Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Elaine Scott on the release of Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time (Clarion, 2011)! From the promotional copy:

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time? Or visit a galaxy light-years away? Or see a star being born?

The Hubble telescope has allowed scientists to do just that. The Hubble’s dazzling images have transformed astronomy, shedding light on the deepest mysteries of the cosmos, sparking new discoveries and turning speculation into fact. 

Its gaze has helped astronomers find new galaxies, look back in time almost to the Big Bang, and verify the existence of dark energy, the mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. 

Through the eye of the Hubble, Elaine Scott skillfully guides readers along the evolution of our universe, investigating a question that was once unanswerable: “Where did we come from?”

Look for Elaine at the Texas Book Festival on Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 at the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin.

More News & Giveaways

Guest Blogger Jennifer Nielsen: The Rules of Readings from R.L. LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: “Forget about ‘reading’ and focus on the emotional center of the story. Your reading should capture the emotion, not the plot.”

Why You Should Only Query Six-to-Eight Agents at a Time by Chuck Sambuchino from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “After all, though an agent will usually reply quickly (bless you, e-mail), they may take three whole months to get back to you, only to send you a form rejection. You can’t wait around for agents one by one like that.” See also Simultaneous Submissions by Mary Kole from

Does Writing Affect One’s Love of Reading? by Candy Gourlay from Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: “What a tragedy. My love for reading was what made me want to become a writer in the first place. But maybe there’s an antidote…”

Living the Dream: Quitting the Day Job to Write Full Time by Teri Terry from Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: “I love Mondays. It’s what writing’s all about.”

A Balance of Action and Information by Mary Kole from Peek: “The biggest place where this matters is in a novel’s beginning. Imagine you are trying to read a dystopian that’s in a completely other world–you open the book and…”

Interview with Agent Erin Murphy by Natalie Dias Lorenzi from EMU’s Debuts. Peek: “Ask questions. You’d be amazed how many questions clients have been afraid to ask that take me just 10 seconds to answer, and they feel so much better afterward.”

Find in the Penguin spring 2012 catalog.

Authorial Intent by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn. Peek: “Authors are responsible for what they write, but how responsible are they for what readers find?”

Challenges to Graphic Novels from Good Comics for Kids at School Library Journal. Peek: “There are a few simple strategies all librarians should have in place for preparing for challenges to graphic novels.”

Janni Lee Simner: newly redesigned official author site. Very active and up to date.

Children’s Author Maurice Sendak, Still Working at 83 by Association Press from the Charleston Daily Mail.  Peek: “Wearing jeans and a thin, buttoned shirt, he sits at the breakfast table of his 18th-century farmhouse in the Connecticut countryside, where artists and their fortunes have often settled. He looks out on a wondrous garden of elm and maple trees, and grass a damp green.” Source: ACHOCKABLOG.

A Checklist for Marketing Your E-Book by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed. Note: Focusing on product, place, price, and promotion. Oriented toward self-published books.

Children’s Book Art Auction sponsored by the Children’s Literature Assembly. Peek: “Children’s Literature Assembly invites you to participate in a Silent Auction featuring original artwork by children’s book illustrators. Own a piece of art and support the work of CLA (which offers workshops, scholarships, research grants, publications, etc.).” Source: Sylvia Vardell.

Submit Books for SCBWIs 2012 Golden Kite Awards from Alice Pope’s SCBWI Market Blog. Deadline: Dec. 16. Peek: “Started in 1973, SCBWI offers the Golden Kites annually to recognize excellence in children’s book in for categories (Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text and Picture Book Illustration).”

Congratulations to the latest two additions to The Brown Bookshelf team–Crystal Allen and Gwendolyn Hooks! In related news: “…the campaign is ‘under construction.’ It will be alive and well in 2012, but how we’re selecting authors this year is different. So stay tuned. We’ll get you all up to speed closer to campaign time.”

Details for the Texas Institute of Letters 2011 Literary Contests are now available. The Austin Public Library Friends Foundation Award offers two $500 prizes–one for a chldren’s book and one for a YA book. Postmark deadline: Jan. 9, 2012.

