Saturday, March 01, 2008

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaway

Enter to win one of two paperback copies of Moongazer by Marianne Mancusi (Love Spell/Dorchester, 2007)(excerpt)!

From the promotional copy:

"Imagine every night entering a nightmare world you can't escape and being told real life is a dream. Skye Brown has it all: the cool job, the hot boyfriend, the apartment on New York's Upper West Side. But lately she can't enjoy any of it. She's having dreams of a post-apocalyptic world. Of a bleak futuristic wasteland. Of a struggle against oppression. And she's been told she's a...MOONGAZER.

"But what is that? And what is reality? In her dreams, she's not Skye Brown at all, but Mariah Quinn. In her dreams there's Dawn, the beautiful yet haunted soldier, and Skye is but the empty shell of a girl he once loved. And there was a betrayal, a great betrayal. Ripped between Dark Siders and club kids, the mundane and the mystic, Skye must discover who she is, what she wants and who wants her. And why. But in the glow of the moon, it's not always easy to recognize the face in the mirror."

Read Mari's blog, and visit her at MySpace. Join Boys That Bite, Mari's group at MySpace. Note: you can also find her at YA Paranormal Authors.

Two paperback copies of Moongazer will be given away to any Cynsational reader over age 18! To enter, email me with your name and address by 10 p.m. CST March 3! Please also type "Moongazer" in the subject line.

The winner of the autographed copy of Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2007) was Brent in Maine!

Read April's blog, April Afloat, and visit her at MySpace! Read a Cynsations interview with April!

More News & Links

The 2008 Writers' League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference will be held June 20 to June 22 at the Austin Sheraton Hotel. See answers to frequently asked questions. Note: the 2007 conference sold out. Register now for 2008.

Author Heather Brewer has opened her bin of Minion Stuff! Products include the hoodie of Vladimir Todd "(as featured on the cover of Eighth Grade Bites (Dutton, 2007)(excerpt))" and a fangalicious T-shirt "(as featured on the cover of Ninth Grade Slays (Dutton, 2008)(excerpt))." Visit Heather at MySpace!

Notes from Uncle Albert: the blog of Albert Whitman & Company, "an independent publisher of children's books in the Chicago area for more than 85 years."

Picture Book of the Day: Using Picture Books to Teach the Six Traits of Writing from Anastasia Suen. Read a Cynsations interview with Anastasia.

Take a Chance on Art! Enter the Texas Library Association disaster relief raffle of Diane Stanley's illustration from Charles Dickens--The Man Who Had Great Expectations, a picture-book biography (Morrow, 1993). Tickets are only $5. Note: checks should be made out to TLA; do note on the check that it's for the disaster relief raffle. See additional details.

P.J. Hoover: official site of the debut author of The Forgotten Worlds Books, published by Blooming Tree Press. From the promotional flap copy of the first book, The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree, October 2008): "Benjamin and his best friend Andy are different from normal. They love being able to read each other's minds and use telekinesis to play tricks on other kids. In fact, they are getting all set to spend their entire summer doing just that when Benjamin's mirror starts talking. Suddenly, Benjamin's looking at eight weeks of summer school someplace that can only be reached by a teleporter inside the ugly picture in his hallway. And that's the most normal thing he does that summer." Read P.J.'s blog, Roots in Myth. Visit P.J. at MySpace!

What Would You Give Up? An intriguing question for those of us in the literary and visual arts, asked by Liz Garton Scanlon at Liz In Ink. Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

Shana Norris, author of Something to Blog About (Amulet, 2008), visits with author Marlene Perez at the YA Authors Cafe this week. Here's a sneak peek: "Developing the character of Seth, the love interest, was the hardest part for me. At first, he was a little too detached and mysterious, so I had to really work at him to make him into someone that Libby would be attracted to." Read the interview and then ask Shana a question or cheer on her new release! Read Shana's LJ. Visit Shana at MySpace and at Facebook! Read Marlene's LJ, and visit her at MySpace. Read a Cynsations interview with Marlene.

Brighton Children's Book Festival: Leaping from the Page will be held April 19 to April 20 at the University of Brighton. From the promotional copy: "Want to hear David Almond, Dakota Blue Richards (young star of "The Golden Compass" film), Michelle Magorian, Valerie Bloom and many others--all at one exciting event? Aimed at young people and adults, this year's Brighton Children's Book Festival celebrates the way children's books "leap from the page" into film, theatre, radio, TV, digital media and much more. With a weekend of talks, hands-on workshops, storytelling, performances and screenings, everyone is invited to join in the fun. There will also be a panel discussion with publishers and agents on how to get published. Find full details and buy tickets on the website:

Don't miss Question of the Week Thursdays at Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Tanya Lee Stone answers: "How did being an editor in the book publishing industry in the past affect you as an author in the present?" Dianne Ochiltree answers: "What about the publishing business has changed the most since you started as an author in the 1990s?" And Brent Hartinger answers: "Is it easy or hard to write sequels?" Visit Robin's site and MySpace page. Learn more about The Girlfriend Project (available in paperback July 2008) and read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

Interview: Jennifer Ziegler by Little Willow from Bildungsroman. Here's a sneak peek: "I used to think people were popular because they were extremely self-confident. Although I still believe that's somewhat true, life has taught me that it isn't quite so simple. Confidence can be faked. True self-assurance comes from knowing yourself (flaws and all) and being fine with who you are." Visit Jennifer's site, LJ, and MySpace page. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Author [Katherine] Paterson Keeps Young Readers in Mind by Fritz Lanham from the Houston Chronicle. Here's a sneak peek: "You write from out of yourself, and I'm a recipient of grace and a daughter of hope." Source: BookMoot.

