Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaways

PaperTigers offers three great new features:

-- "Great Expectations: Breaking Down the Wall of Assumptions" by Debbi Michiko Florence; peek: "It's not enough that a main character in a book is Asian-American in physical description, but he/she should also share that melding of cultures."

--interview with Linda Sue Park by Aline Pereira; peek: "I have always been grateful that I started my writing life with poetry. I feel strongly that the discipline of writing in poetic form for many years taught me to pay the closest attention to language and to make every word count."

--interview with author-publisher Icy Smith of East West Discovery Press by Marjorie Coughlan; peek: "We are an independent publisher specializing in multicultural and bilingual children's books with a mission of promoting history, culture, and social justice."

More News & Links

Interview with Elizabeth C. Bunce by Julie M. Prince of Off to Turn Another Page... at The Edge of the Forest. Peek: "Don't get me wrong—I'm a huge fan of girls with swords! But there are many ways to be heroic, and I wanted to show a quieter sort of heroism, one that girls who maybe aren't tomboys could relate to, and one that hasn't traditionally been as visible in fantasy for young people." See also Julie's interview with Linda Urban; and Time for Prom (or Not) by Little Willow of Bildungsroman.

Book Buyer Blogs: Voodoo Curses and Refreshments from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "It is better to be a brand-new author with nothing but fresh-faced innocence, a big grin and a shiny new book, than to be a ho-hum writer with a few books that have lousy-to-meh sales histories." Note: includes factors for reconsideration and more.

The Summer Blog Blast Tour 2008 Schedule from Chasing Ray--don't miss out!

Presenting...Claudia Gray: an author interview from Journey of an Inquiring Mind. Peek: "I've been a vampire fan for a long time, and I really enjoyed the TV show 'Alias,' which had an immortality cult as the baddies, so I suspect I've spent more time than most people thinking about how weird/difficult/great/bizarre it would be never to die."

Finding Flow in a [Writers'] Group by Helen Hemphill (author interview) at Through the Tollbooth. Note: quotes a few of my favorite Austin authors--April Lurie (author interview), Frances Hill Yansky and Brian Yansky (author interview). See also Kimberly Willis Holt on her perfect "first reader" and a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

ACPL Mock Geisel: a discussion of the year's best early reader books from Allen County (Indiana) Public Library. Source: Children's Book Biz.

An Interview with Agent Rosemary Stimola by Siobhan Vivian from The Longstockings. Peek: "I want to see an author grow and blossom and move along with them through different stories. Want to be a part of that ascent." See also a Cynsations interview with Rosemary.

Debut author Shana Burg offers a new blog! Peek: "Please join me to explore civil rights issues, examine historical tidbits, and sit beside me as my first book hits the shelves."

Monthly Special: Heroes from The Horn Book. Read a Cynsations interview with Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.

Present Your Portfolio Like a Pro by Elizabeth O. Dulemba. Peek: "Feel free to jazz up your portfolio to show some personality, but keep in mind, the main thing is to keep it simple and clean so that your artwork can truly shine."

Question of the Week Thursday: Jill Esbaum from Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks: "What are the differences between writing picture books and novels?" Read Cynsations interviews with Jill and Robin.

Children's Writing Web Journal: From the Editors of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. Note: recent posts include: a link to "YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author Simon Rose Interview;" a loaded "Video Interview with Walter Dean Myers;" a link to "10 flagrant grammar mistakes" and much more.


Author Susane Colasanti at Creative Visualization is sponsoring an exciting contest! The second runner-up will receive a signed copy of When It Happens (Viking, 2006). The first runner-up will receive a signed copy of Take Me There (Viking, 2008). The grand-prize winner will have their writing published in her third book, Waiting For You, which will be released next summer. The grand-prize winner also will receive a signed copy of Take Me There. Learn how to enter!

Win a copy of the picture book In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Tricia Tusa (Harcourt, 2008) from Susan Taylor Brown. Deadline June 1. Learn more about entering. Read a Cynsations interview with Susan.

Three Cynsations readers won copies of Violet by Design by Melissa Walker (Berkley Jam, 2008) this week: Jenny in North Carolina; Megan in Louisiana, and Swapna in Virginia. Note: some folks queried as to whether international entries are eligible, and the answer is always yes.

The Cynsations grand-prize May giveaway is an autographed paperback set of all three of Lauren Myracle's New York Times bestselling Internet Girls novels (in chat-room-style writing)--ttyl, l8rg8r, and ttfn, all published by Amulet!

