Friday, November 04, 2005

Author Walter M. Mayes and Illustrator Kevin O'Malley on Walter The Giant Storyteller's Giant Book of Giant Stories

Walter The Giant Storyteller's Giant Book of Giant Stories by Walter M. Mayes, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (Walker, 2005). Those colossal lies about “evil” giants are all just a gigantic misunderstanding. You’ve heard all the stories of mean and bloodthirsty giants: David and Goliath, Jack and the Beanstalk, Gilgamesh. Imagine you found an unconscious giant on the shores of your tiny ravaged village—what would you do? Walter the Giant Storyteller is that unlucky giant, shipwrecked by a violent storm at sea. He awakens to find himself tied down and on trial for his life. He knows he’s a good giant, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the mob of tiny people holding him captive and responsible for the crimes of all evil giants in history. He has to use his best storytelling skills to convince the crowd that good giants do exist—because if he doesn’t, he’ll become a giant of legend himself. In this tour de force of storytelling and illustration, Mayes and O’Malley turn the giant genre on its ear.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Walter's answer

I get asked all the time if I am a giant who tells stories or if I tell stories about giants, so I approached this project as a way of answering the question. In actuality, I am both! I was approached by Emily Easton at Walker to do a book and I dithered and dallyed about committing for so long that my agent, George Nicholson at Sterling Lord, finally said "Oh, for God's sake, write the book!" Honestly, writing this book daunted me. But I brainstormed with Emily and George and very early on in the process requested Kevin to be my illustrator, so he was very much a part of the shaping of the project.

Kevin's answer

I really was interested in trying to draw in several different styles.

I've never really tried it. Walter and Emily Easton [editor at Walker] liked the idea and gave me the okay.

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

Walter's answer

This took nearly four years and what felt like fifty drafts but was really only five. I hate having to write--it feels like homework. I am a performer, with a performer's need for an audience response. My computer was strangely silent as I wrote, offering me no feedback. It got lonely and depressing, and I wasn't doing a good job of communicating that to my editor. It's hard to interpret silence, and that was all I could come up with a lot of the time. She and Kevin took me out to dinner at a particularly low point and really bucked my spirits up. Kevin drew a portrait of me as a slug about to cross the finish line that was strangely inspiring. I could not have finished the book nor would it have been anywhere as successful a finished product without the two of them and their support and encouragement.

Kevin's answer

Walter, of course, is a wonderful storyteller. He cares about words and how to use them.

This makes Walter is a very deliberate writer. The book took time. More time than I'm used to.

The real major event for me was when I got the final Manuscript and the go ahead to start the art.

I honestly can't remember when Walter told me he's like to do a book and asked if I'd be interested in illustrating it.

I do remember flying from Baltimore MD to San Francisco and getting into a rental car accident heading down one of those steep, steep hills.

I swear it wasn't my fault!

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

Walter's answer

At one point I received a note from my editor saying "You do realize this is a book for children and not a doctoral thesis on giants, don't you?" Research was a trap and an incredibly convenient reason not to write or revise. And I find I got passive-agressive about revision--I actually responded to one draft that was sent back with a ton of notes by producing another draft with even more of the stuff that needed fixing in it. Kind of like, "Oh yeah? You hated it, huh? Well, let's see how you like this!" I learned a lot about my process and Emily's process and am just thankful that Kevin was extraordinarily patient as this book kept getting pushed further back and he had to arrange his schedule repeatedly to accomodate me.

Most of my writing problem concerned making sure that my storyteller voice, which is a kind of second skin to me, translated to the page. The Finn M'Coul story that ends the book is a story that takes me forty-five minutes to tell live. I handed in a first draft that included a near full-length version of the tale and a total word count of over 6,000! Cutting my words caused me to fear I was losing my voice, and the book didn't make any sense to me if it didn't sound like me. Luckily, we were able to come up with an edited version that sacrificed none of the momentum of the telling and I think it makes an excellent last story.

I have learned so much about myself and how this process works for me. I know all about picture books and can easily deconstruct what makes one work or not, but to actually apply that knowledge to my own work was one of the hardest thing I've ever done.

Kevin's answer

Jeez...psychological challenges. The only mental issues with this or book or any other are whether or not you should have listen to your father and listened a bit more in math class.

Research is always a good time.

Digging up old art style, fashion changes and tricky computer design, it's all good to me.

The hardest part is starting with illustration 1 and hoping the last drawing and the bits in between are satisfying.