Balancing Business and Emotion by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature.

First Kiss Winners: check out the winning stories from Cecil Castellucci's LJ, The Divine Miss Pixie Woods. Winners each received a copy of First Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments edited by Cylin Busby (Bloomsbury, 2007). Read Cylin's LJ. Visit Cecil's site, and read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

World Religions: Christianity from The Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book.

I Don't Need You To Be Me from Sara Lewis Holmes at Read Write Believe. Here's a sneak peek: "Do readers need to see themselves in the books they read? Is the reason fiction works because you hook yourself into the main character's psyche and go along for the ride?" Source: Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes.

Guest Blogger: Paula Yoo from The Ya Ya Yas. Paula is the author of Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008). Here's a sneak peek: "I never intended this to be a novel preaching about the stereotypes of the Asian American model minority myth or about the cultural difficulty in communicating with immigrant parents. But at the same time, my novel is not solely about cultural issues. In the end, it's just a story about a girl named Patti. She could be any ethnicity/race. The book's universal theme is…what makes us happy? Who can’t relate to that?" Visit Paula's official site and Paula at MySpace. Source: Mitali's Fire Escape.

Gate City Book Award: "chosen by students in grades 3 and 4 in Nashua, New Hampshire." Check out the 2007-2008 nominees. Read Cynsations interviews with Marion Dane Bauer, David Lubar, Deborah Hopkinson, and Vivian Vande Velde. Read a Cynsations recommendation of Three Good Deeds by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2005).

Fran Cannon Slayton: official site of the author of How To Stop a Moving Train (Philomel, 2008). Great tie-in pages include Trains. A must-visit for teachers, librarians, readers! Recommended to those seeking models for a first-rate author site (both content and design). Sign up for Fran's bi-weekly Children's Book News Email. Visit Fran at MySpace! Note: title has changed since most recent available cover art.

Creating Characters with Disabilities Who Are NOT Stereotypes by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Here's a sneak peek: "Writers can and should incorporate characters with epilepsy and disabilities into children’s fiction and they can do it without perpetuating negative biases against people with disabilities. To do so, authors must be aware of the stereotypes, write against the stereotypes, and create well-rounded characters." Visit Carrie's author site, her LJ, and her MySpace page. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Interview: Dorian Cirrone by Little Willow from Bildungsroman. Here's a sneak peek: "I was very shy as a kid and I think being forced into situations where I felt uncomfortable helped." Visit Dorian's site! Read a Cynsations interview with Dorian.

Interview with agent Jamie Weiss Chilton of Andrea Brown Literary Agency from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing With a Broken Tusk: A Blog About Writing Process and the Creation of Books for Children. Here's a sneak peek: "It can take a lot of tenacity and patience to get published. Keep trying, and while you're waiting for those agent and editor responses, continuing honing your skills at conferences and with your critique group." Read a Cynsations interview with Uma

Children's Writer Molly Blaisdell: official author site features biography, bibliographies, articles, interviews, links, her inspirational blog--Seize the Day, and her annual Golden Coffee Cup motivational competition. Molly's titles include Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs (Barron’s Educational Series, 2008). After two decades in the Houston area and then a decade in College Station, Molly currently resides in Woodinville, Washington. Visit Molly at MySpace!

Amy Goldman Koss: official site of the author of several novels, including Side Effects (Roaring Brook, 2006). Learn more about Amy, and visit her MySpace page! Read a Cynsations interview with Amy.

Effective March 3, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux is moving to 18 W. 18th St., New York, NY 10011.

Effective March 10, 2008, Candlewick Press is moving to 99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144.


28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature has wrapped up at The Brown Bookshelf. Read a Cynsations interview with the team behind The Brown Bookshelf, Paula Chase-Hyman, Varian Johnson, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, and Carla Sarratt.

Here's a sneak peek at their Feb. 23 interview with Irene Smalls: "The toughest obstacles are still there, the overall perception in the marketplace that Black children's books generally don't sell well."

Here's a sneak peek at their Feb. 26 interview with Celise Downs: "I'm all about the entertainment factor. As I mentioned above, some authors write about 'real' issues. But when teens read my books, I want them to escape. I don't think they should have to deal with real life in 'real life' and when they pick up a book, too."

Note: This historic initiative was a huge undertaking. Congratulations to the Brown Bookshelf team and the featured authors and illustrators!

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 series is ongoing here at Cynsations! Check back Monday and beyond for more insightful question-and-answer interviews with agents, editors, authors, and illustrators about the U.S. and international youth publishing scene.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

More Personally

Listening Library's audio production of Tantalize is now available! Actress Kim Mai Guest is the reader of the book. Listen to an audio excerpt. Note: I appreciate that the excerpt zeros in on the murder mystery that in many ways drives the story. Learn more about the text novel from Candlewick Press.

Candlewick Press will publish a paperback edition of Tantalize on its Fall 2008 list. The cover will be the same as the hardcover (above) with my byline and the title slightly larger. An excerpt from Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), which is set in the same universe and currently nearing production, will be included in the back matter.

Of late, Greg Leitich Smith talks about the line-edits of my forthcoming YA Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and explains how primary voting works in Texas. Note: Greg's blog is syndicated at LiveJournal.

Friday, February 29, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author Interview: Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher has received many awards and other recognition for her books, including the American Library Association Notable Books for Young Readers, American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon, School Library Journal Best Books, and two Oregon Book Awards. She also was a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Anita Loughrey interviewed her in November 2008, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Did you always want to be a writer?

