Saturday, September 17, 2005

Author Update: Kimberly Willis Holt

When we last talked to Kimberly Willis Holt, her novel Dancing In Cadillac Light (Putnam, 2001), had just been published. See An Interview with Children's Book Author Kimberly Willis Holt. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don't work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted? Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

I always said that when I grew up, I would write picture books. I haven't grown up yet, but I am now writing them. Which I guess means that I sometimes think like a five year old, as well as a twelve year old. My first picture book, Waiting For Gregory, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Henry Holt, 2006), comes out in April. I've sold a few others and they will be out sometime in the future.

2006 is a year of firsts for me. My first short story collection comes out in the fall. Part of Me: Stories of a Louisiana Family (Henry Holt, 2006) is set in various places around my home state of Louisiana.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

Waiting For Gregory was inspired by the birth of my nephew Gregory. In 1996 my daughter and I drove to a Tulsa hospital to wait for my nephew to be born. So many interesting things happened while we waited in the waiting room. I thought it was a shame that my sister was missing all those tiny moments. So I wrote about them in brief sentences and arranged the snippets in a photo album. I titled it Waiting for Gregory: Snapshots.

On the way home I decided I'd turn that waiting process into a picture book. The main problem with the original draft was that it took place in a waiting room and there were few picture opportunities. I'm ashamed of that early draft because it shows that I had not done my homework about writing picture books. Of course, it was rejected.

A couple of years later my editor asked to see it again and told me it had potential. When I asked if the text or the concept had potential, she said, "The concept." I put away the original draft and didn't think about writing it until a couple of years later when an idea for a new draft came to me. I rewrote it many times before I sent it to my editor. And then I rewrote it many times after that.

Part of Me: Stories of a Louisiana Family was inspired by a picture that I saw in my good friend Kathi Appelt's book, Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky (HarperCollins, 2001). The photo showed WPA book mobile librarians that worked in the Louisiana bayou communities.

While researching for the book in Houma, Louisiana, I met a former book mobile driver. She got the job in the 1940's at the age of seventeen. She had such wonderful vivid memories of that time and she became the inspiration for Rose, the character in my first set of stories. Rose is a fourteen year girl in those early stories and the eighty year old great-grandmother in the last ones.

How about children's or YA books that you've read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I am currently reading So B. It by Sarah Weeks (HarperCollins, 2004)(read excerpt). It's a wonderful story that I put off reading for awhile, probably because it included a mentally retarded mother. Since I had visited that myself in My Louisiana Sky (Henry Holt, 1998), I was concerned that I might discover that Weeks had tackled that better than me. Isn't that terrible to admit that? I'm not finished with the the book yet, but so far it is lovely and our stories are very different.

Two picture books I've most enjoyed recently are The Milkman by Carol Foskett Cordsen (Dutton, 2005). Cordsen manages to show us the day in the life of a milkman and tell a delightful story at the same time. It's beautifully constructed. I should also give a salute to the illustrator, Douglas B. Jones. His charming pictures capture the time period well.

I love love love Grandpa Gazillion's Lumber Yard (PDF interview) by Laurie Keller (Henry Holt, 2005). Of course, I love everything Laurie does. I wish I could borrow her clever brain for just one day.

I recently read Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2004) and enjoyed it immensely. I thought the sisters' relationship was beautiful and the thought of the family's struggle to buy a home still puts a lump in my throat. I'm happy I got to know those characters.

Kathi Appelt's My Father's Summers (Henry Holt, 2004) is powerful. I admit Kathi is my friend, but I am a critical person when it comes to reading. (ask Kathi) When I finished the book, I told Kathi the only thing I didn't like about it was that I didn't write it.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I am currently working on a chapter book about a Navy Brat. It is lighter than any novel that I've ever attempted and I'm having fun writing it.

