Friday, August 21, 2009

Cynsational News & Giveaways

In celebration of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner (Walker, Sept. 1, 2009), children's-YA book folks in the video below answer the question: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

"The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z is a middle grade novel about a Vermont girl struggling to complete a monster school leaf collection project amid the usual middle school angst and some unusual family chaos. To help, her friend Zig invents 'The Tree Game' in which the kids assign trees to people they know, imagining what kind of tree they'd be if they were a tree, based on their personalities."

Note: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z is featured on the IndieBound Fall Kids' Indie Next List, recommended for readers ages 9-12. See also Authors on the Verge: Meet Kate Messner from Cynthea Liu.

Learn more about the featured "trees"--Jon Scieszka, Tammi Sauer, Cynthea Liu, Mike Thaler, Lisa Schroeder, Malinda Lo, Betsy Bird (Fuse #8), Cindy Pon, Ashley Bryan, Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm, Kristina Springer, The Cat in the Hat, and Mo Willems.

Reader Surveys
Take the Survey or Survey from Peek: "We hope you will mention the surveys on your site and encourage all of the teens and children you know---and anyone else who loves young adult and children's books or works with youth---to take the surveys. We estimate the survey will take 15 minutes and the survey will take 10 minutes."

For the Survey, respondents from the U.S. and Canada will be eligible to enter a random drawing to receive a copy of one of 27 titles, which are being provided by publishers. There will be 775 winners selected. See the full list of 27 titles. The Survey will close Aug. 31.

For the 2009 Reader Survey, respondents from the U.S. and Canada will be eligible to enter a random drawing to receive a copy of one of 24 titles, which are also provided by publishers. There will be 1,000 winners selected." See the full list of titles. "Children under 13 must have their parents/guardians complete a form in order to be eligible for the contest." The Survey will close Sept. 15.

More News

It's All Material: Finding the Truth Every Day by Deborah Heiligman from INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "When the service was over, and everyone else filed out, I got my husband (who writes non-fiction for grown-ups) and a (lapsed Catholic) friend to go up to the priest with me. To say we interviewed him would be stretching it. We didn’t pull out tape recorders or notebooks, though we had notebooks with us, as we always do, and I was tempted."

Congratulations to Varian Johnson on the recent redesign of his official author site by Websy Daisy Web Design of Austin, Texas! Varian is the author of My Life As a Rhombus (Flux, 2008) and the forthcoming Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010). Learn more about Varian Johnson (and see kid pics of him). Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

Twittering Made Simple by Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: "Today let's talk about one of the most popular networking sites, Twitter–and how to simplify its use." See also If At First You Don't Succeed, Tweet, Tweet Again by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Character Development with a Theatrical Approach by Mary Lindsey from Peek: "Constantin Stanislavsky revolutionized the approach to portraying a character. He believed that an actor's job was not just to make a character recognizable and understood, it was to make a character believable."

MacLean Up at Trident from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Stephanie MacLean has been named a literary agent at Trident Media Group. ...will be specializing in...YA." Source: Children's Book Biz News.

Marvelous Marketer: Molly O'Neill (Assistant editor, Katherine Tegen Books) by Shelli at Market My Words: Rantings and ravings on how authors can better market their books to kids. Peek: "Success rarely comes from one aspect alone; it's the way things you do build upon one another, and on your publishers’ efforts, that come together can make a noticeable difference. And it takes time..."

Writing a novel, a love story by Libba Bray. Peek: "Thanks for meeting me here. Look, I'm just gonna come out with it. This--you, me--itThe trailer, featuring riffs by a cow suit-wearing Bray, is equally fantastic in its randomness. Our two favorite parts: “Boneless chicken” and 'That says, to me, I’m marked for death.'" 's not working. I'm sorry. It's not you, it's...actually it's you. You're stupid. And I sort of hate you. But, you know, thanks for the great line on p. 400." Note: very fun!

Libba Bray's 'Going Bovine': At least for her new book trailer! by Mandi Bierly from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: "The trailer, featuring riffs by a cow suit-wearing Bray, is equally fantastic in its randomness. Our two favorite parts: 'Boneless chicken' and 'That says, to me, I'm marked for death.'" Note: required watching! Read a Cynsations interview with Libba.

Interview with Paula Chase-Hyman by MissAttitude in Reading in Color. Peek: "In the end, you live with every decision you make. So you've got to make ones you can live with." See also a Cynsations interview with Paula.

