Friday, December 14, 2007

Author Interview: Cecil Castellucci on Beige and The Plain Janes

We last spoke to Cecil Castellucci in January 2006 about the release of her second YA novel, The Queen of Cool (Candlewick, 2006). Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

Wow! This has been a huge year for you! Let's start with the release of Beige (Candlewick, 2007). Could you tell us a little about the book?

It's about a girl named Katy who goes to Los Angeles from Montreal to spend a couple of weeks with her punk rock dad, nicknamed "The Rat," while her mom is on a dig in Peru.

The Rat is a punk rock drummer whose legendary band, Suck, never made it out of Los Angeles because of a drug problem. He's clean and sober now, but music is his whole life. Katy hates music. She's forced to hang out with her dad's band-mate's daughter Lake, who thinks Katy is the most boring person on earth. So she nicknames Katy "Beige."

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I moved to this neighborhood that was a music neighborhood. I started working at Epitaph records. I ate at a restaurant where a member of the Circle Jerks worked. I wrote at a cafe that Eric Melvin from NoFX owned. I sat next to Tim Armstrong from Rancid at Thanksgiving dinner.

Everyone was so punk rock! I felt like I was pretty boring, bland and well...beige! I thought it might be interesting to tell a story from the point of view of someone who was totally outside of the scene and observing the scene. So a "normal" person would be the outsider in this alternative world.

Also, having been in a band, I really wanted to write a book about music. This was that book.

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

Interestingly enough, I think I'll say that there was ten years. The first YA novel manuscript I ever wrote, called "Chloe's Jam," was a music novel about a girl who plays classical music and feels totally normal befriending a crazy punk rock girl with a brother in a band.

I really feel that Beige is a kind of reinterpretation of this very first idea for a YA novel that I had. Only I was at a much better place to write it now than I was then. I do credit that first, terrible never-to-be-seen novel, as really opening a lot of doors for me. And many of the same themes and ideas from that book are, at heart, in Beige.

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

The biggest challenge was that Katy/Beige hates music and I don't. She's also very with holding and repressed. I'm not like that either. So it was difficult for me to get into her head. She was a frustrating character. How can you not like music! Music is everywhere!

Another thing was that even though I have a very wide range of love for music, and I am an indie girl, I'm not the punkest person I know. So, it was fun to ask all my pals to give me their most essential punk songs. I even share some of them at http://isbeigepunk.blogspot.com

The point is that what is essential punk is different for everyone. And all of it is really terrific music. That's something I love about that scene. You can't define it so easily. And there is so much to it!

You also debuted a graphic novel this year with The Plain Janes, illustrated by Jim Rugg (Minx, 2007). What about the graphic format appeals to you?

I love that graphic novels go along at a quick clip. You have to be lean and mean when you are writing the text that will go in the balloons or captions because there is that extra added element of the image.

The image is really freeing, you can have this great tension between picture and text. Also it allows for a much more visceral reaction to the story.

In a prose novel, you often have to describe emotions, or how someone feels. With a graphic novel, one panel can tell you everything you need to know emotionally.

I also love the collaboration aspect of the medium. Working with Jim Rugg was fantastic. I really feel like we are a team and we both care about the story and have long discussions about the Janes. It's been one of the most rewarding things I have done as an author. I'm so looking forward to the sequel, The Janes in Love. It comes out in 2008.

How would you describe the book?

It's the story of a girl named Jane who is in a terrorist attack in the fictional Metro City. Her parents freak out and move her to the far out suburbs. At the scene of the attack, she saves a young man, a John Doe and finds a sketchbook with him that says "Art Saves."

Jane takes this saying to heart. Eschewing her old self who tried so hard to fit in, at her new school she heads straight to the reject table in the lunchroom which is filled with three other extreme individual girls all named Jane, too. (Theater Jane, Brain Jane and Sporty Jane--guess which girl likes what!)

With them, she decides to form a guerilla art girl gang in order to try to make the mad world beautiful. Only the local authorities don't agree that art is beauty. They see it as a threat. Also there is a mean girl and a cute boy!

Hopefully people who read the book will take a look around while on their daily constitutionals and see the little beauties of street art everywhere. 'Cause it's there if you look, and in my opinion, it does make the world beautiful. Art does save.

What advice do you have for budding graphic-novel writers--in terms of the craft and the business?

Well, I would read comic books and graphic novels. I would read scripts (for example, Sandman v. 3 has a script in the back).

