Saturday, March 11, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Editorial Director Interview: Shannon Barefield of Carolrhoda Books

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Editorial Director Shannon Barefield will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006.

Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview). Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Melanie Cecka/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil/Hodder (publishing director interview). Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola/Stimola Literary Studio (agent interview), Costanza Fabbri/Gabriella Ambrosioni Agency, and others. Hands-on workshops and roundtable discussions. See registration information. [Note: speaker list has been changed/updated.]

Shannon Barefield is the editorial director of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group. She primarily edits fiction and picture books, along with the occasional nonfiction title. Shannon has spent all of her 10-year editorial career at Lerner, including a number of years working on series nonfiction. For most of that time, she lived in Minneapolis, where Lerner is based. Last fall, she moved to New York City to open Carolrhoda’s new editorial office there. She holds a BA in English from Rice University and an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Florida. Shannon will be participating in the SCBWI Bologna 2007 panel discussion, “Where Craft and Acquisitions Meet.”

Erzsi Deàk interviewed Shannon in February 2006.

Erzsi Deàk: What is your official title and role at Carolrhoda?

Shannon Barefield: My title is editorial director, Carolrhoda Books. I develop, acquire, and edit books for the Carolrhoda list with the goal of creating high-quality trade books for all sorts of young readers, pre-K through teen. I also supervise an executive editor and an editorial assistant, my main partners in this mission.

ED: Please tell us a little about your background. (How and why you got into children's books.)

SB: I came to editing as a way of being involved with books, which have always been my greatest love. When I began to look for a job in publishing, I targeted children's books in particular because I felt most inspired by them. I felt and continue to feel that editing for children is an honorable and important profession.

ED: What is your all time personal favorite picture book? Why?

SB: As a child, my favorite picture book was called Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne and H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1973). It's about a mother kangaroo who has no pouch. She visits different animal mothers to learn how they carry their babies and eventually solves her problem by obtaining a carpenter's apron full of pockets. I loved this story for its heartfelt portrayal of maternal love and for the facts it conveyed about different kinds of animal families.

My tastes as an adult are far less traditional and more oriented toward the humorous potential of the picture book format. I'm very enamored, for example, with a picture book from last year called Traction Man Is Here! by Mini Grey (Knopf, 2005). It's visually innovative and has a wry sense of humor that both children and adults can appreciate.

ED: Is there a picture book you wish you had worked on? Why?

SB: I think it's important to restrain editorial envy and not covet my competitors' titles too wistfully – after all, the most important thing about the publication of a good book is the book itself, not the publisher or the editor!

ED: What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on and why?

SB: I've edited relatively few picture books, as my career has focused on fiction up until the past year or so. I'm very proud of our new novel Over a Thousand Hills I Walk with You by Hanna Jansen, translated from the German by Elizabeth D. Crawford (Carolrhoda, 2006). This is a young adult novel based on the true story of Jansen's adopted daughter, who survived the genocide in Rwanda but lost her entire family to the horrific violence of 1994. It's an amazing, haunting, important book that deserves to be widely read.

ED: How would you describe the children's publishing program at Carolrhoda?

SB: We believe that all types of readers--whether they enjoy so-called "literary" novels or genre books such as science fiction or sports--deserve the best possible writing and visuals. To this end, Carolrhoda focuses on both quality and appeal. We publish for all ages of children, and we're open to many types of writing. Our list numbers about 18 books per year.

ED: What about the picture book publishing program? Do you have a specific brief? How many picture books do you produce each year? Do you handle board books as well as picture books? Handle non-fiction picture books? Poetry picture books?

SB: Lerner Publishing Group has three imprints that publish picture books. Carolrhoda Books publishes mainly trade-oriented titles with broad appeal and an occasional nonfiction title of particular distinction. Millbrook publishes nonfiction picture books that often have ties to the curriculum and applications in the classroom. Kar-Ben publishes picture books of Jewish interest. All three imprints publish poetry, though not in high numbers. Together, these imprints publish 15-20 picture books per year.

We don't publish original board books; we have very occasionally published a board book version of a picture book already on our list.

Specifically, Carolrhoda's mission as a picture book publisher is to offer children books of high appeal, quality, and originality. Some of our titles are highly focused on child appeal, while others also speak to the picture book as a work of art. An example of the former is I'm Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Teresa Murfin (Carolrhoda, 2005). An example of the latter is Noel by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Cheng-Khee Chee (Carolrhoda, 2005).

ED: What are you looking for? What grabs your attention in a picture book? What about a picture book text?

SB: If I'm looking at a dummy by an author/illustrator, I'd like to see striking visuals paired with a text that is somehow original and surprising. A great picture book requires both the text and the visuals to work.

In an unillustrated text, I'm looking for a spark of some kind in the language and ideas, plus potential for intriguing, appealing illustrations. This market is so flooded that many perfectly adequate or "nice" picture book texts can't compete. Only a work of true distinction can be published successfully.

