Guest Post: Jenny Moss on Maps, Tables and Timelines

By Jenny Moss

I love data. I also recognize I have OCD tendencies. Hence, my writing process involves the creation of multiple tables and timelines, and the occasional map.

Once I finish a solid draft of a book, the details can quickly overwhelm me, making me toss and turn at night and look slightly unhinged during the day.

Hallie and Whit Burnett, wife-and-husband co-editors of Story magazine, believed that some of a novelist’s success depends on his or her ability to “keep moving toward some ultimate goal in the distance on several wires, while juggling characters and plot and values at the same time, never losing sight of guidemarks or falling off.” Writing a novel can make for a crazy circus in the OCD mind.

One thing that nags at me is the possibility of inconsistency. That’s when I gleefully (and in full dork power) pull out my Microsoft Office software.

For my YA fantasy Shadow (Scholastic, 2010), in my writer’s folder on my laptop, I have many documents in addition to the drafts of the book – more files than I’ve had with any other novel. Part of the reason for this was because I was creating my own fantasy world set in a fictional kingdom I call Deor; I had a lot of details to keep straight, a lot of wires to walk.

One of my simplest and easiest-to-create files is a cheat sheet, just like the ones some professors would allow for tests in college. My objective was to put the global framework of the book on one piece of paper, so I could reference it when I needed to, getting information at a glance. (Also, for a time in the future when someone like Charlie Rose might call me and ask details about my book, I’d have a cheat sheet to refer to when I forgot the plot.)

The subtitles for my cheat sheet: “plot,” “setting,” “internal goal of Shadow” – who is the title character, “mythology,” and “names and meaning.” A cheat sheet can help the can’t-see-the-forest writer refocus on the key elements of the book and remain true to those.

On the other end of the spectrum, the file that is the largest and took the most time to create is a character chart: a table listing physical characteristics, emotional concerns, and goals of the characters. It’s only two columns: “character” (which includes “the weather” and “terrain”) and “description.”

To build the table, I copied and pasted references to each character from the text of the book into the “description” column of the chart, also listing the page number on which the reference was found. A row was devoted to each character.

When I finished the table, I read through the descriptions of each character, checking for consistency. Although by that time, just in the making of the table, I had already discovered most of the issues. The character chart I made for Shadow is 25 pages long.

Another worry is character relationships: Is there consistency in how the characters treat, converse with, and react to one another? Using Excel, I made a Relationship chart. The first column lists the chapters. The column headings consist of the different relationships: how does Shadow relate/see/think about Kenway, Kenway to Shadow, Fyren to Shadow, Shadow to the queen, etc.

I looked at each scene from each character’s point of view and filled in my spreadsheet. What I’d discovered – to my surprise – was that I had been fairly consistent in the way the characters reacted to one another. But there were some inconsistencies I tweaked as a result of the chart.

If you don’t feel you’re overwhelmed enough by the details of your novel, you can always throw in a road trip. If you do, a journey table can help keep things straight.

In Shadow, because the mode of travel involves walking and riding horseback in different conditions (e.g., flat dirt path, wagon-rutted road, swampy area), the travel times vary. So I took out the map of my fictional kingdom of Deor so I could add detail to it. Using graph paper and a ruler (which is a little like wearing suspenders and a belt), I made a to-scale map, placing all the towns, the type of terrain – hilly, flat, mountainous, forested, swampy – and rivers and streams.

Next, I researched travel times. How long would it take someone to ride sixty miles on horseback on a narrow trail? What if there were two people – who were not getting along very well – on one horse?

Finally, I could make my table. The first column listed all the legs of the journey, from the castle to a particular spot (which I won’t state here so as not to give anything away), from that particular spot to another – also secret – particular spot. The top row had headings for travel conditions (i.e., terrain, type of travel, and moon phase), speed of travel (gathered from research), and distance from place to place, then the resulting time, and the specific day and time of day. Unfortunately, I did this after I’d written my solid draft, which meant a lot of changes.

Timelines are also helpful for the OCD writer. I developed one for the plot of Shadow, so that I wouldn’t mix up what happened to whom and when. But I also needed a timeline listing events, referred to by the characters, but not seen by the reader. Some of these took place during the timeline of the story, but “off-stage.” Some occurred before chapter one began: the story before the story.

Other files can be created to be used for quick reference during the revision (or drafting) process, e.g., a chapter summaries chart, with one-paragraph summaries and the characters introduced in the chapters.

If you’re a fantasy writer, you might consider writing short Word files with descriptions of random things about your world. For example, for Shadow, I created files with details about my fictional kingdom, e.g., “geological and environmental Notes on Deor,” “a short political history of Deor.”

For an OCD writer, particularly a fantasy writer, creating your own world can be nerve-wracking. But maps, tables, and timelines can keep you from falling off in the high wire balancing act of novel writing.

Despite all this work, though, when asked questions about the book, I still forget details. But I do sleep better. And I’m ready if Charlie Rose calls and wants to know why it took Shadow so long to escape to that secret spot and what she really felt about Kenway during that particular scene. Here, let me get out my chart….

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy: “Shadow, an orphan girl, is given the duty to watch the queen’s every move. When the castle is thrown into chaos after the queen is poisoned, Shadow escapes with a young knight, whom she believes was betrothed to the queen. As mystery builds, and romantic tension does, too, Shadow begins to wonder what her role in the kingdom truly is.”

Author Interview: Sara Pennypacker on the Clementine Series

Sara says, “Sara Pennypacker has been writing books for children for seventeen years now. She continues to believe that any day now she will get it right…”

What were you like as a young reader? Who were your favorite authors? What were your favorite books?

I remember feeling that books were a refuge. I’d read anything about humans connecting with animals, anything about secret worlds or survival.

Among my favorites were The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911), The Borrowers by Mary Norton (1952), Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877), The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938), and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719).

