Friday, September 01, 2006

Reich, Colón honored with Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award

SAN MARCOS, TX--Coming from humble beginnings in Mexico, José Limón's rise as one of the most influential choreographers in American dance history is chronicled brilliantly in José! Born to Dance: The Story of José Limón, by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Raúl Colón (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2005)(excerpt).

For their efforts in presenting Limón's inspirational story, José! Born to Dance has been honored with the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award for books published in 2005. The award, established at Texas State University-San Marcos in 1995, is designed to encourage authors, illustrators and publishers to produce books that authentically reflect the lives of Mexican American children and young adults in the United States.

The award will be presented to Reich and Colón by Texas State President Denise Trauth Sept. 7 during a luncheon celebration at Sylvan Rodríguez, Jr., Elementary School in Houston. Program participants include Rivera's brothers, Antonio Rivera and Henry Rivera, as well as his daughter Ileana Liberatore. Following the awards presentation, the author and illustrator are scheduled to put on a presentation and reading for school children in the library.

A wine and cheese reception in honor of Reich and Colón will be hosted from 6 to 8 p.m. by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau inside City Hall. There will be a book sale and signing as well as an ongoing presentation of the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award documentary. Event sponsors include Los Cucos Restaurant, Continental Airlines, La Quinta and H-E-B Grocery.

In addition to José! Born to Dance, Reich has written two other children's books: Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso (Clarion, 1999) and Penelope Bailey Takes the Stage (Marshall Cavendish, 2006). A native New Yorker, she currently lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

José! Born to Dance marks the second Tomás Rivera Award for Colón, who was so honored in 1997 for his illustration work on Pat Mora's Tomás and the Library Lady (Knopf, 1997). An acclaimed artist outside of children's books, his work has appeared in such venues as The New Yorker, Time, and the Wall Street Journal.

About the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award

Texas State developed the Tomás Rivera award to congratulate and acknowledge authors and illustrators dedicated to depicting the values and culture of Mexican Americans. The award was initially endowed by Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. Rivera, who died in 1984, graduated from Texas State with both his bachelor's and master's degrees before receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. A Distinguished Alumnus of Texas State, Rivera published his landmark novel in 1971 titled ...y no se lo tragó la tierra/ ...And the Earth Did Not Part. In 1979, Rivera was appointed chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, the first Hispanic chancellor named to the University of California system.

Cynsational News & Links

The Children's Africana Book Awards: "presented annually to the authors and illustrators of the best children's books on Africa published or republished in the U.S." Established by the African Studies Association (ASA). See 2007 nomination process. Note: I saw a heads-up on the new nominations at A Fuse #8 Production.

Jennifer Armstrong Publicity Etc.: a debut author blog. Jennifer's latest book is The American Story, illustrated by Roger Roth (Knopf, 2006). Visit Jennifer's main site to learn more, and see a recent recommendation of The American Story by Chris Barton at Bartography.

The Authors Guild has relocated. The phone number and email address remain unchanged. The new snail mail address is: Authors Guild, 31 E. 32nd St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Note: I recommend joining the guild to those writers who are eligible for membership.

Badgerdog Literary Publishing, Inc.: Austin organization follows a two-fold mission that seeks to serve both professional creative writers and young writers in grades 3-12. In short, Badgerdog was created to publish and to teach. Noteworthy aspects include: relaunching "American Short Fiction;" work on writing with school students; and sponsoring creative writing camps.

Take a sneak peek at the cover art for Your Kind of Mommy by Marjorie Blain Parker, illustrated by Cyd Moore (Dutton, March 2007).

Heather Brewer: official site of the author of Eighth Grade Bites, the first book in The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series (Dutton/Penguin, August 2007)(excerpt). Learn more about Heather and her book and contests & free stuff. Then visit Heather's blog, Bleeding Ink.

Lost Loves: It All Adds Up for Teen Author John Green: an interview by Linda M. Castellitto from BookPage. Of his days on the Booklist staff, he says: "I got the chance to review a lot of books, and it made a huge difference in my . . . writing life and reading life." John's latest book is An Abundance of Katherines (Dutton).

Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Jamil Akib (Lee & Low, 2006): a recommendation by Josephine Bridges from The Asian Reporter. Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

Congratulations to the following novelists on their September 2006 hardcover releases: Kimberly Willis Holt, author of Part of Me (Henry Holt)(excerpt)(author interview)(a movie intro on Kimberly's website); Amy Goldman Koss, author of Side Effects (Roaring Brook)(a recommendation from bookfurious); E. Lockhart, author of The Boy Book (Delacorte)(excerpt)(LJ); Robin Merrow MacCready, author of Buried (Dutton)(an interview from TeensReadToo); Laura Ruby, author of Good Girls (HarperTempest)(author interview)(a recommendation from bookshelves of doom); and Laurie Faria Stolarz, author of Bleed (Hyperion)(author interview).

Congratulations to the following novelists on their September 2006 paperback releases:Cecil Castellucci, author of Boy Proof (Candlewick)(excerpt)(author interview)(LJ); E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (Delacorte)(author interview)(recommendation).

"Embrace the Conflict" by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature. In part, she says, "What conflict means is struggle. Conflict occurs when needs are thwarted."

A Day in the Life with Jennifer L. Holm from Random House. Big fun! See inside Jenni's writing life and times, including her kitty, office, and Babymousetastic bike! Don't miss the photo of her in that heavenly pink dress in the sidebar. Learn more about Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House, 2006).

Manuscript Formatting for Beginners by Kent Brewster from Speculations: For Writers Who Want to be Read.

Rising Star: Pija Lindenbaum by April Spisak from the Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books. Spisak writes: "Lindenbaum believes that her child audience can have an ironic sensibility and a sense of humor that can accommodate both the expected and the offbeat..."

Author-illustrator Annette Simon reports she was pleasantly surprised to find her Mocking Birdies (Simply Read Books, 2005)(recommended) as "product placement" in the Stanton Large Wire Basket at Pottery Barn Kids. She also notes that An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006)(author-illustrator interview) is featured in the Catalina Magazine Rack. "Book reviews, author interviews, spotlight pages, contests, an up-to-date book release calendar, and the world's largest young adult/teen author directory." Author interview highlights include: Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler; Barbara Dee; Gail Giles; K.L. Going; Brent Hartinger; David LaRochelle; Wendy Mass; Donna Jo Napoli; Laura Ruby; Tanya Lee Stone; and JoAnne Whittemore. Authors should see promotional opportunities related to the site.

Meet Tony DiTerlizzi, Caldecott Honor recipient and co-creator (with Holly Black) of The Spiderwick Chronicles, from BookPage. Tony's latest is G is for Gzonk! (Simon & Schuster).

Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy from the Horror Writers Association. Nancy observes, "The courage it takes to deal with rejections and keep going may fail us at times. Without courage, we become fair game for depression." Nancy's books include Cat in Glass and Other Tales of the Unnatural (Front Street, 2002) and The Power of Un (Front Street, 2000). Note: this link is featured periodically; take care of yourselves and each other.

Writing Picture Books by Marisa Montes. Includes tips and diagram.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Author-Blogger Interview: Anne Bustard on Anneographies (Picture Book Biographies)

Anneographies: "Author Anne Bustard on her favorite picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday." A wonderful resource for teachers, librarians, readers, and researching writers. The blog debuted Aug. 1, 2006.

Anne Bustard on Anne Bustard: "I was born and raised in Hawaii, with a few years in California sandwiched in between. I was an avid reader as a child, and when I was a teen, I had secret aspirations of being a writer, maybe a poet. I moved to Texas to go to college and took a class in children's literature my junior year. Revisiting beloved books and finding new ones fueled my dream. That's when I knew--I wanted to write for children."

Congratulations on the launch of Anneographies! For those who've yet to visit, can you offer a bit insight into the focus of this exciting new blog?

I'm blogging about my fave picture book biographies, and a few collective biographies, too, organized by the subjects' birthday.

What inspired you to offer Anneographies?

Once a bookseller, always a bookseller, and a teacher, too. I love talking about books, and I love the idea of connecting people and books outside of the traditional four walls. I was also inspired by two uber information-rich blogs, your Cynsations and Chris Barton's Bartography.

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

The idea for the blog came to me in early May, and I launched Anneographies on August 1, 2006. I spent the first month scrambling to accumulate the core data--books and birthdays, took a few mini-breaks in June, and then revved up again in July. Now I work on it a little bit each day.

