Friday, March 09, 2007

Tantalize Named Borders Original Voices Title

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007) has been chosen as a Borders Original Voices Title for March.

The other children's/YA books honored for March are Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard (Scholastic, 2007) and Jacob's Ladder by Brian Keaney (Candlewick, 2007).

In other news, thank you to Dragon's Lair Books & Comics of Austin for passing out promotional postcards for Tantalize! Most appreciated.

Thanks to Kim Winters for blogging about the Tantalize giveaway contest at YABC!

Buried in the Slushpile gives Tantalize four out of five wax seals of approval and says: "There were a couple of times, especially near the end, that I was just as shocked as Quince at the revelations. And let me tell you, these days it's pretty darn hard to actually surprise me with a plot twist. Bravo!" Read the whole review.

"How Do You Discover Books?" asks a poll from Galley Cat. Source: Anastasia Suen at Create/Relate.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

Congratulations to Tracie Vaughn Zimmer on the release of Reaching for Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007)!

Promo copy: "Josie Wyatt knows what it means to be different. Her family's small farmhouse seems to shrink each time another new mansion goes up behind it. Her mom is demanding, her gran is opinionated, and her father--well, she's never known him. Then there's her cerebral palsy: even if Josie wants to forget that she was born with a disability, her mom can't seem to let it go. Yet when a strange new boy--Jodan--moves into one of the houses nearby, he seems oblivious to all the things that make Josie different. And before long, Josie finds herself reaching for something she's never really known: a friend...and possibly more. Interlinked free-verse poems tell the beautiful, heartfelt story of a girl, a proud family farm reduced to a garden, and a year of unforgettable growth."

"Josie's voice has a universal appeal," --Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Written in verse, this quick-reading, appealing story will capture readers' hearts with its winsome heroine and affecting situations." -Booklist

"Readers of all levels will enjoy spending time with Josie and may gain an increased awareness of what it's like to live with a disability." -School Library Journal

See author interview, teachers' guide, and book-club guide.

More News & Links

Congratulations to Lisa Yee on winning the James Thurber Writer-in-Residence Award. Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa. Lisa's latest release is So Totally Emily Ebers (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 2007).

Interview with Sara Zarr, author of Story of a Girl (Little Brown, 2007), at the YA Authors Cafe. Read Sara's interview, and then ask her a question!

Thanks to Mitali's Fire Escape for including me in a round-up of good author news.

Teen Fiction @ Suite 101: Mechele R. Dillard offers thoughtful coverage of YA literature. See Intro to Young Adult Literature, Looking Across the Pages, interview with Michael Harmon (author of Skate (Knopf, 2006)), interview with Dr. Susan Vaught, and Are You a Readergirlz girl?

"Teens Buying Books at Fastest Rate in Decade; New 'Golden Age of Young Adult Literature' Declared" by Cecelia Goodnow of Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Source: Little Willow at Slayground.

The Forever Dog Blog from Bill Cochran, author of The Forever Dog (HarperCollins, April 2007).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Children's Crown Award Nominees Announced

"The mission of the Children's Gallery, the Children's Crown, and the Lamplighter Awards is to encourage elementary and junior high students to read wholesome and uplifting books by providing lists each year of the best literature." Learn more about the program.

Highlights at each age-range include...

K-2 Crown Gallery Nominees: Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell (Harcourt)(author interview).


6-8 Lamplighter Award Nominees: Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion)(author interview).

Cynsational News, Links, and Signing

Austinites, please mark your calendars! I'll be doing a table signing of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) at 2 p.m. March 17 at Barnes & Noble Round Rock. Stop by and say hi!

More News & Links

Check out Theo Black's revamp of author Laurie Halse Anderson's site. Laurie's upcoming title is Twisted (Viking, March 2007).

Congratulations to Chris Barton on the sale of his second book!

Congratulations to David Lubar on the launch of True Talents (Starscape, 2007)--much more on this to come! Read a Cynsations interview with David.

"A Conversation with a Bookstore Buyer." Andrew Karre of Flux interviews Jennifer Laughran of Books, Inc. in San Francisco and its Not Your Mother's Book Club. Read a Cynsations interview with Andrew.

