Friday, January 19, 2007

Freaks: Alive on the Inside by Annette Curtis Klause

Check out the new paperback cover art for Freaks: Alive on the Inside by Annette Curtis Klause (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Annette says: "I have a large cast of unusual characters in this book , and while the people in my story are imaginary, their physical differences are often inspired by those of people who really lived, and many characters are composites of people I came across in photographs and accounts."

Read a Cynsations interview with Annette. See the "Blood and Chocolate" (inspired by a 1999 novel by Annette) movie trailer.

More News & Links

Speaking of gothic fantasy, I'm enormously flattered (and rather stunned) by Liz Gallagher's take on my upcoming Tantalize (Candlewick, Feb. 13, 2007): "Totally Buffy-esque. Of course I thoroughly enjoyed it. Actually, I enjoyed it more than I ever enjoyed 'Buffy.' Favorite line: 'You ate the police?'" Thanks, Liz! Look for Tantalize on pages 26-27 of the Candlewick Spring-Summer 2007 catalog!

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #1: Liz from A Chair, a Fireplace & a Tea Cozy. Wonderful interview, and wowza! I'm blushing neon at the lovely mention of my blogs. Thanks so much! Jeepers, what an honor!

Charlotte Zolotow Awards Announced

The Charlotte Zolotow Book Awards have been announced. The award "is given annually for outstanding writing in a picture book published in the United States in the preceding year."

Honor books include Mrs. Crump's Cat by Linda Smith, illustrated by David Roberts (HarperCollins, 2006)(recommendation), which was named to my list of Cynsational Books of 2006.

Highly commended titles include An Island Grows by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Cathie Felstead (Greenwillow, 2006). Read an August 2006 Cynsations interview with Lola. Listen to a radio interview with Lola from Southern Adventist University.

I'm heartened that the Zolotow award recognizes picture-book writing. This field tends to be underestimated and underappreciated. Brevity can be deceiving, suggest that the task is easier, quicker. Yet I know from my own efforts that some eighty or more drafts are often necessary. There is no time for false notes. Every word must sing.

Congratulations to the honorees! Scroll for the complete list.

Cynsational Notes

See a June 2000 interview with Ginny Moore Kruse on the Charlotte Zolotow Awards. My apologies for the broken links on this page. CCBC has reorganized its site since they were posted; updates to my main site are ongoing.

How To Write A Children's Book by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock (E&E, 2004). Analyzing more than twenty-five classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, this academic look at picture book and picture storybook structure can offer writers insights into their own work at many stages. Have an idea for a story but not sure how to begin? Read this book. Stuck in the middle and don't know what to do next? Take a look at this book. Uncertain about the overall plot? Bine-Stock dissects the parts of each example to reveal how its author created the whole. This clinical approach to plotting shows how the masters of the craft have succeeded. Recommendation by Anne Bustard, author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview). Visit Anneographies: Picture Book Biographies.

Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen (Writers Digest, 2003). Both wide and deep, this is a helpful overview and get-you-thinking look at various types of children's books. Especially recommended to picture book writers and children's poets. Check out Anastasia's blog, Create/Relate: News from the Children's Book Biz.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ode to a Departing Manuscript

"Ode to a Departing Manuscript" a new song by author Kim Norman from her web site. Look for Jack of All Tails by Kim Norman, illustrated by David Clark (Dutton, 2007).

Congratulations to the winter 2007 graduates of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults! Y'all are in my thoughts today. Wahoo!

Highlights of the January 2007 issue of The Edge of the Forest: a children's literature monthly include: Judging the Cover by Allie of Bildungsroman/Slayground; Twentieth Century YA Style by Pamela Coughlan of MotherReader; Helping Children Choose Books Beyond Level by Franki Sibberson of A Year of Reading; and an interview with Alan Gratz by Eisha Prather and Julie Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. This month's featured blogging writer is Lisa Yee. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

In summer 2007, An Na and Jacqueline Woodson be teaching at Pine Manor College in its low residency MFA in Creative Writing program. Both are highly recommended. Read an interview with An Na.