I meet a lot of people think that it is easy to change a current WIP project that they have into a GN script. It's not really true.

I mean, obviously you can, but you really want to take the best advantage of the medium. For example, it's a visual medium. You have to really move the story along visually. You have to be brave enough to let go of the words and let the image do the talking.

Also, I would go to comic book conventions. If you are a writer-illustrator, make a mini-comic to show editors what you can do. That's a great calling card.

Heck, if you are a writer, go to artists alley at the conventions and hook up with an artist to bring your mini-comic to life. Or, make a Web comic. That's a great way to showcase your goods.

Also, once again, read comic books. I meet so many people who say they want to write a graphic novel, but they haven't really read any. Read a lot of them! It's just like writing for YA, you really have to read a lot them to get it! There are some amazing GN's out there. Really amazing. Go to it! Have fun! It's an incredible medium! And I can't wait to read all of your books!

It's been a couple of years since your debut prose YA novel Boy Proof (Candlewick, 2005) was released. How have you grown as a writer since then?

I am now 4' 10 1/4!!! (Okay, that's not really true. I'm still only 4'10, and probably shrinking)

I think one thing is that now I think I can actually finish writing a novel. When I was first starting out, I didn't believe that I would ever have it be done. Now I know how it works, and that there is a certain panicked process to it, but that I'll actually get through the drafts and it will become a book. So I suppose that means I have a wee bit more confidence. (But just a wee bit!)

I am also trying to become more sophisticated in my knitting together of stories. I'm trying to flesh out more of the worlds and the characters.

I also think I use more words. I mean, Boy Proof is so lean and quick and you can eat that book in a hour! But Beige has so much more richness to it! It's like a full-on lunch! Maybe one day I'll hand in a 750-page book! A whole three-course meal! You never know! It could happen!

If you could go back in time to your beginning writer self and offer some advice, what would you tell you?

Read more. Learn more vocabulary words. Read more. Read even more. Relax. Show up to the page. Learn how to put better ears on so you can listen to critiques.

Don't be so precious. Don't be afraid to cut, cut, cut, 'cause you can always use all of that in another novel. And yes, you will have another idea for another book. Don't worry.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Agent Interview: Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown

There's more than one "Ginger" at Curtis Brown. Could you clarify for us, which is which and who does what?

Ha! This is a problem that is rather unusual to have for an agent, but yes--there are two Gingers at CB, and we are entirely different people. Ginger Knowlton is Vice President and represents almost exclusively children's books--and is also one of the owners! I arrived about two years ago from Writers House, and half my list is adult and the other half children's books.

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

I worked at Tor Books for more than a year as an editorial assistant, and then got a job as an assistant at Writers House. After six months, I knew I didn't want to go back to the editorial side. I love the agenting side--the lawyer side in me enjoys the contracts and negotiating in particular.

How long have you been in the business? How has it changed?

Since Fall 1998, and while I have seen less consolidation in publishers the way those working in the 80s and 90s did, it still happens. Houghton has just bought out Harcourt earlier this year--who knows what that means for their future editorially?

I've watched children's books be taken a lot more seriously by both readers and publishers.

I've also seen comics and graphic novels grow in sales and respect.

Would you describe yourself as an "editorial agent," one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I would say I'm more on the publishing side of things--I don't line edit. I rarely, however, send out a book on submission that has not been through at least one round of suggested edits by me.

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript, or do you see yourself as a career builder?

You have to be a career builder with clients in order to be a good agent, because if you just focus on selling each book you aren't giving them long-term guidance.

In terms of markets (children's, YA, fiction, non-fiction, genres, chapter books, ER, picture books, etc.), what sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

Well, half my list is kids and half is adult. On the children's side, I do young adult and middle grade fiction.

What I am specifically looking for right now on that side is YA or MG science fiction—series based would be great, but not required. I'd love a fresh YA fantasy series, too (particularly YA urban fantasy) and contemporary "boy books." And of course, YA paranormal romance/chicklit would be great as well.

On the adult side, I do science fiction, fantasy, literary horror, and paranormal romance. I'd love to see some military SF; alternative history; post apocalyptic SF; urban fantasy; romantic fantasy; and paranormal romance that is not heavily focused on vampires.

Do you work with author-illustrators and/or illustrators?

