New Voice: Allan Woodrow on The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless

Allan Woodrow is the first-time author of The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless (HarperCollins, 2011)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Zachary would do anything to join the Society Of Utterly Rotten, Beastly And Loathsome Lawbreaking Scoundrels, the world’s most horrible gang of super villains. But first he must perform a truly terrible deed.

With the help of his henchman Newt, Zachary battles the horrible Mayor Mudfogg and other felonious foes, not only to join SOURBALLS but to survive! Bwa-ha-ha!

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2011, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Inevitable? Ha! But it did go quickly, maybe.

It either took me one year to write and sell my debut, or 40-something years, depending on how you look at it.

I’ve wanted to be an author my whole life. I wrote my first book in third grade and got hooked. It wasn’t a long book or a good book or really anything bookish. But it was stapled together with a construction paper cover and I drew a picture on it, so that made it a book in my eyes. I still have it.

For the next few decades, I resisted the voice in my head telling me to write books. I became a writer, but in advertising, and spent my years writing commercials and print ads and eventually, web sites. Occasionally I’d dabble in something else, like when a friend called and asked if I would help write a some documentaries for the Travel Channel, or when a friend was putting together a comedy review sketch show and needed writers.

But the voice never went away. It hounded me and forced me to write short stories and start projects, hundreds of them, and I never showed them to anyone because, well, what if I was told they weren’t good? I had a dream, but as long as I didn’t share it with anyone I could keep the dream intact. Better I hide it, than have it shattered.

Then, one day, I woke up and looked at what I was doing and more importantly, not doing, and realized that it was about time I listened to the voice. By this time, I had a family and elementary school children and had started reading their chapter books and young middle grade books, and realized maybe the reason I hadn’t written a book is that I hadn’t figured out what sort of book I wanted to write. Something sort of clicked.

It was my 2009 New Years Resolution. Write a children’s book and try to get it published. I set goals: three years to find an agent. Five years to sell a book.

I didn’t have an idea, just the drive. So I set aside the same time every night (after the kids went to bed) to write. And I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Every day, for at least an hour, sometimes a little more.

And after about four months of this, and had completed a few things that were just fair, I thought of the idea for Zachary Ruthless and wrote it. It wasn’t great. But I revised it, and revised it, and 29 drafts later I thought it was good enough to show people, and they thought it was good enough to show agents. So I sent out some queries.

A few weeks later I had an agent (hurrah for Joanna Volpe) and a few weeks later HarperCollins agreed to publish four Zachary Ruthless books. I got the news a week before Christmas, 2009. Just less than one year after I made my resolution.

So, as you see, when I want to brag, I tell people I wrote and sold a book in less than a year. But really, it took a lot longer.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what’s funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

What’s funny? Why is an apple strudel pie in your face funnier than a lemon meringue pie? It’s just because the word strudel is funnier than the word meringue. There’s no reason for it.

Well, it’s because meringue looks foreign and foreign words are never as funny. Vanilla pudding is moderately funny. Vanilla mousse? Nothing at all whimsical about it.

I never write jokes. I’m not good at writing jokes. I don’t think too many people are – I’ve seen my share of unfunny comedians on stage and TV. Even the best ones rely on timing and their personality – and timing is a little more complicated when you’re writing. The meter and the rhythm have to be just right, because you can’t rely on a funny face. And people read things differently because we all have different voices in our head.

So what I try to do is create funny scenarios in which the jokes just come out naturally from what’s going on with the characters. I never think: Oh, let’s put a joke here! It just flows.

If your character has a quirky personality…let’s say wants to be a famous circus gymnast when he gets older, and then finds himself in the middle of a food fight at a five-year old’s roller skating party, something funny is going to happen. Someone is going to slip on a banana peel, or if that’s too cliché, on a piece of apple strudel pie, and that person is going to fly up, and then a roller skate is going to zip off his foot and land under the foot of our circus-wannabee hero, who then slips and finds himself tumbling in the air, does a flip and lands in a perfect split and earns a standing ovation. And that’s how the owner of the circus discovers him and offers him a job.

With the right descriptions, the scene could be pretty funny, in fact, I’m filing this away in my head should I ever write a book about a rolling skating gymnast. You never know, right?

Now let’s create a scene with a group of morticians eating lunch in the stock room. And you want to make this funny. Um, one mortician accidentally puts embalming fluid on his hot dog instead of mustard? I dunno. If you can make this funny, you are a far better comedy writer than I.

So if there’s a secret to being funny: create characters that aren’t too normal – he or she doesn’t have to be zany, just something that will make them react differently than a non-quirky person might, and put them in scenarios where they can be funny or where that quirk can be exposed.

If you introduce a character who is scared of fish, there has to be a scene with a fish in it, and that scene is going to be funny, and there’s no way to stop the funny from coming. I dare you to write a scene of someone scared of fish facing a fish that isn’t funny (and using a piranha or barracuda is cheating). Don’t try to write jokes. It’s just way too hard.

Guest Post: Janni Lee Simner on Writing Your Way

By Janni Lee Simner

Sometimes I wish every bit of writing advice — every talk, every blog post, every one-on-one conversation — began with a disclaimer:

This worked for me. It might or might not work for you. Give it a try. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. Move on.

When we begin writing for publication, there’s so much we’re trying to learn that it’s only natural to begin looking for rules. And well-crafted stories do have some things in common, beginning with engaging at least some readers, one way or another.

But someplace beyond the basics of bringing words and characters and plots together, every writer not only tells different stories, but we tell them in different ways.

Some writers outline; others jump in knowing nothing; others do something between or sideways of both these things. Some writers write multiple fast rough drafts; some write one slow, steady, careful one. Snappy dialogue or lush, descriptive prose. Advance research or researching what you need as you go. Writing every day or writing in passionate bursts of activity. Elaborate writing playlists or complete silence. A book every three months, a book a year, a book every five years.

No matter how you write, there’s someone out there who writes completely differently. And for many of us, there’s a voice inside our heads that, seeing that, begins to worry: Am I the one doing it wrong?

