Friday, October 10, 2008

Author Snapshot & Book Giveaway: Deborah Noyes on The Ghosts of Kerfol

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2008). From the promotional copy:

In her classic ghost story "Kerfol," Edith Wharton tells the tale of Anne de Barrigan, a young Frenchwoman convicted of murdering her husband, the jealous Yves de Cornault.

The elderly lord was found dead on the stairs, apparently savaged by a pack of dogs, though there were no dogs--no live dogs- at Kerfol that day.

In this remarkable collection of intertwining short stories, Deborah Noyes takes us back to the haunted manor and tells us Anne de Barrigan's story through the sympathetic eyes of her servant girl.

Four more tales slip forward in time, peering in on a young artist, a hard-drinking party girl, a young American couple, and a deaf gardener who now tends the Kerfol estate. All these souls are haunted by the ghosts of Kerfol--the dead dogs, the sensual yet uneasy relationships, and the bitter taste of revenge.

In an enthralling work of Gothic suspense, an Edith Wharton story inspires five connected tales set in the same haunted manor over the centuries.

We last spoke in November 2007. Congratulations on the release of The Ghosts of Kerfol (Candlewick, 2008)! Could you share with us the story behind the story?

I originally set out to retell a handful of classic American Gothic tales for a Candlewick collection, and Edith Wharton's "Kerfol" [(1916)]--one of my all-time favorite ghost stories--was one of them. But that project stalled out.

I'd already learned while writing my adult historical novel (a re-imagining of The Scarlet Letter (1850) from the point of view of a character not Hester Prynne), that the soul of a story by Hawthorne is the voice of Hawthorne.

Same turns out to be true, of course, for Poe and Henry James and Edith Wharton. And if you aren't going to do something new with material like that, there's no point messing with a good thing.

I talked it over with my editor, and instead we set out to really inhabit the story we both liked best of the bunch, and the haunted house of its title.

I love stories where a house or a locale or an object are a main character in the story, so I started there.

In the movie "The Red Violin," a single haunted object gets passed from hand to hand and wreaks havoc through history, a different psychological or emotional havoc for each recipient, depending on what they bring to the mix, and I used that framework here. So "The Red Violin" was my biggest influence after Wharton.

Last but not least--her dogs! The better part of Wharton's haunting is carried out by nonhuman spirits. For an animal person like me, this rings resoundingly true. I know her story stuck with me as long and as powerfully as it did because of those spectacular ghostly dogs. Silent and unnerving, they don't appear bearing fateful messages from the beyond. Instead they mirror whoever encounters them, reflecting what's good or bad or timid or courageous in them. Just as (I believe) animals do in everyday life.

Enter to Win

Enter to win one of three autographed copies of The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2008)!

To enter, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Oct. 21!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Oct. 21! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

One copy will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), and the other two will go to any Cynsational readers. Please also type "Kerfol" in the subject line.
Read a previous Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Check out readergirlz's "Books with Bite" series celebration of Teen Read Week; see the awesome trailer below:

The 2009 Red Dirt Book Festival has called for proposals. The theme is "Imagine Oklahoma: Read, Write, Talk." Submit your proposal here. Deadline: Dec. 1. Note: the 4th annual Red Dirt Festival will be held in Shawnee, Oklahoma; Nov. 5 to Nov. 7, 2009 at the Expo Center and on the campuses of Oklahoma Baptist University and St. Gregory's University.

Author-Illustrator Tip: consider dedicating one page on your site to each of your titles, and include cover art, all author and/or illustrator bylines with links to official sites, publisher, publication date, link to publisher dedicated page, hardcover/softcover/both, ISBN.

Behind the Pages of Shadowed Summer: a vlog from author Saundra Mitchell. Smart, interesting, and smokin' cool.

Behind the Pages of Shadowed Summer

Book Business: Creepy Cool by Lori Atkins Goodson from ALAN Online. Peek: "'s the term I use for books that are a little edgy, a little unpredictable, a little uncomfortable to read, and incredibly engaging. "

Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards: check out the 2008 winners and honor books, photos of the ceremony, and audio. Video coming soon. Source: Read Roger.

Bubble Stampede! Two Authors, Two Books, and a 9-month Conversation about...aack!...Promotion: a LJ from authors Laurie Purdie Salas and Fiona Bayrock. Source: Mitali's Fire Escape.

Can a bad review end your career? by Tess Gerritsen from Murderati: Mysteries, Murder, and Marketing. Peek: "I recall hearing about the time Stephen King got a PW review that was so brutal, so nasty, that it almost made him stop writing entirely." Source: Elizabeth Scott's Blog. Note: My feeling is that youth publishing is a bit more forgiving; markets may vary.

Jillian Cantor: official site of the debut author of The September Sisters (HarperCollins, 2009). Learn more about Jillian.

Caution: Authors, Illustrators, and Publicists: remember that book reviews are copyrighted by the review source. You may not reproduce them without permission. Note: Greg suggests keeping quoted excerpts under 50 words and offering full attribution with a link. See the U.S. Copyright Office for more information.