Back when I was young, there really weren’t many books written especially for kids–I often wonder which books would be worn to tatters if I were ten years old right now…

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Seeing how my own children loved books, and discovering how fabulous the books were. I fell in love with children’s books–it’s the only way to describe it.

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

It was a pretty even path, I guess. Once I became entranced with children’s books, I couldn’t get enough of reading them and learning about the craft. I’d always been a natural storyteller, and I loved language and challenges, and I’m a ridiculous perfectionist–all these things were helpful in getting my first manuscript accepted.

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

Well, the biggest update news would be that the Stuart books–Stuart’s Cape and Stuart Goes to School–have just been reissued as one book, The Amazing World of Stuart, illustrated by Martin Matje (Orchard, 2010). It’s a lovely edition, with full color illustrations now and larger, friendlier type.

I’m also pleased that Sparrow Girl, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka (Hyperion, 2009), my picture book influenced by Mao Tse Tung’s war against sparrows, is being read in elementary schools to spark discussions of environmental justice.

Congratulations on the release of Clementine, Friend of the Week, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Hyperion, 2010)! Could you tell us about the genesis of this character/series?

Oh, man, I love that kid. Clementine is based on my own two kids, especially my son who suffered with attention issues in school, so she feels very real to me. I get all goofy and choked up when I talk about her, because I so admire how she manages to stay positive and cheerful and sweet-hearted with the challenges she faces, even given the supportive adults in her world.

Clementine is a little more impulsive, distractible, and active, than other kids, okay, fine. But she’s also very artistic, innovative and empathetic.

Besides writing about a kid like that, I really wanted to explore and celebrate a fairly normal (what’s normal, though?) family–a family that’s doing a pretty good job raising their kids. It’s a little harder to come up with the necessary tension and conflict in the plots with such warmth and support all around Clementine, but on the other hand, it’s very satisfying.

In the new book, I felt Clementine was ready for a real challenge: I took away her kitten, arranged for him to get lost in Boston. Very difficult–I sobbed along with Clementine as I wrote those scenes, and felt as if I were a child-abuser, doing something so cruel.

I recently finished book #5, by the way, and let me tell you, there’s a big surprise coming…something that was a complete surprise to me, too!

What advice to you have for writers interested in crafting a children’s book series?

I guess I would say to develop a character whom you, as the author, really, really love. If Clementine were real, I’d take a bullet for her–seriously. I think you need that for two reasons.

First, you’re going to have to live with that character in your head and heart for a long time–writing a series is a little like having a benign case of multiple personality disorder. If you get tired of him/her, it will show in the later books.

But second, with a really rich character, plot takes care of itself. I feel if I just let the reader hang out with Clementine, hearing her impressions of the world and watching her respond to everyday situations, that’s enough for a book. Whatever happens will be interesting because Clementine herself is interesting.

What did Marla’s illustrations bring to your books/character?

Where do I start? When I saw the first sketches, I was in the Hyperion offices in New York, and I just broke down and cried–all the characters were perfect, perfect, and I could tell Marla loved them as much as I did.

I often say that I never need to write a word about how much Clementine’s family loves each other because Marla’s drawings show it so well. Marla and I have the same vision for the book–a bit retro, strongly character-driven, funny but loving–and we’re both slow-working perfectionists….it’s the perfect pairing. Plus, of course, she’s a genius!

Looking back, what was the single best decision you made in terms of advancing your craft as a writer?

Several years ago, I had an experience that profoundly changed the way I thought about writing for children. I just happened to hear someone quote Carl Jung – apparently Jung was asked during an interview why there was evil in the world. His answer was, “Young man, there is evil in the world because people can’t tell their stories.”

That resonated with me, and I started to think about it a lot in terms of children.

I realized it takes four things to tell one’s story: a strong voice, language skills, a platform and an audience. Most children don’t possess those things, but I am lucky enough to have all four.

Since then, I have tried to write for children a different way–as though I am telling their stories, because I can when they can’t. I like to imagine my readers holding up my books to their adults and saying, “This is how I feel. This is what it’s like for me.”

I think it’s given me a better voice, and better things to say.

How do you balance being a writer with the demands of being an author (contracts, promotion, etc.)?

I’ve never been successful at that. I do as much as I can of the writing (the part I love) and as little as possible of the other, and what I do on the business end of things I am truly terrible at–really embarrassingly incompetent.

My agent makes life a lot easier, of course, but recently I made a brilliant move–I hired my daughter as my personal-assistant/business coordinator. It sounds like a luxury, but having her allows me to spend my energy on writing and doing some appearances, and I am more productive.

What, if anything, do you wish you could change about publishing (as a business) and why?

I will try not to sound like a curmudgeon here, but…

What I hope happens is that it stays the same! Well, I’m progressive in that I always want children’s books to get better, braver, more brilliant, take on more things, push the limits, etc.

But I admit to being worried about the e-book trend–or at least to the part of it that threatens to remove the gatekeepers. I just don’t see agents and editors as gatekeepers–to me, they’re more like curators, alchemists and coaches.

I worry that in a few years, parents and readers will be overwhelmed with e-reader content choices, very few of which will be good enough to have made it through the traditional publishing route.

And the word “content”! Every time I hear “content” instead of “story” or “literature,” I cringe!

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

Hm…. Maybe to fly more, and worry about your wings less.

What can your readers look forward to next?

Besides a few more Clementine (we’re planning on seven all together) I’m moving toward older readers. My next book is a mid-grade novel, Summer of the Gypsy Moths (Balzer and Bray, 2011), which explores a friendship forged under pretty dire circumstances.

Currently, I’m playing around with a big idea–big in scope and requiring a lot of research and thought–that may be a mid-grade or may be a YA. I can’t talk more about it yet, but ask me again in a few months…

Cynsational Notes

From Scholastic: “Sara Pennypacker…was a painter before becoming a writer and has two absolutely fabulous children who are grown now. When she was in school, she never had any problem at all paying attention. Okay, fine. That last part was about somebody else. Sara lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.”

