New Voice: Kiersten White on Paranormalcy

Kiersten White is the first-time author of Paranormalcy (HarperTeen, 2010)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Evie’s always thought of herself as a normal teenager, even though she works for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, her ex-boyfriend is a faerie, she’s falling for a shape-shifter, and she’s the only person who can see through paranormals’ glamours.

But Evie’s about to realize that she may very well be at the center of a dark faerie prophecy promising destruction to all paranormal creatures.

So much for normal.

As a paranormal writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your fantasy might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

I never set out to write with themes in mind, but somehow they always seep into my writing so that, by the time I have a finished draft, it’s very obvious what was on my mind.

Since I write for teens, I slip into my teen mindset, which leaves my main characters grappling with the big questions I had as a teenager. How could I fit in and be special at the same time? Was everyone else as lonely and confused as me? Who was I, and who did I want to become? How do I deal with this rampaging gremlin without getting its acid saliva on myself?

Wait. Scratch that last one.

Isolation also tends to be a big recurring element in my novels, because for me being a teenager was an intensely lonely time. I had friends—great friends—but that didn’t stop me from worrying that no one really knew me and that, if they did, they might not like me anymore.

In Paranormalcy, I pumped this up even more. Not only does Evie not have any teenage friends because she lives in an inaccessible government center, but even more isolating, she doesn’t know much about herself. It’s hard enough figuring out who you are in life even when you know where you came from (and what, exactly, you are, although I doubt many of us grapple with that particular question!).

My favorite thing about writing paranormal/urban fantasy is that so many of the different things I employ function as perfect metaphors for teenagers. A shapeshifter worries that if people saw the real him they would reject him, so he doesn’t let anyone get close. His friends like him, girls like him, but he can’t ever accept it as true because they don’t see who he really is. Evie, who can see through anything, can’t see herself for what she really is, and doesn’t want to. She’s so desperate to be normal, to conform to this idea she has in her head of what normal is, she stops seeing the complexities of the world around her and where she fits in it. And that, really, it’s okay not to know quite where you fit, as long as you’re happy where you are.

I think this is vital, because you can write the coolest creatures/world setup/fantasy elements possible, but if people don’t relate to the characters there’s no point. I hope that what makes my characters unusual makes them even more accessible and relatable.

In the end, I think it’s important to note that I never set out to make my characters metaphors. Can you imagine? “And now for the love interest, who will be a metaphor for man’s search for meaning in a cold universe!”

Heavens no. I write my characters as people. They supply the issues themselves. It’s a great system! And that’s what’s important—themes and ideas and issues are fabulous, as long as they supplement and enrich the story instead of taking away or distracting from it.

What is it like, to be a debut author in 2010? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

If you are at all aware of my book or me, you may have noticed something.

You can find me online.

Really! In fact, I think you’d be harder pressed not to find me online. I am everywhere… (Please imagine that sentence said in a creepy whisper with a slightly maniacal grin.)

And somehow this public persona–this issue of an author or aspiring writer needing to have a platform and be a networking genius and have a blog and a website and twitter and Facebook and Goodreads and whatever else is the next absolute must have online social media–has become the norm. So much so that the other day when I searched for a debut author online and found nothing I thought, What’s wrong with her?

Umm, nothing. Nothing is wrong with her. She’s just opted out of having an online presence. And honestly? I think that’s okay. We have a lot of pressure coming from all ends. I can’t tell you how many times panicked writers have asked me how they can get people to read their blogs, how they can build readership, because don’t editors and agents look for that?

Well, they don’t hate it, it’s true. And if you do manage to have a large readership, awesome! But I think that unless you genuinely enjoy it and can manage to have an appealing or entertaining online presence (like this little blog you may have heard of, I think it’s called Cynsations?), there’s really no point.

Have an attractive, professional website and call it good. Blogging and twitter can be a huge time-suck, so if you can’t balance it with your writing time, don’t bother. Your writing is what will get you a book deal, not how many followers your blog has.

Sometimes I like to imagine which historical authors I think would have been active in social media. I can see Jane Austen with a thoughtful, clever, and incredibly verbose blog, but she would post infrequently. Charles Dickens would have been all over twitter. J.D. Salinger would have…still been a slightly crazy recluse.

But here’s what’s different about publishing in 2010. That stuff is out there, and yes, there’s an expectation that you are going to be doing it. I obviously haven’t struggled with it, but that’s because I’ve been blogging daily for three years now. (And let’s face it, I enjoy being an idiot on Twitter. I’m bored. It’s funny. See how it all comes back to me and what I like doing?)

Has my online presence been a boon to my career? I’m going to say, yes. But I suppose only time will tell for sure. But more importantly: do I enjoy doing it? Yes, absolutely.

Because being an author in 2010 is not that much different than being an author in 1910 or 1810. You still choose how much of yourself to put out there, how accessible you want to make yourself to your readers.

Will I always be as accessible as I’ve been until now? Probably not. The more readers paying attention to my blog, the more I shy away from exposing certain aspects of myself on it. The more emails I get taking time away from writing, the more I lean toward declining requests I would have accepted even a couple of months ago.

This is the reality of now. Communication is so easy, so instant, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with it. I’m still trying to find the balance, but I suspect it will always be changing. And that’s okay.

Check out the book trailer for Paranormalcy:

and a video interview with Kiersten:

Book Launch Event: Holler Loudly about Alien Invasion and Truth with a Capital T

Mark your calendars to Holler Loudly about Alien Invasions and Truth with a Capital T!

Authors Bethany Hegedus, Brian Yansky and Cynthia Leitich Smith will celebrate their latest books at 2 p.m. Nov. 14 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas.

This joint author party will feature refreshments, alien tattoos, readings, a Q&A, and signing.