Shrinking Violet Spotlight: Lisa Chellman, Librarian by Mary Hershey from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "Without further ado, here's my advice for authors on how to impress their librarians in all the wrong ways..."

Children's Literature Author & Illustrator Booking Service: "assists schools, museums, conferences and other organizations in identifying authors and illustrators for speaking engagements." Source: Cachibachis.

The Class of 2k8 School Librarian Contest: The Class of 2k8 is sponsoring a giveaway just for school librarians. First Prize: the winner's choice of a full set of the 27 Class of 2k8 books or a free author visit from a Class of 2k8 author in his/her region (if available)! Two Second Prizes: A $50 gift certificate from Indie Bound (formerly BookSense) plus three books from the Class of 2k8 to add to your school library. Three Third Prizes: Three books from the Class of 2k8 to add to your school library. To enter, send the Class your favorite anecdote about books, reading, or your life as a school librarian! Try to keep it under 200 words, because they'll be posting some of entries on their blog during November. Feeling shy? They'll also take a quote about books or writing from your favorite author instead. E-mail your anecdote or quote at Please be sure to include your name and contact information at your school with your entry. Entries will be accepted from Oct. 1 to Nov. 10. Winners will be drawn randomly from among all entries and announced on Nov. 24. Note: if you pass this on to other school librarians and they mention the referral, you and your school will be entered in the drawing twice!

Check out the book trailer for Dragon Wishes by Stacy A. Nyikos (Blooming Tree, November 2008). Source: Buried in the Slush Pile.

Clueless: Ask and You Shall Receive from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "Mother of God, this is what your agent is for. March yourself into the bathroom right now, look yourself in the eye, and say to yourself, 'My agent is my guide and counselor and representative...'"

"In Defense of Adverbs" by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "Virtually any novel you pick up will use adverbs. They aren't evil when used by a writer who is giving scrutiny to every word to be certain it's the correct word for the job. If you don't believe me, look at these quotes from Newbery winning books..."

"Getting to Know My Characters" by Mary Atkinson from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Gradually, over a series of drafts and revisions, meanderings and false starts, the mom began to emerge. I tried to push her away. I didn’t want her in my story. It was too sad, too hard. I wanted Tillie to have a happy story."

"Go for It!" encouragement and words of wisdom for "very beginning writers" by Kathryne B. Alfred from The Longstockings. Peek: "Especially when starting out, give yourself tons of space to write badly. In fact, as you're starting out, don't even ask yourself (or--and this is important--anyone else) whether what you're writing is good or bad. At this point, all that matters is that you're writing, and enjoying it."

The Other Side of the Fence by Lauren Lise Baratz-Logsted at The Red Room. Peek: "Although her book isn't even out yet, when she tries to share good news with certain friends, they no longer seem happy for her. The sad truth is, some of them probably aren't."

Kekla Magoon: debut author of The Rock and The River (Simon & Schuster, 2009). Note: Kekla is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Monster Month of Giveaways -- Ghost Week from Brooke Taylor. Featured books include Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell; Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer; A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb; Project 17 by Laurie Faria Stolarz; Ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley. Note: zombies are next week!

Native American Heritage Month is coming soon! Please consider celebrating by featuring the Native Youth Literature widget on your blog.

Outgoing GLIBA President Issues "Call to Arms" by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Children's booksellers were out in full force throughout the weekend, with some general booksellers expressing an interest in expanding their inventory by stocking more 'recession-proof' children's books." Source: Sea Heidi Write.

Pretty Monsters by Colleeen Mondor from Bookslut. Recommended spooky reads for the season.

Reading in Biology: More than a Textbook Thing! from Mrs. H's Classroom at a teacher requests donations to buy books to supplement her biology class. Peek: "Each book I would like to purchase has backing with in the curriculum; Double Helix - DNA/genetics; PEEPS - parasites; Eva - ethics and ecology. I want to get students reading in all my classes; even my college Biology one, but I need the funding. That is where donors come in." Note: if I'd had a teacher like that, I probably wouldn't have stopped taking science after biology.

Revision from the Agent's Perspective by Sara Crowe from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "If the author is deciding between a few different ideas for a next book it can be helpful to have me look at drafts of chapters and synopses to try to help figure out what idea to develop first. I always tell my clients to send material to me when my feedback will be useful, and I think that point is different for each writer." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Congratulations to author Liz Garton Scanlon for signing with agent Erin Murphy, and congratulations to Erin for signing Liz! I wish you both many wonderful books together. Check out Liz's report on the great news, and read Cynsations interviews with Liz and Erin. See also an additional interview with Erin that Liz cites.

Author Elizabeth Scott--whose Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse, 2008) is absolutely riveting--is sponsoring a giveaway. Peek: "...all you have to do is tell me what young adult novel out there you wish you had a copy of, or that you've been wanting to buy but haven't, and you could get that book for free!" Deadline: midnight EST tonight! Read a Cynsations interview with Elizabeth.

Watch the book trailer for Stop Me If You've Heard this One Before by David Yoo (Hyperion, 2008).