In this video from Scholastic, Sara talks about the Clementine series

Guest Post: Melissa Iwai on Soup Day

By Melissa Iwai

Though I’ve already illustrated about 20 books, Soup Day (Henry Holt, 2010) is the first book I’ve also written.

I’ve always wanted to write a children’s story, but the writing has never come easy to me the way drawing and painting has.

Soup Day came to me as a gift: I dreamed of a beautiful painting in which an old woman was chopping onions and a little girl was helping her.

I didn’t think much about it. A few days later, frustrated with another manuscript I was working on, I switched gears and began writing a new story.

The old woman and little girl from my dream became a mom and daughter, and I wrote of how they spend the morning buying, preparing, and cooking soup on a cold, wintry day.

I think the story flowed out easily because it combines my two passions: cooking and art.

It’s also based on my experiences cooking with my young son, Jamie, and the fun we have making something together.

Writing, making art, or cooking—they are all pretty much the same thing when you distill it down to their essence (creating something out of “nothing”). Only the medium is different.

Whenever you create a recipe, you have planning and preparation and expectation and experimentation and invention, and the final product is always unique. Even if you follow an existing recipe, there are other variables involved such as your ingredients and/or ratios of measurements which may fluctuate. If you change the vegetables, pasta or seasonings you add to your soup pot, the outcome will always be something original and maybe a little unexpected (hopefully in a good way!).

The same is true with creating a piece of art and writing. You may have a vision of what you want the result to be, but in the end, it is often something different and surprising.

As with writing and art making, cooking can enrich a child’s world. There are the more obvious lessons of counting, measuring, and weighing involved. But there is also that wonder and joy of creation – making something out of “nothing.”

I think cooking can also foster a sense of empowerment in children, much like expressing themselves with words and pictures. And if they are involved in the process of cooking, they are more likely to eat their creation!

I got my son to eat sautéed mushrooms that way. There’s no way he would eat it if I handed it to him on a plate. But because I let him cut the mushrooms with a plastic knife (with my help) before I sautéed them in butter, he could claim a sense of ownership, and he happily gobbled them up.

This sense of pride, as well as the bonding via the creative experience are what I find to be the most valuable aspects about cooking with children. It’s the unspoken message of Soup Day, and what I hope it inspires.

Cynsational Notes

See also Melissa’s blog, The Hungry Artist.

In the video below, Melissa shows us how to make the soup from Soup Day.

New Voice: Matt Myklusch on Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation

Matt Myklusch is the first-time author of Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation (Aladdin, 2010). From the promotional copy:

All Jack Blank knows is his bleak, dreary life at St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost, an orphanage that sinks further into the swampland of New Jersey with each passing year. His aptitude tests predict that he will spend a long, unhappy career as a toilet brush cleaner.

His only chance at escape comes through the comic books donated years ago to the orphanage that he secretly reads in the dark corners of the library.

Everything changes one icy gray morning when Jack receives two visitors that alter his life forever. The first is a deadly robot straight out of one of his comic books that tries its best to blow him up. The second is an emissary from a secret country called the Imagine Nation, an astonishing place where all the fantastic and unbelievable things in our world originate–including Jack.

Jack soon discovers that he has an amazing ability–one that could make him the savior of the Imagine Nation and the world beyond, or the biggest threat they’ve ever faced.

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

I am a plotter and a planner. That’s how my brain works with everything, so why should writing be any different?

For me, writing without an outline is like trying to drive cross-country armed with only a map of Delaware, Utah, and California. Certainly, it can be done, and there are plenty of writers who don’t need a map at all. They can make it from NYC to LA just by going west, but not me. I need to plan out the route so I know where I’m going. Even then, I like to have GPS so I don’t get lost.

Having said that, it’s important to note that the route is not carved in stone. I might still wander off and visit random tourist attractions along the way, but only if they are really cool, like the World’s Largest Rubber Band Ball or something (located somewhere near Topeka, I believe). [Actually, it’s in Lauderhill, Florida.]

I start off with a basic idea of what I want to do. I don’t know where the initial spark comes from, but I usually know the broad strokes of my story… the feel of it, the three acts, the turning points, and maybe a few big moments I am trying to create and make readers care about.

Then, I write a stream-of-consciousness mess of an outline the includes everything from basic scene overviews to specific lines of dialogue to notes to myself. It starts out as something that only I can understand, but over time, I break that down into chapters and clean it up.

Eventually, I have a map to my story, but that’s all it is. A road map. A guide. It’s not a story yet. It’s not even interesting yet. The characters are what make it interesting.

This is where a lot of new writers trip up when struggling with plot. They focus too much on plot. I used to do this all the time. I used to write stories where the characters weren’t people, they were just tools I used for advancing plot points. As readers, you and I are never going to care about tools. We want characters that fascinate us, infuriate us, make us laugh, and more.

If you don’t know what comes next in your story, sometimes you have to get to know your characters a little better. What do they want? What are they afraid of? What have they been through in life that makes them who they are?

All of this information might not even make it into your actual story, but if you know these things about your characters, then you’ll know what they would do in any given situation. You’ll know what each individual character would say and how they would say it.

I’m a plotter and a planner, but that’s just how I like to work. When I’m writing that first stream-of-consciousness outline, the question of “what comes next?” is usually answered by the characters. That’s because I know how they would react to what is going on in the story. And, this might sound weird, but even though you’re the one creating the characters, sometimes what they do can surprise you.

Any road trip you might take is only as good as the people you’re going with. As a writer, you are taking your readers on a journey, but they aren’t riding with you, they are riding with your characters. At some point, you have to sit back and let your characters drive.

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

With Jack Blank, I wanted to showcase the comic book world that fired my imagination as a kid, and introduce it to an audience that hasn’t seen it before.

I thought about how in the movies, it’s always just one superhero versus one villain, and the hero is usually the only superhero in the world.

