a particular range of books we publish. Whilst on that (long) call, I had two interruptions; one from our landlord about our lease being renewed and another from Toyota about a fleet car I was in the middle of purchasing for a rep. That sort of juxtaposition is quite typical.

I will think I have a day during which I can get on with working on some books, and one of my team will come and see me with a systems or staff issue, and there is the morning gone!

The nectar–the juicy bit–for me in my role comes from staff, working with them and seeing them grow in their roles and in the books. And I suppose seeing the same sort of development from our authors and illustrators.

What kind of direct contact do you have with your authors and illustrators?

Recently, I had three days in Perth. During that time, I saw all but one of our 11 authors or illustrators from WA. It was really rewarding, for me, anyway! And generated a lot of ideas and new opportunities.

So I tend to grab the opportunity when I have it, to see people.

With NSW- or Sydney-based creators, I like to get them in to the office as often as possible.

I am a big believer in phoning and talking an issue through rather than sending an e-mail. I am also aware that a lot of authors and illustrators work in isolation, and it is good for them to come in to the office and see the team behind the book–to meet everyone.

When I was in sales, I never felt I spent enough time with our customers. Now, as a publisher I have to say I feel I never spend enough time with our authors.

And do you have many opportunities to meet your target audience, the young readers?

Yes, to start with, I have four very different (in interests and reading ability) avid readers at home aged 17, 15, 10 and 5 (who is with us part time). I bother their friends with books for feedback. Also, I am one of those people who talks to kids in libraries, book shops–anywhere. Especially if I see them reading something, I want to know what they think of the book.

What is your submissions policy? Do you have a slush pile? If so, do you personally consider new submissions?

Our submissions policy is that we don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, until recently, we did read manuscripts that arrived unsolicited, and we have just decided to no longer do that as we felt it was taking up so much time and so few of the submissions were worth even considering. Our editors would share the reading, and then if something looked of interest, I’d get to see it.

Invariably, I do read material that gets personally sent to me because I have met someone at a conference or through some personal connection, and two such instances have led to us publishing a book. One is a picture book we are in the process of signing up, and the other is a fiction title we published last year.

The difficult thing for me is that I have to read all the Walker, Candlewick and agency (i.e. Frances Lincoln/Gullane) titles that we publish in addition to the local manuscripts; a lot of reading, so I am very slow at getting to our local books.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers and illustrators who are hoping to catch a publisher’s attention?

Yes! First rule–don’t harass publishers to get back to you. There is nothing worse than the unpublished author hassling you for feedback, who can very very quickly fall in to the “too hard/why bother” basket. We tell authors it will take three-to-six months, probably six…because it will!

Secondly, if you write picture books, never send in a picture book with your friend, neighbour, cousins’, etc. illustrations. Just send the story!

Work on your manuscript. When you have written something, put it away until you can look at it again with impartial eyes. Then re-work on it, and then look at sending it in.

What publishers respect most of all in an unpublished author is restraint. The two authors I have worked with who went on to win awards with their first books had both in fact written–and binned–a number of earlier manuscripts.

Would you say that the Australian/N.Z. market differs in any way from, say, the British market or the U.S. market? Or do the same good books sell everywhere in the English-language market?

The A.N.Z. market differs very much from the U.K. and U.S. markets. N.Z. is more similar in it’s taste to the U.K. market than Australia.

Australia really straddles between U.K. and U.S. sensibilities.

In the A.N.Z. market, we love the funny and ironic books published out of the U.K. that often don’t sell in the U.S. However, we also do well with longer/older picture book texts, which tend not to work in the U.K. but have such a strong tradition in the U.S.

It is very rare to get young, illustrated fiction that works in all markets.

In the series realm, Megan MacDonald with her Judy Moody series has worked in all markets for Walker/CWP over an amazing ten-year period, and the Scream Street series [by Tommy Donbavand] is currently selling very well across all markets.

Quality writing from the likes of Kate Di Camillo crosses all borders, but it really is the top-notch writers that have the appeal at that level of readership.

YA and young picture books travel better as the themes and experiences at those age levels are more universal; whether you are looking at first love or potty training!

Primary schooling is a more diverse and culturally specific experience, and so it is harder for those books to travel.

What are your readers really enthusiastic about right now?

We do not have one set of readers. We have readers who love fantasy, readers who are pre-schoolers, readers who love pink books…. I think the only thing they have in common is that they expect quality and value for money.

Do you have a particular focus on books by writers from Australia and New Zealand or do you accept submissions from all over the world?

We buy in a few books by overseas publishers, particularly of the sort that we are not able to make ourselves, i.e. pop-ups/nonfiction, plus books in translation are of interest.

However, where we publish locally, as a matter of policy, I will always match an Aussie author with an Aussie illustrator, or a kiwi author with a kiwi illustrator as that way they will be eligible for the local awards, and being shortlisted for them is the single best way of establishing a book in the domestic market where the sales and royalties are premium for the author/illustrator.

Would you care to speculate about the way the children’s publishing world might develop over the next five years or so? Any important trends you see developing?

The technology for e-books is developing faster than any publisher can keep up with; especially in the realm of picture books, which are so slow to make anyway! E-readers are becoming lighter, brighter more attractive to children.

I think formats will change. Many books, just as they go through formats – hbk, pbk, board, etc. will develop an extra format: e-book. Other styles of book will develop just for the digital format. Everything is in a state of flux.

