Friday, July 03, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways of Sideshow (YA) & The Day-Glo Brothers (PB)

Enter to win one of three copies of Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, July 14, 2009)! From the promotional copy:

Molly is a bearded girl who joins the circus, only to find that her former tormentor faces a far hairier plight. Tia claims that her lamented mom is a three-thousand-year-old mummy, but is it really an act? Cody sets out to foil a pop psychic, but the shocking result is not what he planned for. And Tiffany’s grandma sees something wild in her future, but is the girl prepared for the powerful shape it will take?

Whether the sideshow touts a two-headed rat or a turn-of-the-century American jargo, whether the subject discovers an odd kind of miracle or learns that the real freaks are outside the tent, these stories and graphic tales are by turns humorous and insightful, edgy and eerie, but always compulsively entertaining. Freaks, magicians, psychics, and the passing strange take center stage in ten original tales by top YA authors and graphic novelists.

Note: the collection includes my short story, "Cat Calls," which is set in the Tantalize/Eternal universe and features new characters!

Here's the whole list of contributors:
One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children's-YA literature, and the other two will go to any Cynsations readers!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Sideshow" in the subject line. Deadline: July 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should indicate themselves as such in their entries! Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Enter to win one of five author-signed copies of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)! From the promotional copy:

Joe and Bob Switzer were very different brothers. Bob was a studious planner who wanted to grow up to be a doctor. Joe dreamed of making his fortune in show business and loved magic tricks and problem-solving. When an accident left Bob recovering in a darkened basement, the brothers began experimenting with ultraviolet light and fluorescent paints. Together they invented a whole new kind of color, one that glows with an extra-special intensity—Day-Glo.

Three copies are reserved for teachers, librarians, and/or university professors of education, library science, and/or youth literature! (Please indicate title and affiliation). Two copies are reserved for any Cynsations readers!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Day-Glo Brothers" in the subject line. Deadline: July 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should indicate themselves as such in their entries! Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Cynsations Giveaway Winners

The winner of Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker (Harper, 2009) is Olivia in Connecticut.

Brent in Maine won an ARC of Wake by Lisa McMann (Simon Pulse, 2008). Mary in Illinois won an ARC of Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins, 2008). Kelly in California won an ARC of Deadly Little Secret by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, 2008). Read Cynsations interviews with Lisa, Lesley, and Laurie.

The winner of the Eternal T-shirt is Beth in Oklahoma. She chose the "I HEART My Guardian Angel" design in blue. Read a Cynsations interview with Gene Brenek on the Tantalize and Eternal designs.

The Janni Lee Simner Prize Package included a bookplate-autographed copy of the new release, Bones of Faerie (Random House, 2009), and traditionally autographed copies of both Secret of the Three Treasures (Holiday House, 2006)(hard copy) and Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2006)(paperback). Note: Gothic includes Janni's short story "Stone Tower." The winner was Katie in Washington. Read a Cynsations interview with Janni.

More News

R.A. Nelson Books: official site of the author of Teach Me (Razorbill, 2005), Breathe My Name (Razorbill, 2007), and Days of Little Texas (Knopf, July 2009). Peek: "Before becoming a writer, I wanted to be an astronaut, an NBA star, a time traveler, a colonist on the N. American continent somewhere between the years 1589-1720, and a general all-around explorer." See also his blog, R.A. Nelson Books. Read a Cynsations interview with R.A. Nelson.

Polite Communication from BookEnds, LLC - A Literary Agency. Peek: "It amazes me sometimes how often I'll have to call or email a single editor to get an answer to one question or how often I wonder if an editor has died and maybe, just maybe no one told me." Source: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Number of times so far an author this year has, in all sincerity, asked if I knew whether his/her editor had died: twice.

Should You Self-Publish? from J.A. Konrath at A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Peek: "I would avoid print self-pubbing if you someday want a traditional book deal, because numbers follow you. If you get an ISBN, that number is trackable, and so are the sales associated with it." Source: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent.

Power of Writing Things Down by Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "The days I keep track and write down what I accomplish are days when I write more and accomplish more."

Working in Children's Books and the Recession of 2008-09 (January 2009/Revised June 2009) by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon Blog. Peek: "In spite of all their growth, sales of ebooks in 2008 amounted to about 1/3 of the sales of audiobooks—something over $100 million compared to something over $300 million." Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Reminder: the 2009 Annual Conference of the American Library Association will take place in Chicago from July 9 to July 15, 2009 at McCormick Place West. Highlights will include: "Nonfiction Book Blast: Booktalks for Reluctant Readers" from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. July 12 at Convention Center Room W181. Peek: "Despite the emphasis on fiction for leisure reading in schools, many reluctant readers are often more drawn to reading nonfiction. Expand your nonfiction repertoire as 17 authors booktalk their latest work." Moderator: Sharon Mitchell, Library Media Specialist. Speakers: Lisa Rondinelli Albert; Mary Bowman-Kruhm; Laura Crawford; Jeri Chase Ferris; Kelly Milner Halls; Amy S. Hansen; Gwendolyn Hooks; Katherine L. House; Patricia K. Kummer; Suzanne Lieurance; JoAnn Early Macken; Carla Killough McClafferty; Wendie Old; April Pulley Sayre; Anastasia Suen; Christine Taylor-Butler; Rebecca Hogue Wojahn and Donald Wojahn.

