Saturday, June 11, 2005

Advice for Beginning Writers/Authors

"Once you become a novelist, it helps if you can remain philosophical about things like poverty, rejection, and celebrity picture books."
- Author David Lubar from

On writing: Writing is the act of writing, not the bound product. Focus on the craft, on the process, on the journey.

On representation: Having a great agent is better than having no agent. Having no agent is better than having any agent who isn't great.

On promotion: Your books' best promotional tool is you.

On the wait for publication: Enjoy writing without having to worry about wearing your author hat (and all it entails).

On publishing: A contract is not a book. It is a contract. Support your backlist. Carpe diem because tomorrow you may be out of print.

On success: Celebrate every success, no matter how small.

On author Web sites: Make sure that your books' cover art, publisher name and publication date, illustrator credits, etc., are easy to find. If you don't want related email, don't provide that link. But realize you'll also be nixing mail from folks who would, say, like to ask you for an interview or refer you to speak at an event.

On book reviews: If the review is negative and the reviewer misrepresented the plot, renamed your protagonist, and inserted his/her own political agenda, feel free to disregard it. If it's positive and the reviewer did the same, well, we all have our issues. But in either case, as the author, you're allowed no rebuttal.

On writer list servs: Stay out of flame wars, especially if they are in no way related to literature and/or publishing and particularly if they involve politics. But do not under any circumstances personalize the conflict.

On interpersonal relations: Apologize for your mistakes. Forgive others. Be open to learning and growing. Make friends. Be kind to one another. Mentor. It's an incredibly small, tight-knit industry. Keep in mind the best interests of your books and mental health.

On your emotional journey: Stay positive, but acknowledge your humanity. You're allowed the occasional down days/times. You're allowed to lean on your friends. But don't be an energy vampire, and don't allow yourself to be sucked dry by one.

On competition: Compete with yourself. Try to make each next book better than the last.

On courage: Borrow courage, share courage, hold tight to it. The good news is that you can do all three at the same time.

Cynsational News & Links

"How to Keep Your Passion and Survive as a Writer" by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon.

An Interview with Jon Scieszka from Bookslut, which I found out about on Laurie Halse Anderson's blog. And speaking of LHA, she has updated her site with a Teacher's Guide to Prom. If you haven't already, read my thoughts on Prom (Viking, 2005).

"Nominate a Teacher to be an ‘American Star in Teaching’": the U.S. Department of Education again plans to honor classroom teachers by recognizing the 2005 American Stars of Teaching. The Department's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative is seeking nominations and information about teachers who are improving student achievement, using innovative strategies, and making a difference in the lives of their students. Teachers across all grade levels and disciplines will be honored this fall. One teacher or team of teachers from each state will be recognized. To learn more or nominate a teacher to become an American Star of Teaching. This link is reproduced with permission from the Public Education Network Weekly NewsBlast.

Grackle Stew: a blog of "[g]eneral musings & gracklin' about from Bobbi C., Texas writer and artist, the life of an artist/writer, news about other artists, Ganderings (fav sites), and who knows what else?" She's blogging lately about "The Nervous Artist/Writer."

E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, ruby oliver)(Delacorte, 2005)(Listening Library, 2005) has a "Grease" poll for readers under age 18.

Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy, author of The Power of Un (Front Street), from the Horror Writers Association. A frank discussion of warning signs and why writers are so vulnerable. Be good to each other out there. Take care of yourselves.

I'm blogging lately on spookycyn about The Fonz, Isis, phobias, and Ultimate Spider-Man.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Author Interview: Cecil Castellucci on Boy Proof

Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005). Victoria insists on being called "Egg" in honor of her favorite sci fi heroine, pushes herself to be just as superheroic, and distances from peers, especially boys, who might try to define her in their terms. But she can't accomplish her goals--as a photographer, a scholar, even as a Vampire and Bat Wing apprentice--without reaching out and opening up to the real-world people around her. Ages 12-up. Highest recommendation. (See more of my thoughts on this novel).