How to Launch a Book Virtually: Q&A with Grace Lin from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "The easiest thing to do was to start a Facebook Fan Page. Once I found the links on how to do it on Facebook, it was a breeze. And it's been a great way to keep in contact with fans." Read a Cynsations interview with Grace.

50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know compiled by Ginny Moore Kruse and Kathleen T. Horning, updated by Kathleen T. Horning and Megan Schliesman (Cooperative Children's Book Center, 2001, 2006). Featured titles include Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002). Note: "At the CCBC, we define 'multicultural' literature as books by and about people of color: African and African Americans, American Indians, Asian/Pacifics and Asian Pacific Americans, and Latinos." Source: Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk, who notes that South Asians are not yet represented on this list. See also 30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know compiled by Megan Schliesman and Kathleen T. Horning (Cooperative Children's Book Center, 2006).

South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora in Children's & YA Literature: An Annotated Bibliography from Pooja Makhijani. "Read an introduction for the motivations and methodology for this online resource." Read a Cynsations interview with Pooja.

A Few Words About School Visits from Kimberly Willis Holt. Peek: "If your class or book club plans to read one of my books this year, you are welcome to set up a thirty minute phone interview with me. I enjoy talking to readers and the only cost is for the long distance phone." Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

An Interview with Suzanne Pfefferle - Pelican Publishing Company Publicist by Tina Nicholas Coury from Tales from the Rushmore Kid. Peek: "...we never stop. If there is a chance to promote a book that was published years ago, we will embrace the opportunity. Since we publish backlist titles, we will rarely let a book go out of print. Pelican makes a lifetime commitment toward promoting and selling the book."

"Do you think being a librarian affects how you approach writing a novel?" a response from Deena Lipomi at Author2Author. Peek: "The critical analysis part comes from lurking on librarian listservs, hearing what other librarians say about certain books -- and what their teens think -- and getting a ton of review journals and reading more review websites than before I was a librarian."

First draft blues from Heather Vogel Frederick at Set Sail for Adventure. A light look at the early writing process from a variety of authors. Peek: "I'm flailing away on the first draft of my next novel here, which I liken to trying to navigate through an unfamiliar house on roller skates, blindfolded. To cheer myself up, I asked a group of writer friends to share their analogies for the process." Read a Cynsations interview with Heather.

Black Women Kid Lit Illustrators: a listing compiled by Ed Spicer from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape.

Don't Forget the Details by Sarah Sullivan at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "In real life, when you meet someone new, you cannot possibly understand their deepest motivations immediately. You cannot understand how to sum them up in a single gesture or detail. So when you are writing a first draft, you must give yourself permission to keep going and not worry about how bland the details may seem."

Writing and Illustrating: Sharing Information About Writing and Illustrating for Children from Kathy Temean. Peek: "The goal of this blog is to bring and share information about Writing and Illustrating for children to published and unpublished authors and illustrators. I will post information I acquire from my interactions with editors and agents in the industry and share thoughts and techniques of other writers and illustrators in the field." Note: Kathy is the regional advisor in New Jersey for the SCBWI. She also runs Temean Consulting, a Web Design and Marketing company, teaches, and conducts marketing workshops for authors.

Mary Kole (scroll for bio) is a new Associate Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. Source: Children's Book Biz News.

"Plot" with Deborah Lynn Jacobs: an author chat from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "There's a program I like, called Writer's Cafe, that allows you to track your plots and subplots. It's free, in the short version, and cheap if you buy the complete version. It has a neat function that allows you to link to web info that you used in your research. I found it useful, but sometimes found that tracking what I was doing took too much time away from the actual writing." Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

In the Authors' Tent: R.A. Nelson: an author interview from Melodye Shore at Front Pages. Peek: " is a real challenge to make a ghost story feel “real.” My first two novels had no fantastical elements, so it was satisfying to stretch my skills and try to bring that same level of realism to a completely unrealistic subject." Source: Tori at Journey of an Inquiring Mind. Read a Cynsations interview with R.A. Nelson.

Gothic Fantasy & Suspense for Teens & Tweens from my main website. Includes annotated recommendations, links to interviews and author sites and author blogs as well as related resources for writers. Note: always in the process of adding recommendations.

Exploring Diversity through Children's & Young Adult Books: Background Reading from my main website. See also Exploring Diversity: Themes & Communities. Note: please feel free to suggest resources, including your own.