Cynthia’s latest release is Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)(ages 4-up). See teacher guides for Pre-K, Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 created by Shannon Morgan (PDFs). 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?

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s award-winning books for children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (all HarperCollins). She’s also the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestselling YA author of Eternal, its companion Tantalize and the forthcoming Blessed (all Candlewick).

Cynthia is a member of faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her website was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column.

Brian’s latest release is Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)(ages 12-up). From the promotional copy:

Jesse is in history class when a formidable, efficient race of aliens quietly takes over the earth in less time than it takes him to brush his teeth. Most humans simply fall asleep and never wake up. In moments, everyone Jesse knows and loves is gone, and he finds that he is now a slave to an inept alien leader.

On the bright side, Jesse discovers he’s developing telepathic powers, and he’s not the only one. Soon he’s forging new friendships and feeling unexpectedly hopeful. When a mysterious girl appears in his dreams, talking about escaping, Jesse begins to think the aliens may not be invincible after all. But if Jesse and his friends succeed, is there anywhere left to go?

Brian Yansky offers a funny, grim novel packed with everything boys and sci-fi fans love: aliens, humor, action, and a healthy dose of triumph.

Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick) is Brian Yansky‘s third novel. The Horn Book cheers, “Alien Invasion is nothing if not action-packed, and yet it is provocative, profound, and wickedly funny as well.” He is also the author of the award winning My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket) and Wonders of the World (Flux). He has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and teaches at Austin Community College.

Bethany’s new release is Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010)(ages 9-up). See Teacher Activity Guide for Truth with a Capital T created by Debbie Gonzales (PDF). From the promotional copy:

Have you ever planned a trip in your head and then when it happens nothing is the way you planned? That is exactly what happens to Maebelle when she visits her grandparents’ antebellum house.

First off, her talented cousin is going to be with her for the entire visit, so her alone time with her grandparents is not going to happen. Secondly, there is a locked wing in her grandparents’ old house that no one is supposed to enter, and Maebelle has been instructed not to even try to go in there. Thirdly, Maebelle discovers some clues to the mystery behind the locked wing, so she disobeys and breaks in and what she discovers changes the history of her family and brings attention to the entire town of Tweedle, Georgia.

Bethany Hegedus’s novel Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books) was named a Best Book of 2010 (starred) by the Bank Street Awards Committee and a Top 40 Fiction Books for Young Adults by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Her latest novel, Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte), debuted at the 2010 Texas Book Festival. Forthcoming with Atheneum/Simon Schuster is a picture book Bethany has co-authored with Arun Gandhi, entitled Grandfather Gandhi.

Bethany is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts and serves as co-editor to the Young Adult and Children’s page of the literary journal Hunger Mountain. Bethany writes from her home in Austin.

See also An Inside Look at a Unique School Visit Partnership on the Civil Rights Movement by Bethany Hegedus and Kekla Magoon from Multicultural Review (PDF). Or go to Bethany’s “For Educators” page for related links.

Guest Post: Clare B. Dunkle on Of Humans and Other Monsters

By Clare B. Dunkle

A seventh-grader once asked why I wrote about monsters. Didn’t I find it too scary?

“I can write about goblins, witches, werewolves, demons, and ghosts without losing sleep,” I told her. “But I can’t write about this.” My vague gesture took in the students, the classroom, final exams, wars, famines, and all the rest of it. “Because this is much more terrifying.”

But in spite of my best efforts to escape from real life into tales of magic, “this” has managed to sneak into my writing anyway: the plain old nastiness of one unhappy human being’s behavior towards another.

Really, without knowing it, I’ve invited that nastiness in. It goes hand in hand with writing about monsters. That’s because monsters are unusual—disturbingly different—not like us. And if history teaches us one thing, it’s that we human beings reserve our harshest, most barbaric behavior for the people who we think are not like us.

Heathcliff is a magnificent monster. His passion and brutality, his uncanny origin, his obsessive longing to reunite with his sweetheart in death—all these things make him larger than life, one of the traditional definitions of the word “monster.”

Moreover, the people he meets in Wuthering Heights (1847) immediately begin to treat him like a monster. He enters the book as a dirty, hungry little boy, a child of no more than seven. But how does his new family welcome him? By fighting over him. By threatening to throw him out into the night. By refusing him a bed. By spitting on him.

If Emily Brontë’s story were nothing more than a “poor boy does well” tale, it wouldn’t be a classic. But the fascinating fact is that Heathcliff begins at once to justify his new family’s suspicions. He doesn’t become a monster because of the family’s ill treatment. He already is a monster. He exploits his foster father’s fondness of him. He blackmails his foster brother. And, in one of the book’s most chilling moments, young Cathy watches him construct a trap over a bird nest so that the parents will have to let the baby birds starve. This breathtakingly sadistic behavior passes for play in young Heathcliff’s mind. We can only wonder what else he teaches his new playmate.

I have pondered for decades what could have happened to Heathcliff before the beginning of Emily Brontë’s classic to make him the monster he is. And when authors ponder, they write books. My new novel, The House of Dead Maids (Henry Holt, 2010), posits an entertaining explanation for Heathcliff’s behavior in Wuthering Heights. When he enters my book, he is still a little boy—a savage, dangerous, badly abused, horribly traumatized little boy. But when he leaves my book, his character has hardened. He has become a monster.