ED: Anything you are definitely not looking for?

SB: We are not looking for overtly religious material or books whose main purpose is to preach or impart a lesson. We also aren't interested in "me too" books that imitate successful titles already on the market.

ED: Is there such a thing as the perfect Carolrhoda picture book?

SB: I don't believe there is. We recognize the rich breadth of possibility in many kinds of picture books.

ED: What do you see as the role of the editor in creating picture books?

SB: The editor has many roles. One is helping the author make the text as strong as possible through honest feedback. Another is working with the creative director to choose an appropriate artist for the book, then collaborating with the artist and design team throughout the illustration process. Finally, the editor plays a key role in helping the marketing department generate ideas for publicity efforts.

On the whole, the editor is an advocate for the reader, the publishing house, the author, and the illustrator, all at different moments in the process. It's a bit of a juggling act!

ED: What do you see as the role of picture books in the lives of young children?

SB: Picture books play a critical role in helping children develop language and visual awareness as well as a love for stories and, eventually, reading itself. It's been proven that the earlier children experience books, the more likely they are to grow into literate readers. So picture books are indispensable. Besides, the best of them are an awful lot of fun.

ED: Are you aware of any trends in picture book publishing at the moment? How do you feel about them?

SB: Picture book sales in general are flat in the United States. Many publishers have cut their lists because sales do not support a large picture book list. Because our list is purposefully small, we've been able to maintain the same number of titles--but we're more selective than ever about which books we publish.

On the whole, I don't think it's a bad thing for picture books to have a flat cycle for a while. Many poorly made and unoriginal books have flooded bookstores over the past few years. If the current climate forces publishers to raise their standards, that will be a good thing for children--and eventually for those publishers who survive the downturn.

ED: What say if any does your sales/marketing department have in the look or type of book you produce?

SB: Our acquisitions are generated entirely by the editorial department, but our sales and marketing directors give input on each acquisition. If we lack sales/marketing support, it's difficult to persuade the publisher to go forward with a project. The same directors provide input on the design, content, and appearance of covers. They are among several parties who approve covers in our company, the others being editorial, design, production, and the publisher himself.

ED: What are some of the common mistakes authors could AVOID making when submitting to you?

SB: Due to volume, we're able to accept unsolicited submissions only in November. (Send full manuscript to Zelda Wagner, Fiction Submissions, Lerner Publishing Group, 241 1st Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA.)

The most common mistake we see is the submission of materials not appropriate for our list. I would encourage authors to target submissions to publishers whose books they have studied, with an eye toward compatibility. This is NOT to say that you should imitate books already published. But if you've written a quirky, humorous book, look for publishers who are putting out that type of book and target your submissions accordingly.

ED: Can you address the "co-edition" issue in regards to how Carolrhoda produces a picture book?

SB: We occasionally partner with other publishers on co-editions. In such cases, the other publisher is the originator of the book, and we publish the U.S. edition. However, such books generally comprise no more than 20% of our picture book list; most of our picture books are developed in house.

ED: Overall, are most of your picture books created by author/illustrators (one person) or by an author and an illustrator?

SB: It's a mix. We do slightly more books with a separate author and illustrator, but that's much more a matter of chance than design. Both processes can produce wonderful results.

ED: Will you look at projects created by two people (an author and an illustrator)?

SB: Yes. However, we suggest that authors be aware that most publishers strongly prefer to select an illustrator themselves. It may be that the story works for the publisher, but the art does not, and then there's really no way to proceed.

ED: Should illustrators send samples to you directly?

SB: Illustrators should direct samples to: Creative Director; Lerner Publishing Group; 241 First Avenue North; Minneapolis, MN 55401 U.S.A.

Cynsational Notes

Erzsi Deàk, along with Kristin Litchman, was an editor of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins, 2003)(co-editors interview), which included my short story, "The Gentleman Cowboy" as well as stories by Dian Curtis Regan; Linda Sue Park; Jane Kurtz; Rita Williams Garcia; Bobbi Katz; April Halprin Wayland; Johanna Hurwitz; Uma Krishnaswami; Carmen Bernier-Grand; Kristin Litchman; and Erzsi Deàk.

Cynsational News & Links

Juvenile Series and Sequels from the Mid-Continent Public Library. [My first public library was a Mid-Continent branch. My mama took me there every Saturday morning, and in the summer between second and third grade, I won the summer reading contest.]

Writing Rules: advice on the writing process, globally, from middle grade writers (PDF file), compiled by Cynthia Lord, author of Rules (Scholastic, 2006)(author interview).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Author Interview: Cynthia Lord on Rules

Rules by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2006). Catherine, 12, finds herself torn between her love for her little brother David and her frustration with dealing with his autism. What will getting to know Jason, who talks with words printed on cards, and Kristi, who's new in town, reveal about friendship and what's really "normal?" Funny and touching with well-crafted characters. This debut should make a big splash. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Ages 9-up. See a recommendation from Debbi Michiko Florence.

