Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Cynsational News

Tomorrow morning I leave for The Youth Literature Festival, sponsored by the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which takes place Oct. 4.

All events are free and open to the public and will be held at various locations across the Urbana-Champaign community.

Speakers will include: Ashley Bryan; Betsy Hearne; Dan Keding; W. Nikola-Lisa; Alice McGinty; Patricia Hruby Powell; Melodye Rosales; Marc Aronson; Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Chris Crutcher; Jan Spivey Gilchrist; Jennifer Holm; Paul Jancezko; Francisco Jimenez; M. E. Kerr; Robert Lipsyte; Robert San Souci; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Joyce Carol Thomas; Richard Van Camp; and Janet Wong. See more information.

Greg graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Illinois, and we've visited once before. I look forward to the event as well as to visiting Native America House and two local schools. Note: I will not be checking email until I return to Austin; Cynsations will resume posting on Monday.

Thank you to HipWriterMama for her cheers on the 10-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com! Follow the ongoing celebration here!

The winner of the autographed copy of Pilot Pups, by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster, 2008)(excerpt) is Mila in California!

Congratulations, Mila, and thank you, Michelle! Read a Cynsations interview with Michelle!

Breaking News: Michelle reports that she has just finished working on revisions for the second book about these pup heroes with her Simon & Schuster editor Kevin Lewis. In Biker Pups (Pub Date TBA), the pups will zoom through town as motorcycle police officers." Yay for pups!

I'm hard at work on Blessed, which will crossover the casts of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, March 2009).

The novel is set in September in Austin, and so I've been making particular note of the weather and mood of the city.

I'm also working steadily on a guide--for my own personal use--to my universe. I was able to hold it all in my head until now.

But with two previous novels and two previous short stories, my brain may be at its quick-recall capacity.

Diana Rodriguez Wallach, author of Amor and Summer Secrets (Kensington, September 2008) was kind enough to send in this photo of Tantalize, taken at a bookstore in Delaware.

Also identifiable in the picture are a couple of books from Ellen Shreiber's Vampire Kisses series (HarperCollins, ongoing) and Amanda Marrone's Uninvited (Simon Pulse, 2007). Read a Cynsations interview with Amanda.

Congratulations to Diana on her new release! From the promotional copy: "Fifteen-year-old Mariana Ruiz has no desire to step foot outside her affluent Philadelphia suburb. But she may not have a choice.

"With total disregard to the high-glam Sweet 16 her best friend is hosting, Mariana's father ships her off to a tiny mountain town in Puerto Rico to stay with family she's never met.

"The heat is merciless, the food is spicy, and only one of her relatives—her distant cousin Lilly—speaks English. Her consolation prize is Lilly's homespun Puerto Rican Quinceãnera.

"Only the riotously festive party exposes Mariana to more than just her culture. She uncovers new friends, her first love, and a family secret that's been buried on the island for more than 30 years."

Read the story behind the story, and watch the book trailer.

Visit Diana at MySpace.

Attention: LJ readers! I'm aware that the fashion is to use a cut line for longer posts of this nature, but after much playing with the command, I can't seem to get it to work. I need to leave the interviews long because they're back-up files for the main site. But please know this long links post is a function of my incompetence, not a lack of consideration. Note: any tips appreciated. I'm sadly clueless. Maybe it's a Mozilla thing?

Attention: YA Librarians! Don't miss the Cynsations Teen Read Week Books with Bite Giveaway!

More News

"READ" in Native Languages from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "For those of you who are preparing materials for November (Native American month), download the graphic. Put it on display, surrounded by books by Native writers." Note: don't miss the new Native Youth Lit widget, available now from JacketFlap!

Making a public confession by Barbara Caridad Ferrer at Abriendo Puertas: Opening Doors. Peek: "So She Dances, the YA I had scheduled to come out next summer that was the contemporary reinterpretation of Bizet's 'Carmen,' has been canceled by the publisher. Why? Well, your guess is as good as mine." Note: First, my condolences to the author. Beyond that...canceled contracts do happen and more frequently than many realize. My picture book Jingle Dancer was canceled when Lodestar was bought out and eliminated (it shortly afterward resold to Morrow, just before the Harper merger and survived that one). A short story collection to which I contributed also was canceled by two different houses. Source: Elizabeth Scott.

28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature: Submissions for the 2009 28 Days later spotlights are ongoing! Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf. Note: please support this important initiative through links and related announcements.