Debut middle grade or YA novel scheduled for 2008? Check out the newly forming Class of 2k8! Learn more at Jody Feldman's LJ.

Thanks to carriejones for blogging about my picture book Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu being named to Best Multicultural Books for Early Childhood Educators in the most current issue of Montessori Life.

"To Blog or Not to Blog" by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Quotes on the subject from Sarah Dessen, Ann Brashares, Stephenie Meyer, Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, John Green, and me--Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Author Interview: Barry Lyga on The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

Barry Lyga on Barry Lyga: "Born on 9/11/71--you can imagine how I spent my thirtieth birthday! Lived for most of my life just about an hour below the Mason-Dixon Line, but never felt like a Southerner except when I visited family in New England, where I was told I talked like a rebel. Then, back in Maryland, friends said I sounded like a Yankee. So I guess I've felt like an outsider from the beginning!

"I learned how to read and write thanks to comic books--I absorbed the damn things as a kid, internalizing lessons in plot, characterization, and pacing. Some of those lessons were good, some of them were bad, but all of them led me to figure out more and more writing issues for myself. Plus, comics invigorated my imagination (anything could happen!) and also did wonders for my vocabulary (show of hands--who knew the words 'impervious,' 'invulnerable,' and 'continuum' in first grade?).

"My first book is The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). It's about what happens when a young comic book geek meets the girl of his nightmares and oh, yes, it was quite cathartic to write it."

What about the writing life first called to you? Did you shout "yes!" or run the other way?

I definitely shouted "yes!" but I also ran the other way at the same time! My earliest memory of "the writing life" is being very young--probably seven or eight. My grandmother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her, very seriously, that I wanted to be a writer. And she did Jewish grandmothers everywhere proud by saying, "Oh, so you want to starve!"

She was kidding, of course, but I was young and I didn't understand that she was kidding. And while I liked the idea of writing, I also liked the idea of eating! So for much of my life, I figured I would be something else and then be a writer as well--lawyer/writer, teacher/writer, etc. But that just didn't work for me. It wasn't until I fully embraced the writing life that things started to happen for me.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

I had always resisted it because I had this lingering prejudice--from the young adult books of my childhood, which were awful--that YA literature wasn't "real" literature. But people in my writers group, editors, my ex-wife, were all telling me I should try it. So I did, and I found it tremendously liberating and fun.

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

Well, I wrote the first draft of the book in a sprint--a five-week sprint! Stumbles along the way. You know, once I decided to write YA, everything pretty much fell into place. I would say the major stumbles came in the years prior to that, when I was writing stuff for adults and taking myself way too seriously and just spinning my wheels.

I think when we forget that writing should be fun, we lose our way--we become so serious and heavy that we bleed any joy out of what we're writing. I mean, even in my second book, which is about a very serious topic, there's room for humor. And a necessity for it.

We need humor as a way of contrasting the more downbeat moments. That's not just in the work itself, but also in the process of writing--you need to have fun doing it. Otherwise, what's the point?

Congratulations on the publication of The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

My own life! I've often said that the book is too autobiographical for my own good. When I decided to write something for teens, I went back not only to my own teen years, but also to my twenties. I think we tend to forget that those post-college years are just as nerve-wracking and transformative as the teen years in many respects.

So I looked at the whole "writer's journey," all of the insecurity and worry and fear and sudden joys. I realized that the writer's life is very analogous to being a teen--the isolation, rejection, striving to find your place in the world. Between the two of them, I found a balance that worked for me and for the story.

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

From spark to publication was roughly three years. That includes a year between acceptance and publication. From the time I finished the book to the time it was accepted was about a year and a half. The most significant event along the way was meeting my agent at about a year in--from the point, things happened very quickly and a few months later I had a book deal.

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

Wow, I could go on for a looooooong time on this one! I'll try to keep it short, lest your readers drop into comas. :)

The biggest challenge was the psychological barrier of "Someone who knows me could read this someday." Since the book is autobiographical to a degree, I was concerned.

I wasn't worried that people would be angry about the real life events that I "adapted" for the book--rather, I was worried that they would think that the made-up stuff was a way to dig at them or bash them after the fact! But I realized that I couldn't let this concern prevent me from telling the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it. Once I got over that, I was able to bull through.

