New Voice: Carrie Harris on Bad Taste in Boys

Carrie Harris is the first-time author of Bad Taste in Boys (Delacorte, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Super-smartie Kate Grable gets to play doctor, helping out her high school football team. Not only will the experience look good on her college apps, she gets to be this close to her quarterback crush, Aaron.

Then something disturbing happens. Kate finds out that the coach has given the team steroids. Except…the vials she finds don’t exactly contain steroids. Whatever’s in them is turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless, flesh-eating…zombies.

Unless she finds an antidote, no one is safe. Not Aaron, not Kate’s brother, not her best friend…not even Kate…

It’s scary. It’s twisted. It’s sick. It’s high school.

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?

I am continually, constantly surprised. Every time I get an email or a picture or a note that says, “I read your book!” my kneejerk reaction is to wonder how they hacked into my computer and if I should press charges. Honestly, I pinch myself every morning. Because I’ve been dreaming about it for so long. Not exaggerating—I’ve been writing for fifteen years.

The whole thing started way back when neon was cool. I got the only F of my life on a creative writing assignment, and I tried to tell myself that it stood for “fabulous,” but I didn’t believe me. I wrote the heck out of the next paper, got an A+, and was hooked.

But I was determined to be a doctor, dancer, veterinarian, psychologist, and/or lifelong college student, so I wasted a lot of time changing my major to each of these things (except the last one, which is kind of implied by all the rest).

Finally, I took a writing workshop and changed that major for the last time, because it’s so much more fun to write about sparkly unicorns than it is to learn the Krebs cycle. Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle!

I figured I’d become a teacher and write on the side. So I started the first of a bijillion freelance writing jobs, went back for a masters in teaching, and big surprise! I changed my major again. To statistics, which only proves once and for all that I really am rat-in-a-coffee-can insane.

So now, I’m a statistician who writes freelance on the side, and I have no real idea how that happened. But it all worked out, because along the way I developed the obligatory list of wonky jobs that all writers seem to have. I sold orthopedic shoes and knives (but not at the same time), coordinated autopsies, and managed the national center for research in the human form of Mad Cow disease.

In short, I lived. And I kept writing. And I kept getting better.

This is what comes to mind when I think about the significant moments in my writing life. It’s not the years of writing websites and roleplaying games and med school study cards and all that other random stuff, although that certainly was important to do craft-wise. But even more important for me was figuring out who I am and realizing that maybe I’m not the kind of person who wins Pulitzers, and that’s okay! That maybe being a monster-obsessed, slightly crazed, extremely silly writer is exactly what I ought to be, and all those years of trying to deny that? Ultimately fruitless.

At the end of the day? I found myself through my writing. I think that’s pretty awesome.

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?

For me, comedy is all about trial and error, wordplay, and boob jokes. (Although I think I might have gone a little overboard with the boob jokes, because my editor requested that I give my most recent manuscript a breast reduction.)

Humor’s a really slippery subject because there are so many different ways to approach it. The thing that has surprised me so much about putting a funny book out on the shelves is that every person who writes me cites a different thing that really cracked them up. It really does go to show that humor is relative.

So if that’s true, how in the heck do you learn to write it? Honestly, I’ve read all the how-to humor books. Okay, not exactly true. I started a lot of them, but I don’t think I ever finished one. I don’t think humor is something you can break down into easy-to-follow steps. For me, it all comes down to studying at the feet of the greats and critically evaluating their work as a writer.

This sounds very impressive and technical until you realize what it actually means—I really just wanted an excuse to watch a lot of “The Muppet Show” and read a bunch of Dr. Seuss and call it “research.”

But it is! Jim Henson taught me more than any how-to book ever will. And when I write, I channel my inner Fozzie, or Kermit, or Piggy. (I once channeled my inner Animal, but I don’t advise that. My laptop still has bite marks on it.)

Instead of trying to write comedy, I try to make myself snort things out my nose.

I think it’s an important distinction.

And if all else fails, I’ve found that a good boob joke goes a long way…

Happy Halloween

Scary Halloween Food by Petr Kratochvil

Cynsational Notes

A Blood Good Read: ‘Dracula’ Author’s Journal Found by Ashley Fantz from CNN. Peek: “…one day not long ago, a researcher working on a project about Stoker got in touch with Dobbs to ask if he might know anything about a journal his famous relative kept. Dobbs looked around and finally popped open this tiny book. It was signed ‘Abraham Stoker.‘” Note: the Tantalize series is a tribute to Dracula (1897), and in particular, Blessed (Book 3)(2011) is a literary mystery in which Stoker’s novel holds the clues to saving the day. Or, well, night. (That said, you don’t have to have read Dracula to enjoy it.)