28 Days Later: 2009 from YA author Varian Johnson, co-founder of the The Brown Bookshelf, at They Call Me Mr. V. Varian echoes the launch of the 2009 call for nominations and discusses why the initiative is important. He highlights and responds to a new essay "Limited Options: The dearth of books written for African-American teens is glaring" by Denene Millner (Publishers Weekly, Sept. 8, 2008). Peek from Varian: "African-American authors are a dying breed, a breed which I fear may become extinct if we don't do a better job of supporting both established and emerging talent." Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

Behind the Book: From the Desk Of...Laurie Halse Anderson from Simon & Schuster [on Why She Wrote Chains (Simon & Schuster, 2008)]. Peek: "I knew about the slaves of Jefferson and Washington, but Ben Franklin? I loved Franklin, I adored him. How could he own slaves?"

Dear Author, Don't Be a Jerk. No, Really by Lauren Lise Baratz-Logsted at Red Room: Where the Writers Are. Peek: "Don't Respond To Wholly Negative Reviews. It seems obvious, and yet how often do you see writers fighting their own battles in the Letters to the Editor section of the NYTBR?"

Check out pg. 41 of the Pottery Barn Kids Halloween catalog to see a young girl reading Annette Simon's Mocking Birdies (Simply Read, 2005).

Reminder: The Book Transfusion by Devyn Burton - YA Author. Devyn is coordinating a "book raising" event for hospitals in lower east Michigan. Peek: "Being in the hospital so much I noticed a trend, teens in the hospital had two options--A) color and do crafts meant for a six year old or option B) 'suck it up' like an adult watch TV all day. That is unacceptable, we need something to occupy our minds as well—and even if you did partake in options A & B, you can only color and watch TV so much! A book is a wonderful tool for anyone in the hospital." Note: YA authors, publishers, businesses, readers, there are ways that all of you can help! Just blogging the link will help!

They Tried to Ban This Book Today, or, There's a Sticker on the Cover of This Book by Little Willow at Slayground. Peek: "They are going to keep this book in the library - and (partially, lightly, barely, noticeably) deface it."

Sara Zarr on balancing the personal and the professional [in your blog]: a report by April Henry from the Kitlitosphere Conference. Peek: "Don't be Debbie Downer with nothing but a string of posts about how publishing sucks."

Neesha S. Meminger: an author interview at Fumbling with Fiction. Peek: "It was amazing to see that I knew the answers to my editor’s questions, but hadn’t put them on the page where they needed to be. And that answering those questions took me to greater depths in the plot, pacing, and character building of my novel. It was exhilarating to be working on the novel with someone who was as enthusiastic as I was about it." See Neesha's official author site.

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth, Jump Up and Down on Your Cake, and Reprogram All of Your Appliances from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "...not one, not two, but five editors had worked on revising it. On the day of publication, not one word of the original manuscript remained. This was no longer the manuscript I'd submitted and no longer the manuscript I loved."

Pondering Self-Publishing
: a podcast from Just One More Book. Peek: "Today we stray from our standard format for an unplanned and extremely rambly chat about our observations of and unqualified opinions about self-publishing children’s books." Note: Cynsations has previously featured two unusually successful self-published authors, Debbie Leland and Jerry Wermund.

What Constitutes Good Sales for a Literary Novel? from Editorial Ass. Note: stipulates that she's talking adult, not children's/YA, but still interesting from our POV.

One on One with Author, Sara Ryan from Melody Simpson at Hollywood The Write Way. Peek: "I saw Battle’s brother being sort of a Puck character. As I wrote it I saw that even though it seemed like he was never phased by anything, (he just deceived people and moved on) there is some level that you can't really see where all of the damage that he does really affects him." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Shadowed Summer: official site of the novel by Saundra Mitchell. Includes: summary, excerpt, press kit, author bio, secrets (inside scoop), soundtrack, printable bookmarks, widget, and classroom resources (vocabulary lists, writing prompts, reading list). Note: excellent example of book-specific site; authors/publishers should study as a model; readers should take advantage of this peek into Saundra's world. Read Saundra's LJ.

Think Early and Think Often from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "Do editors ever Google an author, then decide not to work with them based on political beliefs?" See also a post from Editorial Anonymous on why picture book production takes so long.

"What I Know Now...": post-publication insights from Lauren Barnholdt. Peek: "It's kind of like if you ask out a guy, and he turns you down. Big deal, right? It might sting for a while, but you find a new guy. But if you've been dating that guy for a year and suddenly he breaks up with you, it's kind of devastating. Being published does not make things easier, it makes things harder. Because of..." Note: smart, savvy, and spot on.