60 Black Superwomen in Comics from Kyra at Black Threads in Kid's Lit. See video below. Kyra recommends the Black Superheroines Blog.

More Personally

Spooktacular news! Eternal (Candlewick) will be available in paperback in spring 2010! Thank you, Candlewick Press!

Thanks to Laurie Faria Stolarz for sending this shelf shot of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) from Barnes & Noble at the Prudential Center in Boston! Read a Cynsations interview with Laurie.

And congratulations to local author pal P.J. Hoover on her black belt! See photo. Note: Fellow Austin author Brian Yansky also has a black belt.

Hooray! I'll Be Speaking to Illinois Writers & Illustrators!

SCBWI-Illinois' Fifth Annual Prairie Writer's Day: Brick by Brick: The Architecture of Our Stories will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Speakers include: Stacy Cantor, associate editor at Walker; Nick Eliopulos, associate editor at Random House; T.S. Ferguson, assistant editor at Little, Brown; Yolanda LeRoy, editorial director at Charlesbridge; Cynthia Leitich Smith, award-winning author and Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member; and Michael Stearns, agent and co-founder of Upstart Crow Literary. Read Cynsations interviews with Yolanda and Michael. Note: Mark has recently changed literary agencies.

Cynsations Giveaway Winners

Thank you to Cristina and all of the members of the Book Club at Facebook who entered the Eternal giveaway contest! The winner of a signed copy of Eternal was Ninfa from the UK. The runners-up, who will receive signed Eternal bookmarks were Lisa in West Virginia, Karla in Canada, and Kristi, who still needs to send in her address.

Eternal Audiobook Giveaway

Enter to win one of two copies of the new Eternal audiobook (Listening Library, 2009)! One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children's-YA literature, and one will go to any Cynsations reader!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Eternal audio" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the title in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31! Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should ID themselves in their entries!

More Cynsations Giveaways

Enter to win both Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Ed Young (Philomel, 2009) and Hook by Ed Young (Roaring Brook, 2009)! To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Ed Young" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Ed.

Enter to win Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, 2009). To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "J. Patrick Lewis" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31. Read a previous Cynsations interview with J. Patrick Lewis.

Enter to win a paperback of Stealing Heaven (Harper, 2008) and a hardcover of Love You Hate You Miss You (Harper, 2009), both by Elizabeth Scott. To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Elizabeth Scott" in the subject line (Facebook and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Aug. 31. Read a related Cynsations interview with Elizabeth.

Austin Events
Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Day in the Lone Star State: acclaimed authors Kathi Appelt and Sharon Darrow will lead a conference on the craft of writing for young readers on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3 at Teravista (4333 Teravista Club Dr.) in Round Rock, which is located just 20 minutes north of Austin. Note: open to alumni and all other serious writers for young readers! Participants are incoming from nation wide. Spots are filling fast--only 10 more spots available!--register today! See more information. Read previous Cynsations interviews with Kathi and Sharon.

"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. 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.

Destination Publication: an annual conference of Austin SCBWI will be held Jan. 30, 2010, and registration will open Sept. 1. Conference faculty will include Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson, Caldecott illustrator David Diaz, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, author/FSG editor Lisa Graff, agent Andrea Cascardi, agent Mark McVeigh, agent Nathan Bransford, and a to-be-announced editor; see bios. Featured authors will include Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Liz Garton Scanlon, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates, and Patrice Barton; see author bios. Read Cynsations interviews with Mark, Nathan, Chris, Shana, Jessica, Liz, Jennifer, and Philip.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Voice: Daniel Kraus on The Monster Variations

Daniel Kraus is the first-time author of The Monster Variations (Delacorte, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Someone is killing boys in a small town. The murder weapon is a truck, and the only protection is a curfew enacted to keep kids off the streets.

But it’s summer—and that alone is worth the risk of staying out late for James, Willie, and Reggie.

Willie, who lost his arm in the first hit-and-run attack, finds it hard to keep up with his two best friends as they leave childhood behind. All of them are changing, hounded by their parents, hunted by the killer, and haunted by the "monster," a dead thing that guards the dangerous gateway between youth and manhood.

But that’s not all: shadowing the boys everywhere is Mel Herman, the mysterious and brilliant bully whose dark secrets may hold the key to their survival.

As the summer burns away, these forces collide, and it will take compassion, brains, and guts for the boys to overcome their demons—and not become monsters themselves.

