Friday, May 30, 2008

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaways

Feast of Fools: The Morganville Vampires (Book Four) by Rachel Caine (NAL/ Jam, 2008)(sample chapter) goes on sale next week. To enter to win a copy of the book, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by midnight CST June 3! Please also type "Morganville Vampires" in the subject line. Read Rachel's LJ, visit her page at MySpace. Read a Cynsations interview with Rachel. Peek: "Read the classics. Don't just read what's out now, go back and see what used to interest (or scare) people. Some of it's still scary, some isn't."

Last Call for Entries

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.

More News & Links

Padma [Venkatraman]'s Climbing the Stairs Blog Tour Finale from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Check out the rest of the tour. Peek: "I became a citizen just over a year ago--when people ask me why, I tell them it’s because America has the best Public Library system in the world."

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal by Nathan Bransford at Curtis Brown. Peek: "An agent can often sell nonfiction projects on proposal, meaning you write the proposal first, then sell the project, then write the book. It mostly depends on the quality of the idea and its marketability, your platform, and your writing ability."

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: fights censorship and defends First Amendment rights of comic book professionals.

John Michael Cummings: official site of the debut author of The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel, 2008). Includes biography, published works, and contact information. See also JMC Notes, John's blog. From the promotional copy: "Young Josh knows there is something about the tall Victorian House on the Harpers Ferry Hill, the one his father grew up in, that he can't quite put his finger on—ghosts he can't name, mysteries he can't solve. And his impossible father won’t give him any clues. He's hiding something. And then there's the famous John Brown. The one who all the tourists come to hear about. The one whose statue looms over Josh's house. Why does he seem to haunt Josh and his whole family? When the fancy Richmonds come to town and move right next door, their presence forces Josh to find the answers and stand up to the secrets of the House, to his father—and to John Brown, too! The historic village of Harpers Ferry comes alive in this young boy's brave search for answers and a place of his own in this brilliant first novel by John Michael Cummings."

"To celebrate the release of Up All Night by Peter Abrams (HarperTeen, 2008), an anthology containing short stories by Peter Abrahams, Libba Bray (author inteview), David Levithan (author interview), Patricia McCormick, Sarah Weeks, and Gene Luen Yang], HarperTeen is offering aspiring authors the chance to write their own story to be included in the paperback edition. Submit an original short story about a character that stays up all night. The story must take place in the course of a single life-changing night. All stories must be between 5,000 and 10,000 words (12 pt font, double spaced, one inch margins) and all contributing entrants must be between 14 and 19 years old as of April 2, 2008. Download the official entry form (PDF). Entries must be postmarked by October 1st and received by October 7th." Source: readergirlz.

Question of the Week Thursday: Lisa McMann from Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks: "Did your publishing experience turn out as you expected?" Peek: "Like any new author knows, there are thousands of new books coming out every month and publishing houses have a lot of authors to tend to. So I knew that if I wanted Wake to get attention, I had to help make it happen."

Why I Love My Agent by Jenny Han at The Longstockings. Peek: "The first person to really impress upon me the importance of this was Sarah Weeks, our old writing teacher from New School. She told me that it was vital that I have an agent before stepping into the big bad publishing world."

An Interview with Agent Stephen Barbara of the Donald Maas Agency by Lisa Graff from The Longstockings.

2008 Writers' League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference has announced its roster of agent/editor speakers. Youth literature professionals include: Kathleen Anderson (YA) of Anderson Literary Management; Lilly Ghahremani of Full Circle Literary (YA); Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger (YA); Stefanie Von Borstel of Full Circle Literary (multicultural children's and YA); Natanya Wheeler of Lowenstein-Yost Associates (YA); Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. (children's and YA; scroll for description). Reminder: the deadline for the Writers' League Teddy Award is June 30.

Texas Non-Fiction Writers: an online community for authors in Texas. A place where writers can swap ideas, ask questions, get critiques, enter writing contests and keep in touch with news affecting non-fiction writers. TNFW also sponsors a first-class autumn writers' retreat in the Hill Country. Membership is free during 2008.

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #75: "Knoxville Girl," Kerry Madden from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "Honestly, I don’t think I’m quite finished with the Weems family yet, but I was terrified of writing 'manufactured mountain novels,' so I wanted a break to think about more Maggie Valley stories and what they could be." Read a Cynsations interview with Kerry.

