Friday, June 09, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Cheers to Lisa Firke (webmaster/designer interview) of Hit Those Keys: Creative Encouragement, Copywriting, Web Design on her own newly redesigned site. See my testimonial on Lisa's sparkling genius, and check out what my site looked like before she worked her magic. Then see it now! If you're in the market for a webmaster/designer, contact Lisa for more information. Note: My site is now updated to reflect the Cynsations posting for April.

The Art of Fiction: Naked Dreams: Why Writers Don't Write! by Lisa Lenard-Cook from Authorlink. June 2006.

Author Annette Curtis Klause and her latest release Freaks! Alive on the Inside (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt)(author interview) are a focus of a podcast from Mr. Ron's Once A Week #2. Note: The excerpt from Freaks! and Annette's interview are first up, but the entire show is well worth a listen. In other exciting news, the buzz is that the release date for the "Blood and Chocolate" movie will be January 26, 2007. Learn about the novel Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1997)(Laurel Leaf, 1999)(excerpt) AKA the best werewolf YA of all time!

Doubt Makes You a Better Writer: An Interview with First-time Novelist Dana Reinhardt, author of A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2006)(excerpt) by Ellen Birkett Morris from Authorlink. June 2006. More on A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life and Dana Reinhardt.

Thanks to Mara Rockliff for including a link to my children's/YA literature resources among her Helpful Links for Writers and a link to my post in conjunction with Jennifer Ward on "Grants for School Visits," which appears on Mara's School and Library Visits page. See An Interview with Mara Rockliff by award-winning author Ellen Jackson from Secrets of Success for Aspiring Children's Writers. Note: of particular interest to those in the educational market.

Don Tate's blog Devas T. Rants and Raves is now available via LJ syndication. See a recent Cynsations interview with Don Tate.

"Writing to the Beat of a Different Drummer" with writer/instructor Linda Oatman High will be held from July 6 to July 15 in Cortona, Italy. All classes are taught in English. Enrollment is open through July 5.

Writing for Educational Publishers: A Great Opportunity for Writers: An Interview with Laura Purdie Salas by Susan VanHecke from Authorlink. June 2006.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper

Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum, 1999)(Simon Pulse, 2006)(excerpt). In this retelling inspired by Shakespeare's famed star-crossed lovers, Julio is the new kid, a Mexican-American who's just fallen hard for an African American girl named Romiette. The bad news? A violent local gang, the Devildogs, wants the two separated permanently...or else. Will these two soul mates meet the same end as Romeo and Juliet, or does fate have different plans? Ages 12-up.

My Thoughts

I just reread Romiette and Julio in preparation for my summer lecture as a faculty member at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I'm focussing on retellings and reinventions of classic tales.

I'll be adding the novel to my bibliography of Children's and YA books with Interracial Family Themes on the novels page. Books of this kind are still under-published.

The cover art on the latest paperback edition is much improved from the original. The novel is especially strong in its depiction of secondary characters.

Books on my nightstand include Sharon's latest, Copper Sun (Atheneum, 2006)(excerpt), which has earned stars from Booklist and School Library Journal (see reviews).

Cynsational News & Links

Author Interviews: May 2006: Eve Bunting from Downhomebooks.com. See also Author Interviews: May 2006: Jack Gantos from Downhomebooks.com.

Beloved, Out-of-Print Children's Books from the Children's Book Council. Cyn Note: My favorite, previously out-of-print book is Muskrat Will Be Swimming by Cheryl Savageau, illustrated by Robert Hines, originally published by Rising Moon, 1996. I'm thrilled to say the book was re-released by Tilbury House this spring--available as of April 2006!

See also The Public Librarian's Role in Serving the Homeschooled Student by Maria Zawacki from CBC.