On Foreign Rights and Book Fairs by Sara Crowe from Crowe’s Nest. Peek: “What goes into selling a book in Germany is not so different from what goes into selling a book here. For one thing, selling here or there or anywhere requires research, contacts and knowing the market.”

The 50/50 Project: Help for Somali Refugees, Plus a Critique for You from Janet Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: “For a flat $50 donation you can help the destitute and starving of Somalia and come away with a terrific critique as well.”

Hunger Mountain Submissions Call: “The Hunger Mountain children’s & YA page continues to showcase the best and brightest in children’s literature, from new voices to award-winners. We spotlight industry issues as they happen and create a dialogue between writer, reader, librarian, parent, and all interested in kid-lit. We are also interested in sneak-peaks into new books coming out, deleted chapters from books, short stories, etc.” For more information, visit the Hunger Mountain submissions page. Source: Bethany Hegedus.

See also Best Articles This Week for Writers from Adventures in Children’s Publishing, which in turn links to several other roundups.

Mark Your Calendars

Donate items or services for bid!

Mark your calendars for Jean Reidy’s Light Up the Library online auction celebrating the release of her latest picture book Light Up the Night (Disney Hyperion, 2011) and benefiting the library at Musana Children’s Home in Iganga, Uganda! The auction will take place Nov. 7 to Nov. 18. Critiques from editors, agents and award-winning authors, writing mentorships, autographed books and more. Learn more at

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out this new book trailer for Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf). Book trailer by Dan Prozinski / Durable Images Inc.

Enter to win a signed set of the Witchfinder triology by William Hussey from Tall Tales & Short Stories. Eligibility: international. Winner to be announced midday Oct. 13 (U.K. time). See the book trailer below.

Check out this Banned Books video from Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. More about the video. Includes a reading of “Manifesto” by Ellen Hopkins. See also Confessions from a Book Challenge (YA librarian Allison’s perspective on past challenges) from Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books.

This Week’s Cynsations Posts

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a signed copy of Lost in Time by Melissa de la Cruz (Hyperion, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click immediately preceding link and scroll) 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 “Lost in Time” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: Oct. 10. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Good luck!

The winners of Snuggle Mountain apps by Lindsey Lane, illustrated by Melissa Iwai (PicPocket, 2011) were Elizabeth, Stacy, and Varsha! Lindsey will be contacting you about receiving your app.

Gail Giles Banned Books Giveaway: enter to win from Cari’s Book Blog. Prize includes: a signed copy of Right Behind You; Shattering Glass, a signed copy of What Happened to Cass McBride; Banned Book Button; Bookmarks and Swag. Eligibility: U.S. only. Winner announced Oct. 2. See link for details. See also Gail Giles on Writer’s Block.

Looking for an international giveaway? Scroll back up to “Cynsational Screening Room” for the link to enter to win William Hussey’s Witchfinder trilogy!

Postcard & iTunes Giveaway

Enter to win one of three sets of ten signed Tantalize: Kieren’s Story graphic novel postcards, each with a $10 iTunes gift card. To enter, comment at this post 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 “iTunes/postcard set” in the subject line. 

You may earn extra chances to win by blogging, posting at social networks, or tweeting about this giveaway. Detail efforts in your entry. Five entries maximum per person.

If you are a public/school librarian, university professor of youth literature/education/library science, or a children’s-YA bookseller, you may include that information in your entry with a link to your school/public library, university department, or bookstore website for an extra chance to win.

Author-sponsored. Deadline: Oct. 10. Eligibility: North America.

Austin Scene

Author Jessica Lee Anderson signed Calli (Milkweed, 2011) after a recent Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople. Note: Jessica is highly recommended as a speaker.

Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies Launch Party & Art Show at The Writing Barn (10202 Wommack Road) in Austin. Peek: “Please join Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson to celebrate the release of their newest children’s picture book, Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds (Tundra, 2011)! Minis and Friends, a charitable organization that benefits disabled children, will be at the event with live miniature horses to pet.

