Friday, October 24, 2008

Spooky Cyn-terview and Sanguini's T-shirt Giveaway Contest

Spooky Cyn-terview and Sanguini's T-shirt Giveaway Contest from Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth.

The focus is reading and writing with an emphasis on Gothic fantasy (with the obvious caveats that mileage--and approaches--may vary).

Peek: "Of course it's okay for books to stretch the audience in a myriad of ways. But I'd like to make a special case for unreliable narrators. For worse and better, people are unreliable. We don't always represent themselves or facts truthfully—sometimes with negative intent, sometimes for other reasons.

"For example, consider the current election cycle. Whatever your political predispositions, I hope we can all agree that future and/or new voters need to be prepared to process potentially unreliable information in a critical manner. Frankly, it's an important life skill."

Giveaway Contest

Think up a creepy, gross food item for the Predator menu, and post it in the comments! Or, tell The Tollboothers the most disgusting thing you've ever eaten.

They'll pick a random commentor (names-in-hat style) on Halloween, and that person will receive his or her choice of a Sanguini's T-shirt. Note: Sanguini's is the fictional vampire-themed restaurant in Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008).

Pictured here, we have the ever popular "Cell Phones Will Be Eaten" T-shirt. Other designs include: "I HEART Baby Squirrel;" "Drop in for a Late Night Bite;" the bird and dragon "Predator or Prey" logos; and the classic Sanguini's restaurant logos (flowers and fang-marks). See all of the designs.

Winners will be able to specify color and size.


The upside down skull in a crystal ball photo was taken on my dining room table with the lens facing the ball and the skull behind it. The ball was purchased as part of my research for an upcoming short story, "Cat Calls," which will appear in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, July 2009). The skull was purchased at Pottery Barn simply as a Halloween decoration.

Read a Cynsations interview with Liz Gallagher on her debut novel, The Opposite of Invisible (Wendy Lamb, 2008). Peek: "I love Halloween time and wanted to set a story then. While walking past a big junk shop in Fremont (the neighborhood of the book, and the one where I live now, though I didn't at the time), I realized that it was the perfect setting for a Halloween story. The original first line--'It all started with this dress.'--came to me on the page, and I just kept going."

The Sanguini's T-shirts were designed by illustrator Gene Brenek. Read a Cynsations interview with Gene.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win Listening for Crickets by David Gifaldi (Henry Holt, 2008)!

From the promotional copy: "Can a ten-year-old protect his little sister from the harsh world around them?"

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 Nov. 3! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Nov. 3!

But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

Please also type "Crickets" in the subject line. Peek: "I collected rejections in a special box set on a shelf in my closet, and waited for the mail every day, hoping for good news. Mostly what I received were rejections. Yet I was proud of that bulging box."

Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Enter to win one of three author autographed copies of The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by David Small (Atheneum, 2008)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

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. 27! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Oct. 27! 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 "Underneath" in the subject line.
Read a Cynsations interview with Kathi.

Note: both David and Kathi are fellow faculty members of mine at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I will be returning to VCFA for the January 2009 residency, and I'm very excited about it!

The winners of autographed copies of The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2008) were Sandy at the Liberty Hill Public Library in Liberty Hill, Texas; Margay in Massachusetts; and Tashia in Michigan.


The Great Pumpkin Contest Revealed: Lee "L.A." Verday is sponsoring a contest at MySpace. The grand prize is an autographed paperback copy of Tantalize with a Tantalize bookmark.

Additional prizes include a copy of The Elite by Jennifer Banash (Berkley Trade, 2008); two copies of two copies of Chris Grimly's illustrated book inspired by Washington Irving's tale, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow;" a DVD copy of "Sleepy Hollow," starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, and spooky cool stickers celebrating the release of Jessica Verday's The Hollow (Simon Plus, fall 2009)!

Here's how to enter: Carve or paint a pumpkin, take a picture, and post it to MySpace. Then--and this is important--tag the photo to Lee so it appears in her photos. Special bonus goodies for anyone who carves or paints with a sleepy hollow twist. The winners will be chosen on Halloween and notified Nov. 1st. Note: if pumpkins are sold out, you can draw one.

More News

Congratulations to Kristin O'Donnell Tubb, the debut author of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte, 2008)(excerpt); check out the book trailer below:

Author Visit: Kristin O'Donnell Tubb from Jessica Burkart's Blog. Peek: "If you are truly passionate about writing, you’ll do it every chance you get – but that’s likely not every day. And just because you don’t write every day doesn’t mean you are less of a writer."

"The Christian Science Monitor is sponsoring the 13th annual Young Poets Contest. Winning entries will be published in the newspaper in early January. Eligibility: students in preschool through high school. Deadline: Dec. 2." Source: PEN Weekly NewsBlast.

35 Going on 13: Teen Books for Adults: a new blog by Angelina Benedetti from the King City Library System (Washington). Peek: "While many of today's teen readers easily navigate the teen collection and fully appreciate the depth and breadth of what is being published for them, those of us new to this world need a place to start." Note: Angelina's October roundup is fantastic! Source: Original Content.

The 2008 Nominations for the Cybils Awards. Peek: "If you don't see a book you suggested, it's likely on another list. We did a little horse-swapping behind the scenes as some books didn't quite fit the category where they'd been nominated." Congratulations to all of the nominees! Read a Cynsations interview with Kelly Herold and Anne Boles Levy on The Cybils.