What were the challenges (research, psychological, and logistical) of preparation?

Fact: Starting with birthday lists and then finding books to match was a mistake.

I quickly discovered my initial process was backwards--I had to start with the books. So off I went to my bookshelves, libraries, and bookstores in search of good reads.

Fact: The more days in the blog that I could match to books, the better.

I wish I had a match for every day of the year, but I don't. If I expanded the list to include chapter-book-length works, I'd be closer. However, that's a project for another soul.

So, about halfway through my first round of research, I decided to include a select number of collective biographies. Thank you, Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt for your wonderful series on the lives of presidents, artists, women and more. And thank you Cynthia Chin-Lee and Megan Halsey and Sean Addy for your terrific tributes to amazing women, Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World (Charlesbridge, 2005) and men, Akira to Zoltan: Twenty-Six Men Who Changed the World (Charlesbridge, 2006).

Fact: All picture book biographies and collective biographies do not contain birth and death dates (if applicable).

In each case, I had to know this critical information for my idea to work. I love playing detective. Who knew there was such a thing as the Social Security Death Index on the Web or that if I e-mailed the American Lighthouse Foundation, Bob Trapani, the executive director, would write me back with needed dates for Abbie Burgess? While all this searching took time, I didn't mind a bit. It's hot in Texas in the summer, and being inside was a good thing.

My problem was I couldn't stop, and at some point, I just had to. There are a number of birthdays that are still unknown to me. I'll never figure out Cleopatra's, but I just know someone in Saratoga Springs, New York, knows when George Crum, inventor of the potato chip, lived. And I'm hoping that person will write me. I've done a lot of research on Mr. Crum and some others without the needed results.

Anyway. I've decided to feature a few biographies of people with unknown birthdays each month. I figure we can celebrate these great people any day.

Fact: There are zillions of books out there about Johnny Appleseed, Christopher Columbus, and Abraham Lincoln. Okay, not a zillion. But a lot. Most people only have one book written about them.

When a subject was featured in more than one book, I chose my favorite. My blog is not meant to be all-inclusive.

Why did you decide to use birthdays as a framework?

I've heard that "Happy Birthday to You" is the most popular song in the English language. Birthdays seemed like a universal bond that everyone could relate to.

And I have a theory. I think that people like to know if someone famous was born on their day. I know I do. I used to think if there were children's authors born on my birthday, it was a sign that I could be one, too.

When I discovered--by reading Talking with Artists, compiled and edited by Pat Cummings (Bradbury, 1992)--that Pat Cummings and Lois Ehlert and I share the same birthday, I was thrilled. Believe me, having the same birthday as ex-vice president Spiro Agnew didn't have the same affect. Of course when I finally started to write, I realized my magical thinking wasn't enough. But I was grateful it was one of the many little things that kept me going.

You're the author of a picture book biography, Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman 2005)(excerpt)(author interview). What draws you to this literary form?

Biographies and I have a special relationship. I chose my college major and, therefore, university based on my favorite biography from elementary school. I wanted to be like Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher. I ended up switching my major to another field in education, but it was a biography that led my way.

I'm inspired by the lives of others--that one person can make a difference in the world--and I'm interested in the stories behind their stories. I have a high curiosity quotient, or maybe I'm just nosey.

Like many (or maybe most) writers, I'm very visual. I see pictures in my head when I write. For me, writing a picture book biography brings my experience full-circle. I don't know how he did it, but somehow Kurt Cyrus got inside my mind's-eye and Buddy Holly's and West Texas'.

Kurt's art invites the reader in, takes them to specific moments in time, and then interprets and adds to my words with glorious images and colors. Reading the pictures is an integral part of the book's experience and allows children of all ages and abilities to be touched by the story.

What are some of your favorite recent picture book biographies and why?

Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully (FSG, 2006). What a captivating read. Margaret E. Knight was the first woman to receive a U.S. patent and is best known for inventing a machine that made paper bags. I was in awe of Knight's childhood tinkering and cheered as she fought and won her right to a patent in court as an adult.