In this chilling and poignant debut novel, Daniel Kraus deftly explores the choices boys grapple with and the revelations that occur as they become men.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you?

Up until recently, I've been a plunger. Not just a plunger, but a base jumper. I like digging myself out of difficult spots.

With The Monster Variations, I began with this sentence: "Then he realized his arm was gone."

That's exciting to me, that potential of taking something inexplicable and maybe horrible, and then making sense of it, and then, if I'm lucky, making it meaningful, too.

Much of the book unfolded that way, with me making rather dangerous leaps and then seeing if I could catch hold of anything on the way down. There's a magic to this approach that I think most writers can appreciate: you don't know where you're headed, there are no expectations, and things could go terribly wrong. But when it goes right, it goes really right.

I'm finishing up my second book for Delacorte, Rotters, and from a plot perspective, it's far more ambitious than The Monster Variations and required months of research and plotting.

So out of necessity I became a plotter: I had outlines and sub-outlines and sub-sub-outlines and plot time lines, and character timelines, all of which, when put together, were themselves a novel-length stack of pages.

So that has been an entirely different experience, one in which I felt safer because I had a guide, but also forced me to really push against that guide when the urge struck, which was often.

As a horror writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time horror reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

It's almost false advertising to call The Monster Variations "horror," as there is nothing supernatural about it. In fact, it's rather pastoral in stretches.

A friend described it as Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (1957)--except just the parts with the serial killer slinking through the night. That's about an accurate of a description I've heard so far. So, yes, it's scary in parts, but it's the kind of scary that comes from the threat of your world being taken apart by a violent, uncontrollable force, in this case a hit-and-run killer.

I didn't start reading Bradbury until I was in college. But from maybe fifth grade through the end of high school, I pumped Stephen King directly into my veins. So I think there is something of his plotting DNA that has mixed with mine.

With The Monster Variations, the obvious touchstone is his novella "The Body" from Different Seasons (Viking, 1982) or the movie version, "Stand by Me" (1986).

With my next book, Rotters, a horror epic about grave robbing, the best touchstone is probably Pet Sematary (Doubleday, 1983).

So while King is sort of my narrative compass, on a sentence level I share a lot more with Bradbury and modern, non-horror writers that are lumped into more of a "literary fiction" pile.

The majority of my adult life has been spent reading these types of books and so what has come out from me has been a hybrid, something I've heard called "literary horror." I don't know exactly what that means, and I reserve the right to shift dramatically in the future, but for the time being, I think I can live with it.

Cynsational Notes

Books by Booklist Authors: Dan Kraus' The Monster Variations by Gillian Engberg from Booklist. Peek: "'Great successes change the directions of lives, but for some reason that seems kind of obvious. It’s the failures—and our public or private reactions to those failures—that I think really kick our lives down certain paths.'"

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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Author Interview: Wendy Mass on Every Soul a Star

Wendy Mass on Wendy Mass: "According to Wikipedia, I play the harp, have eight kids (four sets of twins), have written 23 books in 23 years, and can run a two minute mile. So I guess we'll leave it at that." Note: actual wiki.

What were you like as a young reader?

Voracious. I used to read with a flashlight under the covers even when it wasn't nighttime! I've always liked the privacy factor that goes along with reading, like you've hidden yourself away in a secret world known only to you and the characters in the book.

Why do you write for kids and young adults today?

At the risk of sounding corny, I honestly wanted to give something back to that time in my life when reading meant so much to me, when it helped me figure out what kind of person I wanted to be, when it offered me an escape.

I also think writers have a voice that stops at a certain age. For me, that age is between 12 and 16.

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

A long and winding path indeed. I wrote everything from baby books with squeaky toys embedded in them, to newspaper articles about new stores opening in town, to some things that I can't even mention because they're too embarrassing and/or incriminating.

I was pretty relentless though, in the pursuit of publishing fiction. When people tell me they're going to stop writing after one rejection letter or even after ten rejection letters, I sit them down and show them my lovely stack of them. Every "no" brings you closer to "yes."

Could you fill us in on your back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

My first book was A Mango-Shaped Space (2003), followed by Leap Day (2004), Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (2006), Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall (2007), Every Soul a Star (all with Little, Brown and Co.), along with 11 Birthdays (2009) and two books in a fairy tale series called Twice Upon a Time from Scholastic.

