Friday, April 20, 2007

Texas Library Association Annual Conference

The Texas Library Association annual conference is one of my favorite youth literature events. This year, the setting was San Antonio, my hotel was the Westin Riverwalk, and my sponsoring publisher was Candlewick Press.

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I drove to San Antonio on Friday and attended the TLA Welcome Party at the San Antonio Musuem of Art. It's not a children's/YA literature event per se, so we didn't know a lot of people there. But it was quite festive. The planners featured a string group outside and a horns group inside. A Mexican buffet was served. Guest were welcome to wander the museum, which had a wonderful collection and historic architecture.

I spoke the next morning on a YA Roundtable panel, "Magic in the Middle," with Tim Wynne-Jones, who's a pal of mine from the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and Margaret Peterson Haddix. It was my first time to meet Margaret, which was exciting. She's one of my favorite YA authors, and I often hold up her writing as an especially good example of plot and pacing. Gary Schmidt also was supposed to be on the panel, but like a number of authors, he was snowed in up north.

My signing at the Candlewick Press booth followed, and I was pleased to hear that Tantalize sold out at the conference. Thanks to all who stopped by! Thanks also to everyone who told me how much they had enjoyed the novel!

That night, I attended the YART author/publisher dinner. The other author at my table was Lila Guzman, and it was lovely to see her.

We stayed over for the TLA Joint Publishers Reception on Friday, which was elegant. I was especially impressed by the fountain. It was held at the Hilton Palacio del Rio.

On a more personal note, highlights included:

(1) Being mistaken for Laurie Halse Anderson. Chalk it up to conference brain fuzz, but I actually didn't realize what had just happened until the librarian had walked away. She'd mentioned reading Twisted (Viking, 2007), which I agreed was amazing (I just finished it), and the challenges of placing upper YA in middle school libraries. Jeepers. Oh, well. I'm sure she later realized the misunderstanding. And frankly, I've always wanted to be Laurie Halse Anderson (who wouldn't?). So, that was my chance!

(2) Meeting for the first time A.M. Jenkins, Sharon Draper, Justine Larbalestier, Grace Lin, Yuyi Morales, Mitali Perkins, Dana Reinhardt, and Scott Westerfeld. I was beyond star struck. I also can't stop thinking about Justine's statement that there are fox-sized bats in Australia. I may have to visit. Really. Soon.

(3) Coming "home" to TLA. I couldn't begin to name all the Texas librarians I've known and worked with over the years. How great to see so many in one place! I'm thrilled by all their efforts and proud of their success. It's a particular pleasure to hear my out-of-state author colleagues gush about the conference and our state association.

My one lingering question: could someone please recommend shoes comfortable enough for the conference floor? By the end of day one, my feet were plotting revolt.

Author/illustrator sightings included Brian Anderson, Dianna Hutts Aston, Anne Bustard, Chris Barton, Toni Buzzeo, Cecil Castellucci, Esme Raji Codell, Kathleen Duey, Lupe Ruiz Flores, John Green, Peni Griffin, Helen Hemphill, Emily Jenkins, Julie Lake, Debbie Leland,E. Lockhart, Patricia McMahon,Elizabeth Garton Scanlon, Leda Schubert, Don Tate, Tim Tingle, Jerry Wermund, Kathy Whitehead, and Jennifer Zeigler. My apologies to anyone I've missed.

Special thanks to Candlewick Press, the YART librarians, and other TLA planners! All of your efforts were most appreciated. It was such an honor to join you all!

More on TLA

Never Sign Near Mo and Other Conference Survival Tips by Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape.

Suitcase? There's No Suitcase Here... by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog.

TLA--1 from Camille at Book Moot.

TLA, Just Plain Fun by Grace Lin at The Blue Rose Girls.

TLA Today by Don Tate at Devas T. Rants and Raves. Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Author Interview: Tracie Vaughn Zimmer on Reaching for Sun

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer on Tracie Vaughn Zimmer: "Let's see, I'm an identical twin. I've got two fabulous kids. Chocolate is a major food group for me. I collect refrigerator magnets and I write books for kids--mostly poetry. Since poetry barely buys shoes, I also use my teaching credentials to write discussion guides, book-club guides, and other school-related materials for all the major publishers. It is one sweet gig to be paid to read books I would be devouring anyway. I love visiting schools and sharing my love for poetry and children's books and writing!"

Congratulations on the publication of Reaching for Sun (Bloomsbury, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

Since Sketches from a Spy Tree, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005) was set in a whole neighborhood, I wondered if I could write a book set in a single yard. It ended up expanding in revisions though--in every direction and season.

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

I revised a dozen times over four years for different editors and houses who would eventually consider it "too" quiet, poetic, "too" something for publication. It finally found Melanie Cecka who started to turned it down but then called my agent back because she couldn't get Josie and Gran out of her head. She gently pulled the rest of the story out of me...