It is an exciting time; rather nerve-racking for those of us who aren’t hugely techno-savvy, but I think we just have to have an open mind as everything is changing so fast.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which books have stayed with you since childhood, and did they influence your decision to work in children’s publishing?

An old family friend tells stories about how I played at bookshops with her sons as a young child (we moved opposite them when I was seven!), and she would have to run out and bring the books in when it started raining. So I guess I was destined to work in books!

I was a voracious reader.

I loved Anne of Green Gables [by Lucy Maud Montgomery (L. C. Page & Co., 1908)] and Little House on The Prairie [by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-2006)] best of all, but also loved Lorna Doone [by Richard Doddridge Blackmore (Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, 1869)] and The Children of the New Forest [by Frederick Marryat (1847)].

I hated C.S. Lewis–didn’t enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia (Harper, 1950-1956) or Alice in Wonderland [by Lewis Carroll (Macmillan, 1865)] till I read them to my children.

From the age of 11, I read Neville Shute and Georgette Heyer for my introduction to romance and Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy.

The nearest thing I read to a teenage novel was Edna O’Brien.

Which Australian/N.Z. authors and illustrators would you recommend for our reading lists?

Of our own, I would definitely say Sandy Fussell for upper primary readers – boys and girls; Brian Falkner for boys especially–that 10-to-15-year-old market.

We have a number of fab writers for upper primary/teenage girls: Aimee Said, Gerry Bobsien, Elsbeth Edgar and Elizabeth Pulford.

Meg McKinlay and Pamela Freeman write fantastic young illustrated fiction.

Sally Murphy has broken all the rules by writing verse novels that sell and are being published universally.

Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac are producing some wonderful illustrated narrative nonfiction.

We have a range of really strong new illustrators; Mark Johnson and Heather Potter, Cassandra Allen, Sue deGennaro and of course Brian Lovelock from N.Z.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer or illustrator who is visiting Bologna for the first time? Do you remember your own first visit to the book fair?

Don’t get put off by the immense output of children’s books. It can be really daunting being here. Just focus on what you do and think how you can do it better. Don’t look at what other people are doing other than out of stimulation or interest.

If there are things you like and are impressed by that you see around you at the fair, ask yourself what is novel about what you see, why do you like it. That sort of stimulus can help clarify your own tastes and interests

My first visit to Bologna was one of utter joy–just seeing how much nicer it was than Frankfurt!

Cynsational Notes

An Interview with Sarah Foster from We Love YA, and we talk about it! Peek: “The most wonderful books won’t always get publicity beyond reviewing in all the children’s literature journals, the book trade mags, etc. For a book to get general print media, it really needs to have a story to why or how the book came about. The book itself isn’t a story for the media.”

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 U.K. 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.

The 2010 Katherine Paterson Prize Deadlines and Judge Announced

From Bethany Hegedus

Bestselling author Holly Black [shown] will be the 2010 judge of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing at Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts.

The Katherine Paterson prize was launched last year to honor writers of young adult and children’s literature. Writers may enter young adult and middle grade writing and writing for young children. Entries may be short stories or novel excerpts.

There is a $20 entry fee, and the postmark deadline is June 30. There is a $1000 prize for the winning entry, and three runners-up receive $100. The winner and the runners-up are all published on Hunger Mountain online.

Complete guidelines may be found here.

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Kristin, thank you for taking the time to share some of your knowledge with us in preparation for the upcoming SCBWI Bologna 2010 conference.

I’d like to first mention what fun it was reading the many interviews with you posted around the web. I easily found six amazing interviews, and I feel like I already know so much about you. I think anyone interested in knowing more about you and the Nelson Literary Agency would be well served by doing a quick Google search. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Let me jump right in by asking about the kinds of submissions your agency accepts. Your agency website says that you accept young adult and middle grade fiction in addition to adult fiction. Are there any differences in the way you must represent clients in these two genres or in the way that you approach children’s publishers vs. publishers of adult fiction?

If the manuscript is well-written with an original concept, we are interested in all submissions for young adult and middle grade. Don’t look at our current list and make assumptions that we wouldn’t like dark or wouldn’t like a male protagonist or anything like that. We love everything in the YA and MG field.

We actually don’t have a whole lot of clients in the field and so are looking to grow.

As for our approach, that in and of itself isn’t necessarily any different from when we handle an adult submission. Editors in the children’s world are a heck of a lot more fun though.

After all, how seriously can you take yourself if you have a huge life-size cut-out of Glinda the Good Witch in your office? There is a sense that we are all doing children’s publishing because we are passionate about it! Sometimes that is missing on the adult side.

I’ve heard it said, of late, that in many ways book genres are merging and the line between young adult and adult fiction is becoming more obscure. Do you find this true in the case of your clients as well? Do you ever get a manuscript written for one genre and suggest the author send it our under another label?

Now this an interesting question! On one hand, I totally agree that a lot of adults are finding out that there is a lot of cool stuff being done in YA and so are picking up YA novels as part of their reading list. I’m not sure I would say the line is becoming obscure though.

The biggest difficulty agents and authors face is the limited amount of shelf space given to young adult in any major bookstore (outside the indies that is!). It’s a finite amount. Borders recently expanded their section, but Barnes & Noble has not (and has no plans to). If the line was becoming more obscure, than shelving wouldn’t be an issue. It still is.