SF: I've wanted to be a writer since I was in third grade. That's when reading got easy enough that I didn't have to actually think about it--I could just dive down into a story and live it. Third grade was also when I began to understand that there is music in words. One day, our teacher demonstrated on the blackboard that it just didn't sound right to have every sentence in a paragraph begin with the exact same word. Now I realize that there are exceptions to this, but that day I got for the first time that the rhythms and sounds of words matter. I'd been taking piano lessons and making up my own songs on the side, just for fun. Now I started playing with words in the same way.

What other jobs have you had that led to being a writer?

SF: I waited tables while in college, and then, after graduation, worked at an advertising agency buying television time. These jobs didn't lead to my becoming a writer by building up useful skills or giving me useful ideas. But I was pretty miserable at work, and I realized that if I was ever going to be happy in my working life, I was going to have to overcome my fear of rejection and just start writing.

I got a copywriting job at the agency, and then went on to freelance magazine articles. But when I wrote my first book for children, I knew I'd found work I loved.

What are you working on at the moment?

SF: Right now I'm working on another dragon novel, one that's connected to but very different from my Dragon Chronicles. I'm calling it a "companion" to the earlier series.

If you could be a character from one of your books who would it be and why this particular character?

SF: Well, that's a tough one, because I always try to make things hard for my characters. I give them experiences that I, personally, would not like to undergo.

But possibly I would most like to be Kara, from Flight of the Dragon Kyn, or Marjan, from Shadow Spinner--not because of what happens to them in the story, but because they might have meaningful work to do after the story is over.

Not that raising a family isn't meaningful; I think that raising my daughter was the most important thing I've done in my life--far more important than writing my books. But having this other work, this work that I love, apart from the family work, is just so satisfying.

Kara could be a falconer. Mitra could be a pigeon keeper and a storyteller. They could find refuge and usefulness in their work.

How has your childhood influenced what you write?

SF: It's probably influenced me more deeply than I yet understand! But on a rather superficial level, I'm attracted to writing about things I loved as a child. We had birds and dogs as pets--it seems we always had a pet. I do love animals, and I love to write about them. Even my dragons are influenced by my pets, past and present.

Also, I'm the oldest of four children, and I often find myself drawn to write about an older child protecting or taking care of a younger one. Not that I was such a great older sister! But it's a place I often go to in my writing.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

SF: As a child, my favorite book for years was A Wrinkle in Time. I don't think I fell that hard for another book until I encountered Anna Karenina late in high school.

Is there a book already published that you wish you had written? Why?

SF: To Kill a Mockingbird. It's hard for me to say why I've chosen this book above all others--because there are lots of books I wish I'd written. There are so many things I love about To Kill a Mockingbird, too many to mention here.

But probably the most important thing is that I love the characters so much. They've become part of who I am, as real to me as beloved friends who have moved away and might call or visit at any time.

How long does it take you to write a book?

SF: My first novel took a year and a half, and it's taken progressively longer and longer with each successive book. My last novel, Alphabet of Dreams, took five years. Ouch! Why? I seem to be doing more research. And also, in more recent years, teaching and school visits have taken lots of my time.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

SF: The hardest part is getting the first draft down. It feels like fog to me at that point--my characters unformed, the landscape whited out, the shapes of the characters' journeys shrouded. Once I get the shape of things, I can come back and bring it to life.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafes, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea, or in isolation?

SF: Usually, I work in silence, when I can. I have an upstairs studio, and I don't turn on the music when I write. Sometimes, when I'm stuck, I take my laptop to a coffee shop; for some reason, café noises don't usually interfere.

How much do you think a writer needs to market him/herself/the work? What do you suggest?

SF: It does seem to me that we have to do more marketing than we used to. In the old days, school budgets were higher, and school librarians read the reviews and selected books from review journals. So all you needed was a couple of good reviews, and you would do okay.

Now, a lot of the sales have shifted over to bookstores, and they need brisk turnover to justify a book's presence on the shelves.

I'm not very good at marketing, and I don't really know what works. I finally got my website up, and I have fun updating it. I put in material for kids, teachers, and book group leaders.

Beyond the website, I send out postcards to children's bookstores and to other relevant venues. For my recent picture book (Dadblamed Union Army Cow), for instance, I sent postcards and/or letters to American Civil War historical sites. I also accept lots of invitations to signings and school visits.

I find that promotion takes time out from the actual writing, so I'm loath to spend too awfully much time on it. Also, for my two books that have sold the best, I did little or no marketing. But I realize that it's necessary in today's world. I'd definitely welcome suggestions from someone who knows more about this than I do.

Do you have a blog, and if so, how often do you blog? Do you get lots of feedback from readers?

SF: No, I don't blog. Maybe I will someday, but not now. (How do people find the time to blog?)

Can you share your favorite fan mail, if you have one?

SF: My favorite was a handwritten letter from a sixth grader from Texas. He told me that ever since he'd read Dragon's Milk, he'd been looking for a green-eyed girl. (In my books, green-eyed people can communicate with dragons.) "Some have come close," he wrote, "but not close enough." He said he'd gone to the library looking for the Bok of Dragon (a made-up title mentioned in my novel) but neither he nor the librarian had been able to find it. He asked me if my character Granmyr was a real person, because I'd put part of a letter Granmyr had written at the top of one of the chapters.

I just loved that he went looking for traces and artifacts of the world of Dragon's Milk in his world! I kind of hope he felt about my characters the way I feel about the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird--that they were friends who had just gone away for a while and might call or visit at any moment.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Illustrator Interview: Babette Cole

Babette Cole is the author and illustrator of over 70 books, including the Princess Smartypants series, Dr. Dog, The Hairy Book, The Smelly Book, The Slimy Book and The Trouble With... series. She owns a stud farm in England and breeds Show Hunters, which she rides herself, and has won several horse-show competitions. She was interviewed in November 2007 by Anita Loughrey, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What other jobs have you had (that led to being a writer and illustrator)?