“Original art from the book will be on display, prints will be for sale, and copies of Harness Horses will be available for purchase and to get autographed. The event will include snacks, horsey games and more.”

The Writing Barn, a writing retreat and book launch party space is available for rental in South Austin. Operated by children’s-YA author Bethany Hegedus, The Writing Barn is a haven for book lovers with floor-to-ceiling book shelves, a cozy loft, a large covered porch, free wifi, a spacious bedroom with queen-sized-bed, half bath, and a kitchenette.  For more information visit: The Writing Barn (website under construction) and/or email writingbarn at for rates and availability.

More Personally

Happy Rosh Hashana to my Jewish friends! My favorite related picture book is New Year at the Pier by April Halprin Wayland, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (Dial, 2009)(click link for trailer).

WOW Wednesday: Cynthia Leitich Smith–Your Only Real Competition is Yourself from Martina at Adventures in Children’s Publishing. Peek: “I’m talking about me versus me and what that means to my writing life. I’m talking about you versus you and what that might mean to yours.”

A Tantalizing New Perspective on Tantalize by J.L. Bell from Oz and Ends. Peek: “Strangely enough, while some male teens would be wary of a book featuring a hunky guy in a tight T-shirt, the long traditions of mainstream American comic books mean that the same cover offers no worries as long as there are many more pictures of the same hunky guy inside.” Great observation!

Crashing the Gate: Writerly Advice from Industry Folks in the Know from Pamela Witte at Ink & Angst. Insights from authors, an editor, and an agent (including Cynthia Leitich Smith).

Houston Highlights: Blue Willow and Pasadena Schools from Cynsations. Note: Blue Willow Bookshop has author-signed stock of books in the Tantalize series! Shop online or call 281.497.8675 to order!

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Austin Teen Book Festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 1 at Palmer Events Center in Austin. The event is free! No need to register, just show up! Students do not need to be accompanied by an adult.

Meet Ming!

Illustrator Ming Doyle will be signing Tantalize: Kieren’s Story at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard Street) in Brookline, Massachusetts. Guests are invited to participate in a vampire/werewolf costume contest.

More Than One Way to Read with Barry Lyga and Cynthia Leitich Smith from 11:30 to 12:30 in Capitol Extension Room E2.010 Oct. 22 at the Texas Book Festival. Signings to follow. See also 2011 Texas Book Festival Children’s-YA Programming from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be appearing at Austin Comic Con, scheduled for Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at the Austin Convention Center.

Guest Post: Ron Koertge on They Made Me Do It. I Didn’t Want To, But They Made Me

By Ron Koertge

I always admired people who wrote sequels. I was lucky to get through one of my novels without forgetting the main character’s name and gender. Then I’d go to a conference and watch other writers sketch a two or three book arc on a white board—plot, sub-plot, hero, unreliable narrator, death, regeneration, and enough twists and turns to baffle the Minotaur.

Oh, so what. I liked moving from book to book—writing in verse one time then not, meeting new teenagers, creating new landscapes, solving old problems in new ways.

If I wanted to hang around people I knew well, I could visit my in-laws and eat the fruit salad. You know the fruit salad, the one Aunt B. brings, the one with the miniature marshmallows and the inflamed cherries.

To my surprise, though, a year or two ago, Kevin Boland—the hero of Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (Candlewick, 2003)—turned up. I was happy to see Kevin again. We both liked poetry and baseball. I didn’t actually think of Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs (Candlewick, 2010) as a sequel. I just wanted to hang out with this kid and write even more poetry.

Turns out I pretty much hit for the cycle and then some. I mixed free verse with the ghazal, the sestina, the villanelle, the pantoum and more. Giving Kevin a new girlfriend who was as crazy about poetry as he was made writing more fun. They were good kids. No worries. Everything turned out well.

Then I was through with sequels. One was a nice surprise. Thank you, poetry gods.

Now on to something else.

But you know what they say: If you want to make God laugh, have a plan. Because one day when I thought I was working on something new I got a postcard from a fan. Four words.