It’s not like that in the comic books. In the comics, Iron-Man, Thor, Spider-Man, the X-Men… they’re all running around the same city fighting an endless supply of bad guys. It’s normal for people there to see heroes fighting villains in the middle of the street on a random Tuesday. That fully developed superhero world really doesn’t exist outside of comic books.

In this novel, I wanted to create my own superhero world. I wanted to show people who might otherwise never pick up a comic book how much fun that world could be, but I couldn’t really wrap my head around it until I drew it.

I am a very visual person, and drawing is another big part of my process. I like to really be able to see my characters and the places they inhabit. That might not have been the case if I wrote for another genre, but with superhero/fantasy-based stories, it’s ideal. Drawing really helps me get into the world of my characters, and I absolutely need to get into their world if I’m going to have any hope of leading a reader through it.

My thinking is, I have to know that place inside and out. There can’t be any ambiguity on my part, or the reader won’t know where I’m taking them. (If I can’t see it, they won’t see it).

Luckily, growing up, I spent a lot of time drawing and creating my own comic book characters. Over the years, I accumulated enough of them to fill a whole world and then some. That world became the Imagine Nation, but the question still remained, what would this world look like?

The comic book world has everything— magic, sci-fi, superheroes, kung fu, fantasy, and more. What aspects of the comic universe was I going to include? It wasn’t until I drew the city where all the heroes, villains, ninjas, aliens, and robots lived that I finally got a handle on the Imagine Nation. I started thinking about a city with different boroughs, each one dedicated to a different corner of the comic book world. That’s when things really started to click.

I think at some point every kid wants to grow up to be a superhero. That’s why I decided the best way to introduce the Imagine Nation to readers was through the eyes of a child. That led me to Jack Blank, a young orphan with a mysterious past, and a future that could see him become anything from hero to villain to lowly toilet-brush cleaner. When the time came to actually write it all, I just had one rule and that was to have fun doing it.

Cynsational Notes

Matt Myklusch spends his days working for mtvU, MTV’s twenty-four hour college network. A lifelong love for comic books inspired him to spend his nights and weekends writing Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, son, and trusty dog, Indy.

Matt discusses Imagine Nation from Simon & Schuster:

Matt offers advice to inspiring writers from Simon & Schuster:

Guest Post: Janet Nolan on The Firehouse Light

By Janet Nolan

Day after day,
year after year,
the lightbulb did not burn out.

The Firehouse Light, illustrated by Marie Lafrance (Tricycle Press, 2010), is the true story of a lightbulb that has been burning in a firehouse for more than one hundred years.

When I first learned there was a lightbulb in Livermore, California that had been burning since 1901, I was intrigued.

I wondered how it was possible, when almost nothing seems to last, that a lightbulb never burned out. For days, I walked around thinking wow, while that lightbulb’s been burning, cars were invented, and so were telephones, televisions, and computers. Cures for diseases were discovered, wars were fought, and roads, highways, and cities built.

And while so much changed culturally, socially, technologically, and economically in American society, a tiny four-watt bulb, made of carbon filament and hand-blown glass, kept burning.

Who couldn’t be intrigued by that?

I just had to know more.

One of the wonderful things about being a children’s writer, is that I have the perfect excuse to pick-up the phone, call a stranger, and say, “I wonder if you have a moment to talk.”

I was lucky to find so many helpful individuals on the other end of the line. Through the amazing generosity of local historians, retired firefighters, and members of the Livermore Heritage Guild, who answered my endless questions, I was able to learn the lightbulb’s story.

It all began in 1901, when fires were fought with bucket brigades and hand-pulled hose carts. The lightbulb, a gift from a local businessman, was placed inside a wooden shack where firefighters stored their equipment. If a fire broke out at night, the lightbulb helped them find their equipment in the dark.

There is a passage in the book that reads, “Beneath a lightbulb that glowed strong and steady, firefighters stepped into their big boots, pulled on their heavy coats, put thick helmets on their heads and switched on their two-way radios. They drove through the growing town’s only traffic signal, honking the horn.”

While the language is simple, the research to verify specific details was extensive. Were the boots thick? Were the coats heavy? What type of communication was used? When, exactly, did Livermore install its first traffic signal?

Details are not only delicious, they tell the bigger story. The installation of a traffic signal in a post-war town represents the impact of cars, and it illustrates a community on the verge of growth and expansion.

The lightbulb no longer hangs in a wooden shack. Today, fifteen feet about the ground, the lightbulb burns inside a state-of-the-art firehouse. Only now, it has its own back-up generator, webcam, website, and thousands of dedicated fans from all around the world.

I am proud to be one of its fans!

Cynsational Notes

Janet Nolan is the author of two other picture books: A Father’s Day Thank You, illustrated by Kathi Ember (Albert Whitman, 2007) and The St. Patrick’s Day Shillelagh, illustrated by Ben Stahl (Albert Whitman, 2002).

Cover art from The Firehouse Light copyright © 2010 by Marie LaFrance. Published by Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Guest Post: Cinda Williams Chima on Violence in Teen Books

By Cinda Williams Chima

“What’s all this about violins on television?”

Gilda Radner as Emily Litella, “Saturday Night Live.”

A few years ago, one of my colleagues at the university loaned my first novel, The Warrior Heir (Hyperion, 2006), to her mother to read.

“Oh, my,” Sue’s eighty-something mother said. “So bloody. And you seemed like such a nice girl.”

“But I am a nice girl,” I protested. I am. I’m carry-the-spider-outside nice. For a while, I was running a rabbit relocation program from my backyard, in a nonviolent attempt to keep them from savaging my lilies. I’ve given IV fluids to a guinea pig. Horror movies scare me, and I still won’t set foot in a haunted house.

That’s when I realized—each of my Heir novels begins with a prologue. And each of the prologues involves some kind of violent event–a murder, accident, or attack.