Cynthia Lord is a former middle-school teacher and bookseller. She lives in coastal Maine with her husband, and though they have two teenagers, Cindy can still speak fluent Ubby-Dubby from her childhood days of wishing she were Lori on the PBS show "Zoom" (0-2-1-3-4! Send it to Zoom!). Cindy also won the 2004 SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for an Unpublished Writer. Learn more from Adams Literary, and read Cindy's LiveJournal.

Congratulations on the publication of Rules (Scholastic, 2006)! Could you tell us a bit about your path to publication?

I've always loved children's books and writing, but I didn't put the two together until 2000, when I began writing Rules. Before that, I wrote short stories for adults, catalog copy, and teaching materials. Scholastic accepted Rules at the end of 2001, and I did several revisions between that initial call and publication.

What was your inspiration for writing Rules (Scholastic, 2006)?

I have a son with autism, and I wanted to explore the unique dynamics that exist in a family that has a child with severe special needs.

One thing I found missing in most books that included a character with special needs was the sense of community that families like mine so often have with each other. As soon as my son was diagnosed, we were immediately part of a network of special needs families and professionals.

My son had weekly occupational and speech therapy at a local clinic and at those appointments, I would meet other families who also had special needs children. We formed a sort of "waiting room club" and would cheer on each other's kids as they hit milestones and comfort each other over challenges. My daughter was too young to stay home alone so I would bring her with me to her brother's appointments. She grew up having one foot in two very different worlds.

"Where do we fit in?" is a question all families have to answer, and when you have a child with a severe disability that answer can be very complicated and conditional. I wanted to both grieve and celebrate that difference.

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

I wrote Rules in 2000, and it was accepted by Scholastic at the very end of 2001. Sometimes books need to be moved from list to list for a variety of publishing reasons, especially books by first-time authors, and that happened in my case.

I revised several times after the book was accepted, then it went to copyediting and typesetting last summer. There were also a few tweaking passes at the very end. It really brought home to me why an editor will say, "I have to love it" about a book he/she acquires. I saw firsthand how many times my own editor, Leslie Budnick, had to carefully and thoughtfully read through my novel.

My galleys came in November and just a few weeks ago, an exciting envelope arrived from Leslie with my first hardcovers.

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

One literary challenge for me was that I had to learn more about plotting. When Scholastic accepted Rules, the book was only a "slice of life," more than a true plot. I needed to create for myself a crash course in plotting to fix that.

Psychologically, it proved challenging to write such a personal book. It was emotionally draining to keep digging backward to old feelings with each rewrite. Having Rules' release date moved was especially hard, because I had to hold open emotions that I craved to close and grow past after awhile. But I couldn't close them, because I knew I would have to access them again with the next rewrite.

What is it like being a debut author in 2006?

It's thrilling! Books today are beautifully produced, and there are so many amazing authors writing today. It's both an honor and a joy to have people investing their talents in something I created from blank pages.

I'm even getting fan mail now from children and that touches me deeply each and every time.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I'm also honored to be interviewed by you, Cyn. I have always thought it would be incredibly cool to have an interview on your blog. So thank you for the opportunity.

I have more information about Rules on my website, including a discussion guide and a few interviews with me.

Cynsational Notes

Cynthia Lord's debut novel Rules (Scholastic, 2006) was recently hailed as "a heartwarming first novel" by Booklist.

An Interview with Cynthia Lord from Meghan McCarthy.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Publishing Director Interview: Anne McNeil

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Publishing Director Anne McNeil will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), Doug Cushman (author-illustrator interview). Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Mary Rodgers/Lerner. Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola (agent interview), and others. See registration information.

Anne McNeil is the Publishing Director of Fiction and Picture Books at Hodder Children's Books. She was interviewed by Ann Jacobus in November 2005.

Ann Jacobus: Please tell us a little about your background.

Anne McNeil: Passionate reader; I applied for a job as advertised in the Guardian for an editorial assistant in the early eighties, and that was my beginning. I have always worked in children’s books.

AJ: What is your all-time personal favorite book?

AM: I don’t think I can name just one, I’m afraid. I would include Breaktime by Aidan Chambers (Bodley Head, 1978)(Red Fox Definitions, 2000), as it used form and content so perfectly. I found it so thrilling in its accessibility and such a brilliant rendering of the state of adolescence. On the list would also be Middlemarch [by George Eliot], which I love for its scope and characterisation. And I would have to include Under Milk Wood by [Dylan Thomas (1954)], which my father read aloud to me before I was old enough, and I adored its dialogue so much I tried to mimic the characters – until I heard Richard Burton’s fabulous audio. And then there’s Wind in the Willows [by Kenneth Grahame]...

AJ: What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on and why?

