Friday, November 07, 2008

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of two hardcover copies of The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 2008)!

From the promotional copy:

"Here follows the story of a most extraordinary year in the life of an Ojibwe family and of a girl named 'Omakayas,' or Little Frog, who lived a year of flight and adventure, pain and joy, in 1852.

"When Omakayas is twelve winters old, she and her family set off on a harrowing journey. They travel by canoe westward from the shores of Lake Superior along the rivers of northern Minnesota, in search of a new home. While the family has prepared well, unexpected danger, enemies, and hardships will push them to the brink of survival. Omakayas continues to learn from the land and the spirits around her, and she discovers that no matter where she is, or how she is living, she has the one thing she needs to carry her through.

"Richly imagined, full of laughter and sorrow, The Porcupine Year continues Louise Erdrich's celebrated series, which began with The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999), a National Book Award finalist, and continued with The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005), winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction."

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. 17!

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Nov. 17! 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 one will go to any Cynsational reader. Please indicate status. Please also type "Porcupine Year" in the subject line.

The winner of Listening for Crickets by David Gifaldi (Henry Holt, 2008) was Gail in Arizona. Read a Cynsations interview with David.

The winners of The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale from the Five Kingdoms by Vivian French (Candlewick, 2008)(author interview) were: MaryAnn, a librarian at Redwood Day School in California; Lauren in Kentucky; and Dawn in Connecticut.

More News & Links

Behind the Pages of Shadowed Summer: RC & Moonpies from Saundra Mitchell. Note: I'm hooked on these teasers, already charmed by the Southern setting, and impressed with Saundra's marketing savvy and this fresh idea.

Digital Shadows 2: RC & Moonpies

Authors on the Verge: Meet Saundra Mitchell, young adult novelist from Writing for Children & Teens by Cynthia Liu. Peek: "I submitted it to the Delacorte Press prize, then miraculously got an agent while I was waiting to hear. I didn't win the prize (I didn't even place), so my agent and I revised. And revised. And revised, until my 75,000 word book had become a 45,000 word book."

National Museum of the American Indian Education Print Resources: "Please feel free to download PDFs of our teaching materials, below." Note: you can also order hard copies. See also [American Library Association Native-Themed] Posters for Your Classroom or Library. Source: American Indians in Children's Literature.

Brookdale Clothing
: featuring tie-in T-shirts for the novels of YA author Barry Lyga. Read a Cynsations interview with Barry.

There's a New Gang in Town: Austin's Delacorte Dames and Dudes by Edward Nawotka of Children's Bookshelf from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "DDD—no, it's not a heavy-duty new battery. It's the acronym for an informal group of Austin, Tex., writers all published by Delacorte Press." Note: actually, it's just the one dude, but color me a mega fan! Click the link if only to check out the super cute picture. Go Austin! Read Cynsations interviews with Shana Burg, Varian Johnson, April Lurie, Margo Rabb, and Jennifer Ziegler.

Soup's On: Zoë B. Alley in the Kitchen {Author] Interview from jama rattigan's alphabet soup. Peek: "Originally, this project came about through the desire of my editor/publisher (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press), to fill a market niche (i.e., the graphic novel/comic book/panel format for the picture book market). Traditionally, this genre had been done for the young adult (and older) demographic (don't you hate words like that?!), but not for this younger one. "

Making History Come Alive for Young Readers: an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson by Linda M. Castellitto from BookPage. Peek: "'I have a theory about historical fiction, particularly for middle-grade readers,' she says. 'Fifth grade or so is a time before you get into the really difficult challenges of late adolescence. Books allow kids to test themselves out against a scary world, but in a safe way—and historical fiction allows kids to test their morality, too.'"

Novel Secrets: A Novel Retreat in 3 Acts: "Have you always wanted to write a young adult or middle grade novel for children, but have not carved out the time to get it done? Do you have a draft of a novel written, but are looking for ideas and strategies to revise and strengthen it? Would you like the chance to meet with an editor or an agent to pitch your novel and gain critical feedback about this novel in particular and the fiction market, in general? All of this is possible if you attend..." Features authors Elaine Marie Alphin, Darcy Pattison, editor Jill Santopolo, and agent Stephen Barbara. See more information.

Here's a must-watch new book trailer for Abc3D by Marion Bataille (Roaring Brook, 2008). Source: The Longstockings.

5 Minutes with [Debut Author] P. J. Hoover from Saundra Mitchell: Making Things Up for a Living. Peek: "People are still people, whether they're embalming the dead or designing chips." See also a Cynsations interview with P. J.

Bookie Woogie: a new children's book review blog by three kids and their dad. Peek: "You'll see how these particular three kids' minds work...what elements they pick up on...what parts of a story are important to them."

Query Critiques from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Nathan analyzes samples from volunteers. Peek: "It's so important not just to present the heart of your work, but also to give a sense that your writing is up to the challenge."

Attention Minions of Heather Brewer: she's now offering a new forum.

Coauthor Agreements from BookEnds -- LCC. Peek: "I'm here to tell you right now, this very minute, sit down and get something on paper. You don't need a lawyer to do it, you simply need wording you can both agree to."