Cynsational News & Links

Agent Query: the Internet's Largest and Most Current Database of Literary Agents. Site also includes background about literary agents, submitting to agents, writing a query, scammers, publishing market information, and writer resources. Cyn Note: I've surfed this site and found quality information on respected agents. A handful of writers create books for adults and young readers, and they'll need to look for agents who work well in both markets. If you're a children's-YA specialist, before signing with a broader-focus agent, make sure he or sure is really tapped into our world. Do your homework! Learn more about agents.

The Boston Globe-Hornbook Awards have been announced. I'd like to offer special congratulations to honor winners Julie Larios, author of Yellow Elephant: A Bright Bestiary, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Harcourt) and Deborah Hopkinson, author of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Schwartz & Wade/Random House). See Read Rodger.

Congratulations to 2007 Garden State Book Award Nominees (PDF file) from the New Jersey Library Association. Highlights include: Who's Afraid of Granny Wolf? (Fitch & Chip) by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Frank Ansley (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(author interview) and Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami (FSG, 2004)(author interview).

Congratulations to Jacqueline Davies on the release of The Night Is Singing, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (Dial, 2006). Kirkus calls it, "Gratifying and readable night after night." SLJ calls it a "perfect bedtime read," and Booklist says, "...kids who harbor bedtime anxieties will gain courage from the notion of a night filled with friendly, serenading presences."

Extreme Makeover or Not: Deep[ish] Thoughts on a Writer's Style and Substance (PDF file) by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson from Voya. Kathleen is the author of The Parallel Universe of Liars (Roaring Brook, 2002), Target (Roaring Brook, 2003), A Fast and Brutal Wing (Roaring Brook, 2004), and Dumb Love (Roaring Brook, 2005). Read a recent Cynsations interview with Kathleen.

Eva Underground by Dandi Daley Mackall (Harcourt, 2006)(author interview): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. See also funniest movies from GregLSBlog.

Got Books Authors from the Westlake Porter Public Library. Check out the "milk mustaches" on such authors as Dori Chaconas (author interview), Cinda Williams Chima, Lisa Harkrader (author interview), Cynthia Lord (author interview), Asma Mobin-Uddin, Rebecca Kraft Rector, Douglas Rees (author interview), Nicole Rubel, Linda Joy Singleton, Scott Westerfeld (author interview), Lisa Yee (author interview), and more!

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (HarperCollins/Morrow, 2000)(feature illustration) is featured in "Learn How to Powwow at the Children's Library" by Gabrielle Kaye in the summer 2006 (volume 9, issue two) "CrossPaths Museum News" of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. Thanks to Liza Ketchum (author interview) for the heads-up.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Author Feature: Marsha Qualey

Marsha Qualey is the author of nine YA novels. A long-time resident of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, she recently moved with her husband to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where she now lives within walking distance of the beautiful Chippewa River, two libraries, a couple of good live music venues, and several excellent restaurants. She likes Eau Claire.

What were you like as a teenager (YA reader)?

I think I had several lives as a teenager. I suspect most people do because the years 13-19 cover a lot of territory. This is something I think it's helpful to think back on when I write for teens as it serves to remind me that there's no single model for the creature we call a teenager. There's a shape-shifter in every teen.

During the early teen years I was so self-conscious and uncomfortable with the traditional trappings of femininity. I'd grown up with four brothers but no sisters. I had no idea how to be a girl. Make-up, hair-styling, clothes, gossip, passing notes--when I started junior high in 1965 I was way behind the curve. I'd also been dealing with acne since 4th grade, which heightened the self-consciousness tremendously. And I've always been shy.

What kept me from being miserable, I think, was that I was always one of the smart kids and was known as a smart kid and I was able to carve out a niche that way. I didn't have to compete with the confident beauties and girly-girls because I had something else going on.

So, in spite of my timidity about femininity, things went pretty well those first teen years. I made some friends and had a fine time in junior high. I started going public with my desire to write about that time too. I wrote skits and plays that my friends would perform at parties.

