Guest Post: Don Tate on Proactive Promotion & Strong As Sandow

By Don Tate
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

My newest book babe, Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017), published earlier this fall.

To welcome “Sandow” into the world and to provide my new book babe with tools needed to flourish, I planned a full marketing blitz.

Marketing a new book is a shared effort between a book’s creators and its publisher. My publisher supported our book in many ways. For instance, they sent me to various conferences to promote and sign “Sandow.” But I want to be sure I do my part, too.

Here is a look at how I launched Strong As Sandow into the world:

Stand-alone Website: StrongmanSandow.com

Sources for telling Sandow’s story were like a gold mine of visual gems.

There were books, photographs, collectible items, old-time physical culture magazines. Unlike previous subjects I’d written about—Bill Traylor, George Moses Horton, people who were enslaved and therefore few records and/or photographs available— there was a good deal of visual information out there on Eugen Sandow.

In the end, however, much of the research got chopped out, left on the cutting board. With a stand-alone website, I could include some of those resources that didn’t make the book. What a great tool for teachers and librarians.

Strongman Sandow website

Friend Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio, created the site using WordPress. Basically, he created a shell of a site that I could easily personalize and update. Adding new information is as simple as creating a new blog post.

On the site, I celebrate receiving author copies of Strong As Sandow. I talk about other picture books on the topic of strongmen . I discuss the process of creating the book’s cover. And I include many of the photos and videos that I used to bring the story to life.

The site is linked from my main website, and I advertise it on my bookmark swag.

In addition to the website, I created a Pinterest page with even more visual references.

Curriculum Guide

My publisher had a very nice discussion guide created as a free download. It is aligned to the Common Core, nationwide academic standards used in classrooms. Having a Common Core-aligned guide adds value to your book.

I loved the guide, but I also hired Debbie Gonzales of  Guides by Debbie to create a second educator’s guide. It is Common Core aligned, too, but also incorporates a lot of what I’ve offered on the stand-alone site—making the site and the guide an extra nice pairing with the book.

My favorite part of Debbie’s guide is the fitness plan, where kids can log their weekly exercise goals and accomplishments. We made the guide available on Sandow’s launch day and promoted it heavily.

Educator’s guide from Guides by Debbie

Book Teaser & Trailer

By far, the fitness video was the most fun aspect of my Sandow marketing efforts. I’d already created a short teaser for the book using iMovie. For that video, I used the original art, panning and zooming, in what is called the “Ken Burns effect.” For drama, I used royalty free music found on the web. And I recruited my friend, Maggie Gallant, to record a voiceover.

We released the the teaser several months ahead of publication day to create anticipation.

The trailer turned out nice, but I also wanted a longer video where I could go deeper into Sandow’s story, emphasize the importance of exercise, while highlighting my own fitness journey—especially since I participated in natural bodybuilding myself many years ago!

For this, I commissioned Kirsten Cappy of Curious City. She and her husband, Mark Mattos, flew to Austin where I live. They spent an entire day interviewing and videotaping me at my local YMCA, while I exercised in the weight room, swam laps in the pool, and practiced yoga.

Needless to say, I was all nerves. It’s one thing to work out in busy weight room. It’s another thing to work out with a cameraman following me around, with a huge microphone, an interviewer, and the director of the YMCA.

We caused such a stir that some teenagers tried to sneak into our filming, thinking we were shooting some kind of celebrity reality TV show. (Watch until the end; don’t miss the after-credits scene!)

We debuted our “Nothing In Moderation” physical fitness video along with an interview at “Watch. Connect. Read.” a blog hosted by John Schumacher (AKA Mr. Schu).

The video has been uploaded to YouTube and TeacherTube, and will sit on the internet indefinitely, serving two purposes. For one, it will continue to promote my book well into the future. Two, it will support future author visits, offering students a glimpse into the life of the author-illustrator who will visit their school.

At a recent visit, many students had watched the video, and they had all sorts of questions about Strong As Sandow, physical fitness, and—how much could I bench press!

Check out the site, but don’t forget to see the bloopers and outtakes!