I'm also working on a detailed outline for a historical novel. I've never used a formal outline like this before, but this story certainly calls for it. This in one of two books about a father and a son. I've struggled with the son's story since 1997. Finally I realized I didn't know enough about the father. When I started to explore the father's background, I became very interested in his story. At first, I thought I would combine the stories. But after a year of struggling with that, I realized I had two books. That struggle taught me that sometimes we're not ready to write certain stories yet. I'm ready to write those stories now.

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, whose debut novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003, 2005) was recommended on Wisconsin Public Radio's "Higher Ground" program on Sept. 10.

Kimberly Willis Holt Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Dick's Picks by Richard Jackson: a children's book editor looks back on some career highlights.

Texas Escapes Reboots Book Reviews; Launches Mailing List

Texas Escapes (www.texasescapes.com) is reactivating its Book Reviews section. Jamie Engle is the Reviews Editor and will be reviewing books about Texas or by Texas authors. She will also write articles about Texas Literature and conduct author interviews.

"The site focuses on Texas travel and history, so not every book written by Texas authors is a fit," she says. "Nonfiction will be the primary focus, but we are expanding to include fiction set in Texas (especially historical fiction)."

To have your book considered for review, email your book information to Jamie at jamie_engle@comcast.net.

Jamie has also started a yahoogroups for authors, publicists or publishers based in Texas or writing/publishing books about Texas. She will post requests for suggestions of books and authors to include in future articles. The articles are for print and online venues. For example, if an upcoming article is about mysteries set in Austin or Texas ghost towns, a post will be made requesting suggestions for mysteries set in Austin or books about Texas ghost towns to include in the articles.

To subscribe, send a blank email to: txlit-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Source: The Book Promotion Newsletter.

When asked about youth titles, Jamie replied: "Children & teen books would be great! In fact, I have a historical Texas fiction series for children on the slate for review already. Older releases are fine, so long as the titles are readily available (online, or a bookstore can order them with no problem)."

Cynsational News & Links

"It's a Balancing Act" by Katie Clark, in the Work Habits section of
Writer's Support (Passing up excuses not to write) from the Institute of Children's Literaure. See also "4 Rs for Ideas" by Bonita Pate Davis, in the Getting Started section of Writer's Support (How to get ideas when ideas don't show up) from ICL.

Kids Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia: Math and Reading Help for Kids is a directory of hundreds of original articles, tips, and resources centered on the topic of children's learning. Although the articles in this site are primarily written to help parents make informed decisions about their child's education, there is also a comprehensive Just for Kids section containing dozens of articles written for a younger audience.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Author Update: Nancy Garden

When we last visited author Nancy Garden, she had just published Molly's Family, illustrated by Sharon Wooding (FSG, 2004), a picture book about a girl with two moms whose classmate says her family can't be a real one. See the story behind the story. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don't work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

I have a new book called Endgame coming out in the spring from Harcourt, about a school shooting -- from the point of view of the shooter. He's trying to do well in a new school, but the odds are against him; he's bullied badly at school and his father is abusive and wants him to be different from who he is.

And FSG is publishing a story collection of mine in 2007. Each story has a gay or lesbian protagonists, and the stories are arranged in sections. Each section represents a decade from the 50s to the present and is introduced by an essay about the gay rights movement in that decade. Needless to say, I'll need to update of the final essay in galleys! (Yes, I'm the author of the stories and the essays.)

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

Endgame grew out of Columbine and my strong feeling then and for years afterward that not enough attention had been paid to bullying as a causal factor.

The story collection grew gradually; I wrote some GL stories years ago, but then concentrated on novels. After Marion Dane Bauer invited me to contribute to Am I Blue? Coming Out From The Silence (HarperTrophy, 1995), I began writing stories again, and when I thought about publishing them in a collection, I realized they needed some sort of glue to hold them together. That led to the idea of the essays.