The question of what has happened to Heathcliff is not the only one my prequel attempts to solve. It tackles a number of Wuthering Heights puzzles. Among other things, it proposes answers to these questions: Why does Earnshaw take Heathcliff in? Where does Heathcliff go when he leaves Wuthering Heights for three years? How does he become wealthy? Why does he feel he should be master of the house even though Hindley is older? Why does he feel compelled to gather his household around the dinner table with him even though he hates the sight of them? Why does he claim to know ghosts walk the earth? Why does he dislike books? Why does he hate to hear women laugh? Why do Cathy and he wish to be buried together? What causes Cathy’s episodes of delirium? Why does Cathy believe she will be “on that hillside” of Wuthering Heights rather than in heaven after she dies? And of course, the greatest puzzle of all: Where does Heathcliff get his name?

I’ve come to feel that I specialize in monsters. I started my writing career dealing with unsightly goblins. Then I moved on to werewolves and killer bots. But the most frightening monster is the one who can hide in a crowd—the monster who looks like us.

The most dreadful monster is the one who lurks within our hearts—the monster who, unchecked, has produced such horrors in our history as witch-burnings, slavery, and the Holocaust.

These are the monsters who people Wuthering Heights, and you’ll find them in The House of Dead Maids too. I made the ghosts in that book as scary as I could, God knows; but in the end, it’s the regular human beings who will keep you awake at night.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest 2010 from Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

No query? No pitch? No problem!

Submit the first 250 words of your novel, and you can win both exposure to editors and a reading of your manuscript from literary agent Regina Brooks.

Regina is the founder of Serendipity Literary Agency and the author of Writing Great Books for Young Adults. Brooks has been instrumental at establishing and building the careers of many YA writers, including three-time National Book Award Honoree and Michael Printz Honoree Marilyn Nelson, as well as Sundee T. Frazier—a Coretta Scott King Award winner, an Oprah Book Pick and an Al Roker book club selection.

The first 100 submissions will receive free autographed copies of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks.

So will the top 20 submissions. The top 20 submissions also will be read by a panel of five judges comprised of top YA editors at Macmillan (Nancy Mercado, executive editor at Roaring Brook Press), Scholastic (Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur Levine Books), Candlewick (Nicole Raymond, editor at Candlewick), Harlequin (Evette Porter, editor at Harlequin), Sourcebooks (Leah Hultenschmidt, executive editor at Sourcebooks) and Penguin (Leila Sales, editor at Viking). Of the 20, they will pick the top five submissions and provide each author with commentary.

These five winners will also receive a free one year subscription to The Writer magazine.

One Grand Prize Winner will win a full manuscript reading and editorial consultation from Regina Brooks and a free 10-week writing course courtesy of the Gotham Writer’s Workshop.

Please submit all entries via the contest website. One entry per person; anyone age 13+ can apply. Open to the U.S. & Canada (void where prohibited). See details.

More News & Giveaways

Track Changes Coming Back to Bite You? by Kristin from Pub Rants. Peek: “Lately we’ve received a slew of sample page submissions that have all the writer’s revisions clearly outlined in track changes.” Note: see related insights from QueryTracker.

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.” Note: to reach a wider audience, register your children’s-YA literature/writing-related blog at JacketFlap.

Not Writing, or Why Your Brain Is An Ice-Cream Maker by Veronica Roth. Peek: “…if the information I know and the thought patterns I’ve developed remain constant, I will never come up with anything new, different, interesting, intriguing, or enlightening.”

Happy 90th Anniversary, Scholastic! from On Our Minds @Scholastic. Peek: “Ninety years ago, Robbie Robinson created the first issue of a magazine called The Western Pennsylvania Scholastic. Fast forward to today – Scholastic is now the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books. Time flies when you’re reading!”

Finding the Right Agent by Verla Kay. Peek: “Before you can find the right match for you, it’s important that you know what you want from your agent. Here’s a checklist to help you determine what you would like to get from your agent. Answering these questions will help you to define your wants and needs from an agent.”

Barnes & Noble Divides Out Teen Fiction Genres by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In a sign of just how popular teen fiction has become, Barnes & Noble is in the midst of rearranging its teen fiction section chain-wide this week in an effort to improve the shopping experience and boost sales.”

Beginnings by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: “Beware the false beginning. It’s easy to start in the wrong place. A lot of times we authors even need to start in the wrong place. We need to get out some ideas or ground ourselves in the story or think to the tap tap tap of our fingers hitting the keyboard.” Read a Cynsations guest post by Brian on Being Unreasonable.

20th Annual Pen USA Literary Awards include an Award of Merit for Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver and a Literary Award for Children’s/Young Adult Literature to Paul Fleischman for The Dunderheads (Candlewick, 2009).

Tu Books Adds Mystery to Its Focal Genres by Tu editor Stacy Whitman from Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire. Note: along with fantasy and science fiction, all featuring diverse characters.

Tuning Up Your Mechanics by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker. Peek: “You’d never take your car on the road if the tires were full of holes. So don’t send out your manuscript without perfect mechanics: grammar, punctuation, and spelling.”

Should You Mention Using Freelance Editors? by Mary Kole from Peek: “…a few thoughts that spring to mind for me when I read in a query that a manuscript has been freelance edited.”

How to Make a Monster by Maurissa Guibord from The Enchanted Inkpot. Note: several Inkies chime in.

Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: Hendrix for Kids by NPR Staff from National Public Radio. Peek: “The guitarist’s story is know to many adult fans. But now, the story of young Jimi Hendrix’s is now told in a new children’s book by author Gary Golio and illustrator Javaka Steptoe, called “Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix (Clarion, 2010).”

Should New Writers Establish Themselves in a Particular Genre or Form? Or Is It Okay to Explore? from Kirby Larson at Kirby’s Lane. Note: Linda Pratt, an agent with the Sheldon Fogelman Agency, and author Jane Yolen answer.

Three Reasons an Agent Rejects Your Pages by Chuck Sambuchino from Mary Kole at Peek: “If you think your work has a problem, then it more than likely does—and any manuscript with a problem is not ready for agent eyes.”