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Jos. S. Smith (Abrams, 2006). Simple, in the best sense of the word, this book offers a fascinating look inside the world of the first geneticist. From experimentation and the observation of generations of peas, Mendel's theory of heredity was born. The artwork made me feel like I was standing next to Mendel in his garden. I loved it.

Theodore by Frank Keating, illustrated by Mike Wimmer (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2006)(excerpt)(author interview from the publisher). The oil-on-canvas illustrations in this book should be hanging in art museums. Wow. This biography of Teddy Roosevelt, told in his own words, offered me more than facts. I felt as if I also knew Roosevelt's heart.

Cynsational Notes

Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly by Anne Bustard, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman 2005)(excerpt)(author interview) won the 2005 June Franklin Naylor Award, is a Triple Crown National Award (Children's Gallery) Nominee for 2006-2007, and was a finalist for the 2005 Teddy Children's Book Award. See related curriculum ideas.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Novelist's Notebook by Laurie Henry

The Novelist's Notebook by Laurie Henry (Story Press, 1999). "An inspiring journal to help you complete your novel. Filled with imaginative exercises and advice from well-known writers." Written in a conversational, upbeat style, The Novelist's Notebook is a mentor in book form. Includes: planning; beginning to write; necessities; possibilities; when you're stuck; and double-checking and revising.

Cynsational Links

The Novelist's Notebook by Laurie Henry: a recommendation by Sarah Reaves White of Scroll to read. Also reviewed on that page are: Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Bud Gardner (Health Communications, 2000); Achieving Financial Independence as a Freelance Writer by Ray Dreyfack (Blue Heron, 2000).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Author Interview: Lola M. Schaefer on An Island Grows

Lola M. Schaefer is the author of Arrowhawk, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Henry Holt, 2004); Toolbox Twins, illustrated by Melissa Iwai (Henry Holt, 2006), Mittens, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung (HarperCollins, 2006)(My First I Can Read Book), and An Island Grows, illustrated by Cathie Felstead (Greenwillow, 2006). She lives with her husband, Ted, on four acres in rural Indiana.

What about the writing life first called to you? Were you quick to answer or did time pass by?

As a child and young adult I never in my wildest dreams thought that I could or would write. I believed that writers were a special lot (which, of course, they are) all living together (which, of course, they don't) in a private setting with unique powers and abilities (I'm still waiting for those!).

I didn't consider writing until I became a seventh grade teacher. Watching the impact good books had on my students made me want to learn how to put words on paper that might have that same kind of appeal and import. It took quite a few years of experimentation and attending conference after conference, as well as professional reading, before a career began to emerge.

I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to write for young readers. I respect the honesty, intelligence, and unabashed passion of youth. In my opinion, they are the most discriminating audience which, in turn, becomes quite a motivating force for excellence.

For those new to your work, could you briefly summarize your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

I write what is important to me at the time. Since I've always been enamored with the natural world, many of my books, whether school/library or trade picture books, are about one of the processes that nurture the animals, plants, rocks, or weather of this planet.

In many of my picture books, I try to offer readers the joy and wonder of one aspect of nature. In Pick, Pull, Snap! Where Once A Flower Bloomed, illustrated by Lindsay Barrett George (Greenwillow, 2002), I try to intrigue readers with the amazing processes of pollination, fertilization, growth, and harvest of fruit without getting technical. Instead, I focus on the quiet day-to-day happenings that bring this marvelous fruit to our hands.

Recently, I've been exploring fiction. For me, this is more challenging. With topics from the natural world, the storyline is provided, and it's my job to find the correct format, language, and presentation. With fiction, I need to create it all and make it work, from character through resolution. I Can Read (HarperCollins) has introduced a new series in the My First I Can Read books that I've written entitled Mittens (2006). Mittens is a kitten who, of course, has some of the same concerns as the young people who will be reading it. And, I just completed a revision of my first novel for an editor. It's a work of historical fiction. Now, that was hard work--satisfying, but difficult!

In addition to all of the books that I write for children, Scholastic publishes my professional books for teachers. These offer strategies that can help students take responsibility for writer's craft and the quality of their writing.

