Friday, September 07, 2007

Author Interview: Sara Ryan on The Rules for Hearts

Sara Ryan on Sara Ryan: "I write books and comics for teens and others. I'm also a librarian."

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

The Rules for Hearts is my second novel, and it came out in April from Viking. My first, Empress of the World, came out in 2001, and honestly, it's funny that you used those phrases, because after Empress, there was a stumble of about three years' duration, and then a sprint.

Shortly after Empress was published, I wrote an entire manuscript--several drafts, in fact--and then threw it out. It was my first attempt to tell my protagonist Battle's story, and it became increasingly clear that it was simply the wrong story. It wasn't what happened. As soon as I knew that in my gut, around the spring of 2005, I dragged the old manuscript to the trash and started writing Rules. Fortunately, I have an extremely patient editor!

Congratulations on the release of The Rules for Hearts (Viking, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Thank you! I'm thrilled, as you might infer from my answer to your first question.

In Rules, Battle Hall Davies moves to Portland, Oregon for the summer before she starts at Reed College. What she wants: to reconnect with her brother Nick, whom she hasn't seen since he ran away four and a half years ago. What she gets is more complicated: a room in Forest House, a part in a Theater Borealis production, and immersion in a world of strong personalities, mixed signals, lies, and--finally--truth.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

After I wrote Empress of the World, I knew that Battle Hall Davies--who's the love interest in Empress--needed her own voice. In Empress, we only see her through her girlfriend Nicola Lancaster's eyes--beautiful, compelling, ultimately inexplicable. But of course, that's not how Battle sees herself.

I also knew that Battle's brother meant a lot to her. I wanted to see how he compared to the vision of him she built up in his absence from her life.

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

Great question! Someone asked me, while I was working on Rules, what the biggest difference was between being a first-time author and writing a second book. I said, "The weight of expectations." That was a huge challenge, and I think it's one that a lot of authors share.

Three more challenges:

1. Getting Battle's voice right. Nicola's voice in Empress of the World is not far off from my own, and I share Nic's tendency to over-analyze both myself and everyone else within range. But Battle isn't like that, and it took me some time to figure out how to make her voice feel true. That was one of many places where my editor, Sharyn November, was especially helpful. She helped me to see that Battle is much more comfortable in her body than Nic is, and so she experiences the world in a more immediately physical way.

2. Writing a believable (if dysfunctional) sibling relationship. One of the most important relationships in Rules is the one between Battle and her brother Nick, but I'm an only child, so I don't have any firsthand experience. So any time I was in the company of siblings, I paid close attention to their dynamic. When I was writing the scenes with Battle and Nick, I tried to convey a complicated combination of love, loyalty, teasing, worry and exasperation on Battle's part.

3. Revealing what happens with Battle and Nicola Lancaster's relationship after the end of Empress of the World. I'm fortunate enough to have lots of fans who were eager for Rules to be the next chapter in Battle and Nic's blissful romance. But (SPOILER ALERT) I knew that the truth of Nic and Battle's relationship was more complicated. They'll always be important to each other, but the roles they play in each other's lives have shifted, and may shift again.

On the less-challenging side, research was relatively easy, as I took the lazy writer's way out of setting the story in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I'm a little worried that the Pittock Mansion folks might track me down and demand an explanation, but aside from that...

Could you tell us about your comic writing and how the two worlds intersect?

Well, I can't draw, but I love writing comics. So I am super lucky to be in Portland, Oregon, which is chock full of cartoonists. And I'm closely affiliated with Periscope Studio (as a matter of fact, I'm at the studio as I type this) which means that I'm surrounded by seriously talented artists, or as I like to think of them, potential collaborators.

Portland is also a center of zine culture, and I've taken kind of a DIY zine-style approach with some of my comics work (though I've also had comics published in Cicada Magazine and in a Hellboy anthology from Dark Horse). I attend a fair number of comics and zine conventions, and it's nice to have my short comics available as little chapbooks.

As for how the worlds intersect, I actually have a couple of comics stories about characters who are also in my novels. "Me and Edith Head," illustrated by Steve Lieber, is about Katrina Lansdale, Battle and Nic's good friend in Empress of the World. It takes place before Empress happens, and it's about how Katrina develops her interest in costumes. Another story, "Click," illustrated by Dylan Meconis, is about Battle's senior year of high school, between Empress and Rules. It's why Battle won't be attending any high school reunions. You can find both of them on my website.