This voice is loudest on the days the writing is going badly, of course. If your messy draft took you five years to revise and you just got yet another rejection in the mail–and if that’s the day you come across a blog post by a bestselling writer explaining that if only writers outlined, they’d make fewer mistakes–it’s hard not to wonder if they don’t have a point.

Ditto if your critique group has just told you that your carefully outlined book lacks voice, and then an award-winning author gives a talk about how to find the heart of their book they had to let go of all planning and just plunge into the story.

Neither of these bits of writing advice are wrong; they’re just not universal.

They left out the disclaimer: This worked for me. It might or might not work for you. Give it a try. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. Move on.

It works the other way, too. After struggling to make sense of this whole writing thing, when we find something that really does work for us, it can seem like a revelation, and we want to go out and share our shiny bit of new knowledge, maybe spare others the grief we went through to gain it. We want to say, “Look! I figured out this thing that makes stories better! Everyone should use it!”

Sometimes, in that moment of revelation, it feels like everyone should.

I’ve been on both sides of this: doubting my instincts and experience when I heard that to become a true professional I really needed to outline more; wondering aloud whether stories that relied too much on outlines would ever go as deep or be as powerful as they could be.

On one level, I knew every writer was different. On another, it took me years to truly understand and believe it.

What I believe now is that we’re all on a journey, as writers, to find our own best processes, the things that let us tell our own stories as well as possible. It doesn’t matter what worked for someone else–even if that someone else is a bestseller, or an award-winner, or a writer whose work you admire so much you desperately want to write just like them.

You can’t write like them. You can only write like yourself. If anything gets in the way of that–don’t worry about it. Move on.

So long as you’re trying to make your stories better, you’re not doing anything wrong.

Cynsational Notes

Read an excerpt of Faerie Winter by Janni Lee Simner (Random House, 2011). Read a short story by Janni, set in the same world as Bones of Faerie (Random House, 2009, 2010) and Faerie Winter from Coyote Wild Magazine.

New West Coast-based Red Fox Literary Will Represent Authors and Illustrators for Children’s Market

SHELL BEACH, CA – Red Fox Literary, a boutique agency representing children’s book authors and illustrators, has officially opened shop and launched its website.

The agency will offer a dazzling array of talents from among its roster of clients, including New York Times and Time magazine Best Book winners and some of the most promising up-and-coming talents working in the field today.

The duo behind Red Fox Literary is veteran agent Karen Grencik and seasoned editor Abigail Samoun.

They hope to reproduce the success of their first agent/editor collaboration from nearly a decade ago, Sarah Wilson and Chad Cameron‘s George Hogglesberry, Grade School Alien (Tricycle, 2004), which won the highly esteemed SCBWI Golden Kite Award.


Grencik is thrilled about the new agency. “I love everything about agenting: corresponding with clients and editors; watching ideas and books come to life; having that first cup of coffee and opening up my emails to see what surprises are in store for the day.”

But what really drives Grencik are her authors. “I love them-they are my reason for getting up in the morning.”

Grencik will be representing authors writing for picture book, chapter book, middle grade, and young adult audiences. She’s currently looking for stories about real life and real people. “I love stories where character development is front and center. I’m all about the people.”

As the other half of the agency, Samoun will initially be focusing on the illustration division. “We have sixteen illustrators signed so far, most of whom I’ve worked with before as an editor,” she says. “They represent a wide range of styles-reflective and digital, figurative and stylized, humorous and whimsical, traditional and contemporary. Some of the illustrators have been in the business thirty years; some of them are just starting out.”

In understanding the market, Samoun states, “An author’s voice is important in helping carve out an identity in the publishing world, but there’s an illustrator equivalent of voice too-each of Red Fox Literary’s artists has a distinctive style and point of view. I’m very excited about the talent we’re bringing to editors and art directors.”

Redfoxliterary.com will have a key role in promoting the agency. Says Samoun, “As an editor, I conducted hundreds of hours of illustration searches. I know what it’s like to go from website to website, hour after hour, looking for the perfect match for a story. The websites I liked best presented the illustrators’ thumbnails right on the splash page, included lots of samples, and the option of making those samples nice and big. I really didn’t like having to squint at the screen, trying to determine whether something was done in colored pencil or watercolor. So when we created the Red Fox Literary portfolio page, our priority was making it as easy as possible for editors and art directors to review our talented illustrators’ work. They can even download a PDF of each artist’s portfolio to print out and take to meetings.”

The site will also include an author page, agency highlights, a blog, a shop selling the work of Red Fox illustrators, and a unique feature Samoun calls “Studio Tours.” “Working with an illustrator for the first time was always a bit daunting for me. Who was this person? How did they work? What had they done before? It was always a bit of a gamble. I wanted to find a way to make editors and art directors more comfortable about trying someone new.”

Samoun came up with the idea of creating short films of artists in their studios showing their work and discussing their inspirations and past projects. The site’s first Studio Tour highlights Princess Posey illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson. In the five-minute film, Sisson discusses her early influences as a child growing up in Switzerland and shows sketches of a current book in progress.

“It’s great because it really gives you a sense of how Stephanie works and what she’s like as a person,” says Samoun. She eventually hopes to create studio tours for each of the Red Fox Literary artists.

When asked about her ultimate goal for the new agency, Grencik responds, “We want Red Fox Literary to become a respected agency that strives for the highest standards, both in terms of the quality of its clients’ work and its professional ethics. We want to provide authors with a fresh diving board from which to spring, and a safe home from which to do their best work.”

Cynsational Notes

See also a Cynsations interview with Abigail from her days as an editor at Tricycle Press.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Interview with Morganville Vampires Author Rachel Caine by Karleen from Kids’ Ebook Bestsellers. Peek: “I think as the price points shake out for the technology and content, we’re going to see more e-books in schools and in the hands of teens as well, but it will take a little more time, especially with educational budgets constantly shrinking.”

How Many Pages Should a Picture Book App Have? by Loreen Leedy from e is for book. Peek: “…the number of pages (screens?) ranges from less than 10 to 30 and up. Some nonfiction PB apps may have even more.”

Strengths and Your Protagonist by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: “When a character’s strengths are what stand between him and resolving the conflict, you’ve got an amazing story on your hands, because the reader will sense the tension….”