I actually just took on my first (and probably) only author-illustrator. I'm not planning on adding others to my list right now.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Yes. They can mail me a letter and SASE, and they will get some kind of answer from me within 4 to 6 weeks. An email I will look at faster, but I don't respond unless I'm interested in seeing more.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

Correct business format and proof-reading is always appreciated. Also, please don't call me Mrs. or Miss. Ms. is fine.

How much contact do you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, listservs? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I mostly email and call my clients, as often as it comes up. I have one or two clients who are not very active right now who I am not in constant contact with; but some clients I email or call several times a week, particularly if something pressing is going on.

What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

The rejections, of course. I get frustrated with lots of rejections, too. And seeing the number of readers out there get smaller and smaller.

What do you love about it?

Having good news for my client--an offer on the next book in a series, that the book is going to auction, that we've just sold foreign rights.

Cynsational Notes

The 5X5 Interview: Ginger Clark, Assistant Literary Agent from Gawker.

Guest Blog: Ginger Clark on How to Handle an Offer of Representation from Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent.

Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown from Cynsations. See also my full list of agent-related links.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Author Interview: Laurie Faria Stolarz on Project 17

Laurie Faria Stolarz on Laurie Faria Stolarz: "I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, attended Merrimack College, and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston. I am currently working on Deadly Little Secret, the first book in the Touch series (Hyperion, fall 2008), also for young adults." Visit Laurie's LJ and MySpace page!

We last spoke in August 2006 in conjunction with the publication of Bleed (Hyperion, 2006). Could you update us on your writing life over the last year?

I've been busying myself this past year with the marketing of Bleed, the editing of Project 17, and the writing of Deadly Little Secret--the first book in the Touch series, a new suspenseful series of books I'm working on.

Congratulations on the release of Project 17 (Hyperion, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

Thanks! I'm really excited about it. I wanted to do a companion book to Bleed, using one of my Bleed characters. Around the time I was thinking up ideas for a new project, the newspapers in my area were flooded with stories surrounding the controversial tear down of Danvers State Hospital, an abandoned mental hospital 30 minutes north of Boston.

Many people were against tearing it down because it's considered an historical landmark, built in 1878. Developers wanted to use the land to build luxury apartments and condos. In the end, it's the developers who won, and two-thirds of the hospital was torn down. People are now living in the new developments.

Growing up, the hospital, which has a very dark history, was finally shut down in 1992 due to budget cuts and overcrowding. Rumored to be haunted, it became a notorious hot spot for break-ins and dares.

Coincidentally, in Bleed, one of my characters, Derik LaPointe, breaks in to the hospital to go exploring. This is how the initial idea for Project 17 sparked. I thought, why not have Derik break in with a group of teens, on the eve of the demolition, to spend the night and film a movie? There are six teens that break in--all with their own motivations and agendas, and what they end up finding is far beyond anything they could ever imagine.

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

Once the story idea and sample pages were accepted by the publisher, I started to delve into the research--visiting the hospital, talking to former patients and staff, and reading and viewing everything I could get my hands on concerning the hospital. I got completely haunted by the research, so much so that I started keeping myself awake at night.

I couldn't get it out of my mind, particularly after I visited the place from a writer's perspective--how was I going to write an entire novel that takes place here?

The hospital itself had always been a source of scares growing up, with its Gothic spires and castle-like architecture, but nowhere near as scary as when I started to really get into the individual stories of those connected to the place.

After a while, though, for better or for worse, I started to numb up a bit to everything I was researching, including hours of audio and visual footage. That numbness enabled me to take a step back and write the book.

I don't scare easily, but there's some serious creepiness here. What advice do you have for writers seeking to scare spooky-story readers like me?

Try writing about something that genuinely terrifies you. Project 17 is scary because I was scared--because I was so haunted writing it.

As one of your regular readers, I would've been eager to grab your latest in any case. But after seeing your book trailer, I was especially intrigued. Could you share with us the story behind the trailer?

Mike Dijital, an urban explorer, created it for me. He has a wide array of visual (and audio) footage of Danvers State that you can view (and play) from his website: www.dijitalphotography.com.

The footage on the trailer is his, and it's all authentic, taken from Danvers State during one of his urban explorations. Mike was a great resource to me when I was writing the novel.

The novel is a work of fiction, but I wanted to be as true as I possibly could to the setting, and that's where he stepped in. When I first approached him to ask questions about the premises, he told me I could ask him anything; he visited the place so often he'd know if an empty Coke can was turned over from one visit to the next.