The Well-Read Child: "my mission is simple--get kids to read. I feature book reviews, reading tips, and learning activities you can use to help instill the joy of reading in your child."

"Who's It For?" musings and a first-rate link selection from author Liz Garton Scanlon. Read a Cynsations interview with Liz.

"Choices. Choices. Choices." by Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "What a character wants is something both psychological and moral. " Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? Snubbed by kids, disappointing to librarians, the recent winners have few fans by Anita Silvey from School Library Journal. Peek: "I spent the last few months talking to more than 100 people—including media specialists, children’s librarians, teachers, and booksellers—in 15 states across the country. Although most spoke on the condition of anonymity, all of them were eager for me to share their insights. Here's the gist of what I learned." Source: Read Roger, "Going for the Gold," which you also should check out.

Posts about the [Kidlitosphere] Conference
from Portland Kidlit. Note: wish I could've been there!

How Do You Define Success?
from Children's Writing Web Journal. Peek: We may all daydream about becoming the next J.K. Rowling, about having throngs of kids line up at midnight to gobble up our new book, of gaining all the fame, fortune, love and respect that seemingly come with mega-stardom."

Kidlit Blogging Session II: Blog Promotion from MotherReader. Peek: "Jen Robinson pulls together literacy news. Bookshelves of Doom is always on top of book challenges. It's more than niche reporting." Source: April Henry.

Congratulations to Tamara Smith on signing with agent Erin Murphy, and congratulations to Erin on signing Tam! Read a Cynsations interview with Erin.

Celebrate Banned Books Week. Source: Bookseller Chick.



How to Give a Successful School Visit and Survive to Tell About It by Don Tate from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "...you can avoid misunderstandings — like not getting paid on the day of the visit — if you create a simple contract." Read a Cynsations interview with Don.

Character Arcs or "Where Do You Think You're Going?" by Stephanie Greene at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Why follow the character? What makes their plight/desire/need compelling and how does a writer create that?"

Surf over to nominate a book for a Cybils award! Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly Herold and Anne Boles Levy on The Cybils.

Children's Picture Book Manuscript Critique Raffle from The Mischief Fights Cancer Raffle. Peek: "One winner will receive a free evaluation of their children's picture book (manuscript only, between 400 and 1000 words) by Tracy Marchini of the Curtis Brown agency. Comments will be provided in the form of an editorial memo." Tickets are $10. Note: Tracy is brilliant.

Movie Alert

"Nick & Norah's Ultimate Playlist" (the movie) debuts tomorrow, Oct. 3, and don't miss the novel by the same title by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Knopf, 2006) that started it all!

From the promotional copy: "It all starts when Nick asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes. He only needs five minutes to avoid his ex-girlfriend, who's just walked in to his band’s show. With a new guy. And then, with one kiss, Nick and Norah are off on an adventure set against the backdrop of New York City—and smack in the middle of all the joy, anxiety, confusion, and excitement of a first date.

"This he said/she said romance told by YA stars Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a sexy, funny roller coaster of a story about one date over one very long night, with two teenagers, both recovering from broken hearts, who are just trying to figure out who they want to be—and where the next great band is playing.

"Told in alternating chapters, teeming with music references, humor, angst, and endearing side characters, this is a love story you'll wish were your very own. Working together for the first time, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have combined forces to create a book that is sure to grab readers of all ages and never let them go."

Online Events

Reminder: I'll be appearing twice to discuss Tantalize and related forthcoming books in October on the Eye4You Alliance Island at Second Life. From School Library Journal: "There will be two appearances, the first on the main grid of Second Life (for those 18 and over) on Oct. 14, and again on Oct. 28 on the teen grid of Teen Second." See more information.

Real-Space Events

A Picture Book Primer: Writing and Illustrating Children's Books with Keith Graves from The Writers' League of Texas. Dates: Oct. 7; Oct. 30; Nov. 18. "Animator and picture book author and illustrator Keith Graves will guide students through the process of writing and illustrating a picture book. Students will bring in rough manuscripts or ideas, along with sketches or ideas, which will be developed over the course of three meetings into a book dummy for presentation. Students will receive one-on-one instruction, and participate in group critiques and discussions. This class will require some work to be done at home between classes." See more information.

The first annual Hill Country Book Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Georgetown Public Library (Georgetown, Texas). Participating authors/illustrators include Liz Garton Scanlon, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Don Tate, P. J. Hoover, and Deborah Frontiera. The Biscuit Brothers also will be performing! See schedule.