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

It all came together in a flash when I was looking to write something for my application for the Banff Centre for the Arts Writing With Style Program and I couldn’t think of anything and my friend Steve Salardino said, “You should write a book called 'Boy Proof' and the boy’s name should be 'Max.'”

Immediately in my head all of these things came together and I added water and stirred.

The teenage girl who I saw in some documentary footage who was dressed up like Trinity and said, “Everyone thinks that 'The Matrix' is just a phase for me. But it’s not. 'The Matrix' is forever.” She was so intelligent, and I imagined that she just didn’t relate to a single person at school and so had to be Trinity.

This girl that I went to High School with who talked to no one (except me), shaved her head, had a nose ring, barked at people like a dog. I was like her Rue.

Any cute guy that is brilliant, talented and totally gets it. Guys like that (ie. Max) terrify me.

This boy that sat next to me in High School Math class who had beautiful eyes and would always sketch in class. One day I went over to his house and he introduced me to Batman: Dark Knight and I had dinner with his amazingly vibrant and creative family. He scared me and so I never went out with him again, but I still think of him all the time. He was very kindred, very Max. I’m happy to report that he actually draws comic books today.

My friend's mom in High School who was a washed up singer/ actress in the midst of making a gigormous comeback. (You may have heard of her, her name was 'Cher.')

When I was extra-ing, I got a call to go try to be an Ape Child Extra. The interview was at Rick Baker’s studio. He’s done the special effects make up on a million amazing movies. Because they needed adults to play the ape kids, it was me and a bunch of Little People getting measured and trying on Ape masks and Ape hands. Just being in his studio was inspiring. I didn’t get to be an ape extra. (DAMN!) My boobs were too big! But I thought what if your dad made apes and monsters for a living? Wouldn’t it be cool if he was your dad?

I had a desire to discuss the obsession we have with that first thing that we are a big fan of that we own totally and is ours. It could be a movie, a book, a band, whatever. It becomes our identity. (For me it was "Star Wars")

Fan Girls & Sci-Fi. Meeting all the people I’ve met through the years, wonderful, special, different, strange. Sci-Fi fans.

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

I started writing on Boxing Day 2001 (that’s December 26th) and submitted 40 pages for my application to the Banff Centre for the Arts. The application was due February 1st. I was accepted to Banff and it was taking place for 9 days that same April. I got the F*** on the F*** and wrote the whole novel because the teacher said that he would give us detailed notes. Tim Wynne-Jones was that teacher and he was inspirational. He was the first person to read Boy Proof and told me that it was a book.

I fired my agent that summer, who was doing nothing for me, and hooked up with my new agent that I adore, the fabulous Mr. Barry Goldblatt.

That fall, I attended the SCBWI-LA Working Writers Retreat where Liz Bicknell from Candlewick was the guest. She joked at dinner how she had rejected me four times already that year. When she sat in on the critique for Boy Proof, she said to me afterwards to not be discouraged by all of her rejections and to please send yet another thing to her because she thought that Kara LaReau and Boy Proof and I would be a good match.

February 2003 (14 months later) Candlewick bought it! Liz was right! I LOVE KARA!!!

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

I have a theory. The ten-year theory. I think it takes everyone, any artist in any discipline, about ten years to “make it”. (Whatever making it means to you.) But pretty much, it’s a ten-year waiting list. So you just have to stand in line and wait your turn. You just have to decide that you are in line. Oh sure, some people get cuts, or their line goes faster. I think the biggest challenge about waiting in line is just not giving up. I mean I had four novels, a picture book and an easy reader, all rejected. So, just getting it up to continue to write when it seemed pretty hopeless and as though I’d never get published, and perhaps was actually untalented, was a challenge. But I had my ten-year theory.

Just FYI, from the time I got serious about writing to the day Boy Proof came out in March, it had been 9 years. Theory proved.