How Not to Be Taken Seriously by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “If you’re a self-employed, freelance writer, you’re in business. You’re creative–true. But you’re still in business if you want to make income from your writing. And often it is poor business attitudes that keep others from taking you seriously.”

Feedback: Three Attitudes That Help by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: “I need to ask questions to clarify the feedback, or the feedback is pointless to me.”

Let The Be Light by Jennifer Ziegler from Hunger Mountain. Peek: “…tackling a serious subject in a humorous way doesn’t necessarily ‘make light’ of it. It can, however, lighten it enough so that you can more easily find your way—so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or hampered.”

The Gift of Insecurity from Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent. Peek: “It turns out being a contracted and published author doesn’t automatically fill you with self-confidence and unending affection for your own work. Who knew?”

Are You Ready for the Call? by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker.netBlog. A list of questions to ask a prospective agent. Note: ask what you need to know, but don’t forget to be a person. Get a feel for the human being on the other end of the phone, and whether s/he’s a fit.

Anna Olswanger is now offering book coaching. She is the former coordinator of the Jewish Children’s Book Writers’ Conference and through her work as a literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates in New York. Note: In Anna’s view, a book coach can work with writers to define their goals. The coach is not their editor or agent. The book coach might talk to them about their agent and editor, and give them advice how to interact with them, but a book coach does not play those roles. If you are interested in working with Anna as your book coach, send her an email at anna.olswanger@verizon.net and describe where you are with your manuscripts or books.

On the Dark Side by Clare B. Dunkle from Hunger Mountain. Peek: “I find that dark writing can be cathartic. It can teach useful habits of mind, too, because if there’s darkness in a book, then there are characters fighting against that darkness, and we can learn to imitate them.”

Striking a Gold Mine by Libby Koponen from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: “‘It’s not about striking a gold mine!’ he said. ‘It’s about laying groundwork.'”

Resources for Young Writers from Donna Gephart from Wild About Words.

Canadian Award Short Lists, compiled by Michael Thorn from ACHOCKABLOG. Features the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award, Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, and John Spray Mystery Award. Highlights include Burn by Alma Fullerton (Dancing Cat), under children’s literature and A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick).

Educational Publishing with Joanne Mattern: a chat transcript from The Institute of Children’s Literature. Peek: “Basically, educational publishing is tied to topics that kids study in school, such as social studies, history, science, math, and language arts, but it can explore any topic. You’ll see lots of books about things that aren’t specifically studied in school, like biographies of celebrities or books about Navy SEALs or unusual pets, but these are nonfiction topics that kids are interested in.”

2011 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards

Learn more about the 2011 winners and honor authors/illustrators.

Save Bookstores

On June 25, go shopping at your local, brick-and-mortar bookstore (or at least, say, Indiebound.com, Powells.com, Bookpeople.com–sites directly affiliated with them).

A bookstore is more than a place to buy books. It’s a place to discover them. To connect with fellow book lovers. To bridge generations and build communities and step into the shoes of heroes from here to mythology and beyond.

Times are tough, but go anyway. If you can’t buy a book, buy a bookmark or a piece of candy or just tell your local bookseller how much you appreciate her and that you’ll be back as soon as you can.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) from A Simple Love of Reading. Deadline: June 22. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers.

Last Call: Enter to win an author-signed advanced reader copy of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, a graphic novel by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, Aug. 2011), plus a magnetic Sanguini’s wipe board! Note: Sanguini’s is the fictional restaurant that appears in Tantalize and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story.

To enter, comment on this post (click link), specify “Tantalize: Kieren’s Story” and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with “Tantalize: Kieren’s Story” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: June 17. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers.

Check out the Luminous Summer Grand Prize Giveaway from Dawn Metcalf. Deadline: midnight June 30.

Cynsational Screening Room

Enter to win Forgiven (2011) and Faithful (2010), both by Janet Fox and published by Speak/Penguin from P.J. Hoover from Roots In Myth. Deadline: June 24.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond: A Ninety Second Newbery Film. Source: Melissa Wyatt.

Uma Krishnaswami on using Darcy Pattison‘s Shrunken Manuscript Technique.

More Personally

Last week’s highlight was The First Annual BooksmART Festival on June 11, conducted as part of Arts & Letters Live from the Dallas Museum of Art.

I gave talks on both my children’s and my YA writing. This is a Seminole exhibit from “Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection.” (The characters Ray and Grampa Halfmoon from Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) are Cherokee-Seminoles.)

Other featured children’s-YA book creators included Rick Riordan, Norton Juster, Laurie Halse Anderson (pictured above), David Wiesner, Jerry Pinkney, Gene Luen Yang, Duncan Tonatiuh, Antonio Sacre, Joe McDermott, Jan Bozarth, and Ann Marie Newman.

Celebrities at my signing included Eugene and Charlotte from KIDS’ BRAIN: Books, Reviews, and Information Now! a blog for parents and young readers maintained by the youth services staff at the Plano (TX) Public Library System. You can like them on facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Greg and I stayed at the historic Hotel Aldolphus–well worth a visit, if you ever find yourself in Dallas. My thanks to the Dallas Museum of Art and event volunteers, especially Helen, Risa, and also Tracy from Candlewick Press.

Interview & Blessed Giveaway with Cynthia Leitich Smith from A Simple Love of Reading. Peek: “I find myself identifying with Kieren a lot—we’re both bookish Austinites.”

From Greg Leitich Smith:


Personal Links:

Cynsational Events

Authors Jennifer Ziegler and Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak to YA readers at 2 p.m. June 18 at Bee Cave Public Library in Bee Cave, Texas. Mark your calendars for book talk and pizza! See more information (PDF).

See also event planner information on booking Jennifer and Cynthia for the joint “From Classics to Contemporary” program–two authors for the price of one!

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak to the Cedar Park Teen Book Club at 11 a.m. June 25 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

New Voice: Alissa Grosso on Popular

My name: Alissa Grosso is the first-time author of Popular (Flux, 2011). From the promotional copy:

For reigning popularity queen Hamilton Best, the very idea of graduation is filled with fear. She’s always been the star of Fidelity High’s most exclusive clique, idolized for her perfection and her fabulous parties—you know you’re “in” when you make Hamilton’s guest list.