"Yikes! It's M. T. Anderson:" an interview with the author on horror writing from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "One of the things that I think makes this particular clutch of early Gothic novels resonate still is that (like Shelley's Frankenstein) they are about identity and they investigate that in a really troubling way. They don't externalize the evil, but instead trouble us by connecting the hero with an evil so sticky it can’t be wiped off--it keeps clinging and burning." Also enter to win "a deluxe M. T. Anderson prize package...filled to the gills with all kinds of nifty M. T. Anderson stuff."

Actress Kenya Brome: an interview by author Shana Burg with the voice behind the audio CD adaptation of A Thousand Never Evers (Listening Library, 2008). Peek: "'I felt like I was contributing to the civil rights movement by helping to convey some of what life was like for black people in this country not too long ago.'" See also Shana's interview with her father on Being a Civil Rights Lawyer in Alabama in the 1960s. Read a Cynsations interview with Shana. Note: Along with Kathi's The Underneath and Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's The Floating Circus (Bloomsbury, 2008), one of my top picks for middle graders this year.

CBAY Books: an imprint of Blooming Tree. Love the kicker: "Creating the Banned Books of Tomorrow." See submission guidelines. Check out the editor's blog, Buried in the Slush Pile.

A Day in the Life: Book Publicity by Amy Ehrenreich, senior publicist at Random House Children's Books. Peek: "Usually I'm in the office by 8:45 a.m. and out around 7:30 p.m. The first thing I do each day is..." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Sarah Ellis: Writer, Reader, Storyteller: official author site. Don't miss the message from Smollet the Cat. Peek: "Sarah Ellis is my human and she spends far too much time reading and writing. She fritters away her time with books when she could be..." Note: my cats also are online. See: Mercury's page, Sebastian's page, and Kit Lit: Cat-Themed Picture Books.

Following the Cyber Trail by Robin LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "Pick a recently published, successful book that is similar to yours in tone and genre and (most important) potential audience. Then, using the miracle that is Google..."

kidswriterjfox: a blog from author Janet S. Fox. Peek: "a window into one writer's world, from thoughts about writing technique to musings about my experiences." Learn more about Texas Authors and Illustrators.

Check out the book trailer for The Ghosts of Luckless Gulch, an original tall tale by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Dan Santat (Atheneum, Nov. 2008)(excerpt):

Soul Enchilada Supremes: a fan network for David Macinnis Gill's debut fantasy. See also: Authors on the Verge: Meet David Macinnis Gill, middle grade novelist from Cynthea Liu at Writing for Children and Teens. Peek: "It feels every bit as nerve-wracking as being on the unsold side. Only the model of racks has changed. The self-doubting questions have changed from 'will an editor ever buy this?' to “will a reader ever buy this?'"

"So Much to Compare" by Daphne Grab from The Longstockings. Peek: "Comparing my experience, my publicity, readings, etc. to that of other authors seemed the best way to understand if what I had was good or not. It sounds crazy as I write it, but it's really how I felt." Note: this is one of the best years for debut authors in recent memory. Hooray for you all!

Graphic Novels: resources from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's Literature Resources. Note: Cynsations is now actively seeking submissions of graphic novels published for the children's-YA markets for author-illustrator interviews, etc. See guidelines and contact information. See my really cool new graphic novels page designed by the miracle that is Lisa Firke at Hit Those Keys AKA my Web goddess.

Talking with Mary Downing Hahn: the award-winning author discusses the inspirations behind her hair-raising ghost stories by Angela Leeper from Book Links. Peek: "Children have taught me that they love a good story—especially if it's scary. Or funny. Or exciting. Or magical. Just so it's not boring." Note: Book Links is "the [ALA] magazine that has been helping librarians, teachers, and parents connect children with high-quality books for more than 15 years." Note: it's also an excellent source of book lists according to subject matter for writers as reader researchers.

Mary Ann Hoberman Named Children's Poet Laureate: whether writing about llamas in pajamas or befuddled fauna, her poems are always about the puzzlement of language by Michael Atkinson from Poetry Foundation. Peek: "The best children's poets look at the subjects most parents are terrified of introducing to their little children—death, for instance—and invite them, gracefully, to dance." Source: Pamela Ross.

Hurricane Ike Recovery Fund for Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas. Peek: "The Children's Department, Technical Services, Circulation Department and Operations were located on the first Floor and all are gone. [emphasis added]" See more information. Note: Please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this blurb and link. The media has moved on to other stories, but efforts to deal with the aftermath are ongoing.

JacketFlap: "a social networking community where you can connect with more than 3,000 published authors and illustrators of books for Children and Young Adults." Note: These days it's easy to feel overly networked, but JF is well worth the effort. Read a Cynsations interview with CEO Tracy Grand on JacketFlap.

Congratulations to Texas author Claudia Guadalupe Martinez on the publication of her debut novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos, 2008)! Read an interview with Claudia from Cinco Puntos Blog, and look for her at the Texas Book Festival.

Lisa McMann: redesigned author site and contest. Peek: "Have you reviewed or blogged about Wake (Simon Pulse, 2008)? Or maybe shared the love in another way? If so, you are eligible to win. If not, you still have time to become eligible!" Deadline: Nov. 25. See more contest information. Note: I've read an ARC of Fade (Simon Pulse, Feb. 2009), and it's excellent! More on that later!

