Friday, December 16, 2005

Author Update: Jane Yolen

Biography quoted from Jane Yolen Official Web Site: "Jane Yolen is an author of children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon [Philomel, 1987], Devil's Arithmetic [Viking, 1988], and How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? [Scholastic, 2000]. She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children's literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. Jane Yolen's books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award."

CYN NOTE: publication information added for your ordering convenience.

Your last interview on my site centered on Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons (HarperCollins, 2002), and I corresponded with both you and your co-author, Robert J. Harris. That was four years ago. What have been your publication highlights since?

Pay The Piper [Tor/Starscape, 2005] with son Adam [Stemple], a rock 'n roll fairy tale, which has some movie interest.
The Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery from History [Simon & Schuster, 2004] with daughter Heidi Stemple, which teachers say they love.
Fine Feathered Friends [Boyds Mills, 2004] with son Jason Stemple, which was an Honor Book for the 2005 Massachusetts Book Award.
Baby Bear's Chairs, illustrations by Melissa Sweet [Harcourt, 2005] because it stars a favorite character of mine.
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?, illustrations by Mark Teague [Scholastic, 2004] because it hit the New York Times bestseller list.

I was particularly taken with your recent release, Soft House, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halprin (Candlewick, 2005). It reminded me of my own childhood, playing with my next-door-neighbor Kathryn. Could you offer some insight into the initial inspiration behind that book and any challenges you faced along its path to publication?

My children used to play Soft House and I first wrote it back 30 years ago. It went to about five editors who said nice things and didn't buy it. Five years later, I rewrote it, tried again. Same results. Five years on, ditto. Fast forward five years ago--and I sold it to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick who had me rewrite it about seven times and found the ever wonderful Wendy Halperin to illustrate. Since my children all have children of their own, I chose to name the characters after two of them, the only brother-sister pair.

Your latest bestsellers are How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? illustrated by Mark Teague (Scholastic, 2000) and its sequels. I enjoyed reading "How the Book How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Came to Be Written" on the Booksense site. It got me thinking about what makes a book really successful in terms of reaching a broad audience. While a manuscript is in progress and/or production, do you ever have a sense that the book will be a big one in terms of sales?

My editor called it a slam dunk but I have been in the business 40 years and know there is no such thing. Normally I am your high end midlist author. But not this time. She was absolutely right. And has been right on each of the sequels as well.

I'd like to touch briefly on some books from your extensive back list. Armageddon Summer, co-authored by Bruce Coville, (Harcourt, 1998) centers on religion in the context of a millennialist cult. I remember reading it spellbound when first released. Given it's global and individual impact, why do you think books that examine faith in any context are so rare on mainstream publisher lists? What are the related challenges and opportunities?

When books were sold mainly to schools, books with faith at the core were hard sells. At first my editor at Scholastic wanted the book, but the bookclub vetoed it on religious grounds so she declined to bid in the auction. Later when it got all those starred reviews and was on everyone's list, Scholastic bought 60,000 copies for the bookclub. So good sales trumps. . .you name it!

Like many people in the children's/YA community, I spend serious brain time trying to decide what books to purchase for the children of my own family. My little cousin Alex is a huge fan of your Hop Toad, illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt (Harcourt, 2003), written for the Pre-K audience and up. What considerations should writers keep in mind when crafting stories for the youngest readers?

Picture books are getting younger and younger, fewer and fewer words these days. I miss the days of the older, more sophisticated picture book. I have about 30 unsold picture books in my files.

The decline in the picture book market has many picture book lovers--writers and readers--fretting their future. Is it right to worry? Is the dip temporary, do you think? Cyclical?

Cyclical (she says, fingers crossed).

It seems that every day a book is banned somewhere for some reason. Have any of your books been challenged or banned? (I thought perhaps your award-winning Holocaust-related fantasy novel, The Devil's Arithmetic (Viking, 1988), if simply because of the title).

DA has certainly been banned. But Briar Rose [Tor, 1992] was burned on the steps of the Kansas City Board of Education building.

What year was your first book published?

1963. Two books--one a YA nonfiction Pirates in Petticoats, one a rhymed concept picture book See This Little Line, both from David McKay.

Do you still remember that feeling?

Every day.

In what major ways, if any, do you feel publishing has changed over the course of your career?

It has become Hollywoodized. Writers are simply wordsmiths for hire. Celebrity trumps good stories.

How about yourself as a writer?

I keep trying to grow as a writer.

What new Jane Yolen titles should your readers look for in 2006?

