Friday, March 13, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Rosemary Clement-Moore on the release of Highway to Hell (Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil)(Delacorte, 2009)! From the promotional copy: "Maggie Quinn was expecting to find plenty of trouble with Lisa over Spring Break. Give a girl a bikini, a beachfront hotel, and an absent boyfriend, and it's as good as a road map to the dark side. But Maggie doesn't have to go looking for trouble. Trouble has started looking for her. One dead cow and a punctured gas tank later, she and Lisa are stuck in Dulcina, Texas—a town so small that it has an owner. And lately life in this small town hasn't been all that peaceful. An eerie predator is stalking the ranchland. Everyone in town has a theory, but not even Maggie’s psychic mojo can provide any answers. And the longer the girls are stranded, the more obvious it becomes that something is seriously wrong. Only no one—not even Maggie's closest ally—wants to admit that they could have been forced on a detour down the highway to hell." Note: Rosemary will be signing the book from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. March 14 at Barnes & Noble in Hurst, Texas! Note: I would be there myself, except I'm heading out of state this weekend. Read a Cynsations interview with Rosemary.

Definitions for the Perplexed: Sell-In and Sell-Through from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "It's a tough, tough business, and it's only tougher these days. Do everyone a favor and go buy a book, okay?" Note: buy two! Also, if you haven't already read through EA's whole Publishing Dictionary. Very useful info.

Wonderful Bookclub Books! Cheap, Badly Bound, Wonderful Bookclub Books! from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "The idea of the Scholastic Book Clubs is to make children's books available at prices that children could conceivably afford. In poorer areas, this is a blessing, and studies have shown the important psychological difference that owning a book makes to children."

Congratulations to those authors and illustrators whose works appear among the Children's Choices for 2008: A project of the International Reading Association and The Children's Book Council. Peek: "Each year 12,500 school children from different regions of the United States read and vote on the newly published children's and young adults' trade books that they like best. The Children's Choices for 2008 list is the 34th in a series that first appeared as “Classroom Choices” in the November 1975 issue of The Reading Teacher (RT), a peer-reviewed journal for preschool, primary, and elementary levels published eight times a year by the International Reading Association (IRA)." Note: highlighted books include A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg (Delacorte, 2008).

Interview with Flux Editor Brian Farrey from Karen Kincy at Crowe's Nest. Peek: "You can learn from writers whose material you don’t care for just as much as you can from writers whose material you adore. Know what’s out there. It’s very, very easy for me to spot a submission written by someone who hasn't read a contemporary YA novel. Ever." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Attention, Writers with an Advanced Degree: The Fourteenth annual Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers' Conference is scheduled for Aug. 11 to Aug. 17. Note: The event will include two workshops in Writing for Young Adults, led by award-winning author-teachers Kathi Appelt and An Na. Note: the event is open to all writers with an advanced degree, not just VCFA alumni (though of course we hope they'll come).

Congratulations to Deborah Davis on the paperback release of Not Like You (Graphia, 2009)! From the promotional copy: "“Starting a new chapter” is how Kayla’s mother, Marilyn, has always referred to their abrupt moves—five in the past two years. But what Kayla hates even more than moving is Marilyn’s drinking. It once landed Kayla in foster care, so she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her mother from falling apart again. Just until she turns eighteen, less than three years away. Now Marilyn has moved them to New Mexico, and promised, yet again, to quit booze for good. Kayla knows better than to believe her, but something about this move does feel different. Kayla is putting down roots, earning money as a dog walker, and spending time with Remy, a twenty-four-year-old musician. He’s her refuge from Marilyn’s daily struggle to stay sober. And after years of taking care of her mother, Kayla is starting to think of herself and who she wants to be. She knows for sure who she doesn't want to be. But is she willing to do whatever it takes to create her own life—even if it means leaving her mother behind?" Read an excerpt, listen to an excerpt, see discussion guide. School Library Journal said: "Thoughtful, touching, and honest, this story hits all the right notes...a book to learn from and remember." Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Dealing With Negativity from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "All of this boils down to one thing: negativity is a test of strength. If you show weakness in the face of negativity: you lose. If you show strength and character in the face of negativity: you win." See also suggestions from Nathan's readers on Dealing with Frustration. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

How (and When) to Follow-Up with Agents and/or Editors from Tracy Marchini at My VerboCity. Peek: "Sometimes, it seems that writers are over-anxious in their follow-up methods after submitting to an agent or editor. Here's some basic guidelines to make sure your follow-up is professional and effective."

Karen Cushman: new official site from the Newbery author includes book information, news, 20 odd facts, and much more. See where she writes. Peek: "Now I live on a soft, green island near Seattle with my husband, Philip, who is a professor. Our daughter, Leah, is a librarian. The love of books runs in the family." Note: Otis the cat is obviously awesome.

How to stay organized if you are a disorganized writer by Emily Marshall at Author2Author. Peek: "Sometimes I’m dealing with hundreds of story ideas, multiple drafts of a project, and even two or three books at a time. That’s a lot of computer files, paper, and general confusion."

Agent Advice: Kelly Sonnack of The Andrea Brown Literary Agency from Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents. Note: Kelly is looking for middle grade fiction and cultural memoirs. Peek: "I will admit a particular soft spot for picture books but there's only so many of those I can take on at a time. I really love literary, coming-of-age YA, as well as quirky and smart MG. I'm also particularly loving graphic novels for kids these days. We're living in a time that is ripe for them, and it's exciting to help shape that." Source: Alice's CWIM Blog.