In my Seven Realms series (Hyperion, 2009-), Raisa ana’Marianna, the heir to the troubled Gray Wolf Throne, is the target of several assassination attempts. Another of the viewpoint characters, Han Alister, is accused of a series of grisly murders. When he gets in the way of a powerful wizard dynasty, they strike back ruthlessly. I don’t dwell on graphic, onstage violence, but it’s definitely there.

Hmm. Raise your hands, and step away from the keyboard.

The issue of violence in YA lit came to the fore recently with the publication of the wildly-popular Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008-2010). In a near-future dystopian world, a dictatorship maintains its grip on power by forcing children to fight to the death in televised tournaments.

In a post on Shelf Awareness, bookseller Sheryl Cotleur raised questions about the violent content of the series. Cotleur’s point was that we often focus on keeping sexual content away from young readers—should we be worried about violence as well?

The thing is, violence cannot be avoided in a story about war. Anything else is condescending. We owe it to readers to tell them the truth about that, or why should they believe anything we say? War is sometimes necessary. It is a stage on which myriad compelling stories are acted. But it is always horrible, especially for those who suffer collateral damage.

Authors who want to sidestep violence should tell a different kind of story.

I guess I’m more worried about violence without reflection—about media content that implies that those who die can be resurrected for the next episode or game. And that the good guy never ends up dead, maimed or disabled. And that we can inflict death from a distance and never pay a price for it.

Some readers aren’t prepared for a realistic depiction of war. In the Heir Trilogy (Hyperion, 2006-2008; box set 2009), wizards dominate the other magical guilds, forcing magical warriors to fight to the death in a series of tournaments known as the Game. When one of my main characters dies in battle, I was deluged with emails from unhappy readers.

Depending on how it’s handled, violence in media can either encourage or discourage violence in real life.

Are intense scenes in screen media like movies and video games more disturbing than those in books?

I guess I’m torn. In movies, viewers are passive recipients of the director’s vision, while readers are partners with writers in creating story. Because readers are more deeply embedded in the world they’ve helped create, they might be more affected by violence on the page.

On the other hand, whether the issue is sex or violence, readers self-edit to a degree, based on their experience, imagination, and personal tolerance. So it makes sense for authors to use a light hand when it comes to graphic onstage violence in books for teens.

Finally, parents, librarians, booksellers, and teachers should consider what kinds of stories will suit individual YA readers and recommend accordingly.

Cynsational Notes

The Demon King (Hyperion, 2009, 2010) is now available in paperback, and The Exiled Queen (Hyperion) releases Sept. 28.

Excerpts from each of Cinda’s books are available on her website. Help for writers can be found under Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens” (PDF).

At her blog, you’ll find rants, posts on the craft of writing, and news about Cinda and her books.

In the video below, Ed Spicer interviews Cinda at the Rochester Teen Lit Festival.

New Voice: M.G. King on Librarian on the Roof! A True Story

M. G. King is the first-time author of Librarian on the Roof! A True Story, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin (Albert Whitman, 2010). From the promotional copy:

When RoseAleta Laurell begins her new job at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart, Texas, she is surprised that the children of the town think the library is for adults.

She vows to raise the money for a children’s section and spends a week living and working on the library roof, even surviving a dangerous storm.

With the help of the entire town, RoseAleta raises over $39,000 from within the community and across the country.

Today if you look through the front window of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library, you will see shelves stacked full with children’s books and tables and chairs just the right size. You will see artwork on the walls, and a row of busy computers.

Best of all, you will always find crowds of children who love to read and learn inside the walls of the oldest library in Texas.

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

Tree houses, mountaintops, and skyscraper view decks – magical things happen in high places.

In October of 2000, from the fifty-foot roof of the oldest library in Texas, RoseAleta Laurell brought a diverse town together to achieve something remarkable.

Librarian on the Roof! is a modern “Little Engine That Could” story about a librarian who wouldn’t give up until the generation growing up in her bilingual rural town had a library that served its needs.

These days we expect to find computers and Internet access in libraries, but when RoseAleta Laurell moved to Lockhart, Texas, to become director of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library in 1989, she found a small town on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Ms. Laurell [pictured below] wrote, “for many young people, the library serves as their first exposure to books, reading, art and technology.”

Looking back at my own childhood in a working class community, her words have resonated with me in a deep way. I owe a huge debt to the hard-working librarians who provided my family with an endless supply of books, music, and even oil paintings, which we checked out and hung in our apartment’s entry.

When I first heard the story about Lockhart’s librarian camping out on the roof for a week, I knew I had to write it. The tale had all the elements of a wonderful picture book: a dramatic setting on the top of a beautiful historic building, an unforgettable character who was both daring and tenacious, and a community that came together to exceed everyone’s expectations.

It’s simply a great story that needed to be told and remembered. I hope young readers will be inspired to find ways to make their own communities better places.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2010, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

A twentieth-century manual typewriter squelched my first attempt at publication, back when I was eight. Somewhere I’d heard that if you wanted to submit a story to an editor, it had to be typed. I struggled to scroll the paper in straight, mashed keys together, hunted and pecked for over an hour, and covered myself in white-out. The results proved decidedly worse than my southpaw scrawl. I gave up.

But always, I wrote: stories about rocketing to other worlds, poems for homemade birthday cards, and articles about cats for my friend’s newspaper, The Cat Courier (which we sold up and down the block for five cents each).

Later, I filled journals with the complicated thoughts and feelings of growing up.

Writing never felt like an optional activity, I’m most myself when I’m stringing sentences together. But publication never seemed inevitable either. Articles and stories thrown into the submission pool were always met with silence or rejection. I failed to rocket over that impossibly high wall to the world of The Published.

In my twenties I became a nurse. R.N.s are a very practical bunch, if not by nature, by necessity. A fast-paced, demanding job where people’s lives are on the line is not conducive to dreamy, writerly introspection.