Count Me A Rhyme: a poetry book with pohotos by Jason Stemple, Boyds Mills;
Fairy Tale Feasts: cookbook fairy tale book with Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Interlink Books;
This Little Piggy: songbook and fingerplay book with Adam Stemple, illustrations by Will Hillenbrand, Candlewick;
Troll Bridge with Adam Stemple, rock 'n' roll fairy tale novel, Tor;
Take Joy revised and enlarged edition, Writer's Digest Books;
Prince Across the Water, paperback, Speak/Putnam;
Friend: The Story of George Fox and the Quakers, paperback, Quaker Press.

Fall 2006:
Rogue's Apprentice: novel with Robert J. Harris, Philomel;
How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends, board book, illustrations by Mark Teague, Blue Sky/Scholastic;
How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors, board boook, illustrations by Mark Teague, Blue/Sky Scholastic;
Dimity Duck, illustrations by Sebastien Braun, Philomel and Harper UK;
Baby Bear's Books, illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Harcourt.

Winter 2006-2007:
Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep with Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrations by Brooke Dyer, picture book, HarperCollins.

Cynsational Notes

In addition to those featured above, my favorite books by Jane include the picture book Where Have The Unicorns Gone?, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Cynsational News & Links

"After 25 Years, Yolen Still Provides Children with'Quiet Friends'" by Lisa Horak from BookPage. January 1999.

A Book Review and Discussion with Jane Yolen, Author by RoseEtta Stone from The Purple Crayon. Focus is on Briar Rose (Tor, 1992), which--as Jane mentions above--"was burned on the steps of the Kansas City Board of Education building."

Author Interview: Jane Yolen from January 2004.

Interview with Jane Yolen by Raymond H. Thompson from Interviews with Authors of Modern Arthurian Literature. August 1988.

Congratulations to author Tanya Lee Stone, whose upcoming novel A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl (Wendy Lamb, 2006) received a starred review from School Library Journal. Check out the buzz! Add this title to your must reads for the new year!

Congratulations to D.L. Garfinkle, who just sold her second young adult novel. She is the author of the debut novel Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam, 2005), which is one of my featured Cynsational Books of 2005.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Author Interview: Kathleen Long Bostrom on Josie's Gift

Josie's Gift by Kathleen Long Bostrom, illustrated by Frank Ordaz (Broadman & Holman, 2005). From the flap copy: "This Christmas will be the most difficult one for Josie, her mother, and her little brother, Bobby Joe. It is the first holiday for this Depression-era family since the death of their father and husband. Papa had always taught this simple family that 'Christmas is not about what we want. It's about what we have.' But this Christmas, all Josie can think about is what she had lost. Josie begs her mother for a new blue sweater she has been admiring in the store window for weeks. She knows they can't afford it, but she wants desperately to know joy again. In the form of three visitors and a surprise sacrificial gift on Christmas morning, Josie finds the joy she is seeking in the true meaning of Christmas."

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

I wrote the story for a Christmas Eve sermon. I am a Presbyterian minister, and co-pastor a church with my husband. We have a congregation with many children, especially on Christmas Eve, and I decided to write a story to preach, hoping that would be meaningful and hold everyone's attention! I wrote "Josie" the year my mother died of lung cancer, so I was dealing with the grief of facing my first Christmas without her. My mother had a sister named Josie, so that became the name I used for the character in my story.

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

When writing a sermon, I have a very short timeline! I had the idea weeks before I started writing, and spent a lot of time letting the ideas "percolate" in my mind. The actual writing took place in a matter of days, sporadically fitting it in along with pastoring a church and taking care of my children who were 11, 13, and 15 at the time.

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

The challenge was letting the story change as I wrote it, but that's always a fun challenge! I had a different idea for the sweater, but as I wrote, the blue sweater and the giving of that sweater took precedence. I remember my mom telling me about one Christmas when she was a young teenager. She lived in West Virginia during the Depression, and had 11 brothers and sisters. The family was very poor. One year, her younger sister opened up her Christmas present (she only got one) and then woke my mother up and told her that she had received a beautiful new sweater! My mother was heartbroken that she didn't get to open the present herself, as it was something extra special for her that year. Some years, the kids only received oranges in their stockings. A sweater was a precious and expensive gift, and my Mom didn't even get the joy of opening her own present!

I had to let the characters and plot take on their own lives, and the story turned out better once I let go of some of my own ideas as to how it should be written!

What, if any, special challenges are part of writing and publishing a holiday book?

The biggest challenge is the same as when I'm writing a sermon for Christmas Eve. Everyone knows the story of the birth of baby Jesus. How do I tell the story and give it new meaning, so that people will gain something from hearing it? Plus, there are so many new holiday books every year. How do I write something new, something that hasn't been done before, that will illuminate the true meaning of the holiday without sounding "preachy" . Believe it or not, as a minister, I try never to sound "preachy." Let the story tell the story, without pounding the point.

What, if any, special challenges are part of writing children's books with religious themes?