Last call! Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2009) is a highlighted October sale title for Kindle readers! You can purchase the e-book for $2.99 (67% off)! See a complete list (with links) of children’s-YA ebooks on sale for Kindle/ readers from author Cheryl Rainfield. Limited time only! Sale ends after Halloween. See also information on Eternal, Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story and the forthcoming Diabolical.

Last call! Enter to win an ARC of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Melissa at Just One Opinion. Deadline: Nov. 1. See more information. Note: link fixed!

Writers and Illustrators and Dinosaurs

Attention Children’s-YA Writers & Illustrators!

In anticipation of the release of Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), Greg Leitich Smith is hosting a photo blog series called Writers and Illustrators and Dinosaurs, and you’re invited to participate!

All you have to do is email him a photo of yourself with any dinosaur image. Greg says, “These can be realistic dinosaurs or skeletons from natural history museums or theme parks or can be dinosaurs of the more cartoon-y variety (like toys, signs, books).”

So far, participants include Caroline Arnold, James Howe, David Ostow, Jane Yolen, and Jennifer Ziegler.

The posts also offer information about the contributors’ writing/art and will be featured in a variety of book lover venues. Greg adds, “I’m having fun promoting my fellow children’s-YA book creators and of course celebrating all things dinosaur!”

To participate, write greg at gregleitichsmith dot com.

Guest Post: James Riley on Half Upon a Time

By James Riley

Growing up reading comic books, I discovered something that may not be unique to the form, but certainly has been used there more than anywhere else. Spider-Man could angst all he wanted on his own, but look at how much more angst he could swing through when comparing himself to the famous Human Torch, or when he couldn’t live up to the example of Captain America!

We could have exported the angst from Spider-Man comics alone to teenagers in other countries and made a fortune!

There’s something magical about stories set in a shared universe, where characters interact and manipulate each other and their stories.

It’s more than just surpassing the sum of their parts. I mean, there were also cool fights! Who would win: Thor or the Hulk, Batman or Superman? I still have trouble sleeping over this!

I’ve always thought the idea that fictional characters could explode from their own pages and into those of another is part of what attracts readers to comics. The shared universe becomes almost alive, given the complexity of the interactions (I wish that were my idea, but in this, as in all things, the comics writer who suggested it, Grant Morrison, is much smarter than I am).

But let’s put aside superheroes for a second, for other, older shared universes. Universes with witches in candy houses, wolves dressed as grandmothers, and bears who prefer their porridge in three different temperatures. Universes where fairies have tales, even when they don’t have tails.

Universes that we all already know by heart.

After all, it’s almost impossible to grow up today without knowing about Cinderella’s curfew, or what lives at the top of a magic beanstalk. Much of that is due to the influence of Walt Disney, but somehow kids had still heard of Rapunzel before the latest animated fairy tale came out last year.

Reading Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, it’s easy to think that the Little Mermaid could watch from the ocean as an Ugly Duckling floated sadly behind its family, or Rumpelstiltskin offering a not-yet Sleeping Beauty a bargain so she’d never have to touch a spindle. Snow White not only faced a Wicked Queen’s Huntsman, but had a sister in another Grimm tale by the name of Rose Red.

Continuity problems? Sure, you should see the Internet comments the Grimms got.

But these stories, given to us at a time when stories jumble up with reality and imagination as they were meant to, also give us the freedom to imagine the possibilities.

There’s nothing like looking at something old and well-loved, and seeing a new possibility in it. Do we go with the obvious, like the Big Bad Wolf in the Three Little Pigs also terrorizing Little Red Riding Hood? Or do we make that wolf a real Beast, who might only be loved by a true Beauty, both inside and out?

Both options could be fun, but I wanted to take it a step further: What if by striking out into other tales, a character sets off a chain of events that end in no more happily ever afters?

This isn’t Captain America meeting the Fantastic Four, this is Captain America meeting Batman, and saving his parents from getting shot. What happens then? …Also, I kinda want to read that Captain America/Batman story.