However, I think you mean along the lines of whether a novel could be shopped as adult rather than YA or vice versa. Yes, that is certainly happening. There are many titles that can crossover easily. I think of Prep [by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, 2005)] as something that could have been done either way. Nick Hornby‘s Slam (Putnam, 2007) as well.

Some books are being branded in both markets (Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002) as an example).

The Book Thief [by Markus Zusak (Knopf, 2007)(was an adult book in the author’s home turf of Australia, but here in the U.S., it was sold as young adult. So those lines are blurring a bit. In fact, St. Martin’s Press just opened a new imprint to capture titles that do just that!

In a recent interview with Kerri Flannigan posted at the Guide to Literary Agents, you mention that currently you would “love to see more literary fiction with a strong commercial bent.” For those not familiar with this term, can you tell us some of the characteristics that give a novel a commercial flair?

For me, the “commercial bent” is in the plotting. I love a good literary novel with a great plot that drives the story. A great example is Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto (Harper, 2005). Wonderful book. Literary but also commercial.

Just recently my book club read The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Putnam, 2009). Loved it. Literary writing coupled with a terrific plot. I couldn’t stop reading. That’s what I’m looking for.

In that same interview, you mention a book by your client and bestselling author Jamie Ford, Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet (Ballantine, 2009), as an example of the type of story you would like to see come across your computer screen. What were some of the first qualities you discovered in reading this submission that made you feel that it was something you wanted to represent?

When I started hyperventilating after the first chapter, I knew it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime type of book. I started reading around 8 p.m. and read until I finished around 1 a.m. That’s when you know.

I called the author the earliest possible minute that would be considered decent—like 7 a.m. I figured calling any earlier his time would be rude.

Your amazing blog, Pub Rants, has some of the most insightful information around for those interested in the publishing industry. Your honesty and openness via this forum is delightful and refreshing.

I’m curious about the relationships that develop between followers and blogging book industry professionals. Do you ever find new clients by interacting with people who read your blog?

Absolutely! It was one of the reasons why I started blogging in 2006. My agency has only been around eight years. I can’t compete with agencies that have been around since 1970 and have a huge reputation because of longevity and bestselling clients because of those 40+ years.

One of the ways to “level” the playing field was to give writers an inside look at who I am. That, yes, I’m nice but I’m also hard as nails when it comes to negotiation. Yes, we are a small agency, but we play as well as the big guys.

Or that’s what I was attempting to do! I’ve actually landed quite a few wonderful clients who knew me via reading the blog. That makes every minute of writing it worthwhile.

Besides, I like helping writers. This is my way of giving back.

Going back to Jamie Ford for just a moment, you posted on your blog a fascinating entry with his query letter and your assessment of each part of what he wrote. You also mentioned that the title of the book wasn’t always “Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” but that it started out as “The Panama Hotel.”

I love the new title so much that it’s hard to think it wasn’t always called this.

Can you tell us a little about the process you went through with Jamie to land on this new title?

Oi! Jamie and I would love to forget about the title process. (Grin.) We knew that the project needed a new title before going out on submission, but coming up with a new one was quite a process. We wanted something that gave the reader that Asian feel but still sounded literary.

We kept making lists and shooting it back and forth to each other. At the title peak, we considered about 100 different titles. We finally narrowed it down to about 10 choices, and then we took the scientific approach. We sent it to people we trusted and asked them to vote on the title they liked best. We got a whole slew of responses to that. There wasn’t any consensus.

I finally said, “I like ‘Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet’ the best. If the publisher doesn’t like it, they can change it later.” So we went with it for submission.

At one point, Random House actually considered changing that title. They didn’t, and I’m not sure why they ended up sticking with it. Jamie and I are so glad they did as the title feedback has been tremendous. No one can imagine that novel titled anything else!

Regarding your submission policy, I love that your agency only accepts queries via email and requested manuscripts via your electronic submission database. This seems like a totally sensible practice, and yet, I think you may be one of the enlightened ones among us.

Why do you think it is that there are still so few in the book business who accept queries and submissions via email? In your experience, how do electronic submissions compare to paper and snail mail submissions in terms of time spent reading, sorting and responding to each?

Really? There are agents who want a mailed submission? Talk about living in the Stone Age.

For us, it was a way to get a jump on the competition. Do it electronically; we were seeing it first and so could contact an author quickly. In the early years, I read on my tablet PC, which I liked. Now I have a Kindle and am eying the iPad. I also read on my iPhone.

Bring it on. This is how the world will be reading in 10 years. Not to mention, we agents always submit electronically to the editors these days. Paper is too slow!

In an interview with Dear Author, you were asked if you print out and read manuscripts from your computer. Your response, “Goodness, no!” made me laugh. When you mentioned that you use a tablet PC, my thoughts went immediately to the news of the recently released iPad, and I wondered what your thoughts are about it. Is this a tool that you might use at some point?

See above answer! I will probably wait for the second generation of iPad to see what they do. After all, I can read just fine on my iPhone. The iPad strikes me as simply a larger version of my iPhone except I can’t make a call with it. Yet.

You wrote a discerning post on your Pub Rants blog about the release of Apple’s iPad, calling it a “game changer.” Do you anticipate that new eBook technologies and emerging eBook online stores will significantly impact the way you negotiate deals with publishers in the future?

They already are. It wasn’t Apple’s iPad per se but their desire to switch to an Agency commission model rather than a wholesale model that’s the game changer.

In the long run, I think this new royalty structure is better for publishers and authors. I’m just not in agreement that the percentage to authors should be 25% of net.