Calling librarian bloggers from my home states of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, and Texas! Please drop me a note with your location and URL. Thanks!

Surfed by Spookycyn, lately? I'm taking more introspective, quirkier approach this year, often using books as a spinoff. Recent posts have touched on: Tantalize in book form; personal memories of Gerald Ford; Elvis' birthday, the Congress Avenue bird die-off ("Mulder, something killed those birds!"), Leslie dress-up magnets; "Blood and Chocolate" movie trailer; sale of Castle Bran in Transylvania; and So Few of Me, the quest for balance in the writing life.

Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti for recommending my review of Sydney Taylor Award winner Julia's Kitchen by Brenda A. Feber (FSG, 2006). Thanks also for the link from Six writers. One Story to the agent-related resources on my website.

Oklahoma Centennial Book Club

Oklahoma Centennial Book Club: coordinated by author Molly Griffis in celebration of the state centennial. Molly's goal is for every Oklahoma library to have as complete a collection of children's and young adult books by Okie authors as it can afford. Authors may write to Molly to request that their books are included; please note that if you lived in Oklahoma long enough to still call yourself an Oklahoman, your books are eligible. Molly is the author of numerous books for young readers, including Paradise on the Prairie (Eakin Press).

More News & Links

Highlights of the January Book of Life podcast include coverage of the Sydney Taylor Awards.

Michele is hosting a monthly book discussion at Scholar's Blog Spoiler Zone. The first book will be King of Shadows by Susan Cooper, and its discussion will begin Feb. 6. See the complete list. Source: Create/Relate.

Middle School Lit: discussion group to focus on middle school authors and share recommendations. Also will read and discuss selected books. Source: Create/Relate.

"Sirens of the Sea:" a recommendation of Blackbeard The Pirate King by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by vintage art (National Geographic, 2006) from Wordswimmer. Read a Cynsations interview with J. Patrick Lewis.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Author Interview: Deborah Wilson Overstreet on Not Your Mother's Vampire: Vampires in Young Adult Fiction

Deborah Wilson Overstreet on Deborah Wilson Overstreet: "My father was in the Navy, so I didn't grow up in one spot, although we did stick to the east coast (everywhere from Newfoundland, Canada to Orlando). I always thought that I wanted to be a college professor and write books, although I had no idea what kind of professor or what kind of books! I changed my major six times as an undergrad at the University of Central Florida, but finally settled on education.

"Eventually I got a Master's degree from the University of Georgia, briefly joined the Peace Corps (serving in Liberia), and finally taught seventh grade English in a small town in Georgia. My doctorate is in English education, and so I teach pre-service teachers about children's and young adult literature and how to teach English (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, University of Louisiana, and now University of Maine at Farmington).

"Now I live in a tiny town in Maine (less than 100 miles from Stephen King!). I have a huge English mastiff named Truly and two cats, Jude and Lilah (I had to get a Buffyverse name in there somewhere)."

It appears that you are likewise in the thrall of the fanged ones. Could you tell us about your fascination with the undead?

This is always an interesting question, and yet I never know exactly how to answer it. I didn't grow up as a vampire fan. I never really chose to watch horror movies (although on occasion some cousins and I would watch old black-and-white horror movies on television), and I don't enjoy being afraid. Vampires, however, seemed different. They were intriguing and maybe evil, but not scary.

Perhaps the fascination is that vampires, as we know them, are a literary creation (of course, there were folkloric vampires centuries before this, but they were very different). While vampires have always been interesting figures, vampires now are more fascinating than ever. I believe that this is because of their infinite variety. Even from their beginning in the early 19th century, literary vampires resisted homogeneity. Lord Ruthven (the first literary vampire from John Polidori's 1819 novella, The Vampire) was a rake and a womanizer. Carmilla (from Sheridan LeFanu's 1872 novella, Carmilla) was a lesbian. Dracula (from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula) was legitimately evil.

Since then in books, movies, and television, vampires have become even more diverse. Some are erotic; some reluctant; some good; some conflicted; some predatory; some are even villainous, but rarely are they evil. This post-modern construction of morality where a monster isn't necessarily bad is enthralling.