As high school draws to a close, Hamilton is about to lose everything that makes her who she is. To make matters worse, the clique is slowly coming apart at the seams. Although the hand-picked members—Olivia, Zelda, Nordica, and Shelly—all have their own agendas, desires, and secrets, they do have one thing in common: they’re desperate to break away from Hamilton.

Yet Hamilton has the biggest and most shocking secret of all, one that only her devoted boyfriend Alex knows. If the truth got out, it would completely destroy her fragile world.

And she’ll do anything to keep that from happening.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

I was that kid that always had her face buried in a book. Actually, I am still that kid, just a bit older. As a kid, I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I recall not liking historical fiction and books with talking rodents as a kid, mostly because these always seemed to be the books we were assigned in school, and if there’s one thing I hated, it was being forced to read something rather than being able to choose what I read.

Most of all, I liked to read stories about real people. I don’t mean biographies, though I did enjoy these as well. I mean stories about fictional characters who could have been real people.

To me, Anastasia Krupnik, Harriet Welsch (of spying fame) and Turtle Wexler, whose precociousness helped to solve the Mr. Westing’s riddle, seemed as real as some of my real-life friends. I tended to read my favorite books again and again, and in several cases emulated some of my favorite characters. So, there was some confusion between fiction and reality in my young mind, and this was probably further compounded by the fact that I spent a lot of my play time writing books of my own in my head.

I had a pretty comfortable childhood. Probably the biggest challenge I faced as a kid was moving and changing schools every few years. So, it certainly wasn’t as if I read books to escape from any sort of hardship. I simply did a lot of vicarious living through books because I enjoyed it. As for the re-reading, that was partly because I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to some of my favorite literary friends and partly because I didn’t have nearly enough books available to me.

Writing Popular reminded me a lot of my childhood days of reading and re-reading books and making friends with the characters I found in those pages, because I really like the characters who populate this somewhat dark tale of high school popularity.

That’s a good thing since I spent a lot of time with those characters in all the years of writing and revising, through editorial letters and now through public readings of my book. Even more so than with reading, when writing I need some characters that I like, some literary friends to help me see a book through from those early chapters to the eventual conclusion.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn’t address these factors? Why or why not?

When I first started writing Popular shortly after I graduated high school, nobody owned cell phones and the Internet was still in its infancy. As a result, my first manuscript didn’t contain a single mention of either technology and could have easily taken place in the early 1990s.

I actually wrote the second part of Popular much more recently, and so there are a couple of small references to the Internet and cell phones, nothing major and certainly nothing that’s crucial to the plot.

I’m not yet sure how teenagers will react to the book. Will the glaring lack of technology references make the book seem quaint and old-fashioned?

I hope not. I hope that they become so immersed in the story they fail to notice the fact that nobody in Fidelity seems to own a cell phone.

My current work in progress, is almost the complete opposite of Popular. It is saturated with technology, and much of the plot is directly intertwined with current technology like social networking and reality television. This worries me a bit, because I know how fast technology changes, and this book could quickly become dated, especially if I don’t hurry up and finish it.

With the speed with which technology is changing and the impossibly slow speed of the publishing world, it’s pretty much impossible for writers to be completely current. I may end up having to publish my current work in progress as historical fiction in order for it to make any sense at all.

New Voice: Christina Mandelski on The Sweetest Thing

Christina Mandelski is the first-time author of The Sweetest Thing (Egmont USA, 2011). From the promotional copy:

In the world of Sheridan Wells, life is perfect when she’s decorating a cake. Unfortunately, everything else is a complete mess: her mom ran off years ago, her dad is more interested in his restaurant and the idea of a boyfriend is laughable.

But Sheridan is convinced finding her mom will solve all of her problems – only her dad’s about to get a cooking show in New York, which means her dream of having her family back together will be dashed.

Using just the right amount of romance, family and cute boys, The Sweetest Thing will entice fans with its perfect mixture of girl-friendly ingredients.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What, and how did it help you?

I would encourage any aspiring author to attend writing conferences and workshops. I have a degree in Creative Writing, but until I was in my 30s I never met a real-live published author and I had no clue how the publishing industry worked.

That all changed in 2003 when I attended my first writing conference. Because I write for children, my experience revolves mostly around events that are hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Now, I don’t know if it’s necessary for every children’s author to belong to SCBWI, but truthfully, it’s made all the difference in my career.

When I attended this first conference, a total newbie, I took the three-hour trek from my home in central Illinois up to Chicago. It was a day-long picture book event that featured an author named Lisa Wheeler, an illustrator named Janie Bynum and an editor named Michael Stearns, (remember that name; it’ll come up again later). The panel spoke not only about the craft of writing, but also about the business of publishing. This was the first time I’d heard some of this stuff – they were a treasure trove of information — and I couldn’t write it down fast enough.

Then, at the end of the day, there was a first-page reading. I’d never participated in one, but it sounded like a great idea – you submit the first page of your manuscript and it is read out loud (anonymously, thankfully) to the entire audience. Afterward, the panel comments on what grabbed them (or did not) about the page.

I’ll admit, I was brazenly naïve. I had written a picture book, and not a very good one, about a girl who desperately wants a pony. Of course, at the time I thought it was brilliant, that I would surely be “discovered” that day. And why not? I love writing with a passion, and it had taken me something like a whole day and a half to write this story. Ha!

But when my page was read, the assessment, to put it bluntly, was: Not Good. I was devastated. The panel, who was actually very kind, basically explained that there was no story to my story. Who knew a picture book needed plot and character development?

Well, after that, I knew.

Although that particular part of the experience was a little painful, it was an absolutely crucial step to my growth as a writer. That day I learned not only that picture book writing wasn’t as easy as perhaps I’d thought, but that writing is truly a craft, a skill not to be learned overnight.

I also realized that day that there were a lot of other people (my fellow conference-goers), just like me, who wanted the same thing I did – to someday have a book, or an article, or poem, or drawing, in print. Fortunately, they were so welcoming, encouraging and forthcoming, that their numbers didn’t scare me off. Instead, I was inspired by their stories and became more determined than ever to make this dream happen.