Okay, three words and a contraction:

I’m worried about Colleen.

And just like that, I was worried about her, too. Stoner & Spaz (Candlewick, 2002) was a serious book (or at least as serious a book as a smartypants like me can write).

Colleen is a drug addict. She’s reckless and shot through with self-disgust. She can be scathing and bitter. Sarcasm is her sonnet-form.

Ron Koertge; photo by Sonya Sones.

Ben is just about the only good thing in her life, and because he loves her, she thinks he’s not only a spaz but a dope. Who could possibly care for a burnout like her?

At the end of Stoner & Spaz, Colleen leaves Ben and goes off with a guy in a Camaro who knows where there’s a party.

Now Playing: Stoner & Spaz II (Candlewick, 2011) begins with a furious and heartbroken Ben confronting her the very next day.

Now that’s a sequel—one night apart and a whole book to follow.

I remember writing Ben’s anguished question to a chastened but still defiant Colleen: “How could you do that?” I thought to myself, Seriously, Colleen. How could you?

That’s why I wrote the sequel: to find out.

Cynsational Notes

Look for an interview with Ron in the “Under Cover” column of the October issue of School Library Journal.

In Memory: Children’s Author Marisa Montes

Award-winning children’s author Marisa Montes, 59, of Walnut Creek, California, died Aug. 18, 2011. She was born in San Juan Puerto Rico on Nov. 5, 1951.

“At the time of her death, she was working on compiling an anthology of stories by Latina women about pivotal moments in girl’s lives.”

Marisa was a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and of the State Bar of California.

Source: Rene Colato Lainez at La Bloga (via Struve and Laporte Obituaries).

More Personally

I only knew Marisa online and in passing, but I did have the pleasure of interviewing her and illustrator, Yuyi Morales, about one of my all-time favorite picture books, Los Gatos Black on Halloween (Henry Holt, 2006).

In the video below, watch the 2008 Tomas Rivera Award Luncheon Speech by Marisa. Los Gatos Black was the winner that year. Marisa talks about the growth of Hispanic and Latin American children’s-YA literature, related challenges and the importance of such award programs.

For Spanish-language speakers: Univisions Encuentro en la Bahia interviews Marisa on the importance of books and reading.

Don’t miss Marisa’s classic online craft article Notes on Writing a Picture Book.

My condolences to Marisa’s family, friends, and many fans.

Guest Post: Patrick Ness on A Monster Calls: Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd

Photo by Geoff Morgan

By Patrick Ness

I never got to meet Siobhan Dowd.

I only know her the way that most of the rest of you will – through her superb books.

Four electric young adult novels, two published in her lifetime, two after her too-early death. If you haven’t read them, remedy that oversight immediately.

This would have been her fifth book. She had the characters, a detailed premise, and a beginning. What she didn’t have, unfortunately, was time.

When I was asked if I would consider turning her work into a book, I hesitated. What I wouldn’t do – what I couldn’t do – was write a novel mimicking her voice. That would have been a disservice to her, to the reader, and most importantly to the story. I don’t think good writing can possibly work that way.

But the thing about good ideas is that they grow other ideas. Almost before I could help it, Siobhan’s ideas were suggesting new ones to me, and I began to feel that itch that every writer longs for: the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story.

I felt – and feel – as if I’ve been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, “Go. Run with it. Make trouble.” So that’s what I tried to do.

Along the way, I had only a single guideline: to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked. No other criteria could really matter.

And now it’s time to hand the baton on to you. Stories don’t end with the writers, however many started the race. Here’s what Siobhan and I came up with. So go. Run with it.

Make trouble.

About the Book

From the copy for A Monster Calls: Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd by Patrick Ness (Candlewick, 2011)(sample chapter):

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. 

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting– he’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments.

The monster in his backyard is different. It’s ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd– whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself– Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

Cynsational Notes

Patrick adds: “Using someone else’s ideas as a starting point for a whole book is such a strange experience, but in this instance, I ended up finding it exhilarating.