Congratulations to Arthur Slade on the U.S. release of Jolted! See trailer below. Trying to get a feel for steampunk in the children's-YA market? Check out the covers of Arthur Slade's upcoming novel, The Hunchback Assignments.

Trapped by Kimberly Willis Holt at A Pen and a Nest. Peek: "As writers we sometimes forget to explore the endless possibilities when we create our worlds. Sometimes we hit a barrier and if we're too tunnel-visioned we may lose the chance at adding another layer or plot point that enriches our story." Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Sara Crowe Literary Agent: new official site features client list, news, and blog. Peek: "I am always looking for young adult fiction and middle grade fiction for my children's list. I represent a few wonderful picture book writers and am not looking to add to that list at this time. I am open to hearing from author/illustrators."

Swagology 101 by Mary Hershey from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: " a former kid that had no disposable income, I love being able to give a child something totally free, no strings attached. I give out postcards, candy, stick-on gem earrings, small notebooks, fun erasers, and pencils. Only the postcards have my promotional information on them."

Author-Illustrator Salima Alikham: official site of the Austin based children's book creator. Salima's books include Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas by Joe Gribnau (Pelican) and Pieces of Another World by Mara Rockliff (Sylvan Dell). She looks forward to the publication of The Pied Piper of Austin (Pelican, 2009). Peek: "My mother is from Germany, and my father was born in India and raised in Pakistan. Therefore I grew up with a very interesting mix of fairy tales in the household." Note: Salima makes her home in Austin.

The Book Roast blog will be hosting a Pitch Party on St. Patrick's Day--March 17 from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. EST. Peek: "We're inviting participants to submit a pitch for a book (real or for fun). The theme is 'luck,' and the pitches will be limited to 75 words. One pitch per participant. You'll have fun, and you can use a pen name if you like! Five highly esteemed editors (Evil Editor; Editorial Anonymous; Edittorrent; Moonrat; Ms. Spitfire) will select their favorite three, and say why those pitches stood out. The winning pitches will be announced at 9 p.m. EST." Note: "Ms. Spitfire is technically in marketing, but she has occasion to touch the slush." More info will be posted late Friday evening on the Book Roast blog.

Books for Teens of Color from GalleyCat. Peek: "Here are few hints: They have sold nearly 5 million copies of their books. There are over 15 books in the series. They've received accolades from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, the Young Adult Library Services Association and were selected for the 2009 Quickpicks for Reluctant Readers. In fact, they are among the most buzzed about books in high schools and middle schools around the country. What are they? The Bluford Series, published by Townsend Press." See also the teacher's guide to the series. Source: April Henry.

Exploring Diversity through Children's & Young Adult Books: Background Reading from my website. Notes: (1) Additional sections of the site celebrate interracial, Asian/Asian-American and Native American themes in youth literature as well as other historical underrepresented communities in the field. Please feel free to suggest additional resources. (2) Those wishing to support authors-illustrators from the Native community may want to add the widget available at JacketFlap. Special thanks to author-illustrator Don Tate for featuring the Native authors widget at his blog, Devas T. Rants and Raves.

A Story of a Teenager's Suicide Quietly Becomes a Best Seller by Motoko Rich from The New York Times. Read a Cynsations interview with Jay Asher. Source: Gwenda Bond.

Q & A with Melissa Marr from Publishers Weekly. Peek: " only gets easier to work with this world. When I write I often know where my characters will go in the future."

Congratulations to Jennifer Ziegler on signing with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency and to Erin for signing with Jennifer! Congratulations to on the sale of Jennifer's "Sass & Stupidity" to Stephanie Elliott at Delacorte. Read Cynsations interviews with Jennifer and Erin.

Resource Recommendations

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland (Image Continuum, 1993). As relevant for writers as musicians as painters as photographers as dancers, this economical slim paperback is a godsend for anyone who's a human being and trying to create art.

Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy (HarperCollins, 1993). This gem of a paperback is a must-have for the writer's peace of mind and piece of soul. From the promotional copy: "This daily motivator of people who write provides an insistent wake-up call for the creative urge, with insights on how to work against resistance, live with the loneliness, develop discipline, and dare to take deeper risks in their work. These 200 essays explore every aspect of the process of writing."


Enter to win a paperback copy of Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde (Magic Carpet Books/Harcourt, 2008)(originally published in 1999) from Cynsations. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Dead Man" in the subject line. I'll touch base if you win. Deadline: March 18! All Cynsational readers are eligible! Read a Cynsations interview with Vivian.

Donations Request

Serene Hills Elementary Library recently opened in conjunction with its new elementary school in Austin (TX) Independent School District. Areas of interest include: (a) non-fiction, with a copyright no older than 2004. Non-fiction is needed at all levels K – 5th grade (are 12 would be highest); (b) fiction, in particular: picture books and any chapter books/I can read/Reading Rainbow and character-based series (e.g. Like Nate the Great, Junie B. Jones); (c) Texas authors – there is an entire reading program dedicated to Bootscooting Across Texas + Bluebonnet Book award winners; (d) hardcover and paperback, new or used. Send to: Serene Hills Elementary Library; 3301 Serene Hills Drive; Austin, TX 78738.

More Personally

The social highlight of the week was a surprise visit by author Shana Burg, who came bearing an out-of-this-world gift--a Princess-Senator Leia Organa Flash Drive!

Do you think it holds the plans to the Death Star?

I'm guessing that many of you will want one of your own. So FYI: designs featuring C3P0, Wicket, Luke Skywalker, and others are also available. Note: Han Solo and Boba Fett are low on stock (figures). See Star Wars MIMOBOT designer USB flash drives.

