Guest Post: Elizabeth Eulberg on Author Marketing

By Elizabeth Eulberg

One of the first things I did when I got the offer from Scholastic to publish my debut novel The Lonely Hearts Club (Point, 2010, 2011) was to buy an URL.

As a publicist in the publishing business for over ten years, I knew how important it was for an author to have an online presence. But the amount of involvement authors need to have on social networking sites has increased even in the past two years. While it can take a lot of time (I sometimes joke that I have 2.5 jobs: publicist, author and the .5 is social networking), it is an extremely crucial step in promoting your books.

When I was growing up, I never dreamed of being able to talk to one of my favorite authors. Now, many authors are reachable via their website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Having this contact is especially important for authors of teen books. Teens and readers in their 20s live in a very digital age – they’re used having instant access to so much.

Having an outlet where they connect with an author might give them an extra incentive to continue to read that author’s work.

I launched my website about three months before my debut novel was released. I also coincided that with the launching of my Twitter and Facebook pages. I wanted to be sure that I had a website up for when bloggers received the ARC, so anybody reading their blogs could find me, read an excerpt from the novel, and learn more about me.

What I like about Twitter and Facebook is that it’s really easy to let your readers know about a new book or an interview you’ve done. I try to balance it so it isn’t always about promoting my books, but for them to get to know me a little bit better (like what concerts I’m going to, TV shows I’m enjoying). I’ve only been doing it for a little over a year, but I do find Twitter to be especially useful.

When we released the cover of my new book, Prom and Prejudice, the Twitter post not only got the most comments, but over 20 people re-Tweeted post, so the cover got even more exposure.

Besides social networking, the biggest change I’ve seen in the publicizing of books is the importance of book blogs and blog tours. Most of the time, these tours are the main component to marketing campaigns (especially with the decline of book sections in newspapers and magazines).

And while blog tours can be time consuming, being on someone else’s blog introduces you to book lovers who may have never come across your work. Most of the time the blog will link to your website or Twitter, which gets you additional traffic…and hopefully additional readers.

However, as I always say to teens when I speak at school, and this goes for authors as well, it’s extremely important to be very careful what you put online.

Once it is out there – it’s there for forever. I always take a second before I post anything to make sure this is something I’m comfortable having “out there.”

I also think it’s important for authors to protect their privacy and not give away too much personal information (for example, the location where they are having dinner that evening or where their kids go to school).

Also, social networking can take a lot of time so it’s important to set-up boundaries for yourself so you don’t get stretched too thin trying to keep up. I usually only respond to Facebook and author e-mails once a week.

My last piece of advice is about over-Tweeting or posting. If you’re always constantly saying something, people will start to ignore you, and then when you have something really important to say (like you have an upcoming event or new book out) it will blend in with all the other noise you’ve been creating.

So it’s best to stay balanced. I try to say something on Twitter once a day, but I’m not going to Tweet for the sake of Tweeting.

And with that, I’m going to take my own advice and know when to stop.

Happy self-promoting!

Author Interview: Carrie Harris on the Class of 2k11

Carrie Harris is the monster-obsessed, geek-of-all-trades, Excel-spreadsheet-addicted president of the Class of 2k11. Brains are her specialty; she used to work in a lab where they were delivered daily via FedEx. After that, it seemed only natural to write a zombie book: Bad Taste in Boys, which will be published by Delacorte in July.

She lives in Michigan with her ninja-doctor husband and three zombie-obsessed children. And she really likes hyphens.

What is the Class of 2k11?

The 2k concept is pretty simple—we’re a small group of debut middle grade and YA authors who have banded together for marketing and promotion (and also slumber parties, but I’m not sure those are really for public consumption).

There’s been a 2k class every year since 2007, and previous members include Jay Asher, Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr, Sarah Prineas, Rebecca Stead

I’d better stop before I make myself hyperventilate.

What are its goals and pursuits?

Being a debut author can get overwhelming because there are so many marketing type things to do. It’s much more manageable when you work together to spread the word. But we wanted this group to be more than “Eeeee! Look at us! We sold books!”

Who wants to hear that all the time? We wanted to pay some of our amazing luck forward, so we decided to give a little love to librarians, booksellers, and bloggers.

They told us they’re always looking for ways to draw in readers, so we focused on creating easy, cheap, and fun activities to take the pressure off on those days when you’ve got a book club/class/blog entry/whatever and forgot to plan something! And hopefully you’ll get introduced to some great new voices in kid lit in the process.

How is it organized?

We’ve got some crazy awesome officers that deserve kudos, medals, and showers of sparkles, and we’ve got committees that do the bulk of the actual work.

But really, we’re pretty casual. We all have lives and deadlines and crises. Some days, all you can do is eke out 50 words on the latest book, and you’re lucky to get that!

So we do as much as we can, when we can. I think the reality is that with groups like this, you get what you put into it.

Who are the classmates?

I’m so proud to belong to this group with K. Ryer Breese, Carole Etsby Dagg, Amy Dominy, Trinity Faegen, Alissa Grosso, Kiki Hamilton, Geoff Herbach, Tess Hilmo, Amy Holder, Tara Hudson, Julia Karr, Christina Mandelski, Sheila O’Connor, Gae Polisner, Bettina Restrepo, and Angie Smibert.