Logistically, the toughest thing about the book was a function of the tense and POV I chose. The whole book is told in first-person present-tense from the point of view of Fanboy, a solipsistic, gifted fifteen-year-old. He's smart, yes, but anyone who was once fifteen will tell you that fifteen-year-old boys aren't the most, uh, perceptive or empathic creatures on the planet.

Since the book was present-tense, there was little room for reflection or second-guessing on Fanboy's part. We were always in his head, in the moment. And he wasn't inclined to cut people slack.

So I was very, very worried that the supporting cast would come across as cardboard because there was no way to get into them and we only had Fanboy's very biased view of them to go on. I had to find ways to get across Mom and Tony and Kyra and Cal and the others without betraying Fanboy's singularly self-absorbed point of view. Not the easiest thing in the world, but I took it as a challenge.

Also difficult (at first) was "How Geeky Do I Go?" The book has a lot of comic book geekery in it, and I was worried that I was going to overdo it and scare off the non-comics readers.

Eventually, I just had to trust my gut on that one. It was scary, but it paid off. I've had a lot of people e-mail me to say, "I don't read comics and I didn't get half the comic book references, but I loved this book." Whew!

You're obviously a serious comics/graphic novel guy. Could you tell us about your background?

Well, I grew up reading comics. Like I said before, the YA fiction of my youth was pretty lame, so I didn't read it--I read comics instead. Fortunately for me, I grew up at a time when comics were growing up, too, as books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and Maus were changing perceptions of the medium. So I never went through a period of time where I forsook comics--I just kept reading them. I even used them as the basis for an independent study project at Yale (much to the horror of the English Department, might I add!).

When I got out of college, I went to work for the biggest comic book distributor in the country. I did a bunch of marketing stuff and learned a lot of behind-the-scenes details about the industry, which was both good and bad. I tried my hand at writing comics, with mixed results. By the time I figured out how to write for the medium, I was starting to see some success in prose, and I stopped writing comics to move into prose full-time. I feel like I never really put my best foot forward in comics, and I hope to rectify that someday.

What do you think about the heightened attention to youth graphic novels in the youth book market, and why?

It's very strange to see! Strange, but gratifying. If comics had been as accepted and as tolerated when I was a kid, my life would have been very different. It's terrific to see the medium being treated so seriously, but I do worry about the bandwagon effect, where you have people who aren't really qualified to talk about comics blabbing about them anyway, or comics that aren't worth reading being touted as great just because they're comics. I mean, there's as much crap in the comic book field as in any other--maybe more.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

Don't be afraid to experiment. Don't wonder "Can I do that?"--just do it. Remember that no matter how good you think your early efforts are, they probably actually suck--it's just the law of averages. Early on, put everything away for six months minimum while you work on something else. When you come back to it, you'll see the flaws and you'll wince and you'll be glad you didn't send it out right away.

Oh, and if you think something isn't working, but "it's just me--readers won't notice," you're dead wrong. Go with your gut. Almost every single change my editor ever asked me to make was something I had known was problematic from the get-go, but figured would slide by without anyone noticing. Nope! People notice.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Not much! I'm an extremely boring person. When I'm not writing, I'm either reading or glued to my crack pipe...er, I mean my Xbox. I played piano as a kid and now that I have some free time again, I plan to get back into it.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book, Boy Toy (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) comes out in October. It's set in the same high school as Fanboy, the same town, with some of the same "walk-on characters," but it's a very different story: sex, violence, and uncontrollable urges. It's perfect for kids!

Jingle Dancer Named to Montessori Life's Best Mulitcultural Books List

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) has been named among best Multicultural Books for Early Childhood Educators in the most current issue of Montessori Life, Volume 19, Number 1, 2007. See page 97. Thanks to Debbie Gonzales for letting me know about this honor.

In other news, Finding Wonderland: The WritingYA Weblog discusses my revision process as mentioned in my recent interview on Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) at Not Your Mother's Book Club.

Thanks to A Fuse #8 Production for highlighting the YABC giveaway contest (20 copies of Tantalize) and Greg's post "How Bleak Thou Art." Thanks also to Stephanie Burgis for ordering Tantalize (enjoy!).