Attention Ohio: Teen Read Week Author Visit: Rachel Caine. Vampires only come out at night – or do they? Find out at special appearances by Rachel Caine, author of the Morganville Vampires series. In keeping with this year's Teen Read Week theme, "Books With Bite @ Your Library," Caine will discuss the history of vampires, including fun facts. An open registration for grades 7-12 will begin Oct. 1 and is limited. To register, call 330-744-8636, ext. 149. Boardman, 9:30 a.m., Oct. 14; Poland, 12:30 p.m., Oct. 14. Read a Cynsations interview with Rachel.

Rick Guzman (Austin) will speak at the Oct. 18 meeting of the CenTex Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers in Round Rock, Texas. "Book Publishing Contracts: What You Need to Know" will discuss what to look for, what to avoid, and what it all means. "Guzman's law practice includes publishing interests, and he writes biographies of famous Latinos, most recently George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy (Enslow, 2008)." Source: Writers' League of Texas. Note: this event was rescheduled due to Hurricane Ike.

R. L. Stein's Halloween Party will begin at 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Austin Children's Museum (201 Colorado St.). R. L. Stein will read and tell a communal (audience-participation) ghost story at 3:30 p.m. and sign books from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The event is free, but space is limited to 350. Costumes welcome. Note: Barnes & Noble will be selling books; sponsored by the Texas Book Festival in cooperation with the museum.

"Connections & Craft: Writing for Children and Young Adults:" hosted by Brazos Valley (Texas) SCBWI Nov. 15 at A & M United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas. "Editor Joy Neaves, agent Emily Van Beek, editor Kim T. Griswell of Highlights, and author Cynthia Leitich Smith comprise our faculty for this day-long event. Published BV-SCBWI authors will also conduct a hands-on Writers' Workshop." Download the brochure. Read a Cynsations interview with Emily.

The Tenth Annual Jewish Children's Book Writers' Conference is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 23 at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Avenue) in New York City. The fee is $95 before Nov. 1, $110 after Nov. 1 and includes kosher breakfast and lunch. Featured speakers are associate agent Michelle Andelman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, publisher David E. Behrman of Behrman House, executive editor Michelle Frey of Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, editor Larry Rosler of Boyds Mills Press, director Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben Publishing, and illustrator's agent Melissa Turk of Melissa Turk & The Artist Network. Award-winning author Johanna Hurwitz will give opening remarks, and the day will include sessions on publishing and writing in Israel, the Sydney Taylor Book Award and Manuscript Competitions, and individual consultations with editors and agents from past conferences. The registration form is available for download (PDF file). Call 212.415.5544 or e-mail library@92Y.org for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is Nov. 17.

Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) Workshop in San Antonio Nov. 24 to Nov. 25. An event I utterly adore for the depth of discussions, sophistication and dedication of the attendees-leadership, and wonderful company of fellow YA authors. Note: NCTE stands for "National Council of Teachers of English," which has a preceding conference. Details on my signing and speaking schedule to come.

Educational Opportunity

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program now offers a one-semester graduate-level picture book certificate program. Note: "The picture book certificate program is modeled after a regular MFA-WC&YA semester with a few additional components."

Teen Read Week: Books with Bite Giveaway

YALSA's Teen Read Week 2008 is Oct. 12 to Oct. 18, and the theme is "Books with Bite."

In anticipation of the celebration, I'm giving away a super spooky prize package made up of the following to a YA librarian who has not previously won a Tantalize-related prize: a signed paperback copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008); a signed copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella, 2008); a Sanguini's T-shirt; and a set of 25 autographed bookmarks. Note: Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in Tantalize.

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Oct. 6!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network
by 10 p.m. CST Oct. 6! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

Please indicate your library and type "Books with Bite" in the subject line!

Author Interview: Christopher Golden on Soulless

Christopher Golden on Christopher Golden: "I sold my first book--a non-fiction pop-culture project called Cut!: Horror Writers on Horror Film (Berkley, 1992) in 1990 or 1991--and it won the Bram Stoker Award in 1992.

"'92 was also the year I sold my first novel, at the age of 25, and that was it. I quit a fantastic job at Billboard magazine in New York, moved back to Massachusetts with my wife, and have been writing full time ever since.

