Friday, September 18, 2009

Author Snapshot: Chris Eboch on Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs and Haunted: The Riverboat Phantom

Learn more about Chris Eboch.

Could you tell us about the Haunted series (Aladdin, 2009-)?

The Haunted series asks a question: What would you do if a ghost needed your help? Wait--what if you didn't even believe in ghosts?

13-year-old Jon narrates the Haunted series. He's a skeptic, even though his mom and stepdad produce a ghost hunter TV show. In book 1, The Ghost on the Stairs (Aladdin, 2009), Jon and his younger sister, Tania, go along with the TV show on a shoot. Jon is just looking forward to cable movies and room service. But then Tania shares a secret--she has seen the ghost.

Is she going crazy? Lying to get attention? Mistaken by a trick of the light? She couldn't have really seen a ghost--right? Jon has to decide if he believes Tania, and if so, how he can help her--or if he should.

Writing Haunted from Jon's point of view was a special challenge, because he does not see the ghosts. The reader has to get descriptions of the ghosts through Tania's dialogue. But this choice of narrator also gave Jon the additional problem, does he believe his sister or not? Plus, he finds out what's going on secondhand, which is incredibly frustrating for him. And sometimes he has to protect Tania from dangers he can't even see.

I've never written a book with a male first-person narrator before, but that's how the story came into my head. I checked with a couple of male friends, to make sure I nailed the voice. I also had a male editor initially, and he said we're going for the boy audience. The focus is on fast-paced action, spooky fun and a touch of humor.

But I hope girls will like the series as well, especially since they have Tania as a main character. She's really the one who drives the action, dragging Jon into all kinds of trouble. They have a fun relationship, sometimes teasing and bickering, and sometimes Jon is jealous of Tania's gift, but they're close underneath it all.

I have a brother who's a year and a half older, and like Jon and Tania, we got stuck together on long vacations, so maybe some of the characters' relationship came from that.

My family lived in Saudi Arabia for six years when I was in grade school, and I got interested in world history and culture during our overseas travels. My first novel, The Well of Sacrifice (Clarion, 1999), is a Mayan historical adventure. But with market changes, I found it too hard to sell historical fiction.

The Haunted series is a nice compromise, because the ghosts allow me to explore different historical eras, while keeping the characters and action contemporary, with a popular paranormal twist.

The Ghost on the Stairs is set in a Colorado silver mining town with a ghost from the 1880s. Book 2: The Riverboat Phantom (Aladdin, 2009) features a steamboat pilot still trying to prevent a long-ago disaster. Book 3: The Knight in the Shadows (Aladdin, Oct. 2009) is set in New York City and has a Renaissance French squire trying to protect a sword on display in the Metropolitan Museum.

I can take the kids all over the country--maybe someday all over the world -- to provide fresh and unique settings as they explore the world of ghosts.

In this video, Chris talks more about the Haunted series.

Check out this book trailer for the Haunted series.

Cynsational Notes

"The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme" with author 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--Destination Publication. Seating is limited. Note: Austin SCBWI events often sell out, and at last report, there were only five spots available for Chris's workshop!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Author Interview: Marissa Doyle from Alyssa at The Shady Glade. Peek: "I'm not so much a regular history buff as a super-sized, over-the-top, fully-fledged history geek. One of the things I loved most about writing historical YA is getting the chance to show teens that history isn't just dry boring dates and lists of events--it can be vital and fascinating and full of juicy stories."

Course Corrections by Kristi Holl at Writers First Aid. Peek: "What does the moon mission have to do with writing? Well, I was looking at my yearly goals over the weekend, and like the Apollo mission, my trajectory is off course-and has been most of the year." See also Kristi on Hardiness.

Where's Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty? by Elizabeth Bluemle from ShelfTalker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog. Peek: "I'd like to compile a list of 2009 books that feature characters of color in books about contemporary American children, whether or not race is part of the story." Don't miss Elizabeth's follow-up post: A World Full of Color.

Celebrates Science: "innovative resources for teaching science and tips for writing nonfiction." Peek: "Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 100 nonfiction books for children. Her lifelong fascination with the natural world led her to earn a B.S. in biology and M.A. in science journalism."