Each book feels like a child, and I always feel bad if one doesn't get the attention that another does. I don't often hear much about Leap Day, for instance, and that was my favorite one to write. I've been really blessed that A Mango-Shaped Space and Jeremy Fink have been brought into schools in the past few years, bringing new readers along with them.

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

Married rich! (Sorry, hubby!)

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

Reading a lot of books in various genres helped me to get comfortable with the structure of a novel. Through trial and error and a lot of writing classes, I've managed to figure out what works best for me in terms of the actual writing process—I generally sketch out most of the book first. That's not to say that each time I start one I don't panic, because I do.

Congratulations on Every Soul a Star (Little, Brown, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the novel? What was your initial inspiration for writing the story?

I was walking through a book store one day, and my eyes rested on the magazine rack. An issue of "Sky & Telescope" with a picture of a recent solar eclipse on the cover caught my attention. By the time I'd finished reading one or two of the articles, I knew I had my idea.

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

When I first wrote the proposal and sent it to my editor, she brought it to the pub committee and they turned it down. I really didn't want to let go of the idea though, so I reworked it, submitted it again, and this time they accepted it.

I had originally told the story through only one character, a boy named Jack. The second time I added the other two characters, Ally and Bree, and I guess telling the story through three points of view made the difference.

I also changed the title. It used to be The Boy Who Chased the Sun. I might still use that title one day, maybe for a picture book on the same topic.

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

The book alternates between the points of view of three very different main characters. It took a while for me to figure out how to keep track of what everyone was doing, and to make sure each of them was growing and changing and moving the story forward. I wound up making a big chart in order to keep track of everything, and that helped a lot.

As for research, I loved learning about eclipses and astronomy in general. From the moment I saw Saturn through a telescope at a local observatory, I was hooked. I bought my own telescope that is now pretty much just a lightning rod in my backyard. Sigh. Isn't that always the way.

Do you work with a critique group or partner or exclusively with your editor? Why does that approach work for you?

I've been with the same small critique group for about five years. This works really well for me, because I'm the kind of person who enjoys seeing that red pen all over my page. It also motivates me to get the pages done in time for each meeting.

In terms of marketing and other outreach, how do you connect your books to young readers?

Skywriting? I have pages on MySpace and Facebook, and a blog on my web site, although I don't update it nearly enough. I try to make the web site really thorough and welcoming.

I also try to reply to every email a reader sends, but I'm slipping far behind, a fact which haunts me.

Recently I've been doing a lot of school visits, which I think is a great way to connect with readers.

How do you balance your writing life against the demands of being an author (events, marketing, business correspondence, etc.)?

Add three-year-old twins to all that, and it's certainly a juggling act. I wind up going places to write that don't have the Internet available so I don't get distracted reading the latest antics of Hollywood.

I generally save the evenings after aforementioned twins are asleep for business-related stuff. Usually in front of the television.

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

To my youngest beginning-writer-self, I'd tell her not to stop keeping a diary in fifth grade just because her sister stole it and blabbed its contents to the school. It would be great to have a record of my life growing up, rather than my often faulty memory.

I'd have told my older-beginning-writer-self to chill out more. I’d also thank her for not giving up when things looked bleak.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Besides the usual advice to read, take classes, keep a notebook for story ideas, go to conferences, network with other writers, I'd say to tell the story you want to tell, the story that only you can tell. Don't give up unless it's not fun anymore.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Next up is a middle grade novel called Finally. It's about a girl who turns twelve and can finally do all the things her parents promised she could do at twelve. Things don't quite work out as she'd planned.

After that comes The Candymaker's Son, still a work in progress, about my favorite topic—candy!

So far, what is your favorite children's or YA book of 2009 and why?

Positively by Courtney Sheinmel (Simon & Schuster, September 2009). It's the story of a girl living with H.I.V, which doesn't sound like a fun topic, but is actually beautifully written, uplifting and funny, and will make a big splash, I'm sure.

What do you do outside the world of books?

Laugh at my kids. They fall asleep at night with their arms around their favorite books (which change daily, but usually contain a pigeon, bunny, elephant or piggy (they're big Mo Willems fans!)

Occasionally I get to sleep, too. Only occasionally.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Jane Yolen

Learn about Jane Yolen. Note: see more information about Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft (Writer's Digest, 2006).

What do you love most about your creative life? Why?

My short answer is that I get to work in my jammies. But that's a devious and charming lie. I hardly ever work in my jammies any more unless it is that first rush of emails before I even
get out of bed. Besides, I wear a nightgown, not jammies.