Congratulations on the publication of Not Your Mother's Vampire: Vampires in Young Adult Fiction (Scarecrow Press, 2006)! For those who've yet to sink their teeth in, could you offer an overview of the book?

Chapter One (Vampires 101) is an examination of the evolution of vampires. I looked at changes in vampires, changes in types of vampire narratives, and changes in vampire metaphors.

In one of the bigger sections of this chapter, I isolated ten classic vampire narratives (five books, five movies) to examine how today's young adult vampires fit within the tradition. Finally, I took the twenty novels in the study and divided them into three categories based on their narrative structures: "Becoming a Vampire" novels (which usually have as a main plot the possibility that a character is becoming a vampire, often against their wills), "Power Negotiation" novels (which usually focus on humans and vampires trying to find their way in life, often specifically in relation to their larger communities), and finally "Romance" novels (which focus on romantic relationships with vampire partners).

Chapter Two (Undead and Unmasked: The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth, about Vampires) contemplates vampires in all their glory. Vampires from all three categories of books, "Becoming a Vampire," "Power Negotiations," and "Romances" will be explored. Specifically, I focused on how the vampires themselves are represented, the conventions that bind today's vampires, the inherent sexuality of vampires, and the interestingly post-modern figure of the good or reluctant vampire.

Chapter Three (Meet, Fight, or Possibly Even Love a Vampire: The Human-Vampire Connection) focused on the humans in vampire narratives. I was particularly intrigued by what humans who are involved with vampires were like. Humans who fight vampires as a calling or vocation or even in a vigilante situation were explored. The circumstances under which humans enter into romantic relationships with vampires were of distinct interest. I also examined how gender issues played out between humans and vampires.

Chapter Four (Welcome to the Buffyverse: Vampires, High School, and the Hellmouth) addressed the cultural phenomenon created by the television shows "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997-2003) and its parallel series, "Angel" (1999-2004). While "Buffy" and "Angel" don't exclusively concern themselves with vampires, these television shows have made a huge impact on a wide-ranging audience and have brought vampires to a very mainstream audience.

Chapter Five (All the Titles that Bite: Vampire Novels and Scholarship) is a detailed annotated bibliography. Contained here are the detailed summaries of all twenty novels used in the study. Brief summaries of other young adult and children's vampire novels, as well as summaries of vampire scholarship, and other resources are included.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

Initially, I had thought to just write an article. It was the summer of 1999, and I had just reread The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause (Delacorte, 1990)(author interview). I was again struck by how much I loved the book.

Vampire narratives often have a romantic element, but the idea of an actual, blatant romance with a vampire was a new one to me. I found the idea intriguing and started to seek out other books like this. I came across Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 1995)(author interview), loved it too, and began to wonder if there were enough romance-with-a-vampire books out there to write something about.

I also toyed with the idea of just writing an article analyzing romance-with-a-supernatural-character books. This way, I could include Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (Delacorte, 1997), which is, without question, the most erotic and romantic young adult werewolf book ever written. Ghost stories could also be included, like The House Next Door by Richie Tankersley Cusick (Simon Pulse, 2002). Lisa Jane Smith's Nightworld series, which exclusively features human/supernatural romances, would have also fit. Alas, despite Blood and Chocolate, vampires drew me back. I finally read my first adult vampire books, the Anita Hamilton series by Laurell K. Hamilton. Eventually, I succumbed to the inevitable lure of vampires and realized that not only was I entranced enough but that there was enough material for a whole book.

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

I began thinking about writing something analyzing vampires in the summer of 1999 while I was a professor at the University of Louisiana. I got too busy at work and eventually wrote an analysis of labor history in young adult novels instead ("Organize! A Look at Labor History in Young Adult Novels," The ALAN Review, Fall 2001). Even though I was still interested in vampires, they got pushed aside. In 2001, I became a professor at the University of Maine at Farmington. I always used vampire books in my children's and young adult literature classes (often In the Forests of the Night (Delacorte, 1999) and Demon in My View (Delacorte, 2000) both by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and The Silver Kiss, of course). So even though vampires weren't in my writing, they were still on my mind.