"Down the Publishing Path" with Harold Underdown from the Institute of Children's Literature. Note: "Harold answered a huge collection of questions about editors, publishing, and getting a break." Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Fear of Regrets from Darcy Pattison's Revision Notes. Peek: "I'm afraid to submit, because I might get rejected. Yes. So what?"

The Horn Book Magazine has revised the order in which it lists the books in C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Read a Cynsations interview with Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book. See the preceding conversation.

Soup's On: Debbi Michiko Florence in the Kitchen Interview from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "I think the most frustrating experience for me was not knowing when to stop researching and start writing. I whined to friend and author Jerry Spinelli and he gave me this advice: 'You can sit on the bench and study the game forever, but you'll never score until you take off your sweats and start shooting.'"

Hilary Highland: official site of the author of The Wreck of the Ethie, illustrated by Paul Bachem (Peachtree). Don't miss her school-visit information!

Lobster Press: new blog from the "award-winning publisher of books for children, teens, tweens, and families." See also the publisher's official site and teen-page on MySpace!

Attention Youth Literature Bloggers: the 2008 Kidlit Bloggers Conference will be Sept. 27 in Portland, Oregon. Source: childrensbookbiznews.

Managing Expectations by Caroline Hickey at The Longstockings. Peek: "If you aren’t prepared for the reality of being an author, which often means working for many years on several books, slowly building an audience and a name and relationships with booksellers and librarians, and stomaching a lot of disappointments as you watch other new books come out and get more attention than yours, then you need to ask yourself if you really want to be a writer, or if you just want the cache of being published."

Looking "Underneath" the Imagination Process of Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008) from Lynn E. Hazen at Imaginary Blog. Peek: "For me, the key has always been faith. I simply have faith that if I sit there long enough, the words will come to me. But I've also learned (the hard way) that the words that come aren’t always beautiful and lyrical and all of that. That falls into that category called revision. So, I'm gentle with myself in a number of ways." Read Cynsations interviews with Kathi and Lynn.

Pre-School Through High School? Non-Fiction Picture Books Across the Grades by David Schwartz at Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. See also Does writing fiction affect the non-fiction writing process? by Padma Venkatraman at I.N.K.


Check out Rogelia's House of Magic by Jamie Martinez Wood (Delacorte, 2008).

The Irondequoit Public Library's Teen Advisory Board created a book trailer for one of my favorite books, Shug by Jenny Han (Simon & Schuster, 2006). See my recommendation of the novel. Source: The Longstockings.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Author Interview: Eric Luper on Big Slick

Eric Luper on Eric Luper: "Aside from being an avid poker player and author, Eric Luper, has had his share of interesting jobs, including: dry-cleaning store manager, medieval castle restorer, bartender, predatory bird cage cleaner, paperboy, and factory worker (at a factory that stamps out those shiny cellophane things that go around potted plants).

"Faced with the decision being a starving artist or a not-so-starving artist, Eric ran off to school to become a chiropractor. He spends the remainder of his time pursuing his writing. He currently resides in Albany, New York; with his wife and two young children. Big Slick (FSG, 2007) is his first novel."

Read Eric's LJ!

How would you describe yourself as a teenager?

As a teen, I was something of a searcher. I had a core group of friends, but I grazed in different social circles. I was a reasonably good student, but found that I thrived in extracurricular activities and my part-time job. I loved making money...and spending it.

As opposed to so many other authors, I was not an avid reader as a teen. Nor was I an avid writer. All that came later.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? What helped you the most? What might you do differently, given the opportunity?

I had no idea I was interested in writing until I got to college. I mean, I always loved storytelling vehicles such as film and television and role-playing games, but it wasn't until my freshman composition class at Rutgers where I began to sense that writing was something I might like to do. It developed from there, and I ended up shifting from biology major to English major.

What has helped me most, I think, is that I've been too stupid to stop. Persistence goes a long way when you're a writer. So does humility. When you're starting out, it's not easy to admit you suck, but it's the only way a writer gets better.

Holding my work up to the standards of the publishing industry has helped, too. Self-publishing might work for some, but all those rejection slips forced me to raise my game.

What is it about young people as fictional heroes and/or as an audience that especially appeals to you?

This is an interesting question, Cynthia. So many important decisions, life-altering decisions, are made during adolescence. It's a time when society expects us to learn and grow from our mistakes. Teens get do-overs and that makes for great fiction. Plus, emotions run so high during those teen years. Hormones pour through the wrinkles in our brains like gravy over mashed potatoes. I can't imagine a better age to write about!