Delacorte authors offer crash course in writing for a young audience by Katherine Tanney from the Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "At BookPeople on June 13, the quintet known as the Delacorte Dames and Dude gave a panel discussion moderated by Sarah Bird. The DDD — Shana Burg, April Lurie, Varian Johnson, Jennifer Ziegler and Margo Rabb — write novels for the young adult market (all for the same publisher) and also meet monthly to share information and writerly support."

VCFA Symposium on Good & Evil will be on July 18. Guests will be Deborah Noyes, Nancy Werlin, and editor Stephen Roxburgh. Nancy Werlin will lecture and read from Impossible (Dial, 2008) and Deborah Noyes will lecture and read from The Ghosts of Kerfol (Candlewick, 2008). "Other events will include a writing challenge, breakout groups, book signings, and a reception. All are welcome to join faculty, students, and alumni for this day-long conference." See more information. Read Cynsations interviews with Deborah, Nancy, and Stephen.

Coincidence by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. Peek: "Avoiding coincidence completely because you're trying to make your story 'real' sacrifices too many possibilities." See also Sheepdog and Writing. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Fab YA Authors on Their Favorite Queer-Themed Books from Emily at BookKids (see parts three and four).

Top 10 Ways to Fight Writer's Block by Stephanie Burgis from 2010: A Book Odyssey. Peek: "Julia Cameron is one of the best writers on creativity I know, and she suggests that every artist (of any type) should take time once a week to go out for an hour by themselves and do something that they find personally stimulating, whether that means visiting an art gallery or a stationery shop or a football game."

Doctor! Doctor! from Helen Hemphill at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "This week I want to talk about the role of the freelance editor, or book doctor. Is there a difference?" Note: the first in a week-long series that includes interviews with freelance editor Deborah Brodie and agents Emily van Beek of Pippin Properties and Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Note: congratulations to Helen on signing with Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Erin on signing with Helen!

Pre-Editing (Or, My Thoughts on Hiring Freelance Developmental Editors Pre-Submission) by Moonrat at Editorial Ass. Peek: "My esteemed interlocutor, however, did not realize I was bragging! Instead, she said something that shook me from buttons to boots: 'Oh wow, you guys edit over there? That's nice--I always used to enjoy editing. We don't have time, so we can only really buy books that are pretty much ready for production.'"

Crit Groups: Face to Face, or Online, Which is Best? by Kate Fall from Author2Author. Peek: "I have two crit groups: one in person and one online. Which is better? Well, it depends."

Marvelous Marketer: Mary Kate Castellani (an associated editor at Walker Books for Young Readers) from Shelli at Market My Words: Rantings and ravings on how authors can better market their books to kids. Peek: "It's not essential that a writer has a web site at the time of acquisition, but it's always a bonus to be able to say that an author has already created a web site—especially because it's a tool we'd want them to have at their disposal in the future."

Ask the Author from Melissa Stewart at I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. The question from Melody is: "How closely do you need to connect with your subject matter to write about it? Do you need to be female to write about amazing women? An environmentalist to write about Rachel Carson? Do you lose all your credibility if you're writing about African-Americans and you're not African-American?" Responding authors are Susan E. Goodman, Gretchen Wolfe, and Rosalyn Schanzer. See also More Ask the Author from Melissa as AMD asks: "What advice do you have for writers interested in breaking into this field?" Includes answers from Barbara Kerley and Vicki Cobb.

Beyond the Book: Confetti Girl by Diana Lόpez by editor Alvina Ling at Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "As soon as I finished reading the first draft of Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009), I knew I wanted to marry it. Sure, I wanted to work with the author to make the novel even better, but the great thing about marrying a novel as opposed to a person is that you truly can make changes (a person might not be as open to changing!)." Read a Cynsations interview with Diana.

Finding My Character's Character by Jennifer Brown from Kidlit Central News. Peek: "Of all the pre-writing I do before starting a new big project, character sketching is one of the most important for me. I just can't sit down to write my character's story until I feel a really know who my character is. But I've found that filling out the same tried-and-true character questionnaire gets old..."

Robin Hood - Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood: Allen W. Wright's educational site features articles on Robin Hood, including interviews with children's authors such as Jane Yolen, Theresa Tomlinson, and Michael Cadnum.

Interview - Literary Agent Anna Webman from Suzette Saxton at Peek: "Yes! I do absolutely think great YA can be done without being edgy." See also Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do).

Check out this sneak peek book trailer for My Papa Diego and Me / Mi papá Diego y yo by Guadalupe Rivera Marín and featuring artwork by her father, Diego Rivera, coming in Sept. 2009 from Children's Book Press. Note: trailer also features Dana Goldberg, executive editor of Children's Book Press; Susan McConnell, director of children's sales for PGW, and David Ouimet, national accounts director for PGW.

KT the Magnificent: An Interview with Kathleen T. Horning: Kathleen T. Horning is is one of the most influential librarians you'll ever meet—and one of the kindest by Nina Lindsay from School Library Journal. Peek: "We estimated there were about 2,500 new books published for children that year—and of those, only 18 were by African-American authors and illustrators. We were so shocked by that number that we published it in the introduction to CCBC Choices for that year. That had a real impact..."