"Different Families" Book Display from Under the Covers. Peek: "Here's the promised book display to highlight our new GLBTQ list. "Different Families / Same Love"—that goopy enough for you?" See also the Adoption and Celebrate Diversity lists.

The Allure of Innocence from Musings of YA Author Dawn Metcalf. Peek: "...this underlines a yearning to explore a perhaps 'outdated' (or 'vintage' as it may be returning) notion of the more 'experienced' female MC and a more 'innocent' love-interest."

Congratulations to author Kimberly Griffiths Little on her three-book deal with Scholastic!

Overnight Success by Sara Bennett-Wealer. Peek: "As aspiring authors, we hear people say that persistence counts and it's easy to think, 'yeah right--for everybody else, and not for me.' Well, for this writer, it turned out to be true." Note: Sara mentions a friend saying it takes an average of eight years to land get published. I'd put it at seven-to-ten for a contract (because publishing schedules can be delayed, especially with picture books).

Tracy Vaughn Zimmer: an author interview from Guys Lit Wire. Peek: "As a writer, I get to access that part of myself which is more masculine, and that's lucky because in society we don't allow ourselves much wiggle room in this arena without serious social repercussions."

Facebook and Library Services: an interview with Emily Platz, a Teen Services Librarian at Farmington Library in Farmington, Connecticut; from Fran Cannon Slayton. Peek: "After spreading the word about 'Facebooking' me library related questions, I started to get all sorts of reference questions via facebook. I get two-to-five reference questions a day ranging from putting holds on items for teens to questions about homework resources. I was getting so many reference questions, that I installed the 'Social I.M.' application to add instant messaging chat to my Facebook account." See also Fran's take on What I Learned about Being an Author at ALA.

The Future TXT: Tips for the next generation! Peek: "[Writing] Tips and tricks from your favorite authors!" A new network for new voices.

Goldie's Book Talk: The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill. Read a Cynsations interview with Helen. Note: I love how the Internet empowers such a diversity of voices, canines included.

Author Interview: Richelle Mead from Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "I've actually found that as far as voice and intelligence, there's very little difference between teens and adults in my writing. I know some authors 'talk down' to their teen readers in YA, and after being a teacher, I found there's no need for that."

It's a Small World After All from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "At this point you're deeply afraid that this author has not understood something fundamental about the children's book industry: word gets around."

Creating Connections: Marilyn Carpenter (a university professor) and Melissa Carpenter (her daughter, a fourth grade teacher) have teamed up to create this blog, using poems from A Suitcase of Seaweed by Janet Wong (McElderry, 1996) to spark discussion among their students (graduate students in education and fourth graders), as well as to inspire them to write and think about their own "connections" to Janet's poems. Please feel free to share your favorite anecdotes...or even a poem!

Author Interview: Lauren Myracle from Liz Gallagher at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "The sort of horror I like is psychological horror. Creepy weird brains in creepy weird people making creepy weird things happen. And of course, the poor innocent whose drawn inextricably into the whole creepy mess." Read Cynsations interviews with Lauren and Liz.

Enter to Win Book Giveaways from

Which book do you think will win the National Book Award for Young People's Literature?: respond to the survey at Into the Wardrobe.

Cover Stories: Skinned by Robin Wasserman from Melissa Walker. Peek: "I did send along a selection of cool cyborg images that I found online. I thought this might help them find a way to depict the fact that Lia (the main character) is both human and machine."

An Interview with Kashmira Sheth from Judy Bryan at KidLit Central. Peek: "There are many things that can't be translated from one language to another without changing the meaning... I prefer to use the Gujarati words for them.'"

Thoughts on Process from A. M. Jenkins. Peek: "For me, every book has an ideal form, and my job as a writer is to strive toward that ideal, to feel out the possibilities with an open mind, and to figure out what the book needs and wants to be." Read a Cynsations interview with A. M.

Western Heights High School Book Club (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) seeks donations for fund-raising raffle. See more information.

Check out this book trailer for The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Random House); see excerpt.

Writing Blurbs or How To Make Your Head Explode by Robin LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "What do you emphasize? Which essence do you choose to distill down to? How few details can you use to establish character?"

When Is a Book Better Than Cookies? from Brenda Ferber's Blog. Peek: "Turns out, when you publish a book, magical things can happen." Read a Cynsations interview with Brenda.

Melissa Walker interviews Sarah Dessen for readergirlz below; see also a Cynsations interview with Sarah.

Tantalizing News

I'm honored to announce that Editions Intervista has bought the rights to Tantalize in France! I'll keep you posted on details as they arise. Note: I studied law abroad in Paris in 1991 and returned with my husband on vacation in 1999--amazing, fantastic, wonderful country!

Due to a technical difficulty, my discussion of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and related forthcoming books on the teen grid of Teen Second at Second Life has been rescheduled for for 3 p.m. Nov. 18. See more information.

More Personally

Congratulations to my fellow U.S. citizens on the election of Barack Obama as our next president! Thank you to all--Democrats, Republicans, and Independents--who voted in this past week's election! See also "¡Obamos a leer!" from La Bloga, Blog the Vote from Chasing Ray, and Little Rock 9 Take Pride in Obama's Victory by Peggy Harris from The Boston Globe.