Attention Austinites: as you know, it's almost time for SXSW 2009! If you're like me and want to support our live music scene, but feel somewhat lacking in band savvy, you may want to check out Turn2live ("the first online tool that enables users to discover shows using intuitive search terms. These terms exist outside of the traditional boundaries of genre, artist and venue and include creative, mood-oriented keywords such as 'sunny' and 'sensual.'")

Donna Bratton at Simply Donna highlights Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002). Peek: "Through it all, Grandpa Halfmoon is there for him whether it is to rescue Ray from a catastrophic haircut, or to share a precious night-fishing trip where the biggest catch had nothing to do with a fish."

Booklist calls Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) a "witty, dark love story of death and redemption" and says "Miranda and Zachary are complex, sympathetic characters, and their hopeful ending is well earned."

Notes from the Hornbook says of Eternal, "Suspenseful, entertaining, and enthusiastically gruesome, Smith's latest will be lapped up by vampire fans."

Thanks to author P.J. Hoover for reading Eternal and saying "
Love the attitude of the guardian angel (GA for short). So go out and buy this book." Read a Cynsations interview with P.J.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Author Interview: A.S. King on The Dust of 100 Dogs

A.S. King on A.S. King: "A.S. King was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. After earning a degree in photography and working in a few stinky darkrooms, she moved to Dublin, Ireland; where she swore off television and started writing novels.

"Two years later, she moved to a small farm in rural Tipperary. There, she divided a decade between writing, teaching literacy, breeding rare poultry, and finding exciting ways to feed herself. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and children.

"Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines and has been nominated for cool stuff. The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux, 2009) is her first young adult novel. "

What were you like as a young reader?

When I was a child, I'd stay up reading in my "office" (my bedroom closet) later than everyone else in my family, even though I was the youngest. I can't remember much of what I was reading. I recall A Wrinkle in Time and a few other titles (Harriet the Spy and a lot of mysteries and ghost stories) but for the most part, I'd read anything. The weirder, the better. Once I found Paul Zindel, my early teen life was complete.

What about young fictional heroes appeals to you as a writer?

I relate well to young heroes and heroines. Younger characters tend to have genuine innocence, and can explore certain themes and subjects that adult characters can't approach realistically. I feel this type of character has the potential to change (or at least, challenge) minds -- and that will attract me every time.

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

Well, it took me seven novels and fifteen years to finally sell a book. I can't say there were any sprints in that. Mostly, I stumbled along.

Looking back on your apprenticeship as a writer, is there anything you wish you'd done differently? If so, what and why?

While we were living on the farm in Tipperary, I wrote all day nearly every day, balanced with farm chores--gardening to feed us, minding the chickens. It was the most ideal writer's life I could ever imagine.

Though I did query agents and try occasionally to seek publication, it became clear that I was in the wrong country to sell the books I was writing, so I concentrated on enjoying my time there, because, man, was it nice! So, there was nothing I would have done differently.

I wouldn't trade that time for anything.

On the flip side, what was most helpful to you in terms of developing your craft?

I think, relating to craft, taking a few years to write poetry, and more recently, short fiction was most helpful to me as a novelist. I'd sworn off short stories back in 1996, when I'd written a few that were horrid. Then, in 2006, I wrote a story that got published and nominated for an award, so I continued to write and publish about fifteen more stories. It's amazing how concentrating on the short form for a year made my novel-length fiction more immediate and fresh.

Congratulations on The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux, 2009)! Could you tell us about the novel?

I like to say The Dust of 100 Dogs is part historical, part contemporary and part dog-training guide, but here's the back cover blurb for a better description:

"In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of 100 dogs, dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before retuning to a human body--with all her memories intact. Now she's a contemporary American teenager, and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica."

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

The idea came from my journeys into Irish history. I used to walk my dogs down my small road [in Ireland] and think of the people who had walked that road before me. The rest unraveled from there.

My exploration of what the Irish endured, especially during Cromwell’s time, stirred feelings about the things women have endured throughout history.

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

For The Dust of 100 Dogs, the timeline goes something like this:

Idea circa 1999/2000.

Started writing in 2001/2.

Finished in 2003.

Queried and rejected by a lot of U.K. agents.

Moved to the U.S. in 2004. Rewrote book and queried U.S. agents with no luck. Put book in drawer with five other drawer books and started writing seventh book.

2006 - agent liked #7; he offered to represent me and started shopping the older novels, including The Dust of 100 Dogs.

Sold The Dust of 100 Dogs to Flux in late 2007.

Publication in 2009.

I think that makes it an even decade between idea and book. I'm really hoping to slim that down next time around.

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

The big challenge when it came to publishing The Dust of 100 Dogs was my location.

Even as late as 2004, many agencies refused to accept email, which made things very expensive for someone like me, who had to spend up to $60 per full manuscript sent.

On the more positive side, that same location made the Irish history research easier through generous neighbors who offered their libraries of books I would have never found elsewhere.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author? Or, more globally, how is that adjustment going?

Though I enjoy promoting, I'm still most excited by writing, and I've trained myself to turn off the Internet before noon when I am writing new material.

As promotion becomes a bigger part of my life, I plan to invoke the "I'm Allowed to Disappear Any Time I Want" rule at least twice a year.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I'm a mother of young children, and I run a contracting business from home.

At different times in my life I've been: a breeder of rare poultry; a photographer; a master printer; a pizza delivery driver;an electrician; a self-sufficient smallholder; a swimming addict; and (my favorite job ever) a literacy teacher.