Are you doing anything special to promote your new release?

A blog tour! No suitcase, no airports, and I never have to put on pantyhose. Hooray!

What do you love about the writing process and why?

Trying to find that perfect word or image that will bring a character or moment to life. Plot hides from me so I rely on my writing partners (uber-talented team Julia Durango (author interview) and Jessica Swaim) to help me unearth one.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

Nothing. I just won't complain because it is such a dream come true to be an author. I still pinch myself sometimes.

How about publishing? What do you love about it? What do you abhor? And again, in both cases, why?

Meeting other kindred spirits in writers, librarians, teachers, publishing people and booksellers. Passionate and generous, all.

Abhor? Celebrity books. No explanation required, methinks.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read. Everyone says it but it's true. Reread the books that haunt you and figure out why (and keep a journal or blog about what you learned). Carve out time to write until it is a habit then you won't be. Able. To. Stop. (like me with Hershey's Kisses).

How about those interested in poetry in particular, both in terms of the craft and the market?

Don't give up on poetry!!! Yes, the market is tight but I'm a slush-pile survivor so you can be, too.

I'd like to be a Poetry Preacher--I truly believe it can transform children's reading skills (fluency, vocabulary And comprehension) but even better than all that it grabs the hand of its reader and changes the way we see the world.

In addition to your own, what books in verse do you especially recommend for young readers and why?

All of Maria Testa, Karen Hesse, Helen Frost, Jennifer Roy, Sonya Sones, etc. Etc.!

Other poets: Kris George, Walter Dean Myers, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, Nikki Grimes, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Ralph Fletcher, etc!

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Yes, actually: Tantalize Rocks!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Author Interview: Ysabeau S. Wilce on Flora Segunda

Ysabeau S. Wilce on Ysabeau S. Wilce: "Ysabeau S. Wilce was born in Northern California and, though she has traveled the world, considers herself a Californian still. After being trained as a historian, she turned to fiction when the truth no longer compared to the shining lies of her imagination. She's published in both boring scholarly journals and in exciting fiction magazines and is equally proud of both. Ysabeau lives in the Middle West, with her husband, a cheese-swilling financier, and a border collie named Bothwell. They do not have a butler!"

What about the writing life first called to you?

I've always been drawn to making things up, and if you don't write down the things you make up, they've got no sense of permanence. And I was also drawn to a sense of permanence, hence: writing! But although I've been writing down stories for years and years, it was only about five years ago that I decided to try fiction professionally.

I've got a degree in history and was working as historian, but as much as I loved researching and writing factual pieces, it was hard sometimes not to drift into "what if..." But historians must (for the most part) shun such thoughts.

So I decided to look at history through the prism of my imagination, and Califa was born. So far all my fiction has taken place in this tiny country. Califa is not supposed to be an alternative history of any one place, but I've drawn from a lot of historical detail, as least as far as material culture goes. Once I decided to try to write professionally, I was very lucky how quickly I was able to proceed.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I wanted to write the kind of book that I would have liked to have read when I was young. Of course, there were many books I read when I was young that I loved--but in my hubris, I thought that maybe I could add something to genre, something that girls like me would like. And I was a pretty weird girl! I had a young reviewer comment that she thought Flora Segunda was a book for weird kids, and I felt very satisfied with this compliment!

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

I was pretty lucky. The first publishing event I went to (a retreat sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (www.scwbi.org), I met a very kind editor who took an interest in my rough draft of "Flora Segunda." He asked for a submission, and then a rewrite, and then bought the rewrite.

The only hitch in my git-along was that towards the end of the final edit process, the acquiring editor decamped for another publisher, leaving me behind. It took some time to get me a new editor, who, lucky for me, was just as fabulous as the first!

Another thing that was very helpful in my journey was attending Clarion West in 2002. Clarion West (www.clarionwest.org) is a six-week long residential writer's workshop held in Seattle. It's a chance to work with professional in the field, and to do nothing but write for six weeks. I made great contacts there, had a fabulous time, learned a ton of stuff, and met my husband there! It was a very worthwhile experience and I urge anyone thinking of making a career in SF/F (adult or YA) to consider applying to Clarion. It's a once in a life-time experience.

Congratulations on the publication of Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog (Harcourt, 2007)(excerpt)! What was your initial inspiration for this book?

Well, I rather made it up as I went along. The only clear thoughts I had in mind when I was writing the first draft was that I wanted to write about a cranky girl, and I wanted to try to capture the feeling that you have when you are kid and everything seems so super important, and yet the adults around you are oblivious to this. When you are a kid, everything can feel so super-charged, and yet as adults we forget this and figure that nothing in a kid's life can possibly be that important.