The next couple of years, 9th/10th grade, were tougher. This would have been 1967-1968 and even in my small Minnesota town we could tell the world was changing. My world view expanded tremendously then, but at 14-15 I was too young, too shy, too self-conscious, and too constrained in that small world to know what I wanted or to make noise when I did. I turned inward those couple of years.

August 12 1969 my world changed. My oldest brother was killed in Vietnam on that day, and through that tragedy I found a voice and path. Not a strong voice always, nor was it an easy path, but I clearly grew up. I became the honor roll student and good girl who started speaking out against the war and all the related issues of the time.

What inspired you to write for young adults?

I never had an inspiration to write for them, just about them. I was a young married mother in the early 1980s and I got out of the house by doing volunteer work at a community health clinic. The clinic offered teen counseling in birth control and sex education and so I was tuned into that and had contact with teen girls I saw there at about the time I finally had some distance from my own teen life and also was starting to work seriously on my writing. The voices of those girls I heard at the clinic found their way into my writing.

Could you tell us a bit about your path to publication? Any memorable leaps or stumbles along the way?

I didn't know much about YA fiction when I was starting out. I'm not sure I'd ever even read a YA novel--I'm just old enough to have been a teen before the genre was widespread. The Outsiders [by S.E. Hinton] was published in about 1967, I think, and that year I was probably reading Herman Hesse and Richard Brautigan. So it was a huge leap to discover the genre, which I did in about 1985 when the fiction editor of Seventeen Magazine rejected a story I'd submitted. She wrote me that the story was too adult for their readers but she also encouraged me to turn it into a YA novel. So I did, after going out and reading a few of the darn things to find out what they were all about.

The second memorable leap was in 1990 when a young editorial assistant at Houghton Mifflin found my MS in the slush pile and decided to publish it (Everybody's Daughter (Houghton Mifflin, 1991)). She's now a VP at Dial, btw, and has edited all nine of my YA novels. (Hello, Lauri Hornik!)

Stumbles? Daily, still. One was probably sending Lauri a manuscript about four teenagers who uncover a drug smuggling operation that's fronted by a nudist camp. At least she didn't allow me to stumble publicly, and that MS is tucked away safely. A more serious stumble, I think, I was to give into my chronic shyness and not reach out to other writers for support and help for years and years and years.

I'd like to focus on Just Like That (Dial, 2005). Could you tell us a bit about the novel? What was your initial inspiration?

Most of my inspiration now comes from my own writing. There might be a secondary character or theme in a novel that I want to explore further. Most of my novels are in some fashion linked to each other. Just Like That is a contemporary story set in Minneapolis, Minnesota that focuses on the upheaval in a young woman's life after the tragic death of two people she didn't know but whose deaths she believes she could have prevented.

The novel has its origins in my previous book, Too Big a Storm (Dial, 2004). In that story I'd created a character, Mark Walker, who has no family or even any record of family. And he's never even seen a picture of himself as a young child. Well, when I was done with that book I started thinking, "How awful!" I liked Mark too well not to fix that. So Just Like That was borne out of a desire to give Mark Walker a picture from his childhood. He's not at all a major character in Just Like That, however. The book takes place about 30 years after Too Big a Storm. He's the father of the very cool romantic interest and he appears only once. Still, Mark Walker and that elusive photo are the reason I needed to write Just Like That.

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

As I recall now, I got going on it pretty quickly after turning in Too Big a Storm. They were published a year apart. So I suppose I wrote the first draft during 2003 and then revised it in 2004. A year's time overall, would be a safe guess. There were two major events involved in the writing.

Early on there was a horrible, horrible tragedy in the Minneapolis area that I lifted and put into the book--the accident on the not-quite-frozen lake that results in the death of the two teens. The details of the girl's death were especially horrific, and I chose to use them--not without some soul-searching. I'd already plotted the book around a death-through-ice, but a less dramatic one. And when this real tragedy hit I knew I needed that level of horror and nightmare to make Hanna's upheaval realistic.