The June Franklin Naylor Award for the Best Book for Children on Texas History, endowed by the family of June Franklin Naylor and sponsored by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library, is given annually to the author/illustrator of the most distinguished book for children and young adults, grades K-12, that accurately portrays the history of Texas, whether fiction or nonfiction. Submission deadline: Dec. 31. See guidelines. Note: previous winners include Anne Bustard for Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Read a Cynsations interview with Anne.

"I Didn't Weep During My Speech" by Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. A report on the Jane Addams Book Awards and the text of Mitali's speech. Peek: "I wrote Rickshaw Girl for my great-grandmother, and for girls today in Bangladesh who still don't have many choices." Note: consider this link required reading; get a tissue first. See also: Should Authors Describe a Character's Race? by Mitali. Note: a fascinating discussion; don't miss the comments or Jenny Han's related thoughts at The Longstockings. On a related note, with regard to Native American characters, I would add that including tribal affiliation is important (unless it's outside the narrator's available informaton and, therefore, point of view). Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

M. J. Rose on Book Marketing from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "The question is how many books have succeeded without any pr and marketing and the answer to that is very very few." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Meet the Author: Maggie Stiefvater from Reality Bypass. Peek: "All of my villains are me. Well, they're a tiny part of me, exaggerated (hopefully) beyond recognition. But I think that the truest villains are the ones you can sympathize with. That you can see why they're being evil." Read a Cynsations interview with Maggie.

Monster Month of Giveaways: Faerie Week at Brooke Taylor Books. Enter to win a prize pack!

Take a Chance on Art: purchase one or more $5 raffle tickets to enter to win illustrator Don Tate's painting "Duke Ellington," and support the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund. Note: it's especially important this year in light of devastation caused by Hurricane Ike. To learn more, read interviews with TLA librarian Jeanette Larson and illustrator Don Tate. Note: I've seen the piece in person, and it's absolutely outstanding! Please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this blurb and link. As mentioned above, Gulf Coast libraries have been hard hit and need our support!

The Writer on the Factory Floor by Coert Voorhees at Crowe's Nest. A first-rate essay on research. Peek: "I don't believe that research should be simply a matter of gathering information before sitting down to write. I've found that the most helpful aspect of research can often be finding out how wrong my initial attempts are."

Writer Tip: it's increasingly common to find agents who work in the adult lit market (and may or may not also represent YA) in the kidlitosphere, which is a great thing. However, keep in mind that some of their insights into publishing may not be applicable to the youth-lit market specifically.

More Personally

In response to Jay Asher's senioritis challenge, I'm offering my junior-year picture (circa 1985), which is the only teen one I have access to at the moment. Read a Cynsations interview with Jay.

Reminder: in case you missed it, Susan Gray interviewed me at Gottawrite Girl! Peek: " first book was one of the few that was first bought by one publishing company (Lodestar), produced by a second (Morrow Junior), and released by a third (HarperCollins). Whew!"

This past week's highlights included The Austin Youth Lit Social -- Spooky Style. Read my report, Greg's, Jo Whittemore's, P.J. Hoover's, Jennifer Ziegler's, and Jody Feldman's. Don't miss Shana Burg's party tie-in essay, "Beware: Apples Fall Far From Tree." Note: I should be credited for one apple, and Greg had another this week!

And we enjoyed Debbie Gonzales' speech on writing the sports novel at the October monthly meeting of Austin SCBWI.

Greg and I also had the honor of speaking at Dr. Judy Leavell's children's literature class Monday night at St. Edward's University in south Austin. Thanks to Judy and all for your hospitality! Note: we hope no one was injured when I tossed a hardcover into the middle of the room. Next time, I'll come up with a more elegant approach to the giveaways.

I'm enjoying the spooky season, though my pumpkins have become a donation to the local squirrel community. They and/or the crows have also made off with six "decorative" ears of corn. It's been amusing.

In terms of mail, I love to hear from my YA readers (and make every effort to write back), but please understand that I'm not available to read, critique, or proof writing. There are time and legal limitations, and if I said yes, my agent would pelt me with fuzzy bunnies.

Writing-wise, I've finished up a guide to the Tantalize (and Beyond) Universe, which was a necessary step in writing Blessed. I could hold it all in my head through Eternal (Candlewick, Feb. 2009), but once I hit book 3, I needed to pause and compile a serious cheat sheet--20 pages, single-spaced, encyclopedia-style.

Speaking of Eternal, I have an ARC in the house and look forward to announcing the gorgeous cover art and flap copy as soon as Candlewick gives me the green light next month.

On a related note, a huge thanks to Brittmet Bear for the spiffy, spooky redesign of the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace! To all, the continuing enthusiasm and support is most appreciated!

Reminder: if you would like a signed bookplate, you're welcome to email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address.

Reminder: I'll be appearing to discuss Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and related forthcoming books Oct. 28 on the teen grid of Teen Second at Second Life. See more information.