You're also a librarian! Wow, how do you do it all?

Um, I'm not sure! But it helps tremendously that I feel connected to a very supportive community of writers and artists, and an equally supportive community of librarian colleagues in the Young Adult Library Services Association.

What do you do when you're not writing or connecting books to young readers?

I am a thrift-store-and-estate-sale addict. Also, I try to restrain my cat's appetite for destruction.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I would tell myself something that Sharyn told me numerous times during the process of working on both Empress and Rules: It will take as long as it takes.

Do you have any thoughts on contemporary YA fiction more specifically? How about stories with GLBTQ characters or themes?

This may sound a little starry-eyed, but I think writers should tell the stories that they're passionate about, and then worry about whether or not publishers will be receptive. I honestly believe that publishers--and readers--will respond to a powerful story. And if you let the fear that publishers won't be receptive to your controversial themes (GLBTQ or other) stop you from telling your story, how will we get more great stories that include those themes?

What can your fans look forward to next?

I don't know yet! More comics and more novels, certainly, but watch my website for specifics.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Fantasy Genre Web-based Seminar: Learn How to Tame Dragons, Negotiate with Wizards and Attract More Kids and Teens to the Library

From Jeanette Larson (author interview)(recommendation) and Raab Associates:

The fantasy genre captivates people of all ages, especially children and teens. Whether you're a devoted fantasy reader or wish you knew more about the genre, get the inside scoop on fantasy in our culture by joining us on Sept. 28, when the Authors as Experts Web Seminar Series presents "A Practical Guide to Fantasy" with Nina Hess. Author of A Practical Guide to Monsters (Mirrorstone, 2007), Hess is an experienced guide to this literary world. She will teach participants how to keep monsters at bay, tame dragons and negotiate with wizards.

Hess is also a senior editor at Mirrorstone Books, a company that is totally immersed in the genre. In this Web-based seminar, Hess will discuss the popularity of fantasy for all kids and its value in encouraging reluctant readers--particularly boys, to feel at home in the library. She will also talk about incorporating role-playing, costume parties, and fantasy script-writing into library programs for children and teens.

These one-hour web seminars provide continuing education courses for public and school librarians. They can also be adapted for teacher groups upon request.

Seminar Details At-A-Glance

Seminar: A Practical Guide to Fantasy

Date: September 28, 2007

Time: 11 a.m. Eastern Time [10 a.m. CT, 9 a.m. MT, 8 a.m. PT]

Format: This is a Web-based seminar. Registered participants will receive participation instructions, log-on information and a toll-free number to dial in for the audio portion of the seminar upon payment of the registration fee. Seminars run for one hour.

Cost: $50 per person

Discounts are available for group registration. To Register: send name and contact information to: You may either email or call in your credit card information at 914-241-2117.

About the Authors as Experts Web Seminar Series

This Web Seminar is part of a series of programs produced by Raab Associates Inc., marketing consultants specializing in children's books, in cooperation with Library Services Consultant Jeanette Larson, the former Youth Services Manager at Austin Public Library.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Author-Illustrator Interview: Carlyn Beccia on Who Put the B in Ballyhoo?

Carlyn Beccia is the author and illustrator of Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo? (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). She has also illustrated jackets for A Houdini and Nate Adventure by Tom Lalicki (FSG, 2006-2008) and Christopher Paul Curtis's latest book Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007). Note: Carlyn's author-illustrator and book sites are exceptionally intriguing.

Carlyn attended the University of Massachusetts on a four-year art scholarship and graduated in 1995. She worked as a graphic designer for 10 years before returning to her first love--illustration. In 2005, Carlyn was the Grand Prize Portfolio Winner in the Society of Children's Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) portfolio exhibition. In 2006, she was awarded a certificate of Merit in The Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Illustration West 44 Annual and was also the Grand Prize Portfolio Winner in the New England, Society of Children's Writers & Illustrators (New England SCBWI) portfolio exhibition.