Read a Cynsations interview with Lauren. Read Lauren's blog, and visit her at MySpace!

To enter the giveaway, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST May 31! Please also type "Internet Girls" in the subject line. Note: one autographed set will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader.

Shooting Stars Mag is giving away a Sanguini's T-shirt and a marked-up hardcover copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008). Note: Sanguini's is the vampire-themed restaurant featured in the novel. I made notes in the margins about the writing of the book, the characters, the Austin setting, and much more! The deadline is midnight EST May 31. See more information! And thanks to the Shooting Stars!

On a related note, Jamie has created an "I Never Drink...Wine" fan image celebrating Tantalize and its literary roots in Dracula by Bram Stoker (1987). She suggests using it as wallpaper; I'm using it on my desktop.

More Personally

Cynsations works differently than many blogs--it's pre-formatted and scheduled up to five months in advance. Consequently, it's difficult for me to participate in blog tours without "bumping" interviews that are already in the queue. However, I'm happy to highlight tours in Friday's news-and-links round-ups. Please feel free to write me with related announcements.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001)(Listening Library, 2001) is included among books featured in Booktalking Authentic Multicultural Literature: Fiction, History, and Memoirs for Teens by Sherry York (Linworth, 2008).

From the promotional copy: "Bring authentic multicultural booktalks to your students by using this well-researched, easy-to-use book of recommended titles and talks.

"Offers a focus on contemporary multicultural fiction, history, and memoirs. Highlights award winning, well-written fiction. Allows the library to serve and reach underserved populations. Recommended titles and talks written by some of the best authors around. Inspire your NCLB subgroup students to read by booktalking these culturally responsive books! Indexed by subject, title, and by author.

"Encourage secondary students to read more, read thoughtfully, and think critically. Engage all students, promote cross-cultural understanding, increase diversity, and help prevent dropouts."

Congratulations to Amanda King, whose fresh and fascinating Gothic fantasy YA novel manuscript has made it to the final round in a contest in conjunction with the Writers League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference!

Greg and I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian last weekend at The Alamo Drafthouse Theater on South Lamar. I recommend it. I liked the departures from the book--yes, including the romance--and didn't mind it's "more serious" tone. I plan to see it again at the theater. Austinites: the Drafthouse is serving a Narnia-themed menu. See also "From Page to Screen: Andrew Adamson's 'The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian'" by Anita L. Burkam from The Horn Book.


Take a peek at Me Hungry! by Jeremy Tankard (Candlewick, 2008)(inside spread)! From the promotional copy: "'Me hungry!' the boy pleads. 'Me busy,' say his preoccupied mom and dad. So the boy decides to go hunting, setting his sights on an elusive rabbit, a prickly porcupine, a too-mean tiger, and finally, a like-minded mammoth who's more than happy to help. With comical, energetic illustrations and a simple, repetitive text, this child-friendly tale will have little listeners fully engaged right up to the funny final twist. An inventive Stone Age boy takes matters into his own hands in a humorous, satisfying story for every young child who wants something now."

Check out the video trailer for Braless in Wonderland by Debbie Reed Fisher (Dutton, 2008)! Learn more about the Class of 2k8, and read "Introducing Debbie Reed Fischer and Braless in Wonderland:" an author interview from Alex Flinn at alixwrites. Peek: "I wanted elements of Alice in Wonderland to be woven throughout the story, so the title had to reflect that. Miami Beach is very Wonderland-esque." See also a Cynsations interview with Alex.

And wouldn't you just die to read Soul Enchilada, a debut novel by David Macinnis Gill (Greenwillow, 2009)?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Author Interview: Lisa Schroeder on I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Lisa Schroeder, a native Oregonian, is an expert juggler of all things, including kids, work, writing, cooking, and cleaning. But when her arms get tired, you'll probably find her curled up in a corner with a cup of tea and a good book.

She's the author of the picture book, Baby Can't Sleep, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Sterling, 2005) the young adult novel, I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse, 2008), and two forthcoming books, Little Chimp's Big Day (Sterling, 2010) and Far From You (Simon Pulse, 2009).

Visit Lisa's Little Corner of the Internet, check out her MySpace page, and learn more about the Class of 2k8! See also the 2k8 blog and visit The Class of 2k8 at MySpace!

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

Lots of stumbles, like most writers. I started out writing picture books, and around the 100th rejection (on various books), I received an offer from Sterling on my picture book, Baby Can't Sleep.

For the first few years that I was seriously writing and submitting, I didn't think I'd ever write a novel, even though I've always loved reading novels for kids and teens.

