Author Update: D. L. Garfinkle

We last spoke with D. L. Garfinkle in September of 2005, right after the hardcover publication of Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl (Putnam). Read a previous Cynsations interview with D. L. Garfinkle.

Your first book, Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl, (available in paperback from Puffin/Penguin, March 2007), received a lot of critical acclaim, with foreign rights sold in three other countries. What was that like, and did you feel pressure to follow it up with another success?

It felt wonderful. It took me a long time to get Storky published, so when my book was a success I felt not only proud but vindicated. As to pressure to follow up with another success, I’m a horrible worrywart so would feel pressure no matter what. But I have twelve more books coming out in the next few years, so I figure at least one of them should be a hit.

The author credit on your books is listed as D.L. Garfinkle. Is there a reason you’ve decided not to use your first name (Debra)?

I’m hoping the J.K. Rowling magic will wear off on me, ha ha. Really, just like Joanne Rowling, I chose to use my initials rather than my first name because I thought boys might be wary of picking up a novel if they knew a female wrote it.

What was your inspiration for your latest YA novel Stuck in the 70’s (Putnam, May 2007)? How did you come up with the idea?

I had just reread and enjoyed Freaky Friday, and decided to take a crack at writing a humorous magic realism book myself. I figured it would be funny if a very popular girl traveled back in time and had to rely on a nerdy boy’s help to get home. And then I thought she’d really be helpless if she suddenly found herself naked in his bathroom in the middle of the night, 28 years in the past.

Shortly after I wrote the first page, it was read aloud at a writing conference and got a lot of laughs. There’s nothing better than hearing people laugh at my writing— as long as the humor is intentional! So I kept going with the rest of the book.

This new book takes place in the 1970’s. How did you prepare to write it? Did you do any special research?

I thought it would be easy to set the book in the fall of 1978, since I was a high school sophomore back then and there’s so much to make fun of from that period, like disco, big perms, and polyester. But it turned out a lot harder than I thought. I researched fashion, prices, music, movies, and news events from that time period. What really killed me is that since time travel is involved, I had to research physics. That stuff was murder on my brain!

Tell us about how you developed your lead characters, Tyler and Shay, for Stuck in the 70’s. And in particular, how are you able to write so well in the voice of a teenage boy (in this book, as well as for your first novel, Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl)?

I admit I was pretty wild in high school, so Shay wasn’t too hard to write. As to my teenage male characters, I was also a bit of a tomboy and had a lot of male friends in high school, as well as two brothers. Also, there were two male writers in my critique group, and my editor at Putnam is male. So they helped me a lot. One of the best compliments I ever received was reading a blog of a teenage boy who read Storky and thought that a real teenage boy had published his diary. I’ve also received great emails from teenage boys who’ve said that Storky is just like them.

Tyler and Shay essentially represent opposite groups in school: the nerds and the popular crowd. Did you intentionally set up this polarity for the story? In which group did you fall when you were a teen, and what were you like?

I intentionally set this up. There’s more potential for conflict when the characters are from different social worlds besides different eras.

As a teen, I flitted between different groups. I sometimes hung with the nerd crowd. I used to love to play backgammon, and have always had a thing for nerdy guys. I also was in the drama club, hanging out sometimes with Kevin Spacey and Val Kilmer, who were a few years ahead of me at my high school. And I was a yell leader, so I knew the cheerleaders and football players. Also, I was senior class vice president, so I was in the student government crowd. I was busy in high school and really loved it. Middle school, however: Ick.

In addition to Stuck in the 70’s, you also have the first book coming out in your new YA series The Band (Berkley, May 2007). Tell us a little about that series.

It’s been really fun to write The Band series. The Band is about the rising careers and rocky romances of five teens in a rock band. The books are full of music, humor, drama, romance, fights, and juicy makeout scenes. Three books in that series are coming out this year. I’m tired!

Do you read a lot of other YA novels to keep up on what’s new and popular? If so, what are some of your favorite recent ones and why?

I started to read YA novels to keep up with the competition, but now I read them because I love them. Novels for teens are often like adult novels, except without the boring descriptions I used to skip over anyway. Some of my recent favorites are Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview), and Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004)(author interview). All three books are character-driven yet fast-paced, and the characters in them have unique voices.

Your writing style is very relatable and will no doubt inspire many of your readers to start writing themselves. Do you have any advice for teens who want to become writers?

Thank you. I think the best things I did as a teen were to read a lot, keep up a journal and do creative writing, and perform in plays. I did these just for fun, but they ended up really helping later on. Reading gives writers an innate sense of how to structure a book. The best way to get better at writing is to write a lot, and acting is a great way to learn character development.

What’s coming out next for you, and what are you working on now?

I’ll be doing something really different for me. I’m writing a series of humorous books for children called The Supernatural Rubber Chicken. It’s about an ugly, cranky rubber chicken that can grant superpowers. The first four books in that series come out next year. I’m also working on another humorous novel for teens. Just the title alone made my agent laugh, so that’s a good sign.

Author Interview: Janet Wong on The Dumpster Diver

Janet S. Wong is the author of eighteen books, including three titles published this year: Before It Wriggles Away, part of the Meet the Author Series (Richard C. Owen, 2007), Twist: Yoga Poems, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Margaret K. McElderry, 2007)(excerpt), and The Dumpster Diver, illustrated by David Roberts (Candlewick, 2007).