What is the interpersonal vibe?

We’re family, plain and simple. We’ve become so much more than marketing buddies; we’ve celebrated and cried together and offered to kiss each other…actually I think the last one is just me.

But seriously, I think the support is just as important if not more so than the snazzy marketing stuff. It’s scary to put that first book out into the big bad world, and it’s so much easier when you know people who don’t look at you funny when you say things like that.

Why did a cooperative promotional group appeal to you?

Years ago, I remember reading about the Class of 2k7 in my Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and thinking, “Someday, I’m going to join one of those!”

People think of writing as such an isolated profession, but there are so many great support systems out there if you just get the guts to reach out.

And I think the fact is that we’re all good at something. Some marketing stuff makes me all giddy, and some of it makes me want to pretend that I no longer speak English. Promotional groups allow you to exercise your strengths and let other people take over when you get into No hablo Ingles territory.

What are the challenges?

There are so many things to do marketing-wise, and there are no right answers about what you must do if you want to succeed. Imagine putting together 15-20 strangers who write in a variety of genres, and then try to figure out what will work for all those books.

Starting out was hard. It’s hard to know where to put your efforts. I may or may not have used my Magic 8 Ball during this process.

Oh, who am I kidding? I totally used it.

What do you love about it?

How long do you have? Of course I love the people. I couldn’t imagine doing this without them. They’re a great source of info on things you didn’t even realize you needed to be thinking about.

And they’re funny. A lot of us have also noticed a real spike in attention toward our books once the class debuted. It’s so exciting seeing our plans take off and people interested in what we’re doing. So if I had to make the choice again, I would absolutely join, no matter what the cost. Funny and useful?!? Sign me up!

Tell us a little about your upcoming debut.

It’s about a science geek who learns that her high school football team has been dosed with steroids…or maybe not. Whatever’s in those vials is turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless, flesh-eating zombies. Which is bad. But if she doesn’t find a way to cure them, it’ll be even worse.

Dum dum dum.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I remember when I was looking around at groups to join or thinking about creating one of my own, it was all so overwhelming. Author group blogs seemed to be multiplying like hyperactive rabbits for a while there, and How on Earth Are You Supposed to Choose?

(Ahem. Sorry. Got a little carried away.)

If you’re going to join a group, think about what you really need help with and what you can do on your own, and find a group that’ll fit those needs, whether it’s marketing or networking or talking in public without stuttering.

And if what you need is a group for debut authors in 2012, I hear that Class of 2k12 is taking applications…

Author-Illustrator Interview: Melanie Hope Greenberg & Take a Chance on Art at the TLA 2011 Raffle

The 2011 Texas Library Association raffle masterpiece is “Space Age,” an original gouache illustration (image area is approximately 8.5 x 11.5) donated by author-illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg.

The panel was created for the picture book Supermarket by Kathleen Krull (Holiday House, 2001).

Greenberg chose this painting to correspond with the 2011 conference theme of “Libraries Crossing Boundaries; Bilbliotecas cruzando fronteras.”

The annual art raffle benefits the Texas Library Disaster Relief Fund, created to assist libraries in our state as they recover from natural disasters.

The raffle will be April 14 during the second general session of the TLA Annual Conference in Austin. A ticket form is available for those who will not be at conference (mail by April 4); and tickets will be sold in the 4th Street Lobby of the convention center and and at various events at the conference: $5 each or five for $20.

Let’s get to know this talented author-illustrator! Melanie, could you tell us about your illustration career?

My professional illustration career began in 1981, designing greeting cards for UNICEF. My illustrations have been published on over 200 greeting cards with various clients. They’ve also been published as games, wrapping paper, coffee mugs, posters and in magazines.

“Everyone Belongs,” a poster designed for the Children’s Defense Fund, and chosen by its president, Marian Wright-Edelman, was in print for over a decade.

My illustrations have also been published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, AFL-CIO and the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children).

The first trade picture book I wrote and illustrated was released in 1989. I’ve since illustrated 16 picture books and wrote six of them. They have won many awards and honors. The one titled, Mermaids On Parade (Putnam, 2008), is now representing Coney Island on the Brooklyn Public Library website’s A Literary Map of Brooklyn.

I’ve served on the SCBWI NY Metro steering committee for over 15 years.

What inspired you to donate a piece of your art to TLA?

Jeanette Larson, who originated the raffle, emailed me in November of 2009, asking for a donation. I had no idea that a TLA Disaster Relief Fund existed. Jeanette walked me through the initial steps and has been an enormous help throughout.

I really like the idea of a raffle. Most people can afford to get a ticket and (hopefully) win original art while helping libraries at the same time. It’s win/win/win.

I felt inspired by the theme of the conference, “Libraries Crossing Boundaries; Bilbliotecas cruzando fronteras.”

That is how I choose the original picture book illustration to donate. “Space Age” depicts a supermarket in the year 3000. I like the idea that a building from the current era is juxtaposed into a future era.

Could you share the history of the piece?

The art is quirky, bright, colorful and fun. I paint with gouache, which is thick opaque paint with a glow. The ancient-modern buildings in the illustration’s background are straight out of Antonio Gaudi’s park in Barcelona. I had visited there once, it was memorable.