Research wise, the hardest thing was the special effects make up. I went on line and called a make up artist I thought looked cool, His name is Tom Burman, he does the effects for "Nip/Tuck." I told him what I was writing. He quizzed me, then said I could fax over my pages. I met with him at his studio and read him the pages with the make up stuff and he corrected me, and gave me a few details to make it more real.

Cynsational Link

Surf over to The Divine Miss Pixiewoods (AKA Cecil Castellucci).

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Style and Voice

On the childrens-writer list serv through yahoogroups, a member asked about the meanings of style and voice as well as what editors mean by the expression "fresh voice."

This is from my response:

In an interview for my site, author Kathi Appelt (Miss LadyBird's Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America) said: "Calling on voice is in some ways like calling on the muse. It's a slippery thing, and not a little magical. I think it has to do with passion and whether or not the subject you're writing calls to you from somewhere deep, some profound place that means everything to you."

In another, author Franny Billingsley (The Folk Keeper) wrote: "I love a wonderful first-person voice, such as Cassandra's voice in I Capture The Castle and Scout's voice in To Kill A Mockingbird."

In yet another, author Bruce Hale (the Chet Gecko series) confided: "...during a free writing exercise, I happened upon the character's voice. He said, 'Kids talk. They say I'm someone who can solve mysteries. They're right. I can. Who am I? Chet Gecko, Private Eye.' And when I wrote that, I knew the gecko would not be denied."

To me, "voice" is the expression of character through word choice and cadence.

Think about how a 15 year old Cuban American boy from Los Angeles might speak. What if he's upper middle class? What if he has a great sense of humor? What if he's an avidly into science? Now, how might he speak differently than, say, his twin brother with whom he has all those things in common?

What if instead your character was a 78-year-old old Cherokee great-grandmother from Talequah, Oklahoma, who'd lived there her whole life? How does she express herself differently than, say, the other members of the board of the Five Tribes Museum in Muskogee? How about the one who once went to New York City on an airplane?

A first person narrator has a voice. Second and third person narrators have a voice. Every character who speaks in the book has a voice.

"Fresh voice" is essentially a voice that--for whatever reason--commands a reader's attention. It doesn't sound like the voice in a thousand other books. It's somehow groundbreaking. I know that sounds elusive, but at the risk of paraphrasing Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I hear it. Read until you do, too.

Style is even more vague. I think of it in part as a combination of stylistic choices and devices--first person or third, one viewpoint or three, a book in poems or a book in journal format, heavy on the flashbacks or racing forward at breakneck speed. More globally, I'd probably describe author David Lubar's style as humorous, author Annette Curtis Klause's style as sensual, and and author Lori Aurelia Williams' style as heartwrenching.

I've heard my own style described as folksy, lyrical, and indigenous, though neither of my upcoming books fit those descriptions. So maybe style is more about what the book demands than what the author brings to it. If you look at author Jane Yolen's vast body of literary trade fiction, she appears to adapt her style to each new story. Or more likely she already has several to draw upon, and reaches for the one that in each case fits best.

Cynsational News & Links

IRA Young Adult Choices 2005 (a PDF file): those I've read and recommend include: The Afterlife by Gary Soto (Harcourt); The Creek by Jennifer L. Holm (HarperCollins); My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham (Viking); Vampire High by Douglas Reese (Delacorte); and Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber (Katherine Tegan).

Teen Spirit: an interview with Judy Blume that mentions Tanya Lee Stone's upcoming YA novel, A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006).

Author Catherine Atkins has a don't-miss blog! Among other things, I learned from it about Shirley Harazin's blog. Buzz has it that she just sold two YA novels to Random House. Woo woo!

Author D.L. Garfinkle blogs lately about her recent reads.

Author Ellen Jackson blogs the pros and cons of agents. One pro I'd like to add: an agent may do a better job of shopping your subrights (audio, textbook, foreign, film, etc.).

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Delacorte Prize Goes To Olivia Birdsall's Notes On A Near-Life Experience

NEW YORK - Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books announced today that Notes On a Near-Life Experience by Olivia Birdsall, has been selected as the winner of the 2005 Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. Birdsall's heartwarming novel was selected from more than 600 entries, a record number of submissions for the annual contest. It is scheduled for publication in spring 2007 and will be edited by Stephanie Lane, Editor for the Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group.