Why should the distributor get a bigger percentage than the author? It’s not like there is huge overhead for the selling of the ebook version (although I completely get that publishing houses still have overhead in association with buying, editing, and producing the book—even for an eFormat).

With regard to clients and technology, what are some of the ways you have observed that a web presence and social networking expertise can help a writer in today’s market?

If you can’t navigate the Internet world, you are at a significant disadvantage in comparison to your competition—especially in the realm of children’s books.

Where do you think the young readers are? You as an author had better be there too!

Do you check out a writer’s web presence before pursuing contact? What components of an author’s website impress you when you visit?

I actually do—if the writer includes that info with a submission. But only when I’m actually interested in pursuing a full or offering representation. And it isn’t a deal breaker.

If I think the author’s web presence needs work, I’m pretty blunt about saying so. It’s your “face” to the reading world. It needs to be professional.

In other words, unless you are a graphic artist or web designer, this is not a do-it-yourself-er.

What are some suggestions you might have for ways that authors can leverage the Internet in their favor?

Find out what the fuss is about regarding social networking on the web. If done right, it can be a huge factor in sales. Find the authors who are great at promoting online and find out what they do. A lot of those writers actually blog about what worked and what didn’t for them.

And finally, who are some of the exciting YA or middle grade authors we should look for coming from Nelson Literary Agency in 2010?

My favorite part! Readers should check out Ally Carter’s new book called Heist Society (Hyperion, 2010)(excerpt). It’s the first novel outside of her Gallagher Girl series. It’s fast paced with a ton of action. Well worth the read.

A rising star? Simone Elkeles. Her fourth novel Perfect Chemistry (Walker) came out in December 2008, but boy, does it have a following. Even a year and three months later, this book just sells and sells. The sequel is going to be published next month (April)—Rules of Attraction (Walker).

I only have two middle grade authors, Janice Hardy and Helen Stringer. Huge talents to be on your watch list. Janice’s first middle grade is called The Shifter (HarperCollins, 2009)(The Pain Merchants (The Healing Wars: Book One) in the U.K.)(excerpt). Her second novel in this series, Blue Fire, releases this fall.

Helen’s debut is Spellbinder here in the U.S. (Feiwel & Friends, 2009)(The Last Ghost in the U.K.). Her second novel releases in spring 2011. We are still debating the title.

Also, I absolutely adore Megan Crewe’s Give Up The Ghost (Henry Holt, 2009)(author interview).

Thank you so much, Kristin, for taking time to share your knowledge and expertise with us. We look forward to hearing more great things from you at this year’s SCBWI Bologna event.

Cynsational Notes

Kristin established Nelson Literary Agency in 2002. In such a short time, she has sold over a 100 books to all the major publishers. She has landed several film deals and has contracted foreign rights on behalf of her clients in many territories.

She specializes in representing commercial fiction (mainstream, women’s fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy, young adult & middle grade) and literary fiction with a commercial bent. In general, she does not handle nonfiction projects with the exception of an occasional memoir.

Clients include New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal bestselling author Ally Carter (I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Hyperion, 2007)), New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jamie Ford (Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet (Ballantine, 2009)), 2010 American Library Association’s Top Ten Books for Young Adults author Sarah Rees Brennan (The Demon’s Lexicon (McElderry, 2009)) as well as 2010 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers author Simone Elkeles (Perfect Chemistry (Walker, 2008)), Locus bestselling authors Lisa Shearin (Armed & Magical (Ace, 2008)) and Gail Carriger (Soulless (Orbit, 2009)). Member: AAR, RWA, SFWA, SCBWI. Please visit Nelson Literary Agency before submitting and also check out Kristin’s popular blog, Pub Rants.

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

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

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Hans Christian Anderson Award

Bologna, Italy–The Hans Christian Andersen Award Jury of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), has announced that David Almond, from the United Kingdom is the winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Author Award and that Jutta Bauer, from Germany is the winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award.

The announcement was made at the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair, and the Andersen medals and diplomas will be presented to the winners on Sept. 11 at the international IBBY congress in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

The Hans Christian Andersen Award is considered the most prestigious in international children’s literature, is given biennially by IBBY to a living author and illustrator whose complete works are judged to have made lasting contributions to children’s literature. Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is the Patron of the Andersen Awards. The Author’s Award has been given since 1956 and the Illustrator’s Award since 1966. Nami Island Inc. is the sponsor of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards. Information, including a history of the awards is available at

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

The winner of the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is author-illustrator Kitty Crowther of Belgium. The jury’s citation reads as follows:

“Kitty Crowther is the master of line but also of atmosphere. She maintains the tradition of the picture book while transforming and renewing it. In her world, the door between imagination and reality is wide open. She addresses the reader gently and personally, but with profound effect. In her deeply felt empathy with people in difficulty, she shows ways in which weakness can be turned into strength. Humanism and sympathy permeate and unify her artistry.”

In Kitty Crowther’s books, text and pictures form an integral whole. Her principal works are her own picture books, including L´enfant racine (2003), La visite de Petite Mort (2004), Le grand désordre (2005) and the Poka & Mine series (2005, 2006, 2007, 2010).

She addresses readers personally using a limited repertoire of tools, principal among them pencil, ink and coloured pencils. Facial expressions, posture and atmosphere are captured with unfailing precision. In Kitty Crowther’s world, there are no basic stereotypes. The landscapes in which the stories are set resemble the ones we know, but Kitty Crowther sees beyond them to a world richer in possibilities than we imagine.