Janet S. Wong on Janet S. Wong:

I am a poet and a picture book author
because I can’t sit still for very long

I am an eater
always hungry for dim sum, sushi, gnocchi, noodles, potato
chips, blueberries, roast pork skin and stinky cheese

I am a West-coast woman living near Princeton, NJ (a trailing spouse)

I am an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold and nearly a United Premier

But first-most I am a mom
driving my son here and there (and there and there)
and doing a whole lot of waiting

What about the writing life first called to you?

I was in a tiny children’s bookstore looking for a gift for my young cousin. I had an armload of picture books, books that I wanted to buy for myself because I loved them so much. That’s when the idea hit me: people wrote these books. Why couldn’t I be one of them? What a different life that would be!

I was a lawyer then. I was making a ton of money, and I love spending money–but I was so miserable that the money wasn’t worth it. I wanted to do something important with my life, and I couldn’t think of anything more important than working with kids. I knew I couldn’t be a teacher; I had tried substitute teaching in a local elementary school while I was a student at Yale Law School, and it was the hardest job I’ve ever had! I decided that writing books for kids would be fun and would also give me the feeling that I was helping to make a better world.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I decided to write picture books because that’s what I was attracted to. I’ve never been much of a novel-reader; it’s the problem I described above with sitting still. I loved the way the silly picture books made me happy, the way the serious picture books made me pause and think/feel/react beyond the book, the way you can get so much from a picture book in a five-minute reading.

Congratulations on the publication of The Dumpster Diver, illustrated by David Roberts (Candlewick, March 2007)(inside spread)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I was at an arts fair and saw a chair made from old wooden skis. I asked the artist, Kerry Wade, what gave him the idea to use skis. He said, “Oh, I’m just a Dumpster Diver!” About a third of the way through The Dumpster Diver, I made Steve and the kids build something out of old wooden skis. In the original draft, they transformed the skis into a chair (imitating real life), but my very keen editor Kara LaReau (also an author) suggested that I make the creation something a little more unusual. Several drafts later the skis became a “Paraskater!” (which kids love).

What did David Roberts’ art bring to your text?

I bow down to David for being a genius-inventor. For instance, look at what he created with nothing more than these words: “And an old table plus two banged-up skateboards plus a ripped crib mattress plus a hand-held shower plus thirty-two screws and a roll of duct tape can become…anything we want it to be.”

The hand-held shower isn’t used just as a prop. If I’d drawn it, it would’ve been a visual prop and nothing more. But David hooked it up to a very long hose, squirting at the other kids!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

One thing I kept waffling over was whether to have Steve the Dumpster Diver get hurt. I didn’t want this book to be heavy-handed and preachy. Didacticism: the kiss of death in reviews! I didn’t want my book to discourage “respectable people” from Dumpster diving. I wanted this book to be a call-to-action to all of us to stop wasting so much stuff, and an inspiration to make new things from junk.

But I also didn’t want thousands of kids to start crawling into Dumpsters. Their parents would hate me. And how would I feel if some kids got hurt or sick? My solution was to have Steve get cut on broken glass and rusted metal when the Dumpster trash collapsed under him–and to have this inspire the kids to start collecting their Useful Junk in a different way. Kind of corny, I know, but as I said, I am first-most a mom–and I want my readers to stay out of trouble!

Are you doing any special promotions in conjunction with the release?

All for Kids Books in Seattle is working with me on The Dumpster Diver’s Junk Is Good contest. Kids and adults can enter by building something or imagining something built from junk, and there are categories for individual entries, team entries, and classroom entries. We’ve received some pretty neat feedback. Apparently there are a lot of people out there with a whole lot of junk in their closets, basements, attics, and garages!

You’re one of children’s literature’s most distinguished poets! How would you describe the current state of the children’s poetry market? What changes have you seen over the course of your career? What do you anticipate for the future?

When I started writing in 1991, it was easier to sell an unthemed collection of poems, poems about whatever. And because of this I was able to write a wide variety of poems (varied in tone and subject matter) in Good Luck Gold (Margaret K. McElderry, 1994) and A Suitcase of Seaweed (Margaret K. McElderry, 1996)(excerpt), including poems about racism and ethnic identity, a poem about cheating, and poems about illness and death–all alongside silly poems about food, celebratory poems about birthdays, and odes to friendship.

But things quickly became different, soon after I started. It became apparent (at least to me) that collections must have a theme, in order to sell. I’ve written themed-collections on mothers, driving, dreams, superstitions, and yoga. But I have a ton of poems that would be hard to fit into a themed book–and so, for now, those poems sit in my computer or on little scraps of paper scattered throughout the house.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Don’t give up.

Getting published is like winning the lottery; you can’t win if you don’t play. Write like crazy, snatching little bits of time and capturing ideas before they disappear. In Before It Wriggles Away, my Meet the Author book, photographer Anne Lindsay shows me writing at the dentist’s office, writing in the car, writing at my son’s fencing practice, writing late at night, writing at the lake–writing everywhere and anywhere, even if just for five minutes at a time. If you wait until you have a whole free day to start writing your story, you might never write it!

Once you’ve written a shoebox full of stories, send your best stuff out. If your books come back with rejection letters, send them out again. Rejection is part of the process.

In the meantime, while your stories are out circulating, revisit them with a critical eye. Write different drafts. Don’t try for better writing, just different writing. Experiment. See what you can do. If you were a basketball player, would you practice only lay-ups? No: you would challenge yourself, you would take risks in practice. Take risks with your writing. And have fun!

Girl Uninterrupted Features Cynthia Leitich Smith; Tantalize Readers Form Online Group

Presenting…Cynthia Leitich Smith:” a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview by Lara M. Zeises of Girl Uninterrupted: the rambling confessions of a not-so dangerous mind. Lara’s books include Anyone But You (Delacorte, 2005), which was a A Pennsylvania School Library Association Fiction Selection for 2005-06 and A Teen People Top 10 Pick. Read a Cynsations interview with Lara.