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

It took a long time for me to trust my own voice. Until Big Slick, I had been writing what I thought editors wanted to see. I was chasing trends and trying to fill voids in the publishing world. If I read an article that there was a scarcity of boy-protagonist chapter books, I'd run off and write a boy-protagonist chapter book. Although all this "chasing" never led to a contract, it helped me hone my craft and find my voice. It readied me.

This may sound odd, but when I sat down to write Big Slick I had to actively give myself permission to write the book that needed to be written. I shook out my arms and told myself to forget the trends and the expectations and to just write the book I'd have wanted to read over and over again when I was a teen. It was a very different writing experience for me--it was very liberating--and one I'm still getting acquainted with.

Congratulations on the success of Big Slick (FSG, 2007)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

Big Slick starts off with Andrew Lang already in a hole and spiraling downward. He's stolen money from his family's dry-cleaning business to enter a poker tournament in an illegal card room, essentially throwing good money after bad.

When he loses the tournament, Andrew gets desperate. He devises different ways to get the money back before his father notices it's missing, but every attempt lands him in deeper trouble. Throw a geeky best friend, a hot co-worker and a kick-ass muscle car into the mix and, well, you get Big Slick.

A lot of people like to pigeonhole Big Slick as a "poker novel," but to me it's more than that. It would be like calling "The Breakfast Club" a "detention movie." It would be like calling "Roadhouse" a "dopey movie about a saloon." Okay, I'll give you that last one. In any event, you don't have to be a poker fan to enjoy Big Slick. At heart, it's a story about a good kid's struggle to figure out how to salvage, and ultimately strengthen, the relationships he's damaged as a result of a string of bad decisions.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

A friend called me up and urged me to watch poker on television. I told him I couldn't imagine anything more boring than watching other people play cards. He insisted and I relented.

After learning the rules and watching a few hands, I was hooked. It really is interesting to watch poker. There is a lot of deceit and trash-talking. There is pushing and pulling and huge swings of fortune. All things that make fiction so exciting.

It was then that I conceived the idea of a teen sitting at a poker table in a smoky, illegal card room filled with a bunch of less-than-savory adults. The image stuck with me and I wrote a short story, which turned out to be the first chapter of Big Slick.

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

I became acquainted with poker and wrote chapter one at the very end of 2003. It sat on my hard drive for months until the rest of the characters and some plot ideas had a chance to take shape in my head. I sat down to write in earnest in the spring of 2004. The first draft only took four or five months, but revisions took much longer. My contract offer with FSG came in the summer of 2005 and that put me on-track for a September 2007 release.

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

This novel was fraught with challenges, but the biggest challenge is one I've already touched upon--giving myself permission to write the book that needed to be written. This was a huge hurdle for me. Every time I sat down at that the computer, I had to remind myself to let go of all the voices in my head, those internal editors, who like to talk me out of writing from within myself.

There was also the matter of sounding smart about poker and figuring out what an illegal poker room is really like. Through the course of writing this book, I played online, in home games, huge casinos, and, yes, at seedy underground poker rooms. I tried my best to bring those colors to this novel. And fortunately I never lost my shirt!

Your bio indicates you're an avid poker player (which also comes through in the novel). Tell us a bit about your poker life.

I don't play nearly as much as I used to and, as such, my poker skills have waned. But I can still hold my own. The game of Texas Hold 'em is quite simple and quite complex at the same time. That is the beauty of it. There's always something new to learn. And if you have a head for numbers, it can be really fascinating.

My biggest weakness in poker is that I've never been able to separate the chip from the dollar amount it represents. Good players (as well as addictive gamblers) don't see $10 when they look at a poker chip. They just try to make the smart bet--the right bet for the situation. Me, I see a cheeseburger deluxe or ten downloads on iTunes.

Do you outline first? Do you just begin writing and see where it goes? Or, put another way, are you a plotter or a plunger and why?

I am a plunger who is completely envious of plotters. I wish I had some idea of where my characters were headed before I set out on the journey. It would save me tons of time and scores of pages that have ended up in the trash can. The trouble is that whenever I try to plot my story, I inevitably diverge from the plan within a chapter or two. So, I gave up on that.

Here is my current method: I create a few characters that intrigue me and then I put them in a terrible terrible situation. Just as soon as they start to get a handle on the situation, I throw some other terrible terrible obstacle in their way. I keep doing that until I get to the end of the story.