Perspiration: Professional Critiques: a listing of writing teacher, book doctors, private editors, etc. with an expertise in children’s-YA literature.

Cynsational Screening Room

Save the date: Cynthia Leitich Smith will launch Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) and Mari Mancusi will launch Night School (Berkley Trade, 2011) at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Check out Mari’s book trailer for Night School.

Check out the book trailer for Pull by B.A. Bines (WestSide, 2010), and read Inside the Writer’s Studio with B.A. Binns by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved.

Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars (WestSide, 2010), tells LGBTQ teens, “It Gets Better.” Read Cheryl’s blog.

From Bookmans in Phoenix. Source: Nathan Bransford – Literary Agent.

Good luck to all of you National Novel Writing Month warriors! I’m rooting for you! Cheers to Errol Elumir. Source: Debbi Ridpath Ohio from Inkygirl: Daily Diversions for Writers.

See also SLJ Leadership Summit 2010: The Trailee Awards Unveiled from School Library Journal. Special cheers to fellow Austinite Chris Barton on the trailer award to Shark v. Train (Little, Brown, 2010).

More Personally

Congratulations to my agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd. (NY), on the 24th anniversary of joining the agency! Learn more about Ginger at Publishers Marketplace.

Cynthia Leitich Smith – Author Profile: a Q&A interview by Steven R. McEvoy from Book Reviews and More. Interview focuses on my Native writing, the Tantalize series, writing with Greg, my early supporters, favorite reads, favorite movies, and advice to both teens and aspiring authors/artists. Peek: “Adopt a Han Solo (‘never tell me the odds’) attitude when it comes to pursuing your dreams. You’ll never have to wonder, what if?”

Mundie Kids cheers: “Rain Is Not My Indian Name [by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001)] is a heartbreaking, real, thought-provoking book that will leave readers feeling empowered to embrace who they are.”

Folks looking forward to the release of Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 2010) may want to check out Voice and The Tall Tale, which offers a template to help students write their own tall tales (PDF) and recommends The Topic: Tall Tales.

Reminder: want to leave a comment at Cynsations? You can do so at the LiveJournal or MySpace versions of this blog as well as at my facebook author page. I’m also online at Twitter and YouTube.

Cynsational Giveaways — Last Call

Enter to win a copy of Another Pan by Daniel and Dina Nayeri (Candlewick, 2010)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Another Pan” in the subject line. LiveJournal, Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the title in the header/post. I’ll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Oct. 31. Sponsored by Candlewick Press; U.S. entries only. Read a Cynsations interview with Daniel and Dina.

Enter to win a copy of The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas (Aladdin, 2010)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and type “The Wish Stealers” in the subject line LiveJournal, Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are also welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post. I’ll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Oct. 31. Sponsored by Simon & Schuster; U.S. entries only. Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith Review and ARC Giveaway by Insert Book Title Here. Peek: “The world of Tantalize and Eternal combine in Blessed (PDF) to create an amazing story that is captivating. I loved both of the previous novels, but Blessed has blown them both out of the water. This is Cynthia at her best.” Note: U.S. and Canadian citizens are eligible to win. Deadline: midnight Oct. 31. Enter here.

Cynsational Winner

The winner of Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2010) was Azucena in Texas. Note: congratulations to Michelle and Kurt on the book making the Los Angeles Times Reading List 2010: Librarians Choose Books with Strong Kid Appeal.

Cynsational Events

“Beyond Feathers and Fangs: Crossing Borders in Realistic and Fantasy Fiction, with Cynthia Leitich Smith” at
The 33rd Annual Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar – Kalamazoo Public Library. The seminar costs $40 (lower student rates are available) and is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m Nov. 5. Note: Maria Perez-Stable and Beth Amidon will also present a book talk, and additional speakers are Gillian Engberg, Booklist editor, and Debbie Reese, UIUC professor. See more on the speakers. Note: I’ll also be speaking on Nov. 4 in a public event at the Kalamazoo Public Library!

Authors Bethany Hegedus, Brian Yansky and Cynthia Leitich Smith will celebrate their latest books at 2 p.m. Nov. 14 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. This joint author party will feature refreshments, alien tattoos, readings, a Q&A, and signing. Bethany’s new release is Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010)(ages 9-up), Cynthia’s latest release is Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010)(ages 4-up), and Brian’s latest release is Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)(ages 12-up).

“Give Yourself a Longer Shelf Life: Marketing for the Long-Term” panel discussion at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at BookPeople. Panelists: Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jay Ehret and Dana Lynn Smith. Jay is a book marketing expert, and Dana is a book marketing coach and author of The Savvy Book Marketer Guides. Sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas.

“Fangs vs. Fur” event will include Cynthia Leitich Smith Nov. 19 at the University Hills Branch of the Austin Public Library.

Guest Post: Ann Angel on Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing

By Ann Angel

I’m stoked to introduce you to my newest biography, Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing (Amulet, 2010).

The image-illustrated project has been a magical musical journey of many years where I have lived all things Janis.

Many mornings during the past five years, I woke before dawn obsessed with tracking down photographs, posters and magazine covers. I worked long evenings interviewing photographers, Janis’s publicists, friends and fellow musicians.

My house filled with Janis singing “Piece of my Heart,” or “Down on Me,” or my favorite, “Little Girl Blue.”

Last New Year’s, I created a new family tradition when I welcomed in the day with Janis wailing “Cry Baby.”

On my journey to write her story, I discovered that my heart still breaks for this amazing rock star with the voice of a smoldering angel.

Writing this book allowed me to re-enter my early teens and revisit the love and admiration I first experienced for this iconic singer, the first woman of rock and roll.