“Siobhan was so good, so smart that it felt like a private conversation between us, one with smiles and laughter, as I’d say things like ‘Wait until you see this!’ as the story grew and lived.

“Sad, of course, beyond sad that there’ll be no more Siobhan Dowd novels, but also a thrill and a privilege to be able to take this final idea that she was so excited about and watch it blossom. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Patrick Ness is the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling Chaos Walking trilogy. He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he lives in London. Listen to an audio interview with Patrick by Jason Isaacs of “Harry Potter” fame about A Monster Calls.

Siobhan Dowd spent twenty years as a human rights campaigner for PEN and Amnesty International before her first novel, A Swift Pure Cry, was published in 2006. She won the Carnegie Medal posthumously in 2009 after her death at the age of forty-seven.

Follow the rest of Patrick’s tour this week at:

Author-Signed Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Postcard Set & $10 iTunes Gift Certificate Giveaway

Enter to win one of three sets of ten signed Tantalize: Kieren’s Story graphic novel postcards, each with a $10 iTunes gift card.

To enter, comment at this post 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 “iTunes/postcard set” in the subject line.

You may earn extra chances to win by blogging, posting at social networks, or tweeting about this giveaway. Detail efforts in your entry. Five entries maximum per person.

If you are a public/school librarian, university professor of youth literature/education/library science, or a children’s-YA bookseller, you may include that information in your entry with a link to your school/public library, university department, or bookstore website for an extra chance to win.

Author-sponsored. Deadline: Oct. 10.

Eligibility: North America.

Good luck!

New Voice: Tess Hilmo on With a Name Like Love

Tess Hilmo is the first-time author of With a Name Like Love (Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan, Margaret Ferguson Books, 2011)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

When Ollie’s daddy, the Reverend Everlasting Love, pulls their travel trailer into Binder to lead a three-day revival, Ollie knows that this town will be like all the others her daddy drags them through—it is exactly the kind of nothing Ollie has come to expect.

But on their first day in town, Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel, whose mother is in jail for murdering his father. Jimmy insists that his mother is innocent and Ollie believes him. 

Still, even if Ollie convinces her daddy to break his three-day rule and stay longer, how can two thirteen-year-olds free a woman who has signed a confession?

Ollie’s longing for a friend and her daddy’s penchant for searching out lost souls prove to be a formidable force in this tiny town where everyone seems bent on judging and jailing without a trial.

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

Tess Hilmo

I have a vivid memory of when I was six years old.

I was walking down the street with a friend, singing “This Little Light of Mine” at the top of my lungs. My friend turned to me and said, “You shouldn’t be singing that song. You are just a skinny white girl who can’t carry a tune.”

Well, she was right about the singing part…I really am horrible. But, she was wrong about the other part. I loved southern gospel music from a young age and could not stop singing those songs. They made me believe I could accomplish anything my heart desired. They made me feel special and wonderful and – most of all – capable.

I kept singing songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Down Moses” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Years later, I wrote a song patterned after those old spirituals called “Lead Me On.”

After hearing the song, my mother said, “You should write a story to go with that song.” And I did. With A Name Like Love is that story. It is a tribute to the music that made me believe in myself. Of course, I had to mix a little mystery into it in honor of my first favorite novel series, Nancy Drew. My original song, “Lead Me On,” is actually featured in the novel!

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first: character, concept or historical period? How did you go about building your world? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration and support?

Tess’s office chair: “Writing takes time and effort!”

Once I knew the novel had to contain those classic southern songs, the setting was pretty obvious. It had to be in the South.

I turned to my own family history for the rest…having a great uncle who was an itinerant preacher back in the 1950s helped. I read his writings, thought about his lifestyle, wondered what his children might have experienced.

My characters are all fictional, but having that family link really did assist me in my research. Also, I set the story in Arkansas because I had family records, diaries and pictures from relatives in Arkansas on my father’s side.

I knew I wanted to write a Southern murder mystery that would be both intriguing and, hopefully, uplifting. I simply tried to honor the people of that time period and explore how those special songs might have helped them through difficult situations.