What I love most is the white heat, the total involvement in an evolving story when something new to the world (and to me) suddenly leaks out of my fingers and onto the page. For the length of the writing, my back doesn't hurt, the world as it is disappears and the world as I create it takes over, and time in real terms stops.

When I look up again from the computer screen, crossing back over the years and miles from fairyland or Emily Dickinson's house or a walk in the owl moon woods, it is minutes, even hours later. Sometimes I can scarcely bear to come home.

Could you tell us about your writing community—your critique group or critique partner or other sources of creative support?

Before my beloved husband David Stemple died, he was my first reader and best critic.

Now I rely completely on my writing group of seven wonderful women (Patricia MacLachlan, Ann Turner, Leslea Newman, Ellen Wittlinger, Barbara Diamond Goldin, Anna Kirwan, and Corinne Demas) and my daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple, who lives next door to me.

Of course when I am in Scotland, where I have a house and live for four months each summer and early fall, I have my writing partner Bob Harris and his wife Debby.

All are fine writers and are not loathe to tell me when my stuff stinks or wobbles or misses the mark--though not quite in those rough terms. But they are also good at praise songs, too.

How do you psyche yourself up to write and to keep writing?

It is not a question I understand. Writing is what I love and enjoy. Writing feeds me, gives me strength, makes me happy, keeps me whole.

Why is your agent the right agent for you?

Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown Ltd. is my agent, and I adore her. She knows my backlist, understands I need to hear sooner rather than later, is the right combination of listening ear and whip hand, and knows everything about the tidal motion of the market. Also I think she likes me. A lot. It helps.

How have you come to thrive in such a competitive, unpredictable industry?

For me the answer is simple: I can write everything. And do.

Over the years (and I have been doing this for well over 40 successful years, my first two books coming out in 1963), I have tried every genre. I am flexible. I am my own brand.

I don't write for the market--indeed I seem to be either ten years ahead or ten years behind every trend—but I write what I want to and assume the market will find me.

I can do that because of the sheer volume of stories, poems, essays, books that I write.

It also means I probably get more rejections in a month than most writers. Goes with the territory. A rejection just means I haven't found the right editor yet.

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

I have always referred to Emily Dickinson as my neighbor. Not absolutely true as she lived two towns (not a hedge) away from where I now live and died in the nineteenth century.

I adore her poetry and have since childhood. I had always wanted to write a picture book about her.

But it took me approximately 30 years to find the story I wanted to tell about dear Emily, though in-between I had written sonnets and poems about (and to) her, included her in book references in my novel Armageddon Summer (with Bruce Coville (Harcourt 1999)) and essays about writing, etc.

Finally, talking to a friend who is a Dickinson scholar about the long-desired project, she gave me an anecdote that was perfect.

Emily--known to her niece and two nephews as "Uncle Emily"--once gave her youngest nephew, six-year-old Gib, a dead bee and a poem about a dead bee to take into school, which the reluctant boy did. We don't know exactly what happened there, which gave me permission to creatively re-invent an historical moment.

So My Uncle Emily, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Philomel, 2009) was born.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Author Interview: Suzanne Morgan Williams on Bull Rider

Suzanne Morgan Williams on Suzanne Morgan Williams:

"I'm the author of ten nonfiction books for kids aged ten to fourteen. My first novel, Bull Rider (McElderry, 2009), is for the same age group.

"Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection for 2009 and was chosen to represent Nevada in the Pavilion of the States at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. in September 2008. (The Nevada librarians displayed ARCs since Bull Rider was published in 2009.)

"I'm a Nevada Author in Residence and have received various grants supporting my writing, research, and community curriculum/events work from both the Nevada Arts Council and the Sierra Arts Foundation.

"In the course of my research, I've chatted about UFOs in Rachel, Nevada outside Area 51, been stranded (briefly) on the sea ice on Hudson Bay, dodged a bull's horns while standing above a bucking chute at a local bull ring, and gambled in a wigwam near Rainy Lake, Ontario. Writing has taken me to places physically, emotionally, and creatively that I could never have imagined."

From Suzanne's site: "Bull Rider is an upper middle grade novel (ages ten to fourteen) about how one boy and his family deal with the loss and grief brought on by war. Fourteen year old Cam O'Mara is a ranch kid from the sage brush country of central Nevada. He is a skateboarder, not a champion bull rider like his brother Ben, but when Ben joins the Marines and is seriously injured in Iraq, Cam turns to his family traditions and in particular bull riding to overcome his grief and to give his brother hope for a new life."