Thank you to readergirlz for hosting my Thursday night chat! readergirlz may now be found at:;;;;; and facebook.

Thank you to illustrator Joy Fisher Hein for giving me permission to feature an image of one of her interior illustrations from Miss Ladybird's Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt (HarperCollins, 2005) in the header of Cynsations at Blogger. If you're reading the blog at another location, I encourage you to check it out!

And check out this Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from writesalot's blog. Peek: "Don't want to be an author. Want to be a writer. Want to be a writer so much that when you finally become an author, your responsibilities as such—however enjoyable—vex you because they're getting in the way of your writing time. "

Word has zipped around the kidlit community to the point that I want to reassure everyone that my fractured right foot is much better. It's mostly able to bear weight, I can get it into my Teva sandals, and I have every intention of enjoying the San Antonio Riverwalk at NCTE/ALAN (though it may take me a little longer on the stairs). As a result of the need to elevate, though, I've been mostly off-line. Please forgive any email delays, and just say NO! to cute shoes.

On a more fun subject, everyone has their geekdoms. My forever one is this:

Source: Karen Mahoney.

My Events

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 door prizes! Highlights include a school-visit giveaway featuring debut author P. J. Hoover (interview) and Philip Yates dressed as a pirate!

"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.

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.

More Events

Author-poet Philip Yates will be speaking on "Everything is Coming Up Posey! How to Make Your Writing Come Alive with Poetry" to Austin SCBWI at 11 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Barnes & Noble Westlake (Texas). Read a Cynsations interview with Phil.

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. Read the first chapter of Shana's debut novel, A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008).

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.

Reminder: Vote for Yohannes and 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 Reminders

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.

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.

Hurricane Ike Library Relief: "Following the destructive visit of Hurricane Ike, Blue Willow Bookshop [in Houston] is initiating a nationwide campaign to rebuild the library collections of Anahuac High School, Freeport Intermediate School and, closer to home, the Alief Hastings 9th Grade Center. These schools lost more than 75% of their collections. Our goal is to have 1,000 books to deliver to these libraries by Dec. 1."

A Celebration of Books for Children and Young Adults--Austin Style!

You Are Invited To
A Celebration of Books for Children and Young Adults--Austin Style!
Thursday, November 13, 2008

At BookPeople – 6th & Lamar
6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Readings * Panel Discussions * Door Prizes * Refreshments * Book Signing

Presented by: The Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Your #1 resource for published authors and illustrators of youth literature


BookPeople: "2005 Publishers Weekly Bookseller of the Year"

6:30 Social Time – Second Floor
Visit and enjoy refreshments.

7:00 A Holiday Reading - Amphitheater
Join us in the amphitheater as author Philip Yates (in full pirate costume) reads from his latest book, A Pirate's Night Before Christmas (Sterling, 2008).

7:15 Picture Book Panel Discussion – Amphitheater
Featuring: Greg Leitich Smith, Philip Yates, Don Tate, and Emma Virjan. Moderated by Brian Anderson.

Middle Grade/Young Adult Panel Discussion – Second Floor by the Stairs
Featuring: Lila Guzman, Shana Burg, P. J. Hoover, Helen Hemphill, and Jo Whittemore. Moderated by Tim Crow.

8:15 Young Adult Panel – Third Floor
Featuring: Jennifer Ziegler, Cynthia Leitich Smith, April Lurie, Brian Yansky, and Varian Johnson. Moderated by Julie Lake.

Authors and Illustrators Scheduled to Appear

Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lila Guzman, Jane Ann Peddicord, Greg Leitich Smith, April Lurie, Mark G. Mitchell, Shana Burg, Frances Hill, P. J. "Tricia" Hoover, Helen Hemphill, Phyllis Peacock, Jennifer Ziegler, Christy Stallop, Julie Lake, Brian Yansky, Jessica Anderson, Varian Johnson, Philip Yates, Emma Virjan, Brian Anderson, Anne Bustard, Don Tate, Jerry Wermund, Jo Whittemore.

Note: highlights will include the giveaway of a school visit with debut author P. J. Hoover!

For more information about the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, visit our website at or -- Tim Crow, Regional Advisor.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Author Interview: Philip Yates on A Pirate's Night Before Christmas

Philip Yates on Philip Yates: "My earliest memories of writing were of making up stories in second grade and sometimes having to pay for it.

"In third grade, I became something of a class clown when, on the first day of class, the teacher called out my name for attendance and I corrected her and said it was not 'Yates,' but 'Yatez' (Ya-tez). The class laughed because they knew how my name was pronounced, but the teacher got angry and scolded them because she thought they were laughing at the weirdness of my name. She felt sorry for me, but every time she called roll and shouted, 'Yatez,' and I replied 'Here,' I got a big laugh while she just looked at me with such sorrow in her eyes. One kid got sent to detention because he called me 'Yatez'.

"I was a bad kid then. I'm much more shy and retrospective today, though. The made-up stories then began to translate to paper, and I wrote lots of macabre ones that I would never dare attempt to publish, but National Enquirer might.