Middle grade readers are at that perfect age of belief in both imagination and reality. And they’re not yet old enough to think fairy tales are lame (I’m not sure what that age is, but I’ll let you know if I ever reach it). So they seemed the perfect audience for me to take all the fables I grew up with, mix them into a shared, comic book-type shared universe, and see what happened.

And what happened was a series called Half Upon a Time (Aladdin, 2010-).

Jack, by the way, can totally beat up Prince Charming.

Last Call! Tantalize $2.99 Ebook Sale for Kindle Readers

U.S. Readers! Have you been waiting for a chance to read Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2009)?

It’s a highlighted October sale title for Kindle readers! You can purchase the e-book for $2.99 (67% off)! See a complete list (with links) of children’s-YA ebooks on sale for Kindle/ readers from author Cheryl Rainfield.

Limited time only! Sale ends after Halloween.

See also information on Eternal, Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story and the forthcoming Diabolical.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Harcourt, April 2012

Dear Debut Authors: Eventually You’ll Care Less…and That’s a Good Thing by Saundra Mitchell from Making Up Stuff for a Living. Peek: “… maybe it will help you better enjoy your debut– your one and only debut– to have some answers. So…” Highest recommendation.

Poetry Books for Young People about War and Peace from Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children. Note: scroll for bibliography.

Picture Book Idea Month by Tara Lazar from Writing for Kids. Peek: “Do you think you can meet the PiBoIdMo challenge and create 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days? Well then, sign-up for all the craziness!”

Lesson Plan on Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? by Bernelda Wheeling: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “If you work with preschool or kindergarten children and you’re interested in a lesson plan for the book, Montana’s Indian Ed for All developed one that spans five days.” Note: see also teacher resources for books (including Native American themed books) by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The Five Love Languages of Writing or How to Love a Writer by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: “Side note: writers often feel unloved.”

Articles on the Submissions Process by Tabitha from Writer Musings. A collection on various steps.

Coming 2012 from Peachtree

My Three-Day Blind Date with My Editor by Cynthia Levinson from EMU’s Debuts. Peek: “I was honored by Kathy’s support for the book. But, I also felt like the boy in the Dr. Seuss story who meets up with the green pants in the woods. Was she as scared of meeting me as I was of her?”

Marissa Moss on Finding the Story in History from I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: “Those are the stories I turn into books, the tales of courage and achievement against the odds that deserve to be widely known. Is it a coincidence that many of these undiscovered gems are about women?”

Dear Anonymous: Keep on Shining by Jo Knowles. A thoughtful, even gracious response to a hostile anonymous LiveJournal comment. If you’re going to respond at all, this is a model to consider first.

Daniel Nayeri: Publishing Renegade: an author/editor interview by Mary Kole from Peek: “Someone once said to me, ‘Daniel, your interests are a mile wide and an inch deep,’ and I might have misread that as a compliment.”

Character Traits Thesaurus: Talented from The Bookshelf Muse. Don’t miss the other writing thesaurus links in the sidebar.

My Conversation With Brian Selznick: On Wonderstruck, Hugo, and the Terror and Joy of Creating Books by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “A lot of times I actually draw positions that human beings can’t really get into, and so I have to take, like, three or four different pictures to approximate the pose, because in the drawings they look like they are poses that a human being can do, but you might notice, if you try to do some of them, that your feet might not work that way or your arm might go a different way. But I need them to be in that position for the drawing, so I take lots and lots of photographs.”

The 10 Types of Writers Block (and How to Overcome Them) from i09. Peek: “Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the terrifying mystique of Writer’s Block, it’s better to take it apart and understand it — and then conquer it.” Source: April Henry. See also Morning Pages by Coe Booth and Well Filling by Tim Wynne-Jones from Write at Your Own Risk.

Searching for the Right Publisher for Your Book by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children’s Literature. An overview for beginners that’s not agent centered.

There Is a Fine Line Between Comedy and Horror by Alex Laybourne from Jen Wylie’s Blog. Peek: “When used well, comedy allows the writer to relief the tension in the reader and that ultimately makes the next scare or creepy moment all the more real.”

YA author Brian Yansky is now on Twitter; follow him @BrianYansky. Note: see also @CynLeitichSmith.

Recommended by GregLSBlog.

Reawaken Your Love for the Picture Book (and Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores) by Matthew Cordell. Matthew suggests buying a picture book a week or, if you can’t afford that, one a month. Peek: “Someone you know needs more picture books in her/his/their life/lives. You need to experience, again, what you loved when you read picture books as a kid.” Source: 100 Scope Notes.