I went home with renewed purpose. I studied picture book writing, checked out piles of them from the library, typed their content out on my computer. And soon I realized, I was no picture book writer. Too few words, not enough space to tell the stories I wanted to tell. I needed more room to spread out. So I started my first novel and never looked back.

I finished that novel and continued attending my regional SCBWI events. The conferences are wonderful opportunities to get your work in front of the eyes of agents, editors and other authors.

By the time I’d written novel number four, I was getting positive feedback, and eventually, in early 2009, that fourth novel caught the eye of an editor-turned-agent named Michael Stearns, (see, I told you it’d come up again).

When he offered representation, it felt like some sort of weird cosmic sign, like I’d taken some right steps along the way and was exactly where I was supposed to be. Then when I spoke to him, I knew he was smart, savvy and really nice. I said “yes.”

So yes, I’m a firm believer in attending conferences (if you can’t tell). You never know who you’ll meet, or what you’ll learn that will inspire you or nudge you a step closer to your goal.

Even though I have an agent and a book about to come out, I still attend my regional SCBWI conferences. It’s so good to be amongst writing friends old and new, and let’s face it – there’s still plenty to learn. I recently went to the annual conference in Houston and took pages and pages of notes, and came home inspired and eager to write.

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 for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

This is an interesting question. I am at least neck-deep in some heavy-duty publicizing of my book.

I know I’ve learned tons, but I also know it’ll be a few more months before I can really sit back, relax and assess the knowledge I’m walking away with. Right now everything’s a bit of a blur.

I know this, though – I’ve learned quite a lot about my own personality over the last year or so. For example, I’ve always understood that I am the exact opposite of a natural born salesperson. I do take no for an answer.

I’ve always been okay with that, but I knew that was going to have to change when it came to marketing my novel.

Naturally, I want it to do well, I want people to enjoy it, I want it to find its way into the hands of my readers. So I began to prepare myself to come out of my non-sales shell and do whatever I could to make this book a success.

For me, this did not include hiring a publicist. It wasn’t in the budget, and I knew this going in. Along with my publisher (which has been wonderful publicity-wise), it was going to be up to me to spread the word about The Sweetest Thing.

The first and best thing I did was join some groups – first The Elevensies, an online community of authors with books coming out this year. This is a large-ish group, free to join, with lots of opportunity to publicize and also privately ask questions and seek advice.

From The Elevensies I got connected with the Class of 2k11. If you’re not familiar, there’s been a Class of 2k-whatever for the last several years. This is a smaller group, there’s a fee, and there’s a bit more pitching-in required.

Both groups have become important to me. If I want advice on anything from number of bookmarks to order (1,000 is not enough!), to how to balance family duties while finishing up a major revision, to what kind of pens to use when signing my book, I’ll go to these people.

I think, due to our smaller size, I depend more on my fellow Class of 2k11 members to lean on when I’m happy, stressed out, or baffled (or all three things at once, as has happened several times this year).

But despite the necessary support the members of these groups has provided, the One Big Thing I’ve learned is that I can’t do everything.

Early on, I decided that I would push myself outside of my comfort zone and not take “no” for an answer quite so easily. So I talk about my book to anyone who will listen, have gotten to know booksellers and librarians, I contact book bloggers out of the blue and try to think outside of the box for ways to promote my book.

But, right now I’m so busy preparing blog interviews, sending out books for giveaways, planning for my launch party, etc., that sometimes I have to draw the line.

I’ve also had to learn to balance my marketing duties with my writing. Writing the next book, let’s face it, is pretty important – and so some days I have to limit myself to maybe one hour on emails and marketing and interviews, and the rest of the day I devote to my work in progress.

It’s tough to find that balance – but I’m figuring it out.

Another thing I’ve discovered about myself during this process is that while I don’t care much for the hard sell, I do love my book. I love talking about it – and I enjoy talking to people about writing and reading in general — from teachers, to librarians, to fellow writers, to the teens who are my audience.

When it comes to marketing a debut novel, I think that’s half the battle — to be passionate about what you’ve written. Yes, do your homework, seek the support of others in your shoes, and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone — but above all, believe in your book!

Guest Post: David Lubar on The Seven Stages of Humor (Or, Good Grief, I Hope You Like It!)

By David Lubar

I wrote a blog post in late April discussing how sluggish I’d been about promoting my upcoming book. (I could have mentioned the book’s title in the very first sentence of this post, but I didn’t. That’s how lazy I am.)

The super-awesome Cyn suggested I could pick up the slack by writing something here. Given that her blog has about eight thousand times as many readers as mine (wait — I think I might be multiplying by zero here), that struck me as a good idea.

She felt I should address humor. Or maybe she said I’d look funny in a dress. Since I’m not sure, I’ll go with the former, which doesn’t require that I shave my legs.

After several weeks of procrastinating, I started to think about the actual post. Before I could come up with anything productive, William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Kübler-Ross had a tryst in my head, giving birth to the idea that the piece should involve seven stages.

I have no idea what those stages might be, but I’ll just start listing ideas and stop before I hit eight. Or change the title. Given that I’ve already bitten (or written) through 40% of my allotted word count, you might end up reading “The Three Somethings of Something” or, perhaps, “One Way to Write Humor.”

By the way, I suspect they’re actually not “stages.” They’re more like types or approaches, but I’ve grown fond of the title and have written myself into too deep a hole to back out now.

So we’ll take “stages” to mean platforms, as opposed to steps, thus making all of this slightly less wrong.

Yikes. I’d better introduce some content.

Okay. Humor.

Glancing through the stories in my new book, I can see that I use a variety of approaches to humor.

What’s that? You want to know the title? Thank you for asking.

It’s Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales (Starscape, 2011).

As for the approaches, perhaps there are somewhere between six and eight things that come to mind.

(Side note to Cyn: I’m beginning to suspect the piece might run a bit long. Maybe you can post it in two parts and bump James Paterson or James Franco. Side note to Cyn’s readers: Stop salivating. I don’t think Franco is on the schedule.)