The computer is an amazing tool.

Emily, Walter and I were able to do most of the work thousands of miles apart through the powers of e-mail.

Since I'm an old data punch card guy, that still impresses me.

Cynsational Notes

Listen to Walter tell a story from his new book!

Where Is Walter This Week? Read Walter's blog!

Cynsational News & Links

Big thanks to Jennifer L. Holm who sent me a Babymouse card and T-shirt in thanks for my having interviewed her brother and Babymouse co-creator Matthew Holm for cynsations! Read the interview!

Thanks also to D.L. Garfinkle for her comment on the cynsations recent Norma Fox Mazer interview and to Tanya Lee Stone and Debbi Michiko Florence for the question about the poster of me being released in conjunction with the U.S. federal government's "Building a Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community" campaign this month. Unfortunately (?), the posters aren't available to the general public, only to federal workplaces. (I was sent one). I'm looking forward to seeing Tanya and Debbi in January!

The Importance of Not Growing Up: An Interview with Ellen Jackson by Diana Boco from Vision: A Resource for Writers. Ellen is the award-winning author of more than 50 books.

Summer Reading Loss and What to Do by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee from CBC Magazine.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rain Is Not My Indian Name Featured on Red Tales, Aboriginal Voices Radio, the Earth 106.5 FM

The audio production of Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith, read by Jenna Lamia (Listening Library, 2001) is the November book of the month on Red Tales, Aboriginal Voices Radio, 106.5 FM, The Earth (based in Canada).

"Red Tales shares stories from Aboriginal Peoples – First Nations, M├ętis, Status, Non-Status, Inuit, and Indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central and South America. Red Tales features literary news and information, poetry, spoken word and excerpts of short stories and novels by Native writers."

As for the Listening Library production, Audio File said: "Jenna Lamia's motherless Rain is as fresh, earnest, and appealingly impertinent as the character demands, while her secondary characters sing with individuality . . . . Rich with sorrow and the longing for resolution in a life diminished by loss, the story of Rain's journey toward her own identity is captivating and exceedingly hopeful."

More informally, Bob Langstaff, WAMV AM/Amhert, VA said, "It's kind of like a combination of 'Northern Exposure' and 'Party of Five'."

See the schedule for Rain Is Not My Indian Name; listen online!

Note: the story was published in hardcover by HarperCollins.

Bruchac, Smith Featured in Perma-Bound 2005 Author and Illustrator Birthday Calendar

Thanks to everyone who turned to the November page of their Perma-Bound 2005 Author and Illustrator Birthday calendar and wrote to say how excited they were to see me there. I never thought I'd qualify as a "Miss November."

That said, I'm hononored to share the page with Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac. His featured books are Skeleton Man (2001) (read excerpt) and The Dark Pond (2004). Mine are Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) (read excerpt) and Indian Shoes (2002). All are these are published by HarperCollins (though Jingle Dancer still carries the pre-buyout Morrow label on the spine).

Happy birthday to November babies: Betty Bao Lord (3rd); Bram Stoker (8th); Neal Shusterman (12th); Astrid Lindgren (14th); Daniel Pinkwater (15th); Marion Dane Bauer (20th); Elizabeth George Spear (21rst); Megan Whalen Turner (21rst); Yoshiko Uchida (24th); Crescent Dragonwagon (25th); Charles Schultz (26th); Kevin Henkes (27th); Louisa May Alcott (29th); Madeleine L'Engle (29th); C.S. Lewis (29th); and Mark Twain (30th).

Cynsational News & Links

The Art of Fiction: Where Do I Begin Revising by Lisa Lenard-Cook from Authorlink. November 2005.

Boffo Idea and Killer Sample Chapters Make the Sale: An Interview with Libba Bray by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink. See also a recent cynsations interview with Libba Bray.

KidMagWriters.com: November issue includes a round-up of editor likes and dislikes in Editor's Speak; a special report on Moo Cow Fan Club (a new magazine); a look at the east coast SCBWI conference; and an article on writing "as told to" teen profiles in That's A Fact.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Author Interview: Norma Fox Mazer on What I Believe

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. Read more of my thoughts on What I Believe (Harcourt, 2005).