At fourteen, when I heard Janis’s tragic voice ring out the lyrics to “Ball and Chain,” the words spoke to my absolutely moody teen sensibilities. She woke me from a disconnected existence in which I spent too much time alone in my bedroom brooding over sad music and writing bad poetry while contemplating why everyone else seemed so sure of themselves–out partying, connecting, falling in love and just plain having a wild time.

Janis’s voice crashed into my moods and crawled into my heart, encouraging me to embrace my life and challenge my creative self. I believed she was encouraging me personally.

When she died of an overdose, I swore it was a warning to me and all my friends. So because of Janis’s influence, I grew up and didn’t do drugs. Because of Janis, I studied literature, visual art and writing.

(Ann’s high school graduation photo)

While editing my anthology, Such a Pretty Face, Short Stories About Beauty (Abrams, 2007), I found myself contemplating Janis’s influence on me. I knew then that I would share her life story with others. I wrote this biography because I believe her life was extraordinary and her voice can still send each of us on imaginative journeys.

Nonfiction writer Elizabeth Partridge, has said so eloquently, “I want young adults to know these intense, creative people who a found a place for themselves, and a way to bear witness.”

I want the same for my readers. While researching this book, I was also teaching writing to graduate students at Milwaukee’s Mount Mary College. I often sneak Janis quotes into my lectures and conversations. My students would ask, “Why Janis?”

I told them Janis had such an impact on me that I still try to live by her words: “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”

When people read her story and hear her incredible voice, I hope she calls them to embrace the world, to live their “superhypermost” and to leave their own unique impression on the world.

Forty years after her death, Janis is still one of the top rock singers. Her album “Pearl” ranks as an all-time best album.

I’m not the only one haunted by her. Recently, Big Brother and the Holding Company’s drummer, Dave Getz, wrote music to go with lyrics Janis had written and he had tucked away. Getz has noted in interviews that in “Can’t Be the Only One,” Janis predicted her “own tragedy as it was about to unfold.”

While Janis’s is a story of a woman who defiantly stepped outside traditional roles as a woman and musician, it’s also the tale of a vulnerable young woman who questioned her celebrity and talent when she said, “What if they find out I’m only Janis?”

When we explore Janis’s life, we bear witness not only to her past, but to music history. We can learn from the journey and make our own lives richer and more meaningful.

Cynsational Notes

As you journey into the music of the 60s along with Ann and Janis, visit Ann’s website to check out additional photos and quotes. Please note that she welcomes feedback.

Ann graduated from Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee at age 17, just four months before Janis died.

Guest Post: Danielle Joseph on Indigo Blues

By Danielle Joseph

A couple of years ago, “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s was being blasted all over the airwaves. My kids and I started singing along to the song every time we heard it, like many people, I’m sure. It was a really catchy tune. The more I heard the song, the more I thought about the meaning behind it. Was Delilah a real person? And if so, did she approve?

Several weeks later, I was flipping through People Magazine and they had a short article featuring the real Delilah in it. She had never dated any of the band members, but one of the guys, Tom Higgenson, had a huge crush on her and decided to write a song about her. He knew that she had a boyfriend, but he couldn’t get her out of his mind.

This got me thinking, what if Tom and Delilah had really dated? How would they both feel after the song came out? Would he regret writing the tune? Would she miss her anonymity once the media picked up on the story? And with these thoughts, Indigo and Adam were born.

Indigo Blues (Flux, 2010), told in alternating points of view, tells the story about how they both deal with being thrust into the limelight. But it’s not only about how they deal with the fame, but also how they see things differently. Adam thought they had a meaningful relationship, Indigo thought they didn’t have much in common. In order to heal, they must communicate with each other.

Often times we don’t tell people how we really feel, and this can leave us feeling aggravated or even worse, like Adam, depressed. The only way he felt like he was able to communicate properly was through music. Music is what he knows, and he’s way more comfortable with his guitar than with people.

Indigo enjoys music but is haunted by the song “Indigo Blues” once it’s being played every which way that she turns. She is really pissed off that Adam wrote the song and trampled all over her privacy. But in order for her to move on, she has to see things through Adam’s eyes and break down the meaning behind the song.

I love writing about music because two things I cannot live without are writing and music. Just like writing, music is a form of communication. There is a song for every occasion–happy, sad or in between–and the same with books. For me, Indigo Blues was about bringing these two things together.

I had a lot of fun writing this book and of course I listened to a lot of music during the whole process. If you check out the playlist on my web site, I share a few of the songs that inspired me while writing Indigo Blues.

I think every book should come with a playlist! And if I didn’t sing like a toy with a dying battery, Indigo Blues would’ve come with an iTunes version of me singing along!

New Voice: Daniel & Dina Nayeri on Another Pan & Another Faust

Daniel and Dina Nayeri are the debut co-authors of the Another series (Candlewick, 2009-2010). From the promotional copy of Another Pan (2010):

An ancient Egyptian spell is turning the tony Marlowe School into a sinister underworld. Will all hell break loose?

A darkness continues to haunt the Marlowe School, and this time, someone is plotting payback.

Wendy Darling, a headstrong junior, and her brother, John, a thirteen-year-old genius with a chip on his shoulder, struggle with being from the poorest family at the posh New York academy, where their father is a professor of ancient civilizations.

Wendy’s new boyfriend, socialite golden-boy Connor Wirth, offers a solid step up in popularity, yet ambitious Wendy and John still find themselves longing for something more.

When the Book of Gates, a mysterious tome of fabled origins, appears at Marlowe along with Peter, a dashing new resident adviser with a murky past, the Darlings are swept into a captivating world of “Lost Boys,” old-world secrets, and forbidden places.