Alex Flinn, Young Adult Author: a totally newly revamped website from the author of such recent books as Beastly (HarperCollins, 2007) and A Kiss in Time (HarperCollins, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with Alex.

2k9 Celebrate Summer Giveaway: enter to win a prize package of 12 middle grade and YA novels from Class of 2K9. To enter, comment here by midnight July 14. Source: Megan Crewe.

NRT: Suzanne Crowley Interview + Contest by Lauren from Shooting Stars Mag. Peek: "I would say The Stolen One (Greenwillow, 2009) is a young adult historical romance with a bit of intrigue and mystery. The romance is not dominant as in a traditional romance. In fact, Kat has three love interests to choose from." Note: U.S. and Canadian readers may enter to win a copy of The Stolen One and a box of Godiva Chocolate by commenting by July 13. Read a Cynsations interview with Suzanne about the novel.

"Beating the Jealous Bug" by Jan Fields from Writer's Support Room - Work Habits from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "The first time the Jealous Bug bit me was when I saw writers who I knew had fewer years in their craft landing book contracts while my picture book was making it to acquisition meetings but no further. Part of me wanted to roar, 'Why not me?'"

Journal Through the Summer by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "For a variety of reasons, writers often have difficulty writing during the summer. Your children may be out of school and underfoot, or you may have a house full of company. You may have trips and vacations planned."

When to Query, that is the question... from Emily Marshall at Author2Author. Peek: "What is Querying Fever, you ask. if medical dictionaries (or even Urban Dictionary) were cool enough to recognize this disease, it would be described as 'the constant itch and desire to send query letters too early'."

Meet Chris Eboch

Interview with Haunted's Chris Eboch by Joni Sensel from The Spectacle. Peek: "I try to be an open-minded skeptic, and that comes through in the books. My message is: don't believe everything you are told, but don’t assume things can't be true. Investigate, and make decisions for yourself."

"The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme" with National SCBWI Speaker Chris Eboch sponsored by Austin SCBWI is scheduled for Oct. 10. Registration information will be posted on the Austin SCBWI website this week. Attendees will receive a $10 discount when registering for the local January 2010 conference. Seating is limited. Registration opens July 6. Note: Austin SCBWI events often sell out. From the author site: Chris has a new series, Haunted, debuting August 2009 [from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin] with two books: The Ghost on the Stairs and The Riverboat Phantom.

Highlights of the Week

The Writer's League of Texas hosted is 2009 Agents Conference from June 26 to June 20 at the Austin Sheraton Hotel.

YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie chat with attendees after their panel. Read Cynsations interviews with Varian and April.

Greg and I didn't officially participate in this year's conference, but we stopped by to meet Julie Schoerke of JSK Communications and Keen Literary. Note: sorry, the light at the hotel was a bit funky. Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

Julie first came onto our radar when she did an enormously successful publicity campaign for author Helen Hemphill (above). Read a Cynsations interview with Helen.

Austin YA author Jessica Lee Anderson and children's author Debbie Gonzales. Read Cynsations interviews with Jessica and Debbie.

Later, we went to dinner at Threadgill's South Austin with YA author Jennifer Ziegler, tween author Shana Burg, and Varian. Shana had brought a copy of the most recent Random House catalog. Read Cynsations interviews with Jennifer and Shana.

Varian shows off the page for his upcoming YA novel, Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010).

Jennifer shows off the page for her upcoming paperback release of How Not To Be Popular (Delacorte, 2010).

In other news, I recently had the honor of judging the Ann Arbor District Library 2009 IT'S ALL WRITE! Short Story Contest for middle/high school students!

The contest is held in conjunction with the Ann Arbor Book Festival, and awards and publication "were made possible through a grant from the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library. Judges also included Janet Lee Carey, John Coy, S.A. Harazin, Michael Harmon, Tanya Lee Stone, and Laura Wiess. Gary D. Schmidt was the awards ceremony speaker.

Congratulations to the young writers! Thanks to contest coordinators Vicki Browne and Shirley Coleman!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Author Interview: Chris Barton on The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors

Chris Barton on Chris Barton: "Of all the cities where I could have stumbled into the world of children's literature, I couldn't have done it in a better place than Austin, Texas.

"A native Texan who gravitated to Austin for college and have been here most of the time ever since, I'm surrounded by a freakishly talented local bunch of children's authors and illustrators. I'm glad they've let me hang around.

"I alternate between writing fiction and nonfiction -- when doing the former, I often long for the certainty and structure that come with established fact, and when doing the latter, I sometimes wish for the freedom to just make stuff up.

"As for established facts that may seem made up but are, indeed, true, I would like to add that the first concert I attended featured both The Oak Ridge Boys and the Commodores, I once interned for Sassy magazine, and I had the experience of losing two wheels while driving a moving truck down I-20 just west of Pelahatchie, Mississippi. You may proceed with your questions."

What led you to write for young readers?