More News & Links

Poetry Friday: Yoga Poems. A recommendation of Twist: Yoga Poems by Janet Wong, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (McElderry, 2007). Source: Writing with a Broken Tusk by Uma Krishnaswami. Read an interview with Uma.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Writer Interview: Elisabeth Wilhelm on Absynthe Muse

"Absynthe Muse is an international community of young adult writers who are serious about writing and getting published."

Elisabeth Wilhelm on Elisabeth Wilhelm: "Elisabeth is an aspiring novelist and wonders if she should stay that way, after spending six months as a literary agent's assistant at Firebrand Literary. When she isn't wracked with sobs reading really bad queries or dealing with coding problems as Editor-in-Chief at AbsyntheMuse.com, Lis can be found in a public high school somewhere in Brooklyn, beating small children with her gavel, introducing them to international relations and the Model UN experience. Or, more likely, she's procrastinating from classwork at Pratt Institute, where she's a sophomore majoring in creative writing, also known as the live-in-a-box-when-you-graduate track. But dammit, she'll be happy!"

I'm totally wowed by Absynthe Muse! Could you give our readers an overview?

First of all, to my knowledge, our young writers' community is the only website out there named after an alcoholic beverage. We decided Super Teen Power Writing Website was a really stupid name, so we chose something that had a sense of history, straight from the Bohemian movement in Europe around 1900, where young artists of all types imbibed in absinthe. They called it their green muse. Naturally, we don't condone underage drinking of any kind, but all of Absynthe Muse's members have a muse that moves them to write great things.

Absynthe Muse is an online community of young writers, ages 13 to 25, who want to connect with other young writers, regardless of where they happen to be located. We've got about 1,500 members from over 30 countries, and all their talent and passion makes AM a wonderful place to be as a young writer.

We hold the idea of karma in high esteem, which is why we host Absynthe Muse Projects, member-led writing initiatives. These have included the Little Owl Mentoring Program, connecting over 160 young writers with 180 writing mentors from all walks of life, all online.

The Internet is the great equalizer for us, and we feel that we can touch the lives of young writers who may not have such opportunities in their home communites. We also have the Jelly Paint ezine, hosted several writing classes taught by experienced young writers, and held several writing competitions. So much more is in the works for 2007, including gaining nonprofit status in New York state.

How did Absynthe Muse get started?

I grew up on military installations in Germany. There was no such thing as a creative writing class in middle or high school, so I decided to solve the problem myself. I went online and sought online communities, including the famed Teen Writers Dream website, which is sadly now defunct. However, I realized in all my experiences of online writing communities, I could do things better, and push others to help other young writers around them. So, I created AM.

How has it changed over time?

AM was actually a static site in early 2005, but I made the leap to Mambo, and then Joomla! open-cource content management system (CMS) software, that gave me much more flexibility on how the site looked and what kind of content it could retain. Joomla! and mambo both run on MySQL databases, things I really didn't understand when I started out, so through trial and error, and several website crashes, I expanded AM to include a forum, chatrooms, a private messaging system, polls, a classifieds section, and other fun parts of the site. However, I'm no coding expert, and still go apoplectic if a MysQL error runs across the top of the site when it's loaded.

In terms of membership, we've grown internationally, and have won several awards and even a grant! We're even getting groupies! We are also getting more article submissions and more proposals for Absynthe Muse Projects, and more libraries and other writying organizations are sending their young visitors our way. The more the merrier! However, the jovial, welcoming spirit that has always characterized AM will continue to characterize it.

What are the greatest challenges?

Funding. It's one of the reasons why I've been pushing so hard to turn nonprofit. There is so much good that AM can do, but it's all run by poor college students, so we are often hampered in putting our ideas into action by the limits of time and money. In my pie-in-the-sky wish list for AM, there would be a yearly AM conference in NY, a publishing house attached to AM, as well as our own cafe where patrons will be encouraged to scribble on the green tablecloths with permanent marker.

Our community has been so generous in giving their time and effort to making AM great, but right now, support ands guidance from adult writers is what we need most.

The greatest joys?

I am the daughter of a woman who was both doctor and soldier. She never did things the easy way, and neither do I. I relish taking the challenges that confront AM head-on. Hope Clark, the editor of fundsforWriters.com and co-founder of the Little Owl Mentroing Program, and I were approached by Jane Guttman, a wonderful woman who has a vocation that's downright saintly--she's a librarian at an incarceration facility in California. And she wanted us to tailor the mentoring program to her kids' needs.