AM: Shirley Hughes’ A Life Drawing [Bodley Head, 2002] would be one. The story of Shirley’s life through her art read perfectly as a work of narrative. And then, suddenly, between us we had the vision of the potential for artwork. The book is a collection of her own paintings and roughs – along with reproductions of many of the classic painters who inspired her. It is a beautiful book and very interesting, both from a domestic history perspective and from the perspective, too, of a working illustrator. The Great Grammar Book [by Kate Petty, illustrated by Jennie Mazels (Bodley Head, 1996)], and its follow up titles, was one of the most innovative pop-up titles of its time. I learnt about conceptualising in 3-D. Cressida Cowell’s Hiccup titles have shown how a picture book author can very successfully make the leap up the age range, and David Almond’s Kate the Cat and the Moon demonstrates the same in reverse. Hilary McKay’s Permanent Rose is a masterpiece of characterisation and was absolutely terrific to edit. And Susan Cooper’s The Boggart is the last one I will mention. She wrote it after a long gap from the end of the classic The Dark is Rising sequence – it felt like a new beginning.

AJ: How would you describe the children's publishing program at Hodder?

AM: The Hodder list has an immensely strong fiction programme. Underpinned by very successful series and brands including Enid Blyton and Animal Ark – it is a wide-ranging list which includes top literary titles like David Almond’s Skellig, Hilary McKay’s Casson family books and newer stand-alone titles like the bestselling The Valley of Secrets [by Charmian Hussey (excerpt)]. Hiccup by Cressida Cowell is a global brand in the making, with extremely strong and funny writing selling in over 21 languages; and Cherub by Robert Muchamore goes from strength to strength. We are currently expanding our younger fiction through innovative sequence publishing. We publish approximately 70 new fiction titles each year, and are growing to about 40 picture books. The picture book list is strong on novelties and character including Felicity Wishes and Kipper. We have a successful stand-alone list, also, with illustrators such as Lauren Child and David Melling [scroll for interview] to name but two.

AJ: What about the picture book publishing programme? Do you have a specific brief? How many picture books do you produce each year? Do you handle board books as well as picture books?

AM: We don’t have a specific brief, although we often look at developing characters. As above, there is a strong novelty list at Hodder which works well. A super lead for next year is The Story of Everything, which tells the history of mankind in ten spreads. We have established characters like Mick Inkpen’s Kipper and Wibbly Pig books, alongside Emma Thomson’s bestselling Felicity Wishes titles. We are aiming at approximately forty titles. Texts have to be absolutely brilliant – as they are much, much more than vehicles for the art. I do not publish non-fiction, but "yes" to board books.

AJ: Can you address the "co-edition" issue in regards to how Hodder produces a picture book?

AM: We proof our books a year prior to publishing, or eighteen months in the case of novelties. This gives optimum time for our rights teams to find customers. We publish only the books that we absolutely love – and hope to discover that others will love them too. We always print for all comers – sometimes splitting US from Europe against our hardback and then paperback pub dates. We attend Bologna and Frankfurt to sell rights – plus selling trips throughout the year to the US, France, Spain... As far as China.

AJ: What can you tell us about your fiction department? How many fiction imprints does Hodder currently have? How do they differ from each other?

AM: Everything is published under Hodder, the Hodder imprint. We only have one sub-imprint, which is Bite: a list for teenagers.

AJ: What are you looking for? (What grabs your attention in a picture book? What about a novel?) Anything you are definitely not looking for?

AM: Texts need to be strong – really strong, to stand the test of time. We do tend to publish quirky rather than cute; but that might change. We look for enduring themes, strong characters and great punchlines. Art needs to properly carry its own subtext so that the two combine to make something special.

AJ: Is there such a thing as the perfect Hodder book?

AM: Not really, although I would say that we are entirely child-focussed in our publishing. We don’t publish for the adult gift market but for the end reader.

AJ: What do you see as the role of the editor in creating books? What are some of the challenges you face working with first-time writers?

AM: It varies completely from project to project. Sometimes one's role is minimal in that only line editing is required. Sometimes a complete re-think is necessary, and sometimes the author looks to the editor for primary ideas. The most important role for editors is that they should enable the author to write the book that is in the author's head – the book they think they have written. The editor needs to stay close to the author’s vision at all times – whilst creating a bridge between the author and the market.

AJ: Are you aware of any trends in children's book publishing at the moment? How do you feel about them?

AM: There are trends towards the upper end of teenage (the 18-plus market), which we are not really going for. Adult writers are experimenting more with children’s books, which can be successful if they are really prepared to change their vision and write from the inside out, rather than looking back on childhood.

AJ: What say if any does your sales/marketing department have in the look or type of book you produce?