Teen Fiction Café: "the ultimate YA author hang-out." Contributors include: Amanda Ashby; Lauren Baratz-Logsted; Teri Brown; Jessica Burkhart; Liza Conrad (Erica Orloff); Linda Gerber; Sara Hantz; Stephanie Kuehnert; Alyson Noel; Kelly Parra; Wendy Toliver; Melissa Walker; Sara Zarr.

Things to Consider Before You Sit Down to Write a Poem by Julie Larios from The Drift Record. Peek: "Many writers believe that poetry is language that has been artificially torqued and manipulated, and that prose is the most natural (thus, easiest?) of forms for our thoughts, but the effort to state what we think in an articulate and organized manner (witness the effort involved in writing a good essay) is extremely difficult." Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

Happy birthday to Through the Tollbooth: Thoughts on Writing for Children and Young Adults!

Tips from a Picture Book Author from Emily Marshall at Author2Author. Peek: "I think many people in the Awaiting an Agent stage go through this daily. Trying to figure out when to put a book in your drawer. Is it a certain number of agent rejections? A certain number of revisions and then rejections?"

Tween Literature: a essay of musing related to a bookseller panel, "led by the owner of a children's bookstore, and my fellow panelists were a child psychologist, a librarian, and the author of a 'clean YA' novel" from Bookavore. Peek: "When a parent specifically asks me about a book, I tell them as much as I know about it. If I don't know, I ask the children's book buyer, or I check the Internet for more information, or I suggest a book that I am familiar with. My magic word is 'content,' as in, 'This book has mature content' or even just 'This book has content.'" Source: Laurie Halse Anderson.

Unassigned: What to Read this Month for Fun by Allie Costa at Spark Notes. Recommends four new releases for October. Peek: "This book [My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel] celebrates the modern family without shame, without dysfunction or exaggerated angst."

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
: a Book Blast Book Giveaway Contest from The Kids' Book Club Book. 25 copies will be given away. Deadline: Nov. 15. Must be 18 to enter.

V-Blogging: Kidlitophere 2008 Conference in Quick from Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production. Note: unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes--love you kidlitosphere!

Untitled from Elizabeth Bird on Vimeo.

Congratulations to Emma J. Virján on the release of her debut book Nacho the Party Puppy (Random House, 2008). You can meet Emma at the upcoming Texas Book Festival!

When all the wrong wishes come true: an interview with Justine Larbalestier by Heidi Henneman from BookPage. Peek: "'What if there was such a thing as a parking fairy, but you were too young for it to be useful?'" Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Why I Write YA Fiction
by Karen Mahoney. Peek: "I remember how brave I could be at 17, while now - as an adult - I am much more cautious and (try to) think things through before acting. There's a fearless quality to many teenagers I have known."

YA YNot?: a new social network from TeensReadToo! See my page on the network! Enter to win one of the many October giveaway books at TeensReadToo!

Want A Book Dedicated To You? (Contest!) from author Linda Joy Singleton. Peek: "the prize will be to have either Dead Girl 2 or Dead Girl 3 dedicated to you. Yup, that's right--your name on the opening page of a published book. Plus an autographed copy of the book when it's published." Linda Joy is looking for a book trailer and great promo ideas. See details. See also a new interview with Linda Joy from Enchanting Reviews; peek: "They could cast my characters as cartoons if that's what it would take to sell to Hollywood."

Congratulations to the fantabulous Lisa Yee on five years of author-ness! Read a Cynsations interview with Lisa.

Vote for Ethiopia Reads

Yohannes Gebregeorgis, a native of Ethiopia and children's literacy advocate, has been named a Top 10 Hero of the Year by CNN. Mr. Gebregeorgis was selected from more than 3,000 individuals nominated by viewers throughout the year. Finalists were selected by a Blue Ribbon panel of judges that includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jane Goodall and Deepak Chopra. The Top 10 Heroes will be recognized in CNN's "All-Star Tribute" to air on Thanksgiving.

Yohannes was first recognized as a "hero" by CNN in May for his work championing children in Ethiopia. A former political refugee who worked as a librarian at San Francisco Public Library, Yohannes is the co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization that works to create a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. In a country where 99% of schools have no libraries, Yohannes and Ethiopia Reads are improving lives, one book at a time.

Vote for Yohannes, then visit Ethiopia Reads web site for more updates. Note: please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this announcement and these links!

From Oct. 12 to Dec. 15, Yohannes will visit cities across the United States, sharing his story and vision for Ethiopia Reads. Cities include Washington, DC; San Francisco; Seattle; Kansas City, Kan.; Denver; Albuquerque; Los Angeles; Minneapolis; and New York.

More Personally

Thank you to my hosts at last weekend's inaugral Youth Literature Festival, sponsored by the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign!

Special thanks go to: Violet J. Harris, Alex Schmidt, and everyone at the college; librarian Patricia M. Palut of Bottenfield Elementary; librarian Sherri Bolen of Holy Cross School; Robert Warrior of Native American House; Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature and her colleague LeAnne Howe of the American Indian Studies Department, who hosted an informal social; and my festival escorts Lizz and Haeny!