Fire safety. When my older son was a toddler, I installed a smoke detector, and he asked me to tell him over and over the story of how I'd done that, complete with drill sounds and alarm sounds. One day, it hit me that if I could make him happy with that story, there were probably other stories I could tell, and more kids that I could share them with.

Up until then, I'd spent several years adrift as a writer, not knowing what I wanted to write or for which audience or in which medium. That smoke detector was a great investment.

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

I started writing stories for children around the end of 2000 and almost immediately began shopping these lousy manuscripts to agents. Obviously, I was impatient, but I've learned a whole lot about patience in the years since. Real life has intervened along the way in ways both positive and negative, both for me and for some of the people I've worked with--births, deaths, moves, layoffs.

Some of the more significant milestones have been joining the Austin chapter of SCBWI in 2001, selling The Day-Glo Brothers in 2004, starting my blog [Bartography] and signing with my agent in 2005, selling three books in the spring of 2007, and enjoying what's happening right now--at long last--with the publication of my first book.

Looking back on your apprenticeship, what was most helpful to you in developing your craft?

Just showing up. Showing up at my desk most days at 5 a.m. to write or do writing-related work, and spending most of my lunch hours the same way, and often my evenings, too. Showing up for critique group meetings, whether in person or online, so that my writing can benefit directly from what my partners have to say and indirectly from what I learn by considering their work. Showing up for conferences and workshops, in equal parts for what I learn about writing and publishing and for the camaraderie with the friends I make and catch up with there. And showing up at the library to swap out another stack of books.

Congratulations on the publication of your debut book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)! Could you tell us about it?

Well, you know those fluorescent oranges and yellows and greens that you see every day on traffic cones, safety vests, highlighters, and so on?

Until about 70 years ago, those colors didn't even exist. The Day-Glo Brothers is the story of the guys who invented those colors while they were in their teens and 20s back during the Depression and World War II.

It all started with a magic act and an accident at the ketchup factory...

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

In August 1997, I saw The New York Times obituary for "Robert Switzer, Co-Inventor Of Day-Glo Paint." Up until that moment, I had never wondered where those fluorescent oranges, yellows, and greens came from, even though I had seen them my entire life. It hadn't occurred to me that those colors had been invented or that there had been a time when they didn't exist or that there was a particular name for the glow they give off: daylight fluorescence.

But once I read that obituary, I couldn't stop thinking about Day-Glo colors and their origins and the brothers who created them. The Switzers' story stuck with me.

And it's a good thing that it did, because at that time, I wasn't thinking about writing their story or any other story for young readers.

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

It occurred to me in the spring of 2001 that a picture book about the invention of Day-Glo colors, using those actual colors in the art, could be really, really cool. So, I got in touch with members of the Switzer family and began my research, and that fall, I began shopping a ridiculously long version of the manuscript around to publishing houses.

Robbie Mayes, then an editor at Farrar Straus & Giroux, helpfully suggested that it would be tough sledding for a 6,000-plus-word picture book, but even after I cut the length by about two-thirds, even after 23 submissions, I still couldn't find an editor who saw what I saw in this story.

Austin librarian extraordinaire Jeanette Larson could see it, though, and she put me in touch with Charlesbridge editor Yolanda Leroy (editor interview) in early 2004. Yolanda got it immediately. Charlesbridge bought the book that year.

And the single best thing that happened was art director Susan Sherman getting Tony Persiani to illustrate the book. Tony's style is perfect for the period when the story takes place, and for humorously balancing out a text that includes phrases like "uranine or anthracene," and for allowing the spot placement of those Day-Glo colors that do indeed look really, really cool.

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

There were four big ones.

First, Bob and Joe Switzer were true collaborators, but Bob lived a long life and recorded a lot of his recollections of their work while Joe died relatively young without documenting his contributions in a way that would have been helpful to folks like me. So, one challenge was making sure that the story I told didn't reflect that imbalance in the source material. My interviews with Joe's first wife and with Bob and Joe's younger brother helped me get a clear sense of who Joe was and what he had brought to the partnership.

Another problem was that I liked Bob and Joe so much and found them so fascinating that I wanted to include everything about them--that's how a picture book gets to be 6,200 words long. It took some doing to narrow my focus down to just the fascinating parts of their story that relate most directly to their development of Day-Glo colors.

Then there was the science--I had managed to stop the narrative cold, not once but twice, with explanations of how regular fluorescence and daylight fluorescence work. Yolanda and I whittled the main text down to what was absolutely essential and moved the more detailed explanations to the back of the book, and Charlesbridge put together a terrific online animation to reinforce that.

Finally, there was the use of color itself. In four-color printing, if your three non-black colors are daylight fluorescent orange, yellow and green, and those colors weren't invented until the latter part of the story, what do you show in the pages that come before?

The folks at Charlesbridge came up with a fantastic solution--start the story in black and white, and then start using those Day-Glo colors sparingly and at partial strength, and increase their strength and presence as the story moves toward its climax.

One of the best experiences I had with this project was sitting with Yolanda and Susan at the Charlesbridge office, with the pages for this book spread all over a big table as we plotted out, "Okay, we'll try 10% yellow here, and 25% orange here..."

What about children's nonfiction appeals to you?