How about children's or YA books that you've read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I love Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004), David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003)[read an excerpt], Julie Ann Peters' Far From Xanadu (Little Brown, 2005) -- and of course the latest Harry Potter. They're all innovative works of art, each in its own way, and especially Levithan's and Peters' are groundbreaking.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

Oh, my! To finish a YA novel about a runaway that I started almost two years ago. To revise a young YA novel that I think needs revising. To write a middle-grade novel that's been developing gradually in my head. But first I have to prepare some gigs I have scheduled -- and figure out how to promote the iUniverse/Backinprint edition of Good Moon Rising, which has been out of print for a few years.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005)

What I Believe By Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005). When Victory Marnet's dad loses his high-paying executive job, the family tries to remain hopeful. But after a while it becomes clear that no equivalent opportunity will arise. So, her mom decides they'll sell the house and "extras" to begin again in a small, city apartment. But the adjustment is ongoing and involves continued financial tension, taking on a boarder, dad's depression, and temptation that Vicki can't quite pass up. A deeply felt look at downshifting economic class. Ages 10-up.

From the back flap: "Norma Fox Mazer is an award-winning novelist and a faculty member for the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. Her books have received a Newbery Honor, a Christopher Award, an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery, a National Book Award nomination, and other prestigious honors. She lives in Montpelier, Vermont."

My Thoughts

Because it was by Norma Fox Mazer (I'm a fan), I opened this novel with high expectations. Generally, I don't feel this way about novels in poems (though the writing forms here extend beyond poems to include lists, memos, journal entries, dialogue, and several more, I'm sure, that I'm not savvy enough to identify). They're perhaps overpublished at the moment, and more often than not, either the poetry or the story succeeds--not both. Characters tend to be underdeveloped, plotlines hole-ridden, and compelling voice--especially "regional" voice--sacrificed in favor of showy language.

So when a novel in poems (or mixed forms, like this one) succeeds, I'm wowed. My favorites include Split Image: A Story in Poems by Mel Glenn (HarperCollins, 2000) and A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006), and now, What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005). For those of you interested in writing this way, I highly encourage you to study these books.

But zeroing in on the novel at hand, what struck me most was its vulnerability and intelligence, the intensity of Vicki's believability. She's flawed yet inspirational, and readers can't help but feel closer to her with each turning page. What's more, the author shows as much care in crafting her minor characters as her stars. No one is merely a device or place holder.

The book is particularly recommended to writers working on showing emotion. Take a look at "The Real Estate Agent" on pg. 18, contrasting what Nina Byrd says and how Vicki acts in reply. Don't you feel the moment? Yet no emotional "label" is used or needed. Then turn to pg. 19, "We're Still Here On 5555 Sweet Road," and see how much it achieves using dialogue alone. Think about the home-shoppers' comments that Vicki elects to repeat and what they say about her state of mind.

As for the story itself, I have to be careful not to give away too much. (Don't you hate when reviewers do that?). But I will say that I recognized the feeling of being helpless in the face of your parents' financial responsibilities and the guilty frustration at wishing they were somehow stronger in the world. I also was struck by Mom's comment that "Your parents aren't newbies at sorrow, but I so wanted to spare you" (pg. 89). So many parents are like this, and who can blame them? Yet, in the end, all it does is raise their children's anxiety level. Kids already have less power in the world. If a problem affects them and they're denied a context for it, they're also deprived of a starting place to cope.

For those of you looking hard for them, this novel does include a biracial (black/white) secondary character. I'm still recalling Sara's comment that, "My dad says anyone whose family has been in this country for more than a century has a good chance of being a brother or a sister, whether they know it or not" (pg. 75), and it reminds me of something Marc Aronson said this summer, something about how people make the biggest deal out of the smallest differences (brainy thing that he is, Marc said this far more eloquently).

This is a recommended novel to use as a springboard for taking about class, race, depression, and parent-child relationships. But it's also a wonderful story to simply savor.

Beyond that, I suggest reading it aloud, if at all possible. The short entries are perfect for young audiences, and this 'tweener would be an excellent selection for a classroom group. Like Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar (Dutton, 2005), What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005) should not only be a winner with young readers but also a gift to English teachers looking to integrate quality trade books into the curriculum.