I had already written several stories that took place in Califa, but with other characters. I'd never met Flora until I started writing, and it look me several chapters to figure her out. But her voice came through so strongly that even from the first she seemed like a real person, with a great story to tell. The book is really her accomplishment; I was just the secretary!

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

Well, I wrote the first draft in two weeks. Lots of coffee, no sleep! Then I wrote drafts of Book 2 & 3 in about two months. Then, about six months later, I went to the SCBWI conference. From initial submission to rewrite was about a year. Then another six months to an offer, and another six months to contract. Then, alas, almost three years to actual publication. So, about five years total. It's a long process--I didn't realize that when I started! Somehow you think once the book is bought it will magically appear on the shelves in six months! Alas, no. Tho' from what I understand, my situation was a bit prolonged because I had the editorial switch in the middle. The journey of "Flora Redux" will be much shorter.

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

The biggest challenge I had was sticking to Flora's voice, while making sure that subtleties of her inner life came through. Flora talks a lot, but she doesn't always say what she's truly feeling, which can be a problem in a first person point of view (POV) book. There many times I wished I had not written the book in first person!

It would have been easier to have lots of exposition ("And now Flora wished she'd never eaten that last cupcake...") than to try to communicate that Flora wished she hadn't eaten that last cupcake, when she's too proud to admit that fact out right. Lots of first person POV often falls into exposition ("Oh, how I wished I hadn't eaten that last cupcake!") and sometimes it works, but other times it's too fake. After all--how many times do we stand in front of a mirror and describe ourselves out loud, yet this is a common scene in many first person books. So, trying to convey information without seeming too out of character was hard. You have to get readers to read through the lines, and thanks tricky.

My second huge challenge was that the first draft was much shorter than the final. Originally, the book was very straight forward in its plot. But my first editor really felt that to get a true feeling of the characters and the world, the book needed to be longer--"breathe" as he called it--so I had to add about 40,000 words. Which is a lot of words!

Trying to retro fit a new plot-line (which turned out to be the Dainty Pirate) without making the book appear to be pieced together or starting completely over was a challenge. But thanks to editorial advice I think I pulled it off! The irony is that usually I write very long, and trying to make the first draft short had been quite an effort. I've had some feedback that the plot is a bit too convoluted in places, but I like that--life is convoluted and roads are rarely straight. And though Flora Segunda is a novel, it was important to me that Flora and her world feel real. Hence, Flora's journey must be complicated and full of surprise.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

The feeling that they were entertained, and that Flora and Califa seemed real. And that they'd like to know more about both.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Keep writing. And read everything you can get your hands on, from newspapers to novels. Try to make sure you leaven the good stuff with the bad--it's as important to see how you shouldn't do it as to how you should.

Don't be afraid to branch out--even if you think you don't like mysteries (for example) try one anyway. Every book is different, and they can all teach you something.

Also, read old books--not necessarily classics, but writers that people have forgotten today like Edna Ferber, Norah Lofts, and James Branch Cabell. All three of these writers were great storytellers and big names in their day, but no one remembers them now. Still, they have a lot to say about how to construct a great story and fabulous characters and their writing styles, though wildly different, have a fluidity that is harder to find today.

How about for fantasy novelists specifically?

Ditto above. In fact, I think it's more important for fantasy novelists to read outside of the fantasy genre. If you stick to your own genre only, you risk becoming insular. And great fantasy is, oddly enough, realistic, so it behooves you to read broadly. I think sometimes genre writers can get so engrossed in the genre elements (the fantasy, the SF, or even the mystery) that they short-change the characters and the story. Yet it is the realistic elements (characterization etc.) that makes the reader buy into the genre details.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Walk the dog and read books. Nap. Eat snacks. Read more books. I read even when I'm writing, somewhere between five to ten books a week. Gotta keep the furnace stoked!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, Flora's adventures will continue next year in Flora Redux, which will be published in Spring 2008. For overseas fans, the UK edition of Flora Segunda will be out in July. After Flora Redux, there will be one more Flora book. I'm also about half-way done with an adult fantasy set in Califa called Metal More Attractive. And I have plans to collaborate with another author on a YA book about a young girl mad scientist who decides to make a guardian so she isn't sent to an orphanage. Consider it the young Jane Eyre meets Frankenstein...! So there's plenty coming!

Cynsational Notes

Learn more about Ysabeau via interviews from BookPage and Harcourt. See also a recommendation of Flora Segunda from Bookshelves of Doom. Note: the novel received a rare full-page review in the New York Times.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Giveaway of Autographed Copies of Tantalize at Vampress.net


Win an autographed copy of Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007) at Vampress.net. All you have to do to enter is send an email. The deadline is April 30. See complete information.