When I'm writing, I feel like a vengeful god. If my characters knew it was me pulling the strings, they'd just look up and say, "Dude, what the hell?"

What was it like being a debut novelist in 2007? What surprised you the most?

There were so many great books that came out in 2007, it was hard to keep up. The talent just keeps coming and the bar is getting higher and higher. The young adult shelves are populated with brilliant writers. But the world of children's writing is also so welcoming. The listservs, the bloggers, all the great conferences. Children's authors are so supportive of each other, and I value that community a great deal.

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

Great question! I'd tell myself to start writing in earnest sooner. I took a good decade off after college where I didn't write a darned thing. I feel like I missed an opportunity, not only to get published earlier, but to grow as a writer. But, I'm only 38, so I suppose it's not so bad! At the least, I should have taken my author photo back then so I would have more hair!

What advice do you have for YA novelists?

Write what is true to you. Forget what you hear about industry trends and gaps in the marketplace. Don't write a vampire book just because there are a bunch of really popular vampire books out right now. Don't write a picture book because you heard a librarian mention they are becoming more popular again. The best writing comes when you are tapping into a very uncomfortable place within you. Find out how to get at all that good stuff and let it come out through whatever story you're telling.

Do you work within a community of writers (a critique or workshop group), with an editorial agent, or solo before submitting to a publisher? Why? What are the benefits to you?

I have various circles that see my work before it goes to my agent, and ultimately my editor. I participate in a live critique group and an online critique group. I also have a few renegade readers who read my stuff. They are all people I trust implicitly, and I take their comments very seriously. However, I am sensitive to the fact that decisions made by consensus are often not the best decisions.

The final changes on anything I do come from me, and every change I make must improve the work in some way. I find it extremely helpful, though, to have fresh eyes on my writing. I've read my own words so many times the sentences often stop making sense to me!

As a reader, so far what is your favorite YA novel of 2008?

I haven't read a whole lot of 2008 releases yet, but my favorite novel I've read since January has got to be Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner (Random House, 2007). I call it "Curb Your Enthusiasm procreates with teen fiction, and the resulting baby gets injected with massive amounts of steroids." And no, the novel has nothing to do with William Shakespeare. But it's fresh and funny, it's filled with heart and situations that could make a sailor blush.

What do you do when you're not in the book world?

Outside my writing life, my plate is pretty full. I'm an author by night, but by day I am a chiropractor. I own an office and work a full week there. I also have two young children and spend at ton of time with them.

It seems like a lot, but all the activity forces me to be regimented with my writing. I wonder how much time I would waste if I were a full-time author! As for hobbies, I suppose skiing is my favorite. I also enjoy weekending up in Lake George on the warmer weekends. Come find me on the boat in Log Bay if you’re ever up there!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My second novel is entitled Bug Boy (FSG, 2009). It is the story of a young apprentice jockey in 1934 Saratoga, who is pressured to tamper with a horse. It's a gritty little book. I guess I love writing about the underbelly of society.

In many ways, this book was more challenging to write than Big Slick, and I'm proud of the results. Not only did I have to learn a ton about horse racing, but I had to learn about life in 1934. It's a roller-coaster of a story and has a lot of contemporary parallels that sprang up as I was writing. I'm in the editing phase on this one and look forward to it hitting the shelves next summer.

I'm also around 2/3 of the way through my third novel. Think contemporary. Think edgy. Think ka-pow! Sorry, but I can't say any more than that. It's still like a little creature that scurries further into the darkness as soon as you shed any light on it. Give me a few months and maybe I'll be ready to talk.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Get in touch! I love to hear from readers and librarians and teachers. I also love to get out (in my copious free time) so contact me via my website if you're interested in a school or library visit or having me come and speak at a conference!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Editor Interview: Abigail Samoun of Tricycle Press

Abigail Samoun on Abigail Samoun: "Abigail Samoun is a project editor with Tricycle Press, the children's book imprint of Ten Speed Press, in Berkeley, California, where she has worked since 2000.

"Abigail has edited board books, picture books, middle-grade fiction, and early young-adult novels. These include the 2003 SCBWI Golden Kite winner for best picture book text, George Hogglesberry: Grade School Alien by Sarah Wilson, illustrated by Chad Cameron; and the 2004 New York Public Library Ezra Jack Keats award-winner, Yesterday I Had the Blues by Jeron Frame, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

"Abigail edited the middle grade series Edgar & Ellen, which has sold over 200,000 copies worldwide, been translated into eight languages, and launched a cartoon series on Nickelodeon.