Social Media Blitz

On the week leading up to book release day, I posted interesting and inspirational tidbits of information about historic, little-known physical fitness figures, like Professor K.V. Iyer and Mlle LeZetora —bodybuilders, weightlifters, strongwomen, with the hashtag #Strong_As_Sandow.

I also had a drawing where I gave away copies of of the book to those who shared my social media posts.

The idea was that while people may not remember the name of my book, they might remember that Don Tate has a new book out on the subject of a bodybuilder, health, fitness.

Launch Party

During the year leading up to my book’s release, I’d made arrangements to have a launch party at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports in Austin.

It features classical statues and paintings of Greek and Roman athletes. It also features the Joe and Betty Weider Museum of Physical Culture. The Stark Center has what is probably the largest collection of Eugen Sandow artifacts in the country. This research and sports museum was the perfect place to launch a book like Sandow.

But there were hurdles. Many hurdles. And a hurricane.

The Stark Center is on the campus of the University of Texas—it’s a huge bureaucracy! There were parking issues. There were book-selling restrictions. Since the book would publish during football season, there were more challenges.

Thankfully, the librarian there came to my rescue. She jumped all the hurdles—even kicking some down. She made sure the event could happen  . . well, except that two days before my launch party, the “hurricane of Biblical proportions” caused me to have to cancel.

Bummer.

Two weeks later at BookPeople, though, we launched Strong As Sandow with a cake, topped with “The Sandow” statuette. We partied with raw food and health guru (and strongman) Andrew Perlot. We gave out healthy treats and played games designed to get the kiddos moving their bodies.

Akiko White, cake illustrator

While the party was meant to celebrate the birth of my new book, it also served as promotion and book buzz. I had a lot of photos taken, which were captioned and sent to “Publishers Weekly”—who then publicized my party in their “In-Brief” section.

Andrew Perlot lifts author Lindsey Lane during book launch.
Standing-room only crowd at book launch.

On her blog, Debbie Gonzales described me as a “master marketer.”

I’m not. I just do my best to support my book babes.

Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal gave Strong as Sandow a starred review, calling it “An excellent introduction to a historical figure that will appeal not only to children already interested in sports and fitness but also to those in need of encouragement.”

In The Horn Book‘s starred review, Patrick Gall wrote, “Tate’s chronological narrative depicts an ambitious, hardworking showman with a drive for excellence — from ‘feeble’ boy to acrobat, strongman, fitness guru, and creator of the first organized bodybuilding contest.”

Don Tate is the author of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree,2015); It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started To Draw (Lee & Low Books, 2102), both books are Ezra Jack Keats award winners.

He is also an award-winning illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children, including Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton (Charlesbridge, 2016) The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton (Eerdmans, 2015); The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting (Charlesbridge, 2013); Hope’s Gift by Kelly Starling Lyons (Penguin, 2012), many others.

Don is a founding host of the The Brown Bookshelf –a blog dedicated to books for African American young readers; and a member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.

He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

Event Report & Videos: Don Tate Launches Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author-illustrator Don Tate hosted a tremendous, successful book launch for Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017) Sept. 9 at BookPeople in Austin. From the promotional copy:

Friedrich Müller was born sickly and weak, yet he longed to be athletic and strong, like ancient Greek and Roman gladiators. Little Friedrich Müller exercised and exercised but to no avail.

As a young man, Müller found himself under the tutelage of a professional body builder. He learned to work out harder. He lifted heavier weights. Over time, he got bigger and stronger. Then he changed his name to Eugen Sandow.

After defeating the strongest of all strongmen in Europe, Eugen Sandow became a super star. Eventually, he become known as “The Strongest Man on Earth.” Everyone wanted to become “as strong as Sandow.”

Inspired by his own experiences in the sport of body-building, Don Tate tells the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about exercise and physical fitness.

Backmatter includes more information about Sandow, with suggestions for exercise. An author’s note and extensive bibliography are included.

Fans wore fake mustaches in honor of Sandow’s.