"In that time, I've written adult, YA, and children's fiction in the mystery, horror, thriller, and fantasy genres, as well as more non-fiction pop-culture books, video games, loads of comic books, an online animated series called Ghosts of Albion (which I co-created and co-wrote with Amber Benson) and the script for the movie adaptation of Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (Bantam Spectra, 2007), a novel I wrote with Mike Mignola.

"There are several other film projects in development based on my work, but Baltimore is the only one I've scripted. My recent books include Poison Ink (Delacorte, 2008) and Soulless (MTV Books, 2008), both for teens, Mind the Gap (Bantam Spectra, 2008), which is a collaboration with Tim Lebbon, the afore-mentioned Baltimore, and The Lost Ones (Bantam Spectra, 2008), the final book in my Veil Trilogy. I'm currently working on a big fat supernatural thriller called The Ocean Dark (Bantam Spectra, 2009).

"My original novels have been published in fourteen languages around the world."

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

The first time it happened, it was almost by accident. My agent suggested I give it a try, and though those two books (in the mid '90s) were pretty formulaic, I found that I really enjoyed writing for teens. I've always had an excellent memory for my own junior high, high school, and college years, and I remember what it was like to be 13 or 15 or 19 very well.

Kids and teens are so much smarter and wiser than they're often given credit for, and writing for that audience is a way for me to both communicate with younger people and to let them know that I don't feel that way, that they have my respect.

There are days I wish I could trade places with them, to experience the vitality and intensity of being that age. But I wouldn't want to trade places for long, (he said with a smile).

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

I was very fortunate, actually. I'd written a handful of short stories and not had much luck with them. In 1989, I attended my first real writers' convention, and I met a lot of writers, editors, agents, and artists. A great community of people who were making their living doing what I wanted to be doing.

At that convention, I met the woman who would be my agent for the next twelve years, and the woman who would buy both my first non-fiction book and my first novel (and many more after that). In 1992, my agent sent the editor, Ginjer Buchanan, the first 125 pages of the novel I was working on--which I had started in college in 1988--and on the strength of that material, Ginjer offered me a two-book deal at Berkley. That book, Of Saints and Shadows (Ace, 1994), was the first novel I had ever even attempted to write. I quit my job and never looked back.

What was most useful to you in developing your craft? What, if anything, do you wish you'd done differently?

I took many, many semesters of creative writing courses during college, and though they were very supportive, neither my professors nor my classmates ever really understood the appeal to me of horror and fantasy. I was the weird one.

I think that helped a great deal, in that I had to focus on the story first, rather than on genre trappings, because they were interested in story and character. They didn't mind if the setting was bizarre or the events gruesome, as long as the story worked.

Credit is due to my former agent, Lori Perkins, who told me--not long after I graduated--that I'd been in school too long. She had me pick up a book on writing fiction and made me study Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, which I think is vital to good writing.

A huge amount of credit is also due to the wonderful editors I've had over the years, most especially Anne Groell, my editor at Bantam, and Lisa Clancy, with whom I worked at Pocket for years. They, and other great editors, have taught me so much simply by doing their jobs.

A writer has to be willing to absorb those lessons. As for what I would have done differently...that's an impossible question. I would have liked to have worked less, but circumstances and the urgency of ideas propel me forward.

I don't think there's anything I wish I had done differently, but there are probably a few things I wish I could have done differently. Still, I can't complain. Such musings are counterproductive. You learn the lessons and hope to apply them as you go forward.

Could you please update us on your recent back YA list, highlighting as you see fit?

CG: Hmm. I'm not sure how you define recent. At Pocket, years ago, I did two series--Body of Evidence (10 books, 1999-2005, Pocket) and Prowlers (4 books, 2001-2002, Pocket). Nearly all of those are presently out of print. In that same period, Thomas E. Sniegoski and I did a novel called Force Majeure (Pocket, 2002).

After Lisa Clancy's departure, Sniegoski and I did a younger-skewing quartet of books called Outcast (2004-2005), which are being developed for film by Universal.

My friend Ford Lytle Gilmore and I did a four book series for Razorbill called The Hollow (2005-2006). They didn't perform very well in stores, which I chalk up to the totally lame, boring covers on the books.

Two great things came out of that experience, however. I got to work with a very talented editor named Liesa Abrams, who has since moved on to Aladdin, and The Hollow is currently in development as a TV series by Lionsgate, a project that is looking extremely promising at the moment.

Most recently, as I mentioned, Delacorte published my supernatural YA thriller Poison Ink. In October, MTV Books is putting out my novel Soulless. It's extremely grim, but the whole idea when discussing it with the publisher to begin with was the push the envelope a little both in terms of content and commentary.