Cynsational News & Links

I'm pleased to report that in light of the sale and completion my upcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, to be published in fall 2007 by Candlewick, I'm now a full member of the Horror Writers Association.

If Rock and Roll Were A Movie: an Untraditional Screen Treatment of the Novel by Terry Davis from VOYA.

2005 Texas Institute of Letters Awards: Entry deadline is January 6, 2006. Authors born in Texas or those who have resided in the state for at least two consecutive years are eligible as are books "whose subject matter substantially concerns Texas." Children's/YA titles that qualify will be considered for the Friends of the Austin Library Award. See site for further requirements and other information.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Author Interview: Julie Lake on Galveston's Summer of the Storm

Galveston's Summer of the Storm by Julie Lake (TCU Press, 2003). From the catalog copy: "When fourteen-year-old Abby Kate boards the train in Austin to spend three weeks with her grandmother in Galveston, she’s full of excitement—about the train ride and the prospect of days on the beach, exploring Galveston with her cousin Jane, family picnics, and her grandmother’s good food. But things go wrong even before she gets to her grandmother’s house. Abby Kate gets off the train briefly in Houston—and the train leaves without her. Stranded in the railroad station, she is befriended by a man traveling with his two sons and eventually reaches Galveston safely. Then word comes that Abby Kate’s young brother, Will, has diphtheria, and she will have to stay in Galveston indefinitely. Abby Kate is still in Galveston on September 8 when a massive hurricane strikes the city." Read an excerpt (PDF file).

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I was doing some research about ten years ago on a fairly boring insurance project (I wrote on staff for an insurance magazine at the time) and I was going through a box of old documents--ledgers, old insurance brochures, etc. I came to this black and white photograph of storm wreckage from the 1900 Galveston hurricane. I'd heard about that storm and knew there might be some images of it in that file, but nothing prepared me for the reality of that image. The devastation stretched on and on and on.

My eyes were drawn to a point in the middle of the picture, to the single sign of life in that unbearable landscape—a child, a little boy in bare feet, who stared towards the camera. I felt as if I'd been sucked back in time and the hurricane became real.

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

For the next year or two I found myself thinking about what it would be like to survive a hurricane of that magnitude. I sort of became obsessed with hurricanes in general and this storm in particular.

I'd be interviewing an insurance agent for an article about how to prepare a business for natural catastrophes--things like the importance of backing up computer data offsite, how to keep taking care of clients despite power outages, flooding etc.--and I'd start asking things like, "What is it really like to be in a hurricane? How did you feel? What was it like afterwards?"

A lot of these people had grown up on the coast, and they shared all kinds of stories, like cleaning up the house afterwards and finding snakes in the kitchen. The story began to come alive in my mind.

I began to read books on writing fiction and took a class. I also did some market research to see if there were already a lot of children's books on the 1900 hurricane. I found there were many adult books, both fiction and nonfiction, but very few geared toward teens or upper elementary students.

I brainstormed my idea with Robin Krig, a librarian in Katy, specifically my concern that the story would be too sad. Robin listened and then said, "So it's a little like Number the Stars" [by Lois Lowry (Houghton, 1989)]. That was a very pivotal moment for me. To have my spongy draft of a story compared in any kind of way with such a powerful piece of children's literature.

Another important milestone was when I sent an early draft to my sister's fourth grade class. As a new fiction writer, it was great to hear that they laughed at the funny parts. The kids, however, all shared one major criticism of my story--that I didn't kill enough people. And in their helpful way, they made specific suggestions on who needed to die, when and even how.

I was like, "How could they kill off Ian? He's one of my favorite characters." But I realized they were right. I was trying to write an historical novel about a storm that had killed 6,000-8,000 people, and not have Abby Kate, my main character, suffer any significant personal loss. I was trying to protect her.