Thanks to it’s not just a sunset, it’s a moonrise too, Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007) readers may join a new MySpace group, Tantalize Fans Unite!

Author Interview: Barry Lyga on The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

Barry Lyga on Barry Lyga: “Born on 9/11/71–you can imagine how I spent my thirtieth birthday! Lived for most of my life just about an hour below the Mason-Dixon Line, but never felt like a Southerner except when I visited family in New England, where I was told I talked like a rebel. Then, back in Maryland, friends said I sounded like a Yankee. So I guess I’ve felt like an outsider from the beginning!

“I learned how to read and write thanks to comic books–I absorbed the damn things as a kid, internalizing lessons in plot, characterization, and pacing. Some of those lessons were good, some of them were bad, but all of them led me to figure out more and more writing issues for myself. Plus, comics invigorated my imagination (anything could happen!) and also did wonders for my vocabulary (show of hands–who knew the words ‘impervious,’ ‘invulnerable,’ and ‘continuum’ in first grade?).

“My first book is The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). It’s about what happens when a young comic book geek meets the girl of his nightmares and oh, yes, it was quite cathartic to write it.”

What about the writing life first called to you? Did you shout “yes!” or run the other way?

I definitely shouted “yes!” but I also ran the other way at the same time! My earliest memory of “the writing life” is being very young–probably seven or eight. My grandmother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her, very seriously, that I wanted to be a writer. And she did Jewish grandmothers everywhere proud by saying, “Oh, so you want to starve!”

She was kidding, of course, but I was young and I didn’t understand that she was kidding. And while I liked the idea of writing, I also liked the idea of eating! So for much of my life, I figured I would be something else and then be a writer as well–lawyer/writer, teacher/writer, etc. But that just didn’t work for me. It wasn’t until I fully embraced the writing life that things started to happen for me.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

I had always resisted it because I had this lingering prejudice–from the young adult books of my childhood, which were awful–that YA literature wasn’t “real” literature. But people in my writers group, editors, my ex-wife, were all telling me I should try it. So I did, and I found it tremendously liberating and fun.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Well, I wrote the first draft of the book in a sprint–a five-week sprint! Stumbles along the way. You know, once I decided to write YA, everything pretty much fell into place. I would say the major stumbles came in the years prior to that, when I was writing stuff for adults and taking myself way too seriously and just spinning my wheels.

I think when we forget that writing should be fun, we lose our way–we become so serious and heavy that we bleed any joy out of what we’re writing. I mean, even in my second book, which is about a very serious topic, there’s room for humor. And a necessity for it.

We need humor as a way of contrasting the more downbeat moments. That’s not just in the work itself, but also in the process of writing–you need to have fun doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Congratulations on the publication of The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

My own life! I’ve often said that the book is too autobiographical for my own good. When I decided to write something for teens, I went back not only to my own teen years, but also to my twenties. I think we tend to forget that those post-college years are just as nerve-wracking and transformative as the teen years in many respects.

So I looked at the whole “writer’s journey,” all of the insecurity and worry and fear and sudden joys. I realized that the writer’s life is very analogous to being a teen–the isolation, rejection, striving to find your place in the world. Between the two of them, I found a balance that worked for me and for the story.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

From spark to publication was roughly three years. That includes a year between acceptance and publication. From the time I finished the book to the time it was accepted was about a year and a half. The most significant event along the way was meeting my agent at about a year in–from the point, things happened very quickly and a few months later I had a book deal.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

Wow, I could go on for a looooooong time on this one! I’ll try to keep it short, lest your readers drop into comas. 🙂

The biggest challenge was the psychological barrier of “Someone who knows me could read this someday.” Since the book is autobiographical to a degree, I was concerned.

I wasn’t worried that people would be angry about the real life events that I “adapted” for the book–rather, I was worried that they would think that the made-up stuff was a way to dig at them or bash them after the fact! But I realized that I couldn’t let this concern prevent me from telling the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it. Once I got over that, I was able to bull through.

Logistically, the toughest thing about the book was a function of the tense and POV I chose. The whole book is told in first-person present-tense from the point of view of Fanboy, a solipsistic, gifted fifteen-year-old. He’s smart, yes, but anyone who was once fifteen will tell you that fifteen-year-old boys aren’t the most, uh, perceptive or empathic creatures on the planet.

Since the book was present-tense, there was little room for reflection or second-guessing on Fanboy’s part. We were always in his head, in the moment. And he wasn’t inclined to cut people slack.

So I was very, very worried that the supporting cast would come across as cardboard because there was no way to get into them and we only had Fanboy’s very biased view of them to go on. I had to find ways to get across Mom and Tony and Kyra and Cal and the others without betraying Fanboy’s singularly self-absorbed point of view. Not the easiest thing in the world, but I took it as a challenge.

Also difficult (at first) was “How Geeky Do I Go?” The book has a lot of comic book geekery in it, and I was worried that I was going to overdo it and scare off the non-comics readers.

Eventually, I just had to trust my gut on that one. It was scary, but it paid off. I’ve had a lot of people e-mail me to say, “I don’t read comics and I didn’t get half the comic book references, but I loved this book.” Whew!

You’re obviously a serious comics/graphic novel guy. Could you tell us about your background?

Well, I grew up reading comics. Like I said before, the YA fiction of my youth was pretty lame, so I didn’t read it–I read comics instead. Fortunately for me, I grew up at a time when comics were growing up, too, as books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and Maus were changing perceptions of the medium. So I never went through a period of time where I forsook comics–I just kept reading them. I even used them as the basis for an independent study project at Yale (much to the horror of the English Department, might I add!).