But then the picture book market took a nose dive, and I was ready to challenge myself and try something new, so I decided I'd never know unless I tried.

I ended up writing three mid-grade novels over the course of a couple of years, none of them published. I see those books as my schooling. With each one, I learned things about novel writing, the publishing industry, and a lot about myself as a writer. I still hope I can publish a mid-grade novel someday, because I have such strong memories of reading books at that age.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me was the book that landed me an agent and became my first published novel.

Congratulations on the release of I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

It's a novel-in-verse about a fifteen-year-old girl, Ava, whose boyfriend dies and comes back to live in her house as a ghost. More than a ghost story, however, I believe it's a story of love, loss, healing, and hope.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I had a dream about a girl whose boyfriend died but loved her so much, he didn't want to leave her. I got up the next morning and started writing. It was an amazing thing. I wish it'd happen more often!

I've always loved verse novels but hadn't ever tried writing one. When I sat down to write, that's how it came out. I think the verse created a special atmosphere for the story.

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

Let's see, I had a first draft finished in like six weeks. That was in the spring of 2006. I was so excited about the book, and the story came really easily, which was a real gift. After that, I spent some time revising, had some trusted writer friends read it and give me comments.

By the fall, I felt it was ready to go out. I queried a couple of agents, and had some, uh, interesting responses. One agent told me flat out that with such a low word count, I didn't have a novel, I had a novella. Another one told me he wouldn't know a great verse novel from a lousy one, so he definitely wasn't the agent for me.

I kept querying, mostly getting rejections, so I decided to try a couple of well-known editors. I had two requests really quickly, which gave me a new hope.

I tried a couple of more agents, and mentioned I had some requests from editors in my letters. I had a quick response from Sara Crowe (agent interview), asking for the full manuscript. A couple of weeks later, she offered representation. I was thrilled!

I did some revisions for her, then she sent it out in November of '06. We got some rejections, and one revision request, wanting me to make the story darker and scarier. I thought about it a long time, but ultimately, I decided that wasn't the story I wanted to tell. I have to thank that particular editor, however, because she gave me some other suggestions that resonated with me, so I incorporated them into the story and they really improved my manuscript!

In March, 2007, we received an offer from Simon Pulse. A few weeks later, I had an editorial letter, with a due date fast approaching. They were working toward a publication date of January 2008, so we had to work quickly. The editorial letter was fantastic, though. I could tell my editor really got my book, and all of his suggestions made the book much stronger.

I'm excited to share that a couple of weeks ago, I sold another novel-in-verse to my editor at Pulse, tentatively titled Far From You. It's slated for publication some time in 2009!

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

The actual writing of the book came pretty easily for me. I'd get up in the morning, eager to write, grudgingly go to work, and then when I got home, I'd race to the computer to get back to the story. That had never happened to me before. It was awesome!

I was a little worried about the believability of the ghost. I did some research--reading message boards and watching ghost specials on TV and just hoped that I wasn't doing anything too far fetched.

In general, a verse novel is challenging because it should be poetic, but it also needs to be accessible. It's a fine line at times, and I'd often find myself asking, is this poetic enough, and if not, how can I make it more poetic? Some dialogue is necessary of course, and that's when it can be particularly difficult.

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

I would probably tell her to stop worrying so much about publication and instead, worry about writing the best book possible. I think when you're first starting out, you're hungry for validation of some kind. But sending books out too early is one of the worst things you can do.

I would also tell her to not be afraid to try new genres, new formats, new stories, because that's how you learn and grow as a writer.

Mostly, I would tell her what I've told myself all along. Keep working hard. Keep writing. Keep believing. It does pay off. It really does!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Giveaway of an Author Marked-up Copy of Tantalize

Shooting Stars Mag is giving away a Sanguini's T-shirt and a marked-up hardcover copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008).

Note: Sanguini's is the vampire-themed restaurant featured in the novel.

I made notes in the margins about the writing of the book, the characters, the Austin setting, and much more!

The deadline is midnight EST May 31. See more information!

And thanks to the Shooting Stars!

National Children's Choice Book Awards Announced

NEW YORK, NY-–The Children's Book Council (CBC) in association with the CBC Foundation, announced the winners of the first annual Children's Choice Book Awards at a gala in New York City, hosted by Jon Scieszka, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Children across the country voted for their favorite books, author, and illustrator at bookstores, school libraries, and at Close to 55,000 votes were received.