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

I think I've always been a storyteller, but when I was a kid I used to draw pictures and tell myself stories to go with them. I was the one always begging my grandparents to tell me another story about when they were kids--and I remember those. As a teen, I wrote down stuff that bothered me--journal style--and then tore up the papers. That felt good.

But it was when our oldest daughter was about twelve and brought home a stack of middle grade books to read (and I read them too when she was asleep) that I thought "I want to do that." I started writing seriously.

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

I guess I'm more tortoise than hare when it comes to writing kids' books. My first publication was an article, "Bird Break in Hong Kong," in Bird Talk magazine in 1994.

Shortly after that, I submitted a picture book to Pacific View Press, a new small press in Berkeley that specialized in books about China. Since my manuscript was about a Chinese immigrant girl in San Francisco, I decided to send it to people who would know the subject best.

It was a scary decision--but they contacted me about publishing it. That was my first children's submission. I figured this market was mine! (Okay, don't choke - I learned.) Well, they are a small press and they decided they didn't want to tackle fiction--so they asked if I would submit a proposal for a nonfiction book on Chinese inventions. Of course I knew nothing about Chinese inventions, but I told them I'd learn.

Four years later, they published my first book, Made in China, Ideas and Inventions from Ancient China (Pacific View Press, 1997). I read more than fifty books on Chinese history and Chinese inventions, on ceramics and feng shui. I met with tai qi masters and traditional Chinese medical doctors. I took classes in Chinese. I loved the process and discovered I was obsessive about research. I've had one project or another with Pacific View ever since.

In the meantime, I kept writing fiction--both picture books and novels--but as I got more nonfiction contracts, I spent less time on my fiction. I've written eleven nonfiction books, and they've involved lots of on-site, library, and person to person research.

Still I kept writing fiction. Often it was related to what I'd learned in the nonfiction. In 2004, I was talking with an editor, telling her stories I'd learned from writing Nevada (Sea to Shining Sea the Second Series, Children's Press, 2003), and from Indian and Inuit people while working on other nonfiction projects. She'd seen my writing and she asked me to submit chapters and an outline for a series set in Nevada. Something very Nevadan. We decided on cowboys, rodeo, and finally bull riders. She didn't buy that series, but it was the beginning of my novel, Bull Rider.

In terms of craft, what was the single best decision you made during your apprenticeship as a writer?

It was giving myself permission to stop making money by publishing nonfiction and to take the time to really focus on fiction writing. That's what I did from 2004 until now.

Could you briefly update us on your back list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

My first book was Made in China. Also with Pacific View Press are Pinatas and Smiling Skeletons, Celebrating Mexican Festivals, co-authored by Zoe Harris (Pacific View Press, 1999) and upcoming, China's Daughters which includes biographies of seventeen Chinese women from Fu Hao, who was a queen in the Shang Dynasty (about 4,000 years ago), to Kang Keqing, who participated in the Long March during World War II.

I wrote Kentucky and Nevada for the Sea to Shining Sea Second Series, Children's Press, 2001, 2003. And then came, The Inuit (Franklin Watts, 2003) a book of my heart. I have traveled to the Canadian Arctic four times, first to research The Inuit, and then to follow up with the friends I made there. That book marked a change for me both personally and professionally.

Between 2001 and 2003 I worked on a series about Indian Tribes for Heinemann Libraries. I wrote The Tlingit, The Chinook, The Powhatan, The Ojibwe, and The Cherokee (Heinemann Libraries, 2003). I worked with Native people on all of these projects. From them I learned to listen. To wait. To accept information that was not always comfortable. I made friends.

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

Well, remember that hare analogy? Editor #1 and I originally talked about creating a series for young readers--maybe second grade--in May 2004. Bull Rider was published in February of 2009.

What happened in between was I wrote the first book in the series, and there was a lot of interest, but ultimately they didn't buy it. I got that rejection note in June 2005.

I set Bull Rider aside to lick my wounds and figure out how I would make it a bigger book--big enough to stand on its own--and a book for older readers. The manuscript just kind of annoyed me for about eight months.