4 Stages of Character Development from Darcy Pattison at Fiction Notes. Peek: "Do your characters progress through similar stages? Blurry, confusing, deeper, inconsistent, exactly what I envisioned." Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Rep Your Favorite Latino/a Book for Hispanic Heritage Month from Jo Ann Hernandez at BronzeWord Latino Authors. Peek: "I thought of one way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. We can celebrate our books written by our own and win a book in the process. I borrowed the idea from Darcy Pattison doing Random Acts of Publicity Week.'" Note: surf over to discover ways you can support Latino/a authors/books and enter to win a book, too!

Namelos Editions to Publish Electronic and POD Books by Karen Springen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: Stephen Roxburgh's "namelos editions will publish one-color children’s and YA fiction, nonfiction and poetry in electronic and print-on-demand editions." Source: Leda Schubert. Read a Cynsations interview with Stephen on namelos.

Banned Books Week Q&A: Nancy Garden by Emily at BookPeople. Peek: "It saddens me especially that many adults feel that they themselves should not only control what their own children read–which they of course have every right to do–but that they, by trying to ban certain books, should also seek to control what other people’s children read, which they of course have no right to do." Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

Getting an Idea for a Novel from Elizabeth Holmes from Crowe's Nest: An Agent and Her List Discuss Books, Publishing and Beyond. Peek: "An idea is a very personal thing. Before it can become a real, whole, completed, beautiful entity—novel, poem, whatever—it has to be nurtured, often for a very long time. And that takes love."

Varsha Bajaj: new official author site. Varsha is the Houston-based author of How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? illustrated by Ivan Bates (Little, Brown) and the forthcoming T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet book, illustrated by Robert Crawford (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010). Learn more about Varsha and her presentations. Peek: "On Sept. 13, 1986, I came to America as a graduate student. I was young, naive, and idealistic. I arrived at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis with two suitcases, a few dollars and dreams." Note: it isn't often that an author bio makes me teary.

Reading Lists from the Texas Library Association. Peek: "The Texas Library Association sponsors reading lists to encourage free voluntary reading." Lists include the 2 x 2 (age 2 through second grade), Texas Bluebonnet Award (third through sixth grade), Lone Star (sixth through eighth grade), and Tayshas (high school). Note: of my books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/Harper, 2000) made the 2 x 2 list, and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) made the Tayshas list.

alphabet soup autumn menu from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "I'll just have to feed my desires with food memoirs, restaurant movies, supporting my favorite locally-owned restaurants, seeking out new ones with historic ties and/or personality, and, of course, reading tasty fiction that features chefs, aspiring chefs and the culinary arts."

Marvelous Marketer: Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "Just as every writer work hard to perfect a voice that is all his or her very own, I encourage cultivating a marketing style that feels similarly authentic, comfortable, and unique."

Daniel Schallau: Children's Book Author: official site from the author-illustrator of Come Back Soon (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). Learn about How the Book Came to Be. From the promotional copy: "It's a long way from Elephant Island to Icetown, but good friends will travel great distances to visit one another. And so Elephant leaves home to see his penguin penpals--Elephant has helped them build a hotel, and there will be a party in his honor. In Icetown, things don't go as planned. In fact, they don't go smoothly at all. But just like friends will travel far across the sea to be with one another, good friends will also always help to make things right. A story of friendship, a story of travel and global community, Come Back Soon will cheer anyone who has ever made a mistake and been forgiven."

Nominate Your Librarian: from American Library Association. "Nominate your librarian for the Carnegie Corporation of New York/New York Times I Love My Librarian Award! Up to ten librarians will be honored. Each will receive $5,000 and be recognized at an awards ceremony..." Nomination deadline: Oct. 9. Source: Three Silly Chicks.

Finding a Voice in a Graphic Memoir by Eric Konigsburg from The New York Times. Peek: "Roughly a half century ago, when Mr. Small was 14, he underwent an operation his parents told him was to remove a cyst in his neck but which he discovered by chance had been throat cancer. The surgery left him without one of his vocal cords or his thyroid gland. And, for nearly a decade, he couldn’t speak above a hoarse whisper." Source: Brenda Bowen at Bunny Eat Bunny.