The Children's Choice Book Award winners are as follows:

Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year

Frankie Stein written by Lola M. Schaefer (author interview), illustrated by Kevan Atteberry (Marshall Cavendish)

Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year

Big Cats by Elaine Landau (Enslow Publishers)

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year

Encyclopedia Horrifica by Joshua Gee (Scholastic)

Illustrator of the Year Award

Ian Falconer, Olivia Helps with Christmas (Simon & Schuster)

Author of the Year Award

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic)

The Children's Choice Book Awards program was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read. The program is a new component of Children's Book Week, the longest running literacy event in the country.

About the Children's Book Council

The Children's Book Council, established in 1945, is the nonprofit trade association of publishers of trade books for children and young adults in the United States. The CBC promotes the use and enjoyment of trade books for young people, most prominently as the official sponsor of Children's Book Week, the longest running literacy event in the country. The goal of the Children’s Book Council is to make the reading and enjoyment of books for young people an essential part of America's educational and social goals, as well as to enhance the public perception of the importance of reading by disseminating information about books for young people and about children's book publishing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Editor Interview: Dana Goldberg of Children's Book Press

Dana Goldberg on Dana Goldberg: "I was born and raised in New York City, and I'm a New Yorker at heart. I moved to the Bay Area in the summer of 1997, after graduating from Brown University with a degree in Comparative Literature (Spanish and English) and Literary Translation, and I've been out west ever since. Everyone thought I was crazy for leaving New York since I knew I wanted to pursue a career in publishing, but I was fortunate enough to find employment with Jossey-Bass (then a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster), then Weldon Owen (a cookbook and lifestyle publisher), and finally Children's Book Press. I've also worked for a literary agent in New York and a literary translation journal in San Francisco."

Were you an avid young reader, or did you come to this love later in life?

To say I was a bookworm as a child would be a gross understatement. I was very fortunate in that my mother was an early childhood educator, and there was a constant supply of books in our apartment. My dad also regularly took my brother and me to the public library. In general, my parents stressed the importance of reading and education.

What inspired you to enter the field of children's publishing?

It was a combination of my own passion for reading as a child, and my exposure to the children's book industry while in college. For three summers I did a part-time internship with Liza Pulitzer-Voges at Kirchoff-Wohlberg in New York. She represents wonderful people, like Bob Barner, Lois Ehlert, and Anne Miranda. I also love that in children’s books, the art and design are integral to the process and the product.

Could you summarize your career to date?

My first paying publishing gig in the Bay Area was working as a part-time editorial assistant for Two Lines, a journal of literary translation. I got my first full-time job at Jossey-Bass, though it was really like having two jobs. I worked (rather schizophrenically) two days a week for the foreign rights manager and three days a week as a publicist.

I was there for about a year and a half before moving to an editorial and production assistant position at Weldon Owen, where I worked on a series of large format, beautifully illustrated and photographed cookbooks.

I left Weldon Owen in 2000 to become an editorial and production assistant at Children's Book Press. Through some serendipitous timing, I moved rather quickly to being Assistant Editor, then Editor, and finally Executive Editor, which is my current position.

What led you to Children's Book Press?

I discovered Children's Book Press while researching publishing companies in the Bay Area when I first moved out here. I even applied for a part-time publicist job at CBP, but didn't get it.

It seemed like the perfect place for me to be, in that it combined a lot of my interests (children’s books, bilingualism, Spanish and English literature, forward-thinking artwork, a social justice focus).

Three years after applying for that publicist position, I came across the listing for the editorial assistant position, which I interviewed for and got, and the rest is history.

What challenges and opportunities did you encounter at the company?

Working at CBP allows me to work with some really amazing people—not just my colleagues at the Press, but the authors and artists and designers I work with on producing the books.

It's truly a privilege to shepherd their stories to fruition, to be a part of their creative process, and also to get to know them as people. In terms of challenges, that's easy…money!

We're a nonprofit independent press that primarily serves the school-and-library market.

As schools and libraries have seen their budgets shrink over the past several years, and as the book buying public has abandoned the independent bookstores that have also been the backbone of support for us, we've struggled at times to be able to continue to do what we do.

We’re lucky in that, as a nonprofit, we can fundraise and write grants and such, but there's a lot of competition out there for funding, and it's not always the most reliable revenue stream.

How would you describe the list? What sorts of books do you publish?

We publish multicultural and bilingual picture books, written in what we call "the first voice"—meaning the authors and artists who create the books come from the community they are representing in their work. We publish in four broad categories: books from the African American, Asian American, Latino, and Native American communities.