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

I am very self-disciplined. I have to be. I have a lot to balance with writing, marketing, and family. When I'm on deadline, I write ten pages per week with no exceptions. I also set time aside each week for marketing and business. It all needs to get done, after all. Because I have a family, I spend a lot of time working at night and during my kids' nap times.

I'm busy, but I'm lucky. I have a lot to be grateful for.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Deadly Little Secret, the first book in the Touch series is about a mysterious boy who has a very dark past and a very special power. Ben Carter, 17, has the ability to touch a person or object and sense something from him/it. Sometimes this touch power is a blessing; most of the time it's a curse, especially when he's unable to control it. The main character, Camelia Hammond, 16, falls for Ben--hard--despite his dangerous past and despite how much she also fears him.

The novel is loaded with suspense, drama, romance, and mystery. Deadly Little Secret is slated for a fall 2008 release.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaway

Win an autographed copy of Piper Reed, Navy Brat by Kimberly Willis Holt (Henry Holt, 2007)! To enter, simply email me with your name, snail/street mail address, and to whom you would like the book personalized. Type "Piper Reed, Navy Brat" in the subject line. Deadline: 5 PM CST Dec. 14. Good luck!

More News & Links

"Edit Yourself Into Print" by Gail Martini-Peterson from the Institute of Children's Literature. Focus is on line editing.

Reminder: Austin SCBWI offers a great line-up for its April 26 conference. Speakers include: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview from Olswanger.com)(interview by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist's agent Christina Tugeau; and writing professor Peter Jacobi. See details at Austin SCBWI.

Wonders of the World by Brian Yansky: a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Here's a sneak peek: "Told with sardonic humor, Wonders of the World is quirky, gritty, and riveting, with a great voice and terrific story. Sometimes grim, sometimes hopeful, this novel is an amazing, compelling read. Highly recommended." Read the whole recommendation. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

The Houston chapter of SCBWI is sponsoring the "Passport to Publication" conference from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at Greenspoint Marriot Hotel (255 N. Sam Houston Parkway East), in Houston. 2008 Speakers: award-winning author Kimberly Willis Holt (author interview); editor Molly O'Neill of HarperCollins' newest (as of yet unnamed) imprint headed by Brenda Bowen; editor Sarah Cloots of Greenwillow; editor Abigail Samoun, of Tricycle Press; Jennifer Jaeger of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency; and illustrator-cartoonist Don Tate (illustrator interview).

Congratulations to Suzanne Crowley on the release of The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous (HarperCollins, 2007)(excerpt). From the promotional copy: "Merilee leads a Very Ordered Existence. V.O.E., for short. Her schedule (which must not be altered) includes, among other entries: * School (horrendous) * Litter patrol (30 minutes daily) * Lunch (PB&J and a pickle) * Bottle return (Friday only at the Piggly Wiggly) * Dame Fiona’s meditation show (Saturday only, 6:00 AM). The V.O.E. is all about precision. Merilee does not have time for Biswick O’Connor. Merilee does not have time for Miss Veraleen Holliday. He with his annoying factoids and runny nose. She with her shining white shoes as big as sailboats. Both of them strangers who, like the hot desert wind that brings only bad news, blow into town and change everything." Suzanne lives in Southlake, Texas. Learn more, and read Suzanne's blog.

Looking for Lindsey Lane, author of Snuggle Mountain, illustrated by Melissa Iwai (Clarion, 2003)? Lindsey's new site will debut in February 2008! In the meantime, you can still contact her from here. Read a Cynsations interview with Lindsey.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults debuts a new official site! Note: I'm a member of the faculty.

Marguerite W. Davol: official site of such books as The Loudest, Fastest, Best Drummer in Kansas, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith (Scholastic, 2000) and Black, White, Just Right! illustrated by Irene Trivas (Albert Whitman, 1993). Marguerite is the author of nine books and based in Massachusetts. Learn more!

Reminder: registration for the 2008 Writers' League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference is open now. The Conference will take place at the Sheraton Austin Hotel, June 20 to 22. Members: $309; Non-Members: $354 (Early Bird: $324). To register, call 512.499.8914.

The Pacific Coast Children's Writer's Workshop

The Pacific Coast Children's Writer's Workshop will be Aug. 15-17, 2008, at the Hilton Hotel in Santa Cruz, California.

The program is a team-taught seminar for 30 writers of character-driven, realistic youth novels. The 2008 focus is "Epiphanies and Endings: Bring Your Story Arc Full Circle."