The second major event is less dramatic. Routine revision work, really. Well, routine when you're lucky to work with a gifted editor. Briefly: Lauri guided and nudged into realizing what the story was really about. The story you begin to write usually reveals itself as something different. That happened with Just Like That.

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

Letting go of the story I first wanted to tell, which had to do with Hanna wanting to know more about her own family background, especially a runaway grandmother.

Too Big a Storm (Dial, 2004) is set during the Vietnam era. How did you get in the midset of the period? What about this story called to you?

I'd written about the time period before in my third novel, Come in from the Cold (Houghton, 2004). These two novels share a lot--they both kick off with a wild beach party and have characters with brothers in Vietnam and much more. In Come in from the Cold the protagonist, Maud, has an older sister who was radicalized by the events of the 60s. She takes extreme action, finally. I was haunted by her, and wanted to dig deeper into how that radicalization happened. In its earliest draft, the narrative in Too Big a Storm was split evenly between two girls, steady Brady and radical Sally. It evolved into primarily Brady's story.

It was easy enough to get into the mindset. I think the drama of the 60s is perfect for YA fiction--the whole country was going through a turbulent adolescence. And so was I personally. How could I not write about it?

Twentieth century historicals are fairly rare. Why do you think this is?

Maybe there are too many shades of gray and too much ambiguity connected to some of the experiences. The 20th Century historicals that are written often focus on subjects and times which evoke a common response (for the most part), e.g. the Depression, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, WW II and the Holocaust.

On your website, you say that One Night (Dial, 2002) is a story about the difference one night can make in a person's life. Could you tell us more about that? Was there ever one night that changed your life, and if so, would you like to fill us in?

I think I wrote that little blurb in response to one of the few lukewarm reviews One Night received, a review in which the writer sniffed, "If you're the type of person who believes that a single night makes a difference, than you might like this book." Okay, it was pretty close to that (I don't memorize reviews, really I don't).

Of course a single night can make a difference! Ironically, One Night has less of an actual dramatic turn in a single night than, say, Just Like That does. In One Night, Kelly Ray comes to realize how much her life has changed. Those changes, however, have been incremental, the result of her doing the very hard work involved in staying sober and drug-free. But the realization of what she's accomplished happens during one night, and it is a powerful thing.

Was there a "One Night" for me? Well, sure. My life was changed the instant I heard about my brother's death. As I mentioned earlier, that experience catalyzed the emergence of a young woman who needed to speak out. And, eventually, tell stories.

For those new to your novels, could you briefly fill us in on your earlier work? Are there any themes you revisit again and again in your work?

I realized--or admitted--not long ago that everything I write about now can be traced to my first novel. All my novels have their origin in that book. Weird? I don't know if it is or not. The themes that show up again and again are community, self, identity, political action, art. A beloved niece, Anne Richardson, also thinks I have an obsession with lakes, water, ice and drowning.

How has your writing changed over the years?

Recently my focused has changed. I'm now working on my first novel for adults. The last few years I began to realize that the mothers in the books I was writing were becoming more and more interesting to me. So I decided it was time to run with it.

What advice do you have for beginning YA novelists?

Read, read, and read.

How about those working to build a career?

Connect with other writers. Join appropriate organizations: SCBWI, Children's Literature Network, Author's Guild. Take a breath and make yourself ask for things. Be prepared to spend money on your career, even when you're not making much. And finally, find a community and be of service to it.

As a reader, what are your favorite recent YA novels and why?

Our oldest daughter lives in Canada now and when we go to visit her I always stock up on Canadian writers. I've really been enjoying these writers lately: Diana Wieler, Ted Staunton, Karen Rivers, and Paul Yee. And I've just reread one of my all time favorite YAs, True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks (HarperTempest, 2004), who is of course Canadian.

What do you do when you're not reading or writing?