Then my friend, Ellen Hopkins, who is also part of my critique circle, started bugging me about it. We all need friends like that. She met a photographer from the PBR--professional bull riders--on one of her promotional trips. She came home and told me she'd arranged for me to interview some pro-bull riders when the PBR was in Reno. That was the turning point for Bull Rider.

I interviewed three pro-bull riders, two photographers who travel the circuit, got a behind the scenes tour of the chutes and tack room, and watched them unload the bulls--including one named Ugly. I was hooked and I left with my character--a new Cam O'Mara, who was older and more human--with more flaws--and one who was a little afraid of the bulls.

So from February to September 2006 I wrote the new manuscript. It was YA. I got an agent. Then I revised it to middle grade, and it sold in July of 2007. Two revisions later and the final manuscript was accepted in December 2007.

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

Well, by now you know I love research and I can immerse myself, perhaps drown myself in it, particularly when I'm stuck writing. The trick is to stop researching when I find the new spark that I need to continue writing.

I also needed to learn when research was important and facts were necessary and when I could depend on the book being fiction--there were lots of things about it I could just make up!

One thing I couldn't make up was the information about bull riding, ranching, and Ben's war injuries. Researching the bull riding was fun. I'm a rodeo fan and besides going to the PBR, I visited a local bull ring and watched some guys get on a bull for the first time.

I was able to connect with some ranchers, and there used to be a small cattle operation across the street from where I live. So far so good.

But psychologically, the biggest challenge for me was when I accepted the fact that Bull Rider needed to be about the two brothers' relationship and that meant bringing brain injured, amputee Ben front and center. I was scared to learn about Traumatic Brain Injury, and I felt like it was intrusive to interview TBI victims--especially after all they'd already been through. I ended up interviewing the people who care for war injured.

I couldn't have written Bull Rider without my experiences with Native people--learning to listen and to process very difficult information. I didn't hear what I expected.

I learned that most injured soldiers want to return to their units. I learned that TBI can be invisible and still create life-altering changes in its victims' thought processes. I developed a deep respect for the men and women who've given so much in the line of duty. I began to understand how people hold up in war time.

Talk about writing a book changing the author! I am so honored to share Bull Rider with readers. I believe we owe these veterans not only our respect, but continued quality care, perhaps for many years.

How did you approach the transition from writing nonfiction to writing the novel?

I had always been writing fiction of some sort so I just kept doing that. I did stop looking for nonfiction contracts, and I turned down some local, commission work to make time to work on the novel. Being a nonfiction writer made me more comfortable with tracking down the information I needed to ground Bull Rider and made it seem necessary to include real, convincing details in the text. I love blending fact and fiction and hope it creates a story that readers feel is true.

Do you have a vision for your career as an author or take it book-to-book or both? How does that come together in your mind?

Yes, I have a vision, and it's mainly about writing novels. I love action, boy novels. I don't know why. The novels I want to write have some purpose other than to just entertain--although that's certainly important.

I am working on a novel based on my arctic experiences and also one with a girl protagonist just to switch things up. But since I don't have the power to make everything happen as I envision, the answer to your question is I'm taking it book by book. I still don't know what happens next...

How do you balance your writing against the pressures of being an author (contracts, promotion, etc.)?

Right now I'm not taking nearly as much time to write as I need. I have to start getting up at 5 a.m. or something. I'm doing a lot of promotion for Bull Rider on my own, I'm a member of the Class of 2K9, and I'm co-regional advisor for Nevada SCBWI so there's always something going on.

And I have that life outside of writing, too--you know, the one with grocery shopping, appointments, plumbers. I know we have to make choices, and soon I have to make the choice to write more. Period.

In times when things are less hectic, I can strike a balance by writing new stuff when I'm inspired, editing old work when I'm not so hot creatively, and doing business chores when my brain is totally fried. If I'm feeling manic--that's when I make promotional calls--"Would you like to do an event about Bull Rider? It'll be great!"

Do you work with a critique group, a partner, or exclusively with your editor? Why does that work for you?

I have belonged to wonderful critique groups in the past, and I'm blessed to know a lot of terrific writers. Right now, I'm pretty certain of the type of feedback that I want at any stage of my writing and so I usually ask one or two trusted writer friends for that.

Emma Dryden edited Bull Rider, and she is also a resource as I develop my new projects, as is my agent, Stephen Barbara.

Since Bull Rider is my first novel, this is the first time I've had access to all three--critique partners, editor, and agent--I consider myself very lucky.
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