"Around this time my Dad was directing "American Bandstand" in Hollywood, and I got to hand in stories in class about rock n' roll idols I met on the set, and then things turned upside down because that was when the teacher thought they were mad- up stories (how could I possibly have met Bobby Darin). So my teacher believed my name was 'Yatez', yet refused to believe I had met the Beach Boys.

"I wrote and wrote and wrote all through my teens and college years, then started writing plays. I received a bachelor's in English, then later a master's in theatre and wrote several plays, three of which I had produced.

"The real publishing came when I took a stand-up comedy course and actually took a stab at real stand-up and was a disaster. The humor was very cerebral--'Some burglar is terrorizing my neighborhood with a pricing gun. Last night I came home, and everything in my house was marked down twenty percent.'

"You did stand-up at midnight, and the audience was mostly drunk, and they'd throw beer bottles at you. I gave it up almost at once but hooked up with a member of the class, Matt Rissinger ( and we started writing joke books for kids.

"We simply wrote a book of jokes about food and sent it off to several publishers. Sterling Publishing said they were interested, but wanted a general joke book that ran the gamut from Armadillos to Zombies, and we produced.

"Now it's nearly fifteen books later (we have two new ones coming out in November--Nuttiest Knock-Knocks (Sterling) and Galaxy's Greatest Giggles (Sterling)).

"The well has run dry with the joke books, but I'm still publishing picture books---Ten Little Mummies came out in 2003 and A Pirate's Night Before Christmas this October, 2008."

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

In my twenties and thirties I can't tell you how many stories I sent out to publishers. They were mostly bizarre "Twilight Zone" tomes, like a lonely witch who summons up the spirits of dead children to accompany her on Halloween night.

After this unsuccessful period and fifty rejections later, I started writing plays---comedic tragedies highly immersed in Catholicism jokes like--"If Jesus died, then rose, I understand why Jesus died, but who was Rose and why did she have to die, too?"

After getting our first contract for a joke book, we got a contract from Disney to write jokes and humor columns for their Disney Adventures Magazine.

I also had a poem published in Lee Bennett Hopkins' Dino-Roars, illustrated by Cynthia Fisher (right alongside Jane Yolen) (Golden Books, 1999), and then the picture books happened.

How did you train as a writer?

I had no training except for the typical college composition classes and a playwriting class in college. You have to train by reading. Read everything and anything you can get your hands on. That's Ray Bradbury's advice. Read everything from Moby Dick to the National Enquirer to the back of a cereal box.

I once wrote a story about a kid who finds an old box of cereal. I mean, fifty-years old and when they used to put prizes in them. He discovers a decoder ring in it, which still works and hooks him up with some old-time radio detective hero. Nothing ever came of the story, but it was inspired by the back of a cereal box. It made me want to write, no matter how stupid the story came out.

I tried reading books on the mechanics of writing, but most of them I found, except for a few, were written by people who hadn't been published.

Plus, no there's no better way to learn structure than to read, read, read books of great and not-so-great fiction and non-fiction. I studied theatre and got my master's in theatre, and I'll never forget what the great Broadway director Harold Clurman said...that we need the bad plays to provide the manure for the good ones.

Some people might laugh at this, but the best training I ever got was from learning how to write jokes. Jokes are concise and have a beginning (the setup) a middle (the problem) and an end (the punchline).

I also believe authors have to become students of human nature.

A book on writing won't teach you how to become an astute observer of life.

I look at photographs a lot in art books and say to myself, "Who is that woman, and what is she looking at in the distance?" I try to answer that by writing a story about the woman.

Don't get in trouble with this, but you have to master the art of eavesdropping, if you want to become an author. Listen to what people whisper to each other on the bus, in the art museum, in the express line at the grocery store, in the diner. That's where stories come from.

Let your mind wander and then let it wonder. Listen to what children say and do because that's the only way you'll learn how to see things from their point of view.

I try to be a student of human nature, observe all that goes on around me, then write it down, no matter how trivial it might seem. It might blossom into a story later on.

A little girl came into the library once and told her mom, "I love you so much I want to throw up." I thought this was hilarious and touching because a moment later the girl hugged her mom and added, "Throw up my arms and hug you and kiss you." This later became a picture book about how much a child can love a parent or guardian.

We last spoke in October 2005 about your debut picture book, Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 2003). What is new in your writing life since? [See a previous Cynsations interview with Philip]

I'm very close to getting an agent finally. It's very difficult even for some published authors to get agents. You truly have to show a diverse portfolio nowadays.

People automatically assume that if you've been published that you also have an agent. There are some writers I know that haven't been published but have agents. More power to them because not only are they gifted writers, but they are also pretty good at selling themselves and can show a great variety in their work.

I'm very slow in writing and very precise, so I don't have a lot to show to agents that I feel confident about. Ten Little Mummies only has 300 words and took two years to bring to perfection.

Though I have at least twenty picture books close to completing, there's probably two that are publishable and that I would send to an agent.

So I'm trying to branch out and make myself diverse and prolific with a young adult novel, which I previewed at the Awesome Austin Writers Workshop in June 2008 and got great feedback on, a book of poetry on dinosaurs (told from the dinosaurs point of view), and an historical biography of probably the first child star, a young prodigy named William Betty, who was all of thirteen when he played Hamlet on the London stage. A great mixture of projects. You need to have that to keep you going when the rejections come pouring in.