"Before entering the wild world of children’s publishing, Abigail received an MA in French Studies and Journalism from New York University and worked jobs as far a field as a lingerie salesperson, a wrapper (as in gifts, not hip-hop), and an intern at the Bronx Zoo. None of these jobs was nearly as exciting as editing children's books.

"To learn more about Abigail, the books she edits, and Tricycle Press, visit"

What kind of young reader were you?

It's funny but I don’t remember being around books much before I came to the U.S. from France when I was seven years old. I had a really mean first grade teacher in Paris. Her name was Madame Robinet, which roughly means "Mrs. Water Faucet." Her temper ran hot---oui, oui. It was the 1970's but apparently Dr. Spock had yet to introduce the concept of child psychology to the French teaching establishment. I learned to read in her class, but it wasn't a joyful experience.

Then, when I got to the States, there was a transition year where I was learning to read and write in English. It was a strange experience because I could understand English perfectly since my mother had always spoken it to me, but I'd always answered her in French. So that first year, I had to learn how to form English sounds—the "th"s were, of course a problem and for a few years I went around saying "zee" and "zat."

It wasn't until third grade that I discovered books. It started with my mom reading me the Oz books---a chapter every night before bed. Then, in fourth grade, I had a genius friend who was not only a musical prodigy but also a nine-year-old novelist. So, of course, I had to write a novel, too. I got to page 16. She got to page 55. She was deemed the more serious of our literary duo, but I continued to write stories throughout the rest of grade school.

In fifth grade, we moved to a small town in Sonoma County. That's when I really started devouring books on my own. I loved the Ramona books, Anastasia Krupnik, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, all the Judy Blume books. That's probably why I love working on middle-grade fiction so much.

What inspired you to make children's book editing your career focus?

I made a pact with myself when I was ten: "Don’t ever forget what it feels like to be a kid. Adults grow up and forget what it's like. But you've got to remember." And I did.

I've always carried that with me. So I think that's part of the reason why I ended up in children's books. It was a way to remember and honor that experience of being a child. I didn't do it consciously, though. I studied journalism in college, and I thought I'd end up working for a newspaper or a magazine.

But then a friend recommended Ten Speed because someone he knew had published with them. They had an opening in the kids' books department. I thought, "well, I'll try it out for a few months and then maybe I can transfer to adult books when a position opens up."

Eventually, I worked part time for the adult division for a while, dividing my time between picture books and cook books, but I quickly realized that kids books were a lot more fun.

Children's literature, despite Harry Potter, is still seen by most people---if they consider it at all--- as the less serious, less important product of the publishing industry. But there's a humility in serving the less powerful in society.

To me the beauty of working in kids' books is that kids don't care about a celebrity author or illustrator, they don't care if it's high literature, they don't care about the writer's ego, or New York Times reviews---they just want a good story.

Their experience of reading is more pure, more about the reason we've told stories since we formed language thousands of years ago. To me, what happens between storytellers and their audience is a type of magic.

How did you prepare for this career?

The best preparation I had for this job was taking a creative writing class every semester in college. I learned how to critique manuscripts in those classes---I learned the basics of story elements such as characterization, plot, tension, and development.

I also learned how hard it was to write something and put it out there for public consumption. This has been helpful in working with writers because I know a bit about what goes into the process and how difficult it is. I admire writers tremendously.

More generally, I prepared for this career by being a lover of books. I thought of favorite authors as kind of abstract friends---when I looked at my bookcases, it felt almost like I was looking at a family photo album. It was always reassuring and comforting.

I even shelved my books according to which writers I felt would get along. Margaret Atwood next to Gail Godwin, Italo Calvino next to Borges, Kundera next to Norman Mailer. It made complete sense to me.

What do you see as the job(s) of an editor in the publishing process?

A lot of what we do is manage the process. It's a little bit like event planning: you find out who's going to help put the party together (designers, copyeditors, proofreaders), you make sure everything stays on schedule (ceremony begins promptly at two o'clock), you put out fires (the caterer's flambé), you choose formal or informal dress (hardcover with jacket or without?), you balance the budget, you do quality control, etc., etc.

I spend about 5% of my time actually editing text. Most of what I do is plan, coordinate, give feedback, and keep the various players on track and on schedule.