The wide-openness of possible subjects. There's an endless supply of topics begging to be explored, and an audience that's intensely curious about specific parts of the real world that adults may take for granted.

I also like the challenge of distilling a subject down to what fits into a 32- or 48-page book--it's not a matter of just limiting the word count, but of framing a story in a way that makes sense, of both giving a sense of a complete take on a subject while sparking a reader's interest in seeking out more knowledge about it.

What advice do you have for those interested in writing a picture book biography?

Look at the things that you're already unusually interested in and ask yourself, who was a pioneer in that realm? Who was the best it? Who had a unique approach to it?

That's a person that you're already in a great position to write about.

Also, pick a person that you think can hold your interest for a long time--for eight years, even, because you never know...

What is it like, being a debut author in 2009?

It's satisfying. I'm sure it would have been satisfying for me to have debuted in 2005, or in 2007, but having waited and persevered for so long does make this whole experience a little sweeter, I think. And it's given me time to accumulate more friends and supporters in the world of children's books--editors, bloggers, librarians, other authors, parents of young readers--who are sharing in the excitement with me, and that's making for a fun time.

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

Be patient. Before you send a manuscript out there to make an impression on your behalf, take all the time you need to get it into great shape. And then cut it some more.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I've got two sons, ages 10 and 5, a wife who, among other things, is very active in Austin's impressive belly-dancing community, and five hens in my back yard--all of whom I enjoy spending time with.

I'm good for occasionally making a massive batch of chili or red beans and rice or Hopkins County Stew.

And ever since my younger son expressed his concern a few years ago that "all the musicians are dying" because of my fondness for performers who had long since unplugged from this mortal coil, I've been making a concerted effort to expand my musical tastes and keep current with recordings being made today by artists who are, in fact, not dead.

As a reader, so far what is your favorite children's/YA book of the year and why?

Instead of a favorite individual book, how about my favorite cumulative output by one particular writer? Already this year, Jonah Winter has published picture book biographies of Sandy Koufax, Gertrude Stein, and Gilbert & Sullivan.

[You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?, illustrated by Andre Carrilho (Random House, 2009); Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude, illustrated by Calef Brown (Atheneum, 2009); The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert & Sullivan, illustrated by Richard Egielski (Scholastic, 2009).]

What was that I was saying about the wide-openness of possible subjects?

What can your fans look forward to next?

My second book, the thoroughly un-non-fiction Shark Vs. Train, will be coming out from Little, Brown next April. My illustrator for that is Tom Lichtenheld (Duck! Rabbit! (Chronicle, 2009)), and Tom and I had so much fun collaborating on Shark Vs. Train that I almost hated to see that process come to an end. Almost.
Anyway, just as many readers have wondered (I hope) what makes Day-Glo work, I'm sure that many others have wondered who would win in a competition between a shark and a train, and I'm glad that Tom and I have been able to shed some light on that.

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss the Charlesbridge supplemental online animation about Day-Glo! See also an interior illustration of the book.

Enter to win one of five author-signed copies of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009)! Three copies are reserved for teachers, librarians, and university professors of education, library science, and/or youth literature! (Please indicate title and affiliation). Two copies are reserved for any Cynsations readers! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Day-Glo Brothers" in the subject line. Deadline: July 31!

Attention Central Texans: join Chris for his launch party at 1 p.m. July 11 at BookPeople in Austin!

7-Imp's 7 Kicks #121: Featuring Chris Barton and Tony Persiani from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I like to think that writing The Day-Glo Brothers—delving into this esoteric topic that I'd never given any thought to, getting more and more fascinated with the subject throughout the process, and then seeing the appeal the story has had for my editor, reviewers, and the kids down the street—makes up for a 20-year-old episode that still gnaws at me."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Grace Lin

How do you define artistic success?

In the past, artistic success for me has been work that I am proud of and know that I have done my absolute best with.

But that has been an attitude fraught with dissatisfaction and frustration. There are more times than I like to admit that I look at my past work with twinges of regret.

While flaws due to talent, or rather lack of, are disheartening, they are in a way more acceptable than the ones that cause me to shake my head. If I had only been less distracted, had more time, I think to myself, that book would've have been so much better.

So, always, the goal has been to make a book that epitomizes the best I could possibly do. However, over the years, I have gotten a bit gentler with my ambitions.

I have realized that greatness is not perfection, and in many cases, it is the imperfections that make work great. That, perhaps, the achievement to be proud of is how well the work connects to people.

What makes work wonderful and great is its ability to touch a person, not its ability to impress them. But I also realize that you must still offer your best to do that.

So now, for me, artistic success is work that is the best I could do at the time and has true meaning to both me and the reader.

How do you define professional success?

The short answer to this is: the ability to pay my bills! And, really, that is something that I am most proud of. Even at art school, I had teachers tell me that "you can't make a living on children's books." Well, you can--and I am proof.

That has always been my number one goal, to be able to do what I love for a living; and doing that is a grand professional success for me.

This has always been something I've felt torn about--that sometimes children's book authors/illustrators seem to feel guilty or apologize for earning any money. I suppose it is because the books are for children and our work is seen as either fun or cute. Making books for children is a wonderful job, but it is a job; and we all deserve to be paid for the work we create, as well as be respected.