 About the Event

Don’s wife, Tamera Diggs-Tate, welcomed the crowd, introduced him and explained his personal connection to the book’s subject matter–a history of competitive body building. Then Don took the podium, offering the stories behind the stories. From there, the event featured strong-man lifts, a push-ups and popcorn eating competition for kids and a jaw-dropping tie-in cake by Akiko White.

A celebration of conditioning, strength, and grace. 

Book & Cake Videos

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on Marketing & Paperback Release of Evidence of Things Not Seen

By Lindsey Lane

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

What are you supposed to do when your debut novel releases in paperback?

a) Nothing

b) Heave a sigh of relief

c) Let everyone know

d) All of the above

Ahhh, the conundrums of marketing.

Guess what? There is no prescribed method for marketing our books. There is no must-do, have-to do, should-do list. There is no recommended amount of time you spend doing marketing.

And guess what else? Marketing is counter-intuitive to every thing we love to do as writers: stay home in comfy attire and create imaginary worlds. Marketing is a little too real world, right?

So of course, I was tempted to let the paperback release of Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014) slip into its soft cover without much fanfare.

I chose not to do that because I’ve always had this vision of Evidence passing from hand to hand in the hallways of high schools and I always saw it happening in soft cover format. Certainly the paperback price point made that vision more attainable.

So what to do? 

Lindsey & Cyn at the Turkey Trot in Austin

Because I live in Austin, I have the luxury of going out to lunch with friend, mentor, colleague and super kidlit guru Cynthia Leitich Smith.

“Why not reblurb it?” she said.

“Wait?! I can do that?” I asked.

She explained that because Evidence has been out since 2014, lots of other writer pals have read it, liked it and probably want to support it. 

I loved this idea because part of what makes sense about marketing for me is building community. No community is better than the children and young adult literature community. We cheer our releases, our successes and our causes. 
I reached out to three young adult writers Jennifer Matthieu, Conrad Wesselhoeft and J.L. Powers, all of whom had loved Evidence, and asked them to write a few lines.

Here’s what they said:

“This is the kind of book you tuck in with and escape into, and it will stay with you long after you finish the last lines. Haunting and beautiful.” Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook Press, 2014), Devoted (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), Afterward (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) and the forthcoming Moxie (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).

“Ever look at a pearl and notice that its one color is, in fact, many colors? That’s the beauty of Evidence Of Things Not Seen, the stunning debut novel by Lindsey Lane.”Conrad Wesselhoeft, author of Adios Nirvana (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways To Fly (Harcourt Brace, 2014).

“The narrative jiggers between unexpected opposites—joy and fear, love and violence, grief and hope—all the while holding forth the constant idea that the world offers us credible evidence of what seems impossible if we only know where to look.” J.L. Powers, author of Amina (Allen & Unwin, 2015), This Thing Called The Future (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011), and the forthcoming Broken Circle (Black Sheep, October 2017).

What happened after I received those new blurbs was like sprinkling fairy dust on me and my book. I got reinvigorated.

Let me explain. 

When your book debuts in the world, it begins a journey, which is somewhat separate from me (think kid going off to college). People would ask me how Evidence of Things Not Seen was doing. Other than royalty statements, I didn’t know. 

I imagined my book toddling around the world perched on book shelves, cradled in someone’s lap or passed to a friend with, hopefully, an urgent recommendation. Yes, I had school visits, speaking engagements and signings but really after your book is out in the world, it has its own experience with readers.

After receiving those blurbs, I researched advertising and book tours. 

Advertising is a bit of a gamble. One time in Publishers Weekly or Booklist is hugely expensive. But Facebook is doable. It’s cheaper, effective and targeted. If there is one reason to have an Author page, it is being able to run these kinds of ads.

As for blog tours, I decided to try out LoneStar Literary.

I’d been receiving their newsletter for a few months and noticed that their content and readership was growing. It was also Texas-based and helmed by women (always a plus).

Because Evidence is set around Blanco alongside US 281, I decided LoneStar Literary would be a great fit. For a very affordable price, I had a 10-stop tour, which included four new reviews and a giveaway.