I'm also trying to regularly keep a journal, which I know is nothing new, but it's a must for all writers. I write down ideas for stories, or snatches of dialogue, or names of people that are unusual that I might use for a story.

I think it was both Dickens and Ayre who requested that their diaries be destroyed after their deaths, and I think that's the kind of journal writers have to keep. A journal that's so full of honesty that it begs to be destroyed after the author's passing. One full of hopes and dreams and secrets and that may one day be used to write that great story. You have to brave enough to write everything in the journal that comes into your head, no matter how scandalous, or insignificant. Just be sure you put it in your will that it has to tossed into the fire after you die.

Congratulations on the publication of A Pirate's Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Sebastia Serra (Sterling, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

I knew going into this project that there are a million rip-offs of "A Visit From St Nicholas." There's "A Thanksgiving Before Christmas," and so on. I think people truly groan and say, "Oh, not another takeoff!" I felt, however, that I had a new and exciting take on the old chestnut.

It began with questions like: How would pirates celebrate Christmas? Answer: They were too mean to be rewarded by Santa Claus, so they needed a new icon of holiday celebration--one that's a Davey-Jones-like Pirate Claus.

What would I replace reindeer with? Well, what about seahorses?

I wrote the whole story by asking questions and putting myself into this world that is uniquely the pirates'.

That's what writing successful picture books is all about--asking the right questions and letting the answers come in the most heartfelt way. I also knew that the story had to be told by a child and that I had to immerse myself in that child's world in order for the reader to become immersed in the story.

I spent perhaps ninety percent of my time researching pirate lore--the language, the grammar, the slang, the history, the parts of the ship, and exploring questions like: what would a pirate ask for at Christmas? Well, a plank, of course.

I also wanted the language to be authentic in every way, so that when you read it out loud, you would sound like a pirate.

Who didn't dream of being a pirate when they were a kid? It's a dream-come-true for a child. No parents hanging around, stay up as long as you wanted to, dig for buried treasure on the weekends, don't worry about brushing your teeth, capture and burn ships, kidnap men and women and make them walk the plank. Look at Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and their overwhelming desire to be pirates. It's the ultimate kid fantasy.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

In 2004 I stumbled upon a book by Don Foster called Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. Foster is a scholar who developed a method to unmask many "anonymous" literati and solve the mysteries of authorship. For example, he investigated and suggested who was the real author of Primary Colors (1996)(and he turned out to be right).

Now here's a great leap to the inspiration part, but this is precisely what happened in my head. Foster investigated the claim that "A Visit from St. Nicholas," was written by one Major Henry Livingston, not Clement Moore. There was never any substantial proof in the end pointing to Livingston (there's a cool website created by his great, great, great, great, great grandaughter that says otherwise), but it led me to begin analyzing the poem myself, whose rhyme structure is anapestic tetrameter, a form that can also be found in Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle and Cat in the Hat. It's a breezy, whimsical, magical form that just flows beautifully and is highly contagious when read out loud.

Around the time the Johnny Depp pirate movies were just being introduced and the two ideas collided like ships on the Spanish Main. "How would pirates celebrate Christmas?" Surely they would not be visited by St. Nicholas, no, not these robbers and murderers, unless he left coal in their stockings. The idea continued to haunt me until I came up with the solution that if pirates were to celebrate their own Christmas, they had to have their very own pirate Santa Claus and that's when Sir Peggedy was born.

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

Pirate's Night Before Christmas, unlike Ten Little Mummies, which took a couple of years to write, wrote itself in about two days!

The book was sent to Penguin, Bloomsbury and Sterling Publishing, which, only until recently, has begun publishing picture books and of great quality.

I sent the manuscript out on a Monday, and the editor called me on Friday of that same week with an offer. I had studied the Sterling catalog and found that their product was quite excellent and said "yes". The following week, both Penguin and Bloomsbury called with offers. So it was a little over a week between submission and acceptance. I was most fortunate to have three publishers begging for the manuscript, and that is something most writers would kill for.

I was also lucky to get the illustrator I got because I can't see anyone doing a better job than Sebastia Serra, who lives in Barcelona. Who would have a better view of the Spanish Coast than him? I'm glad I stuck with Sterling because the end was stupendous.

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

The simple part was that I was adhering to the anapestic structure of the original ballad poem. I had the recipe for the poem/story already laid out.

The difficulty was in keeping the language accurate to pirate lore and not messing up or forcing the rhymes. "There" always had to be "thar," and every word with an "ing" on the end had to be changed to "'in."

Adhering to the slang without forcing the rhymes was a real challenge. I had to throw all proper grammar out the window. Pirates would fail English composition, and that was how they needed to come across.

Another enormous challenge was the setting of the pirate ship. Not having ever spent time on a pirate ship, I had no idea how to present the ship in any accurate light. So I got books on ships (there are books called Cross-Sections, which outline all the parts of airplanes, ships and trains) and I had to be precise in describing such places as the poop deck (what kid wouldn't love that name), the mast, the crow's nest.

I knew that, if the illustrator was brilliant, I had it made, but it was up to me to create the inspiration for the world through the text.