CBP initially published a lot of folklore, but now our list focuses on fiction and poetry, generally set in the contemporary U.S. and aimed at around a third-grade audience (though we do also offer books for kids that are in the four-to-six-year-old range). Family stories, immigration, historical fiction, the power of imagination, superheroes, neighborhoods, intergenerational stories…we've got them all.

If you had to highlight three recent titles that would give us a feel for the list, which would you choose and why?

On My Block (2007), our most recent multicultural anthology, because it highlights a huge spectrum of diversity as well as being beautifully designed. My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo (2007), because of the stunning artwork, and Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon (2007), because it's just a fabulous piece of poetry and a great read-aloud.

Which would you recommend to writers for study and why?

I would definitely recommend Juan Felipe Herrera, especially books such as Calling the Doves (1995) and Grandma and Me at the Flea (2002). He has an incredible poetic sensibility and a truly magical imagination, and is a real pro at showing rather than telling.

I'd recommend Uma Krishnaswami's books, Chachaji's Cup (2003) and The Closet Ghosts (2006). She's immensely gifted at creating real characters and wonderful dialogue, and she has a great natural sense of story.

I'd also point to Lucía González (The Storyteller's Candle (2008)), Jorge Argueta (A Movie in My Pillow (2001)), Xochitl and the Flowers (2003)), Moony Luna (2005), and Amy Lee-Tai (A Place Where Sunflowers Grow (2006)) for how to present historical information in a warm, engaging, sensitive way.

Who are your new voices, your rising stars, and your big names?

Let's see… New voices: Malathi Michelle Iyengar. Rising stars: Lucía González, Maya Christina Gonzalez. Big names: We're publishing a book in 2009 by Diego Rivera's daughter, Dra. Guadalupe Rivera Marín. She’s writing about her childhood memories, which will be illustrated with her father's artwork.

What do you see as your jobs in the publishing process?

In a general sense, my job is to find and nurture new, emerging, and established voices, and to help those writers and artists bring their stories and their vision to fruition.

In a more specific sense, my jobs are many. At Children's Book Press, because we're so small, each person essentially functions as his or her own department.

So my job as Executive Editor includes: building the editorial and production budget; finding authors and artists; acquiring new stories for publication; manuscript development; art direction (to some extent, along with the book designer); and project management.

What are your challenges?

Juggling the book schedules, making sure my authors and artists are delivering on time, figuring out what we can do with our sometimes-limited nonprofit budget.

One of the biggest challenges we all face is reigning in our desire to do more. Currently we're limited by our budget to publishing only four new hardcovers a year, but we'd all like to be producing more titles each year.

What do you love about it?

I love working with fantastically creative people! We’re so lucky to work with such generous storytellers and artists, and I am so thankful I get to be involved in how their work develops.

I love the range of stories and styles and histories I get exposed to in doing this work.

I love that each book represents a completely new adventure, a new relationship (even when I’m working with an author I already know well), and a new learning curve.

And I love producing books that do some good in the world.

How has publishing changed--for better and worse--since you entered the field?

For the better…. Publishers are finally making (limited) room for authors and artists of color and for bilingual books, which I think is a very good thing, although I don't think they're always as thoughtful about it as they could be.

For the worse…. The market is so glutted—we'd all be better off if publishers were publishing fewer books of higher quality. The booksellers, the reviewers, and the public wouldn't be quite so overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of what's out there, and the books themselves would benefit from more attention and a longer shelf life, I think.

Also, there's obviously been a huge negative impact on independent bookstores in the last ten years due to certain online retailers (ahem) and the expansion of the big chains, which hits small presses especially hard.

What global improvements would you like to see and why?

I'd like to see independent presses be able to survive on their own and not keep getting swallowed by huge conglomerates that seem to be only incidentally interested in the making of books.

I'd like for people to walk the walk and not just talk the talk—a lot of people say they support independent bookstores in their communities but then go spend their money elsewhere.

Of course, these are probably not very realistic improvements to expect, but a girl can dream.

Why is it important to make a special effort to publish books with diverse characters and themes?

Because that's the world we live in! All children deserve to see themselves reflected in the pages of books. It's a powerful thing to be validated like that, and it helps get them--and keep them--engaged and excited about reading. And all children benefit from reading about kids with lives and experiences and histories that are different from their own.

Bilingual books?

Unfortunately, there's a segment of our population that insists we should be a monolingual nation, which is so limited and so not reality!

Bilingual books are important because many, many children in this country are growing up in households where their parents are bilingual, or maybe their parents don't speak English well or not at all. Bilingual books allow those families to read together, to share that important experience together.