It was a blast. Great exposure. A lot of fun. Terrific support on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, it
was a successful tour because Evidence had the most giveaway entries so far for a LoneStar Book Blog Tour. Here is a link to the complete tour.

Promoting the paperback release of Evidence was like taking a honeymoon trip with my book. Even though I am currently engrossed in a new world and its characters, I remembered why I wrote Evidence and why I loved that world and its characters.

Putting together a little hoopla for the paperback release was unexpectedly fun. Highly recommended.

Book Trailer

Cynsational Notes

Lindsey Lane is the author of the young adult novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014) and the award-winning picture book and iTunes app Snuggle Mountain (Clarion/PicPocket Books). She is represented by Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Before she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010, Lindsey was a features journalist (Austin Chronicle and Austin American Statesman) and an award-winning playwright (The Miracle of Washing Dishes).

Lindsey is a featured presenter at schools and conferences and universities and also teaches writing at Austin Community College, Writers League of Texas, and the Writing Barn.

She lives in Austin, Texas but loves to travel, especially to the ocean. She loves books, films, good food and her cadre of dear friends. Her idea of a perfect evening is having a dinner party at her home with friends from around the world and discussing everything under the sun while eating, drinking, and laughing.

In Memory: Tom Shefelman

By Gayleen Rabakukk

for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Austin architect contributed modernist buildings to city’s landscape by Michael Barnes from The Austin American Statesman. Peek:

Thomas ‘Tom’ Shefelman, who helped design several of Austin’s outstanding modernist buildings…. Seattle-born Shefelman, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Architecture and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, also illustrated children’s books and painted watercolor scenes from his travels, often in tandem with his wife, Janice Shefelman, who survives him.”

Note: Tom was 89.

A few members of Austin’s children’s-YA writing community shared their thoughts about Tom.

Author Lindsey Lane:

“I will never forget the time I opened up the arc of I, Vivaldi (Eerdmans, 2008) and saw Tom’s drawing of Saint Mark’s Square. I gasped. I felt like I was there. The heart of it. The movement of it. The soul of it.

“‘Tom…’ I whispered. ‘This is holy.’
” He smiled. We didn’t say much. He looked pleased that his work had touched me.

“Tom was such an elegant man in the way he put his heart and soul and vision into his work.

“The work was the satisfaction. That it touched me was the smile on his face.

“Tom, the essence of him, makes me think of the First Corinthians:

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

“Thank you, Tom, for being that presence of love in everything you did.”

Author-Illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson: “I feel honored to have had work hanging alongside his in an Austin SCBWI show and grateful for the beautiful books we have to remember him by.”

Meredith Davis interviewed Tom and Janice, for an Austin SCBWI member profile last year. The couple talked about their process of creating books for children together. Tom said he hoped his illustrations would provide young readers with “a visual experience outside their own, which enlarges their world and makes them tolerant of differences.”

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on Turning The Bright Idea Of Creating A Legacy Award Into A Reality

Betty with the 2016 award recipients

By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Bright ideas are wonderful things. They spark imagination, energy, and excitement. That’s good, right?

Executing ideas and fulfilling their promise takes a lot of hard work. The more excitement the better because, along the way, you will learn a lot and some of that knowledge will be hard won.

In 2012, I had a bright idea to create an award in honor of the oldest member of Austin SCBWI community: Betty X. Davis who, at the time, was a stalwart ninety-six years old. She joined the first year Austin started an SCBWI chapter twenty years ago. She has cheered and supported all of us at our book launches, read manuscripts for school writing contests and been a thoughtful critique partner.

Really, in terms of support, Betty X. Davis is a pillar of our community. Why not create an award in her honor? I had never done it before but how hard could it be? People do it all the time, right?

By the time you finish reading this post, hopefully, you will be a whole lot smarter about creating honorary awards.

Maya, grade 3

Because I knew Betty would definitely have an opinion about this award, I took her out to lunch. I will admit that I had my own notion about what this award should be. I wanted to offer a scholarship in her honor to, say, a writing retreat or an SCBWI conference or workshop.

