Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cover Art for Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

"Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, Tantalize creates a froth of excitement, danger, suspense, and wit.

"This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you--predator or prey?"

-- Annette Curtis Klause, author of Blood and Chocolate, The Silver Kiss, and Freaks: Alive on the Inside!

My thanks to Annette for her enthusiastic blurb!

I'm also thrilled to show off my final cover art for my upcoming YA Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick Press, March 2007).

I love its vulnerability, romance, and lush sensuality as well as the shadow treatment and font signaling to gothic fantasy readers that this one is for them.

Cynsational Notes

LJ readers may also see this link at Blogger to view the Tantalize cover. Spookycyn readers got a sneak peek yesterday; read their comments.

See the cover art for Santa Knows, co-authored by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, September 2006).

Cynsational News & Links

"Chewie and I watched the fireworks explode
over Burnham's Apple Orchard.
They all glittered a moment, lingering, and then faded,
one after another, like the smoky trails of fallen snakes."
--from Rain Is Not My Indian Name
by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001)

Happy Independence Day weekend to my U.S. readers!

Related titles include Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla (Boyds Mills Press, 2005)(recommendation).

"Best in Show" by Leda Schubert (author interview) from The Horn Book. "How is a Westminster Kennel Club judge like the Caldecott committee?"

Speaking of pooches, books in my review stack include Puppies, Puppies Everywhere by Cat Urbigkit (Boyds Mills, 2006), a poetic pre-K title illustrated with incredibly cute photos. Despite her name, the author lives on a Wyoming ranch with a flock of sheep and its guard dogs.

Celebrating 60 Strong Women from Mary E. Pearson's Journal. I'm so incredibly suprised and honored to have been included on this list. See a recent Cynsations interview with Mary.

Congratulations to J. Patrick Lewis, author of Once Upon a Tomb: Gravely Humorous Verse, illustrated by Simon Bartram (Candlewick, 2006)(inside spread). Read a recent Cynsations interview with J. Patrick Lewis. From the catalog copy: "Peek inside Once Upon a Tomb and find twenty-two poems, each of which tells, in hilarious verse, the story of an untimely demise--from a school principal to a bully, a food critic to a cafeteria lady, an underwear salesman to a soccer player. Complemented by Simon Bartram’s deadpan illustrations, J. Patrick Lewis’s cryptic tour of headstones and epitaphs is silly, spooky--and far from grave. Clever puns and elaborately detailed, surreal artwork illuminate a collection of comically grim verses that can’t help but tickle the funny bone."

Congratulations to Ed Young, illustrator of Tiger of the Snows: Tenzing Norgay: The boy whose dream was Everest by Robert Burleigh (Atheneum, 2006)(excerpt). Read a recent Cynsations interview with Ed Young. From the catalog copy: "Growing up at the foot of Mount Everest, a Sherpa boy named Tenzing Norgay dreamed about one day being the first to climb the giant in his backyard. But his dream never seemed possible until he met Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand beekeeper..."

King Dork by Frank Portman (Delacorte, 2006): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

The Sand in the Oyster: "The Lit of Chick Lit" by Patty Campbell from The Horn Book.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles

What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles (Little Brown, 2006). Kyle blames pretty and popular Cass for the suicide of his brother and decides to punish her by burying her alive. Thus begins a conversation--a mind game played both ways--where the stakes are death and life, blame and innocence. A riveting, unrelenting, compulsive read. Ages 14-up.

I've previously interviewed Gail about Shattering Glass (Roaring Brook, 2002), Dead Girls Don't Write Letters (Roaring Brook, 2003), and recently, she updated us on her latest work.

At the time, she said of What Happened to Cass McBride? "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 you're thinking deep. At least I'm hoping so."

As to her inspiration, Gail went on to explain, "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 rolling around and made its way into a character who started her story."

I read the novel in my 1920s Arts-and-Crafts home with ten-foot ceilings and a flowing floor plan and, with the turn of each page, felt like the walls were closing in on me. For years, I've heard Gail refer to this story, shorthand, as "girl in a box" and, as I sank into the novel, I felt like I was that girl.

Recs for Healthy Reading: lights on, chilled water bottle, large room, high ceilings, comfy mattress or cushions, pillow, massage gloves.

Recs for Masochistic Reading: unfinished closet, dehydration, flashlight. Where's your shrink's phone number?

Cynsational Notes

How I Wrote What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles. See also Gail's LJ. Learn more about Texas Children's & YA Authors & Illustrators.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I would like to thank the Texas State Reading Association for its hospitality last Friday. Greg gave a keynote address at a dinner that night, and Barnes & Nobel Westlake sponsored a quite successful signing. Thanks also to the Writers' League of Texas for inviting us to do a breakout session, "The Kid in You: Writing for Children and Young Adults" at the 2006 Agents & Editors Conference last Saturday. Highlights of the event included a Q&A panel featuring authors Kathi Appelt (author interview), Chris Barton, and Anne Bustard (author interview), which was moderated by author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell (author interview). Read my full report on these events at Spookycyn. See Chris Barton's take from Bartography.