In a more philosophical and grander sense, I see my role as encourager and champion of talented artists. I feel a responsibility to give them an opportunity and to push them to do their very best work.

What are its challenges? What do you love about it?

Challenges: Since the editor, as manager and champion, is usually at the center of a project--- with the author communicating to her their needs, the illustrator theirs, the publisher theirs, the sales people theirs---it's not always easy making sure everyone is happy. There's a lot of juggling involved.

What I love about the job is working with creative people, finding an exciting story and sending it on the road to publication, pairing it with just the right illustrator---and having the opportunity to support artists in a society where they receive very little support.

If you could go back in time to your beginning-editor self, what advice would you give her?

That's an interesting question. I was very nervous when I first started out. Talking on the phone with an illustrator or author was something I had to psychologically prepare for and I would often grip the phone receiver so tightly, my hand would be numb afterwards.

I think I would tell my twenty-five year old self to trust her instincts, relax, focus on what’s important: helping artists do their best work.

How have you seen the business change since you started in publishing?

When I started in 2000, it felt like the independent bookstores were losing the battle to the chains. They're still battling, but there have been some inspiring victories.

Here in the Bay Area, communities came together to save Kepler's, a legendary bookstore in Menlo Park. The big giants, Barnes & Noble and Borders, are showing that they're not invulnerable to market forces. Specialty and gift sales have become more important---the success of some of our strongest titles, such as the Urban Babies Wear Black series, owes largely to gift accounts.

There's a lot of pessimism right now about picture books. Fiction is still the hot item. But I don't think this is the beginning of the end for picture books. To me, it feels like a natural cycle.

The social climate is such that verbal language is eclipsing visual language at the moment. I think we're in more analytical times, with a lot of insecurity about our political and economic situation. Things will change.

There's a tarot card that often provides me with both comfort and warning: the Wheel of Fortune. What goes up, comes down; what comes down, goes up. Picture books will have their day again.

What do you think of those changes? If you could make a change for the better in the publishing world, what would it be? Why?

Even in our indie publishing house we talk very little about children. We talk about librarians, teachers, parents, uncles, grandparents, reviewers---but seldom to we ever actually talk about children.

Even though kids aren't the ones with money in their pockets I really think that in some mysterious way, they're the ones who decide the ultimate success of a book.

If I could change something in the publishing world, it would be to give kids more of a voice about what they want to read.

For those unfamiliar to Tricycle Press, could you offer an overview of the house and its philosophy?

Tricycle Press is fifteen years old this year. I think that means we're now officially older than most of our readers. We've grown tremendously since I came to the house eight years ago.

When I started in 2000, we had eight frontlist titles. This fall we have fifteen. Our fiction list is really taking off, and we're publishing our first young adult novel, which I'm proud to say I edited and art directed.

I'd be hard pressed to say what really makes a book a Tricycle book. Other houses seem to have a clearer sense of their brand. Ours is a more eclectic list than most. But I would say that our guiding principle has always been quality--quality of text and quality of artwork.

I think, too, that we're especially open to new and up and coming artists. We're one of the few houses that still accepts unsolicited manuscripts. In my years at Tricycle, it's been a special thrill of mine to introduce many first-time authors and illustrators to the picture-book community.

Among the artists who made their picture book debuts with us are Nathalie Dion, Tatjana Mai-Wyss, Kevin Serwacki, Enrique Moreiro, Raul Allen, Mikela Prevost, and Mark Fearing--you'll be sure to see more from these talented folks.

If you had to pick just three, what are Tricycle Press's don't-miss titles of 2008? And why?

Just three? Hmmm…

The young adult novel I mentioned above is a definite "don’t-miss." Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen (of Mermaid Mary Margaret and Buzz Bumble fame)(author interview), leads you through the emotional territory of a fifteen year old who has spent almost his entire life in foster care. The events of the book take place over the first few weeks of summer vacation and explore the developing trust and affection between Shifty and his eight-year-old foster sister, Sissy, who serves as both his conscience and his partner in a series of unlikely escapades.

Both Shifty and Sissy are drawn with sensitivity and nuance, I missed them after I shipped the book to the printer----but Lynn also brought to life characters that didn't even speak: Chance, an infant and the third child in the foster home, and Lester, a cat who, as Shifty says, "can’t even meow right."

Shifty is a story you feel in your gut--it has that power now and will have that power ten, twenty, fifty years from now.