The faculty will be:

Anne Hoppe is an executive editor at HarperCollins Children's Books. Titles she has edited include the multi-award-winning YA novel Your Eyes in Stars by M.E. Kerr (HarperCollins, 2006) and a New York Times bestseller by Alice Walker.

Edward Necarsulmer, agent, is director of the Children’s Department at McIntosh and Otis. He has represented Lynne Reid Banks, Nancy Garden (author interview), Madeleine L'Engle, Scott O'Dell Estate and M.E. Kerr, among others.

Deborah Halverson has authored three Delacorte youth novels. A Harcourt children's book editor for 10 years, she edited Norma Fox Mazer (author interview), Gary Soto, and Eve Bunting, and also taught writing at University of California-Extension.

The program will consist of team-taught manuscript clinics and faculty-led discussion of peers' early/later chapters and synopses, which attendees review in advance.

Focus sessions will include: Applied Writing; Marketing Tips & Demonstrations, keynotes; Q & A session. In sum, there will be 12 hours professional instruction, which are 90 percent interactive.

Tuition is $299-$599, depending on quantity and type of faculty critiques (written or in-person; up to three per writer); this includes most meals. Various discounts may apply.

Lodging: For doubles, add $53 to $137 per night per person (at Hilton or nearby Best Western). Singles also available.

For academic/professional credit, conferred by the University of California, add $90.

For more information, contact Nancy Sondel, founding director.

Call for Entries: Celebrating Friendship in Children's Literature

From: Megan Murphy, Chair, The Friends Medallion:

Overview

Throughout the history of children's literature, the best-loved stories usually center around themes of friendship--the Wizard of Oz and Charlotte's Web and classic series such as Frog and Toad, George and Martha, and Winnie-the-Pooh embody that simple yet eternally-powerful theme.

The students at Friends School in Virginia Beach practice the Quaker concepts of simplicity, cooperation, harmony and community in their daily school life. Children are taught positive ways to resolve conflict, work together for the greater good and learn early that through friendship and cooperation, all things are possible. This year, for the first time, to celebrate those books that promote such goals, the elementary students at Virginia Beach Friends School will award The Friends Medallion to the book that they--the students themselves--feel best reflects the theme of friendship in its story.

Awards

The Friends Medallion will be presented to the top two winning authors in February of 2008. The winners will receive a Friendship Medallion, a plaque, and an invitation to speak at Virginia Beach Friends School in the spring of 2008.

Nominations

You are invited to nominate a published book that you feel embodies the theme of friendship and cooperation.

There are no application forms or fees necessary to nominate a book. Simply send us one copy of the published book, along with a brief letter stating how you think this book reflects those themes.

Nominations must be received by Dec. 31.

Guidelines

* Books nominated for The Friends Medallion may be fiction, nonfiction or poetry.
* Books nominated should have friendship and cooperation as the central theme throughout the story.
* Books should be suitable for children from kindergarten through fifth grade.
* Books must have been published in the United States during 2007.

The only way to have a friend is to be one.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nominations and inquiries may be sent to:

Megan Murphy, Chair
The Friends Medallion
Virginia Beach Friends School
1537 Laskin Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Monday, December 10, 2007

Author Interview: Jo Knowles on Lessons from a Dead Girl

Jo Knowles on Jo Knowles: "I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire along with a menagerie of pets and people. I was never much of a reader, convinced I wasn't any good at it. My sister, on the other hand, read constantly and could sometimes be persuaded to read out loud. I still hear her voice when I read old favorites to my son.

"It wasn't until high school that I really fell in love with the magical act of reading to yourself--of entering the pages of a book wholly and completely, and living it. I finally got what it was all about.

"After college I went on to earn a master's degree in children's literature and I currently teach Writing for Children in the M.A./M.F.A. program at Simmons College. I'm also a volunteer writing mentor at a women's prison in Vermont.

"By day I'm a freelance writer, but I try to work on my fiction whenever I can." Visit Jo's LJ and MySpace page.

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

Oh, there were countless bumps and stumbles for sure, but honestly I wouldn't trade a single one. I took the long way and enjoyed (mostly) the view. Of course, this is all in retrospect and I'm sure if you'd found me lost on one of those back roads that seem to be going nowhere five years ago, I'd have answered much differently. But the truth is, I learned so much from every "wrong" turn, I really don't think I would change a thing.