AM: It is a collaborative process. The days of editors buying the books and then handing them over to colleagues has long gone, and personally I think it is for the best. Working on the book and taking it to market is the combined responsibility of everyone in the publishing house. The editors and publisher drive the process – but talk to all colleagues throughout. We work hard to bring colleagues in sales and marketing on board with all our decisions and listen to their views. Fiction covers absolutely must be approved by sales and marketing.

AJ: What are some of the common mistakes authors could AVOID making when submitting to you?

AM: Single-space typing and over-complicated synopses on fiction. For picture books it has to be the inclusion of roughs illustrated by a next-door-neighbour!

Cynsational Notes

British spellings remain as they arrived, which I wish was the case in American editions of British books.

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to author Phyllis Root, recipient of the Loft Award in Children's Literature/Younger Children. Administered by The Loft Literary Center, the McKnight Artist Fellowships for Writers provide "Minnesota writers of demonstrated ability with an opportunity to work on their writing for a concentrated period of time. A $25,000 fellowship is awarded each year in children's literature, including poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction." This year the award was offered to an writer for children younger than age eight. Next year, the focus will shift to a writer for older children. "The fellowship does not include educational material for children."

The front page of Shutta Crum's website is now a functioning blog. Surf over to check out photos from her recent school visits. Shutta's books include The Bravest of the Brave, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Knopf, 2004) and My Mountain Song, illustrated by Ted Rand (Clarion, 2004).

Showcase: National Women's History Month and National Poetry Month from CBC Magazine.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Author Feature: April Pulley Sayre

April Pulley Sayre is the author of more than 50 books for publishers such as Greenwillow, Holt, Candlewick, and Charlesbridge. She is best known for her non-fiction writing and is hands-down one of the most engaging author-speakers in all of children's literature.

Could you tell us a bit about your path to publication, and how you've built your career? What were the highs and lows?

I have always loved science and writing. I studied biology, particularly primatology, at Duke University. I didn't take many English courses, but I did write for, and eventually become the editor of Vertices, a campus popularized science magazine.

After Duke I had a job offer as a medical writer but I took an internship writing for the National Wildlife Federation's activist newsletter. Then I interned at National Geographic Society and later took a staff position producing teacher education materials at National Wildlife Federation.

My first book arose when I answered an ad in the Washington Post for people to write children's biographies of scientists. My husband and I had just returned from studying with a primatologist in Madagascar so I wrote about her.

A year later, after I'd written the book and it had been accepted and edited, the publisher was acquired by Holt and they canceled my book. Talk about lows! My first book, all done, was cancelled. At the time they called I was having an asthma attack and that news didn't help at all.

Spunkiness has helped in my career. I wrote to the new publisher and told them that I had done my part and deserved the second half of the advance and by the way here are my qualifications. They paid me that advance and asked me to write six more books so I forgave them! That press, Twenty-First Century Books, was bought and sold many times over the years but I wrote twenty-eight books for them. Those were my bread-and-butter, school library books. I learned a lot while writing them.

My first picture books were acquired by publishers out of the slush pile by blind submission. (Once, even after I had published many books, a publisher acquired my manuscript from a slush pile. The editor I knew and had contacted had left to become an actress so the manuscript had been dumped back into the slush!)

Tenacity has been the key to my career. My first editor, Virginia Koeth, with whom I have done 25 books, is an angel and has kept me sane in this business. I have worked with many other good editors who have left the business or switched houses. That has been hard. Publishing is a tough business. I really admire editors; they have to be champions for our books, and have to really bond with the books to usher them through the many stages of production and marketing.

You earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College program. How would you describe this experience? What did you gain from it?

I went into the MFA program at Vermont College after I had already established my career writing middle grade nonfiction and creative nonfiction picture books. I just had a feeling that it would benefit me in some incalculable way.

The program met and exceeded my expectations. It deepened my knowledge of the literature and made me a more confident critiquer. I learned about writing novels, early readers, and other genres previously out of my realm. The faculty at Vermont is top rate and incredibly generous.

Most importantly, for me, I went from being an isolated writer to a person with a broad community of support nationally and internationally. I keep in contact with my Vermont colleagues and have traveled and met more terrific writers and educators because of my experience at Vermont. Now I can participate in the literature in general by helping my colleagues in their work. That kind of connection sustains me in this work, which is so solitary by nature.

You're a noted author of children's non-fiction--picture books and older reader titles. You've also written non-fiction for adults. What about this area appeals to you? What advice do you have for other writers interested in following in your footsteps?

Nonfiction writing is about sharing what you care about with the world. What could be more delightful than that? Nonfiction also gives me an excuse to go out and research. I love to learn.

Everyone should try writing nonfiction. They should dip in and read some of the awesome nonfiction writing being done today. Children's nonfiction is a locus for what adult writers are calling "creative nonfiction." Take a look at what Byrd Baylor (bio; bio with photo) was doing decades ago. Creativity has been the hallmark of nonfiction in the children's realm for a long time.