What ties in perfectly with choosing art to fit the conference theme is that “Supermarket” turns ten-years-old in print this year. I want to celebrate that and have a chance to breathe new life into an existing book on the back-list.

I will be signing copies of “Supermarket” at the Holiday House booth on April 14, 2011 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Texas Library Association Conference in Austin.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Online, I have a wonderful interactive visual resume of my career.

Also, a new blog to sell my original art, over 1600 illustrations created, which are collectibles.

I’ve created a list for easy-to-find links to all my online activity.

Offline, I am a speaker, panelist, workshop presenter for picture book writing, illustration and marketing. I’m open always to visit elementary schools, libraries, museums, and conferences.

There are some bookstore signings coming up in Brooklyn. I’ve been submitting new picture book projects for publication and working on more new projects in various early stages.

I also hope to march in the Mermaid Parade again for the Summer Solstice. Maybe I will see you there.

Cynsational Notes

Book Melanie for school visits outside the NYC area.

New Voice: Cindy Callaghan on Just Add Magic

Cindy Callaghan is the first-time author of Just Add Magic (Aladdin, 2010)(discussion guide). From the promotional copy:

When Kelly Quinn and her two BFFs discover a dusty old cookbook while cleaning out her attic, the girls decide to try a few of the mysterious recipes inside.

But the ancient book bears an eerie warning, and it doesn’t take long for the girls to realize that their dishes are linked to strange occurrences.

The Keep ‘Em Quiet Cobbler actually silences Kelly’s pesky little brother and the Hexberry Tarta brings an annoying curse to mean girl Charlotte Barney. And there’s the Love Bug Juice, which seems to have quite the effect on those cute Rusamano boys…

Could these recipes really be magical? Who wrote them, and where did they come from? And most importantly, what kind of trouble are the girls stirring up for themselves? Things are about to get just a little too hot in Kelly Quinn’s kitchen.

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

The debut of my work meant a transition from Writer to Promoter. I put writing on hold temporarily because time constraints wouldn’t allow me to do both. I really missed writing which, for me, is quiet and solitary.

Promotion is just the opposite, and as a modest person, I found it challenging talking about myself and my work. One of the things that surprised me was how amazingly excited people were for me. And they were so supportive. Especially the schools I visited, they were so kind to me, and the kids thought I was a celebrity, seriously. I always wanted to be a celebrity.

One time I was picking up my kids from after-school care and a very quiet, shy little girl that I didn’t know came up to me. I imagined it was hard for her to approach me like that.

She said, quite assertively, “Hey, Mrs. Callaghan.”

“Yes?” I asked.

And she pointed at me with both hands and said, surprisingly assertively, “Loved the book!” And she dashed off.

I laughed all afternoon.

You know another thing that surprises me? The emails I get from kids.

I got one the other day that really wanted an autographed picture of me. I thought, “I’ve arrived.” Of course I don’t have any autographed pictures of myself, but how could I let down this fan? What was I going to do? What any girl would do…called Dad. Presto, I’ve got a photograph that only needed to be signed and mailed.

I was in Manhattan recently, and we had a really long wait at this popular restaurant. I confidently approached the maître d’ to explain that I was famous and we should get a good seat….yadda yadda…okay, it didn’t work.

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

I like to write in the morning. I wake up between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. most days. When I am involved in a project, I will write before work for about an hour.

But I really prefer to write in big time chunks. That way I don’t have to stop when I am on a roll.

As you can imagine with a family and job, large blocks of time are difficult to find. If my creative juices are really flowing, like with a first draft, I can get up really early and write for hours. It feels like minutes.

On a weekend morning I’ll leave the house at 5:30 a.m. I can get four hours of writing in before most people are awake!

If I can, I block a whole day, sometimes two. I go away if I can. It is very hard for me to find a quiet place at home, so getting away to our mountain house alone or with a few writing friends works very well.

Other times I can catch a half hour in the car, or in the waiting room at the doctor. A plan to maximize these little bits of time helps. I take about 10 minutes each Sunday to look at my calendar to make my plan. Something like:

Monday: 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. – Draft Chili Cook-off Scene

Tuesday: Doctor Appointment – Review Chili Cook-off Scene

Wednesday night: 30 minutes – Draft Blog entry

Thursday: get to gymnastics pick-up early and review blog entry in the car

Friday: too busy

Saturday: 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. – Draft Chapter 11

Sunday: Read Chris’ pages for critique group next week

I think a schedule would help anyone stay on track. But don’t be too hard on yourself. You can always reschedule the Chili Cook-off Scene for next week, and that’s okay.

Lastly, I would advise anyone who wants to be published to join a critique group. My critique group is invaluable. We’ve been meeting for six years. They’ve become very close friends and are a critical piece of my writing process. We really keep each other going.

Cynsational Notes

See a Sneak Peek at Recipes in Just Add Magic from Cindy Callaghan.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a signed copy of Throat by R.A. Nelson (Knopf, 2011). From the promotional copy:

She’s superhuman. There’s just one catch.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Cooper has always been a risk taker at heart, smart and adventurous. But ever since her first grand mal seizure at the age of 13, her epilepsy has felt like a curse, wrecking her social life, derailing her dreams, even driving her boyfriend away.