And now that I've settled into my new home here in the U.S., I've started serving on my community library board as well as the swimming pool board. (Spot my two favorite things.)

What can your fans look forward to next?

I just finished a YA book called Ignore Vera Dietz and I'm working on another historical/contemporary YA mix that I should finish by December, all going well.

You can find me online at or, or my blog, where I keep readers updated on D100D events and hold weekly writing contests.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Author Interview: Lynn E. Hazen on Shifty

We last spoke in 2006. What is new in your writing life since then?

I'm happy to say I had two new books published in 2008. Shifty (Tricycle, 2008) is a young adult novel, and Cinder Rabbit (Holt, 2008) is a young chapter book. I wrote an article published in the 2009 CWIM (Children's Writers & Illustrators Market), and I've been teaching writing workshops at Stanford Continuing Studies, U.C. Berkeley Extension, and at local writers conferences.

Note: photo by Sonya Sones.

Congratulations on success of Shifty (Tricycle, 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

Shifty is a contemporary young adult novel set in San Francisco. Fifteen-year-old Shifty drives illegally, swipes court documents, and lies to police and social workers--all in an effort to stay out of trouble. Shifty parks in a handicapped zone and fast-talks his way out of a ticket by convincing the cop that an old homeless woman is his grandmother. He drives off without a ticket, but with a new pretend grandma in the back of his van. Now his younger foster sister has very opposing views of what to do with their new fake grandma.

Both funny and tender, Shifty's misadventures touch on themes of resiliency, home, and lost-and-found family. And it all begins with a $275 burrito!

I'm pretty jazzed about the reader response. Kirkus praised Shifty as "a realistic story that resonates." It was also chosen for VOYA's Top Shelf Fiction, as a CCBC Choice, and as a Smithsonian Notable.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

I had several sources of inspiration: the words "shifty" and "shiftless;" a couple of characters bouncing around in my mind; the city of San Francisco; an old woman and her cat; my experiences years ago working at a summer camp with children and youth in foster care; and the universal need for home.

(Please see to learn more about how these sources of inspiration came together).

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

Let's see, the original "spark" occurred in a slightly sleep-deprived state in January 2003. I jotted down a few notes of dialogue between two characters which (over the next six months) eventually grew into a first draft.

Shifty won the Houghton Mifflin Scholarship at Vermont College, which not only helped with my tuition, but gave me confidence as a writer.

My faculty advisor, Alison McGhee, encouraged me with Shifty, as did Norma Fox Mazer. Shifty became by creative thesis for my MFA, then my calling card for finding an agent.

After expanding and revising again over the next couple of years, Shifty was published in September 2008. Shifty is also being published in Australia and the U.K., so that is very exciting.

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

1. Finding or creating time to write and revise.

2. Believing in my characters, their story and my ability to capture it all on the page.

3. Not giving up.

How do you balance being a writer with the demands of being an author (contracts, promotion, etc.)?

My agent, Jodi Reamer, is the contract pro so I am grateful for that. I am still working on a finding a good balance. Juggling is more like it. There are only so many hours in a day!

As for writing and promotion demands, if I keep moving (or keep my fingers moving on the keyboard), I tend to get things done eventually. But "balance" to me also means sometimes doing nothing, going for a walk, visiting family and friends, or simply taking a nap. That does wonders for my "balance."

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell her?

Flashback dialogue to my high school self:

"Lynn, stop that silly prank of unplugging your classmates' humongo electric typewriters, even if they are doing the same to you. Learning to type properly just might come in handy someday."

To which I am sure my teen self would roll her eyes and say, "Yeah, sure."

So far, as a reader, what were your favorite children's-YA books of 2008 and why?

I love the picture book, Dinosaur v. Bedtime by Bob Shea (Hyperion). It's short, silly, fun and emotionally true. Perfect for growly preschoolers or growly writers. I can relate to the dinosaur as he grapples and growls through his many challenges. On a more poetic note, I also love Jim Averbeck's In a Blue Room, illustrated by Tricia Tusa (Harcourt).

For middle grade, I loved Kathi Appelt's, The Underneath (Atheneum)(author interview). It is so well written, layered, and rich in evocative details. I interviewed her on my blog to understand some of her writing process.

And my favorite YA? This sounds odd I know, but I'd have to say Shifty--because I invested a good portion of my heart writing it and it seems to be connecting with readers of all ages. The story and characters are still very emotionally real to me, so it's one of my favorite books of 2008!

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

I'm a preschool teacher and director. I love to garden, hang out with my friends and family, go for walks and splash around in the water.

What can your readers look forward to next?

The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail (Holt, May 2009) is a young chapter book about Seymour, an artistic snail who is looking for a job in the wrong places.

I'm working on a variety of other younger, middle grade, and YA projects, too, but I don't know what will be finished or published next.

Readers can find out more at my Imaginary Blog or websites or

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Author-Illustrator Interview: Emma J. Virjan on Nacho the Party Puppy

Emma J. Virjan on Emma J. Virjan: "I was born in San Antonio, Texas, under an Aries moon on a Wednesday evening, my Dad's bowling night. This might explain my attraction to shiny, hardwood floors and crunchy, snack bar french fries.

"In first grade, I became permanently right-handed because Sr. Bridget refused to have left-handers in her class. After a successful high school career, I went off to college and had to decide between art, my all-time favorite subject, and medicine, a subject that intrigued me since the Christmas I received my first doctor's kit and the game Operation. It was a course called Advanced Algebra for Scientists and Engineers that helped me decide on art. I never looked back.