BC: None, I have always been a writer and illustrator.

What are you working on at the moment?

BC: 4 projects:

o Doctor Dog Goes Green (picture book);
o Princess Smartypants Finishes Off (picture book);
o A set of pony novels;
o The Man Shortage Company (grown-ups' novel)

If you could be a character from one of your books, who would it be and why this particular character?

BC: Princess Smartypants.

How has your childhood influenced what you write?

BC: All sunshine, ponies, books and pictures.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

BC: Alice in Wonderland.

Is there a book already published that you wish you had written? Why?

BC: All Harry Potter books because they have done so much for promoting children's literacy.

How long does it take you to write a book?

BC: About half an hour for some and six months for others--it depends on the book.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

BC: Getting someone to look after my horses so I have time to work on my books.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea or in isolation?

BC: I need to be completely isolated and very quiet with no interruptions.

How do you divide your time between working on your stud farm, competing in your side-saddle team, writing, illustrating and doing author/illustrator events and workshops?

BC: With great difficulty and little sleep.

Are any more of your books being made into films or adapted for television?

BC: Princess Smartypants and a further Doctor Dog series are in the offing.

Your fiction and illustrations have been described as quirky, goofy, zany and anarchic. How would you describe them?

BC: True to type.

What destinations have you traveled to, to research your books?

BC: Okavango Delta in Botswana, a lot of influence from the West Indies,Australia, and most importantly, the depths of my imagination.

How much do you think a writer needs to market his/herself/the work? What do you suggest?

BC: In the present climate of the times, it is most important that writers market themselves. A good website is essential.

Do you have a blog, and if so, how often do you blog? Do you get lots of feedback from readers?

BC: I don't have a blog but I have a good website where people put forward questions that I answer.

Can you share your favorite fan mail, if you have one?

BC: My most favorite fan mail was from a lady whose daughter was suffering from cancer and had had chemotherapy, hence she had no hair. She wrote me a lovely letter saying how much the hairy book had helped her daughter. The last pages, reading:

"Hairy Big and Hairy Small, I'm glad I have no hair at all."

I was so pleased that my book gave comfort to this little girl.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Keeping Cynthia Leitich Smith Weird

One of my MySpace pals has "tagged" me to offer up "15 weird, random things, facts, habits, or goals" about myself. It was a well-timed request as I'm in post-deadline recovery. Here goes!

I own every issue of the Wonder Woman comic published since about 1973. At a time when girls (at least in suburban Kansas City) were still told to "let the boys win" and "don't let people know you're smart," Wonder Woman was as strong as Superman, as smart as Batman, and had really kicky boots. She also emphasized the importance of relationships between women as opposed to being defined by a man. Note: I subscribe to about 100 comics a month.

When I was in elementary school, I would practice signing my name on the off-chance that someday people would want my autograph. I have no idea why. Despite my wonderful fictional role model (above), I was fairly insecure as a child. In any case, it was a very complicated signature that took a long time. Oddly enough, I do autograph books now, but in a much speedier and less fancy manner. Note: maybe it was one of those dream-it, achieve-it things.

I have seen "Star Wars: A New Hope" more than 350 times (paid admission) in movie theaters. Granted, it played at my local dollar theater for what seemed like years, but nevertheless, I was in love--not only with the story but storytelling. I studied all of the behind-the-scenes books for hours on end.

I do a great vocal impression of Kermit the Frog. I'm hesitant to admit this because it may prompt pleas to illustrate this rare and lovely talent. So, please be advised that I do so only at my discretion, usually unexpectedly, and when properly motivated. That said, it is fairly hysterical, if I do say so myself.

Authors of my favorite books as a young reader included Judy Blume, E.L. Konigsburg, and Katherine Paterson. I've since had the honor of interviewing Judy online, having a book signed by Elaine, and chatting with Katherine when she visited Vermont College of Fine Arts. My meeting with Katherine was the most recent. She shook my hand, and I made her laugh once. I wish someone had told me when I was twelve that I would someday get to do that.

My first car was a red 1967 Mustang Coupe, which I totaled in an ice storm on my way home from college finals. I distinctly remember thinking that if I died after doing all that work, I'd be really annoyed.

One summer when I worked at my local movie theater, a man with a gun broke in and stole our copy of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." I wasn't there, but it still seemed quite exciting at the time. Back then, there were fewer theaters, and we fielded all the major new releases. Lines flowed out the building. News crews came to film the crowds. I have probably popped more corn than anyone you'll ever meet. Note: check out the website and trailer for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

I studied law abroad one summer in in Paris and stayed at a dorm for American students that was located across the street from Luxembourg Garden. While I was there, I shot more than 30 rolls of film. I have only returned to Paris once, on a vacation with Greg in 2000. However, it remains one of my favorite cities.

By the time I quit my law "day" job clerking in the Office of the General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services/Social Security Administration at age 27, I had held jobs as a: babysitter, popcorn popper, movie-theater cashier, waitress at a Mexican restaurant, waitress at a country club, gas-station cashier, reporting intern for several small-town newspapers (and a major metropolitan daily), editorial assistant at a state university, public relations intern for a fortune 500 company, public relations intern for a non-profit, media marketing assistant for one of the world's largest privately-held corporations, telephone operator for a bank, receptionist for a law firm, intern for a federal appeals judge, summer clerk for a legal aid office, and part-time clerk for a small women's rights law firm. Note: Since then I've taken one part-time job tutoring English and another as a graduate assistant in Russian history for a private college. I now teach quarter-time at VCFA.