Her doctors think they know best. Her mom worries her to distraction.

Tired of being held back, Emma fantasizes about running away, but she can’t even legally drive. At least she can channel her frustrations into soccer, where she’s a star — the most aggressive player in the league — until a violent collision ends her playing days.

Heartbroken, Emma steals a car and races into the night, no idea where she is going. Losing control on a steep mountain road, she crashes into a ditch beside a sinister forest. An old cabin beckons through the trees. Emma goes to look for help — and her life is changed forever.

R. A. Nelson takes us on a supernatural thrill ride, a modern-day vampire story set on a NASA base and filled with romance and space-and-science intrigue.

To enter the giveaway, comment here or email me (scroll and click envelope) and type “Throat” in the subject line.

Deadline: midnight CST April 1. Note: Author sponsored; U.S. entries only.

More News

Anneographies: children’s author Anne Bustard on her favorite picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday.

Child Development & Picture Books: An Interview with Joanne Rocklin by Michelle Markel from The Cat and the Fiddle. Peek: “Piaget and others have shown, and parents intuitively know, that children endow inanimate objects and animals with feelings and opinions (animism), that they believe the whole world thinks and feels as they do (egocentrism) and that they believe in magic.”

Q & A with Agent Elena Mechlin of Pippin Properties from the Writers’ League of Texas. Peek: “I’ve been supremely lucky to be working directly with the incredible list of clients that Holly McGhee has amassed over the years, but in terms of my very own client, I haven’t signed anybody yet, but getting close with a couple of prospects!”

Why We Should Include GLBTQ Characters and Themes in our Writing and Illustrating by Lee Wind from I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: “You certainly don’t need to be GLBTQ to write a GLBTQ character – any more than you need to be male to write about boy characters.”

Written in Stone: Editing OP Books for Reissue in E-books by Laura Ruby from e is for book. Peek: “There is one secondary ghost character…that died at his/her own hand. At the time I wrote the book, I felt it suited the story. But after looking at it again, I wondered about it.”

Ashley Perez on How Her Students Inspired What Can’t Wait from Diversity in YA Fiction. Peek: “To include a glossary would have been to say, ‘Actually, this book is meant as a barrio tour for gringos. See? It comes with a travel guide…'”

The Associates of the Boston Public Library is currently accepting applications from emerging picture book writers/illustrators for the 2011-2012 Writer-in-Residence Program. The fellowship provides a children’s writer/ illustrator with the support needed to complete one literary work, including a $20,000 stipend and office space for nine-months within the Boston Public Library’s Central Branch. Applications are due April 1. Learn more about the program guidelines and the application process (PDF). Learn more about the organization and prior fellowship winners. No calls please.

Franny Billingsley: a newly redesigned author site. Site design by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, who is also the webmaster for The Official Author Site of Cynthia Leitich Smith and Home of Children’s & YA Literature Resources. Note: Franny’s latest release is Chime (Dial, 2011)(excerpt), which has received six starred reviews. See also A Conversation with Chime Author Franny Billingsley by Lena Coakley from The Enchanted Inkpot.

A Glimpse of the E-Future of Not by Joni from The Spectacle. Note: sharing insights from Kristen McLean, CEO of Bookigee and former executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children (which recently merged into ABA). Peek: “…teens at least say they’re more influenced to make a purchase based on the jacket blurb than either the cover or the title (though those are moderately important, too). But the single greatest factor is if it’s an author or series they know.”

Congratulations to Rae Ann Parker for signing with Erzsi Deak of the new literary agency Hen & Ink, and congratulations to Erzsi on signing Rae Ann.

Breaking into the Christian Market with Kathleen Muldoon from the Institute of Children’s Literature. Peek: “In fiction, you should construct your plot such that your protagonist overcomes the story conflict by applying Christian morals, values, beliefs.”

Before and After Being a Published Author by Denise Jaden. A look back on expectations and realities in her first six months of publication. Peek: “Sales is pretty much my biggest concern when it comes to Losing Faith (Simon Pulse, 2010). Will I sell enough to make my agent and editor and publisher and favorite bookstores happy?”

Conference Expectations by Kim Baker from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “So, what is your primary reason for shelling out the registration fee and signing up for a conference? Is it a book deal? Save your scratch and stay home. If it’s inspiration, community, or honing your craft that you are after, you are on the right track.”

A New Independent Bookstore

The Book Spot, a new family-owned independent bookstore, has opened in Round Rock, Texas (1205 Round Rock Ave. #119 78681), just outside Austin. Mark your calendars for the official grand opening celebration April 8 and April 9.

Looking for a little more indie bookstore love? Virtually join Don Tate, hanging out at BookPeople in downtown Austin.

Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts

Kudos to Bethany Hegedus and Kekla Magoon on another excellent edition of the children’s-YA literature section of Hunger Mountain.

Highlights include:

Passion for the Picture Book by Bethany;

Unlocking the Past by Zetta Elliott;

Life on Mars by Kate Milford;

How I Found Myself as a Writer and Why It Took So Long by Brian Yansky;

The Anatomy of a Teacher Guide by Debbie Gonzales;

Where the Censor Hides by Charlotte Agell.