Notes On a Near-Life Experience gives readers the story of 15-year-old Mia, whose life these days is anything but perfect. Between her parents getting divorced, and the crush she has on her brother's "off-limits" best friend, Mia finds that her teenage existence is definitely not what she imagined it to be. Written in short anecdotes, Notes On a Near-Life Experience is a fresh, poignant, and captivating novel that is sure to appeal to teenage readers.

"Olivia Birdsall's manuscript stood out from the crowd with its authentic, funny, and terribly honest voice," says Lane. "Fifteen-year-old Mia remains utterly convincing as she suffers through her parents' messy divorce, falls in love for the first time, and recognizes (with the help of a very understanding shrink) that she can't make her problems go away by ignoring them. I'm thrilled to be working with Olivia and to be introducing her quirky, believable voice to YA readers."

Notes on a Near-Life Experience is Olivia Birdsall's first novel, and was part of her Masters of Fine Arts program at New York University. A native of California, Birdsall currently resides in New York City, where she is finishing up schooling to receive her MFA degree.

The Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel is awarded annually to encourage the writing of young adult fiction and is open to U.S. and Canadian writers who have not previously published a young adult novel. The judges are the editors of the Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group. For complete contest rules and eligibility information contact the Delacorte Press Contest for A First Young Adult Novel in care of Random House Children's Books at 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019 or visit the website.

Previous winners include: Breaking Boxes by A.M. Jenkins (1996); A Door Near Here by Heather G. Quarles (1997); Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa and (honor book) Bringing Up The Bones by Lara M. Zeises (2001).

Cynsational News & Links

The deadline for submissions to the Delacorte Dell Yearling Contest (formerly the Marguerite de Angeli prize) is June 30. Guidelines suggest 96-160 pages fiction targeted to readers aged 7-10. The contest is open to U.S. and Canadian writers who have not previously published a middle-grade novel. The award is for $1500 cash, plus a $7,500 advance against royalties. Send an SASE for contest rules and entry form to: Delacorte Dell Yearling Contest, Press, Random House, Inc., 1745 Broadway, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10019. See also contest guidelines online.

Congratulations to my very cute husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, who will be the Austin area Barnes & Noble author of the month for August 2005! As part of the festivities, stores will be featuring signed posters and copies of Greg's upcoming middle grade comedy, Tofu and T.rex (Little Brown, 2005).

Random Observation: Random House is particularly good at online marketing.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Jake Ryan from "Sixteen Candles"

On spookycyn, I'm blogging today in response to a 2004 Washington Post article about the character Jake Ryan from "Sixteen Candles."

I've been trying to think of YA lit heroes that fall even vaguely into the same category. Dishy, destined, and determined to help solve your problems.

I came up with only one: Gabriel from Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (Delacorte, 1999). And even then, Vivian could eat Samantha for lunch, so to speak.

Clearly, there's a lot of growth potential in this area.

Fan Mail: Indian Shoes

From a young reader, Jessica in Wisconsin, I received a letter yesterday telling me how much she enjoyed reading my short story collection, Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)(ages 7-up), and asking "Why doesn't Ray ever go to school?"

From my reply:

Ray does go to school but none of the short stories focus on his time there. The reason is that the stories in Indian Shoes are linked together because they are about Ray’s relationship with Grampa Halfmoon—the two of them together, and Grampa doesn’t go to school.

One of the decisions a writer has to make is which moments should be in her story and which ones don’t need to be talked about. Think about all the stories you have read or even the movies you have seen. They don’t show every second. Instead, they feature those moments that make a difference and move the story forward. They focus on a theme—like the relationship between a boy and his grandfather.

Cynsational News & Links

David Macaulay will be featured at a signing, interactive children's event, reception, and dinner June 16 at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas. David's books include the Caldecott Medal winner, Black and White.