Thumbs Up for Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books and Giveaway from Esther Hershenhorn on Teaching Authors: Six Children's Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: "For each teaching point, Ann offers not only supportive titles and authors to read and know; she also offers up her personal experiences." Note: you can also enter to win World Builder by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2009). See giveaway guidelines. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 18.

Children's Books: An Angelic Autumn by Karen Springen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Like modern vampires, they can be gorgeous, immortal and otherworldly heartthrobs...' said Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, who calls angels 'safe gothic' and 'romantic.'" Note: My Gothic fantasy universe features arch and guardian angels, vampires, shapeshifters, and ghosts. It includes Tantalize (2007), Eternal (2009), and Blessed (2011)(all Candlewick) and two short stories--"Haunted Love" from Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008) and "Cat Calls" from Sideshow: Ten Original Dark Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

Of Dogs and Writing--Curb Your Enthusiasm by Susan Taylor Brown. Peek: "The children's publishing world is a small one. People move around all the time. Writers become editors and editors become agents and you never know who you will meet that will help you grow." Note: when in doubt, err on the side of graciousness and forgiveness. Everyone has the occasional bad day.

See the video below for the Tu Publishing Kickstarter Fund-raising Project. Peek: "Tu Publishing is a woman-owned small press start-up that believes in the power of books to change lives. Children's books, especially, have the ability to inform, inspire, and entertain in a way that few mediums can. Tu Publishing is dedicated to publishing fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction for children and young adults inspired by many cultures from around the world... To be able to achieve that goal, we need to raise enough money to fund the acquisition, production, marketing, and distribution of our first two books, for which we hope--with your help--to begin acquiring in January 2010. With your help, we can make this happen. Whether or not you can donate, I'd love to see people, especially teen readers/non-readers, share their own video or blog responses to this video..." Learn more at Tu Publishing and Stacy Whitman's Grimoire: Thoughts on writing, editing, and publishing books for children and young adults.

Black Angels (Putnam, 2009): an interview with Linda Beatrice Brown by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "I specifically wanted to explore what happened to children during the Civil War since I had taught about it in my Black Studies courses. I worked on Black Angels on and off for about 10 years."Ages 12-up.

The Picture Perfect Picture Book: a chat transcript with Kim Norman from the Institute of Children's Literature (Sept. 7 to Sept. 9). Peek: "...there probably aren't any topics which haven't been done and done, again and again. The trick to a sale is more in the execution, and in finding just the right publisher for that particular book." Read a Cynsations interview with Kim.

Examining Narrative Arcs by Stephanie Greene from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "My point is that as I was trying to think about how to talk more clearly about narrative arcs, I decided to ask the class to read several books so we can diagram their arcs and talk about them together. They needed to be short so that everyone could read them in a week."

Chris Barton's SCBWI Talk

Debut author Chris Barton spoke on writing picture book biographies at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting last Saturday at BookPeople.

Author-illustrator Emma Virjan with Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow.

Author Jo Whittemore models the ARC for her upcoming novel, Front Page Face-Off (Minx, 2010).

Authors Liz Garton Scanlon and Jennifer Ziegler.

Jo again with YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie.

Jo one more time with fellow author P.J. Hoover.

More Personally

During the heat of my Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) deadline, I hosted a giveaway in which entrants were invited to ask me a question. Here's one example:

"How do you decide which books to review on Cynsations?"

I consider Cynsations more of an interview-and-resources blog, celebrating the conversation of books, writing as a craft, and publishing as a business. I don't do reviews per se, though I certainly highlight.

That said, in terms of selecting titles/voices to feature, it's an organic process. I receive literally thousands of submissions a year from authors, publicists, and publishers. In addition, I buy a number of books. Some may be featured in the news round-ups, others in, say, author interviews. I do consider back-list titles.

I try to balance new voices, rising stars, innovators, established pros, best sellers, award winners, big names, risk takers, the under-appreciated, a variety of genres, traditions, age markets, and diversity in terms of not only race/ethnicity but also, say, faith, region, and socio-economics (of the artists and the art). I also have a particular interest in humor, nonfiction, poetry, and the international children's-YA book scene.

I believe in going both local and global. I've probably interviewed more Austin-and-Texas based authors than most U.S.-based bloggers but also, on average, more voices from around the world and plenty in between.