When I moved to Maine in the summer of 2001, I started watching "Buffy" and "Angel" (my cable in Louisiana didn't carry the WB) and immediately became obsessed. This kicked my vampire interest back into high gear. Finally in the Fall of 2002, I proposed a book analyzing young adult vampire fiction to Scarecrow Press, and they accepted. Because of our very heavy teaching load at UMF, I was really only able to research and write during the summer and Christmas breaks.

In the spring of 2004, I proposed my Buffy studies class to my university, and it was also accepted. The intense preparation for the Buffy class also helped me write Chapter 4 (Welcome to the Buffyverse: Vampires, High School, and the Hellmouth). I submitted the manuscript to Scarecrow Press in November of 2004, and the book was released in August 2006.

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

Honestly, this was an incredibly difficult book to write. I loved reading the young adult vampire novels. I especially enjoyed reading vampire scholarship since this was the intersection of several things I love--literary and cinematic analysis and criticism and vampires!

My first major challenge was trying to decide which books to use. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of titles. I had originally isolated 60 fairly current young adult vampire books to use. But since I needed to have a more manageable number, I pared that down to 20. There was no particular formula that I used to choose one book over another; these were just books that seemed to represent the best and most interesting writing and the widest range of characters, narrative structures, and plot lines.

One I decided on the books, trying to decide how to organize the analysis proved to be the most difficult task. Most of my writing involves the analysis of representations of history in literature, and this type of work always seems very straightforward. How to analyze vampires, on the other hand, just didn't come to me quickly. Honestly, there were several times along the way that I almost quit. I sat at my computer for sometimes 10 hours a day and was producing very little. Eventually though, I came upon a structure that seemed to make sense, and things got a little easier (but not that much easier because I really hate to write!).

The Buffy chapter was also especially difficult to write. I'm an associate editor for Slayage, an online, juried, journal of Buffy Studies at http://slayageonline.com, so I'm used to Buffy scholarship being written for Buffy scholars, an audience already completely familiar with the entire Buffyverse. I really felt that this chapter needed to be written for people who may never even have heard of Buffy (are there people who have never even heard of Buffy?).

You teach a class in Buffy studies! (I want to take that class!). What was it about Buffyverse that elevated it to not only a pop culture but also a scholarly iconic series?

What makes Buffy so great? That's easy, the writing. I firmly believe that Joss Whedon (the creator, and occasional writer and director of "Buffy," "Angel," and "Firefly") is a modern-day Shakespeare. His writing is effulgent (to quote Spike) and is nearly matched in quality by the rest of the Mutant Enemy writers. "Buffy" and the parallel series, "Angel," read like a 254-chapter novel. Not only do the story lines manage to be dramatic, comic, romantic, heart-breaking, erotic, suspenseful, and occasionally horrifying, the dialogue is by turn hilarious, gut-wrenching, ironic, and literary--and sometimes all the same scene! The actors, and there's very little attention given to them in the field of Buffy Studies, also contribute a great deal. Without their skills, all the distinguished writing in the world wouldn't have made the series work.

What is the timeless appeal of vampires, especially to teens?

I can point to two studies that really seem to answer that question for me. The first is a wildly fascinating book, Our Vampires, Ourselves by Nina Auerbach (University of Chicago Press, 1995). She chronicles American (and her own) culture and history and how vampires have been portrayed at different times. She hypothesizes that each representation of a vampire is influenced by the prevailing social and sexual mores of the time in which it was created. Therefore, each generation has the vampires that it needs.

In his 1997 article, "Vampire Literature: Something Young Adults Can Really Sink Their Teeth Into," Joseph DeMarco explored the natural connection between vampires and teen readers, believing that vampires represent many of the problems that young adults find themselves working through. Vampires can also appear to be an idealized version of what young adults might admire. DeMarco speculates that vampires represent things that most teenagers are not, but might like to be--fearless, attractive, powerful, cool, independent, unsupervised, and intelligent.