When I got out of college, I went to work for the biggest comic book distributor in the country. I did a bunch of marketing stuff and learned a lot of behind-the-scenes details about the industry, which was both good and bad. I tried my hand at writing comics, with mixed results. By the time I figured out how to write for the medium, I was starting to see some success in prose, and I stopped writing comics to move into prose full-time. I feel like I never really put my best foot forward in comics, and I hope to rectify that someday.

What do you think about the heightened attention to youth graphic novels in the youth book market, and why?

It’s very strange to see! Strange, but gratifying. If comics had been as accepted and as tolerated when I was a kid, my life would have been very different. It’s terrific to see the medium being treated so seriously, but I do worry about the bandwagon effect, where you have people who aren’t really qualified to talk about comics blabbing about them anyway, or comics that aren’t worth reading being touted as great just because they’re comics. I mean, there’s as much crap in the comic book field as in any other–maybe more.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t wonder “Can I do that?”–just do it. Remember that no matter how good you think your early efforts are, they probably actually suck–it’s just the law of averages. Early on, put everything away for six months minimum while you work on something else. When you come back to it, you’ll see the flaws and you’ll wince and you’ll be glad you didn’t send it out right away.

Oh, and if you think something isn’t working, but “it’s just me–readers won’t notice,” you’re dead wrong. Go with your gut. Almost every single change my editor ever asked me to make was something I had known was problematic from the get-go, but figured would slide by without anyone noticing. Nope! People notice.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Not much! I’m an extremely boring person. When I’m not writing, I’m either reading or glued to my crack pipe…er, I mean my Xbox. I played piano as a kid and now that I have some free time again, I plan to get back into it.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, Boy Toy (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) comes out in October. It’s set in the same high school as Fanboy, the same town, with some of the same “walk-on characters,” but it’s a very different story: sex, violence, and uncontrollable urges. It’s perfect for kids!

Author Interview: Deborah Lynn Jacobs on Powers

Deborah Lynn Jacobs is the author of Powers, (Roaring Brook, 2006), and The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks Press, 2000) Her next book, Choices, will be released by Roaring Brook Press in fall, 2007. Visit her LJ and MySpace.

What about the writing life first called to you? Were you quick to answer or did time pass by?

I was eight when I wrote my first novel. It was a space opera type book, about two kids who stowed away on a Federation starship. However, I floundered in the middle of the novel, which is something that still happens to me, and didn’t finish it. I wish I still had the book, but it was disposed of years ago.

In high school, I was a reporter and later editor of our school newspaper. I joined the newspaper to make friends, but found I liked the writing as well.

In my professional life as a counselor, I found ways to bring writing into my job–a departmental newsletter, a back-to-school guide for adults, research projects. But it wasn’t until I left my full-time job and moved to a small town in northwestern Ontario that I got back to writing–newspaper features, magazine articles, and my first attempts at writing a novel.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

My first novel was an adult science fiction novel. Really awful writing, now that I look back on it. After two rejections, I stuffed in a drawer where it belonged.

I realized that the issues people face in their late teens were far more interesting to me. It’s such a wonderful time of life, and so incredibly exciting to be on the verge of adulthood. Suddenly, the decisions you make–who to date, what school to go to, what career to choose–become life decisions. Sure, you can go back and change your mind, but only to some extent. The decisions you make as an eighteen-year-old have a lasting effect on your life. It’s that whole “road not taken” thing, and I find it fascinating.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Sprints? Hmm…not so many. It was pretty much a slow and steady thing. Write, rewrite, submit, revise–the usual. There were times where I wrote very little because of the necessity of making a living!

Stumbles along the way? A few. I rewrote Powers a gazillion times. I wrote it as a stand alone book, then rewrote it as the first two books of a series, then collapsed the two books into one. At that point, Deborah Brodie of Roaring Brook read it. She gave me editorial advice, the most difficult of which was “cut about a hundred pages.” Gulp. So, I cut a third of the book, slashed a few subplots, changed the ending, and resubmitted the book. Thank goodness she accepted it!

Congratulations on the publication of Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

It actually evolved from the first book I wrote for kids. The Green Stone. See, this kid finds a green stone, which is actually a meteorite, and it gives him special powers–the ability to fly, to talk to his dog through telepathy, etc. (Pretty hashed-over premise, if you ask me.)

That book evolved into A Power of Our Own. This guy, and his autistic sister, find this meteorite (it’s green) and that allows them to talk to alien dragon guys through telepathy. Only, the alien dragon guys are bad guys, who collect kids from many planets and put them in a zoo. The kids, from all over the universe, find their latent powers are unlocked by the dragon’s stone and each kid develops a power of their own and, naturally, they defeat the dragon alien bad guys. (Don’t laugh–this could happen!)

A kind editor told me she liked the autistic-sister angle, but the dragons really threw her. So, A Power of Our Own became two books: one about a girl with an autistic sister (The Same Difference (Royal Fireworks, 2000)) and a book about two teens with psychic powers (Powers (Roaring Brook, 2006)).

The initial inspiration, though, for all of this, was my sense of awe about things that are mysterious, things we can’t explain in the usual way. I’m not saying psychic powers are real, but I’m not saying they aren’t real either!

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Ten years? Twelve?