"There were jobs at design firms and various advertising agencies. Then, I left Texas, my family, my friends and my job and moved East, to Connecticut, where I started my career as a freelancer and learned all about N'oreasters. After five years of that I decided to do my 'own thing' and Virján Design, a graphic design and illustration studio, was born.

"In 1999, I moved back to Texas and made Austin my home, where I continue to live my days as a graphic designer and illustrator."

What were you like as a young reader?

I was quite shy as a kid, so books were great company for me, and I was lucky enough to have learned to read early. I read anything I could get my hands on, from my brother's comic books to the World Book Encyclopedia. Maps and diagrams fascinated me. I never complained about having to take a nap because I was allowed to take a book and my Big Chief tablet with me.

What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors/illustrators?

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernhard Waber (Random House, 1965). Long before I could read this on my own, I would spend hours looking at the illustrations and making up my own story.

Amos & Boris by William Steig (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971). William Steig is my absolute favorite children’s book author and illustrator. I love everything he did, but this story is by far my favorite.

Ten Apples Up on Top by Theo Lesieg (AKA Dr. Seuss), illustrated by Roy McKie (Random House, 1961). I like to count things. Always have. I liked the dog the most.

What made you decide to write and illustrate books for children?

I was so influenced by books as a kid that I decided that I wanted to write and illustrate them. My sister, Grace, who was a student at U.T. when I was in first grade, told me that meant I wanted to be an author and an illustrator. I thought those were the most exciting words on the planet.

On career day, I announced to Sr. Bridget (the same person who made me right-handed) my career plan. Unfortunately, she wasn't very encouraging and told me that no one can make a living from art and that I had no talent anyway. Fortunately my family encouraged me to ignore her and continued to encourage me to draw.

I also wanted to be a major league baseball catcher, a biology teacher, a painter living in the south of France, and at one point an accountant. I'm not sure why the south of France, but I'm sure it was appealing at the time.

When I realized that I very much wanted to be an artist, I chose the field of graphic design and illustration.

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

I received my formal art training through college and copious continuing education classes.

I've never considered myself a Writer, with a cap W. I had some poetry accepted into college publications, but for the most part I write in personal journals.

When I lived in Connecticut, I took some writing classes and workshops and came to the conclusion that I liked writing and have continued to take courses since then.

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

Nacho, as a character was developed in a creative writing class I took at Parsons in 1995. He wasn't part of an assignment; he was something that emerged while I enrolled in the class.

The class was taught by Esther Cohen,who is a published author. She was instrumental in not only encouraging me to develop Nacho, but in putting me in touch with my now agent, Edite Kroll.

From 1995 until 2006, I developed Nacho further and started writing stories around and about him. In 2005, I showed some of what I had to Esther and she told me it was time to get Edite on board because she thought I had something worth showing.

Edite and I then spent the next few months talking about what we should show. I had story book manuscripts and writings for a much younger audience, the one-to-four-year-old range.

Much to my own surprise, the writings and drawings that Edite and I both responded to were for the younger kids. I had always thought Nacho would start at the storybook level.

With Edite's encouragement, I put together a board book manuscript with drawings, and she sent those to Random House. I was fortunate enough to meet with Random House in May of 2006. I met with Kate Klimo, the VP of children's books. She liked Nacho, and by October of 2006, I had a contract for two board books.

The entire journey feels like a sprint and a marathon.

How did you react to the news of your first sale?

I wasn't expecting it. I couldn't believe it. I was in NY, and it appeared as if it was all playing out like a scene in a movie. I walked back to my hotel and when I got into the elevator, I told everyone there that I had just learned I was going to be published. Yes, I know I broke one of the rules of Elevator Etiquette by speaking, but I couldn't help it.

Congratulations on the publication of Nacho the Party Puppy (Random House, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Nacho the Party Puppy is all about celebrating your birthday the Nacho Way. It's a board book with large flaps, textures, bright colors, and a few surprises.

If you want to have a swingin’ time at your next party, you definitely want to see how Nacho celebrates. He's Nacho Average Pup.

What was your initial inspiration?

I love dogs and love to draw, so I think it was natural for me to develop a dog character. He's a combination of just about every dog with whom I've ever had the pleasure of sharing my life – Nippy (né Napoleon), Toby (né Tobias), Yum-Yum, Sugar, Spice, Brownie, Rugby, Charlie and Maddie.

As far as depicting him as a Party Puppy, I had just finished making my niece a birthday card and placed it on top of a Nacho drawing. I asked myself, "How would Nacho celebrate his birthday?" and started drawing him in different scenes – at a party, with a cake, singing a song.

After a few dozen drawings, I started working on the text. When I had the text I liked, I drew the corresponding illustrations and strung it together.

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

Let’s see...he was "born" in 1995, and the book released in September of 2008, so thirteen years in total.

The biggest event that happened in that time frame is that I moved back home to Texas. Connecticut is beautiful, but there isn't enough Mexican food. And shoveling snow isn't as fun as it looks in movies.

Most of my family is in San Antonio, so Austin is the perfect location and it feels like home. Upon my return, I had considered getting a Real Job as my mom calls it, but I had already tasted the life of a consultant while in Connecticut, so I decided to continue with hanging out a shingle and focused on growing my graphic design and illustration business, Virjan Design.

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

The biggest challenge was my Internal Revision Process. After finishing a drawing, I'd think of another way to depict what I wanted and would redraw, redraw, and redraw.

Some of that was helpful. Some of that was frustrating and basically got me nowhere near a finished drawing. I had to work at teaching myself to stop and move onto the next one.

And just when I thought all of the drawings were done, I'd get it in my head that I should review them one more time!