Highlights of the weekend included the school visits on Friday, the reception at the University of Illinois President's Mansion, meeting Kim Reis-Schultz (an Eastern band Cherokee jingle dancer), and visiting with fellow author participants such as Marc Aronson; Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Jennifer Holm; Richard Van Camp, whose picture book What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?, illustrated by George Littlechild (Children's Book Press) is highlighted here; and Janet Wong, among others. The Spurlock Museum was also a great venue.

"Brown...(but not) like me" by Paula Chase-Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story. Peek: "Today I want to shine the light on a small sampling of other brown authors writing for children. Most featured below are writing exclusively in the YA realm." Note: It was such an honor to see my tween novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) featured on the blog! Thank you! Read an interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

Thank you to John Bard of Children's Book Insider and for featuring Cynsations as a recommended blog in the Oct. 9 Children's Writing Update! Peek: "Cynsations is one of kidlit's most widely read and respected blogs, and with good reason. It's chock full of interviews, publishing news, links and recaps of the best of the blogosphere and lots, lots more. It's a wonder to behold and an absolute must-read." Jeepers, I'm blushing!

Thanks also to the LJers who replied to my quandry about cuts and long posts. Apparently it's a Mozilla glitch, and at those who replied didn't mind that I'm sharing so much good news at once.

The winner of my Books with Bite Teen Read Week Giveaway is Jennifer at Natrona County Public Library in Casper, Wyoming! Martha won a signed paperback copy of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008), a signed copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008)(exclusively to Borders/Waldenbooks), a Sanguini's T-shirt, and 25 autographed Tantalize bookmarks! Notes: Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in Tantalize. YALSA's Teen Read Week 2008 is Oct. 12 to Oct. 18, and the theme is "Books with Bite."

The winner of the 10th anniversary giveaway is Laura in Colorado! Laura has won paperback copies of four books with a special meaning to me: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958); Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977); Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (1997); and Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (2008)(signed).

In other recent giveaway news, you can check out the fabu T-shirt--designed and donated by Angela at Pickled Pixel Toe--that HipWriterMama won from Cynsations here!

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.

National Events

Author Kimberly Willis Holt is will appear at 2 p.m. Oct. 11 at The Big Read in St. Louis. Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

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.

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 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.

Texas Events

Tantalizing news! As the author of a novel set at a fictional vampire-themed restaurant here in Austin, I feel compelled to announce that Austin Restaurant Week is Oct. 12-15 and Oct. 19-22. Try the city's hottest fine dining locations at a discount, and don't forget to make reservations! Equally exciting: Paggi House reopens this weekend!

Following a chocolate reception for educators at 1 p.m., authors Shana Burg and Kristi Holl will be reading and signing their books Oct. 11th at Barnes & Noble at Northwoods Shopping Center in San Antonio. Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

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.

John and Hank Green are appearing in cities across the U.S. Check out the schedule and the play list for John's new release Paper Towns (Dutton, Oct. 2008), which I just started. From the promotional copy: "When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q." Read a Cynsations interview with John.

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.

Celebrate the release of The Forgotten Worlds Book 1: The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover (Blooming Tree, 2008) at 4 p.m. Oct. 26 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas!

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.

Texas Book Festival will be Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 in Austin. UPDATE: authors to be featured at the 2008 festival include: Kathi Appelt; Shana Burg; Melissa de la Cruz; Heather Vogel Frederick; Shannon Hale; Varian Johnson; Laurie Keller; Christopher S. Jennings; Marisa Montes; Yuyi Morales; Lauren Myracle; Margo Rabb; Tanya Lee Stone; Philip Yates; Paula Yoo; and Jennifer Ziegler. See the complete list.

"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.

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.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Author Interview: Thomas Pendleton on Mason

Thomas Pendleton is the co-author (with Stefan Petrucha) of Wicked Dead (HarperTeen), a series of edgy horror novels for young adult readers.

His novel, Mason (HarperTeen), was released in July 2008, and the books Shimmer and The Calling (under the name Dallas Reed) are also forthcoming from HarperTeen.

Writing as Lee Thomas, he is the Bram Stoker Award- and Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Stained (Wildside Press, OP), Parish Damned (Telos, 2005) and The Dust of Wonderland (Alyson Publications, 2007).

He lives in Austin, Texas.

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

Writing was always a hobby of mine. While my friends were watching TV or playing video games, I wrote books.

I never gave much thought to publishing until I took a short fiction class in New York about seven years ago. The instructor, Terry Bisson, was encouraging and thought I might be able to sell my work.

Turns out, he was right. After selling a number of short stories, I worked up the courage to send out a novel. I've sold about fifteen books since then and have several more in the offing.

I know that makes it all sound very easy, but there were plenty of stumbles along the way.

You're an established author of horror fiction for adults. What inspired you to take on YA fiction?

My co-writer on the Wicked Dead books, Stefan Petrucha, is to blame for my interest in YA.

We discussed the series for a long time before we ever thought of writing it down, and it struck me as a fresh approach to storytelling.

After reading some of the great books in the YA category, I was even more eager to try my hand at it, so when Stefan suggested we write the first Wicked Dead book, I was ready to go.