The other problem was that my publisher didn't want references to alcohol (like rum or grog) since that might be a bad influence on children. I wouldn't budge on this for a while, but finally excluded it when I realized I wanted to have the child in the crow's nest with a dog rather than a bottle of grog and the "og" had to rhyme with "fog," anyway. In the end it was my call, however.

Do you work with a critique group, an editorial agent, on your own, etc.?

I used to work with critique groups, but soon got discouraged--not because I didn't like the members, but because I came to the conclusion that I was the wrong fit for the group in terms of the type of writing I submitted.

I was writing lots of poetry at the time and the group just wasn't into poetry. It's so essential to have that connection with other writers who have similar writing interests. The positive chemistry is so crucial. It needs to be a marriage that works.

I'm mostly a self-editor and, even after fifteen books of humor and two picture books, I'm terribly shy about the my work. Which is odd because I was such a class clown.

I recently came out of the closet to show some chapters of a YA novel called "The Manatee" which I'm excited about. I'm a brutal editor of my own stuff. I labor over the words.

I'm very secretive about what I'm writing, which I think most writers are. I never let the story slip into someone else's hands until perhaps the tenth draft.

If someone asks me what I'm writing I tend to give them a synopsis of something which is a total lie of what I'm actually writing.

I cross my fingers behind my back and tell them a fantastic story that has nothing to do with what I'm actually writing. It might be paranoia that they will steal the idea or that I feel, that by talking about it, I'm putting some kind of curse on the work.

All writers, despite what I've just said, should go to critique groups. I just haven't found the right one yet.

I do have great editors at Sterling and Penguin who are always giving me great feedback.

Sometimes, if the cat pukes out hairball on the manuscript that's a pretty good sign it's time to put this one away for a while.

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

The first thing I'd say is, "Is there anyone else in the room with me?" Then if there was no reply, I'd feel comfortable enough to say things like: "Share your work with someone you trust, no matter how you feel about it." "But I will only give my work to people I know and love and who will also be brutal with criticism."

In the end, if it gets published, it's going to be in the hands of thousands of people. Write from the heart and not from the head.

I'd also say things like, "Read The Elements of Style a little earlier since this is the greatest book you could ever read on writing."

I'd say "Read more classics!"

I'd advise: "Don't ever walk away from the writing just when it's getting good, and you think that tomorrow it'll get even better. Stay put in the chair until you are really satisfied."

By the same token, "don't ever walk away when the writing gets bad because there's always a rainbow around the corner, if you just be patient."

"Don't be afraid to have a bawl-fest when you are writing a particularly moving passage. Sometimes it's good to clean the keyboard with a few salty teardrops."

What about the picture book audience appeals to you?

You can take a child by the hand and bring them to worlds they've only dreamed of. Anything can happen and does in a picture book---mummies frolic in the Egyptian sun, animals talk, cars fly, pigeons drive buses, llamas wear pajamas, dogs conduct safety assemblies at schools. You could go on forever, and that's the appeal--it's limitless in terms of coming up with imaginative ways to tell a story and still hit the heartstrings of a child.

And a parent. I think every picture book author writes for two audiences--the child and the parent. We transport the child to another world, and the parent accompanies them like the conductor. If we're successful with the story the child and the parent are both enchanted. If only the child is enchanted we've only done half our job.

If the child believes in the Wild Things and the parent doesn't then something is wrong with the story because it's a mutual sharing, mutual accepting of this world they step into through the written word.

If the parent reads a child a story, they must be on the train, too, sitting right next to them. They both must believe in order for the story to come alive. The child in the parent must nod his/her head and go, "Yes, when I was young I, too, saw the Wild Things and when I came home, though it felt like I'd been gone forever, my dinner was still warm."

That's what I like---connecting to those two audiences---the child and the inner child in us all, whether we're ten or 100.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

To keep in touch with all children's publishing, I'm fortunate to work at the Austin Public Library here in Austin. I see every new kid's book that comes in. I see catalogs, and I do my homework pouring over them and finding the latest trends.

I also love to go to museums, not to see the art but the people. Watch what they do, hear what they say. You never know if it might come in handy in a story. Like if you happen to be there when, say, a mother is chasing her diaper-less child through a gallery of still-life nudes, that's a pretty funny juxtaposition.

I'm a voracious reader, of course. Not just books, you'll find me reading the mug shots at the post office, the menus on the restaurants on Sixth Street, someone's grocery list that blows down the sidewalk and clings to my pants. I mean, everything.

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

When the joke books came out in the early nineties, my co-author and I did joke shows for kids nearly every week in libraries, bookstores, and at community events.

You'd think, how did we get time to write nearly ten books of jokes in eight years? Every joke show, we had the kids come up onstage and tell their own jokes, which we would twist around and make them our own. So every event we went to, we had ten new jokes we hadn't heard, and they went into the next joke book. So we were writing the next book as we were promoting the previous one.

Now that I'm into picture books and YAs and poetry, you can't do that because, of course, the work is finished.

You have to put yourself out there at schools, libraries, conferences, and sometimes the writing just has to go on hold except for the journal you're always keeping with you.

I've heard where famous authors spend more time now promoting than they actually do writing, and I guess that's the way to go if you want to keep your name out there.