If I've featured an author or illustrator before, I try to periodically update my readers on their goings-on with announcements and update interviews. The conversation is an ongoing one.

I've been active in children's-YA publishing for some thirteen years (and I'm social) so I do know a lot of people. But most folks are new to me at the time I first interview them.

From now to the end of the year, of the interviews with book creators that are currently in the queue, 28 feature authors/illustrators with whom I'd had no previous interaction, nine feature professional acquaintances, six feature friends, one features a fellow faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and one features my Candlewick editor, who is also a critically-acclaimed author. Of the six friends, I didn't know three of them when I first interviewed them for Cynsations. That's a fairly typical sample.

It may also be of interest that one out of five people to whom I send questions--after asking first--never respond.

(I also highlight agents, editors, publishers, publicists, booking agents, journal editors, gurus, booksellers, teachers, librarians, university professors of youth literature, etc.)

See submissions guidelines. Note: established publishers may contact me for another address.


Enter to win a contributor-signed copy of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009)! My short story, "The Wrath of Dawn," co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, is included in the collection, and we are happy to sign and personalize the book, if the winner so desires. To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Geektastic" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30.

Enter to win one of four paperback copies of Not Like You by Deborah Davis (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin, 2009). One copy will be reserved for a teacher, librarian and/or university professor of children's-YA literature, and three will go to any Cynsations readers! To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Not Like You" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30. Reminder: teachers, librarians, and professors should ID themselves in their entries! Read an excerpt, listen to an excerpt, see discussion guide. Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Enter to win Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle by John Abbott Nez (Putnam, 2009). To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Cromwell Dixon" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30. Read a Cynsations interview with John.

Austin Events

San Antonio author Diana López will be speaking and signing her middle grade novel, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009), at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas. Read a Cynsations interview with Diana.

Liz Garton Scanlon will celebrate the release of her picture book, All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane/S&S), with story-time at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 26 at BookPeople in Austin.

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 3 more spots available!--register today! See more information. Read Cynsations interviews with Kathi and Sharon.

"The Main Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, and Theme" with author 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. Last I heard, there were only 5 more spots available!

Jessica Lee Anderson (Border Crossings (Milkweed, 2009)) and P.J. Hoover (The Forgotten Worlds Book 2: The Navel of the World (CBAY, 2009)) will have a joint book release party at 2 p.m. Oct. 18 at BookPeople. Read previous Cynsations interviews with Jessica and P.J.

The Hill Country Book Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 14. Featured authors/illustrators include Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Don Tate, Liz Garton Scanlon, Lila Guzman, P.J. Hoover, and Jennifer Ziegler.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Editor Interview: Alana Joli Abbott on Something about the Author

Alana Joli Abbott worked as an in-house editor for three years at Thomson Gale (now Gale Cengage) before taking on the life of a freelance writer and editor.

She is the author of two novels, short stories featured at Coyote Wild, and The Edge of Propinquity, and the Web comic Cowboys and Aliens II.

Along with her personal projects, Alana is the contract editor for the Gale Autobiographies Project, a series of essays by notable authors featured in the ongoing reference series Contemporary Authors, and Something about the Author.

How did you come to your current professional position?

I worked directly at Gale for three years after I graduated college. After moving away from Michigan and out to the East Coast to get married, I eventually started doing some work for Gale as a freelancer. I also do a number of freelance projects for other companies, working on everything from comics to articles about Connecticut history.

What do you love about it?

I really love the flexibility that comes with managing my own work flow. The variety of projects keeps me interested in everything I'm doing, and I'm always learning something new.

The Gale Autobiographies Project is especially fulfilling, because it gives me the chance to work with prominent writers and also a chance to contact writers I admire and invite them to write autobiographies for the series.

Even when they aren't available, it's great fun for me to get in touch with folks I admire, like Melissa Marr and Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.

It's even better when I actually get to work with those writers--Sherwood Smith, whose work I've loved since I was a teen, did a wonderful original essay recently, and George Ancona, whose work I'd reviewed for School Library Journal, updated an essay for me that he'd published years ago in one of Gale's older volumes. Corresponding with authors can really make my day!

What are its challenges?