When I got married in Kansas City, my wedding cake was topped by a crystal daisy. (Gerbera daisies are my favorite flowers). The groom's cake was topped with a model of The Starship "Enterprise."

My phobias are heights, enclosed spaces, germs, big water, children under three, and lettuce. With the kids, I'm afraid that I'll drop them on their heads. Someone told me once that it takes a while for the skull to fuse together, and I've been nervous about it ever since. With regard to the water, I saw "Jaws" at an impressionable age (and was raised in the heartland, far from the seas). So far as the lettuce is concerned, it's really more about what might be lurking in the lettuce.

Of the U.S. Presidents, I have met Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton. I met Ford when I was a child in Vail, Colorado, and Clinton at a political fund-raiser in Iowa City.

I am very proactive about doing real-world research for my fantasies. When I was working on Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), I shot tons of film of South Congress as well as Austin's Bouldin Creek and Fairview neighborhoods and the hike-and-bike trail along Ladybird Lake. I also approached several people and asked if I could take their photos to use as models because I thought they looked like vampires or shape shifters. Everyone I spoke with was thrilled.

Hands-down, the most enthusiastic supporter of my books in my family (other than Greg) is my aunt Linda. She's a world traveler and has taken numerous photos for me to use for reference and presentations.

My favorite quirky and unexpected moment of 2007 was standing in line for a men's restroom at the White House with Holly Black (pictured)(the women's was closed). We were at a breakfast in celebration of the National Book Festival.

And that's it!

My headline is inspired by Keep Austin Weird. Therefore, I'm tagging fellow Austin area youth literature authors April at April Afloat, Don Tate at Devas T Rants and Raves, Chris at Bartography, Greg at GregLSBlog, Liz at Liz in Ink, Varian at They Call Me Mr. V, Alison at Alison's Journal, Jo at Jo's Journal, P.J. at Roots in Myth, and Jennifer at Jennifer Ziegler Word Processor.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Art Director Interview: David Saylor of Scholastic

David Saylor is Vice President, Creative Director for the Trade Book Group of Scholastic Inc. and has guided the art direction and design of hardcover and paperback trade book publishing since 1996. He has worked closely with many award-winning illustrators and authors, including Saxton Freyman, Christopher Myers, Stephen Savage, Maurice Sendak, Lauren Thompson, and Walter Wick. Anita Loughrey interviewed David in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children's book publishing?

DS: I loved books, and so I worked my way into publishing. But my first experience with children's publishing was at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. That's where I recognized that I loved children's books and had a strong connection to the books I read as a child.

In your opinion, what makes a good art director?

DS: A good art director is able to guide an artist through the process of making a book by offering great feedback, encouragement, advice, sound judgment, enthusiasm, honesty, and sometimes, love. Appreciating and understanding an artist's work gives that artist a great sense of confidence to create their best work.

What makes an artist's illustrations stand out for you?

DS: Illustrations always stand out for me if they make me feel something or provoke a response: laughter, sadness, joy, insight. I love artwork that expresses life in distilled moments.

Do you think a website is a useful tool for illustrators to showcase their work? How often do you look at a portfolio online?

DS: I think websites are great for artists, and I would encourage anyone who is starting out (and established artists, for that matter) to think about setting up a site. I look at websites every day and find them incredibly helpful.

What kinds of things can turn you off of a portfolio?

DS: Portfolios that are uneven are distressing, meaning that there's a mix of good work but too much that's not up to par. I'm not a fan of gimmicky portfolios either: let the work speak for itself.

What do you believe is the most important part of your job?

DS: Encouraging and developing talent.

What is your favorite thing about being an art director?

DS: Helping talented artists make great books that we're both proud of and knowing that the result will have an impact on a child's life.

Do you make suggestions for revisions to art work? What sort of suggestions have you made and how, in your opinion, how have they improved the final product?

DS: I do make suggestions on revising artwork. I can't solve problems of technique, but I can offer opinions and suggestions that might spur an artist to improve something.

How would you go about matching an illustrator to an author?

DS: I read the story first, sometimes many times; then I think about my own emotional response to the words and imagine how a particular illustrator might interpret those words.

What are some of your favorite children’s books and why?

DS: I loved Alice in Wonderland very much when I was eight-years old: it made me laugh and I loved memorizing the verse parts and reciting them for my family. To my mind, the John Tenniel drawings are the work of a genius. And, like many children, I wept after reading Charlotte's Web. I couldn't believe that she died!

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on?

DS: I'm very proud of having launched the GRAPHIX imprint of graphic novels for Scholastic in 2005. I think there's tremendous talent in this area, and I'm so excited to bring great narrative and character-driven comics to kids. And there are many, many individual books that I've been very proud to have worked on, though I have to say that working on the Harry Potter books has been a wonderful experience.

Is there an area on your list that you would like to grow at this time?

DS: Graphic novels for children.

What is the ideal art sample submission?

DS: I suppose one could say the best sample is one that leads to a book being made.

How involved in the marketing of the book(s) are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house?

DS: I see the marketing plans for my books and sometimes offer opinions, but mostly I leave that to the marketing group who knows what they're doing much more than I do. Our budgets vary so much from book to book that I couldn’t say what the average budget is.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Author-Illustrator Interview: Paul O. Zelinsky

Paul O. Zelinsky received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as three Caldecott Honors for: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995). He has been described as "one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field." Anita Loughrey interviewed him in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

Are you a writer as well as an illustrator and, if so, which comes first, the images or the words?

PZ: My writing has mostly been adaptation, as of fairy tales, but whether or not that qualifies me as a writer, the words always come first for me. That is, a good story will provide me with everything I need to know to come up with its illustrations.