“Boring,” she said and dismissed my idea with a wave of her hand. Then she leaned in, “But I will tell you what I would like.”

Uh-oh. I knew right then that whatever came out of Betty’s mouth was going to have to happen. After all, it’s an award to honor her, right? Now I would have to obey her wishes.

What Betty wanted was an annual writing contest for youngsters. You see, what is important to Betty is encouraging young people to write. She believes that a love of writing and reading is essential to a well-lived life. If people wrote more letters to the newspaper, the world would be a better place. If people wrote kind thoughts to one another, the world would be a better place. If people wrote good books with exciting characters, the world would be a better place.

So for Betty, creating a contest that would encourage young people to write and award them for their efforts was absolutely essential.

Frankly, this idea looked like a lot of work: creating a submission system, reading manuscripts, choosing winners. The Austin SCBWI membership is entirely volunteer-based. We are writers and illustrators and many of us have day jobs and families.

Creating a contest looked like a big job that no one, including me, had time to execute. But I knew I wasn’t going to walk away from that lunch without saying yes to her.

While I was feeling a little daunted, Debbie Gonzales, the Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor at the time, jumped in. “No problem. Let’s find an organization which already has a strong outreach with kids and who can easily corral the submissions.”

Fortunately Austin has two very good organizations which fit that description: BadgerDog and Creative Action. Both were willing.

“Partnering with like-minded organizations not only builds community,” says Debbie. “It ignites enthusiasm with the donors and creates a domino-effect of good will.”

With Debbie as my partner in award creation, we turned our attention to funding the award. What would the contest winners receive for their efforts? And who was the contest open to? Even if we gave a blue ribbon and a certificate to the winners, these items cost money.

Austin SCBWI is not a wealthy organization. It couldn’t fund an annual reward. It has to be self-supporting. Fortunately, Betty has a large loving and supportive family and they were willing to seed the award for five years.

“No matter how much trouble it takes to establish an award like Betty’s Young Writers of Merit Award,” says Debbie. “It is worth every turn and twist along the way because young lives are changed when their voices are recognized and celebrated.”

Gabrielle, grade 11

Once we had the seed money commitment, it was time to get busy implementing the award. We joined forces with Creative Action, which has a huge presence in Central Texas schools. Currently they employ eighty teaching artists and serve sixty five schools in three districts. They reach twenty thousand students in forty elementary schools, eleven middle schools and fourteen high schools.

We decided to give an award to one student at each of these school levels: elementary, middle and high school. The three winners would each receive a personalized writing journal and a certificate. The elementary and middle school winners would receive a gift certificate to BookPeople, Austin’s independent bookstore, and the high school winner would receive $500 upon matriculation to college.

Betty was not keen to attach a monetary prize to the award. The journals, gift certificates were fine. But money? “What did money have to do with the joy of writing?” she wondered.

I convinced her that a monetary award to a high school senior on their way to college, would be really meaningful and give the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award a bit of heft and prestige.

“Oh I suppose that’s all right,” she said.

From that initial lunch with Betty to the first presentation of the Betty X. Davis Young Writers of Merit Award at the annual Austin SCBWI conference took seven months. It was fast but bright ideas can have a limited shelf life. They need to be acted on when the enthusiasm is high.

Current Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor Samantha Clark agrees, “It’s a lot of work to put these awards together, and it makes it a lot easier if you’re really dedicated because you believe in what you’re doing.”

Samantha has been instrumental in getting information about the award up on Austin SCBWI website, creating a donation button making it super easy to contribute and thanking all of the donors.

For the past three years, Betty X. Davis has presented the Young Writers of Merit Award to a diverse group of students from a wide variety of schools, including Austin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Garza Independent High School, Westlake High.

This year, at one hundred years young, she will present the elementary award to Maya McNeil, a third grader at Ridgetop Elementary; Keelin Bell a sixth grader at Dailey Middle School and Gabrielle Lewis, a junior at Meridian High School. Once again thanks to the vision of Betty X Davis, young writers will have their voices recognized and celebrated.

Finally, here is quick list of helpful things to remember if you wish to create an award in someone’s honor. Thanks to writer Sarah Azibo for contribution to the list.