What can your fans look forward to next?

As a last hurrah to the joke books, there are two final ones coming out in November, Nuttiest Knock-Knocks, and Galaxy's Greatest Giggles.

My editor at Sterling has been asking for sequels to the Pirate's Night Before Christmas, but some variations on that, dinosaur Christmas and so on, but I think I want to move on.

Joseph Bruchac, Cynthia Leitich Smith to Chat with readergirlz Tonight

"In celebration of Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage Month, Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith will chat online at the readergirlz forum at MySpace at 6 p.m. PDT, 7 p.m. MDT, 8 p.m. CDT, 9 p.m. EDT Nov. 6."

From Harcourt: "Joseph Bruchac has written more than 60 books for children and adults, and received many literary awards, including the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas." Read a Cynsations interview with Joe.

My teen/tween fiction with Native themes includes Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and "A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" from Moccasin Thunder: Native American Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005)(anthologist interview).

Cynsational Notes

Teachers/Librarians: please keep in mind the importance of including contemporary images of Native people. Please highlight Native contributions across the curriculum (not just related to history/culture, but also science, engineering, art, medicine, etc.) and do so, not only in November, but throughout the year.

That said, I understand that some of you are constrained by prescribed curriculum, and now is your window. In that case, by all means, knock yourselves out--and thank you for your efforts!

On a related note, those who follow annual counts of multicultural books know that the numbers in this area are low--only six youth lit books by Native authors and only 44 titles about Native people were published in 2007. Source: CCBC. Please consider supporting Native voices via this new widget from JacketFlap.

Learn more about Native American Themes in Children's and Young Adult Literature. Don't miss the teacher/reader guides, which include a free readers' theater for Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Jim Madsen (HarperCollins, 2002)(ages 7-up). See also Debbie Reese's blog, American Indians in Children's Literature.

Check out this book trailer for Rain Is Not My Indian Name, designed by Shayne Leighton.

round 5

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: Shana Burg

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 Shana Burg:

What have I learned about craft? I've learned that art imitates life, but also life imitates art.

The only way I can describe it is like this. Yoga helped me stretch my first book from an idea to a finished manuscript.

In yoga, they say what you learn "on the mat" applies to life. If you learn to focus intensely on the mat, you can take that skill into your everyday life. If you develop persistence on the mat, that transfers too. I refined and strengthened these skills through yoga, plus patience, balance, and the ability to just let go.

Similarly, I can practice the same skills that I do "on the mat" when I am "on the page."

I can practice being authentic and true to the characters in my world. I can practice approaching revisions with a daredevil attitude. I can practice believing in my story and knowing that what I'm creating has a purpose no matter what anyone else might think. All of these struggles "on the page" seep into the rest of my life and help me be the kind of person I want to be.

Sometimes my life becomes my art and my art becomes my life.

At these times, who I am as a writer with a voice is not too different from who I am as the person who makes breakfast, drives my son to school, calls friends, and folds the laundry. I've found when I get to that point—and I get there and lose it and get there and lose it—that things are humming, and both writing and living seem like they’re flowing as they should.

Read a Cynsations interview with Shana.

Cynsational Notes

"Told in the first person through the eyes of a perceptive African-American girl living in the deep south during a period of racial tension and social upheaval, this first novel is a gripping page-turner. Without being didactic, the author teaches what it was like to be poor and live under the injustices of segregation." Source: Parent's Choice.

Read chapter one of A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Author-Librarian Interview: Rose Treviño on Pura Belpré Awards: Celebrating Latino Authors and Illustrators

Rose Treviño is youth services coordinator for the Houston Public Library and a consultant in the area of youth services. She believes that all children deserve the best library services possible regardless of first language, socioeconomic status, ethnic background, or education and has developed several initiatives to reach hard-to-reach communities in Houston.

What kind of young reader were you?

I loved reading, thanks to my mother who made going to the library an exciting outing for us. As the oldest of five children, I had a chance to read to my younger sisters and brother. I memorized so many stories that I would retell them to my siblings.

I also loved poetry. Mom would select some poetry books, and we'd learn and memorize poetry, which we would then recite to our grandparents and other family members on Christmas Day as our gift to them.

What led you to become a librarian?

It was the love of books that my mother shared with me. I remember that she would give each of us her undivided attention as we read together.

Snuggling in bed with her and reading The Secret Garden [by Frances Hodgson Burnett(1909)] together is one of my favorite memories.

One summer, I was inside the bookmobile and I just remember deciding that I wanted to work in that same bookmobile when I grew up. And guess what? I did!

What inspired you to make children's-YA literature your career focus?

I want to share my love of books with children very much like my mom did for me. Children are our future, and those of us who work with children have an opportunity to engage them in so much that the library has to offer. I want every child to have the same opportunity I had.

I am in a position to train and mentor new children's librarians, and I aim to share that passion with them.

What do you love about it?

I love the joy I see in the faces of the children at storytime.

I love the excitement they share when they finally get the book they've been anxious to read.

I love knowing that reading will help improve their listening and learning skills.

I love working with parents and showing them the importance they have in being their child's first teacher.

I love working with new moms and sharing songs, rhymes, and finger plays they can use with their babies, in English and in Spanish.