But nothing places you in the middle of the human story like critical-care nursing. I found it humbling to be intimately involved in some of the most pivotal and stressful moments of my patients’ lives. Some of their stories will be with me forever.

After my children were born, I picked up my dream of being a writer again. I began waking at four a.m. to get in at least two hours of writing each day. I took a creative writing class at Rice University, joined SCBWI, and found a critique group of fantastic writers in my neighborhood, which we now call the Will Write For Cake Friends. (We celebrate each success with generous amounts of carbs and chocolate).

And even though my engineer husband’s eyes glaze over when I ramble on about character and plot, he has instilled in me a wonderful belief in the power of persistence. He lives out the words of Winston Churchill who said “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” I’ve learned to give myself freedom to fail, because although publication may always be a gamble, the joy that comes from creating is certain.

Cynsational Notes

Here’s the poster M.G. made when she was in sixth grade for the Jeffersonville (Indiana) Township Public Library‘s book cover contest.

M.G. won 1st place, and the children’s librarian presented her with a hardcover copy of Robert C. O’Brien’s Newbery Award winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (Atheneum, 1971).

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Razorbill, Jan. 11, 2011) ARC Giveaway from P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth. From the promotional copy:

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Contest deadline: Oct. 1. See details.

More News

What’s in a Fictional Name? by Brian Meehl from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “Intriguing names should definitely be tucked somewhere in a writer’s pigeon holes. The last name I added to my list was from a New York Times article about one of the first holdouts in the NFL: Pudge Heffelfinger.”

Reprise: Should We Bowdlerize Classic Children’s Books For Racism? by Mitali Perkins from Mitali’s Fire Escape. Peek: “Nobody wants to be didactic these days, but all stories are laced with values. It’s the nature of the beast.” Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Author Website Tip: make sure it’s easy to find the publisher name, illustrator name, and publication date information for each of your books. It’s also gracious to include related links.

Three Tips for Character Relationships by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “Do you know someone who aggravates you, even while you enjoy their company?” Read a Cynsations guest post on creating book trailers by Darcy.

An Inside Look at Leap Books by Bonnie Doerr from the Class of 2k10. Peek: “We opened during the economic downturn because we believe in the authors we’ve contracted. Some of the most vibrant publishing houses today began during the depression, and, as they discovered, there’s only one way to go and that’s up.”

Cindy Callaghan, Author: new website from the debut author of Just Add Magic (Aladdin, 2010). See discussion guide, writer tips, recipes, events information, and more about Cindy.

For Those We Lose Along the Way by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violets. Peek: “I know of three authors who simply gave up after their first book, completely disillusioned and demoralized by the publishing process and the lack of support they got from their publisher, the lukewarm sales and reviews their book received.” Highly recommended.

Theft is Not a Higher Form of Flattery by David Macinnis Gill from Thunderchikin. Peek: “The book is being downloaded faster than Rotarians have pop down a stack of pancakes. The difference is, the Rotarians paid for the pancakes.” Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Resubmitting a Revision by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek: “So if I don’t ask you for a revision outright, what can you do? Emailing me immediately to ask if I’d be interested in seeing a revision down the line is probably not your best bet.” See also Mary on Specificity of Setting.

New Agent Alert: Logan Garrison of The Gernert Company by Chuck from Guide to Literary Agents. Note: Logan is seeking children’s-YA fiction.

Finalists for the 2010 New Mexico Book Awards from New Mexico Book Co-op. See finalists in the picture book, activity book, young readers book, juvenile book, and YA categories. Note: especially recommended to those with a love of southwestern settings. Scroll to read an interview with finalist Kimberley Griffiths Little about The Healing Spell (Scholastic, 2010) from the Mother-Daughter Book Club.

Not Recommended for Younger Readers? by Kate Milford from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: “Obviously there’s an ongoing argument between writers, young readers, and their parents about what they can handle. Or maybe the disagreement isn’t so much about what they can handle, but what they should even be thinking about. Or maybe it’s both. It’s probably both. So let’s chat.”

Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award of the Kansas Reading Association. Nomination criteria: appropriate for grades K-3; published during the three years preceding the one in which the final selection is made; must be in print; books which are not Caldecott winners; only one title per author/illustrator from the U.S.

TLA 2011 Texas Authors and Illustrators Speakers Source Book from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “The fee for this year’s Speakers Sourcebook listing is $45 for 1/3 page or $100 for a full page. Sourcebook ad specifics are detailed on page 3 of this registration packet.” Deadline: Feb. 19.

Attend to Your Work by Deborah Heiligman from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Deborah talks about the words her grandfather left her. Peek: “I hope you will indulge me and let me tell you about him. I think it relates to what we are all trying to do here.”

Video Interview with Kate DiCamillo from the Minnesota Legacy Fund. Peek: “Newbery award-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo shares her thoughts on writing, dogs, fan letters, and embarrassing first drafts.” Read a Cynsations interview with Kate.

Writing on a Unicycle: Making Time for What You Love in a Life out of Balance by Deborah Brodie. Peek: “Unless writing is your day job, these tips are for you. And if you have other ideas, and the time to write them down, please send them to me so I can share them with others.”

Kidlitosphere Blogger Tip: Looking to build your readership? Register your blog at JacketFlap, “a comprehensive resource for information on the children’s book industry. Thousands of published authors, illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, and publishers visit JacketFlap every day.”

Interview: Don Tate on Illustrating and the Brown Bookshelf by Aaron Mead from Children’s Books and Reviews. Peek: “Lee & Low’s New Voices award is the one that has meant the most to me. I received it for a book that I wrote, which will publish next year. I’ve been an artist all of my life…. But I wasn’t confident in my writing abilities.” Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Books on Islam for Teens and Children: an annotated bibliography from ALSC. Peek: “This list was developed by the Quicklists Consulting Committee of the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.” Source: Confessions of a Bibliovore. See Exploring Diversity Through Children’s and YA Books and Exploring Diversity: Themes and Communities.