Do you have favorite medium you work in? If so, did the medium choose you or did you choose it? Can you elaborate?

PZ: To continue this theme, the story will begin by telling me what medium to work in. Some mediums give me an easier time than others, but I try not to let my wish to make it easier for myself get in the way of illustrating the particular text. I've done more books in oil paints than any one other medium, but I like to think that I play the field.

What is the hardest thing about being an author-illustrator for you?

PZ: Realizing that I have no legitimate basis for any sort of complaint. I've been extremely lucky. Come to me privately if you really need to hear me bemoan things, and I'll be happy to comply.

What made you decide to be a children's book illustrator?

PZ: I went to Yale, where the academic ethos looked very disapprovingly at courses with physical application--art just squeaked by as a defensible subject because of its claims to intellectual rigor--and, in the midst of this, I saw one day a seminar to be offered on the subject of picture books, making them as well as learning their history. It was going to be team taught, one teacher being Maurice Sendak. I got into this course and felt tremendously at home with the subject, because in fact I'd never lost my interest in picture books, even though I had never even considered them as a career choice.

I collaborated with another student on several picture book projects, which we mailed to various publishers, and a couple of which almost got picked up. But my already-set plan was to major in art and then become a painter supporting myself by college teaching (it was the example in front of me). So I went ahead and got my MFA in painting at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia (with one of my two years in Rome), and briefly taught college art, in San Diego, but realized at this point that I was not meant to be a teacher, and probably was meant to illustrate children's books. So I moved to New York and started up with my portfolio.

What were your other career choices, if any?

PZ: Different possibilities at different ages: architect, painter; at one point in college, I was even considering physicist, because I was so fascinated by the way physics explains the world.

Do you have a favorite children's book that you wish you had written and/or illustrated? Why?

PZ: I have huge admiration for a lot of children's books, and I wish I could do many of the things that other illustrators do, but I'm not sure I wish to have been the one to make any particular book that I love. Examples: many of the books by William Steig, Sendak's books, Margaret Wise Brown and several of her illustrators.

How far ahead do you work? Six months, a year? Longer?

PZ: I work by the seat of my pants. Trying to work long in advance, but often failing.

What does your workspace look like?

PZ: At the moment it's in pretty good shape--there are some empty surfaces, and the couch is available for sitting. My studio is a studio apartment in Brooklyn, a five-minute walk from the apartment where I live with my wife, and it's also our guest room if I don't need to be there late at night or early in the morning.

Besides the bed and the couch, I have one large drawing table (which I got from Lane Smith when he was moving out of New York City) and tables along one wall filled with equipment—copier, large printer, scanner, computer, light table--and a lot of things on shelves.

What's on your wall over your desk or drawing table?

PZ: The window. I look out on a beautiful churchyard, where children play in good weather. Off to the side of my drawing table, the one wall that isn't covered with shelves has tools hanging from hooks, a bulletin board that I rarely look at, and a long stretch of wall where I've set up a system of poles hanging from the picture moulding with pegs sticking out of them. This is a system I set up two books ago. I mount the paper that will become my finished art on pieces of cardboard with holes that fit on the pegs, so I can fill the wall with the art, in the order of the book, and easily take pieces down to work on them and put them back up. Right now, the poles are there, but no art is on them yet.

How has your childhood influenced your illustrations and writing?

PZ: I was a big one for drawing when I was little; undoubtedly, I inherited it from my mother, who was a medical illustrator. I got plenty of encouragement for my creative endeavors, both at home and at school, where being able to draw was at least a little of a social boon, at least up until adolescence. More than that, I still remember pretty well the feelings of my childhood, which are what I draw on when I'm fleshing out the images for books.

What was your favorite book as a child or adolescent?

PZ: There were many, but to make a choice (generally a problem for me): as a child, maybe The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown with pictures by the Provensens, and as an older child William Pène du Bois' fantasies like The Twenty-One Balloons, and later, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Do you work with the television, radio, or stereo on? In cafés, nursing a half-cup of lukewarm tea, or in isolation?

PZ: I don't work much outside of my studio (when I do, it's at the dining table). I can't work with music playing, but I can with talk radio, which I used to have going always.

When I first started illustrating, there were about four radio stations in New York that had interesting enough talk to listen to, but now there is only the National Public Radio station. I still listen to that sometimes, and even though I could probably listen on my computer to stations all over the world, I haven't really tried to figure that out.

I often work in silence now. I thought the difficulty with music was a weirdness of my own, and I've been pleasantly surprised to find that many other illustrators and painters share this quality.

Do you have a blog or website to showcase your work, and if so, how often do you blog? Do you get lots of feedback from readers? Has it proved to be useful?

PZ: I have a website, with one page for each of my recent books, but I haven't gone back and created pages for all of them. There's a lot more than that on my site, but I don't blog or even include in my website a way to contact me. Maybe this is a mistake, but I'm too afraid of what I get some of anyway: messages from kids in school, or even in graduate education programs, who have an assignment relating to me, and are basically asking me to do it for them. I have a hard enough time with my actual work.

Is it difficult to illustrate somebody else’s writing? Has it ever caused any problems?

PZ: It's not difficult at all. I've been lucky enough to be presented with stories by some amazing writers. This means that the worlds they've created are wonderful, enticing, and very clearly delineated--you can tell what the pictures should look and feel like. Who wrote the story is immaterial. I feel the same whether it was me or someone else. My charge is to be faithful to the story.

Could you talk us through the process of how, after you are presented with a book a publisher would like you to illustrate, you generate your ideas for illustrating that book?