More Events

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! From the promotional copy: "Benjamin and his best friend Andy are different from normal. They love being able to read each other's minds and use telekinesis to play tricks on other kids. In fact, they are getting all set to spend their entire summer doing just that when Benjamin's mirror starts talking. Suddenly, Benjamin's looking at eight weeks of summer school someplace which can only be reached by a teleporter inside the ugly picture in his hallway. And that's the most normal thing he does all summer." Read a Cynsations interview with P. J. Note: The Emerald Tablet is on Blooming Tree's CBAY imprint debut list, and P. J. is a debut author to watch!

Austin Jewish Book Fair 2008: "The Silver Anniversary Edition will feature author lectures and discussions, photography, politics, humor, the annual Book Lovers' Luncheon, Civil Rights Sunday, youth author events, and Texas Book Festival appearances." Note: author Shana Burg will speak with her father, Harvey Burg, at 10 a.m. Nov. 9 at JCC Community Hall.

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: sponsored by the Texas Book Festival in cooperation with the museum.

Texas Book Festival will be Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 in Austin. 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; Emma J. Virjan; and Jennifer Ziegler. See the complete list.

The Austin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators will be hosting its annual holiday party from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at BookPeople (6th and Lamar) in Austin. The event will include: panels on writing picture books, on writing middle grade novels, on writing YA novels; author signings; and much more!

"Connections and 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 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.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Author Interview: Justine Larbalestier on How to Ditch Your Fairy

I last featured an SCBWI Bologna series interview with you in 2006! Highlighting as you see fit, could you update us on your back list and writing life since that time?

Since that interview Magic's Child (Razorbill, 2007), the final book in the Magic or Madness (Razorbill, 2005-2007) trilogy, was published. All three volumes are now available in paperback.

Scott and I still haven't written anything together and are unlikely to do so for at least another few years.

I have a new publisher, having shifted from Penguin to Bloomsbury. I love my new publishing house!

Congratulations on the release of How To Ditch Your Fairy (Bloomsbury, 2008)! What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Thank you! I started writing HTDYF on the day that Magic Lessons (Razorbill, 2006) was due in January 2005. This is not really the best meeting-deadline practice, but what can I say? It seemed like a really good idea at the time.

The very first thing I wrote was what became the third chapter. Once I finished Magic Lessons, I kept working on HTDYF and continued writing it on and off as I worked on Magic's Child.

Writing HTDYF was the most fun I'd had writing in ages. It's amazing how much more enjoyable it is to write a novel without a big honking deadline. Also I enjoy the naughty feeling of working on something I'm not supposed to be working on.

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

Spend more time writing and less time worrying about getting published.

Advice for the just-published me: Pay no attention to Amazon rankings! It has little bearing on your actual sales figures.

What would you say on the topic of writing young adult fiction?

Just do it! It's the most exciting genre right now. Everyone should be reading and writing it.

A lot of people who don't write or read YA seem to be under the impression that the genre is defined by what you can't do. Not true.

YA can be written as simply or complicatedly as you want. You can cover any subject matter. But it has to be through the lens of adolescent experience.

At a fundamental level, YA is about coming of age, which typically means your protagonist is a teenager but can extend into their early twenties.

Though once you've made a name as a YA writer, pretty much everything you write will be published as YA. I don't think Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006) or Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels (Random House, 2008) would have been published as YA if it weren't for those authors' track records. Indeed, in Australia those books are published as adult titles.

We both have writer spouses. How does it work at your house? Do you write together, critique one another's work, or write totally separately?

Scott [Westerfeld (author interview)] and I frequently write in close proximity. Same room, occasionally same desk or table. Though when we're writing and deep in our books, it's not like we notice anyone else. Except when we look up from time to time to ask for another word for "pulchritudinous."

When we're working on first drafts, we read the other one chapters every few days. Reading it out loud means you don't get an annoying close criticism, just general comments about story and characters, which bits are boring, what works, what doesn't.

Reading out loud is also a good way to hear which sentences suck. If you can't read them out loud without stumbling it's usually a sign of suckage. We have a rule that you can stop at any point to make edits, which can be frustrating for the person listening who's gotten caught up in the story, but is invaluable for making the books better.

What do you love about the dynamic? What are its challenges?

One of the lovely things about both being full-time writers is that when one of us has an imminent deadline, the other one can drop what we're doing and take care of what needs taking care of, leaving the other one to concentrate on their book. We each get to be wife!

However, we now have the same deadline---we both have fall books---and that system fell apart. We solved the problem by staying in a hotel for the last month and having the hotel staff be wife. Expensive but it worked. It's the most relaxed we've both been in ages.

Writing was fun! We finished our books at the same time and they were on time, too, and if I don't say so myself, um, which I am---they're the best we've written thus far.

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

I'm not one of those writers who generates a lot of income by doing school visits. I spend way more time writing novels than I do on the road promoting my books.

Though I'm about to go on my very first tour to promote HTDYF. I can't tell you how excited I am. Meeting your readers and the booksellers who sell your books is one of the best parts of the job. [Note: Justine's tour is ongoing; see: Toronto, Central Texas information.]

You have one of my favorite author blogs! What is your approach to blogging? Why do you make the time and effort?

Thank you! I love blogging. It's my favouritest thing in the whole world (other than eating mangosteens).

It's so much more immediate than novel writing because the gap between writing and publication can be a matter of minutes, not months or years.

I love the reader responses and seeing lively discussions develop in the comments threads. I often use the blog to find out what my readers are thinking and to help me with my research, which is probably cheating, but who cares.