Some people may resist the idea of bilingualism as a positive value, but it's obviously something we believe in and which we promote in our books.

How has multicultural publishing evolved over time?

Back in the 1970s, when Children's Book Press was founded, there wasn't much in the way of multicultural publishing for children. Harriet Rohmer, who founded CBP, started by traveling to Latin America, transcribing and then publishing stories (folktales, myths, etc) from the oral traditions of various Latin American countries. The Press focused heavily on international and multicultural folklore and was one of the few, if not the only, publishers to do so at the time.

The rest of the publishing industry took quite a while to catch on, to realize there was a market out there for those kinds of stories. CBP eventually shifted its focus from folklore to more contemporary stories, and other publishers have followed suit, though many of them still publish quite a lot of folktales.

What is the landscape now?

I think the multicultural publishing fields has just exploded over the last 15 years—though as a share of the entire industry, it still represents a very small share.

But I do think that some of the bigger houses have realized that there is money to be made, that the Latino population (for example) is a huge, mostly untapped market, and so they're trying to capitalize on that.

As I said before, in some ways I think that's great, and in some ways it's challenging for us because it does create more competition.

What new directions and/or continuing challenges are out there?

In terms of new directions, we're looking to move into bilingual board books and books aimed at kids who aren't yet reading on their own.

There's a huge need out there for bilingual materials for that age group; that's what we’ve been hearing from experts in the early literacy field. Some day I would love for us to be able to move into chapter books and YA as well…

Our continuing challenges have to do with there being seemingly no end in sight to the budget pressures that are being put on our teachers, school districts, and librarians, who make up the biggest share of our customers.

How do you work to ensure that your books are accurate and respectful of the communities they depict?

Our motivation for publishing work in the first voice—written and illustrated by people who are part of communities they represent in their work—is to keep our books as culturally accurate, sensitive, and authentic as possible.

I'm not saying there isn't more than one way to be authentic. But for us, this idea of first voice is a very important principle. We also have various trusted readers who review our manuscripts while they're in development.

And in terms of bilingual books, we run the text by a bilingual copyeditor and a host of native readers to ensure as much as possible that the translation is not just correct, but also as smooth, poetic, and beautiful as the original language.

How does Children's Book Press work with teachers and librarians to connect books to young readers?

We used to do quite a bit of direct programming with classrooms, after school programs, and libraries, but now we try to partner with organizations who are already doing direct service work with kids.

We've also developed relationships with quite a few teacher-education programs to connect student teachers to our books, so that they know how to maximize their use in the classroom.

We've developed free online teachers guides for many of our books, available on our website.

We've also been involved in things like helping to plan San Francisco's annual Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros (Day of the Child, Day of the Book) festival.

What qualities do you look for in a manuscript?

An engaging voice, believable dialogue, action that compels you to keep reading, economy of language, showing rather than telling.

I love it when manuscripts teach me something new, or that have a fresh, sparkling take on a subject I already thought I knew something about. I love manuscripts that have a clear sense of purpose. I love manuscripts that are intelligent, that respect the intelligence of the reader, and that don't talk down to kids.

How can writers/illustrators submit their work for consideration?

Guidelines are on our website, and I'd encourage aspiring authors to read them carefully before submitting.

Any submission recommendations or pet peeves?

Do your research! We are pretty specific in terms of what we look for and what kinds of books we publish, and it's always disheartening to see how many people submit stories to us with apparently no idea as to what we publish.

As for pet peeves… A lot of people submit stories about food, or about situations involving school bullies, classroom contests, talent shows, etc.

I'm kind of over those topics as vehicles for promoting inter-cultural understanding. But then again, if someone were to come up with some really and truly original take on those themes…

Please describe your dream author.

One who submits a perfect first draft that needs no tweaking whatsoever! Just kidding. One who delivers on time, is thoughtful about his or her work, passionate about their subject and their craft, diligent about deadlines, and pleasant to work with on a personal level. A sense of humor never hurts, of course. That goes for authors and editors alike, actually.

Please describe your dream illustrator.

I've actually been lucky enough to work with a few artists I'd consider "dream illustrators"... The same principles I outlined in the previous question apply to illustrators, as well.

Do most of your books begin as submissions from writers, writer-illustrators, or agents? Why?

Most of our books begin with the author, and we choose the artist. We've had a few instances where the author and illustrator are the same person (Carmen Lomas Garza, for example, or, more recently, Maya Christina Gonzalez).

I think it's just really rare to find individuals who are equally talented at both writing and illustrating. It seems much more common that people identify as writers or as visual artists.