One of my biggest challenges with working as a freelancer is time management. Because I like to take on a lot of projects and a wide variety of them, juggling them to make sure they're all completed on time can be a job in itself!

I also could never get used to the solitary life of a freelancer. To resolve that, I ended up taking a part time job at my local library, which I love -- it keeps me in touch with the books people are reading and gives me plenty of face time with other people who love books!

Could you tell us about Something about the Author?

Something about the Author (SATA) is a series that compiles biographical and critical information about children's writers and illustrators, mixing people who are well into their careers with people whose first books have just come out.

Most of the entries are overviews of the author's or illustrator's career, sometimes including a few quotes from the author or illustrator him or herself, talking about their jobs. Volumes of SATA also include longer autobiographical essays that run about 10,000 words.

Award-winners, best-sellers, and other critically acclaimed writers and illustrators are invited to talk about their lives, in their own words. Those essays are placed after the same type of overview, which is called the "sketch," that make up the rest of the volume.

What is its history?

SATA was first published back in 1971, and since then, the series has included more than 12,000 writers and illustrators. Currently, Gale publishes about twelve volumes per year, and there are almost 200 volumes in print.

Who is the audience?

Because SATA covers authors who write for children and young adults, the sketches are geared toward a grade-school-to-middle-school audience.

School libraries and public libraries are definitely the goal market, since very few families are going to want to keep a reference series on their shelves at home!

What can SATA enthusiasts look forward to next?

I've just finished working with Sherwood Smith and George Ancona, so their essays should be available soon (if they're not in print already).

Herbie Brennan wrote a great original essay for an upcoming volume, and illustrator YongSheng Xuan updated his original essay, so those will both be appearing soon.

Chester Aaron, Jan Adkins, and Carolyn Marsden have all agreed to work on essays for future volumes, and I'm looking forward to working with them!

What do you do outside of your editorial life?

I'm actually quite a gamer --after becoming a freelancer, I expanded into writing for one of my hobbies: Dungeons and Dragons. It's now both part of my work life and my social life! I also dabble in Wii and X-box games (we still have an X-box, not a 360, but believe me, it's on our wish list!)

I get the chance to talk about games for a segment on the Secret Identity Podcast with host Brian LeTendre and convention coordinator Max Saltonstall on a semi-regular basis.

I also study kempo karate with my husband.

Over the last several years, I've had the chance to do a lot of traveling as a teaching assistant on Professor Mark Vecchio's mythology study tours in Greece, Turkey, Ireland, and England. Since mythology is a great passion of mine, and I really love to travel, it's been a great opportunity!

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I'm very excited to be interviewed for Cynsations! I've been following the blog for quite awhile--it's one of the resources I love to use when I'm writing sketches for SATA!

I also keep up a blog that you can follow from my Web site or from livejournal--I'm alanajoli.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Voice: Eduardo F. Calcines on Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro

Eduardo F. Calcines is the first-time author of Leaving Glorytown: One Boy’s Struggle Under Castro (FSG, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Eduardo F. Calcines was a child of Fidel Castro's Cuba; he was just three years old when Castro came to power in January 1959.

After that, everything changed for his family and his country. When he was ten, his family applied for an exit visa to emigrate to America and he was ridiculed by his schoolmates and even his teachers for being a traitor to his country. But even worse, his father was sent to an agricultural reform camp to do hard labor as punishment for daring to want to leave Cuba.

During the years to come, as he grew up in Glorytown, a neighborhood in the city of Cienfuegos, Eduardo hoped with all his might that their exit visa would be granted before he turned fifteen, the age at which he would be drafted into the army.

In this absorbing memoir, by turns humorous and heartbreaking, Eduardo Calcines recounts his boyhood and chronicles the conditions that led him to wish above all else to leave behind his beloved extended family and his home for a chance at a better future.

What is it like to be a debut author in 2009?

To be a debut author is like what my wife must have felt after giving birth to our first son, especially when she was in labor for sixteen hours. Could I say that being a debut author is like giving birth? Conceivably, it is!

After many years of laboring and writing my story about growing up in communist Cuba and looking for an agent, I was able to find a wonderful agent, Doris Booth, who believed in my story. This led to finding a great editor, William Kowalski, and finally selling the book to FSG.