Professionally, I also work part-time for Winding Oak, a literary services firm that does web design and marketing and booking for children's book creators. We just launched a monthly e-newsletter, Quercus. I like working on web sites and I just built a site for my sister-in-law, who is a terrific painter: www.saraqualey.com. I also volunteer with Children's Literature Network and with Old Arizona, a non-profit that provides free arts classes to teen girls. And then I deal with the mundane things that arise when you have four children, even four grown children.

Cynsational Notes

Marsha Qualey from Adams Literary. See also Minnesota Authors & Illustrators for event information.

See more author/illustrator interviews, the YA bibliography, and YA links.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mrs. Crump's Cat by Linda Smith, illustrated by David Roberts

Mrs. Crump's Cat by Linda Smith, illustrated by David Roberts (HarperCollins, 2006). The last thing Mrs. Crump needs is a cat, especially a "sneaky, finicky, troublesome, WET, yellow cat with FLEAS." Or does she? A heartwarming story about hard-earned friendship. Ages 4-up.

From the publisher bio: Linda Smith is the author of: When Moon Fell Down, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (HarperCollins, 2001); Mrs. Biddlebox, illustrated by Marla Frazee (HarperCollins, 2002)(an SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner for picture book illustration); and There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Boot, illustrated by Jane Manning (HarperCollins, 2003).

She was born in Chicago, raised in Grand Rapids, and eventually made her home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with her husband, her eight children, and a number of unusual pets, including a huge pig named Porkchop.

Linda lived a full life in a short time. On June 28, 2000, she passed away after a two-year battle with breast cancer, but she left behind a world of language, love, and good humor that shines through her books.

My Thoughts

Linda Smith's legacy of children's writing is an inspiration. She had a particular talent for making stories about adults child-friendly.

Cynsational Notes

Linda dedicated this book to Janie Bynum (author-illustrator interview) and Katie Davis (author-illustrator interview) "for their beautiful friendship, encouragement, and guidance."

See also Kit Lit: Cat Picture Books from Mercury Boo.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Author Interview: Helen Hemphill on Long Gone Daddy

Debut novelist Helen Hemphill grew up in (Bridgeport, then Wichita Falls) Texas and now lives with her family in Nashville and Austin. She is a graduate of the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her first book is Long Gone Daddy (Front Street, 2006). Read Helen's blog.

What inspired you to write for young readers?

Two unrelated things steered me into writing for young readers. Early on, I toyed with writing adult short fiction, but I found a lot of stories being published were pretty grim in terms of subject and tone. It was depressing.

I read a lot of Tony Earley and Pam Houston because I found humor and hope present in their work, even when the subject matter was difficult, and I tried to model that tone in my own writing.

At the same time, I was teaching sixth grade. Every day, kids would come in with funny, quirky perspectives that really grabbed me. There was just so much sheer optimism in them, even when the realities of their lives weren’t always so sunny.

Somewhere in there, I started writing short fiction for a younger audience and sort of found my groove. I write about difficult situations and relationships, but I also try to leave readers with something positive. There is hope for all of us.

Could you describe your path to publication? Any sprints and/or stumbles along the way?

I was doing a Harcourt post-graduate semester at Vermont College, working on two separate manuscripts. One had been my creative thesis for my MFA and was a somewhat finished manuscript and the other was a new novel--very green.

Just as a kind of networking opportunity, I attended the One-on-One Conference put on by Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature and met an agent who offered to take a look at my work. At the same time, a dear friend offered an introduction to another agent, and both were interested. The situation was a catalyst for my getting Stephen Roxburgh's attention. Front Street had rejected an earlier manuscript of mine, so it was all a little bit serendipitous. I sold my second novel, which became Long Gone Daddy, to Front Street right after the semester ended and did extensive revisions on the text—cutting 100 pages, reworking the chronology, revamping characters.

In the course of the semester, I ended up ditching the finished manuscript of my first novel for a total rewrite. Harcourt had a first right of refusal on that book. Jeannette Larson at Harcourt was very supportive and gracious to me, but ultimately passed on the story. Some weeks later, Stephen bought it with the awareness that the book needed more work--I think our revisions on Long Gone Daddy convinced him I could do what he wanted. That book, called Runaround, will be out with Front Street next year.