1. Overstatement

Comic exaggeration is especially easy to do with a first-person narrator. Consider this passage from “Get Out of Gym for Free”: “I figured the gym teacher would be tough, but he looked like he was about to bite off someone’s head and spit it onto the floor. Maybe after sucking out the eyeballs.”

The key is to go overboard, but not so far over the top that there is no anchor to reality. If I’d written, “… he looked like he was about to hurl atom bombs at each one of us,” it wouldn’t work for several reasons, the most obvious being that it’s hard to picture anyone hurling more than one atom bomb. The first would pretty much do the trick.

2. Understatement

“I’d lost Dad’s hand. This was not good.”

Those lines come from “At the Wrist.”

Many of the things that happen in my stories are so extreme that there is nothing to be gained from pointing out the severity, but there is plenty of comic potential from treating disastrous events in a matter-of-fact manner.

(Note to Cyn: This stage is intentionally brief, in an effort to make it understated.)

3. Parody

It’s easy to make fun of existing structures, such as fairy tales, fables, or political parties.

(Bonus stage — groups of three can be funny when the third item breaks the pattern.)

For me, these parodies often start out as twisted titles, such as “The Princess and the Pea Brain” (from Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies (Starscape, 2010)) or “Rapt Punzel” (from Vampire Weenies).

Those titles pretty much suggested the funny aspect of the stories. In the first example, the prince was so stupid, he mangled the simple act of placing mattresses on a pea. Instead, he tried to place the pea beneath the stacked mattresses and suffocated. In the second, our heroine watches far too much television. As for her eventual fate, it’s a real head turner.

Which leads us to…

4. Death, and taboos in general

(Note to Cyn: Did you catch the way I cleverly crammed two things into one, so as not to go over seven?)

Speaking of suffocated princes, I wipe out characters at about the same rate that hand sanitizer wipes out bacteria.

While I cut a swath with my scythe, the manner of death needs to be wonderfully fitting (a lazy kid gets turned into a slug soon after gorging himself on salty pretzels) or amazingly bizarre (a carnival ride turns into a blender).

Death, like all taboo and euphemistically treated subjects, is funny, as long as it isn’t personal. I wrote a whole series about a dead kid. It was a hoot.

As for taboos — anything involving bodily functions, or bodies functioning, has the potential for humor. This is a delicate area for kid’s books, of course. But farts are usually safe and pretty much always funny. Even the stunningly toxic ones my cat has recently been sharing with me.

As for more solid (or liquid) issues, you can always get by with a subtle or understated reference.

5. Relief

We laugh at pratfalls because we’re relieved that they happen to someone else. We laugh at death because we aren’t the victim.

Schadenfreude is not just fun to say — it’s a reality. The relief laugh by itself is generally subdued, since there is that twinge of guilt.

But it can be boosted in various ways, including our next stage.

6. Surprise

I can think of two ways that surprises can generate laughter. There is the delightful shock of the jack-in-the-box. But there is also the joy of figuring out the unseen connection or seeing the unexpected solution. A story can be constructed like a Rube Goldberg device, where an action launches a chain reaction.

Humor arises when the reader figures out the unstated connection. Here’s an example from the story, “Cat Got Your Nose?”: “Emily liked visiting Miss Reaker. She made wonderful cookies, as long as you didn’t mind a bit of cat hair among the chocolate chips, and the occasional little crunchy thing that was better left unidentified.”

Given that Mrs. Reaker’s house is overrun with cats, it isn’t hard to figure out where the crunchy things come from.

(Note to Cyn: Yikes, this is getting really long. You might need to do it in three parts and bump that J. K. Rowling piece.)

Here’s a less subtle example. In a work in progress, I have the line: “Even with his face wrapped in black cloth, I had no trouble identifying Jimmy, thanks to a unibrow that could have been mistaken for a climbing rope.” The humor is created when the reader sees the connection between the two objects.

Metaphors are a great way to generate that “ah-ha!” sort of reaction in the reader, and a reliable tool in the humorist’s arsenal.

7. Repetition

(Note to Cyn: I couldn’t think of any examples. Note to Cyn’s readers: Really, James Franco is not coming.)

Note from Cyn: Below, see James Franco from The New York Times.

8. (In)consistency, self reference, and meta-statements

I promised seven stages, and by golly, I intend to deliver.

In conclusion, I suspect I overlooked a couple dozen stages. Or types. Or platforms. But I had fun exploring the topic.

Now, if each of you just picks up three or four copies of my new book, I can join Cyn on that bestseller list.

Guest Post: Daniel Kraus on “Why Do You Write Such Dark YA Fiction?”

By Daniel Kraus

My new novel Rotters (Delacorte, 2011) touches on physical and emotional abuse, drug addiction, homophobia, self-mutilation, insanity, necrophilia, cannibalism, and, most prominently, grave robbing.

It has already been called by one taste-maker as the most “adult” book ever published as YA, and is certainly in the running for the darkest.

This is no fantasy; there are no zombies rising from the grave, none of the characters have special powers, and I do not blink when it comes to the reality of the casket: bodies decompose, producing a muck known as “coffin liquor,” and they stink.

This is not a book for the easily shaken.

The question I receive from time to time is, “Why do you write such dark YA fiction?”

It’s a prickly question, and often comes with an undertone of accusation, as if it is part of my plan to infect young minds with especially unsavory ideas.

Well, guess what? They’re right. It is my job to infect young minds with especially unsavory ideas. Just as it is someone else’s job to make them laugh at poop jokes, and someone else’s job to offer hunky archetypes that would be groan-worthy in real life but work just fine in paranormal romance.

But these job parameters only come into play when I am forced to answer this question.

Here is the key: I don’t think about those poor, sensitive teens when I write. I don’t think about those poor, sensitive adults either. Or even those poor, sensitive elderly people. I just think of readers, plain and simple, who want to read a good story.

I’m an editor at Booklist magazine; I know my youth fiction. For younger grades, reading level is a genuine concern for writers. For my books, though, I give it very little consideration. I will write what I write; the agents and editors will determine how it is sold and marketed; the right readers, I trust, will find it.