Also, we work with a lot of new and emerging talent, so most of our authors and artists come to us before they find representation.

Looking back on your career to date, which of the books you've worked on stand out most in your memory and why?

Every book is a unique, amazing experience, but a few recent ones that stand out are:

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow (2006), because of the author and artist's connection to the subject matter (the Japanese American internment during WWII) and the access we were given to the author's grandmother's sketches and artifacts (Hisako Hibi, a prominent Japanese American artist who was interned during the war with her family).

On My Block (2007), an anthology of 15 different visual artists creating artwork and stories about special places in their lives, from their childhoods, or from family memories, which was a project I had wanted to bring to fruition for years, since I first became an editor at CBP.

And The Storyteller's Candle (2008)(author-illustrator interview), a book about Pura Belpre, the first Latina librarian in New York City, because she has been such a hugely influential figure in the librarian community, and we love our librarians!

The author, Lucia Gonzalez, is a librarian and a storyteller with a strong connection to Pura's legacy, and Lulu Delacre, the artist, created beautiful collage art using a copy of The New York Times from the period when the story is set, during the Great Depression.

What do you see in your professional future? The future of Children's Book Press?

I'd love to be able to continue learning and growing and contributing to the children's book field.

Children's Book Press is looking to move into publishing board books, and maybe someday we'll even move into chapter books or young adult…. along with publishing the picture books we're already known for.

What do you do outside the world of children's book publishing?

I do a lot of reading, cooking, and singing/playing keyboards in a gigging band.

When my schedule permits, I love to hop back home to New York for my fill of museums and real bagels, or further afield to places like Italy. Actually, it's been way too long since I've taken a vacation like that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Author Interview: Bryna J. Fireside on Private Joel and the Sewell Mountain Seder

Bryna J. Fireside on Bryna J. Fireside: "I was born in Linden, New Jersey. I learned early in life that if I stayed home when school was out, I'd have to help my mom with the house work. But if I went down to my dad's dental office, I could do neat things such as answering the phone, making appointments, mixing up the stuff that silver fillings were made of, developing X-rays, and running errands. But a career in dentistry was not what I wanted.

"When I finished college, I taught in elementary schools in Chicago, Baltimore and New York City. I had a great time living in Greenwich Village, where I met and married Harvey, with the terrific last name, which I happily adopted as my own.

"We moved to Ithaca, New York; ten years later where Harvey was a professor at Ithaca College. We have three terrific adult children, five granddaughters and one grandson."

Would you tell us about your journey as a writer and how it lead you to write Private Joel and the Sewell Mountain Seder, illustrated by Shawn Costello (Kar-Ben, 2008)?

My writer’s apprenticeship started when I was a Girl Scout. I began taking our troop's news to the local weekly newspaper, and was soon given a paying job to write up both the Girl Scout News and the Boy Scout News. I not only had two bylines (one was a nom de plume for the Boy Scouts). I got paid $3 per column!

Later, when I was in high school, and had dropped the Scout news, I landed a job writing a weekly syndicated column called "The Teenager Looks Around." It ran in seven weekly newspapers in New Jersey.

In college, I concentrated more on my social life than I did on my writing.

Much later, I took several writing workshops at The New School for Social Research, and began to take my writing seriously. With our move to Ithaca, I wrote articles for teachers' magazines, and I became the children's book reviewer for a local weekly newspaper.

I moved on to reviewing children's books for The New York Times, after I'd met the children's book editor at a conference in Philadelphia.

While newspaper writing was fun--I love to see my name in print--I really wanted to write books for kids. Getting published wasn't as easy as writing articles for magazines and newspapers. But I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, went to conferences whenever I could, and met other struggling writers, who often became good friends and led the way to my getting published.

One friend, Joanne E. Bernstein asked me to co-author a book with her. Special Parents, Special Children (Albert Whitman, 1991). It was my first published book. It was quickly followed by Is There a Woman in the House...or Senate? (Albert Whitman, 1993), which was named a "Best Book for the Teenager" by the New York Public Library, and one of the 100 best books for girls by the Women's Booksellers Association.

Other nonfiction books for Enslow Publishers followed: Young People From Bosnia Talk About War [with Harvey Fireside](1996); Cruzan v. Missouri: The Right to Die Case (1999) The Mary Surratt "Lincoln Assassination" Trial (2001); The Haymarket Square Riot Trial (2002); and The Trial of the Police Officers in the Shooting Death of Amadou Diallo (2004).