I'll be brief with the other two: Ocean Wide, Ocean Deep by Susan Lendroth is a story I had to fight for. It's a "quiet story," and it took me two years to convince my publisher to sign it.

It's about a little girl in 19th century Cape Cod whose father goes away to sea for a year. She waits---children and women did a lot of waiting in those days--for her father to return, observing the passing seasons, imagining the exotic harbors her father is visiting. The text is lyrical and heartfelt. The illustrations by newcomer, Spanish artist Raul Allen, are quite simply breathtaking. His style is unlike anything I've seen before--classic watercolor textures (his ocean waves look like Turner's) and beautiful lines, all finished digitally, layer upon layer.

Third story----well, I’ll cheat. The Day We Danced in Underpants is actually a spring book, but since it's one of my all-time favorites, I'll throw it in. Sarah Wilson wrote a lively farce, set in 18th century France (okay, I'm a little biased) full of delicious word play and a rhythm so catchy I'd find myself humming it in the car. Catherine Stock (A Spree in Paree) painted flamboyant, Watteau-inspired scenes with bright, collaged costumes, fancy hairdos, and a fair amount of mayhem. It's delightful, zany fun.

Do most of your manuscripts come directly from writers or through agents?

I'd say 50/50. A lot of the manuscripts I receive directly come from authors with whom I've cultivated a relationship.

What recommendations do you have for writers interested in working with you? With your house?

Familiarize yourself with our list: request our catalog, browse our website (, read our books. This will give you a good sense of the type of work we publish. You can also come to conferences--I speak at several every year---and hear a little more about what it's like to publish with us. I'll be speaking at the SCBWI annual in LA this summer---so come say hello!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Author Interview: Michelle Meadows on Pilot Pups

Visit Michelle Meadows! See photos of her recent signing at the National Air and Space Museum.

Congratulations on the release of Pilot Pups, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster, 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

Pilot Pups is a rhyming adventure story about toy dogs who go on a special search-and-rescue mission. I think it celebrates the power of the imagination, the secret life of toys, and the wonders of transportation.

I've read stories about real-life search-and-rescue operations, and I find it fascinating how teams pull together to help when someone is missing--whether it's an adult hiker or a small child who gets lost.

I was trying to create a situation where readers would be eager to follow along with the Pup heroes to find out who they are searching for. And of course you have to read the book to find out!

What was your initial inspiration for writing Pilot Pups?

For years my son has had stuffed animals sitting on top of his bookshelf. He especially had a lot of toy dogs and various aircraft. I wrote this story after imagining that the toy dogs on my son's shelf climbed into an airplane and took off.

Also, I had been circulating a totally different manuscript about puppies for a couple of years with no luck. That manuscript got rejection letters, but some editors did comment that they liked aspects of it. So Pilot Pups was my attempt to write something completely new and better, but still with pup characters.

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

From spark to publication was about three years. I spent a couple of months thinking about the concept and writing the book. About three weeks after my agent (Rosemary Stimola)(agent interview) sent the manuscript out, she called to tell me that she had received multiple offers. She sold Pilot Pups in an auction, which was very exciting.

Soon after that, my Simon & Schuster editors let me know that they had chosen Dan Andreasen to illustrate. Dan has done great illustrations for many other books, including Sailor Boy Jig by Margaret Wise Brown (Margaret K. McElderry, 2002).

What did Dan Andreasen's art bring to your text?

Dan's illustrations really helped bring the story to life, and he brought a tremendous amount of creativity to the project. I was delighted when I first saw the sketches, and I think that young children will enjoy studying and revisiting the pictures.

We last spoke in May 2003 about the publication of your debut picture book The Way the Storm Stops, illustrated by Roseanne Litzinger (Henry Holt, 2003). Looking back, what has that book come to mean to you? What did you learn about being an author from your debut experience?

The Way the Storm Stops will always be very special to me because I wrote it after rocking and singing my son to sleep during a big thunderstorm. He was about two then, and now he is 11.

I think my debut experience taught me that there is so much more to being an author than writing a particular story. I learned the importance of connecting with children through school visits and talking with them about the importance of reading and writing.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have several more rhyming picture books in the works, and I'm not quite sure in which order they will come out. But following Pilot Pups, you can look out for Biker Pups, in which the pups are motorcycle police officers who bring order to the toy town. I also have a forthcoming book about a mouse who gets lost and another book about some pigs who love to make noise. And keep your fingers crossed for me as I continue to work on some new projects in the early-reader genre.
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