Congratulations on the publication of Soulless (MTV Books, 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about the book?

In Soulless, seven very different teenagers try to survive as zombies overrun the Northeast U.S., converging on New York City when they realize that the rising of the dead has its origins there...and that they may have to commit murder themselves if they want to stop it.

The novel is about mediums, spiritual beliefs, who we love, what we're willing to do to save them, and the way the world changed after 9/11. The current generation of young teens are the first to live in a world where they cannot remember what things were like before 9/11.

I think that's changed the world, but I also think that as they get older, it will change society. Once upon a time, something like 9/11 was unimaginable. So was the negligence of the U.S. government after Hurricane Katrina. But to today's teens, these things are not at all unimaginable.

In fact, I believe that they live with the expectation that if something isn't done, worse things are inevitable. And that's a good thing. It gives them the first tools they'll need to begin building a society that will be better equipped to prevent such things from happening.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

I enjoy zombie stories and movies--some of them--but one of the things that always bothers me is the convenience of the mechanism. A comet goes by...boom, there are zombies.

These kinds of stories very frequently have no third act. The characters are introduced, they are put in terrible circumstances, and their circumstances worsen. The end.

I wanted a zombie story with a third act.

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

First, I didn't want it to be like every other zombie story. There are a lot of them out there, these days, and my intentions were slightly different.

Second, I had to remain constantly aware of just how far I could push not only the level of gruesomeness, but the darkness of the piece. By its very nature, it has to be dark.

It isn't just about the dead rising, but the dead rising with a purpose. They want to find the loved ones they've left behind, but all the good has gone out of them, the kindness. They're soulless.

What would happen if you took away all of the good qualities in a person, and left only their worst traits and instincts. They would say and do horrible things. Add to that the hunger of the undead...it's very grim.

Interestingly enough, my editor first asked me to make the book more gruesome...but once I had done that, in her final edit, she scaled back some of the very things she asked me to put in, realizing, I think, that they weren't necessary.

The situation is horrible enough without going too far overboard on the gore (though there's plenty of that). I had to be in a dark place to make the story work, but it's much more interesting to me than stories that are just about the visceral horror alone.

What is at the heart of the appeal of (or at least fascination with) zombies?

An excellent question. I don't know the answer. In fact, I'm working on a project right now that explores that very question, but I can't say more about it right now.

Of mediums?

That's an easier one. People want mediums to be real.

If mediums are genuine, if at least some of them are not charlatans, then that means that: (A) there is life after death, and we would no longer need to rely on faith to believe that death is not the end for us; and (B) the people we've loved who have died are close at hand, and if we miss them powerfully enough, we might be able to speak to them, to take comfort in that contact.

Like many people, I don't believe in mediums, but I desperately want to.

What advice do you have for beginning writers of speculative fiction?

Don't be afraid to make up new rules for how familiar ideas should be executed.

If you do one thing well, don't be afraid to try something else.

Read everything that interests you, and some things that don't.

Write as often as you can.

Meet other writers, artists, agents, become a part of the community. Writing is a solitary life, but it helps when you have contact with other people who share your passions.

How about those building a career?

Shut up and write.

What do you do outside of the world of writing and publishing?

Spend time with my wife of 17 years and our three kids, read, and watch far too much television.

What can your readers expect from you next?

Soulless is out in October, along with Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman (St. Martin's, 2008), which I co-wrote with Hank Wagner and Stephen R. Bissette.

In early 2009, you can look for The Map of Moments (Bantam Spectra), my second collaboration with Tim Lebbon. Watch for more news at www.christophergolden.com.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Author-Illustrator Interview: Carlyn Beccia on The Raucous Royals

Congratulations on the release of The Raucous Royals: Test Your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce which Royal Rumors are True. (Houghton Mifflin, Oct. 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

The Raucous Royals (you must say it with a British accent) reveals the rumors behind history's most scandalous royals. Examples: Was Napoleon really short? Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers? Did Richard III murder the princes in the Tower? Did Mary Queen of Scots plot to assassinate Elizabeth I? and much more.

With each rumor, clues and codes are given, but in many examples whether a rumor is true or false is left to the reader to decide.

I am sure teachers are just going to love this book because its message is basically, "don't believe everything you read or are taught."

What is it about those royals that's so fascinating? What fascinates you in particular?