How to Get an Agent: round-up of posts by Jill Corcoran.

National Novel Writing Month from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30. Peek: “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon!” See also Nano Wrimo’s Young Writers Program. Check out the 2011 Pep Talkers!

See also Best Articles this Week for Writers!

SCBWI Pro Writers Marketing Intensive

Marketing for Professional Writers Intensive Debuts at the 2012 SCBWI Winter Conference: Registration is open for the 13th Annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators International Conference. SCBWI will hold its first Marketing for Professional Writers intensive on Jan. 27, 2012 which, along with a Marketing for Illustrators intensive that day, kicks off a jam-packed conference weekend. The Marketing for Writers intensive brings today’s market leaders together to talk trends and marketing tactics in social media, websites, ebooks, mobile & games, apps, book trailers, publicity, working with publishers, Amazon, the education market and more. Note: The 13th Annual SCBWI International Winter Conference will be Jan. 27 to Jan. 29 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

This Week’s Cynsations Posts

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win an illustrator-signed copy of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite by Anna Harwell Celenza, illustrated by Don Tate (Charlesbridge), choice of a $25 iTunes or Amazon gift certificate (winner’s choice), DVD of “Jazz Legends: Duke Ellington & His Orchestra 1929-1943.”

For more information on how to enter, see this link. Notes: (a) “every book comes with a CD filled with Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite holiday jazz music!” (b) 10 additional winners will each receive an illustrator-signed book. Publisher-sponsored. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 4. Eligibility: U.S./Canada.

Enter to win a paperback copy of The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street, 2008/Boyds Mills, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click the preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Deadwood Jones” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 31.

Enter to win a signed copy of Waiting to Forget by Sheila Kelly Welch (namelos, 2011)! To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with “Waiting to Forget” in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 7. 

Reminder: Enter to win an ARC of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Melissa at Just One Opinion. Deadline: Nov. 1. See more information. Note: link fixed!

The winner of an Aphrodite the Diva Swag Giveaway, courtesy of authors Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams from Cynsations, was Deni in New York.

The winner of Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow by Daniel Nayeri (Candlewick, 2011) from Cynsations was Darcy in South Carolina.

The winner of a manuscript critique by Tu Books/Lee & Low editor Stacy Whitman from Cynsations was Andrew in Indiana. Note: especially if you’re interested in business and craft issues related to diversity in children’s-YA publishing, don’t miss the conversation with Stacy and her author Karen Sandler in the comments of their interview/giveaway post (scroll to view). Peek from Stacy: “Whether or not you want to worry about a cultural expert before submission depends on how confident you are in your research, I suppose. Generally I’ll always want my own expert to take a look as well, either before acquisitions if it’s a culture I’m not familiar with or after if I feel I know enough to acquire the book, if the writer is not from the culture he or she is writing about.”

Cynsational Screening Room

Bestselling debut author Beth Revis on failure, success, persistence and her ten-year journey to publication, writing a new novel manuscript every year. Note: don’t be put off by her early use of the F-word (“failure”); she’s going somewhere with all this–I promise. Source: Cheryl Rainfield. See also an in-depth interview with Beth by Gwenda Bond from Lightspeed.

The winner of the Writers League of Texas Book Award in Writing for Young People is Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber (McElderry, 2011). Note: Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2011) was one of the finalists.

More Personally

Me & Barry, photo by Shelli Cornelison

The highlight of this past week was the 2011 Texas Book Festival. Here’s a pic of my graphic novel panel with Barry Lyga. See my whole photo report!

Have you visited my official author site lately? It includes a substantial section of Children’s & YA Lit Resources and Goodies for Writers! Special thanks to my wonderful webmaster Lisa Firke for her ongoing monthly updates and latest mega update of the annotated bibliographies!

Thanks to Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books for featuring Diabolical as her Waiting-on-Wednesday pick! Note: Diabolical is the fourth book in the Tantalize series and will be available from Candlewick in Jan. 2012.

Thanks to Alice Pope for her efforts on The Official SCBWI Blog! Note: Lee Wind will be taking over.

Reminder: Enter to win an ARC of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Melissa at Just One Opinion. Deadline: Nov. 1. See more information. Note: link fixed!

Reminder: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith a highlighted October sale title for Kindle readers! You can purchase the e-book for $2.99 (67% off)! See a complete list (with links) of children’s-YA ebooks on sale for Kindle/ readers from author Cheryl Rainfield.