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

My first book didn't get picked up in the traditional way. I sent an 8.5 x 11 art sample illustrating different circus acts to my current editor. She suggested that it would make a great circus alphabet book and that she would like me to be the author as well as illustrator. I immediately panicked and explained that I was not a writer. My editor was persuasive and insisted that I try writing the book. The rest is history. I am forever grateful that she had faith in me. Now, I can't imagine not writing.

Congratulations on your debut release, Who Put the B in Ballyhoo? (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the book?

Ballyhoo is an alphabet book illustrating the most famous circus stars throughout history. Each letter of the alphabet is showcased in a circus poster ranging from the beautiful, bearded lady Annie Jones of the 1800's to present day hoaxes like "Lancelot the Last living Unicorn".

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

My initial inspiration was all these wacky and wonderful performers, especially those showcased in the sideshows of the early circuses. For example, there was the petite, but fearless tiger trainer, Mabel Stark, who slept with her favorite tiger, Rajah. Then there were invented spectacles like P.T. Barnum's Feejee Mermaid--a fantastical combination of a monkey's head and a fish's tail made to look like a real mermaid.

Many books have the underlying message that it is cool to be unique, but in the days of the circus it really did pay to be different. The strangeness of each one of the performers didn't make them handicapped, it made them true stars.

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

It took about a year to complete the book. During that time, I visited the American Dime Museum in Baltimore and spent most of the time researching circus legends. I also experimented with some different illustration techniques to capture an old and textured look that would mimic vintage circus posters.

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

The typography was a challenge because each circus poster has its own unique font and design elements that illustrate a different time period. I poured over thousands of newspaper clippings and vintage circus posters and used them as a reference to hand letter the type so that each page looks different. I think you would have to be a graphic designer to appreciate the differences, but it was important to me to be true to each time period.

What is it like to be a debut author-illustrator in 2007?

It is an exciting feeling to have your work published. However, publishing the book is just the beginning. I have been learning a lot about marketing and promoting books. I would have to say one of the most rewarding things I have experienced is going out and reading the book to kids and seeing their reaction to the various personalities in the book.

Could you describe your apprenticeship? How did you build your skills on each front?

I worked as a graphic designer for 10 years before breaking into children's publishing. I did study art in school, but I consider myself self-taught. I paint in digital mixed media using Corel Painter. The program didn't even exist when I was in school.

As far as writing, I think most authors are self-taught as well. I am working on my second book which has significantly more text than my first book. I feel this experience has enhanced my skills as a writer.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a pre-published writer-illustrator, what advice would you offer?

I would sit myself down and tell myself not to read any book reviews!

Which picture books would you suggest for study and why?

I have so many favorite illustrators. I love the spontaneity and line work of Henry Cole's work. One of my favorite illustrators is Yuyi Morales (illustrator interview). Every single page she paints has this amazing emotional impact. She never gets lazy with her art. Any one of her books is a lesson on keeping the passion in every page.

One of my favorite writers is Kathleen Krull because her nonfiction picture books never lose sight of the person behind the story. My philosophy has always been that history is told by the people who changed it.

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

I used to Salsa dance and horseback ride but I can't do either right now because I am seven months pregnant. Well....I can sort of still salsa dance but it is not pretty. The baby has his/her own salsa routine. In fact, I think he or she is doing it right now because my stomach is getting kicked from every side.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

I am learning that I can't do every aspect of promotion so I try to focus on the ones that I love. I prefer to do library talks and school visits over book signings. I give live presentations to kids on digital painting. Kids are pretty fearless when it comes to painting on the computer and it is always fascinating to me how quickly they pick it up.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am currently working on a tell-all book that uncovers the biggest rumors throughout European history, called The Raucous Royals, The True and Untrue Rumors of Kings and Queens, (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). I would describe it as "history lesson meets tabloid magazine." I feel that kids today can be subjected to rumors at a very young age. This book pokes fun at all the ridiculous rumors that have survived throughout history. Was Napoleon really short? Was there a real Prince Dracula? Did Marie Antoinette really suggest that the poor eat cake?