I have a saying now taped to my computer: "Spare no one. Not the characters. Not your readers. Not even yourself." I really believe that. Sometimes, as writers, we flinch when we get to the hard part of the story. We want to rescue our characters too soon, and in a sense, rescue ourselves from dealing with important, often painful issues.

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

I think the hardest thing was tapping those emotions of frustration and sadness and hopelessness that were appropriate for my characters to feel at certain points of the story.

After the hurricane scene, I really wanted to get Abby Kate out of the rubble, away from the dead bodies, and back home to her family in Austin. I wanted so much for her to be okay. It was tough writing those scenes showing the aftermath of the storm and letting the healing process play out in a natural way.

Many readers have told me that they like how the story didn't just end after the hurricane. That they liked how I showed the characters struggling at points to find their footing and dealing with all the different kinds of emotions we have when we face these sudden, life-changing events.

Do you feel that authors have a responsibility to young readers to offer an element of hope in their stories?

I really do. Children and teens need to know that even when life is very difficult that there is always room for something good to happen, and that things can get better, though maybe in a different way than you might expect or hope.

I really wanted to have a positive scene at the end of my book, something that would show Abby Kate taking some kind of power. After a lot of crumpled pieces of paper, I finally had this "aha" moment. Suddenly I knew what she needed to do. Something that was within her ability to do and something that would make a real difference for one of the other characters in the story.

When we talk about disasters, we often focus on physical rebuilding of homes, businesses, etc. There's another type of rebuilding that has to happen, too. The emotion restoration of the people themselves.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Author Update: Bruce Hale

When we last visited Bruce Hale, he had just published his second Chet Gecko book (Harcourt, 2000-), and he shared with us the story behind the stories AKA how the series came to be. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don't work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

The Chet Gecko series (Harcourt, 2005) is 11 books strong, and I've begun working on humorous fantasy series that's a blend of manga (graphic novel) and conventional fiction. It's called Underwhere (HarperCollins, 2006), and it'll be out in Fall 2006.

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

Chet Gecko's Detective Handbook (and Cookbook) (Harcourt) comes out this month. It's my first nonfiction book (as much as detective tips from a lizard can be nonfiction). The handbook will tell readers how to be a private eye and how to cook some of Chet's favorite bug-related recipes.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

This book was born during an over-caffeinated brainstorming session between me and my editor at a Starbucks in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we couldn't include the secret messages in invisible ink that we wanted to, but most of our other ideas made it into my finished book.

How about children's or YA books that you've read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I recently read M.T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts (Harcourt, 2005), and loved it for its off-the-wall humor. Also, the first two books of Philip Reeves' Hungry City Chronicles (Eos) were imaginative YA fantasy/sci-fi, set far in Earth's future.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

To keep balancing Chet Gecko and Underwhere, and to get a little sleep in between my writing sessions.

Cynsational News & Links

Tonight at the YA Authors Cafe: guest host, Lara M. Zeises, interviews three rising stars in young adult literature. Guests will be R. A. Nelson, author of the controversial new novel, Teach Me (Razorbill, 2005); Bennett Madison, author of the hilarious and hip Nancy Drew-made-modern mystery Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls (Penguin, 2005); and Melanie Gideon, author of the Girl's Life Top Ten Pick The Map That Breathed and the forthcoming Pucker (May 2006). To join the cafe chats, go to www.yaauthorscafe.com and click the cafe chatroom icon to enter the chats. All chats are held at 8:30 p.m. EST, 7:30 p.m. CST, 5:30 p.m. Pacific.

"News You Can Use!" by Juliana LeRoy, in the Getting Ideas section of Writing Tips from the Institute of Children's Literature. See also "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, No, It's Superbook?" by Marilyn E. Freeman from ICL.

Promotional Brainstorming and Independent Bookstores from Once Upon A Time There Was A Girl And She Wanted To Write (That Would Be Me) AKA Susan Taylor Brown's LiveJournal.