Reminder: download “Cat Calls,” my free YA paranormal short story for the Kindle or Nook.

Reminder: I receive upwards of four requests a week for book donations–largely to benefit compelling causes. Unfortunately, I can’t fulfill all of them, however, I host regular giveaways of my books and those by other authors here at Cynsations, so be sure enter! Good luck!

Even More Personally

I watched a few movies on DVD this week. “Batman: Year One” (2011), a must-see for Commissioner Gordon fans, “Topper” (1937), “Ghost Busters” (1984) and “The Three Investigators” (2007).

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Tweens Read Book Festival will be Oct. 29 in Pasadena, Texas.

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

Guest Post: Greg R. Fishbone on Surving the Sophomore Outing

By Greg R. Fishbone

It’s an exciting time when an author releases his or her debut book, possibly after many years of writing, revising, and submitting to publishers.

In 2007, it was extra special for me to share the debut book experience with fellow authors in the Class of 2k7 group, and to watch a new crop of debut children’s and YA authors renew and refresh the publishing industry every year since.

(Please visit the Class of 2k11 website and bookmark the Class of 2k12 website for a sampling of great debut books of 2011 and 2012 respectively.)

There is no similar support group for authors producing a second book, but perhaps there should be, since the challenges of a “sophomore outing” are at least as difficult as those surrounding the release of a debut title.

Second books have a different set of expectations from readers and require a different frame of mind from the author. Fortunately, there are also upsides to building on the experiences gained the first time around.

A debut book comes to readers with little or no expectation, other than second-hand reviews or word of mouth. Second and subsequent books will need to reach readers who already have a positive or negative opinion of any books that have come before. 

Some people who have read your first book will expect a second to be more of the same, for good or bad. Anyone who loved your first book will want your second to be a stylistic or thematic sequel, even if it’s not set in the same story world and doesn’t involve the same set of characters. Anyone who disliked your first book may be disinclined to even give your second book a chance.

Authors tend to have a style or themes that carry over from one story to another, but different books may be better suited for different audiences. My first book, The Penguins of Doom (Blooming Tree, 2007), was a contemporary fantasy, written in first person, with a female narrator. My second book, The Challengers (Tu Books/Lee & Low, 2011), is a series book in the science fiction and sports genres, written in omniscient third person, featuring a male protagonist.

I like to think that all readers will enjoy both books equally, but realistically there will be a Venn Diagram containing two sets of ideal readers with some overlap in the middle.

Another difference is that the release of a debut book is a milestone event that other people will use to define you as a “real” author. Of course I’ve always been a real author, but the outside world loves to create a huge distinction between pre-published and post-published status and, truthfully, it feels better to show off a finished book than a promising manuscript or a personalized rejection letter.

Just don’t get too used to the debut author accolades, because people won’t make as much distinction between once-published and twice-published folks.

Once you have the first book in print, pumping out a second is just what people now expect from you.

On the plus side, a second book can reveal the author’s growth as an artist. Releasing subsequent books will reveal a career arc that will ideally show continued blossoming and refinement.

While I worked on my second book, I used my first book as a baseline. Everything I wrote had to be funnier, tighter, more compelling, and just plain better in every way. This is a benchmark I didn’t have before, and I found it helpful to keep in mind.

Another plus is that I can now apply the marketing experience that I obtained from publishing the first book, including a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

I already have a website. I have some great contacts and a social media presence. I even have a few eager fans! Already knowing all the details that go into a book launch, I don’t feel nearly as much pressure or anxiety as I did the first time around. As a result I can be much less stressed.

Finally, the second book can also be a kind of debut. For example, The Challengers is my debut science fiction book. It’s also my debut series book and my debut sports book. Publishing a second book puts to rest any lingering self-doubts that the first book could have been some kind of fluke.

The debut book is a statement that says, “I’m here!” while the sophomore outing says, “I’m here to stay!”

Cynsational Notes

Bookseller Interview: Cathy Berner, Children’s-YA Specialist & Events Coordinator at Blue Willow

Cathy (in pink) with YA author Tera Lynn Childs

From Cynthia: In September, I had the pleasure of visiting two high schools in Pasadena, Texas, and Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, courtesy of Cathy Berner, the store’s children’s-YA specialist & events coordinator and Candlewick Press. See full report.

Today we’re talking to Cathy about book selling, the author-bookstore relationship, the future of books, and more!