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I wrote this story the first time more than a dozen years ago, when the country was in a recession, big lay-offs going on, downsizing, companies firing people who had worked all their lives for one corporation or in one factory. A lot of people were in shock. Families were losing not just jobs, but their homes, and often they were moving out of and away from places they’d lived in for years and years, the towns and schools that meant home to them. In a way, it was like Hurricane Katrina, except it wasn’t a natural disaster, but one human made, both, though, having the same kind of devastating effect on families. So I was thinking a lot about the impact of this kind of wrenching change on kids.

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

Timeline between spark and publication? My computer shows that I finished a first draft in February, 1995. It usually takes me anywhere from six months to, much more likely, a year to do a draft. So it’s somewhere between eleven and twelve years.

The second part of your question makes me laugh. Major events along the way? None, nada, but lots of minor events, otherwise known as revisions. I was doing draft after draft after draft, time after time after time. My editor was very patient. There was something about the story that didn’t fall into place for her, or for me. Every time I sent off another revision or draft, I’d think, Okay, this time I nailed it, and then the manuscript would come back with her notes, and I’d read the pages - and cringe, because I liked them so little.

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

Bringing the story to life is exactly what I was struggling with. I worked on this story over those nearly a dozen years, between other writing projects. It wasn’t a research thing that held me up; it wasn’t the psychology or the logistics that sent me back to it repeatedly.

You know, it’s not a complicated story, it’s not rocket science, but what was at issue was the background about the Marnets' privileged life. I wanted to make that background real, not just tell the reader it was there, but make it felt by the reader. I wanted that solidity of house and cars and private schools as a contrast to the financially and emotionally precarious life the family leads in the aftermath of finally acknowledging that are head over heels in debt and have to let go of their material life – which they’ve been doing gradually, but still clinging to it.

The problem for me as a writer was how to invest the back story with life, with interest, with energy; that is, how to make it readable. Why was it a problem - because the consuming events of the story all place after that life is over. I was continually writing those 20 or 30 opening pages, trying different techniques, different approaches, and none of them satisfied me.

Sort of in desperation, a few years ago, I wrote an opening in which a poet comes into Vicki’s classroom and says to the kids, “You all are going to write a poem before the day is over.” So Vicki writes a rap poem about her family and how demoralized they are [of course she never says it that way], and I did other work, then sent the manuscript off once again to my editor.

Months later –it was spring of 2003-she and I had lunch together in New York City, and, almost casually, toward the end of the meal, she said, “I like that rap poem. Maybe Vicki should write some more poems.”

I was taken aback, completely surprised by the idea. It had never occurred to me, but, of course, I said I’d think about it. Very tentatively, I went back to all the stuff, the scenes I’d written and struggled with about the family before they move -all those scenes that were half dead on the page, and I found that in every scene there were always one or two lines that vibrated, that had life, that had a little shine of energy to them. I pulled those lines and began to write free verse from them, but at this point, revision eight or nine, I still planned on the book being primarily a narrative with some poetry here and there.

After a while, I sent a bunch of the poems I’d been writing off to my friend Meg Kearney, who’s a poet and who just wrote her first young adult book [which I hope everyone reads – it’s wonderful – called The Secret of Me (Persea Books, 2005) – and Meg gave me some pointers, even starred two or three of the poems. That was thrilling, and gave me a shot of confidence to keep going. Months later, I had a bunch of poems, but a hefty part of the book was still the kind of narrative I’ve always done. Two or three of my writer friends read parts of the manuscript and, somehow, that process of having others read it made me realize that the poetry was much more alive than the prose.

So, more than a year after my editor first put my feet –or my hands- on this path, I took a deep breath and decided to scuttle the whole standard narrative. I started all over again, from the beginning, and had a glorious time –at last!- writing the book the way it now feels it was meant to be.

Cynsational News & Links

E. Lockhart writes with news of Not Like I'm Jealous Or Anything: The Jealousy Book edited by Marissa Walsh (Delacorte, 2005). Features stories by Siobhan Adcock, Christian Bauman, Kristina Bauman, Marty Beckerman, Matthea Harvey, Thatcher Heldring, Susan Juby, E. Lockhart, Jaclyn Moriarty, Irina Reyn, Anneli Rufus, Dyan Sheldon, Reed Tucker, Ned Vizzini.

Melissa Stewart: Non-Fiction Inspiration by Sue Reichard from suite101.com.

Secrets of Success: Barbara Kanninen by Ellen Jackson. Barbara is a magazine writer who has recently transitioned to books. She's sold an emergent reader to Seedling, a rhyming concept book to Henry Holt, and a YA anthology. She also has Ph.D. in natural resource economics.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

"Building a Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community"

A poster featuring a photograph of me and my first three books--Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002)--has been published by the Equal Employment Opportunity division of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

It is one of three posters in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. The theme of the series is "Building a Brighter Future for Our Children and Our Community."