The book opens the door to a hidden labyrinthine underworld where Egyptian myths long thought impossible become frighteningly real. Suddenly, Peter, Wendy, and John find themselves captive in the lair of an age-old darkness, trying to escape the clutches of an ancient and beautiful child-thief who refuses to let go.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Dina: I’ve only been writing professionally for a few years, but during that time I’ve worked on novels both alone and with my brother. In both contexts, I had to learn how very important it is not to be attached to any of your writing. The number of times we have edited our own work, or each other’s–both before and after the contract–has been staggering.

At first, of course, I was daunted by the sheer volume of edits from so many different sources (my co-author, readers, editors, my agent). But now it’s reassuring to know how many chances you get to make your novel better.

With each novel, the revision process has been different. With Another Faust (Candlewick, 2009), we sold the novel after a certain number of private revisions (just between Daniel and I) and then our editor gave us a list of very high-level changes, followed by two-three rounds of smaller changes.

But the editing process for Another Pan was completely different. Because we had sold the novel to Candlewick before a word of it was written, our editor didn’t really know that she would like it at all before we submitted something to her. With Another Faust, at least she had read it before deciding to become involved. Not so with our second book, which was contracted in advance.

I’m sure this was even more nerve-wracking for our editor given that our series is not one ongoing story consisting of several sequels. So each story can be completely different!

Candlewick showed a lot of faith in signing us in advance to do a series of retellings, each of which might be in a completely different voice and structure, and might center on a whole slew of new characters.

Naturally, editing Another Pan took a few more rounds for this very reason. In the first draft, it was a lot more action-adventure oriented, with huge Anubite warriors attacking the school and little scorpions pouring out of the underworld into the classrooms. It was darn cool stuff, but we cut it because we wanted more of the mystery and suspense of a villain that was harder to see or identify. Our editor suggested that for older audiences, this is more sophisticated and fun! We agreed, so we rewrote a big portion of the novel. Then, after that first round, the editing process progressed pretty much the same as before.

Since there are two of us, it’s also often a struggle to figure out how to divide edits. Dividing up the writing (as opposed to editing) is easier, because we can just make a detailed outline over several weeks and then assign chapters, then edit each other’s to smooth the voice.

But at some point we need to go through the entire book with a fine-toothed comb and make it really cohesive. That means we need to take turns with the manuscript, which can be touchy because it means one of us has full control over it for several weeks while the other is completely out of the loop. For me, this is a good way to deal with my control issues and a good excuse to get on with the rest of my life!

The best piece of advice I’d give to other writers about revisions actually comes from my own individual writing. Before selling a book, you should give it to at least ten readers across two-to-three rounds. You should make sure the readers are in your target audience, but vary within that demographic (e.g., both male and female).

In the first round, they will all likely respond with the same questions and complaints so that you know exactly what edits need to be done. By the third round, there might be less overlap.

When you get to a round of edits when all your readers are nitpicking about small stuff, disagreeing with each other, and discussing themes instead of giving you edits, you know you’re done and ready to submit (to your editor, who will then edit it again)!

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?

Dina: I came to writing from the business world, so I know a bit about marketing, but I have to say that I was still shocked by how much of an online presence some authors have these days. Some authors are just so good at this aspect of a writer’s life, keeping up amazing blogs, tweeting every day and keeping in touch with fans online. But I’m just not that good at all that. I left the business world because I wanted to avoid the business stuff.

One day, I was talking to an amazing fellow YA author who keeps a really excellent blog, and she started complaining that “I became a writer so that I could write novels, not tweet about them!” And I finally understood that every author has complaints about being pulled away from their main work.

Yes, Daniel and I found ourselves having a lot of fun on Facebook, Twitter and all the usual online places where we could chat with our audience and joke around with them (that was the best: talking to individual readers). But after some time, we had to get back to our lives offline. We both had our own novels in progress, plus the series, and at some point you have to shut off the Internet and work!

So in the end, we did a lot of things online (we have a kick-butt website, where we hosted a very successful writing contest last year!), but my advice to a new author would be not to beat yourself up trying to do everything! Everyone has a different style in that regard.

I think my favorite part of the Another Faust promotion process was the book tour. Daniel and I did a monumental tour: a full 30 days, four-to-five events a day, sometimes including two packed auditoriums a day!

In total, we spoke to 4,000 students across seven states that month, which was amazing (we have a blog post on our site about it).

We met students from so many different backgrounds, different types of schools, interests, future plans. It was enormous fun.

And we got to do a crazy road trip together, which led to a lot of sibling spats, but was fun and something I had always wanted to do with my brother.

Let me tell you, Daniel is one larger than life personality, so when you’re on a road trip, sometimes you find yourself having the funniest day of your life, laughing uncontrollably from the pit of your gut for hours, and sometimes, you find yourself pulling the emergency breaks in the middle of I-95, hoping to get out of the car!

Respect to Daniel for putting up with me, too, by the way. But I loved the moments when, after bickering for a while, something would happen that would demonstrate all the DNA we share.

My favorite “we are so related” story was a conversation we had at 6 a.m. one morning before a long drive to a school visit. Daniel had just knocked on the door of my room to pick me up for the day’s trip. He was groggy and sleepy and a little grumpy.

I was holding a cup of coffee I had just bought from the café around the corner, so I offered him some.

He said, “No thanks.”

So I said, “Why not? You need coffee.”

Daniel: “I won’t like it.”

Dina: “How do you know?”

Daniel: “I just know, okay? Leave me alone!”

Dina (now becoming stubborn): “You’re just going to say no without trying it? Just try it!”

Daniel: “Dina. I promise you that I will not like your coffee. Geez!”

Dina: “Why not?”

Daniel (irate now): “Because I like my coffee sickening sweet. So sweet, any normal person will want to spit it out. So sweet it will taste like a cup full of liquid aspartame. So sweet you’ll want to puke. Okay? Got it?”