I was particularly taken by Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust, illustrated by Ann Jonas (Greenwillow, 2005). What was the initial inspiration for this book? What was the timeline from spark to publication? What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

This is probably my favorite text I have ever written. I thought it would never get published. It was rejected 53 times over 7 years. When I first wrote it, about ten years ago, it was a straightforword expository text with scanning electrong micrograph illustrations from a scientist. The text was almost bought by a publisher but that publisher held it for two years, saying they just wanted to think about illustrations. Fortunately, I gave up on them. I rewrote it a few times and submitted it many times.

Then, one morning at Vermont College, I was looking at the sunrise and had an epiphany. I realized that I should recast the entire book as a nonfiction picture book about how we and all these other elements of the universe help create the colors of the sunrise and sunset. I called it "We Make Sunsets" but it became Stars Beneath Your Bed. Some of my previous book text became the endmatter in the new book. Even in its current form, the manuscript was rejected by many editors who loved it but couldn't convince marketing that a book about dust would sell. Finally Greenwilow was brave enough to publish it.

One of the peak moments of my career was accepting the AAAS/Subaru/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books for this book. I cried with joy when I received the letter telling me about the award.

I also love the playful language in Ant, Ant, Ant: An Insect Chant, illustrated by Trip Park (NorthWord Books/T&N Publishing, 2005) and Trout, Trout, Trout: A Fish Chant, also illustrated by Trip Park (NorthWord Books, 2004). How did you go about writing these books? Tell us about your love of language.

Okay, I confess, I am a word nut and those who know me laugh a lot in my presence. I believe this is because of the funny things that I say but perhaps my fashion needs help, too. The trout book began when I was in my office writing a lovely, lyrical book about fish in the sea. Then this scientist in rubber pants walked down the stream behind my house and he seemed to be having more fun. So I put on my waders and helped him survey fish and I discovered that fish names are just plain goofy.

Soon I was reading fish guides and pestering my family by telling them about hilarious fish names. The names began to bounce and clump in my mind. They became poetry, or perhaps you might say, a rap. Thanksgiving weekend my mom sat in my office and I read out little stanzas I had made out of fish names. She'd give a thumbs up, thumbs down, and then I kept on making more stanzas. Ant, Ant, Ant: An Insect Chant followed. I have other chants in the pipeline. Rhythm and rhyme is practically a disease with me. I can't stop creating it once I start.

I'm interested in your fiction picture book, Noodle Man: The Pasta Superhero, illustrated by Stephen Constanza (Orchard, 2002). What inspired this story? Can we expect more fiction from you in the future?

Noodle Man: the Pasta Superhero began after a pasta dinner one night. I asked what I should write next. Someone, and we're not sure who, said, "Why don't you write about a guy named Al Dente?"

I got out my notebook and started scribbling. Who is he? What are his problems? Would he use pieces of fettucine to ski? Would he lasso things with spaghetti? I kept bothering everyone to talk about Al Dente. Later I wrote the story. Rebecca Davis, then at Orchard, did a great job of editing it. I actually have written quite a bit of fiction including a some novels. But at the moment I am more involved in polishing what I feel is an important part of my life's work: a book for adults who want to expand their creativity. That book is my passion.

You host the Children's Media Professionals' Forum on your website. Could you fill us in on how it came to be? Its mission?

The Children's Media Professionals' Forum is an online community where librarians, media specialists, authors, educational consultants, publishing industry professionals and television producers can have targeted, professional, friendly discussions of ideas, problems, and solutions. Your readers are welcome to come to my www.aprilsayre.com and click the forum link to see what it is about. They are welcome to join.

The CMP Forum came out of my concern for quality. The publishing industry and the education field are going through a lot of changes right now. New media are emerging and old business models are changing. I heard authors talking to authors, educators talking to educators, and booksellers talking to booksellers about the challenges they were facing. Yet I didn't hear enough dialogue between these groups. All of these professionals are involved in getting quality content to children. There is no point producing a great book or video if there aren't the marketers, booksellers, librarians, and educators that put that material into the hands of the child. I wanted place where educators could chat with authors, and vice versa.

My hope is that the CMP forum will energize people and help address the challenges they face in this journey to bring quality material to kids. I also hope that ultimately CMP forum will help people in emerging media—in video, podcasting, music, movies, interactive software and games—mingle with and learn from some of the professionals who have experience in creating and delivering quality material through books and magazines. I am very involved in new media but not all my colleagues in publishing are—yet. I want the advocates of quality in this field to stay strong and have the power to promote great material for the kids of the future.

Is there any breaking news you'd like to share?

Stars Beneath Your Bed: the Surprising Story of Dust received an ALA Notable (2006 Notable Children's Books). As I mentioned, it received the AAAS/Subaru/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. This is exciting because AAAS/Subaru/SB&F awarded this prize in three categories. Mine was in the picture book category. Last year they inaugurated the award by giving lifetime achievement awards to some of the biggies in science writing. This year they began the new program of recognizing individual books. These awards should help recognize quality in the field of science writing for children. More than ever, we need terrific science education for children and great science literature helps.