The other two posters feature Blue Wolf, an Apache song catcher/flute player (the first in three generations) and the Alliance of Early Childhood Professionals, which launched the first native-speaking immersion preschools in Minnesota in October.

The series will be displayed this month in federal workplaces throughout the United States.

Cynsational News & Links

While I'm an advocate of integrating Native literature and curriculum throughout the school year, I'd also much rather folks feature it in November than not at all (a disturbing trend due to it not being a standardized-test subject), so I'd like to highlight some related resources.

An Interview With Debbie Reese (Pueblo), "an advocate of multiculturalism-done-right in the field of children’s literature" from downhomebooks.com.

The Cradleboard Teaching Project: provides Native curriculum to tribal and mainstream schools; founded by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree).

"If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything": a national reading club for Native American children: "assisting Indian Communities in Increasing Literacy Skills While Preserving Native American Identity." For 2004-2005, there are 29 participating schools in 9 states from all over the U.S.! [Please consider donating books or money to this excellent organization; a big thanks to my fellow donating authors].

Native American Cultures Across the United States by Debbie Reese from Edsitement. Includes activities and links.

Oyate: evaluates educational resources and fiction by and about Native people, leads workshops for teachers, and distributes excellent examples of such materials, making an effort to highlight Native authors and illustrators. Particularly good source of hard-to-find small press books.

Rethinking American Indians by Karen Martin (Creek) at Stanford University. Focuses on stereotypes and activities for reconsidering them. Part of a larger site, First Americans for Grade Schoolers. Emphasis on Dine (Navajo), Muscogee (Creek), Tlingit, Lakota, and Iroquois.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy

I was pleased today to receive my hardcopy of the October 2005 (Vol. 49; No. 2) issue of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy.

It features positive reviews of Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2003)--"captures the quirky eccentricities of small private schools, especially in the way they seem to foster and nurture quirky and eccentric (and highly intelligent if quixotic) personalities. ...a fun read and a fitting continuance of the earlier work, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo."

It also reviews my short story, "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" from Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005)--"Jason and Nika feel quite real, and Jason's situation in which identity and appearance do not neatly match up is a relevant one for most teens, as is awakwardness at romantic overtures and finding a comfortable niche in the world."

In addition, the issue offers an interview with us both under the nifty headline "People to Watch." See pgs. 162-167. Read online the reviews and abbreviated interview; read online the full interview.

Three Good Deeds by Vivian Vande Velde

Three Good Deeds by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2005). Howard shouldn't have taunted the old witch, but he didn't know she really was a witch until she turned him into a goose! Now he's stuck that way until he does three good deeds. Meanwhile, the male geese want him away from their females. The female geese want him away from their eggs. And people--including his supposed best friends--want to eat him! Besides flapping his wings, stopping his webbed feet, and HONKing, what's Howard to do? Ages 8-up. Read an excerpt. Listen to the author read an excerpt.

More Thoughts on Three Good Deeds

This delightful middle grade novel feels very much like a sort of old-fashioned story, told to the reader. It has a cleverly interwoven novel, a reflective narrator, and a timeless setting.

It's also fresh, funny, and a one-sitting read. Definitely one of the best middle grades and fantasies of the year.

Cynsational News & Links

Happy Halloween!

Vivid Vivian! from the Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books.

DFW-HWA: the North Texas Chapter of the Horror Writers Association.

A couple of days ago, I posted a list of links to MFA programs in writing for children and/or adults. Two more are at Lesley University and Simmons College.

Books on my nightstand are: Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard (Roaring Brook, 2005); Mr. Chickee's Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2005).

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Authors of Teen Books Support Intellectual Freedom

A private school in Texas recently returned a three million dollar donation rather than submit to the donor’s request that a controversial book be removed from the school’s reading list. A group of teen book authors was so impressed by the school’s actions that they gave themselves a name, Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom (or AS IF!), and are now all donating signed copies of their books, which the school will display in a planned “Freedom Library.”

The school, St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, had been promised the donation by the family of Cary McNair, who later objected to the presence of the Annie Proulx short story “Brokeback Mountain,” on the school’s list of optional reading for twelfth graders.