I'd love to have the admiration of my peers--bestseller lists and awards--of course. But "earning my keep" will always be the first gauge of success for me.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

My latest book is the middle-grade novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown, 2009). It is an Asian-themed folktale-inspired fantasy where a brave young girl named Minli journeys to change her family's fortune, traveling farther than she ever imagined.

It's a fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore and is printed in full color (unusual for a novel). There are ten full-page illustrations scattered throughout the story [see sample image here] as well as two-color chapter headers.

This book means a lot to me, I think it is the best book I have written and illustrated so far.

It's definitely my best reviewed--so far it has gotten three stars (Kirkus, SLJ, Booklist) and a Parents' Choice Gold Award! I hope that is a good sign!

What can your fans look forward to next?

My next book will be Ling and Ting (Little, Brown, 2010). It is an early reader (which is a format I have been wanted to try for a while) about Chinese-American twins. It is almost the reverse theme of The Year of the Dog (Little, Brown, 2006); using twins, I am trying to show, how even when people look the same, they can be different.

After that, I have a picture book on the Moon Festival and a picture book set in Beijing.

In the meantime, I have starting preliminary drafts for a novel that may become Summer of the Pig to take place in between my past novels The Year of the Dog (Little, Brown, 2006) and the Year of the Rat (Little, Brown, 2008). That may or may not end up working out, but I will hope!

Cynsational Notes

Stop by Grace's launch party today at the official website for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and at facebook!

Every month, one of Grace's original paintings goes on auction for charity at

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Agent-Author Interview: Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Ammi-Joan Paquette is known as a bit of a globe-trotter. She spent much of her early years in France, then traveled throughout Europe and to Japan before settling down with her family just outside of Boston.

Her first published picture book is The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, illustrated by Christa Unzner (Tanglewood Press, 2009).

She is also an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, where she represents all forms of children's and young adult projects. She only accepts queries via referral or from people she has met at conferences.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

I'm definitely one of those people who has been scribbling stories ever since I can remember. What really started me writing seriously with an eye to get published, though, was when my mom passed away in 2003. She'd always loved writing and had talked about pursuing publication, but never seemed to get to that point where she was ready to take the plunge.

After her death, I started writing about her--words poured out of me, more emotion than substance, very raw and stark, but so shockingly real. This was the kick-start that got my writing engine roaring again.

The other thing that inspired me to take my writing to the next level was the birth and growth of my daughters. They've been my inspiration, a source of ideas, the ones I measure everything against. They are my reason for doing what I do and a perpetual yardstick for checking my progress.

I can't say how many times I've been exchanging silliness with one of them and have had to stop and scribble down a picture book idea or how often one of our storytimes has sparked the plot for a new novel. I can't imagine what my writing would be without their inspiration!

Now that they are getting older, it's very satisfying to see their reactions to what I write. They're both my greatest encouragement and my toughest critics!

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

Oh, yes. I've had bumps and stumbles galore. No easy, paved road for me!

On the other hand, I've been blessed to have enough small successes on the way to keep me striving for the bigger goals that always seem just out of reach.

The road to publication is long and winding, and while it's different for each person, I think at some point every writer has to just resolve to enjoy the ride, no matter how long or crazy the road gets.

I've definitely had my share of rejections, and one of the biggest things I'm still learning is to make every project really stand out. I must have rewritten every one of my manuscripts at least half a dozen times.

And then, just when I think it's really "there," I have to go back and rewrite it again. Trim, tighten, clarify. Every project is a work in progress, right up until it goes off to the printer.

I think that is what defines, in the end, the truly successful authors: they are willing to keep chipping away for as long as it takes until that project is right.

Congratulations on The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies (Tanglewood, 2009)! In your own words, could you tell us about the book?

This is a very special book to mark my debut as a children's author because it has a personal significance for me. It was inspired by a real event with my then five- and seven-year-old daughters. They were not big nature walkers, so I would often make up stories or activities to pass the time while we were out.

One day, I was inspired by this idea of going on a fairy-tracking adventure. We went for a walk in our nearby nature preserve, and I carried along a notepad where I scribbled down ideas of things we saw, and we spontaneously talked about all the "clues" we were seeing. That was when the idea for the book started to take root.

When I got home, I typed up my notes, which were the core of what would become The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies. It was fun to recently come across the photos I took on that first nature walk and to see many of the same scenes that are now illustrated in the book reflected in my pictures!

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

The original fairy-tracking adventure took place in the summer of 2004. I revised and rewrote the manuscript off and on throughout the next year, then began sending out a few submissions.

In the summer of 2005, I read an article about Tanglewood Press. Though they are a small publisher, they have a great, widespread distribution system, and their books are top-quality. I decided to give them a try. I sent my baby off and didn't hear anything for a long time.

About a year later, after nearly forgetting about this submission, I suddenly received a phone call: Was "Tracking Fairies" still available?

And so the process began. From there, it took many months to work out the contract details, and still longer for me to get it through my head that: Yes! This was real!

But now that I'm holding the wonderful finished product in my hands, I can truthfully say--it was the best journey I ever undertook.