No one’s forcing anyone to pick up Rotters. (Although, from a sales perspective, that might be a worthwhile experiment.)

What do I focus on, if not my readers’ age? I’ll tell you. I focus on what I prize most in authors: commitment. Some advice, if I may: If you’re writing something erotic, risk being ridiculed for your shameful depravity. If you’re writing something disgusting, go far beyond what you think is acceptable.

Commit, commit!

Sure, you’ll lose readers who find your story irredeemably smutty/horrific/ludicrous, but those readers who have been searching for someone who writes as if possessed will recognize you instantly as one who fears nothing but mediocrity.

So the only way I can really answer the question of “Why do you write such dark YA fiction?” is to strike out a few of the words: “Why do you write?”

It’s a much easier question to answer.

I write because I love it, and I want to pass that love on.

Turns out, it’s not about grave robbing or self-mutilation or necrophilia at all.

It’s about love.

Who would’ve guessed it?

Cynsational Notes

Daniel Kraus is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and filmmaker. He is the director of six feature films, including “Sheriff” (2006 season premiere of PBS’s Emmy-winning “Independent Lens”) and Musician (2007 New York Times Critics’ Pick). His novel The Monster Variations (Random House) was selected to New York Public Library’s “100 Best Stuff for Teens.” His second novel, Rotters, is now out from Random House.

This post was written and scheduled prior to the recent Wall Street Journal article and resulting #YASaves responses.

Read an excerpt of Rotters from Random House.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

To Sir, With Love: Meet Terry Pratchett—royal knight, creator of Discworld, and one cool dude by Jonathan Hunt from School Library Journal. Peek: “Amazingly, I find that children understand rather more than their parents think they do.” See Terry’s Books for Young Adults. Source: Confessions of a Bibliovore.

The Cliché: Unloved and Underappreciated by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.net Blog. Peek: “It’s definitely possible to work within conventions while still bringing something new and fresh to the table. I write fairy tale-type fantasy, and those clichés and tropes can come in handy because they resonate with the reader.”

Featured Sweetheart: Lara Perkins, Publishing Manager for Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary by P.J. Hoover from The Texas Sweethearts. Peek: “As Laura’s publishing manager, I work closely with Laura as a part of her business, and my work combines some of the duties of an editor/agent with those of a business manager.”

Promoting Your Book: The Do’s and Don’t’s of Being a Great Interviewee by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker.net. Peek: “The more personable and professional you can be, the better the interviewer (and probably readers) will like you.”

Kidlit Con 2011: How It’s Shaping Up by Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray. Kidlit Con will take place Sept. 16 and Sept. 17 in Seattle. Prices are quite reasonable, and early bird rates are available until July 1.

New Faces at Pippin Properties: An Interview with Literary Agents Elena Mechlin and Joan Slattery by Bethany Hegedus from Hunger Mountain. Peek: “The Underneath and Stitches are great examples of some of the darker work on Pippin’s shelves, but one common thread, and an important one in darker work aimed at younger audiences, is that there is a sense of hope and redemption in each.”

How to Handle a Negative Critique by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Peek: “You must mentally prepare yourself beforehand to the possibility that the person critiquing your manuscript may not like what you submitted.”

Please Don’t Serial Query by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: “…you need to get to the next phase of your development, and possibly the phase after that, or the phase after that phase, before you’re ready. So don’t send me something else, immediately, from the same phase of your development.”

What Happens When the Chains Won’t Carry You by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Note: Robin talks money, using actual examples from her own books.

Giveaway reminder: Enter to win an author-signed advanced reader copy of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, a graphic novel by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, Aug. 2011), plus a magnetic Sanguini’s wipe board! Note: Sanguini’s is the fictional restaurant that appears in Tantalize and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story. To enter, comment on this post (click link), specify “Tantalize: Kieren’s Story” and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with “Tantalize: Kieren’s Story” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: June 17. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers.

The Year of Being a Writer from Jo Knowles. Peek: “It is a very scary thing, to really put your writing first. I mean, in front of a sure thing as far as a paycheck goes. But this, too, seems what being a writer is all about. Having a little faith in yourself.” Scroll to view the book trailer for Pearl by Jo Knowles (Henry Holt, July 2011).

Take it to Heart or Shake It Off: Two Truths About Handling Criticism from Ashley Perez. Peek: “…the people to listen to are those who have a specific sense of what your writing is like when it’s at its best. That is, their criticism is not geared toward turning what you’ve written into “their kind of thing” but rather is committed to helping you make your work what it is trying to be.”

Jessica Lee Anderson: newly redesigned official author site. Jessica’s next release will be Calli (Milkweed, September 2011).

Rejection is Not Personal from Nathan Bransford – Author. Peek: “It’s one thing to know it, it’s another thing to live it.”

The Light and Round Project

“The perception that there’s no variety in YA isn’t true. Dark and edgy may be popular, and it absolutely deserves its spot on the shelf, but there are plenty of options and variety for people who are seeking something different. But the problem is, how to find it?”
Jennifer Bertman

The Light and Round Project from The Mixed-Up Files of Jennifer Bertman will consist of a weekly roundup of suggestions for tween/YA books that are light-to-absent on dark and edgy elements.

Anyone can participate. If you are a blogger, email her a link to your post about a book that fits in this category. If you aren’t a blogger, email her the book title, author, whatever you’d like to say about it, and a link to more information on the author’s, publisher’s or an Indiebound book page. Write fromthemixedupfiles(at)gmail(dot)com, and specify “The Light and Round Project” as the subject heading. There’s no limit on the number of books you can recommend.

The latest roundup will be posted every Wednesday. Jennifer also will manage a running list of all the suggested books and related posts. (If multiple people submit a review/blog post for the same book, she’ll include all links under the book title.)

Jenn says, “What constitutes ‘dark and edgy’ is subjective, and I don’t want to place judgments on books. If it meets your criteria, then please share it. I’ll post a note on The Light and Round Project page that the list is comprised of suggestions only, and to use one’s personal taste to guide choices.”

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Penelope Popper: Book Doctor by author-librarian Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Jana Christy (Upstart, 2011).