Dina (crosses arms and smiles knowingly): “Taste it.”

Daniel (sighs): “Fine.” and he takes the cup.

He tastes the coffee, looks up with a giant smile and says, “Okay…. That’s pretty sweet.”

This year, we decided to do a shorter tour to save our sanity (and because we actually both got ill after the last one). It will be two weeks across three states (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), and we will be visiting mostly schools.

After the large variety of events we did last year, we discovered that we absolutely love offering free talks to schools. Sometimes we visit schools that have never been able to afford an author visit before, and it’s so gratifying to be a first for them.

We’re both psyched about getting back on the road this year, meeting our readers, and telling them a bit about the life of an author: which at least for me, includes a lot less Twitter this year.

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

Daniel: Well, my typical day has writing happening at various times. I work full time, so my own writing happens around that.

I usually wake up at 7 a.m. and stumble to the coffee machine. I highly recommend a coffee machine that you can program like an alarm clock. Once I’ve poured tons of white sugar, some flavored syrup, a little cocoa mix and cream, I’m good to go.

I live in Astoria, so my apartment could fit in most people’s entryway. I walk the fifteen feet to my “office,” and plop down. I write for two hours at my desk.

There are framed comic books on the walls, tons of books threatening to topple on my head, and our cat, Kitten-Bear, sleeping in my In box. She helps manage my work.

That’s pretty much it. I work to music, but I have one song play on repeat. So over the course of a project, I’ll hear the same song hundreds of times (novels usually get three songs). For me, it helps get to the same place tonally. I stop hearing it after a while. And I’m terrible at finding good music, so it could just be laziness.

For Another Pan, I think I was listening to “That’s What You Get,” by Paramore.

When I’m done writing, I have 12 minutes to get ready and jump on the subway to get to work. As you can tell, my grooming situation is minimalist (to be generous). It helps that I have short hair and zero sense of shame.

On Saturdays, I have the full day dedicated to writing in a café. I usually work around for five-to-six hours, then adjourn to my place for burritos and video gaming. Sunday afternoons, I put in another three hours of writing.

That’s the ideal week for me. In reality, I miss some mornings (for example, this morning), when I have a late night.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Daniel: Well, I think for someone with a full-time gig, writing and building a career in publishing has to become even more of a focus. The simple truth is that no one is going to help you carve out the time. If you don’t prioritize it, then it won’t work.

Nobody is saying that you can write “on the side.” It’s a full-time job. If you have a different job, then consider yourself one of those lucky individuals holding down two jobs, and make sacrifices accordingly. I don’t do cocaine or Redbull, so I end up sending out my laundry, order out more than I’d like to, and cutting back on activities (like exercise or shaving).

For the Another series, of course, it’s not just me. Sometimes, I’ll miss a deadline because things are crazy, and Dina will send a nice email: “Helloooo? Bueller? Bueller?”

I know I’m in trouble when the Buellers come out. Obviously, I try to get my butt in gear. It’s great to have those internal deadlines, and if you’re lucky, someone to enforce them.

My full-time job is as an editor for Clarion Books an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I acquire picture books, middle grade fiction, and YA novels as well as graphic novels.

Some people say they prefer not to have creative jobs, because they’ll sit down to write and they’ll be mentally drained. I can understand that. I wouldn’t get a single page written if I tried to do it after work. But then, I’ve also worked construction and in restaurants…being exhausted physically is just as prohibitive to writing. So, it was about the same for me.

My evenings are usually reserved for grabbing drinks with colleagues, and most often, nachos and Netflix night.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Another Pan by Daniel and Dina Nayeri (Candlewick, 2010)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Another Pan” in the subject line. LiveJournal, Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the title in the header/post. Twitter readers may also RT the announcement tweet for this interview. I’ll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Oct. 31. Sponsored by Candlewick Press; U.S. entries only.

Cynsational Screening Room

“Another Faust” Writing Session (Dina and Daniel Nayeri):

Another Faust book trailer from Candlewick Press:

Guest Post: Nicole Rubel on What Do You Do?

By Nicole Rubel

Most people don’t have problems when asked, “What do you do?”

I do. I find the question complicated to answer. I work at many different projects. I don’t mean I have many interests. I have those, too, but for employment, I really do a lot of different things. Usually, I mention just one. It’s simpler.

I might say I’m a children’s book writer.

I have written many picture books, A Cowboy Named Ernestine (Dial, 2001), Twice as Nice: What’s It’s Like to be a Twin (FSG, 2004), No More Vegetables (FSG, 2002), Ham and Pickles: First day of School (Harcourt, 2006), Grody’s Not so Golden Rules (Harcourt, 2003), etc. One middle grade novel, It’s Hot and Cold in Miami, for Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2006). Years ago, I wrote an adult humor book called Getting Married, for St. Martin’s Press (1998). I just finished my second middle grade novel, and I’m at work on a younger chapter book about horses.

What else? A children’s book illustrator.

I illustrate the Rotten Ralph series. There are 19 “Rotten Ralph” titles in print. Houghton Mifflin Co., Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and HarperCollins are the publishers of the series.

I illustrated the picture books I have written as well as the middle grade novel. I have illustrated over sixty books.

A fashion designer.

I design straw-and-canvas handbags for Cappelli Straworld, Inc. The company is a division of Dorfman Pacific in California. I spend a month every year in China working in factories and creating a spring line.

This is why I hesitate to say what I do. It sounds like I could go on all day. I could put someone to sleep with so much talk.

A few years ago, I created a free, traveling Rotten Ralph art show to the list of things I do. The show is available to any library in the U.S. It was Ralph’s 30th birthday. Ralph is now 34 years old. The art show celebrates my partnership with Jack Gantos and our history of the creation of the red cat. To date, the show has visited 43 libraries.