Her expertise in this area comes creating many such awards both on her own and through the Denver Foundation, a philanthropic enterprise, which helps set up legacy gifts as well as provide a not for profit tax umbrella.

The Austin counterpart is the Live Oak Foundation. Many cities have these foundations.

Keelin, grade 6
  • Secure seed money for the award. It takes a while to build momentum until people remember to give on their own. If you are creating a mentorship award, secure commitments for a few years of mentoring.
  • Take time to develop a strategy for the fund.
  • Create a tracking system to manage donations.
  • Designate one person (a bit removed if fund is in memory of a dear one) to be the administrator of the fund.
  • Determine who, what, when, where funds are given as specifically as possible from the start.
  • Envision ways to keep the fund alive and actively growing with continued donations.
  • If it’s not managed through an organization, set-up a separate checking account for the fund.
  • Title the fund so that people know who and what it supports.
  • Thank all donors with a personal touch.
  • Never toil in isolation. If your award is meant to benefit a group of people, reach out to other organizations, which can share the labor and the benefits.

Cynsational Notes

Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit Award from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “Betty has judged many young people’s writing contests and believes these contests help them feel successful at writing, an important lifelong skill.”

Donate Here!

Member Interview: Betty X Davis from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “I’ve always been a great letter writer. A cousin even found one of my letters in a treasured box of Test family archives. I began serious writing in the late 1970s and 1980s when I was teaching (a speech therapist) and needed a curriculum.”

Lindsey Lane on How a Picture Book Author-Playwright-Journalist Became a YA Author from Cynsations. Peek: “Now I look back and I can see that it all made sense. That each page in each genre taught me a bit more. I can see it because in my YA novel–all of those teachers showed up.”

Photographs by Sam Bond Photography; used with permission.

Guest Interview: Lindsey Lane on A Heap of Talking with Edward Carey

Edward in Edward Gorey‘s coat; photo by Allison Devers

By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I am sitting at Sweetish Hill Bakery & Cafe, waiting to interview Edward Carey, author of the forthcoming middle grade/YA novel Heap House, Iremonger Book One.

If I’d read his bio before the interview, I might be a little bit intimidated.

Not only is Carey the author of two adult novels, Observatory Mansions and Alva and Irva: the Twins Who Saved a City, which have been translated into thirteen different languages, and both of which he illustrated, he is also a playwright with a long list of credits in England, Romania, Lithuania and Malaysia.

He has lived all over the world and currently makes his home in Austin with his wife Elizabeth McCracken and their two children and occasionally teaches creative writing and fairy tales at the Michener Center and the English Department at the University of Texas at Austin.

Gulp…Instead, I’m happily oblivious when Edward Carey bursts through the door of Sweetish Hill, hair blown back, red faced. I wonder if he’s driven here on a motorcycle.

Edward Carey: Parking. There’s no parking. I couldn’t find any parking. I had to run a great distance. I’m so sorry I’m late.

I assure him that six minutes past a meeting time in a town with too much traffic and not enough places to put cars is not late. In fact, my mother would argue, five minutes of lateness builds the anticipation of meeting someone. Particularly someone whose book I really loved.

Heap House is brilliant, original, inventive and unlike any book I’d ever read. The writing is smart and funny. The premise is ancient and fresh.

While Edward orders tea, I’ll share a brief description of the book:


Clod is an Iremonger. He lives in the Heaps, a vast sea of lost and discarded items collected from all over London.

At the centre is Heap House, a living maze of staircases and scurrying rats. Clod has an illness. He can hear the objects whispering. His birth object, a universal bath plug, says ‘James Henry’, A storm is brewing over Heap House.

When Clod meets Lucy Pennant, a girl newly arrived from the city, everything changes. The secrets that bind Heap House together begin to unravel to reveal a dark truth that threatens to destroy Clod’s world.

Already, it has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

L2: Can you give me a one sentence description on Heap House?

EC: It’s a coming of age love story set in the rubbish heaps of Victorian London.

L2: So how did you come to write Heap House?