I find it fascinating that there is so much debate surrounding the scandals and rumors. In particular, I find it interesting to trace the origin of a rumor. Between word of mouth, pamphlets, caricatures, paintings, jingles, and historians, there are so many factors that shape how a person is remembered.

Napoleon, the master of spin, said it best: "history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon."

What inspired you to translate that interest into picture book form?

When you start to play history detective, you find that each royal is viewed so differently by historians. I wanted to get readers involved in the debate and have them rethink how they view history. I think history gets really boring when it is taught as a static subject, but if you show how it constantly changes, and how stories are formed and evolve over time, then it becomes much more interactive.

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

I started conducting research for the book in 2005, but I didn't get the courage to submit it to my editor until the following year. I kept worrying about how little interest there is in European history and that I would never find a market for the book.

In 2005, I was on my honeymoon in Italy when I saw an exhibit on how Marie de Medici influenced art. It made me think how art was influential in shaping how we view rulers. I started to think how other mediums changed our view of history. This really motivated me to complete the research and send in the submission to my editor.

What were the challenges--research, literary, psychological, and logistical--of bringing the book to life?

The biggest challenge was to take such a broad subject and whittle it down to the juiciest bits. There are 13 raucous royals covered. That's a lot of research.

I did a good part of my research in London visiting the National Portrait Gallery, Tower of London and the British Library. For my French royals, I went to Paris and visited Versailles, the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay. I tried to find as many sources as possible because some of the rumors are unresolved.

Another challenge was remaining objective when some rumors are still so hotly debated by historians. For example, history is still undecided on whether Richard III killed his nephews. And Mary Queen of Scots always gets people deeply divided on whether she was a conniver or an unfortunate victim.

This book is a great example of lively, creative non-fiction! Did you use any other titles as models?

I actually did not have what you would call a "great literary work" for inspiration.

Instead, I used tabloid magazines like People as models. I am a People magazine fanatic. I can't help but be interested in who is wrecking their life, who is making a comeback, and who is having yet another baby.

Although it is not the prettiest format, I think the busy, loud tabloid magazine layout appeals to kids (If you have ever looked at a typical MySpace page, then you will understand what I mean).

And teens in general are far more familiar with Britney Spear's antics then they ever will be with rulers that changed history.

I kept thinking if I could harness a tabloid magazine's gossipy playfulness and put it into a history book, then it might be slightly less painful for readers.

I think it is important to look at other media like television and how kids use the Internet for inspiration as well.

For art inspiration, I looked to caricaturists like James Gillray. These political cartoons told stories with so much subtle depth and meaning. And, of course, they always captured the humor behind a ruler's follies.

The book has a sort of multi-media feel, with various art elements working together (and sometimes whispering from the curtains, so to speak). How did this aspect evolve?

I have always loved activity books because they involve the reader in the learning process. I also find it intriguing when TV shows like "Entertainment Tonight" will state a rumor, but then they won't give the answer until after the commercial break.

I am always on the edge of my seat screaming, "Tell me if Britney is going to lose her kids!"

So I thought to myself, what if I used the same technique to get kids to turn the page? By using art clues, codes, gossip, and most importantly--not giving the answer up front, it involves the reader in the process of tracing a rumor.

What were the other artistic challenges and opportunities?

One of the biggest artistic challenges was how to portray the royals. Should they resemble their official portrait, or should I depict them based on contemporary descriptions?

In the end, I decided to be less literal and more satirical in their portrayals.

The Raucus Royals strikes me as one of those picture books that can readily reach to the YA audience and beyond. How do you imagine the audience?

I think there is something magical about royalty that appeals to kids of all ages. We don't like to point out the pitfalls of our presidents as much as we do with royalty. Maybe it's because Americans have never had kings or queens. We have Hollywood, but it's a poor substitute.

Unfortunately, teachers often don't have the time and resources to cover European history. And with the explosion of historical fiction, inquisitive readers of all ages want to know the truth behind the drama.

Many adults (like me) grew up believing the rumors in The Raucous Royals. Ultimately, I am hoping the book will appeal to adults because it challenges what we already know and to kids because it introduces some colorful characters that they may never get exposed to in their regular curriculum.

Readers can visit a site dedicated to the book. What will they find there? How does it enhance the reading experience?

The purpose of the book is to get readers asking more questions and doing their own research. The site works as a tool to get them pointed in the right direction.

RaucousRoyals.com includes family trees, a glossary, art clues, games and tons of recommended books to get more in depth information about each royal ruler. My theory has always been that a good book gets kids to pick up another.