What can your fans look forward to next?

This year I have paperbacks being released of One is a Snail: Ten Is A Crab; The Bumblebee Queen, and Secrets of Sound: Studying the Calls of Whales, Elephants and Birds.

Next year I have several terrific picture books coming out. One is with a Caldecott honor winning illustrator who does terrific nonfiction books and I'll just leave you with that little mystery of who that is! Most of all, I'll be doing lots of talks at conferences on literacy, writing, and teaching science. We have an exciting year ahead.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

SCBWI Bologna 2006 Author-Illustrator Interview: Doug Cushman

From SCBWI Bologna 2006:

Doug Cushman will be speaking at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 conference in Bologna, Italy, March 25-26, 2006. Other speakers include: Authors and illustrators Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Justine Larbalestier (author interview), illustrator Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview). Editors: Victoria Arms/Bloomsbury, Judy Zylstra/Eerdmans, Anne McNeil of Hodder UK, Mary Rodgers/Lerner. Agents: Rosemary Canter/PFD, Barry Goldblatt/Barry Goldblatt Literary, Rosemary Stimola (agent interview), and others. See registration information.

Doug Cushman is an author-illustrator with more than 100 books to his name. He is the winner of the 2004 Christopher Award for Never, Ever Shout in a Zoo, written by Karma Wilson (Little Brown, 2004). The annual Original Art Exhibit in New York City selected one of his illustrations from Mystery at the Club Sandwich (Clarion, 2004) for the 2004 show. Mystery at the Club Sandwich echoes his love of film noir and hard-boiled detective stories. Doug is best known for his I Can Read beginning series with characters such as Aunt Eater and Inspector Hopper. His investigative reporter easy-reader character, Dirk Bones, shows up on the scene this fall in Dirk Bones and the The Mystery of the Haunted House (HarperCollins, 2006). Doug joins Sara Rojo Pérez (illustrator interview) in presenting the workshop, “Draw Me the Same! Creating a Consistent Character for Illustrators,” at the SCBWI Bologna 2006 Conference. He was interviewed by Lawrence Schimel in February 2006.

Lawrence Schimel: How and why did you begin illustrating for kids?

Doug Cushman: I’ve always drawn pictures ever since I can remember, so it’s a natural part of me like breathing and eating ice cream. Like most illustrators, I grew up copying comics from the newspaper (Pogo Possum especially) and TV cartoons (Mighty Mouse was my special hero) and then began to create my own comics. During high school I “published” (with a typewriter and four sheets of carbon paper) comic books for my friends based on my teachers. Almost got thrown out of school for a day for it!

LS: Not having kids of your own, what do you do to find or recreate an authentic child's point of view in your illustrations?

DC: To use the old cliché, I draw for the child I was. I’ve always believed that there is no drawing, no art, especially geared for children. It’s all either good art or bad art. I think it was Sendak who said “You cannot write for children...you can only write books that will interest them.”

LS: Name one book you wish you had illustrated.

DC: Impossible question as, if I had illustrated it, it would be a very different book and, perhaps, a better or worse book. Either way it wouldn’t be the same. The marriage between the text and art of a good picture book are so intertwined that to separate them would be to have the whole book fall apart, like taking the keystone from an archway. Can you imagine anyone else illustrating In the Night Kitchen or Good Night Moon or Charlotte's Web?

LS: What is a favorite book from your own childhood?

DC: I grew up with a lot of the old Golden Books. I read the classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, etc. Of course my biggest influences were the newspaper comics and comic books.

LS: As an adult now, what is your favorite children's book (as a reader)?

DC: I’m still a fan of Sendak of course. My heroes are Arnold Lobel and James Marshall to name a couple others. I love Gerald McDermott’s work, and Peter Sis is a great favorite too.

LS: What non-children's book influences do you draw on for your work?

DC: Music, music, music and food with some travel and the occasional art gallery and museum visit thrown in. And sometimes music.

LS: Any advice for new illustrators?

DC: Patience! And never be afraid to utterly fail; one can learn more from one failure than a string of successes.

LS: Any advice for more-experienced illustrators?
DC: Don’t be afraid to try something new.

LS: Something you wish you hadn't done?

DC: Drank all those margaritas last night...

LS: You’ve been living in Paris for the past few years. Do you draw differently depending on where in the world you are?

DC: I’ve had the chance to stretch myself and try some new ways of “putting marks on paper” as someone once told me. I’ve illustrated two books with a new way of working, for me at least, that I like. And of course, there’s the inspiration of a wonderful city. A ten-minute Metro ride to the Louvre or Orsay to look at all that wonderful art is fantastic.