Congratulations on the publication of Mason (Harper, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Mason is the story of a developmentally-challenged youth, who is artistically brilliant. Mason's skill at drawing is not limited to pencil, ink and paper, though. He can draw life-like pictures with his mind and put them into yours, so that you see fantastical creatures filling the skies or prowling the streets.

This talent takes a very dark turn when his best friend, Rene, is attacked by a group of drug dealers led by Mason's abusive older brother.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thematically, I was inspired by the idea that imagination and creativity are often the only escape (and sometimes the only defense) we have when the world turns nasty and spins out of control.

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

A long timeline. Ha. Mason was a minor character in a novel I wrote a dozen years ago, when I was just writing for fun. That book became The Dust of Wonderland, but Mason wasn't in it.

In the end, he was just too interesting to be a minor part of a larger work, so I took him out. Then I published a variation on his story as a novelette in an online magazine, and that still didn't give his story enough room to breathe, so I wrote the novel.

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

The only real challenge was emotional. I really liked this character and wanted to do him justice. The fact that he was developmentally challenged meant treating him with absolute respect and not writing him as some kind of helpless victim or raging monster.

Along with Stefan Petrucha, you're also a co-author of the Wicked Dead series (HarperCollins). Could you tell us about that?

Wicked Dead is an anthology series, held together by a frame tale that features four ghost girls who gather in a deserted orphanage every night to tell stories.

These four girls have their own adventures in the orphanage, but the bulk of each book is a stand-alone tale of monsters and mayhem.

What are the challenges of working with a co-author?

The only challenges we really faced were points-of-reference issues, which is to say, we came to the work from very different places.

Stefan's background is in graphic novels (The X-Files, Nancy Drew) and YA fiction (The Timetripper Series (Razorbill), Teen Inc. (Walker, 2007), The Rule of Won (Walker, 2008)).

My background was decidedly more adult and horror-centric with a literary sensibility, so we had to find the right balance for the series and the right voice.

The story arcs and characters came rather quickly because we were on the same page from day one with the concept. In the end, it comes down to respecting the other author enough to let some of your ideas--and ego--slide.

What advice do you have for those interested in writing a series?

I assume this is a given, but love your characters and the world(s) you build for them because you'll be spending a lot of time in that place with those people.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

The young adult audience is in this wonderful place between childhood when anything was possible and the world was full of mysteries, miracles and monsters, and adulthood where many of the mysteries have been solved, many of the miracles have a price, and the monsters wear human faces.

They really get the themes in fantastic fiction, even if it's only subconsciously because they are close enough to look behind them and see the magic or look ahead and see the reality. Most adults lack that amazing perspective.

How about writing horror?

Dark fiction is a terrific lens to use when attempting to make sense of the world. It's not real, but it's threatening and intense, so when characters come up against the dread, they are pushed to reveal things about themselves. Sometimes these things are heroic, other times, not so much.

Many tough issues--death, abandonment, estrangement, disease--can be examined in the safe zone fiction provides. Monsters are cool, and I certainly don't shy away from violence in my work, but it's really this exploration of characters and issues that interests me.

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

Send stories to editors right now! Though I had taken classes over the years and trained myself to write with a good amount of discipline, I was working in a bubble. I had no feedback on the work, so the mistakes I made never got corrected. Working with editors and receiving a lot of feedback from readers has helped improve the work tremendously.

I guess it was the fear of rejection that kept me from pursuing writing as a career, but you know, after a hundred or so rejections, they just don't hurt anymore. I took my lumps (and some great advice from editors), and things are working out fine.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I read and play with my dog. I have an Xbox 360, so many hours have been spent lost in those games--Bioshock remains my favorite. Watch movies and television, mostly the BBC sci fi hybrids like "Dr. Who," "Torchwood" and "Primeval," plus old episodes of "Buffy" and "Angel."

I never really got into the whole reality-TV thing, so I rarely bother with network TV at this point.

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

I'm trying to improve certain aspects of my professional life. I've never been great about promoting myself, and with so many books coming out, it's tough to switch focus from the project I'm working on to one that was written a couple years ago, but is just seeing print.

Promotion is important, though. This is a tough business with a lot of books for people to choose from, so you have to make your presence known.

An added difficulty is that I'm basically managing two writing careers. The promotional avenues for my adult work can be quite different than those for my YA work. There is some overlap, but often enough Lee Thomas and Thomas Pendleton (and Dallas Reed) are all battling for my attention. Now that's a bit of schizophrenia I never saw coming.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The final two books in the Wicked Dead series, Prey and Skin, will be out before the end of the year, and Shimmer will hit bookstores at the first of next year.

I'm currently writing a YA urban fantasy trilogy for HarperTeen. The first book is called Exiled, and that should be released in late 2009 or early 2010.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Agent Interview: Michael Stearns of Firebrand Literary

Michael Stearns from Firebrand Literary: "Michael Stearns brings nearly twenty years' publishing experience to Firebrand Literary.

"Formerly editorial director and foreign acquisitions manager for HarperCollins Children's Books, and Senior Editor, Director of Paperback Publishing for Harcourt Children's Books, he has worked on hundreds of books for children and adults." See more information.

What kind of young reader were you--avid, reluctant? What kinds of books did you love?