More Personally

I’m a traveling author-speaker-teacher of late, leaving again tomorrow (this time for a Wisconsin SCBWI novel workshop). I’ve got one more PowerPoint presentation to prepare, so I’ll have to update you on all that in more detail in a future post.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Michelle Delisle from Whatcha Reading Now? Peek: “New Schwarzwald (home of the Wolf pack in Blessed (Candlewick, 2010)) is inspired by small German towns in Michigan, where I went to law school, and here in central Texas. It’s not the first time I’ve set a story in a historically German town; there’s also Hannesburg, Kansas, the setting in my debut tween novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001).”

You can download a free copy of “Cat Calls”–one of my short stories set in the Tantalize series universe (Candlewick Press) from Library Bin. Then shop the site! “When you purchase eBooks & digital audiobooks, the funds are credited to the participating public library of your choice!” Nifty, eh?

Steven R. McEvoy at Book Reviews and More says of “Cat Calls,” “If you have not read any of her books, get the free download and sample her writings; if you have, you will love this new short story.”

Links of the Week: Kidlit for Japan, Librarian Helps Students, Author Create Book Trailers.

Cynsational Events

Erin Murphy Literary Agency Wine Social will be at 3 p.m. April 16 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: “Come meet Erin Murphy as well as some of the authors she represents.”

YA A to Z Conference, sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas, will be April 15 and April 16 at the Hyatt Regency Austin (208 Barton Springs Road). Cost: $279 WLT Members, $349 Nonmembers (through March 15). See more information. Note: conference faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. The early bird registration deadline is today!

Jo Whittemore will be signing Odd Girl In (Aladdin, 2011) at 2 p.m. April 10 at BookPeople in Austin. Note: Odd Girl In is now available! Congratulations, Jo!

Liz Garton Scanlon will be signing Noodle & Lou, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011) at noon April 23 at BookPeople in Austin. See curriculum guide.

Chris Barton will be signing Can I See Your ID? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) at 7 p.m. May 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See discussion guide.

Diversity in YA Fiction: Austin Tour Stop 7:30 p.m. May 9 at BookPeople. Featuring authors With authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson. See Jo Whittemore: Against Tokenism.

Guest Post: Monika Schröder on Inspiration and Cross-Culturally Writing a Book Set in India

“Wanting is just another kind of hunger…”
– Saraswati’s Way

By Monika Schröder

Saraswati’s Way (Frances Foster/FSG, 2010) is a middle grade novel about a 12-year old Indian boy, Akash, with a gift for math, who runs away from his home in rural India to find a better life. He prays for the help of the Hindu goddess of knowledge, Saraswati, and Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. Akash ends up in the New Delhi train station, where he joins a gang of street kids.

What made me write a book about an Indian street child? By the time I started Saraswati’s Way I had already lived in New Delhi for six years, and often, when arriving at or leaving from the New Delhi train station, I had seen street kids, barefoot and dressed in shabby clothes, scavenging for food.

I wondered what would cause a child to run away from home and end up living in the train station. I contacted a charitable organization that works with these children and listened to some of their horrific stories.

By creating Akash, I wanted to explore how a young Indian boy can find the strength to overcome such circumstances in pursuit of something he desperately wants.

Writing about a boy of Hindu faith was the biggest challenge while working on Saraswati’s Way. Since my arrival in India, I had read a lot about Hinduism.

Though I never became fluent, I had also taken Hindi classes for four years. My Hindi teacher, whom the book is dedicated to, taught me a lot about religious customs and festivals. I frequently asked her and other Indian friends if my depictions of particular events or religious rituals were correct.

One of the most challenging scenes to write was the funeral for Akash’s father. During the Hindu funeral ritual, the oldest son cracks open the skull of the deceased while the corpse burns on the pyre. Having never attended a Hindu funeral, I relied on the descriptions given by Indian friends and colleagues. I remain thankful for their trust in sharing their own memories about such an intimate subject.

“Wanting is just another kind of hunger, burning until satisfied.”

I chose to begin the book trailer for Saraswati’s Way (below) with this quote from the book as it encapsulates a main theme of the story.

Even though Saraswati’s Way is set in a place foreign to most readers in the U.S., I hope a story about persistence and patience in the service of one’s dreams will resonate with readers everywhere.

New Voice: Crystal Allen on How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy

Crystal Allen is the first-time author of How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins). From the promotional copy:

Thirteen-year-old Lamar Washington is the maddest, baddest most spectacular bowler ever at Striker’s Bowling Paradise. But when it comes to girls, he doesn’t have game—not like his older brother Xavier the Basketball Savior. And certainly not like his best friend “Spanish fly guy” Sergio.

So Lamar vows to spend the summer changing his image from dud to stud by finding a way to make money and snag a super fine Honey!

When a crafty teenage thug invites Lamar to use his bowling skills to hustle, he seizes the opportunity. As his judgment blurs, Lamar makes an irreversible error, damaging every relationship in his life.

Now, he must figure out how to mend those broken ties, no matter what it will cost him.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I’m so thankful for all of the people who gave advice, support, suggestions, comments and concerns to me as I wrote How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won A Bubba-Sized Trophy. In every season of my writing journey, there has been a group of people offering emotional and/or professional support for me. I’d like to mention some of those people and how they helped me.