Congratulations on the release of Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

The idea came to me when I was at my old day job, writing a booklet about child abuse prevention. I came across an article about kids abusing kids. I was fascinated, and began to think about some of my own childhood friendships.

I don't think it's true that all children choose their own friends. It certainly wasn't always the case for me. I began to wonder why some friends behaved the way they did--how a person could be so kind and cruel at the same time. And why? I started writing that night.

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

I think I probably finished the first draft sometime in 1997 or so. Then I revised and started submitting. The second place I submitted to held onto the manuscript for two and a half years. After that, I felt I'd lost focus and put the manuscript away for quite a while. When I finally decided to work on it again (in 2004, I think?), I shared it with my friend, Cindy Lord (author interview). She suggested that I submit the first ten pages to the PEN New England Discovery Award. I did, and to my shock, I won!

What that meant was that the manuscript was submitted to Candlewick! Happy end of story! (And one more confirmation of Cecil Castellucci's ten-year theory.)[Cyn Note: Miss Cecil's theory is that it takes ten years to become an "overnight" success; read an interview with Cecil.]

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

I think the biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to frame the story. I knew the story started after Leah's death. The challenge was figuring out how to tell it backwards.

Lainey's journey required her to go back to the beginning of her friendship with Leah and revisit all those memories she'd suppressed. But for her to keep having flashbacks or memories was cumbersome and felt too contrived. I finally decided to just tell the story in chronological order, making that opening chapter when Laine learns the news a prologue. That setup really freed me.

The hardest scene to write was the confrontation at the end of the book. It wasn't until the last round of revisions before I sold the book that I finally got the girls to both say the truth out loud.

I have Holly Black (author interview) to thank for that. She was generous enough to read the manuscript after hearing me talk about how stuck I was. I knew my being stuck had to do with not going deep enough, not getting close enough to the truth, but I couldn't figure out how to do that. Then Holly said one phrase and everything clicked. Thanks, Holly!

I read your novel on the road, arguably amidst various distractions (including an eye injury, which meant I shouldn't have been reading at all!). But I couldn't stop. The story is tremendously affecting. In writing with such depth, did you find your emotional state fluctuating along with Laine and Leah's? Cyn Note: the eye is better now.

Oh, thanks Cyn. And I'm sorry about your eye! This was a hard story to tell, for sure. I came to know both characters so well, and with each draft I felt I uncovered another layer of depth and understanding about each of them.

I knew the story before I really understood why each girl does the things she does. And so, to figure that piece out, I had to keep revising and uncovering. It was as if they were both holding back on me, only giving me a little bit with each draft.

When I finally got to the bare bones truth and fully understood their stories, it was with both relief and great sadness.

What scared you the most about writing this story?

Discovering my characters' truths and saying them out loud.

What kept you going and raised you up during the process?

Reminding myself of the books I love that don't take the easy way out: Books by Robert Cormier, E.R. Frank, Chris Lynch, Laurie Halse Anderson and others. I've always wanted to be as honest as they are, no matter how hard it is.

What is it like, being a debut author in 2007?

Exciting! Thrilling! Terrifying! Mostly I just really love it.

I think it's easy to start worrying about how well your book is doing or whether or not you'll get good reviews, or make the important lists, or any number of other things that are out of our control. But all that stuff is so minor compared to hearing from a teen who read your book and told you it made her think, made her feel like someone understood her. That's what it's all about.

You're a member of the Class of 2k7, an innovative joint marketing effort by first-time youth literature authors. Could you tell us about your experience with the group? What else have you done to promote your new release?

The Class of 2k7 has been a wonderful experience. I've made a lot of friends and learned so much about how to survive your first year as an author.

As far as my own promotion, I've booked signings, spoken at conferences and visited classrooms and reading groups. The best part of having a new book out is getting to meet lots of wonderful people who love books.

If you could go back and talk to your beginning writer self, what advice would you give her?

The road will be long and there will be times when you'll believe that you will never make it, but don't give up. Enjoy every turn the road takes. Meet as many people as you can along the way. Be kind. Listen. Work hard. Push yourself. Tell the truth no matter how hard it is. Don't rush it. Keep writing. Be humble. Be grateful. Be generous. Enjoy every minute!

What can your fans look forward to next?

I sold my second novel to Candlewick and I believe it will be out late 2008 or early 2009. The title is Jumping Off Swings, and it's about four teenagers and how their lives change in unexpected ways when one of them finds out she's pregnant.
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