Unlike anyone else in my large family, I was an avid reader and always had a book to hand.

As a child, I remember loving Roald Dahl and Edward Eager and Beverly Cleary, and I read their books and tons of others voraciously until I was about ten or eleven and discovered science fiction and fantasy. (In those days there wasn't really much in the way of teen fiction.)

When I was twelve, a friend and I read all of Heinlein's "juveniles" and, realizing how formulaic they were, we mapped out the plot points on a chart and fit all the events into a single plot structure.

My career path probably should have been obvious at that point.

What led you to choose youth literature as a career focus?

I'm here purely by chance. I went to USC film school, but discovered there that I loved reading and writing more than I loved film production, mostly via a half-dozen workshops I took with T.C. Boyle. His workshops are some kind of brilliant and really taught me how to read closely, and how to see an author's goals and tailor commentary toward those goals. Rather than, say, simply trying to make a story more like the kind of story a particular reader (me) preferred.

His classes made me into an editor.

Although you're new to agenting, you've long been an industry pro as an editor. Could you tell us about your experience on this front?

I've had a long apprenticeship in the industry (I started in 1990!) and have been fortunate to work for a number of truly wonderful people——people who trusted my passions and let me run with them (to not always successful places).

When I started as a temporary editorial assistant, the picture book market was huge and fiction was a dead end. Nowadays the opposite is true.

Happily, I've been around long enough to see how the market changes, to trust that quality will out. Excellence will always find an audience; the challenge is in convincing others of that.

But more to the point, everyone knows that editors edit, obviously; few realize just how much of an editor's job is to sell the book again and again--to an acquisitions team, to a marketing team, to a sales team, over and over and over again.

Learning how to do that sort of prepared me for what I'm doing here at Firebrand.

Looking back, what are your favorite three of the books you edited and why?

This is where I'm supposed to say that I love all of my children equally and similar such twaddle, right? Well, that's true, but ... the three books I'm most proud of are probably the ones in which the relationship between the editor and the author really grew over the course of the book.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (Harcourt, 2003), which won all sorts of honors, but which I love because of how great it was to work with Jennifer.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor (Harcourt, 1997), which was rich and complex when I first received it, though I still asked for a deep revision——a scary revision, I think——and discovered an author who saw what I was asking for and exceeded my wildest hopes during revision.

And Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge (HarperCollins, 2006), which I didn't edit but purchased for the U.S. market. A brilliant writer who is going places.

Oh, and anything by Bruce Coville. And Edith Pattou. And—, well, I could go on, couldn't I? But shouldn't. Right.

What will you bring from your editorial career to your new one as an agent?

The skills I bring to the table as an agent are the same I possessed as an editor, for the most part—which sounds like I'm doing nothing new here.

But...I still work with authors to shape their books. I know the industry from an insider's perspective. I know most of the editors at most of the houses here and in the U.K., and, I hope, have some goodwill among them. (Maybe not all of them.)

I have a sense of contract terms from a few houses and so have a good sense of who is offering what and how certain new frontiers (e-books, digital audio, and so forth) are falling out in terms of rights.

All of these things come into play on this side of the business, as well——perhaps even more so, as we're closer to the authors and their careers and need to get the best for them and from them to be sure or their success.

What inspired you to shift gears and become a literary agent?

Oh, what a question. Opportunity? Nadia asked me to come on board, and...while I loved what I was doing at HarperCollins, I also thought it might be time to shake things up for myself a bit. I'm unmarried, childless, debt-free, and this seemed like the one chance I'd have to try something sort of new. You know, change is good. Reinvigorates the soul.

Could you tell us about Firebrand Literary [see agent bios]? Who're the players, what is the agency focus, what makes it unique?

There are four of us here at present: Myself, Nadia Cornier (who founded the agency three years ago), Ted Malawer, and a new junior agent, Chris Richman.

Our main focus is on teen and middle grade lit, though I have a few picture book clients I work for, and Nadia has some adult authors she is keen on.

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

I'm really on board for the long haul. I'm not interested in writers with only one book in them, good as it may be.

I'm interested in writers who are going to build their audience and their skills and talent over many books and many years. That's the most fun, anyway, getting in on the ground floor with a writer and watching as he or she grows.

Why should unagented writers consider working with an agent?

A good agent actually knows and understands what makes for a good book.

He or she watches the market, meets with editors to find out what that editor is looking for at the moment (because that changes season by season), researches how the house is retooling its lists (because that, too, changes season by season in response to what happened to the previous season's lists).

An author can't do that. And shouldn't be trying to do that. Instead, she should be sitting at her keyboard and writing her books. That's where her energies should be focused.

Agents do something incredibly valuable. As an editor, I was plain grateful for the work done by Steven Malk and Barry Goldblatt and Gail Hochman and a dozen others who submitted books to me that were exactly what I was looking for at a particular time. They served their writers well, and they helped me do my job better.

And that's the sort of agent I hope to be for the writers who work with me.

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

I don't work on nonfiction, nor chapter books, nor emerging readers. I love novels—middle grade and teen—and a very few picture books.