One thing led to another, and I found myself in the outskirts of LA two days after Thanksgiving, teaching a class of boys how to fold a paper crane. Then, I explained what a haiku was, and we clapped our way through an example, before I had them write their own across the wings of their paper cranes. Their poems were heartbreaking--many of them about the harsh lives they had come from, others about the bad food, and still yet others about the family members they missed. Later, Jane would tell me that this is probably the first time that some of these boys have ever accomplished anything like folding a paper crane, with the praise I gave them. Most of them have never written a poem before.

I had been filled with some doubt with what direction AM was going to take, after a drawn-out paper trail and lawyer stuff, where I just felt like beating my head against a wall. However, between the boys and the girls in maximum security writing their secrets out on postcards to be mailed to PostSecret the next day, I had found the reason for why AM must go nonprofit, why it must become not just a good website, but a great organization dedicated to young writers everywhere. Not everyone has Internet access. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have been encouraged as children to read and write at home. Not all students are given creative outlets through which to express themselves.

AM is going to change that, one young writer at a time.

What advice do you have for other young writers?

You don't need to get published before you're legal to drink---there's so much to life you've still got to experience, but don't ever let anyone tell you that you don't know enough about life to write a book about it. What you know can fill tomes, but it's just a matter of writing it down, going at it with a chainsaw, rewriting it, and never giving up when seeking feedback, and perhaps even publication. Remember that just because you're 13 and a novelist submitting your manuscript to a publisher, you don't and should not get special consideration. No matter how old you are, what blood type you are, or how many As you have on your report card, at the end of the day, your writing must shine. It must outshine all the old people who are also in this writing rat race.

Having said that, you're way ahead of the curve on this writing thing. Turn your brain into a sponge and suck up everything around you. Watch people. Study abroad. Wear mismatched socks. Write really bad poetry. Laugh about it. Write better poetry. Read the backs of shampoo bottles. Whatever you do, don't lose your love for words and the world you live in. Remember, a boring person is a boring writer. And being zit-faced in this day and age is far from boring.

As a reader, what are your favorite young adult books and why?

My favorite book in middle school was The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (Ace, 1987). It's about a kidnapping, tall, dark, handsome men in the desert, and a heroine who is as stubborn as a barnacle, and about just as fragile. What makes it even better that Robin had written it, almost in a rage, as a reaction to The Sheik by E.M. Hull, the quintessentiall bodice-ripper romance of the 30s. This was a fantasy story where helpless damsels were nowhere to be seen, and romance was pretty much an afterthought. I still sometimes try to fall asleep hard enough on some nights, hoping I wake up in that world.

Tantalize Giveaway Contest at YABC

Young Adult (& Kids) Book Central is sponsoring a giveaway contest that features 20 available copies of Tantalize. The challenge is: "Make up a favorite recipe/dish for either a vampire or a werewolf. Be Creative! And remember, answers DO count!" See the entry form. The event is co-sponsored by YABC and Candlewick Press. Please help spread the word!

In review news, Publishers Weekly cheers "...horror fans will be hooked by Kieren's quiet, hirsute hunkiness..." I love the alliteration "hirsuit hunkiness." How fun is that?

Thanks to BookPeople of Austin, Texas for featuring the book in its March newsletter! This is my local independent bookstore. Yay, Austin!

Thanks also to Cat for her kind and enthusiastic welcome to MySpace. I'm honored.

And last, I'd also like to note that I've signed a contract for a new picture book ("Holler Loudly") with Dutton. I'll keep you posted on illustrator and pub-date news.

More News & Links

Congratulations to my pal and fellow Austinite Chris Barton of Bartography on the sale of his SECOND book! Wahoo!

"How Bleak Thou Art:" my comedic writer (and very cute) husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, blogs about the dearth of YA/tween comedies at Blogger. See also comments on his LJ syndication.

Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature blogs about Less Than Half, More Than Whole by Michael and Kathleen Lacapa (Northland, 1999). See my bibliographies on books with interracial family themes and Native themes.
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