Teenagers sometimes find the path to adulthood rocky and intimidating. Empathizing and identifying with a powerful creature or with the humans who associate with these powerful creatures can be a means of both escape and growth. Literature in general, and horror literature in particular, is a place for young adult readers, who are frequently in the midst of trying to establish their own identities, to try on roles that generally wouldn't be acceptable in real life.

And, of course, vampires are cool!

Cynsational Links

Author Update: Annette Curtis Klause from Cynsations, January 2006.

Gothic Fantasy, Horror, and Suspense for Teens and Tweens from my web site. Annotated bibliography with links to author interviews and much more.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Julia's Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber

Julia's Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber (FSG, 2006). Cara was away, visiting her best friend on the night of the fire. That's why she wasn't at home, why she doesn't have all the answers. Why did her mom and little sister have to die? How could Dad have escaped when they didn't? Why won't he talk to her now? All these years, Cara thought she and God had an understanding. How could He have abandoned her family? As Cara struggles to understand, she realizes what she can do. She can save Julia's Kitchen, the baking business her mom left behind. An honest, heartfelt story of grief, healing, and wrestling with faith. Ages 9-up. Highly recommended.

My Thoughts

This tender, uplifting novel doesn't gloss over loss, and ultimately, must answer hard questions about the details of characters' deaths to find its hopeful resolution. It also reflects the reality that grief is as capable of separating survivors as it is of bringing them closer together.

The details of Cara's Jewish family and community life are seamlessly interwoven and help ground the character and story. A glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words is included in the back matter.

So often in mainstream children's literature, religion--if mentioned at all--is addressed more as a backdrop or matter of identity than faith. I understand that religion can be a sensitive, divisive topic. But if we are to reflect our full reality and tap its potential for story, we must consider the role of faith in children's lives. In addition, we can hope such an inclusive approach will facilitate understanding and respect.

Julia's Kitchen is the first book to win both the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers (2007) and the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award (2004). The Taylor Awards "recognize the best in Jewish children's literature. Medals are awarded annually for outstanding books that authentically portray the Jewish experience." See the complete list of 2007 winners (PDF file). Please seek out, study, and pass on these titles.

That said, Julia's Kitchen is one of the best middle grade novels on any topic. I read it in one sitting (with much tissue and smiles), plan to re-read it, and will recommend it to writing students for study.

If I had read it in time, the novel would have been listed as a Cynsational Middle Grade of 2006 under "Honors."

Cynsational Notes

Julia's Kitchen also was named a VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2006 and a Junior Library Guild Selection 2006.

Vive La Paris! by Esme Raji Codell (Hyperion/Disney, 2006)(author interview) was an Sydney Taylor Award honor book in the same category. I've also had the honor of interviewing a few other Sydney Taylor authors: Esther Hershenhorn, Anna Olswanger, and Susan Goldman Rubin.

See recommendations of Julia's Kitchen from Chasing Ray, Eclectica, and Central Woodlands Media Center.

Thanks to A Fuse #8 Production for posting news of the Sydney Taylor announcement. Thanks also for cheering my recent links post.

Monday, January 15, 2007

National African-American Read In

The Eighteenth National African-American Read In: "Schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens are urged to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities. Hosting a Read-In can be as simple as bringing together friends to share a book, or as elaborate as arranging public readings and media presentations that feature professional African American writers." The Read-In will be held Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 (for schools). It is sponsored by the Black Caucus of NCTE and by NCTE.

See the NCTE recommended bibliography and new releases recommended bibliography, both of books for children and young adults. Note: PDF files.

Related Cynsational Books of 2006 (by/about African Americans) include: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Hyperion)(illustrator interview); Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse (Kids Can Press/KCP Poetry)(illustrator interview); Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship & Freedom by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jeanne Rorex Bridges (Cinco Puntos)(recommendation); All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall (Little Brown)(interview); and Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper (Atheneum).

Learn more about Varian Johnson, Michelle Meadows, Don Tate, Cornelius Van Wright, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Lori Aurelia Williams.

See the CBC Showcase: January/February: Black History Month from Children's Book Council.

Happy Martin Luther King Day!
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