In other news...

American Indians in Children's Literature: a new blog from Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo). See A Sampling of Recommended Children's and Young Adult Literature about American Indians. Thanks to Debbie for featuring three of my books, Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) on the list as well as an anthology, Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today (HarperCollins, 2005) edited by Lori Marie Carlson, which includes my short story, "A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate."

Congratulations to Anne Bustard, author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview), which was named to the the IRA list of notable books for “Primary Nonfiction” award (only seven “notable” books were chosen for that section).

Talking Books: official site of Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein. Cheryl offers a series of articles, including: "The Essentials of Plot;" "The Rules of Engagement: Part One: The Rules;" "The Rules of Engagement: Part Two: How to Disengage a Reader in Ten Easy Steps;" "Finding the Perfect Publisher for Your Manuscript;" "Submissions Guidelines and What I'm Looking For." See also Cheryl's blog, Brooklyn Arden.

Create-Relate: News from the Children's Book Biz by Anastasia Suen (author interview) is back online.

"Cricket Books and the Other Bug Magazines: Connecting for the Sale" with editor Deborah Vetter, editor of Cricket, Cicada, and Cricket Books: a chatlog from the Institute of Children's Literature. June 23, 2006.

"The High School Experience" by Colleen Mondor from Bookslut. Highlights Open Ice by Pat Hughes (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2005), Nothing But the Truth and a Few White Lies by Justina Chen Headley (Little Brown, 2005)(author interview)(excerpt), Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)(excerpt), Chicks with Sticks by Elizabeth Lenhard (Dutton, 2005), Nailed by Patrick Jones (Walker, 2006)(blog), and King Dork by Frank Portman (Delacorte, 2006).

Editor Alvina Ling: an interview by Paul Maniaci from the Career Cookbook: Inspiring Career Paths. Alvina is an editor at Little, Brown. June 24, 2006.

"Icing the Cake: Writing Stories in Rhythm and Rhyme" by Dori Chaconas (author interview).

Monday, June 26, 2006

Author Feature: Sharon Darrow

Sharon Darrow is the author of Old Thunder and Miss Raney, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (A Melanie Kroupa Book/D-K Ink, 2000); Through the Tempests Dark and Wild: A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Candlewick, 2003)(excerpt), and a young adult novel, The Painters of Lexieville (Candlewick, 2003). Her poetry has also been included in Lee Bennett Hopkins’s anthology, Home to Me: Poems Across America, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn.

Old Thunder and Miss Raney was a finalist in the Western Writers of America's 2000 Spur Awards' Storyteller category and was featured in the Kentucky Derby Museum’s exhibit "Picturing Horses." The Painters of Lexieville was winner of the 2005 Oklahoma Book Award (YA division).

Sharon is the incoming faculty chair of the Vermont College M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She also has taught in the English department at Columbia College in Chicago. She received her M.F.A. in Writing (Fiction and Poetry) from Vermont College in 1996.

She looks forward to the release of her second YA novel, Trash (Candlewick, 2006).

I'm a huge fan of your picture book Old Thunder and Miss Raney, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (DK Ink, 2000). In fact, I'm just sure your protagonist is somehow related to my Cassidy Rain Berghoff from Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). What was your initial inspiration for this book?

Thank you; I'm glad you like it. I'm pretty sure those two young women are related, too. What set me off on that story was hearing the beginning of a story my Great-Aunt Thelma told after church on Sunday while dinner was being prepared on the farm in Oklahoma near where I was born. My rowdy cousins and I couldn't go outside and play because of the weather and she tried to keep us from jumping on the bed in the back bedroom by saying, "Kids, did I ever tell you about the time my horse and buggy and I got picked up by a tornado and blown all the way to town?" Before she could finish, we were called to the table, then my family had to leave and I never heard the end of the tale.

What was the timeline from spark to publication?

Ha—that was sometime in the late 1950s and the book was published in 2000.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

You might say that first I had to decide to become a writer, which took the most time, and then I had to begin trying out various ways of telling the story after eventually making up the middle and the end. I thought for a long time that I had to have children in the story, but that never worked. Miss Raney, it turns out, is childlike enough to carry it on her own--and it is her story, after all.

You followed up this charming, light-hearted tale with a sophisticated picture book biography, Through The Tempests Dark and Wild: A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein, illustrated by Angel Barrett (Candlewick, 2003). How did Mary Shelley begin speaking to you?