(2004 – 2007)

Early on, I attended conferences and seminars. During those meetings, I was taken under the wings of a group of incredible women with more knowledge of the publishing business than I could ever imagine. (Bernette G. Ford, Christine Taylor-Butler, Eileen Robinson and Dara Sharif.)

I met Christine Taylor-Butler at a Houston SCBWI conference. I had written a horrible story with nine main characters that I wholeheartedly believed was Newbery worthy. Christine was so friendly and willing to offer advice and friendship. Christine was my first real “writer-friend.” She introduced me to one of the conference speakers, Bernette G. Ford, who provided opportunities for me to hone my craft through written and verbal conversations.

I attended a conference in Missouri were Eileen Robinson, creator of F1rst Pages, taught us the importance of opening lines and especially emphasized the fragment of time we have to capture an editor’s attention. Even after the conference, Eileen stayed in contact with me, answered questions, and encouraged me to stay in the race for publication.

I later met Dara Sharif during a workshop in Kansas City. She heard me read a poem I’d written and several months later, purchased it! That poem, “A Purple Hat For Mom,” was actually my homework for the workshop!

I remember just days before I got that email from Dara, I was down, believing that maybe I was never going to be successful in this business. I had actually contacted Dara about another piece I had written, hoping she’d give me a bit of advice. It was then that she spoke of the poem she heard me read in Kansas City and a day or so later, purchased it.

Dara continues to follow my progress, just like Bernette, Christine and Eileen. That’ s why I will always consider them the Winter and Spring of my writing community.

(2008 – present)

In 2008, during an SCBWI Conference, I joined a critique group made up of writers in my area. (Petula Workman, Carrie Garfield and Jenny Bailey.) My critique partners helped me revise my manuscript and prepare it for another huge workshop, the Big Sur Conference in California.

At the Big Sur Conference in California, author Neal Shusterman and editor Emma Dryden, encouraged me and, to this day, both continue their support of my writing endeavors through written and vocal conversation.

After the Big Sur Conference, three other conference attendees showed interest in starting an online critique group. (Juliet White, Petula Workman, Tim Kane.) They zoned in on the weak areas of my novel, made suggestions on how to make my novel stronger, and provided emotional support as I entered the submission process.

Even after my agent, Jen Rofe, sold my novel to Balzar & Bray, this critique group worked with me to tighten my story and work through my editor’s revisions. This critique group is strong, and I’m very grateful for them.

I think if I counted everyone who helped, it would be enough people to make a village. It did take a village to push me in the right direction. And I’m thankful to all of them.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

At first, I created Lamar for a ghostwriting opportunity where the request was for a multicultural group of children in a school environment. The publisher wanted the story to be humorous with the opportunity to make it a series.

I wasn’t completely focused on Lamar’s voice since there were three other characters in the story at the time. But a bowling alley seemed a natural common place for all of the characters to meet after school.

When I didn’t get the ghostwriting job, I continued to work with my characters but the writing felt forced. I was determined to write their story, but now, as I look back, the story I was writing was not theirs.

Then…while watching an episode of “C.S.I.” (If you’re a “C.S.I.” fan, Grishom was still in the cast) a young, African-American male popped up in my head, walked around my brain like he owned the place, and signaled for me to follow him.

Yes, I’m still staring at “C.S.I.,” but I had no idea what was happening on that show. Mentally, I followed him as he took me inside a bowling alley. I knew it was Lamar.

The scene inside the bowling alley was so vivid. Kids were bowling, eating at the snack bar, talking trash, playing video games, just all kinds of stuff you’d see in a place like that. I’ve bowled since I was very young, so this scene Lamar was showing to me brought back memories.

He was a smart aleck, a prankster, but was liked by everybody because of the confidence that seeped through his voice, his walk and his bowling.

I don’t even remember if “C.S.I.” was still on, but my eyeballs began to burn from the lack of blinking.

So, I dashed to the computer, closed my eyes, and listened. I typed what I heard, whether it made sense or not. And every day after that, I did that same exercise. Lamar’s voice banged so loud in my head that I actually began to take Advil.

Some days my husband would ask, “What’s wrong?”

I’d answer. “It’s Lamar.”

I’m still not sure how my hubby felt about that.

I’ve never had a character beg for a story to be told like Lamar. All I did was listen.

I began watching Nickelodeon shows and eavesdropping on as many teenage conversations as I could, but none of the boys I heard seemed to mimic Lamar’s voice or give me clues about him.

It was then that I realized I was going out on a limb. This boy was going to have his own way of talking. He was going to have a style unlike other boys, yet be a typical thirteen-year-old, trash-talking kid.

So, that’s what I’d tell other authors to do. Listen to you character.

Sometimes it may feel like a daydream when it may be a character trying to push through your thoughts to get noticed. And if you think a character is trying to speak with you, find an episode of “C.S.I.,” space out, and let them walk around your brain like they own the place!

Guest Post: Sean Beaudoin on A Journey to Noir

By Sean Beaudoin

It started with Creature Double Feature. Every Saturday afternoon, my father smoking a cigar, feet up. Me lying on the carpet, chin resting on hands, a foot from the television.