Rita Mae Brown says “Don’t hope more than you're willing to work.” I have that quote on my screensaver.

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Long Gone Daddy (Front Street, 2006)! Could you tell us a bit about the story?

Long Gone Daddy is a road trip with dark comedy around every turn.

Grandfather's will stipulates he must be buried in Las Vegas to get a chunk of money and a Cadillac, so 14-year-old Harlan Q is ready to make the trip from north Texas to Las Vegas in order to get away from Paps, his bible-thumping father. Paps and Harlan Q transport the ripening body of the grandfather in their station wagon, and along the way, pick up Warrior, a Zen-minded actor-in-training. The heart of the book is the relationship between the father and the son, and Warrior is both the foil to the father's rigid beliefs and the confident who helps Harlan Q understand his father.

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

Actually, the novel is based on a true story. Late one night, some friends sat around swapping stories about adolescence, and someone began telling a wild tale about living in a funeral home the night his grandfather died.

His dad and uncle drove the body from Florida up the east coast in the back of the family station wagon rather than pay for the funeral home's services. It was hilarious. When he finished, I asked him if I could use the idea, and Long Gone Daddy is dedicated to him. The book took three years from start to finish, but many times during the first draft, I felt I was just the typist because the story was so clear in my mind.

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

Some of the logistics were very specific. Would a casket fit into the back of a Chervolet station wagon? Was it legal for Paps and Harlan Q to just drive a dead body across country? Obviously, I did research like any other writer of historical fiction, contacting a funeral home director and a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership, both of whom were great in tracking down details.

I also used original source newspapers. I went to the Dallas Public Library and made copies of newspaper microfilm, all from the first two weeks of August, 1972. I did the same thing in Las Vegas. Newspaper research really helped with context, and gave me some fun ideas. Elvis was opening at the Hilton, and Watergate was very much in the headlines, although no one seemed to understand its implications. Both of those details are referenced in the book.

I also did quite a lot of reading on the psychology of adolescent boys since I was writing across gender. The plot came pretty quickly to me, but the emotional depth of the book was harder. I wanted to explore father and son relationships as authentically as I could, so I had to reopen some of my old wounds about my own family. That was difficult.

The flap copy notes that you drove from Dallas to Las Vegas to research the novel; what can you tell us about that?

It was a blast of a trip. A girlfriend and I drove a convertible on the same route that Harlan, Warrior and Paps drive in the book, plus a lot of side trips. It was June, but it was already hot—113 degrees in Tuba City, Arizona.

It was also beautiful. We drove a stretch of countryside from Tucumcari, New Mexico to Las Vegas that was one of the most beautiful places on earth. My girlfriend did lots of the driving, so I took pictures and notes and met lots of wonderful people.

On the last day, the last turn before we were in the rental car parking lot, we wrecked the convertible in Las Vegas. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But it was like something out of a novel...

You did such a powerful job with the varied father-son relationships in the novel. Did this focus evolve in the writing, or was it something that you wanted to explore going in? What about it called to you?

As I said, I did a lot of research on male adolescence, plus I have a son and stepson of my own. I used my own relationship with my father as a jumping off point for the story, but I would say most of the focus evolved as I began going deeper with the emotional aspects of the characters. I think we all have some unfinished business with our parents, and that helped me, but I wrote a lot of the story as Jane Resh Thomas says, “behind my back.” I didn't know really where I was going at the time, I only knew I had to go there.

I'm fascinated with religion, faith, the quest for answers--all of which is touched upon in this book as Harlan Q tangles with Paps (a hard-driving preacher), Paps rails against the "sins" of his own father, and a stranger named Warren/Warrior appears on the scene with gentle questions. What does this novel say about these forces within us and our society? Or perhaps I should say, what does it ask?

I wrote the book more concerned about the issue of doubt than that of faith.