When I'm on the road or staying somewhere without Internet access, I get twitchy. I really hate it when I don't get to blog every day.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Most immediately I have a very long story, "Thinner than Water", that will be out in November in a collection, Love is Hell, edited by Farrin Miller (HarperCollins, 2008). It's a dark faery rewrite of a couple of different Cruel Lover ballads. I've been writing this story, under many different titles, on and off for twenty years. I'm thrilled to have finally got it right.

Love is Hell also includes stories by Scott (it's wonderful) as well as by Melissa Marr (author interview), Laurie Faria Stolarz (author interview), and Gabrielle Zevin. I haven't read their stories, but I'm sure they're wonderful, too.

The novel I just finished is called Why Do I Lie? after the song of the same name by Luscious Jackson. It's about a compulsive liar and is my first realist novel. It's also my first novel without any Australian characters---that was quite a challenge. Right now I'm really proud of it, but then I haven't gotten my editorial letter yet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Illustrator Interview: Don Tate on the "Duke Ellington" Raffle and TLA Disaster Relief Fund

Don Tate is a renowned children's book illustrator, based in Austin, Texas. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Don and an interview about his efforts as a co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf.

How did you come to donate a painting to the raffle for the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund?

Actually it began for me earlier this year at your Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) launch party.

[Librarian] Jeanette Larson approached me with very kind words about a snowflake I'd donated to Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure and asked about my interest in donating art to the raffle.

Why is it important to you?

I think it's always important to help people in need. None of us are exempt from the possibility of a natural disaster, and so I think it's our duty to help when we can.

I'm not always able to help financially, but my time and talent are valuable resources, too. It gratifies me to know my art will help children and families.

Could you tell us about the portrait in terms of its subject?

The piece I donated is actually a character study of jazz great Duke Ellington, for a book to be published by Charlesbridge, tentatively titled "Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite," written by Anna Harwell Celenza.

In terms of its artistic approach?

Normally I use a tight, stylized realism. But for this book, I wanted to do something very different, something bold, loose.

So I approached this study with the plan to throw away the final piece. That way, I'd loosen up, not care so much.

I sketched my subject with a Sharpie marker. That way there would be no erasing. Then I used a photocopying process to make several copies for experimenting with (that was my only short cut). When it came to painting, the trick for me was not to think, not to plan, to just let it happen.

But I liked the final piece and couldn't throw it away. So I made myself another and donated the original to the Disaster Relief fund.

What about Duke Ellington speaks to you?

Initially, I didn't know anything about Duke Ellington or his music. As far as I was concerned, Duke Ellington was for my 97-year-old grandpa. I grew up on a diet of funk and hip-hop.

For this book, I had to do some research. And I liked what I found. I downloaded Ellington's Three Suites album; I purchased several videos and CDs of his performances.

I also watched a lot of YouTube. I was blown away.

Now, not only am I a Duke Ellington fan, but Tchaikovsky, too. On several occasions, I found myself jogging to Ellington's "Sugar Rum Cherry" and Tchaikovsky's "Miniature Overture," and liking it! Both these guys were geniuses.

When will we see the book itself?

Well, that depends. The project is in an editorial holding pattern, and now I'm up against the deadline for another book. But it's supposed to drop in 2010.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I hope people will like the art and will support the cause.

Following Hurricane Ike, I had to do a lot of graphics and video editing of the disaster. The stories were heartbreaking. Many people lost everything. [Note: Don also works as an illustrator for The Austin-American Statesman].

The Texas Library Association's Disaster Relief fund will go a long way in helping families.

Cynsational Notes

Reminder: "Buy a couple of raffle tickets and 'take a chance on art' or simply make a donation to the fund (information is online at"

Read a companion interview with Austin-based librarian Jeanette Larson.

Please pass on news of the TLA Disaster Fund and raffle!

Librarian Interview: Jeanette Larson on the Raffle of Don Tate's "Duke Ellington" and the TLA Disaster Relief Fund

Jeanette Larson is an Austin-based librarian and member of the Texas Library Association.

What is the TLA Disaster Relief Fund?

It is a fund maintained by the Texas Library Association to provide small grants to libraries in Texas that have been affected by natural disasters.

Funds help libraries during recovery efforts and can be used for replacement of materials, purchasing supplies for clean up, doing things to help staff cope with the aftermath, or to make minor repairs and such.

What was the inspiration for it, and when was it instituted?

The fund was started by Jeanette Larson and Mark Smith in 1999.

As is typical in Texas, there had been a series of natural disasters and we were thinking about ways to help focus attention on the needs of libraries in the aftermath.

Illustrator (and big Texas library supporter) Rosemary Wells had offered to donate original art to benefit Texas libraries in some way. Using children's book art for a raffle seemed like a good way to start a fund.

In 2002, TLA set up a committee that works with the raffle (along with other fundraising projects), develops programs on disaster preparedness to be held at the annual conference, and reviews grant applications and awards money to libraries.

The funds are often more symbolic because the grants are small, but they provide a great boost to local morale as patrons and staff realize that librarians, authors and illustrators, and the community at large are trying to help.

What is the money used for?

The first awards were given in 2001 to C.E. King Middle School Library and the Sheldon Independent School District to recover from flood damage caused by Tropical Storm Allison.