I started writing Powers in 1994. I had an idea that I wanted this book to be about how developing special powers would affect two people on a personal level. I didn’t want the book to be about defeating some villain, or saving the world. Powers is a much more intimate exploration than that, about the power struggle between two people, and the power struggle within each of them.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

The two voices. At first, they both sounded like “me.” It took some time, some advice from my critique groups and my first readers (my kids and their unsuspecting friends!) to make the voices distinct.

The psychological (and psychic) relationship between Gwen and Adrian is fascinating. How did you manage their tug-of-war?

I managed it slowly. At first, Adrian was such a nice guy. So sweet and understanding. Gwen was the spunky, sarcastic one. But you know what? It didn’t work. My critique buddies, and my first readers, read early versions and said Adrian sounded like a girl. Sigh.

I needed more conflict, more friction. In early drafts, Adrian and Gwen worked together to solve crimes and save people. No friction. No sparks. No fireworks.

I put the book away for months, or maybe a year at a time, while I worked on other books. Then I realized that what I wanted to write wasn’t a book about two people using their powers for good. It was far more interesting to have them at each other’s throats, manipulating each other and using each other.

Plus, it was a heck of a lot more fun to write!

I worked the tug-of-war the usual way. Put your character in a scene, figure out what they want the most, and then thwart them and send them further from their goal. Except, writing in the two voices, I worked each scene in this way: put both characters in the scene, give them goals which are opposites, thwart them both, and move them both further from their goals.

I took a lot of long walks, with a little notebook. I’d ask each character, “What do you want most? What will devastate you most if you don’t get it?

I also flowcharted the scenes, using colored pens, to make sure the conflict was steady, and that no one character took over the story for too long. So, part of writing the book was technical, rather than artistic.

Still, it wasn’t sharp enough. Not until I changed Adrian’s voice to first person, present tense. Wow. All of a sudden, I could hear him. Could see him. Even dreamed about him.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Never give up. Don’t lose faith in yourself. I truly believe success in writing is 99% perseverance and learning the craft.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Gardening, especially my wild perennial garden.

Cooking. I use a lot of garlic, onion and hot spices, so beware!

Bird watching, camping, canoeing, hiking, walking-generally communing with nature.

Oh, and reading young adult literature, of course.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Choices, in the fall of 2007. I’d tell you about it, but I can’t figure out how to do that without totally giving away the plot! I’d call it speculative fiction, with a twisty plot and a few surprises!

Interviews with Author Cynthia Leitich Smith and Agents Nathan Bransford and Dan Lazar from Alma Fullerton

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Alma Fullerton. Here’s taste: “Writing fiction seemed a tremendous indulgence against great odds. It was something I’d do someday. But it slowly occurred to me that many people ‘someday’ their way through their entire lives. The only way to make dreams a reality is to commit to them fully.” Read the whole interview.

Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown from Alma Fullerton. Nathan is looking to see “Anything original with a great plot.” Read the whole interview.

Agent Interview: Dan Lazar of Writers House from Alma Fullerton. Of today’s children’s market, Dan says: “From what I can tell, it’s become more and more of a ‘business’ and less and less of a quaint ‘club.’ Which is not necessarily a bad or good thing, but it’s a dynamic that affects how we all work.” Read the whole inteview.

Author Interview: Marian Hale on Dark Water Rising

Marian Hale on Marian Hale: “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books, but it wasn’t until I was twelve and instructed to write a short story for my sixth grade English class that I first became aware that I loved writing, too. However, other than the occasional attempt at poetry over the years, I never pursued it. I suppose a lack of confidence had a lot to do with it. The path to becoming a successful author seemed nebulous and unachievable.

“I married the love of my life right out of business college, and some years later, I went into custom home design. Designing was a wonderfully creative outlet for me at the time. I enjoyed manipulating space to suit each client and the drafting of blueprints, but I especially loved that I could do most all of it at home with my three children close by.

“Years later I finally decided to give writing a real try. I wrote short stories for children and adults and eventually entered them in contests. When my efforts began to place and win prizes, I moved on to my first mid-grade novel, a failure on a professional level, but a huge success in exposing my strengths and weaknesses. It also reinforced my love for children’s literature–historical fiction in particular–and I’ve never looked back.”

What about the writing life first called to you?

I’m not so sure I was called to writing. I probably thought so during those early attempts, but it didn’t take long to realize that the choice was never mine to make. It’s just who I am, like being born with brown hair or blue eyes. Now, I can’t imagine not writing.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

It was just fun! I especially loved historical fiction, the way it allowed me to step back in time and experience intriguing eras and events as though I were there, seeing it all through the eyes of a teen or preteen. But I suppose what appealed to me most about writing for young readers was the opportunity to tell stories that would help my own children and grandchildren form a more intimate bond with the past, to ask the questions that would help them recognize the eternal connection we all have with older generations all over the world.

Congratulations on the publication of Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt,2006)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

Thank you! I first considered this project some years ago when my husband came home from work with a tattered book found in an old abandoned house about to be torn down. It was a full account of the 1900 Galveston Storm, written soon after it happened.

I’d read many articles over the years about the devastating Texas hurricane that took more than 8,000 lives, but never one written while wounds were still tender, while wind and floodwaters still haunted dreams.