I love everything about being a published author, considering how difficult it is to publish a book at this level! In terms of challenges, after surviving the final part of the book editing process, nothing is a challenge!

The biggest surprise was Edel Rodriguez's illustration of the book cover. The illustration's brilliance and impact is exactly what I had always envisioned it would look like.

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

The inspiration was clear for me. I felt that the free world needed to understand the oppressive and destructive impact that Castro's regime brought upon a good people.

The fascinating thing to me is how amazingly delightful the writing process is. Through the long journey of telling my story, I re-visited areas of my heart and opened doors to my soul that I thought had closed forever. There were times when I cried uncontrollably and laughed uncontrollably.

Best of all, I relived precious moments of my childhood. The reason I wanted to offer more information to young readers is that there had never been a book written about the first ten years of Castro's communist regime from a child's/young person’s perspective.

The birth of our sons was God's greatest gift to me. It was as if He was granting me another chance at a happy childhood, and happy it was!

While the boys were growing up, Papa had to tell them stories about his childhood in Cuba. I never revealed to them the dark side of dealing with the harsh treatment of the newly established government. Instead, I told them stories of those special moments my friends and I had in those endless days under the sun.

It was through those special moments during our son's first ten years that I refined my storytelling ability, and eventually, Leaving Gorytown surfaced naturally as a book for young readers. The greatest thing is that the book is being recommended in the educational arena.

Cynsational Notes

In a starred review, School Library Journal said, "Calcines's spirited memoir captures the political tension, economic hardship, family stress, and personal anxiety of growing up during the early years of the Castro regime in Cuba."

Booklist said, "Calcines' vibrant writing gives readers an intimate, front-porch view of his family...will captivate readers and open a door to a subject seldom written about for teens."

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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Voice: Megan Frazer on Secrets of Truth & Beauty

Megan Frazer is the first-time author of Secrets of Truth & Beauty (Hyperion, 2009). From the promotional copy:

When Dara Cohen was little, she was a bright, shiny star. She was the cutest seven-year-old who ever sang Ella Fitzgerald, and it was no wonder she was crowned Little Miss Maine.

That was then. Now Dara's seventeen and she's not so little anymore. So not little, that when her classmates find out about her illustrious resume, their jaws drop. That's just one of her many problems. Another is that her control-freak mom won't get off her case about anything. Yet the one that hurts the most is the family secret: Dara has an older sister her parents tried to erase from their lives.

When a disastrously misinterpreted English project lands her in the counselor's office--and her parents pull her out of school to save face--Dara realizes she has a decision to make. She can keep following the rules and being misunderstood, or she can finally reach out to the sister she's never met–a sister who lives on a collective goat farm in Massachusetts. Dara chooses B.

What follows is a summer of revelations, some heartbreaking, some joyous; of friendship, romance, a local beauty pageant; and choices. And as autumn approaches, Dara finds she may have to let go of everything she's taken for granted in order to figure out who she really is, and what family really means.

Could you tell us about your writing community--your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

When I first started writing Secrets of Truth & Beauty, I was living in the Boston area. For a year or two, I had been a part of the Boston Writer's Workshop. It was a very eclectic goup. We were writing literary fiction, sci fi, personal essays, zombies- you name it.

Actually, one of the other members, Kate Racculia, recently signed with an agent, and I expect to hear news of her sale soon.

Anyway, I had been working on a literary novel for adults when I decided to try writing YA. The group could have been dismissive of YA, since that prejudice still exists, but they were not at all. Some of the members, especially the guys in their late twenties, really weren't sure what was "okay" for young adult literature. I told them to treat it just like anything else brought to the group, and we were great from there.

Part way through writing the novel, I moved to Maine. I kept in touch with Kate, and she read a complete draft for me, which was immensely helpful.

When I sold, I emailed the group, and they were so supportive. I am still on their email list and love to hear what is new with them. But I needed a new community.

Online I found the 2009 Debutantes. The Debs are great because it's a group of other YA and middle-grade authors who are going through the same things I am. It's wonderful to be able to ask questions, share triumphs, and commiserate over setbacks with people who really get it.

I still wanted an in-person connection though. On Cynsations I read about Austin's Delacorte Dames and Dude, a group of Delacorte authors all in Austin.