Oddly enough, in a dream. I dreamed about an old library where I found a book authored by Mary Wollstonecraft. At the time I didn't know who she was and woke up thinking the name Mary Shelley. After doing some research, I learned that Mary Shelley was Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter and my interest grew from there.

Why did you decide to bring her story to young readers?

She wrote Frankenstein when she was only eighteen! I was interested in her for my own writing and reading life, but I also wanted to share what I had learned about her with the young writers out there in hopes that they wouldn't have to take as many years "deciding" to become writers as I did. Besides, it was so intriguing to see how the events of her own early life led to the writing of such a groundbreaking book, certainly the sort of book society wouldn't have expected from a woman of any age in those days.

What advice do you have for those writing picture book biographies?

Discover how the subject’s life intersects with yours, how her story is somehow also your story, and tell that story.

In 2003, Candlewick also published your first young adult novel, The Painters of Lexieville. How would you describe the novel to readers?

It's a story of a family told through the points of view of Truly the mother, Jobe the son, and Pert, the daughter who wants to move beyond their life of poverty and dependence on welfare to a life of her own making. Obstacles to her goal are mean or passive relatives, oppressive religion, death, and rattlesnakes.

What did you learn over the course of working on this manuscript?

First of all, that I was a writer. And that being a writer means being patient with yourself while you discover the story through revision.

What about it sang to you?

The characters, some of whom were very like a father-and-son team of painters I encountered when I worked the summer after my senior year in high school as a receptionist in an Arkansas county welfare office. The main character, Pert, well, she arrived in a dream nearly twenty years later. I knew I had a story when I could see her in a wooded setting and when she started talking. I loved her voice and felt the need to try to capture it on paper.

I have a tendency to think of you as a Southern writer. Is this on mark? How would you describe yourself in this regard?

I think so. When I began writing, I lived in Texas and thought of myself as a Texas writer because I'd lived there most of my life (we left Oklahoma when I was three). I read the works of all the Texas writers I could get my hands on, and then I kept reading and tried to read as many Southern writers as I could.

Can you tell us about your upcoming YA novel?

The title is Trash (Candlewick, 2006) and its main characters are teenaged Boy and Sissy Lexie who appear in The Painters as very young children, Raynell's youngest siblings.

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

Trash was a challenge I posed to myself as a poet. I decided to try to write a long narrative made up of one page poems whose styles would somehow mirror the emotional journey of the character, Sissy Lexie, as she and Boy run away from Arkansas in search of Raynell and in search of a means and a place for their art. I ended up having a few longer poems, but I stuck to the plan until it didn’t work well for the story. What a lot of fun it was!

In July 2006, you begin a term as faculty chair of the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Could you tell us about your path to this position?

I studied in the [adult] writing program at Vermont College just prior to the beginning of the new program in children's and young adult writing. I came to that program as a graduate assistant and new writer. I’d been working on Painters and on poetry in my program and had already begun to work with an editor on Old Thunder and Miss Raney so when an opening came along on the faculty, I was fortunate enough to be given a chance to teach. I'd been teaching at the College of DuPage and had begun to teach at Columbia College Chicago as well. Now, after nine years on the faculty and after a brief stint as the interim director this past winter, I'll begin this new adventure this summer.

Why should writers consider getting an MFA degree?

For me, it solidified my desire to be a writer into dedication to my craft. It gave me so much in knowledge, but even more in confidence and determination. What I see happening with our students, too, is inspiring. Many arrive with that same yearning and emerge with a set of skills for their writing lives and some pretty darn good books on the way to publication. In a way, I think it can be a bit of a shortcut to the working writer's life for the new writer and for the already established writer, a broadening of their horizons in both writing and teaching. With the MFA degree, one can teach on the college level, something that I have enjoyed a great deal.

What about teaching calls to you?

I love seeing students enter the classroom or the lecture hall with all their different attitudes and hopes or fears, and then emerge being more themselves than ever. I like facilitating the self-making process and I believe writing is a fast path to the growth of self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-actualization.

How do you feel that it informs your own writing?

As I watch the writing process work in individuals, I learn more about it for myself. I'm inspired by the writers around me, by their persistence and by the need we all seem to have to do this work.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Get together with other writers, share your work and your writing questions and discoveries, and be open to criticism. Allow the revision process time to work and don't give up (or if you do, like I did at least three times, don't be afraid to begin again).

Is there anything you would like to add?

The books aren't the only products of the writing life. We also gain life skills and friendships. We learn new things about the world all the time, we get to travel both in reality and in imagination, and we get the chance to do what we've dreamed because it's what we were meant to do. What joy!

Cynsational Notes

Meet the Pros: Sharon Darrow from SCBWI France.

Picturing Horses: Original Art from Children’s Literature: An annotated list of books with art in the exhibit from the Kentucky Derby Museum.
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