"St. Andrew's has a policy not to accept conditional gifts,” school spokesman Bill Miller told the Austin American Statesman. “When the McNair family looked at their gift in a conditional manner, then the school could not accept it."

According to AS IF! member Brent Hartinger, he and his author friends were overwhelmed by the depth of St. Andrew’s conviction. “They gave up three million dollars rather than compromise the principles of academic independence and intellectual freedom,” Hartinger says. “We authors wanted to show our thanks, so we formed our group, and are now all sending signed copies of our books.”

So far, Hartinger says, over sixty books have been sent, including many by bestselling and award-winning authors.

“I sent a signed first printing,” says Newbery winner Cynthia Kadohata. "I saw a copy on E-bay go for eight hundred dollars. It's not $3 million, but it's a start."

The point of the book drive, says another AS IF! member, Lisa Yee, is to make a positive statement, not just add more acrimony to the ongoing debate over controversial books. "Rather than tear down those who make negative or uninformed judgments about literature,” Yee says, “we want to support those who stand up for freedom of choice, and thank them for their efforts.”

Other AS IF! members include Anjali Banerjee, Holly Black, Elise Broach, Cecil Castellucci, Dorian Cirrone, Sarah Darer Littman, Jeanne DuPrau, Dotti Enderle, Alex Flinn, Debra Garfinkle, Barb Huff, Tanya Lee Stone, R.L. LaFevers, David LaRochelle, E. Lockhart, Bennett Madison, Katie Maxwell, Dianne Ochiltree, Marlene Perez, Douglas Rees, Eileen Rosenbloom, Laura Ruby, Linda Joy Singleton, Arthur Slade, Laurie Stolarz, Chris Tebbetts, Anne Ursu, Jo Whittemore, Mark L. Williams, Maryrose Wood, Sara Zarr, and Lara M. Zeises.

“We’re not going away,” says AS IF! member Jordan Sonnenblick. “AS IF! definitely plans to continue doing whatever it can to support all those who fight efforts of censorship and intellectual suppression, especially of books for and about teenagers.”

For more information, contact Jordan Sonnenblick, jsonnenblick@rcn.com.

Cynsational Notes

Thanks to Lisa Yee for sending me this news release. AS IF! member authors are encouraged to include cynsations/Children's-YA Literature Resources on their reviewer lists.

I had mentioned AS IF! previously on this blog, but decided cynsational readers would appreciate receiving more information as it has become available.

Kathi Appelt, Tammar Stein Win Writers' League of Texas Teddy Awards

Last night Kathi Appelt won the Writers' League of Texas Teddy Award in the short works division for Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America (HarperCollins, 2005), and Tammar Stein won in the long works division for Light Years (Knopf, 2005).

The event was held in the Texas Governor's Mansion on this, the weekend of the Texas Book Festival. Quite the venue!

Unlike previous years, there were no readings, and there was no extended program--just a social followed by a presentation of certificates to all the finalists and teddy bears to the winners. Also, this year, the event was not open to the public, but rather limited to finalists and one guest each.

I had the honor of being the guest of Jennifer J. Stewart, who was a finalist in long works for Close Encounters of a Third World Kind (Holiday House, 2004).

Highlights included a quick hug with Diane Gonzales Bertrand, who was a finalist in long works for Upside Down and Backwards/De Cabeza y Al Reves translated by Karina Hernandez (Arte Publico, 2004).

The evening continued at Caste Hill Cafe, where our party included myself, my husband and former Teddy winner Greg Leitich Smith, my hostess Jennifer J. Stewart, Teddy Award winner Kathi Appelt, Joy Fisher Hein who illustrated Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers, Anne Bustard who was a finalist in short works for Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005), author Lindsey Lane who was Anne's guest at the Mansion, author Patricia McMahon and her son/co-author Conner who were speaking at the festival this weekend, Elaine Scott who was a finalist in short works for Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors (Viking, 2004), and her very cute husband.

Cynsational News & Links

Learn more about the Teddy winners and finalists from cynsations. See cover art for the Teddy Award winners and finalists from the Writers' League of Texas.

Patricia McMahon and her son Conner Clarke McCarthy's new book, illustrated by Karen A. Jerome, is Just Add One Chinese Sister (Boyds Mills, 2005).

Lindsey Lane's debut book, Snuggle Mountain, illustrated by Melissa Iwai (Clarion, 2003), is a perfect choice for pre-K.

Greg Leitich Smith is a former Teddy Award winner for Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003, 2005).
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