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

From the start this was a very conceptual book. At one session with my critique group, before hearing back from Tanglewood, we discussed my manuscript. There were a lot of differing opinions about it and suggested directions I could take to improve it.

One person felt I should add more detail and make it more of a "real field guide." Another person thought it would do best as a chapter book with more of a main character and specific events happening, and so on.

In the end, I decided to wait to hear back before taking any further action, and of course, the best revisions are ones you do hand-in-hand with your editor, because you know you're working toward a specific goal and that the person who shares your vision is also the one who is going to bring it to life as a Real Book. And in this case, my editor ended up loving it much as it was. But I was impressed by this experience to realize that any given book can be spun off in any number of ways and has the potential to become many different creations.

The magic comes in discovering what we truly want this story to be and coaxing that dream out of the words we are crafting.

When I spoke with my editor about revisions after signing the contract, she summarized her main points and then told me, "You know, what really hooked me was that line in your query letter where you talked about 'seeing the world through fairy-tinted glasses.'"

In the end, despite any lacks or needs in my manuscript, the core idea--a line in my query letter, no less!--had struck magic with her. She shared my vision of a book that would bring the natural world alive for children in a completely unique and magical way. All the rest was negotiable.

You also wear another hat--you're a new literary agent! How did this evolve?

Yes, this is a new venture for me, and I'm very excited about it!

I signed with my own agent, Erin Murphy, in 2008. I've always been the kind of person who accomplishes more when I have a lot of different things going on. I had been working a day job in educational publishing, and when my company got downsized early this year, I started thinking about other ways to fill my time.

Agenting was something I had long considered but without a viable plan of how I might actually do it. Through one thing and another, I started discussing the idea with Erin, and before I knew it, things were in motion.

It's now been about three months since I officially began working as an agent. I have a small core of fabulous clients, and a couple weeks ago, I was very excited to make my first sale, a three-book deal for a hilarious middle grade fantasy series. Look out for Elliot and the Goblin War by Jennifer Nielsen from Sourcebooks in 2010!

Why did you want to become an agent specifically?

To me, being an agent is like conducting a perpetual treasure hunt. My clients send me their wonderful manuscripts. My job is to look at all aspects of their projects and the market, follow the clues of concept, style and interest, and match each project up with the right editor who will fall madly in love.

It's exciting, it's busy, there's tons going on every second, and my to-do list changes every day. I absolutely adore it, and I'm so grateful to all the wonderful folks who have made my transition so smooth and easy!

What sort of manuscripts are you looking for?

At this point, I'm really interested in projects that go all across the board. There's no genre that I'm specifically closed to.

Because I am balancing my time as an agent with my own writing, however, I'm most concerned about keeping a very small and select list. So I find myself being particularly picky and only signing with a client if I feel utterly passionate about his or her work.

Believe it or not, this is one of the hardest parts of my job! I love books and stories, and I tend to see potential in many things I read. It's excruciatingly hard to turn some projects down.

This has been an interesting experience for me, being on the other side of the rejection letter and seeing that it is absolutely no easier from this angle.

More globally, what is your attitude/approach toward today's challenging economic market?

In this time, as in any, I firmly believe that great works rise. There is always a need for great literature, and while the challenges might multiply in this sort of economic climate, I think, if anything, it is just a call to all writers to keep crafting and produce your best work.

Write your passion, and it will find its own home.

Would you describe yourself as an "editorial agent," one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues?

I think it depends entirely on the project. I've worked with some of my clients quite extensively on their manuscripts. With others, I haven't found any changes necessary at all.

My goal is to have a manuscript that is complete, well-constructed, and able to snare the emotions of the readers. When a project does all those things, it's ready to fly out into the world.

What do you see as the ingredients for a "breakout" book in terms of commercial success, literary acclaim, and/or both?

I know "voice" is something that is frequently brought up for questions such as these, but I really don't know of any better answer. If there is one thing that makes a submission stand out from the rest for me, it's that elusive, larger-than-life quality that we define as "voice."

It's sometimes flowing and beautiful, sometimes quirky, sometimes biting and snarky, but always interesting, original, unique. It's a way of stringing words together that moves them beyond printed words: it puts a face behind the text. It paints a real character in your mind. It brings your words to life.

Beyond that, for commercial success, for literary acclaim--who can say? There are as many formulas and "right" ways of doing things as there are successful and critically-acclaimed writers in the world.

For me the key, above all else, is to find your own magic. When you flip that switch that brings your work to life, it's like the difference in Pinocchio before and after the visit of the Blue Fairy. You just know that all of a sudden, you're no longer talking to a puppet but a real boy. That's magic--that's passion--that's voice.

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

I really wish I could open my doors to all the wonderful submissions I know are out there--but for me, taking it slow is just a necessity.

I'm very happy to receive submissions from anyone I've met at a conference or referrals from friends of my existing clients or people I know. Beyond that, I'm closed to queries at this time.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

I've been surprised at how many people who attach sample chapters from novels send portions from within the text. Always, always send the first chapters in a project rather than some other part. When I get middle chapters, I don't even read them. How can I possibly hope to be interested, when I don't have any idea who the characters are, where they are, or what's going on?