In 2002, Alvarado Public Library received funds to replace network cable drops after severe flooding.

As might be expected, a number of awards were given in 2006 following Hurricane Rita, and all nine libraries in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area that were damaged and requested assistance received funds. Funds helped to replace lost materials, repair facilities, and extend service hours during the recovery period.

Why is this year especially important?

The fund has taken a real hit after a number of years of heavy damages to libraries. With the damage to Galveston, Port Bolivar, Houston, and coastal areas, the fund needs to be replenished.

The fund is supposed to be an endowment where the capital is maintained. But with so many libraries in need, the fund is being depleted.

The economy has added to the problems caused by Hurricane Ike because library budgets are flat or down, making it even harder to recover from disasters.

We keep the cost of raffle tickets low so that everyone can help…and have a chance to win a great piece of original art by a wonderful artist.

Interestingly, the TLA conference where the winning raffle ticket will be pulled is in Houston, which also suffered from Hurricane Ike. Many Houston area libraries were damaged.

Could you tell us about the history of the TLA raffle?

As I mentioned, Rosemary Wells had offered to give me several pieces of art to use in some way to help Texas libraries. We started with an online auction.

The first raffle was for a piece created for The Bear Went Over the Mountain.

One of the things I love about the raffle is that sometimes the pieces were used in the book, but often they are a study or "off piece"--a piece created but then not used in the book. These are extremely rare and collectible.

Because of Rosemary's help we christened the Web page where we display the art as The Itsy Bitsy Gallery.

The first raffle was a great success so we decided to continue it.

I started out by asking people I knew if they would donate a piece.

In 2000, the raffle featured a piece by Nicole Rubel from Wedding Bells for Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos (HarperCollins, 1999).

Since then donors have included Denise Fleming, Adrienne Yorinks, Roxie Munro, Brian Floca, and many others.

For the tenth anniversary, Diane Stanley donated a beautiful piece from Charles Dickens --The Man Who Had Great Expectations (HarperCollins, 1993).

How does it work?

After the piece is donated, the TLA staff scans it and puts an image on the Itsy Bitsy Gallery.

People from all over can purchase raffle tickets by printing off the "tickets" and sending them in with a check.

This also allows Texas librarians and library supporters, as well as art collectors, to participate even if they can't attend the TLA conference.

At the conference, a team of volunteers wanders the halls, staff tables, and hangs out at big meetings, selling tickets. Several years ago, they started wearing tornado headbands that make them very recognizable!

At the second general session, all of the tickets are placed in a "squirrel cage" and the winning ticket is pulled out. Frequently, the winner is in the audience, but if not, the piece is mailed to him or her.

That first piece by Rosemary Wells was won by Nancy F. Shanafelt, a catalog librarian at McMurry University in Abilene. She was in the audience and almost immediately announced her intention to donate the work to the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature, which happens to be located in Abilene. The librarian who won the piece by Diane Stanley displayed it in her library.

What painting will be featured this year?

Don Tate has donated a study for an upcoming book he is illustrating. It is attentively titled "Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite" and features a young Duke Ellington.

The book is the story of how Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn collaborated to rewrite Tsaichovsky's "Nutcracker," and is being written by Anna Harwell Celenza. Don expects the book to be published in 2010 by Charlesbridge.

Why was illustrator Don Tate chosen as the contributing artist?

I'm very fortunate to know many illustrators. I ask talented people--often from among the many wonderful folks living in Texas, from Texas, or who love Texas.

Don has been illustrating books for many years and just keeps getting better and better.

I also look for different art styles and topics so that we can reach even more people who are willing to buy a raffle ticket.

Could you tell about him?

I don't remember how I first met Don, but he lives and works in Austin so it was probably at a local book event (or something at your home!).

He is a self-taught painter who works in oils and acrylics. His first trade book was Say Hey: A Song of Willie Mays written by Peter Mandel (Jump at the Sun, 2000).

Although Don has a very distinctive style—rounded, soft featured figures-- each book has its own style that shows the breadth and depth of Don’s talent as an illustrator. He uses perspective and humor to make each book exciting and fresh.

Don is a very kind and gentle man and he comes from a literary family. His aunt is author Eleanora E. Tate. He credits her with inspiring him to draw and tell stories.

Are there other ways to contribute to or otherwise support both the fund generally and the raffle specifically?

Well, of course, the fund always welcomes cash donations! Buy a couple of raffle tickets and "take a chance on art" or simply make a donation to the fund (information is online at

Anyone who is attending the TLA conference would be welcomed by the Disaster Relief Committee to help sell raffle tickets.

Also, last year TLA created a Men of Texas Libraries calendar, featuring slightly risqué photographs and profiles of male librarians. In a predominately female profession, there were so many wonderful guys that TLA had to make it an 18-month calendar!

Watch the TLA website for another calendar that will feature the tattooed librarians of TLA!

Also TLA is planning another online auction of special pieces of artwork, so we always welcome additional donations from children's book illustrators.

Cynsational Notes

Reminder: "Buy a couple of raffle tickets and 'take a chance on art' or simply make a donation to the fund (information is online at"

Don't a companion interview with illustrator Don Tate.