LS: What are some of the differences in children's publishing, and/or being a writer, in Europe as opposed to the US?

DC: Can’t say I’m any expert on that other than children’s books in Europe seem a little edger than American ones.

LS: What is your relationship with the writers you work with?

DC: None really, I rarely meet any of the writers I illustrate. Of course, one of the writers is my girlfriend so that’s different naturally. I’ll have a book out with Jack Prelutsky in July; I’ve known him for 20-plus years. But as a rule, I never meet any of the writers.

LS: Do you prefer illustrating your own manuscripts, or working in collaboration with another's text?

DC: It’s all different. Another writer’s words will make me stretch my art a little more, which is good. I love to illustrate my own work, but I tend to write the same kind of book, as most authors do, so I tend to paint the same kind of pictures.

LS: What do you have up on the walls of your studio?

DC: A couple African masks I bought here in Paris, my cell phone number, and the conjugations of the verbs être and pouvoir.

LS: Any other thoughts you'd like to share?

DC: Why is it so hard to play barre chords on the guitar?

Cynsational Note

Though the interview doesn't specify, I believe the book with Jack Prelutsky that Doug mentions is What A Day It Was at School! (Greenwillow, 2006).

Cynsational News & Links

NFforKids: a Yahoo group. "This list is for the discussion of the craft, marketing and publishing of Nonfiction for Children. No manuscripts may be posted on the list, but members are free to request off-list critiques or set up off-list critique groups." Note: I'm not a member of the list, but I've seen it recommended on other listservs and it does seem to be quite active.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Author Update: Gail Giles

Gail Giles on Gail Giles: "I was BOI many moons ago. That stands for 'Born On the Island.' Galveston Island. I think the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico slipped into my veins because I am still called by the waves, the Gulf breezes, and the smell of salt. There wasn’t much of that, so I moved from Alaska where I lived for a six years.

"I was a bright, but disruptive student at La Marque High School (La Marque, Texas) and to keep from spending far too much time in detention, started writing when I finished my classwork. Snippets of description, character studies, scraps of dialogue.

"I wanted to be an actress, and these were exercises for acting. I went to college at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. I used to say I went 'East' to school. East Texas. Drama major.

"But I got a teaching certificate and ending up teaching Remedial Reading at Angleton High School. For some reason, acting didn’t appeal anymore. But teaching kids who couldn’t read to finally see the wonders between the covers of a book did. I taught there for twenty years. I also taught Speed Reading and Creative Writing to juniors and seniors that were college bound.

"I still had that habit of writing little sketches. But, here’s the real deal. I couldn’t type worth a cat’s bark. Barely passed typing in high school. The idea of getting a whole book typed was mind-boggling. Then, I married Jim and he introduced me to that 'new fangled thang,' the home computer. So Gail Giles and several gazillion other people began submitting their previously hand-scrawled and hidden manuscripts to publishers.

"I was in my forties and my son was graduated from high school before I was published. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer and I type really slow."

We last talked to Gail Giles after the publication of Dead Girls Don't Write Letters (Roaring Brook, 2003)(author interview) and previously about Shattering Glass (Roaring Brook, 2002)(author interview).

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

I moved to Texas. I have a brand new grandson, Chase. I know that's not writing, but you're subjected to it anyway.

Playing in Traffic (Roaring Brook, 2004) came out. It's out in paperback from Simon and Schuster this month. I changed houses and am now with Little, Brown and love being there.

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

What Happened to Cass McBride comes out in November from Little, Brown. It's psychological suspense and a head game. I think it's also a real look at what makes us a person and learning to accept that we act on our insecurities. But it should scare the socks off you while your thinking deep. At least I'm hoping so.

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

Now, there's nothing about snow in the book, but my last winter in Anchorage, Alaska was a record year of snow. Over 18 feet. I'd look out the window and see snow over my head. I felt buried alive, claustrophobic. It all started there. That and something said offhand that had stopped my writing for months before made me think about the power of words, how we harm each other with words. How withholding words can do harm just as easily. About manipulation by using another person's insecurities against him. All of that began roiling around and made it's way into a character who started her story.

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

Mary E. Pearson's A Room on Lorelei Street (Holt, 2005)(author interview). David Lubar's Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (Dutton, 2005)(author interview). Wolf Brother by [Michelle] Paver (Katherine Pegen/HarperCollins, 2005) is an intriguing fantasy, and I usually don't care much for fantasy. Freaks: Alive on the Inside by Annette Curtis Klause (author interview) was worth the wait. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is just a treat. Original, outlandish and outrageous fun that touches the heart.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I have another book in the hopper (Right Behind You) that is ready for revisions, and I need to start something new. Make that settle in on something new. I have several things started.

Cynsational Notes

Visit Gail's blog, The YA Novel and Me.

See more author interviews, Texas authors, suspense fiction, young adult novel recommendations, and YA links. Note continuing pages in sidebar.
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