Thank God for my agent who said, "Send them. Now."

What was it like, being a debut author-illustrator in 2008?

Absolutely fantastic. I still can't believe it.

I'm thrilled, humbled, concerned that people won't buy the book, addicted to the process and overall very pleased with the accomplishment.

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

I think I would give the same advice I give myself today and that is to keep drawing and writing, even if it's a tiny sketch or an idea that hasn't been completely formed.

The blank page can get a little scary sometimes, so I find it best to mark it up as quickly as possible, rendering it no longer blank. If I don't like what I drew or wrote, I can always try drawing or writing it again.

Other than your own, what were your favorite children's books of 2008 and why?

Goodnight Goon: A Petrifying Parody by Michael Rex (Penguin Group). I like how the author took a classic bedtime story and changed it to include things you wouldn't normally consider at bedtime, like mummies, tombs and lagoons. Werewolves have to go to bed too, so it makes sense that their goodnight ritual would involve saying goodnight to something other than kittens or mittens.

Daft Bat
by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross (Sterling Press). Everyone thinks the bat is daft because he sees things differently. He says the sky is at his feet. For him, it is. I loved the premise of seeing everything from his point of view. And I loved the illustrations. There's a simplicity to them, but they also convey a lot of information.

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

I'm enjoying every bit of it. I just started book events and school visits, so I'm learning how much I can do comfortably and reasonably.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I spend my days as a graphic designer and illustrator. My life also includes hanging out with family and friends, going to movies, spending time outdoors, especially working in my yard, reading fiction, fiction and more fiction.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Nacho the Downward Dog, a yoga board book for kids releases in Fall 2009. In this one, Nacho and his friends teach us how to strike various yoga poses.

I'm also working on a story for young readers that features Nacho and his girlfriend, Holly Penyo, as they go on an adventure.

In the meantime, folks can visit Nacho's web site, and join his birthday club, download coloring pages, and hear My Name is Nacho, written and performed by Austin's own Ray Benson, with Asleep at the Wheel.

Cynsational Notes

Nacho Average Pup: an in-depth article from Mark G. Mitchell at How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Margarita Engle's Historic Newbery Honor by Debra Lau Whelan from School Library Journal. Peek: "Margarita Engle's The Surrender Tree (Holt, 2008), a verse novel about Cuba’s fight for independence, just received a Newbery honor, marking the first time that a Hispanic author has ever received such a distinction."

The finalists for the Oklahoma Book Award are: Chosen by P.C. and Kristen Cast (St. Martin's Press); On a Road in Africa by Kim Doner (Tricycle Press); It Wasn't Much: Ten True Tales of Oklahoma Heroes by Jana Hausburg (Forty-Sixth Star Press); The Trial of Standing Bear by Frank Keating (Oklahoma Heritage Association); Spy by Anna Myers (Walker); The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (Random House).

Pairing Nonfiction Books & Web Sites by Jessica Mangelson and Jill Castek from Book Links: Connecting Books, Libraries, and Classrooms. Peek: "In the examples we describe, the online resources can be used before reading to provide a backdrop for activating background knowledge or explored after reading as an extension that supports the interpretation of information found in books. Both approaches give multiple options for delving deeper into a topic."

"Beyond the Shamrock: An Irish Dozen" selected by Deborah Stevenson, Editor from the Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books. Peek: "With Saint Patrick's Day approaching, we offer a generous collection of Irish-themed material; there's nonfiction history and historical fiction, contemporary fantasy and folkloric picture books, contemporary adventure and broad-ranging collections. Those looking for a way to take the holiday beyond the Lucky Charms leprechaun will find a hundred thousand welcomes here."

Radio Interview with Illustrator Don Tate by Rodney Lear NPR Cincinnati. Note: a wonderfully thoughtful and inspiring audio interview. Highly recommended.

Featuring Valeri Gorbachev by Eisha and Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: ...what I love...The colors, always cozy, always warm; the expressive, detailed character work (always anthropomorphized animals who are endearing, yet Gorbachev’s never saccharine or cloying about it); the subtle humor; the sense of community that pervades his titles...his ability to create original cumulative tales that work; and, last but not least, if any illustrator today is working in a Richard-Scarry-esque vibe..."

Cynsational Tip: most authors hold the copyrights to their books, but that doesn't extend to everything written about them. If you are republishing reviews or articles in full on the Web (or elsewhere), you may be violating someone else's copyright.

Congratulations to author Mary Dodson Wade and illustrator Joy Fisher Hein on the release of Sam Houston: Standing Firm (Bright Sky, 2009)!

Top Ten Verse Novels for Young Readers from Jame Richards at 2010: A Book Odyssey.

Who's Moving Where?: News and Staff Changes at Children's Book Publishers from Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon.

The Booklist Interview: Melina Marchetta from Booklist Online. Peek: "Australian author Melina Marchetta is the recipient of the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award for On the Jellicoe Road (HarperCollins, 2008), a suspenseful, complex novel about a boarding school student who becomes a reluctant leader in the school's territory wars. From her home in Sydney, Marchetta discussed the process of creating Jellicoe and how her experiences as a former high-school teacher continue to inform her writing."

Mothers and Fathers in Children's Literature: two lists of recommendations being compiled by Susan Taylor Brown at Susan Writes. Chime in with your suggestions.

Bid to win an Original Painting by Children's Book Author Grace Lin at Ebay. Proceeds will benefit the Foundation for Children's Books.