One of the cornerstones of her authorship is to show how weakness can be turned into strength. Her loyalty to children is unconditional. The sympathy and intense empathy Kitty Crowther shows with her fictional characters is an expression of the deep humanism that runs through all her works.

Examples of Kitty Crowther’s world of imagery can be downloaded from

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) is the world’s largest prize for children’s and young adult literature. The award, with a total value of SEK 5 million, is awarded annually to one or more recipients. Authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and reading activists are eligible. The award is designed to promote interest in children’s and young adult literature, and to promote children’s rights, globally. An expert jury selects the winners from candidates nominated by institutions and organizations worldwide. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is administered by the Swedish Arts Council.

More News & Giveaways

Jessica Swain–Children’s Author, Poet, Dog Lover: official website. Peek: “If I were a dog, I’d be a Jack Russell terrier, because I’m feisty, short-haired, and tenacious. Most of the books I write feature a dog or dog relative (fox, werewolf, etc.). ” Don’t miss Authors & Their Dogs.

The Scheduling Habit by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: “How can we form a consistent writing habit when our schedules change from day to day, depending on our obligations?” See also Attention! It’s a Choice and Shifting and Drifting.

9 Steps for Plotting Fiction (Taken from the Verla Kay Message Boards) from Cynthia Jaynes Omololu. Peek: “I’m not sure where the method started, but it is (for me) the best combination between knowing where your book is going and letting the book write itself. You just put in the nine plot issues and connect the dots–more like a guide than a true, scary outline. If you find yourself in the middle of a story and not a clue where you should go, give it a try.” Source: Lisa Schroeder at Author2Author.

On Jewish–and Other–Fantasy Stories by Janni Lee Simner from Desert Dispatches. Peek: “Jewish writing isn’t in whether the fantasy trappings represent medieval Europe or the Middle East or anyone else, and it isn’t in whether dybbuks or seraphim puts in token appearances on a story’s pages, either. It’s in the ways in which each Jewish writer processes his or her experiences with–our reactions to, workings through of, even rejection of–the various things we’ve learned and experienced as Jews.” Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

Ron Koertge on his Long Writing Road from Blog. Peek: “Not long ago, somebody pointed out that I was one of the oldest kids’ writers around. I’m not so sure. But I’ll be seventy in April, and there’s no way to call that middle-aged.”

On to Bologna! Cautious optimism on the eve of the annual children’s book fair by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “How will the economy shape this year’s fair? Is the age of the big YA fantasy trilogy finally over? Will picture books make a resurgence? What of the co-edition market? The digital revolution? We asked a sampling of Bologna veterans for their take on what to expect at this year’s fair, and what they’re looking for.”

Take a peek at the video teaser for Nightshade by Andrea Cremer (Philomel, Oct. 2010).

Congratulations to Sherry Shahan! Her manuscript “Purple Daze,” a provocative free verse novel set 1965 Los Angeles in which six high school students navigate war, riots, love, rock ‘n’ roll, school, and friendship, sold to Kelli Chipponeri at Running Press Kids, for publication in Spring 2011! The novel was agented by Jill Corcoran at Ronnie Herman Agency.

Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop has posted new faculty interviews by Nancy Sondel with agent Ted Malawer of Upstart Crow Literary, editor Kate Harrison of Dial, and YA author Liz Gallagher. See also Archetypes in Literature and Life by Laura Backes, publisher of Children’s Book Insider, and a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Connecting Cultures & Celebrating Cuentos: National Latino Children’s Literature Conference will be April 23 and April 24 at the University of Alabama. Peek: “…celebrate the rich traditions and diversity within the Latino cultures at the National Celebration of Latino Children’s Literature Conference. Discover how to meet the informational and literacy needs of Latino children via high quality, culturally-relevant literature and the latest educational strategies. Engage in unique networking opportunities with librarians, teachers, educators, and researchers from across the nation as we explore how to make intercultural connections and serve this rapidly growing, uniquely diverse population.” Speakers include: Jennifer Cervantes; Christina Diaz Gonzalez; Guadalupe Garcia McCall; and Dr. Carmen Tafolla.

To Market, To Market…. Back to Basics on the Technicalities of Pitching Your Novel by H.L. Dyer from Peek: “First, you should know exactly what you are asking for from the agents you query. You are not asking them to publish your novel. You are not even technically asking them to sell your novel. You are asking them to represent your interests in the sale of the publication rights…”

The Symbolism of Color in The Great Gilly Hopkins: an essay by Varian Johnson from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “While Madeline has sported purple lipstick since the first draft of the novel, I didn’t think much about the use of color in a symbolic way until my first semester at Vermont College, when I was reintroduced to Katherine Paterson‘s The Great Gilly Hopkins (Harper, 1987). In the novel, Paterson uses color to symbolically hint at Gilly’s true desire—something Gilly herself doesn’t even realize.” Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

Interview with Diana Peterfreund by Melissa Buron from Book Addict. Peek: “Who knew that unicorns were so violent and blood-thirsty?”

Author Interview: Sharon Draper on Out of My Mind. Peek: “Her race is not important. Melody’s difficulties far supersede any racial or cultural problems she might encounter. She is purposely made generic because I wanted the reader to see her as a unique individual that could be anyone’s child.”