I wanted to read more, to search out the multitude of hundred-year-old accounts and photographs, all of which were so vivid with intimate detail, so achingly real and painful that I felt as though I’d experienced this turn-of-the-century city and disastrous storm myself. It was this window to the past that brought me to write Dark Water Rising (Henry Holt, 2006), and in so doing, I wanted to honor the overwhelming loss and Herculean efforts to rebuild the great city of Galveston. I was able to incorporate hundreds of documented details into my story and was very pleased when Reka Simonsen, my editor at Henry Holt, encouraged me to include some spell-binding photos of the aftermath in an author’s note.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The inspiration for Dark Water Rising came in 2003, almost a full year before I could even think of starting a new project. When I could finally clear my desk, I spent the next six months researching and cataloging the details I wanted to use. I walked Galveston’s streets, studied the nineteenth century architecture, visited the Rosenberg Library to read transcripts of oral interviews, toured homes that survived the great storm, sought out where the two-story ridge of debris left by wind driven water had once encircled the city, and walked along the seawall where Saint Mary’s Orphanage had once stood, envisioning the two dormitories that had housed ten Sisters and more than ninety children who perished that day. It was a poignant and inspiring journey. I then spent the following six months trying to do justice to all those who had endured the deadliest storm to ever hit our country.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

One of the most difficult challenges was choosing the best location in the city for my characters to experience the storm. I needed an actual home and surviving family, one that would allow me to show the devastation as fully as possible. I finally realized that I’d have to map the entire city, block by block, and key it to names and personal accounts before I could make that decision. The map also helped me locate major businesses, schools and churches, and gave me the confidence to write as though I’d walked through those 1900 neighborhoods and business districts myself.

Even more challenging was the emotional toll this story took on my day to day life. I don’t believe anyone could read the many accounts of individual loss from this storm and not experience an intense emotional response. I certainly couldn’t, but I couldn’t allow myself to take the easy path of skipping lightly through the horrific aftermath either, just to ease my own discomfort. I needed to stay true to even the smallest details, though it meant living with the grisly effects of this storm for a full year.

From the onset of this project, hundred-year-old photos and heartrending personal accounts haunted me every day, and they were the last thing in my thoughts before falling asleep each night. These were real people, caught up in a real disaster, something that could still happen to any one of us today, and more than anything, I wanted to stay true to their stories.

I’m likewise a fan of your debut novel, The Truth About Sparrows (HenryHolt, 2004)(recommendation). Could you tell us a bit about this book?

Thank you; that’s always so nice to hear. The Truth about Sparrows was my first historical fiction and a story very close to my heart. It follows Sadie, a twelve-year-old girl who loses her Missouri home during the Great Depression and is forced to start all over in a one-room tarpapered house on the Texas coast. Although the characters are fictional, most of the events were taken from my parents’ and grandparents’ experiences, even the scene where Sadie has no choice but to help with the birth of her baby sister. It was a joy to recreate this struggling 1933 fishing and shrimping community for young readers, and I was especially grateful for the opportunity to include the character of “Daddy,” modeled after my own grandfather who had polio before he was a year old and never walked.

What do you hope readers take away from the story?

I suppose I’ve had the same hope for both books. I’d like to think my readers will come away with a deeper appreciation for what so many families, even their own, have endured and overcome, and perhaps be inspired to face their own adversities with that same kind of courage and determination to succeed.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

One turning point for me was learning to trust my own instincts and allow myself to become each character. This was tremendously helpful in letting readers in on my character’s thoughts so they could share in the emotion, understand the cause, and care about the outcome. I’ve always tried to let each part of my story evolve naturally to a believable conclusion, following when it insisted on wandering paths I’d never expected or drew me to characters I’d never planned, even when doing so could change the ending I’d envisioned. This seat-of-the-pants writing may not work for everyone, but some of my most surprising and gratifying scenes/characters were
written this way.

I suppose the best advice I could give to any new writer, besides the important “read, read, read,” is to love what you’re doing. Love the characters, the words and the images they evoke, and yes, even the revisions. Look at each revision as another chance to bring more clarity, to make some part of your story touch your reader more deeply and hopefully linger long after your book is back on the shelf.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m still doing an occasional home design and my family keeps me very busy since my daughter and her preschool children are with us now, but I try to always make time for the simple joys. When I can, which isn’t nearly often enough, my husband and I like to pull our travel trailer to a river or lake to fish and watch the sun go down. We take a few good books and CDs, grill fish, veggies, and stuffed jalapenos, and open a nice bottle of wine. My grandchildren are finally big enough to go with us occasionally, so we’ll probably need a larger travel trailer before long!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, untitled at this time, is another historical fiction set in 1918 Canton, Texas, and again, partially derived from old family stories.

It begins with the dreams of sixteen-year-old Mercy Kaplan, a sharecropper’s daughter, who has never wanted to be anything at all like her mother. Mercy longs to be free, far from the threat of being saddled with kids, dirty laundry, and failing crops the rest of her life. When the deadly 1918 flu epidemic sweeps through Canton, she gets what she wants in a way she never imagined and soon finds herself employed by the newly widowed Cora Wilder. But there’s something secretive and downright strange about the woman. And then there’s Daniel Wilder, her eighteen-year-old stepson, with his green eyes and fierce determination to protect his fatherless siblings, just the sort who could sweep a foolish girl off her feet and into a dull and wearisome life like her mother’s if she isn’t watchful. But Mercy is watchful, and observant enough to uncover the clues to Cora Wilder’s odd behavior, which inches her ever closer to exposing a twenty-year-old murder.