The site is constantly evolving and definitely has been a labor of love. It also features the Raucous Royals Blog which features a new scandal or rumor each week (sometimes every other week when I get busy).

What advice do you have for writers researching historical non-fiction? For illustrators?

I always hear "write what you know." That may work for fiction, but I would actually give the opposite advice for historical nonfiction--write what you have no clue about, but would like to learn. When we know a subject too well, it is often hard to relate to the reader learning it for the first time.

For illustrators of historical non-fiction, I think it is important to put yourself back in the place and time when the person lived. Most illustrators already do this, but sometimes it is tempting to just use the Internet for photo research. On-site research really brings your characters to life.

How about those writing creative non-fiction for young readers? And again, for illustrators?

I think writers of creative nonfiction sometimes get caught up worrying about whether a subject has been done before. Even if a subject has never been done, that never ensures success.

I would advise to not focus on the subject, but instead on how you can take a fresh approach to that subject. The same applies for illustrators.

We last spoke in September 2007 about Who Put the B in Ballyhoo? (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Do you have any recent news about that book to share?

Yes! Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo was recognized as the 2007 Golden Kite Honor Book for Illustration.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book is called I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat (title pending), which will be released in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin.

The book features the most bizarre and grossest cures doctors have used throughout history for common kid ailments like bumps, bruises, headaches, coughs, colds and sore throats.

It will contain tons of gory illustrations of leeches, maggots, ground up mummies, and occasional frog slime.

I have become a bit of a hypochondriac while researching it, but my stomach is much stronger now!

Monday, September 29, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: Kathi Appelt

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I asked some established authors--folks I'd featured early on--the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you've learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here's the latest answer, this one from author Kathi Appelt:

I think I could probably write a thesis on this, but when all is said and done I'm thinking that the biggest lesson is one that I have to remind myself of, and that is to always keep in mind that there is a "love factor" involved: love for the process even when things aren't going swimmingly; love for those in your life, which means surrounding yourself with people who are supportive.

Likewise, we have to be providers of love, not just takers.

And finally, it requires love for our young audience.

It all seems so obvious, but maybe it's that obviousness that makes it so easy to forget.

Amadi's Snowman by Katia Novel Saint-Lot, illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo

Congratulations to author Katia Novet Saint-Lot and illustrator Dimitrea Tokunbo on the release of Amadi's Snowman (Tilbury House, 2008)! From the promotional copy:

"Why does Amadi's mother insist he learn to read words when he is going to be a great businessman? Why should an Igbo man of Nigeria waste precious time on books, anyway?

"When Amadi disobeys his mother and runs off to the market instead of sticking around for a reading lesson, he encounters a much-admired older boy secretly reading at a book stall.

"Crowding himself in among the stacks of books, Amadi becomes intrigued by a storybook with pictures of a strange white creature with a carrot for a nose.

"Over the course of a typical mischievous day, unable to shake his questions about the snowman, Amadi discovers the vast world reading could open up—especially for an Igbo man of Nigeria."

"Amadi's Snowman is a beautiful tribute to the power of reading and one boy's journey of self-discovery through books. Dimitrea Tokunbo's evocative illustrations underscore the loving interchange between a mother and son. The richly hued paintings invite us to enjoy Nigeria's many splendors and provide the perfect stage for Katia Novet Saint-Lot's imaginative story." —Andrea Davis Pinkney
"Katia Novet Saint-Lot has given us an important and moving glimpse into the curiosity, wonder, and knowledge a book can bring—and into the life of children in modern African cities. As Yohannes Gebregeorgis, founder of Ethiopia Reads, says, 'Books change lives.' How terrific to have a story that shows how and why." —Jane Kurtz
"Amadi's first-ever glimpse at a snowman—one depicted in the pages of a book—inspires him to transform from a resistant to an enthusiastic student of reading. Children will identify with Amadi's initial reluctance, his mixed feelings about a new challenge, and his attempts to rationalize staying the same. Yet they also will likely be inspired, as Amadi is, by the possibilities of reading, the way it can fill one's heart and shine a light on the unknown." —Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cynsational Notes

Read an interview with Katia by Annette Gulati at The Writing Wild Life. Peek: "The first version had a fantasy element in it. I did, and sent the manuscript back but the postal service being totally unreliable in Nigeria, we only used the diplomatic pouch, and this was just after the Anthrax scare. Mail took weeks and weeks to reach me. By the time I replied to the editor, she had left the publishing house and I could never find her again."
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