I Won’t Be Sorry, But Neither Will You by literary agent Sara Crowe from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “All agents might turn down a project that goes on to be published and performs well, and thinks maybe we should have rethought taking on that project, but this business is so subjective, we have to go with our gut.” Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Passover Books by Jennifer Schultz at The Kiddosphere. Peek: “My favorite type of holiday books for children are the ones that are all-inclusive; they make both the observer and non-observer welcome. Holiday books for children can easily fall into the trap of making the observers of that holiday ‘Other’ and exotic.” Source: The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Writing, Grief and Stress by Kelly McCullough from Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists. Peek: “…even with good coping mechanisms, the incentive of my first book contracts, a naturally fast writing speed, and a very Midwestern tendency to take refuge in work, I lost a lot of production.” Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Rejection of a Rejection by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “The letter began with something like, ‘Thank you so much for your rejection but I’m afraid I’m unable to use it at this time. For that reason, I will have to reject your rejection. Please don’t take this personally. I receive many fine rejections every month, so I have be quite selective in the rejections I accept.'” Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Brightly Woven: An Interview with Alexandra Bracken by Leah Cypress from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “I feel like I’ve had at least three different maps over the course of writing the story and revising. I tried writing the first draft without one, which resulted in what one might call a ‘hot mess.’ My first detailed map came while I was revising.” Learn more about Alexandra.

Barbara Fisch and Sarah Shealy (Blue Slip Media) from The Texas Sweethearts. Peek: “I’ll just add a little note here about the importance of the personal touch. When you’re reaching out to these local booksellers and librarians and teachers, take a minute to write a thank you note by hand and pop it in the mail after a particularly lovely conversation. Or bring a rose from your garden when you stop by to drop off your latest galley.” Read a Cynsations interview with Barbara and Sarah.

Sherman Alexie wins PEN/Faulkner prize: “Sherman Alexie takes the $15,000 PEN/Faulkner prize for fiction, beating Lorrie Moore and Barbara Kingsolver with War Dances, a short story collection described by judge Al Young as a ‘rollicking, bittersweet gem'” by Alison Flood from the Guardian. Source: Bookshelves of Doom.

Dig a Little Deeper – Getting to Know Your Characters by Suzette Saxton from Peek: “Answering these twenty-five questions can help you find out both the nitty gritty and the deepest darkest.”

Create Vivid Images to Bring a Novel to Life by Darcy Pattison from Fiction First Aid. Peek: “Everyone agrees that a writer’s ability to create an image in a reader’s head through their words is integral to fiction and effective novels. When writers and editors push toward imagery vivid enough to transport readers to new worlds, there are many options.” Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Maverick Graphic Novels List from the Texas Library Association. See the 2010 annotated list (PDF) and suggest a title for 2011.

Bisto Book of the Year Awards Shortlist 2010 from Children’s Books Ireland. Peek: “The Bisto Children’s Book of the Year Awards, in partnership with CBI are presented annually in recognition of excellence in writing and/or illustration of books for young people. The awards are administered by CBI, the national organisation for children’s books and sponsored by Bisto gravy. The awards are open to any children’s book by an author and/or illustrator born or resident in Ireland, written in Irish or English and published between” Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 each year. Source: Bookshelves of Doom.

Top 6 1/2 List: How to Survive Your First Skype Author Visit by Kate Messner from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Peek: “Decide what kind of visits you’ll offer and when. Will you do free Q and A sessions with groups that have read your book? How much will you charge for longer presentations?”

Think Before You Kvech by Michael from Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Peek: “Before writing a vitriolic email to your editor (or publicist or assistant or whomever), call your agent first. We all get frustrated, we all need to vent, and your agent is the person to do that with.” Note: but don’t be a drama queen/king; your agent is a busy person, too. Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Obvious Watch: Preparing Kids for the Digital Future with Great Books by pixie stix kids pix: Thoughts, Observations, and Ideas About Children’s Books. Peek: “What we want from a new crop of children’s books are great stories, and nuanced artwork that engages the imagination. Sometimes this means restraint as opposed to more visuals, so the message is clearer.” Source: Chris Barton.

Sarah Sullivan: new official website from the author of Once Upon a Baby Brother, illustrated by Tricia Tusa (Melanie Kroupa Books/FSG, 2010); Root Beer and Banana, illustrated by Greg Shed (Candlewick, 2005), and Dear Baby, Letters from Your Big Brother, illustrated by Paul Meisel (Candlewick, 2005).

Should You Self-Publish? Ten Questions to Ask Yourself from Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “Research your options. Figure out some of the different self-publishing models. Familiarize yourself with both processes and determine which one you want to pursue.” Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Anneographies: Author Anne Bustard on her fave picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday. Note: Pass this link onto your favorite teachers! Read a Cynsations interview with Anne.

Beating the Jealous Bug by Jan Fields from Writer’s Support Room – Work Habits from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Peek: “The first time the Jealous Bug bit me was when I saw writers who I knew had fewer years in their craft landing book contracts while my picture book was making it to acquisition meetings but no further. Part of me wanted to roar, ‘Why not me?'”

Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy from the Horror Writers Association. A frank discussion of warning signs and why writers are so vulnerable. Be good to each other out there. Take care of yourselves. Note: I run this link periodically.