The last part of the previous answer explains some of this - trying not to sound preachy, especially to children. I take my "audience" seriously and don't believe in being condescending. Children are so bright, and often have a deeper understanding of spirituality and religious themes than adults. The kids aren't quite so "jaded" as adults. To kids, questions about spirituality and faith spring forth in an innocent and eager way. Kids are more willing to ask questions about faith, and often I find they have the best answers themselves!

Cynsational News & Links

Author Anastasia Suen just opened enrollment for two online writing workshops scheduled for January. The Easy Reader Workshop is a 21-day workshop, from Jan. 6 to Feb. 6. A five-day Story Design Workshop will take place from Jan. 6 to 13.

Christmas Cheer: Holiday Read-Alouds to Celebrate the Season by Alice Cary from BookPage; features reviews of Josie's Gift and other picture books.

The Great Blog Experiment: highlighting Teach Me by R.A. Nelson (Razorbill, 2005) from Agent Obscura. Read a recent cynsations author interview with R.A. Nelson on Teach Me.

Kelly Herold at Big A little a reviews Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005). She writes: "Tofu and T. Rex is really about what it means to be a family and putting up with idiosyncrasies because you have to find the best in the ones you love. A very cute read for the 8-12 crowd." She also notes: "Freddie is militant in the way only pre- and teenagers can be..." This reminds me of how much I love Freddie and how much I love Shohei for being attracted to a girl with strong convictions. Read the review.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Author Interview: Marilyn Helmer on One Splendid Tree

One Splendid Tree by Marilyn Helmer, illustrated by Dianne Eastman (Kids Can Press, 2005). From the catalog copy: "With Daddy away fighting in the Second World War, Hattie, Junior and Momma have had to move to the city so Momma can take a factory job. Money is tight, and this year a Christmas tree is a luxury the family cannot afford. But Junior finds an abandoned plant in the hallway, and in his eyes, it holds the promise of Christmas magic. If he can only convince Hattie, maybe they can have a tree after all! Marilyn Helmer's tender story and Dianne Eastman's richly detailed photocollage art bring this Christmas past to vivid life. Includes instructions on how to make your own snowman decoration!"

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Actually several things inspired me. I like to set writing goals for myself and one of my goals was to have a Christmas book published. The reason - I love Christmas!

Another inspiration came from the many anecdotes my parents told me about life on the home front during World War II. I used some of these in the story, such as the family not being able to afford a Christmas tree and the children having to wear boots and shoes that don’t fit because that was all they had.

Also I’m a firm believer in the inventiveness, creativity and perseverance of children, especially in difficult times. This theme crops up over and over again in my books and short stories.

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

That is difficult to say because I tend to work on more than one manuscript at a time. I do this so that, if I run into difficulty with one story, I can switch to another and thus avoid the dreaded writer’s block (well, most of the time anyway). If memory serves me correctly, I began writing “One Splendid Tree” about five years before it appeared in print.

Once my publisher accepted it, I went to work with a wonderful and talented editor, Debbie Rogosin. Together we edited, revised and polished. Then we got down to the nitty gritty of switching a word here and changing a phrase there to create the best story we possibly could. Believe it or not, that is my favorite part of the publication process. My publisher, Kids Can Press, is fastidious about the quality of their books which is one reason why I am delighted to have them as my publisher.

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

When Kids Can Press first read the manuscript, they suggested that I add more wartime atmosphere and references. “One Splendid Tree” was already on the lengthy side for a picture book, so the challenge was not only to add these to the story but to do it in an economy of words. I did a lot of research on World War II, especially about life on the home front.

Victory bonds, war savings stamps, Salvage Drives, rationing and the necessity of saving anything that was reusable are all referred to in the story. At a recent reading, when I came to the part about Hattie saving the brown paper from a package, an elderly gentleman in the audience called out, “I remember doing that!”.

I even researched the children’s names to be sure that the ones I had chosen were popular in the 1940s. I have to say though, that if I did a lot of research for the story, just imagine how much more the illustrator, Dianne Eastman, did for her exceptional photo-collage artwork!

Psychologically, and this holds true for any story you write, the author needs to get into the mind and psyche of the characters to decide how they will act and react in various situations. I wanted Junior, the youngest, to be the leader and his sister, Hattie, to create conflict with her initial reservations about the plant decorating. Though the mother and father appear as minor characters, my goal was to show it was their love and caring that made Hattie and Junior believe in the magic of Christmas and spread that belief to those around them.

What, if any, special challenges are part of writing and publishing a holiday book?

Holiday seasons come and go quickly so there is a much shorter time frame than usual in which to publicize the book. In the case of a Christmas book, you basically have from mid-November until Christmas.