Enter to Win Lost in Time by Melissa de la Cruz

Enter to win a signed copy of Lost in Time by Melissa de la Cruz (Hyperion, 2011). From the promotional copy:

After their beautiful yet brief bonding ceremony in Italy, Schuyler Van Alen and Jack Force are forced to separate. 

To fulfill the Van Alen Legacy, Schuyler travels to Alexandria to search for Catherine of Siena and the Gate of Promise. But Schuyler quickly discovers that everything she believed about the Gate to be wrong. Meanwhile, Jack makes the difficult decision to return to New York to face his twin and former bondmate, Mimi. But instead of a bitter reunion, he is faced with a choice for which there is no good option.

Mimi, with a most unexpected travel companion in Oliver Hazard-Perry, jets off to Egypt, too, to search for Kingsley Martin, her long lost love. With all roads leading to Hell, Mimi learns that not all love stories have happy endings. But she’ll have to put her own feelings aside if she’s going to save her crumbling Coven.

Packed with heartache, twists, and vampiric folklore, Lost in Time is sure to satisfy hungry fans’ cravings for more Blue Bloods adventure.

Read an excerpt. See Melissa on tour in California, Washington, Ontario, Michigan, Maryland, Philadelphia, and Texas.

To enter, comment on this post 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 “Lost in Time” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Deadline: Oct. 10. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Good luck!

Cynsational Notes

To stay up to date on the latest news, readers can visit Melissa’s website, follow her on Twitter and Tumblr and “like” the Blue Bloods Facebook page.

Illustrator Marsha Riti on The Picky Little Witch

Marsha Riti on Marsha Riti: “I am a freelance illustrator based out of Austin, Texas. I have a BFA in studio art from the University of Texas in Austin. I love to create, and I take inspiration from early comic artists as well as more recent ones with a slight mid-century twist.”

Tell us about yourself as a young artist/reader. How does the child you were inform the illustrator/children’s book professional you are now?

As a child I was (and still am) curious and observant. Looking under and at everything helps when I need to sit down at the drawing table, and, for example, sketch two alligators on a tandem bicycle.

Also, I never lost my childlike excitement about new things and ideas, which my friends and colleagues can attest to.

Seeing something new is inspiring! My brain starts firing on all cylinders, and I get excited about my ideas for new projects!

How did you develop your artistic skills over time?

I have always been good at drawing. What helped my skills more than anything else was taking classes in life drawing. Also, I am (like most artists) never complacent about the quality of my work. You can always execute a drawing or painting better. Because of that, I am continually working on improving my craft. It’s never ending.

Marsha’s office.

Congratulations on your debut picture book, The Picky Little Witch, written by Elizabeth Brokamp (Pelican, 2011)! Tell us about the book.

It is a Halloween-themed picture book about Little Witch, who will not eat the special Halloween stew Mama Witch cooked up for her. Then the tables are turned on Mama Witch when Little Witch is trick-or-treating. There’s even a recipe in the back for delicious Halloween Soup!

It’s a fun read for kids before they go out on Halloween night.

How did you come to connect with Elizabeth’s text? What about it spoke to you?

I connected with the text when I began doing the page breaks. That’s when I began visualizing the story. I really liked Little Witch’s attitude. I thought she was just hilarious!

What approach did you take in illustrating the manuscript?

After reading the manuscript, I sketched out the characters and thumbnails, which is very standard. While doing this, I kept in mind that I wanted to create a visual story arc that starts and ends in the same spot, but with the characters’ attitudes about food changing.

I based my final sketches off the thumbnails (with some revisions). I scanned the sketches into Photoshop, deleted the whites and printed the cleaned-up sketches onto watercolor paper. After painting the foreground elements, I then scanned the paintings in to drop in the backgrounds.

Used with permission.

Used with permission.

What was your revision process like?

Because I work both traditionally and digitally, the revisions were a breeze to do.

For example, I originally had Little Witch in a full dress with a “Peter Pan” collar. However, Elizabeth wanted Little Witch to be more contemporary looking.