I'm not much interested in issue novels per se; if the issue is wrapped up in a compelling plot, then fine. But plot and character and the writer's control of voice always have to come first.

Many writers come to me telling me why they've written a particular story—to convey the importance of some moralistic bit of whatever—but I don't care about that at first.

To quote Samuel Goldwyn: "If you have a message, send a telegram."

Me, I want a story I can't put down.

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

Of course! Really, we have a website that allows for easy queries and submissions, and I hope any prospective author will check it out and try me via that route. Especially as Firebrand does not accept submissions through the mail. (Fewer trees cut down, fewer paper cuts; it's easier all around.)

Are you interested in speaking at writers' conferences?

Not only am I interested in speaking at conferences, I've got a whole slew of them lined up for next year. (They're where we find new writers.) I'll be speaking at the Whidby Island Writers Conference, the local chapter of the Los Angeles SCBWI, the Seattle chapter of the SCBWI, and the Orlando chapter of the SCBWI.

As well, Nadia and I dropped in at the Vermont College MFA summer residency. Would love to meet new writers and look forward to each of the speaking gigs.

Firebrand's parent company has recently launched a separate packaging company called Tinderbox! First, what's a packaging company?

Few people are aware of just how many successful novels they know came from what in the industry is called a packager. Gossip Girl. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Goosebumps. Sweet Valley High. Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

I could go on for a while, but memory is short and packaged work is long, and enough is enough. Suffice to say that packagers have always been around, and that many publishers have "in house" packaging teams that come up with stories and then seek out writers. It's a part of the business that doesn't get talked about much.

Interested people can read more about it here [see Book Packaging: Under-explored Terrain For Freelancers by Jenna Glatzer from Absolute Write].

For Tinderbox, we're devoting one day a week (and weekends so far) to coming up with stories that hit holes in the market as we see it. (We could be wrong.)

We come up with concepts, titles, dramatis personae; we work up fully fleshed out outlines and series arcs; we do everything but write the actual pages.

And then, after we've kicked the outline back and forth between us and taken it as far as we can, we try to match it up with a writer who we think can pull it off.

What will be the relationship between the two?

Tinderbox does not employ Firebrand authors. We'd rather avoid any strange conflicts of interest (how can we advise our writers to write a packaged project that we're putting together? short answer: we can't in good faith).

So our writing roster is made up of talents from other agent's lists—writers who are in between big projects and want someone to do some of the heavy lifting, concept-wise. Or writers who need a break into the industry and see a packaged project as a way in. Or what-have-you.

And I'm happy to say that thus far we've got a great bunch of interested writers—award-winners, bestsellers, and a number of great talents who see our projects as worthwhile.

As this business grows, we'll hire dedicated staff. But at the moment, it's a one-day-a-week-and-weekends thing, as most start-ups are.

What about this opportunity appealed to you?

There is something gloriously fun about creating stories in a group. An idea pops up that doesn't work, but then someone else adds something to it and flips it over; then another person takes it and pulls it inside out—the idea keeps going around and around the table until it has morphed into something cool and exciting.

There's a reason television is often written by teams (I'm thinking of good television here, mind you—Buck Henry and Mel Brooks et al), and that's because a good idea can become a great idea in a short time. It's a joy to create in a group.

Not what I always want to do, but for now, I love it.

And like so many of us, I take my joy where I can find it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Author-Illustrator Interview: Cambria Evans on Bone Soup

Cambria Evans was born in Richmond, Virginia; and grew up in Provo, Utah. She studied graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design, and now works as a freelance illustrator, writer and designer in Brooklyn, New York. Cambria loves all things Halloween and celebrates every day by eating plenty of candy. She shares a studio with her husband Kari Christensen, who is also an illustrator.

How did you train as a writer? As an artist?

My formal education was in art and design. As the oldest girl of 29 cousins, I was informally trained as storyteller.

I was constantly making up and telling stories so the swarm of younger cousins would be somewhat still and quiet.

Could you update us on your backlist, highlighting as you see fit?

Martha Moth Makes Socks (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

Congratulations on the release of Bone Soup (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Bone Soup is about Finnigin, a skeleton with a reputation for eating. When he comes to a town, everyone has hidden their food and locked their doors.

After the initial rejection, Finnigin comes up with a plan, lures the townscreatures with a song, and then tricks them into adding their favorite ingredients to his soup.

The whole town ends up with a wonderful feast of bone soup, wormy cheese, and bread.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I was in an outdoor market in Cuzco, Peru; when I saw a crazy looking stew with bones sticking out. I called my husband over, saying "Come look at this bone soup!" and immediately I thought, "what a great idea for a book."

When I got back home, I checked the Library of Congress to see if anyone had already written it, and to my surprise no one had. So, I wrote the first draft of the manuscript that very day.

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

December 2005: came up with idea;

January-February 2006: wrote story in one day, and edited for the rest of the month;

March 2006: story and concept sketches were sent to and accepted by Houghton Mifflin;

November 2006: dummy and storyboards complete;

December 2006-April 2007: finalizing of line art and book layout.

April 2007: While freelancing at Martha Stewart I hurt my arm and was unable to hold a pen for five months.It was horrible not being able to work, and I didn't think I could meet the deadline for publication.