Basketball practice was over, and it was time for four hours of blue flickering horror. Horror movies, that is.

Black lagoon, “Mothra” (1961), “Mighty Joe Young” (1949). Haunted hotels, séances, sacrifices. Gargoyles and witches. B-movie actors down on their luck, trying to bring a shred of craft to their aaarghs! and aaaahs!, warding off yet another prosthetic menace.

When I turned eleven, we graduated. Monsters were out. Basil Rathbone’s “Sherlock Holmes” (199-1946) was in. So was Errol Flynn’s “Captain Blood.”

This, in turn, led directly to noir. To smoldering cigarettes, doomed schemes, and sour final kisses. My father and I stripped down to our boxers and dove in.

I don’t think either of us ever came back up. In fact, my becoming a film major in college was no doubt a choice made as much by Fred McMurray and “Double Indemnity” (1944) than my own grades and creative inclinations. Even before I could drive, I was subconsciously dying to light something, anything—my greatest wish to shine massive Kliegs through a louvered window, cast Germanic slat-shadows across the face of a tight-lipped femme fatale.

My crushes were manifest. Gloria Grahame, Ida Lupino, Veronica Lake, Alida Valli, Hedy Lamarr, Peggie Castle, Barbara Stanwyk, Greer Garson, and especially Lauren Bacall.

At the dawn of Betamax and VHS, my father and I would drive into Manhattan–where the only video stores were at the time–and load up on obscure titles and third-rate directors, sit through choppy knock-offs and watery soliloquies.

I loved them all, especially the failures. I loved the effort. I loved the swing from cool detachment to sweaty desperation, deepest black to crisp grey. I’m a sucker for a hard-boiled line, a cleft chin, a pantyhosed gam. I am transported by a failed escape, suitcases full of loot broken open on the runway, dollar bills being sucked into the propeller and chopped into hammy metaphorical bits.

Many years later, when I began to write young adult fiction, my very first thought was “Noir City High! Sophomore femme fatales! Cafeteria gunsels! An entire campus on the take!”

It took a while for me to put that conception into a viable framework. But when I did, it all came out pretty easily, as if it had been gestating, nestled below my duodenum like Johnny Law’s bullet all along. Which, of course, it had.

You Killed Wesley Payne (Little, Brown, 2011) had been writing itself for years, the narrative bone-knitting taking place in my sleep. All that carpet-lying hadn’t gone for nothing. Or, maybe that’s for others to decide. But as to your reader’s unasked question about my inspiration for this novel, it couldn’t be clearer.

Saturday afternoons. Cigar smoke. Pinstripes and fedoras.

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Happy St. Patrick’s Day

First, here’s a patch of seasonal cheer! Many blessings to y’all!

More News

Cheryl Klein Interview and Book Giveaway by Natalie from Literary Rambles. Peek: “After I had a pretty good number of talks online, writers started asking me, “So when are you going to put out a book?” That planted the idea in my head, and when I heard about (which helped me raise the funding for my first printing), it seemed feasible for the first time to put it together and publish it myself.” Note: Cheryl is a highly-respected children’s-YA literary trade author at Scholastic.

Killing the Messenger AKA When Authors Leave Agents by Natalie M. Fischer from Adventures in Agentland. “Here are some things to consider if you’re considering leaving your agent…”

U.S. Nominees for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards from ALA Connect. Peek: “Paul Fleischman has been nominated for the 2012 Author’s Award and Chris Raschka for the 2012 Illustrator’s Award.” Note: the Chris Raschka article on Wikipedia is a stub with broken links. Perhaps some enterprising soul will expand it? Hint to the universe.

Sequels by Jane Lebak from Peek: “…your novel needs to stand alone; but in order to have a sequel, the characters need to be able to take their resolution further than they did in the first book.”

Attention Authors! Susan Raab of Raab Associates is taking a survey related to your use of social networking. It only takes a couple of minutes. You can participate here.

P.J. Hoover: new official site from the author of The Forgotten World Trilogy (CBAY).

The Highlights Foundation is now on facebook. Go like it!

Q&A with Agent John Cusick from Scribe of The Writers’ League of Texas. Peek: “All writers want their characters to be relatable, but too often I see generic everyman protagonists. Their reactions are typical, their personalities flat. They react, rather than propel the action.”

Why Self-Publish It? by Chris Eboch from The Spectacle. Note: part of a series on self-publishing. Peek: “…what if I sell 1000 copies? That doesn’t seem unrealistic, considering that I’m already somewhat known in children’s literature.” See also First-Timers and Self-Publishing by Chris and Books Rising Up from the Dust by Laura Ruby from e is for book.

Diana Fox of Fox Literary on Marketing: an interview by S.R. Johannes from Market My Words. Peek: “…when I’m thinking of offering representation, I go through everything I can find: blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, posts on message boards and writing forums, online publications, etc. Mainly because I want to make sure my clients know how to act professional in public, but I also want to see…”

3 Steps, 4 Ideas, and 18 Tips for Using QR Codes to Promote Your Work by Katie Davis from e is for book. Peek: “So, you have a fantastic web site, fabulous books, and an informative blog. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take these things with you everywhere you go and just hand them to people like a business card or brochure? I’m going to tell you how you can do exactly that.”