I knew there were a bunch of YA and middle-grade authors in Maine, including fellow Deb Deva Fagan (author of Fortune's Folly (Henry Holt, 2009)(new voice interview)), so I contacted them, and we have met a couple of times.

This is more shop talk than a workshop, and again it is very comforting. We are all in different stages of our careers, so that is very useful. It's nice to actually be able to give some advice, as well as to receive it.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

Technology was both a boon and a challenge in writing Secrets of Truth & Beauty. Dara needs to find her older sister. With the advent of the Internet, this hunt can take place in the space of a few paragraphs. Before the Internet, it might have taken a whole chapter. She has some pieces of information, puts them into Google, and there's Rachel!

Having her own cell phone was also a help because she can make the phone calls she needs to arrange the visit in relative privacy--no concern about not having a phone in her room or her parents picking up the other line.

On the other hand, I needed Dara to be somewhat isolated once she got to Jezebel Goat Farm. She goes there willingly, but if she can be in constant contact with her friends when things get tough, well then that would be a very different--and far less interesting--story. How Dara spent a summer texting her friends and checking her MySpace page. Not exactly riveting, and not exactly transitional for Dara.

Fortunately, I had already sent her best friend off to Belgium, and Jezebel is located in a small, remote town, so it was conceivable that there was no Internet. I took it away for the sake of the story. I did need to address the issue, though. I couldn't just have their be no Internet; that would ring false to many teens. So Rachel specifically apologizes for the lack of Web access.

While I do think technology needs to be included, trends do change so quickly. I work in a high school, and my students never email their friends. They text all the time. As of the moment that I am writing this, many are migrating from MySpace to Facebook. If they've heard of Twitter, most are not impressed, but maybe it will catch on. Or maybe something new will come along.

It would be a risk to make a novel depend on a specific current technology, because it could become passe before the book even is published.

I think Sarah Dessen was smart to create her own social network for Lock and Key (Viking, 2008).

I don't want to be the old person who thinks she's with it, but really isn't.

At the same time I don't think an over-emphasis on technology is needed. Students tell me they send eighty, ninety, one hundred texts a day. A writer doesn't need to include each and everyone of them.

Technology is such an integral part of teens' lives, it's like eating or going to the bathroom: the readers will assume the characters are doing it even if it's not on the page.

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.

Children's Author Diana López to Visit BookPeople of Austin on Sept. 19

San Antonio author Diana López will be speaking and signing her middle grade novel, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009), at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas.

In a recent Cynsations interview, Diana said:

"Confetti Girl is my second book but my debut for the middle grade reader. It's about a girl named Apolonia Flores, Lina for short. She's a sockiophile (one who loves socks) whose mother died a year ago. She's ready to move on, but her father isn't.

"Meanwhile, she falls in love, verbally combats a bully, gets kicked out of sports, and endures many break-up and make-up scenes with her best friend.

"The book's called 'Confetti Girl' because Lina's best friend's mom makes cascarones (confetti eggs) as a coping mechanism after her divorce. Cascarones are a Tex-Mex tradition. You fill eggshells with confetti and glue tissue over the hole. Then on Easter morning (or all during Fiesta if you live in San Antonio), you sneak up to people and crack the eggs on their heads.

"I had just finished visualizing Lina's home, how her father has so many walls of books. But I was really struggling to find a memorable visual for her best friend's (Vanessa's) house.

"Then I noticed a lady in my neighborhood selling cascarones. That's when it hit me: Vanessa's mom has a cascarones-making obsession! It's amazing how one detail can give birth to a whole character. But even so, I was halfway through the book before I realized how symbolically rich cascarones could be."

Cynsational Notes

Diana López on Diana López: "Diana López is the author of Sofia's Saints (Bilingual Review Press, 2002) and the middle grade novel, Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, 2009).

"Her work is also featured in Hecho en Tejas, an anthology of Texas Mexican writers, and in journals such as Chicago Quarterly Review, Sycamore Review, and New Texas.

"She lives in San Antonio where she teaches English at St. Philip's College."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Cecil Castellucci

Learn about Cecil Castellucci.

Could you describe the best experience you've had working with an editor?