Meet Author Varian Johnson from Don Tate's blog. Varian is the debut author of Red Polka Dot In A World Full of Plaid (Genesis Press/Black Coral, 2005), a YA being marketed by an adult publisher. Both Don and Varian are members of Austin SCBWI.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Author Interview: M.T. Anderson on Whales On Stilts

Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson (Harcourt, 2005). From the catalog copy: "Lucky for Lily Gefelty, her two best friends are the stars of their own middle-grade series of novels: Jasper Dash (better known as the Boy Technonaut) and Katie Mulligan (beloved by millions as the heroine of the Horror Hollow series). It's going to take all their smarts to stop this insane, inane plot from succeeding. This first installment of a riotous and wonderfully weird new series marks the Harcourt debut of award-winning author M. T. Anderson. With Whales on Stilts, he's entering new territory, creating a smart, sassy, and self-aware comedy that fans of Lemony Snicket will snicker and snort over." Read an excerpt.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Michael Stearns, then working at Harcourt, came up to Vermont College to lecture. It was the summer. The air was golden with pollen. The trees were green. I had hay-fever. We sat around and talked about how there was a particular kind of book we had read as boys in the summer: books with a sense of freedom and release. Books where there were hijinx, adventures, playfulness, and a very thin line between reality and fantasy.

Shortly after the residency finished at Vermont, I went up to a cabin in Canada to recooperate. I found myself wanting to write a book of the kind we had discussed -- something that expressed pure joy in the act of creation and friendship. I wrote the book very quickly, in a burst of enthusiasm between kayaking sessions and washing the dishes in the lake (because there was, for some reason, no running water in the cabin). It provided a very welcome break in my work on a historical novel that has gone grindingly slowly and which still is not finished.

In a neat little postscript, Whales on Stilts was mentioned on NPR in a list of summer reads -- in the company of many of the books which Michael and I had specifically discussed years before!

So there it is. Whales on Stilts ain't great literature -- in fact, it's basically puerile -- but I hope its puerility is its charm.

I hope.

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

As I mentioned, I wrote the book very quickly (for me) in the summer of 2002. It has just been released in the spring of 2005, three years later. Therein lies a tale not worth telling.

Actually, come to think of it, there is one portion of the process worth mentioning. I wrote the book right after hearing Marion Dane Bauer and Norma Fox Mazer talk about the traditional plot structure--which they said in its most formulaic incarnation meant, for example, a problem, a protagonist, and three attempts to solve that problem--with the problem getting more acute in each instance--and the last attempt to solve the problem being the most spectacularly successful or unsuccessful.

This is, of course, only a formula...but I liked the idea of using a die-cut, pre-fab design. After all, I had envisioned three main heroes, one of whom (Lily) was kind of the center of the novel... So it made sense, then, to give each of the heroes a chance to solve the problem of the novel, culminating in Lily's plan to bring all of them together to finaly defeat the cetacean menace.

I always enjoy writing line-by-line--creating character and detail. What stumps me are plots. So having a pre-arranged structure to work around made writing the book much easier.

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

I spent a great deal of time in a bathyscape, of course, doing research, and taped hours of interviews with dolorous, even bitter, whale/human hybrids.

That's right, Cynthia, no lame-ass I, for I have probably miles of reel-to-reel tape sagging half-unspooled around my little office next to my careful diagrams of mechanized stilts and a full set of flensing tools. I hope that my extensive research doesn't show, though, but just fits in seamlessly with the story.

My neighbors complained a lot about the blubber-rendering, which, in the warmer months -- it must be admitted -- was accompanied by heavy smoke, sticky ichor, and something of a pinguid pong.

Better, though, than those who render fats in the Antarctic seas, who often are accompanied by a pinguid penguin pong.

Frankly, I can't stand rendering fats in the cold of the Antarctic. That intense chill just makes me want to return to my sleigh and flee to someplace warm, like the jungles of Thailand -- a pung-ward pang, or even, I suppose, a pung-ward, Ping-ward pang.