I love working with new children's librarians and getting them excited and passionate about their work.

I love the literature which I feel is the absolute best.

What are its challenges?

There are a few challenges, which include budget allocations for children's librarians with an MLS. Libraries need children's librarians with an MLS who can provide the best services possible.

Funding to provide ongoing training for those who work with children can also provide a challenge. It is often difficult to reach some communities, especially those whose first language is not English. Not all libraries have staff members who speak languages other than English, and this is sometimes a challenge for immigrants who face many challenges.

Congratulations on the publication of Pura Belpré Awards: Celebrating Latino Authors and Illustrators (American Library Association, 2006)! First, could you tell us a bit about the history and purpose of the Belpré award program?

The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented biennially to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

It is named after the first Latina children's librarian for the New York Public Library.

It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking (REFORMA), an ALA affiliate.

In 2009, the award will be given annually.

How does your book support and celebrate the program?

The book is targeted at librarians and educators who work with children and includes a history of the award, plus sections by Belpré founders, Sandra Balderrama and Oralia Garza de Cortés.

Each of the award-winning author and illustrator books are introduced along with the honor books in those categories.

A chapter on book talking the award books is a feature as is the chapter on activities to complement each of the award-winning books.

A biography of the award-winning authors and illustrators rounds out the book.

How did you come to write it? What inspired your particular interest in the topic?

As a member of ALSC and REFORMA, I have a personal obligation to know all of the award-winning literature for children. I want to get these books into the hands of children.

I have been a long-standing member of REFORMA's Children and Young Adult Services Committee, which tackles subjects related to services to Latino children. Each year, this committee plans and presents a program at the ALA Annual Conference on a subject relevant to programs and services for Latinos and the Spanish-speaking.

I was honored to be appointed to chair the Pura Belpré Awards Committee, which allowed me to work with a distinguished group of librarians who shared my passion of great literature for children.

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

The book's publication was timed to be published and available at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Pura Belpré awards in 2006.

Several exciting things happened--two of the Belpré awards founders, Sandra Balderrama and Oralia Garza de Cortés joined the team of writers and included a rich history of the development of the award for the book; John Mason of Scholastic contacted me to say that his company would like to produce a short DVD which included photos of Pura Belpré plus interviews with some who worked with her and this DVD is packaged with the book; and Yuyi Morales [illustrator interview], winner of the Belpré award agreed to illustrate the cover of the book.

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

We were a team of five writers: Sandra Balderrama, Oralia Garza de Cortés, Jean Hatfield, Ana-Elba Pavon, and me--all located in different parts of the country.

Assignments were given, and this really worked well. I had a good, conscientious group that followed through and met deadlines. We encountered a few challenges finding a couple of the authors so that we could interview them, but aside from that, I have to say that the project went smoothly.

Without Sandra and Oralia on board, we would have missed out on the early stages of getting the award established.

Of the Belpré winners and honor books, which are your favorites and why?

This is a very difficult question.

There are a few that I like best to use at storytime, and these include the following:

Just A Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales (Chronicle, 2003);

The Bossy Gallito / El Gallo de Bodas: A Traditional Cuban Folktale retold by Lucía M. González, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Scholastic, 1999);

Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raul Colón (Knopf, 2005).

Each of these three books give me an opportunity to have kids join in with certain lines.

These are ones I love to book talk:

The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales (Wendy Lamb, 2007);

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (Laurel Leaf, 2004);

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2000).

I use these three with middle-school children and will include reading a few passages to get them hooked.

In Latino youth literature more globally, who are "the big names," the "rising stars," and the red-hot newcomers?

Here are my thoughts. When I think of the big names, I think of Pam Muñoz Ryan, Pat Mora, Julia Alvarez, Gary Soto and Alma Flor Ada.

Rising stars include Yuyi Morales and Monica Brown.

I consider Viola Canales one of the red-hot newcomers, and I would also list Yuyi Morales in this category as well as the rising-star category.

What topics, geographic regions, and communities within the larger whole are still underrepresented in Latino youth literature?

I feel that we are just beginning to get a taste of what's to come. There is so much more to share and so many more communities to read about.

One day, we'll read about communities in more of the South American countries like Uruguay and Bolivia. We'll find out about traditions in the Mexican states of Guanajuato and Guerrero. We will enjoy learning and singing some of the traditional songs and rhymes from Chile.

In what areas, is the body of literature strongest?

There are certainly gems to be read and re-read in so many different genres, and I feel that books written with female protagonists are where there is an abundance of strong literature.

More books have been written with ethnic characters recently, and I think this is reflective of the diverse country we live in.

I am happy to see that stereotypes that once existed in older publications are no longer tolerated.

What do you do outside the world of youth literature?

I love to swim and try to do daily laps which gives me time for myself.

I also love to travel, and my best memories include waking up and looking out my cabin window and seeing the Grand Canyon, playing in the snow with my family in Santa Fe, and looking up at the Duomo in Florence.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I have two grown children, Steven and Jaclyn, and they are my proudest achievements.

When I was growing up, my parents never talked about college. While my kids were growing up, we spoke about when, not if...and I'm happy to say that they are both college graduates, both happy and successful in their chosen careers.
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