Please pass on news of the TLA Disaster Fund and raffle!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Author Interview: P. J. Hoover on The Emerald Tablet (The Forgotten Worlds: Book One)

P. J. Hoover on P. J. Hoover: "Basically, I grew up a cool nerd. I loved math, computers, and 'Star Trek' but also happened to be captain of the cheerleading squad.

"I opted out of AP English to take Astronomy instead. After all, at the time, I thought drawing planetary orbits was way more fun that reading As I Lay Dying [by William Faulkner (1930)].

"But I always had a love for the unknown (Astronomy being a good example). So, even though I headed off to college for electrical engineering, I had a mid-college crisis and almost became an archaeologist.

"After all, what could be more fun than sitting in a baking desert brushing of bits of pottery? But engineering was hard to throw away, so I settled for a second degree in History."

P. J. makes her home in the Austin area. Read her blog, Roots in Myth.

What made you decide to write books for young readers?

It was only after the birth of my second child that I decided to start writing. She happened to be this fabulous sleeper (sleeping through the night by four-weeks old—I know, please don't hate me), we'd sworn off TV, and so, all of a sudden, I had tons of extra time on my hands.

Okay, really, when I say "tons," I mean a couple hours in the evening I'd never had before.

I always loved reading and decided to start creating my own contribution to the writing world. And I realized by writing a couple hours a night, every night, I could write novels.

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

I started working on The Emerald Tablet (The Forgotten Worlds: Book One)(Blooming Tree, 2008) late in 2004, knowing almost nothing about the writing and publishing world.

After an initial draft and tons of revisions, I joined SCBWI and started sending the manuscript off. But talk about needing plenty of work! My draft at the time was around 120K words and full of back-story.

I headed to the National SCBWI conference that winter in New York and happened to meet an editor who said she’d be happy to read it and give me some feedback. (Yes, traveling to conferences is totally worth the money and effort).

When she told me I needed to cut at least a third of it, I thought she was nuts, but, once she explained and I started learning more about writing, I found her feedback eye opening, and I dove into revisions.

How did your first sale come about?

Once I finished initial revisions, I sent the manuscript back to the same editor, Madeline Smoot from Blooming Tree Press. She kindly read it again and gave me more feedback.

This went on a few more times until one day she said something along the lines of, "After one more revision, this will be ready for acquisition."

Up until this point, I'd tried not to let myself get too excited about the prospect of signing on with her, but, once she said this, I realized she actually meant to buy it! I signed a three-book contract with Blooming Tree Press in early 2007 for Fall 2008, 2009, and 2010 releases.

[Note: above photo shows Blooming Tree Publisher Miriam Hees (green shirt); P. J. (orange shirt); and Madeline (white shirt)].

How did you react to the news?

I blogged it! I emailed all my relatives. I treated myself to a massage.

There's just something really amazing about having someone else you're not related to believe in your writing and want to see it succeed as much as you do.

Congratulations on the publication of The Emerald Tablet (The Forgotten Worlds: Book One)(Blooming Tree, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

The Emerald Tablet tells the story of a boy, Benjamin Holt, who, upon turning thirteen, finds out not only is he not human, he's from a whole different world. The world, Lemuria, is hidden beneath the Pacific Ocean, and within minutes, he's being whisked off to spend his summer there, learning to control his telepathy and telekinesis talents. Except in this new world, they aren't even talents anymore. Everyone has them, and he's just normal.

His best friend happens to be along also, and, within hours of being on the new world, the two of them and three other kids sneak off and find something hidden in the basement of the ruling hall. But it turns out this ancient relic (The Emerald Tablet) has been waiting for Benjamin for ages.
As soon as Benjamin touches the tablet, it binds them together (telepathically) and gives them the task of saving the world.

And he thought summer was going to be all fun and games.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Television sci-fi and fantasy. I'm happy a childhood of TV watching was not wasted.

There used to be this high quality TV show back in the early 80's called "The Powers of Matthew Star." Matthew Star was basically this ordinary kid who had special powers like telepathy and telekinesis. He could pop popcorn with his mind so fast, other kids thought he was magic—which I guess he kind of was. He was good looking and cool and oh-so 80's.

The show was on air for about six months, but I loved it, and it always stuck with me. How cool would it be to have powers like that and to have to pretend to be a normal kid? And so Benjamin Holt and telegens were born.

As for the lost continents, I've always loved ancient civilizations, and I've wanted Atlantis to be real. So I knew Atlantis would have to be in the storyline. But while researching, I came across the sister continent of Lemuria and knew immediately my main story would be set there.

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

I began The Emerald Tablet in December 2004, and the publication date is October 2008. So about four years from conception to publication.

The most major event along the way was meeting my editor at the national SCBWI conference in New York. Not only did she help my writing immensely, she gave me confidence and ended up signing me.

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

Learning to write! Seriously!

As for research, the web is so full of great information, I had no problems pulling together thoughts and ideas. The Emerald Tablet has plenty of New Age elements (Atlantis, Lemuria, The Emerald Tablet itself), and there are more than enough sources of online information for research.

After the first draft and initial revisions, I read tons of books on writing craft. I started reading other novels like a writer, seeing how other authors expressed emotions and showed descriptions. And as I kept writing and revising, I incorporated things I learned along the way.

What is it like, being a debut author in 2008?