Question and Naming Contest from editor Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Alvina is interested in what you want to know about North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (Little, Brown, 2009) and she is looking for suggestions as to what to title her "insider" book posts. Peek: "If I pick your question and/or naming idea, I'll send you a Little, Brown book of your choice! This contest will close at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 15, and you'll find out if you've won when I post on Monday morning."

Congratulations to Cecil Castellucci on the paperback release of Beige (Candlewick, 2009)! Peek: "Exiled from Canada to Los Angeles, Katy can't believe she is spending the summer with her father--punk name: the Rat--a recovered addict and drummer for the band Suck. Even though Katy feels abandoned by her mom, even though the Rat's place is a mess and he's not like anything she'd call a father, Kathy won't make a fuss. After all, she is a girl who is quiet and polite, a girl who smiles, a girl who is, well, beige. Or is she? From the author of Boy Proof and The Queen of Cool comes an edgy L.A. novel full of humor, heart, and music." Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil Castellucci on Beige.

Marvelous Marketer: Laini Taylor (Author of Dreamdark series) from Shelli at Market My Words: Marketing Advice for Authors/Illustrators from a Marketing Consultant & Aspiring Children's Book Author. Peek: "...through blogging (which I started shortly after selling my first book, long before it came out), I lucked into some getting some interview requests and articles that helped spread the word about my book, and I started to become familiar with many review sites. I also went to the first Kidlit Bloggers Conference, right after my book came out, and then I co-organized the second one."

Congratulations to Carrie Ryan on the release of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009)(excerpt). See the book trailer below.

Congratulations to Andy Auseon on the release of Jo-Jo and the Fiendish Lot (HarperCollins, 2009)! From the promotional copy: "Jo-Jo Dyas doesn’t believe he has any reason to live, but then he finds the naked black-and-white dead girl in the culvert and she convinces him otherwise. She is the drummer for a punk rock band called the Fiendish Lot, and for a dead girl, she has more life and spark than anyone Jo-Jo’s ever met. She and her band come from the Afterlife, a strange, colorless world where souls sometimes pause on the journey between life and death. Jo-Jo follows her into the depths of the Afterlife, where gets a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make right all the things that have gone wrong in his life."

Visit P.J. Hoover at the Book Roast today and enter to win a copy of The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree, 2008). Answer this question in the comments at the Book Roast: "Whose mind would you like to be able to read, and why?"

Resource Recommendations

Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life by Bonnie Friedman (HarperCollins, 1993). From the promotional copy : "The first book for writers that explores the emotional side of writing--dealing with everything from envy to guilt to the dreaded writer's block." Note: Worth twice the cost for the chapter on envy and the "anorexia of language" alone. I've noticed lately that community morale is a tad shaky. If you're going through a hard time, please don't think you're alone or that no one cares. Be good to yourselves and each other, and, if the TV news is freaking you out, just turn it off for a while. Seriously. Hugs.

See also Fear of Browsing by Kristi Holl from Writers First Aid. Peek: "If I found my books on the shelves, I'd wonder why they hadn't sold. If I didn’t find my books on the shelves, I hoped they were sold out, but I never had the nerve to ask if they’d ever been on the shelf in the first place."

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner (Riverhead, 2000). Everybody Hurts says: "Far more than a how-to manual, this book offers inspiration, inside views, and a colorful, anecdotal look at the publishing world-all delivered in the smart, funny, unpretentious voice that has helped to make Lerner one of the most prominent names in the business."


Enter to win a paperback copy of Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde (Magic Carpet Books/Harcourt, 2008)(originally published in 1999) from Cynsations. To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Dead Man" in the subject line. I'll touch base if you win. Deadline: March 18! All Cynsational readers are eligible!


My husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, recommends A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2009), The Books of Pellinor (Candlewick, 2005-2009), and discusses literary coincidences--the latter being a must read for those with any interest in cannibalism, the Titantic, or the way fiction mirrors/predicts reality.

More Personally

Authors Unplugged: author P.J. Hoover reports (with exciting Q&As) on my lunch with her, and fellow authors Jody Feldman and Jo Whittemore at Z'Tejas on 6th Street in Austin. Peek: "We each brought questions for the others. I agreed to do the abridged version, though those around us...definitely got the unabridged version. I think we were getting a few strange looks." See Jody's report.
Review: 'Eternal' by Melissa Medore-Moore from San Antonio Express-News. Peek: "The offer of redemption sets this tale apart from others that feed upon the current fascination with vampires and the occult that possesses preteens and teens." Note: at at time when review columns are being trimmed, it's so wonderful to see such thoughtful coverage devoted to YA literature in a daily newspaper.

Once Upon A Romance's Review Of... Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Amy Lignor. Peek: "Not only is this a good read for 14-year-olds, but I believe that mothers will truly enjoy the wit as well."

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review by The ending to the love story (because it does become one, though a twisted one) is moving and hopeful in a way you don't expect."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Editor Interview: Brian Farrey of Flux

Brian Farrey on Brian Farrey: "I am the new acquiring editor for Flux, the young adult imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide. I previously spent three years as senior publicist at Llewellyn Worldwide, where I helped launch the promotional efforts for Flux." See also The Flux Blog.

What kind of young reader were you?

If the letters were arranged in a format that made sense to me, I read it. I can't decide if it's a blessing or a curse to become more discerning when you get older, but growing up, I read anything I could get my hands on.

I gravitated towards science fiction and any book featured on the PBS shows we watched in class. (There was one show--I can't remember the name--where a narrator read you an excerpt from a book while an artist sketched the scene being narrated. That's where I got all my pre-Internet book recommendations.)

In my teen years, I moved away from sci fi and into more realistic fiction. Today, I read all over the place but my tastes continue to be informed by everything I absorbed in the early years.