As you can see, if there are any psychological challenges to writing, I am clearly not up to them.

Cynsational Notes

Michael Stearns is now working at HarperCollins; M.T. Anderson is the former department chair of the M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Profile: Norma Fox Mazer from teenreads.com. August 2000.

Excerpt: Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson from NPR. "Hear author M.T. Anderson read from Whales on Stilts."

Life-and-death competition in an enchanted world: interview by Heidi Henneman from BookPage with M.T. Anderson about his book, The Game of Sunken Places (Scholastic).

Marion Dane Bauer: Teacher Resource File from the Internet School Library Media Center.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Author/Illustrator Interview: Jean Gralley on The Moon Came Down On Milk Street

The Moon Came Down On Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004). The moon has come down softly, and who will put it up again? Who will make things right? The fire chief, the rescue workers, the people. This brilliantly simple book speaks to our universal need for comfort, for heroes, for hope. It's perhaps the best "crisis" book ever published, as resonate and necessary for young readers as their grandparents. A must-buy for every school, household, and library. Ages 3-up. Highest recommendation.

What was your inspiration for The Moon Came Down on Milk Street?

Without a doubt it came September 11th, 2001. A few days later I drove through Washington D.C. to attend a regular meeting of the Children's Book Guild. The town was still in emergency mode. The military was everywhere; everyone was shaky. One member quoted Fred Rogers, and the story idea clicked into place. It was that quick and definite.

Unlike other 9-11 books I knew this one wasn't going to be “commemorative.” I didn't want it to look back but look ahead, giving kids as realistic an answer as possible to the question: what if something bad happens again?

Subsequently, grown-ups have told me they've found it helpful for times when the news has made kids worry. Unfortunately, there's been a lot of that since September 11th. Terror alerts, natural disasters, and local emergencies closer to home have increasingly set everyone on edge. When we find it hard to talk to children about difficult situations or answer their questions, I've heard that Moon shows a way in.

I'm glad for that. It's important to approach kids about things that worry them and listen to their thoughts, questions, and feelings about them.

I write and illustrate my books. This was the first one that wasn't funny. Generally, I can't abide “message” or “moral” books for young children and don't think this is one. It's just a good, simple story that can stand on its own or be a springboard for important talks with kids.

In any case, this book absolutely popped out of the head whole and begged to be brought to my editor right away.

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

The timeline was unusually short. My wonderful editor Laura Godwin (Sr. Editor and a VP at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers) loved Moon and okayed setting aside other books on the drawing table so it could be completed ASAP. I finished it in record time.

I guess a “major event” came at the end when the illustrations were done and ready to be shipped. I invited about 40 friends over for a big party to celebrate.

But while hanging the artwork in my studio the night before, I absent-mindedly stepped right off the ladder and spent the night in the emergency room. Greeting my guests the next day on crutches was a nicely dramatic touch, I thought. Art is a dangerous business! So is stepping back to admire one's work while on a ladder.

My covers are always done at the very end of the process so I had to paint Moon's while parked in a wheelchair. Seriously, being disabled for months was an eye-opening experience. There's a picture book there.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

Other than risking life and limb, The Moon Came Down on Milk Street presented few challenges until it was finished. Then I realized it was unlike any other book I'd done, unfunny and looking like one of my early schoolbooks. I could have had an identity crisis about that. Luckily, Moon had such urgency about it, I didn't have time to worry about it until the book was done.

I'm glad. It's freed me up. The book I'm completing now, Yonderfel's Castle, (also for Henry Holt) is a medieval fable and calls for yet another style. I love responding to a story however it wants.

I also like playing with the physical form of the book, itself. Why not create a story that requires turning the book in the hands? Why not create a book that can be read backwards as well as forwards? I create stories and dummies for fun, trying out these quirky ideas; it's one of the perks of being a writer / illustrator. I'm also interested creating stories for kids in digital, which I find extremely interesting for story-telling. This means leaving the codex form altogether. I hope you'll read (and see) more about this from me early next year.