EC: I love Dickens. I love illustrations. I love kids books. I love Robert Louis Stevenson. I love books with a sense of adventure.

L2: Okay. But why Heap House? What was the inspiration?

Edward in China; photo by Hugh Ferrer

EC: Well, there was this museum outside Bejing. I can’t remember the name of it. And when I went in there, they had rooms full of things.

One room full of mirrors. One room full of keys, one full of doorhandles. One room was full of bathtubs.

And it seemed to me all these objects put together were somehow communicating with each other.

L2: Really?

EC: Well, that’s what it seemed like to me. A 14th century tub talking to 19th century tub. They were going on and on.

L2: And that visit led to a book about objects that talked?

EC: It started me thinking about it. In Victorian England, during the height of Britain’s Empire, there was also an horrendous amount of poverty and neglect, and poor people were just crushed under the weight of industry. There were massive amounts of poor people and children were left at orphanages with one object from their families.

There’s a place in London called the Foundling Hospital (now it’s a museum) and sometimes when the mother anonymously left her baby there in the night, she’d leave a small object behind with it, a thimble say or a button or the metal label from a gin bottle, and this would be all that was afterwards to give any hint of where the child came from.

Can you imagine? Your mother is so poor she can’t keep you and she leaves you at an orphanage with one object. What tremendous power these singular objects have.

L2: Ahh, I’m beginning to see the heft and history of the objects in Heap House and their relation to people. But at Heap House you have massive heaps of things and rubbish not just the characters’ birth objects.

EC: Right. That’s what we spend our whole lives doing. Consuming and spending and acquiring and what happens when we don’t look after those things? We throw them away.

And what happens when we die? Those objects, those precious things get orphaned and thrown into the rubbish.

Terribly sad, really.

copyright Edward Carey

L2: How did Clod start coming into focus amongst all the objects?

EC: I started drawing this odd, ill-faced child who looked slightly miserable and I wondered, Hmm, what do you have to say for yourself?

L2: Do you draw a lot?

EC: All the time. But not all of them become characters. Clod did, because he looked so concerned about something. I gave him a bathplug for his object. It worked symbolically because a plug keeps things in or lets them out.

L2: And Lucy? Her object?

EC: I gave her a box of matches. Her name comes from Lucifer. When she comes into the house, she turns things up side down. Almost like a burning, a purifying or a transformation. So…matches.

L2:What would you like your birth object to be?

EC: I think a pencil sharpener would be quite nice.

Edward and I digress and talk about a few of the characters’ objects for a while. He tells me the Grandmother in Heap House gets quite nasty. She’s the one who chooses peoples birth objects and some of them aren’t very nice. Like one poor fellow gets a noose. Not a bright future for that character.

If you would like to have a birth object, you can go to Edward’s website (scroll to bottom) and you will be assigned one. Mine is named Joseph Cecil Tennant and appears to be a little stool.

I try to wheedle the details out of him about Book Two and Three.

EC: Book Two’s done. It will be out next October. I haven’t worked out Book Three. I’ve got tons of stuff but it’s not filled in. I like not entirely knowing what’s going to happen so I have the freedom to surprise myself.

L2: That’s what I loved about your writing. It surprises. Like this description:

Bornobby washed with some sort of scented soap so you could always smell him coming, but always there was an undersmell with him, as if a ghost of a fish was following him about, swimming in his air.

It’s the kind of writing that give other writers permission to write more boldly, more inventively.

EC: Thank you.

copyright Edward Carey

L2: What writers give you permission to draw outside the lines, so to speak?

EC: Angela Carter. Leonora Carrington. Carson McCullers. Shirley Jackson. Patrick Ness. Neil Gaiman. That’s why I love to teach fairytales. Grimm, Hoffman, Andersen these are really dark stories. They are our original stories, Grimms’ tales are a primal source of fiction, which over time have often been sanitized. Originally there wasn’t a stepmother in Hansel and Gretel. It was the mother who sent the kids into the woods because there wasn’t enough food. I love those stories. There are always woods you can’t go into.

If you go into the darkness, what will happen? Death? Or Love?