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, is blogging lately about preliminary research.

Monday, June 06, 2005

South Asian, BEA, and Literary Agents

I'm incredibly busy with my final edits as well as prepping for my novel-writing workshop and upcoming talks. As in swamped. Buried. But loving it.

That said, if you've emailed me lately and not gotten a response, it's probably because I had my spam filter on too high. Please try again.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Pooja Makhijani presents a wonderful new resource: South Asia and the South Asian diaspora in children's literature: an annotated bibliography. Highly recommended. Pooja is the author of Mama's Saris (Little Brown, 2006).

BEA report from Newbery author Linda Sue Park (next best thing to being there!).

Dear Diary: Random Thoughts from an Iowa Girl: a wonderful reader/writer LJ from a journalist-turned-YA writer, now studying at Vermont College. Can't wait to meet her in July!

Do You Need A Literary Agent? And If So, How Do You Find One? by Simon Hayes from Margot Finke (click on "Midnight Oil"). See also another article by the same author from "Midnight Oil," How To Self-Publish--Why, When, How?

While we're talking agents, I should mention that I have related links on my site that may be helpful to those shopping for representation.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Summer Reading 2005

To me, "summer reading" suggests relatively light, fun, hopefully funny books. Sort of like summer movies. Not necesarily "fluff" or "beach reads," but simply stories that lift your spirits.

True story: The summer before third grade, back when I was "Cindy Lou," I won the summer reading contest at the Mid-Continent Public Library of Grandview, Missouri. I earned a lot of free paperbacks, an award certificate, and had my picture (with the mayor!) in the local paper. When Jingle Dancer was released in 2000, I sent the librarians a thank you letter and a signed copy.

Here are a few sizzlin' titles for summer:

picture books: Altoona Baboona by Janie Bynum (Harcourt, 1999); Chance by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Dee Huxley (Philomel, 2003); Dawdle Duckling by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Margaret Spengler (Dial, 2003); Hoptoad by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt (Harcourt, 2003); The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Harcourt, 2003)(see also Searching For Oliver K. Woodman (Harcourt, 2005)); Mystery At The Club Sandwich by Doug Cushman (Clarion, 2004); Old Thunder And Miss Raney by Sharon Darrow, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (DK INC, 2000); Piggies In A Polka by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Harcourt, 2003); Shake It, Morena And Other Folktales from Puerto Rico compiled by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Millbrook, 2002).

Middle Grade: The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie (Roaring Brook, 2005); Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee (Arthur Levine, 2003); Maya Running by Anjali Banerjee (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005); Monster Of The Month Club by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Laura Cornell (Scholastic, 1994); Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003, paper 2005); Tria And The Great Star Rescue by Rebecca Kraft Rector (Delacorte, 2002); Tofu And T.rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005); The Wish by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins, 2000).

Young Adult: The Adventures of the Blue Avenger by Norma Howe (Holt, 1999); The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, ruby oliver) by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005); Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 1999); Geography Club by Brent Hartinger (Harper, 2003); My Road Trip To The Pretty Girl Capital of the World by Brian Yanksy (Cricket, 2003); Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2005); Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez (Simon & Schuster, 2005), Son Of The Mob by Gordon Korman (Hyperion, 2002); Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005); Terry And The Pirates by Julian F. Thompson (Atheneum, 2000).

See also my recent post on Writers Must Read with links to my 2005 recommendations.

Cynsational News & Links

Authors' Reading Lists from Highlights include reading lists from: Alex Flinn; Gail Carson Levine; Kathleen Odean; Terry Trueman; and Laurence Yep.

Invasion of the Road Weenies at BEA: a real-live (giant) Road Weenie per Invasion of the Road Weenies by David Lubar (Starscape/Tor, 2005). See also David Lubar: Award-winning Author with a Sense of Humor by Sue Reichard from

Thanks to Amarin Enyart, the new BookKids events and marketing coordinator at BookPeople, for helping with ordering/coordinating books for my upcoming workshop.
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