Congratulations on the publication of An Island Grows, illustrated by Cathie Felstead (Greenwillow, 2006)? What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The inspiration behind An Island Grows is actually quite quirky. I heard about a college student's comment on how "islands float." I decided that maybe a simple book was needed for the younger reader to explain how one kind of island forms and how it is rooted to the earth. I was pretty sure that volcanic islands would offer more allure to younger readers than the
other types of islands, so I began my research.

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

When I shared the F & G's (folded and gathered) of An Island Grows last spring with a few elementary classes, I asked them to guess how long it took me to write this book. Estimations ranged from three days to three months.

Actually, it took me more than 2 1/2 years to complete this text. Why?

It was like putting a puzzle together. First I double-checked each stage of the progression with different scientists. This sounds silly, considering how straight-forward my topic was. But I never skip this part of the process. Quite often I learn how inaccurate common knowledge can be; plus, experts share fascinating details that add interest and an important layer to my understanding. Research can take a few weeks to a few months depending on your experts' schedules.

Next, I wanted to find a form for the story. I decided upon a "terse verse" explanation of how a volcanic island forms, hoping this unique cadence would illustrate the sporadic activity that creates this phenomenon from its earliest beginnings until it is a thriving habitat.

Finally, and this was the most challenging phase, I had to find rhyming couplets that would extend meaning instead of crippling the work. Frustration ran high while writing this text. I could only work on it for a few days at a time before I would hit a roadblock. I would then slide it back into the file cabinet and bring it out a few weeks later. The story nagged at me, but I was never sure that I could pull it off. Eventually, it fell into place. Thankfully, my editor at Greenwillow Books thought it was a great story, and she found the best illustrator for the project.

What did Cathie Felstead's art bring to your text?

I think Cathie's art for this book is exceptional. I love that she kept it clean and simple, same as the writing. I think she literally brought life to the words. It may sound silly, but I love the endpages. As a reader of picture books, as well as a writer, I'm always intrigued with that initial flavor that the endpages offer the audience. For me, her pattern is one of peacefulness, obviously a starting and ending point of the story.

Her use of red for the title excites me--the same color as the life source of the island--the magma and lava. I enjoy how the illustrations grow in detail and color as the island becomes rich with life, first plant and animal, then settlers. I also appreciate how the art takes up more of the page as the island becomes a prosperous habitat. Can you tell that I'm thrilled that [Greenwillow editor] Virginia Duncan selected Cathie? I think it was perfect match for this book.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Oh, I doubt that I can offer anything new that hasn't been said or written again and again to beginning writers, but here goes. Read, read, and read. Read for enjoyment, read as a writer, read as a book reviewer. Then experiment. I have to use that word. Most of us think that our first manuscript will flow from our fingertips word perfect. It doesn't, and now I realize it wouldn't be a good thing if it did.

Learn to love revision. Enjoy dinking with scenes, images, phrases, and words. Rethink when you revise because typically the first draft isn't anywhere near the core of what you want to write. But you don't know that until you get those first words down. With every revision comes a clearer understanding of what it is you're trying to say. And, for me, there's an ah-ha, a major moment when I see the "real" story, or the "real" concept that I want to convey. From that point on, polishing the manuscript is not only rewarding, it's absolute fun!

How about those building a career?

As I see it, building a career depends on two things--patience with your own writing so you can strive for excellence and an intelligent, generous editor. I'm blessed with the latter, and I'm working on the former.

From my perspective, nothing beats studying your craft, the industry, and networking with other authors. It takes time. And honestly, everyone should enjoy those months/years of study. It's a quiet time--a time without the responsibility of webpages and presentations. All of your time can be devoted to thinking about story, craft, or format.

As far as editors, I work with some of the very best. My picture books always improve from the suggestions of my editors. They bring their experience and wisdom to the project, and I take the text to a new level. It's great.

And in either case, how about those interested in creative non-fiction?

Creative non-fiction or narrative non-fiction is a powerful genre. I view it as facts with emotional impact. If a person wants to write about lions or rainbows or comets, find the slant that will appeal to the reader. Will it be funny? Poignant? Fill a reader with wonder? Is it a true story that offers a wide range of emotions?

Then, check and recheck your information. Don't rely on books. Consult experts in the field. They are always delighted to share their knowledge, and as I wrote earlier, quite often their comments offer insights that add another rich layer to the writing.