September- October 2007 After much physical therapy and rest, I was able to work. For a month straight I literally worked day and night to get the final paintings done in time.

Sept. 2008- book available in stores.

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

The biggest challenge was making my line weight consistent throughout the book. I started using a very small Japanese pen.

Half way through the finishes, I ran out of ink, and the pens were completely sold out in America. There was a week I tried 18 different pens and none of them worked.

Luckily, after much searching, I found a tiny store in New York that had three pens left!

I especially appreciated the culinary aspects of Bone Soup! Where did you get your ideas for ingredients?

I absolutely love food and travel shows. I remember seeing a "Globe Trekker" with a Cambodian bat soup that has haunted me, hence the bat wings as ingredients. But for most of the ingredients I just thought of things that gross me out, and would therefore appeal to creatures and ghouls.

According to conventional wisdom, if you put food in a children's book, someone will serve it to you. So, I'm wondering: have you eaten any bone soup?

Thankfully, no. Although I have eaten traditional bone soup that is made from a ham bone and vegetables.

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

1. Don't try to write the perfect manuscript, just write. You can always edit later.

2. Get in the habit of writing every day and writing for pleasure instead of just for a deadline.

How about if you were talking to your beginning-illustrator self?

1. Develop multiple ideas around a concept instead of getting stuck in one direction, because sometimes a better character or idea is created by combining the best bits of different things.

2. Don't take critiques too personally.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

I am a freelance graphic designer, product designer and illustrator. I also co-run a social stationary and accessories company called J.Bartyn Design + Manufacturing.

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

I haven't found that balance yet. The great thing about freelancing is I can work from anywhere, so I can do a book reading somewhere and still get work done for my design clients.

But that is also the bad part of freelancing. No mater where I go, or what day of the week it is, I am always working on something.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm writing a few stories right now, but nothing has been sent off to publishers yet.

This fall, products (such as coloring books, cards, gift bags, and wrapping paper) with my illustrations will be available at Indigo Books and Music Inc.'s eco-friendly retailer, Pistachio.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Tantalize Now Available from Walker Books UK

Tantalize is now available in paperback from Walker U.K.! The cover is almost the same except that it includes the "Predator or Prey" kicker.

Here's the Walker U.K. version of the flap copy:

Terrific teenage gothic novel – vampires and werewolves abound!

Orphaned and in her uncle's care, fiercely independent Quincie may be the most over-achieving high-school student around, but even she has her hands full with a hybrid-werewolf boyfriend and the opening of Sanguini's, her hip vampire-themed restaurant, which turns out to have way more bite than she'd intended.

Cynsational Notes

Thank you to YA urban fantasy writer Karen Mahoney (Karen's LJ) for sending the photo below of Tantalize live in the U.K.! This shot was taken at Borders on Oxford Street in London. Tantalize is also available in paperback from Walker Books Australia and New Zealand (2007).

10th Anniversary Feature: Nancy Garden

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, 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 reply, this one from author Nancy Garden:

I think the most important lesson I've learned about my craft--or at least about myself as a writer--over the past decade is to slow down!

By that I don't necessarily mean to write less, and I certainly don't mean to take more time off (what's that?), but what I do mean is to be sure to give each new book or story all the time it needs before sending it off to one's editor or one's agent.

Working on more than one book at the same time used to work for me, especially when each project was at a different stage of development and or when each was different from its companions--different age levels, for example, different genres, etc.

But recently, I found myself working on two or three things which were at roughly the same stage of development at more or less the same time--and that led to my impatiently releasing some before they were really ready.

Maybe that's because I'm not as young as I once was, or maybe it's because I've become less patient, but whatever the reason, it's made me feel increasingly that it's best as much as possible for me to stick to one project at a time--at least to try to make sure close-together projects are at different stages of development.

Artistic life? Well, when my first book was published--and actually my first two books were published very close together, after a long period when nothing of mine had published--I made the mistake of thinking the days of rejection letters were probably over.

But since then, both in the last ten years and earlier, I've found that, at least for me (and many, many other writers I know and admire!), there's nothing sure but death, taxes, and rejection letters!

And--this is more important--I've also found that being aware of that is a good way to keep a sense of balance about one's career.

That leads me to the third part of your question, the part about publishing, and this is tricky.

I've learned, especially in the last ten years, that it's a good idea as much as possible to try keep abreast of the changes in publishing and in kid/teen culture.

I'm not saying that one should try to write whatever seems to be selling best or seems to be most popular, for I firmly believe that it's important to write what one wants to write, what one is burning passionately to write, what one loves to write.

But it's still helpful to have an idea of where and how one's work and what one wants to say might fit within this rapidly changing world.

Don't get me wrong on this, though. Even if it doesn't fit, and there's no way to make it fit, I think that's okay, too--because it's also true that good stuff that doesn't fit often eventually gets published anyway.

I know this must sound as if I'm contradicting myself, and in a way I guess I am--because I do believe strongly that both are true: It's important to try to be aware of what's going on in the world for which one writes, but also to write what one wants to write anyway!

Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.
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