Congratulations to the finalists of the 2010 RITA for Young Adult Romance awarded by the Romance Writers of America! The finalists are: Cyn Balog for Fairy Tale (Delacorte), Ally Carter for Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover (Hyperion), Simone Elkeles for Perfect Chemistry (Walker), Jennifer Echols for Going Too Far (Simon & Schuster), Tina Ferraro for The ABC’s of Kissing Boys (Delacorte), and Lauren Strasnick for Nothing Like You (Simon & Schuster). Read a Cynsations interview with Cyn.

Perspiration: Self Study: a bibliography of recommended craft books from Children’s & YA Literature Resources.

Exploring Diversity in Children’s & Young Adult Books: Background Reading from Children’s & YA Literature Resources. See also Exploring Diversity: Themes & Communities.

Cynsational Screening Room

Congratulations to Cheryl Rainfield on the release of Scars (WestSide, 2010). Celebrate the release of Scars by entering to win a Sony Digital Reader, $100 bookstore gift card, and more! Deadline: midnight April 24; readers world-wide are eligible to win. See more information.

Meet Liberty Porter: First Daughter in a series from Julia DeVillers (Simon & Schuster, 2009-)! See also New Girl in Town (July 2010).

Check out the book trailer for Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr (HarperCollins, May 2010). Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.

A video interview with Kate DiCamillo from Reading Rockets. See transcript, biography, and more on her books. Read a Cynsations interview with Kate.

Show Us Your Masterpiece Giveaway

Check out the book trailer from Noonie’s Masterpiece by Austin 2010 debut author Lisa Railsback, illustrated by Sarajo Frieden (Chronicle, 2010). Then kids are invited to send the publisher a piece of their own artwork for a chance to win a library worth more than $100. Deadline: June 30. See more information.

More Personally

Last weekend, Greg and I had the honor of speaking at the Illinois Reading Conference in Springfield! It was a terrific event, which featured perhaps the most well-thought-out welcome bag in the history of hospitality!

Our participation in the conference began with a reading on Thursday night. Pictured above are fellow author-readers Laurie B. Friedman and Mary Amato. Nick Bruel, Andrew Clements, Will Hobbs, Eric A. Kimmel, Laurie Lawlor, Judith Byron Schachner, and David Wiesner also were featured. The event was sponsored by Anderson’s Bookshops, which did a first-rate job with booksales throughout the conference and is highly recommend in general.

Note: Laurie received the 2010 Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children; see event coverage.

California Girls April Halprin Wayland and Pam Munoz Ryan on the conference floor. Read a Cynsations interview with April.

Author Janice N. Harrington after her signing.

Author Esther Hershenhorn at lunch at The President Abraham Lincoln Hotel. Read a Cynsations interview with Esther.

Author Cynthea Liu. We had dinner with her, Jen Cullerton Johnson, Michelle Duster, and Trina Sotira at Saputo’s on Friday night. Great food and conversation! Read an interview with Cynthea. See Trina’s report at Mild Madness.

It being Springfield and all, we delayed our return flight a half day to visit The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which is highly recommended. If you’re ever in Chicago, it’s well worth the road trip for a visit. The displays are a mix of historical artifacts, recreated scenes, and high-tech narrations, with an eye to Lincoln the man (rather than icon).

Welcome to the Lincoln White House.

A really lot of children’s books have been published about Lincoln.

Greg booktalks My Brother Abe: Sally Lincoln’s Story by Harry Mazer (Simon & Schuster, 2009) to a very young Abe.

I almost bought one of these T-shirts, a tie-in to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (Grand Central, 2010).

Have you ever wondered how Jan Brett travels?

Here’s a closer look. It’s the biggest bunny bus I’ve ever seen.

Author Gail Carson Levine and author-educator Mary Ann Rodman at the Springfield Airport. Read a Cynsations interview with Gail.

Author-educator Steven L. Layne on the somewhat delayed American Airlines flight to Chicago.

Due to more weather delays, we didn’t get home until almost midnight. But it was a treat to spot a couple of copies of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010) on the shelf at Barbara’s Bookstore at O’Hare International Airport. See also Greg’s report.

In other news, look for “Launch That Book!” by Sue Bradford Edwards in the April 2010 issue of Children’s Writer, which includes information on my launch party for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). See my related article, How to Throw a Book Launch Party, from Anastasia Suen at Children’s Book Biz News. Thanks to Cynthia Levinson for a peek at her CW!

Even More Personally

I’m thrilled that a bit of my advice worked out so well for author Shutta Crum! Read a Cynsations interview with Shutta.

Surf over to Devas T. Rants & Raves and comment my pal illustrator Don Tate with some get-well wishes! He’s recovering from a painful shoulder surgery, and it’s tough, trying to draw under the circumstances. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of three paperback copies of Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (Knopf, 2010)! To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Tender Morsels” 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. One copy will be reserved for a teacher/librarian/university professor of youth literature (please indicate affiliation in the body of your entry message); the other two will go to any Cynsations readers. Deadline: midnight CST March 28. Note: U.S. entries only.

Enter to win one of three newly released paperback copies of How Not To Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2010)!

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “How Not To Be Popular” 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).

One copy will be reserved for a teacher/librarian/university professor of youth literature (please indicate affiliation in the body of your entry message); the other two will go to any Cynsations readers.

Deadline: midnight CST March 31. Note: U.S. entries only. See also a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

In celebration of the release of Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Hyperion, 2010), enter to win a Hex Hall T-shirt (size small, medium, or large)! To enter, just email me, message me or comment me with “Hex Hall” in the subject line. Deadline: March 31. Note: U.S. entries only. Read a Cynsations interview with Rachel.
Cynsational Events

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). Read a Cynsations interview with April. See also Teens walk line between parents’ faith, angst in new novels from Austin authors by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman.