Congratulations on your new job as the editor at Flux! What inspired you to make YA literature your career focus?

Thanks! YA has come into its own so much over the last decade. There's some exciting, exciting stuff happening around the world in terms of YA literature, and I felt like this was a dialogue I wanted to be part of.

How about editing more specifically?

I jokingly told the members of my writing group recently, "Yeah, being an editor is great. It's like doing a writing workshop only the writer has to do what I say." That is, of course, a gross exaggeration.

I suppose I got into editing for somewhat selfish reasons. There's a lot of talent out there, and I want to be the one who discovers it. (Or at least one of the people who discovers it.) I love working with writers. They speak my language.

How did you prepare for this career?

I recently finished my MFA in creative writing at Hamline University, which felt like an intensive boot camp for fiction.

While there, I served on the editorial board for Water-Stone, Hamline's literary journal. These experiences really helped shape the way I see fiction. It's easier to see manuscripts that have potential and how I might be able to guide the writer to drive it home.

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

I think editors need to nurture talent, and I truly relish the partnership that that brings about. People I've spoken to think the editor's job ends with finding good writing and buying it.

The part of the job you don't hear a lot about is how an editor needs to have a vision for the book. They need to have ideas for the cover, how to market it properly, ways the author can promote themselves. They need all this stuff because, in a lot of ways, they represent the author at the house and should be there to shepherd a project through the many processes.

What are its challenges?

The fact of the matter is that when I take a project to my editorial board, I can't get them to buy into it by simply gushing over what I think is amazing writing.

The challenge, for me, is setting aside my love of writing to become a cold, hard businessman who presents the logical rather than emotional reasons why we should take on a particular project (i.e.--why will this make us money).

Even now, I feel a little awkward about saying that, as if it's a dirty little secret in the industry. But it's not.

The good news is that I don't take something to my board unless I'm in love with the writing and I know it will satisfy all necessary business requirements. So it's win-win.

What are its rewards?

Cruel as this sounds, I love watching an author bounce off the walls with excitement as the moment of their book's release draws near. I get excited with them, and I hope they can maintain that same level of thrill each and every time a new project of theirs hits the market.

What makes Flux special? How is it different from other houses?

Actually, I think we're very similar to other YA publishers. The colleagues I know at other houses share my passion for good writing, and we're all trying to do the best work we can.

If we've carved out a niche, it's that we take risks and we really shoot for strong narrative voices (but I challenge you to find a house that doesn't claim the same).

I hope that if we stand out in the minds of authors it's because we can offer that writer/editor synergy so necessary to bringing a project to fruition.

What new directions should we know about? Do you have a different "take" on the line than your predecessor, and if so, how?

That's the number one question I get asked. Most often I get asked that question in fear: "are you going to change everything?"

The fact is that Andrew Karre and I shared a very similar vision for Flux and my goal is to adhere to that as much as possible.

That's not to say that I won't experiment every once in a while (anybody got a YA steampunk they want to pitch me?).

What titles would you recommend for study to writers interested in working with you and why?

If I taught a course in writing--not even necessarily a course in YA writing--I would make David Almond's Kit's Wilderness (Delacorte) mandatory reading.

I often tell people that I find it to be a technically perfect novel, a brilliant synthesis of everything I've ever been taught constitutes good writing.

I love a strong, distinct voice. Some of the best I've seen recently are in Christina Meldrum's Madapple (Knopf, May 2008), Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You (FSG, 2007), and Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse, 2008).

What recommendations do you have for writers in the submission process?

Absolutely, positively number one--do your homework. This is good general advice, whether submitting to Flux or any house. I can't tell you how many picture books and middle grade titles I get daily (some mailed unsolicited at great expense). Flux doesn't publish these types of books, and our submission guidelines clearly say that.

Some people dream of being the underdog. They want to be that diamond in the rough, plucked from the slush pile and thrust from obscurity to fame. Mass mailing a manuscript to dozens (if not more) publishers who simply can't consider your book is the surest path to bankruptcy, not literary fame.

Understand the best places to submit to. Look at the books published by a house that interests you. Have a sense of what's out there. Don't go into this blindly.

What are pitfalls to avoid?

Please don't send out a first draft. Please. I know how great it feels to finish a project, and I understand the desire to send it out ASAP to see who likes it. But don't.

Get some trusted beta readers (non-family members preferred). Give their feedback due consideration. And revise.

Could you describe your dream writer?

My dream writer is enthusiastic but realistic. Confident but open to suggestion. Talented but willing to revise.

As a reader, so far what were your three favorite YA books of 2008 and why?

Ohmanohmanohman. You sure don't throw softball questions, you go right for the throat. Making me pick, that's just mean. Okay...

Madapple by Christina Meldrum (Knopf). A wonderfully lyric debut novel.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic). I'm a sucker for good dystopian books.

And the third book is a yet-to-be published manuscript by an established author that came across my desk recently. I wasn't able to acquire it, but it blew my socks off.

(I know this one is cheating, especially because I can't even say what it was, but it really is one of the very best things that I've read this year. Ask me again in 2010 when it hits the shelves, and I'll rave about it.)

What do you do outside your editorial/publishing life?

I love to put the Food Network on in the background and putter around the kitchen. Summers are all about getting on my bike and taking off. And I've been known to haunt a few of the Twin Cities' many theaters. (I'm a bit of a musical theatre fan.)

Is there anything you would like to add?

No, seriously. I'm dying to see a really well-written YA steampunk. The address is if you've got it. Anyone? Anyone?
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