I was very fortunate in that my publisher scheduled a number of bookstore reading events for me. As an added attraction I demonstrated a snowman craft (the pattern appears at the back of the book) at one reading and at others I made decorations like the ones Hattie, Junior and their neighbours make and invited the audience to help “turn a plain old plant into one splendid tree.” These ideas were the brainstorm of Kids Can’s publicist, Melissa Nowakowski, and the children were only to happy to help.

One event included me reading with Santa at a large mall. Santa and I taking turns reading alternate pages of the book. The children loved it - they thought I was Mrs. Claus!

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Kerry Madden, whose novel, Gentle's Holler (Viking, 2005) , was listed among NYPL's 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, selected by the New York Public Library, 2005. The NYPL also offers a newly revised list of 100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know.

Narnia Chronicled: The Lion, The Witch, and The Horn Book; see also Roger Sutton's blog.

Who's Moving Where? from The Purple Crayon. Cricket's offices are relocating from Peru (IL) to Chicago, and some staff members are leaving. See details.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cynsational News & Links

The Blue Review: a monthly newsletter from aimed at helping children's writers of all experience levels. In addition to articles about craft, it features regular columns that include: Children's Market News, Q&A, Inside Scoop, The Write Way, Bragging Rites, Writing Non-Fiction, New Member Welcome, Contest Corner, and Book Talk. See sample articles, "Continuing Your Education: The Low-Residency Model" and "Children's Market News: Multicultural Writing." See sample issue. See writers' guidelines. Non-members can subscribe for $10. Or join Boost for $25.

Catherine Atkins LJ on a challenge at a Texas school to her book, When Jeff Comes Home (G. P. Putnam, 1999). See study guide. Visit Catherine's site.

Kahani's First Young Writers Contest: Kahani is a South Asian literary magazine for children. It invites all storytellers between the ages of 6 and 11 to write a 500-word short story. The theme is up to the writer but the story must use the words "rickshaw," "mango," and "elephant." Entries will be divided into 6-8 and 9-11 age groups. Sangeeta Mehta, an editor at Little Brown, will be the judge. The deadline is Dec. 31, 2005. See complete rules and entry form. Note: Pooja Makhijani, author of Mama's Saris (Little Brown, 2006), is the Kahani book reviewer and author Uma Krishnaswami is on the advisory board.

What Would Aslan Do?: a recap via spookycyn of my own holiday weekend and theater recommendation for Austinites planning to see "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." As for the film itself, loved it!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Anjali Banerjee, whose novel Imaginary Men (Downtown Press, 2005)(grown-up novel, which I read and found adorable!) has won the 2005 Book of the Year Award (romance) from, an Urban Entertainment, Celebrity Interview and Pop Culture Website. Anjali also is the author of Maya Running (Wendy Lamb Books, 2005). Contact her for free signed and personalized book plates.

Brain Lint: author Laura Ruby's blog of late discusses the banning of Carolyn Mackler's The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (Candlewick, 2003) in Baltimore. Laura is the author of Lily's Ghosts (HarperCollins, 2003)(read related interview).

Funds for Writers edited by C. Hope Clark; emphasis on adult markets but worth checking out.

Highlights from the new HarperCollins summer 2006 catalog include: A Small White Scar by debut author K.A. Nuzum; In the Company of Crazies by Nora Raleigh Baskin; Doppleganger by David Stahler Jr.; Jumping the Scratch by Sarah Weeks; The Return of the Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac; Vampire Kisses 3: Vampireville by Ellen Schreiber. And from Greenwillow: Play, Mozart, Play! by Peter Sis; The Secret of the Rose by Sarah L. Thomson; Store-Bought Baby by Sandra Belton.

In The Artist's Studio: The Thing Itself by Ann Grifalconi from Children's Book Council. Highlighting her collage art work for Patrol by Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins, 2002), which is recommended.

The SCBWI 7th Annual Winter Conference will be Feb. 4-5, 2006 at the Hilton New York. The faculty includes my agent, Ginger Knowlton, vice president, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Thanks to cynsations LJ syndication reader Lisa Yee for her comment on Elise Broach's thoughts on controversial books for young readers.

Writing for Children Competition: offered annually to discover developing Canadian writers of unpublished children's/young adult fiction or nonfiction. Open to Canadian citizens or landed immigrants who have not been published in book format and who do not currently have a contract with a publisher. This contest has a deadline of April 24 and prize of $1,500. See also Children's Book Publishing in Canada by Bev Cooke from The Purple Crayon.

YA Authors Cafe Chat: join guest host Catherine Atkins and special guest A.M. Jenkins, author of Damage, Out of Order, and the upcoming Beating Heart: A Ghost Story, for a discussion on "Keeping It Real: Creating Real Teens in YA Lit" on Dec. 13. All YA Authors Cafe chats are held at 8:30 p.m. EST, 5:30 Pacific on Tuesday evenings. Go to and click the cafe chatroom icon to enter.
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