Cynsational Notes

on Dark Water Rising

“A master of her craft…this is historical fiction at its best.” –Kirkus, starred review

“…this fine example of historical fiction has something for almost everyone.” –Booklist, starred review

“… this is a stunning novel.” –Children’s Literature

“Fact and fiction are blended effortlessly together in an exciting read that leaves readers with a sense of hope.” –School Library Journal

on The Truth About Sparrows

Nominated for six state awards and selected for the following awards and honors: Editor’s Choice for 2004 by Booklist Magazine; Top Ten First Novels by Booklist Magazine; 2004 Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers by VOYA (Voices of Youth Advocates); Lasting Connections of 2004 by Book Links Magazine; Children’s Books 2004: One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing, by the New York Public Library; Teachers’ Choice for 2005 in the Advanced category by IRA (the International Reading Association); The Best Children’s Books of the Year 2005 edition, selected by the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education; 2005 Notable Books for a Global Society list by the NBGS committee of the Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of IRA (the International Reading Association); “Worthy of Special Note” books for The 2005 Virginia Jefferson Cup Award (for historical fiction and nonfiction); The Editor’s Choice – Best book of the Month by
Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review.

“Hale’s evocative, sure prose, in Sadie’s colloquial voice, brings alive the setting and the family’s survival challenges with cinematic detail that’s reminiscent of the Little House books.” –Booklist, starred review

“…a beautifully realized work, memorable for its Gulf Coast setting and the luminous voice of Sadie Wynn.” –Kirkus

“…triumphant and memorable.” –Horn Book

“Sparrows is a breath of fresh air even when it brings tears to your eyes.” –USA Today

“…for its depth of detail, keen sense of place and, especially, for Sadie, Hale’s story is a debut novel worth seeking out.” –San Diego Union Tribune

“…this is a unique, powerful and enlightening novel which will speak to the inner person in all of us…a treasure of a book.” –Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review

Author Interview: Robin Merrow MacCready on Buried

Robin Merrow MacCready on Robin Merrow MacCready: “I grew up in the 60s and 70s in Kennebunk Beach, Maine. My father was a realtor and we had a hotel and later an inn. Lots of people doing lots of things: fuel for great stories! After the summer was over, Kennebunk reverted back to a quiet town, but during the July and August it exploded with families from all over. I always worked as a chamber maid or a house cleaner or baby sitter. I also taught arts and crafts at the beach club. I love the contrast between the townies and the tourists. It’s rich and it’s infuriating, but it’s ripe with stories.

“I’m the oldest in my family. My brother is a musician, and my sister is an art director. My mother is a writer, and my father is a realtor and an avid reader. I have him to thank for my love of things that are a little bit creepy. I say a little bit because it doesn’t take much to scare me. I remember reading a scary paperback at the kitchen table and Dad jolting me and I screamed. I considered my ability to zone out a gift. Compared to my friends I was quiet and shy. I watched people, and daydreamed a lot, and although my report cards were not perfect, I loved English and reading and art. I even loved diagraming sentences although I can’t remember how to do it now!”

What about the writing life first called to you? Were you quick to answer or did time pass by?

I was the kind of kid that played school. I read and wrote all the time. I thought everybody made homemade cards with poems inside. In high school, I made up stories, mostly romances, and kept a journal. The journal was only half true. I embellished the events to my satisfaction. It wasn’t until I began teaching that I considered being a writer. I was lucky to be a student at the New Hampshire Writing Project where a new writing philosophy reigned. That is: if you want to write go ahead and try! Everybody’s a writer!

What made you decide to write for young adults?

When I first wrote I imagined being the new Arnold Lobel. His Frog and Toad and Owl at Home are my favorites. I tried, but failed and put away my dream for ten years. When I tried again I thought I was writing an adult book and almost gave it up because the voice was that of a teenage girl, but I didn’t because I heard her story as clear as I bell and I believed it.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

When I decided to become a published author I manned myself with every book and any course I thought I needed. The plan was that if I had all the information and followed the directions perfectly I’d make it. It partly worked that way. I worked my butt off! I listened to my critique partners when they had a point to make because they were usually right. I wrote down some goals to reach, tasks to do, and I didn’t let anyone get in my way. I was single minded in a way I never had been before.

I sent three chapters of Buried to Julie Strauss-Gabel after she spoke at a national conference of SCBWI, and she wanted to read the whole manuscript. She loved the first three chapters but said as the story progressed it wasn’t what she’d hoped. She wrote a kind of thanks-but-no-thanks letter. I wrote back and asked more questions about the problems she had with the manuscript and that began our nearly two year pre-contract relationship.

We passed the book back and forth. I valued Julie’s insight and light touch, but in the late summer of 2004 I felt it was time to send Buried. I sent it to Julie and two other major houses that had shown interest during SCBWI critiques. I teach and the summer was quickly winding down–I had about two weeks of summer left. I spent a week researching agents in a big way. I finally got it down to 10 and queried them. Wendy Schmalz [scroll for bio] phoned me and said she was interested in representing me and Buried, but first she scolded me about the way I went about the process. Buried was already sitting in three houses. For her it was probably not the way she’d planned to sell it. But for me it was a relief. Now I could go set up my classroom. Within the week I had a sale with Dutton, and I’m very happy I could continue with Julie.

Congratulations on the publication of Buried (Dutton, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The climactic scene came to me one day when I was writing with my sister. We were just fooling around, but I saw Claudine in her horrific situation and it was clear like a movie. That was my initial contact with Claudine, but the inspiration for her comes from a girl I knew growing up. I was her sometimes babysitter. Her mother was a guidance counselor and an alcoholic. Whenever I sat for the little girl it was like hanging out with a peer. She was older acting, a little rough around the edges, and competent. Too competent for age seven. One night she took care of me while I had the flu and later her mother came home drunk, so she cared for her too.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

The challenge was to let myself go deeper and deeper and not lose the storyline. It sounds simple but it’s a fine line to walk. When Claudine’s OCD was aggravated my instinct as a friend/mother was to turn it off, not let it rip. When I let it get out of control it was sometimes scary. As far as the addiction model goes, I wanted it to be real. Buried is a story. It’s not true, but I would argue that Claudine’s pain, her shame, and all her feelings are shared by children of alcoholics.