What is your background in children’s-YA literature? 

Before I got this awesome job, I was a school librarian in suburban Chicago at a K-8 magnet school. I’ve always loved books and reading and rarely read books for grown ups.

What do you love about it?

I think children’s/YA lit is one of the richest fields in books these days. I love everything from picture books to YA novels and all that’s in between.

Books truly transport people to different times, places and situations. A book can change your life. I know I view life differently after reading certain books.

The one that comes most quickly to mind is Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Atheneum, 2010). She changed the way I see kids with disabilities. She forbids me to look away.

How did you come to be a bookseller?

I was at a Christopher Paul Curtis event put on by Blue Willow, and while I was waiting in line to get my books signed, I started talking to Valerie.

That was over six years ago, and the job has grown as my kids have.

Tell us about Blue Willow! What makes the store special?

Pete the Cat painted by James Dean at the shop.

Blue Willow is an independent bookstore at the heart of its community. Owner Valerie Koehler sets the tone, which is to love reading and to provide great customer service.

How about your involvement in the larger world of independent booksellers?

This year, I had the privilege of chairing the American Booksellers’ Association’s New Voices Committee.

The indie bookseller community is a great resource for booksellers and authors. It’s full of people who are passionate about books and believe in supporting their communities.

How is the store a center for your local book community?

We have a great group of local authors who come out and support each other as well as other authors we have coming to town. They’re active on social media as well as in person, and we just love them!

In what ways do you do outreach to educators and librarians?

We find great educators/librarians to partner with in school visits. We have annual educator nights, we keep them informed of authors we have visiting.

We’re happy to recommend books, to read books and give feedback on how to use them in the classroom, and to share our current favorites.

And we’ve partnered with educators and librarians in the greater Houston area to launch TeenBookCon and Tweens Read, festivals for teen and middle grade readers, respectively.

Could you talk a little about the special relationship between authors and booksellers?

Without authors, Blue Willow wouldn’t exist. We feel like we curate our collection for our customers. We support local authors and have a strong relationship with our local SCBWI.

How do you decide what events to include on your calendar?

We work with publishers to find the best fits for our store and our customer base.

What tips do you have for authors/illustrators doing bookstore events?

Check with the bookstore to see what format works best for them. This is not their first time hosting an event, so they generally know the best format to use in their store.

How about school visits?

At Blue Willow, we work very hard to find schools with librarians and faculty members who are advocates for reading and for author visits. We expect these schools to have prepared, enthusiastic, attentive students and staff. Meeting an author is a great opportunity, so this is not an unreasonable expectation.

Big picture, what five tips do you have for authors in working with/supporting independent booksellers?

1. Know your store. Learn about them and their community before you ask for something.

2. Link to IndieBound from your website. It’s easy to do! 

3. Understand that they need to make money in order to stay open. Many indies sell at full price, because that’s how they keep the lights on.

4. Use the expertise the store owner and employees have. If you are kind and respect their time, they will, more often than not, do what they can to help you.

5. Advocate for indie stores with your publisher. Let your publisher know that you want to support indies and – hopefully – they will too!

How is Blue Willow responding to the current economic climate?

We’re doing really well!

How is Blue Willow responding to the move toward e-formats in books?

We find ourselves asking our customers “How are you reading?” so we can let them know that they can purchase e-books through our website and continue to support us.

What do you see in the future of booksellers, especially with regard to children’s-YA books?

The picture book is not dead, and middle grade/YA fiction is one of the best places to be in literature today. ‘Nuff said.

Cynsational Notes

Authors/Illustrators: consider linking your official site or blog to that of your local independent bookseller and/or, in the U.S., IndieBound. Make an IndieBound widget featuring your books.

Tweens Read Book Festival will be Oct. 29 in Pasadena, Texas. Richard Peck is the keynoter.  Other participating authors include Crystal Allen, Michael Buckley, Kate Falls, Matthew Kirby, Lindsey Leavitt, Christina Mandelski, Lisa McMann, Jason Pinter, Allen Sitomer, Obert Skye, Clete Barrett Smith, and Andrea White.

Jo Ellen Misakian Interviews Author Gary Soto on His New Books, Writing & the Gary Soto Literary Museum

Gary Soto has two new books this fall, the e-novella When Dad Came Back (University Press of New England) and the short story collection Hey 13! (Holiday House). Earlier this year, he celebrated the opening of The Gary Soto Literary Museum.