When you have both--the emotion and the facts, blend them, never letting the facts override the emotional appeal. Remember your audience, and make the information palatable and engaging on every level.

What do you do when you're not writing?

When I'm not writing, I read--a lot. I also enjoy fossil hunting, biking, walking, and gardening. Of course, visiting our two grown sons is top of the list.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I've always got quite a few different projects in the pipeline. Coming in 2007 with Greenwillow Books is an unusual, but fun (and funny), narrative non-fiction picture book. I can't spoil the surprise and tell you what it's about. All I can say is watch the HarperCollins site a year from now to get the scoop on this original book.

The second book about Mittens will appear in spring, 2007.

And in the fall, a zany picture book about the son of Frank N. Stein will debut.

In the meantime, I'm completing a narrative-nonfiction novelty book, another character driven early reader, and I'm starting a new novel. Whew! Never a dull moment.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Author Interview: Laurie Faria Stolarz on Bleed

Bleed by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, September 2006). From the catalog copy: "Over the course of a single day, the lives of ten teenagers will intersect in powerful and unexpected ways. Among them are Nicole, whose decision to betray her best friend will shock everyone, most of all herself; Kelly, who meets the convicted felon she’s been writing to for years; and Maria, whose definition of a true friend is someone who will cut her. Derik discovers his usual good looks and charm won’t help him get the girl he really wants, while Joy, a fifteen year old waitress, hoping for true intimacy, narrowly escapes a very dark fate. Seamlessly woven together, this collection of interconnected short stories paints an authentic portrait of today’s teen experience that is at once funny, moving, and often very haunting." Ages 12-up.

How did writing first call to you?

I've been writing since before I could even hold a pen. As a small child, I was constantly telling stories to whomever would listen to me. When I'd exhausted my family with my endless babbling, I'd go out and tell my tales to the neighborhood kids--passing the stories off as truth. I'd tell of going into the meadows at night and wrestling with a mountain lion or the time I found a boa constrictor in my mom's garden and had to grapple for my life, winding the snake from around my neck just in the knick of time. Telling stories is just something I've always done. I used to write plays and scripts for my Barbie dolls and make people watch the performances.

My love of creating stories continued into school when I'd have to write a paragraph or short essay about what I did during Christmas vacation or summer break. I never thought my own life was exciting enough, so I was forever inventing stories.

People along the way, including some teachers, would tell me that I should pursue writing as a career but, at the time, it wasn't a possibility. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, and majoring in something like English wasn't really an option. It was more like a luxury. I ended up going to business school, following in my older brothers' footsteps.

It wasn't until after I got my B.S. in marketing that I pursued my graduate degree in creative writing. I'm thankful for my marketing degree now, however, because it really helps me with my books.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I have a folder filled with rejection letters for Blue is for Nightmares. My favorite rejection letter is from an editor who said: "While this is an interesting project, I do not feel it is strong enough to compete in today's competitive young adult market."

That same young adult novel has sold well over 100,000 copies, was named a Reluctant Reader Quick Pick, and was nominated for YALSA's Top Ten Teen pick list. And that same editor has since expressed interest in my future work.

When I speak to young people and aspiring writers, I always tell them this story, that if I had stopped persevering, like many of my former classmates, after I received my first--or my 40th rejection letter--I may never have been able to enjoy the success of my series. I was finally lucky enough to find an enthusiastic home for Blue is for Nightmares at Llewellyn Publications.

Perseverance is key--and so is believing in yourself and being open to learning and getting better in your craft.

Your backlist glows with the best-selling Blue is for Nightmares series (Llewellyn, 2003 -). Could you tell us a bit about it?

I first started Blue is for Nightmares in an adolescent fiction writing workshop at Emerson College. I knew I wanted to write a mystery/thriller. I loved suspense novels as a young adult, and I really wanted to write something that would have appealed to me at that age, adding in elements of humor, romance, and drama. I wanted my main character to be relatable for teens; I wanted her to be flawed, to have secrets, and to have lots of opportunity for growth.

When I started the novel, I had no idea I would delve into the world of magic and witchcraft. That is until I did a free-writing exercise in my workshop class. I had no idea what I wanted Stacey, my main character to do, so I had her meditating in front of a blue candle, looking for answers. Because I had made Stacey originally from Salem, MA, like me, people in my writers group made the witchcraft connection with the candle. They encouraged me to go in that direction. That one scene ended up being the inspiration for the novel and now the series.