Suzanne Collins Completes the Hunger Games from the Associated Press. Peek: “Inspiration, like a sudden phone call, began at home. A few years ago, Collins was surfing channels late at night and found herself switching between a reality program and news reports about the Iraq war. The images blurred in her mind. She wondered whether other viewers could tell them apart.”

Do Political Beliefs Impact Representation? by Jessica from BookEnds, LLC. Peek: “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say, ‘No, absolutely not,’ but let’s be honest.”

Vision Is Ahead of Execution by Lindsey Lane from This and That. Peek: “You see, I have never written a novel before. A whole 24,000 plus word novel. I am fretting because I’ve never done it before. And because I’ve never done it before, I am thinking I will fail because I have never done it before.”

To Multi-book or Not to Multi-book by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Note: a discussion of pros and cons. See also Jennifer on option clauses in book contracts. Source: Elizabeth Scott. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Series Books: a new curriculum resource center from Teaching Books. Note: focusing on series published for elementary-aged students. Note: featured books include The Birchbark House trilogy by Louise Erdrich (Hyperion-HarperCollins, 1999-2008)(author audio, related resources).

In Defense of Dead/Absent Parents in Children’s Literature by Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent. Peek: “I am a former twelve-year-old, and I can remember how thrilling it was to read books where the kids were off on their own, fighting and outsmarting adults, dealing with harsh landscapes, facing their deepest fears, making unforgettable friendships, and, while I didn’t know it at the time, learning how to be adults.” Note: for the counterpoint, see Leila Sales on Ol’ Dead Dad Syndrome from Publishers Weekly. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Slattery to Become Agent with Pippin from Publishers Weekly. Former Knopf editor Joan Slattery joins Pippin as literary agent and contracts manager.

Speak Loudly

In an article in the Springfield, Missouri, News-Leader, Wesley Scroggins opines that Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak (FSG, 1999) is “soft porn.” In fact, Speak is a sensitive and victim/survivor-empowering novel about rape. See Laurie’s initial response and wrap-up. Consider pairing Speak with Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/HarperCollins), which likewise touches on the aftermath of rape.

From there, check out Sara Ockler‘s response On Book Banning Zealots & Ostriches to Scroggins’ characterization of her novel Twenty Boy Summer (Little, Brown, 2009). Then in celebration of the freedom to read, enter to win one of 100 paperback copies of the book in a giveaway sponsored by Little, Brown and the Debs. Deadline: Oct. 2.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for The Haunted by Jessica Verday (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Read an interview with Jessica from Mundie Moms.

Author Diane Stanley talks about Saving Sky (HarperCollins, 2010).

More Personally

For those who missed it, I unveiled the cover art for Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011) this week. The novel crosses over the casts of Tantalize and Eternal and picks up where Tantalize leaves off. For news release with flap copy, a new author Q&A, and more information on the series, check out the official media kit (PDF).

This shelf shot of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010) was taken at the Houston airport and comes from Kathi Appelt.

Giveaway Winners

The winner of an autographed Goddess Girls: Aphrodite the Beauty by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Aladdin, 2010), plus an Aphrodite the Beauty swag bag, featuring: 24-color eyeshadow from Claire’s; seven lip glosses with faux rhinestones; multicolor bracelet; Goddess Girls bookmark is Jennifer in Wyoming! Read a Cynsations guest post by Joan and Suzanne about the series.

The winners of The Dark Deeps: The Hunchback Assignments 2 by Arthur Slade (Wendy Lamb, 2010) are Vivien in Kansas, Janine in Utah, and Nancy in Texas. Read a Cynsations guest post by Arthur on How to Put the “Steam” in Steampunk.

Texas Book Festival

Check out the schedule for Texas Book Festival on Oct. 16 and Oct. 17 in Austin.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be reading Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010) from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 17, in the Children’s Read Me a Story Tent. Her signing will follow immediately afterward at the Children’s Signing Tent (13th and Colorado).

Greg Leitich Smith will moderate a panel, “Portals to Imagined Worlds,” from 11 a.m. to noon Oct. 17 in Capitol Extension, Room E 2.014. Featured panelists include Brian Yansky (Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)); Ingrid Law (Scumble (Dial, 2010)); Carolyn Cohagan (The Lost Children (Aladdin, 2010); and Cinda Williams Chima (The Exiled Queen: A Seven Realms Novel (Hyperion, 2010)). Greg will also introduce M.T. Anderson at 3 p.m. Oct. 17, in Capitol Auditorium, Room E1.004.

Guest Post: Susan Fletcher on Waiting to Fly

By Susan Fletcher

When I was five years old, I loved stories about magic carpets, stories where people turned into swans, stories about people so light, they wafted like feathers into the air.

One day, watching a TV commercial, I saw a kid eat a bowl of Jets cereal, then hold out his arms, like wings…and fly.

Somehow, the commercial seemed real to me. I talked myself into believing that there might be a loophole in the rules that governed my world. That if I ate the right breakfast cereal, I could maybe lift off from my back porch and soar up into the sky.

I still remember standing at the edge of the porch after eating a bowl of Jets. Leaning forward: knees loose, arms stretched wide. Wishing with all my might.

Flash forward: Last July, at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, I heard Martine Leavitt talk brilliantly about the power of wish fulfillment in fantasy literature. Holly Black – also brilliant — discussed the idea that magic in fantasy novels should make our characters’ lives harder, not easier. The idea that magic should have a price.

I think that the combination of those two things – wish fulfillment and magic with a price – underlies the appeal and the power of fantasy.

Where else but in fairy tales and fantasy can we live out our most impossible longings – to fly, to be fairest of them all, to be powerful enough to slay dragons? To have or be or do whatever we want – at the flick of a wand, the recitation of a spell, or the touch of a magic lamp?

And yet, to me, fantasy novels in which the wish fulfillment is too easy…feel hollow and unsatisfying.