Challenges are always there, for artists as well as writers. There are business challenges (especially in picture books these days, as we all know) and creative challenges.

For me, the Moon experience was about being so inside the story that there was no angsting about letting it tell me what it wanted to be, even if that meant stepping outside anything I'd done before. That was untypical for me. But I welcome more of those experiences and look forward to where they'll lead.

Cynsational News & Links

Continue reading for an author update with Printz Honor winner K.L. Going.

How to Reel in a Children's Book Editor with Your Writing by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon. See also Where To Go When You Are Desperate for Information or Help by Margot Finke. I'm honored that my site is listed among the recommended resources.

Latinos, Spanish Speakers, and Books: The Barahona Center for the Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adolescents by Isabel Schon, Director, Barahona Center for the Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adolescents, California State University San Marcos from CBC Magazine.

Who's Moving Where? News and Editorial Changes at Children's Book Publishers from The Purple Crayon. Updated for September.

Author Update: K. L. Going

When we last visited K.L. Going in 2003, she shared with us the story behind the story of her debut novel, Fat Kid Rules The World (Putnam, 2003), which went on to be named an ALA Printz Honor Book; School Library Journal Best Book; to the list of Booklist Top Ten First Novels; to the list of Top Ten First Novels For Young Listeners; and a Blue Ribbon Book of the Bulletin of Children's Books. (Note: my site is being redesigned in fall 2005, so if these links don't work, simply check the site guide and/or search engine).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

I am working on my third novel which is a return to the older age group. It's tentatively titled Saint Iggy. It's a voice-driven novel with a quirky main character who gets kicked out of school on page one. This book will come out with Harcourt, hopefully in the fall of 2006. My editor moved houses this past summer and I moved with her, which is why I'm no longer with Penguin Putnam.

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

Other than Saint Iggy, my latest novel is The Liberation of Gabriel King (Putnam) which hit stores in June 2005. Liberation is for the 8-12 age group and it's about two kids who decide to overcome all their fears in the course of one summer. It takes place in 1976 down in Georgia when Jimmy Carter is running for President. The two main characters, Gabe and Frita, have very different types of fears. Gabe's are often humorous and childlike, while Frita's are a bit more sophisticated and deal with issues of race and growing up.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

The Liberation of Gabriel King had its beginnings after 9/11 when I was working in a literary agency in Manhattan. We were overwhelmed with submissions from people who wanted to write about 9/11 for kids. I kept wishing that someone would write about the more general issue of fear because it is something all of us deal with all the time, whether during times of crisis when it is magnified, or simply in the course of our every day lives. I tried to imagine how kids might decide to tackle their fears and what the results would be of their efforts.

When I look back at The Liberation of Gabriel King as a finished product, I feel like it is a very personal novel because I drew on so many of my own fears as a child, and even those fears I have now as an adult.

How about children's or YA books that you've read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I just read How I Live Now [by Meg Rosoff (Wendy Lamb Books, 2004)(2005 Printz Award winner)] and thought it was very well written. The voice was great, and the author takes you from a world that feels familiar into one that feels totally foreign without faltering.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I want to keep things fresh and keep expanding my skills, and learning new things. You learn something different from every genre, so I am working on a picture book to see how that will turn out. We shall see.

Cynsational News & Links

Glen and Karen Bledsoe: authors of children's fiction, children's non-fiction, books for the school and library market, fantasy, and articles. They offer articles on writing, resources for teachers, and information for young authors.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hearing illustrator Erik Kuntz of 2 Bad Mice Design speak at the monthly meeting of Austin SCBWI on "How To Build A Better Web Site." Erik is Greg Leitich Smith's Web designer, and we highly recommend him. In related news, author/illustrator Janie Bynum is moving from Wimberly, Texas; back to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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