It's a great year to be a debut author! I am fortunate enough to have been accepted into the Class of 2k8, a fabulous group of 27 other debut authors with books coming out in 2008.

Aside from the group marketing premise of the Class, I've made friends and connections with authors I may never had met otherwise.

Plus, it's fun being a debut author, no matter what the year!

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

Take as much time between revisions as you can stand. Seriously. A month. Four months. A year. This is so hard to do, so it helps to have other stuff you're working on (like the second and third books of a trilogy). But the longer you can wait between revisions, the more clear problems with the manuscript will be to you.

What advice do you have for those writing fantasy?

Look for something unique you can contribute to the fantasy or sci-fi world.

Toss aside the first idea which comes into your head and go with the second. Or the third.

Try to incorporate something cool on each page. Cool things can make all the difference in a reader's mind.

How about for those interested in marketing a multi-book project?

I'm all for writing that first book and submitting it. But while it's being submitted, work on the second. And the third. Then you may find when you come back to the first, you can seed it with lots of great details that will come up later in the series.

As for mentioning multi-book projects in queries, conventional wisdom says not to do this. Once you get some interest, maybe then it's time to bring up your ideas for the next ten books in the series. But when you're selling the first, keep that in mind. It's only the first which will be on the shelves, and this will need to hook readers.

Other than your own, what your three favorite fantasies of 2008 and why?

I'm a huge Rick Riordan fan, so I'd be remiss if I didn't put The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson & The Olympians: Book 4)(Hyperion, 2008)(author interview) at the top on my list.

I thought The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2008)(author interview) was an awesome example of sci-fi set in our near future.

And finally, I loved The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press, 2008). The character and story were original and engaging.

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

Time management!

I keep a list of all the smaller things which need to get done on an ongoing basis. Interviews, contacting reviewers, signings.

In addition, for promotion, I have a separate calendar for just this. On it, I record when I need to get requested information back, when I need to respond to emails, and I can also see where I have more free time to fill with other promotional opportunities.

For writing, my evenings are still dedicated to this. During the day when my kids are at school, I dedicate days to solely writing or solely promotion. This way I can focus more on one task at a time. But it is a balance. Luckily, thus far, I enjoy all aspects of the writer’s life.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Up until April 2008 I also worked full time as an electrical engineer, designing chips for cell phones and Kindles. I decided to give the full time writing thing a try, and so far love the decision. I'm lucky enough to have a totally supportive husband.

I have two children, a daughter (age 4) and a son (age 7). They give me unlimited ideas for writing and also provide that much needed glimpse into how kids really think.

I have a Yorkshire Terrier and also two tortoises (King Tort and Nefertorti) who are supposed to live to 180 years-old. Yikes! So it looks like I'll be raising tortoises forever.

I love to read, knit, and build things around the house.

Last year was a haunted playhouse for the kids. This year, our big project is a clubhouse in the backyard.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a middle grade Egyptian series I'm working on along with a YA mythology fantasy.

And not to forget, the second Forgotten Worlds book, The Navel of the World, will be coming out Fall 2009.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cynsational Cynthia: an Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Gottawrite Girl

The lovely Susan Gray (see photo!) interviews me today: "Cynsational Cynthia" at Gottawrite Girl: adventures in children's literature * interviews * publishing news * musings on writing life.

Peek: "
I have a passion for story itself, and young heroes are, to me, the most compelling—they’re dynamic, fresh to experiences, yet more limited in their resources and, therefore, more courageous in their choices."

Please surf by to read the interview and leave a comment. Susan and I would love to hear from you!

10th Anniversary Feature: Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

In celebration of the ten year anniversary of, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you've learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here's the latest reply, this one from author Kristin O'Donnell Tubb:

I’ve been surprised to find that, for me, the process for bringing each new story to life varies as the personality of the protagonist varies.

In writing Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different (Delacorte, 2008), I was dragged by my shirt collar through the story by Autumn, because she just had so darn much to say. She's feisty and free-spirited, and I learned to follow her lead when writing her tale.

But my work-in-progress features Hope, a smart but uncertain girl who lacks confidence. I've had a more difficult time writing this story, because Hope is always on the defensive. With Selling Hope, I finally created a meticulous, 20-page outline because Hope stayed just beyond my reach otherwise.

And in a mystery series I'm developing, the protagonist is Eleanor, a girl who idolizes investigative reporters. She is a straight shooter, and her story is unfolding like a developing news piece.

Prior to writing Autumn, I assumed that one was either an outliner or a person who wings it. Black or white, right? I was an outliner, through and through.

But Autumn would have none of it. And Hope can’t be trusted otherwise. Eleanor could go either way, so long as the truth as I know it is told.

Outliner or winger? I’d have to say it depends on how forthcoming my protagonist is!

Why is this important? For years, I tried to write like I was "told" to write:

-"You have to write xxx number of words per day."

-"One MUST write every day."

-"You really should outline/wing it/interview your characters/keep a notebook of personality traits/draw a map of your setting/make a collage for your main character."

But none of these worked for me. And parts of all of them worked for me.

So while we're never done honing our craft, we have to allow ourselves some flexibility in how we do that. What used to work doesn't always work. What was once foreign to us might now bring a fresh, new perspective to our work. And how fun that is!

Because honestly, if Autumn and Hope and Eleanor were too much alike, then what an uneventful career writing would be.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...