Check out the trailer for Pearl by Jo Knowles (Henry Holt, July 2011).

Check out the book trailer for Haunted by Joy Preble (Sourcebooks, 2011).

Buffy The Vampire Slayer & Angel: A Tribute Trailer by CarSmellBorp. Source: Kim Baccellia.

Mark your calendars! I’ll be appearing as a comic creator Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at Wizard World Austin Comic Con, which is also featuring “Buffy”/“Angel” actors James Marsters (“Spike”) and Charisma Carpenter (“Cordelia”), and that makes my little geek heart sing.

More Personally

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a “five bats” review by Amy from A Simple Love of Reading. Peek: “The human world and the underworld blend seamlessly in this novel, and her characters are honest and well rounded.” Note: some spoilers.

Crissa Jean Chappell at Total Constant Order talks about her students’ reactions to various YA books/shorts, including my short story, “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith for Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little Brown). Peek: “I took this home and read it with my daughter.”

“Cat Calls:” Short Story Success for Cynthia Leitich Smith by Karleen from Kids’ Ebook Bestsellers. My free e-book short story “Cat Calls” hit the #3 spot on the Books on Board e-book store bestseller list last week.

Thoughts on Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu by Matt Thompson from Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in Anthropology. Peek: “The art work in Jingle Dancer is stunning. Bold and rich watercolor over the faintest charcoal lines. I have not seen finer watercolor in a children’s book.”

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Tweet of the Week:

@davidlubar Confession: I save the really dark stuff for my middle-grade readers, ’cause they get too many puppies and rainbows. #yasaves #mgtraumatizes

Cynsational Events

The First Annual BooksmART Festival will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 11 as part of Arts & Letters Live from the Dallas Museum of Art. Peek: “Come spend the day with authors, illustrators, musicians and actors, and enjoy talks, workshops, gallery tours, and entertainment, designed to appeal to every member of the family and every age group.” Featured children’s-YA book creators include Rick Riordan, Norton Juster, Laurie Halse Anderson, David Wiesner, Jerry Pinkney, Gene Luen Yang, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Duncan Tonatiuh, Antonio Sacre, Joe McDermott, Jan Bozarth, and Ann Marie Newman. See also Dallas Museum of Art Announces Artists for First Annual BooksmART Festival by Mechele R. Dillard from The Examiner.

Authors Jennifer Ziegler and Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak to YA readers at 2 p.m. June 18 at Bee Cave Public Library in Bee Cave, Texas. Mark your calendars for book talk and pizza! See also event planner information on booking Jennifer and Cynthia for the joint “From Classics to Contemporary” program–two authors for the price of one!

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak to the Cedar Park Teen Book Club at 11 a.m. June 25 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

Author-Illustrator Interview: Mélanie Watt

Learn about author-illustrator Mélanie Watt.

Mélanie, you last visited Cynsations in May 2006. Could you update us on your new releases, highlighting as you see fit?

Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend (Kids Can, 2007)
Chester (Kids Can, 2009)
Chester’s Back! (Kids Can, 2008)
Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach (Kids Can, 2008)
Have I Got a Book for You! (Kids Can, 2009)
Scaredy Squirrel at Night (Kids Can, 2009)
Chester’s Masterpiece (Kids Can, 2010)
Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party (Kids Can, 2011)
You’re Finally Here! (Hyperion, 2011)

Scaredy Squirrel and Chester (the ego driven cat) have become series. I have worked on different styles of picture books and always try to reinvent my storytelling.

Over the past few years, how have you grown in your art–both visual and literary?

Depending on the message I am trying to communicate, I like to reinvent the look of my characters, the graphic design of the books and the style of the fonts. I see the book as an object, an entity that brings an overall experience to a reader.

For example, Have I Got a Book for You! is about a salesman (fox) that is trying to sell you the book. I wanted a 1970s feel and look, and this decision inspired me throughout my creation process. I enjoy working on books and not knowing where exactly the process will take me.

Another example, with my new book You’re Finally Here! It’s entirely rendered digitally and very different from Scaredy and Chester’s look and feel.

I really wanted this book to be kind of a reflection of our digital era and our approach to communication in these fast-paced times.

I thought it would be fascinating to have a character that only focuses on what could have been rather than appreciate the quality time that he’s spending with the reader in that moment.

I enjoy translating social topics, human behaviour and communication and boiling it down to what I feel is the essence. I start with a message or topic (like our fast-paced lives) and then decide on a new art style, then an animal that I feel could embody that message.

I think the only way I can keep pushing myself is by taking chances and trying new things.

Sounds like I learned a little from Scaredy’s adventures.

Of late, we’ve seen media coverage, both positive and negative, on the future of the picture book. What’s your take?

Creative ideas are communicated in many ways and formats. Adaptation is key.

What’s new with my pal, Scaredy Squirrel?

Well, he’s made a friend, been to the beach, had a few sleepless nights, and planned a germ-free party. His fearful personality keeps inspiring me every day.

Also, we are starting to work on a Scaredy game, and it’s going to be really exciting!

Plus, Nelvana and YTV have created an adaptation of Scaredy Squirrel for an older TV audience.

WARNING: Different look, new setting, and this older Scaredy character has a job! Can you believe it?

Cyn Note: Don’t miss Scaredy’s official facebook page!

What words of wisdom do you have for your fellow picture book creators–new and established–who’re sometimes fighting to keep the faith?

It’s best not to spend too much time worrying about the challenges of the book industry. Try to focus on creating. And keep going at it and reworking what you have.

Be true to yourself, and challenge yourself constantly. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will.

Will you be on the road any time soon? Where can your fans look for you?

Absolutely! I will be at the ALA in New Orleans in June.

See Mélanie at these signings:

-Kids Can Press, Sunday, June 26: Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party

-Disney-Hyperion, Monday, June 27: You’re Finally Here!

What new books are on the horizon?

Probably a new Scaredy Squirrel book, and I am getting kid’s requests for the next Chester adventure, so who knows!

Also, I am trying to create a book about a subject I have had in mind for nearly a decade! I never seem to get around to it. It’s kind of challenging topic, but I am obsessed with making it come to life!