Even though I grew up in Salem, I didn’t know too much about the formal practice of the Craft, though I had heard growing up that my grandmother had experience with the sixth sense. I started doing research and asking lots of questions. I learned a lot this way. I learned of passed-down home remedies, interesting family superstitions, tea readings, card readings, and specific experiences with the sixth sense, some of which find themselves in the novel.

I also researched the more formal practices of Witchcraft and Wicca, as well as other folk magical practices/home remedies that pass down within families.

Having done this research and seeing the way that Witchcraft is so often negatively portrayed in the media, I wanted to show the true peaceful nature of this earth-based religion, without the hocus-pocus. I wanted to weave an education into the story, using Stacey Brown as a reflective, self-empowering young woman.

When I sold Blue is for Nightmares, I knew I wanted to write a trilogy. But, the ending of Silver is for Secrets, the third book, is somewhat of a cliffhanger, which is why I wrote the fourth book, Red is for Remembrance. Teens write to me all the time, asking if I plan to continue the series. We'll see.

[The second book in the series is White Is For Magic.]

Congratulations on the publication of Bleed (Hyperion, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thanks! I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday--even the smaller ones--can affect others in ways we may never even consider. The decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone's house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach--how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people's lives...even the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend's boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

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

I wrote the manuscript in about a year, while I was trying to sell Blue is for Nightmares, so, even when I was finished with the manuscript, I still didn’t have any publication credits behind me. It took over a year to sell, but it finally found a great home at Hyperion.

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

The novel is told from ten different points of view, some of them male. Getting into the heads of all the drastically different characters was a challenge, especially when dealing with some of the more sensitive and troubling issues in the novel. I also didn't want to churn out what's already out there. I wanted to show a different take on eating disorders, on bullying, on cutting.

Also, because the novel takes place over the course of just one day, I wanted to show the potential for character growth while still being true to the events.

In other words, at the end of a single day, it wouldn't have been realistic to wrap everything up in a pretty bow or to have a seriously troubled character evolve completely. I had to walk a fine line--tying things up in a satisfying and yet believable way.

What do you love about your writing life?

Getting to connect with my readers. I'm lucky to receive between 50-100 reader e-mails per week, telling me how the books have touched them, impacted them, empowered them in some way. It doesn’t get much better than that. Also, I like having an excuse to watch MTV and read Teen Vogue on a regular basis.

What are its tougher aspects?

Writing can be very isolating, which is why it's so important--for me--to try and connect with other authors, friends, colleagues whenever I can. I love making school visits or attending author events, stepping out of my quiet office to connect with readers and people in the business.

What advice do you have for beginning writers/authors?

I would recommend reading what it is you love. Ask yourself why you love it, why you feel it works. What technique does the writer use that works for you? What point-of-view? What do you like about the dialogue? The characters? Do the same for books that don't appeal to you. Become a better reader.

By answering some of these questions, you'll become one. You'll be able to identify what works for you as a reader. Then, apply those elements to your writing. Also, consider joining a writers' group. I rely heavily on mine. They're there for inspiration as well as critiques. We support each other through every step of the process--from that first idea to the finished book.

And lastly, of course, it goes without saying that before you send anything out, know the market. Know which editors are looking for your type of book, what their policy is on reading unsolicited manuscripts, if you’ll need an agent, and which agents are accepting new clients in your genre. Also, be sure to ask your agent for a client list, check that they're a member of AAR [Association of Author Representatives], and never pay reading fees.

How about for short story writers and novelists specifically?

Same as above. Become a better reader. This will help you become a better writer. It will help you channel your inner critic. And, always remember, perseverance is key.

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

I'm big into yoga. I also love healthy cooking, going for long power walks, seeing a good suspense film, watching lots of reality TV, and reading YA books.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on the edits for my companion book to Bleed. The working title is Project 17, and it explores one of the characters from Bleed more deeply. It's about a group of teens who break into an abandoned asylum at night to film a movie.

Cynsational Notes

According to the publisher website, Laurie will be "blogging exclusively at and at" from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1.
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