I think it's a subject that will appeal to both adults and kids because its basic message is: don't believe everything you read..not even this book. Many adults will be surprised by the truth behind the rumors and it teaches kids to be their own history detectives!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Piper Reed: Navy Brat by Kimberly Willis Holt, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Henry Holt, 2007)(excerpt) is now available. From the promotional copy: "It's not easy being the middle child, especially when your dad is a Navy Chief. Meet Piper Reed, a spunky nine-year-old who has moved more times than she can count on one hand. From Texas to Guam, wherever Piper goes, adventure follows, inspired by her active imagination, free-wheeling spirit, and a bit of sister magic. Unlike her older sister, Piper loves being part of a Navy family, and unlike her little sister, Piper is no prodigy genius. Piper is Piper—fearless and full of life. Based on her own childhood experience, Kimberly Willis Holt portrays the life of a Navy family with warmth and humor." Download bookmark. Read the story behind the story. See intro with sample illustrations. In a September 2005 interview for Cynsations, Kimberly said, "I am currently working on a chapter book about a Navy Brat. It is lighter than any novel that I've ever attempted and I'm having fun writing it."

Historically Speaking: A Blog Journal by Author Nancy Castaldo. Debut posts include an interview with author Kirby Larson. Nancy is the author of Pizza for the Queen, illustrated by Melisande Potter (Holiday House, 2005)(recommendation).

Check out "Amy Goldman Koss -- My Books" at YouTube. Read a Cynsations interview with Amy.

The Brazos Valley (Texas, College Station area) SCBWI chapter will hold its fall mini conference on Sept. 22. Portfolio critiques with Joy Fisher Hein (illustrator interview) are still available, and the discounted hotel rate is good for reservations made by Sept. 1st.

Children's and Young Adult Author Sheri Sinykin: official author site features first chapter of current book, biography, bibliography, author visit information, teacher guides, peer editing guide, links, etc. Sinykin launches a "second writing career after a lengthy period of writer's block" with Giving Up The Ghost (Peachtree, 2007)(excerpt)(teacher's guide) and her first picture book, Zayde Comes to Live (Peachtree, TBA). She was lead author of the Magic Attic Club series and the author of nine other books for young readers in the 1990s.

Cherry Books is a new independent bookstore in in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

Guerilla Marketing and Other Secrets of the Trade: Book Marketing for Independent Publishers by Jessica Powers from NewPages. Jessica is the author of The Confessional (Knopf, 2007).

"Patricia MacLachlan sees signs of life wherever she looks" interview by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. See also Meet Jack Gantos from BookPage.

August 2007 reviews at TeensReadToo include: Blood Brothers by S.A. Harazin (Delacorte, 2007); The Confessional by J.L. Powers (Knopf, 2007); Daemon Hall by Andrew Nance (Henry Holt, 2007)(author interview); Head Case by Sarah Aronson (Roaring Brook, 2007); and Scary Beautiful by Niki Burnham (Simon Pulse, 2007)(author interview). In addition, this month's giveaways include two copies of my novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). See the complete list.

Recommendations from Under the Radar: Romina's Rangoli, by Malathi Michelle Iyengar: a guest column by Pooja Makhijani at Chicken Spaghetti. Source: Writing with a Broken Tusk.

Take a sneak peek at the cover art for Varian Johnson's forthcoming YA novel, My Life as a Rhombus (Flux, 2008).

Author Brian Yansky will be signing Wonders of the World (Flux, 2007)(author interview) at the Barnes & Noble Round Rock at 2 p.m. Sept. 15.

More Personally

Listening Library/Random House has purchased audio rights to Tantalize. I'll keep you posted on the release date and reader.

The Candlewick Press website debuts audio of a brief reading by me of Tantalize as well as additional thoughts on the novel. Click here and see the sidebar.

I look forward to presenting both this novel and my recent picture book, Santa Knows, co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006), at the upcoming Kansas Book Festival in Wichita Oct. 5 and Oct. 6. Featured authors also include: J.B. Cheaney (author interview); L.D. Harkrader (author inteview); Kimberly Willis Holt (author interview); Greg Leitich Smith (author interview); and Dian Curtis Regan (author interview). Note: I am a fellow of the Kansas Center for the Book.

Congratulations to Austinite Erin Edwards on the publication of her haunted house table centerpiece craft (made out of tissue boxes with tissue ghosts) in Family Fun (pg. 91)!

Love and best wishes to my husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, as today is our 13th wedding anniversary!
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