Drawn to Delight: How Picture Books Work (and Play) Today

Do you linger over the pages of striking picture books, wondering how to tap their full potential in programs for children?

Attend the 2010 ALSC Pre-Conference, Drawn to Delight: How Picture Books Work (and Play) Today, and learn to look beyond the surface stories.

Explore technique and design with art directors, museum educators, and the award-winning illustrators Brian Selznick, Jerry Pinkney, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Javaka Steptoe, David Small, Yuyi Morales, Timothy Basil Ering, and Kadir Nelson—to name a few.

Discover the innovative “whole book” story-time model, developed by Megan Lambert, Instructor of Children’s Literature at Simmons College, to help children derive meaning from everything picture books offer.

Delve into the format’s relationship to graphic novels and the international and digital horizons.

Studio demonstrations, hands-on opportunities, and original art door prizes will be part of the mix at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

This 2010 ALSC Pre-Conference will be from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. June 25. Registration information is available by going to the American Library Association website. The pre-conference code is: ALS1. (The advance fee for nonmembers — $280, ALA members–$249, ALSC members–$195, Student members, $180.)

Guest Post: Margo Lanagan on Short Stories and Novels – Different Animals, Different Taming Techniques

By Margo Lanagan

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Cynthia—I’m a regular reader and it’s an honour to be here!

I thought I’d talk today about short stories and novels, seeing I’ve so recently rediscovered that I can write novels, after a long affair with the short form.

I do love short stories; they involve so much less angst than novels. You can pick up an idea, run it up to just before the climax one day, and finish it off the next. You can play, with a short story, so much more freely and easily than you can with a novel idea; you can push an idea until it breaks, and then it’s okay to discard the bits; you don’t have to put it through massive rehabilitation to keep the project , and your spirits, afloat.

Short stories stay still. You can keep an eye on all their dangly bits and possibilities at once. You can whip them into shape, drag yourself back to the very instant–the very half-sentence, the very word–where you went off-track and proceed from there. You can write a replacement in a few days. You can rewrite an idea from scratch, from a different point of view, with a completely different atmosphere and outcome, so quickly!

Short stories are intense; you can afford to be really concentrated with the language games you play. You can slow your reader down to poetry-pace if you want to, and reward their slow-going with shiny things, with a slow reveal littered with subtle clues, or a last image that echoes with everything you set up to vibrate and hum over the last 20 pages.

Some readers find my novel Tender Morsels (Knopf, 2008, 2010) intense. Some think that it’s my first novel (it’s my…umpteenth) and that I still haven’t really got the knack of the longer form. But I like my novels intense, too.

When I’m reading, I like a novel to drag me through the mud and the spiny bushes and leave me gasping to catch up, drunk with the sensations it’s put me through.

It won’t surprise those readers to know that I first drafted Tender Morsels in the form of short stories. I was undergoing a crisis of confidence about writing novels; two novels and a junior fiction quartet had crashed and burned before my very eyes, and I needed to find a way to write long without terrifying myself.

So I chose an existing skeleton for my story (a mash-up of Caroline Stahl’s “The Ungrateful Dwarf” and the Grimms’ “Snow White and Rose Red,” which is a re-make of Stahl’s story), and I wrote what I told myself were short stories towards it; as long as each story veered towards the original and touched it at some point, I was satisfied.

All the re-sculpting and joining up and smoothing over could happen later on. It did, and there was a lot of it; there were two substantial rewrites and so much redrafting of scenes, I can’t tell you—but at first I told myself that didn’t matter.

Just play, Margo; don’t frighten yourself; just enjoy one story after another; don’t worry about stitching them together yet.

I’m working on another novel now, and I can see that with the completion of Tender Morsels I’ve gathered some confidence. This latest one, instead of starting as an unlimited pile of short stories, is built of three novellas. The calmer pace, the longer rhythms, the stretching and collapsing of story-time—they’re all coming easier now. This time, I don’t have to stick so closely to short-form rules to ease myself into the larger task.

But when I go back to a short story, it’s clear to me what I’m cutting away. In a novel, I can afford to muse and elaborate; in a short story, every word is a clue, every glance a plot point.

The short story and the novel—they’re different beasts.

You front up to the short story with your chair and your whip, full of bravado and sharp commands.

You live with a novel a long time, observing its habits and inclinations, letting it rest now and then, trying different strategies, learning to trust yourself with it, trying not to get in its way but still maintaining control. I love the novel; you can go so many places with it! It’s so roomy and exploratory!

I love them both. They stretch different writing muscles, but the impulse behind them is the same: to let the audience see the wildness, the darkness, the danger of story, without anyone getting hurt.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three paperback copies of Tender Morsels! To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type “Tender Morsels” 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. One copy will be reserved for a teacher/librarian/university professor of youth literature (please indicate affiliation in the body of your entry message); the other two will go to any Cynsations readers. Deadline: midnight CST March 28. Note: U.S. entries only.

Cynsational Notes

Photo of Margo by Adrian Cook.

Learn more about Margo and her writing at:

March 22: Through A Glass, Darkly

March 23: Steph Su Reads

March 24: Bildungsroman

March 25: Cynsations

March 26: The Story Siren

March 27: Shaken & Stirred

Margo’s Blog: Among Amid While