You’re an Edgar nominee. Wow! That’s great! What does the nomination mean to you? How did you react when you found out?

Julie left a message on my machine saying that she had some great news for me. I had no idea what it could be. I’d been talking to my agent that day because I was worried about how sales were going. When Julie told me I was a nominee I said, “Oh, really?” I didn’t know what it meant. I’d seen the list of submissions and there were a lot of books, so it still didn’t register as a big thing until she said I was one of five in the Best YA category. I’m thrilled! I’m up against some big competition, but I’m bursting with pride. It’s especially exciting because there are five writers from Maine and Stephen King is one of them. It’ll be a great night.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

If you want to be published you have to be willing to take some heat. Listen to your critiques and make changes if there is validity, but don’t listen to the people who want to discourage you. Politely ignore all those that think you’re wasting your time. Also, I think SCBWI is a great organization for beginning writers. I know I wouldn’t be published without it.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I teach reading and writing to 4th-6th graders. I write on the weekends and sometimes at night.

Cynsational News & Links

My new novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) received a five-star review from Karin Perry at TeensReadToo.com! Karin calls the novel “…a stimulating paranormal mystery mixed with romance. The relationship between Quincie and Kieren is touching and so deep that the reader feels Quincie’s pain at the thought of losing Kieren, while at the same time understanding Kieren’s reasons for keeping Quincie at arms length…” Read the whole review.

Speaking of Tantalize itself, though, Alison Dellenbaugh (AKA She Who Brought Her Own Fangs) offers her report on the novel’s launch party at Alison Wonderland. So does Jo–news with many party pics!–at her LJ. And Tanya Lee Stone offers cheers. See the full launch party report.

More News & Links

Interview with Robin Friedman on The Girlfriend Project from Little Willow at Slayground. The Girlfriend Project will be published by Walker in April. Read an excerpt. (By the way, The Girlfriend Project official site is an excellent example of a book-specific site and was designed by Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys.

The lovely and talented Newbery Award honor recipients offer a show of solidarity for this year’s recently challenged winner, Susan Patron, at Cynthia Lord’s LJ, “from Jennifer Holm, Kirby Larson, and Me.”

Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Kristy Dempsey, Dori Chaconas, and Douglas Rees. She also offers a new interview with agent Nadia Cornier of Firebrand Literary. Nadia says: “I’ll overlook a lot for a great story. I mean, I’ve read some fabulous books that are perfectly crafted but really boring stories – but a really perfect story, even if it isn’t perfectly crafted will have such MEANING and resonance. I want those.” Read the whole interview.

Author Feature: Julia Durango

Julia Durango on Julia Durango: “I was born in Las Vegas of all places, but my family moved often and by the time I finished high school I’d attended seven schools in five states (California, Utah, Rhode Island, Indiana & Missouri). I moved again to attend the University of Illinois where I received degrees in Latin American Studies and Political Science. I traveled frequently to Latin America during that time, but mostly to Colombia, where I worked in a program for street children. Now I live in Ottawa, Illinois, with my two sons (ages 6 and 10). In addition to writing children’s books, I work full-time at the public library in Ottawa and I review funny books for kids with my pals Andrea Beaty and Carolyn Crimi over at www.ThreeSillyChicks.com.”

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Angels Watching Over Me is an adaptation of the African-American spiritual by the same name. My mother used to sing me to sleep with it when I was a baby, and I in turn sang it to my boys…only my youngest son would take forever to fall asleep, so I’d keep making up new verses until he finally dozed off (at which point I’d make myself a stiff drink and remind myself not to have any more babies!).

Your previous titles include Dream Hop, illustrated by Jared Lee (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Could you tell us a bit about this book? What did Jared’s illustrations bring to your text?

Dream Hop was inspired by my oldest son when he was going through a particularly bad bout of nightmares. One morning he woke up and asked if I’d ever “dream hopped” from a bad dream into a good one. I started writing Dream Hop the same day. As for Jared Lee, my sons and I are huge fans of his Black Lagoon series (written by Mike Thaler, Scholastic) so we were thrilled when he signed on for Dream Hop. His illustrations are a perfect blend of scary and silly!

Along with Linda Sue Park, you also are the co-author of Yum Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds, illustrated by Sue Ramá (Charlesbridge, 2005)(interview with Linda Sue). Could you describe the process that you shared with Linda Sue?

Much of what I know about writing I’ve learned from Linda Sue, so collaborating with her was a treat. The process itself was something like: one hundred e-mails, two dozen phone calls, and one crucial brainstorming week-end in New York City. It could also be described as: mucho research, beaucoup drafts, molto fun.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Think like a kid. Get rid of your “wise elder” voice. Let loose and have fun (it shows!).

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Between my job at the library and the hard work of raising boys (i.e. playing Legos and Guitar Hero and basketball…whew!), I’m usually too tuckered out for much else. I may be the only person in America who has never seen an episode of “American Idol” or “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost.” But I read and do a crossword puzzle every night without fail. Nerdy-girl habits die hard.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Pest Fest, a picture book illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, June 2007); The Walls of Cartagena, an historical fiction novel (Simon & Schuster, 2008); Under the Mambo Moon, a story in poems (Charlesbridge, 2009), and Go-Go Gorillas, a companion to Cha-Cha Chimps, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Simon & Schuster, 2009). I’m also working on a project with my lovely critique partner, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author of Reaching for Sun, Bloomsbury, March 2007), which has been a blast!