PZ: If I like the manuscript enough, it will tell me what to do with it. A picture book story may not appear to me in imaginary pictures--most often it doesn't--but it may start by feeling right only with a particular size and shape as a trim size. Some mediums would be patently wrong, and probably one seems best. Tight and realistic pictures, or loose and cartoonish? A deep space or a flat space?

I go looking through the history of art if I need inspiration. Mrs. Lovewright, for example, took me to Max Beckmann's early paintings as a touchstone. Clearly my fairy tales took me to Renaissance art.

Another key source for the drawings comes in the act of dividing a text into pages. This form of editing establishes the pacing of the book—its rhythm, its high and low points, the emotional impact of the page turns, and it sets a choice of subject matter for each spread.

What I do, though, is really very intuitive. I do most of my thinking about it later.

I love The Wheels on the Bus pop-up book [scroll and click for animated version]. Do you have to go through a different process to produce novelty books? If so, would you describe the differences? For example, how was the dummy different from a straight-illustration book?

PZ: Thanks for that. The process of making a pop-up book is somewhat different from making what the pop-up world calls a "flat book." It has more stages: between the planning, sketching stage and the finished-art-making stage comes a stage of mechanical development.

For Wheels, and much more so for Knick-Knack Paddywhack! I worked with a paper engineer and had a great time fiddling with pull-tabs and paper machinery, and at the end of that process we had the book broken into all its component pieces, which had to be painted separately so they could be printed as a mass of parts, which will get punched out and assembled by hand. Most of a movable book's art (in the word's industrial definition as anything that gets scanned for printing—my art training still makes me recoil at using the word art so freely) doesn't look like the pictures in the book, as it does for a flat book.

This makes the act of illustrating a pop-up book a bit less artistically rewarding, but it does keep you in mind of the fact that the painting you may be making isn't what really counts--the finished art (in the other sense of "art") is actually the book.

What are you currently working on?

PZ: Illustrations for two sequels: to Toys Go Out, a chapter book by Emily Jenkins--the new book is called Toy Dance Party, and to Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs--the new picture book is called Dust Devil, with some sort of subtitle explaining that Dust Devil is Swamp Angel's horse. Respectively, pencil drawings, and oil on wood.

If you were to illustrate yourself, what would you look like? (please feel free to draw yourself--animal, plant, mineral!)

PZ: Ay! Even though they say that everything you draw is in some respect a self-portrait, and even though I admit that more than a few of the characters I've come up with (such as the guitar player in Wheels on the Bus) may look like me, what I really like about illustrating is that it's like acting: you get out of yourself and into something else. At least you can think you're doing that.

If you could be a character from one of your illustrations who would you like to be and why?

PZ: I could choose any number of characters, most of whom are not skinny and seem to be very content. In The Story of Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless, her Cat, I'd like to be the minor character Dylan, for whom the cat will purr. In Knick-Knack Paddywhack!, I'd choose to be Old Man 4. But in another sense, I become every character that I draw.

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Eternal: the Line-Edits Revision

The line-edits revision of my upcoming YA Gothic fantasy, Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), went out via electronic copy to my editor this morning.

Eternal is set in the same universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), featuring different main characters and building on an overarching conflict in the fictional world.

Globally, I had been asked to further underscore the evolving relationship between my two alternating point-of-view characters and the back story of one of them.

With dynamics like that, insights often come to me at, say, 3 a.m. Check out the photo above of my nightstand. I keep a hard copy of the manuscript close (so it will continue to bleed into my brain) along with my little notebook, my laptop (in case electronic vibes are stronger than print), as well as a red pen, a pad of Post-It notes, and a little flashlight. What you see here is the morning-after result of one night's scribbles.

With the wee light, I don't have to wake up my husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, but I've also found that turning on the lamp can douse my brainstorm.

Beyond that, much of my attention went to scene-by-scene smoothing for language and logic. I've previously shifted the timeline twice, so I triple checked that and clipped one unnecessary day. I also reorganized the flow of a few scenes and considered each word choice for impact.

One challenge that I've been aware of throughout the writing of this novel is that it's my first full-length book with a male (albeit in this case alternating) point of view. I've been working up to writing cross-gender for a while.

Two of my upper YA short stories, "A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" from Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today (HarperCollins, 2005) and "Riding With Rosa" from Cicada literary magazine (Vol. 7, No. 4, March/April 2005), feature first-person male protagonists.

But a novel is different. A beast. It's one thing to create a voice, another to sustain it over time.

Perhaps because Greg is likewise an avid reader and novelist, I've found myself in a remarkable number of conversations about portrayals of boys in youth literature. I've followed with great interest the related conversations at Through the Tollbooth and in the Horn Book Magazine ("Boys and Girls" (September/October 2007))(editor interview).

Having already published Tantalize, of late I've had an opportunity to speak and correspond with a lot of YA readers. I've made a point of asking about depictions of boys. Based on my anecdotal experience, with the traditional caveat about generalizations...

It seems that some boys don't believe most books by women (or, for that matter, many men) show them as they are and that, furthermore, YA lit overall has a feminine feel. This sometimes alienates them to varying degrees.

Girls, on the other hand, are just fine with that "feminine feel." When asked, many will say that they have quite enough of real-life boy attitudes/behavior to deal with, thank you. They much prefer boys in books to be the way they wish their real-life counterparts were.

So, what does that mean (other than the fact that it's impossible to please everyone)?

I'd bet the majority of my readers are girls. But I get enough of a response from guys to know they're a significant part of my audience, too. I also have to wonder if the leanings of adults in youth literature mirror their younger gender counterparts. If so, that becomes a gatekeeper issue.

It's interesting! An intriguing topic in the greater conversation of books. Certainly, authors should be aware of any gender biases in the body of literature.

But as a writer, how do I apply all this?