As human beings in a post modern world, I think we all struggle with doubt at one point or another in some form or another. How we struggle may be very different. Warrior gives in to doubt, without dismissing his own spirituality. Paps can't leave room for doubt, yet his "sure" vision is often incorrect. Harlan Q is all over the road. We are all searching for the right answer, the meaning of life, the theory of everything, but it's in the doubt that we move forward. There's the irony: it's the doubt that pushes us to discern what we really think. I would hope that the book would encourage readers to be a bit more skeptical and to be more tolerant of one another's questioning.

Your publisher is Front Street, a small, high-quality literary trade publisher. For those less familiar with the house, could you tell us about it and your experiences as one of its authors?

Front Street had been in business about ten years under the guidance and ownership of Stephen Roxburgh when it merged with Boyds Mills Press about two years ago.

Now Front Street is the young adult imprint of Boyds Mills and is part of a bigger organization, but there is the same focus on quality and literary merit that has always been part of its reputation. When I signed my first contract, I went to Honesdale to do my own due diligence--I wanted to know the organization behind Stephen. I was impressed with the commitment to children’s literature from everyone at Boyds Mills, and I think the two companies have tremendous strengths that complement one another. As an author, I feel very fortunate to work with Stephen as my editor, but I also feel really lucky to have the whole team at both Front Street and Boyds Mills behind me.

You're a graduate of the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Could you describe your experience as a student? Looking back, what did you gain as a writer?

It was hard work. There was a component of the program that required extensive reading, research, and scholarly writing, in addition to the creative writing packets each month. I also came to the program wanting more depth in my knowledge of children's literature so I worked hard on that as well, reading everything I could. Maybe I could have done less, but I was so ready to do it all. I didn't get much sleep the week before a packet was due.

As a writer, I was transformed. I don't even know if I can accurately describe the metamorphosis because it wasn't overnight or immediate. I just started seeing things differently. I started reading like a writer. I paid attention in a different way. And I began to have confidence and courage that I could write--that was huge!

What would you tell other writers considering an M.F.A. program? What should they consider?

I would never hesitate to say go for it, but I would suggest that a writer consider his or her own goals carefully. Are you willing to spend the money and the time to learn to write as an end in itself? Learning the craft and networking with a writing community are really what make an M.F.A. program worth doing. Publishing is icing on the cake.

In raving about your writing this week, I said, "Think: Kimberly Willis Holt-meets-Joan Bauer." That was the closest I could come without just handing over the book so your own unique talent could shine through (and I wasn't done with it yet!). How would you describe your style?

First off, let me say that I'm thrilled with the comparisons. I don't know that I can describe my style just yet. I can say I use humor as a way to express myself. I have deep feelings about the fragile nature of families in our complex world, and I enjoy a good story, with heroes and villains and surprises along the way. Does all that combine to make a style? Maybe...we'll see.

As a reader, what are your favorite recent children's and YA books? Your favorite authors?

Texas writer Kathi Appelt (author interview) because she does it all so well—from picture books to memoir to young adult fiction. I love Deb Wiles's Southern voice and humor, but then even her emails make me laugh. As for recent YA books, I'm reading Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006) (excerpt), like everyone else on the planet, and I enjoyed Ronald Kidd's Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt) very much. No surprise ending, but Kidd does a seamless job of weaving history into the text. I also loved Jan Cheripko's Sun Moon Stars Rain (Front Street, 2005). The writing is spare with beautiful imagery.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I iron really well--it's my mother's fault. I also play golf, although not so well. I hang out with my husband and children, read, knit, and I like to cook and have people over to the house. I make a really nice pear tart.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a novel out next year with Front Street called Runaround. It takes place in Falls of Rough, Kentucky in 1964 and is a story of romance magazines and sister sibling rivalry. I’m also drafting a wild-west story and having too much fun with that.

Cynsational Notes

See more author/illustrator interviews and more Texas authors.
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