My ideal query is succinct, professional, and has the first 10 pages or so pasted after it in the email. I also like to know what other projects you have completed or in the works, in addition to the one you are querying about.

How much contact will you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, listservs?

The bulk of my communication takes place by email, but my clients are free to contact me by phone as needed, and I call them occasionally, too.

We have a listserv for the whole Erin Murphy Literary Agency client list, which is a great way to exchange information and get to know others in the agency. Recently, we have also begun to organize a yearly retreat.

What are your some of your favorite recent children's/YA books and why?

Oh, there are so many good ones!

I loved the characters and their interactions in The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas (FSG, 2008)(author interview). Jellico Road by Melina Marchetta (Harper Teen, 2008) drew me in with its structure and mystery. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic, 2008) was dark and riveting. I couldn't put it down.

The voice and wacky premise of Antsy Does Time by Neal Shusterman (Dutton, 2008) kept me laughing to the last page. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway (Razorbill, 2008) was funny and sweet and a great read.

And the language in The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview) was beautiful and evocative and made me want to hold each word in my mind as long as possible.

What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I'm looking for a close professional relationship of mutual respect and admiration. It's my privilege to already have signed some fabulously talented authors, and it's my goal to see each of them published with the right editor, in the right house, and holding their finished books.

I'm looking to be part of my authors' careers over the long-term, to be there when they have questions or need advice, anything I can do to help them be the best they can be. It's an honor to be in this position, and I'm loving every minute of it.

Cynsational Notes

Listen to an interview with Ammi-Joan from Suzanne Lieurance at Book Bites for Kids on Blog Talk Radio. Peek: "Children's author Ammi-Joan Paquette talks with host Suzanne Lieurance about her new book, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies."

Read a Cynsations interview with Erin Murphy on Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Monday, June 29, 2009

New Voice: Sydney Salter on My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters

Sydney Salter is the debut author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters (HM Harcourt/Graphia, 2009). From the promotional copy:

It's the end of junior year, and summer is about to begin. The Summer of Passion, to be exact, when Jory Michaels plans to explore all the possibilities of the future--and, with any luck, score a boyfriend in the process.

But Jory has a problem. A big problem. A curvy, honking, bumpy, problem in the form of her Super Schnozz, the one thing standing between Jory and happiness.

And now, with the Summer of Passion stretched before her like an open road, she's determined for Super Schnozz to disappear. Jory takes a job delivering wedding cakes to save up for a nose job at the end of the summer; she even keeps a book filled with magazine cutouts of perfect noses to show the doctor.

But nothing is ever easy for accident-prone Jory--and before she knows it, her Summer of Passion falls apart faster than the delivery van she crashes.

In her hilarious and heartbreaking debut novel, Sydney Salter delivers a story about broadening your horizons, accepting yourself, and finding love right under your nose.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Usually, I write at a table in my living room near my bookshelves with a view of my neighborhood. I love all the light and open space.

My workday follows my daughters' school day. That's the ideal.

The reality is that I’ve learned to write anywhere and everywhere.

Last summer I finished a draft of a novel, one chapter a day, by taking my daughters to the bookstore, buying them each a frappuccino, shooing them into the children's section, and asking them not to talk to me for an hour while I wrote in the café.

I have revised in airports and mall food courts. I have written chapters on ferry boats, numerous Starbucks locations, and in my car while waiting for my daughter to finish her guitar lesson.

I have discovered that sometimes a change in scenery—one in which I don't have to look at my dirty dishes while pouring a cup of tea—helps motivate me.

When I'm writing a first draft, I keep track of my daily word count as well as my writing location (just for fun).

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book?

I don't really feel qualified to answer this question, but that's how most of book promotion has felt to me: absolutely daunting.

Realizing that I had a lot to learn about virtual marketing, I joined online debut author groups. The Class of 2k9 focuses on promoting books to booksellers, librarians, and teachers, but we've become a support group as well. The 2009 Debutantes offers support, but those authors also generously share their marketing savvy. Authors Now is a website that provides visibility for authors and information for the reading community.

I wish I'd gotten involved in online writing communities earlier. Sites like are a great networking resource for pre-published and published authors.

I've started blogging (, but I'm struggling to find the time to post while keeping up with writing, revisions, and promotion.

I wish I'd developed the habit earlier; I might also have developed a larger blog following. And, of course, I'm also busy friending everyone on various social networking sites.

The personal networking I've done over the years has helped tremendously with book promotion. For years I've belonged to local writing groups, and I'm a Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (Utah/So. Idaho).

Knowing that speaking is an important part of a writing career, I've always pushed myself out of my comfort zone to accept public speaking opportunities. I worked as a library storytime reader, taught writing at my daughter's school, spoke to local writing groups, and created conference workshops (sometimes researching topics I didn't know much about). Not only did these appearances help me become comfortable with speaking, I've made connections with people who are excited about my upcoming books.

I've found support from so many people. My family members have rallied, sending out email blasts to pre-order my books. My brother has given me pep-talks as well as contacted his friends who have media ties. My sister-in-law has used her teaching connections to help me get speaking engagements in my hometown. My husband is encouraging me to speak at an out-of-state SCBWI conference on his birthday. No one in my family is going to let me ignore book promotion!

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.
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