Finalists for Children’s Book Choice Awards by Jen Robinson from Jen Robinson’s Book Page. Peek: “Children and teens are now able to cast their vote for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at until April 29.” Special congrats to Cynsational authors Cynthia Lord, Chris Barton, Jennifer L. Holm, John Green, David Levithan, Cassandra Clare, Stephenie Meyer, and Rick Riordan.

Attention YA Authors: If you would like to participate in a series of author chats seeking to lower teen suicide rates, in conjunction Reach Out, and Inspire, contact Bethany Hegedus at bahegedus at Peek: “While the main goal is to lower the youth suicide rates, to do so, a bevy of concerns and issues must be addressed: Bullying, Depression, Eating disorders, OCD, Bi-polar Disorder, Self-Harm, Schizophrenia, Suicide, Violence, Sexual Abuse, GLBTQ issues and rights, etc. Though YA literature is not issue driven, kids and characters grapple with these concerns daily. Fantasy novels offer an escape (while still dealing with many of these same concerns in other wordly settings) and contemporary novels address the issues directly.” Note: YA book bloggers interested in participating in the initiative should also contact Bethany. See more information.

Chatting with Margaret Cardillo and Julia Denos about Just Being Audrey by Jama Rattigan from Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup. Peek: “Her work with UNICEF was unprecedented. Before it was in vogue to give your name to charities, she was not only an ambassador for UNICEF, she was on the road for the majority of the year, in the villages holding sick children and embracing their mothers. There were no bounds to her love.”

Children’s Authors and Illustrators for Japan: an auction to aid victims of the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami. Peek: “Beginning the week of March 21st, this site will feature a children’s and YA auction to benefit the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Authors, illustrators, agents, or editors can use an online form at to donate items or services for the auction–these might be signed books, ARCs, critique services, book swag, artwork, etc. ” See also Ways to Help Japan Through the World of Books from Papertigers Blog.

Enter to Win an ARC of The Coven’s Daughter by Lucy Jago (Hyperion, April 19, 2011) from P.J. Hoover at Roots In Myth. P.J. is also giving away five finished copies of Wither (The Chemical Garden Trilogy) by Lauren DeStefano (Simon & Schuster, March 22, 2011) and three vampire/werewolf-mythology themed books.

New Books from the Bunch at Vermont College: a list of recent releases by alumni of Vermont College of Fine Arts from Through the Tollbooth.

Agent Advice: David Dunton of Harvey Klinger, Inc. by Chuck Sambuchino from Guide to Literary Agents. Peek on e-books: “I’ve personally got little use for links to music and video and other material I consider extraneous, but the minds of kids today work completely differently than they did even just ten years ago, for better or for worse. It’s just a different, more fragmented requirement for all entertainment.”

Featured Sweetheart: Clay Smith of the Texas Book Festival by Jessica Lee Anderson from The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels. Peek: “Clay Smith is the literary director of the Texas Book Festival and a former journalist. He also works for the Sundance Film Festival, writing and editing for that festival’s website.”

YA Deals by Genre & Six-Figure Deals by Genre March 2010 to March 2010 from Kate Hart. Peek: “Hang out with YA authors for awhile, and you’ll probably hear us bemoaning the death of contemporary novels. But don’t despair. I counted up all the YA deals from the past twelve months and was surprised to find that contemporary is alive and well.” Note: includes nifty, color-coded pie charts.

More Personally

Tantalize Series Clarification: a few folks have posted that Blessed is the last novel in the series. It’s not. It does conclude Quincie’s major arc, but Zachary, Miranda and Kieren’s are ongoing and will pick up in book 4, which I’m writing now. (Quincie will appear in that novel, too, but as a more secondary character.) Thanks!

Holler Loudly: A Tall Tale by Melissa Coats from The Examiner. Peek: “This is a fun read-aloud book that will make you want to kick up your boots and turn on that Texas twang.”

Links of the Week: The Dark Place by Heather Brewer.

Cynsational Events

12th Annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 in Fort Myers, Florida. Note: speakers include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

YA A to Z Conference, sponsored by the Writers’ League of Texas, will be April 15 and April 16 at the Hyatt Regency Austin (208 Barton Springs Road). Cost: $279 WLT Members, $349 Nonmembers (through March 15). See more information. Note: conference faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith.

Jo Whittemore will be signing Odd Girl In (Aladdin, 2011) at 2 p.m. April 10 at BookPeople in Austin.

Liz Garton Scanlon will be signing Noodle & Lou, illustrated by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane, 2011) at noon April 23 at BookPeople in Austin. See curriculum guide.

Chris Barton will be signing Can I See Your ID? True Stories of False Identities, illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Dial, 2011) at 7 p.m. May 14 at BookPeople in Austin. See discussion guide.

Diversity in YA Fiction: Austin Tour Stop 7:30 p.m. May 9 at BookPeople. Featuring authors Bethany Hegedus, Malinda Lo, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Cindy Pon, Dia Reeves, and Jo Whittemore, and moderated by Varian Johnson. See Jo Whittemore: Against Tokenism.