I just used Photoshop to redo the top for all my drawings. It was no problem at all and made the final artwork better. In fact, all the revisions made the book better. It’s extremely helpful having someone give you constructive feedback.

Used with permission.

What advice do you have for illustrators interested in breaking into children’s books?

About Marsha.

Everyone says this, but I think it’s really important: draw, draw, draw! Especially drawings of kids.

Have a great portfolio showing lots of kids, and animals in situations that imply narrative.

Have a good website with your portfolio at the top of the first page. And never ever stop working on your craft or improving.

Other than your own, what is your favorite recent picture book and why?

I’m Not. by Pam Smallcomb, illustrated by Robert Weinstock (Schwartz & Wade, 2010). I really love the silly paintings. They’re great and make me laugh out loud. The story is just wonderful, it’s both humorous and has heart.

The part I like the best is when the main character’s friend Evelyn (who can do everything) says, “I’m stinky at spelling.” That’s when our main character realizes she can do things, too.

It’s a great book about being friends and celebrating one another.

What do you do outside the world of books for young readers?

I love to cook! I also hang out with my lovely boyfriend and wonderful friends.

Cynsational Notes

Marsha’s launch party for The Picky Little Witch will be at 11:30 Oct. 1 at BookPeople in Austin.

Houston Highlights: Blue Willow & Pasadena Schools

Huge thanks to Cathy, children’s-YA specialist and events coordinator at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, for hosting me this week to visit the store and Pasadena schools. Thanks also to Candlewick Press—especially Tracy—for sponsoring/facilitating my trip. Here’s a peek at my adventures!

First up, Pasadena High School, where I had breakfast with students and then spoke formally to a larger group. Special thanks and cheers to Emily Farmer and Ann Caesar of Pasadena ISD!

It was Superhero Day at the school.
The students had lots of questions about Diabolical (Jan. ’12)
I had a kolache for breakfast.
Students settling in for the presentation.

Then we were off to Pasadena Memorial High School, where I had a spooktacular Sanguini’s style lunch with a small group and, again, spoke more formally to a larger group. Special thanks and cheers to Adrianna Rabile and Jennifer Brabston of Pasadena ISD!

Lunch featured Gothic-themed decorations.
Lasagna, bread, and salad were served.
The small group begins to settle in for lunch.

I really loved the story tie-in decorations. So awesome!
It was such an honor to see Tantalize series images brought to life!
Both events included signings and giveaways.

Having professional librarians—inspiring, ready with reading recs, managing and re-imagining a teen-friendly environment—makes all the difference when it comes to author programming.

I talked to so many teens who’re writers themselves and, because they were so well prepared, I had the opportunity to go deeper in talking about the craft of fiction and the conversation of books over time. I greatly appreciated the enthusiasm, respect, and thoughtful questions/comments of students at both schools. Pasadena teen readers: color me your forever fan!

Later that evening, I spoke and signed books at Blue Willow Book Shop. Here, the crowd is still coming in, but the seats quickly filled. I was so incredibly touched by the support of the local children’s-YA writing and literature community. (Look for kidlit celebrities among the early arrivals.)

Authors, librarians, bloggers, readers and of course booksellers—I appreciate you!

Blue Willow Book Shop is such a fantastic independent bookstore—to work with, to visit, for discovering books and connecting with book lovers. I give it my highest recommendation!

Thanks again and again to Valerie, Cathy and the whole Blue Willow crew!

And finally, big hugs to SCBWI-Houston and Literary Lonestars (Jen Bigheart!) for helping to get the word out about my event!

Cynsational Notes

Blue Willow Book Shop has author-signed stock of books in the Tantalize series! Shop online or call 281.497.8675 to order!

A more personal highlight of the trip was dinner at author pal Varsha Baja‘s home. Above, she models her latest book, T is for Taj Mahal, illustrated by Robert Crawford (Sleeping Bear, 2011). Note: she’s not only a wonderful writer—she’s a terrific cook, too!