Writer, illustrator, or designer. I take these labels to heart. They are my identity.

My identity.

What I do is who I am. I’m not sure most people would relate to this statement. It works for me because I was part of another person for the first eighteen years of my life. I am an identical twin. We were referred as “the twins,” by parents, confused teachers, and friends and regarded as one being.
We may have looked the same, but we were so very different. This theme has played in many of the books I have written. What I do is who I am.

My sister did better academically, making friends and sports. She spoke for me when others asked questions. She had the “answers.” I didn’t show art, writing, or any talent until my last semester of college.

The “sense of self” most people are born with eluded me until I started “doing what I do.” My sister didn’t do it. I did. What I do is who I am.

I’m still very involved with my sister, but she doesn’t speak for me anymore. I have been answering questions for over thirty years.

Being a twin forced me to create a new identity. I gave myself the name “Nicole,” when I turned 25. I never had a name, and I liked this one after reading Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner’s, 1934).

Twice as Nice: What’s It Like to Be a Twin (FSG, 2004) came from solid research on twin issues as well as my personal experiences.

It’s Hot and Cold in Miami (FSG, 2006) was inspired by growing up with a smarter twin sister.

I might pause, when asked the question, “What do you do?”

To answer the question simply, I am an artist.

Guest Post: Kate Hannigan Issa on The Good Fun! Book: 12 Months of Parties that Celebrate Service

By Kate Hannigan Issa

“Lemonade for Lemurs.”

That’s what my co-author, Karen Duncan, wanted to call our book. Although with her fabulous Australian accent, it sounded more like “LEY-mon-ayd foh LEE-mahs.”

Karen was my neighbor then, and we were sitting on the front stoop of my townhouse on the South Side of Chicago, watching our kids hold a lemonade stand.

They had been reading the backside of a box of Panda Puffs cereal and were trying out new terms like “habitat loss” and “extinction.” The five of them – ranging in age from three to eight years old – had decided to forgo more Legos and donate the lemonade stand earnings to World Wildlife Fund in the hope of saving panda populations.

And as the people who clean up all those stray Legos, Karen and I were pretty happy with their decision.

That was summer of 2008, when Hillary was the front-runner for the Democratic ticket and McCain was still going strong. Long before Karen’s husband left his job as CEO of Chicago Public Schools to join President Obama’s Cabinet as Secretary of Education.

“I think we’ve got a book on our hands,” Karen had announced, watching our kids work their magic on innocent passers-by. “Kids naturally want to help out in one way or another. We should write a book about how they can do it.”

And thus, The Good Fun! Book, illustrated by Anthony Alex LeTourneau (Blue Marlin, 2010) was born.

It’s stayed true to that original kernel of inspiration from our kids, driven by their interests. Karen and I [pictured] worked on the ideas furiously at our dining room tables, then long distance after her family moved to Washington, D.C. We wanted to create something that we could use as moms – and that we could share with other parents. We knew we weren’t the only ones out there who wanted to help our kids understand where they fit in the world, and that there are things bigger than themselves and the latest sale item at Toys R Us.

There are some great books out there about service learning, like Barbara A. LewisKid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference (Free Spirit, 2009), green projects like 101 Ways You Can Help Save the Planet Before You’re 12! by Joanne O’Sullivan (Lark, 2009), and helping others like The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving by Ellen Sabin (Watering Can, 2004).

What we wanted to do with The Good Fun! Book was to target a younger set of kids than teens and tweens, and to meet them on their own turf.

With a subtitle of 12 Months of Parties That Celebrate Service, we tried to make the activities celebratory and creative, pulling from our experiences helping in the classroom. Karen is a former teacher, and we’ve both spent time planning our share of birthday parties, organizing school activities, and brainstorming ways to entertain our kids without breaking the bank.

The book pulls from these ideas and cobbles them together into what we hope are engaging parties that range from helping animals to feeding the hungry. With each party, we offer:

• two service ideas that allow kids to really help their communities;

• one party food item they can make and eat together;

• a craft activity that kids can take home (they are, after all, kids);

• and we spotlight a nonprofit each month and the founder who started it.

When it came time to find a publisher, we knew we wanted to go with a smaller house. While the bigger houses could provide bigger marketing and support for the book, we were told that “these types of books don’t sell” and “the big chains don’t even carry books like these.”

So we presented our ideas to Blue Marlin Publications, a small house out of New York with a big commitment to giving back. Publisher Francine Poppo Rich – who had published fellow Chicago children’s author Beth Finke’s award-winning Hanni and Beth, Safe & Sound (Blue Marlin, 2007) and donated five percent of proceeds to Seedlings Braille Books For Children, a nonprofit in Michigan that sells their Braille books for less than $10 each – had a track record for giving back. It felt like a good fit.

As the book has made its way from idea phase to book stores, Karen [pictured] and I have gotten more excited about ways to engage kids. So we’ve built a website with a tremendous interactive component that we hope kids, parents, and teachers find exciting, too. Blue Marlin has agreed to award $100 each quarter to charities of kids’ choices when they share the parties they throw, whether by sending in a video clip or writing an essay and including photos.

It’s been a thrilling ride so far making this book a reality. Now we just hope kids take the ideas and run with them and, hopefully, have some fun while doing a bit of good.

Cynsational Notes

Karen Duncan and Kate Hannigan Issa stand on a mountain of mulch at a playground build Saturday in Washington, D.C., for the launch of The Good Fun! Book.

They turned out with over 400 volunteers, including four Cabinet secretaries, to help build a playground with the nonprofit KaBoom.

Earlier in the day, they joined the Points of Light Institute as they initiated their young volunteers program, GenerationOn, with more than 200 kids.