In my new book, Ancient, Strange and Lovely (Atheneum, 2010), I indulged my old yearning to lift off the ground and take wing across the sky. There’s a dragon involved and a soaring flight across the mountains. So much fun to write! Vicariously, it was thrilling.

But it’s not a pleasant journey. It’s painful and cold and cramped. It’s terrifyingly dangerous. And the very gifts that make the flight possible for my protagonist, Bryn, exact a painful price: ostracism. A huge burden of responsibility. A life of isolation.

What a spoilsport! Why couldn’t I just go with joy?

Well, it’s partly about plot and tension. Superman without Kryptonite is like tennis without a net: What’s the point? If your protagonist can simply fly blithely away from danger, where’s the suspense? Who really cares what happens?

The other, deeper part has to do with that hopeful, earthbound five-year-old we left waiting at the edge of her porch. It’s about how she’s going to feel when she realizes that, no matter how desperately she yearns to lift off and swoop above her backyard, it’s never going to happen.

It’s about the fact that we, and all of our readers, hail from this same, unmagical tribe. And it’s our characters’ struggles and weaknesses and disappointments – more than their extraordinary gifts — that make them believable and dear to us.

Cynsational Notes

Susan’s new fantasy novel, Ancient, Strange and Lovely, is the fourth in her Dragon Chronicles series. She is a member of the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of the Fine Arts.

New Voice: Jessica Leader on Nice and Mean

Jessica Leader is the first time author of Nice and Mean (Aladdin MIX, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Nice and Mean by Jessica Leader is a hilarious story about two girls–one nice, one mean–facing off in their middle school video elective.

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

I’m a plotter. A definite devotee of outlines. It started several years ago when an editor said to me, “60,000 words? That’s way, way too long for middle-grade. Do you outline?”

I admit that the comment made me huffy at first, but when I went back and outlined what I had written, I saw the redundant scenes immediately and hacked my way to a much stronger draft.

In future projects, starting with an outline has allowed me to spot problems in advance, like dropped characters or unclear motivations. They’ve clarified my goals and my characters’, too.

This is not to say that outlining produces fully workable drafts in one go. (Are you reading this, Agent E? Are you saying, “Yup?”)

In addition, there’s not always a clear order of operations. Sometimes I can only create partial outlines before drafting, and often, I halt the drafting to re-jigger the outline I’ve made.

But in general, the time I spend outlining is time saved on dead-end drafts. I may have to create a Facebook Fan Page for Outlining.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

I have always been in touch with my rebellious kid’s voice, and in my early days of teaching, rebellious kids made a quick showing on my radar.

What I was surprised to find, though, was a huge swath of kids who were actively concerned with being loved and being good people.

An athletic golden boy wrote all year about how he wanted his older sister to be nicer to him and how he wanted more time with his mom. An effervescent, well-liked girl went far out of her way to draw a seriously awkward one into the crowd.

I know from Ingrid Michaelson that everybody—everybody!—wants to love; everybody—everybody!—wants to be loved.

I just hadn’t remembered noticing it when I was growing up, so I was surprised to see it expressed so openly by my students. Sure, they could be cruel, careless, and have crappy attitudes; I was not blind to that. But it coexisted with the goodness, which inspired me as a person and broadened the range of characters I considered myself able to inhabit.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Last spring, I was a little nervous about self-promotion. The audience of readers, bloggers, teachers and librarians seemed so vast and uncatalogued; I didn’t know where to start reaching them.

Varian Johnson–friend of yours, mine, and writers everywhere–gave me great advice: You only have to do two things: create a website and finish your next book. You could make other efforts, sure, but you should stick to things you feel enthusiastic about. If you try to pursue things that don’t feel right, it will show and possibly backfire.

It was all so true. I could spend all my free time promoting Nice and Mean, but it wouldn’t satisfy me the way writing does, and what would I do after the book came out? Promote the e-book?

The advice to pursue what excited me led me to some really fantastic resources and one major coup. I didn’t feel enthused about trying to rope in Twitter followers or give away trinkets. Some people have success with that, but it didn’t feel like me.

However, I love finding thought-provoking kidlit blogs, and I love online dialogue that’s focused around a particular topic. So I decided to go for it with MotherReader’s Comment Challenge, in which bloggers commit to making five comments on various blogs every day for a month.

I didn’t meet that goal by any stretch of the imagination, but I did find some great sites, including Reading in Color, which reviews YA books by people of color. How does blogger Ari know about all these titles? How does a high-school student have the moxie to lead a campaign against the publishing industry for white-washing their covers? I didn’t know, but I commented with fervor, and though it wasn’t my goal at all, my enthusiasm for the blog led Ari to Nice and Mean. She was excited to learn about it, and she became one of the people to host my blog tour.

Another thing I found I enjoyed were the Tuesday night kidlit talks on Twitter. Those led me to a teacher, Paul Hankins, who happens to live near me and invited me to do my first school visit. He mentioned me to his friend Andy Terrell, the owner of Destinations Booksellers, who invited me to do a reading, and when he read my ARC, he nominated me to the Summer 2010 IndieNext List. (Thank you, Paul! Thank you, Andy!)

Is this one-in-a-million story? Maybe. Would it have happened if, instead of drafting my work-in-progress, I’d sent postcards to every indie bookseller in the country? Perhaps.

Will I need to reexamine my promotional approach in a year? I’m sure.

But the difference for me was that instead of grumbling through these tasks, I felt like me and enjoyed myself. I can’t imagine those feelings are anything less than crucial in sustaining a life as a writer.

Cynsational Notes

From Jessica’s website: “Jessica Leader grew up in New York City. Like her characters, Marina and Sachi, she had many important conversations in the stairwells of her school and on the cross-town bus. In addition to being a writer, she has taught English and drama in New York and in Louisville, Kentucky. Jessica graduated from Brown University and has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults.”