Becky's Book Reviews says: "No one is safe in this thrilling vampire tale of murder and seduction." Read the whole review.

Author Alex Flinn writes: "It's more mystery than horror, more horror than comedy, more comedy than coming-of-age story (and probably more Thirsty than Twilight), but it's all these things and more. Even if you don't know much about vampires, I highly recommend Tantalize. It's good undead fun, and I hope Cyn plans a sequel." Read the whole review.

In other news, Tantalize is now in its fifth printing!

Thanks to all for your support!

More News & Links

Melissa Wyatt has launched a new MySpace page. Melissa is the author of Raising the Griffin (Wendy Lamb, 2004).

Enchanted Fridays - Journey of a Novelist features an interview with Polly Shulman, debut author of Enthusiasm (G.P. Putnam's, 2006) from Kimberly's Wanderings: Thoughts, Musings, and the Writing Life of YA Author Kimberley Griffiths Little.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover: a book review by Mechele R. Dillard from Suite101.com. See excerpt. See also an interview with Lorie from Little Willow at Slayground.

Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.: official site. Learn about the agency, clients and sales, submissions, and check out the offered advice.

Nominees for the 2008 Best Books for Young Adult List, sponsored by the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association include: Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2007); Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey (Harcourt, 2007)(excerpt); Beige by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2007)(excerpt); Split Screen Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies by Brent Hartinger (HarperCollins, 2007)(author interview); The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)(author interview); The Restless Dead: Ten Original Stories of the Supernatural edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2007)(author interview); and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (Little Brown, 2007)(author interview).

Blogging for Mom: the children of author Brenda A. Ferber offers insights into her writing life. Brenda writes: "Since I'm too busy writing books to get sucked into blogging, and my kids are madly infatuated with anything cyber related, I agreed to let them create a blog for me. Faith will be the main blogger. (This was her idea.) Sammy will be chiming in, too. Jacob would rather play baseball." Read a Cynsations interview with Brenda.

CBC Showcase: March-April "Friends in the Animal Kingdom." "This Showcase highlights stories of classic, as well as soon-to-be classic, animal characters in picture books, nonfiction, and novels for all ages."

"Interview with Andrea Casardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency" by Nancy Sondel of the Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop. Don't miss part two. See also "an interview with editor Julie Romeis of Bloomsbury-USA," also from the PCCWW. The Pacific Coast Children's Writers Workshop will be held Aug. 17 to Aug. 19 at the Hilton Hotel in Coastal Santa Cruz, California. It's a team-taught seminar for thirty-five middle grade and young adult novelists specializing in character-driven, realistic fiction. The 2007 focus will be crafting subplots and secondary characters.

Congratulations to Dori Chaconas on the publication of Virginnie's Hat, illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick, 2007). View an inside spread.

Faye Likes Words: A blog about writing, editing, publishing and associated blogs. Faye says: "I want to help other writers find good information using this 'bloogle for writers' blog."

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Loss Leader" from Shelf Awareness at Fresh Eyes Now: Envisioning New Bridges Between Authors and Readers. Source: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown.

"An Interview With Rose Kent--Author Of Kimchi and Calamari" at A Year of Reading. See also a Cynsations interview with Rose.

"Interview with Illustrator Sylvia Long on An Egg is Quiet" (Chronicle, 2006) from Paradise Found. Source: Bartography. Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia and "Egg" author Dianna Hutts Aston.

J. Alison James debuts a new author site. Her books include The Drums of Noto Hanto (DK Ink, 1999). Learn more!

"Magic or Madness--the Interview" (an interview with Justine Larbalestier) from Not Your Mother's Book Club.

Kristen D. Randle has relaunched her official author site. Her books include Slumming and Breaking Rank, both published by HarperCollins.

What are your three reasons? Check out this YouTube video and leave a comment on why you love your library. Nancy Dowd writes: "The goal is to make a 'library video' not only the most viewed, but to set the record for the most comments ever posted to one video on YouTube. Why? Because we have all heard the argument that with Internet there is no need for libraries, so where better to dispel that myth than online on the ever-popular YouTube?"

Tips for a Successul Writers Group from Coffee and Ink.

More Personally


Thanks to Brittany for designing the new Tantalize Fan Group banner. This is a new MySpace group that she has founded. I've offered to pop in now and then with breaking news, to highlight gothic fantasy YA releases by other authors, and to supply giveaway items. Horror, gothic fantasy, and YA enthusiasts on MySpace are welcome to join. See also Cyn's MySpace page.

Winning entries of the Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) giveaway at Young Adult Books Central have been posted. Entrants were asked to "make up a favorite recipe/dish for either a vampire or a werewolf." Check out the winners!

In other news, I'm pleased to report that my first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) is going into another printing. Thanks to all for your support!
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