Gary, a prolific writer, is best known for Baseball in April (Harcourt, 2000), Too Many Tamales, illustrated by Ed Martinez (Paperstar, 1996), Chato’s Kitchen (Penguin, 1997), Taking Sides (Harcourt, 1991), and Buried Onions (Graphia, 1996). He’s busily working on a new book of poems.

Jo Ellen Misakian is director of educational technology at Fresno Pacific University.
Even though the museum is housed in Fresno, I suspect its value will spread through California and beyond. How do you see the museum being most useful to those who enter? 

First, the museum is tidy—seven-hundred square feet—and it’s not techie, though there will be a video of me welcoming the visitor and talking about my decision to become a poet and writer.

Museums, by nature, are places where one goes to see human and natural expressions, most particularly in the shape of art or historical work, though museums can be devoted to all sorts of things, even barbed wire—I think there’s such a museum.

Mine is literary, and mine has a story to tell about a little boy with gaps in his education who became a writer. I’m hoping that the visitor will be curious, not unlike when someone goes to another person’s house for the first time—you look around and learn something about that person. We’re curious creatures, right?

I’m hoping the museum offers mystery, and by this I mean that feeling we get when we don’t know the answers but sort of have clues. Thus, we’re left with wonderment. I can see—and hear—visitors whispering, “So this is where he wrote Chato’s Kitchen?” when they see the dining table where I worked on a lot of my books.

Moreover, mystery will certainly bewilder the visitors when they look at my fourth-grade report card from St. John’s Elementary School and see all the “unsatisfactory” marks in composition, in social studies, and in religion—not even God was liking me a whole lot!

Then there is my teacher’s comment: “Gary dreams to[o] much in class!” Finally, on the bottom of my report card the dire prediction: “promotion doubtful.” Who would ever guess that I would enter college, move course by course on schedule and become a writer? Ah, that word again… mystery.

When did the idea for this project begin to formulate in your mind? 

When I first visited England in the mid 1990s and ventured into the Samuel Johnson house—Johnson of the dictionary fame, the wit, the raconteur, and essayist par excellence.

I’m not making a comparison—Johnson, Soto… No, but on the first glimpse of this master’s museum, which showcases very few items that actually belonged to him, my face lit up. My God, I told myself, here’s the chair where he wrote his dictionary—see how little it takes to entertain me?

In 1995, I had published about fourteen books—poetry, essays, children’s lit.—and more books were forthcoming. I’m not suggesting, of course, that I wrote books to argue a case for a museum.

No, but as I got busy because I enjoy writing and got to know my readers, here in California and beyond, I could see how much kids love to read, and how they responded to my goofy and occasionally sad stories and poems. I’m now at an age where I don’t have enough energy to gas up my car or book a SW flight to travel about. My readers now have an opportunity to come and see for themselves.

What has been the response to the museum? 

Other writers either loathe the project or, when they set their wine glasses down and become sober, are suspect—“Gee,” they think, “when did Soto die?” After all, there is no museum dedicated to living writer in this country—or so I believe. My motive is clear: to organize my literary output in such a manner that it makes sense to the visitor. It’s a place that makes a claim that writing—and reading—is serious business.

What aspect of the museum are you most proud of? 

The design. It was conceived and built by Jonathan Hirabayashi, who has worked on numerous large projects in California and beyond, and has a really fine sense of museum design and concept. He also is blessed with patience. Without him, it wouldn’t have gotten done.

Moreover, I can’t forget that the museum is located in the refurbished Old Administration Building at City College. It’s lovely beyond words.

What are your plans for the future of the museum? How do you see the museum in ten years? 

Probably out on the streets as I have a ten-year contract with the college—I’ll display my wares for this time period and then the college and I will weigh whether we should continue. I know we’re going to get lots of children—five hundred a month, they estimate. I’m eager to find out what the kids will think of my old Royal manual typewriter, circa 1945. They might think it’s a part that fell off a car motor.

When did you decide to become a writer? 

I was at Fresno City College, in love, and in a sort of pillow-hugging love, when I was turned down by this girl. Crushed, I ventured into the library and found myself in the stacks that offered up poetry. I turned to poetry to heal my little Valentine of a heart. This was 1972, March I recall, with the scent of spring in the air but no one for me.

The first poem I wrote after the encounter with these books of poetry was called “The Little League Try Outs.” It was published in our campus magazine and can be found in one of the drawers at the museum.