In addition, there have been four editions of Choices for the High School Graduate: A Survival Guide for the Information Age (first published by Garrett Park Press, 1996; Ferguson Publishers, Chicago 1999, 2000; Ferguson Publishers/Facts on File, New York 2005. The fifth edition will be published in 2009.

However, my path to the publication of Private Joel and the Sewell Mountain Seder (Kar-Ben, 2008) literally took years. I discovered the original memoir written for "The Jewish Messenger" by J.A. Joel in 1865 on the Web about ten years ago. And, off and on over the years, I dabbled in writing this story for kids, but I never felt that I struck the right note.

Then, in 2005 I read a notice that there was a writers conference at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. It was specifically for Jewish children book writers who were writing Jewish stories for kids. And we were asked to send in the first page of a manuscript we were working on. I signed up immediately. And I whipped out my dusty (can manuscripts get dusty in one's computer?) manuscript. Suddenly, I began to revise it with new vigor, and when I was satisfied that I was going in the right direction, I sent off my "first page." However, by the date of the actual conference, I still hadn’t finished writing the story.

Nevertheless, I went to the conference, where I not only met other writers, I also met editors and agents who were truly looking for manuscripts that dealt with Jewish themes.

My particular goal was to write stories for kids that explored the varied Jewish experience in America, from Revolutionary days to the present. I had a particular interest in the Civil War, since I'd written about Mary Surratt. And when I began to research Jews on both sides of the conflict, I discovered some extraordinary stories. And this conference has become an important part of my current writing life.

I was totally surprised when I returned home to find an e-mail from the editor at Kar-Ben Publishing (editor interview) asking me for the complete manuscript of Private Joel!

My excitement was tempered momentarily by the fact that I hadn’t finished the story!

I replied that I'd send the manuscript within two weeks.

Well, that got my heart pumping and my fingers tapping on the computer keys. And by George! I finished the story and sent it off. Within two months, I had a contract in hand.

And after some revisions by me, and great editing and support by the editors, the manuscript was sent to Shawn Costello, who made my story come to life with her amazing paintings that draw the reader right into the experience of these Union soldiers who were determined to celebrate Passover during the war to preserve the Union, and to end slavery in America.

So, the timeline from beginning to end actually stretched over many years. But the major events were my desire to write about the Jewish American experience that has been ignored, or not well known, the discovery of Private Joel's description of that unusual and amusing and finally, deeply spiritual story during this particular war.

Of course, I took many liberties with the original telling. I have drawn on facts from Private Joel, and names of the Jewish soldiers from a Web site that lists some of the Jewish soldiers in his regiment, made up much of the dialogue, and added the names of the three Negro free men. So this is historical fiction.

And I am very fortunate to have had not only terrific editorial advice, but also Shawn Costello's beautiful paintings. Her colors are so well chosen, and the images are soft and impressionistic, and we know that these soldiers are really young boys who had spent time fighting the Rebels, and now, were not only bored, because the Rebels had holed up in the mountains for the winter, but the guys were also lonely and missed their families.

What would you say to aspiring writers?

My advice to any beginning writer:

1. Find time every day to sit down and write, even if all you do is one page. The great thing about writing is that it is not age related—and you get better at it the more you write.

2. Take writing workshops at your local college or community college wherever you are.

3. Go to writers conferences, and gather your courage and talk to people. Jane Yolen once gave me an important piece of advice: "It doesn’t matter that you are not published. What matters is that you are writing."

4. Write what you are passionate about.

5. Keep your mind active—take courses in subjects you don’t know anything about--you just may develop a passion in history, science, art, theater, whatever.

6. Do careful research.

7. Be familiar with what publishers are actually publishing.

8. Join the SCBWI.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

When I'm not writing, I am involved in helping immigrants and refugees in our community through an organization started by my husband and me called The Eleanor Roosevelt No Interest Loan Fund. When my husband died this past February, the fund was renamed the Harvey Fireside Loan Fund. It makes no-interest loans to immigrants and refugees who need money for such things as an unexpected medical bill, or to reunite family members, or apply for a green card, make a deposit on a new apartment, etc.

I'm also involved in the Border Fund, which raises funds for refugee shelters along with U.S.-Mexican Border. I take very seriously that Jewish command of Tikkun Olam—repairing the world. I try to keep it simple and local.

What's coming up next for your readers?

My next book will be the 5th edition of Choices for the High School Graduate and will have many new interviews with kids who got off the straight and narrow path and struck out on their own...and survived! But I'm also working on another Civil War story, this time an amazing heroine of the Confederacy.
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