I have been really blessed by working with some incredible editors, Shelly Bond, Deborah Wayshak, and David Levithan among them.

But I have a special place in my heart for Kara LaReau with whom I did my first three novels with (Boy Proof (2005), The Queen of Cool (2006), and Beige (2007), all Candlewick Press).

She is fun, talented and savvy. She knows how to edit with gentleness and fierceness that makes me feel safe enough to leap and take chances as an author.

Working with her was like drinking champagne all the time. She is generous with her heart, her editorial eye and has a great sense of humor (she is now doing freelance editing).

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

Bon bons and hot baths.

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

On the porch with sunlight and a coffee. I am like a spring flower.

So far, what's the most fun you've ever had working on a book? Why?

I loved working on my graphic novel The Plain Janes with illustrator Jim Rugg (Minx, 2007). It was fun to collaborate on a project with someone who cared just as much about the characters and what was happening to them as I did.

Jim is incredibly talented and the drawings that he did of the Janes made it easy for me to write for them. When you're working on a graphic novel, the images of the characters are important. So much is conveyed through the art.

I found that once I got the thumbnails for Jim's art, I would then go back and revise my text so that I could add a layer rather than have the text say exactly the same as the image.

Sometimes Jim would change the pacing of what I wrote, say, by adding a few panels or by compressing something I had said in a few panels into one panel.

It was helpful to have a "swim buddy" who was interested in telling the story in the best way possible. I likened working with Jim to jamming with a jazz band. I hope to do another project with him in the future.

How do you define artistic success?

Getting to keep doing it. Stretching and growing in the craft. Writing things outside of what is comfortable. Singing in a new voice. Getting to work with excellent people. Doing new projects that are exciting.

How do you reach out to teachers and librarians? How do you approach the task of connecting your books to young readers?

Los Angeles has an amazing writing and literary community. There are three amazing indiebound bookstores--Skylight Books, Vroman's Bookstore and Book Soup--that host excellent readings.

We're also the home to the SCBWI main offices, and there is the annual (summer) conference here.

Some YA authors here have banded together in support, we call ourselves the LA YAs. One thing that I have been trying to do is to promote YA literature as a whole.

For example, I started a YA book club at my fave indie bookstore Skylight Books. It's called "Pardon My Youth." We meet at the bookstore the third Sunday of every month. Every month a different Los Angeles YA author leads the discussion.

We've had Ben Esch discuss I am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak (Knopf), Lisa Yee discuss What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic, 2008), and Kerry Madden discuss Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (Simon & Schuster, 1996). We have YA librarians, aspiring writers, teachers and even some teens who have been coming.

I also am throwing a YA Mix and Mingle Pizza Party at Vroman's Bookstore with the LA YAs. I feel that by promoting YA as a whole it helps to connect my books to readers, teachers, and librarians.

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

I drink a lot of water.

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

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, co-edited by Holly Black (Little, Brown, 2009) is an anthology of short stories about geeks and the geek observed with some of the most geeky YA authors today contributing stories. M.T. Anderson, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Wendy Mass, Lisa Yee, Sara Zarr, David Levithan, Tracy Lynn to name a very few.

This year, for me, is all short stories, all genre. Amongst them, my first non-YA stories:

"Baby in The Basket" (Strange Horizons, 2009);

"The Bread Basket," which will appear Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009);

"Wet Teeth," which will appear in Eternal Kiss: 12 Vampire Tales of Love and Desire, edited by by Trisha Telep (Running Press, 2009);

"The Long and the Short of Long Term Memory," which will appear in Interfictions 2, edited by Delia Sherman and Chris Barzak (Small Beer Press, 2009).

My next YA novel is Rose Sees Red (Scholastic, 2010), and I also look forward to the release of a picture book, Grandma's Gloves (Candlewick 2010).

And of course I have a million other things in the hopper that I'm excited about.

[In the video below, Cecil talks about Beige.]

Cynsational Notes

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Cecil.

Enter to win a contributor-signed copy of Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009) from Cynsations! My short story, "The Wrath of Dawn," co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, is included in the collection, and we are happy to sign and personalize the book, if the winner so desires.

To enter this giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Geektastic" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, and MySpace readers are welcome to just message me with the name in the header). Deadline: Sept. 30.

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