What are in the drawers?

You’ll have to come and find out. But I will say that the top drawer holds, among other items, my baptismal gown and a blanket that I hugged in babyhood. Oh, yes, there is also a pile of pinto beans. What are they doing there? The pinto beans were my first toys—my army men that I played with in the dirt. From simple things come simple but meaningful pleasure and memory.

The poet who influenced you in your early years? 

Pablo Neruda, the master of image making and a soul as large as a fish-frenzied sea. My brother, Rick, gave me his Selected Poems when I turned twenty-one, a gift that I’ve kept ever since and is in the museum—the cover, the visitor will note, is torn off from wear. The pages are dark from my reading this book over and over.

How many books have you written? 

Forty-three, of which twenty are out of print and some barely hanging in there. I also have five other manuscripts—poor efforts, I’m afraid—in a drawer. On a cold winter day, they might go into the fire and do some service by warming my body. Also, I have hung up my moonlighting job as children’s and young adult writer.

What are you working on at this moment? 

I have several books for younger readers under consideration at a publisher, and am toying with a book of poems for adults titled The Sudden Loss of Dignity, work that amplifies my status as old man. No, wait a minute, I’m hasty—I’m still in the category of middle-aged man. I enjoy where I am.

What are your favorite books? 

My favorite novel is Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856). My favorite series of novels is Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga (1906-1921). The best literary effort in any language during the past ten years: the riotous Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (2006).

What advice do you give those aspiring to become writers? 

Don’t do it! You’ll go to the poor house! Okay, I check myself when a young person hints—or brays—that he or she wants to become a writer. It’s an iffy proposition, especially in the age of Kindle and other electronic gizmos.

I’ve known many younger poets and writers who start off with high expectations and then realize that writing is a serious calling, one that involves creating work year after year until your hair has grayed and your teeth have become wobbly in your skull.

However, in truth, I haven’t had too many aspiring types approach me with his question, a relief I must admit. I don’t teach, I don’t carouse with other writers, so the question seldom comes up. But when it does, my best advice is for them to read other writers. Read constantly, read widely.

What would like to share about yourself that we may not know?

I often don an apron and bake drop cookies for friends and visitors.

Event Report: 2011 Texas Book Festival

What an honor it was to participate in the 2011 Texas Book Festival as a featured author!

Thank you to Clay Smith and the rest of the festival staff, volunteers (many of whom were librarians), donors, hosts, exhibitors, booksellers, fellow book creators, and everyone else who joined in the fun!

A personal highlight was the chance to reconnect with Vermont College of Fine Arts graduates (and former advisees) Michelle Knudsen and Kate Hosford.

The festivities opened with the children’s-YA book creator party on Friday night at the home of David and Amy Roberts. Here’s YA authors Libba Bray and Jill S. Alexander chatting on the lawn.

Austinites Margo Rabb and Liz Garton Scanlon.

VCFA alum Clete Barrett Smith with Barry Lyga and Libba.

The festival itself is held at the State Capitol Building, its bordering streets, and other nearby locations.

Exhibitor tents line the streets.

Texas author (and yet another VCFA alum) Kelly Bennett at the Bright Sky Press booth.

Barry and I meet with Kirkus Reviews editor Vicky Smith in the author tent. Our topic was graphic novels, and Vicky did a great job as moderator. Special thanks to everyone who turned out for our session! Note: my festival book was Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2011).

Festival director AKA Superman Clay Smith.

Author-illustrator Don Tate and Austin SCBWI ARA Carmen Oliver.

Authors Jennifer Ziegler and Jessica Lee Anderson.

Authors P.J. Hoover and David Davis chat at the Saturday evening cocktail party.

I’d love to share photos of the YA author event at the Texas State Cemetery, which was a remarkable setting and great fun. However, the lighting (or rather lack thereof) wasn’t cooperative. Feel free to imagine authors in a graveyard. I was seated between Kathy Reichs and Jessica.

The next day, I stopped by the Texas Library Association booth.

Panels that I attended included this one on children’s-YA nonfiction, featuring Elaine Scott, Jeanette Larson and Chris Barton.

Author Kenneth Oppel at the Driskill Hotel.

Goodnight, Austin! See y’all again next year!

Cynsational Notes

See also Texas Book Festival Recap by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Things I Learned at the Texas Book Festival by Shelli Cornelison from Shelli’s Soliloquy.

The Biggest Book Nerd Ever from Nikki Loftin.