I also love the Secret Garden, Rudyard Kipling, and J.M Barrie’s original Peter Pan. It has the greatest opening lines in children’s literature: “All children, save one, grow up.”

Or perhaps this first line:

“It really all began, all the terrible business that followed, on the day that my Aunt Rosamud’s door handle went missing.” –Beginning the narrative of Clod Iremonger

copyright Edward Carey

Cynsational Notes

Photo of Lindsey by Sam Bond Photography.

Adapted from Lindsey’s website bio:

Lindsey graduated from Hampshire College with a BA in Theatre Arts-Playwriting and moved to Austin where she started writing plays like the award winning “The Miracle of Washing Dishes.”

Later, she worked at The Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman where she interviewed death row inmates, cops and wayward millionaires.

When she wasn’t writing, she trained as a boxer and promoted the first
all-women’s boxing event to raise money for the Austin Rape Crisis
Center.

In 2003, Clarion published her picture book Snuggle Mountain, named Best Children’s Book of 2004 by Bank Street College of Education. Later, PicPocket Books published Snuggle Mountain as an app.

Lindsey received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. Her debut YA novel Evidence of Things Not Seen was released by FSG in September.

Event Report: Lindsey Lane & Evidence of Things Not Seen from Cynsations.

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on How a Picture Book Author-Playwright-Journalist Became a YA Author

By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

It’s opening night. I am sitting in the audience at the debut of a play I had written.

I remember thinking as I watched, “This is as much as I know right now.” It wasn’t a negative thought. I simply knew that this play was the culmination of everything I knew up to that moment.

The next play I wrote would be the sum of more knowledge. I knew that I would learn from each attempt. I knew I would grow every time I came to the page.

And I did.

The thing is, in my career so far as a writer, I have come to a lot of different pages: plays, newspaper and magazine stories, a screenplay, a picture book. I used to look at that pathway and say stuff like, ‘Well, you’ve certainly wandered all over the place.’

Now I look back and I can see that it all made sense. That each page in each genre taught me a bit more. I can see it because in my YA novel–all of those teachers showed up.

My first playwriting professor Len Berkman used to say you need something new to happen every three inches on the page. This doesn’t mean that a bomb drops at the top of the page, a bigger bomb drops half way down the page and then the annihilating bomb drops at the bottom of the page.

No, Len was talking about pacing, about dropping breadcrumbs so that the audience is learning and going deeper into the world of the play with you. His measurement was three inches.

It’s not a bad pace, but I’ve learned to play with it.

Theater also helped hear the voice of a character. It helped me with dialogue and intention. I love revealing character through what they say. How little. How much. I love hearing their secret desires in their words and silences. Dialogue also moves the pace of your writing along.

Journalism helped me probe for truth. I loved interviewing people. I loved watching how they would open up. I would watch how they would avoid certain topics.

From those interviews, I became aware of the lies that certain characters told. We are all tell ourselves lies, some greater than others.

But when I’m developing a story and a character, I always ask them, “What do you not want people to know? What are you hiding? What are you lying to everyone about?”

Answering those questions will often lead me to the emotional arc of the book.

Though I have only had one picture book published, I wrote many more and every time I did, I remember thinking, How can a story with 300-700 words be told so many ways?

That’s the magic of picture books. You have to pare down your storytelling to the bare minimum and then spill it on to the page in such a way that it is light and fresh and surprising.

In my mind, picture books are masterworks. Every time I come to the page now I bring a spareness to my storytelling. And a massive respect for verbs. If you get the right verb in a sentence, it tells a story all on its own.

All of these pages led me to my debut young adult novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (FSG, 2014).

I hope you can hear the theatre in my first person sections.

I hope the pacing makes you turn the page and draws you deeper into the story.

I hope you can see the characters struggle with the truth of their lives in the third person sections.

And I hope you appreciate the spare quality of the writing and all the spaces that allow the reader to enter in.

What’s next? Something, for sure. Because no matter what, I am a writer. And the next page will logically turn after this one.

As always, I’m excited to see what it will be.

Cynsational Screening Room