I keep in mind that I may be inclined to undercut and/or misrepresent my male protagonist's gender-related perspective. I watch out for that. I also watch out for my trying to overcompensate. I listen to Greg when he double takes at a word choice or reaction. I carefully consider my editor's feedback.

But mostly, I stay true to the individual character. Who he is. Where he's coming from. How he feels and why. In this last draft, I made more of an effort to clarify his motivations. Readers will understand his behavior/point of view, even if a few don't always agree with it.

Reading aloud for flow, typos, missing words, and so forth is my last step. The read-aloud is necessary in part because I've already read the manuscript quietly so many times. At this point, I'm prone to reading what I meant for the text to say, not what it actually does. Actually, that's such a big problem that I can't even read the manuscript aloud myself. So, Greg does it for me.

This past weekend, he read Eternal to me in our second-floor reading room (see Greg above with Leo, who's perched on the back of the sofa futon, and grumpy Mercury on the leather ottoman) while I followed along, red pen likewise in hand.

It took about nine hours, spread over Saturday and Sunday, pausing occasionally to double check a previous reference in the manuscript, find a better word, or resolve a question/inconsistency.

Greg began with a glass of water, then switched to hot tea with honey, and finished with a thematically appropriate glass of red wine.

Once we finished, I keyed in changes, which took longer than it might have because I verified the spelling of every proper name in the manuscript along the way. Only one was incorrect.

Here are the current manuscript stats:

Words: 57,687

Pages: 273 (including two-page author's note)

Weight: 2.8 pounds

References to Blood: 120

Spooky Links

Eternal: the Cut-and-Paste Report from Spookycyn.

SCBWI Bologna 2008 Editor Interview: Pauline Mermet of Bayard Editions Jeunesse

Pauline Mermet is editor at Bayard Editions Jeunesse. She has worked with many prestigious illustrators, including Marc Boutavant, Emmanuel Guibert, David De Thuin, Marion Montaigne, Muzo, Yvan Pommaux, and non-fiction authors: Nathalie Tordjman; Anne-Laure Fournier Le Ray; and Yvette Veyret. She was interviewed by Anita Loughrey in November 2007, as one of the speakers at the SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008 (scheduled for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy).

What made you decide to go into children's book publishing?

PM: When I was young, I was full of anticipation each time I opened a book, novel, or comic book. My wish is to pass on that exciting feeling. Everybody has something to bring to build up our society, and I am proud to make children's books my contribution.

In your opinion, what makes a good editor?

PM: A good editor listens to people, makes quick decisions, and is open-minded. The editor wants to pass along the best ideas to the authors and their work. That's the heart of the job!

When you're reading a manuscript for the first time, how long does it take you (approximately how many pages? chapters?) to figure out whether it's something you want to pursue?

PM: When I receive a comic book, the quality of drawing is a key factor, and then I focus on the richness of the world brought by authors. It doesn't take a long time to know if it is an interesting project.

What kinds of things "turn you off" a manuscript right away?

PM: When it's weak (writing, drawing) and when I can't see what it brings.

What are the "realities" of children's publishing?

PM: Difficult and challenging, since the market is so crowded How could we propose something new or with a new point of view or a new object? The more difficult the market, the more relevant and creative we have to be.

What is your favorite thing about being a children's book editor?

PM: To work with authors who keep a strong link with childhood is my favorite thing about being a children's book editor.

What are some of your favorite books and why?

PM: There are so many books...both adult and children's. Fiction is what I definitely prefer; it's a way to share other people's lives. Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, Nancy Huston, Henri Bauchau, Emmanuel Carrère, John Irving, Vassili Grossman...are some of my favorite writers.

Is there a character you met in a book when you were a child that changed your life?

PM: Josephine from the Little Women, Alice Roy (the French Nancy Drew), Sophie from la comtesse de Ségur's Les malheurs de Sophie, and Antigone (by Henri Bauchau). All female characters that show that being a girl can be combined with independence, adventure, wit, and still femininity.

What book(s) are you proudest of having worked on? Why?

PM: I think I'm proud of all the books I worked on. Each one makes me grow in some way. I especially liked working on La vie des Très bêtes because the relationship with the author was so good and because it was absolutely entertaining to receive a few hilarious scenarios each week.

Another book I liked working on is the Encyclo catho. It is the most challenging book I ever worked on: 544 pages with philosophical questions on almost every page. It was interesting to work with another editor on that book because an editor is often the only one in charge of a book, and for such a big and ambitious book, it was a relief--and also challenging--to be two in charge!

Have you worked with both fiction and non-fiction? If so, how do the processes compare? What do you like most (and/or least) about each?

PM: The processes are different. In non-fiction, I like to initiate the project. In fiction or in comic books, I like to develop the writing (or drawing) of an author.

What does the ideal cover letter say?

PM: I am worth it. I'll make you dream if you buy me (or teach you something at least)!

Is there any area on your list you’d like to "grow" at this time?

PM: I am thinking of developing the non-fiction section for little ones (4-8 years old).

How involved in the marketing of the book are you? What is the average marketing budget for a picture book at your house? A YA novel? Etc.

PM: Each editor has to be involved in the marketing of the book. In some way, it is "le nerf de la guerre" (how to translate that French sentence...?!)--the nerves of war! War of nerves!

Cynsational Notes

Anita Loughrey writes teacher resources and children's non-fiction. Her books have been published by A&C Black, Hopscotch and Brilliant Publications. She also writes regular features for Writers' Forum in the U.K. about authors and the writing industry. She recently interviewed all 31 speakers for 2008's Bologna Conference.

The SCBWI Bologna 2008 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations.

To register for the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2008, please visit and click on SCBWI@Bologna. Queries?
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